Category Archives: gadgets

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.

Call the gift therapist


Call that a bottle top? This is a bottle top! Jorre van Aste’s jar tops reminded us of this, the Twist and Spout, been around for a while but we noticed it again on the Core77 gift list.


We also saw this on their list, an elegant hybrid adaptively reusing the design of both the coat hanger and the paper clip (more history here). Beautifully done.

But if you get either of those as a present it’s time to be reconsidering the relationship.

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.

Pedal power

We were delighted to get an email from Ben Denham (thanks for the kind remarks) where he sent us some links to sites about bicycle powered machines. Mayapedal produce bikes, trailers etc, but also a range of bicycles adaptively reused to power machines

that perform a range of agricultural tasks like dehusking,

pumping water,

even washing clothes.

Our favourite was the bicycle blender, probably because we do like our banana smoothies and it will probably do margaritas as well. As Ben said

It gives you a whole new perspective on the stationary exercise bike. I always thought they were an absurd invention but this just goes to show that so long as the energy that you are generating is sensibly harnessed the stationary bike is actually one of the most beautifully efficient pieces of machinery you could imagine.

He also sent us a type of man bites dog story. We had been musing on the strange proliferation of chairs made out of bike parts,

his link was to a project to make a bike trailer out of aluminium chair parts. Eureka! If we could combine these into a pedal-powered banana chair so that you could lie down while exercising while also blending we would have the recumbent-exercise-bike-smoothie-and-margarita-maker (REBSAMM).

Now, we all laugh at recumbent bikes but they are actually far more efficient than the normal bike, and promoted by the great engineer Paul McCready in his role as president of the International Human Powered Vehicle Association. McCready is known as the father of human powered flight because he designed and built the first workable human powered plane, first solar powered plane, GM’s electric car and various other forms of efficient and comparatively environmentally sound hi-tech transport. He is also on the board of the Society of Amateur Scientists (Citizen Scientists, Unite!).

And in case you were wondering whatever happened to his pedal powered plane that once flew across the English Channel, well, it’s in the Smithsonian but its related technologies seem to have been captured by the US military who are probably adapting them to their own evil ends. It’s all too depressing, just pedal me another margarita.

Access all areas

The world is full of products that, for their pointless waste of the world’s resources, should have earned their manufacturers a community service sentence in an impoverished third world country to assist them in regaining a grip on reality.

The battery powered pooper scooper for cleaning the cat tray is a typical example (and for even more FUN!, as they say, check out this site, proof that there is something for every taste or lack of taste somewhere on the web). The Guardian recently listed a few more small crimes against the planet.

We’ve always thought electric toothbrushes were also in that class and an example of a solution that is worse than the problem….except we can’t work out what the problem is with using an ordinary toothbrush.

The electric flosser would be an even more stupid product except that it can be adaptively reused as something occasionally useful, a lock pick.

Half an hours work on your flosser and you’ll be able to get through any padlock.

Click on the image to see it in action. Use this knowledge wisely, and with discretion.

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.