Adventures in Olympus

View from the road to KokkinopilosLast year I visited the unMonastery space in Kokkinopilos as part of the cross pollination and interdisciplinary practices of the MAZI project. I’ve written about MAZI previously, assisting James Stevens with the Creeknet project in sunny Deptford. The first visit to the abandoned school used by the group was more of an introduction to the unMonastic approaches and practices. This time around it is still work with an amazing view each morning. My focus would be maps (relationships, and places of interest) and the use of a raspberry pi (Rpi) as a device for providing local network services using the Mazizone platform, a suite of applications especially useful for community groups. An absolute bonus to share some Tai Chi again on a mountainside.

Gardening and talking about gardening.

The fortnight was filled with things to do, starting with cleaning up a garden for a local elder of the village,who didn’t want to listen to the knowledge and guidance of Charles Pryor, giving us insights into Permaculture. The task was to clear two beds of weeds and turn over the soil, Charles pointed out on our second clearance the dried out results of our work the previous day. It did look sort of crusty, something that laying down cardboard or straw as options would have improved on. Nonetheless, the task was done as the gentleman required, his way. Charles did manage to facilitate and start an unMonastery vegetable permacultured garden in the school’s expansive premises. We went and foraged for useful composting wood to start it off, great fun. Of great interest was learning about edges and points of systems in a permacultured garden: something I had heard of in social studies/media.

Alongside the gardening shenanigans, we also had a future thinking creative workshop, an exercise in participative design with Ingi Helgason and Michael Smythe from Napier University, MAZI partners for the unMonastery. James Lewis (a networking unMonk) brought some technical kit, skills and his colleague Naomi to treat us with a presentation about local networks. Their collective skills and kit were very useful in mitigating the connectivity issues the schoolhouse was experiencing, as the sarantaporo.gr network was having problems just before the easter weekend, an event in Greece celebrated like Christmas in the UK. This was causing problems with the mesh network in Kokkinopilos, apparently causing the routing to the internet gateway to be inconsistent and down at the school, very frustrating levels of internet access.

Enough of the problems, what was the job?

picture of the adapted mazizone applications

The Mazizone applications can be adapted to suit a particular purpose – it was useful for our stay in the school to have shared media storage and a diary.

I had a few roles in this visit. Starting with the daily morning tai chi sessions, a joy to deliver on a mountain side with an enthused group. Attempting to liaise support for the internet connectivity problems. Creating an Rpi Mazizone was a quite a difficult workshop to deliver as people had their own skill sets and particular hardware issues. Much easier to accomplish was the actual configuration of the mazizone software – on hand was version 1.5.3, and with the connectivity issues we couldn’t download the latest (version 1.6) which had just been released. After the messing around with creating bootable images, the news that the mazizone could be used as a berryboot image was welcomed by the group. The berryboot package is really easy to install, a small download at around 30-53MB, but what is needed was a fairly good connection to the internet to download the special squash FS images needed to make the magic happen. The magic wasn’t quite happening for us with poor backhaul limiting our online activities; after all, we were on the side of a mountain in a quite isolated place, expectations should not be set too high.

Pyschogeography, anyone?

Mapping in two forms were the other activities to pursue – possibly pyschogeographical (mapping the important and interesting) using A1 maps of the area in engagement sessions with the locals, but meetings didn’t quite happen for reasons unknown. The dynamics and time scales of rural living can sometimes be opaque to us city dwellers. The other workshop was with the unMonks, presenting relationship maps using Kumu.

Drew Mackie and David Wilcox introduced me to Kumu last year through their work with the centre for Aging Better. After some tentative play, consistently proclaiming the tool’s usefulness – it was found to be of use. Decoration was later added by James, as were more people. The ongoing project is embedded in the front page map of the Creeknet site, presenting a fluid visualisation of the relationships of participants. Drew recently held a London based workshop to gather up interested parties to discuss usage of Kumu, showcasing sumapp as a potential tool for populating a map quickly and easily. We are still working through this, and would like to have other MAZI members using tools to realise their own relationships in their respective projects. There is a slight issue about privacy, creating models of local projects can create issues. Part of the MAZI remit is the need for digital commons and through Open Source.

The unMonks showed me a similar tool they have been using from metamaps, an open source project. This sits within their own toolbox framework more appropriately as they aim to use open source applications as much as possible. As I’ve been writing, I’ve received a confirmation of application, so now I have an account to create and investigate. Also to invesigate is Onodo, which apparently lacks Kumu’s number crunching aspect for social metrics, a topic completely beyond me.

Enough tech, how did it all go?

Well, this is a summary of the activities that went on in that windy and chilly place, without a warm shower for days and a couple of cold nights (down to -4C at one point!) which didn’t help my flu which I caught on the flight there. Overall the unMonks were happy that they had a new kitchen of sorts, although the public engagement seemed to flip between good and indifferent. Having only one Greek speaker amongst us on this visit didn’t help I imagine. The mazizone dual mode (connecting to the local services and to the internet if required) was certainly very useful and appreciated, working quite well as a local set of services for a building. The Kokkinopilos diary for everyone found use, contributing their experiences of days, and a ‘cloud’ to store pictures to share from the fortnight.Folk museum in Thessaloniki In Thessaloniki I visited a folk museum and was amazed at the pre-industrial work accomplished in Macedonia and Thrace – now called northern Greece.

I haven’t mentioned I was also reading an ebook, The One Straw Revolution(1974), one of the big precursors of the permaculture movement. If you’ve read it, do you remember the moment of insight for Masanobu Fukoaka?

One night as I wandered, I collapsed in exhaustion on a hill overlooking the harbor, finally dozing against the trunk of a large tree. I lay there, neither asleep nor awake, until dawn. I can still remember that it was the morning of the 15th of May. In a daze I watched the harbor grow light, seeing the sunrise and yet somehow not seeing it. As the breeze blew up from below the bluff, the morning mist
suddenly disappeared. Just at that moment a night heron appeared, gave a sharp cry, and flew away into the distance. I could hear the flapping of its wings. In an instant all my doubts and the gloomy mist of my confusion vanished. Everything I had held in firm conviction, everything upon which I had ordinarily relied was swept away with the wind. I felt that I understood just one thing.
Without my thinking about them, words came from my mouth: “In this world there is nothing at all. . . .”I felt that I understood nothing.

It wasn’t a lack of information he describes, his specialism was a metaphorical microscope looking at a topic, one particular subject in no relation to anything else. No systems, no dynamics – just information. Quite a revelation, one I didn’t have when looking out over the valleys of Olympus. My insight was to apply permaculture principles (systems thinking) to helping extraordinary people live in ordinary ways. Maybe a heady dream, but what an interesting way to put a company together:

  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch and Store Energy
  3. Obtain a yield
  4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
  6. Produce No Waste
  7. Design From Patterns to Details
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions
  10. Use and Value Diversity
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change

Thanks for your time.

sun reflections on the sea at Thessaloniki sea front