Business Software

From Tech to Toilet Paper, Berliner Tries to Live Completely Open Source for One Year

Open source computer, open source mobile phone, open source toothbrush, open source jeans, open source video codec, open source camera, open source beer and even open source toilet paper: these are just a few things you need if you decide to make every aspect of your life open source for a year. A 28-year-old filmmaker from New Zealand living in Berlin is going to try just that.

"I'm starting on the first of August," said Sam Muirhead, who added that he has long been interested in open source technology and the philosophy behind it. He plans to abandon copyright products for one whole year and base his life on open source products the principle of sharing the results of community-oriented labor. Muirhead, who can't code, cannot solder and is a Mac user, wants to raise awareness outside the tech world about open source projects and methods.

Muirhead is planning to become a "Linux nerd" and said he would have to abandon a lot of software that he has gotten used to. He used Apple's Final Cut Pro to edit video, but that has to change. "It is going to be a close race between Lightworks and Novacut," he said, adding that it will probably be Novacut because Lightworks at the moment only runs on Windows.

He'll need to change his camera too, because it shoots video in the H.264 video codec, which is not an open source format. To solve this problem, together with the o-base hacker community in Berlin, Muirhead is going to try to come up with a camera that is able to shoot high quality video and still uses as much open source technology as possible.

But using only open source products could make life quite difficult, he said. Open source housing is one of the problems, he noted, adding that he already found an open source house made by someone in Berlin. However, the house is only one cubic meter in size. Although that might be quite small, he is going to build a house based on the same design and live in it until he comes up with a better solution, he said.

There are also parts of open sourcing his life he isn't looking forward to. Figuring out a way to make and use open source toilet paper, for instance, is going to be an "interesting and possibly painful process," he said. At the moment, he plans to find a way to recycle waste paper. Trying to open source other aspects of life, such as health care and contraception, might lead "to somewhat ridiculous results" including do-it-yoursef (DIY) dentistry, he noted.

"This is a very ambitious project and I need a lot of help," Muirhead said. He is not planning a solo project because nobody wants to watch videos of him sitting on his couch all year, he said. By cooperating with other people Muirhead wants to spread the gospel of open source, get people involved in DIY and benefit the community.

Berlin is the perfect city for a project such as this, he said. "This would not be possible in New Zealand," he said.

The people and the atmosphere in Berlin make a project as this possible, Muirhead said. The city is home to initiatives as the o-base hacker hangout, MakerLab, where people can collaborate on prototyping and making new products and open farms, where participants grow and share food. Muirhead can also open source his political interests by joining the local Pirate Party.

He plans to share all new product designs involved in his project with the rest of the world via the Internet. If he for instance makes open source shoes with the help of local people, he plans to document the process and release all the documentation. He is unsure how that is going to happen precisely, but Muirhead plans to rebuild his blog to make it an online collaboration platform that is better equipped for getting other people involved. He also plans to build a system to keep track of changes made to the projects by him and other contributors.

If things cannot be open sourced, or simply are not available as open source, Muirhead plans to go for "the shariest option." Air travel for instance could be substituted by hitch hiking, he showed in a video about his project.

To dedicate as much time as he can to the project Muirhead, who works as a tour guide at the moment, wants to raise US$20,000 through crowd funding site IndieGoGo in the next 34 days. At the moment, it has generated a little more than $1,000. The money is needed to do bigger projects and involve more people, Muirhead said. "If there is no money the project will not nearly be as fun and interesting, but will be more like a part time hobby project," he said, adding that he is going to go through with his plan even if the $20,000 goal is not reached.

He is trying to convince people to donate by awarding them something in return. People who donate $25, for instance, will get a digital open source swimsuit calendar, which includes drawings of "open source heroes and heroines," and whoever pays $100 can take part in Sam's Last Bike Tour through Berlin, the moment when he ditches his part-time job.

Muirhead plans to publish a weekly video of his progress and also keep people updated in text via his website.

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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