Digital sundial

Chapter 12 of The Knowledge explains how you can go right back to first principles to work out how to tell the time for yourself. Planting a stick into the ground can serve as a simple sundial, with the hour of the day indicated as the shadow revolves around with the movement of the sun. This chronological technology has been used by humanity for thousands of years.

But now, sundials have been brought right up into the 21st century.

Julien Coyne has invented a sundial that indicates the time as a digital display. This astounding example of ingenuity is based on some very clever mathematical design and 3D printing of the gnomon. Once orientated correctly, the sunlight passes through the precisely-calculated slits in the gnomon to project a shadow that indicates the time as a digital display.

Watch the digital sundial in action below, and buy your own on Etsy!


Real-life Mad Max escapes desert by building working motorbike from his broken-down car

Is this the greatest example of survival through ingenuity and hacking skills?

In 1993, the Frenchman Emile Leray set-off on an adventure, driving from the city of Tan Ta to cross the Moroccan desert. Unfortunately, while he was off-roading he crashed the car and became stranded in the middle of the unforgiving desert. With no hope of rescue and slim chances of making it out alive on foot, Leray was facing certain death.

Lucking, Leray had just the right skill-set to survive, and sat down to solve the problem at hand himself. At the time, he was a 43-year-old former electrician, and set-about constructing a makeshift motorbike by cannibalising the parts from his wrecked car.

Leray first removed the bodywork of the Citreon 2CV to use as a shelter against sandstorms. He had only trousers and a short-sleeve shirt so turned his socks into improvised sleeves to protect his arms from the intense sun. Working with only the simple tools he had with him — no drills, no blowtorch or welding equipment — he stripped out the car’s engine and gearbox, and remounted them in a rudimentary chassis. He used a drum to turn the backwheel by simple friction, and the mechanics of the situation meant he could only run the car engine in reverse.

After twelve days of work, and his water supply down to the last half a litre, Leray finally completed his makeshift motorbike. Heading back out from the desert he was picked up by the Moroccan police and taken to safety.

Such an incredible story of ingenuity and resourcefulness!

But the worst part of the whole affair..? The Moroccan police slapped him with a fine as his car registration documentation no longer applied to the jury-rigged motorcycle!


  • The chassis was reduced to the central part, the front and back (longerons) have been taken off
  • Roller transmission: the brake drum is in vertical alignment with the back wheel, the rotation direction requires to drive in reverse, at a maximum of 20 km/h
  • The right drum is blocked so that the differential distributes all the power on the left
  • The handlebar is made of the lifter, emptied from its mechanism. On this solid piece are fixed the clutch command and the two electrical contacts: power supply for the ignition and starter
  • The front steering wheel is the only one to benefit from suspension
  • The filling pipe will be transformed into a stand, essential, considering the weight of the machine
  • The seat was made from the extremity of the back bumper wrapped in the fabric of the dashboard, assembled with orange adhesive for the best effect


Source of information: Vintage News

More images available on Naruhodo’s imgur

Credit for translation: JonhDksn

How to survive an apocalypse with just the contents of your handbag

handbagPart of my motivation behind writing The Knowledge was to explore how people through history have been amazingly ingenious or innovative in hacking stuff together and finding solutions to great challenges. For example, I describe how the inhabitants of the city Gorazde were able to jury-rig rudimentary water wheels for electricity, or how during WWII people adapted cars to run on wood as fuel.

But faced with a hypothetical global catastrophe how well would you fare? How could you survive an apocalypse with just the contents of an average handbag or backpack…?

Here’s an article I worked on with the Mirror newspaper, discussing all the weird and wonderful uses that simple, everyday items can be put towards. What ingenious way could you use an empty bottle of water or a pair of glasses, or even a condom or tampon, to save your life..? Even if you never need them in this way, the article will still hopefully change forevermore how you look at these everyday items…

Read the full article on The Mirror website


WrappedWrapped is a superb computer-generated video exploring what New York may come to look like if plants and trees were ever to take over again. This is an epic piece of rewinding imagination! The short film was created by a team of students, Roman Kaelin, Falko Paeper and Florian Wittmann, at the Institute of Animation and Special Effects at Germany’s Filmakademie Baden-Wurttemberg. And a lot of the aesthetic is similar to the opening chapter of ‘The Knowledge’ or Alan Weisman’s ‘The World Without Us‘.

The film begins with a microscopic tour of a decomposing dead rat on the pavement, zooming out to broader and broader scale, and faster and faster time, as the vegetation invasion unfolds. And make sure you watch right through to the end, otherwise you’ll miss the twist in the tale [tail…? ;o) ]


Wrapped from Crave on Vimeo.

How to survive virtually any apocalyptic scenario

Target Sports USA have released an infographic on how to survive various kinds of apocalyptic scenario (probably best not to ask why…), and it’s very nicely done!

Covering everything from the plausible-but-hopefully-unlikely Plague to the impossible-but-great-fun-to-imagine-anyway Zombie Outbreak, via Asteroid Impact and Ecological Disaster, this infographic reaches across the whole spectrum of possibilities.

Each scenario offers tips on what you might be able to do to prepare for such an eventuality, as well as your priorities for immediate survival and then thriving in the longer term.

So perfect fodder for the thought experiment behind The Knowledge… 

Click here to see the full infographic

Apocalypse-proof Kindle

The conceit behind The Knowledge is that it is the single book that condenses down the kernels of all the most important understanding and know-how you would want to preserve if all else were lost. The premise is that this book serves as a quick-start guide to rebooting civilisation itself and enabling survivors of some hypothetical apocalypse to accelerate their way through history a second time around.

But of course this is impossible. If you were to have any hope of preserving enough vital knowledge and accelerating recovery you’d want more than a single paperback, and lots of diagrams and step-by-step practical guides as well.

Using the traditional technologies explained in The Knowledge — words printed onto bundles of sheets of pulped-up trees — you would need an entire library, its shelves stuffed with practical books, to provide enough preserved information. (One of the things I was most smug about whilst researching for The Knowledge was when I realised that I could explain how to make your own paper from scratch, your own ink, and how to construct a rudimentary printing press — it’s almost as if contained within the pages of the book it contains the genetic instructions for it’s own reproduction. It is an inanimate object that can replicate itself like an organism. In principle, and with tongue firmly in cheek, of course, only a single copy of the book would need to survive the apocalypse, and it tells you how to make endless copies for everyone that needs one).

The problem would be how on Earth would you preserve this huge bulk of paper books over long periods of time, or have enough such libraries dotted around the world to have one near enough to any surviving community (see the articles here on The History of the Total Book, and other Similar Projects). But with modern technology, we are now released from this traditional limitation. Nowadays you can buy, for next to no money at all, a Kindle or other e-reader device with memory to store 10,000 books.

You can hold an entire library in the palm of your hand.

If you really wanted to, you could load a copy of The Knowledge, along with thousands of other practical guides (see the book’s bibliography for a complete list of resources, many free to download), onto a single Kindle and stash it in a safe place, just in case…

But if civilisation ever did collapse, and the grid went down, you’d risk the pathos of having the world’s information saved in the palm of your hand but may struggle to recharge the device and actually access it all (the advantage of a paper-based book is that it requires no supporting technologies to access the information, save your own eyes).

The solution would be to create your own apocalypse-proof Kindle. Hardened, and with integrated solar panels so that it could recharge itself indefinitely if the grid ever went down.

And this is exactly what I’ve made. Working with Max and Dan of the Demand Energy Equality initiative I’ve modded and upgraded a cheap second-hand Kindle to help safeguard human knowledge.

Andreas Pettersson_CROPI started with an old 3rd generation Kindle, as this model offers a proper keyboard and does not have a vulnerable touch-screen. I also think the read-back voice functionality gives my finished device a wonderful feel of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy! The solar panels themselves are monocrystalline photovoltaic cells, which were reclaimed from a closed-down solar panel factory. I connected together the individual PV cells into two 2×3 arrays using standard tabbing wire. These were attached to the outside of a fold-open case using EVA plastic sheets and a heat gun. Finally, the fragile silicon wafer solar cells are protected with rigid panels of UV-treated polycarbonate, again bonded using EVA. A bit of wire-stripping and soldering, and all the electronics were connected to the mini-USB charging port of the Kindle.

And voila!

A store of the most vital human knowledge, preserved in a highly portable form, and capable of keeping itself recharged for generations…

Asteroid Day 2016

Asteroid Day is coming around again this June 30th (see my post on the first Asteroid Day and the launch event I participated in at the Science Museum), raising awareness of the hazard posed by objects impacting the Earth. To warm you up, here’s Bill Nye, who joined me in signing the statement, on what it could mean if we do get struck. Ctrl-Alt-Delete for civilisation indeed, but how could the survivors go about rebooting civilisation again afterwards…?