Authors@Google: Mark Frauenfelder

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 10.02.2011

>>Julie Wiskirchen: Greetings, everybody. I'm Julie Wiskirchen from the Authors team
at Google Santa Monica. And today I'm very excited to welcome Mark Frauenfelder.
Mark is the cofounder of the most popular blog in the world,, with more
than five million unique visitors a month. He's also the editor-in-chief of Make Magazine,
the leading public publication of the do-it-yourself movement. He was formerly an editor at Wired,
has appeared on the Martha Stewart Show and The Colbert Report, and has written for the
New York Times Magazine, Popular Science, The Hollywood Reporter, CNN, and Business
And today, Mark's gonna be talking to us about his book, Made by Hands: Searching for Meaning
in a Throwaway World. So please join me in welcoming Mark Frauenfelder.
>>Mark Frauenfelder: Hey, everybody. Thanks a lot for having me.
I just received in the mail a box of the latest issue of Make Magazine, hot off the presses.
And so, I think I have about ten copies, so feel free to take one after the talk. And
I'm sorry I don't have enough for everybody, but that's all that they sent me.
It's a pretty cool issue. We have a big, special section on the Arduino, which is an easy to
use microcontroller that you can incorporate it into projects to give them all sorts of
cool functionality.
And then, another thing that you're free to grab is a little card that gives you information
about Maker Faires, an event that we hold in San Matteo, New York, and Detroit every
year. We have about, like at the San Matteo one, 85,000 people come. It's kind of like
an engineering fair. People who create things in their basements and garages and backyards
and come show it off and give workshops and things like that. It's really a lot of fun.
So, I'll set these out when I'm done.
I have a lot of material to go over, so I'm gonna go through these slides pretty quickly.
I think I have about 45 minutes and about 15 minutes for questions. Is that right?
So, I wrote a book called Made by Hand; everybody has a copy about it. It was kind of my --
the reason I did it was because I was the editor-in-chief of Make Magazine and I was
into do it yourself, but more do it yourself media. I started Boing Boing as a zine in
1988 and I was into producing music and then self-publishing books and things like that.
But I never really used my hands to make physical things that much, even though I was surrounded
by engineers growing up and stuff. But I became so inspired by going to Maker Faire and seeing
what these makers were doing, that I decided to get involved in it and see what the experience
of becoming a maker was like and how it might change my life.
And so, I decided what I wanted to really focus on was what's known as modern homesteading,
or urban homesteading. And it's the idea of producing your own food and making the things
that use every day. In a way -- it's a way to start simply and it's a way to get a lot
of bang for the buck, because if you make things that you use every day, you get a bigger
return on your investment as opposed to making a really cool robot or something, which I
think is a really fun pursuit.
But the impact it has on your daily life might not be as big as actually carving your own
cooking utensils out of wood, because you would use those every day. So, I set out with
a couple of goals -- to improve my family's home life by taking an active role in the
things that feed, clothe, educate, maintain, and entertain us, and to gain a deeper connection
and sense of engagement with the things and systems that keep us alive and happy.
And so, I decided to start out by doing some research. And I wanted to visit people who
were already practicing the urban homesteading lifestyle.
Erik and Kelly were the first people I visited. They live in Silver Lake and they have a small
house and a small yard. Yet they are able to produce quite a few of the calories that
they consume every day. They wrote a book that I highly recommend called "The Urban
Homestead". It's a great book that really helps you get started in learning how to do
things like gardening and beekeeping, and raising chickens, preserving food. They also
have a really great blog called "Home Grown Evolution", where they continue to explore
urban homesteading.
So I visited -- they have things like raised bed gardens scattered around their backyard.
Those raised beds are watered using embedded drip systems that are programmable, so that
the water is delivered underneath the mulch in the raised bed gardens, so you don't need
to water as much. You don't have to worry about evaporation and you can also -- you
don't have to be there every single day to water. If you need to go out of town for a
while, your system is taken care of. So, there's the drip system underneath the mulch. They
also made these self-watering containers out of plastic bins. That's what they look like
inside and you just fill water into a reservoir below and then the water wicks up through
the soil and then keeps the stuff – keeps your vegetable soil wet, or moist enough.
And that really helps because here, in the Mediterranean climate we have in Southern
California, if you have potted plants, you have to water them once a day in the summer,
if not more than once a day.
They also built this little thing called a Rocket Stove that lets them use the twigs
that just fall around their yard to cook things. So, they'll cook breakfast using this little
Rocket Stove. It's a cool thing because you don't have to harvest big pieces of wood to
use it; you can just use twigs and it's very efficient and remarkably doesn't make much
smoke or anything and it gets hot really fast.
They experimented with solar cooking and they've tried several designs. You can go see all
the different kinds of designs at In one of the issues of Make Magazine, this
guy did a great project for us using a solar cooker like this. It's mounted on a turn table
that has a solar cell and a motor. And so what happens is when the sun hits the solar
panel, the motor slowly turns until the solar cooker casts a shadow over the solar cell,
so then it stops. And then when the solar cooker is out of the path again, it's not
getting a lot of sunlight, the sun hits the solar panel again and it rotates so it's always
facing the sun. It's a really great, stupid feedback system, but behaves in a smart way.
I love that kind of thing.
Here's a food dehydrator they made so that cooler air travels up that inclined plane
there, and it gets warmer and warmer and moves faster and faster and then goes into this
little house thing, where there's a lot of screens laid out horizontally and then you
can put your sliced fruit or vegetables or whatever it is you want to dry. It's just
a constant stream of warm air going up there and drying your food quickly. It can be like,
after a day. Then you have nice, dried food; it's a great way to preserve food, as opposed
to canning, which is a scary thing to do because you have to worry about botulism and things
like that, if the acidity content isn't high.
They've also made good use of the parkways to grow vegetables. They call this their illegal
parkway garden. And they grow squash there, even though you're not really supposed to
use parkways for that. They went ahead and did it and they've had no trouble doing that
so far.
So these different people, I tried to learn from them and take tips that I could use for
myself. So, here are their principles of successful urban farming. Grow only useful things, vegetables,
herbs that could be used for medicine, things like that. Really pay attention to your region
and where you live. Don't try to grow things that won't grow well here. Build your soil.
That means compost, vermiculture, using worms, composting. Water deeply and less frequently.
That embedded drip system helps with that.
Work makes work. That's an idea. Don't try to fight your environment; try to work with
it. If you're constantly doing things that try to make things happen, it just creates
more work around that to get what you need done. An example, let your chickens run around
and they'll eat the bugs and they'll fertilize the area for you at the same time.
Failure is part of the game. That was something that was really important to me in the book,
that I write about a lot, is not to get discouraged. You see things like, Home and Garden TV have
all these people who do things perfectly, Martha Stewart, it's discouraging to see that
because you can never measure up to that, and they can't measure up it either. They
have millions of failures until they show you what really works and so, in a way, it's
encouraging to learn from other people's mistakes and to learn from your own mistakes and to
share your mistakes. You learn a lot from making mistakes, actually.
And pay attention and keep notes, which is what I tried to do when I met these folks.
The energy garden. Julian and Celine live in – well they live in London now, but when
they were living in Sebastopol, they're the founders of The Post Carbon Institute. It
was this organization that was founded on the idea that we're gonna run out of liquid
fuels in the coming decades and so, we need to figure out ways to relocalize everything
so that we aren't dependent on this free, cheap -- our very cheap energy that we've
had that has propelled us through the Industrial Revolution.
So they created, basically, a big, experimental garden in their house, and I think their house
is about a third of an acre of land. So they had self-watering containers that would distribute
water to different pots around the place; it was kind of an interesting system.
This is just a look at what their backyard looks like. They grew a huge variety of different
things; lots of different beans and seeds and legumes, maize, grains they grew. They
wanted to try their own wheat, root vegetables, and they got an incredible amount of produce
for just a small piece of property and here, there are chickens that are running around.
They put everything into an equation to see how much return they would get in terms of
how many calories they would get out of something; the ratio of how many calories they would
get out over how many calories they had to put in. So, chickens, you give them 50 calories
a day of food that people really can't eat, but they would produce – oh no – you give
them 100 calories – they'll produce 50 calories of useful energy. So, that's a pretty good
efficiency, 50 percent efficient.
Just a couple of looks. They actually had so much produce that they started this thing
called the You Pick System, where they would take the -- let people come to their property
and just pick whatever they wanted from the neighborhood and then the people would weigh
it, or pay by the bunch and just put money in the little box on the front porch. It was
a way to connect the community together and sell their excess produce because they had
more than they needed.
They experimented a lot with tools because their idea is in the post carbon world,we're
going to have to go back to using animal power, or human power, or solar power -- different
ways of non-liquid fuel energy. And so they were experimenting with things, like making
cider presses. You can see they have these drywall screws and a piece of -- this round
piece of wood and you just turn it and it'll tear the apples up.
They experimented with this kind of helical windmill. You can see Julian looks discouraged.
They learned -- one thing they learned was it's really hard to go back to these kinds
of methods of producing food and growing crops by using hand tools.
We've become so dependent on liquid fuel. It's like this wonderful precious resource,
and we haven't always lived like that. It's just been a very tiny period of time where
people have been able to have this free ride, and so, they think the time is now to try
to come up with ways that really work.
There's a concern of being injured using these tools. Julian said it's really easy to throw
out your back tilling soil and things like that with these scary looking tools they've
come up with.
Another problem that they have to deal with, and that we deal with here, too, is gophers.
That spike there, that scary looking spike, battery-powered, you put it in the ground
and it emits a shrill buzz every couple of minutes, but the problem with that was it
wasn't waterproof and so it would stop working after a couple of weeks. And the gophers got
into the melons and the plastic bag that Julian had, holding up there, had instructions for
the embedded drip system and the gophers actually got in there because they wanted to – I
guess they wanted to taste the user manual or something.
And so they thought, "What about making our own liquid fuel? Maybe that would be something
we could do by squeezing canola seeds." So, they had this hand press to try to do it,
but you just can't, it's really hard to extract. Here's what canola seeds look like. They're
really tiny and really hard. And so, people think that these kind of biofuels are an easy
solution. They're really incredibly difficult and might not be a way to do it if you're
looking for a local life solution.
One thing they did have pretty good luck with was pressing sorghum and extracting sugar
from sorghum and then converting that into ethanol. So, they did an experiment. They
had about 250 pounds of sorghum. They ended up getting ten gallons of juice and so, basically,
from their equations, one acre of sorghum equals 20 gallons of pure ethanol, which means
fuel is really precious. We've been getting it so cheaply now, an acre for 20 gallons
of alcohol that's not even as – not nearly as much energy as gasoline. They tried making
stills for energy.
So, what I learned from them is try lots of little things. Experiment a lot before you
find out what works for you. One gallon of gasoline equals five weeks of hard human labor.
You shouldn't hate liquid fuel. You should treat it as something precious. Life in a
post carbon-world isn't going to be easy. And gophers suck.
So the third group that I visited was back here in LA, Eric and Julia. They run a blog
called Ramshackle Solid, and they take their Ramshackle Solid philosophy to heart, where
they live in LA. It's on the border between Pasadena and LA. Their blog is excellent.
These are all the subjects of the different things that they explore. This is just a look
at some of their property. Eric got a mulcher at a garage sale, so he's just basically been
grinding up everything into mulch all over the place. They have this little tent they
built that they practically live in year round. They take all their meals there, and you can
lift up the sides, depending on the weather conditions; a little place to hang out.
These are bean poles made out of rebar. This is a shack that -- I shared pictures of this
shack from West Virginia that an architect designed. I shared these with Eric and he
said, "This would be great for me to build a little shack on my property." So, he took
a look at this and built something similar to it on his property. And this is what it
looks like inside; it's really nice. And so, I thought this was interesting, his justification
for making it.
"At first we thought about renting a studio, but at a cost of at least 500 dollars a month
here in LA, that didn't make sense. We were able to build this shack style studio for
about half the annual cost of renting, plus about ten full days of labor spread over two
months for me and a friend."
It's a great place to hang out. And they really like to reuse things, so here's his desk.
It's just a piece of wood that he found and just nailed it to the wall. They like to do
things like, as much as possible, with the materials they can find at hand, make things
that they need.
So this is what he calls a "compostable child safety lock". And I guess the idea is to tie
it up so it's too complicated for the kid to figure out how to open it. But it's so
much more delightful to see that than something like that, that you would buy in a store.
So, what I learned from them. Keep it simple. Small victories add up. If you're not having
fun, you're doing it wrong. That was -- it was a great antidote to go visit Eric and
Julia, after Celine and Julian, who are really nice people, but their kind of negative peak
oil viewpoint was a bummer and these guys had a really good, happy attitude about it.
So back in my -- after doing this research for a while, I went back to my house. This
was when we lived in Tarzana. And I thought, "I will kill my lawn and cover it with mulch
and then use it as an orchard and a garden." So, I took a one day-class on lawn-killing
from the Theodore Payne foundation and ordered some mulch. And that's what 15 cubic yards
of mulch looks like. And after -- here it was in front of our house and I left it there
for a couple of days and people started pilfering from it, so I had to bring it into the house.
So that's what the lawn looked like before. And first, sprinkled the grass with gypsum
to accelerate the process. And then you take -- what you also do is you soak the lawn
really well, because what you wanna do is smother the lawn and have all the seeds germinate,
the weeds and the grass seeds and everything. And then, and then pour vinegar on it to help
kill everything and then cover it all up with cardboard. And so that those seeds that do
end up germinating and weren't killed by the vinegar will germinate, but they won't get
any sunlight and they'll die.
So we covered, we had been saving cardboard boxes and newspapers for a long time and we
just covered everything up and then spread a layer of mulch on top of it. And then, that
was the finished result.
So then, the next step is growing food. And so, I started with these little seed starters
and an example of me not knowing what I'm doing, I put them under fluorescent lights,
but there wasn't enough light and so the plants were starved for sun, for light. And so, they
grew these really long, spindly stems to try to get as close to the light as possible.
And the effect is that it's like a garden hose, it gets kinked; the things just fall
over and die and you have these light-starved plants that tried their best to reach the
source of illumination, but just couldn't make it.
One thing that I have not done, but I would love to try out, is this guy Mikey Sklar,
who's a Make contributor and he lives in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and is a great
experimenter, has these little LED seed starters that are very low voltage, consume low power,
and they're mostly red with a little bit of blue. And what he found is that it's more
efficient if you feed your plants just a certain spectrum of light. And here's an example of
some plants that he's grown using his one-Watt LED seed starter, and you can see they're
a lot more robust than the ones that I had. Nevertheless, we took the ones that didn't
die and here's my daughter, and we planted them in the garden.
And radishes -- I actually just planted those directly from seed in the garden, but we started
getting a decent amount of produce and it was really fun. Every week, we would take
a picture of what we harvested. And then we decided a way to keep it, because you'd get
a whole bunch in the summer and you can't eat it all, so you wanna stretch it as far
into the fall and winter as you can. So, we tried drying the food.
This is a little side trip that I wanted to tell you about. In 2003, my family and I moved
to an island in the South Pacific called Rarotonga. And our plan was to stay there for a year
and we were only there for five months. But I won't get into that. We had coconuts that
were growing in our yard and it was -- they would fall out of the tree and hit the ground
and I wanted to get the coconut juice and the pulp out of it and I wasn't really sure
what to do. So, I was trying rocks or bashing with a hammer or something, and the -- our
landlady said, "Well, you need a coconut scraping bench to do that, to extract the meat out
of the coconut." And I said, "Well how do you get one?" She said, "Well, you have to
go to the junkyard and get a leaf spring from a car, and then you can take it to this guy
who will forge it and serrate the ends and you can take that to a carpenter, and he will
build it into a little, mount it onto a bench, or you can just borrow mine." And I said,
"All right, well I'll borrow yours -- that sounds like a good deal." So, I also learned
how to husk the outer shell of the coconut and crack it with a machete and everything.
And so we started like processing all these coconuts and it was really a lot of fun to
do that every day. And we started making coconut pancakes, coconut scones, coconut creme for
the fish we bought and that, in a way, got me really interested in this kind of lifestyle
of just slowing down and appreciating having a more active role in your food was during
this coconut stuff.
And so when we came back, we wanted to do that a little bit more in Los Angeles. And
so, I started really getting into drying tomatoes and peppers and figs. And this was a way that
I learned to dry persimmons. It's a Japanese way. You cut the stems so it's like a little
T-shape, and tie a string and then just hang them from a tree and when they dry, they're
really good. We had this, this fig tree in Tarzana, I mean a persimmon tree, and the
persimmons, I couldn't stand them because when they're hard, they just have a horrible
alum, your mouth puckers; they're inedible. Or, you can let them get soft, like a custard,
but it's kind of goopy. And so what you do, is you just wait until they're bright red
and then peel the skin off and let them dry, and then it's really great. Somehow, some
transformation occurs and they're very sweet; it's like candy.
I also started making sauerkraut. And it's ridiculously simple. The recipe isn't really
even a recipe; the only ingredients are cabbage and salt, nothing else. You just chop the
cabbage up, sprinkle salt into it, and then you put it into a crock and cover it up and
weigh it down because it's an anaerobic process; you want the cabbage to be under the surface
of the liquid to do its thing. And then you get this great tasting, fermented, probiotic
sauerkraut that costs a fraction of what you would pay for raw sauerkraut at Whole Foods.
It's ridiculously cheap and very simple to make. In fact, I started using this thing
called a Pickelmeister that uses a little air trap to keep mold from getting into it
and it's even easier and quicker with this thing. And if you buy cabbage, like at a farmers
market for a dollar a head or so, you can make cabbage for 50 cents for a quart, or
less, as opposed to seven dollars a quart at Whole Foods. And the amount of effort you
put into it is almost nothing.
And the same with yogurt. I started making yogurt and once you start making it, you never
wanna go back to getting the store bought stuff. You just take a little bit of yogurt
from your last batch and put it into the new batch you're making and it's automatic. The
only ingredient with yogurt is milk; you don't need anything else. We started raising chickens,
too, which was really a lot of fun. It was one of the highlights of this whole experience
for me. I actually ordered chickens, mail order, from a place called
And they sent us, they sent us six, little Plymouth Barred Rock chicks. And then this
was an old, weird shed that was in my backyard that we have been using to store junk, and
I thought this -- before we lived there, it was a rabbit hutch. The previous owner had
used it for rabbits, I think, or a couple of previous owners ago. It had fallen into
pretty bad disrepair. That's what it looked like inside.
So, I went to work at it and bought materials and the roof was falling apart and somebody
had put this piece of wood to try to patch it together. So, I just slowly attacked it
and used part of a torn down fence to replace the wire that was below the chicken wire,
and just slowly got to it. And finally, had this pretty nice looking place for the chickens
to live.
And here, by the time I was done, the chickens had been living in a big box. They were ready
to move in. And my kids couldn't tell the difference between the chickens. They looked
pretty identical, so we had these little colored tie straps and so we put them around the chickens'
feet so we could tell the difference between which chicken was which, and it really helped.
Then you could – I'd start identifying the personality differences between the chickens.
And then we had this little color-coded guide that we tacked to the inside of the coop to
tell which chicken was which. So, here are the benefits of keeping chickens. They're
great fertilizer.
This is-- can you guys see that OK? It looks kind of dark. The chickens live in a coop
over wire, and so they poop onto burlap bags that my friend Terry lays underneath the coop.
And when they get really filled with chicken manure, she takes those and wraps the burlap
bag around the citrus trees that are growing in pots on her deck. And then you just water
them and the poop just goes into the soil in the pot, and it's a great way to fertilize
the citrus trees. They love it. And the chickens are great at getting rid of pests.
We let our chickens just run around in our house in Tarzana because it was all fenced
off. They took care of -- we had tons of black widows. One day, I found nine black widows
on our property and my wife, when she found out about that, she called some guy to come
every couple of months to spray, and here's this guy spraying when we have kids running
around. And so, when we got the chickens, we cancelled the spray and thought, "Well,
we'll just have to live with the black widows, but I don't want the chickens eating grass
that has been sprayed with bug killer." But the chickens actually ate all the black widows
and all the bugs. I never saw bugs anymore. It was great. And they're really good at recycling
outputs. So, if we had, I think this is pieces of pancake or waffle, any kind of food you
could throw out there and they would just devour it. Once, we had like--this is kind
of gross--but once, we had a big turkey leg and nobody wanted it anymore, so I threw it
into the thing and I came back two hours later and it was such a clean looking bone. It was
like a cartoon bone or something. I mean, they just completely picked at, they're very
efficient at it. They love projects like that.
And then the eggs are the obvious benefit that you don't think about. And it was funny,
our neighbor kids, when the eggs first started coming out, my kids, my friends, my kids'
friends would come over and say, "Wow, these are eggs. I mean, what do you do with them?"
And we're like, "Well, we eat them." "You can eat these eggs?" Because they just were
completely surprised. And they're great entertainment. They were just really kind of clownish and
funny, yet dignified at the same time. I really liked them. Here's a little video of the first
couple of eggs that a chicken lays, sometimes they don't have a shell. They just have that.
I just shot a video because it was so weird. It was really freaky, those first few eggs
that they lay. Like the first pancake in a batch is bad, I guess.
So, another thing I wanted to do was make my own music and by doing that, not just like
play music, but to actually make the instruments, too. And so, this was a piece of an old kitchen
table that I took and I bought some hardware and I decided to start up by using match sticks
for frets.
At first, I was gonna use a Tinker Toy to hold the pick up. And I tuned this little
thing like a hammer dulcimer and it had a pretty good sound. And then I wanted to move
on to making a genuine cigar box guitar. These have been around for over a hundred years
and Helen Wolfe got started on one and Jimi Hendrix got started on a cigar box guitar.
And I bought fret wire. I was always afraid frets would be so hard to install, but they're
really easy actually because of the -- see, there's the cross section of the fret. You
just tap them in into the little slots that you cut. File them down, I used a pencil for
the bridge, and that's a cabinet hinge to hold the strings. And they're really fun to
make. I make a lot of them and I give them away as gifts. I can make a simple one now
in a few hours. [Pause] And this is a little cigar box ukulele that I made, and a slide
out of a bottle. That's got a nice sound.
And I started making amplifiers for them, too, using an LM 386 chip. It's a little off-amp
chip that costs about a dollar and then you just put a couple of capacitors and a resistor
on it and you have a pretty good sounding amp. Here, at Maker Faire, I found a guy who
made a cigar box violin. This guy, this was like, he said he tore a piece off of a bar
in San Francisco and made some kind of a weird instrument out of it with his own pick up
that he designed and wound. Here's a one-string instrument, unnamable instrument. There's
a great place online called Cigar Box Nation, where all the cigar box guitar-making aficionados
go to share the different designs and plans they have for cigars, cigar boxes.
[clang clang clang]
Here's an example of a one-string.
[guitar music]
[guitar music and singing]
"I'm a sidewinder baby Lookin for you"
OK, here's two strings.
"Hey, it's Shane. Here's the new Chugger two-string cigar box guitar. Each one signed and dated.
Here we go."
[plays rock music]
[plays fast guitar music]
All right. And here's three strings.
[slow guitar music plays]
"Good morning judge, what might be my fine? Good morning judge, what might be my fine?
Good morning judge, what might be my fine?"
All right. So, you get the idea that simple instruments, a diddley bow, like that one-string
instrument, you can make in probably 15 minutes.
And that two-string Chugger, you can, there's no frets on it or anything, you can make it
in 45 minutes, but they have a cool sound. It's a unique sound and so, that's been one
of my favorite things is making instruments like that.
Another thing I wanted to do was add a temperature control to my espresso maker. This is a Rancilio
SILVIA espresso maker; they cost about 500 to 600 dollars. They're really great espresso
machines. The weak – the Achilles heel of them is that they use the bi-metallic thermostat
that's just an on/off thermostat and so, you can have a temperature swing of like, 40 degrees
Fahrenheit when you make – when you pull a shot of espresso and that's completely unacceptable.
You really should lock it down a lot tighter than that and so, people have come up with
these things called temperature surfing, where they wait 'til the light goes off, they pour
some water, they listen for the hiss to stop, that means it stopped boiling. You continue
to let the water pour off for a while, then you pack -- put the coffee on. But the other
way is that you can use a PID temperature controller on it-- proportional integral derivative
temperature controller, that does a lot -- is a much more sophisticated way of controlling
it. And people are actually now selling kits that you can attach and they come with a relay
to turn the boiler off and on.
So, I took my espresso maker apart, took the connectors off the bi-metallic thermostat
and that's what it looks like now. That unit there, on the left, is the temperature controller
and you can use little push buttons to set the exact temperature you want the water to
be. And that's actually the outside of the boiler; the water temperature is lower than
that. That would not be good coffee like that. And so anyway, it's much better coffee. I've
locked that down; the temperature variation is like, under one degree now as opposed to
40 degrees.
And then another thing I wanted to do was make a bottomless portafilter. So this is
-- the reason you want to do that is you can like, see the coffee coming out better
and you can judge if you've done everything right like -- use the right kind of grind,
pack the coffee properly, and so I just dremmeled it to the bits and polished it off and that's
what it looks like now. And here's what it looks like using bottomless portafilter. You
can see lots of pictures like this at
And so, how am I doing for time? Do I have a few more minutes? OK, OK. I'll go really
Backwards beekeeping. There's a club here in Los Angeles that does a natural beekeeping
method where there's no chemicals whatsoever and they follow this beekeeper from Santa
Cruz, who was an interesting fellow. "I have established mystic contact with the spiritual
core of apiculture, and now anything is possible." This is a little light fixture that was about
this big and all of our lights up on our second floor of my house were dark. And so I unscrewed
one and it was filled with dead bees, every single one of them. And so, the bee club,
the leader of the bee club and I, got the bees out and put them into my hive. So, they
were taken out. That's what we typically do, is we rescue bees. People call and say, "I
have a bee invasion." And we'll take those bees and give them to people who want to put
them into hives. People decorate their hives.
I'll skip that video. This is the only place in Los Angeles that remains that you can buy
honey bee supplies, Los Angeles Honey Company. There used to be tons because the valley was
in lots of orchards and stuff, but all of LA—it's so weird-- there's just one bee
place. And those are some of my frames that are loaded with honey that I harvested this
summer. That's what the honeycomb looks like. You crush it up. This is one way of doing
it. Some people do a centrifugal extraction, but we just crushed it up and then built a
filtering system out of these plastic buckets and then the honey drips out, and then you
get this really great honey that's very tasty. And you also get wax, too. And I make things,
lip balm or candles.
Whittling, I've really got in to making -- this branch that fell off of a tree, I started
making spoons and different implements out of it; carved, carved them.
OK, I'm almost at the end.
So kids are -- if you have kids, this kind of life, kids love it. They have so much fun
making things. My daughter did some embroidery. So we had lots of projects, even collecting
sea glasses, making a DIY activity. Making their own bread.
So this is what I learned at the end. Homesteading happiness in three steps. Make more of your
own stuff. I made a pillow there. They're just examples of things that we made around
the house. Make your living- and work-spaces as personal as possible. These are the people
that I visited while I wrote the book and just asked to take pictures of their, their
That guy's a magician, a magic prop maker in LA.
And then, follow Bruce Sterling's guide to better living. Bruce Sterling is a science
fiction writer and a futurist. And here's Bruce Sterling's guide. Divide your current
possessions into four major categories: beautiful things, emotionally important things, tools,
devices, and appliances that efficiently perform a useful function, everything else. Enjoy
using the things in one through three. Get rid of everything in category number four.
And that's it. Thanks a lot.
Do we have any time for questions?
>>Julie Wiskirchen: Yeah, we've got time for questions. We'll just wait for the microphone
to come to you. Raise your hand.
>>Male audience #1: It seems like doing all of these things, that it looks like a lot
of fun, but it would be like, a lot of time and I imagine, it sounds like your job, writing
and things like that is a big -- it gives you an opportunity to explore this.
How feasible do you think doing this sort of thing is for people who work a normal 40
to 50, 60 hour work week? And then to be able to come home and do these things, and I liked
how you said a lot of it was for fun. How consuming of a hobby is it? Or would it be?
>>Mark Frauenfelder: It would be very time consuming and there are times when I'm really
busy, too, where I don't have time to really get into something, but really everybody has
15 minutes a day. And you could probably carve out even more if you are really dedicated.
So, making sauerkraut, you could do the whole thing and get it all ready to store away for
a month to do its fermentation thing; it might take you a half an hour.
Making yogurt doesn't take long.
Sometimes, when I have a conference call, a lot of times I will just put on the phones
to do the call and just whittle a spoon while I'm on the call because it's kind of like
knitting, where you can have a conversation and it doesn't interfere with your knitting
or with your conversation.
And for a lot of people, I think, especially people like me who are probably slightly ADDish,
having something to do with my hands while I talk helps me concentrate actually.
So I think even gardening, there are people who have this 15 minute a day rule, where
they only garden for 15 minutes, but they always garden at least 15 minutes, every single
day. And then, they don't have to do anything more than that. And it's a good way to just
get out and do that and it takes -- that 15 minutes is pretty valuable and memorable compared
to the flow of your work throughout the rest of the day.
Pretty beneficial, I think.
>>Male audience #2: And the correlation to that, what about space? Because it seems like
some of these projects that you've talked about require a lot of space and some of us
live in apartments, or condos –
>>Mark Frauenfelder: Yeah.
>>Male audience #2: that don't have yards.
>>Mark Frauenfelder: Yeah.
>>Male audience #2: What advice could you provide for there?
>>Mark Frauenfelder: Just being creative and making do. There are members of the bee club
who don't have – don't – that live in apartments and so--
they come up with ways to do it. Putting it on the roof of their apartment, if the landlord
says it's OK. Some people in Brooklyn keep bees on their balcony. So there are ways to
do it.
Or if you wanna garden, you could do an herb garden on your windowsill. And there are lots
of different work, if you have tools and things, you can have just a tiny desk and have a small
workspace for smaller projects. It just depends.
That's again kind of "don't fight your environment" thing. Don't try to do things that don't work
with what your environment and your situation, or else what is the point in doing it?
>>Male audience #3: Can you tell us about some of your most interesting failures?
>>Mark Frauenfelder: Let's see. Well, the chickens ended up being a failure. I don't
know how interesting it was, but the problem was that when we lived in Tarzana, the chickens
had a great time. It was fenced off. We didn't – never had to worry about predators or
anything, but when we moved to Studio City, it was fenced off, but we were up in the hills
and the predator situation is really bad. And coyotes and I write about this in the
book, coyotes and bobcats and raccoons and skunks just started picking off the chickens
one by one.
And I kept on trying to do different things, better enclosures, this, that, but they were
just -- if you build a fence and cover it up, they will dig under. The predators, the
chickens are like Big Macs on two legs running around and they're just very tempting. And
so, that was a failure for sure.
And let's see. Other things like, one thing once when I was making a cigar box guitar,
I accidentally cut a fret in the wrong spot and I thought, "I'm gonna have to throw away
this whole neck that I've made." But instead, I just ground up -- I had some sawdust and
glue and filled in the cut, the misplaced slot, and it still looked bad. So then, I
thought, "Well, I'll just paint the whole thing a color." And I painted it light green
and it ended up being like a cool thing and now, I typically paint all my necks a color,
as my thing. That's my thing is to have colored necks. And if I hadn't have failed in that
way, I probably never would have painted the necks that way.
So sometimes they lead to places you wouldn't have taken yourself intentionally, in a good
>>Male audience #3: So, that dovetails in with the other question I have, which is when
you're building a cigar box guitar, how the hell do you brace the neck on there? Do you
not just rip the box apart when you put the tension on from the strings?
>>Mark Frauenfelder: Oh, yeah. What I do is I just open the lid of the cigar, so here's
the box and here's the lid. I open the lid and then I just lay the stick on it and then
close it and then, let's see. I mean--
>>Male audience #3: I see the neck goes all the way through it.
>>Mark Frauenfelder: Yeah, the neck goes all the way through. And then I just drill, I
don't use glue when I put them together; I use screws. I try to use as little glue as
possible on anything cause then you can take it apart if it breaks and you don't have to
wait for the glue to dry.
So yeah, there's not a problem with it, but I see what you mean. Otherwise you would have
a problem. It goes all the way through. And it's thinner there, though, because you want
more resonance. You make it as, it's like a game. The part that's hidden inside the
box, you want, I think, as thin as possible cause you don't want to deaden the vibrations.
>>Female audience #4: I wanted to know more about raising chickens. My sister-in-law raises
chickens and always mentions to me, when we scrape plates, like, "Oh, you wouldn't have
to throw this away if you had chickens." But I wanna know like, time and resources and
what does it take to have chickens? Besides no coyotes.
>>Mark Frauenfelder: Yeah, exactly. Well, if you don't have to worry about predators,
they actually aren't that hard to deal with. You just make sure that they're fed and watered
and have access to sunshine and be able to get out. But they're very hearty animals and
people in the Midwest can keep them when the temperatures drop really low, they don't even
need to turn the heat on in the coop. They're very robust animals and so, they don't need
a lot of care. I mean, they're much easier than I would say a dog. They might be like
a cat, or less than a cat. They do their own thing.
>>Female audience #4: And just a quick follow-up, did you have some kind of shelter or shed
for them, even down here?
>>Mark Frauenfelder: Yeah, yeah. When we moved from Tarzana, I built a coop for them that
was on stilts with a little ramp for them to go into. And then, when the coyotes started
coming, I built a fence so it would lead into a little pen that they could walk around in,
but it just didn't feel good having them trapped like that, having the animals penned in. I
would really, if you keep chickens, I would -- they're gonna be a lot happier and you
are, too, if you just let them run around your yard. And when we were in Tarzana, they
would occasionally get out and go into the street, but they always know when to come
back. As soon as the sun starts coming down, like little soldiers, they all would go into
a little line and go into the coop. It's fun to watch.
>>Male audience #5: So, for a lot of these projects, there's a varying level of time
and space and energy commitment. When you were talking to the first few groups that
you interviewed, did they give any indication of when the return really starts to happen?
Like the going from buying the preassembled thing to buying the tools or the materials,
or going through the failures and the learning processes, like when they started really feeling
>>Mark Frauenfelder: Yeah, I mean, I think most people felt value in different levels
at different times, but it was pretty immediate. Making a composter, there's just the fact
that you made it is good and makes you feel like you've accomplished something. And then,
once real compost is being formed and steam's rising off of it in the early morning, that's
another level.
Or with the bees, successfully getting them out of the attic and into the hive was, was
really satisfying. And then, getting honey was like an incredible thing. So, there's
different levels of reward throughout the process, I would say. There's not one big
payoff, which is good in a way, cause it keeps you going. Those small victories add up, which
was what the Ramshackle Solid people like to say.
>>Julie Wiskirchen: Does anyone over VC have a question? Any more local questions? [Pause]
>>Male audience #6: I wondered with the bees. You mentioned them. How, how -- did you get
stung and were they like a pain in the neck, or were you able to keep them far enough away?
What did you do to worry about that?
>>Mark Frauenfelder: Yeah. That was something my wife was really concerned about. The bees
are gonna be stinging us and bothering us all the time, but luckily, we have a pretty
good sized piece of property. It's long and narrow, so we put them way off in the far
end. And they have not really – they bothered us. Believe it or not, I've only been stung
once. It was when my mask, the mesh of it was against my cheek and one stung me on the
cheek. But luckily, I don't -- stings don't really bother me that much, so I was just
able to carry on. They don't -- once, I was working with them and I forgot to smoke them.
If you have a little smoker and it makes them drowsy. I forgot to do the smoker and they
started getting agitated because you're tearing apart their house, so of course, they're gonna
get agitated. We'd all get mad, too. And so then -- but I didn't get stung. They're just
swarming all over the place, but it wasn't really that much of a problem. Now that I
smoke them all the time, they aren't a problem.
Like, chickens are easy, then bees are incredibly easy. I go check once every couple of weeks
to see if the bees are still there. I mean, the idea is to just to let the bees be bees.
This part of the year is probably where I do quite a bit compared to other parts, is
where, because there's not a lot of blossoms for the bees to get food. So, I put baggies
of sugar water in there, just to supplement and keep them going. I don't want them to
abscond from the hive. So, that's like the most treatment the bees get. And then summer
is a little active of the harvesting. But the rest of the year, you just let them do
their thing.
>>Male audience #6: So, do you have a problem with neighbors with this kind of stuff? Like,
with bees and chickens and I don't know, drilling late at night –
>>Mark Frauenfelder: Yeah.
>>Male audience #6: and that kind of stuff?
>>Mark Frauenfelder: Yeah. We made sure not to get roosters. Roosters would be a problem
cause roosters, if you've ever been around, it's a myth that they crow at sunup and sundown.
They crow all day long and all night long, too. It just never stops.
>>Male audience #6: And they're aggressive.
>>Mark Frauenfelder: Yeah, they are. And so, but no complaints from anybody. I mean, people
were delighted about the chickens. And the bees, I've not advertised the fact that I
have bees.
And nobody's said anything because we don't even notice the bees in our house. So, nobody
notices them. And so, we only have one neighbor that's near the bees and they're never there
so that works out.
>>Julie Wiskirchen: Anybody else?
OK. Thanks very much Mark.
>>Mark Frauenfelder: Yeah, thank you, Julie. Thanks everybody.