Posts from — February 2007

Yurt-a-go-go
by NICK ROSEN on FEBRUARY 28, 2007 - 1 Comment in MOBILE

A real Mongolian Yurt
A real Mongolian yurt

Living in a yurt, in the countryside, rent free? Nothing more than a daydream surely, writes Dan Grace in an article first published in the Idler magazine www.idler.co.uk.

Its the kind of thought that surfaces in those little periods of inaction that constitutes the majority of the working day. An easily dismissed Walter Mitty-esque fantasy of a life far removed from my own, working in London, still living with my dad, on the other side of the country from my girlfriend, Ruth, and thoroughly fed up with it all. Or so I thought (more…)

Ssstay connected
by ELENA on FEBRUARY 23, 2007 - 3 Comments in OFF-GRID 101, PEOPLE


Beam me up, Ssscotty

What are the choices for off-grid telephony? This article runs through the available options and recommends Spread Spectrum Signalling (SSS).

Imagine the scene you’ve finally gone off-grid, your cosy hut is nestled somewhere rural and beautiful, and you feel really cut off from everything, in a good way. You’ve got the solar panels, a wind turbine and a non-flush toilet, but you haven’t really thought about your communications, have you? You can still have a phone , right? (more…)

Putting the free into freedom
by ELENA on FEBRUARY 22, 2007 - 0 Comments in URBAN

Harvest Help
Harvest Help Chitenge!

Here are some eco-product freebie offers you might want to check out

*Go on a treasure hunt of the Harvest Help website in order to answer the following question: How does our number one principle of sustainability help the rural poor in Africa? and you can win a Chitenge (African clothing direct from Zambia). All you need to do is email from their website giving your details and the answer to our competition. Please ensure that you put EJ/ED in the subject line otherwise you will not be entered into the competition. The winner will be randomly selected on March 20th, 2007.

*Win a SimpleHuman Stainless Steel Double Recycling Bin worth 129.99 from HomeRecycling.co.uk! (more…)

WC=Waterless Closet
by SSPENCE on FEBRUARY 22, 2007 - 4 Comments in PEOPLE, WATER

Composting Sawdust Toilet
Steve’s Composting Sawdust Toilet

On our homestead, we have greatly reduced our water usage by eliminating the flush toilet. The idea of polluting fresh drinking water with humanure is an odd concept, but widely held as the only solution. At the same time, we have embarked on a process that builds topsoil depth and quality. By combining a sawdust toilet with a compost bin, we are reducing our “waste” footprint and creating valuable healthy soil.

A sawdust toilet is ONE of three components. The system will NOT work without all components, which are: (more…)

Yumm, Roadkill
by ELENA on FEBRUARY 21, 2007 - 0 Comments in FOOD

Fergus Drennan
Fergus: Still wriggling

Fergus Drennan is a man who literally feeds off the land. Nothing is too odd or disgusting for him, from nettles to roadkill. He’s had his share of interesting experiences and speaks knowledgeably about badger dishes: There’s no rhyme or reason to badger. Sometimes it tastes really gamey and uriney, even if it’s fresh. It can be excellent though.

I used badger intestines once to make some chipolatas, continues Fergus cheerily. They were so difficult. It took me hours just to make nine chipolatas. Then when I put them in the pan, they all exploded because I’d forgotten to prick them. (more…)

Rural phone technology options
by LYDIA POLZER on FEBRUARY 21, 2007 - 1 Comment in LAND

Being off the power grid generally also means that we are off the
telephone
grid. In my way of thinking, lack of phone is a much more serious
problem
because power is easier to fix than phone. Today let’s take a look at
the
various options that exist for getting off-grid phone service.

Normally (that means city) phone service runs along wires buried in the
ground
or suspended on telephone poles. These wires will typically enter your
property
in a skinny green metal box where a lineman can then run one or more
telephone
lines to a connector on the side of your house. The green box is put on
your
property by the developer before the house is built.

Off-grid is a different matter. There is no developer to pay to have
the phone
company install wiring, so if you want wires, you will have to foot the
bill
yourself. Prices vary from one region to the next but in all cases the
cost
will be impressive. It will not benefit the phone company to run wire
for a
single customer, so you must pay for the project yourself.

In some places you can run the wire yourself and the phone company will
even
give you the wire. They only need to specify the depth of wire
placement and
will need to inspect

the work before the wire is covered. You will need to get permission
and have
easements established along the path that the wire will follow and a
power
trencher is a virtual necessity so you will need to rent or purchase
equipment
to do the job. Crossing a black-top road will require a professional
help and
more permissions than I would care to undertake. A county gravel road
might be
as bad. A private gravel road is less of a technical issue, but
permissions
from owners must still be secured. Any overhead run on poles is
likewise out of
the question for the “do-it-yourselfer” for primarily liability and
maintenance
reasons. If all of this sounds like a lot of work and a bunch or money,
you’re
right on both counts. Which is the reason there are some alternatives.

The first alternative most people will consider is cellular telephone
service.
Since cellular radio does not depend on wires to the customer’s site,
there is
no big up-front investment in bringing an off-grid customer on line.
The
standard rate plans, with fairly high costs for each minute of use,
have given
way to plans that might even be affordable as the primary phone service
to a
rural property.

Naturally, there are drawbacks to cellular. In some cases the special
rate plan
may only apply to digital calls. Calls that originate in an (older)
analog only
service area may not be

covered. Since the digital system is only in metropolitan areas, it is
likely
that your service will be analog. This could impact the cost
effectiveness of
such a plan very badly!

And a cell phone is just a phone. You can forget about surfing the web.
Oh yes,
there are cellular modems, but read the not so very fine print
carefully. On a
very good day you might get a 4,800 bits per second connection speed on
a
cellular modem as compared to the 33,600 bits per second that is now
the
standard for hard-wired modems. So to download

this newsletter on a cellular modem would take more than 40 seconds.

But cellular is not the only radio telephone solution. A number of
companies
provide products called “Wireless Local Loop” (WLL) systems to provide
radio
interconnection

between telephone central office equipment and customer homes and
businesses.
These systems are particularly popular in developing countries where
telephone
service can be provided without installing thousands of miles of wire.

The way a WLL system works is this. First, we need a phone company.
Phone
companies have buildings with a computer in them that is called a
Central
Office (CO). A CO is just a really big switch. It listens to off-hook
telephones and translates the keypad button presses into directions to
connect
to on-hook phones which it then sends a ring command. Someone picks up,
and we
have a route between two phones. [note: this isn't really how it works,
but it
is conceptually correct and once upon a time it really did work that
way]

A WLL only replaces some of the wire, but to do that it has to “fake”
some of
the features of a CO. That makes it a bit complicated to build, but
really
simple to use. A WLL comes out of the box in two pieces. One is
attached to the
telephone company wherever you can find a telephone wire. This can be
at a
neighbor’s house, a nearby business, or it can be tacked to a telephone
pole
(the must be done by a company lineman).

The other end of a WLL system is placed at your homestead where you
need
telephone service. All it needs is power and a clear line of sight
(more on
this later) to the other half of the WLL equipment. These two pieces of
equipment, one at your homestead and the other attached to telephone
wiring,
provide a two-way radio link that acts just like wire.

Standard telephones, fax machines, answering machines and computers can
be
connected at the homestead end and will operate just like they were
wired
direct to the phone company. Well, almost.

Two different standards are used for WLL equipment. Older systems use
lower
frequency radio signals around the 49 Mhz band. Compared to wire, these
low
frequency systems are

more prone to electrical interference and do not provide nearly as high
a data
rate for computer communications. A 49Mhz system will perform well for
voice,
will be adequate

for fax and will likely make you impatient when used for computer
communications.

Newer equipment is based on Spread Spectrum (SS) signalling in the the
900 Mhz
band. These systems provide superb signal quality and will support data
rates
far higher than normal telephone connections allow. A 900Mhz SS system
will
perform as well or better than any wired phone system and will even
support an
ISDN connection for you truly serious data junkies.

Installation of either system is pretty straight forward, but there are
some
rules to follow, both technical and regulatory. Technically, the 49Mhz
and
900Mhz systems are somewhat different because of the difference in
frequency.
The technical differences give rise to different regulations governing
the use
of these systems.

In a nutshell, the regulations are, surprisingly?, simple: thou shalt
not
interfere with thy neighbor’s signal.

The 900Mhz equipment that uses Spread Spectrum signalling is inherently
a non-
interfering technology so the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
requires
no licensing or registration of any kind for the operation of 900Mhz SS
equipment. [the equipment itself is type rated with the FCC by the
manufacturer]

The 49Mhz equipment is a different matter. These systems can interfere
with one
another and with other authorized uses of the same frequency band, so
the FCC
requires a “frequency coordination” within an area to keep folks from
stepping
on each other. This is done by listening on a range of frequencies and
picking
one that seems to unused. This assignment is then reported to the FCC
so that
others may avoid that frequency in the same geographic area.

Which ever system is employed, there are some common characteristics
that will
control how the system is installed. Remember we said the two parts of
a WLL
must have a clear line of sight between them? Well, here’s the reason.
A 900Mhz
radio signal follows a path that is every bit as straight as a ray of
light, so
you must have a completely unobstructed signal path: if you can not see
one
antenna from the other then the antennas can’t “see” each other either.
The
word “see” in this context is to be taken literally. Can you see
through a
tree? Neither can a 900Mhz radio signal. This limits or WLL to what is
termed
(for obvious reasons) “line of sight.”

Satellite TV antennas work the same way (on even higher frequencies
than
900Mhz). On one system I installed, I had to move the antenna about 6
inches
one direction because it was aimed directly at the trunk of a large fir
tree on
a neighboring property. In one place I

had near zero signal and six inches to the left I had near maximum.
Line of
sight!

Which brings up an important point. You do not need to be able to see
the other
antenna with your naked eye. Feel free to use binoculars or a spotting
scope. I
certainly could not see the satellite 22,000 miles away in the example
above
and relied entirely on the receiver to aim the antenna.

In flat, open country, line of sight is probably about 7 to 10 miles
depending
on how high a pole you mount the antenna on–the higher you go, the
farther
your line of sight. If you live on a hilltop, you might get 30 miles.

The 49Mhz signal is much less a “line of sight” beast. It will go
through some
objects including smaller trees and will bounce off and around larger
obstructions. But “cheating” will cost you in signal quality, so it is
best to
stick with a clear path if you can.

The least attractive features of WLL systems is, you guessed it, the
cost. A
dual line system, which is my own minimum requirement, will cost
anywhere from
$4000 on up

depending on vendor, model, and installation issues (like range). To
put this
in perspective, keep in mind that running wire is a “dollars per foot”
sorta’
deal, so even a one mile run could exceed the cost of a WLL system.

In case you haven’t noticed, I consider it a personal failure if I
can’t build
it myself (just kidding, sorta’). What would it take to build our own
WLL?

First, let’s start with a 900Mhz SS wireless telephone from a phone
store. Some
of these have pretty good range. One such phone has a measured range of
a
couple miles. If we could hack in a better antenna for both the
hand-held unit
and the base station we might have a WLL solution capable of several
miles.
Even if a better antenna did not improve range, we would need an
external roof
mounted antenna to get good line of sight.

The base station for the phone would be placed where it had access to
the
telephone line and the handset would be located at our homestead. Since
the
charger is usually part of the base unit, we might need two complete
phones.
We’ll use one of the base units just to charge the handset.

We’ll need to replace the antennas with directional antennas that will
then be
aimed at each other. [Note: this probably violates FCC regulations as
the
equipment is certified for the particular antenna it comes with, but as
long as
it causes no interference it will never be known] Hacking the antennas
into the
base and hand unit would require a bit of radio skill but the parts
would be
real cheap.

Alas, this scheme will likely not pass data at all and will be tricky
to
interface to a computer modem anyway. On the other hand, this could be
a very
inexpensive approach, well less than a thousand dollars, to get a good
quality
voice (only) connection.

What if we turn this around and design first for the data connection
and see if
the voice connection comes along for the ride?

This gets really weird. Ever hear of Voice of IP? VOIP is where we
transmit
voice communications over Internet Protocol (IP), the way computers
communicate
on the internet. If we had two computers, one at our homestead and one
at a
telephone connection, we could transmit voice between them if they were
connected with a computer network.

With a radio modem we can do just that. There are several plug-in cards
for PCs
that allow two computers to be networked together without wire — radio
spans
the gap where wire is normally used.

We then add a telephone interface card into each computer and voila! we
have a
wireless internet connection and a standard telephone interface in one
unit.
Any standard telephone can be plugged into the telephone interface card
and
used just line a hardwired phone. Including a pair of directional
antennas,
such a system costs about $2000 at current prices.

Once you have the telephone interface cards, you can also make use of
the
(dozen or so) internet long distance telephone companies. These folks
work just
like the long distance phone companies except that the calls are
routed, for
free, across the internet.

A “build-it-yourself” offgrid phone is not the right solution for most
people.
It is simply too involved technically. An off-the-shelf WLL or a
modified
portable phone however is an option suitable for nearly anyone.

Survival Communications

This is the only book in the category that I am aware of, and is an
important
book for anyone interested in emergency preparedness. Note that the
author only
deals with survival communications as the title promises, which does
not
include normal phone service and such.

Buy it at Amazon for $19.95

Rural Telephone and Internet

This little gem, well it’s actually 200 pages, has just about
everything you
need to know to make phone calls over the Internet. Why would you want
to do
that? Two reasons: long distance is FREE (or nearly so) and an Internet
connection may actually be easier to get than a phone line! The CDROM
included
with the book has a bunch of useful software. A bunch more can be
downloaded
from the Internet.

Buy it at Amazon for $23.96

Australia’s Green Bosses
by ELENA on FEBRUARY 21, 2007 - 2 Comments in EVENTS

Bill Shorten
Shorten: Prius man

Celebrities all over are espousing their love of green. Australia’s business and political bosses are no exception. Up-and-coming senator Andrew Murray announced recently he would become carbon neutral by buying a hybrid car, joining the green electricity grid and buying a bus pass. Insurance Australia Group’s chief executive Michael Hawker has replaced his old gas-guzzler with a Prius. Rising Australian Labor Party star and union boss Bill Shorten is also buying a Prius.Origin Energy’s Tony Wood has planted 4000 trees on his property, and BlueScope Steel’s Kirby Adams has added a rainwater harvesting system to reduce his home water consumption. (more…)

Gore is a bore
by NICK ROSEN on FEBRUARY 19, 2007 - 5 Comments in EVENTS, PEOPLE

Al Gore coming into land
Must fly….planet to save

OK, somebody’s got to say it, and I guess it will have to be me. Al Gore is worse than just a disappointment he is a liability. He is not the best spokesman we environmentalists have in a bad field. The inconvenient truth is that Al Gore is self-promoting, venal and bland. He has become a standard bearer of the Green cause because there is a political vacuum in America with neither party willing to take ownership of environmental issues, just yet. Live Earth will be a meaningless event which changes little and raises no consciousness.

Gore had eight years in his own little office in the White House and he never did a damn thing about the environment. Now he has no power, he is trying to coat-tail on the green movement to win some influence back, and, say it’s not true, have another run at the Presidency. (more…)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch
by NICK ROSEN on FEBRUARY 18, 2007 - 16 Comments in LAND, OFF-GRID 101
George W Bush on his Prairie Chapel ranch
Yo! I’m Green. Bush walks ranch

George Bush’s policies on just about everything to do with the environment are wrong headed and destructive, but you cannot say the same for his ranch in Crawford Texas. Amazingly, given his oil industry links, Bush’s ranch is off-grid, boasting a range of eco-features including geothermal heating and cooling, that would make Leonardo di Caprio proud. The passive-solar house is positioned to absorb winter sunlight, warming the interior walkways and walls. Does his inside knowledge lead him to suspect that he will need it to survive a downturn very soon? To see full details on the house, click here: (more…)


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