Operation Firefly: Lighting Up the Night

operation firefly

There’s a common stereotype of the average bike rider. We tend to think of a privileged man wearing skin-tight, candy bar colored Lycra and riding a $5,000 Italian bicycle (not that there’s anything wrong with that–cycling is a great way to get exercise). But the reality in Los Angeles and many other big cities around the world is that the average rider is not someone who wants to ride a bike but is, instead, someone who must ride a bike either to get to work or to school. Which is why, when the days get short, I appreciate the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s Operation Firefly:

Operation Firefly/Operacíon Luciérnaga is an education and bike light distribution program intended to make sure people riding bikes in Los Angeles County are riding safely at night. Our Team Firefly volunteers flag down unlit riders, install lights, distribute informational spoke cards, and conduct a survey. Now in its fourth season, data from last year’s survey showed that 75% of light recipients use their bicycle as their main form of transportation. See last year’s fact sheet.

Please consider giving a donation. The ability to get around safely is a basic human right.

Is Facebook Useful?


I’m deeply ambivalent about Facebook. Inevitably, in the wake of a controversial news event, my feed fills with a stream of indignant ranting. A day later I’ll see the “thoughtful” reflections, and a day after that, “thoughtful” reflections on the reflections.

I don’t want to seem holier than thou. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m a mildly public person with a blog, podcast and books, I’d probably be participating in this social media shadow boxing and punch back with my own intemperate comments or “thoughtful” reflections. I know that those outbursts would come back to haunt me so I restrain myself. But, like watching a playground fight, I can’t resist reading those back and forth comments. Which is why, exhausted by the social media response to the Paris attacks, I decided to take a week off of Facebook and reflect on whether or not it is a useful tool.

Facebook is not all bad. It’s great for:

  • Keeping in touch with friends and family that I might not see on a regular basis.
  • Hearing about and helping promote interesting events.
  • Getting advice and/or help on homesteading projects.
  • Getting rid of stuff and finding free things for a project.
  • Access to expert advice (the Garden Professors Facebook group is a good example of this).
  • Hearing the opinions of folks I don’t agree with.

The negatives?

Facebook as acedia engine
If I’m avoiding an important project Facebook is there for me to offer distraction fueled by my own narcissism. Did anyone react to my post???? If I’m bored, lonely or depressed I can scan my feed for a quick dose of righteous indignation. The back and forth chatter serves to drive us all to distraction and keep us from doing the things that will actually make the world a better place.

The scapegoat complex
The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor speaks eloquently of humanity’s innate need to find scapegoats. I’ve noticed that a large constellation of dodgy websites exist with the sole purpose of serving hastily written articles that point the finger at whatever group we don’t like. I don’t care if you’re on the left, the right, or none of the above, there’s a click bait website ready to make you comfortable about your ideological bubble. The solution to scapegoating lies in the realization, as Taylor notes, quoting one of one of the characters in Dostoyevsky’s The Demons that, “We are all to blame” and that the only way out is to accept our collective responsibility for a solution. Facebook profits from dissent rather than collective and productive action.

Working for free
The creepy business model of Facebook is to get us all to talk about ourselves and then harness that data to sell to marketers. Use Facebook and you’re signed up for an invasive and unpaid marketing focus group. I used to think that I could post quirky and random things in Facebook to throw off their algorithms, but I guarantee you that Facebook’s programmers are always one step ahead of us all. Who needs the NSA when we’re (myself included) willing to give up so much personal information?

Competition for eyeballs
At the risk of sounding bitter, Facebook takes eyeballs away from Root Simple. If I try to use Facebook to send people to Root Simple posts, Facebook’s algorithms punish me and shunt them to the bottom of my friend’s feeds. I have a Facebook page for Root Simple but Facebook wants me to pay to promote posts. So instead I mostly use my personal page to promote stuff with limited success. But, worst of all, Facebook has distracted me from responding to comments on this blog and, instead, focusing on comment threads on Facebook. It may be futile, but it’s time to fight back.

What I’ve resolved to do
I’m not going to give up on Facebook just yet. I can’t really. As authors we have to use it to promote our work and events. And I like keeping up with friends and family. But I’ve resolved to:

  • Post only post positive things on Facebook. I do this already, but occasionally feel the pull of negativity. My favorite Facebook posts are by friends who post stuff that they are actually making or doing rather than linking to click bait articles.
  • Curate my “friends.” I don’t mean that I’m going to unfollow everyone that I don’t agree with. One of the things I like about Facebook is hearing from people outside my own liberal, Los Angeles milieu. But I’m going to unfollow “friends” who only post finger pointing click bait rather than their own opinions.
  • I will move some of the things I post from Facebook to Root Simple. If you want to keep up with what we’re doing you’ll have to come to this blog first. And I promise to do a better job responding to comments on this blog. Sorry Mark Zuckerberg, I don’t want to provide you with free content.
  • Limit my time on Facebook and other social media to two short periods a day. I already do this with email and I’ve found that it’s boosted my productivity.

I’m really interested in hearing from Root Simple readers about how you use or don’t use Facebook. Let’s get a discussion going!

Saturday Tweets: Thanksgiving Weekend Edition

Black Friday Book Suggestions

While we don’t much approve of all the self-referential Black Friday hoopla each year, the fact is that it is difficult to get through this season without buying something for someone, and books make great presents, especially for do-it-yourselfer types. With that in mind, here’s a round-up of our favorite books of the year:


Wild Drinks & Cocktails: Handcrafted Squashes, Shrubs, Switchels, Tonics, and Infusions to Mix at Home by Emily Han.

Emily visited us on our podcast just a couple of weeks ago.  Wild Drinks is a really fun book which teaches you how to wildcraft both fancy artisanal cocktails and unusual non-alcoholic drinks like shrubs and switchels. Her emphasis is on foraged ingredients, but she also works with ingredients which might be foraged at the grocery store or farmers’ market. An excellent choice for the budding mixologist  or herbalist in your life, as well as anyone interested in unusual, healthful drinks.  (Kelly)

What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action by Per Epsen Stoknes.

Does anybody really want to get a climate change book for Christmas? Happy happy holidays!!!!  Santa’s Workshop is flooding! On the other hand, this might be the best gift you could give the downcast environmentalist or resigned doomer on your list. Here’s my review. (Kelly)

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

At this point, what more can we say? Many of you followed along as we decluttered using this book as a guide. (Here’s our original review and here’s a link to the whole series of posts inspired by this book.) In the meanwhile, this book became a bit of a media phenomenon in the U.S.. I’d go so far as to say that this has been a KonMarie kind of year, and decluttering has become a buzzword and a lifestyle. Hype aside, we liked this book more than others of the genre, and it helped us. However, decluttering is not a single event, but a way of life so I’m afraid we already need another round of tidying in our house. .. (Kelly)

Planting in a Post Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West

Of course this book is on the list! We’re talking about it right now on the blog as a part of our garden redesign series, so I won’t repeat myself here, except to say this my favorite new landscape design book. For the thoughtful gardeners in your life. (Kelly)


The Essential Oil Maker’s Handbook: Extracting, Distilling and Enjoying Plant Essences by Bettina Malle and Helge Schmickl.

The Artisinal Vinegar Maker’s Handbook: Crafting Quality Vinegars–Fermenting, Distilling, Infusing by Bettina Malle and Helge Schmickl.

The two books above, The Essential Oil Maker’s Handbook and The Vinegar Maker’s Handbook are both by the same authors and press. I’ve not reviewed them for the blog yet. I’m hard on “how-to” books — the projects have to work, and the project steps have to be clear and easy to follow, with no gaps in the steps or assumed knowledge. The only way to know if this is true of any book is to do several projects in each book to find out, and I haven’t had the time to delve into these two books yet–to actually try one of their projects.

However, I don’t want to pass them by in this roundup, because they are intriguing on first inspection. They look and feel like AP chemistry text books–and I mean that in a good way! They are sturdy hardbacks with lots of pictures, step by step instructions and detailed reference charts.  They’re pretty intense in their obsession with detail–a world away from your usual lightweight “10 Quick n’ Easy Projects” type of books.

They strike me as books for a craftsperson ready to take that next step toward making these products as a home business. Malle and Schmickl are scientists–stern Austrian scientists, no less– and they are all about consistency and professional practice. So these books mean to take you from being someone a casual dabbler to a home chemist who could make batches of vinegar or essential oil with consistent, predictable –saleable–results.

I’d say the vinegar book would be good for someone who has already made some vinegar, perhaps in a more intuitive manner, a la Sandor Katz, and wants to make larger batches for gifts or sale, and is ready to really delve into the serious science of vinegar culture.

The essential oil book covers not just essential oil, but also some other basic perfume techniques, like enfleurage, and recipes for beauty products to make with your essential oils and hydrosols.  FYI: you need a still to make essential oil, and stills ain’t cheap–so gifting this book could lead to future expenses! They discuss different sorts of stills you could make or buy. They sell their own stills and mention them. This did raise a flag for me, but it’s not obnoxiously done, and they do give alternatives. (Kelly)

Microshelters: 59 Creative Cabins, Tiny Houses, Tree Houses, and Other Small Structures by Derek “Deek” Diedricksen.

If your tiny house seems like a mansion this book is for you. “Deek” is a master of re-purposing junk into cute micro-structures. There’s 59 great examples for inspiration and a couple of detailed plans in the back of the book. If you’d like to build a “thoughtstyling” shed or small outbuilding to escape the pressures of the main house Deek has you covered. This tome was worth it just to discover the PLB formula: pillow, lamp, books. Add those three things and a cardboard box will seem like a home. (Erik)

One Straw Revolutionary: The Philosophy and Work of Masanobu Fukuoka by Larry Korn.

Korn worked on Fukuoka’s farm in the 1970s and went on to work as his translator. We interviewed Korn at length on episode 64 of of our podcast. Fukuoka’s ideas can be quite challenging to wrap your head around and this book serves as a great introduction. (Erik)


Guerilla Furniture Design: How to Build Lean, Modern Furniture with Salvaged Materials by Will Holman.

Holman plays with our waste stream to craft handsome and easy to build furniture. This book reminds me of classic 60s and 70s DIY furniture manuals such as Victor Papanek’s Nomadic Furniture. Holman was our guest on episode 55 of our podcast. (Erik)


Josey Baker Bread: Get Baking-Make Awesome Bread-Share the Loaves
by Josey Baker.

When folks ask me how to learn how to bake bread I send them to Josey Baker. As a former science educator, Baker is the idea person to write a baking cookbook. The recipes go from easy to more challenging and if you work your way through the book you really will make awesome bread. The book also captures Josey’s infectious enthusiasm. I don’t think he’s physically capable of frowning. (Erik)


The following two books are just out. We haven’t seen them yet, but can hardly wait to get our hands on them. They were both written by friends, and we know they’ll be great:

The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir by Pascal Baudar.

Pascal and his partner Mia Wasilevich are rock stars of the local foraging scene. What they do with foraged ingredients is breathtaking. I can’t wait to see this book. (Erik)

Save the Bees with Natural Backyard Hives: The Easy and Treatment-Free Way to Attract and Keep Healthy Bees by Rob and Chelsea McFarland.

Rob and Chelsea are the dynamic founders of Honeylove.org and are responsible for getting beekeeping legalized in Los Angeles. They are also proponents of treatment-free beekeeping and I’m looking forward to reading their take on this contentious method. (Erik)