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Hydroponic vegetable grocery opens in Hong Kong

While walking through Causeway Bay and Wanchai the other day, I noticed a new store with a bright green color.  Farm Direct is a new grocery selling locally grown hydroponic food in the center of Hong Kong.

Given my interest in home hydroponics and my wife’s new found interest in food safety, following some rather silly stuff going on in the mainland, I went in to check out the crops.

They had a few types of lettuce and bok choy on offer, both items I’m hoping to grow in my own home setup once I get off my butt and get it running. They also had a few imported things like blue berries and tomatoes, but I decided to go only with the fresh local stuff.

I’m having my first salad tonight. Will see how it goes. If you want to check it out yourself, it’s at 425 Lockhart Road, at the border of Wanchai and Causeway Bay, just behind the Wanchai Fire Station.

Here’s a neat video I found about their farm in Fanling.


Elegant Hydroponic solutions.

The other night at the Hong Kong Hackerspace DimSumLabs I gave a quick two-minute presentation on some of the more ‘elegant’ solutions for hydroponic growing that I had found. With a wife who would literally kill me if I was to install a “bunch of tubes” of PVC in the house, I’ve been on the lookout for something more consumer friendly and visually appealing.  It’s actually been a bit surprising how little is really out there, and nice to see some DIY projects starting to recognize the need for something a bit prettier than PVC.

The first thing I found was an Ikea hack called Eliooo. There are several different varieties using standard off the shelf Ikea products, primarily the TROFAST system.

ikea1 ikea2








I like this solution as it falls within my price point (next to free) but doesn’t look like a bunch of tubes.  I also have a number of TROFAST lying around the house (kids’ toy boxes). I may end up building the one with rolling casters as that would suit my small house well and I could move it in and out of the sunlight as needed.

At a bit higher end, there is this Urban Cultivator project.This looks more like something I’d put in my kitchen (if I had the space) or a product I’d like to build myself. I’ve actually talked to a few home appliance manufacturers in China about repurposing a ‘dorm fridge’ or a ‘wine fridge’ as a hydroponic facility.  Urban Cultivator actually makes a home and kitchen version, which is pretty impressive.

kc-ex2 cultivator cc-front












One of the nice things about this unit is that it has a built in computer system to handle most of the growing process.  You can see it in action in the video from the company.


The final, and probably most impressive unit, comes from the prototype department at Philips, which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good in the sense that the big boys are seriously looking at home hydroponic solutions, and that they have put some serious thought and design effort into building something incredibly beautiful, but it’s bad news in the sense that it’s from Philips. Something this cool and impressive will never come from a big behemoth company that will have 100s of employees and bean counters fighting for some way to kill the project instead of a few dozen pushing it. Still, it’s nice to look at:



The First 24 Hours at Fukushima

Interesting report is out today from the IEEE Spectrum about the first 24 hours at Fukushima.  While TEPCO has been rather quiet about the goings on, the authors and nuclear engineers have tried to ‘reverse engineer’ what happened by putting together public statements and other data.

One of the more interesting tidbits came a few hours into the disaster, when the control room couldn’t even get power to turn on the lights, let alone look at the monitors that were reporting how data from sensors within the reactor.  The crew scrambled for an emergency solution, to the point they ran out to the parking lot and grabbed car batteries from various vehicles and hot-wired some form of power to get the machines back online.

As the operators surveyed the damage, they quickly realized that the diesel generators couldn’t be salvaged and that external power wouldn’t be restored anytime soon. In the plant’s parking lots, workers raised car hoods, grabbed the batteries, and lugged them back to the control rooms. They found cables in storage rooms and studied diagrams. If they could connect the batteries to the instrument panels, they could at least determine the water levels in the pressure vessels.

TEPCO did have a backup for the emergency generators: power supply trucks outfitted with high-voltage dynamos. That afternoon, emergency managers at TEPCO’s Tokyo headquarters sent 11 power supply trucks racing toward Fukushima Dai-ichi, 250 km away. They promptly got stuck in traffic. The roads that hadn’t been damaged by the earthquake or tsunami were clogged with residents fleeing the disaster sites.

A tad technical at times but definitely worth reading.



To build a windmill.

I just bought this book by this guy.

A few years ago he was plucked from the obscurity of the Malawi countryside to speak to the TED Conference – a conference of ideas and visionaries. William Kamkwamba couldn’t afford school, but he decided to teach himself by looking at the diagrams in books at the library (his English wasn’t that good so he couldn’t really read). One that caught his eye was a book about windmills, so he set off to build one in his village to power a few lights and a radio. That led to people talking about the house with electricity, and bloggers mentioning this amazing story of a kid who make a windmill from a bunch of junk.  That led to TED bringing him over to speak to the visionaries, who turned around and decided to sponsor this kid financially through high school and university.

The half a billion dollar subway line with three stops

Berlin is celebrating the opening of a new subway line with a grand total of three stops. Total cost: €320 million, or about $500 million US. And this is a pretty interesting station in that it serves only the Brandenberg Gate and Bundestag, so some are calling it the Chancellor’s line.

Maybe we should just build new cities. Start with the subway systems under basically farmland or deserts and then build the rest of the city atop of the existing tunnels? Might be cheaper.

Meanwhile, DC’s Streetcar effort remains hopeless stalled at about two blocks of work. The streetcars are stuck in the Czech Republic, having spent the first few years of their warranty in storage in the factory because DC doesn’t have anywhere to put them yet.

My electricity usage over the last two years with charts.

When you think about electric bills, you often have a picture of the massive sprawl being built out West, saying to yourself ‘all those damn air conditioners killing the environment. If only they lived in the NorthEast they could clean the air from all the pollution.”

Not so fast.

It’s been known and published for awhile that cooling a house is often a cheaper endeavor than heating one. Going from say 30 degree outside to 70 is a lot harder than going down from 90 to say 75, so the theory goes.

So I decided to check into it myself. Using my own power bills for the last two years, I took a look at the usage vs. the temperature and found, not all that surprising, that in my all electric house (heat pump/ac) it cost me the most money in the coldest months.

Anyway, kind of interesting. Here are the raw numbers. I’m going to take a closer look at what this all entails (the heat pump & water heater are the bulk of this expense I think, but I do have a lot of computers and other things running in the house nearly 24/7).

Month Days Total KW Avg/Day Temp
Sep-08 32 2404 75.1 70
Aug-08 28 2548 91 74
Jul-08 34 3391 99.7 77
Jun-08 28 2317 82.8 75
May-08 31 2062 66.5 60
Apr-08 32 2733 85.4 55
Mar-08 29 3275 112.9 44
Feb-08 29 4050 139.7 37
Jan-08 33 4053 122.8 36
Dec-07 33 3836 116.2 40
Nov-07 31 2495 80.5 47
Oct-07 32 2098 65.6 64
Sep-07 29 2448 84.4 72
Aug-07 30 2939 98 77
Jul-07 32 3207 100.2 77
Jun-07 30 2578 85.9 73
May-07 33 2333 70.7 65
Apr-07 28 2115 75.5 50
Mar-07 31 2748 88.6 45
Feb-07 28 4083 145.8 28
Jan-07 33 3836 116.2 40
Dec-06 29 2547 87.8 43
Nov-06 30 2704 90.1 49
Oct-06 31 2300 74.2 55

In this table below, the Blue line is the KWH per month and the red line is the temperature.

Why some people oppose global warming initiatives–it’s about control.

An environmental WMD?

Many people are strongly against Global Warming not because it’s about the science or lack thereof, but because of the politics they know will come next. “It’s not about the climate. It’s about control of your lives” is a common thread to many.

And there is new ammunition for these folks today. An example is in today’s Guardian: Meat must be rationed to control climate change:

People will have to be rationed to four modest portions of meat and one litre of milk a week if the world is to avoid run-away climate change, a major new report warns.

The report, by the Food Climate Research Network, based at the University of Surrey, also says total food consumption should be reduced, especially “low nutritional value” treats such as alcohol, sweets and chocolates.

The report was published in a vegan magazine which immediately gets it a few knocks on the credibility scale, but I have no doubt you’ll hear an increasing call of others saying modern day agriculture is the problem, and an even louder call from the global warming opponents who are using this as yet another example of the ‘control’ issue they really see as driving the global warming debate.

Somebody is riding the bikes I guess

Ride one of these if you want to remain a bachelor.

Saw a flock of DC Smartbikes today (they just sort of appeared overnight). Judging from the open spaces on the end someone is riding them.

This gaggle was located at 14th and I just a few blocks from the White House. It’s actually close the McPherson Square Metro Station but I’m not sure how many Metro riders put up with the Orange Crush line and then get on one of these to go battle the 14th Street chaos (for those not in DC, 14th Street is the road that heads over the bridge to Virginia. Basically a great deal of the DC to VA traffic heads down this road. It can get ugly)

Smog to go down as smug goes up with launch of DC Smartbike program

Not for use by children, because a child would get his butt kicked for riding something this funny looking

Washington DC has grown a select, privileged and elite group of world-renowned cities by adding a high tech ’smart bike’ program to ease transportation around the cities inner-core. Euro-loving DC-ite’s are feeling quite smug.

The bikes, which look nothing like anything any red-blooded American would want to ride, are positioned around DC with high tech credit card system to rent them. For an annual fee of $40 you can grab a bike at any of the downtown locations and peddle around. I’m not a big fan of these bikes. Mountain bikes would be a bit more rugged, and the smaller front wheel just screams ‘flip over me’. But I guess they have their reasons.

The bicycles seem to be located primarily downtown as DC is basically on a hill. If you head past the basic outline of the original city (GWU to Florida Avenue to Union Station) you’ll find that much of the city is on a slight incline. Riding to the NW Corner of the city is actually a nice workout as it is a slow and long uphill climb (making coming back into the city an absolute joy as you coast downhill for much of the way). One suspects if they had a station in upper NW it would never have any bikes, as they’d all be coasted back into the city.

The location and availability can be checked online but is presently broken. One wonders if they’ll get an iPhone application out soon that shows what’s available where. That would be a double-smug bonus. Using your iPhone to find a smartbike. Bonus points.

Anyway, as I’m not technically living in DC and did my stint biking around the inner core when I was a bicycle messenger, I suspect I’ll pass for awhile on the annual subscription. But we’ll see how it goes. If it get a few more cars off the road I’m not going to complain.

Two UC-SC professors firebombed by whack-job, anti-Science unichs

‘Save the animals kill the humans’ morons in California launched a couple molotov cocktails on steroids over the weekend. The first destroyed a car, the second a professor’s home. One of the professors, his wife, and 6 and 7-year-old children had to flee their burning house via an emergency ladder. Police were expecting something like this after a ‘flyer’ appeared in a local coffee shop filled with hippies and other ‘we, who are smarter than you’ types.

Feldheim and the unidentified faculty member who received the threatening message were named on pamphlets that were left on a stack of newspapers in a downtown Santa Cruz coffee shop last Tuesday, Clark said. The unsigned pamphlets at Caffe Pergolesi, which printed 13 researchers’ pictures and addresses, called them murderers and torturers and said, “Animal abusers everywhere beware.”

Hmmm…when was the last time Creationists (not friends of mine) firebombed a Darwin / Evolution conference? Have anti-global warming forces ever molotov cocktailed Al Gore?

Despite melting ice caps Coast Guard needs more funds for icebreakers.

I thought the North Pole was melting…

The Coast Guard was up on Capitol Hill begging for more money to enhance and replace parts of the aging Arctic ice breaker fleet. Two of the vessels are nearly 30 years old and costing more and more to keep afloat, and the typical Washington bureaucratic shuffle now means the Coast Guards’ icebreaking funds are no longer directly controlled by the Coast Guard (long boring story).

In contrast, the Russians have a decided advantage in ice breaking skills with 8 nuclear powered cutters operating in their waters, plowing the way for their oil companies to rush into the Arctic ahead of our oil companies.

Offshore Windmill cables cost $1000 per foot.


So you know they want to put windmills off the coasts of most US cities, and the residents are constantly balking because their view will be ‘ruined’ by these 25 story monsters spinning day and night. I’ve always wondered why they just didn’t throw them even further offshore, and now I know.

Connecting cables from windmills to the shore facilities cost approximately $1,000 per foot.

The Annapolis Capitol has a story today about a new windmill farm in Ocean City, Maryland. I can only guess the installation is part of the reason for the huge price.

Pushing the turbines farther out to sea makes the project more expensive — it costs $1,000 for every foot of cable connecting the wind farm to the shore. There will be four such cables, Lanard said, stretching 12 miles each, at a cost of about $253 million.

If Bluewater installed turbines at the three-mile minimum, where federal waters begin, the cable would cost about $63 million.

So basically we’re saying the view from Ocean City out over the ocean is worth $190 million? God knows the view from the ocean of Ocean City, with all the t-shirt and ice cream stores, isn’t surely worth that much.