Vinay Gupta at Camp Pixelache: Tools and Language

As the opening lines of Do-Re-Mi from Sound of Music go, “Let’s start at the very beginning…”   I have many things to write about from my experience at Camp Pixelache in Helsinki last weekend – and I am going to start at the beginning.

The beginning of the festival started with a keynote talk by Vinay Gupta, who is one of the world’s leading thinkers on infrastructure theory and managing geopoltical risk.  He is an environmentalist and a sustainability activist. He developed the Hexayurt, the free/open source emergency shelter and recently published the book The Future We Deserve.

His talk was called Tools and Language – Why government can’t manage the 21st century, but we can.  In his talk he talked about the shifting balance of power between the State and Corporations, which is a huge part of the problems our democracies face in responding to issues like climate change.

He started the talk by talking about some lessons that he had learned, and by sharing some of the tools and projects he has developed that address issues of future survival and climate change.

He talked about the hexayurt structure, which is a six sided structure that can be built for cheap, is made out of plywood or similar materials, and  can cost less than a relief. It can be built anywhere in the world at any scale, and is an open source design.  The hexayurt started when someone asked Gupta if he could build a 6 sided structure based on the BuckyDome ( a geodesic dome) structure.  He worked on this – and came up with the first hexayurt structure.  He shared it with a few friends, and each year since then there have been more and more people building these structures.  It took 10 years for the hexyurt to be used on a larger scale.

Vinay used this as a way to demonstrate the lesson that “change is slow” and “lasting change chages people.”  He also talked about passive cooperation, and that the hexayurt structure was passed on from person to person, and the documentation and free licenses made it easy for people to use and access.

Vinay also shared a model he developed to support crisis management called Six Ways to Die. (6WTD.)  This model helps explain what needs to get done in a crisis.  Basically the six ways to die are:  Too hot, too cold, thirst, hunger, illness, and inury.  If you map out estiamtes of the thtreat in each area and any spystems or behaviors that need to be added to the situation to keep people safe, you can plan for emergencies.  He also talked about the crisis in Haiti, and how when you have different type of organizations trying to work together – it can be a “goat rodeo” or a mess – since the groups have different methods to get to the same goal of helping those in need in a crisis.

One last lesson that Gupta talked about that I found interesting was that having a controlled vocabulary and precise language is important.  Our language affects our thinking – and it is important to have a shared understood vocabulary.  Gupta talked about how the Occupy movement at first did not have this – and it was a bit of a mess when Occupiers would be on the news interviewed, etc.  Currently, Occupy is working on making a controlled vocabulary.  This vocabulary maps and shapes our thinking. And Gupta refered to the Whorf theory – which is the linguistic principle that the structure of  a language affects how we are able to concpetualize the world.

Gupta’s ideas are easy to access.  He has a blog, a wiki website, and many of his lectures and talks are on his sites.

They also taped and posted his lecture on Vimeo.  I recommend watching this –there is a part 1 and part 2 – and check out his lecture at



Vinay Gupta Talk at Pixelache – Vimeo Video Part 1 and  Vimeo Video Part 2


6 Ways to Die