The Galaksija: Socialism’s DIY Computer

The Galaksija computer was a craze in 1980s Yugoslavia, inspiring thousands of people to build versions in their own homes. The idea behind them was simple – to make technology available to everyone. Free play was implicitly encouraged: the sharing, collaboration, manipulation, and proliferation of software was built into Galaksija’s very operation.

A computing enthusiast since 1979, Zoran Modli caught wind of Galaksija after the publication of Computers in Your Home. As host and DJ of Ventilator 202—a renowned New Wave radio show on Serbia’s Radio Beograd 202—Modli was something of a minor celebrity in Yugoslavia. Because all the day’s computers, including Galaksija, ran their programs on cassette, Regasek thought Modli might broadcast programs over the airwaves as audio during his show. The idea was that listeners could tape the programs off their receivers as they were broadcast, then load them into their personal machines.

An overnight sensation, this DJing practice quickly became a staple on Modli’s show. In the ensuing months, Ventilator 202 broadcast hundreds of computer programs. During the hour, Modli would announce when the segment was approaching, signaling to his listeners that it was time for them to fetch their equipment, cue up a tape, and get ready to hit record. In the case of games, users would “download” the programs off the radio and alter them—inserting their own levels, challenges, and characters—then send them back to Modli for retransmission. In effect, this was file transfer well before the advent of the World Wide Web, a pre-internet pirating protocol.

Read more: Socialism’s DIY Computer, Michael Eby, Tribune, July 2020. Thanks to m.

Simplifier: Creating a Stable Foundation of Technology

Mathieu Maury sends us a link to a very interesting (and minimalist) website called Simplifier. From the about-page:

Why do I simplify? How did I get started? What is the goal of this website?

Before developing any other skill, I enjoyed programming. To some extent, I still do; each program is its own universe, built from scratch, and the ability to create these on a whim is fascinating. However, the more time I spent programming, the more I became aware of the fact that software depends on hardware, and hardware is constantly changing. A program is not like a book or a painting; it requires constant upkeep and adaptation to remain in existence.

Initially, this drove me to learn about hardware, so that I could develop a stable platform to build upon; but this too was futile. Components inevitably fail, and there is no guarantee that replacements will be available in the coming years or decades. Essentially, permanent work cannot be achieved on a computer, as the hardware is fundamentally out of the control of the user. No matter what world is created inside of a program, its foundation will always rest on sand.

At this point I left programming entirely, and began searching for other meaningful work to do; but the problem had followed me! No matter what skill I intended to learn, I found that its permanence had been eroded by the chaos of technology. Materials were replaced by brands, techniques replaced by accessories, and craftsmanship replaced by consumerism. Clearly, this was something that needed to be fixed. Clearly, this is what I had to do.

Fundamentally, my work here is about creating a stable foundation of technology that is reliable, understandable, and practical for an individual to build for themselves. As of writing this, I believe I have done this on a conceptual level, but I intend to continue this work to the highest level of technology that I can achieve on my own. I encourage readers to utilize anything here which they find practical for whatever purpose they see fit, and to consider adopting a mindset of simplification in projects of their own.

Making a Cooling Chamber for Tomatoes

When you pick your tomatoes, if you want to keep them longer, you have to find a way of reducing the temperature. As availability of electricity at village level can be a problem, ways have to be found to lower the temperature of this fragile crop. Some farmers at Dambatta in Kano State, Nigeria have used local mud bricks to make a very effective cooling chamber. Watch the video at AccessAgriculture. Via Practical Action.

Off-Grid, Solar-Powered, Zero-Battery Refrigerator

Joey Hess has designed, built and tested an off-grid, solar powered fridge, with no battery bank. Using an inexpensive chest freezer with a few modifications, the fridge retains cold overnight and through rainy periods. The set-up consists of a standard chest freezer, an added thermal mass, an inverter, and computer control. He writes: [Read more…]

“Daylight Drive” DC Solar Power at the Living Energy Farm

Reader Goran Christiansson sends us a link to Living Energy Farm, a research and community project in Virginia, USA. Most notable is their use of “Daylight Drive” DC solar power without batteries for workshop tools — reminiscent of the ideas outlined in How to run the economy on the weather. Also of note is their choice for less efficient but more durable Nickel Iron batteries for lighting. [Read more…]

Another Day, Another Low-tech Website

French designer and researcher Gauthier Roussilhe was inspired by our solar powered website and built a low-tech website himself, documenting the process in detail (and in English). It’s a great work, and there’s some interesting differences with our solar powered blog.

First, Roussilhe built his site with a user friendly content management system (Kirby), which is then converted into a static website. Compared to our approach, this makes it easier to build a light-weight website for those who are accustomed to working with WordPress.

Second, the designer also tackles his videos, which are hosted on Vimeo and Youtube, and manages to reduce their “weight” by 75%. This is a major contribution, because video takes up the largest share of internet traffic.

Here’s his own conclusion:

If we take stock: I reduced the weight of my site by 10, the average weight of a page by more than 3 and I reduced the weight of my videos on third-party services by 4. I have a site extremely simple to administrate, very light so very fast, which consumes very little electricity and therefore emits little GHG.

The site also follows all the canons of today’s digital design: mobile-first, accessibility, loading speed. In fact it is quite surprising to realize that structural limitations (weight / energy) lead to navigation experiences much more accessible to all audiences regardless of their equipment, their connection or their imperative motricity or vision.

Read more: Digital guide to low tech.