Looking for the Union Label

We’ve got a bad case of Ohrwurm, a German expression translated as “earworm” and used to describe a song stuck in your head. Our earworm came after a search for union made socks and underwear on the internets recalled a highly catchy ad jingle from the roller disco era, “Look for the Union Label” (youngsters can watch it on youtube here).

We looked for the union label and we were surprised to find it via a company called Union House which carries a functional, if unexciting line of apparel. Unless hipsters take to golf shirts in an ironic fashion judo move, these offerings will never be cool like the domestically made clothes made by the union busting folks over at American Apparel. The socks and underwear we ordered from Union House arrived promptly and are of superior quality. Homegrown Revolution hecklers will, no doubt, shout us down for not sewing our own underwear and socks, but we’ll save our time for more complicated sewing projects such as the shirt we sewed a few years ago.

We’ve all got a lot of moral geometry to perform in this globalized world–the keyboard we’re tapping this missive out on was assembled in Malaysia by workers who, it’s safe to say, probably don’t toil in the best of conditions. But, taking out the moral ruler, we’ve got to draw a line somewhere and last week that was with the clothing we chose. It’s better to mark that line somewhere than not to mark it at all.

Though we prefer this more soulful rendition, we feel the need to spread the earworm around and here’s another version of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union song (with a few inexplicable bleeps):

Bubble Wrap Your Windows


Photo by Nick Lowe

From the remarkable folks at Build It Solar comes this heating conservation tip – bubble wrap your windows. Simply cut sheets of bubble wrap to fit your windows, apply some water with a spray bottle and before it dries stick the bubble wrap on the glass. While you can buy special bubble wrap designed for greenhouses, according to Build It Solar, regular bubble wrap will probably work just as well. If you number the pieces you use, you can stick it up again next year.

Bubble wrapping the windows cuts down on visibility, so it’s a strategy best left to back rooms of your house or apartment. Of course, LA’s so ugly it may not matter . . .

Airing Our Dirty Laundry

Let’s face it folks, clothes dryers suck and even Martha Stewart agrees with SurviveLA that the way to go is the old-fashioned clothes line. SurviveLA put a retractable line up in the back yard this week to replace our hated Kenmore dryer. May the bastards at Sears suffer Pharaoh’s plagues sprinkled with Job’s scabies for designing this ugly, awkward and inelegant machine. Besides, with the blazing hot sun of Los Angeles, it makes perfect sense to use our region’s free solar power.

So why air dry? Let’s do the math. Assuming our (gas powered) dryer uses an average of .22 therms of natural gas per load at our gas company Sempra Energy’s August rate of 59 cents per therm, by using our clothes line we achieve the admittedly not too impressive savings of 17 cents per load. If we had an electric dryer we figure that the cost would be about 44 cents per load if the dryer consumed four kilowatts for a 45 minute spin. And remember that when you use electricity in Los Angeles, thanks to the Department of Water and Power, you are burning coal in Utah.

Now we would continue with the math, but that would involve amortizing the cost of the dryer and math is a shaky subject for us. Suffice to say, that gas is not the only cost. We think the greatest savings over time may be that air drying is simply better for our clothes. Besides, it’s another excuse to get outside and get in touch with the natural world i.e. the weather.

For those folks pressed for time and unable to enjoy the blessed idleness that pervades the SurviveLA compound, another drying alternative exists — the Spin X dryer. Made by the Krauts, this thing is sort of like those small spinning machines you stick your bathing suit into at the swimming pool. The Spin X spins at 3,300 rpm, and according to the manufacturer will remove 50% of the moisture of a ten pound load in three minutes. You will still need to air dry your clothes after they come out of this thing. The Spin X might be a good option for apartment homesteaders as it just hooks up to a regular 110 outlet and does not need a drain line. Water from the clothes is sent out the front of the unit into a small container that you must empty. A Spin X will set you back $469.

No discussion of dryers would be complete without mentioning the recent scandal in Britain wherein three bored firemen nearly lost their jobs for filming a member of their department taking a ride in a dryer. A hearing ensued and the firemen involved in the incident had to issue an apology, “We recognize that our behaviour was totally irresponsible and we are genuinely ashamed and would stress that no one should try to copy the stupid act.” For the idle out there you can watch the video here. Just don’t try this stunt in the Spin X, as the manufacturer also promises “1,340 G forces”.

LED Light Bulbs

The geeks over at BoingBoing have jumped on the LED light bandwagon with a post about the C. Crane Company’s CC Vivid and CC Vivid+ LED light bulbs. While it’s great that folks are beginning to think about conservation, it’s disappointing that this interest seems to be about chasing the latest new techno-gadget. As concerns about impending climate and ecological disaster increase, it’s prudent to greet all new technical solutions with skepticism. After all, why replace one kind of over-consumption with a new “green” consumerism?

Now back to the topic of LED lights. The price of LED lights continues to fall as the their light output increases. However the technology, in SurviveLA’s opinion, is not quite ready for general lighting applications. One way to measure efficiency of light bulbs is a ratio between the light output measured in lumens and power usage measured in watts. Most compact fluorescents have a lumens to watts ratio of about 50 lumens per watt. The CC Vivid light lumens to watts ratio is 24 and the CC Vivid+ ratio is 34 according to the specifications we obtained from the C. Crane Company web site. The spotlight profiled by BoingBoing, which we assume is also the C. Crane spotlight also has a lumens to watts ratio of 34. For more on these issues see the Department of Energy’s FAQ on LEDs.

As the DOE notes in the FAQ, it’s not entirely fair to directly compare compact fluorescents to LED lights, since LED bulbs have a more directed light making them perhaps better for applications such as bedside reading lights, where you don’t want to bother a dozing partner. LEDs, due to their exceptionally long life — upwards of 60,000 hours — are also great for installation in hard to reach locations where the lights will be on continuously.

LED lights, however, still bust the wallet with their high price. This issue reminds us of all the yuppies in our ‘hood tooling around in their expensive new Toyota Priuses. It’s 19th century technology, but a bicycle is still a hell of lot more efficient . . .

Essential System #3 – Sew Your Own Damn Clothes

Working down the list of essential systems that we began in an earlier post, we get to the topic of clothes. Now we could talk about layering and all the new “technical” fabrics, but that’s just about going to REI and busting out the credit card — not very interesting.

The problem with laying down the credit card at any or our nation’s retail clothing establishments is the simple fact that when you get home you have to wash off the blood of the Chinese slave laborers who sew the shit. There are two possible solutions to this moral dilemma, shopping at thrift stores, in which case you have second-hand slave laborer blood and sewing your own clothes. The big problem with the latter solution is that sewing is a bitch — it’s time consuming and at times incredibly frustrating. Nevertheless this homesteading revolution we propose won’t be a cake walk, and will be as much about rediscovering old techniques as it will be about new technologies. Fellow crackpot Daniel Pinchbeck in his funky new book The Return of Quetzalcoatl says,

Instead of envisioning an ultimately boring technological singularity, we might be better served by considering an evolution of technique, of skillful means, aimed at this world, as it is now. Technology might find its proper place in our lives if we experienced such a shift in perspective–in a society oriented around technique, we might find that we desired far less gadgetry. We might start to prefer slowness to speed, subtlety and complexity to products aimed at standardized mind. Rather than projecting the spiritual quest and the search for the good life onto futuristic A.I.s we could actually take the time to fulfill those goals, here and now, in the present company of our friends and lovers.

In short it’s time to step away from the virtual world of the computer for a few evenings every month and fire up the very non-virtual Singer sewing machine. We did this a few years ago and managed to produce the rather unattractive and two sizes too big shirt that you see above. It’s the kind of shirt that when worn will often get the comment, “did you . . . sew that yourself?” Note that this is not a compliment.

Still, we think that sewing has promise, particularly in Los Angeles where every imaginable fabric can be found in the colossal fabric district (unless, of course you decide to take truly radical action and start spinning and weaving your own fabric). Some recommendations for brave urban homesteaders who want to take up sewing. Don’t start with stretchy fabric. Don’t even think of using velvet (we learned this the hard way). Choose patterns carefully so you don’t end up looking like, well, folks who sew their own clothes. Consider purchasing a used serger, which cuts the fabric and finishes the seam all at once, which folks in the know tell us makes life considerably easier. Dress forms can also help – here’s how you can make one yourself.

Most importantly we need to reclaim sewing from the old ladies of the Midwest and make it . . . revolutionary. We think the best way to jump start this new sewing revolution would be to bring back brother Eldridge’s radical “Cleavers”.

A Close Shave Part II: The Rolls Razor

Shaving authority and Root Simple Toronto correspondent Nicholas Sammond sent these handsome pics of a unique shaving system called the “Rolls Razor”. It looks like a safety razor, but instead of using disposable blades, the blade is permanent and re-sharpened on two stones contained in the case. One stone is used for occasional re-sharpening and the other stone is a “strop” used to sharpen the blade after each use. A detailed description of the operation of this unique razor can be found on this web site.

In effect the Rolls Razor is a compromise between a straight razor and a safety razor. We say it’s time to bring back the Rolls Razor so we all can stop handing Gillette and Schick, who have the same business models as crack gangs any more money, and stop filling all those landfills with more plastic.

A Close Shave

Author and fellow revolutionary Nicholas Sammond is visiting the Homegrown Revolution compound this week and he really knows how to stick it to the Man! You see the Man wants to sell us gentleman cheap shaving implements that just happen to need expensive replacement blades, a business strategy called a “loss leader” pioneered by American Safety Razor Company founder King Camp Gillette that has since been applied to everything from inkjet printers to fast food. At the Homegrown Revolution compound we don’t like to get hooked on shit the Man tries to force us to buy.

In order to escape this cycle there are basically three options. Stop shaving and become a hippie – but one look at this photo shows the problem with that approach. The hardcore and “green” option is to learn how to use a straight razor, something we may take up around here someday. For now, we’re going to compromise and use an old fashioned safety razor like the one pictured above. I’ve had some difficulty finding one of these things but they are available from a number of high-end shaving retailers, or you could try a thrift store, but make sure to get one that uses regular razor blades. I’ve got an antique model, but it uses a blade that is not made anymore. The irony here is that the safety razor is the kind King Gillette got us menfolk hooked on to begin with. The thing is, the old kind of razor is a much cheaper option than the overpriced plastic “Mach whatever” shit Gillette is pushing these days. Our revolutionary visitor points out that the old fashioned safety razor does not give as close a shave, but at least he’s not giving the Man lots of dead presidents.

Sometimes it’s best to revert to the previous era’s technology, like trading in your SUV for a bicycle. The trade is some convenience for a righteous independence.