Bicycle Powered Thresher

Farmhack has complete instructions for making a bicycle powered thresher. It works on various crops including dry beans, wheat, rice, rye, einkorn, and lupine, and threshes about one pound per minute.

This is the first of three tools for small scale grain processing. The other two tools are the bicycle powered fanning mill and the bicycle powered de-huller/flour mill.

Unlike some “hacks” for small farmers, the Grain Bikes don’t solve an acknowledged problem so much as create new opportunities for small farmers. Dry beans and grains are non-perishable, can be sold, eaten, or planted to avoid seed costs (such as rye for cover crops), and, the labor for processing them can be shunted to the winter when more time is available.

Find the manual at Farmhack.

 

The Sustainability Problem of Digital Currencies

Bitcoin is back in the spotlight these days thanks to some wild price movements and central bank meetings. The decentralized currency has recently been trading over its all-time high of $1200 on some exchanges. But the higher the price goes, the more it exacerbates bitcoin’s dark side: shocking levels of electricity consumption.

In 2015, I wrote that bitcoin had a big sustainability problem. Back then, each bitcoin transaction represented roughly enough electricity to power 1.57 American households for a day— approximately 5,000 times more energy-intensive than a credit card transaction. Since it’s been two years, it’s time for an update.

Updated calculations with optimistic assumptions show that in a best-case hypothetical, each bitcoin transaction is backed by approximately 90 percent of an American household’s daily average electricity consumption. So even though that’s still about 3,994 times as energy-intensive as a credit card transaction, things could be getting better since 2015.

Unfortunately, it’s more likely that things are getting worse. A new index has recently modeled potential energy costs per transaction as high as 94 kWh, or enough electricity to power 3.17 households for a day. To put it another way, that’s almost enough energy to fully charge the battery of a Tesla Model S P100D, the world’s quickest production car, and drive it over 300 miles.

Read more: A Single Bitcoin Transaction Takes Thousands of Times More Energy Than a Credit Card Swipe, Christopher Malmo. Thanks to Renaud d’Avout d’Auerstaedt.

Hacking Consumer Electronics: The Low-tech Way

The paragraphs below are taken from “100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation“, a book that’s not available on WikiLeaks but on Amazon. Written by a retired Navy Seal, Clint Emerson, the book describes skills “which all rely on low-tech or no-tech tools, because complicated instructions are the last thing you need when facing imminent peril”.

Skill No.55: TURN A SPEAKER INTO A MICROPHONE

“Stashing a voice-activated recording device in a target’s room or vehicle is relatively simple, but without sound amplification, such a setup is unlikely to result in audible intelligence — a proper audio-surveillance system requires amplification via microphone. In the absence of dedicated tools, however, the Nomad can leverage a cell phone, an audio jack, and a pair of headphones into an effective listening device.”

“Because microphones and speakers are essentially the same instrument, any speaker — from the earbuds on a pair of headphones to the stereo system on a television — can be turned into a microphone in a matter of minutes. The simple difference between the two is that their functions are reversed. While a speaker turns electronic signals into sound, a mic turns sound into electronic signals to be manipulated and amplified…”

“Any small recording device can be employed, but using a phone set to silent and auto answer as a listening device has two advantages: It captures intelligence in real time and does so without the operative having to execute a potentially dangerous return trip on target to collect the device…”

From: “100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation“, Clint Emerson, 2015.

In Defense of Degrowth

“The idea of degrowth is contentious, often misunderstood, and (perhaps paradoxically) growing in popularity. In this book, Giorgos Kallis, one of the movement’s leading thinkers, presents an accessible, inspiring, and enjoyable defense. The book’s chapters—a compilation of his opinion essays, newspaper articles, blog posts, and ‘minifestos’—range from topics such as eco-modernism, the history of economics, science fiction, the Greek crisis, and Hollywood films.

The book also features debates and exchanges between Kallis and degrowth detractors. In defense of degrowth is intended as an introduction for the curious, a defense against the skeptics, and an intellectually stimulating conversation for those already convinced but willing to learn more.”

In Defense of Degrowth can be downloaded as a free e-book.

Rebooting Energy Demand: Automatic Software Upgrades

When and how we upgrade our computer software used to be in large part our own decision. Today, it’s increasingly decided by software vendors themselves, who have automated this process through downloads. Automated software upgrades can increase energy use in different and unexpected ways, without any action from the user.

Before the advance of networked devices and automated software upgrades, the energy use of an appliance was rather predictable, because the features of such devices were static. Now, manufacturers can unilaterally decide to send out an upgrade that increases data and also energy use for all devices.

More and more consumer products are controlled by networked software: what does this mean for energy demand, and exactly who is responsible for increasing consumption? Although increased energy demand will be attributed to consumers, in fact they have little control over it.

Read more: Rebooting Energy Demand: Automatic Software Upgrades, an article I wrote for the UK’s DEMAND Centre. Picture: eBay.

Medieval Heating System Lives on in Spain

The Meseta Central is a vast plateau in the heart of Spain with long, cold winters and short, scorching summers. The locals say that there’s “nine months of winter” and “three months of hell”. The region has little trees, so heating (and cooling) has always been a challenge.

In the early middle ages, the Castillians developed a subterranean heating system that’s a descendent of the Roman hypocaust: the “gloria”. Due to its slow rate of combustion, the gloria allowed people to use smaller fuels such as hay and twigs instead of firewood. [Read more…]

Low-tech Baby Care

Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) is the brainchild of Colombian pediatrician Edgar Rey, who introduced it to the Instituto Materno Infantil in 1978. It was an idea born out of desperation. The institute served the city’s poorest—those who lived crammed in the rickety makeshift dwellings in the foothills of the surrounding mountains. At the time, this was the biggest neonatal unit in all of Colombia, responsible for delivering 30,000 babies a year.

Overcrowding was so bad that three babies would have to share an incubator at a time and the rate of cross-infection was high. Death rates were spiraling, and so too was the level of abandonment. Many young, impoverished mothers who never even got to touch their babies found it easier just to take off.

Scouting around for a solution to these problems, Rey happened upon a paper on the physiology of the kangaroo. It mentioned how at birth, kangaroos are bald and roughly the size of a peanut—very immature, just like a human pre-term baby. Once in its mother’s pouch, the kangaroo receives thermal regulation from the direct skin-to-skin contact afforded by its lack of hair. It then latches onto its mother’s nipple, where it remains until it has grown to roughly a quarter of its mother’s weight, when it is finally ready to emerge into the world.

This struck a chord with Rey. He went back to the institute and decided to test it out. He trained mothers of premature babies to carry them just as kangaroos do. Working alongside his colleague Hector Martinez, he taught them the importance of breastfeeding and discharged them just as soon as their babies were able. The results were remarkable. Death rates and infection levels dropped immediately. Overcrowding was reduced because hospital stays were much shorter, incubators were freed up, and the number of abandoned babies fell.

Read more: Kangaroo care—why keeping baby close is better for everyone, Ars Technica. Thanks to Tim Miller.

Military Complexity: Lasers or Longbows?

As military capabilties have evolved, so too have their complexity. Indeed, they are in a symbiotic relationship in that advanced military capabilities are both a product of and dependent on a complex network of resources, products, services and organisations.

A comparison of the manufacturing requirements for the traditional aboriginal spear and the F88 Austeyr assault rifle provides an example of how complexity has increased.

Arguably, there is an exponential increase in complexity because the manufacture of modern military equipment is dependent on a number of other industries, such as finance, telecommunications, information technology and energy.

The networks that support military capabilities are a subset of the broader global economy, implying that advanced military capabilities cannot exist without the underlying economic base to support it. [Read more…]

The Slingshot Channel

The Slingshot Channel is a dedicated YouTube channel that covers rubber powered launchers in each and every detail.

Thanks to Edwin Gardner.

Rebuilding, Testing and Documenting Self-Made Wi-Fi Antennas

Pretty Fly For A Wi-Fi revisits the histories, origins and uses of self-made Wi-Fi antennas. Many of these designs were once shared through home pages that no longer exist and are now only partially accessible through the Internet Archive. It is a combination of pots and pans, dishes and cans through which people from around the world give shape to their collective dream of making an alternative internet.

This project tries to revive these designs by rebuilding, testing and documenting them. The antennas serve as an interesting point of departure to think about the internet’s infrastructure and how day-to-day users could potentially influence its shape and use.

Most of the antennas result out of the idea of wireless community networks, an idea which emerged shortly after the commercial introduction of Wi-Fi equipment in the early 2000s. These grassroots initiatives aim to build alternative network infrastructures, often on a peer-to-peer basis and without the need for costly wires. Such network infrastructures can be found on rooftops, balconies and windowsills and can cover large distances by broadcasting from building to building.

They are built for a variety of reasons, sometimes to provide broadband connections in areas where there are none, to make censorship free alternatives to the internet or to share the costs of a single internet connection.

More: Roel Roscam Abbing’s website (pictures) & Lídia Pereira’s booklet (drawings, PDF).

Previously: How to Build a Low-tech Internet.