Category Archives: Resourcefulness

Here’s an interesting project!

We’re looking for participants in building a self-propelled bicycle merry-go-round.
I saw one at the San Francisco Maker Faire earlier this year and it was so obviously a heap of fun, I thought it would be great to build one.

I immediately thought of two things:

It’s a Hills Hoist! Americans don’t seem to be familiar with the Australian icon that is the rotary clothes hoist. In fact the whole idea of exhibiting one’s washing in the backyard seems to appal some US citizens, who pass neighbourhood laws banning it! But we love our Hills Hoists and many of us can recall swinging on them as kids (and busting them as a result).

Most rotary clothes lines are too small for adaptation like this and we may have to extend it slightly.

We should use all the energy to power something. We could attach a generator to the central axle and drive something electrical that would make more lights/music/interesting effects the faster we went around. Or we could drive something mechanical such as a pump, a fountain, a wind powered organ, you name it.

It’s not so different from a horse whim or a capstan which was used to power all sorts of things before steam came along: mining equipment, mills, ferries etc.

I’ve written to the people at Cyclecide in California to ask them if it’s alright to pinch the idea. Cyclecide http://www.cyclecide.com/ are a bunch of ‘alter-bike mechanics and cycle crazed clowns’ who do brilliant things with bikes. Rudy, one of the big sprockets there, said go for it. So we should.

There a few considerations:

It will need to be reasonably safe and robust (we know from doing stuff for exhibitions that kids can destroy astonishing things) It will have to be reinforced as Rudy suggested there are big forces on the thing once it gets up speed with 5 or 6 adults . He also suggested getting an old car wheel as a bearing to go on the ground.

It should be dismantlable so that other people could use it at a later date.

We don’t really have any money so we are going to need to do a bit of scavenging. Luckily old bikes are everywhere and there’s heaps of old Hills Hoists about.

Judging from the line up of kids at Maker Faire it could be very popular.

If you’re interested in participating and live in the Adelaide region, please let me know.

Mark Thomson

mark@ibys.org

0419 865 821


https://www.facebook.com/backyardcarousel

Update late 2014: We struck problems with it here in SA due to very stringent (and ultimately costly) regulations around show ground rides, based on some tragic incidents at the Royal Show.
HOWEVER – this did end up getting built in Melbourne by my friends Liam Gerner and Autonomous Black under the name Backyard Carousel from some crap drawings I did. Good on you fellas! It still gets taken out and given a thrashing now and then.

Broken Hill String

I’ve been up in Broken Hill and surrounding areas recently working on the wire project – which is about all the resourceful ways that people use wire to repair, adapt, create.

I’ve been on the track of “Broken Hill String”, which is the wire used in the local mines to set off explosives. Once used it is discarded and taken home by the miners who find literally hundreds of uses for it. It is a sort of predecessor to cable ties. There’s a great sense of pride in local resourcefulness here and a slight annoyance from the older miners I spoke to about the general wastefulness of modern life. More to come soon. I’ve also been out into a few local pastoral properties looking at the way people use wire (usually a lot heavier gauge wire) to repair and make things. Some of the building techniques are clever.

Mark Thomson

Research Director, IBYS

For the connoisseur of corrugated iron

As the ABC Collectors programme knows very well, people collect all sorts of stuff. One particular line of collectible that doesn’t turn up very often is corrugated iron.

Almost immediately after it was invented sometime in the early 1820s by Henry Robinson Palmer, a British engineer and naval design, it rapidly became a popular lightweight building material (although the early corro was very thick – sometimes up to ten times its usual thickness nowadays – which gives a clue of the age of any really old corro you might find.

It’s hard to credit but there are still a few snobs around who sneer at it for being  ‘too industrial”.  Get a life, I say – or else you try lifting 2 square metres of roof tiles in one go and see what you think then… Corrugated iron is fabulously efficient, strong and effective building material that we here at the Institute like to celebrate.

So it was with great pleasure that I recently met Wayne Rabone, one of Australia’s small number of corrugated iron collectors, Wayne, a demolition contractor who lives in Kaniva in Western Victoria, has easily the biggest collection I’ve ever seen. Being a demolition contractor must have a few advantages in this line of collecting.Wayne Rabone’s corrugated iron collection (part view)

Wayne reckons there are about 10 other people around who collect pretty seriously.

If you are of a similar mind or have a piece of iron that might interest him, his contact details are:

Wayne Rabone, 5 David St., Kaniva Vic 3419

Ph 03 5392 2442, Mobile: 0408 922442

Also my good friend Don Morrison makes steel bodied guitars out of old flattened corrugated iron sheets and is always on the look out for nice old logos and so on. We’ve been working on doing an old fashioned Donmo logo to spray on some new iron but am having trouble finding the right ink (it’s not a paint by the way) that can penetratev the zinc/steel. The stuff that they were using 100 years ago must have been pretty amazing. Anybody got any suggestons?

Mark Thomson

 

What are we here for again?

As a baby boomer, I spent a lot of time endlessly thumbing through Popular Mechanics magazines. They were just so damn practical and useful, populated by a world of deeply handy and capable Americans that were hard not to like.

Things are different now. Americans seem to have different things on their mind such as reducng third world countries to dust and misery or ignoring global warming to the point of calamity. They’re not as easy to like.

make coverUntil yesterday when my jaded view of the US took a sudden turn for the better. From my friend Genevieve in Oregon (who is transplanted there under most unusual circumstances) I received a copy ofThe Best of Make: 75 projects from the pages of Make.

Make Magazine is a US Magazine that has only been going for a few years but has found a vast niche market: the people who are the shed tinkerers of the US, the hard rubbish collectors, the try-anything-for-a-bit-of-a-laugh types, the frugal people who never throw anything out because they can see use still in that stuff.

The projects they make a somewhere between art/craft/engineering… and fun. Most important… fun.

At last! We here at the Institute of Backyard Studies salute Make and the many activites they propagate such as Makers Faires and lots of online material (see www.makezine.com)

The book is even better. It starts with a story from Mister Jalopy about trying to repair his car’s non-functional fuel guage which was going to cost over $500. He decided to try to do it himself and ended up finding it was a very simple problem involving a broken clip which would have cost about a dollar.

What the Maker people are about is forcing manufacturers not to do this sort of wasteful foolishness and they pursue with a missionary zeal.

Their Makers Bill of Rights should go up on any respectable shed wall. It includes things like Cases shall be easy to open! Batteries should be replaceable! Special tools are allowed only for darn good reasons! Screws are better than glues! And many others usually relating to eletronics (they are very keen on liberating electronics from geekdom).

There’s also an eagerness and openness about sharing ideas and knowledge that is quite infectious.

This book will gladden the heart of any tinkerer and it is especially good for a child who needs to get some hands-on experience and will see some results from that experience. It would be a nice addition to any library in a community men’s shed..

 

Tinkering

from Mark Thomson, IBYS Advanced Research Director

Coming from an organisation that celebrates tinkering in all its many forms, in the past few weeks we at the Institute have been enjoying the revitalising of tinkering culture. Or rather the public recogntion of the value of tinkering. It’s pleasing because a couple of years ago I had a two week residency at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine, during which I wrote a monograph entitled “I tinker therefore I am”. At the time people thought I was some sort of raving loony. Most of them still do of course but I feel a slight smug twinge of satisfaction that I was right.

With the GSU (Global Stuff Up) and all, people are no longer throwing out consumer goods with quite the gay abandon they once did – at least in the wealthy west. The rest of the world has, quite sensibly, always conserved resources and tinkered of course.

Tinkering is a beautiful thing. Or as I said in the Haystack monograph:

Tinkering a minor risktaking activity without any great consequence: it is not goal-directed nor are there defined outcomes. There are no key performance indicators for tinkering. Thus, tinkering is suspended from the pressures of defined goals and time limits. It’s about a question mark, not a product or a saleable process. Tinkering involves a flow state, an intense focus on a small closed world. Tinkering and play are closely interlinked: a ceretain sense of wonder propels the curiousity at the heart of every compulsive tinkerer. Tinkering also allows failure which is essential for any process of evolution.

And so on…

There have have been Wall Street Journal articles:

Tinkering Makes a Comeback Amid Crisis

The ABC (Australian Braodcasting Corporation to you outside Australia) has been busy on tinkering, including this interview with Miles Park from the Faculty of Built Environment at the University of New South Wales who has been exploring the relationship between tinkering, product longevity and e-waste reduction

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/futuretense/stories/2009/2728886.htm

There’s also an interview with me (gosh! self promotion! just fancy that!):

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/futuretense/stories/2009/2741127.htm

There’s also a Tales of Tinkering Blog that the ABC has set up:

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/futuretense/features/tinkering/default.htm

Alex Pang, a bloke from California who works on strategies around future uses of technology, has also written a very nice comprehensive survey of the state of tinkering:

http://askpang.typepad.com/relevant_history/2008/10/reflections-on.html

Nancy White, another West Coast guru (whom I had the great pleasure of meeting recently) has been reflecting usefully on the subject:

http://www.fullcirc.com/wp/2009/03/08/tinkering-and-playing-with-knowledge/

Through Nancy I met (on a stinking hot Saturday morning recently) an Adelaide local Mike Seyfang, who is following up on many of the same themes that we explore in the Institute. A man with a strong science and technology bent, Mike is a veteran of the early days of modern computing in Australia. He’s got an impressive grasp of the possibilities of digital tinkering and knows lots of people of the same ilk. His theories about the future of language could lead to some interesting discussions…

http://mikeseyfang.com/

There are a number of other people who are in on this caper if you are interested: John Seely Brown, Anne Balsamo, Mitch Resnik (more suggestions are welcome)

Or if you want to make some further comments, feel free to add them in the ideas section of our forum.

The chook shed on wheels

It always seemed like an urban myth or a piece of bush leg-pulling: that somewhere out there was an old chook shed being towed behind a van. Then, some months ago, I was going around the roundabout in downtown Alice Springs, just by the council offices and the public library when there it was.

So I threw the old Falcon into a tight squealing u-turn (it was my sister’s boyfriend’s car which I had just borrowed to go down the shops) and went back and had a chat with Frank Turton aka The Chookman.

caravanshed10mono.jpg

Frank is an entertainer and he had just been driving around the Northern Territory doing his stuff. The NT is the kind of place where they appreciate people like Frank. He comes from Paringa which is on the River Murray next to Renmark in South Australia. There’s not a lot to Paringa – a bakery (7/10) and a slightly expensive junk/curio store in the old garage. I suspect that Frank is one of the biggest things Paringa has going for it.

Frank takes his chooks on his musical tours around the great Australian countryside – or at least it was taken for granted that he did. It’s a perfectly natural thing to do. So he needed to tow them behind in their own specialised accomodation.

Frank Turton’s chook shed on wheels

The chooks were definitely in there – they would peek out from the sound holes of the guitars or through some of the ventilator flaps that Frank had thoughtfully provided for his fowls. From the many stickers on the trailer shed it was clear that these were some very well travelled chooks.

Good on ya Frank. Think about it… some people spend their lives pruning the geraniums with nail scissors or getting the the knives and forks in perfect size order from left to right. Not Frank. His mission has been to take his chooks on a national tour and more than once it seems. These are chooks with an expanded view of the world. Just imagine what other cage-locked fowls must think when they meet these sophisticated well-travelled birds. They would be impressed. I was.

Hard rubbish -the garbo’s perspective

Some time back, Malcolm sent me a few shed photos. As you can see below, it’s a modest shed, but clearly loved by its owner.

Malcolm’s shed

Malcolm’s shed pic 3

Malcolm works as a garbological transport engineer for one of the Sydney Councils, which is an excellent position to be in when you want to build a shed.

A good many of the components for the shed (including tools) were sourced on the job, especially during the twice yearly Clean Up day (or ‘hard rubbish’ day as it is known in some parts of Australia. Other parts of the shed were culled from traditional sources: part of the structure was the old roof trusses from a mate’s place that was being renovated;similar with the cladding. The floor was from a garage sale. A bit of money was spent buying new stuff but it was kept to the absolute bare minimum.

This shed is A TRIUMPH OF RESOURCEFULNESS.

The Institute of Backyard Studies pays homage to Malcolm and all who do the right thing and build like this. But wait, there’s more!

It was a privilege and a revelation to speak to someone who works on collecting hard rubbish. He more or less confirmed what I have always suspected – that there is a vested interest in councilsd leaving the stuff out on the street for a while because sooner or later there’s a good chance that a freeloader like me will come along and grab those worn green widgets or that piece of painted, dinged up but so useful Tassie Oak shelf.

And for Malcolm the job involves some hard choices. He said that some days the cabin of the garbage truck is so full of good stuff at the end of the day that the council supervisor has to come and get the rest of the crew in another vehicle because they won’t fit inside. There’s also a lot of transferring stuff going on. He knows that some people he works with a looking for certain things and vice versa, so a lot of swapping can go on at the end of the day. Other things end up being sold on Ebay. Other stuff ends up at the local Vinnies or Salvos if it known that they are looking for good furniture or whatever. As Malcolm says, you make a bit, spread some around, give it away.

img_0006.JPG

Interior Malcolm’s Shed 1

Since these photos were taken Malcolm and his wife have moved home and the current place does not have a shed. As you can imagine, that situation will soon be rectified.

Any more observations about hard rubbish are welcome in our forums. I’ve noticed that hard rubbish seems to be changing – this year there’s heaps of those trolley barbecues, along with the usual canvas and wood fold up chairs, cracked plastic furniture, busted bamboo anti mozzie oil lamps and broken battery powered vacuum cleaners. Many whippersnippers seem to have reached the end of their working lives (although I’ve now got 4 and the motor works on every one of them) There’s even a few satellite tv dishes (they look handy…) I’m always looking for more Random Excuse Generator parts or something that may have been part of Henry Hoke’s Quack of Doom (see elsewhere on this sight for sore eyey about Henry’s inventions)

Hard Rubbish and re-use is a subject worthy of further study. There’s an interesting essay about all this from ‘The Sage on the Page’

http://members.iinet.net.au/~delilah/sage/category.php?category=Essays and look up bindilling and re-use

More to come later

 

The Maker’s Bill of Rights

As a baby boomer, I spent a lot of time endlessly thumbing through Popular Mechanics magazines. They were just so damn practical and useful, populated by a world of deeply handy and capable Americans that were hard not to like.

Things are different now. Americans seem to have different things on their mind such as reducng third world countries to dust and misery or ignoring global warming to the point of calamity. They’re not as easy to like.

make coverUntil yesterday when my jaded view of the US took a sudden turn for the better. From my friend Genevieve in Oregon (who is transplanted there under most unusual circumstances) I received a copy ofThe Best of Make: 75 projects from the pages of Make.

Make Magazine is a US Magazine that has only been going for a few years but has found a vast niche market: the people who are the shed tinkerers of the US, the hard rubbish collectors, the try-anything-for-a-bit-of-a-laugh types, the frugal people who never throw anything out because they can see use still in that stuff.

The projects they make a somewhere between art/craft/engineering… and fun. Most important… fun.

At last! We here at the Institute of Backyard Studies salute Make and the many activites they propagate such as Makers Faires and lots of online material (see www.makezine.com)

The book is even better. It starts with a story from Mister Jalopy about trying to repair his car’s non-functional fuel guage which was going to cost over $500. He decided to try to do it himself and ended up finding it was a very simple problem involving a broken clip which would have cost about a dollar.

What the Maker people are about is forcing manufacturers not to do this sort of wasteful foolishness and they pursue with a missionary zeal.

Their Makers Bill of Rights should go up on any respectable shed wall. It includes things like Cases shall be easy to open! Batteries should be replaceable! Special tools are allowed only for darn good reasons! Screws are better than glues! And many others usually relating to electronics (they are very keen on liberating electronics from geekdom).

There’s also an eagerness and openness about sharing ideas and knowledge that is quite infectious.

This book will gladden the heart of any tinkerer and it is especially good for a child who needs to get some hands-on experience and will see some results from that experience. It would be a nice addition to any library in a community men’s shed..

 

Stuff about resourcefulness

Shed culture is about resourcefulness – or for our purposes, not throwing things out and finding a use for them.

It all comes down to the properties of things. How often have you looked at a machine part or a piece of discarded material and thought: that looks as though it could you can see it would be useful in some context. You know enough about how things are made to see that there has been a lot of energy and resources invested into the thing you’re looking at. Furthermore, you can see it has properties that make it useful: it might have bearings in it or a perfectly useful motor or transformer. Or it might just be very strong or flexible.

Take those plastic tongues you use to join chipboard flooring together. They’re often discarded around building sites and you often see builders pick them up and take them home. The stuff is just so strong and flexible – it’s damn near indestructible. But what can you do with them?

This section of the IBYS website is dedicated to your suggestions about smart reuse of such things. We want you to share your ideas and contributions.

I’m not talking about making things into decorative objects ie turning discarded typewriter keys into hair decorations or Coke cans cut up into mobiles but make use of the physical properties of otherwise to-be-discarded goods into useful things that have an extended and very functional life.

Third world countries do this already of course(see photo)

Shoes from drink bottles - a drastic (but impressive) African solution

It’s just us slack-jawed wasteful westerners who have got into some very wasteful habits.

The Russians have a big tradition of this too and you might want to check out Mr Vladimir Arkhipov’s rather unusual website http://www.folkforms.ru to see some of his unusual collection.

In the meantime here’s a few more ideas;

What can you do with old bicycles? I’ve seen bikes made into water pumps, knife sharpeners, even drinks blenders. (Any photos appreciated) or old clothes hoists it all sorts of lifts and other devices.

Windscreen wiper motors are put to a thousand uses too.