The key design concept behind our Aduo design is the Core, which centralizes all the main mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems of a home into a compact module which can be prefabricated in a factory setting. This concept is not new — in part because we ourselves developed a version of the concept in 2013, as students at Stanford University.

Rob (third from right), Derek (left), and team after a weeklong sprint to reassemble the Stanford Solar Decathlon home in 2013, with the Core in the background.

Back then, Rob Best and I (co-founders of City Systems) were project managers of Stanford’s first entry into the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition, in which collegiate teams across the world designed, engineered, and built net-zero, solar-powered homes…

If accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are the low hanging fruit of affordable housing, garage conversions are the low hanging fruit of ADUs.

A garage conversion we’ve worked on in East Palo Alto.

Garages have existing walls and roof structure that can be repurposed for the ADU. They have optimal driveway access for new construction. They can be converted to an ADU without the need to replace the parking spaces (thanks to 2020 state law). And car ownership is generally on the decline, so more and more garages are just used for storage. …

2021, Week 5 Musings

Multitasking: As I’ve observed the characteristics my own state of working during these long quarantine days, it’s occurred to me that multitasking, often dismissed altogether as impossible, does exist — with certain qualifications. In particular, I think it’s relevant to first characterize different kinds of work by their cadences of attention; certain tasks, like reading, require complete, nonstop attention, while others, like certain data analysis procedures, only demand start-and-stop attention, like writing of code, followed by the running of long processes, followed by the inspection of results and tinkering of original code. In particular, the kind of work with the…

2021, Week 4 Musings

Knotty homonyms: Earlier this week, I tried to say the word knotty in a sentence for the first time, which I know because I was instantly confronted with the novel fear that perhaps everybody who was listening to me may have misunderstood me to be saying naughty. A knotty problem is quite different from a naughty problem, although a problem can be both knotty and naughty. I have since mused that there is a relevant subset of homonyms that can cause dangerous misinterpretations, and so should be singled out conceptually and avoided in general conversation. …

2021, Week 3 Musings

Time management: I’m starting to feel the grueling weight of an idea I believe strongly in, that human attention is the most valuable resource in the universe. I think this principle is useful in general, as a reminder of how we should design a variety of social systems, but taken at the level of personal time management, I’m starting to have to confront the difficult trade-offs I’ve often been too immature to make.

For one thing, as is probably obvious to anybody who knows me, I’m perpetually working on too many things at once, and while I’ve somehow been able…

2021, Week 2 Musings

Two books in progress, Conjectures and Refutations and The Ministry for the Future: I’m participating in a philosophy reading group hosted by the guys behind the Increments podcast, and we’re going chapter by chapter through one of Popper’s books. So far, Popper hasn’t fundamentally reshaped my personal philosophy the way that, say, Peter Singer and Derek Parfit have, but I am very much on board with his core points so far, like the idea that truth is manifest, expressed elegantly in the following line:

“Our knowledge can only be finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.”

I’ll have more…

2021, Week 1 Musings

This is hopefully the first of weekly posts this year I’ll call “Musings” which are all the scraps that I think are worth sharing but not substantive enough to be “entrees” (like my post about the events at the Capitol). I’m basically jotting random ideas down on Google Keep, and each weekend I’ll see if I can whip up a meaningful enough parfait.

Two books, Caste and A Promised Land: The former by Isabel Wilkerson had the more profound impact on my thinking, while the latter by President Obama simply deepened my admiration for him. In recent years I’ve generally…

The other virus plaguing our society

Taken in the Cannon House Building in 2017

Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth. Snape’s Veritaserum. That Disguise spell from Onward that the brothers use to appear as their mom’s centaur police boyfriend, but that breaks as Ian starts to lie.

I thought about such fantastical tools while watching senators lie on my computer screen late in the evening, even by my time zone’s standards, R code running on another monitor, photos of the mob infiltration of the Capitol earlier that day on yet another monitor, and remembered that below the foundation I thought I would be writing about at the start of 2021, moral epistemology, is an even…

Pretty much every year for the past decade, I’ve gotten to year’s end disappointed that I did not write as much as I could or should have. And consequently, I’ve (sometimes) whipped up a voluminous year-end reflection — part art critic roleplay, part philosopher roleplay, mostly skirting of the ultra-personal — as a paltry compensation, complete with year-to-be resolutions including, irresolutely, to write more.

Everything changed in 2020, and nothing changed in 2020. What could have been a gift for the recluse reader and writer — nine months quarantined at home — was spent instead on my most severe bout…

Derek Ouyang

Program Manager of the Stanford Future Bay Initiative ( and Co-Founder of City Systems ( More at

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store