Archive for the craft Category

Guerilla Gardening: resistance is fertile

Posted in Activism, art, craft, culture, Manchester with tags , on May 20, 2008 by Philonous

The other day, Le Fox and I made our way down to Manchester’s Urbis to check out their new exhibition on Manga. Having seen the exhibition (which to be honest seemed to be aimed mostly at the emo-kids in the Cathedral gardens outise), we wandered upstairs to kill a little more time.

To my pleasant surprise they had an exhibition about Urban Gardening. It seems that I was not alone in my desire for the greening of Manchester’s city centre – there were a great many tips for what to grow in confined balconies and window boxes. (No doubt the whole exhibition was a passionate response to Sociomath’s Urban Orchards post.)

What intrigued me most, however, was a small corner of the exhibition devoted to so called Guerilla Gardening. It seems as though people as despserate for green space as me had decided upon a more pro-active strategy than posting rants on a blog. They instead congregate on what is considered by them to be wasteland and plant trees, herbs, vegetables and flowers in an effort to foster a greater sense of well-being and civic pride among local residents.

A couple of years ago, the hallowed airtime of the Beeb itself devoted a moment or two to the notion of guerilla gardening and in particular it’s London posterboy, Richard Reynolds: a 30 year old, MG-driving, road-bike riding, well spoken former advertising executive. Have a look at a slightly tongue in cheek seven minute documentary below about guerilla gardening in London.

As for the history of Guerilla gardeining, Wikipedia claims that it started with the True Levellers or Diggers as they became known. These were folk who started gardening on common land and living in cooperatives in the second half of the 17th century. I’d argue that perhaps, since these people were growing food on land that would otherwise have been used to graze cattle that they don’t really embody the “pleasant mischeif” mindset of the modern Guerilla gardener. It seems that it all really started (as most vaguely radical movements) in New York in the 1970’s with the Green Guerilla group transforming a private derelict lot into a garden.

One of the parts of the exhibition which really caught my attention was the concept of ‘seed-bombing’. The idea is to be able to plant seeds in relatively inacessible places (behind fences/barbed wire etc). Rather than trying to bypass obstacles, such areas are ‘bombed’ with lumps of mud and compost containing seeds. By the next year, voila: flowers aplenty! Have a look at this video of some seedbombers in Chicago.

I’m told that there are such orgainisations in Manchester. I know nothing about them.

Some links:

Artificial Ball lightning

Posted in craft, experiments, science, tech with tags , on May 1, 2008 by Philonous

A few years ago, a friend of mine and I decided to try and create artificial ball lightning in a microwave. All you need is a grape, a microwave and a knife.

WARNING: Attempting this could impair your health and that of your microwave! Approach with EXTREME CAUTION!
  1. Cut the grape in half so that there is only small piece of skin attaching the two halves together and they look like a pair of bongo drums.
  2. Take the tray out of your microwave.
  3. Put the grape in your microwave with the wet faces up.
  4. Start the microwave and have your finger on the stop button.

You should see a bright ball and maybe some licks of flame appearing within a second or two. I remember scortching the top of the microwave the last time I tried this so be sure to have a finger on the stop button.
I’m not totally sure the physics behind the whole thing. The explanation my friend had was that the microwave sets up a standing wave inside the microwave which has around the right wavelength to create a big potential difference between the two grape surfaces. Eventually, as some of the water in the grapes boils, steam is ejected. In the presence of such a large potential difference, this ionises and forms a plasma for a split second. I’m still not totally convinced that this is actually what’s going on, but I have no better explanation.

It turns out that it works even better when you have a flame in your microwave. The gas in the flame ionizes very easily and it’s even possible to contain the plasma in a vessel of some sort for some time. Here’s a video of someone trying it with a match:

Here’s what I think happens:

The microwave keeps giving electrons in the hot gas enough energy to escape their nuclei. When these electrons return, they give off a load of energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation, some of which is the light you see. Presumably different burning materials give different parts of the characteristic spectrum (and so different colours…)

Le Fox, I would guess that if your chimney is struck by lightning when you have a fire in the fireplace, much the same things happens…

I could well be wrong…

See here for a good explanation of a similar grape experiment (with diagrams!).


Posted in art, craft, DIY, tech with tags on January 11, 2008 by Philonous

I’ve started a darkroom. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do I suppose, but now seemed the time to do it for some reason. Ok. So it’s not a proper darkroom, but then again it’s not just a dark room…

It’s a darkroom built for pinhole camera photography! But how does one take photos with a pinhole camera?! It turns out it’s actually reasonably simple. The basic principle is as follows. An image is formed in a pinhole camera just as in any other camera so all you have to do is put some film in the right place. The standard darkroom process involves developing your film, then putting the negatives you’ve just made into an enlarger, projecting them onto photographic paper and then developing the paper. On the film, parts struck by light become dark. The same is true of photographic paper so during the process, the colours are inverted twice, giving you the original again.

So, everything is peachy. Well actually no. Enlargers are *really* expensive (the cheapest one I found was about 160 pounds without an enlarging lens, timer easel etc etc etc…). Setting up a darkroom was therefore going to be out of the question. Until I saw podcast about pinhole photography. All you do is stick a pin in a box. Then you have a pinhole camera. So how do you take the photo? Actually, the process is exactly the same as for film except instead of using film, you use photographic paper and instead of using an enlarger, you contact print.

For a grand total of 30 pounds I was all set. Watching photos appear is perhaps the coolest thing I’ve seen for a long time. Highly recommended. To see the podcast, check out:

There are lots of other cool things on the site. I find that actually, his design isnt’ all that great. The best thing I’ve tried so far is a beer can as the container with a hole punched in the side.