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Game Changing Materials

A few interesting examples relevant to our own interests here: http://www.cracked.com/article_17476_7-man-made-substances-that-laugh-in-face-physics.html

Aerogels would be a wonderful insulator, and if they ever worked out a way to make them clear without requiring microgravity during the drying process, they'd make windows with better insulation value than your ceiling. And bulletproof.

Prophecies Are BS

Some humor and facts to discredit those silly 2012 prophecies. Prophecies Are BS

Not worksafe due to language used, but still very funny.

Solar PV Building Materials

This is pretty cool. I didn't realize it was finally available for sale. This is a good thing.

Home Cooking

Many of us are used to going to the store or bakery and buying some goodies to share at home or work. That's great, until money is too hard to come by to afford that kind of generosity. At some point you're going to try your hand at cooking, and try hard enough to get it right that you can entertain with what you make. Home BBQ's are a good example of this. Pretty hard to screw up burgers, especially if you serve enough beer.

Burgers are the bottom of the scale of difficulty. Fried chicken, casseroles, soups, pies, cookies, cakes, roasts, you work your way up the scale and pretty soon you've worked your way through Mastering the Art of French Cuisine... oh wait, wrong movie. Anyway, lots of homeowners, now pouring most of their money into their mortgage in hopes of paying off the house before retirement, can't afford the take out food anymore and want to entertain at The Next Level. As a longtime amateur cook myself, I encourage anyone even vaguely interested in cooking for the first time to give it a try. After all, you get to eat your mistakes.

Many kinds of cooking require closely following the recipe, and some recipes are just not very good or require odd ingredients which aren't actually crucial to the dish and may detract from it. There's downsides to Open Source, sometimes. Reading several recipes for the same dish is often a good way to work out the real recipe and how to cook it properly. You aren't necessarily going to understand that at first, but over time, with experience, you'll spot the odd things and figure it out.

Experience, once you reach The Next Level, means you'll have a hard time screwing up a dish permanently. This is good because learning not to waste food is kind of the point. If you learn this well, the leftovers will actually be WELCOME treats in the lunchroom and saves you $7/day in lunch costs. That adds up to $35/week or $1820/year. And you're eating better and probably healthier food as well. Lots of win.

Of course, if you're a Doomer this is impossible as people can't cook without Agribusiness somehow getting involved and not delivering to you, despite the economic incentive. If you're a Cornucopian none of this home cooking is necessary because you should eat out to sustain the economy and pay lots of tips and taxes at the restaurant. And drink the highly priced house wine or $4 a glass "light" beer. Yuck. Sorry, I'm a Foodie. I get a bit stuck up about that. So yeah, cook for yourself. Show off for your friends.

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Home Gardening, Canning, and Boozing

One of the common misunderstandings of the Victory garden is that you're growing all your own food. You're not. You're growing flavorings for the rice, wheat, oats, barley, corn, whatever the govt authorizes to ration into your town during very hard times. You flavor it with the veggies you've grown so you don't go mad from a bland palate. You feed the grain you can spare to chickens so you get eggs and meat from them. And what you can spare, you malt and turn into beer, wine, and spirits, again: so you don't go mad from boredom. In the BBC comedy "All Things Great And Small" there were quite a few examples of country living in Yorkshire (just south of Scotland in the UK) where James Herriot was paid in chickens, ham, jams and jellies, all sorts of barter goods because the locals had no money. The owner of the Veterinary company accepted these as payment, wisely I think, since the story took place during WW2, and it got around the Ration coupons, limited supplies, and the commonly known Black Market for those kinds of delicacies.

My grandmother was a farmer's wife. She canned as much as she could and never used storebought if she could avoid it. She raised chickens and sold the eggs. She had milk cows and sold the cream to pay the power bill. No, really. She made cottage cheese in front of me. She made evaporated milk and canned it. She sometimes dried clothes in the oven if they just wouldn't dry because the dryer was broken. Burnt a pair of my Levis that way. Terrible thing, losing a pair of Levis at age 7. She had a veggie garden with squash she served at lunch and dinner. They had their own well. Much of what she did could be done by a modern husband and wife on a couple acres of land. Finding a house with a couple acres requires backing out of the burbs, so scaling back production to a few hens in a coop, various veggies, and buying your grain from a supplier or in bulk is likely the right answer. Canning requires either a water bath, usually with a turkey roasting pan in the oven, or a large pressure cooker. There's a lot of labor and energy involved in canning food, but the results are superior to the store bought. You DO Have to eat it within 3 years and you have to pay close attention to the seals. If it makes gas and the top bulges, throw it away since the botulism in there is probably enough to kill your whole family. And strangely enough: don't feed it to your livestock. You'd be surprised how many make that mistake. A dead 300 lb pig is not funny at all. If you keep pigs, don't keep birds. Bird flu passes from wild birds to your hens and from the hens to the pigs, then to you. A very easy pathway. While it was common a century ago to keep chickens and pigs at a farm, today that could kill you, and your family, and possibly your town. Keep one or the other so you reduce the odds.

Spare and misshapen fruit unsuitable for canning can go on to a higher purpose: hooch. Even if you don't drink, hooch is a wonderful barter good, particularly since in small quantities (9 gallons last time I checked a decade ago) for "personal use" is perfectly legal. If you make a better batch than the older rotgut you can either: barter it, gift it, label it "fuel" (which you can legally keep unlimited quantities of, untaxed), or throw a party and drink it yourselves. Just make sure you test that its not tainted with methanol (a common fraction of the distillation process), as killing your guests is considered a "Party Foul" pretty much everywhere. Just sayin.

Sort of like wild mushrooms. Why bother with them? They have no calories: they're just flavoring. Mushrooms run the risk of being the poisonous variety as N. American poison mushrooms look just like edible ones in Europe. It is VERY common for German tourists and immigrants to DIE after insisting they can't be wrong about what they found. Always, for some reason they INSIST they can't be wrong. Death Cap and Death Angel toadstools are a lovely white color and contain enough toxin to kill... a large number of people. They cause liver failure, which is deadly 100% of the time, in even trace amounts. Like being bitten by a black mamba, only there's no anti-venin for toadstool poisoning. You just die, horribly. So, don't do it!

That said, if you find certain types of mushrooms which ARE edible, such as truffles, you can make a lot of money, since truffles sell for around $120/ounce. They're hard to find, usually in oak forest around rotting tree roots, and pigs smell them easily but stopping the pig from eating what it finds... well, there's a reason they cost so much. I don't think I would waste time on it. You could be playing Monopoly and NOT catching cold, since they're hunted on cold fall mornings when the ground is damp and the air very chilly. Much healthier to stay home.

Anyway, feel free to read up on Wikipedia for making beer, wine, and distilling spirits. All are legal activities and untaxed, you'll be happy to know. There are free download designs for making your own ethanol still. There are lots of home brewing companies which provide hardware and ingredients for making beer and wine. There's probably one in a town near you. Visit them, if you're interested. Making beer from scratch is smelly but fun and doesn't take very long. Definitely fits into a weekend hobbyist's schedule.

VIDEO: Solar Power Decatholon

This is from Big Ideas For A Small Planet on Hulu.com



The PV-Thermal panels are a good idea, provided the water doesn't get so hot that it damages the solar cells. They are thermally sensitive, after all, however if the water is cool enough they'll also reduce danger to the cells by cooling them, something standard cells don't do but really need. The Texas A&M team focussed on Modular Plug-N-Play design, which I happen to agree is critical. If the equipment can be bought piecemeal and gains made from installation, the homeowner will be far more willing to invest in it than if he has to pay for an entire design and then have it custom installed and then have to pay more when it breaks. Plug'n'Play is the way to go.

Sails on Container Ships

One of the coolest retrofits I've seen is the use of sails to cut fuel use on long haul cargo container ships. Yes, that's right. A container ship, piled high with those Sea-Land metal boxes invented by American trucker Malcolm McLean in 1960 that has become the dominant means of carrying cargo across the seas. They also end up on BiModal stack-trains and really get around.

Anyway, modern technology removes a lot of the waste from sailing vessels and engines prevent the suckage of being stuck because the wind stopped. It seems that attaching winches for kite-sails isn't all that hard and while its still in the experimental stage, cutting fuel consumption 10-35% on a big cargo ship is a big help on fuel efficiency to an already very efficient movement of goods. While I'm not always in favor of globalism, it is doing a good job of bringing jobs to the third world and should wages eventually rise a bit more (a long shot, and requires faith in people I just don't have), has the potential to even the playing field, maybe reduce the lingering envy and hatred that spawns.

That said, cargo container ships need deeper harbors and they're really big. They need huge crane and gantry systems to move the containers off, and the longshoremen are expensive today. As fuel becomes harder to get, I find myself picturing a return of smaller vessels to run cargo up and down the California Coast, at least to the port cities (which are many), until railroads are restored and more connections made. Isolated spur lines exist, after all, and once the Lumber and Salmon industries collapsed on the North Coast thanks to SoCal's demand for water (which killed the fish) and the Damn Hippies tears over redwoods (which closed the lumberyards), the locals were left with nothing but poverty, drug addiction, violence, and suicide. I can't help but think the State of California has really screwed the whole region over, all 250 miles of coast north of the SF Bay.

They used to run ferries north, loaded them with lumber and took cars and families back and forth, stopping at the various ports. It was several days trip, into the current and headwind. On a sailing vessel this would be slow and require lots of tacking back and forth. A smart captain would take it all the way to Alaska, and get cargo on and off at every stop so he can make a good profit. I suspect, in future, we'll see something like that too, only these ships will use solar panels and electric winches and computer controls to reduce the needed manpower and maximize the value. It will probably make hydrogen for the engines, using water and the solar panels, and generate fresh drinking water for the crew and passengers using vacuum distillation. If I were interested in ship building this would be a VERY interesting time to work.

Ships are inherently efficient and even if you aren't a global traveller, you still have plenty of business on rugged coasts where a rainstorm can knock out the roads and rails for days or weeks, and hauling goods by truck once diesel hits $20/gal is going to be prohibitive, even by train. In the 1880s-1930's, before the bridges were built, SF Bay was run by harbor ferryboats, and the seagoing ferries moving cargo up and down the coastline. If it costs $2000 per ticket, each way, to go from LA to Seattle by plane (with a 5-7 day wait between flights) $400 by train or $200 to go by ferryboat, and time is NOT of the essence, would you get your sea-legs and see the sights?

The Paramount

One of the ten best restored theaters in the world is The Paramount in Oakland California. It's Art Deco, complete with all the trimmings: stained glass, metalwork, embossed tin, tile, specialty rugs, furniture, all dating back to the 1930's. It's a huge place filled with history and character and it shows old movies at the bargain price of $5, complete with news reels, a cartoon, gift drawing, and an actual functioning Belfast Whirlitzer (260 pipes and instruments). Kunstler would say it is an awesome statement of grandeur and then tell us how disgusting it is because Art Deco is a Romantic/Modern style and ultimately dehumanizes people by holding them to an impossible standard and then he'd complain it should be torn down and a replacement built at a smaller scale in HIS town in upstate New York. Survivalists would complain that it's in downtown Oakland and they're only open on Friday nights and the security is unarmed and blah blah blah. Its safe enough. Parking is $10. The audience are mostly history and old film buffs rather than obnoxious teenagers crassly showing off for their ignorant girlfriends by making asses of themselves (like we see in all the OTHER movie theaters in the Bay Area. Sorry, but this is true). The Paramount is a money making venture. Not a lot, since most of the workers are Docents rather than "employees", but it pays its bills and 700 people showing up every Friday are given a good show in a fantastic surrounding. I dig that. Its very cool.

Is there a successful piece of historical America (or Europe as the case may be) in your area you're astonished is still operating and retains its charm AND functionality despite changing times? Neither Doomers nor Cornucopians (both of whom INSIST that THEY are the only two choices) really have room in their worldview for accessible culture. Both want extremes that history rarely offers as a real outcome to change. Often, things survive or thrive well beyond expectation. The Paramount is old-school. Its going to stick around, probably forever, barring a strong enough earthquake. There are other theaters like this in California and other states. The Grand Olde Opry in Nashville. The Radio City Music Hall in New York. The Baghdad in East Portland. Stuff like this continues on, and we can keep using it, perhaps not for its original purpose precisely, but the world is made of compromises. We can take advantage of that and apply that lesson to our own discoveries and remember that not all problems are solved by demolishing an existing structure, particularly if it holds cultural or artistic merit.

Windmills and Flywheels

When it comes to advances in energy technology, there are a lot of cool things you can do with modern chemistry, but don't forget the power of simple mechanical and electrical devices. Renewable energy can be produced and stored in ways that are cheap, scalable, distributed, and don't require anything beyond sturdy mechanical components and basic electrical components:

The Solucar Passive Solar Plant in Spain
Germany Plans 2500 More Wind Turbines by 2030
A Plan to Improve the NY Power Grid Using Flywheels

Batteries and Motorcycles

Despite the likely consequence of Peak Oil making fuel very expensive and SUV's getting turned into guest bedrooms or chicken coops, motorcycles could easily end up the vehicle of choice for commuting and trips. They aren't all that safe, its true. You are the crash cage. However, this lack also means the power to weight ratio is better than the hottest sports car and costs a small fraction of the same and gets fantastic gas mileage. Not perfect, but very good. You don't even need a loan to buy one, an important issue in today's economy.

Here is a story of a man who opted to take a road trip vacation, riding along the Blue Ridge Parkway on a Kawasaki KLX 250cc motorcycle. In the good old days, a 250 cc was considered a "big bike". Now they're mocked despite being able to run you up to quite a velocity, such as the 250cc Ninja has a very respectable top speed and 0-60 time and still gets around 70 MPG. Take that, Prius! But the Prius is better in the rain, and carries 3 passengers in relative comfort. And you can buy 5 Ninjas for the same price. There's no free lunch.

For a long time I figured motorcycles were the end-all, be-all of powered transportation, namely because there just isn't enough Lithium to power all the cars the world needs to avoid calamity, or at least disgruntlement. Is there gruntlement? Is that what happens while sipping the second good beer of an evening? I digress.

Work is being done on salt-algae batteries, using ordinary sea salt or table salt, paper, and a type of algae. It's cheap, scalable, and if they can work out the kinks it would solve the problem WITHOUT using lithium or paying a fortune to South American dictators duly elected presidents. This is the sort of discovery that actually changes the world for the better. Combining this with the easily scaled up flexible plastic solar cells using Selenium and Arsenic, you could generate and store enough power to run your laptop pretty much forever, so long as it gets a couple hours of sun around noon. A sustainable laptop at normal processing speeds changes the world too. Sustainable local electrical power means the third world could get first world amenities, including utilities like clean water, refrigeration, lighting and other useful things like proper hospitals. Cheap solar has a huge impact on lifestyle everywhere.

Similar efforts regarding methods to modify the Aluminum-Air fuel cell into a rechargeable battery will eventually solve some big problems in electric cars.

Cobalt-Phosphate catalysts halve the energy required to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gas, meaning if we can find a safe way to store it, the hydrogen can be used for fuel. Pity they haven't got a way to catalytically turn it into straight ethanol, since that's safe to store and biologically useful as well. Though making hooch from leaving your laptop in the sun too long just sounds hinky and grounds for some kind of academic suspension, doesn't it? Still, that ethanol could easily be burned as fuel in a motorcycle, car, or scooter. I wonder just how long before we get a fuel cell that turns water into wine... oh wait. Ahem.

These are the sorts of stories that won't be appearing on so_very_doomed because they aren't part of the mission statement there, and they're not funny in the same way. And that's okay. First Amendment, remember?