A holistic approach to computing and sustainability inspired from permaculture.

Permacomputing encourages the maximization of hardware lifespan, minimization of energy usage and focuses on the use of already available computational resources. It values maintenance and refactoring of systems to keep them efficient, instead of planned obsolescence, permacomputing practices planned longevity. It is about using computation only when it has a strengthening effect on ecosystems.

A golden disk etched with diagrams showing how to play it, as well as a map of Sol relative to nearby pulsars.
— Pictographs on Voyager's Golden Record cover.

Designing for Disassembly ensures that all elements of a product can be disassembled for repair and for end of life. This allows for and encourages repairs, with the result that a product's life cycle is prolonged; and it allows for a product to be taken apart at the end of its life so that each component can be reclaimed.

That which cannot be repaired is already broken.

This means using simple mechanical fasteners instead of adhesives, clearly labeling components with their material type, and ensuring components can be disassembled with everyday tools. Unlike the nebulous goal of designing a sustainable product, designing a product for disassembly is a more concrete, quantifiable approach to ecologically sound making and to consumption.

Frugal Computing Salvage Computing Collapse Computing
Utilizing computational resources as finite and precious, to be utilized only when necessary, and as effectively as possible. Utilizing only already available computational resources, to be limited by that which is already produced. Utilizing what has survived the collapse of industrial production or network infrastructure.

Articulating the Value of Absence

There are attempts at drawing a line at the edge of one's computing needs, advised by the concepts of permacomputing, and personalized systems to address those needs, but there are no permacomputing products. Permacomputing is concerned about finding these limits, and not their artifacts.

Flower drawn with simple geometric shapes.

Computation is intrinsically self-obviating, which is to mean that the computational system, by design, tries to make itself less and less necessary to the realization of its purpose, and gradually allow people to provide for their own welfare.

Asking for the most suitable programming language for permacomputing is akin to asking for the most suitable plant for permaculture — the entire question contradicts itself. Permacomputing Wiki, Programming Languages

Figuring out how to make the best possible use out of the millions of devices which already exist.

Salvage computing believes that the end of a computer product's lifecycle should be seen as a moment of celebration, a moment when its socioeconomic context can finally be reclaimed. Scavenge-friendly electronics are parts that are no longer manufactured, but that are available by the billions in landfills. Those who can manage to create new designs from scavenged parts with low-tech tools will be able to preserve electronics.

It does not advocate for going back in time, despite advocating for a dramatic decrease in use of artificial energy, but trusts in human ingenuity to turn problems into solutions, competition into co-operation and waste into resources.

Budgie perched on a stand, overlaid with computer code.

Design for Encapsulation: In order to ensure that, for example, a README file will be readable by any user, distribution disks include a simple text-editing program that can display the README file. Though most users already have one on their systems, software vendors should not to assume that this will be the case.

When a file is compressed using PKZIP, a decompression program, such as PKUNZIP, is required to expand the file. However, an option in PKZIP allows a simple version of an unzip program to be bundled with each compressed file. Choosing this option creates an executable file which, when run, expands automatically to the original file, avoiding the issue of whether the recipient of a compressed file will have the appropriate decompression software on hand.

MigrationPeriodically convert data to the next-generation formatsData is instantly accessibleCopies degrade from generation to generation
EmulationMimicking the behavior of older hardware with software, tricking old programs into thinking they are running on their original platformsData does not need to be alteredMimicking is seldom perfect; chains of emulators eventually break down
EncapsulationEncase digital data in physical and software wrappers, showing future users how to reconstruct themDetails of interpreting data are never separated from the data themselvesMust build new wrappers for every new format and software release; works poorly for nontextual data
Universal virtual computerArchive paper copies of specifications for a simple, software-defined decoding machine; save all data in a format readable by the machinePaper lasts for centuries; machine is not tied to specific hardware or softwareDifficult to distill specifications into a brief paper document
Any sufficiently organized Piracy is indistinguishable from Preservation.

Emulation is a way of preserving the functionality and access to digital information which might otherwise be lost due to technological obsolescence. One of the benefits of the emulation strategy compared with migration is that the original data need not be altered in any way. It is the emulation of the computer environment that will change with time.

A universal virtual computer needs to be well documented, contain a bare minimum of functionality, be easily testable for compliance, and have very, very few special cases in the specification, since special cases are opportunities for incompatibility; but despite that, it needs to be a reasonable target to write a compiler for. Finally, I argue that a UVC ought to have predictable performance.

The Ecodisc

Software is bootstrappable when it does not depend on a binary seed that cannot be built from source. Software that is not bootstrappable, even if it is free software, is a serious security risk. The goal is to start from a minimal, easily inspectable binary which should be readable as source and bootstrap into a practical user interface.

A build is reproducible if given the same source code, build environment and build instructions, any party can recreate bit-by-bit identical copies of all specified artifacts. To accomplish this:

Creating may be something we are only able to do, not something we can describe or understand. For this reason, technology must always play a secondary role to the creation we wish to embody in our preserved records and our preserved documents. It would be better to lose everything we have recorded, and all of our technology, than to suffer even the slightest diminution in our ability to create.

Wait. What nostalgia? This is not about reliving fond memories or fetishize about an imaginary past, it's about being tactical in our choice of medium, so as to propagate a political perspective efficiently.~

Taking advantage of today's abundance in computing power to prepare for a future in which infrastructures have collapsed.

Collapse computing prioritizes community needs and aims to contribute to a knowledge commons in order to sustain the practice of computation through infrastructure collapse, it is the practice of engaging with the discarded with an eye to transform what is exhausted and wasted into renewed resources.

Failure Scenarios

A large abandoned room with old computer terminals lining the circular perimeter. The floor is covered in debris and partially-disassembled computers. Three people dressed in black investigate the scene.
Scene from On the Silver Globe (1988)

A post-collapse society that has eventually lost all of its artificial computing capacity may still want to continue the practice of computer science for various reasons.

Four Concepts Of Resilience
Agility The capacity to adapt or respond rapidly to a changing environment.
Preparedness The ability to reflect on past threats, and bouncing forward by enacting new ideas for development after a crisis event.
Elasticity Increasing the exchangeability and flexibility of relationships among people and things within an organization and a wider ecosystem.
Redundancy The intentional duplication of critical components with the goal of increasing the reliability of a system.

Designing for Descent ensures that a system is resilient to intermittent energy supply and network connectivity. Nothing new needs producing and no e-waste needs processing. If your new software no longer runs on old hardware, it is worse than the old software. Software should function on existing hardware and rely on modularity in order to enable a diversity of combinations and implementations. It is about reinventing essential tools so that they are accessible, scalable, sturdy, modular, easy to repair and well documented.

Kelvin versioning uses integers in degrees Kelvin, counting down toward a final specification, upon reaching absolute zero, it is frozen. Further updates are no longer possible. It contrasts with how typical software is designed to indefinitely increase in scope, and complexity.

Two silhouetted children playing with a ball. And one voice, with sublime disregard for the situation, read poetry aloud in the firey study, until all the film spools burned, until all the wires withered and the circuits cracked. Ray Bradbury, There Will Come Soft Rains

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