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Rob Arnold

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since Jul 27, 2014
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Recent posts by Rob Arnold

Consensus in this context here means that there is an agreed upon nomenclature of what a 'Watt' means. As an example if pounds, feet, acres, yards all meant different things to different people then the act of even discussing permaculture in a quantitative and meaningful manner would be a difficult and confusing affair. Derivation is a way of defining some quantity in terms of other defined quantities. For example, one might "derive" an acre in terms of feet, by first defining an acre as being 10 square chains, where a chain is defined as 60 feet, where a foot is defined as 10 inches, and so forth.

Permaculture, as some define it ( is a 'design science', so I implore you to reproduce and publish your findings. If, as you say, it is only $150 and an afternoon, then if what you claim is true then it would be indeed quite fundamental.

Larry Noel wrote:from wikipedia: "The watt (symbol: W) is a derived unit of power in the International System of Units (SI), named after the Scottish engineer James Watt (1736–1819). The unit is defined as joule per second[1] and can be used to express the rate of energy conversion or transfer with respect to time. It has dimensions of L2MT−3."

In other words.... scientific "consensus" has muddied the waters to the point that no one can see anything. "The watt (symbol: W) is a derived unit of power" (from above) ... note the term "derived" ... this is a "science by consensus" term to "define" things and to ultimately limit knowledge. I contend that there is little relationship, other than the manipulated mathematical one derived by "consensus science", that is in any way relative to reality. I have built, tested, and have the working model to prove that one can run a alternator with bicycle power and generate electricity ... no matter what "consensus" and "mathematics" says is possible. Tesla ran across this problem, but I am in no way comparing myself to him, just using his experience with "known science" to illustrate my point of "known mathematics" and "consensus science."

Isn't that what permaculture is all about? Breaking all of the "rules" and finding ways that really work? Never mind what the science and the manipulated mathematics tell you, just dig in and experiment ... follow that little voice in your head that says "what if...." and dare to try something that the "consensus science" says that will not work through their manipulative mathematics of "derived units." Remember that mathematics and numbers only exist in man's mind and not in "nature." You will never see a mathematical equation in your garden, unless you subscribe to "science by consensus" and look (very hard) for it.

Just dig in and break the mold and try something new. That is how rocket stoves have been developed and improved over time. Then share your results for others to try to improve on. That is all I am doing here. Try it ... you'll like it! Or prove me to be a fool. Either way ... how can you lose?

PS: I am not interested in selling electricity, power, or anything else, I am just extremely lazy and just want to have the best possible life with the lest work extended and that is the basis for all of my experimentation. If necessity was the mother of invention ... laziness was its father. I built my working model on a hunch and it worked, and I filed it away for future use if needed. I am in no way trying to sell or profit from this "knowledge" that I have stumbled upon, just sharing freely. If you don't think this will work .... try it and prove me wrong. I have nothing to lose and I have a working prototype for my extreme needs.

4 years ago

Larry Noel wrote:I need to make an input here. What is being discussed here is "mechanical watts" which is in reality not related to "electrical watts." "Mechanical watts" is a mathematical function between calories burned and horsepower output. "Electrical watts" is a mathematical function of volts times amps. While it may take 400 "mechanical watts" to power a bicycle for a given time, that physical energy of the wheel turning can be used to turn a car alternator which will have an electrical wattage output that is in no mathematical relationship to the mechanical watts consumed. Make sense?

Several years ago I had an old 26" English racer with the super skinny tires. and I took the rear tire off the rim, got the longest fan belt that they had at the auto parts store, and built a plywood stand to hold the bike upright. I got a 100 amp single wire alternator and rigged up a spring tensioned mount in line with the fan belt and hooked it up. The single wire alts need 12 volts in the system to "excite the field" and turn the electric magnets on to start generating amps. I am not sure what RPMs are needed, but as long as that speed is maintained the thing will make amps. I ran it once with a meter on it and it was putting out 13.8 volts at 85 amps at the speed I was pedaling and that is a pretty good rate to charge a battery at. Anyway I had my proof of concept working and I put it away and it is in the "just in case" worst case file...ready to go. In a worst case where all you had was this and a dead battery a solar panel could be enough to "excite the field" and make it start generating amps. Watts = Amps times volts so 100 amps at 12 volts is 1200 watts. Pedal for an hour and you should have 1200 watt hours stored. Thats the theory at least. Like I said, it works and I put it into the special file as a back up to may back up. Cost: $20 for bike+$100 for alternator+$30 fan belt=$150 experiment and a few hours and nuts and bolts with scrap plywood. I call it my "Gilligan's Island" generator.

Hi Larry,

Electrical power ( and Mechanical Energy (, both have the same SI unit, there is no caveat that Watts produced by mechanical energy are different than Watts produced by electrical energy.

As for your results, if you believe they are correct, then I encourage you to repeat your experiment and publish them! As you are roughly a factor of 8-10 higher than what most people reportedly achieve, any improvements you have made would be quite welcome (and indeed, quite groundbreaking).

For fun, though unscientific, here is an olympic athlete powering a toaster - and though it doesn't appear to be published in the most prestigous journal, here at least is some work that others have done in a somewhat quantitative manner -

and some other interesting food for thought:
4 years ago
Paul, well written and inspiring, but the most interesting part of this post to me was the one word: "Sorta". Does this mean you still need to develop software to keep the permies labs alive? Desire to write software because it fills an intellectual need that you clearly have an affinity for? You see that there are interesting problems to solve and so have an intellectual itch that you want to scratch? Or is developing software simply a hammer in which you have nails?

Your post closes on the rocket mass heaters. Both wofatis and rocket mass heaters, while very interesting, will forever be relagated to the "purple" bench in the eyes of the masses, no matter how many revisions yield incremental improvements to efficiency. The hurdle is, and for the foreseeable future, will be insurance permitting. Increase the RMHs efficency by 10s of percentage, and you help a dozens to a few hundreds (or thousands?) of people reduce their carbon footprint. Achieve WETT (In Canada)/EPA (and whatever else in the USA) certification of a RMH, and you'll open the technology up to literally hundreds of millions and will change the world.
4 years ago
This is our first year with chickens, so I'm by no means an expert. We have 6 hens in a tractor, and they've been laying nearly 6 eggs a day on average since the Spring. Their laying cycle seems to change slowly and migrates to different times of the day, but they seem to be predominately "morning" layers, and lay in the first half of the day. When we feed/water in the morning there is usually one or two in a nesting box by the time we get there, no matter how early we get up. I too heard that they don't like stress, so we only move the tractor in the evenings after they're probably done laying. Though, I wonder the moving stresses them at all. At first they stressed when my wife or I would walk to the tractor, but they quickly got over it. Same with the dogs. If anything, they rush to us because they know they'll be getting fresh slugs, greens, or food. So I wonder if they've been conditioned to the same response when the tractor moves: "oh boy! more grass to scratch!".
4 years ago
This is an interesting topic. Serious cyclists/triathletes will sometimes purchase devices which measure the amount of mechanical energy delivered to the drivetrain, either by measuring the energy that causes the crank arm to flex (i.e. quarq brand), or by measuring the acceleration/torque of the real wheel hub axle (i.e. powertap brand). So keep in mind that when you're doing internet research, most of the values reported for cycling power are in terms of mechanical energy "at the crank", and probably do not account for gearing/drivetrain losses, or conversion to electrical energy.

The actual article text of the wikipedia "human power" article should be quoted. Note these numbers are "mechanical energy produced", i.e, would be measured 'at the crank' as I discussed above, and not a measure of usable electrical energy produced.

A trained cyclist can produce about 400 watts of mechanical power for an hour or more, but adults of good average fitness average between 50 and 150 watts for an hour of vigorous exercise. A healthy well-fed laborer over the course of an 8-hour work shift can sustain an average output of about 75 watts.[1] The yield of electric power is decreased by the lack of efficiency of the human-powered generator, no known generators are 100% efficient.

Based on my experience as an amateur cyclist/triathlete who has actually one of the devices mentioned above (purchased used, and quite old), I would say that anyone who can produce in the range of 175-200 Watts (measured at the drive train) continually, for 4-6 hours straight should seriously start to think about training to be a professional athlete. Producing this much mechanical energy continually is a serious drain, and not something that you should consider to be an easy task to crank off in a few hours, and then hop straight to an additional 8 hours of hard farm labour.

The other posts are correct, if you're going to go the cycling route, focus on direct mechanical conversion of energy for short-term high energy tasks, like running a threshing machine, clothes spinner... possibly lots of things, I'm sure there are a lot of ideas in this space.

I just purchased an 80Watt solar panel for under $100 Canadian dollars online. If I worked my ass off all day on a bike, I could (probably) match the output of this panel for a few days... after that, fatigue, chores, work, and probably over exertion injuries would sideline me, and the panels output would start to surpass what I could do on a cycle all within about a week. Amortize this over the life of the panel, and take into account that while the panel is producing power you can do other things (talk about stacking functions) and an 80 Watt panel blows away spending your time cycling out watts for hours, days, weeks, and months on end.
5 years ago
The temperature is dropping, the days are shortening, and we've even seen our first frost here in North Eastern Ontario, so I'm starting to think about winter. We have a few raised beds with annual vegetables which won't be planted again until the end of May or early June next year, about 8 months from now. I'm wondering if there is a preferred method to prepare the beds for wintering. This is a zone 3-4 area, with winter temperatures sometimes getting as low as -40. We've got some cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, chard, kales, some cucumbers and zucchini regular annual market garden vegetables.

Chop and drop everything? Chop and drop everything, but remove things that can get blight like tomatoes and zucchini? Chop and drop and mulch? Just mulch? or am I overthinking things as per usual and just leave everything to finish going to seed and rot until next year?


Most motorcycle engines are air cooled, even the more modern engines with a liquid cooling system are cooled by air moving over a radiator, so extended running without moving is probably not recommended. My air cooled '81 honda cb650 absolutely suffered if I got stuck in traffic and had to idle. Some have fans mounted to the rad, but even still I"d be really hesitant to run stationary for extended periods. If you do decide to try this, your motorcycle already has an alternator that is setup to charge the 12V lead-acid battery which is used to run the starter, lights, and provide spark for the plugs, so in effect you already have a smallish 12V DC charging system that you can use with zero rigging, add an inverter and you might be able to have some limited 120V AC power... I'm not sure what the specs are on a motorcycle alternator off hand. I'd opt for buying an inexpensive gas generator if I were in the same situation.
5 years ago
Paul and Jocelyn, I know your busy, but I'm selfish: my favourite parts of any podcast is the side stories and anecdotes. Can I be so bold as to request a podcast of *only* anecdotes and side stories? Talk about your pre-Wheaton lab lives, stories from Mt. Spokane and Seattle, early mentors, trials and tribulations, projects, biggest gardening mistake, biggest success... basically, anything. Or, does this exist and I missed it?

I've been salmon fishing my entire life, both salt and fresh water, and while I've never fished in Oregon, I have targeted the famous run of Chinook (King) Salmon from the Columbia river as they migrate up the coast of British Columbia.

The easiest and cheapest way to get into it is to take a lesson from the first nation people and target fish in and around the mouths of rivers instead of chasing them around the ocean with expensive boats: all those salmon eventually have to return home to the rivers. All you need for gear is an inexpensive spinning rod (large size/heavy action), some fishing line, probably 20lb test, and some tackle. Visit local fishing stores for advice, look at google maps and identify sand and gravel bars that will provide good access to the river, and find roads or trails to get there. Even simply driving along the river bank to see where everyone is parked and fishing is a good start. Of course read the regulations, purchase a license and the appropriate species tags, and act ethically when harvesting this shared resource.

The secret to fishing is to start early and stay late.

5 years ago

Our driveway is a mix of gravel/sand/mud/clay. It’s functional, but quite dusty when dry, and when there is any moisture the clay ends up getting tracked into the house by us or the dog. The driveway is about 200’ in length total and completely surrounds the house. We need to cross the driveway to access vehicles, sheds, any zone 1 gardens, the pastures, or the forest garden areas, so almost every chore or task around the homestead involves getting some clay or mud on ones footwear. For example the floor around my desk at work looks like I stand around in mud all day, which is fine, except that it is an office environment.

One idea is to order a few loads of gravel to cover the mud/clay, but I’d like to explore the potential to use a perennial cover crop to cover the driveway, keep the dust down, and limit the amount of mud that gets tracked, while maybe also adding an attractive green element to the overall landscaping of the property.

So I’m looking for plant suggestions that feel the following:

- Cold hardy perennial (USDA zone 3a, winters here occasionally get down to -40C)
- Doesn’t grow too high: it’d be nice not to have to mow, or to have high spots where the vehicles don’t drive and hence giving it that ‘unkempt’ look
- can tolerate some foot traffic and light vehicle traffic
- capable of growing in tough marginal soil

Bonus points if it flowers and can provide some polyculture for local bees.

I’m thinking of some sort of tough, broad-leafed, short, flowering weed.

Right now the only thing I can find that seems to fit the requirements is white/red clover. But are there any other suggestions? Or other ideas of ways to green a driveway?

5 years ago