Nov 122021

It all started with hurricane Ida, or probably Katrina, but Ida restarted it. I remembered how much it sucks to not have power for a while and how much difference a little ice and a fan makes.

I’ve been down this road before. Katrina sent me down rabbit holes that led to free-piston sterling coolers, peltiers, vortex tubes, and of course evaporative cooling. But life and laziness prevented me from doing much about it until now. Long story short I got a DC portable freezer, an Aplicool C-20 that’s about 20L and supposed to be able to get down to -4F. But I think that’s probably rated in Michigan where 60F is a hot day or something, it struggled in my 76F apartment but it was pretty obviously an insulation problem because the exterior got really, really cold.

I considered ripping the whole thing apart and rebuilding it but I figured there was a good chance that could end with no freezer and a bunch of trash so I decided I’d do something probably crazier and just build more insulation around the cooler. Kind of problematic to insulate 3/4 of a rectangle when 1/4 is generating heat, but I figured it might work, so I built this monstrosity.

And surprisingly it freaking works. Without the extra insulation it will freeze water and get to about 20F, but it’ll stay there and run the compressor forever. With the foam it goes all the way to -4F and cycles the compressor on\off. I haven’t figured out the duty cycle and the actual gains but it’s an obvious improvement.

So yay, I did a thing that worked out the way I semi planned… now what? I don’t really have much use for it in an apartment so it goes in the stack of gear I made but will never actually use. Actually pretty huge addition so it’s at the bottom of the stack… anyway- it is what it is. If\when I get a tinyhome it’ll be great to have.

But the unexpected lesson I learned from this exercise is that this pink foam shit is pretty awesome. Very, very strong and workable and insulates like nobody’s business, and I had like 3 extra 2’x2′ sheets of it.

So I made more mostrosities.

This is a mini cooler that holds 2 square instant Community coffee things. They’re great because they’re square, and I use the coffee anyway. They work sort of like those old hard freezer packs. Not sure why I made this but I kind of wanted to see how long they’d stay frozen with 2″ of foam. The answer is about 3 days in an apartment between 70-80F. I was impressed.

Another one… this one was because I got into the idea of ‘directional freezing’ so I can make perfectly clear ice. But I initially misunderstood the idea so and just thought I was supposed to slow down the freezing, but there’s more to it. So this doesn’t work and it’s basically a really great cooler for about one or two big ice cubes.

I’m still not entirely sure what I’m up to here but there’s a peltier chip involved. I did finally learn that controlling peltiers with MOSFETS is way more trouble than it’s worth and there’s no shame in just slamming it on-off with a relay like a normal human being.

Oct 122021

MAD MADaaS has a very redundant name, but it’s for a good reason.

For the unfamiliar MADaaS is Mutually Assured Destruction as a Service. MAD MADaaS’s marketing pitch is that they provide containerized annihilation and extinction services on galaxy scale cloud native infrastructure for a fraction of the cost of on-prem MAD.

MADaaS makes a lot of sense, a lot more than MAD itself really. But if you have an arrangement with another group that if you die, they die- outsourcing the assurance of destruction to a third party is the most reasonable option. Of course most MAD subscribers are primitive cultures unaware of galactic cloud technology services, but there are enough advanced civilized grudges to maintain a thriving MADaaS marketplace.

MAD MADaaS has legacy dominance in the MADaaS market because they really are innately innovative in the field and have reinvented the industry several times across the eons. MAD MADaaS is headquartered on MAD planet. The MAD people are inscrutable in many ways, only the MAD people understand their internal cultural values and practices and they don’t communicate with offworlders about anything but setting up MADaaS contracts, it’s their primary export.

What is known about the MAD planet is mainly biological. It’s called MAD planet because the planet’s entire ecosystem seems to have evolved in accordance with MAD doctrine. Most biological systems on MAD possess the ability to cause extreme damage to their environment on demise.

There’s a wide range of destructive mechanisms. The semi-intelligent fruiting body of the MAD Worm-Tree can force its pulmonary organ through its digestive organ. This pumps digestive fluid though its optical cavity where catalytic enzymes decompose the digestive fluid into a toxic gas that can destroy any MAD life in the vicinity. Some creatures can emit death-cry like signals which strongly attract dangerous creatures to the area, or even release other biological infestations.

It’s pretty insane by Darwinian standards, though it is still Darwinian. The big difference is the evolutionary pressure of direct predation is pretty rare. That’s not to say things don’t eat each other, they just can’t take any risks that their prey will know you’re about to eat them

So there’s no hunting, not exactly. Even ambush predation is rare because mistakes are just too destructive. There’s an extraordinary amount of camouflage and deceptive markings. Pretty much every creature looks like a few other creatures and can imitate a natural phenomenon or two. In the MAD ecosystem the practice of acquiring another creature’s biological material for consumption looks a lot more like a cross between farming and seduction than the classic hunting or foraging you see on most worlds.

For instance MAD Swift-Bats eat the young of the MAD Mushmouse because infant Mushmouse have not developed the Mushmouse’s ability to violently dissolve into a thick fluid which quickly cures rock hard to permanently immobilize or smother predators. They avoid the parent Mushmouses ire by feeding them and living among the Mushmouse colonies, assuming the role of midwife and caretaker of the young. The mice reproduce prodigiously, and the bats evolved to maintain balance with the Mushmice population so a few young mice aren’t missed. The balance is pretty important because if a bat gets too hungry and tries to eat a grown mouse, or if the mice attack the bat, triggering the bats MAD-reflexive hypergolic chemical explosion, everyone loses.

There’s a lot of that kind of warped harvester-ant kind of interaction going on with MAD planet. A lot of interspecies sexual and reproductive deception too. Lot of things eat each other’s babies, some semi-voluntarily. Of course a lot of that is like seeds and fruits and such because those kind of count as something’s baby especially in ecosystems where things that look like plants also have lungs and stuff, but there’s also a lot of eating eggs and regular babies. That sounds a lot like regular nature, but it works out pretty differently with MAD.

The direct predation that does exist is necessarily based on defeating the other creatures MAD-reflex. Reliance on killing a creature before the reflex can be triggered is still too risky, so the only effective predation adapts to the reflex.

The MAD Tentaclepede’s MAD-reflex involves spontaneous cartilization of its hundreds of tentacled feet into needle sharp protrusions laced with a paralytic neurotoxin, which burst from the body after a final muscular spasm. The MAD Horned-Wheel-Scorpions evolved a hunting technique whereby they roll over a Tentaclepede, puncturing it with its horns, but rolling on to a safe distance to wait for the Tentaclepede to die and expend its legmunition.

An intelligent, generalist species eventually evolved that could take advantage of several different survival strategies. Despite, or perhaps because of their MAD tendencies, they managed to develop a thriving technological civilization. The MAD people are sort of bipeds, but have a couple of long vestigial wings they hop around on sometimes. They might have two heads, or a head and a bulb that looks like a head. Little is certain about their physiology because if you piss one off enough it goes nuclear, very literally. Their thermonuclear-MAD capabilities are due to implanted technology, not biological. It’s unclear what their natural MAD defence is but it’s presumed to be statistically less destructive than their nukes, but probably a worse way to die. The absence of regular nuclear detonations detected on their planet suggests they’re smart enough to stick to their natural MAD at home.

Apparently they started developing an implantable nuclear device alongside their first attempts at spaceflight. It was just assumed they might meet other species and if so they’d need a reliable deterrent. It took a while to develop anything like normal interstellar trade relations. At first nobody even knew there was a new space-capable species around, they just thought there’d been a spate of unfortunate reactor meltdowns in sectors near the MAD planet lately. 

Eventually they learned to chill out long enough to not blow everything up long enough to have a dialog, but they also learned they didn’t have much in common with most space-capable species. But they did see a potential market for something they were really good at.

The MAD people’s first interstellar export was the iMAD. It was just a mass-produced version of their implantable thermonuclear devices tailored for various other species physiology. It was an instant hit. It wasn’t the first implantable nuke on the market by any means. But implantable nukes were always sold alongside novelty cyanide teeth and tachyon foil hats and such, they were associated with flat-universe conspiracy nuts and the like. The MAD people found a way to market personal mutually assured destruction as both a cool and responsible lifestyle choice. 

iMAD devices became as fashionable as they were functional. Some custom luxury models could even leave the owner’s monogram in the blast crater. But iMAD had trouble breaking into industrial, military, and government markets. Even for totalitarian regimes willing to implement forced adoption, the relatively small yield of an implantable device just wasn’t enough to move tyrants to commit to large contracts.

Perhaps surprisingly the MAD people didn’t invent MADaaS, that honor goes to a sentient nanite swarm left over from a planet that let their nanotech get away from them and became a planet sized sentient nanite swarm. The nanite swarm started a cottage MADaaS industry, serving only the surviving offworld colonies from its original planet. When the MAD people found out about the idea they committed all their resources to expanding the market potential of MADaaS.

And I think that’s about as far as I can stretch that idea. I could go on about how the MAD people engage in political intrigue to start a bunch of conflict to create a demand for their services but that seems kinda tedious, and obvious, so I guess I’ll just stop here- but I do want to say the MADaaS tagline again in a used car salesman tone so here’s that- 

MAD MADaaS’s provide containerized annihilation and extinction services on galaxy scale cloud native infrastructure for a fraction of the cost of on-prem MAD.

May 032021

The boxes have evolved again. I extended one to 600mm high so I can move the light further away to test levels a bit. Also got some coroplast and lined them with aluminum foil for the side panels but still using pizza box cardboard for the top.

I also got a peristaltic pump to test moving fluid around because I think the main problem I’m having is the water is too stagnant. At some point I read that duckweed likes stagnant water, but I think ‘stagnant’ in nature is still a lot more dynamic than a gallon of water in a pan in a box my kitchen. So I’m trying to figure out how to move nutrients around and keep the surface from filming up without disturbing the wolffia too much.

I’ve got a really rudimentary filter system with an acrylic pipe hanging from the basin in the water so I can drop in a tube to pump water from the bottom without sucking anything up from the surface layer. If I stir the water up a little it slowly pulls any algae to the tube and I can pull it up. That seems to be helping keep the algae growth a little bit in check but I need to make a less manual system.

The ‘sugar press mud’ trials have been interesting if not productive. I don’t think it provides enough nutrition for wolffia alone with or without light. But mixed with a little regular dirt it seems to increase growth above just regular dirt. Unfortunately the growth it increases is more than just the wolffia. It turns things into an algae soup faster than regular dirt and kills off the wolffia.

That seems to be the big trick here- limiting algae growth to give the wolffia a chance because everything I do do far that helps the wolffia helps algae a lot more.

I also tried a different species of duckweed called ‘Lemna Minor’ just because. It’s not ‘mixotrophic’ and doesn’t really fit my whole ‘space grits’ concept but I’m still just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. I don’t think I like Lemna Minor much so I think I’ll try to find another wolffia variant to play with rather than a whole other species.

I think the next phase of this will be all about not growing algae, which if funny to me considering I wanted to grow algae before wolffia, but this experience is reinforcing the apprehension that kept from actually doing it. Algae is insane. I’m starting to wonder if I should get some little aquarium shrimp because apparently they help with that. I’d rather not because I’ll probably kill them and I want to learn to grow wolffia without critter assistance, but the more I read the more I think that’s probably the way to go at least until I get a better grip on what I’m doing.

Also I’ve moved away from my earlier obsession with time-lapses and microscopy. If I need to keep the water moving to grow them I’ll never get useful time-lapses so I need to rethink my ideas about using computer vision to characterize growth. I’d like to say I could try to ‘train’ a neural network to visually extract growth information from video, but if I was ever smart enough to figure that out I’m way too lazy now.

I have to give a nod to MakersLED t-slot LED heatsink housings. It just comes with the sink parts and fan, you supply the LED, power, and wiring. Really decent little kit here and works great with the 80/20 frame. I put a little thermal paste on, screwed down a COB LED, wired in an AC-DC converter for the fan and voila- a nice, modular little LED lamp and I can swap in whatever chip I want. I like these a lot. I got two of them running 50W LEDs.

Apr 022021

So this is a bucket of ‘sugar press mud’ or ‘belt press mud’. Provided courtesy of Louisiana Sugar Refinery in Gramercy, LA. They also provided a PDF with a chemical analysis but I’m not sure if it’s okay to post that and nobody but me reads this anyway so I didn’t.

It’s a byproduct of sugar cane processing. My understanding is it’s what came from bagasse but just wasn’t awesome enough to become molasses. It looks, smells, and sounds indistinguishable from dirt. I haven’t tasted it but I can guess. It feels almost like very rich topsoil, but disturbingly sticky. Like dirt sprayed with watered down syrup. My keen scientific intuition tells me that is probably related to the fact that sugary things tend to be sticky and this is made from the thing that makes sugary things sugary.

The first thing I did was roll up a little ball of it an drop it in a watermeal jar. I admit I was slightly disappointed it didn’t immediately overflow with watermeal growth like mentos and diet coke, but if it actually had that would have been weirder. It does roll up pretty nicely- kind of of a crumbly, semi-chunky dough.

So this is short post because I have no idea what’s next with this stuff. I’m not really in control, some force is making me want to grow watermeal and it made me think sugar press mud was how to do it so I got some. Weirdest psychosis ever, but it’s pretty innocuous and distracts me from the old familiar ‘existential paralysis’ brand of psychosis so I’m just going with it.

I’ll probably freeze some because it’s definitely going to become a fungus\mold extravaganza soon. I’m not really into growing mushrooms but I can’t help but wonder if there’s an opportunity there too. But unless\until some force makes me want to grow mushrooms too I’ll just keep wondering.