Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

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Like my brownhouse:
   Potemkin hydrogen pump
Saturday, July 7 2007
Ray head back down to the City this morning, I sent him on his way with a bag of catnip for Francis and a pirated DVD of the movie The Graduate.

For the past two weeks I've been suffering from a strange pain on the inside of my jaw bone just beneath my left lower wisdom tooth. This spot is near where the jaw, throat, and tongue all come together and it was easy for me to mistake the pain for a mild sore throat. I'd massage the sort spot (which is just beneath a large bony protuberance in the jawbone, and though it would hurt, the texture of the gum (or whatever the mucosa is called down there) didn't feel as if there was any surface lesion, though when my tongue brushed against it the site had a distinctly metallic taste. But there was no swelling; physically it was the same as its mirror image on my right lower jaw. But two weeks is a long time for mouth pain to persist unchanged, and today it seemed that maybe the pain was spreading around the wisdom tooth. By now I was guessing that I was developing an abscess, probably in the wisdom tooth. This tooth has caused me problems in the past, ten years ago causing me to actually visit a dentist (who told me there was nothing wrong with it).
Since a tooth abscess can be a dangerous thing, and since there was nothing I could do until Monday, I decided it would be prudent to take some wide-spectrum antibiotics. Sally the Dog had been prescribed a course of Amoxicillin a year ago, and there were plenty of capsules left, so I began a course of 500 mg every 12 hours, which (judging from my web research) is the sort of course a dentist would prescribe for a tooth abscess. Those of you who think there is something odd about taking veterinary medicine for a human health complaint are suckers to the pharmaceutical industry, who would have us believe there is a difference between animal and human medications. Farmers would go broke paying human pharmaceutical prices for the drugs they give their animals, so the premium we pay for human drugs would be impossible without widespread ignorance. A lot of what we as Americans do isn't about what works and what does not, but is instead about what we've been made to believe is appropriate. It's appropriate to turn all of your suburban yard into a cropped grass monoculture. It's appropriate to drive a large sedan or SUV when you only really need the kind of subcompact that is only available in Europe. It's appropriate to have a octal-core Pentium XVII when your computing requirements call only for a 200 MHz Pentium MMX.

Along a somewhat similar line, today I watched a DVD of the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car, the fascinating story of how California came to require the marketing of electric cars and how this requirement was first met and then successfully lobbied into oblivion by the automotive industry. To hedge their bets, the manufacturers made their electric cars available only through leases, and then, after getting the requirement to sell electric cars repealed, reclaimed their leased cars and crushed them. Why would they do something so mean-spirited? There are lots of theories and motivations, all of them explored by the documentary. But what struck me is that there really was a large demand for electric cars, a demand that the manufacturers deliberately sabotaged with marketing geared to subtly-undermine the electric car as a viable transportation mode (these might be the only television commericals for a car featuring music in a minor key). Why didn't auto manufacturers want to get in on the ground floor of a nascent transportation technology? One of the most compelling explanations suggested by the movie was that electric cars are nearly zero-maintenance machines, with none of mess, fluids, and corrosive heat of the internal combustion engine. An electric car could be made to run for decades, destroying the replacement cycle that drives the automotive industry. And once people started seeing how well they ran and how little maintenance they required, they would have sold on word-of-mouth alone. To keep that from happening, manufacturers had to do the Darth Vader thing and crush them.
I wondered though, with a clever marketing campaign some startup auto manufacturer (with some rich angel investors) could crank out electric cars and be in a good position when peak oil wipes out the internal combustion engine. Until that happens, Americans will be leery of a transportation mode with a range of less than 100 miles because it's not "appropriate" in that "What will the neighbors think?" or "What I'm still doing with a four year old computer?" kind of way.
An reprised (though compromised) version of the electric car pheonomenon is happening with hybrid technology, the result of another mandate that Detroit did its best to scuttle. And while American car manufacturers pursued hybrid technology grudgingly, ultimately producing vehicles with mileage no better than non-hybrid equivalents, Honda and Toyota took the mandate somewhat more seriously, ultimately producing the Prius (which gets good, though not great, mileage) and the Insight. The Insight is a impressive little car with a weak engine and subcompact body that can get sixty or even seventy miles per gallon. Unfortunately it's been discontinued, but at least they were sold and not leased. Even as I write, advanced Japanese hybrid designs seem to be driving the final nails into the coffin of the American auto industry, a dinosaur that refuses to think ahead more than six months. Hybrid cars might be the missing link necessary to reintroduce the electric car. The next step is plug-in hybrids, followed eventually by a return to far-simpler all-electric cars.
I got a particular thrill about the farse of the hydrogen car as documented in Who Killed the Electric Car. We were treated to another showcase of George W. Bush's uselessness in the scene where he's about to pump hydrogen from a Potemkin hydrogen pump into a fancy hydrogen-powered vehicle. Accidentally stumbling onto the embarrassing question, "How far will this take me?" (answer: about a hundred miles), Bush grins the fake photo-op grin and proclaims hydrogen the "wave of the future." Hydrogen: the fuel for the car of the guy doing a heckuva job. We learn that the hydrogen car is just another way for the powers that be to keep kicking real conservation, mileage standards, and alternative energy down the road, much like the corners we keep rounding in the war in Iraq.

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