Earth Lab Relocted


One of the reasons to create the Earth Lab in a shipping container was so that it could be moved to new locations, but we didn't think it would be moving so soon. The land that the Earth Lab container was on had to be cleared yesterday so Jose moved it next door, right next to his Earth Hub. The Earth Hub has been a place to bring people together, to share knowledge and to raise awareness around environmental issues - The Earth Lab will fit in well here.

Unfortunately, to be able to get access to the doors The Lab had to be turned around so our logo that we painted is now not visible, so now we’ll have to paint it on this side too! It’s going to need a ramp/steps also.

A big thank you to Jose for all the help and support for this project.


Earth Lab Moving


....and then there was Light


Anybody that visits the e-waste recycling shop at the recycle centre will find it hard to ignore the never ending pile of TVs down there. Some will be working having been replaced with a newer model, some broken to varying degrees, often a cracked/damaged screen.

I had suggested we could make a video wall for the Earth Lab - There would be plenty of working ones available, but what could we do with the broken ones? Since they normally have a neon (or LED) backlight  panel, I'd wondered if they could be a way of lighting the Lab.

As chance would have it, today Sterling was dismantling a video wall he'd put together with second hand screens and I went over to see if I could get some to use in the Earth Lab. Unfortunately I was a bit late but there were a couple left, one was a heavy (and power hungry) plasma TV and the other an LED screen which he said I could have. He mentioned the screen was damaged but when I tested it it was more damaged than I'd hoped. So, plan B, what could be salvaged? I striped the TV down, salvaging the speakers of course. I removed the front screen and the main control board, leaving just the backlight panel, the fluorescent tube driver and the main power supply board.

With all the control electronics gone though there was no way to switch the power on, let alone the back light. Fortunately some of the pins on the socket that had connected the main board and the power supply were labelled - including ‘POWER_ON’ and ‘BL_ON’ - great!
Fortunately circuit diagram for the power board can be found on line (or at least one very close to it) as well as a discussion on the voltages used. The POWER_ON and BL_ON were expecting a 3.3V logical ‘on’. I had an ESP8266 microcontroller ( handy and that has 3.3V logic so I wrote a very quick test program to switch the backlight on and off every few seconds, connected it to the relevant pins and hey presto, it worked!

WARNING: Opening up a TV exposes the high voltage mains wires and capacitors that could produce a serious (fatal) electric shock. Additionally the backlight fluorescent tubes require very high voltages from the driver electronics (these I didn’t touch) so only attempt this unless you know what you’re doing! 

Shelf Panels


Yesterday I bought 18 second hand shelf panels -this seemed a good fit given that we have 18 plywood panels (it felt like a happy coincidence) - hopefully this will provide some options for how we fit out the container and/or for an Earth Lab projects pitch event.

Shelf panels



One of the big concerns is how we might get materials to build the Earth Lab. It would be easy to throw money at the project and head down to Mitre10 for everything that we need, but that’s not what this project is about. We know we can’t keep using up the Earth’s resources, the resources of future generations. There is enough waste and enough materials discarded that we shouldn't need to buy anything new.

Unfortunately this does create problems in terms of timing as we have to be on a constant lookout for materials and they may not be available when we need them, and they may also not be quite what we’re looking for.

This means we’re going to have to be flexible in terms of how we build the Earth Lab and to a big degree the materials that we find will dictate the project. At the same time the Earth Lab has to look good and function well. It should not be a compromise, we just have to be creative. 

Recently I came across 18 plywood sheets for sale that had been used for an art project and I’ve agreed to buy those for the Earth Lab. I’m also a regular visitor to the Recycle Centre, the charity shops and Restore. This weekend I came across 20m of 12V LED strip for example which could be really useful.

Please keep an eye out for anything that we could use in the Earth Lab.

The Earth Lab & The Arcade


A slightly delayed update from our Arcade meetup from almost two weeks ago now.

The Earth Lab is intended to be interactive and game like so it was fitting to have a meetup with some games. Not everybody wants to sit round a table and talk so it's nice to have different environments to bring people together for the project and it may be that we bring elements of the Earth Lab to the Arcade so it's good to see the space. In the end though we did largely end up sitting round a table talking (and eating).

I’m always open to suggestions for meetups/places/formats if anybody has ideas of how we make it as inclusive as possible.

We mainly talked about materials for the project. I showed a sample of the aluminium laminate offcuts which James picked up from the sign makers. We all agreed they could be useful for the project (which is good as we have a fair amount of it).

The project has now essentially split into two stages, the first being to fit out the container and the second is to produce the projects that will form the laboratory. We have to remember the Lab is not a big space and I'm conscious that we have to have the infrastructure for the project - the power, communication etc. to embed in the container.

We discussed making the interior space of the container as flexible as possible, perhaps with movable partitions for example, perhaps on rails or by creating slots that they can be swapped in and out of.

Collaboration rather than Competition

We talked about having a competition for school projects to be included in the Earth Lab (similar to the Science fair).

I really want this project to be about collaboration rather than competition though and I had been thinking about the startup weekends that were held in Nelson a few years back. On a Friday you would pitch a project idea and try to form a group around that idea. Quite often though you might abandon your own idea to support another project that you think is worthwhile. Over two very intensive days with the help of various mentors you would try to develop the idea and turn it into a potential new company. While each group was competing for potential funding, the format very much produced a collaborative environment where the focus was on learning new skills and forming connections with each other.

I think this could be a really good format to develop projects for the Earth Lab. We would hold an event where people could pitch ideas and then all attendees would be encouraged to form groups around which projects they liked the best or which would have the best environmental/social impact. With the help of various experts those projects would be developed and then become part of the Earth Lab.

It could be one event or we could hold a separate event for schools and another for everybody else.

If we develop this idea then we need to start thinking about where and when this event (or these events) would be, who would be the mentors etc.