Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Crank it up

Look at almost any picture more than, say, thirty years old of a groups of western people, and you can't help noticing that they look really different from what western people look like now.
We're not talking about the weird glasses, funny hair-do's or those really, really short shorts. Anybody can get hold of some vintage shades or flea-market garb and pretend they're at Woodstock. But the bodies looked different. Folks used their bodies more for, well, just for everyday stuff.
When was the last time you saw a male law enforcement officer with a head wider than his neck? Even policemen who are fit are just plain big, in a way very few were before.
There's a lot of protein going down.
Tamara Dean's "The Human-Powered Home" is a book about using muscles in daily life. It's not about transport, as a gazillion books have been written about that already, and it's not about boring stuff like taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Instead it's about hand-cranked mp3-players and cycle-powered washing machines and the cranks (ahem) who build and love them.
Flipping through it casually it might seem like a vaguely superficial introduction to the, for many of us, obvious fact that if you add some pedals and a drive train to some machine, you sure can power a lot of funky stuff. But it's actually thoroughly well researched, full of hard chunks of facts and destillations of recent scientific projects.
This is a very good sequel to "Pedal Power in Work, Leisure and Transportation" by James C. McCullagh (ed.) which came in the wake of the 1970's oil crisis, and much less confusing than the interesting, but abysmically poorly written "Human Power - The Forgotten Energy" by Arnfried Schmitz.
Quite importantly, the thouroghness of Tamara Dean's DIY plans for human-powered equipment indicate that she has actually built this stuff herself.
"Empowerment" has become such a horrid word, full of implications of permissive self-indulgence. But here's empowerment in a very real, cool and yet sweaty way.

Tamara Dean
The Human Powered Home
- Choosing Muscles Over Motors
New Society Publishers, 2008
261 pages

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