Canned Heat II: The Jig

Canned Heat I was published several months ago. To catch you up to date includes 2 flocks of chickens decimated by an 11 year old dog and a summer garden.

We finally got the chicken/dog issue straightened out. But the fact that chicks were sharing my work space and I wasn’t going to run power-tools and use chemical sealants around them, meant the Mister saw no need to make a jig if I wasn’t going to use it immediately. The upshot is, I am just now getting around to the 2nd phase of the project.

So after cleaning the cans I set up a jig on the drill press to take out the bottom of each can. Initially this consisted of a board bolted to the table on the drill press with a groove routed out.

After a couple of tests, in which I realized how much torque (twist) the hole saw created I had to figure out how to keep the can stable while the saw was cutting the bottoms. I hit upon this configuration:

This was held onto the table with 2 vice grip clamps. The Gorilla Tape helped to fill the space to create a snug fit, but was slick enough to allow the can to be inserted and removed smoothly. The bevel in the back allows the can to fit, as the hole saw was long enough to interfere with placing the can into the jig.

Note the sheet-rock screw. I found that if you put the screw inside the can opening and twist it until the side of the opening touches the screw, you simply have to hold the can down. This means you don’t have to squeeze the can to prevent it from spinning and you avoid crushing the can.

I used a 1.5″ bi-metal hole saw.

Please wear gloves and safety glasses. Drilling creates a lot of metal shavings. They are sharp and small and would not be pleasant under the skin.

Next, I needed to cut the tops to allow more air flow. You don’t want holes that are as big as the can, nor do you want them to align perfectly. Large, perfectly aligned openings, allow the air to move through too quickly for the air to make much contact with the warmed metal . So using a tin snips and cutting the top into a series of tabs will allow you to bend some of the tabs. The bent tabs create baffles, which creates turbulence in the air flow. This turbulence causes the air to touch the warmed metal more often, resulting in warmer air.

Next you will want to push some of the tabs down. Please don’t use fingers. I use an old stand by that you probably already have on hand: an inexpensive can opener.

So, all that done, I needed a jig to hold the cans in place while the adhesive cured.  I’ve seen people use angle iron and other types of contraptions, but the main idea is the keep the cans stable and in line while the sealant sets up.

And, although I love the Mister, he has a tendency to …*ahem* over build things. (At least in my humble opinion) And the jig for the cans was no exception. All I needed was two 2×4’s joined to form a right angle. But nooooo….. I got a fancy jig instead. One that took a lot longer to build, but I’m not sure works any better. But, at least he got the job done. Sometimes that’s all you can ask.

So we’ve jumped ahead a bit with this picture, but I just wanted to show you the basic idea.

I’m using a sealant for roof flashing. It is U.V. and heat resistant. It takes 24 hours to cure before painting, hence the need for a jig to held it in place. I’ve found it best to apply sealant to several cans at once, then place them in the jig, making sure that the cans are seated one atop the other and in contact with the sides of the jig. Use enough to adhere the tops and bottoms together, but not so much that you have to do a lot of clean up after the sealant dries.

I can do about 1 1/3 stacks a day. So, in less than two weeks I should be able to the 16 stacks needed for the heating unit.

I’ll try to be a little more timely with the next part of the project. Stay tuned.

Spread of the Radioactive Cloud of Fukushima

From the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics

Project Path of Radioative Particulates

Guy Logic in Tool World

So I’m assembling a new drill press today and run into a perfect example of Guy Logic.

I’ll skip over the part where they assume I’ve assembled a drill press before and leave out helpful explanations and steps. Because, in my experience, the people who write tech. manuals couldn’t have possibly assembled the items they are writing about themselves. So there’s no point in bitching about the universal constant of half-assed assembly instructions.

I’ve gotten about half way through the assembly and everything is coated in machine oil, including my hands. Each of the plastic bags wrapped around each individual of the parts is coated, the machine is coated; I could give the Terminator a full-body massage and still have greasy hands.

I secretly believe machine oil is like some sort of pheromone for men. Either that or they believe it works that way on the women who smell it.

“Oooooo, he must be handy. He smells like greasy nickle soup. Hey, baby, I’m sexually available.”

So, I’m reading the directions and trying to keep the machine oil off the instruction manual – because I’m prissy that way- and come to the part where I am supposed to prepare the head assembly before putting it onto the base. The directions read:

Place the head assembly upside down on a level, flat surface.

In other words, take it out of the box, remove the greasy plastic wrapping and put it upside down on the table. But then I see a note at the bottom of the instruction series:

NOTE: This tool is heavy. Get help when needed.

So, what your sayin’ there bud is I should pick up a bulky, unwieldy, machine part featuring a slick, plastic hood with my grease-coated hands and hey, take care, it’s really heavy and flip it over to put it on the table.

And truly it is a heavy bastid. But the only tools they claimed one would need are a mallet, an adjustable wrench and a Phillips head screwdriver. There was nothing about an extra set of hands, attached or not, to a beefy grease-monkey.

If there were, I would have picked one up at the hardware store on the way home.

Canned Heat: a solar project.

I ran across an interesting company out of Canada a few weeks ago. They recycle aluminum cans to make efficient low-cost solar heaters.

I thought the idea was brilliant and worth trying to see what the process might entail. This is a perfect project to try with students. And fits perfectly with the Boy Scouts Environmental Science Badge.

But before we start explaining how we went about it, I want to thank Diedra Hicks Iredell County Cooperative Extension and the students of Mitchell Community College, Statesville for their invaluable assistance with this project. But not so much FreeCycle of Hickory.

I’ll be updating this post as the project progresses, so check in periodically.

Step One: Kick the Cans

But don’t dent them. If you take the opportunity to view the video clip from the Cansolair website, you’ll see rows of unblemished aluminum cans. They can have minor flaws, but it is better if at least half the can is smooth.

So collecting we went. In addition to being a good lesson on renewable energy and recycling, there is something to be learned from cleaning up discarded cans from the woods and road sides.

If you decide to go can hunting, latex or polypropylene gloves are probably a good idea. The worst I’ve found is that folks sometimes use cans for spitting tobacco. But there is always a fear of other unknowable ickyness when you poke around outdoors.

240 minimally blemished cans seems to be the magic number. This isn’t too hard when there is more than one person on the job.

Once you have your cans, they will need to be cleaned. You don’t want mold or the smells of soda or beer in the air exchange. A little bleach in a tub full of hot water should take care of the average soda or beer can. Soap will help with those that are a little more grungy.

You’ll need to de-tab the cans. This can be done before or after washing and is a nice mindless chore while watching TV or sitting around. And, bonus, we can donate the tabs to Sharon Elementary School can drive along with the unusable cans we’ve collected.

There are a lot of urban legends about charities accepting tabs, but for the most part, they aren’t true. We’ll pay it forward through the Sharon School student can drive instead.

117 de-tabbed aluminum cans

So here are our cans in the wash mode.

And this shows you how little I know a about canned beer. I didn’t know there was such a thing as Bud Dry. According to the Mister, this one verges on being an antique.

Dry, Bud Dry

Tonight the second batch sits soaking in the tub. We’ll get those dried tomorrow and ready to drill out.

See Canned Heat II for more.


Stormaggedon: Ark Storms and the San Andreas Faultline

NBC Los Angeles
Scientists Cite “Atmospheric River” for Near Continuous Rain

Seems that scientists have pinned down the system that is dumping flooding rains onto California. And they realize it has happened before:

But there’s nothing new about the phenomenon.  What scientists now realize was an atmospheric river in 1861-62 brought California 45 straight days of rain and caused flooding of Biblical proportions, evocative of Noah and his ark. It bankrupted the state.

So they have insipidly named them Ark Storms. ‘Cause how you gonna sell it sexy to the general public if you cite a more technically correct name?

The scientists studying this storm admit that they don’t know if this particular system will end up being an Ark Storm. Time and the amount of rainfall will tell.

In my post of 1 year ago, Doom and Gloom: Sunspots, Volcanoes and Earthquakes. Famine, Disease and Pestilence. , I discuss scientific observations regarding the links between shifts in weather, including rainfall and some earthquakes.

Evidence of a link between climate and the rumblings of the crust has been around for years, but only now is it becoming clear just how sensitive rock can be to the air, ice and water above. “You don’t need huge changes to trigger responses from the crust,” says Bill McGuire of University College London (UCL), who organised the meeting. “The changes can be tiny.”

Climate change: Tearing the Earth apart?
New Scientist

In the NBC article, Lucy Jones of the U-S Geological Survey office in Pasadena and a specialist in earthquakes comments on the history of this type of storm. She says she was struck by something in the timing of the storm and the occurrence of a major San Andreas quake :

Jones is struck by the coincidence that California’s last major Ark Storm occurred so close in time to the last Southern San Andreas Big One in 1857.  It appears both recur with a frequency of a few hundred years.

The question becomes: did the years leading up to the San Andreas Quake in 57 have smaller (non-Ark) storms, like the one California may be experiencing at this time?

If there is a correlation between these rivers of moisture in the atmosphere and the- long overdue for a major shift – San Andreas Fault line, we would hope that the California Government finds a way to gently remind people to stock up on emergency supplies. Watch the videos in the NBC story to see what they consequences of such a quake might be.

One notes, without irony, that the last time California had an Ark Storm, it bankrupted the state.  This time around the storms are definitely not the cause of the current financial crisis in CA.


A poem in honor of the eclipse

Bodies in Motion

Me and my baby
view the eclipse.

Two luminescent bodies
past and future
along a sweet
bisecting line.


Mike Rayburn @ xNASA: a TED Talk

How to Conserve Water (Without Really Trying)

On a Wednesday morning garden walk-about, I discovered that one of the swales behind the house was filled with water. Now had it rained, this would not be surprising. That’s what the swales are for; to keep the downside of our hill from becoming a rutted mess. With the co-benefit of watering our garden beds.

But there had been no rain.

The culprit was the water line from the well to the house. It had ruptured. Probably from the combination of basement building, power-line trenching and earthmoving equipment when we installed our solar panel array.

I’d like to blame the earth movers; they put a few dozen bees in my bonnet while they were here. But I strive to be both fair and skeptical (a classical skeptic, not the modern fundamentalist sort). So I’m forced to admit that I can’t definitively know what caused the problem.

A ruptured line next to the house would also explain the persistently damp wall in the basement. We were planning to regrade the front yard to try and shunt more water away from the house. Because the folks who built it – let’s sum up their siting skills in a word: sub-par. The house is oriented so that any water falling off the front side of the roof immediately rolls back toward the footing.

Luckily, it seems we will be able to fix a couple of problems with one solution. Even though it means we will have to get a trencher out here. And locater services.

As it happens, our next door neighbor is a trencher/well and water guy. And he is often in need of carpentry work. So there may be some opportunity for barter there. But, if you know anything about dealing with bureaucracies, especially of the power company sort, then you know we may be waiting a few days to get the water back up and running.

So what do we do until then?

Let me begin by explaining the artist’s creed.  We aren’t taught this creed in a  formal fashion; instead we acquire it through experience. It goes something like this:

We have done so much, with so little, for so long; we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

As a rule artists, and other “creative” types, are the red-headed step-children of funding and budgetary concerns. We are given the leftovers, the scraps with the understanding that “because we are creative”, we will be able to make-do. And after eons of this archetypal narrative playing out like a recurring nightmare, we have become so entrenched in this expectation that making-do comes as easily as a child’s first breath.

The problem was a fairly simple one. We had plenty of water. The question was how to get it to the house.

The Mister Getting a Spot of Water 02/09

Initially I was taking water from our rainwater storage tanks. Two 325 gallon tanks that sit on the back corners of the house. You see, I’m a catastrophic thinker. And lately, as you might imagine, that tendency has served me in good stead.

In North Carolina, we’ve suffered a series of droughts over the past decade or so. According to this report from the Center for Health and Global Environment (pdf) it seems that drown or drought will be the “norm” for the foreseeable future. So I decided to implement some measures to deal with potential water issues . Burms and swales for the gardens and water tanks for rainwater storage.

The water from the tanks is fine for the garden, for watering the dogs, flushing the toilets and in a pinch you can boil it to wash dishes. But, without filtration and some sterilization, I wouldn’t want to use it for drinking or cooking.

Given that, we decided to “run a line” from the well to the house.

This is a much simpler solution than humping water up the hill from the back of the house.  The well water is potable and with a noticeable lack of bugs, leaves and other mystery items floating around in it.

This morning I hooked a hose up to the well, switched it on and ran it over to the front door. 

While this has all the convenience of City Living whilst keeping the native Country Charm, it could be more convenient still.

Running it through an opening in the storm door seemed like it would move the line into an optimum position near the laundry, the kitchen and the first floor bathroom.

Once inside, it was simple to get all the laundry out of the way. The only issue was being aware of the rinse cycle starting so I could add more water.

While the clothes were washing, I started heating pots of water for the dishes, filling water jugs for later use and as a side benefit I was able to get enough water on the hall way and kitchen floors that they both got a rather thorough cleaning.

I can see why women used to be relegated to the kitchen before the advent of boilers and hot water storage. Heating the water on our propane stove took up a good amount of time. I can imagine the extra time spent lighting and stoking wood fires to get the water up to temperature.

Taking advantage of the hot water available, I managed a quick “whore’s bath” as we say in the South. (Apologies to all you whores who bathe thoroughly on a regular basis) Of course, if I was worried about “freshness”  Summer’s Eve could do all that and seemingly get me a raise to boot.

Even before this incident, we had already acclimated ourselves to recycling as much of our “greywater” as we feasibly can. We can’t legally use the water from the washing machine or from the dishes for much of anything. Not yet anyway.  Luckily those laws are changing as lawmakers come to the realization that if oil scarcity has caused the problems we face today, they are nothing compared to the coming nightmare of water scarcity.

So we don’t flush the toilets every time if there is only urine. However, without chlorination, you can’t let the bacteria breed in the toilet bowl for too long before the odor begins to “waft”.  And after I’ve taken a bath, we use that water for the next several flushes; keeping a small bucket handy in the bathroom for just that purpose.

This incident is precisely why I have been pushing the Mister to look into a solar well pump. Either that or a high end hand pump. We were lucky this time. It was only a broken water line. The next incident could be more problematic.

As for heating the water; if the need arises, I can easily construct a solar water heater. That’s a weekend project made from handy scrap material (well, handy for artists, anyway). But if the electricity goes down for an extended period and we use up the stores in the rainwater tanks, that means walking down to the creek or down to the lake.

Down the hill doesn’t bother me. It’s the idea of hauling enough water up the hill that makes me shudder.

Three days of dishes were finally done. And since the Mister is the usual washer of dishes, they weren’t stacked with quite the same neatness he seems to be able to achieve. In my view, if it doesn’t move, that’s good enough. This inevitably leads to a pile of of random shapes sporting the appearance of  bad post-modern sculpture.

As for fretting over the potential lack of a functioning well. Well, here’s the thing: for the past few years a number of government agencies, including the National Research Council in 2009 have warned of the potential for a catastrophic failure of the electrical grid. The general consensus is this could occur either through cyber-attacks or from solar storms.

This past July a “Space Weather Conference” was held in Washington DC. It was attended by NASA scientists, policy-makers, researchers and government officials. One of the speakers, Dr Richard Fisher, the director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division explained that every 22 years the Sun’s magnetic energy cycle peaks while the number of sun spots (and solar flares)  hits it’s peak every 11 years.

He said these two events are due to overlap in 2013 and will produce huge levels of radiation. He also suggested that, although it was unlikely, much of the world could spend several months without any electrical power.

I guess he struck a nerve somewhere, because NASA immediately began to soft pedal Dr. Fisher’s statements suggesting that it could occur within 10 years or 100.

And that’s fine. Except for Katrina. Except for the fact that our National Guard is no longer available to do the job it was created for, to guard the Nation in emergencies and crisis. And except for the fact that, as a nation, we’re broke. Not only fiscally, but in terms of vital infrastructure.

I can’t know the future. But I can make guesses based on history. I can look to the consensus of nominal experts as an inroad to seeing the potential for a given event to occur.

But mostly what I can do is live by the Realist’s Motto: Always Hope for the Best (But Be Prepared for the Worst).

In this case, the worst would be no electricity for months. And other than the convenience of  a water pump, I’d have to say we’re better prepared than many. And that’s probably because we’re artists.

Our blessing and our curse.

Making a little something out of mostly nothing. The $300 (+/-) Greenhouse.

Year after year, I would clear off my plant table by the south facing window. I would find new and temporary homes for the house plants, then I would set up my seedling trays.

Starting seedlings in your living space is….the opposite of convenient or fun. It is messy, prone to mishaps based on kitty curiosity and a dozen other small and inconsequential gripes. Nuisance, I think, sums it up best.

Having learned from people I admire, to seize the moment, ask for what you want and don’t hesitate to take what’s offered, I came into possession of a variety of  materials that began to look like something useful. That something useful being a small greenhouse.

I thought I would share the process. And would appreciate any feedback or questions you may have.

Awww, it’s a Green…da,da..daaa, da…Howwse! …chicka-bow-chicka-bow-wow….

Check  out the “how-to”  by clicking on this link.

Damning Creation: abandoning the albatross of “specialness”.

Martina Skender at Six Revisions offered up  her thoughts and a bit of  history on creativity in her blog yesterday.

I honestly had no preconceptions regarding the act of  “How to Create Creativity” going into the article. The reason one reads another’s work at all is to find viewpoints that enrich your own by adding to your knowledge base or helping you to view the subject in a different light. And while I think she has many good starting points, perhaps further consideration would be in order. Because, halfway into the second paragraph, I felt compelled to reply.  And so, after finishing the post and re-reading to make sure I understood her intent, I replied (with slight modifications here for clarity):

Aaaannnd, I couldn’t disagree more. Not only with almost everything you said. But I also disagree with everything you have misunderstood about what the writers you were quoting said.

“Creativity is a mental and social process involving the discovery of new ideas or concepts.”

Perhaps a divine being can create something from nothing, but we mere humans are resigned to using what is on hand. In other words: we can never create new ideas, concepts or materials. We can only modify the ones we have.

Looking back through art history, one can see the linkages between “new” ideas and concepts in art and the social, scientific or material productivity of a culture. Dada was a reaction to social unease. Surrealism a reaction to the ideas of Freud and Jung, Warhol a reaction to both the “heroic” tone of Modernism and the ideas posited by one of the founders of Dadaism, Marcel Duchamp.

Aristotle has been quoted: “Western philosophy (thinking) is just a series of footnotes to Plato.” Of course that was not Aristotle, but a condensation of a statement by Alfred North Whitehead. But the seed of the idea holds a germ of truth: Nothing new is created. It is merely reconfigured.

There is a scientific maxim which explains it more simply: “Energy can neither be created or destroyed.” The same holds true for literally every idea, concept, “intellectual property”, science or philosophy.

Anyone can produce a new piece of art or poem or scientific discovery. But the object is only “novel” not new. Because the processes, methodology, techniques and results will be based on thousands of years of refinement and questioning before the “new” thing was even considered.

As for Lateral Thinking: The concept of Lateral Thinking in no way embraces the concept of “going around” an idea. I think one might label your description of the process as End Run Thinking or Pincer Movement Thinking.

Lateral, as the name should imply, means taking something from here and utilizing it in a novel way over there. Moving the concept, idea, material, sideways, in order to use it in a similar fashion within a new framework or in a new context.

For example, the inventor of that now ubiquitous material Velcro, was a Swiss mountaineer named George de Mestral. George had a flash of insight one day as he was pulling cockle-burs off his clothes after coming in from a walk.

He didn’t invent cockle-burs, nor did he invent the idea of them pulling at clothing fibers. No, that technique is used extensively, even today, in the fibers industry using out-sized burrs called teasle. We use this relatively primitive method because we can’t, as yet, create a hook that is both sensitive enough to pull natural fibers without breaking them, yet is strong enough to withstand industrial wear.

Herr de Mestral was lucky enough to live in an era where plastics were being actively promoted over natural fibers. And lucky enough to work with someone who chanced upon the use of an infrared lamp to curl the small plastic hooks en masse, by melting them just slightly. If  he hadn’t then he would have faded into history as the crazy man he was thought to be in his day. Now, we laud is “creativity” every day in using his product.

But he didn’t create anything. He merely used lateral thinking to join divergent ideas and disciplines into something novel. His technician/developer used lateral thinking to stream line the process of production.

Another “amateur” who lateralized her skill set to the benefit of science was Marjorie Rice of San Diego, California, a housewife and mother of five.

You see, before 1968, there was an established idea that there were only five types of convex pentagon shapes that could tile a plane. These had all been discovered by K. Reinhardt in 1918.

But in a 1968 article in The American Mathematical Monthly physicist R.B. Kershner presented three new types. He also announced without including a proof, that there were “no other convex pentagons left to be discovered”. No one challenged his assertion and the results appeared in the July 1975 issue of Scientific American in Martin Gardner’s column Mathematical Games. Soon after, Richard James III, a reader and tiling aficionado, sent to Gardner a new type of convex pentagon tiler, which Gardner published in a later issue. Now we had nine.

This news caught the attention of Marjorie Rice who also read Scientific American. She had no formal mathematical training except for a general course she took in high school. And I seem to recall that she was a quilter. But she said that she “had a feeling” that the pronouncement that were no more patterns was, somehow, wrong. So she decided to see for herself.

So she pulled out her shears and some paper and began exploring. In the end she discovered four new types of tilings in the next two years.  Thus making a total of thirteen known types.

She used Lateral Thinking. Taking a skill she already understood (quilting which uses tiled patterns) and applying within a different framework to discover something new. That embodies the essence of Lateral Thinking: discovery based on given parameters.

Lao Tsu once said: “To see things in the seed, that is genius.” He did not suggest that the things were not already there, just that we have not, as yet, apprehended them.

The problem I have with the promotion of “creativity”, “creating” or “creative thinking” is that nobody can explain how it happens except by way of example. It takes on an air of something “magic”. And since most people have the common sense to know that “magic” is the stuff of fairy tales, it both marginalizes the creative and sets the act of creating outside everyday understanding. It also allows the creative to spend their time navel gazing and contemplating their unique “specialness” rather than (as we say in the superhero biz) “using their powers for good”.

However, if I explain that anyone, any one, can take skills or ideas they have already learned and apply them in a slightly different manner inside a given context or within certain parameters; most people can grasp that as within the realm of possibility. They can paint, sculpt or draw, or make scientific discoveries or build a windmill from a trash dump to provide energy for their impoverished village. (

Human creativity is vastly overrated. And whether you choose to believe it or not, the whole aura of creative “specialness” is ultimately detrimental to all artists (including designers) everywhere. It is the albatross we are doomed to carry as penance for the sin of hubris; for assuming that we can, as the gods, create.

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