Saturday is Free Money Day

Around the world this Saturday, people will be handing out their own money to complete strangers, two coins or notes at a time, and asking the recipients to pass half on to someone else. This is Free Money Day.

The impact? A lot of positive confusion and questioning, the kind that leads to a rethinking of values. One example: A couple in Chiang Mai, Thailand, inspired by Free Money Day, declared they were "giving away half of our small land holdings... to begin a land trust for up and coming permaculture farmers".

This action is organized by the Post Growth Institute, a thoughtful and provocative network of people around the world whose motto is "The end of bigger, the start of better." When I first encountered them I was skeptical, but they've been encouraging people to question our unsustainable, GDP-focused status quo, and they deserve applause for that.

Do something you wouldn't normally do - give out change to random strangers. Find out more at - and see the Participate page.

Here's one of the great videos from the Post Growth Institute's YouTube channel:

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Monthly chat – today, Sunday September 9

It's Appropedia's monthly chat time, 2nd Sunday of the month (or the Monday morning if you're in Asia/Australasia). It's an open discussion this month, so bring your questions about Appropedia, or your grand plan, or just come and find out how we're making a difference.

It's at 10pm GMT - some local times:

  • In the USA: 3pm PDT & 6pm EDT
  • London: 11pm
  • Eastern Australia (Melb/Syd etc): 8am Monday 10th
  • NZ: 10am Monday 10th

Easiest way to join the chat - just go here and enter a username. (Ignore the "Auth to services" box unless you have a Freenode account): It's an old-fashioned chat, a simple page in your browser with a box at the bottom for typing into.

See our Monthly chat page if you need more info.

Hope to chat with you then. If you get this message late, then my apologies. You can mark it in your calendar for next time.

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Tools for wiki spam warriors

We've been holding back the tide of spam, and I want to thank all fellow spam-warriors. Just in recent weeks, J.M.Pearce, RichardF and Danny B. have been deleting spam pages, and Lonny is working with other tech helpers on upgrading our server-level defences. Now, our spam-fighting has been getting better organized and I want to share some tools:

For admins (i.e. for those with the ability to delete pages) : A great and easy way to help is to keep an eye on the NewestPages. The spam articles are easy to spot by their titles. Spammy user pages show up here, but they're harder - they need to be eyeballed.

For everyone: Keep an eye on changes by new and anonymous users. This is also good for spotting comments by visitors, difficulties faced by newbies, and good edits by newbies that we can say thanks for.

For IRC-using super-geeks: Danny B. set up a real time recent changes channel on IRC (that link might work if you have an IRC client installed - see A:IRC for help), and he's been deleting spam that he spots this way.

For me: There's a spam filter which I maintain, checking and tweaking to ensure we keep blocking most of the spam before it hits the wiki, but avoid blocking good edits. If you notice any new patterns in the spam that's getting through, please let me know the details. I'm also happy to collaborate if someone else knows regex and wants to help with  writing the filters.

I mention all this because I'm cutting back my spam patrol to focus on meta-Appropedia work, like the internship program and fundraiser that I've been wanting to work on. I'll keep maintaining the spam filter, but I'm closing my browser tabs with NewestPages and the changes-by-newbies feed  that I used to keep open permanently. and I'll resist the compulsion to check on those. Thanks for understanding, and thanks to all those who are able to step up!

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Herb Elliot was a great athlete, who won the gold medal in the 1500m in the 1960 Olympic Games, and dominated middle distance running in his time. Interviewed recently, he had this to say on the Western lifestyle:

Now we have the society where the kids don’t run anymore. I used to run to school. I used to run to catch the bus, I used to run everywhere.  The Herb Elliott of today is driven everywhere. And by the time the kids are 15 or 16 or 17 years of age the African kid’s got 10,000 miles in their legs that our kids haven’t got.  So I think we can address that but it reflects our style of life at the moment.

In terms of health, fitness, enjoyment, socialization, independence, economics, there's so much to be gained - not to mention the carbon footprint. This is just one of the ways that a low carbon lifestyle can be richer.

Parents will worry, and do need to weigh risks - but think about real risks, rather than headlines about rare events. And what better way to channel our natural concern and desire for children's safety than to work on making our cities and neighborhoods into great places to run and cycle?

Online chat today - Sunday 12 Aug 2012

Quick update: there's a lot going on behind the scenes - don't let the quiet blog fool you - and big plans are brewing. For a start:

We have a monthly online chat, starting in a few hours day from the time of posting. Depending on your timezone, it's:

Date: Sunday, 12 August 2012. (Monday morning in Asia & Oceania.)
Time: 10pm GMT (UTC if you prefer)
USA: 3pm PDT (Pacific) & 6pm EDT (East coast)
London: 11pm
Australia, East coast: 8am Monday 13th AEST
New Zealand: 10am Monday 13th NZST
Your time zone: ask the Time Zone Converter - convert from "22 /10 pm" at  "UTC/GMT" (top of the list of zones).
Topic for this month: Introductions, open Q & A. There's lots to talk about, but mainly we want to connect and say hi.
How to log in: The details are on our IRC page - see the section Using IRC. Hint: the web method is easy.

Next month we'll announce it more widely, and we'll get more specific. Put it in your diary for next month (2nd Sunday), and we'll confirm closer to the date.

Swarm solution to recycling

If you're an enthusiastic recycler, like me, you'll probably know the frustration of seeing how oblivious most people are to recycling.

Recycling in Japan offers a glimmer of hope. See especially the Japanese town of Kamikatsu, aiming for zero waste. These are examples to follow, and directions we need to move in. But to get to a zero waste world, we'd better not rely on everyone being as orderly and disciplined as a Japanese town. Given the range of personality types, the difficulty many of us have in keeping our desks tidy, and our computer files and backups in order, what would it take to get everything recycled?

I see help coming from technology. Bioplastics are here already - plastic bags that can be composted. They cost just a little more (there was a 15 cent charge for compostable shopping bags when I saw them) and they take around 2 years to compost, but those figures will improve with mass production, and with learning what conditions help them to compost more quickly.

Then there are robots. Boring repetitive tasks like sorting rubbish are ideal for robots - and once they have good enough vision (and maybe other senses), and suitable processing to tell PET from polypropylene from clean paper from soiled paper, we'll be most of the way there. Look at what swarms of robots can do already:

Ok, it's scary to think about some applications of this technology, and we need to think hard about that. But the beneficial applications are also huge - and I like the idea of hackers around the world understanding swarm robot tech, rather than having it restricted to militaries and governments.

This is one reason I'm excited about open source hardware. Between Arduino processors, the enthusiasm of hardware hackers, and the latest ideas in swarm robots, we may yet get as near as dammit to a zero waste world. The important thing is to get to work making this happen, sharing best practice as we go.

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Pondering Batmania – part 1

I'm staying in the world's most liveable city, allegedly. I like it here, but I refuse to believe this is as good as it gets.

Melbourne, Australia has been popping up on "most liveable city" lists since 1990, and the most recent version of The Economist's liveability ranking puts the town on top again.

(Random trivia: Melbourne was founded by Batman, and Batmania was one of the proposed names for the city - so I like to use that. Pardon my juvenile sense of humor. John Batman was no hero, though... But I digress.)

Melbourne certainly has good points - it has a lot of cultural activity, great cafes, and perhaps the best public transport in Australia, in that it works, is kind-of  frequent, and has integrated ticketing. (Melbournians  complain a lot about their public transport, but I've lived in Sydney and Jakarta, and Melbourne is way ahead of both.) There's a reasonable amount of green space, the water in the bay is clean and clear (if you pick the right beach, away from stormwater drains) and you can cycle with less fear of death than in Sydney. It's also the social entrepreneur capital of Australia, which is great if you're a passionate changemaker.

But it's expensive if you want to live near those great cafes, and has sprawling suburbs if you don't want to pay those prices. It can be hard to be without a car, though not as hard as Sydney or American cities. And like most Australian and North American cities, the carbon footprint is huge.

And then... Sydney is also in The Economist's top 10, which makes me question the whole exercise. Sydney is my hometown, and I'm glad to be away from that beautiful, congested, expensive city, and I regularly run into other Sydneysiders who feel the same way.

Are these cities the standard we want to aim for? Surely we can do a lot better, but how do we get there? I'm all for protesting for more bike paths, and voting for candidates who support public transport, but we're making slow progress on these things... when we're not going backwards.

Suburbia, highways and McMansions are helping to drive dangerous climate change, and they're often creating stressful places to live. We need a major change in awareness, in expectations, and in the conversations we have about our cities - whichever part of the world we're in.

Where would you start? Where will you start? Leave a comment below, or on the Facebook page for Appropedia. And stay tuned - the conversation continues...

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First International Meeting for Sustainable Construction in the Dominican Republic

On a run of four presentations in three days, I wanted to share the most visually stimulating one from ENICONS First International Meeting for Sustainable Construction in the Dominican Republic.

I had the pleasure of presenting with some amazing architects to an audience of engaged architects and change makers.

Please feel free to ask questions since the presentation is mostly pictures. In addition, the majority of the technologies presented do have Appropedia links to more information.

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Better places to live

The Sustainable Cities Institute describes a positive vision for cities, towns and neighborhoods. It's one of many sites and communities advocating better places, places designed to human scale and with our planet in mind.

There's also Peter Calthorpe, an urban designer who emphasizes economical use of space to create better places. He advocates transit-oriented development with well-ordered transit nodes, to make travel convenient and sustainable, and greatly reduce the need for cars. He also talks about urban design's key role in fighting climate change. He's part of the New Urbanist movement - which has an approach and an aesthetic which is sometimes controversial, but which has a clear vision for what it takes to make a city sustainable and livable.

Other "city thinkers" are designing buildings and cities with dense housing interspersed with large amounts of green space - Singapore is a leader in this approach and has become a desirable city to live in. Proposed developments in Kuala Lumpur take the idea further, with tall buildings that narrow down at the bottom to allow more space for greenery.

Visions for the future aren't all about high rises. Peter Newman describes the Danish "dense-low" tradition - compact, walkable communities of 2-3 storey buildings and plenty of open space.

This is just scratching the surface. StreetsWiki is a great source for more ideas about making a great city - sadly it's no longer active, but we're making an effort to reach out to that community, to support and continue the work.

There is no shortage of ideas, but there's a need for better coverage and presentation of these ideas in a way that policymakers, journalists and voters and can use to inform themselves.

We have the ideas and experience to tackle this, and we're looking for partners in the urban design and planning fields. Please leave a comment below, or contact us.

Wiki profiles

We're doing a series of wiki profiles on this blog. We look at the goals of these wiki projects, what has worked, and what hasn't.

Most are wikis that (like Appropedia) cover sustainability - often a very specific subtopic of sustainability - and they form our green wiki blog series. We hope that better understanding will lead to greater collaboration.

Education is also a focus for Appropedia, so as well, we'll be looking at wikis and wiki programs dedicated to education, including students who edit Wikipedia and receive credit.

We also have a table of wikis in the fields of sustainability and international development - 113 at last count, with data including size and activity. Sadly, most of them are inactive. Setting up a wiki is easy enough - establishing an active wiki community is a whole different matter.

If you're part of a wiki team or wiki community that hasn't been mentioned here, please leave a comment, or contact us at @appropedia or on Facebook.We'd love to learn about your project - or perhaps do an interview.

And if you're a green or development wiki that is not in the table - click edit and add yourself.

What does a “post growth” future look like?

Yesterday I wrote about why Appropedia has “rich” in its mission statement. Today, Donnie Maclurcan has written a much more eloquent post on the kind of prosperity and the kind of future we are committed to: Post Growth Futures Are Here. I won't quote from it - I recommend reading it in full. If you need a shot of optimism, read it, bookmark it and ask how you can help bring this future about.

You'll notice a hint there, about the new Post Growth Institute project, How, on Earth. Stay tuned - we're looking forward to an exciting and major collaboration.


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