Hummingbird weathering the snow

First interview on this site – feels quite special 😉

This interview is with Gayane and Karine Akullian, two sisters from Barcelona, Spain, currently working on their latest book "Lucha" ("Struggle"). I like it a lot for being this fresh, out-of-the-box approach to the Spanish economic crisis: they focus on the personal, mental dimension of the problem and solution, while most everybody else tries to fix it at systems level (and fails, so far).

You can take a detailed look at the Akullian sisters' project at their Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for "Struggle", and if you think their idea deserves some support they'd of course be happy if you send them some bucks. (This way, you can effectively pre-order their book as well!)

When I found out about this book and the authors' insights into the Spanish crisis' social dimension, I recognized the opportunity to get valuable input for setting up an alternative economy portal in Spain. (A project for which I actively seek collaborators for right now, myself providing the software development. The proposal is not online yet, but compare my earlier articles about the quite similar LRIS idea, on time banking currency, on Bitcoin, and experimental thoughts on creating undestructible economy and solving unemployment.)

So here are the interview questions I gave them – and I'm really grateful for their answers, which unveil surprising cultural facts, informing the design of alternative economy software for Spain.

Gayane and Karine – would you tell us a bit about your upcoming book  "Struggle"? How did you collect all the real-life content you will integrate in the storyline? What inspired you personally to explore the "psychologic dimension" of the Spanish crisis and the mental ways of coping with it?

Well, "STRUGGLE" pretends to be a psychological approach to the financial crisis Spain is living in. Spanish population is facing tough financial conditions and individuals find different ways to overcome the situation: some decide to struggle and think of a solution while others just give up, blame everyone except from themselves and reach extreme actions. This way, "STRUGGLE" will tell the traces of the crisis from its beginning up to now on 4 lives and how they manage to psychologically cope with it.

Working at a place where daily contact with hundreds of different people is a must, we’ve had the privilege to be front-line witnesses of the financial crisis consequences on Spanish population. Experiences, complaints, advices….anything we've been listening to as part of our routine for quite a long time immensely helped us, so we thought it could be useful to others as well. There are many people struggling to overcome this financially critical situation and others who just want to know a little bit more the insides of Spanish crisis. By writing down everything we’ve learned we have the intention to provide the information these people could be looking for.

By facing difficulties ourselves we came to realize that psychics and emotions are two of the most potential drivers on our lives and this is no different: in this case too, both are motors for us to move forward or stagnate where we are. You may think, what’s there so difficult to understand? Of course the sentence itself is easy, but to actually feel it is way more difficult and serious as it can change the course of events. That's the reason why we've decided to give a psychological approach to the issue.

What is your own mental approach to master the challenges that this crisis set before you? Or more specifically, what's the next step you want to learn on that way?

Only death has no remedy: I wouldn’t say we managed to be immune to the worldwide financial crisis, but it’s true we greatly eased our ways. We understood that if you’re falling into a deep and dark hole, you can stop the downfall holding on to something and then it’ll be in your hands to decide if going back up or keep going down. If you’ve already fallen to the bottom your only and obvious way will be going up. As we see it, nothing of this will be possible without the correct psychological approach.

From the impressions you have from talking with Spanish people about the crisis: Which people are generally open in their minds to try radical and new ideas for the economy and for making ends meet? Like cooperatives, consumption groups, emigrating? Which people are not, and what kind of thoughts, attitudes and circumstances hold them back?

I believe any person is open to radical changes and ideas depending on the seriousness of his or her situation. I can’t say Spain is any different from other countries around the globe: be it they have nothing to lose or a lot to invest, anyone who understands the value of a penny will be open to radical ideas, but there’s no average profile for people making the ends meet nor common ways to do so. It’s easier to say that if they are not against, then they are in favor of trying something new.

Maybe those who are against are a huge point to Spanish economic crisis; Spanish people are way too comfortable and this lifestyle stagnates Spanish economy compared to other countries. On the whole, I’d lie if I said Spanish population is characterized by the entrepreneur vibe.  The amount of young people, even up to their forties, whose only aspiration in life is to have a 1000€ per month salary working in a responsibility-free job or those that don’t recognize as work anything but what’s related to their careers or interests is alarming. What’s even more alarming is the amount of people in their late twenties that have yet to discover what a job is. This young comfortable generation is slowing down Spanish economic recovery as they are, in a great percentage, against radical ideas or changes no matter how harsh their financial situation could be. I myself can list acquaintances or friends that, having finished their careers and even majors, are offered work abroad in countries like the States or United Kingdom but reject those offers because it means a great effort to them to leave behind their lifestyles.

53% youth unemployment is a sad number in Spain. How do the young ones affected by unemployment cope with it, mentally and practically? They will use several approaches of course, but maybe you see a major approach / group attitude too?

Nowadays’ youth, used to the society our parents and grandparents built for us, is looking for the “perfect job” with the “perfect conditions” that “perfectly” meet its profession, which is obviously an almost non-existent situation. Used to the pre-crisis ways, youth finds it difficult to take on nowadays situation and in fact, many don’t even realize the seriousness of it. As I see it, many young people, employed and unemployed, have a distorted view of what this crisis really means due to the influence of media. This makes them take the wrong ways that in the long run cause them pessimistic perspectives in life. Some decide to stay home and live from their parents and unemployment benefits while others decide to take the streets and shout out their opinions and pleas. I believe that if even a small percentage of this youth decided to take another way, to open their minds to wider and more ambitious perspectives, to give up their conformist and comfortable lives for some time, to venture and look for ideas, the Spanish crisis would have a turning point.

What's the state of e-commerce / Internet shops in the Spanish culture? That is, how common is it to buy and sell there (for the young ones, for the older ones)? What are the issues that keep this from being more common (like trust issues maybe, or preferring to buy locally and from a real person)?

E-commerce full integration in Spain is just a matter of time. Buyers and sellers are realizing the lower costs that e-commerce is generating and therefore the great amount of money they are able to save without losing the comfort in their lives. The fact that Spanish people are rather traditional and at some point quite distrustful slows down fast e-commerce integration, but it doesn’t keep it from facing a remarkable presence in Spanish commercial interactions. Most of youth is getting used day by day to sell or buy what they need and want using e-commerce, while older people are still reluctant to do so.

Let's assume a "big new webshop portal" pops up in Spain where you can buy and offer goods for basic needs, all without Euro currency. Instead people would pay with a worktime-based currency, so that everybody can participate by investing time. But learning to use the site and new currency would need an effort, maybe somewhat more difficult than learning to use eBay and PayPal. What part of the Spanish population would use such a platform in the current economic situation?

Well, that’s a difficult question. It’s a great idea, so it would easily find followers, those who are not afraid of new ideas. Still, being this traditional, Spanish people usually find it difficult to change ways they already are used to, even if it would be beneficial for them. As an easy example would be Facebook; the integration of the huge social network in Spain took a much longer time compared to other countries as people here were already used to different sites with social interactions. While it’s true that if the idea is good then it will generate a users’ base for sure, it’s also a fact that Spanish people are used to take things slow and cool.

What regions in Spain would you consider the most promising ones for such an "alternative economy marketplace" on the Internet to gather a large user base in the population? And, do you think it would rather work in cities or in the countryside, or both?

With no doubt, northern regions, as well as Catalonia and Madrid, are the ones that have what it takes to be immersed in an alternative economy marketplace as we’re talking about the economic motors of Spain. In regard to the second question, it would rather work in cities as the countryside has a low percentage of youth and Internet users in general.

What is the Spanish culture about mutual credit between friends, family members or long-term business partners? Esp., how do young people deal with this? For example, can it be o.k. to owe a sum of money / worktime etc. to a friend, or do Spaniards try hard to avoid formalizing / quantifying such things and rather just want it to be considered a favor for a friend?
(Note: The question's background is that debt between mutually trusting people is a requirement for some alternative currency systems, which are based on "IOU" notes ("I owe you"). Also I know I'm generalizing a lot here … there is of course not an average mindset or culture but a lot of diversity.)

You’re right; it’s difficult to make a generalization on an average mindset regarding this issue. The tendency is rather a taboo and people are very discrete about it. As far as I’ve seen, Spanish people are reluctant to lend money even if it’s to family or friends but when they do, they never take it as a favor and the tendency is rather to constantly remind that there’s a debt between the parties. But, as I said before, Spanish people are very discrete about everything that has to do with money and even more if it’s related to lending money so it’s really hard to say an average mindset.

My heartfelt thanks for this interview, you two! Wish you the best of success and a good time for finishing "Struggle".

Hummingbird image licenced CC-BY-SA 2.0, based on image by Darcys which was published on Flickr under CC-BY-SA 2.0.
Flower image licenced CC-BY, based on image by Nanagyei which was published on Flickr under CC-BY.

“Makers”. Last night (yes, whole night) I had the pleasure of reading Cory Doctorow’s “Makers” sci-fi novel. My first novel in 14 years that I finished. Ok, I skimmed at times. But still. The great thing with inspiring novels like this is, they can create intense emotional impressions, and from reflecting on these, you learn a lot. Things you otherwise only learn by real-world experience. Here’s what I learned from “Makers”.

Cory Doctorow – Makers
(image by ben_oesteen on Flickr, licenced CC-BY 2.0)

The “ups and downs” theme. The novel’s main theme is the ups and downs, coming and going of all social and organizational development. In my words: Every empire starts with a kingdom, a kingdom with a chief of clan, a clan with just a household and somebody wanting to dominate. In the other direction, every empire ever built has also fallen apart. Rome disintegrated within decades in the third century.

Lifecycle, applied to grassroots movements. And here came the first key insight from “Makers” for me: this full cycle also applies to grassroots social structures. That’s a disappointing insight, but a true one. The novel illustrates it in two halves: for the rising half cycle, how these “ride” parks or museums agglomerated into coops and finally got associated with Disney, plus one of their creative brains bought by Disney. And for the decaying half cycle, how the Kodacell company, starting as a huge incorporated grassroots innovation network, fell apart completely in a wink. Let’s imagine a real-world example: the Open Source movement developed its own institutions by now, and these, over the course of decades or maybe centuries, will become so rigid and cold that a new movement will justifiably fight against them, and finally render them obsolete. (For me, socialized in “old school” Linux open source culture, it’s already weird to see how the thousands of young talented Android developers at XDA Developers have a near complete disregard for licencing: their full site and wiki does not mention what licence is applied to content and code.)

So is it all just a waste of our time? At this point we could argue that all this building, fighting against and rebuilding of society structures is a waste of resources. That we should rather invest to keep our social organization ever young and flexible. Indeed, a way to use your time more efficiently, by a tight bit. What you can’t argue is that maintaining great society structures is a lot of maintenance work. Even building completely new society structures from scratch is maintenance, in the bigger picture: you replace a failing part of global social organization.

Social change activism as maintenance. So, social activism is never going to be building a great society, once and for all. It’s always part of humanity’s “eternal” struggle to keep society in good shape, if necessary rebuilding it in a completely different way. Let this point sink in: activism is not building, engineering. It is maintaining.

Activists, relax. This also means that activists can all relax a bit: the fate of the world does not depend on their proper invention and construction of society, because society will have to be rebuilt again many times in the centuries to come. This should help activists to know their fair share of maintenance work to contribute, but to also know that “more does not make it better”. The big thing, society, will fail again anyways, just like it always has, and generations afterwards will have to build it again. Sure, one generation (like after-war) has a bigger way to influence how a society is built, a bigger workload, a bigger responsibility. But even they should not forget that what they do is the necessary maintenance of a constantly deteriorating and failing organism.

There’s more to life than activism. So let’s not forget that there’s more to life than fixing the fabric of society. What? It’s also in Doctorow’s book. The two things the protagonists of “Makers” did not regret were (1) doing what they like to do, like hacking and inventing stuff, and (2) investing in good personal relationships. Because, just like society, relationships need maintenance to be and stay enjoyable: they are also subject to these ups and downs, and you see how every relationship in the book is at least once on the brink of being destroyesd, and a lot of them are.

The danger of failing to relax. And there’s one special danger for personal relationships, exemplified in a sad twist in the epilogue. Revealing the only lack in character of the most glorious and brilliant woman in the book (which is, of course, Hilda). She took up her activist fighting again so hard to lose the beautiful relationship to Jerry over that. That annoyed me so hard that I changed around the end for me (it’s a CC-BY-SA book after all). But Mr. Doctorow has a point with that sad twist: society maintenance is infinite work after all, necessary, but not fulfilling after seeing its Sisyphus character. So better limit yourself to your fair share of maintenance and enjoy your mate. Somebody should’ve explained that to Hilda in time …

I guess I should change around the “Makers” ending again: rather than letting Hilda and Jerry just stick together happily ever after, I will now go for adding a few more pages where Hilda has learned her lesson. She’s smart enough, after all 🙂 And with that lesson learned, there’s indeed such a thing as permanent love, not to be destroyed by the rather unimportant coming and going of good state of the surrounding society.

Life is more than fighting something bad. Life is also about enjoying something good!

“But now faith, hope, and love remain—these three. The greatest of these is love.”

[The Bible, I Cor 13:13]

Detect language » English

Detect language » English

“For rent”. Too easy to find in some places …

Getting around a bit in Europe, you easily get to know how people’s life is not a box of chocolates. That guy who destroys his body and his really intelligent mind by too much weed and psychedelics, seeing no other way to get over a broken relationship. The young woman who suddenly expresses a desire to die, like by jumping from the mountain we sat on talking (but thankfully, she’s alive and well). All the nice-looking houses I walked by in Málaga, noticing people’s shattered dreams from their “For Sale” signs. It saddens me how we, the humans, search satisfaction in vain.

But aren’t we already very creative in our search? We try everything, from yoga to hashish, from power to strong opinions. Not to forget the favorite of Westerners: stuff for consumption, security and independence. Our effort to search and maintain satisfaction is so encompassing that it summarizes what we as humans do. Our whole culture (“non-survival activity”) is just about that.  Still, we mostly don’t find it.

What are we doing wrong?

What is it that we search?

The first reason for not finding might be this: because we don’t know what we search. We may feel a diffuse inner emptyness and try something to fix it, but don’t know that it is satisfaction we search. Which is “living in accordance with your ideas and wishes”, also called happiness. Without using the proper concept, we have difficulty choosing the right actions, and also cannot communicate properly to get help from our fellow humans, who also search the same thing but in something else.

The second reason is best explained along illustrations. Of my friends, only two I consider “satisfied”:

The first one “just” wants to have economic power, a family, and lots of interesting and expensive stuff to deal with. That’s still limited, because it is just about private life. It even worked out, as he met with a lot of luck: inherited wealth, “good genes” for motivation and bite, an economically valuable hobby. He has a high self-esteem, which allows his success in a challenging economic environment, but also hides his own failures and deficiencies from himself (so that they don’t affect his happiness). In case of failure, he uses his innate motivation and tries something new quickly, forgetting about the bad success. This way, in time, he arrives at a satisfying outcome. And for really bad personal calamity, he has a strong trust in God, protected from doubt by a strong self-confident opinion about his beliefs. And so it works.

Another friend is also satisfied, and it works completely different: he’s very relaxed and humble, not caring for his many bad successes and failures. He developed a sophisticated mental way, including both self-irony and deep philosophy, to admit his failures but keep them from affecting his emotions (they would rather infuriate others’). But he’s also very sociable and so, together with some luck, has found both a superb relationship to a woman and an interesting, well-paid, permanent job even before finishing his studies (in twice the normal time). Interestingly, he seemed just as satisfied when he had neither job nor girl, by means of his failure-ignoring capabilities. (Note: To illustrate, I remembered the pic below. We kinda shared a flat for two years. Once he completely forgot my birthday, but would show up at midnight with that improvised “cake” and a present he found in his room 😀 That was the kind of humble self-irony he was capable of, feeling not awkward, but happy in a hard to understand way when pulling something like this.)

The birthday cake I remember the most!

What these both have in common is that their satisfaction is provided not by one thing but by a system, “a set of interacting, interdependent components forming an integrated whole”. That may be the second reason why satisfaction does not work for most of us: we try one thing, tinker a bit, throw it away and try the next, unaware that we’re working on a system which needs several components and an informed design to work. Searching satisfaction in one component is as hopeless as driving around in a wheel.

Systems engineering for satisfaction

Of course, “system” is just a model. It helps discuss and understand satisfaction, but necessarily simplifies and distorts its reality. Other models can be just as valid. But because the “system” model proved useful above, let’s explore what systems engineering can teach us about building our own satisfaction system. (And yes, everyone has to build their own unique one, because some parts are unique: character, memories, body, personal situation.)

  1. It’s cross-discipline! In addition to needing several components, you need to integrate several types of them: genetic, mental, material, social and (I think) transcendent ones. To a limited degree, you can supplement one for another, like more meditation to cope with material scarcity. But what you can’t do is getting satisfaction from accumulating just one thing. But Westerners often try just that with materiel stuff, and advertising wants to keep us as unsatisfied consumers …
  2. Start with the parts you can’t change. Which is, your genetic disposition. Also, your character is super hard to change. The same for the general level of wealth. This is the stuff that has to be in the system because you have no alternatives.
  3. If you forget one part, it won’t work. That’s special about systems: they depend 100% on each and every component. You can’t drive a car without its steering wheel, accelerator pedal, petrol hose, … .
    My own story of forgetting a part is this: I had always focused very much to have “meaning” in what I do, and wondered why I lack motivation to live and to work, even to work for my meaningful tasks. Until I found recently: Everything loses its meaning when life is not enjoyable. Because what’s the meaning even of fixing the world and helping others, when after that, they would experience their life to be as joyless as your own? So now I added “beauty” to my life: just enjoying life, and it also motivates me meaningful work that provides a good life to others. At least that’s the idea now – it’s kinda hard to change own habits. But the insight is that, on their own, neither meaning nor beauty provide any satisfaction to me, yet together it can work.
  4. Design, try and error. When designing your own satisfaction system, you can’t really know if it works until you start living it. But you can let other designs inform yours, and profit from the experiences of others. But still, because everybody is unique, there is a place for try and error. And for the “try often, fail fast” approach of rapid prototyping, like in software development …
  5. Use compatible parts. If you want satisfaction, want it first. You have to throw out or modify other things you want or values you have, if it’s impossible to fit them into the “system”.
  6. Use a doable design. Some ideas how to achieve satisfaction are just too complex or too much work for one gal or guy. For example, some philosopher and activist folks can be constantly unhappy about “the state of the world”. I know it too well. But the world won’t become Utopia in our lifetime, so we can keep that as a grand goal but should tie our satisfaction to more modest successes. In my case, I want to be happy about every step towards a free-to-copy, small, local Utopia. Or, as it can happen to me, being happy during that work itself because I think it’s meaningful.
  7. Use a socially responsible design. This means simply: don’t derive satisfaction at the cost of others. For example: a person who constantly refuses to understand and discuss the problems of others, while constantly discussing their own with them, would rob the satisfaction of socializing from others. And if everybody employs an approach at the net cost of others’ satisfaction, it simply would not work out on society level. It works out only if “you do to others as you want them to do to you”. That simple Golden Rule 🙂
  8. Make it agile. As a person one always changes, and so do our surroundings and situations. So better don’t design a static satisfaction system, but make it easily adaptable and reconfigurable. (I admit this is a completely theoretic idea so far, but it “sounds good”. Maybe somebody can map this to the practical search for satisfaction. I recommend “Design Principles for Highly Adaptable Business Systems” for inspirations, esp. p. 13.)
  9. Make it redundant. A redundant system includes backups and provides n × 100% satisfaction in total. A scaled system provides 100% satisfaction in total, but in parts. So in case of a failure, all but one part still provide you satisfaction. That’s worse than redundancy, but better than zero. Both designs require that one has more than one way for satisfaction. That is also, more than one set of ideas and wishes in life.
  10. Make it sustainable. It is possible to derive some satisfaction from eating, recreational shopping, drugs, smoking and so on. But when overdoing these, using them as the basis of all satisfaction, in the long run it can ruin a person instead of providing satisfaction. Used carefully however, in the right amount, pretty much everything that humans can do and enjoy has its place. (Two female friends of mine enjoy special moments of the year by smoking a cigarillo together … so harmless!)
  11. And make it resilient. People care to go off-grid with their house, to make it resilient against failure of the central electricity and water infrastructure. In the same way, we should make our approach to satisfaction resilient against being crushed by external events. From this perspective, it’s for example not a good idea to make satisfaction revolve around a day job. When losing my job, I want still feel meaningful, valuable, and also my lifestyle or anything else relevant for my satisfaction should not collapse.

I will create a follow-up post to analyze my own (so far, largely failing) approach to satisfaction and ways to fix it. I also want to look into explaining a person’s satisfaction system as a diagram. And finally to develop best practices, patterns and instructions how to design and implement an own satisfaction system. This will also include ways to measure and track satisfaction, maybe a smartphone application that asks me about my satisfaction at random times. Ideas welcome!

(A ton of thanks to my friend María for the discussion that inspired everything above!)

On a nice evening with a friend in Málaga this October, we developed this idea for political street art. (We were kinda oversugared from the best icecream in town … it explains something, doesn’t it? 😀 ) Initially we wanted to cut our own “Espere Revolución” signs and install them over the city’s normal push-button boxes for pedestrian traffic lights. But for now, it’s a mockup.

Political street art: Espere Revolución (small excerpt size 1024×768)

Political street art: Espere Revolución (large size 2048×1365)

The pedestrian traffic lights sign in the image reads: “Touch the button”. Then you push it, and it says then: “Expect revolution.” (It’s normally “Espere Verde” – expect green light. Plus a standing person with both hands down.)

Licence: Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 2.0

Credits: The original image was created by flickr.com user david buedo and published as flickr image 6949945397 under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 2.0 licence. Thank you!

Modifiable version: Just tell me in the comments if somebody wants the GIMP .xcf.bz2 file of this, with layers for easy modification to make other signs as well.

Some weeks ago, the EarthOS project happily made it to be a part of a presentation by Nadia El-Imam at TEDxULg (it’s the first project of those she presents, starting at 0:50):

All this happened because of the Edgeryders project. It’s an initiative to listen to the stories, ideas and strategies of young people to derive policy recommendations for our Europe-in-crisis from that. The project is funded by the European Union and the Council of Europe, and organized by the Social Cohesion Research and Early Warning division of the Council of Europe. I contributed some things about EarthOS and the “open everything” movement, and was happy enough to get the opportunity for a small presentation about EarthOS at the Edgeryder’s Living On the Edge 2012 conference in Strasbourg, which was 2012-06-14 to -15. Yep, and finally Nadia, creative director at Edgeryders, included this and several other projects in her powerful presentation at TEDxULg, one of the independently organized TED events.

So much free publicity for EarthOS, and it’s not even ready be published! It seems I need to hurry up 😉

It has been 3.5 months since releasing it actually, but I wanted to point it out in its own post: the new version 0.12 of the EarthOS document has been published. Access it with that given link, or via “Downloads -> Main” in the site menu.

A quick intro to the EarthOS project for those who do not know yet:

What is it for? EarthOS, or “Earth Operating System”: what Linux is for the computer, EarthOS aspires to be for this world: a free, open, DIY operating system. It contains free and open tech for all of life, essentially being a “civilization in a box” with which individuals can reach a high level of personal autarky and resilience, and communities of ~200 can reach it fully. From a social change perspective, EarthOS is a local community centric, freedom enabling approach to global human co-living, making it both stable and sustainable.

What does it look like? So far, like a long document of 971 pages A4 (as of version 0.12). The document contains both a framework of design principles and technical interface standards, and also the actual list of equipment items. You will find web references to hundreds of interesting free and open projects in this document.

What's the current state? So far, the document is far from done. I guess that about 25% of the work is done on the way to a collaboratively edited and finished document in similar-to-Wikipedia quality. The current version 0.12 still has a heritage of being derived from a personal project with a somewhat different focus. And unfortunately, that initial project was documented in German language, which has to be translated. Also, there are hundred of notes and references to open projects in so-called "unsorted sections", which have to be worked through to get them either into the proper place in EarthOS, or discard them if they do not fit in. The key decisions about the EarthOS system architecture (including equipment levels, energy sources, technical interface standards) are done, but some might need to be corrected as the work on the document and on DIY tech itself progresses.

Who is doing it?  So far, it is a personal open content project of mine. But I'm open to find more collaborators, and esp. want to bring it into a shape for comfortable collaboration with others. For that, Open Source Ecology has agreed to host the content in their wiki “if it's about open source, modular, simple  lifetime design ideas” – which it is. So if you want to help out with that conversion, and further development, very welcome to contact me.

Currently I'm building the first parts of my truck's furniture system. The system is based on gridbeam, an awesome simple DIY construction system from the 1970's. Practically this means: boxes, room partitioning walls, shelves, desks etc. all use the same sheet material and connector elements and with the same compatible hole pattern, so one can build everything from the same set of elements, and can reuse the parts from a no longer needed object to build something else. Or reconfigure the furniture according to current demands, using an inbus wrench.

I'm starting to build my furniture with some simple storage boxes that will be secured to the wall in several layers, yielding a big 70 cm deep shelf for general storage. Both this box system and gridbeam itself are detailed in the interface specs part of the EarthOS document. But here's a quick overview of my design choices:

  • Compatible with ISO pallets. Size is 700 x 350 x 350 mm, together with with handles and corner elements etc. up to 800 x 400 x 400 mm is allowed.
  • Same size walls. The basic wall size is 350 x 350 mm, and in this case I build double-depth boxes, so some walls are 700 x 350 mm. These larger walls could also be created by combining two of the smaller walls with aluminum sheet metal connectors; and likewise for even larger boxes. To allow creating a box from just same-sized walls, the walls have 45°  beveled edges.
  • 50 mm gridbeam system. This means, all sheet material has a 50 x 50 mm hole pattern starting 25 mm from all edges (holes are here only around the edges, more holes can be added on demand). Holes in boards are 8.5 mm for M8 bolts, but in the case of boxes fitting for M6 sleeve nuts. Holes in aluminum connector elements are 6.5 mm for M6 bolts.
  • Modified hammer-in nuts. I really had a problem finding reasonably priced sleeve nuts for going into the board holes – I'm just not paying 1 EUR and more for one lathed sleeve nut, that would be 55 EUR per box for 'em alone. So I finally tried ordinary M6x8 hammer-in nuts with their four spikes, and just cut away the spikes with tinsnips. By letting 1 mm of the spikes in place, these nuts will not even free-rotate when at the loose end and turning a bolt into them. They have enough grip in wood that way, while the sheet wood and the nut is still reusable infinitely (which was not the case with the spikes in place).
  • Bolts used. Currently M6 x 13 stainless steel (A2-70) bolts with inbus head. Used together with a washer to secure the bolt against loosing and to better distribute the force to the (relatively soft) aluminium sheet metal.
  • Apt for cheap and salvage materials. I'm currently creating the corner elements from simple aluminum sheet metal that I had lying around and that can be had from the local recycling yard nearly for free (as in free beer, not as in FREE BEER). Using 50 x 50 mm and 100 x 50 mm aluminum L-profile is also possible and looks better (examples in second picture) but is of course more expensive and less autarkic. Also, one can use many different types of material for the box walls: any thickness will fit because of the beveled edges and because the box's outer measures are standardized, not the inner ones.

Writing this I realize how trivially simple this design is. Yet the simple ones are hard, for whatever reason. I had developed thoughts for the box system over months, and even started building one variant which was way too complex and too expensive. The current variant emerged after some great, inspiring discussions with my Dad on the matter. (I should know where my hacker genes come from ;))

And here are some pictures of the current progress with the boxes. (Some parts are obviously still missing: corner elements for stacking, handles, a flap, locking bolts.)

See this unrelated item in the media gallery? It's a rare Thermoflash fluid-heated jacket that I got as a bargain on eBay. Can keep everybody warm through German winter. Yep, really everybody 😉 Normally used on motorbikes and connected to the engine's cooling circuit via a heat exchanger and digital temperature control.