Category: How To Guides

Paperfuge: low-tech solution for hospitals

One of the greatest challenges facing hospitals and field healthcare centres in the developing world is keeping their basic equipment running. Access to electricity or replacement parts for key machinery cannot always be relied upon. The Knowledge discusses one solution of designing incubators out of motorcycle spare parts, as these are often far easier to get hold of around the world than dedicated medical components. Now Manu Prakash at the Stanford University has designed another ingenious solution.

Centrifuges are machines that spin at very high speed to help separate samples, and are vital for a huge range of hospital tests. But they need electricity to run, and key components can be difficult to replace. Prakash has taken inspiration from an ancient toy, known as the whirligig, and produced a functional centrifuge out of incredibly simple materials – it needs only disks of paper, string, and wooden handles. His ‘paperfuge’ is ultra-low-cost, and can easily be made by readily-available materials anywhere in the world.

 

 

Despite this simplicity, the paperfuge can achieve spin rates of up to 12,500 rpm – just as good as a hospital lab machine – and so separate blood plasma from red cells and help detect diseases such as malaria, African sleeping sickness, HIV and tuberculosis.

You can read more about this brilliant, low-tech invention in their academic publication Hand-powered ultralow-cost paper centrifuge (Nature Biomedical Engineering), or in an article in The Atlantic.

 

The Knowledge Want to read more about the behind-the-scenes fundamentals of how our modern world works, and how you could reboot civilisation if you ever needed to...? Check out The Knowledge - available now in paperback, Kindle and audiobook.

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…

The Knowledge Want to read more about the behind-the-scenes fundamentals of how our modern world works, and how you could reboot civilisation if you ever needed to...? Check out The Knowledge - available now in paperback, Kindle and audiobook.

How To Make your own Gasifier Stove

The design of this ‘wood gasifier’ stove is exceedingly simple and it can be built in under an hour using only empty tin cans and a few very basic tools (watch it in operation here). It would make a great little maker project with your kids; you’ll have great fun working on building this together, and will have a superb little cooking stove to use afterwards! The gasifier design is also a wonderfully compact and efficient stove, burning twigs you can collect yourself (rather than gas canisters), that’s ideal for cooking during a barbecue in the back garden or even on a family camping trip.

The gasifier stove is made up of a smaller can nestled inside a larger can, allowing air to circulate in the gap between them. Wood is loaded into the inner can as fuel, and as it burns it draws fresh air up through the bottom for a hearty, intense combustion – just like any barbecue. What’s unique about a gasifier stove is that it has a second, higher row of air holes that reintroduce oxygen. As wood breaks down in the heat of a fire it releases lots of gases and vapours and smoke that are all actually flammable, but would otherwise have blown away in a normal fire. But with this second row of air holes, fresh oxygen is drawn in and you get secondary combustion of all these gases. This means a gasifier stove is very efficient and releases all of the heat energy in the fuel, and is also smokeless when it’s running. Gasification of wood has been crucial through history, and can even be used to drive a car or van instead of petrol or diesel – there were over a million wood-powered cars across Europe during the Second World War!

Here’s how to make your own gasifier stove.

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The Knowledge Want to read more about the behind-the-scenes fundamentals of how our modern world works, and how you could reboot civilisation if you ever needed to...? Check out The Knowledge - available now in paperback, Kindle and audiobook.

How To… Make your own wind turbine

TWind_turbinehe September issue of Wired magazine carries an article by me and Leila Johnston about how to make your own wind turbine. This piece draws on the material from the first chapter of The Knowledge, talking about how you can use ingenuity and resourcefulness to scavenge and repurpose all you need to maintain a comfortable lifestyle in the immediate aftermath. For instance, the vital component of a wind turbine that generates electricity for you can be cannibalised right out of any car or truck engine – the alternator.

Wired_septThe article was on the news-stands in September, is still available on the Wired app on iTunes or Google Play, or online here.

 

Also check out The Knowledge posts on How to convert a washing machine motor into a generatorHow to convert a ceiling fan into a wind turbine, and the Estream portable water turbine.

 

 

 

The Knowledge Want to read more about the behind-the-scenes fundamentals of how our modern world works, and how you could reboot civilisation if you ever needed to...? Check out The Knowledge - available now in paperback, Kindle and audiobook.

How to reinstate global communications

IMG_4458 x_CroppedIf our modern civilisation ever were to collapse – taking with it global communication technologies like the internet, satellites, cell phones and undersea cables – with the right knowledge it wouldn’t be too hard to reconstruct from scratch the means for communicating around the world. All you need is a radio set not much bigger than a couple of shoe boxes and a wire antenna strung between two trees. And the basic building block for electronics and reinstating long-distance radio communications, but still something you could build yourself, is the triode vacuum tube. Here’s how…

Guest post by Allen Hundley

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The Knowledge Want to read more about the behind-the-scenes fundamentals of how our modern world works, and how you could reboot civilisation if you ever needed to...? Check out The Knowledge - available now in paperback, Kindle and audiobook.

How to build a house: rising from the ashes

Guest post by architectural designer Sam Davey (@SNDavey; website). All illustrations © Sam Davey.

Shelter. It’s one of the most fundamental of needs but immediately after the Fall permanent habitation it is likely to be the last thing on your mind.  You may be one of those displaced by the crisis of civilisation, or reacting to more violent parts of the population, scavenging for food or simply looking for a source of uncontaminated water. In any case, in the immediate aftermath it is very likely that most nights not spent under the stars will be spent under a roof built before the collapse.

These buildings, though, will not last forever and the time will come when a post-apocalyptic community is going to need to know how to construct permanent shelter for itself. Here’s how to build a house.

How to build a house

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The Knowledge Want to read more about the behind-the-scenes fundamentals of how our modern world works, and how you could reboot civilisation if you ever needed to...? Check out The Knowledge - available now in paperback, Kindle and audiobook.

On The Anatomy Of Thrift: Side Butchery

One of the goals I hoped to achieve with The Knowledge was to show how the very fundamentals of the world around us actually function – most of us living now in developed nations are entirely sealed off from the basic processes that support our lives. Perhaps the most fundamental of all is how civilisation ensures sufficient sustenance for itself; providing both crops and livestock, and just as importantly how the plants and animals are actually disassembled and processed to be edible. Here is an elegantly filmed video from Farmstead Meatsmith on how “with just four tools you can break down a pig quite proficiently and beautifuly” – the demonstration (tastefully and sensitively done) starts at 6:10 but the whole film is fascinating.

The Knowledge Want to read more about the behind-the-scenes fundamentals of how our modern world works, and how you could reboot civilisation if you ever needed to...? Check out The Knowledge - available now in paperback, Kindle and audiobook.

How to start fire with IKEA products

One of the topics in the second chapter of the book is how to start fire – a critical survival skill for the immediate aftermath of the cataclysm. We look at a few options using unconventional means for when you can’t find any matches or a lighter lying around (and also watch my video here). In this brilliant video below, an artist/designer named Helmut Smit shows how to make fire using only items found within an IKEA store. He repurposes a coat hanger, rope, wine rack, egg cup, napkins, and floral embellishments to create a hand drill, a piece of ancient fire-starting technology that works by friction.

Also check out The Knowledge post on How to start a fire with everyday items!

The Knowledge Want to read more about the behind-the-scenes fundamentals of how our modern world works, and how you could reboot civilisation if you ever needed to...? Check out The Knowledge - available now in paperback, Kindle and audiobook.