Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Someone else visits PORENA

I would like to re-publish this post from Lal, who imagestreamed his own visit to the sustainable city of Porena. Cool so many thanks for this Lal.

I made a visit to (Image-streamed) *Steve Hinton's Porena* and here are some
of the hilights of what I saw. I was most interested in how industrial
products would interface with a community that was "post-industrial"

. The street was unpaved, but not rutted or difficult.
First I visited a home. The visible part of the home was a low structure,
hobbit-like, constructed of field stone, small wood and straw-bales covered
in clay. This was used as a mud room and tool storage. Even the pitchfork
was hand made of wood and cloth binding it together. Most of the home was
underground. I went down a flight of wood and stone stairs. It was lit and
heated and the cooking was fueled by "focussed light" Cooking was "triple
focussed" light. Light was "lured" into the downstairs from outside by
shiny pipes, and the effect was bright but softly diffused and the sources
were hard to spot. Everything in the house was homemade or locally made with
available materials. Buckets were wooden with perhaps only a metal handle,
but the bands that held the wood straps together appeared to be some kind of
cloth. Some buckets were waterproof canvas. There was very little metal and
no plastic. The cooking pot was clay. The water supply came into the house
through a long chimney that filtered the water through stone, gravel and
sand and the water descended 25 to 30 ft, becoming available downstairs
through a spigot in the kitchen. This clean water was piped through the
house by the pressure from the height and was available again in the wash up
room through a spigot. The toilet was upstairs, outside, and I don't know
what arrangement, but possibly composting toilet or some such. I was
surprised by the computer in one small room.. it was a screen and it was
operated by placing the hands into and onto a sphere. ..a very Flintstone
feel in the room..hi-tech stone age. The rough wooden dining table was set
with wooden spoons, good knives and chopsticks. The plates were wooden or
clay, the glasses were silver, old glass or clay, The food was home grown
and locally grown veggie stew with a small bit of meat.
The man there was surprising modern looking... physically bright, healthy,
welcoming, friendly, silent.
I understood that the computer was only used to calculate ... how much of
what was needed where. The population was aware that much of our current
material concern was metaphoric in nature and they no longer needed a phone
to communicate at a distance or internet to communicate with a mass of
people. Mind to mind and minds to mind etc was all automatic function of
consciousness. Another feature was that animals were not used or enslaved or
domesticated in any way and the population was horrified by the very thought
of such disrespect to Life. Meat was acquired as a voluntary transaction
between certain types of animals who willingly traded their bodies for the
care and ease of domesticated life. Some animals wandered freely in the
town, but they were not "owned".
All the artifacts of daily life, especially clothing was handmade with great
care and enormous variety. Especially children were dressed wonderfully with
embroidered vests and little jackets with many colours.. every child wore a
different style fanciful little cap. They *all* looked like grandmothers
favourite child. The adults were also dressed in a great variety of softly
coloured clothing.. some as simple as a sack with hole for arms and head.
There were no harsh aniline colours anywhere. The town was full of people
leisurely going about their daily activities, a great deal of laughter from
the kids who could run and play safely everywhere. They could stop and pick
a fruit or veggie to snack on from everywhere.
I was left with some questions... how did the water get into the
purification chimney? How was the light stored so you could use at night?
This heat source did not combust anything. it was focussed and then
refocussed 3 times and this created heat enough to cook. I don't understand
Great town Stephen!! I hope you don't mind having it imprinted by this old

Monday, February 25, 2008

Article from the Future: New York uses gift currency "LETS".

As he swipes his LETS card at the candy store, English visitor John Oxley finds it hard to imagine his last visit to New York. Way back in 2007 the dollar was the only currency available. “People were spending most of their waking hours scrambling frantically for the Legal Tender,” he remembers. “It’s not the LETS introduction in itself, LETS is just a system” he says: “it’s the change in attitude – the way people look out for each other.” John is enthralled by the way LETS has spread. “Hey, I arrived here, got a LETS Card, a mobile terminal, entered my skills and terms, and within minutes I was getting offers to come and help out. I had fun washing up at the fast food counter one morning and then went and acted as adviser to a collaboration project the next day. I am practically one of you!”

For New Yorkers, the change began earlier than 2007, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack. Says hot dog vendor Clark Smith; ”The way we stuck together, supported each other and pitched in made us realize that we had something special worth taking care of – a sense of belonging, and a sense of energy.”

As the first signs of what analysts started to call “Peak Oil” appeared – rising gas prices, rising unemployment – drops in consumer confidence and spending - a group of five visionaries started working on the LETS scheme and software. Says founder Kelly French; “We just wanted to increase the amount of good in the world and realized that Peak Oil was actually one of the greatest opportunities ever offered to Man – to, within the given timeframe of cheap oil running out, focus on what was important, and create the good life – not out of consuming but out of how we treat each other.”

The first application was extremely simple: LETS clearing. Enter a debit for yourself as taker and credit the giver. The debiting system needed access to a computer, or you could do it on paper and get someone to enter it for you.

However, it was not the system itself that spurred growth. Kelly credits the “one on one” marketing approach as the key. “It would work like this: I went to people I knew and told them I wanted to spread good in New York. Wholesome food started to be in short supply; I would grow vegetables on the balcony and bring them to my friends. I would explain what I was trying to do and get them to register in LETS and credit me for the vegetables.”

The important thing was not that it was LETS but it was Pay it Forward. The vegetables had not cost Kelly’s friend anything, and Kelly asked him to Pay it Forward by doing something similar for someone else. To finance the LETS system (and be able to credit LETS to someone else) the friend was required to pay a small monthly subscription.

The LETS exchange quickly followed, where you could advertise whatever it was you were offering or needed. This helped up the development of a more local economy. Transportation costs were rising, sending the cost of practically everything through the roof. All kinds of Local Sufficiency initiatives, including instructions and plans on the WIKI web site, and training courses at AFTER CARBON outpost centers, started using LETS partially to support their efforts.

LETS’ Marketing Manager and co-fonder Steven Tailor emphasizes that the LETS story is the story of the Play it Forward economy. “We simply told stories about Play it Forward, and LETS started to grow of itself.” The well known slogan DO GOOD BE GOOD FEEL GOOD appeared at that time. A lot of people wanted to “tell the story” so we arranged training in Pay it Forward and introduced the agent system. Agents went out helping people into the system and were rewarded with LETS.

Of course, you can always give someone something without involving the LETS system. But when you start on the LETS route you instantly get rewarded by seeing your LETS points rise. So the system contains a reinforcement for doing good. And that is exactly what we wanted to promote.

Says IT manager Kent Kerny: “The next stage in our IT development was to include the Agent bonus system. The more people you signed up and looked after, the more you got bonus on their transactions. These agents were key to the rapid spread of the system. Compensated in LETS bonus, they tirelessly went out spreading the message and getting people into the system.”

Kelly intervenes: “We concentrated on talking about FCASSH Food, Clothing, Accommodation, Security and Social belonging and Health. The ideas are as old as the hills – you can probably find them in Feng Shui, Malow’s hierarchy, religions even scouting handbooks etc but they had been suppressed during the Industrial Age’s “live for kicks” era. Quite simply, people want to feel secure - and as long as they feel they can get food, water, clothing, accommodation, health care and be part of society they can get on with the most important thing – enjoying being alive.

LETS transactions started to grow. People who were out of work started to see that as long as they kept participating in the system food, clothing housing etc could be solved for them. Now, you can only eat one meal at a time and wear one set of clothes. So people started using surplus LETS to support charities, and Charity Coordinators started to help these organizations use LETS with their charity takers. The voucher system appeared: print out a voucher with a unique number, give it to a needy charity taker. Charity takers took the voucher to their provider who processed the transaction.

The next two developments came fast: firstly, incorporating companies into the system. Around this time consumer sales were dropping, causing rising prices – and falling profits - everywhere. Abandoning the profit motive companies saw the opportunity to operate anyway and increase sales to charity takers and LETS users by crediting their suppliers in LETS.

Secondly, AMERICAN LETS introduced the now familiar terminals and created new Corporate Coordinators to help these organizations with their LETS development. Shortly afterwards, the mobile LETS terminal “One swipe and you’re in” card system appeared, the brainchild of Kent Kerny.

Says our English visitor “I always used to see New Yorkers as people with fast mouths and sharp elbows. I still do actually, but underneath it all there shines a heart of gold – or is it LETS?”

Read more articles from the future on

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

From an engineer who wants to "get on with it"

World oil production per capita reached a peak in 1979. Net production is now plateau-ing, dashing all hopes of global economic expansion.
We've been chewing on this mess for some years, but with everyone’s vested interest in “business as usual”, (I’m not even going to give the name of the engineer who gave me this – he’s looking for a job), and disagreements about what to do, it may be getting too late unless engineers focus together.

First some background:

When reading about the engineers of the past, like Polhem (with the locks and watches), Stevenson (with the steam engine), John Ericsson (with the propeller) and the like, it's stunning how they found solutions with scarce resources. The engineers of today have been tricked into the playfield of the economists, and have been seduced to partly abandon the enlightened path of the engineer. It's a pity, since the heart and soul of a true engineer is all about finding solutions to technical problems, not economical problems. It's not the engineers of the world who strive for infinite growth on a limited planet, it's the economists who keep us ransom who do. Why not aim for a little engineering purity?

What's important? And not?

Some things in life are important, while other things merely look important because they are means to reach the important stuff.

It's important for me to live in a nice place and to have an interesting job, but it's not important for me to commute by car. The commute is kind of a necessary evil because it's difficult to find nice places to live close to workplaces. A recreational Sunday drive to take in the countryside could be important to keep my mood up though.

It's important for me to have a decent indoor temperature, artificial light during the winter, ability to keep myself clean, to cook and to have a decent internet connection. It's not one bit important to consume large amounts of energy to reach those goals.

If I want audiovisual entertainment, it's the image on my retina and the sound reaching my eardrums that are important, not the size of the display or the output power of the PA rig. A Virtual Retinal Display and a pair of earplugs consuming a couple of milliwatts will get the same job done as a wide screen plasma display and speaker systems consuming hundreds of Watt. While consuming (significantly) less resources to manufacture.

With proper architecture and landscaping, I would live comfortably with wife and two kids on 80 sqm and take the bicycle to work and shop. I could cut my use of energy to 1/3 or less of what I consume today, with all the comfort intact. It's just that those pesky economists and politicians have designed a system which can’t handle such savings.

Some people do get a kick out of living in a 400 sqm mansion, driving a posh new SUV and consume humongous amounts of energy in general, but those people are not target for this text. I simply leave them on their own to solve their own problems.

A modest proposal

Why not revert to being engineers? At least in our spare time? While on boss' time, we still have to charge after growth, but in our spare time, we could be true engineers and chase efficiency and quality-of-life issues. I suggest that we start using the Not-My-Problem (NMP) field when encountering economical and social problems and just kick the problem back at the economists and politicians.

We designed a more efficient house, making some power generation unnecessary, causing unemployment, and the economists and politicians blame us - what to do? A powerful "NMP" should do. Unemployment is a political problem, not a technical. "What kind of lousy politician are you to come whimpering to us engineers with a political problem? Eh?"

Massive savings by reduced need for cars would cause car manufacturers and banks to go bankrupt. As proud engineers we say "NMP!!". "What kind of lousy economist are you if you can't design a system that can handle gains in efficiency and savings? Don't come to me with your little problems - go away and design a resilient economic system instead."

The road ahead

I would love to have an enlightened discussion with other engineers and scientists about what is possible from a scientific and engineering standpoint, effectively ignoring the crowd of economists and politicians. We gave them railroads, cheap clothes, cheap food, cars, radio, TV, hip replacements and the Internet, but they are never satisfied and want us to solve the problems they created by sloppy thinking about politics and economy. Now don't come calling on us for electric cars when the real problem is lousy city planning!

This message is composed of 100% recycled electrons

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Don't look for leadership or management

Dave Pollard's excellant post on "We don't need leaders we need experimenters" got me thinking about my experiences from working as a management "cog" in the machinery of a rather large corporation. My role was to help the organisation with its new IT system and as such reported direct to the "leadership" - the management team. This sort of thing is huge in terms of numbers of people, locations, business risks, investment needed, and changes in behaviour required permanently. Perhaps you could say it mirrors the task at hand we all face: introducing major changes into an interconnected, technical and financial infrastructure, with widely accepted - rules of the game – that are outdated and inappropriate for the task in hand . If we didn't change the IT system the whole company risked going under. Again this mirrors the situation we are in on the planet.

In fact, strong leadership was required in a sense. It HAD to be done, there was no going back, everyone had to help out, it had to be done right, too. Being fascinated by the whole subject of leadership, I watched how the management team communicated this message, expecting to see what qualities in them had got them to top management. A little disappointed, it all came out a bit lame, in the category of "necessary evil" .

But there is more. The management side. The skills required to organize such a transformation. I'm talking project management, aligning deliverables, employees, competencies, training, processes, deadlines, work packaging - all that good stuff that you expect top managers to be fully conversant with.

Nope. Not that either. Uphill struggle for us to translate this "technical side" of the work into by them actionable items. In fact, the excellent knowledge and skills being amassed by the implementation team - in terms of managing change - were being lost into the hands of outside consultants. If you are interested in this sort of thing, it's all documented in a book “Running the Successful Hi-tech Project Office by Eduardo Miranda” (available Amazon).

Most of these management techniques – coming from the quality movement originally – stem back to rocket science. NASA has been one of the leaders in methodologies for bringing disparate organizations together to achieve a common “man on the moon” goal.

But, looking at it, this whole area has been rather ignored by many executive teams. The author of the book above (one of America’s experts) was fired from his job because the management team could not see any value add from his job.

So my own experience concurs – even the executive team were frozen in their development. The organization skills required to unravel this dysfunctional apparatus we call “business (sic) as usual” are available but elusive. Leadership is not going to happen. The apparatus is going to chug on until it grinds to a painful halt. Grass roots is all we have. That’s you and me. What can we do today?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Of whales and insects and Brave New World

Bit of a different post today. I’ve been on holiday and had a real serendipity experience with a couple of books.

Part of the research for the blog involved looking at books which took a similar approach – that is to say envisioning a sustainable future in order to stimulate thought leadership. Imagine my surprise when I walked into a tiny village near the holiday cottage I was renting to see a book town library.

Why serendipity? Well book towns was an idea Book town founder Richard Booth got back in the 60s when he met a descendant of author of Utopia, Sir Thomas More. She ( I forget her name) turned up in a pony and trap. Booth's insight was that that second hand books are "a re-saleable economy with a product which has no sell-by date and is available in its billions".

Villages would concentrate on book binding, antique book shops, writers’ circles and so on. This particular book town housed a rather eccentric form of bookstore: the books were arranged by colour of binding. The blue room was especially overwhelming.

I found a book on Utopia, and Brave New World Revisited, by Aldous Huxley.

Brave New World was written in the 1930s, before the second world war and the explosion of population growth. I guess it is a book with a purpose similar to this blog to enable thought about the future by envisioning different outcomes.

In Brave new World revisited from 1950, Aldous Huxley talks about how his book tried to warn people of the threats of overpopulation and urbanization together with a desire for the GOOD ORDER. This urban pressure, bringing so many individuals together, would encourage the mindset that sees people more as insects. This in turn leads to dehumanizing of society, albeit the basic intention may have been good. He goes on to reflect how his predictions were coming true even faster than he thought possible.

Amazing power of foresight that man had: the world population passed 50% living in urban environments around 2005. And look at how so many sit of an evening alone in the blue light of the TV screen.

Let's consider insects as a societal model: every individual has a specific task to perform. If she does not perform it she is punished and evicted from the insect society by soldier individuals. Individuals in insect communities are born into their roles, which are not learned but genetic. That an insect community survives has much to do with how each individual performs their tasks exactly in conjunction with the others, where simple patterns of communication go on between each individual.

So you could say that insects’ culture is inherited and adapeted to their situation.

There’s more: a few days earlier I had sat transfixed in front of a ntarure programme on TV about killer whales.

These whales are the most widespread species of mammal after man. They are extremely adaptable. In some areas they eat small fish, in others larger ones. Some live on dolphins, others on seals. Each group of whales has developed their own patterns of behaviour which require complex communication (for hunting in packs) and teaching. Behaviour of one pack of whales in one situation, like the ones who live on seals, is completely different from the ones who, for example, live on small fish. And the behaviour and communication are learned.

The programme described how “playful” the whales are. They experiment. When radar and sonar techniques meant fishing boats could get to the fish before the whales researchers thought whales would starve. But before long, the whales had worked out that fishing boats were travelling toward the big shoals, so they went in that direction and got there before them. They didn’t starve.

So mammalian culture is learnt, developed and passed on to coming generations. Playfulness and experimentation is required for the group to adapt to its circumstances. And communication and learning are key.

So I learned a lot on my holiday – two books in the spirit of PORENA – and that any societal development towards forming human society in the pattern of insects is going against our nature.

And confirmation of my original observation: that it is through the development of our culture that we will survive, not through the promulgation of mechanistic solutions that see humans as insects.

We need to play, experiment, work together, communicate and pass on what we know that is appropriate to the next generation. How I don’t know. Only that we must,

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