No Tech Reader #13

Dealing with Human Wastes in Uncertain Urban Environments

After the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti nearly 1.5 million people in the capitol were living in camps without access to sanitation. In response to the crisis, international agencies installed thousands of toilets within weeks. However, the absence of waste treatment facilities in the country further complicated the sanitation response.

The first treatment facility constructed post – earthquake was a thermophilic composting site designed to treat the wastes from 20,000 earthquake victims living in camps. Despite multiple hurricanes, a cholera epidemic, and political unrest, the SOIL composting facilities have treated over 500,000 gallons of human waste in the past three years, converting it to pathogen free compost, over 10,000 gallons of which has been sold for use in agriculture and reforestation projects.

The experience of thermophilic composting in Haiti is unique in scale and duration and can have global implications for waste treatment in both emergency and development contexts. The simple infrastructure requirements relative to more advanced technological approaches allow for rapid implementation in the wake of a disaster. The infrastructure itself is not dependent on an energy source and materials for construction can be sourced locally. Additionally, the straightforward operation and maintenance facilitate locally managed repairs and on-going service provision.

Thermophilic composting of human wastes in uncertain urban environments: a case study from Haiti (PDF), SOIL Haiti.

The Energy Performance Gap

The energy performance gap refers to the failure of energy improvements, often undertaken at great expense, to deliver some (or occasionally all) of the promised savings. A study last year of refurbished apartment buildings in Germany, for instance, found that they missed the predicted energy savings by anywhere from 5 to 28 percent. In Britain, an evaluation of 50 “leading-edge modern buildings,” from supermarkets to health care centers, reported that they “were routinely using up to 3.5 times more energy than their design had allowed for” — and producing on average 3.8 times the predicted carbon emissions.

Researchers have generally blamed the performance gap on careless work by builders, overly complicated energy-saving technology, or the bad behaviors of the eventual occupants of a building. But a new study puts much of the blame on inept energy modeling. The title of the study asks the provocative question “Are Modelers Literate?” Even more provocatively, a press release from the University of Bath likens the misleading claims about building energy performance to the Volkswagen emissions scandal, in which actual emissions from diesel engine cars were up to 40 times higher than “the performance promised by the car manufacturer.”

Read more: Why Don’t Green Buildings Live Up to Hype on Energy Efficiency?

The Most Sustainable Power Source on Earth

A human powered student room. Image: Golnar Abbasi.

  • A human can generate at least as much power as a 1m2 solar panel on a sunny day.
  • Unlike solar and wind energy, human power is always available, no matter the season or time of day. There’s little need for energy storage.
  • Unlike fossil fuels, human power can be a clean power source.
  • Unlike solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries, humans don’t need to be manufactured in a factory.
  • Unlike all other power sources, human power increases as the human population grows.
  • Human power is an all-round power source. Humans not only supply muscle power that can be converted into mechanical energy or electricity, they also produce thermal energy, especially during exercise. Finally, human waste can be converted to biogas and fertiliser.

Human power is the most sustainable power source on Earth.

Quoted from Human Power Plant, a work-in-progress by Low-tech Magazine and Melle Smets. More about the project later.

The Screenless Office

Current interface culture is dominated by a few large corporatate players: google/Alphabet, Apple, Microsoft. For many of us who spend countless hours working, socializing and amusing ourselves while using technical media, these powerful players have a huge influence on our experience of everyday life. Our perception of the world around us and how we see ourselves in, it is mediated by the decisions of a few privileged managers, programmers and designers, mostly male and white on the west coast of the United States. To suggest any other way of living in a networked society is to risk being percieved as blasphemous, uncool, out-of-touch, escapist or simply absurd. These interfaces have become so embedded in our conception of reality that we now have a crisis of the imagination, where it is difficult to even think of anything different.

Removing the screen is a radical gesture denying conformity to the dominating forces of contemporary interface culture. By getting rid of the display, we force digital text and images back into the old conventions of print culture. While this might have a superficial, nostalgic appeal, more importantly, it puts us into the role of acting like amateur media archeologists, investigating the history of modern visual, literary and bureaucratic systems both technical and social. At the same time, by taking newer forms of digital media and packing it into the old container of print, we open up a new experimental field of analog-digital hybrid forms. Our goal is to discover and invent novel ways of living in the digital world which might be more informal, expressive and embodied.

The Screenless Office is a system for working with media and networks without using a pixel-based display. It is an artistic operating system. The office presents a radically alternative form of everyday human interaction with media. It is constructed using free/libre/open hard- and software components, especially for print, databases, web-scraping and tangible interaction. Currently, it exists as a working prototype with software “bureaus” which allow a user to read and navigate news, web sites and social media entirely with the use of various printers for output and a barcode scanner for input. While our existing software allows for interesting new ways of consuming media, we are currently working to expand the system to make it capable of publishing content and thereby, enabling a provocative possibility for active participation in contemporary social life.

Quoted from: The Screenless Office. Via Jeu de paume espace virtuel, May 2017.

Gin Poles

“A gin pole is a simple and traditional method for raising a timber frame by hand, and straightforward solution to a site with little crane access. It’s constructed from a long, straight pole with a block and tackle hanging from the top, and two guy lines (in our case, come-alongs) that help to counter the weight of the pole and the timbers, and locate the posts in their mortises.”

“Sometimes the oldest technologies provide the best solution for the job at hand. From wedges and ramps to pulleys, I am surprised at how right my physics teachers were about the ubiquity of simple machines. When applied purposefully, with careful consideration, these approaches can be safer, simpler and cheaper. While I appreciate the romance associated with historic contraptions, ultimately, romance is not the reason we employ them.”

Read more: I’ll take a gin pole, straight up, Preservation Timber Farming.

No Tech Reader #12

Video:

No Tech Reader #11

Links via Roel Roscam Abbing, Aaron Vansintjan & Mark van den Borre.

Craftsmanship in Greece Today

For centuries craftsmanship, the predecessor of industry, has shaped culture and everyday life. Crafted products show region-specific, social, political and economic conditions as well as cultural and religious characteristics. During several trips cultural worker and artist curator Laura Bernhardt, and photographer Benjamin Tafel have undertaken a search for traces of the still active craft workshops in Greece.

In dialogue with a selection of protagonists the project examines their situation, their emotional relationship with their profession and their prospects. The result is a series of portraits that show the artisan in relation to his or her profession and the current situation of upheaval. How important is the traditional value that is passed on from generation to generation, from hand to hand? How is the artisan connected to his or her profession in these times of crisis?

The authors are less interested in a nostalgic view but rather focus on the rediscovery of crafted products, their appreciation and the artisans’ emotional relationship to their profession. What is the meaning of low-tech in times of economic crisis and how can small businesses survive with few orders? The different views of the artisans’ stories created a portrait of an era that can point to the past as well as to the future.

Read more: From Hand to Hand: Stories about Craftsmanship in Greece Today. Via DAMN. Thanks to Sara Dandois.

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.