Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Nomadisms - Low Wattage Lifestyles with Animal Power Assist

Hot on the heels of the previous post which was about goatwalking, here is a post on how nomads use animals to make their lifestyle possible.  Without the help of animals, nomadism would at best be a part-time proposition. It's probably safe to say that nomadism as a lifestyle was not really practical for humans until we started domesticating animals.  More on that idea in a later post.
Wattage is a term from physics that is used to measure physical power. Power is a measure of how much physical work you can do per unit of time.   Horsepower is another measure of power.  One horsepower is 746 watts.  Whereas energy is a quantitative measure, power is a measure of the rate at which energy can be produced. You can consume or produce a quantity of energy but can't consume or produce power.  That's why the electric company doesn't charge you for watts but for watt-hours.
Humans are capable of maintaining 100 watt output for hours at a time. Yeah, that's right, about as much wattage as a bright incandescent light bulb. In other words, not much at all.  Horses apparently can sustain 746 watts.  This is why the domestication of the horse was a big deal.  One horse could do the work of seven and a half people.  I don't know about horsepower, but the 100 watt rate for humans is the power a fit adult human can put out continuously for eight hours, let's say bicycling for 8 hours or carrying a backpack for eight hours while walking. Peak power is of course greater, say for someone doing a hundred meter sprint. I assume horsepower at 746 watts is also an average say for a horse pulling a cart at a rate it can maintain for 8 hours.
Eight sled dogs have roughly the power of one horse or 93 watts per dog.  One sled dog power is therefore roughly equal to one human power.  The thing to keep in mind here is that wattage when applied to animals is a measure of how much useful work they can do in a given time period, not how much energy they burn in that time period.  One of the things that the early thermodynamicists discovered was that when you use up heat energy to create work, only some of the energy gets converted into useful work. The ratio of useful work to energy expended is called efficiency.  Animals eat food and burn it to create energy.  Some of that energy is used by muscles to do work. The rest is radiated into the environment as heat.
But enough of that. Lets get on to the meat of this post, how the availability of power affects nomadic lifestyles.

Here's some nomads, apparently carrying all their own stuff. Looks like there's a mom and a dad and a child.  Mom and dad seem to be carrying all the stuff, the child carries his/her own clothes. That's it. What we have is a 200 watt unit, (two light bulbs).  Right now they are sitting still, running at 0 watts.  Once they get up  and start walking with the packs on their backs, they will be running at 200 watts.  But what if they had a horse?  A horse can put out as much wattage as seven and a half humans.  If they added a horse to their family, they could carry 946/200 or 4.73 times as much stuff.  The horse of course would need an input of energy, but that seems to be available in the form of grass all around them.
People such as the people in the picture are regarded as primitive.  They are primitive because they don't have as much stuff as settled people, but there's no way that nomads can have as much stuff as settled people because they have to carry their stuff around and they have only so much wattage.
Being humans, nomads are as smart as settlers and could in principle create a lot of the wonderful stuff that settlers create.  Only they don't because they don't want to or can't carry it around.

American Indians of the Great Plains were mostly agriculturalists until they got horses. Once they did, a number of the tribes, but not all switched from agricultural to nomadic life styles within decades.   Without horses, a nomadic life style on the plains was difficult to pull off.  You had to carry everything on your back or maybe get your dogs to carry some stuff.

Each dog added another 93 watts of transport power. More dogs meant more transport power, but of course you had to feed them so that put a limit on how many dogs you could keep.
93 watt dog side by side with a 746 watt horse.

The addition of horses allowed nomadism in the Great Plains to take off. Dogs were still used, but horses allowed for the transport of heavy buffalo hide covered tipis.  The additional benefit of horses on the plains was that they could eat the grass, which dogs could not do.  You still had to feed dogs. There was an upper limit on how many dogs you would want to keep but you could keep a lot more horses seeing that they could feed themselves.

But perhaps the biggest reason that horses made nomadic life on the plains possible is that horses allowed plains dwellers to kill enough buffaloes to subsist on them.  A human on foot was limited in how many buffaloes he could kill.  Also, buffalo herds could travel much further than humans on foot and could easily travel out of range of hunters on foot. A hunter on foot had 100 watts at his disposal. A hunter on a horse had 746 watts at his disposal.  Big power gain allowing for greater range and speed.

In the American Arctic, people used dogs to up the wattage of their households. Dogs were especially useful in the winter since sleds on snow required much less wattage to transport goods than dogs carrying stuff on their backs.

Over in the Nordic and Siberian Arctic, people used reindeer to haul their goods.  I don't know the wattage of a reindeer but it is probably greater than that of a dog and less than that of a horse.

I could go on with camels, oxen, yaks etc.  but the point is that nomadism on foot is a questionable enterprise due to the low wattage of humans, but nomadism with the assist of animal power makes it a practical proposition especially if the animals do not need to be fed by the humans, that is, if the animals are vegetarians.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Goatwalking: A Guide to Wildland Living

I bought Jim Corbett's book, Goatwalking when it was first published in 1992.  What fascinated me about it was Corbett's contention that you can survive in the desert by walking around with two female goats and drinking their milk.  I have never tried that myself.  It seemed both too easy and at the same time too difficult.  Maybe if I had taken a goatwalking course with him when he was still alive, I could have learned enough about goatwalking to try it on my own.  But I never did.  Still, the possibility exists.

Goatwalking is a form of pastoral nomadism or could be. Who knows.  Corbett did it.  He goatwalked. So it must be possible, perhaps even legal in certain places.  The difficulty with any kind of nomadic existence these days are finding places where you can legally live off the land.
You can generally stay in one place in a national forest for up to ten days before you have to move on.  That would not be difficult with two goats. One person with two goats in the desert could probably roam around BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or National Forest land without applying for permits and paying rent to the government.  But a group of people with two goats per person would probably be a little harder to keep invisible.
In any case, you can legally graze goats on government land for the meager fee of $2.11 per AUM in 2016.  An  AUM is the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month. So a family of two adults and maybe a child could pay the government $2.11 per month rent to roam around the desert with 5 goats.  
The only catch is that in order to get a grazing permit, you need to have a base property which the BLM explains as follows:

Any U.S. citizen or validly licensed business can apply for a BLM grazing permit or lease. To do so, one must either:
  • buy or control private property (known as “base property”) that has been legally recognized by the Bureau as having preference for the use of public land grazing privileges,
  • or acquire property that has the capability to serve as base property and then apply to the BLM to transfer the preference for grazing privileges from an existing base property to the acquired property (which would become the new “base property”).
The first alternative happens when base property (a private ranch) is sold or leased to a new individual or business; the buyer or lessee then applies to the BLM for the use of grazing privileges associated with that property.  The second alternative would happen when a rancher wants to transfer existing public land grazing privileges to another party while keeping the private ranch property. 

The catch, it appears is that to be a nomad, you first have to acquire private property. Or you walk your goats without a permit in violation of the law.  More details here: 

Back to the Corbett book.  Besides writing about the practical aspects of living with goats, Corbett also spends a good deal of time, I would say two thirds of the book musing on biblical precedents for pastoral nomadism and the refuge movement that he was involved in. While these topics don't seem particularly relevant to goat walking, they do touch on general issues of the ability of people to move about the world freely.  
The book is available from Amazon. Used copies sell for as little as $0.88 plus $3.99 shipping.
Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Nomadism and Illegibility

The purpose of this post is to point at an essay by Venkatesh Rao entitled On Being an Illegible Person.  Rao is not the originator of the idea of Illegible Person but elaborates on the concept here.  I would probably call the concept of illegible person, invisible person, but I won't quibble over terminology.  The idea behind legibility is that the state wants to force a person into a mode that easily lets the state keep track of that person.  It's similar to the idea behind the military uniform. You can tell the rank of a person at a glance.  In the US military it's on your hat and on your sleeve. There's also markers for years of service, campaigns participated in and special rewards.  Basically, anyone in the military can read anyone else in the military and they are therefore legible.
The illegibility that Rao talks about is illegibility to the state and to other people.  The idea is that other people can't figure out how you make a living and the state doesn't have enough information on you to keep you under control. He works nomadism into the discussion because nomads are traditionally illegible to the state and therefore subject to efforts by the state to make them legible, that is to stop them from being nomads and turning them into settlers .
Read the article.  It's a good one.

Reductio ad Absurdum

Reductio ad Absurdum  is a form of argument which attempts to disprove a statement by showing it inevitably leads to a ridiculous, absurd, or impractical conclusion.  That's what I tried to do in the previous post, showing that the idea that people now living settled lives should give nomadism a try leads to the ridiculous situation where everyone is on the move and nobody is maintaining all the systems that make it possible for 7.4 billion to stay alive.
Let's look at some maps.  I like to have graphics in my posts.
I like the color scheme on this map.  The writing on this map is too small to make out, but I think what this map is trying to show is population density on a per country basis.  The darker the color, the more people total live in that country.  Not surprisingly, Mongolia, that lightest of blue country sandwiched between black hued Russia and China has the very low population density that makes it possible to carry on a nomadic lifestyle.
Here's another map, probably a better one than the one above, even though I don't like the colors as much.  This one seems to show population density more by region than by nation state.  In this case, it's the gray areas where nomadism is historically prevalent.  So if you intend to go nomadic then maybe you should look at some of the gray areas of the world to do it providing of course that they let you in.  If an area is red, forget it.  Every square inch of the red regions already has a bunch of people on it and they don't need you.
Getting back to the reductio ad absurdum notion, we have concluded that nomadism is not for everyone, mostly because of practical constraints.  

Friday, December 2, 2016

Nomadic Scope - How Many People Can Go Mobile?

I should point out that I am mobile only part of the time.  Most of the time I live in a house where I pay rent. My advocacy for going mobile is mostly based on theoretical musings and much less so by actual practice.
The truth is that nomads were always a fringe group and will probably continue to be so.  The reason is that nomadism is an adaptation to marginal environments where you have to move on a regular basis to find food.  In places where food is plentiful, you can just stay put.

In the modern city, you don't even have to leave home to find food.  Someone brings it to you.  What makes this possible is the miracle of petroleum powered transport.
But even before there was petroleum, people didn't roam around to collect food that was coming into season.  They stayed on farms and planted stuff.
While this sort of living was hard, it produced more food than nomadic lifestyles could.  Farming also meant that sedentary farmers controlled the land and kept nomadic travelers off it.  Farming also produced surplus food, making cities and population explosions possible.
So if everyone went nomadic, especially the farmers, there wouldn't be enough food to keep the whole population alive.  Not likely to be a popular idea.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Tiny Homes on the Move

Tiny Homes on the Move. Good book from Shelter Publications. If you're interested in how other people have managed to turn a car, truck, bus or boat into a home, there's lots of pictures for you here to inspire you. It's not a how-to book.  It's more like an idea book.  Plus in a lot of cases it has links to websites where you can get more info.  Standard Shelter Pub large size paperback with color photos throughout.
The idea of this book is that you don't use your transportation to carry your home around with you.  The idea is that your transportation is your home.  Your mobile home, your home on wheels.  Just don't run out of gas.
This is distinctly different from carrying a tent in the trunk of your car and pitching it at a campsite. You don't really think of the tent as your home.  You have no home. You are homeless, mobile, nomadic.

Nomadic Spec Sheet - Light is Essential

Going nomadic means taking all your stuff with you on the road.  How much stuff you can take with you depends on what sort of transportation you have.  But regardless, you will have less stuff than someone living in a house or apartment.  Going nomadic means travelling light.  Everything has to be light, your shelter, your clothes, your food, your entertainment.  Light is essential.
More detailed spec sheets for shelter, clothes, food and transport to follow.