Of Love and Compressed Air

I’m always awestruck by the careful, scholarly writing of Low Tech Magazine creator Kris De Decker (a guest on episode 83 of our podcast). He just published two long articles on the history of compressed air, “History and Future of the Compressed Air Economy” and “Ditch the Batteries: Off-Grid Compressed Air Energy Storage.” This is one of those topics that’s so boring as to be exciting and once you start thinking of the possibilities of compressed air you’ll find yourself, inappropriately, peppering your cocktail party conversation with compressed air anecdotes. Who knew that the city of Paris had an elaborate compressed air distribution system that operated from 1881 to 1994?

Compressed air has been on my mind since purchasing an air compressor and pneumatic finishing nailer that has made the carpentry work for our ongoing house restoration process much easier. What De Decker is writing about, however, goes much deeper than my horribly inefficient Home Depot air compressor. His article is about the air compressor as an alternative to chemical batteries and ways to compress air with wind, solar and hydro power.

Some Amish communities use compressed air as a way of separating themselves from the “English” world and its power grid. In fact, compressed air is sometimes referred to as “Amish Electricity.” While the Amish compress air mostly with diesel generators, some use windmills. The Amish convert kitchen appliances to run on compressed air as well as power tools.

Over the weekend, Root Simple pal Charlie sent me an email describing his grandfather’s patent (US4311010A) for a “Gas-powered engine adapted to utilize stored solar heat energy and compressed gas power system.” Apparently, he couldn’t find a machinist to realize this compressed air storage invention (they all thought it was a perpetual motion machine).

Let me conclude with a detour from the power of compressed air to the power of love. If you didn’t see Bishop Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon, you really should. He turned what could have been nothing more than a celebration of vapid celebrity into something completely different. Now it’s up to us to figure out how to concentrate and distribute the love Curry so movingly spoke of. It might just be easier than setting up a compressed air network . . .

Saturday Tweets: Compressed Air, Digging Down and Orange Marmalade

Music and Math by Hand

One of the issues of our time that keeps me awake at night is the loss of mnemonic systems, especially ones that make use of the physical world. The more we depend on computers, especially mobile phones, the more we will lose the ability to remember things and do stuff without staring at a screen. My underutilized music degree taught me about the Guidonian hand, a method medieval monks used in the days before musical notation software. The OnMusic Dictionary describes it as,

The first system of learning music developed in the 11th century by Guido d’Arezzo. He assigned each note a name, Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, sol, and La (thus the origin of solfeggio), and designed the system of placing notes on horizontal lines to notate pitches (thus the origin of the staff). The Guidonian hand is another of his inventions, it is a system of assigning each part of the hand a certain note, thus, by pointing to a part of his hand, a group of singers would know which note was indicated and sing the corresponding note.

Here’s a video describing the method in more detail:

Should you want to learn a handy and similar method of using your hands for mathematical calculations there’s a whole video channel devoted to a method popular in India. Please enjoy this room full of kids demonstrating the Indian method:

I distinctly remember, in school, being discouraged from using my hands for math. Now I can’t do anything without Steve Job’s infernal gadget. I wonder if, when we’re finished with our home restoration work, anyone would be interested in a musical and mathematical “non-digital digits” camp for adults at the Root Simple compound? We’ve got to take our skills back from these Silicon Valley memory vampires.

Solve Your Measurement Problems with a Construction Calculator

Why did I struggle these many years with our horrible and outdated measurement system, here in the States, without knowing about the soul saving power of the construction calculator. Trying to add an awkward series of measurements in feet, inches and fractions? A construction calculator can help you with that.

Best of all, you can get a construction calculator in the form of a free app for your tracking device, errrr, I mean “phone.” I downloaded the free DeWalt Mobile Pro Construction Calculator, available for both iPhone and Android devices. You can purchase carpentry, masonry and electrical work add-ons but the free version is good enough for most simple, homesteady projects. In addition to handling those pesky fractions, the basic version also does metric conversion. It will also help you calculate your sheet good needs. I added the carpentry module since I’ve found myself doing a lot of incompetent carpentry these past few months.

I’m old enough to remember the failed attempt to convert the U.S. to the metric system in the 1970s which would have made most of the features of the DeWalt Mobile Pro Construction Calculator unnecessary. But we can’t have nice things here. My attempt to use metric measurement around the house, several years ago, proved futile since it made trips to the hardware store extra confusing and could lead to the sort of conversion errors that nearly brought down an airliner and contributed to the loss of a Mars orbiter.

Counterintuitively, when doing any kind of carpentry or woodworking you should actually try to avoid measurements as much as possible. Instead, hold up parts, use full size plans, cut things to fit or use story sticks. But for estimating materials, you’ll still need to measure and do the sorts of calculations a construction calculator facilitates.

Our Week in Pictures

There’s too much going on at the Root Simple compound for a coherent Monday blog post. Our backyard resembles a strip mine in the aftermath of removing a poorly designed concrete patio (a concrete mess done in a style that Root Simple reader Peter describes as “mid-century incompetent”). We also thought it would be a good idea to start a bunch of interior projects at the same time.

In the midst of the chaos I managed to make an unfashionable lamp from these Wood Magazine plans:

And I finally, after much experimentation with finishes and ammonia fuming, I completed a reproduction of a Stickley #603 tabouret:

Better known as a cat stand:

While hunting for a window for our new/old closet I spotted this Moroccan style ceiling at Eric’s Architectural Salvage and wished that I had the lifestyle that would justify its purchase:

Instead of a that lifestyle, which I imagine involves robes, hookahs and a reclined posture on a couch, I instead find myself at the Glendale Home Depot which features this statue of a hot dog applying ketchup and mustard to itself:

If we were still in the 1990s I’d be tempted to write a whole book written in obtuse, post modern theory-speak on the recursive nightmare that is this hot dog statute but I’ve got contractors to juggle and more unfashionable furniture to build.

What projects are you tackling this spring/summer?