Category Archives: Self Sufficiency

Résumé Updating

TakingNoteIt’s been a while since I took any time to update the old résumé, though I must admit not a lot has changed, it’s just time to polish things up a bit. I have a LinkedIn account and I do make minor changes there every so often, but I haven’t done much with the hardcopy. *shudder… hardcopy*

While going through my LI profile something in the “Interests” caught my eye…

“movies, music, writing, flying, aircraft (design/construction/restoration), amateur radio, history, anthropology, archaeology, genealogy, archive, preservation (document/book/photograph), blacksmithing, silversmithing, metal fabrication, woodworking, sustainable living (building, power, farming, food), alternative building technologies, primitive technology, self reliance, resiliency (personal, local, community, regional, national)”

I’m pretty sure I have gone down this road before at some point, but it bares repeating. It’s the resiliency line personal, community, local, regional, national, (and by extension international). With all of the hullabaloo about Brexit people are thinking about how it will affect them. Really, it shouldn’t.

Before anyone starts screaming “Exclusionist!” or “Nationalist!” like somehow nationalism is automatically a bad thing like the bought-and-paid-for media would have you think, participating in worldwide commerce is not bad, far from it. Depending on a centralized global economy is bad, very bad. Even centralized national economies are bad. We keep having example after example of what happens when centralized economies have sector hiccoughs. The whole thing is affected.

When the US economy crashed in 2008, due to our own internal centralized economy and the managers of that system doing bad things, it was felt around the world. When the Greek economy tanked it was directly due to the EU centralized economy, and it affected all of the EU and beyond. The Brexit issue has been felt all over the globe as well. These effects are all because of the idea that the world is somehow better off when we all have our eggs in the same basket. It is absurd.

Why Jon, when you say it that way it sounds so obviously bad, but surly global economics aren’t that simplistic. Actually, yes. Yes they are. At least from the notion that centralization is a good thing. So in this case it really is that simple.

Centralization, in any system, creates more sub-systems and moving parts that are all interdependent. The level of complexity is exponentially increased, and much of the energy that goes into the system goes towards minimizing losses and damage the system itself creates, and of course the administration of the system. Not to mention that the resulting product is generally of lower quality by the time it gets to the consumer/user. Worst of all, with all of the interdependence even a small hiccough produces problematic ripples throughout the system and may even halt it all together.

A simple example is the spinach crisis a few years ago in the US. Much of spinach supplied to restaurants and some grocery stores was recalled because a pig got loose on one farm. There was an outbreak of e.coli, not an epidemic, but large enough and wide enough spread to panic a lot of people, cost farmers millions, destroy a large portion of the nations spinach crop, and waste millions in resources throughout the centralized food system. Absolutely none of it was necessary. To top it all off, it further set in motion more restrictive regulations shutting out some small farms due to the onerous regulations and cost.

So what does all of this have to do with resiliency? Any engineer will tell you eliminate single-point-failures, and provide redundancy if you want a resilient system. You cannot design a resilient system from the top down, it just wont work it, more to the point it can’t work. It must be designed and built from the bottom up. That’s why the order I use is so important personal, community, local, regional, national, (and by extension international).

To avoid collapse of any of the centralized systems we currently have, start with yourself and your family. Have plans and preparations in place so you are more resilient. Help family and neighbors to be more resilient. All of you can start working on getting your community more resilient.

Slowly but surely people are waking up to the simple facts. As the understanding of how theses system interrelate and how wasteful they are, how the systems only care about the system and not the end user, how the user is cheated out of high quality goods and is forced pay a premium for the privilege, people are beginning to put all of the pieces together.

No amount of railing on and on about how simple this all is will convince those who choose to stay the course. They must see the light in their own time. This is something that I am coming to terms with myself. It seems so clear, and I want the people I care about to be resilient and not suffer when those hiccoughs occur. All I can do is walk the walk and demonstrate by example.

All of the Brexit panic, anger, frustration, division, and the eventual blow back all come from not understanding what great-granny always said “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Smart old broad that.

~FlyBoyJon

Fall fell, or did it?

What crazy weather we have been having the last month or so. The daily high temps could have been anywhere from 60 to 100! Now it seems the weather is shifting into the more normal fal pattern, and we sure could use it. I believe we are at the bottom of the medium drought cycle and on the recovery side of the long cycle, but who really knows these days. The weather models have been “adjusted” so many times lately I don’t think anyone really has a handle on the changing patterns.

20150920_141131Besides all the weather stuff… I had posted about all of the seasonal movies in our que, promptly after making that post and settling in for some movie time, the TV let some of the magic out. It appears that it was just the internal power transformer but I have been playing hobb trying to get parts, so we ended up getting a new set so I can spend some more time on the repair. Best laid plans I suppose. I will post a follow up on the movie list later as well as a follow up on the TV progress.

BTW: When selecting a new TV, or any consumer electronics for that matter, make sure you buy a real name brand, Sony, Magnavox, Samsung, etc., someone who has a large product line and has been around for a while. Someone with a reputation to be concerned with and a supply chain that requires conformity. If you want to give an off-brand or small-house product a go, make sure you can get service documentation (schematics, diagrams, parts lists, troubleshooting tips) before you buy, and hang on to it. You or your repair person may need it.

Apex Digital is a crap manufacturer and documentation on their products is basically unavailable. Parts are also unavailable unless salvaged off of used boards, and even then are a crap-shoot. Within the same model I have found numerous incompatible parts changes, and no one can get component parts. Very few sources can even get board level replacements.

20151001_105529Moving along, I have been busy with woodworking projects for work. I have been wanting to build an built-in rent-drop for years. We started out with a basket on the wall inside the mail slot then progressed to putting a bookcase/cabinet in front of the slot with a hole cut out of the back and a basket on a shelf. After almost 20 years I finally got to destroy the bookcase/cabinets I hated build this built-in fixture. So far we are very happy with the results.

Along with the day-job stuff we have been working a some other projects that necessitated buying a few tools. Gee darn, I hate buying tools. The first two are a dapping block and a disc punch cutter. These have been on my list of jewelry tools for many years, I just never could justify them. With our current project list there are several items that need these tools. Some are jewelry related and some are for hardware and findings. Another tool I have been coveting for a very long time is a rolling mill. This one was a bit pricy but I found a deal for about a third of the usual cost. We both decided that was the Universe saying it’s time to add this tool to the round up.

20150923_151037 20150923_152328   20150926_153006

20150922_165018While I was at it I managed to make another tool I have been waiting on for no apparent reason, a jeweler’s fork, or as it is more commonly known, a bench pin. I’m not sure why I waited so long to make one, but here it is.

After getting the tools in place I worked on a few test projects and was reasonably happy with the results. Two copper rings, one with an aircraft rivet, a copper button, and a practice go at a cross-peened leaf which is a component to something as of yet undecided.

I like working copper, particularly recovered/recycled copper. There is so much you can do with it. The leaf and solid ring were made from old copper pipe, the riveted one was made from some salvage electrical wire, and the button was made from some fourth-hand scrap copper sheet.
20150926_161820  20150926_175131  20150926_180034  20150923_160508

While in the groove I also “recovered” some tool steel from some old screwdrivers and annealed them so I can turn them into some jewelry tools before re-hardening and tempering them. Another simple tool build was a pack of sanding sticks.

20150928_154905  20150928_144844

The last thing on the list is my continued studies for my Commercial Radio Tech license. I passed on of the three a couple of weeks ago and plan on taking the big one next week. I will follow up with the third, which is for an endorsement, later on in the month.

That’s it for now, until next time,
~FlyBoyJon

Electric Cars

I watched the documentary “Who killed the electric car?” a couple of days ago. If you are interested in electric cars, alternative fuels or alternative power generation I highly recommend this film.

Who killed the electric car?<soapbox> I fully admit I have no love for the Big Three US auto manufacturers, for a variety of reasons. Aside from their being among the largest conglomerates in the country, aside from the perverted, incestuous, and deep multi-layered collection of sub companies, aside from their talent for destroying small businesses, aside from their historical penchant for buying new technologies that could revolutionize transportation from small businesses and developers and hiding it from the rest of the world for decades or just destroying it outright, aside from all of that… I just don’t like what passes for ethics in there world. </soapbox>

Any project that can lead to the development of personal or public transportation vehicles or systems is worthwhile in my book, whether for personal or public development. Anything we can do that will be good for the environment, reduce costs for users, and take a chunk of change out of the pockets of the Big Three at the same time, thats just awesome.

There are small businesses in nearly every large metro area that can convert ANY car into an all electric car. It’s a three-fer; supporting small business, recycling a car, and removing a gas burner replacing it with an electric! The down side here is the cost, a complete change over to a plug-in electric is about $15,000. There are DIY option for this though. Batteries and the right electric motor are still expensive but the prices are coming down. A gear head with five or six grand could effectively do a home conversion.

Since I am low in the cash department, I was looking at the TruckBike as a starting point. Human powered, converting to human-electric, then on to electric. After some deeper thought on the subject I am starting to think skipping the human-electric phase. Building a plug in just might be easier than trying to work out the bugs in the human interface portion; just a thought.

Not everyone is up for a build project, and not everyone is able to cover the up front costs of a conversion. There is a burgeoning movement however of people finding creative ways to finance a conversion project when they need a new car. Think about it, if you have the credit to go out and buy a new car, you should be able to get a loan to finance the conversion, it’s cheaper that buying a car, so the payments are lower. There are some grants and other incentives from the fed, state and some local municipalities that may lower the initial investment. After that, monthly operating costs are going to be lower and regular maintenance costs are going to be substantially lower. It just might be worth the research if owning an electric car is something you are interested in.

Most estimates put the break-even on a electric conversion at around three years. With fuel costs what they are and maintenance on an aging car, it’s not that hard to see the payoff, and that is strictly looking at the money side. From an ecological perspective it makes a big difference.

Anecdotally, I heard a story about a person who got an all-electric conversion on there BMW. To go one step further, they installed a high quality solar array on their garage roof, including an energy storage system. The whole thing cost a little over $50K. For that they got a completely refurbished BMW and… the solar provides all of the energy for the car, as well as a significant portion of their home electric needs. No more gas stations and you energy bill cut in half. Now thats a payoff!

Until net time,
~Jon

Disposable Society

In many areas of my life I use tools. All kinds of tools. In a conversation about tools and their repair, someone mentioned that tools purchased from Harbor Freight and similar retail outlets are disposable in general. It made me stop and think a little.

A few years back, I worked for couple of companies repairing tools, so for me the idea of just chucking tools without even looking to see what the problem is seems strange. There is some truth to the disposable statement though. The number of people in our society who are Fixers is a lot lower than it was in decades past. Go back in time 2 generations, 70 years or so, and you will find that the average American was a Fixer of one sort or another.

Now I want you to take your Political Correctness Glasses off for a second and absorb the scene that follows.

Dad gets home and finds dinner on the table and mom’s clothes iron on the counter.

Dad: “Iron not working?”
Mom: “Stopped working while I was ironing your shirts.”

Looking a little concerned

Dad: “Have a shirt for tomorrow?”
Mom: “Yep. Only got half way through though.”
Dad: “I’ll take care if it after dinner.”

Aside from the gender-roll type-casting here, lets look at the point I am getting at. It was common for someone in the household to fix, or at least try to fix, stuff when it stopped working. The important key phrase in that statement is stopped working, not broke, stopped working. It was a time when American Made was more common than not and the spirit of American Ingenuity was strong in a large segment of the population.

Our economy has changed. Over the years society has demanded cheaper products. The way industry met those needs was to buy parts, materials and finished goods from overseas. Not to beat that horse, but we started killing our own economy when we traded in our producer status to become a consumer society.

Products became so cheap that it is often more financially feasible to chuck the broken product rather than repair it when it stopped working. The distinction between the two is important and relevant, it demonstrates a change in our collective attitude and thought process as we became a consumer society.

What seems to have happened is that our group consciousness lost the desire to fix. More truthfully it seems that the need to fix has changed from a physical practice to an intellectual one. We are always trying to fix the species, fix the environment, fix other societies, we now fix things in the socio-political sense rather than fix our own stuff when it stops working.

If the average American who replaced one power tool of some kind once a year decided to repair a tool just once, before giving it to someone else who was willing to repair it at least once before replacing it, landfills across the nation would have some 20 million fewer tools in them in just 3 years. For those of you counting, at an average of 3 pounds per tool, that’s about 30,000 tons of mostly non-biodegradable waste. That is a big impact just from repairing before replacing.

Many of us are tired of the consumer society and the disposable mentality that goes with it. It’s not just about materials recycling, its about extending practical usage in the first place. A segment of the population that is making a lot of headway in the area of the re-use and re-purposing of things and materials is the DIY movement. All those Makers out there rekindling the spirit of American Ingenuity. It’s that DIY spirit that can return our society to a more balanced one, somewhere half way in between consumer and producer. There is also a continuing interest in crafting, from jewelry and fiber arts to a resurgence of blacksmithing, just to name a few. All of these movements are demonstrations that sustainability and self-sufficiency are worth reaching for, and people are thinking about it.

Now, off the soap-box and back to the reason I went down this road in the first place. My comment to the person that got me thinking about all of this was simple. If you look at the paperwork that came with the tool you will find that it usually includes an exploded view drawing of the tool and a parts list. A lot of tools, including inexpensive ones, are repairable if you are willing to do the repair. It is true that they are not generally cost effective to take to a repair center, but spending $7 and an hour of your time to repair a $70 tool that stopped working can be, this goes for other things too, not just tools. It is all up to you.

I choose to repair whenever possible. I am also choosing to take a little time to make sure that products I buy are repairable as well. Repairing tools and appliances is not for everyone, but some people like me actually enjoy digging into a tool and the satisfaction of having brought it back to life. If you don’t like doing that kind of stuff, maybe you know someone who does.

Being a Fixer is just one lane along the 12 lane highway of sustainability and self sufficiency. I chose to use this lane whenever I can, how about you?

Predatory Lending

I just couldn’t let this one slide by. After getting home from running some some errands I went down to the mail box and found a bill (the only paper bill we still get), from our only remaining credit account, Fingerhut. I think I will let you read the letter for yourself before I make any comments.

***** Begin Letter *****

Great News!
Your Credit Line has
been increased to
$1,267.00
 

Limited Time Only
 
Customer Number: xxxxxxxxxx

Dear Xxxxxx Xxxxxx

Congratulations! You are being recognized with a well deserved Credit Line Increase on your Fingerhut Credit Account issued by MetaBank. This increase has been approved exclusively for you and is good for a limited time only:

Your new increase brings your Credit Limit up to $1,267.00 for use until January, 15, 2011. Your AVAILABLE CREDIT* is now $1,062.05.

Only select account holders like you qualify for this privilege.

Fingerhut reserves credit line increases like this to reward special customers like you, Xxxxxx Xxxxxx. It expands your buying power so you can get the things you want and need for you and your family. Use its convenience to shop the latest Fingerhut catalog – or order from the expanded product selection available online at fingerhut.com.

BONUS: The more increased credit you use, the more you keep.

You can make your credit line increase permanent! Just use the credit available on your account by January, 15, 2011, and your credit line will stay increased by the amount of your purchase(s) up to the Total Credit Limit listed above.

Take advantage of your new credit privilege now, Xxxxxx Xxxxxx. It’s your reward for being such a valued customer, so order today.

Best regards,
Brian Smith
Chairman, President and CEO

***** End Letter *****

On the surface you might be saying to yourself “Wow, what a nice company. A thousand dollar credit increase right before Christmas? Awesome!” Not on my Aunt Bippy’s bunions buddy! There is nothing awesome about this at all.

I have made it abundantly clear on numerous occasions via telephone that not only were we not going to buy merchandise from them any more, but that we would be closing our account as soon as it was paid off. I am reasonably sure that none of that has been added to any record the marketing and promotions people would see, if a human was even looking at any of this before it was sent out anyway. It just yanked my chain enough to post about it.

First off you get the butter-up about how special you are, then they tell you how much buying power they are giving you (at 24.9% APR of course.) The kicker here is the part about your ability to make the limit increase permanent. All you have to do is spend a thousand dollars on your account, the account you can’t afford as it is. How empowering of them! SCHMUCKS!

Fingerhut’s primary client base is below or near the poverty level. They pray on people with low incomes by sucking them in around the holidays every year. Exorcise your buying power and buy the things you and your family want. How magnanimous. This year’s you’re so special increase is considerably more than usual. I am not sure what that means overall, but it indicates that they are looking to accumulate a lot of customer debt. Did you catch the part where they are practically begging you to push your credit to the limit? That’s where they make most of their money you know, late and over-the-limit fees.

We are just about payed off on our Fingerhut card from Christmas last year. Credit experts say you shouldn’t be in debt for a whole year from the Christmas season. I recall hearing somewhere that you should be back to normal finances by the end of March. From a forecasting and budgeting perspective, you should be able to pay off all of the holiday debt using your income tax return. From a purely pragmatic point of view, you should be saving money and making purchases for the holidays throughout the year so there is no added holiday debt. I know it doesn’t really work out that way very often, but we are making an effort to that end result anyway.

I am hear to spread the Gospel of Pragmatism! Just say no to holiday credit increases! Live and buy within your means. Believe it or not, the more you stay within those means the sooner debt will decrease and you will see more disposable income and be a hell of a lot happier in the process.

I’m just saying…

*** Due to the overwhelming volume of SPAM commenting on this page comments have been turned off. Since there is a Captcha field to ensure that a real person is inputting comments, that means that there are a bunch of douchebags spamming my site. I do not appreciate the total and complete lack of class or netiquette the spammers have exhibited. ***

“The Future of Food” movie

My wife and I watched another documentary on the American food chain, The Future of Food. Yes, we did watch on Netflix instant, and no I am not getting paid to promote Netflix; we have just found a lot of great documentary films there.

As the title suggests, it covers topics about where our food production is at, a bit about how it got where it is, and, of course, where it is going. It’s a bit unsettling to think that.

I grew up in San Jose, California (and still live here), I can remember farms and orchards in the Silicon Valley, sparse and spread out, but they were here. I also remember watching them slowly fade away over the years. I always thought it was due to the “progress” of urban/suburban development with all of the new people moving into the area. Now I see that it was only partly the “progress” of development. It seems as though things were going on that, unless you were involved in agriculture, you most likely wouldn’t have noticed. One of these developments was the introduction of patents for genetic modifications, or more importantly, genetic markers in agricultural products.

Since I am not a genetic scientist, and my understanding is somewhat limited to biology classes in school and the documentaries, I think I’ll leave the details to the movie, which I recommend you see. What I will talk about is the farmers and the hell that many have been through, and are going through still.

I am not a farmer, nor have I ever been one. My parents were not farmers, but my grandmother grew up on a farm, as did her parents, and theirs on back. There must be some sort of recessive farming gene that skipped my parents and landed squarely on me because I seem to have that pragmatic farmer mentality. During the movie that recessive gene was stimulated into overdrive. While watching, again, what Monsanto has been doing to farmers and our food supply over the last few decades is appalling, down right criminal in some cases.

If the name Monsanto sounds familiar, you may remember it from the movie Food Inc., another great documentary about the business acquisitions that are centralizing our food supply and some of the criminal actions the Agri-MegaCorps are getting away with.

Centralization is the heart of what I wanted to talk about in this article. Centralization in food production is very much like centralization in the financial industry. We have recently seen what happens when a diversified economy gets bought up and conglomerated into a small number of financial institutions; a small hiccup or a minor disaster in the economy can cascade into a full scale depression turning the local, national, and global economy in turmoil. Our food system in the United States is following the same path that the financial institutions have followed, centralization. Would we be able to weather a Food Crash better than the Financial Crash? I don’t think so.

The problem is compounded in one sense because in a financial crash, the government can jump in with a bail-out. Money problems on the large scale are more a matter of shifting ones and zeros than a physical solution, they eventually tie to something tangible, but it takes a long time for it to manifest in a physical sense. In a Food Crash we aren’t just pushing ones and zeros around, it is about getting food to people, it is a product based problem. The government is just not in a position to provide that kind of help. There are any number of scenarios that could cause a Food Crash and the only solution is taking preventative measures and restructuring the system.

Localization and independence are the only real solutions for these problems. It’s the age-old adage “never put all your eggs in one basket” but that’s exactly what companies like Monsanto, Philip Morris (yup, they own Kraft Foods Inc.), ConAgra Inc., and other Agri-MegaCorps are doing. They keep consolidating and it is estimated that if things continue the way they are, within the next ten years 90% of all US food production will be traced to just six companies, oh, and one of them is Wal-Mart. Did I forget to mention them earlier?

So what do we do? First and foremost as consumers we need to be more knowledgeable about where our food is coming from, and what is in it. Another thing is that as consumers we have to realize that we are the only ones that are really looking out for us. The federal government can only do so much and lobbyists for agri-business have massive resources that we just can’t compete with. Our power is as consumers and voters. When we take the time to read labels and buy local, organic when possible, and in general pay more attention to where our food is coming from we are telling Agri-Business that they can’t sneak things past us.

Rebuilding the small local farm industry is better for the economy, better for the environment, and provides healthier food. It is also a more sustainable food supply chain. The distributed food chain is much harder to break than the the conglomerated one. Its not just a matter of taking control of our food industry, it’s also about national pride and security.

A win for Keeping It Local!

Today was a good day. I went to Walmart, not to buy anything, but to pay off the last of our credit account. Actually, this was a double win for us and a win for Keeping It Local (a not yet existing organization / movement.) With out credit account paid off we can now close that account for good.

Why close it? Let’s go down the list. First off we have chosen to not support Walmart anymore. Second, it closes an account with a credit card company that charges outrageous fees, which is good for our budget. Third, it is one more step towards moving away from all of the big corporate companies that have bought, traded, and crushed by any means possible, American small business.

Yes, I know it’s a rant. But I am okay with that. I have been fighting to keep small businesses alive and well for years and it just seems to get harder and harder. Locally, at least here in San Jose, California, the city government seems to have a blood thirsty revenue generating attitude. Unless you are a big player or a non-profit, you just don’t count. Small businesses are swamped with municipal, county, state and federal regulations and fees to the point that some people find it much easier to conduct business illegally and stay off the grid while others do everything they can to stay afloat in the current economy while complying with all of the taxes, fees, and regulations.

What happened to encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit that Silicon Valley was so famous for? Sure, tech and bio-tech companies can still start up, and other companies can find incubators to grow them for acquisition, but what about the neighborhood mom-and-pop stores? It takes some work to find locals to buy from these days. Here in a major metropolitan area some of them have survived, but what about the small towns across the country that were basically shut down? Those company towns that lost it all when the company moved production overseas?

I am having a conversation with a friend online as I am writing this article and what I am getting at is unfolding in that conversation. Her son commented on something I had written on Facebook. He posted a comment about buying bike parts at his local bike shop. This is great and it makes me happy to see that. I asked if he knew about the bike shops supply chain. Do they by form U.S. manufacturers or overseas? I have no idea myself. I have plans to build a bike-truck at some point but I haven’t gotten in to it so I am actually a bit curious.

This is where we can make the difference in our economy. Let’s run with this local bike shop. If I go in to my local shop and ask “Where do the parts come from?” I am opening that supply-line dialog. If I get a response that they sell parts from overseas and some made in the good old USA, I’m going to chose the ones made here, and I am going to tell the owner of the bike shop that I prefer to by local, that’s why I am here in his shop instead of buying online or at some mega-store. I am also going to tell him that if he is willing to stock more U.S. manufactured parts I will go out of my way to promote him and his store.

Now lets take a different track. Lets say that all of the parts are made overseas. This is where we start another supply-line dialog, one that begins with asking: Are there any U.S. suppliers? Why don’t you carry them? I want to support your business because it is a local business but if you buy all of your parts directly from an overseas supplier, that is only keeping a small percentage on my money in the local economy.

We have to take the time to get to know who we buy from and how they operate, and it has to be a dialog. We can’t say, “Oh, you buy overseas, never mind.” We as consumers have to express why we are asking and how important it is to us that we support the local economy.

There are things that will be outside the “buy local” ideal. We are most likely not going to find pharmaceuticals produced in out town and they will have to come from somewhere else, but we can control where and who we buy products from. For me it has become a matter of conscience, a personal decision that I am committing to. Keep It Local is an ideal that I am aspiring to. Won’t you join me?

diversity

Sometimes diversity can be a huge pain in the tuches. My interests, though interrelated in strange and convoluted ways some times, are so diverse that I haven’t been able to keep things in an orderly fashion in the blogosphere, so I’m not gonna try all that hard anymore. What that means for you is that I will be posting stuff that may seem widely divergent from post to post. Sorry, but thats just the way it’s gonna have to be.

In my desire to get back to flying and building an airplane, I have had my builder juices flowing at mach-speeds. One of my many areas of interest is alternative energy. Not in the sense of replacement technologies but rather in the application of existing low-tech tools and processes using scavengeable parts and equipment and combining them in interesting ways. An example would be the use of a Fresnel lens and/or a parabolic mirror to direct light energy at a boiler to generate steam and power a steam engine, which in turn powers a generator that provides for electrical needs when the sun is up and recharges batteries for use when the sun is not available. This stuff is all available, except for the Fresnel and parabolic, at the local hardware store for not much money or can be found in any number or other places.

I spent several hours yesterday, and a little time today, looking up what other people have been doing online, watching poorly made videos and badly designed websites with broken links and missing content. it is amazing how many people are doing experiments in there back yards and workshops. Even more amazing is how few seem to be getting injured with the lack of safety and flat out stupidity in some cases. Don’t get me wrong, I give many of these people a lot of credit for going out and doing it, and documenting it. I appreciate there efforts. It just seems like there is a lack of credible data being made widely available out there.

As an example; I have been looking online for credible information on steam engine theory, design notes, build notes, practical application, anything, all I have found so far are short clips of models running, restoration projects running, and CAD/CGI models and animations. There are lots of people interested in selling Sterling engines and model steam engines, but not much else, at least not that I have come across.

One of the things I am interested in finding out is which engine is more efficient in powering a generator, a piston drive or turbine? Obviously in large installations the turbine is used, but why? In a smaller application which is more practical on a cost/maintenance vs. efficiency basis? Which requires the greatest heat energy and volume, and which has the best resource recovery system? All are important questions.

Eventually I want to be living in a less urban environment, at some point I want to be off-grid for power and reduce my carbon footprint, but there are a lot of things that can be done even in a semi-urban or urban environment. A lot of things sound like fringe or nut-case projects but when implemented with some common sense and pragmatism, they can work in many environments, pyrolysis is one of them. There are some great possibilities for pyrolysis in rural and urban environments for bio-matter disposal, including sewage disposal.

Another area of interest is multi-gas combustion systems. We have all heard about hydrogen fuel cells. While there is some hope there, it requires a lot of processing and energy in one form or another with the current technologies. A much simpler prospect for power generation is methane. You wouldn’t want to run your car on methane, at least I don’t want to drive a fart-mobile, but for generators, it makes a lot more sense. What about an engine that can run on natural gas, propane, methane, hydrogen, or any other combustible gases and vapors, or a mixture of them, one engine to burn any or all of them? It would be usable in a wider variety of applications and environments.

What about the many uses of solar energy? Solar power has gotten a bad-rap because it has been held back for so long. There are so many ways in which we can use solar energy, and only a few of them involve direct conversion to electrical current. Even the newest generation of solar cells, much more efficient than photovoltaics, are decades behind where there development should be.

Energy independence is an important issue at all levels. At the national level we depend far to much on fossil fuels. We have diverse resources, but there is a lot of room for improvement, it’s the same at the regional level. At the local level there is much less diversity, local municipalities are at the whim of power disruptions and this just doesn’t have to be the case. Where the difference is made is at the smallest level, the end user. Whether the end user is a government, business, or individual, a change in the way we consume and generate energy will have a major effect at the national level.

Redundant back-yard experiments may not be the solution by themselves, but it does point to the notion that it’s more than just a few people thinking outside the current energy box, and that is good. For me, I’m still putting more thought behind my projects before I start scavenging parts, but I do plan on getting something up and running soon. In the mean time I am thinking about putting up a wish list page for projects…

See you next time,
~Jon