29 December, 2008

Autopublishing Rocks

I just pre-wrote a post on here and left it to autopublish on its due date.  Kind of a weird feeling - I could be run over by a bus in the interim and that article and others will still publish....

What a great dead-man switch!  "You can't - if you kill me that post will publish and reveal your part in the scheme to hijack that shipment of nuclear weapons!  You need me to delete it before that happens!"

And a good way to creep out your relatives after you die...  Arrange your posts to autopublish at key dates, and hope that someone keeps your blog in their feed reader... %)

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24 December, 2008

Toyota Goes "Me Too!" with their planned EV.

*sigh*.  Yet another electric vehicle.  It seems a bit airheaded of me, I know.  I'm sposed to be shouting all things green from the rooftops, after all this is the green side blog... But... This is Toyota, I like Toyota...  And all they've come up with so far is the decidedly non-green Prius and now this little EV which looks like the minimum amount of design work and effort to get from gas to green.  Gone from "Toyota" to Toyawnta" in one easy step...

Two things that really really REALLY shit me are all the car manufacturers seeming to have agreed on a standard formula already and all building broadly the same EV with a different badge; And all of them, when asked about it, fishing a date out of the same hat: "Oh, when?  Errr, 2010.  Yeah, that sounds good.  Say we said 2010 when you write us up, okay?"

As I said in another article, with any kind of luck this is the tipping point over a slippery slope for the Big Iron auto manufacturers, and while I deplore a waste of billions of dollars as much as the next person, the bailout might just be a cheap price to pay for getting rid of that particular "car"tel...  Because, you do understand that despite the huge suck at the public tit, they will inevitably go "bus"t due to public reaction, as the green message sinks in.

The idea is that just as in evolution, organisms grow until they exceed the capacity of their niche to support them.  That's when you step in and star supplemental feeding, which is what the bailout is.  And then economics takes over and you realise the species is better off extinct...

Meanwhile, small manufacturers will fill the niche, and one hopes they'll do a better job at innovating and coming up with new technology.  And before 2010, thank you very much!  I'm still sure that any number of companies out there could come up with a series of hub motors/batteries/solar conversion kits to turn front-wheel drive petrol engined small cars into fuel/electric dual drives, which could spin out their useable lives by another five years and reduce their petrol consumption by half.

And don't forget all those crazed inventors spruiking and promoting their water to hydroxy gas to water mileage boosters.  Because, these technologies aren't new - my father knew people who converted their cars to use hydroxy gas, steam injection, and even charcoal fired wood-gas to run on.  No kidding - I've seen old faded b&w pix of a car with basically a sealed, wood-heated, wood-containing boiler, and the gas that it boiled out of the wood was used to run the engine...

See, we're overly used to convenience.  That particular guy back in the early 1900's had to plan his trips carefully - fill the chamber with wood, start the fire going, watch the pressure gauge and when the time was ripe, belt off to the nearest village, where (with luck) he had time to cool the chamber, remove the charred remnants, add new wood, and re-stoke for the return trip.  You don't just go impulse shopping when you have a setup like that...

But I digress.  The point was to say that this technology works.  Despite being "invented" every year by someone new, it's the same ideas going around.  The reason they fail is that it's far more convenient to just turn a key and drive away.  No-one except the dedicated person wants to have to fiddle with an electrolyser or fill a steam water vessel before each trip.  The reason the car manufacturers aren't all baying and snapping to develop these ideas isn't because they don't work but because what they already have works and is all market-ready, no additional development costs.

Look at the light bulb - for almost 200 years, we wasted 80% of the electricity that was used in lighting.  almost 100 years ago we had fluorescent tubes, 30 to 40 years ago we had the technology to make CFL bulbs.  But the light bulb manufacturers were using factory plant that had been used for decades (many many deacdes!) and didn't want to go to the bother of upgrading their plant.  Why should they?  It's only been in the last few years that any of them grudgingly made a CFL among their stock lines, and it took force majeure in the form of government regulations before they all started making them.

And in the interim, smaller specialty manufacturers made a fortune selling CFLs and now the major light bulb manufacturers have competition. That's exactly the situation the car industry is heading into now.  Good luck to them all...

There will be other ways to differentiate your EV from others.  A mass commodity market approach would work so much better than the big bucks car showrooms.  After all, people are buying these to be green yes - but the real reason is that they want a cheap form of transport, not some chrome behemoth sold from an expensive car showroom where the cost of that premises and the sales staff must be re"coupe"d.

Also - sharing taxis could be another small thing that adds up - Laurent is apparently working on a few new wrinkles for his cab sharing site, so go there, try it out, and support his effort.

So - the standard formula is Lithium ion style batteries, crap electric drives, and a cont"roller" made in China sold with a different badge on it, and I reckon by 2010, all the big manufacturers will have one at least on the market.  If Toyota want to do something for their image, they would be better off finding a new niche rather than jumping up and down yelling "me too!  me too!"

PS: I realised afterwards that I had all these inadvertent puns so I put quotes round them and slightly changed the font colour.  No reason, it just amused me when I proofed the article and I love stupid puns...

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23 December, 2008

Baby Green Steps

Are you prepared?  Do I sound like one of those survivalists who rose to attention last century, who had stashes of food, weapons, ammunition, clean water, and fallout shelters?  Because, that kind of attitude has always been around, and always it's treated with a mixture of amusement and respect.  Farming and animal husbandry started out of a survivalist attitude - only then they didn't call it "survivalist," they just called it "surviving..."

Similarly, the people most like survivalists today are the sensible treehuggers - not the ones that chain themselves to trees or want to flood the world with pet food animals - rather, the ones who, like us, are quietly going about their day and making each day a little less impacting, a little more self-sufficient.  I don't mind what type of action you take, as long as you're aware of the problems and pitfalls and are doing something positive.  That's what being "Zen" means, on this website and on the zencookbook.com website.

I notice that JH Kunstler predicted a recession, for a variety of reasons, and also that he has suggestions for the following decades.  Now, since his predictions are all proving to be quite uncannily accurate, I will tend to believe a lot of what James says.  Now compare that to this article about what President Obama should do.

There's quite a gulf between the two...  Yet each has valid points as well as weak links.  With the instability in oil prices, I would not be surprised if fossil fuel vehicles see a very sharp decline.  Despite handing auto manufacturer CEO's gloriously bountiful golden handshakes (which is what the bail-outs amount to) those will see a slippery slope from which there will be no coming back.  Similarly, any work invested into that most oxymoronic of oxymorons, "clean coal," will see nothing but billions sunk into a technology which will amount to almost zero benefit to the world.

And as far as keeping things local, I can think of a few things I'd prefer not to localise - health and medicine, for one.  I just can't see how dying in Town A, when the right medications and treatments are available in Town Z a thousand kilometers away, well I can't see how that would be of benefit...

Also - these are big-ticket items, which I can't deal with all by myself.  I'm happy to provide the support for voicing these plans, and spreading what information I have - but I realise that this is something "WE" all will do together.  I'm confident that en masse we will all speak up, and the changes will happen.

Meanwhile, I'm doing the personal, "survivalist" things that I know make a difference at "MY" level - I have a worm farm and hoping to make that a much larger setup so that I can collect scraps and distribute worms and worm fertiliser around my neighbours, in return for maybe some of their produce.  I'm making kitchen planters/seedling raisers and sharing how to make them on this blog, and I use the solar power of the bus to try and offset energy use here - I run the refrigerator out there for keeping longer-term foods, am using the 12V freezer as my deep freezer, and will shortly run out 12V CCFL lights so that I can reduce my energy footprint even more. I tend to run my laptop from a 12V powerpack off the solar batteries, again to reduce the energy footprint.

And I'm experimenting with compact high yield gardens without fertiliser runoff, and as I develop these I'll be posting them to this blog. For example, my in-ground herb patch is already watered by recycled grey water from the washing machine.  My washing machine itself is a recycled item which I saved from becoming landfill, and also a quite efficient little machine.

Because I can see how fragile our hold on "civilisation" really is becoming, and to me that means that there need to be islands of civilisation of a more environmental kind.  Since you're reading this, I presume you must feel very much the same way.  Oh - don't get me wrong, either - I believe technology will definitely pay off for us in environmentally friendly ways if we just keep funding it - also advances on medical technology which will allow us to better survive, and better adapt, and generally live better lives.

I just believe that since I can't develop a safe fusion reactor given my faculties and resources, I can at least take steps to make sure that while I'm waiting for the next big breakthrough, I'll ruin as little of the Eart as possible, to give them more time to think...

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22 December, 2008

Planters Sprout Crop

Update to the kitchen planter article from last week - the soil stayed damp through one of the hottest days, and then the rest of the week, and the seeds have sprouted.
sorry for the blurries, I'm a lousy cam op

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17 December, 2008

Share Taxis In Your City! Save Money!

Here's a service that the concept works for me, and which I'll have to try. http://www.cabeasy.com/ lets you enter a planned cab journey, and someone else can chip in along the way.  Given so many web enabled phones, all it needs is an SMS reminder as well as the email alert, and you could have Twitter-like social sharing of cabs and cab fares.

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14 December, 2008

The UPC Never Lies.

Handy to know in these times of very troublingly contaminated Chinese goods and foods, are the barcodes, the UPC codes, on packaging.

The resellers and retailers who would rather see you buy the cheaper Chinese products will obviously try and obfuscate the country of origin as much as possible, given all the recent bad (and deservedly so) publicity Chinese product has been getting.  But the UPC codes (those barcodes generally printed as part of the packaging) have to be true and correct.

So by knowing which barcodes to avoid, you can save yourself and your family from lead or melamine or other contaminant poisoning.  And it's not as difficult as you'd think.  Look at the first three digits of the UPC barcode, this is the three digit country number.  The ones to watch out for: 690 to 695 are all  made in China.  471 is made in Taiwan.
A UPC Code
Here are a few more - you can safely forget these again, as long as you remember 690 - 695 and 471.

00  ~ 13 USA & CANADA
30  ~ 37 FRANCE
40  ~ 44 GERMANY
49  ~ JAPAN
50  ~ UK
57  ~ Denmark
64  ~ Finland
76  ~ Switzerland and Liechtenstein
741 ~ Taiwan
628  ~ Saudi-Arabia
629  ~ United Arab Emirates
690 - 695 ~ China
740  ~ 745 - Central America
All  480 Codes are made in the  Philippines.

Here's an article on barcodes, and here's a bigger list of countries if you like that kind of thing/

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13 December, 2008

Kitchen Herb Planter For Peanuts

Want to make a few planters for herbs in the kitchen but the garden or hardware store is just too far away? More importantly, do you want to re-use and re-purpose old stuff you'd only be sending to the tip or to the recycle center anyway?
I used some 2.2litre soft drink bottles I had and was feeling guilty about.  I cut it just under the halfway mark and again just above, because these bottles have a stiffener ridge cast into them which gets in the way.
I make a small puncture in the bottle base bit, about 1 - 2 cm down from the cut edge, just to prevent air locks when filling.  Generally a "crease" forms when you jam the two parts into one another and lets air in, but the puncture is just in case that doesn't happen.  (You don't want the bottom airtight because the reservoir won't fill up properly if the seal is too good.)
So then you stuff some kind of porous wadding (I used a fibre wool I salvaged from some old air conditioning ducting but old teeshirt or towel or dishcloth would probably do) through the neck of the top part of the bottle and press in some potting mix fairly tight.  As you can see from the last pic above, that crease did form when jamming the two bottle halves inside one another.
And that's it, really.  Add enough water (about three or four standard cups) to drain through and fill the reservoir, plant your seeds or seedlings, and keep the watering up.  Some liquid fertiliser applied every week or two will help - but not much as it will collect in the reservoir.  And keep it where it will get light, by a window, and don't let it dry out.

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Save A Fortune On Solar Panels!

If it's true that there's a glut of solar panels on the market, then perhaps put off your plans to become energy self-sufficient until late next year?  While the advantages of solar electric and hot water can't be overstated, and the effect of tens of thousands of households switching to nett surplus of energy will undoubtedly alleviate the need for more power stations, the effect on the economy of your pocket of waiting for the cheaper cells may just be worth it.

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12 December, 2008

Enough To Make You Sick? Hell Yeah!

I don't think I've harped on enough yet, about additives and how they DO NOT belong in our food.  Here - I've picked a colouring agent and three preserving/processing agents out of the list which is in the appendix of The Body Friendly Zen Cookbook:

"-Known to provoke asthma attacks (though the US FDA** do not recognise this) and urticaria (nettle rash) in children (the US FDA** estimates 1:10 000); also linked to thyroid tumours, chromosomal damage, urticaria (hives) and hyperactivity; ... used to colour drinks, sweets, jams, cereals, snack foods, canned fish, packaged soups; banned in Norway and Austria

-derived from coal tar; all sulphur drugs are toxic and restricted in use (in USA, FDA** prohibits their use on raw fruits and vegetables), produced by combustion of sulphur or gypsum; known to provoke asthma attacks and difficult to metabolise for those with impaired kidney function, also destroys vitamin B1; typical products are beer, soft drinks, dried fruit, juices, cordials, wine, vinegar, potato products

-used to prevent rancidity in oily substances; derived from nutgalls; may cause gastric or skin irritation, gallates are not permitted in foods for infants and small children because of their known tendency to cause the blood disorder, methaemoglobinemia; used in oils, margarine, lard and salad dressings, sometimes used in packaging

-petroleum based; the HACSG* recommends to avoid it. May cause nausea, vomiting, delirium. A dose of 5g is considered fatal. Typical products are fats, oils, margarine"

With such lovely descriptions, (I've highlighted the most worrisome in red,) you're probably thinking I was very selective and looked hard to find those four.  Truth is, I was very selective, but didn't have to look far - I'd estimate that between one third and one half of all the additives used in our food are known to be toxic, are banned, and cause serious ill effects in people.  And no-one has ANY idea what they do in combination...  

So I suggest that you buy my book, or find a table of additives and known issues, load it on your mobile phone or PDA, and take it shopping next time you feel like getting a rude shock...

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10 December, 2008

Superstore Shells, Post Recession Uses For

Just an idea, of course.  But the question of what the USA calls the "big boxes " (being the shells of huge buildings that the megamarts and others leave behind) is beginning to plague us here too, with large shed-like shells left over when the businesses close or go belly-up being re-used willy-nilly or left empty.

So why shouldn't such buildings be re-purposed green?  By that I mean - they all have decent loading ramp facilities, since they would have had high stock turnover when they were economical.  That means you have one bonus already.

A further bonus is, as pointed out, the parking facilities.  I know it's not green to drive your car everywhere, but for some things you do need transport over and beyond what a bicycle or public bus can offer...

So here are my top uses for old big box buildings:

A recycling center.  You have places for people to drop off whitegoods and electronics, and you accept more incoming from local neighbourhood collection vehicles.  Run these yourself, small electric scooters and vehicles with trailers for larger whitegoods, and just bring local recyclables to your facility.  Once there are a few centres, put a call centre in one and divide up the area into localities, assigned by software.  That way when someone phones in and asks to have their old 51" TV removed, the software informs the relevant recycle centre which can then send out a scooter with a trailer to pick up the TV.

It's an ideal use for these big boxes, provides local employment, and if done right poses no health risks whatsoever.  For some items, a particular centre might hold a specialist section, and recycle those for all centres.  And for anything that will produce noxious byproducts, the centres act as a short term store-and-forward facility for larger facilities located away from the population centres.

Remember when I said we need to change how we sell electric cars?  Well, here's an ideal thing.  Put aside a few square meters for a showroom, or use a whole big box to sell EVs.  Once again, it's a re-use that makes environmentally better use of the places than just knocking them down and rebuilding would.  Selling electric vehicles as a commodity would be the way to go.

Yes, this will lose large car showrooms and sales organisations their status as the suppliers of cars - but let's face it this is a Good Thing, it's time that particular enclave was busted wide open.  Agile companies will convert their car lots into EV lots, or sell them and buy a big box building or two and stop selling fossil fuel cars.

Local nursery outlets.  Loads and loads of green-friendly plants.  Plants that thrive under local conditions and provide one of the essentials such as cover, foods, herbs, shade, and are reasonably decorative.  If these kinds of places are ubiquitous and sell cheap enough, think of the difference it will make to a city to reduce it's water use for gardens and at the same time increase the number of plants improving the air and converting much local waste locally.

Solar and renewable green energy stores.  Stock and supply everything a person needs to reduce their energy needs, generate their own energy, save their greywater, recycle their scraps as compost for plants.

Clothing and household item swap/trade/sell markets would benefit from such large venues, too. These could be a spot set aside for this, no matter what else the store holds, and would serve to make these places a community landmark and center.

When there's no possible use such as above, the places could still be converted by internally partitioning them, into small apartments.  I've seen several big boxes converted in this way, because the shell is already in place, the individual apartments inside were able to be built cheaply and quickly, and generally a two-storey layout is possible.  Stock such apartments with items from the swap/trade/sell markets and they can become crisis housing, add as many recycling and re-use options and they can also serve as examples of what can be done with green living.

I can think of dozens of things such places could be re-used for, and as with all the ideas above, there needs to be a bonus in the form of rates relief from local government, perhaps an incentive from federal government to assist in converting such stores, and for green items, a government rebate to enable such things to be sold cheaper than non-green alternatives.

It's the start of a new paradigm in what shops and facilities are needed, and makes ecologically friendly use of those big box stores, and it will become VERY relevant as time goes by.

And then as the push to be green loses relevance in a decade or so and is replaced by all green, it will be time to bring those big boxes down and recycle them into something else, perhaps apartments as above, or public facilities, or just tear them up, recycle the materials and plant the ground with a community parkland.

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Green Car Is Green... And White.

Fiat is out with a concept EV, which means some car manufacturers are getting the message.
It's a good trend to see.  The Phylla EV seems to be settled right into the standard groove of Lithium batteries and individual electric motors, small and fairly nippy for getting around the city.  Top marks for topping up the batteries with solar power, now let's see if we can't get them into Australia, where one of our top resources, ahead of iron ore and LNG is, in my opinion, the many long sunny days we have, making sunlight our number one renewable energy resource.

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09 December, 2008

I've Solved The Recession.

Well, this falls somewhere on the environment scale, because it's going to carry through to everything we have and do... Aside from the rather biased article title, it's got some sense to it.  And some nonsense.

"Are people reassured by a cheque with a large "DON'T PANIC!" sign attached?" is roughly one of the take-homes out of the article.  Want an answer?  From me, being one of the pensioners the article refers to and the bonus applies to, the answer is a resounding "shit no, I'm gonna panic!"

Some of us lived through tough times as kids.  Our family was never affluent, we had enough, we never went hungry or poorly clothed, but we sure didn't exactly wallow in it.  We remember either living through, or hearing about our parents living through, depression.  And now we're being told we can spend our way out of a recession.  Hell yeah.

The article says it's thought that most of the handout will be saved rather than spent.  Again, speaking from the point of view of a pensioner, I can answer that too:  "hell yeah I will put some of this aside!"

You know why? Because after living on the starvation borderline shit scrap of income they call a pension, it feels good to have some spare cash around for the bills that used to cripple me financially.  It's good to know that there's a safety net.  Even if it will only last a short while, at least it is there...

And here's another reason I won't spend it immediately - it's because the people who will be "bailed out" by me spending my bonus won't be myself, or the kid working down at Woolies pulling down an even more shit income than I am.   No - it'll be companies like Woolies who reap the benefit.  Giving us this bonus ends up much the same as if K-Rudd had just given my $1400 to some rich arsewipe on the board of Coles or Telstra or any other of the dishonest bastards that run the money machines.

Australia will slip-slide its way to a recession not because we lack confidence that our leaders can rein in the economy, but because we've had proven to us time after time by the previous government that they will stick money - preferably our money - up the arses of every large corporation they can find, and there is no justice for working Australians, and certainly there was no justice nor pity for pensioners.

For K-Rudd to reel in this one, a better approach, much as I find myself loath to agree with it, is to provide tax cuts for wage earners, and enforce some economic leashes on large corporations such as banks, which cry poor year after year, nibble away our income one one hundredth of a percentage point at at time - and then come up with a several billion dollar profit at the end of each year...  Those billions had to come from somewhere Mr Rudd, and I respectfully suggest that I paid hundreds of thousands towards those billions in my working lifetime, and I'm even now still being ripped off for part of my meager pension by those same banks.

I say, Mr Rudd, that if you reined in the "magicians" of the stock market who make money trading money they don't have and instead use my money as collateral, that would be better for the economy than shoving more of my tax dollars into their ventures as a "bailout."

I contend that if you show the balls that John Howard lacked throughout his slimy career, and told the petrol companies they can either accede to a Government-directed pricing structure or else take their business elsewhere, that a lot more Australians than just pensioners would benefit.

If you, Mr Rudd, told the farmers "doing it tough" all over Australia to either adapt or else move on, perhaps we'd be exporting crops that are more suited to our environment as it currently is, and shoveling less money into a dead horse dying of thirst.

I say that if we put more effort and funds towards clean energy and research into clean energy and renewable/sustainable living and technology, we would have something to export, something that will do the real job of saving the economy and the world.  Stick "clean coal" where it belongs, i.e. someplace deep and dark where the sun don't shine, and let's give our Australian inventors and researchers and entrepreneurs some incentive to stay here and make money for our country instead of draining off overseas.

We still throw out millions of tons of recycleable rubbish every year, or send it offshore for processing.  How about an industry in cleanly recovering and recycling some of that?  We have the brilliant minds working on recovery processes, we have the sunlight to provide the energy, and we have all those farmers out of jobs that would be better off working at something that earns money such as recovering material from recyclables.

There may be less of those stuffed shirts working at being CEOs and other assorted freeloaders, but they can get a job selling our new technology overseas, pitching for research grants, and doing whatever it is that these tossers did before, only now for a good cause instead of an evil one...

Those farmers that want to remain in primary production might want to consider farming kangaroos.  The old excuse that it's too expensive just doesn't wash anymore - nothing can be more expensive than $23/kg lamb in a land that prided itself on the fact that it got to the top on the sheep's back.  Or maybe they can find a more natural crop plant - we do have some food plants that it might be worth checking out - the Aborigines didn't live on sunshine and geckos before we came here, after all.

Stop thinking along traditional lines!  Times are anything BUT traditional, move with them!

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