11 January 2014


To Start from Scratch or To Stand on Shoulders?

It seems that I've been bitten by the DIY bug. As much as I enjoy those things which require a high degree of specialisation--like, you know . . . books . . . movies . . . TV shows . . . pop music . . . and well, blogging software--I am a bit bothered by the number of commercial products I buy because I take for granted that: a) they were good to have, and b) I could never make them myself. So now I'm getting more critical and more crafty. My "no poo" adventures really got exciting the day I realised that I didn't need to find someone else's perfect recipe if I could make one for myself.

In case you're wondering, I'm currently trying a version of the "rinse only method," with a deep conditioning treatment of honey and aloe vera gel once a week (or whenever I remember it). I've switched apple cider vinegar for distilled white vinegar, diluting it with a "tea" made from dried rosemary and dried sage. I'm also infusing a bottle of vinegar with those herbs, so that I can skip the "tea making" step, but it will take about two more weeks before that potion is ready for testing. And because my scalp has always been on the dry side, I may also start experimenting with lavender soon. But the real turning point was getting a boar bristle brush: that thing is my new BFF.

That's right: homemade rinses and hair masks, but a store-bought brush. The reasons are explained somewhere in the following Three-legged List.  

3 Videos
about Things We Could Never Make Ourselves

How Crayons Are Made

This has always been one of my favourite Sesame Street videos! I think of it whenever I use a crayon or see a brand new box of them. Watching it again as an adult, I am tickled by the obvious staging of a real-life process in order to make it fit the director's vision. My favourite bit is the factory lady who is smiling as if she has the best dang job in the world! =D

Now, this video doesn't really fit my heading, as it is perfectly possible to make your own crayons at home; they'll just be a lot of trouble and won't be as good as something from a factory. But if you compare How Crayons Are Made to that other Sesame Street classic A Stool for Me, you'll see why it deserves its spot on my list. Here, crayons are presented as specialised products requiring really complicated machines. And a box of identical, mass-produced crayons becomes a kind of symbol of perfection. This isn't an educational video as much as it is an advertisement. As Alone (a.k.a., The Last Psychiatrist) would say, it doesn't teach you to want; it teaches you how to want.

Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps there are children who can watch this and remain happy with homemade colouring materials, despite the humiliating thought that there are thousands of other children out there with "perfect" crayons from some factory. Sarcasm aside, it seems obvious to me that the industrial crayon is ideal primarily when you're also using commercial colouring books. And colouring within the lines may be a nice exercise, but it's not the summa of children's art.

I, Pencil

Over ten years ago, a friend sent me a copy of Milton and Rose Friedman's book Free to Choose, which alluded to, but did not include, his essay "I, Pencil". The book is the only Friedman text I've ever read, but its impression on me has remained strong all that time.

When I brought his famous pencil up in a discussion from last October, Sheila left the link to the above video with this comment: "I got annoyed when it implied that we'd never be able to write a single word without the free market. HELLO? Quill pens on calfskin? Charcoal on birchbark? Chalk on a slate--two common ROCKS which require no artistry to use at all? Stick in the dirt? Come on, pencils are nice, but there are many writing utensils people can, and have, and do make all by themselves." Well, if you put it that way . . . 

I have the entertaining habit of finding a dare in everything Sheila says, but my first answer to the question of how I would keep writing if I had to drop off the grid and use nothing but basic tools and raw materials was: "Use my own blood for ink." =P Well, it turns out that there are even more "recipes" for DIY ink than DIY haircare products, and that quills are embarrassingly easy to improvise. If I ever feel the need to rebel against either the office supplies industry or the free market, I'll just need to find some brightly coloured plants and a generous goose, and I'll be all set!

Luxury Advertising in China (Untitled Video)

This is the longest video of all, but it's the most interesting one on the list, if you like marketing. (And I do.) I found it on the Partial Objects blog, in the fascinating post Luxury Advertising Banned in China? Then Redefine Luxury as High Art.

To be clear, anyone can make a timepiece. I made my first (very crude) sundial before my age hit the double digits. And my favourite episode of the 90s educational cartoon Cro was the one in which the main character improvised all sorts of timers using sand, water and other really basic stuff. All of these have advantages which the most finely crafted watch does not, but my favourite is that which is offered by the sundial--a tool I've been impressed with ever since I read an essay explaining why it is a better invention than Daylight Savings Time. I would love to organise my life around actual daylight hours. 

But now is the time to admit that we have made some reasonable tradeoffs. If we had stuck to sundials instead of switching to clocks (There's a Sliders FF in that premise!), we wouldn't have a lot of things which depend on measurement by the minute or by the hour--units of time which remain uniform no matter where the earth is in its orbit around the sun. Take radio serials and TV shows . . . reliable and regular long-distance transportation . . . video conference calls with loved ones on other continents . . . and more things than I will be able to think of if you gave me eight hours on the sundial in midsummer.

* * * * *

To sum up, I like the creativity that comes from learning by doing, but I also enjoy the fruits of other people's learning by doing. And though this may shock some, I don't always want "to stick it to The Man." =P My "no poo" project is a pleasure in and of itself; the greater political implications are peripheral. But while I'm writing a whole post about the latter . . .

There is much to say about resisting assimilation by the Borg. It is so easy these days to adopt a lifestyle in which everything is easy because everything is done for us, and all we really have to do is to consume. Letting someone else do your thinking and make your decisions isn't real freedom, however much choosing you do among pre-selected alternatives. I don't think we should try to reinvent all wheels for ourselves, but I'm starting to wonder whether anyone can call himself capable and educated if he has no idea how, in a pinch, to improvise a wheel-like tool for a basic activity he does every day.


Belfry Bat said...

Given enough time (heh!) I shall carve a watch out of brass and steel, and never sell it; actually, I'm afraid I may need real money and a waterfall for that dream to come true... no matter! It's a fun dream.

True story: the pressure that first made precision watches commercially viable was the need for naval commanders to know where in the ocean they were (particularly, how close to the rocks); and this is still the most common use of the most precise timekeepers publicly accessible (i.e. GPS).

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, there we go! Did I really think that people developed watches for the heck of it? (Apparently, I did! =P)

Sheila said...

I love it when you take my (unintentional) dares!

You tempt me to make a water clock. But then I think, what I would really love to have is the ability -- possessed by most people in history -- to tell time by the sun. I really have a hard time with it. I've worked out where the shadow of my porch hits at different times of day, but that only works in my own yard -- and in the winter it's so far to the side, it's hard to tell.

New life goal, I guess!

We lose so many skills by outsourcing them. The ability to walk long distances has been stolen by cars and trains (at least for many of us). The ability to use an encyclopedia or card catalog, taken by computers. (Though that isn't essential to our nature, I suppose, but rather based on older technology.) The ability to start a fire, lost to matches. The sense of direction is beginning to be lost to GPS.

We can't really regain them all, not if we want to still participate it modern life. But it's good to make a choice about what skills we want to save, or rediscover.

In that vein, I'm currently reading The Encyclopedia of Country Living. Everything from how to make your own candles to how to deliver a baby completely on your own. I never want to give it back to the library!

Enbrethiliel said...


The more we do, the more there is still to try! In my case, "no poo" has turned out to be quite the rabbit hole. Right now I have clean and healthy hair, but my family isn't crazy about the natural scent; so I'm also looking into making my own fragrances! =)

A entrepreneurial friend of mine is really interested in my experiments and hopes that we can one day start a business together. Which will be an interesting way to end up, after how I started. =P

Sheila said...

Oh, I don't know if it's really that contradictory. I know that if I can't make something myself, I'd rather buy it from an individual, especially one I feel I can trust, than a mega-corporation. I guess it's not so much that I feel I have to do *everything* myself, but that I feel almost as if I'm in a war ... real people with hands vs. corporations with machines. Or the 99% vs. the 1%. However you want to slice it ... it seems that more and more the inability of regular people to take care of any of our own needs just leaves us dependent on unscrupulous businesses to jack up the prices to whatever they want and leave us struggling.

Of course, this is what you hear from me .... a person who really is struggling against the Man, or at least the bank, every day. When our toilet backed up, it could have been a financial catastrophe. Instead it was a moment of pride (after a number of struggles) to do it ourselves. It meant we could afford to keep paying our bills.

Most people don't see it as a battle like that. My dad says it's the beauty of capitalism that he doesn't have to know how to fix a toilet because he's good at his paid job. A poor economy or a lost job kind of changes your mindset.

Enbrethiliel said...


There's a world of difference between "I don't have to know how because ____" and "I know how but I choose not to because ____"--and it's clear which of those can be said from a position of real freedom.

I'm not quite in plumbing territory yet (so that had better not be your next dare--LOL!), but you're touching on my last point with your story. Knowing how modern conveniences work and how to fix them will never be taught in a university, but they're quite valuable to a person's understanding of the world. Essential, even.

DMS said...

You have inspired me with your shampoo making and I hope the changes you are currently making to the process makes it even better. :)

I try to do a lot of projects myself, but usually it is the time factor that makes me purchase something I think I can make myself. Money also plays a role- as I am trying to save money and therefor try to do as much as I can on my own if it makes sense financially.


Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Jess! I also received very positive feedback from my stylist when I saw him last week.

My own "no poo" routine didn't start out very budget-friendly, but I'm tweaking it more and more towards that goal. I'll have some more updates next month! =)

love the girls said...

I very much appreciate this post.

I can build a house by myself, I know all the trades and am proficient at them all. And in a pinch, I could build a house out of the local materials of sod and brick, and timber, but I would still be standing on the shoulders of those who came before me who taught me the trades and social skills, and supply the steel for my tools and so on.

We by nature are social, and live in society where society perfects us.

btw, the most expensive art materials I own are simple types of pastels. I suppose my water colour pencils are more perfect "crayons", but

Enbrethiliel said...


But . . . what? LTG, you forgot to finish your last sentence!

I could never build a house on my own, but I'd settle for being able to throw together a five-course dinner. =P