I just discovered that Unetbootin, the tool I use to load installers for Linux/GNU onto a bootable USB stick, can also make bootable folder inside a partition on your hard drive. Once it has finished, you reboot your PC, and the install options you’d normally see when boot off as USB appear as option in the GRUB boot menu. Select the option you want and voila! So far, I have only tested it with an .ISO of Lubuntu 11.10 I happened to have lying around, but I see no reason to believe it won’t work with any .ISO that normally works with Unetbootin (famous last words… ;)

Update 21/12/2012:

Yesterday, I mucked around some more with using Unetbootin to mount .ISO files as bootable on the hard drive. Unfortunately, I tried to mount the “Full Monty” KDE version of PCLinuxOS, one of the biggest Linux/GNU distros I’ve ever seen, and ran out of space in the partition Unetbootin was trying to save it to. It then crashed in a spectacular fashion, taking out my OS with it. Bugger.

Feeling like a right noob, I finally got around to doing something I should have done years ago, installing VirtualBox, which I did on a fresh install of Debian “Squeeze” (the latest stable release). Like its proprietary cousin VMWare, which I learned to use during my original tech training, VirtualBox creates a simulation of another computer, running inside your computer. You can boot and install operating systems, and perform other experiments on this simulated PC (hence the name), without it having any effect on the real operating system you are running VirtualBox inside. This is particularly useful for trying out new operating systems without going to the trouble of burning CDs, or making bootable USBs.

Filed December 17th, 2012 under Uncategorized

I’ve been wondering for a while how much work and resources would be required to build a prototype for a neighbourhood scale organic-waste-to-energy plant, with a pedal-powered mulcher. I’ve heard a lot of theory about biogas digesters, but this article entitled ‘DIY Methane Generator‘ seems to be based on the experience of some people who have actually experimented with it on their permaculture farm, with some success.

“Just about any organic waste can be decomposed as a methane generator - plant (soft material is better than woody material) and animal wastes, and even human waste.”

This got me thinking. Soft material. Like convulvulus and periwinkle? Twitch? Grass clippings? Animal waste, who has a dog and feels guilty putting its do-do into landfill, and weird about putting it in the compost? Human waste. Hmm. I wonder how many kilograms of humanure a household produces each day?

“Each kilogram of biodegradable material yields around 0.4 m³ (400l) of gas… 2 gas rings for a couple of hours a day will use between 1-2 m³”

So that means you’d have to be able to process about 2.5kg to 5kg of colonizing weeds, dog poo, and humanure per day, per household, to supply enough gas for daily cooking needs. I presume this material would need to be mulched fairly finely for efficient digestion. Maybe this could be done with wind power, where it’s available, but what about cycle power?

Cycle power has the benefits of being available when it’s not windy, and providing an exercise opportunity for humans (assuming you have humans around who want some exercise). Think about all those people at the gym, riding exercycles which aren’t hooked up to anything! Turning human pedalling power directly into mechanical work is much more efficient than turning it into electricity and back into work, and there is almost certainly more embedded energy in the various hardware needed for electrical generation and storage than there would be in a pedal-powered machine. Also, according to this article in Low Tech Magazine, a stationary bike custom-built to provide energy from pedal-power is much more efficient than hooking up a standard bike, whether you’re trying to generate electricity, or power a machine directly.

So what I’m thinking is this. Each neighbourhood could have a gym, with exercycles designed for ease of harvesting the energy output of the person exercising, using a direct mechanical drive with some sort of gearing system, to allow riders to work their way up to the force necessary for a given job. A standard socket could allow a variety of mobile machines to be hooked up to it, anything from a smoothie maker to the mulcher discussed above. When nobody is using the energy directly, the exercycles could be set up to generate and store electricity, wind up clockwork, compress air, or charge electromagents.

This is something the energy group of a Transition initiative could start working on right now.

Filed December 13th, 2012 under Uncategorized

CreativeCommons is 10 years old! The first set of CC licenses was released in December of 2002, and celebration events are taking place around the world between the 7 and 16 of this month. CC Aotearoa/NZ got in early with a screening of RIP: A Remix Manifesto, held last night in in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Here in Ōtepoti, I celebrated last night too, along with the good people of the Dunedin Linux Users Group. DunLUG gather twice a month at Filadelfio’s to compare devices, and chat about all things geek, so it seemed a natural place for a local celebration of the CC milestone.

The concept behind the CC licenses was directly inspired by the the GNU Free Documentation License (FDL), which was designed for free software manuals, and became the original license of Wikipedia. The FDL was written to work in tandem with the GNU General Public License (GPL), and similar license which were designed to legally encode software freedom for programs like the GNU operating system, and the Linux kernel which usually sits at the core of GNU systems.

Today I was looking back at a 2001 Slashdot story about the WIPO copyright treaty. The comment thread on that story, with its exploratory proposal for a “Creative Works Public License” and references to David Wiley’s “Open Education License“, is a good example of the primordial soup of ideas from which CC emerged. I found that story while looking for info about another of CC’s antecedents. BuskPay was a project proposed around the same time, which aimed to create an open micropayments platfom for “Buskware“:

“Buskware is redistributable software offered in hopes of receiving voluntary payment. It’s like shareware, but without a fixed price or the threat of legal action forcing you to pay. Also, “software” is used broadly to include anything that can be stored in digital form, not just programs, so it makes sense to talk about releasing recorded music, text, or videos as buskware.”

Unfortunately, the BuskPay vision was ahead of its time, and failed to get critical mass. The problem it addressed remains unsolved - how to simplify giving small online donations net to people who freely offer their software, creative works, and other public services over the net. Perhaps BitCoin or software like FreeCoin offer another solution? Perhaps a much more radical shift towards using the gift economy which is native to the net in day-to-day life will make a technical solution to online payments obselete? I suspect we will find out during the next decade or two.

Update 7/12/2012: Echoing many of the goals of BuskPay, Propster is a newish crowdfunding platform I discovered today, with the curious twist that rather than project admins setting up a funding campaign themselves, Propster allows fans to set up an online “tip jar” for projects they want to give “props” to, in either BitCoins, or $US.

Filed December 6th, 2012 under Uncategorized
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