Today I had a wonderful, magical, linguistic epiphany.

Today I had a wonderful, magical, linguistic epiphany.

Many people will know that there is a kind of imaginary line that goes across Europe from east to west, dividing the Northern languages from the Southern languages. The Northern languages are all very similar to each other; English, German, Norwegian, Swedish, etc. The Southern languages are all very similar to each other; Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese. But the North and South are very different from one another.

OKAY SO… about the names for the days of the week in the North vs South.

Mani is the old viking name for the goddess of the moon. Mani is also where the word Monday (Montag, Mandag, etc.) comes from in all the Northern languages. In latin, and all the Southern languages, the word for Monday (Lunae dies, Lunedi, Lunes, Lundi) comes from the name of the Roman goddess of the moon, Luna.

Tyr was the old viking god of war. Tyr’s Day is the root for Tuesday (Tirsdag, Tisdag, Dienstag which was originally mis-transliterated from the rune thurisaz and should really have started with a TH, not a D). In Southern Europe, the god of war was Mercury, and Tuesday is Martis, Martedi, Mardi, Martes.

Wotan is one of the original pronunciations of Odin, whose ravens send messages to all the other gods and spy and tell him their secrets. Wotan’s day goes without saying, and in the north, it’s still spelled Wednesday or Onsdag (With German being the odd one out and using the literal phrase “mid-week” for Wednesday.) In the South, the god of secret messages and spying was Mercury. And the words for Wednesday are Mercurii, Mercoledi, Mercredi, and Miercoles.

Thor was the strongest and manliest god in the north, and Thor’s day hasn’t changed much in English. It’s Torsdag in Norwegian and Swedish, again missing the H when it was transliterated from the elder futhark into modern letters. In German, thurisaz is again transliterated as a D instead of the more accurate TH sound, and they get Donnerstag. In the south, The strongest, manliest god was Jove, or Jupiter. And Thursday is called Giovedi “Joe-veh-dee,” Jueves, Jeudi.

Freyr was the god of the harvest, the spring, and renewal. In the North, Freyr’s Day is called Friday, Freitag, and Fredag today. In the south, the corresponding goddess is Venus, and Friday is called Venerdi, Vendredi, Viernes.

Saturday and Sunday are less interesting…

Saturday seems to be basically the same in the North and South, a reference to Saturn, one of the Southern gods.

Sun was the Viking sun god or more accurately the personification of the sun. In the North, Sunday is called Sonetag, Sondag, and Soendag. In the south, The name for Sunday is based on the literal word for a slave master in Latin, Domenicus; Domenica, Dimanche, and Domingo.

I find it super interesting that the root words for most of the days of the week come from various local versions of gods that represent similar ideas, and that despite the thousands of years of the Christian dark ages, not a single one of these gods — whose names have been spoken every day by countless billions of people throughout history — is the Christian god. All of the days of the week are named after pagan gods in every language I know of.

Simple Solar Powered Air Conditioning

In this post, I will show you how I built a very simple and affordable air conditioner from scratch. This is powered completely by solar power via USB and achieves up to a 40 degree temperature difference from the outside temperature.

Evaporative cooling is an old technology which was used by ancient civilizations long before the advent of electricity. You may have heard the term swamp cooler. This nickname comes from the evaporated water that is used to achieve the temperature change. If you implement it wrong, you will get a hot, humid tent instead of a cool tent; a swamp.

There are two main concepts that will be important. The dryer the outside air, the better. And there absolute MUST be constant airflow through the cooler into the tent and then out of the tent. If you set this up inside a closed tent with no exhaust vent coming out, it will not work. Many people make this mistake and wrongly conclude that these coolers don’t work. You must have at least as much air going out of your tent as there is coming in through the evaporative cooler.

I mentioned above that the temperature difference can be up to 40 degrees below the outside temperature. This depends on the dew point. If you are somewhere very dry like the black rock desert with its 0% humidity, then the maximum potential temperature difference is 40 degrees. With higher humidity, the potential temperature difference is less. The science behind this calculation is complex, but in most areas, you will see at least some benefit.

I have also added a major technical innovation which dramatically improves performance!

My Parts List

5 Gallon Bucket
5 Gallon Bucket (With Lid): This is where the magic happens.

 

Dryer Duct Disconnect
Dryer Duct Disconnect: This dramatically simplifies the process of setting up and taking down or storing and transporting the cooler and it’s actually cheaper than using a flange which doesn’t make any sense to me.

 

Dryer Duct
Dryer Duct: This will connect from the cooler to the fan just inside the tent. I went with a second duct after the fan but this is completely unnecessary in retrospect.

 

USB Fan

USB Powered Fan: This fan pushes 50 cubic feet per minute of air. The rule of thumb is that your evaporative cooler needs to change out all the air inside your tent every five minutes. So a 50 CFM fan will work for spaces up to 250 cubic feet. This is just under 7x7x7 or about the size of a Shiftpod. If you have a larger space, you might want to consider adding a second USB fan on a splitter, or just using a 120v fan instead of USB.

 

Duct Adapter

Duct/Fan Flange Adapter: The dryer duct will clamp tightly onto this flange adapter which then screws tightly onto the fan, providing a good seal. I decided to get a second one for the inside-facing part of the fan and then attach a second duct, but that’s not necessary.

 

Solar Panel

Solar Panel: I went with a larger one so that I can charge my phone as well, but this pump and fan draw less than ten watts total. So even this panel is larger than what’s necessary.

 

USB Pump

Water Pump: This pump has a connection for a 5/16″ hose which you will also need to pick up. I used two of these pumps in case one has a problem, but this is probably unnecessary.

 

Swamp Cooler PadSwamp Cooler Pad: This just needs to reach at least to the top of the bucket when inserted around the edges.

 

I have also used a few feet of chicken wire. This is optional, but should provide dramatic performance improvement.

 

Let’s Build It!

The first step is to set the duct adapter in the center of the top of the lid. Then trace a line around it with sharpie and cut that piece out, leaving a hole for the female side of the duct connector. I sealed up the edges with a hot glue gun. Probably anything like silicone caulk or even just tape would work fine. This connection will be under suction, so it’s not going to try to come apart.

Next cut out holes in the side of the bucket for air to flow in through the pad.  The plastic is pretty soft. I just used the knife on my leatherman. Remember, the hole coming out is just four inches across, so there’s no reason to go crazy with the holes in the sides of the bucket. Just make sure the surface area is at least as much as the hole on the top. Also keep in mind that the lower your holes go, the less water you will be able to put in the bucket, and the more often you will have to refill it. I did my holes right around the very top of the bucket. This works great. I might experiment with using some chicken wire or something to create some space between the material and the wall so that the surface area will increase.

Now set the pump down inside the cooler and run the USB cord out the holes you cut in the side. I decided to use two pumps in case something happens to one of them, but probably one is fine. I also decided to zip tie the usb cords to the handle of the bucket in order to prevent them from getting yanked and messing up the internal layout.

Fold the swamp cooler pad in half and insert it into the bucket, being sure not to leave any gaps for air to get through. The pad should stick out above the level of the lid. You will need to trim it down a couple inches to get it to fit tightly but without deforming when the lid is closed.

Next, fold the section of hose at one end and zip tie it to close it off. I added some hot glue inside the closed tip for good measure. Then poke lots of holes in one side of the tube, forming a drip line. I found that a soldering iron worked great for this. The material in the pad is designed to spread the water out and saturate itself via a drip line, so it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Now lay the hose along the top of the cooler pad (as shown above) with the holes pointed down, and run it down to the pump in the bottom of the bucket.

 

Optional Alternative Pad Design

I had the realization that only a few square inches of the pad is being exposed to the air with this design. Most of it is totally useless. The function of the pad is to maximize surface area exposed to water, so the more of the pad that’s exposed to the air, the better it will perform. We need something to hold the pad away from the wall a bit, so that the air can come in and reach all around the pad.

Some people work around this issue by drilling lots and lots of holes in the side of the bucket, but this really doesn’t solve the problem, it just increases the surface area somewhat, while severely limiting the amount of water the bucket can hold. The more water it can hold, the less frequently you have to remember to fill it.

We also need to be sure that the area inside the pad remains wide enough to admit the inside lip of the connector on the lid. It will extend down into the opening somewhat, providing a better seal. Here is my solution to this non-trivial problem;

Modified pad architechture

Using a few feet of chicken wire, I created a cylinder a few inches smaller than the bucket. Then I inserted the foam inside that cylinder, and added another smaller cylinder inside the foam to be sure that the lip of the lid connector would fit snugly inside. Then I ran the hoses through the two layers of foam and zip tied it all together. This is a major technical innovation over the design most people are using, where the pad touches the walls and only a small portion of it is exposed to the outside air.

This design also leaves about an inch between the bottom of the bucket and the foam, which makes it much easier to dry it out when you’re not using it. This will help prevent mold between uses. Most people I’ve seen essentially throw the pad away after each use and replace it. This is not necessary with this design. I did notice a dramatic increase in performance with this alternative design.

 

Put Together The Duct Assembly

Next up, we need to put together the top half of the machine, the duct assembly.

Connect the male side of the duct connector to the dryer duct. Connect the other side of the dryer duct to the fan adapter, and then connect the fan to the adapter. Make sure the fan is sucking air out of the duct instead of blowing air into the duct. Most fans have a diagram on one side which shows which way the airflow goes. I know the one I recommended has this helpful diagram.

You’re done! When you’re ready to go, snap the male end of the duct assembly into the female duct connector in the lid of the bucket. Fill the bucket with water and connect the USB cords to the solar panel. Keep in mind, these pumps will burn out if they run out of water, so don’t let that happen! Probably this design will use about half a gallon of water per hour. Therefore, if it’s filled all the way up, it will have about eight hours of runtime at least. Make sure to check on it often until you get to know it.

That’s it! Any time you have sunlight, you will have air conditioning!

Other Things To Consider

In my case, I’m using a tent which does not reflect light, so it made sense to cover the tent with a cheap piece of aluminet which deflects most of the light and heat from the sun. This dramatically improves the effectiveness of the cooler.

I also added an exhaust fan which draws warm air from the top of the tent into a second duct and pushes it outside. This alone would dramatically improve indoor temperatures in the mornings. Combining an exhaust fan with a swamp cooler means really great cool temperatures.

I do think that I will go ahead and use chicken wire to keep the pad off the wall in order to maximize the surface area of the pad.

As I mentioned above, if you have a larger space than the approximate size of a Shiftpod, you may want to consider adding a second USB fan on a duct splitter, or just using a 120v fan instead of USB.

One other thought is that you might want to include a thermostat. I am planning on testing out this one on playa this year.

Optional Exhaust Fans

Exhaust Fans

The idea with these is that they remove the hot air from the top of the tent. If the swamp cooler is on, then it will balance out the cool air coming in by pushing out the hot air at the top of the tent. If the swamp cooler is off, it will still suck a bit of air through it, but that air won’t be refrigerated. This should pair well with the cooler as outlined above to produce a really great air conditioned space.

These fan assemblies are fairly similar to the one described above, but with a couple of differences. I used a pair of USB powered fans. My thinking was that since these are lower speed, two would work better than one. Also my tent had two vents to cover up, so why not do two fans?

These exhaust assemblies connect to special panels I made out of vinyl and mylar. I used the same duct adapters as above, but this time I super glued them to the vinyl, and stitched the bolt holes down. These panels have one of these duct adapters on one side, and a velcro rectangle on the other side. These velcro rectangles match up with velcro I added to the tent around the built-in vents. Stitching velcro onto a tent is a non-trivial problem. You will need to use curved needles and probably pliers. I also made closed panels with the same velcro which can be placed over the vents instead of the fans, to keep them closed in case I don’t like these fans.

I attached velcro zip ties to the fan grills in order to fasten them to the struts inside the tent. These are super handy. I use them a lot more than I expected to. They are great for managing cables or hanging up lights.

Exhaust Fan Assemblies

 

I think I should be good this year on temperature in the mornings!

How I Made a Transparent Light-Up RGB/LED Hoodie!

Version 1.0

First let’s look at the finished product! It was inspired by the scene in the original Blade Runner when Decker  is chasing Zora and she is basically naked but wearing a transparent hoodie or poncho. I liked the ironic way that her clothes sort of Queered the expectation of clothes as hiding what’s underneath, and stuck just to the fundamental purpose of staying dry.

Also, this project was delayed slightly because I was rear ended on my way to the fabric store and had to wait nearly a week to go back! The price I pay for looking weird.

How To

Okay so the material came from Joann’s. It’s just clear vinyl. I bought a few yards of it and have tons left over for other projects. This was about $5/yard. Here’s what the whole thing looks like, turned off.

Hoodie Once I got home with the fabric, I laid out a basic H&M hoodie over the clear vinyl and cut out pieces of vinyl that were roughly the same size and shape as each piece of the hoodie. Then I stitched the pieces together with quilting thread and a hooked needle. This took some trial and error. Be aware that the tension of putting the hoodie on and taking it off will damage the seams, so for the collar and under-arms, you will want to do like four or five seams to keep it from coming apart. I would recommend using pliers to do the stitching because the vinyl is really tough and it will tear your fingers apart to try to do it with fingers.

In place of a zipper, I used velcro which I also bought at Joann’s. This also made for a sturdy surface to attach the lights to. I am a little nervous about the lights being delicate and getting damaged if they fold too much. It might be worth exploring a way of stiffening them up by attaching them first to a rigid piece of webbing or something?

Velcro instead of Zipper

The length of LEDs that I got was perfect to leave a daisy chain connector next to the hood. This way I can later add more LEDs going out both arms if I want. I think this might already be a lot. lol.

The main power coming into the lights is arranged to be down at the corner of the hoodie close to the pocket. This works out perfectly.

Power goes towards pocket

Here you can see the actual power hardware all hooked up. In the center, the controller connects the battery to the lights and accepts the command. The battery is the black box connected to the controller. The remote controls the colors, on/off, effects, etc for the lights. All of this fits comfortably into my pocket.

Power Complete

My Parts List

16.4 ft waterproof (playa proof) LED Strip Waterproof is the way to go. That means it will come coated in silicon which will keep the dust out at the burn.

72 watt Lithium Battery This is a really great battery which I plan to use for lots of different projects. It will put out 12v, 9v, and USB all at once. And it can charge from any 12v source. Simple adapters will allow it to charge from USB. It’s probably more than most people need, but a perfect battery for this project.

Lessons Learned

I feel like this will not keep working forever. It seems like the LED strip is a lot less strong than I expected it to be. I think it will be fine for the burn plus a few parties throughout the year. Version two will probably

These lights take a lot of power, and they’re really bright. The power consumption is a little confusing. Purple and white light uses a lot of power (about 40 watts), where red, green, and blue use just about 13 watts each. Also, you can turn the brightness down. If you run them at half brightness and set the colors to cycle, this battery will power the lights all night. Then it simply needs to be recharged during the next day. This battery can power the lights on full-white at full-brightness for about two hours. (That’s remarkable because it’s a super lot of power.) But with lower brightness and non-white light, it can last a lot longer.

Probably it would be easier to use usb-powered strip lights with a smaller USB battery, thought USB strips are much shorter so you would need to use several of them.

Another alternative would be to use EL wire instead of LEDs. This is great but not very bright, and you can’t control the color or make it do fancy effects. One other benefit is that you can use USB to power EL wire. So that simplifies your power supply.

Switching Automatically to Backup Power

This is a proposed solution to a complex problem. At my camp, we have several large industrial fridges as part of our kitchen. Our main power source is a large 45kva generator. This is a rental which is maintained daily by the vendor, and yet sometimes it fails.

We consider the fridges to be a mission-critical part of the camp since our camp has central food production. If the fridges fail and the food spoils, then everyone would go hungry. This can not happen.

The fridges we use are actually large chest freezers with added thermostats which shut them off when they reach fridge temperatures; so they become super efficient fridges instead of freezers.

Here are two diagrams showing normal conditions and emergency conditions under my proposed solution;

Normal Operations Diagram

Emergency Operations Diagram

Recommended Equipment;

Go Power! TS-30 30 AMP Automatic Transfer Switch

I have done a great deal of research and I strongly believe this is the right option for our needs. There are very few products designed for this automatic transfer use-case, and this one is the right size for what we need. All of the other automatic transfer switch options are utility-scale or very complex to implement. This one is a simple, easy-to-use box which will require minimal wiring on our part to integrate it into this proposed solution.

Yeti 3000 Lithium

Having a Yeti 3000 or two would be enormously beneficial to us throughout the year and at the burn. This box is basically interchangeable for a generator and it uses no fossil fuels. This means we can use it safely anywhere we need a few thousand watts of power throughout the year, even indoors. This would be great for powering sound, lights, etc.  This would be enormously helpful for other events we are working at, such as Decompression or our annual street fair.

Fascinating Case Study: Pay-What-You-Want Cafes

Pay-what-you-want cafes are a super fascinating case study at the intersection of many issues related to modern urbanism. Implementing this mission started with food security and grew to touch many other issues from racial sensitivity to consumer behaviors and our deep ethical dissonance around living differently than we believe we should.

This story includes themes ranging from utopian socialism to the discordant relationship between capitalism and philanthropy.

I highly, highly recommend listening!

 

2019 Gear List: Exploring Shiftpod Alternatives

Last year, I took way too much stuff. This year, I am taking far less stuff and focusing on a smaller and more efficient footprint. Home v3 has about a quarter the footprint of Home v2. It’s not just about bringing less stuff, it’s about being more effective. Aluminet stretched over a small light-proof shelter combined with an evaporative cooler should provide the best tent experience I’ve had at the Burn. It should be darker, cooler, and quieter than my past burns. Here’s how I’m planning to do it;

Home Sweet Home v3.1


I have decided to go with this blue knockoff Shiftpod 2 for my tent this year. It’s a bit roomier than the shiftpod mini or its knockoffs. That means I can bring a queen-size mattress and an evaporative air conditioner. This is still much smaller than my ridiculously enormous tent from last year.

Blue Shiftpod

Incidentally, this one works perfectly with the lag bolts I already bought and therefore the impact driver I got last year.

I will cover the tent with a cheap sheet of 12′ x 18′ 80% Aluminet which should stretch tightly over the whole tent, except the entrance side which faces north. This will block almost all light from reaching the tent’s walls. This aluminet covering idea would also work well with a real Shiftpod 2 . A smaller piece of aluminet would work perfectly on a Shiftpod mini (or knockoff). Aluminet is something I just learned about last year, and it seems like a magic bullet for issues relating to light and heat in the mornings on playa.Aluminet

 

Tent Orientation

Last year, I intended to orient north. I set up my enormous dome-tent facing north, but there were some logistical changes in the camp after I had set up. This put another structure essentially right in front of my entrance. Luckily I had a back door too, but this meant I ended up facing south and getting direct light essentially all day. This meant a lot of unnecessary light. This year, I will make a special effort to have my front door facing north, and to have every other side covered completely in aluminet to prevent as much heat and light from reaching the tent as possible.

I will again bring two folding camp chairs which I found for just $4/each at Walmart several years ago.

Intex Self-Inflating Queen-Size Mattress

I am again bringing an Intex self-inflating queen-size mattress. This is very comfortable for single or double occupancy depending on the night. It works perfectly with the power bank and microgrid. I had considered bringing a folding cot instead, but I would rather luxuriate a little and get as much rest as possible. This mattress goes inside a small mattress tent which I bought last year. This provides extra darkness and a second layer of thermal isolation as well as excellent protection from dust. I zip this up when I get up, and leave it shut until I’m ready for bed.

Realistic Air Conditioning

Air conditioning is a contentious subject. I am a member of the Facebook group, “Burning Man Generators and Electrical Systems.” You would not believe how many people think they can run a large home air conditioner off a single battery all week or a single solar panel. It’s hilarious.

A far better solution is evaporative cooling. This can be done with almost zero electricity, and at the extremely low humidity of the Black Rock Desert, there is a potential for up to 40 degree temperature drop inside the Shiftpod. There are a few pitfalls which many people fall into but are easily avoided. The biggest thing is that there must be constant airflow both into the space and out of the space.

Evaporative cooling works by adding humidity to dry air which causes it to get much cooler. That air is pumped into a space, cooling the surfaces. Then the now-warm air in the space must be pumped outside while new cool air is pumped in. I have seen many failed evaporative cooling implementations which simply humidify a space without exchanging the air. This does nothing to cool the space, it just makes the space hot and sweaty.

I adapted the many burner evaporative cooling designs and made some big improvements. You can check out what I did and how by clicking here.

Power

I love this power bank. It is cheap, powerful, and reliable. At under $200, it has essentially the same functionality of the Yeti 400 Lithium which costs three times as much. It provides all that power through USB and a 120 volt outlet. This is an excellent option for a small camping set up or essentially anyone who isn’t trying to refrigerate anything. This power bank allows me to run my evaporative air conditioner, charge my phone over a hundred times, and power the lights inside and outside my tent for over a week!

I found this great set of USB powered lights which worked out great last year. They will be the main light source for inside the tent.

This is really overkill since my camp has its own microgrid, but this will make a great backup. Also, our microgrid is under constant development and growth, and sometimes it may not be completely in place during placement. Having this just eliminates any electric uncertainty.

Food

I bought all this food for last year, but didn’t end up eating any of it because my camp provides food. I included the list here because it may be helpful for people who want suggestions! I will probably bring one of two in case I get hungry or miss a meal.

Breakfast:

Lunch/ Dinner:

Bike v2.1

My bike from last year worked out really well. I am going to use the same design this year with some minor tweaks. I got rid of all batteries and switched everything to run off of USB instead!

Roadmaster 26: This is the same model bike I have taken to each burn. They have proven very versatile and reliable. And they go back to Walmart after!

USB Bike Lights: Two strings of these lights run to a dust-proof power bank in the basket. This is able to run the lights for weeks on a single charge, and it recharges via built in solar panel. This technically makes the bike a microgrid in its own right!

Shelf: I added this shelf to the back of the roadmaster. It allows a milk crate to rest comfortable on the back. This makes it a lot easier to bring beer and snacks around with me on the playa.

Front Basket: I added this basket to the front of the bike. While the back basket is great for food and drinks, the front is great for thinks like the power bank, the lock, spare tubes, tools, etc. You don’t want to find yourself in need of these things and not have them handy!

Other Accessories: I found a kit for under $20 at Walmart which contained a lock, pump, bicycle bottle, headlamp, tail light, and a bell. These kinds of kits are usually available and well worth the $20.

Don’t Forget…

One last thing which I suggest is Mack’s silicone earplugs. These are one of the best products I’ve ever spent a few dollars on. I can’t overstate the importance of some kind of sound protection for sleep. There is just no way you are going to sleep at Burning Man without earplugs, and these are absolutely the best option. I have tried many solutions to this problem and I can’t recommend these enough.

Mack's Earplugs

How To Build a Microgrid

A microgrid is a relatively small power grid which takes electricity from a source, stores it for use, and distributes it to devices. This can range from the size of a town to a neighborhood to a single home. The principles are the same.

Based on this definition, chances are you already have one or more microgrids in your life. In a way, your car is like a microgrid. It generates power, stores it, and then distributes it to devices like cell phones which plug into it. RVs and tiny homes area also good examples of microgrids.

Step One: Sizing Your Grid

The first step is to determine how much power your grid needs to deliver. A single home will typically draw an average of approximately 1,000 watts. But then again. An air conditioner can easily draw at least that much. If you’re not sure how much power you need, check out this helpful article on estimating power requirements before you continue.

Step Two: Picking Power Sources

There are two broad categories of power sources for microgrids; renewable and non-renewable. Renewable is typically going to be more expensive initially and much cheaper in the long-run. Non-renewable is often cheaper initially but more expensive in the long run.

The most important thing to consider is how much power you need. The math gets a little complex, but a good rule of thumb is that you should never plan to use more than half of your capacity. If you calculate that you need 1,000 watts, then you need your grid to be capable of producing at least double to triple that amount. There are two big factors at play here. Power ratings are typically given in terms of the root mean square of the actual draw. This is a sort of logarithmic average which means the actual requirements can jump momentarily well outside the official number.

The other related issue is inductive loads. Things like fans, air conditioners, refrigerators, and stereo equipment will often draw 300-400% of their rated wattage while they are spinning their moving parts up to speed. That 100 watt mini fridge will likely draw 300-400 watts just for a moment while it’s starting up. The effect of this is that when you first flip the switch and turn your grid on, it can experience much higher demand than you may have estimated. If this amount is too high, the breakers will simply trip  and the grid will shut back off. Any momentary interruption in power can lead to everything on your grid drawing very high current when the power is restored, multiplying your troubles. So make sure to plan for more capacity than you think you will need.

Non-Renewable Sources Of Electricity

The classic example of a nonrenewable power source for a microgrid is the generator. Getting a generator is typically a good place to start, as renewable sources can often face periods where little to no power will be generated. In those moments, a generator can help fill the power gap.

 

Probably the most popular generator in the microgrid community is the Honda eu2200i. This generator is very quiet and very reliable. It can put out 2200 watts as the name suggests. They can also be daisy chained to add more power, though 2200 watts is more than enough power for most homes or RVs, and likely enough for a small community of campers at an event like Burning Man.

 

This little guy is very popular as a white-label product. Many stores like Harbor Freight and Home Depot will sell these under different brand names. It puts out 1,000 watts. I found one of these for just $50 with a two year warranty and I’ve gotten years of use out of it. I primarily use this to power my DJ gear when I do parade floats or off-grid events. This would be perfect for many smaller microgrids such as a single RV/camper at an event like Burning Man. In a pinch, it could easily serve as a perfect emergency backup option for a medium sized set up.

Renewable Sources Of Electricity

The cheapest and most popular example of a renewable source of electricity today is solar photovoltaic or “solar panels.” Before the current trade war, and presumably afterwards, solar power prices were about $1/watt. This is much cheaper than the cost of a generator, considering ongoing fuel prices. Today, you can typically buy solar panels for about $1.50/watt. (Thanks, Mr President for inexpertly jacking up prices for no reason!) But this price will likely go back down once more competent leadership is in place in Washington. Even with this current price jump, solar is still the cheapest source of electricity today, though sunlight can not always be counted on.

Here is an example of the type of deal that can be found today on solar panels. Amazon is selling these 100 watt solar panels for about $136 each. This is much cheaper electricity than going the generator route. If you wanted to go 100% solar instead of the 2200 watt generator I linked to above, you would need to spend $2997.44 on panels. This is equivalent to the cost of using that generator for just a few weeks. It’s a no brainer. BUT, you will likely need to make enough power to compensate for dark periods or augment your solar power with a backup generator in case of cloudy days.

Wind power is another excellent option. Wind gets mixed reviews but my understanding is that it can be very reliable and very long-lasting. For approximately the same price as solar, you can get the same amount of power. Each of these turbines produce 1200 watts. A pair of them produces more power than the popular generators linked to above.

Keep in mind solar power depends on ideal conditions with the sunlight and wind power depends on ideal conditions with the wind. These are both excellent power sources but there will always be darkness and the wind doesn’t blow all the time. The key is proper storage and having a backup generator just in case.

Step Three: Storing Power

There are two main approaches to the topic of power storage in the context of microgrids; lead-acid and lithium.

Lead acid batteries often seem like a simpler solution. Simply hook them together and hook up a charger and inverter and you’ve got 120 volts! The problem is that in practice, these batteries can take days to recharge and you can only safely use up to half of their capacity (assuming they are deep cycle and not standard lead acid) before they start to take damage and fail. In the best case scenario, these batteries will only get a few hundred charge cycles before they fail. My advice is not to use lead acid batteries.

Lithium batteries charge very quickly and hold lots of power. These are the batteries in your cell phone and laptop. There are tons of great, simple products which solve the power storage problem using lithium batteries. On the small scale, there are USB battery packs. On the larger scale there are Yetis and the many cheap duplicates available online. These will all recharge from many sources and provide power as needed. This is the best way to store power in a microgrid in my opinion.

The Yeti GoalZero 3000 Lithium is a perfect example. This simple box will recharge from solar panels, generators, a standard plug-in, a car, anything. And it stores 3,000 watts for your microgrid. Then you can plug your devices, RV, or even your house into it. These boxes also come in smaller wattages, all the way down to 400 watts which is what I use for my personal microgrid at burning man.

There are many cheap duplicate products for the Yeto GoalZero line of lithium batteries. This is the one I use. It stores 370 watts which it can accept from solar panels, generators, a car, a plug-in, anything. Then it provides that power through USB and a 120 volt outlet. This is an excellent option for a small camping set up or essentially anyone who isn’t trying to refrigerate anything. In my case, this battery pack allows me to charge my phone over a hundred times, inflate my mattress, and run lights in my tent as well as christmas lights around my tent while camping for over a week at burning man.

If you visit the amazon page for this battery pack, you will see there are hundreds of very similar products, all of which will cheaply solve the storage problem using lithium batteries which recharge quickly and provide lots of power when you need it.

Example 1

 I’m going to a music festival and I just need to recharge my phone and laptop a couple times during the trip.

Easy! Get a USB solar panel and a USB battery pack. This will provide you with more than enough electricity for your needs! I have linked to the ones I have. You could probably go with smaller options than these suggestions depending on your needs.

Example 2

I have a yurt (or a shiftpod) and simply want to run an air conditioner for a while to cool it down at night, while also recharging my phone and laptop. I’m tired of running it off of a generator. It takes too much gas and its not sustainable!

A small air conditioner like this one will be more than enough to cool a space this size. For cooling a space with less than 300 square feet, a 5,000-10,000 BTU air conditioner will be sufficient. The rule is that your air conditioner will need about 1/10 the BTUs in watts while running, and double that amount when starting up. The air conditioner I linked to above is rated at 8,000 BTUs, so it needs 800 watts while running and 1600 while starting up.

This is a perfect job for a Yeti GoalZero 1000. This battery pack will allow the generator to start up and run for about an hour on a single charge. This should be plenty of time to cool down a space this size depending on the materials the shelter is made of. Alternatively, the Yeti GoalZero 3000 will run the air conditioner for almost four hours on a single charge.

You can use solar to recharge your battery pack during the day. Nine solar panels will do the trick. Assuming you use the ones I recommended, you can connect them to the Yeti in sets of three, using these adapters.

Example 3

I need to provide power to a medium-sized community of 150 people at burning man. Each person is limited to ten watts of usage. (They can only use LED lights or charge small devices.) We have a generator which we usually use, but we want to use some solar to take a bite out of our fuel costs.

Solar is the way to go! 150 people limited to ten watts each is just 1500 watts. I would pick up a Yeti GoalZero 1000 for $1300 (or under $1,000 at Costco). This can put out 1500 continuous watts, and double that during surges. This should more than meet your needs, but you could go with a larger battery like a Yeti GoalZero 3000 if you want to be extra comfortable. The larger one has the added benefit of wifi monitoring, so you can monitor power consumption and watts available from the comfort of your tent.

To charge this lithium battery pack, you can use 9 100w solar panels at $136 each for a total cost of $1224.  This is likely plenty of power to refill the battery, but you will still have your generator to fill any gap due to darkness or over-use. If you wanted to increase the amount of power your community can use, simply build two or three of these solar microgrids.

You can plug your existing distribution system into this battery pack and you’ll be up and running.

This would have a total cost of about $2,224 and eliminate most future fuel costs. If you end up needing to use the generator to meet demand, simply add a few more panels next time. This estimate does not include hardware related to mounting the panels and connections between the panels and the Yeti.

This solution likely breaks even in the first year.

School Workflow: Triple Full-Time

For the last year, I have been a student who consistently takes at least a double to triple full-time workload. I am not superman, but I do have a 4.0 GPA. I also spend a great deal of my time traveling and having vacations and adventures.

All of this has been an intensely complex effort, but several simple tools have made all the difference.

Three tools in particular have dramatically improved my ability to accomplish this enormous undertaking.

Rate My Professor

I hear a lot of criticism of this platform, and a lot of it is probably true, but it has never steered me wrong. I have a simple rule; I will not take any class where the professor has less than a 4/5 rating.

As we will see, this makes all the difference.

LMS

These days, every college is going to require their teachers to use a learning management system. Any decent professor is going to be able to understand and properly implement their LMS. Canvas has been great, though it’s not perfect. Probably most any modern LMS will work for my system.

An LMS is very helpful but not necessarily critical to managing a large workload.

Organizing The Data

I start by making a bookmarks folder for the semester. Then I put a link in it for each class. The links go to the grades section of each class. This way, I will skip pointless details and go straight to a list of any incomplete assignments whenever I check on a class.

Time Management

Now that it is easy to see all the tasks which I will need to complete, it’s time to put them all in one place. I start by creating an appointment in my calendar every monday morning called “Check for Coursework.”

A good rule of thumb is to start with the first week, and see how long it takes to go through all the classes and find assignments. I usually spend about an hour or two checking every class for any assignments and then entering everything. Once you know how long that will take you, create a recurring calendar event each week for this purpose.

Each class will also require some fairly consistent amount of time to complete all its coursework. I usually assume about two hours per class per week for completing assignments.

It is absolutely critical that time is set aside for each class. Problems and distractions are going to come up. If I ever need to move my coursework time to later in the week, I know how long it’s going to take and whether that’s going to be possible because I have created a block of time for each class.  Here’s what an average week this summer looks like;

In grey is all my classes and the time set aside for completing assignments.

In blue, my personal plans and events I’m going to.

In yellow, tasks I need to complete which are not at a specific time.

In red, I have time set aside for sleep. This is another important thing to remember. Getting enough sleep every night is critical to performing on this level. You’re no good to yourself or anybody else if you’re half asleep.

Triage

Maybe the most important step in my process is creating a fresh to-do list every week for school. I love Trello for this purpose, a great recommendation from Pieter Levels. It’s a great, free tool that lets you make to-do lists. It also features integration with IFTTT which will be super handy in a few minutes.

It’s Monday morning so this is what my Trello board looks like…

 

The first column is titled with the date on which the week starts. The second column contains anything I need to finish today. The third column contains any school tasks which I have not completed yet, but which need to be done this week.

In the past, I would go through all my classes and create entries in Trello for anything I need to finish this week. Then, I will use that time I blocked off in my calendar to work on each class until everything is done.

BUT THERE’S A MAGICAL SHORTCUT!

IFTTT

I love IFTTT. I use it for tons of home automation and other fun projects. But it’s not all fun and games. In this case, it can put all my coursework into my todo list for me!

The Canvas LMS is what both of my colleges are using right now, and it has a feature which most LMS will probably have. It gives you a URL which lets you add your assignment due-dates to your calendar. I added this URL to my Google Calendar, and then connected Trello and Google Calendar to IFTTT. Then it was as simple as creating this applet which automatically adds anything in that calendar to Trello as a new item in my “School” list. Here are the settings I used:

To summarize, any time any of my professors at either college creates an assignment, it is automatically inserted into my school to-do list on Trello.

Note that I left the “Description” field blank because it adds a lot of unnecessary extra information. I just want the name of the assignment and the due date.

With this incredible automation in place, I spend my coursework time on Mondays simply cleaning up complex assignment names and putting things in order of how I want to complete them. Here’s what my Trello board looks like after this process…

Final Thoughts

With these tools in place, I am able to take double and triple full-time workloads without worrying about missing things or whether I will have time to complete the work. I already know exactly how much time I will need and when that time fits into my week. I know everything that’s due and I rank it in order of when I want to get it done.

Probably a lot of the inspiration for this process came from reading Tim Ferriss, Pieter Levels, and others on similar processes for maximizing impact while minimizing work at startups.

It’s funny to me how much of our time we spend worrying about the workload instead of actually doing the work. When you eliminate that anxiety by building a foolproof structure around your work, it’s easy to maximize what you can get done.

Group Meditation: Othering Is The Root Of Most Evil

This week’s topic is based on an interview which you can listen to, here. I recommend listening to it, it’s a great interview! I have condensed the main points for discussion here;

Philip Zimbardo is the former president of the American Psychological Association. From the interview, “[Zimbardo] is one of the most distinguished psychologists in the world and a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He is arguably best known for his 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, in which students were turned into mock prisoners and guards for a continuous 24-hour-a-day study. The experiment was planned for two weeks but terminated after just six days.”

Key Terms

Evil: (Zimbardo’s definition) The exercise of power to intentionally harm (psychologically), hurt (physically), and/or kill innocent people.

Othering: using language to dehumanize groups of people. Common examples include “druggies,” “stupid people,”the homeless,” and the use of racial or other slurs. Othering makes groups of people into abstract concepts, deserving any evil thing said or done to them. According to Zimbardo, this is the number one cause for people or groups of people doing evil things.

Delegation of Authority: Examples include “I was just following orders,” or “it’s my job.” These phrases are used to release one’s responsibility for doing the right thing by delegating the responsibility of one’s behavior to an authority. According to Zimbardo, this is the number two cause for people or groups of people doing evil things, and it often reinforces and compounds the effects of othering.

Key Points

  • According to an overwhelming amount of evidence from many experiments done over the course of the last century, Othering is the number one cause for ordinary people or groups of people saying or doing evil things. It is usually accompanied by the delegation of authority which reinforces its effects.
  • Especially in groups, people are far more likely to do evil if othering is taking place and goes unchallenged.
  • Challenging othering in a group setting is one of the best ways to change a group’s tone and direction from evil to heroic.

Examples and Research

-The Milgram Experiment

Milgram Experiment

In The Milgram Experiment, a normal and psychologically healthy volunteer was placed in front of a control panel and asked to read a list of questions to a “subject” who was in another room, via an intercom.

Researchers explained to the volunteer that the subject in the other room was hooked up to electrodes and that each time the subject responded incorrectly to one of the volunteer’s questions, the volunteer should flip another switch on the control panel. The switches would electrocute the subject as punishment for the incorrect answer. Each successive switch increased in voltage to the point of being potentially lethal. They were labeled as such.

Before the experiment, Milgram asked psychologists to predict how many volunteers would go all the way to the end and deliver the potentially lethal shocks to the subject. The consensus was that 1% of the volunteers would do so, since one would have to be a psychopath to potentially endanger the life of another during the course of the experiment.

In fact, though the subject would scream and beg for the test to stop because they had a heart condition, more than two thirds of volunteers went all the way to the most lethal dose of electricity.

Zimbardo, who was one of the researchers working on this experiment, attributes this result to the deliberate dehumanization of the subject by putting them in another room and referring to them with the abstract term subject rather than person. In this case, the effects of othering are compounded by Zimbardo’s number two cause of evil, the delegation of authority.

-The Stanford Prison Experiment

Stanford Prison Experiment

Decades later, Zimbardo conducted The Stanford Prison Experiment. He put normal and psychologically healthy student volunteers into groups of “guards” and “prisoners.” Prisoners had their faces covered and were only allowed to use a prisoner number instead of their names. The goal was to see what would happen when one group was given power over another group which had been deliberately dehumanized.

The groups were told to play out their roles in the simulated prison for two weeks while their behavior was recorded by researchers. Many of the participants had complete emotional and psychological breakdowns in just a matter of days. The behavior of the guards became both physically and psychologically evil to such an extreme degree that the researchers were forced to cancel the experiment after just six days.

When the researchers told the prisoners the experiment was over, the prisoners didn’t understand. They had to go through extensive counselling and therapy before reclaiming their real identities and rejoining the outside world. Several movies and many books have been made about these events.

Decades later, almost the exact same scenario played out in a real prison, Abu Ghraib. Guards covered the prisoners’ faces, gave them numbers instead of names, and committed acts of evil ranging from pointless physical violence to sexual assault.

 

Conclusion

Because of these examples and lots of other research done by Zimbardo, he has concluded that dehumanizing people is the most effective way for a normal person or group of people to do evil things.

Conversely, he concludes that an awareness of this fact can allow someone to be heroic versus evil by discouraging othering and nipping evil in the bud.