Fortnightnotes: software freedom, retrofitting, objects

Now Play This 2021 happened! It was lovely, from the not-flying pre-festival experience of an economy class seat flight sim, to a neighbourhood walk with musical accompaniment to close the festival. Some of it is on YouTube now. I enjoyed the mellow alternative management-sim of Among Ripples: Shallow Waters (rebuilding and maintaining the water ecosystems), and the visions of the future - particularly the mixed responses of the people of post-flood Venice 2089. Other highlights were thinking about the other side of things with games about "bad actors", and the art concept of the Garden of Early Delights.


Maintain is hosting a darning workshop online on the 29th April  - an opportunity to learn about visible mending and the experience of clothing repair. 

I continue to be annoyed about What3Words, but this is now becoming more of a thing for others. As well as the financial/sector commentary here, there's been more people finding examples where the words are in fact unhelpfully similar, not meeting the company's own marketing promises.

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Thanks to Democracy Club for assembling the great to help people see their options in the elections. It remains depressing that volunteers must assemble this stuff.

Obviously we could use some more sensible governance:

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And also some better software management:

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We can't blame everything on the pandemic. 

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Martin Kleppmann argues that copyleft has failed to maintain software freedoms, and the real threat now is cloud computing, so we need new (legal) tools. I agree that copyleft doesn't seem fit for purpose now, although I'm a little more skeptical that rights to data portability will be much use (unless enforcement starts to happen seriously).

The interweb experience has really changed; I imagine this is much less apparent to those who came online more recently. It's all much less flexible these days. Tony Hirst, ever a pioneer in using what digital info was available for useful purposes, especially learning and research and building knowledge, notes some of what's lost and what is possible now in this post about search. Hugely appreciate your endeavours and your sharing, Tony. Sorry the internet is so shit these days.

I enjoyed the whole thread from Chelsea Troy on software maintenance:

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Despite announcements suggesting the UK now has a Right to Repair, there's a lot more to be done.

Eelgrass - a fascinating food source. Could this be grown in more places to feed more people at a low carbon cost?

LowTech magazine's low tech website changes depending on the availability of solar power. Low power, the site renders in black and white instead of colour. When there's no power, it's offline. 

However, running data centers on renewable power sources is not enough to address the growing energy use of the Internet. To start with, the Internet already uses three times more energy than all wind and solar power sources worldwide can provide. Furthermore, manufacturing, and regularly replacing, renewable power plants also requires energy, meaning that if data traffic keeps growing, so will the use of fossil fuels.

... The growth in data traffic surpasses the advances in energy efficiency (the energy required to transfer 1 megabyte of data over the Internet), resulting in more and more energy use. 

... Thanks to a low-tech web design, we managed to decrease the average page size of the blog by a factor of five compared to the old design – all while making the website visually more attractive (and mobile-friendly). Secondly, our new website runs 100% on solar power, not just in words, but in reality: it has its own energy storage and will go off-line during longer periods of cloudy weather.

Worth a read to see all the ways they save power - and therefore how other sites consume it. HT Michael Dales.

A new set of articles from Dark Matter Labs about retrofitting homes to cut carbon - 

Retrofit, in attempting to deliver a collective climate transition of our built environment, still operates within the primarily individualised institution of property. Common across almost all the contexts we worked in, the onus to pay for retrofit work remains by default with the individual property owner, with the risks of high energy costs, maintenance costs, and substandard housing conditions borne by the individual. An owner’s inability to pay the high upfront costs required, and the lack of available financing, becomes a barrier to retrofit with cascading consequences. 

... Grant schemes .. tend to concentrate on the ‘easy wins’ by limiting eligibility to certain types of intervention, and lend the weight of government authority to mainly conservative, piecemeal approaches, rather than deep, comprehensive retrofit. ... from our work with City of Edinburgh Council, while the council has set ambitious decarbonisation targets with council-funded retrofit used as a means to achieve this, the privatisation of individual council flats has created mixed-tenure blocks with private owners who may not be able or willing to invest in retrofit.

In the long term, this has been shown to be insufficient in reducing energy usage and emissions, and within 30 years time, will require further retrofit. The knock-on consequences of this funding barrier is that with retrofit’s limited demand, contractors have little incentive to invest in training or developing dedicated retrofit services, so work is completed with conventional construction methods with little guarantee of performance, and in turn, worsening the perception of retrofit, becoming a cascading risk.

... To address the challenge of climate breakdown, retrofitting will mean large-scale, long-term plans that propose to take our homes and streets apart and build them back with us still inside. For this to be possible, the way we approach retrofitting needs to empathise with just how precarious many people’s lives have become, not only during the last 12 months, but as a result of the systemic injustices in how our built environment gets made and remade, and the suspicion that it has caused. 

... Conventional approaches to retrofitting have attempted to reduce domestic carbon emissions on a piecemeal basis, relying on the ‘easy wins’ for individual homes such as one-off grants for wall or loft insulation, replacing boilers, or adding heat pumps. Although useful in the short term, these measures will only make a small dent in our 2050 goals.    

Ten years on from the discovery of the most boring day last century. Although actually I think it's 11 years, because I wasn't there for the discovery, just the first anniversary in 2011. 300million facts - rather more by my time at True Knowledge - was a lot to wrangle. 

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Kelly Pendergrast on objects:

It’s hard to live with objects these days. I want to surround myself with tools that help me perform my daily tasks, or beautiful objects that are frivolous but nice to look at and touch. I want things that last a long time, that are easy to fix, and that didn’t damage the people who made them or the places their materials were extracted from. The Oxo corkpull and a thousand other objects in my drawers and closets feel like barely-tolerable stowaways, unwanted gifts foisted on me by the complex and inexorable machinations of an economic system bent on destruction.

... The dream that objects can be cycled back into innocent inputs is powerful and poignant. Maybe there’s karma for materials, and my embarrassing ergonomic corkpull will be reborn into a new body, renewed and whole. I imagine my $10 Target toaster ratcheting apart like an exploded view diagram, each component labeled and registered and ready to be redeployed, flying off to a new home in some other toaster or modular appliance. Each rusty screw and plastic molecule valorized once again. More than likely, though, the toaster will end up in a landfill, its crummy electronic components and janky carapace too wretched to bother with.

...  I hold the corkpull, and I think of the prehistory of its materials extracted from the ground, the chemical manufacturing to form the plastic compounds, the digital piecework of design logistics, marketing, the molding and unfolding and packaging and shipping and handling and retail. It’s such a weight to hold in my hand. 

... “No ethical consumption under capitalism,” I tell myself. And yet the sense of vertigo and horror persists, flaring up any time I think about the sheer number of material, human, and energy inputs that converge in a single crappy kitchen implement. It makes it hard to live with things, and even harder to be rid of them.


Slow TV from Sweden - watch the migration of moose across a frozen river on Twitch. Public broadcasting at its best.