Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Junk and I -or- From Scrounging to O.S. Design

The guy who got his people what they wanted
GiraDora foot-powered washing/drying machine
There they were in the moonlight, beckoning:  two large-size rectangular green plastic milk containers, in excellent shape.  Just about the most useful thing you can find for free after firewood.
The trash-collection night (Sunday) pickers have finally discovered our neighborhood, which can be pretty rich in useful items due to people moving in and out all the time and the old folks getting rid of things.  In fact, weeks earlier I'd scooped up two small oriental rugs, in perfect condition and just the size for inside the exterior doors.  One is even from Turkey (the other, probably Kohl's).  So, before the little pickup truck arrived on its rounds, I ambled over to do some primo recycling.
I had a similar Harrisburg Dairies square container that I had used for decades as a step stool and tool carrier (I think it's at Zach's place now), but these were stamped with New Jersey dairies' logos (imported!) and had more possibilities.  Soon there were attached end-to-end and mounted on the garage wall to hold all those plant pots that I'd tripped over before.
I do love scrounging and repurposing.  It's creative, definitely a treasure hunt, and provides the satisfaction of something homemade.  Over the years I've made a number of outdoor pieces, planters and tables, from leftover treated wood found nearby while they were still building.  To put them together, I dipped into the sizeable collection of fasteners and odd metal pieces I picked up off floors while on construction sites  in the communications biz.  I really admire the strong  furniture some craftspeople make from limbs and branches; there is a tool to make the joints easily.  Just might do that someday.
Toward the end of my eight years at the science museum, there seemed to be no money to design and build new exhibits (maintenance of the existing ones and a personnel structure heavy on overpaid chiefs using it all up), so I went into rebuilding with supplies on hand along with scrounging.  A friend knew the eccentric landlord of a three story Victorian apartment house with a chock-full basement nearby in downtown -- it looked pretty much like the Addams family's home --  so we went over and came back with a neon sign transformer, just what was needed to make a "Jacob's Ladder" exhibit.  The 1/4" clear plexiglas for the case to house it safely was picked from the store fixture trash pile at the loading dock in our building's basement.  Radio Shack had closed, so I also got enough plywood from their pile to make six bookshelves for myself at home, along with a dozen orange Formica-covered shelves to install in the basement.
Old industrial and agricultural metal parts can be remade into striking light fixtures which look and are a lot sturdier than what's sold at retail (and, yuck, made in China).  And going even further into working with existing components, people are developing "Open Design" projects like a bike-powered recycling machine to grind up and separate metal out of thrown-away electronics (see or  The principles of Open Design are usefulness, durability, low cost available parts, and above all, non complexity ("Any fool can make something more complicated, but it takes real genius to make things simple again").
More important than the well-publicized effort to provide inexpensive solar-powered laptops to the Third World (still a cool idea, though) is solving widespread problems concerning the availability and safety of water.  Two students from Los Angeles' Art Center College of Design went to a barrio of 30,000 people outside Lima, Peru to create the GiraDora, an under-$40 foot powered washing and drying machine.  People there were wasting hours a day hauling water up to hand wash clothes, which were then getting mildewy because drying was slow and space to do it limited.  The user sits atop this portable (making it possible to carry it to the water source) machine and turns the agitator with the feet to save back strain from bending over as in hand washing.  After emptying the water, the clothes are spun almost dry the same way.  What's intriguing about the GiraDora beyond its usefulness to those who are ground down by what are simple tasks in the developed world, is its easy adaptation to many other modes of life, be they onboard boats, at cabins or tiny apartments, or for RV living.  And if you are among the few already living off the grid, what a find this would be.
So go out and get your scrounge on.  Let me know what you find.


1 comment:

  1. Shoot! I don't need a washer/dryer. I heard there was a thing called a washboard that worked at rubbing cloth against. And a piece of string to hang them on to dry. Or maybe banging on a rock in the pond. Now I need to find a rock.