Semi-hydroponics -- part 2


It has often been stated that the research we are doing at EOS (Earth Organization for Sustainability) is such that it simply takes a long time. An important part of the reason for this is that the Life we deal with has it's own slow pace and so when you need to let 4 seasons pass to get the results of a plant development study, there is simply no getting around this.

As you might remember, sometime last year, I mentioned a project of applying technology to horticulture. I put forth the notion that biological organisms preform some functions better than mechanical implements and thus using, say traditional biotechnology, instead of mechanical engineering, may provide better results at raising plants.

It so turns out that while a mycorrizal fungi are indeed very efficient at delivering water to plants and while nitrogen fixing symbionts do indeed provide a very sustainable alternative to feeding plants fossil fuels -- the nitrogen fixing plants are relatively delicate and do not survive the winter unless constantly attended to. As this requirement for constant attendance proved impractical, I am now working at installing formerly frowned-upon mechanical implements, which will enable better resilience of these tiny ecosystems.

The primary problem of the existing system is that the capacity of water that the system is capable of retaining, assuming the characteristics of the soil are fixed at optimum (for the plant), it is dependant on the size of the pot. Pots as you might imagine, are not very big due to practical considerations, and can retain up to 1 litre of water, which is sufficient to retain optimal condition for about 1 day in the summer (due do water loss trough evaporation and photosynthesis). The plan thus would be to install a piping system which will add more water from a larger reservoir as necessary.

I have mentioned that the plant-fungi-symbiont system is powered entirely by solar, so I am implementing this additional system in solar power.

I am proceeding at small incremental steps. I have opted for a design where the solar panels are attached directly to a water pump, to provide more water when it is probably going to be needed and less when unlikely, excess water is then drained from the bottom of the pot and collected back in the reservoir to prevent water and nutrient loss.

The initial step of constructing the drainage system is completed fairly easily (a hole drilled into the bottom of the pot, a tube attached using some adhesive material intended for use in construction and a water tank attached).

The second step, to wire a pump to a solar panel in a functional manner is displayed functioning in the below video:

The single solar panel at 12V, Voc: 22.3V, Vmp: 17.7V, Isc: 280 mA, Imp: 300 mA and 25 € proves to be unable to sustain the current used by the "eco" 8-20V immersive water pump at 230 mA, maximum throughput 500 l/h and an additional 25 € -- and runs at minimal 8V power even in direct sunlight at 3pm, will install a second solar panel wired parallel to improve performance.

I am not sure at this point what to do with the theoretical 500 l/h throughput (this is the weakest pump on the market) as it would be sufficient, if this were physically possible, to water about 12000 pots of plants -- we will see what the practical throughput proves to be.




Over the recent time, the association known as the Technate, has successfully organized it's first regular inter-organizational online meeting. As our timezones differ, organizing multiple organizations from around the world to meet online in real time is more difficult than it appears. None the less, the meeting was successfully held in the classic professional style that EOS has adopted for it's own meetings, combining with the practices of other Technate member organizations has resulted in a fairly organized experience, following an agenda and with a beginning and an end, which is key to making the meeting a productive one.

One of the ideas that was prominently presented on the meetings is the desire to get organized by structuring the Technate somehow. The decision to set up a board was discussed, along with the decision to start setting up functional sequences. Some discussion was made in favor of these and some against, until ultimately it was decided to set up a message board where the different sides could put up their arguments and discuss. In this blog, I wish to point out a lesson already learned by EOS, which is not yet properly documented elsewhere and is not the kind of thing to show up in discussion on a forum.

The problem is the desire to set up empty categories. It's a lesson we have learned on multiple fronts, from the structure of the old EOS website (known as NET at the time), to the layout of the RBEF's forum right down to completely practical things like the proposed organizational scheme for the now defunct Project Umbrella.

People like to plan, we do this because it's fun. It is not difficult for people within an organization to find the motivation to start planning ahead, while implementation may be a different story altogether, it seems extremely right to discuss ideas on how things shall be. This is why people like to read marketing catalogs, imagining how they would restructure their kitchen and make grand financial plans only to change them again tomorrow. And we don't like to hear that this may be a bad thing.

The problem with this is that other people respond poorly towards being managed and either being themselves or having their work pigeonholed into categories. It is also not necessarily productive to have things categorized in a specific way. We have learned trough past experiences that setting up brilliantly structured empty space for contributions to be made into can leave many of them empty and that this appearance of emptiness demotivates people from contributing or being productive.

I would ask everybody to accept this lesson and try to avoid making the same mistake. It is not simply an issue of setting up categories and changing them later when and if they prove inefficient, the very state of having categories set up in advance harms the community's productivity.

Now I am not saying that organization of content is wrong or irrelevant, but no matter how brilliant, it is wrong to expect other people to just drop by and conform to a structure that you have defined arbitrarily:
  1. Be minimalistic about your categorization! If you don't know at this point how to categorize something, make a single category and then seperate it once there is already content to separate. Avoid making empty categories!
  2. Don't plan highly involved formal structure in advance! In fact, unless it is explicitly required at that point, don't plan it at all. I believe this is one of the primary reasons Project Umbrella did not work out -- people saw the elaborate organizational scheme and ran the other way. EOS's own articles on groups, areas and sectors are a problem in similar ways.
  3. Make systemic solutions! Don't plan how to categorize people, plan the means by which people will categorize themselves, if and when they feel it has become necessary.
And by this recognize that we all like to set up categories in advance. It feels right, but it can be counterproductive. Remember our goals!



Traditional medicine

People involved in recent discussion of traditional eastern medicine, have asked me, why do I choose a scientific approach. Me, personally. Is it because it is the only thing I know of? Not really. Is it because it was taught to me in school? No I don't care for what a system may impose on me. Is it because it's what the president recommends on television? No, I hate both of those things. Is it because I was poisoned with it from a young age? No, actually I was taught about traditional medicine before I started going to school.

What proponents of traditional eastern medicine perhaps do not realize, is that even us Westerners have traditional medicine of our own, which is passed down by generations trough our grandparents and taught to us before we are old enough to think of questioning it. Chamomile tea anyone? And yet when really in need, we first think to choose modern medicine. Why?

I will try to tell a story -- a true one, which may be easiest to relate to, because it seemed completely reasonable to a 12 year-old without much prior knowledge to make him biased towards a certain philosophy.

When I was young I was growing up with my grandmother, who was as all typical grandmothers a master of herbalism, botany and gossip. Every day she would teach me something new and interesting about plants, herbs and medicinal plants that I didn't know to think of before.

As I grew older I learned that sometimes, my grandmother would come by conclusions regarding what plants, herbs and medicinal plants do, based on inconsistent situations -- I would begin to see where she had concluded unreasonably, because she drew a pattern between two inconsistent situations. As I tried out things the way she had come by the conclusions, I upgraded her methodology to one which was more self-consistent: I would make sure that when I preformed an experiment I would only change one parameter at a time to see how it influenced the result. This, I later learned, was called the scientific method.

I have this excellent example of a favored plant: Sempervivum Tectorum, which is traditionally known to cure ear infections and ward off lightning, as taught by my grandmother. I had always loved the plant due to it's ease of cultivation. Coincidentally a neighbor was doing a thesis on the plant and determined that the plant sometimes lives in symbiosis with a fungi in it's leaves, which produces an antibiotic -- no doubt useful against ear infections; however this fungi while clearly visible by the length of the plant's leaves, was not necessarily present. Traditional medicine knew nothing of this distinction and the plant was no doubt used for ear infection even when it had no chance of being helpful. (As for it's lightning warding properties, it turns out that historically this was only applicable to straw roofs, where it is severely unlikely that the plant's presence would in any way influence a straw roof's combustibility or resistance to lightning, there is presently no way to test that as there are no more straw roofs to be found in the country.)

As time got by my grandmother, the master of gossip that she was, saw that my conclusions were as worthy of consideration as the other gossip that she had come by and grew to depend on it. Then one day, I remember, I had learned that my conclusion that because the runoff from potted plants was chemically unhealthy for humans, that it was thus also unhealthy for plants was backwards, as the nutrients contained in the runoff are beneficial to the plant and thus my recommendation to my grandmother had to be changed. My grandmother asked me if hadn't I previously stated the opposite? I answered: "I was wrong." As I learn more I find that: I was wrong. I openly admit that, yet does that mean that my recommendation is unreliable? She never stated what she thought of it, but she did continue to rely on my conclusions. And although I can be wrong, if I take everything I do know into account via a scientific method, and provide a recommendation based on that, it's still the best one we have.

As I look back I had hoped that I had converted my grandmother's witchcraft into science... Only to find later in my life that the process of developing new drugs is also known as witchcraft in the industry, due to the point that nobody really knows how to come by a cure that hasn't been invented yet, and they simply mix ingredients until they come up with something that cures the disease and doesn't kill the patient (of course it is a bit more sophisticated than that, my understanding is on the level of a research reactor control software developer, I am not a chemist).

I understand that the 15 year long process for drug development enforced by the system has been developed trough some sort of bloody trial and error in an attempt to leave behind as few dead as possible. A process that I understand is quite tedious to a researcher who is sure he had come up with a cure to a deadly disease and is being asked to hold onto it for 15 years until they can figure out if it's safe (and somehow pull out of the sky the funding for the equipment required to get it trough the process? Researchers are not normally good at funding issues). And a process which is called "short" by proponents of traditional medicine which had supposedly evolved over hundreds of years. Yet their request that skipping this particular process for whatever they come up with is somehow better for everybody is hardly convincing?! Don't you agree?

Why don't we play it safe in both cases? Why can't we have self-consistent methodology for traditional medicine as well? Why can't we see that sometimes traditional medicine is wrong? How is just believing the gossip, that produced traditional medicine blindly, reasonable? Is it because if we did the right thing with traditional medicine, what we would end up with is modern medicine? Like I did?

Think about that.