A quick entry before being pulled into family gathering to watch 2012 melt into 2013.

2012 was the year of:

Yet more family surgery. All's well now, but was recovery slow & bumpy!

FluSCIM. Heavy, tough, almost toxic weight-lifting. Thanks to a few friends, it's well on its way to being "done and out", so that real business (brutal peer and non-peer review, if I'm lucky) may begin, possibly by the end of Jan 2013.

Edgeryders. Living On The Edge 1, not 2. There's some very good people, of all ages, in Europe and beyond. 2013 should see more of that. Not that I have huge hopes, but if not us (all, or at least many) then who?

3D printing and hackerspacing. Cool. Nice projects in the oven around here.

Music. I've seen beautiful growth, & admitted personal limits. I know where to focus. My own solitary craft. More soon.

I've been looking at the world til it hurts, and focused on not doing stuff.

Helped a bit with the hexayurt project, lended a happy hand to SCIM Greek translation, and taught mindmapping to a fair number.

Open Source Ecology has been good to watch, but what could I actually do?

2013 scares me. Which is why I've been resting. And why I won't be the one to say "let the show begin".

See ya all!


Maps to change the territory

We all know the map is not the territory, and yet we also know changing our minds helps us change the world ... Not all the world, mind you, but just the part within our sphere of actionability: from the edge of your finger-nails towards the center. Yeah, that's where your keys, notepad, screwdriver and phone are.

Maps ... Over the past few weeks I've been talking to people about mindmaps, which has forced me to learn a few things about them (maps and people). Specifically when someone who's tried teaching her kids told me she didn't know what to do when they started growing very large branches, with ideas connected to ideas in an outward spiral, with no end in sight ...

Mindmaps are about self-control and balance. It's (apparently) not the kind of thinking you do when meditating, in which (I've been told) you stick to the center (your breathing, your mantra, whatever) until (again apparently) you're concious of conciousness itself (or something of the sort). It's also not the kind of thinking you do when you explore further and further away, like this lady's kids did, going from content to content to where external stimuli (aka "distractions") will take you. With mindmaps you grow a few central branches, you grab them, and you sort-of fish from them: you stay in place and throw the line, grab the fish, pull the line, throw the line again.

Mindmaps are also about reusable templates - where each template is defined by its main branches. You want recipies? Use the ingredients-tools-procedure-presentation template - useful for any recipe. You want to describe a novel? Use the location-time-characters-plot-style template - useful for any novel. You want to look at people opinions? Use the each-person-their-opinions template (issue as the center, main branches one for each person, secondary branches for each person's real views) - useful for individuals and even countries.

Mindmaps can also help with creative thinking, maybe using two simple questions: what's this an example of? What's another example of this? (I've seen this refered to as "chunking up" and "chunking down".) The simplest example is the car: it's an example of transport, and other examples of transport are bikes and shoes and airplanes. So, sometimes, in a mindmap - or at least in a corner of a mindmap - you start with the leaves (specific ideas) and work your way up to the branches (general concepts), and down again to more leaves (more specific ideas).

So, what's my currently favourite template? My "reusable template for changing the world" (a bit)? Simple: area-wants-haves-cans-first steps.

  1. Let's say we pick a small area of interest, like (this was talking with my friend) we want to improve education in our geographical area. We put that as the center of this specific map. (Have other areas of interests? Do other maps, later!) (Please note: not "(narrow) goals", but "areas of interest". Narrow goals are bad for you: you end up killing for money, etc.)
  2. What would we want to see, our wants? Maybe we want to see more people learning general future-proof skills, or people teaching what they know to others, or people learning faster and with less effort whatever it is that they must learn to pass their compulsory tests. And we certainly want to enjoy the ride itself, too.
  3. So what is it that we have? We know some teachers and some students, and other people who might have resources. We have some links to places students might use to get information from. We know how to use mindmaps, even with software. We may have some room (or, again, know someone who does have room).
  4. Next is, what are some things we can do? Maybe we can grow a business (wild idea), or write a blog entry (nice and simple), or create a group of people who might be interested in exploring this kind of interest (I started with one person, and then a few more). We might start from our own learning needs, or from stuff we can teach, or from people's needs if we see a mismatch between what is needed and what people do know.
  5. Finally, we look at first steps. All those possibilities - we really don't have time for all of that, do we? So what would we actually do, that's within our sphere of actionability? One or two things at most. Doable soon? We go for that, because - to be honest - all we wanted is to gain a slightly better understanding and then actually do something - and do another map at some other date in the future.
I'd like to do this big time. Maybe with 20 people and a 10 meter x 10 meter mindmap or, ok, maybe a smaller surface. For, you know, some area of interest: one of us invites, a number of us join in, there may be several maps/invitations. In ... 2013? So ... my first step was to write this blog entry. ;-) Then, maybe we can show how this is done in, say, some EdgeRyders' (or "Friends of EdgeRyders") meeting? Or should I start smaller and document that? I'll keep you informed!

Of course, none of this is doable unless enough people (one or more) want to. And if enough people want to, the specific tool may not matter much. But, if enough people want to, then the simpler the tool, the better. What do you think?


Alternatives to the dead mule

I've briefly looked at the "fuck'em" issue.

You know, the possibly ephemeral piece of news about the elected president of a European country outlining the cuts, and how a lady, parliamentary representative of the same party, said "fuck'em" on camera.

She said it while the president was mentioning measures to be taken about long-term unemployed people. (That's the context.) Later, apparently, she said her statement was directed not at the unemployed but at the opposition party. (That's what she said.)

Personally, I've never understood politics too well, and I don't like the part I do understand.

I believe that - not just referred to visible politics, but to power in general, including economical power - there has been an inevitable process. 1) It starts with the accumulation of surpluses, specially the centralised accumulation of huge surpluses. 2) Quite naturally, rodents come around in large numbers. 3) From the rodents, the more aggressive predators are selected. I believe there's no way to avoid that - let me put it kindly - part of the powerful ones will have less ethical restraint than the average citizen. (Which, if you're a cynical, you'll say it's not much.)

To that you add that politics stinks so strongly that average citizens stay away from it. Have you tried saying, even as a joke, that you're thinking about entering politics? Try it in three places, as a sample, and I believe in one or two places you'll be frowned upon in disgust. But don't just believe me, and try it out.

I think entering the politics arena can be needed if done in certain ways, as a group and with clear ways to function. But entering politics through the well stablished ways is quite similar to kicking a dead mule.

Furthermore, to be honest, for certain issues I believe there's no time to see any meaningful results. So, given that each of us does what we feel like from among what we can do, I personally don't see me devoting energies to that kind of stuff in any predictable time frame.

So, then, what?

I think there are three things to do, and I was surprised when one of the people who initiated EdgeRyders immediately agreed, and said she would write her personal reflections about it.

The three things I wrote were: "resilience, networks and ethics". Those are my alternatives to the "dead mule", they are what I'm doing and what I want to do.

The part about "resilience" is crystal clear. I believe there are buildings that are falling and there's really nothing we can do about it. Whether we participate or not in their destruction, they are rapidly reaching the end of their time. We need to protect our heads and those of other people, as much as we can.

The part about (human) "networks" is a more recent interest. For a long time I've felt more at ease with abstractions than with mobilising myself together with other people. But at least I want to understand how human networks work, because they are going to play a very important role.

The part about "ethics" is something that, I just realised today, is among what will survive - together with our vital needs - to the changes that are already underway. Meaning that, if there are "abrupt changes" (and don't ask me to be more specific than that) it may be good to keep a concious - personal and maybe flexible - idea about what's good and what's evil.

My ethics, I believe, is quite similar to hacker ethics: contribute, don't wait, recognise other people's work, respect people even if their ideas look silly to you, focus on solving problems (and creating oportunities) in ways others can use, don't surrender (we haven't even started yet), and try not to be too much of a fool or, by Toutatis, too serious.

Of course, "these are my principles and if you don't like them I have others". :-)


The Acceptable Fairies Observation

I went to EdgeRyders' "Living On The Edge" #LOTE conference, and then the #EdgeCamp unconference.

Just a few days have passed, and I can't properly even think of writing about the whole event, because there's so much to digest. [Some would say there's some humanity to digest, but I'll leave the inside joke for another day. ;-)]

For now, I can only focus on one small piece of thinking we came up with, while we were sitting in a quiet corner of the unconference venue.

The conversation was about "truth". Apparently, we can all see that some things are clearly lies: attempts at deception, even self-deception, good old common bullshit. But "truth"?

I tend to look at this from the point of view of evolutionary neurology. We have brains, our ancestors had brains, and only some of our ancestors survived and had kids. So maybe how our brains work has something to do with our survival?

When thinking about "truth", my current belief is we don't know what's out there, and we just have models, reflections of the immediate world, a picture and not the real object. For example, when there's edible food out there, inside my brain the happiness neurons light up: "that food is good".

But is it?

If my senses work well, the "that food is good" inner light will be correlated to the real presence of calories, vitamins, etc, plus the equally vital absence of toxins and germs. Whereas, if my senses don't work well, I'll eat bad food often, and I'll die before having kids. So my senses, in evolutionary terms, are selected to build pictures that somehow match reality.

Now, that's probably true for immediate, vital stuff: we're wired to see the world "well" if not seeing it "well" can kill us soon enough.

Then, why don't we all see that we're killing the world and each other? Why do we even seem to want to believe certain things?

Looking at it through the evolutionary neurology frame, it looks like we're wired to accept each other's fairies.

Why? I guess because accepting the groups' fairies lets me live within a group, and that maximises my chances of survival. I get my calories from our religion. (Which may be "right" or not.)

When looking at what we seem to be doing to the biosphere, my guess is we'll eventually learn that certain fairies are indeed fairies, but it will be too late. (Or maybe not.)

Now, how do you deal with that? Some times it's easy to see other people's fairies for what they are. We can say "this is a case of fairies' acceptance". Some times, it will be our fairies who get in the way.

The problem now becomes, just how much skepticism do we need, and how do we go about it?

I try to keep myself sceptical of other people's fairies by making sure 2% of the people I follow in twitter are, let's say, people I strongly disagree with. That way I get my daily dose of bullshit, and hopefully that keeps my immunity awake.

Except it doesn't quite work, so I'd appreciate knowing your own tricks. How do we not accept our own and each other's fairies?


Starting to almost get it

The Story

We humans have been turning resources into toxic waste at increasing speeds.

Money is fiction. Working fiction, yes, as it gives each of us different leverage in consuming resources, turning them into waste at increasing speeds.

But fighting the 1%, or - given that you and I are probably close to being part of the 1%, because we read and write and use the internet - fighting the 0.01%, so that paper-money is more equitably shared, that doesn't even start to solve the real problem.

The real problem is we're turning resources into toxic waste at an increasing speed.

Ok, there are other problems too. Problems on the side, and metaproblems.

One problem on the side is poverty. Even if resources were eternally abundant, and the waste sink eternally deep, the fact is we're not sharing resources well at all.

One metaproblem is governance. Not in the sense of external governance, like when a horse is told when to jump by the human on top. But in the sense of internal governance, like when a crowd decides to stop before jumping off a cliff. (Yeah, some fall anyway.)

We don't know how to change our ways so that we'll stop burning resources and see that we all live till we die of old age.

The What

We need to consume less. Much less. They say, for the Americans, about 5-7 times less, or something in that order of magnitude. For the Europeans, about 4 times less.

(I don't know what it would mean for people in the Canaries, where we get 80% of our food from an average of 5000 km away, which means transporting our own weight a couple of times a year from that distance, and back. And were we get our money from tourists, 5 for each of us each year, that come and go from similar distances. And that's just transport. So no, I don't know what our footprint is.)

That doesn't mean 5% less. It means 5 times less. Or 80% less.

And that's just the average. Those of us who consume more would consume a higher percentage less. Maybe 90%, right?

Can we even start to imagine it?

You want to live until you die of old age, enjoying discoveries and love, and feeling pain, and living with others, and stopping others from doing bad things - all of that, using a fraction of the resources you use now.

Multiplied by the number of people on Earth who over-consume. Which at the very least includes you and I and some other thousand-ish million people.

In a decade or less, please, as bad stuff is already happening.

And mitigating the already inevitable.

And not making it worse by, say, messing around with "climate mitigation" (over-reaction included). See Cascio over at "Truth and Beauty".

Got it? That's the "what". What we need to do.

The How

I have no idea how to do it.

Killing the super-rich and sharing their paper wealth won't even start to cut it, and is distracting us. Yeah, it's important. As important as writing out your mathematical theorem when someone's stabbing you.

Wouldn't you rather stop the stabbing? I know I would. Among other things, because the stabbing is not just on me, personally, you know.

It won't be with our democracies alone. Imagine we all vote green and pirate, and governments get a mandate to stop this mess. Do they change stuff so we can go on over-consuming?

It won't be with our technologies alone. Imagine we get to have cheap solar all over the place. It will take time, and the incumbents will keep fighting to the death of all. How much time do we have, really, if any?

It will need to cut down on resource-use. Not in spending. In resource use. We can print all the currencies we want to, and probably will need to. But we can't keep burning resources like we have been, period.

I guess it will take everything we have, plus the kitchen sink. Everything from individual enlightenment to political hacking to technology to open networks to you name it. And please name it.

(While on "open networks". They'd better be "open" not just regarding content, but also regarding who to cooperate with, and how to better reach our goals. Just saying.)

The What If

If we make it, joy for all. A planetfull of reasons to be proud. And then, maybe, the stars. Or the deep oceans. Or as much music as we can compose, arrange, and play together.

If we don't ... next please! Life will go on, without us. At the very least, without this way of doing things - turning resources to waste at ever increasing speeds - which is doomed whether we act or not.

I know you know.

So let's look at the How, because I honestly don't have much of a clue.


Sporulation (take 2)

Some organisms create spores when the environment starts to get stressful. (See previous post for comments.)


The Final Edition 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.

A bit like 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.

Link to Linus Torvald's quote on “real men don't make backups”.

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.

Now that we might include:

Pandemic related:
Non-pandemic related:
Alex suggested an etherpad.org instance to collect links.

  1. Computers are thought to be the default place to stick the knowledge into.
  2. Some have tried to print the whole of Wikipedia, creating a paper version.
  3. A combined approach, like The Final Edition idea, is used by the “2 pager docs” by Whoever He Is [ask Vinay]: keep it in files, but by all means make it rapidly printable just in case.
  4. 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 distributed network. What exactly? See previous point.
Ale suggests its own operating system.

Zemby suggests solar panels.

Random next steps

I may restructure 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 would act as memories.

Once it's started, anyone can ask friends to keep at least partial copies, here and there.

Streamline the whole process: what to keep, how to keep it, how to transfer it to other places, and how to de-sporulate, translation.


Life Years

Talking with a friend I've just had a terrible insight.
I told him how human lives can be drawn as parallel lines from 0 to 100 years, and how some lives are shorter than others.

Now, I think poverty's 20M yearly genocide [each year 60M die of all causes, 20M of them from poverty] is on the young.
Lots of unfilled lines.
Maybe more than the "supposed third" that 20M/60M gives us.
How much more? What if it's 50% (or whatever) of human life that's lost to poverty?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Years_of_potential_life_lost gives the concept, but not much data.
http://www.who.int/whosis/indicators/compendium/2008/1llr/en/index.html doesn't seem to give better information than the wikipedia.
The dust-storm doesn't let us see the dust-storm.

I might have to ask Hans Rosling to look into that.
Maybe there's some nice flowing bubbles. Uncertain fuzzy-edged bubbles, but bubbles.

We then need to look at the figures about the ecocide,
collate the technical howto pages (wikipedia, appropedia) for how to solve both *cides at the same time,
give some guidelines and,
on the nth day, take a nap.


The Future We Deserve - Now

So, history tells us it all started with a tweet, when the cheerful Vinay Gupta wrote something like "I'd like to collect 100 entries, 500 words each, about the future we deserve, and turn that into a book".

But I think things probably started much, much earlier, when we humans, now self-centered keyboard-enabled apes, started growing the frontal lobes of our convoluted brains.

Yep. We started thinking about the future. We started behaving like very sophisticated amoebas, but instead of moving towards "more food" and away from "more toxins", we started moving towards "better futures" and away from "less better ones".

It was as if futures really existed in the present, and that way they began to exist in the present.

We - and whatever other animal species that do what we do - really do all our stuff in the present, just like amoebas do.

We use our present muscles to move towards the things we currently value, in the map provided in present tense by our present memories and our present sensory systems and our present sense-making stories - all of them working in real time, which is now.

In any case, the book is now in the past. Or maybe not, if you read it, download it, buy it, or do anything with it that the license, your technical capabilities and your imagination let you do.

Me, I've read all of it at some point during the past year. And now I don't know what else to do ... in the new now.

It's probably time to make noise about the book. Not the book itself, but whatever it is that the authors (that's a "we", given that I have three pieces there) wanted to talk openly about. So, yeah, I'm here for a conversation or three.

And maybe, you know, some action.

What do we want to do with our now, then?


A test to revolutionise disaster aid?

Maybe it has been done. Maybe it hasn't.

Thing is, http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/01/03-2#.TwM6I9iK42A.twitter tells, with 7 detailed angles, how the money sent to Haiti either never made its way there or was given to govts and NGOs that didn't use it wisely if at all.

So here's an idea, that most likely has many issues - or why hasn't it been done yet?

Give the money directly to those affected by a natural disaster.

How could that be done?

Let's say in a country like Haiti around a million people become homeless in five minutes.

A million people is unmanageable, so we select a sample. Maybe 1000 people, just to see how this works. Or even 100 people. Or 10, if we're really poor. Maybe our twitter friends can help us organise that, due to the 6-degrees-of-separation thing, right?

It will be a biased sample, to be sure. So we make it unbiased by asking our Haitian contacts to do a random selection. Select a random town, within that a random neighbourhood, within that a random person.

Wait. A random person? It could be a thief, a drug adict, hell even a corrupted govt official! Yes. But most likely it will be a person in need. Or, if randomness is not carried out in all cases, then half of the recipients will be people in need, and that's better than what's currently happening.

And maybe we want semi-randomness. Maybe we want to give money to the elder, or to women, or to teenagers, or whatever. We could have several subsamples, to see what works better and why.

But, remember, this is not the final solution. Just a test.

Ok, so the person has been selected. Now what?

We'd need three more elements: identification, money, and empowerment.

Identification is needed if we are to track what happens. Maybe our imagined Haiti contact can take a picture of the person, with some paper to identify them? This has to be different in each place. Maybe there are places where some kind of ID works already. (I don't know if Vinay Gupta's CheapID thing has a place here, cos I don't even understand how that process goes.)

Money is what we're giving away, right? Do we give them a phone with credit they can spend? A credit card? They go to some "bank" place with their "tatooed" identification?

How much money? Enough for a hexayurt plus implements? For three months of food plus seeds and agricultural implements a la Paul Polak? The per-person average supposedly donated to Haiti?

In weekly quantities? Half as one bulk and half in weekly quantities?

Empowerment is a booklet with suggestions on how to use the money. A pediabook with a selection of appropedia. A phone so they may ask our contact in Haiti, so that the international community can deliver knowledge right to where it's needed, in the format that will be most useful.

Wouldn't you want to know what they really feel is their problems? This could even be financed as journalism, assessment or whatever!

Empowerment is optional. Maybe we could even try and give either empowerment or money to see which works better, and maybe having both doesn't make a difference. This is all about testing, so I'd be glad if all options were tried out, and failures as well as successes documented.

Tracking is probably hard. We'd like to know what the end result is. How fast these people get on their feet, if they do. Whether or not this is better than other ways of providing aid. Maybe we want a report (using Akvo's Really Simple Report system) before the next chunk of money is made available?

What would we want to know? In-variables such as age, gender, personal story before the distaster situation, and others? Out-variables such as results in terms of practical reduction of the "six ways to die" issues (see below), or even some appropriate metric of these things? Through-variables such as how they select priorities, how they used the money, how they used the stuff they bought with the money, who they spent it on, etc?

First step. My first step is putting this idea out. Any thoughts on what the next step could be? Contacts of any kind? A particular place that would be suitable (not that there are no disasters going on)?

Has this been tried and it has failed? Has it not been tried and if so, why? Has it been tried differently? Do you see any obvious badness in it, or any obvious improvements?

What do we do?

Where I come from: I'm a public health practitioner in a rich country. I translated Vinay Gupta's http://hexayurt.com/hexayurt_country/ and SCIM into Spanish, and have helped document how-to hexayurts at appropedia (even tho' I've never built a real size one myself, yet). I've never travelled to a troubled country.

Thank you.