19 June, 2022

The Mis-Scanned Apple

ShopNotLifting

This is not going to be a pretty post. There will be ranting and swearing. Probably a lot of it.

Have a read here. I sooo had another go at the Big Duopoly several years back but can't locate the particular article nor even what blog it was in, but it was about the early days of self-checkout, and Coles wanted the local constabularies near their supermarkets to attend and catch people committing fraud by swiping the wrong things at the right prices, so to speak. 

You can see why that might have stirred me up a little, right? They were cutting out the wages of around a dozen checkout operators per store, along with said checkout operators, realised they'd probably made a terrible mistake by letting people swipe avocados at potato prices. . .

And at that, you might have expected that with all the savings they were making, some prices might have eased back a bit, right? But no - prices went up because "losses." And then they realised they might have to pay the store security more to patrol the self-checkouts, and so they ask our police that we pay for out of the public purse to save them having use their security. So - screw us by taking away checkpout operators, screw us some more by not passing any of the savings back to us, and then screw us by tying up several police in each suburb that they operate a store in.

Yeah. Triggered. 

And now here we go again. Woolworths was one of the companies (along with pretty much every other business) that worked hard and long to create the gig economy we're now working under so that people are earning less than ever before, inflation is rising daily and so people have less money and the idea of underscanning becomes pretty appealing. 

"Fuji, red delish, or gala" - here's an idea - price them realistically you bunch of mangy money-grubbing maggots. And get more checkout operators, they'll know this stuff and check it out accurately. It's a problem you created for yourself and now you're moaning about it? 

We've been allowing them to do this. For decades I've been blogging and writing articles about Keeping The Bastards Honest, a phrase I stole unashamedly from Don Chipp of the Australian Democrats back in 1977 because they're no longer using it but it's more relevant than ever, and nowadays not just against an opposing political Party. 

For the last forty years the food duopoly of Woolworths and Coles has had pretty much free rein. If you didn't sell your produce to them, you just didn't sell it. If you didn't produce enough to meet your quota, you just didn't sell it. Once you and all the other producers were in the contract trap, the contract prices shrank. 

As a customer, you went to a "super" market that had a wide range of products and paid a reasonable but not extortionate profit for it - and forsook the small corner groceries, fruit and veg greengrocers, butchers, and bakers. Once those had been priced out and closed their doors, prices went up, the range and variety of products shrank, and the prices (and the profits) went up again.

Then corners were cut, and suppliers of tinned and bottled goods were squeezed in their turn, finally dropped and offered them a bone to make "supermarket generic brand" versions of their best sellers, then sold those. The range of varieties available to us shrank again. 

Are you seeing where this is heading? Eventually you'll get only generic brand of the most common staples, priced at premium, and all those other bothersome manufacturers will have been driven into the ground... 

Look - it takes money to break into a field where another company has a headstart. My schoolfriend's parents ran a F&V store that could compete with supermarkets of the day. But the store went down the tubes just like all the others, and the parents have long passed away taking their expertise with them. 

Now, if Stevie wanted to resurrect the parents' F&V, he'd have to compete with Coles, Woolworths, IGA, Foodworks, and ALDI. And learn the trade all over again, and build contacts and suppliers and transport. He'd need to have some cash behind him - but he's been on gig wages for two years now and, well... 

In every blog post where I've railed against the Big Food corporations I've used the NatDems rallying cry to ask people to vote with their dollars and buy from anywhere but the supermarkets. Every dollar you spend there enables the things I mentioned above to happen. At the very least you should avoid the duopoly and shop at IGA, Foodworks, ALDI. At best, buy more from markets, farm gate stores, the few remaining F&V and butchers that are still holding their own. 

I've used "Keep the bastards honest" to exhort people to do just that - if there's some person or organisation doing something wrong - call it out! If there's a threat to free speech - fix it! We wouldn't have the garbage crisis we now have if people had called it out 14 years ago. 

Footnote:

In addition to writing these articles I'm also experimenting with ways of recycling waste that can be done at the cottage industry or community hub levels, not so much because it'll magically convert 100% of local waste into recycled useful articles, but because people who are doing these sorts of activities are likely to talk about them to people in their community, and so raise even more awareness of the issues and dangers.

So please - if you can at all spare some time, take a look at my News Stand where you'll see live updated links to everything I publish; And take some time and share the links to the News Stand and this article with your friends and readers. 

Take a subscription to my weekly newsletter where you'll receive the same information; 

Or maybe contact me via the webform; Or email me;

You can also donate either directly or at my Ko-Fi page for the price of a coffee, or even make a regular monthly donation there.

All donations are put towards keeping these websites online, and for developing devices, machines, and techniques to easily and safely recycle materials on a tiny scale.

14 June, 2022

Plastic Statistics

How Big Is The Waste Problem? 

ADDITION OF LINK NEEDED! PTEC3D What's the state of plastic recycling? 

Let me put it to you this way: If you're not frightened then you're a pretty special kind of person. That is all. 

I won't keep you from that article for long, except to say that I'm one of the very scared people. I've put forward an article that has a possible solution (not mine, just some news I came across) to the
---.--->PET plastic<---.--- issue, which is one of the biggest sources of waste plastic after plastic bags. 

We're on this slippery slope and we need to act now.

70,000,000 PET bottles a year. Untold tens of millions of  PET food containers. Over five hundred billion plastic bags a year. And we're not talking all the rest of the plastics yet.

But I'm doing something about it and so can you.

In addition to writing these articles I'm also experimenting with ways of recycling waste that can be done at the cottage industry or community hub levels, not so much because it'll magically convert 100% of local waste into recycled useful articles, but because people who are doing these sorts of activities are likely to talk about them to people in their community, and so raise even more awareness of the issues and dangers.

So please - if you can at all spare some time, take a look at my News Stand where you'll see live updated links to everything I publish; And take some time and share the links to the News Stand and this article with your friends and readers. 

Take a subscription to my weekly newsletter where you'll receive the same information; 

Or maybe contact me via the webform

You can also donate either directly or at my Ko-Fi page for the price of a coffee, or even make a regular monthly donation there.

All donations are put towards keeping these websites online, and for developing devices, machines, and techniques to easily and safely recycle materials on a tiny scale.

27 May, 2022

Taking The Heat (Off The Planet)

 Beaming Heat Out To Space

Earth's fever is down to two things - One, greenhouse gases, yep. And fossil fuels, two. Both can be argued to be sides of the one coin, and it can also be argued that we're the ones that flipped it.

Fossil Fuels And Warming 

OKAY OKAY I know this is done to death and boring but no - it isn't. Our lives 99% depend on people knowing this, and the young generations' lives will 100% depend on everyone knowing this and being on the same page. Choose your future. . .

Fossil fuels come from . . . well, fossils. The carbon cycle starts when plants use sunlight to split carbon out of CO2 in the air. That carbon is, in effect, the energy that the plant absorbs from the sun, stored as the plant's body. Plants are solar panels that take sunlight and turn it into carbon and are also their own battery, that stores that carbon. 

When an animal eats the vegetation, they're just charging up from a solar battery. When an animal eats another animal, they're charging from a power bank. When animals use the energy they've absorbed, they exhale CO2. Which the next generation of plants crack back to carbon and oxygen using solar energy.

Some plants don't get eaten and die naturally, and they take that carbon-stored solar energy into the soil. And when the animals that 'charged' up by eating other carbon-based stuff die, they take energy into the soil. And basically that's what carbon sequestration is. Burying old solar energy. 

We burn it (in the form of coal and petroleum products) in fires and smelters and steam engines and vehicles and power stations to make electricity, and burning recombines the carbon with oxygen to make CO2. The trouble is that in doing we're doing damage twice. The energy stored in fossil fuels is extra energy - it was buried down deep and its turn to come back to the surface isn't supposed to be up yet. 

And secondly, once CO2 gets aloft in the atmosphere, it traps heat that would normally have been radiated out to space. (In fact, the technologies I'll be mentioning are actually connected to this.) Heat increases, and that's bad because aside from driving planetary temperatures up and making life difficult or downright impossible for various species, there's also a lot more energy being stored in the oceans and the air.

Weather is driven by that heat energy. Each passing day, the overall temperature of everything goes up by a miniscule amount. It might be 0.01C per day or 0.000000001C, but it's currently only going ☝ up. The tiny increments seem ridiculous, but they add up. In the last half a century they've added up to 0.9C, almost a whole degree.

Something like a 0.9C temperature change in a bathtub full of water is only tiny bit of extra energy - but there's a lot more water than that in the oceans, and they're a whole 7,053,400,000,000,000,000 times bigger than a bathtub between them. 

(That's a rough guess, bathtubs contain around 50 gallons, the oceans apparently hold around 352,670,000,000,000,000,000 gallons. It's science. I could work it all out but frankly my eyes are sort of glazing over already.

It's enough to say that the oceans gain a lot of heat energy every day. That creates wilder storms, changes wind and water flow patterns, causes droughts and storms and fires - climate disasters just like we're seeing already.

So that's the situation. We can't wind back the centuries, can't put all that CO2 and carbon back without needing even more energy and releasing even more heat. We need to do something - and actually a lot of somethings - to stop this self-reinforcing cycle. What we can do is the topic today.

How To Get The CO2 Out

Power Generating Plant

It's the obvious target isn't it? Just switch off coal and oil fired power stations.

Just for interest, since setting climate targets for decarbonising (stopping the use of fossil fuels and switching to clean sustainable energy and taking tons of carbon out of the atmosphere) we've hit about . . . around about . . . ummm . . . none of them actually. 

So - just switch off coal and oil fired power stations. . .

And replace them . . . with . . . what? That's the problem. Our energy demands keep going up and up as we face hotter weather and so we need more energy-hungry air conditioning, and even though solar farms and wind farms are virtually being thrown up around the world at amazing speed, our energy demand is easily outpacing the rate at which we add capacity.

That's not to say that we should give up. Each new clean energy source we build is another miniscule shift in the right direction. The world gained this energy one miniscule shift at a time, and so this works.

Also, and going back to those oceans: People don't get how BIG the planet is and it takes a lot of energy to shift its overall temperature and will take a lot of effort to shift it back. I'll get back to this a bit further down the article. 

Transportation

So - get all vehicles off the roads then. Replace them with hydrogen and battery electric vehicles. Up goes our energy demand to manufacture those cars, and then after that, up goes demand again to keep those vehicles charged and running. 

(To their credit, EVs charging off the energy grid are still more efficient - and cause less carbon pollution - than combustion engined vehicles,. mile for mile and year for year. But they are still an energy hog.)

I'll tell you that I think one day we'll just lease vehicles on microleases, you want to go somewhere you tap an app, an EV appears, you go to your destination, the vehicle disappears to go drive someone else - no parking fee, no maintenance costs, just Pay As You Go. 

To be balanced, there are also some other problems with this. First you can never keep anything in 'your' car and (fore example) I like to keep a first aid kit, fishing line, and fold up shopping cart plus some solid shopping bags in the car. 

And if the person before you was infectious with, oh, say for argument, something like COVID, then you might become ill. Or if you leave your purse or wallet in that car, you have little hope of getting it back. 

But I firmly believe that not owning a private car will be necessary. Think of the suburbs, how many acres of driveways are there? And on those driveways sit private cars. For 95% of the day, every day. Rusting, dripping the odd oil, but not being used. This means that you could theoretically use 90% fewer cars if we shared them. 

And THAT is why car and fuel companies don't want us to get the sharing EV mindset. They're multiple industries that are currently taking in trillions of dollars - and creating this problem in the first place. They're sitting in the catbird seat, they're successfully taking money from us for fuels and energy and vehicles, and then they're successfully making the recovery our problem so that they don't have to spend any of that hoard. On top of that are whole industries built on top - sales lots, showrooms, garages, petrol stations, and so forth. As I said, it's going to take a LOT to shift the energy equation back into the black.

So, we're seeing adverts for the 'convenience' of owning one or two vehicles apiece, the 'freedom' the vehicles supposedly afford us. 

Some of our biggest generators of CO2 are:

Generating electricity, of course. It's a nice low-hanging fruit that means minimal disruption to our 'convenience-based' way of life. 

Air travel, shipping, road transport, agricultural, mining, and public transport. Getting more problematic.

Personal transport such as cars and RVs and 4WD not used for work purposes, motorcycles and scooters. Difficult choices.

Petrol engined lawn mowers and line trimmers and hedge trimmers and the like. 

There's also a huge amount of materials and work involved in changing all of these over. The ecological cost of digging ever more material up, the energy costs associated with the manufacturing processes. 

How To Get The Heat Out

Aircondition less. Yeah I know it sounds a bit glib and pat, but what if you could get the heat out without needing as much energy? Several technologies are coming to the fray. One is a material that beams heat straight through the atmosphere and out into space. There are two links in the last sentence because it's getting wide recognition and thus it shouldn't be long before we see it able to clear heat to infinity and beeeyooonnnd! as Buzz would say.

The next one generates electricity from heat rather than light, and the developers are seeing it as a way to successfully extract more energy from insolation. (Insolation: the incoming solar radiation.) And that's topnotch because it makes use of more of the solar spectrum and gets more energy out of the same acreage of solar panels.

And there's a third candidate that wants to do a thing I can't help but consider to be somewhat problematic, and that's to 'generate electricity from solar panels at night'. But I hasten to add that I'm just not sure - I don't have all the facts.

Okay - the heat mirrors. They're a bit tricky to make - now. But anything like this starts out tricky, just ask any innovator. The first internal combustion engines were cranky, erratic, and prone to all manner of spectacular failures. A few years later they had more or less reliable cars powered with the technology, and Henry Ford was producing cars en masse not long afterwards. 

So these are mirrors. But it seems from the description that it retransmits the sun's heat back up at a wavelength that is more able to pass through the air without heating it. So that's a bonus, it reflects more heat out than remains behind.

And these mirrors are also a passthrough element. Put heat in and they retransmits that just the same way. Run cooling pipes against the underside, and it'll suck that heat out, cooling whatever you're running in the system. Use it like an alternative to airconditioning, need to use conventional airconditioning less. And as with everything, someone will figure out how to integrate it into airconditioning units directly, leading to multistorey buildings becoming far more efficient. 

Direct rising warm air flwoing up the side of buildings up and under the panels and the heat in that air too will get sent to space and cool air will fall down, cooling the famous 'urban heat islands' that are our cities. 

If every city makes a conscious effort to put as much of the urban landscape and buildings under heat mirrors, they'll use less electricity to keep cool. 

Next, the device that can extract electricity from heat with almost double the efficiency at which solar panels extract electricity from sunlight. These work better at higher temperatures but luckily we already have great heat pumps, and they can concentrate the heat to these devices. 

Moreover, as the article points out, we can easily use solar energy to heat stuff to extreme temperatures already, too. It's the principle behind many of the solar farms you see with a single tower at their centre. If you wanted to store the day's heat in molten salts or some other means, you could run it over these TPV cells and they extract heat, turn it to electricity, and you have a solar power system that runs day and night and through cloudy weather.

Now we come to the one thing I'm not so sure of. I'm fine with recovering waste heat from existing processes. I'm even okay with storing the day's solar energy and using it to do work another time, generating heat in the process. It radiates away during the night, right? And with the heat mirror we can dump some excess heat day and night to balance it out, right? 

So this bit from the article gives me doubts:

"We get energy from the sun — it arrives, it warms up the Earth but then the Earth actually radiates the exact same amount of energy back out into space," he says.

That's a balance, right? And because we have excess heat, we already know the balance has changed - in the wrong direction. So why would we want to capture it and store it instead? I'm just not sure. Maybe the heat mirrors will help me get over this doubt.

Thoughts

We have technology, we have resources. What we don't seem to have is to use some of those resources to fix the planet, for what seem to be quite trivial reasons. Maybe we need a good wake-up call, well what do we call successively hotter temperatures, worse fires, worse storms, worse flooding, worse droughts? What do we need, dammit? 

And that also brings me to another thought. You may have heard of the Fermi Paradox - scientists, faced with the growing proof that life was probably not an isolated and rare phenomenon, wondering why, if so much life must exist, we haven't seen signs of it yet? (For example, meteorites have been found that have life chemicals embedded in them - how much more proof do we need? Are we really so unwilling to accept anything outside our range?)

And that led other scientists to propose that there's a "Great Filter" event that stops life at some critical point of its development. I think we may be at ours. . .

And also, if that's the case, that industrialisation and resource exploitation are the Great Filter, then one way we should be able to identify any planets that have advanced life on them would be to see if they're emitting more heat than they should be. . .

Conclusion

If we don't act, then Great Filter or not, we're pretty much going to be Filtered anyway, within a generation. Any survivors will get thrown back to a level of civilisation that existed several thousand years ago. Albeit a puzzling one with a lot of puzzling things around them. 

Action is called for. YOUR action also. Time to bite the bullet and start making repairs and reparations. I'm happy to start and in fact I've been doing so - reducing my footprint, writing like mad to make people aware, working on means to recycle plastics and other waste materials and keep the out of the waste stream, and writing - did I mention the writing? I do a lot of that, it takes up 75% of my entire week to conceive, research, and write articles.

So please - if you can at all spare some time, take a look at my News Stand where you'll see live updated links to everything I publish; Or take a subscription to my weekly newsletter where you'll receive the same information in your inbox for free; Or contact me via the webform or directly email me; Or donate either directly or at my Ko-Fi page for the price of a coffee, or even make a regular monthly donation there..

16 May, 2022

Biobots And Plastic Recovery

 

Actually, This Biobot Video May Be The Greatest Thing Ever

The Next Big Thing In Plastic Recovery?

This video shows that RCX-AU may already be outdated, superseded by our ever-advancing technology. Here's what appears to be a fledgling field of biotechnology making organic robots which are for now quite limited, but can round up material, follow paths surprisingly well, or are able to be controlled by external stimuli. 

The bot above is shown (in the video I linked above) pushing an accumulation of stuff in an anticlockwise direction. There's the video of a swarm of them making little piles and donuts of stuff. 

BONUS: If the 'stuff' happens to be a heap of the same kinds of cells as the biobots are composed of, the piles seem to be able to form themselves into copies of the biobot. Not quite birth, but spontaneous automatic self-assembly. 

Their inventors have also given them a 'single-bit memory' that currently causes them to change colour if they encounter particular chemicals, but it's a fair certainty that the scientists will find other useful functions for them to fulfill. I'm not entirely sure it'll be possible but maybe if they throw some biochem AI at it they might find some really interesting uses for biobots:

  1. If it can be made selective enough, how about 'bots that turn a particular colour if they bump up against a particular type of plastic like, oh let's say microparticles of PET, HDPE, PP, or PVC? That way a customised batch of bots can be released over an area to highlight all that 'forever' PET by turning orange. Another batch can turn blue in the presence of HDPE, and so on. This kind of precise indication would be important because HDPE is an eminently recyclable plastic. 
  2. Just for laughs, that software the people in the video used to design their critters might be able to come up with a design that pushes until the detector protein activates and then close up around or at least attached to the particle as well as marking what type it is by their colour. 
  3. If the biobot could also swell when triggered then it would become less dense and float the particle up in a water environment. (Think Pacific Garbage Patch/Gyre)

I say they might find such uses but I'm actually pretty sure that these kinds of things will be reasonably simple with the application of AI to do the biochem scutwork. That's the kind of thing AI excels at, running millions of combinations and iterations, and it's being used to discover potential drug candidates, evolve other AI software, and iterate over physical designs just like the program that currently designs the biobot shapes.

Scaling Up

The next issue I can think of is production of useful quantities of such biobots because at present this work is done by human researchers manually following the software's guidance. What's needed is a lot of tiny micromanipulators that function a bit like our currently available telepresence surgical robots.

TP surgical robots can be operated by a human or a medical surgery program. Scale it right down and strip it down to just the few functions needed for snipping and shaping cells and you can feed the code for a particular 'bot into it over and over. 


Let one surgical program control a dozen or more tiny telesurgery bots and you can start to mass-produce biobots to order. With specific properties to collect specific materials and tag them. 

And for really fast development, the AI that designs the biobots could send the code to a picosurgery unit, have a series of biobots pumped out, and it could even evaluate its own accuracy by using computer vision to observe the products in action, adjust its own algorithms, and so forth. Once you have a design that does what you want, you send that code to a mass-production minifactory.

You can see where that's going, right? Free the scientists to just deciding on useful missions for biobots, let the AI find solutions, let the minifactories generate a batch of specialised biobots. And - just like 3D printers - these minifactories are initially going to be a bit specialised and require laboratory conditions but we develop things fast with the tech we have at our fingertips already.

So it won't be long before it's small and portable enough to be installed on a ship in the Great Garbage Patch and churn out biobots for identifying plastics from near the seafloor, identify what type, and float thew marked particles of it to the surface, and the ship can just skim particular-coloured scum, remove moisture from it, and fill containers with the lovely recyclable plastic. 

A supply vessel would bring out raw materials, rotate shift crews, and take back lots of containers full of lovely recoverable plastic that only needs the biobots washed off it. And old biobots would be a good ingredient in compost or liquefied to make oil or be burned to biochar yielding energy in the process.

Of course you don't need the whole AI setup out on the barge, just the code to make the biobots. And updates to that code can be sent over satellite, mobile network, USB stick, or even radio. New designs could be disseminated in minutes. 

One downside I can immediately think of is to keep active biobots away from pigs - just in case we end up with a 'grey goo' situation in piggeries. And of course there are also nanobots that are made with human muscle tissue as the primary movement element. Luckily there seem to be no recorded attempts to build a new human but the whole grey goo style scenarios will need to be checked for and eliminated.

(Okay - I admit that's a touch far-fetched perhaps, but despite me being an enthusiastic supporter of using clean tech to fix the planet's issues, I am also looking at other possibilities - I for one would prefer to survive, un-gooed. . .)

I'm not saying there's any danger but it always pays to check check and check again, we have a long history of doing half-assed things like introducing rabbits, foxes, and cane toads into a pristine environment... In the current situation, in fact, we have a perfect example of this - for decades we've just gone ahead and made plastic the indispensable cornerstone of industry and commerce, and oh dear - no-one thought about microplastic bits and those near-immortal - yet so eminently disposable - PET drink bottles.

The point is that as I said in the article AI Is Changing The World already, technology and AI are already changing the world, and one useful way they are able to do that is accelerating the speed at which we can go from an idea to turning out finished products in record time. This is especially useful if that technology is useful for cleaning up the environment or eliminating some other dirty technology - and is cleaner than the stuff it's cleaning up.

And one of the best ways AI and this new biotechnology could be applied right now is to the waste problem. For instance - sorting waste into specified categories is currently achieved by a combination of mechanical and human methods and is still far from producing perfect pure stockpiles of recyclable materials. 

But a band of plucky young nano-bio-bots could change all that. Using AI and technology to do the widespread yet tiny scale tasks of finding waste in the wild, corraling it up, sorting it, and bringing it to central waste recovery / recycling facilities is something we have the capabilities right now to achieve. No ifs or buts, these aims are rapidly attainable given a willingness to finance and support them. 

One More - IMPORTANT - Thing To Consider

The Great Garbage Patches in the ocean whirlpools known as the Gyres have been shown to be a bit problematic all of a sudden. Life, it turns out, fills niches - even niches we know next to nothing about even though we literally created them - really quickly. 

The Gyres are apparently teeming with life that's using them as a habitat, and that life has just made itself at home among the garbage. 

It's now becoming a bit of a Catch-22 irony. Clean up all that plastic - and risk scooping up all the neuton (the name for all this microscopic and tiny lifeforms as a group) as bycatch and doing to neuton pretty much as megatrawlers do to larger marine life... 

The article admits that we know very little about these tiny food sources for the larger fish life, but I imagine that before the plastic filled these gyres, they'd have been packed with rafts of neuton, probably not ever seen before as a) they wouldn't be on any major routes and b) quite likely not very visible, possibly even floating mostly under the surface.

And now that we've seen that these gyres are chock full of plastic trash, it's not hard to imagine that this may be one reason the ocean fish stocks are collapsing so quickly - plastic (being light and bulky) displacing neuton and thus depleting an important food resource for the oceans. At least, that makes a lot of sense to me. What do you think? Feel free to use the Contact Me details in the footer.

Once again, even here I imagine these microbiobots could prove helpful IF they can be developed into something that can isolate the plastics only for scooping up. If they could be made to slowly form very large clumps, then those could be harvested with minimal disturbance to the neuton, and so the plastic could be removed relatively slowly and allow the old 

Conclusion

Getting the money is a matter of governments and corporations making funds and resources available. Access to machining, laboratories, and other facilities are the easiest of things for a corporation or government to make available to researchers, and would help save the planet. (It wasn't so long ago that I'd have considered a phrase like that to be hyperbole. Now it's a fact of life that'll be uncomfortably and permanently driven home to us all within the next 2 - 5 years.)

This is why we all need to become activists and publicise and pressure in every way we can to raise awareness and make it happen. I guess you haven't gotten this far without hearing about RCX-AU, an the main purpose of that is to make communities more aware of and open to recycling and themes like this article.


As I've been researching this article, one thing has begun to stand out for me - just who publishes what. I see literally thousands of articles by mainstream media outlets that explain how hopeless the problems of sorting, managing, and recycling waste are, how insurmountable and expensive remediation will be. 

You can tell that MSM is driven by corporate policies. Because it IS so much cheaper to dig up new raw materials than it is to actually recover and recycle the waste that's inevitably produced. (Excerpt, of course, the lives of the people at the mine face so to speak, and the lives of the people whose crops and lives are poisoned by the waste or who are themselves directly poisoned by it. But corporations don't have a column in their spreadsheet for something as irrelevant as human lives. . .)

It's easier to wave hands, shrug shoulders, "it's too much for the economy to bear," "it's too hard, insurmountable" and the like. But that's bullshit. There are people out there that have the answers, and all they need is financial and material support.

Here on the other side of the coin are community and public forums, and news and blogging sites like Medium, and blogs like my blogs among others, that aren't beholden to big business bucks, and are telling the stories of how easy it could be if only some effort and money was put into relevant technologies and research. Once you start looking you can find a large - a HUGE - cohort of bloggers and writers and scientists and researchers who are calling bullshit on the huge corporations and showing ways it CAN be done cheaply and efficiently.

I know you can't support all of them. But you could support my suite of blogs and sites - subscribe to the suite newsletter (only one email a week, no flooding your inbox) - or go to the News Stand and see what my other blogs are up to. You could also make a monthly donation on my Ko-Fi.com which is actually a good way to help me keep server fees paid and also let me buy the parts for developing my recycling machines. Or you could just directly Paypal me a donation. 

07 May, 2022

I've Got Worms - And That's a Good Thing!

 Using Worms In Your Garden

The TEdAWORM garden bed

Our new landlord (as of two and a bit years ago) took over our lease from the old landlord, put up our rent - and then took away 96% of what area we'd had for gardens by splitting the block in half. . . We had to lift about 25sqm of raised and in-ground garden beds out of the huge backyard and move six of them into the pocket-handkerchief-sized front courtyard garden we were left with, and that 5sqm plus about 2sqm more in between the beds became the new vegetable garden. The other 12sqm or so is our ornamental and relaxing garden. 

We loved our backyard vege garden and always had a few things growing in it for cooking, and now suddenly we were down to a quarter of the space I'd had to make it produce for us. I'm a slightly less than average gardener which doesn't help - I forget to water on the hottest day and lose a whole crop, I get too unwell to physically get on the ground and pull weeds so they compete with the plants I want, and so this time I've aimed for gardening I can manage and that will produce well for us.

I remembered ages ago reading about keyhole gardens in Lesotho Africa and decided they were ideal. 

Except.

We had those tiny rectangular 95x85 steel garden beds you can buy at most garden and hardware places for $20 - $40 and they aren't anywhere near high enough. A real keyhole garden bed should be waist high. So instead I concentrated on the feeding bucket part of the whole thing and realised I could use that as a starting point for a small worm feeder system for a small raised bed.

Breaking Ground

First we looked at the area we had which was a newly fenced area that had a 45 degree chamfered corner for reversing out of the driveway. We made an L shape with equal sides and it took 5 garden beds. 
I later abandoned the idea of having uprights and
everything just sits on the ground and doesn't move.

The little Tinkercad sketch I made (above) was all we needed in order to break ground on the project. It was rough but we bought some big garden sleepers and made it so. Two garden beds sit in each leg, and one in the diagonal section. There's weed mat laid down all throughout. There's a space between the beds in each leg, that we stuck plastic pots in. And there are spaces, one either side of the angled bed, with more pots in.

The raised beds were placed, and two cuts 100mm long and at right angles made in the centre of each bed, a sort of "X marks the spot" for the TEdAWORM Worm Feeder. (Yes, I have a quirky need to put that naming convention and capitalisation on anything I do and that the format works for, why do you ask? Hehehe...)

The TEdAWORM Worm Feeders.

This is where my thinking cap hatched A Plan. The feeder section in a keyhole garden is where you drop scraps for the worms, and the worms do the job of eating it, digesting it, and then depositing it around the garden bed in the form of worm poop. 

I had two problems, three if you include that whole needing to be waist-high above ground thing. The other two problems were the weed mat (needed here because a kindly neighbour has infested the whole block with Kikuyu type grass that we've had climb straight up half a metre in the dark and then push up through floorboards) which people say worms have no trouble squeezing through but I was dubious; and how to make a repeatable worm feeder that looked good enough to be in our living space courtyard.

Also, I had old packing cartons and laid those over the weed mat as a further isolating layer. It breaks down really quickly in the warm moist damp climate and soil climate here so it would have melted into the soil by now but it did help keep everything in place while we worked.

The problem then was to feed worms, lure them up above the weed mat into the garden bed soil, and be able to close the feeder against evaporation and bright light because worms hate both of those things. There's also the old myth that worms hate vibrations but there's a highway 5m away from the beds and our worms have never heard that particular story and don't care at all even when a big B double semitrailer rig thunders past and makes our windows rattle. Long live the worms! 

view of one bedview down the wormhole...

worm feeder detail 1 worm feeder detail 2


Okay - so you can see almost all the elements of the garden beds come together in those four photos. The sleepers forming the "meta-bed," the gap between a bed and the next one for pots; then a view down the food chute, and two pictures of the 100mm PVC pipes that the worm feeders are made out of.

There's some amount sticking out above the ground. In my case I used about 20-30cm stuck above the soil, then holes drilled in the pipe from just below the surface of the garden bed's soil, then a line approximately where the pipe will go through the "X" cuts in the weed mat, and then another 20-30cm below that where the food forms a lure to bring worms in.

True Story I Swear: I probably needn't have bothered to make any arrangements for the worms to get from the holes below to the holes above the mat. When I went to plant the first plants the ground already had worms in it. Might have been because we also shifted much of the original gardens' soil and reconditioned it then used it to fill these beds, but they were also straight up through the weed mat, they then also quickly found their way up the drain holes in the big pots, and were teeming in the pots - and we used new bagged potting mix in those so it had no worms prior to filling into the pots...

Anyway. We dug down into the ground under the Xs and pushed the PVC pipes down, then returned a few handfuls of the dirt back down the pipes to lock the bottom in place, and after a year, they're immovably locked into the ground.

Five 100mm end caps with some plastic drawer handles make the lids to seal the feeders, and the reason I made my tubes stick up 30cm above the bed is that at that height I can reach over the wire mesh surrounds you can see in the first picture to fill the feeders, because we needed to let our cats enjoy the courtyard too, but stop them digging up our seedlings to poop there.

beds in first time usedetail of wire panel

Here are three more clever things - the lattice panels were recovered from our old garden beds and resized to fit into a bed for climbing support. Then in the detail picture you can see how I hinged the front and sides of the wire mesh panels so that they can be folded and stashed flat when not needed.

And you may have picked up that there's actually a third raised bed right at the end outside the sleepers, and that's the one we put in especially as a cat loo - and of course, they don't use. So now we've actually used it as a composting bed, and grow potatoes under it and green compost plants up top, and turn that material under a bit and then use it to top up the organic content of the other five beds. The cats meanwhile get the use of each garden bed we fallow for a few months so they get to enrich everywhere... 

Last Minute Words Of Wisdom

We've had these beds since late 2019 / early 2020 and they've been productive as anything. I drop clippings down the feeders, food scraps and composted food scraps, and sometimes even a handful of soil. The worms seem to carry most everything away, but if they ever needed clearing out a small scoop on a stick would do it, and the worm cast brought up could be used on the garden beds to enrich the soil and improve water holding capacity. 

I could 3D print a suitable scoop and I might do that one day, if I do the .STL files and some new images will appear in this post.

One of the beds has become our perpetual aromatic herbs bed and as soon as they've all grown a bit taller we'll let the cat use that as a loo because the won't be able to dislodge a healthy rosemary or lavender, and the pineapple sage and curry plant are already big enough so we're just waiting - one more winter - for the others to catch up. (Also, 'barriers'  of short bamboo stakes can prevent the cats from digging where we don't want them to.) Anyone worried about cat poo consider that any unfenced open garden bed would cop this anyway, and also WE HAVE WORMS and they eat sh*t... hehehehe. No problemo!

I've already run reticulation hoses from the taps, along the fence, and past each of the beds, there are three in all and I'm building and programming a retic controller for it to take away one of my last few chances to fail, that of letting plants dry out. By running all three circuits past each bed I can select which watering cycle out of the three is more appropriate for the plants in it, also of course the pots are all in reach of three different watering programs too, and as I'm planning a few sensors and some weather awareness in, I should be sure of keeping everything alive all year 'round.

While the lower garden beds aren't as kind to my knees and back as a proper keyhole garden setup would be, between the handy sizes of the beds and having a soft kneeler makes a lot of difference. 

Added 02/June/2022: Brief Discussion Of How It Works:

The classical Lesotho keyhole garden is built up with tin and plastic and sticks and cane and filled with trash and fillers until a foot or so (~~30cm) from waist height, then a floor is laid over that and then the actual garden soil. The garden plan from above is a circle with a wedge taken out of it. At the point of the wedge, a cylinder is partly buried, on end. Often a cheap plastic bucket with the bottom removed. 

It must be light-proof and have a lid that fits and keeps light out. Then the household food and garden trash scraps are tipped into the bucket, the lid is put on, and the garden is planted and watered well and kept watered. Any worms in the garden soil will find the food and start eating it, distributing it in the form of worm poo around the garden bed. It in fact replaces fertilisers with worm castings. 

In the plentiful sunshine of Africa, keeping the plants watered at all times is one of the keys. Worms only like damp to wet soils and will die if you stop watering, and plants need water all the time too, as otherwise they have periods of not growing, or worse, actually lack of moisture doing them damage that they'll never recoup. So the need to constantly keep water up works for both worms and plants.

In our case, the beds are ON the ground not ABOVE it, but the weed mat gives a degree of separation. The PVC pipe bridges the regions beneath the weed mat with the soil of the garden on the weed mat, and the region above ground that's used as the filler. The series of holes drilled into the sides from just below the garden soil to the region below the weed mat provides easy passages for the worms up from the ground, into the food, and into the garden bed soil.

To be honest, supposedly the worms can squeeze through holes in the weed mat but they need access to the worm food so there need to be side holes a-plenty. In our old kitchen garden when I was a kid we used to bury food scraps in the garden beds, same deal but worms hate disturbance so the feeder is a little better. That leads to the corollary, the length of PVC pipe above the ground that should all be filled with food scraps, watered very occasionally, and otherwise left alone.

Water the garden beds regularly to keep the plants and worms happy, and every few months or so, push the food down and refill the tube. It can last from a few weeks to a few months - in my case about 2 - 3 months, and would be better if I'd used 150mm PVC instead. But that starts taking away from the plantable area of the bed, so it's a balancing act. 

On the bonus side: The 'garden soil' you get from most garden centres is just mineral dirt with little organic content. For the first year I was mulching the soil with wood chips and shavings, dry grass, I planted a few crops of green manure and dug it back in, and in that process and with the worms' assistance, the soil has organic content and structure and isn't just rock hard clumps.

Don't overdo the fertilisers, I used maybe two handfuls of a pelletised all round fertiliser and a few watering cans of diluted Seasol across all five beds in the first year, and since then I haven't needed to add anything but water, scraps, and compost made in a bottomless bin quite close to the beds. (I had more scraps and didn't want to waste all of that goodness so as much of it as our worms will eat, I'd rather it went into my gardens than the local composting place where it doesn't do anything for my gardens.

Conclusion:

It took myself and a friend a few days to cut the sleepers and screw them together, weed mat it, and cart in the reconditioned dirt from the old garden beds. The sleepers cost under $200AUD when we bought them but since then COVID and all the shortages associated with it have probably put the price closer to $400 - having a source of old sleepers might be wise. 

This is the beginning of the third year for the garden and the soil's still only just settling in nicely. Turning it right over really killed it. Once your beds are established only make holes where you're going to plant something or have taken something out, and let the worms look after the soil for you.

Mulch on top with light material that they can come up at night and eat and they'll carry it down and build soil for you. Add extra dirt only if you absolutely have to, organic material is preferable. 

We don't use pesticides other than a few snail pellets (and only in closed-off beds to prevent any risk to the cats) and white oil or organic sprays, and for fertiliser I use a granulated one - and that only very rarely because the worms are doing a great job recycling our food waste for us. 

One Last Thing:

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23 April, 2022

Declining Insect Populations - Spell Doom?

Bug Populations Are In Peril

 We may not like 'em but we can't do without 'em. There's something terribly essential about 'em.
-- apologies to the Muppet Show for the damage to their lyrics.

Bug populations are declining. Of that there's no doubt. Thirty years ago when people started muttering alarm about amphibian population decline, it occurred to me that as a kid decades earlier, I'd used grasshoppers as a fishing bait because fish loved them - and where I fished, there were also frogs. . .

At the time of coming to this realisation, I was again fishing, this time in a seaside beach. One of the places I fished as a kid was also seaside, and also had a freshwater river feeding a handful of small lakes and pools before finally joining the oceans, and this place was similarly at a river mouth with small lakes and entirely similar climate and vegetation. It was however a river that a capital city sat astride. And there was a real paucity of insects. 

I reasoned that where there were freshwater fish there were freshwater frogs, and where there were grasshoppers there were also other insects - and both fish and frogs found a lot of their protein from insects. I reckoned that if you found out what was killing grasshoppers and other bugs, you'd fix the frog decline, and I saw no - zero - discussion about insects anywhere I looked. 

How had these insect populations shrunk so much in twenty years? Was it climate change, or was it because of the city producing city toxins and byproducts? 

Turned out it was both. I headed out farther and farther on either side of the city and found what seemed to be clean environments similar to my childhood idyll, and where once I'd been able to swing a butterfly net and be sure of catching one or more grasshoppers as they startled into the air, now I had to spend ten - fifteen minutes to startle a 'hopper and then hand catch them. 

TBH I went farther afield because I liked the odd feed of fish and the city beaches and rivers were always over-fished - but IF I caught a 'hopper I discovered that I always had success. So I was bot in search of more fish and more insects, and not finding as many insects. And I began to get an inkling of why. . .

Out came the maps and - sure enough - the places that had the least insects had intensive farming upstream of them. Back then, market gardens tended to cluster close to their markets (well duh) and that probably meant that silt and pesticides would be flowing into the waterways, down to the coast - and insects too need water. I had no equipment to test the hypothesis, also I had a day job and family obligations and a social life so I could only plan trips a few times a year and take guesses at the grasshopper population. 

For some reason I tended to think that grasshoppers were a good indicator of insect populations and maybe they were. I swear my interest in them wasn't only for use as bait, I actually fished rarely in those days anyway, and as an adult I could afford proper bait.

I wrote a letter to the editor at some newspaper or other - it's so far back I really can't remember - and it vanished never to be seen again nor even replied to. This was back in the days before the Internet, and most newspapers didn't use BBS netmail, so good old 'stick-a-stamp-on-and-post-it' snail mail was the acme of communications. After wasting 12c on a stamp I was blowed if I was going to waste more money on a trunk call to follow up and ask why. And so one of my first acts of climate activism disappeared down the plughole of editorial apathy. . .

But to me the evidence was beyond reasonable doubt, our activity was poisoning fresh and sea waters, reducing the numbers and average ages of fish populations, drastically reducing the numbers of insects, and I did try to mention the insect issue as often as I could reasonably work it into conversation without being labelled a conspiracy theory style nutcase.

Grashoppers were 'insect hipsters' they vanished before it was cool to.

But Bugs ARE a Vanishing Population

Okay - this article has just rattled my cage again, this time in a 'tolja so!' kind of a way. It talks about how the "...combination of climate change and heavy agriculture..." are taking their toll on insect life. I'm inclined to agree with them but - by making it sound as though agricultural areas and climate change were the only regions affected by and being drivers of the catastrophe, they minimise the problem. 

And that doesn't drive the issue home nearly enough. THIRTY years ago I noticed this. And I'm by no means a scientist nor an exceptionally observant cit-sci (citizen scientist) but it was obvious to me, and it scared the shit out of me back then already. Now I'm frankly terrified. 

But not enough people are even more than dimly aware of these issues, so much so that it's taken (First Dog On The Moon link alert!scientists glueing themselves to things to draw attention to how terrified these people are, people who KNOW what's happening and are helplessly watching the rest of us ignore everything they've made very public, to the point of now taking such desperate measures as civil disobedience. 

Just the fact that such events have been largely ignored by mainstream media and hugely overreacted to by police should give you some idea of how important it is to large corporations and government to suppress these issues. Imagine the effect on economies if we all came to our senses! 

Yeah. It all comes down to money. 

And this isn't 'woke-ism'. It's just commonsense. We've tied our lives to the idea of an abstract thing that has been substituted for real wealth, and yet by its own rules also IS wealth. In fact, real wealth is healthy land, healthy animal, plant, insect, and microbial  populations, and the living they afford us. But with the creep of money and how it's completely divorced from this real wealth, it has come to BE wealth and access to real wealth. 

Can YOU afford a nice plot of land and a house and clean energy to sustain yourself? Most of us couldn't. But only because a handful of people decide on the 'value' of those things and how much 'value' you yourself have.


I'm always saying it - get involved! Search online for such articles, decide for yourself, write to the Editor, to the Chairman, the CEO, the CFO, the local government Ministers and Senators and Parliamentarians, write to the head f your country. Action is need now, not the protection of corporate earnings and shareholder interests,

Subscribe to my newsletter here. It's only once a week and is full of my posts like this and other subjects. Or visit my News Stand to see what my other blogs look like. Also you can sponsor my writing and my fees for leasing servers online at my Ko-Fi site. If you take out a monthly subscription there for the equivalent of a few cups of coffee, you'll be helping me immensely. Or donate directly by Paypal

08 April, 2022

Is Salt Good For Us?

 Salt Intake And You

We're often warned against salt. But how much salt is too much? Is salt even necessary?


Long story short, we do need salt in our diet, but not too much salt. Our bodies use osmotic effect to move nutrients in and out of cells to feed and cleanse them, (look up "osmosis" online if you'd like to understand more) and that's why we need a certain amount of it in our diets. 

Like everything else it's a balance we need. Usually the natural whole foods that formed our diet included the right quantity of salt that we needed for optimal functioning, and that wasn't a lucky fluke - we evolved over the course of hundreds and even thousands of generations to make best use of the amounts of salt in our diet. 


Now we're in the perfect state for that but we've changed our diets, and processing foods adds way more salt that natural whole foods contain. Because we tend to concentrate those foods when we process them to produce nutrient-dense foodstuffs, and/or add salt to preserve the foods from bacterial decomposition, we end up with processed foods that contain multiple times as much salt, sugar, and fats than source food.

Too much salt creates problems with fluids crossing cell walls  and the osmotic pressure can rupture cells in extreme cases. Yes you can die from too much salt, and a slightly lower dose can make you very sick. For instance, drinking soya sauce (a highly salted ferment soybean liquid) has landed people in hospital and killed at least one. (Okay left braindead but that's the same thing as far as I'm concerned. Don't follow fad diets or stupid dares!)

But the main point, also made in this article, is that if we eat more made from scratch meals and avoid processed foods, that brings our salt intake down to levels our bodies can manage. Our ancestors evolved to utilise the salt in a more down to Earth diet, and our descendants will evolve to tolerate and use higher salt levels. But this takes space over hundreds of generations and is no good to us.

What Can We Do?

At its simplest, be aware that a can of soup (for example) has been made from a LOT of fresh ingredients, so instead of eating two carrots, two potatoes, a chunk of meat, half a cup of peas, a stick of celery, and assorted other ingredients (which most of us couldn't manage in a single meal) it's all been condensed so that you're getting all the salt, all the sugar, and all the fats, but in a cupful of soup that's easy to manage. 

So in effect you've eaten two meals in that one cup.

This is one reason why the best health advice is to avoid processed foods and cook from scratch, eat more raw fruits and vegetables, and use less salt in your cooking. Note also that the other thing processed foods have is salt, which is added as a preservative to - burst the cell walls of bacteria and kill then in order to preserve the food from their spoiling effects... 

And let's face it - home cooked food made from scratch always tastes better. If you can, grow some kind of herbs and vegetables wherever you are and use them. It adds flavour so you'll need less salt, has better nutrients than processed foods, and will make you healthier in the long run. 

As I always say at the end of these things - get exercised, get angry that our food system's been allowed to get so broken, sign petitions, write to your MPs and company CEOs. Subscribe to my newsletter, donate a cup of coffee or just Paypal me, join a local action group and get involved. And see you next post!

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