Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chest freezer-to-fridge converter

I know, it’s pathetic that at age nearly-60, I know next to nothing about electricity. I do know that compact fluorescents use less than incandescent bulbs, though CFLs are no ecological picnic. So we’ve changed out most of the bulbs around Taylor Springs.

I also know about phantom electricity, the power that you’re using even when things, like the TV, are “off.” So, because I’m writing about this, I just got up and went around shutting down power strips, and the UPS the TV’s plugged into, and the overhead fan, and the power cord for the indoor satellite radio.
None of those appliances is in use during the day, when I’m home by myself, so why should they be pulling juice.

But the one appliance that’s on all the time, that runs when it wants to, and is the biggest energy gobbler and least efficient of all is – the refrigerator. We have an old Crosley, which predates the Energy Star ratings. We don’t have a Kill-a-Watt meter (available for $25 at Amazon), so we don’t know exactly how much electricity we’re using, but I’m sure it’s over $100 a year, maybe a lot over, and it’s stupid.

I have long known that refrigerators, by design, don’t work well. You’re making cold, venting the heat generated directly into the kitchen, then dumping all the cold air out of the unit every time you open the door, forcing it to run again. Insane.

So I had written on my to-do sheet, “chest refrigerator,” and started poking around the internet to see if I could find a cheap meter for converting a small chest freezer to a refrigeration unit, and save a bunch of energy.
And voila.

I hadn’t been over to the outstanding blog of Mikey Sklar and Wendy Jehanara Tremayne, Holy Scrap Hot Springs, “Digital homesteading & making all our stuff in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico,” for some time. But there, lo and behold, was Mikey’s latest gadget, a $49 plug-in controller unit for converting freezers to refrigerators, the YATC Temperature Controller. He says it’ll reduce energy consumption from $100/yr. to less than $10/yr., so the unit will pay for itself immediately. And with 200 million refrigerators in the US alone, the potential savings are mammoth, both in dollars and in costs to the environment. No household should be without one.

No, I didn’t buy his controller … yet. No money. But I will. There’s a used appliance store up in Raton that I’m going to check out for a low-cost, working chest freezer. Free would be good. And I understand it’ll work even better if it’s surrounded by extra insulation, which makes sense.

So today, I’ll talk to the landlord, and see what we come up with. Meanwhile, over at Holy Scrap, I’ve got my eye on one of Mikey’s earlier inventions, a low-cost battery desulfator for bringing batteries back to life. I think there’s a business there.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The perils of reading

I’m requesting and reviewing books from a variety of publishers, then donating them to the library of Raton, NM, or to Springer, NM, or both, if I can get the publishers to send me two copies.

It seems to be a good plan, as it gives me a never-ending source of outstanding material, which I can then turn into reviews, articles, etc., and it also provides good books to the libraries, which are both strapped for cash. Last, it gets them out of our house, as accumulating a big library is not part of our game plan. That’ll work as long as I can read ‘em and review ‘em faster than they accumulate, but it’s easier to ask for books than it is to get ‘em read, and I can always find something new that looks interesting to read, and it only takes a couple of minutes to dash off an email request for a copy, so I’m falling a bit behind.

Not to mention those trips to the library. I picked up Off the Grid, by Nick Rosen; The Backyard Homestead, edited by Carleen Madigan; and The Contrary Farmer, by Gene Logsden in Raton the other day, so I’ll be reading those soon.

My early blogs and reviews have tended to whirl around the political arena. I’m reading the US Constitution, as well as histories of it and the founders, and of the individual amendments.

I think that returning to the language and spirit of the Constitution as written will be very important as we continue to relocalize and wind-down the petro-industrial age. I feel I’m becoming something of a strict constructionist in my dotage, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Nevertheless, I’ll try to keep that part of the discussion under control, and [mostly] confine my efforts to my intended areas: 21st Century homesteading and resilient communities. There’s plenty to cover there.

That’ll have to be it for today. I spent the day researching rainwater catchment ideas, and top-bar beekeeping plans, about which more anon.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book review: "Nullification"

I simply don’t think the US Constitution was written to be read and interpreted by any other than the average citizen of the 13 confederated States of America. Mind you, in the 18th Century that meant white male property holders, but those were the times, and the fact remains that estimates of literacy at the time of our war of independence range as high as 95% of the population. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, for example, sold over 100,000 copies in the first two months of its printing, an astonishing number that must have delighted and overwhelmed his publisher.

So when I read in the Constitution, Amendment X: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” I can understand it. It says that if the Constitution does not explicitly authorize the federal government (“the United States”) to do something, nor explicitly forbid the individual states (“the States”) from doing something, then those powers to do things belong to the states and, by extension, to their constituents (“the people”). If it’s not specifically given to the feds, or specifically denied to the states – in writing in the Constitution – then automatically and until such time as the Constitution is amended, the power belongs to the states and their people. States have lots of power; the federal government has much less power; and the powers belonging to the feds are spelled out in black and white. Is that so tough?

Fast forward a couple of centuries, and here we are. The federal government has grown to gargantuan proportions, and involved itself in every nook and cranny of our lives. Amazingly enough, this very development was anticipated by the architects of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights was added to spell out in unambiguous language what was commonly understood to be true, and it was added to secure the ratification of the Constitution by several states, chief among them Virginia, which wouldn’t vote for it otherwise.

So now we’ve got a federal government that does pretty much anything it wants – all three branches. The question becomes: What can we do about it? Where can we go if, when, and because the government violates the Constitution. Here’s where Thomas E. Woods, Jr., comes in.

In Nullification, Woods has written a manual of, “How to resist federal tyranny in the 21st Century.” That’s clear enough, too.

It turns out that not only did the Constitution’s framers anticipate the federal government gradually usurping the rights of the states and their peoples, they also created ways to fight that usurpation. There’s secession, of course, which, despite the Civil War has never been proven illegal. There’s the route of constitutional amendment, which is both highly desirable and logistically arduous. And then there’s nullification, which means that should a state find an action by the federal government to be in violation of the Constitution, then it has a right, and a duty, to declare that act or law null and void within its borders, refuse to enforce it, and prohibit agents of the federal government from enforcing it, to the extent of its ability to do so.

Nullification has a long and honorable history dating from the earliest days of the Republic, and Woods covers that history thoroughly. Nullification was even used by Northern states to refuse to enforce the Fugitive Slave Laws. Today, nullification is being practiced in at least 14 states, which have declared the medical use of marijuana to be legal and acceptable within their borders, in defiance of federal laws. There is also a growing movement to amend the Constitution to reaffirm that it protects only the rights of living human beings, something the Founders thought too obvious to warrant mentioning, and nullification might prove fruitful here, too. The current Supreme Court has dramatically extended First Amendment rights to soulless corporations, in a way that struck the four dissenting justices as “misguided,” “dangerous,” “reckless” – almost certainly unconstitutional. Yes, the Supreme Court, just another branch of the federal government, must answer to the states and the people – the ultimate judges of constitutionality.

Woods argues that nullification is, and since the time of Jefferson and Madison has been seen as, the “rightful remedy” for unconstitutional acts on the part of the federal government, and that the states, which preceded and ratified the Constitution, are and should be the vehicle for the application of that remedy. The federal government, of which the Supreme Court is a part, cannot be the final judge of the legality and constitutionality of its own acts. That’s the ultimate example of the fox guarding the hen house. The states, individually if necessary, have the right to judge the constitutionality of federal acts, and the duty to act on that judgment. Nullification redresses constitutional grievances without a state leaving the Union (secession), and without amending the Constitution, which because of its understandable difficulty is easily blocked by other states whose interests the unconstitutional act may benefit.

This is powerful stuff. And it comes at the right time. The people are not powerless in the face of an unaccountable government run amok. It is the states wherein power resides. It says so in plain English, in the Constitution, and Thomas E. Woods, Jr., has done us all a great service by pointing that out.

Please read this book, and make its arguments your own. Buy an extra copy for your local library. And above all, read, discuss, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Resilient communities

Killing as many birds with as few stones as possible, I’m introducing the concept of resilient communities by posting a couple of recent posts from John Robb’s excellent blog, www.GlobalGuerrillas.typepad.com. Robb is the author of Brave New War, a look at the evolution of warfare into “open-source” conflicts.

His subtitle is “Networked tribes, systems disruption, and the emerging bazaar of violence. Resilient Communities, decentralized platforms, and self-organizing futures.” Fair enough.

Resilient communities, loosely defined, are the sorts of self-contained, locally oriented towns and regions that existed all over this country before about WWII, and have collapsed, disappeared and fragmented since, for a variety of reasons. Like many other areas around the country, northeastern New Mexico had a larger population 100 years ago than it does now.

Peak oil, more than anything [but certainly not exclusively], is rapidly moving life back the other way, away from WalMart and the 3,000-mile salad: accelerating relocalization in a computerized world. It’s fascinating, at least, and Robb is one of the thinkers worth paying attention to.

RC JOURNAL: Accelerating the Development of Resilient Communities

One of the major attributes of resilient communities is that can locally produce most of what they need (food, energy, and products).  Needless to say, the transition to local production won't happen overnight.  Let's explore this.

Most of the efforts to increase local production, to date, have been either:

The result of community action.  Efforts like the transition towns movement.  

Development driven.  Communities that have built from the ground up with resilience in mind, i.e. agricultural urbanism.

Unfortunately, these early efforts have been sporadic and the results haven't reached what's needed to become fully resilient.  Why?  The reason is that these efforts are being attempted early in the cycle, before the trends that make transition inevitable have fully matured.  

These trends include:
  • Expensive energy.  Energy costs are climbing (with occasionally spike), but they haven't reached a level that makes local production much more attractive than global production, yet.  They will.
  • Technology.  The costs of producing goods locally are rapidly decreasing due to new technologies.  For example, with desktop fabrication, we are right at the cusp of a rapid increase in efficiency/capability -- the equivalent of 1980 in the personal computer industry. 
  • Disruptions.  Shortages, panics, and cascading failures.  We had a taste of a big one in 2008 in the financial industry and lots of small ones.  More to come since the global system is only becoming more interconnected and unstable as time progresses.
  • Economic failure/D2 (the second global depression).  There's a strong argument that we are already in the midst of a second global depression. As economic failure intensifies on the global stage (debt, default, income stratification, fraud, etc.), the need for local economic activity will intensify.
  • Global guerrilla insurgencies. Low grade, crime fueled insurgencies that spread like the plague.  Think Mexico.  Shootings, kidnappings, hijackings, etc.

There's many more (political chaos, the inevitable global pandemic, sovereign default, the disappearing middle class, etc.), but these are some of the top ones.

Fortunately, there may be another way to get resilient communities off the ground faster than waiting for the trends driving their development to become inexorable (and in the process lose many, many people to the encroaching failure).  The fastest way I can think of is to use the Internet to build a system that fosters their development (what other method can go from scratch to 500 million participants in three years).  

The system I propose is a fully functional economy built as an Internet service.  I believe that almost all of the elements need to build this, launch it, and gain widespread adoption are already available today.  Further, there are people ready to build it.  The only limitation is the funding needed to exploit the opportunity.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010
EaaS (economy as a service) JOURNAL: Behavior Blocs

Here's a simple way to regularize demand and rationalize patterns of consumption (for rivalrous goods): behavior blocs.  

A behavior bloc:
  • Is an opt-in service.
  • Is a set of behaviors (things you do and buy) that are connected to a specific goal/objective that you aspire to.  i.e. Local food/production.  Efficient energy use.  
  • Uses MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) dynamics, social meta-currencies, and social networks to manage, measure, and reward activity that aligns with the goal.  Far, far beyond simple local currency and loyalty schemes.

The benefits of a behavior bloc within a commercial context include:
  • Regularization of demand (frequency, scale, duration, etc.).  Stable targets that can be planned against.
  • Can rapidly shift demand to specific goods/services that don't yet exist.
  • Can disrupt existing patterns of commerce.
An economy as a service (EaaS) provides the tools that make designing, launching, and growing a behavior bloc easy.

          We'll be exploring these concepts, both in principle as it applies to strategies for coping with Peak Oil and economic [let's call 'em] hard times; and in specific as it applies on the ground, here in Taylor Springs, NM, and, I hope, in your home community.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Breaking the ice

My wife and I moved to Springer, NM, in the northeast part of the state, in July. We ran away from Maryland, which had been home for over 20 years, leaving behind kids and grandkids, and tons of miscellaneous stuff left over from a life in suburbia. We’ve fallen in love with this place, so we’re staying. We live on a 35-acre ranch, which we rent, and Andi works 45 miles away as a nurse practitioner.

Part of the rationale behind the move was to give me time and space to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, after full-time wage slaving to get the five kids to adulthood in one piece, which Andi and I accomplished more or less successfully. 

The point of all this is to say that I’ve decided to become a writer/publisher; there simply aren’t any paying jobs here, so I have to invent my own, which is a good thing, though difficult. Something about old dogs and new tricks applies, I think.

I’m going to talk about and around the subjects of 21st century homesteading on the Santa Fe Trail, and on building resilient communities in post-Peak Oil America. I’ve done a ton of reading and thinking, without much in the way of feedback, which I gather isn’t all that unusual. Folks tend to get that glazed-over look when the conversation turns to TSHTF or TEOTWAWKI [if you know the acronyms, you know the look]. I don’t consider myself either a Doomer or a capital “S” survivalist, but these are serious times, and we’re heading for even rougher ones, and I’d like to succeed and help my friends and family do the same.
I picked up a Permaculture certification in 2009. I was on the road after leaving my wife and family and ran across the first ever two-week class at Pine Ridge, SD, so I went. I learned a bunch, mostly on how to start looking at land in order to make permanently productive settlements. I intend to get stuff out of my head and onto the ground here at Taylor Springs.

I also learned that I really loved and missed my wife. We got back together in October 2009, and now here we are, working on our relationship and just being with each other, for the first time since we were kids together in love in the mid-‘60s. It’s been said that addressing a midlife crisis by marrying your [junior] high school sweetheart is the height of folly, but that’s what we did, and I wouldn’t undo it, and I’m forever thankful that I haven’t managed to by my own selfishness and stupidity.

At any rate, this is Post #1 of TaylorSprings.blogspot.com, which I hearby dedicate to my wife, my family, and to you, dear reader. Let’s see where this vehicle takes us.