Sunday, December 31, 2006

Also in Britain, today...

Britain finishes repaying the last of the World War II loans from the US.

What is being repay these last few day of 2006 are the last of the recovery loans made to Britain by the US and Canada in 1945 and 1946.

The non-monetary condition the US attached to its loans to Britain during this period cost Britain a lot.

Some press coverage here, here and here.

Some critics, including Lord Keynes, saw the loan as a means used by America to subjugate Britain after the war.

It appears I agree with one of the greatest economists of the 20th Century too.

"Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests."

Lord Palmerston PM (twice) & English Statesman, 1784-1865

There is another quote the goes something like, "Leaders have friends, nations only have interests", but I can't find it today!


The fall of Rome...1600 years ago today!

On the 31th December 406 AD, Vandels, Alans and Suevew crossed into the Roman Empire for the first time.

On this night, the Rhine froze solid in the Mainz area. For my this date marks the begining of the Fall of the Empire.

They move westward into the empire. They isolated Britannia from Rome. First, Rome withdrew the 2 legions, one at a time. By 410AD, undefended, Roman rule ended in Britannia.

An interesting date. The fall of empires are always interesting times.


The fall of Rome...1600 years ago today!

On the 31th December 406 AD, Vandels, Alans and Suevew crossed into the Roman Empire for the first time.

On this night, the Rhine froze solid in the Mainz area. For my this date marks the begining of the Fall of the Empire.

They move westward into the empire. They isolated Britannia from Rome. First, Rome withdrew the 2 legions, one at a time. By 410AD, undefended, Roman rule ended in Britannia.

An interesting date. The fall of empires are always interesting times.


Friday, December 29, 2006

Leo Mahon started a thread dealing with Queensland water law on the Permaculture Research Institute site.

the thread

I am developing a rural property in queensland the smart state, and I have discovered that I am allowed to store in a dam 2.5 meg litres for domestic use, and 60,000 litres per annum per cow.

I cannot apply for a water license as no more are being issued in the area. While the land is being rehabilitated it is unstocked. I am planting saltbush for fodder, rainforest timber species as wind breaks etc, in all several thousand trees on a hundred acres.

If I use water from the dam to water the seedlings, I am breaking the law by stealing water that belongs to Sunwater Qld Gov, who may one day privatise and sell. By law I am only entitle to use stored water on the property for stock and domestic. It is illegal for me to establish a commercial nursery unless I buy in water or use roof water only. The land has its own watershed. The only water that flows on the property is rain that falls on the property. My only conclusion is that a change of law is urgently required.

If I change the species to free range poultry and lambs for instance, I will use a fraction of the water that cattle require.

If there are other people with an interest in this topic please contact

Leo Mahon
Director Permaculture Design Institute

Firstly, there is a typo in the original post, 60,000 litres per annum per cow should read 60,000 litres per cow. 20,000 litres per annum per cow is the figure used in the current version of the code.

The thread goes on to deal with using swales and the general direction of water policy changes.

I'll like to add some thoughts.

Been reading the Code for Self-assessable Development for Taking Overland Flow Water for Stock and Domestic Purposes. Even the title makes it sound like your taking government water. That the land and it's custodian have no entitlement. To me it's a natural justice issue too, the lands where the rain falls should get first bight at its water. That bight should be limited, but it should be first too.

Rumour has it that parts of the current code are not being enforced due to flawed assumptions. Too many people have run out of stock water too quickly.

That means they've been drawn up with too conservative assumptions!

The first version of the code didn't even allow for multi-year droughts, it assumed that dams would be refilled each summer. I've seen a dam built during this period, it last filled (& last overland flow) last February 06, it's getting pretty low now.

Is there a new code on the way? Third time lucky?

The 20,000 litres/annum for cattle and horses seems reasonable, not generous, but survivable. Leo, did I read somewhere that you intend to run sheep or goats? I'd use the stocking figure you expect to run when your system is mature as the basic for your total dam capacity calculations. The current code allows 4,000 litres/annum for sheep and goats.

The problem is in the Evaporation and Storage Factors. They are too conservative for pre global warming conditions. Add global warming means an extra margin is also needed (maybe 15 to 30%).

With regard to using water for raising plants for on-farm use, that's a grey area. It's not domestic (for use in the home & garden) but it's not a direct commercial use of water either. How do Landcare groups get their water? Leo, have you looked at the Code for Assessable Development for Operational Works for Taking Overland Flow Water? That seem to be the next stage after self-assessment. Not looked at it myself yet.

some of the codes

It also needs to be remembered that Australia is a common law country. That means that once a law (and its associated regulations) exist, a body of court rulings start building around it. So how the law reads may not be how it applies.

Give me back the old days, when what was important was how you caught the water, not how you used it! Darn technology.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Stirling Engines and Photovoltaics

One big advantage of systems that use Stirling Engines have over Photovoltaics is that many Stirling based systems have a battery built into the basic design. For example High Temperature Helostat and Dish systems use a salt-graphite mass at their focus as the hot-end block of their Stirling Engines. The mass behaves as a thermal battery

The state change temperature of salt from solid to liquid (molten) is 900 C. Like any solid to liquid state change, it absorbs a great amounts of energy. The physics of salt means that salt behaves in a constant desirable way between 600 C to 1500C. The thermal battery is heated by solar input during the day. Overnight, the Stirling Engine continues to draws off heat energy and generate power. The thermal battery's internal temperature falls accordingly. The follow days solar input reheats the salt graphite mass.

So these kinds of Stirling designs are potentially more cost effective for base load applications than Photovoltaics and Wind.


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Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Complete Food Chain and the 12 Permaculture Design Principles

There is an interesting post over on Backyard Aquaponics. It's called Complete Food Chain

In the thread Daniel wrote two posts;

once i have quarantined my shrimp long enough to go into the tank with the fish, i could probably achieve this, but only with a very small stocking density of fish.
Farming fish in farm dams extensively rely on this, and they fertilise their ponds before adding fish to increase algae growth, which in turn supports more microorganisms, and so on


wait, if i did what was mentioned in my post above, i couldn't have any plants growing aquaponically with only an input of CO2 and sunlight

well i have confused myself, i have a feeling that there would need to be an input of fish food/nutrients to grow plants aquaponically as well

ah well someone else probably has some more helpful insight, and i will check this topic with eagerness to see if its possible

I'd like to add two comments about Daniels posts.

Firstly, about fish growers fertilizing their dams to increase algae & intermediate organisms before adding fish. This fertilizer is effectively embodied fossil fuel energy. In the systems we are trying to build, we can do these kinda things, but the way we do them means the scale will differ. Our processes will require more labour, land/water area, time and/or capital/materiels so that we can embody solar energy. We can play with the mix, but it won't be the fast easy fix of cheap fossil fuels.

Secondly, Daniel commented about growing algae precluded growing plants aquaponically. True, but another way to think of it, is that the fish components of the system produces a certain amount of nitrogen. It's your decision as the designer/maintainer to determine how much of the nitrogen flow goes to plant production (for human/animal use) and how much goes to algae production (for internal system feed stocks).

After I made my initial post, I was looking for a better way to express additional idea threads.

Then I hit upon the idea of using David Holmgren's 12 design principles as a lens.

  1. Observe and interact


  2. Catch and store energy

    Developing a system that captures and stores solar energy in usable/valuable forms

  3. Obtain a yield

    Developing a system that captures and stores carbon, nitrogen etc as high nutrition food stuffs

  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

    Using large ponds, with caged off sub ponds and 'side' ponds to for produce feed stocks for the main fish speices. Thus using some of the nitrogen produced by the fish stocks to produce their own feed stocks. The system can also comsume excess output of Terrestial systems.

  5. Use and value renewable resources and services

    Produce high omega-3 fish meats, with commerial value.

  6. Produce no waste

    Using food stuffs that are in excess (roosters) as a feed stocks for a system that produces food stuffs that are in limited supply (omega-3 rich meats)

  7. Design from patterns to details


  8. Integrate rather than segregate

    Meshing the aquaponic system design with terrrestral systems.

  9. Use small and slow solutions

    Use many sub pond and 'side' ponds rather than a small number of large ponds.

  10. Use and value diversity

    Using many feed stock source to ensure more stable system dynamics.

  11. Use edges and value the marginal

    Ulitize and manipulate pond surface & pond walls/floor to increase cumclative total production.

  12. Creatively use and respond to change


Is it time to draw a mind map?


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Monday, November 06, 2006

Water for the Cities

While down south, I also heard that there are purposals to devert water from the Waranga Mallee channel (at Colbinabbin) to the City of Bendigo and possibaly to the City of Ballarat.

Note that Ballarat is on the south side of the Great Dividing Range water shed. So water would be being diverted from the inland to the coastal margins.

I would think that the value of the uses of this extra water would justify some solar desalination research.

See Landline and Pyramil Salt


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Sunday, November 05, 2006

An old teachers view of the drought

I've been away during the last 10 days. Down south in Melbourne.

Yesterday I was talking to a retired school teacher. He taught in a number of country schools in his younger days.

His commented about this winter's drought was that Melbourne was getting Bendigo's weather and the Bendigo was getting Mildura's weather. That the rain in Melbourne this winter would be just about right for a wheat crop, where normally it would be too wet.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

My first Stirling Engine book...

A few weeks ago I ordered my first Stirling Engine book. Got it from and was ordered via

It was "An Introduction to Stirling Engines", by James R Senft,
ISBN 0-9652455-0-0
1993 (Sixth Printing 2004)

It looks to be a good book. But I do note there is no Table of Contents or Index. It has good review both on the net & by word of mouth.

Lots of basic diagrams, cut-aways, pictures and historical stuff.

After I've read it, I'll decide what to get next.

Next, I've been thinking about another Senft book, "An Introduction to Low Temperature Differential Stirling Engines", ISBN 0-9652455-1-9. The other I'ld like to get is "The Regenerator and the Stirling Engine", by Allan J. Organ, ISBN 1860580106, but I want to build something that works from a Plan first. The Organ book is for serious designers!



Saturday, October 21, 2006

'The Harmonious Wheatsmith'

I found this reference Thursday night, 'The Harmonious Wheatsmith' by Mark Moodie (ISBN 0-9517890-0-7). It's about a method of no-till farming developed by Marc Bonfils, a French ecologist/grain farmer.

Yesterday I found this abstract

Author: Mark Moodie
The only text on the Bonfils/Fukuoka no-till methods of cereal cultivation. A delightfully idiosyncratic booklet with quirky illustrations.
Book's abstract at

This morning I found this

An e-book of 'The Harmonious Wheatsmith'

then this

Authors website with e-book versions of his works (Buy via

Here is Marc Bonfils, the developers enter on wikipedia,

I also remembered that CSIRO was doing Clover/Lucerne research in the early 1990s. They were using Lucernes summer growth to produce a mulch layer for winter growing veggies and Clovers winter growth to produce a mulch layer for summer growing veggies.

I saw a backyard Clever Clover patch in suburban Canberra in the early 1990's. It was during an 'open garden' organized by Permaculture ACT (now defunct). An Ex-Pacters out there?

While googling I found these interesting looking links.

Australian Journal of Soil Research
Long-term effects of crop rotation, stubble management and tillage on soil phosphorus dynamics

E. K. B√ľnemann, D. P. Heenan, P. Marschner and A. M. McNeill

Australian Journal of Agricultural Research
The effect of boron supply on the growth and seed production of subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum L.)

BS Dear and J Lipsett

Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture
Survey of the productivity, composition and estimated inputs of fixed nitrogen by pastures in central-western New South Wales

A. M. Bowman, W. Smith, M. B. Peoples and J. Brockwell

Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC)
Research Update for Growers - Southern Region - September 2004
Putting the system together - Testing the value of lucerne with GRAZPLAN decision support tools

Libby Salmon, CSIRO Plant Industry

Then I hit pay dirt.

product info from the Diggers Club website and

info from a Canberra Organic Growers Society member. and

Organic Weed Management Survey results, Uni of New England research project

All the initial 'Clever Clover' stuff I found was from this decade. Then I found an early reference.

And guess where it was... a article written by David Holmgren in 1991
Development of the Permaculture Concept.
There is a reference to Clever Clover in the Natural Farming section (page 4-5)

Attempts to apply his [Fukuoka] methods have not necessarily been successful because any sustainable system is context and site specific. However, farmers inspired by Fukuoka or working independently have developed similar methods to produce organic and biodynamic grain. The techniques of growing grains and legumes together, over sowing of crops with no intervening cultivation or use of herbicide, and appropriate use of flooding and animals for weed control are now accepted in agriculture as at least possible. Recent research work by C.S.I.R.O. on vegetable growing using living mulches and green manure crops (including Clever Clover) without cultivation reflect as least the conceptual influence of Fukuoka's work.

Perhaps the most universal aspects of Fukuoka's work, the learning from nature, remains the most difficult for people to adopt and without that no amount of technical information on permaculture will lead to sustainable systems.

then back to the 2000's where I found a similar observation to David Holmgren's about the value of observing nature.

In a Science Show discussion panel, with the subject of the 'Serendipity in Science', Clever Clover and its originator Richard Stursacre are used to illustrate observation and serendipity.

Panel Transcript

David Salt: David Salt from ANU – just a bit of serendipity that I’m aware about, a friend of mine Richard Stursacre, he’s a young scientist at CSIRO Land and Water and he came up with this system called Clever Clover which was all about low till agriculture and he basically stumbled on this idea when he was trying to figure out how to help farmers basically till the soil without causing it any damage. And it was a system of sowing vegetables through sub-clover which would naturally die down and you basically didn’t have to cultivate it at all. He’s a really wise scientist but he says the secret of his success and it ties into so much of what you people have been saying, is that he gives himself a time of reflexion, he says that the most important part of his day, in fact the time when he does all his science is when he goes out into his field trials and he wanders through them and he doesn’t do anything but in his mind he moves the various components of the systems that he’s working on around in his head and he just asks himself questions – what if I do this, this way, or what if I do that this other way? And basically it’s that time in his experimental garden that first half hour he says that’s all the science, the rest of the day is just work, but it’s the reflexion where he actually does his science. So it would be great if you come up with a system basically where we all get half an hour in our garden each day where we just reflect upon what’s important in life.

Brad Collis: I’d very much like to follow on from that because I know Richard Stursacre and he’s developed something which I think is of far more profound importance than Clever Clover. He’s developed a little device that will tell you where the water is in the soil as it travels down through the soil, a Wetting Front Monitor it’s called. I believe that this could possibly go down in history as one of Australia’s greatest discoveries ever because three quarters of the world’s water is used to grow crops. With this device you can tell exactly how much water you need to put on the paddock and no more, you can then turn the tap off. You can make one of these devices with computer electronics and things like that and it can be expensive but you can also make it for 25 or 30 cents with a clay pot and a polystyrene rod.

This could actually fundamentally change the world from a water deficit world into a world with adequate water to do all the things we need to do. But Australia hasn’t shared this knowledge with the rest of the world. We’ve spent as far as I’m aware the last few years trying to commercialise this product with a small company and not really getting anywhere and yet this is knowledge that every country on earth desperately needs at the moment. How do we reduce the impact of the thirst of the irrigation industries that support our urban communities? This is a technology that will work on an African family farm or on a big Australian cotton spread. I think it’s a classic example, it’s very smart science, it’s good physics and good mathematics encased in some very humble and basic technology and it’s a classically Aussie solution to the problem. And I think that that’s what this country really you know is made of, clever science but very basic robust useable technology which is you know essentially one of our traditions. And I think you know Stursacre’s discover embodies what we have got to give to the world in the coming 50 years when water is going to be absolutely short, a third of the world’s countries without enough water, are severely water stress by 2030.

I wonder if a 'Wetting Front Monitor' is anything like the 4 foot steel rod an old farmer I know uses? ;)

I did some searches on Richard Stursacre, both on google & CSIRO, but it lead nowhere.

I do agree about the best thinking being done when your out in nature. I walk in the mornings, it's my best thinking time.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sustainability within a Generation:A new vision for Australia

David is currently speaking on the ABC, at the National Press Club in Canberra.

David Suzuki has been talking to the ACF about an Australia version of this Canadaian document.

We need to be creating submissions for each on the following area like:

Towards the goals of

GENERATING GENUINE WEALTH: Supplementing the narrow goal of economic growth with the objective of genuine wealth

IMPROVING EFFICIENCY: Increasing the efficiency of energy and resource use by a factor of four to 10 times

SHIFTING TO CLEAN ENERGY: Replacing fossil fuels with clean, low-impact renewable sources of energy

REDUCING WASTE AND POLLUTION: Moving from a linear "throw-away" economy to a cyclical "reduce, re-use, and recycle" economy

PROTECTING AND CONSERVING WATER: Recognizing and respecting the value of water in our laws, policies, and actions

PRODUCING HEALTHY FOOD: Ensuring Australian food is healthy, and produced in ways that do not compromise our land, water, or biodiversity

CONSERVING, PROTECTING AND RESTORING AUSTRALIAN NATURE: Taking effective steps to stop the decline of biodiversity and revive the health of ecosystems

BUILDING SUSTAINABLE CITIES: Avoiding urban sprawl in order to protect agricultural land and wild places, and improve our quality of life

PROMOTING GLOBAL SUSTAINABILITY: Increasing Australia’s contribution to sustainable development in poor countries



Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Of Weeds and Native Legumes

Today I found a negative comment about permies from an bush regenerator. It relates to farm/garden escapee plants.

I posted a comment in defence of permies and why I think using the equivalent natives is an issue in the current legal environment.

I will also to expand on my ecoliving centre post here.

Here is Robyn Williamson original post.

We all know that seeds are the first link in the food chain and that nobody's getting anything to eat without them. We have a widely accepted definition of what permaculture is, but WHAT IS A WEED?


We all know that seeds are the first link in the food chain and that nobody's getting anything to eat without them. We have a widely accepted definition of what permaculture is, but WHAT IS A WEED? [For some answers to this I have relied heavily on "A Field Guide to Weeds in Australia" Rev. Ed. 1979 (Inkata Press P/L Melbourne) by Charles
Lamp and Frank Collett, who in turn have relied heavily on authors of various publications about the flora of Australia and the world.] The following is an attempt to shed light on the question and elaborate on the sound advice put forward by Russ:

On Wednesday, January 19, 2005, at 06:59 am, Russ Grayson wrote:

> Biologist Tim Low treated the Permaculture and weeds
> issue in a book published several years ago, probably
> influencing the perception of the link between weeds and
> Permaculture and taking it to people who otherwise
> would have remained ignorant of it. This, though, is what
> comes when you act in the public sphere, which is what
> Permaculture has done to a limited extent but which it
> will likely increasingly do as the accredited training
> takes it more mainstream. Permaculture organisations and
> teachers are going to have to repeatedly refute such
> assertions as those made by Low and clarify those
> made in the way that McMinn makes his. To ignore such
> allegations and to fail to publicly refute or discuss
> them does not make them go away. It merely confirms the
> criticism in the minds of readers. To adopt a policy of
> silence in today's media-saturated culture is to
> surrrender the argument to those making the allegations.

[Ignorance is the key word here]

> As always, critics should be asked for evidence - hard
> evidence, preferably, rather than circumstantial. To
> McMinn's credit, he had provided this.

As we have learned from permaculture there are no "answers" to problematic issues like "weeds", only solutions and/or useful suggestions. One way to answer a question however, is with another question, so we can begin by using words like what, where, when, who, why, how and finding out which plants are weeds.

Weeds are often defined as *plants out of place* or worse *a plant growing in the wrong place* such as an exotic in the Australian bush or grasses in a vegetable garden. To a wheat farmer, a weed could be anything growing in a wheat field that is not wheat. *A plant for which we have not yet found a use* is another description which is somewhat negative and certainly inaccurate in a permaculture sense
where every element in the design has at least 2, if not 3 or more functions. Every plant has its uses and functions even though humans may not be fully aware or choose to remain ignorant of them.

"Weeds" are most often the first plants to colonise disturbed ground, their roots bind the soil and protect it from erosion, their leaves shade and mulch the topsoil stabilising soil temperatures and preventing evaporation, they provide habitat for other organisms, their leaves transpire vapour which is part of the natural water cycle, their flowers produce nectar and pollen, etc., we can come up with a dozen or more functions for any plant before we consider what direct use they may be to humans. In practice, they are "indicators" of soil and climatic conditions and permaculturists observe them closely in order to "read" the landscape. They are also accumulators or "miners" of various minerals, e.g. chickweed accumulates copper.

A Field Guide to Weeds in Australia has photos and details of around 300 species with weedy potential including both exotics and indigenous native plants. Here are some examples that may or may not surprise you:

Yarrow - Achillea millefolium
Bird rape - Brassica campestris (a parent of "Canola") a.k.a. "colza" or coleseed oil, an industrial grade lubricant used as a fuel in lamps and in the manufacture of rubber
Tagasaste - Chamaecytisus proliferus (is this now called Leucaena?)
Good King Henry - Chenopodium bonus-henricus
Chicory - Cichorium intybus
Afghan melon - Citrullus colocynthis
Paddy melon - Cucumis myriocarpus
Couch - Cynodon dactylon
Nut grass - Cyperus rotundus (a native - arguably the world's worst weed)
Wild rocket - Diplotaxis tenuifolia (the last time I bought so-called 'Baby Rocket' it was about $20 a kilo - that's for the leaves!)
Fennel - Foeniculum vulgare (a weed or a feed, depending on your taste buds)
Topped lavender - Lavandula stoechas
Nardoo - Marsilea drummondii
Lucerne/alfalfa - Medicago sativa
Evening primrose - Oenothera stricta
Kikuyu - Pennisetum clandestinum
Cane grass - Phragmites australis
Plantain/ribgrass - Plantago lanceolata
Broadleaf plantain - Plantago major
Sago weed/small plantain - Plantago varia [a native of the Cumberland
Plain and Blue Mountains (rare), probably extinct since last time I looked the Cumberland Plain was covered with unsustainable housing developments]
Tussock grass - Poa labillardieri
Self-heal - Prunella vulgaris
Bracken - Pteridium esculentum
Sorrel - Rumex acetosella
Chickweed - Stellaria media
Buffalo grass - Stenotaphrum secundatum
Broughton pea - Swainsonia procumbens
NZ spinach - Tetragonia tetragonioides (a native, despite the common name, extends to oceania)
Salsify - Tragopogon porrifolius
White clover - Trifolium repens, and 8 other species of clover, including Subterranean clover - Trifolium subterraneum Cumbungi - Typha domingensis

You will note there are many plants listed that are useful as accumulators, food, fodder and first-aid e.g. bracken, an indigenous member of forest communities and healing plant, marvellous for ant bites. I was certainly surprised to see lucerne and "sub" clover in there. Apparently lucerne is considered a weed in irrigated vineyards
and citrus orchards of the Murray River system. Due to oestrogenic activity, "sub" is apparently troublesome in potato crops where it reduces the yield and slows down harvesting.

Therefore, the answer to "what is a weed?" depends firstly on who you are, and leads to the next question:

The greenkeeper or home gardener who weeds, feeds, waters, snips and mows his treasured lawn of couch, kikuyu, buffalo, or all 3 together, is often blissfully unaware that they are aggressive weeds of bushland, roadsides and other places (like community eco gardens), while they
consider anything with a broad leaf to be a weed of lawns and/or turf.

Corporate scientists, particularly geneticists, appear to consider anything that is not GE Canola, BT corn, rice, wheat, RR soya beans or cotton, needs weeding out and may even believe they can feed and clothe the world with these 6 plants. This is total nonsense of course. Of the billions of tons of biocides that are sprayed annually on these and other agricultural crops, approximately 1 per cent reaches the target organism.

Horticulturists are actively cultivating known weedy species for sale to home gardeners as "ornamentals", as we speak.

Bush regenerators think (rightly IMO) all exotics growing in bushland are weeds.

So everybody has a different interpretation of a weed, depending on where it is grown, where it originated, what plant it is, who is growing it and why. The classic case is Paterson's Curse [Echium sp.] which is called Salvation Jane by sheep farmers in arid regions of South Australia. Apparently it can sustain sheep through a drought, is
a source of great honey and the seeds have now been found to contain Omega 3 fatty acids. Another Echium sp. is a known cure for snakebite.

Evidence in the form of pollen profiles indicates that weeds are the creation of agricultural man.

It seems that only the English language has a specific word for them.
The Aborigines knew nothing of weeds until the arrival of white man.
The Chinese term for weed translates to something like "wild grass", the French say "mauvaise herbe" [bad grass/herb] and the Spanish "mala hierba" [ditto], plural [weeds] is "ropa de luto" [clothing of mourning]. Interestingly, Germans use the word "Unkraut" [the opposite
or antonym of "Kraut"] meaning anti- or non-plant. I would be interested to hear of any others.

The word "weed" is evidently derived from "woed", a corruption of Dyer's "woad", Isatis tinctoria which was used by warring medieval Britons to stain their skin blue.

Evidence of weeds goes back as far as Neolithic times (about 3000 BC) when the elm decline occurred and for a long time it was believed that this was due to climate change.

However, work by Iverson, Troels-Smith & Jorgenson (1949) examining pollen profiles in the mud beds of Danish lakes suggests the elm decline began when agricultural man fed elm branches to newly domesticated cattle and cleared forests in order to grow primitive cereals. Their evidence shows that the decrease in elm pollen was associated with charcoal layers. You guessed it. Neolithic man used
fire to clear the forests. Further experiments revealed that 3 men could clear 500 sq. metres in 4 hours using polished Neolithic axes.

Previously inconspicuous pollen grains began to appear above the charcoal layers, together with cereal pollens and the first weed to show up was plantain or ribgrass, Plantago lanceolata, qualifying it as the "first weed of European agriculture". The North American Indians
certainly knew where it came from and so dubbed it "white man's footprint".

Weeds are economically significant and inconvenient in agriculture yet agriculture creates them. The problem suggests the solution and we all know what that could be.

Russ wrote:
> Finally, there is the age of the guilty Permaculture book
> bearing the notorious list - it is now 30 years old,
> though I have not seen the most recent editions and it
> would be good to get feedback from others on this
> listserver as to the status of the list in these recent
> editions.

The word "weed" itself has such a negative aura that I don't even like using it. I try not to, but it just rolls off my tongue like waves on the beach especially when faced with acres of recalcitrant couch and kikuyu.

I suggest for a start that we come up with a new and more satisfactory definition of a "weed". Maybe something like: "an adaptable, vigourously recurring, dominant, aggressive and/or tenacious plant with non-ecological and/or anti-social behaviour and the disgusting habit of
reproducing itself sexually, bisexually and/or asexually ".

We may also need to prepare our own lists of potentially weedy species, classified into bioregions.

Any more ideas?



Robyn Williamson
PDC, Urban Horticulturist
Hon Sec, Fagan Park Community Eco Garden Committee
Local Seed Network Coordinator
mobile: 0409 151 435
ph/fx: (612) 9629 3560

(Note for Robyn W: Tagasaste and Leucaena are different species, they fill the same niche (tree fodder) in temperate and tropical regions respectively, Leucaena is frost sensitive.)

Here is Robyn Becket comment.

Hello Robyn,

I found your article very interesting.

I love to hate weeds. (The sort that invade bushland and my food garden) I think its interesting that for me and plenty of others weeding is a therapeutic activity. Perhaps if there were no weeds I'd just spend more time planting and watering and harvesting.

Also I am a bush regenerator, who tries to live holistically. I expect to be paid for some of my bush regeneration work, not all. My knowledge of permaculture design principles is limited, but I think I get the gist and with my knowledge of bush regen I can integrate the two. I do plan to learn more about Permaculture design, and watched the film at the Peats Ridge Festival.

I have visited Bill Mollison's place in N. NSW and didn't like it much.

Primarily there was a difference in ethics and from the people there at the time a defensive attitude about plants escaping from the farm and growing as ferals in the bush. I didn't like the attitude that it didn't matter.

My philosophy is that in providing for ourselves we shouldn't have a negative impact beyond our borders, and if we make a mistake in our experiments and plants escape we are responsible and must deal with them. We need to be aware of the plants likely to go feral and not use them.

At Bill Mollisons the tree Tipuana (I can't check proper name, I'm using a computer away from my books) used for nitrogen fixing was going feral. It is rapidly becoming a problem in bushland and has been hugely promoted by Permaculture practicioners.

I think it has been a huge mistake to promote Tipuana in Australia and the people who did should address the problems they have created. What amazes me is that the local native nitrogen fixing plants that would already exist on many properties are not acknowledged at all.

This message is getting a bit long, and I hope I'm not being too negative, but I'm glad for the opportunity. I'd be interested to see what you think about my comments.


Robyn Becket

Here is my reply comment.

Robyn B

While using local native nitrogen fixing plants would be great, I personal could not recommend them to anybody.

The problem is legal. The use of local natives in any (permaculture or not) system, risks these elements of the system being classified a 'remnant' vegetation, and all the inflexibility/problems with current 'anti-clearing' laws. This varies so much between the states.

The devaluation of land that occurs when isthe usage condition are made less flexible is real. The state government have drafted these law in such a way, that generally compensation is not available for the holder. So I in good faith won't use native legumes in my guilds/mass plantings etc. This is really a pit, a large region in the northern half of the eastern Australian grain belt has a leguminous native is one of it's dominant species, a farmers wont let is regrow and increase N levels for this reason.

This issue is stopping farmers from developing ultra long term crop/pasture/woodland rotation systems more suited to Australian dryland areas, than the current modified 'imported' practices.

What good are nitrogen fixing woodlands (to the farmer), if you can't clear it for rotate it back into crops. In PNG they have been doing 70+ year rotations for over 10,000 years.

Dumb politically driven law making usually generates some silly results.

With regards to permies not caring an about escapees, for me it's a matter of priorities. The centre of me attention currently (and for years to come I suspect) is Global Warming and Peak Oil.

What use is stopping directly human caused plant invasions, if the whole ecosystem disappears.

Global Warming is/will drive far more plant (and animal & diseases) invasions than invasions directly caused human plant prorogation. As climates change, the plant and animals move generally uphill and towards the poles. Greatly increase rates of invasion at most every ecosystem edge!

Now that I've finished my rant, in truth, I will use native legumes. But only in Zone 5 and parts of Zone 4 that will never be rotated into another Zone at some stage in the future. Get rid of the bad laws and I would use them in all zones.

Good leadership requires planning for change, good planning requires flexibility. Flexibility is undervalued by most.


Now I want to expend on my comments in two area.

One, what legal environment would I like to see. The problem is the the current set of laws is design to serve 3 master! 1/ Bio-diversity presivation, 2/Carbon freezing and 3/ City vote retension!

We all know what they say about serving two (or more) masters!

I outline where I think the law should be, in a post on the ABC's Four Corners forums and the "A-Team" story.

Where is the science that says what is needed to really preserve biodiversity?

This is politics.

If there was real science, there would be two sets of laws.

A 'Biodiversity Preservation Act' to do what the name says.

And a 'Biomass Act', with the aim of maximizing the net reserves of carbon while maximizing Biomass production for energy production, thus reducing the burning of Oil, Gas and Coal.

The 'Biomass Act' would replace the various anti-clearing laws, with all their faults.

When Global Warming & Peak Oil meet, something must give!

Any given piece of land would be subject to one to one Act or the other. It either being managed to preserve biodiversity OR mitigated Global Warming!

Note 'Carbon freezing' is a knee-jurk reaction, what is needed are systems that both store the large amounts of Carbon while cycling Carbon to mitigate Global Warming.

Also note in the same thread I question the Green Lobbies preoccupation with Hemp! As it's an annual crop, my knee-jerk reaction is that it should be less environmentally sustainable than wood chipping done right. See David Holmgren's "BIOMASS FUELS FROM SUSTAINABLE LAND USE: A permaculture perspective" page 2.

Someone needs to do the EMergy calculations for both.

Is Hemp a solution.

Or would it just be an Oil to Paper converter.

The problem the modern intense cropping is that about as much energy (as Oil) is consumed as is produced as embodies in the paper.

To get more embodied energy out, you need to go to use perennials, and the longer the perennial grows, better the energy input:energy output ratio.

This is why permaculture use lots of food forests, timber forests etc.!

Please note I was not the only 'Ned' on the forum that night, so only some 'Ned' posts are mine!

Two, the native legume I refered to above is Acacia harpophylla, commonly known as 'Brigalow'. The soil region where it grows is commonly called the 'Brigalow Belt'.


Saturday, September 30, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth - Too optimistic

I saw Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" tonight.

I want to make three comment about it.

Firstly, it was very informative. Lots of new information tidbit I've not heard before, like the first Hurricane/Cyclone in the South Atlantic.

Secondly, I think it was to optimistic. Particularly about the amount of carbon emission's that can be cut (on both the supply & demand sides) while NOT having a large reduction in the standard of living/quality of life/complexity (in the developed countries) AND enabling the rest of the world to catch up.

Lastly, I think that 'we' only looked at the tail end of the problem. The (main) symptom, not the cause. We looked at three main graphs in "Truth". These being Atmospheric CO2, Global Temperature and Global Population, but these are all lagging graphs. There is a four graph, a leading graph, that most people don't think about at the same time. It comes in two closely related forms, Global Energy Use and its biggest sub component, Global Oil (and Gas) Use (Peak Oil).

Five hundred years ago, reason thinking developed, replacing symbolic thinking. This resulted in new ideas, constant change and new technologies. 250 year ago, we started accessing fossil fuels (Coal). Over the last 100 year or so, we have been accessing Oil (and Gas), we have been in top drive! This effectively removed energy as being a limiting factor in the resource mix that we have had at our disposal. All the other graphs are the result (directly or indirectly) of this fundamental change.

Ultimately we need to end up back where we were 250 years ago, operating within the Annual Solar Input Basis. The question is how much scale & complexity will we be able to maintain? Me thinks a lot less than the popular media & progressive governments think/promote. How long will the fall take?

Go see it!


and speak of the devil, Cameron has been on the same subject
backlink (blog): Exxon funds "misleading" climate change lobby groups
backlink (blog): TPN promoting "An Inconvenient Truth"
backlink (blog): Tread Lightly... and carry a big microphone
backlink (podcast): the "Treading Lightly" podcast 3

The Branson Trigger!

This is a stub, for the moment!

Stay tuned.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Peak Oil & Permaculture

Currently Authors Richard Heinberg & David Holmgren are on an Australian Tour. Last Thursday I left work early and drove up to the Kuringai Town Hall, 1186 Pacific Highway, Pymble (Sydney).
I got their a bit late.

I saw the end of Richard's talk. Very interesting, he was talking about the Oil Depletion Protocol.

David Holmgren's talk start with the history and stages of permaculture over the late 30 years. He then covered the history of energy/resource use, population and pollution and how their trends & magnitude parallel each other. He then outline 4 possible future scenarios: Techno-Explosion, Green-Tech Stability, Earth Stewardship/Creative Descent & Atlantis (Collapse). David stated why he think Creative Descent is the most likely outcome.

David listed some aspects and (permaculture) practices that Creative Descent would incorporate. Then the seven domains of permaculture action where covered.

We then, being in Sydney, look at Peak Oil and Creative Descent applied in suburbia. The example used was a 4 house street, starting in the 1950s. David followed its changes & total population (thus population density) over the late 50 years. He then outline measures that would lead to lower energy/recourse use and greater population density (the holy grail of town planners for the last 20+ years).

There was also a Q&A session. Didn't get a chance to ask my question. I asked David, privately, afterward. I'll write up the a post, and get David's ok to post it.

Then a long drive home, but I did bus it to work for most of the week.

first half slides (6.7MB PDF)
CSIRO article with figures of the model 4 house street


Saturday, August 19, 2006

the supply chain, China & water

Ove at the ABC, the is a Water Forum, dealing with current water issues.

I just posted to it, talking about why we must fo for best practice.

There is a post limit of 3K, this post went to 3.1, so I've posted the 'long' version here.

Speaking of supply chains...

The rumours of the last fortnight have been confirmed, looks like Coles is in play! And the first suitor to get a guernsey is the father of the modern supply chain Wal-mart.

What is the power of the supply chain? To illustrate let me use Wal-mart. How did Wal-mart get from 6 stores to the largest retailer in the world. Supply chain reform!

Back when Wal-mart was little, the way a shop (or individual stores in a chain) got it goods was from a wholesaler, who got it from the manufacturer. The wholesaler's role was distribution.

At the time Wal-mart for a fraction of a percent of the size of the big retailers. A sardine with sharks. Sam Walton ask himself, how do I get big and avoid being eaten?

Sam's answer. Build his own distribution centre and buy straight from the manufacturers. What happened to Sam's cost? The cost of the distribution centre etc increased costs by 2 to 3 percent. The reduction in costs from bulk buying from the manufacturer, 5 percent!

What did Sam do with the extra 2% to 3% of cost saving. Reduced prices to buy market share & reinvest for expansion, especially supply chain reform!

This I why I think the fact that Wal-mart is the hunter is very poignant.

What do I think of the supply chain. Well is a love-hate relation ship.

As a customer, I love the supply chain, for the constraint down would pressure it has on prices.

As a producer of service & the son/brother of primary producer, I hate the supply chain, for the constraint down would pressure it has on prices of both good & services. Even as a producer of services, it has a downward effect of my prices. It reduces the input costs of my direct competitors and it reduces the costs of other products/services (especially those where goods are a higher percentage of total cost) that could be substituted for mine.

What's at the other end of the global supply chain these days. China...and the other developing countries like India, Brazil etc (who must follow China or be left behind).

What does China want, in the end. China started just as the physical maker of the products. China wants for end up doing the lot, from concept, to design to production. China is aiming for the top of the food chain.

With it's population, China should be able (with set backs) to get there in any product or service (remember the Internet, if the output of a service can be digitized, the service can be done at a distance) that has a high labour content!

How do wheat growers control the supply chain, off farm? By owning one of the major player and the bigger that player the better. Most farmer see this. Two groups think they would be better of without AWB. The biggest growers (who think they are big enough to bargain and win) and niche producers. It will be interesting to see what happens. There are pros & cons to breaking the single desk.

If we are going to keep any wealth production (besides the hole in the ground stuff, this include oil & gas) here, we need to aim for the top too. This especially includeds water, one of our more limiting resources.

Monday, July 31, 2006

'David C' posted this under the title 'Peak Oil and Lack of Market Response' on the Four Corners Open Letters forum.

The curious thing about the situation in oil is not that its price is rising seriously, but the lack of market response. It would appear that there are a number of technologies that exist to take over from oil, and have the added advantage of not creating the sort of environmental damage that oil does. Is it because this price increase has been both sudden and seen as an abberation, rather than a permanent state? If so, your report may have done the world a favour.

I've posted a Ned

Peak oil has been coming since 1981, when discovery (gross increase in reserve size) was outstripped by usage (decrease in reserve size), giving a net decrease in reserve size.

In the last few year, usage has outstripped the ability to extract from the total reserves due to China & India mainly.

While the 'ability to extract' may increase, short term. The net change in total reserves is a long term trend.

The markets response will be a long term trend too!

The market is starting to respond. Look at the price of sugar (a commodities that is more an energy commodity than the food commodity it use to be) and look at the dollars being paid to farmers for site turbine masts on their land.

When the main source of energy was from mining, farming was a food and fibre game. In future, farming will be a food, fibre & energy game.

I should add that this assumes that Coal, a fossil fuel where the peak is way farther into the future and where the decline would be slower, will not indirectly replace oil, for carbon emission reason.

In effect we would move away to the cheap fuel of the last 250 years(coal), and particularlly the last 100 years(oil). This changes the whole value equation between labour(time) and products (matter & the energy used to transform it).

Interesting times indeed!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Blogoshere & the Mainstream Media - Peak Oil

Last night Four Corners ran a show about Peak Oil/Hubbert's Peak. The show also has an extended online edition and a forum afterward.

I first heard of Hubbert's Peak/Peak Oil in October/November 2005, via Blogs initially & other online resources.

Since that time, the only stories I've seen on Australian Mainstream Media have been 'human interest' stories about high fuel prices or 'business' stories about increased demand from China & India causing short/medium term (< 5 year) high prices.

Four Corners is the first Mainstream Media coverage I've seen.

So, I expect some coverage on shows like ACA & the breaky shows over the next month, follows by a story or two on 'Sunday' or maybe '60 Minutes' over the next few months.

Monday, June 12, 2006

I'm sick of Soccer!

Well it’s Monday night here. A public holiday, Queen's Birthday and all that. Congrats to everyone out there, who got gongs!

Went to the gym this morning. Then, later in the day I went to the CONSTABLE : impressions of land, sea and sky Exhibition. The last day, today, cutting it too fine! They had sold out of the exhibition's companion book :(

Well the TV seems to be wall-to-wall World Cup Soccer, the last few weeks. I'm so sick of it. Australia plays its first game tonight, Eastern Standard Time.

I think I should email Keith Dunstan about starting a Soccer Division of the Anti-Football League.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Stirling Engines - Links page

Just found a cool looking links site, with a page of Stirling Engine links

I'm currently looking for a site that has pics of a Japanese or Chinese designed Low Temperature Differential (LTD) Stirling Engine, generating about 700W. They are about the size of an old 44 gallon drum.

Back to the hunt.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

New Tech Blog

I'm going to start posting my IT Tech posts on a new blog The Gnoll in the Machine.

I've start, with a post about the ANZ banks stuff-up, double processing 400,000 transaction with a combined value of 45 million dollars.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Natural Sequence Farming in Organic Gardener, Autumn 2006

There is an article in this quarters issue called ‘Catching the Flow’. It runs from page 34 to 39.

It was written by Stephanie Alt and Hogan Gleeson.

The article has some interesting quotes too. Stuff I’ve heard people say and talk about, but never so succinctly!

The introduction talks about the authors’ journey to Gerry Harvey’s property, ‘Baramul’. It also goes into brief outline of how we arrived at the current situation.

There are two quotes that clash with popular understanding in the bulk of the community.

Aboriginal people once used fire to control game and increase the productive capacity of the land, creating in effect, a farmed landscape. Many of us imagine there was once simply a great expanse of forest. Some of the forests and woodland that were cleared by later generation of farmers appeared after the land came under British control, disrupting thousands of years of Aboriginal stewardship. Many perennial grasslands, previously maintained by the fire stick, became thick, woody scrubland, which shaded out the grasses, leaving the ground bare beneath.

There is lore in my family about these long term changes in both central NSW and southern Queensland. People should be aware that the Pilliga is not a natural forest.

It’s important to remember that ‘opening up’ the land was carried out with good intensions, using the accepted knowledge of the day. The gradual nature of these changes in the landscape meant each generation experienced it’s own ‘normal’, masking steady but fundamental degradation of the ecosystem.

Indeed, often land clearing was a condition of leases, you couldn’t upgrade a lease without meeting these conditions. Unlike commercial leases, the unstated aim of crown leases was to move land into private ownership, once the land had been developed as the government saw fit. These conditions were laid out in the lease and/or lease conversion regs.

With improved travel and increasing rates of change, it’s become far easier for people generally and farmer in particular to see these changes. Old farmers have some interesting stories about ‘the way we were’.

The next paragraphs talked about initial presentations at 'Bamamul'. The head of the research team, Dr Richard Bush and then by Peter Andrews himself talked. It's noted that what is being studied is NSF, in its application to river rehabilitation. This being only part of NSF as a "whole farm approach".

The tour of the property is outlined. A few of the earthworks a described, the changes in flows and finally the water table & soil moisture are noted.

The tour also visited 'Tarwyn Park', where Peter's son now farms. The differences with most of the neighbouring properties are clear. A neighbour, Grant Fleming, who father owned 'Tarwyn Park' in the 1950, talks about what the area was like then and how NSF has changed it and late his own family farm. It's also noted that ground water salt level have dropped from 1200 to 450 parts per million.

Ecological concerns about fish movements are outlined and its notes that legislation controlling in-stream structures means that NSF structures are illegal.

Peter's use of non-indigenous plants has also been questioned. They are used as they are volunteer species that fill the niches in the early sequences.

Looking at the opposite bank, he points out places where native vegetation is coming back naturally once willows have stabilised the banks.

Natives are regarded as a better option.

While the major ‘wet fully’ recharge the floodplain aquifers, less water flows down stream. When recharge is achieved, the system is in a new equal equilibrium. Flows should return to a level with lower peak flows, but with an increased duration.

here is a link

I’d link to the article too, but it’s published by are a subsidiary of "Dinosaur Press Inc".

Monday, May 15, 2006

Canberra - Fire resistant plants

I’ve got friends who have just brought a small acreage block, just north of Canberra.

We were having smoko, when I was told about their purchase. They get the title in a few weeks. One of the first things we talked about was windbreaks. I immediately suggested they needed at least two species. A fast grower for get short term cover (I thought wattles) and a second that would be big, long lived ‘core’ species. That was my 60 second answer.

Thinking about it afterward, I realize that another consideration fire sectors & fire resistance plantings.

Anyone got any suggestion?

I’m so looking forward to seeing their new block.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

'The Times' has a Blog!

I just found The Times blog and there is a blog for one of my favorite authors, William Rees-Mogg.

Im happy :)

Canberra Java Users Group meeting

Went to the monthly CJUG meeting last nigth.

The topic was 'code smells'. A great talk.

Lots of talk about Refectoring.

Design Patterns has its GoF (Ganf of Four).

We think that Refectoring may have its Gang of Three.

They are:
Ward Cummingham See here
Martin Fowler here
Kent Beck and here

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Stirling Engines and Heat Pumps

Just read this post. In the comments there is a link to Heat Pumps & some talk about their use.

My comment was...

Why would you get a headache?

You have a heat to motion to electric power system, where part of the electric output is feed back into the system to improve efficiency and/or decrease the cost of the total system.

How is this so. Well if you use the heat pump to 'focus' the heat into a 'point' of higher temperature, you can do two things. Increase its efficiency (by changing the hot-end temperature & thus the hot-end cool-end ratios, as measures in degree K). You can also use the smaller & cheaper (per unit of energy output) stirling engine.

Anyway, that how I read it. Comment welcomed!

John Maynard Keynes

On ANZAC day, I had a broswe at Academic Remainders

They had a biography of John Maynard Keynes.

Paperback: 1056 pages
Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics) (August 30, 2005)
Language: English
ISBN: 0143036157
I think this is the one. The cover art at amazon is different.

I was aware of Keynes generally and had skimmed his work 'The Economic Consequences of the Peace' on the net a few year back. A very interesting overview on the centery before the Great War and the likely (prophectic) effects of the Treaty of Versailles (1919).

It's a very interesting book, but not light reading.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Meet Sid & Nancy, the Stirling Engines.

I have also just found these pics

The interesting ones are:

Inside the AASTINO, jetfuel from the stirling engine has leaked and caused the blue anti-static map to bubble - and it stinks.

Sid the Stirling engine arrives on a sled behind the skidoo

Nancy the Stirling engines heads back to the factory

Jon fits the engine cover onto Nancy

Jon fills the Stirling engine with coolant

So, what can we tell from these pics & their caption.

They run on 'Jetfuel', so I'll assume they mean 'avgas', unless someone cares to correct me.

Therefore the Stirling engines are High Temperature Differential (HTD) engines. Their relatively small size seams confirms this.

The 'coolant' is Glycol, I assume this mean that the operating fluid is Glycol.


More googling shows what I expected, they are Whispergen engines, made by Whisper Tech in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Stirling Engines - Polar usage

Just found this post, dated 11th January, 2002.

Someone has a Stirling engine in Antartica

Our traveling companions include the Brothers Pernic (Ed and Bob - Bob is the site manager at South Pole for the astronomy project; Ed is the last in a long line of people who've tried to get the TEG working, and is busting to see the Stirling engine) and Wilfred Walsh - a PhD graduate from UNSW Astrophysics.

It would be interesting to findout is stats.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I hate morning news TV. Its just an ad!

Saw something funny on Today, yesterday morning. They had in interview with an author of a book about communicating the children.

The Author commented that kids are bored with life, loser parents etc and that they amerce themselves in computer games, mind dead TV etc as a results.

You should have seen the male host trying to cover Today’s arse! It was so funny. The Author did throw him a lifeline by saying Today had some educational value. ;)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Newspaper Archives, what the!

Read the 'Canberra Times' last Saturday (25/03/06). There was an article about a speech that Julia Gillard made recently at the NSW Fabian Society. The speech was about what Labor should do to beat John Howard.

Went online today, 31/03, to try to get the text of the article. I did searches of the paper's archives on ‘Gillard’, ‘Labor’ and ‘Howard’ and could not find the article. According to the searches, neither the word ‘Gillard’ nor ‘Labor’ even appeared in last Saturday’s paper.

Someone has either legal, policy or technical issues to figure out about the quality & usage of their archives!

To point ‘em in the right direction, here is what Doc Searls write in his Mercury Falling post!

Get net-native, not net-hostile!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Stirling Engines - A Lay Engine Builders Weblog

Just found the weblog of a Victorian engine builder, Terry Thompson.

This post turned up on Tectnorati.

There is also a second, older post, with a diagram.

Terry also has some entries about solar home idea.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bread & Circuses

Gee, where to start?

Well, I suppose the best place is with the important bits of the thread on Cam site.

Did the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony suck?

Apparently lots of people think it did. I obviously didn't watch it. Did you? What did you think? Was it pathetic? The whole "flying tram" thing seems lame to me. But I hate opening ceremonies…

To which I posted a comment about “Bread & Circuses”, lifted from the US PBS site, ‘cause I was to lasy/time constrained to write my own.

Bread & Circuses

Augustus, realizing that the masses of average Romans had to be kept both fed and happy enough to remain peaceful, began the system of patronage we now refer to as "bread and circuses." He gave the people food — by means of grain distribution and legislation of food prices — and free entertainment such as chariot races, gladiators, and lavish spectacles in amphitheaters and the Circus Maximus.

a quote from

So, every wondered why farmers & truckies never get a break?

At the end of it, I added a general throw always line, about farmers & truckers. The responses I got to that comment, I didn’t expect. It all goes to show what you think is common sense & common knowledge, isn’t!

Cam’s response was

Farmers and truckies? What do they need a break from?

and my response

Cam, when a government arranges a benefit for a group of people, it can fund it in one of two ways. Take from a large group (usually everyone) and hope that noone notices or take from a small group(s), knowing that no matter how hostile a group(s) becomes, it's too small to make a difference.

In the case of cheap food, Australia uses the second option! The small groups in this situation are farmers & truckers.

If a government/system can keep the bulk of the population 'fat, dumb and happy', it can stay in power without doing much else.

When I say 'farmers & truckies', I mean the people who do the real work for not much money, the drivers etc, not Lindsey Fox or Janet/Peter Holmes aCourt.

and Cams response

So give us details Gnoll! How are the government taking money from the farmers and truckers?? The last I heard, farmers were getting subsidies and cheap loans and truckies were making $100K a year including overtime.

How's the car situation going?

Now where now? Timeline…

As me original comment about ‘Bread & Circuses’ shows, governments/systems have understood (for a least 2000 years), the desirability of having a cheap food supply for keeping the bulk of the population happy/staying in power.

Crop failures & civil unrest during the depths of Little Ice Age reinforced this lesson to governments from Ireland to Japan as recently as C17.

Europe had this lesson reinforced again in late C18, in the form of the French Revolution.

Keeping food cheap requires action in two areas, firstly the cost of the produce itself and secondly in the cost of getting the produce to the consumer. To do this requires one of two actions, either rigorous free markets or systematic subsidies.

The driving force in setting global food prices is the massive subsidy system of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (the CAP). This has been the situation since the EU’s inception as the EEC (European Economic Community) in the 1950s. Remember the Europeans have starved as recently as the early 1940’s.

The US also subsidies it’s farmers, but does not set the pace, it only matches the EU. It would rather put its money into other project/activities.

Australia’s only option is to use rigorous free markets in production & transport to try to match the EU & US. Why, because the EU & US have productive industrial bases they can use to subsidize their agricultural sectors.

Australia doesn’t have this industrial base to subsidise agriculture. Indeed, Australia has historically used its primary industries (both agriculture & mining) to subsidize its industrial base to create jobs in the cities, build infrastructure etc. This historical cross subsidization dates back to early C19 and was strongest during the gold rushes & agricultural booms from 1850 to 1890. This period was the ‘Golden Age’ of Australian agriculture.

It is this rigorous free market environment from 1890 onward that leads me to make the “So, every wondered why farmers & truckies never get a break?” comment.
Miners and transport generally have been under these rigorous free market conditions since the 1890s too. The rest of the economy has been shelter to some degree until the reforms of the 1980s began.

Now I want to divide recent history into 2 periods, for some additional analysis. The first period is what I’ll call the ‘High Industrial’ period. It’s the time from 1890 to the early 1970s. I chose 1890 as a start date because it’s the end of the initial settlement development booms. I chose the early 1970s as the end date because it’s the end of the great post WWII boom.

During the ‘High Industrial’, the isolation between national economies was strong enough to allow each nation to set its own economic policy (within reason). Ggovernments could choose how each section was ran and what cross subsidizations were allowed/encouraged. As long as the books balanced overall & in the long run. The isolation could be maintained due to the relative solidness of nation borders.

In the 1970s, the Oil Shocks started to destabilize the situation.

At this point I’d like to add to the definition of ‘bread’. In Roman times, ‘bread’ referred to food alone. Over the last 500 years, ‘bread’ has grown to include access to shelter, clothing, transport & energy. Like with food stuffs, the cheaper, the better for stable government.

During the late 1970s, the micro computer emerged. New machines like the Apple IIE where developed. This meant the changes that were start to occur in government & big business could spread to all other part of the economy. In the early 1980s, IBM released the PC. This legitimised the micro computer for general use by business. In parallel, cheap high speed communication were also emerging.

The stage is set!

Now we get onto the second period I wish to call the ‘Information Age Transition Crisis’ period. I’ll want to define this as starting in 1989, with the Fall of the Berlin Wall. For me this event marks the first major crisis caused by the affect of information technology/high speed telecommunication on the solidity of national borders.

As the porousness of national borders increases, the industries used by the developed world to cross subsidies other sectors have begun to leak to other places.

So the EU and US are losing the old sectors they used to subsidize their agricultural sectors to Asia and Latin & Central America. They are trying to develop new sector to keep their economies stable.

The EU still wants to retain its subsidies to agriculture. To-date France have held the line against moves for change from Germany and particularly Britain. Guess the French want the subsidies way more than the British & Germans want change. The reason, in France, farmers are critical swing voters. Goes to show, it pays to be a swing voter in a marginal seat!

The US feels it can’t stop its farm subsidies until the EU does. It too, is trying to develop new sectors to counter the move of manufacturing, particularly to China.

In Australia, we are also trying to develop new sectors. We have given ourselves a better start by not trying to hang onto inefficient industries, anywhere near as much as the EU or US have.

So the Information Revolution has made the old ‘High Industrial’ status quo unviable. Where to next? Gnoll looks to his crystal ball and notices it is cracked! The crystal ball gazing of others is welcome.

Well that’s the timeline done.

Next, some comment about specific comments in Cam’s thread

comment 1

How are the government taking money from the farmers and truckers??

As I’ve outline above, the main interest of government is keeping ‘bread’ cheap. This is done by rigorous free markets. If the farmer has the money in the hand, he made too much profit. The government have failed to keep prices as low as possible. I know this is a cynical outlook, but at a very fundamental level it’s true. What makes it impossible to achieve continuously is random variation in weather at both the local & global level. Farming is after all a percentages game.

This aside, there are plenty of examples of governments with hands in farmer’s pockets. I will outline two here.

The first example is from the ‘High Industrial’ period.

Back in WWII, farmers sold wool to the government as part of the war effort. The government got good prices & terms. The terms include delayed payment of significant amount of money until after the war was over.

After the war was over, the time came to make the post war payment. The federal government of the day invented a number of new fees and charges to be taken out of the outstanding monies. The fees and charges were large and bore no relationship to any real expense incurred to the government. A special once off tax in all but name!

The second example is from the ‘Information Age Transition Crisis’ period.

Now I’m not going to go into any detail for this one, it’s a current issue. All the stuff I hear about it are rumours I don’t want to repeat in detail here. I will talk about the rumours only in their general nature. I could not find any solid details from googling.

The rumours are that both the NSW & Queensland state governments have/are entered into public private partnerships of the Cross City Tunnel & Lane Cove Tunnel style. 4 Corners recently run a programme on these public private partnerships.

The difference here is that the private partners are not building new assets, they are taking over existing assets (government programmes) intrusted to the state governments.

The state governments are getting up front lump sums from the private partners. The private partners are getting access to the cash flow on the programmes. They can then ciphen part of the cash flow as their profits, leaving the remaining cash flow to fund the programme’s core function.

The total cash flow comes from a federal statutory levy. The farmers direct it to whom they choose. It will take money or time to redirect these monies to other/new bodies. It may even lead to the establishment of new non-profit NGOs. They regard this as still their money, put aside for a dedicated purpose. Farmers/industry bodies only agreed to the current programmes being establishment on the understanding that all of the levy would go to the programme’s core function.

comment 2

The last I heard, farmers were getting subsidies and cheap loans

subsidies and cheap loans?

Let’s look at what a real subsidy system looks like. Firstly, there is lots of money involved. After all, the government is trying to reduce the price of the product to below the cost of production. Secondly, everyone producing the product gets some of the action. Thirdly, the more you produce, the more money you get. Big player get more money.

Look at the Australian measures. They trend to be disaster recovery or industry restructuring. Once off payments/loans, not systematic payments/loans. They tend to be small, measured in 4 digit figure range for diaster recovery. Like all government compensation, industry restructuring payments/loans tend to be on the very low side.

When a government runs one of these schemes, they try to maximize the publicity they get within the industry and the general community. Often figures get rolled out. Remember these are maximum figures, based on wanting to look like they are doing something. Often, after the fact, the actual amounts of money spent can be as low as less than 5% of the headline figures.

These schemes are hard to qualify for and also usually have strict asset & income tests. See the second and third points of what a real subsidy system look like.

There are many political tricks that governments pull to look good on the media

Tax exemtions

Farmers do get a few special things. Like a few cents tax exemption on diesel fuel. Some tax exemption on farm vehicles (Utes). These exemptions are usually justified by the user pays principle. The taxes were introduced to fund roads and the farmers on the few occasions have successfully argued they should be exempt because their uses of fuel and vehicles are off-road.

comment 3

and truckies were making $100K a year including overtime.

A new one on me. Any examples, anyone?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I surrendered

The end of last year, someone broke into the car and stole the battery.

Well last week, it was the whole car.

Can out to go to work last Tuesday and it was gone. Reported it to the cops and bussed it to work.

The cops rang at 3:30pm on Wednesday, to say that the car had been found, 5 kms out of town on the road to Cooma. Got out there in the evening, the bastards had broken all the glass and driven it into something & punched the radiator.

It took 4 fills of water to get the car back home. Teed up my regular mechanic to get a rough figure to fix it. The earliest they could fit it in was Tuesday this week. Saw them this morning (Wednesday), they said it was not worth fixing (as I was expecting).

Took the plates off and surrendered them today.

I was 15K short of the magic 500K. I’l miss the old girl. Sniff.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Stirling Engines. The Diff between HTD & LTD

Dean Kaman of Segway fame has a ‘new’ project.

There is a post about it on treehugger

...In 1993 a product of the year was his water purifier; his latest idea for the third world is his stirling engine powered electricity generator that can be powered by anything, including the omnipresent cow patties in India. ...

... He has developed a microfinance model to support it and may soon be building them in a factory in Bangladesh. ...

Last time I looked there were 4 comment also posted.

The 1st comment was a negative politial speal.

The 3rd was a interesting non techo comment with a link.

From comment 4:

I will buy one as soon as available. Biomass heating is far cheaper than electricity. I heat with $2.00 a bushel corn.

Note: a bushel is a volume (not a wieght), there are 36 bushel to ton of wheat (old language).

The last (4th) comment is a feel-good statement. It can’t be acted on until you know the characteristics & costs of the sterling engine and the system that it’s a part of.

The second comment is the one I wish to deal with in a little more detail.

At least this time around he's not pretending it's all his inventions. And if the whole project fails, that means that there will be a mess of stirling engines lying around for other people to use. I've been thinking of using a stirling engine to generate electricity from a solar water heater, but have been discouraged by the utter lack of any affordable engines to run the generator. If Deano's great leap forward™ craters, the bankruptcy sale might yield a few cheap stirling engines.

I’d like to make two comments here.

Firstly, a failed venture may provide a few engines, but is no basis for building a co-generation industry.

Secondly, the comment ‘using a stirling engine to generate electricity from a solar water heater’ shows a lack of understanding. It show that the writer does not understand the difference between High Temperature Differential (HTD) and Low Temperature Differential (LTD) engines.

Low Temperature Differential situations are generally where the difference between the hot side and cold side is less than 100 degrees C. I.e. a good strong cup of tea could drive it.

High Temperature Differential situations are generally where the difference between the hot side and cold side is greater than 100 degrees C. I.e. a naked flame or 'stronger’. Non-combustion examples of HTD energy sources are solar furnaces and super heated geothermal springs/vents.

The engines in the article are HTD engines. The engines that the authour would like to get hold of are LTD engines. Solar hot water would only just get these HTD engine to turn over (if at all). This would not be cost effective. Because HTD engines have an intense heat source, they can be compact and small. LTD are large bulky things, they need to be, to get any meaningful amount of energy transfer.

This is the reason for the 'utter lack of any affordable' LTD engines.

LTD engines are the dream engine. With this type of engine you could build the massively distributed power networks that would be particularly terrorist resistant, in the same way that the Internet is. Not single points of failure.

Bye bye Google. Hello Technorati

I've just changed my default homepage from Google to Technorati

Why. Google is something you use to initially research a new topic. Technorati is what you use to check if there is any new activity in the topics that you have decided that you have an ongoing interest in.

If topic tracking is more important that initial research, what should be your default home page?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Libraries Australia

Have seen a couple of news stories about this new library catalogue search site.

Libraries Australia

It's a new online internet service. It give access to the 3 main library catalogue systems in Australia. Including at academic libraries system, that about 25 or 30 years old.

Note that the site is part of the Australian National Library's domain. You don't get anymore credible than that. They get a copy of all books published in the country, like the Library of Congress (US) and the Bodleian Library (Oxford, UK).

Had a look today. Did a search of one of my pet topics, "Stirling Engine". Found that the ADFA library (pass ADFA on the way to/from work) has a copy of a book I'm interested in buying, maybe. Must get an inter-library loan.

the book...

Record Id: 13361268 (Australian Library Collections: Subjects)
Author: Organ, Allan J.

Title: The regenerator and the Stirling engine / by Allan J. Organ.

Published: London : Mechanical Engineering Publications, 1997.

Description: xlii, 623 p., [7] folded leaves : ill., plans ; 25 cm.

ISBN: 1860580106 :

LC Call Number: TJ765

Dewey Number: 621.42

Notes: Includes indexes.

Subjects: Stirling engines -- Design and construction.

Language: English
Want to contact your library about this item?: Find contact details
Libraries that have this item:

Academy Library, University of NSW@ADFA (ADFA) 222453 main TJ 765 .O73 1997
James Cook University. Townsville Campus (QJCU) 546471 Held
Murdoch University. Murdoch University Library (WMDU) .b14604772 621.42 ORG 1997
University of Melbourne. The University Library (VU) held
University of Queensland Library. Dorothy Hill Physical Sciences and Engineering Library (QU:PSE) b19944317 TJ765 .O73 1997
University of Western Sydney. Penrith Campus, Allen Library (NUWS:A) 385980 621.42 O1

Mind Maps at the Canberra Linux Users Group (CLUG)

The Canberra Linux Users Group had it's monthly meeting last Thursday (23/02/06). The topic of the night was mind mapping software

Here is Wikipedia entry on the topic.

We looked at 2 Open Source software packages VYM (GNU/GPL) and Kdissert (GNU/GPL).

I think that Kdissert looked the better package. It looked to have the better user interface. Both look better that the Freemind maps I saw about a year ago.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Google & Lent - Any relationship?

Just found this post over on Doc Searls weblog.

So, looking for something to give up for Lent? How about Googlefasting!

A link and another link

Saturday, February 11, 2006

MDA at the Canberra Java User Group

The CJUG had their first monthly meeting on the 08/02/06.

The Topic was doing Model-Driven Architecture using AndroMDA, an Open Source package.

The notes etc are on their site.

Going to give it a "play" some time, in all my spear time!

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

China overtakes France

Back in December 05, I noted that China had overtaken Italy in economic size.

New economic figures for China show that its overtaken France as the world's 5th largest economy. It should also overtook the UK this year.

I do note that one of the issues facing the Chinese is land grabs. I had heard that land grabs happen there, I didn't realise that it was considered a major problem.

All counties have methods for the compulsory acquisition of land. Here(au) it gets used for public infrastructure. New roads, road widening, future dams, that kind of thing. Here, it's also in the basic law that there must be fair compensation.

In China, a place without a strong rule of law tradition, government at all levels can and do routinely move people off land. This is done 'in the national interest', but when the land is given to commercial ventures (with officials pocketing yuan), it's just a fancy cover for what is corruption. Often a people affected are peasants. For these people, it is stealing their life savings usually with token compensation.