Foundations: researching our options

When I first joined the Design Team, there was so much to do that I had no idea where to start.  Being a literal sort of person, I decided to start from the ground up: the foundation.

Through this process, I learned some basics about concrete in general.  Between mining the raw materials, transporting them, and kilning them, concrete has relatively high embodied energy. For each ton of concrete produced, approximately one ton of CO2 is released.  Global demand for concrete is also colossal: 1.6 billion tons annually, with demand rising steadily as more and more countries incorporate concrete into industrial and residential construction.

Concrete Jungle

Since the concrete in our foundation looked like it was going to be one of the most environmentally impactful parts of our building, I decided to research our options in minimizing our concrete use.  I approached the issue from two different angles: 1) minimizing the amount of concrete used in our foundation, and 2) finding less impactful materials to create concrete with.  I started with the former of those.  What foundation would meet our needs, match our overarching design criteria, and still be as environmentally benign as possible?

Concrete use in Third World countries is on the rise.

Reality Squirrels – self poisoning ventures?

Every few months we get an offer.  Some reality show wants to come and film the communes of Twin Oaks or Acorn.  For a dozen good reasons and twice as many bad ones we always say “no”. Reality TV is notorious for using the film they shoot to tell an entertaining story, rather than an accurate one.

One couple of friends of mine participated in the Wife Swap program.  The show producers decided that part of what they wanted to achieve was a “Wife Swap has lasting positive impacts on these strange players” story line.  So they edited the film dramatically to show that the jobs that they had acquired before the show, were rather the result of the show.  Another friend who dared to be in this format was talking about how he loved the density of collective living.  But this was edited to the slightly preposterous phrase “i love density.”

pigeon house surreal

loving density in the abstract

The communes do not want the lives of their members as disrupted as they certainly would be from this high impact venture.  The disadvantage of commune life being reflected negatively more than compensates for the advantages of the cash or the exposure.  Since we cant control the content, we dont want to risk them doing something terrible with the footage.

Surfing the Slack

So i have a transportation problem.  I am doing a visitor period at Acorn and i am on leave from Twin Oaks, so i do not have the member privilege of driving the cars owned by the community. But because of Willow and friends and intimates at Twin Oaks, i desire to move between the communities almost daily.

Which means there are times when i watch a car which is signed out to a member who is going to Acorn, or in this mornings case, i diverted Dianne who was going to Cville.   As i have described the vehicle system is robust in many ways and part of this is the chronicling of where the vehicles are going.

Vehicle Log tells where everyone is going and when

Vehicle Log tells where everyone is going and when

i call Dianne and ask her if she will take me to Acorn and she points out that it is not on the way to where she is going and secondly that she would happily take me out of her way.  Dianne and i are not close, but i am not at all surprised by her answer, the culture is one of helping and she is a quite helpful person.

Ride Board tells you what vehicles are free and in use

Ride Board tells you what vehicles are free and in use

The lesson would appear to be that we can all get where we want to go (with fewer resources) if we are willing to go a bit off our originally planned path.

Distinguishing Spiritual Work from Group Work

Ma'ikwe and I are just coming off a facilitation training weekend at a Hare Krishna community that I'm going to bless with the pseudonymous moniker Dharma Village. While the hospitality and generosity we encountered at this well-established community were terrific, we found the group mired in deep mud. 

There are dozens of devotees living on the property. Despite being united in their acceptance of Swami Prabhupada as their spiritual teacher, they have been embroiled for years in disputes over the right way to follow his teachings. To some extent what's unfolded in the community mirrors struggles in the Hare Krishna movement worldwide. After Swami Prabhupada brought Krishna consciousness from India to the West in a prolific burst of proselytizing from 1963 to 1977, there has been considerable divergence about how best to continue the spirit of his work.

There are some who believe that Prabhupada was the last guru of the movement and the only teacher worthy of following; there are others who accept as gurus anyone recognized by ISKCON (the International Society of Krishna Consciousness), which was started by Prabhupada and blessed by him to carry on after his death in 1977, including the right to initiate other gurus; and there are those who accept Swami Tripurari as a guru in addition to Prabhupada, even though Tripurari is not recognized as a guru by ISKCON. The movement, just like the residents of Dharma Village, is in considerable disarray over who is a guru and who isn't.

Down Time

The agricultural lifestyle includes down time: winter is the time for rest: physical activity to slow down, the mind to take leave of daily details, and the spirit to rejuvenate.
I appreciate this down time. During the agricultural year, I find it difficult to relax: my mind is always thinking about what else needs to be done – similar to how it is challenging to take time off at home/on the farm. When i try to take an afternoon or day off, I constantly see unfinished projects or areas that need attention. Sometimes I jot them down on a piece of paper – so that I can forget about them in the present moment and relax! Does it work? so-so. Where will I put this list so that it will not bother me now but that I can find it later?

My suit cost more than your car

A dozen Acorners drove up before dawn to hear the appeal of our lawsuit against Monsanto at the Federal Appeals Court in Death City.  The hearing went better than i had expected, especially given that the previous judge had claimed out case was not worth her time.  Three long experienced federal judges asked sharp questions for the hour long session to both our lawyer (from the Public Patent Foundation) and especially of the lawyers from Monsanto.  [We are challenging Monsanto's GMO patents and preemptively suing to protect ourselves from suits if our farms should become contaminated.]

The Monsanto lawyers have a tough job.  They need to sound reasonable and fair, and they need to not give away anything.  This is problematic because some of the things they should be giving away are pretty clear.  At the heart of our case is we want farmers who are contaminated by GMO seeds, who dont want them and have no intention of using Monsanto’s Round Up pesticide to be free of fear of lawsuit.  This is actually not what Monsanto wants, they want everyone to be afraid of their lawyers swooping in, finding contamination and then suing the farmer and destroying them financially, regardless of whether the farmer is using their products or not.  They want this because they want a monopoly on seeds, because monopolistic prices are far higher than market prices and the profits are fantastic.

2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 140,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Acorn Membership Interview – puff story

I had my membership interview today here at Acorn.  Slightly curiously, Acorn uses the same format as Twin Oaks, you get to tell your life story (which i did in  a record short 40 minutes) and then you answer 101 questions.  I answered these same questions 15 years ago at Twin Oaks.

Having watched people slip through the membership process and then reek havoc on the community once they become a member, i get why we need to be so intrusive about the details of prospective members lives.  And there was a question i was embarrassed about the answer to, which will be the subject of a long delayed future blog post.

the interview was easier than this

the interview was easier than this

But on the other extreme there was the following exchange, between Trevor who was asking the questions and myself.

Trevor: Have you ever been hospitalized or had medication for serious depression?

Me: No.

Trevor: How often would you say you get mildly depressed.

Me: Almost never

Trevor: Wow (and deviating from the script) Why do you think that is?

Me: Perhaps because i am deeply in touch with how lucky i am.

A culture of invitation

My first impression is that the most important difference between Acorn and Twin Oaks is that here at Acorn there is a more robust culture of invitation.  Part of this is people socializing in the living room off the dining space all during the day.  Also there are comfortable and inviting social scenes in the farm house, yellow living room (also off the kitchen), and in the smoke shack.  There are often people to hang out with in any of these places.  After a full day of seed picking today, i hung out in the smoke shake and we listened to Terrance McKenna audios files, which was both entertaining and thought provoking.

But equally important is the ability to plug in at anytime to the work situation; you can see if there are a bunch of seeds orders which need to be shipped and you can ship them.   Other people are doing it, you can join them – especially if they are people you like.  The living rooms of the main residence (Heartwood) have been taken over by the seed business as have a couple of bedrooms.  Living or eating in the main building means the work situation is around you all the time, always beckoning.

making it just fit

making it just fit

A billion users cant be wrong

This Facebook post caught my eye:

facebook steals data

And i giggled inside.  It is the same silly notion that many Czechs had after the Berlin Wall came down – that democracy and the will of the people would rule the land.

I also thought that it was funny that the poster thought 0.1% of Facebooks 1 billion users would represent much of a ground swell for this company.  FB is moved by greater forces.

Facebook has an objective, it is not simple – it has dominating the social network ecosystem, increasing e-commerce potential for them, charging micro fees for services for users and several grades of premium users.  It has timing for these services and restrictions planned out to not annoy too many addicts, i mean users, at once.

because i want your money, perhaps?

because i want your money, perhaps?

And we have a mission, which we are largely ignoring, which is to create an open source social networking service, which does what is most useful about FB, but without all the poisonous corporate extras.  In a parallel life i am working with some hot group of coders in a crowded duplex in Palo Alto crafting just such a thing now.

These are some of the design features:

The saddest graph you’ll see today

Reblogged from Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History:

Click to visit the original post

via The saddest graph you’ll see today.

This is a representation of how messed up things are. be the change.

Acorn Day 1

Puck and i have an informal room sharing agreement.  In all of the sharing experiments we do at Twin Oaks, one of the ones which it is hardest for mainstream folks to wrap their heads around is sharing bed rooms.  When someone leaves Twin Oaks for more than 3 days, their room becomes community property and it can be assigned to guests who need space.  Room assigning is one of the jobs i have done for a long time and am currently covering it while Sapphyre is off meditating.

Different communards have different capacity for sharing rooms and Pucks capacity (after perhaps mine) is the best. He is generous with his room at Twin Oaks when he is not using it and it is often the place i end up sleeping when it gets to be 2 in the morning and i realize i have not worked this problem hard enough to know where i am going to sleep.

Puck gave me a ride and we chatted about the similarity of our situation.

“I am not an alternating member” he said “i am a dual member”  People often ask Puck (as they probably will me) “Which community are you part of now?” And while there is a technical specific single membership at any one time, what is really true is he (and hopefully i) are working on behalf of both of our home communities almost everyday.

January is Acorn

i am working on a piece from my first day at Acorn, but i have to show posts to people before i can put them up so there is some delay.  The short version is it is wonderful here and people are being friendly and welcoming to me – except for Trout (who lives at Twin Oaks) who came into the smoke shack to make a big deal out of me not moving from Twin Oaks, and to add insult to injury, he beat me twice at chess.

i am doing a visitor period at Acorn with the hope of becoming a member here and then subsequently a dual member with Twin Oaks.  Twin Oaks only permits 5% of its population to be dual members rounded down.  This means 4 people – Gordon recently dropped his dual member status to permit me to take a place if one is offered – Thanks Gordon.

Ira has a dozen schemes for what i might do here, one includes being a spokesperson for the case against Monsanto.  It is a good match with what i do well and it gets me up to Death City for a day, so i can see folks i love.

farmers against Monsanto

Acorn is oddly different from Twin Oaks, tho part of it is seasonal.  This is our busy season and there are people up early in the morning and many working after dinner.   In contrast, after dinner work at Twin Oaks is pretty rare, except for things like hammocks pushes (see

Yet somehow the size and relatively youthful culture makes Acorn both a bit more relaxed than Twin Oaks and a bit more industrious at the same time.

Poisoned Hot Tub and Improbably arguments

We landed on the night of Dec 26th and i jumped into organizing the party 5 days later in a big way.  One the things the other organizers (Lyndsey and Carly) asked me to seek was content and activities for the event, since they were focusing on food and decorations.  One of the thing i got was a film showing by a friend who was in the area working on the Within Reach release and was going to be in the area for the holiday.

If you had asked me that morning to think hard about the least likely problem i would have had that day, had a thought a lot about it, i might have said “That i will get into an intellectual property dispute about showing a movie on campus.” And so it came to pass that for a couple of hours (until some names got straightened out) this was exactly what was happening.

There was lots of kissing at New Years

There was lots of kissing at New Years

We successfully deployed the moon bounce and filled the ball pit.  I asked some non-native English speakers to fill the hot tub and they did not read the warming signs on the facet that lead from the furnaces circulating fluid, which is toxic.  So in spite rescuing the hot tub at the last minute, this mysterious toxic water made it unusable for the night.

The kettle was his symphony

I’ve returned to Twin Oaks, but it is not the same – one of our Titans has left us.  Jason spent 10 years in working in the tofu business.  He did much of that time as management, but he did all of that time on the floor – the hot, sweaty work of actually turning beans into curbs into blocks of tofu.

Jason is Jethro Curds

Jason is Jethro Curds

He was one of our few triple threats, which means he could honcho kettle, trays and pack – the three main production jobs.  He trained on everything in that hut, including things few others even knew about.  I would come in shortly after 6 AM and he had been there for hours.  Everything was set up for me.  All during his shift he would run around to the other workstations, making sure that everything was running, smashing bottlenecks as they tried to pop up.  He played the kettle like a violin and the hut was his symphony.  No one has worked harder, longer or smarter on tofu in my tenure.  he is missed.

Jason (middle), Tony and Elijah install the floor at the JPJ arena, cville.

Jason (middle), Tony and Elijah install the floor at the JPJ arena, cville.

He had other talents.  He took over the Jone Paul Jones basketball court floor installations and removals.  Continuing a good money gig for the community and the members.

Willow at Xmas 2012 Boston

Willow at Xmas 2012 Boston

Willow is Legolas

What’s Happening: December 2012

Winter Solstice & ArtmasEast Winders celebrated the winter solstice together on December 21st.  Twenty-five people participated in this year’s artmas exchange, an East Wind tradition celebrated by exchanging unique homemade gifts. Though the shortest day of the year was fun, most of us look forward to the days growing longer.  The winter has been mild so far, but the cold air and grey landscape leave many of us yearning for spring.

Moonbounce or Nothing

“i want to give an earmarked gift to Twin Oaks” said a generous ex-member.

“We are always open to presents, what did you have in mind?” i excitedly asked

“a moonbounce for the New Years Eve party”

“Fantastic, i love the idea, but there is some chance the community will not love the idea, can we get something else if that is the case?”

“Nope.  Moonbounce or nothing.”

“Okay, my job is clear.”

First Zoe (Feonix’s sister) and i had to go make sure that there even was space for this 20? x 20? installation.  Fortunately, there is one spot which is the Tupelo parking spot.  The next problem is who agrees that this is okay?  it is high impact for a short time – so i walk thru Tupelo and they are universally enthusiastic (tho some more than others certainly) about the idea.  The other organizers for the event Sabine, Carley and Lyndsey were happy to have more kid friendly activities.  The moonbounce will be near one of these cool hexagonal picnic tables and beside it an outdoor hot tub.

our moonbounce might look like this one

our moonbounce might look like this one

Ez, Zadek, Sami and Arlo at hexagonal table

Ez, Zadek, Sami and Arlo at hexagonal table

Tree Climbing Logistics

“Where are you going?” Asked the people at the party in the beautifully finished TCLR living room.

“I am going to do a full moon ritual with Shal.” i replied, the crowd was disbelieving.

“For almost every fun moon for the last dozen years Shal and i have gotten together very late in the evening and climbed trees and listened to music.    Shal taught me how to climb trees, and now i am pretty good at it. ” i expound.

ironwood roots

ironwood roots

Our conversation is about the angle of the moon.  If the  absence of leaves on the trees is sufficient for us to spot the moon while over the rivers .  We choose some old reliable ironwoods, which we have oft climbs without ropes.  We are quickly up this tree and i am uncharacteristically warm outside because of my clothing.   We catch up, we switch trees to the ones with chairs that hang over the stream.  Perfect night.

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