Monday, October 22, 2007

Masonry Heaters

This old-world heating technology is extremely efficient without needing to use new-world technology. The gist is to take a large thermal mass (e.g., limestone blocks) and burn fuel at a very high temperature in a short time to get complete combustion (CO2, trace mineral ash, and trace incomplete combustion products). The thermal mass stays at a temperature that's warm to the touch and radiantly releases the heat over an entire day.

Radiant heat does not dry the air nor does it cause problems with dust circulation as does convection heat (furnaces). A properly designed masonry heater can heat a 2000 sq. ft. area for an entire day at comfortable temperatures with only six pounds of dry wood. These heaters produce very little soot and are significantly safer than pellet or wood stoves. With simple maintenance, these heaters can last for generations.

My own interest is partly in their sheer simplicity. The materials and tools are easy to acquire, and the construction should be straightforward with minimal masonry experience. My other interests are in using it effectively as a valued part of my non-waste home. I've been considering using the heater's CO2 output as input to algae tanks or a greenhouse. I'm also excited by the prospect of using excess glycerine from biodiesel production as a fuel input for the heater too.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Building Community

I've been thinking about "community" recently and how I might be able to foster community here in Indiana. My specific interests are energy and food independence, however, I'd want to include anyone interested in starting a "Natural Enterprise".

I've always been a sort of 'loner'... not in the social sense, no problems making new friends being so loquacious and all, but in the sense of either having or learning the skills to get things done. My intense focus has been great for getting things done, but is not very inclusive.

As an example of what I want to aim for, the biodiesel workshop I recently attended was a collaborative effort between Solar Energy International and Piedmont Biofuels. The people at Piedmont (in particular the people I met, Rachel Burton, Matt Rudolf, and Lyle Estill) have created an excellent environment for people to live in while allowing everyone to explore what they love.

Monday, October 15, 2007


A couple weeks ago, I attended a workshop on making biodiesel. I particularly like that it's economically feasible to produce even for small, one-person setups. One question that they asked at the beginning was what we thought the impact of peak oil will be. I stated my very strong opinions, however, I ultimately agree that biodiesel is simply a 'technofix'. Currently, humans have no way of even coming close to extracting as much energy from live plants that we extract every year from fossil fuels. Hence, biodiesel doesn't solve the big problems of peak oil that are headed our way.

So why am I starting down this path?

I'm doing it for a couple of reasons... but mostly because it gives me energy independence. It is one less corporatist hook that I'll have stuck in me. If any of the gloomy predictions from peak oil come true, it will make the transition to a lower energy lifestyle much easier for me. And, if the particularly gloomy predictions come true, it means I'm in a better position to gain social power and to physically protect myself.

Making biodiesel does not solve The Problem, but it does solve some problems for me.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lover's Lyric

Making a memory of intimate knowledge of a lover.
Savoring the song that arises between flesh.

Skin to skin, touching sensitive ...tingly... spots.

A meeting of soft lips.
A caress of intimacy.

A moving melody resonating in the lovers' hearts.

A tune played before.
Yet always infinitely different as lovers unite.

Overtones of desire and undertones of that unspoken connection between them.
Beautiful improvisation.

Coming together in a beautiful aria until the final crescendo rises and falls.

Memories of their song still echoing between them.

Zero Waste

Many people have been thinking about what we can do as a species to stop destroying the very world we depend on. Some say "consume less" or "recycle". Underlying all of this is unspoken behaviors of extraction and waste. All systems should take inputs that are renewable with outputs that are fully utilized as an input to another system. If one system's output is noxious and cannot be fully utilized then that system should be shut down. Period. The ultimate objective should be to create a system that leaves the system's environment better, richer, more diverse than how it was found. Others have said this much more thoroughly than I...

Discarding the Idea of Waste: The Need for a Zero Waste Policy Now
Humans are the only species on the planet that don't live by zero waste principles. Zero waste is a "call to action" that aims to bring an end to the current "take, make and waste" mentality of human society.

The Oak Beams of New College, Oxford

by Gregory Bateson

I owe this story to a man who was I think a New College student and was head of the Department of Medicine at the University of Hawaii, where he told it to me.

New College, Oxford, is of rather late foundation, hence the name. It was probably founded around the late 16th century. It has, like other colleges, a great dining hall with big oak beams across the top, yes? These might be eighteen inches square, twenty feet long.

Some five or ten years ago [as of 1980 -- ed.] so I am told, some busy entomologist went up into the roof of the dining hall with a penknife and poked at the beams and found they were full of beetles. This was reported to the College Council, who met in dismay, because where would they get beams of that caliber nowadays?

One of the Junior Fellows stuck his neck out and suggested there might be on College lands some oak. These colleges are endowed with pieces of land scattered across the country. So they called in the College Forester, who of course had not been near the college itself for some years, and asked him about oaks.

And he pulled his forelock and said, "Well sirs, we was wonderin' when you'd be askin'."

Upon further inquiry it was discovered that when the College was founded, a grove of oaks had been planted to replace the beams in the dining hall when they became beetly, because oak beams always become beetly in the end. This plan had been passed down from one Forester to the next for four hundred years. "You don't cut them oaks. Them's for the College hall."

A nice story. That's the way to run a culture.