Sunday, April 17, 2016

Eating Trees

"The Far-East traditional pharmacopeia is filled with remedies made from humble saprophytes on the forest floor."

Toko Hosoya, 8 Bored Mushroom People, Solo Exhibition
Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do  was not our first book — it was our fourth — but it was the first time our publisher at The Farm, the Book Publishing Company, asked us along on their annual junket to one of the world’s most lavish trade shows.

The venue for the American Booksellers Association that year was Las Vegas, and we traveled in the company of several other Farm authors, including Stephen Gaskin, who was actually there as part of an Electric Kool-Aid reunion outing, with Random House fronting the tab for a picture-perfect replica of Further, the Merry Prankster bus. (In November 2005 the original 1964 Further was dragged out of the swamp with a tractor and now resides in a warehouse at Kesey's farm in Oregon, alongside the 1990 Further).

Bill Walton
That 1990 weekend was the first time in more than 20 years that Stephen had dropped acid, and as far as we know also the last time. He found himself in a bar crawl on the Vegas Strip with Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, Grateful Dead’s Robert Hunter and Mickey Hart, basketball legend Bill Walton, Hunter S. Thompson, John Perry Barlow and High Times editor Steven Hager and when the tablets passed around, in a disco called The Shark Club, he did not abstain. We recall him taking us to the Wee Kirk of The Heather, where, straight from the Marine Corps and the Korean Conflict, “Spider” Gaskin had celebrated his first marriage, a short lived affair that lasted only one night.
That was before he met and married the cactus and mushroom abuelas in ceremonies before a fire in Mexico.

It was in Las Vegas that 1990 weekend that we first met Bob Harris, proprietor of Mushroompeople. Bob was a serious mycologist and scholar, a former professor at Evergreen State College, where, in the early 70’s, he guided a bright student named Paul Stamets towards a career in research that would make him famous. Paul bought Bob’s small mail order spore business but Bob decided to keep his lab equipment so he could grow shiitake spawn. Bob and his partner, Jennifer Snyder, traveled to Japan where they tracked down the best available strains and then for many years produced the finest shiitake spawn for sale in North America.


By 1990 Harris was ready to move on. He was doing well with other enterprises, thinking of moving to Hawaii, and wanted to sell Mushroompeople. When he approached us in Las Vegas, he asked whether such a business might do well at The Farm. Personally, at that time, we were having a bit of a personal crisis. Spending the better part of a decade writing the Climate book had unseated our faith in the future. Our practice of public interest appellate law, as celebrated as we had become, was paling in comparison to the big picture. We had high blood pressure, our marriage was unraveling, we did not get to see our children much, and life was taking on a diminishing quality. We were even experimenting with antidepressants, although that didn’t last long.

So we said okay.

Mushroompeople moved to The Farm in 1991. We gradually wrapped up our caseload of atomic veterans, Native American religious liberty claims, toxic waste dumps, the MX missile deployment and the rest, and shuttered the Natural Rights Center.  We refitted The Farm’s recycling center, formerly our potato, apple and onion barn, into a distribution office, lab and laying yard, and printed colorful catalogs with little mushroom characters modeled on Gary Trudeau’s talking cigarettes from Doonesbury.


One of the things that Bob Harris said that sealed the deal was that shiitake could make our hypertension go away. One gram per day, a small dried mushroom, was enough to balance our  blood pressure. If it was too high it would bring it down. If it was too low it would bring it up. We don’t think, in retrospect, that was really true, but it definitely captured our imagination. Anyway our depression went away.

These kinds of mushrooms as winter crops are not a new thing, and an enterprising farmer with a few acres of forest can turn a six-figure income on a few hours of work per week. During the Sung Dynasty (960-1127) Chinese researcher Wu Sang Kwuang first reported shiitake mushrooms fruit when logs are “soaked and striked.” In 1904 the Japanese agronomist Shozaburo Miura published studies of a technique for inoculating logs with cultured mycelium. After that the business was off and running.

Shittake, and other gourmet forest mushrooms from China, Korea and Japan, have medicinal as well as nutritive properties. Both shiitake and reishi produce interleukin-2 in the blood, and that has known abilities to reduce inflammation and tumors and boost immune response. The Far-East traditional pharmacopeia is filled with remedies made from humble saprophytes on the forest floor.


Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus) a.k.a. Pom-pom, Shaggy Tooth, Goat’s Beard contains polysaccharides and polypeptides which tend to enhance immune function. Cooked, it is used to treat indigestion and gastritis. Researchers have found it has a significant inhibitory effect on sarcoma 180 in white mice. In China, the mycelium is commonly taken in pill form to cure ulcers and cancers of the digestive tract. It is usually dried for storage, then softened in water, cut into thin slices and added to stir-fry dishes, soups, rice, etc. In China, the water decoction is drunk twice daily, added to millet wine, for treatment of ulcers, cancers, and general debility.


Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotis var.; e.g. Pleurotus ostreatus, P. sajor-caju, P. florida, P. sapidus, P. flabellatus, P. eryngii) are rich in Vitamin C and B complex and the protein content varies between 1.6 to 2.5 percent. It has most of the mineral salts required by the human body.  The niacin content is about ten times higher than any other vegetables. The folic acid present in oyster mushrooms helps to cure anemia. It is suitable for people with hyper-tension, obesity and diabetes due to its low sodium to potassium ratio, starch, fat and calorific value. Alkaline ash and high fibre content makes it suitable for consumption for those having hyperacidity and constipation. A polycyclic aromatic compound pleurotin has been isolated from P. griseus which possess antibiotic properties.

Coral Mushroom

It grows naturally in the temperate and tropical forests on dead and decaying wooden logs or sometimes on dying trunks of deciduous or coniferous woods. It may also grow on decaying organic matter, cardboard and newspaper, and various agro-wastes or forest wastes without composting. Last year we described a visit to a microenterprise in England that gathered the daily coffee grounds from all the local cafes and turned them into home oyster kits.
Oyster mushrooms require a temperature of 20°C to 30°C, both for its vegetative growth (spawn run) and reproductive phase, i.e. for formation of fruit bodies. The suitable cultivation period at high altitude - 1100-1500 meters above mean sea level – is March to October, mid altitude - 600-1100 meters above mean sea level – is February to May & September to November and at Low altitude - Below 600 meters above mean sea level – is October to March.


Hereabouts in May and June we will look for Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius) a fruity, flavorful delicacy containing all 8 essential amino acids in good proportion. The sporophore also contains Vitamin A. In China it is used to improve eyesight, reduce dry skin, and relieve certain infectious respiratory illnesses.


We are also blessed in Tennessee with a local variety of Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum). Reishi is the prince of the Chinese pharmacopeia, known variously as “the 10,000-year mushroom,” the “Sacred Mushroom,” “the Herb of Spiritual Potency,” and the “Lingzhi” (Emporer’s Chi). Japanese researchers have named the anti-allergic compounds discovered in reishi as various forms of "ganoderic acid." Ganoderic acid B and C lower high blood pressure. Ganoderic acid C is an active immune booster and scavenges free radicals, notably the superoxides in red cells. Ganoderic R and S are anti-toxicants that work in the liver. A very potent mushroom.


We can also find Maitake (Grifola frondosa), the “dancing mushroom” of known around here as Hen-of-the-Woods, Ram's Head or Sheep's Head. In Japan, the Maitake can grow to more than 50 pounds (20 kg). Maitake is one of the major culinary mushrooms used in Japan, often being a key ingredient in nabemono or cooked by itself in foil with butter. The sclerotia from which hen of the woods arises have been used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine to enhance the immune system. Researchers have also indicated that whole maitake has the ability to regulate blood pressure, glucose, insulin, and both serum and liver lipids, such as cholesterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids, and may also be useful for weight loss. Maitake is rich in minerals (such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium), various vitamins (B2, D2 and niacin), fibers and amino acids. Experiments with human cancer patients, have shown Maitake can stimulate immune system cells, reduce blood sugar and shrink tumors.

Shiitake, maitake and oysters are probably the easiest mushrooms to grow in North America, if you have a forest. If grown in a natural outdoor setting, sunshine and water are usually the only supplements. This produces superior quality mushrooms.

This time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, when the days are warm and the nights are cool, shiitake mushrooms emerge from the bark of decaying logs, expand in the rains, and then pull back from freezing, only to expand again when the sun comes up. They retreat from the dark and advance to the sun, like daffodils or spiderwort. This creates a crack and scarring effect on their caps, radial spokes of white lines that the Chinese call “dong-ho” and the Japanese “donko,” from the character for “many petaled flower.”


Donko is the highest grade of shiitake (“shii” - oak; “take” - fungus), a cut above Koshin (middle grade, with curled edges and white flecks) and Koko (low grade, flat brown pancake). The mushroom is rich in flavor and packed with antioxidants and healing compounds. It is second only to truffles in the number of flavonoid sensors triggered in your nose and tongue.


The Farm no longer produces shiitake for the green grocer market, although we sometimes take inoculated logs to Saturday market days and many households have their own logs in production close to the kitchen. Some here also grow oysters, lion’s mane, reishi and maitake, as well as foraging for chanterelles, chicken-of-the-woods, and coral mushrooms in season.

Frank Michael
We passed the mail order business of Mushroompeople to our neighbor and close friend, Frank Michael, when we began the Ecovillage Training Center as a full-time operation. With Frank’s pluck and perseverance, the business is having its best year ever. Apparently more people are learning about growing a forest shade crop that can turn the lignin and cellulose of a hardwood log into a complete protein, with all essential amino acids in better balance than bacon and for a lot less work than meat, milk or eggs.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

No Season

"They have given up their banana and avocado farm in Africa and hope to make a go of it in a land where they do not recognize the trees and have a bit of trouble understanding the local dialect."

  We are midway through #REX3 — a 10-day advanced permaculture design workshop with our friends Darren Doherty and Cliff Davis here in Southern Tennessee. The site this year is the newly acquired farm of an emigrant family in the rolling hills of Maury County, just about 20 miles from The Farm community.

For those not familiar with the changes going on in the southern regions of Africa, a bit of history might be helpful. The British took control of the Cape of Good Hope in 1806 in order to prevent it from being occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars. Dutch-speaking Afrikaners who had been there more than a century chaffed under British authority and didn’t like being forced to speak English, so they migrated inland and although the British recognized the independence of the South African Republic in 1852 and the Orange Free State in 1854, after gold was discovered the Empire returned and reclaimed those regions in the Boer Wars. A visitor from New Zealand described the typical Afrikaner Kraal of that era:
The Boer republics were sparsely populated and most farming communities lived in isolation, linked to each other by crude wagon trails. Following the custom of their forefathers, the Boers believed a farm should be at least 2400 hectares. Boer farms, even those tending livestock, often had no enclosures; the farmhouse would simply be surrounded by open pasture, a few fields of crops and maybe an orchard. The house itself would often be built from clay and usually consisted of two rooms with a thatched roof. The decorations within were modest and the clay floors were routinely smeared with a mixture of cow dung and water to reduce dust.

Of course, the large farms of the Afrikaners did not remain poor. Thanks to slave labor, many generations of farm toil, and the commerce of the British Empire, they grew to be some of the wealthiest and most productive in the world.

Afrikaner history, although now a distant past, was a thorn in the side of the later African anti-apartheid drives of the last century and animosities linger. For a very long time a small white minority had ruled cruelly, and now, finally, majority rule returned. What happened in nearby Zimbabwe is illustrative of what that can mean for the whites.

Like Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in South Africa, in the white-ruled state of Rhodesia the opposition party ZANU was banned and its leader Robert Mugabe was imprisoned in 1964. In prison Mugabe taught English to his fellow prisoners and earned multiple graduate degrees by correspondence from the University of London. Freed in 1974, he went into exile in Zambia and Mozambique where he built the resistance movement. Later, with support of British negotiators, the new state of Zimbabwe was given majority rule and in 1980 it elected Mugabe, who has been president ever since and has no intended successors.

Mugabe worked to convince his country’s 200,000 whites, including 4,500 commercial farmers, to stay. Then, in 1982, Mugabe sent his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to smash dissent. Over five years, an estimated 20,000 civilians were killed and many whites were dispossessed of their farms with no advance notice. In 2000 Mugabe rewrote the Zimbabwean constitution to expand the powers of the presidency and legitimize seizures of white-owned land. The country’s commercial farming collapsed, triggering years of hyperinflation and food shortages in a nation of impoverished billionaires.

In recent years the horrors inflicted by Mugabe have been so sadistic that we are left wondering whether he is demented by syphillis. And yet, through all of this, he enjoyed the support of the ANC in South Africa and has widespread approval in the continent. With the death of Mandela, South Africa has begun moving away from the policies of equanimity between races and it has become increasingly difficult for whites to attend universities and obtain professional employment. Which brings us to Tennessee.

The farm where our students are congregating this morning is a lifeboat for this old family of Dutch ancestry. They have given up their banana and avocado farm in Africa and hope to make a go of it in a land where they do not recognize the trees and have a bit of trouble understanding the local dialect. Back in South Africa are a number of relatives who look towards this young couple and their Tennessee farm as Noah’s Ark in event of a hard rain coming.

The REX advanced course “cuts to the chase” with farm design to assay what the needs are and what strategies will get this ark on a prosperous footing most rapidly. As the Regrarians website describes it:
In the world of workshops & courses there is nothing quite like the #Regrarians 10 day Integrated Farm Planning course or #REX. A carefully crafted distillation of the world’s greatest and most effective methodologies, the #REX is designed for nothing less than effective outcomes. People are participants, not ‘attendees’ or ‘students’ at a #REX, such is the integrity of the course model for its inclusive approach. Following the Regrarians already renowned & highly respected #RegrariansPlatform, the #REX follows a subject a day, building layer by practical layer for the real client and real enterprise that is the basis for this unique 10 day experience.
DAY 1 – Climate (90 minute sessions)
A – Client ‘Climate’ Briefing, Develop Holistic Goal/Concept, Terms of Reference
B – Atmospheric Climate retrieval & analysis, macro & micro climate factors
C – Legal ‘Climate’ retrieval & analysis, Municipal & State planning, other regulations
D – Climate Layer Exercise – Over 60 mins in small work-teams frame responses to the above and report to course findings in 10 mins each group (includes feedback)
E – Thermophyllic Composting Demonstration (scalable)

DAY 2 – Geography
A – Revision; Sandpit: Keyline Geography, Geometry & Applications
B – Assemble & Study Cadastral, Geology, Soil, Topographic, Planning & Mining Maps
C – GIS/GPS/Survey Applications & Technologies, Online GIS resources, Developing Effective Plans
D – Farm Walk ‘n’ Talk, Landscape Reading & Analysis, ‘Farmscape’ Analysis, Define Primary Land Unit & Land Component Boundaries, ‘Bullseye’ Demonstration

DAY 3 – Water
A – Revision; Examine & Overview of Existing Farm Water Systems, Farm Catchment
B – Earth Dam Construction & Water Harvesting Infrastructure – Design, Processes & Applications
C – Farm Irrigation Systems – Design, Applications & Installation
D – Water Layer – Over 90 mins (plus break time) develop farm water storage, harvesting
E – Water Layer Presentation & Feedback session + 10 mins each group for presentation & feedback

DAY 4 – Access
A – Revision; Examine & Overview of Existing Internal & External Farm Access
B – Access Earthworks Design, Engineering, Construction & Applications
C – Dam, Water Harvesting & Access Set Out Practicum: using Surveyor & DIY Instruments (RTK-GPS, Total Station, Transit & Laser Levels)
D – Access Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm access concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 5 – Forestry
A – Revision; Forestry Systems Applications: Shelterbelts, Alleys, Orchards, Avenues, Woodlands, Blocks, Riparian
B – Forestry Systems Design & Establishment Strategies
C – Forestry Systems Management & Utilisation
D – Forestry Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm forestry concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 6 – Buildings
A – Revision; Building Types & Technologies: Dwellings, Sheds, Yards & Portable Livestock
B – Building placement strategies, Existing Building Analysis & Retrofitting Options
C – Lucas Portable Sawmill Practicum + Broiler Shelter Construction
D – Building Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm building concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 7 – Fencing
A – Revision; Fencing Technologies, Applications & Costings
B – Fencing Placement – Land Components/Structures/Livestock systems
C – Fencing Installation Practicum – with local ‘Pro’ Fencer: Build end assemblies, ‘wires & pliers’, electric net fencing, tumblewheel
D – Fencing Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm fencing concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 8 – Soils
A – Revision, ‘5 Ingredients for Soil Formation’ – House Envelope & SilvoPastoral Applications
B – Farm Soil Classifications & Sample Analysis: Earth Building, Earthworks & Agricultural
C – Yeomans Keyline Plow ‘Pattern Cultivation’, Survey & Set Out
D – ‘Time Poor’ Farm Garden Practicum: No Dig/Wicking Beds; Keyline Plow Forestry &
Orchard Ground Preparation
E – Holistic Management Planned Grazing – Grazing Plan Practicum

DAY 9 – Economy
A – Revision; Farm Enterprise Planning: Comparing Enterprises, Market & Resource Analysis, Complementary Enterprise Options & Liaisons, Managing & Limits to Growth & Expectations
B – Farm Enterprise Management: ‘The Team’, Interns/WWOOFERS, Apprentices, Employees/SubContractors, Terms of Reference, Job Descriptions & Contracts
C – Economy Layer – Over 90 mins prepare a Farm Enterprise & Marketing Concept Plan
D – Economy Layer – Continued from Session C – 60 mins of Farm Enterprise & Marketing Concept Plan preparation then 10 mins per group presentation & feedback

DAY 10 – Energy
A – Revision; Farm Energy Conversion & Storage Systems: Solar PV, Solar Thermal, Biomass, BioDigestor, Wind, Hydro; Analysis of suitability & applications
B – Energy Layer – Over 60 minutes prepare an Farm Energy Concept Plan + 10 mins per group presentation & feedback
C – Farm Enterprise Development & Reporting; Client & Contractor Liaisons; Prioritising Works
D – Completed REX ‘Regrarians Platform’ Concept Plan Layer Analysis & Review – Client & Participant Feedback; ‘What’s Next?’; Presentations

Today we are on Day 7 - Fencing. Tomorrow we get to speak about biochar and carbon farming and are looking forward to that part.

As we walked the high ridges of this farm we happened upon an old cemetery, overgrown with vines, its raised crypts caving in, its carvings fading. We posted a photo of one stone on Instagram and someone was kind enough to provide the reference to the verse, which is by poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793-1835). It is called The Hour of Death.
Leaves have their time to fall
And flowers to wither at the north wind’s breath
And stars to set, but all
Thou hast all seasons for thine own, o Death

In many ways this family is lucky. They sensed the north wind’s breath and got out before the knock on the door in the night. They cashed in and took the value of their previous farm with them. All across Europe and the Middle East, changing climate and conflicts over dwindling resources — effects of the population bomb long ago forecast —  are sending waves of penniless and desperate refugees fleeing with nothing at all, just the clothes on their backs.

With the increase of global climate weirding we sometimes get the sense that we may be entering a time without reliable seasonality. There is only one name for that. Death.

In the end, there is no refuge. There is just this one blue marble in space. Either we begin to steward the land the way this workshop of Darren’s teaches, or it will heat up, dry out and support no one.

Alternatively, we can school ourselves with methodologies such as these and live on a garden planet once more, keeping our numbers and demands in harmony with her natural abundance.

Is it even a serious choice?

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Too Big to Scale

"We’re looking at The Cloud from both sides now."

While it is not likely that the heterodox economist E.F. "Fritz" Schumacher was the first to use the term “appropriate technology” — he preferred “intermediate technology” — he certainly had a big role in defining it. In Small is Beautiful he described it as the “middle way,” which dovetailed nicely with his elucidation of Buddhist economics, or what Mohandas Gandhi called "Economy of Permanence." 

According to Schumacher, a technology is appropriate to preserve, adopt and adapt if it is truly village scale, lying in that mid-range between individualistic technology (toothbrush, smartphone, coffee cup) and industrial-scale (pharmaceutical laboratory, steel mill, railroad).

Examples of village scale are the old bakery, perhaps a large stone or brick oven where families bring their doughs to become breads; the bicycle repair shop; or a family-run tofu shop (as in the 10,000 or more in any large Japanese city) because handcrafted tofu is much to be preferred in taste, texture and nutrition over machine-produced.

James Earl Jones as Locust-Man
As early as the 1960s Schumacher, as president of the UK Soil Association, was correctly diagnosing what was wrong with the atom as an energy source. In 1977 he published A Guide for the Perplexed as a critique of materialist scientism. It was also a foray into the nature and organization of knowledge. He championed the style of Ivan Illich's conviviality: user-friendly and ecologically suitable; applicable to the scale of the human and natural community.

Born in the late 1940s, we were witness to Moore’s Law from its birth. We watched electric typewriters replace manual portables, then IBM Selectrics arrive with their changeable font-balls and auto-erase tape. We were there when punch cards and tape readers began to type form letters like a player piano. From the days of our youth, hand calculators kept getting smarter than we were. 

In the late 70s we automated our Plenty Office and the Book Publishing Company with arrays of linked, part home-brew, part off-the-shelf, CPU-and-dumb-terminal minicomputers. Soon came inexpensive personal computers that put desktop publishing and spreadsheets into the hands of the masses and made small fortunes for Apple, Atari, Dell and Texas Instruments.

Office networks of linked hard-drives using first ethernet and then wireless LANs and WANs were middle scale appropriate technology as long as you could service the devices or maybe even build them yourselves within the village. All was well on this good earth. Desktop computers were like tractors or teams of oxen, shortening the time it took you to furrow your inbox or do your taxes.

Then came The Cloud upon the land. Cut to the scene in The Good Earth where the Chinese farmers look to the sky as their faces darken — the locusts are here! That was about 10 years ago, or 5 generations in factor-four Silicon Time.
Boston-based research outfit Forrester calls cloud computing—that’s public cloud computing—a “hyper-growth” market. In a recent report, it predicts the market for cloud services will grow to $191 billion by 2020, a 20 percent leap from what it predicted just a few years ago. “The adoption of cloud among enterprises, which is really where the money is, has really picked up steam,” Forrester analyst John Rymer recently told us. “It’s a big shift. The cloud has arrived. It’s inevitable.”
- Cade Metz, Wired 12-22-15

Getting back into our annual workshop schedule here at The Farm, we find ourselves stuck without a middle way, with no “village scale” with regard to either email or accounting. We have always suffered the digital divide by electing to live in a rural area in a country without Net Neutrality, but we take clean air and birdsong more seriously than ones and zeros.

What passes for broadband in rural Tennessee would be laughable in Romania or Thailand. We live beyond the profitable reach of the cable companies, or even DSL from the quasi-federal phone monopoly. Getting a dumbphone mobile connection here can be challenging, never mind G3 or G4. We pay far too much for far too little connectivity, but then, welcome to the unpaved precincts. Have you seen the stars at night?

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
— Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now (May, 1969)

We’re looking at The Cloud from both sides now. Many, if not all, of the email and accounting packages that have the capabilities we need have discontinued stand-alone functionality and hard drive data storage on your personal device in favor of wireless subscription plans. An unbeckoned choice is being thrust upon us. Either we late-migrate to the Cloud and trust in her all-knowing beneficence (and suffer indignities whenever there is no connection) or we put up with rapidly-shrinking features and capabilities. 
For code-writers keeping legacy software working may be somewhat easier. But most code-writers are Cloud addicts, not old school.

We use Photoshop but seldom have need for the other Adobe apps packaged into their (formerly $3650) Master Suite. To us it was worth several hundred dollars plunked down every few years to have that one app. We’ve tried GIMP and other freeware but they are no substitute for Photoshop. Now a subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud would cost us about $2,400 — assuming the price doesn’t go up. And that is just one subscription, from one cloud provider.

Microsoft rolled out Office 365 in 2011 but still plans to sell packaged software for a while, which makes sense given how much of the world has weak to nil internet connectivity. “Unlike Adobe, we think people’s shift from packaged software to subscription services will take time,” Microsoft told Wired.

The largest cloud storage provider, Amazon Web Services, reported $2.41 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter last year, or more than $9.6 billion in annualized sales—and that’s after the $10-billion-dollar company Dropbox ported off Amazon to build its own server farms in Q3.

Dropbox calls each of its storage machines a Diskotech. “The thing we care about the most is the disk,” its chief engineer told Wired. “That’s where all the bytes are.” 

Measuring only one-and-half-feet by three-and-half-feet by six inches, each Diskotech box holds as much as a petabyte of data, or a million gigabytes. Fifty of these machines could store everything human beings have ever written. Maybe even all the cute kitten videos on YouTube (“Maru gets into a box” - “大きな箱とねこ” - 8.1 million views).

At one point in 2015, when it was moving from Amazon to its own 40 acres and a mule, Dropbox was installing forty to fifty racks of hardware a day, each rack holding about eight individual machines. That installation rate continued for nearly six months. They surpassed Peak Kitten in the first month.

We have had the trauma of a terabyte data fail. It is not pretty. It means we now have to have 2 or 3 terabyte safety redundancies. If you go to DVD you can become dependent on legacy hardware (DVD readers and burners), calling up recollections of floppies, cassettes, optical readers, etc. we may still have in the attic but prefer not to think about. 

A flash drive is ephemeral - how many years will it hold its charge without any degradation or chance encounters with moisture, temperature change or magnetic fields?

We want to be able to access 20-year-old data using only the power of a Biolite Stove and no cloud. We can do that right now with an iPad and a portable HD. Can we do it still in 2017?

There may come a time when we just have to go our own way and de-cloud. At the moment we are struggling to remain amphibian, with a webbed foot in each world. Thanks for all the fish, but for now we intend to keep our paper-based bookkeeping and a sharpenable pencil.

Many years ago Amory Lovins’ Brittle Power described how lack of prudence and foresight had allowed city and regional planners to erect a monumental infrastructure of energy supply that keeps the lights on at night across North America but can be taken down by a tree branch falling on wires in a blizzard, or a pipe bomb in a pipeline.

The same kind of blind spot infects the planners of the Cyberverse. Mighty as they be, they are not Gods. To get to be in their club, you have to take the blue pill to believe the separate reality the Google-vets believe; the one with Space X missions to Mars and fusion-powered Teslas.
This represents an attitude that began with Google and has gradually spread across Silicon Valley. Google was so successful not just because it built a pretty good Internet search engine, but because it built the underlying technology needed to run that search engine—and so many other services—at an enormous scale. Facebook, which recruited countless ex-Googlers, did much the same. And so did Twitter and its ex-Googlers. And, now, so has Dropbox. To become a giant, you may have to stand on the shoulders of others. But once you become your own giant, you start to feel like you need to build a home that’s just right for you.
— Cade Metz, Wired 3-14-16

The problem, as we see it, is that the parallel reality field is eating away the brains of its wizards. Wormhole-brained, they keep edging farther out onto the limb of a system that is just one fallen-tree-branch or cyberattack away from ruin. Worse, they are forcing the rest of us to follow along and add our weight to that same weak limb.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Trump in the Crosshairs

"There would be a clear shot as he walked from the jet to the copter. Getting close enough would not be a problem."

  The machine had worked, just as his father had said it would.

When Trevon Musk released the canopy latch and climbed out, he could not be certain about that. Granted, the place where he found himself was not the place from which he had climbed into the device. The gleaming white pod, now frosted and wafting cold vapor, was sitting in a large storage area surrounded by cardboard boxes with Apple logos.

Musk grabbed his attache from the cockpit then locked the canopy. He examined his surrounds. Nearby he spied an open box of Apple decals on a shelf. He took a large, colorful one, peeled off the vinyl sticker and stuck it on the side of the pod.

He walked through the doors and out into the Apple Store. Unnoticed, he strode through the store and past the glass doors at the front, entering the Roosevelt Field Mall. He turned left, passed Victoria’s Secret and turned right. He passed the entrance to Macy’s then turned into the next corridor. Then he knew for sure.

At the end of that hall, framed between a Tory Burch and Le Pain Quotidien, was the interior façade of Neiman Marcus.

He could not have gone back farther than 2016.

The 100,000 sq. ft. Neiman store was the last piece of a $200 million-dollar mall remodel that had turned Roosevelt Field, in East Garden City, Long Island, into the second-largest shopping mall in the state of New York and ninth in the country. It opened on Friday, February 19, 2016.

Musk knew he had travelled back no farther than that date. He also knew it was not later than October 30, 2019.

He had been only three years old that year, but he remembered his father rushing into his room in their Malibu home, snatching him up and carrying him out to the Audi, speeding up the coast to the California Yacht Club, and the two of them boarding the 50-meter Westport 164 and getting out to sea at full power.

Seared into his memory were the brilliant flashes coming from up and down the coast and farther inland, like a great fireworks display. They were several hundred nautical miles out to sea by then, but it had radiated the skies and created spontaneous auroras.

Musk knew that if his father’s capsule, built with advanced composites developed in their island laboratory and able to create custom wormholes to tunnel through time, had landed any later than October 30, 2019, Roosevelt Field would not be a mall. It would look more like the flat field it was in 1927, when Charles Lindberg lifted off in the Spirit of St. Louis headed for Paris.

Theoretical yield of Russia’s largest tested device (+/- 50%)
delivered as single missle, detonated 9 miles above Manhattan.
Inner ring vaporized, 2d ring pulverized, outer ring scorched.
Not fewer than 50 MIRV’d warheads had descended on the New York Metropolitan area that day in October, 2019. Garden City was only 30 miles from Ground Zero. It had been reduced to charred dust by the first single-warhead R-36M2 or MIRV'd DF-5A. After that came an hour or so of “bouncing rubble.”

Down the corridor to his right, past Williams Sonoma, Aeropostale and Brookstone, Must veered left and found Bobby’s Burger Palace near an outside exit. There by the door was a rack with USA Today and the date: March 25, 2016. Perfect. He was on schedule.

Donald Trump would not yet have Secret Service protection.

Trump just won the Arizona primary and came in a close second in Utah. He had 695 delegates now, and after a very strong showing in the remaining primaries, capped by California on June 7, would have the required 1,237 to clinch the nomination on the first ballot. That, and the Grand Jury indictment handed down against Hillary Clinton in September, and Trump would become President of the United States and Commander in Chief of its military. For all of 1013 days.

Trump would be returning to New York City and landing in a Trump Air jet at East Hampton airport on Sunday, March 27, to be picked up there by a Trump Air helicopter and ferried to his home helipad. There would be a clear shot as he walked from the jet to the copter. Getting close enough for his father’s handcrafted, laser scoped, smart rifle, now carried in his attache case, to do its work would not be a problem. There was cover in several small craft and buildings on the site and none would be searched ahead of time. Finding a safe egress and getting back to the pod in the Apple store could be a little more dicey, but certainly worth whatever the risk.

There is just one problem. When the time finally came to pull the trigger, “click.”


Musk tried again. Nothing happened. The time protection hypothesis had proved the causality paradox.

Time travel had been Trumped.

In the winter of 1961, Edward Lorenz, a mathematician and meteorologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, set out to construct a mathematical model of the weather, namely a set of differential equations that represented changes in temperature, pressure, wind velocity, etc. Lorenz stripped the weather down to a crude model containing a set of 12 differential equations.

One day, while his computer, a Royal McBee, was printing out the result of a model run, he stepped out for a cup of coffee and when he returned discovered that the printer had run out of paper. By not having a sensor to tell the computer to pause it had simply not printed half of the result.

Lorenz’s Sample Data
After loading more paper, Lorenz decided to save time and restart the run from somewhere in the middle, using the last printout. He entered the conditions at some point near the middle of the run and re-started the run. The data from the second run should have exactly matched the data from the first run, and while they matched at first, the runs began to diverge, slowly, then dramatically — the second run eventually losing all resemblance to the first within a few "model" months. 

Weather is, frankly, unpredictable, but mathematics should not be, and neither should computer simulations of weather.

At first Lorenz thought it was hardware malfunction, but after checking, discovered a GIGO problem (garbage in - garbage out) in the data entry. To save space, his printouts only showed three digits while the data in the computer's memory contained six digits. Lorenz had entered the rounded-off data from the printouts assuming that the difference was inconsequential — one thousandth of a degree of temperature; a single drop of rain; an almost imperceptible puff of wind.

Eventually this would lead to the chaos theory and what Lorenz would term “the butterfly effect,” suggesting that a butterfly flapping its wings in North America could affect the weather in China. A tiny variation at the start of a long sequence of events can profoundly alter what happens later.

In other words, everything is connected to everything. “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe,” as John Muir said.

Theoretical yield of China’s largest currently deployed nuclear device
(part of a 10-20 array/missile) if detonated 3 miles above Manhattan.
Inner ring vaporized, 2d ring pulverized, outer ring scorched.
If you could travel back in time to assassinate Hitler when he was a house painter and spare the world The Holocaust, would you? You needn’t bother trying, you would fail anyway.

Kip Thorne was the first theoretical physicist to recognize traversable wormholes and backwards time travel as being theoretically possible under certain conditions. There is nothing in Einstein’s theories of relativity, or quantum physics, to rule out time travel, but it is nonetheless implausible because of the paradox of causality.
“A Predestination paradox occurs when the actions of a person traveling back in time ultimately causes the event he is trying to prevent to occur. He then becomes trapped inside a ‘temporal causality loop’ in which Event 1 in the past influences Event 2 (time travel to the past) which then causes Event 1 to occur, with this circular loop of events thus ensuring that history is not altered by the time traveler’s journey to the past. “
Astronomy Trek

Therefore, you cannot change the past and furthermore, anyone attempting to do so may literally find themselves trapped within a repeating loop of time. See, for instance, Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63 (2015) or movies like TimeCrimes (2007), The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009), or Predestination (2014). Astronomy Trek says the best renderings were a Twilight Zone episode called ‘Cradle of Darkness’ and an episode of Dr Who called ‘Let’s Kill Hitler.’

If Trevon Musk, a future progeny of Elon Musk, were to travel back to the past to prevent nuclear war from exterminating the human species, he might discover when he returned to an altered future timeline, that climate change, prevented or postponed in his original timeline by a devastating nuclear winter, had, in the new timeline, already accomplished precisely that.

You can’t time travel back and kill Trump, and killing him now is not something we advocate, either. People can vote, though.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


"Before you reach carrying capacity you start to make bad, short-term, expedient decisions."

Towards the end of our two-week Permaculture Design Course at Maya Mountain — their 11th as a host and our personal 50th as a teacher — we sallied out into the Maya world with Chris Nesbitt in search of a turkey for the graduation feast.

This took us to the home of James, a graduate of one of our earlier courses, who lives with his growing family in the village of San Marcos, in the Toledo District of Belize. From the last census we could find, the population of the village was 328, 99% Ke’kchi, 1% Mopan.

The Maya built their great culture on towns, regions and bioregional states. Most of these, particularly the smaller villages, survived the collapse of the Classic Era, the Spanish Conquest, and the Colonial Period. Chiapas, Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo in Mexico, most of Guatemala, more than half of Belize and the Western reaches of Honduras and El Salvador have similar political and cultural traditions that are now some 2500 years old and show no signs of going away. They are sustained by places as much as the memory of peoples.

Mayan cultural literacy is less about writing, music or the Bible and more about knowing plants and animals. Not just naming them. Knowing them.

Bird song, jaguar and howler growl, locations of raw materials, flows of streams, trail networks and portage routes are things that children learn early and do not soon forget.

Toxic wastes, plastics, logging, consumer society, fracking and GMOs are recent arrivals, and threaten everyone, but they are pretty puny in comparison to the depth of culture that opposes them. Human fecundity grounded in religious dogma is the greater threat.

In a classroom session pointedly aimed at those in the workshop that were Mayan, Garifuna or otherwise native Belizian, Chris outlined the hard numbers on the chalkboard. In 1985 the population of Belize was 150,000 and an equal number lived just across the border, in the highland Petén of Guatemala. Guatemala as a whole was 6 million then.

In 2015, Belize had grown to 347,369 — more than double in 29 years, but still the lowest population density in Central America. Petén was 2 million (a 13-fold increase) and Guatemala 14 million.
“Before you reach carrying capacity you start to make bad, short-term, expedient decisions,” Chris told the class. He spoke of people in Haiti baking cakes of clay and lard and selling them in the market, of the Balkanization of Eastern Europe, of Rwanda, of Syria and the European refugee crisis.

Native Toledians still speak of the forced Christianization of the region that happened to Punta Gorda Town with the arrival of the missionaries 500 years ago. Many who refused to be Christianized took refuge in the Maya Mountains. The Mopan call these people the Che’il and the Ke’kchi call them Chol. In the past they were objects of scorn, uneducated and primitive. Today they are venerated, except in the most westernized parts of the country. 

In Mayan villages incense is burned and prayers are said to these “wild Maya” who protect the animals and forests. Hunters and chicle workers take them salt from the coast as offerings.

In 1850, concerned about the flow of people across the mountains, British Honduras closed its Western Border, although it was not until 1934 that that border was even surveyed, never mind guarded. These days, the tensions along the border are growing as Belize begins to fret about the increase in immigration and Guatemala once more rattles its sabre, reasserting its legal claim to, if not the whole of Belize, then merely from the Sibun River south. This claim amounts to roughly 53% of the country and includes significant portions of Cayo, Belize District, Stann Creek and Toledo. Emigration serves Guatemala’s purposes here.

When we first started going there, the trek down to Punta Gorda was an 8-hour ordeal over bad roads, sometimes impassible in the rainy season when we would resort to the coastal boat route. Then came the Hummingbird Highway with its regular flow of scheduled services in recycled Bluebird school buses, shortening the distance from Belize City on the Northern coast. 

A few years ago, Belize finally made good a 150-year-old promise and started cutting a road to Guatemala through the mountains. Under the terms of the Wyke–Aycinena Treaty of 1859, Great Britain — whose unintended and ungovernable “colony" composed of shipwrecked Anglos, Scots and later Baymen immigrants and Garifuna had, on its own, fought off Spanish territorial claims in 1798 at the Battle of St. George's Caye — promised to build that road from Punta Gorda in exchange for Guatemala agreeing to give up land claims inherited from Spain's Vatican-sanctioned Treaty of Tordesillas with Portugal in 1494.

Now the road is finally going in, two centuries later, and Guatemala is saying, thanks very much, but too late. You blew it. Without that road being built by British Baymen in 1859, we are no longer bound to give up King Ferdinand’s claim to the New World. Guatemala also points to the 1783 Treaty of Versailles, wherein Britain agreed to abandon British forts in Belize that protected the Baymen and give Spain sovereignty over the soil, which made it part of Guatemala (conveniently forgetting the embarrassing loss to the uppity Baymen at St. George's Caye in 1798).

Guatemala's new president, Jimmy Morales, when campaigning in 2015, said "Something is happening right now, we are about to lose Belize. We have not lost it yet.” Perhaps he was referring to the road as the thing that was happening. If he thinks he will get the Belizeans to walk away from their country, after only just gaining independence from Britain in 1981, he is wrong about having not already lost it.

Between 1975 and 1979, Mexico, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Panama changed their stances from supporting Guatemala to supporting Belize. The OAS, trying to defuse the conflict, established a border zone extending one kilometer (0.62 mi) on either side of the 1859 treaty line. Guatemala has taken the matter to the International Court of Justice. Both sides have strengthened military presence at the border, as road-building continues.
A little way past the junction with the Hummingbird Highway, where the new road turns towards Guatemala is the turnoff to the town of San Marcos.

San Marcos is a long, narrow village bisected by a ridge road running up its middle, then dog-legging left. The houses look much the same as in other Mayan villages of the region — stick walls, thatch roofs, hand pump in the front yard. In 1975, three families came here to found the village, led by brothers Santos and Luciano Muku and Camilo Rash. Before that the families had lived on private property in the dump area outside Punta Gorda Town. New settlers came to join them, mostly Kek’chi from Guatemala fleeing the genocidal holocaust of the late 70s and 80s. In 1981 they built a church and school and named their village San Marcos. 

St. Mark, it is worth recalling, was born of Jewish parents around 3 AD in the city of Cyrene in Pentapolis, now Libya. Shortly after his birth, his family migrated to Palestine to escape Berber attacks. A few years later when his father Aristopolos died, Mark was taken in by Peter Simon who would later become an apostle. Mark studied law and the classics and later authored the earliest known gospel. He was martyred in 68 AD by being tied to a horse’s tail and dragged through the streets of Alexandria for two days. We mention this not for the shock value but to point to similarities between the mass migrations now underway in the Southern Mediterranean and 2000 years ago, and also to the similarities of the atrocities perpetrated on the Maya in Guatemala by Reaganista Evangelical Christian governments in the early 80s.

In San Marcos about a third of the population today are Catholic and the remainder either Evangelical Christian or Mennonite. Apart from a small sliver of the Mopan Maya, the first language of the village is Ke’kchical with both Spanish and English learned at home or in school by age 10.

A 1995 survey of occupations in the village shows that 18% farm produce, 46% raise animals, 10% hunt and the remainder fish, although we suspect that most do all of those and the survey form was simply passed around the house for everyone to put down their favorite.

More revealing is the age demographic. Only 7% are over 50. Nine percent are 35-49. Those age 34 or less make up 84% of the population and 64% are under 17, reaching fertility in the next decade. Principally because of total agreement between Catholic, Evangelical and Mennonite doctrines on this point, nearly all families will resemble James’ family — six to twelve children per mother, with the next generation coming as soon as biologically possible. Besides the refugee influx, this philosophical tradition is also what Guatemala brings into Belize, which is now Latin America’s fast growing country.

Guatemala is already outstripping its abilities to provide for its own. Whole forests have fallen to the axe in the Petén. Refugees come through the mountains and trickle into Maya settlements all over Toledo. The village closest to Chris’s farm, San Pedro Columbia, has quadrupled in size in the years we have been coming here.

If you look at any given home it seems idyllic. Food trees — banana, papaya, mango, sapote, are never far from the front door. Chickens, ducks, turkeys and pigs free range in the yards. James’ family has a small corn mill in a front room so they make masa for the village— nixtamalized dough for tortillas and empanadas — on demand. When Chris asks for 4 kg, a daughter goes to a wet barrel and ladles out soaking, reddish dent kernels into a sieve, takes them to the pump to wash, and delivers them to her mother in the mill room. 

The rehydrated field corn she had ladled had been parboiled in slaked lime (Calcium Hydroxide)— 1 Tbsp per kg. CaO + H2O -> Ca(OH)2. Some poor villages that cannot afford or find lime (Mexican Cal) use wood ash to extract potash. They leach the ashes in a large pot, strain and evaporate the liquid to produce Potassium carbonate (K)2(CO3), which is alkaline and can be used as a substitute for Calcium hydroxide.

Nixtamalization of maize was one of the great culinary discoveries of the world, allowing us to unlock the amino acids of corn to make a balanced protein. Without knowing about nixtamalization, Columbus just made people sick and malnourished with the maize he took back to the Old World.

It is kind of a pity that Columbus, making landfall in Lisbon after his first crossing, felt compelled to go brag about his discovery to King John II of Portugal. The Italian Navigator was always sniffing around for grants. Had he kept mum about it until he got back to Spain, John would not have complained to Ferdinand and Isabella and they in turn would not have gone running to the Pope (Pope Alexander VI /Rodrigo Borgia) who came up with an encyclical that precipitated the Treaty of Tordesillas and today's claim by Guatemala for 53% of Belize. 

James’ wife throws a knife switch and engages a 10 HP motor that turns a pulley shaft, the daughter loads her washed corn into the hopper. When done, the masa is bagged, weighed and handed to Chris who pays her a few dollars.

We stop at the neighbors’ and pick out our 30-lb. turkey, which goes live into a gunny sack for transport in the dugout back up to Maya Mountain Research Farm.

Teaching permaculture in a culture such as this, one is never quite sure whether Albert Bartlett’s classic lecture on the exponential function has much meaning. People here have a hard time relating to the doubling times of bacteria in a bottle. But what time is it when all the available cleared land is occupied and you have to cut down the forest to make more space for houses? Answer: One minute to midnight.





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