Notes from Windward: #69


Working with the
Butterfly Control Computer

Learning C and Putting it to Use


     Since March I have been slowly learning the computer programming language which allows me to control the Butterfly, a programmable, portable control computer. Jay had worked on it before, but I found it interesting and was willing to go through the trouble of learning C. Since it is so common, it will likely be useful in the future. Also, I plan to serve as a resource for Windward in this regard as much as possible.

     One of the things I learned from Jay's work was the importance of documentation -- writing what steps were taken to do something as well as discoveries along the way. It was helpful to read in a previous article a trick about holding the joystick button down while starting the program uploading process.

     I tried to continue the documentation by referring to what I had done in a notebook. I also wrote up summaries of how to compile and upload programs and what to do when certain errors showed up, hoping that this information will prove useful for anyone who continues work with the Butterfly, including myself.

Butterfly control computer with batteries and work-in-progress

     My work since March is paying off with a down-to-earth project. Andrew and I have been collaborating on the Fast Fodder mechanism. Andrew has built the stand and installed the trays and tank necessary to begin sprouting wheat. I am working on developing a program to run a water pump at specific time intervals during the day, as well as monitor the battery voltage and possibly the water level in the tank so that we know to refill it.

     The Fast Fodder setup is designed to create increasingly digestible feed for birds. A dry wheat kernel is not easy to digest-- that's why we grind it up and bake it into bread. Another way to access the nutrients in the wheat kernel is to allow it to sprout. It does so with the aid of water, warmth, and some attention for a few days.

     Sprouting wheat (or any other grain, bean, or seed) is easy to do in your kitchen and is very nutritious (and, of course, delicious) on sandwiches and in salads. Until now, we have been feeding our various bird flocks slightly sprouted wheat, but the system we have doesn't work so well. We hope that the Fast Fodder setup will sprout our wheat more reliably and our birds will get more out of each grain.

The current wheat sprouting system

[Walt: Kudoos to Andrew who built the Fast Fodder frame from lumber milled out of one of the dead trees we took down from the area where the ChickPlex is being built.]

     The Fast Fodder system has been built in Prop House, where it gets pretty hot and humid when the sun shines (and just warm enough when it doesn't). It works like this:

  1. Wheat kernels which have been soaked for 24 hours in water are spread out in each of the black trays, like so:

    The Fast Fodder system

  2. Water is pumped up from the tank and into the top tray, from there it trickles down into the other trays until it finally arrives at the tank again.

    The trays seen from below

  3. This process repeats every few hours for 6-8 days. Ideally, the wheat will sprout and begin to grow shoots. The ideal time to harvest them and feed them to the animals is when the shoots are about 6" long.

     The Butterfly will be playing an integral role in the hassle-free functioning of the pumping system. I'm hoping that my work and study over these past few months can translate into something tangible that the whole community can use. The interweaving of small-scale technologies into our system often produce more dependable results and spare us a lot of time that we could be spending creating or improving some other aspect of this community.

      The Butterfly is an "appropriate technology": low-cost, simple enough to use once it's up and running, and uses resources already available (computers, electricity, and other electrical components) without lots of maintenance or expensive equipment. Hopefully the idea that we can all do something on a small scale that will eventually cause big changes will continue to spread.

The water holding tank

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69