A mechatronic workshop

Some people face more challenges than others. Members of the Afghan all-girls robotics team make adjustments to a team robot in the practice area in Washington D.C. on 2017-07-17. These young Afghan women are renown for their resilience and resolve. Their visas to USA had been rejected twice. Despite this, when they arrived at the last minute, their team came in second place. Later in 2017-11-27, they won first place at the Entrepreneurial Challenge, for the Robotex festival, in Tallinn, Estonia. Their challenge was to showcase a prototype that could solve a real-world problem, and that customers would want to buy. They won with a robot that could use solar energy to support small-scale farmers in their fields. (Photo: Paul J. Richards)

For the past three days I have spent my working hours fighting off a virus while pondering some fundamental concepts related to a community mechatronics workshop, that should be opening soon in Inderøy.

Ideally, this workshop should be all things to all people, or at least, a few different things to a few different groups of people. The challenge is, that one has only NOK 250 000 to equip the workshop, whereas one needs about NOK 1 000 000. The area is 70 square meters, and one room. What one needs is 200 square meters and five different rooms.

Rather than spreading investments over several fields, and ending up with nothing, a decision was taken to focus exclusively on mechatronics. Once this is in place and functioning well, then other areas can be prioritized at some unspecified point in the future.

Then there is the challenge of a name. What might seem like an obvious choice, a seemingly innocent term, such as maker space proves difficult to use in practice. Why? Well, maker is a political term, and is frequently usurped by people with vested interests. John Patrick Leary lists maker as one of his keywords, in his 2018 book, Keywords. Libertarians, in particular, have seized on this title. Other terms, such as hack space, have also been usurped, but by the socialist hoard, political adversaries of libertarians.

Before confronting the socialist hoard hackers, who are theselibertarians and what do they want? A quick, but necessarily incomplete, answer to the question is, followers of Ayn Rand (1905 – 1982). Admittedly there are exceptional libertarians who dislike Rand, but they are in the minority. Rand is known especially for two novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and for a philosophical system she called Objectivism, that has inspired many libertarians. Mother Jones, the San Francisco based investigative magazine, remarked that “Rand’s particular genius has always been her ability to turn upside down traditional hierarchies and recast the wealthy, the talented, and the powerful as the oppressed.” (July-August 2009).

Rand is not noted for anything approaching political correctness. In her biography Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, Jennifer Burns notes how Rand’s position that “Native Americans were savages” and that as a result “European colonists had a right to seize their land because native tribes did not recognize individual rights.” (p. 266) She has offered similar opinions about the Arab populations of the Middle East.

As David Harvey, in A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005), argues, Neoliberalization’s primary accomplishment has been to “redistribute, rather than to generate, wealth and income” (p. 159). In particular, he points to privatization and commodification of previously public assets, which he describes as the “Commodification of Everything” in which all things are turned into things with that can have rents extracted from, including intangible ideas like originality, authenticity, and uniqueness, which “were never actually produced as commodities.” (p. 166) .

Much of the libertarian movement could be described as “me first”. It wants to reward the aggressive. At this point it could be appropriate for readers to take a pause, and read Debbie Chachra’s essay, Why I am Not a Maker: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/01/why-i-am-not-a-maker/384767/

The point of the above essay is that a community workshop is not just a workshop for the few. There are a large number of social interactions that have to be facilitated. There are youth present who may be learning new skills, teachers who may be providing instruction, disabled people who may be in need of companionship, people of many genders who may want to create a new and for them, a more appropriate identity. While there may be people who may be making, there may be others who are repairing or repurposing or recycling or just reflecting on life.

I am particularly concerned that calling something a maker space, will in itself create an unintended hierarchy of users. In some maker spaces in Canada, it has been found that white, male youth, from privliged backgrounds, attempted to monopolize maker spaces, by defining themselves as its target group, and defining others as outside of that target group.

Such is the power of a name. I have previously argued for the use of a name that is the Norwegian equivalent of Velocity, a vector quantity that combines speed with direction. More importantly, it does not hint at what can or cannot be done in a workshop. There is no prestige to be lost if the organization changes direction. Velocity might be involved in mechatronics this year, then shift to fashion, cos-play and steampunk next year, before ending up as a videography group focused on rock musicals. It doesn’t make any difference, because the name is flexible.

Now it is time to look at more left-leaning hacker spaces. Left-leaning, but not necessarily egalitarian or diverse.

In V. Kostakis, V. Niaros & C. Giotitsas Production and governance in hackerspaces: A manifestation of Commons-based peer production in the physical realm? (2014) International Journal of Cultural Studies, Hacker space practices supposedly contrast with market-based maker space businesses in that they are more focused on for-benefit rather than for-profit projects but that for-profit motivations are not entirely absent. In this study of 23 semi-structured interviews with a sample of hacker spaces around the world found that money remains a peripheral concept only. Particpants are motivated by the social desire for hackers to have a ‘third place’ for social interaction. This refers to American urban sociologist, Ray Oldenburg (1932 – ) and the importance of informal public gathering places for a functioning civil society, democracy and civic engagement. In addition, there is the altruistic motivation of ‘making the world a better place’ through working on commons-oriented projects. However, it was also found that openness only applied in a limited sense. The barrier is not a door; it is social inclusion. In J. Moilanen Emerging hackerspaces–Peer-production generation Open Source Systems: LongTerm Sustainability (2012) pp. 94-111, 90 percent of respondents were male and 64 percent of respondents had a completed a post-secondary degree. Often hacker spaces are closed to non-members, most days of the week.

Collaboration and sharing were found to be important by six out of
seven participants as evidence of collaboration in the spaces. In addition, some hacker spaces were committed to sharing projects with Commons-based licenses and favored people working on collective projects over personal ones. There was also a wide variety of ‘innovative’ hardware and software produced by hacker spaces and showed the underestimated power of meaningful human cooperation. At the same time there was community accountability, communal validation and autonomy. Participants cited trust and accountability as important pillars of hacker space operation.

A workshop needs legal status and governance. Most are non-profit organizations governed by elected boards, This is one of the first things that has to be put into place. An alternative is to nest the workshop within an existing organization, such a municipal public library. It needs membership fees and/ or funding. Often membership fees serve as the primary income source for a space though different membership levels or sliding-scale pricing. Some spaces receive grants or donations, as is the case with the workshop in Inderøy.

Workshops need physical space and equipment. Most start small but can grow into large spaces. One major challenge is finding adequate and affordable space. There is also a need for a workshop to abide by legal safety and ergonomic standards. Workshops may have issues with building codes, including fire protection and ventilation systems. There is also a need for liability insurance and waiver forms for adult participants.

The creation of a workshop involves much more than a group of
individuals coming together to form a do-ocracy.

One major challenge is the inability for workshops to account/ bookkeep volunteer labour. It is far too frequently treated as a free resource without value. This is inappropriate. Personnel and mentor costs are valid costs. When local government is involved, they need to be efficient in allocating limited resources (even those provided by retired persons). Other underestimated costs have to do with externalities. Noise and physical damage are major concerns, given that workshops have noisier and messier activities. To reduce noise impact, workshops may have to be given insulated spaces and flooring, and by separated physically from other quieter activities.

Stakeholder support is another significant issue. It is important that workshop initiators communicate openly with everyone even remotely influenced by the workshop.


A: Use a variety of tools, modes, media, and materials to design texts and artefacts. Re-design texts and artefacts.

B: Understand design principles within a specific social and cultural context, bringing their own experiences to bear on the task.

C: Reflect critically on design principles. Choose modes, media, and materials to use for specific purposes (e.g., to entertain,persuade, etc.) and for particular audiences.

D: Use a variety of tools, modes, media,and materials to produce texts and artefacts. Re-use/ re-purpose/ re-mix texts and artefacts effectively.

E: Draw on own social and cultural experiences in the creation of texts and artefacts. Allow feelings and emotions to shape the production experience.

F: Reflect critically on the process of production,to ask questions such as (i) How do I want topresent myself and others in this text or artefact? (ii) What messages do I want to convey?

G: Access and understand modes/ media/ materials used in the production of a text/ artefact. Comprehend meaning, interpret through analysis,reflection, synthesis. Relate text/artefact to own prior understandingand experience. Move beyond a literal to deductive andinferential reading.

H: Draw on own social and cultural experiences in the analysis and interpretation of texts and artefacts. Participate with others in collective reviewand interpretation. Understand texts and artefacts in relation to the social, historical, and cultural contexts in which they were produced. I: Reflect critically on the text or artefact that is being engaged with, to ask questions such as: (i) Who produced this? (ii) What can be discerned of the producer’s intentions? (iii) How has the producer positioned the reader/ viewer/ user? (iv) How do issues of power work in this context?

J: Able to use a variety of tools, modes, media,and avenues to disseminate texts and artefacts.

K: Understand most effective means of disseminating texts and artefacts within the social and cultural context. Reach out effectively to diverse audiences tocommunicate meanings.

L: Reflect critically on modes of dissemination, to ensure most effective use of them.

Marsh, J.; Kumpulainen, K.; Nisha, B.; Velicu, A.; Blum-Ross, A.; Hyatt, D.; Jónsdóttir, S.R.; Levy, R.; Little, S.;Marusteru, G.; et al. (Eds.) Makerspaces in the Early Years: A Literature Review; MakEY Project; University of Sheffield: Sheffield, UK, 2017; pp. 75–79. Available online: http://makeyproject.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Makey_Literature_Review.pdf

To conclude. There are a wide range of issues in workshop governance that can emerge, many of which cannot be found in advance.

In Inderøy a mechatronic workshop may suit the needs of many potential participants. In other parts of the world, this would not be the obvious choice. Many women, especially, choose to work with tradtional textiles, while others feel more comfortable working with robots. Lowriders are a cultural phenomenon involving many American males of Latino background. People have many different interests, and develop many different skill sets.

Telling the Climate story!

An alternative advertisement in Oslo depicting Swedish activist, 15-year old Grete Thunberg. Thunberg seems to have a much greater and more nuanced understanding of climatic challenges than, for example, Norwegian Prime Minister, 58-year old Erna Solberg. (Photo: Gunhild Hjermundrud, NRK)

While 40 000 school children held a strike for the climate last Friday, 2019-03-22, The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation published a chronicle by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, where she tried to respond to the students’ criticism.

Tried, but failed. In the chronicle, Solberg shows that she does not realize at all what the climate strike was about. “We must listen to your ideas,” she concedes. Unfortunately, listening was not one of the objectives of the strike. Rather, it was “Enough talk – we demand action!”.

Alternative advertisements? That is what happens when someone usurps paid advertising space that would normally be used to promote Coca-Cola, or other fine products made by multinational corporations. Fine products that, unfortunately, may not be all that healthy for individuals, humankind or the planet. Alternative advertisements promote an alternative vision. All that is needed is a large sheet of paper, some felt pens, and tape.

Munsee Lenape

Members of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation, New Jersey in 2015 (Photo: 987TheCoast.com)

To the best of my knowledge, my First Nations heritage can be traced to the Lenape (Lunaapeew) People of the Delaware Nation at Moraviantown. The community is located on the southern shores of the Thames River, near the small town of Thamesville. The 13 km² Moravian 47 reserve (Munsee: Náahii, literally ‘downstream’) is in Chatham-Kent municipality, Ontario. First Nation membership totals over 1,000 people, with 457 living on the reserve, and 587 living off it. People such as myself are not included because we have far too little DNA (1 – 2%)!

Lenapehoking is a term for the lands historically inhabited by the Lenape in what is now the Mid-Atlantic United States. New York City, Newark, Trenton, Princeton, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Delaware, Atlantic City, the Jersey Shore, Pine Barrens, the Sourland Mountains, the Delaware Valley, Poconos, and parts of the Catskills and numerous other areas are in Lenapehoking today. The Lenape have occupied parts of what is now New Jersey for 10 000 years (since 8 000 BC).

The Munsee were the Wolf clan of the Lenape, occupying the area where present-day Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York meet. The first recorded European contact occurred in 1524, when Giovanni da Verrazzano sailed into what is now New York Harbor. The Munsee were quickly devastated by European diseases such as smallpox and influenza, and those who survived were forced inland.

Some of the Munsee were converting to Christianity through the efforts of Moravian missionaries. In 1772, David Zeisberger led them to Gnadenhütten, in Ohio Country, which he hoped would isolate them from the hostilities of the approaching American Revolution, and free them from European settlers in the east. The mission villages were separate from both European settlers and from other native people. The Munsee were pacifists, although they had some weapons for hunting purposes.

However, on 1782-03-07, a force of Pennsylvania militiamen, in search of Indians who had been raiding settlements in western Pennsylvania, happened upon a group of Christian Munsee and rounded them up in the village of Gnadenhütten. Although the Munsee truthfully pleaded their innocence, the militia took a vote and decided to massacre them all. Ninety-six innocent Munsee men, women and children spent the night in song and prayer knowing they would be slaughtered the following morning 1782-03-08. The surviving Christian Munsee left that area later, led by Moravian missionary David Zeisberger.

A new community was then established at Fairfield along the Thames River. There they lived in relative peace for twenty years, supporting themselves with their farming and industry, until American soldiers burned their village to the ground during the War of 1812 Battle of the Thames. The battle is well known historically as a victory for American General (and later President) William Henry Harrison, and for the death of the Shawnee chief, Tecumseh. The Munsee fled into the wilderness for safe haven until hostilities had ceased, then returned to build a new Fairfield across the Thames River to the south, which is now known as Moraviantown.

Among many Algonquian peoples along the East Coast, the Lenape were considered the grandfathers from whom other Algonquian-speaking peoples originated.

The Lenape have a matrilineal clan system, where children belong to their mother’s clan, from which they gain social status and identity. The mother’s eldest brother was more significant as a mentor to the male children than was their father, who was generally of another clan. Hereditary leadership passed through the maternal line, and women elders could remove leaders of whom they disapproved. Agricultural land was managed by women and allotted according to the subsistence needs of their extended families. Families were matrilocal; newlywed couples would live with the bride’s family, where her mother and sisters could also assist her with her growing family.

The Lenape assigned land of their common territory to a particular clan for hunting, fishing, and cultivation. There was no individual private ownership of land although women often had rights to plots for farming. Clans lived in fixed settlements, using the surrounding areas for communal hunting and planting until the land was exhausted. In a practice known as agricultural shifting, the group then moved to found a new settlement within their territory.

Companion planting was also practiced. Here, women cultivated many varieties of the Three Sisters: maize, beans, and squash. Tobacco was also farmed by the men. Fish such as sturgeon, pike and a variety of shellfish such as clams, oysters, lobsters and scallops were an important part of their food supply. The Lenape men also provided meat from deer (venison), black bear and smaller game like squirrel, rabbit, wild turkey and duck. The Lenape food also included nuts, vegetables, mushrooms and fruits (plums, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries).

The people were primarily sedentary living in longhouses in villages that were heavily fortified with palisades due to attacks by the Mohawks. They moved seasonally to summer campsites for particular purposes such as fishing or hunting. Here they built wigwams with wooden frames that were covered with woven mats, sheets of birchbark and animal skins. Ropes were wrapped around the wigwam to hold the birch bark in place. During the 17th-century, European settlers and traders from colonies of New Netherland and New Sweden traded with the Lenape for agricultural products, mainly maize, in exchange for iron tools.

The Lenape built canoes made from birch bark over a wooden frame. These canoes were broad enough to float in shallow streams, strong enough to shoot dangerous rapids, and light enough for one man to easily carry a canoe on his back. The Lenape also built heavier dugout canoes.

Thrive Market

Thrive Market was launched in November 2014 to address the geographical and monetary challenges that bar communities from healthy food.

I’ve known about Thrive Market since 2019-03-08 at 07:20, about ten minutes before I started writing this web-log post. It happened when I read my daily Innovation of the Day email from trendwatching.com : “A plant-based version of canned tuna made by vegan food company Good Catch became available at Whole Foods and Thrive Market grocery stores in the US this quarter. The vegan ‘tuna’ was created in response to the issues of overfishing (around 90% of the fish supply has been overexploited or entirely depleted), bad conditions in fisheries and contaminants often found in real tuna, including mercury and plastics. Good Catch’s tuna is made from legumes, seaweed, and soy, and has approximately the same nutritional content as real tuna.”

That sounded interesting, but I also realized the Whole Foods had become a subsidiary of Amazon, which is a company with far too much influence in the marketplace to be of long-term benefit to consumers. I though I would look at Thrive Market, and see if it was a more suitable supplier for someone of my sensibilities.

According to Wikipedia, Thrive Market is an American e-commerce membership-based retailer offering natural and organic food products at reduced costs. It was founded by Nick Green, Gunnar Lovelace, Kate Mulling, and Sasha Siddhartha. By 2016 they had raised $141 million across three rounds of funding following their launch in November 2014. For every paid Thrive Market membership, a free membership is donated to a family in need in the United States.

Company values are expressed in their Thrive Five. These are: 1. Organic, “We’re committed to organic farming – for the sake of your health and our planet’s. If a product can be produced organically, you’ll find that option on Thrive Market.” 2. Non-GMO, “Genetically modifying our food damages our soil, our water supply, and our health. You’ll never find food containing GMOs at Thrive Market.” 3. Sustainable, “We dig into the supply chains of every product we carry to be sure it’s been produced sustainably.” 4. Non toxic, “We’ve compiled more than 450 chemicals that meet FDA standards for safety, but not ours. Because questionable ingredients don’t belong anywhere near our homes or bodies.” 5. For you, “We all have different health goals. That’s why we’ve tagged every product according to 140 different diets, allergies, and lifestyle factors—so you can easily filter by what matters most to you.”

Organic foods are positive because: herbicides, pesticides and artificial growth hormones are prohibited; the entire production process – and not just the final product – is evaluated; food tastes better and provides better nutrition, given increased ripening times and a decrease in additives; cost savings from not using expensive chemicals; less chemicals seepage into the ground, resulting is less soil and water contamination. On the negative side, organic foods are more labour intensive; cross breeding with GMO-crops can occur.

There is a lot of discussion about genetically modified organisms. Having studied genetic engineering at the turn of the millennium, I am much more open to genetically modified organisms than much of the population in Europe. In particular, I support the production of Golden Rice, a variety of Oryza sativa produced through genetic engineering to biosynthesize beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, in the edible parts of rice. It produces a fortified food for populations facing a shortage of dietary vitamin A. This deficiency is estimated to kill 670 000 children under the age of 5 and cause an additional 500 000 cases of irreversible childhood blindness, each year. Golden Rice 2, developed in 2005, produces 23 times more carotenoids than golden rice. So far, no Golden Rice or Golden Rice 2 has been produced for human consumption except in clinical trials. I am open to consuming other genetically modified organisms, that have been modified to improve nutritional characteristics.

Sustainability is a difficult subject to encompass in a single paragraph. The document that comes closest to expressing my views is the Earth Charter. Among the organizations supporting it, are the two religions that I feel closest to, The Unitarian Church and the Baha’i Faith. A copy of the charter is found in an appendix to this weblog post. Thrive Market claims to have become the country’s first e-commerce company to go zero waste, making 50 plus improvements to warehouses to reach this standard. They then open-sourced the template so that other e-commerce companies could follow it. They also claim that they use 99% post-consumer recycled packaging, and are carbon neutral with respect to shipping.

Non-toxic. This is the area where I probably agree strongest with Thrive Market. Many additives are unnecessary, and definitely not worth the health and environmental problems they cause. Here are some, Bisphenol-A (BPA), a hormone-mimicker found on tincan linings, is linked to breast and prostate cancer, reproductive and behavioral problems, obesity and diabetes. Food preservatives BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) have reputations for being carcinogens, disrupting hormones and impacting male fertility. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH/rBST) can be a factor in breast, prostate and colon cancers. Sodium Aluminum Sulphate and Potassium Aluminum Sulphate are linked to adverse reproductive, neurological, behavioral, and developmental effects. Food preservatives Sodium Nitrite/ Nitrate, are linked to many types of cancer.

Having food information linked is always a benefit. To test this value, a product was selected to learn about the features provided. Broccoli was entered, but did not return any edible vegetables. Carrots was then entered, and the only thing resembling a vegetable were some small 1.4 ounce (40 grams) pouches of carrot sticks costing $3.49. San Marzano tomatoes was entered, and out came Thrive Market Organic Marinara Pasta Sauce. Not a bullseye, and not good enough for a meal, but close enough for a test about product information.

The sauce came in a 25 ounce net weight (708 g) glass jar, and cost $4.99. It was listed as having the following 21 characteristics: certified kosher, certified organic, recyclable, sustainably farmed, gluten free, organic, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, cholesterol free, dairy free, dye and color additive free, grain free, low fat, low sodium, no added sugar or sweeteners, Non-GMO, pesticide free, preservative free, soy free and yeast free. Ingredients were listed as: Organic Whole Peeled Tomatoes, Organic Fresh Onions, Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Organic Fresh Garlic, Sea Salt, Organic Black Pepper, Organic Fresh Basil.

Nutritional information provided: Serving Size: 1/2 cup (125g); Servings Per
Container: About 6; Amount per serving as a % of daily value: Calories 70, From fat35; Total Fat 4g or 6%; Saturated Fat 0g; Trans Fat 0g; Cholesterol 0mg 0%; Sodium 400mg or 17%; Total Carbohydrate 7g or 2%; Dietary Fiber 2g or 6%; Sugars 3g: Protein 2g; Vitamin A 8%; Vitamin C 4%; Calcium 2%; Iron 6%. Not a low calorie food.


Trive Market has considerably greater appeal than Amazon. However, it may not have enough appeal to encourage main-stream people to use them. Many cooks will be irritated by Thrive Market, for not providing basic ingredients, raw vegetables, for example, essential to their kitchen. A prepared sauce is not the same as a raw ingredient. It means that instead of being able to engage in one-stop shopping on the internet, one has to find alternative sources.

Appendix: The Earth Charter


We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.


The four pillars and sixteen principles of the Earth Charter are:[

I. Respect and Care for the Community of Life

1. Respect Earth and life in all its diversity.

2. Care for the community of life with understanding, compassion and love.

3. Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable and peaceful.

4. Secure Earth’s bounty and beauty for present and future generations.

II. Ecological Integrity

5. Protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems, with special concern for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain life.

6. Prevent harm as the best method of environmental protection and, when knowledge is limited, apply a precautionary approach.

7. Adopt patterns of production, consumption and reproduction that safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights and community well-being.

8. Advance the study of ecological sustainability and promote the open exchange and wide application of the knowledge acquired.

III. Social and Economic Justice

9. Eradicate poverty as an ethical, social and environmental imperative.

10. Ensure that economic activities and institutions at all levels promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner.

11. Affirm gender equality and equity as prerequisites to sustainable development and ensure universal access to education, health care and economic opportunity.

12. Uphold the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity, bodily health and spiritual well-being, with special attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities.

IV. Democracy, Nonviolence, and Peace

13. Strengthen democratic institutions at all levels, and provide transparency and accountability in governance, inclusive participation in decision-making, and access to justice.

14. Integrate into formal education and lifelong learning the knowledge, values and skills needed for a sustainable way of life.

15. Treat all living beings with respect and consideration.

16. Promote a culture of tolerance, nonviolence and peace.

For further information see: http://earthcharter.org/

Gene Sharp

This weblog post is not being written for residents of democratic countries, where respect and prosperity for all, are guiding ideals. Rather it is written to give hope to those who either live under a dictatorship, or imagine that they soon could be living under one, or more generally, live in countries where large segments of the population live undignified and impoverished lives.

Gene Sharp, in his office at The Albert Einstein Institution, co-located in his house in East Boston. The equipment on his desk indicate that he was a member of the Apple tribe. Photo: Héctor Darío Reyes, 2014

Gene Sharp (1928 – 2018) was born in North Baltimore, Ohio. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences in 1949 and a Master of Arts in Sociology in 1951 from Ohio State University. He chose imprisonment for nine months between 1953–54 to protest Korean War conscription, and discussed this decision in letters to Albert Einstein. Einstein later wrote a foreword to Sharp’s first book, Gandhi Wields the Weapon of Moral Power: Three Case Histories. He then worked as factory labourer, guide to a blind social worker, and secretary to the American pacifist, A. J. Muste. Between 1955 and 1958 he was Assistant Editor of Peace News in London, a weekly pacifist newspaper. From here, he helped organize the 1958 Aldermaston anti-nuclear weapons march and demonstration.


While the English language is renowned for its variety, it continually imports new terms to augment denotations that prove to be inadequate. Such is the case with the phrase passive resistance. Mahatma Ghandi (1869-1948) dismissed that phrase because it “is different from satyagraha in three essentials: Satyagraha is a weapon of the strong; it admits of no violence under any circumstance whatsoever; and it ever insists upon truth.”

Sharp spent two periods living in Oslo, Norway. The first was between 1958 and 1960 when he was engaged as a Research Fellow, at the Institute for Social Research. He studied and researched Mohandas Gandhi’s Satyagraha Norms, under Professor Arne Næss, and with Johan Galtung.

Between 1964 and 1965, immediately after he had undertaken doctoral studies at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford (but before being awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1968), he combined work as an Assistant Lecturer at the Institute for Philosophy and the History of Ideas, University of Oslo, Norway (part-time) with a role as Fellow for the American Scandinavian Foundation.

After 1968, Sharp spent most of his life working in the Boston area, and living in East Boston. He had academic positions at Harvard, University of Massachusetts Boston, Tufts University, Brandeis University, Southeastern Massachusetts University (now University of Massachusetts Dartmouth). From 1983, he was affiliated with the Albert Einstein Institution, until his death in 2018.

An aside: In 2020, I hope to present many of the keywords used by Chomsky, Galtung, Ghandi, Muste, Næss, Sharp, Thoreau and Zinn, with respect to Satyagraha in the weblog: keywords.mclellan.no

Sharp’s 1973 book, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, was based on his 1968 doctoral thesis. This book is a practical political analysis of nonviolent action as a means to apply power in a conflict. One key to understanding Sharp is that he regards power as a non-intrinsic quality of people in power. He says that their power is not monolithic. In the past, kings were notorious for asserting their divine right to rule.

Political power is dependent on the obedience of the state’s subjects, normally its citizens and other residents. If subjects won’t obey orders, then rulers don’t have power. This insight comes from Étienne de La Boétie (1530–1563). Sharp cites his work frequently in both The Politics of Nonviolent Action and From Dictatorship to Democracy.

Sharp contends that all effective power structures have systems to encourage or extract obedience. States are particularly complex, devious and effective in keeping subjects obedient. Mechanisms include institutions (police, courts, regulatory agencies), but also include more subtile, cultural dimensions. These institutions with a system of sanctions (imprisonment, fines, ostracism) and rewards (titles, wealth, fame) which influence and encourage obedience.


Sharp’s writings on Civilian-Based Defense were used by the Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian governments during their separation from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Sharp’s 1993 handbook From Dictatorship to Democracy has been translated into at least 31 other languages. The book served as a basis for: the Serbian Otpor! (Resistance!) 1998 to 2004; The Rose Revolution in Georgia supported by the Kmara civic resistance movement in November 2003; The Orange Revolution followed the disputed second round of the Ukrainian presidential election in 2004 involved Pora! (It’s time! ) a Ukrainian civic youth organization and political party; The Tulip/ (sometimes Pink) Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, a more violent protest than its predecessors, that was supported by the KelKel youth resistance movement following the disputed Kyrgyz parliamentary election in 2005; the Jeans revolution in Belarus involving the student group Zubr in March 2006; and, the Saffron revolution in Myanmar (Burma) in August/ September 2007.

In general, if subjects identify and understand the working of political forces, they can gain a window of opportunity to cause significant change in a state. However, this also applies to other power players in society, not just national politicians or dictators.

Big Music and Big Movies have concentrated their efforts on promoting superstars, to the detriment of equally talented, but less visible people. Many of these superstars have behaved immorally, and treated almost everyone in their presence with derision. Fortunately the #MeToo movement has caught up with both these industries, with Michael Jackson as the latest person to come under scrutiny. In a two-part, four-hour exposé, Leaving Neverland, Wade Robson and James Safechuck allege that they were abused as children by Jackson.

The time has come for people to stop being fans, and to start becoming connoisseurs. One can no longer just play music because it sounds good. An entire set of ethical considerations has to be fulfilled, before sound should be allowed to stream from a loudspeaker.


Not everyone agrees with Gene Sharp.

Egyptian writer/ activist, Karim Alrawi, finds Gene Sharp’s writings more about regime change than revolution. According to Alrawi, revolution has an ethical and material dimension that Sharp deliberately avoids.

Sharp has been accused of having strong links with a variety of US institutions including the CIA, the Pentagon and Republican-related institutions. He has consistently denied these claims, and received support from Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn and others in 2008, “Rather than being a tool of imperialism, Dr. Sharp’s research and writings have inspired generations of progressive peace, labor, feminist, human rights, environmental, and social justice activists in the United States and around the world.”

Special-needs Technology

This weblog post continues the story about men’s sheds. See: https://brock.mclellan.no/2019/03/03/mens-sheds/ Here, the focus is on how a shed can be used so that men can be of service to their community. As this current post is being written, a makerspace is being constructed in Inderøy, and I am looking forward to it becoming part of a world-embracing network. Locally, there are many target groups for this workshop, including that group of men who need a men’s shed. Another target group consists of pupils at Inderøy lower secondary school. Even the local Friends of the Earth group is intending to use the workshop to make controllers for a 15 square meter geodesic dome greenhouse, equipped with hydroponic gardening facilities. Full disclosure: The author is the chairperson of the Inderøy chapter of Friends of the Earth.


People like to be of service to others, as long as they are treated fairly and with respect. At a men’s shed, it would be helpful if participants knew the type of products that people want made, using the technology that is available at the shed or makerspace. This includes, especially, products for people who have special needs, including those who feel they lack the income to keep up with changing pace of technology, or who have unique needs, not normally met with off the shelf components.

With the possession of this information secured, shedders could spend time designing low-cost products, the systems to make them, and the plans to effect their manufacture and distribution. This includes products that can enhance everyone’s enjoyment of life, as well as those that improve the life of just one single person.

While some men may have many of the necessary skill set to design, make and distribute meaningful products, others may have only some or even none of the skills. So a first step is to assess the totality of skills possessed by the men’s shed group, the specific skills each person wants to learn, and what each person wants to do with his current and future skill sets. Just because someone is an expert, or best in a group, does not mean that that person should be selected to do that specific job. Perhaps they should teach others, or learn new skills, or improve old ones.

While the current focus is to get a men’s shed up and running in Inderøy, the great thing about open source development is that development can be forked, separated into two or more branches. Locally, my interest is to ensure that people with mobility issues can have men’s sheds close to them, including in hamlets such as Mosvik (20 km from Straumen) and Beitstad (20 km from Steinkjer). In addition, I am hoping that some of these designs/ products can be of interest to men living further away, so that people can work together on them, regionally or internationally.

This requires complete documentation of each and every project, so that they can be localized. Localization is techno-speak for translating a project into the culture of a different area. For example, a project originating in the Americas, may have to have all dimensions and components metricized for use in Asia. Tools that may be legally used in USA, may be illegal in the EU and Norway, so that substitutes may have to be found. Localization becomes much more than a linguistic translation.


At a men’s shed many different projects will be presented for the contemplation of participants. Some will be so simple, that a single person may be able to start and complete it in a matter of minutes. Others may require the efforts of many different people, over a longer period of time. When several complex projects are available, it is important that the men’s shed community, be able to prioritize, even reject. Sometimes some projects can demand skills that are not available. Sometimes they are too long, or require too many people. Regardless of the project, there must be an overview giving a reliable project timeline for people with specific skills sets, as well as other resources that are needed. In other words, one needs a project plan.

With a project plan one knows where to begin. Yet, not all projects will begin at the same place. The Open Builds project, tracks a large number of technical projects, many equipment related. When a new person or group builds a new iteration of a project, improvements can be incorporated. Again, some solutions are simple, others are incredibly complex. Fortunately, because many people throughout the world document these open source solutions, reinvention is unnecessary, Instead one can often make a generic product directly, or adapt it for a specific user.

Life can be a struggle. As trust builds in a men’s shed community, people will gradually, perhaps even reluctantly, share insights into what they are struggling with. Sometimes people need to be alone. Sometimes they need to work alone. Sometimes they need to work alone in the proximity of others. Sometimes they need to work co-operatively (but silently) with others. Sometimes they need to work co-operatively, while talking shoulder to shoulder.

This design and make process is not always easy. Many people have special needs, and insights into solving their own struggles. With a little help, they should be able to transfer those insights over to other people. Yet sometimes, indeed often, this doesn’t happen. One major reason is that mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, divert attention.

Not all product development will deal with rocket science or cutting-edge technology. Much of it will simply involve skills with traditional equipment that shedders have used before, and feel comfortable with: Woodworking/ carpentry tools and blacksmithing/ metalworking/ welding tools. People who feel comfortable in this analog world should be encouraged to remain there, if this is what they want.

On the other hand, if they want to enter the digital world there should be a place for them there too. Much digital work at an introductory level, simply involves the copying of files, and the running of those files on a 3D printer/ CNC mill/ laser cutter, etc.

At intermediate levels, there may be a greater mismatch between the skills that are needed, and the skills that people have, so that additional training may have to be offered.

A great many different equipment related projects can be found at: https://openbuilds.com/

Sometimes experts will undertake the druggery necessary to bring a complex project to life. The NeuroTechnology Exploration Team lab at Rochester Institute of Technology, Henrietta, NY provides an example of how technology can be developed, then transferred throughout the world. Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), where an individual controls computers and other devices using only their mind, is a rapidly-expanding field with a wide range of potential applications. BCI devices are especially desirable as assistive technologies for those with impaired motor or communicative capabilities. Everything the team uses in their projects is sourced and produced as cheaply as possible. The technologies used are noninvasive, relying either on electroencephalograms attached to the scalp or on localized muscle contractions, to convey signals to the computers and devices. The software is open-source and can be downloaded to any computer. For further information see: https://reporter.rit.edu/tech/brain-computer-interfacing-comes-rit

Colin Fausnaught (left), wears the Ultracortex head piece and holds the prosthetic arm, and Harrison Canning (right), wears the Ultracortex headpiece and fabric electrode sleeve at NeuroTechnology Exploration Team lab at Rochester Institute of Technology, Henrietta, N.Y. on 2019-02-01. Photo by Natalie Whitton

If open source solutions aren’t available off the shelf, a client may have to be open about his or her struggles to start the design process. This normally requires interaction, so that insights can be transferred, then developed and applied to specific problems. However that interaction does not have to be face to face. Shelagh McLellan’s bachelor degree project, On Trac (2011), was an iPad application that helped facilitate communication between teens and doctors. Teens were often able to communicate things on a tablet, that they would be too embarrassed to say directly to a doctor. For further information, see: https://cargocollective.com/shelaghjoyce/On-Trac

Many of the struggles facing people can be mitigated/ resolved through the construction of some sort of physical device (including clothing) that incorporates mechanical and electrical components, then programmed with software, to do a specific job.

An example

As stated previously, not all challenges are leading-edge. Here is an example of a widespread problem, that has multiple solutions.

I don’t like the way fruits and vegetables are sold. I dislike other people having the opportunity to handle produce/ vegetables/ fruit that I am expected to eat. I see four solutions to this problem. The first involves seeking psychological help and learning to live with the current situation. The second involves political action to ban consumers from stores and using self-driving delivery vans, packed by robots. The third involves the status quo, which means I leave the shopping to someone else. The fourth, and my preferred solution, is to grow fruit and vegetables at home. There could be many ways to do this, but I am most attracted to building a geodesic dome greenhouse, and equipping it with hydroponic gardening facilities. Personally, I would prefer to spend my time building greenhouses, and hydroponic equipment, than working in the greenhouse growing plants. My hope is to find someone to work with me on this project, someone more interested in growing and tending plants, perhaps the same person who currently does my shopping. This is the same solution that is being explored by the local Friends of the Earth chapter in Inderøy.


One issue that cannot be ignored is that of poverty. Many of the challenges people face are caused by being unable to afford the products that will solve their problems. There are different degrees of poverty. Extreme poverty can result in emaciation and homelessness; more moderate poverty results in obesity and sub-standard living conditions. People put on weight, because the food they need is just too expensive. Thus, they feel they don’t have the economic freedom or economic opportunities that they would like. Some younger people feel that they don’t have the opportunity to purchase a house, and will end up being life-long renters, or worse. Some older people feel that they do not have the resources to buy even necessities, such as heat, because energy cost too much.


I don’t want to know anything about a client/ readers’ personal situation. That is a private matter. If someone wants a men’s shed to help with a struggle please wait until a men’s shed is established, or (help) start one yourself.

Here is the information I think a men’s shed would need to know in order to work on an extensive project for a potential client. A simple one or two day project involving a few people making something simple, does not need this level of detail.

  1. Please describe the client in general terms: Approximate age and gender; living environment – urban or rural, living alone or with others (yes, dogs are included in the others category); type of housing and area; income source such as part-time or full-time employment, pension, reliance on savings, etc. This helps the men’s shed understand the client’s circumstances.
  2. What high priority physical, emotional or social challenges is this person facing? Please try to describe them in as much detail as necessary.
  3. What are the economic implications of these challenges?
  4. What solutions does this person envision that will assist her or him to resolve or mitigate the challenge?

Many proposed solutions will involve the integration of smart house or internet of things technology into a residence or workplace. If so, it may be appropriate to solicit additional information. It has been my experience that many solutions are device dependent. At the same time clients are unable to use new or different devices or technologies. This is why in question 1, such specific information is requested.

  1. What devices is the client using? Phone – clamshell, smartphone; other personal devices – tablet, laptop, desktop; servers; input devices such as keyboards, mice and scanners; output devices, such as televisions, screens and printers; Everything else that is hooked up to the internet with a cable, or without. If you have any idea about make and models and features, that would be helpful, as would any prices actually paid – new or used.
  2. What is this person using these devices for? This is an important question, and arbitrary limits should not be put on it.
  3. What communications and related services are being purchased/ provided? How are they being delivered? What do they cost? For example, some people have a landline incurring a monthly charge; some people are visiting coffee shops to use wifi connections; some people have cable television and/ or broadband and/ or dial-up internet and/ or alarm systems and/ or ???
  4. What would this person want to use devices for, if a device had the necessary attributes, and service providers made services available either free, or at an affordable price? The essence of this question is, what does this person really want from his or her devices?

Men’s Sheds

V1 2018-07-16, V2 2019-03-03

The Shed in Malmö, A Place to go. Something to do and Someone to talk to.
The Shed in Malmö.

Men are human. This simple, three word sentence may come as a surprise to many, be they male or female. Women affected by #MeToo! misuse, may find it difficult to accept that men can be anything but low-life. Members of another gender may regard themselves as Übermenschen,  supermen.

Some members of this male half of humanity, can be confused by the mixed signals they receive. On the one hand, they should suppress emotion and be strong, independent, stoic and tough. On the other, they should express their feelings openly and work co-operatively.

Admittedly, the stronger sex may also receive mixed signals, and sometimes they even give them – I’m told. However, this weblog post is (mostly) about the weaker sex, men.

Shoulder To Shoulder = slogan, shortened from: Men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder.

Shedder = user of a men’s shed

Shedagogy = term coined by Barry Golding in 2014, to describe a distinctive, new way of acknowledging, describing and addressing the way some men prefer to learn informally in shed-like spaces mainly with other men.

Having worked with men in prison, when I came across the Men’s Sheds movement, I knew instantly that this was an important institution. I also started to read a section of a 2008 report prepared by Gary Misan that outlined some of the health problems encountered by men: https://lemosandcrane.co.uk/resources/Mensheds%20-%20a%20strategy%20to%20improve%20men%27s%20health.pdf

In referencing this report it was difficult to know what to quote, mention or dismiss. It is ten years old and Australia specific, but includes nuggets of insight that have application elsewhere. Compared with women, men live shorter lives, have worse health, suffer 70% of injuries, commit 75% of suicides, access health services less and delay seeking health services more, spend less time with doctors, focus on physical problems, avoid discussing mental and emotional problems and ….

These facts are mixed with myths. Men are to blame for the world’s evils, including their own poor health and health outcomes. Men control social, occupational, political, environmental and economic environments. Men experience health services as a service for women and children. Men are socially conditioned to engage in risky behaviours from an early age

Sheds are important in male culture. Traditionally, sheds are spaces where men have retreated from work, life and family to make or repair things and to enjoy the company of other men. Unfortunately, the backyard shed is on the decline. Combined with other factors, such as retirement or loss of a partner, this results in loss of social networks, self-esteem, sense of purpose and identity, and can cause adverse social and emotional health and well-being issues for many men.

Sheds have in common that they are spaces for men, but may be diverse in organisation, structure and function. They can offer socialisation (friendship, camaraderie), self-esteem and purposeful activity for a large cross-section of men: young men, unemployed men, older men, retired men, men with mental health problems, disengaged men, indigenous men and immigrant men.

In Australian, where the men’s sheds movement is most highly developed, it is still an under-acknowledged, under-resourced, grassroots movement, that remains (mostly) unintegrated with any form of health system. They emerged despite an absence of any policy framework, government support or co-ordination.

Misan writes, “…key criteria for success of men’s sheds include: ensuring local support; learning from others, including affiliation with a men’s shed support organisation from the outset; having multiple partners and supporters; a suitable location; secure funding; a skilled manager and management group; a good business plan together with a sound marketing, recruitment, and communication strategy; a wide range of activities for men to take part in; extended opening hours; and links with a larger organisation, including a health service that can provide support for health programs. Ensuring documentation and evaluation of outcomes is also helpful to demonstrating benefit and increasing the likelihood of attracting future funding.” (p. 13)

While every men’s shed is unique, they can be lumped into four categories: work, clinical, educational and recreational.

For those who want to remain active, work sheds focus on repair, restoration and construction. At the same time much of the work is directed to helping the local community. Clinical focused sheds help the local male community interact and discuss their health/ wellbeing issues. Educational sheds focus on improving skills and life qualities, often around a specific skill, such as cooking. Recreational men’s sheds promote more social activity in the local area

Virtual sheds also exist, and provide an online capability where members from all men’s sheds or living in more remote communities can actively communicate and be involved in numerous research, writing and photographic activities. For example, The International Historians Association has created a community shed for veteran responders which include police officers, firefighters, paramedics, rescue workers and the military who have injuries, in-capacities or disfigurements that make them immobile or unwilling to join local work sheds.

The roots of The Men’s Sheds movement go back to the 1980s in Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia and the former miners. There is also mention of the Albury Manual Activities Centre, also known as “Albury Men’s Shed” which opened in 1978. The focus in Adelaide, South Australia was on gender-biased and inappropriate care of older men living with dementia in care settings, as well as with Ausralia’s Vietnam War Veterans.

Mensheds Australia was established as an institution in 2002, by Peter Sergeant and Ron Fox as an outcome of their Economic Gardening activities.

An increasing number of Men’s Shed are being started. While the movement began in Australia in (>900 locations) and quickly moved on to New Zealand (>50). In Europe there are shed organizations in England, Finland, Greece, Ireland (>200 sheds), Scotland, Sweden (Malmö) and Wales.

In USA there are sheds in Hawaii (3), Michigan (1), Minnesota (5), Ohio (1) and Wisconsin (2). See: http://usmenssheds.org/

In Canada they are found in Alberta (2), British Columbia (7), Manitoba (2), Ontario (3) and Quebec (2). See: http://menssheds.ca

It is the fondest hope that the makerspace now being constructed in Straumen, will become a part-time Men’s Shed. On the other hand, it is also hoped that this space will offer time and space to many divergent groups of people: young and old, male and female, immigrant and native, experienced and inexperienced, practical and theoretical.

The Shed in Malmö will be given the opportunity to end this post with a description of themselves: Shed i Malmö is a space where people come together to do stuff, but more importantly, socialise. It’s like a hobby room, only bigger and better equiped. It’s like a lounge room, only more durable. It’s like a social club, but with more activities than just cards. Sometimes life isn’t always positive or even a continuation of the past. There is a new message now, 2019 is going to be a year of rediscovery for Shed i Malmö: we’ve had to move out of our location and we’re still assessing our options. We are currently ‘closed for business’. Sorry.