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LOW←TECH MAGAZINE

Obsolete Technology

Low-tech Magazine: The Printed Website

Read Low-tech Magazine with no access to a computer, a power supply, or the internet.

image

The printed website. Images by Adriana Parra.

After 12 years, Low-tech Magazine finally makes the jump from web to paper. The first result is a 710-page perfect-bound paperback which is printed on demand and contains 37 of the most recent articles from the website (2012 to 2018). A second volume, collecting articles published between 2007 and 2011, will appear later this year.

Book Design

The books are based on the same electronic documents that make up the solar powered website — all articles were converted to Markdown, a lightweight markup language based on plain text files. Therefore, the content is almost identical.

Both the books and the website use dithered images, albeit for different reasons. On the solar powered website, dithered images reduce page size and thus energy use. In the book, dithering makes it possible to include low resolution images. The first volume contains a selection of 159 illustrations.

Why Paper?

Obviously, the books can be read when the solar powered website is down due to bad weather. In fact, the content can be viewed without access to a computer, a power supply, or an industrial civilisation.

A printed website also serves to preserve the content of Low-tech Magazine in the longer run. Websites don’t live forever, and the internet should not be taken for granted.

Print on Demand

Printing is done on demand, meaning that there are no unsold copies (and no large upfront investment costs). Our US publisher Lulu.com works with printers all over the world, so that most copies are produced locally and travel relatively short distances.

The first book sells for $25.20, which converts to 23.75 euro at the current conversion rate. Delivery rates (for books bought through Lulu) vary by country, but if one accepts the longest delivery times (up to 11 working days), costs can be as low as $3. Note that it also takes 3 to 5 work days to print the book.

Print Quality

Before the launch, we have distributed a few dozens of books worldwide, and quality was excellent in almost every case. However, if you do receive a copy that is badly printed — the book should look and feel as any other book — you should notify Lulu to get a replacement. It’s a very smooth process and there’s no need to return the damaged copy. If you are in doubt, check these images of badly printed copies.

The printed website was designed by Lauren Traugott-Campbell.

Low-tech Magazine 2012-2018, Kris De Decker, ISBN 9780359478330, 710 pp., March 2019.

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The printed website. Image by Adriana Parra.

Contents

  • How to Build a Low-tech Website?
  • We Can’t Do It Ourselves
  • Ditch the Batteries: Off-grid Compressed Air Energy Storage
  • History and Future of the Compressed Air Economy
  • How Much Energy Do We Need?
  • Bedazzled by Energy Efficiency
  • How to Run the Economy on the Weather
  • How (Not) to Run a Modern Society on Solar and Wind Power Alone
  • Could We Run Modern Society on Human Power Alone?
  • Heat Storage Hypocausts: Air Heating in the Middle Ages
  • Why the Office Needs a Typewriter Revolution
  • The Curse of the Modern Office
  • How to Get Your Apartment Off the Grid
  • Slow Electricity: The Return of DC Power?
  • Power Water Networks
  • Fruit Walls: Urban Farming in the 1600s
  • Reinventing the Greenhouse
  • How to Build a Low-tech Internet
  • The 4G Mobile Internet that’s Already There
  • Why We Need a Speed Limit for the Internet
  • How Sustainable is Stored Sunlight?
  • How Sustainable is PV Solar Power?
  • Restoring the Old Way of Warming: Heating People, not Places
  • The Revenge of the Circulating Fan
  • If We Insulate Our Houses, Why Not Our Cooking Pots?
  • Well-Tended Fires Outperform Modern Cooking Stoves
  • Modular Cargo Cycles
  • High Speed Trains are Killing the European Railway Network
  • Power from the Tap: Water Motors
  • Back to Basics: Direct Hydropower
  • The Mechanical Transmission of Power (3): Endless Rope Drives
  • The Mechanical Transmission of Power (2): Jerker Line Systems
  • The Mechanical Transmission of Power (1): Stangenkunst
  • How to make everything ourselves: open modular hardware
  • Electric velomobiles: as fast and comfortable as automobiles, but 80 times more efficient
  • Cargo cyclists replace truck drivers on European city streets
  • The solar envelope: how to heat and cool cities without fossil fuels

Low-tech Magazine 2012-2018, Kris De Decker, ISBN 9780359478330, 710 pp., March 2019.

Comments

Tom

This is a really neat idea, I love it! I will have to buy a copy at some point. I’m also glad that the solar powered website still works!

Karl

I definitely want a copy of your book - and I definitely think the days of an ‘open’ or ‘free’ Internet are about over! Which brings me to my next comment:

I also heartily agree with your “low tech Internet” idea. Some time ago, shortly after Hosni Mubarak shut Egypt’s internet and phones down during the Arab Spring deal, I proposed neighborhood MESH networks on my website as an alternative to the centrally controlled Internet we have now. The Internet we currently use is controlled by a few corporate players who can and have instituted censorship of ideas they find too threatening to their vested interests. MESH networks work independently of the ‘regular’ internet, are hosted on the devices of individual users, and are controlled by said users - NOT by one 300# corporate gorilla in the room.

WE desperately need DE-centralized EVERYTHING. Decentralized Internet. Decentralized power production. Decentralized farming. Decentralized manufacturing of the things we use every day.

Simon

Can a PDF also be made available for e-readers?

James M Dakin

I already ordered my copy. I also will be telling my readers ( crazy preppers ) about this in tomorrows article. Your e-mails have been saved since 2014, and I am very excited you are offering paper. I will be an eager customer of the next book ( assuming a similar price, obviously ). Many thanks.

Patrick Coyle

Glad there is another way to support your excellent work!

Cynthia Hathaway

WONDERRRRRRRRFUL!!!!!! Another blessing from LTM. Congratulations, and here;s to being steadfast and true.

Cynthia Hathaway

Kris De Decker

@ Simon

We plan to make the content available for e-readers, however we still need to discuss how. The PDF of the book is a heavy download, which goes against our aim to lower energy use online. The more paper books are sold, the more we can invest in additional formats.

@ James Thanks for the link !

Kris De Decker

@ Tom

The articles are very long. Some have been split in two or three on the blog, in the book they count as one. Some articles are not in the book, but these can be counted on one hand.

Ken

I’ve enjoyed your articles for years now. My favorite has been Chinese wheelbarrow. I’ve always wanted to find a way and place to use it but alas I was not able. Now I live in an RV and weight and storage are at a premium.

Do you offer them in electronic format, perhaps kindle?

Michaël

I would be interested in buying your book, but sadly it’s only possible to pay with credit card or Paypal.

Kris De Decker

@ Michaël

Send me an email and I’ll make sure you get the book.

@ Ken

We plan to release the book in electronic format, too, but this will take a bit of time.

Kris De Decker

The book sold 300 copies in one week, and with that we also received the first complaint that involves a badly printed book. The downside of print on demand is that neither we nor Lulu can control the print quality, because each book is unique and they are printed in different locations.

Before the launch, we have distributed a few dozens of books worldwide, and quality was excellent in almost every case. But if you do receive a copy that is badly printed (the book should look and feel as any other book) you should notify Lulu to get a replacement. And obviously we also like to know.

Randy

In regards to providing an electronic copy, I think that using only the .epub format would be one way to reduce file size? I only mention this as the .pdf file was explicitly mentioned above in the comments, though the content of the book might be poorly suited to other formats?

As a thought experiment… for maximum resource savings, you could just sell a copy of the site itself? Selling it this way directly as a single compressed archive file would possibly be the least resource intensive way to distribute the magazine as a complete omnibus (short of editing it down to just raw text and images).

Not really sensible given the downsides and the relative plethora of resources available (both physical and computational), but interesting to think (to me at least) from a preservation angle.

L Evans

My question is about the type of paper used. Could there be an option for acid free paper at some point? I understand the cost would likely be more, but of course it would also last longer into any impending power down reset (aka collapse). Btw- this site is awesome. As a retired backcountry trail worker, I always considered myself to be working in the 19th century. It really wasn’t a bad place/time to be in!

Henry

This is great. I will be ordering my copy forthwith. A reference book is always welcome, especially as I prefer reading offline and your articles deserve thought and concentration.

I wonder if there could be an option for a higher-quality, more expensive version? This is the kind of book that deserves to be read and re-read for generations. After all, the information you glean in your articles is historical and won’t change.

I’m thinking of proper libraries where hardback leatherbound volumes hundreds of years old are still available; even some of the Victorian children’s books I have are in excellent condition. My previous experience with print-on-demand has been that you get what you pay for and for a 710-page book this feels cheap.

I’d certainly be in the market for a hard-wearing (hardback?) edition on excellent paper that can withstand marginal notes and thumbing through. It feels a bit more in-keeping with the magazine’s precepts, too.

Do the rest of this website’s readers feel similarly?

Kris De Decker

@ Henry

If the book keeps selling well (and it does right now) we will also publish a hardback edition. But such a book requires a large investment and it would carry a heavy price tag.

We have a limited budget and we want to make the content accessible to as many people as possible. Therefore print on demand was the best way to start.

Besides, I am very happy with the quality of the Lulu book. It obviously doesn’t have the quality of a leatherbound copy, but it’s just as sturdy as a normal paperback.

@ Randy

We’re looking into that option. What are the downsides that you are referring to?

@ L Evans

Lulu prints on FSC-certified, acid-free paper: http://connect.lulu.com/en/discussion/33669/what-paper-will-my-book-have-for-the-cover-and-interior

Randy

@Kris: Glad to hear it! I would definitely buy a copy myself.

The downsides I was thinking of are less important for this site in particular, on further reflection; you’ve got a dedicated fanbase willing to try unconventional things. However, it might be difficult to convince big e-book storefronts to offer a zip file for sale next to a bunch of epub files, if you want that extra visibility (like I said, possibly less applicable here). Also, while it’s possible to get the directory onto phones (maybe ereaders??), it might be something most users are unaccustomed to, and won’t be able to organize into an ebook library as easily.

Doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing though, especially because it might be pretty easy to put together (I could also be very wrong about that)! I also find the idea of preserving it in its original format to be a very appealing concept; the web might not be something we can rely on to be arounc forever, but I wouldn’t want to undervalue the format of websites because of that.

William

Just ordered the paper copy but have you considered publishing a microfiche copy? Microfiche is a low-tech option that i still use and perhaps others still do. I purchased the Appropriate technology library in the early 90s basicaly 1000 microfiche in size of a shoebox! https://www.notechmagazine.com/2011/06/appropriate-technology-sourcebook.html

Kris De Decker

@ William

That’s a lovely idea. It seems like the book could fit on 7 or 8 microfiches and sent in an envelope. Do you know of any companies who offer a digital to microfiche service?

@ Randy

If we offer a download of the website-as-it-is, it would be a free service, unless it turns out to be too much of a strain on the web server. It is an appealing concept indeed.

William

@Kris Sorry can’t help there. I only ever purchased, never published myself. All of the microfiche I have seem to have been generated from paper copies as far as I can tell.

Cyril Danilevsky

My Copy of the book arrived today. It’s well made and the prints look perfect. I’m really happy that it arrived just in time to dive in it over the easter break!

Henry

My copy’s arrived, but the image prints are on occasion less than clear as they’re black/white duotone rather than greyscale. Is this intentional or have I got a duff copy?

My comment on the ‘proper’ hardback was more a proposal for creating an object in keeping with the LTM attitude towards products and durability, rather than an idea for the initial offering. I realise we have to exist in some respects inside the common system, alas!

Kris De Decker

@ Henry

That’s hard to say without seeing the copy you received.

We use a special technique for the images, so they surely look “different”.

Almost all are bitmapped dithered images. Bitmapping is a way to create images out of absolute black and white, and one of the bitmapping options is dithering. A dithered image is made of small squares of either black or white.

However, I have several copies of the book myself, printed in different locations, and I noticed that some copies are lighter or darker than others. In the darkest versions, some images are indeed a bit unclear, so that could be your case.

@ Cyril

Thanks for the note !

Santi

I just got my copy, and it’s awesome to have this handy. I do plan on re-inforcing the cover since it is a thick paperback (and liable to split while leafing back and forth from cool section to cool section).

I second that question about a PDF. Two things that may help with the issue:

1).Conversion to Epub will make it more uniformly available (and retain the pictures in the book)

2). Don’t do a direct download of the pdf, set up a torrent file and get other people to help by seeding it. I know I will.

There are other good alternatives for serving files “cheaply” (in the energy demand sense) on my other favorite place on the internet n-o-d-e.net. Between you two I get most of my decentralization itches scratched :)

Kris De Decker

@ Santi

Reinforcing the cover should not be necessary if you receive a well-made copy.

Some people seem to expect a lower quality because of the large number of pages and the low price. However, I want to stress that the book should look and feel like any other book.

If it doesn’t, please ask Lulu for a replacement, it is a very smooth process and there’s no need to return the damaged copy.

I collected some images of badly printed books so you can judge for yourself if your copy is good or not: https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/how-to-recognize-a-badly-printed-lulu-book.html

To make a comment, please send an e-mail to solar (at) lowtechmagazine (dot) com.