Monday, January 1, 2007

Unleashing the Power of Human Power

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year, Baby. The Hard Taco song for January is the self-referential, "Moderate Rock." A friend of mine uses this term in disgust to describe interchangeable radio-friendly rock songs that are identical in tempo and emotional content. That's actually a tall order to fill, but I did my best.

Speaking of friends, I made a new one this week. His name is Homeless Dave, and he has accomplished three things which will eventually go in his obituary:

1. He interviewed me last week while we rode his home made teeter-totter, and posted the transcript of the conversation on his website.
2. He owns and operates a human-powered laundry machine.
3. He is not really homeless. (I want this one in my obituary, too.)

As it happens, the human-powered laundry machine is by far more interesting than the conversation with me.

After the Teeter Talk, Dave took me on a tour of his basement and introduced me to the device... a stationary bike that spins a standard tub of laundry. This looked terribly inefficient to me, so I scribbled down a few computations to figure out whether switching to man-powered laundry washing was right for me.

The average rider at a continuous road speed of twelve miles per hour can produce 75 watts of energy. (1) The average washing machine uses about 1.24kWh of energy per cycle. (2)

That means that one would need to ride 16.5 hours at 12 miles/hour, which comes out to 198 miles per load. My last load had 23 items, if you count socks separately, which works out to 8.6 miles of riding per article of clothing. However, riding the equivalent of 198 miles in place would cause me to sweat through an average of three full outfits, which means I would need to wash fifteen additional articles (counting socks separately.) I would then be stuck riding an additional 129.1 miles to clean the clothes I soiled washing the first load, which, in turn, would result in two more stinky outfits. Following this logic out to its inevitable conclusion, I have determined that

I need to pedal a mere 228 miles per day to keep up with my current output of dirty clothes (assuming socks are counted separately.)

Human power can be harnessed for a number of applications other than deodorizing linens. Generators, presses, mills, drills, helicopters, ornithopters, submarines, and staplers can all be powered by the human foot. Here is a brief history of landmark pedal-power inventions.

1895 - The first mechanical device that operated solely on human power was the Barnes Velocipede Scroll Saw. "The ideal procedure for cleaving your sundries is by crank and treadle," boasted the catalog advertisement. Nineteenth century environmental activists (both of them) hailed the Barnes Velocipede as the ideal marriage of conservation and industry. Andrew Carnegie purchased 800 units for his Homestead plant, stating, "Wasteful coal-powered scrolling saws are for the pound-foolish. Contrariwise, [child labor] is an abundant, sustainable resource!"

1900 - Barnes followed up their first breakthrough with the Velociwrapper, a man-powered apparatus that could roll and unroll gigantic spools of toilet paper at alarming speeds.
1931 - One of the reparations outlined in the Treaty of Versailles was that German men would have to give to France all clothes they were not wearing at the time the treaty was signed. Left with a single outfit each, German designers introduced the first hand-powered laundry machine to preserve modesty. This ingenious device allowed a gentleman to submerge himself in the Danube and use pedal-power to wash his clothes without having to remove them.

1989 - We used to say, "Take only pictures, leave only footprints," but many environmental activists agree that this is too lenient. This pump-action skateboard was developed so that future habitats would not be spoiled by skaters pushing off on the ground with even one foot.
2006 - The B3 Bicycle Blender uses pedal-power to blend juice, grind coffee, and shred documents, while promoting conservation and celebrating active lifestyles. Sit back a little further, and you can make a healthy, life-affirming choice about energy conservation while removing pre-cancerous colon polyps.
With warmest regards,