Links of the Week

Here are some links of the week!

Appropedia:

This is a wiki containing many articles about projects and technologies. In particular, there is a focus on “appropriate technology” – roughly, the kind of cheap and low-tech stuff that a group of determined minds can construct quickly.

Link: http://www.appropedia.org/Welcome_to_Appropedia
 

Low Tech Magazine and No Tech Magazine:

I’m not sure why these two websites are separate. There is a lot of discussion about technology and energy in here. Plenty of detail as well. Low Tech Magazine’s obsolete technology section is fantastic. Take the article on Chinese wheelbarrows as an example. The blogroll fantastic as a time sink for those with too much free time.

Links: http://www.lowtechmagazine.com and http://www.notechmagazine.com
 

Frugally Sustainable:

I only found this site recently, so I haven’t explored it much. It has a lot of articles on alternatives to products for cleaning, soap, shampoo, etc., as well as a few on sewing. There’s a lot of inspiration here for quick projects!

Link: http://frugallysustainable.com

Permanent Culture Now:

Finally, from a lot more of a political angle is Permanent Culture Now. The site has a lot for activism and a lot of interesting thought to chew on. This is their goal:

Our aim is to help foster a move towards a pragmatic, positive, social, economic and political transition to a permanent culture through sharing information, knowledge and also making crucial links between different areas of thought.

Hey, sharing information and knowledge is what Skill Share Ottawa is about, no? If you’re not interested in the political picture, check out their self-reliance section for articles about hands-on stuff to learn.

Link: http://www.permanentculturenow.com
 

If everyone likes the kind of material I’m posting today, I will make this “Links of the Week” a regular feature of this blog.

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Another skill share out there

Someone once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

This is the case with skill share, too. Take the example of Transition Town Totnes. A small town got together to discuss peak oil and climate change. They run a Skillshare. (They also spell it as one word).

Transition Town Totnes' logo

The “transition towns” movement started at Totnes in 2006, well before the world was buffeted by the economic crisis. The movement is deeply concerned with fossil fuel dependence. And they started before the $120/barrel prices of 2008!

Skill Share Ottawa does not need to focus on the skills we might need when oil becomes less common. We don’t need to desperately learn to garden and use scythes. Talking with a few of the early participants, there is generally the idea that our motto should be something like, “Learn Shit, Have Fun.” Juggling and poi will still be there if oil runs dry, right?

That said, maybe the Transition movement is something that we can use as inspiration and guidance. There is a group for Ottawa out there, already.

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Walking about with skill

Once upon a time, schools of thinkers were named after how their members moved. The Peripatetics were ‘those who walked’ – students who paced around a garden with their teacher. Some didn’t move much. The Stoics were named after a porch – the ‘stoa’, because the founder of their school taught the public while seated at his doorstep.

I think that walking and sitting are both good ways of getting around an idea. Here’s one idea: what exactly is a skill?. If we are going to share skills, we had better know what they are!

If, like the Peripatetics, you walk around a subject, picking up twigs and tossing pebbles around, you end up finding very useful material out of what seems irrelevant.

Similarly, like the Stoics, if you pick a good, sunny spot and stop to think about what’s on your mind, you can get some interesting insights.

I’d like to share my insight on something I found while on a long walk through the web. (or surf through the web? Whoops – I just broke my metaphor).

An article called How to Live Without Irony probably at first glance wouldn’t seem to offer anything relevant to our subject. But I want to point out two paragraphs:

Our incapacity to deal with the things at hand is evident in our use of, and increasing reliance on, digital technology. Prioritizing what is remote over what is immediate, the virtual over the actual, we are absorbed in the public and private sphere by the little devices that take us elsewhere.

While we have gained some skill sets (multitasking, technological savvy), other skills have suffered: the art of conversation, the art of looking at people, the art of being seen, the art of being present. Our conduct is no longer governed by subtlety, finesse, grace and attention, all qualities more esteemed in earlier decades. Inwardness and narcissism now hold sway.

The first paragraph might be a little harsh to digital technology. sure, it “takes us elsewhere”, but isn’t this useful? Don’t we sometimes have to escape our situation and take a walk to clear our heads?

But the choice of words is still pertinent: we don’t just make “use of” gadgets, we have a “reliance” on them. Maybe by never being lost, never being without a smartphone on hand, we never develop the mental map of the neighbourhood that the neighbour developed? We are absorbed in the “public and private” spheres. Maybe escaping boredom with a few texts is healthy in public (if you ever ride the 94, 95, 96, or 97, you know how dull the public sphere is). But in private?

We walk homeward with the second paragraph. With new technology, the article states, we win some and lose some. Joseph Schumpeter invented the term ‘creative destruction’ to describe how the new replaces the old, and makes the old forgotten. What have we lost? “Conversation”, “looking at people”, “the art of being seen” and “being present”.

Somewhere, I heard of a middle-aged manager in an office who became lonely in the last few years. He found that he couldn’t converse with the younger staff any more. They were all of the current generation: wearing headphones in the office, walking around with eyes downcast, never stopping at the water cooler.

What do we do if we, the young, have lost these vital ‘soft skills?’ Do we share ourselves while we share our ‘hard’ skills? Do we learn presence while we teaching woodworking?

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Brooklynization and Deskilling

I* recently read an interesting article sent to me by a good friend who has had no time yet to get to a skill share event. The article introduces a metaphorical “Brooklyn” that is ruining music. All music is turning homogenous, bland, and non-political because it is all starting to sound like everything. Regional music scenes are dying because everyone is going to “Brooklyn”, whether as a state of mind or as the place.

This reminds me of why I helped to start a skill share group.

We have been deskilled. Deskilling has flattened everything into grey just as “Brooklyn” has. There is a remarkably short article on Wikipedia on the topic. Since the world is so full of machines making everything for us cheaply, we are all losing skills. Few people are learning how to repair things, and worse, few are learning the mentality that says repairing is fun and the smart thing to do. When the printer breaks, it’s easier to buy a new one than to find someone who can fix it for you.

Repair is just one of the skills we have lost. I’m hoping to reverse this trend. The more that we can learn to do ourselves, the better off we are.

I could easily go on about deskilling. More on the topic will follow – if you have any relevant material, leave a comment!

*(Note: “I” am just one person in the skill share group.)
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Who and Why?

What is Skill Share Ottawa? What is this blog?

Skill Share Ottawa is a very new idea. We got together as a group of friends. We discovered that we all had some talent or hobby that was cool! Some of us could cook well, some could repair bikes, some could ride unicycles, some could do some woodworking.

We are getting together in a tool-filled space. We organize workshops where we teach each other how to build and repair things. We gather together to learn to do fun things (like juggle). If you’re interested, join the Facebook group, linked above.

Why Skill Share Ottawa?

The original idea was to do something between a repair café and a tool library.

This video is the best explanation for what a repair cafés. In the Netherlands, people are fed up throwing out things after they break. So they got together to teach each other how to repair their toasters etc. There is even a well thought-out manifesto.

Tool libraries are, well, libraries for tools. Many are run independently, some are affiliated with public (book) libraries. Imagine having a place to go to when you need a circular saw if you can’t afford a circular saw! There’s even a tool library in Vancouver.

Since a tool library requires a lot of money and a dedicated space, and since we want to do more than just fix our broken things, we started Skill Share Ottawa!

By the way, if this idea interests you and you can’t come to our meetings, rip off our idea! Get together with your friends and neighbours in your neighbourhood! We’ll help you out if you ask us on our Facebook page.

Why this blog?

Most of the gatherings and workshops will be organized via the Facebook page. We’re going to use this blog to post inspiration, cool stuff, and relevant events going on around Ottawa.

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