108 Artist/Maker Federico Tobon

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Update: Federico wrote up a blog post showing some of the things we talked about.

Our guest this week on the Root Simple Podcast is artist Federico Tobon of WolfCat Workshop. We talk about a lot of things including Federico’s art, adventures in extreme “makerdom,” sharpening tools, knots and even how to train cats!  This is an episode that you’ll want to follow along in the show notes so you can see Federico’s amazing work. Here’s some of the things we talk about:

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You can follow Federico’s work at WolfcatWorkshop and he’s @wolfcatworkshop on Instagram. Make sure to sign up for his newsletter.

If you want 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. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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What’s Your Everyday Carry?

edc2017 copyOne of the more fetishistic subcultures in the urban homesteading activity playpen is an obsession with “everyday carry,” abbreviated by hip insiders as “EDC.” EDCers peacock their carefully curated sets of survival tools in photos called “pocket dumps.” The internet’s Mecca of pocket dumps is everydaycarry.com. On that site you’ll see color and texture coordinated EDCs reminiscent of the leather and wood appointments of the luxury yachts of Russian oligarchs. I wouldn’t dare post my dingy EDC for fear of ridicule in the comments. That fear is why I’ll share my personal EDC on the much more friendly Root Simple website. Consider this blog post as an update of the pocket dump I posted in 2011. Since that time my EDC has changed, mostly via subtractions. Here’s my current EDC:

1. Leatherman Rebar
This is the central and, unquestionably, most useful cornerstone of my EDC. Not a day goes by when I don’t pull out the Rebar to fix something or slice off a piece of cheese with the dull (my fault) pocket knife. The Leatherman folks have tried to anticipate every possible lifestyle with a confusing array of Leatherman models. The model I own, the Rebar, was made for aging 90s hipsters who own 100 year old crumbling Los Angeles bungalows. It’s got wire cutters for questionable electrical repairs, a screwdriver, and a thin metal shaft that doubles as a tool for ejecting stuck Pearl Jam CDs and for drawing floral patterns in cappuccino foam. OK, I made that last bit up–it has a beer bottle opener–not, I’ll note, a corkscrew as does the Eurotrashy Swiss Army Knife. I like that the Rebar comes with a belt holster which allows me to carry the Rebar at all times, even on occasions when I’m in a suit and tie.

Women, who lack pockets and, often, belts might not be able to accommodate the bulky Rebar into their EDC. Leatherman sells a smaller multi-tool called the “Juice” (inadvertent OJ reference?) that Kelly used to carry. Kelly lost her Juice which confirms the advantage of the belt holster (and her rant about women’s pockets).

2. Keychain pill holder
In my pill holder I keep two Aleves for life’s aches and pains and a dose of Benadryl for bee stings (an inevitable hazard of the beekeeping hobbyist). Unfortunately, I’ve had trouble with the keychain pill holders coming unscrewed over time and spilling the contents. Somewhere in our great consumer horn of plenty there’s an ideal keychain pill holder that doesn’t come unscrewed. If you know of one please leave a comment.

3. iPhone
It’s hard to say if this thing helps or hinders. Its navigation and communication capabilities are miraculous, like something out of the fevered imagination Giordano Bruno. I expect a teleportation app soon. But the damn thing is as addictive as crack and it allows the NSA, TSA and FBI to tell when I’m eating too many tortilla chips. Note that really important Silicon Valley tech bros carry phones that only make and receive calls:

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Stuff I stopped carrying
In the nearly seven years since I last documented my EDC, I’ve eliminated a few items:

Fire starting tools
I used to carry a second pill container with a small match and a ball of wax soaked cotton as well as a magnesium fire starting tool. Unfortunately, part of the magnesium tool came unscrewed in my pocket and got lost (perhaps the fluid dynamicists in our audience can explain this common pocket phenomenon). But also, how often do I need to start a fire in Los Angeles? While arson is the only honest form of architectural criticism in a city full of Geoff Palmer atrocities, it’s not like I need to start a fire to stave off the cold. Maybe I’ll live to regret this decision, but there’s only so much I can carry on my keychain without ruining the tailoring of my Prada.

Mini flashlight
Thanks to the perpetual glow of LA’s streetlights I found the mini-flashlight I used to carry an unnecessary pocket lump. It also came unscrewed multiple times and the batteries kept spilling out. Plus the iPhone comes with a light to enable post-50 year olds, such as myself, to read the tiny prices on small plates menus.

Stuff I’m not sure I should carry
Then there’s one new item that I’m ambivalent about carrying:

lockpicksetLock pick set disguised as a suspicious credit card
Due to a few recent bad experiences locking myself out, I’ve been teaching myself the art of lock picking (I’ll need to do a more detailed post on this hobby at a later date). But I’m worried the Chinese credit card will get me in trouble with the NSA, TSA and FBI folks who are monitoring my snacking habits. So, for the time being, I not sure if I should include the lock pick set in my EDC.

But enough self indulgence, what’s in your EDC?

On the Vulnerabilities of Combination Locks

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Back in December, just a few days after Kelly came home from the hospital, I went to the gym for a badly needed workout. I put my wallet and car keys in a small set of lockers located on the weight room floor. Those lockers (pictured above) have a built-in combo lock where you can set the combo yourself. Unfortunately something went wrong. When I went back to retrieve my belongings the combo I had set did not work. I asked a staff member to find the master key to open the locker. He informed me that the boss had it and that he wouldn’t be back until after the holidays. I panicked. How would I get by without my keys, credit card and driver’s license? Then I remembered an idle afternoon back in the summer when I attempted to learn how to crack combo locks.

The efforts of that afternoon paid off. After around five minutes of practice on the other lockers I figured out how to open the lock and I manged to retrieve my belongings.

Combo locks all work the same way. The internal mechanism has three or four wheels that must align to open the lock. More expensive combo locks have false gates to make them harder to crack. The cheap built-in locks at the gym had no false gates. Opening the lock was as easy as turning the numbers until I felt a subtle resistance. The process reminded me of playing a musical instrument. All it takes is a little finger dexterity and practice.

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, you’ve got a couple of options for opening a combo lock:

  • With a shim:

  • With some math:

Both the shim and the “math” methods take practice. I have not been able to open the lock I’ve been practicing on with either of these techniques. Of course, the easiest method is just to pry open a locker with a screwdriver or crowbar. And many locks can also be defeated by drilling them.

Lastly, let’s say you have an open combo lock but have forgotten the combo. You can figure it out by peering into the opening:

In addition to adding a James Bond villain skill to your mental toolkit, consider this post as a warning. Don’t leave valuables in a gym locker. I could have easily opened the other lockers, pulled out wallets, copied down credit card numbers and put the wallets back. My fellow gym goers would not have known anything was wrong until their credit card bills arrived.

Preparing For El Niño Storms

We begin this post with a gutter cleaning selfie showing the precipitous drop from the front of our house as well as a view of the “flipper fence” handrail I built for the in-laws.

The much promised El Niño rainstorms are on our doorstep this week. For those of you in the rest of the world who might be unfamiliar with the phenomenon, every decade or so weather conditions in the Northern Pacific conspire to heat up the ocean which, in turn, causes unusually heavy rainstorms to hit California. Climate change only makes this condition worse.

Most of the preparations I did are things I should do every year but have been lazy about due to the drought. But with January here I finally:

  • Cleaned the gutters and French drains. This is no fun, especially since the gutters on the front of the house are difficult to access. I discovered that the front gutter was completely clogged with loose asphalt roofing material.
  • Channeled some of the water from our gutters to the backyard garden. Since our house is on the hill I have to send the rest of the water down to the street, unfortunately.
  • Made sure to have working flashlights with fully charged batteries. Our electricity has gotten increasingly unreliable over recent years.
  • Charged the 2 meter ham radio (it’s also a scanner).
  • Got a supply of dry goods that can be cooked without opening the refrigerator/freezer.
  • Fixed the foundation (I did this ten years ago and am happy I did it, though it was expensive).

One thing I still need to do is get a charger for my cell phone. If any of you have a recommendation I’d appreciate it.

Other than pitch a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson El Niño disaster movie is there anything else I should do? What have you done to prepare for El Niño?