This week, I will be making my first equipment purchase for an aquaponic setup for my garage. I’m picking up a 275 gallon IBC tote from outside of Santa Rosa.
Fish waste is ammonia and solid waste with trace elements. Two types of bacteria are at work: one to convert the ammonia to nitrities (Nitrosomonas) and the second to convert the nitrite into nitrate (Nitrospira). Worms eat the solid waste and poop castings, which are nutrients appropriate for root uptake. If water is held at the right temperature and pH and the bacteria and worms are converting the waste into usable elements the fish and plants can survive.
My design calls for some interesting plumbing design, exploded clay grow bed media, a constantly running water pump with a siphoned return, two grow beds and grow lights. I wish I didn’t have to add the grow lights, but it’s in my garage. There isn’t enough room in my back yard for this set up, so it’s all I can do for now.
There’s something special about this concept from the beginning. It’s really a culmination of many things that humans have done: intensive agriculture, hydroponics, aquaculture/animal husbandry, biodome experiments, etc. By starting with a near complete system, one can add growing fish food, automatic fish population control, seed saving and seedling propagation operations to their setup to make things even more complete. The few inputs to the system: 5-10 gallons of water per week, light (could be sunlight), pump power (could be solar or more sustainable) and fish food. All of this sounds like doing aquaponics may be possible in countries with agricultural problems. I think so, too. My hope is that this personal experiment will lead me somewhere I don’t know exists yet. I’ll be looking for it and ready when it shows up.
Every so often (more often than I’ll admit) I delve into a subject that captures my imagination and interest so much that it becomes part of my life for a long time. Most recently, it was the Criterion Collection and then business school and reading. This time, I think it’s different.
The day I graduated college (December 17, 2004), I remember sitting on my bed and thinking: “now what?” I quickly glanced over the industry options that would put my degree to good use: defense, enterprise engineering, consulting, banking, industrial automation, electronics, etc. Nothing was really speaking to me. I went back to the drawing board. I realized that I had been on a journey to reach that day for my entire life. Now that I was there, I had no idea why.
Our basic needs are met. Our second level needs are met. Humans invented commerce, agriculture and written language. I took me five years of reading and searching to realize this. After realizing that my degree and any short term goals I had wouldn’t allow me to realize what I needed to do long term, I thought about what I would go back to school to study. Law? Too focused. Neuro-prosthetics? Not really on my moral compass as there’s too much potential to do harm. Ecology? I’d have to take 2 years of biology and chemistry before even applying to grad school. More engineering or computer science? That would only make me a specialist – and possibly not in a way that I’d want to be. Business? Hm. I could do one of the thousand things I was thinking about. And I can do it part time. That sounded like the best option economically and logically.
But it wasn’t a solid enough idea to convince the admissions board at Haas last year. I wasn’t ready to apply when I did the first time. I needed one more year to ruminate and self discover. I’m ready now.
Dickson Despommier’s The Vertical Farm is just a book with a rather inspirational title. Most of what I took away from reading it was the idea. Taking the idea a few steps further, I came up with a list of engineering problems that I’d be interested in solving. I have the seed of a business plan in my head and in my new goals essay for admission to Haas. I think that I could cater to my personal goals of working in a city, in something to do with agriculture by owning a business that is executing specifically to the triple bottom line. I also think I can help solve one or more really big problems: job creation (here and elsewhere), feed the world, secure food, provide a viable plan for squatter cities, etc.
In school, I will want to focus on my business plan, building connections to help solve some of the engineering problems, learn about entrepreneurship, global business and continue doing research around helping the world. There’s a quite a bit of learning to be done and I’d like to keep this blog as a record of my progress. I won’t promise to update every week or month, but when I feel like I need to record something I will come here. My next post should be either the list of engineering problems I need help with or a high level framework of the business plan I will be working on. Hopefully we’ll get to see the evolution of that.
|Domain||Importance||Focus of time and energy|
|Self: mind, body, spirit||30%||30%|
What are the consequences of the current choices you make about your focus of time and energy spent at work, at home, in the community, and for yourself?
The percentages are highly variable week to week for me, but through it all, I live a fairly balanced life. I should spend more time giving back to the community in the ways I would like to. This is the only thing missing in helping me realizing my long term goals.
As you look at these eight numbers, are there any adjustments you’d like to make – either in what’s important or in where you focus your attention – to change any of these numbers?
I should increase the family number and both community numbers.
What would it take to actually make these adjustments in your life?
To increase family, I would have to either get a car, or move closer to work. Also, I think having a child would help facilitate this. In order to increase my time with the community, I will have to find or create opportunities to contribute. These activities would have to be something I believe in in order for me to keep my interest level high.
Values that are important to me:
Being honest with yourself is most important. Be able to self reflect and admit when things are good or bad helps gain the trust of others. Secondly, be an honest person. Understand what others expect of you and don’t let them down. Lastly, I feel it’s important to allow others a forum to be honest with you. Otherwise, you may get a subset of the information you need.
Integrity, to me, means the ability to stick to doing what’s right no matter what other choices may present themselves. It’s walking your friend through the bad part of town because you said you would, even though all of your other friends are having a good time on the other side of town.
3. Follow through
Always do what you said you were going to do. This ties in directly with be honest and integrity, but it has to be said separately. All too often, we’re left wondering what people have been doing “all of this time” when we’ve expected they do something that they said they would. Follow through with your word.
Challenge is important to be because without it, life becomes boring. I seek challenges in my life – both social, physical, emotional and mental. There’s a fine line where you can seek challenge so much as to create it, which is something to look out for.
To me, aesthetics is anything that is pleasing to one or more of your senses. This is important as it helps with comfort and the phycological health of interacting with other things in your life. If a phone is aesthetically pleasing, you’ll feel less frustrated, and more likely to deal with the things that actually matter in your life.
Participation in a community is extremely important. Communities give you an identity. Receiving and giving help within a community is great for your mental health. Also, communities make greater things happen than individuals.
This is a two parter, too. 1.) Stand up for your beliefs. Too often do I work with people who say one thing and do another out of fear of falling out of line or playing politics. If you stand up for your beliefs, others will set the correct expectations about you. 2.) Don’t be a pussy. This means when you want to talk to a girl, do it. What you want a raise, go ask for it. When you see the company leaking millions out of a sieve, go fix it. Courage is the single word summation of the oft-used phrase “Do what you think is right, apologize later”
Without holistic knowledge, decisions are based on experience alone. With knowledge, one can supplement experience and make more informed decisions, solve tougher problems and set better directions for everyone in their lives.
“Think outside the box” or “there is no box” as a friend says it is thinking that helps people state or breakdown a problem differently. Even though I work with and meet a lot of very creative people, most have a hard time actually doing this. I feel that knowledge and creativity go hand in hand, but that creativity by itself is just as important. Creativity can affect change, which is what allows people to have jobs, eat new types of food, travel to new places, wear different clothes, drive different cars and everything else they do in their lives. Creativity is about to become very important when we start to focus on nutrient depletion of the world’s soil, water table loss and global warming.
I’m reading the book Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life. There are a bunch of exercises in it, and rather than write my responses down on a Livescribe
pad, totalleadership.org or on Google Docs, I decided to work through the exercises here.
I’m still twenty years from the typical retirement year, but have already met a lot of the goals I set for myself fifteen years ago. Back then, I was just a software engineer in an “Individual Contributor” role at a big company. My aspirations back then where, on a fundamental level, to do something to leave the world better than when I entered it as well as to influence others to do the same. I had no idea how to get to that point back then, so I went to business school. The process of business school gave me a boost of confidence that’s only grown since then. It also allowed me to quickly discover whether the ideas I was having were worth investing more time and money into.
Eventually, I came to discover the idea that would become the strategy I used to help me realize my fundamental goals, while also raising a great family, taking care of my interests and to never break promises to family, friends or work. I wake up early, before the rest of my family, so that I can exercise or indulge in other personal interests: reading, movies, biking, etc. When my kids and wife wakes up, I help get the ready for the day by making them breakfast and packing their lunches. Then it’s off to work. My work day is never dull. I refuse to sit in meetings where I won’t have an impact and allow my assistant to sit in and make decisions for me when I’m overbooked. Despite this, my peers love to include me in open conversations even when they aren’t related to the work at hand. The employees at the company also know that my door is always open.
What was it that I figured out? Well, what I can say is that is has to do with the fact that I used to think that going back to an agrarian society like after the fall of Rome would be the only way to fix the world. I realized that this way of thinking wasn’t valid given the amount of information and experience we have at hand. I put together a team of ecologists and business people to think about how we could use the spread of information to also improve farming conditions world wide. This was just as much a policy solution as it was a technical and infrastructure.
I’m extremely satisfied with my life and am looking forward to the next twenty to forty years of contributions I have left.
I’ve been a terrible father. I’ve left my bees to their own devices for two months (ok, three?). Yeah, that’s not a good idea mainly because of disease control, swarm prevention and other issues that human interaction helps to eliminate. However, they are kicking ass this winter!!! This is especially surprising because I hear about a hive collapse in the Bay Area at least once a day. The winter is almost over, and flowers are starting to bloom. My bees have a full box of honey, brood laid, a healthy queen, pollen and all other good signs of a healthy hive at the end of winter.
My next task is to manage the size of the hive in order to eliminate the chance that a swarm will happen this spring or summer. I’d like to get the parts to a second hive in case we need to catch a swarm. In the meantime, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the fact that bees are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. They are wild, after all.
Your Story: Critical Events in Your Life
The five events that shaped my life to this point.
- 99th percentile on NYS Regents exams and taking the SAT at the age of 12.
- Not being able to afford to attend Purdue for the second year.
- Moving to San Francisco
- Meeting Vanessa
My parents marriage to each other was the second marriage for both of them. They split up when I was 5. My mom hadn’t worked in 10 years, so she started out on Welfare. She got a job at a local grocery store called Tops. Eventually, she got a position doing what she had gotten a certificate to do: X-Ray Technician. We were on the road to single-parenthood and self sufficiency. My mom began going to church a lot more and by 1988 (I was seven), met and married another man. We moved twice to get into his house in the country. He had already had two kids, so I had a step brother and sister for a few years. One morning I woke up to go to school and my mom told me to pack my bags and that we were leaving that day. It was fall in 1990. I was sick.
I had not realized the results of these events until I got a lot older. Since we moved a lot (14 times before I was 15), I grew to value relationships less for myself, and seeing all of the problems my mom was having, that changed the faith I had in people. It took me a lot of hard work to be able to trust people and also to trust myself and be open and honest with other people. I’m still rather shy and awkward in new social situations, but I thrive in a group setting. I’m always looking for an audience and need people’s full attention when I talk to them.
Understanding all of this took 15 years or so and it was only in the last couple years that I realized how much these experiences held me back from my potential and that I had to overcome all of my awkwardnesses and weaknesses. I will continue to self reflect and improve until either I don’t care or I’m dead.
In 6th grade, everyone in New York State public school system has to take the same math, english and history tests. They use the results to rank students state-wide. I scored in the 99th percentile in math. I was asked to take the SAT test to gauge my potential to go to college starting in the 7th grade. I scored low (730), but that experience made me realize that with little effort, I could excel above my peers in math and science. This helped solidify my direction toward engineering.
Because I had decided to study engineering, I went to a good engineering school and received a scholarship mainly due to the fact that I scored perfectly on the math section of the SATs (that I took when I was supposed to). I enrolled in mostly honors classes and ended up spending more time tending to my hang overs than attending classes. I got a 2.27 average in my first year. My scholarship required a 2.5 GPA to maintain for 4 years.
Neither of my parents were in a position to co-sign a loan for me, so I couldn’t afford to go back sophomore year. After attending the University of Buffalo for a semester, I knew I had to go back to Purdue. So, I moved to Indiana and took a year off of school. This year helped me focus and to learn enough about myself and what sacrifices I was willing to make in order to reach my goals. After returning to Purdue, my grades improved every semester except for one.
Once I graduated from college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I did some soul searching and turned to philosophy and logic to understand my purpose in life. Once I realized that, I knew that living and working in Buffalo was not the right way to attain this purpose. San Francisco was a natural choice for me because my brother was living in California, I had friends in SF and I knew I could gain orders of magnitude more experience in any job in the Bay Area than I would in Buffalo. I consolidated my things, bought a Subaru and drove across the country alone. Prior to that, I had never been West of the Mississippi.
This decision ended up being one of the best choices I’ve made so far in my life. My dreams are coming true and I’m just learning now that I’m only steps away realizing some of the goals I set for myself when doing all of that soul searching.
I met Vanessa almost a year after moving to SF at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. We started dating within a month and soon couldn’t get through a day without each other. She’s the love of my life and my best friend and partner. We recently got engaged and can’t wait to live our lives together. She helped me grow up and taught me how to think positively about life. She is the reason I’m able to feel more complete as she is the perfect compliment to me and my goals.
Potential heros: My mother, Thomas Jefferson, Saul Griffith
I would choose Saul as my hero today because he applies his knowledge to good and honorable things. He is an autodidact in sustainability and leads the charge to discover how to help individuals use less carbon. He’s also one of the few people involved in the Green Revolution who doesn’t bullshit with the numbers.
I’m reading the book Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life. There are a bunch of exercises in it, and rather than write my responses down on a Livescribe
pad, totalleadership.org or on Google Docs, I decided to work through the exercises here. This is the first exercise, which is found on page 24 of the book.
I found the book, “Total Leadership” through the personalmba.com website. While I’d love to read every book on that list, I’ve chosen 10 that I am most interested in reading right now and have been focused on reading those over the last month.
After reading through the introduction and first chapter, I know now that I’d like to figure out how to live a more whole life and be a more effective leader in all aspects of my life. I’ve done a good job of balancing two of the four-way wins at a time, but I am ready to start focusing and working on how to always experience four-way wins.
The company I was working for was acquired by Cisco in May of this year. Since then, the group that has been given offers, signed, and transitioned over to the corporate behemoth have had mixed feelings about how this all went down. It was interesting hearing people outside of the company’s reactions as well. Some of my friends asked me how I felt. Others flat out congratulated me with a lot of enthusiasm. But my real friends and acquaintances that also like working for small companies had the same reaction: “oooohhh. Shitty. Are you going to stay?”
The transition was pretty difficult. The major growing pains for me personally have been to find my new role without stepping on too many toes, to deal with politics and working with people I don’t know and who don’t know me, the extra commute (granted it’s only 20 minutes each way) and food options near the office. I come to work every day and write down my goals for the day. Sometimes they’re aligned with the project I’m working on, sometimes they’re personal projects that few people know about and sometimes I straight goof off. There’s a lot less productivity, I think by most of us, since we’ve moved over. That could be because of lack of direction by our leadership, or even lack of confidence in what the company is doing as a whole by our leadership.
One day I took a step back to look at my life and the direction I was on. It wasn’t something I believed in. Fundamentally, life is about survival. Sustaining life is about ensuring survival of future generations. Designing consumer electronics that have a lifespan shorter than that of any pet is not necessarily helping the environmental condition, economic condition or psychological condition of, well, anyone in the world.
I believe, on a fundamental level, that consumerism is killing our future one iPhone at a time. Sure, some electronics companies are taking steps to ensure that their products are more recyclable, less waste, etc. But there is no electronic product made today that doesn’t have something bad to contribute to the environment – be it in mining materials, in manufacturing, in logistics of getting it to market, in the short lifespan, in the “recycling” of the product, or in the breakdown of it’s basic components. Thus, I arrive to work every morning with “I do not believe what I do is right” in the back of my head. I’m not happy with my job, and it’s no one’s fault but my own.
I started looking at options and where I could go. Ideally, I’d work on a farm somewhere and raise a small family, but I have to solve the problem of the fact that I can only live in SF, LA or NY because of the girlfriend. I’m ok with that. Now, what can I do to contribute to the cause that I believe in, make enough money to support a family and have it be something that I can actually do? I haven’t figured that out yet.
So I’m applying to graduate school. MBA programs to be exact. I’ll be applying to Berkeley, UCLA and NYU. If I don’t get in, I may apply to Presidio and/or SF State University, since they have well known sustainability programs.
In the meantime, I’ve taken the GMAT, started reading books on the personal MBA list, and taken a few personality tests. I will try to make this process more transparent as I proceed if only to improve my writing skills. Why MBA and not agriculture or ecology? Because I would have to start from the beginning with either of those paths, and with an MBA, I can focus on businesses that hire people who have studied ag, ecology, sustainability and the like. I’m more interested in being able to solve the business problems than in addressing the actual problems.
I’ll continue to keep up with my other goals – losing weight 1lb. at a time, and watching Criterion Collection movies one at a time. Stay tuned.
Here are the additional Criterion Collection movies I’ve seen since my last post:
- I Fidanzati (195) (Criterion Collection link)
- The Marriage of Maria Braun (204) (Criterion Collection link)
- Hiroshima Mon Amour (196) (Criterion Collection link)
- Night and Fog (197) (Criterion Collection link)
- Ali – Fear Eats the Soul (198) (Criterion Collection link)
- Schizopolis (199) (Criterion Collection link)
- Veronika Voss (205) (Criterion Collection link)
- Umberto D. (201) (Criterion Collection link)
- Jimi Plays Monterey/Shake! Otis at Monterey (169) (Criterion Collection link)
- Lola (206) (Criterion Collection link)
- The Pornographers (207) (Criterion Collection link)
- Knife in the Water (215) (Criterion Collection link)
- Through a Glass Darkly (209) (Criterion Collection link)
- Winter Light (210) (Criterion Collection link)
- The Silence (211) (Criterion Collection link)
- Richard III (213) (Criterion Collection link)
The last five are by far my favorites out of this group. “The Marriage of Maria Braun” is also an exceptional film. Of course, “Night and Fog” as well as “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” has extreme historical importance and “Schizopolis” is just wacky Soderbergh…which is valuable for being unique.
I’ve decided to move in with my girlfriend. So we purchased a 46″ LED television and a new entertainment center. Once we get a new A/V receiver, the visual and auditory experience I’ll have with each of these movies will be a little bit better. I’m excited about all of these things. I plan to continue the 1 Criterion movie per week contract with myself.
Since the company I worked for was acquired, I haven’t been able to go to the gym as much. This issue is multiplied by the fact that my back is still giving me problem and I’ve have a strange issue with my shoulder for the last 2 months. Regardless, I’ve dropped 5 pounds since my last writing, which is still not meeting my target, but I have aspirations to start running when I can and doing weights whenever I can get into the gym. That will help with the 1 pound per month contract.