Are Miniature Books the New Smartphone?

Die Psalme Davids: Nach fransösischer Melodeij in Teutsch Reimen gebracht. Basel, 1659 (a miniature book bound in tortoiseshell). Image: Wikipedia.

Die Psalme Davids: Nach fransösischer Melodeij in Teutsch Reimen gebracht. Basel, 1659 (a miniature book bound in tortoiseshell). Image: Wikipedia.

I tend to be slow to adopt new technology. I was probably the last person on the block to have dial-up internet service. I still have a landline. And I held out on getting a smartphone until just last year. But once I adopt a new technology I turn into an addict.

Computer scientist and work habit guru Cal Newport warns about smartphone addiction. He has a suggestion for breaking habitual phone checking. When you’re out and about simply don’t check your phone, even when you’re in a long line at the post office. Newport’s reasoning is that by constantly checking your phone you’re training yourself to be a shallow thinker.

But there’s still all those long, boring lines to deal with. What about reading a book instead? Newport might not agree, but at least it’s better than checking a phone. I’m hoping that a little more book reading might help counteract my shortened attention span (which I blame on the internet).

A short history of tiny books
One of the convenient things about a smart phone is that it puts the whole internet in your pocket. But long before Snapchat people carried miniature books. Prayer books and the bible were popular in miniature form. In the 19th century, improved printing technology brought a wider variety of tiny books aimed at travelers.

In the 20th century the miniature book became an end in itself. Rather than utility, miniature books are now objects to collect. This is not what I’m interested in. Rather, I’m looking for books that are small (non necessarily miniature) and convenient to carry while on the train or running errands.

81keznrblllPractical small books
Penguin has a long history of publishing books in smallish (not miniature) form. Since the 90s I’ve occasionally picked up their inexpensive and short classics series such as Thoreau’s essay Walking and Michel De Montaigne’s Four Essays. Kelly just got me their Little Black Classics Boxed Set which includes 80 works of short fiction and non-fiction by authors as varied as Samuel Pepys, Edith Wharton and Dante.

But the first book I started my cellphone alternative experiment with is Ammianus Marcellinus’ History Books 14-19 in an edition that’s part of the Loeb Classical Library. Loeb books are handsome, small and sturdy hardbacks with English on one page and Latin or Greek on the opposite page. Marcellinus is an entertaining Roman historian whose extant books chronicle the tumultuous years around the time of Constantine. So far it’s even more lurid than the updates on our current presidential election I get when I glace at the iPhone.

Yes, you can read books on a smartphone, but I still think that the medium of a paper book lends itself to developing a greater ability to focus. And as Cal Newport suggests, anyone who can focus on a problem in depth for a long period of time will be more valuable than those of us with the attention span of a flea. My prediction is that the cool kids will be reading tiny books.


Saturday Tweets: Grape Jelly, a Rabbi’s Advice and Smoking in an Apartment

What Does California’s Prop 64 Say About Home Marijuana Cultivation?

After our fist book, The Urban Homestead, came out we visited a big-box bookstore to see what category it ended up in. This was before bookstores created separate shelves for urban homesteading. Unsurprisingly, we found it in the gardening section. What did surprise me was the other books in the garden category. The overwhelming majority were about growing marijuana. There were lavish coffee table books of bud porn, detailed encyclopedias edited by huge teams of experts and countless tomes covering the technical details indoor lights, fertilizers and growing mediums.

Marijuana is the elephant in the gardening bedroom. I strongly suspect that the majority of money spent on fertilizers and gardening related products are for growing pot not petunias. This November, Californians will vote on Proposition 64 which will legalize marijuana for adults over 21. I thought I’d take a look at the text of the law to see what it says about home cultivation.

Currently, qualified patients can use and grow marijuana for medical purposes. In practice anyone can “qualify” by handing over some cash to a storefront doctor and claiming some vague symptoms. This is an exact repeat of what happened during prohibition when a shady doctor could write you a prescription for a shot of whiskey. Under the present law, according to NORML,

Qualified patients are exempt from the state permit program if cultivating less than 100 square feet for personal medical use.  Primary caregivers with five or fewer patients are allowed up to 500 square feet (AB 243, 11362.777(g) and SB 643, 19319). Exemption under this section does not prevent a local government from further restricting or banning the cultivation, provision, etc. of medical cannabis by individual patients or caregivers in accordance with its constitutional police powers under Section 7, Article XI of the CA Constitution (11362.777(g))

In other words, right now there’s a confusing patchwork of regulation when it comes to personal cultivation.

Here’s the text of Proposition 64 relating to home cultivation:

11362.2. (a) Personal cultivation of marijuana under paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) a/Section 11362.1 is subject to the following restrictions:
(1) A person shall plant, cultivate, harvest, dry, or process plants in accordance with local ordinances, if any, adopted in accordance with subdivision (b) of this section.
(2) The living plants and any marijuana produced by the plants in excess of 28.5 grams are kept within the person’s private residence, or upon the grounds of that private residence (e.g., in an outdoor garden area), are in a locked space, and are not visible by normal unaided vision from a public place.
(3) Not more than six living plants may be planted, cultivated, harvested, dried, or processed within a single private residence, or upon the grounds of that private residence, at one time. (b)(l) A city, county, or city and county may enact and enforce reasonable regulations to reasonably regulate the actions and conduct in paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 11362.1. (2) Notwithstanding paragraph (1), no city, county, or city and county may completely prohibit persons engaging in the actions and conduct under paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 11362.1 inside a private residence, or inside an accessory structure to a private residence located upon the grounds of a private residence that is fully enclosed and secure. (3) Notwithstanding paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 113 62.1, a city, county, or city and county may completely prohibit persons from engaging in actions and conduct under paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 11362.1 outdoors upon the grounds of a private residence.
(4) Paragraph (3) of this subdivision shall become inoperable upon a determination by the California Attorney General that nonmedical use of marijuana is lawful in the State of California under federal law, and an act taken by a city, county, or city and county under paragraph (3) shall be deemed repealed upon the date of such determination by the California Attorney General.
(5) For purposes of this section, ”private residence” means a house, an apartment unit, a mobile home, or other similar dwelling.

In short, the proposition will prevent municipalities from forbidding indoor growing while allowing the regulation of outdoor growing. I’m not going to address what the proposition says about larger growing operations since this involves a complex maze of yet to evolve state and local laws that are hugely controversial.


In my perfect world marijuana is just another plant, no more or less exciting that a grape vine. As a consequence of marijuana prohibition, illegal outdoor growing operations have been the cause of a lot of environmental damage and violence. Indoor growing is energy intensive and inefficient. It’s my hope that Proposition 64 will improve the current situation by legalizing personal growing (though I wish that municipalities did not have so much control over outdoor growing). Enacting laws against plants seems arrogant, and reminds me of King Canute’s demonstration of the futility of willing the tide not to come in. I have no interest in growing pot, but I think it should be legal to do so.

That said, I realize this proposition is hugely controversial and depends a lot on what will happen when the legislature and local municipalities start building up a regulatory structure surrounding the use, taxation and production of marijuana. I’m interested in hearing your opinions. To those of you who already live where pot is legal–Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington: what has legalization meant in terms of home growing operations? If you’re in California, will you be voting for or against Prop 64? If you’re not in California do you think is should be legal to grow pot? Why or why not?


Shedcropolis: A Garden Shed Made From (Mostly) Salvaged Materials

sideviewKelly requested a small shed to keep our garden tools, pots and fertilizer. I was not satisfied with either the small and ugly plastic storage structures nor the large, fake barn-like sheds available at the big box stores so I vowed to build my own. In a September blog post I wrote about my eccentric design process. Today, I’m declaring the world’s most pretentious garden shed, a.k.a. “Shedcropolis,” finished.

fencinggripFor materials, I sourced salvaged 2x4s and a window from the ReUse People of America. I finished the interior wall with pegboard from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Two doors found on the street got incorporated into the project. I even managed to turn a fencing grip into a door handle. The only things I needed to purchase at the big orange store were a few 2x6s, some plywood, metal roofing material and siding. If I had been a little more patient I could have sourced the Hardie board siding when it showed up at the ReStore a week later.

frontviewHow I got the columns is a funny story. We live on a hill and I enjoy watching house remodeling projects going on in the neighborhood through a pair of binoculars that I keep next to the door. One day I was watching the transformation of a run-down bungalow into a posh pad for Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki, the cinematographer of The Revenant, Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men among other superb films. I just happened to witness the workers ripping the old columns off the porch. I immediately jumped in the car and drove over. The workers were more than happy to give me the columns as it saved them space in their dumpster. If I were one of those east coast reporters who drop into LA to write up a stereotype-heavy article I’d have to note my shed’s “celebrity columns.”

Or maybe I should call the shed “Chivocropolis.” But then we’d have to get goats.

Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer and Avocados

Multiple entry holes on avocado trunk. Photo credit: Eskalen Lab, UC Riverside.

Multiple entry holes on avocado trunk. Photo credit: Eskalen Lab, UC Riverside.

Of all the plants in our yard the one I care most about is our avocado tree. I’d be despondent if anything happened to it. Which is why I panicked when I first heard about the Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer (PSHB), a beetle that spreads a fungus Fusarium euwallacea. First noticed in 2003 here in Southern California, the PSHB seems to damage some trees more than others.

Concerned about losing my avocado tree I wrote Akif Eskalen, a plant pathologist at the University of California, Riverside. Dr/ Eskalen’s lab has done a lot of work on the PSHB and what to do about it. I asked him specifically about avocados and here’s what he had to say in an email,

My lab has been conducting a continuous survey on PSHB on infested and non-infested avocados in California since 2012. Based on the preliminary results from our survey the beetle PSHB seems to be attacking and causing damages on primary and secondary branches of avocado only. We have also seen attacks on the trunk of the trees but somehow the beetle is not successful establishing galleries there which could cause of quick death of the tree. I believe with a proper orchard sanitation you can reduce the damage of the beetle and also keep the beetle population down in the orchard . . . we are still continuing experiments with different insecticide and fungicides on avocado against this beetle and their fungi. An insecticide (Hero) has already registered under Section 18 that could be used by growers in CA.

He provided a link to a short publication his lab put out on orchard sanitation best practices as well as a link to information for avocado growers on the use of Hero. Hero is a pyrethroid-based pesticide.

For my own backyard tree I’m going to:

  • Make sure pruning tools are disinfected before use. This is one of the main reasons we use a qualified arborist.
  • Avoid moving firewood around. I’m going to have to think carefully about the wood I import for my pizza oven.
  • Use mulch that has been chipped to less than 1 inch.

I’d sure hate to lose a tree that provides six months worth of free and delicious Fuerte avocados.