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2016-08-17 One year on the road

posted Aug 17, 2016, 1:04 PM by Doug Webb

This day marks one year since I left my family home in between Glasgow and the West coast. Tl;dr: survived, thrived, content, continuing - come with?

Bullets
  • Quickly became a 'full-time' contributor to the yunity project.
  • Stayed for over a week in Perigeaux, Malo, the Italian pre-alps, Cecina, Mainz, Chemnitz, Hamburg, Nürnberg, Berlin, Rotterdam, Heichelheim, Kirchheim, Darmstadt, Genève, Toulouse.
Left: Cleaning dream team in Kirchheim Right: Giving Karl Marx a wee peck in Chemnitz.
  • Exclusively stayed in free accommodation: tent, friends places, project spaces and abandoned buildings.
  • Almost exclusively travelled by hitchhiking thanks to over 117 lifts.
  • Almost exclusively ate free food from dumpster diving and foodsaving.
  • Cumulatively spent ~1000 EUR. Gratefully received unexpected donations from LW, CS, AW and JM. Decided to open my finance data.
  • Witnessed a total split in one project, the rapid decline of another and the decision for the co-founders of yunity to split off.
  • Crash course learning into Dragon Dreaming, Scrum, Kanban, Systemic Consensus, Nonviolent Communication, Conflict resolution, Facilitation and other such.
  • Became an impromptu Scrum Master for several weeks.
  • Finally understand the very basics of l'internet.
  • Performed an autofrenuloplasty (don't look it up if squeamish).
  • Was in a pretty serious car crash, left with a single stitch (please do not ride with anyone driving too fast and please wear a seat-belt).
  • Had unquestionably the most varied, colorful and immersive year I've had. I shan't bleed my heart over the rest of this text, but I could.

Bubbles
Perhaps my greatest insecurity of living in the 'alternative world' is the possibility of disconnecting with the 'real world', that I am floating in a bubble. I would argue that everyone is in at least one bubble... so what's the problem with bubble-life anyway? I believe there is only a problem when an individual has opinions about how their external reality should be different, how it should change. If disconnected from the reality one seeks to change, the strategy for achieving that change will probably not be accepted or effective, and then you'll go into a huff saying something like 'why is everyone else so stupid not to adore me and my Excellent Plan?'. Since I do have a vision of how I'd like things to be different, it is really important for me to look through different bubbles and find those best strategies.

Arguably the dominant culture in Western Europe - my current base of operations - is the Achievement/Orange/American-dream/get-what-you-deserve/'Capitalist-consumerist' kind of culture (which I don't think is totally evil by the way... it's achievements allow me to write these words to you). On my travels I touched base with people seriously successful in this culture: business owners, entrepreneurs and other high achievers - mostly during hitchhiking. They were all super nice and I paraphrase their wisdom thusly,

Fear ye not of the CV-gap and lick not the rear of thy supposed superiors. Follow thy deep set dreams - should that lead ye to climb upon the career ladder, do so with boldness, detachment and without stepping upon the heads of thy colleagues. Know ye also that the laws and culture of the lands will shift to accommodate the unstoppable flow of change: build it better and they shall come, do not wait for the permission to do so.

The successful ones in the 'real world' are more blue-sky than many of the people I've met in the 'alternative world'. Insecurity averted.

Buildings
yunity has been the my main occupation this year. A project with a vast scope to do great things, firstly to spread foodsharing all over the world. Foodsharing is about getting food edible for humans to be consumed by humans. It takes really a lot of effort to make human-food and currently about one third of it gets lost, thrown away, composted, biogassed, burned or fed to animals. (Sad-face).

With the merry and ever growing band of nomadic and settled yuniteers I have the privilege to call friends, we have been working to spread information, build software, design social models, etc, etc and I have learned so much. The importance of having shared goals, agreed decision making processes, collective understanding, tolerance and so on. I have started to collect these learnings in small modular articles scattered on the project wiki.

Left: A serious talk about stuff. You know, things. Right: Another successful bin raid.

Yet many questions still remain... how to more completely accommodate the huge diversity between individuals in a unified project? Where is the border between personal and collective? How to decide on a decision making stack? (Stack overflow warning!) How to strike the balance between work and play? How to simply distribute limited resources without money with fairness and intelligence? What is the first step to unite the increasing number of similar projects? What next-generation legal entities should we construct to reflect new social structures, and how? Where is the best place for the first permanent yunity project space? What are the current entry requirements to the project, should they change? - I can safely say that I'm not bored.


One concept I've been working on personally is that of 'Omnilateral Autonomy', "when all individuals and groups do as they wish without forcing other individuals or groups from doing as they wish." A lot people are very comfortable with the idea that individuals should be able to decide most things for themselves, but the question of how these liberated people can work together and move forward is usually left by the wayside: all the free people still having to do jobs they don't want to get things that they do. I think this gets to the core of my current interest, facilitating the people with the bright hearts to do what they really want.

Some slides for the concept, rest here.

Beyond
So what next? Same as every day this year I guess: get up and go. Right now Western Europe is saturated by material wealth: whilst the 'money runs out', food rots and buildings crumble. Come and join in the game to redefine what economy means! It's really fun and everybody must win.

Thank you, thank you all.
Only love,
Doug


(P.S. do you know...
  • The muffin man?
  • Anyone wants to do something (awesome) and doesn't know what or where or how?
  • Of any property that could be used to house people that want to work for free?
  • Of any laptops <5 years old that could be given to some of my project worker friends?
  • Someone who is a pro with semantic web technologies/open access data/etc?
If yes, let me know!)


2016-06-09 Fear, Love and Dog-washing machines

posted Jun 9, 2016, 11:44 AM by Doug Webb

Since leaving Glasgow about 9 months ago I have been almost exclusively hitch-hiking. I decided to record each and every lift I was given and can tell you that I have now received 104 lifts! Hitchhiking is one of the reasons I've been able to travel all this time using very little money, so many thanks to all the lovely hitch-givers wherever ye may be now. On the topic of money, I have decided to openly document my cash for reasons not yet completely clear to me, but an interesting experiment for me for now.

Whilst hitching I have met many people and had brief but intense talks with them. Something which becomes increasingly clear to me is that any fear of 'time out' or 'a gap in my CV' are things which I should never have worried about. I have been picked up by 5 company founders (Dog-washing machines, an airline, a fashion line (X 2) and auxiliary medical supplies) and several people working in the upper echelons of large companies. All of them totally calm, confident (not arrogant) and friendly. Some took 'years out' before going to uni, or dropped out of uni, or didn't go to uni, or told their company they were going to work half-time to have more personal time. Never were they concerned about me not following the 'straight path', none of them judgmental - just curious. So, don't panic seems to be very good advice.

(I must add that many others had similarly great peace of mind without highly-paying positions. It is important for me to make the connection because I believe there is a very real fear that not taking the 'straight path' will lead to a financially miserable existence.)

In yunity we recently had a clear decision about licensing things like picture, videos, articles, etc. I got a crash course in licensing, like learning that creators automatically have copyright of their creations unless they say otherwise, etc. I thought about the topic quite a lot after input from knowledgeable people on the team (Botho and Tilmann) and wrote down my thoughts in an article 'Fear, love and licensing'. This article was a bit scrambled, but it boils down to the fact that if I want to really open something for use, I have to 'let it go'. When I'm not worried about any weird future scenario, I would opt for the most permissive license every time. Nice enough, the rest of the team was thinking the same way and cc0 (public domain) was selected;


Note: If you are in an organization, come to a decision about licensing a.s.a.p. because we now need to go back in time to ask people for their permission to license their contributions zzz...

[Side note: Talking about 'fear and love' always makes me think of Donnie Darko and the lifeline exercise. With the belligerence his teacher has that everything can be placed on a spectrum of love to fear, Donnie eventually tells her to 'forcibly insert the lifeline exercise card into my anus!']

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQXPiBUQaIk

On the geolocationary side of things: I visited Tom and Urd in Toulouse, then did 2 weeks of yunity sprinting in Kirchheim and then a week of networking/renovation with YES initiative/Partycipation in Darmstadt where my dear brother Dunc paid me a surprise visit. Now I am in Heichelheim near Weimar to catch up with yunity. I'm looking forward to visiting Noomap, Meesteren and United earth in Rotterdam then returning to Heichelheim and meeting with my dear brother Jam before catching up with the Webb/Courtney/Beckmann/Shadbolt tribe near Paris.

I am very well and hope the same is true for you,
Doug, Over and out.

2016-02-17 Berlin, Rotterdam, Genève

posted Apr 18, 2016, 12:15 PM by Doug Webb   [ updated Apr 18, 2016, 12:18 PM ]

Dear you,

These days are rich, perhaps beyond my ability to appreciate the taste. I let them wash over me and trust the important and wonderful will stick. Before I go into what I've been up to, let me express what I've been recurrently thinking, it starts like this:

If you could do whatever you want, what would you do?

Perhaps you do exactly what want right now, perhaps there's something blocking you... would that happen to be money? I have had the privilege to work with the yunity team over the past 7 months and meet the wonderful humans therein. We've managed to work together for this time without an organizational budget and with very little proxy purchases (things bought for us by others). Accommodation and subsequent bills have been gifted to us. Food has been scavenged and saved. Other resources have been found, borrowed and gifted and most importantly, the labor has been summoned by intrinsic motivation. Have I gone too far, man? Have I drunk too much of the electric, hippy Kool-aid? Perhaps, but the trip is very realistic;

They reckon over 10,000,000 properties lie abandoned across Europe - several of which I've slept in -  and over 1/3 of the food produced for humans is wasted some of which I have hauled from bins and received from willing shop owners. Kind people don't mind giving lifts on journeys they are driving anyway, clothing bulges out of donation bins, furniture lies on the streets and people replace functional machinery for cosmetic reasons. In this light, the myth of scarcity terrifies me.

Now I'm not telling you to quit your day job just yet, but please know that Europe cannot contain it's material wealth! Is it possible to rearrange the resources such that people can work better jobs for less time and get the medical care, resources and community they need? Surely yes. How? Well, that's the question to answer - people are working on it, but help is needed. More thoughts about money, the division of labor and the Good Life in my head and to come in future posts I think.

Now about me, me, me;

2016-02-12 Spending a month in Berlin was fun: thanks Taïs, Derya, Lutz and Nick for hosting me. Nice times in libraries, started going to Quaker meeting again, fell asleep at a Berlin-klub at 10:00, fixed bikes, did some yunity work, met up with Megan in her new place and serially watched Twin Peaks;



2016-03-16 Three weeks in Rotterdam for WuppDays #6. An incredible constellation of yunity, Noomap and United Earth working alongside each other in a property gifted by the Meesteren Foundation.



Incredible foodsaving from markets (100's of Kgs of rice, canned juice, mangoes, leeks, avocadoes...), open-stage, crazy logistical problems, conflict resolution, further SysCon work, tried my hand at being a Scrum Master and worked on intention alignment - several times there have been conflicts of intention within the team;
2016-04-11 Three days hitchhiking to Genève, through beautiful surroundings and thanks to wonderful people to catch up with Ol. Got dropped off on the Highway by a Bulgarian trucker, walked across German-Swiss border;
With love,
Doug

2015-12-30 [Catch up]

posted Mar 4, 2016, 5:11 AM by Doug Webb

Long time no write...

Summary;

  • 2015-12-30 Hamburg → Chemnitz (hitchhiking)
  • 2015-12-31 Silvester in Chemnitz
  • 2016-01-02 WuppDays #4 begins
  • 2016-01-17 WuppDays #4 ends
  • 2016-01-18 Chemnitz → London
  • 2016-01-22 London → Glasgow
  • 2016-01-25 Glasgow → Edinburgh
  • 2016-01-26 Edinburgh → Glasgow
  • 2016-01-27 Glasgow → London
  • 2016-01-30 London → Nürnberg
  • 2016-02-01 WuppDays #5 begins
  • 2016-02-14 WuppDays #5 ends
  • 2016-02-17 Nürnberg → Berlin (hitchhiking)

Highlights;

  • Extensive reading of 'The Phenomenon of Man' by Tailhard de Chardin. I don't understand most of what he's saying, but it does feel like walking along the cusp of universal understanding.
  • Seeing my most excellent direct family members and close friends again - I hope to see you all more frequently in future!
  • Becoming completely engrossed in Twin Peaks.
  • Taking part in a LAN party for the first time (Age of Empires II, The Forgotten Empires expansion pack running through Wine)

What I've been working on;


In the yunity project I've been spending a bunch of time plotting and planning about decision making. The project is voluntary and we are keen to make decisions together as best possible. We've been really focusing on the 'systemic consensus' framework, dreamed up some years ago by two Austrians;

In the 'Express needs, wants and values' stage, individuals let each other know how they're feeling with regards to a specific question. This is helps people connect and really see what other people are feeling, not just imagine it.

In the 'Form proposals' stage, individuals take their time to come up with ways to answer the question. They can do this by themselves, as groups, brainstorming, etc.

In the 'Vote' stage, individuals vote on the proposals. First past the post (plurality) voting that we're used to in the UK uses a single, positive, binary vote per ballot, whereas systemic consensus voting uses multiple, negative, scalar rating per ballot: people show their relative resistance to proposals. The one with least net resistance is selected. This has the advantage of selecting the outcome that most people can work on, instead of splitting the individuals into winners and losers.

Already it has helped us come to conclusions, but we're still working on it. I would be very interested to think about how to make scalable versions of the system for larger organizations also. If you want to see the active development, check out the project wiki page on it.

That's all for now folks.

2015-11-17 Festivities: Germany

posted Dec 26, 2015, 4:59 AM by Doug Webb   [ updated Jan 7, 2016, 10:35 AM ]

It's Christmas, I'm in Hamburg with some wonderful people and a mountain of reclaimed food - how did I get here?

After hitching from Mainz to Chemnitz I participated in the third yunity project sprint. Things we achieved: began the search for a permanent project space, critically thought about how yunity will cater for the foodsharing.de users and updated the webpage content (including transaltion into German) - you can read more about it on the yunity blog.


The building we were hosted in was a curious place. A six floor, refugee-friendly, anarcho-syndikalist den. Due to a complex and unclear series of events, those living there do not pay rent or bills and as they dumpster-dive almost all their food, their living costs are next to nothing. Despite that, the place is pretty chaotic and slowly decaying: no coordinated cleaning, broken windows, not insulated, chimneys not cleaned, etc. I would add that the people are really awesome, friendly and socially active! However, 99 % of the population would not be ok living as they do. I'm really interested in reducing the cost of living, but this situation filled me with some unsettling doubts which sort of boiled down to: Does the absence of pressure (of rent) induce lethargy? The living room;


OK, the long term concerns aside, it was awesome: I had my own room, could write my thoughts on the walls, could change and improve things as I saw fit... all without cash. I actually felt it was my home. This situation massaged my mind in new directions: what would you do with your time if you had all the hours of each day free? Chemnitz is full of abandoned buildings, loads. Some district having upwards of 80 % abandonment. Check out property prices, you can pick up 40 room tennements in the middle of town with intact rooves for as low as €25 K. For anyone interested in housing cooperatives, the Miethäuser Syndikat of Germany is essentially the counterpart of Radical Routes in the UK, both providing financial support and advice for people wanting to start social housing projects. Anyone else want to live like royalty in Chemnitz with me?

Again I saw more protests. Every Monday there is a pegeda march (right wing, anti immigrants, gay marriage, etc) and an anti-demo... Every Monday, over 200 demoers, over 100 police. In Chemnitz it's mostly peaceful but for the larger demos, especially with extrovert racist/sexualist/nationalist groups representing the 'right' there is often a lot of violence, typically between the police and the self-proclaimed antifascists. Stone throwing seems to be widely recognised as a poor way to make your point, especially if you're meant to be the good guys... I've decided being anti shouldn't be the primary driver for change. Either being anti, or anti-anti - neither lead to positive change. There are hundreds of thousands of people motivated to the point that they would jeapordise their criminal record and health to fight the badness in the world. That's the challenge then, how do you mobilise them to positive change? Yet more questions.

On a more positive note, I read the book Swarmwise by Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Pirate Party. Well worth reading for anyone who is at all interested in non-hierarchical and agile organisations. Also read through as much Sociocracy 3.0 materials as I could find: this is a framwework of organisational modules inspired by many other pinciples, again well worth looking into. A diagram from Sociocracy 3.0;

Then hitched up to Hamburg to spend Christmas with some jolly fine fellows. I'm very happy with what I'm doing and learning. In other news, I have grown a moustache;



2015-11-12 WuppDays #2: Mainz

posted Nov 30, 2015, 11:20 AM by Doug Webb   [ updated Dec 17, 2015, 5:02 PM ]

Arriving at the self-proclaimed 'lovely people house' (liebemenschhaus) I felt like a soldier injured, coming in out of the cold into sanctuary. OK, that's a bit extreme, but it was a relief to be out of the Blablacar with the racist, seedy driver and into a clean house with, mattress, washing machine and kettle. The 100 % vegan zone had a basement packed with food and a good structure for keeping the place clean and together, and in fact it is the best-suburban living environment I've seen. This was to be the location for the next WuppDays (residential project sprint) for yunity.

I had tried to do some remote work with little success: intermittent internet access, intermittent power access, hitchhiking, etc. This was initially frustrating, but then I just told the team I wasn't able to work and I enjoyed my time much more. But now, with the team regrouped and a conducive working environment established, I was ready to jump into it.

I facilitated a retrospective to evaluate our last working period (the three weeks of distributed project work). This was a useful start, and the main feeling was that there wasn't enough 'structure' and definition. Examples of problems included;
  • Which team is responsible for what? (e.g. Does 'communication' write Facebook content?)
  • Which words do we use to describe things? (e.g. Is 'leader' a term we want to use for an individual within our non-hierarchical structure?)
  • Where is the information we work from found? (i.e. out of the myriad of drafts we have strewn about).
Good things happened: Work was started into clarifying what teams do, a project wiki was set up, a glossary was started, product development stages were defined, the first organisational policy was drafted and clarification on product features began. Work in progress.

After a very intense week of work, we celebrated our achievements and finished another retrospective.


With WuppDays over, the inhabitants of Liebermenschhaus kindly let me stay on for another week, which gave me some time to recover and unwind. Saturday, instead, was a day of conflict and violence. It started with a bunch of us attending the FoodSharing Mainz weekly brunch at a left-activist café. There were some very heated discussions as to the environmental cost of animal produce, vitamin B12 sources in veganism and homeopathic medicine. After this, we headed to an anti-RFD demo: The RFD seem to be a hard-right party (explicitly or implicitly against immigration, homosexuality, etc) and a speaker of theirs was coming to Mainz. Around the square were a bunch of polizei letting in people who didn't look too lefty, and around them was the anti-RFD demo, heckling people who were going in and sound-blocking the speech. It got quite violent with a bunch of scuffles breaking out and lots of chants containing the word 'nazi'. Cops breaking up a fight;


I wasn't so happy with the whole thing, it just seemed to further extremify both sides. So  Neel and I drafted a more positive song that addressed the two main points of conflict. To finish the day, I went and watched Daniel Craig beating people up for two hours in 'Spectre' with Kirstijan.

All of this reminds me that I want to get back into Judo.

2015-10-19 Vagabonding: Italy

posted Nov 26, 2015, 9:31 AM by Doug Webb   [ updated Nov 26, 2015, 12:26 PM ]

A lot happened in these three weeks... I'll just tell you about three bits here, the rest in person.

2015-10-18: What to do after a month of project work? Why, hiking in the pre-Alps for a week my dear, the only thing really. Straight out of sleepy Malo and up the great big Monte Pasubio with Camille and Isabella, we traversed the Strada delle 52 Gallerie - a war-route carved into the mountain, 52 tunnels! They lived and fought those pesky Austrians from this tunnel system, through all the seasons. Mental.


Camille and I went on to climb Monte Cornetto the next day, an incredible climb with hot sun at the top. On the way down, we had the cheerful prospect of another night in the tent (I love tents, but - no offense Isa - single skin tents are bad at best). But what's that! An abandoned mountain hut with working wood stove, spring beds and several bottles of 10-year old table wine? I kid thee not my friends... With the last feeble flicker of a lighter we begged, we set a fire in the stove and enjoyed the warmth. The Casa Cornetto 2005 (special 'tavola' release) was perfectly oxidised and paired wonderfully with our three-course meal of oranges, mackerel & bread then peanuts & chocolate.

Then a flurry of hitchhiking, bussing and general meandering brought us to Lago di Molveno. Abandoned by the Italian Summer-tourists and awaiting the German Ski-tourists, Camille and I had free reign of the lake and mountains. I re-learned an important lesson here: that knowing how you feel and professing otherwise is not helpful. Basically, I needed to read and relax a whole day and he wanted to climb - I'm glad you brought it up Camille. We did just we wanted that day, and climbed a valley together the next day. [...]

2015-10-25: Return to Isa's and leave both her and Camille to head as far South as I can, and chase the dying Sun. Isa puts me in touch with Daniele, who very kindly took me halfway down Italy with him in his LPG-converted Dodge Ram 2500;


Fully intending to head straight for Southern Sicilian coast, plans changed when Andrea dropped me a text to say that there were olives to pick and press at his family's place. Sounds like fun. So I hitch from East to West (really easily - I mean one, direct lift within 10 asks) and there I am, picking olives with Pierre, Peter and Andrea for a week in the Tuscan Sun. FWIW, olive trees are really flexible. Also, when you press olives to oil, you get a volume roughly equivalent  to about 10 % of the mass of olives you pick (i.e. about 10 L from 100 Kg). That's before the olive press owners charge 50 % oil tax - ha! [...]

2015-11-08: I had a Blablacar ride booked to Germany the next morning from Genova Nervi (East Genova). At this point I was near La Spezia and decided to hitch the remaining 100 Km, getting dropped off at the nearest service station. Which is in the sky. That is, the autostrada is build on top of of a really high bridge that straddles the valleys as they go out to sea. "Any way down?" I ask one of the petrol guys in Ital-English, << Not possible >>. I love a challenge. Only had to jump two fences to get onto the hillside and from there I found myself in a valley something like a mash-up of the highlands and a scene from Myst: rickety and interweaving walkways, kaki (sharon) fruit hanging on leafless trees like setting Suns, houses perched up on the valley sides with the occasional cat calmly staring - but not a human in sight. At the bottom flowed a crystal clear gorge which I followed as the wilderness unfurled into city: as the ground leveled the buildings grew taller, as the daylight faded, the soda-glow compensated. Cars and litter and sewage smells. (Sorry Genoa, nothing personal - just that I'm a country boy)

Walking along the sea-front, I needed a place to stay - I hadn't paid for accommodation since leaving ma hoose and I wasn't going to start now. But where to pitch a tent in this busy city? I was getting picked up from the train station the next morning and decided I should see if there was anywhere near by there. And guess what, in the 30 metre stretch between the waves and the station stood an abandoned, 3-star hotel. (Not making this up, promise). One jumped fence and the back door is already open. Other people have obviously been there - I find a sandwich wrapper with a sell-by date only one month prior. For wiser or worse, I decided to unroll and sleep on the floor of what was once the deli wing. I half slept with the dual chorus of the waves and trains and unsettling thoughts of who else sleeps in a place like this... Woken up at 03:00 by mosquitos, I unroll my tent to sleep with the mesh and the metal tags clanked a bit as I did... 10 seconds later I hear someone coming through the darkness and asking something with an accusatory tone. Not gonna lie, shat masel a wee bit. Here's a paraphrased version of the conversation I had with the young, smart-looking guy who materialised from the half-light;

<<Hey! What's up, what's the noise about?>>
"Uh, hi! Sorry, just putting out my tent"
<<Ok, but you know we're not meant to be here? The Polizei...>>
"Yeah sure, wasn't thinking about it"
<<Fine, but there are rooms upstairs that are better>>
"Thanks, but I'm only here for a night"
[We look at each other and shake hands, missing first time]
"Hey, I'm Doug, from Scotland"
<<Hi, I'm Elton from Albania>>
"Night"
<<Night>>

All the best Elton.
 

2015-09-16 WuppDays: Malo

posted Nov 23, 2015, 4:28 PM by Doug Webb   [ updated Nov 26, 2015, 8:41 AM ]

2015-09-16: Jerry kindly drops me off on the autoroute near Perigeaux, a good point to go in the direction of Italy. Flashback: A friend from Edinburgh, Lily, informs me of an event soon to happen in Italia called 'WuppDays'. Essentially, some of the people who set up Foodsharing.de want to make the software better, international and extensible to include 'anything'. The project is called yunity and 'WuppDays' is a German-English neologism meaning 'cheerful, residential hack-a-thon'. So I started reading Eloquent Javascript (which is excellent) with the intention of participating as a coder-understudy.

Flashforward: One of my more memorable hitchhiking trips, in no particular order; drenched with rain, service station guys give me a free croissant out of pity, picked up in a classic Merc, picked up by a family of four, given the lunch of an Italian trucker, given coffee, beer, wine and a cigarette by a very cheerful Polish trucker - and to finish - an Italian guy goes 10 Km past his destination to drop me at the door of my destination. You people make my heart swell.

2015-09-18: I arrive at the home of Isabella, not really knowing what to expect. In two days, the house is brimming with 30 people from all over the show, including a couple friendly faces from home (you know who you are). The first two days were spent doing a dragon dreaming workshop where we thought about the project from various perspectives thanks to an array of thought-provoking techniques. The bit I liked most about the workshop was the central cycle concept, namely;
  • Celebration (not just partying, but a critical analysis of achievements)
  • Dreaming (keeping it really 'blue-sky' at this point - anything possible)
  • Planning (the focal point of the cycle, cutting dreams into doable tasks)
  • Doing (getting the plan done)

The process was altogether helpful, but I feel our 'planning' stage was a bit wavy (which proved problematic as we went on). Some dragon dreaming in action;

2015-09-27: One week in and the Dev team took me under their wing. I learned how to use git/github pretty quickly (the open-source standard for Version Control Software), set up the correct development environment with a little help and started learning some AngularJS (for the front-end, i.e. the bit you see). I was definitely in the deep-end, but learning fast. However, as the days progressed I realised that my time was probably spent better elsewhere and I drifted into communications and organisations tasks which seemed to be a better use of my time.

2015-10-04: Becoming closer and closer with thr team - these people are incredible and really work together well. I burn out a little bit as there's no 'finishing time'. Many excellent things happen: massive group meals, Goa-psytrance-projector parties in the basement, a screening of 'Monty Pythons Holy Grail', I pluck and gut a couple ducks, genuine gelato, swimming in the river, acro-yoga classes, dumpster diving trips, running at night, my first line-climb and on actual rock...

2015-10-12: In the last days, everything is a bit of a blur. People are tired but still working hard. Some of the optimists are a bit disappointed, but I was pretty impressed: to go from nothing to something in 4 weeks with 30 people who have just met, I think that's pretty damn good. The event finished with an Agile inspired retrospective led by Clemens which structured some good discussion on how to improve the working processes in future... simple and seriously useful - recommended for all project-minded people.

An unforgettable month.


2015-08-23 Encore plus au sud: Aubterre-sur-Dronne

posted Nov 10, 2015, 2:26 PM by Doug Webb   [ updated Nov 23, 2015, 4:11 PM ]

2015-08-23: Waking at the ungodly hour of 03:00 with the barbecued delicacies of the evening prior still digesting, the three of us bundle into the Zafira and Dan graciously drives the whole way down to the most picturesque place in Aubterre-sur-Dronne where we're greeted by John and Marilyn and welcomed into their home.

The days pass easily, as we swim in the pool, eat well, read, bask in the sun, etc. The French countryside was incredibly abundant: figs, walnuts, hazelnutes, grapes - and all full of flavour. A trip to an incredible grotto (stalacmites and stalactites) with Dan and Maria and another trip to a Cognac factory (in Cognac) with Kate and Peter (yes, there were samples). All the fine things the region had to offer.


One evening, a friend of Johns, Paul, came over for a coffee. During the conversation Paul mentioned that his father bequeathed him a cotton mill. On inheriting the mill, a jigger said to him:

"The difference between thee and me lad, is that we were born in different beds"

I really enjoyed the poetry of this phrase and in perfectly sums up some though I've had on the subject of inheritance. On another evening, friends and neighbors of J and M came over: Jerry, Joceline and their daughter. I came to learn that Jerry renovates and modifies limestone houses in the local area, and naturally asked him if he needed a hand...

2015-09-02: Jerry and Joceline provided me with a beautiful room in the house they've renovated. Schedule was to be up-and-out by 08:00, lunch at 12:00 and back by 17:00 with tea breaks as necessary. For the main house we worked on we;
  • Expanded a window in a door.
  • Opened a blocked window hole and fitted a window.
  • Expanded an existing small window into a larger one.
  • Restructured some of the guttering.

Seeing these processes done from beginning to end was really interesting and greatly helped de-mystify the process of how to do things properly. Lots of small bits of information were picked up on the way such as how oak darkens in contact with strong alkali, how to judiciously used Portland cement (the grey one) and PU foam to best and full effect, mixing of lime mortar in different proportions, etc.

I will go into some more detail on what I learned working with lime at some point, but for anyone else dreaming of doing up a quaint French farmhouse, Jerry had two big tips: Look out for vertical cracks (which indicate subsidence) and for sound roofing (roofing costs more than you think).

Aside from the work, I gorged myself on the most perfect figs and walnuts, cycled about, read, and all the other fine things.



2015-08-17 Setting Oot: to Leeds and London

posted Nov 10, 2015, 1:07 PM by Doug Webb   [ updated Nov 24, 2015, 4:32 PM ]

2015-08-17: I set out far later than I hoped: packing took somewhat longer than expected and by the time I was happy it was 06:00. Thus waking at 13:00 I maneuvered my way to Bothwell Service Station by 17:00 (taking the 255 from Buchanan bus station) to begin hitchhiking South. After 3 hours without any success, I was about to give up, head back to Glasgow and take a train... but let's try one last car. And luckily, Vaugn gives me a lift all the way South to Penrith. Penrith Truck stop is an excellent place, with the most hideously sweet hot chocolate, bright lights and AC power. Somewhere between 'Hotel California', an operating theatre and the office from 'Being John Malkovich'. Walked up the road to a petrol station as all the truckers were sleeping and quickly got a lift from Seoni to Crooklands junction. More walking to another petrol station (now 23:00 and pitch black) and got a lift from the incredibly friendly geordie, Robbie the 4th - bless yer 'eart. He took me back up the 100 Km I'd travelled with Seoni (ha) and then East to Scotch Corner where, in the wee hours, I pitched my tent and slept...

2015-08-18: Two more lifts and I'm bathed in the warm glow of Michael and Anne-Maries hospitality. Meal after incredible meal, I must proclaim the magnificence of Anne-Maries cooking prowess. Michael and I were able to run around and go climbing - lets do it again please (don't think I've forgotten about the bet!). It was very much home from home to stay with you both.  Michael and I at the gym in another life:



2015-08-20: It was with some misgiving that I left M & A-Ms, but I was quickly picked up by a lovely guy called Robert from where I was dropped off by A-M and we talked about the theory and application of fibre-glass, the ekranoplan and apprenticeship with in the Merchant Navy. A couples more rides and I arrived in Kensington and the fine accomodation of Ben and KK. Something like this;



Kensington is a mighty expensive place to be, but KK and I managed to dumpster-dive a whole load of red onions and garlic bread - perhaps the closest I've approached to the hipster event horizon. The next day we go for a wonder, take a boat down the Thames and have some nerdy laughs. All rather convivial. That night my dear friend Poppy invites me to a party just around the corner, 90s. I had fun despite accidentally offending the host and realising that I only like a fraction of the music produced in the 90s. Mostly Euro-NRG and electronic stuff

The next day I leave Kensington and head towards Croydon - but not before have a beer with dear Frankus! I arrive at Dan and Marias for a later evening barbecue before heading much more Southernly.

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