Saturday, 21 December 2013

Getting Inspired by Buckminster Fuller: freedom, design and resilience in retirement

Last night, I was watching an interview with Buckmister Fuller and I was inspired to stay up late 3D printing PLA and ABS vertices for creating a 50cm diameter geodesic dome. When the final parts had been printed I was exhausted so I collapsed into bed.

Then the next day I thought of an anecdote I read in a Richard Feynmen book (probably surely you are joking Mr Feynman) when as a child working at a hotel he used to put carrots in rows and cut them in parallel in order to save time so I made up a jig to make cutting the A and B struts to length much easier. Having finished printing, cutting and colour coding... I have just built my first geodesic dome out of wood and plastic:
* Diameter: 50cm
* Height: 25cm
* 20 x Hexa-connectors
* 6 x Penta-connectors
* 35 x Long sticks: 154.5 mm (Green)
* 30 x shot sticks: 136.6 mm (Red)

I printed 20 hexagonal vertices (.stl) in white ABS:

6 pentagonal vertices (.stl) in red PLA:

I found these files at and I printed them at 1.33333 scale from the original files (in order to make the vertices accept the 4mm diameter wooden rods I had chosen for the project). I cut 35 long 'B' struts of 154.7 mm and 30 short 'A' struts of 136.6mm. I arranged them in the following pattern in order to make a basic geodesic dome:
Here is a photograph of the finished structure:

Credit and thanks to for creating and uploading the files to thingiverse! I have hung the completed geodesic dome on the wall at the Factor e Farm hackerspace which has become more established during my visit.

I hope the geodesic dome in an inspiration to people and not only a nice decoration but also a symbol of Dymaxion (or doing more with less) and that Buckminster Fuller's principles can be usefully employed in the creative work output of and evolution of the space itself!

I was watching some Buckminster Fuller content in the evenings and I was quite inspired so I decided to transcribe some of the sections:

Buckminster Fuller: The Fuller World - Design Scientist (Episode 1)- @ 21m 00s
"So design then seems to be to me a highly objective, conscious, reconsiderate- a imagination that uses a great number of experiences and integrates the effect of those experiences and discovers principles which operate in the special cases and views those generalised principles and then is not just subjective about them, not just a philosopher about them, but begins to actually apply them and those generalised principles to many specialised cases.
I find the design then also goes into a number of tools all these designs are realised in external actions beyond, outside, of man and they relate to man reorganising his environment and reorganising his environment so that his environment begins to work for him- so the spider can go to sleep and the net keeps on working catching the flies not only which are going to support her but also her regenerative function of producing more spiders and so that these tools then get to be an extension of the internal functions of the living species and which their function goes on even when they're present or not. This is an extraversion of internal functions of the individual and it seems to me then to be a very powerful kind of a capability."
I was also taken by another section of the same video content:

Buckminster Fuller: The Fuller World - Design Scientist (Episode 1)- @ 23m 34s

"I see then that the design function can go in several important directions- it can go in defensive directions to build a wall around us to protect us where we do not do too much thinking but we simply learn by experience that a certain amount of bulk, a certain amount of physical matter will frustrate anybody trying to approach us and we have then defensive design and this then tends to be contractive to contract the dimensions of our lives. Then there are expansive ones, designs which increase our freedoms designs which give us levers, designs which use the lever or a plurality of levers as fulcrums to make a series of poll vaultings and that would be finally becomes a wheel where there is many spokes and that wheel then begins to increase the areas that we can visit so that this would be then kind of design an affirmative design as an expansive design where man begins to increase the totality of the area of which he experiences and he increases the amount of time of his experiences by accelerating experiences so that he can have the equivalent of the experiences of many many lives all in one life by the acceleration and the reorganisation of the experiences so that he can have the experiences of many men, all that is by conscious design."

Getting out of the Matrix
I felt as though he was speaking directly to me in that by accepting other peoples opinions, views and fears and uncertainties about the world as being some kind of objective truth and not questioning things we don't live free and expansive lives. We don't make plans which allow us to increase the areas that we can visit, to increase the amount that we can experience. Instead we get caught up in security of material possessions, the security of employment and the security of person and irrational fear of other people and other cultures limits experience and this is all a kind of defensive building of walls as we surround ourselves with stuff and all of this tends to limit experience and reduce mobility.
We also have a fear of homelessness that prevents us from going out into the world and experiencing the world and trusting in the kindness of strangers so instead we consent to get jobs and pay rent and most adopt the 9 to 5 pattern of daily life with a predictable life-story arc and mostly the only choices we make are as consumers.

My retirement plan: creating my own living system
In response to Buckminster Fuller's words in that video, my imagination really fired up as I started to think about how I could use design to change the environment around me in such a way that would extend my internal functions and reorganise my environment so that it would work for me... so that it would, in the fullness of time, support me... as I think of my own future, I would like to eventually create a living system, by which I probably mean a forest garden, which I had designed after much studying and having made the tools to make the tools to make the tools.
By going to this level of recursion it would be a bit slower for me but it should scale to work on the general analytical and algorithmic approach and be just as efficient or fast as if I had undertaken the problem as a 'solve for one, once'. As the vision of numerical gardening, open source farming tools and methodologies and building living systems and forest gardens as a long game / long view route to autonomy would encompass and engage many others to also work on the shared problems that we all face and then others might be able to do the same.

I would like to secure the potential for my own freedom and the continuation of autonomy throughout my life rather than follow the life pattern which would seek to build a 'defensive structure' around me in Bucky's words... I also dismiss the pessimistic conclusion that activism or anarchy or 'being liberal' is the preserve of the young and that exploration and travelling is the rite of passage of the young and that slowing down or settling down is the inevitable conclusion or natural trend for anyone trying to have a family life. The truth is that the net closes as we ourselves choose to set the trap and we choose to fall into it. We choose to gradually limit our experiences and slow down. This is in our design as we 'prepare for the future' within the parameters and boundaries that are expected (think: 'build a career', 'saving for your pension'). This sounds like building a defensive structure and slowing down the rate of human experiences. I would rather live several lifetimes worth of experiences as Bucky suggests.

Resilience in Retirement
So why should my priorities change? How would my heart change as a function of age? I would like to exercise my choice and plan ahead for my own future in my own way. I would like to build a structure or plan for resilience in my own future which will allow me to continue to explore and learn and experience more, increasing the area in which I can move- being like the wheel and not the fortress which we supposed was to keep others out but which is actually a cage of our own making and designed to keep us in.

Hackers, Back to the Land
So imagine a process by which land that you want in a place that you like could be acquired. Not competing with any markets, or choosing somewhere trendy... just plain old unwanted / unused land in a country that you like.
Maybe a software agent would take your current bank account or savings or a projection and generate search hits and there would be a reporting feature...

You get lucky one day and then start to tend the land by using natural processes to get the land to become 'regenerated' and then a productive living system gradually over your lifetime and transformed from dead soil or useless land into living soil and a forest garden in which you have planted trees that take 15 or 20 years to grow and can then sustain / feed you.

Tending the Garden and Watching it Grow
All the while you continue on with your normal life elsewhere in the city or travelling or whatever... but through well timed purposeful, organised planting, sowing, watching and community building it can yield food and fuel. Then your land has more value over time and you then kind of inherit it later in your own life as a living system that will support you and others with fuel and food.
Computational / 'CNC Gardening'
(did I just coin a new term? if so, yay!)
"Numerical control (NC) is the automation of machine tools that are operated by precisely programmed commands encoded on a storage medium, as opposed to controlled manually via hand wheels or levers, or mechanically automated via cams alone."
I would envisage that having acquired such land I would like to make a plan for it and I will have developed (at least a first / rough version) of some algorithmic / computational approach to gardening combined and fused with radical (but traditional) techniques of permaculture and living forests with calculations and site plans that I have made- obviously as a function of climate, soil type, USDA growing zone and local ecosystems etc.

Initial Conditions
Think of it as choosing the best 'initial conditions' for the natural progression and natural evolution and development of a 'living system' which could sustain a family / or a community that I would like to be part of later in my life.

The way I would see it, I would attend the site at various points during my life to gently shape and guide the process but, for the most part, nature would take its course and the land and the system that would be developing there would be largely auto-catalytic and autonomous.
The rate law for the second order autocatalytic reaction
A + B \; \stackrel{k}{\rightharpoonup} \;2B
is the following one
\ v = k[A][B].
The concentrations of A and B vary in time according to
The graph for these equations is a sigmoid curve, which is typical for autocatalytic reactions: these chemical reactions proceed slowly at the start because there is little catalyst present, the rate of reaction increases progressively as the reaction proceeds as the amount of catalyst increases and then it again slows down as the reactant concentration decreases. If the concentration of a reactant or product in an experiment follows a sigmoid curve, the reaction is likely to be autocatalytic.
Onto the next part in the video:
"We can see then how man could develop designs for keeping other men from bothering him by building a prison this would be a constrictive design and then he could design ways of helping human beings as for instance he notices of the great many automobile accidents and in the early days of the automobile accidents we used to put up more and more signs warning people that there's a dangerous area, we sent out more motorcycle policemen and had more traffic policemen. I saw that instead of trying to reform man, you could reform the environment. We could go in for divided highways, we could go in for split level highways, we could go in for appropriately banked turns so that people could get from here to there with great ease, they could be themselves, they would do logical things in relation to their natural physical senses and be able to get from here to there much more rapidly so that would be what I would call such highway design would be what I would call affirmative and 'degrees of freedom' increasing design in counter distinction to the stoplight, the sign which says slow down don't get there as fast, don't have as much life and then the very constrictive design of a prison which you say you are a dangerous driver and you have been a dangerous driver so long that I am going to take away your car and take away your motion and I am going to restrict you even more by saying that you can only move around within one acre here inside the prison so we see the design can, consciously understood, greatly enhance our species and it can be very fearfully used to constrict our freedoms and if not used at all can render us less effective than other species. What really distinguishes man from all other living species is the magnitude of which he has employed the design capability."

Thoughts on the Current Game
I relate to this in terms of how to think about man-made climate change and, in general, how to change the world through invention.
File:Global Temperature Anomaly.svg
-telling people to use less will not be the final solution. There are many many more of us coming.
-telling industries controlled by a capitalist system to turn less of nature into goods will not work. Their game is increase GDP and make 'more'.

A solution?
-use design to create and inform a gentle transition towards the highest energy output (maybe like Nocera's technology) for lowest environmental cost and make this the easiest path for industries to follow. The game here is essentially work to 'change the game' and inspire as many people as possible to do the same and help them to stop themselves working really hard on the wrong problems and make 'better' not 'more'.