From void into vision, from vision to mind, from mind into speech, from speech to the tribe, from the tribe into din.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Solar Powered Amish Buggy

Monday, January 06, 2014

Sustainable Development and Climate Change: 2 Free Online Courses

I'd like to participate in an ongoing on and off line brainstorm using Buckminster Fuller's World Game design criteria, "How can we make the world work for 100 percent of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological damage or disadvantage to anyone?" and one of Bill McDonough's Ecological Design Principles, "Use only available solar income."

Here are some free resources that are edging, gingerly, towards that possibility.
"Age of Sustainable Development ( ) gives students an understanding of the key challenges and pathways to sustainable development - that is, economic development that is also socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable."

free 14 week course taught by Jeffrey Sachs
starting January 21

Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided ( )
"It is now becoming clear that without necessary climate action, the world may become 4°C warmer by the end of this century. As this threatens to roll back decades of development progress, this is a ‘make or break’ point. This course presents the most recent scientific evidence as well as some of the opportunities for urgent action."

free World Bank MOOC [Massive Open Online Course] on climate change
starting January 27

e4Dev, Energy for Development, a student group at MIT is teaching a 4 day course this week (January 7-10, 2014) "Exploring the intersection of energy and human development, Racing Towards Universal Energy Access: Why the Next 2 Billion Users Matter (more than you think).  Eventually, they want to produce their own online course as well but their Fall lectures are already available as videos online:

Prospects for Grid-Connected PV in Kenya

Technical and Economic Analysis of PV DC Microgrids

Reliable Alternative Energy Options for Access:  Lessons from China's Countryside

Power Africa

Electrifying Rural India with Solar Microgrids:  Adoption and Impact

Water Desalination:  Prospects for Energy and Demand


Sunday, January 05, 2014

Toilets, Stoves, and Solar

Susan Murcott, Bob Lange, and Richard Komp are three grassroots environmental activists who are changing lives all around the world.  Susan is a water researcher whose work on simple water filters has benefitted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people from Guatemala to Ghana.  Her latest project is building a block of toilets for a school in a village in Ghana, the second project of this kind she has been involved with.  Bob is a physics professor who has been doing science education in Africa for many years, an activity that morphed into installing small solar systems for villages in Tanzania and now into designing, building, and installing efficient cookstoves with the Maasai people. This year, his work is expanding into Uganda.  Richard is a solar expert who has worked on everything from the physics of solar electricity to building solar stoves from scrap.   He has been teaching people all around the world how to do solar as a cottage industry for about three decades now.  His latest idea is to outfit a sailboat as a floating solar workshop that can teach people throughout the Caribbean how to better their lives with simple solar technologies. You can read his reports on his international work at

I consider myself immensely privileged to know all three of these remarkable and remarkably effective people.

"We are raising money to construct a toilet block for a school in the village of Gbalahi in Ghana."  They need about another $7000 in the next 40 days or so.

Roughly a billion people worldwide live without safe drinking water and each year millions are sickened by waterborne diseases, a condition CEE Senior Lecturer Susan Murcott hopes to improve through dissemination of household drinking water treatment and safe storage systems, a cluster of innovative technologies she has helped invent and promote: one used by about 800,000 people in Guatemala; another that removes pathogens and clarifies turbidity in Ghanaian drinking water used by over 100,000 people; and a third, a filter sold in Nepal to screen out arsenic and bacteria, which has so far reached 350,000 people. All three projects make use of locally available materials and the local workforce to create jobs in manufacturing and sales. Many CEE Masters of Engineering students, School of Engineering, DUSP and Sloan students have worked with Murcott on these projects, which were showcased at the Expo Bid Symposium in October in Dubai and will be honored during the World Expo 2020 in Dubai.Read a related story: also:

Read about our work, reducing indoor smoke in the homes of pastoral people in the developing world, caused by the use of indoor cooking fires.We replace the fires with our stove and chimney that produces ninety percent less smoke, benefitting families and the environment.

Floating Solar Workshop SailboatProject for the Miskito Coast in NicaraguaBy Richard Komp, Director - Skyheat Associates
In December I will be going to the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua for the third short solar course I will teach there. This time I will be taking a small sailboat on an overnight trip to get to the remote workshop site.
Our biggest concern is the pirates and drug smugglers in this part of the Caribbean but Nicaragua is currently pretty free of these marauders since the Sandinista government has taken control.
The Donated SailboatWhat I am looking for is a boat that is between 40 and 50 feet long that could be donated by somebody or a corporation. Skyheat Associates is a 501(c)(3) Public Charity and the donation would be tax deductible. We are not fussy about the condition or type of boat but our criteria are floating and able to be fixed up well enough to get from Florida to the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua, where it can be fixed up better and converted to the floating workshop center. It would be good if the boat had a draft of 4 feet or less since many of the places we will be visiting have shallow inlets or bays.
The Grupo Fenix in Nicaragua already works in that part of the country and we have good contacts along the Miskito Coast to have this refurbishing work done properly.
Crowdsourcing to pay for the ProjectThis project will take quite a bit of money, both for outfitting the boat and for the cost of all this traveling around the Caribbean. People have suggested that we try raising the money on the Internet and I think I will ask the next person who suggests this to go ahead and do it. I will give that person or group all the information where they can send the check when they are successful.
We are looking to raise $30,000 in total for the project. Most of the places where the floating center will be giving workshops are occupied by 3rd World people who live on less than $2 a day and the workshops will be free for them; but the project will have quite a few expenses for living costs and workshop materials. Of course places like Akumal in Mexico have a lot of student volunteers from the 1st World who can pay for the workshop, so some of the boat’s expenses will be paid that way; but in general, the project will need donated funds to operate properly. Some of the volunteers who wish to take part in this project may also have money to pay their own way. 
I already have lots of people who have volunteered to help me sail around the Caribbean; but we will need volunteers to help raise money and work on the sailboat. Please feel free to contact me if you are interested. We are now setting up a Crowdsourcing website and will send more information when the donation system is running. The plan includes the opportunity to attend one of the solar workshops or sail on the boat as part of the bonus for a larger donation
Contact Information, For more information or help: Richard Komp, PhD, Director Skyheat Associates,PO Box 184, Harrington ME 04643 207-497-2204, 207- 356-0225 cell

Monday, December 23, 2013

Universal Energy Access: IAP at MIT with e4Dev

e4Dev, a student group at MIT interested in Energy for Development, is organizing a four day course on
"Exploring the intersection of energy and human development
Racing Towards Universal Energy Access:
Why the Next 2 Billion Users Matter (more than you think)"

I wonder if they'll use Buckminster Fuller's World Game design criteria, "How can we make the world work for 100 percent of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological damage or disadvantage to anyone?" or one of Bill McDonough's Ecological Design Principles, Use only available solar income.

e4Dev, if they wanted to, might be able to do all or part of the course as a webinar or a MOOC [Massive Open Online Course]. After all, they do have a Ustream channel ( and MIT is part of EdX (


"More than 1.5 billion people lack access to basic energy services. This is not inherently problematic as access to energy is not in and of itself a goal of development. Energy access has, however, been identified as a potentially important component in enabling many essential quality of life improvements.

"In a four-day series of lectures, case studies, interactive activities, and the development of an energy access project evaluation strategy, students participating in this course will be exposed to the challenges and opportunities in energy access for the developing world with possibility of continuing work on projects into the Spring if they choose.

"Led and facilitated by Prof. Ignacio Pérez-Arriaga, MIT Energy Initiative Deputy Director Rob Stoner, and a variety of guest speakers, lectures will provide working knowledge of:
The current state of energy access (and what it means to provide access);
The connection between energy access and various aspects of human development work; and
Financing mechanisms and business models for energy projects in the developing world

"The course listing is now available on the the IAP 2014 site, and a more detailed description of each day can be found on the MIT Energy Initiative calendar (

Date: Tuesday, January 7 – Friday, January 10
Time: 9:00am – 12:00pm
Location: Building E17, Room 128 (E17-128), 40 Ames Street, Cambridge, MA 02139"

More information at

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Solar Christmas Present

Wakawaka ( makes a
super efficient, sustainable, lightweight, sturdy and compact solar phone charger and lamp. It enables you to charge virtually any type of (smart)phone or small electronic device within just a few hours and will provide you with up to 80 hours of safe light.

They are offering a buy one/give one program which provides their solar lights and chargers to Syrian refugees:

Perhaps a way to promote the Christmas spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill to all.  (Bah Humbug!)

hat tip to

Here are some other solar Christmas ideas:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pattern Language for an Urban Agriculture System

A series of patterns from _A Pattern Language_ (Christopher Alexander et alia, NY:  Oxford University Press, 1977) for designing an urban agriculture system, from City Country Fingers to Paving With Cracks Between the Stones:

3.  City Country Fingers
4.  Agricultural Valleys
7.  The Countryside
8.  Mosaic of Subcultures
12.  Community of 7000
15.  Neighborhood Boundaries
19.  Web of Shopping
25.  Access to Water
32.  Shopping Street
41.  Work Community
46.  Market of Many Shops
51.  Green Streets
60.  Accessible Green
61.  Small Public Square
64.  Pools and Streams
67.  Common Land
69.  Public Outdoor Room
73.  Adventure Playground
80.  Self-Governing Workshops and Offices
88.  Street Cafe
89.  Corner Grocery
97.  Shielded Parking
100.  Pedestrian Street
105.  South Facing Outdoors
106.  Positive Outdoor Space
111.  Half-Hidden Garden
114.  Hierarchy of Open Space
118.  Roof Garden
119.  Arcades
127.  Intimacy Gradient
134.  Zen View
139.  Farmhouse Kitchen
161.  Sunny Place
163.  Outdoor Room
170.  Fruit Trees
171.  Tree Places
172.  Garden Growing Wild
173.  Garden Wall
174.  Trellised Walk
175.  Greenhouse
176.  Garden Seat
177.  Vegetable Garden
178.  Compost
236.  Windows Which Open Wide
242.  Front Door Bench
245.  Raised Flowers
246.  Climbing Plants
247.  Paving With Cracks Between the Stones

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Canal Restorer to River Restorer?

This greenhouse at the former historic Fisherville Mill in South Grafton, Massachusetts, sits on the banks of a canal by the Blackstone River.  It is cleaning stormwater runoff and water contaminated by #6 fuel oil, also known as Bunker C oil, which leaked from underground tanks.  At the end of the process, 95% of the hydrocarbons are removed without the application of chemicals, using only ecological design.

The Blackstone River can rightfully claim to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the USA as in 1790, Samuel Slater built the first water-powered spinning mill in America for Moses Brown, a founder of Brown University, in Pawtucket, RI using the Blackstone River as a power source.  By October 7, 1828, the Blackstone Canal from Providence, RI to Worcester, MA was completed and became the original industrial corridor of the United States.  Some say the Blackstone was the hardest working river of 19th century America with its water powering factories all along its length.

Perhaps now it will become an example of 21st century American technology that uses ecological systems thinking to clean up the wastes industrial development has left in its wake.

500 to 1000 gallons of water is pumped each day from the bottom of the canal through a filter which was designed to trap particulates and has, over time, developed its own ecosystem that begins to process the pollutants.  Soon samples will be taken of the filter layers to see what organisms are present and thriving in the presence of such contaminants.

The water is then distributed to the black boxes you can see on the right of the greenhouse which contain mushrooms and other organisms.  These continue to filter the water and break down the hydrocarbons and other complex compounds as the mushroom cultures and other organisms feed.

From the mushroom boxes the water goes into a series of six 700 gallon tanks, each of which is a separate ecology with plants, animals and microbes that continue to break down pollutants and contaminants into their constituent parts.  The water gets cleaner and cleaner from one tank to the next until it can support fish and snails and other more complex lifeforms.

The plants floating on top of the tanks are also part of the process with the roots serving as habitat for many different organisms, increasing enormously the active surface area for biological activity, breaking down more compounds into nutrients that feed the leaves, flowers, and fruits.

After passing through the greenhouse, the water is then returned to the canal through an artificial marsh, a floating canal restorer, that continues the process of biological digestion of hydrocarbon pollutants.  The marsh also takes water directly from the bottom filter in a separate cycle, cleaning it as it recirculates back into the canal.

it is the belief of the designer of this system, John Todd, that not only does this system clean the water it filters but that it also distributes micro-organisms that can help clean water downstream.  He suspects that if such a system were to operate over years, it would begin restoring the waters of the canal and the Blackstone River, a result of this experiment which began last year that he will be testing for soon.

John envisions a canal with a continuous band of floating restorers cleaning the contamination and pollution of over two centuries of industrial waste, returning the canal and the Blackstone River to pristine condition.  

John has completed projects similar to this before.  You can read about his Urban Municipal Canal Restorer in Fuzhou, China here [pdf alert]:

These are the ecological design principles John Todd uses in building his systems.  Every time I read them, I learn something new.

1.  Geological and mineral diversity must be present to evolve the biological responsiveness of rich soils.
2.  Nutrient reservoirs are essential to keep such essentials as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium available for the plants.
3.  Steep gradients between subcomponents must be engineered into the system to enable the biological elements to evolve rapidly to assist in the breakdown of toxic materials.
4.  High rates of exchange must be created by maximizing surface areas that house the bacteria that determine the metabolism of the system and facilitate treatment.
5. Periodic and random pulsed exchanges improve performance.  Just as random perturbations foster resilience in nature, in living technologies altering water flow creates self-organization in the system.
6.  Cellular design is the structural model as it is in nature where cells are the organizing unit.  Expansion of the system should also use a cellular model, as in increasing the number of tanks.
7.  A law of the minimum must be incorporated.  At least three ecosystems such as a marsh, a pond, and a terrestrial area are needed to perform the assigned function and maintain overall stability.
8. Microbial communities must be introduced periodically from the natural world to maintain diversity and facilitate evolutionary processes.
9.  Photosynthetic foundations are essential as oxygen-producing plants foster ecosystems that require less energy, aeration, and chemical management.
10.  Phylogenetic diversity must be encouraged as a range of aquatic animals from the unicellular to snails to fish are as essential to the evolution and self-maintenance of the system as the plants.
11.  Sequenced and repeated seedings are part of maintenance as a self-contained system cannot be isolated but must be interlinked through gaseous, nutrient, mineral, and biological pathways to the external environment.
12.  Ecological design should reflect the macrocosmos in the microcosmos, representing the natural world miniaturized and reflecting its proportions, as in terrestrial to oceanic and aquatic areas.

from _A Safe and Sustainable World:  The Promise of Ecological Design_ by Nancy Jack Todd
Washington:  Island Press, 2005
ISBN 1-55963-778-1

More information at
Todd Ecological
Clark University Living Systems Laboratory
CTI Micro-Reduction Technologies, LLC

By working with Nature, we can create miracles.

The pictures of the Fisherville Canal Restorer and Greenhouse were taken on a tour with the Ecological Landscaping Association ( on Tuesday, August 6. 2013.

The Next Industrial Revolution Is Ecological
Ecological Restoration:  Cleaning the Fisherville Mill Canal
Providential Experimentation
The Challenge of Appalachia:  Comprehensive Design for a Carbon Neutral World
From Coal to a Carbon Neutral World:  Ecological Design for Appalachia