How To Calculate Anything

Another way to remember those pesky formulas . . .

It needn’t come to this! (Though we think this is pretty cool.)

Need to calculate Ohm’s law? Convert women’s clothing sizes? Calculate the area of a circle? Figure out whether its better to buy or rent a home? It’s all at www.calculatoredge.com.

The site has lots of formulas for the urban homsteader even if you never have to perform a Sallen-Key Butterworth Low Pass Filter equation (except, perhaps, for recreational reasons).

Thanks to Bruce Nolte, N1BN for the tip.

The Energy Environment Simulator

Energy-Environement Simulator Tenntronics

Photo: Niklas Vollmer.

Sometime in the mid-nineties I was thrift shopping in San Diego with my friend Niklas Vollmer. I can still remember the moment we stumbled on the Energy-Environment Simulator. We couldn’t stop laughing and we realized that we had to buy it. How often do you run into an Energy-Environment Simulator in working condition? It’s been the centerpiece of Nik’s living room ever since, even making a cross country move.

The device demonstrates energy inputs and demands. Depending on how you turn the knobs, you can either engineer a future of never-ending power or, on the other extreme, your own personal zombie apocalypse. One of the energy sources is labeled “new technology.” This could either be solar or that UFO doughnut from the Thrive movie.

The only info we have on it is that it was manufactured by Tenntronics, a defunct company that was in business from the late 1960s through the late 1980s. It came with a handsome storage cabinet that also serves as a pedestal.

Energy-Environment Simulator Tenntronics

Photo: Niklas Vollmer

I’m guessing that the Energy-Environment Simulator is a relic of the 1970s oil crisis and I respect its creator’s attempt to demonstrate the interlocking feedback loops of systems theory in the pre-personal computer era.

Since we all didn’t learn the lesson back in the 1970s, perhaps it’s time to take the Energy-Environment Simulator on the road. Coachella and Burning Man here we come.

If you have any info on this thing or remember seeing one in action, please leave a comment.

Update: Reader Maribeth found the patent for the Energy-Environment Simulator, dated October 8, 1974. From the patent description:

Each participant makes policy decisions to adjust energy demands and energy source allocations and observes, in compressed time, the consequences of their decisions. The time element is adjustable by means of a variable system clock, typically one simulated century passes each minute. The natural energy reserves are simulated in an analog computer circuit and the rate of depletion may be regulated according to well-established data as to quantities and the foretasted rate of depletion. . . . The participants operate the simulator as a game where the objective is to see how long one can keep the society powered adequately without excessively polluting the environment and without exhausting all of the energy reserves.

Here’s the kicker:

The present invention was made during the course of, or under, a contract with the United States Energy Commission.

I have a feeling the game is rigged–I bet you have to crank that nuclear knob in order to keep the lights on.

Bread Ovens of Quebec Free e-book

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North American has two regions famous for oven building: New Mexico and Quebec. The design of the ovens of Quebec have their origin in much older French ovens. The Canadian Museum of History has posted an amazing, out of print book, Lise Boily and Jean-François Blanchette’s 1979 book The Bread Ovens of Quebec, in its entirety online. The book includes the history of the Quebec oven, how to build an oven, bread recipes and even “popular beliefs, spells, incantations, and omens” associated with ovens.

I’m really happy with the adobe oven we have in our backyard–it has produced many a tasty pizza and I look forward to having people over to give me an excuse to fire it up. Ovens, in Quebec households were associated with life itself and I understand why.

If you’re interested in more information on DIY ovens, I’d recommend The Bread Ovens of Quebec along with Kiko Denzer’s Earth Ovens and Alan Scott’s The Bread Builders (brick ovens).

If you’d like to see an oven built in the Quebec style, these folks have posted their experience of building one.

Learn to Build with Adobe

650-adobeBricks

Kurt Gardella made me an adobe convert and helped us build an oven in our backyard that is responsible for many delicious pizzas. I’ve taken a few classes he’s taught, both in person and online. If you want to learn adobe, Kurt’s your man. Here’s some info on upcoming classes he’s teaching:

Are you looking for college credit for your adobe construction coursework? I am teaching the following spring 2014 semester classes through Santa Fe Community College’s Adobe Construction Department:

Class: ADOB 113 – Passive Solar Adobe Design
Format: 8-Week Online Class
Dates: January 21 to March 15, 2014
Credits: 2
Course #: 31660

Class: ADOB 111 – Adobe Construction Basics
Format: 8-Week Online Class
Dates: March 24 to May 17, 2014
Credits: 3
Course #: 31268

Class: ADOB 112 – Adobe Wall Construction
Format: Web-Blended (4 Weeks Online + 2 Days of Intensive Live Instruction)
Dates: April 19 to May 17, 2014 (class meets on campus Saturday, April 19 and Sunday, April 20, 2014 9am to 5pm)

Location: Trades and Applied Technology 815
Credits: 3
Course #: 31661

For more information on course fees and registration see:

www.sfcc.edu/registration/tuition_and_fees
www.sfcc.edu/registration/first_time_students

Please e-mail me directly at [email protected] if you have any questions or need further information about any of the above classes.

For more info visit: www.kurtgardella.com

Extreme Low-Tech Communication

PowerSupply-large

This has to be the ultimate achievement in low-powered long-distance communication. Ham radio operator Michael Rainey, AA1TJ, transmitted a message over a distance of over 1,000 miles by yelling Morse code with his own voice into this primitive home-made transmitter, nicknamed “El Silbo.” No power was used other than that generated by his own voice vibrating the microphone (which was a re-purposed speaker).

If you want to build your own here’s the circuit schematic and more details.

And here’s Rainey, back in 2009, using El Silbo:

On a side note, can we please apply Ham radio’s level of detail and open source spirit to the world of backyard vegetable gardening?

It’s official: I’m a Ham

How blog posts will be issued from now on. Image: Library of Congress.

How blog posts will be issued from now on. Image: Library of Congress.

It’s been on my to-do list for years–get my ham radio licence. I took a six week class offered by the Pasadena Radio Club to study for the technician class licence and on a whim crammed for the general class. I passed both tests and as of yesterday am now also known as KK6HUF.

Many thanks to W6MES, who volunteered his time to teach the class and to the major memory system for helping with all those numbers. It was a lot of fun to review basic math and electronics.

So why do this in an age of Skype and cellphones? I find the DIY ethos of ham radio empowering. We are surrounded by electronic devices and it’s good to know a little something about what’s going on “under the hood.” I wish I had discovered amateur radio when I was younger–I might have struggled with math less had I had a hobby to motivate studying.

My interest in appropriate technology was another reason. There is a ham I met online who is constructing a website that will be of interest to readers of this blog–he was inspired by John Michael Greer’s writing on ham radio. I’ll share that website when it’s ready to go public.

Passing the test was easy, but I’ve got a lot of work to do. I have no radio, nor do I have any experience using one. And I’d like to learn morse code. I’m all ears if any of you have advice.

Primitive Grain Storage Technique

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When thinking about technology, I like to play with the idea of what is the absolute minimum you need to get the job done.  This may be because I’m not very handy at building things, but yet have survivalist tendencies. So while I’m pretty sure I’ll never actually have any need for these skills, it’s fun to think about how I’d get by in a DIY world.

So I was delighted when I ran across this minimalist grain storage technique on the BBC documentary series, A History of Celtic Britain (2011), hosted by Neil Oliver of the Delicious Scottish Accent. (I am watching it on YouTube. Fingers crossed the BBC will not take it down before I finish it!)  I love this technique because while it is simple, it is far from stupid.

The technique is described by the Dave Freeman of the Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire, where they’ve been experimenting with grain storage iron-age style (c. 400 BCE.).  Turns out all you need to do is dig a pit in the soil. The pits they dug are circular, and look to be 2 or 3 feet in diameter, and maybe 3 or 4 feet deep.

So you may ask, how can you pour grain into a hole in the ground and expect it to keep? The secret is a clay cap on the top. In the screen grab below you can see the cap and some feet for scale:

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 10.39.12 AM

If you go to YouTube,  you can watch this sequence starting around 52:36, but what Freemen says is that when the grain goes in the pit and is sealed with a clay cap, the clay blocks out moisture, air and light. Moisture is still available at the sides and bottom of the pit, of course, especially as they are in green Hampshire.

The grain touching the sides of the pit sucks the moisture out of the soil at the edges, and uses it to attempt to germinate. The germination process sucks up oxygen and releases carbon dioxide, effectively clearing the chamber of oxygen. At that point, as Neil puts it, “Time stops.” Nothing can grow, nothing changes. The grain cache keeps for at least a year, perhaps two years, and provided a very handy safety backup for hard working iron age farmers. And some very basic appropriate tech for modern armchair survivalists to ponder.

DIY Solar Space Heating

VA1

Photo: Build It Solar.

Mrs. Homegrown, who spent her formative years in the mountains of Colorado, made fun of me this morning as I noted the “cold” temperature . . . 60°F. It was the first ironic “brrrrrr” out of her mouth, letting me know that we’ve transitioned from the hot smoggy season to the the less hot smoggy season here in Los Angeles.

In the northern hemisphere it’s time to consider heating. The always useful Build-It Solar blog has a detailed link to a DIY solar space heating system in Virginia (pdf).

Collector panels mounted on the roof heat a reservoir which is circulated through a floor-based radiant heating system. It even has an Arduino based data acquisition component that tracks performance. There should be a DIY Nobel Prize for this project!

If you live in a place that’s both cold and sunny in the winter, solar heating has a lot of potential. In fact, I’m much more intrigued with solar space and water heating then I am with photo-voltaic panels.

Greywater 101

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Survival Podcast intern Josiah Wallingford has started up a blog, Brink of Freedom, that I’m going to contribute to periodically. In my first post, Laundry to Landscape: How to Reuse Laundry Greywater, I discuss my own greywater system as well as the setup I installed at neighbor Lora’s house. Greywater has been one of the simplest and most rewarding projects at our homestead. And I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation over at the Brink of Freedom.