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encouraging physical innovation

 
master steward
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We recently did the $250 gift certificate thing for people to build new light bulbs. But nobody built a light bulb.

I like the idea of doing this sort of thing. If somebody had built a light bulb, I probably would have done this once or twice a month.

Maybe the prize was not big enough? I'm gonna add some posts to that effect in a moment.

I wonder if there is a website out there somewhere where people can post an idea and people can say "I pledge to put in about $X to such a kickstarter if it exists". And then the idea might have $100,000 worth of pledges. And when somebody gets their kickstarter started, they can post their kickstarter to the page and all the people will be notified of the contender. Then the pledgers can comment on the page about how the kickstarter is or is not a fit for the idea. Does anything like that exist?






 
paul wheaton
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If you would have built a home-made light bulb for $1000, put a thumbs up here.
 
paul wheaton
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If you would have built a home-made light bulb for $5000, put a thumbs up here.
 
paul wheaton
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Maybe we should be doing something more like "whoever gets one working first gets $500" and then say "whoever has the BEST one 60 days later gets $1000".

Give a thumbs up to this post if you would build light bulbs if this were the case.
 
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Part of it is the money, part of it is the time--both are personal SKIN IN THE GAME. It is easy to spend 10 minutes for an academic discussion, but to invest that level of skin takes more than most here have to spare.

For example, my personal goal it to do away with electric lights entirely so it wouldn't make sense for me to spend time on that project. But if the contest aligns with my goals it may be the kick in the butt I need to get moving.

 
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Maybe if you tried something a bit less daunting to start us off.

I wouldn't have a clue where to start on a light bulb, but maybe a hay-box cooker, or a solar cooker, or something that your average home-school mom would feel confident about turning into a little project.
 
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Whenever possible I try to give away ideas. There's a ton of things I would love to see made or built. I simply don't have the time, energy, skill or even interest in seeing some of these ideas to fruition, but I like the thought that somebody else might find a way to make it work and then share it with us all. Maybe permies could use an "Unsolved problems" forum. A place where people can unload hair-brained ideas or unfinished projects in the hope that somebody else will pick it up and run with it. Like an Idea trading blanket. I don't know

A while back I started a thread about apermaculture game and it was nice to see all the different ideas people had and that some folks were even working towards a real game. I thought that would have done more but... it's not time for a game I guess.
 
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There seem to be a lot of different bio-char retorts in youtube and probably on the market. I copied my extremely simple little one on a dutch design from a video I was sent. I would like to build something bigger and better some day, and I may just do so this year.

Personally, Paul, I think if you posed this as a contest as to creating for instance the most super efficient solar oven (as was mentioned by Burra), rocket stove mass heater, retort stove, or Jean Pain type compost shredder, then you might get some serious innovation from people who are more motivated towards these projects already.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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You might try posting your lightbulb building project to Mr Teslonian (check him out on youtube). That guy is an inventor.
 
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The incandescent bulb project just really doesn't float my boat. It really seems like faffing around with a few watts of electricity is small fry when there are many bigger problems around that my time could be better spent on. Also - it is right up there at the top end of technical skills needed. Incandescent bulb technology is over 100 years old an seriously mature - there is very little room for innovation on the scale of someone messing around in their shed. If you want something that serves your purpose I think you'd be better off approaching a serious bulb manufacturer and simply telling them your spec. They probably already have something on file from 50 years ago.

I'd also like to see some biochar related work - I've made lots of batches and my repeated conclusions are that for the time it takes to manage a small burn it simply isn't worth it. However if you could couple this with a device that is genuinely useful that made biochar as a biproduct you'd be on to a winner. Perhaps a nice outdoor kitchen design?
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Thanks for the input Micheal. You are absolutely right about the fact that most retorts are sending useless waste heat out, when that heat should be used if we have any permaculture sense. That's the sort of idea that could start someone else on the road to inventing it, and perhaps should be a whole section of this site, if the goal to inspire invention. I was personally thinking that I could trap the otherwise thrown off heat to simmer up birch sap for syrup!
 
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I dont think its about money. You are asking someone not to invent something new but reinvent something , And this something is not easy to make as it involves working with either gases or And vacuum. Messy then add electrics into the mix And a short time scale.
I am not surprised you had nô takers.
Inventions take time And kit Swan who invented the light bulb was a proffesional inventor

David
 
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Michael Cox wrote: Also - it is right up there at the top end of technical skills needed. Incandescent bulb technology is over 100 years old an seriously mature - there is very little room for innovation on the scale of someone messing around in their shed.



I agree. I was going to suggest floating this as a design contest for students studying Industrial Design (my major in college) until I read that!

For real innovation the question should be broader. I mean why limit it to a bulb?

What's the scenario?
I live in Montana and want to go to the bathroom at 3am without stubbing my toe. Give me 10 ideas that have no toxic components.

That question might not get what you want. If I approached it I'd figure out how blind people get around. So maybe:
I live in Montana and want to read at 3am without using an CF bulb. Give me 10 ideas that have no toxic components.

I still might take the blind person's POV and suggest listening to what you want to read.

Hmmm.
I live in Montana and want to illuminate my room at 3am. The illuminator must have no toxic elements.

Encouraging innovation is easy but you just can't guarantee you'll get the result you were hoping for. The real key is not to discount the result out of hand.
 
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With the RMH DVDs I enouraged somebody else to make the DVDs. They declined, so I did it.

With the cards, I encouraged somebody to take on the project. They didn't. I encouraged somebody else. They didn't. I encouraged somebody else. They didn't. Finally, I did it.

With forums about java programming: same thing. That's how javaranch came to be.

With lots and lots and lots of things.

I think it is possible that the destination in my head is something that others don't agree with or their vision is different.

*I* want to see progress in this space. It seems clear to me. Some day I want people to use super simple incandescent lights with replaceable filaments. It seems far less toxic than the alternatives. I like the idea that a filament could last 20,000 hours and that the entire bulb could last 500,000 hours. And the quality of light could be better.

But in order for there to be an amazing product, there first has to be a poor product. And for there to be a poor product, there has to be a lot of people tinkering in this space. And I just cannot take on one more project right now. So I am trying to come up with a way to encourage progress.

 
Michael Cox
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Flourescent Cyle Paths

I have no idea what the chemistry is of these, but bioluminescenceis pretty well understood. Getting around the house after dark might just involve a few discrete dollops or paint on door frames and steps. No power demand, no maintenance... elegant solution.

You aren't going to read by it.
 
Michael Cox
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paul wheaton wrote:I think it is possible that the destination in my head is something that others don't agree with or their vision is different.

*I* want to see progress in this space. It seems clear to me. Some day I want people to use super simple incandescent lights with replaceable filaments. It seems far less toxic than the alternatives. I like the idea that a filament could last 20,000 hours and that the entire bulb could last 500,000 hours. And the quality of light could be better.

But in order for there to be an amazing product, there first has to be a poor product. And for there to be a poor product, there has to be a lot of people tinkering in this space. And I just cannot take on one more project right now. So I am trying to come up with a way to encourage progress.



I definitely agree with the principal of innovation but I'm concerned that people could spend thousands of hours and lots of funds to design a product that may already exist on file in some bulb manufacturers catalogue. What you are describing sounds more like old tech than new - recent innovation has moved away from repairable to modular/disposable in many different fields, but it used to be possible to repair products/replace filaments etc...

Many industrial applications still use incandescent bulb and they are designed to be far more durable than those in domestic applications. Rather than designing from scratch it sounds like a thorough trawl of old patents and design records would yield fruit.
 
paul wheaton
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It is difficult to justify a bulb that will last 200 years when the disposables are just 50 cents each.

I agree that there might be old tech out there that might talk about this. I hope that folks will actively dig that up too. Otherwise, it is possible that the only way to move forward is to do things that have already been done.
 
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paul wheaton wrote:I like the idea that a filament could last 20,000 hours and that the entire bulb could last 500,000 hours.



Hard to beat a $2 lightbulb that lasts 20,000 hours if the claim is true.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I guess the thread is going to be all about lightbulbs and not encourageing physical invention. Lol. No matter what appears above ones head in a cartoon, with a subject as wide open as this could be why not open it up and create a new forum based on invention and/or modifications of ideas? What is the most efficient grey water system? The most effective passive solar house design? The best combinations of these two together?

I understand your desire to have a better lightbulb that suits what your goal is, Paul, I get that, but if you want to invent the lightbulb then I'd suggest putting that in your subject line, rather than what it is. I completely agree with Micheal's last post.
 
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Hi Paul,

I like the way you think about driving innovation.

Personally, as interested as I am in physics and invention, the cost/benefit of trying to produce a better incandescent light-bulb just isn't there for me. For a long-lasting, high-lumen output at a reasonable price, I'm willing to go with LEDs. Yes, they're an industrial product that I can't make myself, but they are a pretty safe and effective means of producing light without taxing one's energy storage too much.

Kevin EarthSoul (real, legal name)
 
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I thought about this alot in the past few days as I think its an important topic that we all need to understand .
One of my first thought was to remember a quote attributted to Newton " we stand on the shoulders of giants ". Instead of making a light bulb let me take a more extreem example making a stone axe . If I was to be plonked back in the stone age could I do it ? Well I know that there is flint about 100 km of where I live may be I could find some in the river ? When I have found a bit then I will need to find a bit of leather and a suitable stone to act as a hammer then I would need to practice for many years to get profficient at making a sharp edge . The number of people in the world who still have these skills ? less than a hundred I guess .
Newton him self was an interesting inventor . He invented calculus and this gave him an edge over everyone else . It was in a way like being the only person in the world with a computor .
So what ever we do is based on our skill set and what equipment we have . Another example of this was a thread asking why we did not still have steam engines . I pointed out that the last steam engine build in the UK was in 2008 and costed over 4 million $ . Mainly because so much had to be built as a one off . The OP of this thread thought that the desils trains should be replaced by steam . I now realise that they are being replaced but its by electric trains not steam.
You said Paul you wanted a light to go to the toilet . You should do what I do I have a machine its a light , calculator , guitar tuner , music box , emailer ,note book ,camera other people call it a phone

David
 
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David Livingston wrote:
You said Paul you wanted a light to go to the toilet .



I don't think Paul actually said why he needed the light. I was imagining scenarios out loud & that was one I came up with.
 
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Whoops sorry Paul

David
 
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paul wheaton wrote:With the RMH DVDs I enouraged somebody else to make the DVDs. They declined, so I did it.

With the cards, I encouraged somebody to take on the project. They didn't. I encouraged somebody else. They didn't. I encouraged somebody else. They didn't. Finally, I did it.

With forums about java programming: same thing. That's how javaranch came to be.

With lots and lots and lots of things.

I think it is possible that the destination in my head is something that others don't agree with or their vision is different.

*I* want to see progress in this space. It seems clear to me. Some day I want people to use super simple incandescent lights with replaceable filaments. It seems far less toxic than the alternatives. I like the idea that a filament could last 20,000 hours and that the entire bulb could last 500,000 hours. And the quality of light could be better.

But in order for there to be an amazing product, there first has to be a poor product. And for there to be a poor product, there has to be a lot of people tinkering in this space. And I just cannot take on one more project right now. So I am trying to come up with a way to encourage progress.



I'm with you on the frustration of others' lack of willingness to lead.

I have done some freelance work in the past and found it to be very difficult because people just don't know the value of the time and effort.

I think the history of Edison's development of the practical light bulb would be instructive. It's just not a 250-$ task. I just looked into the price of a vacuum pump for AC repair. That's 250 $ right there. Then there's the material that the filament is made of. If you can't buy that commercially I don't even know how to approach that research.

Maybe a good starting point would be some threads devoted to finding materials and other critical design issues. When it comes time to build a design, then the prize may be more effective. Or maybe contract someone to build it.





 
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I would have liked to participate, but didn't really consider it. Because of my location in rural Ecuador, the tools and materials would be difficult/expensive to find, if not impossible. I agree that this kind of innovation is ripe (not just about lightbulbs, but other areas that people have mentioned in this topic), and I would love to be involved in some of this innovation when I return to the US.

However, I don't anticipate being much help for electrical-type technology, simply because that is not where my interest or training lies. Some of the other aspects of work-sharing that Paul mentioned are things I would be more interested in helping with - DVDs, permies cards, etc.

Paul - don't lost hope! There are people out there who are looking/planning to contribute.
 
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It seems to me that most innovations occur from 1) a need of the individual 2) the ground up or grass roots (which is often the individual that needs the innovation). With these two things in mind, it's not surprising that more people haven't stepped up to the plate for leadership on Paul's suggestions - after all, those are things that Paul feels are important, but not necessarily what the individual feels is important (and with our lot, most would probably focus on better solar panels and battery storage to power their light bulbs, rather than take the Edison approach!). Granted, they are important concerns...but getting the individual buy-in is the tough part, and they have to feel they have a value to contribute, as Izzy mentioned. I doubt Alex Ojeda would have been as excited to do the art for the permaculture cards if he had the level of artistic talent that I have (which is NONE).

Perhaps throwing the generic question of "I have this issue, and I would like to see this result, and maybe we can all crowd source our knowledge to that end" would appeal more the the average Joe/Joanne. (This is kinda what we all do here anyway in the forums, right?) At some point when the topic breaches knowledge and implementation landmarks, it might be easier to make the idea happen. Maybe we can highlight these "ideas for implementation" threads in a seperate area, too, so folks can see what's cookin' and if they have a skill set they can use to push the idea along to fruition.
 
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I like the idea of the idea fund/kick starter. That space has been filled heretofore by contests or awards that are usually set up by someone with deep pockets. A recent example of such a prize was won by AeroVelo for a human powered helicopter, the Sikorsky prize for $250,000. This contest took nearly 30 years because of the technical challenges involved. I like the idea of melding crowd funding with innovation prizes. People are always saying, "I wish someone would invent...." Well put your money where you mouth is and offer a cash reward. This idea has legs, imo.
 
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I guess part of my problem with being directed so specifically is that "an incandescent light bulb that is repairable, lasts for ever and is cheap" isn't a problem that needs solving, but a product description. Paul already thinks he knows the solution and wants people to build it "his way".

This flips the usual design process on it's head.

The way I was taught to design when I studied product design in my degree was to start with a need and innovate to meet that need. Had Paul's brief been an expression of a problem, rather than a description of the solution he wanted to see, the problem is opened up much wider.

Problem ---> Solution
"I stub my toe fumbling around the bed room in the dark" leads to some possible solutions...

one of which might be a "better incandescent bulb", but others might be:
  • Put padding on the corner of the chest of drawers
  • rearrange the furniture so it isn't in the way
  • rehang the door so it swings the other way and doesn't block the access
  • dots of photoluminescent paint in a few discrete places so I can get my bearings and find the light switch
  • an LED "night light" left on in the hall
  • don't leave my clothes and shoes in a heap beside the bed that I trip over


  • "I need to be able to get to the outhouse in the dark" leads to another set of related but slightly different potential solutions.

    Some of these solutions are free, some nearly free and only one involves spending hours researching and developing an new version of a product literally thousands of existing solutions already exist for.

    Here are some possible problems in the permaculture field that you might get more traction on...

    "making biochar takes so much time that it isn't worth doing"
    "slugs are eating my vegetables"
    "Natural succession of trees are invading my garden/growing space"

    By stating the problem and not the solution you expect to see you open up the potential for true innovation in a much wider and more meaningful way.
     
    paul wheaton
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    problems: pollution and sickness

    possible solution: a light bulb that consumes less materials thus reducing the pollution problem. A light bulb that generates a light that improves general well being over other offerings.

    I would like to see a repairable light bulb. Perhaps a lightbulb that comes with 30 filaments and will then last 200,000 hours. And all of the components are simple and understandable. Disposal is clean and simple.





     
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    Hi Paul, reading today's daily email, you specifically said that you wanted to "encourage further innovation in homesteading, permaculture and things I would like to see become a reality."

    That spoke to me, in a way that the lightbulb challenge didn't.

    I would be very interseted in innovation that is more about biological systems, and not technological invention. If you were to promote challenges that relate to working directly with living systems to make life better and homesteading easier, I would love to participate.

    Hope that helps, good luck!
     
    paul wheaton
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    When I figure out how the lightbulb thing didn't work, then I will figure out how to get this to work for other stuff.

    The lightbulb thing was going to be the first in a series of dozens/hundreds. Since it did a faceplant, I am now faced with either abandoning the whole thing or changing the way I do it.

     
    Cj Sloane
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    Michael Cox wrote:
    The way I was taught to design when I studied product design in my degree was to start with a need and innovate to meet that need. Had Paul's brief been an expression of a problem, rather than a description of the solution he wanted to see, the problem is opened up much wider.



    Yes, I think I stated a similar position way up on the thread for similar reasons - I too studied product design.

    I might re-phrase Paul's problem as:
    Incandescent light bulbs break and can't be fixed. This is a big problem because soon you wont be able to purchase new ones.
     
    David Livingston
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    Paul
    Have you ever seen an old Britiish black And white film called " The man in the White Suit" it starred Alec Guiness . It was about an inventor who inventes a material that never needs washing And is indistructable and in the film everyone at first thinks it a good idea but in the end hé nearly gets lynched.
    I understand what you would like but there are some basic problems . Think of a light bulb as a very slow fire in a vacuum or inert gas And you would have acloser insight to what you are asking. If you could
    have the fire in the atmosphère then its do able if not
    then the home owner is Stuck


    Rather than go back I would suggest people are encouraged to go forward . Why do we need lignifions anyway?

    David
     
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    Great thread. Would like to understand the "why" and "how" of proliferating these projects, also.

    Musing...what about a competitive regional meet-up?

    Someone in my area recently asked if anyone was planning a permaculture convergence in my area. My thought: a lot of work.
    Have been thinking about a potluck, but that may not enough to be worth the longish trip for several of us.
    Then I thought maybe a potluck to plan a future event...

    But what if permies announced a date, far in future, so people could plan.
    It would have a spec / parameters description for an item to work on. (Or maybe a permies vote among a few choices, to ID which thing to work on?)

    People would volunteer to host and get/provide the workspace in their locale for that date.
    They would post "who's with me?"
    The host / volunteer would start to correspond with them to come with materials. They would meet that day, try stuff out together, and post short videos of the results at permies.
    Prize is just bragging rights (and / or whatever prize permies wants to give).
    The fun is in the events, pitching in, meeting other permies in the area, and the videos.

    Also, has the potential to have multiple people pitch in to defray the cost of rented equipment, etc.

    I suppose for some projects, it's possible this could even be held in local "Makers space" facilities. And just setting it there could rub off and infect more brains with permaculture. Mwah-ha-ha!

    Mariamne

     
    Adam Klaus
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    paul wheaton wrote:When I figure out how the lightbulb thing didn't work, then I will figure out how to get this to work for other stuff.

    The lightbulb thing was going to be the first in a series of dozens/hundreds. Since it did a faceplant, I am now faced with either abandoning the whole thing or changing the way I do it.



    I think the prize concept for innovation on a topic is solid. I think the specific challenge in this case was the cause of failure. Dont throw out the baby with the bathwater, just try a different challenge within the same framework.

    The stuff on floating pond islands in Geoff's newest video is exactly the type of challenge that I would think of. I have mused quite a bit for a year now on that topic, looking for a better concept than the ones in my mind. Geoff puts out the video, and the related thread is suddenly filled with other innovations on the idea. Bingo! Make it a contest, and see just how far people can go with this basic idea.
     
    K Nelfson
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    David Livingston wrote:Think of a light bulb as a very slow fire in a vacuum or inert gas



    Yes. That's the problem. Repairing a bulb is possible, but requires a vacuum pump and/or gas supply and a filament. Is this bulb a better solution if most people would also have to buy a good vacuum pump and other tools for repair? A a light-bulb repair shop is the solution but I don't know how well that will work in the USA. We have to consider the whole picture...
     
    paul wheaton
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    For $100 you could get a dozen bulbs, 200 spare filaments and the tools to replace the filaments.
     
    K Nelfson
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    It's under vacuum. That's why the filament lasts so long. And there's often halides to avoid metal deposition on the inside of the bulb.
     
    Jennifer Jennings
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    Adam Klaus wrote:Hi Paul, reading today's daily email, you specifically said that you wanted to "encourage further innovation in homesteading, permaculture and things I would like to see become a reality."

    That spoke to me, in a way that the lightbulb challenge didn't.

    I would be very interseted in innovation that is more about biological systems, and not technological invention. If you were to promote challenges that relate to working directly with living systems to make life better and homesteading easier, I would love to participate.

    Hope that helps, good luck!



    Adam's statement speaks to the fact that we all have very different interests and skill sets, and therefore can contribute in different ways and approach the problem from different angles - some of which may never have been realized by the tekkie, or the organic farmer, as individuals. This is more what I wanted to say earlier - our diversity is our biggest strength, but only as long as everyone has the opportunity to contribute (just like in the garden).
     
    gardener
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    I can only speak for myself, but I would love to have worked on a lightbulb in that thread. Unfortunately, I just don't have any money to spare. Right now, keeping food on the table is more important and I can't even spend twenty dollars to get supplies to try giving it a go. I had been watching for free items to come up, but nothing I would have needed was showing on freecycle or among friends. I suspect it tends to be that those with money don't always have the time and those with the time don't have the money.

    I think instead of a contest with set time limits and limited options, it might be awesome to see an innovation forum. Something where people can say they would like to see an innovation in X and then what bounty they offer. The person who can demonstrate a working prototype of that innovation then earns the bounty. Anyone could contribute ideas and opinions, but no payment until there was a working entry. Just a thought.
     
    Just the other day, I was thinking ... about this tiny ad:
    Switching from electric heat to a rocket mass heater reduces your carbon footprint as much as parking 7 cars
    http://woodheat.net
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