Friday, March 25, 2011

Neil Strauss

Last night I ventured out and made the climb up to the Haight for a Neil Strauss book signing at Booksmith. I read his book Emergency not long after it came out with mixed thoughts but completely enjoyed it and got more than enough out of it to make it both and entertaining and worthwhile read as well as to recommend it to others who in turn got a lot out of it. Emergency served very well in one particular way I felt had been lacking from the survival/self reliance canon, it's a real story about someone going from little or no knowledge to being an expert in a number of areas. Neil was human and forthcoming without be self deprecating or fake. Emergency is often billed as a how-to, I think it's more, and more importantly; a why-to. The book won't turn you into Jason Bourne but it might actually inspire you to learn a few things that'll save your hide. Or in my case, become a NERT volunteer so I can save someone else's hide. Thanks go to Neil for that if nothing else and motivating someone to take a more active role in their community is always a big deal.

Last night was a signing for his new book Everyone Loves You When You're Dead. It's not something I'd typically read but I'm glad I went. Incidentally, I had been on Neil's very inclusive VIP mailing list from when I signed up for something related to Emergency and got switched over for reasons I can't remember. I've been mildly curious about The Game but as of yet have not read it. To be candid, I've spoken with a few people who've been curious about The Game and we've all felt we would be a little embarrassed to be caught reading it. We've also all been in long term committed relationships since becoming aware of the book and feel that reading a book on picking up women might not be a good relationship move when you are currently in one. That said, The Game and Neil's other books are well liked and no doubt worthwhile, Neil is a talented writer who has had every bit as much a rock star life as the people he writes about, it's just not my genre and I've historically gotten into more than enough trouble on my own.

Maybe not personal but Personalized!
Anyway, to get on his new list, the VIP list is closing, you need to buy a copy of his new book Everyone Loves You When Your Dead, or ELYWYD in it's handy acronym form. I was slightly hesitant as I am generally resistant to that sort of marketing but it was clever and I'd wanted to meet Neil for a while. He didn't disappoint in person. I'd have liked to chat with him a little further about some things in Emergency but he seemed pretty beat from his book tour and I was admittedly off my game last night.

My one question after meeting Neil in person is, why did he ever have trouble getting the kind of attention from women he wanted. He came across as genuine, interesting and real as well as not threatening or too much of a bad boy. Maybe that's today's Neil Strauss and I simply don't know the old Neil but from our brief meeting I'd have been surprised to learn he ever had bad luck with women and maybe that's the point of The Game.

Either way, I'm enjoying the ELYWYD and looking forward to email discussions about The Game as it relates to something other than pick up artists while I try to find a bookstore that isn't perpetually sold out of it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Garden marauder

Why yes, that is a pheasant!
Yes, "garden marauder", not in the dramatic sense of being overrun by hungry vegetarian vikings but rather an unexpected avian guest in the city. For about a month now we have had a pheasant hen in our back yard tearing up the small garden plots and planters. After the initial destruction of some plants it looks at though it's eaten up the bulk of the slugs that had been plaguing us. I suppose that's a good trade for losing a little miner's lettuce and having to re-plant some garlic as this season has been more than a little wet and I was expecting a real battle with the slugs.

Still a little surprised to see a pheasant, of all things, in San Francisco. We're in the city proper up in the hills not far from Grace Cathedral so this isn't simply a Golden Gate park or Presidio bird that has stepped beyond it's normal bounds. It's a real urban pheasant. It certainly hasn't been living on garbage and I bet it would taste great.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What I've learned about knitting

Mobius scarf
So, I've been knitting for a few months now and while it isn't compelling to have a conversation about yet, it is somewhat compelling to do once you start. Likely it's simply lingering "guyness" that prevents me from striking up knitting chatter.

Thus far I have learned that it's a pleasant activity that both takes practice and rewards it. The learning curve isn't steep but as noted before it can seem so at first. I've knitted a scarf and simple hat for my toddler daughter and a sort of hood/scarf for myself. After being shown the ultra basics at the knit shop in something like five minutes, I've been able to sort out rib stitching, purling and binding off on my own. I've also seen that while there are a multitude of variations they all essentially stem from those same basic knit and purl stitches.

It's become evident that knitting is very useful and I'd say in terms of DIY, self sufficiency, prepping and even survival, there is no good reason to not know how to at least make a scarf, something simple that can easily be turned into almost any other item with simple blanket or whip stitching. If you are blessed or cursed with a job that has a lot of wait time, maybe security or rendering images, something that requires a person to sit and be present and awake but not actively engaged in much for even a half hour at a time, you might consider using that down time to hand make things you need, can trade for things you want or need, or to stretch those gifting dollars around the holidays. Though, knitting things like blankets and sweaters is not cost effective unless you happen to have a ready supply of wool or yarn, most of us don't and won't in the foreseeable future.

Bottom line, it's no worse a time suck than video games and the usefulness of the end product goes a long way to easing the guilt of what would otherwise be lost or idle time.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Metal specimen tags

Persian mint
One of the reasons I like "vintage" and antique things is because they are often of much higher quality than contemporary items. Things made of metal, wood and leather tend to last and things made of glass can last essentially "forever" if they are broken. To that I'm often looking for ways to make things from those same lasting materials and especially when I can recycle or upcycle things that would end up in a land fill or even a recycle bin. I don't have nearly as much faith in recycling A. as I used to and B. in giving away resources I can use. Not to mention that here in the city businesses have pay to have things recycled.

One item I use from time to time, in both research collections and in home gardening, is specimen tags. Paper or card stock tags are usually adequate but even in protected museum environments, ink fades and tags get wet. Years ago I saw metal tags on some museum specimens and decided I could easily make my own using soda cans or other embossing friendly scrap metal. It's possible to make very nice tags that look as good or better than you can buy or even just cut up a few soda cans for ease and utility. Aluminum will corrode if exposed to certain chemicals but for the most part you can use the same tags indefinitely from season to season or for long term storage.

Ready to use
As far as availability of materials is concerned coat hangers and cans are about as "available" as it gets and if nothing else it beats using a piece of the paper envelope most seeds come in. Long after the seed packet has blown away and become compost your metal tags will remind you of what you planted.

The cans are easily cut with common craft or kitchen scissors and one hanger will make three or four "posts" to hang them from. The last can I cut up yielded about ten tags.

I need to make another batch soon and will post a how-to soon as I get a chance.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wild Edibles; Nasturtium

Distinctive Nasturtium foliage
Much like Dandelions, Nasturtiums are less often seen as a food crop and more as a decorative plant, but this South American plant captivated early explorers who took it back with them first to Spain and then over to England in the early 1500's where it's lovely, edible flowers and leaves continue to grace tables to this day. They have a reputation as a "grow anywhere" plant and indeed do well in containers and gardens alike. Here in the bay area they cover large swathes land on hillsides and in meadows to the extent that you'd think they were a native species and after a couple hundred years it's hard to tell the difference anyway.

Growing in a planter 
I'd been thinking about this post for a while and managed to get out and snap a quick photo but didn't have time to gather any. The leaves are on all year in this area but the flowers are more prevalent in warmer weather. I really have no excuse for not growing these in the yard other than the couple times I planted them we had prolonged dry spells while we were away and they didn't have time to establish themselves. Something I should remedy this spring with another planting or at least a potted plant or two.

Once in a great while you'll find the blossoms in markets and nicer groceries but I can't remember ever seeing the leaves available. Both blossoms and foliage have a spicy flavor and a pleasant texture and can be used in a number of ways from salads to cooked greens. The seed pods are also sometimes pickled and referred to as "poor man's capers". Though, I would wager, a jar of pickled Nasturtium would cost a bit more than a jar of capers if you could find anywhere to buy it.

As I write this, it occurs to me that recipes might also be of benefit so I'll try to gather some and post a recipe or two. While not overly popular these days, Nasturtium found it's way onto a lot of tables in the past. My best guess is that it will be one of the pop culture foodie plants we'll be seeing a lot more of before long. They have quite a bit more to offer beyond a splash of color in a salad.