AppropediaFox is a free and open source plugin for the Firefox browser to help make editing Appropedia faster and easier, developed for Michigan Technological University (MTU).

MTU classes under Prof. Joshua M. Pearce learn about applied sustainability, including solar photovoltaic power, semiconductors and industrial symbiosis. Students document what they learn on Appropedia – making lots of great new pages. More info.

Now, because he wonderful folks at MTU do so much good work on Appropedia, a browser plugin was seen as a way to streamline their work. We worked with them to make it happen.

And AppropediaFox is free for all to use. It’s still an early version, but if you want to do some serious editing of Appropedia, check it out.

So, what’s it good for? First activate it (download and install, then View > Sidebar > Appropedia-Fox). Then check out the functions:

Adding categories and templates

It’s handy for finding categories to add to an Appropedia article – you browse through the alphabetical list in the left sidebar, click one and it automatically copies it to your clipboard (as if you’d gone right-click > copy). Then go to your wiki article and paste it in. Repeat as needed – one at a time.

Similarly with templates – browse the templates (by category, this time), then click and past in. Templates are harder, as you have to guess exactly what the template does, but the name gives an idea. Just try out your template first, by pasting it in then pressing “preview”. (If you want to view the template page, you can use preview and then click the appropriate link under the Appropedia edit box, where the page’s templates are listed.)

Marking technologies by stage of development

There’s also a “Status” function, useful when writing about a technology or a design. This important tool (developed by Prof. Pearce) tells the reader whether the technology is proven and in use, or just an idea, or somewhere between.

Creating maps

It’s possible to embed a Google map into an Appropedia page. Normally it’s a challenging job – too daunting. With AppropediaFox it’s much easier.

AppropediaFox lets you choose your display options and create the map, and shows what it will look like. When you’re done, the code is in your clipboard, and you can paste it on the Appropedia page you’re editing.


Okay, you can upload from the web and it looks pretty much the same. But if AppropediaFox is open, the upload form is one mouse click away

Download AppropediaFox for free here. To learn more about how to use and install it go here.

And here, a screenshot of AppropediaFox being used to create a map:

Screenshot: creating a map.

P.S. If you want to hide it, View > Sidebar > Appropedia-Fox (i.e. the same way you made it appear).

P.P.S. Message to the wiki universe: this plugin is specifically for Appropedia, but being open source, it could be adapted to any wiki, with a bit of work creating the template and category . And if your wiki has maps set up the same way as on Appropedia, that part would work.)

Open source leaders belong on the (En)Rich List


I love the Post Growth Institute’s latest project: The (En)Rich List, with the byline “A Wealth of Inspiration!”

This is a brilliant insight – paying attention to people who have helped show the way to sustainable paths is so much more important and urgent than talking about “Rich Lists” that measure individual success.

That’s not to say I’m equally enthusiastic about all the choices on the list, but that’s okay – the (En)Rich List is a conversation starter rather than an authorititative list. The listmakers state: “it makes no claims of objectivity”. In the same spirit, I’ll make some nominations below, for next time.

The commons is rightly recognized in the (En)Rich list, notably through Elinor Ostrom (commons researcher and Nobel laureate) and Michel Bauwens (the P2P Foundation). But what of those who have made the commons possible, in software, spreading knowledge, and in cultural works?

Being a wikiholic, I’ll start by nominating Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) and Ward Cunningham (inventor of wiki software, to radically open up the development of knowledge and ideas on a website). Their revolution is a social one – by enabling learning and connections of knowledge on an unprecedented scale, they’ve expanded the opportunities for potential future leaders, and future pioneers and innovators in sustainable paths. And of course the wiki provides the model and platform used by Appropedia, enabling sustainable paths in our own way: as a sustainability wiki, an open database of solutions.

Before wikis came Richard Stallman, who stands out for his work in the software commons pioneering “Free Software” (that’s free as in freedom… also called “open source,” though Stallman hates that term). Crucially, he also wrote the first open license, that said in effect: I’ll share this with you, if you agree to share what you do with it. Linus Torvalds added a missing piece to the coding work of Stallman’s GNU project, and kicked off Linux, an important, very secure operating system; he also licensed it under Stallman’s “copyleft” license.

And finally, Lawrence Lessig applied these principles to all kinds of creative works, through Creative Commons licenses. These are easier to understand and use than Stallman’s original license, and are used on this blog, on the Appropedia wiki, on Wikipedia, on many published works by the Australian and other governments, on vast numbers of photos and other creative works on Flickr and elsewhere across the web.

I have more thoughts on the list which I’ll share soon, on the contrast between the pessimists on the list (including Paul Ehrlich and Ted Trainer) and the optimists (notably E.F. Schumacher and Jean Russell).

Again, thanks and kudos to the Post Growth Institute – a great and provocative idea, well executed.

Blogs on tech for global health


Three good blogs on global health – the first two with a tech focus (including open source and open hardware):

  1. Global Health Ideas. Posts include this one on 7 steps for building open hardware for global health.
  2. David Van Sickle – solid, serious stuff.
  3.’s Global Health blog – by Alanna Shaikh, who also blogs on “Examining international development” (Blood and Milk), through whose Twitter account I found the first two on development.

The world needs lean code!


Efficient code is green code, code that will work better on old or “light” computers used in developing countries, better on the shiny new netbooks (such as the EEE) that are coming out these days – and that will make a fast computer even faster. Efficient code, it seems, has no downside.

Jim Gettys  of OLPC says in a July 2006 interview:

There seems to be a common fallacy among programmers that using memory is good: on current hardware it is often much faster to recompute values than to have to reference memory to get a precomputed value. A full cache miss can be hundreds of cycles, and hundreds of times the power consumption of an instruction that hits in the first level cache. Making things smaller almost always makes them faster (and lower power). Similarly, it can be much faster to redraw an area of the screen than to copy a saved image from RAM to a screen buffer. Many programmer’s presumptions are now completely incorrect and we need to reeducate ourselves…

A large part of this task is raising people’s consciousness that we’ve become very sloppy on memory usage, and often there is low hanging fruit making things use less memory (and execute faster and use less power as a result). Sometimes it is poor design of memory usage, and sometimes it is out and out bugs leaking memory. On our class of a system, leaks are of really serious concern: we don’t want to be paging to our limited size flash.

In fact, much of the performance unpredictability of today’s free desktop can be attributed to the fact that several of our major applications are wasting/leaking memory and driving even systems with half a gigabyte of memory or more to paging quite quickly…

X [the X window manager] does what its told: many applications seem to think that storing pixmaps in the X server (and often forgetting about them entirely) is a good strategy, whereas retransmitting or repainting the pixmap may be both faster and use less memory. Once in a while there is a memory leak in X (generally in the graphics drivers): but almost always the problem are leaks in applications, which often forget the pixmaps they were using.RAM in the X server is just as much RAM of your program, though it is in a different address space. People forget that the X Window System was developed on systems with 2 meg of RAM, and works today on 16 megabyte iPAQ handhelds.

We need better tools; some are beginning to appear. OLPC is sponsoring a Google Summer of Code student, Eduardo Silva, from Chile, who is working on a new tool called Memphis to help with this problem.

Work done on memory consumption will benefit everyone: not everyone in the world has a 2ghz laptop with a gig or two of RAM…

Nuff said.

Confession: I’m not a coder. I help with the development of Linux only by documenting the parts I know, and by reporting bugs. While I join Jim Getty in calling for more efficient code, even much of the bloated code still represents an enormous amount of good work – it just needs some cleaning up to become awesome code.