Burning Man to Beech and Rock Softening

Burning Man / Black Rock City

Burning Man / Black Rock City

Original and much larger image

Some chains of curiosity take very odd paths. At times, they yield nothing much. Other times there is a yield, but it is like a handful of warm jello – not something to form into a decent shape for sharing… I’d spent a few days looking at several things that ended that way. Not suitable for any kind of sharing / posting.

Then things shift.

Sometimes you find yourself buried in a dozen connections running all over. Either it’s a dozen postings, or it becomes a single “catch all”. In this case, I’ve settled on “catch some” (with the lesser interesting items left out).

It started with a posting at WUWT about “Burning Man”. An alternative culture ‘event’ in Nevada.


I’ve been a Burning Man Wannabe from, basically, the first founding of it. I was working at Apple then. There is a chart of the dates, location, and sizes of the various events in the wiki:


My first child was born just about the time of the second beach event, my second a couple of years later. Apple, being a “way cool place” and well connected had folks going ‘up to the city’ to the beach event. I was working way long hours and had 2 new kids. Not a good time… Later, Apple was having layoffs and other disruptions came along. Again, I knew folks going to Burning Man and wanted to go. Then it moved to Nevada as the main site. Hard to convince the spouse you want to leave her with 2 young children while you go off to a big week long party in Nevada… ( it is not her kind of event. She hates camping and is not keen on parties and non-traditional cultural things.)

About the early 2000’s, I had enough time, but money was tight. Still, I’d wanted to go. But finding a new job was high on the list of “to do” things. When I wasn’t working contracts, I was hustling for new ones. Finally, I found a time when I had time and no pending work. That year I discovered the price was $200 (it had been free or nearly so before) and just didn’t like the idea of paying to camp on a public desert. In some later year I “got over it” and went to buy a ticket, only to find them sold out. A couple of years back, a friend and I decided to go, and I even went looking for tickets early. But not early enough. They were substantially sold out then, too, and by the time we were all coordinated and agreed, it was too late.

Now we’re back to the “hunt for money” phase as I try to decide what I want to do for a living when I grow up ;-) and spending $400 for a ticket is “an issue” and added to the costs of gas and “logistics” it is closer to “Over a KiloBuck”… and the spouse still doesn’t like camping.

So I’ve spent a 1/4 Century as a “Looky Lou Wannabe”… Maybe next year…


But now I was in the mood for at least a little vicarious attendance. Once again “living through others” instead of being in the event. Second hand life. Oh well, better than nothing… and maybe it would motivate me to remember to watch for the first offering day of tickets and try to get one, again. (Part of my problem is just trying to remember months in advance to buy a ticket to go camping in late August… Heck, some years it wasn’t clear what State I’d be in then.)

But off I went looking at Burning Man Videos on Youtube.

One had a mention of the Playa dust getting in everything. On the skin. On food. In your mouth. So one tangent ran off to: “What is in that dust?”. It is known to be alkaline. It’s known to be mineral rich. So I wondered…

Here’s that video ( a couple of minutes). Warning: Partial Nudity (Hey, it’s Burning Man… You can expect full nudity in some of the videos).

Vitamin D deficiency is widespread, especially among indoor workers. It can lead to S.A.D. and depression. Here were a bunch of folks showing lots of skin and rapidly rising Vit-D levels. I’d found that Magnesium deficiency is also common in the US and it, too, makes you feel bad. Was there Mg in the playa dust? And what else?

Again, not beating around the bush, it has a load of Mg and Ca in it, along with many other minerals, and I found a map showing the area relatively high in Boron. So here we have folks getting a load of 3 things that are generally deficient in modern life: Vit-D, Mg, Boron. Not to mention some decent relaxation and ‘happy time’. No wonder they all look happy ;-)

So my ill formed and less proven thesis is that a week camping on the playa in the summer is good for you, even if there isn’t a large burning statue and 50,000 of your closest friends ;-)

Where is this event? Here’s a map of Nevada. In the upper left corner is a dot and the name Black Rock:

Nevada Map

Nevada Map

The map is from this site that has lots of useful maps:


Notice that there is a river shown draining into the Black Rock Desert. That’s where all the minerals came from. Washed out of the mountains over eons and collected into an old lake, now long evaporated.


But don’t worry. It will likely return during the next glacial. FWIW, the picture of it in the wiki has Black Rock Desert marked…

Exactly what minerals were in this link:


Down near the bottom is a set of data for several playa. BRP stands for Black Rock Playa. The stuff is given as “oxide”, but that doesn’t mean it IS oxide. That’s just how they measure it on the assumption that most rocks are mostly oxides. While it does not call out Boron, that isn’t too surprising, as if it were more than trace levels, the place would be considered toxic.

In a different paper (also interesting, it correlates boron on the surface with geothermal potential below):


There is a ‘way cool’ map of Nevada with surface Boron levels. You can see that the Black Rock Desert is one of the darker, higher levels of Boron, areas. Unfortunately, attempting to copy the image gave me one that is partially cut off and backwards. ( I suspect some kind of ‘security’ feature; and I’m just not that interested in breaking their copy protection scheme right now, so you need to snag a copy of the paper and look at the map yourself.)
I changed my mind… Here’s the map:

Nevada Boron

Nevada Boron

Reds and yellows are high levels, blue is low. Notice there is a dark yellow red area in the upper left corner that is right where the Burning Man / Black Rock Playa is located. There’s boron in that playa dust, and likely in therapeutic levels. 3 mg / day is the normal level. Eat enough playa dust, that’s likely to do it. ( It would be interesting to get an exact level in the playa dust and calculate the amount that needs to blow onto dinner ;-)

So one interesting track as led us to realizing that there are several nutritional / vitamin related benefits to the playa / summer mix. It also follows that volcanic springs and mud baths (thanks to that paper) will also likely be therapeutic to folks with Mg or Boron deficiencies. Yet more evidence for some of the claims of various ‘healing waters’ and ‘mineral spas’ having some merit, I’d say. (Personally, I’d always figured it for just placebo effect or folks wanting a good time. Here I, skeptical of it, find there’s merit in the idea… Oh well, that’s what I get for having an open mind and scientific bent ;-)

One Side Track on Liquid Stone

Further down in the same article is a mention of Catechols. The article is mostly a ‘heavy sledding’ article about silicon chemistry… but I’m interested in silicon chemistry… and how to soften rocks.

It has long been known that catechol (1,2 dihydroxybenzene; Figure 5, I) is an excellent complexing agent for Si, and a basic catechol solution will even dissolve quartz (Bach & Sticher, 1966) to yield tris(catecholato) silicate, M2[o-C6H4O2]3Si, where M is a unipositive

Hmmm… I’m thinking. Didn’t we see a plant was used to soften rocks in a prior posting on megaliths?


So that story of birds using plants to soften rocks might have some merit. Catechols being common in plants. From the wiki on catechol:

Catechol was first isolated in 1839 by H. Reinsch by distilling catechin from catechu, the juice of Mimosa catechu (Acacia catechu L.f). Upon heating catechin above its decomposition point, a substance first named “pyrocatechol” formed (“pyro” referring to heat). This “pyrocatechol” is now simply referred to as catechol. Catechol occurs in free form naturally in kino and in beechwood tar; its sulfonic acid has been detected in the urine of horse and humans.

So here we have it made from Mimosa or Acacia plants. Then further down we find it in Beechwood tar. It’s also found in other plants:

Small amounts of catechol occur naturally in fruits and vegetables, along with the enzyme polyphenol oxidase (also known as catecholase, or catechol oxidase). Upon mixing the enzyme with the substrate and exposure to oxygen (as when a potato or apple is cut and left out), the colorless catechol oxidizes to reddish-brown melanoid pigments, derivatives of benzoquinone. The enzyme is inactivated by adding an acid, such as lemon juice, and slowed with cooling. Excluding oxygen also prevents the browning reaction. Benzoquinone is said to be antimicrobial, which slows the spoilage of wounded fruits and other plant parts.

It is one of the main natural phenols in argan oil.

Pyrocatechol is also found in Agaricus bisporus.

That Agaricus is the common food mushroom. The “argan oil” was more interesting. It comes a tree closer to Egypt.


Argan oil is a plant oil produced from the kernels of the argan tree (Argania Spinosa L.), endemic to Morocco, that is valued for its nutritive, cosmetic and numerous medicinal properties. The oil is marketed for cosmetic use as Moroccan oil

So now I’m thinking: Not only is there a potential ‘citric acid / oxalic acid’ pathway to softened stones, but there’s a few plant oil / extract paths as well. Given how much the ancients burned wood and made plant extracts (sometimes in stoneware) I can’t help but think “they figured this out”…

For my purposes, just knowing that catechol dissolves quartz makes it pretty easy to come up with a way to make stone paste. I’d also bet the catechol slowly oxidizes away over the years leaving what looks like ordinary stone. It ought to work even better on feldspar too.

A Short Side Track on Edible Plants

That line about Beech was interesting to me, so I took a look at Beech Trees and discovered that not just the nuts are edible. As I’m interested in “found foods”, that is of interest to me. But it is more than just ‘found food’, it is a generally very useful tree!:


Beech wood is an excellent firewood, easily split and burning for many hours with bright but calm flames. Chips of beech wood are used in the brewing of Budweiser beer as a fining agent. Beech logs are burned to dry the malts used in some German smoked beers, giving the beers their typical flavor. Beech is also used to smoke some cheeses.

Note to self: Try some beechwood smoked something or other in the smoker… oh, and learn how to spot a beech tree and scout the neighborhood ;-)

Some drums are made from beech, which has a tone between those of maple and birch, the two most popular drum woods.

The textile modal is a kind of rayon often made wholly from the reconstituted cellulose of pulped beech wood.

The European species Fagus sylvatica yields a utility timber that is tough but dimensionally unstable. It weighs about 720 kg per cubic metre and is widely used for furniture framing and carcass construction, flooring and engineering purposes, in plywood and in household items like plates, but rarely as a decorative wood. The timber can be used to build chalets, houses and log cabins.

Beech wood is used for the stocks of military rifles when traditionally preferred woods such as walnut are scarce or unavailable or as a lower-cost alternative.

The fruit of the beech tree is known as beechnuts or mast and is found in small burrs that drop from the tree in autumn. It is small, roughly triangular and edible, with a bitter, astringent taste. Fresh from the tree, beech leaves are a fine salad vegetable, as sweet as a mild cabbage though much softer in texture.

Beech wood tablets were a common writing material in Germanic societies before the development of paper. The Old English bōc and Old Norse bók[7] both have the primary sense of “beech” but also a secondary sense of “book”, and it is from bōc that the modern word derives.[8] In modern German, the word for “book” is Buch, with Buche meaning “beech tree”. In Swedish, these words are the same, bok meaning both “beech tree” and “book”.

The pigment bistre was made from beech wood soot.

So now I’m thinking I’d like to have a beech tree in the yard. For now, the squirrels can have a feast on the nuts. If The Bad Thing ever happens, I’ll have a herd of squirrels trained to come sit in my yard and pose for the pot; then, when they are gone, I’ll have beechnuts to eat ;-O

Paper, furniture, fire wood, food. This is just looking SOOOOoooo much better than a lot of the pointless trees in the area.

But Wait! There’s More!

While looking at other plants listed in there, I’m reading about this one. That ‘kino’ stuff:


Pterocarpus marsupium, or the Indian Kino Tree is a medium to large, deciduous tree that can grow up to 30 metres tall. It is native to India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, where it occurs in parts of the Western Ghats in the Karnataka-Kerala region. It is also known by the names Malabar Kino, Benga, Bijiayasal (in western Nepal), Piasal (Oriya), Venkai, and many others.

Parts of the Indian Kino (heart wood, leaves, flowers) have long been used for their medicinal properties in Ayurveda. The heart wood is used as an astringent and in the treatment of inflammation and diabetes.

Similipal Kol tribes in Orissa, India pound a paste mixture of the bark of P. marsupium with the barks of Mangifera indica, Shorea robusta and Spondias pinnata to treat some dysentery illnesses. In Karnataka the plant is known as Honne or Kempu Honne.Kannada people in India make glass from the heartwood of this herb and its aqueous solution is used to cure diabetes.

The gum resin is the only herbal product ever found to regenerate beta cells that produce insulin in the pancreas.

Say What?!

I know, I know… It’s just a wiki… But still, that just demands a follow up. So on my “someday list” is to do a follow up and look for other sources. But still: “regenerate beta cells that produce insulin” just hollers out loud. If that is even 10% of the time true, there’s millions of folks and billions of $$$ here. Diabetes his a widespread and debilitating illness. Heck, I’d eat some tree resin for that…

Some Odds and Ends

The article that sent me off to the silicon chemistry link is here:


It has a discussion of folks using an acid footbath to neutralize the alkaline playa dust. Likely a very good idea. And another idea for a Burning Man Gift: Have acid foot baths and some pH strips to know when to juice them up.

This next page has a bunch of useful information about the site, but is not a “burner” and in fact seems a bit upset at them:


A couple of Videos of what the place is like, selected from many. You can go ‘full screen’ with the cross shaped icon in the lower right, and with the gear-wheel one can set the resolution up for better quality, or down for lower bit rate on slow links.:

About 4 minutes into part 2 is the “Thunderdome”…

This is one of the known camps. I just like the way the video is done.

This one has Russian titles, but as it’s all just music not much of an issue. Yet the music chosen is different in a very interesting kind of way. Most of the songs are in English. And my choosing it has nothing to do with the dancing Asian babes or the firedancers… Heck, some of the firedancers are even guys, for the gals in the audience:

And this one has some nice close up stills of the playa surface in the middle. Honest, that’s the ONLY reason I’m putting it here… well, that and the dust blowing examples… well, and maybe some of the music and hula-hoop dancers, but not the naked guy… ;-)

In Conclusion

So now I think you can see two things. First, there’s not a simple way to sort out all those threads. They all interconnect, somehow. From survival foods, to natural medicines, to videos, to minerals and nutrition, and heck even back to ancient Egypt and “liquid stone”…

The other is that you can see how my mind works. It has a dominant thread (in this case Burning Man), but also has a few dozen ongoing “dominant threads” (like ancient technology / liquid stone, or how the body works and responds to various substances) and when connections are found, those weave in. Then there are the just “odd bits” that are along for the ride. Watching a cool video. Some tunes. Trivia about some plant. All in the hopper together. Usually I pick out one bit and illustrate it. Then there are time like this where “the stew just is”…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Arts, Emergency Preparation and Risks, Favorites, Food, Human Interest, Plants - Seeds - Gardening and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Burning Man to Beech and Rock Softening

  1. EM – I regret to say I’d never heard of Burning Man. Looks interesting….

    I did have one Beech tree in my woods here till the big storm in February 2009 knocked it down. They aren’t common round here. I still have some nice trunk sections of it sitting around gradually seasoning, but I cut some thin sections and made a guitar from it. I also had a pine tree down at the same time, and the wood from that sounded good though there were only narrow sections where the grain was fine enough and also the fibres had a bit too much varying twist in. It’s a nice tone, but not as bright as using Oak back and sides – it seems that the Beech is not so resonant. The nice thing about Beech is the appearance when it’s properly quarter-cut – lots of little flecks that glint at you.

    Beech shavings are good for the smoker, giving a milder and different flavour than Oak. In the UK at least I could buy Beech-smoked Cheddar. Nothing similar here in France that I’ve seen, but I might try doing it sometime.

  2. Pascvaks says:

    Perhaps our biggest failing is that we have forgotten more than we know; we must continually rediscover everything, over and over again. Just imagine how much we’re going to forget if we ever get off this rock;-)

    A few related areas –
    Traditional Medicine

    Plants used in herbalism

    PS: A talk show this morning was ‘talking’ about some ittsie-bittsie spider that was so new or rare it stopped some highway construction. In the past I would have shouted, “Bulldoze the Little Pest!” Today, I’m inclined to think, “might be smart to move it and study the little guy, he might be the answer to something BIG, now or in the future”, guess I’m getting senile. But there is so much we don’t know, and so much we forget that we knew once. If we ever get to another world, I hope we’re smart enough to study it from orbit for a few thousand years before we think we’re smart enough to land and say “Hi!”.

  3. Jason Calley says:

    E.M., you always come up with fascinating things! Speaking of the long running posts on softening and casting stone, did you know that Burt Rutan has done some investigation into that? http://burtrutan.com/burtrutan/downloads/ObservationsPyramidFabricationTech.pdf I am unaware of any chemical analysis by him, but his photos are very suggestive of Egyptian casting — and not just of faux limestone, but of granites as well.

    Also, for any who missed it earlier, Dr. Michael Barsoum http://www.materials.drexel.edu/pyramids/ has actually done electron-microscopy which confirms that much (but not all) of the pyramids were cast. His YouTube videos are well worth watching.

  4. Pascvaks says:

    Ref. casting pyrimids – wouldn’t ‘casting’ show magnetic alignment in sync with the period of casting, as with lava flow hardening?

    PS: Just noted 40,000+ for comments, great job EM;-)

  5. adolfogiurfa says:

    BORON (In Asparagus culture) : this is the most important trace element , as its lack chlorosis may result in the cladodes, with subsequent drying and collapse. Is recommended as subscriber input background manure to meet the needs of boron during the early stage of cultivation. Not be neglected boron control, it can be blocked by a period of drought. 20-40 may be applied kg borax / ha every three years.

  6. Pascvaks says:

    The way we were going during the past century, if we were to continue down that Yellow Brick Road, then one day each human dwelling will have its very own HAL-2100 computer (a’la “2001 – A Space Odyssey”) then we won’t have to remember (nor really do) anything. You know, I just can’t get myself to believe it. More and more I think we need to remember how to do a lot of rather primative things that we have long forgotten and are now hidden in some obscure, old, dusty books (and little used websites).

    Sounds like ‘Burning Man’ is an annual ‘happening’ by a bunch of over the hill hippies and their like-minded kids. Went looking and found their site and their “Ten Principles” (see below) at

    1. Radical Inclusion
    Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
    2. Gifting
    Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
    3. Decommodification
    In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
    4. Radical Self-reliance
    Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
    5. Radical Self-expression
    Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
    6. Communal Effort
    Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
    7. Civic Responsibility
    We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
    8. Leaving No Trace
    Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
    9. Participation
    Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
    10. Immediacy
    Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.

    Would think that living a week in the desert with a few thousand other people will give you a good taste of what is and isn’t essential. They must generate an awful lot of rock softening liquid (and other ‘stuff’); wonder if they leave natural deposits or haul it out to be re-cycled elsewhere (jus’ kiddin;-)

  7. Jean Simenon says:

    To get a good idea of the history and evolution of the event, there’s a great documentary called Dust & Illusions (http://dustandillusions.com) that basically starts in the 1970s underground movements of San Francisco.. all the way to today, and its $22 Million budget and 60,000+ people who go there. The film is interesting because it gives you the perspective that very few who know Burning Man even for a very long time, don’t have. Most people focus on a year over year perspective, but here you get the full spectrum, with great stories in between, and pretty cool archival footage!! And the movie isn’t some starry-eyed view of the place, it doesn’t re-iterate the bull crap people tell you about how it’s going to change the world. That’s refreshing!

  8. adolfogiurfa says:

    @Pascvaks……”Just Imagine…” , that´s pure New Age´s promoted NWO !!

  9. Graeme No.3 says:

    E.M. Catechol not catchol.
    Catechol is somewhat corrosive to skin as well. Don’t get it in your eyes. Not nice.

    Benzoquinone is classified as a known carcinogen i.e. causes cancer. Skin and lung contact should be minimised.

    Polymeric benzoquinones are known in the paint industry as adhesion promoters i.e. strongly absorbed onto the surface of metals.

  10. Steve C says:

    You’re getting some interesting stuff going here on old and forgotten means of (for want of a better word, and in its fullest sense) nutrition, EM. I passed Jason Calley’s ‘Rex Research’ boron link from your post of two or three weeks ago over to Anthony this morning to pass on to Luboš Motl – he (Luboš) appears to have fallen victim to the awful Candida, and I’d already noted the link for a friend with the same trouble. (Thanks, Jason – very much appreciated.)

    The first major problem we face (both my pal here in the UK and, I think, Luboš) is that some bureaucrat in Brussels has decreed that -all- compounds containing boron are irredeemably toxic and must be banned outright, never mind that humanity has been living with borax, etc., for centuries. So, if you come across any traditional cures for the ills caused by ‘Administratium’ …

    Seriously, thanks for some most interesting and thought-provoking posts.

  11. E.M.Smith says:

    @Steve C:

    Glad you like the postings!

    Well, I can’t cure all “Administratium”, but I can suggest that in the case of Boron, it’s pretty easy… Just tell him that the volcanoes are spewing lots of it and he needs to go inside and plug them up…

    Larderello: Devil’s Valley
    Valle del Diavolo owes its name to the diabolic boric acid fumaroles and the muddy waters that boil and contrast with the stupendous and tranquil view that overlooks on the surrounding scenery. We are at Larderello, in the municipality of Pomarance, in the low province of Pisa.

    Oh, and given that Borax is one of THE more effective fluxes in soldering and welding, also used in pottery glazing, I think “that’s going to be an issue”…

    Large supplies in Turkey, too.

    So candida, eh? Maybe I’ll look into that one for Luboš.. IIRC, we’ve used yogurt bacteria to fix it before… Also look for vaginal creams with miconizole nitrate. Same stuff used to be sold for athletes foot, but harder to find now.

    @Graeme No.3:

    Thanks, fixed. (I’ve noticed an increasing tendency to leave out vowels or use ‘any old neutral vowel’… not sure why. I did briefly look into Semitic / Hamitic languages, but I think it has more to do with not using glasses and picking up the words from ‘overall shape’ more than actual letters…)


    That’s why I’m interested in re-learning / preserving “old ways”… It’s always nice to have a backup plan ;-)

    And who you calling an “over the hill hippy”?! I’m not over the hill… yet… (though I can see it from here ;-)

    Hey, it’s a California Thing… it’s just what we do… to compensate for being hyper-tech in so many things and incredibly dependent on all sorts of mechano-stuff just day to day. The water they drink in San Francisco is piped in from the Sierra Nevada mountains. Think about that. A single pipe run…

    At the end of the event, absolutely EVERYTHING is removed. It is left as close to natural as can be. I think there is even a fine / penalty for taking a leak on the playa. (Some BLM rule and officers running around with ticket books… ) Even drips of oil from cars are to be prevented / captured / cleaned up.

    And yes, part of the attraction for me is being able to learn to survive “radically self reliant” in the middle of a fairly large and hostile desert, while surrounded by a lot of folks with some experience at it willing to share and help if I run out of something…

    The lava mag alignments depend on iron in the lava. Not much of that in the carbonate rocks used for the pyramids… Worth looking into it, though. FWIW, such alignment is used to date various metal refining operations. Old Egyptian slag heaps can be dated that way; so it is a known and used method ‘in the area’…

    BTW, I’m actually more pleased by the quality of the average comment than by the quantity… but it’s nice to have some validation on the history size as well ;-)

    FWIW, my interest in “old ways” started as a kid. Hanging out with some ’80 somethings’ in a small farm town talking about the ‘old ways’. Having my Dad teach me how to make square nails and talking about the forge back on the family farm and Granddad doing smithing for the locals. Then looking into how to survive after a Great Quake, got interested in “survival stuff”. (But I’m over that now… now I’m interested in “Preparedness” instead ;-) Finally, the history interest got me hooked on how ancient technology worked, as they did things we can’t do now, and did some things in other interesting ways. One of my prized possessions is a book of “Ancient Machines” that looks at them from an engineering point of view. A handbook for how to make them again, if ever needed…


    Haven’t tried smoking cheese yet… Having a smoker makes for many interesting ideas ;-)

    BTW, there are some European Burning Man like events, some related:


    These are the events we’re currently aware of run by burners across Europe:
    Burning Pub – London – 19th July 2012
    The Borderland – Österlen, Sweden – 9th-15th July 2012∞
    Øtopia – Kyholm, Denmark – 25th-29th July 2012∞
    Decompression – London – October 2012
    The Art of Burning Man – London – Date to be announced, 2013∞
    Nowhere – nr. Zaragoza, Spain – 8th – 14th July 2013∞

    So you have options over there, too…


    Burt, eh? I’ve always liked the way that guy thinks… ;-)

    I’ll hit the link and see what he’s found. Thanks!

    BTW, thanks for the compliment, but I do think it’s just that the world is fascinating. All I do is pull on some threads and keep notes. Well, maybe I’m a bit more tenacious about where the threads lead and follow a few more than the average ;-)


    Just imagine if you were more ‘centered’ and could indulge in a bit more personal ‘play joy’; and be less prone to paranoid distractions… Not everything is New World Order and often the play and ‘off the treadmill’ imagining is the antidote to Central Plotting…

  12. Verity Jones says:

    Ah now Argan Oil… wonderful stuff. I discovered it in handcream bought in a supermarket on holiday in France a few years ago http://www.lepetitmarseillais.com/fiche-produit/creme-hydratante-format-pratique-au-karite-amande-douce-huile-d-argan and I have managed to replenish stocks recently via a work trip. OK you guys probably wouldn’t understand the appeal.

    Beech mast, despite what the wiki says are delicious. Yes a bit astringent when fresh but if you let the kernels dry out they are really sweet. Really fiddly to peel though. Haven’t bothered to eat them much recently, but there were plenty of convenient trees when I was growing up. Interestingly they didn’t produce kernels every year – at least not every tree would. They’d all produce burrs each year, but only a few would contain kernels in the small pyramidal nuts.

  13. Paul, Somerset says:

    Well, I never knew beech masts were OK for human consumption. There’s a tradition in parts of southern England to send pigs out in autumn to fatten themselves on acorns and beech masts. As acorns are poisonous to horses and cattle, the system works well to “clean up” areas for grazing. I’d wrongly assumed that beech masts should therefore be classified in the same way as acorns when it comes to edibility.

    My problem with beech as firewood is that even when logs are split, the resin never seems to disappear from the area between the wood and the bark. Even with logs left to season for years I find myself having to peel the bark off and leave the wood to dry in the sun before using it. Otherwise you get a tarred chimney.

    They do seem to dry out OK when stored in a greenhouse, though. If you’re lucky enough to have one, it’s worth using any spare space in it to dry out difficult firewood.

  14. P.G. Sharrow says:

    I picked up a box of 20 Mule Team Borax laundry detergent at Safeway and “taste tested”. Tastes just like the alkali dirt of Surprise Valley, California. Surprise Valley is about 60 miles to the north west of the Black rock Desert and is the place where I spent half of my life farming.
    @EMSmith: If you want to do a Burning Man let me know. We can do SV and leave the women at a nice ranch while we do the Burning Man, a long hour drive to the south. While I lived nearby when the Garlach Burning Man was started, I have never visited it as it is held during farming seasons when I had no time for such things. The Blackrock Desert is not a pleasant place for Ladies to visit, they will complain about the heat/cold, very drying winds and alkali dust in everything, as well as dirty half dressed people everywhere! ;-) pg

  15. E.M.Smith says:

    @P.G. Sharrow:

    Well, I’ve definitely got it on my “bucket list”. Just need to be diligent enough to remember to sign up for tickets and do all that “organizing” stuff that it takes to be spontaneous and care free ;-)

    I suspect the spouse will want to just stay home and play here. Now that “kids” are 20 somethings, it’s a “feature” if I run off somewhere ;-)

    Oh, and I should add: It takes one hell of a farmer to farm alkali flats…

  16. E.M.Smith says:


    Having been asked to apply creams of all sorts, I think I can understand the appeal ;-)

    A surprising number of tree types are sporadic, ever other year; either in whole or in part. Avocado is one, IIRC. Farmers need to allow for that when planning…

    @Paul, Somerset:

    Acorns are poisonous to horses? Who knew… Lots of them about, here. Nobody pays much attention to them. Local indians used to eat them. For reasons known only to the inner reaches of the State of California School System, we were taught how to prepare them in about 4th grade… ( wash a LOT to leach out the tannins).

    Thanks for the tips on beech as firewood. Nice to know, if I ever get a few beech trees… or a greenhouse… (Oh the fun things I could do with just a few $Million… right about now I’d be having a 1/4 acre planted to beech… )

  17. Jason Calley says:

    @E.M. “Acorns are poisonous to horses? …Local indians used to eat them. …( wash a LOT to leach out the tannins).”

    Some years back I was researching persimmons — in particular the wild American persimmon which is very astringent if not ripe. I found an old (pre-WWI) pamphlet from the US government advising farmers how to treat the bitter, not-quite-ripe persimmons. Turns out, that the astringent taste is due to tannins in the persimmons; I assume they are the same as the tannins in acorns. Anyway, the pamphlet said that if you placed persimmons overnight in a container with low pressure CO2, the tannins become cross linked, which makes them insoluble in water and hence not tasted. I ran across another reference which said that ethanol fumes work the same. So… what about acorns? If those treatments work for persimmons, would they work for acorns? Persimmons (at least compared to acorns) have a lot of water, so that may help the CO2 diffuse in, but maybe if you ground the acorns to flour or meal, or maybe pressurized them at a higher pressure, it would work. Maybe grind up the acorns in a coarse food grinder, then put them into a pressure cooker with a piece of dry ice and let them sit overnight. Might be worth trying. Lord knows there are a lot of oak trees making acorns.

    Just one of those ideas I have not tried yet…

  18. R. de Haan says:

    Absolutely hilarious: Malcolm in the Middle, Burning Man episode: http://www.ifc.com/malcolm-in-the-middle/videos/malcolm-in-the-middle-burning-man

  19. R. de Haan says:

    Unfortunately non of the presented video’s in the article can be viewed in Germany due to copyright issues in regard to the music.

  20. Bulaman says:

    Was on a plane out of Reno last week with all the hippies. Can tell you that universally what they needed most was a wash!!!

  21. E.M.Smith says:

    @R. de Haan:

    I’ve posted some pointers on various relay / proxy sites available. Do you need help getting them to work or picking one?


    Technically they are not “hippies”. The music tends to the Euro-Techno type and the dancing is more of a ‘rave’ type; and there’s not a lot of emphasis on things like “saving the earth” and other hippie hot buttons. Also not a lot of “poverty” shown in the rigs on the Playa. There are a LOT of high end expensive RVs. ( I’ve known a lot of real hippies in my life… and enjoyed hanging out with them from time to time.)

    Of the Burners I’ve known, most were highly skilled technical sorts, managers, and the occasional doctors, lawyers, and founders of companies. They just like to have a big party every so often..

    So while I agree that some of the trapping are ‘hippie inspired’ (some of the clothes and some of the ‘performance art’) a lot of it is orthogonal. I also agree that after a week+ on the playa, folks will need a bath. (Heck, I need one after one DAY in the desert). But, frankly, those flying out, are likely headed back to high end homes, suits, and a staff meeting THEY have called…

    The Hippie Types tend to arrive in converted buses, old VWs, or beaters, and leave the same way. Tent in the trunk. The folks who can ‘air freight’ a weeks+ worth of goods “have staff”…

    @Jason Calley:

    Interesting ideas. Yes, there are a LOT of acorns up in the hills around here. Had not thought of polymerizing the tannins… I’d figured on just ‘grind and wash’ and maybe a bit of “see if lye reacts it away” (i.e. wood ash wash). But have been just too busy with other things to find the time to peel a lot of acorns.

    (He does a web search with selected terms…)


    Some Indian tribes would bury their acorns in the mud for many days and then dig them up and dry them in the sun. Other Indian tribes would put their acorns inside a reed basket with a few heavy rocks and then put the basket in a fast moving stream for several days. Both of these methods removed the tannin in the acorns and made them fit for people to eat. There is now an easier, more scientific method and it will be described in detail as you continue to read.

    So “mud”, eh? That implies an ash wash ought to work as well… And that “more scientific” method?

    All acorns contain tannic acid (or tannin). White Oak acorns contain very little but Red Oak acorns contain a lot. The good news is that tannic acid is water soluble and it can be easily leeched out of the acorns using either:

    boiling, or
    cold water flushing.

    Too much boiling will result in a loss of nut flavor and it will change the consistency of the nutmeats into a gooey mess.
    Boiling Method
    (May be used with whole nutmeat kernels or ground nutmeats.)

    Fill two pots with clean fresh water. Each pot should contain enough water to completely cover the acorn nutmeats (but don’t add the nutmeats yet). Turn on the heat to the first pot of water. Taste one of the unprocessed nutmeats to determine the degree of bitterness it contains before boiling.

    Note: Add pickling or canning salt to the final pot of boiling water before adding the nutmeats. The salt enhances the flavor of the nutmeats and it also increases their storage life.

    Note: It is NOT uncommon for many white oak acorns to contain little or no noticeable bitterness. However, we are not all gifted with the same degree of sensitivity in our taste buds. What may taste pleasant to you may taste slightly bitter to someone else. And regardless of how they taste, all acorns contain some tannic acid. Therefore, you should boil all acorn nutmeats at least ONE time. But you may stop after one boiling if your original taste test revealed little or no bitterness in the original unprocessed acorn nutmeats. If you are only going to boil one time you will not need the second pot and you should add the salt to the first pot of boiling water BEFORE you add the nutmeats.

    First Boil: When the first pot starts to boil, add the acorn nutmeats to the first pot of boiling water and immediately turn off the heat to the first pot. Turn on the heat to the second pot to start the water in the second pot boiling. Wait 30 minutes and the water in the first pot will be brown. Pour the acorns and the brown water through a strainer or coffee filter to separate the nutmeats from the brown water. (Note: Save the brown water from the first boiling for one of the uses suggested elsewhere in this summary.) (Note: If there was no noticeable bitterness to begin with and you are only using one boil, then skip down to the drying instructions below.) Taste one of the nutmeats. If the bitterness is almost gone then you will not need a third boiling and you should add the salt to the second pot of boiling water.

    Second Boil: Put the nutmeats into the second pot of boiling water and immediately turn off the heat. Rinse the first pot and fill with fresh water for the third boiling. Wait 30 minutes. Strain the nutmeats from the brown water in the second pot. (Discard the brown water unless you want to keep it for another purpose.) Taste one nutmeat. If the bitterness is gone, then skip down to the drying instructions below. If the bitterness is almost gone, then add the salt to the third boiling. However, if the bitterness is still unpleasant, then wait until the fourth boiling to add the salt.

    Third Boil: Follow instructions for second boil. Then taste one nutmeat. The original bitterness should be gone and it should have a sweet, nutlike flavor. (If the nutmeats should fail your taste test at this point, then boil a fourth time.)

    Dry the nutmeats following the drying instructions below.

    Note 1: If you switch the nutmeats from boiling water into cool water and then bring the water to a boil, you will lock in the bitterness and you won’t be able to get it out.
    Note 2: Do NOT let wet nutmeats sit for hours between boilings. The nutmeats will mold if you do.

    There’s a lot more at the link, including recipes. Including how to make Acorn Grits…

    Here’s the “how to dry” the washed nuts:


    If you need the damp acorn nutmeats in a bread recipe you may use them immediately without drying. However, if you are not going to use the nutmeats until later, you MUST dry them.

    After removing the tannin using either boiling or flushing, spread the damp nutmeats in a thin layer on a baking tray and dry slowly in a warm oven (175ºF to 200ºF) with the door slightly cracked to let the moisture escape. Or place the tray of damp nutmeats in the sun near a window. (If you dry them outside in the sun, cover them with a clean screen or the wildlife will steal them.)

    If you are drying ground nutmeats, the dried meal will be caked and it will need to be ground again.

    If you are drying whole nutmeat kernels, you may eat them like nuts. Or use them in recipes that use whole nuts. Or you may process some of them into grits or meal on an as-needed basis.

    So one idea that comes to mind is to check the relative solubility of Sodium Tannate vs Tannic Acid… but frankly, just knowing that you can treat them like dry beans is useful. ( Fast boil, soak, drain, repeat until water is clear… which for most beans is a couple of changes of water during the cooking…)

    Maybe I’ll make a run up to the oak groves after all…

    The link spends some time stressing that White Oak with white nuts are much lower in tannin and most common while Red Oak has yellow nut meats and much more tannin.

    Looking into tannin polymerization would be interesting tool..

    Per persimmons: I had the unfortunate opportunity to bite into some ‘under ripe’ persimmons in my youth… I rarely to never eat persimmons… or even persimmon cookies… The experience can be, er, impressive…

  22. Bulaman says:

    The one I sat beside was Greenpeace Australia. Got the feeling it wasn’t her money she was spending!

  23. E.M.Smith says:


    Ah, got it. “Hippie with a NGO money spigot to fund junkets”… though I suspect you would find she is more into “techno-rave” and clubbing with ‘e’ than sitting in an old VW bus smoking weed…

    (To folks not immersed in the various sub-cultures, they may all look like one big pot, but the hippies really are distinct from many similar looking – and typically newer- movements.)

  24. E.M.Smith says:


    A run down the Tannins line turned up a VERY complex area with a whole lot of unknowns. Seems that “Tannins” is a broad class of compounds of several base monomers and a load of polymers, with various modifications, complexes, and interactions making a mess of things…

    So likely subject matter for a posting later, after I sort out a bit more of it. Along the way, I did find a couple of things that are useful. From the wiki:


    Tannin production began at the beginning of the 19th century with the industrial revolution, to produce tanning material for the need for more leather. Before that time, processes used plant material and were long (up to six months).

    There has been a collapse in the vegetable tannin market in the 1950s-1960s, due to the appearance of synthetic tannins, due the scarity of vegetable tannins during World War II. At that time, many small tannin industry sites closed.[30] Vegetable tannins are estimated to be used for the production of 10-20% of the global leather production.

    The cost of the final product depends on the method used to extract the tannins, in particular the use of solvents, alkali and other chemicals used (for instance glycerin). For large quantities, the most cost-effective method is hot water extraction.

    Tannic acid is used worldwide as clarifying agent in alcoholic drinks and as aroma ingredient in both alcoholic and soft drinks or juices. Tannins from different botanical origins also find extensive uses in the wine industry.

    There are also a lot of health impacts, some bad, many good. It also connects to the catechol chemistry (as it is part of some tannins).

    OK, from the above we see that alkali and solvents (like glycerin) can be useful. Then that “hot water extraction” is most ‘cost effective’… That is a link:


    That mostly talks about ‘steam cleaning’ but that also says:

    The typical cleaning method involves a preconditioning of the soiled surface with an alkaline (7 or above on the pH Scale) agent, followed by light agitation with a grooming brush and appropriate dwell time. Next, the surface is passed over several times with a cleaning tool (either manual or automatic) to thoroughly rinse out the preconditioner and, using an acetic acid solution, lower the pH of the fibres to a neutral state. Finally, the surface is dried sufficiently to avoid any possibility of saturation.

    Since they DID link to that page, the implication is that it is more than just hot water they were pointing at. Yet the page is NOT a ‘tannin extraction’ page and much more of a ‘clean your carpets’ page… so it is a weak endorsement.

    Still, it does say to use an alkaline environment, then neutralize.

    So my “take” on it is that a ‘boil and soak’ with some wood ashes ought to be a very effective way to extract “tannins” and / or neutralize them. Easy to test with taking one batch of acorns, and do “serial water baths” with half and “hot alkaline baths” with the other. Compare relative extraction rates via a ‘taste test’ as in the above ‘boil’ method (though neutralize the alkaline bath acorns prior to tasting!)

    The tannins work via binding to proteins (they are intended in part at least to discourage herbivores by binding to proteins in the mouth to taste bad and in the digestive system to reduce nutrient absorption). So you ought to be able to depend on that ‘taste test’.

    So boil two batches (one alkaline). Take a sample of each and do a ‘vinaigrette’ rinse :-) Taste. That ought to be a fairly quick and easy test…

    That test ought to also work for the CO2 method and the alcohol infusion method. I doubt that alcohol will work, though, since tannins persist for many years in bottles of wines as they slowly age and soften the tannins…

  25. Just catching up with your posts after working 12 hours a day at the 2012 Olympics. What a disorganised farce that all was!
    I grew up on a farm in Central Africa where, if you couldn’t fix or grow something, you went without whatever it was you wanted. What is called today ‘Survivalism’ was to us simply a way of life. Stocks of dry goods and preserves were always maintained, we lived off the land as much as we could. As a young teenager I went out into the bush every weekend and usually came back with three or four impala carcasses which were butchered into generous joints and popped into the freezer. We had the intermittent mains electricity and a diesel-driven generator with a 100 gallon fuel tank for our power. A windmill pumped water from the deep well into our reservoir.
    Now I live in England with all of its repressive laws and regulations. I have managed to obtain a shotgun (the licensing process only took 11 months!). I am only allowed to purchase bird-shot shells, nothing with more ‘Oomph’ at all. Never mind, the modification of a shotgun shell is a trick I mastered a long time ago. In nine years I have learned more than most of the inhabitants of this once scept’rd Isle about the availability of free food, the stuff which you can find growing wild in hedgerows, woods and fields.
    I grow stuff, including the low-cost stuff available in the shops, such as potatoes, carrots, swedes etc. One day they’ll not be so cheap nor so available. Apart from the shotgun, I have a .22 air rifle. It’s good for rabbits of which there are very many although you have to be careful not to shoot one with myxomatosis. I’d love to have a .22 rifle (banned for most people here) to cope with the urban foxes. I have six laying hens and six broilers in pens and it’s a constant battle to keep them safe from the urbanised Vulpes vulpes.
    I’ve made my own smoker and I use beech wood chips to smoke meat, usually my home-made sausages (boerwors) and it is very, very good. And that’s the reason I commented!

  26. Graeme says:

    Something that has intrigued me for a while.

    Just how did the Ancient Egyptians carve those huge sarcophagi out of granite? example http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aes/r/red_granite_sarcophagus.aspx

    It is 2 meters long and looks as mif it has been cast or moulded…but who can cast or mould granite?

    Did they pick a team of people to take a lump of granite and hollow it out so as to be ready for the pharaoh’s death in 40-50 years time? Could they even do that with copper/bronze tools?

    I know about rocks such as Dolomite which are malleable for a few hours after cutting until they harden. So a team could conceivably hollow out a 2 meter block and just leave someone to polish the inside for 20 years or so till it was smooth.

    Any ideas?

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