Medium Adhesion

Monday, March 29, 2010

PhotoWorks is worthless

Just have to post in the chance that somebody from Solidworks is out there looking at blog posts.

Please fix PhotoWorks. It is absolutely worthless. It simply cannot be so difficult to make a rendering program that is easy to use. Just copy Hypershot. Sooooooo frustrated!!!!

PhotoWorks is worthless.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Growing Power redux

A few further thoughts on Growing Power.

My thoughts continue to revisit the genius behind the aquaponics growing system. It's so simple, but so powerful. What is the biggest problem with large scale farming and the environmental impact thereof? Fertilizers, and their runoff. Oil based fertilizers no less. Flip side: what is one of the biggest problems with commercial scale fish farming? Feces effluent and nitrogen blooms. How do you kill these two birds with one stone? Combine the feces bi product of the farmed fish with the nitrogen fertilizer needs of the rapidly growing vegetables, and voila, a closed zero pollution system. It's totally brilliant. And actually, I'm very impressed that it appears to be a fairly stable system, counter intuitive though it may be.

One thing that was briefly mentioned on our tour of Growing Power was their inactive anaerobic digester. Sadly, inactive. Although this is fairly understandable, as it takes diligence and skills to consistently run digester and not clog the bugger up with goat poo. I've been thinking about the importance and environmental effects of composting. Specifically, methane gas. All those animal, vegetable, and beer mash wastes sit in these big piles outside warming themselves with voracious bacterial activity, producing nice quality dirt and worms, and bi-producing carbon dioxide and methane gas. I'm not calling foul on this - if these product were thrown away and buried in a landfill somewhere in New Jersey, the decomposed mass would still off-gas all the same. But methane is a potent greenhouse gas, possessing 20 times more heat trapping power than the equivalent CO2 heat trapping power. That's significant (although methane breaks down atmospherically after only a dozen or so years, where CO2 lasts nearly forever). But methane is also highly flammable. So, why not capture it, burn it for energy, and just put out a bit more CO2?! That's where the digester comes in. It could definitely work and make more than enough energy to compensate for its own heating needs, and probably enough energy to heat some of the fish tanks as well. But, I guess it's hard to keep running. Bummer. The world needs more robust small scale anaerobic digesters, that's what everybody keeps saying.

More thoughts on leaf decomposition, tree life cycles, human heat production, and beer mash to come.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Growing Power

I flew in to Milwaukee this week for a little bit of Thanksgiving time with my family. On Tuesday afternoon, we were fortunate enough to score a tour slot of the Growing Power farm over on the near west-side of Milwaukee. If you haven't heard about his farm yet, check out the following links here and here. Here is one more link, from the NYTimes. Will Allen, the founder and CEO of Growing Power won the 2005 Leadership for a Changing World Award from the Ford Foundation, and last year won a MacArthur Genius award. People think he is on to something.

What struct me as exciting and made me and the family want to check it out (aside from the press coverage) is that there's a small farm in the middle of inner city Milwaukee. While this is a simple concept, this is the inner city, not exactly traditional farm land and the local community is not exactly the traditional market for fresh organic greens. They're growing food on about 19,000 square feet of land, a bit less than 1/2 an acre (rough calculation).

What are they doing at Growing Power? It is a farm - so they're growing food - with the stated goal of bringing high quality, safe, healthy, and affordable food to the community. The types of food I saw them growing here include: several greenhouses worth of greens (probably seasonally variant), about 150 chickens worth of egg production, several turkeys, about 20 goats, honey from a few bee hives, several thousand tilapia and perch, and loads of worms. You were with me until the tilapia, perch, and worms part, right? I'll get to that.

A lot of the greens are grown semi tradionally in row plantings. We saw spinach, watercress, arugula, lettuce, collards, and a few other random greens. Winter is approaching, so they've got heartier greens there now as the sun and temperature dip (they still grow all winter). The summer brings them more summery vegetables. They are also growing watercress and argula aquaponically. Here's the wikipedia link to aquaponics, which I include here mainly because I just looked it up, and the picture on the wikipedia page is a small setup from the Growing Power farm, nice coincidence. Aquaponics is basically a tiered growing system relying on fish feces as a fertilizer for growing plants. At Growing Power, at floor level are home made big fish tanks, 4 feet deep, 4 feet wide, about 50 feet long. Each tank is filled with tilapia or perch fish, at a density of about 1 fish per cubic foot of water - so about 800 fish per tank. Just above the tank is a rack of starter plants, in gravel and constantly moving water. Just above that is a dense layout of more mature plants in soil planters, with water flowing beneath them. Basically, the water is pumped up from the tank to the top tier, flowing from one end to the other, then down to the 2nd tier, and finally back to the fish tank. This is a closed system that is stable (water is only added to compensate for evaporation and the small amount kept by the plants). The fish poop, the fish poop nutrients are absorbed as fertilizer by the plants, the water returns to the tank nice and clean. Awesome. Of course, they have to feed the fish, that's where the worms come in, several buckets full per week per tank. They grow tilapia and perch because they are healthy, tasty, and are easy to grow and disease resistant; they take about 1 year to reach sellable maturity. It's an amazing system. The only thing I didn't love about it is that tilapia are warm water fish - so Growing Power needs to heat the water to about 80-85 degrees, which has to be a significant energy draw.

There's one part I haven't mentioned yet: compost. Compost is clearly a very big part of this operation. Fresh, clean dirt is hard to get and important for growing tasty clean food. Growing Power has agreements set up with with local schools, coffee shops, breweries, food distributers, and restaurants to take their rotten uncooked food, coffee grounds, beer mash, etc, for use as compost. They also use the animal droppings. The compost operation produces a few things: fresh dirt for growing vegetables, fresh dirt to sell, heat (ingeniously used to keep the green houses warm), and worms, which are also a massive part of their operation. They grow worms for a lot of reasons: to help break down the compost, to keep working on the vegetable plant dirt, to feed to the fish, and lastly to sell. It turns out people really want to buy worms.

A quick look at the foods materials that go in and what goes out of the farm looks like this:
IN: waste food, compost, fish younglings, seeds, and likely animal feed for the chickens, turkeys, and goats.
OUTS: worms, fresh dirt, vegetables (I'm told approximatly 500 lbs per week in the summer), eggs (100 a day-ish), turkeys, goats, and honey.

Of course, that's not the only thing gowing in and out of Growing Power. They do a healthy trade in ideas, passion, inspiration, and hope. Will Allen is clearly a man that believes and inspires. To see his group of volunteers and interns scurrying about with passion in their eyes and dirt on their hands is impressive. They are doing something different on that little plot of land, and people are excited about it. The team there have inspired people to think about food and where it comes from, how it grows, and what that means in a broader sense for the human body, for a community, for the planet. Some people already understand that, but remember this is the inner city, this is not the community that is regularly shopping at Whole Foods. And let me add one more significant part: Will Allen is a black man. That is important, a white man coming to the predominantly black inner city of Miwaukee singing the praises of organic vegetables simply wouldn't be accepted by the community in the same way.

All in all, I don't believe Growing Power have stumbled on to some revolutionary way of producing more food than what comes from a well run farm. If they had, every farm would be growing food like this. But Growing Power have found a niche product in extremely fresh healthy foods offered in a unique market and model, and people are excited about that.

Please check out my Flikr page with photos from the visit,

I couldn't end this post without admitting that upon leaving Growing Power, we were hungry, so we drove up the road and stopped at the first place selling hot fast food: McDonalds. Ah Well, we try.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Back at church

It's been a long while since my last confession.

Here I am, back at the church. It feels so strange to be back here, sitting at this desk, right where I was 3 years ago on a hot summer day just like this one.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

getting ridiculous

Here's a pic of the houseboat nearly fully jacked up. It's getting ridiculous.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Raise Up!

Sandra D got jacked yesterday. We lifted her about 6 feet in the air.

We need to lift her a total of about 9 feet up to get to the right height to install the floats and stuff. But we need to pause at 6 feet for a day so we can spray on some insulation underneath the floor.

My back hurts today. I suppose it should, considering Jack and I lifted a 35,000 lb boat up 6 feet, completely by muscle power alone.

Oh, and here's one more picture of Tommy. I didn't prime him on this. The kid opened up my wallet and immediately went for the American Express gold card. Sandy and Jack should be nervous. But at least he's a zip car fan too.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thursday's Progress

After looking at the schedule and all the timing with Jack, we feel like we're probably not going to actually get this sucker in the water. But that's ok. The real hard part is just putting the floats on. That's really why I'm here. The floats are big, heavy, and big. So, the house boat needs to get jacked up 9 feet in the air so we can slide the float in underneath them. So that's the plan for the week.

Here's an animated gif what we did today. (update) damn, I'm having trouble getting an animated gif to work. I'll work on it more later.