Low-Tech Magazine

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Chinese wheelbarrow with sail assist. Image courtesy of Low Tech Magazine.

Yesterday, Erik and I had the privilege of interviewing Kris De Decker, the creator of one of our very favorite Internet resources, Low-Tech Magazine. Those of you who know Low-Tech will understand our vast excitement. To make it all even happier, he seems like a really good guy.

If you haven’t heard of this blog, believe me, Root Simple readers, if you like what we do here, you’ll love Low-Tech. This is the sort of site you fall into and stay for days.

Our interview with him will appear on our podcast next Wednesday, but in the meantime I suggest you whet your appetite by reading some of our favorite articles:

How to Make Everything Ourselves: Open Modular Hardware

How to Downsize a Transportation Network: The Chinese Wheelbarrow

If We Insulate Our Houses, Why Not Our Cooking Pots?

Restoring the Old Way of Warming: Heating People, Not Spaces

Recycling Animal and Human Dung is the Key to Sustainable Farming

How to Make a Simple Paint Can Rocket Stove

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Update: Root Simple reader Ruben questions whether it is possible to build a true rocket stove out of metal. Ruben sent me to a Facebook post by Benjamin Rosen who says, speaking of another metal rocket stove, “Actually, you can say that this is not a rocket stove. A rocket stove gives great heat from a small amount of fuel because it burns very efficiently at high temperatures. This is achieved by having a ceramic lining in the combustion chamber that permits very high temperatures because it insulates the combustion chamber, and because it absorbs and returns the heat to the chamber by glowing white hot. A metal lining, as we see in this design, will shed heat to the environment and therefore cannot reach the high temperatures needed for a true rocket stove. Metal, in any case, would melt at the temperatures achieved in a true rocket stove combustion chamber.

Rocket stoves cook food with small pieces of wood efficiently and with much less smoke than conventional wood burning stoves. They also help prevent deforestation since you can burn small twigs trimmed off a tree rather than burning logs. Search the interwebs and you’ll find may different designs. But they are all based on burning wood in an “L” shaped tube to create a chimney effect. Insulating the tube increases efficiency.

A friend who lives in a remote part of Southeast Asia is visiting us this month and we wanted to come up with a design for a rocket stove that could be made from commonly available materials with nothing more than hand tools. Our goal was done rather than perfect. Here’s how we did it:

Continue reading…

DIY Portable Pizza Oven

I just spoke with Eric Rochow of GardenFork.TV .(He’ll be our guest on the next podcast.) If you don’t know Gardenfork, you should. Eric has put together a lot of cool videos and podcasts. One of my favorite is this portable pizza oven. I’m thinking of building one for local events. For more info on Eric’s pizza oven check out his pizza oven page.

Root Simple Busted: Drying Racks, Clothes Lines and Cheese Puffs

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For many years I’ve wanted to have one of our writer friends do a John Stossel style expos√© on us. We’d have them drop in unexpectedly and witness some of the environmental transgressions that take place at the Root Simple compound such as hidden cheese puff stashes and the weekly, patrician moment when my fencing uniform goes through the, gasp, dryer.

Joanne Poyourow, founder of Environmental Changemakers and a guest on Episode 033 of our podcast, called me out (in a very nice way) on the dryer issue yesterday when I admitted to using it. She noted how much energy dryers use and how she ditched hers many years ago and has never looked back. We have a gas dryer which means that, while we use less energy than an electric dryer, we’re still complicit in the use of fossil fuels. In short, fracking is supporting my attempts to parry, riposte and fl√®che.

The truth is that we had a clothes line for several years when we first moved into our house. But like many clothes lines, it was low quality and eventually broke. I never replaced it. Joanne mentioned going through several flimsy clothes drying racks before settling on a higher quality drying rack that can be used both outside and inside.

My question of the week for you, our dear readers, is what kind of drying rack do you like best? Do you use a line? Do you prefer one to the other? Do you have a favorite, non-flimsy rack or clothes line?

The Return of the Monocle?

Joseph Chamberlain, monocle enthusiast.

Joseph Chamberlain, monocle enthusiast.

While Mr. Peanut still sports one, I thought the monocle would die out with the passing of eccentric British astronomer Sir Patrick Moore. But, apparently, we’re in the midst of a monocle revival.

I had planned to write about the monocle for years, but the New York Times out-scooped me on this story. The article notes that rappers and hipsters have brought back the monocle as a fashion accessory. There’s even an online monocle dealer based in San Francisco.

But what about the monocle as appropriate technology? It’s pretty much the same, after all, as wearing one contact. I have decent distance vision, so I could wear a monocle for closeup vision in my non-dominant eye. If you use glasses try looking through them with just your non-dominant eye to understand how a monocle would allow you to see both close up and distance at the same time. Monocles weren’t an affectation in the old days. I’m sure it would take some time to adjust to, but wouldn’t it be better than having to remember to carry around the hideous reading drug store glasses I currently use?

Kelly considers a monocle grounds for divorce and, I have to admit, she has a point. It’s hard to pull off a monocle these days without also donning a top hat and spats. Contemporary monocle use puts you in the same eccentric sartorial territory as the Monopoly Man and the aforementioned, Mr. Peanut (both of whom, it should be noted, are cartoon characters).

Then again, aren’t we all engaged in unintentional cosplay? Despite getting called “cowboy,” I like the broad brimmed cowboy hat that shades me from the blazing Los Angeles sun. Perhaps tweed and a monocle will become my winter blogging uniform . . .