A Call To Empathy!

Cheap LED Grow Lighting

Today we have widely available and excellent cheap LED grow lighting, but there are far more scams than good deals. I have done a great deal of research on the best and most cost-effective, efficient ways to light indoor growing spaces. Here is what I have learned.

Avoid anything with “grow” or “plant” in the name. These products are essentially identical but often up to an order of magnitude more expensive for no reason.

Look for “shop” or “utility” in the name instead. Modern broad spectrum cheap LED grow lights are interchangeable. Anything with white light, whether warm or cold is going to work just fine for plants. If you get into industrial grow operations at large scale, then eventually, it will make sense to do further research on exactly which spectrum your plants need and to use more specialized lights. This will probably provide a single-digit increase in output. That makes sense at large scale but for home grow operations, regular white light works just fine.

 

High lumens are key. LED Grow lights should be at least 3000 or 4000 lumens. Three or four of these will keep dozens of plants happy and let them grow. This can be achieved with a single spotlight like the one pictured below which I love, or with linked fluorescent-style lights which illuminate a larger area.

Another important thing to keep in mind whenever you are using led grow lights is that they need to be on some kind of timer. There are two main ways of accomplishing this. The old-school way is to use a mechanical timer. These are cheap and simple to set up and use but they have several drawbacks compared to the other way of solving this problem…

Personally, I recommend using smart plugs instead of the old fashioned mechanical timers. They accomplish the same timing for your lights, but they have several advantages. A big advantage for me is being able to check on them from elsewhere to be sure they are working. For example, if the power goes out for an hour, mechanical timers will have their cycle thrown off. This may confuse your plants into thinking the seasons are changing which can have negative side effects. Smart plugs check the time when the power comes back on and everything continues as normal. They also tell you how much power the lights are using over time. This is helpful for budgeting and diagnostic purposes.

I did a lot of hunting around online and testing with my own grow operations using both mechanical timers and smart sockets. I really like the cheap chinese smart plugs on Amazon which can be had for under $15. These are actually cheaper than the old fashioned mechanical timers depending on where you get them. I can’t recommend this strategy highly enough.

smart plug

 

Plan: DJ-CJ

I have owned this company for 15 years since I started it at age 14. My strategy has always been to accept essentially any work. I want to narrow my focus and think more strategically. Different types of gigs come with enormously different amounts of work, reward, and prestige.

I’m done with schools. These are stressful jobs which don’t pay well. I may outsource this to a contractor in order to continue to leverage that segment, but I don’t want to work school gigs anymore. The kids are always mean, and I spend all my time mediating between the opposite wants of kids and their parents. It’s not worth it.

I want to focus primarily on two weekly residencies at dive bars. I want to set up an 80s dance party which benefits a worthy cause, as well as a weekly hard techno night (In the Berghain sense) which more closely resembles San Francisco’s underground sex party scene. This is a very complex and challenging pair of weekly events which should prove a very challenging and engaging project. Currently I am looking at Wednesday and Thursday nights but I do not have venues in mind yet.

Weddings are a very high ticket gig which is also a high stress gig. It’s worth it, and I really should be doing more of these. I usually gross about $1k/gig. Stress is no excuse for ignoring such a lucrative market segment.

Third, I want to expand my probono work. I have some of the best sound equipment in the world, and I can literally give a mic to worthy groups in need.

Revenue Goals

My first goal is to make $200/week in revenue from these two weekly diverbar events.

My second goal is to do one wedding a month at that $1k price.

These two goals make up $1800/month in revenue. This is just shy of half of my overall monthly revenue goal for the open revenue project. In order to fulfil my overall goal that each of three project should supply at least 20% of an overall revenue of $4,000, this means I should have two other projects grossing at least $800 each. This still leaves me $600 shy of the $4,000 goal.

Plan: Bolt Action

I had the worst time trying to source a set of lag bolts for Burning Man online this year. I found them listed on Amazon for as much as $50 a set. This is absolutely insane. I went to the hardware store and put together a set from scratch which cost about $6.

I intend to put together sets like this and list them on Ebay and Amazon at prices which dramatically undercut the competition. The beauty of it is that I can use JIT to eliminate all startup costs by simply waiting until a set sells to purchase the parts.

I have the strong feeling that this will be a seasonal business which peaks just before Burning Man, but there is no harm in starting now.

My Open Revenue Dashboard

Following as I often do, the example of Pieter Levels, I have decided to create an open and public page to show progress towards my revenue goals with several of my projects. This allows me to hold myself accountable and to show hard numbers related to the writing I’m doing.

Dashboards are a valuable tool which helps us to define clear and measurable metrics for concisely tracking and communicating progress towards goals. This is an excellent tool for business as well as for our personal lives.

Methods

I have seen several different approaches to accomplishing this type of dashboard. Many of them have included attempts to develop the dashboard itself from scratch in order to prove the ability to do so. Instead, I have decided to go for a serverless approach. I will simply use a Google sheets document and then publish a connected graph onto the page. I will simply add data to the spreadsheet and then Google will update the graph pictures automagically. No reason to overcomplicate this.

I want to follow two main metrics; total monthly revenue by project, and revenue mix.

You can view the dashboard here: cjtrowbridge.com/open.

2018 Goals

We have only a few months left in 2018, but I have one simple goal to track on this new platform I have put together.

  • At least three projects have monthly nonzero revenue numbers.

A major abstract goal for me this year is diversification of my revenue sources. They say that the average millionaire has seven sources of income. Too many wantrepreneurs today are spending a huge amount of time and effort on a single project. Any failure or challenges in that project have an outsized impact on the livelihood and security of the entrepreneur. If the goal is to build a lifestyle business, it doesn’t make sense to spend so much time on any one thing. Thus entrepreneurial diversification is a no brainer.

I want to have at least three significant sources of income by the end of the year. Each one should produce at least 20% of my total revenue. This means problems in one project can not have an outsized impact on my livelihood.

2019 Goals

  • Each of three projects produces at least 20% of total revenue.
  • Total monthly revenue exceeds $4,000.

Here is where I track the total amounts generated by each project. The difference here is that I am showing the top lines, not the mix. Most entrepreneurial thought leaders advise starting with a number for how much profit you need to live. This number is often called MRR or monthly recurring revenue. I am currently a student who does not need to have any income. Thus, I am less focused on the total than on coming up with a steady nonzero amount for each project’s revenue. I have set an arbitrary goal by the end of next year of $4,000 MRR which is how much I was making at the dead-end job I had about a year ago.

Inspirations

Pieter Levels

Several figures are main inspirations for this project. Chief among them is Pieter Levels. His open revenue dashboard shows his several projects and monthly revenue, along with a graph. His dashboard also shows the status of many serverless bots which perform tasks to facilitate his projects. This is an interesting idea which I will look into once my projects are better established.

Andrey Azimov is another interesting case, and a friend of Pieter Levels. I have been following his progress on a very similar open revenue dashboard on his site. His dashboard also includes the interesting feature of an overall progress bar towards his MRR goal. I may incorporate this at some point, but I believe it would require a refactoring of my serverless strategy for this project. Andrey’s dashboard also includes a countdown to the deadline for his MRR goal. I think this is an interesting approach which could enable additional analytics about trends and progress.

Blueprints and Cost Projections

Blueprints

As you can see here, four side-facing murphy beds are at the rear of the trailer. These can fold up and down to allow lots of extra storage while in transit.

Two Ikea 2×4 Kallax shelves are mounted to the walls just forward of the beds. These allow plenty of personal storage for campers.

The very front wall of the trailer is covered with storage and appliances. These include a battery bank, a microwave, and a portable travel toilet as well as pantry space and a flatscreen tv.

 

 

Cost Projections

The biggest cost is the trailer itself at around $5,000 new. I am planning for a 7×14 trailer. This will also serve as storage and transportation for my DJ gear and other projects while not in use as a travel trailer.

Next is the power bank. I want to get a Yeti GoalZero 3000 for this project, at $3,000. This will be able to store the power I am expecting to produce from the roof-mounted solar panels while also providing enough continuous power for all the lights and appliances I am planning for. Several small redundant power banks will run things like lights and air circulation, just like I did with my grid at Burning Man 2018.

The solar array is less pricey than the batteries. Nine panels fit neatly on the roof. I plan to get these from the highly reputable company Renogy at a cost of just $1070.91.

Next is the beds. I want to get four memory foam twin-sized mattresses at a total cost of $1,134. I have back problems, so I prefer to only sleep on memory foam mattresses.

I also want to include a microwave. Using these to boil water and heat up hungry man meals is a simple solution which is well within the power production I have planned for the solar array. This will cost just $50.

In the future, I may add refrigeration.

Takeaways

Another amazing year at Burning Man! The man burn was amazing as you can see in this video…

 

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The man has burned! 365 days until the man burns.

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Probably the most dangerous thing I saw was this installation which I did NOT climb…

The Temple Galaxia was beautiful as expected. What a stunning homage to the incredible work of Isaac Asimov.

 

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Your days are numbered, Temple. Tonight is the night!

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My camp stunned as well. I am so proud to call Comfort and Joy my home.

 

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Missing home.

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Winner Is

Of everything I brought with me, my favorite possession during the burn was definitely my blender bottle. I actually got it for free from Soylent when I first started but they are just a few bucks on Amazon. (I took the mixer ball out before heading to Burning Man.)

I found that this was the perfect drinking vessel on playa. It doesn’t hold flavors between drinks. I dropped it many times and it never came open. It snaps easily to anything with a carabiner. And it rinses clean with no hassle.

Lessons

The two-tent strategy was a complete failure. If anything, it just made it hotter in the mornings, and it was way too big. I felt like I was hogging half the playa with my set up.

I’m very glad that I brought my own power in the form of a battery. I didn’t need any grid power the whole burn. I will certainly do this again, though I may get something bigger because….

I want to bring a swamp cooler next year. I have plans to build something very efficient and solar powered. 😀

Having a self-inflating mattress was nice, but I think I’d rather just use a cot. Topping off the mattress pressure every night was a hassle and made me feel like an obnoxious neighbor. Also it takes up a lot of space, and I don’t like the squishiness. I would prefer something firmer next time (Like a cot).

Next Time

As is a common theme on my blog, I feel like I brought too much stuff.

I think I will ditch the mattress next time, and both tents. Instead, I want to do either a Shiftpod 2 or some kind of stealth trailer. Everyone had a lot of positive things to say about Shiftpods, and I have never heard anyone complain. Also, the fact that they are impossible to find used tells me that their owners like them.

Stealth Trailer Goals and Concepts

I would love to build something like this for Burning Man and other adventures. Here are some of my initial ideas…

Innovative Power Grid

There is no reason to have inverters running 24/7. There is no reason to duplicate the wasteful norms of on-grid houses.

Two or three full-sized solar panels on the roof and a single Yeti are more than enough power for reasonable use. There is no reason to install 120v outlets in the walls and waste several inches of empty space around the entire interior along with enormous power loss to inversion.

Quad Flip-Up Bunks

I really like the idea of multiple stacked murphy beds with the bottom two serving as optional couches. This means one to four people can comfortably share the space.

Our cruise ship cabins were like this a few years ago, and it was great. The beds stowed easily away when not needed.

Murphy Everything

I really like this image above. I would just eliminate the unnecessary stove, sink, and window. The front wall of the unit should contain numerous cupboards which open to reveal storage as well as appliances such as a small low-power microwave and a travel toilet. A large multipurpose surface should fold down to function as a table, desk, etc. Behind this should be mounted a large flat screen TV. A simple set of Raspberry Pi computers serve as shared NAS, workstations, and media center.

A simple privacy screen should separate this area from the bunk area for optional modesty. Additional crew lockers between the back of the unit and the bunks provide storage for campers. All of these things fold away into the walls when not in use.

Micro Grids and Burning Man

Elon Musk famously came up with the idea for Solar City while at burning man, observing the ubiquitous microgrids which power the temporary city. Every home should work this way, he reasoned. At Burning Man, each city block has many microgrids. They range from very small to very large, and they take many forms. There are also several online communities devoted to discussing issues related to these microgrids at Burning Man.

Incidentally, nearly a hundred billion dollars of venture and philanthropic funds are slated to be poured into the development of microgrids to electrify the developing world in the coming decades. Throughout human civilization, we are seeing a rise of microgrids taking over the work traditionally done (or not done) by larger civic grids. Building civic grids which power large areas is enormously expensive and very technically complex. Many governments in the developing world are not able to do this. Maybe people simply choose to manage their own resources and live off grid, more sustainably. There are any number of reasons why a microgrid is the best solution to power needs in many situations.

Burning Man offers a unique and valuable testing ground for this technology which fosters innovative solutions for this important problem facing humans everywhere. I have an interesting perspective on each of the three types of microgrids I will explain in this post.

What Is a Microgrid?

I like this definition from Wikipedia;

A microgrid is a localized group of electricity sources and loads that normally operates connected to and synchronous with the traditional wide area synchronous grid (macrogrid), but can also disconnect to “island mode” — and function autonomously as physical or economic conditions dictate.

In this way, a microgrid can effectively integrate various sources of distributed generation, especially renewable energy sources, and can supply emergency power, changing between island and connected modes.

For our purposes, I will define a microgrid as a system for powering multiple devices which may use batteries to temporarily store electricity, and which can draw power from many types of sources including generators, solar panels, or other grids. We will see that this definition allows us to consider lots of interesting examples.

My Experience With A Neighborhood-Scale Microgrid

At Burning Man, I camp with Comfort & Joy. We have an area approximately the size of two city blocks where over 150 people live throughout Burning Man. We are also visited by many thousands of people who participate in our events and community spaces. We have a relatively complex challenge with our microgrid. We need to power many large performance art projects, a gym, an air-conditioned cuddle dome, several event and community spaces, two sound stages, two instant-hot showers, and a full commercial kitchen including several industrial freezers and refrigerators.  This is no small feat for a microgrid!

The infrastructure is pretty straightforward. A large rented 45kw diesel generator is the primary power source. (This is about four times what we need, but it’s what was available on late notice after our original rental company backed out.) The generator runs to several spider boxes which distribute the power around the camp through standard extension cords and plug-in strips. We had over a hundred tents, and each one had power running directly to it.

Most Burning Man camps have microgrids which work in much the same way as ours. Some camps have many RVs which need higher loads and more spider boxes to distribute power, but other than that, this layout is essentially the standard format for the neighborhood-scale microgrid, both at Burning Man and the world outside.

In the future, the biggest potential improvement would be adding batteries and a renewable energy source such as wind or solar. This could replace the diesel generator as the primary source of power. It would mean becoming less reliant on polluting fossil fuels, and less reliant on the generator as a large single point of failure. Many camps are already using hybrid-diesel/solar microgrids like this.

The Home-Scale Microgrid

Comfort and Joy is an example of a camp with a microgrid about the size of a city block. What this means is that I have a tent with all my stuff inside, and an extension cord running out to our neighborhood-scale microgrid. I plug into that to get power. In turn, I use that power for my devices, costumes, lights, to inflate my mattress, etc. This is an example of a home-scale microgrid (or in this case tent or RV).

Many camps are less organized, and have no neighborhood-scale microgrid for campers to plug into. In those cases, each tent or RV will often have a generator, wind turbine, or a few solar panels to provide power. This power is usually stored in batteries, and then used as needed. This is analogous to off-grid tiny homes or cabins. In fact, many tiny homes make the trek to Burning Man already including their own home-scale microgrid.

Storing electricity is a challenging problem. Most people try to use lead-acid batteries such as car batteries or deep cycle batteries. These have many disadvantages. Setting them up and using them is technically complex and often counter-intuitive, especially if the microgrid is using more than one battery. Lead-acid batteries will also require almost a day of solid charging to get to full capacity. This just isn’t possible if your power source is solar or a generator. Both will always face interruptions due to dust, leaving your batteries uncharged.

A better way of storing electricity is with lithium batteries. These are the same types of batteries found in cell phones and laptops. They charge very quickly and provide a much simpler solution to the problem. The downside is that they can be slightly more expensive, but luckily there is a whole industry around products that solve this problem. The big player is Yeti with its GoalZero Lithium battery packs.  Products like this make home-scale microgrids a cinch. Lithium battery packs like this will accept power from essentially any source: solar panels, generators, standard electrical outlets, or car cigarette lighters. They store a lot of power very quickly. Then they let you use it via USB ports, standard electrical outlets, or even via cigarette adapters. These products are a very good solution to the power storage problem. In fact, I ran my entire burn this year off of one of these without using any other source of power such as generator or solar. One big battery was more than enough for all my needs.

Keep in mind there are tons of cheap, excellent alternatives to GoalZero products. Pictured below is the one I am using, the Poweradd ChargerCenterⅡ 370Wh. It is essentially exactly the same as the Yeti GoalZero Lithium 400, but less than half the price. It still has a standard 120 volt outlet, plus USB ports, and it can still accept power from essentially any source: generator, solar panels, or car cigarette adapter. I am using USB-powered christmas lights for interior lighting in the tent. USB is an excellent way of powering things. It is designed to use very little power while accomplishing the same things. This box on a single charge can power those lights for the entire event while also recharging my cell phone hundreds of times. I’ll also use this to power some small speakers for BMIR radio and Spotify.

Using USB Is MUCH Better Than Using 120 Volt

Any time we step power up to 120 volts, there is waste. In fact, there is a lot of waste. I the past, I brought a charged car battery to Burning Man which I hooked up to a cigarette lighter socket. I used normal car accessories for all my needs. I even had an inverter to get 120 volts, but mostly I stuck to cigarette and USB connections. Plugging my cell phone charger into an inverter running off of a battery was enormously wasteful. The power savings is huge if you stay at 5 volts (USB) or 12 volts (Cigarette Lighter) instead of going up to 120 volts and then back down to USB through a phone charger or something like that. Just run a car charger straight off the battery!

USB-powered versions of many common electronics are available and they use less power. An essentially identical string of LED christmas lights which plugs into the wall will use a lot more power than one that plugs into USB. More on that in the next section.

The Mobile Microgrid

At Burning Man, every person simply must have a bike. The city is vast. There just is no way to get around without a bike. Because of many hazards at night, everyone is required to cover themselves and their bikes in lights. This prevents many types of dangerous accidents, but it also poses a problem. My first burn, I brought a bunch of Ikea AA-powered Christmas light strands. These worked great, but I went through a half-dozen AAs each day. This is very wasteful, and there is a simple alternative.

You guessed it, USB! This is an amazing and far superior solution to using AA batteries. A simple solar battery pack turns your bike into a mobile microgrid. Just one strand of $7 USB-powered Christmas lights is very bright and can run for weeks off of a battery pack like this. I ended up using two strands just for fun. Having all this power available on your bike also means you can add other cool accessories like bluetooth speakers or plasma balls and of course it can also recharge your devices. A USB-powered microgrid on a bike is more sustainable, more flexible, and less stressful than trying to swap out moopy batteries several times a night.