Bricolabs @ Enter_ 2007

Notes from Bricolabs workshops and Panel at Enter, Cambridge, april 27/28 2007.

Panel 27 Downing College: Stephen Heppell, Kelli Dipple, Joel Slayton, Patrick Humphreys, Rob van Kranenburg

Workshop 27 Downing College: Denis Jaromil Rojo, Matt Ratto, Rob van Kranenburg, Jean Noël Montagné, Patrick Humphreys, John Bywater, Aymeric Mansoux, Wookey, Sher Doruff, Sally Jane Norman, Bronac Ferran, Jaromil, Lucas Evers, Sylvia Nagl, Jim Prevett, James Wallbank, Carl Forsell, Chun Lee.

Workshop 28 Outdoor in the park: Matt Ratto, Jim Kosem, Rob van Kranenburg, Sally Jane Norman, Denis Jaromil Rojo, Jim Prevett, James Wallbank, Joachim Stein, David Garcia, Kelli Dipple

Panel 27 Downing College

In a talk entitled Grasping the Smile, Matt Ratto used an extended Alice in Wonderland metaphor to describe the need to focus on creative spaces rather than conventional creative knowledge transfers. In this way, at least, his talk echoes that of both Bob Stein with his notion of "frozen" and "unfrozen" books and professor Heppell's plea for an unfinished architecture. In different ways all three advocate ongoing, open-ended projects rather than, as Ratto put it, an "over emphasis on the end product.

( from Enter blog by Sean Dodson)


So how good might learning be if we take down the structures? - you should slap an asbo on the curriculum

Enter blog

The massive advances in computer technology will "transform into a revolution in physical spaces around the world," said Professor Stephen Heppell in the final session of the afternoon. "In the last century we built big things to do thing for people, but we are not in that century anymore," he said. Professor Heppell went on to say that it is not just, "the old industrial model of a curriculum being delivered" that has long gone, but the architecture of the schools designed to deliver such a fixed curriculum should soon follow suit. New school buildings need to be designed to reflect the "democratically flat" methods of teaching that have being ushered in at the start of this new century.

( from )


What does democracy look like? What does the state look like, in this 21th century, when we no longer build big things but help people build each other's things? In terms of bricolabs vision of generic infrastructures, Stephen Heppell is surely the pioneer of co-authoring this integral iteration of people's agile space, in his case peer to peer learning by reconfiguring the infrastructures and architectures of buildings where people do learning intuitively and with joy.


These 20th century cultural builds with huge expenses have not managed to practice what they preached: participation. Tate is exploring these new architectures for participation, opportunities for interaction exactly at this level of reconfiguring concrete space; unfinished architecture. Yet how do we sustain the human resources, the ongoing investments and community discourse?

Stephen talks about and shows spaces with no staffrooms, build around agility with stairways convertible into lecture theatres, foyers that are kitchens ( that is how and where you enter), kids are paired, inflate bubbles over chairs if they want some privacy, spaces being a mass paired buildings, no hierarchy at all. In the Cayman islands he is helping the nation to rebrand itself a school. The nation is a campus. Keep being reconfigured, keep hearing the building.

In these spaces learning itself might take on qualities of what John Bywater calls social machines, where technological objcts are no longer mediators but pointers to latent centres that can only be articulated by the practices of feeling your way forward.

Where is your policy framework when content is no longer king, museums get people qeueing around the block to add their own objects as threads to the museums, 1.8 million signatures are signed against roadprices, flashes out highly innovative one minute movies made by non professionals, the fastest growing audienc of the teachers tv channel are children who are hungry to learn how they should be properly educated (and playing that back to their teachers), 1 billion euro is paid for user generated video (youtube) and china is adding 200.000 mobile phones every single day? Cause the trouble is, that life and everyday practices move fast, very fast and moving quickly top down is just not possible, because of the very nature of the principles of cautioness in policy.


If we do not have a thorough grasp of what interconnects space, system and software we might not be able to agree on what we mean by learning. Network architectures favour input, participation, feedback, while public interfaces transform this ultimately into a single channel broadcast model through syndication and maximization strategies.

Enlightened architects listen to the people who are going to inhabit the building, what we need are buildings that can constantly be remade.

So where are we? In terms of ten year cycles there was a zone of uncertainty after each clear focus (1975 desktop, 1985 dtp, 1994 web) and we are just going into another zone of uncertainty after a clear focus has been largely appropriated: 2005 user generated content. The outskirts of the next zone of uncertainty circle around identity, and as the edges are softening we can see the synergy in terms of economics, architectures, psychology of mass and individuals.


I think there can be a little more joy, a few more smiles, right?


Maybe we can turn to complexity science as a new framework?


Yes, but complexity science traditionally views the situation form the outside, trying to reduce complexity for someone trying to control things from the outside. Here we are all inside this situation, and then complexity becomes context, and complexity as something that needs to have its richness reduced becomes richness of the context, which we can explore like a labyrinth or rhizome. In the past the idea of "buildings that can constantly be remade" was realised only reactively. New building developments were planned to leave no space or facilities for this, and the "remaking' was achieved only after the original build-plan had been abandoned before completion or what had been built had sufficiently decayed for their motivation - and use-pattern of the original planning and build to have evaporated - making available 'derelict" space or space "in need of redevelopment, but with not top-down vision still driving how this should be done. But why not enable this pro-actively, as in now happening in the motivation behind locating the current development in east London, associated with the hosting of the Olympics there, within the context of the "Green Grid" - where developers have to leave spaces in between (physically, functionally and cognitively) what they plan to build as they plan and build. These spaces can form a rich context not for what is built top down and, at the same time, and most importantly for what can be explored, envisioned and built -collectively, distributive, bottom-up. This means seeing richness as something you can explore, using unfinished builds to get a grip on how cognition works, allow for the messiness of idiosyncratic life and ways of thinking and expressing that thinking.


This disappearing of the agency of policy to really work on the level of actual practice is hugely challenging, how much democracy can we actually take? How good might learning be if we take down the structures?


We have a very performative social mesh network of artists, activists and hackers, it is all out there and the choice - and it is a choice - is yours. Do you want to live in the towers of controlled information and formats of participation or do you want to be free, as information wants to be free? Where do you want to live?


Urgent news: a few days ago IPRED2 has been approved in Bruxelles, see:

Question: Can you envision a radical "bootstrap" of contemporary knowledge sharing contexts and practices by the new generations? while certain contexts (as this conference itself) are well open to re-adapt such schemes, it is plausible to think of conflictual scenarios in places as for example south of EU (last year universities in Greece were closed the whole time by protests and occupations).


I don't believe in these breakdown scenarios, although the analysis is the same. The main reason why I think we can move into these zones of uncertainty still in tems of recognizable and accountable identities is that we have an incredible patient young generation.

Workshop 27 Downing College

In 'Conceptualizing Semantics and Ontologies in a New Network Era' Ramesh Srinivasan argues that "as the syntax and structure of cultural discourses fundamentally differentiates  communities, systems also must acknowledge such differences. Databases can begin to take on attributes of complex adaptive systems, and the 'universality' of top-down web systems can be de-bunked."

(via Jerneja Rebernak)


I got into Bricolabs building software to let people produce themselves easily and recycling available hardware, this is the point of contact with Felipe Fonseca and the Metareciclagem initiatives in Brasil. We should be careful about what we do ourselves and wonder at every step if we need more hardware in a world already full of it. Instead of spending resources on creating new objects we should first exploit and explore to the fullest what is available, and then we need to create alternative infrastructures to run everything on every object.

As Aymeric pointed out we already have a very performative social mesh network of activists and hackers, for a long time now hackers have been meeting in hackmeetings and hacklabs (now branded as barcamps in a more corporate fashion): fluid spaces that come and go. Unfortunately such spaces often lack people in physical spaces, as companies are harvesting the know-how that actually comes from such an underground, as it is much more updated and alive than what comes from canonical schools.

The Communication Graveyard: The concept, in short, is a graveyard for used technologies and it regards the ordinary earth inhabitant, industry and enterprise to neglect recycling hardware, as well as, the common abuse of renewing existing apparatuses, mostly leaded by the blind fashion and consumes policy followed and promoted all over the world. Indeed, the nowadays esteems talk of 15.000.000 electronic apparatus sold everyday while, on the other hand, only 500.000 recycled, each single earth revolution. All of that must be changed as soon as possible!


This conference started talking about ethics and moral, but i'd rather define what drives me as _attitude_ - as in "cyberpunk is an attitude", as well as in Praxis as an object of study for Ethics - Praxis is the incipit of Aristotele's Ethica Nicomachea. Attitude is a better term to conjugate practices into ideas, it puts forward howto's and practical solutions, whereas ethics has a history of manifestos. This is not a time for manifestos, this is a time for howto's (how to do).

I can see the utopia of Bricolabs in a communication device offering an open platform for both developers and designers, following with the creation of an open market for exchange, without monopolies lead by industries, without any property following the objects but with a freedom that is inherited by any possessor.

To analize how that can be (and should be) possible let me draw your attention to the game industry, which has been the most developed branch of modern electronic industries: in such a context technologies as "trusted computing" have been already implemented (and in fact failed to work reliably) for several years. As a result to the impossibility to enforce control on the deployement of electronical devices by their legitimate owners, the game instrustry ended up calling piracy any activity of re-deploying devices for purposes "they were not originally built for, nor licensed to the users".

As a matter of fact such "piracy" practices are well widespread across the world, especially the south of the world, as underground economies that support the weaker areas of society and their development. On a wider historical perspective it is worth to consider this study by professor Doron Ben-Atar "Trade Secrets: Intellectual Piracy and the Origins of American Industrial Power" (Yale University Press, 2004)

During the first decades of America's existence as a nation, private citizens, voluntary associations, and government officials encouraged the smuggling of European inventions and artisans to the New World. These actions openly violated the intellectual property regimes of European nations. At the same time, the young republic was developing policies that set new standards for protecting industrial innovations. The American patent law of 1790 restricted patents exclusively to original inventors and established the principle that prior use anywhere in the world was grounds to invalidate a patent. But the story behind the story is a little more complicated - and leaders of the developing world would be wise to look more closely at how the American system operated in its first 50 years. In theory the United States pioneered a new standard of intellectual property that set the highest possible requirements for patent protection-worldwide originality and novelty. In practice, the country encouraged widespread intellectual piracy and industrial espionage. Piracy took place with the full knowledge and sometimes even aggressive encouragement of government officials.

Congress never protected the intellectual property of European authors and inventors, and Americans did not pay for the reprinting of literary works and unlicensed use of patented inventions. What fueled 19th century American boom was a dual system of principled commitment to an intellectual property regime combined with absence of commitment to enforce these laws. This ambiguous order generated innovation by promising patent monopolies. At the same time, by declining to crack down on technology pirates, it allowed for rapid dissemination of innovation that made American products better and cheaper.

Let's keep in mind here we are not focusing on piracy of content, but on claims of "piracy of tools", while modifying a playstation to run homebrew software is necessary in order to recycle the device to employ its computing power for activities that can be way more productive and creative as running a game. While several exemplars of such device are available on the second-hand market as cheap toys obsoleted by more recent versions, it would be possible to have an artisanal economy growing around the refurbishing of such technologies.

Such practices as "modding" or "chipping" game devices have been currently ruled as legal in Italy and probably some other states of EU on the basis of consumer rights, alltough sporadic courtcases cannot be interpreted as law and currently the IPRED2 directive delivers to corporate manufacturers the right to gather information and lead persecution against infringiments.

Bricolabs can be a vehicle for opening up negotiations with governments and industries to find a common ground. We claim the right to run any software on the devices we own and to re-distribute them as we like. Devices should be built free to run anything. As software shapes our social interaction and communication topologies, the act of theft is where the people is privated of their rights to re-use and re-create their own schemes of interaction with the devices they share.

Change is in the air. In Paris, Venzha related how the Indonesian government is publishing how to's of cheap air and sea radar and wireless boosters using woks. In Brazil Felipe Fonseca is organizing bricolabs both alongside and on top of existing infrastructures and the rise of the BRIC countries in general will be a decisive factor in rethinking capitalism and its tendency to close things off.

Jean Noel

Any human activity can have a parallell in an open source way, everything from transportation to education. There is urgency in bricolabs to. We can not wait for power to be distributed to citizens. We must take he opportunities and the space that is there in this zone of uncertainty to reconfigure the notions of identity itself as a social anarchism. This will be the new default.

Participants broke up in two groups to discuss generic infrastructures with as a pointer Stewart Brandts shearing layers


But instead of reveling in all these seemingly graspable interfaces, how do you design for that? How can you envisage that system as a recursive system? What you produce can be mutated, and what mutates is what you produce, so you are mixing up bottom up with top down. From a hardware perspective this imagination of generic systems might make sense but a skin is very different from an audio device for example. So where do people come in?


What we might be talking about is generating some coherent links through these layers, that are consisting of really long term stuff. What time scales are we dealing with? That of the individual biological clock - daily need for food and water already mentioned - of the biological clock for the planet/ broader ecosystem? Of the clock that our now fused time zones convey/ represent, through physical mobility/ instant technologically mediated access to different parts of the physical globe (we're all often jumping time zones )? Of the human life span with its characteristic biological periods and of course ageing which brings up the skin issue again? Is the LSE model, with respect to the skin, just a "paint job", this twenty-year surface change? Or are we talking about something deeper and if so how do the layers link?

Jim P.

Well actually this could be a way to get people to actually come in and engage in making things; come and learn how to make a free toaster! Actually, this kind of discourse could be a good way to get people thinking about their everyday technologies.


What is challenging is the complexity of how to build ways of thinking that can better deal with notions of scale. There is a 'bottom-up' directionality in self-organising complex systems that needs to be given scope for emergent processes to occur. Ultimately the global system will constrain local events through feedback loops. Both bottom-up and top-down effects are typically non-linear across multiple scales. But at any rate for systems to be able to evolve and learn, they cannot be too tightly coupled across scales.

There is indeed a great potential in being able to use a technological understanding of networks, but it is only the beginning in asking ourselves what kind of intellectual framework we would want. Complexity science and biology, especially complex adaptive systems in biology, have a very rich vocabulary of metaphors and concepts which could be very useful here. How can we use these concepts and metaphors together with technology-based ones?


What sort of scales can we conceptually grapple with? How do you demystify what you are doing when the surroundings you work in and against are themselves a delibarete mystification ( disappearing computer)? Digital tools have been seen as an integral part of work and production aethos - the more value, the more integration ( or alleged inegration) of effort nd thus the more market value.

Jim P.

There is scale of do it yourself. It is also about demystifying your own practice. This touches on the point of volunteering that jaromil raised. Just volunteering to come in and make the tea, little things like tht make up for the granularity of experience.


Autopoiesis is an interesting one. self-creating, self-referential, recursive 'closed' systems (in biology) that structurally coupling with other autonomous systems in potentially bottom-up, self-organized networks. Now the debate about the closedness of autopoietic systems is intriguing and some have tried to 'open' autopoiesis. For example Guattari has said in his book Chaosmosis "Autopoiesis deserves to be rethought in terms of evolutionary, collective entities, which maintain diverse types of relations of alterity, rather than being implacably closed in on themselves. In such a case institutions and technical machines appear to be allopoietic, but when one considers them in the context of machinic Assemblages they constitute with human beings, they become ipso facto autopoietic."

There are several other interesting 'systems' to look at for inspiration, chaos and complexity theory provide concepts of bifurcations, attractors, multiplicities, positive and negative feedback, etc that can help in thinking through the multi-dimensional network you imagine.

That said, i do feel it's wise to limit the scope of the project to one dimension of this enormous ecology (simple hardware communication devices for example) and allow the process to emerge organically. I think that's what I heard jaromil saying in the workgroup...


Scale is indeed the challenge if we want to let people just look at things as they are now, a huge convergence of a few players to occupy all digital terrain and closing it off. It takes a long time to realize there is no more civil society if there is no more spontaneous dialectic between open communication tools and connectivity. The question has now become: how much freedom are you ready for to give away in exchange for a benificial society?

Workshop saturday 28 outdoor in the park

After a short introduction on Bricolabs as investigating the full loop of open source content, software, spectrum-meshnetworking issues and hardware among the issues need to be looked into in order to attain the long term goal of generic (no brand, no ip) infrastructures three were debated:

  • the generic information device or object
  • bricolab interfaces to negociate disruptive technologies to and with a larger audience
  • localized manufacturing as one project which would tie into Jean Noel Montagne's view on bricolabs as investigating an open

source alternative for every human every day practice.

A conceptually important link was made from the generic information object to the possibility to interface with larger issues such as RFID that need transparency of all datamining and scenarios build from that. The GID could have an rfid reader/writer. In this way the GID would intuitively introduce, acknowledge rfid challenges and threats. Maybe bricolabs could also use Thinglink like structures to se up its own databases. (added as afterthought rvk, brought up earlier by Matt)

A second conceptual step was Matt's rethinking Brand Shearer layers in terms of waves that cross and interconnect at critical conjunctures. In terms of the GID we must debate if we can envisage in this particular instance several discussions with industry who have the capacity to scale to large numbers ( GP2x, M.I.D, Nokia/Maeomo - AMD, Asus, FPGA), or concentrating on several devices at once (fluxstation) basically seeing ourselves as the cat/act with the nine smiles, choosing our own interconnecting points or by our own efforts of will and practice forcing interconnecting points for others.

During a brainstorm at LSE earlier this year on Brands Shearer, Adrian Bowyers RepRap (who is in the bricolabs EU consortium application) brought on the idea of community use of cheap 3D printers. Chris Hand pointed to the Dishmaker, which led Jim Kosem to propose a project for local manufacturing. His main argument is that as transportation is now still cheap, this will not remain so as eventually all its costs in terms of climate change will be realistically charged. The question is when will it stop? What happens if we take real production and manufacturing capacities to the level of community centers, schools, hospitals, nursing homes...?

This project unearths the strength of the bricolabs acknowkledgement of global trends and local solutions. In terms of UK, Sheffield James Wallbank is sceptical about what can actually be mobilized as a resource on a community level, and points out the fundamental different repercussions of a policy of re-use and re-cycle ( leading up to a number of different products) and the question if we should put more new stuff into this world at all. However, breaking this idea down to his particular practice he sees a possibility to think of it in terms of modelling specific parts, here castes for computers that come in one piece. Jim Prevett says that a project like this could only work if it is faithbased, he sees opportunities in terms of craft and guild models.

Jaromil points out that in different resource-rich contexts such as Cile (ITT copper export in the '70s), India and Africa this could be a real democratical technology in breaking up monopolies, cartels and export of goods from colonies: populations with direct access to raw resources could turn them directly to more finished items, without the need for manufacturing abroad, being able to create and distribute in autonomy their products.

Sally Jane Norman felt that the discussion was helpful when it was pointed at and generated from real local situations such as Sheffield, which provide a counterweight to "generic infrastructure" discourse that otherwise risks turning into top-down problem-solving along the lines of OLPC (in "offline" discussion with Rob, this was referred to as the "missionary" ethos). There's an interesting tension between international initiatives like Bricolabs with its definitions of generic needs/ goods/ approaches, and the highly localised, idiosyncratic contexts that might prove the worth of Bricolabs, and this tension could be usefully upheld. Again it's a scale question. Bringing things back to humanly, socially identifiable/ recognisable situations.

About the GID both Matt and Jaromil reached to conjugate their parallel tendencies in Bricolabs: re-using existing technologies and building new generic information devices can be sintetised in envisioning a device to be built today and that can be re-used easily tomorrow, starting from the analisys of contemporary practices of recycling and the re-usability of existing objects. As a development concept re-usability is common to software programming, where code needs to be written in a clean and understandable form in order to result useful to various projects and be re-employed in a modular fashion.

BricolabsCambridge2007 (last edited 2008-06-26 09:48:21 by anonymous)