Solutions for Self-Reliance

What I Found Interesting This Week 3/22/13


Wow.  March is nearly over and we still have snow!

Although I enjoy the exercise it provides me (I shovel and clear a quarter mile of access road to my home), I’ll be happy to see it gone.

I need some good weather to get working on my garden and to install a solar panel system onto my home.

With some luck, you’ll be able to see how this solar panel system is installed in my upcoming Solar Power Everywhere report.  

I’m VERY happy with this report.  It’s going to be a must read.

In the meantime, here’s what I found interesting this week.

Shovel ready projects

The next time the government wants to stimulate the economy, it shouldn’t waste resources on government contractors.  Invest in a “shovel ready project” like this:

Shovel Ready Project

Community gardens everywhere.

Garden tables?

What if you don’t have any land and you still want to garden?  What if you want to make a wheel chair accessible garden?

The answer to both of these questions is a garden table.  Essentially, it’s possible to grow a productive garden in a soil less mix (peat, compost…).

The key to this system is the wire mesh and taut hardware cloth on the bottom side of the table to allow drainage.

Here’s a little graphic I put together as an overview (via the University of Maryland.  Here’s more detail if you are interested).   Click to enlarge.

Garden Table

Aquaponics Basics

If you don’t understand what aquaponics is, here’s a very easy to understand graphic from Afnan’s aquaponics.  He’s doing some great work.


It’s not a company, it’s a community.  Sidecar — where everyone can be a taxi.

When I was in Austin, Texas last week, everyone was using an app called Sidecar to find rides around town.

Essentially, Sidecar is a way for anyone with a car to become a taxi.  Here’s what it looks like:


Sidecar is a community of drivers and riders.

People don’t pay set fees.  Instead, they tip (see the suggested “donation”).  This means that they aren’t a classic business, but more of a community.  We are going to see LOTS of these communities in nearly every area of business in the not too distant future.

How does it work?  The drivers are pre-qualified with a background check by Sidecar.  After that, riders/drivers mutually rate each other on the experience.

NOTE:  This is an example of the dynamic, ad hoc P2P (person-to-person or peer-to-peer) economy that’s emerging at the local and global levels.

Of course, there are complications.  Taxi companies and local governments hate this.  They like the money they get from running a monopoly on transportation systems.  As a result, they will sue to stop a community like this from setting itself up (as they did in Austin).   I don’t think they will be successful in stopping this over the long run.

Keep innovating.

Open Products

In the not too distant future, nearly every product you buy or use will include extensive document on how to build it yourself, take it apart, fix it, add to it, and recombine it with other products.  

There is already a dedicated group of people in the maker movement working on making easier.

Here’s an example of an open source tractor called LifeTrac that was designed and prototyped by my friend Marcin:


As you can see, a tractor like this is a little more ambitious than standard DIY projects.  To build one yourself, you would need some amazing documentation.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a standard way to document the plans and methods used, which makes sharing them or collaborating with other people to improve them very difficult — in open source software, that’s been solved with tools like Github.

To fix this problem,  a group of people are coming together in New York City next month in an event called the Open Source Hardware Jam — RC friends Marcin, Catarina, and Simone will be there.  If you are in the area and you have skills in this area, please attend.

NOTE:  This event may actually be the start of standards for documentation that a couple of billion people will be using in a decade.  Just saying….

We’re Making Progress,



JR Small

PS:  This month’s Resilient Strategies report has profiles of the people we interviewed this month on Resilient Strategies, a drill down on what it takes to build a micro mushroom farm (it’s a surprisingly cool topic, even if you don’t want to build a mushroom farm yourself), and a tool that lets you monitor all of the electricity you use in your home on a real time basis.



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