Monthly Archives: November 2009

Open Source Villages

Today, I came across a presentation called “How to Build a Post-Scarcity Village Using Existing Technology“, which introduces a project called Open Source Ecology.

The people behind the project argue that we already have the technological foundations needed to ensure a sustainable and pleasant standard of living, and that with some effort, these technology can be made available at the cost of “scrap metal + labor”. They’re currently experimenting with easy-to-make prototypes of what they consider to be the technology necessary to bootstrap such a village. The goal is to make a “Global Village Construction Set” with open sourced blueprints, documentation, permaculture designs and descriptions that will enable a small determined group anywhere in the world to build such sustainable communities of their own.

As an example of what such a future of resilient communities might look like, they point to a piece of speculative fiction called The Unplugged. In this future, the unplugged are a group of people who voluntarily leave society and the main economy behind. They build on the idea that if we save up enough money, we can all live off that wealth for the rest of our lives (This is the classic capitalist dream of “getting off at the top”, cashing out and living like you want to for the rest of your life).

Unplugging inverts this notion to some extent by offering the opportunity “buy out at the bottom” and build an independent life-support infrastructure and financial architecture – a society within society at the cost of just three months of wages to get started. Of course, then you’ll have to learn how to live such an unplugged life, and work everyday to ensure your own survival – but you’ll be living sustainably and independently.

I find the whole notion of Open Source Ecology to be fascinating, but it seems to me that the people involved in the projects are more interested in the technical and agricultural aspects of building a sustainable village than in the social aspects. In their presentation, they appear to be aware of this themselves as they’ve sketched out a sort ofsocial contract for their experimental village. Though its rough and unfinished nature is apparent in statements such as “can people simply get along?”

I expect they’ll discover that the hard part about building a replicable sustainable village won’t be the technology part but the getting along part.

Visualising computer memory

Green letters flowing

Did you ever see the Matrix and wonder just how all of those green characters of weird computer code flowing across the screen corresponded to what was represented on the screen inside the matrix?

Well, today I came across a tool on the BERG blog, which shows this correlation very well with real computer code:

ICU64 is a real-time debugger for Commodore 64 emulators. On the right is an emulator program emulating a virtual C64 machine. This virtual machine is running an old C64 game. On the left is ICU64 displaying the memory registers of the virtual C64 machine.

Tom Armitage on the aforementioned BERG blog does well to describe what’s going on:

To begin with, you can see the registers being filled and decompressed to in real time; then, you can see the ripple as all the registers empty and are refilled. And then, as the game in question loads, you can see registers being read directly corresponding to sprite animation. What from a distance appears to be green and yellow dots can be zoomed right into ?? the individual values of each register being made clear. It??s a long video, but the first minute or two makes the part I liked clear: a useful (and surprisingly beautiful) visualisation of computer memory. It helps that the computer in question has a memory small enough that it can reasonably be displayed on a modern screen.

Seeing how the individual memory registers of the C64 as it runs the game, you can get an idea of how the individual bytes all play a part in presenting the game. And as the video progresses, you get an understanding of how you can change individual bytes and thus change the game – in realtime. This is pretty much what Neo does in the Matrix films: He hacks the code of the Matrix on the fly to give himself superhuman powers such as the ability to fly or fight, thereby breaking the programmed laws of the game.

It is a beautiful visualisation of the relationship between the physical computer (the registers on the disk) and the information we see displayed on our screen.

The musketeer rule

Just trawled my way through a ridiculously long slide deck by David Gillespie called “Digital Strangelove – or how I learned to stop worrying and love the internet“.

It has a lot of good points, and describes among other things:

  • How it doesn’t make sense to talk of digital anymore. It is a qualifier that is losing meaning as our physical and digital lives melt together.
  • How all media technology has always been enabling new forms of human expression – and how the Internet has enabled everybody to express themselves in all sorts of new ways. And we don’t know where we might end up.
  • How it doesn’t make sense to talk of social media, since with the internet, all media are social. We might just as well talk of the internet.
  • How the internet is changing the way we perceive media. On the internet, we have to design for the users’ intent and ability to express themselves rather than count upon their passive attention.
  • But the point that stuck with me occured around slide number 190 (!) was the “musketeer rule”, which sort of sums it all up:

    Your intent is framed by the way you deliver value.

    I call this The Three Musketeers rule.

    All for One or One for All

    All For One is 20th century value creation. It is driven by self-interest & excelled in the silos.

    One For All is how businesses thrive today. When they create value for themselves, they create value for an eco-system.

    It is called the ??Good Enough Revolution?, and it is not a conversation about features.

    It is a conversation about benefits.

    Good stuff!

The myth of perfection

One of the bloggers I read regularly is the American journalist Jeff Jarvis. Jarvis provides insight into the changing media landscape, and has written a book called “What Would Google Do”, which uses Google as a case in point of these changes.

One of the most interesting aspects of this is what Jarvis calls the “the end of the myth of perfection.” His point being that we need to get used to thinking products in a web-minded manner: Always in beta, releasing early to learn and collaborate and improve:

This is of course very similar to the open source mindset I’ve studied in my fieldwork, but I find Jarvis says it well. And not only that, he only also makes it clear that this is not just relevant for software developers, but for almost every walk of life. We have to let go of the notion that we’ll ever achieve perfection, and instead focus on how to provide the best circumstances for continual improvement. The new world order is a permanent state of acceptable errors and continuous improvement.

Presenting my thesis (again)

A couple of weeks ago, I presented part of my thesis at the Danish open source conference Open Source Days.

In the process of preparing the presentation, I returned to thesis and delved into the material in a way that I haven’t done since I wrote it. It was interesting to see how my own ideas have developed in the light of what I have learned and worked with since finishing two years ago. So I’ve continued working on the presentation even after the conference, annotating and adding to it, and making a more visual, more updated and – hopefully – more easily approachable version of my thesis than just the raw PDF of the whole thing that I’ve showed so far:

Oh, and if you read it – please let me know what you think can be improved. One big part is probably killing some more darlings, so tell me which parts didn’t work for you.

Roles for the 21st century artist

Recently, I’ve been fascinated with Douglas Rushkoff, and I came across this presentation, in which he does well to sum up some of the main themes of his work. His style is earnest and passionate, and though some of his arguments are very generalized for easy consumption, he does have some very good points:

Talking to a crowd of DIY artists, Rushkoff focuses on how art is changing in the 21st century. He argues that the classic male sexuality curve of narrative with which we’re so familiar (tension, climax, release), and which can be in just about any Hollywood film or thirty second tv advertisement, won’t be the only narrative in town.

Rushkoff argues that the new interactivity and active participation that the Internet and the computer offers us, will lead to new forms of narrative. And he ends his presentation highlighting 3 new roles for the artist to take on to explore these other forms of narrative:

1) Call and response
Open up your narrative for audience participation. The audience is still uncertain of their own abilities, and they don’t yet want complete freedom. Offer them some freedom to participate, but continue to lead the narrative – like classic oral storytelling or protestant preaching. Eventually, they will supply the best ideas for leading the narrative forward.

2) Make tools
Create the tools and means for the audience to tell their own story. Here, the artist’s role is more like the role of the Dungeon Master of old D&D games: He may have absolute power, but he is continually bending the rules and shaping the scenery to create those story moments where the audience, the players can interact and create their own story.
That story is not a matter of reaching the climax and going to sleep. The point of the game is to keep playing the game. To keep the game interesting. The art – the process of playing, of creating the story – is a goal unto itself.

3) Play spaces
This is the hardest part: Creating free spaces where the members of the former audience all participate on equal terms, creating play, art and magic together. Temporary Autonomous Zones without leaders, where everybody is an artist. I wonder whether story club be an example of this?