The Amish Horse-Drawn Buggy Is More Tech-Forward Than You Think

Despite what you heard, the Amish aren’t against technology. Communities adopt new gadgets such as fax machines and business-use cell phones all the time—so long as the local church approves each one ahead of time, determining that it won’t drastically change their way of life.

So it is with the Amish horse-drawn buggy. You might have thought the technology inside this 1800s method of transportation stopped progressing right around then. Instead, buggy tech keeps advancing, and buggy makers have become electricians and metalworkers to build in all the new tech you can’t see under the traditional black paint.

Read more at Popular Mechanics. Via Amish America.

Spinning Toy Reinvented as Low-tech Centrifuge

Growing up in India, Manu Prakash entertained himself with a bottle cap that spun around on two strings that he tugged with his fingers. As a physical biologist at Stanford University in California, he is now transforming that simple toy, called a whirligig, into a cheap tool to help diagnose diseases such as malaria.

Other researchers have come up with low-tech, inexpensive centrifuges that used salad spinners3 and egg beaters4, but these devices could manage only around 1,200 rotations per minute (r.p.m.) and took too long to process samples, says Prakash.

Hoping to do better, his team went on a shopping spree to a toy store, collecting spinning gizmos and filming them with a high-speed camera. Yo-yos spun too slowly (and required training to use). But whirligigs were both easy to operate and reached speeds of 10,000 r.p.m., comparable to a commercial centrifuge.

See & read more at Nature. Thanks to Rodger Kram & Austin Liu.

Silbo Gomero: The Dying Language of Whistling

The language of whistles known as Silbo Gomero – or just el silbo (‘the whistle’) – was once heard widely throughout La Gomera, one of the smallest of the seven main Canary Islands off the Atlantic Coast of Africa. Now it is used only by a few remaining shepherds on the steep hills of La Gomera’s countryside.

A singular form of communication used with both people and animals, in 2009 Silbo Gomero was named a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Angello Faccini’s arrestingly photographed film finds one of Silbo Gomero’s last remaining practitioners reflecting on his fading way of life and its ephemeral language. Picture: Unesco.

Anti-Surveillance Clothing

The use of facial recognition software for commercial purposes is becoming more common, but, as Amazon scans faces in its physical shop and Facebook searches photos of users to add tags to, those concerned about their privacy are fighting back.

Berlin-based artist and technologist Adam Harvey aims to overwhelm and confuse these systems by presenting them with thousands of false hits so they can’t tell which faces are real.

The Hyperface project involves printing patterns on to clothing or textiles, which then appear to have eyes, mouths and other features that a computer can interpret as a face.

Read more: Anti-surveillance clothing aims to hide wearers from facial recognition

No Tech Reader #10

The Office on the Move: Portable & Pocket Typewriters

hermes-featherweightAt least since the 1980s, home working has been touted as a trend with potential environmental benefits. Since the arrival of mobile phones, portable computers and the internet in the 1990s, the focus has shifted to “remote” or “agile” working, which includes working at home but also on the road and in so-called third places: coffeeshops, libraries or co-working offices.

According to a 2014 consultancy report, “the vast majority of jobs in most organisations can be accomplished from virtually any PC or mobile device, from just about anywhere”. Upon a closer look, however, wireless computing isn’t that revolutionary as you would expect. The laptop and the internet have eroded the anchoring function of the office, but this is only a novelty if you compare with the office of 25 years ago. In a larger historical context, not that much has changed.

The Hermes Featherweight. Source: ozTypewriter.

[Read more…]

Human Powered 3D Printer

human-powered-3d-printer

The Trophy is a 3D Print Machine, consisting of an Ultimaker 3D printer and a stationary bicycle to power it. Pierre-Clement Niviere designed it to make people aware of the high energy consumption of printing a 3D-object, criticising a technology that’s usually presented as an environmentally friendly way of production. The set-up also involves the maker in the creation process, raising questions about how 3D printing is changing making.

See it in action. Previously: Mechanical 3D-printer. Thanks to Pim Rooymans.

No Tech Reader #9

Last three links via Hunther/Gatherer.

Vertical Walking

vertical-walking-stairs“Even as our cities get more crowded and its buildings get taller, it seems that we have yet to find a more energy efficient way to navigate this high-rise environment. Right now, our options are limited to stairs, escalators, and elevators—all of which are expensive, require constant maintenance, and take up a lot of space.

Enter Rombout Labs and their concept of “vertical walking.” Their technology is designed to allow humans to move between building floors without the need for any sort of power supply, also using less effort than we would if we were using stairs, and making optimal use of available vertical space.

“By using harmonious movements and smart materials, only 10% of the effort of walking stairs is needed to bridge multiple floors. This not only provides a solution for the growing number of people who are unable to take stairs, but moreover offers new possibilities for urban architecture,” they explain on the Dutch Design Week website, where the system is currently featured.”

See & read more: New Futuristic Prototype Replaces Stairs and Elevators for ‘Vertical Walking’.

Pigeon Towers: A Low-tech Alternative to Synthetic Fertilizers

pigeon-towers-iranPhoto credit: Bekleyen, A. (2009). The dovecotes of Diyarbakır: the surviving examples of a fading tradition. The Journal of Architecture, 14(4), 451-464..

Many societies, ancient and contemporary, have innovated ways of supplying their fields with fixed nitrogen and phosphorus—two crucial ingredients for crop productivity. One is crop rotation, which alternates nitrogen-fixing and nitrogen-exhausting crops. Farmers around the world make use of chickens, ducks, and geese to add “fresh” guano to their fields. Cattle manure is another useful alternative—although it often lacks in phosphorus. Much more labor intensive than simply adding fossil-fuel derived synthetic fertilizer, these practices tend to build up soil, limit greenhouse gas emissions, and lead to less run-off into rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Persian pigeon towers are one of the more elegant solutions to the nitrogen-phosphorus problem. These are essentially castles built for thousands of wild pigeons, strategically placed in the middle of the fields. Their droppings were shoveled up once a year and sold to nearby farmers. While most pigeon towers existing today are in disrepair, the oldest still standing are dated to the 16th century (but they are assumed to have existed over 1,000 years ago) and helped fuel the cultivation of Persia’s legendary orchards, melons, and wheat production.[1] [Read more…]