Category Archives: electronics

Don’t waste your energy

Part One


There is nothing new about pedal power electricity in Australia, in fact throughout most of the twentieth century the adaptively reused bike pedal was essential to two of the mainstays of outback life, the Flying Doctor Service and the School of the Air. Both relied on radio powered by a pedal generator invented in 1928 by Alfred Traeger, shown above with his first working prototype. It continued in use until late in the century when the “Traeger” was replaced by diesel generators and, more recently, solar power.


But that doesn’t mean the idea disappeared. You can still buy similar generators


including one that is hooked up to a normal bike.


But what of this Chinese version, clearly based on the adaptively reused exercise bike?

We’ve had a few laughs in the past at the uselessness of the exercise bike and at the whole sport/exercise culture, one of those delightful examples of capitalism selling a lifestyle that destroys health then making more money by selling a supposed cure for the poor health it is creating. It’s tragic that the history of human physical exertion has come to this absurdity although some slight sanity is reappearing, like redesigning cities to make them more walkable.


Now it may just be post-holiday-season dyspepsia, or our ingrained tendency to always look for the unintended consequence, but something about this exercise machine made us suspect that in a dystopic sustainable future we could be seeing rows of prisoners exercising away to generate the power to run sustainable prisons. Plus ça change.


Strangely, the prison treadmill (the hard labour part of “Sentenced to hard labour”) was common in Britain but it never took off in the US where it was viewed as a profligate waste of labour already in short supply (the chain gang was preferred). The treadmill’s exhausting, mind-numbing futility is credited with the final destruction of Oscar Wilde, yet throughout the developed world the obese, and the merely narcissistic, regularly subject themselves to a similar regime at the gym. Go figure.

Part Two

Just before posting the above, while checking something, Notions of Expenditure turned up in a search.


It’s a proposal to hook gymnasium equipment up to the grid and use all that exercise to generate power, but it’s much more than that and deserves a future post of it’s own. It’s a great site, a bit hard to decide whether it’s completely serious or not, but it’s got lots of info, proposals and interesting links – go and check it out in depth. But ya gotta laugh, because prisons and gyms are equally places of futile suffering we felt like saying great minds think alike…until we found this exasperated editorial comment on yet another “great idea” along the same lines. Originality 30%? Maybe that’s a sign that the adaptively reused gymnasium’s time has come and someone should do it.

Sketchy transport

The bicycle and other human powered vehicles are the most energy efficient forms of transport that our species has managed to engineer, but just how well this latest bicycle adaption runs is a question for those who live in a climate cold enough to warrant it… the snow bike via the make blog.

Also from the make people another version of the electr-o-sketch,

this time for those who prefer their stepper motor driven etch-a-sketch in sphere mode.

Reindeer droppings

Decorate your tree with adaptively reused circuit boards, then buy presents

like this American Gulag bracelet from richterstudios inc,

or wineglasses from the Eden Project store

or a paper pot maker

or a personal solar panel

or a Rockbox open source mp3 player (photo by Andrew Mason).

or a MAKE warranty voider (go on, you know you want one) or any number of other geeky goodies from The Open Source Gift Guide or good gifts from the Good Gifts Catalogue.

Wrap them with last year’s reused wrapping paper (that always feels so pov but hey, Christmas is a stupid idea anyway), or check out some equally pov ideas from curbly

then set your fruit clock and if you’ve been a good primate all year (I have, I have!)

Santa* just might bring you the Christmas present you dream of……

* the existence of Santa is only a theory and is disputed by many children. However, it hardly needs saying that if Santa doesn’t bring the presents, who does? If there is no Santa why are pictures of him seen everywhere in stores and on cards? Furthermore, without Santa’s commandment to “Be good or you won’t get any presents” everyone would be bad and western civilisation would collapse. The “Christmas Conspiracy” theory, that all parents in the world secretly buy presents for their children on the same day every year, is so clearly paranoid and implausible that only anarchists, communists and other unbalanced secular extremists continue to defend it.

Let me show you my etchings

That ubiquitous fixture of garage sales, the Etch-A-Sketch, has finally been turned into something useful (did anyone ever manage to create a recognisable image on one of those things.. er yes, sort of.)

Here it is, the Electr-O-Sketch, the computerised, adaptively reused Etch-A-Sketch. Two Cornell University engineering students, Jason Levin and Chris Hopkins, replaced the knobs with stepper motors

so that the Etch-A-Sketch could be controlled with a mouse. When that worked they added record and playback that meant it could be used like a printer, although you would need one Electr-O-Sketch per page – at least it doesn’t need refills. One printer per page is only marginally worse than the average inkjet printer where the ink refills costs more than the printer and only print a few hundred pages. We can see banks of these connected to raptop computers, clunking away to determine the meaning of life. This is the peripheral that the internet made of a series of toobs has been waiting for.

We were told about it by our friend Ben Denham

whose marionette spray guns are themselves masterpieces of adaptive reuse and arguably the world’s trickiest writing device.

Check out the videos. It adds a whole new dimension to the idea of hand-eye co-ordination. Thanks Ben.

Smoke and noise

The world’s smallest, cheapest and best selling guitar amp is the Smokin Amp, housed in an adaptively reused cigarette packet. They’re having a bit of trouble sourcing cigarette packets these anti-smoking days so they suggest you send in your own used packet with your order.

Have a listen here.

We were looking for the earliest example of a product manufactured by adaptively reusing another product. They’ve been making these ever since the 1980s but not quite back to 1983 so we’re still looking for something earlier than the Consumer’s Rest.

Raptop computer….

that’s what it says, honest, go see for yourself. Although the site does seem to have lost something in the translation, or at least adaptively reused the english language.

However, we did like the way the bell was described as “The latest foppery equipment” and that morse key mouse has a strange appeal. We found it on Make. It’s perfect for accessing an internet that is a series of toobs.

Clock watching

I haven’t worn a watch since my early teens, a long time ago. If I want to know the time I just ask someone else, I’m a social kind of guy. But I have to say that the Nixie watch is almost enough to change the habit of a lifetime. It’s even got a rocker switch so that you twist your wrist once to show the time as hours and minutes, then twist again to show it with seconds. How can anything be that geek cool?


A product like this can stave off existential questions about the futility of existence for say a whole day, or a few hours at least. It’s made by nixiebunny of Cathode Corner using old nixie tubes, the sort used in the displays of prehistoric calculators before most people were born ie in the 60s (61.5% of the world population is under 35 years, trust me, I worked it out). He also makes clocks from cathode ray tubes.


Can I have one of those watches for Christmas? No, I won’t settle for a kit even if they are pretty fabulous, I already have several lifetimes of unfinished DIY projects lying around.