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British Architects Develop Open-Source Home Building

vkg Re:Ah, the Wikihouse (96 comments)

Sorry, I don't use slashdot very often these days, it used to auto-link URLs - didn't realize it wasn't doing it these days!

about a year and a half ago

British Architects Develop Open-Source Home Building

vkg Re:Ah, the Wikihouse (96 comments)

Sorry, didn't realize I wasn't logged in!

about a year and a half ago

British Architects Develop Open-Source Home Building

vkg Ah, the wikihouse - interesting but *so* expensive (96 comments)

I should start this with a disclaimer: I'm the founder of the Hexayurt Project, a Free Hardware building system aimed at refugees and in widespread use at Burning Man. It's those silver pod things (http://hexayurt.com)

I think Wikihouse is exciting technically, but it's *incredibly* expensive to build - something like 7000 EUR of CNC cutting time for a single room. The parametric design aspects of the project are great, however, and I can see a future in which the components are mass produced at reasonable price and then assembled according to plans generated from the parametric design software. But without some kind of standardization, this kind of production is going to remain incurably expensive and therefore just another architectural demo. It's not a technology until costs are estimated. This has happened before: Architecture For Humanity's Open Architecture Network (http://openarchitecturenetwork.org/) rapidly filled with impractical technology demonstrators and student projects - 10000+ designs, but how many practically buildable?

Actually getting buildings that people can build is hard. Architects are trained to think about custom work, one-offs and impressing other architects. Mass producing housing at a price people can afford (hello, Mortage Crisis, goodbye Mortgage Crisis) requires a radical rethink of how we do construction: modularity, prefabrication, standardization - all the same things we did for every other technology we wanted to be cheap, easy and reliable.

It's often said that home building is the last truly-madly-deeply inefficient global industry. Imagine if they built cars by having people come to your garage to hand-assemble them! Whether the radical change is mass manufacture of entire houses Buckminster Fuller style, interchangable modular components (structural insualted panels) or something like 3D printing with insulated concrete, we can't keep buliding houses by hand in a world where everything else is efficiently mass produced with near-zero defects and not distort the shape of our societies.

Hexayurts are dirt cheap and designed for modular mass manufacture. But they look weird. Such is life :-)

about a year and a half ago

Ask Slashdot: What Makes a Great Hackathon?

vkg London June 1, we're having an event to fix it (79 comments)


"Evolution of Swarm Cooperatives" is about hackathons, unconferences, bar camps etc. - anything where you get a large, reasonably diverse group together in an informal setting to work together, solve problems or learn from each-other. Specific topics to address: more effective code reuse after hackathons, documenting unconferences, and scheduling when you have at lot of potential speakers.

If you're in London and have an opinion, come along - we're about 1/4m from the London Hackerspace on Hackney Road.

about a year and a half ago

Not Quite a T-1000, But On the Right Track

vkg It's a particular issue for the American military (159 comments)

The US military is working very hard on robots to assist in the kind of house-to-house combat they have been involved in during Iraq and Afghanistan. In that kind of conflict, there are a lot of casualties and that puts massive pressure on the politicians back home. The pressure is delayed, but very real.

However, once they get robots which can assist in that kind of conflict, it completely unbalances the US Constitution by essentially removing the Second Amendment: effective combat robots are equivalent to gun control. I think that has some very serious implications.


about 2 years ago

Ask Slashdot: At What Point Has a Kickstarter Project Failed?

vkg My Kickstarter project was a year late - and great (247 comments)

I ran a $2000 Kickstarter to fund a book called The Future We Deserve. The project was to collect 100 essays about the future from 100 people, and then write an analysis which drew out common threads and told a story about the future. The material that came in was so strong, individualistic and subtle that it was simply impossible, after a year of trying off-and-on to make an analysis so we simply accepted that the original task didn't make sense in the face of such strong material, and published it as-is.

We've had a few people be like "where's the book, man?" in that year, and we kept in pretty good touch ("it's in the oven, refusing to cook!")

The book is up on PediaPress now, and people are buying copies and are well pleased with the results, but it was an akward year!

more than 2 years ago

Eben Moglen: Social Networking "Creating Systems of Comprehensive Surveillance"

vkg Moglen's tactics are dumb (236 comments)

Alienating reporters is a sure-fire way of getting your cause, no matter how good, totally disrespected. Even if they understand you, they never forgive.

In the long run, there are softer vectors to attack than social networking. A lot of these fears would apply equally well to private social platforms which were not encrypted, just the NSA etc. would have to scrape the data off the wires rather than having nice databases to mine. But the paydirt is still VISA and tax records and face recognition tied to passport databases. I bet social network data, when you get right down to it, is just a nice-to-have compared to the passport biometrics database combined with pen registers etc. for communications.

You might find http://guptaoption.com/cheapid interesting from this perspective: it's a proposed biometric ID card standard which blinds governments to the biometrics of their population except under special circumstances, and enforces this arrangement with strong cryptography. The passport and driving license databases are key, and this is one way to get rid of them.

about 3 years ago

MIT's $1,000 House Challenge Yields Results

vkg Don't forget about the Open Source alternatives (203 comments)

There's the Hexayurt Project, which is basically an updated geodesic dome and can be built up to 450 square feet for each module using only hand tools and a screw gun and the Wikihouse which is a fablab style design which relies on a router.

A typical deployment for a family home would be three hexayurts made out of polyiso foam and then sprayed with ferrocement. Cost is probably around $1500 for that approach, but that's first-world costs. With hand-plaster rather than sprayed ferrocement, I think a developing world unit could well hit $1000.

And, of course, a simple plywood hexayurt for disaster relief is $100 per family, half the price of a disaster relief tent.

more than 3 years ago

Ask Slashdot: Large-Scale DIY Outdoor Cooling of Cairo's Tahrir Square?

vkg What you need is a stadiumsized evaporative cooler (259 comments)

http://www.port-a-cool.com/ is the commercial version, but it's basically some giant fans blowing through a constantly wet evaporation surface.

On second thoughts, I just checked the climate data and it looks like Cairo tends towards humid heat at this time of year, so that's actually not going to help very much at all.

Back to shade then.

more than 3 years ago

Ask Slashdot: How Prepared Are You For a Major Emergency?

vkg The Hexayurt and Simple Critical Infrastructr Maps (562 comments)

The hexayurt is an ultra-simple geodesic dome design ideal for mass production in an emergency - just straight cuts with a table saw across plywood, or hand cut insulation boards. They're all over Burning Man but ideal for serious work too

http://www.boingboing.net/2011/03/17/hexayurt.html (public domain, too)

Simple Critical Infrastructure Maps
is a CC-licensed infrastructure mapping tool which has been partially adopted by the US .mil community for teaching disaster response. Can be really useful for understanding what you actually need to prepare *for*.

more than 3 years ago

Google To Fund Ideas That Will Change the World

vkg Re:I posted four... but I do this for a living ;-) (165 comments)

Akvo is *definitely* the right answer for the "main drive" - places where things basically work and they've got resources to do capital investment, however small, on moving further forwards.

Nearly all of my stuff is pointed squarely at the frayed edge, the torn margin, where things have fallen apart too far for investment in conventional vehicles to help. I'm really focussed on people who can carry all they own, more or less.

Still, I shall be surprised if *nobody* I know wins one of these, and I suspect the first step is to fan it out into a more general "this is how you use the internet to spread around what works" platform and, at this point, AKVO's the logical starting point for that.

I mean, if I was implementing the health plan because google coughed up, wouldn't RSR be a logical starting point?

PS: do check out http://akvo.org/ - their stuff *works*

more than 6 years ago

Google To Fund Ideas That Will Change the World

vkg I posted four... but I do this for a living ;-) (165 comments)

May those who help most win so they say.

I made three entries - the hexayurt, the infrastructure package, and the low cost medical care.

The Hexayurt
The hexayurt is a reasonably well tested next generation disaster relief shelter built on free/open source principles and industrial supply chains. It comes from work done at the Rocky Mountain Institute. The basic idea is to take 12 standard 4âx8â industrial panels, cut six in half diagonally and fasten them into a cone (see the site for pictures) and use six whole panels for the walls, giving a durable shelter of 166 square feet, big enough for 5 people at UN standards. These shelters will survive 80 mph winds easily.

The emphasis on using standard industrial materials is the key. Nobody can afford to carry extensive stocks of emergency housing for disasters in the developing world, which often displace millions of people. Airfreighting tents is expensive and inefficient, and tents are lousy shelter for long term use, which is all-too-frequently how they are deployed. The Hexayurt idea is that industrial cities near regular disaster zones (Bangaladesh, strife-torn areas of Africa, the hurricane belt) take their existing industrial infrastructure and add a few simple new skills so that before or after a disaster they can mass produce a simple, long-life shelter for affected populations. This is a step towards disaster relief self-sufficiency at a regional level, so that these areas begin to be able to cope without being so reliant on patchy and poorly-funded international relief effots.

The Hexayurt concept has been tested by US DOD, and is an integral part of the STAR-TIDES program. American Red Cross and Netherlands Red Cross both think it is a great idea and have supported its development, and AMURT is considering the system. All of this has been done by a persistent self-funded open source development effort.


The Hexayurt Infrastructure Package
The hexayurt is a free/open disaster relief shelter which has its own entry. However, a shelter alone is not enough to really help people after a disaster. If you have 100,000 perfectly good shelters in a field, the next problem you face is water and sanitation: without some deployed solution, people will get sick and die.

There are lots of appropriate technology solutions to sanitation, cooking without wasting wood or generating toxic smoke, purifying water to drink. All of them are under-funded, under-tested, and under-adopted. Millions to tens of millions die every year because this âoeappropriate technology infrastructureâ is not being properly funded, and the result is needless loss of life.

The key is to understand that credible candidate technologies exist to provide all the same basic essential services that people enjoy in the developed world on a budget of maybe $200. Furthermore, the services can be provided house-by-house. For example, rainwater is collected on your roof, then purified using a biosand filter to give you safe drinking water, rather than having a water purification factory down the road and pipes. These systems are basic, and some need work, but some combination of SODIS, solar water pasteurization, thermophilic composting toilets, sulabh toilets, solar cookers, rocket stoves, gasification stoves, biosand filters, microsolar, microwind and microhydro will provide all the basic essential services of life in nearly any climate anywhere in the world. What hasnâ(TM)t been done is a global systematic program of testing each of these individual technologies in each region of the world, making local adaptations, cleaning up and publishing the designs, making training videos, running educational courses, and looking for chances to integrated, combine and synthesize systems into whole packages which are proven to provide all essential services in the field. This is our proposal.


The $10 per year health insurance system
There is no current model for health care for the 4 billion rural and slum dwellers. We can lower the cost of some kinds of healthcare to affordable levels using the network. Hereâ(TM)s how.

Firstly, we need a global map of diseases, and their symptoms and progression, represented in a machine readable and standardized format. This is a major labor in and of itself, but will find many supporters in hospitals and universities.

Secondly, a treatment database exists, and is filtered for the treatments which have little negative effect if misapplied by an unskilled worker. For example, giving babies boiled water with a little lentil soup mixed in will not ever harm them, but if they diarrhea, it can save their life.

Now these databases are combined into a medical expert system, which has probabilities set from field data about the area it is deployed in, which takes symptoms from users and returns non-invasive care suggestions, including âoeseek medical help immediatelyâ for indications of serious disease. This front line system will likely save lives immediately. As data improves and statistics from all the users are gathered and combined, the system will improve. Think non-insulin dependent diabetes management as an example case.

To handle prescribing drugs, a safe pharmacopeia (drug list) is compiled - under $10 a dose, no refrigeration, hard to abuse, no overdose. People pay $10 per year for health insurance, getting them a few visits a year from a bicycle-riding health worker who has a backpack of drugs, and a more advanced expert system to guide them, analysis of their prescribing habits to watch for mistraining, and tools (stethoscope) for simple medical evaluation. Visits are scheduled in priority order using the network to coordinate. Affordable rural health care needs the network!


A COSMOS for the 21st Century
Remember the first time you heard Carl Sagan say something that just totally transformed your understanding of reality? I was about 8 when Cosmos started showing on British TV. I lived in a 5000 person sheep farming town. Once a week, I tuned in as a religious ritual to understand the world around me was not made of rugby and action man and the Beano. I tuned in because I wanted to know how the world was made.

I want to extend that model to the rest of the planet, but I want to add in a new concept: training to survive poverty. Yes, the 11 year olds of sub-saharan Africa should see a show that tells them the sun is a ball of burning gas in space. But they should also know germ theory and the lifecycle of the malarial mosquito.

The proposal is as follows: script and fund a pilot for a world transforming TV series. 60 episodes, covering the world of basic survival science using a COSMOS type format. 12 episodes on farming, 24 on health/ecology/environment (linked in the developing world,) 12 on culture, 12 on cosmology. All science to be both pure and applied, from the history of the microscope through to how to make a sand filter. Focus on teaching people what is possible, and showing people just like them doing it. Show them a better world, that they can live in, if they learn and apply appropriate technology techniques, basic science like germ theory, and use the other information resources at their disposal to get the rest of the story.

Series to be produced internationally with local stars, dubbed into many languages, distributed under open licenses. Slick, professional, global culture product.


more than 6 years ago



Hexayurt Country: helping Haiti with Open Hardware

vkg vkg writes  |  more than 4 years ago

vkg (158234) writes "The earthquake in Haiti has left a million people homeless. Hexayurt Country is a well-reviewed plan to use open hardware to provide water, sanitation and storm-resistant shelter in Haiti, transferring essential know-how during the process of reconstruction. It would cost about $60 per head to rebuild the basics for Haiti this way."
Link to Original Source

Bruce Sterling reviews new Pirate Party manifesto

vkg vkg writes  |  more than 5 years ago

vkg (158234) writes "He's as terse as ever, but the Pirate's Platform is short, to the point, and quite interesting. What would happen if the pirate movement became more than a single issue party and moved in the direction outlined here?"
Link to Original Source

John Perry Barlow's 4th of July 2008 video message

vkg vkg writes  |  more than 6 years ago

vkg writes "http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2764008898452438504&hl=en

John Perry Barlow, founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, discussing democracy, the internet, and the future at Thingvellir, the ancient site of Iceland's historic parliamentary republic, B. 930 AD, D. about 3 centuries later.

John is in Iceland for the Icelandic Foundation for Digital Freedoms' conference,


which is running today, and which will be liveblogged (along with notes from OpenTech http://www.ukuug.org/events/opentech2008/ and Enviu Day http://www.enviu.org/index.php?id=1590 in the Netherlands) at


Enjoy the video!"

Link to Original Source


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