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Together with the Omnicorp Detroit Hackerspace and Alley Culture’s Seed Exchange in Detroit, WinterRoot is excited to announce our first ever kickstarter project!  A community technology project to explore and catalog wild plants growing in Detroit’s open spaces.  Full Description follows, or link to Kickstarter and consider backing our project!  We have some great rewards planned for backers, so check it out!


Wildflowers of Detroit ??

One pervasive vision of Detroit is it’s ruins - the monolithic hulks of an industrial era gone by, documented in striking photographs and tales of urban exploration. What has gone missing in this narrative is the other side of the coin. In the open spaces left behind, a monumental resurgence of wild-ness is occurring: plots filled with wildflowers and wildlife. After knowing Detroit’s secret gardens and hidden blooms, we feel this is a story that needs to be told - appreciating this resource is crucial, otherwise it may merely be swept away. Wildflowers of Detroit is a community technology project for cataloging wild plants growing in Detroit, an effort which can enable people’s appreciation of Detroit’s reawakened ecology.  Our technologies collaborative WinterRoot is teaming up with Detroit’s Omnicorp Hackerspace and Alley Culture’s Seed Exchange to bring this vision into being.

An iPhone App?

And even more, we hope! We aim to create iPhone, Android, MMS, and email interfaces (all free) for posting geo-tagged photos of wildflowers, and logging their location and salient details for future study and appreciation. When you spot a great specimen or view of one of Detroit’s varied wild plants, you’ll be able to whip out your mobile device, snap a picture, and instantly upload to our website along with automatic longitude and latitude coordinates, adding your find to an interactive map. Sometimes it’s called “citizen science”, we call it community ecology - residents participating in the study of their own area. There is great value to be found in a community understanding it’s own natural process. An incredible phenomenon is afoot in Detroit, lets come together and begin its study!

Want to see it in action??

We already have an alpha version online demonstrating a proof of concept, but we need your help for the full build out. In order for this project to reach it’s full potential, we need to integrate all mobile devices, provide an interactive map showing the locations of the flowers, solve some technical details like caching of photos in areas of bad 3G reception for later upload, allow comments on each photo for identification and discussion, improve the site layout, integrate with social media, acquire substantial hosting, and get going on some advanced features like searching by species or habitat or providing a good interface for crowdsourced identifications.  It’s a big list, and it just keeps getting bigger, but we think that this project can help us transform our impressions of grand old Detroit’s wild spaces. After backing this project, hop over to and start getting involved!!

If overfunded…

We plan to construct a small community herbarium in Detroit, creating a physical record of what grew where and when. Linking this with the website and database will create a dynamic and growing resource for children, students, and researchers interested in the incredible urban flora of Detroit. The ultimate tool for understanding the history and fate of the spaces these organisms occupy. We are still working out the details of where and how this will manifest, so check back here or our facebook page for updates!

Just Installed the eXist XML database server.  I’m interested to mess around with this as it supports xQuery/xPath thus allowing for some pretty advanced querying of variously structured data - something that is lacking in databases like the Amazon simple storage service, and also the M-gateway project from what I could tell.  My goal is to attempt a drop in replacement for the mapped MySQL tables we use for MoPCMS, since being able to directly query documents with changing structure is of critical use but is difficult to support in a standard relational database.  xQuery can really change all this.

WinterRoot LLC is very excited to announce, after nearly a year of work, the initial release of ‘Wild Edibles’ - our master foraging app created in collaboration with foraging expert ‘Wildman’ Steve Brill.  The full version of the app contains 165 major edibles plus 52 minor plants, all of the identification and poisonous lookalike information you need to forage safely, and a recipe for every plant in the guide.  It’s an exhaustive field guide synthesizing a lifetime of bringing foraging to the layman, with an easy to use interactive interface for portability and search-ability on your handheld device. iOS 4.2 is currently supported at the links below, with an iOS 3.2 compatible version awaiting approval from the app store and android version currently under development.

Wild Edibles Full:

Wild Edibles Lite (free!) :

Other Versions and Apps by WinterRoot:

Java Agent Modeling Platform

AMP is a still incubating project for Java Eclipse which I’ve been construction simple agent based models in.  By far the easiest platform for doing so, AMP generalizes a lot of the transition rules and value setting that normally are the grunt work of constructing models, and allows a researcher to quickly spin up a simple (or complex) model.  Java is by nature resource intensive, so this is probably not the best platform for very complex climate models or other types of very large scale systems.  However, for delving into unexpected outcomes of simple processes and rule sets, AMP is a very useful.   It’s also interesting as a developed example of model driven architecture, programming systems where the code itself is generated at compile time.  In this type of system, the programmer is responsible for creating appropriate architectures and specifying them using graphical representation, but not writing source code.  One of the goals in MDA is full portability.  Unfortunately I’ve had some trouble with the code generation in AMP, so I’m not fully convinced.  However this is a useful toolkit which I have been using to explore some simple ideas about energy cycling and pathway discovery.  Hopefully I’ll be posting more on that later, or perhaps some of the models themselves.

Going over highlighted projects for an updated CV, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this old hypertext project of mine is still alive and functioning on the From the Gut server.   A child of a physical, choose-your-own-reading path, intertextual collaboration between myself and 2 friends, this simple database driven hypertext explores the idea of retaining context as you navigate through a web of fragments.

Link Here:

I’m looking for one of the beautiful ‘map’ drawings we had to put with this post, stay tuned.

WinterRoot Holistic Technology

As part of a trade for work on the website for EdibleWOW managazine ( ) I was given credit for a quarter page ad in their print magazine.  I’ve never considered advertising for WinterRoot before, but I thought this was an intriguing opportunity to share my ideas about technology.  A notion of a ‘holisitic’ approach to technology has always been of interest to me, but only in recent years has my theory of how this might function begun to build out.  This graphic present some ideas pushing in that direction, and presents the additional elements I am slowly adding to WinterRoot’s capabilities.  I am actively seeking and exploring projects that bring together Information Systems, Alternative Energy, and Permaculture as long term goals - there will be a lot of additional information here on these  pursuits as things progress.

NTVB Media

Perhaps one of WinterRoot’s least ‘fun’ projects, but an excellent experience in real world implementation.  Detroit area media company NTVB needed a large suite of custom subscription management tools to support a new effort in their business.  We leveraged object oriented programming strategies to support a wide variety of business logic, business information flows, and ever expanding needs of this new startup effort.  Responsibilities have included the creation and training of a development team, design of complex testing strategies for application logic, distillation of company needs, and implementation of tailored tools.  WinterRoot Technology Services, a sub-project of WinterRoot, has supported the growth of this business to 200,000+ customers in little over a year and maintains on ongoing retainer with NTVB.  The application’s extensive tools are built on top of Kohana and our open source MoPCMS libraries.


The first public version of the open source CMS I work on as part of Made of People is almost ready to be released. Our goals of supplying object oriented data architecture to the average user/developer on standard platforms is nearing a first round of maturity, and we are very pleased with the results. I will be updating this post in a short time more details, including the git hub for download and future development plan. The open source kit is dividing into a javascript ajax framework and a php/kohana based MVC framework for dealing with data. One design goal has been to make these 2 areas of work interoperable with other implementations.

The United Nations Project on Extrajudicial Executions needed to improve their media dissemination and dynamic content capabilities through their website, as it is the main point of contact from their international efforts to reporters and lawyers working in the field.  We expanded their capabilities with our MoPCMS framework and an in depth analysis of their data architecture needs.  What has resulted is a much smoother and more cleanly organized site, making documents, reports, and images more fully accessible to interested parties.

Idea Spaces

As part of the completion of my undergraduate degree in 2001, I elected to engage my own ideas about Media Theory and Semiotics on the World Wide Web.  The product of this work was my manuscript Idea Spaces.  Advised by Richard Candidas Smith and subtlety but deeply influenced by John Holland’s work in Complex Adaptive Systems, my basic premise is that understanding in a subjective network is characterized by the degree of exploration of a parameter space.  In this sense, the WWW sensualizes an a classic human experience: the exploration of ’spaces’ of ideas.  Evaluations of authority take place within spaces, while stepping outside of the boundaries of a space can completely change the meaning of conclusions.  This is the meaning of context.  The paper closes by suggesting that productive experiences are those in which boundaries can be repeatedly expanded and new explorations can be made.  This is contrasted with consumptive experiences, where a highly structured space is supplied to a navigator without unexpected connections to spaces that challenge it’s authority.

Git For Web Programming #1

Git is a powerful version control tool, so powerful, even more so than with subversion, you yourself define the strategy that you use to employ it’s features.  There are myraid ways of doing things and what’s best really depends on what you are doing.  In my opinion two of the most important features of git are the ability to easily track incremental commits during development without breaking the entire build for all users and it’s support for sharing commits between branches.  Both of these features solve major problems with subversion, in which there is no way to commit changes that aren’t ready for primetime while still retaining a readable revision history in the repository.

Beyond these features though, I have found a few capabilities within git that are ideally suited to web programming.  One is the use of the rebase option to update live sites while keeping those sites on version control.  Often, once a site is live either the installation environment or extensive use will uncover latent bugs in the build.  Sometimes it’s quickest to just fix these on the live site, and move them back into the repository trunk from there.  If the site is not on version control, copying of files is the only option, thereby losing detailed commit history.  On the other hand, a live site has different database and server settings, sometimes intermixed in settings file that have configurations that are global to both development and live installations.   Git rebase can be used to solve this in a slick way.

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Recent sites using MoPCMS

One of my big projects through this year has been putting a lot of energy behind redesigning and rebuilding the Content Management System we routinely deploy at Made Of People, the interactive media collective started by my close collaborator Thiago deMello Bueno.  Over the years we’d created a collection of software for building out user editable websites in a highly customized way, but as our libraries grew it became more and more obvious that a low level rebuild of the entire system was going to be necessary.  We’ve moved the php core to Kohana and the Javascript to mootools, and created our custom tools on top of those libraries, giving us a fully Object Oriented Design paradigm and really opening up what we can do with the system.  As this development has proceeded this year, we’ve been very pleased to see our system deployed on a variety of sites.  Soon a demo will be available but in the meantime we’re happy to announce a few slick sites that have gone live on top of our framework:

Cartwheel IT: - collaboration with Objective Subject

Toy.  :

Detroit Garden Works: - collaboration with Motor City Publishing

This spring, Amanda LeClair of WDET, public radio in Detroit, asked me to record a statement on my perspectives on Detroit and electronic music.  Naturally I seized the opportunity to present some of the ideas we work with in the Void Tactical Media project.  As it was part of several pieces by various local electronic musicians, coordinated with the techno festival that takes place downtown, I decided to explore some of the more critical vectors in thinking about technology and our metro area.  It’s my stance that rather than exalting technology, media art has the unique ability to offer valuable critique and nurture a more rounded engagement with science.  The full text follows, along with a link to a pdf of the essay as it as recorded.  Additionally, we’ve got the the new side designed and working for Void Tactical:

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The dark flecks on this scoby are yeast colonies.  Once the yeast really get established you are on the way to having delicious and healthful kombucha.  We also found that putting the fermented tea through a secondary ferment is really the way to go.  Removing the scoby and bottling the tea after its reached the approapriate acidity allow the pro-biotic to go into a anaerobic ferment (the normal fermentation is aerobic) which uses up excess sugar in the tea without increasing the acidity and also produces the CO2 which causes the tea to become effervescent.  Doing the secondary ferment with ginger really makes a superior beverage.

One of my long standing clients, I have been heavily involved in the online side of this organization since the very beginning, and continue on a maintenance and consulting retainer to this day.  The MPHTC started around 2001 with the goal of making high quality, continuing education courses more available to the public.  The website thus began as a content portal for reaching the public audience.  Later, MPHTC would combine forces with MiCPHP (Michigan Center for Public Health Preparedness) where we heavily extended the site to support online learning management.  As the organization has evolved WinterRoot’s challenge has been to create systems with the flexibility to change over time.  Notable work on this project has included full online certificate generation and management, increased portal usability, and ongoing management of the support team for a 3 site system including MPHTC, MiCPHP, and OPHP.  The site has currently about 7000 users.

Solar Panel Install

Today we finally mounted this commerically manufactured panel outside. I was able to assemble this mounting strategy with minimal hardware from the store and some scrap lumber. The goal was to make it adjustable, so the front of the panel is mounted with hinges and the back uses threaded rod (see pics below). Unfortunately I didn’t realize that a 70 degree angle would be optimal for winter at this lattitude, so even at its maximum it only goes up to about 55 degrees - some shims will be necessary. In general though, I’m happy with the result - the hinges on the front still ensure it’s adustability. This is a 40 W panel, so even with an average of 4-5 hours of direct sunlight in Michingan winter, I’m hoping to be able to run all the lights (compact flourescent) in our loft off this one panel - we should be able to store over 160W/h a day on average, which is significant. The wires run inside through a hole in the wall to a charge controller, which charges a battery. Thanks again to Hong, who is the actual owner of this panel.

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One of the more annoying features of doing web development is tracking changes made to the database alongside revisions to the code that runs the site. I’ve been getting into subversion post-commit hooks lately, and my currently solution to this problem is to create a hook which dumps the database structure and commits it to a git repository, with a comment which can be used to link that database structure to the revision in subversion it corresponds to. You can then use git to generate patch files that are easy to follow for making updates to database structure.

my post commit hook looks like this

mysqldump --defaults-extra-file=/home/deepwinter/svn/newframework/hooks/db.cnf -d -h -u madeofpeople11 newframework > /home/deepwinter/sites_sql/newframework/dump.sql
cd /home/deepwinter/sites_sql/newframework/
MESSAGE="SQL committed for build revision $2 in $1"
git commit -a -m"$MESSAGE"

post-commit itself, the file called by subversion looks like this:

/home/deepwinter/svn/newframework/hooks/ "$REPOS" "$REV"

A good further development of this will be a way for patches to generate database structure update code automatically off a patch.


winding coil.jpg

At this month’s breakcore pancakes we decided to make a start on investigating DIY wind power. We are interested in these plans because they involve the use of a reused automobile part, something we surely have a LOT of in Detroit. I’m not expecting that we’ll be able to follow these plans exactly, but this is the right idea. Plus Hugh Piggott, the author, describes a lot of principles that are very valuable to understand when doing this sort of thing. He also has some books which look to be really good. We didn’t get particularly far, but advanced our ideas about winding coils. We tried to wind them with the winding machine configured laterally, but now we think that doing the vertical way (pictured) will work better after all. I also didn’t totally understand the shape of the outside wood pieces, but after trying it out I understand how they are supposed to work. I’ll post up pictures of the complete winding machine after the next try.

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Refridgerator Heat Reuse


It’s winter in Michigan and I’ve been keeping the heater between 60 and 65 degrees. My kombucha culture, on the other hand, prefers a temperature between 70 and 80 degrees, so the culure was growing VERY slowly. I’ve been very interested in energy reuse lately, so I started looking for something I could use to build an incubator without utilizing extra energy. The solution I found is the refridgerator. When the coolant is re-compressed it gives off a lot of heat, this is how it transfers the heat from inside the fridge to the outside.

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DIY Grey Water In Progress


I wanted to set up a greywater system to reuse water from our sinks in the toilet tank. At first I just took off the the drain pipe and used the bucket method. This works, but it’s not really the best way to live. I’m not ready for a complex system yet, and storage of grey water is one of the ways to really get yourself in trouble with a system - untreated grey water needs to be used within 24 hours of collection. I decided to simply run a pipe from the sink to the toilet tank. To do so, I had to take the sink off the wall and raise it a foot or so.

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GLREA Solar Heating Seminar

I went to the GLREA (Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association) solar heating seminar this past weekend. I picked up some interesting information at the event, though nothing too revolutionary. Still it was good to get some grounding in where the current mainstream of renewable energy in Michigan is coming at things. I wasn’t really too familiar with everything that’s possible using hot water solar panels, and covering how radiant floor heating and solar air work out definately expands my thinking. It’s pretty important, for instance, to realize that solar water heating is far more efficient that photovoltaic panels.

Since my interest currently is more gear towards DIY applications that can be done at a fraction of the cost of true professional installations, some of this information will take a bit for me to apply. I think one of the most valuable pieces is learning how important it is in water systems to have both a storage tank and a hot water heater tank, which allows for the temperature of the supplied water to be regulated for whatever application it’s being used for. Solar systems seem deceptively simplistic until you start needing to worry about year round site specific usage of excess heat (in the summer) or freezing (in the winter).

I’m prett glad I went. I don’t have the money at the moment to afford the GLREA solar photovoltaic installation apprenticeship ($1000) so I’ll probably just wait until the next introduction seminar and try to pick up the wind energy course if I don’t build a wind turbine before then. Below is an example of the type of system we discussed at length..


I contructed what should be a diy gasifying wood stove, following a paper written at The Biomass Energy Foundation in Goler, CO. The pictures below are from our first attempt at replicating their results. The paper only gives very cursory instructions on how to build and operate such a stove from 2lb coffee cans. The point of this is that if it burns correctly, the stove will be burning wood but have very low emissions, so low in fact that burning wood inside does not require ventilation. Obviously that also means it’s very efficient. Our first attempt worked fairly well. Though we didn’t get a totally blue flame, we did see the smoke disappear, which means the fire was burning cleanly. We did see some blue flames deep in the fire and additionally noted that the fire smelled different than normal.

Getting the fire started, without it’s top (gas wick) on yet.

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First Batch of Kombucha Done

IMG_0095.jpgMy first batch of kombucha is finally done. It took a while for it really get going because it’s been so cold in the space until recently. Even after we got the heat turned on, 60 degrees is still 15-20 degrees below what’s optimum for the kombucha mushroom to grow. That problem was solved however by building an incubator which reuses my refridgerators waste heat, an raises the temperature of the kombucha culture to around 75 degrees. Once that was set up, the culture really picked up and just about a week later I have my first batch. It’s taste is slightly acidic, but all around I think it turned out pretty well. The original scoby has a lot of yeast on the bottom, and the baby is forming nicely, though I think I probably disturbed them quite a bit getting the old tea out and the new tea in.

The solar panel workshop was a success.  We were able to construct a functioning array out of discarded fragments, generating the correct voltage to charge our battery.  Each fragment was wired separately, giving participants the opportunity for some hands on work with solar cells, and then after inserting the wires through holes in a board they were connected in series into two long circuits.  Measuring the wattage output of the panel is a little more difficult and we haven’t gotten a reliable measure yet, but the battery does collect charge and we hypothesize that the panel collects enough energy to at least run a small light.  The construction of this first effort is pretty experimental - we’ve identifier several issues that would be resolved differently on a next version.  Perf board is definately the way to go for wiring the panels through wood, not the drilled out ply used here.  Bits of broken panel also could be wired better by lining up the the large lines and connecting them in lines the same way commercial panels are - obviously since they are broken this will still yeild a jagged, oddly shaped strip, but it doesn’t necessitate as many holds in the board and is generally more manageable.  Of course, for a art/reuse look the random arrange we executed is quite beautiful.   We hope to do another workshop and continue to explode feasibility of this kind of  reuse.  Thanks to all who participated!

This weekend at our breakcore pancakes event on Sunday I’m hoping to try out the idea of a technology workshop. Basically we’ll be soldering together chipped pieces of solar cells (which can be bought on the cheap) to make a complete 20+ volt solar panel. Here are the pieces I bought (about $20 for the whole set, actually not the cheapest deal I could have found.

and the first step in getting them working

even under compact flourescent light, the panel is still generating .05 volts.