ARS-UVR-32PRO – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

ARS-UVR-32PRO from Sorbus International

Pro pruning saw with sheath, curved blade 4mm pitch, rubber grip. Blade high-Carbon Steel with hard-chrome plating. Curvature ground teeth (SUPER TURBOCUT®) and impulse hardened. 4mm tooth pitch with 1.5 mm tooth thickness. Blade length 320 mm and overall length 480 mm with a weight of 430 grams.

Having used Silky saws, including the Zubat, before I was really wondering how this one compared to everyone's favorites, namely Silky. Personally I am not, necessarily, balled over by Silky, I hasten to add. I must say the performance that I have had from the ARS-UVR-32PRO so far, in green standing and dead standing wood is far above that of the Silky flagship, the Zubat, probably due to the fact that the blade of the ARS-UVR-32PRO has 4 cut-outs, for lack of a better word, to remove the swath rather than just one, as in the case of the Zubat, at least the one that I have.

The cutting action if very smooth (OK, the saw is new) and there is none of the, what I call, “hooking”, when the saw bites itself somewhat tight. The latter is often due to an accumulation of swath in the cut which the four “cut-outs” in the curved blade eliminate, and four “cut-outs” are definitely better than one.

At just over £72 the ARS-UVR-32PRO is a little more expensive than the Silky Zubat but its performance is by better than that of the latter, so the few quid extra are well worth it, I would say.


© 2019

The pencil; a most reliable writing tool

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The question as to how “green” it is as far as manufacture and such is concerned is one thing but as far as reliability goes it trumps all. But I should think that it is a great deal greener, in manufacture as well as in disposal, as is the ballpoint pen, especially the one that is encased in plastic and which, more often than not, is tossed out after it has run out of ink.

The pencil also writes under low gravity or zero gravity conditions, upside down, etc. and that is while the USA spent millions upon millions developing a pen for their spaceflights (enter the Fisher Space Pen) the USSR took what was about, the (indelible) pencil, just as they did during the war.

The pencil writes well also in sub-zero temperatures without any problems and all it needs is a (pen)knife with which to sharpen it. It is, for that reason, also the ideal choice as a writing instrument in a survival kit. Unlike an ink pen, whether fountain or ballpoint, it will not dry up either during long storage, which is a great advantage if one has a large stock or keeps one in a survival kit where it may not be looked at, so to speak, and used in anger for a very long time.

While the fountain pen and the more common ballpoint pen, whether the disposable or not, write, generally, well enough under normal conditions when it comes to cold weather and others then they let you down. Also, regardless of whether the ballpoint pen is a disposable there is always the aspect of waste, be this as the entire pen or just the refill. The pencil, on the other hand, writer in almost all conditions and the only waste there is are the shaving (biodegradable) and the stub that may no longer be usable. It also rots down in the compost nicely, leaving just the graphite, which is no problem either.

I love the fountain pen but, alas, today's paper (no, not the media) is of such a standard that the ink from any such kind of pen bleeds through and thus is not suitable. That leaves only then the ballpoint pen or the pencil then. The former has some issues, especially when it comes to certain conditions and to the fact that the ink may – and more often than not does – dry up when “in storage” or not used and even when it has been used but has not for some time. This is not a problem with the latter, that is to say the pencil. It works in most, if not even all, conditions, and also on surfaces where the pen might not, upside down, on a wall, in zero gravity; none of that a problem for the pencil.

© 2019

Sprout Lands – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Sprout Lands
by William Bryant Logan
Published by W W Norton, April 2019
Hardcover 165 x 244 mm / 384 pages
ISBN 9780393609417
Price: £19.99

Arborist William Bryant Logan recovers the lost tradition that sustained human life and culture for ten millennia.

Farmers once knew how to make a living fence and fed their flocks on tree-branch hay. Rural people knew how to prune hazel to foster abundance: both of edible nuts and of straight, strong, flexible rods for bridges, walls and baskets. Townspeople cut beeches to make charcoal to fuel ironworks.

Shipwrights shaped oaks to make hulls. In order to prosper communities cut their trees so they would sprout again. Pruning the trees didn't destroy them. Rather, it created healthy, sustainable and diverse woodlands. From these woods came the poetic landscapes of Shakespeare's England and of ancient Japan. The trees lived longer.

William Bryant Logan traveled from the English fens to Spain, California and Japan to rediscover and celebrate what was once a common and practical ecology – finding hope that humans may again learn what the persistence and generosity of trees can teach, and the reader can travel with him on that journey through the book.

I found this book very easy to read and times it felt like reading a novel in that one did not want to put the book down. Even as a professional forester and someone who has worked with coppice a great I learned more than I would have thought possible. It is definitely a vividly insightful exploration of tree regeneration and I enjoyed every minute.

We all, foresters, woodland workers and everyone else really, should, if we not already do, share the vision of the author of a world in which humans and trees work together to mutual benefit; a world that has existed in the past and can exist again in the future.

© 2019

Chemicals from sunscreen products do seep into bloodstream

Sunscreen chemicals seep into bloodstream a new study by the FDA confirms

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Summer is on the way (well, at least according to the seasons) and soon everyone will be lathering on sunscreen and more of it onto their children to protect them from the possible impact of the light of the sun. But beware, the stuff is not as harmless as claimed. Maybe gently adjusting to the sun and its effects would be better than chemicals.

Sunscreen companies have long claimed the chemicals in their products are not absorbed into the body. Turns out the companies were rather economical with the truth and they are.
Today's sunscreens contains more chemicals at higher concentrations than they did 50 years ago and sunscreens are also applied much more frequently.

It is these two facts have prompted the FDA to re-evaluate the safety of sunscreen.

First the agency conducted a study to determine whether the chemicals used as active ingredients in the products are absorbed into the bloodstream, which the industry has denied.

“Because sunscreens are formulated to work on the surface of the skin, some have argued that sunscreens would not be absorbed in appreciable quantities and therefore that studies are unnecessary,” the agency said in a press release. (https://www.fda.gov/news-events/fda-voices-perspectives-fda-experts/shedding-new-light-sunscreen-absorption)

The study, published May 5 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found the opposite to be true. The chemicals are absorbed into the bloodstream at concerning levels.

The 24 participants in the study were instructed to apply sunscreen four times per day for four days on all areas that wouldn't be covered by a swimsuit, an amount one might realistically apply on a beach vacation.

Researchers then measured the concentration of four different active ingredients in their blood: avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule.

After just one day, all four chemicals were found in levels that far exceed the level at which the FDA requires safety testing (anything higher than .5 nanograms per milliliter).

For oxybenzone, which has been found along with other sunscreen ingredients in breast milk, blood concentrations reached the threshold after a single application and exceeded 20 nanograms per milliliter on day 7 of the study.

Oxybenzone is also toxic to coral reefs, which has led Hawaii to ban sunscreens that contain it.
Three of the chemicals remained in the bloodstream seven days later.

Now the FDA must conduct further studies on all four ingredients before they can be considered generally safe and effective.

Specifically the agency needs to determine whether the chemicals the risk for cancer, birth defects, or other adverse effects.

“With sunscreens now being used with greater frequency, in larger amounts, it is more important than ever to ensure that sunscreens are safe and effective for daily, life-long use,” the press release says.

“Creation of sunscreen products with SPFs greater than 15 and greater broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays have led to currently marketed products with more active ingredients combined together in higher concentrations than were previously used.”

The FDA recommends continuing to use sunscreen while the chemicals are being studied, claiming the risks of sunburn outweigh the risks of sunscreen, but considering they haven't weighed those risks yet, it may be wise to take their advice with a grain of salt.

While too much exposure to the rays of the sun can cause damage the biggest problem that, when vising the beach, people tend to immediately plonk down in the sun to be frizzled. Proper and gentle acclimatization, over a couple of days is called for and also avoiding actually going for a roasting. How is our body to respond when generally we are all covered up and then, suddenly, we, including the kids, bare (if not all then most of it) and sit or lie out in the hot sun when at other times we rarely expose out skin to the elements and the rays of the sun?

It would appear that we need to apply not sunscreen but proper common sense and not immediately be out in the hot sun and especially not going for a roasting.

© 2019

In the past – not that long ago – people were happy with less

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

In the past – not so long ago – people were happy and content with less. Today people are not even happy if they have everything; they still want more. And then? Well, they are still not happy and need more, and then more still. But happiness never comes.

For some reason – the brainwashing of government, industry and their advertising has probably worked – people do seem to believe that by buying and consuming more they can attain happiness. There is even the talk of “retail therapy”, of shopping to drive away the blues and such. Normally the depression comes back again when the credit card bill arrives, though, if not already well before.

We cannot buy our way to happiness; it is a delusion. It is also not good for our wallets, our bank balance, and especially not good for the Planet.

The capitalist economic systems of industry and commerce, however, is designed in this way that it needs people to buy more, more and then still more, of the same products even, in order to keep growing and generating profits for the capitalists and the shareholders of the companies.

Today, if you are thrifty and happy with little you are looked upon as poor, as not being able to afford all those new shiny toys every six months or so – even if you are not – and in the eyes of our governments those of us who do not wish to buy – pardon the pun – into consumerism are even considered “domestic terrorists” because we do not support the growth of the economy and thus the nation's GDP.

Peer pressure, government pressure, advertising and the way industry produces things nowadays with built-in obsolescence push people into this consumer madness but it still does not explain why in their mind they believe that happiness can come from an accumulation material things and monetary wealth.

The story begins in childhood already when parents are not prepared to use the two-letter word “no” when the child wants this and that and that and that. Oh, but little Johnny will be unhappy when we don't get him what he wants. And that happens when he has got this new toy or the new toys even. They are used for five minutes and then he wants some more new toys and the cycle continues. And this is where and how, already in the children, this all happens that we are not happy with little and small things.

From all sides we are being conditioned to believe that we have more money, more shiny toys, a bigger house, a bigger and faster car, etc., we will be happy.

I grew up with little, I have to admit, and maybe that is why I can make do with little and do not base my happiness or lack of it, which ever may be the case, on things or the lack of them, or on money or lack of same.

Having grown up that way taught me also to make things and I get great pleasure from doing just that; making things I want and need – as far as possible – myself and, if at all possible, from things that are considered waste or from natural materials such as wood.

There is a saying that is apt in so many instances and in this one here too which goes something like: “The rich are rich because they live like the poor and the poor are poor because they live like they are rich”.

While it is, generally, understandable that those who grew up dirt poor want to “better” themselves they have to understand though – only no one is prepared to tell them that because it does not sell products and services – that they cannot buy themselves happiness and neither love.

Not only do I, personally, find it very strange that today people can no longer appreciate the little things and be happy with what they have but I find it also rather disconcerting and believe it shows the failure of our society today. Neoliberalism has brought us this strange attitude of what is called “entitlement culture” where everyone seems to believe that he or she is entitled to get everything that they want when they want it.

Our culture has bred consumers and addicts. We eat too much, we buy too much, and we want too much. We set ourselves on the fruitless mission of filling the gaping hole within us with material things. Blindly, we consumer more and more, believing we are hungry for more food, status, or money, yet really we are hungry for connection.

Anyone who does not and cannot appreciate the little things also will never be able to appreciate the big and expensive things and the same goes for being happy with less or more. They will not and anyway things won't make one happy, at least not in the long run.

When it comes to “entitlement” all people should be entitled to work that pays a decent salary, a home that is fit for human habitation and of a good size, leisure time, clothing, food and electricity and heating for the home, and the first two and the last two, should be where the state should provide, if need, but sadly does not in most places.

So, but now I shall go and rest my case; it is getting heavy.

© 2019

Off the boil: Mayor’s cashback scheme fails

The Mayor has pulled the plug on a £10 million boiler cashback scheme as only two projects ever got off the ground – Caroline Russell AM discovered the money has been ‘diverted’ to business projects instead.

The commercial boiler cashback scheme, which was designed to help small businesses replace old, inefficient boilers, has been left with £500,000, and 30 more projects still stuck in the application process.

Yesterday Caroline questioned the Mayor’s LEAP team (London Economic Action Partnership) about the £9 million underspend.

Caroline Russell said: “We are in a climate emergency – and the Mayor knows this. He keeps blaming central Government for a lack of action on climate change but in areas where he can make a real difference he is failing.

“This scheme was supposed to help small businesses replace polluting and inefficient boilers, but it has barely made a dent in the carbon emissions it was supposed to reduce.

“This seriously undermines the Mayor’s credibility on tackling climate change. It’s totally unacceptable that only two projects are in delivery, when there are over a million small and medium sized enterprises in London.”
 
[1] The Mayor’s set up a £10 million Cleaner Heat Cashback commercial boiler scheme for small and medium sized enterprises to “rapidly boost” to rapidly replace inefficient heating systems with cleaner replacements to cut NOx and carbon emissions. The delivery period April 2018 – March 2020. https://www.london.gov.uk/moderngovmb/documents/s63520/11 LEAP Quarterly Reporting.pdf

[2] According to the LEAP Quarterly report for January 2019 – April 2019 https://www.london.gov.uk/moderngovmb/documents/s63520/11

LEAP Quarterly Reporting.pdf there are only two projects in delivery and 30 are ‘stuck in the application process as unable to meet all requirements’

[3] London Assembly Economy Committee report, Helping SMEs to thrive: “SMEs make up over 99 per cent of all businesses in London. Their number have increased by almost one third in the last six years (+29per cent), and now account for over one million (1,010,100) businesses.” https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/helping_smes_to_thrivefinal.pdf

Caroline Russell was elected as a Green member of the London Assembly in May 2016. She has been an Islington councillor since 2014.

Dumping garden waste in woods

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Many people believe that dumping their garden waste in woods, parks and the countryside is a good idea as it goes back into soil but far from it. This practice actually spreads diseases as well as invasive species. In Germany, for instance, it is a felony that can get the offender, if caught, into very hot water.

While garden waste, grass clippings, tree prunings, old plants and whatever else organic does, in the end, rot down and become compost, soil pests, diseases and the rhizomes of invasive species more often than not have escaped well before that process has taken place. Some also remain active after, as I see time and again in the case of compost in the garden that had some potato peelings in it and even after three years the potato “seed” is still viable.

Disposing illegally of garden waste in woods, parks, and open spaces, is a crime and falls, in the same way as any other waste, under fly tipping, and that rightly so, and that despite the fact that the material will rot down.

Aside from it looking bad and untidy, and that for quite a time, the material can and will spread invasive species and also soil and plant diseases far and wide. This is very detrimental to the environment as a whole and dumping garden waste therefore is not an innocent thing to do, aside from being illegal fly tipping, in the same way as dumping any other waste.

© 2019

Burgon & Ball Container Root and Transplanting Knife – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Burgon & Ball Container Root and Transplanting Knife - RHS-Endorsed
RHS Container Gardening

£16.99

Like all the tools in our container gardening collection, this container root and transplanting knife is endorsed by the Royal Horticultural Society, perhaps the ultimate accolade in the world of gardening.

This specialist container root and transplanting knife is invaluable for planting, weeding and maintaining beautiful container displays. Slide it around the inside of a pot to release a plant before transplanting. Slice through tangled roots with the serrated blade. Dig tight holes for adding new plants, either by scooping or by plunging in the blade and pulling it towards you. You’ll find your own ways of using this indispensable tool, but one thing is certain; you’ll wonder how you managed without it.

Crafted in high-carbon steel for strength and durability, this root and transplanting knife has a tough powder coating for rust resistance, and the blade features depth markings for accurate planting. Like all the tools in the container gardening collection, the knife comes with a ten-year guarantee.

You may also be interested in our RHS-endorsed container weeder and RHS-endorsed container scoop.

Handle: 100% FSC certified hardwood
Tool head: high-carbon steel with powder coating
Hanging cord: leather

This tool is akin to, and, and I hazard a guess now, based on the Japanese Hori-Hori though the cutting edge is not as sharp as it would be on a Hori-Hori of Japaneses manufacture. Then again such an edge, if the blade repeatedly goes into the soil, won't stay sharp for long.

In this tool you, basically, have a multi-tasking tool for the garden which includes a trowel, suitable for tight spaces, as well as cutting edges that allow you to do other things, such as, as mentioned above, cutting through tangled roots, or to open bags, and much more.

A very useful little tool at about half or less of that of a Japanese Hori-Hori with almost the same capabilities. A belt sheath for it to make it possible to carry it around the garden with leaving the hands free would have been nice but there are other ways to achieve that, such as by a little DIY and recycling (see my article here). Different story though.

© 2019

Three in ten children can't tie their shoelaces when leaving primary school

And 62% of parents admit they have no time to teach them

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

3 in 10 children are still unable to tie their shoe laces on leaving primary school according to findings from a survey commissioned by OSGO* to coincide with National Feet Week (13th – 20th May).

Of the 500 surveyed, 46% of parents thought that being able to tie your own laces was an important life skill yet 62% of parents admitted to tying their children’s laces for them to save time and stress every morning. One mum said: ‘Its far easier for me to tie my children’s laces before we leave the house on the school run or we would be really late.’

As well as time constraints, 57% of those questioned said that their children also had no interest in tying their shoelaces and were not bothered about learning how.

Advances in footwear design and fashion trends have meant that many children don’t wear shoes with laces until much later than in previous generations, who were expected to learn by the age of around seven. Velcro and pull-on designs are the most popular amongst parents because of ease of use and time-saving.

76% of parents said they taught their children to tie laces at home with only 14% relying on school to teach their child. During National Feet Week, OSGO are urging parents to help their children begin to learn this essential life skill which helps to support feet as they continue to grow and develop.

Tony Gavin, CEO at OSGO believes that children should be taught to tie their laces from an early age and said: ‘It’s a worrying statistic that children are progressing to high school without having learned a crucial life skill. Children’s fine motor skills should be developed enough by aged six to begin learning to tie their shoe laces and parents should dedicate time to teaching their kids to perfect this. Not only is it a key life skill, being able to tie laces properly supports young feet that are still growing and developing.’

The problem is that children's fine motor skills are not developed for many kids by the age the read primary school. Some are not even strong enough in their fingers to hold a pencil due to having spent far too much time playing with touchscreens. If there would be an app to tie laces they could do it but without an app... no.

Shockingly one mum claimed: ‘My 11 year old son plays football on a Saturday and the matches are regularly stopped so the referee can tie a players laces!’

I find this, I must say, rather shocking but not surprising I must say considering that parents are so busy nowadays, mostly with themselves and their cellphones.

OSGO is a podiatry membership organisation, created for private podiatry practitioners. OSGO provides, support and information for podiatry practices nationwide.

- National Feet Week (13th May – 20th May) encourages people of all ages to prioritise foot health in the same way they would dental and eye health with regular podiatry appointments.
- National Feet Week is raising money for Forgotten Feet www.forgottenfeet.uk – a charity that provides chiropody and podiatry services for those most in need. Purchase your National Feet Week laces for GBP £1.00 donation from podiatry practices across the UK.

© 2019

Futurekind – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Futurekind
Design for and by the People
by Dr. Rob Phillips
Published by Thames & Hudson, May (16) 2019
240 pages 900 illustrations Hardback 25.5 x 21.0 cm
ISBN: 978 0 500 519790
Price: 39.95 Hardback

Manual and manifesto, an inspiration and a call to arms; this rich and timely survey is all in one and presents over sixty innovative, socially and environmentally conscious design projects changing the world for the better.

We have grown accustomed to two beliefs: the first, that only experts can be designers; the second, that our everyday activities are harming the world. Yet, with new platforms, digital communication and engaged online communities, the products we can now design - and truly need - can be made by anyone for social and environmental good. Social design can see that primary school children learn to code, and uses local information in off-grid locations to create global change. Open-source design is enabling us to remake our world right now.

Structured into eight areas of application, from healthcare to education, Futurekind showcases over sixty projects from across the globe and across every scale and budget to reveal how design practice is being transformed by open-source platforms, crowd-sourcing and the latest digital technologies. Each has made a genuine different to lives and communities around the world.

Rather than being client-driven, as commercial design often is, each project here is the result of designers who reach out, communities who get involved and the technologies that are helping people to realize ideas together. From a playground-powered water pump in South Africa to a DIY budget mobile phone, each of these groundbreaking projects is presented through fascinating and life-affirming stories, diagrams that reveal the mechanisms and motivations behind each design approach, and photography that celebrates the humanity of the endeavor.

Open-source and open-source design, aka open design, can make a difference on so many levels, both for the Planet and for the people, and there more that those sixty projects that are listed in the books worldwide at the moment and more coming “on stream” all the time. The most important thing with those designs is that they can be replicated in many cases in a garage at the place where whatever it is is required and wanted. The small plastic recycling “plant” of the project “Precious Plastics” on page 152 to 155 comes in full open-source, if I am not entirely mistaken, with the plans downloadable under Creative Commons and all the machines can be built, basically, from scrap parts with some welding and other tinkering skills. It is aimed to enable anyone, including in Third World countries, to build such a “plant” and to recycle plastics of all kinds into new products (for sale) thus creating a livelihood too.

This is not about the world of design, but the design of the world

Dr. Rob Phillips is an award-winning product designer and a senior tutor on the Design Products Course at the Royal College of Art. His research into open design and citizen science has resulted in internationally taught methods at MIT, Goldsmiths, Cornell, and the BBC. As a designer, his past clients have included: Puma, Samsung, Save the Children, Visa; the Victoria and Albert Museum and Google. His research seeks to 'Engage Design' processes to decrease people's impact, gaining insight into what people really do ... thinking how can we be Futurekind to Humankind.

A most interesting book and read for anyone interested in socially and environmentally conscious design and especially open-source and open design. I can wholly recommend it and also to do some further research on the subject, as there is much more out there than could have fitted into the book.

© 2019