Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

DIY Learning – Experimental Solar Air Heater, Part 1

March 30th 2016

LearnThis has always been about discovering and learning new skills and helping others to do the same.  Those skills can be learned in a variety of formats, where a blog normally consists of reading and writing, I’ve always been an advocate to practice skills, learn by doing and whenever possible, put those learned skills into action on a regular basis.  I do exactly that by building things and fixing things that I can learn about myself. Home repairs, renovations, handyman.  I’ve done a lot of carpentry, metal work and several times now, small solar energy projects.  In this three part series, I’m going to outline 3 home solar projects I’ve done.  Hopefully they serve as an example of how you can use a do it yourself (DIY) approach to learn a lot about a subject.

First DIY Solar Experiment – Battery Backed Photovoltaic

The first solar experiments I did about 15 years ago with a small solar panel that I used to mount on my home’s roof to power a vent fan that would help to cool the attic, using air exchange anytime it was hot and sunny out.  I used a 15W 12V panel, to drive a 12V high volume fan and wiring it up to an old mercury thermostat.  The cool thing about an old mercury thermostat is that it works on gravity, so you can mount it upside down to reverse its operation. What normally activates the heating cycle if the temperature drops, upside down it behaves as a cooling unit, activating the cooling when it gets above a specific temperature instead.

I quickly realized that my 15W panel was a LOT more power than the 5W fan was using for air exchange. I figured I could try to extend the use of this power with a battery pack.  I did quite a bit of research and was a regular reading the magazine “Home Power” to find some ideas and sources of information.  I looked at and purchased a simple circuit board kit that I could solder and build myself, since it was only about $20 to buy.  The board was a charge controller, with low load protection and over voltage protection that I hooked up to a small 7AmpH 12V gel battery.

The additional 10W took a few days to fully charge the battery, but then I was able to use that to operate several compact fluorescent lights in my basement laundry room.  I used a small 175W inverter that was nearly zero no-load draw. I was able to drop the wiring down from the attic along side the house plumbing vent stack right to the basement so I could put the charge controller, battery and lighting in the basement for the roof mount solar panel.

I ran it for quite a few years and it kept the attic at least 5-10 degrees cooler with the active cooling fan and the added light in the laundry room was great to operate for essentially free from the battery.  Overall, it was a great experiment and fun to build, yet I never proceeded doing photo voltaic again, due to the high cost and low efficiency of the panels. I sold the panel and battery used when selling the house, to another solar experimenter to hook up and play with.

Second DIY Solar Experiment – Active Solar Air Heater

I’ve always been interested in efficient energies from the sun.  The most common is solar photo voltaic, however it continues to be a fairly costly solution. Capturing the sun’s energy with photo voltaic unfortunately has very poor efficiency. However, cost of panels has reduced rapidly so for DIY-ers, they have become much more affordable. Commercially installed PV systems are still very expensive still with around 20 year payback periods.  One problem with PV panels is that their energy efficiency is only around 15% for most commercial panels.

I looked into building a passive solar air heater for additional heating on our tack room / barn.  It is heated by electric baseboard heaters to keep the room from freezing (and the cats warm) in the winter.  I found some examples of home built popcan solar air heaters on youtube so I decided to start with one of those.  I picked up a bunch of free windows being given away on a local classified site, and so had a 2 foot by 3 foot glass panel to start a small heater from.

Next, I built a simple plywood box to house aluminum cans which when painted black, could collect the sun’s heat nicely and act as a heat exchanger.  This DIY concept is very simple, cold air comes in the bottom of the box or panel, which has a glass front facing the sun, with black cans inside to absorb and radiate the heat into the air inside the panel.  That hot air rises so can exit out a top vent to create continuous heat output.

I built and tested this in the sun and while a passive design worked to raise the temperature of the air by over 30°C (86°F) continuously, the air flow was very low.  I decided to add a couple of small 12V computer fans to blow the hot air out into the room where I needed the air.  It worked great and I exhausted the hot air into the barn through a window which I built a sealed panel for with insulated air ducts to reach it.

The heater’s fans were mounted in a series circuit with a $2 snap disc I found on ebay.  These engage the circuit whenever the temperature was above 25°C (77°F).  A cheap 12V power supply (also from ebay) ran the fans whenever there was heat in the box.  I enclosed the end with tin to seal it all up from weather and to connect my air duct vents to the barn when it was actually installed.

Overall, the heat was great on a small DIY device like this, considering I didn’t even insulate the box.  Its surface area gets about 660W of sun radiant heat (about 1KW/m2). My estimate of efficiency after doing some math on the air flow and heat increase as well, was about 65% so this device was able to output a continuous 400W or so.  Not bad, for a diy experiment that cost me about $20 to make since I had most of the parts already.

Outputting 400W for 5 hrs a day, meant it produced about 2KW per full day of sun.  Saving $0.18 per day of operation, it only needed 111 days of operation to pay off.  I installed and had it operating for 4 yrs.  This equals about 125 days per year of sun so it more than paid off and even saved me an extra $70 on electric heating for the barn.  SWEET!

Posted by Mike King under Learning & Life | Comments Off on DIY Learning – Experimental Solar Air Heater, Part 1

Mountain Climbing: A Hobby for Those with an Adventurous Spirit

June 2nd 2013

A guest post this week on a topic I really ought to write about sometime as well.

Climbing mountains sounds both exhilarating and dangerous, which may deter some but also encourages others. Though not a hobby for the weak of heart, mountain climbing offers benefits beyond the physical, making it an excellent choice for those already inclined to adventure. Climbing uses just about every muscle you can imagine. On top of the physical stamina necessary to sustain you over days-long journeys, you need mental stability and emotional strength to endure rigorous climbs. The following discusses what you need to know to start climbing mountains.

No Pain, No Gain

The old axiom rings truer in this sport than possibly any other. The physical strength necessary to propel you forward includes muscle mass and cardio endurance. In order to get in climb-ready shape, you need to start with your doctor and move on to a trainer. Because mountain climbing is so intensely physical, you will need to sit down with your doctor and make sure you’re good to go. Not everyone has the right genetics to make it happen. Physical limitations can be overcome, but some internal characteristic may rule this hobby out, such as heart conditions and other life-threatening issues. Make sure a health professional gives you a full physical just to be clear on the risks.

Once you’re cleared, hit the gym, the park and anywhere else you can think of to boost your body’s natural physique. Even if you’re totally out of shape, you can prepare to begin mountain climbing by following the same set of guidelines everyone uses: start small and build up. Hiring a trainer may not be necessary, but you should seek advice from friends or relatives who are physically active. Mountain climbing isn’t a solo journey, and your training shouldn’t be, either. Enlist some help and get started. One climber suggests staggering the routine, beginning with a solid base and increasing endurance until you’re ready to train for your specific climb. Another recommends including altitude training, which is a logical step in the progression of mountain climbing. The bottom line is this: you must be in top physical condition in order to climb a mountain. Any other way can lead to serious injuries and death.

Clear Away the Cobwebs

If physical strength forms a basic prerequisite, then mental and emotional fitness form necessary add-ons. As referenced above, climbing mountains is a group activity. This adds a level of safety and accountability. However, you might end up alone on a mountain in case of an emergency, and having the wherewithal to remain calm may keep you alive. For reference, Mt. Everest had a 29% success rate as of 2006, with a fatality rate of 2.05%. In fact, most climbers die on the descent of Mt. Everest. Since most of the climbers were in prime, peak physical condition, this means that being in shape isn’t everything. You need to accept the possibility of disaster and even death. Not everyone is prepared for this, but it’s crucial to undertaking a hobby that requires so much exertion. Emotional strength matters as much as the physical, and mental preparedness is key to survival.

While climbing might be exciting, it’s also very dangerous. Every adventurer needs to follow some rules, and when it comes to mountain climbing, following the right rules could save your life. Preparing for mountain climbing encompasses intense physical training as well as education yourself on crucial survival skills. Mountain climbing can be a fun and social hobby, and the best way to enjoy its benefits is to stay prepared.


Michael Bentley is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon who frequently writes about extreme sports, the drury outdoors, hiking & camping, traveling, adventure-seeking and other related topics.

Posted by Mike King under Life | 6 Comments »

Keep Track of the Risks Involved with Adrenaline Seeking

March 29th 2013

Adreneline Sports

I’ve got a guest post this week that covers some of the risks of what I love, extreme sports…  The author, Trevor is listed at the end of the article as well.

An adrenaline junkie is a person that seeks out thrilling activities and the adrenaline rush they produce. Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in the brain. When engaged in a particularly exciting or dangerous activity, these glands dump huge doses of the pleasure-inducing hormones into the bloodstream, which increases the heart rate and ups oxygen levels, creating an overall feeling of euphoria that can last for hours. People who seek out this adrenaline high tend to engage in high-risk activities, such as, but not limited to, skydiving, car racing and mountain climbing.

An Addictive Feeling

It’s no coincidence that people who enjoy activities that produce adrenaline are identified as adrenaline junkies. In fact, engaging in action sports produces neurochemicals in the brain that are more potent than illicit drugs. According to Psychology Today, one way to mimic the effect of an adrenaline-producing activity is by combining deadly amounts of cocaine and heroin. And similar to the action of drugs on the brain, once you grow accustomed to regular doses of adrenaline, you need to take even bigger risks in order to achieve the same level of euphoria — which is one of the main reasons why adrenaline junkies get hurt. When the excitement of, say, snowboarding down a particularly steep hillside no longer produces the desired effect, a true adrenaline junkie will seek out an even steeper mountain, or add tricks to his routine, like jumps and flips.

Avoiding Injury

Rock climbing, extreme sports

Without taking some simple steps to prevent injuries, an adrenaline junkie can easily find himself seeking out not the next big wave, but rather, an experienced medical professional. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) understands that as long as there are skis, bikes, boats and skates, people of all ages will speed down hills, careen off ramps and ride huge waves. Fortunately, instead of preaching the importance of couch surfing, the AAOS offers those hooked on adrenaline a variety of tips to avoid getting hurt. For instance, stretching for a few minutes can help minimize muscle and ligament injuries. Always have a partner with you. Avoid overheating and dehydration by taking frequent water breaks. Wear the appropriate footwear and protective gear for your sport, including helmets, padding for knees, elbows and wrists, and goggles.

Understand the Risks

After observing the behavior (and also lifestyle) of some of these so-called adrenaline junkies it would be quite easy to conclude that many of them won’t take a break from danger until they find themselves looking for a long term disability lawyer. However, it’s important to understand that nearly every significant outdoor or physical activity – such as driving, jogging solo, or even walking down the street – carries risk; the critically important thing is to carefully and thoroughly measure the risks involved with each type of activity, and determine whether the potential benefits outweigh the potential costs. For many individuals, adrenaline-filled activities present substantial benefits, such as stress relief and personal enjoyment, and these benefits more than make up for the risk. Whatever your extreme activity may be – race car driving, extreme cycling, mountain climbing, or something else – it’s vital that adrenaline seekers be fully aware of the risks associated with their activity of choice.

Trevor Diamond is a freelance writer who focuses on career development, professional training, disability claims, workplace culture, employment trends and other like subjects.

Posted by Mike King under Life | 5 Comments »

Fitness Activities and Habits

February 21st 2013

Any personal development program for your mind and knowledge also deserves some attention to your physical health as well.  While I’ve not written much yet on personal training or living actively, I figure its due time to cover a few areas of fitness thatFitness activities: xc skiing I’ve learned and want to share some stories from.  So, lets venture into this realm of personal development and see what there is to learn!

Making Fitness a Priority

Without getting into all the details of the million programs, changes, hopes and promises so many companies and people make about health and well being, I want to look first at fitness from a very general perspective.  My take is the only way to truly stay healthy is to have and make fitness a priority in your life in some way.  It doesn’t need to be difficult, its a mindset and so as with any change you want to first make a decision to include some fitness in your lifestyle.  I don’t suggest setting goals for physical body results until you have the knowledge to know what is reasonable for your body and lifestyle to make an informed target.  Many people jump into fitness only because they are after some result of weight loss, or strength achievement in a short time frame.  I think it is far more important to answer the question of why do you want to be more fit with a longer term goal of including fitness into your lifestyle.  Being active with fitness leads to better health, happier living and a longer life, regardless of what you can bench press.  So, think of fitness in terms of making it a priority in your life for the long term and progress slowly. Making fitness a priority means it sits among a list with other priorities as well, it doesn’t need to replace them or overcoming everything else in your life. You will have to set the priority based on your current level of fitness and what you want to change relative to your other life priorities and goals.  Don’t take on more than you can easily handle as you want to make it something that lasts.

Making Lasting Habits

Making some plan that lasts is best by making it a habit.  Habits are creating by repeating something on a regular basis, learning to enjoy and appreciate it and making it something you start to do automatically, without always needing reminders or added incentive.  This works perfectly for fitness because good fitness really needs to be a regular part of your lifestyle to make it automatic and long lasting.  Focus on building new habits or improved habits, don’t worry at all about breaking or stopping bad habits, even if they prevent the fitness level you want.  It’s much more effective to build new habits, be encouraged by them and let them push out other bad habits.  The only way to really eliminate a bad habit you don’t want is to replace it with some new habit in its place anyway.

A great way to build a new fitness habit is to:

  1. Setup a plan or schedule to repeat your fitness activity on a regular basis
  2. Plan only what you are absolutely confident you can achieve
  3. Leave a lot of room for flexibility and interruptions to that plan
  4. Get some accountability for this activity

I think these are pretty self explanatory except the last one.  By get some accountability, I mean, you need to connect a way to care about forming this habit that is personal to you.  This could be by getting help from a friend or family member who can encourage you and help you keep any commitments.  Another method is to ensure you make visible your progress and can track results for this habit and fitness to help motivate achievements and stay on track. Perhaps you need a reward or punishment system to keep you focused.  Whatever it is, it should be connected to other important priorities you have so it has significance to help train you.

Easy To Do Fitness Activities

A fitness program is going to need you to be active, getting physical, playing sports, or working out in some fashion.  The easier these activities are if you are not already doing them, the better success rate you will have and the easier it is to form habits with such activities.  For example, it’s much easier to plan a short work out in your garage if you have equipment already a couple times a week then it is to drive 50km to workout at a gym you don’t know anyone at.  You are much more likely to be successful when the activity is easy to do.  This is very important for forming habits and you need to ensure any fitness training is easy to get into based on your lifestyle now.  The smaller the change you can start with, the better.  There are many ways to do this, I have listed only a sample of some that might work for your lifestyle:

  • Get into a sport you have played previously that you know you enjoy
  • Do more of any physical activities you already enjoy (like walking or biking if you already do these)
  • Take simple tasks and make them more fitness oriented, like taking stairs instead of elevators.
  • Pair up with a friend to meet for training
  • Find a nearby gym that is on your daily route and works easily with your schedule
  • Get some home gym equipment or dust off what you already have and make it easily accessible
  • Make current activities more fitness oriented (such as working out while watching TV)
  • Read and learn more about fitness to inspire and motivate yourself to be more active
  • Take up bodyweight training so you can train with minimal to no equipment, anywhere.

So, there are many more ways to take on easy to do fitness activities and so I’d love you to add your ideas in a comment below and in my next article, I’m going to cover how bodyweight training is a excellent example of easy to do fitness and I’ll cover what some of the benefits are to this style of training.

Posted by Mike King under Life | 4 Comments »

December 2012: Resources

December 30th 2012

Great Blog Resources

Resource Links image Lightning Photos I’ve taken in the last few storms of the fall season (Fork Lightning & Sheet Lightning) 100 Ways to Be a Better Father – A spawn from a cycle of other 100 lists, and a good list it is! 17 Unspoken Rules of LinkedIn Etiquette Top 50 Leaders in Leadership – I was fortunate to be pointed out by Steve McMillan that I am on this leadership list.  There are so many other great leadership sites / blogs on this list, I just had to share it! 8 Timeless Tips to Achieve Excellence in Life 2012′s Top Ten Insights on Leadership, Innovation, and Strategy – This is a great list of links to some fantastic articles and resources on strategy, leadership and innovation from this past year. Isn’t Life Beautiful at the Bridgemaker blog. Everyone Wants Better. No One Wants Change


Athletes are everywhere, doing what they love Speaking of Athletes.  Here is an awesome video of mountain unicycling. People are Amazing 2012

Posted by Mike King under Life | 4 Comments »

Insights into Consciousness

July 25th 2012

Today I add a new guest post from Samara Brown, on a subject I’ve not explored here at LearnThis before, all about thinking about consciousness.  I hope you enjoy the questions, insight and quotes that Samara has written.  You can see a bit more about her at the end of her article.

The most easily accessible quote that I have ever read about consciousness would have to be this one from the German theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer:

“True philosophy must start from the most immediate and comprehensive fact of consciousness: ‘I am life that wants to live, in the midst of life that wants to live.’ ”

It is a very beautiful and simple explanation that I think even a child would be able to understand and appreciate. It leads my mind on to thinking about the intrinsic nature of life itself: the instinct of survival; and how all forms of matter have a tendency to integrate and thus develop greater and greater levels of complexity and order. Many theories or elaborations on the subject of consciousness are so ethereal or convoluted that I often find it very difficult to grasp the meaning intended by the writer. But if you are patient and search carefully enough you can find some very interesting insights, such as this one from Daniel C. Dennett:

“Human consciousness is just about the last surviving mystery. A mystery is a phenomenon that people don’t know how to think about – yet….. We do not yet have all the answers to any of the questions of cosmology and particle physics, molecular genetics and evolutionary theory, but we do know how to think about them… With consciousness, however, we are still in a terrible muddle. Consciousness stands alone today as a topic that often leaves even the most sophisticated thinkers tongue-tied and confused. And, as with all of the earlier mysteries, there are many who insist – and hope – that there will never be a demystification of consciousness.”

It is interesting that Dennett points out the fact that often a sophisticated mind will struggle with mysteries such as the meaning of consciousness. History shows us that often with a great insoluble problem the answer is actually quite simple and that it will not necessarily be someone with a high intelligence quotient (I.Q.) that will be able to solve it. There is a new theory emerging recently that goes further by suggesting that what the world requires today are in fact people with a high soundness quotient (S.Q.) Soul soundness, a less corrupt or alienated person. Dennett also suggests in this quote that many people prefer mystery, superstition and dogma over knowledge-based understanding and scientific enquiry. This point is reinforced by this last insight by Terence McKenna:

“You are an explorer, and you represent our species, and the greatest good you can do is to bring back a new idea, because our world is endangered by the absence of good ideas. Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness.”

McKenna stresses the point of the importance that humanity should be placing on science to provide answers to our most pressing and critical issues. We need to quickly become more conscious of ourselves, our place in the world, and to find solutions to the problems which threaten our very existence.

In terms of addressing these issues that are threatening our society, I would say that one of the most amazing thinkers that I have come across is a biologist called Jeremy Griffith. He seems to me to explain and deal with human consciousness and the problems associated with by far better than anybody else that I have come across. Although, I must admit that I am not particularly widely read or knowledgeable. Griffith says that:

“We humans suffer from a consciousness-derived, psychological human condition, not an instinct- derived, stimulus-and-response-driven animal condition—it is unique to us.”

Our fully conscious brain is very obviously unique on this planet, and we are clearly the only animal that can fully understand cause and effect in our lives and can make conscious adjustments according to what we learn from different events and outcomes. So it would seem to me to make perfect sense that that is where our problems stem from. Sure any animal you like to make an example of in the world around us is carrying out all kinds of behaviors and actions, but they are not conscious of why they are doing them, they are ruled by their instincts. A lion cannot explain why he needs to kill the zebra, he just does it and doesn’t have the ability to understand why or to think about carrying out an alternative action. It is only a conscious brain that has the ability to assess outcomes of behaviors—and more importantly asses or wonder whether the action they carried out were right or wrong? Goodness!, now I’ve said it—right and wrong? Good or bad? Are humans fundamentally good, and more specifically, am I? Am I good or bad? According to Griffith, you have come to the question of questions or in other words the human condition. Griffith describes the human condition as:

“The human condition arises from the existence of so-called ‘good and evil’ in our make-up. We humans are capable of shocking acts of inhumanity like rape, murder and torture and our agonizing predicament or ‘condition’ has been that we have never been able to explain and thus understand why. And even in our everyday behavior, why are we competitive, aggressive and selfish when clearly the ideals are to be the complete opposite, namely cooperative, loving and selfless?”

I am going to leave it there for people to make of Griffith’s work what they will, but surely Griffith has got one thing right at least that our issues as humans are psychological based ones, they are based on our conscious brains needing to understand what is going on within and around us. Surely he is right in the sense that biology does need to find understanding of our conscious behaviors to make this planet a better place for us all?


Samara is primarily a thinker… hence the title of her post! Thankful to be raised in a Christian household and trusts in her faith however determined to never stop wondering and questioning the world around her.  Her email if you want to contact her is thinksandlearns at gmail dot com.

Posted by Mike King under Life | 5 Comments »

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