[permaculture] new PC plant database

Chad Knepp pyg at galatea.org
Thu Mar 20 11:38:27 EST 2003

Hello all,

I would like to announce a new plant database based on data from
PFAF 2000.  It's temporarily available (with a few caveats) at:


This is not a well tested product; expect errors and general
brokenness (incorrect data? talk to PFAF).  If it doesn't seem to be
available or goes away suddenly it could be because it 1) exceeded
[cpu/disk/bandwidth] quota 2) crashed 3) was removed because Google is
threatening a lawsuit ;-).  The above URL is temporary, but should be
up till the end of March.

Like it?  Well there's more.  I've improved the simple search engine
to respond well to phrases like "a fast growing shade tolerant vine
hardy to zone 5", yielding results like Virginia Creeper.
Unfortunately these *improvements* are far to CPU intensive to put out
in their unoptimized form and the search still generates more false
positives that I like.

Since this is both the first major python project and first major
database project I've done, the time spent so far (100-200 hours) has
been extremely fun.  Unfortunately, in my current living situation,
those around me are not excited to have me sit in front of the
computer all day hacking just for fun.  To summarize in a punny way,
FUNding has run out.

I would still like to work on this project and have a number of ideas
to create what I think would be a very valuable asset to the
permaculture community.  This post is in part to ask for leads on
foundations, grant programs, etc. that might be interested in
supporting further development of this project.

Here are some ideas about what further development might look like.  I
don't have attachment to a particular name but I will be refering to
this project as PCDB (PermaCulture DataBase) to distinguish it from

   o Collective Collaboration: The collective knowledge of a group is
     always larger than any subset of that group.  This is [partly]
     why Open Source Software (OSS), like Linux, is growing faster
     than it's proprietary counterparts.  See
     <http://catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/> for some
     theory.  PCDB would PRIMARILY aquire and change its information
     by handling user inputs/edits/contributions automagically.  This
     is the essence of a wiki, but wikis [so far] are only capable of
     handling very general sorts of information.

   o Multi-media, Mutlti-subject: PCDB has no P in it.  Why limit this
     information to plants?  PCDB could easily comprise all of the
     sorts of information that make up a good PC book such as theory
     in the form of text, images, plant lists, etc... think really
     really big book.

   o Informal and Alternative Content Formats: The Internet has given
     rise to many ways of sharing information that are unique to the
     internet.  Mailing lists, web logs, wikis, discussion forums,
     etc. are some examples.  Incorporating some of these content
     formats should be quite valuable.  For example attaching a
     moderated discussion to an article or plant would allow for
     others to share their personal experiences.

   o Climatic Distinctions: Plants behave differently in different
     climates and information for a particular climate doesn't always
     apply to another.  IMHO, it would be a *good thing* to actively
     note these differences and allow users to filter information
     based on a particular locale.

   o Powerful and Easy: In order for collective collaboration to work,
     it has to be easy to use.  Good interface design is an important
     part.  This is why I think that currently PCPDB is somewhat
     better than PFAF (sorry Richard).

   o Active Content Solicitation: I think actually going out and
     collecting existing appropriate data, as opposed to waiting for
     user submission, would increase the value rapidly.  This would be
     similar to assimilating the PFAF data.

   o Free and Redistributable: This is mostly just my own personal
     stance on intellectual property.  PCDB would always be free in
     the OSS sense.  This would require that contributers agree to
     copyleft their submissions. 

Anyway, putting 500-1000 hours into this project it could be pretty
interesting.  I think it would take around 300 hours to get to a
collaborative state allowing others to grow and modify the data
itself, which as I see it, is the most important part.

Chad Knepp

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