Saturday Linkages: Saris, Punk Rockers, Poppies and Young Agrarians

Sari as Insulation: http://notechmagazine.com/2014/04/clothing-insulation-with-different-drapes-of-typical-sari-ensembles.html …

Humanoid wasps’ nest built over an abandoned sculpture: http://boingboing.net/2014/04/24/humanoid-wasps-nest-built-ov.html …

Punk rock homesteading resources: http://punkrockhomesteading.com/e-books/ 

Two new California poppy species: http://www.pensoft.net/journals/phytokeys/article/6751/two-new-desert-eschscholzia-papaveraceae-from%C2%A0southwestern-north-america …

Contrasting Front Yards: Turf Only v. Wildlife-Filled | Garden Rant http://gardenrant.com/2014/04/contrasting-front-yards-wildlife-v-turf.html …

When Pedestrians Get Mixed Signals http://nyti.ms/1aclEcA 

Underground Ferrocement Homes http://feedly.com/e/GRF29x3h 

Plant Breeders Release First ‘Open Source Seeds’ http://n.pr/1jLfth3 

When Vegetarians Tried To Build A Utopia of Octagonal Houses in Kansas http://gizmodo.com/what-utopias-have-to-do-with-the-19th-century-craze-for-1564535216/+sarahzhang …

Aeroplane Bar Letka Tu-104: Inside grounded passenger plane is a bar once a Communist hang out now a ratty relic http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/aeroplane-bar-letka-tu-104 …

DIY Beer Bottle Windows for your Cabin, Shed, TIny… http://relaxshacks.blogspot.com/2014/04/diy-beer-bottle-windows-for-your-cabin.html?spref=tw …

Repurposed wood log lamps http://www.recyclart.org/2014/04/repurposed-wood-log-lamps/ …

How to build a cheap 3D-scanner mostly out of spare parts http://wp.me/p1SNZL-1 

A Young Agrarian Land Covenant http://garynabhan.com/i/archives/2446 

The Scientific Gardener: Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener by Joseph Tyc… http://scientificgardener.blogspot.com/2014/04/plant-breeding-for-home-gardener-by.html?spref=tw …

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Journal of the New Alchemists

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“Six-Pack” Backyard Solar Greenhouse, 1975. Image: Journal of the New Alchemy.

After reading an article by Paul Ehrlich, “Eco-Catastrophe!,” Nancy Todd turned to her husband John and said, “We must do something.” The year was 1969 and the Todds along with Bill McLarney went on to found the New Alchemy Institute.

History repeats itself. What the New Alchemists did, in response to the 1970s era energy crisis and political instability, sounds a lot like what people have been up to since the 2008 economic bubble: aquaculture, organic gardening, earth building, market gardens, no-till agriculture, old timey music, wind power, four season growing, permaculture, non-hierarchical leadership and goats. Only the 1980s era of appropriate technology amnesia separates current efforts from the work of the New Alchemists.

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Aquaponic system. Image: Journal of the New Alchemy.

By accident I discovered the Journal of the New Alchemists deep in the closed stacks of the Los Angeles Central Library. As revealed by their journal, what distinguishes the New Alchemists from other efforts of the time is the Todd’s science background. The Journal has a refreshing research-based approach to its subject matter. The period I reviewed (their last decade of publication) covers mostly their agricultural experiments, but occasionally dips into urban planning and other subjects.

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Biodome. Image: Journal of the New Alchemy.

It’s interesting to look back at their work to see what ideas went mainstream and what faded away. What didn’t stick is what Nassim Taleb would call “top-down” approaches to design epitomized by the 70s fixation on geodesic domes and self contained ecosystems (though we’re starting to see a resurgence of the latter via a renewed interest in aquaponics). The more bottom-up work of refining conventional organic agriculture through no-till farming and integrated pest management had more long lasting influence. One could make a good argument that you need the domes and aquaculture schemes to inspire people to work on the more prosaic stuff. But another criticism of the appropriate technology movement of the 70s is that it focused on technology rather than social and political problems (see economist Richard S. Eckaus article “Appropriate Technology: The Movement Has Only A Few Clothes On“). We may be in the midst of repeating that mistake.

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Aquaponic system. Image: Journal of the New Alchemy.

One does not need to wander the closed stacks of the library to find the amazing Journal of the New Alchemy. Thanks to the internet you can download the New Alchemist’s publications as pdfs. Aquaponic enthusiasts will find much information. The Journals are a fascinating read and gave me a great deal of respect for the founders of the New Alchemy and their many contributors (one issue features a young Gary Paul Nabhan). They went far beyond talking the talk and walked the walk. They did something.

Cactus Thief Strikes Again

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I knew this was going to happen. After the theft of the first of three barrel cacti in our front yard, I knew the perp would be back. Sure enough the second cacti disappeared the other night. Now I’m left with the smallest, and most pathetic of the three cacti.

In response I considered rigging up some kind of Arduino based cacti security system that would set off an alarm and flashing strobe in the house. Attach a trip wire to the root system and we’re in business. I also pondered another extreme strategy: shower the cactus thief with free flats of baby cacti. The latter strategy could even lead to the first ever Root Simple Upworthy style clickbait headline, “Thief Steals Cactus and the Thorny Response Will Have You in Tears.”

Stoic philosopher Epictetus set me straight on what I should really do. He says, “Stop admiring your clothes and you are not angry at the man who steals them . . . our losses and our pains have to do only with the things we posses.” (Discourses Book 1.18) And wanting to posses a Home Depot cactus is quite pathetic.

It reminds me of something a friend told me, “Never drive by and look at a garden in a house you once owned.” Our gardens are impermanent. That impermanence is actually something that makes gardening interesting. My wandering cacti might even have a more sunny location in which to thrive.

The Elf and Ethics

The Elf is a kind of aerodynamic, electric assist tricycle with solar panels to charge the batteries. It’s a type of vehicle, somewhere between a bike and a car, that a number of inventors have tinkered with over the years.

Good arguments exist for and against this type of transportation. On the one hand it uses far fewer resources than an automobile. But one could also argue, as does the owner of a bike shop in this video, that we’d all be better off with a far simpler and less expensive bicycle. I can see both sides of the argument. Perhaps younger folks should take to bicycles and older people or those with disabilities or heavy cargo could use something like an Elf. Plus the Elf would be better in bad weather.

One issue not brought up in this video are safety concerns during a theoretical transition period from hulking Hummers to lightweight human and battery powered vehicles. Is the greater risk I’m taking (by choosing a lightweight vehicle over an SUV) worth the ethical/ecological benefit? If everyone else is driving a big heavy vehicle don’t I need one too?

Separating bikes and cars partially solves this conundrum to some extent, but not for transitional vehicles like the Elf. I would not want to see an Elf on a bike path and I’d not also not want to be in an Elf vs. auto collision.

I think there’s a future for vehicles like the Elf. But we’ll have some ethical, as well as technological issues, to sort out.