Over the recent months, I spent quite some hours thinking about adequate logistics systems for rural, hilly Nepal. Especially for the villages not having road connections for now – is getting "the road" really the only way of development? Because with the road comes pollution, road accidents, and a faster pace of life. Actually, transport for people is not that much of an issue (except for medical emergencies of course): for their occasional travels to the cities, people walk to the next road / bus stop.  Means we only need a solution for transporting goods: the big problem is indeed load transportation. Where this takes much effort, access to market is difficult, earning money is difficult, and supply is difficult. Load transport has to be more efficient (in personal time units) than relying on porters, carrying things oneself, or using mules. Aerial ropeways are one solution for this, but the problem is that they require a lot of additional infrastructure, and the cost of that hinders the widespread deployment (they are also infrastructure with a single point of failure, which was the demise in previous ropeway installations in Nepal). This is not the case when reusing the existing foot path network!

So here is a proposal that I think is my best idea for this so far. It would put Nepal into the same league with the countries most advanced both in electrical transportation and autonomous vehicles, while at the same time needing no additional roads or other infrastructure. The technology is cheap and can be managed locally (given some training).

The basic idea is a narrow (max. 80 cm wide) autonomous vehicle for load transportation on foot tracks. I propose it would be a transporter built with bicycle parts like an electric cargo quadrocycle, but without a place for a rider. It can navigate using a line on the ground, or optical beacons, or a guide wire. Each would be able to carry about 40-100 kg, depending on the exact design. It will be powered by a relatively small Li-Ion battery and recharge with photovoltaics cells that it carries as a roll with it, and deploys on the roadside in sunny spots when it has to charge. (Alternatively, there could be charging stations every few kilometers, but that is less flexible and more expensive for the first few vehicles.) Frequent charging stops are not a problem when transportation is automated. And since standard bicycle parts are used, maintenance and repairs are simple and cheap. For example, wheels should be standard 26" mountain bike wheels. These vehicles will be slow (say 3 km/h uphill, 8 km/h on flat terrain, up to 15 km/h downhill) and can carry much less than trucks, but since they are autonomous, they can drive all day and even through the night (at least the way back downhill, and also uphill if having access to grid-connected charging stations in houses along the way). Also, even with modern jeeps but safe driving you get hardly 8-10 km/h when offroad driving on "roads" in Nepal's hills (been there, done that) – so the autonomous vehicles will be just a bit slower given that they can shortcut the road with footpaths.

For energy storage, free, used 18650 Li-Ion cells harvested from notebook batteries, powertool batteries and the like are a more affordable and more economic solution than ultracapacitors – it is more economical even though ultracaps do not wear down. Because to cover 1 km between charging stations at 17% slope uphill with a 80 kg total weight bicycle, about 33 Wh are needed, which cost 430 EUR in supercapacitors at 13 EUR/Wh. Li-Ion cells on the other hand are free when harvesting used ones, and can be used for 1000-2000 cycles if charging to only 3.92 V/cell. Assuming 1500 cycles and one cycles per day on average, that's 4-5 years on one battery pack until it degraded to 70% its original capacity (and even then, it can still be used).

The Li-Ion battery has to be large enough to allow a 1.5 W load per cell or lower, since that is how used cells last the longest (due to their reduced current carrying capacity). That is easily solved by letting the vehicle go a very slow speed, which is also great for reducing breakage and maintenance anyway. At (say) 3 km/h, driving 15% uphill with a 80 kg total weight vehicle will need about 100 W, so about 66 Li-Ion 18650 cells (very doable). At 2 Wh/cell typical charge capacity (3 Wh/cell remaining capacity, charged to 3.92 V/cell or about 66% capacity), this means 130 Wh total energy content, or 80 minutes of driving, covering 4 km. So a reasonable proposal would be 100-cell batteries and recharging approx. every 5 km (or further, depending on how steep the uphill slope is).

The low power needs of 100 W maximum (or even just 50 W maximum if reducing the uphill speed to half) mean that DC motors from battery power drills can be used. These are available nearly for free second-hand. No gearbox is needed, since a max. speed of 3 km/h is acceptable and the motor can cover a range of 0-3 km/h by itself by just using a PWM motor controller as integrated in power drills. For a constant reduction gear, one can simply use a bicycle chain gear, a bicycle chain, and a very large (ca. 30-40 cm diameter) DIY gear mounted to the bicycle wheel. Each wheel or each axle can have its own DC motor, and the DC motors incl. the reduction gear mechanism of the front axle would simply move with the wheel when it is steered. This way, the vehicle is a 4×4, making it much more capable on muddy tracks.

In addition, it should be possible to tow this vehicle as a bicycle and motorcycle trailer, allowing to move it faster when accompanied by a person. This is useful to move it around within a settlement, or when it broke down and has to be towed to a workshop. Also in addition, the vehicle should have a simple display with a selection mechanism so people can select its next destination. This allows to build a network of paths using optical beacons, but also requires that the vehicle can navigate bifurcations etc., and determine its position.

Another advantage of transport on foot tracks is that these transporters can use the small wire bridges which are popular in Nepal's hilly area and mountains. No need to create much more expensive, heavy-weight bridges for cars. In addition to using foot tracks and wire bridges, the transporters could even be enabled to use aerial ropes by themselves (hooking themselves to them with an overhead arm, rolling along them, hooking off at the end). This allows shortcutting the way over creeks (where a bridge is not existing or much further) and also to navigate aerial 1-3 km ropeways to go a shortcut over difficult mountain terrain. The cheap battery power enables this new kind of ropeway. What makes it esp. cheap is that it only needs bamboo towers and a single steel rope (or chain or fabric belt), no moving elements at all. The carriages will propel themselves along the rope with rubber wheels on top and below the carrying rope (or, in the case of chains, hard rubber or plastic wheels with cavings to grab the chain elements). Also, since footways are used for most of the way, only a bit of new construction is needed, driving down costs further.

To make operating this device possible in the long term (means, incl. maintenance), it would be operated as a service, with village people paying to get items delivered to and from their village, or later also to other places (like, to and from their fields). This is in contrast to people owning their own vehicles. The operators would have to be technologically skilled, perhaps young people from a nearby city creating a startup. Though I am not sure yet what the fees could be and how profitable a company would be offering this as a service. However, such a company has the advantage that scaling comes with cost advantages: one team can operate a fleet of 100-200 of these devices driving around in one district. They will all operate autonomously, until they break (in which case, they can be towed by another device and collected in a workshop until the travelling operators get there).

I'm not saying that constructing such a robot is simple, but it is much simpler than building one for full-scale city traffic. It can completely avoid roads, since there is always a footpath available in Nepal as an alternative route. And on footpaths, the wort that can happen is encountering a mototcycle. Having a flashing beacon light on its top will help, and a simple protocol like "autonomous vehicle will stop at the side of the road when you honk three times, so you can overtake it safely". Which would make it the 1001 use of the horn in Nepal 😀

So I just finished another little project: my new entrance ladder. Ok, let's say it's finished except for a layer of paint, as always. All paint jobs pile up for when I have no urgent needs and will start to care how things actually look 😛

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This shows the truck's right side, with the door to the living area open. The new ladder is hooked for storage to the inside of the door and will only be in use (means hooked below the door) when the truck parks on the roadside or otherwise in confined spaces where the normal stairs cannot be used. Or, like now, where the normal stairs exist only in pieces laying around …

The reason I'm writing this is to illustrate how a few pieces of trash and a few hours of time, mixed in the right way, can become useful items for everyday use. Here are the ingredients:

  • ladder hooks on door: self-made, bent to shape from 3 mm stainless steel; originally this was a broken bumper bar at the truck's box body that I had to cut off, so it's free …
  • blue mounting plate: leftover pieces from big aluminium 2 mm metal sheets that I bought from the junkyard to create door and window frames; originally all this were commercial signs at a MOT station; maybe back then I paid 0.40 EUR for the amount used here?
  • steel ladder: basically free trash, since I cut it out from the leftover back part of a tractor trailer that I had to shorten for a friend
  • lower holder: tool holder from the wooden leftover body of a 1953 firefighter truck which I burned one winter in the wood stove of my truck
  • hooks below door (not shown): bent from 5 mm steel that came as a leftover 20 cm slice of a MAN truck frame
  • nuts and bolts below door (not shown): stainless steel nuts and bolts I sorted from a 5 kg package of mixed overstock material I bought on eBay for 20 EUR … let's say these are 0.20 EUR again all together
  • rivets: seven are found by sorting a big free bucket of nuts and bolts; five are bought (0.20 EUR each?); one of them I shortened because I did not have the right length at hand (how to? remove pull pin, cut off a bit of the rivet head, put in pull pin, remove grate with file)
  • PU sealing agent: used as glue behind the blue base plate and lower holder; bought, used amount might be worth 1 EUR
  • cutting and sanding disks: I used a 125×1 mm angle grinder cutting disk half, and a 125 mm sandpaper disk half … together about 1.40 EUR
  • electricity: the sun did not send me an invoice yet

Which makes for a total monetary investment of 4.00 EUR, or 4.55 USD. I'm still ok with that amount 😀

Of course I could also have bought an entrance ladder. Why didn't I? For one thing, it is difficullt to find something that fits here (I looked once, and only found fitting ones from yachting accessory for at least 100 EUR). And then: While this might be uneconomical in monetary terms for me now, I am learning and getting better at building my own stuff. It's an investment into the future, because I discovered that building your own stuff grants you a form of freedom. How so? Because you can always build some simple, useful items you need, and this way you can always cover some of your needs without a paid job. Just free trash and free time needed. Now what if we could build everything we need from trash? Would we still fear "unemployment"? Would we still accept hiearchies in the workplace, strict time regimes, uninhabitable and ugly offices, bad pay?

With projects like these, I'm exploring how much freedom there is in free trash. I know about efficiency issues with DIY building, the need for automation and so on. But it's just the start, and so far I cannot even see the end: open source tech solutions are getting more powerful every day. (Have a look at EarthOS if you are not convinced yet, it's my collectionf of "open source solutions for everything in life".)

So this is my home now, a 4×4 ex-firefighter truck from 1976. Bit older photo, but from the outside it still looks like this. Except it has a licence plate, means it's street legal now. It's misssing some creative lettering though. I plan to write "UM" on it's side in big black letters one day, to confuse some gangstas. I think they call it mimikri in the animal kingdom, and it's perfectly legal there laugh

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For introducing you to this little beast called "Erwe", know this: I have just this place to live and work now and these 9 m² just fit me (ceiling is 1 cm above my head). But I own this one, which is a relief: no rent, no interest, just a bit of vehicle tax. And while I say I live in it, don't expect a living room. It's more meant to be an expedition truck for the decades to come laugh So, you'll find lots of waterproof boxes instead of furniture, more truck tools than kitchen tools, and even a beautiful aluminium carpet (pictured below). Not sure where my expeditions will go and what my tasks will be – currently it looks like I want to go to the Balkans or Southern Italy and see what I can understand and do about the refugee situation there. More ideas are always welcome.

For the moment, my life in this setup works like this (going along the images):

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(1) Say it is winter, so fire up the wood stove first thing in the morning and go to bed for 20 min more until it's all heated up. Not much wood (or free pine cones laugh) needed, since I live in a former deep freeze box used for fish. Insulation is 10 cm PUR foam all around, equivalent to 20 cm styrofoam. In German winter, I needed a bit more than one Eurobox (60×40×30 cm) of wood per week.

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(2) Make hot water and have a coffee. Coffee machine is very simple yet, so not for coffeephiles for the time being … still looking for an oversized version of these stovetop espresso machines somewhere …

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(3) Put "bed" into workshop mode. Toolboxes are normally stored under the bed, in the middle of the four used Zarges A10 aluminium boxes on which the mattress rests. That seems like a strange choice for a bedframe, but I store everything in stackable boxes here so that moving without the truck to another place for longer is just about shipping my stuff on one pallet (ca. 80 EUR with a trucking company within Germany, or ca. 300 EUR half around the world in a container as LCL). Also note my little assortment of "clubbing utensils" visible to the right, fixed handy right next to the door for personal security. There's a large MagLite flashlight, basically the only heavy item you may carry when opening the door at night and find police in front (which I expect to happen a lot while travelling). And a bamboo stick, as used by the friendly Nepal Armed Police forces cheeky I brought it from Kathmandu last year, after the earthquake made our garden wall fall on the poor bamboos.

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(4) Work on some "home improvement" or "workshop improvement" project. One of my latest projects was creating "sun powered" 24 V power tools, as shown. I do not use an inverter to make 240 V AC from my 24 V DC solar system (because inverters are only ~85% efficient, quite expensive when sizing them for powertools – and worse, they break, and they produce electricity unsafe to touch … while my 24 V DC is safe for all my DIY purposes). So instead, I selected a series of cordless power tools with input voltage that fits for my 24 V DC, like the Milwaukee V28 series shown here. Then bought a defective replacement battery on eBay (ca. 7-12 EUR), removed the LiIon cells from it and connected a cable to plus and minus instead. Plug it into the socket and it will work – no need to connect the temperature sensor (the central pin). Just make sure your sockets are fused, and the fuses can take 35 A – the circular saw draws 800 W max., angle grinder 500 W max., power drill I have to see, did not use it above 150 W so far). If you want to replicate this, also note the cable and plug. Cable is 4 mm² copper cable, of which the cheapest and most available solution is buying speaker cable, and the plug is not a normal 12 V / 24 V cigarette lighter plug as they can's stand more than 12 A – instead I use SpeakON STX series plugs from PA / music equipment, which can stand 40 A normally and 70 A when using all four pins and a special cascading fuse setup ­– also these plugs are rainproof and made from sturdy aluminium, I really like them.

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(5) Have a meal right in the middle of your home construction site mess and wonder if it will ever be a "normal" place to live. Just in that last unsuspecting picture, there are some more not-so-normall things to observe when you look closely:

  • I might find a bench vise next to the food. Perfectly normal here. Because it is not fixed, it can move. I mounted it on a small base plate and it likes to move around a lot …
  • There are two boxes of small drills and milling bits for a rotary tool that I found, fixed and converted to be "sun powered" as well. Just use any adjustable 24 V DC-DC notebook adapter fitting for the input voltage of the rotary tool, and make a power tip adapter from an exchangeable tip of the notebook adapter which you don't need for your own notebook …
  • Then ther's my own notebook, and if you look closely to the back left of it, you see a DC plug that has been tampered with. I had to make my own DC tip because it was impossible to buy a 24 V DC-DC converter coming with the right tip … . But it works flawlessly now, means it's a "sun computer" (minuscle s!).
  • There's a PUR foam insulation block I use in the window over the winter and also as an improvised curtain in the evening. It helps, but I should cover it with something pretty I guess frown
  • There's a wood stove with an orange metal belt made from the roof of an old street roller, keeping it to the wall.
  • Fork and spoon are used ones from German Army, produced sometime in the mid 1960s. Very sturdy, available for cheap on eBay, and they can be neatly arranged for transport when travelling with a backpack.
  • There's a battered table that is at least 35 years old (I know becaus it's from my childhood … hehe), now featuring a line of holes at the back by which it holds on to the grid hole system I use in the truck (compatible with OpenStructures and Gridbeam).

Hope you enjoyed being introduced to some of the not-so-normal objects in my home … many more waiting in the line, it's literally full of them here. As you saw, I rather build something from trash metal or pre-owned stuff than spending money to buy it. And srsly, I don't care how these things look, just that they work, don't break, and don't cost much. To me, every alternative is so much better than forced labor in a nonsensical fulltime job just to have money for buying shiny new things.

I am back in Germany after four months in Nepal. First impression? Germany is well-organized, super quiet, and populated by zombies. The living dead, you know. (Oh and, Germany is so flat. Very strange. Why u not hilly?)

It just does not make sense. If something like Germany is the endpoint of developing areas' development, what is development for? It has no meaning at all. Essentially, after all the development, people in Nepal would be

  • just as unhappy as people in Germany
  • all their earnings will be used up for so-called "living"
  • people won't talk to people anymore
  • there will be just as few options for alternative lifestyles as in Germany, where this is systematically minimized by forcing people into consuming and paying
  • people will work in brainwashing, marketing, SEO etc. to force-feed each other the useless products of their industries … consuming up the world's resources …

Essentially, all the Germans (and Europeans and U.S. Americans, for that matter) do is keeping their country up and runnning, with insane amounts  of energy and worktime. Their countries are "optimized" to maximize the amounts of energy and worktime to invest for just keeping the country up and running. The first is called "economic growth", the second "full employment". And all these aspirations to "wealth" that is not wealth and "wellbeing" that is not wellbeing in people make them miserable. Directly and indirectly. They never have enough. They are brainwashed by advertising since decades, and the advertising comes from capitalist monopolies whom they serve with their lifetime and money.

And then we have the audacity to call ourselves a "developed nation", to be imitated by the "developing nations" … . These "developed" nations do not contribute any significant amount to a better future for the planet. They are not engaged in any concerted effort to construct a meaningful and sustainable future. Instead, they just consume. And much more than their share. While villages in Nepal are much more sustainable, since most stuff is made from fieldstones and bamboo. In terms of our global future, that is more developed than the developed "nations" … . But currently, developed nations devour the planet, and fast. Wow. (Now the good thing about Nepal is, it has so many so remote places that global capitalism will not reach them in my lifetime cheeky Like Rolpa. It currently takes three days and nights of travelling by bus from Kathmandu.)

Ok … so if development according to the paradign of "developed" nations makes no sense, what makes sense?

  • Minimize resource and worktime usage in "developed" nations, to the levels in Nepal and below. No more economic growth, no more full employment. There is such a ton of interesting work to do for that, including medical research, frugality research, full transition to a minimal energy economy, etc. etc..
  • Real development has to be integrated. Like, set up and keep up a sustainably developed commune in a remote village in Nepal, or transform a whole village into such a sustainable model village with both low resource usage and a high standard of living. Serving as an example to be imitated in the thousands of other villages. It means for an educated group of people (from Nepal, from abroad, or mixed) to go there to live there. For the long term. To make that commune able to sustain itself through sustainable production. And help it minimize the resource and time efforts needed for that. (I collected a lot of relevant tech and knowledge for small-scale self-sustainable living in EarthOS already.)

This draft-state article explores the implications of pilot-wave theory (see) on the "big questions" in life, assuming that pilot-wave theory is indeed adequate and that the universe is deterministic on a physical level.

Pilot-wave theory is simply chaos theory taking to the particle level: the deterministic laws of nature are not out of force, but "everything interacts with everything else", so we can't see them in action because it's all a mess …

Note that pilot-wave theory requires a universe with infinite resolution for the amplitude of the pilot wave function, and potentially also infinite resolution on the time scale, as else all the observed "randomness" cannot be explained.

It might be a good imagery to thing of the universe as a three-dimensional pulsating field of energy, with mass particles being nothing but reasonably stable artifacts of energy, like the droplets in those pilot-wave droplet experiments. In the end, mass is just energy, and can be converted back to energy (even elementary particles, by combining with their antimatter particles). That energy then leads to higher local pulsing of the energy field, creating "splashes" that then again become reasonably stable artifacts of energy (particles). Not all energy is bound in particles though (see "dark energy").

Maybe Planck's constant h can be interpreted as the basic "frequency" that is applied to the energy of the universe, in analogy to the frequency to apply to the silicone oil bath in pilot-wave droplet experiments to enable stable droplets? Because h indeed influences the masses of all elementary particles that can exist. But if that's the case, who applies or applied this frequency to the universe's energy? God?

Also, if the universe is deterministic, there cannot have been a "Big Bang" causes by a random quantum fluctuation of nothing. There has to be a reason for the universe instead. That's why putting the pilot-wave theory to the test and finding out if it is true is so important.

Another interesting implication of pilot-waave theory is that the universe is deterministic, but non-predictable at the same time. Assuming that the energy field (or whatever carries the wave function of the universe) is objective reality that exists independently from God, and that God "only" implemented matter in a certain configuration with this energy on creation, it would imply that not even God can predict the course of the universe. This (somewhat silly) nothing would follow form the Heisenberg uncertainty principle: "The positions and momenta of the particles are considered to be the hidden variables. However, the observer not only doesn't know the precise value of these variables, but more importantly, cannot know them precisely because any measurement disturbs them – as stipulated by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle." [source].

Assuming pilot-wave theory, the whole course of actions in the universe would be determined by the initial positions and momenta of particles. Or rather, of wave functions, as there can be empty wave functions [source]. The initial phase space of the wave functions would encode the whole history of the universe, then including the abiogenesis of life. In total, the initial states in the phase space could be randomly distributed, according to the quantum equilibrium hypothesis [source]. What is relevant is not  the distribution of phase states, but instead each individual phase state at each individual point of space. These, taken together, would be the variables that deterministically define the whole history of the universe at particle level. Or taken the other way round, by choosing a proper configuration of these (if you were God you could), you could choose any (or at least one of many different) history of the world that is possible within the laws of nature. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle would not be a limiting factor, as it just prohibits you from measuring the phase space values in action, not from setting them in the first place. But, such a clockwork universe would be a boring one … now free will!

Both pilot-wave theory and orthodox Copenhagen interpretation quantum theory are interpretations for the exact same experiment measurements. So for predicting results and for engineering, both are just as good, and preference would be a matter of style. The real difference is however the question if the universe is deterministic, or not. But even that has not too huge metaphysical interpretations, as we show below that free will is initially incompatible with both interpretations.

Can there be "free will" in a deterministic universe?

The naive notion of free will is of no use, and makes no sense. It assumes a monadic, atomic source of high-level decisions / goals, coming out of that source "out of free will" (which for an observer is equivalent to saying "for no reason", "guided by pure randomness"). Such a source, if existing, would be no useful notion of free will at all, as (1) randomness or unreasonableness that the "self" cannot influence cannot be a justification to judge the self for ethical / unethical behavior and more importantly (2) decisions are always complex results of complex processes, so you need a system to make them, not a transcendent atomic "source" that can, if anything, output a binary value.

However, there is room for a meaningful notion of "free will" even in a deterministic universe. As follows:

  • Like atoms etc. are reasonable stable energy wave patterns in the pilot wave world, memes (thought systems, visions etc.) are reasonably stable artifacts of brains. This is esp. true for "conscience", the emergent condition of "knowing, processing and understanding" enough about the world as to be able to be aware of ones own existence as part of the world, ones own options to interact with the world, and their potential outcomes.
  • Given conscience, ethical behavior is possible and can be expected as an emergence of conscience (namely as "feedfront": anticipated learning by feedback). But unethical behavior is also possible.
  • Now what causes the difference between ethical and unethical behavior in people, and is it justified to judge them / punish them based on this difference?
  • The hypothesis is here: choosing between ethical and unethical behavior is guided by "identity", a concept encompassing everything a person is. So it can be influenced by everything, including (occasionally) variations in bain chemistry that are caused by energy wave events outside of the person. However, the component that is justified to judge is the part of a person's identity that is in "thoughtspace". Namely, values, their vision of the world how they want it to be etc.. These "thoughtspace artifacts" develop slowly, over time: they are reasonably stable, isolating them from being destroyed by small external events. The hypothesis here is that "thoughtspace" is non-deterministic, because it consists of reasonably stable artifacts (thoughts etc.) that interact with other rules than the deterministic matter with which they are implemented. Means: they interact with the rules of information, which are "spiritual".
  • This above hypothesis that people "choose" to be good or bad over time is of course refuted by history: everyone chooses to be bad, to some degree. From a Christian viewpoint, people can only choose / accept to be redeemed, not to be good. But that would again be an act of "free will": the outcome depends on the person (their aggregate identity), not on any single cause that can be determined, and not based on rules that can be determined. There are patterns, but we can't explain all the variations of why this or that individual person has decided this or that way. This is largely because every case is unique, and there is no way to "repeat a life", or to simulate it so that all conditions that make it unique are incorporated. So in the end, nobody knows (also not God) how a person will decide, as there is no calculation capacity (no "parallel universe") to simulate the pilot wave conditions in for predicting the outcome. All of the universe is needed to calculate it, there's no space capacity.
  • Or even simpler: There is free will because there is conscience. Conscience implies that a person understands the world she is in, and the potential consequences of her actions, and hen acts a certain way. So to the degree that a person knew the consequences before, and could process the outcome, judging the behavior afterwards is justified. However, perfectly knowing the consequences and being able to process options perfectly would always result in perfect behavior (right?), which means that there is no justification for judging non-perfect behavior. But that logic might exactly be the logic of grace: God does not want to judge anyone for being and acting bad, as all the people were missing the light to be better … . So if God does in the end still judge people, it must mean that these people had the option to decide better (the only instance being, to accept Christ as savior). But then, how could they decide better, in a deterministic universe? Only if in "thoughtspace", there is an entity ("spirit", "heart", "moral conscience" etc.) which is self-referential and able to choose and thereby influence its own moral quality. Means, people who are evil (esp. by not accepting Christ against better knowledge) are so knowingly, and continuously, while still being able to be different.
  • The hypothesis that thoughtspace artifacts can enable non-deterministic behavior in a deterministic world can be tested by trying to create a software implementation of a conscience and trying to observe non-deterministic behavior even though letting the software start from completely identical input and adding no extra input over time and also not giving the software access to randomness. If multiple runs of that sofware lead to different results (like in reasoning, developing a vision for the world etc.), then thoughtspace is non-deterministic. It requires however (maybe) a level of intelligence on par with humans, including extensive training to understand the world. However, without random influence it is logically impossible that runs from the same starting conditions on a deterministic machine lead to non-deterministic results. So we need randomness. If both instances receive the same input as randomness, they would again lead to the same results. Which means, now results depend on the random input, not on the algorithm. And randomness cannot be called "free will". So even if quantum theory is correct and the world is fuzzy and random, there could still be no free will??
  • However, then again "being creative" is clearly an effect of free will. From that we see that, if free will should be a reasonable concept at all, it has to include both aspects of randomness (the input and inspirations that creatives seek) and reasoning (the thoughtspace activity that creates something meaningful out of the random input). This is however only the perspective of the individual: if there is no real randomness (as in pilot wave theory), then the behavior is still predetermined.
  • It seems necessary to understand the role that information plays for agency ("free will"). Human beings cannot emerge by chance, they have been created. That act of creating them changed the world. The big question is, did it change the world in a deterministic or non-deterministic manner?
  • Another approach: The question if there is free will is not relevant because God and also we ourselves would not stop judging and punishing actions even if that would not be justified. We would do it because we don't like these action and don't want them to spread. Like putting sexual offenders in jail. Or like a holy God not wanting to have community with sinners. It's against his character. Thus ultimately, judging behavior is an expression of a conflict, and does not need free will or agency. Like we pull up weeds: not because they have free will and deserve to be judged for wrongdoing, but because we don't want them to grow where they grow. From this obviously follows that there would not be any active punishment ("torture") of sinners for their wrongdoing, just being removed from God's presence. And to be fair, it would have to be annihilation, or at least a bearabe mixture of good and bad as on earth. Also, this approach makes the ultimate question not about free will, but about why the world did not stay holy as God wanted it to be. The question is about the origin of evil then! (And really, who needs "real" free will, if we can be creative and have fun doing so.) Without free will, the world could indeed be seen as a war of evil against good, each side having seemly limited (or self-limited?) options in that war, and trying to win it. Both good and evil would be "contagious".
  • So, what about the origin of evil? The Bible does not really give an answer, since the story of the Fall of Satan is very figurative and could mean something else (it talks about a certain historic king in the first place, anyway). Potentially, Satan ("evil") is eternal just as God ("good") is. Or potentially, the origin of evil is the only non-deterministic event that ever happened, and is a mystery even to God …
  • But anyway, interpreting judging and punishment as war (without free will) rather than moral act (for an act of free will) does not help either, as war in a deterministic (rather: materialistic) world is not a meaningful concept: there would not be a will to war, just the ticking of a clockwork …
  • Another way of introducing free will into the Copenhagen interpretation quantum theory is (perhaps) to claim that the mind acts like
  • Of course, materialists will always argue that there is still no free will because its thought processes are implemented deterministically, or with randomness elements at best. Perhaps this is true in the sense that it allows to refute the idea that the free will we observe in ourself could ever have appeared via evolution: there has to be free will at the start to continue having free will. (But if so, how do we explain that newly conceived human beings obviously acquire their free will at some point?)
  • So the big question is, after all: does matter drive the mind, or does mind drive matter? From neurological studies (effects of drugs etc.) it is apparent that matter drives the mind at least in part. But also on the overall, highest level of "consciousness"? Because apparently, I can move a finger when I want it … means, mind drive matter, right? To reconcile this intuitive notion of free will with physics (in whatever interpretation of quantum theory) it could be argued that the mind becomes gradually independent from matter, and being able to drive matter rather than the other way round, by learning more about matter. That is, by understanding the world around you. With an operationally complete understanding of the world, the word has a full (or sufficiently full) representation in the mind, which allows detailed simulations in thoughtspace (though processes, decision making etc.) before then implementing them in the real world. This capacity to reason about the world, including both creativity and repeated self-feedback of results, would be the way how "free will" is implemented. It can be considered free even if individual thought processes are deterministic, since humans tend to think something over multiple times, each time starting from a slightly different starting point (even if the variation is just more or less hunger etc.) and to come up with different results accordingly. And then, to valuate these results, and that is where the freedom comes in. Because the decision for one of the alternative options is not based on randomness or simple determinism, but on an understanding of the different options. Understanding is a spiritual activity, in thoughtspace, even though implemented in matter. The algorithm for it is non-deterministical as it includes feedback: "try to understand until you understand".
  • Possibly, relativistic effects (what is considered instantaneous from which point of view) introduce non-determinism without randomness, and thus the opportunity for free will, into a pilot-wave theory universe?

In the end, it is obvious that we don't know anything …

The most interesting idea from this discourse is the brazen (because logically impossible) hypothesis that conscious information systems (human brains) could derive non-deterministic results from deterministic input and with deterministic means. If we can prove that experimentally, it is for certain that history even in a deterministic pilot-theory universe is not boring at all 🙂 Because people could enact these non-deterministic results of their thoughspace processes, introducing non-determinism into the physical space. However, this question if deterministic brains can produce non-deterministic results is well-known in philosoph aready, and still debated [source].

The other interesting finding here is that both orthodox quantum theory (with real randomness) and pilot-theory (with full determinism) have no obvious or non-obvious but proven space for free will. If you want to uphold free will (or the idea of spirit, relationships, contact to God etc.) you have to dive into physics and find the blind spot.

Powerline is a technology for transmitting data over the AC grid. All devices provide an RJ45 Ethernet plug (and some also wifi and USB), so they support client devices of all operating systems. Basic configuration of encryption is likewise OS independent, as nearly all of them use a "pairing" button for that. However, to set the encryption key manually, to make more detailed settings, to read out speed statistics and to update the firmware most come with configuration tools that only work under Windows.

So, can we find a device that can be fully managed under Linux, ideally with free software? After a long search, this turns out to be a simple task. Just use any device that supports the Homeplug AV or Homeplug AV2 standard, and manage it with Open PLC Utils, a free software full-featured management tool developed by AV/AV2 chipset maker Atheros. It  allows full device configuration, info reading and upgrading for all INT6000/6300/6400/AR7420 devices, even tampering with the parameter set in the firmware. The only alternative are DS2 chipset based devices, since at least most of them can be fully configured via a built-in web interface (such as the COMTREND Powergrid 9020, their most modern device). However, a tool like Open PLC Utils is preferred here since it effectively replaces a part of the DS2 management software with free software, allowing scripting, modifications etc., and is more powerful in general.

Recommendable devices

It is said that it does not matter so much in terms of connection speed and quality which exact device you choose, as long as you choose the right chipse. Here, we focus on the Homeplug AV chipsets (INT6000, INT6300, INT6400) and there on the most modern one (INT6400). We avoid the Homeplug AV2 chipsets because they seem not yet mature (see below) and the DS2 chipsets because they are not as readily configurable under Linux.

Recommendation for Germany: Speedport Powerline 100. The best recommendation is so far: Telekom Speedport Powerline 100. It has the INT6400 chipset (most modern one for the Homeplug AV 200 Mbit/s devices), and it is dirt cheap (ca. 20 EUR incl. shipment for a pair of them, via ebay.de) because Telekom made Germany awash with these devices. It also is good quality, since it is a whitelabel product from well-known French brand LEA Networks – see also the very detailed test on tomsnetworking.de (in German). One can use the LEA-made software tool SOFTPLUG for settings beyond simple pairing for encryption, but it runs only under Windows. It is not needed however, as the free software tool Open PLC Utils can likewise be used, also running under Linux.

Discussion of alternatives: Devolo dLAN AVsmart+. These devices are quite nice, as they have an extended status display on the device – compare the manual. They are also readil available in used condition on eBay, but not as dirt cheap as the Speedport Powerline 100. However, they use the older INT6000 chipset [source], leading to a third less speed in long-range applications [source].

Discussion of alternatiives: COMTREND PowerGrid 9020. This is not a Homeplug AB/AV2 device, but uses the non-interoperable DS2 chipset. Reviews on Amazon are good. However, it can be fully managed under Linux as all settings are available within a web interface, as argued for and against above. The Powergrid 9020 is the most modern Powerline device of Madrid-based manufacturer COMTREND so far, and avaible in UK and Europe type plug versions. The UK plug versions are very readily available online, as they are provided by UK based large ISP Britich Telecom (BT) to their customers. The Europe plug versions are quite hard to find though (but here are some). Also see the installation guide and the  full manual.

Discussion of alternatives: Homeplug AV2 devices. There are the even more modern 500 Mbit/s Homeplug AV2 devices (using the AR7420 etc. chipsets), however as of 2014-09 this generation of technology seems to not be mature still, often suffering from connection breakdowns, low throughput, the devices running hot etc. (as judged from reviews on Amazon). So we avoid them here, also because they are still more expensive on the second-hand market. But your priorities and mileage may vary. They also can be fully managed with Open PLC Utils.

Linux software for powerline adapters

While Open PLC Utils is clearly the winner, the following list is all the Linux-based powerline software I came across:

  • Open PLC Utils. As said, clearly the winner: full-featured and free software.
  • Faifa. A manufacturer independent, free software Homeplug AV/AV2 utility for Linux. Allows low-level functions such as control frame dumps. Considered to be the successor to the older plconfig utility, see below.
  • plconfig. An older, simple Linux based configuration utility. For download on Github. Superseded by Faifa now.
  • dlanlist, dlanpasswd. Open source software that can be downloaded and compiled under Linux and is meant to list (and set the password of) Devolo dLAN devices. Since these conform to the Homeplug AV/AV2 standard, the software might be used to also configure other devices, after some simple modifications.
  • devolo Cockpit. A large configuration softwre for Devolo dLAN devices. Seemingly not available as a source version, so adaptations to other devices are not possible.
  • Intellon device manager for 3.x firmware (Windows software). Allows full management of INT6x00 chipset devices when using a 3.x firmware version, incl. editing firmware parameters. Its use is described in this article.
  • Intellon device manager for 4.x firmware (Windows software). In contrast to the version for 3.x firmwares, this does not support full management of the of INT6x00 chipset devices any more.

Background information

The following in-depth articles provide relevant background information about Powerline technology and their successful use:

Modding and hacking powerline adapters

At 10 EUR for a used device or less, powerline adapters are so cheap that they offer themselves to several non-standard uses. At least teh following come to mind:

  • Powerline noise filters. Devices that include an AC plug with noise filter (such as the SpeedportPowerline 100 recommended above) are the cheapest option to use them as frequency filters to prevent contamination of the 50 Hz frequency from other digital devices, mobile phone chargers etc..
  • Powerline bridge. It is also possible to create a simple bridge by connecting two of them with a crossover Cat5e cable (or a bridge device in between, if necessary). This should allow crossing phase boundaries in the home cabling, if necessary.
  • VDSL P2P modem replacements. And then, of course, these cheap devices are a natural candidate for creating a cheap DIY replacement for pairs of VDSL modems (usually 150 EUR per piece!). It works by connecting twisted phone wire to the signal (via soldering) before it gets modulated on the AC mains power. It is possible to use this for transmitting data over several hundred meters at least.

 

This is an intellectual challenge: how to design a generic, many-to-many communication system that prohibits surveillance entities from proving that you (1) read some website or (2) contributed content to some website, even if they do (1) capture and analyze all traffic on the Internet and (2) can break all encryption that is used for many-to-many communication (practically mostly SSL, which might be broken in many cases by NSA using MITM attacks). The only capabilities that we assume here that the surveillance body does not have is (1) breaking encryption used for local-only storage, such as TrueCrypt and (2) breaking encryption used for one-on-one encrypted communication between parties who know each other personally (which is comparatively simple to achieve with PGP etc.). So we're only talking here about them treating you as part of the big mass of people (one of the many activists out there …), not being one of the select few for which they do "targeted access operations" to infect your computer by software or hardware …

Note that, as we assume that the surveillance body captures all Internet communication globally, Tor can no longer be considered secure as they can then do timig correlations on the whole Tor network at once and with that information (simplified by running some own Tor nodes …) de-anonymize its participants. (For that reason, we cannot use realtime two-way communication at all.)

So: here's my proposal from three hours of thinking on today's evening about this. I guess it's pretty wanky 🙂 Anyway, your feedback is welcome.

The basic idea is to hide reading the website steganographically in reading another unsuspicious website, and contributing to the website steganographically in a botnet infection (and by contributing from public wi-fi only). So the surveillance body would see you communicating, but you can plausibly deny reading and writing on that forbidden website; you just read a photo blog and had a spam virus infection … can happen, right? 😛

Part by part:

Deniable reading: steganographic site-in-a-site

This needs an unsuspicious "host website" with considerable data traffic for every user. For example a photography forum or even a porn site. Being used as a host site could be negotiated in secret with the operators (if you are an activist with a valid cause to which people tend to agree), or the site could also be hacked for that purpose, or a site can be "reused" which happens to be a customer website on a web server you operate. But that's quite evil … . In any case, the site should have a large existing community so that everybody can justifiably claim that they just used the host site and did not know anything about the payload data hidden in its traffic.

So to read the "secret website" you want to access, you do a daily round on this "host website", looking at new posts etc.. You will use a special browser (started from a steganographically hidden and encrypted partition on your computer) with a plugin that extracts the new steganographic payload data from this host website. So every new day of updates on the host website also contain the new day of updates for the payload website. The updates are very compact, compressed, git-style updates, probably just plain text. Also, to make connecting input to users even harder, normally every post in the payload site is anonymous (not even pseudonymous!), but users could identify themselves with transient handles for just a few posts to create necessary context in a thread.

Instead of starting the payload extraction and decryption software from a steganographically hidden area, another alternative is to get it to be part of the basic operating system installation for everyone. Which is then likewise unsuspicious because it provides an alibi.

The payload website would not be encrypted. So the surveillance body would find out about it quickly, and it would take some weeks or months to get the host website switched off or its "infection" with the payload site removed (by choosing a proper jurisdiction for the server location, and by using Tor to hide its location somewhat, it can definitely take that long). At which point the payload site would switch to a different host site. Even better, it would always use different host sites in parallel for redundancy, and switching from one to the other would not need any re-downloading of previous data. Just the new "git commits".

But maybe it is better to have the payload data encrypted – if it helps to keep the "infection" from being detected for a long time, it definitely is better. That however implies that every user has to get their own specialized payload, encrypted with a PGP public key. So the host site cannot be a broadcast type of site (like a forum), but has to provide content to every user (like a PTT voice messaging site for example, since PTT voice messages can well take steganographic payload). The payload site server would also encode slightly randomized payload for the different users, and of course not log the random elements, to prevent the connections between the public keys (on the server) and the user accounts (of the host site) to be made when the server is compromised. Which means that even then, nobody can tell which users got data with payload and which are just normal users. Only when finding the users and seizing their computers one could tell that … but no, not even then, since (1) the users usually cannot be found and (2) their private keys for decryption are steganographically hidden on their computer (see below).

Against breaking communication encryption: anonymity by free wi-fi

There is no issue with encryption being broken (or content not being encrypted at all!) if this still does not give them a hint to your real-world identity. The solution is to not give them any connection between the IP address and personal identities. How to achieve this?

  • Use a mobile device that looks for open wi-fi networks while you walk around in a big city. If it finds one, it will connect to it quickly, send its data, and disconnect again. The data is a git-style, very compact update to the shared content of the website / forum you contribute to. With this method, you can sync to that website 1-2 times a day, which should be enough for most purposes.
  • If your country does not allow anonymous Internet access at all (such as in China), send your data by encrypted e-mail to somebody abroad whom you trust and who will perform the above procedure for you. If you don't have somebody you trust, you are doomed anyway 😉

The security and safety of this procedure can be enhanced by:

  • using directional wi-fi antennae hidden below your clothing (for example in your arm – the system will guide you to point your arm in the right direction to get the best connection to a remote wifi 😉
  • more importantly, by using a new, spoofed MAC address for every connection. Which is important in case the wi-fi network logs the MAC addresses of connections
  • choosing only wi-fi networks open to the general public (in bars, airports etc.), to avoid raising suspicion of the surveillance body against individuals whose wi-fi you would else compromise
  • disguising your optical appearance against face recognition through surveillance cameras etc.
  • unsuspicious behavior, to prevent raising suspicion in surveillance videos etc.; this however is a pretty low-grade threat, as it involes a lot of manual coordination work ("targeted access operations"), which a surveillance body cannot do for its whole population
  • writing from a different device than you use for reading; you would use commands like "reply-to:post452798" for placing your content at the right spot of the website; you would never ever exchange data between the two devices (since then, also data coming from a trojan by which the surveillance body infected your reading computer, could be transferred to your writing computer and could prove that you participate in the website instead of just "unknowingly" getting its data in steganograophic form)

Deniable contributions: a botnet is controlling your device!

This is a pretty funny idea: claiming that your computer (that you use for sending) does stuff that you don't even want it to do is perfectly reasonable. So even if you are caught sending through a free wi-fi network, you still have an alibi. Because there will indeed be a virus on this device, that also has the habit of sending out e-mail spam, but it is special in that you can control it. You can also justifiably deny doing so, since all the programs and data to do so (including your website contributions before being sent) are in a TrueCrypt-style partition with a full filesystem that is steganographically embedded in your personal library of self-made photos. Because these are your own photos (and you did not publish them anywhere!), nobody can claim that you steganographically modify them since they did not see them before.

But we need some more stuff: as spambots usually do, yours will auto-generate the spam e-mails you will send out, including many spelling errors, random input for changes to embedded images etc., "to pass the spam filters". But instead, these changes also allow you to add the steganographic input, which also will look just like random changes, so just like the spambot behavior. In reality, it is encrypted with a public key of the server from the website you contribute to, and as long as that private key keeps private, your alibi is safe. This is actually P2P encryption which we allowed above to be not broken. But even if it gets broken, you're still not caught by any means since you always use the free wi-fi for Internet access 🙂

The e-mails will travel to the server hosting the secret website (or to a P2P encryption connected, befriended server), with the alibi that it is also an e-mail server. The server will however claim that these e-mails are spam, and not forward them to its users. But of course, internally evaluate them to extract the payload data. The private key for doing that, and the whole "secret website" software has to be protected in the server, of course, and has to have "deniable existence". This is possible by, again, using steganographic storage of a TrueCrypt style partition, maybe in the image data of the "host website". When the server is physically accessed, it will quickly unmount that logical partition, delete the access key from its memory, and be just another normal webserver 🙂

Simplifications and optimizations

  • It is not needed to hack or infect a host site to use it for embedding another site. Just select one that allows anonymous image or video uploads. If doing so, it should however be a site where all the steganographic content is downloaded by regular users, too, so the steganographic users have an alibi. For example, a meme collection site that allows anonymous submissions and publishes daily updates is a good choice. Or a site that hosts pirated content or porn. This is much better than "infecting" sites and running a separate server for the steganographics. Since this way, no own server and no infected site can be taken down. All own software runs on the clients (which would have a little configuration file that selects what URLs to download for steganographic content, and which for cover, and a decryption key to access the extracted steganographic information. Depening on how far this key is shared, it becomes any software between steganographic 1:1 communciation or many-to-many communication.)
  • The important point is to make steganographic communication comfortable. Not like e-mail, but like a full forum, even with special features like calendars etc.. Only then one can organize social change with it. The way NNTP (Newsnet) works is a good paradigm: a desktop client software collects message / data packages from somewhere, and provides the frontend locally.
  • For anonymous posting on public wi-fi networks, maybe one can even use little quadrocopter or blimp drones, operating at night. During the day they would hide in some place not at your home, and in passing on your way to work etc. you would transfer the next set of data to upload to them.