Type One Error

 One of the great rules of design is do something basic right. Then everything gets much more right of itself. But if you do something basic wrong – if you make what I call a Type 1 error – you can get nothing else right. – Bill Mollison

Fancy, but is this the right thing to put here?

The quote above is something like how my introduction to the concept of a Type 1 error went, some comment made by Mollison in an interview. A Type 1 error sounds important, something we must never do, but what exactly is it? 

When I think of Type 1 errors, I think of things like positioning the length of a house on a North/South axis, designing for the wrong climate, putting rain gardens in in marshy, wet areas, putting tall hugelkultur beds on a steep slope, etc. — from macro to micro, I can name loads of examples, but damn if I can give you a solid definition.

So, let’s try and figure it out. 

First, let’s survey the landscape: how has permaculture defined a Type 1 error? A little sleuthing with Google turned up these results:

Based on this I still don’t really know what it is. They define the effect of the error, that it causes a cascading problem or an is element that requires a lot of inputs (such as time or money) to keep it in operation. Yet none of them say anything more specific.

A little additional research turns up that there are other types of ‘Type 1’ errors, in statistics, computers, medical; essentially it’s a false positive. Essentially doing something that doesn’t need to be done.

In all of the cases above it seems to be an error of awareness. In each of the quotes above an overlooked or unknown sector makes a mess of the best laid plans. It also tends toward a lack of respect for what is being designed, what the personality or place offers and asks for. Deep observation and interaction is required to build this respect and begin to hear the voice of the landscape. 

Permaculture is becoming aware of this cascading functional relationships, sort of like a fountain. When a piece is out of place we can cause all sorts of problems for the rest of the system.  

Lack of observation of the system we’re working with can quickly lead to expensive or ongoing problems if our plans even work at all. So the old permaculture adage “first observe for one year” might be said “in order to not make a type 1 error, first observe for one year”. 

Perhaps this could be more flexibly stated as don’t jump in and work on major projects or limit your actions if you haven’t observed for one cycle (this year the garden will be here but smaller  , next we’ll see). Be aware of both smaller cycles (daily rhythms, ) and larger cycles (flood, drought, new job, moving, birth, illness, death). 

The world is bigger than us, we have to operate by its rules first. Perhaps this is the ultimate source of the error. Granted we can’t be aware of everything but a little humbleness about our place in the world can go a long way.

Intro to Permaculture

What is permaculture? What is it to practice permaculture? How does it lead to positive outcomes?

The way I’ve been practicing, I’d call it a philosophy. A way of being. I think you can see it most clearly in the choices I’ve made. It is a process. It is the adjacent possible.

What is this world for? Life happens so that life may happen. It’s there for us. It is a power on a grand scale. How do we tap in to that power when we’ve been so disconnected from it?

That’s permaculture. It is to that which I am a guide.

We sit under the shade of a tree and watch the wind whip the grass. We see where water has rushed past in previous storms. A cardinal, a woodpecker, a nuthatch appear and disappear above. A rabbit peaks out from under a shrub.

Idyllic no? But it is the truth. If you listen hard enough, long enough, you’ll hear what the adjacent possible might be. What would be welcomed. How you could be welcomed.

If you can put your energy behind that, what would happen?

What stands in our way? Nothing but ourselves. We just have to start.

I hope I can help you take those first steps:

Rocket Stove Workshop 2020

Portable rocket from back in the old days

It’s always tricky to find the right situations in which you get to play with rocket stoves. Symbiosis Ranch, in Mt Pleasant, MI, is going to be that right such situation. This June we’ll be installing a batch box design in their Aircrete Dome. I’ll be teaching a 2-day workshop , June 27 & 28, 9am – 5pm(?) each day, all for $199. Registration coming soon at, symbiosisranch.com or call (989)506-0057 to save your spot.


This site is experimental. I don’t always, or perhaps ever, know or do the right thing.

What I do know is that I am committed to being a part of the place where I live. I am committed to this project called life.

We are all ever increasing our awareness. As we grow and change so may our opinions. This site is as much a record of that journey as anything.

Michigan Dunes back in the day

GLPDC Podcast #5

A new podcast is out. This time we’re talking about plant families. Rhonda was away at the Tracker School (I think), so we kept on going without her. It was shorter than we were shooting for but that’s OK, I think

I’m very interested to see where we’ll be as the podcast matures. We’re getting used to it, developing a rhythm. Getting better every time.

GLPDC Podcast

A podcast, you say! Yes, with William Faith and Rhonda Baird. Much potential there. I sense that we have the ability to take permaculture somewhere with this.

Certainly this is a new environment for us, as permaculturists we’re going to start with a little observation and interaction. The potential I see is that it is giving us the opportunity to move our own permaculture forward. That’s where it’s most exciting!

Check it out!

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