20100731

AVR Tools Updated


AVR Tools Updated
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

This post is for our microcontroller readers. I went ahead and updated my AVR tools page to the latest fink supported and then the latest versions I needed. I'm switching chips from a expensive SMT atmega169pv to a through hole atmega48v which required some updates.

Aggression Towards Hypermilers

It took all the self control I could muster but I did it. I drove to Santa Fe and back doing 59 mph. Next time 55, hey I'm working my way into it!

Now keep in mind, NM's speed limit is 75 and that means everyone around me is doing 85 (at least). I am happy to report that my low speed did not add a lot of extra time to my journey. I kinda liked the easy math, one mile one minute.

What I really had a problem with was the way that I was treated on the road. People drove really fast up to my bumper as if they couldnt tell I was going slow until they nearly hit me. Many raised their arms in the air to express frustration. Some sped up to me and cut off to the neighboring lane at the last minute as if to try to scare me. All the while I'm thinking "has anyone heard of the BP oil spill?"

I'm on the look out for the right bumper sticker. Maybe a sign will help? It's worth a try. The good news is that I got 50 miles per gallon and all the while I enjoyed knowing that I was burning a waste product on route to landfill, I did not give one nickel to big oil, and my DIY bio fuel cost me a buck a gallon, that's Santa Fe and back for about $6.

Back on Track


Back on Track
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

A good deal of my summer hardware hacking has been taken up by a project for a local entrepreneur. Now that I've built a few prototype units for him I can get back to my fermenter/fridge controller which I've been talking about for years. My hardware for the fermenter/fridge controller arrived last week so you can expect some hardware posts throughout August.

Agave with Life Sucked Out


Agave with Life Sucked Out
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

This summer I was reading about making mescal from agave. One of the first steps is to find a agave that is shooting up a stalk and snip the stalk. By cutting the stalk the plant will swell as opposed to putting all it's energy into making a giant stalk. Later the agave can be uprooted and the heart harvested. Here is what happens to the plant if you don't cut the stalk.

20100728

Mesquite Harvest is On


Mesquite Harvest is On
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Sesame and I went out to our local mesa top for a bit of mesquite gathering this morning. We found hundreds of plants that were just starting to drop pods which was just what we wanted. I have been collecting the pods in fabric bags and dropping the entire bag in the sun oven for six hours at 150F when I return. The goal is to dry the pods to the point where they will grind easily into flour.

Mesquite Harvest is On #2

Rainwater Harvesting is Catching On


Rainwater Harvesting is Catching On
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Wendy and I didn't know anyone in town who was catching rain water until last year. Now The Bountiful Alliance brought in 11 tanks of 1000 gallon capacity for low income home owners. Our neighbor Barbara just got her 1000 gallon tank hooked up this week. Nice to see these around town.

20100726

Surfs Up! Puddle Skimboarding in the Desert

It was an odd moment, finding Mikey skimboard surfing puddles in the yard. Then along came another and there were two . . . it's Andy Potter! Quotes like "look out for the apple tree," made the whole thing too surreal to get my head around. Much fun was had before the puddle sank into the yard. We might just be looking at 4" of rain this week!

20100725

Big Rain


Big Rain
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

We just got pummeled with 2.25" of rain. I'm tempted to try skimboarding in my front yard. This represents 25% of our yearly rainfall and it occurred it less than a hour.

Big Rain #2 Big Rain #3

20100724

We Save $3700 a Year Making Wine


DIY Wine Saves Big ($3700 a year)
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Last week I ran the numbers and determined we were saving $500 a year by roasting our own coffee. This sounds pretty good, but check out how much we save by purchasing wine kits instead of store bought wine.

We purchase 7 wine kits a year which produce about 210 bottles of wine. The average bottle of wine from the kit costs $2.30 and tastes as good as if not better than a store bought $20 bottle of wine.

We spend $500 a year producing our own wine from kits. If we were to buy the equivalent quality wine in bottles it would cost us $4,200 a year. That is a saving of $3,700 per year!

Even when I account for the time it takes to clean bottles and ferment each batch (35 hours a year) we are still paying ourselves $105 an hour.

If you are interested in a kit to get started with we have had good experiences with Vintners Reserve.

Methanol Expansion for Biodiesel


Methanol Expansion for Biodiesel
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

We boosted our methanol storage capacity from 5 gallons to 10 gallons. This allows us to now make 100 gallons of fuel before we need to go out and purchase more methanol. Our high mpg VW Beetle is the primary user of the fuel we make. Now we will have a range of 5000 miles between methanol runs.

Mesquite Enterprise Ground to a Halt


Mesquite Enterprise Ground to a Halt
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

I had high hopes for wild harvesting and selling mesquite beans on-line this year. Sadly the burr coffee grinder I chose to mill our mesquite in a fine meal is not going to be the right solution. It quickly clogs up from heat requiring that I go in and clean the grind plates. Last year I used a hand held blade based coffee grinder which had no trouble making mesquite into flour. The drawback to the hand held grinder is that it has a limited capacity.

20100722

That Amazing Lake

We've been heading out to the lake each eve. Elephant Butte lake that is. As long as we go between monday and thursday we can avoid the weekender traffic and craziness. Usually it's as though we're the only people on earth. This photo captured a big storm rolling in. Oh la la!

DIY Slab Stain - Final Review

With a second coat of sealer on my slab I can now see that my formula worked just fine! Once again we bought a big bag of raw umber from a clay shop a couple of years ago. Whenever we need color, rather than buy some premixed chemical nightmare from the store, we use our umber for color and then try to figure out the rest of the ingredients for the job at hand. The paper crete dome for example is colored in umber which was added to our paper/cement mortar mix. It worked well here too. I simply hydrated the umber and splashed it around the slab using a broom to blend it. Then I sealed it with two coats of cement sealer. One coat left several areas unshiny. The second coat seemed to unify the finish. Looks great! I'll be doing it again with other slabs that we inherited on this property.

Long Weeks of Summer & Waiting Not So Patiently

The summer seems to be slithering along. The heat's been crippling and does not let us outside but for a morning walk and an hour at dusk. The ants are in such large numbers I can barely believe it. I have more than a few times been shocked by the rapid appearance of a red ant sock that covered my flip flop wearing foot while standing near a garden bed. I give. . . the weeds can grow for a while. I will wait till the ants have their day and go back to wherever they have come from!

Summer in S. New Mexico usually includes about a 4 to 6 week set of time that's peppered with these hot days that force even the hyperactive NY'er to submit siesta. Meanwhile I busy myself drying herbs, making tinctures and writing. I treat these weeks as I once treated winter in NY. From December to April my apartment was a shrine to homey projects that I buried myself in to help me forget how anxious I was for the return of the sun.

Mostly though I'm now waiting somewhat impatiently for my garden full of flora: vines, flowers, seeds and plants of all sizes, colors and shapes to produce fruit! I'm ready for those tomatoes! Ready too for the brussel sprouts, okra, melon, squash etc. I do have peppers, tomatillos and a few leftover potatoes ready for picking and more onions than I can fit in the fridge drawer. Now if we could get one more week of monsoon rain.

JL Hudson's Really Cool Catalog

I am delighted to be on the JL Hudson Seedsman catalog list. The catalog is worth the buck it costs. JS Hudson is a public access seed bank out of CA established in 1911. The catalog is a wonder. It boasts to be uncopyrighted material that is largely public domain. The whole cat is typeset, no computers were used to produce it. Postage is real, pennies for packs of seeds. The author is willing to exchange wild seed to wild harvesters in exchange for seed from the catalog. He also pleads with the reader, "I have no phone, do not call anyone named Hudson who is listed in the directory as you will only disturb someone not connected with me". . . "if your phone doesnt ring, it's me!" Of course they do have a web site which offers a plethora of unusual varieties. Enjoy!

African Makers Delight: Innovation and Ingenuity al la Africa

Biogas, anaerobic digesters, beer can hats, DIY dentistry, keyhole gardens, scrap metal toys and a homemade robot are just a few projects coming out of creative minds of Africa. The projects are archived on this killer web site called Afrigadget.

Thirst Quench: Summer Drinks

My latest article for CRAFT just posted. It has a bunch of yummy summer drink recipes. ENJOY!

20100721

How Bout Jail?

Check out this treehugger post demonstrating how BP photoshopped a fake emergency command center for the oil spill. TREEHUGGER POST

What's in a Place?

Perhaps the conversation Mikey and I most circle back to is the one about place. We name what we love about life in southern NM. And we name what's missing and talk about the struggle around trying to compensate for what's missing. We fantasize about what other places might be like. Our imaginations span the world. Then we remember the term "geographic depression" and wind up back where we started, naming what we love about southern NM. This little mental game usually delivers me back to one of the intentions I had when I moved here. And that was to discover the part of myself that was impervious to place, time, situation and environment. I came here at a time in which I wanted to reveal the source of happiness in myself. I was reminded of this, and prompted to post about it, when I read our friend Christian's blog post on the same subject. I signed in relief, "we're not the only ones!"

Our lists usually look a bit like this. . . we love the natural beauty of the area, appreciate the ease of a low cost life in which we can experience the cycles without the unnatural clock and near urgent need to earn lots of money, we feel free from endless marketing and branding and enjoy genuine community. In short this place invites us to feel free on a certain fundamental level.

What we struggle with: we miss being around a youthful creative culture in which communities form to engage in creating solutions to problems, we miss the energy that exists around such communities (healthy competition, stimulation, knowledge sharing, collaboration, newness), and we miss great entertainment and creative ways to experience ecstatic state.

Christian's post sites the Buddhist view that "all suffering comes from attachment." Funny . . . I'd just been contemplating how a dead animal laying roadside hit by a truck and a blossoming rose in it's perfect state come from the same ground of being, the void from which all comes. Like Christian I'm taking myself to the task of producing my happiness and not allowing myself to blame place for the areas of my dissatisfaction.

Like all good questions this question about place is one to live with. I don't expect my mind produce an answer, I expect my life to, that is if I'm living will full gusto. I can also probe my imagination. Perhaps we are reaching the right time for people to change how they geographically congregate. Currently geographic community is based on money and jobs an a little bit on preference for landscape and climate (for those with the luxury to make that choice). At the same time the system that has been the primary organizing principal for how we have geographically gathered is degenerating and becoming less reliable. This opens up the possibility for newness. Mikey and I are always wondering, "when will other folks who can work via the internet migrate to rural areas?" Another question that comes to mind is, '"when will people collectively solve their problems rather than individually?" And surely there are many more reasons that people can come together in a place and more ways to view place. . . . well, that can be another post for another day.

20100720

Book: Teaming with Microbes (Autographed Copy)


Book: Teaming with Microbes Autographed Copy
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

If I were to pick one book about gardening that really changed the way I think it would be "Teaming with Microbes". My copy autographed by the author arrived yesterday. It takes a special spot on the gardening book shelf. If you wish to understand how to make soil live and maintain it's health on a microbial level, than you must read this book.

20100719

We Save $500 Every Year by Roasting Coffee Ourselves


We Save $500 Every Year by Roasting Coffee Ourselves
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Our long term blog readers know that we like to roast our coffee beans in electric popcorn poppers. Now that we have two years of coffee roasting under our belt I would like to share a thought.

We burn through 5 lbs of green bean a month. That comes to $240 a year at $4 a lb. If we were to buy the same bean roasted at $12 a pound from our local roaster we would be spending roughly $720 a year. This means we are presently saving nearly $500 a year while getting the freshest roast possible. There is a case that can be made for the time spent roasting and the air poppers needed, but the time and expenses here are insignificant to us: the power to run the popper is solar generated on site, the roasters come at a buck or two from garage sales and are pulled from the waste stream and we created a life that allows us the time to do our own labor.

Stuck!


Stuck!
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

It always seems to be the 4x4 vehicles that manage to get stuck in bizarre places. Andy and I were cruising the lake looking for new skimboarding areas yesterday. The lake has lost so much water this summer that there are dry areas where you can safely cross on foot, but not in a vehicle. We learned this the hard way and had to call in a favor from a friend to get out of the wet sand.

NPR Story about Honey


NPR Story about Honey
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

This story lightly touches on honey as a medicinal and cooking ingredient. Nice to see the honey / bee keeping craze acknowledged by a mainstream media source.

20100718

High Temp Wine Fermentation


High Temp Wine Fermentation
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

We racked our Beaujolais wine from bucket to carboy this weekend. I was not at all surprised to see the alcohol content already coming in at 11%. Usually our wines come in just under 10%. I believe the increased summer temperatures bumped up our alcohol level by 1%. This fermentation took place between 82-85F. We still have 24 days left on this kit before bottling.

High Temp Wine Fermentation #2

20100716

Lousy Corn Crop


Lousy Corn Crop
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Wendy ripped up our corn from a small east facing bed by the front gate. This was a disappointing round of corn. It looks like we had a number of issues which gave us a small harvest of only about off the corn.

- insect issues, mostly ants had taken over that bed
- some sort of fungus was present on about a 1/3 of the cobs (they were tossed out)
- the plants were short, perhaps low nitrogen or planted too closely

Fortunately corn is a easy transplant and we already have round two in the ground with over 1' of height.

Cheese Please


Cheese Please
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

We have already gone through 3 gallons of raw milk this week with two days left to possibly kill 2 more gallons. Where does it all go? Mostly cheese.

- cream cheese (weekly)
- mozzarella (weekly)
- butter (weekly)
- hard cheese (once a month)

There are by-products from making all this stuff:

- butter leaves us with buttermilk
- all these cheeses we make leave us with lots of whey

The buttermilk goes into pancakes and the whey gets a kefir culture added to it and is used for lacto-fermenting fruits and kimchi production.

20100715

Cloth Napkins

I had two years ago intended to switch from throwaway paper to cloth napkins. Then a neighbor moved out and gave me a bunch of his stuff including two huge cases of personalized napkins he had made when he ran a wine company. They read, "louis the wine guy" and had a picture of a little man holding grapes. I gave a case to the local natural food store and finally, this week, the case I kept has run out. This makes today the first day of cloth napkins. Mikey and I are both confused. . . "how often does a cloth napkin get used before hitting the wash?" We both recalled today how some meals render a napkin tragic and not reusable without washing while other meals one barely uses a napkin. Does that mean we'd use it again? I have no idea. I guess we'll wing it and see what feels right. Hooray to the end of the throwaway napkin!

20100714

1970's Curtains & Wire Rod Mod

The best things seem to consistently cost a buck. Picked up these sweet curtains, never hung or used, at a garage sale last week. I'm guessing 1970's, my favorite era for textiles. I didnt have a rod to hang it with and was not about to buy one so I used the same wire and screw technique that I used on the garlic dryer. It's simple, thread the curtain with the wire. Put a screw on each side of the window frame and tie the ends on. Wala!

20100712

No Impact's Impact - Lack

As you know from Mikey's previous post, we recently watched the film No Impact Man. While we both enjoyed it, we each had our own thoughts about No Impact Man's experiment. I am adding mine here now.

No Impact Man's family learned a few things that are lasting and will remain with them. My favorite amongst these is that they discovered that living without electricity (and consequently air conditioning in the summer) led them to living an outdoor life. They enjoyed this greatly and discovered more of the city they live in. These kinds of things you cant anticipate, they're gifts that come with the exploration. One of the gifts I enjoy from our journey is the freedom from trend. My psyche continues to exhale as I get less and less able to name the actors that adorn the covers of news stand magazines. What's in fashion becomes increasingly ridiculous to me. When I bump into a very trendy person I can not believe how genuinely funny they appear. I admit, they also appear imprisoned. Now I don't want to imply I that I have even an ounce of judgement towards the trendy, it's just a game I'm happy to no longer be part of.

The most important realization I had about the film was that No Impact Man and his family's query was not empowering to them. They lived in a consumer's mindset, the mind set of lack in which one must always choose, "I can buy/have this OR that." Their experiment is a pledge of renunciation in which they give things up and see if they can suffer through their losses.

This pledge led them to give up things that maybe they should not have. As Mikey pointed out, it's silly to quit riding the subway because it's running on electric that's not generated from clean sources. On the contrary it's wise to use public transport if it's already been built and exists in the infrastructure. No Impact Man's experiment ignored context. And context is everything.

Renouncing leads to yes and no thinking whereas a commitment to creative problem solving with a clear intention such as "i'll make the best choice that I can given the situation" leads to discovery, innovation and newness. When we arrived here in NM and we were seeking low impact building materials we might have chosen straw bale. Lots of people here advocate it. But we did not pick the dial up answer. Instead we asked questions based on our actual situation. We observed that straw bale came hundreds of miles from Colorado and thus had a carbon footprint that was greater than that of the use of reused paper from our local recycling center to make paper crete. Even with the cement paper crete uses. Our town had abundant paper at the recycling center 1/4 mile away from our home and at the time they did not recycle it. They collected it and shipped it to landfills elsewhere.

I do applaud efforts to learn about how to live in new and less harmful ways. But as Einstein said, "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them" and "The world we have created today as a result of our thinking thus far has problems which cannot be solved by thinking the way we thought when we created them," . . . our way of thinking must now become less dualistic and less limited. A view of the world as lacking is harming us. We can no longer view ourselves as limited and mechanistic. This lacking and mechanistic view, evident from education through the structure of the work force has contorted life into a bazaar machine of parts with no whole.

We can in fact shift to a view of ourselves and our planet as unlimited, unbounded and creative. From this position we can solve problems in new ways and quite likely our solutions will reflect our mind set while in the making. Renunciation surely has it's place. It gives us power over what has a hold over us. But the greatest thing is to discover that knowledge and responsibility are the truly valuable things. They come when we become problem solvers and makers of great things rather than consumers limited by the choice of buying one thing that sucks over another that sucks a little more or less.

Mushroom Madness


Mushroom Madness
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

After five lovely days of rain we are now seeing mushrooms fruiting all around the garden. I have no idea what kind these are (guesses welcome), but they are the most common one we see each summer.

20100711

No Impact Man


No Impact Man
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Wendy and I watched "No Impact Man" this week. This documentary film is available via NetFlix today and another one is scheduled to be released in 2012. We enjoyed watching this yuppie NYC family try to reduce their carbon footprint, but it was painful to see just how difficult they made things. Through out much of the movie Wendy and I would look at each other and say "we did that". The problem in my mind with their single minded approach was they were still consuming. No impact man was not trying to create a abundant situation. Had he produced most of his food, electricity, fuel, and water the quality of life would have been much higher. I wonder how the family would do things differently if they were to do it again.

20100706

Hello Kitty


Hello Kitty
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Meet squeak toy. She is roughly a six month old kitten that will not go away. This cat is affectionate and in dire need of a loving home. She makes the most adorable high pitched squeak noises. Anyone interested? She is probably not spayed or dewormed yet. I have one lead on a possible home, but would like to see her adopted as soon as possible with the high temperatures we are experiencing this week.

Court Date


Court Date
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Two months ago I was given a speeding citation while driving Sesame to one of her favorite parks. The ticket is total BS as I driving appropriate for the conditions. I quickly filed a continuance request along with a request for discovery asking for all the information about the radar system which was used and the officers certification. This morning less than a hour before appearing before the judge I was handed the discovery document from the police officer so I just asked for the judge for a continuance as I need to review the data. Next month I return to court again for the real trial.

20100705

Concrete Slab Stain Follow Up

Step 3, the sealant, is now complete and the slab has dried. As you can see in the photo some areas are well sealed (shiny) and others not (chalky or flat). Because I applied a chalk based color too thick (umber) some areas did not seal well and remain flat looking. Having realized this I took a broom and power washed off any chalky heaviness. Tomorrow I will reseal it with another coat of cement seal and I know that will be all that's needed to complete this.

Here's what I learned.

* it's fine to use umber, mineral dies and even random chalks, color of any kind. I even found some cheap colored powders from India that I got at a garage sale and sprinkled them around and they sealed just fine.
* the key to powdered dyes to hydrate them very well (as with umber) or apply very thin and hit with water to diffuse and blend
* apply all and any color thin. thick chalky based color will chalk and resist sealing
* apply sealant twice

And They're Off - Bye Bye Libby & Tristan

It seems that this week in T or C gave Libby and Tristan the time they needed to tweak the gypsy wagon and get unfinished projects for it completed before the longer road trip that awaits them. The wagon is looking great, tidy and spacious considering the limitation of space.

If you take a look at the black couch we made you'll notice that the back panel is divided into three parts and each are open (like an envelope) at the top. These are pockets for laundry. The cushion is unstuffed until items are in it and then the couch gets more and more comfortable depending on how full it is. The whole thing lifts out and can be taken to the laundry matt. Tristan even squeezed in a last minute haircut, accompanied by andy on guitar.

And now they're off. We'll really miss them!