Rustic Cyberpunk

Coffee & Cabins

Cabin Process

3 min read

Over the course of looking into separating needs from wants, and distilling what's left to absolute necessities, I kept noticing that the specific problems I'm trying to solve are less about the technology and more about how it's packaged. Knowledge and experience are everywhere, if one spends the time to seek them out. Specific functions need to be separated to independent tasks which can be tackled with various methodologies and devices, if needed.

The things I need to get done are basic at the core level: To be fed, clothed, and sheltered. To be sheltered is what the cabin is for. The wood stove is an extension of this. Arguably, the library is as well as sheltering in comfort and safety is an extension of my needs, blending into wants. I haven't sorted out clothing yet, but feeding myself is not far down on the list.

Every action I'll take as part of cabin life will have a specific list of functions. The tasks and functions within these necessities need more attention. Every process needs an order of execution as well.

Before getting most of the work done, I'll need to charge the batteries for my tools, which means building the solar power shed and deploying the associated wiring first.

A rough breakdown of the cabin process, adapted from the previous list:

  • Build the solar power shed and deploy charging infrastructure
  • Build the main cabin relying on the power shed
  • Build the wood stove while sheltering in the main cabin
  • Build the library before the winter
  • Build the farm at first thaw in spring

The mechanism of the composting toilet will be for another day. I'll likely be staying in a tent or trailer until the main cabin is built.

The solar power shed can hopefully be built with a single charge of each tool so that once the wiring is complete, the shed can sustain itself and provide power to charge the tools used. I can then proceed to

build other structures as long as I can procure raw material. Von Neumann cabins with human intervention.

The power shed is also the single largest financial investment of the entire project. There's no escaping needing to buy a bank of batteries and solar panels. I'm not comfortable utilizing used panels, especially due to the large initial investment, and since I'll be running 120V cables underground to the main cabin. The reason for separating the power source from the main shelter, as mentioned in the "On Cabins" post is so I can place the main cabin in the shade and I won't need to worry about cooling in the summer. It's quite easy to heat a small shelter in winter. It's also to decouple "tech" from "non-tech" aspects of cabin life.

The power shed will also serve as storage for all my tools when not in use so I can better enjoy the main cabin unmolested by the ambiance of construction. The library will hopefully be built quickly with the leftovers from the main cabin build. Since I'm not running power to it, the structure will be the least complicated.

I've talked before about walking tractors and farming, but I haven't really looked that closely into the mechanisms of land movement. Eventually, I'll need some kind of farm to supplement what I can get at the store, and there will be a greater need to move earth in bulk at some point.

To build or to farm, I'll be moving earth. It would be nice if I can use just hand tools to accomplish this, and that is likely the first step in building the shelters, but it's impractical to rely on hand tools alone when there's no guarantee I'll retain my health as-is in the future. I'd like to try my hand at building an excavator once my welding skills are up to the task. This too will be another unit of functionality in the cabin life.

Potatoes, Onions, Eggs, and Pork

3 min read

Sustenance seems to be one of the most frequent topics to come up when discussing living off-grid. A stable source of food is only common sense, but I'd like to avoid going to the store as much as I could. Where I'm planning to build the cabin, there aren't that many grocery stores in the first place. There also seems to be fewer and fewer stores selling fresh produce in rural areas in general, even in New York. This is a problem on its own in addition to the dwindling hardware and convenience stores.

While my own dietary needs are modest, it's dangerous to ignore proper nutrition, especially when I'm living away from most conveniences.

I used to joke that potatoes are better than Bitcoin. They work in any century as a medium of exchange, they inherently show proof of work, and potatoes are delicious and nutritious. Best of all, potatoes are hacker-proof and are offline by default. It's quite possible to survive on just potatoes for months, and farm it multiple times in the same year, but to save my sanity and long-term health, I'd like to add other staples to my diet if I'm doing some farming anyway.

Farming in general is quite involved, and it's still unrealistic to expect most of my diet to come from my own work. At least initially. But I'd like to add onions to the mix. After potatoes, onions have the longest shelf-life of the types of produce I can farm fairly reasonably. Unlike potatoes, I can't harvest onions year-round so I'll need to make sure preservation is in order. If my solar setup can withstand refrigeration, I'd also like to try and keep a few other things long-term too.

I've been unintentionally excluding red meat from my diet for a long time. In the past, I used to take in pork quite regularly. A steak is good once in a while, but I haven't had one in years either. I used to love a nice New York Steak. I have never worked in an animal farm and I have no idea if I have the skills to start. I'd still like to learn if it's possible, although I'm sure I'll be at the apprentice level for quite some time if I start now. Not being a hunter, I don't know if I have what it takes to go through with it.

Farming pigs is the most involved and probably the most unrealistic thing to consider right now, but I don't want to exclude it entirely.

I dislike the idea of being a hypocrite although we all are to some degree. I think, subconsciously, that's probably another reason why I've avoided red meat for a while. Somehow, eating a hamburger without taking the animal's life myself is a bit like outsourcing murder. Likewise, eating bacon strips without doing the slicing myself is a bit of a cop-out. I don't have a problem collecting eggs or going fishing, which is probably why I'm OK with omelets and salmon.

We should probably be more reluctant to take lives, of any sort for any reason, without facing them in-person.

I don't expect to do a lot of fishing, but maybe keeping a few hens for the eggs is a viable option. I'll probably have some leftover material from building the cabin so a small chicken coup might be doable. There are some lovely chicken coup ideas out there which are simple and yet sturdy enough to last through harsh winters.

However things go, I'll need to be extra careful with my budget even before construction starts so that I'll have enough resources left over for several years.

Farming à la Cyberpunk

5 min read

Nature is beautiful. That's only true when looking at it from the safety of a window or briefly exposed to flesh in relatively clean areas. When you get up close, especially to grow things, there are all manner of critters that can wreak havoc on your immune system. Especially since we're far more sheltered now than we used to be. It's one thing to want to be demolished by weather, but quite another to experience starvation or food poisoning.

I'd like to grow a few things in addition to some basic gardening, but I'd also like to try my hand at introducing a level of automation into it. I don't think I'll have an actual "farm" in the sense of producting enough to sell, but I like the idea of supplementing what I need with a little extra as a buffer. I'll be extra careful not to lose perspective along the way.

This video is a few years old, but it is a great example of something I'd like to try eventually.

That's a beautiful illustration of what's possible with experimentation and drive. I wish Eryk Maundu and Kijani Grows all their well deserved success.

Hobbyist tech has improved quite a bit since that video was made and the Kijani Grows approach to aquaponics might be the way to try things small-scale. Especially for someone like me who lives in an apartment. Until I can actually secure land to try more expansive things, I'd like to experiment as much as I can in miniature.

While I like the idea of getting a pre-made "kit" to start gardening, I like starting from scratch even more. Plus, it's a great opportunity to learn what I can do with most of these components and experience more about the approaches I can take versus what actually works in the real world.

In that original project, they were using an Arduino Uno as the core with several relay boards and communication shields. This approach works for the most part, but also introduces several points of failure. In later revisions, it seems they have already replaced a lot of the disparate systems with a more integrated controller board that runs OpenWrt. That's a very sensible move.

I think a balance of passive tech and active electronics might be the way to go.

Water levels are probably best left up to passive balancing as much as possible, while moisture and temperature monitoring, fan control(s), and notifications should probably be automated. In that regard, I think there can be two main components; A core device which handles status reports and maybe notifications over the Internet and lower power devices that handle triggering relays and such. This also decopules the smaller relay controlling devices from the Big Bad Internet. Safety first!

A similar approach to that phone booth idea might work here as well. Leaving notifications to a central, hardened, device while the rest keep running their own tasks adds a degree of decentralization and resilience. This decoupling also makes it easier to power each gardening "unit" independently via solar panels and batteries (relays and controllers don't need a lot of power, but pumps and fans do). So if a single board and its independent system goes down, it won't take the whole farm with it. And replacing a single controller board should be less expensive than a bigger device.

A farming "unit" might just be a single greenhouse the same size as my cabin design. If I can build several on one plot of land, I can also diversify what I grow. I don't know if my first attempt should be aquaponics, but it's an option. It will obviously be much more involved than a typical herb garden.

Arudino boards are more capable now than the models available 8 years ago, but another option might be the ESP32; The same one I was originally planning to use for my DIY word processor. It may be a tad too underpowered for that task, but handling relays should be far more simple and straightforward.

It also has Bluetooth, but I probably won't need that.

And it comes with built-in WiFi (with WPA2), which gets rid of yet another another physical connection to a control source and obviates the additional shield board if I went with an Arduino.

As in the Kijani Grows project, the control and notification source should probably be something that runs OpenWrt. Router software should be easier to harden if I actually do decide to let it send me notifications over the Internet. This way, I can independently update the notification system from all the myriad controllers too. A simple router that already runs OpenWrt I was looking at was the GL-MT300N.

Ironically, it also has Tor capability so it might be interesting to run an automated farm over Tor for the full Cyberpunk experience.

What really caught my attention in the new V2 are the two IPEX connectors for external antennas and the power requirements. The original package doesn't come with external antennas at all, but there's no reason to keep it in the original package if I plan to give it some margin of weather resistance anyway. It might be interesting to see if I can put all the ESP32 controllers on a dedicated WiFi LAN. The router board itself can connect upstream via ethernet and run on solar too if needed since it needs 5V at 1 amp and only uses 2.75 watts at most.

I'll need to check out what Aruduino IDE projects are available for the ESP32 before I can truly explore what's possible.

The entire concept of aquaponics is fascinating to me since it mimics a food cycle at least part way. There are extra bits and bobs for sure, but it also makes food variety possible, which I think is overlooked too often when it comes to distributed, sustainable tech.

Two-wheel / Walking Tractors

3 min read

I was thinking about self-sustaining long after the tech jobs are gone from my life and I've moved on to other, more enjoyable, pursuits. Unfortunately, life doesn't survive on happiness alone. There's the option to farm with a big enough land parcel and maybe haul wood to make furniture. But these are only viable with enough resources, time, and of course equipment.

If I do some farming or gardening, it's highly unlikely I can sustain myself with that alone. One needs clothes, tools, fuel etc. And bartering alone isn't viable to help me procure all of them. I'll need an additional source of income even if it's to maintain any equipment. Speaking of equipment...

I just discovered there's a fandom wiki for two-wheeled tractors.

two wheel tractor
A Chinese tractor I found on AliExpress

I remember seeing these everywhere when I was a little kid. Farmers were tilling rice paddy fields while walking behind them or they were on the road pulling bales of hay and whatnot on trailers. Among other very large and conspicuously unsafe-looking loads. I also remember how versitile these are with a myriad of attachments and varying towing capacities.

They're the larger cousins of rotor tillers now found in many gardening and home-improvement stores. Tillers themselves aren't terribly complicated, but spare parts are harder to come by for older models. With the prevelance of planned obsolescence and copious amounts of copyrights and DRM on farming equipment, I wondered whether there's an alternative that I can maybe DIY or buy cheaply and modify as needed. The tricky bits are usually the attachments and accessories.

There's the Open Source Ecology project that aims to bring machinery to the masses with a modular, extensible, and maintainable focus. Some of the machines look very promising, while the rest are prototypes and rough drafts. There is a tractor there too, but it's still in the planning stage. It also seems to be setting aside some common conventions already prevelant in existing equipment in order to be more compatible with its own ecosystem, like their "power cube".

A more fancy model with a seat

I was thinking of what's possible to build using off-the-shelf parts today. Electric motors are nice, but the battery costs can't be ignored. A cheap gas engine may not be as ecologically friendly, but I wonder if a 4-stroke generator engine can be repurposed to power a small tractor. The weight is just about right to prevent it from sinking into the soil (with the right wheel width), and has enough ballast to give traction while pulling useful loads.

I wondered if I can use the axle of an old trailer as a starting point, but it would help to have a proper transmission. My first thought was to use a motorcycle transmission, but this too has its own share of complications.

Then I remembered golf carts. I don't know how well they'll deal with mud, but I'm sure some of the more rugged versions are a better fit for these. A solar powered, two-wheel, electric tractor that I can use

for hauling equipment or double as a simple DIY farm vehicle would be ideal, if not for the cost. A tractor powered by a small gas engine would be the next best thing. Especially if I can work in some of the same attachments that are used for their commercial counterparts.

This is going to be a huge project and it would definitely have to wait until after the cabing. It was still an interesting adventure imagining the possibilities while researching the working principles of a simple tractor.