From HacktionLab: A UK-wide network tech-activists providing meet-ups, events, workshops, national skillshare gatherings and hacklabs
Jump to: navigation, search



Save Raveoke

This workshop concluded with Live [Prancercise]

Open Source Low Tech Appropriate Alternative Infrastructure


Biochar stove

Presented as a concept at the last Barn Camp now its real

Wild Food Walk

Edible plants found:

- St. Johns Wort - Cowslip - Thistle - Red Clover - White Clover - Mallow - Coltsfoot


Antibody tools network

How to deploy pgp encrypted email in an organisation 20+ people

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap

Strawberry TARTS

TEDx preview about computer re-use and repair

PRISM and the dark side of the net

Here's the slides from the presentation in File:Bc2015-prism-talk.odp and File:Bc2015-prism-talk.pdf.

Video of the presentation on YouTube.

Creating WordPress blogs for communities - a network approach

Things to do for network 23 (and example WordPress community).

  • Plugin audit
  • Themes audit and search for new ones.

=== WordPress networks for communities

Christian talked about Commons in a Box. Facebook-like install with BuddyPress This needs a multisite install of WP. If multiple CBOX communities are desired, then a multi-network WordPress instance is required. This can be enabled with:

Network 23 - C says don't upgrade yet until UTF8 table conversion is sorted out - as for Networks will

Interesting project which has enhanced tracking of the conversation surrounding your posts

Calendar: A good plug in is Event Organiser -

Suggestion - Take out custom CSS manager - this is probably too much

Jetpack - has a good carousel - and you can take out the link to via setting a constant in wp-config.php: `define( 'JETPACK_DEV_DEBUG', true );`

Generating good metatags - etc

Subscribe to comments - (plugin to help track conversation streams)

Multilingual - replacement for exising qtranslate - (may not be suitable)

Latest dev discussion at:

A good theme - Scrawl


Secure Your Phone

The slide notes, including apps, is at

Collaborative Writing, online tools and offline practices

List of tools identified

  • google docs
  • etherpad
  • commentpress
  • everpad
  • Crabgrass
  • booktype
  • wikibooks
  • gitbooks
  • readthedocs

Some of the people there and thoughts

  • Mark – has done collaborative writing with local groups using etherpad - The development of Cryptoparty manual has been interesting - different directions – moved onto github – they were then merged.
  • Christian - CommentPress – annotation of WordPress posts. Different tools vary in their use.
  • Rich – Bristol Wireless website was a wiki – this has been edited and improved by other users – google docs another tool
  • Frederica – collaborative editing of a book previously - wikis could be useful to replace paper based collaboration. Widening involvement.
  • Brent – a more activist friendly google docs would be useful – saving and importing from word docs is often needed – low entry no password is good. Libre office is coming up with an online set up.
  • Micaela interested in collaborative writing from publishing background
  • Michael - as above
  • Pheadra – invites us to a book sprint on the plight of the bumble bee children's book.
  • Loukas - - involved in a visual communication coop – writing policies collaboratively
  • Scotty – bits of collaborative writing for green tech also on policies. Using crabgrass and another wiki and everpad. Also interested in documenting workshops.
  • Darren – etherpad, but there are issues working with online tools like that.

Mick gave a presentation on Booktype and Booksprints. Some of those notes are up online here.

Re-using computers in our communities

Some of peoples' experiences:

  • G (and previously J) run Bit Fix It computer cafe in Sheffield, which has a strong emphasis on repair
    • found that limits to re-use are
      • old interfaces (e.g. ISA slots on motherboards)
      • ability to play youtube videos is the arbiter of how low a machine can be specified
      • a 2GHz processor and 1GB RAM are pretty much the bottom line (although there are exceptions)
      • Firefox "aurora" builds include "showtime" technology which works on about 70% of youtube content
    • It's easier to repair things if you focus on a few models
    • Software skills are teachable, and both the skills and the teacher's skills have value
  • We talked a lot about the carbon cost of new tech Vs re-used
    • For new equipment, a laptop has much less impact than a desktop machine
    • However, it's much easier to repair desktops, and all workers including volunteers need to think about the value of their time
    • Miniaturisation generally means lower impact, however for an exception look at the impact of successive generations of iphones
    • For a laptop, energy use breakdown is like this:
      • 73% power consumption during a 3-year lifespan
      • 25% manufacture
      • 2% disposal (but remember that even local council WEEE providers sometimes route to e-waste hell)

Further info on environmental impacts can be found in

  • Advertising what you do could be linked in to other people with similar ethos, e.g. bike repair cafes.
  • Dealing with people's expectations for service and support is more of a drain than providing gear
    • Perhaps you could have a monthly 'club meeting' when people support each other and ask volunteers if they're still stuck
    • Much easier if people get a standardised installation of the same OS
  • Models of funding could include
    • Pay up-front for a reconditioned machine
    • Pay in installments until you own it outright (maybe collaborate with a credit union?)
    • Join a club which provides peer support, and membership fee entitles you to loan a machine
    • Purchasing cooperatives (analogous to food coops) but with some way of getting back used machines
  • B was involved in a repair cafe
    • turned out that all the problems people brought in were software rather than hardware
    • most of the software problems were malware
    • it's great to give someone the skills to sort it out themself in future
  • Mike has a "classroom in a box" project consisting of Strawverry TARTS
    • ideally, these machines shouldn't need to declare themselves as being linux
    • people love how fast they fire up
    • idea of offering three different models
      • Bilberry = zero dollar laptop. It might not do what you want.
      • Strawberry = cheap refurbsihed laptop with ubuntu-mate
      •  ?berry = medium price but still great value, for people with specific requirements
  • Mark has been trying to get peer-support project going
    • One of the challenges is without a regular location, people don't develop a "drop in" habit
    • It feels like people might respond better to a simple offer of a product or a service, rather than innovations they're not familiar with
    • All most people want is a computer that will
      • Boot up in less than a minute
      • Browse the web and deal with flash etc. without complaining
      • Word-processor that can load & save .docx
  • Finding funding for new initiatives can require a bit of "hacking the system"
  • it would be good to refine and expand these ideas into a book

Neuroscience & Computing

This discussion began with

  1. a round of introductions, then there was
  2. a brief presentation on Neuroscience & Future Computing and finally
  3. discussion, both at the end and interspersed through the presentation.

A second briefer presentation on Artificial Intelligence happened during the discussion.


here is a few (not all) of the things people said "I do data analysis. I'm interested in neural networks. Although that's not the type of data analysis that I do but I've heard of it" "I'm a programmer. I do a lot of 'crypto'[graphy]" "I watched that film ex_machina recently" "I do user experience on a website design team" "I used to be a paleontologist, now I'm a hippy" "I do lo tech" etc.


People may not be aware of the connection between neuroscience and computer science. The exchange between developments in computer science and developments in neuroscience is two way: Firstly, neuroscience is now being done more often with computational techniques. Secondly new techniques for computer technology are being sought the principles of the brain, that is by thinking about the brain as if it were a computer and reverse engineering the brain to make computers that use less power, think in alternative ways, and do much more parrallel processing. As has previously happened many times, people often turn to copying, privatising, borrowing or stealing from the natural world in order to jump start the economy.

There are now various initiatives in Big Science that are doing work on the brain. Big science initiatives are a mixture of science + industrial policy + PR & media. Sometimes they include some 'ethics and society' initiatives to discuss the social impacts of new technologies developed from the initiative. Sometimes they don't. Big Science initiatives are usually modelled after the original and most famous Big Science initiative which was the Human Genome Project to map the genetics of a human being. While there are various national initiatives on brain science the two largest are the Obama BRAIN initiative and the EU funded Human Brain Project . The US based Brain initiative is partially funded by military sources whereas the EU initiative does not accept any military funding.

The EU project is to build infrastructure platforms to do neuroscience. It's broken into three areas: Future Medicine, Future Neuroscience, and Future Computing & Robotics. Although this is called a neuroscience initiative the budget for it came from the EU computer science research budget to support research and economic competitiveness in the European computer industry. This led to some public controversy at the beginning of the project.

Future Medicine: USing Big data and patient records, the medical initiative wants to link mental health problems (which are currently very difficult to understand causes for) to 'biomarkers.' Biomarkers are something measurable and biological that can be used to help identify and diagnose a medical problem in an individual person. The new EU data protection legislation may affect the ability to use big data for medical research & there is a proposed exception for medical research.

[Discussion: There was a discussion about where people saw mental health problems as coming from. Most people said mental health problems were a social issue, not biological. One person said they thought some people had a predispositions to have mental health problems that were triggered by difficulties in social environment. Most people in the group saw the brain as changing over time from birth on and mental health issues were developed.

Question: Is this represented in the research? Answer: No current research is only attempting to develop a single picture of the brain, like a snap shot. It is not trying to find developmental pathways of mental illness. It sees mental illness as a problem in the brain and not as a social issue. There was also discussion about the recent attempts by government to make everyone's medical records available for research purposes (even to potentially to private industry) which failed because of public discontent ]

Future Neuroscience: The neuroscience initiative is attempting to build simulation platforms as an infrastructure not just for neuroscience but for other types of large scale computer simulation work across Europe. The project is attempting to build or join up a computer modelling community for brain research.

Future Computing and Robotics: By reverse engineering the brain technologists hope to develop new computing technologies and High Performance Computing. Neuromorphic computing is one way to do this- this is computing using principles similiar to the tangled circuits of how neurons stimulate one another within the brain. There are two types of neuromorphic computing- one is emulating the brain through software, the other is making hardware that acts like circuits of neurons. These are called neuromorphic chips. These type of chips are better at recognizing patterns than a normal logic gate computer chip. Therefore many new 'algorithms' are coming out of neuroscience. Algorithms are increasingly being used by many technical systems that affect our lives. The future computing initiative is also commissioning a super computer larger than anything now existing to simulate a full human brain. All of the half dozen or so companies that make supercomputers are also involved in working with the military for some of their contracts. Robotics may also be affected by new research in neuroscience. Theories of 'cognitive architechture' (how the brain is structured to make different types of decisions) are being used to develop robots. Robots are said to be needed for work in the 4 D's (dangerous, dull, dirty, or delicate) which humans couldn't or wouldn't want to do. Because brain like machines are better at recognizing patterns robotics and robotic software systems might be able to do new kinds of work in the future particularly if researchers can learn from or copy visual systems neuroscience. Many more professional jobs (journalist, legal assistant, etc.) might be able to be done by robots/robotic systems in the near future. It's important to remember that even now robots can't work alone. There always has to be human workers to watch the machines and fix problems in a factory full of robots, for example an automobile manufacturing center. The neuroscience & computing overlap is potentially also part of developing 'artificial intelligence (A.I.)' systems. A.I. has many corporate and banking sector uses, as well as military uses as well, such as military drones. It might also have medical or legal system uses. A.I. isn't actually like in sci-fi movies with thinking computers (HAL from 2001: A space odyssey is the most famous) but are perhaps better described as 'brain like machines' which are often very good at pattern recognition or matching. Although we don't notice it A.I. is also part of many everyday things we use like Google search engines and maps. Google is involved with researching A.I., robotics, self-driving cars, and they may also be involved in military research contracts or supporting government intelligence work.

[Discussion: Where do you think robots or A.I. systems will be used? Various answers from group- As servants, to reduce human work on processes, in transportation, agriculture, sex, legal profession, medical profession. Discussion about will the machines take over: one participant suggests they already have been, 200 years ago during the industrial revolution they started to take working class jobs, now they will start to take middle class jobs, but the 'Skynet' type fantasy is only ruling class people worrying about their jobs being taken over (boss everyone around and kill anyone who disagrees). People talked about the most famous A.I. project WATSON which won jeopardy, about memristers (?), about the video on utube 'Humans need not apply', ]

Second Presention (slightly shorter) by another participant of group on Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and various companies involved in this: for example DeepMind (a computer that plays 2Dimensional video games from the 80s (discussion: does it only listen to music from the 80s as well?), DeepMind now bought up by Google, the work of Ray Kurzweil (famous for advocating the 'singularity', a sort of rapture for geeks) on optical character recognition, WATSON for IBM, zabbawhere- ultrahal computer based bot. THe focus of presentation was what is A.I. and why do we want it anyway?

[more discussion - is there now a breakfast companion that will talk to you while you eat your cereal? (?), viruses and botnets are designed to hide themselves and adapt to their environment so perhaps these are the real A.I.'s developing. Interest in theories of a holgraphic universe from physics; and interest in simulation. "we should be developing A.I. to learn in it's own environment which is a digital environment." "What's a brain anyway? Too much emphasis on this one bit of the body" "The brain is a big memory store. In my family we learned a lot from my mother's mental health problems. She had a breakdown in the barriers that stop information coming in. Her brain didn't stop all these things coming into her experience" More discussion about 'Affective computing.' This is when computers can recognize or simulate human emotions, potentially being able to influence human beings. One participant gave a somewhat linked example where marketing and voter preference information was used to encourage people to vote on green issues. Different voters were presented the issue in quite different ways. Another participant argued that there was a limit to how much people could be manipulated before they withdraw their consent.]

Access to Land

The Planning Co-op - secures land gets planning permission then makes it available to housing co-operatives for self build housing- Alex Lourie

Ecological Land Co-op - buys land gets planning permission for smallholdings with residential then makes them available to growers/small farmers at very reasonable rates. Pilot project at Greenham Reach is a cluster of 3 holdings. They plan to have 5 more clusters set up by 2020.

The Radical Routes Co-operative - Is a co-operative whos members are housing co-operatives. It is a mutual support network and has a working funding model that enables housing co-ops with no money to be able to purchase property. RR was set up to enable people working for social change to have secure housing. Member co-ops contribute towards the workload of running RR.

Certificate of Lawful Use - Is effectively retrospective planning permission if nobody complains about a use of land for 10(or is it 12?)years. This is reduced to 4 years for residential use in a structure (i.e. not a caravan). There have been some changes to the legislation around this in recent years.

Stuart coop Birmingham ??

Residential planning permission on agricultural or forestry land is generally achievable if there is an 'essential need' to live on the land in order to make a livelihood from agriculture or forestry. Looking after animals is often considered a strong argument for 'essential need' although it is not essential. Small is Successful examines small growers and the number of livelihoods created on small plots of land. Produce grown for own use counts as part of a livelihood. Yorkley Court Community Farm set out a strong argument for a low level of financial income.

Hacking the planning system - no planning permission is required to have 'seasonal agricultural/forestry workers' reside on the land where they are working as long as their accommodation is removed from the land at the end of the season. Examination of the planning case law suggests that a viable model could have a group of workers moving their residential infrastructure between sites during the course of each year.

Renting Agricultural Land - £100 an acre/year for good agricultural land.

Produce trading system for small producers - there are some existing web platforms (LINKS ??) Fairmarket (connected to Faircoin cryptocurrency) hopes to facilitate local and international trading connections between ethical producers.

Dean Forest Food Hub (and other similar initiatives) use models that aim to assist small producers in a region to begin to compete more effectively with the supermarkets by consolidating all their produce on offer in one web store, combining with bulk purchase of dried goods (rice/oats/pasta/lentils/nuts/dried fruit etc.) and creating a distribution network.


Server optimization

Slides at:

PGP keysiging

There is a proper walk through of the maths of public key encryption at:

Soil microscopy

See SoilHack

Personal tools