Posts tagged experiment

Find Balance (or it will find you!)

What is it about balance, the great equalizer, that makes it so circumspect a teacher? In life I have always had a tendency to go overboard on things… not dangerously or nuttily so (hopefully!) but if I decide that nothing beats peach ice cream, well, three or four pounds of that stuff might make it into the shopping basket!   Which is where I find myself now: having discovered all of a sudden that there IS a corner fit to raise a few plants in the confines of my current tiny living space, I proceeded to buy about seven pots and plant all sorts of seeds that I’ve collected over the past few years while waiting for a spot to garden again.

I was feeling a little guilty about taking up so much available real estate with pots.  However, so busy was I watching the pretty little seedlings push up out of the soil and grow stouter and sturdier with each passing day that I neglected to notice that my kittens are also growing each day, and getting into more and more mischief along the way.  So it was that the other night there occurred a tragic plant homicidal incident that I knew was coming somewhere in the back of my head.  The kittens, having recently discovered the joy of heights, have taken to sleeping in my plant pots, tipping them wantonly, and chewing off the young greens.  Every morning, I awake to a new field of floral carnage and (literally!) soiled carpet. My plants have become refugees in their own biosphere, moving every few hours to places where they can be guarded against feline attack.  One kitten in particular has decided that nothing beats an aromatherapy nap in my basil, rosemary, and mint, and all three are currently trying to adjust to the daily stomp-down.  Not that I blame him, it DOES smell good there!  But at least it forced me to redecide on an appropriate amount of space to devote to growing, since several pots required replanting or retirement.  Ah, balance, the great teacher.

Growing an herb garden is shockingly easy, as herbs generally tolerate spottier care than other plants and they smell so wonderful along the way.  Of course, each has its own desired care prescription (planting mint, a water lover, and sage or lavender (drought lovers) together in the same pot might not be the best idea, unless you like seriously wilted sage!), and likes differing amounts of light.  But in general, all will stand up to more abuse than a “pretty flower” plant.  (If your growing conditions are seriously strenuous, consider cactus gardening.  Mine have survived and even thrived in trying conditions, and they require little to no water except when flowering.)  An added bonus of a kitchen garden is that fewer pests will be able to find your tender plants and unleash their destructive forces.  Of course, as I’ve found, you might have bigger pests to deal with!  Also, you’ll be able to enjoy fresh herbs for cooking year-round.  Basil, mint, lavender, wild strawberries, rosemary, ginger, and garlic are reliable performers for the beginning gardener.  To find out more about planting an herb garden, see the WikiHow article link in the gardening section of the links panel.  In no time, you’ll be kicking those packaged 1500-mile-to-plate supermarket herbs to the curb.

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Solar Power Class: Kirchoff’s Laws

Whew! It’s been a busy couple of weeks in my photo-voltaic class. I was starting to fear that I’d have to take a math class to keep up with all the formulas! When I posted the first week’s lesson, I realized later that I’d given out misinformation, which is the danger of posting about something you don’t yet understand! So, from this point out, I’ll just post the lessons after I’ve been tested in the contents, that way you’re always getting the information someone has TOLD me I understand. Since we had a test this past weekend, here’s a new dose of mathematical fun!

This week: Kirchoff’s Laws. Last time, I discussed Ohm’s Law of DC power, which interrelated voltage, current, amperage, and power, and provided several formulas you can use to figure out any of the above for a circuit. If you’d like to review, check out the original post here. Now, let me repeat a few pertinent facts: a series circuit is when you basically hook everything up in a big loop, positive end to negative end in a chain. See the diagram below:

A parallel circuit is one in which the positive and negative ends are “shunted” together (parallel circuits are sometimes called shunts) creating a ladder effect. Again, see the diagram below:

Series circuits are called voltage divider circuits, because though a common current flows across the wire, at each stop along the way, voltage is dropped. These are two important concepts: 1. current is common. 2. voltage is divided along the circuit. Parallel circuits are the opposite. Though a common voltage flows through all the wires, the current is divided between the different potential paths. Therefore, in a parallel circuit, 1. voltage is common, and 2. current is divided along the circuit. Series circuits are called “voltage dividers” and parallel circuits are called “current dividers”. VERY IMPORTANT is you want to know how to manipulate these circuits later on.

There are even two formulae which will help you to calculate a voltage or current at any particular point along a circuit. Say you have three resistors along your circuit. In a series circuit, a voltage divider, if you want to know the voltage of resistor “b”, you would use the voltage divider formula: Erb = Et (Rb/Rt), where t represents total and Er is the voltage drop. Here’s an example:

In a series circuit with a total resistance of 100 Ohms, and a voltage of 120V, resistor b has a resistance of 25 Ohms. The total voltage drop across resistor b would be:

Erb = 120 v ( 25 Ohms / 100 Ohms ) = 30 V

Now, if you aren’t sure what the resistance of a particular resistor on the circuit is, then Kirchoff’s Law of Voltage (for series circuits only!) comes into play. His law states that the total voltage minus the voltage of each resistor, etc on the circuit will always equal zero. In other words, the Total Voltage equals the sums of all the voltage drops along the path. Here’s the official equation: Et – E1 – E2 – … – En = 0, where the circuit has n resistors. So if you know that one resistor has a voltage drop of 25 v and the third has a voltage drop of 50 v, and the total voltage is 130 v, then 130 – 25 – E2 – 50 = 0, and E2 = 55 v. Got it?

Now, on to parallel circuits, ones you’ll see a lot of in battery configurations. Because parallel circuits are current dividers, they need a separate formula for figuring out current drops around the circuit. This is called the Current Divider Formula (using Current at Resistor b): Ib = It ( Rt / Rb ). As with the voltages of a series circuit, if you need to know the current drop at a particular point, Kirchoff had a law for that, too. It’s called Kirchoff’s Current Law (for parallel circuits), and it states that the total current minus the current drops along the way, equals zero. So It – I1 – I2 – … – In = 0, where the circuit has n resistors.

Now, this is a LOT of information to absorb, especially in practice, so let me stop here for now, and we’ll pick up here tomorrow with the rest of the lesson. It seems like way too formulas to ever be useful, but once you get to solving practical equations with them, it’s not too bad. But let’s save that for the next lesson, sleep on it, and I’ll see you in class tomorrow~

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Cooking: Refining the Recipes

Here’s a few pics of my “new and improved” Banana Pie, now featuring Ginger and mixed berries. By eliminating the extra juice and adding fruits that I foraged and some shredded ginger, I was able to both increase the sliceability of the pie and add a crucial taste dimension. It kept very well covered at room temperature for a day. If I had a fridge, I’m sure it would have kept longer and tasted good chilled.

Yum. This was a drastic improvement over the past recipe, though both were tasty. This time, I added: 1/2 ginger root, shredded; 10 blackberries; 3 ripe bananas, mashed; 2 passion fruits (foraged); flax seeds (enough to coat top of pie); and graham cereal to top (a nice thick coat, added after cooking, to cover the browning of the bananas). Cook covered for 1 hour. Make sure you shred the ginger very fine, and mix well or spread evenly, unless you like your desserts “spicy”.

Crab and Artichoke Frittata. Next, I attacked the egg “jello” recipe, hoping to solve a little of the texture problem. This time, I used: three eggs, lightly beaten, but not totally homogenized; 1 small can crab meat; 1/2 can quartered artichoke hearts (not the marinated kind, the kind packed in water); two pinches crushed sea salt. Cook covered for 1 and 1/2 hours. The result? The eggs did have a slightly better texture, but I’m thinking that the texture is something iherent in the solar cooking process. The color issue did not improve (eggs turn brown in the solar cooker), but the result tasted good, especially when an additional pinch of sea salt was sprinkled on top before serving. No pictures here, as it wasn’t too photogenic, but it was a solid meal, and my cats went nuts for it, (and ended up eating a few human sized portions of it while I wasn’t looking!)

For a hearty side dish, I prepared carrot and black eyed pea succotash. Very simple, few ingredients, and tasted and smalled great. It was so easy I almost feel guilty calling it a recipe. I used: 1 can sliced carrots; 1 can black eyed peas; 1 t sea salt; 1 T sesame seeds. Mix all, and cook covered for 45 minutes, or until hot. Here’s the (predictable) result, which needed no extra seasoning to be palatable:

So there you have it: three “new” recipes for summer cooking fun. As I learn more about urban foraging (more about this in my next post) I am trying to incorporate locally found foods into my recipes. We’ll see how it goes.

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Solar Installation Class – Ohm’s Law

Okay, for all of you waiting for notes from the solar panel installation class, here’s the scoop. The first class was cool, there’s a big machine shop there, and as a bonus, we’re also going to learn about machine controls for wind systems. Nice! There promises to be lots of applied action working with actual solar panels, so I should be able to share some real knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. For those of you who’ve been with me since the beginning, we’re going to repair my solar panel (the inspiration for this blog!), too. Finally!

But of course, as with most things in life (and especially with electronics!), it makes sense to understand the science behind things before getting your hands dirty, or shocked in this case! So We spent the first class learning the basics of voltage, current, power, and resistance. Ever heard of Ohm’s Law? (Those of you having evil science class flashbacks, don’t worry, I wouldn’t share it unless it was quite necessary for your safety.) Here is Ohm’s Law for DC circuits.

P = I * E and E = I * R (“pie” and “ear” phonetically, to help you remember)

See? Simple! Only four letters! What does it all mean? Well, in a circuit, you have four things at work. First, Power. Power (the P) is measured in terms of watts. It’s the work being done using the energy in the circuit. So if you baked six pies, and your clown friend used all of them to cream the faces of his fellow friends, the power would be those six pies you made available for him to throw. When you hear talk about kilowatt hours, this is a measurement of how much power is produced and available to do work by a system. Or how much you are using, as reflected on your power bill. So, once again, that’s POWER (P).

Next up, Current. Current is a measurement of the electrons flowing through the circuit. You see, in order for the energy to get from one atom to the next in the wire, it pushes electrons down the line, carrying a charge (since electrons are negatively charged particles). This is what we think of as “flow”. Current is measured in amperes and is represented by the letter I (that’s “i”). CURRENT (I).

Third, you have resistance, which is measured in Ohms (it is Ohm’s Law, after all!). Usually, you will see resistance represented by the logical symbol R, but Ohms also have their own symbol, Ω. For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll stick to R. Resistance is what it sounds like, a measure of how hard it is for the electrons to jump from one atom to the next. It’s a measurement of volts per ampere (or how hard it is to push one electron from one atom to the next). It’s not a 100% rule, but usually, you will find that resistance stays pretty much the same in your circuit calculations. It is most affected by distance traveled, the width of your wire, and by temperature.  RESISTANCE (R).

And, lastly, there’s voltage, tying it all together. Voltage is also known as ElectroMotive Force (EMF), giving rise to the symbol for voltage, E. Sometimes you’ll see V for voltage, but here I’ll be using E. Voltage is measured in Volts (whew, an easy to remember one!). Solar panels, wind turbines, etc, are generally hooked up to 12 Volt batteries, either in series or parallel (we’ll get to that in a second), allowing you to store the energy produced by the panel/turbine. Common setups will run at either 12V or 24V, depending on application. So, rounding it all up, we have VOLTAGE (E).

POWER (P) – CURRENT (I) – RESISTANCE (R) – VOLTAGE (E)

Got it? Good. Now let’s start putting it all together. Using the formulas above, you will see that Voltage = Current * Resistance. So, when the voltage goes up, the current goes up also… they are directly proportionate. This is a VERY IMPORTANT CONCEPT in circuits. It’s the equation E = I * R, or “ear”.

The other equation, P = I * E or “pie”, is for figuring out how much power is produced by a circuit, and is equally important. Written out, it’s Power = Current * Voltage. In any given situation you’re probably going to know two out of four variables and you’re trying to figure one of the other two. With these two equations, you can always solve for the ones you don’t have already. Here’s an example:

If you know that you have a 12V battery and you need to get 72 watts of power to run your iPod, how much current do you need? By the way, current is usually adjusted by using bigger or smaller wires, because the size of the wire affects the number of electrons that can easily flow through at any one time. This is due to resistance, but I’m getting quite ahead of myself.

So using our equations, E = I * R and P = I * E, you know that E = 12 volts and P = 72 watts. So, the second equation can easily be solved: 72 = I * 12, or I = 72/12. This works out to I = 6. Since I is measured in amperes, the answer would be I = 6 amperes. If you then wanted to figure out the resistance in the circuit, you can now plug these numbers into the first equation: 12 = 6 * R, or R = 12/6, which works out to R = 2 ohms. Using two variables, you’re able to figure out everything happening along those wires!

Now let’s say you wanted to use a battery system supplying 24 volts instead. Simply substitute and do the above calculations in the same way. What did you get? Here’s the breakdown. Since E = 24 volts now, and P = 72 watts, then you should arrive at I = 3 amperes via 72 = I * 24, or I = 72/24, or 3! From there you can figure out the resistance of this circuit: 24 = 3 * R, and therefore R = 8 ohms. There is more resistance along this circuit than along the circuit running on 12 Volts, and less current.

Okay, so that’s Ohm’s Law (of DC circuits) for you! I’m a student too, so this is about as deep as I can go into the subject right now, but expect more detailed explanations and the reasons for knowing all this junk soon. Stay tuned! In the meantime, if you want to read more about Ohm’s Law and why it’s important, read the Wikipedia article here.

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Solar Cooking Roundup: Two New Recipes

As mentioned previously, I haven’t been getting out the oven as often lately, as it’s been unseasonably cool and cloudy here. But, as if magically anticipating that summer was right around the corner, a few days back the thermometer jumped about 30 degrees. Yikes, it is triple digit hot!

So, of course the first thing I did was pull out the box cooker. After a yum but “haven’t I tried this before?” few meals of roasted red sweet peppers with cheese, it was time to do a little culinary exploration. So this past weekend, I fired up the “grill” and made two new recipes.

First up:

Banana Nectarine “Pie”

3 bananas, roughly broken into slices
1 nectarine, chopped
2 T flax seeds (for nutrients and “crunch”)
1/8 cup Sunny Delight (next time I’ll skip this)
1/4 cup honey graham cereal

To make, mix all ingredients except graham cereal into pan. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, or until the bananas smell super sweet and mash easily. The flax seeds will swell to a larger size, too, so you know they will not be too hard. Bring out of the sun and mash the bananas with a fork, stirring to mix everything well. Allow to thicken for about ten minutes. During that time, crumble graham cereal into the bottom of ramekins/ cups and crumble more for the tops. Spoon mix into each cup and top with more crumbled graham cereal.

This recipe turned out well taste-wise. Next time I might skip the Sunny D (there was a lot of natural liquid in the mix after cooking) and add a little cinnamon before cooking, but it was also good as is. The only disconcerting part was that the bananas looked kind of brown in the pot, but covering the top with graham solved that aesthetic dilemma. Easily makes enough for two people.

Today, I tried a different take on my pepper lunch:

Chili and Celery with Mango

2 large green Anaheim Chili peppers
2 long stalks celery
1 sweet red pepper
Annie’s Naturals Organic Balsamic Vinaigrette Marinade
1 large mango

To make, cut and deseed the chilis and sweet pepper into pinky finger size strips, and chop the two stalks of celery. Pour a little marinade over the mixed veggies in the pan, and put in the sun for about an hour. At that point, I checked the progress, added a bit more marinade, gave everything a good shake to cover, and returned the pan to the oven for another 1/2 hour. Bring everything inside, add the mango (chopped) to the mix and stir together. Serve immediately.

Yum. Of all the dishes I’ve made so far, this was my favorite. At first, I was nervous about adding the mango to what smelled like a very hearty mix, but it worked perfectly, giving everything a cool taste even on this scorcher of a day. And it needed no seasoning either, though I’d imagine it would be good with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt sprinkled on top. This recipe will make it into the cookbook. Makes enough to feed one VERY well, or two for a light lunch or appetizer.

And here’s the finished result:


Now for a nap to work off all that gourmet eating! =)

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UPDATE: Commitments and your future self

Time to check in on the great experiment that started this whole thought blot that is my blog. After a few months, how am I doing in my quest to detach from the grid? Here’s the report:

Solar Cooking: I constructed two solar ovens and have been testing them out whenever possible. Lately, there haven’t been too many hot, sunny days. I think they’re spraying too many chemtrails to keep the temperatures down. (If you don’t know what a chemtrail is, consider yourself warned: the government is spraying us with heavy metals and other carcinogens in order to better control the weather and possibly do a host of other nasty things… look it up on Google.) I have successfully cooked several foods, and have found that squashes are by far the easiest to cook, as they have a fairly high water content but are not actually liquid. Next, I plan to branch out more into cooking fruits.

Haven’t gotten that solar panel dissected. I’m a little afraid to cut into the circuitry without expert help. But it will happen, undoubtedly once I figure out the perfect application for the modules.

Avoiding Fast Foods: Um, not exactly going to get a A+ on this one, but I have cut out a majority of the fast food joint trips. And replaced them with frozen dinners from the grocery store. Yeah, need to work on that. I still hit up Del Taco for some tostadas and salads, but try to avoid anything with meat. The frozen pasta dinners, on the other hand, do have some meat in their sauces, and who knows what else hiding in those highly processed packages. Drinks are falling somewhere in the realm of sodas (healthy is harder than I thought on a budget!), whole milk, and gatorade. Judge as you will.

Adopt a Block: I selected the block that I will keep clean. I have done preliminary study to see what sorts of trash accumulate there: it’s your usual city detritus, mostly plastic bags, party fliers, and paper cups with various name brands emblazoned on their sides. At home, I’ve started a few seeds of edible varieties to do some “guerrilla gardening” as I pick up the trash. They are just now maturing to a size where they can be transplanted, and I will probably put them out this weekend. Stay tuned on that.

Transportation: As reported, I sold the car, and have been hoofing it since. In the city, there’s a lot of public transportation available, and I’ve simply been taking the metro, and occasionally the bus. Since the Metro is more than a mile from my place, I’ve been doing plenty of walking lately. Luckily the weather has been beautiful for that. Taken the Greyhound several times now, and it’s doing just fine for long-distance needs. Otherwise, I don’t miss the car too much, though I did have to skip attending the magazine release party for my latest article due to lack of appropriate transport. All in all, a small price to pay. Still looking for a great deal on a scooter or bicycle on Freecycle, whenever that may happen.

Far West AlmanacIf you live in Southern California, check out my latest article in this month’s Far West Almanac!

Website: As this whole blog is a labor of love, I’ve been trying to make lots of useful information available for all of you who are fellow travelers on the road to off-grid living. That does take a bit of time and applied effort. You’ll see that recently, several pages have been added to the site, outlining several aspects of low-impact living. I am continuing to update and add to these pages as I do research. Keep an eye out soon for an all-natural recipes page and a survival skills page. Of course, I’d love to hear more about what YOU want to see here. Please comment if you are looking for information you can’t find, or if you see something that was especially helpful, so I know what to add.

So that’s the round-up. It’s important to check in every once in a while on your progress, so you know whether things are going as you planned or if you’re headed for uncharted territories. For an automated way to do this, I like to use http://www.futureme.org, a service that lets you write an email to your future self. You have to write more than three months in advance, so it’s not a daily reminder service… it’s a way to remind yourself of what was important to you at a particular moment. It’s humorous to talk to yourself this way – you think you’ll remember what you’ve said, but trust me, you won’t. Try it!

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Take the King Corn Challenge

About the Corn Challenge

Corn is in Everything!

It’s always nice to have someone to commiserate with when making even slightly painful lifestyle changes be they in the name of good. It’s great motivation. (For some reason, introducing the bad stuff always comes easily, especially with company!) Here’s an interesting look at two filmmakers and the challenge they put themselves up to after making a film about corn in the American diet, inviting others to join. And one author, Katherine Pryor, did just that. Read about her three corn-free days here.

As you can see, in today’s processed food markets, even dropping one ingredient can have far-reaching implications for your overall diet. It required from Ms. Pryor a reconsideration of her local food buying habits, and put a strain on the two filmmakers to figure out a way to eat while on the road without actually consuming any corn. If you could pick one ingredient to drop, what would it be? High fructose corn syrup? Caffeine? Processed grains? Added salt? There are so many options out there it’s hard to choose just one. But when you do make a commitment to one, even a little one you don’t encounter every day, you learn as much about the process of making choices as you may about your current diet.  I’m going to start a food database page on the blog (check the top bar for the link).  If you know of any ingredients that contain certain foods, chemicals, or byproducts, please, comment and add to the repository of information. You might never want to eat again after starting down this path to learning.  Until then, happy eating!

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