Friday, July 22, 2016

Green Resources : project for a Sustainability Knowledge Base / Archive

Over the past few months i've been working on a proof-of-concept for an archival website..

To capture the wonderful stuff regarding sustainability

Being shared among networks such as this,

To properly attribute & manage the info so that:

1. It becomes accessible to a broader audience; and

2. You can find it when you need it even after months or years have gone by.

The pilot site is here:

please check it out and let me know how you feel about it.

Look at the left & right for slide-in menus.

See the About section if you're getting curious.

This site goes way beyond the confines of standard websites/blogs and pushes the limits for the features needed.

Proud to share it was all done using free and open source technology, namely wordpress enhanced with a platoon of plugins.

The site's USP is a multi-channel filter using which you can filter down to the subject, type, location, level, language etc to refine your search.

The articles can also have features like their own map location and mulitple attachments.

In terms of content focus, my initial idea is that this should be a haystack that archives several short leads to resources, like contact details of a RWH expert in Delhi region, or growing method of a particular millet crop in Vidarbha region, or way to avoid a particular pest attacking a plant in city balconies, etc. Stuff that we usually share on our groups and mailing lists when somebody asks. I'm not looking at having full-fledged well-written articles because I already see  some sites like Vikalp Sangam, TheAlternative, Ecologise, TheBetterIndia etc doing a great job with that. Rather we should link to those articles and so help people find them. And geography wise, I'm focussing on material relevant to Indians (which may be international in origin but relevant here)

What's needed now: The Human Component

While technology is important, for something like this to succeed we need many caring hands on deck. Without that, this is just a tool without a master, and there's no way just one or two or people can keep up with the plethora of content being shared nowadays.

At the NPC (National Permaculture Convergence, Feb'16) and since, i got a strong feeling that the time has come, there are many more people coming forward wanting to do this and telling me they need something like this. So hoping to find ways to take this forward! Maybe a group out there with enough hands onboard can adopt this. Or maybe multiple groups can depute people and co-host it. Do reply back if you're interested.

And while the way forward gets charted, the site is LIVE and is open for you to contribute content! And yes, we can handle a flood of content and have ways of managing it effectively so jump right in!

There's a cool Submit an Article section where you can create an article yourself, attach a photo too, and when you submit it, it'll queue up for an editor to attribute, approve and publish. This keeps minimal load on you as a contributor... no need to login etc.

Lastly, this work is shared in the spirit of gift economy. The output is open source and free, while the inputs have been time-taking and a great learning experience for me (am open to web design projects, ahem!). If you liked this initiative and want to contribute towards it in any way, then click here: Contribute

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Happy Guru Purnima

19th July 2016: Guru Purnima is an Indian and Nepalese festival dedicated to spiritual and academic teachers. This festival is traditionally celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists, to pay their respects to their teachers and express their gratitude.

Wishing a Happy Guru Purnima to all the children who have taught me so much!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The link between our leaders' behavior and voters' preferences

Here's an interesting mail-forward from a friend of mine highlighting the day-to-day behavior of India's politicians, compared to how their counterparts in other countries behave. I then shared some insight about it, scroll to bottom to see it.

Why we are where we are and likely to remain there.... 

And even more interesting, a conversation that followed:

Me: We all know very well that there's only one party in this country that has broken this trend and even today goes around without all this stupidity.. AAP.

My Friend:
NO. Party politics needs to be kept away giving way to education; then only the Country will see the desired thorough change,

Is that really how all the other countries achieved it? Every last one of them? Did the USA and Britain and countries of Europe abandon all politics, elections etc and let a dictatorship handle things while they educated one generation? Would it be really wise to expect an idealistic "should be should be" solution with no real strategy of implementing it, and ignore the path others have followed?

As far as I know, there has been plenty of cronyism elsewhere too. At some point the electorate starting expecting better behavior and decency from their leaders and their authorities, and started voting more for those who lived up to those basic expectations. Like, for example, don't vote for a party that harbors criminals and rapists in its ranks, no matter how promising the main leader at the top looks : a very simple and basic way of drawing the line between acceptable and unacceptable.

They understood that there is a definite link between this day-to-day behavior and the actual character and overall work that the politician in question will end up doing for the country. They got the point that this basic linkage is far more reliable than the overly complicated soap-opera style speculations and calculations and isne-usne-iska-uska that we use with our typical Indian tendency to selectively over-think in political matters. They understood that a good leader is first: a decent person and second: one who keeps decent company, that these criteria aren't supposed to be overridden no matter how great the stated promises coming from the top, no matter how infinitely shrewd and wise you think that top guy is.

Today India has one of the most highly criminalized elected bodies, from Panchayat level all the way to the various State Legislative Assemblies and all the way to Central level, on this planet and in India's own history. It's not an allegation, it's a fact. Here's a tool that can help you look into this: . I see a direct link between all the pictures shared above and this one simple basic fact, and I can also recognize and empathize with the bias which makes people overlook this, coming from a desperate hope against the simple laws of reality.

PS: I'll also point out the propaganda aim I recognized in the selection of images in this collection. I've seen such collections in email forwards in past years, and this one has a slight difference: all BJP leaders have been sanitized out of it. We're supposed to infer that they don't do the exact same thing and are much better.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What should be done to Facebook and others for violating your country's citizens' rights

Facebook CAN track you offline: Site wins Belgian privacy case over following logged out users

...The social media site has won a legal battle against the Belgian data protection authority over tracking its users while they are not logged into Facebook.
Originally, the regulator had won its case and ordered the social network to stop tracking non-members when they visited publicly available Facebook pages.
But the Brussels Appeals Court dismissed the case, on the grounds that the regulator has no jurisdiction over Facebook Inc, which has its European headquarters in Ireland.

>> An example of how legal speak defies common sense.

The people that FB is tracking are in Belgium, and Belgium's data protection authority is trying to protect its own people from the violative actions of an outside company operating over the internet. If the outside company, basically a foreigner, is caught committing wrongdoing to citizens of Belgium, then it's a simple case of attack on national sovereignty and should be treated as such.

What the court has decided, means that if a NATIVE service had been caught doing it then the authorities could be free to prosecute them, but since it's a FOREIGN service doing it, it's suddenly totally OK.

Tomorrow, if a foreign based entity is caught committing crimes and doing harm to Belgian people, tomorrow if a foreigner is caught having raped a Belgian citizen, then that will be completely valid and legitimate according to the basic logic that the Bussels Appeals Court has followed in this case.

Which of course is absolute bullshit.

What is SUPPOSED to happen here is that Belgium has to issue an extradition warrant to Ireland to extradite and prosecute Facebook's executives for committing crimes on the citizens of Belgium. (It might be something that only earns a fine as per rules, but the due process is supposed to be the same.)

If Ireland is then unable to proceed as the people in question aren't really in Ireland and it's just a business address registered there to evade higher corporate taxes or obligations elsewhere, then the obvious next step is to SHUT DOWN the business by locking down that office, and confiscate whatever property, equipment and accounts are in Ireland and connected with the business till the executives responsible come down and face due process. If they want to contest the extradition warrant, let them take it up in a court in Ireland as per law. The only other alternative for the company is to forgo everything they had in Ireland and remain out as absconders. It is then up to tax authories at all other places where this business is based, to decide that if this business is no longer based in Ireland, then where is it, and which country should claim taxation and other obligations from it?

This situation brings forward the need for localizing transactions : Irrespective of where the hell the business is based, if they are violating Belgian laws (and being foreigners are hence seen as atacking the sovereignty of Belgium) then the Belgian authorities must have complete right to prosecute them in whichever way they can. And this can happen in quite some ways:

1. Put out summons for executives of Facebook to summon them to a Belgian court and failing which they are to be declared as absconders; if they ever enter Belgian territory (like, say, changing flights at Brussels) then they are to be taken into custody. (hey, this is exactly what was being done when the US set out for capturing Edward Snowden, including being willing to force any plane carrying him passing their or allies' airspace to land)

2. Summon any Belgian citizenship holding employees of Facebook or who are in a working contract with it as representatives of the company; let them off if they resign or forfeit the job contract immediately.

3. Enter the company in a national boycott list according to which all Belgian companies and citizens are forbidden from performing business transactions with it, hence economic boycott.
(Note: people using facebook don't get covered here, as they are consumers of freely provided service and not doing financial transactions with FB)

4. Use extradition treaties to summon FB representatives to Belgian court.

5. Confiscate any property owned by the company or its subsidiaries that is there or enters into Belgian territory.

6. Apply similar measures for other entities that are found to be benefiting from transacting with FB and aren't doing anything to make FB comply.

Given the present indoctrination that big internet companies like Facebook are above and beyond any country's laws, this all might seem too far-fetched to you. But try imagining what should be done if it was some other foreign based small company or individual found to be violating the legally enshrined rights of citizens of your country. If you WANT to have a law and order system, then let's treat everyone the same before the law, shall we?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Interesting Links for June 2016

Interesting Links for June 2016

When they instruct you to hate, don't.

When the mainstream media,

whom you know is criminally culpable in causing wars and financial, environmental, social and cultural plunder and in general making bad things happen,

which you know is acting against the best interests of the public and in the best interests of power elites who own the media companies or who are in the common circles with them...

When this mainstream media

Is going out of its way

to encourage and instruct you

to absolutely hate any particular public figure,

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Palikade Permaculture Project - Plantation 1st Phase

The Palikade Permaculture Project – Phase 1 plantation
In March 2016, we (Astrid Rao and Sneha Shetty) attended a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) organised by Academy for Earth Sustainability and conducted by Narsanna Koppula , where we were introduced to the intricacies of water harvesting and soil conservation (WH & SC) among many other themes of permaculture.

In WH & SC, we learnt about "vegetative consolidation" of water harvesting structures i.e. consciously designed multi-level planting of trees, shrubs and ground cover on the water harvesting structures. The purpose is to strengthen the structures, increase biomass, enhance soil health, create micro-climates and many others. The loose soil of the newly created bunds also provide a good base for new saplings to grow in.

At our 18-acre farm in Kamshet, which we call 'Palikade', we decided to start with designing the land forms for WH & SC. We have only the rains as a source of water here, so we decided to grow indigenous/ native, hardy, rain fed trees as well as quick growing leguminous shrubs that would fix nitrogen into the soil, provide us loads of biomass and create microclimate. We started growing saplings of the latter in our nursery in April. Then we made a plant palette of what would grow well in our area, choosing species that would serve many functions. It would be a tropical food forest that would provide for food, clothing, shelter and other needs of not just the human residents but all the stake holders including the birds, insects and micro organisms (in Narsanna's words). This was a great opportunity to grow native trees that have been on my wish list for years (yes, i am a serious tree lover).

We began the water harvesting structures in April - boundary trenches, contour trenches, a couple of ponds and a percolation tank at the highest point in the property with the hope that they will hold the water and let it percolate into the subsoil, thereby using the soil itself to hold water. We also intend to grow a mix of cereals, millets, pulses, oilseeds and green manure on the land meant for growing annual crops & orchards in future. This is to regenerate the soil ('make the entire land a compost pit' – Narsanna's words). In the coming months, we will continue to plant a live fence on the boundary, comprising of various plants serving multiple functions.
Permaculture has the answers people – and Narsanna Koppula (founder of Aranya Agricultural Alternatives, Hyderabad) is a leading light of our times.

In the last one week, we have planted more than 2200 saplings and cuttings (of about 90 species), sowed hundreds of seeds and will continue to populate the bunds with ground cover (grasses, climbers and shrubs) of various types that will all do their bit to contribute to the fertility of soil and up our sustainability quotient.

Wishing you a very Happy Van Mahotsav – we at Native Place and Nirvana Adventures are happy to contribute to the mammoth task that the Maharashtra govt has undertaken to plant 2 crore trees by the 1st of July 2016. We are grateful that we could source about 1,000 plants from Government nurseries (Forest Dept- Shirota, Social Forestry - Pune & PWD- Pune) at very affordable rates. Thanks a ton, guys!

Peace Bliss & Happy Landings
From Native Place and team at Nirvana Paragliding Club , Kamshet , India

See some photos from this activity on

Few pics below:

(see facebook album linked above for all pics)


Note from Nikhil:
Feeling very lucky to have gotten to do a little participation in this huge project and getting to pick the brains of the designers. I walked barefoot in beautiful natural surroundings, got totally wet and totally muddy, was all over the beautiful sticky mud and can now say I have truly experienced the magic of monsoons. 

Palikade is a work of art and some very deeply thought out planning that can serve as an example for any student of planning or engineering. So many steps taken to harvest water, to make it go exactly where it needs to, to enrich the soil to the fullest; so much care taken with each sapling, ensuring the various indigenous species are well-mixed and spaced out with the prevalent flora, fully grown tree's canopy, height, root zone, nutrients etc kept in mind, sunlight, shade, wind direction, access, slopes all taken into account. I got to see high level engineering in perfect harmony with nature here, hats off to Astrid Rao and Sneha Shetty for meticulously planning and executing this project and the sheer amount of love and fun they brought into it. Even for the planting operations for our drinking, cleaning, cooking etc we were using rainwater directly collected from the roof of the small house there!

The local farmers from the village who were working on the project were also enjoying every moment, have understood many concepts of permaculture and were actively discussing about applying some ideas on their side. They also contributed their tacit knowledge about the wild medicinal herbs in the area, local growing habits, seasonal variations etc, all of which went into informing the project design. The ladies requested for and took saplings like drumstick home to plant for their kitchen gardens. So even the strong local connect that Astrid has established with the community here since over a decade, and the informal spreading of sustainability concepts, is something very exciting and we can look forward to more wonderful things happening here in the near future.

Astrid and Sneha

Gift Economy

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