Mokuru – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

This new toy is expected to overtake fidget spinners to become the next big craze – a fidget stick.

x-defaultMokuru is a (weighted) wooden stick, about the same size as a cricket bail, and is being touted as the biggest toy to hit Britain since loom bands - because it's easy to play with but fiendishly difficult to master.

Millions of children and adults in Japan and China are already addicted to playing with the Mokuru, but it has only now gone on sale in the UK.

The £9.99 toy allows users to flip and spin on any flat surface - just like the bottle-flipping craze.

This simple hand-held wooden toy was originally designed to test an individual's balance and focus – but now it is testing the dexterity of fast fingered flippers everywhere.

Designer Masakazu Node spent years creating the satisfying beech wood toy, which has rubber stoppers on the end to help it stand up.

The Japanese inventor said: "Beginners can simply tip over the toy, let it flip and catch it with their fingers or flip it to draw a triangle or square.

"Mokuru masters can use five of them at once with one hand.

"Claimed to help focus and concentration, imagination and alleviate stress, Mokuru fits into your pocket."

The UK Distributor for Mokuru is Leicester based company Peterkin, and it will be in sale in Smyths toy stores.

The only thing that worries me is that the rubber pads may come adrift and get lost. It would, therefore, be good to know whether someone has considered spares though, I guess, certain stick-on pads of that size that can be bought elsewhere could be used as replacements should the original ones ever do come off.

This “fidget toy” requires a health warning though not like the so-called fidget spinner because it could cause injury, at least the very cheap ones apparently have to be known to do this, or because it could become stuck on some part of the male anatomy – as apparently has happened to one boy – but because it is seriously addictive.

There are some great plus points to this “toy”, as far as I am concerned, and they are that there are no moving parts, and, aside from the “rubber pads” on either end, no plastic. The Mokuru is entirely, bar for the aforementioned rubber pads, made of beech wood. Being “Made in China” ascertaining as to certification, e.g. FSC, or sustainability of wood is another story. But, then again, the FSC certification is not – generally – worth the paper it is printed on. The Mokuru requires no batteries, but then neither does the fidget spinner thus the no plastic (bar the rubber pads) is the great point.

I started playing with it after receiving the sample and even though I am almost 60 but growing up I did not do – I was told was optional and I don't do optional – and got hooked within minutes. That is why I said it needs a health warning about being addictive, in a positive sense though. Also, having it next to me on the desk I am using it with my left hand which, to all intents and purposes, never had much of a coordination in the hope to change that and I think it is beginning to work.


Buy from Amazon and Smyths Toys

See it in action here :

So, what do I think of the Mokuru toy? Short and simple answer: I love it, especially for its simplicity though mastering it will be another story altogether.

© 2017

Reuse ideas for plastic frozen food bags

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Frozen food bag as hanging basket liner_webI am one of those people who take reuse and all what is related to that to another dimension at times, as regular readers will know, and I do, yes, tend to keep those bags from frozen food.

Being a vegetarian, single, and not being able to shop for fresh vegetables daily or such, I tend to buy them frozen. Alas, they then come in those bags. But waste not want not they are, after being rinsed out, used for all manner of things.

  1. Sandwich bags: Now this is, more or less, a use that should stare everyone straight in the face. They are fairly strong, can be washed out again and again, and thus can be used for much longer than most sandwich bags that you might buy.

  2. Freezer bags: Well, yes, you could even use them for the original purpose, using twist ties to close them before popping them into the freezer.

  3. Durable hanging basket liner: Especially suitable for small to medium size baskets but even then you may need two or three. But, hey, that, they are free and would otherwise end up in the waste stream.

  4. Basically anything you would use a small plastic bag for.

I am sure that the readers, themselves, can come up with a lot more ideas. They are, after all, quite strong “little” plastic bags and have great reuse potential and reusing them can keep them out of the waste stream for longer.

© 2017

You found WHAT in your washing machine?!

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

washing-machineFrom dummies (pacifiers to our American cousins) to rashers of bacon, new research by appliance repair specialists discovered a large selection of strange and interesting things found in the bottom of washing machines and hidden within the filters.

Tissues are the number one shared experience by Brits, with 56% of people surveyed saying they have found Kleenex confetti sprinkled on their wet clean clothes.

In contrast to the devastating disappointment felt upon finding the remains of tissues, the second most found item is cash, bringing much happiness and joy, assuming that it is still in good condition.

Jewelery has also been found in washing machine, including several expensive wedding rings while other small items spotted in the machine’s depths include drill parts, lighters, a spoon, pens and pencils, Lego pieces and nail clippers. The strangest items found in washing machines include, apparently, bacon, clothes hangers and a bowl.

There are some people who have, in this survey, claimed to have put their electronics through a spin cycle, often not surviving the ordeal. These include mobile phones, a bluetooth headset and even an Xbox controller. Why someone would do that beats me but...

More than likely in most cases when stuff like that ends up in your washing machine, especially in the filters, you end up having to get the repairman in. this can be avoided by being a lot more careful and checking clothing for anything left in them. That should be standard procedure.

I also know of people who have, accidentally, laundered their cellphone and that is not a good idea, especially not for the cellphone. They don't like baths for some reason.

I am sure that not only costly damage to the machine can occur – and repair services are not cheap – but also damage to other things that are left in the laundry. Having your wallet in there with cash in it which may get damaged beyond use and exchange then that is another loss on top of that all.

Before clothes go into the laundry hamper – or whatever you use – and another time before they actually get put into the machine they should be thoroughly checked so that nothing is left in pockets, etc. It can save damage, expense and loss.

© 2017

The great recycling scam

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

And, yes, it is indeed a scam!

Sinnlos sammeln und sortieren - recycling bins1We are encouraged, nay pressured even, to clean and nicely separate all our recyclables – glass, plastic, paper, etc. – into bins for the different ones. But what really happens to those “recyclables” that our municipal refuse services pick up from the kerbside? Often, actually, nothing more that being dumped in the same place where all the other refuse, all the other “waste”, goes; the landfill.

Most municipalities do not have the expensive sorting facilities and in more than half of all cases – if not at times in 90% of them – the collections are all but for show, more or less.

Reuse is much better but most people just cannot think what to do with this or that item of “waste” (waste as a resource) as our mindset, at least that of the great majority, is to buy rather than to make.

This thing about recycling is that it is a crutch to those not wishing to think about the above and as far as our governments are concerned it is a means to blind people into believing that the government and industry care about the Planet. Capitalism never will. The main reasons that many recyclables – aside from the financial costs of sorting centers – are landfilled are at least two-fold.

One is market related and has to do with the over saturation of recyclables meaning that the price ends up so low that separation, even if collected through kerbside collections where we have done much of the sorting already for them, and shipping the stuff out just is not cost effective.

The other is that households and businesses still do not understand that the recyclables have to be clean. Just one wrong item of cardboard, for instance, say one that is greasy or whatever, in an entire container means that all of it gets tossed. Again due to the processing centers not being there and it being expensive to actually do the separation, especially manually.

So municipalities go through the motions of collecting our recyclables – for it looks good to be seen to do it – but then due to low prices on the world market, or whatever, nevertheless, landfill them.

Many of the recyclables – most of them in fact – if they don't get landfilled are not processed “at home” but are shipped to China, or, in the case of appliances, computers and such, to some third world country to be processed, and in the latter case under very polluting conditions and even in China the environmental protection standards are much lower than in Europe or in the USA. So we also export not only our recyclables but also the pollution and poisons that go with the processing of them.

Recycling is also very energy intensive and while, if recycling is done properly, it still saves raw materials and some energy in the processing, the kerbside collections, the shipping to port, the transportation across the oceans, etc., uses lots of energy and creates emissions and pollution.

We must get away from this fig leaf and have products made that, one, last, two, that can be easily repaired and, three, that at the final end of their lives can be reprocessed “at home”.

What can we do?

Use less stuff

The first step to waste reduction and avoiding the recycling scam is to use less stuff, to try, when buying things to buy with less packaging or zero packaging, and to reduce our waste. It also means buying less (new) stuff especially when there is actually no need for it and whatever you have got is still working perfectly well and doing the job that it is meant to do.

Use what you have got

Instead of running off to the stores to get the next generation iPhone or whatever else stick with what you have got (as long as it works, obviously). The latest is not, necessarily, better than the old one that you have already got and the “bells and whistles” that the new version may have are, more often than not, something that you will never, ever use.

Reuse, repair, repurpose

Reuse falls into two categories really. One of them is the continuous use by ourselves, or someone else who we have passed this or that on to, and the other is reusing what are often referred to as items of “waste”, as did our grandparents and their parents or in some cases even our parents still, or making use of what some other person has thrown out.

Repair is, obviously, simple as to what it means. The problem today, though, is that many products are designed in such a way that they cannot be opened and repaired. This is called built-in obsolescence. However, it is possible to “hack” a fair number of products that are believed, even by repair shops, if they still exist, to be non-repairable. In a time not so long ago everything was repairable and if it could not be done by the user then there were shops that could do it for a fee. But today it is getting more and more difficult to find repairers even for those things that can be fixed.

Passing it on

Now that recommendation, I think, is so simple that it needs no explanation. If you, yourself, no longer have use for anything then pass it on to someone who will (be able to) make use of it. If you don't know someone to pass it on to then donate it to a charity shop so that it will find a new home and may even benefit on other ways too.

© 2017

The pathological consumption of the majority

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

13876526_1045327358850366_8227695636228548239_nThe pathological consumption of the majority, for I do know that not all participate in it, has become so normalized that we scarcely notice it.

The way the majority buys things that is, aside from the essentials, with which we are not concerned really when it comes to consumption for we all have to eat, have at least some clothes to wear, need toilet paper and other things.

What I do mean here with pathological consumption is buying the things that really they don't need and only buy because the latest version is on the market or whatever. It is killing our Planet, other people and ourselves in the end.

There is nothing really that they need, nothing that they don't own already, and still they keep on buying. The new smartphone that has more bells and whistles than the one they only got six months ago and which they still have not used to its full potential, and so on and so forth. And then there are all those things that really are of little use, such those unitaskers for kitchen and elsewhere that will never, actually, be used but be just white elephants. And yes, alas, I have also managed to buy one or two proverbial white elephants for the kitchen at times. Some people work just so they can afford the next new gadget, etc..

Researching her film The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard discovered that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale. Even the goods we might have expected to hold onto are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence, meaning that they are designed to break or fail quickly and cannot be fixed or perceived obsolescence, that is to say by becoming “unfashionable”. When the new iPhone comes out it is obvious that an old one is unfashionable; or at least so we seem to have been programed.

Grown men and women devote their lives to manufacturing and marketing often a load of rubbish, and dissing the idea of living without it. “I always knit my gifts”, says a woman in a television ad for an electronics outlet. “Well you shouldn’t,” replies the narrator. An advertisement for Google’s latest tablet shows a father and son camping in the woods. Their enjoyment depends on the Nexus 7’s special features. The best things in life are free, but we’ve found a way of selling them to you, and we, the majority at least, have been brainwashed enough to believe that we need those things for our enjoyment of life. Things have gone so far that people go for hikes in the woods, along trails, etc., either glued to the screens of their smartphones and/or having earphones on or in and listening to some music, or podcast, or whatever. Pray, what's the point?

The growth of inequality that has accompanied the consumer boom ensures that the rising economic tide no longer lifts all boats, not that it ever really did. In the US in 2010 a remarkable 93% of the growth in incomes accrued to the top 1% of the population. The old excuse, that we must trash the planet to help the poor, simply does not wash and the trickle down economy does not work and it is a load of hogwash.

So effectively have governments, the media and advertisers associated consumption with prosperity and happiness that to say these things is to expose yourself to opprobrium and ridicule. When the world goes mad, those who resist are denounced as lunatics. Well, let's be lunatics then and swim, like living fish, against the current of this madness.

The problem is that the system is not broken but that it was designed in this way. So, what are we to do? May I suggest we break the system and make a new one, one that benefits all of the Planet; people, animals, and the biosphere as a whole.

To some extent some of us are already doing it by moving away from the consumer culture and -society, by reusing, upcycling and by making do and mending. By growing some of our own food and by making things that we want and need ourselves, even, as I love to do, from items that others regard as waste.

However, those that are doing this not only encounter ridicule at times, as said above, but are even seen and proclaimed – by governments even – as a threat to the economy and the nation. Thriftiness was declared by some politicians (in the UK) not so long ago as akin to domestic terrorism.

© 2017

Older people teach young ones traditional skills at GrandFest

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

GrandFest2017Older people led masterclasses in skills such as dressmaking and bread-making at GrandFest, a one-day festival in east London.

Thousands of people came together for GrandFest on June 18, 2017 to celebrate the knowledge held by older people and to learn skills that organizers say are becoming less common.

Now in its third year, the event hosted more than twenty classes at restaurants, pubs and shops around Spitalfields Market. Each class was run by a festival GrandMaker – all of whom are over 70 – and skills included quilting, wood turning and cider making.

It is very important to pass on the older traditional skills that are disappearing and there are so many old and traditional skills that are going that way and which also may be needed more than ever in the future, in the post-carbon world.

Even cooking from scratch, let alone brad making, including and especially sour dough bread, are skills that are fast disappearing. Others have almost gone entirely and many are going if they are not being passed on. That is why festivals such as this one are so very important.

Often such events are held in rural locales and while they need to be held and taught there as well for even in the countryside the old countryside skills are being slowly lost they also must be held in towns and cities and that also more often.

It is extremely important to pass on the older skills to a younger generation, and especially the young generation, as most are rapidly disappearing (the skills, not the younger generation) and many are already lost or almost lost.

In a time not so long ago those skills would have been, automatically almost, passed on from father and grandfather to son and grandson, and from mother and grandmother to daughter and granddaughter. But this has all but disappeared. Not because the young people are not interested but because the older folks think that they are not interested, or that the skills are no longer of any (practical) use.

The festival was hosted by older people's charity the Royal Voluntary Service, which helps more than 100,000 people each month connect with others and keep active.

As I said already, however, we need more of those festivals, fairs or whatever we may wish to call them, and that everywhere, as much as in towns as in rural locales. Even in the countryside many of the old skills are diminishing and are becoming lost as the old practitioners die and have no one to pass the skills on to.

And, in addition to that, we need grandparents to pass skills on to their grandchildren. Young children are generally very receptive and willing to learn and it will be much better for them to learn such skills that may come in rather handy, especially in the post-carbon world into which we are headed, than to play around on their PC, tablet or smartphone, engaging in useless games and other activities.

Introduce them, for instance, to gardening and you will be surprised how eager they will be to do it and to learn. The same goes for cooking, for woodcarving, leather working, and many other old – and not so old, even – skills and crafts.

© 2017

The reuse economy or reuse sector

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

reuse_fabrics-940x400New York City Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia thinks, as does the department, that the reuse sector, both the nonprofit and the for-profit sector, are key to moving forward with regards to a New York City's “zero-waste” drive.

Compared to the heavy duty world of urban waste collection in New York, the reuse sector can seem quite esoteric. Now, the city is looking to make it a mainstream operation.

Because reusable items are generated more sporadically than the steady streams of refuse, recyclables and organics, the systems to handle them can be less organized. Due to a lack of awareness or access, it’s often easier for many residents to just put their old couches and dusty guitars out on the curb. In many places, one has to add, such systems are not – at least not on an official level – even existent.

So, let's look at what this “new” or “newish” sector of the economy, this reuse thing, actually is. Well, to have said new or even newish is rather incorrect for it is neither of it; it is quite old, only it was not called reuse or even an economy back then.

It was what the rag and bone man and others did, namely pick up things that could either be sold for scrap, refurbished, reworked or whatever, and secondhand shops, once upon a time, were very common. Now they have gone upmarket and are called charity shops. Often the same difference. And those charity shops are, obviously, the nonprofit part of the sector, although, considering that the items are donated to them, and even bought to them, they do make quite a bit of profit from the sale of them.

To bring about a more or less zero waste situation the reuse economy must also include and incorporate the repair, rework and upcycling economy, like those artisans and and other workers who will make goods, ideally usable goods and not just art, for sale, as a business, out of items of waste.

It it made to appear as if the reuse and remake economy is something new, recently invented by the green movement, but it has existed for ages. And even upcycling is not a new thing at all. It too has existed for almost ever and a day. Only it was not called upcycling. It was just what one did, and especially what those that did not have the financial resources to buy did. But it also was an economy in that people repaired, restored and upcycled for sale.

Fact is though that over the last number of decades it fell out of fashion and that was as much due to the fact that people just wanted to appear affluent pretending that they could buy new all the time as with the fact that products became, almost all, non-repairable.

The latter especially led to the demise of the repair economy and repair businesses, large and small, fell by the wayside and died a death. Yes, we still have the so-called shoe repairers, for instance, who often also operate the dry-cleaners and key cutting, but you try to get those franchisees to sew back leather upper to a leather midsole. They can't do it “because they haven't got the machine for it”, as I was told when wanting it done. They are not cobblers, the are just machine operators and if there is not a machine with which to do it they cannot do it. Anything that would involve sewing by hand, where a machine cannot be used, they cannot do. Basically all they can do it put a new heel or sole onto a shoe or boot and that is about it. And the latter obviously only if the shoe or boot has a sole that can be removed and a new one put on and with many shoes and boots today that no longer can be done today.

Before every manufacturer – or almost every one – jumped on the bandwagon of built-in obsolescence, following the likes of Osram in the mid-twentieth century and other US firms after World War II, the repair economy was everywhere because everything could be fixed, at least almost everything.

In countries such as the GDR – often referred to as (communist) East Germany – there were entire small enterprises as well as state combines dedicated to repair. The combines were like a department store where you could bring anything to be fixed, even bed sheets and such, though many things people just fixed themselves.

When the built-in obsolescence “hit the shelves”, so to speak, it was the death knell for the repair businesses, large and small, under capitalism, as almost nothing could be fixed anymore or was and still is too expensive to fix with repairs costing many times that of a new one. And we are surprised that our landfills are overflowing and that we have a waste problem.

That is not to say that people are not a problem here either as many seem to treat everything as disposable even if it is not. It begins with cutlery and other reusable things at picnics in parks where those items are, once soiled having been used for eating with, are tossed out just like disposable items. It carries on with clothes where a button has come off, even though they still have the button in their possession, and so on and so forth.

The reuse sector could really have its work cut out nowadays with people's waste alone to clean, rework and all that, and then bring it back into circulation. And if we add to that upcycling then we would really be motoring and a good thing it would be too.

© 2017

200 years on the bicycle is more needed than ever

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

bicycles_Amsterdam1Does it have to be a brand-spanking-new bicycle? No... The old one that you may still have standing around in your shed given a little TLC or some other secondhand one would be much better and ideally without the fancy gearing of today.

On June 12, 1817 the bicycle saw the light of the world, in the form of the Laufmaschine (Draisine), by making its maiden voyage under the captainship of its inventor, Karl Drais. It has come a long way since and today is more needed than ever.

It was born out of the need for a replacement – albeit temporary – of the horse as very few horses were left in Germany at that time due to a climate event which brought about “the year without a summer”.

Today not just a climate event but climate change makes the bicycle even more important, and in this case as a replacement for the modern horse, the motorcar.

While the climate event of 1817, “the year without summer”, went away, the climate and weather returned to normal. Horses came back into use as they could be fed again and there was food for people again too. The bicycle, therefore, descended into obscurity for some time. With climate change this is, more than likely, not going ever be a return to normal and we will have to look to the bicycle as a low-carbon alternative for travel.

Today's bicycles are about as far removed from the original concept of the running machine, the Draisine, as is the ox cart from the modern car, with the exception of the balancing bikes for children nowadays which are almost a Draisine, having no pedals.

Bicycles do not, that is true, do not achieve the speed of a car and neither can they travel the same distance in a day as can a motor vehicle. On the other hand though most cars are not used daily for long distances but mostly for short trips (with the exception of those that may use them indeed for long commutes) for which a bicycle would not only be more efficient and cheaper but also faster.

By the time you have the car ready to go on the road, especially if it is kept in a garage, have buckled up and all that, you would already be half way there with a bicycle. Then at your destination, say the high street, you have to find a place to park the car, and more than likely that will take some time and may even cost you money to boot. The bike, on the other hand, you can just “chain” to the nearest lamppost or such and you can do what you want and need to do.

The bicycle is also one of the most energy efficient vehicles for public transportation. Instead of burning fuel and money and making you fat it burns fat and keeps you fit. Though as a cyclist I do realize that in many countries the infrastructure is not there for cycling, at least for safe cycling, and drivers of motor vehicles, from cars to trucks, see the cyclists as someone, more often than not, who should not be on the road with them. That needs to change.

While we are seeing a year by year increase in bicycle use in Britain, including for commuting, no real serious change will come about until the political will is there to change the status of cycling infrastructure by creating safe paths for cyclists (and pedestrians) alongside every, or at least almost every, road, that are separate from the road itself. What can be done in other European countries can be done in the UK and no one can tell me different.

© 2017

Bring Your Own Cutlery needs to become a new trend

Bring Your Own Cutlery (BYOC) needs to become a new trend, no ifs or buts

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

BYOC1_webBring your own chopsticks has become a trend in Japan and Taiwan and this must extend to cutlery elsewhere. Bring Your Own Cutlery (BYOC) needs to become a new trend, no ifs or buts, but, oh, and here is a but, we then also have to take it home again to wash up when it is dirty. It is not difficult and not rocket science.

BYOC wherever you go, instead of using disposable plastic utensils that never biodegrade while littering the world's beaches. Even if plastic utensils are claimed to be biodegradable or worst still compostable they are neither, at least not under normal (composting) conditions.

As an “old” military man – and soldiers and officers always carry their own “mess kit”, at least “in the field” – it is a habit to have my own set of cutlery on me when I know I may be dining out on a take out that might require tools. I also have a set of chopsticks, in a leather sleeve, same as the stainless steel cutlery, for the same purpose. The chopsticks were found, thrown away, still sealed in their original package, after a picnic and the stainless steel cutlery is ex-airline. Those ex-airline knife, fork and spoon are smaller than standard cutlery but similar smaller cutlery can be bought in stores as well.

Plastic forks, knives, and spoons are one of those things that we tend to think are inevitable when eating on the go or feeding a crowd. Even though alternatives do exist, these are not widely known or accessible, which is a pity, considering the impact that plastic cutlery has on the environment. It does not biodegrade, and they are some of the most common trash that is found in parks and open spaces and also on the beaches. The majority of those never ever make it into the recycling stream either.

Along with shopping bags and straws, disposable plastic cutlery is yet another part of the pollution puzzle that is threatening the world's oceans and waterways. And, like bags and straws, it is a direct consequence of our societal obsession with convenience, something that would not need or have to exist if everyone took a few moments to plan ahead before leaving the house.

The strange phenomena that we, who work in parks and open spaces, now encounter is that people take real cutlery to a picnic and then, would anyone believe it, they leave them, once dirty, behind, either thrown into the trashcans or just left behind where they have been sitting.

So, what are the alternatives?

Most obviously, disposable plastic cutlery should be made illegal, which is precisely what France has done. All single-use plastic cutlery, along with plates and cups, will be banned soon: "Manufacturers and retailers have until 2020 to ensure that any disposable products they sell are made of biologically sourced materials and can be composted in a domestic composter." While that is a nice move I doubt that there will be any disposable products going to be coming on the market that are truly compostable in a domestic composter, though they may claim that, in the same way that they claimed that the plastic bags for the food waste caddies were compostable in that way and later industry had to row back saying that that was not what they meant but compostable in a commercial hot composting unit. But that was not what it said, at least not originally.

What we all really should start doing is carrying our own cutlery for eating in restaurants or on the go in the same way that many people travel with water bottles. So why not forks and knives, too?

China, and I understand also Japan, have recently pushed to get people to carry reusable chopsticks, in order to reduce the 20 million trees currently cut down each year to make disposable chopsticks. The campaign has been hugely successful, thanks to celebrity backing.

While we don't, as yet, have celebrity backing for bring your own cutlery it should, nevertheless, become something that we do as a routine. A small set of flatware can be easily carried; every soldier does so in the field, and more often than not in the pocket of the tunic or the shirt. Those military sets that clip together can be purchased as military sets (from many surplus stores) or also for the civilian realm as camping or trail cutlery (from camping and outdoors equipment stores). It was also common practice for Boy Scouts and Young Pioneers when going to camp to have your own clip-together set) or similar).

Many more restaurants should again be offering metal cutlery for eating in and that should also extend to ice cream parlors for spoons. It was the common practice not all that long ago. But washing real dishes and cutlery takes a little effort and that was – probably – the main reason that everything went over to plastic “garbage”.

Let's hear it for BYOC.

© 2017

Pen and pencil: for texting the old-fashioned way

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

pencil-clipart_640-480About 500 years ago or thereabouts a graphite deposit was discovered in England and sliced into the first pencils some time after that. Initially it was used in a holder.

Despite of the fact that the inner core of a pencil is called a lead there is no lead in it and lead was never used. The metallurgists who discovered this pure graphite in Britain thought that is was some kind of black lead and thus it was called plumbago.

In the 16th century, a large deposit of pure, solid graphite was discovered in Borrowdale, England. This was the first time in recorded history that high quality, solid graphite had been found. When metallurgists first encountered this substance, they thought it was some sort of black lead, rather than a form of carbon. Thus, they called it “plumbago”, which is derived from “plumbum”, which is Latin for “lead”.

It didn’t take people long to realize that solid sticks of high quality graphite were good for marking things. At that point, this newly discovered substance from the mines of Borrowdale became extremely valuable. So much so that guards were eventually posted at the entrance to the mine and laws were passed to stop people from stealing the solid graphite. In addition, once a sufficient stock of the graphite was mined, the mine itself would be flooded until more graphite was needed.

Of course, sticks of pure graphite are fairly brittle, so people started embedding them in various things such as hollowed out pieces of wood and also simply wrapped tightly in sheep skin. Thus, the pencil was officially born with a core of solid graphite, which was known then as black lead. The tradition of calling sticks of graphite “lead” has endured to this day, and in many countries the pencil is actually, in the vernacular, called, basically, a lead pen, such as the German “Bleistift”, which means precisely that.

But who uses a pencil anymore?

Pencils are like fax machines and margarine: They do a job, sure, but other things do the same job better – pens, email and butter, respectively. You can write a letter in pencil, but it's more adult to write in pen. You can solve a crossword in pencil, but it's more courageous in pen.

As far as I am concerned there are some things that a pen cannot do compared to a pencil, or at least not at the low cost.

When the US went into Space they spent millions upon millions to have a pen developed that could work in zero gravity, etc., which is now the Fisher Space Pen, while the Soviet Union (USSR) spent nothing, zilch, nada. They used what was already there and could do the same job, and yes, it was and is the humble pencil.

To be honest, we were issued – let me rephrase that... they tried to issue us – with the first generation of Fisher Space Pens (Bullet Pens) but they were so useless that we refused. The ink was so shall we call it think, or whatever was wrong with it, that it just could not follow fast enough as far as our writing was concerned. It just was not flowing well enough. Today the pen is somewhat better but I will just stick with an ordinary ballpoint or a pencil; thank you. Or, and now you can call me a real old-fashioned guy, a fountain pen, and ideally one that gets filled from a pot of ink.

But back to the pencil for a moment and the question as to who uses a pencil anymore? When I am working with wood, be it carving spoons, etc. I will mark the bowl shape (nothing else though) in pencil. On green, wet, wood a pencil mark works better than does a ballpoint pen and when I mark dry wood for cutting and such I always use a pencil, at time a flat carpenter's pencil. Also, the marks of a pencil can be removed from the wood (or whatever else) while that of a pen may be not.

Also, a pencil works when the paper is slightly wet (where often a ballpoint pen and especially a fountain pen will not), it will work on walls, upside down and in low gravity or even zero gravity environments, and in low temperatures where, again, ballpoint and fountain pen often will not do so. Thus there is still a place for it for sure.

I could not think about working without pen and/or pencil as I am still very much a pen and paper merchant. I also still write letters, though most of them, nowadays on the PC's word processing program and then printed out. The envelope, however, more often than not is addressed by use of pen though at times the typewriter – yes, one of those antiques, and mine is one, in fact – is used for that.

How could I possibly write in my diary – oh, yes, one of those books with paper pages in it – or my notebook, if it were not for the humble pencil or the ballpoint pen? The only drawback – though at times it is an advantage – of the pencil is that it is not really and truly permanent. Anything written can be erased by use of an eraser. But that is also one of the advantages of the pencil. Horses for courses, as they say.

© 2017

Industrial agriculture and forestry

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

woods.jpgWe are dealing with Nature as if she were a factory floor and we even call agriculture and forestry nowadays industries.

Nature is not a factory floor, however, but a living intricate organism that cannot be (just) exploited, whether it is in the way that we farm today or the way that we deal with our woods and forests.

We are trying to get more and more out of our farmland and our woods and forests without considering that it just does not work that way. Oh, if the soil is depleted of nutrients we can just chuck some chemicals at it to feed the plants while at the same time further eroding the soil and the organism that live within it and that are needed for proper soil structure and soil health.

We use machinery that compacts the soil and destroys the organism that live there and that make the soil the life-sustaining stuff that it is. In forestry the huge harvesters, which are claimed to be so much more efficient than using loggers and tractors or better still horses to move the logs, with their weight and wheels destroy everything in their wake but then it is the fact that branches have not been left laying on the floor “for the wildlife”. So, lets create “habitat piles”, that will solve the problem, while we continue with bad practice.

But, we are told, it must be done this way so as to be expedient and profitable. Profit, in the world today, comes before anything and everything and that we are degrading and destroying the biosphere – let's get away from the term environment, for environment just, in actual fact means surroundings – to such an extent that it has difficulties supporting life.

Ever bigger and heavier machines are needed, we are told, for farming and forestry to be efficient and productive, which at the same time destroy the very soil that the entire operation depends upon. Then it is a call of chemical industry to the rescue in the form of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, etc., in the hope that that might mitigate some of the infertility of the soil and so on. Fighting fire with fire might work with a forest fire to some extent but not in this case.

If we don't nurture Nature Nature will not nurture us. Simple as that. Time to understand that Nature is a living breathing organism and not some factory floor with production lines. But that is how we have come to behave in the last century or so and it is just not a way that we can go on. In fact, we should never, ever, have started down that road and we must make a one-hundred-and-eighty degree turn about and we must do that now, immediately, before it is too late.

We are reaching the point where the Earth, where Nature, will have to end the burden that we have placed upon Her, if we do not lift the burden ourselves. It is those practices of ours of treating Nature like a factory floor that have placed an enormous burden upon Her and unless we lift this burden She will change things Herself, no doubt. Nature has Her ways of keeping a balance and that way might very well go against us.

We need Nature but Nature does not need us. This is something that we did well to remember and began now, this very moment, to make and demand the changes that are required. Nature is not a factory nor is it a store of resources to be plundered for profit.

© 2017

Why do we have people going hungry?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

x-defaultPeople are not going hungry or are starving because we cannot produce enough food, though that is what governments and the media are trying to make us believe.

Instead, the real reason why people are starving is because capitalism says that it is better to throw away suboptimal vegetables, which means those that not conforming to the approved norm, instead of selling them (cheaper).

Cucumbers that are too small or too big, or have a bigger than permitted bend, apples that do not fit into the size and whatever criteria, and the same goes for potatoes, carrots and other fruit and vegetables that are not grown straight, and so on; they all are not allowed to be sold.

It is because of this kind of manic capitalist system there is hunger at home and abroad. It has nothing to do with an inability to produce enough food or the lack of suitable land and the amount of suitable land for growing produce. When we are told that we are being lied to. Already at present the amount of perfectly good edible food, though misformed, according to the standards, that is being thrown before it ever makes it to the shelves of the stores, or even the wholesalers, could feed the entire global population several times over.

Years back in Britain we had the so-called Agricultural Intervention Board which stepped in each and every time there was a glut, whether it was apples, potatoes, or whatever else, and ordered a proportion of the produce to be destroyed by being dumped in holes in the ground and having bleach poured over everything.

Today it is the wholesalers and supermarkets who make the decisions after having hammered into the heads of the consumers that vegetables should look a certain way and since then claim that they cannot sell the what we would lovingly call “ugly” fruit and vegetables, as no one would buy it as they are not esthetically right.

In addition to that, in Europe, there seem to be European Union regulations which specify ho much bend a cucumber, for instance, is allowed to have and any that fall outside that rule are to be destroyed. The same seems to go for the size and shape of apples, bell pepper, and so much more; potatoes even.

Anyone, however, who has ever grown fruit and vegetables in a garden, allotment, smallholding or farm will know that such engineering criteria almost cannot be applied to stuff that grown in the ground or on a tree and in the stages between. While we may be quite happy to eat the non-conform fruit and vegetables from our own garden – and those of us who would do that, I am sure, would also buy and eat such produce if it would come onto the market, especially when a little cheaper – such produce may not, legally, apparently, be sold on market stalls or in stores.

In times of glut have you ever notices that – generally – the prices do not fall in the store, at least not significantly. The reason for that is that only a certain amount of the produce is allowed to make it to the market so as to keep the prices artificially high. That is what was, in the older day, the task of the Agricultural Intervention Board in Britain and it would appear that the practice if still alive and well, only operated by different agencies; nowadays by the capitalist entities themselves.

It is not a lack of produce, of food, that is the cause of hunger in the world, especially not in the countries of the so-called West, but the capitalist system. And there is enough food being produced capable of also eliminating hunger in the Third World, especially if we would not force countries such as Kenya, and others, to grow food for the market in the West; food that the people there often would not, themselves, eat, as it is not part of their diet, such as green beans. Obviously the roses grown in Kenya for the market in Europe and elsewhere are not edible in the first place and take up valuable agricultural land and water.

© 2017

Pizza boxes, fast food cardboard and similar

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

On those boxes we can see greenwash in action almost in the extreme.

HTB1vYsIHFXXXXXrXFXXq6xXFXXXBAll those containers are marked with the recyclable logo and the imprint “recyclable” and while they are recyclable when they haven't been used the fact is that, once those containers have come into contact with foods, which is the case once they are in our hands, and thus have gotten food residue and/or fat on them, they can no longer be recycled.

Should they end up thrown into a bin for recycled paper and card the entire contents therein is considered contaminated and is sent to landfill as it cannot be used in the production of new paper or cardboard.

This is about the same kind of greenwash that we are faced with with regards to the so-called compostable plastic bags, disposable cutlery and such. While the latter may be compostable they are not in a general composting environment but only in commercial hot composting plants.

So, if the consumer believes the message on the boxes he or she will throw it into the paper and card recycling thus contaminating the entire batch which is then going to landfill instead of recycling.

At many catering establishments the same happens on a much larger scale where the staff is either unaware – or uncaring – throwing all paper and card into the paper recycling leading, again, to entire loads of paper and card to be sent to landfill instead of to where it really should be going.

The main problem is also that the message is not given out to households, as well as businesses, that even the slightest “contamination” will cause the entire batch to be not recyclable.

This does not only apply to fast food packaging. Your cardboard cake box, the “paper” bag with croissants, Danish pastries, or such from the bakers, the paper wrapper from the chips shop, and more, also are not recyclable.

When it comes to ordinary recycling of paper the fat and other residues on those items, which is seen as contamination, make this impossible but we must find a solution so that this stuff does not have to be sent to landfill.

It must be possible to even recover contaminated batches and either sort through them – manually – to recover the useable paper and card or, alternatively, have that paper and card go to a composting plant. Even, though I am no engineer, it should be possible, I would think, to take that material and pulp it for fire logs, insulation material for various applications including houses, or such.

© 2017

Reusing and upcycling tin cans

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Tin Can Cutlery Bins2_webMany food products and produce still come in tin cans of various sizes and while they, the tins, are – mostly – completely recyclables, as they are – predominately – steel, they also lend themselves extremely well for reuse and for upcycling.

As with glass jars the attitude of my grandparents and their parents, and, generally the majority of the people of that time, was that they had paid for the tin cans – and those were the days before there was recycling – and because of that as many as possible of them were put to reuse and were upcycled, although that word also did not exist then, the practice, however, did, before throwing them into the trash.

Reuse and upcycling of them came in many ways from the simple reuse of a can as s coop for chicken feed, for example, to more elaborate conversions. The Australian bushmen (nothing to do with Aborigines or the Bushmen of Southern Africa) were also real masters in the reuse and upcycling of all manner of tin cans.

Personally I always have to smile and almost laugh out loud when some people are so proud buying recycled steel pencil bins and such for quite a lot of money while they toss clean tin cans into the recycling bin, apparently incapable of thinking that such a can, in itself, can serve immediately as such a receptacle.

I have personally encountered such “green” contemporaries who were so proud of having purchased recycled steel pencil bins while, at the very moment of telling me, deposited a number of tin cans, which they had even washed out and the labels removed, into the recycling bin. When I commented on it they just could not get the message. What has gone wrong with the mindset of people?

Below a couple of ideas (of mine... there are more) and I am sure there are others who have more ideas still.

Storage Wall: Wooden board with various different sized tin cans attached to it by means of screws (and affixed to wall). Such a storage wall can be used for all manner of storage, even in the kitchen for utensils.

Billycans: Carefully drill two holes on opposite sides just below the rim, make fence wire handle, put the wire in through the holes and voila! One billycan. That's the way the Australian Bushmen used to make the first before billycans were made by manufacturers. OK. Your homemade one won't have a lid but so what. It is, after all, the way they originally were. The bigger the can, obviously, the better, in a way.

Drinking cups: Tin cans such as from condensed milk with either handle made from wire, such as softer fence wire or aluminum wire, or a tin handle affixed by means of wire, or solder.

Beakers: Use narrower and taller tins than those used for the little cups (above), such as those larger ones, and they often are olive drab color on the metal, in which tuna comes.

Desk Tidy: That is to say “pencil bins” made from tin cans. You can paint those, give a sleeve of denim or whatever else. Or you could, obviously, use them as they are, or use those that have pictures on them. Some still are that way instead of having paper labels. But even plain tin ones are fine, in my opinion. They also make an instant statement of a reuse mindset.

Storage for kitchen utensils: Same idea as for the desk tidy/pencil bins only that they hold cutlery and such instead (see photo above).

The above is but a small list, even of what I, on my own, could come up with, but there is so much more what can be done with tin cans of (almost) all sizes. While they are recyclable steel I still rather like to use them for something that will keep them even out of the recycling steam for longer than just tossing them into the recycling bin.

© 2017