Two years ago, I set out on a little mission: to build an off-grid solar array that would power my woodshop. This array needed to charge all my cordless batteries, but also drive my table saw, miter saw, circular saw, and the big router on my slab flattening jig. But there was a catch. The entire system could cost no more than one American Recovery Act stimulus check.
It worked. I beat the heck out of that set up and, other than in the dead of winter when it was too cold for the battery, it could handle most everything I threw at it, pretty well. It wasn’t perfect, and it had some issues with overdrawing, but the safety stops I put in place ensured that when I did push it too hard, it shut itself down rather than compromising components. There were limits, though, as I added bigger tools like a bench planer and started hogging through much tougher stock, I began to run into more and more issues.
So here we are, 2 years later, with all the upgrades and modifications that I made to my off-grid workshop to keep things running hard.
In the Last of Us, the most gruesome live-action adaptation of a video game about people being turned into fungus since 1993’s Super Mario Bros, a mutated species of Cordyceps destroys society by converting humans into mindless, sporulating mushroom people.
Cordyceps, a fungus that most commonly parasitizes ants, is real. It really does hijack its host’s nervous system, alter its behavior, and turn it into a spore-producing zombie. The outcome is strangely beautiful.
Though the current darling of gritty, realistic, science-based zombie fiction, Cordyceps is such a lightweight in the world of brain-breaking parasites that tech bros brew it into their adaptogenic coffee.
If you want to meet a truly unsettling zombie-making parasite, allow me to introduce you to Sacculina.
Sacculina is a genus of barnacle that parasitizes crabs. While most parasitic barnacles are perfectly happy growing on the carapace of a crab, Sacculina takes this partnership to the extreme.
Female Sacculina larvae drift through the ocean, until they encounter a crab. The larva then settles on the crab and searches for a joint in the crab’s carapace. Once it finds a gap in the arthropod’s armor, it transforms into a kentrogon, a specialized phase of the barnacle life cycle that possess a stylet–an organic syringe-like structure–which allows Sacculina to inject itself into the crab, and not much else. At this point, the hard shell attached to the crab’s carapace falls off and the barnacle continues to grown within its host.
Four years ago, I took over the Deep-sea Mining Observer from my predecessor, Arlo Hemphill. Conceived by the Pew Charitable Trust in 2016, The DSM Observer was created to be an online trade journal for the emerging industry as the International Seabed Authority navigated through the creation of an Exploitation Code for Seabed Minerals in the Area. Originally envisioned to run for two years, we continued to cover and report on critical developments into 2022.
After six years, the Deep-sea Mining Observer is coming to close.
I know, I know. I started this series and then totally lost track of it. It needs an update and a fresh coat of finish. Fortunately, a few chats about getting started in woodworking inspired me to put some more work into my ridiculous woodworking manifesto.
This is Part 5 of Built to Last: A Reflection on Environmentally Conscientious Woodworking.
I’ve been woodworking my whole life, but this merger of science, conservation, woodworking, and the environment began with what remains one of the most popular articles on Southern Fried Science: How to build a canoe from scratch on a graduate student stipend. That was my return to serious woodworking after almost a decade and one fun way to celebrate passing my prelims.
So what do you actually need to get started woodworking?
You really don’t need nearly as much to get started as the woodworkers of YouTube may lead you to believe. Sure, as you progress you may want a really nice sander, you may find a domino joiner appealing, you might want to drop $1000 on a full set of nice hand planes, or maybe you start investing on milling machines.
But, at the beginning, you need something that cuts and something that connects. My freshman year of college, David Shiffman and I started a ridiculous company that recovered used lofts from dumpsters and dorm rooms at the end of the year, stored them over the summer, and then sold them back at a steep discount to incoming students as a recycled alternative to building a new loft. They had character.
We had exactly two power tools between us. A corded Skil drill that I paid $20 for and didn’t even have variable speed, and a very old corded jigsaw from a brand that doesn’t even exist. A hammer, a cheap handsaw, and the screwdriver that came in my truck’s spare tire kit rounded out our arsenal. We disassembled, rebuilt, and modified thousands of lofts using those tools. It really doesn’t take much.
The third part of the 27th session of the International Seabed Authority, a meeting where the rules and regulations about how the deep ocean will be mined, begins today. If process is your jam, you can watch the UN negotiations here: https://isa.org.jm/web-tv
For a while it seemed like the deal wasn’t going to go through. After his initial offer, Elon Musk tried everything he could to back out of it, short of sitting for a deposition in the resulting law suit. But, at the end of the day, it went through, and Elon Musk now owns Twitter.
Lots of folks are worried about what a Musk-controlled Twitter will become. His conditional commitment to press freedom depends entirely on how much praise is heaped upon him. His record as an employer is a mess. And now he controls one of the most potent, though slowly waning, outlets for public engagement, and certainly the preferred medium of journalists and politicians.
I’ve taught Social Media for Environmental Communications at Duke University for the last 11 years. Every year there’s been some big social media shakeup, and every year we look at how that shakeup will impact professionals using social media primary as an outreach and engagement tool. This has the potential to big the biggest shift in how folks approach social media that we’ve seen in a long time. But it also could be a whole heap of nothing. It all depends on the whims of a single, inconsistent owner who may not really know what he has or what his vision for it is.
So what will this new Twitter look like? I suspect that we won’t see tectonic shifts in how Twitter operates immediately. It will take months for any of Musk’s vision to trickle into the user experience. I don’t get the impression that there are many people left for whom an ownership change is going to push them to finally get a Twitter account. The platform seems largely out of its growth phase. So there will likely be a slow and steady attrition of users as they get less and less out of using Twitter. They won’t be replaced.
Long-term, I expect to see a hard push towards monetization of an increasingly small active user base. Which, in itself, will make that user base even smaller.
On April 28, 2022, I was invited to give a short talk to a gathering of Environmental NGO representatives to provide an overview and my perspective on the current state of development for deep-sea mining. Below is the transcript of that talk.
Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me. Today I’m going to give you a very brief whirlwind tour of the current state of deep-sea mining and the policy regime around this developing industry.
The first thing I need to highlight is that we often talk about deep-sea mining as one cohesive thing, but it’s really four separate and distinct industries, all developing in tandem, with significant differences in the types of metals targeted, the technology necessary to exploit those metals, and the motivations for doing so.
On September 14, 2022, I gave a talk on community oceanography and the OpenCTD for the AtlantOS Ocean Hour “Democratizing ocean observations through low-cost technologies” workshop. Below is the transcript from that talk.
Good morning and thank you for inviting me.
Access to the tools of science is not equitable, and nowhere is this inequality of access more pronounced than in the ocean sciences, where all but a few entities have the capital to mount major oceanographic research campaigns. I come from the world of deep-sea ecology, where budgets can quickly climb into the tens of millions of dollars. But even small-scale coastal research can be stymied by the need for vessels, equipment, and instruments, access to which is often controlled by research institutions.
As the need to understand the dramatic changes happening both at the surface and beneath the waves accelerates, barriers to access that precludes the participation of the full breadth of ocean stakeholders erodes our potential to understand, anticipate, and mitigate those changes.
One of the missions of my post-Academic career has been to make the tools of ocean science more accessible to more people. I believe that the ocean belongs to everyone and that the tools to study the ocean should be available to anyone with the curiosity and motivation to pursue that inquiry.
Chief among those tools is the workhorse of oceanography, the CTD.
As in-person negotiations on the future of exploitation in the deep ocean resume this week in Kingston Jamaica, we reflect back on the last two years of development as reported on our sister site, the Deep-sea Mining Observer. This article first appeared on August 26, 2021.
Deep-sea mining is frequently framed as a race to the seafloor. While that is not technically true–deep-sea mining has, in fact, been incredibly slow to develop as an industry, with nearly half a century of technological innovation, diplomatic negotiation, and environmental exploration under its belt without producing a single ounce of commercial ore–the deep-sea mining industry is in a race against the one major technological innovation that could upend the industry’s claim to being a foundational technology for the renewable resource transition.
The race is not to the bottom of the sea before fossil fuel consumption creates runaway global warming (with a 30-year-horizon, deep-sea mining is well positioned to facilitate the long-term transition to renewables, but is unlikely to make a major impact in the resource demands needed to meat the IPCC 2030 targets). The race is to reach commercial production before the evolving state of battery technology renders the majority of seabed resources superfluous. Battery chemistry is the x-factor that will shape the long-term prospects for the viability of deep-sea mining.