Building Dry Stack Stone Walls

dry stack stone wall finished 3

You might take them for granted when you see one, but building dry stack stone walls is not for sissies: [Read more...]

The Dobsonian Telescope

the dobsonian telescope“The design of this telescope is called a Dobsonian, after its inventor John Dobson, who passed away earlier this year. Dobson’s life took an unusual trajectory. He went from being a self described “belligerent atheist” to a monk in the Vendanta society to co-founding the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers.  Most of his life was spent bringing the night sky to people around the world and teaching people how to make their own low-cost telescopes.

As a monk, Dobson could not afford expensive materials. He kept the design inexpensive by using a simple mount and cheap materials: wood and cardboard. My Dobsonian was made by the now defunct Coulter Optical Company out of particle board and a cardboard concrete form. Its large 13.1 inch mirror makes it perfect for looking at nebulas, galaxies and star clusters even in light polluted urban areas.”

Find out more. Illustration.

Frugal Digital: Repairing, Hacking, and Repurposing Electronics

From alarm clock to medical tool frugal digital 2

Frugal Digital is a project that focuses on creating digital solutions in low resource settings like that of developing countries:

“Silicon technology is mostly about a culture of excess. It’s about the fastest, and the most efficient, and the most dazzling gadget you can have, while about two-thirds of the world can hardly reach the most basic of this technology to even address fundamental needs in life—including health, education, and all these kinds of very fundamental issues.”

“We work on projects to set the framework, create tools and provide inspiration for frugal innovators around the globe. Frugality is a way of thinking that optimizes given resources, up-cycles and has the spirit of improvisation. We aim to apply frugality to digital life and create solutions that are inexpensive, adaptable, use available resources and create valuable knowledge along with new solutions.”

Working with local tinkerers, Frugal Digital already made some interesting machines, mixing parts from different objects. A low-cost cell phone became the heart of a multi-media projector for education, while an alarm clock was rebuilt as an easy diagnostic tool to improve healthcare. Their community radio station introduces “air tweets”.

Via iFixit, who brings more good news for digital tinkerers: there is absolutely no shortage of disposed electronics.

The Making of an Indigenous Scanning Tunneling Microscope

Pankaj Sekhsaria investigates the culture of innovation in nanotechnology laboratories in India. He found the very first Indian Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM), which was built in 1988, only seven years after the first one, for which the inventors were awarded a 1986 Nobel Prize. Sekhsaria shows how the making of this first Indian STM can be seen as a succesful application of what he calles “technological jugaad”.

Jugaad is an Indian word that does not have an easy equivalent in English, although “tinkering” and “bricolage” come close: it means reconfiguring materialities to overcome obstacles and find solutions; it can also mean working the system to one’s advantage and thus sometimes has negative connotations related to gambling and corruption.

table top scanning tunneling microscope

A table-top STM placed on the inflated tube of a car tyre that acts as a vibration isolating device. Picture by Pankaj Sekhsaria.

Sekhsaria traces the history of this technology and describes how “discarded refrigerators, stepper motors from junked computers, tubes from car tyres, bungee cords, Viton rubber tubing, weights from the grocers’ shop, aluminum vessels generally used in the kicthen and bobbins from sewing machines were only some of the components that went into the making of the first prototype and the other probe microscopes that followed”.

It is important to emphasize that there is nothing second-rate about this STM and the research it allowed. The research group has published its findings with STM in top-tier, international journals, and the doctoral graduates involved found postdoc positions in the most prestigious laboratories in both Europe and the United States. Pankaj Sekhsaria highlighted that while these Indian nanoscientists followed their own very “Indian” style of working around scarce resources, still they were able to produce superb, internationally recognized research.

Quoted from: “Good fortune, Mirrors, and Kisses”, Wiebe E. Bijker, in Technology and Culture, Volume 54, Number 3, July 2013. Pankaj Sekhsaria’s research paper is online and well worth a read: “The making of an indigenous scanning tunneling microscope“, in Current Science, Volume 104, Number 9, 10 May 2013.

Related articles:

Africa Teaches the West How to Build a Car

Smati turtle 1 african carToday’s cars look like spaceships and are built by robots in futuristic factories. At least, that’s the picture in the developed world.

In Ghana, West Africa, both the cars and the auto industry look rather different. In a neighbourhood called Suame Magazine, an estimated 200,000 artisans take apart discarded western cars and use the parts to build easily repairable vehicles that are suitable for African roads. All this happens manually and in open air.

Artist Melle Smets and researcher Joost van Onna, both from the Netherlands, set up shop in Suame Magazine and built a unique African concept car in collaboration with the local community: the SMATI Turtle 1. Their project calls into question western ways of dealing with technology, waste, employment and automation.

Picture: The SMATI Turtle 1

[Read more...]

Make Your Own $35 Straw Mattress

How to make your own $35 straw mattress. Previously: A mattress that lasts a lifetime.

Is Cuba the First Large-Scale Maker Society?

electric plug cuba

“When the U.S. left Cuba in the 1960s, it took most of the Cuba’s engineers with it. In their absence, Fidel Castro encouraged citizens to learn how to make their own stuff. So, they did. And, in the 70s, a culture of garage innovation was born from the revolutionaries, scientists, mechanics, and ordinary folk who formed the National Association of Innovators and Rationalizers (ANIR).”

See and read more. Thanks to Edwin Gardner.

On the picture: a home-made electric plug (Cuba), found at Architecture of Necessity. Previously: Cameroon blacksmiths & Innovation in Kenya’s informal economy.

The Making of a Foot Powered Treadle Lathe

chris builds lathe“Hi everybody my name is Chris. I choose my woodworking projects based on whatever happens to inspire me”.

In this video, Chris builds a foot powered treadle lathe. Great project, great video.

Via Old Engineering.

Previously:

Solar Wood Drying Kiln

“Lumber is usually dried to a specific moisture content prior to further manufacturing or use. While lumber can be air-dried, the humidity in most localities prevents the lumber from reaching the moisture content required for the stability needed for interior use. The kiln discussed is designed to be inexpensive to construct and be simple to operate.”

solar wood drying kiln“The solar kiln described was designed, constructed, and tested at Virginia Tech. This design is based on 25 years of research and development on the solar drying of lumber in the United States and foreign countries. Drawings for two versions of this kiln are available; one for 800-1,000 bd ft and the other for 1,500-2,000 board feet of lumber. Both kilns will dry a load of lumber in approximately one month of moderately sunny weather at its location in Blacksburg, VA.”

“Drying lumber can be a complex process where accelerating drying without having quality loss often requires extensive knowledge and experience. The design of the Virginia Tech solar kiln is such that extensive knowledge, experience and control are not required. The size of the collector keeps the kiln from over-heating and causing checking and splitting of the wood. The kiln is simple to construct and utilizes a passive solar collector, four insulated walls and an insulated floor. The roof is made of clear, greenhouse rated, corrugated polyethylene.”

Virginia Tech Solar Kiln. Via Build It Solar.

Fences, Gates and Bridges

fences gates and bridges“It is authoritatively stated that the building and maintenance of the farm fences in the United States have cost more than the construction of the farm buildings. Be this as it may, while large numbers of works have been written upon rural architecture we believe this is the first publication specially devoted to Fences, Gates and Bridges.

It aims to be a practical work, showing the “evolution” of the fence from the road barrier of logs, brush or sods to the latest improved forms of barbed wire. The numerous illustrations are mainly representations of fences, gates, etc., in actual use. The chapter on fence law is necessarily condensed. The various judicial decisions upon the subject alone would fill a large volume. This little work, the first and only one of its character, is given to the public in the confident hope that it will prove specially useful to farmers and village residents.”

Fences, gates, and bridges; a practical manual“, George A. Martin, 1892. Thanks to Rob McWilliam.