Andre and Margaret talk about a lot of things. They talk about recycling/reusing/remelting plastics, turning them into fuel, setting up solar power systems, setting up DIY internet, intranets and mesh networks as well as some concepts dealing with solar punk and hydroponics, and of course how most things can be easily analogized to baking a cake.
This show is published by Strangers in A Tangled Wilderness. We can be found at www.tangledwilderness.org, or on Twitter @TangledWild and Instagram @Tangled_Wilderness. You can support the show on Patreon at www.patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness.
Andre on Solar Power, DIY Internet, Mesh Networks, and Solar Punk
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host, Margaret killjoy. And I use ‘she’ and ‘they’ pronouns. And I am very excited about this week’s episode, which I guess I probably say, most weeks. But, I’m excited to be talking to Andre, who is someone I first ran across his work because someone was just I think someone sent it to me or was showing me these, these pictures of someone who had ‘hydroponic trash’ as the user name, and was talking about making off grid internet through mesh networking. And I was like, “Yeah, this is up my alley,” but not my alley that I’ve actually explored. It’s a alley that I’m interested in. So I’m very excited. I think you all will be very excited. But first, this podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchists podcasts. And here’s a jingle from another show in the network.
Okay, if you could introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns, and then maybe kind of a little bit about yourself about the kind of stuff that we’re going to be talking about today. Like how you got into it or what you do?
Yeah, for sure. My name is Andre, my pronouns are he/him. I go by Hydroponic Trash on Twitter and Tik Tok. I focus a lot on upcycling things that people would normally kind of regard as like trash, like recycling plastic containers to make indoor vertical hydroponic gardens. I’m a hacker, a gardener, a woodworker, I kind of tend to do a lot of random shit. So. I also write speculative solar punk fiction on combining technology, both low and high tech, with social change, and balancing that with the ecosystem. With that being said, I’ve been also kind of focusing in on infrastructure, and how people can build passive and active systems to meet their basic needs like food, water, shelter, communications, electricity. Right now, what that kind of looks like is making off grid intranet networks, off grid solar power, and some other passive projects that kind of deal with DIY off grid stuff.
Yeah! You basically just listed all of my interests. This very exciting to me. I’m going to ask at the end of the episode as well, but do you want to say where people can find like, say, for example, your speculative fiction, like, I know that you write about a lot of the stuff that you do, and you also write fiction. Where can people find that?
Yeah, so mainly, I post my long form stuff on anarchosolarpunk.substack.com. So mainly post my like, long form writing on Substack. But, I post a lot of written form content and other stuff to my Twitter, HydroponicTrash and Tik Tok, I posted videos whenever I can make videos about a whole bunch of various different topics or projects that I’m working on.
That’s cool. Okay, so I was gonna start with off grid internet. But first, I want to ask you about recycling plastic trash, because I’m really excited about ways to…recycling is like fake, right, these days, you know, like market based recycling? It seems like most, I don’t have the numbers in front of me or whatever. But it seems like more and more if you put something in the recycling bin, it just gets thrown in the landfill. And so I’m really excited about ways that people can directly recycle. So, what does that look like that you’re recycling plastic trash. Is this like melting it down? Or are you just like repurposing it or what’s happening?
So, at the moment, it’s mostly repurposing, but I am going to start doing actual plastic recycling by melting it down and making it into other objects. But um, so right now repurposing plastic, it really started when I, like, just saw how many plastic containers there were just out in the world, I’ve been picking up trash in like my local park for a little bit. So, while picking up trash, it was like, it makes you really, really aware of the type of pollution that’s out there in the world, because you’re picking it up out of like waterways and in parks and stuff. So. it got me thinking of like, okay, well, plastic to-go containers, for instance, how do we actually like reuse these types of things. So, what I started doing was taking old Tupperware, that was just kind of sitting in my cabinet, sitting in my kitchen. And I drilled holes for it to put in net cups, which are usually used for hydroponics, and I just started growing plants in it. So trying to find some creative and different ways to not only like reuse plastic in a safe manner, but not only to reuse the plastic, but to find a new use for it. So that way, it didn’t just end up going into the landfill. And it was also kind of doing something productive as well.
Yeah. Yeah, I, I got really excited when I, I people think people might have already heard me talk about this, but I’m really excited about the idea of basically like, setting up mutual aid recycling in the same way that I think that neighborhoods can compost with each other. Like, some of the infrastructure, it seems like is better put at a neighborhood level, like a small community level than like a, you know, an individual level. But I’m curious when you start repurposing it….Okay, so the things that I’ve come up with for plastic–I haven’t done any of these things.This is all just me falling down rabbit holes on YouTube and stuff.–The main things is people taking certain kinds and making DIY 3D printable plastic. Other ones are like literally just melting it down and putting it into forms and molds. And then the one that I’m like, kind of the most excited about, although it’s sort of terrible is that apparently you can make diesel fuel out of plastic DIY? I don’t know, like, what do you? What are your aspirations? Or what are you thinking on for your DIY recycling?
So, all of that pretty much entire, all the stuff that you just said, is pretty much what I want to do. So I’ll go into some more repurposing stuff and talking about specifically about additive manufacturing and recycling inputs into stuff. So yeah, like, recycling, plastics is a really big thing. So recycling PLA plastic or recycling…there’s a whole bunch of plastics that will melt and be able to remelt that you can make in certain different things. And I think that recycling plastics specifically for 3d printing is going to be kind of like the next frontier of additive manufacturing, because not only are you taking plastics…so say, for instance…it’s a full cycle…So, we could be not only cleaning up the environment of plastic waste, but using that plastic and re-melting it down and making it into new objects, when otherwise that plastic would have just been floating in some water in a creek or sitting, you know, not deteriorating in a landfill.
And so from there, it kind of opens up a whole new space of thinking about the things that we use and thinking about manufacturing in general, because we’re moving away from mining the earth and using natural resources and exploiting the natural resources to make the inputs for the stuff. And instead, mining the trash and mining the stuff that we’ve that we’ve thrown away and regarded as trash and mining that. So, I kind of think of it as like a closed loop, circular ecosystem of removing trash from the environment, repurposing it. And then not only that, kind of changing our social relations when it comes to how we deal with objects, changing our conceptions of things of like disposability, changing our conceptions of how we treat objects, and moving away from disposal into like modularity or repurposing stuff. So yeah, I think it’s really interesting to think of it in that way of like, instead of making these new things, taking what we’ve already polluted the earth with and making things out of that.
Yeah, no, this is…I’m just gonna basically over and over be like, “Yeah, this is this is my alley. This is the shit that I love.” Yeah, one of the things that I notice is that, you know, from living off–I don’t currently live off grid, but I’ve spent a lot of my time living off grid–is you start noticing every single object that comes into your purview, right? Because ‘what are you going to do with it at the end?’ becomes this very important thing. If you don’t have trash pickup, if you don’t have a way to just easily make the thing go away, then you have to be like, “Okay, I’m going to compost this, I’m going to, you know, compost that.” I was just thinking of cardboard. And I was like, “Oh, I used to burn all my cardboard, but I’m gonna try and move to composting it,” you know. And, you know, just like thinking, “Okay, I’m responsible for all of these objects, I’ve chosen to caretake.” And this isn’t me trying to be like, “Oh, recycling is gonna save the world,” or whatever, because it’s like, but for me, it’s more about when we think about when we start thinking of small scale systems, based on all of the things involved, I think that puts us in a better position to imagine better futures. Because we actually have to think to ourselves like, “Well, if I don’t want, if I want to use plastic, what the fuck am I going to do with it afterwards?” And I mean, I don’t actually particularly, I used to sort of hate plastic. And now I’m kind of like now that I think of mining the trash for plastic. I sort of like it, you know?
Yeah, I could talk more about turning plastic into fuel.
Yeah, please, do I only know the like YouTube level of it.
Yeah, so another part of that is…okay, so, even if we were to say, for instance, like in the future, get everything that we wanted, have the big ‘R’ Revolution, you know, have the utopic vision that we have come to fruition, there’s still going to be the problem of trash, there’s still going to be the problem of yeah, like, what do we do with plastic, even after it’s like, use has kind of gone through, and we can’t reuse anymore? Like, what do we do with it?Like, another option of that, too, is using the plastic as a fuel source. So you can do stuff like pyrolysis, where basically, you’re heating up plastic, condensing that, and basically making it back into a form of burnable fuel. And like, you know, personally, I absolutely hate combustible fuels, obviously, for their, for their, their impact to the environment. But then again, there are a lot of things that are absolutely necessary to run. So say for instance, you know, if we are using renewables only to power things, one issue is, say, for instance, solar, if you don’t get a lot of sunlight, you don’t get power, pretty much. And you could supplement that with other, you know, renewable energies. But there might be times especially in say, like a natural disaster, when like, you absolutely need power to power like medical equipment to power to power hospitals, or to power equipment that we need up and running. And so that would be a time when, like, using these fuels would really make a lot of sense. On the flip side of that, too, talking about like fuel and stuff like that, there’s also making hydrogen fuel using electrolysis. So, using electricity, to basically separate the hydrogen from water, and then using that hydrogen as a fuel. So, that’s another, you know, way of approaching it and way of approaching energy, not thinking of extracting it from the earth, but trying to figure out new ways and different ways of finding energy that’s really all around us.
Yeah, my, my favorite, I looked into it at the last place I lived because was on enough of a hill, I got really into storing electrical power through gravity. You know, like, you could do this thing where I’ve seen people do it where you like, you set up…okay, you set up a water…a rain barrel at the bottom of your house. And then you also set up a rain barrel at the top of your house. And you use your solar while it’s running, instead of to power a lithium battery, which is obviously not a renewable resource, you know, which is the thing that people often forget. Well, I mean, whatever, it’s better than some things. But, you know, the battery storage is one of the weakest parts of off-grid power, right? And so you put your rain barrel at the top of your house, and then while there’s power, you pump the water up to the roof. And then when there’s not power coming through the solar, then the, the rainwater comes back down and it charges…like I mean this charges like a cell phone, this is not a you know, but people are talking about doing it on these industrial scales where you can do it like water towers, you can do it, you know, dammed areas, whatever.. I’m not presenting it as like the perfect solution, but just like interesting to me that there’s all of these different ways that we can store power that we don’t traditionally think of. I don’t know.
Yeah, exactly. And it’s one of those things where like, it isn’t necessarily profitable too, to do stuff like that. So it just isn’t being done right now. But if we were to look at living in a post capitalist world, obviously, we want to pick solutions and pick things that not only like are detrimental socially, but not detrimental ecologically as well. So like stuff like that is just so perfect in taking the energy that we have just all around us and using it in responsible ways. So yeah,
Okay, so this isn’t even what we were going to talk about today. I just got really excited about that. The the main thing I wanted to talk to you about today is, is off-grid internet is mesh networking is DIY internet. And I’m wondering if you could explain what that kind of concept is?
Yeah, for sure. So I’ll kind of go into a little bit of background on like, why, or what really got me started in thinking on this train of thought. So like, I live in Texas. And living in Texas has made me very aware of kind of the crumbling infrastructure in this country.
Yeah, I know, “What?” a private grid run by a corporation that seems to fail, even though there’s no regulation, “What?Oh.” And a big wake up call was winter storm Yuri, which like completely, absolutely fucked up Texas. It was a week long ice storm with snow. And, it just like completely destroyed the homes of just thousands of people. Thousands of people lost their lives because of the storm. And it just kind of pointed out the fact that ERCOT’s mismanagement of the power grid and the effects of that were just like, really big. So, it kind of got me thinking of ways to do communication and electricity, that didn’t rely on the crumbling infrastructure around me. So, after thinking about that kind of got me thinking about emergencies and building resilient systems, and communication was like really, really up there. Especially when it comes to communications during natural disasters. There’s, you know, there’s obviously Ham radio and handheld radios that people use during natural disasters. But, when it comes to actually sharing information, say, for instance, sharing books, sharing videos, communicating with a massive amount of people that doesn’t require specialized equipment, like radios, that’s a whole nother realm, you know. So, that’s what kind of got me thinking about making an emergency like community internet was so that way people in my neighborhood could have access to like, a chat server ebooks with like info on surviving different natural disasters, a media server to stream videos, either for educational content, or for just like, if the power’s out, you’re bred you know, you have nothing to do, sooo. And music is another big thing.
That was one of the things that before, before Covid, I was like, running around doing all my preparedness stuff. And I went out and got a hard drive and filled it with movies that I obtained legally. And I was kind of even as I was doing it. I was like, “What the hell disaster am I going to be in? What version of the apocalypse has me like bored watching movies?” And then COVID hit. And I like, and I was off grid, and I like, didn’t have good internet, you know? And I was like, “Oh, this, this is the crisis for which I prepared.” And, you know, whatever public domain television shows got me through, got me through the worst of it. Anyway, I didn’t mean to completely derail you, please continue.
No, no, no, that’s completely on topic, you know, especially because like, these kinds of systems allow people to communicate without needing to be face to face. And so what a lot of people don’t like think about are people who are immunodeficient who can’t like, go face to face in front of people or people with disabilities who it would be harder for them to physically go out and get a radio from somebody and start using it. So, you know, resilient systems that like keep everybody in mind that can access it like really big. But yeah, like COVID was a perfect…not really perfect, but you know, it definitely pointed out some some, some stuff that maybe we were all thinking about, but didn’t really want to think about, but…So, from thinking about all this stuff, what I kind of landed on was making a solar powered internet with like a Raspberry Pi as the server that ran all the services and a Raspberry Pi is a single board, like small computer that runs off of USB power. So it requires really, very little power. But, from there, you know, it’s fine to have your own small kind of like local network. But, I really wanted to come up with ways to try and expand that network. So, basically make like beacons to connect back to the main network to spread out the signal.
So, in a way, this kind of started off as just like a small off-grid, solar powered system. But, now it’s kind of grown out to be more of almost like a community wide Internet where like, we can add more routers to the network and spread the connections out from there.
How…How do? [Pause] How does that happen? Like, like are thre resources that, you know…how complicated is it? How expensive? Is it? How…it seems like it’s scalable, so you can kind of up the complexity and the expense as you want? But yeah, what’s involved?
So I, when I wrote the article, and like, was thinking about this, I really wanted to start from like the bare minimum, and try and convey the bare minimum of information that somebody would need to do this. So, starting off, I wanted to make sure to use things that were first of all easy to find, second of all, easy to work on, like the average person with some technical skills could pick it up and like, know what to do with it, and wasn’t something super proprietary, where maybe only a handful of people in a city would even know how to work it. So, it has to be, you know, easily picked up by your average person. So, that’s kind of where I wanted to start from was using the most basic hardware, the most basic software, and from there, you can build up to it. So, for example, like in the article that I wrote, that kind of goes by like step by step on how to make it, it’s more of like a recipe book almost. So, breaking it down into like, its fundamental parts, with core ingredients to make it what it is. So like, you know, a cake has core ingredients that you know, make it a cake, but you can add and subtract on top of it to make it work for whatever you need it to work for.
Well other people can.
Whenever I try to make a cake…I can make muffins and brownies. Anyways I’m that useful wit cakes yet.
Well, yeah, as long as you can find somebody to make it. That’s the biggest thing. Yeah.
Okay, what are some of those core ingredients?
So, the core ingredients are basically a client, a router, and a server. So, that’s pretty much it, which sounds really really reductive. But, when you boil it down, and kind of like, look at the core concept, that’s the three things you have. So, a client is a computer. Really, any computer. A router determines like what addresses computers in the network have, and it directs traffic. And a server is basically another computer that hosts the data for your clients to access. So. I’ll kind of walk through some of that stuff, too. So, like I said, A client can be really like literally any computer, it could be like a brand new MacBook, it could be a single board computer, like a Raspberry Pi, you could even use like a smart fridge to do this. It can literally be anything that…it can literally be any computer that can access the internet, you can use as a client to go onto the network, right? Yeah. And so next you have routers, which are basically like little boxes that can direct traffic and determine like, what addresses computers on the network have. So think of it as like mailing addresses almost. So, if I wanted to send information to somebody down the street, I would have an address and they would have an address, and the router is basically like a mailman who delivers that information from me to the address that I wanted to send it off to. And I’m obviously kind of like making this way more simpler than what it is, because in reality there’s like so many networking things in the middle that makes this happen but routers basically do that.
Okay, can this router in this case be like, like I have a router right now I believe that is connecting between my modem and my computer or something, right? Can Can. It sounds like this router is the most custom piece of this whole puzzle or is it something that you can also repurpose out of an existing like Wi-Fi router or something?
You can repurpose it out of any Wi-Fi router, which is awesome.
Hell yeah, cause it’s in every house.
It’s in every house. Every house has internet access, you have a router. All you have to do is change the networking settings to be able to basically connect back to whatever network you make. So, it doesn’t require you to go out and buy something. You probably already have it in your house already.
Yeah. Okay. I mean, you probably have to destroy the one you have, or you have to reprogram the one you’re having you have so you wouldn’t be able to use it and your regular internet?
Yeah, you would need to go find one in an abandoned house.
You could, you could. Yeah, I mean, like internet squatting is a, I guess, a new thing now so…. But the last kind of part of that is the server. And that’s like, again, really any computer that’s running software to share data. So, with those three pieces, a client, a router, and server, if you scale that up like a million times and add in fiber optic cables from the bottom of the ocean to connect routers and to data centers together, and then boom, you have the ‘Internet,’ right? So, like network engineers are probably going to be listening to this and be really mad about what I’m saying. But, the internet is basically just a giant combination of intranets. It’s a big intranet that’s been connected to other intranets, through a bunch of other networking equipment, protocols, datacenters, all that kind of stuff.
An an intranet is a is an internet, but a local one, a one that exists within like a building or a neighborhood or something is an intranet. It’s a network that is not part of the larger internet. I mean, it can be part of that. You can access it from the larger internet, but it’s sort of walled off. Is that a decent way to explain intranet?
Yeah, exactly. So, if you add your client, a router and a server, you basically made an intranet right there because it isn’t connected back to the major, actual internet. But, that’s what the Internet is. It’s this gigantic intranet. So, it kind of takes a lot of the black box magic out of the Internet, because really, you’re just distilling it down to these core pieces and understanding, “Okay, well, if I can do this at like a super small level, and I spread this out, we really could create, you know, a local, a regional, or even a gigantic people own Internet with our own hardware.”
So, basically, if we build this entire shadow internet…Are there other people who have done this? Are there already existing like large networked intranets all networked together? Do they control like, the giant space laser or whatever? Like? I mean, what are the? Yeah, how much is this already done?
Yeah, so not exactly when it comes to like making it almost like an alternative internet, it’s mainly done to actually provide internet access to people who can get it. So, a good example of that is NYC Mesh. And they’re are a group in New York City who basically are doing this exact same thing. They’re making an a mesh network to broadcast out a Wi Fi signal. And then they have nodes that pick up that Wi Fi signal and keep basically building out the range that the network can can hit. So, what they’re doing is finding areas that internet service providers won’t bring in the necessary equipment to give people internet access, or people who can’t afford internet access. And so, they’re basically making these mesh networks to get the Wi Fi coverage over to the people who need it. So, we can do basically the same thing with a system like this. So, you can make a network like this that works in tandem with the Internet. So say for instance, if power or Internet access gets shut off, for whatever reason, you have a backup, basically like community internet. But, you can also connect, say, for instance, like your main router that you’re kind of using to run the network or just any router on the network, connect that to the internet, and then you can share Internet access across the secondary internet. So, basically, you can make a mesh intranet network, and you can have it walled off from the wider internet and still have it work without electricity. grid electricity and without internet access, but when you have electricity and internet access, you can actually supply Internet access to the network and give other people access to the internet. So, it kind of serves two purposes too so that way, it’s not just like, “Oh, this is only in an emergency network.” But also, you know, there’s some resilience resiliency built into it.
That’s cool. I like that it has a purpose, sort of during crisis, and also even just like during the crisis that is, you know, poverty and lack of access and stuff like that. The other thing that I like about this, I mean, it’s funny, I don’t like it personally, because I live rurally, but, but one of the things that comes up is that so much of the prepping stuff that gets talked about, especially under the name ‘prepping,’ rather than ‘preparedness’ focuses on rural folks, right? It focuses on access to, if not financial resources, it often focuses on access to space, like physical space to store things, or even kind of what you can do with low population density. Right? It’s a lot easier for someone to have five acres here in West Virginia than it is for some of the five acres in the Bay Area or something, right. And the thing, that’s kind of interesting, because you’re pointed out that the you know, a lot of this work, people have been doing it New York City, and I’m like, h, it the higher population density you have like, the more bang for your buck, it seems like this kind of thing would have. And that’s cool, because I think that we way too often think of high population density as like, ‘bad.’ Whereas actually, in terms of like, efficiency of living, in terms of even like small ecological footprint, higher population densities can be really fucking good. So, I like that. For my for myself, I’m like, oh, well if I set it up, it would just be on my like, you know, like, where I live with some people or whatever and it would just be the like, “Well, if the power goes down, you can access the the movie server and the off-grid, Wikipedia,” or the, you know, I do a download of Wikipedia every, whenever I remember, it’s usually about once a year as like part of my preping is I do the download of Wikipedia or whatever. Without the images. I don’t have enough money to pay for that kind of terabytes of data for the images. But yeah, I don’t know, the larger. I don’t know, I’m just getting lost thinking about the possibilities of something like this. What distinguishes a mesh network from just a simple intranet? Is a mesh network, because it’s all wireless. Like what what makes it a mesh network?
Yeah, so mesh network differentiates itself because you’re basically able to connect networking equipment back to each other. So, you can do a mesh network, a quote unquote, ‘mesh network’ with like, hard wired Ethernet cable, but really what network mesh networks do is use certain protocols to connect routers or network equipment together. So, in this case, what we’re doing connecting our main router to our beacon that will, you know, propagate that network is using a protocol called WDS, which is called ‘wireless distribution system.’ And basically, what that lets you do is it lets you connect other routers, as if they were connected with an ethernet cord together, but it’s completely wireless. So, you can get another router, turn on WDS, join in the network, and then this new router that joins in becomes a beacon and extends the range of the network.
Okay. So, you don’t have to, you don’t have to as the alternative internet engineer, you don’t have to walk around and physically set up each and every beacon. It’s a it’s a thing where basically people by joining are making the network better?
Exactly.. As long as they can get power. Anybody can turn their home router, and either use WDS to connect their routers together, or basically putting the routers into what’s called AP mode or basically making it an–
An ‘access point.’ [Not getting the joke] Yeah.
[Interuptting] Advance Placement.
No, I was lying. Sorry, I was trying to make a bad joke.
See, I’m not smart enough to have taken an AP classses High School. Yeah, I my terrible ADHD like stopped me from going into AP classes. So.
Yeah, fair enough. I took AP English. Did not did not pass it to the college level. In my defense, the only they only taught, they only taught books written by men in my AP English class. I think all white men. Now there might have been I feel like….
Yeah, what English class isn’t just full of just like old white dudes?
Yeah. Although actually, it was before….This is just completely tangential. English class is how I like learned about like Langston Hughes and stuff in 10th grade and like, so that was good. That’s all I remember.
My introduction to de-schooling was actually through an English teacher. So I guess, yeah, English teachers, English classes, thumbs up, you know?
Yeah, Totally. Many of them, many of them. Okay, so before we started thinking about our English teachers, okay, you mentioned that if you have power, right? But and I’m I’m under the impression, a lot of what you’ve also done is work on trying to figure out how to make sure that people within this network would have access to power during a crisis or whatever. What does that look like?
Yeah, so I mean, obviously, we can’t run electronics without power. So trying to think about, what are some ways that we can generate power locally, and be able to supply power to people who need it. So, getting into talking about power kind of connects it to other areas of infrastructure to, and all those other areas of infrastructure connect into building mutual aid networks, but so we’ll start with power first. So, with powering nodes, basically, what we’re talking about here is creating almost like micro, community micro grids using solar. So, basically making like small power stations that use solar energy to charge batteries and supply power to your neighbors. And so, this can turn into a form of mutual aid, right? So if we’re making these small scale solar power stations that we can attach to like dollies, or attach to wood and like, roll them out when need be. Now we’re talking about giving people the autonomy and giving people the tools to make their own power and help each other survive in a way that’s beneficial to everybody in the community. But also is helping to power, you know, the devices that will connect back to the network, the network itself, but also help power medical devices and stuff like that, that you know, people need to survive and live off of. So, talking about making community micro grids, we’ll start from like, the small scale and then start building up, because again, like, all of this is modular and able to scale with however many resources you have, or however big you need it to be. But, the key part is to understand that like at every level, it’s the same idea, just with, you know, some parts switched out. So. And there’s also two, there’s also different kinds of solar power, too. There’s solar photovoltaics using like traditional solar panels is what we think of, but also passive solar as well, because there’s energy, you know, the sun is fucking hot. The sun rays have a lot of energy. So, there’s other ways to produce energy and talk about that sort of stuff. So, there’s high tech and low tech, solar, but we’ll start in and start small with small scale, kind of micro community micro grids. Right? So by solar in this case, I’m talking about photovoltaic cells to generate electricity from the sun. So you can make stuff like this, or you can buy like premade systems to kind of cut down on the amount of work that you need to do, but there are some like major downsides to getting like a premade solar system kind of like an all in one package, because most of the parts are proprietary. So, in the middle of an emergency, you’re not going to be able to like mail your solar charge station if the power plug breaks. So, a DIY method allows you to kind of have modular off the shelf parts that if something breaks, you can easily fix it. And all of these parts are easy to find too. So once I start talking about the parts that are involved with it, you can think of a whole bunch of places where you can find this stuff that’s just sitting out there.
Just by the side of the road.
Yeah, honestly Like literally, I found solar panels in the middle of forests, just kind of like smashed solar panels in the middle of a forest before so like yes search on the side of the roads. You could find some cool shit.
But yeah, so like when you start talking about solar power and solar power generation it’s really daunting, because like what we’re used to is seeing solar panels on roofs, or electricians installing this stuff. But, really, it’s really simple once you break it down into the core ingredients, just like before, just like making a cake, once you know the core ingredients, you can scale things up, add, subtract to whatever you need, to whatever scale you need. So.
Yeah, that you have to like…you do when you scale solar power…I don’t know that much about mesh networking. But I’ve installed a bunch of different solar systems and lived off solar systems of different types. And, it’s a really good point about the modularity that can pull pieces out and put them back in. But, it’s annoying that every time you’re like, Oh, I’m going to go from 400 watts of solar power to 800 watts of solar power. Now, I need to change out every piece of the entire thing. Because it’s, it’s like baking, if in order to double the ingredients. You also had to like, buy a different bowl and spoons, you know?
Exactly, exactly. You’re like these look exactly the same, but like I have to pay like an extra $500 For this one that can handle like, oh, a little bit more power. What the hell?
Yeah. Yeah. And it is it is more like baking than than cooking. You know? it’s…because it is very like, “Okay, do this. Exactly. And it’ll be great and safe and right.”
Yeah, add these ingredients in together in a safe way, and you’ll be good.
Yeah, exactly. Which is not to try and scare people off of it, it really can be done safely. Like, I didn’t know shit about electricity when I first started doing this, I, when I first installed my first 12 volt battery, I was like terrified of it. You know, I was like putting the cables on it. And I was afraid it was gonna like shock me and my friend just like went up and grabbed both terminals and was like, “It’s fine. It’s 12 volts.” And like, and then he was immediately like, “But if you dropped a wrench and connected the two poles, then you might die. But…” Most use case scenario….anyway. Sorry, I have a lot of I have a lot of thoughts about solar. But please, please continue. I’m sorry.
No, no, no, no. But like, yeah, like you just said, with anything to do with solar power, obviously, there’s gonna be some safety things to keep in mind. But, you know, if you practice basic electrical safety, you can make these systems pretty well, at least at a small scale. Once you’re talking about like, multiple megawatts of power generation, then we’re talking about kind of things that are kind of outside of this. But, for small scale, like, say, for instance, right now I have 400 watt solar panels charging a battery bank right now, like that’s easy to handle for most people. And for producing power for, say, for instance, like a couple of different families at different houses or different apartments, that, that that’ll work. It sounds small, but like 400 watts of solar power, and like a decent amount of storage will get you really far, especially in emergencies when you’re only powering a couple things at a time, but.
It’s not going to run your AC. And it’s not going to run your electric heater. And it probably it’s not gonna run your fridge. But, it’ll run a tiny electric cooler, it’ll keep your phone’s charged, it’ll keep the lights on, it’ll keep a fan going. Especially if it’s not…box fans use an ungodly amount of power. I mean, that said, I did keep a fan going on 400 Watts, 24 hours a day for like a year once. So, you know,
Yeah, I can’t be done. But like, okay, so in terms of like the core ingredients of a solar system, you’ve got really basically four parts, you’ve got your solar panels, a charge controller, batteries for storage, and an inverter if you’re going to be doing specific stuff. So, adding those four things together, you can make either like a super small system more, say for instance, like you’re talking about earlier, running some pretty basic household appliances. But you can also change all this stuff to fit the needs that you have. So, using this as an example, for like a really, really micro community micro grid, we could basically take like furniture dollies, tie some wood to it, put a charge controller, a battery, or two, strap it on to that, and an inverter, and then attach those to a solar panel, and then basically what you’re doing is just generating power on a really small scale. And then, say for instance, you want to make a bigger one well, get more solar panels, add a different charge controller, add more batteries in series to your battery bank, and add a bigger inverter, and then you could power refrigerators and AC units and stuff like that at a bigger scale. But, the key is just knowing kind of the core parts to it. I go through step-by-step on an article on my Substack called “DIY Off Grid Solar Primer.” And it kind of walks through like all of the steps that you go through to make either a really small solar system or a pretty big one, that’ll power a lot of things. And so it’s kind of like, it’s one of those things where it’s, it’s like a black box, and not a lot of people really, like understand the stuff that goes behind it. And not a lot of people understand that it’s not that crazy to do this type of stuff.
Yeah, I guess that is the…you know, when I, I don’t know, the fact that this is actually doable, like, from, you know, I won’t do…I’m not going to do a house level install. I’m not going to do grid tied solar myself. I feel like, that reaches a level where, I mean, you’re actually putting the safety of the like, the electrical workers at risk if you do grid tie stuff, right? So, I understand the need for people with specialty training for that. But yeah, the the actually doable part, I think, is just what people…what I want more people to understand.
Yeah, because there’s so much information out there that just seems so out of reach for most people. But it’s really enriched, it’s just the fact of like, knowing what to do, knowing, even knowing what you don’t know, is like the key to really getting started with it.
Yeah, but I will say though, in defense of the, the all-in-one boxes, I’ve used both, and I’ve like talked with a lot of people who are living off grid about which is better in which circumstance. And for people who are like, “I live in this cabin, I want my life in here to be good,” Build it yourself, or work with a friend who knows what they’re doing, but get the actual pieces and build it modularly. But, for people who are kind of like, “This is my truck camper, I sleep in two months of the year,” and like, or, “This is my cabin for now. But I kind of don’t really see myself being living here in a year,” you know, or “I have a really limited budget, and I just need to get my cell phone charged.” There’s like, there’s, I think there’s purposes for the all-in-one boxes there in that you just don’t have to fuck with it. It’s like it takes less specialization, like one of the one of the infrastructures I’ve lived with…sorry, there’s very few topics I get to like be I get to be really excited about and have like more like some experience on compared to, you know, when I talk to someone about. But, one of the ways that I had it going at one point was like I built a solar power setup, and I built it modularly partly actually, because I didn’t have enough money to go out and get the size of box I wanted. On the other hand, in the end, I probably paid more for my system,because I kept upgrading it, because I kept being like…but you can kind of you can kind of do it. 100 bucks here, 100 bucks there as compared to going out and buying this $1,200 all-in-one box or $400 all-in-one box. They come in all different sizes. And, what I found that most people didn’t bother with was using the all-in-one boxes hooked up to solar panels. What I found, what we ended up doing was, you know, the the barn on the property with the solar setup that I built, everyone would just bring their boxes over and charge them. You know, and so it’s not a very proper way to do a grid. But, in some ways, that’s how we did our grid is that there was like a central charging station and everyone would bring their boxes and then go plug their boxes back into their shacks or whatever, you know,
That’s really cool. Because like, I mean, that technically is a grid, because I mean, you’re transferring power from one generation into, you know, a place where you’re actually going to use it. So like, but people don’t consider that a grid only because, you know, it’s just kind of so used to just like, oh, the grid is just the shit on the lines that just exists. Yeah, but like there’s so many other ways to think about it.
Yeah, I had another friend who, another off grid project I know of, a friend of mine has a cart, a trailer pulled behind a car, very light, one very small, one size of a teardrop or smaller and it’s just full of old iron, lithium, whatever the cheap old batteries, the car batteries. And well they’re AGM. They’re just not lithium ion. And we just drive them into town like once a week. Just attach it to the car, drive it into town. Charge it at the Anarchist social center in town. And then drive it back out. And then power everything on the land project for like a week or whatever with these, you know, big battery banks.
Yeah, I mean, that’s that’s definitely one way to do it. Like I did the same kind of thing where like, I was running a whole bunch of stuff off of this, like little RYOBI portable inverter thing for like my power tools, and like just charge the, the, the batteries and then just like take the batteries with me and then use it like that. So like yeah, it’s same concept.
Yeah, I use my battery tool batteries as my cell phone charger for a long time before I got all the solar stuff set up. Yeah.
It works. You have power. So, that like ultimately, that’s what it comes down to is like figuring out ways to take energy, store it and then transport it somewhere else where somebody else can use it. So like, who cares if you’re using like, a drill battery attached to a little inverter to power the router for the network? It’s still powering it. So there you go.
That’s cool. That just makes it cooler. Because then also anyone could just take it and charge it on it. You know, like everyone has a charger for that thing. Well, then you can have the Ryobi versus DeWalt class war, but the person with the Makita will chime in and be like, “No!”
But yes, so I mean, like, so we’ve gone from making like small internets into making a larger mesh network. I also want to like, I also wanted to run back and talk about what you brought up earlier, when it came to the differences between kind of urban and suburban areas and doing this in rural areas, or areas that might not like be as accessible. So, when it comes to rural areas, you can do the same thing. So making this mesh network. The biggest thing is going to be actually getting that signal out. So, then we’re talking about like, kind of more high powered antennas, and talking about, like, how to broadcast signals, like a far distance. And there’s some interesting stuff out there. So, I saw this guy on YouTube who made a giant parabola, and made it out of wood and chicken wire, and then put a Wi-Fi card in the middle of that parabola. So, you know, like the curve, almost like a satellite dish, but made out of chicken wire. And, he was able to broadcast Wi-Fi through the jungle for about six miles, just just using chicken wire in a parabola shape. And, you know, a simple like off the shelf network card. So like, line of sight, with some really simple DIY shit like that, like making parabolas out of chicken wire, or even using old satellite dishes to bounce that signal off, And at least get it over to maybe if you, you know, have a neighbor six miles away from you, then they could be the next node in the network. And they could just bounce signal around there. So like, in mountainous regions, it’s really hard to get internet access.
Mainly because, you know, internet service providers are, you know, they don’t think it’s profitable to spend the money for the infrastructure to bring it out there. But, it’s also really hard to do it period. So, in that case, you know, you could set up a mesh network with your own DIY antennas to basically like bounce up and down mountainsides to supply internet access to other people. So, it works not just from like urban suburban areas, but also rural areas, but it just requires a, again, like a different, like thought process behind it.
Right, but out here, it would be more possible for me to like, you know, talk to the person who does own the next ridge over and be like, “Hey, can I put up like this old satellite dish and some solar panels on your property, you get free internet, and so does everyone on the other side of the hill,” you know? I mean, presuming the friendliness of the person who has the…owns the top of the mountain or whatever, but no, that’s okay. Yeah.
And that can be a really good intro point to establish a mutual aid networks in rural areas, because it’s really hard especially like in In rural areas to like, talk to your neighbors if your neighbors are like six miles away, but if you come to the people and say like, “Hey, we can mutually benefit each other,” in a way that like, you know, they can completely understand and like be on board with, then you have, then you’re talking to your neighbors, even though your neighbors live like super far away from you. So yeah, it’s a really good in to like starting to build relationships locally.
Yeah. No, that’s interesting. So one of the things that you talked about, you mentioned earlier about how this all ties into general infrastructure and how infrastructure as a way to build mutual aid networks, is that something that, you know, basically, because most of what I’ve talked to people about mutual aid networks, which is incredibly valuable, but a lot of mutual aid networks are around community health, or food access, or, you know, defense against sweeps of encampments of people who are living out. And, you know, the idea of like, providing internet and power it obviously makes sense, as part of it, it’s just part that doesn’t get talked about as much because I think it probably more of my friends know how to cook than know how to program routers, you know, although then again, 10 years ago, it was probably the opposite. Well, when I was a teenager was definitely the opposite. But yeah, so I’m curious if you have thoughts about sort of general infrastructure, how this ties into infrastructure, mutual aid networks.
Yeah. So, when we were talking about like, hierarchical, well, we talked about like, systems like capitalism, hierarchical systems, states, the way that they cement power is basically by controlling our access to like our basic needs. So, if we can build our own infrastructures, either both like within the system, but also alongside and out of the system, then we can much more easily separate from capitalist and hierarchical systems, and create our own networks, and our own infrastructure in our own worlds alongside of things. So, that kind of touches into, you know, ideas of building dual power of like building the systems that we want to use and building the world that we want to see now, not just working within capitalism, sometimes you’ll have to say for like legal issues and stuff like that, but building systems that work outside of capitalist and hierarchical systems. So, taking back control of the infrastructures that really rule our lives. So like, the infrastructures that can underlie everything that we do, you know, we kind of have the main, the big three, food, water shelter. But, I’d include a couple more things in there just because like, you know, our modern times things have like changed, technology has changed. On top of that, I put communications, so that would include like stuff like radio and Internet, electricity, which includes things like air conditioning and a lot of regions that like you will literally die without air conditioning, and care work as the kind of like main parts of infrastructure
That, that tracks. And those do seem to be…I mean, those are the things that we kind of focus on with mutual aid with this special edition of communication and power. I’m into it.
But like, so, I’ll go into a scenario of how building community micro grids and building communication networks can like, tie back into mutual aid efforts and like other revolutionary things, so you know, starting out, you decided to do this, you get a foldable solar panel, you use that to make your own small network with your server, you get a Raspberry Pi or like an old laptop and use that as a server. And then use an old router that you have or your the router that you have in your house right now. To just start, to start the network. And from there, you’re like, Okay, well, let me you know, if I want to build this network out, then I’ll start making small micro community micro grids to share with my neighbors. So, let’s say if you live in an apartment building, then you’re like, Okay, I’ll go to the people in my apartment building, make one of these things, you know, make one of these, like solar power carts or something. And then just like talk to my neighbors and say like, “Hey, would this be valuable to us?” And so then like, you’re starting to provide, basically free electricity to your neighbors. And by doing that, you know, you’re starting to build relationships, starting to talk to people, and with talking to people, and kind of showing people what can be done with just like solidarity and working together, then, you know, you start talking some more and some more. And let’s say like, you, through these relationships that you have with the people in your apartment building, you’re like, “Okay, well, what if we like formed a tenant’s union? I don’t know, that might be a good idea?” And in trying to form that, you’ll need some ways of communicating that’s going to be secure. So, you can either meet in person, but not everybody is going to be able to meet in person. So, how do we make secure communications with each other to do stuff like organizing tenant unions are organizing unions within our workplaces. And so, you can do stuff like this, where you’re making the services, the infrastructure available to people to be able to talk to each other in secure ways. So you could on your server, put up like encrypted messaging, and then use that as a method of organizing the tenants union or whatever, you know, use that as a method of organizing. So, you’re going from like, starting out with just kind of like wanting to build your own solar power stuff into now you’re talking to your neighbors, and now you’re organizing stuff. And this kind of snowballs. As you add on to it, as you talk to more people as things kind of, like, move along, there’s a snowball effect and to just like, being able to make the infrastructure for things to happen. And like that’s the big thing.
I like it. I am sold. I…there’s that joke, “I would like to subscribe to your newsletter…” But in this case, people should subscribe to your newsletter, or Substack or whatever. Okay, well, we’re kind of coming up on time. There’s a lot of stuff that I want to talk to you about that we didn’t even get into about you know hydroponics. It’s what’s in your username, and I want to turn my basement into a place that produces food, 24 hours, or 12 months, a year, whatever. You know, I live in a climate with a real winter. And I’d like to be able to still have fresh vegetables and hydroponics seem cool. But that’s not what we’re going to talk about today. But, that might be what I bug you about sometime in the near future. Is there any kind of final thoughts on the stuff that we’ve been talking about today that you want to bring up?
Yeah, I mean, I guess ultimately, it just comes down to if there are things out there that you want to do, try and figure out like, the core concepts and build on that. And just like just fucking try it. Like there’s, there’s so many things like all this, like building this off grid, internet building, off grid power systems was all just kind of like, I want to do it. I’ll try and find the information and condense it for other people to use and they can build it themselves too. But like, that was the key was just like, fuck it. Let me just get started and try it. So, it’s the same thing with like mutual aid networks. It’s like if there isn’t one around you, fuck it, try building it.
Yeah, totally. No, that’s so good. That is…Yeah. The secret is to really begin. I can’t remember what this from, some insurrectionist tract, but I really like it. You know, just the like, well we actually just got to do it. We you know, like, I don’t know, I feel like I would have more clever way to say that, but I don’t
No. That was good.
All right. Well, if people want to subscribe to your newsletter, or follow you on the internet, how should they go about it?
Yeah, you can find me on Substack. It’s anarchosolarpunk.substack.com. And then I’m active also on Twitter and Tik Tok at ‘hydroponictrash.’
Cool. Yeah, we didn’t even talk about solar punk. That was like on the list of things that we should talk about. We will talk again soon, I assume and people will get to hear from you again. All right. Well, thank you so much for coming on.
Awesome. Thanks for having me.
Hi, I am not Margaret. But, I am here to thank you for listening, because Margaret forgot to record an outro, which is short for our introduction, in case anyone was wondering. Okay, I stole that joke from Margaret. Sort of. So now it’s kind of like you’re getting her. I’m Inmn, and I do some of the behind the scenes work for Live Like The World is Dying, to make sure that it comes out every two weeks. If you enjoyed this podcast, please go tell someone about it and rate and review and like and subscribe or, you know, whatever the algorithm calls for, feed it like a hungry God. You could also post about it or tell people in person. It’s the main way that people hear about the show and honestly one of the best ways to support it. However, if you want to support us in other sillier ways that don’t involve feeding a nameless and mysterious entity, consider supporting our publisher, Strangers In A Tangled Wilderness, of which I am also a member of. Strangers is a publishing collective committed to producing inclusive and anarchistic radical culture. We currently have one other podcast called simply “Strangers In A Tangled Wilderness,” where you can hear me talk about our monthly featured zine, along with narrated audio versions, the monthly feature and an interview with the author. Speaking of the monthly featured zine, if you subscribe to our Patreon at $10 a month, we will mail to you a zine version of our monthly feature every month, anywhere in the world. But, also you can read it for free on our website. Our monthly feature ranges from fiction to poetry to zines about plants and hopefully soon history and folklore. These features are submitted by listeners like you and we are always looking for more submissions. We’re looking for stories that don’t know where they fit in, for people that don’t know where they fit in. So, if you’d like to write and think your story would find a home in this tangled wilderness, consider submitting it and perhaps we’ll buy it. You can support us for now at patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness and find more submission info at tangledwilderness.org. Just to plug some other things that Strangers and our members have going on since no one is here to stop me: Margaret’s new short story collection is currently on preorder from AK press. “We Won’t Be Here Tomorrow” comes out September 20th. So, check it out and look for her soon on her book tour. Our first book as the new version of the Strangers Collective will be available for preorder on September 1st. Try anarchism for life by Cindy Barukh Milstein, a thrilling exploration of art and social relationships and worlds soon to emerge, featuring amazing art by 25 incredible artists. Look for it on our website, and also look for Milstein on the Strangers podcast as the September featured zine. A dear friend of the Strangers Collective also has a book out for preorder right now. Nourishing Resistance: stories of food, protest, and mutual aid, edited by Wren Awry along with a foreword by Cindy Milstein. The preorder is currently live at PMpress.org. So please go check it out. Wrenis an incredible writer, editor and archivist. As you heard on our last episode of Live Like The World Is Dying, we are about to start playtesting or TTRPG. Penumbra City. Listen to the last episode on composting to hear more. And check out the next episode of the Strangers podcast where I talk to Margaret and Robin about the game after we listen to Margaret’s new short story, “Welcome to Penumbra City: part one.” Find it wherever you get podcasts on August 31st. One last shameless plug: By the time this episode airs, we should have t shirts live on the Strangers website. You can get both a Strangers’ t shirt and a Live Like The World Is Dying shirt. Both have art created by our art director Robin Savage, and we’re printed by the CREAM print shop and our seriously soft, cozy, and beautiful. That’s all my plugs. Except for a very special plug. A shout out to these wonderful people who have helped make this podcast as well as so many other projects possible. Shawn, SJ, Paige, Oxalis, Mikki, Nicole, David, Dana, Chelsea, Staro, Jenipher, Eleanor, Natalie, Kirk, Michaiah, Sam, Chris, and Hoss the dog. And here’s a special thank you to Bursts, our audio editor who has an incredible anarchist new show called The Final Straw, which is also on the Channel Zero Network. Thanks so much for your support. It means so much to us and us has allowed us to get so much done as a collective. See you next time on August 9th for another roundtable segment of “This Month In The Apocalypse” with Margaret, Casandra and Brooke. Let us know if there’s anything you want them to talk about.
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