Sunday, February 24, 2008
"Videmail" - a way to communicate across continents and cultures?
Marcel Lenormand has started what I think will become a serious trend here at Solar Cities -- the use of what I call "videmail" to communicate otherwise complex concepts across continents and cultures.
(A propos, for zose of you who are Frranche, ze word "videmail" should be prrronounced "viddy-mail" -- as the Nadsat speaking teens in A Clockwork Orange would say it, "mail you can viddy with your glozzies, mate!" I know zat "vide-mail" means "empty mail" in ze Frrrranche language eef you prrrounounce it "veede-maile", mais qu'est-ce qu'on peut faire, ennnh? "Kara-te" means "empty handed" in Japanese but it doesn't stop it from ze hand being considered a lethal weapon against ze tomato... and perhaps ze vide-mail will turn out to be a lethal weapon against ignorance and poverty. Vive la liberte, egalite, fraternite! Vive la videmail!)
Umm...err... right. Sorry for the digression -- it's getting late and my glozzies are knackered and my rookers are all tunnel-carpel like, so basically I just wanted to express how excited I was when Marcel posted his animated answer to our question about building systems on roofs with inadequate sun due to partial shading on youtube, and how it inspired me to therefore answer the questions of solar cities' field coordinators Mahmoud Dardir and Hana Fathy down in Cairo, by posting the following viddy-o where not only Mahmoud and Hana can reach it and utilize it, but where anybody in the four corners of our non-euclidean world can comment, update, add to, learn from, teach to, share and make salad with.
The idea of this really short video (which is far far shorter than this lead in and is also dreadfully boring but for an (almost) original piece of music I composed by taking an orchestral sample that came with Apple Soundtrack software and adding live bass and guitar and an atrocious "we will rock you" drum sample) is to demonstrate a principle I learned yesterday at the Mullheim Umwelt conference.
There, Engineer Hans D. Sturmer, the Freiburg based inventor and patent holder of Sky Solar Tec's new hybrid Photovoltaic/Solar Hot Water System that uses silicon tubing instead of copper pipe, discussed our problems in Cairo with our do-it-yourself solar hot water systems and declared,
You must make sure when you use a copper pipe grid that the panels are not completely level because there are too many places for little air bubbles to get trapped in the system, and if you aren't using a water pump they won't get purged and the whole thermosiphon system will shut down. You should angle the panels slightly upward, just slightly. One degree is even enough, as long as there is a small incline. Remember that hot water, being less dense than cold water, rises, and bubbles rise, and you have to give them somewhere to rise to."
I immediately wrote that information in an email to Hana and Mahmoud down in Egypt and then, as I reread it, I thought -- "as good as their English is, being native Arabic speakers, they will probably have trouble with this. Even a native English speaker might have trouble understanding the way I explained what Engineer Sturmer explained to me (okay okay, the Americans might have trouble; the English, the Irish, the Scots the Welsh and the Aussies won't because they are naturally clever but 'I'menamerikinguddamit so i i what i'm sane').
The deal is that when I was with Herr Sturmer, he was holding a solar panel in his hands, demonstrating visually. But since I didn't have a video camera with me, I "quandered" (another made up word), how can I give Hana and Mahmoud, who don't have the luxury of traveling to meet inventors in Germany, an quasi-equivalent experience."
So when Marcel posted his solar heliostat animation on Youtube everything fell into place!
So here's the pitch:
Basically with the ostensibly free versions of multimedia tools we can get off the web you can now communicate your complex ideas in simple ways to simple folk and underprivileged folk and even your Aunt Bessie so we can all go solar fast. You don't gots to go to no fancy expensive school like Cal Arts or work for the Disney Studios.
This is something our family friend Richard Williams (director of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit") told me when I interviewed him for the Reader's Digest in London. He took me around his charming small studio in SoHo in the mid-eighties and said, "back when I first worked for Disney we had to have a whole production lot to make a single picture -- artists, inkers, painters, storyboarders, multiplane cameras, all that stuff. But today I can make complex films in a room in my house here in England by myself. And in a few years you'll see -- the computer will make it possible for anybody with a good story to tell to do fantastic things in film-making and animation."
Well Richard, your prediction came true -- and just as Disney used animation and film edutainment techniques to help the free world get through a terrible world war and to learn about the "wonderful world of nature" and the happiest things from utopian dreams to space technology, we can all now communicate about hopeful futures with one another around the tumultuous world from the safety of our laptops, and we can reduce the barriers that separate the technocrats and the body politic, the artists and the scientists, the engineers and the lay people. All the tools are out there, all we have to do is put them to use!
We will need to help each other out and give details of course:
Marcel used Flash, I think (Marcel can you let us know?). For my first attempt at a videmail I used Google Sketchup 6 to do the modelling of the actual Zabaleen school where we built our first solar hot water system, and a program called FRAPS to capture video on the PC.
I put the audio and music in using the voice over function in Final Cut Pro on a Mac, from which I was also able to export to mp4, and I know that Macs and FCP cost far more than most Egyptians (and most people on the planet) can afford, but perhaps somebody reading this can turn us on to a good freeware video editing program (note we absolutely hate the Windows Video Maker software ... ick!).
By the way, please don't judge the quality of this first effort too harshly -- it was meant a) to quickly get a concept across to our field coordinators in the slums of Cairo that is of vital importance to them and b) to encourage those of you with more talent and time to think about making CUSTOMIZED instructional material that can help people in the real world move quickly toward a fossil free future within the strictures and constraints of their local situation.