Tag Archives: sustainability

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.


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,


One of my goals for 2011 is to decrease my fossil fuel use from driving by 50%. Since a portion of electric power generation on the grid is from fossil fuels, the only way I can really track my usage is by switching to some kind of Peddle Power for short trips and errands around town.

My criteria for practical Peddle Power is a vehicle that is fast enough to ride/drive in town, easy to use, easy to maintain and repair, can carry a rider/driver and at least one passenger along with a dozen bags of groceries or similar load, a vehicle that can be ridden/driven day or night, and safely in mildly inclement weather. What I want to build is a test-bed platform that is usable and easily modifiable, something I can tweak and tune into a functional long-term alternate transportation solution for my family. Enter The BikeTruck!

The biketruck is nothing new by any means. On this page about Chinese Three Wheelers, you can see several examples of motorized and non-motorized versions of the biketruck.

What I am planing to do is start with a base platform like the biketruck in the picture over on the right, and expand from there. A significant part of the project is to change the direct chain drive into a Peddle Powered alternator that charges a battery which in turn powers a high torque electric motor; essentially proving a consistent level of resistance for the peddler while making variable power available for the vehicles speed control and assisted breaking, including a reserve for up hill or rugged terrain that would require more power than the alternator may be able to put out. This could also include a power return to leach some power back into the system when going down hill. Ideally the system will be a simple one, using off the shelf parts or re-purposed parts whenever possible. It needs to be user-serviceable by the average person with minimal hand tools and skills.

Building the biketruck’s frame should be fairly straight forward, though I would expect it to be a bit more than the average person will want to do themselves. I think the most difficult part will be tuning the electronics and increasing efficiency. In truth I am not so concerned with making this a hyper efficient vehicle as I am with making it a functional and versatile one. That is the root of it all, functional and versatile, simple and user maintainable, in short sustainable and self sufficient.

I am in the early phase of another project right now, a big project at that, but I think I can slide some time in on this project here and there. First thing is to find parts, bicycle parts, tube steel, sheet metal, what ever. That means as far as this project is concerned, it’s time to scrounge. I am going to try and do the entire project with donated and re-purposed materials. That means this is a $0 project, there will be some money spent in consumables during the build, but that’s it. One of my tasks for getting parts is to start a wishlist page here on the site and a project page. Both will be up before next weeks post. I am also going to start posting in the wanted section of Craig’s List for parts donations once the aforementioned pages are up.

Until next time,

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?

“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.