Prototype of a Hydro-Pneumatic Human Power Plant

The Human Power Plant is a working prototype of a muscular power generator, manned by a group of people. It is an all-round off-the-grid solution, which can supply energy in the form of electricity, water under pressure, and compressed air. It is built from simple and durable parts.

These days, we have automated and motorised even the smallest physical efforts. At the same time, we go to the gym to keep in shape, generating energy that’s wasted. The Human Power Plant restores the connection between physical exercise and energy use.

See and read more: The Hydro-Pneumatic Human Power Plant: How it Works. Drawing: Melle Smets.

Restore the Night Trains in Europe

The French passenger association “Oui au train de nuit” (“Night trains yes!”) has compiled a report about European night trains: “Put the night trains back on track“. During the last five years, most of Europe’s night trains have disappeared, although they are popular with travelers and the only alternative to the airplane.

* The report was brought to our attention by Back on Track, a European coalition that supports cross-border rail and brings the latest news about international passenger travel in Europe. * Previously: High speed trains are killing the European railway network. * Picture taken from the back window of the night train Madrid – PortBou in 2013.

Non-Electric Hearing Aids Outperform Modern Devices

Most people with hearing problems are not using hearing aids, mainly because the electronic devices often do not provide enough benefit. Research shows that non-electric hearing aids from earlier centuries are performing significantly better.

[Read more…]

Digital Colonialism

Free Basics, Facebook’s free, limited internet service for developing markets, is neither serving local needs nor achieving its objective of bringing people online for the first time.

“Facebook is not introducing people to open internet where you can learn, create and build things,” said Ellery Biddle, advocacy director of Global Voices. “It’s building this little web that turns the user into a mostly passive consumer of mostly western corporate content. That’s digital colonialism.”

Read more: How Facebook’s free internet service has failed its users.
Previously: How to build a low-tech internet.

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.