Has been nearly a year since the last release. But then again, it's just a for-fun project for me at the moment where I put in some spare hour to relax by indulging into creative technological thinking and some systems engineering. Anyway, here we go:

The new version 0.13 of the EarthOS document has been published. Access it with that given link, or via “Downloads -> Main” in the site menu.

What's it all about? A constantly evolving open content project where I collect and orchestrate existing open hardware and open source projects and own ideas into a system with which you could manage all material and technological requirements of living, from food to water supply, mobility to clothing, health care to Internet connection.

What is it good for? Personally I use it as a framework of thought: I do not implement it all since it's too much of an effort for one person alone, but where applicable I align the designs of stuff I build according to the EarthOS proposals. For example, things I integrate into my mobile home. So I guess it would be great as a combined roadmap that could help all the open projects to coordinate efforts for arriving at a fully open world efficiently and fast. Preferably in our lifetime!

What's new? Too much to count. Really, it's 850 pages now and I do not remember all I changed. Main aspects are however the energy supply design: levels L2 and L3 rely on biomass gasification now. This includes innovative ideas that have never been tried to my knowledge, like a bike with wood gas powered assisted power engine, or a truck where 100% of all energy is used because the 60-70% thermal energy, normally lost via the exhaust and radiator, is used for meaningful work like drying collected biomass and recycling water by multi-stage distillation.

Why are there no images? :S Umh, I admit the document is very much in draft state, also still containing untranslated German sections etc.. It's like a brain dump … and probably shows the nature of my thoughts: many details but not aesthetically pleasing 😀 I am wide open to your proposals how we could make this a great, usable piece of content. In order to make faster progress, we'd either need more people, or some compensation so I can put in more hours. Any ideas? Any feedback on how applicable this is for a small crowdfunding campaign?

At DIY Days Gothenburg, I showed the EarthOS project in the experience hall. With this, I collect and integrate open source alternatives for plain everything in life, and showcased things like Makerbot, Bitcoin, Open Source Ecology.

What totally surprised me was how DIY Days contributed back: It made me understand that EarthOS is more story than engineering project. Because that's how DIY Days participants intuitively understood it ("I appreciate it as a work of art.") It's a novel, disguised as a manual. An utopian exploration into how open source will transform the world.

Some thoughts from the accidental storyteller that I am:

  • Share Do Learn. Share your half-ready project – DIY Days fits great! Forced to explain, you're forced to learn what you do. It so happened to me.
  • Mingle with people you never meet. As a tech hacker, getting involved in the artful DIY Days community enabled me to see my story. A story is what the audience says is a story!
  • Tell an open story, not just an open end. EarthOS has no plot, just a framework, tools, inspirations. People imagine their own plot and role from this vague vision of the future.
  • Let's call it a plan. Your ambitious story is most inspiring when you call it "project" and disguise it as reality. It made me sad that People never knew if EarthOS is real, vision or outright fiction. Now it's a story that covers all these, and I want to play with this confusion, challenging the audience towards action.
  • Live out your stories. It makes them much harder to ignore, and it makes you a synthesis of the arts. Everything has its place: code is poetry, sewing is costume design, makeup is art, home hacking is set design and demonstrations are stages. Let's care to tell world-changing, deeply meaningful stories with our lives. Unfinished stories which others desire to continue when we're dead.

Awesome life stories to all! (And, would love to hear how you enact yours.)

Matthias (@matjahu)

This is a somewhat extended version of an article by me that appeared in the Learn Do Share Book number 3 (from DIY Days Gothenburg in 2013-02 – available in full for download). The article was inspired by my experience at DIY Days Gothenburg 2013.

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.

Most of us Europeans might be heading for a severe economic crisis, including mass impoverishment, food supply shortages, restricted personal mobility, and cutdowns on medical care. To err on the right side, let’s say, all of us are heading for a really severe such crisis. And some of us are in it – Greece is cutting edge, they’re the front warriors now …

With this approaching, I thought repeatedly what simple, fast to set up system could bring us safely through such a time. Because we won’t have much time and resources left to set up something once the crisis is there, and before it, hardly anybody cares … . Here’s what I came up with so far … nothing’s finished, but it might offer some inspirations.

The Basic Idea: Jump-starting Local Economy

What seems clear is that this resilience has to be provided in a local environment: the trans-local systems are broke then anyway, there’s no critical mass of people with enough resources to fix them in the near term, and lack of fuel etc. restricts activity to the local area naturally.

The basic observation behind this proposal is: everything for a strong local economy, including most everything we need is already available locally with limited effort. Even in severe mass impoverishment, a community is far richer than it seems: there will be much unused resources and things left over from the “age of affluence”, and one man’s trash is another man’s treasure … .

If only we would know of each other’s needs and wants! Because our current economic knowledge capturing and distribution system does not fit for the local level, and does not fit for crisis times at all. Because, it does not index anything about unused resources and reusable trash objects – these things are simply ignored as valueless in a “functioning” economy. But they’re all that is left after a breakdown.

So the basic idea is to have a “Local Resource Information System” on the Internet. (And to have Internet at least city-wide, obviously!). In essence, this is about sharing and collaborative consumption of plain everything that the multi-faceted collaborative consumption economy is about. It should provide all the information for local economic activity in the highest synergy that is attainable. And it should be able to provide sufficient autarky in any municipal area of 20 000 people and up (own wild estimate!). The idea is a bit similar to the “state services in a box” one, but rather meant to start within a quickly deteriorating situation (like in Greece or Spain these days) rather than from a momentarily crash.

Design of a Local Resource Information System (LRIS)

Content

Eventually, every product and service that can be produced locally should be registered in the LRIS. But while the national economy is “just” tight but not completely broken down, the focus should probably be on unused and underused resources. It does not compete with the formal economy business while it’s still functioning, it still gets the LRIS running, and it offers the most benefit to the local population (namely, “free” resources).

Unused and underused resources to be managed by the LRIS would include:

  • Unused things. There are literally tons of unused things available in private homes and companies. This would work similar to classifieds, but with the difference of trying to index all unused movable things available in the local area, whereas classifieds might only have 1-2%. Unused things include everything from unused mobile phones (40 million in Germany alone!) to unused and potentially broken agricultural devices in the barns of the elderly. In crisis time, we can’t afford not using this. Underuse is wasted wealth!
  • Meal sharing. With realtime coordination on the LRIS web portal: you offer how many people you would invite, and if they register in time, you’ll cook a bit more and let them be part of the regular family meal, for a compensation in alternative currency. This amounts to a distributed community kitchen, of which the hosts profit by earning the compensation for little additional effort, and the guests by saving time for preparing their own meals. And as always, synergy means prosperity.
  • Surplus food. This means both surplus agricultural produce, and also leftovers from meals that would else be thrown away. The latter would be done with a real-time coordination system, where you enter what is left over after the meal, and within 15 minutes somebody will drop by to pick it up. The goal is to reduce the amount of food that is thrown away from today’s 25% or more to 0%. Trashed food is trashed wealth! Update 2012-09-09: Here’s an example of somebody who started this in Lisbon, Portugal: collecting food leftovers with a bike from restaurants and markets, then distributing it to the poor [German article].
  • Trash wood. And other burnable trash, as fuel.
  • Surplus gardening materials. Like humus, earth, hay, grass. Some have too much, and others just need this.
  • Storage capacity. Like in old and underused parts of commercial facilities.
  • Private car sharing and ride sharing. Also including parking spot and car port sharing.
  • Private transportation services.
  • Accommodation. Both as re-use of abandoned houses and commercial facilities, and as taking in people in guest rooms. In crisis times, the standards for what is expected from a guest room will drop, which means that much more underused private rooms can get a reasonable use.
  • Medical counselling. From experienced private persons, reputation based.
  • Help with repairs and odd jobs. This is esp. to give a forum to people with free time and skills but no way to compete in a regular market – like the retired handicraftsman who likes to explain to the young how to do repair their cars. This is an underused resource like everything else, and not using it even in crisis times just means the local economy is poorer than it had to be.
  • Privately tool lending and workshop sharing. With coordination via a web portal.
  • Private workshop services. There are lots of underused special machines even in private homes, including welders, CNC cutters etc.. Their owners do not have the time to make a business from them, but might be happy to help out with them at times, or to let a well-reputed LRIS portal user access them in exchange for something else.
  • Electricity sharing. From photovoltaics production etc..
  • Sharing of home produced goods. Many people can produce canned food, marmelade, fruit juices, furniture, firewood, bread, herbal extracts etc. for themselves, and could easily produce some surplus. Legal restrictions mean that they cannot do so commercially, which basically is a waste of production capacity. Which should be fixed by enabling a trade with these in the LRIS.

Map Integration

When it’s about local economy and restricted mobility, resource maps and vicinity search are a great help for navigating to the best options for economic interchange. An interesting tool for this is the free and open source Ushahidi platform (also available as the Crowdmap web service). It’s normally used for crisis mapping in natural catastrophies, so why not for crisis mapping in economic catastropies … . But an economy software has of course to add a tight integration of the map with the trading feature, including live information on supply and “online shopping”. That’s missing so far in the applications I’m aware of.

With proper map integration and vicinity search, it would also not be mandatory to have one portal per municipal area, but instead one can have one for a region. Because depending on the type of resource, some things are economically relevant beyond city boundaries even when mobility and transport capacity is severely restricted.

Trading

Using a local currency for the trading in the LRIS seems to be a good idea, because it can protect the local economy from the global one, where there would always be a company with lower prices. However, the experiences with launching local currency systems are a bit disappointing: it works in crisis times, but it does not reach critical mass while the economy works “normally”: people don’t see the advantages then that would persuade them of using a less convertible currency.

However, a good and workable preparation could be to introduce the alternative currency for just the “unused resources exchange” part of the LRIS. It can be easily explained as a system of exchanging trash for trash, ensuring mutual synergy by prohibiting people to capitalize on others’ trash by selling in commercial scale. In addition, the LRIS’s trading section would need a feedback and evaluation part for trust building in the local economy.

To implement the alternative currency, one could re-use an existing software for that (cf. for example my analysis).

Community Activities

In crisis times, where a city will lack the money to provide certain public services and citizen do not have any (legal tender) money to spend on this, these public services can be provided by shared work from citizens. The LRIS software would include sophisticated project management that can organize (for example) to build a huge public hackerspace as a community project, where everything is provided from private means: the tools, the workforce, the meals for the workers. It leads to extremely cheap solutions, cutting through all the slack and overhead of commercial “solutions” (where the incentive is to make money, not to provide something good as a public service). Citizens would be required to work (like) 100 hours a year for such community projects, but could choose those that match their interests and skills. If done right, this way of grassroots community provided public services is “the efficient style of planned economy”, because it has the service users as service providers.

Ease of Use

When an economy is confined to be local, there’s no way around integrating plain everybody. If somebody does not contribute because of technical difficulties or usability issues, he or she might still survive without the synergistic trading, but the worse issue is, it’s a severe blow to this small local economy because the synergy is also missing from the economy as a system. Making it more fragile and less efficient. To ensure everybody’s inclusion, there are several usability and interface issues to take care of:

  1. All-in-one portal. The current collaborative consumption economy is highly fragmented by type of product and service. Within a local area, none of these sub-markets would have critical mass. The LRIS should be one central web portal for the complete local economy.
  2. Active data sourcing. It’s the most effective way to real critical mass locally: going around and asking all the people for their resources and persuading them to contribute and also asking for updates on resources.
  3. Phone and office interface. Where every local inhabitant is so valuable for the local economy, this also includes the elderly people who simply cannot deal with computers, but also have needs and offers (like unused rooms for storing things, taking people in, unused agricultural devices etc.). A phone and personal interface can be provided by a small company operating the LRIS, see below.
  4. Help with computing. Even those who are open to use the web interface may need a bit of training, a helpdesk and the active distribution of computing equipment (also via the LRIS) to get everybody connected.

Resource Mapping as Business?

Even better than starting the LRIS once we are in the middle of a crisis would be to have it up and running and becoming well-used before that happens. There seems to be a way for this. Because, it is an opportunity for a small (2-10 people) social entrepeneurship business / collective consumption startup to set up the LRIS for their local municipal area. Apart from setting up and maintaining the software, these people would mainly travel around and collect the data by themselves. Because in many cases, this active data collection is the only way to reach critical mass for a web portal in a localenvironment that is not in crisis mode yet. And it surely is the only way to register all the unused and broken things lying around: the problem with trash is, people are too lazy to even do something to offer it.

Collecting the data is as straightforward as visiting people house by house, explaining the idea, and if they want to be part of the system, making pictures and notes about what own products, unused resources and trash objects they would offer in the local economy. For the business aspect, I suggest that these resource mappers should work on a donation basis to be a truly social, non-capitalist business. This won’t generate any riches, but should keep the business floating. Like for example, people will offer them more often than not that they could have trash objects that they’re currently recording, if they remove them. Which they would do, storing them in unused buildings that they also mapped out, and offering them like everything else in the LRIS, to then get food and other essentials in return.

By the way: LRIS-as-business idea was inspired after reading an impressive list from a U.S. author about jobs to do in a recession. There was a “list broker” job in there, which was essentially the LRIS core idea before the advent of the Internet. There is some truth to the saying that U.S. citizens have this ingenious self-made-man and entrepeneuring approach of adapting to a recession …

Practice is the best way to learn a language. But of course. You don't need a school to practice, but still, my school English got me started. Now I'm starting at zero with Spanish, and I wonder how to do that. So here, I explore the best available tools. As usual for an open source enthusiast, I try to find free and open tools for it. Where unavailable, I'm content with just gratis tools for now 😀

As for learning style, I like self-study for the very basics and daily real-world practice beyond. I abhor educational course materials with conversations … the slow speaking makes me feel even more dumb than not understanding a word. So below, I focus on basics to learn by heart for bootstrapping and on real-world content beyond.

Goal Definition

Let's start with my modest set of goals for now:

  • Pronunciation.
  • Basic everyday conversations. Means, about everything that is not philosophy, rocket science or otherwise highly technical or complex.
  • Following conversations. Getting the meaning when following native speakers' conversations and talks in normal speed.
  • Computer aided reading. Understanding plain every text when reading it in the foreign languge, but it's ok to do so with software support at word level.
  • No focus on writing, though. It's the least required skill for cultural immersion. In my case I have English as my default language for writing, and need to keep it up or I would unlearn it.

Bootstrapping Toolkit

An intensive self-taught course to get you started with Spanish from scratch. This bootstrapping phase should not consume more than 150 hours, that's half way of what would make you reasonably fluent in Spanish for example [source]. In contrast to the "practice and refining phase" which is about learning alongside use, the bootstrapping is really work. Let's get used to the fact 😉 And see this Guide to learn languages [by yourself] for a successful training style and motivation management.

  1. Complete course. Choose according to your taste:
    1. ProSpanish course. Taste differs, and I found this one to be highly effective and relevant from the first word on to achieve fast results for speaking Spanish, as it teaches you basic sentence structure by example. (While the FSI courses below are a more traditional / school type version going through situations etc.). Also I found the ProSpanish course to be very "friendly" and patient, I really like to listen to it. It is however way shorter than the FSI course (about 3 hours compared to 30-40 hours), but might teach you enough for this "bootstrapping level" already.
    2. FSI Spanish Courses. Public domain and available online as both text and audio. This is esp. awesome as these are recommended as the best material in the "How to Learn Any Language" site [source], and they know what they're talking. Following a course is very convenient and you will not need most of the other things in this list. But some folks, including me, do not like courses (feels too much like school …). For these, the other items in this list are sufficient: learn some words and phrases, look up some grammar, then start consuming easy real-world content.
  2. Pronunciation. Spanish is said to be among the world's most phonetic languages: If you have the spelling, you can pronounce the word. How to learn the rules for that?
    • Spanish for Dummies: Vowels and Consonants. Two videos with the most concise and understandable presentation of Spanish pronunciation that I could find. Keep listening to them, and you'll know …
    • WordsGalore audio vocabulary. The best way to learn Spanish pronunciation that I could find so far. WordsGalore is a gratis (yet not free) vocabulary trainer software with the special feature that you can just scroll through its word list very fast, and it will speak the selected Spanish word. This way, I was able to infer the pronunciation rules from the examples in half an hour, while at the same time training pronunciation and memorizing the rules by example rather than in abstract form. See also my post on the WordsGalore installation instructions for Linux.
    • 123teachme.com: Spanish Pronunciation Lessons.
    • Mightyverse. Thousands of native speaker videos for pronouncing words, phrases and short texts. Indeed, watching people speak is another thing than just knowing the rules.
  3. Grammar cheatsheet. What I want is just a 2 page A4 grammar to fix above your monitor when instant messaging, e-mailing or writing in Spanish, and to learn by heart that way. I have not found a good free one, so I created this open content Spanish Grammar Cheatsheet (source here). Corrections to me, please!
  4. 1000 words. Learning the 1000 most frequent words makes you understand 88% of oral Spanish [source]. However: It's no good to learn more than these in list style (it does not work that way). Instead, start learning by example after that – see the other toolkit below. I also found that it makes the most sense to only learn the "production" direction: see the English word, say the Spanish one. It's the difficult direction, but you need it to speak, and it implies the other one. Options where to get the word list, by adequacy:
  5. 250 conversation phrases. Modules of daily conversation, to learn by heart and construct sentences with. Because grammar and single words do not help to create real-life sentences (want a funny illustration? see message 64).
    • Create your own list. I did not find a list that's really about the most useful phrases and sentence modules, so I'm compiling my own and will publish it here.
    • SpanishDict Phrasebook. 8000 phrases already – but the problem is, there's no help narrowing this down to the 250 most relevant ones.
    • WordsGalore: 1100 Spanish-English Phrases. Great list of short sentence building blocks. Gratis but not free.
  6. Desktop vocabulary and phrases trainer. There are several options of course. Here is my list of desktop vocabulary software for Linux, ordered by my own subjective evaluation (the best first):
    • Mnemosyne. Very very nice, free and open source software. You can add sound, images, videos etc. to question and answer sections, and it has a sophisticated algorithm to not waste your time on words you know. There's even an Android application for training; see below. See also my post on installation instructions for Ubuntu 12.04. Vocabulary card files for Spanish words and phrases are available via its old site; I propose to use the following:
    • Parley.A sophisticated vocabulary trainer application for KDE4, free and open source. Includes the option of playing sound files for the pronunciation when doing the flash card testing. Available in the Ubuntu archives. What got on my nerves however was the inefficient way it asked me for words I knew, so I chose Mnemosyne over it. Recommendations of word lists for it:
    • WordsGalore. A gratis (yet not free) software that comes with a vocabulary of the 1000 most frequent Spanish words (it's CC licensed now, see above). I missed a "ask the Spanish word" mode in this. For installation on Linux, see my instructions.
    • KWordQuiz. Also nice. Shares the same XML format with Parley, with a bit less featured interface (like, no lesson grouping for words).
    • granule. Quite nice and usable, including sound file support for pronunciation. However, unlike Parley it seems to be no longer in active development. Version 1.3.0 is available in the Ubuntu archives, but version 1.4.0 is already out.
    • OpenTeacher. I did not test this; yet it seems to have no support for attaching audio files for the word pronunciations.
    • KVocTrain. Vocabulary trainer application for KDE3. I used it in 2000 and contributed the first vocabulary file to it 🙂 Now it is superseded by Parley or KWordQuiz for KDE4.
    • Even more options. A German article listing even more Linux vocabulary trainer applications.
  7. Smartphone vocabulary and phrases trainer. I'd like to have an Android application that I can feed these 1000 words and 250 phrases into, for training in them whenever there's a spot of free time to do so. Proposals, as per my own evaluation:
    1. Mnemogogo and Mnemododo. An Android application and plugin for Mnemosyne (recommended above) to learn the vocabulary and phrases on the phone.
  8. Language basics material. Something to help learn and combine the above pieces. By adequacy:

Practice and Refining Toolkit

Once beyond the basics, I like to learn a language "effortlessly" while using it rather than as a dedicated activity. Here are tools to help with real-world content while refining pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar:

  1. Talk to a native speaker. The most fun and awesome way to learn a language. Either you are really lucky and have a patient native speaker friend. If not, you could go straight for an immersion experience. Or to fiverr.com, where nice native speakers are up for video-teaching you for $5 (for Spanish: uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete … and many more).
  2. Content for practice. Not using a language in daily life makes you forget it again. In my case, I practice English by writing everything in it, but could consume content in Spanish. Just some stuff that I find interesting; only real-world content, no educational resources any more:
    1. Textual content. For example, read Google News in Spanish.
    2. Audio content.
    3. Video content. When using subtitled video content, I found it a good idea to progress from videos with English audio / Spanish subs to those with Spanish audio / English subs to those with Spanish audio / Spanish subs (the latter at first when watching a second time).
      • Of course there are thousands of videos on YouTube, with and without subtitles. You can download the videos for offline use with an open source tool like youtube-dl, and you can download the subtitles with various open source tools.
      • You can watch full movies online with added subtitles, at universalsubtitles.org. You can watch English full movies with Spanish subs and vice versaThey use their free & open source Amara software. It is not clear to me so far if the subtitles themselves are open content (see here vs. here). For offline use, again download the video with youtube-dl and the subtitles from universalsubtitles.org by clicking on the required language in the left-hand list ad selecting the "Download" button. Then play both together, for example in VLC: with the subtitles in SRT, SSA or TTML format, go to "Media -> Open (advanced) …", select your video, and and use the "Use a subtitles file" additional option to add the subtitles.
      • You can download free & open subtitles for movies you own at opensubtitles.org and watch both together (see last paragraph for instructions).
  3. Translator browser plugin. It has to be high-usability. I would suggest it has a mouse over mode that is active when pressing a dedicated modifier (like the Windows key, sitting quite lonely on the Linux machine keyboard here). The translator also should be capable of interlinear translation, displaying the translated words above the original ones in a separate line; that's even more comfortable for texts with lots of new words. By adequacy:
    • Hyper Translate Plugin for Firefox. It translates selected text in a tooltip, whether single words or whole phrases. The most comfortable tool I could find, if you configure it so that it translates single words on double clicks and phrases when selecting them and pressing "Ctrl". Also, this works really fast. However, it seems to me that this plugin (in the version from mid 2012-08) has a huge memory leak, so I have to re-start Firefox from time to time to not run out of RAM. But I have to investigate further if it's really this plugin …
    • Wiktionary and Google Translate Plugin for Firefox. Double-click a word (or for hyperlinked words, use the context menu) to translate it. Also can be configured to use a mouse over mode (using a modifier key), but that mode is not really usable for switching between words to lookup, as the lookup itself is quite slow and the popup closes only when configured so and when the mouse is at least ca. 3 cm from it. Also, this cannot inline-translate whole phrases, so takes more work when not understanding a complete sentence (and you don't want to go for whole-page translation by Google, which is available from this). And what's really a nuisance: it always presents you the translation in the first language in which the word is found in on Wiktionary, with no way to configure lookup priorities. On the upside, the word lookup relies on free & open Wiktionary, the translation tooltip contains much information and is freely styleable.
    • Inline Translator Plugin for Firefox. It translates selected text in a tooltip, whether single words or whole phrases. This relies on the proprietary Bing Translate API, and at least it stopped working because the author's account balance for that service ran out.
    • Easy Google Translate Plugin for Firefox. To be tested.
  4. Audio slowdown browser plugin. Something that can speed down the audio or audiovisual playback by a configurable amount, while keeping the pitch of the voice intact. This should enable you to follow regular speed native speakers' material. There's a speed setting on youtube.com (behind the gear button on all videos), and there's a way to play back with VLC in slower speed in two steps (using the "Arrow Left" key). But this will not keep the voice pitch intact. [TODO – Still to be found.]
  5. Writing assistant. A desktop application both for interactive and non-interactive writing. It should include a grammar checker, spelling checker, accent auto-correction and in-text commands for translating words (like typing "es:occupy", and it converts it to "ocupar").
    • LanguageTool. Open source software for style and grammar checking that is both available as stand-alone and LibreOffice plugin.
    • LibreOffice. For spell checking in non-interactive writing.
  6. Mobile phone dictionary. For Android, as we're about free and open here.
    • QuickDic [here on Google Play]. My current favorite: free and open source, fast, and independent of any Internet connection by offline storage of the dictionaries. It uses Wiktionary data, so has about 40 000 entries.
    • English Spanish Dict.FREE. Gratis but not free; ad-supported with an ad-less pro version available. Also offline, and with the advantage of having 86 000 words.
  7. Extensive online dictionary. Including all the really special and technical words. Should also include pronunciations of the words.
    • SpanishDict Translate. Phrase and word translator, including one million words with very informative output. Gratis but not free.
    • Wiktionary for Spanish. Upside: Free and open. It has ca. 40 000 entries as of 2012-07. Not that many, but a good start.
    • linguee.com. Not to be missed in this context, because it's very useful for exact translation of really special words and phrases. It's based on automatic evaluation of professionally translated texts, like EU laws.
  8. Spanish verb conjugation tool. Options:
  9. Grammar essentials. A ten-page or so short grammar to learn by heart over time. It's not meant to construct sentences (it does not work that way) but to have the basic rules in mind for recognizing them again in real-world examples, thus making the most of the examples you encounter. By adequacy:
  10. Extensive grammar reference. Word of caution on grammars first: open your grammar book only after having made good progress with learning by reading and listening — it will make no sense to you before [source]. There are several out-of-copyright grammars available; you might learn some funny ancient Spanish, but then that's what free and open Spanish sounds like 😉 The following recommendations are mostly from Google Books; they are available as downloadable PDF, but then lack the searchable text from Google's online version. But since it's public domain material, we could add it and re-publish. By adequacy:

 Background Tools and Resources