Going Analog Part 6: Goodbye, Nexus

Goodbye.

My first few smartphones were second-hand iPhones; my favorite was the iPhone 3, which was built, as far as smartphones go, like a tank. I had it for about 3 years, I believe, before an “update” killed the wifi antenna and all but bricked it. (Apple is into the planned obsolescence thing to the point of belligerence.) It wasn’t a slow death marked by intermittent hardware failure; it was working one day, then my phone forced an update, and it stopped working thence. A lot of other 3 users experienced the same “update”, which appeared to be rolling out in waves. After all, Apple couldn’t just remotely disable the wifi on all iPhone 3s at the same time, could they? It would have been easy pickings for a good lawyer and a class action suit, and terrible press. But disable one mostly vital piece of hardware for a user here and there, and tell them their only option is to upgrade? At a glance, the strings being pulled are invisible. Either way, Apple really wanted us stubborn iPhone 3 users to hurry up and shell out for the iPhone 6 already. Our preference for tech that works and works well was getting in the way of their profit margins. Fortunately, with smartphones, carriers and OS developers can pretty much do whatever they damn well please with your devices – without their continuous, second-by-second permission, you don’t have a device.

I didn’t really think that deeply about it at the time; I knew that Apple was an obsolescence plannin’ fool, and that Android was greener pastures in the user autonomy department. So I switched platforms. I really prefer platforms that are transparent; platforms that let me know exactly what’s going on at any given moment, and platforms where I can diagnose and fix my own problems. That’s why I bought the car that I did, and it’s why I’m typing this up on a Linux netbook. (Unfortunately, I’m still forced to run a Windoze machine for the sake of Photoshop – GIMP and Krita have not, after months of forcing myself to use them, been suitable substitutes for my rather meager needs. I will sooner move to traditional media than use them to continue making digital art with their maddening and poorly designed interfaces. Anyways, that’ll be a later development in my long and slow Going Analog series.)

So, after much research, I found the Google Nexus phone. Specifically, the Nexus 5, which gave me everything I wanted in a smaller package; I bought one gently used out of pocket for a reasonable price (how many people can even say they own their phones outright anymore?) and it even came rooted. Over the next few years I wound up with two, and swapped parts between them as each of their performance slowly started to decline from regular use. Eventually, I cracked the glass on my then-better one, and once the screen started to discolor, I switched their batteries and set it aside to be used for Skype calls, using the other as my daily. More recently, the glass finally cracked on the other – I dropped it at such an angle that the screen underneath my Gorilla Glass protector shattered – and the body dented in just the right way to keep the back plate from ever being securely snapped in place again. About a week later, and the thing began to shut off at random, no matter how much battery life was left. It’s dead, Jim.

While I still technically have a backup smartphone, I’ll never use it for such. I have exactly three apps on it – a music player, Slack, and Skype – and the battery lasts me for days because it only ever gets used for a single daily Skype call. The screen is just too broken and battery drain for typical use too rapid for anything else. I’ll probably install a single other app, though: Uber, for when I need to take the train.  (My town is so pathetic that it doesn’t even have a bus stop at our lightrail station, and on weekdays, the parking lot is full by 7am.)

As soon as I find a place to recycle the Nexus, I will. Though I’ll probably still keep the battery as a backup.

While I’ve talked about ditching the smartphone before, it wasn’t all told, a complete transition. I still had the devices in my possession, and they still had wifi capability, so I’d use them like tiny tablets here and there. Mostly to read articles I’d saved to Pocket, or to check traffic, or to call that Uber ride. I also used it extensively as a music player. So what the heck do I do now?

At the end of the day, the Nexus allowed me to do three important things that I need to work out other arrangements for. In my previous Going Analog post, I talked about overcoming the fear of having to navigate without the use of GPS, and I’m improving my navigation abilities by leaps and bounds by no longer relying on technology to do that kind of thinking for me. I’ve since done dozens of drive-by comp shoots for my father, who’s a residential appraiser, with nothing more than a printed map and a list of address numbers. I’m confident that I could find my way anywhere without GPS at this point.

The first problem though, the music player, is not really that much of a problem at all – or rather, it was, until I remembered that I still have my old Zune MP3 player from circa 2008. Microsoft discontinued the Zune product line many moons ago, even though it was an arguably better product than the iPod, had better internet browsing capabilities than most of other pre-iPhone smartphones of the time, and its touchscreen keyboard was better designed than that of the early iPhones as well. I’m currently waiting for my new sync cable to arrive in the mail, at which point I’ll fire up the Zune for the first time in at least 6 years. (And then see about stocking up on spare batteries from ebay.) And when I’m in the car, I’ll probably be listening to my growing CD collection (though CDs are hardly “analog”; however, they are not ephemeral like digital files are). So that’s one problem dealt with.

The secondproblem is Uber, though I rarely use it. In the past few months I’ve learned that it is illegal to hail cabs in Los Angeles, and that in order to get a ride, you have to call a central dispatch to schedule a pickup. My research has left me a little skeptical of LA’s cab industry; no company seems to have more than a 3-star rating, and many of them only have 2. On yelp I’ve read a lot of horror stories about taxis arriving an hour late, or not showing up at all, and drivers trying to inflate their fare by not taking the fastest route. If I’m taking Uber to the train station and need to make it to work on time, I need to know that my cab ride will arrive when its supposed to arrive. Likewise, if I’m stranded someplace late at night, then I don’t want to wait around for an hour then either.

Of course, these fears are a little overblown – the telltale mark of a convenience being taken away from somebody who’s long since taken it for granted. Being a car-owner now, I don’t take the train as often as I used to, and therefore I don’t often find myself needing an Uber much at all. My fears about getting stranded too, that typical “what if” scenario that is never likely to happen, are also needless: there’s nowhere I’d be where I could call an Uber but not be able to have a family member to come get me. In in truly exceptional situations, like my last year’s solo trip to Olypmia, WA, which left me stuck at the train station after the last bus had come and gone, I could always call somebody and have them arrange a ride for me.

The final problem is photos. I will probably get a point-and-shoot to solve that problem. Remember point-and-shoots? Battery lasted forever, they could more or less withstand being dropped, and they took great photos to boot. Smartphones have completely gutted the low-end market, though, so most of the worthwhile ones nowadays cost at least several hundred dollars. Thankfully, I bought my husband and I a pair just before the aforementioned gutting happened, and he is more than happy to give me his. (I, of course, managed to smash mine a year after I bought it. And I mean smash: accidentally positioned a chair leg on it and proceeded to sit down.) Point-and-shoots require more diligence than the ubiquitous smartphone, though. They require more planning, more thinking, more process than simply pushing a button and uploading the thing to Instagram. A while ago I realized that I no longer wanted to take pictures of things willy-nilly like everyone else; we are drowning in cheap images, and I didn’t really want to contribute to that cognitive fog. And I definitely didn’t want to take selfies anymore. (Especially knowing what Facebook was doing with them without my permission.) So now, every time I want to share a photo with the world, I’ll have to take it with a disconnected, specialized device, upload it to the computer later, sort through them, and then decide if any of them are worth sharing. Just my kind of tedious.

More broadly, though, there’s still a finality to all this. I had the emotional support of at least wifi-powered devices that could fit in my pocket, but that too is on the way out. I’m channeling a frame of mind I had for the first 22 years of my life: being disconnected is natural. And, arguably, it’s good.

The whole smartphone thing seemed like such an amazing leap forward. Internet communication and digital entertainment wherever there was a cell signal. It promised an end to boredom, to inefficiency, to loneliness, but it really did nothing but make us allergic to spare time, addicted to mindless “productivity”, and terrified of solitude. In reality, all we got was that famous line from the chorus of an Eagles’ song: Everything, all the time.

My other problem is that I read too much now. I go through a book a week, it seems like, what with all these extra little moments I find myself with these days. But there’s an old school cure for that too: a library card.

We Might Learn From the Cubans

At 28, 5 years after moving back to LA from my college days in New York City, I’ve bought my first car. He’s all steel, with a curb weight of about 3800 pounds and an engine, I keep hearing, that just won’t quit. “Bulletproof” is a descriptor I’ve heard and read about the inline 6 countless times now. People get into accidents with them and are able to drive away in their totaled cars, unharmed.

If my car was a person, though, he’d be old enough to drink. Born in 1996 with three previous owners and 193,000 miles under his belt, the relationship I plan on having with this car is going to be one that not many Americans will be able to relate to. Jeepers will, obviously: It’s a Jeep thing. But the people I hope to take inspiration from in the years ahead will be the Cubans and their “yank tanks”.

Zero wasters and other low-impact folk really need to look at how Cuba has survived the 60 years since President Kennedy signed the order that choked off all resources to the small, harmless, communist nation in an attempt at attrition. The islanders didn’t succumb to US bullying, though: things were very hard, but they made do with what they had to work with. They are agriculturally self-sufficient, they’ve perfected the art of preventative medicine, and they’ve succeeded in keeping the nation’s fleet of 1950’s-era cars running in spite of sanctions and the complete collapse of a replacement parts market.  Motor Trend magazine sent a writer there to experience the Cuban car culture and this is the sight he was greeted with:

…strolling the busy streets of Havana today is like teleporting back into a 1950s Hollywood movie. You half expect Jimmy Stewart to drive past tailing Kim Novak in his DeSoto. We came here knowing we’d see a few classic American rides, but, in fact, amid a sprinkling of Russian Ladas and the occasional Korean compact, the grand old iron is everywhere. At a nearby curb sits a ’52 Ford Crestliner. There on the Malecón, the broad artery that sweeps along Havana’s waterfront, glides a ’57 Buick Century, followed quickly by a ’58 Chevy Impala and a ’57 Plymouth Fury. Few and far between are the cream puffs, true, but most of the passing museum pieces look amazingly good considering they’re well past retirement age and have never stopped working fulltime.

Most of these vehicles, as the author calls them though, are “zombies” and “mutants”. Many of them don’t even have the original motors anymore, and some of them don’t even have car motors. But is that so bad?

Dimitrio lifts the massive hood [of his 1953 Oldsmobile]. “This engine? Soviet. But not normal car engine. They use this to power welding machine.” Indeed, much of Dimitrio’s Oldsmobile runs on similarly ingenious life support. He points to the driver’s door. “That car is 60 years old. Where you can find a door for that piece of shit? If someone smashes your car, they have to make a new one.” Dimitrio moves to the back of the work yard, picks up a finished rectangle of “new” floorpan. “These guys, they make the pieces by hand — with a hammer.” He runs his fingers over the symmetrical square indentations in the metal, each one hand-beaten into shape. “This isn’t work,” says Dimitrio. “This…is art.”

A sustainable automobile culture and industry could never have looked like anything but this. They would have to be treated as heirlooms, driven by careful owners and maintained by guilds of car-wrights. But instead we’ve built the entire apparatus of automobile construction and maintenance around the rapidly fading mirage of cheap energy. Instead, we live in a culture where people upgrade cars faster than they upgrade mattresses. And like everything else in our failing world of consumer goods, even our cars are increasingly designed to be disposable.

I mean, let’s face the facts here: my 1996 Jeep Cherokee that gets 20 MPG under the best of conditions is, in a number of ways, more sustainable than a brand new Tesla or Prius. The most obvious reason is due to the reality of embodied energy – the carbon footprint of simply manufacturing a new vehicle and getting it to the show floor. If you take a look at the numbers for a Tesla vehicle – or even the new Tesla battery pack “Gigafactory”, the plant that’s due to be responsible for manufacturing the very backbone of its vehicles – it just doesn’t work out. However, it’s more than that: it’s the hidden maintenance costs of flimsy vehicles riddled with computer chips, cameras, and other “smart” technology. Who can fix a Tesla when it breaks down? Not you, that’s for sure – the learning curve for performing maintenance on a Tesla vehicle is so steep that you have currently have no choice but to take it to a dealership for repairs. You can’t just be a mechanic anymore; you apparently have to be a computer engineer as well.

There are other questions too: how easy is it to total? What is the carbon footprint of every individual component under the hood? How many miles will each component last? How easy are the parts to make and what is the embodied energy of the tools required to make them? How long can the workhorse keep running with a simple preventative maintenance routine, or does it need kid glove treatment and witches brews of exotic fluids?

I highly doubt that a Tesla battery can even theoretically last as long as a well-maintained straight 6: I’ve heard from guys who’ve put over 500,000 miles on their Jeeps, and their engines are still going strong. Moreover, when the engine does finally die (and it’s not just a cracked head or broken rod), the block is iron. It can be retooled, rebuilt, and hopefully, reused for another 500k miles. Of course, rebuilding even a basic engine like this costs a few grand and several dozens of hours of work, and most people – most people in the States – would rather just get another car. But I don’t want to be most people if I can avoid it.

Voluntary simplicity doesn’t just apply to wardrobes and kitchen cabinets. In Cuba’s case, the simplicity was quite involuntary, but the things they’ve created due to the strict limitations put on their day-to-day lives forced some amazing things to happen. That’s not to say that the average Cuban wouldn’t trade their 1950’s jalopy with a 4-cylinder Kia motor for something newer; they’re simply a people forced into mind-blowing creative solutions in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances. But that sort of convenience that we’ve come to expect from things like “progress” and “growth” hasn’t gotten us anywhere good lately.

I like to joke that the only “power” feature I’ve got in my car is steering. Aside from the 10-year-old aftermarket stereo, the only buttons I’ve got in the Jeep are for the headlights, defroster, and climate control. He’s about as bare-bones as a 90’s car is going to get (aside, of course, from the coveted 4×4 transfer case), which means that performing my own maintenance is going to be about as easy it gets. The DIY ethic among Jeepers, I should note, is generally about as strong as their love for the brand, and community support is phenomenal.

Every make has its group of aficionados, but aside from hot rodders and vintage muscle car guys, the level of dedication just doesn’t compare in the wider car-loving culture. We just don’t need to give a damn about our cars so long as they get us where we need to go. How many folks read their owner’s manuals cover to cover? (did. And I’ll probably be doing it again for a refresher soon enough.)

I won’t lie: the simplest thing to do would be to not have a car at all. In fact, since buying the Jeep, my life has gotten about twice as complex as it was before. If I’m to learn to fix the Jeep, then I need to know the Jeep: I’ve already spent dozens of hours researching parts, model year quirks, potential upgrades, problems, noises, wiring diagrams, octane ratings, maintenance schedules, best practices, and even etiquette. I know how to begin diagnosing problems that I had no idea existed before, or check the integrity of parts that I ever knew needed checking. The Jeep is not a low-maintenance vehicle; he requires a level of vigilance that most other car owners could never be bothered with. I glance at my gauges as often as I glance at the rearview mirror while driving. I keep a notebook in the glove compartment with a list of every single little thing I’ve done to him, who did it, and how many miles was on the odometer when it was done. I keep a towel in the back for when I need to pop the hood and get my hands dirty.

But I need a car now, and I refused to get one that I didn’t love enough to be in it for the long haul. Just as I don’t want my life riddled with disposable clothes, disposable plates, or disposable bags. And the old wartime adage of “make do and mend” extends to so much more than just socks. We don’t get rid of our homes as soon as they show signs of wear and tear, as soon as the plumbing goes out, or the roof leaks, or a fire levels the garage. We do so much living in our vehicles, that the same should be said of them too.

So, I’m going to learn from the Cubans as much as I can. Such a way of doing things is laborious, sometimes not especially cost-effective, and within the unimpressive rigidity of our convenience-driven consumer culture, it’s probably even just plain lunacy. But so long as I can afford parts and can tackle the relatively modest learning curve of car maintenance, then by all means: call me crazy.

(Must be a Jeep thing.)

More on the Cuban cottage auto industry:

More on high mileage cars:

Going Analog: The Fear of Missing Out

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This drawing right here is mine, and I’ve resolved to make a drawing for every one of my original posts from here on out instead of hunting for a digital photo or image. It’s to keep in the spirit of my analog aspirations, and to make this blog more “mine”. So from here on out, there’ll be no more photos of my stuff if I can avoid it – if I want to show you my takeout gear, or the farmer’s market, I’ll be drawing it instead.


OK, so the Fear of Missing Out (or FoMO for short, because of course it needed an acronym) is something I’ve never experienced much of, either now or my pre- social media days. It’s a form of anxiety that I’ve never had much sympathy for, and neither for its close cousin, Oversharing. It’s sad that we live in a world where I have to explicitly voice my complete and utter disinterest in the minutiae of people’s generally boring lives, even that of some of my closest friends, wherein years past, it was more often than not assumed that this kind of useless conversation filler was just that, and not to be confused with genuine bonding.

I think it helps that I have played the role of outcast my entire life – I occupied the lowest caste in every school grade from K-8, and when I went to a specialized arts high school that didn’t have much of an hierarchy, I was more often than not simply forgotten about. On the rare occasion where somebody asked what I did that weekend, I wouldn’t have too much to say. I was a homebody who drew and wrote and read a lot, and who spent much more time with extended family than friends. I was, for all intents and purposes, the very picture of uninteresting. Which was fine, because I felt that everyone else was just as uninteresting (even though they didn’t seem to think so). But even then, this sharing was in-person, it was a real conversation between people, and less a mere exchange of information via words on a screen. I developed social anxiety at some point along the way, and living in NYC beat that out of me: it only takes a short while walking the streets of Manhattan for you to realize that no one is paying one whit of attention to you, because they’re all focused on themselves and whether or not anyone’s paying one whit of attention to them. And to me, social media is a lot like walking around Manhattan: it’s fast-paced, alienating, appearances are over-emphasized, and there are ads everywhere.

But let me back up a moment to talk about just what “FoMO” is.

The Fear of Missing out is, apparently, now a “mental health syndrome” wherein “sufferers” are worried that they won’t be able to keep up with what their friends are doing at every moment of every day, are worried that their lives aren’t exciting enough to talk about at every moment of every day, and that everyone else is having more exciting, more shareable experiences than they are at any given moment of any given day.

While results are mixed, depending on the organization funding the research, the Journal of Behavioral Addictions and Computers in Human Behavior both found strong correlations between social media use and low life satisfaction, as well as increased incidents of depression and anxiety. (It also contributed toward risky behaviors like smart phone use while driving.)

FoMO goes hand in hand with other things: the fear of failure being a big one, probably some kind of fear of being “uncool”, and another (super screwed up) thing called “surveillance gratification”, a term coined by the authors of the study published in the Journal. Other behaviorists have noted that “internet addiction” shares a lot of similarity with gambling addiction as well.

So when I said, in reference to getting rid of the smart phone, that it was like any other good drug? I wasn’t actually being hyperbolic.

Many pieces have already been written about FoMO and how to conquer it, but they all start from the assumption that technology is categorically good and social media isn’t a horrible addiction-making machine that alienates people and transforms humans into consumable brands.  Or they operate from the assumption that everyone likes everybody. None of which is true for me. I believe that if there is some societal ill that social media has claimed to remedy, then it is a case of the cure being worse than the disease.

The Zero Waste Millennial Guide to Conquering the Fear of Missing Out

  1. Realize that most people are mostly boring, yourself included.
  2. Aspire to be less exciting, while also eliminating the learned social behavior of boredom.
  3. Kill the impulse to overshare – without a world of over-sharers, social media feeds become far less tantalizing to look at.
  4. Leave your gadgets at home more often. Start small, like trips to the grocery store, and work your way up to entire weekends of turning your data off. (I went almost a year without a smartphone while I was in Canada, effectively. I had no calling plan, and no data the entire time I was there, and could only use the internet at home or places that had free wifi. It was pure bliss, and that was the experience that inspired me to ditch the smart phone in the first place.)
  5. Think of all the money you’ll save on things that – be honest with yourself – you mostly only do to keep up with the Joneses: eat at fancy restaurants, drink fancy beers, go to fancy events, and so on. Simplicity is often just as, if not more than, gratifying as luxury.
  6. Learn, really learn, that the most spectacular moments in your life weren’t because you got 100 likes on your documentation of them, and that those moments won’t be diminished if the whole world isn’t there to “experience” them with you. On that note…
  7. Relearn how to have quiet, solitary moments. Relearn how to enjoy those moments. Relearn how to hold onto their specialness without feeling the need to tell anybody.
  8. Remember how to just stop interacting with people you don’t like. And stop getting surveillance gratification from them, too. You’re better than that.
  9. Know that validation is cheap, and that a little doesn’t go a long way anymore.
  10. In the words of Ran Prieur, “cultivate a more robust inner life”. Or at least in this case, private life.

As someone who once briefly experienced FoMO after getting a smart phone, realized that it was all a racket a couple years later, and then promptly quit Facebook among other things, take it from me – your brain and your spare time will thank you.

Going Analog: Part 2

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There is, my awesome little Kaweco Sport~

I’d only just started dipping my toes into the vast, deep waters of the world of fountain pens when I wrote my post on zero waste (ish) art supplies, and had only used the Kakuno at that point. I guess I’d been so used to writing with cheap, dry, ballpoint and gel pens that just about any fountain pen felt better in the hand! And while the Kakuno does write like butter, I had no idea what was in store for me once I started going down the rabbit hole.

So if the $12, kid-friendly, relatively cheaply made Kakuno is like butter, then the Kaweco Classic Sport, a design that’s been unchanged since its debut in 1935, writes like a chilled glass of Laphroiag.

So.

Fountain pens.

Nobody really uses them anymore… except when they do. Fountain pen people are loud, proud, a little obsessive, and I’m beginning to see why. If you’ve resisted the keyboard creep in our lives, and refuse to let go of your analog note-taking or calendar-planning ways, then you really ought to take a gander at what these things have to offer you. They’re not made for chicken scratching on the backs of receipts or in the margins of some report or another, they’re made for writing. (And drawing.)  And even the cheapest of them are an absolute joy to use. They don’t cramp your hand from needing too much pressure or having too thin a grip. They don’t go dry like ballpoints do. They don’t skip like gel pens do. And what’s more is that they’re made to be used for a long time.

Sturdy construction coupled with a dizzying array of inks to refill your pen with and spare (always metal) nibs to choose from mean that some of these pens will outlive their owners – and not photodegrade into a million bits of plastic too, if you opt for a metal piece.

Bea Johnson and a lot of other prominent zero wasters use them, and I can now count myself among their ranks. I probably won’t have to throw a drawing pen away ever again, once I phase out use of the disposables I already have!

The Kaweco Classic Sport ran me $25, but I wanted to use a special waterproof drawing ink with it, so I shelled out another $20 for a bottle of Platinum Carbon Ink, and a couple extra for an ink converter and plastic syringe to fill it with. Ink converters are basically do-it-yourself cartridges that you can fill with whatever sort of ink your heart desires (and your pen can handle) that are made to be reused. These are handy for using inks that come in bottle form rather than cartridge form, and also handy for us zero waste types who don’t even want to throw cartridges away if we can manage it. (Though cartridges do last a while, even the small kinds, and the generic ones are very cheap.)

What sort of pen might you, dear reader, find useful? Well, I’ve only ever owned two fountain pens in my life, so I’m not the person to ask. But Jet Pens, my go-to for all of this stuff, is. They have a good number of very informative blog posts about their products, how to use them, how they compare to each other, and how they work under typical conditions. Here are a few that you might find informative:

And the article that helped me settle on my brand of ink:

I started with the Kakuno, which is still super fun to write and draw with, but I chose to graduate to the Kaweco (versus a Lamy or similar) for a few reasons. One, the Sport is compact – very important since I work out of the house a lot of the time and sometimes live out of a duffel bag. Two, I just like companies that have been making the same product for many years. In this case, about 80 years and change, to be exact. It’s got a bit of that timeless vintage flair that I love so much, but most importantly, it means that the design has stood the test of time and needs no improving on. And third, it’s because I mostly wanted their brass Sport which runs $90+, and I wanted to make damn sure I was doing to like it LOL. I will probably get a Lamy at some point, as having an “indestructible” pen that wouldn’t break my heart to lose will come in handy for me. These cheaper Kawecos are still a slightly cheaper plastic, after all, and though it may take years, it’s still only a matter of time before they start showing stress cracks.

Take a look at the links above if you’re interested in getting yourself a pen! And if you want to dive right in with a Kaweco, I’m not going to stop you. (By the way, Jetpens is great for US folk, but there are other companies that are better suited to other buyers – I think Cult Pens ships from the UK, f’ex.)

So how, exactly, does it feel to use? What’s the real difference between a fountain pen and a normal writing or tech pen?

(Warning: Art nerd alert.)

As I said in part 1, I never really thought of digital art as something that had a lot of value – I certainly didn’t value all the hundreds of crappy digital drawings that I did for the sheer convenience of the medium rather than for any particular love of what I was doing – and so for a long time I’d saved the disposable pens for the more disposable work. Up until only about 2 years ago did I stop drawing comics in pen and nib, and right away I noticed a difference in what my hand was doing.

Nibs force your hand to move in a certain way, and it forces the development of a particular kind of muscle memory. Felt-tip, ballpoint, technical pens, and the like, do something different to that muscle memory. My impression is that this has almost entirely to do with the fact that nibs are not omnidirectional (for lack of a better term): they do not lend themselves to moving any which way whenever you want. You have to build up a kind of inertia otherwise the ink will skip, or the tip of the nib (for very fine tips) will catch on the grain of the paper, and you have to use them at a certain angle and hold the pen a certain way. Now, very rarely is any of this conscious or frustrating – your hand will quickly intuit what the pen can and cannot do after using it for a few seconds – but it is a vastly different way of making marks on paper than the sort of ugly, hamfisted way that a ballpoint might. And this is the beauty of fountain pens!

Drawing with a fountain pen is slower, but because of the way it restricts the movement of your hand, it also creates a pretty zen-like experience of mindfulness. I’d lost that mindfulness when I stopped inking with nib. When my pen could do whatever I wanted it to do at a moment’s notice, I didn’t have to think so hard about where I wanted my next line to be. I’d just draw something approximating what I needed, hoped for the best, and for an embarrassing percent of the time, that line wound up wrong. It’s in this way that my draftsmanship started to slip. I lost my eye for specificity and my got lazy, and as a result the details particular to one thing or another became less habitual. In other words, the visual language I might have employed to distinguish, say, a rock from a brick started blurring. (Apologies if this is all too esoteric!)

I’ve done a few pages with the Kaweco so far, and already I can feel my old hand coming back. It’s forcing me to slow down and think about what I’m doing. It’s forcing me to be meticulous. And now that I’ve been filling in my blacks (the parts of comic book line art that are, well, filled in with black) with brush and ink, instead of doing it in Photoshop, I’m slowing down even more. I’m having to commit to the lines that are on the paper much more than before. I’m not thinking in terms of “Oh, I can just fix that up later after I scan.”

And guess what? I’ve barely made any mistakes on these pages so far, when I routinely make quite a few at least. Sometimes to the tune of having to redraw half of an entire panel. It’s at least definitely saving me frustration, if not time, and my originals are once again becoming pieces of art on their own terms rather than a means to a digital – and ephemeral – end.

zwm ap

I’ve got a long ways to go before I stop doing anything but color correction and pre-print formatting on the computer, though, and in the meantime, my closer “daunting” goal is to get away from Adobe products as I make the jump to free and open-source alternatives. I’ll be experimenting much more with GIMP in the near future as my current gig wraps up, and writing about that experience as well.

Tofu Scramble, Two Ways

Inspired by the long-since updated Hot Knives blog, run by two fellow Angelinos who wrote one of my top vegetarian/vegan cookbooks (seriously – between Lust For Leaf and Miyoko Schinner’s Vegan Pantry, I’m not wanting for another vegan cookbook), I give you yet another tofu scramble recipe!

A little background: I’m not particularly fond of scrambled eggs. If I make or order eggs at all, it’s usually over easy or poached or fried. Either way, a runny yolk is important, otherwise I don’t even bother. The hubs doesn’t really eat anything other than scrambled eggs, though, so when we’re together, that’s what I suck up and make. (Boooring.) I wasn’t really a big fan of tofu scramble either. I’d tried making it a few times and failed miserably, and besides, what was the point in trying to recreate an egg experience I didn’t particularly like anyways? So recently, I happened to come into a four-pack of firm tofu from Costco, so I decided to hunker down and figure it out. And I did! And I am never sacrificing an egg to such a sub-par dish ever again! Because this puts the original to shame.

Lumberjack Scramble Ingredients

  • 1 package firm tofu, drained
  • Gimme Lean or other breakfast sausage (pre-cook if actual meat)
  • diced onion or shallot
  • minced garlic
  • 1/4 – 1/2 c. nutritional yeast
  • 2 tbsp – 1/4 c. soy sauce, liquid aminos, etc.
  • fresh or dried parsley
  • cracked pepper
  • oil
  • maple syrup (optional)

Soyrizo con Tofu Ingredients

  • 1 package firm tofu, drained
  • prepared or homemade soyrizo
  • cheese of some sort
  • diced onion
  • minced garlic
  • quartered cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 – 1/2 c. nutritional yeast
  • 2 tbsp – 1/4 c. soy sauce, liquid aminos, etc.
  • fresh or dried parsley
  • cracked pepper
  • oil
  • hot sauce (optional)
  • cilantro (optional)

There’s really no set recipe for either of these – use what you have on hand, and however much you want. Just don’t skimp too much: remember that we’re not marinating the tofu, so be more afraid of tasteless tofu than over-seasoning!

For both, put some oil in your pan over medium heat. Toss in garlic and onion and let it get fragrant. Or a little crispy. Whatever! Now get your tofu and squeeze chunks of it through your fingers to make nice curd clumps, doing the whole package this way. Cover this with a thorough dusting of nooch (not all of it, you’ll be doing this at least three or four times total), and fresh cracked pepper. Let this sit in the pan, sizzling, for a few minutes; let’s say 5. Stir to incorporate the seasoning, then dust again with more nooch and pepper. This time, add a couple tablespoons of soy sauce and your parsley (or equivalents) and let sit again for a few minutes.

For the lumberjack:

Prep your sausage: cutting it into small pieces with solid types, or forming into balls with the Gimme Lean. Give the tofu a stir, layer on more nooch, pepper, and soy sauce. Give it a few more minutes, then add in the rest of your ingredients (except the syrup). Clear some space in the pan if it’s normal sausage to let it brown a little. If it’s Gimme Lean, you can toss the balls right in and let them cook with the tofu. Once it passes the taste test, it’s ready to serve with a drizzle of maple syrup and a side of buttered toast!

For the soyrizo:

Prep your tomatoes and cheese (grate it, shave it, who cares). Give the tofu a stir, layer on more nooch, pepper, and soy sauce. Give it a few more minutes, then add in the rest of your ingredients. Clear some space in the pan for the soyrizo, and let it cook for a few on its own before incorporating it into the rest of the tofu. You want it a little crispy if possible. Throw on your cheese and let it get melty. Once it passes the taste test, it’s ready to serve with tortillas, some salsa or hot sauce, and a sprinkle of cilantro!

 

Manual Mondays: Carpet Cleaning

Another Manual Monday! I know this seems like an odd subject, but seeing as how we have come into possession of a few rugs that are really too thin to be vacuumed (and that I just don’t like using the vacuum anyways), this seemed like a good one. After all, we’ve had textiles on our floors for much longer than we’ve had electricity – there’s gotta be some clever wisdom there on how to maintain them.

Here we go!

Isham-Terry House, Antiquarian & Landmarks Society – date unknown

To Restore Carpets to their First Bloom.
Beat your carpets with your carpet rods until perfectly clean from dust, then if there be any ink spots take it out with a lemon, and if oil spots, take out as in the foregoing receipt, observing to rinse with clean water; then take a hot loaf of white bread, split down the centre, having the top and bottom crust one on each half, with this rub your carpet extremely well over, then hang it out on or across a line with the right side out; should the night be fine, leave it out all night, and if the weather be clear, leave it out for two or three such nights, then sweep it with a clean corn broom, and it will look as when first new.

The Butler’s Guide to Household Management and Proper Behaviour, 1827

Washing. – The dye-houses have done some very satisfactory work on woolen carpets, but the process shrinks the carpet very much.

Cleansing on Floor. – Where oil is required to be removed, without taking up the carpet, pipe-clay thoroughly beaten into the carpet will absorb it within forty-eight hours, when it can be brushed off. This is just the opposite, in its action, from naphtha.  Water spilt upon carpets should be sopped up, not rubbed.

           – Carpet Notes, 1884

Modern manual methods are pretty much exactly the same as the old ones: rug beaters, carpet sweepers, soap and a little elbow grease.

Wikipedia on carpet sweepers:

A carpet sweeper is a mechanical device for the cleaning of carpets. These were popular before the introduction of the vacuum cleaner and have been largely superseded by them.

However, they continue to be used in home and commercial applications as they are lightweight and quiet, enabling users to quickly clean crumbs up from the floor without disturbing patrons, patients, babies and pets. (A very early appearance in film occurs in the 1914 Charlie Chaplin film Laughing Gas, where Chaplin uses it to clean the waiting-room floor of a dentist.) Carpet sweepers are still available in many parts of the world.

A carpet sweeper typically consists of a small box. The base of the box has rollers and brushes, connected by a belt or gears. There is also a container for dirt. The arrangement is such that, when pushed along a floor, the rollers turn and force the brushes to rotate. The brushes sweep dirt and dust from the floor into the container. Carpet sweepers frequently have a height adjustment that enables them to work on different lengths of carpet, or bare floors. The sweeper usually has a long handle so that it can be pushed without bending over.[citation needed]

The design was patented by Melville R. Bissell of Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States, in 1876. Bissell began selling carpet sweepers in 1883. They became popular in the UK after the first Ewbankmodel went on same on 1889.[1] New powered versions were designed at the beginning of the 20th century, with rechargeable batteries and an electric motor to spin the rollers and brushes.

Even though carpet sweepers have been mainly overshadowed by vacuum cleaners, their legacy lives on in floor cleaning robots that have limited suction power and rely on sweeping to collect larger bits of debris from the floor. While some research models of robotic vacuums only rely on vacuum motors, models on the market such as Roomba or bObsweep invariably combine suction and sweeping.[2]

Wikipedia on rug beaters:

A carpet beater or carpetbeater (also referred to as a rug beater or rugbeater, mattenklopper, carpet whip, rug whip, clothes-beater, dust beater or dustbeater, carpet duster, wicker slapper, rug duster, or pillow fluffer, and formerly also as a carpet cleaner or rug cleaner) is a housecleaningtool that was in common use until the vacuum cleaner became affordable during the early 20th century. Carpets, rugs, clothes, cushions, and bedding were hung over a clothesline or railing and the dust and dirt was beaten out of them. Typically made of wood, rattan, cane, wicker, spring steel or coiled wire, antique rug beaters have become very collectible. Modern mass-production versions can also be in plastic or wire.

Uses

Its use in cleaning has been largely replaced since the 1950s by the carpet sweeper and then the vacuum cleaner, although they are still sold in most household stores.

In Germany[1] and Poland,[2] an outdoor carpet hanger for beating is called a Teppichstange (carpet bar) or a trzepak (beater).

Since the 1990s, it is very rare to see anyone using a trzepak for its prime function. In the newest housing developments, trzepak are rarely installed. Some people preferred to beat carpets in winter on the snow – they laid the carpet face down and beat it. This method had some advantages – for instance, insects would freeze to death even if they were not expelled through beating – but it left a dirty and unpleasant-looking patch on the snow, and therefore some communities forbade beating on the snow for aesthetic reasons.

That’s all well and good, but what about dust mites? One of the primary reasons people clean the fabrics and fibers in their home is to control dust mite populations and their collective poop. And the only way to do that is with vacuum cleaners, air filters, and the like, right? Well, not necessarily.

Most mites survive vacuuming anyways – the only truly effective way to manage mites is with extreme temperatures, soap and water, and just staying on top of the amount of dust that’s in your home. All of which are doable with manual methods.

Some suggestions:

  • If space permits, beat rugs outside – the dust will get back out into the environment where it belongs instead of a landfill.
  • Wash upholstery instead of vacuuming – obviously, throwing cushion covers into the washing machine isn’t “manual”, but coupled with a manual laundering regimen, this is easy.
  • If you live in an area that gets frost, leave rugs outside overnight to freeze the mites, then beat them out in the morning. (This works for fleas at every stage in the life cycle, too!)
  • Buy and use allergen covers for your cushions, pillows, and mattresses.
  • Spritz eucalyptus oil infused water or alcohol onto unwashable upholstery to help kill mites.
  • On the more extreme end, maybe think of getting rid of the carpeting in your house. Carpets are made from synthetic fiber and can’t be composted with sweepings anyways. If cold floors are hard on your feet, wear slippers!
  • Get a latex foam mattress, or if you’re super adventurous, make your own. (I’m gonna try this someday because I hate mattress stores on principle, and refuse to buy one new anyways.)

So that’s mites – what about difficult messes like broken glass?

Turns out, you’re not supposed to vacuum glass if you have a bagless machine to begin with, because they can get lodged into moving parts and shorten the life of the vacuum or outright damage it. Good Housekeeping recommends using slices of sandwich bread; SF Gate recommends using tape to get tiny shards out of carpet.

(I’ve since had the “opportunity” to try out the bread slice method since writing this, and it works really well. When the bread doesn’t pick up any more glass, you can fold it up to two times to get a fresh side without really risking getting glass on your hands. Oh, I also recommend eating off the crusts if they’re stiffer than the interior of the bread.)

That’s about it, though. There were no special tools aside from the rug beater, just a few tricks for getting out dust and the occasional spill.

In the next MM, I’ll do a little digging into the topic of light.

Shooting the Messenger

cartoon-climate-aust

So among my friends and family, I think I’ve sort of become The Person That Knows A Lot About Environmentalism and Climate Change and Peak Oil. Which isn’t to say I haven’t earned it – I do spend an inordinate amount of time staying on top of the science, the politics and history of political movements, technology, sociology, history, and the world of “green” whatever. My zero-waste antics are interpreted as endearing by many (though my vegetarianism, on the other hand, is a burden), and I’ve even gotten a new nickname among some of the cousins: Greenpeace.

I can live with this. (And c’mon, Greenpeace is a hilarious nickname.)

But something I’ve started to notice in the past year is that people come to me not just as a source of information, but as a kind of guru anymore. It’s hard to describe. It’s more than just that people see me as a kind of authority to impress, but rather that I’m like… some kind of manifestation of their own guilt and that I need to be appeased.

Case in point: Earlier today I had a very good friend of mine link me to a website called Be An Un-Fucker. It rehashes the most basic – and I mean basic – eco-friendly tips known to the Western world. Take shorter showers! Use your own grocery bags! Sort your recyclables! Bring your own lunch to work! Buy second-hand!

Oh no, I thought to myself. It’s going to be one of those conversations, isn’t it? 

I have a problem with that kind of mentality, if you didn’t realize this already. Consumer-based solutions for a consumption problem? Yeah, good luck with that. It’s like trying to avoid lung cancer by switching the brand of cigarettes you smoke.

The website, though, it cute. And it gets its point across very well. However, I’m… way past that. Lightyears, even. Balls-deep. I read things like this and this  and this in my spare time.

And so, I get bombarded with recommendations for links and organizations and websites every so often from well-meaning folk who want me to validate their idea of Right Action (to borrow a concept that gets used a lot in polytheist theology) without putting in the work of understanding the larger picture themselves. And they often go the way that my interaction did today. Someone I know will come to me with a pet theory, a bit of techno-optimistism grounded in little more than the wet dreams of corporate fat cats looking for the next financial bubble to inflate, a bit of scientific speculation of ill-repute, or a new miracle-product (or brand, or…), and invariably want my opinion on it. Oftentimes the question will be implied, or couched in sneakier rhetoric, but the desired outcome is almost always the same:

This thing I’m telling you about will do the trick, won’t it? 

And my answer – at least the one in my head – is almost guaranteed to be no, no it won’t. 

In a post from earlier this month at The Archdruid Report, John Michael Greer summarizes some of my feelings pretty accurately:

The point that nearly everyone in the debate is trying to evade is that the collection of extravagant energy-wasting habits that pass for a normal middle class lifestyle these days is, in James Howard Kunstler’s useful phrase, an arrangement without a future. Those habits only became possible in the first place because our species broke into the planet’s supply of stored carbon and burnt through half a billion years of fossil sunlight in a wild three-century-long joyride. Now the needle on the gas gauge is moving inexorably toward that threatening letter E, and the joyride is over. It really is as simple as that.

But I can’t actually say no, as it turns out.

When I start stating facts and figures, using big words, and referencing history, one of two things tends to happen: I get called a nihilist (which I am to a great extent), or I am completely ignored. Not even figuratively ignored; literally ignored. My words go in one ear and out the other. Other times, if I’m lucky, I’ll wind up in a philosophical argument about what “help” even means in the context of “but at least it’ll help, right?”, like the time that a creative friend of mine told me that he believed that better depictions of a collapsing biosphere in mass media would “help”, the idea of which I emphatically rejected. (Talking trash about consumer culture and industrial society is diametrically opposed to what mass media is all about.)

And then these discussions will always end one of two ways too: the person in question (the petitioner) will either walk away having ignored half of what I said, or personal incredulity would create in them a sense of having been wronged by me and then I become a bad guy. Accepting what I’ve said at something resembling face value happens so rarely that it honestly catches me by surprise every time it happens.

I’m having to learn to shut these conversations down more and more, because I’m discovering that nobody wants to understand what I’m saying – they don’t want to understand the science, the history, or what’s required of them in order for us to have a future – they simply want to win. Win me over, win a debate with me, what have you, they want validation from me and I’m not going to give it.

And that makes them mad.

I don’t really know what to do about these awkward interactions. I predict they’re only going to happen with greater frequency as the years go by, as things get worse, and as people get more and more desperate to cling to the status quo of middle-class American life despite the writing on the wall. Folks are already interpreting me as some kind of moralistic whatever – despite the fact that I have no answers – and viewing my understanding as little more than subjective opinion will continue to make me easy to dismiss.

I think I need to do a couple of things: 1. start avoiding these conversations altogether. Dodge, change the subject, feign ignorance or apathy, whatever it takes. If someone wants to seriously engage the subject, they’ll do it on their own. And 2. learn to de-escalate when I’ve mistakenly assumed someone wants to learn but actually just wants to show off. Especially if this is a person I otherwise like.

Any of you guys have this issue? How have you dealt with it?

A Few Notes on Oil Pulling, A Few Notes on Oil

Calicut, Kerela

Coconuts being laid out to dry before processing in Kerala. Flickr

If you’re the kind of person to read this blog, you probably know what oil pulling is. But in the off-chance that one of you doesn’t: oil pulling is when you use coconut oil (or some other oil, but coconut is by far the best) like mouthwash. Except you do it for 15-20 minutes instead of 2, and you needn’t do it vigorously at all. Just kind of… move it around between your teeth.

I’ve started doing it this week, and I really like the way my teeth and mouth feel afterwards, but one of the thing that other oil pullers claim just has me face-palming, now that I’ve seen the phenomenon for myself: that the oil/spit wad turns whitish by the time you’re done, and this is because of the “toxins” it’s pulled out.

I gotta say, this is complete bullcrap. Coconut oil is an oil, and if you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, you’ll be well familiar with another way in which oils are frequently turned white: emulsification. So no, this isn’t a visible sign that you’re detoxing – there’s no proof that this happens when you oil pull anyways – you are literally just making an oil and spit aioli in your mouth. So no need to fret if you accidentally swallow some, no need to start gagging because the idea of reintroducing those “toxins” freaks you out. It just ain’t happening.

The other thing I wanted to note, if someone reading this is interested in trying it out, is be sure the oil is melted before you use it. The texture of a huge wad of cold coconut oil in your mouth is just so wrong that I did gag a couple times with my first go at it. So what I did was scoop some into a metal spoon, hold the spoon over one of the burners on my stove for a few seconds so that the oil melted, and then let the spoon cool down a little bit before taking a gulp.

Want to try it? Here’s how to do it and some of the (empirically proven) benefits: Should You Try Oil Pulling?

A worker and oil-extracting machine in Sri Lanka. Flickr

And a note on coconut oil in general: one of the ways that the oil is produced is with the use of solvents, namely a chemical called hexane: “Conventional coconut oil processors use hexane as a solvent to extract up to 10% more oil than produced with just rotary mills and expellers.” There’s little to fear on the consumer end, though, as hexane evaporates quickly, and it mostly only poses a problem if inhaled. But, from a worker standpoint, working with hexane can be dangerous and result in poisoning. But it’s not just coconut oil that this stuff is used for: “n-Hexane is also used as a solvent in the extraction of oil from seeds (soybean, cottonseed, flaxseed, safflower seed, and others). It is sometimes used as a denaturant for alcohol, and as a cleaning agent in the textile, furniture, and leather industries. It is slowly being replaced with other less toxic solvents.” (Both of these quotes are from Wikipedia.)

From Nutrition.About.com:

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require foods to be tested for hexane levels — probably because the chances you’ll experience any meaningful exposure from food is highly unlikely. You’re much more likely to be exposed to hexane through gasoline fumes, quick-drying glue and cleaning solvents than you are from any amount of foods you eat.

Hexane is a solvent made from crude oil. In the food industry, hexane is used to extract the vegetable oil from plant seeds such as canola, soybeans, sunflowers and corn because it is more efficient and less expensive than squeezing out the oil with presses.

The hexane is removed from the oil before it is bottled and sold, but there is always the potential for some hexane residue to be left in the oil.

The FDA hasn’t established a limit on hexane residues in foods, however it has set limits for residue levels in hops and fish meal protein. Since it isn’t something foods are usually tested for, it’s difficult to know how just how much hexane might be in any foods you buy.

It’s also unknown how much foodborne hexane might cause a problem, although current research indicates it would take magnitudes more hexane than what is possibly found in the diet.

[…]

Hexane is toxic and exposure to large amounts of it can cause neurological damage. This mostly occurs when workers are exposed to hexane at oil refineries and other places where hexane may escape into the air. Current toxicology research focuses on industrial and airborne exposure to hexane, so it’s not clear how much hexane exposure from foods would be dangerous.

The EPA has estimated that consuming less than 0.06 milligrams hexane per kilogram of body weight is probably safe. For a 200-pound person (97.7 kilograms), that would be about 5.8 milligrams per day. A typical diet, even one with a lot of hexane-extracted vegetable oil, would fall very far short of that. For example, the oil in the Swiss study with the most hexane contained 0.13 milligram hexane per kilogram of oil, so a 200-pound person would have to consume over 40 gallons of that oil to even come close to 5.8 milligrams hexane.

Is it difficult to avoid hexane? Most hexane exposure comes through the air, however if you wish to eliminate hexane residues from your diet, you can choose foods that are “100-percent organic” and oils that are expeller-pressed rather than solvent-extracted. Expeller pressing is not as efficient as hexane extraction so oils made this way are going to be more expensive. Keep in mind that labels that state the product is made with organic ingredients may still use ingredients that have been exposed to hexane.

So if you’re going to buy oils, definitely be sure to buy organic or expeller-pressed. Not only is it better for you, but it’s healthier for the workers who have to do all the back-breaking labor to produce those bottles of oil for us. Though if you’re worried more about your and your family’s exposure… well, honestly? I don’t see much of a point if you’vestill got a car that runs on oil. It’d be about as silly as an alcoholic giving up rye because of concerns about alcohol poisoning!

Or, interested in saying “screw it” to the whole production process? You can try making your hand-pressed oil at home with a few basic kitchen tools!

On Wrapping Presents Without Tape

I’m back in LA for the holidays! It’s sunny and… warm. Don’t ask how this born and bred Angelino came to appreciate icy winters, but I do, and I can’t wait to head back up north to have me some longer nights and colder temperatures.

Due to a bunch of unforeseen circumstances that suck, I’ve spent the last 7 months in Canada while my stuff sat on a shrink-wrapped skid in Oregon. I’ve got my old N64 console packed away in there, and it’ll be nothing short of a miracle if it still works by the time I’m allowed to legally move myself to Vancouver, thanks to the building’s complete lack of climate control during the frigid winter or blazing summer heat of the high desert.

The other thing that got packed away, however, was my Xmas wrapping supplies; namely my cloth gift bags and muslin furoshiki cloths made for me by a friend. I may get around to a fabric store to replace them, but I might not, either. So this year I pretty much intend on doing all my wrapping in newspaper and jute garden twine.

You know, sort of like how things were done before tape came along. (Psst- plastic tape has only been in common use for less than 80 years.)

So, resolved to wrap with paper and twine like the good old days – though really, the concept of everyone hiding presents behind a jacket of pressed wood pulp for every occasion is really not that old of a tradition either – I looked into techniques for wrapping without tape.

So here are a few videos featuring some tricks:

The only problem with trying to do ZW gift-wrapping? You always give yourself away at Secret Santas. :P