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.

The Complication of Leisure

During the past two decades there has been a disturbing trend in American sports, a trend in which our “toys” have evolved from the simple to the intricate. No matter whether it’s boating, bicycling, skiing or backpacking, the goal seems to be the same: to improve the performance and efficiency of the equipment. Outdoor equipment today becomes “obsolete” after only a season or two, made so by the constant introduction of newer, more sophisticated models.

Manufacturers of recreational equipment — who have the most to gain from the complication of leisure — spend millions to promote “new, improved” products. And at what cost to our sense of fun and play? We seem so bent on results — on being “successful” — that we often forget why we took up a particular sport in the first place. In other words, play is beginning to look more and more like work. And, at the same time, the price tag on our toys has gone sky-high.

One of the primary benefits of using traditional archery gear — aside from saving lots of money, especially when you make your own gear — is that it promotes a sense of fun and encourages a carefree spirit. Archers who go traditional always seem to agree that once they make the switch, archery is once again exciting.

Quoted from the introduction to “The Traditional Bower’s Bible, Volume One“, Steve Allely, Tim Baker, Paul Comstock, Jim Hamm, Ron Hardcastle, Jay Massey, and John Strunk, 1992. Image by Clay Hayes.

Klopotec: a Bird-Scaring Wind-Rattle

A “klopotec” or “klapotets” is a wooden mechanical device on a high wooden pole, similar to a windmill. It is used as a bird scarer in the vineyards of traditional wine-growing landscapes of Slovenia, Austria, and Croatia. The first written mentions of the technology date to the second half of the 18th century, whereas its oldest depictions date to the first half of the 19th century. [Read more…]

Helium Powered Drones

Airpup is an exceptionally small kite balloon (aka an aerostat), which is a quiet, easy to use alternative for drones. Kite balloons can fly for days. They have no active controls, no software, no moving parts — they just point into the wind and follow where towed.

Kite balloons can be used for aerial photography, as a replacement for a radio tower, or for capturing weather data. Airpup is based on early 20th century kite balloons. It is the first new kite balloon design in 25 years. See also: Kite aerial photography.

The Anatomy of Artificial Intelligence

In 1770, Hungarian inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen constructed a chess-playing machine known as the Mechanical Turk. His goal, in part, was to impress Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. This device was capable of playing chess against a human opponent and had spectacular success winning most of the games played during its demonstrations around Europe and the Americas for almost nine decades. But the Mechanical Turk was an illusion that allowed a human chess master to hide inside the machine and operate it.

Some 160 years later, Amazon.com branded its micropayment based crowdsourcing platform with the same name. According to Ayhan Aytes, Amazon’s initial motivation to build Mechanical Turk emerged after the failure of its artificial intelligence programs in the task of finding duplicate product pages on its retail website. After a series of futile and expensive attempts, the project engineers turned to humans to work behind computers within a streamlined web-based system.

The spectacle of the machine

Amazon Mechanical Turk digital workshop emulates artificial intelligence systems by checking, assessing and correcting machine learning processes with human brainpower. With Amazon Mechanical Turk, it may seem to users that an application is using advanced artificial intelligence to accomplish tasks. But it is closer to a form of ‘artificial artificial intelligence’, driven by a remote, dispersed and poorly paid clickworker workforce that helps a client achieve their business objectives. As observed by Aytes, “in both cases the performance of the workers who animate the artifice is obscured by the spectacle of the machine.”

This kind of invisible, hidden labor, outsourced or crowdsourced, hidden behind interfaces and camouflaged within algorithmic processes is now commonplace, particularly in the process of tagging and labeling thousands of hours of digital archives for the sake of feeding the neural networks…  As we see repeated throughout the system, contemporary forms of artificial intelligence are not so artificial after all… At every level contemporary technology is deeply rooted in and running on the exploitation of human bodies.

Quoted from Anatomy of an AI System, Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler, 2018.

Via: The exploitation, injustice, and waste powering our AI, Katharine Schwab, 2018.

Hardware & Software Info for Solar Powered Website

For those who want to build their own solar powered website, we have released the source code and a manual outlining all hardware and software details.