Southern Fried Science has been a bit dormant for the last year, so first, a re-introduction:
I’m Andrew Thaler, I’m an ocean scientist, and I make weird tech things.
Ten years ago I inherited an old mechanical tide gauge from a lab cleanout. For some bizarre reason, I thought: what if, instead of tracking the rising and falling tides in the Beaufort Inlet, it tracked the waxing and waning of conversations about sea level rise on Twitter. And thus, the Sea Leveler was born.
In a lot of ways, the Sea Leveler was the precursor of things to come. It was exhaustively documented and released as an open-source project on GitHub. It merged the digital with the physical, creating an object that allowed you to connect an online conversation to the real-world environment through repurposed technology. It was weird. And it was fun.
For almost a decade, I’ve dreamed of building an off-grid solar system to power my woodworking, provide reliable back-up power for my home, and reduce the number of 2-stroke engines in my life. This was finally the year where I had the time and resources to do it.
My workshop isn’t big. The 12-foot by 16-foot shed houses not just my tools and workbenches, but also all our yard and gardening supplies, storage for assorted seasonal gear and decorations, and a pile of robot parts. So I needed a compact system that still delivered the amps.
Building a small off-grid solar system is simpler than you might think. Building a small off-grid solar system that can run power tools is a bit more complicated.
Last week, we launched a novel little experiment in crowdfunding marine science and conservation – Buy David Shiffman a Less Ugly Pair of Sunglasses – ostensibly about replacing David’s legendarily hideous sunglasses with something a bit more aesthetic. Of course, anyone digging into the stretch goals quickly realized that this was less about sunglasses and more about funding some cool research and outreach projects we’re currently working on; projects like a hammerhead conservation genetics analysis, building a marine ecology drone, and sending students from underserved schools of a shark tagging trip. This was made more explicit when we hit our first goal in the first 36 hours of funding.
With the first funding goal achieved, I decided we needed a cool perk, something not particularly expensive to produce but completely novel and cool enough to justify making a heftier donation. And, of course, it needed to be thematically related to the spirit of the project.
Here at SFS, we seem to have an affinity for cyborgs. I recently had a dream in which I envisioned my future as such a creature. I had aged, achieved a professorship, and was teaching an introductory geography class. Contrary to the current classroom, however, there was not a learned scholar standing in front of pupils transferring information from my brain to theirs through lecture and leading discussions. Instead, there was a flurry of multimedia flying around the room and the “lecture” was really a snippet of a semester-long conversation involving the entire class intended to immerse them in geographic thinking, in and out of class. My thoughts and the in-person conversation was immediately digitized and encoded to be connected to parallel tweets, emails, blogs, and other online content.