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


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


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:

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:

Extreme Low-Tech Communication


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?