Tag Archive: technology


Generate electricity from killing flies! Or water your garden with CD’s.

Going off-grid takes a certain amount of ingenuity, and the willingness to explore the world and invent solutions to problems.  Wallace & Gromit’s series, The World of Invention, encourages this mindset and really inspired us to think of new ways to meet our needs for electricity, irrigation, and hauling heavy items.  The series is not so much the perfect, complete way to go off-grid, than it is a sounding board for ideas you’ve been brewing in the back of your mind.  If you’re the garden shed inventor type, that puts you in the ranks of inventor Emily Cummins who created a refrigerator that runs without electricity when she was still in school.  Meet inventors like Emily and learn more about some green inventions you can do at home with kids in this week’s issue of Making Ripples in The Free Weekly!

Here’s a video of how robots generate electricity by consuming dead flies.  If you’d like to watch the Wallace & Gromit “World of Invention” series, and see another robot that uses flies to generate electricity (and fly paper to attract them by itself) then head down to the Fayetteville Public Library where it’s available for check-out.

An introduction to killing watts with this fun toy!

This week’s issue of The Free Weekly (which came out last Thursday, sorry for the delay) is worth a look.  If you haven’t used one before, Making Ripples column talks about using a Kill-a-Watt meter to reduce energy consumption from entertainment appliances like the TV and video games.

Hey all, this is Ryan finally hoppin’ in here to add some detail to this post.  Measuring appliance energy consumption can be tricky.  The easiest appliances are those that pull a steady amount of power as long as they’re plugged in.  These include things like TVs, stereos, and other items that are not pulling energy to simultaneously power the device and charge a battery – they run, pure and simple, on wall power while powered on.  However, as you’ve probably heard, these devices also usually draw energy while powered off, to maintain various internal functions like clocks, “instant turn on” functions, and other things.  This is often know as a device’s “phantom pull,” though I’ve also heard it called “vampire power.”

The more intriguing appliances include refrigerators, laptops, and other devices that draw power sporadically or consume varying levels of energy depending on at what stage in the recharge cycle their batteries happen to be.

Our old apartment was 100% electric, meaning that not a single appliance used gas or any other form of energy.  By watching the movements of the meter, I could determine that we would use, when we avoided using the heating/cooling wall unit, between 3.0 and 4.5 kWh of energy per day.  This apartment provides a more useful comparison to the kind of living conditions we’ll have in the off-grid earthbag house.

That all said, let’s look at a few of our devices:

  • Our “entertainment center,” which consists of an ancient 13″ CRT television, DVD player, and VCR (which mostly just acts as an RF modulator for the DVD player) varies between 60 – 80 watts while fully powered on, and has a phantom pull of 13 watts when everything is powered off but the power strip remains active.  This series of devices would leach nearly 1/3 of a kWh every day if we didn’t turn off our power strip when finished with it.
  • Our refrigerator uses 13o watts while running, and the frequency it kicks on depends on how often it’s opened, how good the seals are, how much/little is inside of it (actually having more is better since the items inside store and radiate cold, which helps modulate the internal temperature), how hot it is in the house, and how clogged the air intake filters are.  On average, during a warm day, ours would run for about 16 hours per 24-hour period.  This equals just over 2 kWh of power consumed.  This actually accounted for, generally, more than half of the power we would use day to day.
  • In our old apartment, we used to have an electric stove.  Classically, converting electric power to heat is one of the most inefficient ways to use it.  Every bit of heat you feel radiate off of something hot is “lost” power, which is not being channeled into your food.  This is why one coil on an electric range uses 1000 watts, a full kilowatt of power at all times while active.
  • In the same vein, our old heating/cooling unit would use 6,000 watts of power, which blew my mind so much that we made every effort (most of them involving shivering like crazy) to avoid using it.  That used to floor me until my dad told me about the industrial-strength heating units hanging from the ceilings of some parking garages.  Each unit, spaced about 20-feet apart, and totaling perhaps 50 or more for the whole garage, used between 20,000 and 30,000 watts.  EACH UNIT!  This is 1,000 and 1,500 kilowatts of power, which would consume 1.0 to 1.5 MEGAWATTS of power every hour.  I am humbled, and slightly sickened, I must admit.
  • Our various laptops use anywhere from 25 – 75 watts of power.  The netbook, from ASUS, uses the least, charging at around 40 watts to start, decreasing to 10 when the battery is almost full.  When shopping computers, I always look for the EPEAT designation, which means the device is made with many environmental considerations in mind.

And that’s just a snapshot.  If you’re curious about anything else, just let us know!

 

This is for women who need to know how to fix basic problems that could happen at home.

It recently occurred to me, while browsing the library stacks for the usual mindless entertainment I enjoy, that I have absolutely no knowledge about simple home repairs.  This PBS home video jumped out at me as a solution to wanting to build a sustainable house with a lack of skills in plumbing, electrical wiring, etc.  Dare to Repair was a great introductory video in how to fix minor problems in your standard house or apartment, and much of what I learned can be applied to our off-grid earthbag house someday. View full article »

Just like Peter Pan, we can fly with happy thoughts in our daily life!

Introducing the NEW Happy Thoughts box!

NEW on Ripples – located at the bottom right-hand side of every page on Ripples’ blog, you will find a new feature called our “Happy Thoughts” box.  Right now, you can see this box is filled with one happy thought from Ryan, and one from me, Amanda.  Every day around 6:30 in the evening, before cooking dinner together, we sit underneath a rainbow umbrella and tell each other what thoughts we’ve had that day which make us feel the happiest about our future dream of living off-grid.  Maybe it was a good day, or a challenging day, or sometimes even a day of despair and great physical or emotional pain, but no matter what happens, we always take turns sharing one happy thought. View full article »

Making Ripples in the World

I find it really hard to write about Ripples as an entity, with measurable effects on the world.  Of course, things are measurable: number of NGO’s helped, number of blog posts receiving readers, number of comments, number of columns written about sustainability…but are they visual?  Not nearly enough.  This video, shared with me by my friend Teresa, illustrates the way I see Ripples.  I guess technically Ripples is just Ryan & I, and you could argue Ripples includes projects with our partner organizations, and the growing list of volunteers wanting to build with earthbags.  But when I picture what Ripples actually does, well it looks more like this video.

So I invite you to watch this video and enjoy these scenes, then watch it again and replace them with scenes from the past year at Ripples.  Notice in the video that the love flows both ways :) Same with Ripples.  Here are our real life “scenes” painted with words so you can see them better as you watch the video (I’ve tried to keep identities anonymous just like the video).  Ripples’ scenes are about gardening, websites, compost toilets, sharing information, and little acts of kindness.  Someday I would love to actually put together a video with photos and live scenes from Ripples!  For now just try to imagine it:

  1. A toilet built with locally harvested bamboo in Kathmandu, Nepal, inspires a girl in the United States to use local bamboo to build a solar shower with a 5-gallon bag.
  2. Better publicity makes sponsorships grow for a trail maintenance organization, encouraging more people to enjoy and protect our parks after the re-development of their website allows the web developer to learn more about web development for helping non-profits in the future.
  3. 235 youth in Cameroon are trained in fundraising after a local leader learns about capacity building via the internet, sparking more support for free access to the internet.
  4. Writing about raising baby chicks inspires people in other locations to consider urban farming.
  5. A child with food allergies is able to enjoy eating a totally safe cookie, so his mother helps pay for a solar platform for Ripples’ blog.
  6. An Armenian organization supporting people with disabilities creates a Facebook page after receiving training in the importance of online communication.
  7. A woman with experience in gardening helps a youth learn to grow herbs, and the resulting cilantro and basil are given as gifts to neighbors.
  8. One girl receives training in non-profit management and contacts an international organization to provide curriculum materials for an online class taken by students in 34 countries who then pass the materials to their organizations, improving them with their own ideas.
  9. After learning in workshops about native species and their needs, native habitat is created and publicized on Ripples’ blog, helping a city become the first in its state to receive certification due to the whole community working together.
  10. A trip to a sustainably built retreat center inspires us to use cob for sculpting shelves in the walls at Ripples’ future homestead, and our post on sustainable building inspires a family to get in touch with us to learn more about how they can do it, too.
  11. [insert your Ripples moment here]

 

31 Ways to Use Mason Jars & 6 Holiday Gift Wrap Ideas!

Today I have to give a shout-out to some creative resources helping us live lightly on the earth: Ozark Natural Foods and Keeper of the Home.  Often in our American society, the knowledge about how to live a healthy life is lost from generation to generation, while at the same time new advances in technology are giving us more options than our ancestors ever had.  I’m in the middle of this lovely sandwich between grandma’s lost gardening know-how and the computer’s vast stores of complex, often hidden information.  The spice to my sandwich is shared knowledge that’s free for anyone who wants to learn. View full article »

The light bulb came on above my head while watching this film.

Solar Mamas was presented to a small Fayetteville Public Library audience at 2:00 this afternoon. It showed how the Barefoot College in India is training women to become solar engineers.  I watched it like I have viewed many documentaries, but in this unusual case I realized just how much Ripples has changed the way I engage with new information. I didn’t want to donate money to the impoverished people on the screen; rather, I wanted to pay them to teach me their skills. View full article »

As Ryan & I decide on our best choice for transportation to & from our Ripples homestead in the future, we have many factors to consider.  The midwest isn’t necessarily the best place to own an electric vehicle, for one thing.  This infographic from CarInsurance.org fascinated me, and pushed me further in the direction of starting a car or truck co-operative among friends to share costs and avoid owning a personal vehicle that wouldn’t be used as often. What do you think? View full article »

Explore the many topics Ripples writes about.

We get  questions from some followers about what Ripples means, what subjects we cover, whether we would donate to a particular organization based on mission match, and whether we would print materials on a certain topic.  This post is in response to those questions, but, it’s also just a fun way to explore some of the things we’ve covered in the past and what we intend to cover in the future! Visit our About page for more details about us. View full article »

Where do the new Ripples pictures come from?

Every picture you see featured on Ripples’ new website was taken by one of us (with the exception of this background wallpaper).  View full article »