Coevolving Innovations

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What is a system? (and the challenges of definition) 4

Posted on January 20, 2014 by daviding

When asked “what is a system?”, a deep systems thinker may hesitate to respond.  He or she may be reflecting on whether the response should be “what does a system mean to you?”, or “what should a system mean to me”?  The systems thinker recognizes that meaning comes in a context, and is therefore associated with a system of ideas held by an individual (i.e. me or you) occurs within an environment (i.e. my experience or your experience).

In parallel, consider the question “what is a mother”?  If the questioner is asking for a thoroughly researched answer, perhaps the Oxford Dictionary definition for mother will be helpful.


1. a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth:
‘a mother penguin’
‘a mother of three’

2. (Mother, Mother Superior, or Reverend Mother) (especially as a title or form of address) the head of a female religious community.

3. vulgar slang , chiefly North American short for motherfucker.

On the other hand, the responses to “what does a mother mean to you?” and “what does a mother mean to me?” draws on human experience. Every baby knows what a mother means to him or her, before language — or even coherent thought — develops. For that question, perhaps a poem serves better. Here’s one from Francis Cardinal Spelling (who was first named as Francis Joseph Spellman) .

What is a mother? Who shall answer this?
A mother is a font and spring of life,
A mother is a forest in whose heart
Lies hid a secret ancient as the hills,
For men to claim and take its wealth away;
And like the forest shall her wealth renew
And give, and give again, that men may live.

Thus, for a systems thinker, a word is part of his or her system of ideas.  This leads to a question about could be meant by a system of ideas?  The Oxford Dictionary provides a definition that includes a “system of ideas”:


1. a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained:
Darwin’s theory of evolution

The “independent of the thing to be explained” is the part that could be counter to the way that the deep systems thinker thinks.  The definition as “a supposition” doesn’t mean “the supposition” and presupposes that there is a person to suppose.

Oxford Dictionaries recognizes “system” as on the of the Top 1000 frequently used words in the English language.


1. a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole:
‘the state railway system’
‘fluid is pushed through a system of pipes or channels’

2. a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method:
‘a multiparty system of government’
‘the public-school system’

3. (the system) the prevailing political or social order, especially when regarded as oppressive and intransigent:
‘don’t try bucking the system’

4. Music a set of staves in a musical score joined by a brace.

For most people, the above definition from a well-regarded dictionary source will suffice.  For those whom the definition will not suffice, the alternative is a much more exhaustive work in the International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics, edited by Charles François.

Filling in a non-editable PDF form 0

Posted on January 19, 2014 by daviding

Have you ever been asked to fill in a PDF form given not as editable electronically?  The frustrated respondent may print out the form, fill in the fields — either by hand, or with a typewriter (!) — and then transmit the result as a fax. A more persistent respondent looks for a free program that enables annotating the form and preserving an end-to-end electronic format.

One way is to “Open and edit PDF files in OpenOffice“.  This way invokes the Draw program — not the Writer word processor in OpenOffice (or LibreOffice).  The PDF Import extension converts the field labels as well as entry fields.  The import tries to match up the field label fonts, but there may be some shifting.

Another way uses Jarnal — the Java Notetaker and PDF Annotator.  This feature was demonstrated in a Jarnal demonstration video, some time after the basic pen-based sketching features.

Jarnal is a cross-platform application written in Java, that runs on Linux, Windows and Mac.

I subsequently discovered that Xournal offers similar features and is simpler to install as an Ubuntu app.

Xournal is also written in Java, and thus also installable on Linux, Windows and Mac.

Why do power failures seem rare in our Toronto neighbourhood? 0

Posted on December 23, 2013 by daviding

At our home in South Riverdale of Toronto, we rarely seem to have power outages when others report them. Why might that be so?

(1) We live within walking distance of 8 electric substations.

Electric substations in Toronto, South Riverdale

From a link on “Toronto Hydro’s not-so-hidden residential substations” | Derek Place | Oct. 13, 2010 |, I found a list of assets for Toronto Hydro from By-law No. 374-1999 at , and mapped out the addresses close to us.

(2) At least some of the TTC is powered by equipment in a electric substation near us, on Carlaw Avenue.  There was a procurement order in 2004 as “Procurement Authorization – Replacement Of TTC Traction Power Equipment In Toronto Hydro Owned Substations“, so maintenance should have been performed relatively recently.

(3) Toronto Hydro has a 12-acre Service Centre at 500 Commissioner’s Road.  The Toronto Portlands Company saw this development as so important that it produced two videos on the project that started in 1994, originally a Shell Canada site since the 1930s.

Conclusion:  If the power is on for Toronto Hydro and for the TTC, Riverside (South Riverdale) should also have power!

General Systems Yearbook 2013: Service Systems, Natural Systems – Sciences in synthesis 0

Posted on December 02, 2013 by daviding

The fifth issue of Systems Research and Behavioral Science for 2013 has now been officially published.  The special issue features the content of the General Systems Yearbook, including publication of presentations derived from the ISSS San Jose 2012 meeting.  In addition to the hardcopy and official electronic version, authors are allowed to distribute preprint versions of the content.  Thus, two new articles are available:

… in addition to the earlier article:

Here’s an index to the full issue:

Service Systems, Natural Systems—Sciences in Synthesis (pages 519–521) David Ing and Jennifer Wilby DOI: 10.1002/sres.2230
An Overview of International Society for the Systems Sciences 2012 Plenary Presentations: A Supplement to the Editorial (pages 522–526) Gary Metcalf and Pamela Buckle Henning DOI: 10.1002/sres.2212
Rethinking Systems Thinking: Learning and Coevolving with the World (pages 527–547) David Ing DOI: 10.1002/sres.2229

2013/10/07 Lectures at Aalto University (web video) 1

Posted on October 27, 2013 by daviding

The Creative Sustainability program at Aalto University recorded the two lectures that they hosted on October 7.  They’ve done the post-production work to make the videos available on the web. The recordings are HD-quality, so they can be viewed full screen on Vimeo.

The first talk on “Service Systems, Natural Systems: Systems Approaches to Urban Issues”, given at the Aalto University Design Factory, is at  The slides, on the Coevolving Commons, were originally written for a City Sciences meeting at the University of Toronto, about a year ago.

David Ing - Service Systems, Natural Systems: Systems Approaches to Urban Issues from Creative Sustainability on Vimeo.

The second talk on “Design Flaws and Service Systems Breakdowns: Learning from Systems Thinking”, given at the Aalto University Media Factory, is at .  The slides, on the Coevolving Commons, were a preview of the presentation for the Relating Systems Thinking and Design 2 2013 meeting at AHO (The Oslo School of Architecture and Design) later that week.

David Ing - Design Flaws and Service System Breakdowns: Learning from Systems Thinking from Creative Sustainability on Vimeo.

I always look forward to interacting with the students and faculty at Aalto University.  Viewers may notice that, although I may use some of the same stories in different venues, my style is generally not to rehearse presentation in advance, in the interest of being more present in the moment.

October 2013 lectures: Helsinki, Oslo, Hull, Oxford, London 1

Posted on September 30, 2013 by daviding

Offers to lecture for some friends at universities in Europe has led to a schedule of seven lectures at six universities. New presentations slides were created for the Relating Systems Thinking & Design 2 meeting. For first few lectures, I’ll be repurposing slides on other topics.

Saturday, October 5, 14:00-15:30 EET Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Master’s Degree Program in Industrial Management (hosted by Marjatta Huhta) Bulevardi 31, second floor, V114 (building front door locked on weekend, students enter on courtyard side with iron gate) Business Models and Evolving Economic Paradigms: A Systems Science Approach

Revised: Rethinking Systems Thinking: Learning and coevolving with the world

Monday, October 7, 10:00-11:00 EET Aalto University, CS 0010 Projects (Regional Innovation Ecosystems Workshop), Lecture on “How to handle complex systems in city-planning context?” (hosted by Tiina Laurila)

  • The main task of this workshop is to plan and design a desirable courtyard for Aalto University Design Factory, Venture Garage and Urban Mill that will inspire the development of the creative community on Otaniemi Campus.
Design Factory, Stage, Otaniemi Campus Service Systems, Natural Systems: Systems Approaches to Urban Issues

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