50 Machines to build a civilization with...
November 3, 2012 11:05 AM   Subscribe

The Post-Apocalypse Survival Machine Nerd Farm. The goal: "... to create a completely self-sufficient community that produces not only its own food, but also energy, tools, and raw materials for making those tools. "
posted by blue_beetle (32 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
And then we ship them all to Mars.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:08 AM on November 3, 2012


I know this is not what I'm supposed to think, but still all that kept running through my mind is: why haven't they dug a latrine yet? Composting your own individual waste is fine and all (I guess), but maybe you might do that on a communal scale rather than on an individual one... (Also we may have the key to why the water is giving people illnesses right there.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:17 AM on November 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm trying very hard not to laugh at all the well-meaning people who will no doubt develop scurvy in a year's time. but seriously communes and self-sustaining communities like this are endlessly fascinating. (but man why is it always the women who actually do any work AND seem at least competent at it? Half the history of these back to the land movements are all just thinly veiled "Be a gentleman farmer/Nature guru while the women do *all* the work crap.")

I'm going to read Drop City again.
posted by The Whelk at 11:25 AM on November 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm sure it is an interesting experiment, but it seems rather complicated. Fifty machines mean an awful lot of invested labor, materials, upkeep costs, knowledge on how to use and fix them. There is a thing I've seen a few times that Iron Age folk had a "toolkit" of 5-7 tools, with which they could more or less start society anew. Of course, that would be iron age society, but still. Set a few men and women down anywhere, with a few sets of these tools (presumedly seeds and livestock too), and they could make everything they were used to. Self-sufficiency was the norm at that time, and for a long time after, but they had a much lower quality of living. Self-sufficiency on a small scale seems beyond industrial society, but that shouldn't be surprising.
posted by Jehan at 11:34 AM on November 3, 2012


Jesus H. Christ, if you're going to do this, put some thought into sanitation. Dig a field latrine or better yet a composting latrine and buy a frigging uv water purifier.

wait, the factor e farm (derr) website says there's dedicated sanitation: showers and toilets. Not sure how businessweek might have missed what is apparently a key facility on the farm.
posted by boo_radley at 11:45 AM on November 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm trying to figure out how "dude almost singlehandedly builds dozens of machines; a few people join in" means that men are incompetent and women do all the work.
posted by DU at 11:46 AM on November 3, 2012


This sounds like a great idea, except for, as lesbiassparrow points out, the latrine issues. I mean, composting human waste in a bucket in your room doesn't sound great to begin with, and then what happens when you get to the top of the bucket? It didn't sound like they really had a good plan in place for waste management, just a lot of boys and wishful thinking. But maybe I'm missing something.

And yeah, it sounds like they need more people who actually know how to grow things; this whole shopping at Walmart thing and the whole "don't drink the water" thing don't bode well. Yes, a UV water purifier would be a good start.

Also, I was unclear: Where is the power coming from for the Power Cube? If it's just something that plugs in, that doesn't sound sustainable. Do they have huge banks of solar cells somewhere that this article didn't mention (or that I missed)?
posted by limeonaire at 11:47 AM on November 3, 2012


Not sure how businessweek might have missed what is apparently a key facility on the farm.

Because the article was clearly written for status-quo lulz.
posted by DU at 11:47 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because the article was clearly written for status-quo lulz.

Or they were just fucking with the dude from BusinessWeek.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:58 AM on November 3, 2012


Bedrooms line one side of the building and a kitchen and bathrooms take up most of the other.

Doesn't sound like the reporter missed that, but it also sounds like either the bathrooms aren't working, or that people living in the other structures haven't quite gotten around to putting in sanitation facilities.
posted by Forktine at 12:49 PM on November 3, 2012


If you want to learn how to do these kinds of things, go study the Amish. They've got it all down pat long since.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:52 PM on November 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


The description of the sandwich makes me hope I never end up rubbing shoulders with these dudes in the post-apocalypse.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 12:57 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jehan: There is a thing I've seen a few times that Iron Age folk had a "toolkit" of 5-7 tools, with which they could more or less start society anew.

I'd be interested to read that if you can dig up a link. (A couple minutes' googling on my own turned up not much.)
posted by stebulus at 1:00 PM on November 3, 2012


If you want to learn how to do these kinds of things, go study the Amish. They've got it all down pat long since.

My thought exactly, it seems like has a pretty amazing, open-source, knowledge base he could be drawing from and he appears to either not have thought of it (doubtful) or judged it of little value (baffling). Instead he is "inventing" engines that, presumably, run on fossil fuels (not sure where those are going to come from in this brave new world)

I understand this is coming through the filter of BUSINESSweek but still, it sounds like massive hubris and ambition that far outstrips skill and good judgement.
posted by Cosine at 1:31 PM on November 3, 2012


Having been separated from much of the grid by Frankenstorm this week I could use a few of his tools, but he can keep the sandwich.
posted by caddis at 1:39 PM on November 3, 2012


Yeah, Agile development methodologies are cool and all, but there's some order of operations bootstrapping that's important. Sanitation and drinkable water are pretty much job 1. Having a brick press or a tractor doesn't do much good if you're too fucked up with dysentery to use either.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:55 PM on November 3, 2012


This isn't about merely surviving. According to the article, they want to undermine capitalism and create an entirely new economic system. They believe competition is "wasteful" and open source anyone can make design is the best way forward. Think Linux. He is creating a new economic kernel. These 50 tools are the kernel from which every other app can be built. Since it is all open source, anyone can improve on the design thus it is better than closed source systems. It's actually a proven idea and see no reason why they shouldn't continue. They may not replace capitalism, just as Linux never replaced Microsoft and Apple, but it likely will find a niche that capitalism is not very good at (ie. serving communities with lots of skill and time but not much money). Linux/unix open source software is the dominate software on backend servers, it's not a minor player. If I was younger and more able I would be there with them, it's a great idea. Not surprising he is Polish, they know about apocalypses and rebuilding from scratch, in the bloodlands between western capitalism and eastern socialism.
posted by stbalbach at 1:57 PM on November 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


stbalbach: Do you not feel it is massively wasteful to not have proper sanitation, drinking water, food, etc if the goal expressed is to sell these 50 tools for profit? Would it not make more sense to live a simpler (see?) way while working on these tools?
posted by Cosine at 2:11 PM on November 3, 2012


I had to stop reading when I got to the part where it revealed that they buy all their food from Walmart, because they haven't managed to grow any food on their farm, despite having been working on it for ten years.

And that a dude with a Maserati and a MacBook pro was teaching them "agile development techniques".
posted by junco at 2:18 PM on November 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


A couple of years back I noted that their system of 50 basic machines could be used as an infrastructure starter kit for a science-fictional interstellar colony.
posted by Nyrath at 3:46 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am a little confused why the op chose a clearly biased article for their single link FPP. This is part of an international movement of hackerspaces, of which, Factor E farm is but one, albeit, more focused than most.

The have a wiki with videos and plans for everything they do. As well as a blog

I also think we should include a quote from the comments.

I see a few errors: FeF is not a commune. This project is not intended to set the stage for a utopian commune. This project has no relation to the prophetic idea of an Apocalypse (but I do enjoy poetic writing so I didn't mind reading that). There was no bulldozer prototype at the farm this summer nor a hydraulic table saw. Food usually comes from Dungy's Market not Wal-Mart. The bucket of rotting waste in the kitchen is called compost and it had a lid. Nobody ignored their chores. Work on the Hab-Lab was not in anyone's contract (save one person stuccoing) and we helped when we were not too busy with our own work. When you were there we were, collectively, at the complicated intersection of merit-based group leadership and skill-based individual action - a position that can occasionally lead to unattended "work-days" (every day is a work day).


posted by psycho-alchemy at 4:47 PM on November 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Food usually comes from Dungy's Market not Wal-Mart.

Phew... that's a relief.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:06 PM on November 3, 2012


One problem mentioned in the videos is that, as each machine is owner built and so bespoke, what is safe operation on Farmer A's haybaler/bulldozer/facehugger may be unsafe on Farmer B's. Standardizing safety and training then becomes difficult.

Not so great when the machines you're operating deliver tremendous force.
posted by zippy at 5:59 PM on November 3, 2012


Here's his TED talk which is referenced but not linked in the piece-of-shit article.
posted by odinsdream at 6:04 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm trying very hard not to laugh at all the well-meaning people who will no doubt develop scurvy in a year's time

You won't mind if I laugh and point at such a comment while mentioning Sauerkraut. Because one doesn't need modern methods/distribution to get Vitamin C.

I wanted to find the link to the E.P.I.C. talk about hard times and mak'n 'kraut - but only found that link.

sanitation. Dig a field latrine or better yet a composting latrine and buy a frigging uv water purifier.

There is the Sunny John idea or taking the wastewater and running it through a man-made wetland.

I'm sure it is an interesting experiment, but it seems rather complicated. Fifty machines mean an awful lot of invested labor, materials, upkeep costs, knowledge on how to use and fix them.

VS what, the uncomplicated way food is now farmed? Them thar horses don't need any knowledge or effort to keep them up as they are self-regulating animals....right?

I mean, composting human waste in a bucket in your room doesn't sound great to begin with, and then what happens when you get to the top of the bucket? It didn't sound like they really had a good plan in place for waste management, just a lot of boys and wishful thinking. But maybe I'm missing something.

EDO period nightsoil as an example?

Where is the power coming from for the Power Cube?

Mobile impulse power is going to come from Oxygen-Carbon reactions as man has done for many Centuries. Now one can create toxic storable energy that can last so long as the container remains intact via making methyl or ethyl alcohol. One can take a oil press and extract plant oils and then use them (In a fracking Lister engine - doesn't need electricity and would still run in the TV "revolution" world) If all one has is wood or other long chained sugars you could look to gassifyers* as was done in the past

For the 'future evolved beings won't get to space' comment a few weeks ago - so long as the culture is willing to take and convert photons into a stable impulse power source millions of gallons of booze could be stored awaiting the launch window, then 'burned' to make the rocket fuel to make the launch happen. Its more likely that during the next World War dustup some party will explode some crap in high orbit to prevent space access.

Do they have huge banks of solar cells somewhere that this article didn't mention (or that I missed)?

Lets do some math.

If the 'standard' tractor is to emulate the old 40 horse sod-busting team - 40 hp. Lets call an electric HP 745 watts. That (rounding up) is 30 kilowatts. If they are going to use their non-designed Nickel Iron Batteries (which have bad power/weight ratios) they will need a big electric motor to run the hydraulic power cube. At 220 volts that is 136 Amps. Lets say 2/0 wire. Home depot wants $565 for 50 feet of such wire. Now imagine trying to wire 40 acres or getting enough batteries to cover 8 hours of 30 kws of power?

Electric power doesn't cut it at that rate. Now imagine trying to use electric to power the big, modern 800+hp tractors.

But lets say you want a hydraulic earth-buster-upper. these guys make one that is so easy to use that anyone who can walk and move 3 levers can operate. So that 55+ year old gardener in your life could keep on till'n for as many years as they can stand upright. I'm guessing with an electric starter and an RC remote control opening/closing the hydraulic valves you could prop the old man in a corner of the field under an umbrella and he could till as long as his interest held out.

Standardizing safety and training then becomes difficult.

Farming is one of those 'safety is an afterthought' efforts. This opensource effort doesn't change that.

For that matter, if they ever got that metal-melting part of the project operational, instead of today's nice standard metal for machining you'd have metals all over the place. Now think about the hydraulic control block with the 0 psi to 2,000 psi pressure changes in metal you'd don't "know" about how uniform its metallic properties are.

*that gassifyer is also open source. And note how a gassifyer is part of FEMAs plans.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:33 PM on November 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've always thought the real long-term killer for a space colony / apocalypse bunker would be the inability to make electronics; stuff is going to break down, eventually even processors and such, but you can't fabricate your own without a semiconductor fab and all of the associated industry that supports it. That's a lot of really high-end, technical industry that doesn't scale down well (as far as I know). You might get a basic setup that could make some simple things, but it's going to be really hard to make anything like a good processor, a high-efficiency solar panel, or a modern touchscreen without a major industrial base.

The chemistry lab seems difficult too; there are so many different industrial chemicals and you'll need many of them for manufacturing. Plus, producing chemicals is often dependent on having the right precursor chemicals. You'd need a few dedicated expert chemists to make them and a very diverse mining operation to supply all of the necessary elements.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:47 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Standardizing safety and training then becomes difficult.

Farming is one of those 'safety is an afterthought' efforts. This opensource effort doesn't change that.


Yeah, I realize that came across as naive, training. What I meant was, a worker could be lulled by the false belief that they've operated a tractor just like this one before, when it may behave quite differently. This is different than operating a standard manufactured item, where maybe you remove the safety, but the device otherwise acts like its bretheren.

But, like I said before, this is one of the things the project leader mentions in his videos, and I'm curious whether it's something that can be dealt with, or whether there will be one more thing to look out for when operating farm equipment.
posted by zippy at 9:02 PM on November 3, 2012


This article reads like the author has an axe to grind.
posted by stp123 at 9:55 PM on November 3, 2012


Where is the power coming from for the Power Cube?

Looks like commercially produced internal combustion engine, at least for now. They seem interested in developing home brewed biofuels, though probably more as proof of concept, as commercially produced fuel is probably a more sensible choice for the farm as it exists.

This farm is more than a hackerspace. Add a heaping handful of goal oriented grandiosity with a hearty drive to reinvent the wheel, and a dash of utopianism, you'll get a more accurate picture of the endeavor.

I get that this appeals to the idealist in lots of folks. But their wiki paints a somewhat flaky premise for the whole project. And I imagine the article is far closer to the truth than not.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:38 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I read "The Post-Apocalypse Survival Machine Nerd Farm" and the pull-quote, I thought it was going to be a "modest proposal" style thing about farming nerds for food. (I can't believe I was the only one, surely?)
posted by lollusc at 11:47 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Add a heaping handful of goal oriented grandiosity with a hearty drive to reinvent the wheel, and a dash of utopianism, you'll get a more accurate picture of the endeavor.

Like Journey to forever.

You'd need a few dedicated expert chemists

Or go get a copy of Caveman chemistry to get an idea of what you can make with not much infrastructure. The Foxfire series would also be a fine reference.

the inability to make electronics;

Glass blowing is being used to make hand-made vacuum tubes. But given you have the Power Cube and all your 'stuff' is hydraulic you always have Fludic Logic.

(Yea - computer logic without electricity. Suck on that too Revolution!)
posted by rough ashlar at 9:03 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a great deal of knowledge and intellectual progress that came along with the technological progress civilization has made. I think there's a fair bit we can do with the former in the absence of the resources generally required with the latter.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:23 AM on November 4, 2012


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