“Small is Beautiful” on film: it’s not about the (tiny) house
May 5, 2015, 8:40 pm by bottleman. Filed under: design, diy, films, making a difference, reviews, simple living, tiny houses.

I was recently treated to an early screening of Small is Beautiful, a documentary film about the makers of tiny houses.  The film has its official Portland premiere on May 7 at the Laurelhurst Theater.

Nikki and Mitchell in their tiny house, photo courtesy smallisbeautifulmovie.com

[photo courtesy smallbeautifulmovie.com]

It’s a nice piece of film-making, alive with interesting characters and thought-provoking ironies.  But it might not be what you expect.  Director Jeremy Beasley hasn’t made a film about a movement, but rather a few specific people.  It’s less about houses than the choices people make, and the idea of independence itself.

This tack is fixed by the basic premise of the film: following four people (one couple and two singles) through the process of building three tiny houses.  The focus is on the process of creating or placing the houses, not living in them.  At the time of filming, only one of the four subjects has actually spent time living in her tiny house.

This is a natural setup for a film-maker, because the building projects provide a dramatic arc to what might otherwise be a structureless subject (just as in sports stories, there must inevitably be a “big game”).

That means housing geeks (such as me) may be a bit disappointed.  The film can’t say much about whether tiny houses actually work as long-term residences.  We don’t know much more than before about whether they’re a novelty or a truly progressive form of housing.

Instead, watching the process of creating and placing the houses makes one study character, and life choices.  All of the tiny-house makers, though they differ in age and style, seem to be looking for a kind of independence.

Ben, as depicted in the film, is a young man preoccupied with unresolved feelings about his long-estranged, and now dead, biological father.  For him making a tiny house seems to be an effort to create a bit of security in an uncertain world, which oddly enough seems rich in supportive family and friends.

Nikki and Mitchell are a thirty-ish couple looking for financial freedom, but it is safe to say the film portrays their real issue as codependency.  Their plan to live together in the tiny house they are building, along with two dogs, does not appear to be an idea that could work on any level.

“I think if we did it again, we would build his and hers tiny houses,” one of them says at one point, making one wonder where the relationship is really going.

Karen is an older woman who creates a tiny house so she can run her medical practice in a more charitable and idealistic way.   With the tiny house built, she runs her clinic the way she wants, but at the same time struggles with new insecurities, such as getting kicked out of her tiny house’s parking spot.

Landlessness is “part of the joy” of the experience, she relates.  Despite the anxiety about where to live, she also feels a growing ability to withhold judgments and to keep an open mind.

Director Beasley deserves a lot of credit for avoiding the easy road.  He could have made a film about design, full of tiny-house eye candy and absent any clue how real life actually proceeds.

Instead he’s given us something a lot more challenging. Even if the film is “small” in its scope, it presents a giant philosophical challenge.  Though tiny houses symbolize independence, creating them and placing them in the world just serves to illustrate how interdependent people are.

I hope he can return in a year or two with an expanded version, or a sequel, so we can find out how the tiny house makers have lived, now that they’ve built.



Crossfit and barefoot running, part 1: interview with TJ Murphy
November 15, 2012, 9:14 am by bottleman. Filed under: fitness, interviews, reviews.

(Excuse the long intro — those dying for the interview please skip to the bottom of the post!)

I haven’t been doing much running lately, because in January I joined a gym.  I thought I’d focus on Jiu-Jitsu, but I’ve ended up going mostly to Crossfit classes.

It’s a big change because Crossfit is so goal-oriented.  Little could be less goal-oriented than the  barefoot trail running I did last year.  While yes, I did have goals for mileage and races completed, performance in minutes/mile was not really part of it.  Barefoot running isn’t about acing races, it’s about the experience of  running — feeling every grain of earth, hearing every bird, letting your body adapt itself to the environment.

This video captures the spirit of it. (And just in case you were wondering, it’s exactly what I would look like if I lost a few pounds, gained a few inches height, and went in for a full-body waxing. :) )

Meanwhile Crossfit is all about overwhelming numerical barriers.  These girls are racing each other to finish this killer workout (check in on the struggles at about 7 minutes in):

There’s no question that the high-intensity workouts in Crossfit have been doing something for me — my pants are looser for sure.

It’s also one of the biggest trends in fitness.  …more



The yogurt crime scene, or, why spending $70 for a lunch box no longer seems insane [Review of the PlanetBox]
November 8, 2011, 12:46 pm by bottleman. Filed under: design, kids, reviews.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I hate it when consumer products are designed to fail.

For me there is a certain quiet pleasure in having well-made things in my everyday life.  You know, things that work well for their purpose, feel right in my hands, and are worthy and capable of being repaired, rather than just cast into the landfill.  And so when I encounter things that don’t have those qualities–are badly made, badly designed for their purpose, and incapable of being repaired, I start to sputter with anger.  Is it right that I feel personally insulted by poorly done products?

Probably not; my condition probably has a code in the DSM V.  In any case it flared up this year when confronted with the subject of lunchboxes.  Before my kid went to school I had no idea how revolting lunchboxes could be.  I had visions of him traipsing along with one of those classy stackable things like in Eat Drink Man Woman (go to 1:55 in the video below).

Of course that wasn’t going to happen.  Little kids want pictures, colors, logos, characters.   So last year (kindergarten) we tried two kinds of lunch boxes that ended up raising my hackles. …more



Building ADUs by the book: a review of In-laws, Outlaws and Granny Flats by Michael Litchfield
August 29, 2011, 3:57 pm by bottleman. Filed under: design, reviews, tiny houses.

When people see the granny cottage I built, a lot of them ask, “I’ve been thinking of doing something like that on my property – how do I get started?”

There haven’t been many good sources I can refer to, and though I try to be friendly I haven’t been that encouraging. Developing that cottage was actually quite a struggle, even in the supposed progressive city of Portland.  When you create a second dwelling in or around your house, like this one photographed by radworld

photo by flickr user radworld, licensed under Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/kworth30/2276499256/in/photostream/

… you are essentially becoming a mini real estate developer, where you take on a lot of risks and responsibilities before you get—you hope—to the rewards.

A solid one-stop source of good information was sorely needed about how to develop a second dwelling on your property, whether you call it an in-law unit, a basement apartment, a backyard cottage, a garden suite, a secondary unit, or (to use the term favored by planners) an “accessory dwelling unit” or ADU.

Of course architects and contractors will offer …more



Don’t think, feel (review of The Barefoot Running Book by Jason Robillard)
June 8, 2010, 1:48 pm by bottleman. Filed under: reviews, simple living.

One of the biggest hills to climb for any human being is actually noticing what is happening around you.

photo by flickr user paperskye, used under creative commons, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/paperkim/4209542881/

It’s not an easy task.  People are deeply, instinctively attracted to theories and legends and plans.  They want to be part of a story that makes their existence meaningful. And no matter how deep or shallow that identity is–from being part of a 5000-year old religion to following the latest, greatest version of the grapefruit diet– the ideology tends to occlude as much as it explains.  It makes us ignore the experience of our senses.  And occasionally it makes us insufferable new converts, robotically parroting the party line, immune to any new input, whether we’re born again Christians or diehard Apple or Linux users.  (Is anyone a diehard Microsoft user?)

That’s why I was so pleased with a new book about the hot-button topic of the day: barefoot running.   Barefoot running has been lighting up flame wars on fitness blogs and the Runner’s World forums for the last year (where I admit I’ve been spending way too much time).   The main topic of contention is ostensibly which form of running (barefoot or “shod”) is more natural or suited to our existence today, and less likely …more



A low-power HTPC running Boxee on linux 64 bit (and XP, sigh, brickbats to Netflix)
March 9, 2010, 1:22 pm by bottleman. Filed under: diy, reviews, software.

Last month I finally got sick of cleaning peanut butter off DVD’s. Between me and the 4.5 year old, there probably was a whole jar of the stuff inside the dvd player, and a corresponding amount of skipping. We’d turned to online streaming services like Hulu, which sat on remote servers and were invulnerable to the mess, but they tied up my laptop every time the kid wanted to watch Finding Nemo, or Super Structures.  Also, I didn’t enjoy the vibe that was building up, where there was no separation between the machine I use for work and the one I use for vegging out.

It was finally time to realize a scheme I’d been mulling for a while: making a tiny little home theater PC (HTPC) that would allow my household to go diskless.  Here’s how I did it and how it’s working — which is great, even if some providers of content and software seem determined to keep users stuck in the past.

I got a little Acer Aspire Revo R1600 computer.  …more



A thermostat that knows when you’re away (review of Verdant V8-BB-7S with occupancy sensor)
March 16, 2009, 10:22 am by bottleman. Filed under: diy, energy, kids, making a difference, reviews.

Resources used by housing and transportation dwarf those associated by other parts of our “lifestyle.” (Click here for geeky background data.) If you want to be green in deed as well as attitude, you’ve got to take on the way you get around, and the energy used by your house.

In the house, technology can obviate the impulse to nobly suffer to save energy (remember President Carter in his sweater?). Probably the first thing I installed in my family’s house when I moved in was a programmable thermostat.  It saves energy by lowering the thermostat when I’m not likely to be home or wanting heat, and raise it when I know I want it to come on. No more running across a freezing floor at 5:30 AM to turn the heat on.

Now comes a thermostat that takes this idea one step further …more



Best environmental books for the holidays: two to stretch your mind
November 27, 2007, 12:38 am by bottleman. Filed under: best environmental books, reviews.

One of the basic problems of living a relatively high quality of life (with central heating, tasteful interior lighting, 24-hour grocery stores, UPS deliveries, hot and cold running pharmaceuticals, and so on — none of which I am going to give up, by the way) is that, practically by definition, it tends to isolate us from natural cycles and dynamics. We’re not swimming naked, at the whim of clouds and currents.

image by flickr user apurdam, licensed under creative commons, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/apurdam/192601859/

…more



My laptop can kick your laptop’s ass (not that it has any need to, of course)
November 20, 2007, 4:04 pm by bottleman. Filed under: making a difference, reviews, software.

mystery-laptop.png

In general, machismo is the sign of a loser. Think of some truly powerful people — Louis the XIV, the British Admiralty (once upon a time anyway), Tom Cruise, a Pope of your choice, even, for god’s sake, Rummy in his prime. Every one has a suspiciously feminine, manicured cleanliness. They all show off more than a patch of pale skin as they sway down a line between the momentous and the monstrous. It’s only the people they conquer that need to drink a lot, work out with weights, wave guns, and put on snarly faces. …more



The mark of Zotero (software review)
January 8, 2007, 3:16 pm by bottleman. Filed under: reviews, software.

I’ve made it my tedious, stick-up-the-butt habit to intermittently harangue others in the blogosphere about one thing: the need to dig in to original experiences or primary data, instead of just “adding to the chamber of echoes” — that is, re-re-re-hashing highly processed media reports or press releases.

If you’re writing (say) about sewer overflows, please: get in to one! (In the company of safety-oriented professionals only, of course.)

photo by flickr user owlhere, licensed under Creative Commons. see http://flickr.com/photos/owlhere/10618639/

If lieu of that, study a technical report about the number of miles of giant pipe produced, or how and why such systems are designed to overflow.

You might find that it’s not just bloggers that get basic facts wrong, it’s also professional journalists. They don’t know any more about sewers than you, and if the only sources they rely on are “expert” flacks from various interest groups their stories will be missing some really important context.

Still I know that using primary data isn’t easy. Finding and comprehending it is more work. And wrangling facts can be like herding cats: when you’ve got hold of one, catching another lets the first one squibble out of your hands. Documents on the web move and change. Links disappear. Accountability becomes fluid.

Thankfully there’s a new, totally free piece of software that can really help wrangling all those squirmy cats — oops, I mean facts. And statements. And ideas. It’s called Zotero, and though it’s currently still in beta, I recommend it now. …more



The best environmental blogs: Sp through Zz, or the terrible secret of Worldchanging Treehugger
November 30, 2006, 11:52 am by bottleman. Filed under: best environmental blogs, reviews.

This was the week that reviewing environmental blogs finally got me down. So much of the same same same, and weirdly enough, it was all so UP! Everything was positive. Groovy. Smooth like butta. I decided it was time to be critical, or at least questioning, of a few of the most popular environmental blogs, Treehugger and Worldchanging.

Before I start throwing down, I have to give props to the sites that kept me awake and interested — those unexpected blossoms — as I struggled through the fields of same old same.

photo by flickr user BPC, used under Creative Commons, see http://flickr.com/photos/bigpinkcookie/68027586/

Most appreciated, schizophrenic, and heroic in its own way was tangledwing — a blog whose mysterious auteur provides, in each post, both a sweet professional high-resolution image (often sized for use as computer wallpaper) and a link to an environmental news story or two.

It’s a combination that’s bizarre at first but really grows on you. …more



The best environmental blogs: the golden quarter
November 1, 2006, 2:59 am by Jess. Filed under: best environmental blogs, reviews.

We worry about pennies costing more than they’re worth, but at least we are not burdened by golden quarters. (But then, I guess, the quarters would cease being quarters and become a store of value. I’ll leave this for the economics blogs I reviewed this week.) The reason I say ‘golden quarter’ is that my sojourn into blogs monikered Id – Sl was truly inspiring, so I think this section of the alphabet must be enchanted.

Inspiration; thank you flickr member kandyjaxx

…more