Because I live in a truck, in summer I have the interesting problem of excess (practically free) photovoltaics electricity. The same can happen in an off-grid home or a grid-connected home in a location with zero-export regulations.

This is a small overview of the current options to earn from utilizing your unused or underused computing resources and / or electricity.

By “recommendability”, judged purely subjectively by myself:

  • SONM. Blockchain project where you rent out systems by time, like VPS hosts on a cloud platform. The system just went live (yesterday). Looks like well-done tech, worth a try. Of course, nobody knows what you can earn with this (yet), but it should not get lower than the price of electricity. So if you have excess (“free”) electricity available, it’s always a benefit for you.
  • Golem. Blockchain project for various special-purpose computation tasks (Blender rendering, later machine learning etc.). Already live since a few months, see here for reported earnings.
  • iExec. Blockchain project where you rent out your CPU resources and earn tokens. For a comparison to SONM, see here.
  • Primecoin. The first “meaningful mining” coin ever created. Coins are mined by securing transactions with a prime number chain called “Cunningham chain“. This is for the most part basic research, but has some uses: “Cunningham chains are now considered useful in cryptographic systems since “they provide two concurrent suitable settings for the ElGamal cryptosystem … [which] can be implemented in any field where the discrete logarithm problem is difficult.” (source). For results of the prime number chains it found, see the records and  the details. The coin is “naturally scarce” due to the scarcity of prime numbers, just that the upper limit of coins that will exist is not known beforehand (nice feature :D).
  • Gridcoin. One of the first “useful mining” coins, started in October 2013. Uses an interesting concept called “proof of research” that combines proof of stake and proof of BOINC (contributions to the BOINC platform for distributed scientific computing). You are not paid by BOINC projects but donate your CPU resources to them; instead you are paid in newly minted Gridcoins. Since this (together with the 1.5% inflation from teh proof-of-stake) sets Gridcoins on a path of continuous inflation and there is no immediate use value for Gridcoin (except speculation), this is a rather poor design for a currency. I once tested this about 1-2 years ago and calculated what I could make when running my i7 notebook on excess solar power (4-6 hours a day), and it was only 1-2 USD a year.
  • EFF prizes for large primes. You can participate in GIMPS (a collaborative effort hunting these primes) but this is more for sportsmanship and not for the money, as it seems there are no regular “mining pool style” payouts or shares of a future payout in case of an eventual, collaborative success. GIMPS will distribute a small fraction to the person actually finding it on their computer (3000 USD of 150k USD? compare here and here). You could instead hunt these primes solo, but the chances of success are of course slim. Good for those who like playing lottery and have free electricity around, so it does not cost them anything …
  • Proof-of-work mining. There are lots of cryptocurrencies you can mine with proof-of-work, including Bitcoin of course (but that’s only meaningful with GPUs and ASIC miners these days) and others that are designed to be economically CPU mineable. However, I don’t recommend this, as all these calculations are used for nothing beyond securing transactions – which can also be done with proof-of-stake instead of burning all that electricity. All mineable coins where mining serves a meaningful purpose beyond this have been included in the list above.

And some not yet or no longer functional projects:

  • DCP. Very similar to Gridcoin, as rewards are again earned from BOINC calculations. But seems to provide a more modern tech stack that could potentially do other tasks in the future. Not released yet.
  • Curecoin. Similar to Gridcoin, but limited to only one of the BOINC tasks (protein folding). Also, only half of the energy is used for these computations while the other half goes for proof-of-work. Gridcoin does not have that issue, as proof-of-stake uses only negligible CPU resources. This applies to the previous version. The coin seems to undergo a rewrite / relaunch currently.

There are other (blockchain based) projects that reward people for data storage, data transmission (CDN, video streaming), attention (“voluntary ads viewing”) and sharing personal data. We focused on CPU / GPU intensive tasks here only, as that is the best use in case you have to “burn” free electricity as meaningfully as possible.

At the company I co-founded, we have tried for quite some time to find a collaboration software solution that works for young, free-range, independent workers. We’re settling on Dynalist for now – which is not open source 🙁 but otherwise close-to-perfect for our uses, after some necessary adaptations.

Below is a list of various applications I studied during our search, ordered roughly by suitability for our purposes, the best first.

  1. Dynalist. Not open source. Unlimited nodes in private lists even in the free version. Tags, due dates, Markdown formatting. Nice search options with link to searches, allowing “GTD” type selections of nodes like “everything due in the next week”.
  2. Workflowy. Not open source. Like Dynalist, but some features less. “The original”.
  3. Open Source Dynalist / Workflowy replacements. Of course that would be the ultimate solution, but we’re not there yet. I found the several promising base software applications though, if you want to invest some work (best first):
    1.  Treenote. So far, an offline outliner application similar to Workflowy. An online variant with realtime collaboration is in the making as a master thesis project, and “nearly finished” as of 2017-11. That could be the complete solution, so let’s keep an eye on what happens here.
    2. Etherpad Lite. A proven, open source realtime collaborative editor. There are multiple open source variants (most notably Stekpad / formerly Hackpad), and multiple plugins. However so far, there is nothing like the list folding and zoom-to-item features of Dynalist / Workflowy – it’s all one long document, and the tasklist plugin only adds checkboxes before list items (see). Tag, search and filter functions are also not nearly as functional for a GTD / task list application as they are in Dynalist / Workflowy, and there is no deadline feature. But the collaborative editing part is there (incl. full history and authorship), the plugin infrastructure is there, so it seems doable. Given the advanced state of its realtime editing capabilities, and the difficulty to get this part right, this is probably a better base software than any of the below alternatives.
    3. Vimflowy. See also here on Github. It’s the closest open source Dynalist-like software that I found. Can be used with the mouse, while the Vim modes are also useful after getting used to them. It can do remote data storage, but unfortunately no collaborative real-time editing. So that is a major thing to add (but could be simple when not requiring true realtime updates, rather AJAX to make changes, and a button to pull changes). Also the design and a lot of little bugs have to be fixed. But it’s promising, and in active development as of 2017-11.
    4. ndentJS. Engine / base component for a hierarchical list widget with realtime collaborative editing.
    5. Concord. Another open source, JavaScript engine for Workflowy / Dynalist style task management applications. Seemingly the only one that is available open source. Documentation is here. Needs some programming to create a useful application out of this, though, because even in its most advanced incarnation (Fargo), it was “just” an outliner (see), from which we would be missing real-time collaboration features, specialized features for tasks etc..
    6. HackFlowy. And another engine / base component for a hierarchical list widget with realtime collaborative editing.
  4. Taiga. Open source, kanban style collaboration tool. Nice, but you have to like the kanban way of doing things. For my taste, it is still too much form filling for truly agile, “uninhibited” collaboration. In large, esp. public projects where you need a full revision history (such as open source projects with a public issue tracker), Taiga is a great tool though – collaboration has to be less agile, more formalized there to work.
  5. Wekan. Open source, similar to Taiga and Trello.
  6. Tracks. Open source, Ruby based GTD application. Mature, but not much in development. More than 10 years in the making. Misses a more comfortable user experience (no drag&drop between projects etc., rather some form filling) and misses collaboration features (every user account gets to manage their own tasks only, it seems). Otherwise, very nice. You can try it out with a test account on gtd.pm.
  7. Gingko. Not open source. Very nice and somewhat similar to Dynalist and Workflowy concept-wise. However, more specialized for writing longer texts. While it can be used for task-based collaboration, it is lacking specialized features for task-based collaboration on the other hand (no due dates, no “focus” mode). Pay-what-you-like sales model, the free version is limited to 100 cards per month.
  8. TDO. Open source, minimalistic, nice little kanban style task manager. But allows no sub-tasks (which is what I don’t like about kanban style), and seemingly no made for collaboration.
  9. Nitro 3.0. Open source, nice, collaborative task manager with markdown, due dates, priorities, notes on tasks etc.. It just seems that tasks cannot be nested but are contained in multiple flat lists (if judging from Nitro 1.5 is any indication). Also, Nitro 3.0 is not yet released as of November 2017 and it is a complete rewrite, so it will probably not be available as stable software for some months still. But then, definitely worth a look.

Some pictures of living in the truck over the last month (2017-05-03 to 2017-06-08).

#vanlife 🙂

(Click picture to see a larger version.)

For a friend, I recently researched which notebook can be recommended for Ultra HD video editing (4K UHD, 3840 × 2160 px). Here is, in short, what we found.
 
First priority: Intel Core i7-7xxx CPU, as fast as possible
There are three major ways to encode video: with the processor in software (Linux libx264 and libx265 libraries), with the CPU in hardware (using Intel's or AMDs dedicated features for that), or with the GPU in hardware (using Nvidia's NVENC mechanism). The hardware based mechanisms are much faster. For example, one comparison test was 55 fps on a i7-5930K CPU and up to 540 fps on a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 GPU [source]. So a factor of 10 can be expected.
 
However, hardware encoding is somewhat limited in terms of features, so the same video quality will have a bigger file size, or for the same file size, you get less quality. For example, Nvidia NVENC supports B frames (some kind of small, compressed frame type that reduces video size by approx. 30% at the same quality) only in H.264, not in H.265 [source]. So the enthusiast video editor will probably want to do the final encoding runs in software on the CPU, which can be 20 times slower, but gives better quality for the same file sizes. Preview versions can still be created with the CPU or GPU hardware support, but do not need as much computation power as resolutions will be lower. Also, reportedly the primary, most powerful competitors are Intel CPU hardware based encoding on Kaby Lake processors (Core i7-7xxx) and GPU Nvidia Pascal GPU based encoding on Nvidia GeForce GTX 10xx graphics chips, and the best of both are approximately equally powerful. There seems to be better software support for the Nvidia solution though (but that is just a rough impression).
 
As a consequence, when you want the best quality and accept a long final coding run in exchange, the graphics board does not really matter much, it "only" has to be suitable for playing back 4k video and perhaps applying some live effects on them. So even a "previous generation" (Maxwell based) Nvidia GTX 960 will do, as some models have in this list of 4k editing notebooks. You will however want the best and fastest CPU you can get, which (in gamer notebooks) seems to be approx. the Intel Core i7-7600HQ (2.8 GHz).
 
Second priority: display
The next question is what display to get. Choices are between 15" and 17" displays, and for both between Full HD (1920×1080) and 4k Ultra HD (3840×2160) resolutions. Without a 4k display, you obviously can't watch your 4k video in full glory while editing, but even with a 17" 4k display, pixels are so small that there is very little to no optical difference between a Full HD and a 4k Ultra HD display (as reported by gamers). You will have to zoom into frames to see quality differences anyway. But the price difference is sometimes just 200 EUR, which might make the 4k Ultra HD display worth having.
 
Third priority: main memory, mass storage
These things can be upgraded as needed, so you don't do a final decision on purchase. 16 GB DDR4 RAM and a "128 GB SSD plus 1 TB hard disk" combination seem a reasonable minimum though. To speed things up, the SSD should be sufficient for the operating system, software, and the video files of your current project, while the (cheaper and larger) hard disk would hold all the archived video editing projects.

Model recommendations
The most interesting models (high performance but at the lower end of the possible price range) that we found are these:

  • HP Omen OMEN 17-w207ng, 1500 EUR, i7-7600HQ CPU, Nvidia GeForce GPX 1050 Ti, 17" display 3840×2160, 256 GB SSD, 1 TB HDD
  • HP Omen 15-ax202ng, 1300 EUR, i7-7600HQ CPU, Nvidia GPX 1050, 15" display 1920×1080, 256 GB SSD, 1 TB HDD
  • Dell XPS 15 9560, ca. 1600 EUR, i7-7600HQ CPU, 15" display 1920×1080

More interesting information and sources

Just a quick brain dump: more and less useful things you can do with the components of an old electric wheelchair (usually two 24 V DC geared electric motors of 200-400 W each, a motor controller, and batteries).

  • Telepresence robot for tele-farming. The robot would have a video camera and a high resolution still image camera. It would carry PV panels to recharge itself, so would never get completely stuck (but may only be able to move a few hundred meters per day). The robot can be used to inspect the farms and growing conditions for remotely giving advice to smallholder farmers in developing regions. Also, it could allow consumers from so-called developed countries to explore the farms and village where their products come from, without having to travel there. As part of a P2P food monitoring scheme like the Fairdirect Label (which I co-developed), the telepresence robot would allow customers to check whether the farming conditions are as stated.
  • Telepresence robot for “visiting” friends and relatives.
  • Remote gardening robot. So you can grow your food in one place even when living a nomadic life. The robot for this would look like a portal robot, driving above a row of plants.
  • Weeding robot. Would use deep learning based image classifiers to identify weeds.
  • Irrigation robot for gardening.
  • Robotic parcel delivery in a village. Would be a simple line following robot, with a network of lines on sidewalks in the village.
  • Toolsharing robot for multiple villages. At 7-10 km/h it’s realistic to let the robot move tools on demand in an area of 5 km diameter (6-8 villages). Delivery time would be at most one hour (going to the village 5 km apart, and coming back). It could be a simple line-following robot, with lines on the ground between villages.
  • Pulling a trailer with load.
  • Solar powered autonomous vehicle. This is more like an art project: an autonomous robot that is left to travel alone forever.
  • Firewood collecting robot.
  • Street sweeper robot. Of course autonomous.
  • Street graffitti robot. CNC painting on the street and other large surfaces. ith spray paint cans, chalk or other means.
  • Telepresence robot for the public. Would be put in some interesting location, like an abandoned industrial area, a refugee camp, or a war zone. It would be controlled by anyone on the Internet who is interested in driving it for a time.
  • Animal herding robot.
  • Open source StreetView mapping robot. In contrast to normal StreetView, it would collect 360° pictures in a grid every 5-10 cm. This allows to fluidly visualize moving from anywhere to anywhere (while keeping eye distance from the floor, of course).
  • Soil mapping robot for agriculture.
  • Autonomous mini library. It would drive around in a city by itself and offer books to anyone who wants them.
  • Sutonomous mini sales cart.
  • Snow pattern maker. Some people create huge, nice geometric patterns in snow by walking them. This would be more efficient.
  • Autonomous terrace farming robot. It would probably be tracked for that purpose.
  • Fertilizer robot. In organic gardening that would mean urine and compost.
  • Load carrying robot that follows a person. Using an optical beacon attached to the person.
  • Drink and food server for a restaurant.
  • Self-driving battery power tool carrier and charger.
  • Storage management robot. Carrying pallets or boxes to storage workers, like Amazon does it in their storage areas.
  • Robotic load carrier for mountain villages. It would move slowly but autonomously between villages. For villages in Nepal which are still often only connected by footpaths, this could be an interesting and economical new logistics infrastructure.
  • Vacuum cleaner robot for indoors.
  • Trash collecting robot for cleaning up outdoors.
  • Camera rig robot.
  • Childrens’ toy car. They will love it.
  • Remote surveillance robot for guarding a place. WIth cameras and LED lamps attached.
  • Advertising carrier robot. To be used in pedestrian areas etc..
  • Segway type vehicle. Quite suitable as there are two independently powered wheels normally.

To approach any of these ideas, or your own of course, have a look at some of the more interesting devices people already created out of electric wheelchair parts:

Finally, here are some good technical explanations about how to add remote control to an electric wheelchair:

A friend with a big heart for victims of human trafficking asked me to identify opportunities for helping trafficked women in Europe. As my (initial) results can be useful for others as well, I publish them here. My research focused on work opportunities for English speakers, as opposed to also speaking, say, an Eastern European language. The sections are ordered accordingly: the "most adequate issue" for English speakers to care about comes first.

(1) Issue: Nigerian women trafficked via Italy

Summary: This "trend" is becoming worse and worse since 3-4 years and it is not an understatement to call it a human rights crisis since early 2016. It also seems the most adequate (or one of the most adequate) work opportunity in Europe for social workers and counsellors with English language skills.

The Guardian has a good, recent introduction to the problem, complemented with a little photo documentary. According to that, 11,000 Nigerian women arrived to Italy in 2016, which is double the already high 2015 numbers. And the UN estimates 80% of them will end up in prostitution across Europe. This fate is also reflected by prostitution in Italy itself: as early as 2008, before the "real" start of this crisis, 90% of Italy's sex workers were migrants, of which 40% were from Africa, mostly Nigeria (source). One interesting fact from the Guardian's reporting is that these Nigerian women are brought into Italy as refugees (mostly in small boats via Libya), and remain in South Italy's refugee reception centers for about three months. That is, until they receive documents granting them temporary residence as refugees. So there is a small window of time in a protected setting to identify, contact and inform them about their real situation – before they leave the refugee center to be picked up by their traffickers again. However, the Guardian article also mentions there are only 1600 places for victims of trafficking in Italy, so currently most of the 11,000 women do not receive any help in time.

Language wise, it can be expected that Nigerian women arriving to Italy at least speak basic English: Nigeria has English as its official language and 53% English speakers. Given the many tribal languages in Nigeria, English is seemingly the preferred medium of communication even among Nigerians, as can be observed from the documentary video in the Guardian article. Regarding interaction with Italians, from my own experience getting around in Italy with just English works quite well, though it works much better in Northern Italian cities than in South Italian towns and villages, where even young people sometimes don't speak English. However most of the activities in South Italy would happen in or around the refugee reception centers, where English is the main mode of communication between staff and refugees anyway, and also between national and the many international staff members.

When it comes to organizations working in Italy against human trafficking, a (non-exhaustive) list is as follows:

  • Piam Onlus. An initiative by a Nigerian woman (who is a former victim of trafficking herself) and her Italian husband, focused on the issue of Nigerian women being trafficked via Italy. Since being founded in the early 2000s, they already rescued more than 200 Nigerian women and girls. A small video documentary about them can also be found in the Guardian article that was already linked above. They currently host 80 refugees in both their refugees hub "Villa Quaglina" and various family homes in the Northern Italian city Asti (source). Not all but some of them are victims of trafficking (source), so in this way their infrastructure can be said to be a safe house. Finding out more details and potential volunteering options will need direct contact, though.
  • Caritas Italiana and Caritas Internationalis. The social work organizations of the Roman Catholic Church – means, they are quite large and well-funded. They carry out the Catholic Church's "official" response to human trafficking in Italy (source). Also, these two organizations constitute two of the four Italian members of the COATNET anti-trafficking network (see).
  • WUCWO. The "World Union Of Catholic Women’s Organization". One of the four Italian members of COATNET (see).
  • Talitha Kum. They describe themselves as "International Network of Consecrated life Against Trafficking in Persons". One  of the four Italian members of COATNET (see).
  • COATNET. An Italian ecumenical network that "brings together different Christian organizations against trafficking in human beings" (source). They do not operate safe houses by themselves, but will be a good source of further information.

Obviously, given Italy's religious demographics, >90% of all faith-based organizations working against human trafficking in Italy will be Roman Catholic. To find more of these organizations, an appropriate Italian search term is "cristiani organizzazioni contro tratta di esseri umani".

(2) Issue: Trafficking for sexual exploitation in the United Kingdom, Belgium and Norway

The demographic composition of sex workers in these three countries, but esp. of the UK, makes it another work opportunity for English-speaking social workers and counsellors. (The numbers below are from 2008, as found in the TAMPEP report. Obviously, significant changes could have occurred since then, but more recent numbers are hard to come by.)

  • United Kingdom. 59% of sex workers in 2008 were UK nationals, so would speak English. Of the 41% migrant sex workers, two thirds are from Eastern Europe, and cannot be expected to speak English well initially. However unlike in other countries with this situation, migrant sex workers would learn English over time while in the country. Furthermore, human trafficking in the UK is a rising issue, with a 246% increase over 5 years, resulting in 3266 victims identified in 2015 (source).
  • Belgium. 60% of its sex workers in 2008 were migrants. Of these, 26% came from Western Europe and another 26% from Africa. To communicate with the 40% national sex workers, and for getting around in Belgium in general, English is probably sufficient. Belgium is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual country anyway, with its French and Wallone populations, and most speak English quite well there.
  • Norway. 70% of its sex workers in 2008 were migrants, of which 43% came from Nigeria. This might be however completely different now, as the population in Norway is small, so its sex workers are fewer and change can happen faster.

(3) Issue: Trafficking for sexual exploitation in Germany

In Germany, working in English with victims of human trafficking seems rather difficult due to demographics: 60-70% victims of human trafficking in Germany come from Eastern Europe. Some more data: "Two thirds (612) of all identified victims [of human trafficking in Germany] originated from Eastern Europe: Bulgaria (25,3%), Romania (20,9%), Hungary (7,7%). 20,8% of victims had German nationality." (source, translation my own). Since many of the victims come with a low level of formal education, and English has not been the predominant lingua franca in Eastern European countries for decades, it cannot be expected that they know to speak English. People with Eastern European language skills, of which there are a considerable amount in Germany, seem more apt for this particular work.

Still, for completeness, here are ways to identify organizations working against human trafficking in Germany:

  • Gemeinsam gegen Menschenhandel. A German network whose name translates to "United against Human Trafficking". Their membership organization list is one of the best resources here. Of the 27 member organizations, many seem to be Christian faith-based organizations, and 11 of them are particularly active in practical help "on the ground".
  • KOK. Another German network against human trafficking. They seem to be a Christian faith-based network, though not all member organizations have an equally Christian perspective. They have a list and a map of their member organizations online.
  • Frauenhaus organizations. A Frauenhaus (literally, "women's house") is the German equivalent of a safe house. However, unlike a safe house, it usually focuses on victims of domestic violence. There are specialized ones caring for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation as well, though. In any case, see the (long!) list of Frauenhaus organizations in Germany. Another, partial and mostly overlapping list is found here.
  • Stern list. German magazine "Stern" published this list of organizations caring to help prostitutes leave the business. They may or may not be faith-based organizations.
  • Sisters e.V.. A German association caring to help women leave prostitution. They seem to not operate a safe house themselves, but will have information about those available.
  • SOWODI. An international organization helping victims of human trafficking. They also work in Germany and operate safe houses there.

Good news for my truck, it got MOT again ("TÜV") so I can move around a bit. Used the opportunity for a nice little tour. Including: buying some parts for my "living space" in a hardware store; overnighting under 380 kV; a visit to a hydraulics workshop (leaving 230 EUR for three new hoses for my truck's winch, phew!); and a nice afternoon of cycling in the forest. See pictures!

Speaking of forests: I had an idea how to make staying with the truck in forests less of an issue. Because officially, in Germany you're only allowed to overnight at one spot in your car for one night only, "to re-gain fitness for driving". Everything else is tolerated to some extent, but can cause you problems. (Which is mostly limited to being told to drive away … .) But when I saw a lot of trash at the entrance of the protected forest where I stopped for cycling, it led to this idea: I'll see what happens when I always collect some trash from forests I live in with the truck. When some forest ranger, police person etc. wants me to leave, I prove that I am beneficial to the place, and they might let me stay. Especially when I can show them from my blog that it's a habit. So, expect quite some pictures of trash in the future! laugh The first one is below, collected 2009-09-14 at this beautiful place (50.580852,8.731282). It's essentially a way of commoning: pay nature for a nice place by taking its trash.

img_0004-1600x1200 img_0006-1600x1200-qu80 img_0012-1600x100-qu80