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Does computing have a place in permaculture?  RSS feed

 
Sam Chrisinger
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I am a professional software developer, and also interested in permaculture (at this stage in my life this means lots of reading, hobby gardening, and small backyard projects). In reading about Holmgren's ideas about energy descent in Permaculture, there is confusion about whether or not I can reconcile the intensive energy demands of my current profession in terms of a permaculture mindset.

Can anyone respond to this? Does this depend on the nature of my work, etc?

As an extra question-- are there questions or problems in permaculture that would benefit from computing? I have worked to cultivate a skill as a programmer, and wonder if I can use this in a way that would provide knowledge or tools to the permaculture community.

Thanks for any responses.
 
Troy Rhodes
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Permaculture is often perceived as a better way to grow stuff and take care of the earth. And it is that.

But the more you read and learn and absorb, the more you realize it is a systematic design science that accounts for the next 10 or 100 generations.

Beyond sustainable and well into regenerative.


Permaculture principles can be applied to running a day care, starting an ebay business, interpersonal relationships. Or writing good software. It's a problem solving protocol.


The software wouldn't even necessarily have to have anything to do with growing stuff or "permaculture" stuff per se. It could, but it doesn't have to. It's a problem solving and optimization tool.

I'm an optometrist and I apply permaculture to my practice and my diagnostic protocols and my patient interactions.


So, YES!
 
allen lumley
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Sam C. : I hesitate to say YES- too fast !

There are programs used by BIG- AG that use Global Positioning Satellites,mapping strategies that monitor soil moisture, with overlays for

locations with mineral deficiencies, or the presence of acumulated mineral salts, mix in a dozen other inputs and your farmer can have a

customized plowing /planting and harvesting program that does not even require him to be in the tractor tracing its programed route around

his fields !


Taken piece by piece there is much that is useful that can be taken away from "Modern'-AG and used by the Small holdings Farmer !

One of the biggest problems is that even if you were to become The Go-to I T guy tomorrow, The small holding farmer would probably not

understand what he wants from you, and as independent as most farmers are not inclined to spend his money for your Expertise -which

is of unknown value to him/her !


This is where I sit back and see what our other fellow members make of your question and what different thoughts they bring to your Question

For the Good of the Crafts ! Big AL
 
Dale Hodgins
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John Wolfram
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Sam Chrisinger wrote:As an extra question-- are there questions or problems in permaculture that would benefit from computing? I have worked to cultivate a skill as a programmer, and wonder if I can use this in a way that would provide knowledge or tools to the permaculture community.


From my perspective, one of the main barriers to poly culture agriculture is that it is resistant to mechanization. A relatively simple combine can harvest a ridiculous amount of mono-culture corn in a day, but it takes far more complicated systems to harvest polycultures and that is one area that will require loads of clever programming.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I can see a need for robotics devices in permaculture, for large-scale land reclamation, such as an imprinting robot. This sort of thing obviously would need to be programmed to follow contours and adjust to terrain.

 
Rick English
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Hi Sam & welcome to the Permies community!

Paul Wheaton, the founder or permies.com was a very successful software developer before he became goofy about permaculture. If you haven't already, listening to Paul's podcasts may inspire you:
http://www.permies.com/forums/f-88/permaculture-podcast
(they are "free")

Here is Paul's bio:
http://www.richsoil.com/paul-wheaton.jsp

I am a successful web marketing guy (for the past 15 years), and I enjoy Paul's podcasts immensely (I have a long daily commute). I have made changes to the way I live to be more in line with my personal beliefs regarding permaculture. Many of those beliefs have been influenced by Paul's words, and the discussions in this community over the past few years.

I have also done small things to help this community with website stuff when opportunities have presented themselves. It might be that you have some time and a skill to help out around here as well.
 
allen lumley
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Sam : Did you see this post from Joshua Pendelton ?

http://www.permies.com/t/50056/blatant-advertising/Land-Surveying-Designing-Drones-UAV

For the Crafts ! Big AL
 
Burra Maluca
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Here's a few things off the top of my head...

Modelling/simulations, maybe for stuff like predicting how making alteration to rocket stoves will effect their efficiency.

Educational stuff - some kind of game-like hands-on models that people 'play' to produce productive on-screen ecosystems.

More stuff like the above - maybe how salt builds up in soil and what we can do to influence it; understanding contour lines and playing with them to figure out where to put dams or keylines; modelling humus build up and water retention ability in soil; um, I'm sure I had more. I'll get thinking...

And then stuff like forum software, wikki software, building databases of information.
 
Michael Cox
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I think there has been an almost unspoken, unrecognised subtext within permaculture that technology and permaculture don't fit. If you are not a technology Luddite then you are also not a permaculturist. I think this attitude is very short-sighted and risks chucking the good opportunities out with the bad.

Ultimately technology replaces Human Power with Technology Power; you trade an upfront investment in your technology for a greater efficiency in your other activities. If your technology liberates you from 20 hours per week of mundane tasks then those are 20 hours liberated for expanding the capacity of your activities, or to pursue pure recreation. Consider this fancy medium of The IntarWeb we are all enjoying; how would we exchange knowledge without it? Annual convention meetings? Snail mail with the massive carbon foot print it entails? Would permaculture even exist as a thing now without the expansion and cross-pollination of ideas facilitated by technology? Would it be possible to do without it? Yes -absolutely, but everything else would be much harder and more time consuming to achieve.

How about the fancy electric fencing beloved by those who do rotational grazing? Those lovely modern generators that make a high voltage discharge are pretty clever kit and liberate your full time shepherds and their dogs to do other activities.

Lets look forward now; what technology could we permies envision that could be helpful for us but not for big ag? How about something that replaces chemical herbicides in our crop fields... hmmm.... solar powered, self-driving chop-n-drop mulcher that you set up in your field at the start of the season which mows periodically between each and every plant with no interference from the farmer? Suitable for delicate plants that livestock would demolish if they were used to graze it down. The technology for this already exists in the form of garden lawnmowers - it just needs adapting to farm style usage and programmed accordingly.

Self-driving vehicles; what if each community had just one electric self-driving car that anyone could use. Rather than park at the shops or work for the day you just schedule your daily pickup and drop off - while you are at work the car goes off and does other people's runs to the shops, hospital etc... saving the purchase cost of money and materials for multiple vehicles. Again, the technology is already nearly here.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Michael Cox wrote:IIf you are not a technology Luddite then you are also not a permaculturist..


Whaaa? Bill Mollison, one of the guys who invented Permaculture, advocated modern technology like solar panels, heavy earth-moving machinery, etc. geoff lawton appears to love earth moving machinery, the bigger the better. Also solar electric and the like. So I'm not sure where people get the Luddite idea from.............
 
Michael Cox
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I know - and I didn't say I agree with that position. But it seems to be there as an unspoken undercurrent sometimes. Technology = modern consumerist society = cause of all that is wrong with the world.

One example that springs to mind is black plastic. In The Permaculture Orchard the explain their system which makes extensive use of black plastic weed block. In their situation it makes total sense and you can see a side by side comparison of what a row mulched with it and without it achieves. Their orchard follows permaculture principals but I have seen people discounting it out of hand because of the use of black plastic. It is appropriate use of a technological input for them, but some might suggest that to "count" as permaculture they should find mulch material that is natural (such as wood chips, chop-n-drop mulch in place etc...). The quantity of input they would need from off site, and labour required to spread it each year makes wood chips unviable. Where they tried without the black sheeting the weeds took over and the trees were unable to compete despite mowing etc...
 
John Wolfram
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Whaaa? Bill Mollison, one of the guys who invented Permaculture, advocated modern technology like solar panels, heavy earth-moving machinery, etc. Geoff Lawton appears to love earth moving machinery, the bigger the better. Also solar electric and the like. So I'm not sure where people get the Luddite idea from.............

Looking at the threads of this forum, I can certainly understand where people get the Luddite idea. For example, the number of topics with the word "scythe" in the title is six times greater than the combined number of topics with the words lawnmower, lawn mower, brush hog, or trimmer in the title.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Ok, I guess I'm just so "old school" I tend to get my impressions of permaculture from Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton, not from folks asking questions on this messageboard.

 
Sam Chrisinger
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First, thanks all for the thoughtful replies.

Certainly don't mean to imply that there can be no intersection of technology and permaculture (definitely a much broader thought to consider that computing/permaculture). I guess much of my concern comes from seeing how addicted recent generations have become to cell phones, televisions, computers, and their derivatives. It's a bit hard to in my mind justify much of this energy usage (video gaming is an easy example). To me it's obvious that some of this for-pleasure energy usage is incompatible with a future of using less. Is it inevitable that our consumption will continue to grow as technology improves? I have a bit of skepticism towards thinking that says not if we get more efficient, find cleaner energy sources, etc.

Perhaps a better question is how to be deliberate about how we choose to use technology? Certainly permaculture ethics can provide some guidance on this? This all must come with the recognition that (especially in the case of digital) technology requires a long chain of energy to become available to the public. This includes things like raising/educating/training engineers and factory workers, extracting and heavily refining raw materials, and building and maintaining the infrastructure to facilitate this (which in turn requires more engineers, administrators, buildings, cars, etc).

I'm cautious to praise things like solar panels as a solution to our problems. It's easy to say if I buy a PV panel it will pay for itself in 10 years-- but does this actually consider the full energy cost of a PV panel? I think not as long as we live in a world with artificially cheap energy.

Sorry to rant or ramble, but I feel like something is unaddressed here.
 
Tyler Ludens
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changed my mind.
 
Burra Maluca
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Sam Chrisinger wrote: Certainly permaculture ethics can provide some guidance on this?


It probably can, but all discussion of ethics is confined to the cider press, for members who have the requisite number of apples.
 
paul wheaton
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What a difficult space.

The short answer is "yes". Of course, there are tradeoffs and complications.

But the quick positive: what if we can infect all the brains in the world with permaculture ideas? And computers+internet give us that ability, although we have not yet reached all the brains.

I have pissed away an enormous part of my life trying to figure out how to reduce the impact of the problem presented in "the age of stupid" (each computing device has a large and horrible environmental impact) plus the issue that louie ck brings up (owning any computing device is an endorsement of the type of slavery we have today) plus a collection of other things that are contrary to permaculture values (like energy consumption) and my own personal concerns (feeding the bad guys).

A few years ago I wanted to buy a laptop. The mac version would cost $2800. The pc version would cost $1000. I wish there was a company that would sell a $2800 laptop with a guarantee that it would last at least five years. So the focus of the design would be mac quality (or better), run linux, use less electricity and possibly last for ten years.

This does not solve all of the downsides, but if it actually did last ten years (instead of two years) it would reduce several of the problems by 80%. If it ran on linux, then it would not feed some parties that I think of as "bad guys". If it used, say, one third of the energy, that would mean that an off-grid person could have a smaller energy source.

 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Sam Chrisinger wrote:
Perhaps a better question is how to be deliberate about how we choose to use technology? Certainly permaculture ethics can provide some guidance on this? This all must come with the recognition that (especially in the case of digital) technology requires a long chain of energy to become available to the public. This includes things like raising/educating/training engineers and factory workers, extracting and heavily refining raw materials, and building and maintaining the infrastructure to facilitate this (which in turn requires more engineers, administrators, buildings, cars, etc).

Both Paul and I receive income from using computers: residual income, advertising income, consulting income, etc. AND we can do this from the homestead - no commute!

So, in choosing to use technology for home based work, is the long chain of energy offset by not commuting? Is it offset by sharing information with countless others on how to live with a lighter footprint? Hm. These are things that both Paul and I think about and definitely work to mitigate where and how we can.

In addition to Burra's list of software applications, I think a project management app that is either based on or includes tags or features that have to do with permaculture principles would be awesome! You know, when organizing a list of homestead projects, maybe one would pop up higher in the list if it meets 5 out of 12 of the permaculture principles.

We're all struggling with information overload and how to manage countless things. Using technology to help us manage that information ideally makes us smarter, lighter (figuratively and literally) and more efficient. That's my goal with it any way.

Does it help when the ants and other wheaton labs folks use smart phones (and/or laptops, etc.) to post pictures here on permies (you know, of what they are building or the plants and critters here)? I think it does. Both the poster and the reader learns from it and, well, things improve and we all feel supported somehow. What's the value of the long chain of energy in this? I have no idea.

I keep thinking of that phrase "be in this world but not of it." I keep using this phrase to mean different things, depending on my mood. In this case, it means that I'm going to use my computers and technology (and work experience) to help me support and move to a more permaculture/homesteading lifestyle. So I'm in the computer world, but it's not my be-all-end-all. Though I can't really imagine a homestead without technology!

To me, I think loads and loads of the tools, food, energy and yes, technology we use have incredibly long chains of energy (and/or waste) beneath and behind them. There are sooo many ways we can improve. I think if we keep adding bricks of what's easy to change, easy to do, share simple how to's, invent better widgets, and keep asking for (and supporting/buying) what we want from people who sell and make things, we'll gradually create real change.


 
Chris Badgett
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Great question. Agreed that software development has a lot of overlap with permaculture in its problem solving and systems thinking approach. You are in good company.

I've met personally many permaculturists who come from some kind of computer science, engineering, or physics backgrounds. It's interesting how high technologists sometimes end up transitioning to "low" tech. Though this way of speaking about it is of course flawed in that it applies a dichotomy. And I would consider transitioning from an area like nuclear physics to small scale organic agriculture a step up higher

Paul who runs this site comes from a Java background. I own and manage a web development business called codeBOX, create and sell Learning Management Software called LifterLMS https://lifterlms.com , and developed/ manage an online permaculture and organic growing education platform called Organic Life Guru http://organiclifeguru.com

Programing languages are important to the goals of permaculture.

This forum we're on right now is powered by the type of skills you possess.

Your computing skills are super valuable to the permaculture community for working with important data, sharing information, and modeling regeneration.
 
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