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Solarities – Thinking with the Sun

We are excited to invite you to join us on September 21, 2022 for a critical engagement with the possibilities and potentials of solar energy.

What might a world look like if our societies, communications technologies, and economies were organized around energy from the sun rather than from fossil fuels? What new infrastructures, institutions, and power structures would such a transition require? What forms of creativity, collectivity, and social organizing might we need?

Come join us for an informal discussion about all these questions and more. Our conversation will be anchored in the work of two collectives who have been grappling with these questions:

  • The Solar Media Collective is a group of researchers and makers interested in the question of how to reimagine energy and communications infrastructure for a low-carbon world. Among other things, they have been building a solar-powered server which will be used to host collaboratively developed art, games, and other material. The server will be on display at the event for participants to learn more and interact with. 
  • The After Oil Collective is an interdisciplinary group of international scholars, students, artists, activists, and practitioners who came together in 2019 for a summer school focused on imagining a world powered by solar energy. The collective recently published a short book entitled Solarities: Seeking Energy Justice (read it free online at https://manifold.umn.edu/projects/solarities).  

The conversation will involve a roundtable discussion with members of the Solar Media Collective about solar energy and its promises, possibilities, and potential problems. We will then invite participants, contributors, and audience members for an open discussion relating to the themes raised by the roundtable. 

The discussion will be followed by refreshments. RSVP here.

When: Wednesday, 21st of September, 2022, 5-7pm

Where: Milieux Institute, terrace on the 11th floor of Concordia’s EV building, 1515 Saint-Catherine St W 

Please note that this is an in-person event that will not be streamed anywhere online.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Setting up our server

Two team members, Lee and Janna, took the first steps to setting up our server in the Milieux maker space this week. Following low-tech principles and because of its versatility for prototyping, we chose to work with a Raspberrry Pi, a tiny computer that can be connected to various other hardware components such as a keyboard, a mouse, or an e-ink display. The steps for setting up a server are actually pretty straight forward thanks to the many web tutorials out there–even if one doesn’t fully understand what one is doing–but some tutorials proved to be more helpful than others.

Two laptops and a Raspberry Pi computer on a desk

A Raspberry Pi server setup consists of 4 main steps, usually referred to as the LEMP stack:

  1. Installing the Linux-based Raspian operating system on the Pi,
  2. Setting up nginx (pronounced engine-ex, hence the E in the abbreviation), an open-source software for web serving,  
  3. Installing MySQL, an open-source relational database management system (RDBMS) with a client-server model
  4. Configuring PHP–which stands for Hypertext Preprocessor–an open-source, server-side scripting language.

Once we had completed Step 2, we were able to navigate to our local IP address. For now, our server is running on a local network on a phone hotspot. Our application for making it publicly accessible on Concordia University’s network is still pending.  

Here are three online tutorials that we found useful for navigating the server setup:
Build your own Raspberry Pi NGINX Web Server by Pi My Life Up
The Raspberry Pi Tutorial – A Beginner’s Guide by The Pi Hut
Introduction to Raspberry Pi with Raspbian OS by The Code Project

Text by Janna Frenzel, photo by Lee Wilkins


Solar cells, sunny buddies, and basic electrical circuits: our first experimental session

On March 10, 2022, our group was finally able to get together in person at Milieux’s maker space to experiment with some solar equipment.

This first inaugural session was, in many of our minds, going to involve several comparative tests of different solar panels and configurations, measuring output capacity in various locations and finding optimum assemblages for our anticipated solar server launch. As luck would have it, Lee, one of our team’s hands-on technical experts, knew a little better and set us up for success by taking a step back and reviewing the fundamental concepts of electrical engineering (a much needed refresher of physics classes long ago!).

We started with learning the difference between energy and power; exploring the components of a circuit, such as a lead and a load; reviewing the meaning of watts and amps and voltages; and coming to understand the fundamental role of a controller board in mediating between our electronic devices and the solar cells we use to power them (and which, left unmediated, may well destroy them through energy fluctuations).

The session was a first step in building up our competencies and capacities before moving on to our core project of installing a solar-powered web server. We got familiar with multimeters for measuring amps and wattage at both the input and output ends of our circuits, looked at ways of powering old Gameboy consoles with solar cells, gained hands-on experience soldering together different components of electrical circuits and solar cells, and connected small solar panels to mini wind turbines (who does not want to power wind with solar?!) in order to visualize solar potential in action – which subsequently energized our imaginations as we dreamt up our various solar projects.

Text by Robert Marinov, photos by Isabelle Boucher and Malte Leander.

Hello! This is Solar Mediations, a blog by the Milieux Solar Media Project.

Solar panels and neon signs that read "Internet" superimposed on an image of a sun dial.
Image credits: “Sun dial” by Jason Garber, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, “Solar panels in the mist” by Oregon Department of Transportation, CC BY 2.0, “Internet” by .hd., CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. All three images were cropped and remixed.

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