Buckminster Fuller Challenge

Appropedia made it to semi-finalist in the Buckminster Fuller Challenge. (Yay, recognition! Sob, no cash prize.) From our entry:

Difficulties in tracking down existing solutions to appropriate technology problems has led to engineers and fieldworkers wasting time, energy, and resources solving the same problems over and over again. A single shared infrastructure is needed so that the existing disjoint community of appropriate technologists can more easily and openly collaborate on their projects.

…and that’s exactly what we’re doing, in appropriate technology and many related areas.

Originally posted, by the same author, at Pablo Garuda.

Openness in the UK

Engineers Without Borders UK are interested in how to contribute to the Appropedia wiki, and the process of making content free. Which of course leads to questions about when someone’s content is their bread and butter. A section of that page, “But I earn a living from my content!”, addresses this question, but needs much more thought.

I’m at the Humanitarian Centre at Cambridge University – a “hub organisation that ‘thinks local and acts global’, sharing complementary resources and skills to achieve more than the sum of its parts.” This basically means that these world-changing organizations share office and meeting space, and get to do lots of incidental meeting with like-minded people. Great idea – every city should have at least one. Every small NGO (and big NGO for that matter) should be part of one.

Original works on a wiki

Received an email from the founder of a fairly prominent UK organization, devoted to real-world action for sustainability. The query was whether Appropedia was a suitable place to work collaboratively on a book, which would later be published.

While we’d love to have this content, there are some reasons it may not be an acceptable solution for them. At the very least, contributors need to know what they are committing to when pasting on a wiki, and using a free license.

Rather than just explain this in an email, I thought it was a good question to answer on the wiki: See Original content FAQ.

Note that I’m starting to wonder if our old policy of using the “Original:” namespace is a good idea after all, as it requires a set of gatekeepers for what content is worthy to be placed in this namespace. And yet… an original document by a respected appropriate technology organization, for example, may deserve to be readily available. Or perhaps a link to a “diff,” showing the text of the original, with all the changes that have been made since the original document was first placed on the wiki – that will confuse the eye of the average non-wikiholic however.

Tricky issues. Feedback welcome!

Originally posted, by the same author, at Pablo Garuda.

Original works on a wiki

Received an email from the founder of a fairly prominent UK organization, devoted to real-world action for sustainability. The query was whether Appropedia was a suitable place to work collaboratively on a book, which would later be published.

While we’d love to have this content, there are some reasons it may not be an acceptable solution for them. At the very least, contributors need to know what they are committing to when pasting on a wiki, and using a free license.

Rather than just explain this in an email, I thought it was a good question to answer on the wiki: See Original content FAQ.

Note that I’m starting to wonder if our old policy of using the “Original:” namespace is a good idea after all, as it requires a set of gatekeepers for what content is worthy to be placed in this namespace. And yet… an original document by a respected appropriate technology organization, for example, may deserve to be readily available. Or perhaps a link to a “diff,” showing the text of the original, with all the changes that have been made since the original document was first placed on the wiki – that will confuse the eye of the average non-wikiholic however.

Tricky issues. Feedback welcome!

Originally posted, by the same author, at Pablo Garuda.

Searching the wikisphere

On Appropedia pages, I often create a separate “Interwiki links” section. I see these links as different to other external links, as you may be leaving this wiki, but you remain within the wiki ecosystem.

Recently I’ve been thinking how useful it would be to have a good search engine that covers the whole wikisphere. I know some attempts have been made, but there are no active, comprehensive efforts I’m aware of. Qwika is a great concept but is very out of date – they don’t respond to requests to add wikis, and their Wikipedia cache is at least 16 months old. Other efforts exist, but I don’t know of any that cover more than a handful of the major wikis.

My plan is to make a Google custom search engine for wiki sites, keeping the index of sites as open as possible – though it will need to be protected or semi-protected, so that it doesn’t suddenly start searching porn and dodgy pharmaceutical sites .

  • I’ll start with the wikis in Wikimedia’s interwiki map, and Appropedia’s equivalent.
  • Next step is to start separating out the gaming and fan sites from the more serious wikis, so there can be different search engines according to the type of content. I don’t want hits from Wookiepedia or Halopedia when I’m working on an Appropedia article.
  • Then see if there’s some way to get a list of the urls of all the wikis on WikiIndex.

Is anyone else working on something similar?

Originally posted, by the same author, at Pablo Garuda.

How free is free?

I like the Creative Commons By Attribution license – it’s more free, letting people mix the content more easily and use it how they want, even mixing it with non-free content – as long as they give attribution.

The challenge is, if we decide to switch Appropedia to this license, much of our content will have to be clearly marked as being under a different license. (I’m thinking a template top and bottom, and some kind of box for content on pages where the content is from mixed licenses – we’ll need to use a bot to put the notices on every page, to start with.)

We’ll want to contact as many editors as possible and ask them to release all their past contributions under the new less restrictive license, and begin a process of identifying which old content can have the “GFDL” mark removed, to bring it over to the new license.

I believe it will be worth the pain, and we’re starting to discuss it within Appropedia now.

See
Which free license should you use?

Note: Since originally posting this, responses have made me rethink and soften my position. At the very least, the use of CC-BY is a concern to some wiki contributors, and this alone is a good argument for using CC-BY-SA. See the Which free license should you use? page for more detail.

Originally posted, by the same author, at Pablo Garuda.

Cool little laptop – the OLPC Australia TechFest

I played with the XO (a.k.a. $100 laptop) at the OLPC Australia TechFest.

The XO is a very cool machine. Looks perfect for kids, regardless of whether they’ve used a computer before. I’d heard about it before, and tinkered for a few minutes in the past. But actually trying out the latest laptops, seeing the quality of the machine and the video display, and using the various programs for art, music and and science, it was something else. The way the Sugar interface works is ideal for exploratory learning, and the way the the mesh network together with Sugar facilitates group activities is really impressive.

Chatting to the OLPC people about the Windows controversy was encouraging too, to get the inside story rather than just media reports. The clear message I’ve heard is that they are definitely supporting open source, whatever public speculation is happening, and whatever else people want to do with the machines.

One thing said during the day made me laugh:

Senator Kate Lundy took an XO to a Labor Party meeting. (Prime Minister) Kevin Rudd liked it. We know, because the XO took a photograph of his smile.

(Sounds like the first wave of an alien invasion, reporting back to headquarters.)

Sarah Maddox has more.

At Appropedia we’re thinking about how we support the OLPC with free content, and about the Summer of Content, which is still a possibility for this year with a bit of work in the text 2 weeks. More on that shortly. Edit: This didn’t eventuate this time around, unfortunately – too much to do and we didn’t have the people to carry it all the way. But it’s looking definite for the Southern Summer (December 08 – February 09) in conjunction with OLPC Australia, their partners, and whoever else wants to support the work.

Originally posted, by the same author, at Pablo Garuda.

Too much skepticism of the skeptic

Note: Blog posts are the opinions of the individual blogger, and not necessarily of the Appropedia Foundation or the Appropedia community. (We may decide to put a note like this on all blog posts, but it seemed particularly important for a topic like Bjørn Lomborg.)

Reading Bjørn Lomborg’s ideas, I’m learning* that he’s not a climate skeptic, and many of his ideas are sound. Things are getting better for most people in the world (even if it still sucks for many), water wars aren’t as likely as some make out (it’s usually cheaper to build desalination plants – not great, but better than war), most pollutants decrease as societies become prosperous, pesticides in our diet are not a major cause of cancer (compared to coffee and alcohol), and of course, that we should do cost-benefit analyses for solutions to our problems. And as for his image as a climate skeptic, even in The Skeptical Environmentalist he acknowledged the reality of climate change – though he questions the best response.

In this light it looks like an important contribution to the debate – if only the debate hadn’t been conducted at an emotive rather than factual level.

That said, I still have major problems with some of his arguments, and a central plank of his arguments, prioritization, is summed up in these quotes by his critics (from the Wikipedia article):

Lomborg specialises in presenting the reader with false choices – such as the assertion that money not spent on preventing climate change could be spent on bringing clean water to the developing world, thereby saving more lives per dollar of expenditure. Of course, in the real world, these are not the kind of choices we are faced with. Why not take the $60 billion from George Bush’s stupid Son of Star Wars program and use that cash to save lives in Ethiopia? — from a pie thrower.

and:

As Lomborg notes, “We will never have enough money,” and therefore, “Prioritization is absolutely essential.” Why, then, does he weigh the environment only against hospitals and childcare, rather than against, say, industry subsidies and defense spending? — Grist Magazine

I also have never seen much attention to the technological impact of carbon pricing, and it seems like Lomborg is no different. By sending a price signal now, we encourage money and effort to be spent on solutions that could turn the climate change challenge around. E.g. What happens when solar becomes cheaper than coal, and energy storage becomes affordable? A massive transition to a post-carbon economy will begin, that will make most of the models irrelevant. (To be fair he does conclude that there should be investment in renewable energy technologies, but I don’t think he discusses the market-based approach.)

There’s also the fact that many measures to stop global warming, especially efficiency measures, are an economic benefit, not a cost at all.

Of course, I’ve been wrong on Lomborg before, and I may still be.

But how do we reach a more intelligent level of debate? We can’t wait for the mass media – that’s not their field. I’d like to see Lomborg release his work under a free license, so we could remix it, expand and assess arguments, and plug holes, making the comparisons that he himself missed.

*Okay, a friend has been defending Lomorg to me for ages, but I never quite believed him.

Originally posted, by the same author, at Pablo Garuda.