The Root Simple 2016 Holiday Gift Guide

history_02-20847If I had broad dictatorial powers we’d return to a pre-19th century version of Christmas: just another day on the liturgical calendar with optional drunken carousing. But that pre-commercial hope is as vain as the elimination of daylight savings time or the quest for a decent doughnut. We just have to resign ourselves to a certain amount of mutually assured destructive gift exchange. Towards that end, I thought I’d offer some suggested gifts, mostly obtainable online, for the urban homesteady types in your life. Most of the links are to Amazon, and we get a small cut of the proceeds, which helps keep our webmaster in kibble.

But First . . . Charity
Of course, rather than buying unneeded crap that will only clutter our already messy houses, we could agree to give to a charity instead. This season, due to our national “orange swan” event, Kelly is favoring the National Resources Defense Council. In addition, I suggest the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic, that provides medical care and counseling to needy folks right down the street from us here in Los Angeles. On Black Friday you can also shop at Patagonia, which is donating 100% of sales that day to environmental causes. Or you can make your own gifts. Everyone gets jam!

Incerto: Fooled by Randomness The Black Swan The Bed of Procrustes Antifragile

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Speaking of orange swans, Nassim Nicholas Taleb has gathered four of his books into one mega-cranky boxed set. Taleb’s genius is in pointedly pointing out the faulty ways the “adults” in our culture deal with randomness and complex systems. In my humble opinion, if you’re into permaculuture you should also read Taleb.

The Rye Baker: Classic Breads from Europe and America

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As a hopeless dabbler, I envy people who obsess and focus on just one thing. Baker Stanley Ginsberg is one such person and he spent years researching rye breads in both Europe and America. He’s gathered them all into one book, everything from Swedish flatbreads to a classic American deli rye. If you want healthy, sourdough fermented wholegrain breads, this book is for you.

Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes

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Planting in a Post-Wild World came out last year, but I think it’s still the most interesting new book on gardening and landscape architecture. Rainer and West describe a difficult to summarize philosophy that bridges the “wild” and human constructed landscapes. Along with Taleb and Kat Anderson’s Tending the Wild, this book should be on the bookshelf of all gardeners and permaculturalists. 

A New History of Western Philosophy

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If, like me, you managed to get through school without a shred of philosophical training, do yourself a favor and take a stab at this book. Kenny writes clearly, though I won’t say that the whole book is easy going. But just grasp a fraction of the content of this book and you’ll understand how $50 concepts like epistemology and ontology underlie assumptions about everything. Yes, such seemingly mundane things like gardening and construction work take on a whole new meaning once you dig into the preconceptions that we make about meaning and reason. I’ve come to enjoy beginning my day with a passage from Kenny’s book. 

Ship’s Cats in War and Peace

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There’s no nice way to say this. I’m a crazy middle-aged cat dude. The similarly pitiful cat-lover in your life will enjoy this strange and obsessively researched book, though they will develop a lifelong hatred of Ernest Shackleton (the bastard shot the ship’s cat!). You will learn two important facts: the celebrity cat phenomenon is definitely not a new thing and sailors spend a lot of their time sewing special cat hammocks.

Vegetable Seeds

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Who should you trust with your vegetable varieties? How about our friends the Italians? They know a few things about tasty vegetables. My favorite source for years has been Franchi, a family owned company that dates back to the 18th century. Franchi’s American importer is Seeds From Italy. But wait, what about climate change and drought for those of us in the arid Southwest? That’s were Native Seed/SEARCH comes in.

Silva Ranger 515 Compass

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Let’s say you don’t want to end up wandering in the desert drinking your own urine, like two of my fellow LA hipsters ended up doing recently. You’re gonna want a compass. No, you can’t use it to rate the park on Yelp or Instagram yourself drinking your own urine. Kids, what the compass is useful for is figuring out where you are and/or where you’re going when that cellphone of yours has no signal. What I like about this particular compass is that it has a sighting mirror, critical when you’re getting your bearings. But don’t forget that the compass is, pretty much, useless without a map. Thankfully, you can download USGS topo maps for free.

Leatherman Rebar

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Leatherman makes many different versions of their iconic multi-tool, one for each of America’s varied lifestyle categories. There’s the Leatherman Hipster, the Leatherman Accountant, the Leatherman Tech Bro and the Leatherman Internet Troll. OK, I just made all that up, but they do have the perfect tool for the person in your life, like me, who is little more than a low-grade, mostly incompetent building supervisor. Let’s say you need to do some dodgy electrical work, bad tree pruning or slice a muffin in half. The Leatherman Rebar is the tool you want. Here’s what it’s got: needlenose pliers, replaceable wire cutters, electrical crimper, knife, serrated knife, wood/metal file saw, small screwdriver. large screwdriver, phillips screwdriver, awl w/thread loop, ruler (8 inches), bottle opener, can opener, wire stripper, lanyard ring. I’m especially fond the wire stripping capability. If you need anything more than that you need to re-prioritize your life. I deploy my leatherman rebar at least once a day and wear it on my belt at all times.

Solavore Sport Solar Oven 

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Consider this thing a solar-powered slow cooker. We were sent one by the company for testing and what I like about it, over other solar box cookers, is the ability to cook two pots of food at once. Civilized people need some rice with their stew.

SolSource Solar Grill

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We did a video on this cool solar grill recently showing how you can use it to . . . deep fry! Looking somewhat like a James Bond villain prop from “Moonraker,” the SolSource’s mirrors focus the sun into a supremely hot point. Consider this a grill to compliment your Solavore oven. Together they form a supremely self-righteous outdoor kitchen that will function perfectly well in the post-zombie apocalypse outdoor entertaining combat theater.

Fencing lessons

Let’s say the significant other and/or the kids in your life are spending a lot of time on the couch playing the latest video game like the kid in the Ukrainian fencing studio ad above. Why get the same first person shooter experience with a little exercise thrown in? Fencing is an odd, three in one sport: foil, epee and saber. Like video games, fencing has electronic scoring and you even get multiple lives! Most adults do epee (it’s all I’ve ever done) and, traditionally, kids start with foil. Equipment costs are minimal but you will need to spring for one-on-one lessons. I dearly love running and riding a bike, but fencing has the added benefit of providing lessons in strategy. It’s a mental workout that’s often described as “physical chess.” The sport requires you to think several steps ahead of your opponent. If you’re a local, I can’t say enough good things about Fortune Fencing in Monrovia–it’s a friendly and mellow place (no yelling coaches). If not fencing consider some other lessons. Research has shown that money spent on experiences makes us more happy than money spent on things.

Want to pick up something that’s not on this list and support Root Simple? Just click through any of the links above, and a portion of your purchases will help us without costing you a cent.

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How to Block Telemarketers

telemarketinghellIf you’re in possession of an AARP card, you also probably have a land line telephone. If, like me, you are taking care of an older relative it’s likely that your elder depends on a land line that rings every few minutes with offers and pleas from dubious charities, political parties and Elmer Gantry types. In my opinion, there’s a special level of Dante’s inferno for telemarketers who prey on the elderly, but I won’t be able to fix that problem in a blog post. Let’s just take care of those unwanted calls.

At my mom’s house I tested two solutions: the Sentry Call Blocker and Nomorobo.

51sxnaptccl-_sl1000_Sentry Call Blocker
The Sentry Call Blocker is a piece of hardware the goes between your phone and the wall jack. It sells for around $40 on Amazon and has no monthly charges. The way it works is that you manually enter a list of approved callers. Unknown numbers get forwarded to a recorded message (oddly, a man with a British accent–an out of work Shakespearean actor, perhaps?). You can also scroll through a list of previous incoming calls and either put them on the approved list or block them. It did a great job of blocking unwanted calls. Unfortunately, it also did a good job of blocking wanted calls. After using it for a few months I had to disconnect it. Important calls from health care agencies as well as some of my mom’s friends were not getting through. And the interface is too complicated for an older person to operate.

cmfuwjawiaajvq6Nomorobo
Nomorobo is a call blocking service for VoIP phone lines. Nomorobo maintains a large database of telemarketers that they’ve culled from the FTC, crowd-sourced reports and their own “honey traps.” When a spam call comes in the phone rings once and then, satisfyingly, automatically hangs up on the helpless boiler room employee. I’ve been using it on my own line (it comes free with Spectrum VoIP service) for around six months and in that time not a single telemarketer has made it through. Not even an election related call! Nomorobo offers a version for iPhones for $1.99 a month that I’m considering using to stop the student loan calls (I don’t even have student loans!). If you’re a Spectrum/Time Warner subscriber you can activate Nomorobo through the web interface for your account under “VoiceZone/Peace and Quiet.”

There are numerous apps for Android and iPhones that also promise to block telemarketers that I have not tested. In my experience the National Do Not Call Registry is a joke, but I’ve listed my numbers anyways. At least until the telemarketers find a workaround, Nomorobo gets my vote.

Saturday Linkages: Collecting Seaweed, Microfarming and DIY Bike Lanes

095 Bean Holes and Deep Fried Turkeys with Eric Rochow of Garden Fork

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Listen to “095 Bean Holes and Deep Fried Turkeys with Eric Rochow of Garden Fork” on Spreaker.
With Thanksgiving just around the corner in the US it’s time to rock the friends and family with some new cooking traditions. How about baking beans in a hole or deep frying your turkey? I discuss these topics, plus how to plant garlic with Eric Rochow of Garden Fork. Eric’s got some great how-to videos:

Make sure to subscribe to the Garden Fork Youtube channel!

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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Saturday Tweets: Playing Chicken, Healthy Eating and Fixing Stuff