Category Archives: Musings

Conference Vs Barcamp

I started this blog post to talk about my participation in the elektro-camp in Offenburg last weekend, bu after my attendance of the “Conference for energy reform” at the Heinrich Boell foundation today made me decide to write about both and compare them.

The elektro-camp was quite spontaneously organized in a barcamp fashion, the number of participants was less than 30, there was no official schedule, we grossly defined the “program” together in the first day, and we didn’t really stick to it so strictly. The participants were really awesome, very clever geeks, all friendly, nice and modest. We all came from different backgrounds (but mainly technical). There were purely technical talks, and others more organizational, social,etc but each and every one was very interesting to me. They were all centered around the theme energy monitoring, automation and energy efficiency.

The Conference at the Boell foundation was totally different: more than a hundred participants: students, politicians, university professors, scientists, economists, lobbyists, journalists, farmers, activists, philanthropists, and there was even a dog! There were panel discussions where middle-aged men and women were talk and debating with each others and the audience just listening. Actually that’s not correct, we had a few minutes to ask 5 or 6 questions. Then what they call “workshops”, in which three persons sit on a platform in the front and talk with each others, and a moderator kind of coordinates the talk. Again at the end there were a few minutes for the participants to say a few words.

I hated the second conference. I felt like I was wasting my time, the flow of information was unidirectional and it was most of the time not interesting for me. I think such events where a few people debate about something and an audience listens to them are just obsolete. We live in an era where almost skills, information and experiences are shared in a more horizontal and peer-to-peer way.

I loved how the elektro-camp was spontaneously “planned” and “organized” and I don’t think I it’s worth the time and hassle to travel somewhere to be a passive information receiver. Fortunately, I hijacked the system and could place a short description of who I am and what I do, which resulted in very interesting and exciting discussions later, and will hopefully generate great things in the future, but today I realized more than ever that it’s the p2p events that are the best: barcamps, hackathons, real workshops…etc.

Excellent read: The Hunger Games

Bootstrapping is the right way. Pitching to investors (especially VCs) is both a waste of time and wrong. These are two principles I very strongly believe in, and I just read this blog post (thanks Massimo for sharing) by a fellow founder who is living some exceptionally exciting times. It’s true that when you have no other choice than make money to survive, you have no other option that succeed. Here is an excerpt:

I spent, and pitched, and hired, and pitched, and bitched, and pitched some more.  I knew I needed to learn how to pitch better, and relished the opportunities to practice, but we were about to be out of money, fast, and I was running out of moves, and investors.  Finally in February, I sat down with the team and we had ‘the talk’.  March 1 was the end of the money, and it was up to Don (our CTO and my co-founder) and I to take it the last 10 yards.  We stared deep into the abyss that day, and questioned every decision that had brought us here.

And then we jumped.

It was time to embrace the insanity.  Don sold his car, dropped every expense but his phone, and moved in.  I started looking for odd jobs to keep the coffee flowing and the internet on (thank you!).  Shit just got real.



Open source hardware and the free rider dilemna

It is no longer a secret that I am starting a little company that will sell open source hardware and software for energy monitoring. It is mainly based on the Open Energy Monitor project which is registered under the GNU general public license. Although I contributed to the development and promotion of the project myself, I often feel like I’m using other people’s work to make money.

There are now more than 960 registered members in the community, not all of them are active and quite a few contribute actively to the development of the project. But does that mean that the others are just passive members? free riders? is that fair?

I started toying with the idea of using an arduino to monitor electricity consumption about two years ago, and I found out that someone else (Trystan and Glyn and quite a few others) already started developing that idea and sharing their work and findings online. Sharing their work and code online does not only save other people (actually humanity in general) a lot of time and effort, but it also allows for a much wider scope of fellow tinkerers to review and improve that work.

This time and effort saved can be used in further developing this project, and this is what the famous “standing on each others’ shoulders” means. But what about people who benefit from this work and do not contribute with anything back?

I think that the free rider definition does not apply here, because since using this code and designs does not affect the creators negatively. They chose to share it with the rest of the world. All they’re asking for is credit and recognition. I think if someone uses open source without credits in a closed source project that would yield financial benefit, then we have a problem.

That’s it then! Problem solved! In theory at least, because in the open hardware world, things are a little bit different. Phillip Torrone from adafruit industries and make (yes he’s everywhere) wrote about it here, and so did Jean Claude from JeeLabs in a series of five posts, but I’m going to bring my two cents in my next post.

Stay tuned…

Hacking the Hackerspace agenda

If this was a quizz and I had to guess where this haking event is taking place, I would have screamed “Cairo!” within 35 ms :D

Where else on earth you get a “prayer break” officially stated in the agenda? but what strikes most is lunch time: 16:00 to 17:00 :D

Only in Egypt! But the other thought that comes to my mind after the first amusing one is that making and hacking has no nationality or religion. Humans are by nature makers and hackers.

John Mill’s view on happiness and contentment

I have been watching those videos from Harvard’s political philosophy course: Justice, and these words really hit a spot in me:

It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.

It describes my state of mind currently, especially with all the dark and obscure things happening in Tunisia these days.