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Thread: Cuban homemade tools and technological disobedience

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    Jon
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    Cuban homemade tools and technological disobedience

    Cuba's economy was bottoming out in the early '90s. Due to long-term embargos, their allowed imports were largely limited to essentials like food and medicine. Much of the world was mad at them for various misbehavior throughout the years, including failure to pay international debts, Cuban government seizures of foreign private businesses, and their chumminess with the Russians and their extra nuclear missiles. Once Russia collapsed, Cuba hit deep economic depression, entering a period of time that their government called "The Special Period in the Time of Peace".

    Fidel Castro and Nikita Kruschev in better times:


    Petroleum was immediately limited, which paralyzed the transport, industrial, and agricultural systems. Food was so severely rationed that zoo animals and stray cats started disappearing. The Cuban Army, fearing invasion by the North Americans, published a book called "The Book for the Family". The book was a collection of appliance fixing tricks, home medical remedies, plans for survival tools, and copy-pasted back issues of magazines like Popular Mechanics. A movement of Cuban DIYers was spawned, called the National Association of Innovators and Rationalists.

    Two years later, they published another book, composed of DIY ideas that Cubans had contributed, called "With Our Own Efforts". The ideas included things like clothes, furniture, and a now-famous Cuban recipe for grapefruit rind "steak" made from de-bittered and marinated grapefruit rinds. The book was also a goldmine of what history calls "DIY inventions", but what we know as homemade tools.

    All I could find online was a grainy original scanned copy of the book, here: Con Nuestros Propios Esfuerzos. There are some efforts to crowdsource an English translation of the book, but I don't believe a translation has yet materialized.






    Around this time, Ernesto Oroza was a young Cuban graduate of industrial design school. Oroza was a new industrial designer, but his country had no industry. He traveled the country documenting and collecting the peoples' homemade tools and machines. He characterizes the resultant DIY culture as something he calls "technological disobedience":

    People think beyond the normal capabilities of an object, and try to surpass the limitations it imposes on itself.

    This kind of object imposes a limit on the user, because it comes with an established technological code, which hardly ever satisfies all of the user's needs, and sometimes he exceeds those needs. He manages to go beyond the object's capabilities. - Ernesto Oroza


    This is the rare video I watched twice. Oroza really strikes me when he talks about the "established technological code", and how contemporary ready-made objects exert authority around their intended use. It's reasonably apparent in things like the desire to upgrade to the latest and greatest iPhone. But Oroza also recognizes the false belief that the tools we're given are the only tools we need, and he realizes that a machine is just an amalgamation of "all of the symbols that unify an object". When Cubans' needs changed, they changed their tools.

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    blkadder's Avatar
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    An amazing look into what people will do when they have no other option. I would be interested to see more of the things they have made, or especially a look into the books that were published.
    ...Semper Fidelis...

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    Excellent! Thanks for the post.

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    I remember the same thing happening in the Eastern Block when the wall fell and then when the USSR dissolved. We didn't hear much about it here in the west. But one story I read was with the collapse heavy industry and like cars just were no longer available. In this little town gas was tight and there was a guy who'd been making something along the line of electric golf carts. So he went to the city council and offered to work with them to start making these small electric vehicles. It provided jobs, all the light poles had outlets so the cars could charge. The cars could then be turned in and they would be refurbished (providing more jobs) and put back on the road. What a concept, no planned obsolescence and all staying in the local economy. I think this was like in the early 90's and I've never found the story again or an update. But I wonder if this is a lot more common but there just not as many folks documenting it?
    Last edited by C-Bag; 10-24-2016 at 12:05 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by C-Bag View Post
    ...... But I wonder if this is a lot more common but there just not as many folks documenting it?
    Maybe they are taking a lesson from history and keeping their innovations to themselves. Once word gets out, they will be hounded by those with the wish to take the concept, farm it out to some country who can build the concept into a working vehicle for little cost in R&D costs, and make loads of *AD's out of the idea that the little country had to help its local economy.


    It HAS happened in the past ........

    *=Almighty Dollar

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    you are absolutely right, *=Almighty Dollar
    Nelson

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    I once had a 5% partnership in a company whose principal owner and engineer was involved in many innovations. I will call him William. Anyway William was solely responsible for the design and manufacture of many machines in his younger years. At a company where he worked and retired from many years prior to forming the company where I worked. one of his innovations was the machine which brought about the stringing High tension power lines through out Central America. The 5 years I was with him at his company I remember dozens of patents being filed each year His biggest failing was his trust in the firm our patent attorneys worked and the attorneys themselves. many of his patents were filed cross filed and counter filed under other names by complex wordings, or just lost in the paper shuffle. Easy to do with the shear volume he and others in the company submitted. The problem was they may have received patents on less than 1% of the ones submitted while upwards of 40% of the reworded ones under other names were awarded. It wasn't until the company was nearing bankruptcy that he or the office staff figured out what had been going on. By then it was too late and they were too weak to fight. When the company finally managed to be sold to a company which actually had many of William's patents. I had a room full of near working prototypes I had been constructing which I torched into oblivion since I didn't figure the new company deserved to benefit any more from William's hard work.
    William reminded me so much of Nicola Tesla not from an electronic stand point but his inventiveness and misguided trust in others. William passed away at the age of 90 in 2012 flat broke
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    That story has been echoed many times down through history. The only conclusion I come up with is do not let too many get that close. But that is hard to do. When I got out of school I fell into a blending operation that bought all the raw ingredients and mixed then bottled and sold the snake oil as a car paint coating. The man that started the company got in a deal with a company in Tampa, we moved to New Orleans and it was not long and the man from Tampa stole all the recipes and started manufacturing his own product. It was not long and our company lost a lot of sales. There are low lives every where looking for an easy way out.

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    I really enjoyed that video, and would love to see the book they used.

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    Jon
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    I found a copy of the book. Scanned in, and untranslated, but it's all there: https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/h...-Esfuerzos.pdf

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