Saturday, 14 November 2020

Journal 2020-11-14: One Battery unpicking the World

It definitely feels like the end of a season currently - the pumpkins and rockets of early November have yet to summon frosts, but the wind is starting to get chilly, and the rain has been fairly consistent. I've entered a period I think I might call "the Gathering of the Canes", that time when all the tomato plants and climbers have died back, and the bamboo sticks placed in the spring can be returned to storage. Frameworks for the summer, their task done for now.

Charging up has either been ineffective thanks to cloud cover, short-lived as the sun gets lower, or technically risky with overnight (heavy)rains kicking up mud, threatening my dodgy wooden shelters, and putting the panels' claims of being waterproof to the test. One of my batteries doesn't seem to want to hit "fully charged" like it used to. The giant battery didn't seem to even register that it was hooked up to a panel, even in decent sunlight. My phone seems to be chugging through charge of its own accord.

To be honest, I've been getting a bit anxious about running out lately. The dry, sunny days of the year are definitely over.

But that, in itself, is an opportunity. Things are easy when our patterns are adequately supplied - but when the tide shifts, we can be grateful that we have space to shift with it, and seize the moment to pay attention to these changes, be curious, experiment, and learn for next time.

I'm finding myself switching into this mode, and as I do so I pick up on new thoughts.

1. As well as gathering up canes and clearing up plants, the season is still that chance to think through clearing up apps, data, and general technology usage. Say goodbye to networks you don't need over winter. Put projects into storage. Throw out entire top-level directories.

With my phone tied to the sun, I've noticed more how it acts as a go-between to my wider technology - all the cloud services and third parties it interacts with and relies on, all the weak and strong ties to people round the world. That's the modern world, it seems, but I'm in a position where I can use the way I charge the battery in my hand as leverage to really think through global networks.

Electricity powers a device. The device powers our behaviour. Our behaviour powers society. Repeat, reverse, unpick that.

The other aspect I wanted to mention is about experimentation, but I'll save it for another time...

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Journal 2020-10-31: R(ain) & R(etreat)

Bit bleak for sunshine the last few weeks, as if the dry summer has suddenly remembered what the British weather is supposed to be like, and has spent a while catching up. Fortunately my medium-grey battery survived its overnight spell in a mini-storm, otherwise I'd be looking pretty low on juice.

As it is, and with life being pretty busy right now, I've reverted to 'the old ways' a fair bit. Phone's still good but my reader device lies fallow and I'm reading a lot of physical books currently. I've gone back to mains for the laptop though - just not enough opportunity at the moment to charge up the big travel battery.

But - as we approach the midpoint between equinox and solstice, it's a good time of year to take stock, start storing energy for the winter, and cut things back ready for the dark days. Some simple things you can do around this time are:

  • Hack back any phone apps, settings, files, and general usage patterns that you don't really need. Get rid of those games you haven't played in 6 months. Turn Location settings to 'battery saving' if you need them for COVID tracing apps. (I hear some countries have made the app mandatory now.) Give the screen a clean.
  • Stash any seeds from flower heads, fruits and herbs, ready for spring time. Make sure you decorate whatever you keep them in so they can feel proud.
  • Check through your cables for any duds - I spent 10 minutes with a USB checker and a battery, looking for low voltages and (mainly) loose connections. Use the same port on a USB battery each time for consistency, and give each cable a good wiggle to check if it cuts out - a few of mine got damaged when falling off roofs, for instance.


  • Spend some time among the changing weather - looking at it curiously from a window, standing outside breathing in the wind, or going for a walk to feel mud beneath your legs.

It's a beautiful time of year - every time I go outside there are yellow leaves carpeting the paths, and animals scurrying about looking to wrap up warm. The clouds are fast and bold here, riding on the chaotic winds belching out of the Atlantic.

Goodbye, summer.

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Journal 2020-10-24: Reviving Past (Battery) Lives

It's blowing in a mini-storm outside as I write this. Unexpected-but-expected, the yellow warning came into my phone after it had arrived. Horizontal rain for a while, looks like it'll be blustery through til morning. Usually I'd bring my panel and battery in for this sort of weather but... Well, we'll see in the morning I guess.

Today's win has been a battery replacement on a 20-year-old rechargeable battery/speaker/rumble pack for the original Nintendo Gameboy Advance. I have a strange urgency to make this device work after seeing them on eBay, but the first one I got only half-works and the second one came with a leaked battery. The packet was sealed, so it's just what time and chemicals do when they dance, I guess.

But I didn't want to give up. I mean, come on, a Gameboy with a rumble feature? What's not to love? I could easily have stuffed 2 huge rechargeable AAs into the main GBA case, but it was a good opportunity to learn about replacing old batteries and giving new life to past tech. A few easy screws held the case shut, and the 2 battery packs were stuck down with old glue.

After checking the current type (written on the side, fortunately), I ordered in some Ni-MH batteries to replace like-for-like. Then I learned rapidly that soldering onto batteries is actually pretty tricky - they're slippery and prone to exploding of they get to hot, apparently, so I didn't want to risk holding my cheap iron on them for too long.

Two batteries gave the correct voltage, and electrical tape held them together, and eventually I got some success, and could merrily play Super Mario Land for a good while, vibration feature responding to thumps in the audio as I jumped down pipes and over bullets.

It's not perfect - the solder has come loose again, so I want to use some salvaged metal plates and... more electrical tape. But it proves it works, and breathes a bit back into decent components.

Revive the old, cos there's plenty of it out there just waiting to be enjoyed still.

Friday, 9 October 2020

Sol Journal 2020-10-09

"Last day of summer" people keep saying. I'm not convinced. It's more like summer and autumn are tussling, a gargantuan back-and-forth in the skies surrounding our tiny island. Brown leaves whip around a pure white feather. Early evenings. The courgette flowers in the veg patch are having one last party, misshapen vegetables springing out under the broad, strong foliage put out in summer.

The days are changeable, tripping between horizontal downpours and chilled sunlight perfect for grazing. It's not too bad for solar harvesting, except I'm keeping an eye on the forecast - as the daylight hours get shorter and the shadows stretch out, it's useful to get as much of the rays as I can. I'm putting out all three sets of panels when the sun's good, and I'm reminded of the hundred rabbits recent account of sailing from Japan to Canada, and the extent to which they put their sail up and down. Panels harvesting the sun. Sails harvesting the wind. Is there a pattern that can be extrapolated there?

Anyway, I'm not leaving my panels out overnight currently, partly as the smaller ones are trickier to protect from the rain, partly I'm not too confident about leaving the big battery outside yet. Need to think through housing structures still. But for now, it means I get to walk up and down the garden, and can just about carry everything in one trip. I get to see the weeds growing and heck the last of the tomatoes and remind myself how it all works and twists at this time of year.

The evenings are darker though, and there's not much chance to go out, so it's tempting to sit inside and go through my backlog of games. Sadly that uses up more energy if I'm in the laptop, so I feel I'm still some way from actually running games off the solarpunk ideals yet.

Winter is coming, and our retreat to the brightness of screens feels strangely out of place, even though we all naturally crave a light in the dark.

Monday, 5 October 2020

Heavy Data: A Tale of Caution

A hard drive weighs the same no matter if it's empty of full. Unlike paper archives, a lifetime's worth of files can still fit in the same pocket as the day the drive, memory stick or CD was bought. It's this joyful conversion of information and data into magnetic states and electro-light that enables us to live in a hyperreal landscape, connected at the brains via invisible, full-speed tendrils.

Yet I want to coin a phrase for the solarpunk era: "Heavy Data".

I mean, everyone's heard of Big Data which sounds just as weird - big in terms of its plateau-sized server farms, perhaps, but ultimately its definition comes down to data which is larger than we can comprehend and process manually. Bigger than human.

Heavy data is similar, except in a different dimension. Heavy data has technical perspectives - in particular, in modern computing, more data requires more energy to keep indexed, more to synchronise, more to back-up. (This is something I'm feeling particularly as I write this, and my big battery is rapidly running out with the time it's taken to attempt a back-up, run out of space, delete some stuff, and try again.) Hitting real-world energy limits just because you have a large energy footprint is not desirable.

But then there's also the mental aspect. Where Big Data was bigger than human, Heavy Data is what slows you down as a person. Data that takes up too much cognitive space in your head because you need to remember what you have, what you've seen already, what needs sorting out. It can be short term like incoming RSS feeds. It can be long term, like all that music you've stored up - or even that's just available to you as a subscription service. It can 'live' and dynamic, like all those social media outlets you dig through on a daily basis. All taking up head space. All stopping you from moving on.

I write this with a keen sense of guilt, in recognition of the gigabytes of data sitting around on too many hard drives. An itchy corner of my brain wants to delete it all, start again. Yet every kilobyte ties in with some part of me, my hard drive is a museum of myself and to remove parts seems to remove either a memory of the past, or a dream for the future. My ambitions and my legacy, stored in a space that fits into my pocket.

Years ago, I played around with the idea of keeping everything - or notes, at least - on a small USB stick. I opted for a smaller capacity laptop, hoping it would force me to get rid of the stuff I didn't want. Technology is cheap though - it's too easy to just upgrade the USB stick, or find some network storage. The approach needs to be more rigourous and deep-rooted than that: a curation of content, in alignment with a chiselling and sculpturing of one's own self. The careful sifting of thoughts that occurs in meditation or ritual, for example, matched by the constant pruning of the material on our screens.

But again, how to get there? How to undo the decades of fibrous consumption piped into my electronic surroundings? Maybe directory-by-directory, a disk analysis window as my constant guide? Stop taking backups, and pray/dance/sacrifice something for an electrical storm?

All I know right now is that this backup is taking far longer than it should and my battery is running out. All my batteries are running out.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

A summer of battery and vegetables

Well it feels like a long time since last posting - much longer than it's actually been. Summer came and went, temperatures reached records, home working and home schooling have placed a few extra demands on life, but hey hey, I'm still here. 

I also haven't posted here much because the stuff I used to write about - cables, batteries, phone power management, etc - have largely been pretty robust. The larger, 60W solar panel from last year mean I haven't worried about running out much, and the balance between generating energy and using it has been fairly settled. Score! 

Some things have changed though. First up, I've been playing with the Allpowers 372Wh battery a bit more, and have been seeing how long I can run a laptop off it without having to plug into the mains. 

 

 

This feels like a nice 'step up' in terms of experimenting - I like using my phone for some things, but hate writing text on it, and I've decided I want to do more of my writing on a proper keyboard, but solar powered. But laptops often have a lot more energy overhead, so I already have to 'take that decision' to use extra power for a more comfortable writing experience. But also, just thinking through the purpose and efficiency of a laptop in general.

(The laptop is from Entroware, running Linux with some power-saving tools applied. I do also use it for some games, which is a whole separate post or two.)

Charging the big battery takes around 2 or 3 days of full sun to charge, so I'm working out a new routine - I want power available to the laptop when I need it, and the Allpowers can charge everything else, but I also want the option to charge my smaller batteries for more nomadicism when needed. I tend to charge the big one up if it's less than 50% full.

So that's been happening since about the start of June. I think I've plugged the laptop into the mains once in that time. Not bad.


 
 
The second thing happening is just more time outside in general. Working from home has meant being able to spend a bit more time looking after my meagre veg patch, and I've noticed more Permaculture ideas and posts seeping into my Beamspun newsletter.

This is actually quite exciting to me - exploring where our tech and energy comes from seems to sit very neatly alongside where our food comes from. In fact, both are just forms of energy, so in a way it makes no sense to separate them in the first place!

I haven't got any 'formal' ties between the two, other than the solar panels sit among the courgette plants, and there is a sense of ability to wander - to be able to use tech while among nature, rather than being detached from it. 

More soon.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

The Slow Path of Learning

Sometimes I feel like I'm making this little adventure harder for myself by figuring it all out on my own. A few books here and there, but I haven't been very active about actually taking to people and asking questions. So sometimes, simple things happen and I think "wow, I'm really stupid" and I have to remember that maybe actually that's just part of learning, and it takes time, but each time I think I'm stupid, it means I've just made that tiny bit of progress. 

Today's case in point is actually pretty exciting. Remember way back when I hinted at a new battery? I've been testing the power out to charge laptops since then, but didn't have a way to hook up my 60W cells to it - the input on the battery is an Anderson connector which is fairly common, but searching for info on it mostly just brings up connectors and cables for sale. 

I'd bought a cable to fit about a month ago, but it seemed like it was the wrong one - lining up the reds and blacks, it seemed I needed a female connector instead maybe. But nobody sold converters, like you might find with media cables. HOW ODD. I figured solar people just made their own cables. 

I ordered a separate DC-to-Anderson cable from the company I got the battery from, and they've been delayed and delayed due to coronavirus, apparently.

With the Sun out so much, I was afraid the new cable would arrive just as summer turned into storms. I woke up today figuring it was only wiring, that I could just strip the cable I had and re-crimp it somehow. Or order a new connector. I should definitely be able to make my own cables. 

Then I was browsing connectors and realised THERE ARE NO MALE/FEMALE CONNECTORS, they just flip over to pair up. Oh damn, I feel stupid. Part one. 

Giving this a go, this was true - the connectors connected, but the reds and blacks were all wrong. I tested DC polarity coming from the panel instead of just plugging it in to see if it works (I'm glad I read that multimeter book now). Yup, not what I need. Maybe I could pull the connector apart and rewire it? 

IT TURNS OUT ANDERSON CONNECTORS COME APART. I feel stupid again. Part two. 




Look at that. How clever. Cleverer than me, possibly. They just slide right off each other and slot back together again, like a toy. 

So switch them over, hook them up, and woop, 18-20W being registered on the battery. 



The moral of the story is not to worry, whatever you're learning to do. It feels like information and forums are so ubiquitous, and that there are so many knowledgable people in the world right now. That's a lot of pressure to "know things straight away". 

Yet you can't jump ahead. Learning takes time, and experimenting, and a bit of reading, and some talking and asking and bluffing, and lots and lots of sleep. 

If you're really interested in what your doing, then you'll know you're in it for many years - a lifetime, even. If something takes a few months to figure out, then that's nothing. 

There's always a Grand Scheme of Things to be in. 



Friday, 8 May 2020

Solarpunk / Taopunk Values, big and small

Jaimie gives a little tour of his islands:



However, what I really like about this is not what Jaimie directly gets up to on video, but the way his attitude mirrors mine. Leave the house, check on the growing things, clear the weeds, take in the sounds of nature: These can all be done on an island scale, on a garden scale, or even within a room, if you're in the right mindset. What is this mindset? How can it be summed up? I think it comes down to a handful of values:
  • Resourcefulness: Understand what's at your disposal, and use it if you can (but don't over-use it)

  • Seeding and Nurturing: You can be responsible for helping things grow. In turn, the things that grow will look after you.

  • Appreciation: You will not always have everything, but can survive on very little. Anything extra is a luxury.
Perhaps this is all we need.

And maybe I should do a little garden video?

Saturday, 2 May 2020

All the windows run off battery power



Strange solarpunk/indieweb interaction side-effects: Turns out a lot of device syncing software  is background-based, and can often turn itself off until the device is in 'full battery' mode.

So if you're used to running in Battery Saver mode like me, adding in a 'sync window' when you're chanrging up needs to go on the list, alongside the existing 'backup window' and 'software upgrade window'.

Things getting complex.

(tech note: Trying out syncthing currently, amongst many others.)

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Testing conditions

Been non-stop sunshine recently. So guess which day the cable arrives to charge up the new battery, of course... 


🙄

Saturday, 18 April 2020

New separate site for link round-ups

ICYMI, I'm now sending out a weekly link round-up over at new site Beamspun, to keep it separate from my general ongoing experiments.

Email and RSS options available. Link suggestions welcome.

Friday, 17 April 2020

Reading material

Absorbing some helpful information courtesy of a recent charity bookshop find, while waiting for some cables to arrive. 




Seems good so far, at the right level I want, with early chapters going into traditional heating / cooling techniques, basic physics, and moving onto more passive approaches. It's from 2007 and mostly US-centric, but I figure things won't change toooo much across time and space, at the scales I'm thinking about 😀

It has, though, got me thinking about what the thermal inertia is like of Max's room in "Where The Wild Things Are"... 




Check out those trees. 



Sunday, 12 April 2020

Sunday Sol Set

As mentioned previously, I've been wanting to bring together some solarpunk links somehow, so I figured I'd just start out and see what happens. Right now, every time I wake up, it feels there is some sort of layer-on-layer parallax-scrolling-style weight of doom running past the window. Everyone seems to be waiting for the world to either sort itself out, or end us in the next few years. And honestly, I gave up that sort of pessimism years ago, back when I realised that if you look into the abyss, you'll end up there in pretty short time.

So let's turn this around and get on with whatever the fyck needs doing. We live in a time of massive change and upheaval, and if this isn't a solarpunk opportunity handed to us on a plate, then what is? And on a yang-pagan-christian-ritual note, Easter Sunday just felt like a perfect day to bring new energy into the world. Take your symbols seriously.

Some quick house rules: Format may change drastically in future. Timing may be weekly, fortnightly or monthly, TBD. Feedback and chatter welcome! - scroll down for contact deets, but I also get final say over what links make it in. Subscribe via RSS or email on the original blogger page, but a proper newsletter might turn up one day.

As this is a first, experimental, effort, the links below are a mix of my own bookmarks, things which have inspired me, and posts on Twitter and Reddit which piqued my curiosity.

Otherwise, enjoy...


Updates



 

Ideas

 

Sol food

Ribbons strung between trees, over a stream in green woods


Research

 

Resources

 

Get in touch


For any feedback, suggestions, comments, or general 'hi there' type stuff, leave a comment, or you can find me hanging out in any of these places:
More options, including email are over at my contact page.

Fun fact: This post should auto-publish the minute the sun comes up over my home town.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

1 year later...



Badoom. The sun is reminding us it's the Lord of Easter right now. 20 degrees C outside like something out of early June, even though April fools' day has only just passed, and the equinox is in recent memory despite the world going into shutdown. Solarpunk is about more than just battery technology - it's a reminder that we are intrinsically tied to the our weather, that we come from sunshine, that the gradual tick of the year is the difference between life and death. Solarpunk is about gaia, wu wei, paganism, animism, wicca, and everything else that ties us to the sky, to the roots in the ground, to the green of the leaves.

It's too warm out there for this time of the year, but the bumblebees are fat, and the apple blossom has revealed its pink. My seedlings have turned from whispers to voices over the last few days, and the ants are back.


With the rising of life comes a fresh renewal. The current experiment in running of solar power has now come full circle, one whole year. I feel like celebrating! And yet, the world does seem like a time or place for celebration at the moment. Nevertheless, this means we should celebrate our own victories and successes all the more, to maintain our sense of thriving humanity. Hurrah! Huzzah!

The more permanent home has proven its worth, even now that I'm confined to the house, and can more easily swap over batteries. I've been running at full capacity for the last few weeks, and the only slight issues have been some ants in my DC port, oo-er, and my phone playing up with charging a little bit. Hopefully they'll both just fix themselves...

I'm turning to the future now, as the current setup seems pretty stable. There are some things I want to do next:

1. Power something new. OK, I'm going to admit it - I celebrated by indulging investing in a rather large 372Wh power tank. I figured, rather than just add more 'little' battery capacity, it was time to take it up a notch. I have enough running off straight USB power for my little life (see my current kit), and there are things I do which don't fit in yet. I"m not quite decided - maybe power a laptop, or try to power my photography, or even try to transfer the Raspberry Pi that hosts my tt-rss and wallabag efforts, to tie in with some ongoing thoughts on intermittent networks.

I'm going to spend time testing the new gizmo, and need an adapter cable to charge it, so I'll come back to that in due course. Expect a quick review soon though, once I have it running properly. Here's a sneakly peek though:


HELLO indeed.

2. Do more around solarpunk.  Start posting more links. Maybe start a newsletter. I think the world is ready, and while there's some good stuff out there, I'd like to share it with people, keep the movement alive, inspire ideas and discussion, etc etc etc. Expect more links here to start with, maybe a weekly round-up. Then we'll see where it goes - life has too many plans and too much uncertainty at the moment.

So plans plans plans. This is doable. We can do this. The Sun's out, and even now, it's hard not to smile.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

11 Months, Going on 3 Years




1st of March. White rabbits white rabbits white rabbits. A tickling of spring traditionally, but the year is 2020 and the season brings "the Allweather" - wind/rain/hail/blue-skies have all been gushing in over the last weekend. 

I'm a month off going through a whole year, and the Allweather is giving my solar panels a good test to celebrate. I've left them out in much of the rain and hail, propped up by a couple of wooden planks and grim hope for the future. Mostly when some sunshine is forecast, but hiding them away if not, or if the weather looks too fierce. 

It's odd, knowing there's this direct connection, the joining-at-the-hips between batteries, communications, electronics, and weather, all the way up to the planet's forces changing around us. Around me. 

I'm feeling an increased awareness, that this way of life - consumption, convenience, comfort - cannot last. Aiming for these as our middle class values will get harder and harder, will start breaking us down as we are denied the things we think we've earned. I feel like this year, this is the edge of the tipping point. Everything will be different by March 1st 2022 (yes, 2 years, 2 more cycles for us to learn the new contexts). 

But... Different for whom? For me? For my circles? My family? My town? My country? 

Friday, 7 February 2020

A handbook for floating solar arrays

A Floating Solar industrial handbook launched - see the full PDF.

Probably more of academic interest if you're not into larger scale stuff, but interesting for things like its assessment of sites:



Simple frameworks like that can be really helpful at a small and individual scale too, and are great for getting new people on board. I've been thinking about doing something like this for USB-centric solar power which, despite its deliberately small scale, still has its challenges and contexts to consider.