UN Sustainable Development Goals

UN Sustainable Development Goals
UN Sustainable Development Goals

I’ve just signed the SDG Accord (as an individual) to advance the critical role that education has in delivering the SDGs and the value it brings to governments, business and wider society, and to make a commitment via my learning institution to deliver the goals.

All watched over by machines of loving grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

Richard Brautigan

VKRF: Information for Action on Climate Change design meeting

On the 4th September I met in Edinburgh with Chris Warburton-Brown and Nigel White from the Permaculture Association to discuss the design of online resources for the VKRF funded project: Information for Action on Climate Change.

A particularly productive and warm-hearted design meeting that garnered agreement on key decisions concerning the project:

  • Regular Skype sessions on the first Thursday of every month at 11a.m.
  • Nigel to handle the development of the online system
  • Myself to provide UX experience, in the first instance wire-frames of the simplified card-based interface solutions and the broader detailed web pages
  • The need to employ a designer around December time
  • Employing the services of a marketing expert
  • A plan to focus efforts on developing one solution for each of the main climate change challenge areas:
    • Water
    • Soil
    • Plants
    • Food
    • Agro-ecology
    • Buildings
    • Energy
    • The economy
    • Social organising
    • Personal resilience
    • Changing world-views
    • Education

It’s an exciting project with great potential for follow-on funding, possibly via crowdsourcing.

Final Permaculture Design Course weekend #6

The final PDC weekend took place on the weekend of 5/6th of August 2017 at Garden Cottage, where our three sub-groups presented their designs.

Saturday 5th

First up was John and Morticia with their ‘Stirlingshire golf course permaculture boundary’. John managed to obtain footage of a drone flyover of their site! Morticia Skyped-in from home. A great project, excellently delivered.

After lunch we presented our ‘Lion’s Gate Interactive Permaculture Garden’ – which seemed to go down well too.

Lions Gate Mood board
Lions Gate Mood board

Katrina Dunlop’s Lion’s Gate design analysis (PDF)
Erik Biol’s Lions Gate three projects analysis (Word doc)
Lions Gate design elements (PDF)

Gordon Solway's community mind map
Gordon Solway’s community mind map

Sunday 6th

Graham cooked us all a personalised breakfast. Delicious start to the day.

After breakfast Paul delivered his and Conni’s ‘Guerrilla Gardening’ in Tottenham, North London. An inspiring and radical approach to permaculturing urban waste-ground.

We then had lunch and everyone gave a bit of themselves to the group. There were songs, stories, poems, limericks and games.

We then tied things up and said our goodbyes.

A wonderful experience with some truly fantastic people.

Permaculture Design Course #5

Saturday 24th June

After ride-share pick-ups in Edinburgh, and drop-offs at IKEA, we glided, excitedly along the sun-drenched, early quiet of the A68, alive with possibilities – to the Rhymers Cafe, Earlston, where the remainder of our perma-tribe greeted us with camaraderie and joy.

The weekend mostly involved travelling around the Scottish Borders in glorious sunshine visiting inspirational places.

At the Micro Hydro plant on Ettrick Water
At the micro-generation, Archimedes-screw hydro plant on Ettrick Water,
photo courtesy of Gayle Baird

Our first port of call was Philiphaugh Salmon Viewing Centre. Here we saw the rusting old water wheel, sat beside a gorgeous stream and pool, and we walked along a wildflower meadow flood plain to the locally developed hydro-electric, Archimedes screw turbine sitting astride Ettrick Water – a fine example of micro-generation that powers the saw mill and other local homes and businesses.

We then stopped at the local cafe for coffee and a delicious German Apple Cake before making our way to another inspirational permacultural site that Graham was involved in developing – Tweed Horizons by Newtown St Boswells.

Overgrown orchard at Tweed Horizons, Newton St Boswells
Overgrown orchard at Tweed Horizons, Newton St Boswells

In the overgrown orchard we picked walnuts and marvelled at the serene, beauty of the place. The project no longer runs and it was interesting and somewhat sad to see what happens when a permaculture site is no longer maintained. You can read about the project in it’s original form via the 1996 article, ‘Tweed Horizons: permaculture growing and living in the Scottish Borders’ in Permaculture Magazine. We also investigated the adjacent agroforestry project, again a vibrant intervention returned to the wild. The location of the site was idyllic, nestled into a hillside on the banks of the River Tweed opposite Dryburgh Abbey. I’m keen to investigate how this centre can be revitalised.

The last trip of the day was for a late lunch to Scott’s View, an astonishingly picturesque view of the Tweed Valley, where we mused the wonders of the day.

In the evening, five of us merrily camped outside Kelso.

Scott's View - Scottish Borders
Scott’s View – Scottish Borders

Sunday 25th June

A groggy start and meet-up at Rhymers Cafe before we headed to Tim Stead’s house.

Tim Stead's living room, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird
Tim Stead’s living room, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird

Tim Stead was a visionary wood sculptor whose influence is felt the world over. He died at 48, some years ago but his house and workshop are a living testament to the man. His widow Maggy made them available to us to view and so a big thanks is due to Graham and Nancy for making this awe-inspiring trip possible. It is difficult to put into words the elemental creativity of the place – every object and surface a masterpiece of organic design that breathed a sensual life. Everyone was awed by the experience. The place certainly affected me deeply, and I spent the remainder of the day in a beautiful, inspired, contemplative mood that will stay with me for many years to come.

Tim Stead's sun room, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird
Tim Stead’s sun room, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird

After a meandering, glorious, sunny, life-affirming drive back to Grahams, we had a wonderful, alfresco Sunday lunch and spent the remainder of the day harvesting strawberries and cherries and talking about water in terms of the permaculture view.

Tim Stead bedroom. photo courtesy of Gayle Baird
Tim Stead bedroom, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird
Tim Stead's house. photo courtesy of Gayle Baird
Tim Stead’s house, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird
Sunday lunch at Garden Cottage, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird
Sunday lunch at Garden Cottage, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird

VKRF Kick-off meeting

Grounds of the Hollybush Conservation Centre

An early start for the VKRF kick-off meeting in Leeds after last nights DIS event. I’m acting as UX designer on the project ‘Information for Action on Climate Change‘.

I was impressed by the grounds and the feel of the Permaculture Association’s HQ at the Hollybush Conservation Centre – a magical woodland, cafe, allotment and offices nestled beside the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

It was a busy day of collaboratively working out how we are going to deliver an engaging and inspiring online resource for people wanting to actively address climate change.

The group worked well together and managed to travel a lot of ground in a short space of time. Our intention, worked out by the end of the day, is to design a set of online cards (kind of like Trumps Cards) using the card interface as a simplified curation of the complex resources under the hood. We may also develop a physical manifestation of the cards too.

DIS 2017 Poster Provocation

DIS Provocation 2017
DIS Poster Provocation 2017

From six-thirty to eight on a balmy 12th June early evening I stood by our poster-garden in the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms, George Street and talked to interactive systems designers about the need for digital systems design to do more to address environmental degradation, and the social, economic and spiritual malaise associated with it.

A number of attendees made the effort worthwhile by engaging with our ideas, showing interest in our Merchiston Sustainability Gardens project, and professing similar interests and concerns. There is definitely a core of like-minded souls out there, doing meaningful work around food, natural systems and concern for the planet.

And though, to some extent it didn’t feel like the right forum for my ideas – there was value in being different and the publicity of any event at least ensures you visibility. In actuality, I would say that five or six academics (from early-career researchers to professors) showed a genuine interest in my ideas.

On reflection I think we could have been more provocative, and in the future my intention is to tweak the nose of the mainstream somewhat harder.

The details of the paper associated with this poster are:

Sustainable HCI: Blending Permaculture and User-experience. (2017)
Callum Egan, David Benyon
Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Conference Companion Publication on Designing Interactive Systems Pages 39-43
ISBN: 978-1-4503-4991-8

Interactive exhibit at Scotland’s Garden Festival

The Canopy Anchor
The Canopy anchor

Three very successful days at Scotland’s Garden Festival (2-4th June 2017) engaging around three hundred people with our interactive permaculture garden exhibit – a great example of harvesting edge.

A collaboration between Edinburgh Napier University’s Centre for Interaction Design and renowned permaculturist Graham Bell resulted in a 4msq pallet garden that demonstrated the layers of a food forest, enhanced by digital interactions, utilising the Blippar platform – triggered by ‘material anchors’ embedded within the garden.

Graham Bell engages the public
Graham Bell engages the public

A diverse audience showed interest in our work:

  • people interested in sustainability
  • people worried about declining bee populations
  • families
  • homesteaders
  • people with particular garden issues
  • people who knew a little about permaculture
  • people keen to do permaculture
  • people who have done/are doing permaculture
  • school teachers
  • councillors
  • people from all social classes
  • other stall holders and organisations
  • garden designers
  • an advertising executive
  • academics/educators
  • doubters
  • event organisers
Viewport, horizontal and canopy anchors in situ
Viewport, horizontal and canopy anchors in situ

Several people were keen to see our ideas delivered via a mobile experience in schools or via other public bodies, such as councils or canal authorities. The ability of the technology to reveal what is hidden is a popular idea.

Though we had inevitable technical issues (the triggered animations often crashed), we managed, via a bespoke web interface to show permaculture films and also used analog means (conversation, books, stickers and leaflets to convey what we are trying to do), that is, paradoxically, utilise digital technology to convey sustainability. Our tablet viewers chained to the garden highlighted how ‘clunky’ interaction in the wilds still is.

The process of putting the exhibit together (doing it), has propagated many research questions and issues that need to be addressed going forward – we talked about; getting away from screen-based interactions (glare was a big problem), the need for exhibit prompts, presence-led interaction, motion-triggered experiences, elemental design, immersive experiences, a geodesic/bower cinema cave, a controlled environment to feed nuanced experiences.

Personally, I was happy to see our garden attract bees, butterflies, ladybirds and dragonflies. Perhaps, in the future we can trigger novel interactions through these and other creatures, in our ongoing permanent story….

Permaculture Design Course #4

On the weekend of 20-21st May 2017 I jumped into the fourth instalment of the Permaculture Design Certificate course at Garden Cottage, Coldstream.


Exhibit plants
Some plants for our exhibit at Scotland’s Garden Festival

The day began with the usual ride-sharing from Edinburgh and after mirthful greetings at Garden Cottage, and a look at some of the plants we’re using for our exhibit at Scotland’s Garden Festival (see photo opposite), we settled down in Graham and Nancy’s cosy living room.

Discussions kicked off about perennial Nine Star Broccoli and the sea-kale origins of brassicas, and then we mused the extended honey production time facilitated by rapeseed planting.

We then talked about Unilever and Lord Leverhulme, before moving on to Hutting and the ability of permaculture to make any land fertile – for example – the greening the desert in Jordan project.

Fellow attendees are starting to consider their designs: we have interest in education about food forests and edibles, designing maintenance, guerrilla gardening London parks, smokers and beehives, companions, guilds, soil and nutrients, repurposing the edges of golf courses, edible hedges, transition projects, harvesting groups and preserving.

Thinking about design
Thinking about design

We then talked about money, listing proverbs about it, e.g. money talks, the best things in life are free, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the gates of heaven. We settled on the observation that it’s what you do with money that makes the difference.

We discussed the church being the original large landowner in the UK and the UK’s wealth based on sheep and minerals such as tin. We conversed about wood, stone, iron, bronze, alloys and Cornwall’s own parliament due to its rich tin industry. We went onto the Gold Standard (banks lending eight times the value of their gold). But money is of course a total fiction and it only works because we believe in it. There was talk of LETS Systems, and we did an exercise on what each of us would do if we had unlimited money, mine involved: a small holding, travel, re-aligning the economy to renewables, increasing free time, pubs, merriment, wilderness. There was a brief chat about Grounds for Learning.

We then moved onto assets: health, energy, friends, family, colleagues, transport, gratitude, music, skills, potential, ideas/creativity, tools, language, numeracy, empathy, adaptability, community, spontaneity, experience, food, determination, access to knowledge/resources. Someone mentioned Street Bank and repair shops.


Graham touched upon the greatest number of forks in a river being seven. This part of the talk ended with looking at no win scenarios, no lose scenarios, coping, designing what you can maintain and consciously designing for the most resilient way to live.

After lunch we looked at design considerations, observation, who or what are we designing for, what is missing?, landscape, access, markets, energy, local knowledge, surveying, frost, mapping, research, and the value of structured design. Our own designs can be delivered however we want.

In the evening a group of us camped-out – and what fun it was – our group close and positive.

Sunset at Kelso
Sunset at Kelso


The morning talk began on the return to natural philosophy.

We then moved onto Tombreck, James Chapman, the Lost Garden of Penicuik, and the Penicuik Storehouse.

Garden cottage flower
Garden cottage flower

Most of todays talk was on buildings. Christopher Alexander played a big part in this. Things to consider about buildings:

  1. Longevity
  2. Location / climate / microsite / blending
  3. Warmth
  4. Budget
  5. Functionality / adaptability
  6. Regulations
  7. Purpose
  8. Materials
  9. Environmental cost
  10. Energy efficiency

We looked at passive solar, retrofit, air quality, ventilation, pattern languages, geomancy and dowsing.

Garden cottage flower
Garden cottage flower

We discussed the tidal earth – the moon’s energy moving the oceans twice a day, that Tahiti has the smallest tide. We surfed Maria Thun, the lunar calendar and biodynamics.

Next was planning permission – putting things in the application that authorities can put a line through. We mused how to store potential energy? Biomass – wood-chip, pellet, hemp, borage, energy crops, animal waste, waste from distilleries.

The day ended with us splitting into groups and designing a conceptual permaculture island with £50 000. Amusing, enlightening and useful – all groups had pretty similar ideas.

Merchiston Gardens plans

Between Estates and myself over the past few months we’ve been developing our ideas for interactive permaculture gardens at Edinburgh Napier’s Merchiston campus.

Infrastructural work is soon to begin – adding in a corridor from the library to the Lion’s Gate Garden and some electrical points and plumbing for taps.

The plans below detail our broad ideas at present.

Lion's Gate Garden
Lion’s Gate Garden
Kitchen garden and rooftop allotment
Kitchen garden and rooftop allotment