Content Mills: Pimples on the Information Superhighway

Yes, there really is a “How to Get Rid of Pimples on the Buttocks” video on eHow. If only they had a how to get rid of eHow article.

Google’s powerful search engine has become an essential component of the urban homesteading toolbox. From diagnosing tomato diseases to cooking Ethiopian injera Google has the answers.

In recent years, unfortunately, low quality “content mills,” such as ezinearticles and suite101 that pair dubious information with advertising, have replaced more respectable sources in search rankings.  An article in Wired Magazine, “The Answer Factory: Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model” details how these content mill scams work. Authors and video producers for these companies get next to nothing to produce shoddy work that is then tied to keywords used to generate click through advertising.

I actually got an email a few months ago from content mill king Demand Media asking if we’d contribute video. I replied with a terse email message, “Sorry to say that we don’t generate material for content mills.” I got an astonishing response,

Hi Erik,

Thank you for your timely reply. I think you have a point about the content mill, however should you ever reconsider, and would like for us to produce high quality How To videos for you and Ehow, which you can use on your own web site, please don’t hesitate to contact me. All the videos on Ehow include links to your website, a bio of the expert, and Google Search result optimization.

Google adjusted its algorithms last week to bump down content mill sites. A study, released this past weekend by Sistrix, shows how that adjustment has changed search results. The results are mostly positive. In Sitrix’s “visibility index” exinearticles.com is down 90% and suite101.com is down 94%. But at least one content mill slipped through the cracks. EHow.com actually rose in Sistrix’s index.

So Google has more algorithm tweaking to do that runs somewhat counter to their financial interests in selling more ads. But I’ll repeat what Amy Stewart says over at Garden Rant, dear eHow: please go away.

Compost Rebuttal

Kelly’s secret compost pile.

I found out via a blog post last week that Kelly had secretly constructed a compost pile to deal with a surplus of kitchen scraps. She knew I’d be unhappy with this due to my anal retentive approach to composting.

So why am I unhappy with this pile? The reason is simple: it’s too small and will never generate enough heat to:

  • Kill weed seeds.
  • Kill human and plant pathogens.
  • Kill root nematodes.

Don’t just believe me, listen to soil scientist Dr. Elaine Ingham in this youtube video:

Ingham’s work is controversial, but I believe time will prove her ideas correct. To grow fussy plants like vegetables we need to introduce beneficial microorganisms and fungi into the soil via well made compost. To make that compost we need to monitor the pile’s temperature carefully (it should be between 55ºC and 65ºC for at least three days according to Ingham). The pile also needs oxygen, provided by introducing loose materials like straw and through periodic turning. A compost pile needs water too. It’s not difficult to achieve the conditions Ingham specifies. You just need enough mass combined with the use of a compost thermometer to figure out when to turn the pile. 

O.K., so now I’m headed out into the garden to combine that tiny and ugly tire pile to the new pile I’m building.

For more information on Ingham’s work read, Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis.

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Just rebutting the rebuttal. I don’t disagree with anything Erik says above, and Ingham’s work is fascinating.  But to be clear about my post, the “sooper seekrit” pile was not about producing compost, it was about disposing of waste. Indeed, such a small pile does not have the mass to heat up enough to burn off nasties or to decompose very quickly, but it suited my needs at the time. Homemade compost is a wonderous thing. It’s vital to organic gardening, and moreover it’s really satisfying to take the waste products from your kitchen and garden and make them into something which will build your soil. You get to keep all that wealth close at hand. However, if you don’t want or need compost for your garden, but you don’t want to send green scraps to the landfill, you can return it to the earth in more casual ways, like the sooper seekrit pile.

Look To Mother Nature

While this clip is about the economy, I often think about it in relation to our burgeoning urban homesteading movement. Whenever I’m asked why we are engaged in the disparate activities chronicled on this blog, I point to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of one of my favorite books, The Black Swan.  In this clip he talks about how nature isn’t centralized. Nothing in nature is “too big to fail.” Nature depends on built in redundancy. It’s adaptable, flexible, built to withstand shocks–Taleb’s term for this is robustness.

He’s talking about reforming financial systems, but we apply the same ideas when considering our overly centralized food system. All of us who grow a little food, bake, brew, keep small stock and bees–what have you–are part of the solution. By building community ties and practical knowledge we’re creating a robust food production and distribution able to withstand shocks.

This is reason enough to do it, but as you all know, it’s a whole lot of fun, too.

Just another reason why urban homesteading rocks.

Happy Fornicalia!

Oven at Pompeii. Image: Wikipedia.

Oven at Pompeii. Image: Wikipedia.

Today (or roundabouts) the ancient Romans celebrated the festival of Fornicalia in tribute to Fornax, the goddess of the hearth and baking. And, yes indeed, it’s where we get the word “fornicate” — for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. It’s either because prostitutes used to operate out of bread oven-shaped basements in Rome, or because the “bun in the oven” euphemism is a very old one.

I’m celebrating Fornicalia by reading a book by Jeffrey Hamelman Bread:A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes that Mark Stambler, a gifted baker in my neighborhood, introduced me to recently. I’ll review the book in length later once I master the recipes. Until that time, Kelly will be hearing the good old fashioned Anglo-Saxon euphemism for “fornicate” coming out of the kitchen as I  battle with my proofing issues.So, happy Fornicalia! Go warm up your oven and bake something.

Zhengyalov Hats

A Zhengyalov hat (sometimes transliterated as “Jengyalov hat” is an Armenian flat bread stuffed with a surprising set of mostly foraged fillings which, according to this website, include, “spring onions, green garlic, coriander (lat. coriandrum), nettle (lat. urtica), chickweed (lat. cerastium), sorrel, capsella, mint and a special herb called either [sic] carmantyuc (kndzmdzuk).” It’s apparently a popular dish during lent and originates from the Karabakh region.

Our neighbors at Tularosa Farms dropped off two Zhengyalov hats that they found at a local Armenian market. They were quite delicious, though to eat one straight off the fire, as in the video above, must be a real treat.

I wish I could find a recipe in English. Leave a comment if you find one on the interwebs or in a cookbook. In the meantime, I’m just going to watch that video over and over.

More information on Zhengyalov hats and the cuisine of the Karabakh region here.

Why Did We Change Our Name?

The answer is simple. To those of you who have ever tried to find an available url, you know. It’s tough. Everything is taken. When I began this blog on a whim one afternoon in 2006, I registered “survivela.com.” Our first publisher, correctly, thought that was too Los Angeles-centric and asked that we make it more universal so that we could expand our readership. Thus began the second painful search for an unused URL, followed by a third painful search due to a comedy of errors too tedious to describe.

Rootsimple.com is here to stay. I like it a lot better than “Homegrown Evolution.” It’s easier to remember and I dig the symbolism.

“Everything changes and nothing remains still …. and … you cannot step twice into the same stream.” as Hereclitus says. The publishing and blogging world is getting a bit crowded in the “urban homesteading” category. It’s time to expand the conversation and explore some new home ec related topics. We don’t want to become stale. Having a new book coming out later this spring, Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, also makes for a good moment to update our website.

Incidentally, for those of you trying to find an unused URL, I discovered that you can just add the word “burrito” and you’ve got yourself a website. So go ahead and register rootsimpleburrito.com before someone else does.

The Vertical Gardens of Los Angeles

Photo by Anne Hars

Like Emily Green of the Los Angeles Times I’m a vertical garden skeptic, especially in a dry climate. That being said, artist and master gardener Anne Hars and I found a successful, though unintentional, vertical garden in our neighborhood while walking her dogs yesterday. The plant you see above is growing through a drainage hole (the level of the ground behind the wall is where you see the plant growing). Makes me wonder if this particular design could be done on purpose, given the appropriate context. The plants, in this hypothetical drainage hole garden, could act as biofilters, absorbing excess nutrients and toxins. Slap a trademark on it, form a non-profit and Bob’s your uncle.

Extra points to the person who can i.d. the common weed growing through that drainage hole:

Maybe Anne and I will go back, cross out the gang tags and spray paint the scientific name of the plant once one of you identifies it for us.