My name is Ale Fernandez. I live in Barcelona, Spain and I'm Chilean and Italian.
I am a web developer, artist and technical researcher.
I've lived in Scotland, Italy, Spain and England and career-wise I am interested in distributed systems and their applications to improvised performance and ecology.



Call up a tree - at your local ethically grown symbiotic public space

I'm researching for an arts grant call and as I'm about to hand it all in, I thought I'd put on here what I can't fit in my proposal. The best person to introduce it all is Neri Oxman. She mentions 5 tenets of generative design that sound a lot like the beautifully disagreeing Beam Bot philosophy or the 12 principles of permaculture.

But my project isn't just about making something that complies all those great tenets, but it adds an internet connection and community to a "generated" space, together with attempting to deal with a big problem I've seen in working with the Catalan Integral Cooperative, with many intentional communities, trading goods and working together from different locations, so I've been able to see this problem a lot. Communication. My project is all about bringing together sustainable construction techniques, hackerspace style electronic invention and 3d printing in order to create a shared networked space that allows you to experience sensor readings as sound, light, colour and as the shapes and textures of the building itself as it slowly grows and / or is collaboratively built.

I just spent many months working in a cooperative and learning participation techniques, and I'm interested in public spaces and how they have been eroded and yet have become spaces for great experimentation and allegedly brought a lot of cultural renewal and just plain hope when the new deal commissioned a huge amount of public art works. Also I was there in 2011 when the squares were all occupied, and many other self organising movements sprang from or were strengthened by these unique days. Here is a nice presentation on this whole area of generative architecture on a city level which has been my bane all month while researching all this.

M Arch Living Architecture from Rachel Armstrong

So I'd love to link up first of all a central city public space with a very remote but more natural space far away, and see how that relationship progresses. Then I'd try and get more spaces to link too. More on this aspect later, but it's basically the idea of sensors and a space in which to "sense" them comes from an wish to defy the dominance of certain abilities and senses in regular long distance communication, and letting the others blossom too.

On a larger scale, it's an attempt to add people and real situations to what is being theorised about a lot, and shown off a lot to well off clever people. I think housing is a social issue and in dire need of reform. I think both the intentional community inhabitants and generative design experts of the world can learn a lot from each other.

Right here in barcelona live - a group presented really nicely in this Pecha Kucha from a couple of years ago by Marta Malé-Alemany of Barcelona's Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia and beyond. Around 1.45 she starts talking about the properties of modern houses and at 4.07 she shows a 3d printed architecture by a team called Digital Vernacular and some of their generative designs for houses:

I don't really like the idea of a truck with an arm printing out houses, I'd rather it had more involvement from people or communities, especially if that makes these methods cheaper and more accessible. Digital Vernacular's own video is a bit more slow moving:

But then my problem is mostly with modern online communication. I feel the data surveillance state present in the modern internet as well as the dynamics of online contact brings a lot of problems when trying to communicate or cooperate at long distances, due to our culture around them. Having said that, transport fuels are getting more and more expensive every day, and will soon become an elite privilege, so a logical answer to that is relocalisation, movement from complex to simple and from centralised to distributed. A networked, tech but eco friendly set of communities might be the answer to the usual problem with these situations - loss of contact. As communities get more and more self sufficient they get more parochial, but an exchange economy might be enough reason for us to want to be in touch with each other, and not just be stuck with whoever is in your particular group, and this requires long term ability to understand each other.

A big problem resulting from this disconnection is the lack of human contact, of everything that doesn't actually go in emails or videos and that is just part of our day to day, what isn't shared or said, maybe that we are not even aware of. In the long term this leads to problems between the inhabitants of both spaces or of those areas. In a more radical sense, I believe in all aspects of our environment have the right to be felt, seen or heard. I want to bring seismic, co2, emf, light and temperature readings, electrode fitted leaves and moisture in the air, to the fore via this project and create public sensory artworks that can allow for this networked communication between spaces, in a way that informs their own growth or maintenance.

So here is what I've written so far for the proposal (I've now scrubbed all of this out in the actual proposal and started again, but maybe it explains it all some more)

Modern organic and generative architecture such as that proposed by Rachel Armstrong's Protocells or sustainable building techniques such as the earthship, attempt to turn around the classical process of mineral extraction, and industrial processing and product manufacturing into something more modular and grown. There is however little contact between the emerging technologies at the forefront of these activities, such as 3d printed FabClay or the open source hardware shelter system, the Hexayurt, and the traditional and natural ideals behind a lot of popular low impact construction techniques. Modern construction still favours the private rather than the public or community based. Another problematic aspect of architectural construction is the emphasis on the rational right brain rather than the spiritual or emotional aspects of living spaces – creating “squares”, involving extensive planning, precise requirement identification, expensive construction costs, and ultimately the short term outlook of the finished product.

This project will use technical workshops together with democratic and participative meeting formats in order to teach a group of people a series of building techniques, and give them the tools required to build a generative organic, low impact structure that can then continue to grow beyond the project's lifespan.

At each point in it's modular growth, the construction of this shared space can be informed not only by human planning and calculation, but also via a strong connection with the surroundings of each space and it's inhabitants, and of that of similar spaces. Circuits and sensors would process and retransmit data that could then inform the 3d design of new parts of the space. I am currently investigating 3d clay printing, firing and assembling as an outer layer around compressed earth or plywood. The end result would therefore be to enable participants to draw from techniques as disparate as 3d printing and clay firing, use of recycled materials and sharing ambient sensor data across multiple interrelated and networked spaces.

The creative process would be something like as follows:
  • A group of participants is assembled in a natural space, such as an intentional community.
  • They participate in a series of workshops on clay firing, kiln building, 3d modelling, 3d printing, circuit building and networking
  • A first space is created using quick but sturdy sustainable construction techniques.
  • This space is then networked: Seedstalkers or similar arduino based circuits can collect from a variety of ambient sensors, for example light, moisture, heat, electromagnetic fields and seismic data. The data would then be used on site, and in one or more affiliated spaces.
This data would allow non human-centric interactions to inform the next stages of the building process – for example creating spaces that can resonate acoustically according to sonic readings or generative designs based on the sum of EMF readings, that correspond to the presence of people with devices or other sources of static electricity.

The sensor data would be performative and would allow for affective communication between the inhabitants of this space and others: In other words, this space can be “played” and “felt”, not just by human beings. Readings wouldn't be experienced as graphs or statistics on device screens, the interpretation of which demands a certain educational background. Instead they would be present as a more organic collection of sound, light or the output of laser rangefinders, LED based circuits or simply natural resonance in fired earth structures, to be experienced only in this space and in it's interconnected siblings.

The ultimate aim of this project is therefore a geographically distributed network of symbiotic and shared public spaces, built democratically and organically, for longevity, from cheap local materials and that can speak a language of gestures, presence, warmth and vibration. There is a union not only between sustainable architecture, arts and technology, but also a meeting of disruptive design concepts with the universal right to have access to free information and to a living space.


A recap

Here is a quick recap since it's been a while I've written here (I've written a bit on my blog in though).

When the spanish protest camps made their decision to shift focus from camps to assemblies in each neighbourhood, back in June, I started going to my local commission meetings. It was a brilliant experience, to sit with other spaniards and see what we actually wanted to implement from our experience of the camp. I took part in the culture group and talked about participative art, and how you can use flashmobs and quite innocent actions to get people involved, or at least questioning things. We organised a cabaret where we brought together lots of local people for a memorable performance in our local square. This was in Sant Andreu del Palomar. I've since moved to the city centre, so am too far away, but I have about 4 different assemblies to choose from here, and getting energy to get stuck in a bit more.

Sant Andreu in Barcelona is an area with small streets and old and beautiful mediterranean houses a bit like Gracia, but without the drunken tourists. It was a bastion of resistance to franco, and before then, one day in 36 it was the area where thousands of rifles were siezed by local anarchists - contributing massively to their short but inspiring time of self organised local democracy. One assembly participant said the soldiers there had left their bullets in a different warehouse across the yard so they couldn't shoot them! Another described the taking of plaza catalunya back then, as told by grandparents - that the fascist soldiers were expecting the civil guard to be on their side, but they weren't - and they didn't have a chance, and he showed me which way everyone had gone. Back to this century - we then organised an end-of-summer "university" with the Universitat Indignada, which led to me talking about Transition Initiatives together with Antonio Scotti of Barcelona en Transició to a full square, and showing In Transition. Somehow there were also 3 other Peak Oil related talks, one of which was Martí Olivella, doing the rounds with his own version of Transition - applied in his case to politics. Soon after, we started an urban garden project with a lot of enthusiasm from pretty much everyone who passed: someone asked - "when do you meet? Every Monday?" "I don't know it's our first time, but okay!" and they are still at it...

With all the other members of Barcelona en Transicio, this cultural revolution that was the 15-m protest movement emerging from the squares, really got us energised, as people were now asking real questions, not just about the economy but about the earth, and family and the future. I just got the news the other day that 400 people have signed up, in a village out in the countryside, to support a politically oriented version of the Transition Towns recipe, pioneered by one of the speakers at our Uni Indignada: Marti Olivella, and an enormous stretch of land once used by Coca Cola is now to be proposed as a project to the local city council for food growing projects, and of course there is Calafou - the post-capitalist experimental factory space outside Barcelona, by the fantastic Montserrat Mountains. In Calafou, there is a hackerspace and a brewery project, as well as many smaller workshop spaces and living spaces - all closely linked with local assemblies so as to provide an alternative system in which to start to inhabit, and slowly stop being so dependent on what are now very fragile and unequal societies.

The hackerspace for now is inhabited by Lorea developers, the creators and maintainers of the 15-M's own ELGG based social network (but federated, secure, private, collaborative, and task/collab oriented) -

Of course I played a lot of gigs for fundraisers, and got out a lot of old chilean Nueva Trova songs that I'd not played for years, but somehow fit the times again....

Now that the Occupy movement has joined in this incredible form of protest and reinvention that began for us back in May, things are really starting to change on a global level. I expect the governments and powers that be might even make some token concessions at this point, to try and get everyone christmas shopping.

The occupy movement has inspired a huge amount of creative, projects that work across disciplines in modern culture creating international IRC networks, teamspeak meetings, physical journeys or meetings. Some of these projects and initiatives start to build a symbiotic rather than parasitic kind of technological and social system around us. Now we are dominated by algorithms that determine all the decisions for us.

And then, there's the urgent problems around. Who am I to say anything, but this is meant to be a global movement for democracy so here is my suggestion:

It's a plan for a way to do a global people's meeting, like a giant physical and virtual assembly where we all, the people of this earth, as a one off, meet, and decide once and for all the future of the planet and what we are going to do about it. Think of it as a people's Bretton Woods, without the bickering. There are lots of smaller regional initiatives going on, but it's hard to organise larger get togethers, but we can start to think of distributed ways for it to happen, although I first thought of it as a time constrained thing, where we were all at it simultaneously.

Here is the piratepad where we're working on more of it. Feel free to contact me and join in. One of the things about it is that it needs skills that are already there around us, and abilities that are pretty widespread already. I really hope something like this can happen.

If there was such a global meeting, I would take my non-crazy robot idea there. (see next post!)

Ban Robot Violence

[IN PROGRESS - need to add links. Sorry but I'm into participative process, please comment and help me write this! I was just thinking about this thing about robots - online or physical, or more tentacular cybernetic systems like what international corporations and/or tech companies have built up around us over the years and how it interacts with us. I felt I should come and write it down.]

There is terrible totalitarian news starting to edge it's way in to passive acceptance, from the government injustice and brutality across the world, and the international coordination of this violence (that goes all the way to the top), from that to the drones that patrol prisons and are made to kill people.

I've spent a little time working with electronics, making and conceiving of materials to make a symbiotic musical, solar, improviser bot, and programming software based bots to guide kids around a 3D reconstruction of Sydenham Crystal Palace in London (and Second Life). I learnt that through the years, robots have been acquiring the basic ability not only to be a bit overly specialised towards human interaction, but to carry out all the functions required to be considered alive, even when some of those functions are made through their relationship with us. In the case of killer or surveillance drones, their creators, the teams of scientists who work in places like and are completely insane, as are the structures who made them exist. And I wonder how many of them believe in a creator god.

There's one thing they probably don't want us to realise: We the people are the creators of robots. Everyone can join in by learning a bit of programming and electronics, and a huge DIY scene is still around making UAVs or just robots of all kinds, just from open designs - recently to film a protest.

We invented robots. Nowadays the killer robots aren't that autonomous, but they are getting there. They can mimic human behaviour in loads of ways already, but they shouldn't have to, as they are completely wonderful things, if you think that they can be made from just about anything. But soon, this intelligence, but also growth in availability of sensors and software libraries for interpreting them, so a robot will do as told and travel autonomously to kill selected people without much need for a human "pilot".

But robots shouldn't be made to do these horrible insane things. They come from our invention, from all our wonderful science that's supposedly so opposed to judeochristian religion, but that is the same white boys club, who deep down wouldn't mind a go as all powerful creator gods too. To want to not only kill you but create a robot but make it kill you more efficiently than a human in a plane or helicopter could, is psychopathic, and all the people involved in doing this should be tried for international war crimes and put under care and long term psychoanalysis for psychotic disorders. In the end though, the system as usual is to blame.

We know that it's going to be a huge crisis here on earth, with the euro falling apart and banks crashing any minute, no new fuels in sight and an environmental catastrophe after another. Some fear we really might not make it through as a human race in the slightly longer term, which has most other species sighing with relief! So if that's even a remote possibility, I imagine how the people in these companies and government departments react to that thought, wondering what their legacy might be.

Our robot brethren are whatever we make them, and we can get them not only to survive us , but be positive creatures. Maybe they will be merciless killers like in a space blockbuster, but maybe they can be ethical, positive things too, and I realise this must come from popular demand, not passive acceptance of these trends.

So I propose a ban NOW on robot violence. No robot shall ever be made, or forced to be violent to people. We owe it to them as their creator gods. And just as non-crazy people. Thank you.


Is peaceful cohabitation with self organisers possible?

My predictions for Spain are pretty bleak at the moment, although I have some hope. I predict the right wing Partido Popular, founded by a member of Fascist dictator Franco's government, will win these elections.

The PP will have none of the PSOE's qualms in dislodging the protestors once results are in. There will be some trouble with police and law in order to empty the squares, and for some time, things will return to normal.

These are beautiful protests – more a spontaneous group of people just expressing discontent, and trying to find alternatives to the way things are. They now reach 300 cities and towns where people are camped in the main squares, and the evening "caceroladas" (some sonic discontent making at 9pm with cans and pots) reach every street in Barcelona.

I think the camp's future is uncertain at the moment, but that a movement may have been born, a movement that will oppose or maybe even cohabit with the old order in new creative ways.

"teach noam chomsky in schools"
And then in the longer term there's the upcoming financial crash.

Anarchists have been targeted in Greece by police violence, maybe because they are one of the main groups organising protests and actions. There are also lots of groups here organising more for bottom up resistance to cuts: decreiximent is the main eco centred group coming up with interesting ideas, and there is a local cooperative with far reaching aims, the Cooperativa Integral Catalana. But then there are also people involved in various movements which have joined the streets at different moments in recent times and the demoralised unions. A lot of the anger needs a positive direction and there is a lot to be done. The cuts are due to the need to pay back a huge EU loan, and the anarchist black blocks make up a lot of the violent elements at protests. But fighting policemen doesn't help people make bonds.

The problem with this: Spain is getting close to a debt situation like Portugal, which yesterday received a bailout from the IMF's sexy purse. But that money is running out, and if Spain and Italy join the queue, the EU could suffer tremendously. What happens when Italy and Spain both go for that last bit of money is all unclear at the moment.

This is having strong effects on day to day life in Spain. In the Plaza Catalunya Acampada on Friday, a woman told the crowd at one of the spontaneous assemblies of seated people, happening in various places around the square, on a loudspeaker that her wing had been closed after 30 years of work there, but that it had been opened again so that a minister could have his pacemaker put in, before closing up again.At 9pm the "cacerolada" started - a loud banging of pots and pans and lots of shouting. It was beautiful to see the call rise and everything start, like a symphony taking off. The next day I was on my little streets away from the centre, and the cacerolada started - in some streets a lone beater in some window, banging on a pan, and in other streets whole families out with all their kids banging pans and talking to people about why they were doing it.

Cacerolada Acampada Barcelona Miercoles 19 by alefernandez

Services are being cut meanwhile, and some things are starting to fall apart. Getting work is a bad joke when 100 people apply for a single position within a day, so that finding work becomes an exercise in becoming meat for the short term money so that everything can keep working badly in the contracting companies the employment agencies find workers for. In Greece, this has reached the level of mass hunger strikes of immigrants, general strikes and some areas organising direct action and sabotage, blocking roads and taking action. Here, an attempt last winter to occupy an abandoned cinema and use it as an information centre,  was quickly and brutally evicted by police.

The disintegration of the social structures people once relied on is slowly progressing, as housing agencies, local shops and larger business alike fall apart from one day to the next. Financial meltdowns are nothing new in Spain, often at huge social costs.
A "post capitalist baby" at plaza catalunya. "Help us grow - we are in an embryonic phase".

Anarchism offers lots of ways (there is probably a different version of anarchism for each anarchist there is) to self organise in participative ways and keep things going in some way when government services collapse. I believe these people protesting should use their remaining time in the square finding out how to make the assembly permanent and functional. Through virtual spaces and perhaps the use of empty shops and spaces.

The best action you can take is action to protect and provide help to your own area, because the politicians can't argue with the fact that they have ceased to provide important services. Cooperative spaces can begin to fill these spaces, and volunteers can do a lot with their cognitive surplus.

The workers who run those government services just have to agree to open the place up, find out what is needed to make it running and get to work again - a method described in "La Toma" - about the worker's takeover of abandoned factories in the financial crash in Argentina at the beginning of the century. It's also been shown that anarchism reaches a certain level of efficiency that is higher than that of the state, once the cost of maintaining a functioning government becomes too high for it to function properly. This is very much what happened when the republic fell in 1936 and people just stuck in and organised themselves to take over. This kind of popular democracy might not be possible today in the way it was then, but it's important not to forget that these experiments tend to be crushed by both right and left wing sides, as they show that the whole establishment of a modern government or a nation as state might actually not be the best or the only way to run things.

During the time when most businesses were collectivised and run by cooperatives in the 1930s, in the Catalunya and Aragon provinces, where I happen to live, self organisation reached a huge level, and apparently not through any particular influence from anarchist groups.

From what I see in this film or from Homage to Catalonia, this was spontaneous bottom up organisation much like what is happening now in squares across Spain. Here is "land and freedom" by mike leigh, hoping that's a good video playlist for these times.

It is much easier to step in when there is no one to oppose you, but as a government slowly loses money and stops functioning, it is hard for collaborative groups to step in, like the people self organising in squares across Spain today.
Yesterday the Environment office (tent) from the local Acampada Barcelona - the people camped out in Plaza Catalunya in the centre of Barcelona, joined up with Barcelona en Transicio, whilst welcoming many other local groups to come and share what they have been trying to do in response to the ecological and financial situation with the people in the square. There are also calls going out to lots of other groups around the world for solidarity with the protesters. I'm trying to get a few translations of their call now in various languages! A lot of the difference between the Transition movement and anarchist groups, which are frequently much greener and have been going much longer, is that transition groups actively seek funding and work together with lot of organisations, including local government.

Nowadays though most anarchists would never collaborate with a government in co-governing. But collaboration is known to have a certain efficiency in living systems in general, and I think it deserves a look, and a decent attempt at making it work alongside government. How to get government to accept a bit of self rule in the interest of stability? I think it needs to happen with a lot of smiles and friendly gestures, because if it starts off wrong, it won't happen, and those services won't be around when the government actually goes.


10 More minutes: From gift economies to celebration economies

An article by Richard Heinberg, "Economic History in 10 Minutes" which I read the other day, inspired me to look a bit more into more elaborate economies than simply gift/tribal based, that might escape people's thoughts as they search for alternatives to the current (failed?) economic system. 

His article is a good summary of a lot of peak oiler economics although I've heard him and others say these things before lots of times and in different ways. Heinberg points to our  addiction to fossil fuels as the central reason for lots of current problems, and the article treasures hunter gatherer cultures with their gift economies as a possible future or as something to move towards. Doing something in 10 minutes is bound to leave something out. It would be easy to believe, reading his article, that we once were all happy and shared everything, then - boom! - iPods. (He actually says "So letting go of the gift economy was a trade-off for progress—houses, cities, cars, iPods, and all the rest").

After painting a pretty negative picture of the history of money, involving the sin of Usury, Charles Ponzi and Fractional Reserve Banking, leading to the current situation, he then goes on to make a call for more general knowledge of our shared economic history and to say "Is this the end of the story? As society dramatically simplifies itself in the wake of fossil fuel depletion, will we revert to some form of gift economy? Or will we catch and steady ourselves on some intermediate rung on the ladder of economic development?" 

 Well I'd like to take 10 more minutes to talk about a couple of those rungs I happen to know about.

You see, my dad is an economic historian, and also comes from a small Aymara ethnic minority (on my grandmother's side). So I grew up in a house full of books on economics, and in this family of refugees of the Pinochet regime, my only connection with the Aymaras were many pairs of Ojotas (sandals made from recycled tyres), lots of colourful cloths and clothes, memories of a couple of visits to villages like Putre and Codpa in Chile, and a few of the books in between the economics ones, which spoke of Aymara culture and their world view.

One book, "Holocausto al Progreso - Los Aymaras de Tarapacá" fascinates me still, with it's descriptions of preincaic aymara culture. It includes a reconstruction of what life must have been like for a few thousand people, who had adapted from around the 5th century BC up until the arrival of the Incas in the 14th century, to live in a really difficult environment involving the Andes mountains and the most arid desert in the world. And now it's on the internet, for any Spanish speaker to enjoy! This little stretch of Northern Chile, which is now just sea, desert and mountain, then also included some forests, which have since been swallowed by the Atacama desert. Here is a bit of a picture from the book, which I hope can help to show this:

So there were at least 4 distinct climates, and none of them could adequately support a large population on it's own. Living there were fishermen, hunter gatherers, shepherds and farmers. By sharing, these distinct groups made this area incredibly rich and varied. I wish I could have seen it.

Here is a google assisted translation of a few paragraphs of Holocausto al progreso showing this vivid picture, punctuated by community rituals, harvest times and hunting seasons, the building of dwellings, and sharing of produce that couldn't have been accomplished unless people got organised. From around page 99:
A schematic reconstruction of this so varied indigenous economy conjures the following image:
In autumn, i.e. March or April, the shepherds would leave their homes, major residential centers located high in the Cordillera, and their summer grazing grounds at altitudes above 4000m, and make their way towards winter grazing lands, at altitudes from 3000 to 3500 meters, where they occupy shacks and makeshift houses in the open fields.
Part of the male population would then migrate, taking with them a herd of llamas loaded with produce from these high altitudes (dried meat, wool, leather, textiles, quinoa, herbs, salt, animal fat etc.), to lower environments: the agricultural area, where small nuclei of farmers belonging to the same community, and seen as relatives, would have been busy working the fields during the summer, irrigating the terraces, and working and defending the crops against the local animals and birds.
When harvest times drew near, the shepherds would arrive from the mountains to assist in these efforts and in the conservation and storage of agricultural produce. A portion of the produce from the high Cordillera (and possibly even the Altiplano and the eastern valleys: coca and herbs), was provided to supplement the diet of the farmers and after the harvest feasts and ceremonies, the llama herders would take, in return, a part of the agricultural produce (potato, garlic, corn, squash, etc..) to the western lowlands.
In the forests of the longitudinal valley they would stop for a while to gather the fruit of the carob tree and to shepherd the pack animals, using the pods and fruits that this tree produces.
Later, in winter, these well fed shepherds and their herd of animals would cross the desert and coastal mountains and visit the fishermen and hunter gatherers of the coast. The herdsmen would take part in fishing, and in hunting seals whose inflated skins were made into rafts, on these shores devoid of timber. They also participated in shellfish harvesting, in the preservation of these products and in the collection of white guano, which was - along with rotten fish and locally mined saltpeter - a popular fertilizer for the agricultural terraces higher up.
With spring approaching, the herders would prepare for the return trip, leaving behind the rest of the produce they had brought from higher altitudes, and taking sea and coastal produce in exchange.
After another stop in the woods of the Tamarugal they would again help farmers in the foothills by cleaning the irrigation canals, preparing new terraces and sowing new seeds. They would leave there much of the seafood they had brought from the coast and, after the planting season, they would take some produce back to supply the shepherds and the community centers in the Andes.
The shepherds would still be in their winter pastures at this point, but once the herders arrived, they would return to their homes in the mountains,  together with their relatives and join their entire herd, bringing products from the countryside, the coast and sea, as an indispensable supplement to their diet.
So in this way, the faldas del morro or "Hillslope" Aymara culture was able to maintain a much larger population than they could have if all those groups had been independent. The "economic" activities were not seen as travail as contemporary europeans would have called it. They had instead a religious and cultural dimension in which work was seen as celebration, and was indeed punctuated by lots of festivity. This image is a bit out of focus but it shows the calendar of festivals that accompanied this migration for the shepherd communities and the farming ones:

Going back to Heinberg's economic rungs, as we fall down the ladder from fractional reserve banking - I hope we don't forget these creative moments in our economic history, perhaps valuing "economic" migration and the celebration of work, as we adapt to the issues of the new millennium.


Free open source multitrack recording on an android phone

I've been recording rehearsals for a while using my android phone. This gives quite acceptable sound quality and some of it is even on soundcloud. It naturally led to me wondering if more than one track was somehow possible, and I've tried a few combinations of apps to see if they could work together, before getting to this method:

This process has only been tested on a G1 so far so I can't say for sure if this can be done on other phones.  It's a bit tiresome but it proves that 2 track recording can be done. With a few changes to the apps that allow it, it could get a lot easier too.

1) Start by downloading Rehearsal Assistant and Ringdroid. Both these applications are open source, and both are listed on the android market.

2) Make a recording using rehearsal assistant first - it's easy - just push the big red button, but you may want to go into it's settings and set it to record directly as .wav files by selecting "Record Uncompressed Audio" under Recording Quality.

3) Once you have your recording you can play it back and if you long press it, lots of options will appear,  including the option to open the recording in Ringdroid. Do this, and Ringdroid will start up.

4) Now you have to select what you want to save. The problem with Ringdroid is that it's mostly for making ringtones so it will by default only select a small part of your recording - I first zoom out as much as possible by clicking on the magnifying glass, and then try and select all the bits of the recording I want to have as a background track. Try and leave a few seconds of space at the beginning. You can edit it off later. Now save it as "music".

5) Open it again (how laborious!) by selecting from the various recordings available in ringdroid's list. Press the play button.

6) While the recording plays in ringdroid, hold down the home button so as to show up other recently used apps. Select rehearsal assistant again...

7) Now you can hear the first recording you did, and can also hit record again to record your second track.

For some reason if you do it this way, the background recording plays through completely and a second track doesn't sound too bad over it - I've tried to do this in other ways and it always cuts out when in the background for a few seconds.

Again, this is still for putting musical parts down together and seeing what two tracks might sound like superimposed, not for quality professional recordings. It reminds me of the 2 track recording that was possible using cassette players years ago.


Bristol's Budget Conversation and Town Hall BEPs

In case you are from Bristol and haven't noticed, there's currently a "big debate" being held over at in the comments area.

Basically, the city council are asking the public how to cut the huge sums of money that they will have to do without anyway from very soon.

There are lots of reasons why this is flawed. As one commenter posted,
"This “consultation” is a pointless exercise without access to a clear summary of what is for the chop and doing it on the internet just encourages the lunatics. Are there any plans for proper town hall style meetings? Or is this just a sham?" 
But still, I thought I'd publicise it, even if it's a sham, in case somehow it can get a bit closer to becoming an actual debate and taking of responsibility by all parties.

So how do you sift through all these comments and start to extract something resembling usefulness from it all? And how can the public actually get the data they need to make their choices with? Maybe Open Source Software can come to their aid, but as a method rather than as a piece of actual software:

Open Source projects are often overrun by suggestions or even implementations of disparate and confusing features and they have evolved ways to keep this problem at bay.

As the Python programming language project, an open source project, grew quickly towards the end of the 90s, it became obvious that a new way of managing feature requests was needed.

Some of these requests were duplicates of others, or deeply flawed or unimplementable, but each one would be argued on mailing lists or various forums each day. Also, with open source the problem is that sometimes the people making the suggestion don't actually have any ability to or interest in *doing* the work.

So the PEP(Python Enhancement Proposal) came into being. It's a standard document you fill out, that forces those submitting complex feature requests to turn them into focused, clear suggestions. PEP editors on the python team then reject or accept them based on these parameters.

I think a Bristol "town hall" group like the one proposed in the quote above, should be tasked with publishing appropriate stats and data, reviewing pep-like proposals by the wider public, and consulting with those affected by that proposal to ensure it actually makes a difference and doesn't cause more spending somewhere else. It could then also put these in action if passed, after which it would have to monitor the council's progress on them and report back on that too.

If this happened, I for one would help find venues to do this in, help set up the space and even figure out how to get everyone some refreshments!!


Ecologising Open Hardware

I've come to realise, through my experiments and readings, and through spending months in the world of instrument design, that I had until now marvelled in the idealistic beauty of Open Hardware without considering it's limitations in much depth. I thought it might be time to start to see where this fantastic creative world still might fall short from the point of view of the various "green" threats around us.

This shiny new thing is the possibility of:

  • Having a brain wave.
  • ordering some cheap parts online,
  • Going through a creative process to produce
    1. a circuit diagram,
    2. a materials list and
    3. parts list,
    4. a printed circuit board

  • before finally assembling an item

Whilst designing what turned out to be my Bird Symbiot, a prototype of a system for outdoor sound generation, I visited and contacted lots of people in different occupations. It's not the most essential of applications but I do know a bit more about what happens between me recording some music, and it being played by a device, and about how it can be powered in a more sustainable way. As a project it spanned acoustics, mathematics, electronics, world music, sound generation and clay making. I had a lot to learn.

One of these visits was when I got help assembling my first circuit (a lady ada sound shield) from Marcus Valentine. He has been working in electronics for many years and has a home workshop for electronics design. The circuits he designs - usually the pieces in a larger pool, are sent off as diagrams and parts lists to process. They come back in a way similar to construction sets, with 200 or more mini circuit boards all printed together from the same slab of plastic.

This then, in a typical small electronic item's production process, goes back to a large company which then manufactures thousands of them.

At another point while making my Maker Faire exhibit, I needed some good solar panels, and synth maker Tom Bugs offered to give me some that he had ordered but never managed to use. He runs Bugbrand, which is an online shop, and also a small workshop in the area, doing electronics design of sound making devices. On the borders with open hardware, Bugbrand items are designed mostly in this mini Stokes Croft factory, and an online shop deals with the sales. Selling crazy music making electronics and boards seems very fitting in a place with as much experimental music in it as Bristol, and he also runs workshops internationally, where people make them themselves. I saw in his workshop a PCB printing work area for creating small runs or prototypes of circuit boards. He confessed he hadn't used it much. A colleague built the boards while he pretty much ran around concieving new boards, answering forum questions, ordering parts and selling the finished products online.

It was only much later, by speaking to other inventors and hackers at the Maker Faire, that I got to see more of the true Open Hardware manufacturing approach. Open Hardware makers will work alone as needed, but will often team up with small shops or other projects to order parts or design aspects of their work. The landscape of this creativity is really a friendly ecology of helpers, a small world where people begin to know each other.

Of course, the main benefit of open hardware is the supposed availability of plans and designs for the good of everyone else, but there is still no equivalent of the GPL or CC license when it comes to actual objects and things.

The open hardware approach seems to be going towards ordering components, then assembling and selling items in online markets in a semi bespoke manner. It's true, some are starting to do more: Feral Trade sells Cube Cola, which once amazed the BBC when they once sent for many litres of it. The order was neatly placed at the centre of their huge van, in a tiny concentrated bottle.

Cube Cola is published under the GPL, but beyond that, it has hit on a brilliant distribution method centred on the ready availability of sugar and fizzy water to dilute and prepare it with.

There is a convergence between the green and the techy in open sourcing Hardware - as seen in projects like the Reprap or larger open source cousins that can cut or shape metals or even precious stones. But this is not a typical aspect of it's lifecycle.

We have to begin cutting down on this politically, monetarily and ecologically fragile, long distance distribution network occurring at either end of this beautiful creative centre.

Another problem is the predilection for and reliance on high wattages. Maybe this is just the "macho" side of electronics - typically a men's world. There is little use of freely available energies that can be channelled to help these processes.

For the bird symbiot I realised pretty early on that making something audible at low power would mean using natural amplification. This turned out to mean using clay - something whose production I found to be readily available by using an old rag, some sticks and by ordering basic materials from a few miles outside Bristol, and a firing process used cooperatively in a local art studio.

But there is also a bias in some aspects of the tinkerer world, towards a repulsion ("ugh - knitting!") for what is seen as lesser "craft" rather than a welcoming of other disciplines in order to collaborate towards creating a device. But I hope this is only a marginal problem, and that some healthy partnerships can emerge soon. It will be significant to see some of the main open hardware proponents start to work in projects with larger scope than just the basic circuits, and requiring a wide range of skills and work shared by many different kinds of people.

At the Maker Faire in Newcastle, some of the biggest attractions used a tremendous amount of electrical power. Lots of the items I saw seemed to use a lot of money and electricity to run. I recently saw a lot of people turn their backs on what I thought was an interesting bike power project because people see it as not enough power to do anything useful. The bird symbiot uses the equivalent in solar power of 2 AAA batteries, and can burst into song with some good sunlight flying by it. A 3v fan on an oven or a wind powered pump for some water can mean the difference between a gruelling existence and a plentiful life.

But I think a basic flaw in the current open hardware lifecycle is just that: We rely still on the generation of power as if it had to be something separate from the rest of the device. It's excluded from the design process as soon as it ceases to be about electronics. So it all needs a more holistic and inclusive approach.

I also have some problems to do with why circuit design has evolved to be flat, and this makes the BEAM robotics world so fascinating - because they stich parts directly to each other creating a device that is by it's nature 3d and doesn't particularly need a board.

What will we do if with vanishing fossil fuels and the need for technologically aided alternative power, we can't make a transistor? A semiconductor? A resistor? - this new open hardware lifecycle needs to green itself at all levels.

So how do you do these things locally and sustainably?

If modern telecommunications and technology is to avoid a crash or stagnation due to whatever natural or man made catastrophes, there have to be freely available applications and designs of every type of electronic item. From vital to domestic, electronic ideas and inventions should be available to the public regardless of their wealth or place in the world. I think this is probably even a human right, linked directly to the right for an education - we have to know how to create and evolve the technologies that our lives and cultures depend on.

All aspects of modern electronics need thorough re-examination so as to find and document cheap ways to recreate them openly in light industry at a local scale, anywhere in the planet.

Label Cloud