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.

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4/20/2006

Save our Chocolate Factory

Today the chocolate factory has been the talk of the neighbourhood. Already a yahoo group has been hijacked and is the subject of much discussion at the local volunteer run free wireless non profit, and maybe soon at the cube or even my work.


It's an old ramshackle looking chocolate factory owned by Elizabeth Shaw who used to be called Packer & Co and sell their fancy chocs to marks and sparks. So with the sparks not flying so far anymore, they are closing down.


The chocolate factory used to have 2500 employees, workhouses, a school and even the cemetery used to be a part of the ecosystem that was Greenbank in the last century. It was vital for all the people in the area. And this was a very industrial area, with the gasworks and the chocolate factory, the hawks gym - what was that? Mivart St... the big train station (I wish there had been a picture of the mural on that station - it's incredible). They all stand like giants in our wake. Now the tide is turning and I don't believe cities can stand to be so dependent on other cities, and especially not so dependant on dwindling fuel. In a way, Greenbank and Easton around it could go back to the 19th century in terms of want. It's not sustainable to want what we want these days. But up until the 40s I believe it was. It's not our fault the population grows exponentially. Well, um. make love not war? Oops...


Anyway I'm rambling. The factory is going to be closed down in June I think - oh it would be great to have a wee celebration and some flags to commemorate it. We could get Liz Shaw and pals to come too... Pity Miss Horner can't come.


Naturally, someone has come in and said "Hello everyone, I am going to demolish this old factory and build high density inner city flats which I will sell for the highest prices possible (he he) and then make a quick getaway before the housing market starts slumping again. Of course 30% will probably have to be affordable, or we won't get permission, and maybe we can have some shops or offices. But best of all you can all have sunlight in your back gardens, which will increase the value of your houses - chu-king!" I hear the tills in his eyes already. That someone is Persimmon, the construction company. I could be wrong but I hear they don't employ architects because they always build the same thing!


On our side, however we have Royce - local resident with a shiny yellow motorbike that looks like a hover bike, Sarah is a local VCP - very clever person - a researcher into usability and children's games in fact, who lives a few doors up and organised a meeting last wednesday with our neighbours to begin to oppose the planning. The companies it seems, have seen what has happened next door in Packer's field. They haven't even applied and did a public consultation (yesterday, at the church down the road that looks like it's built out of lego. Only a few original bricks remain. Maybe it was the blitz?).


Then there's Caroline - who I have no catchphrases for except she's really nice and really thinks about her children and wants them to take part in the campaign. They are from a road that little bit closer - where if you walk up the imposing building is just a part of life - and has become part of the family - it's amazing the difference in perspective from street to street. And she, through another neighbour showed me about what seems the best alternative to gentrification:


BedZed!


I'll drink to that!


Such quick growth in a campaign - really in the space of 10 days it's very impressive and further proof of how expensive those gardens should be if we have such good neighbours! But it's got it's teething problems and the first differences of opinion and allegiance are starting to emerge. Still - as long as we don't tell anyone, we can lead from behind and let everyone just be able to express themselves and they will be practicing anarchist management theory of participative organisation without even suspecting it!


Meanwhile I have stupidly volunteered to "do" the website. Fortunately, Beef have volunteered to do the design and hopefully the setup as well. I have to email them in the morning. Tall Paul has offered to get the domain registered, and now all I need to find is easy access hosting somewhere. I'm tempted to run it on sparror and will ask the nest, and bristol wireless too.


On Saturday there is going to be another meeting. I hope part social - that would help defuse things a bit... By then I have to figure out where to put the website (needs easy access so another person could replace me as admin so sparror seems more likely than my work - the ILRT, although the university provides I think 100 meg free space which we could use). Also what needs to be on the website:


  1. It should have a wiki

  2. Apache + PHP probably

  3. Reasonable storage space? I have no idea how much but it could be very little

  4. Hostname - DNS - http://www.saveourchocolatefactory.org.uk/ ? http://www.greenbanksweettooth.org.uk/ whatever we choose.
  5. ok this is a new idea: a video diary. We could store at my work or on the internet archive - and go around recording people's views on the chocolate factory. This could involve said children - and old people etc as they wouldn't have to log in to yahoo before they could take part. Would take a lot of faffing about with video cameras and sending huge files around...

  6. As beef are involved, and they did a brilliant little app involving texting your level of happiness to a google map application that then showed how happy/sad bits of bristol were, I want to get them to do something else with texts - unless of course that bit is too expensive... This would be "txt your views" - people could text and their view would appear on a smaller easton sized google map. This could also go in people's profiles.

  7. Profiles as well - ok this is me getting into social software stuff - as there are differing views that we need to embrace - even those of Persimmon and Elizabeth Shaw, and if it's a wiki that lets you log in for example (it would be cool if you didn't have to register but just said what house you lived in!), it needs to let you give a view. These would be displayed when you logged in, all grouped together like a tag cloud - so that you'd see all the differing opinions, and some would be similar so you could get the gist of them... And if you went to a user profile you'd get their individual ones. A bit like the one on flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/


  8. And we need to get the children making chocolate! My secret dream in all this is that some of the chocolate making can survive - maybe even just a machine that very irregularly spreads cream on chocolates...



Ok that's it for now! Getting into a techie nightmare! I really want to explain what a wiki is properly to Sarah... I'm glad I've got the experience of Cog Coop and the Orchestra Cube behind me with using IT for decentralised organising, I hope we can put this stuff to good measure, but I really hope most of all that we keep having our well deserved chocolate...

Slashdot | IBM to Oracle - You Can't Buy Open Source

Slashdot | IBM to Oracle - You Can't Buy Open Source


IBM? Oracle? Pffft! You're standing on the sky scrapers and only see the giant peaks that come out over the clouds. What happens when the mountain falls?


So here I am stuck in Peak oil world - that devastating feeling you get after eating too much and realising you just popped your stomach. Oh shit. But it's just a world, and it'll pass, and be replaced soon enough by my peak oil epiphany.


I've known for long and have had glimpses in my dreams. "Daddy - the chickens are sick" - and me, "Stay away from them!". The world where every resource had been taken and was being used to the full amount it could, renewably. So the only way to win over the others would be to destroy a large amount of the land through war or something equally hellish and then run in and invade it.


"We have to go on our annual pilgrimage to feed the Chinese soldiers. We will not have to donate a child this year. They carry chinese blood."


Anyway enough of this nonsense. People are so stupid!

4/19/2006

Reactions to peak oil

Is this the answer to peak oil?


I've spent the easter weekend enjoying children and festivity and friends in Bristol, sometimes coming out of my little happy hole to look out and see really upsetting headlines - another oil price hike, unrest and mad violence at oil sites etc, and a very good documentary on more4 last week which pushed me to finally unite my family's dreams of moving on somewhere permanent, with the peak oil idea that the current society really risks very turbulent economic times within the next 5 years or so, and that after that most resources will dwindle in similar ways - such as natural gas and coal, and we'll be left with whatever we can take to the next level. Just like you shouldn't move to San Francisco if you don't like earthquakes, you shouldn't live in oil dependent areas if you fear recession.


The next step has to somehow keep some of what we've learnt during this time. Like the Roman times hugely influenced the middle ages, we're now going to enter ecotopia, but it will be a burnt out version a bit like the middle ages, just maybe with such beautiful inventions as online extended social networks (usually comprising extended family anyway) and long range travel, however reduced compared to now. How will we do that, and at the same time maintain a renewable footprint in all ways?


I've known about all this for a long time, since my biology teacher in high school told us that Elephants have s-shaped curves. They tend to have one or two children at a time, so their population grows by very little and very slowly, in response to changes in availability of food/etc. Fruit flys on the other hand have j-shaped curves. They see a fruit and grow and grow in population size, eating everything until there is absolutely nothing left, and they then all die. Somehow, a small amount of flies must make it to the next piece of fruit in some form or other, which might be their eggs. So our fruit has been the discovery of oil in 1850. Our egg is sustainable, carbon neutral survival. And this is not an egg that will simply get us to the next fruit, because this is not the reality that I want humanity to be in. We are not, I hope, only here to ceaselessly consume everything in our path until there is nothing left, like interstellar parasites.


More likely there should eventually be a middle way, most likely, when most alternatives have run out. Even war will probably not be very useful for oil in the long run.


Easy for people to say that we can switch to nuclear, gas, coal, rail travel etc, but these things will only work in the short term, although most predictions sound grim because they probably can't take into account the way the world is going to change as a result of this.


So it will definitely change for the worse if you maintain a capitalist and closed minded viewpoint that your children should be able to have more than you had.


And it will change for the better if you are more community oriented and even would answer "do you want more" with "no, thanks - I have enough". The saddest story in my economics education is Malthus, who realised the world had finite resources, but that human beings always want more. Unfortunately for him, he was sitting a the bottom of a big J shaped curve. It's easier to see the full picture from up here. We don't always have to want more.


In a sense, our children have always had less than we had in terms of community, social ties, values, culture etc, and this has changed probably for good as a result of the lifestyle of a lot of the western world. I suspect a lot of this will get quite decadent, and the people able to for example jet around the world and consume along a throwaway lifestyle will be greatly reduced and probably seen in a very different light.


So our social ties will be different in the future - when no centralised service will be able to provide what it has done so far, things will have to switch back to how they were before, - and perhaps with birth control or just more painfully natural selection we can get back to a reasonable pre 1900s size as a population. So communities will be important as there will be less direct contact with those far away. Technology as a practical skill will hopefully be widespread enough that more people can make use of it to power their own local lives. We can build a water heater using a wood burning stove to provide hot water, we can make a DIY solar panel to recharge batteries for small bits of expensive technology that we might be able to still buy from any remaining big industry, or to simply light our houses at night. Small electronics can also be run by cycle power - that's right! We can keep fit and still have parties with loud amplified music, and run hi tech gadgets in faraway places, using devices pioneered at raves! The only difficulty is in making the things that would be powered through it. I suspect technological gadgets will need to be able to be locally renewable or mines for the bits needed will become a really important energy resource for the next century - and maybe the states around those mines will fuel the next generation's wars, but that's only if said gadgets actually have some use or other. One use is communication - to allow us to use one other resource which we've not actually realised we have yet:


Organisation Theory: In 100 years of very large and complex, ever changing and largely competitive but also synergic organisations - we have learnt a great deal about this and can now use - as Adam Smith once dreamt, the real power of humanity to build our dreams. But not in a capitalist dumb-workforce way or a communist power to the people (with free dictator) way either - simply everyone clubbing together and using learnt organisational systems to get shit done because it needs doing - so we might all run local post services, or if we have wireless, allow packets through our networks, and we'd be in touch with the powers that be (because they have that annoying tendency to "be"), and with our neighbours. We might even, like the Andean communities where some of my ancestors came from, have festival systems for encouraging trade and good relations.


Like at any time in human history, we have a chance to shine or make this a dark time. I opt for the less violent and more cooperative way - so that my children can have more than I did at least in that way.


So, what then? A masters degree in social networks and decentralised organisational systems/IT structures? Go to the states and get some money together? Look for random ecovillages in Italy or in Bolivia (where there may be more natural gas, and there may also be war in a few years time, help - where is safe?). Or just start taking these things on much more seriously in general.


It may be urgent, but I'm going to get nowhere by reacting based on fear - I have to keep looking at the problem from my viewpoint here at the top of our J-Shaped Curve. It's a turning point for humanity. Will we be the first to intelligently adapt to our environment by switching to a type of population for whom hunger for more is no longer the fundamental life state.

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