Hyperlocal manufacturing: fabrication factory in a shipping container

Paul Raven @ 17-08-2010

It’s amazing what you can cram into a shipping container: a solar power generator, an internet cafe, a data centre… or a self-contained tooling workshop and fabrication unit [via GlobalGuerrillas – beware dodgy pop-ups on the linked page]:

The MPH was developed when the army realized that the easiest way to get the many rarely requested, but vital, replacement parts to the troops, was to manufacture the parts in the combat zone. In short order, this led to the construction of a portable parts fabrication system, called MPH, that fit into a standard 8x8x20 foot shipping container. The original version used two containers, but smaller equipment and more powerful computers eventually made it possible to use one container.

As John Robb and others have pointed out, this is a blueprint for hyperlocal manufacturing… though to make it economically practical you’re going to have to shave down the construction costs from the bloated levels of military contracting:

There are four MPH systems in service, two of them in Afghanistan. A fourth is being built, at a cost of $1.5 million.

Ouch. What do you actually need? If you’re going local, you just need a space the same size as a shipping container; should be a stuffed animal that’ll do the job. A fast broadband connection will stand in for the military satellite link (assuming you’re operating in an urban area); speed probably isn’t too crucial with non-military applications, so you might be able to cantenna yourself into a convenient local wireless node for big savings. Then you need CNC machines and raw materials; the former can probably be bought up pretty cheap from bankrupt stock (hell, you might not even need to move the kit if it’s still sat in a disused factory unit – two birds, one stone), and the latter scraped up from salvage and reclamation…

Anyone fancy running the numbers on this?


NEW FICTION: OR WE WILL ALL HANG SEPARATELY by Nancy Jane Moore

Paul Raven @ 02-08-2010

This month’s fiction from Nancy Jane Moore takes us back to a post-collapse America, but this isn’t your average post-apocalyptic story. “Or We Will Hang Separately” brings together a bunch of favourite Futurismic themes – post-capitalist lifestyles, changes in climate (environmental, political and social), and resilient communities – and dares to dream that the end of an era doesn’t have to be the end of the line, that our technology can rebuild as well as destroy. Quiet, powerful and optimistic, this is where determined people work together to transcend a difficult future. Enjoy!

Or We Will All Hang Separately

By Nancy Jane Moore

Marty Shendo knew both the truck and the roads best, so she drove. Ooljee Yzaguirre rode shotgun – literally: She kept a rifle in her lap. Tomas Perez sat in the back, his gun also in easy reach. Within most communities – or at least the ones Ooljee knew – no one went armed. Traveling between them, everyone did.

The dust blowing in the open windows made it difficult to talk. Both Marty and Ooljee had covered their mouths and noses with kerchiefs, like old fashioned bandits, and Tomas had pulled his cap down over his face to block the worst of it. It was too hot to close the windows.

Ooljee stared out at the parched southern New Mexico landscape. Even before the extended droughts brought on by climate change, this had been harsh country to live in. Now, though, most people had given up trying to make a living out here. Even goats, who can survive on land incompatible with any other domesticated animal, need water.

She wondered what they would find up at Los Alamos — the enclave of scientists they were hoping for or just another group of people trying to survive in a world in which few things worked any more. Or maybe bandits, or, even worse, nothing at all. It was a long way to travel if it turned out to be nothing, especially in a jerry-rigged solar-powered truck that hit its high of 25 miles per hour only on downhill stretches.

“Please don’t let it be for nothing,” Ooljee thought. It might have been a prayer, if she’d known of any gods to pray to. Continue reading “NEW FICTION: OR WE WILL ALL HANG SEPARATELY by Nancy Jane Moore”


John “Global Guerrillas” Robb interviewed

Paul Raven @ 16-06-2010

Regular readers will know I follow John Robb’s Global Guerrillas blog quite closely; Robb cropped up yesterday as an interviewee on Boing Boing, restating his case for turning our backs on our governments (who have, in many ways, turned their backs on us) and building grass-roots “resilient communities”:

BB: Do you see a diminishing role for the state in large-scale governance? Does this compel communities to do it for themselves?

JR: Yes, large scale governance is on the way out. Not only are nearly all governments financially insolvent, they can’t protect citizens from a global system that is running amok. As services and security begin to fade, local sources of order will emerge to fill the void. Hopefully, most people will opt to take control of this process by joining together with others to build resilient communities that can offer the independence, security, and prosperity that isn’t offered by the nation-state anymore. However, this is something you will have to build for yourself. Nobody is going to help you build it.

Robb’s is a potentially grim vision (and he appears to rather revel in that grimness from time to time, like any good gadfly); some commenters have pointed out to me that a pinch of salt added to Robb’s posts is a sensible precaution, and I’d agree, but I still think there’s a lot of useful stuff in what he has to say. That said, it’s good to question received wisdom, especially when it confirms what you already believe to be true… so via Technoccult, here’s a critique of Robb’s last book at Reason:

… Robb claims global guerrillas can successfully wage strategic war on nation-states. But a successful strategic war is one in which a guerrilla group attains its strategic goals. If global guerrillas really just want failed states, the world has no shortage, and Robb is correct. If they want the things guerrilla groups have always wanted—regional autonomy, a greater share of the economic pie, dominion over ethnic or sectarian rivals, an end to foreign occupation, social revolution, national control—it’s much harder to say that any global guerrilla group has yet been “successful.”

[…]

What most of the global guerrilla groups have managed so far is to not lose. It’s a truism of counterinsurgency that “guerrillas win by not losing,” but successful guerrilla movements eventually win by winning. It’s much harder for global guerrillas to “win” than Robb thinks, because most of these groups have larger goals than he acknowledges.

These peer-to-peer networks of resistance would be pretty easy to hijack, I suppose; we’re rather attached to hierarchies as a species, though whether that’s a predisposition or a psychological artefact is beyond my knowledge. So, what starts as a scattering of people who think of themselves as freedom fighters can be corralled together and steered by another group with a wider agenda and more resources… or maybe just a bigger axe to grind. But perhaps I’m naively assuming that most small insurgencies start as a valiant resistance to some sort of oppression. More research needed (my hourly mantra).

Still, Robb’s points about having to look out for ourselves as nation-states decline and stability decreases ring pretty true, even if they have a Mad Max-esque vibe of dramatic overstatement to them. Security can be offered to you (in exchange for taxes, or whatever else, and not necessarily delivered on when it comes to the crunch), but resilience you must make for yourself. Resilience can fail as well, of course, but then you can blame no one but yourself… perhaps that’s why we’re all so resistant to the idea?


Permaculture as an MMO?

Paul Raven @ 15-12-2009

permaculture produceTaking a brief break from grim predictions of hyperlocal terrorism and the decline of the nation-state, John Robb hypothesises about a way to solve the looming problem of localised food production: why not make permaculture into a sort of MMO game?

Riffing on the popularity of Farmville (which I suspect bears about as much relation to real farming as a round of Arkanoid bears to real atmospheric re-entry in a spaceship), Robb suggests that boosting the fun and competitive aspects of farming projects in meatspace could be a great way to build more resilient communities:

… the current state of software that aids the design of permaculture plots is pretty dismal. The best people can do is cobble together mapping software, 3D landscape modeling software, and some auto CAD. Of course, it is possible if the resources were available (my team of developers could do it), to build software that enables people to design, optimize, and share permaculture plots, that misses a great opportunity.

The real opportunity is to build a learning system via software, one that naturally trains the people that use it, gets better and more sophisticated over time, and is fun. The only way I know how to do that is build a game.

One of the first things to do, is build a simple Farmville type social game that helps people learn permaculture design principles…

I’ll admit to being cynical on this one; I think the fun elements of a social game based on farming would be swiftly forgotten when it came to the first day of digging irrigation channels under a blazing sun. But maybe not… and Robb’s idea might work well in developing nations where the bulk of people are already farmers, enabling them to learn and shift to new and more sustainable techniques over time. [image by JoePhoto]