Category Archives: Uncategorized

Prefab & Tiny houses

oh! what a romantic concept: designing & building  your own tiny house.  It’s smaller, cheaper, simpler, moveable… and it’s caught the fancy of many.  I’d like to delve a bit further into the reality of this phenom.

Are tiny homes really all they’re cracked up to be? I think  it’s narrow niche concept and (tiny home communities) could turn into a modern version of the 60’s housing development fiasco.

My reasoning:  I’ve yet to hear or meet someone who has lived full-time in a tiny house for more than a year or two.  The ones that do stay in them more than a year are located within beautiful natural locations of dense urban jungles. They are claustrophobic and ill-suited to our modern life style.   Tiny homes are great for  sleeping & working (bedroom/office)  but for not so much for full-on living.

But on a more technical basis, tiny homes are misconceived and will run their course (again).  This is not the first time we’ve had a ‘tiny home’ explosion.  First, let’s look at the eco, and carbon footprint of building a floor, walls, roof for <500sf for 1 or 2

 

people and compare that to a multi-unit housing footprint.

 

Tiny home footprints in development…

The real allure to tiny homes is the American culture of independence/pioneering and individualism (narcissism).  And the huge swaths of available land.

 

Prefab

Is pre-fab (fabricated off-site) the wave of the future?  Some people think so, and several regulatory agencies are demanding it.  Let’s look deeper into pre-fab and see what really happens behind the curtain.

With all its efficiencies and advantages of assembly line production, pre-fab started in the early 1900’s when Sears offered mail-order ‘kit’ homes.
They soon turned into mobile and pre-manufactured or modular homes.

 

Can you tell – I am not a fan of tiny or pre-fab homes.  I’m a fan of local.  Local everything.  Local materials, local labor, local smarts, local loco…  And Prefab construction is anything but local.  It’s another version of globalization, centralized (usually far away) production and …    The eco-footprint of prefab and tiny homes is WAY higher than site-built homes.

 

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under construction… being revised:


 

I can see the allure. They have a small footprint – physically. They mostly skirt under the regulatory radar screen. Some of them are affordable (the $20k+ ones are not.

‘prefab’

this is getting to be a dirty word in the developer vernacular. The more PC terms are ‘modular’ or ‘smart’ construction. European & Asian countries are going ga-ga for these developments because they are a shortcut to address dire affordable housing shortages.

I like the FT Times quote: ‘A prefab tiny house is ‘a very good-looking’ impractical building’ ‘. (FT Sept 9,10 thinking inside the boxes’)

Ikea has a ‘BoKlok’ flat-pack house that’s popular in Scandanavian countries. Malaysia has stipulated that 70% of all housing construction must be pre-fab, in Japan 16% of all new housing is prefab…

Is this a solution for the West Coast’s dire affordable housing crisis? I hope not. While it sounds good up front, when you fast-forward a couple decades… one can see a troubling scenario reminisce of the 50’s/60’s housing development slum-like fiasco in the making.

Solitude & Loneliness*

These two words seem taboo in our Western culture.  How dare you admit you’re lonely!  And solitude?  ... best ya’ll suffer alone….  it’s (way) different than just being alone.

* NOTE: It’s taken me over two months to put this blog up, because it’s personal.  The words ‘solitude and loneliness’  tend to have negative connotations of isolation and being an outcast or just plain depressed and weird. There‘s neither empathy nor reverence for people who are either. How sad. No wonder so many people ‘lead quiet lives of desperation’ .

So, let’s look at these two phenoms in a more upbeat way:

——————————————-  Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.” ~ Janet Fitch

The below is a great quote…reminds me of Robin Williams’ “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.”

i went to the woods because….

Some consider Henry Thoreau to be the epitome of Western solitude.  He was anything but solitary: he was a fully engaged & passionate activist his entire life. Yet our romantic stereotype of ‘Walden’ with him living a luxurious life of solitude in a cabin in the woods next to a pond is in-escapable. I was drawn to the deep forest by this view. A  wonderful new book does a great job of updating this view of Thoreau with a twist on our present political dilemnas… what would Henry do?  worth a read: NYTimes Book Review Link here . 

my experience at WinSol

For the past 12 years I’ve gone into purposeful exile from the artificial stresses of the ‘dreadmill’ (modern slavery in urban jungles), to solitude and isolation at WinSol. From running three Aptek offices, having a dozen+ employees, a handful of big clients, and jetting around the world – it all came crashing down in a couple years that included:  a Northrup Grumman (last big client) meeting in El Segundo, the high Himalayas,  and finally the fire that destroyed WinSol2.  I moved into WinSol3 full-time around 2006 and avoided the crash of 2008. WinSol is surrounded on three sides by NFS (National Forest) and one side leads to unlimited trails and abandoned logging roads through deep forests.  Walking these endless trails and meditating for years changed me.

Fast forward ten years: In the last five years I’ve had many wonderful helpers and friends spend time at WinSol. I’ve learned how to avoid letting my peers’ & society’s judgment, enticements,  and social pressures affect my chosen lifestyle. It hasn’t been easy.  I’ve learned so much in a decade of solitary deep forest walks and suffering through bouts of cabin fever.   I’ve found new appreciation and purpose in living alone at WinSol. The continual peer pressure from society and my ego to ‘rejoin the treadmill’ and many friends’ view that WinSol is too far out there, have contributed to this difficulty. I am more steadfast now that my initial sojourn to WinSol (~20 years ago) was well-founded. But lately I’ve evolved to seek a more mainstream balance and to re-enter the dreadmill again –  to dance with the devil – albeit with a more centered ‘self’. Turn it around to being self-centered.  It’s a fine line between being self-centered and being selfish/narcissistic – but it’s worth struggling for the balance.

LC Dome cupola

My meditations and a local Buddhist sangha has helped me.  There’s a wonderful book by Sarvananda: ‘Solitude and Loneliness: A Buddhist View’: 

In his new book,Solitude and Loneliness: A Buddhist View, Sarvananda explores the themes of solitude and loneliness and how a Buddhist might deal with these emotions. He suggests that, despite the statistics, we still ‘very skillfully, and often unconsciously, organize our lives in such a way as to avoid loneliness.’ Although increasing numbers of us live alone, we are also continuously coming up with new strategies to distract ourselves from our solitude.

Human societies throughout history and all over the world have organized Themselves around living with others. Yet in the last 15 years, there has been an 80% global increase in people living alone. We’re wealthier than our ancestors and the cultures we live in value individualism and independence – we have the freedom to house ourselves in smaller family units or without a family at all. 34% of UK households now have just one person living in them. So is the modern individual more familiar with solitude than ever before?

Yet Sarvananda suggests that facing up to our essential aloneness is ‘where the spiritual life begins.’ ‘Buddhism challenges us to train ourselves to be more and more at ease in our own company,’ he writes, ‘to try and be with ourselves without distraction.’ This means confronting our habitual and repetitive responses to solitude which rely on the approval and reassurance of others. ‘Distrusting our capacity to alone, we too quickly look to others to save us, often from ourselves,’ Sarvananda argues. ‘We become addicted to other people.’

People say they need time alone. But what do they do?  They end up being physically solitaire, yet stay continually connected through emails, facebook and countless web sites. Being alone at a cafe or driving alone is still avoiding the richness of truly being alone.

Getting rid of all distractions of post-modern society’s latent addictions is not easy. Take a solitary long meditative walk in a deep forest or isolated beach and you’ll come to slowly recognize and reclaim the beauty that is within you – you alone. You might even start finding some peace, some centered-ness, some self-love and kindness to yourself. It’s always there waiting for you to be present without distraction. Enjoy – it just is.

Repeat after me:  I love me, I love me….

I take solace in the concept that we are slowly re-invigorating what solitude really means in our modern, technological, world wide web, social media based life.

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These four lines from Jack Kornfield are my daily affirmations:

May I be filled with loving kindness

May I be safe from inner & outer dangers

May I be well in body and mind

May I be at ease and happy

summer Ramblings…

summertime and the livin’ is easy… sounds SO good on the grand in the dome..… as aspirations continue and emptiness resides…ok, glad I got the rambling part over with 🙂 onto more salient items:

Energy outlook

$50/barrel, give or take…

Oil hovers around $50/brl and gasoline prices are about 25c higher than last year. OPEC’s still trying to get non-OPEC (most notably Russia+Iran) to stick with production cuts. It’s a tenuous situation that ONE little spark can ignite and drive prices way up. Inventory and reserves are shrinking and demand is increasing…slowly, ever so slowly. The ‘Catch-22’ is as prices go up, USA shale gas/oil drillers increase their margins.  OPEC is playing a chicken game: so far USA wildcatters are winning. The really COOL thing is that we’ve hit an oil demand peak!  Everyone was betting on an oil supply peak.  With more efficiencies, electric cars,  LEDs, consumers getting smart & driving less (despite the USA fed policies), etc  Stay tuned… it’s bound to change when we least expect it.

Electric cars
As more countries adopt all electric car infrastructure, look for the oil companies to react: either trying to kill the electric car again (especially since the former Exxon CEO is now secretary of state), or to join them and install electric chargers at gas stations – kinda like ARCO becoming a solar panel company for a while.

Formula 1 racing has an all electric version: FormulaE  …”seven manufacturers have produced new motor, invertor and gearbox solutions, as Formula E inspires development in electric car technology”

They’ve demonstrated a quick way to get recharged: just jump into another full-charged car! Now that would be the ultimate in overcoming limited e-car range… wonder when Tesla will provide that?  I can’t wait for a driveless electric car – especially when DMV tries to yank my drivers license when I’m 100 years young.

AI will be good for you…

 

Just like you survived spreadsheets, you’ll survive artificial intelligence (AI) the singularity, transhumanism, etc.

There were a few million bookkeepers before VisiCal, Lotus and Excel emerged in the 80’s and 90’s. Now those bookkeepers have been replaced by even more auditors. I guess all the macros and complexities of spreadsheets can help some people to get a bit too creative. So, if a bookkeeper wanted to keep their job, they had to up their skills. So too with AI.
Car mechanics are a great example. If a young mechanic isn’t getting proficient in computer hardware and software and even coding, they’ll be bypassed very soon by those who have those skills. Gone will be the need to overhaul an engine, pull a transmission and all those wonderful grease-monkey jobs that I even enjoyed doing for too long. With more cars getting electrical assist drives and eventually everyone adopting an electric car infrastructure (the utilities will be pushing this to a parking lot near you very soon). This’ll help offset some of the lost revenues from solar homes cutting the cord. Don’t think that Eon Musk’s ‘battery house pack’ is so pure and green – it’s tied to a major strategy with utilities and contractors.

Just remember you were in on the ground floor.  Prove that you’re human, and not an android.  It all started with these ‘captcha’ eye tests…

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Bonus:  Think Fake News was one of the first disrupters to our comfy zone?  Now there’s Fake voice algorithms that can make anyone say anything… just listen to Donald fake talking... yikes! (from Lyrebird)

But when ‘anonymous anarchists’ hack and hold my AI driveless electric car for ransom until I pay bitcoin… then I’ll wish I was in my 1960 Chevy! 

‘Drawdown’ update

I’ll let Paul Hawken do the talking:

(see an update from Tom Brady’s wife on Drawdown below)

I want to share three important areas of interest with you.

First, the Drawdown book took off like a rabbit on its release date April 18th and became the #9 New York Times bestseller in its first week. This is the first time a climate or environmental book achieved this distinction in over 25 years. The last two were Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature in 1989 and Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance in 1992. After only eight weeks, it is in its fourth printing. After two decades of books, blogs, and articles that have been unrelenting in terms of threat if not fear, the world is hungry to know what we can do together as communities, parents, companies, schools, students, churches, cities, and more.

Our Advisor, Jon Foley, head of the California Academy of Science, believes the world does not need more climate science or facts in order to change. Society has been hammered by them. The climate movement has often operated from a “science deficit model,” the idea that if people have more facts about what is going wrong and how things are worsening more quickly, that will solve the problem in terms of lack of engagement. It has the opposite effect as psychologists are quick to point out. The Drawdown approach has gained a large following quickly because it does not make people wrong or invoke fear and doom as a motivating method. We believe the science is impeccable. The IPCC has created an astounding problem statement. The daily reports about climate impacts reinforce the accuracy and rigor of the problem statement. Given that, we need to work vigorously on the solutions, all of the solutions. People have never before seen a comprehensive, science-based list of solutions until Drawdown.

Second, we are now working directly with the Commonwealth of Nations based out of London. Formerly the British Commonwealth until 1969, it comprises 52 nations with nearly one-third of the world’s population. Under the leadership of the Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, the Commonwealth is initiating with its member nations an initiative based on Drawdown: Regenerative Development through Reversing Climate Change (RDRCC). We work hand-in-hand with the Secretary General and her staff. Our research team led by Chad Frischmann will be endeavoring to map applicable solutions onto specific nation-states to measure the beneficial impacts, the positive externalities. We believe, based on analysis and data, that economic regeneration, ecological regeneration, social regeneration, and the regeneration of the atmosphere are identical. We are the only species without full employment, and never has so much work needed to be done. My personal motto for the RDRCC is “Let there be jobs.” We firmly believe that the only way to reverse global warming is to meet human needs. Providing dignified, family-wage employment that provides people world over a sense of worth and meaning is the pathway to reversing global warming. Our data show that is is profitable on virtually every level. Please see the link below for more information.

Third, and this is critical, we truly need your support. People may believe that having a best-selling book and a wonderfully designed website indicate that we are well-funded organization. Because the entire staff had been devoted to both the creation and promotion of the book, we were not able to direct our attention to fundraising. It was all hands on deck. If you believe in the importance of the work, if you want comprehensive, science-based solutions to lead the climate movement instead of fear and despair, if you appreciate what we have been able to do with very modest amounts of money, know that we urgently need your financial support. Please help us help the world to pursue the reversal of global warming. Thank you.

Paul Hawken

Regenerative Conference UK May 2017

——————————————–UPDATE——————

Even Tom Brady is supporting Drawdown with his wife Gisele Buenchen:   http://www.cbsnews.com/news/gisele-bundchen-evironmentalist-paul-hawken-climate-change/

“….Tom Brady says, ‘Unless I had this plant-based diet, I would not be the player I am and I would not be — have the career at 39 that I do,'” Rose said.
 
“He’s almost 40, right? … But the thing is, he said he’s been feeling so much better, I have to say it’s amazing. You know? The way he feels, he doesn’t feel achy. He just feels so much more energy,” Bündchen said.  …”http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/gisele-bundchen-on-tom-bradys-concussions

eating local

You’ve heard that eating local is the thing to do.  But how about sourcing all your food locally – is that even possible?  From your tea/coffee to your starches (rice, potatoes, pasta), to your drinks.  I’m lucky if I can  arrive at 50% – and that’s in Northern California – where we have ample fruits, vegies, rice, wine, etc.

I would be fortunate to get 50% of my food intake locally.   Starting with my first morning routine: coffee.  How can I  get local coffee when the nearest coffee plantation is in Santa Barbara – 400 miles away?  … and they have 5 acres with beans selling at $60/lb.  How can 90% of consumers in 1st world countries get their coffee or teas locally? Where are the large tea/coffee plantations in the USA or Europe?

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Another consideration in going local on all  food is the seasonality.  It’s easier in summer, difficult in winter.  They say an apple stored in a warehouse for several months, is way carbon intensive than an apple shipped from Chile.  That gives me pause.  Maybe the best solution is dehydration or canning.  Freezing in my book uses way too much energy, although it is quick and convenient.

Again, I am spoiled in California – we have year round greens:  the Salinas valley on the coast has year-round moderate temperatures and hectares of greenhouses.

I think greenhouses, vertical and urban farming have tremendous bright futures as fresh, local food becomes more important to every human.

Is it really local?

The label ‘local’ and ‘regional’ are not regulated.  I don’t trust my local farmer markets anymore.  There are unlabeled white trucks from industrial farms 500 miles away pretending to be local organic farmers.  I ask questions and am connected with local farmers and CSAs where I volunteer and help out on.

For most people the best they can do is join a local CSA and  get to know their own local farmers and pay them fairly.   I find that many local farmers discard  ‘not-so-perfect’ food since customers won’t buy them – so you probably get a bounty of imperfect produce at  low cost.

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Here’s a great article on one European’s experience in sourcing all their food locally…German DW article

http://www.dw.com/en/would-you-eat-local-for-a-week-i-tried-and-discovered-what-eating-green-really-means/a-36751273

 

Winter weirding

This is a record setting January.  WinSol is buried in a winter wonderland of snow with more on the way.

 This is a record January with 237 inches beating the old record for January of 159 inches set in 1973.

The learning center dome has its first real test under heavy snows and seems to be holding up pretty good.  We’ll see what the 72 hour snow fatigue does to the Cupola soon.  It’s really a beautiful setting as long as one has adequate heating, food and water – AND – doesn’t need to go anywhere.


Feb 22nd update:  Yep, it’s been a record snowfall for February also.  Lake Tahoe lake level is at it’s highest level EVER.  Kirkwood (my fav ski area) got over 72″ of new snow just
in the past 7 days.

 I keep getting these email updates almost every other day of some ridiculous # of snow inches that just fell.  When you gotta DIG OUT the chair lifts… what can I say:

Unfortunately, the Carson Spur and the ski resort itself is having open/close issues – and this veteran skier is only a blue-bird.  Although I am on my 17th ski day already this year.

WinSol and the learning center came out of the deep snow just fine.  There’s only one small leak on the cupola and NO cracking… whew… gotta but some acrylic bars across that this summer for the next big snow weirding.

the Rebound effect

Latest research shows that a rebound effect cancels out most good intentions like:  carbon reduction, energy & fuel efficiency, etc.

A rebound effect is:  ‘buy a more fuel efficient car and drive more’.  It’s been proven that higher efficiency cars are driven more.

Changes in behavior more than offset energy savings.

The rebound effect has been well documented in the past, but is lately gaining more attention.  Europe first experienced this rebound effect with its carbon cap programs in the early 90’s when eastern coal plants started producing more CO2 after western utilities gained carbon credits from installing scrubbers.

Reductions to global warming, climate change goals,  air and water pollution reduction programs are not yielding predicted results.  The IPCC’s  Rio+20 report is an omen for future efforts.  So how does one impact human behavior?

Rebound Solutions    A recent study on German households  has concluded that any policy changes are offset by a 57-67% rebound effect.  What to do?   Some studies have shown that fuel taxes appear to be more effective at changing behaviors.    So when that proposal for a carbon tax comes around,  we should all be supporting it.  Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is… you know…

 

DAPL protest

It’s the water.  We need it to live.  We really shouldn’t be mixing it with oil or natural gas or methane.  Ultimately the upstream solution is to totally disconnect ourselves from fossil fuels which are the real ‘alternative energies’.  el Sol is the only true energy source for Gaia.

So I went to a protest in dowimg_20161115_082203ntown SF… the second one in 5 years (occupy was earlier).  There were 2,000+ there – and mostly young-uns!  wow – that is so cool. I do hope this stuff about skipping generations is true, cuz the GenXers sure never woke up to protest our endless wars in the Middle East.

This protest ‘theme’ has my full attention and passion.  Not only is it VERY specific (about water)  and proposes specific solutions (no pipelines close to rivers & aquifers, but it is ALSO about not infringing on the sovereign rights of indigenous people – the ones we did a genocide on which we still have not dealt with!  So Standing Rock and all it’s supporters around the world … ROCK ON.  (note:  this is only the second of many, many pipeline protests to come… the first big-un was the Keystone Excel, this is gettin’ legs, babeee!)

So here I is….

dapl-protest

 

 

img_20161115_075048

 

DAPL = Dakota Access PipeLine

 

Lukewarming

Ok, I admit it:  I’m not really a climate change group thinker or believer anymore , BUT neither am I a  skeptic or climate denier – perhaps I am a lukewarmer,  What the heck is that, you ask???

When it comes to climate change – aka global weirding – I am classifying myself now as a lukewarmer. 

I’m a bit tired of the pop media and group think around climate change – it’s a bit too much – it’s like the environmentalism of the  80’s & 90’s:  let’s do less bad… and if you are not with us you’re against us. We’re about to battle this in Congress when climate science gets in front of Trump’s climate deniers. Oh such entertainment!

Climate change pundits and most scientists focus 100% on emissions.  This is wrong.   Climate change is redundant – it always changes.  And yes, humans are a major contributor – but I sure wish people would stop making us feel guilty about it.   Instead of doing less bad things,  how about we start doing some GOOD things:  like putting biochar back into the soil.  All climate changers keep doing is pounding us with having less CO2 emissions,  having a smaller carbon footprint: stop buying this, start eating that.

Like Dr. Braungart once told me:  if zero emissions are our goal, we should all be DOA (dead).  Humans are part of nature – we’re organic aren’t we?  So it’s quite natural for us to have ’emissions’.  His co-author in ‘Cradle to Cradle’     and partner Bill McDonough just published a paper on a new language for carbon — if we can change our carbon language to do more good, rather than less bad – perhaps we can design a world that will reduce carbon emissions as a by-product rather than declaring a WAR again…

Bill talks about living, durable and future carbon, rather than zero emission.   Here’s a synopsis: “The world’s current carbon strategy aims to promote a goal of zero. Predominant language currently includes words such as “low carbon,” “zero carbon,” “negative carbon,” and even a “war on carbon.” To show progress, according to McDonough, the design world needs values-based language that reflects a safe, healthy and just world. In this new paradigm, by building urban food systems and cultivating closed-loop flows of carbon nutrients, carbon can be recognized as an asset rather than a toxin, and the life-giving carbon cycle can become a model for human designs.”  http://finance.yahoo.com/news/william-mcdonough-offers-language-carbon-160000133.html Continue reading Lukewarming