Building a Community

I am moving to the Azores soon. I have recently moved to Portugal, I need new friends, and to be frank, the number of friends even in my previous home country has become critically low. I want to build new initiatives, possibly to also financially sustain me, but the main objective I have is to make new friends. (Post is still work-in-progress)

Unfortunately, I have quite stark requirements from my friends. I demand almost unreasonable levels of integrity, for example. I demand my friends to feel strongly for something, to be really passionate about something, even though I don’t particularly care what exactly they feel passionate about. I demand of my friends to have a strong volunteering bent. They must be able to contribute actively to whatever world they want to see. So I need to reach far and wide, throw a really wide net, because such high quality people are hard to find.

Time of course is also always at a premium, for myself and these potential new friends. So I want to make a compelling argument why they need to come find me, and add a lot of value to their time should they choose to spend this time in my company. At the same time there is a lot I want to learn more about: free and open source software, new ways of organising civilisations, DIY biotech, growing mushrooms and plants … open hardware … so many things!

A recently made friend, Diogo Constantino, brought Centro Linux to Portugal, and he listed a set of values that this community prescribes to. I tried my hand at what I would consider important to me, by looking at previous initiatives I was involved in, and what I valued in them:

  • Body and brain – I want to stimulate my mind and my movement. I loved parkrun for this reason.
  • Art and science “The art gives me all these other wings to take the science to other places.” – cesium podcast quote I’m still bust with
  • Ritual – or, predictable. This was mentioned in Diogo’s talk in terms of being easy for people to remember. I agree with this. Parkrun was every Saturday at 8:00, for example. I think it is also relevant in terms of knowing what to expect, being familiar. One article said parkrun is like church, a ritual. I also just started reading a book by Sasha Sagan called “For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World”. For non-religious people, maybe we need something to create community.
    (Jokingly I made a catholic cross, where when I did the head, heart, left side, right side, I said mind, movement, art, science. Lol)
  • Untame, feral – Tame is not sustainable. I’m toying with names for this “brand” I’m creating, and maybe something around a curious little beast, or pequinha fera curiosa (PFC) in Portuguese. Fera to link with feral, but also to alliterate with FOSS. The newspaper idea I still have in the back of my head has Curvy Cavy as working title, and our virtual world project is called peduncle, with a snail-type mascot, also a curious little beast. I, too, am a curious little beast.
  • Simple, clear
  • Cross-interest group
  • Intentional play – I don’t like talking or meeting up just for the fun of it. I want to do something useful while I’m socialising.
  • Monitoring, Moderation – this is important for healthy communities. We often assume that because everyone wants a happy co-space, everyone agrees on what that looks like, but personality dynamics quickly cause havoc. I want explicit rules, conflict management mechanisms and a specific person to hold to account for that.
  • Federated – I liked that despite initiatives like parkrun and TEDx had a common brand, we had at least some freedom to do our own thing. I think I want more of that freedom, but have to trade that off with the power of a unified brand. I think modularity could help.
  • Supported self-starting – I’m a self-starter but instead of other people joining in and helping it to grow it just seems to me they go, ok cool, can you do this as well. And then I get overwhelmed and burn out. Yes, this is a problem with my inability to establish my own boundaries, but, maybe in an attempt to also help with my boundaries, I want it to be clearer that yes, you can get help, but you need to do the work. It’s still your project, your idea.
  • Remote and virtual compatible, supportive of a-synchronicity – I don’t want to fly all over the place all of the time, and I don’t want people in my face all the time. Additionally, what if you live somewhere where these things just don’t happen, like an island in the middle of the Atlantic? How do we stay involved, while being able to take space? There’s many lessons from the lockdown. This is one of the big reasons I am excited about the metaverse.

I also thought about what I didn’t like so much, and quoting the commons design principles, where the clear boundaries are.

  • No children. I don’t like kids. I think what I really don’t like is people not raising their children well, but either way. I don’t want children around me. I don’t want to watch my language. Perhaps someone else can organise an event using my infrastructure and equipment, or events outside, like a parkrun can have kids diluted by distance and numbers of people, but my immediate environment must be children free. It is what it is. Perhaps stating it more nicely, I want a quiet, adult space; more suited to entrepreneurship and business-to-business things.
  • Restrictions. This is a difficult one as well. A strong brand is protective about itself, it has to be firm, to remain clear. But it gets overly restrictive very quickly. If I just do my own little thing, this is fine, but if I want to build a brand that can grow, then this becomes a problem. For now I think having an amalgam of brands present and welcome in my space can work, where people can choose which brands they prescribe or belong to, a sort of modularity where each brand can have their own boundaries, and people can pick and choose who they belong to. So maybe I have a TEDx event, but then I also have some other event where we can really get into the harder, more academic stuff, and we don’t have to worry about fitting it into a digestible 12 minute motivational sound-bite.

Follow these design principles

What sort of initiatives do I want to combine? Either these actual brands or something like that:

parkrun is a collection of 5-kilometre events for walkers, runners and volunteers that take place every Saturday morning at more than 2,000 locations in 22 countries across six continents. I really loved parkrun, but they didn’t want to allow volunteers to also run, so if you helped out by taking runners’ time, or handing out the position tokens, you could not also run before the event and log your time. This really pisses me off because I am fat because I help out and then get left behind. I launched a bloody parkrun and I’m still fat. So I rage quit. I don’t know what the issue was, maybe insurance or liability which I think is not a real reason, the mechanics allowed it, but anywayyyys, I’m still salty. In addition, Portugal does not have parkrun yet, and parkrun global is not opening more countries, so we can innovate something else. South Africa started a myrun, but maybe we can do a more FOSS thing that doesn’t need country level coordination. And figure out the liability thing around that.

Incidentally, on the mind and movement topic, there is a virtual medal thing which I really like (shiny things!) There’s (at least) four companies producing these; MetalMad, Conqueror, Yes.Fit and MyPacer, and Medal Mad even has a Create a Challenge option. While being together in person is still the best, I like this because of the “Remote and virtual compatible” aspect, and one can of course combine this to have little groups that run together in real life, while being part of a larger, more diverse group virtually. As an aside, I would like to see things that can build a bigger picture, like puzzle pieces or components to build a, car or spaceship or miniature house or whatever. Medals get old quickly.

TEDx are independently organised TED events. TED was originally an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design (now the tagline is simply “Ideas worth spreading”) which hints at it’s best feature: a meeting in one place of amazing ideas that generally don’t do a lot of cross-pollination. From an organising perspective it was magic, I revelled in seeing the volunteers and the speakers grow into confident, polished best versions of themselves. I loved having access to graphic designers, I honestly think designers are undervalued! My mind explodes at the potential of bringing the rigour of science together with the beauty of good design. The actual day of the event was a completely secondary effect for me. Over time, however, the event seemed to become more about about narcissist self-help people spreading their junk. I think that’s because good speakers are hard to find, the people with the best ideas don’t really like being on stage, they want to work on those ideas, while the narcissists flood your inbox daily. When you need to fill a schedule, at some point you give in. Secondly, the short format of the talks, no longer than 18 minutes are a great punchy way to get a message across, but they don’t allow depth and nuance. These talks were intended to be the start of the conversation, but, and this seems to be a common trend lately, they became the full story. Lastly, the talks need to focus on bringing humanity in, making the story personal. That often takes over and then the whole talk is about that, which …. misses the point. Maybe ultimately it became a volume thing, there was just too much to do proper quality control. So eventually, I quit that too. But I miss the magic, so I wonder if there is a way to revive this somehow.

For these two, what makes an initiative sticky? What makes it grow? Reading this criticism of TED, it’s probably about endorphins. “TED Talks are designed to make people feel good about themselves; to flatter them and make them feel clever and knowledgeable; to give them the impression that they’re part of an elite group making the world a better place.” Real growth, real improvement is uncomfortable. Complicating the narrative is hard. On the other hand, so is doing a 5k walk/run, but the reward at the end makes it worth it. This one thinks its because there’s more of a focus on style than content, it’s a cult. Yes, it’s out of balance, but us geeks can do a bit more focus on style, to be honest. I do think providing a service where an innovator has a polished short video to send potential funders or collaborators is good, particularly if they don’t have the funds or the confidence to pay for that.

Centro Linux at

Also fablab association

List events here:

I want a VR entertainment centre, with a omni-directional treadmill, haptic gear, the works. I want a hacker lab (Dremel etc), a DIYBio lab (with a pressure cooker for an autoclave, a chicken egg incubator as a general incubator, etc), a place to grow mushrooms, general crafty stuff, like, for papercraft and resin and whatnot, maybe a ceramic kiln… Oh yes, also an olympic length swimming pool, that I was thinking could be designed to also give horses exercise, you know, to justify the cost. But it will be an eco-pool. Probably a koi pond.

This probably needs to be in a new post, Philip Rosedale talking about community

Boundaries, moderation “we don’t want so much a world of infinite possibility. Rather, we want a world that we share with others in constructive and sometimes conflict with them.”

11min: We’ve already gone beyond the ability to apply that centralized control to those worlds. On the other hand, removing all responsibility, control, authority altogether, this is maybe what’s captured by the extreme libertarian sort of fully decentralized mindset is not going to work either. 

What is a middle ground? He suggests things like pseudonymity. The power of groups:

12 min: Everything’s got to be done with groups. The thing that’s going to work is belonging to a bunch of overlapping communities. Some people call this polycentrism right now. We all belong to a ton of different communities and, when we walk into a public event, we are often known to be members of those communities. “I’m a local”. These are things that tie me to the people around me and the world I’m in and constrain my behavior. I can’t just be anybody. I can’t just do anything I want to do, because it’s going to get back to me through the membership that I have in these communities or groups. I think that the right kind of belonging to groups, and then knowing that of the other people you encounter in a virtual world; I think there’s a pretty obvious path to having really great moderation. Can we celebrate and explicitly identify who belongs to what group so that, when there’s a conflict, the groups can sanction their members rather than some centralised moderator?

Then, right at the end he mentions “this ability to hear three or four people talking at the same time without becoming incredibly frustrated” which is “going to be one of the necessary but not sufficient components that I think can help facilitate good behavior.” – We spoke about this early in lockdown, asking why family meetings over video call – celebrating the festive season remotely, was so terrible. We felt that it was silly to have to wait our turn to speak, that some people would hog the conversation. What made gatherings wonderful is that buzz of everyone chatting, and then hearing something interesting in another group and hopping over there to join, overhearing some juicy gossip perhaps, or chilling in a corner surveying the room. These micro interactions seemed to be the real casualty of lockdown, and I think the magic ingredient to these communities.

Art and science–bridging-the-real-and-the-virtual/

I benefit from learning from two extremes and then operating in the middle. The art and science sides have a similar feeling. 

In everything that I or the team are trying to create, I’m always thinking about how can we differentiate measurable from immeasurable, right? The art is the immeasurable, the science is the measurable. If you cannot falsify something, then it’s not the science but with art you cannot falsify almost anything. You can also think of science as more the brain and art as more the heart. 

How do you combine them? That just fascinates me. How do you express science and engineering in a way that touches people’s hearts? We know that people don’t remember what you say, but they remember how you make them feel. How can we make something technical, feelable? 

From that sense, I like art. I don’t like art just for the sake of art. I like how art expands our senses beyond language, beyond formulas. I like science in its rigorousness. There is something about when you can really put it into a formula, which you can repeat or if you can prove something is true or false. There’s something really grounding for me there, but it didn’t feel like enough. The art gives me all these other wings to take the science to other places.

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