December 2008


Okay if you know anything about solar power this is the baby steps of baby steps but hey, I’m excited.

Behold, power tools charged by the sun!

Behold, power tools charged by the sun!

I put together most of the components of my solar power system to test it, and it worked without a hitch. It’s basically a solar panel, a charge controller, two 6-volt golf-cart batteries wired together to make them 12 volts, an inverter, and a mess of wires.

It can’t do much but it can turn on some lights and charge my cordless tools, which is really all I need it to do.

Combination solar panel and kitty shelter

Combination solar panel and kitty shelter


Presently our fledgling homestead has no utilities. No water, no electricity, no septic. We have our Potty House sawdust toilet and some basic shelter, but that’s it.

Come January, the homestead is making a rather definite leap into modernity. I am presently assembling a small off-grid solar electric setup. It will provide enough electricity to recharge my cordless tools and power some lights (useful for more productive time after dark).

Putting together this simple system has been incredibly fun and addictive. I’ve also learned a lot about renewable energy. Until a couple years ago the extent of my understanding of electricity was that you plugged things into wall sockets and they just worked, and that it is most unwise to put a paperclip into a wall socket. I was very proud of myself when I learned how to successfully wire a 3-way light switch in my house without killing myself. Now I am playing with deep-cycle batteries, inverters, charge controllers, and really heavy welding cable.

I’ve found instructions on how to build your own wind generator out of junk and scrap plumbing parts. And then there’s the breadbox solar water heater out of a discarded electric water heater tank. And the solar space heater made from beer cans. The homebrew windmill might be my next renewable energy project (I married a Kansas girl and wind power is pretty big in Kansas these days, so living in a wheat straw house with wind power is doubly cool).

I feel kinda like one of those people who build space shuttles out of parts ordered off the back of cereal boxes. Only I hope to get my parts off of Freecycle or out of dumpsters and roll-offs. These are the sorts of projects one might describe using McGyver as a verb, and those have their own special form of cool.

I want to post some pictures and a story about the solar installation once all the parts come in and I start putting everything together. So stay tuned! (Meantime, check out our wish list for recycled items… go ahead, feed my addiction!)

I love Freecycle. It is pure genius. It’s a de-stuffer’s dream. It is so much fun to offer things to the list and see how many people want what you really want to get rid of. It’s also a great way to score really useful stuff for, well, free.

Here are some of the things we’ve picked up:

  • A 10-year-old steel swing set. A little rusty and missing a couple parts. A trip to the hardware store for some spray enamel and a few replacement parts, and we’ll have a like-new steel swing set. We’ll put it on the homestead so the wee ones can have a place to play safely away from construction areas and prickly critters.
  • Vinyl siding. Carefully removed from the garage of the original owner. Soon to grace two, possibly three walls of the shed.
  • T-111 sheets, warped and not in particularly good condition, but could be useful to build a box for a solar water heater.
  • Macintosh keyboard, which makes using our Mac Mini a heck of a lot easier than with a PC keyboard.

You’ve gotta watch the list closely and be quick, because most of the really useful stuff gets snatched up right away. We’ve been looking for a queen mattress to put in the pumphouse loft, but so far we haven’t caught them when they come up.

I put together a wish list. I realized that many of the things I want to build or do to make the homestead more homey are things that often get thrown away or are leftovers from construction projects. So the list will help us to remember to look out for things. Check it out, maybe you just happen to have something we’re looking for buried in your shed or garage.

Mortality Diagram from Florence NightingaleOne of my coworkers sent a link about Florence Nightingale’s lesser-known identity as a medical statistician. I sometimes have trouble explaining to people the nature of my actual employment but this article does a wonderful job for me. It rather dramatically illustrates the impact of medical statistics; my employer is all about building software to facilitate medical statistics so hospitals can be safer and more effective.

I work in the user documentation department. Part of my job is to make the software easier to understand and use. I don’t always enjoy what I do because, given a choice, I’d often rather build things with tools than sit at a computer and be in my head all day. But this article was encouraging because it helped me to see that what I work on has a positive impact on the world. I hope to always be doing things like that.