Housing Everyone

Housing is a problem everywhere, but nowhere is it as bad as it is in San Francisco. I had an idea a few years ago which inspired me to go back to school and study this issue in depth in order to deploy this potential solution. This is why I chose to move to the city where this problem is worst in order to study this problem and this potential solution.

As a student at SFSU majoring in Urban Studies with minors in Racial Resistance and Queer Ethnic Studies, I learned from leaders in both the non-profit and for-profit housing development sectors as well as the the financial side of the issue, the public policy stream, and the advocacy stream. Together these forces try to improve conditions and ameliorate the housing crisis, with limited success.

Lots of housing is being built; luxury condos. This displaces the people who already lived in the neighborhood and drives cost of living up. Combined with busing rich people into this new neighborhood, this can mean the theft of entire communities by wealthy people who pave over the existing culture and erase generations of history. This forces marginalized people into denser living situations and further depresses the remaining affordable neighborhoods. We call this social problem gentrification.

Gentrification is different from development. Gentrification is development which displaces marginalized people from existing communities and replaces them with privileged people. Development can sometimes be good, but gentrification is always bad.

“Affordable” vs “affordable”

It’s not possible to build affordable housing that is a good investment. Therefore there are two ways that affordable housing may exist.

There are several different ways the word affordable works with regard to housing. What does it mean for housing to be affordable? It means that the monthly price of the unit is less than 30% of the median income in the same community. Let’s say the median income is $1,000/month. An affordable unit of housing would have to cost less than $300/month.

The problem with the standard definition of affordable housing should be obvious. Even if there is “affordable” housing available, it’s only affordable for the top-half of the income percentiles.

Now let’s talk about the two types of affordable housing.

Capital-A affordable generally means housing that is subsidized by government programs. If I am living in the example community I just gave, and I’m only earning $500/month, then a unit that’s affordable for me would be $150/month. Therefore government programs will pay the difference. If I find a unit that costs $2200/month then the government will pay the remaining $2,050 each month so I can afford the unit. I hope this looks like a ridiculous solution to this problem, because it is.

Little-A affordable means housing whose price is already affordable. Typically this is going to be in depressed communities with a history of redlining and systemic racism. The effect of these low prices is that rich people will take these units and drive the prices in the community up. Thus eliminating any affordable units through gentrification.

The solution seems obvious to me. We need a lot more units, and we need them everywhere.

Why is this still a problem?

As I see it, there are two major fundamental problems — especially in San Francisco — which contribute to gentrification. Officially, we have fines for luxury condo developers who neglect to include affordable units in new construction. These fines are typically about 10% of the cost of building those affordable units. Therefore, almost no one builds affordable units. When they do, residents are often excluded from the building’s amenities and given a separate “poor door” around the corner which accesses the affordable units.

In other cities like Portland, developers of large projects can be required to provide identical units to residents with rents based on their income rather than market prices. This means developers do not have the opportunity to pay tiny fines and skip the affordable units; all the units must be affordable based on the income of the residents.

The second major fundamental problem is the cost per unit to construct affordable housing. Like most cities, the developer industry in San Francisco is an oligopoly with a small number of firms controlling the market and openly colluding to artificially inflate prices and prevent competition. This means the cost per unit to construct affordable housing is now up to a million dollars. This makes those tiny in lieu fees look very attractive to developers who have no rational reason to build affordable units which can never break even.

What would be better?

Everyone deserves dignity and housing. Currently, cities in California are required to investigate the progress they’re making in addressing the unmet need for housing. Unfortunately there is no requirement that they actually do anything about the problem or that they actually meet their housing needs. Consequently, some cities are officially projecting they will meet their current needs in about eight-hundred years.

Solving social problems is hard. It takes a lot of work from a lot of angles, and it takes proposed solutions. I am planning to approach this problem from three angles.

First, we need to build an activist organization devoted to building as much housing as possible.

Second, we need new solutions to dramatically reduce the cost of building housing.

Third, we need powerful and ethically-constrained corporate interests fighting both the market and the political system to accomplish the goal of housing everyone.

What would it look like?

I propose a radical shift to a completely different strategy from what has been tried before. There are several firms attempting to develop modular construction techniques. None of them sells a single unit which is ready to live in. They often sell sections of framing which still need siding, plumbing, and electrical installed.

I propose to manufacture complete units ready to live in.

By building these units inside shipping containers, they can then be dropped in place and even stacked ten stories high. This is what they are designed for; on ships crossing the high seas.

These units would have a front-door and a rear balcony or porch. Simple plumbing and electrical connections allow easy installation of a single unit in a back yard or in a drop-in mid-rise residential tower.

Imagine if Tesla or Solar City were selling apartments instead of cars. You call or go online and make an order, then a team comes to install it. Everything from financing to electrical and plumbing is built in to the process. You have a single point of contact and everything is taken care of.

This allows us to take advantage of dramatic recent progress in ADU deregulation.  This policy change allows us to pit NIMBY against NIMBY; every back yard becomes a rental unit which helps bring the prices down.

The other huge opportunity is disaster response. A single cargo ship can hold ten thousand shipping containers. Imagine sending ten thousand homes to the site of a disaster. From ships to trains to trucks, the infrastructure is already in place to cheaply ship these units anywhere in the world.

Endless Options

Part of what’s so exciting about this idea is the fact that there are several different options. The various shapes and sizes of these containers are designed to lock together into large structures. This means we can easily build an extremely strong tower containing lots of different sizes and types of units. These towers are designed to tilt back and forth to extreme angles on a constant basis on cargo ships. This means these structures will be extremely resistant to earth quakes and other environmental problems associated with the ongoing collapse of the biosphere.

We can cheaply build affordable units, and we can also cheaply build luxury units. Combining these in interesting ways lets us create integrated communities consistent with the design principles of new urbanism.

Perhaps most significant is the opportunity to integrate self-contained, closed-loop, off-grid systems. We can easily make these units solar powered. We can easily make these units filter their own drinking water from wells or creeks and integrate septic systems to cleanly and safely dispose of the waste. Creating this integrated housing solution with an eye on permaculture and designing for closed-loop systems-thinking means anyone can live anywhere and get their needs met whether they’re in a desert or a rainforest.

Philanthropic Arm

Equally important to the idea of manufacturing these units is the idea of having a nonprofit arm which builds lots of affordable housing units and then manages them. This will allow us to have a widespread impact on the housing crisis while also being our own biggest customer.

One of the most exciting parts of the business model is the idea of “housing credits.” I want to create a new tool for those who want to help solve the housing crisis. Most large companies buy carbon offsets which fund the offsetting of their carbon impact. I want to create housing credits which offset the effects of companies contributing to demographic shifts in communities where their employees displace existing residents.

Data: $30 DIY Air Filters Are Excellent

I recently did a post about an experimental filter design which should provide excellent protection for just $30, probably exceeding the effectiveness of even the most expensive filters on the market.

Well the data is in, and I was right.

A Very Smokey Week

Due to the most extreme wildfire conditions in history, California was exposed to a week of unbelievably bad air quality. I had set up sensors ahead of time to test a filtration method I had come up with through collaboration with a friend over several years.

You can get the full details here, but basically there is a certain kind of very cheap filter which is extremely effective at removing smoke from the air. It’s possible to get one which fits perfectly over a 20×20 box fan. Several of these working together can effectively clean a large indoor area.

DIY Filter

Here are the results.

These three charts show the data collected for each day. I checked the values once a minute, all week long. Here you can see the daily averages compared to the daily maximums.

Air quality index is an international standard method of calculating an average value for the level of pollution in the air. Typically during wildfires, PM 2.5 or PM 10 is going to be what is reported as the AQI. PM stands for particulate matter. The numbers stand for the micron size of the particulate matter. So in this experiment I am measuring PM 1.0, 2.5, and 10.

The values in these graphs are the same units as the AQI numbers you see reported in the news. It’s a measure of micrograms per cubic meter or per liter of air. So for example if the PM 2.5 is 100, then that means there are 100 micrograms of particulate matter with a size of 2.5 microns per liter of air. The AQI number is a daily average of the measurements taken that day.

Controversial Methodology: I have chosen to also include the maximum values recorded each day because as you can see, it’s often more than double the average. I personally feel reporting only the averages is not helpful in making informed health decisions. As you can see for example on September 13, the average outdoor PM2.5 value was 300, and yet there were moments where it was over 800.

PM 2.5

PM 1.0

PM 10

As you can see, there is a major outlier for indoor air quality on the 13th. This was a control group. On the thirteenth, I decided to turn off the filters to see what would happen. As you can see, the air quality in the house that day was even worse than the extreme conditions outside. This is a normal and expected result. Indoor air quality is typically much worse than outdoor air quality. This is a big part of why it’s so dangerous when these conditions exist.

A Closer Look At The Control Group

To confirm the effectiveness of the filter, I turned it off for several hours on the thirteenth to see what would happen. See for yourself;

Control Group

Within about an hour of turning off the filter, the indoor pollution levels jumped by over eight-hundred percent, reaching about double the outdoor levels from the same moment. This is perhaps the most compelling evidence I’ve seen for the urgent need to filter indoor air, especially during wildfires.

I don’t recall it ever seeming particularly smokey or difficult to breathe during this period. I did not expect such a huge jump in such a short time. I was just sitting there for several hours breathing double the “hazardous” level of air pollution and being none the wiser until I checked the sensors.

In Conclusion

Buy a fan and filter.

Desolation

I recently spent several weeks of solitude in the desolation wilderness writing about an idea I’ve been working on. Here are my notes from that trip.

Shared foundational assumptions

  1. First let’s assume David Harvey’s argument that communities are an urban process, not just a place. That process becomes an argument for how communities should be. If we leave communities alone and don’t plan them, then they become deeply unjust. We must therefore carefully articulate arguments about what kind of communities we want, or else we can not possibly get there.
  2. Let’s further assume Kate Raworth’s arguments about doughnut economics. Planetary boundaries exist; natural resources have limits. People should not be forced to live below a certain quality of life. Infinite unlimited growth is not possible and as a goal it creates harm while ignoring suffering and injustice. Focusing on improving quality of life and sustainability are better goals.
  3. First let’s start with a bit of context for this one. Capitalism is different from mercantilism. There is nothing inherently wrong with people buying and selling things; mercantilism is good. Capitalism is the hoarding of wealth by the rich based on exploiting the poor. Capitalism is an engine that creates inequality and harms. Capitalism is the reason for the lack of affordable housing, a problem it is not able to address.  Neoliberalism is the argument that capitalism is somehow a cure for social problems rather than the cause of social problems. Modern capitalism and neoliberalism are inseparable because of neoclassical economics which forms the foundation of both philosophies. Neoclassical economics does not work. So let’s further assume we reject neoliberalism, capitalism, and neoclassical economics which are three ways of saying the same thing in this context.
  4. Systems thinking: a community is not just the community or even just the process. It is also its inputs and outputs. Close these loops! Within every challenge lies an opportunity. Turn waste into compost. Turn roofs into rainwater collectors. Turn solutions into tools for others to use to liberate themselves like we have.

What are the major problems we face in our communities today?

The lack of sufficient affordable housing is widespread and pervasive despite the fact that there are plenty of homes to house everyone. Affordable housing does not exist for most people, and can not exist under capitalism.

Poverty is widespread and pervasive and forms the foundation for most social problems because of strain and lack of access to vital resources like food, clean water, healthcare and education. Poverty is the result of a flawed system which combines two unjust circumstances: pay-to-live and lack-of-opportunity.

Hunger is widespread and pervasive despite the fact that we grow plenty of food to feed everyone and most food that is grown goes to waste rather than to feeding hungry people.

Along with hunger goes access to clean water; most people around the world and many people across America have no access to clean water, despite the fact that there is more than enough clean water for everyone. Instead of building pipelines to bring that water to those who need it, we build pipelines to bring oil from those same areas in order to further pollute the world instead of providing for the basic needs of the people.

The fact that so many people’s basic needs are not met by the system prevents those people from self-actualizing and reaching their full potential. The cost of this failure to society and individuals is incalculable.

What would be a better way of doing communities?

A good community is one that continuously develops itself as a sustainable city which meets the basic needs of all its members and provides them with the tools and resources they need to self-actualize and go on to do whatever they want to do with their lives. (Food, water, housing, electricity, internet access, healthcare)

A sustainable community meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future. (Brundtland)

A good community is just by design, providing additional help to those who need it.

A good community is resilient, planning to survive the coming disasters in an uncertain future with a collapsing biosphere.

A good community is one where everyone strives to work fewer hours and consume less resources (electricity, water, food, etc). Well-being and quality of life become the objectives rather than infinitely-increasing productivity (GPD, fiscal growth, etc). Raworth and others call this concept de-growth.

A good community is one where the community owns the land together and makes careful decisions about its use, rather than giving land to capitalists who displace the poor and members of minority groups.

A good community is one where decision making is transparent and inclusive, requiring the consent of the people in the community.

A good community is one where community goals and priorities align closely with things like the sustainable development goals, the doughnut economics model, planned resiliency, arcology, and permaculture.

A good community uses domes, greenhouses, aquaculture, and other methods for producing the maximum amount of nutrient-dense food with the minimum amount of labor.

A good community works to spread its ideas by starting new communities elsewhere and sharing lessons learned.

What advantages would such a community have?

A community such as I have outlined would have many natural advantages. Perhaps the most significant is resiliency; the community would be able to survive unexpected disasters and stressors.

Such a community would be able to devote a significant portion of its time and resources to fulfilling its own needs and the needs of its neighbors.

One easy way to bring money in is by doing what Taos, Arcosanti, and Biosphere 2 have done; bring people to visit and learn about the results of the argument we are making. Have camping and events, bus people in from major cities, give tours and talks, and take other steps to spread the ideas that will change and improve communities everywhere.

Additionally there are a huge number of natural advantages and opportunities for producing goods and services which allow others to adopt similar positive change in their own communities. For example food, water, reusable containers, low-impact soaps and sustainable cleaning products, etc.

Closing loops for things like water and compost allows waste products to become valuable resources. Check out this longer post about that topic.

Another example of an opportunity is to sell the subsistence products such as vegetables and fruits which the community grows. This would also be a great way to connect and network with neighbors by hosting a farmers market or taking produce to external farmers markets.

What are some examples of similar communities that already exist?

Oneida was a utopian socialist commune which made a fortune producing and selling flatware for decades. You can still buy their flatware in most any department store.

Arcosanti is a proof of concept community from visionary architect Paolo Soleri whose goal was to fuse architecture with ecology, creating communities with integrated planning for their inputs, outputs, and fulfilling the needs of citizens. Arcosanti also famously makes unique, one-of-a-kind bronze wind bells which they sell both online and in-person.

Biosphere 2 is a long-term closed experiment in ecological systems research. It contains seven enclosed biomes full of plants, animals, and people working together to learn about how to be a good community in concert with its local ecology.

Taos Earthship Academy is a community of permaculture homesteads constructed from recycled materials with the intent of living sustainably and teaching others to duplicate their amazing results.

Faerie sanctuaries are the modern implementation of the radical faerie philosophy of queer ancom. There are countless examples spread all over the world of shared houses and small or large communities working on queer intentional communities which host events, produce their own food, and try to live sustainably.

Freedom Georgia Initiative is a community currently being built by a group of black families who wanted to create a safe place for black people. Together, 19 families purchased an entire town! They are building on a long history of black cooperatives doing similar work.

Farming communities in Bangladesh are turning the impacts of rising water and invasive species into an advantage. By collecting invasive floating plants like water hyacinth and lashing them together, they are able to build floating garden beds like their ancestors used. Crops are planted into the beds and then able to access the water below, all without any soil.

How do we get there?

The early steps for this kind of development might include the purchase of a large piece of semi-remote land. This land should get lots of sunlight and be at a high enough altitude to avoid rising sea levels and the smoke of burning forests. At the time of this writing, 400 acres in Nevada can be had for $30k-50k. High deserts are sort of perfect. It’s too easy to consume resources that are readily available. Choosing to locate away from flammable forests where closed systems or resource recycling become mandatory is a good step in the right direction.

Next, a nonprofit or similar entity should be created to allow the community to act together. The organizational structure should include as voting members everyone in community with provisions for incorporating new members as the population grows.

A land trust or similar legal framework should be created to ensure the ownership of the land remains with the community rather than any private entity. The entity constructed in the previous step should have the exclusive right to make decisions about the land through democratic processes.

I would highly recommend making every effort to insulate the overall legal entity from inevitable factionalism and internal political conflict by creating sub-units for different groups throughout the community. One useful model might be the way camps are assigned sections of land at black rock city by the larger organization. Decisions about which groups get to use the land go to the community and the larger organization while decisions about the way the land is used fall to the smaller organizations, with annual review by the larger community. This insulates the political issues of smaller camps from the decisions about placement by the larger community. It also prevents anyone from excluding anyone else from the city.

 

N95 Is Not Good Enough

I have severe asthma. I have tried hiking in an N95 mask and I have asthma attacks the whole time. My home environment is kept extremely clean by my custom high-power low-cost air filtration system; my indoor PM values usually stay at zero. The only other variable is N95.

So what is N95? The certification standards document explains that it filters 95% of airborne particulate matter. I’ve measured PM levels in excess of 800 micrograms per liter of air on a regular basis throughout the current fire season. If you filter out 95% of that, you’re still breathing in a moderate dose of particulate matter. N95 just isn’t enough, especially during exercise.

What Else Works?

There are several levels of filter standards. N is a basic one. P is the highest standard. It does a lot more than I need; filtering out organic acids and gaseous oils. It also jumps from filtering just 95% of particulates to filtering 99.9% of airborn particulate matter. HUGE IMPROVEMENT!

Also, these filter masks are not medical so no doctors are going to miss out to let me breathe easier.

What About Covid?

This filter is more than adequate for filtering out virus particles. Also, it has a safety mesh which covers the filter to prevent skin contact with the dirty filter material. Lastly and most critically, this respirator directs exhalation down rather than forward. This means breathing out is not going to direct your breath at other people, just like all the non-N95 masks simply redirect exhalation sideways or down rather than filtering it.

Ideally, the respirator would be filtering exhalation but I have looked far and wide and talked to industry experts; this kind of reusable respirator just doesn’t exist. Luckily because this one directs exhalation down, it will be just as effective as most other face coverings for protecting other people, should I become unknowingly infected.

The Parts

RespiratorHere is the respirator! You can see the downward-facing exhalation duct, and the attachments to each side for the replaceable filter cartridges.

P100 Filter Cartidges

Lastly, here are the P100 filter cartridges. Based on the current particulate matter concentrations and the rated capacity of these filters, it looks like one set of filters will probably last you years. I bought an extra set just to be safe.

Multpurpose Apocalypse Sensors v3

This is the third version of my apocalypse sensor array. The major change is a move to laser particulate matter sensors instead of infrared.

Sensor Array

Current Hardware

  • MKR 1010: This is a really great microcontroller. It uses SAMD so it can be a little different to get things working instead of the traditional Arduino chips. Most example code needs some tweaks, but I’ve gotten everything working.
  • Particulate Matter Sensors:
  • Geiger Counter: This is self explanatory. The Geiger-Muller tube detects ionizing particles which intersect it.
  • DHT22 Sensor: Gives temperature and humidity with high precision. I suspect that humidity in particular will have an impact on filter performance, or a relationship with spikes in smoke concentrations.

Current Software

Here is the repository. It contains separate files for each sensor, plus one to manage a slideshow on the LCD showing the data for all the sensors. It also includes a wifi file which serves a json object containing the current data from all the sensors. This data is updated automatically every thirty seconds.

The reason for this delay is that some of the sensors do not necessarily succeed when polled and may need to be polled again several times. If we poll them when we get a web request, then it will take a long time to serve the request. My solution is to set up a series of buffer variables. On one side of that buffer, the wifi server listens and serves the values. On the other side, a loop continuously polls the sensors and updates the variables whenever possible.

Methodology

I am tracking all the data from these sensors to look for interesting trends and data. I am also testing different methods of filtering the indoor air to make things as safe as possible inside during this latest disaster.

The Core Strength of Community-Centered Activism Built on Radical Queer Anarcho-Communism

One of the huge advantages of anarcho-communist radical queer organizations comes as a deliberate result of the way they were constructed. Early gay leaders like Harry Hay started nonprofits like Mattachine Society in order to advocate for gay rights from within the structures of the political establishment.
 
At the time, COINTELPRO was an FBI program designed to dismantle these kinds of organizations through infiltration and even assassinations. This happened to many civil rights organizations from black liberation to gay liberation. Harry Hay’s Mattachine Society was dismantled by FBI infiltrators who got elected to the board and fired him, closing the organization.
 
At the time, Harry Hay was a member of the American Communist Party and a member of multiple Antifa groups. This led him and others to articulate a new kind of activist organization which would be constructed to be impossible to dismantle.
 
Activist nonprofits are focused on reacting to a status quo by critiquing it hierarchically and calling for incremental change.
 
In the new era architected by Hay and others, an ancom radical queer organization should be focused first on queering; on the active verb sense of the word, rather than the adjective form. Instead of arguing for legal progress, we should be having queer orgies. Instead of being against our oppressors we should be for ourselves, being the thing we would be without them. Activism becomes secondary.
 
The key advantage with this new model is the fact that it is fundamentally impossible to infiltrate or dismantle an organization like this. Any hierarchical power in the hands of boards or executives is designed and intended to be weak. Anyone can and should speak out against the decisions of people in power on the basis of the principles upon which these organizations are built. Committee life is horrible, and it’s supposed to be that way because if it’s possible to have Caesars, then the organization will be dismantled. This is the fundamental argument behind this type of organizational structure.
Space Force Narc
 I took this photo of myself at Burning Man with a person wearing a law-enforcement issued respirator who introduced himself by describing clearly fake sexual predilections and then asking where he could get drugs. I believe his exact words were, “I like balls. Who knows where I can get mushrooms?”
Buy-bust is a common law-enforcement tactic; they show up and ask for drugs and then arrest anyone who gives any indication that they know anything about drugs. At Burning Man, the police can use this strategy as the basis for probable cause to conduct searches of entire blocks with hundreds of people based on the argument that these people are associated with the same organization.
 
Needless to say, this person was immediately ejected by an entire community who knew why he was there and which was carefully designed to thwart exactly this kind of intrusion. This is the strength of having a community-centered approach to activism. If the community notices an outsider who is clearly not a part of the community, then the community can act to insulate and expel threats.

Making Care Packages Under Covid

Many times now, I have founded groups or worked with groups which produce care packages for unhoused people. These usually include a few essentials in a plastic bag which can quickly and easily be handed to unhoused people.

As part of co-founding the first bay area chapter of Burners Without Borders, one of the initial projects we wanted to do is launch a new care packages group in the bay area and then branch out into multiple subgroups to serve the larger area.

Because of covid, all of our projects were put on hold as we refactor and struggle personally to adapt to this year’s rapidly changing conditions and rapidly overlapping disasters.

Changes This Time

I have done some research of my own and I think this project can safely go ahead. There are three main changes to the past models for this project.

First, the items in the care packages will need to be updated to reflect the current disasters.

Second, the way we build the care packages needs to change. Since we can’t gather together, we will need to assemble the packages separately. This feels different to many of the people I’ve talked to, but really it’s not different. In the past, we have always had each person bring like a hundred of one item (ie water bottles) and then everyone mixes their items together into all the bags, and finally we all take a small portion of the bags. The only difference now is that we will simply each buy all the items for a smaller number of bags. The amount we each pay will be about the same or maybe even less.

Third, we need to safely distribute the bags. I have tried several methods and it’s actually very easy to do this. Simply approach the person and set the bag down, explaining that it contains food and water for them, and then walk away. It’s not as awkward or uncomfortable as it sounds, and based on the feedback from many past partners, this will probably feel more comfortable for them than actually handing the bags to people.

For this test run, I’m planning to make about a dozen bags and see how cheap I can get them. Then we will make adjustments before launching the larger next-phase of the project.

What Items?

Here is the list of items I am including in my test run before we launch the project in the next few weeks.

  • Thermal Blankets: Today, the leading cause of death for unhoused people here in the richest city in the world is exposure to the elements. It’s starting to get cold and several of the unhoused people I have recently talked to are asking for blankets. Using thermal blankets has several advantages: they’re very warm, they pack easily, they’re waterproof, and since they are affordable for us, it’s easy to give out a lot of them.
    • Personally I would really prefer to give out bivvies instead of thermal blankets, but I have not yet found a cheap enough option. This would mean people have a warm, waterproof, packable sleeping bag. I have been researching the potential to make these ourselves but ideally I’d really like to find a cheap source online.
  • Hand sanitizer: These are the cheapest individual-sized hand sanitizer bottles I could find. These are also refillable.
  • Disposable masks: Masks are only effective if they are clean. Reusable masks are great but without being able to wash them, they’re actually not any better. These ones cost about $0.25 each, so I am planning to include several of them in each care package. I discussed the need for smoke masks with several experts who advised against including N95 masks because for most people they are not going to work any better than surgical masks unless they are being professionally fitted and the people are shaving daily. These masks seem like the best option.
  • Granola bars: these are a vital part of the care packages because everyone needs to eat and even though it’s not going to feed them for long, at least it’s something.
  • Complete nutrition shake: This is a little pricey but I think it’s worth including something that can help fill unmet nutrition needs. These contain all the vitamins and minerals that people might be missing, so I have decided to include these in my care packages.
  • Water bottle: Water is obvious. Everyone needs water and this is one of the cheapest items in the care packages.
  • Toilet paper: This is an essential that can’t be left out.

Going Forward

I have ordered these items and will be assembling and distributing these packages. Soon, we will be launching a zoom meeting to discuss the project with the public and solicit partners and donations.

Data: Nuclear Radiation and Wildfires

I am conducting a long-term experiment of the environmental factors associated with the wildefires. One factor I am looking at is the ambient nuclear radiation levels.

Hypothesis

I believe that when the fires start, we will see a significant increase in radionuclide count per minute, because of naturally occurring radioactive materials being released into the air.

Methodology

As part of an ongoing experiment, I am using two sensor arrays (inside and outside) to measure several environmental factors in the context of the wildfires, including nuclear radiation. The data is being logged every minute as a count of how many radionuclides the sensor detected each minute.

Results

Ambient Radionuclides and Wildfires

As you can see from this initial data, there is a significant increase in ambient radioactivity associated with the wild fires. In fact ambient radiation levels are now up to 32% higher than before the wildfires began.

Data

Simple Solar: Lighting and Charging

I work at Burners Without Borders, as well as working on the Comfort & Joy power grid, and lots of other similar projects. This means people often ask me for advice on how to set up their own solar system. I’m going to show you a simple way to get lights and charging going indefinitely.

Note for disclosure that if you decide to buy the things on this page, Amazon will give me a cut. This does not impact the price you pay. It just helps a student pay the bills.

The first step in the process is to get a solar panel. This is the Anker 28 watt USB solar panel, resting on top of my Kodiak.

Anker 28w solar panel

Now when Anker says 28 watts, it does not mean you’re going to get 28 watts. It means best case scenario for one second a day when the panel is perfectly aligned towards the sun, you can get up to 28 watts depending on weather, shade, etc.

As you can see, even with full sun directly hitting the 28 watt panel, I was only getting about 3 watts. This is very normal especially if you’re somewhere dusty or shady. You have to make sure to get a lot more capacity than you need because you will never get all of what your system is rated at.

Power GuageBy the way, I highly recommend this power meter. It comes in super handy for projects like this. In the future I might even get a second one to measure the power output to the lights and accessories.

Alright so let’s look at where the power goes when it comes into the tent…

Battery and Power DistributionTo the right, you can see two 15′ black USB extension cords. One of them comes in from the solar panel, through the power meter, and then into the battery’s charger port.

This is a very special battery because it can do charging and discharging at the same time. Normally this is an expensive feature, but this is the cheapest one I could find with enough capacity to comfortably handle all my needs even with a few days of clouds.

After the battery, the power goes to two cords. One of these is a phone charging cord. The other is a switched USB hub. These switches control power going to internal lights, external lights, and some disco lights.

Here’s what the courtyard looks like in front of the tent. You can see the lights hanging around the area, with an eno hammock hung between a set of atlas straps. I can’t recommend these enough as they provide safety for you and safety for the trees. Using paracord or other improvised straps can hurt the trees and hurt you.

Courtyard LightsFinal Thoughts

With this setup, I finished a week of camping with a full charge. I ran the lights every night, and charged my phone every day. This was more than enough to power all my needs during this trip. Probably it would be enough for several more people to share the same system.

I highly recommend this simple solar setup for anyone who is looking for simple lights and phone charging on a budget.

Making Cowboy Cold Brew Iced Coffee

I really like to make cold brew iced coffee. I also like to go camping. I developed this method for making cowboy cold brew which works just as well at home or in the woods.

Cowboy coffee refers to mixing the grounds in with the water and then pouring it out through a filter once it has brewed. This is different from the way most people make coffee. With cold brew, there are basically two ways to make it. You can either get a bag to hold the grounds while they brew, or you can do it this way where you just mix the grounds into the water and then pour it all through a filter.

The big difference between these two methods is that you don’t have to deal with dirty bags. The problem there is that if you use a dirty bag again, you are likely to see mold and then you are done making coffee until you can get to a dishwasher and bleach everything.

Doing it cowboy style means your filter stays clean between brewings and doesn’t get moldy.

Let’s Make Some Coffee!

You will want to add two tablespoons of coffee per eight ounces of water. So for one liter of water, that’s about 34 ounces which comes out to about half a cup or four ounces of coffee grounds.

You may have to eyeball this if your Nalgene doesn’t have marks for just four ounces. More is more; you can always add water afterwards to dilute it down. I’m using a 1.5 liter Nalgene in this photo, and I make it a little stronger than normal, so I used eight ounces of coffee grounds in this photo.

Start by putting your grounds and then water into a Nalgene or similar container as shown. Shake it up and stick it in the cooler for about 24 hours.

I’m using a mesh filter here but it has since been discontinued. I would recommend this other one that I also have because it is easy to clean by simply rinsing it. If you get one with cloth, it’s going to get moldy.

Next simply poor your grounds-water through the filter into your clean container…

I’m using a blender bottle. These are really great because they rinse clean with zero effort and they are very sturdy. After many years at burning man dropping it form moving bikes on a regular basis, I’ve never had it come open; really great drink container.

In this case, I just wanted a little coffee at the moment so I transferred it over to my camp cup and left the rest in the cooler. This kind of cold brew will keep in the cooler for up to two weeks. For your used containers just rinse them out and let them air dry. Couldn’t be easier!