Accelerating

6 Jun

This week: reinforced the crossbeams of the trailer’s wheels, towed my girlfriend 3.5 miles with many hills with no problems, went to Syracuse to buy coroplast, got a solid metal hitch, and have acquired access to a large amount of free lumber and tool use. I bring pictures.

With a bit of help from my friends, the wheelbase has been strengthened to full stability.

This rig held 200 pounds without much issue. Taking a very hard turn with such a load did cause the side beams to flex, but with an expected total load of less than half that weight, this is not a problem. Handling is excellent, and the entire structure fits into a standard-sized county highway shoulder. I can lay on top with no trouble at all. I took a 3.5 mile jaunt down the road with my girlfriend on the back, and felt absolutely free – I closed my eyes as I rode and thought of how liberating it would feel to have my entire life – house, clothes, bed, food, books – rolling steadily and quietly down the road behind my bike. Excitingly, my girlfriend sees the appeal and wants a piece of this life of liberty.

The sheets of coroplast, with the help of my uncle and my mother (my uncle drove my mother’s van out to get it, and my uncle helped negotiate payment at the distributor), came a great length to get to my little old camp.

Four feet is wider than I expected. The total outside width of my structure will likely span 3.5 feet maximum if I am to expect the trailer to stay on the shoulders of most standard roads. The coroplast, while thin, is flexible, strong, and waterproof. It is exactly what I need.

The initial Paul Elkins structure that inspired me, flexed out on the trailer, looked interesting and was neat to sit inside. I will not, however, be using this design.

My hope is to roof the structure with a single sheet parallel to the trailer’s base, flexed forward like a standard tow-behind camper, flexing back to a straight flat roof and ending at a door placed at a right angle. This sheet will be held in place by a thin, sturdy fir timber frame. The walls will be on hinges, each wall folding down into two panels. This way, when I am underway, wind resistance will hopefully be less of an issue. A rough sketch is here, with the red representing the structure itself, the blue representing the folding panels, and the yellow representing a crossbeam onto which the foldable walls will attach.

Lastly, my helpful uncle I’ve already mentioned decided to give me a D-ring hitch with a 10,000 pound capacity. While this is heavy and totally overkill for the job I’m doing here, I’ll be using it for the time being. It’s better than garden hose.

He is quite supportive of my project, and, with a woodworking project of his own, he has offered me full use of his tools, lumber, and land, as well as the opportunity to make money helping him with his business. This is a generous offer I am quite inclined to take, and have plans to take the unfinished trailer, my tent, and my materials on the 25 mile trip south to his house for a time. I am not sure how long I will stay. His property is a beautiful one, situated on the aptly-named “skyline drive”, which has a beautiful view of the southern Mohawk Valley. Better still, the house is a stone’s throw from an Amish store with a great deal of cheap bulk food.

While I had initially headed up to my current camp with the hope of rallying some passion from my hometown friends, I must say that at this point, such an endeavor would demand serious effort – effort perhaps better spent for the time being on moving the trailer project into a more developed stage.

 

Communiqué From the Front

30 May

Eight days since I last posted. My email accounts are only tickled by the occasional daily automatic mailing updates from various email lists I’m on. My phone, seldom turned on or in service, receives no texts or calls. My roommates are on varying schedules; when I go to bed, they come home from work. When I awaken, I am busy or out of the house by the time they are awake and alert. When we do cross paths, they are engulfed in various incarnations of a bright, fast-paced screen blaring advertisements or faux gunshots loudly, leaving me to my knitting and my books. If it is isolation I sought, indeed, it has come my way. Yet, progress on the trailer is slow. I am hampered by a lack of tools and materials. Worse, I am slowed by the drain of morale that gnaws, part in parcel to returning to the medieval fiefdoms of rural central New York. The rock of ignorance and apathy pins down the aspiring campesino libre. Skepticism abounds at he who should dare crack a book, identify as a feminist, refuse a a license or an offered beer, or cook from scratch. And what is that black flag on your tent, you some kind of pirate?

It is May 30th and I’m done wasting time. Ambition is infectious, and refusal even moreso – I see myself as a ferociously resilient scavenger strain of bacteria emerging from dormancy. The decadence I wade in now is human substrate for a virus of radicality and the re-appropriation of life itself towards human ends – not profits, not apathy, not waste, not violence. Where there are human beings, there are opportunities for bacterium like me to take hold. Antibiotics like video games, alienation of labor, drugs, negativity, and complacency are no match for the resilient scavenger species. I find new ways to adapt, acting strategically. As my project takes shape, gains strength and boldness, and its viability as a lifepath grows apparent, this practical application of the reclamation of life itself is a beacon offering a concrete alternative. It implores those on the sidelines to step into the field, and shows these bystanders that there are no fences between them and the field.

I have reinforced the trailer’s wheels, adding a considerable amount of weight. Tomorrow, crossbeams will be added, and excess wood and metal will be stripped. I may move the vehicle to my old house’s garage in order to have ready access to tools, and to separate my daily work from my place of residence. I will be searching for a means of transportation during the workweek to Syracuse in order to purchase the Coroplast sheets. This weekend I intend to post detailed drawings of some new design ideas and a concrete trajectory for the month of June. What I have been doing for the past several weeks has been been functioning as well as I need it to. Photos of the new work will be posted soon; I hope to post with greater frequency over the course of these next several weeks.

 

Progress

22 May

Today has been interesting. This morning, I finally got everything straight with the trailer, adding the wheels, and rigging up a rudimentary sort of temporary coupling to my bike. By mid-afternoon, I was cruising around my road with the bike trailer. The body of the trailer, for those who don’t already know, is a folding tabletop I managed to acquire, sans legs; the wheels are, of course, taken from the wheelchair I stripped down about a month ago that I snapped up from Craigslist for $30.

The whole ensemble was what few would call “pretty”, however, it was rather stable going down the road and was capable of holding around a 100 lb load, evenly distributed. I lashed a milk crate to the front of the trailer, lashed a crutch to the milk crate, and screwed the crutch to a piece of garden hose which was then fashioned onto the cargo rack of my bike. Keep in mind that my intention with this setup was only to tow the trailer about to gauge whether or not I had set the wheels evenly and without issue. It seemed as though I did.


The garden hose coupling worked fairly well, allowing me to turn 360 degrees in either direction, accelerate rapidly, and stop abruptly. Though I question how much abuse over a few thousand miles/several months one section of hose could take without degenerating dangerously, I think that for those on a budget of or near zero, this is a good option. Long term, I hope to employ some other, more durable style of attachment to the bike.

This entire rig, it first seemed, would have been a reasonably good, cheap design for someone with very limited resources and skills. The only tool I needed was a drill. The majority of my materials consisted of reclaimed waste, with the exception of the wheelchair. I paid $30 for everything seen here; I’m of the mind that even in the worst circumstances, a similar trailer to this one could be constructed for under $100 all told. However, issues with this rude design emerged, as would be expected.

In what was a nearly mystical turn of events, however, just as I had tuned the components of the trailer to my contentment and readied myself for a quick spin into town, within the first hundred feet of the attempted journey, a dog (whom I had not seen turned loose for months prior to today), began chasing me down, skeptical of my bizarre rolling contraption. Mind you, an hour prior, I had weight tested the trailer by putting a heavy dog crate full of wood pellets on it. What I hadn’t realized was that this weight test had stressed my lashings out to the point of loosening them. As I pedaled away from the speeding dog, the entire attachment mechanism shook loosely, giving my trailer a case of the “speed wobbles”. This led to my trailer jackknifing, throwing me off my bicycle, and the left wheel attachment failing. The wood had splintered, and the wheel was off. I lay in the road with all the components of my trailer laying in a pile – luckily, the owner of the dog came out of his house and restrained the beast.

I shoved my stuff off to the side of the road on some of my uncle’s land, and there it sits as I write this.

As I biked down the road after this incident, no trailer in tow, I was hardly upset. This violent incident had uncovered a structural flaw in how I had chosen to fasten the wheels to the bed of the trailer. Had the design not failed now, it might have failed later – with considerable more money, time, and materials invested, and at potentially considerably higher speeds on steeper grades. I could have been injured in the wallet and the body. I’m thankful, then, that my trailer fell apart today.

If you’ll look again at the wheels in the first and second photos in this post, you’ll see that they’re mounted onto short sections of wood. This wood was too thin, and not strong enough. Additionally, the lower parts of the metal sections holding the wheel and bearing went unbraced. This was a foolish way to construct the trailer, whether the above wood was thick or not. As such, round two’s design will differ in that a large underbody crossbeam will be added. Additionally, the wheels will be set further back so as to distribute the onboard weight load more effectively. And, of course, the means of attachment to the bicycle will be revised considerably.

As I’ve said before, I’m uninterested in sterile, calculated designs. I consider myself a folk engineer – working with what I’ve got and tweaking it as I go. Efficiency is not my mantra. Natural selection of concepts is at work here – and when you’re working with garbage and your time is relatively worthless, you can afford to head back to the drawing board a few times. I’m getting my education.

Keep checking back! Praying summer is getting to a healthy start for everyone out there reading from Hampshire, Plattsburgh, CNY, and anywhere else!

Pictures of Camp

17 May

I’m managing to get things rolling quite smoothly at this point. I grabbed some pictures this morning:

The tent is holding up beautifully. I have weathered two storms in it already – one of them a rather forceful thunderstorm – and have remained bone dry in them both. I have every reason to believe that this structure will hold up in storms to come. It handles wind with equal ease. Flapping of the walls is minor, with the structure remaining quite taut even in strong winds. My only complaint is the temperature; very cold at night, and very warm during the day. A bit below forty degrees Fahrenheit is not so nice – though not intolerable. During one night, with snow in the forecast, I did borrow a small electric heater and an extension cord from my cousin’s home nearby, which did the space some good in combination with a couple candles (yes, candles actually make a difference). Adding to my warmth considerably is a discarded futon mattress which my girlfriend recovered – it is quite comfortable. Soon, of course, we’ll be past the winter weather and the challenges will shift from dealing with the cold to dealing with the heat and mosquitos.

With regards to the rain, while I did remain quite dry for the duration of the rain that has come thus far, the floor did show some signs of wetness. Additionally, some spiders have come exploring around my sleeping area, who I assume entered through the small gap between zippers in the tent’s entrance. Luckily, these are two issues that will be resolved soon with the erection of a raised wooden platform. I built part of the frame Wednesday:

The lumber for this endeavor had been discarded at Hampshire College. All I’ll need to obtain is a beam to cross the center adequately, as well as some plywood to floor it. Past the tractor (not mine) is the eventual space where the tent will be in the long term.

The yard is swampy towards the woodline, chock full of wild mint (with which I made a nice Sekanjabin to drink yesterday with apple cider vinegar), watercress, burdock, dandelion, black mustard, and garlic mustard. I’ve been making good use of all these. I’ve also been drinking a good amount of nettle tea and eating raw local honey – while I’m not certain, despite this being one of the worst pollen allergy seasons yet already, I am managing to go some days without taking any “proper” allergy pills at all, a previously unthinkable proposition! With all this, I’m getting along quite well and quite cheaply.

I must also publicly give my thanks to my cousin for allowing me to reside here on his land free of charge. He has assured me he has little desire for payment of rent of any sort (as willing as I’d be to do so), so instead, I have been regularly cooking meals for him and everyone that lives within or frequents his house. Soon, too, the garden will be planted, and I am hoping to find some work soon.

Establishing this camp will allow me to work on the bike trailer project in relative isolation and to live cheaply while I build the unit. However, starting things up here has been a sub-project in itself. The next few days will be devoted to getting things rolling with the bicycle trailer. Finally, I will be able to start. As contempt for my refusal to drive or work much for a wage grows amongst my family and skepticism finds its way into the eyes of my friends, the need for a hard, practical, tangible symbol of what is is I am doing increases. So let me be underway already! This week will be the big push: as I said in the end of my last update, it takes a bike trailer to make a bike trailer. The first trailer will come from scratch, garbage, and sweat, and will haul the materials for those to follow it.

Updates will come sooner rather than later – and I will be unveiling a new concept this weekend. Till then!

Camp Is Set Up!

15 May

So I haven’t posted in twelve days – I’ve been busy getting stuff set up at camp, seeing people, and working on a routine. It’s sorta tough: I had a perfect rhythm in the day by day when I was at Hampshire. I get that rhythm established wherever I go, however, it takes some time. Not to mention, internet access for me is questionable at this point. There is wifi where I live that I am certainly free to use, however, I do not use laptops (I’m just not a fan), so lugging my computer up there and setting it up somewhere (where?) is an issue. I’m figuring I’ll be hopping down to the library and posting once a week at least, or heading to my grandma’s now and then to post. We’ll see.

This is just a quick update post: I’ll post this weekend with pictures of camp. The prototype trailer will be under construction soon – time moves slower here than anywhere else, and resources don’t line themselves up. It’s one of those ouroboros type deals, like how you need credit to take a loan to build credit: you need a bike trailer so you can haul materials around to build bike trailers. But where does the initial credit or the first bike trailer come from? Look out for a new post soon.

Technology and the Aesthetics of the Future

3 May

Technology becomes, over time, a medium through which we live. It augments our bodies and brains, and ultimately, the very fabric of our social structure.

What I am designing here is a more complete medium than say, the internet, the car, or the modern home. Each of these is designed and appropriated to augment or improve individual functions within daily life. The car makes individual transport rapid and effortless. The home is designed to bring heat, water, cooling, electricity, and a sense of belonging and ownership to the user in a manner simpler than, say, a wood-stove heated cottage or a tipi. The internet is many things by design, but is appropriated in our culture to be a form of mass communication on a participatory level. It mediates so much of our communication – like your reading this blog post now.

This project is not designed to augment individual functions in life, it is designed to be life itself. I am actually designing a lifestyle. When I have completed the first phase of this project, I will be able to replicate it nearly exactly. For whomever should replicate it, I am cognizant of every aspect of their life within the bike trailer. I know what chores they must do each day. I understand the ergonomic limits of the micro-shelter intimately. I know how frequently the unit must be moved, and what amenities will be necessary in each location that individual user should choose to roll to. I know a large amount of what they’re eating. All aspects of this person’s life are technologically understood by me, because I am the designer.

For all this micro-scale scrutiny and intimate understanding, the important thing that I cannot know is how this user will choose to wield this technological superstructure. What are their reasons for living in this vehicle? What minor tweaks do they choose to make? Between my unit and theirs, what are the key differences?

Consider this: computers are used by many people for a vast many things. The computer may well be one of the most culturally significant pieces of technology ever to emerge among humans. We know well that its use is by no means uniform or singular; the computer has a mind-numbing number of practical applications. Beyond the practical, however, the ways in which the users of computers are shaped by the relationship between the two are of intense interest to me. Technology’s purpose eventually ceases to augment daily life and graduates to expression. It didn’t take long for humans to begin making computer-generated music and art.

Even simple technologies, like, for example, the spatula, become media for expression. Imagine a depressed bachelor on a lonely day flipping a dry burger patty onto a dirty griddle. He seems to heave the patty over when he flips it with the spatula. By no means is the act a conscious one, and the expressiveness his flipping style communicates is only subtle. Yet, strangely, out of context, I am of the mind that most humans would be able to make inferences based ONLY on the style with which one makes use of a spatula. If the spatula were used to flip a pancake up into the air with a nimble flick of the wrist, we could infer that the person is quite skilled with the spatula, and that they are also likely not sad. Perhaps they are even whistling; cooking breakfast for a family or a Sunday brunch.

Yet simple expression is not so directly and clearly communicated: this process is obscured by skill or the lack thereof. Assuming both of the above examples were from individuals skilled with the use of a spatula, how would these instances be altered by utter mastery of the tool’s use, or of a complete lack of understanding as to what a spatula is used for? Skill and how it comes to be or why it is absent can also denote interesting things about the user.

Such observations may seem to operate on such a subtle level that they may seem useless. Yet they are not: culture, expression, technology, and the individual all manifest strongly in the confluence of expression and the use of tools: the small, subtle instances of this phenomenon aggregate in a way that creates an entire expression-based narrative on an individual that is wholly unique and interesting. Humans are cells within the organism of culture and individual interactions with technology are the cells within the organism of the human’s cultural body. They are the tiniest bits of data constantly shifting and altering the perspectives and expression of the individual.

When many small individual technologies are orchestrated into a larger application, these relationships complicate further. Such is the case with the bicycle micro-homestead and the ensuing lifestyle that goes with it. It is complex and multi-layered, and the expression that goes with it would be, like most technologies not explicitly appropriated to be tools of expression, subconscious. Upon coming to understand this, I began to think that if the micro-bikestead were articulated explicitly as a piece of living, political, functional art as a latent function – albeit a conscious one – interesting things could happen.

First off, I must note: numerous artists have done a version of what I am doing (sans any food production), as a sort of postmodernist spin on the concept of the Home. Most of these are only notionally portable homes: bulky, heavy, not aerodynamic, and generally impractical. A majority of the few who have undertaken such a concept do not actually live full time in their units. In fact, I only know of two individuals who live full-time (or appear to): “Jeff”, with the Luma Dilla, and Brian Campbell with his moon-rover-inspired units. Brian appears to live in his by necessity. Here is artist Kevin Cyr’s artistic an impractical design:

While such designs are stimulating, interesting, and are apt in their ability to elicit an emotional or intellectual response, because they are not practical or streamlined to effectively and efficiently deal with the challenges inherent to such a project as a serious lifestyle, they become nothing more than art. While expression through technology is an important aspect of my project, my goal is not to create a museum or a journalist piece.

My goal is to manufacture an aesthetic of radical folk engineering on a level of totality which encompasses all faculties of everyday life. To build and dwell within an object that facilitates ALL activity within the life of that individual and affords them absolute freedom and a powerful sense of self-reliance. A microcosm of earth itself, absolutely portable, concealable, hyper-minimalistic and self-contained. The self-synthesized matrix of liberty. I will paint a distinct image in my mind of this eventual aesthetic;

From tiny solar speakers, the song “Derezzed” by Daft Punk (pictured above) plays loudly. A sleek warrior-style recumbent tricycle whips into a smooth rural driveway, towing behind it an aerodynamic trailer with collapsable walls, built to minimize wind resistance. By the way the trailer bounces with the turn of the trike, you can tell that the trailer is hyper-lightweight. As the wheels slow to a stop, the soft clucking of the quails can be heard in between the blaring inferno of techno beats. The rider, wearing futuristic sunglasses and an ultralight merino wool pair of short shorts hops off the trike, sipping a tonic of fermented broccoli sprouts, raw honey, and apple cider vinegar from a thin titanium thermos and uninhibitedly rocking to the music. He makes his way to the trailer and folds up the collapsable walls, opens the vent on the greenhouse, stakes the structure out to the ground, flips up the solar water heater, flips open the solar oven, and begins systematically changing the water on the sprouts. The screen-floor grasshopper cage is set into the grass to let the insects feed.

“Keep my Composure” comes on as he feeds the quails. Opening up the back door of the trailer, a foldable stool is opened up and an outdoor table made of a sheet of coroplast folds out. For lunch: essene bread with chili-fried grasshoppers, lentil sprouts, blanched dandelion greens and nukazuke-pickled quail eggs with more sprout-honey-vinegar tonic.

It paints a strange picture. Stranger still is the ephemeralness of that individual folding everything up, hopping onto the trike, rolling away, and doing the same thing elsewhere perpetually. Old futurism is dead: cognizant of our decadence and the limited nature of fossil fuels, the New Futurism is at once strangely futuristic and bleak. Its bleakness comes with the exposed nature of total freedom and the nomadic life of the scavenger. The postindustrial landscape is the home of this individual; repurposing garbage and foraging wild seeds to sprout is as important as techno music and hyper-efficient bicycle design and aerodynamics.

Boats

1 May

Boat stuff is weird – and the medium of the boat is a tough one to dream upon. Among serious sailors and boat-people, there is a dogged anti-idealism that seems to come from experience. The message appears to be: boats are expensive, cockamanian crap doesn’t work, boats are expensive, and odds are, you don’t know what you’re doing. All of this is likely good advice. But it has an overachingly intimidating feel to it that has long barred me from seriously thinking about boats. My general lack of funds has exacerbated this effect, leaving a perfectly viable medium for a portable dwelling unexplored. Until now.

Now, I have no intentions of rolling on the high seas. I’m sorry, that takes a lot of skill, some steady nerves, and some serious balls. I can’t say I have any of the three when it comes to water. Ocean travel is, at least for a long while, out. What does intrigue me, however, are inland waterways. I live on the grand old Erie Canal, a waterway that was once the primary link between the midwestern frontier states and the east coast (and will again become that same link as oil-based transport ceases to be functional or cost effective). Over time, the Erie Canal was widened and the name changed to the Barge Canal. To my knowledge, the tolls on the New York State Thruway fund the continued maintenance and operation of the Barge Canal.

If I’m looking to get into water travel and living, this is my foot-in-the-door, being that it is not far from home, the waters aren’t too challenging to navigate, and hell, there’s definitely not much traffic.

The reason I’m taking a serious inquiry into water-based travel is that the amount of weight that can be efficiently carried by a boat is far greater than that which can be carried by a bike and trailer – without using much, or even any oil at all. As I explored in my last post, serious spirulina production is a challenge on sub-200 pound weight budgets. Scaled up, however, and these same cultivation methods would adapt interestingly to small boats.

But I can’t afford much, I have no fabrication skills, and part of the framework of this project is to make it accessible to folks with little money and few skills. That doesn’t leave me with much in terms of floating rigs. A bit of research has uncovered some possibilites, however – though none are anywhere near the cheapness of the bike trailer. From Shell Boats, I found an interesting design:

This is a small sailing catamaran that is essentially two side-by-side canoes. While this particular model is quite elaborate as they go, the essential principles of the design stay true: acquire two used canoes, and somehow fasten them together. Add a sail, a keel, and a centerboard, and build atop this framework a microshelter outfitted with quails, insects, spirulina, and stocked deep with grains and sprouting seeds. An onboard solar still could work for obtaining water. A folding recumbent tricycle could be stashed onboard, and the roof of the cabin could be detachable with wheelwells on both sides; the boat could then be moored, stored, or hidden, and tours could be taken on the bicycle and trailer home and mini farm for long periods of time.

Additionally, the craft could be rigged with a pedal system to propel it in tight spots or where there is no wind. Oars would be kept, and maybe a small motor could be incorporated if need be. Also, on the original Erie Canal, horses trotted along shore, harnessed with ropes to the boats in the water, and this was the primary mode of propelling the boats. While I’m not sure how much if any of the canal’s pathways have been preserved – I know there is a bike trail, but on the water entirely? – I’d be interested to see if towing my boat by bicycle were impossible or workable.

I have tons more research to do on this topic. I think there is a lot here that down the road will be very valuable. In the meantime, I will continue to read and research the topic. A book I’ve found and am reading now is called Sailing the Farm (full text pdf here) that has inspired me to look into boats. His economy of space is impressive – he manages to get by only by stocking up on grains, milk, and dried fruit – the rest he produces or forages on the high seas. More to come on this book and this topic.

 

 

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