Archive for December 2010

Cracking on…

It’s holiday time! Which of course means we’re working on the house. We’re wanting to get it liveable as soon as we can. Thus this week means finishing off the earth floor and then plastering everything in sight.

Our wonderful discovery is pavelock sand – sweep it into the gaps between the earth blocks, quick bit of ramming, pour water in, bingo, it sets and we’re done:

Well, “done” means that we’ve three blocks to replace and some more cracks to fill, and then the whole lot gets covered in clay slip, then linseed oil, then wax, but hey, progress towards this end is being achieved!

In other news, the 4500 litre rainwater tank arrived. It has to go down the gully and then up the other side. We got it down. Up can wait for a winch.

What I’ve started to think about this year and where it is taking me

These are not exactly resolutions, but paths my brain has been wandering down, with the potential for adventures at the other ends of those paths.

Toolkits for shiny toys

Ok, this year most of my time and energy for making has gone into the house, but I feel like I’ve reached a point with electronics where I’ve at least half an idea of what I’m doing and what it might lead to. What I’m working towards is the ability to put together microcontrollers, sensors, and LEDs into a wide range of shiny things and have them behave in a way that’s complicated and visually engaging enough to grab the attention of everyone within sight.

For example, the Fannies, v1.0 are half what I want them to be. I have the knowledge and skills to make them work, and look shiny, but they’re not bomb-proof, nor are they saleable. So, plan for next year is to move from Picaxes to a gruntier microcontroller family, spend more time drawing parts in Sketchup and contracting out manufacturing rather than making them myself, and spend more time reading The Scientist and Engineer’s Guide to Digital Signal Processing (even if I do read a chapter, scratch my head for a while, work out how to implement that particular filter and then discover that I wrote one just like it without knowing the theory, just coz it seemed the obvious way to do it).

And of course, there’s the tension between making the single uber-toy and something that everyone can have. The uber-toy, currently, is the Mitochondrion, version 4. The current design-for-consideration aims to push 200 kb/sec optical bandwidth through seven Amps-worth of LEDs running off twenty batteries. The something for everyone else uses one, maybe two LEDs, but might be affordable for others. Ah, hell, I’ll just do both.

The psychology and sociology of climate change

The big realisation at work this year for me (and plenty of others) is the extent to which climate change is now a problem in the realm of social sciences, not physical sciences. Hell, the fundamental physical science work was mostly done more than ten years ago, with most of the immense amount of work being done now just a case of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s (with the exceptions of ocean acidification, increasing feedbacks in ice sheet melting, and clouds). No, the interesting question is the mismatch between the huge pile of knowledge about the coming changes to the climate and the minimal response at all human levels, personal, cultural, political.

We think of ourselves as good people, and yet we do bad things. Okay, that’s a problem with human nature that goes beyond climate change, but in this context, we all will have blood on our hands. And we’re not good at dealing with that, or even thinking about that, let alone coming up with some solutions. Norgaard’s paper made a big impression on me this year, despite the understated title of Cognitive and behavioural challenges in responding to climate change. There’s a great deal more for me (and plenty of others in the policy world) to find out about, the Degrees of Possiblity workshop in Wellington this month was just the start. I’ve yet to read Stephen Gardner’s paper A Perfect Moral Storm: Climate Change, Intergenerational Ethics and the Problem of Moral Corruption but with a title like that, I’m going to have to.

Non-representational theories (or how to get out of the right-wing trap of post-modernism)

Ok, here’s where it gets really abstract, coz I’ve only started thinking about this in the last couple of months. I don’t know much about this, only I’ve a hunch that it’s going to be very important indeed. You might have noticed that post-modernism winds me up something chronic. It’s fine as a tool for literary criticism but of negative value beyond that. The idea that reality is socially-constructed is essentially corrosive to our ability to deal with that reality; the result is that “the modern global Right has operationalised postmodernism as a system of power.” This began with the US neoconservatives, with their wars against an enemy that did not have weapons of mass destruction. The claim that Saddam Hussein had WMDs was not true, but the real point here is that the truth of the claim was not important, it was enough to repeatedly make that claim. Once upon a time, we’d call that claim a lie, but I don’t think that word has a meaning any more. Another symptom is the Tea Party. Obama’s birth certificate, 9/11, death panels, Climategate – the reality no longer matters, because these beliefs have been freed of any connection to any underlying reality.

I think Baudrillard might have mentioned something like this, but not from the perspective of doing anything about it, making him mostly a waste of time. So I find myself reading Thrift and Bérube and Latour, and delving into odd corners of human & cultural geography, where you can find sentences like: “there can be no sense of how meanings and values may emerge from practices and events in the real world, no sense of the ontogensis of sense, no sense of how real the really made-up can be”. I don’t know where this is going to take me but I’m looking for a rapprochement between brute fact and social fact, to quote Bérube. Right now, it makes me scratch my head and wonder what the hell I’m doing and whether I’m wasting my time. It may be that the epistemological tools of power are irrelevant and that it’s just power itself that matters. In that case, I should go and work in finance until I’m rich enough to simply buy my own nation.

I don’t think I am wasting my time.

We have a kitchen!

Well, I mostly lie, we have some kitchen cabinets in place, lacking the stainless bench-top or any appliances. But hey, progress. We also have more flooring upstairs, more plaster, more tiles, and more flashing (ooo, missus).

And, coz we are childish, tieke spotted this product in Bunnings. I think it would be handy if you were doing it yourself:

Anyway, as usual, we’ll be up there tomorrow from 10 and would welcome any help. We’ll mostly be plastering, with occasional gib stopping. For gib stopping, you just stand there and say, in a firm voice: “Bad Gib! No biscuit!”

More working on the house tomorrow

We have doors! These came from the old Trekkers Hotel, were covered in thick lead paint, but they came up a treat (courtesy of much elbow-grease from tieke). They’re rimu and pretty solid.

So we’re on to internal joinery – doors, window frames for the internal windows, skirting boards, the occasional shelf. There’s still some finishing off to do outside, then decks and another retaining wall, but it looks like a house. Plumbing and kitchen next week, along with more work on the earth floor.

There’s still plenty of earth plastering to do. We’ll be up there from 10 am tomorrow, if you want to get dirty. Oh, and weeding the roof.

And then, at some point in the not too distant future, we’ll be sitting down with a cold glass of something to look at the view of an evening:

The Darfield Earthquake

Everybody goes “where”? But that’s the official name of the Christchurch/Canterbury earthquake.

We had a magnitude 7 earthquake right next to a big city. No-one died. Similar earthquake in Haiti? 230,000 dead. So, why? That’s what I’ve been looking into over the last couple of months:
Information Paper – The Darfield Earthquake

But if you’re too lazy to read a grand total of four pages, it comes down to fifty years of solid scientific research into how the ground shakes and how to make buildings that will stand up.

We’ve already got one article out of it from the NZ Herald:
“Lack of quake deaths part ‘fluke’ and part good design”

And now that we know how to make buildings that won’t fall over and kill people, the next step is working out how to make buildings that won’t even get damaged, so that communities are can carry on without disruption.

In other news, Wellington still has a very small number of transport links, most of which run across the big fault line, and thus a fair chance of being cut off in the event of a decent quake. Oh, and a fair number of unreinforced masonry buildings and facades which should be condemned.

More plastering tomorrow – assistance welcomed

We’ll be working at the house again tomorrow, earth plastering and assorted other jobs. Any assistance welcome.

However, now that I’m up there two days in the week, we’ll be taking Sundays off, as the Good Lord intended.*

Given that we’ve now 4-6 people up there each day in the week, we’re cracking on somewhat. Yesterday was the last of the gib board and connecting up drains. We’re finishing off interior surfaces and final utilities. Yup, the house is rapidly heading towards being done. Holy crap! So, if you’re wanting to help, then the next month or so will be your only chance.**

In other news, I’ve reached the cultural sophistication of homo habilis – I made this special tool for poking things into cracks. Random piece of steel, hammered straightish, a chunk of tree branch for a handle, screw them together, poke away. (Actually, Cliff the Builder told me how to make it, thus we have evidence of the cultural transmission of knowledge about tool-making, placing us as roughly the sophistication level of chimps or capuchin monkeys). Anyway, poky tool:

* – The Good Lord here being Warren Ellis, who spends his Sundays recovering from Saturday night’s oil-tanker worth of whisky, or so I’m told.
** – Who am I kidding? We’re going to get the house into a liveable state so we can move in and stop paying rent, but then there’ll be plenty more to be done on the house. Hell, then there’ll be the garden after that, although that might wait until we’ve chilled out a bit.