High low tech: Rocket stoves

Backpacking is appealing partly because it forces you to simplify. You consume only what you can carry on your back, and for the most part it’s a low-tech experience. But even if you can be pried away from your phone, iPod, and GPS device, there’s a big chunk of the petrochemical industrial complex you take with you: the stove. You’re toting a metal stove and a bottle or two of highly refined gasoline. I suppose a real Bear Grylls wild man could cook over an open fire, but that’s slow, ineffective, wasteful, and dangerous.

Designers Alexander Drummond and Jonathan Cedar were annoyed that camping involved schlepping bottles of gasoline into the wilderness, so they formed a company called BioLite and dedicated themselves to perfecting something called the rocket stove. I had no idea that such a simple stove could burn regular old sticks so efficiently, but check out this BioLite CampStove in action.

The result is still high tech, but it does simplify the camping experience. No gasoline stink, no gasoline danger, and no gasoline weight. What’s especially nice about rocket stoves is their potential to improve the lives of people who do all their cooking on open stoves. The same design that make fancy-pants first-world designers feel good about their camping can be adapted for a Nepalese woman who cooks over a smoky yak dung fire. Highly efficient biomass stoves in developing countries can make a big difference to CO2 emissions, forest conservation, and the well-being of those doing the cooking. It’s a good story all the way around.

(via Steve Crandall)

Is it cheating to violate unwritten rules?

My brother-in-law Joe sent me this one. Pulaski Academy is a high school in Arkansas that punches above its weight when it comes to football. Part of the secret of their success is their unconventional game play. Here’s an example. On September 9th, the Pulaski Bruins played the Cabot Panthers. They scored on their first drive, then did an onside kick, which they recovered. Then they scored and did an onside kick, which they recovered. Then they scored and did an onside kick, which they recovered. This continued until they were leading 29-0. With 8:35 left in the first quarter, the Cabot Panthers had yet to touch the ball. Here’s what the Pulaski Academy sports writers had to say about it. But Kevin Kelley, the coach of this Arkansas high school team, is becoming something of a national figure. Read what they have to say about him over at Sports Illustrated: Pulaski Academy scores 29 points before opponent touches football. Be sure and watch some of the videos.

Our lives are bounded and channeled by rules, habits, and laws. We think of these as explicit, but unwritten rules and cultural norms vastly outweigh any documented guidelines. These tacit, silent agreements among total strangers guide our behavior to a remarkable degree. Eccentrics, the ones who refuse to do what everything else is doing, often get treated as law-breaking miscreants.

I was reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent New Yorker article, How underdogs can win. Much of his article is about how an unlikely girls’ basketball team wins by flouting convention. Successfully upending conventional wisdom is disconcerting in the same way that an earthquake is disconcerting. Something people had counted on as bedrock is suddenly demonstrably unstable. The typical result: rewrite the rules, codify the convention, and cast out the eccentric. The long term health of any system is often indicated by the degree to which it tolerates eccentrics. I find it encouraging that football observers find Kevin Kelley so inspiring.

Upside down square dancing

I saw this video of dancing quadrocopters, and it made me think of the new sport of synchronized indoor skydiving. Or as I prefer to call it, upside down square dancing.

You’ll notice they got the music all wrong. Just mute the volume on this video and open up Turkey in the Straw in another window with the volume on. Seriously, try it. It’s worth the effort.

All this aerial dancing raises some interesting possibilities. Can we have hybrid quadcopter/skydiver paired air dancing? Will cyborgs cry when the Bulgarian judge crushes them with a bad rating? Will humans cry when they are crushed by the Cylon judge?

I won’t be satisfied with robot dancing, aerial or otherwise, until it’s performed and choreographed by a robot.

The National Recording Registry

Who gets to decide what a classic is?

We don’t often think of librarians as powerful people, but by choosing what to preserve, librarians can stitch history from a grab bag of remnants. Especially if those librarians work at the Library of Congress and they’ve been charged with carrying out the dictates of the National Recording Preservation Act.

Just what is the National Recording Preservation Act? Well, our old friend Alan Kennedy, former music industry insider and musical trivia nonpareil, is here to tell us.

Continue reading “The National Recording Registry”

Rooftop hieroglyphics

In the early days of aviation, airports would paint their name in big letters on the roof of the terminal. Incoming aircraft had few navigational aids at the time, so turning the territory into something resembling a map was a clever expedient.

I like the fact that nobody on the ground ever saw the sign. It was a well-targeted sign, visible only to the eyes that needed to see it.

Now we all have eyes in the sky. We travel by air more these days, but beyond this, Google and other mapping services have given us a permanent seat in the sky. Deskbound archaeologists can discover previously obscure ruins. But what about signage for the Google Earth set?

It’s arrived in the form of rooftop QR codes. Want to know what company is based in that building? Just scan the code. You’ve heard of cornfield mazes. Now meet the QR cornfield. We should carve a giant QR code onto the moon so that approaching spaceships could scan it. But what to link to? Assuming visiting aliens could decipher the message (and why not? they’ve got a freakin’ spaceship already), it would be good to link them to a video of earth music. Perhaps something by Rick Astley.