Of Love and Compressed Air

I’m always awestruck by the careful, scholarly writing of Low Tech Magazine creator Kris De Decker (a guest on episode 83 of our podcast). He just published two long articles on the history of compressed air, “History and Future of the Compressed Air Economy” and “Ditch the Batteries: Off-Grid Compressed Air Energy Storage.” This is one of those topics that’s so boring as to be exciting and once you start thinking of the possibilities of compressed air you’ll find yourself, inappropriately, peppering your cocktail party conversation with compressed air anecdotes. Who knew that the city of Paris had an elaborate compressed air distribution system that operated from 1881 to 1994?

Compressed air has been on my mind since purchasing an air compressor and pneumatic finishing nailer that has made the carpentry work for our ongoing house restoration process much easier. What De Decker is writing about, however, goes much deeper than my horribly inefficient Home Depot air compressor. His article is about the air compressor as an alternative to chemical batteries and ways to compress air with wind, solar and hydro power.

Some Amish communities use compressed air as a way of separating themselves from the “English” world and its power grid. In fact, compressed air is sometimes referred to as “Amish Electricity.” While the Amish compress air mostly with diesel generators, some use windmills. The Amish convert kitchen appliances to run on compressed air as well as power tools.

Over the weekend, Root Simple pal Charlie sent me an email describing his grandfather’s patent (US4311010A) for a “Gas-powered engine adapted to utilize stored solar heat energy and compressed gas power system.” Apparently, he couldn’t find a machinist to realize this compressed air storage invention (they all thought it was a perpetual motion machine).

Let me conclude with a detour from the power of compressed air to the power of love. If you didn’t see Bishop Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon, you really should. He turned what could have been nothing more than a celebration of vapid celebrity into something completely different. Now it’s up to us to figure out how to concentrate and distribute the love Curry so movingly spoke of. It might just be easier than setting up a compressed air network . . .

Gray Miscellany

Root Simple has a large, virtual dust bin full of news and notions not quite worthy of a full blog post. I thought I’d sweep a few of them into a brief missive.

Grey vs. Gray
In the great greywater vs. graywater debate I neglected to note a somewhat irrelevant factoid: Sherwin-Williams sells a paint color named after the actor/monologist Spalding Gray. When will Werner Herzog get a paint color?

OED Access
I couldn’t find my library’s online Oxford English Dictionary access. Then I did some digging and discovered it. For those of you in Los Angeles you can access the OED with your library card number here.

While you’re on the LA Library’s website, take a look at their scanned collection of vintage menus, including the Brown Derby and Cocoanut Grove.

America’s Hippest Neighborhood
The part of Los Angeles we live in or on the border of (the border region is disputed) is Silver Lake. Silver Lake is two words my brothers and sisters. If I downed a matcha latte for every time I’ve seen “Silverlake” I’d be a wealthy, if green tinted man. FYI, Silver Lake is named after Herman Silver, a water commissioner and city councilman from the early 1900s.  Perhaps we should rename our lake and community after Spalding Gray. Welcome to Gray Lake! But then, I suppose, we’d have the grey vs. gray problem.

While we’re on the topic of local news, the band Yacht, in their latest video, has included the beloved “happy foot/sad foot” characters from the rotating podiatrist’s sign that defines and delineates us from greater Silver Lake.

Have a great weekend and please enjoy this chicken playing Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro“:

This is why we have the internets.

Natural Cooling: The Fresh Air Bed

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 8.04.38 AMTechnology, such as air conditioning, has a way of flattening the ups and downs of our life’s experiences. We trade seasonal heat and cold for a bland, indoor sameness. Prior to the late 1950s, when air conditioning appeared in homes and apartments, builders used to have to consider regional differences. After air conditioning you could build any house anywhere. You could replace walls with sheets of glass, overhanging roofs with modernist boxes.

Particularly in hot, humid climates houses often had a screened porch or balcony on which to sleep on a sweltering night. The early 20th century was probably the zenith of the screened sleeping porch.

Taft's sleeping porch. Photo: Library of Congress.

Taft’s sleeping porch. Photo: Library of Congress.

President Taft even installed one on the roof of the White House in 1910.

The early 20th century’s sleeping porch movement also had a bit an anti-modernity vibe. To mitigate the pollution and psychic toll caused by 19th century industrialization, sleeping porch evangelists recommended dozing outside in fresh air. Entrepreneurs marketed a number of solutions, in addition to sleeping porches, such as sheds, tents and the gadget I want to focus on in this post, the convertible indoor/outdoor bed.

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 9.37.06 AMThe California Fresh Air Bed Company
A number of patents exist for space-saving built-in beds that can switch between indoors and outdoors (Charles Hailey, “From Sleeping Porch to Sleeping Machine: Inverting Traditions of Fresh Air in North America“). The California Fresh Air Bed Company of San Francisco marketed a bed that converted from an indoor sofa to an outdoor bed. A 1914 ad in the Pacific Medical Journal describes the device:

It is built half inside and half outside, forming a handsome davenport in the room, and an ornamental balcony outside. Can be used as a full size indoor bed or by a very simple operation converted into an outdoor bed. Can be aired all day and yet be concealed.

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 9.37.17 AMIt’s a space saving mashup of the fold-up Murphy bed with the screened porch. It also reminds me of Thomas Jefferson’s alcove bed and the built-in ironing board in our kitchen. There’s a lot to say in favor of reviving the California Fresh Air Bed Company. I can say from personal experience, living in a house built in 1920, that space is at a premium. And, particularly in the late summer and early fall here in Southern California, it would be nice to be able to get some cool, fresh air at night. The downside would be all the light pollution: the overabundance of street lights, billboards, porch lights etc.

The Baby Cage

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A related and, perhaps, more harebrained outdoor sleeping arrangement was the window cage for your baby.

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An article on Mental Floss goes into greater depth on the brief reign of the baby cage which seems to have been a thing in England. You’d think that baby would get a bit cold and wet in London, but the “experts” thought the fresh air outweighed the cold and falling risk. There’s even a newsreel on the baby cage:

These days child protective services would stop by if you stuck your kid in a cage out the window.

cathouse19

The idea lives on, but only for cats, in the form of the Cat Solarium and in many homebrew kitty window solutions.

But enough about cats, what we really need is to bring back the California Fresh Air Bed Company’s clever indoor/outdoor bed. As many consider downsizing to smaller houses, space and energy saving furniture such as this make more sense than the oversized sofa sectionals that plague our modern mega-houses.

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101 Eric Interviews Erik

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Between Kelly’s aortic dissection and my mom’s passing it’s been a difficult few months here at Root Simple. Eric Rochow of Garden Fork noticed that I haven’t put out a podcast episode in a long time and offered to interview me. So, on episode 101, you’ll hear Eric interviewing Erik about Root Simple, our books and my background. Despite the differences in the way we spell our names we have a lot in common! During the podcast we talk about:

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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The Primitive Technology Guy

I mentioned last week that episodic TV, YouTube videos and a recliner are an important part of Kelly’s open heart surgery recovery process. Our breeches are still deep in that Jas. Townsend and Son 18th century YouTube cooking hole, where we’re learning about cleaning pots with brick dust and how to make Norfolk dumplings on the go.

Australian reader Jampotts reminded me of another wildly popular YouTuber who just goes by the handle “Primitive Technology.” The anonymous creator of the these wordless videos, shot in northern extreme of Queensland, Australia uses a “show me don’t tell me” philosophy of film making that I greatly admire. No long, babbling intros!

Kelly was especially impressed with his pump drill fire starting technique:

He has a blog that describes the content of his videos in more detail.

People like John Townsend and the Primitive Technology guy are the good side of the internet, producing quality work that’s a lot better than mainstream television. If you have a favorite YouTube channel let us know about it in the comments.