Archive for March, 2010
Treehugger has a cool concept from a green design challenge. It’s a clip on shed for apartments; although I prefer the term one of the comments used, “Parasitic Architechture.” I have to say it’s a great idea, I just posted on my own desire for the same thing.
Those of us lucky enough to have yards can consider a garden shed as way of getting a little more space. But what about those in apartments and condominiums? They don’t have basements or spare rooms or space for a shed.
The Plant Room solves this problem. It is a “a prefabricated room that bolts-on to a variety of existing apartment types, improving the quality of living, reducing energy and water use, and generally making the building more sustainable.”
I still like my idea more: It’s not a concept. The price is so affordable anybody can do it. It doesn’t violate any building codes. Somebody can make their own over the weekend.
But a clip on shed is still a cool idea. If properly built it could allow for some extra features, although it seems like it requires alot of materials to create a small area. I like using a handful of easy access materials to make better use of existing space and resources.
Wozniak in a recent interview:
Woz: By the way, I solved the problem of battery life and [the lack of] multitasking on the iPhone.
Woz: Yeah. I just have two iPhones, so if the battery runs down on the first one, I can use the other. And if I’m talking on one, I can use the other one to look something up. You would not believe how much use I get out of that.
That’s not really solving the multitasking problem. If this was anybody else I’m think it was a joke and they were making fun of the fact that the iPhone is only half capable. As it is I think he’s partially joking anyway but it still highlights an unsolved problem.
Not all of us want to carry two phones with their own service plans to solve the problem multitasking. AT&T even made one of their lame commercials making fun of that. As out of touch as they are, if even they think it’s a joke then it’s probably pretty bad.
My phone is 2 years old now but I’ve already solved Wozniak’s problem with one device. First off I didn’t get an iPhone. Second I got a bluetooth headset so I can talk while I hold the phone in my hands and make notes.
…Relax, I’m not a douche that wears the headset all the time. I only pull it out of my pocket to answer phone calls. Kind of like most people do with a regular phone only I don’t have to hold a brick to the side of my head.
Wozniak says he’s getting two iPads as well; not sure if that’s also to solve a multitasking issue.
You can tell from the title I’m not getting one and don’t really care when it comes out. Still a funny flowchart for it.
The basic idea of using hydroponics instead of a pot of soil you can maximize the growing potential of a small space. It’s a myth that growing with hydroponics is better than soil; it’s more accurate that hydroponics grow as well as the perfect soil culture, and often in a smaller area or with denser plantings. You MAY get just as much from 20 pots on your balcony, but why not be sure you get the best growth and save a little floor space in the process?
The drawback is that it’s not as simple as pouring dirt in a pot, adding a plant and watering daily. A hydroponic system needs a bit of forethought and planning. Luckily it’s easier than it first looks, and using commonly available components for your local hardware store it’s not as expensive as one might think.
I really wanted this to fit the typical urban living space so the idea I came up with was a long narrow growing area; 8ft long, and about 1 foot wide. Since most apartments have another apartment overhead there would be a place to dangle supporting wires to clip the growing plants to as they got bigger. That way you wouldn’t have to worry about wind knocking the plants over or the narrow hydroponic trays having to support the plants. I also decided that by splitting the system into two halves you can adjust the footprint from 8×1ft, to 4×2ft and have some flexibility in the configuration (like bending it around a corner, 4ft per side).
Last year I tested out the basic idea, seeing if an NFT setup would even work outside in a non-greenhouse setting. It worked and was spectacular, outperforming the regular soil garden many times over. The main lessons I learned is that external plant support is a must, plants “drink” more water out in the heat, and even though soil-borne pests are eliminated it can be harder to manage pests that can climb easily (no slugs or snails but earwigs were awful).
So this year I’m making the “production” model of the 8×1ft hydroponic garden. I’m going to try tracking resource usage a bit closer; I tracked electricity usage last year but water was just estimated. Electricity usage was quite minor (only $30 for all summer), less than leaving a porch light on at night. Water usage was MUCH less than a traditional garden. In fact Lifehacker linked how to make a window garden; the comment “…let’s mother nature take care of the feeding and watering.” really caught my eye. Obviously these people don’t live in the western US, if you want fruit bearing plants you have to add massive amounts of water here. Which isn’t good because we’re already technically a desert, we’re told to conserve all that water so it can go downstream to California so they can grow produce there, or to Las Vegas to be used in the Belagio fountains.
Hydroponics simply means using water to add nutrients rather than soil, there are many different methods to actually carry that out. However with size being an issue the best solution in my eyes was the “Nutrient Film Technique”. DIY guides has some excellent articles on this and other hydroponic methods.
The way NFT hydroponics works is by running a small amount of nutrient solution over the roots, allowing oxygen to still reach the roots rather than complete immersion.
Contrary to what many believe the roots of a plant also need to breathe just as much as the leaves. In fact the more moist air around the roots the better. Some hydroponic systems completely immerse plant roots in water but use air bubblers to introduce oxygen to the nutrient solution so the roots don’t suffocate. Aeroponics takes this to the extreme by spraying the nutrient solution into the air as a mist to maximize the roots ability to absorb water, nutrients, and oxygen.
Our NFT method will run nutrient over the roots for 15 minutes, then shut off for 15; a more ideal ratio would be 5 minutes on, 10 minutes off, but getting a more specialize timer costs more (maybe later). The idea is that fresh nutrient is sprayed on the roots then given a chance to be absorbed along with oxygen from the air. The risk is that if the roots dry up the plant dies. The closed nature of our setup will allow some lag time if the power goes out, or a sprayer gets clogged but be aware that on a hot day if you lose power for 12 hours you may lose plants if you don’t water them. You’ll also want to check the plants once a day, if there is improper filtering and debris clogs a sprayer you’ll notice the plant looking wilted.
The cool thing about NFT hydroponics is that it’s very easy to scale up the size and capacity of your system. Many commercial hydroponics users make use of this to create huge deployments with the same basic equipment we’ll be using.
Also the system is a closed system, in that virtually nothing gets in or out including light, keeping things as dark as possible reduces algae buildup in the system. Properly sealed there will be little to no evaporation of water, and very little water or debris will get in (but some always does). So everything is used by the plants, if there is excess it runs back into the system and is used again. Again this means that you do have to keep an eye on things. It’s amazing how much water plants will drink up and evaporate off their leaves on a hot day.
I found that topping of the water supply needed to be done about 3 times every 2 weeks on average. On hot weeks water needed to be added about every 3 days. Nutrient are only absorbed as needed so as water levels fall the nutrient solution gets more concentrated, but so long as more water is added it should never be too much of a problem.
About every 2-3 weeks it’s good to dump the nutrient solution and mix up some more. Since nutrient solution is just a very diluted fertilizer (and most the nutrient is absorbed by the plants when you change it) you can dump in any growing soil area, it will just help the plants there. Use it to water your potted plants, pour it out on the grass, in your soil garden, or in flower planters by your door. Avoid dumping it directly in the water supply down a drain; even though the fertilizer in it is negligible the ocean doesn’t need any help with all the crop runoff there already is.
Building the system
Last year’s test was a bit unwieldy. With apartment dwellers in mind I want this one to be small and manageable. I started by getting a8 foot long 4” diameter vinyl fencepost from the local home and garden shop. Then cut it in half.
I just used a simple hacksaw and it was done in about 3 minutes. I marked straight lines but the bit at the top wasn’t perfectly straight, nor does it need to be. When the caps finally go on we’ll put plumbers putty on the seam and it will fill any imperfections.
Some quick work with a file to get rid of the burrs.
Now it’s time to mark where the planting stations will go. I used the complex method of scribbling on the back of an envelope to plan the positions. As an experiment I’m putting 4 plants on one section and 5 on the other. They start 4” from the end of the tube, and stop 7” short of the hole drilled for access to the drain. The hole for the drain is 3” from the other end of the tube. This is to give enough distance from the last plant so that it’s roots won’t clog up the drain. As you can see in this shot of last year’s system the root systems will fill up the tube quite alot.
Once you know the correct distances between holes mark them along a measuring tape along the length of the tube. Then mark the center point horizontally for each position. Measure twice, cut once.
To drill the hole I just used a 3” hole drill bit from the hardware store. However using it with a handheld drill is a bit tricky. Make sure the fence post is properly secured and you have a very firm grip on the drill. Start slow. After the sawtooth part of the hole saw has started into the post you can speed up the drill. Don’t apply much pressure, just let the teeth slowly cut their way in. Once the first few teeth cut all the way through the drill will try to wrench itself out of your hand so be VERY CAUTIOUS!!!!
It’s better to damage and replace the post or the drill than to slice, gouge, or destroy part of your body.
If this seems a bit out of hand for you don’t be afraid to give up and have a professional with a drill press do it for you.
All sites drilled. On the far right are the drain access holes. Notice the spacing to fit 5 planters on one and 4 on the other.
Here’s the netpot in the hole after drilling and de-burring with a file.
Clearance is pretty good.
Just like the planting locations the holes for the feeder lines need to be positioned correctly so they will spray into the planters. So figure out where the holes in the feeder lines will be then drill corresponding holes in the vinyl tube a couple inches down so they don’t overlap.
The hole in the feeder will be two inches to the right of the dot marking the mounting hole in the vinyl so it will spray onto the rear of the netpot, drip down, and flow to the drain (to the left in thie shot).
The hole is as wide as the zip tie but smaller than the head of the zip tie, so it goes in the hole, around the feeder line, back out the same hole, then through the head of the zip tie. This way you can pull it tight and not worry about drilling two holes.
Finished mounting the feeder lines. This tube has two feeder lines as an experiment but last year worked fine with one. The higher line on the right will spray onto the netpot to keep it wet. The lower line on the right is positioned to spray directly onto the roots “upstream” of the netpots.
And what the feeder lines look like on the inside.
This trumps my “Geeks attend electronics conventions, Nerds attend Star Trek conventions.” definition of geek and nerd.
I just started throwing together this year’s hydroponic garden. Last year was a test to see if I could even do it. It was so successful that this year I’m going all out, fully documenting it and showing exactly what’s involved.
I realize there is a lot to go over so I will break this into three main parts:
Why, What, and How.
First today I’ll break down the Why I’m doing this and why I think it will appeal to others, next I’ll show exactly what I’m making and what it takes to get it done, then finally over the summer I’ll post updates on how to do it and how it’s all going.
I’ve always had a general interest in hydroponics; it’s just an interesting science to grow plants without needing a big open piece of land to put them. And growing up in an arid climate it was even more amazing that not only did it only use water, but it used less water than traditional gardening. This month’s National Geographic Magazine is dedicated to the limited resource of fresh water; while studying at University my geological professor (and the state’s scientific adviser to geologic water issues) pressed upon us the importance of fresh water, and the fact that it’s already in greater scarcity than oil (run out of oil no cars, run out of water, no food or drink). Although the only people feeling the pressure now are farmers if the Geographic is right you and me will see stresses all too soon.
The second interest of mine is in general gardening itself. I grew up in the suburbs and my family had a decent garden in the backyard, some years it was a great source of vegetables, others it was a giant neglected patch of weeds. One thing that the family always agreed on was that it was much more satisfying when we had a nice garden going full of plants.
There’s just something about growing things that appeals to people, whether it’s your own home garden or just a tiny plant brightening up your cubicle in the office. I think the appeal is that you made something live; maybe one part god complex of sustaining life, and another part knowing that for whatever negative impact you’ve had at least there’s something that you’ve made a little greener and a little more alive. Being surrounded by growth and life at your own hand is a very satisfying thing.
There’s also the appeal of creating something useful from the empty dirt. While growing flowers is nice it’s especially nice to grow vegetables that you can eat yourself. And the effect of making virtually free food isn’t imaginary. JD Roth and his wife over at Get Rich Slowly always document their garden and quantify it into actual money saved by having his own fresh vegetables and not buying imported stuff from the store. This effect is such a big deal that there is a term for it, a “Victory Garden”. Coined during World War 2 a victory garden was encouraged by the government as a way to help the war effort. By converting your yard into a garden you could supply your own vegetables and fruit, thus commercial produce could be shipped to the troops fighting overseas. Check this old war era government PSA, 20min so I won’t embed it. These days the reasons are more conservational and economic but the idea remains the same.
Home gardening is all nice but for anybody living in the city it’s just a dream, and with housing prices constantly getting further out of reach less of us have the ability to get the house in the ‘burbs with the white picket fence and room for a victory garden. In a world of concrete and asphalt there isn’t space to put a garden to augment your groceries. A few lucky communities may be able to convert rooftop space or setup a community garden in an abandoned lot. But all it takes is some quick rezoning or a jerkhole landlord to end it all.
I came up with the solution while in Japan. I was walking past a large apartment complex and looked up wondering how anybody could make use of the tiny balcony space each apartment had. Some people had set out chairs to sit and look out at the city after work, some had equipment for outdoor cooking, many used it simply to store junk. But one apartment had filled every square inch with plants. There were easily 20 large potted plants in an 8×3ft area creating a tiny bright green forest in the middle of a wall of concrete. And as a nice side benefit the plants blocked the view into their apartment and kept the hot summer sun from streaming into their window.
I thought what greater way to make the most of the small space given than to turn it into something pleasant and less sterile than the rest of the city. While thinking of how many pots it would take to create a green barrier between your home and the rest of the city I thought of the hydroponic setups I’d seen. It would be perfect, a small self-watering system that didn’t need any soil and made use of the fact that you didn’t need a large flat space to work.
Now the idea isn’t really that new, others have done similar things before. But almost everything I’ve seen is small and not productive enough to be of any interest to me. Either the system is a tiny window full of plants no bigger than a foot, or it’s simply a potted plant like Ficus that is self watering. I want a “Pocket Victory Garden” that will grow me vegetables at a rate that I can actually plan more than one meal a month with my produce.
I had a decent knowledge of hydroponic methods so I figured what would work best in the small narrow space of an apartment balcony. After all you still need to be able to go out on the balcony to harvest and monitor the plants. Even better if the garden grew vertical to create a green summer sunshade while you relaxed in a chair on the balcony with a nice cool drink.
I figured the best method is a Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) hydroponic setup. Not only did it look coolest and fit most closely with what people picture as hydroponic but except for the nutrient reservoir nothing is wider than 4-5 inches. The plants will be wider than the growing area. So you can save as much floor space as possible while still having a nice little garden to call your own and even provide you with some fresh home grown ingredients to go with your home cooking.
Although it’s the German version It seems my opinion of punk music is closely related enough to Street Dogs and Last.fm that Bing’s algorithms tie the pages together.
I frankly find this hard to believe (I’m awesome but not that awesome) and suspect that Bing must have some tracker cookie influencing their results to make them a bit more customized to the place I goto. But even if THAT is true it’s still amazing that Bing could make such an amazing connection.
Still maybe I am influential enough that I’m front page news for Bing’s search.
I’m interested to see “what the future holds for publishing”, as tech commentators would say. I’m horribly afraid Mosspuppet will be right.
@victorchamp According to publishers, the iPad will revolutionize magazines by turning them into websites, or CD-ROMs from the 90’s.
Bored at work. Late shift sucks.
Just finished all The Mighty Boosh episodes. It’s a surreal British comedy skit show for US readers who are unfamiliar.
I need a Tony Harrison sound bite to play with I read tech articles.
“This is an outrage!”
Watch it when you get the chance.
How come HDTVs aren’t smart enough to auto crop themselves to the right size? Nearly every TV I see has problems with adjusting to the correct screen resolution to fit the current program or commercial.
Obviously the problem comes from the fact that some programming is in 4:3 (standard) and some is in 16:9 (widescreen). Old programming will always be 4:3 even if everybody gets widescreens, but as long as the height is the same this isn’t a problem there will just be black on the left and right of the image like vertical letterboxing. The problem is when widescreen programming is converted to 4:3 then played on a 16:9 screen; usually some local station is still doing this to appease people who don’t have widescreen TVs yet. Now you have letterboxing all around.
These days TVs should be able to recognize that 40% of the screen is black and zoom into the screen at the center.
Instead they have the option to “zoom” on the remote. This is nice but the cropping always happens in the same place so even the simplest software would recognize it. It seems that it should do this on the fly for you and the zoom button should just be the option to turn it off if it’s malfunctioning.
Some TVs have this auto crop feature but the dang thing never works so you’re always left to zoom anyway. This is probably because the black regions have slightly different levels of contrast but why not put a slider where you can adjust the sensitivity of black detection. Again even the simplest software can tell the difference between pixels that stay the same level of 95% black for the whole program and moving active color pixels.
Somebody at NASA is freaking awesome.
They’ve made up these authentic NASA mission posters for various missions. Some are pretty average but others look like they belong as movie posters for a Hollywood Summer blockbuster.
It’s good to know that NASA isn’t the stuffy government organization that many assume and that beyond expanding human understanding they know how to have some fun (and are pretty good at photoshop).
Thanks to Gizmodo for the link.
Wow usually I’m just blogging on things that I’ve read at other places, this is news I actually discovered on my own!!
It stems from the fact that I always go through a certain process to prep my new music to be added to my music library. I did a full write up on the process at last.fm a few years ago; one of these day’s I’ll copy and upload it here. Basically I tag using Musicbrainz to get the right album, track, and artist tags. Then move it into a holding folder where I listen to it, put an appropriate genre and sub-genre, and a rating.
The problem is that when you edit the ID3 information in WMP12 it rewrites the ID3 header and corrupts all the non-standard ID3 tags on the MP3.
The metadata for MP3s are held in an ID3 header that is slapped onto the front of the file. All the artist, track, and album names are contained in here, including album art files if you want them. In addition to the standard ID3 tags there is the ability for third party companies to append their own tags into the system. Many programs put their own data in these non-standard tags, sometimes to put their own unique identifier tags on the file or with some they can actually put data that can be read by a player to dynamically change the songs as its played (typical with programs that change the track gain).
However many programs abuse the ID3 header. The worst I encountered was an expensive piece of DJ software that calculated the Beats Per Minute and put this info into the header so their software could quickly synch tracks. The problems is that it bullied the other tags, removing them and replacing all data with its own as if it were the only music player you’d ever need.
Luckily after corrupting my whole music library I was able to reload from a backup then get my money refunded for their bogus software. That also lead to my current methods of tagging and storing music; when you have over 40k songs all individually tagged and rated over the last 13 years you don’t want all that info wiped out by a poorly designed piece of software.
All through WMP9 to 11 there was no problem with the way Windows deals with ID3 tags. If you made a change to a tag it would edit just that tag and leave everybody else’s tags alone. But something changed with the new WMP version that is included in Windows 7 x64 (probably x32 as well).
Because now simply adding a rating in Windows Media Player in Windows 7 will screw up all the non-standard tags for the file, in my case erasing the Musicbrainz unique identifier code so it’s a pain in the ass to update tags later down the line.
I used MP3Tag to view the ID3 tags. The happens for ANY ID3 change, it doesn’t matter if you change the rating or the track name which is a standard ID3 field.
After some back and forth with Microsoft support I was told that this is a known issue and that hopefully if will be fixed in the future (I’m not holding my breath). And as Microsoft is promoting it’s Zune player and Media Center more heavily I don’t think WMP will be much of a priority. Too bad too, because I really like Windows Media Player better than iTunes, WinAmp, and foobar.
And finally to rub salt into the wound Musicbrainz currently has a bug where it erases all ID3 tags when it writes its own regardless of it’s setting to disable “erase existing tags”. Musicbrainz caught and reported the bug a year ago but new revisions come about as often as Windows media Player is updated. So you can’t work around the problem by doing one before the other. If you tag in Musicbrainz the WMP rating is gone. If you put a rating in WMP then the Musicbrainz UID is gone.
Hopefully one or the other bugs will soon be fixed and the problem eliminated but if you make any tag changes in Windows Media Player be aware that and special third party applications that use customer tags may have their data lost.
Update: Link to Musicbrainz bug report added. Thanks for the reminder!
This old ad I saw from Wired Reread reminded me of a recent discovery I made.
I found out that the really nice Technology Park I work at used to be WordPerfect Headquarters.
Old timers know the significance but new computer users may not. WordPerfect was the killer app to have on an IBM PC computer back in the 80’s and 90’s. Along with Quattro Pro they made up the dominant office applications that made a PC worth owning (besides SkiFree).
However the 800lb gorilla, Microsoft, bundled a group of office programs in a suite that had limited interoperability between them. While initially an inferior product the simple interaction between word docs and spreadsheets was too powerful of a feature and WordPerfect and Quattro Pro fell before the Microsoft Juggernaut.
Today the owners of WP spend their immense wealth on a giant arboretum/garden/golf course at the north end of Utah Valley. The office park was sold and now the building are leased out to other tech companies. AT&T where I’m soon to be unemployed, Omniture which was recently acquired by Adobe, Bungee Labs, Intuit, Open Solutions, Orange Soda, and some other startups.
From a tech history perspective it’s kind of amazing being among the “ruins” of a company that ran a virtual monopoly on the tech landscape in the heyday of the PC.
Imagine working at 1 Infinite Loop Cupertino 20 years in the future at the GoogleSkynet building, data-mining personal information to fuel the US-China Ad War, and spending your lunch break reminiscing about when people here were so worked up over a phone that could surf the internet.
In today’s high-paced tech world nobody can remember back 3 years let alone 20-30 years. But it’s good to remind yourself from time to time that the latest tablet craze, or Google’s latest move into *blank* technology is just a passing moment that will be forgotten in less than half a generation. And in the future people will look back amused at us just like we do when we think back to a day when a simple word-processing application would be the main reason people got desktop computers.
Well the fun’s over, Windows
Mobile Phone 7 is officially off my list for a future phone.
Basically it’s been confirmed that it won’t have copy and paste or multitasking.
I mentioned a a previous article that my biggest fear was that Microsoft would try so hard to copy the iPhone that they’d copy all the worst parts of the iPhone and that seems to be the way it’s going. Even having a slick new Zune inspired interface can’t save a phone that doesn’t have basic functionality. It’s why I hate the iPhone and I’m definitely not going to change my tune just because it’s Microsoft that is now screwing itself over.
The ironic thing is that I’ve been bagging on iPhone for lack of copy/paste and multitasking since day one. It took 3 years to get C/P and is rumored to get Multitasking now in it’s 4th year. All the whole WinMo had been rocking all that since about 2001.
Now Microsoft is regressing and backing to a state of suck that even the iPhone had finally cleared.
Oh well, there’s still hope for Android. And Windows Mobile 6.5 could probably live in the HD2 for a couple years before being completely outdated.
And there’s the slim hope that something may change. Either MS will realize it’s errors, or the rumor of a second business phone OS will materialize (or fix WinMo 6.X).
No not that one. Although…
I’ve been looking for a new smartphone and I can’t deny the Nexus One looks sweet. Now Google says that they’ve got a new model that will run on AT&T’s 3G network (before it was just 2G).
I’m really more interested in the most recent Android build and would prefer it in a keyboard slider phone but a Nexus would be cool too. However as of now I’m still waiting until the Dell Mini 5 “Streak” comes out so I can see what it’s like in hand. If I can stand the size I might prefer that for my new Android phone.
Also I may stay with Windows Mobile, the new info coming from MIX about the WinMo 7 looks cool but I still like the open-ness of 6.5. So the HD2 and possibly TouchPro 3 may be my new phone.
Cool that the Nexus is in play but I’m still on the fence.