Muscles Over Motors
The Human-Powered Home by Tamara Dean
$30 New Society Publishers
I’ve been playing around with the idea of making my own pedal-powered
devices for a while now, and am waiting no longer now that I’ve come
across this great primer. The book kicks off with an extensive and fascinating history of human-driven devices and “appropriate” technology,
moves to an accessible data-driven section on the efficiency of various
human-machine interactions, and gives a crash course on bicycle engineering for the layperson.
Throughout, Tamara Dean weaves in inspiring and ingenious uses of
human power in countries all over the world, as well as current devices
on the market covering everything from lawn mowers to ice cream makers
and cellphones. In case you find yourself getting too wrapped up in 19th-
century bicycle designs, the book culminates in detailed descriptions
and illustrations of projects for adapting various devices to a standard
pedal setup. Go get your salvaged exercise bike now! All in all, Dean
makes a fantastic argument for putting your body where your needs are.
A Thing Only Its Maker Could Love
The Upside to Irrationality by Dan Ariely
“To increase your feelings of pride and ownership in your daily life, you
should take a larger part in creating more of the things you use in your
daily life,” writes Dan Ariely in his entertaining and insightful new book.
My own DIY experiences (which I wrote about in my book, Made by
Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World) confirm what
Ariely wrote, but Ariely actually conducted a series of experiments
to arrive at this conclusion. He’s a professor of psychology and a
behavioral economist at Duke University, and this book (like his earlier
bestseller, Predictably Irrational) explores the emotional side of human
behavior regarding decisions about things of value.
The entire book is a joy to read, but the chapter about the satisfaction
one gets from making stuff is especially interesting. Ariely’s experiments on test subjects who were asked to make simple objects under
a variety of conditions revealed “four principles of human endeavor”:
( 1) Putting effort into making something not only changes the physical
thing, it also changes the maker and the maker’s evaluation of the object.
( 2) The more effort we put into making something, the more we love it.
( 3) Not only do we tend to overvalue things we make ourselves, we
assume that other people will like them as much as we do.
( 4) If we can’t finish a challenging project, we don’t feel attached to it.
Ariely’s conclusions now run through my mind as I make things, such
as musical instruments. I really like my cigar box guitars (and I’m glad
that I like them), but now I know that other people may not be as enamored of them as I am. That’s OK! Other people should be making, and
loving, their own stuff. —Mark Frauenfelder