How to read a shoe.

The gist--or one of them--of Bruce Sterling's book about product design and environmental change (Shaping Things) is accessible transparency; that is, the on-demand ability to pull information about the products we buy using RFID tags and the net: physical or chemical makeup, place of origin or where a product ends up after the intended use is "completed," info on the maker or others who use that product, the working conditions of those who created the good, etc. (here's Sterling's speech on this "internet of things").

But Bruce admits that reality is pretty far away. In the meantime, here's a low-fi way to get basic info on products: learn the codes. Kicksonline demystifies the label on your Nikes, decoding numbers that refer to the manufacture date, factory and country of origin, and other details. Like barcodes, the PLU (product look-up) code on fruits or vegetabes can tell you the variety, as well as if it's organic (a five-digit number beginning with a 9), conventionally grown (a four-digit number starting with a 4), genetically engineered (a five-digit number beginning with an 8), etc.

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