Scaling water interventions

Conversation with someone chatting to me after the UCT water crisis lecture today (by the way, this Future Water page has many interviews and chats about the crisis, in balances informed tones). I didn’t go. Was duckfood shopping with a brief stop to do retail therapy. (The stress to submit the thesis has caused insomnia and to get myself to fall asleep I have been watching, wait for it, nail art videos.) So I went buying nail art stuff. Yup. Glitterified.)

Neil’s been working on sustainable urban water management for a long time. –
His comment about the rainwater tanks (being: rain tanks are a waste of money for the amount of buffering they provide) comes from his PhD student Lloyd Fischer- Jeffes’s work, where they saw that rainwater is more expensive than stormwater harvesting and managed aquifer recharge – which is effectively a huuuuuuge rainwater tank underneath the city.

[another UCT researcher said “imagine if 1/2 a million people had 2000 litre rain tanks, that would be 1000 million litres of water buffered. ]

1000 million litres is two days of CT’s water supply under level 6 restrictions (Is my math correct here?). We get about 6 storms a year, so let’s say we multiply that by 6, gives 12 days of buffering. That’s a lot of effort for not much return. I do think we should encourage rainwater tanks because it’s an easy way to get people to understand their water use and visualise how much they’re using. From comments on FaceBook, this also holds more for a city than for way-out places, where the costs of getting the water there is different, and water security looks a bit different, perhaps.

If you think of the cost of a rainwater tank of 2 000L, what’s that, R5000? multiplied by 500 000 = R2.5 billion? That’s a lot of money for 12 days buffering, think we can do better.

Neil also said something else the other day – someone said we need dual piping to our homes with treated wastewater to flush the toilets. That’s a large cost for the extra set of pipes. There’s also risk of that water potentially being in contact with people, and cleaning wastewater to potable level is cheaper. But, Neil reminded us that the city is actually treating wastewater and reintroducing it into the system, and has done so for a while. This effectively achieves the same as the dual pipes would, for much cheaper. Of course, on the other hand this requires functioning infrastructure, good governance and institutional competence. As a city, we are doing OK with that, but we don’t trust the powers that be.

*** But this begs the question, if we have a certain amount of effort & resources to spend, should that go into innovations that is the equivalent of rainwater tanks, or should we rather work on improving the governance and institutions managing these things? ***

There’s a reason the world is urbanising. It’s more efficient. What we need to learn is how to apply this efficiency also in taking care of our environment and out social structures.

Keeping the loop in mind

Presentation at the UCT Summer School, the pdf is available on the Future Water Institute website.

Kevin asked me to present on Innovations in Urban Water Management, through talking about my house. Instead I wanted to talk about systems, and took a term from the start-up scene ‘keeping the end in mind’, as in, keep your goal in mind, what you want to achieve, or what you want to sell it for. But really, we’re working with systems, and I want to focus on where these systems, these loops come full circle.

Continue reading “Keeping the loop in mind”

Textile arts and crafts

Crochet is awesome – backstory, I picked up a crochet needle while walking the dogs, and thought, hmmm, maybe I should try this out (my partner at the time countered with – I picked up a hypodermic, think I should try cocaine? Well, whatever).

I also like sewing, my grandmother taught me and we share a blissful disregard for patterns.

While crochet and sewing is awesome there’s only so much I can wear. Turns out there is a whole world of people doing all sorts of creative things that have a blissful disregard for convention! This post is a collection for future inspiration.

Martine Celerin 3D dimensional weaving

These inspirations typically live on pinterest – let me know if you’ve found cool stuff!

Inter-generational dynamics

Quartz, my favourite international news-related website/newsletter shared this article about a management exercise about ‘user manuals’. I found it so beautiful, and so much to process, working across generations and being in relationship with someone in some other generation, and not quite fitting into/relating to whatever generation I’m supposed to be in… To me it speaks to the type of systems work, transdisciplinary work we’re doing, it’s not just about coping with people of different ages. As Leah mentions in her piece “The generational divide in today’s modern workplace is unavoidable. … But when generational frustration turns to judgment (which often leads to dismissiveness), no one wins.” I think even once we sort the generations out, or correct for this, different skills and personalities have the same issue.
The user manual has six questions, and I am definitely going to blog my answers:
  1. My style
  2. What I value
  3. What I don’t have patience for
  4. How best to communicate with me
  5. How to help me
  6. What people misunderstand about me
but the links within of some of the teammates’s perspectives are even better:
Corinne  works remotely and I relate to her strongly, not least aspirationally because of her superb writing and humour.
That question—what do people misunderstand about you?—is not really about other people. It is about how you see yourself.
Her comment about rereading what she shared illustrates the challenge we face with becoming more human at work:
The next day I wake up certain that I have overshared to a wildly inappropriate degree. I open the document in a mild panic and re-read what I wrote. To my surprise, it does not sound like the ranting of an emotional exhibitionist. It doesn’t sound shameful. It just sounds human.
And she concludes:
The point is, the things we find so shameful and embarrassing about ourselves are very rarely as embarrassing or shameful as we believe them to be. Everybody has their quirks. The ability to share those bugs, and to give others the space to share theirs, can actually be a really nice feature.
Leah is my younger self. This year, and the next – 2017 and 2018 – is the time I gave myself to transition to the next stage of my life. I’m not sure what that stage is, but it is definitely a more mature, reflective space – giving, where the previous stage was learning, absorbing, taking. So I am not sure what level of sharing is appropriate. This phrase struck me:
conversations that aren’t consensual.
I work in sanitation and get irate when people don’t want to break taboos around shit, menstruation, wastes, all the things we are evolved to avoid. Because not talking about this kills. At the same time I get equally irate about people sharing inane details about their children with me (I don’t like children) – something we have evolved to indulge. Surely then, we need some way of negotiating what can be talked about and when. I have never thought of conversations as being consensual – I just talk, take it or leave –  and realised my error when reading this. At the same time I am an ardent believer in sharing, vulnerability, I am a full-on Brené Brown disciple. My work and my life is the same thing.
Leah’s bluntness about how the user manual can just skim the surface “All useful to know. But meh.” mirrors my frustration at getting teams to open up, which often doesn’t go as planned, doesn’t go deep enough. But then she follows up with this comment, which also mirrors what I have learnt in the past three years:
It was easy to judge my colleagues’ “weak’ attempts at honesty. Harder was realizing that their silence and restraint was an even more profound form of vulnerability. In holding their cards close, my co-workers demonstrated the importance of moderation, a strength honed through experience and challenges I have not yet known. And in revealing their personalities to me, and to one another, over time, rather than laying themselves bare, they taught me an equally powerful truth—which we’re so deeply deluded about in the age of social media—that exposure doesn’t always equate to honesty.
Lastly, Oliver. To make no bones about it: I struggle tremendously with this archetype. On the one hand, these, what I imagine are mostly white, elder, privileged males trigger me, those are my issues but it’s really a thing, too. On the other, I know that they are very vulnerable in their own way, as Oliver says “These user manuals felt a like a trap, waiting to spring and expose my archaic views about work and life.”
In a previous intimate relationship a lifetime ago I wrote once that I felt hurt by his unwillingness to share, when, in reality, he was unable to. Now, in my current relationship I can see this for what it is, but am still a bit at sea about how to engage with this, to speak to both my and his needs. (I do need to shout out to my special person for being so willing to step out and be vulnerable and try to learn with me. Love.)
Oliver talks about doing what he is told: “instructions I felt I’d been given”.
 I just cannot relate to that. It irritates me that the man can’t think [feel!] for himself. As I said, I’m triggered. I don’t know Oliver and by all counts he’s great. This isn’t personal, and me even writing this is an acknowledgement that this is a generational/sex/class judgement from my side that is problematic, that I need to resolve within myself. To me, this feels like ramblings of an out-of-date generation struggling desperately to remain relevant. I am frustrated with myself for feeling this because it prevents me from tapping into the vast depths of knowledge and (still relevant) experience they can offer.
He scoffs about how millennials carry on about how they want to be treated. But, relating to millennials, we are trying to optimise how to get the best work done. This isn’t about how to treat/coddle us, this is about the best use of your investment into us. We are thinking about your ROI. I feel that Oliver struggles to see that how he defines a word is different from how ‘we’ define it. For example:
community: Oliver seems to think community is a place where we are all treated alike, identical (which isn’t even true, but, hey, triggered). To me, community is a grouping sharing the same vision, or values, and desired outcome, and work within an ecosystem of sorts. The most critical thing about an ecosystem is diversity, and diverse things behave differently (judging a fish by their ability to climb a tree and all that), and to get the ecosystem/community to perform the best, they should be treated differently. In our transdisciplinary work (to simplify horribly), we need the social scientists and the civil engineers to do their work best, and to talk to each other. But sending a social scientist a spreadsheet with a deadline and no context and then letting them get on with it is just dumb. And how about inviting that engineer for some story-boarding? Are you out of your mind? The social scientist and engineer may well share the same office, collaborate on the same documents, but their daily routine and how I talk to them looks very different indeed. Let’s not even get into that some people are morning people, in the office by 6am and some people like to get to work by 11am. I just don’t see why this can possibly be a bad thing. Both those groups are willing to pitch to Monday meetings at 8am, or site evaluations at 6pm, but the rest of the week they do their thing. It’s a conversation.
(yes, these are real examples. I love my job)
respect:  whoooh. I’m looking for a quote that doesn’t get my heckles up. It’s not this one:

 If you’ve read this far, you know I don’t mind writing about myself, and as with most first-person essays, I’m only revealing to you as much of myself as I want. That was true of the user manuals: I opened the door, but not more than I wanted.

I used mine to stake out some territory I felt important, about not making assumptions about what we think we all believe and know.


To me, respect is not ‘on my terms’. Respect about outside of my terms. Empathy. Coming to the party without the ‘only as much as I want’ bit. Or maybe that’s trust. Respect is opening the door as much as is needed. How much you want is a different issue. Respect is stepping back from what you feel is important and looking at what others may feel is important and only then making the informed decision. Yes, what you feel is important, of course, but it is not the only thing. Maybe Oliver gets this but writes it differently, but writing that already breaks me. My problem with this generation, and it’s really a pity that the example of this generation is male, because, you know, triggered, is the ambiguity. In that one sentence there is both ‘my territory’ and ‘not making assumptions about what we all believe’. With that sentence what I see is that “I don’t make assumptions about what you believe – I state what I believe and I don’t care about what you believe”. So it’s true you didn’t make assumptions, but that’s not helpful at all. At the same time, again, I can see that this is Oliver feeling very vulnerable indeed. I do feel sympathetic to that, I really do. I just also remember Margaret Atwood’s saying “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”


 It’s not this one either:
Our team often writes about politically sensitive topics, and it’s easy to assume we’re all on the same page. That’s a mistake, and if we’re not comfortable raising opposing views, we risk falling into group-think.
I’ve given up raising opposing viewpoints because our points of view are not ‘opposing’, they’re parallel worlds. Never the twain shall meet. We speak such different languages that I cannot get to a common point to even interrogate where we disagree.
Perhaps his point on a previous manager “Managers had no regard for my responsibilities away from work” indicates a lack of respect, but I’m not sure he sees this as a lack of respect. It’s something, sure, that caused trauma. But to me if someone bugs me, if I was a man, while my wife was in labour, that would be such a profound illustration of lack of respect I’d be out of there straight away. This would not be be to me a simple “using personal information as a cudgel against me”. Respect is not simply what tone and type of words one uses in communication.
Consider this. In Oliver’s defense against the user manual group exercise, he says “[previous employers] had expectations about how I was to do my job, and I had expectations about how they would perform theirs as a manager, and generally we agreed. ” But then he also says ” The phone could ring at night or on the weekend, and I would be expected to drop whatever plans I had and plunge into writing and reporting, often for hours. ” which caused him trauma. Expectations that were disrespectful, so in dire need of re-examining, of which the user manual exercise could be a useful tool. But he sees the user manual as a threatening thing that makes him “wary about blurring the lines between work and home”. I struggle to see why he doesn’t see that the user manual exercise is all about solidifying the line about what is work and what is home, by being more explicit and communicative about it!
He ends with “Ultimately I don’t know how much difference the manuals will make in our day-to-day work—I intended to treat my colleagues with respect and honesty before we began, and that won’t change”.  
To process Oliver’s point on respect, I want to come back to Corinne’s point ( a joke and red herring, apparently, but a real thing in my workplace over which I have exploded at least once before)
I strongly dislike the administrative busywork that tends to fall on women in a workplace, stuff like deciding who brings snacks to the meeting and planning Secret Santa. I express that I would rather not have Secret Santa than waste time talking about Secret Santa.
 To me, it feels like to Oliver, respectful engagement means you do the planning around Secret Santa because that is expected, and you never even engage with why it’s always women who end up doing this. Anyways, triggered. I’m going to need help on writing this post the way I need to, to make it useful.

A foray into Geodesign

This is part of a journey to learn to visualise what a water conscious city looks like, to help everyday people to thrive in water scarce environments. This is the goal of the AquaSavvy campaign and underscores my academic work at the Future Water Institute.

So far I’m learning how to work with RHINO and GRASSHOPPER. Baby steps. 🙂

No automatic alt text available.

I also discovered this coursera course about Geodesign, and am popping cool links here for reference.

Evaluating Ecosystems from Space

City Engine seems to be a very pretty tool and useful for what I thik I want to do, keen to explore it further (hopefully with the next Geospatial Coursera MOOC)

Of course, one day when I am smart enough I will do map related data visualisations and stuff.

Other stuff: a clear overview of design thinking.

The coursera course featured Dr. Douglas Olson giving a talk at the 2014 Geodesign Summit. His talk is titled “Geodesign for the City-Region: Three Scales, Three Approaches.” Dr. Olson is President of O2 Planning + Design, based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Raw html in worldpress for d3.

YAAASSS!!! What? No, it just worked! Nooooooo

Using the Raw HTML plugin, and the raw/raw tags, I put in my html code for my sankey flow diagram. In preview, it worked! But once I published it, it didn’t.  The good news is that I know the code works. The bad news is it looks like either wordpress or this plugin is buggy – and its page warns about this. So I went to have a cuppa tea (in lieu of a frustrated cry), and now I’m going to try other raw html plugins.

Deactivating all other plugins that do this (just in case), trying Raw HTML Snippets (found via sitesparker) which I guess is much like the Wp-d3 plugin. Doesn’t do the donut, and gets the same result as the raw html – the text is there but not the actual sankey.

Next, Insert HTML Snippet.  This still isn’t working, but the plugin is really well designed and user friendly, worth more investigation.

Last, Shortcoder. Nope, same problem, and slightly confusing to use. So I’m re-activating the wp-d3, pageview, Insert HTML Snippet and raw html plugins. and I’m wondering if I should just spend the bucks to get the pro raw html version, will that help me? Pondering.

ok, wait, before I try figuring out PayPal (I despise paypal), let’s do the raw thing again, staying well clear of the visual interface.

All right! Shit’s weird and the sankey doesn’t seem to be working 100%, but it’s progress! So for now let’s try optimise it and not touch the visual editor. I’ll probably buy this anyways, if it’s making my life easier and I don’t see any decent alternatives at the moment.

SANKEY_C_Bacterial_flows 4may16

Wastewater Biorefinery Sankey diagram: Bacterial Bioreactor Carbon flows

From formatted JSON, using Malcolm MacLean's book.

To Do: Write macro to export values from .xls sheet into csv and update .htm file with a click of a button - better user interface.
To do: Change font to sans serif.
To do: Change position of labels to beneath blocks?
To do: Influence colours of blocks?

Jouissance toilet 2.0 – the foam flush

Why? We’re in drought, so we don’t have water to flush toilets. The nutrients in shit should be re-used, and that is difficult when we dilute it with loads of water and mix it with god knows what else to be shipped off somewhere to be so-called ‘treated’. Also, flushing toilets mean we are flushing nutrients into receiving water bodies (even with excellent wastewater treatment, we’re still not doing well enough). So flushing is just a stupid idea. More about this in a presentation (pdf, 5MB) I recently gave.

If you don’t know already, I have a dry toilet. I love my dry toilet. It’s indoors, I’m affluent, privileged. This is not about toilets for poor people. This is about dry toilets for everyone.

But, many people don’t like the idea of looking at their shit, so we’re trying to get the experience of the white ceramic sparkly-clean ‘flush and forget’ ‘out of sigh(t) out of mind’ toilet, with the cost-saving benefits and environment and resource recovery goodness of dry toilets. I think currently the foam flush may be our best bet.

NOTE: When I start talking to people, lots of people have lots of ideas, but invariably, these are about the user interface. I don’t care about the user interface – that is whatever you want it to be (except copious amounts of water). The colour, ceramic or plastic, sit or squat, wipe or wash, lid or hole, I don’t care. I am concerned about collecting and storing it for beneficiating later. Don’t give me your fancy ideas at the user interface unless you’ve thought through how this affects the process downstream.

What do we need the foam flush to do? (apart from the usual dignity, hygiene, yadda yadda). This really comes down to what is in the foam to make it do its job:

  1. Act as a lubricant.
    Unlike a standard issue dry toilet that drops your nutritious product straight down, to sit there in the darkness staring back at you (apparently), this goes down an angle, to out-of-sight land.  So the lubricant needs to be lubricating. No getting stuck or smear marks.
  2. Smell nice.
    Not just like nothing, or slightly earthy, but seriously amazingly nice (ala PooPourri – I love this product! (doesn’t work in my dry toilet though))
  3. Contribute to the bioprocess.
    Or at the least don’t impede it. This means: No bleach. Probably needs to be a neutral-ish pH (no actual soap, or acid). If it has the bugs that work well with poo, that would be epic – an inoculum, like the yeast that makes your beer, the seed that grows your tree… (see circular economy, resource recovery)

Overall, I keep coming back to giraffe spit. Or, you know, whatever lubricates our assholes (biomimicry: ‘how does nature move shit?’), but giraffe spit seems to be more PC.

Other things that may help:

  • Urine diversion is important and a no-regret measure. For now, pee in the garden.
  • A trap door jobbie that works with the lid to guarantee no smells coming back.
  • A hydrophobic layer on the tube that helps or replaces the lubricant. Like the no-dirt layers on car windscreens, for example.

Some links that show foam flush constellations (yes, that’s a sortofa pun)

The short and sweet by treehugger.

Clivus Multrum composting toilets – according to this site, with images, the foam flush toilet eliminates the ‘dark opening’ of the waterless toilet. For some reason it ‘requires both a water and electric connection, and costs more’. I don’t see this as a real requirement. From this website:

The New England site has even more. Their pics remind me that I’m not all that keen on trying to imitate the standard shape and colour of a toilet – how boring! So I might not know exactly how to get this into mass production (nor do I care). But, colleagues at Isidima may be well placed, see for example their arumloo (still a flushing solution though currently)

This post by the Green Building Alliance (GBA) which reminds me to state clearly that after the user interface and storage bits, there is the collection and transport bits. I do not expect users to deal directly with their shit. This is also not a pit latrine solution, it needs to be above ground and easily collected – consider the weekly solid waste/trash collection idea.

Also, the trapdoor future idea is a way to deal with what the ‘S-bend’ tried to do – avoid odour. With a well functioning composting process, odour is not a problem, and instead of trying to create all sorts of fail-safes to deal with odour, I would rather have the foam solution be something that contributes to a more robust well functioning process.


the hello world of d3

After getting stuck on getting a squishy collision, I decided to go back to basics by following step by step this blog.

So far so good, because it’s not looking for files – I think my file linking is the problem.

Yes! OK, so the file calling from the media library seems to work. It must be the format of calling the file from some other place, and perhaps how the code relates or something that’s a problem. This is encouraging. Now, for interactivity (or squishiness)

And, nope. *Weeps*. In this tut's code, it says

// Load dataset
var dataset = d3.csv.parse("pre#data").text());
// this just grabs the text from the preformatted block
// and parses it as if it was a csv file
// in your real code, you would use d3.csv(filename, callbackFunction)
// and the rest would be inside your callback function:

So the ONE place where I need help it leaves me hanging. Darnit. Now I have to actually think about this.

I would think the correct alternative is

d3.csv("", function(d) );

but that makes the plugin ask for an identifier, which I think means it needs the date/temperature info which is in there too, so I can add that, but then where do I stop adding stuff from the previous example? If I add everything it gives the text list, so that's obvs too much.

I need to go learn about variables (or functions? variables are functions? ? ) First, let's digress to capture my current thinking on foam flush toilets. Catcha later.

Next day: trying
var dataset = d3.csv("", function(data, temperature) {
and the }); in various places, but no luck so far.

Let's go have a look at some other example that doesn't ask for the d3.js yet but that does call a data file. Ambitiously, the miserables one again (which does use d3). Whole big load of nope. I tried to just use the second example above to show the list of temperatures, but with the miserables file (renamed to csv, and also tried the txt version). This didn't work, even after lots of tweaking. I think an issue may be that the temperature file has simple data pairs, like "date,temperature, 20150101,57", whereas the .json file (in it;s csv or txt form) has "{ "nodes":[ {"name":"Myriel","group":1}, ... ], "links":[ {"source":1,"target":0,"value":1}, ...  ] }.

Hmmm. OK, back to calling a data file.

Actually (yes, focus is hard) ... looking for stuff I found the Raw HTML plugin that may be better (because one can edit the html directly rather than upload a new one every time as I lamented in a previous post). Thanks Nat Kale! Also found what could have been a very useful example but the link to the original tut has broken. It had a nifty way to make the urls better - upload directly via ftp (doh 🙂 ) Some other interesting posts on that blog too. I think I'm going to try the raw html (in a new post) because I suspect it's the d3 plugin that's breaking the more sophisticated d3 stuff. Ugh, this makes me feel so dumb.