December 8, 2021 by Drew DeVault

An interview with 100 rabbits

Hundred Rabbits is an artistic duo hacking their way around the Pacific on their sailboat. I invited them to sit down for an interview to talk about about their lifestyle, art, philosophy, and their SourceHut projects. This interview was conducted live in the IRC channel on Libera Chat.

Drew: Hi Devine! Happy birthday, Rek!

Rekka: Haha, thanks!

Devine waves

Drew: Would you two introduce yourselves?

Rekka: We are two artists who live and work on a sailboat named Pino. We traveled around the Pacific Ocean for 5 years, learning about technological resilience. I am an illustrator, but I also write, and Devine is a programmer that also makes music.

Drew: Why live at sea?

Devine: We don’t live at sea: we live on the water, near the coasts, and sometimes we traverse large spans of ocean. We chose to live on a boat so we could go where the wind would take us. We quickly look for shelter when we can and try to limit the time we spend at sea to a minimum.

Drew: That makes sense. The sea intimidates me, to be honest.

Devine: Us, too.

Drew: Have you found your boating lifestyle to be a good platform for the art projects you build?

Rekka: Yes, definitely. We find that we work really well with constraints.

Devine: A lot of our projects are advised by the extreme position in which we find ourselves, away from internet connectivity and one-day delivery networks.

Drew: Projects like?

Rekka: We’re always working on our wiki, it’s the project we update the most. We document everything we learn like food preservation, boat repairs, places we’ve been, etc.

Drew: I like that community-building mindset very much, Rek.

Devine: The energy we collect from the sun dictates the number of cycles our software can use to run, and how much time we can dedicate on working on the computer to build them. This has ruled out a lot of modern technologies, it’s also what brought us here, to be using SourceHut in the first place.

Drew: I imagine that the energy constraints are also why many of your projects involve stepping away from the computer, like food preservation and log-keeping.

Devine: If we can use less technology to solve any one task, we will. Our ideal amount of technologies is as little technology as possible.

Drew: You’ve led me to another question I wanted to ask: how does SourceHut fit into your workflow?

Devine: Our work is done almost entirely offline, but when we do have connectivity, we’re looking for building mirrors of our work for redundancy. As much as people like to throw the words “why don’t you self-host” at us, having someone making sure that our repos are available while we’re days or weeks away from shore is what keeps our projects alive and gives us peace of mind.

Drew: I cannot imagine a boat in the middle of the Pacific making for a good place to host a server. Did you try any other platforms before settling on SourceHut?

Rekka: We were on GitHub for a few years.

Drew: How does it compare?

Devine: It’s hard to put into words, there’s a general trend in software right now to compete for attention and skew people’s behavior to act in favor of large ecosystems. GitHub is heavily afflicted by that sickness. SourceHut, less so.

Drew: Sick of manipulative corporate behavior?

Devine: Yep, that’s the word I was looking for.

Drew: I admire the Rabbits for similar reasons: you have this down-to-earthness that I can connect with.

Drew: In more practical terms, do you find the lightweight approach to SourceHut’s UI design to be easier on your power and bandwidth constraints?

Devine: It’s worlds apart. Because we work entirely from donated second-hand devices, backward compatibility is more important to us at this point. In our eyes, better software is software that gets smaller over time, that sheds the superfluous, and that reaches further backward in time for that onto which it can run. SourceHut appealed to us instantly because there are so few examples of this willingness to reduce consumption in the wild.

Drew: I use a 12 year old laptop myself. I think it’s also important to recognize that the ability to recklessly consume is a privilege that not everyone has, and you’re locking out a lot of users by only designing for the latest and greatest. Even in FOSS, it can be a challenge to get people on board with that philosophy.

Devine: That’s definitely a big part of this. You can only call yourself anti-capitalistic for so long while also catering only to people with the latest gizmos.

Drew: On the subject of FOSS, why did you choose to release your software works as free (as in freedom) software, and your artistic works with Creative Commons?

Rekka: We don’t want our projects to die with us.

Devine: We can’t be there for people, we’re at sea for months at a time. The code has to speak for itself, be inspectable and repairable without our being there. We cannot sell our works as services, because we’re never there for people who might need our help fixing it.

Rekka: And things can happen at sea… as grim as it is to say that.

Devine: During every long passage we consider that we might have pushed our last commit, and is that the final state of this idea, possibly not. We like to think that someone might pick up our work where it was left.

Drew: That speaks to an admirable level of attentiveness to the needs of your users. And FOSS is a good way to cement your legacy.

Drew: May I ask what motivates your work? Why these projects? Why software as art? Why illustrations?

Rekka: The two of us like to create worlds. And art is a way is a way to do that.

Devine: Software is a way to make that world-building interactive and invite people into these worlds.

Drew: Do you view your work as having more of a performative or collaborative nature?

Devine: We obviously don’t share the same limitations as most. While I think people like our general philosophy, we will not convince Ubisoft to start making Dreamcast games. To most people, we’re exploring a fork in the road. The emulation scene constantly offers a reminder of what-if… what if Plan 9 had been picked up, what if Genera, what if… Art does this sort of exploration better than anything else. Our work is advised by our immediate limitations, but it’s visiting that fork in the road where 4K television did not actually made people happier. And watching Terry Davis work on TempleOS, that was performance to me, because there was no place in my reality to make any use of it.

Drew: Do you hope to offer the world something like that?

Devine: We work on small systems that people emulate on their M1.

Drew: For any readers who want to check out your work, or get involved themselves, where should I direct them?

Rekka: To our wiki, Dev’s website, or mine, or to, where we host our projects.

Devine: We’ve been meaning to migrate to the new sourcehut pages, that’s what’s next.

Drew: Cool! Thanks for taking some time to chat with me. I’m very proud to host you on SourceHut, I’m a big fan myself.

Drew: Is there anything you wish I had asked or that we had discussed today?

Devine: Are you familiar with permacomputing? It’s a holistic approach to computing and sustainability inspired from permaculture.

Drew: No, tell me more.

Devine: Well, one thing that we’ve been thinking about is like… Fahrenheit 451 is a book about the world ending, and a handful of people take it upon themselves to preserve books they think have meaning. We often see folks echoing that computing causes more problems than it solves, and that what was once a tool of emancipation has been warped into a tool of control.

Devine: Are computers something we’d like to preserve going forward? How much is worth keeping? And so forth. This is what people consider when thinking about permacomputing. I don’t know the answer but it’s something interesting to explore. There isn’t a critical mass of folks thinking about these ideas right now, but we’re seeing more and more folks joining in the discussion.

You can read more about permacomputing here, and here.

Drew: I would like to see more thoughts on these lines, too. Hopefully we can signal boost that together and get some more brains involved.

Drew: Speaking of which: let’s open the floor to the rest of the channel?

Following the interview, we opened the IRC channel back up to general discussion for a while. Here are a few choice quotes from the ensuing chat:

alderwick: One thing I specifically wanted to say about 100r and SourceHut is that I wouldn’t have been able to contribute to Uxn if the repo was on GitHub. Like ddevault, I’m on old hardware. My laptop won’t load more than a few GitHub pages without crashing, but SourceHut is never a problem.

Devine: And without alderwick there would be no Uxn, I’m endlessly thankful that it made our meeting possible.

sigrid: Echoing alderwick here. GitHub doesn’t work on Plan 9 in Mothra. SourceHut does with no issues.

nihilazo: I like permacomputing as an idea but I struggle with it in a way because I’m required to use cloud services and such. I had to start using a more powerful laptop just to run MS Teams. Is there some way to reconcile trying to do permacomputing-y stuff with also working within a world that (currently) requires I use garbage?

Devine: There is no way to reconcile using MS Teams and permacomputing.

AWildThorp (later): What are your thoughts on cloud services with respect to permacomputing? I have mixed feelings about them in general. I kind of view them as buses vs cars, but on the other hand they can enable wastefulness

nihilazo: I understand that you can’t reconcile the two is there any way to contribute to permacomputing while still being trapped in systems antithetical to it?

Devine: Cloud services abstracts the waste from its users, I think until there’s more transparency they are antithetical to permacomputing, otherwise they could be an efficient tool to create some sort of permeance of information.

eletrotupi: nihilazo: I think you can and should contribute to permacomputing regardless of being trapped. Unless you are deliberating picking up antithetical services.

Devine agrees with eletrotupi

Drew: I think that most people aren’t trapped even if they feel so, too. You usually have a choice. For instance, you could seek out a different employer, or save up and start your own business. Positive steps in the right direction are almost always possible.

nihilazo: I am trapped by having to use Teams for college work, and I can’t really just switch colleges, given that they are the only college in the area.

Drew: You could start grassroots student organizations which try to tackle these issues. Throwing up your hands and saying it’s out of your control is not the best option. It takes people taking deliberate action to make changes in our society.

nihilazo: I agree on that point, I guess.

Anonymous: Was sailing a transformational experience led to permacomputing as a goal? And if so - can the lifestyle change required to avoid “MS Teams” be achieved without such a strong transformational experience?

Devine: We had to be put in an extreme situation to make that drastic a change. As an example, we were making iOS development when we cast off, thinking that we could do it along the way. Now it seems to naive to believe that modern technology can even survive being 15 nautical miles from the coast without it totally breaking down. But, we don’t think people have to be sailing to explore that space.

Rekka: Working from an older computer or from a shitty off-grid connection can help ;)

nihilazo: I’ve been very conscious of the potential power consumption of my computer use and trying to cut down but I am finding it difficult. I’m an internet addict, I guess. Especially things like video games, which are almost the very definition of pointless energy consumption.

Rekka: It’s difficult without actual constraints. If you are limited to the power in your batteries, say. You know your limits and it’s easy to limit usage.

kfx: I think it’s possible to separate those worlds. I use all kinds of unfortunate technology at work, and I don’t let it intrude on what I do for myself. Keeping those dividing lines sharp makes it easier to walk away from the gross stuff when the opportunity presents itself. Teams in fact was busily crashing my work computer about twenty minutes ago, but I kept reading this IRC discussion on my personal machine.

AWildThorp: On a similar note, if I go above my data limit on my smart phone, I have no bandwidth issues browsing the gemini space.

HamAdams: I’m really glad you all did this interview. I think this is putty some words to some general feelings I’ve been having recently regarding using technology more consciously.

Devine: Glad to hear :) The ComputingWithinLimit crew released a bunch of papers last year about this way of thinking about computers. The LIMITS2021 papers are excellent; I recommend having a look. They will put even more words to these thoughts.

Big thanks to the Rabbits for joining us for this interview! Please check out their cool projects. Orca is my personal favorite.