Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cordwood Sauna

There is a book by Rob Roy called The Sauna that gave me a great idea. He is probably the most well known popularizer of cordwood masonry construction, and in the book he describes how he built a round cordwood masonry sauna (about 12 foot diameter) with a relatively flat sod roof. I had recently admired adobe buildings with flat roofs supported by "vegas", or log beams, so this was nearly identical in appearance. I already have a lot of poplar logs that I can use for this, and poplar is actually a good wood type to use. I was thinking that instead of mortar I could try to use cob. The loess soil here is very hydrophobic when it dries, so I wonder if it wouldn't be suited to the purpose. I already plan to build a shed first, as a sort of proof of concept before actually building a sauna. All in good time.

I had always thought that cordwood masonry looked ugly - like the bastard child of a brick house and a log cabin. But now I think that it is a very flexible building method that can accomodate a wide range of plans. In addition, what has been called "cobwood" makes it look even more attractive, as the concrete portion of the wall is replaced by cob, reducing the embodied energy in the wall (see more about this alternative in Rob Roy's book Cordwood Building). As far as I can tell, cob is indistinguishable from daub, as in "wattle and daub". I don't know enough yet about its structural properties.

A cordwood masonry building can be round, which is a beautiful thing. It could have a reciprocal frame roof, also a beautiful roof. But I will build a rectangular shed with a 1:12 pitch shed roof, as rectangular buildings provide the best use of space. Maybe later a round building.

Additional resources:
Youtube user Tony Wrench, author of Building a Low Impact Roundhouse.
Build Your Own Earth Oven - someday it would be fun.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Since I've thinking a lot about the physical body lately, I recently focused my attention on one of its organs - the heart, which is the theme of this post. I heart my heart (actually I have suspected that my heart was my favorite organ since 08 July 2007 when I longed to buy a heart rate monitor to use while biking).

Heart disease - biggest killer.
American Heart Association - sponsor of campaigns to raise awareness and promote healthy hearts.
Obama - Health care is a right!
Electrocardiogram - visualize it on your laptop.
ECG tattoos - creative.
Heart Rate monitors - wear them like a wristwatch.
Heart Math - profiting off of cardiology research.
What is an angiogram? - see one here.
Where does the blood flow? - diagrams here and here.
What does a beating heart look like? - computer animation here.

I really can't recommend that animation highly enough, it is worth the look. Now I am off to take better care of and appreciate the amazing organ that rhythmically pumps in my chest.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mind body dichotomy? Perhaps no.

"The absence of an empirically identifiable meeting point between the non-physical mind and its physical extension has proven problematic..." This is the source of the concept of a mind-body dichotomy. But I think this problem in the philosophy of mind will be resolved with further experiments on cockroaches someday. Or fruitflies. Just as the compound word "spacetime" has replaced a distinction between space and time, so too is "bodymind" removing another outdated distinction. But what does this mean conceptually? Are the properties I have assigned to one or the other in reality mutually shared by each? The lines are blurring even more.

Sometimes it seems as though my mind would rather not take care of my body. But I could also think of this as my bodymind unsuccessfully searching for an easier way of life that may or may not meet success in the long term (though it hasn't much improved things in the short term). It is interesting to reflect on what the evolution of the human bodymind has led to so far. But beware; evolution is more notorious for its failures rather than its successes, decisively favoring the most resourceful members of a population. During my imaginative tangents in life, I should do well to remember the tried and true basics of survival, which may, in the end, prove to be the most radical method of all, as I am sure Lao-Tzu would agree.

The concept of artificial consciousness seems based on the presupposition of a body-mind dichotomy, so far that a consciousness is conceivable without more than a passing regard to the composition of an originating material body, organic or otherwise. If it were instead based on a bodymind foundation, artificial consciousness might be conceived of differently (i.e. natural bodymind vs. artificial bodymind, assuming the terms mind and consciousness/awareness can be used interchangeably). Mind without body is like time without space.

References: Wikipedia's Mind-body dichotomy article.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

the body

How does one take care of one's own body? I put together a list of six common items for responsible self-care. Can you think of others that should be included here?
1. Eat well balanced meals.
2. Exercise on a regular basis.
3. Get enough sleep.
4. Live in a warm and sheltered place.
5. Practice good hygiene.
6. Have access to health care services.
I addressed this question as part of an inquiry into how the body affects the mind and what the mind's relationship to the body really is. Is the role of the mind solely as a servant to the body? In other words: Does the body use the mind, or does the mind use the body? Perhaps this is a misleading question. Linji Yixuan (d. 866) had a few thoughts about the mind/body relationship. He is recorded to have said "Over a lump of reddish flesh there sits a pure man who... comes in and out of your sense organs all the time." Linji was concerned more with the mind than the body. There is a very obvious reason to be concerned with the mind (though this one may not have been shared by Linji). Even if the mind is only a servant, it must function at its best to ensure it's continued survival. Higher brain functions are a luxury that can be sacrificed to maintain survival of the body under conditions of extreme stress or injury. Keep the body happy or the mind will have no peace. But will merely keeping the body happy provide the mind with peace? That is an an unexamined assumption held by many people that I intend to test.

Citations: A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, p. 445

It is interesting to note that this sounds very similar to Epicurianism, which is a form of hedonism and a materialist philosophy. Modern adherents have included many recognizable names including Thomas Jefferson and Christopher Hitchens. The famous statement Carpe Diem ("Seize the Day") was by Horace, a follower of the teachings of Epicurus.

E2S2H2 is an abbriviation for the items listed above: Eat, Exercise, Sleep, Shelter, Hygiene, and Health Care. These seem so intuitively simple, but I think they are really far more abstract. How is each accomplished, but through a litany of many smaller and diverse actions and a variety of methods.

- last edited 19 November 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

hawt n cold - sauna

A grindbygg is the acme of innovative large timber construction methods, in my opinion. It is an art form. But it has few if any advantages over light frame construction when it comes to its capacity to provide for efficient insulation. The ease of basic stud framing techniques make it the preferred choice.

I love my house, however the survivalist/appropriate technology enthusiast in me wants an emergency shelter that depends on little more than my sweat to keep it operational. A sauna, with an attached changing room, greenhouse, and watertank room would be ideal. As a tribute to the form, the building itself would adhere to classic grindbygg proportions with a 1:1.5 (34 degrees) slope gable roof. A dry/wet sauna with wood heater would form the engine of the building, with wall construction accordingly to allow high humidity levels. Next to it would be a windowless rainwater tank building, adjacent though separate from the sauna. One of its main functions would be to recover the heat energy left in the sauna after its use by means of a radiator/heat pump device. Next to this would be a greenhouse, used to start garden plants to extend the short growing season and house various tanks for a small aquaculture/aquaponics hobby. Perhaps space for a well-fed compost heap could be incorporated somewhere into the design as well. The changing room would be exceptionally well insulated, thus serving as an emergency shelter.

[Editor's note: Realizing that I may not be reaching enough people with standard English alone, I have decided to translate the following portion into lolcat for your reading pleasure.]

in sauna u git hawt. but coolin down iz an equally important part ov teh sauna cycle - cold watr immershun, rollin around in da snow nakd, or exposure 2 cold fresh air. once u begin 2 shivr, thaz teh signal 2 go bak 2 teh sauna. dis cylce has been shown 2 reduce stres hormonez, lowr blood presure an improoov cardiovascular condishuns. perhaps 4 dis reason, historically saunas has been teh most sacrd placez aftr teh church, an most haus which cud afford 2 build sauna had wan. it wuz often sed "if booze, tar, or teh sauna wont halp, teh illnes iz fatal."

- edited 6 November 2008

I thought a wood yurt of the sort that Bill Coperthwaite makes might be a reasonable way to make a sauna or banya (the Russian term), as many have. Plans are available at just $25 dollars. But I am having second thoughts, as it is a departure from the simplicity of basic grindbygg design. Yurts are designed to be made using small strips of wood, not larger sticks and beams.

- last edited 19 November 2008