No Tech Mag

Subscribe to No Tech Mag feed
We believe in progress and technology
Updated: 5 days 3 hours ago

Dealing with Human Wastes in Uncertain Urban Environments

Fri, 06/02/2017 - 23:53

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

Sun, 05/28/2017 - 16:59

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

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 14:58

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

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 02:14

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

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 14:09

“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.

Craftsmanship in Greece Today

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 19:26

For centuries craftsmanship, the predecessor of industry, has shaped culture and everyday life. Crafted products show region-specific, social, political and economic conditions as well as cultural and religious characteristics. During several trips cultural worker and artist curator Laura Bernhardt, and photographer Benjamin Tafel have undertaken a search for traces of the still active craft workshops in Greece.

In dialogue with a selection of protagonists the project examines their situation, their emotional relationship with their profession and their prospects. The result is a series of portraits that show the artisan in relation to his or her profession and the current situation of upheaval. How important is the traditional value that is passed on from generation to generation, from hand to hand? How is the artisan connected to his or her profession in these times of crisis?

The authors are less interested in a nostalgic view but rather focus on the rediscovery of crafted products, their appreciation and the artisans’ emotional relationship to their profession. What is the meaning of low-tech in times of economic crisis and how can small businesses survive with few orders? The different views of the artisans’ stories created a portrait of an era that can point to the past as well as to the future.

Read more: From Hand to Hand: Stories about Craftsmanship in Greece Today. Via DAMN. Thanks to Sara Dandois.

Bicycle Powered Thresher

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 14:36

Farmhack has complete instructions for making a bicycle powered thresher. It works on various crops including dry beans, wheat, rice, rye, einkorn, and lupine, and threshes about one pound per minute.

This is the first of three tools for small scale grain processing. The other two tools are the bicycle powered fanning mill and the bicycle powered de-huller/flour mill.

Unlike some “hacks” for small farmers, the Grain Bikes don’t solve an acknowledged problem so much as create new opportunities for small farmers. Dry beans and grains are non-perishable, can be sold, eaten, or planted to avoid seed costs (such as rye for cover crops), and, the labor for processing them can be shunted to the winter when more time is available.

Find the manual at Farmhack.

 

The Sustainability Problem of Digital Currencies

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 15:32

Bitcoin is back in the spotlight these days thanks to some wild price movements and central bank meetings. The decentralized currency has recently been trading over its all-time high of $1200 on some exchanges. But the higher the price goes, the more it exacerbates bitcoin’s dark side: shocking levels of electricity consumption.

In 2015, I wrote that bitcoin had a big sustainability problem. Back then, each bitcoin transaction represented roughly enough electricity to power 1.57 American households for a day— approximately 5,000 times more energy-intensive than a credit card transaction. Since it’s been two years, it’s time for an update.

Updated calculations with optimistic assumptions show that in a best-case hypothetical, each bitcoin transaction is backed by approximately 90 percent of an American household’s daily average electricity consumption. So even though that’s still about 3,994 times as energy-intensive as a credit card transaction, things could be getting better since 2015.

Unfortunately, it’s more likely that things are getting worse. A new index has recently modeled potential energy costs per transaction as high as 94 kWh, or enough electricity to power 3.17 households for a day. To put it another way, that’s almost enough energy to fully charge the battery of a Tesla Model S P100D, the world’s quickest production car, and drive it over 300 miles.

Read more: A Single Bitcoin Transaction Takes Thousands of Times More Energy Than a Credit Card Swipe, Christopher Malmo. Thanks to Renaud d’Avout d’Auerstaedt.

Hacking Consumer Electronics: The Low-tech Way

Wed, 03/08/2017 - 23:16

The paragraphs below are taken from “100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation“, a book that’s not available on WikiLeaks but on Amazon. Written by a retired Navy Seal, Clint Emerson, the book describes skills “which all rely on low-tech or no-tech tools, because complicated instructions are the last thing you need when facing imminent peril”.

Skill No.55: TURN A SPEAKER INTO A MICROPHONE

“Stashing a voice-activated recording device in a target’s room or vehicle is relatively simple, but without sound amplification, such a setup is unlikely to result in audible intelligence — a proper audio-surveillance system requires amplification via microphone. In the absence of dedicated tools, however, the Nomad can leverage a cell phone, an audio jack, and a pair of headphones into an effective listening device.”

“Because microphones and speakers are essentially the same instrument, any speaker — from the earbuds on a pair of headphones to the stereo system on a television — can be turned into a microphone in a matter of minutes. The simple difference between the two is that their functions are reversed. While a speaker turns electronic signals into sound, a mic turns sound into electronic signals to be manipulated and amplified…”

“Any small recording device can be employed, but using a phone set to silent and auto answer as a listening device has two advantages: It captures intelligence in real time and does so without the operative having to execute a potentially dangerous return trip on target to collect the device…”

From: “100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation“, Clint Emerson, 2015.

In Defense of Degrowth

Thu, 03/02/2017 - 15:34

“The idea of degrowth is contentious, often misunderstood, and (perhaps paradoxically) growing in popularity. In this book, Giorgos Kallis, one of the movement’s leading thinkers, presents an accessible, inspiring, and enjoyable defense. The book’s chapters—a compilation of his opinion essays, newspaper articles, blog posts, and ‘minifestos’—range from topics such as eco-modernism, the history of economics, science fiction, the Greek crisis, and Hollywood films.

The book also features debates and exchanges between Kallis and degrowth detractors. In defense of degrowth is intended as an introduction for the curious, a defense against the skeptics, and an intellectually stimulating conversation for those already convinced but willing to learn more.”

In Defense of Degrowth can be downloaded as a free e-book.

Rebooting Energy Demand: Automatic Software Upgrades

Wed, 03/01/2017 - 20:08

When and how we upgrade our computer software used to be in large part our own decision. Today, it’s increasingly decided by software vendors themselves, who have automated this process through downloads. Automated software upgrades can increase energy use in different and unexpected ways, without any action from the user.

Before the advance of networked devices and automated software upgrades, the energy use of an appliance was rather predictable, because the features of such devices were static. Now, manufacturers can unilaterally decide to send out an upgrade that increases data and also energy use for all devices.

More and more consumer products are controlled by networked software: what does this mean for energy demand, and exactly who is responsible for increasing consumption? Although increased energy demand will be attributed to consumers, in fact they have little control over it.

Read more: Rebooting Energy Demand: Automatic Software Upgrades, an article I wrote for the UK’s DEMAND Centre. Picture: eBay.

Medieval Heating System Lives on in Spain

Wed, 02/08/2017 - 14:51

The Meseta Central is a vast plateau in the heart of Spain with long, cold winters and short, scorching summers. The locals say that there’s “nine months of winter” and “three months of hell”. The region has little trees, so heating (and cooling) has always been a challenge.

In the early middle ages, the Castillians developed a subterranean heating system that’s a descendent of the Roman hypocaust: the “gloria”. Due to its slow rate of combustion, the gloria allowed people to use smaller fuels such as hay and twigs instead of firewood.

The Gloria

Remarkably, the gloria is alive and kicking. Several villages, especially in the wider region around Burgos, still have houses with subterranean fireplaces of which some are in working order.

In January, my friend Pedro took me to his uncle’s house in Hontangas, a tiny village at some 100 km from Burgos. The uncle, now in his late sixties, fires the gloria once every morning during the “nine months of winter”.

A gloria heats one or at most two different rooms, usually kitchen and/or living room. The firebox is located outside the house, often in a courtyard but sometimes on the street. The wall above it is black from soot. The chimney is on the other side of the heated room.

The warm exhaust gases from the combustion heat are led through one or more ducts  that run under the floor of the heated room(s), and then rise through the chimney. The floor and the walls slowly radiate this heat into the room. In summer, a natural air current in the gloria cools the room(s).

The expression “estar en la gloria” (to be inside the gloria), meaning that someone feels happy and comfortable, refers to this medieval heating system.

The obvious downside of the gloria is that you have to get outside in the cold to “turn on” the heating, first thing in the morning. This takes about 20 minutes. Vine cuttings are added first, followed by some firewood.

When the fire is burning well, the firebox is covered with a some metal plates to slow the combustion rate and keep the heat inside. One firing suffices for a day of warmth.

The gloria is related not only to the hypocaust but also to the Korean ondol and the American “crimean oven“.

Low-tech Baby Care

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 14:50

Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) is the brainchild of Colombian pediatrician Edgar Rey, who introduced it to the Instituto Materno Infantil in 1978. It was an idea born out of desperation. The institute served the city’s poorest—those who lived crammed in the rickety makeshift dwellings in the foothills of the surrounding mountains. At the time, this was the biggest neonatal unit in all of Colombia, responsible for delivering 30,000 babies a year.

Overcrowding was so bad that three babies would have to share an incubator at a time and the rate of cross-infection was high. Death rates were spiraling, and so too was the level of abandonment. Many young, impoverished mothers who never even got to touch their babies found it easier just to take off.

Scouting around for a solution to these problems, Rey happened upon a paper on the physiology of the kangaroo. It mentioned how at birth, kangaroos are bald and roughly the size of a peanut—very immature, just like a human pre-term baby. Once in its mother’s pouch, the kangaroo receives thermal regulation from the direct skin-to-skin contact afforded by its lack of hair. It then latches onto its mother’s nipple, where it remains until it has grown to roughly a quarter of its mother’s weight, when it is finally ready to emerge into the world.

This struck a chord with Rey. He went back to the institute and decided to test it out. He trained mothers of premature babies to carry them just as kangaroos do. Working alongside his colleague Hector Martinez, he taught them the importance of breastfeeding and discharged them just as soon as their babies were able. The results were remarkable. Death rates and infection levels dropped immediately. Overcrowding was reduced because hospital stays were much shorter, incubators were freed up, and the number of abandoned babies fell.

Read more: Kangaroo care—why keeping baby close is better for everyone, Ars Technica. Thanks to Tim Miller.

Military Complexity: Lasers or Longbows?

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 23:30

As military capabilties have evolved, so too have their complexity. Indeed, they are in a symbiotic relationship in that advanced military capabilities are both a product of and dependent on a complex network of resources, products, services and organisations.

A comparison of the manufacturing requirements for the traditional aboriginal spear and the F88 Austeyr assault rifle provides an example of how complexity has increased.

Arguably, there is an exponential increase in complexity because the manufacture of modern military equipment is dependent on a number of other industries, such as finance, telecommunications, information technology and energy.

The networks that support military capabilities are a subset of the broader global economy, implying that advanced military capabilities cannot exist without the underlying economic base to support it.

A Roman general, planning and conducting a battle had relatively few considerations to make. The battlefield was small enough in size that he could observe most of it; his capabilities consisted of infantry, archers, chariots and cavalry, with some catapults. His communications consisted of runners, liaison officers and perhaps a few signals, such as bugles or flaming arrows.

The equipment of his army was simple; it required a relatively simple industrial base and regional supply chains to support it. Much of the equipment used could be repaired by the army, often from materials available in the immediate area. The relative complexity of a Roman legion was low.

A military organisation today has a much more complex task. First, the number of capabilities is an order of magnitude greater than that of the Romans, with a vast array of capabilities. These capabilities allow operations to be conducted globally, in the air, on land, at sea, over the electromagnetic spectrum and in space.

“Complex military technologies might not be the best acquisition strategy for defence forces in the future”

The industrial base to support this is global in nature, often involving thousands of companies and a complex supply chain. Comparing a modern military with the Romans clearly identifies that not only have the capabilities of militaries increased but so have their complexity.

In a prosperous world economy, this is not of concern. However, in a world economy at risk of synchronous failure, it gives rise to a paradox of military technology. The paradox of military technology states that while increased complexity in a military force results in increased capability, it also increases the likelihood that the capability will be unavailable for use because of the collapse of the complex supply chain required to maintain the capability.

The implication is that complex military technologies might not be the best acquisition strategy for defence forces in the future. Defence forces who manage to reduce complexity levels are likely to develop significant advantage over those militaries that continue to focus on ever more capable but also more  complex capabilities.

Quoted from: “Lasers or longbows? A paradox of military technology“, The Australian Defence Force Journal (PDF 6.4 MB, page 44).

The Slingshot Channel

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 15:13

The Slingshot Channel is a dedicated YouTube channel that covers rubber powered launchers in each and every detail.

Thanks to Edwin Gardner.

Rebuilding, Testing and Documenting Self-Made Wi-Fi Antennas

Sun, 01/29/2017 - 17:00

Pretty Fly For A Wi-Fi revisits the histories, origins and uses of self-made Wi-Fi antennas. Many of these designs were once shared through home pages that no longer exist and are now only partially accessible through the Internet Archive. It is a combination of pots and pans, dishes and cans through which people from around the world give shape to their collective dream of making an alternative internet.

This project tries to revive these designs by rebuilding, testing and documenting them. The antennas serve as an interesting point of departure to think about the internet’s infrastructure and how day-to-day users could potentially influence its shape and use.

Most of the antennas result out of the idea of wireless community networks, an idea which emerged shortly after the commercial introduction of Wi-Fi equipment in the early 2000s. These grassroots initiatives aim to build alternative network infrastructures, often on a peer-to-peer basis and without the need for costly wires. Such network infrastructures can be found on rooftops, balconies and windowsills and can cover large distances by broadcasting from building to building.

They are built for a variety of reasons, sometimes to provide broadband connections in areas where there are none, to make censorship free alternatives to the internet or to share the costs of a single internet connection.

More: Roel Roscam Abbing’s website (pictures) & Lídia Pereira’s booklet (drawings, PDF).

Previously: How to Build a Low-tech Internet.

Solar Concentrator with Inflatable Mirrors

Sun, 01/29/2017 - 16:37

We are reaching an important milestone in the Testfield: the high-precision membrane mirror that we have been working on for the last two years, is standing. A team within the technology group has designed and built a prototype solar concentrator by innovating and developing the inflatable membrane mirror technology first introduced by father and son Hans and Jürgen Kleinwächter several decades ago. The present advances are the result of a dedicated team within Tamera working in cooperation with Jürgen Kleinwächter, SunOrbit (Germany) and supporters in India and Australia.

Our prototype mirror uses 0.1mm thick reflective polymer films inflated with air pressure, over a lightweight aluminium frame, achieving high optical precision cheaply and with very low embodied energy. It has an effective optical aperture of 4m2, concentration of over 1000 times, reaching over 1000 degrees Celsius, and has applications ranging from round-the-clock cooking with storage, through ceramics, metalwork and lime burning for waterproof clay buildings, to photo-catalytic fuel production from water and CO2. Future concentrators will undoubtedly take the technology further.

Many challenges in the components and sub-systems have been overcome over the last two years. Now we will start to see how the system really functions as a whole. We have progressed from unstable wooden experiments to a simple, lightweight aluminium framework, developed a deflectometric mirror analysis technique using computational photography, built a tool to weld flouropolymers together (basically welding Teflon to Teflon), designed and fabricated a dual-axis tracking construction, and invented a robust technique to evenly tension membrane films. We are looking forward to testing and tuning the complete system. System tests will start now, as we continue to complete the details.

Quoted from: High-precision Membrane Mirror Research in the SolarVillage Testfield of Tamera, August 2016.

Previously: The bright future of solar powered factories.

The Pirate Book

Sun, 01/29/2017 - 00:21

The Pirate Book offers a broad view on media piracy as well as a variety of comparative perspectives on recent issues and historical facts regarding piracy. It contains a compilation of texts on grass­roots situations whose stories describe strategies developed to share, distribute and experience cultural content outside of the confines of local economies, politics or laws.

These stories recount the experiences of individuals from India, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Mali and China. The book is structured in four parts and begins with a collection of stories on piracy dating back to the invention of the printing press and expanding to broader issues (historical and modern anti­piracy technologies, geographically­ specific issues, as well as the rules of the Warez scene, its charters, structure and visual culture…).

The Pirate Book. Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska, 2015. Picture: a code wheel, a type of copy protection used on older computer games.

Thanks to Melle Smets.

Pages