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Oct. 11th, 2033


You deserve to be happy and healthy

If you're on my friends list, you're important to me. I want you to be safe, healthy, happy, and enjoy life as much as physically possible. If there's any way that I can help alleviate some of life's annoyances and pains, please just comment below. Post an address that I can send stuff to (doesn't have to be yours, your post office may accept it for you - ref. https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Poste_restante ), tell me what you need, and a package will be on its way.

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Oct. 17th, 2016


IDEA: Hydroelectric power from water wells

TL;DR: Pour water down deep wells, turning turbines to create electricity.


In my province, many municipalities get their drinking water from both surface reservoirs (lakes) and subsurface aquifers (deep wells).

In spring and autumn, surface reservoirs are full of relatively clean water. In summer and winter, the reservoirs are half-full of dirty water, so municipalities pump water up from aquifers.

Municipal water wells have depths greater than the head of water on some hydroelectric dams.

Centripetal water pumps can be made to run backwards, with only minor modifications to turn it into a centripetal turbine.

Pumps are low-maintenance, with long service lives. The City of Toronto has century-old pumps still in active use.

My province has fewer restrictions on diversion of surface water than Alberta, Colorado, or California.

When surface water reservoirs are full, municipalities in my province could pipe excess treated water down wells into aquifers. The pumps would be turned into turbines, and the electric motors would run backwards and generate electricity. The municipality could then sell the electricity to the grid for a small profit.

Wells are expensive, turbines are expensive, but the municipality already paid for them. It wouldn't make sense to dig a well just for power generation purposes. But if you've already got the well, and you've already got the hardware, it's an opportunity to create revenue.

Oct. 10th, 2016


IDEA: Inexpensive solar-charged electric tractor

Even though it is the 21st century, the majority of farmers in developing nations still use animal power for transporting and cultivating crops.

Having a cow, horse, or other animal pull a plough has some advantages. Animals can make more of themselves, and can self-repair when injured. If you have spare fields for them to graze in, they'll mostly feed themselves. When they break down, you can sometimes turn them into meat and leather.

However, as many of my LJ friends can attest, large animals are not maintenance-free. Vet bills can be enormous and unexpected hits to your budget. Horses eat like ... well, a horse, which either means huge feed bills, or large areas of pasture that you can't use for growing crops. If you don't have enough land and workforce to breed, raise, and train your own animals, they can be quite expensive to buy. And you have to keep feeding and caring for them year-round, not just when you need them to work. All this work gives you the equivalent power of a one-horsepower engine, at best.

Tractors powered by internal combustion engines aren't always better. Fuel is expensive and flammable. Engines require regular maintenance by skilled personnel. And most importantly, unless your farm is large, you'll never make enough money from your crops to cover the payments on a modern tractor.

I think there is a place for small, inexpensive, solar-powered electric tractors.

A few people have already tried making such tractors.

Here's a video of an antique gasoline-powered tractor converted to solar-electric power, for about $10,000, giving 18 horsepower.

Here's one built from scratch as an electric tractor, for $15,000, giving 60 horsepower.

However, these are too expensive for a small subsistence farming family. They are also more powerful than necessary if you're tilling a small plot, and occasionally hauling produce to town.

Here's an electric all-terrain vehicle that retails for $1700, giving 4 horsepower. It can climb a 40-degree slope, has a range of over 60 km, and has low-maintenance brushless motors and sealed batteries. With a few modifications, this would be a good tractor. Make it wider (to prevent overturning when ploughing hills), make it taller (so the undercarriage clears crops and furrows), and reshape the exterior so it looks more like a traditional tractor (so banks will approve a loan for agricultural equipment). Add sturdy towing hitches to the front and back. Add solar panels on top (for recharging, and to shade the farmer). And now you've got something that might help improve the lives of small farmers in developing regions.


Oct. 6th, 2016


Idea: Nucleation sites to remediate Lake Nyos

Lake Nyos contains water carbonated by volcanic fumes. Occasionally, earthquakes or landslides can make the carbonated water suddenly effervesce, burping out a toxic cloud of carbon dioxide. In 1986, 1700 people were killed by such a gas eruption.


To prevent this, several vertical pipes are installed in the lake. Cold, gassy water from the bottom of the lake flows up the pipe. Bubbles form and grow as the pressure drops, and a mixture of water and gas froths out the top. However, the pipes require maintenance, and the ability to remove carbon dioxide is limited by the flow rate.


Pressure reduction is one cheap and effective way to remove carbon dioxide from water. Another way is to create nucleation sites for carbon dioxide bubbles to form. Many years ago, there was a fad where people would drop a Mentos candy into a bottle of Diet Coke. The rough surface of the candy contained many small air pockets. It is far easier for an existing bubble to grow than for a new bubble to form spontaneously, so bubbles would rapidly grow and break away from each bit of roughness on the candy.


We could do something similar with Lake Nyos. Instead of Mentos, we'd sprinkle the lake surface with silica gel powder (basically, sand etched with acid to create trillions of tiny pores), or titanium dioxide (used in paint and icing). The particles would slowly sink, with a frothy column of bubbles rising above each. We'd only add a small amount at a time, so the people living in the region wouldn't be suffocated by a lethal amount of carbon dioxide froth. As the powder sank into the mud at the bottom and the frothing stopped, we'd sprinkle on some more. We'd definitely want to wear SCUBA gear as we shoveled the powder from our boat onto the water, so we wouldn't be overcome by the fumes.

After a few months of adding powder, the lake would no longer be saturated with carbon dioxide. We'd still go out occasionally and drop in some more powder, just to keep the levels from rising again.

Any other suggestions for degassing Lake Nyos?

Sep. 12th, 2016


Headline Coffee

The Toronto Star is struggling to get revenue, as fewer people want dead trees delivered to their doorstep every morning.

Someone at the paper realized that their paper delivery system could be used to deliver other things. Their Headline Coffee subscription will get you a constant supply of fair-trade coffee beans delivered to you.

I pointed out a bug in their ordering system, and got a 75% off code as a thank-you if anyone in the Toronto area wants it.

Rice milk

I've been changing my food intake to reduce my carbon footprint. Eventually I'll be able to live on a few sacks per year of easily-transported, easily-stored, low-waste vegetable-based powders and seeds.

Half of my nutrients come from Soylent, a bland, boring, dense powder. It's vegan, does not require refrigeration, and lasts forever, with minimal waste. It's packaged in lightweight, recyclable plastic bags. Once a month, a small box arrives on my doorstep. I put some in the bottom of a glass Mason jar (with some frozen berries for flavour), add water, shake, and drink. Add coffee, and that's my breakfast and lunch.

I definitely am not giving up coffee, and I need milk (or something similar) with it. Switching from methane-producing cow milk to rice milk was easy. However, the rice milk comes in non-recycleable Tetrapaks, and it uses a lot of fuel to transport something that's 99% water. So I decided to try making my own rice milk. Instead of spending several dollars a week to buy a water-and-rice drink, I could buy a sack of rice and make my own for pennies a week.

I cooked up some rice, and threw it into a blender with water, vanilla and other ingredients. It became a smooth liquid that looked and tasted exactly like store-bought rice milk.

I poured it into a filter to strain it before putting it into a bottle.

Nothing came through the filter.

I accidentally made rice-based vanilla pudding.

At least my failure tastes good.

Aug. 28th, 2016


100 km by bike in eight hours

This morning, I went to the gym for a vigorous cardio and upper body workout. I loaded up my bike with six litres of water, two kilos of trail mix and cashews, and a change of clothes. I then started pedaling towards the little town of Port Hope, Ontario. 113 kilometers away. My goal was to stay at a bike-friendly hotel overnight, and then bike back.

The first twenty-five kilometers were on paved roads, in city traffic. Lots of stop-and-go, lots of up-and-down hills, lots of being chased by taxis. Plus lots of really expensive cars nearly swiped me off the road. I got quite hot, and noticed that I had stopped sweating. Chugging a bottle of water at a stoplight had my arms bead with sweat within minutes. Interesting - I didn't know my body could absorb and use water that fast. I had gone through a third of my water before I finally reached the Waterfront Trail.

The Waterfront Trail is a nice interlinked series of bike trails and parks running along Lake Ontario. It's mostly shaded with trees, and cool breezes make it very pleasant. There are few stop signs, and the paths are curved to minimize steep slopes. Excellent bike riding conditions! Picturesque beaches, butterflies, meadows, and tons of wildlife kept popping up. I saw more bunnies and egrets in an afternoon than ever in my life.

By the time I neared Oshawa, I had gone through two-thirds of my water, and had eaten nothing. So, I tried a handful of trail mix. That turned me into a ravenous zombie; I'd pause to stuff my mouth, and pedal while chewing furiously. That went away quickly, and instead the thought of food made me ill. I had to force myself to finish the 200-gram bag I was eating from. It had a hole in it, so I didn't want to put it in my bike packs and have it spill. Foolish of me; I should have just let the squirrels finish what I didn't want.

In Oshawa, the halfway point to Port Hope, I stopped for the first time. I sat on a bench at Intrepid Park, near the former commando and spy training facility. My dad would have liked it. Just a few days ago, someone found some WWII explosives in the area.


I called ahead and found that there were no available hotel rooms in Port Hope. So, I turned around and went back.

It started getting dark, and I was hurting.

  • My neck hurt from looking up.

  • My wrists hurt from holding the handlebars.

  • My palms felt like they were about to become huge pads of blisters.

  • My little fingers were numb from vibration. A day later, the right one still won't work.

  • My back hurt, especially my thoracic muscles, but not as much as on previous trips.

  • My behind really, reeally, reeaaaally hurt.

  • The folds of skin between my thighs and groin hurt.

  • The tip of my penis hurt. I later found a patch of skin was abraded off.

  • My knees hurt. Turns out I forgot to put sunblock on them.

  • My feet hurt from bending around the pedals, and my shoes felt like they were filled with water.

Oddly, my legs felt perfectly fine.

I had been rationing my water, but ran out. At that point I was back in the city of Toronto, going up and down steep hills while being chased by taxis in the dark. I had just reached 100 kilometers of biking, and decided that was good enough. So I steered to a bus stop, and fell off my bike. Just as I had removed my bike packs and bottles and shut off the bike lights, the #54 Lawrence bus arrived. I threw my stuff onto the bus, pulled down the bike rack on the front of the bus, and loaded and latched my bike. The driver was very patient, and told me not to rush. For the next 40 minutes I got to enjoy sitting on a flat seat in air conditioning. Then a 1-kilometer bike ride home from the stop. Hot shower, with soap stinging all my abraded bits. Several litres of water, then bed at around 10:30 PM. I had lost 3 kg / 6 lbs on the trip.

Woke up 5:30 PM the next day. I was now down 4 kg / 8 lbs. Probably dehydration. It wasn't until around 8 PM that I started peeing again in any quantity.


By the numbers:

I left at 12:30 PM.
I got back home at 9:20 PM.
I spent 40 minutes on the bus, and about 10 minutes snacking in Oshawa.
So, total time pedaling was 8 hours.

I started the day at 99 kg / 218 lbs.
I ended the day at 96 kg / 212 lbs.
The next evening when I woke up, I had dropped to 95 kg / 210 lbs.
I drank six litres of water, and until the next day I peed almost nothing.
I ate about 200 grams of trail mix and cashews.

Aug. 26th, 2016


Anyone in Toronto want to ride an antique streetcar on September 25?

PCC Streetcar Tour and Brunch, and Guest Speaker

The East Toronto Chapter of Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) is proud to host a tour through Toronto on one of the TTC’s two remaining PCC (Presidents’ Conference Committee) streetcars. We will be joined by guest speakers as well as leaders from the TTC and the PEO leadership.

Toronto Historian and author Mike Filey will host our tour around the City’s streetcar network. Mike’s talk will be: Toronto and its Streetcars from 1861 and into the future!

Mike has planned a route expressly for engineers. His route will highlight the development of Public Transportation in our city. Mike has written almost two dozen books about Toronto’s history including the popular “The TTC Story, the First 75 Years”. Mike’s popular Toronto history books will be available on the streetcar at a discount for anyone who wants them.

Admission includes the Hot House Restaurant’s famous Sunday Brunch. We will be dining in the private Library Room where TTC’s guests and PEO’s leadership will be giving greetings. Before we depart on our tour, Mike Filey will give a presentation priming the group for the trip to come.

Date: Sunday 2016 September 25 11:30

Time: Brunch 11:30 AM Tour 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM

Tour Pick Up and Drop Off: Hot House Restaurant - 35 Church St. @ Front
Transit: From King Station walk east to Church then south to 35 Church Street (Church St. & Front St.E)

EDIT: The tour is full, so I can't bring any more friends. I've put myself on the waitlist, and will let you know if there are any cancellations.

Aug. 22nd, 2016


Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women

realinterrobang linked to an article about a serial killer. More than 27 kids disappeared, and the police did little or no investigation. When mass graves were found, the police stopped digging once the number of bodies became embarrassing. And even despite evidence to the contrary, the police continued to blame the victims for being responsible for their deaths.

This is exactly what is going on with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canada's missing and murdered Aboriginal women. At least 285 dead or missing, with those supposedly protecting the public not taking action, or even keeping an accurate count.


Aug. 21st, 2016


50 kilometer bike ride

This weekend, I biked the longest distance I've ever done. Not as epic a trip as stormdog or kishenehn do regularly, but far for me.

The heatwave had finally broke, and it was a beautiful day. I mixed up some Soylent with frozen blueberries in big glass Mason jars, making sort of smoothies. This was the first time I tried version 1.6. It tastes a bit more like bland cake mix, while version 1.5 tasted more like bland pancake mix. I cut up a bowl of watermelon into cubes, and put it in a glass bowl. All this fit nicely into my panniers. A few litres of water, and my bike tires were sagging from the weight. Next time I'll use plastic instead of glass containers. Then I started pedaling my bike off to High Park for a picnic with Sandy.

It's 23 kilometers to High Park from my place! My sense of geography isn't all that great, and I had the impression that it was somewhere near Sandy's place. But I kept pedaling, and pedaling, and the park still never showed up. I was completely wet by the time I finally got there and met up with Sandy.

We flopped out on towels under a tree. Sandy picked at the watermelon, while I chugged the Soylent and water. I had brought a 26800 milliamp-hour battery and a USB fan for Sandy; he used that to cool me down. We then biked around the park for a bit, and then pedaled off together to Sandy's place.

I had just wanted to refill my water bottles, but Sandy invited me in to sit and talk. He is planning to move out of his apartment and live in a camper or van, so we looked at web pages for them. The last time I was in his place was when he dumped me, so I was nervous about being there. Too many memories, and I'd want us to be together again if I was going to be in his place.

Then I biked back home. Either I'm getting stronger, or I'm getting better at using my gears. There is a steep hill near Avenue Road that I've always had to walk up. For the first time, I managed to pedal all the way up without stopping or walking.

Total distance was about 46 km on the road, plus another few kilometers pedaling around the park.

Today, I made up for all that biking by napping outdoors on a lawn chair outside my door. My body can only take so much.

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