A Cool Shed Office Conversion

After bringing your attention to Shedworking, a blog for living and working in small places, I had to post this link to an article I stumbled upon over at LifeHacker.  One of their readers, Brian DeHamer, solved his lack of office space in his house by constructing a toolshed behind his garage and converting it to a state of the art office!  The office is fully insulated and complete with multiple monitors, carpet, track lighting, and plenty of storage space. Check it out.

This is very inspiring for my own shed living project.  My plan was to have one of three shed units be a combined sleeping, office space.  One thing I really like about the design above is the ability to isolate yourself from the rest of the living space.  In my current living arrangements, my office and sleeping space is combined, which can make it difficult to work while the wife is trying to sleep.  It might be time to rethink the office/sleeping unit.

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Shedworking: A Great New Small Living Blog

For those of you who have been following the painfully slow development of my tool-shed living slash dog-trot paper model, you would know that I am fascinated by living efficiently in small spaces and have set a goal to own 200 acres, but live in a sub 1,000 square foot structure.   One day, I did a google search on small living, or something similar and stumbled upon Shedworking, A lifestyle guide for shedworkers.  While focused on those that work in sheds in the UK, the author offers a fascinating collection of “sheds” and the community that surrounds them.

I for one am inspired by the variety of designs and will use some of the ideas as inspiration as I develop my own “shed” design… something more along the lines a dog trot shed (or is its sheds, plural?).  I hope everyone else finds inspiration as well…

Happy Reading!

Meeting Art: Sketching at Work

As of late, work has been rather unexciting to me.  Pretty much all I do is sit at my computer and code reports using a combination of SQL, VBA, Mondrian, and Java.  It is very solitary and I just don’t find it exciting any more.  To make matters worse, I find myself in long meetings, listening to my co-workers duke it out for who is right, wrong or the strongest.  Ugh, after 45 minutes or so my butt starts to hurt, my mind wanders, and I start thinking about why I accepted the meeting invitation.

For a long time I would doodle during the meetings.  I would occupy myself  by drawing boxes, chasing lines with other lines, or even drawing the most lines across the top of a piece of paper.  But then I thought that I could really put some effort into these doodles and create something that I could be proud if I ever got caught.  So, I did.  They started with post-it notes. Post-it notes are the ultimate media for killing time in meetings.  I always have a stack of the small ones in my organizer as they are great for jotting down thoughts and decorating the side of my monitor.

So one day I saw the post-it note as a blank canvas, waiting for my talented fingers to guide a pencil along and make a masterpiece so incredible that Da Vinci would roll in his grave. Liking to sketch landscapes, I took inspiration from a photo I took at Crater Lake on the Cleetwood Cove Trail, I did a really quick artistic impression of what I could remember.  Wizard Island, the steep slope from the rim to the water level, the trees, the jagged rocks, and the strange wooden “wall” holding up the switchbacks.  It is an amazing doodle that highlights the features of the dramatic scene.

Crater Lake Sketch

A second Post-It note I found while cleaning out my organizer is a very simple landscape scene.  This must have been sketched while sitting on the john at work, since it is so simple.  If I had a full meeting for this one, it would have been more complete.  I started with the river and added the mountains.  Since I usually draw houses, I think this time I took a chance with a road paralleling the river.  Overall, I don’t think this is going to impress anyone, especially not Da Vinci.

My most recent meeting art is below, inspired from a photo I found on a homesteading site.  There was something timeless, but motivating about the structure of the picture.  I ended drawing it on the back of one of my organizer sheets that I use to plan my day.  Anyway, I think it came out quite nicely, although I might go back and add some color to it with color pencils.   I did find out that three people at my end of the table watched me sketch it out.  I was a little embarrassed that they caught me, but they thought it looked great and was certainly more interesting than whatever the boss was talking about!

Landscape 1001

Happy Sketching!

Cheers!

An Aviation First: Fuel Cell Airplane Has Flown

I just saw this over at the Green Car Congress, a blog I frequent to stay up on the latest alternative fuel news in the automotive industry. Today, I saw a historical post, one that our grandkids might look back on in their aviation history books. Boeing Research and Technology Europe (based in Madrid), in conjunction with a group of companies, universities, and institutions, has flown an airplane powered by hydrogen fuel cells. I knew that auto manufacturers were making steady progress on powering cars with fuel cells, but I was caught completely off guard by this one.

The Dimona motor glider built by Diamond Aircraft featured a 20kw hydrogen fuel cell stack. While the technology is still being developed, Boeing does not forsee passenger flights powered by fuel cells, but general aviation could benefit as light aircraft, manned and unmanned, could be powered with such a system.

You can read more details over at Boeing Flies Fuel Cell Airplane at the Green Car Congress, or head over to AutoblogGreen and check out Boeing Fuel Cells up in the Air, which has a diagram of the system.

Papermodel “Dog Trot” Kit v0.2

I spent some time with my pencil, paper, and ruler and measured out a basic kit for the “dog trot” papermodel toolshed living unit I designed. I started typing this post offline, but before I knew it, it had exploded into a mini documentary of what sustainable living is and how this design fits into it. It was way too complex for what I wanted. I simply wanted to present the model, it being what it is. I even lightly colored the base paper with color pencil to show the ground layout; the brick along the front and down the “breezeway”, the black represents the parking area, and green is grass.

One thing I must note is that this design is NOT a dog trot living unit. A dog trot design has all rooms under a single roof, with the breezeway being half the width of the front rooms. Since the pictures below show three toolsheds, this is simply a dog trot inspired design.

DG_Front

The Front View

DG_FrontPers

The Front Perspective

DG_BckLft

The Back Left View

DG_bckRgt

The Back Right View

I have not decided if I will make this version of the model available. The roofs are currently not part of the kit and it looks rather rough. I think I might refine it some more before releasing it. If anyone is interested in such a kit, please leave a comment. It might inspire me to work harder on it!

Cheers!

DogTrot Papermodel Update

I’ve noticed over the past few days that arealityofmyown is getting a lot hits from search terms relating to papermodels.  In particular, the post “A new paper model project” has seen most of those hits.  This is the post where I announced I was working on building a papermodel of the toolshed, dogtrot, style sustainable living compound that I designed a few summers back.  An update is in order!

I designed it using Visio, which is a windows only program.  After printing it out, I measured and started drawing the papermodel kit in Photoshop. Developing the basic walls and placing the doors/windows was not hard and before I knew it, I had the walls built.

Unfortunately, this is where I got stuck.   I had a hard time visualizing the roof.  I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to maintain three separate toolsheds, requiring development of three roofs, or designing it with one big roof over the whole thing.  I always visualized the compound as three toolsheds with somethings like a champa or pavilion type roof over them.  The advantage of the champa/pavilion is that the could be covered with solar panels and/or “green roofing” while providing an expanse of shaded outdoor space and even carport.  For some reason, I just could not visualize the final design, the double roofs seemed like a waste of resources, and I couldn’t how the champa/pavilion roof would integrate with the three units if I didn’t use stock toolsheds.  Then there is the possibility of making the whole thing using straw bale.

As you can see, my mind went nuts with ideas on how to refine this compound.  I love the dogtrot style, I love the idea of living units, and I love the idea of protected outdoor space.   Back the drawing I went, but then the holidays came up and I haven’t gotten back to it.  To make matter worse, my guinea pig attacked the model that I built previously, destroying it.  I think it was sign from above to rethink the whole project  However, I migrated to an iMac (I love it!) and no longer have access to Visio and the files it produced.  I am shopping for a simple Mac based, free CAD program, but haven’t found anything yet.  I might return to old fashion pencil and paper and risk poking my eye with the pencil or dying of an infection from a papercut.  Skethcing it out on paper, with full elevations would make it easier to build from paper! duh!
Overall, the first version was a great exercise in visualizing the details and going through the process of possibilities.  Please stay tuned and be patient, the project is moving forward slowing.

Do we understand the impact of switching to ethanol?

With America more eager than ever to rid itself of its foreign oil addiction, efforts have increased in finding an alternative. In fact, our impeachable leader has set a timetable to reduce America’s use of gasoline by 20% in ten years. (1) While there are countless alternatives that can help achieve and even beat this goal, one that is gaining in popularity is ethanol as it integrates well with our current personal transportation infrastructure.

In reaction to supplying America with more ethanol, ethanol production plants have more than doubled in the last decade. To supply these plants with corn grain, US farmers have ramped up the planting, growing, and harvesting of corn, causing a 533% increase in corn production since 2000. In fact, so much corn has been planted by US farmers, that the percent of acres planted increased 18% from 2006 to 2007, while other grains decreased 8%. (2) Clearly, America is taking the production of ethanol seriously.

A recent article in Agronomy Journal, published by the American Society of Agronomy, discusses the impact of growing corn on the sustainability of our soils. While everyone refers to ethanol as a “renewable” energy source, the truth is that without proper care, soils can only grow so much corn. The process is this: 1) farmer plants corn, 2) corn grows 3) farmer harvests corn and leaves behind corn stover. While the act of growing corn removes 30%-50% of nutrients from the soil, the leftover stover acts to replenish the soil, supporting needed microbial life. These nutrients and soil quality are referred to as soil organic carbon (SOC). (3) So, if farmers aren’t careful they can deplete the soil and corn yield would go down. In fact, a worst case scenario, and perhaps an exaggeration, would be the dust bowl that occurred during the Great Depression.

This begs the question: How much stover is needed to replenish the soil so that there is no decrease in SOC? Well, no one knows exactly. (that can’t be good!) The standard practice in determining sustainable harvest levels is to measure the crop residue needed to keep soil loss above the tolerable loss, without regard for soil quality.   Researchers tried to compare crop yields and SOC to gauge their relationship, there isn’t enough data available to be conclusive.  Researchers argue that it is more important than ever to begin collecting quality, duplicable data before we can make smart decisions on the amount of stover needed to keep corn production sustainable.  They expect to have reliable data to measure stover and SOC by 2017, which is the same year that we should be celebrating our 20% reduction in gasoline consumption. (3)

But today, in general, proper soil management is correlated to high crop yield.  This is why it is more important than ever to develop clear guidelines on sustainable ethanol production, before it is too late.   SOC is usually slow to respond to improved soil management, meaning that depleted soil can take a decade before it is ready to be planted again.

One point I want to make here is that we need to be careful about being reactionary to the cost of oil.  While we may get off one addiction, improper management of soil can put us in a dire situation later. Ridding ourselves of foreign oil might, at the same time make us dependent on foreign corn.

Another point I would like to make is that diverting corn to ethanol production may be causing an increase in US inflation. Jeff Rubin in Fueling Inflation, sees two indicators that will have a such an impact.  First, grain stocks are at their lowest levels in 20 years as they struggle to keep up with demand and, second, a 60% increase in grain prices in the last two years, both indicate that the cost of producing food will rise (3), possibly causing the end of the $0.99 hamburger.  As you might expect, people in the lowest income quantile will be affected the most, as they spend up to 40% of their monthly budget on food.  This combined with rising gasoline prices, will mean that the FED will have a harder time than ever controlling the American economy.

What I hope everyone takes away from this post is just an open mind.  Let’s think about the situation we are in before we react and accidentally put a noose around our necks.  With exponentially increasing corn production and without the ability to track the quality of soil and maintain sustainability,  I think now is the time to look at other alternatives, including expanding hybrids and biodeisels.  But, I will remind everyone that there is something that can be done today that can have a huge impact on America’s oil consumption; simply drive slower and smoother by connecting your brain to the gas pedal.  Be conscious of wasting gas by speeding on the freeway or accelerating hard only to beat everyone to the next red light.

References:

1) Bush, G.W. 2007. 2007 State of the Union Address. 23Jan2007.
http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2007/initiatives/

2) Jeff Rubin and Benjamin Tal. “Corn For Ethanol: An Inflation Crop” CIBC World Markets StrategEcon, 22 October 2007, p4.

3)  W. W. Wilhelma, Jane M. F. Johnson, Douglas L. Karlen and David T. Lightle.
Corn Stover to Sustain Soil Organic Carbon Further Constrains Biomass Supply