Category Archives: News

Little House in the Big Woods


katbaro on Flickr.com has this photo of Laura Ingalls-Wilder’s birthplace and says:

“In case you are wondering, its not the real house but a reproduction on the actual land. Since she didn’t write the books until she was in her 60’s I’m sure the original cabin was long gone before she was popular. You can find Ingalls & Wilder graves in the local cemeteries too. “

My wife and daughter have been reading the Little House books.  The books give great insight into how people lived, without running water or electricity.  It’s nice to be reminded that they are not just stories, but real people, who knew how to live.

Mead, to boil or not

Fellow mead maker and blogger Erroll, of washingtonwinemaker.com conducted a double blind taste test of boiled vs raw meads.  By boiling, we are talking about boiling the must (honey / water mixture) to sanitize it before fermenting.

Some people believe that honey has anti-microbial action and therefore does not need boiling, and that the flavors will be destroyed by the boiling.  Others believe that bacteria and wild yeasts will introduce off flavors, so the must should be boiled.

I have found more “honey” flavor in the meads that are made raw and have not experienced any adverse results from wild yeasts or bacteria.

Read Erroll’s results here.  Thanks to the Washington Wine Maker for such a scientific approach.

What Sapphire Energy needs to convert algae to gasoline.

After reading this article at EcoGeek.com about Sapphire Energy, I did a little research on algae-to-oil and what I found was that the industry had two problems to tackle:

1) Competitive algae.  When using open tanks, naturally occurring algae competes for resources and space.

2) Getting the oil out of the algae.  It has to be heated and dried to extract the oil.

Sapphire will be creating gasoline directly, so it should be possible to extract the gasoline through distillation with solar energy using a solar thermal water heater followed by counterflow heat exchanger.

The solar thermal water heater would heat fresh water entering the system, to kill off anything in it, giving the engineered algae a head start.

The counterflow heat exchanger would serve two purposes.  First, it would cool the fresh water before it enters production.  Second, it would heat the algae that is done, to distill the gasoline.

A counterflow heat exchanger is a pipe within a pipe.  Hot liquid flows one direction through the inner pipe, and cooling liquid flows the other direction, through the outer pipe.  When the flow rates are adjusted properly, the liquid that needs cooling exits the system at about the same temprature as the cooling liquid that is entering the system and the cooling fluid exits the system at about the temperature of the hot liquid that is entering the system

Using the finished algae as a cooling liquid, the hot algae exiting the counterflow heat exchanger should be hot enough to distill the gasoline directly out of it.

Alternative power brainstorming

Brain-storming is where you list any idea that comes to mind, no matter how wild or insane it appears.

Here are a few alternative power ideas that we came up with, that now do not appear to be quite that far off:

1. Store lightning. Two problems, you’d have to control the lightning strike and then have somewhere to store it.

I just read on Gizmodo, “Scientists Use Lasers to Create Lightning“. Essentially, they strike a cloud with a laser beam, ionize the air, which initiates a lightning strike.

EEstor, a Texas company, is building capacitors that are claimed to have nearly twice the energy density of Lithium-Ion batteries. They could drive a car for 300miles on a 5 minute charge. The EEStor’s only disadvantage is that today’s household wiring is unable to supply the needed current. I bet a bolt of lightening just might do the job.

2. Use solar power to create a chemical fuel similar to gasoline, rather than electricity.

This isn’t quite the same, but interesting none the less. Ecogeek.org has this article, “Could Chemical Solar Power beat Photovoltaics?“. Professor Chaurasia of the University of Birmingham, UK, is developing a process in which propanol is dehydrogenated, the hydrogen then generates electricity using a Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell. The byproducts then recombine and begin the process again. I don’t know if this is as efficient as photovoltaics, but it might be another way to generate electricity.

3. Windpower. Most of the home-built wind turbines use permanent magnet DC generators, because they are cheap and easy to acquire. This is not the best way to generate electricity, especially as the current increases.

This company, Swift Wind Turbines, has a 1.5kW, 240 VAC, wind turbine that uses parts made locally. I’m very interested in this, except that it connects to the power grid, which indicates that it is most likely and asynchronous induction type, which can’t supply power unless the grid has power.

It occurred to me that you could use a wind turbine to drive both a permanent magnet DC generator and a moving field coil AC generator (Alternator). The current from the DC generator would only power the field coil of the AC generator, so the DC generator wouldn’t have to supply that much current and wouldn’t have to be that big . The AC generator would supply the usable current and could be direct wired (no sparks, no arcs). This arrangement should allow a low wind speed startup, with increased output power as RPM increased, because the power from the DC generator would increase, increasing the power in the field. The increased field would increase the output power. Also, as the field power increases, so would the back torque from the AC generator, slowing the rotor speed. Essentially, the RPM would be self regulating, while the power increases.

The Danish Wind Industry has a fantastic website related to wind generation, windpower.org. They should know, they produce a higher percentage of their power from wind than any other nation. Currently, 20%.

It will be interesting to see how these turn in a few years.

The price of eating healty

The NY Times has an article titled A High Price for Healthy Food, where the author reviews a University of Washington study that compares the prices of 370 foods sold at supermarkets in the Seattle area.For the study, the scientists compared the price of a calorie of junk food to a calorie of healthier food.  They found the prices to differ significantly, averaging $1.76 for 1,000 calories of junk food, compared to $18.16 for 1,000 calories of nutritious food.

The study also showed that the price of junk foods were more likely to remain stable, while the prices of healthy foods increased 19.5% over a two year period

Matt Mayer of GroovyGreen offers some advice to offset these costs in Let them eat cake!,

His advice:  Shop local farmers markets, grow your own,  buy in bulk and join local buying clubs.

That reminds me, have your checked out our “Produce” page?  My wife operates a bulk organic produce buying club.  Take a look at our prices and feel free to drop her an e-mail laura@ericsprojects.com for more information.

Getting more while reading less

I used to read more than 30 RSS feeds a day. OK, I didn’t actually read them. I just scanned them and read the interesting stuff. The problem was all the “unread” stories. They kept calling me.

While purging my desk, my drawers and my in-box, I have also been purging my electronic life. I went through my e-mail in-box and applied the same rules: Do It, Delete It, Defer It or Delegate.

The RSS feeds were the hardest to prune down. Sites like MAKE:, Lifehacker and Treehugger have been regular reads for so long and yet, many of their stories were duplicates or things to buy. They were overwhelming me.

So my current list is:

ARSTechnica – High quality tech articles, no duplicates of other sites and the number of posts a day is low enough that I can keep up.

EcoGeek.org – Technology for the environment and just a few articles a day.

EricsProjects – my own website – I like to see how it shows up in the RSS reader

lifehack.org – Daily digest and pointers on productivity, getting things done and lifehacks

The last two sites have some of the best posts If I had to limit myself to just two RSS feeds it would be:

Zenhabits.net – Simple productivity – 1 or two posts per day and ALL very useful. Here are two great posts from Zenhabbits.net:

Why Living a Life of Gratitude Can Make You Happy

A Guide to Escaping Materialism and Finding Happiness

Slower-living.org – Living as if you mean it. Here are two great posts from slower-living.org:

There isn’t always better than here

Is being right really worth it?

This is what you want, this is what you need…

According to Dr. Colleen Huber, Naturopathic Medical Doctor, on her website, www.naturopathyworks.com, if you are craving chocolate, then you need Magnesium. She suggests you eat more raw nuts and seeds, legumes and fruit. She also says that if you are craving bread or toast, you need Nitrogen and suggests high protein foods like fish, meat, nuts and beans. If you crave sweets, well read the site…

via Lifehacker.com

Study relates educational DVDs to reduced vocabulary

According to this article on NewScientist.com

Educational DVDs may hinder rather than help a young child’s learning. Infants who watch DVDs such as Brainy Baby and Baby Einstein know fewer words than those who do not watch such programmes, a new study suggests.

For the study, a lengthy (45 minute) telephone interview was conducted with about 500 families that had a child born in the previous 16 months.

After controlling for other factors, such as parents’ educational status and the number of children per household, the analysis revealed that for every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs, toddlers understood an average of six to eight words fewer than those who did not view them.

The study did not indicate weather the reduced vocabulary was a direct result of DVD watching or simply a result of less parent-child interaction.

Read the article here.

Red Orbit: 6 Superfoods That Prevent Disease

Lisa Turner, of Red Orbit writes:

Simplify your life-and boost your health-with these basic foods that really work You can nibble on goji berries, whip up noni juice smoothies and stock your shelves with antioxidants. But if you’re looking for what really works for optimal health and disease prevention, the best approach is to focus on foods that are rich in disease-fighting phytochemicals.

Read the article here.