The Development Hoax

The promise of conventional development is that by following in the footsteps of the “developed” countries of the world, the “underdeveloped” countries can become rich and comfortable too. Poverty will be eliminated, and the problems of overpopulation and environmental degradation will be solved.

This argument, reasonable as it may seem at first glance, in fact contains an inherent flaw, even deception. The fact is that the developed nations are consuming essential industrial resources in such a way and at such rate that it is impossible for underdeveloped areas of the world to follow in their footsteps. When one-third of the world’s population consumes two-thirds of the world’s resources, and then in effect turns around and tells the others to do as they do, it is little short of a hoax.

Development is all too often a euphemism for exploitation, a new colonialism. The forces of development and modernization have pulled most people away from a sure subsistence and got them to chase after an illusion, only to fall flat on their faces, materially impoverished and psychologically disoriented. A majority are turned into slum dwellers — having left the land and their local economy to end up in the shadow of an urban dream that can never be realized.

Quoted from: Ancient Futures, Helena Norberg-Hodge, 2016 (first print 1991).

The Galaksija: Socialism’s DIY Computer

The Galaksija computer was a craze in 1980s Yugoslavia, inspiring thousands of people to build versions in their own homes. The idea behind them was simple – to make technology available to everyone. Free play was implicitly encouraged: the sharing, collaboration, manipulation, and proliferation of software was built into Galaksija’s very operation.

A computing enthusiast since 1979, Zoran Modli caught wind of Galaksija after the publication of Computers in Your Home. As host and DJ of Ventilator 202—a renowned New Wave radio show on Serbia’s Radio Beograd 202—Modli was something of a minor celebrity in Yugoslavia. Because all the day’s computers, including Galaksija, ran their programs on cassette, Regasek thought Modli might broadcast programs over the airwaves as audio during his show. The idea was that listeners could tape the programs off their receivers as they were broadcast, then load them into their personal machines.

An overnight sensation, this DJing practice quickly became a staple on Modli’s show. In the ensuing months, Ventilator 202 broadcast hundreds of computer programs. During the hour, Modli would announce when the segment was approaching, signaling to his listeners that it was time for them to fetch their equipment, cue up a tape, and get ready to hit record. In the case of games, users would “download” the programs off the radio and alter them—inserting their own levels, challenges, and characters—then send them back to Modli for retransmission. In effect, this was file transfer well before the advent of the World Wide Web, a pre-internet pirating protocol.

Read more: Socialism’s DIY Computer, Michael Eby, Tribune, July 2020. Thanks to m.

Simplifier: Creating a Stable Foundation of Technology

Mathieu Maury sends us a link to a very interesting (and minimalist) website called Simplifier. From the about-page:

Why do I simplify? How did I get started? What is the goal of this website?

Before developing any other skill, I enjoyed programming. To some extent, I still do; each program is its own universe, built from scratch, and the ability to create these on a whim is fascinating. However, the more time I spent programming, the more I became aware of the fact that software depends on hardware, and hardware is constantly changing. A program is not like a book or a painting; it requires constant upkeep and adaptation to remain in existence.

Initially, this drove me to learn about hardware, so that I could develop a stable platform to build upon; but this too was futile. Components inevitably fail, and there is no guarantee that replacements will be available in the coming years or decades. Essentially, permanent work cannot be achieved on a computer, as the hardware is fundamentally out of the control of the user. No matter what world is created inside of a program, its foundation will always rest on sand.

At this point I left programming entirely, and began searching for other meaningful work to do; but the problem had followed me! No matter what skill I intended to learn, I found that its permanence had been eroded by the chaos of technology. Materials were replaced by brands, techniques replaced by accessories, and craftsmanship replaced by consumerism. Clearly, this was something that needed to be fixed. Clearly, this is what I had to do.

Fundamentally, my work here is about creating a stable foundation of technology that is reliable, understandable, and practical for an individual to build for themselves. As of writing this, I believe I have done this on a conceptual level, but I intend to continue this work to the highest level of technology that I can achieve on my own. I encourage readers to utilize anything here which they find practical for whatever purpose they see fit, and to consider adopting a mindset of simplification in projects of their own.

Human Powered Neighbourhood: The Community Kitchen

It’s 2030 and the 14,000 residents of the first carbon neutral neighbourhood in the Netherlands gather at the communal fires, where they cook and eat together.

Read more: Human Powered Neighbourhood: The Community Kitchen.

Mental Resilience: The Art of Survival

“Following the 21st century radical changes on this planet, we have realized it was high time for us to give new contribution based on evidence from the siege of Sarajevo experience (1992-1996), to the urgent need of establishing a resilience module – for the sake of terrified individuals and unprepared societies alike. Extreme urban conditions produced a parallel civilization in which creativity was a basic necessity. The process of adaptation left no space for stagnation and helplessness. Work was the law of mental and physical survival.

“Working towards resilience kept people’s minds occupied – work eliminated thoughts that could destroy their motivation. It was necessary to establish a balance in the extreme urban conditions of life. This was done through creating peaceful, simple, normal situations, according to one’s personal needs. During the siege, the continuation of normal life in the city, the continuation of creativity, was as important as bread or medicine or water for all citizens of Sarajevo.”

“In this book we are not presenting a theory, but a real life evidence of an open mind potential to win in the face of the unknown, the new, the uncertain and the unthinkable. We believe that citizens who lived the Sarajevo siege present an example of hope for mankind facing serious threats and the changes so far unthinkable on this planet of ours.”

Read more and download the book: The Art of Survival. Extreme Conditions and Human Resilience: The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996, Suada Kapiç. Thanks to Jere Kuzmanic.

Generating Light from Darkness

Night-time power generation analogous to photovoltaics would be an enabling capability for applications such as lighting and wireless sensors. We demonstrate a low-cost power generation device based on thermoelectric generators where the cold side radiates heat to the cold of space by facing the night sky. The power generated is sufficient to maintain a LED at night, enabling battery-free off-grid lighting. [Read more…]