For the longest time I never thought it would happen and it did! We finally own a Tesla S! This thing is awesome! No matter how much one could read about the car, you cannot fully appreciate it without driving it. It’s pretty. It’s a spaceship. It burns no gas whatsoever. It’s wonderfully quiet on the highway. I have an old friend in a few senses of the word and I had him drive the car today. “Thank you very much for that experience.” He said, nearly tearing up. He is lover of cars like Jay Leno and me and it seemed almost as though he could die a little happier for having driven that car. This is the power of the Tesla S. It’s been one thing to have a conversion for relatively local commuting, but to have an EV that can go 200 miles on a charge and be nearly completely re-charged in 40 minutes at superchargers that are scattered nationwide is a whole new way of looking at the automobile. This thing is disruptive.
As far as other updates go, Sparky is now at the A/C shop for the building of the hoses and a few other minor modifications that should have it blowing cold in a little over a week. Brackets, wiring and initial testing are done. Now on to the heat exchanger for the Excursion so that I can sell it and help pay for the Tesla.
The garden/front yard is growing great. The potatoes are overrunning it. I just harvested four eggplants yesterday from one plant with more to come. The African spinnach is growing like a weed so that we can’t eat it fast enough. The strawberries are however, dead.
There is finally a demand pump on the rainwater tank so that we can make practical use of the 500 gallons of rainwater we’ve collected.
The solar panels continue to labor away producing enough electricity to keep our electric bill at 150$ per month instead of 400$ like everyone else around us.
I’m happy to report some good news for now. Even with the two steps foreward, one step back way of life, we are using less and producing more all the time. Sometimes, (especially when driving a Tesla) life is good.


It’s about time I got back to this project! Hello again! Just after my last post, what was supposed to be a minor surgery turned into a major one and I lost a usefull month when it was supposed to be a week. So all my other projects go pushed back. I know it’s been more than one month. I have no excuse for that.
I’ve learned a few things about sustainability over the past few months. Among other things, it has to be actively sustained. The solar panels that I bought a couple years ago to charge my lawnmower and the pumps on my grease processing trailer have failed. They were the amorphous type. I have ordered some new polycrystaline panels that should last a lot longer. Of course, they are a different size, so I will have to fabricate new mounts for them.
Over time, enough crud has built up on the inside of the tubing for the grease processor that the hoses have to be replaced.
Sparky had a vibration problem with the flywheel, clutch and pressure plate that did not go away with balancing the assembly, so I eliminated all of those components. I rarely shift and with a little pracitice one does not need a clutch anyway. I took a little while to fabricate a coupling between the electric motor and the transmission but OMG it drives much better now! Now sparky is off the road for a little while because I have started to install air conditioning. The hard part has been trying to figure out how to build the bracketry to mount the compressor, and then there is the wiring for the various switches and relays for the compressor and the fans.

AC compressor for Sparky

AC compressor for Sparky

This should be done in a few more weeks.
Now for the good news. WE ARE GETTING A TESLA MODEL S! Yes! the coolest green car ever made and we will have one in a little over a month! We are selling the Excursion once I finish the heat exchanger and rebuild the grease processor, so closing one chapter and opening another. In case you are curious, my middle child is going off to college thisfall and will take our Prius. I will drive Sparky until I can get the Lotus running, and my youngest who is almost 14 will drive Sparky when she is legal. More on the Tesla after we take delivery in August.
front yard garden

front yard garden

I can only guess what my neighbors must think of me. Not that I really care. If they don’t like solar panels, electric car conversions and grease processors they can kiss my fat white/green butt. And no, I don’t live in a deed restricted community, no would or could I ever. (I thoroughly intend to be known in my later years as that crazy old guy down the road who is always building wierd stuff and blowing things up.) My neighbors have one more thing to be annoyed with or jealous of. We tore up our front yard and planted a garden. We also planted something like 12 of various kinds of fruit trees aroung our house and the house next door. Currently in the garden is vanilla bean, two banana trees, sweet potatos, peanuts, a hot weather vareity of African spinnach, kale, red edible hibiscus (the leaves taste like grapes!), stevia, eggplant, strawberries. This was with the help and advice of a local garden shop owner who specializes in organic gardening in this part of Florida. With our weather and terrible soil and the insects, there are a lot of things to know about gardening productively around here. The cool thing is that about half of my neighbors are following suit. The guy with the firetruck with the pizza oven on it is raising chickens. The family accross the street is talking about growing a similar garden and our next door neighbors tore up some of their landscaping as well and planted food crops. I love watching great ideas spread. “And they told two friends and they told two friends….”
So it’s not like I’ve been doing nothing, I just haven’t been blogging. Sorry. But life goes on nonetheless. This is partially the reason I wanted to do this blog. I wanted to portray a realistic version of a serious and ongoing attempt at a sustainable life. This is not only SUSTAINABLE but also it’s LIFE and everything that comes with it. It is my intent to share this journey with others of like mind and some not so like, to talk about what can be done sometimes with great ease and sometimes with great effort and difficulty. Always, the goal being improvement. My hope is to compare notes, share lessons learned and in the end, (cliche alert!) make this world a better place for not just our children but for us as well.
Updates to come sooner,

I’m baaaack! and public charging rocks!

I had fun today! I went to the auto show. It’s always great to visit the candy store, especially when the candy store has flavors that are so great that you can’t even afford them. Lamborghinis are still awesome to look at! But that’s beside the point. The point is that for the first time I used a public charging station. It was at the local convention center. The spot was one of the best in the lot right near the exit. The charge station was free, but needed to be turned on. There was a number to call on the Chargepoint charging station. I was able to talk to a human being in less than 30 seconds and within another minute, the car was charging and there is a free membership card coming to my house so that I can charge in the future without bothering an operator. It was just so cool when everyone else was parking blocks away and cruising around to find a spot, I had nearly the best spot at the show reserved just for me and I was refueling for free at the same time! The thing that strikes me as sad is that there was no one else in the spot. I mean seriously, the AUTO SHOW and not a single other EV in attendance and charging? According to a web search, there were no other generally available chargers for several blocks. Still cool!
Still, the wife and I are looking for a plug-in hybrid for next year when our son takes our current Prius to college with him. The plug-in Prius only offers 12-15 all electric miles as opposed to the Volt with 40 miles and the Ford C-max Energi with 21 miles. We keep hoping for the Volvo diesel plug-in, but it won’t make it to America. The rep at the show said that a gas version may next year.
Life has gone on rather uneventfully the past few nonths. The solar panels continue to keep my electric bills under $100 a month, I’ve been driving the Sparky to work. We’re using rainwater to water our plants which are now growing much better with fewer insects attacking them in the cooler drier weather. The cool thing is that a lot of this green stuff has become boring and routine, a way of life. At least for me. It seems to be rubbing off. Just recently, two of my colleagues have asked me how to get started with photovoltaics. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with me but another just put down a deposit on a Tesla S. The world is slowly becoming a better place.
With the cooler weather, I am finally doing what I enjoy, getting back into the garage to build stuff. I should finally be done with the double helix mailbox post in a few days. The parts for the Porsche suspension for the Lotus are done and will be starting work on the subframe in the next week as well. Should be posting more often for a while.

And the beat goes on.

20130518_165652The work on sustainability goes on. We’re in the maintainence phase of a few aspects of this whole venture. I just got Sparky back from the body shop after a paint job, removal of a bunch of dents, re-aligning the doors and a few minor modifications. At 17 years old, it was time.
The water tank is sealed up on the bottom and in it’s place. I just have some plumbing to do and oh yeah, some rain would be nice.
One of the things I have been having fun with is learning to weld copper. For anyone who welds, this is almost counterintuitive as copper is used as a backing or a brace or heat sink as most metals will not stick to it because it doesn’t melt easily. One has to put a lot of heat into it and back off to keep the whole piece from turning into one puddle. Because of the difficulty, getting good or at least satisfactory results is quite gratifying and something of which I am a bit proud. The only thing is that there are so few people that I can show off to. I know so few people who could give a rat’s behind. Point is that I’m occasonally working on a heat exchanger for the oil fueled excursion and should have it running on grease again soon.
One thing I’ve noticed with time is the effect on people around me. I had a co-worker tell me that I had irritated him. He threw an alminum can into a trash recepticle and he thought of me and how I would be shaking my head if I saw him do it. Because of this guilt he pulled the can out of the trash and placed it into a recycling bin. Yes! Small victory! If you have ever taken a traffic refresher course (long irrelevent story, but I have taken the course), they talk about how most people are offered a different but better way of doing things, and they see the new way as better, they will generally act in the better way. If people understand why recycling and sustainability are important, they will eventually act in a less wastefull way. It’s nice to see that setting an example is bearing some fruit. This is, in the end the reason for this blog. It’s a way to spread the word that there is a better way to do things. Consuming less is not difficult. Instead of throwing many items in the trash bin, they go in a recycling bin or a compost bin. Instead of making a run to the gas station and pumping that nasty stuff, I plug in the car at home. Instead of going to the store to buy produce that came from an average of 1500 miles away, we are working at growing food in our back yard (and now our front yard). The pickles I made are pretty good. We recently had a dinner of a Caprese salad with homemade mozerella with local milk, homegrown tomatoes and basil. Only the balsalmic vinegar came from a store. That’s a better way to eat.

Finally! NET ZERO!

20130426_183855I just got our electric bill for March. We made 124 more KWh more than we used last month! Still had a stupid bill for $8.98 for access to the grid. It will be interresting to see if last month’s excess is applied against this months bill. This probably won’t happen again until next march, but I’ve finally hit my goal if only for about a month.
Also in progress is a 500 gallon tank for rainwater. A neighbor of mine bought an old firetruck. He is going to put a pizza oven on the back of it and work parties. The issue is that he needs fabrication done and does not need the tank in the back of it. It’s a nice stainless steel tank that would fit great right next to my house and is great for catching rainwater. The deal is that I help him weld up a platform for the oven in the back of the truck and I get the tank for my trouble. Sounds like a good deal with both of us. Above is the tank on it’s side next to where it will rest. The top is open with two access plates that will be bolted on and the other side has a sump and drain that I have to cut off and patch. More to come…

but wait, there’s more…

controller for the lotus (eventually)

controller for the lotus (eventually)

raised bed garden nearly ready for planting

raised bed garden nearly ready for planting

I wrote that last post a couple of weeks ago and saved it intending to finish it in a day or two. Funny how that goes. Yes, I am an ameteur blogger. But on we go!
It has been said that the only constant is change. Or, one could say that this is what I get for driving a 17 year old car. Sparky is sitting immobile on the driveway with the transmission on the ground. It has had a vibration in the driveline ever since the conversion to electric, but it has been getting worse in the last week or two. The transmission and clutch have been taken apart. I thought that the flywheel was out of balance. It’s not. That means that it’s something else, possibly just the way I attatched the flywheel to the motor to begin with. Further, the thing that charges the 12 volt battery from the main pack aka. the DC-DC converter finally died after 8 years. It’s basically like the alternator dying, only it takes a week or two to get a new one instead of just running down to the parts store. Come Hell or high water, Sparky will be air conditioned, non-vibrating and fully functional soon, probably with cruise control! In the end, better than when it came from the factory.
I’m still waiting for the wheels for the Lotus. It’s a long story involving a brain tumor in the guy who was working on them.
On another front, the solar charger for the lawnmower has died. Time to get a new one.
The raised bed garden has finally been enclosed, ready for planting for the spring.
Lately, it has been a bit of work to maintain the hardware that I use for what I call sustainability or at least keep my energy use to a minimum. I guess that is the fact of the suburban lifestyle. I know others who live more sustainably than myself live in the country and don’t need all of this STUFF. I still need to drive 25 miles each way to work and I need a car to get me there. When I decided to go electric nobody built electric cars and even today almost no one will service them, so in stead of replacing an alternator, I have to replace a DC-DC converter. Instead of having someone else fix my clutch/flywheel/coupling/God-knows-what issues, I have to do it myself. In fact though, it is really just different and I am learning a lot in the process. I’d have to be working on a 17 year old gasoline car just as much and paying more for the privelege. Either that or working extra to pay for a new car. The fact is that I’d be just as frustrated working on a gas powered car or a gas powered lawnmower, only I’d be greasier and smell of gasoline.
All of these things, like me, are getting old. I hate to think about that. That is the underlying problem. I feel that my stuff should last as long as I do and equipment failure is just a reminder that one day I will fail too. The good news is that when that day comes my wife and I have already made three replacements. Problem is that they will never be quite as good as the originals.;-)

PS: coming soon, Greasemobile rides again!

Bits and pieces

It’s been a few weeks of little bits of improvement here and there. I tend to be a bit schizophrenic when it comes to projects so there have been a few scattered tasks completed with the cars. Sparky now has a stereo with a sub-woofer, bluetooth and hands free phone, the burned rear liftgate panel has finally been replaced and most of all, the body dents, mis-alligned doors, paint and the grey hood will all be re-done in a couple weeks. All of these things are making the vehicle a lot more comfortable to drive and are welcome now that I am using it almost daily.
The ongoing saga of trying to get the Porsche rear suspension, hub and brake assembly to fit into the wheels continues. The spacers we bought to move the wheels out to make room for the Turbo 944 calipers in the non-turbo phone dial rims will not fit. Currently we’re looking for new rims that will fit. I’ve been corresponding with some other Lotus guys and accumulating info on parts that I will start to track down as soon as I am no longer working during regular business hours. One of the guys suggested that as long as I am building parts that I should re-build the steel bar in the door out of aluminum. The disassembly process just started on the door and we’ll see just how complicated that task will be. There is a lot of weight to be saved, but there might be more work involved than the weight savings is worth.

I love winter in Florida

This time of year in Florida is great for getting things done outside or, at least, in the garage. It also has been comfortable, finally, for driving to work in a car without air conditioning. I find it ironic that I should have the new bumper welded up for the AC condensor soon and the whole air conditioning system working by somewhere in February. Just when I need it. At least when I flip the on switch for that first hot day in May, it should get good and frosty. I’ve gotten quite a bit done in the past month and a half. There were a few maintenence tasks around the house. The bumper took a bit of my time, I am growing to like the Mad Max style. It will soon be painted black so as to look at least a little bit less out of place. Sparky is not in bad shape for a vehicle that has 113k miles on the chassis, but I did have to replace the front rotors, calipers and brake pads this month. It stops a lot better now! I was also driving around without power brakes for a while because of a leak in the vacuum pump system. I pulled out the reservoir today and apparently that’s where the leak was. It stops even better now! The cool thing was that I drove to my brother-in-law’s house today. 41 miles one way. I had gone 58 miles on one charge before, but not in one trip and not mostly on the highway. I checked the charge of several cells and even the weakest were doing just fine. That is the longest trip I will have to make around here and I have no fear that I can make it without a problem. It also means that I should have no difficulty making the 50 mile roundtrip from work even if I am unable to plug in there. There has also been talk between one of the physical plant managers and the administration at work about placing an official charging station in the parking lot. They realize that there will only be more EV and PHEV drivers with time and that the issue of us all vying to plug in to a single standard 110 outlet is only going to get more complicated as time goes on. I’ve offered to submit a list of vendors and make a proposal for dealing with financial issues ie. cost of the charger, cost of electricity, access etc. I and one of my colleagues have even offered to pay for the ititial outlay. Hopefully we will hear back soon. A level II charger would be much nicer that a 110 outlet.
For now the emphasis is on upgrades to Sparky, but when that is done, real work on the garden and greenhouse will begin. Also on the subject of food production, the grapefruit trees are producing poorly this year, about a third of last year. Hard to say why. I think there is just a rhythm to it and this is a down year. The lemon tree however, continues to produce more each year.
Otherwise, things are maintaining. The last electric bill was $43. Not bad, including some air conditioning and car charging. Still hoping for net zero sometime in the coming months. We’re coming into the dry season now, so we’ll see how the rain catchment system really works. I’m still working at accumulating parts for the Lotus. An unrelated project nearing completion is a DNA shaped welded stainless chain-link mailbox post. There is nothing sustainable about it other than it should last a LONG time. It is just a neat looking piece of fabrication. Geek note: it will have structurally accurate welded stick figure base pairs in it.
One last note, I have been watching Doomsday Preppers lately. Like many people, I think that most of them are a little crazy. Unlike most people I don’t believe that they are ridiculously paranoid, I just think that their logic is a bit off. There will not be swarms of killer F5 tornadoes that destroy the entire country. It is a bad idea to try to escape from a tsunami by driving to an intracoastal waterway and putting everything you have into inflatable rafts and trying to row to safety at 1.2 mph. There is no small ammount of irony in trying to teach your kids how to handle a gun by blowing off a chunk of your thumb. The reason that I like the show is that there are some nuggets of useful information in amoungst the wackos fondling their assault rifle collections for the camera. There are people doing intensive agriculture growing large ammounts of food in small areas, people building structures out of recycled materials and finding creative ways to use and reuse water. There are people establishing seed banks. These things, I am all for. It is important to remember once again, that knowledge and good ideas can come from anywhere, even “reality” TV.
Happy and healthy new year to all,

Thoughts on TED and the power of a moral imperitive.

TED for those of you who don’t know, stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.  The organization that puts on TED talks has expanded upon it’s original acronym to encompass “Ideas worth spreading”  TED talks are a number of presentations that are truly thought provoking and inspiring.  The vast majority are given by people with one or more doctorate degrees and are generally aimed at others with a post-graduate level of education or higher.  Consequently, there is a set of selection criteria just to attend these conferences in person.

The thought of being in a room with this many truly smart people just gives me chills.  The application process requires one to denonstrate that they have something to contribute to the group and to the world in general.  It’s actually rather intimidating.  This got me thinking about what I have to contribute and if I were asked to give a talk, what would be my one “idea worth spreading”?

I think if there were anything I would like to spread, it would be an understanding of the power of a recognized moral imperative.  My own personal example involves the moment that I recognized that not only are we going to run out of oil but I have the ability and know-how to effectively stop using fossil fuels.  Where one recognizes a problem and has the ability to do something about it, I consider there to be a moral imperative to act.  One must do something.

Often people ask “why isn’t someone doing something about  ____”  To answer that question in part I will point to a song that was popular a few years ago  “waiting on the world to change”  The song goes on and on about how todays youth feel powerless and are waiting on someone else to make the world better.  This song aggravated me every time I heard it.  Many people consider commenting on some website or tweeting to be action.  It is not!  It is a moras of idiots telling their tales all at once full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

A wise man once said “Be the change you wish to see in the world” or to quote another, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror”  The point being the same.  Though our disenfranchised youth may feel powerless, they are not.  They have control over their own actions.  I think that this feeling of powerlessness is, in large part due to fear of failure.  Courage has been taken from most younger people of today and from some elders as well, often by parents who have not allowed them to fail or have not allowed them to take on a task difficult enough to provide a chance of failure.  Society has also become intollerant of failure.  My electric Jeep caught fire once in the garage directly underneath our bedroom.  Fortunately my daughter caught it early and we were able to put it out after only minimal damage.  Failure analysis was performed, some friends and I redesigned and rebuilt some parts and it has worked just fine since.  To this day it is stored outside.  Just like in the movie “meet the Robinsons” we need to exhault the process of trial and error and remind ourselves that mistakes are an important part of any process that leads to advancement.

I can tell you from experience that a person can change the world around them through ones own actions.  Some aspects of living more sustainably are conspicuous.  People we don’t know stop my kids and myself to ask us about our electric vehicles.  A common reaction is that they didn’t realize that electric vehicles were real and can actually work.  Also, I may look funny riding my scooter with the helmet and 5 toed shoes, but it gets attention.  Good ideas are contagious.

Which brings me to my point.  If everyone who reads this or attends a TED talk would resolve to look to themselves to make that change, to stop being afraid of screwing up, to take real action instead of bemoaning the fact that no one else will, could you immagine the impact of a few thousand more people doing the right thing?  Their families and friends would be impacted as well.  Most importantly their childern would learn a new way of dealing with obsticles.  They would learn to face their problems head on, to sometimes fail, figure out what went wrong and get back up and try again.  Right now my daughter, a sophomore in college, is going back and forth with one of the deans of her university to allow students to raise guide dogs while on campus.  Current rules don’t allow it, but state law is on her side.  An unexpected side effect of my one day realizing that the way I used energy was wrong, that there was a better way and I posessed the skills and the means to do better.  I therefore must make that change.  Now my daughter is fearless just like I raised her to be.  That is the power of a moral imperative.


wheels and suspension

Starting to get to work on the wheels, brakes and suspension.  The design essentially has to happen from the wheels in.  Wheelbase, stance and backspacing relative to the fender openings are determined first and then control arm mounting points are determined from there as the subframe is missing and I have to build it from scratch (out of aluminum!)  This overall concept allows the use of lightweight racing components.  Since I have to buy and install EVERYTHING, I can pick and choose the components.

The front hardware includes Porsche “phone dial” rims which are magnesium alloy and very light weight.  They were chosen to match the rear, for weight savings and for their backspacing.  Lotus makes a very compact front syspension with short arms which were difficult to re-create.  The format was a upper and lower A-arm with coil-over-shocks.  Since the arms that I am using are Mustang II based and longer, I am using FWD type backspacing to save space.  This also allows for an attempt to minimize the need for modifications of the front inner fenders as they are an important part of the overall structure of the vehicle.

As much as it is a good idea to use off the shelf parts, a few custom parts are needed to make some things work.  I wanted to use lightweight components everywhere possible. Aerospace Components makes custom front rotor and brake packages and they were very easy to work with.  They matched the bolt pattern to Porsche and the hub to a Ford Pinto spindle for which the A-arms were designed.  They also did some custom machining on the brake calipers to fit the wheel which I provided for them.  This wasn’t cheap, but didn’t cost a whole lot more than buying equivalent stock components off the shelf that would not have fit together and would have been heavier.

The plan for now is to get some wheels under the Lotus so that it can be transported to a body shop for a few minor repairs to the body.  After this, further work can be done.  I will keep you posted.