sam muirhead

Open-Source Condoms? Sam Muirhead's radical quest to open source his entire life

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When most people think of “open source,” they think of software and other technological tools like Mozilla Firefox or the Linux operating system. These products are often free and the source code is always open—so others can replicate, modify, and redistribute them, as long as they do so under an open-source license.

But what about open-source beer? Open-source toilet paper? Open-source condoms? Can a person live his or her life using nothing but open-source products?

That’s what Sam Muirhead has set out to do. Starting August 1, the Berlin-based filmmaker will attempt to survive for one year using only open-source products. That means no more Coca-Cola, no more air travel, and (for the most part) no more Apple products.

Still confused? Check out the explanatory video Muirhead posted to crowdfunding site IndieGogo, where he’s seeking $20,000 to help make a movie about his adventure. Think of it as the anti-Super Size Me.

We caught up with Muirhead who explained the motivations behind this project, his methods, and the art of homemade condiments:

Daily Dot: Could you talk a little about the events and circumstances that led you to make this commitment to open-source goods?

“I'm interested in open source largely as a disruptive technology, in seeing what effect it could have on established methods of production, consumption, education, and politics. The idea for Year of Open Source actually came from two planned projects. One was a documentary about the local self-organized political scene, hacker, and maker community that exists in my part of Berlin. The other was a writing project about open source, free software, copyleft, and its effect on 'real life,' which stemmed from wanting to get more people involved in and publicizing the idea of open source. This is kind of an amalgamation of the two projects, and using myself as an outsider character seemed the best framework for telling both of these stories.”

DD: It's fairly easy to find open-source software. But how do you go about finding open-source versions of more commonplace items (for example, the ketchup and beer that you show in your video)?

“Well, for food, there are plenty of recipes available (recipes are open source) and making my own ketchup and mustard shouldn't be a problem. Beer is an absolute necessity I can not live without, so that means making my own, adapting free beer, or convincing a local brewer to publish his or her recipe and encourage others to modify and redistribute it. I think I will be spending an awful lot of time on instructables.com, where people post their projects with instructions and you can learn to make basically anything. For open-source shoes I hope to talk to a local shoemaker and convince them to work with me to produce shoes that we will then release under an open license.”

DD: For something to be open source, by your definition anyway, does it have to be free? Or just open and replicable?

“It does not have to be free as in beer, but it does have to be free as in speech. There's a broad spectrum of different approaches to open source, but the key issues I'll be looking for are transparency of production and intention and the ability for others to modify and replicate the product.”

DD: It sounds like you'll be making a lot of things yourself. How experienced are you in craftsmanship and cooking?

“Cooking I can do. I already bake a lot of my own bread, make my own preserves, and love experimenting and making things from scratch, so that is the only area where I am not at all worried. I'm not fazed by making my own tofu or brewing beer, although I don't know if I want to have fish sauce fermenting in my living room for weeks at a time... 

“When I was 11 I won the school prize for top male student in sewing, for my tribal-patterned beach baggies. It was basically the most embarrassing moment of my life, and I have not sewn anything since. As far as carpentry, electronics, etc, my girlfriend is the handyman of the house. I have to stay in the kitchen.”

DD: For raw materials like food, what standards will you hold yourself to? Do you have to grow it yourself? Must it be sold at farmer's markets? What about fabric for making clothes?

“I have a small patch in my community garden in which I grow my own food, but it generally just keeps me in salads - self-sufficiency is not really possible in Berlin - in the winter it's a choice between starvation and black radish. And I think I'd take starvation. For food, no, I don't have to grow it myself, but it must be free of copyrights and patents. This means no food grown from Monsanto or DuPont seed strains. Luckily in Germany there is very good information and labeling of genetically modified food, which is generally laden with intellectual property. But even non-GMO food has patent issues; particular breed and crosses can be patented in many countries (though not here in Germany). Genetically modified Monsanto seeds are also the base for a huge amount of the world's cotton, so that's another area where I need to be very careful and do my research before buying basic materials.”

DD: What are some of the most surprising things that exist in open source form?

“There are thousands of bizarre projects! Just spend a few minutes on Thingiverse to see the incredible breadth of open digital designs which people are creating for 3D printing. But there's also a sailing drone for cleaning up oil spills, underwater robots, an automated beer brewing system, and as a filmmaker, I'm particularly excited about open-source motion control for cameras, and a programmable light which can sample and recreate light from videos.”

DD: What advice do you have for people who may want to follow in your footsteps?

“Err.. don't. I feel that my attempt at living 100 percent open source will involve an insane amount of work for a not-particularly-comfortable lifestyle. But I do hope that people will follow the project and get thinking about different aspects of their lives and how open source might be useful to them, or they might see projects I'm covering and get excited about them, get involved, or offer their expertise. ... 

“This isn't something I can do by myself; I need help from all sorts of people. I'm seeking financial support on IndieGoGo in order to pay a camera operator, sound recordist, and producer, and to buy materials for open-source projects. I also need technical help; if you're a shoemaker and you want to help me make open source shoes, get in touch!  Can you help me build a website? Or a washing machine? If you've heard of an interesting open-source project I should look at, let me know!”

Photo via Vimeo