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Shane McKee

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since Mar 02, 2013
Medical doctor in the field of Genetics. Coder since a small kid. Small kid since birth. I play with TLUD stoves, my wife & 3 kids (not at the same time), my lovely Irish garden and Middle East peace-building. Free time? What's that?
Northern Ireland
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Recent posts by Shane McKee

I've found it quite difficult listening to this latest bunch of podcasts - it's clear that Paul & Jocelyn have put a massive amount of effort into this experiment, and it hasn't entirely worked out as planned. However it certainly has generated some useful data, and highlighted a lot of the problems of "community". But Paul said a very interesting and (to my mind) vital thing - he mentioned this a couple of times, and it resonates with me. What we have to do is design *systems* so that the people we get frustrated with become part of the solution rather than part of the problem (I'm paraphrasing). Easier said than done - the Mollison approach - the Problem is the Solution. Any of us who have worked in teams know that very often you can't simply select the Dream Team from an endless pool of candidates - most of the time you have to deal with the folks who happen to be there already. You may have some degree of hire/fire capability, but often not that much, so the challenge is to take this collection you've been given, and establish roles and relationships that will move towards the goal. That strikes me as the permaculture approach. Which is great when written down, but in practice is tricky. So anyway, my point is that your podcasts should be required listening for people building teams.

Keep it up; don't lose hope. The Ant Village concept sounds excellent, and I really hope it works out.
Hi Wesley,
Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; only changed from one form into another. If you have an electrolytic process to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen, that takes energy. You will always lose a little more by heat in that process that you will not recoup by burning the hydrogen back into oxygen again. A far more efficient way of getting heat from your 12V DC source would be to just stick a heating coil on it. So I'm afraid this is just a pipe dream, like so many promises of perpetual motion, cold fusion and simple cures for cancer. You cannot get more energy out than you put in, any more than taking money out of the bank and then putting it back in makes you end up with more money. The bank always wins, and in this case the laws of thermodynamics will always win.
4 years ago
Hi folks, interesting thread. Quite a few misconceptions coming up over and over again. It's worth pointing out that evolution itself is not considered a "theory" - it's an established fact; it happens and it has happened in the past, and humans and other life forms are linked. This is considered settled. The *Theory* of Evolution refers (in the same sense as the Theory of Gravity or the Theory of Relativity) to the conceptual body of knowlegdge and data that underpin our understanding of how evolution occurs now and has occurred in the past. Adaptation and evolution are the same thing - what some people call "macroevolution" is simply "microevolution" that has been going on for longer. As for epigenetics, this is of minimal importance to evolution - effectively it is another mechanism of gene regulation that in a couple of cases can be transgenerational (but not persistent enough to be that important).

As for "irreducible complexity", this is not a barrier to evolution, nor is the "information problem" - the source of information being written into genomes is the environment, and the mechanism for writing that information is natural selection (that was Darwin's key insight). There is a group in the US called the Discovery Institute who have been trying to push "Intelligent Design" as a part of a creationist agenda, but their arguments have been roundly trounced by the scientific community, including by scientists who are themselves religious. Christians such as Ken Miller and Francis Collins have been very prominent in showig that evolutionary theory is perfectly compatible with religious belief.

I guess the bottom line is that there is no reason why Christians, Jews, Muslims or others should feel they can't accept the findings of evolutionary science - I have many religious friends working in the field of genetics, and they have no problem with it; indeed, they are valued colleagues making real contributions to science. Another friend of mine who is an Anglican minister has been very vocal in his criticism of creationism and indeed wrote an article entitled "rescuing Genesis from the Creationists".

Is there a Permaculture angle to all this? Yes there is! Organisms are not static, but the genepool of a species will shift towards what "works best" within its niche (it's a bit more complex than this of course); an understanding of how evolution works can therefore be very useful to the permaculturist trying to design systems where the different elements contribute to a whole. And given that life has been trucking along abundantly on this rock for several billion years, it should be a demonstration in itself that great things can happen with a very light or indeed absent touch
(Note my nod to the Wheaton trademark of "I think" - like any scientist I love being proved wrong!)
4 years ago
Hi Chase, I don't think a RMH can be constructed to cover those bases - even large statics would struggle to stack all those functions. I think you need a nuclear thermal generator - that's why NASA didn't send Curiosity to Mars with a RMH

Gasification might be a way to go, but I think you'll need to split your burners and accept some degree of open (or contained) flame.
-Shane
4 years ago
Hi Chase, I wasn't kidding about TLUDs - if space is at a premium you can very easily construct one that can be adapted to a normal fireplace - as long as (and this is vital for any combustion system) you have a clear draught for your chimney, and I would always use a carbon monoxide monitor indoors. You'll not get a great deal of thermal storage from a TLUD, and fireplace-size ones will give you maybe 45 minutes from a kilo of wood pellets, but you'll get a nice flame and a talking point I'm trying to source a few heat resistant glass tubes to use as risers as I think they'd look great. I've also used a giant TLUD (yes, they do scale to some extent!) as a patio heater for outdoor parties in chilly NI, and with a few kilos of chipped dried willow, you get almost 90 minutes of excellent radiant heat, without burning off fossil fuels. The risers are metal, and yes, they are going to have a limited lifespan, but you can construct most out of paint tins, soup tins etc. Have fun and stay safe!
4 years ago
This is actually quite an interesting thing - many things can't scale because of the laws of physics (and I hope I may be permitted a minor digression). JBS Haldane wrote a brilliant book "On Being The Right Size" about how biological organisms are constrained in how they can grow. One example is the size of leg bones in relation to the animal it can support. If you double the overall scale (height, length, breadth), you multiply the volume (and hence the weight) by EIGHT, yet the cross-sectional area of the leg would only go up by a factor of FOUR. This is one reason why (thank goodness) giant ants the size of elephants will never take over the world - they would simply collapse under their own weight. And it's why it's not the case that if a flea was the size of a human, it would be able to jump over the Empire State Building. It wouldn't even be able to move. It's a great wee book - I would recommend it.

But back to RMHs - you can probably play about with size within a range of maybe 20% plus or minus without sacrificing *too* much in terms of function, but once you're into the realm of orders of magnitude shift, then the physics is very different. If you have a very small system, you're unlikely to generate the pull through from the differential pressure caused by the column of hot air within the riser, for example. You'll also radiate the heat away from the bell much more quickly (greater surface area to volume), and conduction effects become much stronger than convection effects, again impeding the pump.

On the other hand, if you're going very small, you can play with TLUDs, which are ideal for this sort of caper
4 years ago
James, that's a nice looking system you have there! My 3 chickens are doing a great job converting garden waste into eggs at the moment. My nefarious scheme is as follows: over the summer, dump all the grass clippings and leaves in one place. Throw the leaves there in autumn too. Over winter, I'm keeping the chicken run in one place (in summer I move it around and they eat the grass etc), and throwing in a trug full of leaves and clippings. A week later I rake all that out and replace with more leaves and clippings. The raked-out stuff has turned into that fantastic fluffy mix that Geoff shows off in his Chicken Tractor on Steroids video. That goes into a big bin for additional composting and then application to the garden come spring time. It's a nice cycle, and even with a very small setup with just 3 chooks, it provides loads of really nice compost. It's also nice seeing the looks on their little chicken faces (!) when they have a new batch of pre-compost to scratch in. We do feed them pellets also, as well as scraps from the kitchen.
4 years ago
Thanks for bringing this up, Paul. The way I see it is that Earth Care and People Care (as they sit) provide direct specific things To Do in the ethical structure, whereas if we adopt "Fair Share" or "Return the Surplus" we are kinda begging the question - the implicit assumption is that if we do the EC and PC thang, we're going to automagically have a surplus to share or distribute or whatever. However I feel we need to lift our sights somewhat - as far as we know we are the only intelligent species in this frame of reality. I'm a scientist - I want to find how the world works. We're not going to explore the galaxy by blowing the proverbial rainbows out of our collective behinds, and much as we might eschew standard earth-based economic growth models, we still only have one very fragile basket in which to keep all the eggs of our civilisation.

Which means we need to look ahead - not just to a green and pleasant Earth, but permaculture off-world too. As the captain of the Axiom in WALL-E said, "I don't wanna SURVIVE - I wanna LIVE!". The great news is that there is nothing in the laws of physics or the outworkings of biology to suggest that this cannot be achieved while still paying due regard to Permaculture's ethical entirety.

More thoughts on the Mars thing...: http://answersingenes.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/terra-perma-permaculture-to-terraform.html
4 years ago
I loved the O'Neill Cylinders when I first read The High Frontier. Lots of quaint stuff in there, such as getting about inside the habitats using vehicles powered by internal combustion engines! O'Neill seriously underestimated the cost of making these things, as well as the degree of radiation protection required, but the ideas remain outstanding, and I think something along those lines will be achievable and indeed desirable - eventually. There is no question - we will have to adopt permaculture principles as we colonise space - at least until we get to a comfortable enough stage where we can just expand at will and trash the entire cosmos before going extinct...

At present I think we find it difficult to imagine the sheer level of resource that is out there, and the potential for intelligently using that resource to protect and improve our tiny home planet. So I think space exploration is a key Permaculture thing (*gets flame-proof coat on*), and it's one of the reasons I wrote the song in my sig...
5 years ago