The Future is Insight

The title of this blog works on many levels- it plays off of my belief in hybrids being a critical step towards our future, the fact that introspection and mindful planning are critical to our future, and that the future is literally in sight for those that are willing to see it. Here I chronicle my attempt to Be the Change I wish to see in the world-and to help make that Future a Reality.

Monday, December 10, 2007

One Straw Has MOVED~!!

Effective immediately, all future content from Beo/Rob will be posted on

Please adjust all favorites and links accordingly.

I look forward to continuing the journey with you on a different format!



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The Story of Stuff

Not sure if you have checked out the Story of Stuff videos yet, but I am thrilled with them. Accessible, compelling without being militant, and very well done. Here's a teaser.

What I am finding in my eco evangelism is that many people understand the need for recycling, energy efficiency, and habitat preservation. But they often do so in a piecemeal form, and lack the knowledge of how it all ties together to be able to Root Cause some solutions. The Natural Step and Permaculture are great ways to provide solutions, but many people are no where near ready for that level of detail yet.

I am more of a "do-er" than a marketer. I prefer to work on the solutions and let others work on marketing. And that is why I love videos like this, books like Omnivore's Dilemma, and movies like an Inconvenient Truth. They are laying a foundational awareness so that a critical mass of the population can be ready for change before it is too late.


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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Hoop House 12/8 Update

Fall is going out with a vengeance this year. With 8" of snow on the ground from 3 2"+ snow events since Thanksgiving on top of some bittery cold nights (Wed AM was -4 F), this is proving to be a fantastic year for learning's for the aspiring Four Season Gardener. At least that is how I am choosing to categorize my demolished radishes.

2 weeks ago I had added about 150 gallons of water buckets to the hoop house. I had two solid reasons for this. First the water line running from the owner's farm house would not be open forever and I wanted some water on hand, and second I was hoping to add a degree of thermal mass to the interior of the Hoop House to help mitigate the temperature swings. Saturday morning was not warm-only 4 degrees, but it was partly sunny for the first two hours after sunrise, before descending into the more typical overcast. I had not been to the house for 10 days and the fact that the door was frozen shut did not help my trepidation of what I would find.

Good news-the spinach, mache, and claytonia are all virtually unscathed. The Black Radish , which I was gambling to get to harvest size before the bitter cold, are a complete loss
, and the bok choy is wounded, but may recover. Despite exterior temps at 3 degrees, interior was a balmy 28. To better illustrate the weather that had done in the radishes, the 5 gallon buckets of water were frozen solid. Now my thermal mass was working in reverse... But even here I incurred a learning. In addition to the dozen buckets, I also had a large black plastic garbage can I had also filled with water. It too was frozen, but only an inch or so thick. I just need more mass in my thermal mass, and the black helped with solar gain. This bucket was also full of a bushel of Comfrey Cuttings that I was letting stew into a slow brewed compost tea (make that iced tea), once it thaws I will have a nice shot of nutrients for my seedlings. This is my first attempt at compost brewing, and I am looking forward to it!

Everything has its first set of true leaves, and the spinach and bok choy are going on #2. And a huge win is that the Deep Freeze has leveled the weeds that I had missed so it looks decent. This may be small comfort when I look up at the 1/16th inch coating of ice on the inside of the plastic, but I knew I would harvest more experience than greens this year anyhow.

Tomorrow I will bring out two of my home fab "cloches" from last years season extension attempt, and I will attempt to source 2 trailer loads of fresh manure to build a compost windrow over the deceased radish. The thought is that the hot compost will add a significant amount of nighttime Btu's to give the bok choy a chance.

I had hoped for a slower start to winter, but the wonderland that the kids get to play in makes up for it. This year is a great counterbalance to last years non-winter (06/07 didn't get cold until mid January-I took root cuttings on 12/28/06) that provides a good dose of reality to the unpredictability of nature that we are aggravating with Global Warming. My hope now has switched form fresh greens on Christmas to the First Salads of Spring as I seek to overwinter the mache and spinach!


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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Four Season Insight

I love my Honda Insight.  I love its minimalism.  I love its modern look.  I love the function over form engineering dripping from every aluminum widget.  And I love what it stands for: the first shot in the War for Sane Transportation.

What I do not love is driving it in Wisconsin Winters.  See, the original Bridgestones are still on the car.  They have 80k miles on them and will have enough tread to go another 50k at this
 rate.  They were specifically designed to be low rolling resistance, i.e. they are as hard as iron.  This makes them noisy, interesting in the rain, and downright unfun in snow.  They may have been fine new, but rubber compounds degrade over time and after 7 years mine have little grip left.  Last year during snows I would take our Forester to work, but now Sprout is in school and Mia needs it to take him in.  Though only one week of December is behind us we already have had 3 snows of over 2". Big Win for the aquifers, but my commute this time of year starts at 3:30am and roads are typically unplowed.  3 commutes with the only way to make a 90 degree turn consisted of grabbing the E-brake (every time) to swing the tail around once the front lost grip were enough to convince me I needed to do something or end up in a ditch-or worse.

Enter my new budget WinterForce snow tires.  You know you are a die hard hybrid driver when you mount knobby snow tires and think "my, these tires sure are quiet!".   Other than making my beloved Hybrid look like a Tonka Truck I am very impressed.   I did alot of reading about dedicated snow tires back when I was looking at rally racing my Evo 8 (yes I traded a modified 350 whp Evo 8 for a Honda Insight) and they were always billed as having surreal traction.  I must say that so far I am blown away by the difference!  

Case in point-today I went to visit the Hoop House north of town.  The property owner drives a Tacoma pickup and it wasn't until I entered his driveway that I remembered he doesn't plow.  The ruts were deep enough that I left a flat mark as the Insight's ground clearance was not sufficient, and then I ended up parking off the driveway in 8" deep snow covering the ice from last week's sleet storm.  After checking on the plants [The -4 degree night on Wed did the radishes in, but the beds are not frozen yet.  Outside air temp was 3 degrees, but despite it only being 9:30 am interior temp was already 28 degrees.  Spinach, mache, and claytonia are all small but fine!] I returned to the car and realized I was going to have to back up 250' or attempt a 3 point turn in the deep snow.  3 days ago I would spin all of 1st gear across plowed intersections, but despite cutting trail through deep snow I never spun a tire! 

I am sold: the Safety alone make it worth while.  Adding incredibly sticky tires has certainly hit my mileage... to the tune of about 10-15%.  But then again, the Forester gets 30 mpg on a good day, and with my "knobbies" on I was able to run errands today and still eked out 49 mpg.  I'll take it.



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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Gasifier Project: Pics

Here in no particular order are some of the shots from our Gasifier Project Yesterday:

Hank is an old timer who happens to live nearby and have enough machining tools in his shop to rebuild the USS Wisconsin if we had enough steel.  Look at the size of that lathe!  Hank forgot more over breakfast than MacGuyver ever knew.  You could give him a napkin drawing of a piece and he'd rummage through a pile of scrap, put it onto the lathe and turn it out 5 minutes later.  That the world will desperately need the Hank's of the world as we hit Peak which was a main reason I was on this work party.

Here Mike and Beth take a spin on the Band Saw.  And, yes, that is 3/16" iron plate that they are cutting a 14" circle out of.
We went slooooow, so we all still have our fingers.

 It seemed like every piece from the iron pipe, to the steel drum to the carriage bolts was modified.  I am still only half certain it was all necessary, or if we were just geeking out on all the tools!

Here our resident welder and innovator, Greg, is welding the cut plate to the 8" pipe for the combustion chamber/wood chip feeder.  Like our welding stand?  Yep, its a manhole cover.

Here is yours truly running the saber saw to modify the steel drum for the combustion chamber.  Most of the time I felt in the way due to my lack of knowledge of machining, so I jumped at every chance I could to use the tools I had experience with.  I learned alot!

Greg explaining the various parts, their end functions, and the various jobs needed to get them to their finished states.  After this we all grabbed some tools and split off to make sparks and smoke.

Mike is a retired engineer.  Which makes the fact that he used a nail, jute twine, and a pencil to draw our perfect circle all the cooler.  Keep it simple!

Mike again with our finalized ash basket (a stainless steel dog food dish with a hundred holes drilled into it) sizing it up for the bottom of the now welded combustion chamber.

As the day progressed I couldn't shake the reoccurring idea that I was living in an A-Team episode where they happen to get locked into a barn unattended while given enough time to weld steel plate onto a tractor to bust their way out.  "I love it when a plan comes together!"

With only about 6 hours (30 "man" hours) of work, and less than $100 in parts we are over half way finished with the first prototype.  Next steps are attaching the wood chip hopper (metal trash can) over the top of the barrel, and attaching a heat exchanger to cool the gas before it gets to our fan which will provide the vacuum until we can hook it up to an engine. Lots of little details left, but most of the Big Fabrication is done.  And to date no one has been seriously injured!  Can't wait to see it flare later this week!

The greatest part of it all is having 6 adults, some who barely knew each other, to give up a weekend to get together to try to make a difference.  It is these meetings, whether to weld up a gasifier, plan a community garden, or discuss Plan B 2.0 at the library that are happening all across our country and are paving the Road to a more Sustainable Future.

As the nights grow longer this month reach out and begin to build a community around yourself and start something.

Be the Change!

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Gasifier Project: Caution Men with Tools!

One of the fantastic spin off of our starting the Sustain Jefferson project is the ability to quickly network with other local Eco Freaks.  One net result is a group of us getting together to build 2 working gasifier prototypes-one to be mounted on a tractor for use and display at fair and markets, and with the learnings from that a larger one to be used to produce energy for a home.Gasification is a relatively well know alternative energy that takes virtually any carbon intensive  material (typically coal) and through a process of low oxygen burning produces "syngas" that can then be used to power a turbine or even an internal combustion engine.  Syngas is much, much, cleaner burning that petroleum or coal.  What we are most excited about is that you can also use plain old wood chips to produce Syngas and the gasifiers can be sized to fit even midsize (20 hp) tractors.  In fact virtaully every tractor in northern Europe ran on wood chip gasifiers during WWII.  But then we conveniently forgot the  technology as Cheap Oil took over.

The plans we are working off of and lot of history are available at GenGas.

Here are some of the shots from our 5 hour workshop fest.  Total out of pocket for the project will be under $100-though we had access to a complete machine shop at hanks house 
complete with bandsaws, welding torches, lathes, grinders several drill presses and about 400,000 drill bits.
Here is most of the group.  Left to Right: Mike, Hank, Dick, and Greg

I will get some more photos up soon!


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Friday, November 30, 2007

Growing Green Article

With the cooling of the weather I have christened advent of the Writing Season (comes after the Harvest Season and before Catalogue Season) with my first successful submission to Groovy Green.  Hope you enjoy it! 

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