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Is it good? What is your metric?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 2079
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This is something I have been mulling on for a while, both in the context of this forum and elsewhere.

Frequently we see comments or posts either asking a question like “Is x good?” Or “should I do y?”. And inevitably these questions seem to become mired not in conflict, but in confusion. And the root cause appears to be lack of a clear idea of how you should measure your results.

A common thing here, and elsewhere, is that people chip in with lots of advice, frequently conflicting. In some set of circumstances each piece of advice is likely to be valid... but which set are we talking about here?

In debating (which I coach) we talk about identifying a metric. A fancy way of say “which issues are the most important here”. And I think this is a really valuable way about thinking about many of our discussions here, and many of the decisions we make.

There was a discussion about compost here a week or so ago, for example. The key metric was that the system needed to process material quickly, and in limited space in an urban setting. Any suggestion needed to be compared to that metric to decide which was most appropriate. But that metric only came out piecemeal through the discussion thread.

Biochar discussions have had similar issues; my solution meets my need to process huge amounts quickly and not care about efficiency. Others care about getting the absolute most amount of char per kilo of feed stock. Our solutions are equally valid, but contradictory. Knowing the metric (or metrics?) to measure against is necessary both give appropriate advice and for the recipient to make a decision.

I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this, but it seems like it could help lead to more fruitful interactions.
 
pollinator
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All in all, this is a "good" problem to have - we have all agreed or have been convinced of the merits of the issue/solution, but quibble about the process and/or motivation - better than outright disagreement when it comes to our community's "world domination"(gardening) goals.

Many people (myself included) bring up alternative or secondary considerations into a discussion, not intending to say that the person is "wrong" or "dumb" for not considering that side issue, but to hopefully bring to light that which was unknown before, and so strengthen that person's ability to complete their project.

"I want the best mulch, should I use woodchips or straw?"
you'll get some who say one or the other, one says it depends on circumstances, and one guy who says - "nice question, but have you tried mushrooms?" hinting at a third-tier solution.

The mushroom guy will either seem to come out of left field, for those who have not heard of mycorrizae, or will get the exasperation you're mentioning, if the OP is a mycologist.

To one, the comment is helpful, to the other, it can be (politely)ignored; no matter what side, the comment is not unwarranted, given the discussion at hand.

It all depends on the point of view, and most commentators do not know the OP's complete point of view - sometimes these comments reveal the OP's mindset, when it is not included fully in the original, pointed discussion.

 
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The efficiency of both compost and biochar processes are inversely related to the amount of pollution they create.

Given that care of the environment is one of the 3 defining ethics of permaculture, it seems that we should always advise people on how to minimise their pollution first and foremost.

Making Biochar can be hazardous not just to your own health (permaculture ethic: care of people), but all the neighbours, animals and the atmosphere. Not to mention the risk of a fire escaping. It wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest people buy the product from producers making the most of hardwood using high efficient retorts and to support this emerging and eco-friendly industry.

Geoff Lawton says to measure your success by whether you are creating or depleting soil, which is a great metric, unless you import all your soil-building amendments like just about everyone does.

A useful rule of thumb (from Carol Deppe, I think) is "the amount of money something costs is usually proportional to the amount of pollution it creates".
I think a good metric of success is 'total spend'. My goal is to only buy olive oil and toothpaste and grow the rest.
If I need giant trucks to deliver shredded trees to my door or to buy bales of straw regularly, then I haven't succeeded and I'm relying on polluting industries that are massively subsidized by taxes (which are themselves mostly derived from mining in Australia).
So I guess the ultimate goal is a conscionable lifestyle.
 
Michael Cox
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Jondo Almondo wrote:Making Biochar can be hazardous not just to your own health (permaculture ethic: care of people), but all the neighbours, animals and the atmosphere. Not to mention the risk of a fire escaping. It wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest people buy the product from producers making the most of hardwood using high efficient retorts and to support this emerging and eco-friendly industry.



This right here is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Your metric is not my metric.

I make biochar because I have a huge amount of woody waste that I don't have a better use for. It would be burned anyway, so making biochar with it is adding value to a waste stream. My personal circumstances are such that open burns, at the right time of year, are not risky and I know how to manage the fire to ensure a clean smoke free burn. So my primary metric is "what method lets me dispose of woody material quickly".

You and I could talk at length without reaching a consensus because your metric and my metric are not aligned. We can both say totally true and valid things, while not ever having a hope or reaching a middle ground or persuading the other.

This is why I think identifying what the success criteria are is so important.
 
pollinator
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Michael

You mentioned the the metric dribbles out over a period of discussion. To me this sounds fine. Many people don't know what their metric is to begin with and the needs of the discussion make things clear that weren't seen originally.

But a metric, being as it's so important, is often something that needs to be hashed out itself. _That_ is often the real issue, not the technical details which were used to frame the first question. I suspect that as a debate coach you're aware that the team the controls the metric usually wins - that the metric is what, be definition, determines the win. I believe this is commonly called  "framing".

When there's a debate, the metric is what is fought over. When there's a discussion, the metric(s) determine what is put on the table and how it's arranged. The metric is NOT neutral. It's like finding the right question to ask - that itself almost solves the problem. The metric shapes everything that follows.


Regards,
Rufus


 
gardener
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I find myself continually explaining one particular metric. When I hire someone or when I work for someone, one of the biggest goals is to make sure that Dale is very happy with how everything is going, all of the time. If this is not the case, I make some noise until it is. This makes for an efficient job site that I am happy to occupy and control, as much as possible. It drives some people away, but they're the ones I want gone.

My young brother is very productive, so he fits my metric in many ways. But he must have a constant audience for conspiracy theories that dribble from his lips, even when he's wearing a mask and the other guy has earmuffs on. I don't want to hear this stuff, so often I'm the one with the earmuffs. We have reached a compromise, something I don't usually engage in.

Occasionally, I run into people who have a completely different idea of what the goal should be. I politely wait for them to stop talking, before restating the metric.
 
Michael Cox
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Rufus Laggren wrote:
You mentioned the the metric dribbles out over a period of discussion. To me this sounds fine. Many people don't know what their metric is to begin with and the needs of the discussion make things clear that weren't seen originally.

But a metric, being as it's so important, is often something that needs to be hashed out itself. _That_ is often the real issue, not the technical details which were used to frame the first question. I suspect that as a debate coach you're aware that the team the controls the metric usually wins - that the metric is what, be definition, determines the win. I believe this is commonly called  "framing".



Yes, the dribbling out of the metric is exactly what I'm talking about. Good way to put it. I guess the conversations here and elsewhere that seem the most constructive are the ones were posters help tease out whatever metric is most relevant. In some less productive threads you get a list of 20 different ways to approach the problem, sometimes asserted without thought of context or whatever else is needed to help pick a winner...
 
Michael Cox
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Dale Hodgins wrote:I find myself continually explaining one particular metric. When I hire someone or when I work for someone, one of the biggest goals is to make sure that Dale is very happy with how everything is going, all of the time. If this is not the case, I make some noise until it is. This makes for an efficient job site that I am happy to occupy and control, as much as possible. It drives some people away, but they're the ones I want gone.



Sounds like the voice of hard earned experience speaking :D

What helps in your situation is that you have a personal and clearly defined metric to measure against. And one that you can communicate clearly. When everyone knows how the job is being measured, everyone knows where they are. When such things are not clearly defined, some people will inevitably get frustrated or find they are working at cross purposes.
 
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There are many places this applies.  Be it how we build homes or how we do laundry or even the foods we eat.

For example I am very non permies in how I would choose to build a home yet I would say in many ways I am still reaching for the same ideals.  I am just doing it differently.  I have no problem with some modern materials and even some with high embodied energy.  But my criteria for their use is that it must be cost effective, efficient and very durable.  I am looking for a home with almost no need for user input and little or no need of outside input of energy that still lives comfortably.(I would like to avoid even needing wood fires)  And I think it is doable anywhere in the lower 48 states to have a home that heats itself purely on solar thermal with almost no moving parts.(a few pumps that can be run on photovoltaic)  And with that do home heating and domestic hot water for sure and possibly heat for a clothes drier, dehydrator, and oven while at the same time do refrigeration without need for electricity) On the other side someone else may think heating with wood is a good thing because it is carbon neutral and building with more natural materials is the more important criteria.  In some ways our goals are the same and in other ways they are completely different.  Is either wrong?  Who is to say?  In the end it is the person who has to live with the results.
 
pollinator
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The biochar issue is a good example. In the abstract, whether or not biochar production is good relies upon variables that can include how much carbon is being sequestered versus sent up in the air, the embodied cost of the feedstock from cradle to grave, and what good use that end product is put to.

For many homesteaders employing biochar, these might be intellectually relevant to the issue, but subjective variables, such as reducing fire load on-property by making biochar from slash that might pose a fire risk, for instance, or knowing exactly where the biochar that will be added to the compost that will be growing the homestead's food originated and what it had been subjected to, can weigh heavier in the judgement than embodied energy costs.

There are objective metrics, or objective parts of metrics, but often it boils down to, "Is it good for me?" As in, is it solving problems without creating new ones, and does it accomplish all that it needs to? It clearly doesn't matter how efficient a large-scale hardwood-to-biochar operation is if one of the primary goals of the homeowner is to reduce fire load on property and benefit from the soil-boosting properties of biochar as a useful by-product.

-CK
 
pollinator
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This had been posted before under a different topic on "Naming things" but it may provide food for thought (or simply sow confusion..?..) in this thread:

"He remembered it had been spring then, which is a wonderful time in Montana, and the breeze blowing down from the pine trees carried a fresh smell of melting snow and thawing earth, and they were all walking down the road, four abreast, when one of those raggedy non-descript dogs that call Indian reservations home came onto the road and walked pleasantly in front of them. They followed the dog silently for a while. Then LaVeme asked John, 'What kind of dog is that?" John thought about it and said, "That's a good dog." LaVerne looked curiously at him for a moment and then looked down at the road. Then the corners of her eyes crinkled and as they walked on Phaedrus noticed she was sort of smiling and chuckling to herself. Later, when John had left, she asked Dusenberry, "What did he mean when he said, 'That's a good dog.' Was that just 'Indian talk'?" Dusenberry thought for a while and said he supposed it was. Phaedrus didn't have any answer either, but for some reason he had been as amused and puzzled as LaVerne was. ....

For some time now he'd been thinking that if he were looking for proof that "substance" is a cultural heritage from Ancient Greece rather than an absolute reality, he should simply look at non-Greek-derived cultures. If the "reality" of substance was missing from those cultures that would prove he was right. Now the image of the raggedy Indian dog was back, and he realized what it meant.  LaVerne had been asking the question within an Aristotelian framework. She wanted to know what genetic, substantive pigeonhole of canine classification this object walking before them could be placed in. But John Wooden Leg never understood the question. That's what made it so funny. He wasn't joking when he said, "That's a good dog." He probably thought she was worried the dog might bite her. The whole idea of a dog as a member of a hierarchical structure of intellectual categories known generically as "objects" was outside his traditional cultural viewpoint. What was significant, Phaedrus realized, was that John had distinguished the dog according to its Quality, rather than according to its substance....."
-- Robert Pirsig "Lila: An Inquiry into Morals"
 
Rufus Laggren
pollinator
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IOW, we can usually only see the world and think w/in the programming we're given at a young age.

And that those around us continually reinforce and modify as we all go along.

And that designer advertising and media blitzes create for us.

How shockingly and embarrassingly constrained! <GG>  The world in a frame.  Anyone want to argue for "masters of our own fate"  ?  


Rufus
 
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I think sometimes the lack of a clearly defined metric/ teasing it out over the course of a thread can be helpful to people other than any given thread's OP.  I usually search the forums before posting a question (hence my low post count and overall low level of participation); most times I can glean enough information from past threads and all the different opinions/ knowledge bases therein to move forward on whatever I was looking to do.  Basically, getting a wide range of answers might not directly benefit the OP, but we can't know how tangential information shared might help another reader, either, or what other discussions it might lead to.  An answer might not meet an OP's criteria for success, but it may be exactly what a reader in the future is looking for.

I kind of look at the forums like shopping at a yard sale or thrift store (vs Amazon).  I don't expect an exact match for my needs, but I'll probably be able to find "good enough" and walk away with a few other things to boot.  I'm of the opinion that more information is always better, and that applies to both sides: a well-structured question is helpful to the people trying to answer it; tangential information could be helpful outside the scope of a specific question.    
 
We've gotta get close enough to that helmet to pull the choke on it's engine and flood his mind! Or, we could just read this tiny ad:
Food Forest Card Game - Game Forum
https://permies.com/t/61704/Food-Forest-Card-Game-Game
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