Interview Questions | Part 1: Matthias

I usually use these questions in open form questions as part of a in-person interview (or over the phone/skype. So, I hope we can make these work in written form as well. It’s usually more fluid, so instead of asking follow up question instantly, we’ll do it forth and back a bit more, I can imagine. Also, try to remember where you were, what it smelled like, who was there as well, what it looked like. But I may have to go through that with follow-up questions

1. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself: who is @Matthias? important is that you share what’s an important part of you, try not to let the topic of this story influence your answer

2. What are you most proud of in your life? this can be something personal, professional, from when you were very young, to very recent

3. Who did you look up to when you were growing up? This can be someone in your own environment, or someone famous, but someone who made an impact on who you are today

4. What was your biggest failure, and why do you feel like it was?

5. Why are you part of edgeryders, and how did that happen? It’s very possible this questions is somehow already answered above, but in case it isn’t, you can answer here :slight_smile:

6. What kind of impact do you hope to have with what you do?

7. Tell me more about the most memorable period in your life and how this has shaped you this period can be enjoyable, or not, but something you look back at realizing that something within you changed

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Let’s start with these questions, and take it from there.

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@matthias let me know when you have time for this? Thanks! :slight_smile:

Hello @inge, finally I answered the interview questions. (The problem is that this is necessarily freetime activity for me – I’m paid for tech work in Edgeryders projects. And I discovered that I basically have no freetime … there is always something that must be done … :expressionless: )

I’ll write some more even if it does not belong to the question in a narrow sense, to help you compile an article from this without further back and forth.

And one more thing: I write and publish a lot on the web, about problems, ideas, solutions and thoughts. But nearly never about me personally or my life circumstances. That’s just not very important and also the web is not the most trustable place to put that out. It won’t be different here, so don’t be surprised. In other words: there will be no home story.


1. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself: who is @Matthias?

Somebody unusual. A friend called me once a living synthesis of the arts (“Gesamtkunstwerk” in German) :smile: I don’t know how true that is … but it’s true that I’m an unusual person and try to make sense of life in a way that’s different from how anyone I know tries to. And I try to make sense without contradictions between the pieces of my life. That’s probably why this friend called me a “Gesamtkunstwerk”. He’s a musician; as an engineer I’d rather called it systems engineering, but yeah, different models, same reality :slight_smile:

2. What are you most proud of in your life?

I can’t recall anything. Maybe I was proud of something earlier in my life. But the global ecological crisis became very obvious to me, and also that I have not found a single point of leverage to fix it. I mean, to help fixing it at scale. Not just by living a minimal consumption lifestyle – that’s not about fixing anything, it’s just about me not making it worse as fast as I could.

For a bit of background: when I say “minimal consumption lifestyle” it is about some experimental techniques that I use to drive resource consumption towards zero. I made myself the guinea pig of these ideas, and I’m learning a lot, and the more ideas I try the more I have. Practically I live in a 9 m² deep freezer box (mounted to an oldtimer firetruck) and heat it during the winter with a bit of trash wood. (If it’s not obvious: that’s carbon neutral.) I use 600-700 Wh of electricity per day, which is about 90% less than the per-capita electricity consumption in Germany where I originate from. Except for two months in winter, all of that electricity is made on my rooftop with 400 Wpeak of solar panels. The same 90% reduction applies to water, probably to buying “new stuff”, and in the future hopefully also to trash generation. (For that, I’m working on a plastic shredder and this foldable 3D printer – foldable because it has to fit into my limited 9 m² living space – to recycle all plastic trash into useful objects.)

And all this does not feel like scarcity. It’s just how you adapt your behavior naturally when you live in a truck and more consumption means more work. As in, you have to carry all your water and wastewater in 20 l jerrycans in and out. I think that it is mostly this behavior setting that drives down consumption. If that holds up to further examination, it means that this is a simple antidote to the dreaded rebound effect that kills most or all technological efficiency gains. It’s basically about cutting off the grid. Haha, what a “realistic” policy proposal :laughing:

3. Who did you look up to when you were growing up?

Let’s put it like this: I have been raised as a follower of Jesus the Christ. That’s still where all my idealism and strong moral convictions come from, both of which are preventing me from having any success as a grown-up in this society :smile: Maybe that’s the reason why I never really became a member of this society.

Let’s say, I’m a visitor. I come and go. I live here and there, and I like remote villages in so-called “developing” regions the most … and also any place close to nature. I imagine in quite some details how else a civilization could be organized, and I publish about that stuff. (It does not mean that my publishing changes anything or anyone changes. So far the main benefit is just that I can justify to myself why I abstain from making more money by taking a 9-5 job in an ecologically destructive “civilization”.)

Now I’m very interested in technology (and I guess I should be, as CTO of Edgeryders) and all my visions for a different mode of civilization are grounded in what is technologically possible. If you want a taste of that, my publication “An Autarky System for Cities” is a concise collection of such ideas. (There’s also something called EarthOS, which later inspired the Edgeryders EarthOS unit. But I have to warn you. That one is a thousand pages of unsorted ideas and inventions for anarchist ecological civilizations. Let me bring that into a publishable form first …)

4. What was your biggest failure, and why do you feel like it was?

Mmmh, that’s not really a category that exists in my thinking. By social norms I’d be probably expected to say “that I don’t have any impact with my ideas”. But success or impact is a social phenomenon, so it’s absence could be my failure, sure, but there is also the very real possibility that not granting this success is a failure of everyone else. And given that I’m basically saying with my ideas and proposals that Western civilization is rotten to the core and has to be rebuilt from scratch … I can imagine how this is not a particularly attractive message :slight_smile: But I don’t mind. Everything has its time, and with a crisis comes opportunity …

5. Why are you part of edgeryders, and how did that happen?

Well … I was following @hexayurt on Twitter and some good day in 2012 he posted that “Edgeryders” is organizing a European conference for activists and attendance is free. That was LOTE1. So I went there, made some good friends, Council of Europe paid the train tickets, and @alberto said he might have a job for me in the next iteration of Edgeryders. And the rest is history.

6. What kind of impact do you hope to have with what you do?

Like I said, I think we have to rebuild civilization from scratch. I’m doing some of the foundational work, and I hope I can inspire enough others to join so we can make it happen.

It’s not realistic, though. Sometimes I think that: nothing will happen, I will have the same zero impact I had so far. We’ll burn the planet down completely, devastate the remaining animal populations and plant habitats as we go, and then humans will go extinct, too, and leave the planet in the tohubohu state it had in the very beginning.

But then again, why would it have to end like that? Why?? I am as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!! I want to at least show that an eco-restorative civilization is possible. So what’s the smallest size for such a civilization to exist? I think 150 – 200 people. That’s it. The challenge is not so much a technical one but a political one: Europe is so full of millions of elite-serving, innovation-stiffling, crappy rules and laws that it is impossible to do this here. What then, let’s get an old oil rig and go to international waters? That’s EarthOS Equipment Level 5. But no, not really … there have to be better ways to demo this. I’ll give it some more thinking … and of course, suggestions are welcome.

7. Tell me more about the most memorable period in your life and how this has shaped you

I always knew I’m a misfit in Europe, but only after my time in Nepal for Edgeryders it became clear to me how much that is true. I had a profound “reverse culture shock” experience when coming back from Nepal: nothing here in Europe made sense anymore, all the luxury and resource waste felt just obscene, and on top of that Europe felt deeply miserable and hopeless. It is as if, in spite of all that wealth here, Europeans realize that we’re collectively stuck with our way of doing “civilization”: there’s no progress anymore, nothing improves, and all along we’re destroying our own natural living environment.

On the contrary, there is a lot of hope in Nepal: a road is coming to the village, or piped water supply arrives (actually they installed it in our house in Kathmandu while @natalia_skoczylas and I lived there!), or so many other little steps of progress. And they expect it will continue like that. That’s what a hopeful civilization feels like.

Now I don’t say they should feel hopeful: they’re implementing the same type of wasteful, industrial, capitalist civilization that we got stuck in and that is implemented in more or less the same way everywhere on the planet. But I say, it feels so much better to feel hopeful! Without hope, a lot of resentment soon becomes political mainstream, as we can observe in Europe today.

And, purely from a tech perspective, from what physics allows humans to do, there is a lot of reasons to be hopeful. (Just go and calculate how much energy the sun radiates to Earth every day.) We’re stuck because our political elites expect the transition to an ecological civilization to be effortless, and because our capitalist overlords expect it to be profitable for them. That won’t happen. A Green New Deal for Europe, or however it will be named when it comes, will be hard work for everyone. But it’s meaningful work, and people will love it because it gives them hope and because they can leave their bullshit jobs behind.

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Thank you @matthias! This is great!

As you are helping spread the message of what Edgeryders is, I think you should be able to bill it, but I imagine that as CTO, you’d feel differently about that (not your core task :wink: ).

I’ll go over it in the next few days and get back to you with it on Monday.

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Wow. Just wow.

I am honored to call myself your friend, Matt, and hope you will prolong your visit with us for many, many years.

And remember: we are not in this fight because we believe we will win. We are in it because it is the right thing to do, and because fighting alongside treasured friends is one of the best things that can happen in life. And who knows? The odds are bad, but we might even win! :slight_smile:

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We need to keep on trying. We might get fried in our lifetimes, but our obligation now is to find all possible ways to stop, maybe even reverse, the damage we did to the planet. And god, how easy to say that while many of our lifestyles are just so contradictory to what we preach and want see happen.

Given the innate inconsistency that is part of human experience, I see the way you differ from most of the other people in your attempt at consistency, actually. it’s not that you’re weird or misfit. It’s just that you’re much more disciplined than many of us, and your steps are carefully thought of. You’re truthful in a way few of us can be. I am definitely learning from that wisdom and stubbornness.

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@matthias So I am working on structuring the article with the info I have from you here - including reading the links, ha :slight_smile: - and I realized what would be great for the piece is if you could give it a little bit more color by telling me little bit more about where you live: your truck. What does it look like on the inside, outside, how big is it, how did you find it, where are you now, do you move around a lot, how do you feel after having left your home for a while and coming back to it, what inspired you to live in it, etc. I’m mostly interested in colors, fabrics, items, structures, etc. And location: doesn’t mean geographical location necessarily, but more: is it parked on a parking lot, what’s around that space: trees? What kind?

Thanks!

Hehe ok. As I said there will be no home story, but you can have some bits and pieces that I already published on the web in other places. So:

  • The truck from the outside, plus the folding mountain bike that lives in its back. The little box at the front wall of the box body is the wood stove’s retractable chimney.

    1024x768

  • Here is the truck with a trailer that I got three weeks ago for the only reason that it was cheap and great quality. Now what do I do with it :smiley: The truck is a Magirus 4x4 offroad vehicle from 1976 that served in German firefighter units for most of its life. It has some additional equipment: automatic snowchains and a 5 ton winch (you can see the winch cable coming out at the front). Hasn’t seen much offroad terrain while I have it … yet.

    NoLicencePlate

  • Due to the old technology and as an offroad vehicle, it uses a lot of fuel (21-24 l/100 km). I don’t drive it much though: 1600 km since I got it in 2015 (I had a different truck before). For me it’s a house that I can move step by step and slowly, stopping to live in different places along the way, and then I use the bicycle to get around. I often put it at a friend’s place as we collaborate in business matters … and I can access his car workshop when I have to.

  • Also see the trucklife category on my blog. If you take pictures, take nice ones. Because a lot of the interior stuff is still in the building phase … I’m living inside a constructions site :smile:

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This is super useful (and amazingly intriguing!), Thanks so much!

that and those epic crazy coffee hacking videos - still avoid drinking anything when I think about them for the health of my laptop

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That sounds like something I’d need to include in my draft! More details? :smiley:

text: https://edgeryders.eu/t/crazy-coffee-hacks-how-to-remove-coffee-parchment-shells-etc/6421

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This whole thing started with a misunderstanding with the Nepalese farmers about removing one layer of parchment. Suddenly Edgeryders has 300 kgs of of coffee that needs to be processed, with basically no equipment…We find ourselves spending an afternoon cleaning coffee beans manually…

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It took some time, but here’s the first draft @matthias. Please add your comments when you have time so we can push this out (I’ll add in links later, plus pics: do you have a nice pic of yourself?)

This CTO has lived off the grid in his truck for over/ almost a decade — here’s why

“I made myself a guinea pig of a minimal consumption lifestyle. It’s all about experimental techniques that I use to drive resource consumption towards zero.”

Tucked away on the edge of a national forest in Germany stands a white, former firefighter, off-road truck with a folding mountain bike attached to the back. A long, thin, metal pipe sticks out of the top, and the smell of burning wood makes you wonder whether there’s a wood burner inside. There is. This is what Matthias Ansorg, the CTO of Edgeryders, calls home.

“I want to at least show that an eco-restorative civilization is possible,” he says.

Matthias, who was once called a living synthesis of the arts by a friend — although he prefers systems engineering himself — lives an unconventional life. From making his own DIY coffee machines and developing a foldable 3D printer, to helping rebuild Nepal after the earthquake in 2015 and publishing books on how to change your city into an ecological civilization.

The drive to create a different kind of civilization has been part of his life from when he was just a kid, although Matthias can’t really pin it to a specific moment. “I was raised as a follower of Jesus Christ. And that’s still where all my idealism and strong moral convictions come from,” he explains, saying this value system is also exactly what prevents him to become a successful “grown-up in this society.”

But while living in a truck, DIYing hardware solutions to live a more sustainable lifestyle, and writing long manifests on how we can create tech-based eco-friendly societies maybe called “unusual” by some, to Matthias it’s exactly what he’s supposed to do.

Matthias decided to use himself as a guinea pig to show that a zero consumption society is possible. For him, living this life doesn’t fix anything necessarily, but it’s a method that at least doesn’t make our world worse: if you have to carry your water and wastewater in 20 one liter jerry cans in and out of a truck, you naturally adapt to changing your consumption behavior, Matthias explains.

Being extremely tech-savvy as he his, all the solutions he’s coming up with are based on what is technologically possible.

The truck Matthias lives in has 9m² living space which he heats in winter with a bit of wood scraps, a carbon neutral solution. Except for those two months in winter, he generates his electricity on the rooftop of his truck, with 400 W-PEAK solar panels.

Using only 600-700 Wh electricity a day, he consumes 90% less than the per-capita electricity consumption in Germany, the country where Matthias was born and raised. And he applies the same 90% reduction on water, buying “new stuff,” and trash generation.

“I’m working on a plastic shredder and a foldable 3D printer – foldable because it has to fit into my limited 9 m² living space – to recycle all plastic trash into useful objects,” Matthias says about his solutions.

But not all ideas Matthias worked on, have worked out as he had initially planned. A hairdryer, for example, isn’t the most efficient tool to remove the parchment shells of green coffee beans.

Matthias had set up a peer-to-peer marketplace where Nepalese coffee bean farmers could sell their products straight to the European customers. He wanted to pioneer “globalization done right:” leaving out the middlemen, supporting economic development.

Due to miscommunication, unfortunately, the farmers sent over coffee beans that still needed their shells remover.

“Here we have 300 kgs of of coffee that need to be processed, with basically no equipment — and we find ourselves spending an afternoon cleaning coffee beans manually during a coffee hacking day at The Reef Brussels, Edgeryders’ co-working/co-living space,” Matthias’ co-founder Nadia E. recalls. “I still avoid drinking anything when I think about them, for the health of my laptop.”

It’s exactly that trial and error, however, that make innovation and change possible. Not only in creating new systems that could work, but also in changing your mindset.

His colleagues speak highly of him, even though he sees himself as a “misfit.”. Natalia, who he worked with in Nepal, says that his consistency in his life and ideals are admirable. “He’s truthful in a way few of us can be,” she says, adding that our lifestyles are so often contradictory to what we preach and what we’d want to see happen.

His work in Nepal — where Edgeryders worked with UNDP Nepal to research, contact and connect alternative leaders in Nepal using the Edgeryders platform — was also what made the most impact on how Matthias sees the world and how he acts. Especially when he returned back to Europe after several months.

“Nothing in Europe made sense anymore, all the luxury and resource waste felt just obscene, and on top of that Europe felt deeply miserable and hopeless,” he says, adding that he feels he’s an unusual person who’s trying to make sense of the world differently from others he knows.

The difference in mentality in Nepal was especially striking to Matthias. The country, despite its poverty, felt hopeful. A water pipe supplying a house with city water, a road being paved to a town, the people saw bits and pieces of progress and expected more process to be made.

“I don’t say they should feel hopeful: they’re implementing the same type of wasteful, industrial, capitalist civilization that we got stuck in and that is implemented in more or less the same way everywhere on the planet. But I say, it feels so much better to feel hopeful! Without hope, a lot of resentment soon becomes political mainstream, as we can observe in Europe today,” Matthias explains.

And that is why he thinks we should rebuild civilization from scratch, while he’s doing some foundational work hoping to inspire others to make it really happen.

He’s hopeful. From a tech perspective, physics allows us humans to change our behaviors significantly — as an example, he mentions how much energy the sun radiates to earth every day. But it won’t be without a massive effort from politicians, industries, and people themselves.

“When it comes, will be hard work for everyone. But it’s meaningful work, and people will love it because it gives them hope and because they can leave their bullshit jobs behind,” says Matthias.

I’ll just quote and comment here. (In case you haven’t found that yet: you can see the origin of the quote highlighted when you click the arrow to expand the quoted piece.)

Make it “for several years”. I have a truck since 2008 but did not live in it the first few years while converting it. And after that, with time off in between … “modern nomad” lifestyle, and not always with the truck …

That applies properly only to my EarthOS work and it sounds a bit preposterous if I’d say that on the basis of the bit of experimenting I do in the truck. Maybe make it “I want to see how a civilization with zero ecological impact would be possible” if you want a quote for this early part of the text.

Better “coffee beans processing equipment”. Coffee machine would refer to brewing coffee only, at least in my mind.

“building a foldable 3D printer”. I’m not developing anything about it right now, just building somebody else’s open source design.

“working in Nepal after the 2015 earthquakes there” … intentionally a bit ambiguous, but it applies …

Haha :smiley: That sounds serious. I rather meant it a bit tongue-in-cheek along the lines of “as a matter of fact, philanthropic idealists don’t make it very far under capitalism”.

With that, Nadia referred to the video she posted above. That was just a single-shot video about a hacked together coffee processing tool, done Crazy Russian Hacker style … and reportedly people thought it’s funny :slight_smile:

“a serious impact”

Not from the politicians we have, and not from industries as we know them. I don’t believe enough in the system to assume that they’d invest a massive effort into an ecological transition. The people will do it. They will produce new leaders, but I would not call them “politicians” as it conflates the future with the messed-up system of industrialized ecological destruction that we have in place now …

“When the ecological transition starts for real, it will be hard work for everyone.”

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Ok, so @matthias profile is up here: https://edgeryders.eu/t/this-cto-has-lived-off-the-grid-in-his-truck-for-several-years-here-s-why/10801 - but I’d want to add this to our official blog section. How can I do this?

Also, we should add this to Linkedin and Medium (we don;t have one yet? I could only find the unMonastery one). @anon82932460 can I ask you to add this article on Linkedin/Medium and to spread the article from Edgeryders web widely on social?

Thanks all!

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I tagged it @inge so it should be there now https://edgeryders.eu/tags/blog?view=topic-preview

it did!

But, it shows a screenshot from the coffee video and not the header pic. Any way we can change this? @matthias?

It’s also the same on twitter. Do we have control over which image is scraped for blog and social, and if so, is there anyway how I can indicate it? Thanks!

00

That seems to be a bug, because the mechanism is supposed to take an excerpt from the first picture it encounters in the blog post (instructions).

Since it’s a bug, please report it to our Github repo and try to find a workaround. Unfortunately I think the only options are these:

  • Do not embed the videos but only link to them. Not good, obviously.

  • Create a video from the header image that contains only that header image as a still image, and embed this first. Obviously, the thumbnail will then be the header image again. You can use the “Hide details” feature from the gear menu in this editor to hide the video “somewhat”:

    [details="Summary"]
    video URL here
    [/details]
    

That should also “fix” it for Twitter. Twitter, Facebook etc. use the OEmbed protocol to determine what preview thumbnail to show, and probably Discourse provides them with the video frame due to the same bug you saw above. (Mention it in your bug report as well.)