26 Jul 2006

Thinking outside the barrel

I had thought that bio-diesel or even plain old veg oil might have been our best hope for breaking out of our 'oil addiction' but then having watched this and I am feeling persuaded that ethanol is the direction that we need to be going in. If you have a spare hour, I really would urge you to spend some time watching Vinod Khosla give a lecture on Ethanol at Google. The content more than makes up for the sometimes less than sparkling delivery.

I have been doing a lot of reading up on biofuels lately, the thing that kicked it off was the discovery that Rudolph Diesel's invention of an engine that could run on peanut oil was partly as a result of his belief that for Artisans to survive in the face of steam powered industry, they needed something that would help level the playing field.

In a 1912 speech, Rudolf Diesel said "the use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today, but such oils may become, in the course of time, as important as petroleum and the coal-tar products of the present time." It appeared that he then died in mysterious circumstances shortly afterward... weirdly reminicent of the fate of Agustine le Prince, the man who might have invented moving pictures.

In the few online biographies that I have found about Mr Diesel, I noticed that he has been characterized as a social theorist and a connoisseur of the fine arts and an internationalist , sadly there don't seem to be any of his writings available online in English. That's a pity, there is a bunch of Tesla's writings here, and I found them to give a facinating insight into a really radical thinker who just seemed so out of his time and who has been largely overshadowed by "The Edison Publicity Machine". Of course some of the stuff is pretty barking, but we can't 'hit it out of the park' every time.

Anyway, I am on leave and I have clay waiting to be wedged up in the garage so I will try and annotate a few more of my recently aquired 'energy' tagged del.icio.us bookmarks.

5 Jul 2006

Test tiles and pencil lead.

It has been a long time since I have pottered with any seriousness, but I am now starting to make some test tiles. A couple of months ago, I scored a roll of plastic. I'm not sure what it's called but its that cling-film-on-steroids stuff that is used to attach stuff to pallets. A couple of weeks ago I scored a rather large plaster batt from the art college in Carmarthen.

With these simple tools, I was back in the business of being able to create sizeable clay slabs basically by chucking great gobs of wet clay at the plaster batt, smoothing it down and then covering it up with the plastic.

I wasn't sure what shapes I was going to start making when I went to the garage. I had been playing with the idea of carbon, silicon and either being my base elements, I like that there are 3 of them rather than the traditional 4 or 5. Wait, did I just say 5? I did, I stumbled upon this page that talked about Platonic Solids . I liked the idea so much that I printed off the pdf files of the shapes.

What was I thinking? It had to be the cube... well, the square... well, you know me, it has to be lots of little squares, test tiles I guess, maybe I am constructing the building blocks of a larger piece.

We were in Cumbria last week as B was out audio hunting at Woolfest for her fabulous podcast , and once we were finished looking/recording interviews B and I had an inspirational visit to the pencil museum in Keswick.

Oh how we snickered when we went past it the first time. Fancy having a museum devoted to the humble pencil, that really peaked our curiosity. It was only a matter of time...

Well who knew that the process the Nicholas Jacques Conte devised in 1795, which is in use today basically means that our pencil leads are a mix of graphite and ball clay, fired to 1000 degrees C. Pencil leads are bisque fired! They are ceramic...

Within days of this discovery, I had spoken to the technical department in the pencil factory had agreed to send me a wadge of the unfired graphite/ball clay mix and some graphite to experiment with. The usual slip mix that I use for decoration is a 50/50 ball/china clay mix. The ball clay has a very small roundish particle shape that means it's sticky when wet. The china clay has larger, flatter particles which help to counteract the stickyness of the ball clay. I can't wait to see what properties the addition of graphite gives the slip.

I did a quick google on graphite decorated ceramics and two things of note came up. Firstly it was the pottery of the Gumelnita civilization from about 4000BC. Early balkan (Bulgarian?) ceramics... we all know about my facination with the Balkans don't we? The other thing of note that came up on the search was the potters of Mata Ortiz who re-invented traditional pottery in the 1970s. Apart from the dazzling skill and absolute eye candyness of these potters is that it's a great example of craft being used as a tool of economic development.

Another thing that I was wondering about was the conductive properties of this graphite mix used as slip. I was looking at "electro-grafs" , from the Graffiti Research Lab a while back and thought they were facinating... just thinking...