Chambo’s Internet Activity Pages for August 28, 2009

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• ACCIDENTAL GUNFIRE AND UNEXPECTED NUDITY: Doug Fine is a journalist who lives on a remote solar-powered ranch somewhere outside of Silver City, New Mexico. The founding of said ranch is chronicled in his sometimes corny but ultimately pretty fascinating book, Farewell, My Subaru. In the years since, Fine has remained almost entirely off-the-grid, save for the digital connectivity by which he maintains his career as a writer, as well as his blog: Dispatches from The Funky Butte Ranch. This has led him to consider how well he would do in a real grid-crash and the ensuing collapse of mainstream civilization that might soon follow in an essay called “In The Year 2049: Would I Survive A Worst-Case Scenario?” How would he mine the perimeter of his compound? Who would make his shoes? It’s especially entertaining to compare the responses of his city-dwelling pals who are all like “you’re nuts everything’s gonna be fine” and his fellow ranchers who are like “that’s a good idea about the mines.” [Dispatches from the Funky Butte Ranch]

• DO YOU EVER PLAN ON EATING OUT IN LOS ANGELES? Pulitzer-Prize winning food critic Jonathan Gold’s “99 Essential LA Restaurants” is a delightful read even if you don’t plan on dining out in Southern California anytime soon: It’s a journey from the obscure meats of Vietnamese strip mall joints to the finest haute cuisine, and as such it’s one of the best impressionistic portraits of what makes Los Angeles such a strange, delicious town. He’s known to compare tacos and noodles to different varieties of cocaine, he follows Spanish-language media in order to keep up with Mexican-American chefs and says things like this about a Korean spot out in Torrance:

We are as jingoistic about fried chicken as the next guy, and we’ve been to dives in Louisiana where the chicken was so good it made a roomful of testosterone-crazed roustabouts weep like your mother’s bridge club that time Steel Magnolias came on TV. But Korean fried chicken really is an evolutionary leap forward — steeped in a cabinet full of spices, saturated with garlic, double-fried to a shattering, thin-skinned snap dramatic enough to wake a sleeping baby in an adjoining room.

The new edition is available this week — this is gonna be the first time we pick up a hard copy of the LA Weekly since, well, Gold’s list from last year — and you can also read it online. [LA Weekly]

• ON BECOMING ONE MORE HORSE’S ASS: After 12 weird years of living in Los Angeles, California, I’m moving to Marfa, Texas early next week. Fitting that the sky above my house in Atwater Village is dominated by a massive plume of smoke rising from a forest fire in the San Gabriel Mountains; it always feels good to commence an exodus under a rain of ash. Chambo’s Internet Activity Pages shall resume upon activation of Arthur’s Marfa Station. [Bobby Bare – “One More Horse’s Ass”]

• SPEAKING OF MARFA: Yacht recorded their most recent album, See Mystery Lights, down there in West Texas. They’re giving away copies of the instrumental version over at the Free Music Archive and I am going to be playing it all weekend — along with lots and lots of Doug Sahm — while I load the moving truck. [Free Music Archive]

Scientific American: Don't Go Solar Solo!

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One of the many challenges of using both emerging technology and pre-industrial building techniques comes when the adobe architect, solar power installer or graywater recycler runs up against city codes that are either outdated, ignorant or designed to bolster the entrenched building supply and construction industry. The point being, as with so many other things in life, is that it’s a lot more fun to stand up to the bastards with a little help from our friends. Scientific American has a new blog called “60-Second Solar” where George Musser reveals the tips ‘n’ tricks of installing solar panels, and in this installment he turns the keyboard over to a dude from Washington D.C.’s Mt. Pleasant Solar Cooperative, who tells us how they got together, and how you can do something similar in your town.

An excerpt from “The pleasant way to go solar: neighborhood cooperatives”:

“I figured we could get something going within a year. Boy, were we wrong. As we grappled with what was actually involved in making our dreams real, we spent two years climbing the solar power learning curve, and it was steep.

First of all, we hit the reality that solar power is relatively expensive, costing up to a third more than carbon-based energy sources. If we were going to do something, we had to figure out how to cut every cost possible. Second, the economies of scale that we envisioned simply don’t exist in residential solar installations; at least that’s what veteran solar installers around Washington told us. Third, the practical realities of going solar in a cost-effective way turned out to be fiendishly complex set of interrelated problems.

We learned, for example, that holding down the price of solar power depended, in part, on the implementation of solar-friendly practices such as “net metering” and “smart metering” by our local utility, the Potomac Electric Power Company, otherwise known as Pepco. But Pepco’s willingness to do right by solar customers depended on the views of the local Public Service Commission (PSC), a powerful but opaque body that moved with the speed and friendliness of a glacier. The PSC, in turn, looked for guidance from the D.C. City Council, a dozen elected officials from a majority African-American city, who were hearing complaints that a previous solar rebate program amounted to a handout to wealthy whites.

Amidst this welter of conflicting forces, our beautiful but innocent idea of neighborhood solar power was not enough. We needed expertise to give our project credibility with decision makers who could deliver real financial benefits for our members. So we scaled back our ambitions and started with smaller steps. We touted basic energy-efficiency measures to our members as the prerequisite for going solar. (Drafty windows and outdated appliances waste solar energy just as fast as they waste carbon energy!) We arranged for discounted home energy audits for our members. We bought compact fluorescent bulbs wholesale and sold them at cost to Coop members. And we started networking with City Council aides, national green groups, PSC members, and industry experts seeking advice about how to make solar power cheaper and more accessible.”

Click here to read the whole thing over at Scientific American.