Why I Give Stuff Away

Why do I prefer to put stuff in the public domain?

4 reasons:
  • It's fun. Creating stuff is fun. I love it. It really gives me a thrill. I surprise myself. It feels good.
  • I couldn't pay a lawyer to defend my fence anyway. That's time and energy taken away from creating, learning, resting, fooling around.
  • I can't be responsible for what you do with what started off as mine and is now yours. I invent with good intentions and you tweak it to make it deadly. I'll do my best not to create things that can be used to do harm, but the intentions is in the user and in the next developer.
  • What we call "mine" wasn't mine to start with. I'm a figment of the imagination, part of the whole enchilada, a finger in the hand.
If you draw it, it's "me, fence, you and above".

See? You can draw it, and make something better of it.

So it's really five reasons. ;-)



>why do we have a leader?

Interesting question, thanks.

I don't have a leader. I have many leaders. People who are more advanced than I am on several pathways, which is easy. I choose who I follow, and who I stop following.

So, I guess, if you want to have people like me following you, you'd better do good stuff and move forward. Just saying.

Much of that is about the "who", and I guess I'm more interested in the "what".

I contribute to what they [My Leaders ;-)] do because I want to see that work advanced. I'd like to do what I can, part time, to advance X, Y and Z, or actually the parts of it all where I can contribute.

The "why" is usually obvious, but there's also the fun element. More and more, I find both can go together: a strong fun element and a strong contribution element.

If the skin is a bracket, fun is a plus sign that goes inside the bracket, and contribution is a plus sign that goes outside the bracket. Like this: "+)+". So lives with joyless contribution are "-)+", and selfish lives are "+)-".

I try to make my life a "++)++". Often I sense I'm not contributing enough to compensate for the fun I get from contributing, if that makes sense!

Sometimes it's so good it's exhausting, and I must take a nap. And I do, cos you know what? Human timing starts at zero hours (midnight), when you're supposed to be asleep. So I guess sleep is important, and what you do first. ;-)

I contribute using my strengths, not my weaknesses: I translate, bring in stuff from other places, document. I don't have time or land or tools? Not surprising: most things in the world I don't have them! I'm happy to see that others go faster and deeper and better.

And, by the way, I'm not a "we". At least most of the times, unless I choose to, or with my family and close friends. So asking me about a "we" is going to bring up an "I" answer.

Thanks for asking!



Translations as part of DOcumentation for Open Source Appropriate Technology

Razi Masri is doing great things with documentation for the hexayurt and more generally for open source appropriate technology.

Over twitter, I suggested "translation should be considered early in the process". Pressed for details, I said "format should not get in the way, and help should be easy to get and give".

Now, that's twitter and 140 characters or less, so let me expand.

It's fuzzy but, hey, that's what it is at this point, at least for me!

1. Software is run by computers, who read computer code and make it do things. Hardware is built by people, who read the documentation and make physical objects. For us, documentation is our code. You teach me how to tie a shoelace and that makes me free.

2. There's lots of experience with translation, and many tools. I know what I know, which means you can help with what you know, and connect the networks of people working on this. The job is not done, and it's important.

Most of my experience is here. I have more questions than answers, but we'll find out with practice and collaboration. Maybe we need to think of documentation and translation as a tool or set of tools that need to be documented themselves.

3. Documentation is text (lightly or heavily formatted), annotated images, and video with subtitles and voice. Out of all that, text is what's touched by the translators. It is created and then recreated when the designs evolve.

4. In the end, access to that text is vital for the translator.

Hardest access comes in the shape of heavily formatted PDFs such as SCIM. Wikis such as appropedia are easier and have their advantages for cooperation, but you need to have a username and a password, and learn some syntax. Even easier to use is piratepad.net, where you just write away, though of course it has limitations.

Are there tools that decouple format from content? I've used http://translate.google.com/toolkit and it's good for some things. You need to log in to google, I think.

Images should have no text, and that's relatively easy. But what about diagrams?

Subtitles should be separate from the video itself. No problem with that.

5. Translators need help.

In my experience, typing away on a piratepad is pure joy, because you have the encouragement that comes from seeing other people typing away in parallel, you can chunk out the work flexibly as you go along (always finding something easy is a must!), and you can swap help by typing directly in the edit window, or in the conversation window.

Google's translation toolkit divides sentences up nicely, keeps format and links, and can even suggest an automatic translation. There's the possibility to use or even create glossaries, which is an important tool for technical translations - and technical translations is what we do.

6. I don't think we're done yet, at all!


Why I love SCIM, and what to do about it

Update: SCIM is in English here, and in Spanish here.

SCIM is Vinay Gupta's "six ways to die" on steroids.

It builds from a fundamental approach to catastrophic situations (and developement, and poverty) with - surprise! surprise! - people in the middle.

It's all about death (yucky, I know, but it's at least a good conceptual stiletto):
  • We die, in different numbers, from a small group of causes.
  • We use infrastructure to delay deaths.
  • If we understand infrastructure we can go about our very basic job, which is creating room for people's lives, better.
Of course, it's not all about death. There's also pain, and function.

And there's also groups of people, and organisations, and nation states. They can also "die" if they malfunction or cease to exist. And then people - all that matters, if you ask me - suffer too much, or die too soon.

In comes Vinay's model, a way to quickly and flexibly map complex realities so that we - you, me, anyone - can cut through the chase, find something important that needs doing, and do it. Then go back to sensing, mapping, doing - sensing, mapping, doing - until at least a number of important things are fixed.

Do you think it could help people in Greece? Maybe. Do you think some of them might want to look at this tool? Again, maybe.

By all means, read the whole lot in English or in Spanish (page 11 missing), in less-than-20 easy pages, and make up your own mind.

Now, what next? Thing is, I'd love to see this piece of work translated into 20+ languages.

See, I've helped that happen for other works. It's about using or creating a seed, a format, a way to work - taking the first step ourselves - then maybe helping others multiply it immensely - then watching it explode.

Lazy Power. (Ok, maybe not so lazy. Ever had a hand at translation, yourself?)

So, how do we do that for this specific piece of text (and charts)? Thanks for your precious advice. I'll write updates here or generally on the blog.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. :-)


OODA at the species level

The basics

Each of us 7 billion people on this one planet run through John Boyd's OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act) hundreds, perhaps even thousands of times a day.

Most of the times our actions are instinctive, related to small actions, and directed to basic goals like survival or comfort - the urgent cell of the "urgent x important" matrix.

The "orientation" element of the loop feeds into everything else, and the world is so complicated and complex that we need to ruthlessly select our perceptions, and severely limit our own options for action.

A concept and a story

When I learned about "alternatives" I was taught that there are alternatives for "what is" (different ways to look at a situation) and alternatives for "what can I do" (set of actions that are available to us there and then).

The basic example is the flowers on the office table:

  • Alternative what-is options include secret or not so secret lovers, unremembered birthdays, good job news, someone who left the flowers there by mistake, and possibly many others.

  • Alternative what-can-I-do options include throwing the flowers away, taking them home, giving each flower to a different person, drying them, or whatever other alternatives you or others can think of, then or later.

Some time later, a small story showed me we don't always look at alternatives.

A friend had waited outside the doctor's office and found the doctor wouldn't come and had told nobody. Her only explanation was "he's fed up with me". The only course of action was "I will look for another doctor or do without".

In 2 minutes of dedicated perceptual work, we came up with several other "possible reasons" for the doctor's behaviour: "he worked a lot last night and just had to go home to take a nap", "he has family problems that are unknown to us", etc.

The course of action now included "go and ask him politely".

(The doctor's mother had died.)

What to do

By the end of our OODA loops, we end up doing stuff that stresses and kills us, and stresses and kills the planet.

I feel we can only start to try and change that a little by a combination of "changing perceptions of reality", and "changing the available options". "Change" here means refinement, sharpening, reinforcement, challenging, reinventing, creating from scratch - you name it.

Not easy, aka lots of details and room for innovation, but that's what we need to do.

May write more later, but please do part of the job yourself. ;-)


Sporulation (early draft)

From the wikipedia
a spore is a reproductive structure that is adapted for dispersal and surviving for extended periods of time in unfavorable conditions. Spores form part of the life cycles of many bacteria, plants, algae, fungi and some protozoa.[1] A chief difference between spores and seeds as dispersal units is that spores have very little stored food resources compared with seeds.
I can't find a quote, but apparently some organisms create spores when the environment starts to get stressful.

Some history

Some 20-30 years ago, I read in the Byte magazine an article, possibly by Jerry Purnelle, about how there where 3 ages in computing: mastodontic computers with priests and air-conditioning (for the few, period), the revolution of the dwarfs (in which we all wanted our own hard disk and pre-laser printer), and finally the network (in which you could be brains or memory or google or a printer of whatever kind, and finally, they say, the internet of things).

Some time after 2005, my own inmersion in catastrophology, surrounded by stuff like The Citizen's Manual (FluWiki), Get Pandemic Ready / Ready Moms, and Gupta's Severe Pandemic [insert links later], gave birth to the idea of The Final Edition. This was to be a compilation of open documentation that would be explicitly made available to newspapers all over the world, so that they would be able to use the last drops of civilization's ink to provide “survival and better” content to everyone, in paper format.

All this is of course part of the idea behind medieval monasteries: you collect important knowledge in safe places, and keep it ready to spread as soon as the outer atmosphere changes again to make new growth possible.

And “stress”, well, it's all around us, no? After all, that's why Monki created the “6 ways to die” for the internet.


There are a few elements in this, so let's sort it out.

Which knowledge? I'd vote for Appropedia (images included), Where there's no doctor, Wireless Networks for the Developing World, and a few other things. When I read “Earth Abides” - in which the main character decides it's not read-and-write skills that will make the most difference, but arrow-and-bow skills, transferred as fun games - I thought I'd include Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats and Lateral Thinking tools. But of course each of us has their preferences [Josef Davies Coates' compilations], and some even have their own specific contribution [Vinay's] that they would like to put out there for others to download [link to Linus Torvald's quote on “real men don't make backups”].

In which format/medium? Computers are thought to be the default place to stick the knowledge into. Some have tried to print the whole of Wikipedia, creating a hardpaper. A combined approach, like The Final Edition idea, is promoted by the “2 pager docs” by Whoever He Is [ask Vinay]: keep it in files, but by all means make it printable just in case. Of course, the availability and size of external drives makes it possible to keep maybe 1 terabyte of data, making copies into other people's disks in a kind of distributed network of sporae (sp?).

Both questions feed on each other, of course.

Next steps

So, what do we do now?

Personally, I'm restructuring my storage into 3 kinds of folders/directories: Private (birthday pictures and the like), Action (getting things done, given that life goes on regardless of perceived risk), Spores (the kind of things I'd share with others in a network of sporulation). A couple of external drives will act as memories. I'll try and convince a few friends of mine to keep copies of at least some things, here and there.

Regarding most issues I'd appreciate your help:

Computers, there are a few, but I'm not sure what to do about energy. Solar panels are not easy & cheap right now. Other solutions, not sure at all. It's an open question.

As for content, I have some ideas, and we could use what Alex suggested: a piratepad instance for a collection of links to the stuff we need.

We need to streamline the whole process: what to keep, how to keep it, how to transfer it to other places, and how to de-sporulate (the “then what” question, which includes “translation”). I'm a newbie, but I'm sure many others have thought deeply about it, so we need to use that, right?


A brief summary in numbers

We'll soon be 7kM = seven thousand million people = 7,000,000,000 personal individuals, pretty much most of us with a soul, uniqueness of POV and feeling, or scientifically acceptable equivalent.

Our life expectancy is in the order of 100 years, not 10 years or 1000 years. So, in rough numbers, with a stable population, 1/100th of us should be born each year, and 1/100th of us should die each year.

Death itself is not optional, but when and how and at whose hands, yes, that's optional.

In fact, according to world statistics, about 60,000,000 of us die every year, and more are born. Of those who die, figures vary, but possibly about a third die before their time, for reasons tightly coupled with poverty.

So poverty is a "20,000,000 individual humans a year" issue. Ten times the population of the islands I live on, wiped out each year because they don't have enough resources, economic or otherwise, to keep themselves alive for as long as I can.

And death is only a marker for what's been called the Life-Really-Sucks Syndrome. So those 20M that die are a reminder of the, what?, 2kM whose lives are shitty?

It's no surprise the mind turns away from this stuff.

The reason, we tell ourselves, is that it's impossible to take that in (and no, numbers don't cut it), and that we can't do much anyway.

So we focus on the immediate issues: we the rich are digging up resources in order to become richer, killing the biosphere and our share of the poor in the process.

So we look at democracy and banking. And we tell politicians and bankers - no, we don't just "tell them" - we tell them strongly, in no uncertain terms, that they should behave. And we clap our ears everytime a leak is wikied, and everytime an annonymous action makes the news or excites our decaffeinated social networks.

Bullshit, mate. Bullshit. And you and I and pretty much everyone in our rich countries know it.

But who are we, if we're looking into numbers? We are the likes of the USA (305M = 305,000,000 people), Europe (500M = 500,000,000 people), Japan (120M=120,000,000) and not many more. That's 925M=925,000,000 people out of 7,000,000,000 = 13% = one in eight.

I know, I know: some in our countries are into relative poverty. Maybe 40M in the USA need food coupons at some point before the end of the month. And Japan has had many villages washed away by the part of the sea, pushed to their homes by the massive Earth that we're supposed to own. And Europe, you and I know it, has the Greek, the Irish, the Rroma.

But I guess there are also, to compensate numbers a bit, rich people in poor countries, so maybe rich people in general are about 10-15%, one in eight, of the whole world's population.

This means that for every one of "us", you and I, there are 7 "others".

So we'd have to give away, and stop using, 6/7ths of our resources? Do we consider it "not solvable and they have to die, like everyone else, but sooner than our age, and their lives suck and that's it"? Is there no other way? And won't they come at us, the healthiest and strongest and most desperate and closer-to-us among them, kindly asking - no, strongly demanding that we give up their share? And won't that strong demand, or our backslash, create the recipe for the kind of struggle that might "kill us all" (whatever that may mean in practice)?

We don't know, mate, we don't know.

But we're all gonna die, said the happily depressed nihilist, so we might as well give it a chance with all our might.

So, here's the challenge. We need to find the ways to:
  • Provide the basics, and then better, for exactly everyone.
  • Stop mining the Earth for non-renewable resources, and even restore the land and its riches.
  • Deal, preventively, with those who can kill us all.
  • Do it soon and unstoppably, starting yesterday.
Now, we're doing numbers here, right? Let's proceed.

We need a basic infrastructure packet for everyone on Earth. At 5 people per hexayurt & associated distributed infrastructure, that's at most in the order of 300 bucks per head = 300 x 7,000,000,000 = 2,100,000,000,000 dollars or euros or whatever. Maybe twice as much if we want no-low-back-pain agriculture and stable cell-phone networks.

That's comparable to the numbers that are being thrown around in terms of debts.

On top of that, we need an atractive infrastructure operating system, one that will make cool life posible. One that will let us work exactly one hour a day if we choose to do so.

That might take longer, but it starts with automated machines that take the soil beneath your feet and turn it into bricks to make homes, build agricultural infrastructure, etc. At a cost in terms of experts' time, and developers' time, that's much less than the wikipedia. At a cost in terms of money that would amount to maybe 2 dollars per person on these islands.

And of course we need to do both, because unfolding a newer operating system doesn't inactivate the previous one's messes. It's not that simple at all.

But it's doable, and we don't do it because we don't want to, or because we don't know how to do it, or most likely because not enough among us want to or know how to do it.

Let me repeat.

Not enough among us want to. And not enough among those who want know how to do it. So we're not doing it.

We're not doing it.

How do we "solve" that? It's an open question. One that invites your answer. Let's take steps and talk with everyone about it until we're moving unstoppably in the right directions. And let's also accept that it won't work.

But build we must.


ItC iconised


Look out the window and you'll see more than one possible future.

With many important instances, we don't know about probabilities, so we talk about scenarios, and we can even arrange those scenarios as a colourful fan, like the colours out of a prism, sorted from "best imaginable future" to "worst imaginable future".

Some of the "best imaginable" are barely imaginable and no, I don't think "our simultaneous falling off a horse with ecological enlightenment" is likely at all. It's a scenario to play around with, if we have time. And approaching 7,000,000,000 people, we do have some time between us, so go for it if you're so inclined.

Some of the "worst imaginable" are indeed hopeless, and if and when it's certain that an asteroid the size of the Earth is going for our center of gravity, then I'll join the tearful carnival. Or maybe:
  • Denial will kick in and we'll keep planting seeds.
  • Or we'll start throwing information into space, for someone else.
  • Or we'll take care of each other to bring the grand total of momentary happiness to its max.

Thing is, we see no such asteroid, and we have no precedent of simultaneous enlightenment, but the fan is still there, and the colorful ribs still point to our here and now, so what do we do?

Experience suggests some present actions are cheap and just make sense. So we drop an umbrella in the car, just in case it rains.

But the best course of action is doing stuff that's good for several scenarios:
  • Kids learn to swim to have fun, and they can also recover a lost ball.
  • You buy a phone to stay in touch with friends, and it helps you call for help with a flat tyre.
  • You use hexayurts for Burning Man and, voila, it can be used for disasters and poverty too.
Which brings us to seeds and documentation.

I feel one of the best actions today is the creation, preparation and disemination of good seeds that can stay in the shade until it rains, know-how that can explode in a rush, informational air-bags that can go viral.

Both a knot and a hexayurt can be made with available resources, but you need to know how to make them.

Which is why I think you should take a look at learning, making and documenting good stuff:


So, as promised in the title, here's "Imagine the Canaries", iconised - feel free to improve, as it's public domain:


Contagion across the barricade

I first came across this concept in a book called "The chalice and the blade".

Apparently, cities in Greece were peaceful, but when one attacked the other then the other responded, first peacefully, then with force.

So there's many among us, and many inside each of us, and we all have a sleeping warrior within, waiting to raise his warrior head if the environment awakens him.

Yet, there's also an observer within us. One that, just guessing because I'm not a practitioner in meditation, comes up strongest, and calmest, and most powerful, when we meditate.

If that observer calls warrior-ness a disease, then that disease can be communicated without physical contact, without germs or vectors, across the barricade.

And a disease it is, because warrior-ness kills more than it heals. It makes room for new stuff, but so does creation of new stuff to make old stuff obsolete.

Creation of new stuff doesn't have the secondary effects, the sequels, the damage of war and killing.

I'm finally reminded of the conversation between two men in what's now called America - in the land where maybe someone will say, in the future, "America was here".

The conversation was about a dream the younger man had had. In the dream there were a dark wolf and a shiny wolf. "Who will win" was the question. The answer was: "the one you feed".

Let's feed our better wolf, and let's win by obsoleting war.

This inner fight is harder than war, for those who need the adrenaline.

Just saying.


My current fear

Ok, so here's my current fear.

Worth nil, of course, but here it is.

I fear the economic mess Europe is in will bring a melt-down in a few months.

I fear I haven't done enough.

I have a smaller fear, of course, which is that my bigger fear will be "wrong (in timing)" = "you did all that work and nothing happened (yet)".

This smaller fear keeps me (relatively) paralysed, and knowing this makes my bigger fear stronger.

"Take action", you say. "Any small action."

Yeah, thanks. :-) It's just that I revisit the roundabout every now and then, and a second later I'm on the road again.

Same with you, or what?


Ideas that blew my mind today

That's 3, sorry, 4 ideas in one day.

Too many mind-blowing ideas per time-unit.

That's future shock.

And it's only going to get worse.

So FuckIt.


How do you start?

How do I start meditating?

How do you start exercising?

We start by stopping.

We stop doing other things.

Look at what you do, and stop it.


Build, Baby, Build

I heard it the other day, a summary or echo of what's already going on in the software & wiki & maker culture.

... build things ...

  • grown exactly one green pepper.
  • helped with translations and documentation.
  • done hexayurt models and shown them to others, which apparently has helped.
  • helped get user groups running.
  • helped others document stuff.
  • connected "people who do stuff" to each other.
  • thought a lot and shared that with others, if that counts, which probably doesn't sensu stricto.
  • (making music is out, unless it's heard - and it isn't.)
I want to do much more. Ok, a bit more as time allows. Maybe some tiny bit of all this:
  • set up my video production chain, and do some, erm, educational videos. People being able to learn to do important stuff quickly is important. Think medieval monasteries, for useful books, and with zero friction.
  • keep helping the hexayurt and the opensourceecology folks with what they're doing. Again, know-how.
  • set up a wiki in Spanish for various stuff. I'll need geeky help with that.
So, for me, it really looks like it's mostly "document, baby, document" and "explain, baby, explain".



My "The Future We Deserve" entries

Over at TheFWD, I wrote 3 pieces:
After that, I wrote a one-pager in Spanish, free to edit and pass on (public domain), which I may translate to bring it here, about how to look at actionable stuff in 20 minutes.

It's many of us, so I guess maybe we can build on that?

Global Justice Movement


4th July 2011. I'll be busy all day, and some 3000 km away from the meeting point.

Other than that, I'd love to be there, and will want to look at the summaries and comments.

We people need a sense of "what to do, what to do, what to do - the outlook was decidedly blue".

It's obvious where to help when pushing a car with a frozen engine. You look at your hands, look for an empty place at the back surface of the car, then push. And if you can't push, you can at least provide information to those who do, which is a fine way to help, thank you very much.

Not at all obvious with this messy world of which each of us is a tiny part.

Hence the extreme need for maps. Preferably, given the messiness, with several "push here" and "pull from here" locations.

Lungu Lungu


Lungu lungu = "a maze of shortcuts and backways".

That's what I expect the future to be.



Working towards sudden change

Change is accelerating. Not sure about the good change (cheap solar and perfect vaccines) which we'd be happy to welcome. But quite sure about the hurtful kind (disasters) which is already hurting the poor big time.

We, the rich, will remain in denial and/or inaction for as long as we can - i.e., for too long.

That's why I'd try and focus on a few things:
  • Reduce the gap between realisation and effective response. Reduce friction for speedy adoption. With simple tools that use local resources, practical documentation, and open licenses.
  • Create slack. Or at least recognise existing slack.
  • Decouple vital systems from each other. Not everything is equally important. At the very least, do get a crank-charger for the phones of people who repair energy supply.
  • Think about "serious worst-case". Not like a sissy, but like Mercedes Benz engineers think about airbags.

I need to be able to blog in English, that's why

I blog in Spanish at http://imagina-canarias.blogspot.com

I twitter, mostly in English, at http://www.twitter.com/lucasgonzalez

But sometimes I'd like to say something that doesn't quite fit in 140 characters, in English.

So this is the place, and we'll see.