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

Frugal Digital Repairing, Hacking, and Repurposing Electronics

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.

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Africa Teaches the West How to Build a Car

Smati turtle 1 african car

Today’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.