Monday, December 31, 2007

Harmonica Improv in C minor

A Quick Lesson in Making Biodiesel

Wear eye protection and rubber gloves when you do this.

"Trucks" Episode: Making Biodiesel

The great thing is that you DON'T have to buy one of those expensive processors, because if you're a reasonably intelligent do-it-yourselfer, it's no big deal to build your own processor for just a few bucks.

R/C airplane video over ham radio

1911 pistol assembly animation

Just something cool and educational that I found.

Top Ten Reasons the 2-71 Detroit Diesel makes the Best Homestead Generator

1. Nobody is gonna steal it; it weighs over a ton!

2. Simple design, easy to work on.

3. Built-in shutoff system for overheating, low oil pressure, etc.

4. Proven to run 24/7 for years with only monthly oil and filter changes.

5.Can be rebuilt in an hour or two, if you live long enough to wear one out!

6. All parts are available, and probably will be for the foreseeable future.

7. No expensive high-pressure injection pump.

8. Pump and injector design well-suited for running on unprocessed WVO (waste vegetable oil), as well as its own recycled lube oil.

9. Lots of them are available right now, because the railroads and telcos are replacing them.

10. Has enough power to run big welders, air compressors and other shop equipment, not to mention air conditioners for those hot summers (and soon, winters if you believe Al Gore!).

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Spud Cannon!

Free eBook download: The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and Other East African Adventures

In 1898, during the building of the Kenya-Uganda Railway, during the construction of a railway bridge over the Tsavo River in Kenya, 135 Indian railway workers were killed by two lions, which dragged men from their tents at night and devoured them. Although the workers built thorn fences around their camp to keep the lions out, still the maneaters continued to break through and continue the attacks. The leader of the work party, a Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson, set traps and spent many sleepless nights waiting with his rifle, in hopes of stopping the pair. Finally, after many months he was able to kill one of the lions. Three weeks later, he killed the other one.

In 1907, Patterson published this book about his experiences. Two movies, "Bwana Devil" in 1952 and "The Ghost and the Darkness" in 1996, have been produced based on the book.

The entire book is presented here in plain text format;
it may be read online or copied and pasted into any
text program.

Free eBook download: Wild Beasts and their Ways

Wild Beasts and their Ways

Reminiscences of Europe, Asia, Africa and America

by Sir Samuel W. Baker

Originally published in 1890.

Baker travelled worldwide, hunting large and dangerous game.
He was an authority on
rifles and their use on dangerous game, and in this book
he gives us the benefit of his experience.
Early in the book is a description of an attack by a tiger;
a subject that is on the minds of quite a few
people this week.

The entire book is presented here in plain text format;
it may be read online or copied and pasted into any
text program.

Jeep XJ Cherokee Torture Test

These guys are IDIOTS, but it does show how much abuse those things will take. I'm sure the only reason it wouldn't start at the end, is they punctured the radiator and then continued trying to kill it until it overheated to the point that it wouldn't run. Even so, 500 bucks would make it reliably driveable again, albeit ugly.
Allow me to point out that older Jeep designs are even more rugged. The newer designs don't measure up, though. I'm talking about the Liberty and the latest Grand Cherokees, both of which have IFS (independent front suspension), which does NOT belong on a Jeep. It's why JP, the Jeep enthusiast's magazine, won't write articles about them; and I applaud that decision. The Wrangler is the only real Jeep made anymore, and even it has a minivan engine in it instead of the grand old, nearly indestructible inline 6.
XJ Cherokees are dirt cheap, too. They are one of the great deals in 4x4s.

Camel Trophy 1991: Siberia

I remember reading about the Camel Trophy every year in Four Wheeler Magazine, through the '80s and '90s. This was my favorite form of off-roading. Still is, in fact.
I remember reading about this particular Camel Trophy, in fact. Coordinators were flying over the course, arguing: "Nyet, there is no road there" "Da, da, is road". I also remember reading about the part where they are reading the instructions to stay to the right until the rapids, then move to the left because the water on the right is up to 7 feet deep. The medical chase vehicle (another Land Rover) got stuck and was trying to float away. That particular day was spent driving in the river because there was no road.
I loved reading this stuff, and experiencing it vicariously!
I had (and have) old Jeeps, and used them for similar but shorter trips close to home.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

TSO Wizards In Winter

Trans Siberian Orchestra 2006

2-71 Detroit Diesel "Eveready Bunny" generator

I haven't done much to it yet. I added a muffler (still pretty loud), AND I discovered that the voltage was quite high, because it was running at 1800 rpm (90 Hz) instead of 1200! Here it is running at 51 Hz or just over 1000 rpm and 119 volts phase-neutral, into a ~1500 watt load. I probably need to adjust the voltage down to keep it under 130V at 1200 rpm/60 Hz, and let the phase-phase voltage be whatever it is. Anywhere from 208-260 would be fine.
I was happy to find that the overvoltage problem was caused by an overspeed condition; that's easier to fix than a problem in the field control circuit, which is what I initially suspected. 1800 rpm is not enough to hurt the engine; in fact that is a more common running speed for a 2-71 than 1200.
These railroad sets were actually two-speed switchable via a solenoid. They were used on reefer cars; the 1200 rpm position gave rapid cooling and standard 60 cycle electrical power, and they could be switched to 800 rpm for times when demand was lower. This gave 40 cycle power, which simply slowed the 3-phase motors that powered the refrigeration compressors.
I have some ideas for using it in the 40-cycle setting, for reduced noise and fuel consumption.
I plan to run it on waste vegetable oil, at least during the hot summer months.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Spartan travel trailer floor plan

The Spartanette was an economy trailer compared to the Imperial Mansion; it was cheaper to produce because it eliminated the compound curves. However, this is the same floor plan as the Imperial Mansion I'm looking at, just for the sake of illustration.
If I get it, I may change the floor plan to wit: relocate the kitchen to the end where the living room is currently, and place the living room in the center. The bathroom and bedroom would remain where they are currently.

RV Secrets: What they don't tell you!

Spartan trailer

I have found one of these. It is a Spartan Imperial Mansion, made in the '50s by Spartan Aircraft Company. Spartans are similar to Airstreams, but the typical Spartan is larger and more deluxe than the typical Airstream. The one I found is 42' long, and I initially thought it was a house trailer instead of a travel trailer; but upon further research I found that it is indeed a travel trailer: 8 feet wide and 42 feet long, which falls within travel trailer size limitations in all the states I checked (generally 8.5' wide x 45' long, max.), and it uses standard truck tires rather than the 14.5" rim temporary tires that house trailers use.
This is a big selling point with me. Had it been a house trailer I would have still found it interesting, but unworkable; because my intention (if I buy it) is to work on it at home and then, when it's ready, tow it to Terlingua and set it up on my land there. No way am I paying the fees associated with towing a house trailer that far, even if the house trailer were free.
On the negative side, it is going to need some work, because most of the windows have been broken and, though the factory wall paneling is in pretty good condition, the floor is a little soft. So I will have to replace the broken glass and put new plywood on the floor. I will probably just paint the plywood and use rugs.
On the positive side, because it needs work, it won't bring the big bucks that nice ones bring. Also, it HAS to go; and I was told that the price will strongly reflect that fact.
Hopefully, I will have updates soon.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The late, great Milton Friedman

An excellent discourse on limited government. Almost 30 minutes long, but worth every minute.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Affair With Gravity: Forever Starts Today

Kate does it again! I tellya, I'm surprised I'm not seeing her on TV yet. Not that I watch much TV; she may be on and I just don't know it.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Desert Autonomous Zone

In 15 square miles of abandoned land, about 400 misfits—aging hippies, disillusioned veterans, teenage runaways—have built a community where no one cares if you smoke pot, fire your rifle all day, let your kids drive your car, or walk around naked in the desert heat. It's a landscape of beat-up old trailers, shacks jerry-rigged from recycled materials, solar panels, little farms, greenhouses, and at least one tipi. "Where I live is the last remaining land of America that is left," says Dreadie Jeff, a Mesa resident.
The local culture defies easy stereotypes. "Going into this community with this traditional mainstream liberal ideology," Jeremy says, "we realized all our preconceived notions were bull$t. These people were extremely into their Second Amendment rights, and they were also into marijuana legalization. They don't fit into these molds." There's a touch of madness to the place as well. Mama Phyllis, a Mesa woman who used to be a psychiatric nurse ("I couldn't do that anymore," she says, and leaves it at that), calls it "the largest outdoor insane asylum." The governing philosophy is a mix of anarchism, patriotism, New Age stoner wisdom, and a militia-style distrust of the state.

Read the article

Friday, December 7, 2007

Media Coverage of Mall Shooting Fails to Reveal Mall's Gun-Free-Zone Status

Despite the lack of news coverage, people are beginning to notice what research has shown for years: Multiple-victim public shootings keep occurring in places where guns already are banned. Forty states have broad right-to-carry laws, but even within these states it is the "gun-free zones," not other public places, where the attacks happen.
People know the list: Virginia Tech saw 32 murdered earlier this year; the Columbine High School shooting left 13 murdered in 1999; Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, had 23 who were fatally shot by a deranged man in 1991; and a McDonald's in Southern California had 21 people shot dead by an unemployed security guard in 1984.
All these attacks — indeed, all attacks involving more than a small number of people being killed — happened in gun-free zones.
In recent years, similar attacks have occurred across the world, including in Australia, France, Germany and Britain. Do all these countries lack enough gun-control laws? Hardly. The reverse is more accurate.
Complete article

Media Coverage of Mall Shooting Fails to Reveal Mall's Gun-Free-Zone Status

Despite the lack of news coverage, people are beginning to notice what research has shown for years: Multiple-victim public shootings keep occurring in places where guns already are banned. Forty states have broad right-to-carry laws, but even within these states it is the "gun-free zones," not other public places, where the attacks happen.

People know the list: Virginia Tech saw 32 murdered earlier this year; the Columbine High School shooting left 13 murdered in 1999; Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, had 23 who were fatally shot by a deranged man in 1991; and a McDonald's in Southern California had 21 people shot dead by an unemployed security guard in 1984.

All these attacks — indeed, all attacks involving more than a small number of people being killed — happened in gun-free zones.

In recent years, similar attacks have occurred across the world, including in Australia, France, Germany and Britain. Do all these countries lack enough gun-control laws? Hardly. The reverse is more accurate.

Complete article

Tim Anderson on sharpening knives

Making a sharpening-stone pendant

Tim Anderson is a true possum, no doubt about it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Travels on a Vespa

I've been reading a couple of blogs by Shreve Stockton, a 30 year old woman who rode her Vespa motorscooter from San Francisco back home to New York City. This is the blog of that trip:

Vespa Vagabond

Upon arriving in NYC, Shreve realized that she had fallen irretrievably in love with Wyoming, so she backtracked and settled there in a one-room log cabin where she lives with a cat and a baby coyote, Charlie. Charlie is the focus of her second blog,

The Daily Coyote

Both blogs are worth checking out.

Shreve is also the author of a book about a gluten-free diet, linked here:

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

10 hp air-cooled diesel engine

Remember the video I posted [here] awhile back, of the diesel-engined bike cruising around the streets?
I said then that I was gonna have to build one. Well, I got an engine for it. It's a start.
Here it is, running. This is the most common engine used in homebuilt diesel bikes, and they get well over 100 mpg; sometimes approaching 200 mpg. Run it on homebrew biodiesel and you have some serious possum-living transportation.

Monday, December 3, 2007

German diesel bike video

This (video link) looks like a BMW based chopper. It has a Punsun air cooled V-twin diesel engine in it. These engines are rated 22 hp and make an excellent bike engine. Too bad we can't get them here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Another Detroit Diesel generator

I just found this site by a guy who has the 20 kw version of my 2-71 Detroit Diesel railroad surplus genset. Mine is the 12.5 KW version.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

New strain of Ebola

According to this news report, a new strain of Ebola has hit Uganda.
This is a disease that worries me far more than the diseases that are all over the national media nowadays. If you have ever seen the movie "Outbreak", you know what I am talking about. The movie was fairly factual but, unlike most such movies, the reality is worse.
In the linked story, mention is made of the Reston strain outbreak in a primate facility in a Washington, DC suburb. What the story doesn't mention is just how close that came to catastrophe. As it turned out, the Reston strain was not dangerous to humans. Had this not been the case, the outcome would have probably been very different; as the outbreak (which killed every primate in the facility) was not handled at all correctly. For one thing, it wasn't reported as promptly as it should have been, and for another, those who eventually responded did not use proper caution. As I recall, the facility was located in a busy shopping complex, and proper containment protocol was not followed. I'm working from memory here, but this book
has all the details.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Art of Travel

Here is a free ebook called "How to See the World". European and world backpacking on $25 a day or less. You can read it online.

Hunting season

My dad was never very much into hunting. He had guns that he enjoyed
collecting, and he did hunt on occasion, but it was largely because he
felt it was "expected" of him, and he kinda felt like he should be
enjoying it. My grandfather, uncles, etc. were all hunters.
My uncles and cousins were and are into hunting as a sport. My
grandfather, OTOH, hunted as part of a self-sufficient life. Of
course, he did enjoy it, but it was all about getting meat, not a nice
trophy. He also was a market trapper.
I spent a lot of time in my childhood with an older, homesteading
couple. They lived in a tiny old cinderblock house on a few acres with
cattle, a catfish pond, a woodlot, and a machine shed with tractors
and a repair shop. Albert cultivated other people's crops with his
tractors for pay, as well as a few other things; and his wife sewed at
home for income. They raised a large garden and ate and canned its
production, ate fish from the pond, butchered a steer every year, and
Albert hunted. He had a cheap 20 gauge single-shot shotgun and a cheap
.22 rifle, and that was it; but they ate rabbit, squirrel, venison,
etc. on a regular basis, and so did I when I was there.
So I learned hunting primarily from Albert and my grandfather, and
that is the kind of hunter I am still.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A different method of biodiesel production

I hadn't heard of this method. I may try it, but I think I would add a final wash to ensure all the salt is removed. Basically, this means spray water over the top of the fuel, let it settle for a couple of days, then siphon off the oil and heat it to 130F for an hour to remove any residual moisture.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Eveready Bunny generator

Comments found online about these generators:

"Does Detroit Diesel still make the 2-71 engine? I've found some nifty looking generators using this engine, and was wondering if it was a reliable engine? Is it noisy? Thanks."

"The old 2 popper is still running and they will outlast anything made today. The parts are available not the engine. Cylinder heads I have heard are available only via welding shops. They run at 1200 or 1800. Most I have worked on ran at 1200. All were trailer mounted, they just kept running and running. These make the bunny look sick."

"We had 2 2-71 20kw gen on a barge I worked on. Ran 24/7 for years that's right like 20 years. Needed injectors and such but very reliable, the 1200rpm ones are great, pretty quiet also. Just DO NOT over heat them, you need a head gasket after that."

"American Crystal Sugar in Morrhead, Mn has been running a 6-71
continuously since 1959 to run a pump in the rendering process for sugar beets.
It gets shut down once a month for service and is back online within
30 minutes."

Now THAT'S what I call longevity!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A little dirt never hurt anyone...

"That alarmist germophobic mind-set that insists on sanitized overcooked ultra-safe bleached-out everything then grows and mutates and extends well beyond the toilet and the kitchen and the backyard and the human gut, straight into human experience as a whole, resulting in one horrifically bland, edge-free, prefab life.

Tract homes. Cruise ships. Gated communities. Giant, vacuum-sealed malls. Swimming pools with no deep ends. Swimming pools built 50 yards from the warm, dangerous ocean in Hawaii. Theme restaurants. Theme hotels. Theme vacations. Theme nature. Second Life. Megachurches. Groupthink. Intellectual numbness. Spiritual stasis. Rubber gloves. Face masks. Body condoms. Processed foods. Bans on raw milk. Quadruple-washed lettuce. Spitting instead of swallowing. Entire islands and towns built and owned and operated by the Walt Disney Company."

Excerpt. Read more

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Freeculture Manifesto

The mission of the Free Culture movement is to build a bottom-up, participatory structure to society and culture, rather than a top-down, closed, proprietary structure. Through the democratizing power of digital technology and the Internet, we can place the tools of creation and distribution, communication and collaboration, teaching and learning into the hands of the common person — and with a truly active, connected, informed citizenry, injustice and oppression will slowly but surely vanish from the earth.
We believe that culture should be a two-way affair, about participation, not merely consumption. We will not be content to sit passively at the end of a one-way media tube. With the Internet and other advances, the technology exists for a new paradigm of creation, one where anyone can be an artist, and anyone can succeed, based not on their industry connections, but on their merit.
We refuse to accept a future of digital feudalism where we do not actually own the products we buy, but we are merely granted limited uses of them as long as we pay the rent. We must halt and reverse the recent radical expansion of intellectual property rights, which threaten to reach the point where they trump any and all other rights of the individual and society.
The freedom to build upon the past is necessary for creativity and innovation to thrive. We will use and promote our cultural heritage in the public domain. We will make, share, adapt, and promote open content. We will listen to free music, look at free art, watch free film, and read free books. All the while, we will contribute, discuss, annotate, critique, improve, improvise, remix, mutate, and add yet more ingredients into the free culture soup.
We will help everyone understand the value of our cultural wealth, promoting free software and the open-source model. We will resist repressive legislation which threatens our civil liberties and stifles innovation. We will oppose hardware-level monitoring devices that will prevent users from having control of their own machines and their own data.
We won’t allow the content industry to cling to obsolete modes of distribution through bad legislation. We will be active participants in a free culture of connectivity and production, made possible as it never was before by the Internet and digital technology, and we will fight to prevent this new potential from being locked down by corporate and legislative control. If we allow the bottom-up, participatory structure of the Internet to be twisted into a glorified cable TV service — if we allow the established paradigm of creation and distribution to reassert itself — then the window of opportunity opened by the Internet will have been closed, and we will have lost something beautiful, revolutionary, and irretrievable.
The future is in our hands; we must build a technological and cultural movement to defend the digital commons.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


In The Ethics of Liberty, Murray Rothbard argues that 100 percent self-ownership is the only principle compatible with a moral code that applies to every person - a "universal ethic" - and that it is a natural law by being what is naturally best for man. He says if every person is not entitled to full self-ownership, then there are only two alternatives: "(1) the 'communist' one of Universal and Equal Other-ownership, or (2) Partial Ownership of One Group by Another - a system of rule by one class over another." He says that it is not possible for alternative (2) to be a universal ethic but only a partial ethic which says that one class of people do not have the right of self-ownership but another class does. This, therefore, is incompatible with what is being sought - a moral code applicable to every person - instead of a code applicable to some and not to others, as if some individuals are humans and some are not. In the case of alternative (1), every individual would own equal parts of every other individual so that no one is self-owned. Rothbard acknowledges that this would be a universal ethic, but, he argues, it is "Utopian and impossible for everyone to keep continual tabs on everyone else, and thereby to exercise his equal share of partial ownership over every other man." He says the system would break down, resulting in a ruling class who specializes in keeping tabs over other individuals. Since this would grant a ruling class ownership rights over its subjects, it would again be logically incompatible with a universal ethic. Even if a collectivist Utopia of everyone having equal ownership of everyone else could be sustained, he argues, individuals would not be able to do anything without prior approval by everyone in society. Since this would be impossible in a large society, no one would be able to do anything and the human race would perish.

This is an excerpt taken from The Wikipedia article "Self-ownership". Click here to read more.
When I find an interesting Wiki article like this, I can spend hours following the links. In fact, I found this one through a link from another article. Travellers, in case you're interested.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Airstream Travel Trailers are Sleek and Retro! by Mike Schantz

Airstream Travel Trailers can definitely be considered as Americana. These crowd pleasers have been around for nearly eighty years. They are distinctly recognizable with their symmetrical design and shiny aluminum exterior. The Airsteam Trailer Company has a slogan: "See more. Do more. Live more." This message has been the inspiration for generations of trailer happy trekkers.

Airstream Trailers were founders of the travel trailer business. They've never let their status as the first and most economical travel trailer available to lull them into a false sense of security. They have diligently worked to stay on the forefront of the travel trailer industry. Airstream Travel Trailers continues to produce the lines of trailers that will fit into any budget, and satisfy any taste. Anytime, anyplace, these trailers continuously live up to the company's assertion that "The next best thing to an Airstream Travel Trailer is another Airstream." It appears to be a very good point!

Consider the quality of the construction that is put into every Airstreamer. It doesn't matter whether you are considering the most expensive trailer on the lot, or the least expensive trailer on the lot, you can always be sure that any Airstream trailer was built on a solid foundation, with a unique body design, and equipped with specially engineered running gear. Not to mention, amenities are available throughout the entire product line! This means that all Airstream trailers are entirely self-sufficient and are fitted with any conveniences that you'll require for travel. This includes water and sewer hook-ups. Your Airstream choices are virtually endless!

Airstream offers its customers four lines (some with different models) to choose from. The most affordable is the BaseCamp Travel Trailer. It can be recognized as a light-weight, versatile, tent-trailer. It gives you the comfort of an RV crossed with the convenience of car-camping.

Another extremely popular model is known as the Safari Travel Trailer. More of this type of travel trailer have been sold than any other model. They are a famous highway icon, that is terrifically suited for the small family of travelers.

If you require a little more room, you should consider the Airstream Trailer lines, International and Classic. These Airstream Travel Trailers will make you feel right at home with their spacious interiors and comfort exuding amenities. It's not a joke!

Look no further for the durability kings, as Airstream Travel Trailers are really hard to conquer. Just think, more than two thirds of the Airstream Travel Trailers built since the 1930's are still in use today. Talk about lasting a lifetime! Your Airstream Travel Trailer will be an investment that you can someday pass on to you children. Now, that's impressive! If you have caught the traveling bug, purchasing an Airstream just might be your best cure!

Check out more about Airstreams and other Technical trailer issues HERE.

About the Author

Mike Schantz is an active partner in 2 different trailer companies for more than 20 years. His position has centered around the design and engineering of all types of trailers, but he has also dabbled in sales, marketing and even customer service. For more information about him or trailers in general please visit

I SAW THE LOCH NESS MONSTER - A True Story Of Inexplicable Events! by Tim Richardson

The much feared great white shark has been regarded as non-existent, in UK waters. Until very recently that is! Apart from recent claimed sightings from fishermen in Cornwall and from Newhaven and other fishing ports, there had been no 'proof' that great whites frequent the cold coastal waters of the UK. There has never been a recorded shark attack in the UK as far as I can find and the chances of attack, even off California where great whites hunt seals, are still ridiculously low. Sharks are intelligent too in their own highly developed ways.
I always 'knew' they were there though. Anglers have caught shark species unknown to science off the south of England and more mysteries are yet to be revealed. Giant sturgeon have been stranded far up rivers like the Stour, miles inland. Gigantic leatherback turtles have regularly been washed up on shores around the south west coasts. Giant tuna well over 500 pounds in weight are still seen off the Yorkshire coast. Even Gavin Maxwell's book "A ring of bright water" describes a creature resembling the fabled 'Loch Ness Monster' with a long neck off barely inhabited Scottish islands. I myself experienced the creature's presence while standing by the freezing cold flat calm Loch on a bright sunny morning in February 2002.
The day was calm and sunny but temperatures were cold following a hard frost that morning. Standing on the jetty by the castle in Urquahart bay I felt an unprecedented irrational fear sweep over me and I backed off the jetty fast. I walked up the grassy slope feeling foolish not having felt such a feeling ever before strong enough to move me from standing over the cold peaty red - black water.
Now as a very serious fisherman I have spent 30 years intensively spending a great proportion of this time on the banks and shores of hundreds of lakes, lochs, rivers, seas, ponds, and stretches of water, most often all night long. But I've never experienced such a unique feeling of fear before even at 'haunted' locations or in fierce lightening storms or on the darkest of nights miles from civilisation.
I know fish behaviour pretty well and felt something was very 'wrong' when just then I observed trout leaping high out of the water. This was only 200 metres away from my position over far deeper water and these fish were in such a highly excited state, darting about everywhere as if looking to escape something unseen below them. I quickly felt in my bag for my binoculars when I realised I did not need them...
I am more than scientific when it comes to the 'unknown,' requiring measurement and evidence and past records to verify anything unusual. I preferably would experience things 'first hand' before analysing and concluding anything substantial. I did not really think the mythical 'Loch Ness monster' existed except in the minds of fantasists or locals benefiting from the tourist trade in the area.
The major 2 reasons for this was that the entire loch had been under ice during the last ice age, so most likely preventing anything from remaining from previous times. Not only this, but detailed surveys show 'insufficient' fish stocks present in the loch which would appear to not be able to support a population of large animals for sustenance.
Please picture this now, because this is what I observed next: As a fish turns its flank over and rolls just under the surface of the water, it raises the water above it. I have observed this hundreds of times over the years being a big fish angler (mainly of giant catfish and big carp) of 30 years experience. The width, depth and length of the fish is indicated by the dimensions of this water movement discerned by the experienced eye. What this indicated was a massive creature.
For example an average sized large 30 pound carp may move a significant oval shaped area of water at the surface of perhaps to 3 feet. Such a fish would be about 3 feet long and between a foot and a foot and a quarter deep. The surface water movement I observed was about 15 feet long by 10 feet across... I never saw what caused it but I've fished right next to large seals, seen deer swimming in a lake, know very well the depth of sturgeon and dolphins compared to carp and whatever caused this phenomenal water movement was none of these possibilities. This was no killer whale or known cetacean either if that's what you are thinking...
There was a weird fact about my camera which is not uncommon at this loch. It has never failed me in thousands of photographs taken on thousands of bright days or dark even misty nights or on the hottest to the coldest of winter night temperatures. I am very careful to keep the battery at least new or at least 'half full.' On attempting to photograph the water anomaly, the camera failed completely despite calmly retrying. Filming under pressure of speed is not at all new to me with this camera. No photo was achieved.
Once all was calm, as if nothing had ever happened to disturb the completely calm surface of the thousands of feet deep bay without even a ripple present, I tried the camera again. This time it worked; in the 5 years since then, it has never failed either. There is definitely far more to this place than is yet known and not merely electrical anomalies. As someone has actually touched a ghost person - I therefore KNOW not merely just believe they do indeed exist, just like our 'electro-magnetic energy body' exists.)
I conceive that this Loch Ness creative could possibly be a 'ghost' or some kind of recording released by the electrical energy produced by gigantic forces caused by the faults and rocks movements present beneath the entire length of this long loch. (This does not explain sightings by police and military in waters with no faults present.) However, there are unusual lights occasionally observed in the Loch Ness area attributed to electical effects from the rocks and fault below the loch.
Whatever happened, this is my experience. This was no 'giant bubble' of gas escaping from the depths. I do not subscribe to the 'plesiosaur' theory - having seen in close detail the fossil skeletons of plesiosaurs and plesiosaur-like animals in the 'Natural History Museum' here in the UK. The chest and abdomen dimensions were not correct for the depth of water movement I saw and there was no evidence of water disturbance from flipper appendages either. I feel this creature I experienced is a different one to the popular 'mythical' version altogether.
One of the most puzzling aspects of this whole 'mythical' creature and its sightings, is that when Urquahart Castle was inhabited for generations (overlooking the very deepest water at the mouth of Urquahart Bay) this phenomenon was never reported. So what is really going in this ancient place?
By Tim Richardson.

About the Author

Tm Richardson is a professionally trained horticulturalist, with a background in zoology. A naturalist and big fish angler for 30 years, Tim has written expert bait making books for targetting giant catfish and big carp. Find these massive and unique books along with free bait articles at:

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Russian Package: a short story

I just found a website called 365 Tomorrows, which posts a new scifi short story everyday. This one caught my attention; I just wish it were longer!
I am adding the webpage to my links in the sidebar, to make it convenient to visit regularly.

Kate Autry (Affair with Gravity) talks about the SoCal Fires

Saturday, October 20, 2007

American ham has a very good article about the history and production of American ham. It is a good and informative read. Click here to read it.
I've always wanted to try my hand at raising a few hogs, and then home-processing the meat. Maybe one of these years I'll have a chance to do so. They are a wonderful homestead animal, especially for those who are creating a homestead in the woods, because they will "till" the land, digging up roots and grubs, making the land arable while fertilizing it for future vegetable production. Chickens and goats help the process, too. Not to wax political or alienate any of my readers, but that is one of the things I think vegans are missing: the symbiotic relationship between homestead vegetables and animals. Without the hogs, chickens and goats, one must use internal combustion engines to efficiently raise vegetables.
Another use of hogs I have heard about since I was young, is fencing them into a newly-dug pond for a year so they will pack the ground and thus cause the new pond to become watertight. Otherwise one has to use, you guessed it, a petroleum-based product.
Oh, and one last thing: if you have hogs and goats, you are not likely to have problems with rattlesnakes, copperheads, and the like.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Homebuilt slide-in camper

"Budget Camper is 13 ft long, fits on long-bed full-size pickups, and is rugged enough to take the beating of off-road trails - the kind of punishment that would reduce most campers to rubble. The secret of Budget Camper's strength is in her unique construction method. Campers are usually built up of many short lengths of 1 x 2 wood, which are held together with staples. Budget Camper's frame is different. It is built with an integral truss-style frame, cut from sheets of 4/3-inch plywood using a portable reciprocating saw. The framing for each wall section is cut from a single sheet of plywood. This creates a structure that is many times stronger, and it also means that there is nothing to come apart when the going gets rough."
So says the blurb at this site, which sells build-it-yourself plans for $45. It looks intriguing. I've always liked pickup truck campers, but most of them tend to be either very expensive, or structurally unsound. Note: if there is any sign of past or present water leakage, it is probably structurally unsound. Building your own is a possible way around both problems.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Terlingua Time

I just found this on another blog. It is a good read and has some awesome pics, to boot!

"We are finally on Terlingua time I was told yesterday, arriving a couple days late at my friend’s Paul and Voni’s house to visit for a few minutes on our way back from Alpine. That is a good sign! We fall into that space invariably as we settle in one area, but it seems that as we move, for some reason or another, the reality of a man (or woman) made time unit seems to surface a bit. Even this Blog seems not to be in a chronological order today, we continue to explore the area… but do I really need to write it all down in the order it happens?" Read more

Speaking of Terlingua time, I am planning another trip there, and other places, very soon. I don't plan to be there for the chili cook-off, but I will just miss it.

Archived Terlingua Ranch article

The entire 4-part article is now archived here, for easier access.

Friday, October 5, 2007

180 mpg!

Man, this is so cool. I gotta build one. I think I'll build it on my old CB500T. Enfields are easy because of the separate tranny, but they're too expensive. Of course, I could build it on my YZ490 and have an offroader. I don't ride the '490 anymore because my XR500 is a much better trailbike, and I'm too old to be riding an open-class motocrosser anymore. That bike's a psychopath.
These diesel conversions really do get 180-200 mpg.

David Gilmour

There are many videos out there of "Comfortably Numb", but this one is my favorite by far. Why? Caroline Dale on cello. She absolutely gives me chills.
Unfortunately, the audio doesn't come through very well on this video. It's perfect on the DVD it was taken from, though. I highly recommend the DVD; in fact I recommend it so highly that I have posted a link so you can get your own copy!

Ian Anderson interview

Cheap boondocking van?

I love it! I'd like to build one of these. Not suitable for the Interstates of course, but it would be good for running into Niland to pick up necessities.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bread making comments from a reader

A reader left some very interesting comments about breadmaking. There is so much good information here, that I just had to move it to the top of the page.

Desert Tortuga said...

Found your comments on the AUX battery setup interesting. Thought you might find these observations on bread making interesting.

First, I use sourdough starter for making bread. No, sourdough bread does not taste sour, unless you let it ferment to get that sour [lactic acid] taste. With a starter you don't need to buy those tiny packets of yeast every time. You can save the starter in a mix form, freeze it and even in a dry cake form [yeast cake].

Second, you don't need to roll out the dough or flour board, you can mix it all in a bowl and pour that into your bread maker or let the bread maker do the mixing. I mix mine in a bowl, as the mixer part of my bread maker is broken.

Third, moisture/dryness of bread, sugar while sweetening the bread has an important role in the moisture content of the bread. Some people say that this is it main purpose, moisture content and not the taste of the bread.

Fourth, sour dough made bread has the taste of the starter, which gives it a great taste, just eaten plain. This is why some starters date back hundreds of years and are very prized by their owners.

As you are aware, homemade bread is very good for you, store bought bread contains up to a teaspoon of salt per slice, that's a lot of salt!!

Soy flour is good to add to the bread, give it a nice flavor to both the body and the crust. also increase the protein content of the bread.

Fifth, bread without whole wheat flour added to it is a high glycenic food, it raises your blood sugar levels too quickly. Counter act this by making bread with at least 1 cup of whole wheat flour per 4 cups of regular flour. Also use a natural sugar rather than refined, this will slow its uptake.

Here is a source for sour dough starter:
USA Residents
Send a self-addressed, stamped (41¢) #10 envelope [SASE41] to:

Oregon Trail Sourdough
P. O. Box 321
Jefferson, MD 21755 USA

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1 1/3 c -Water
1 1/3 tb Vegetable oil
4 ts Honey
1 t -Salt
8 ts Wheat germ
1/3 c Soy flour
1 1/3 c Whole wheat flour
1 2/3 c Bread flour
1/3 c Nonfat dry milk
2 ts Yeast

Thanks for the great info, Desert! Write again anytime; this kind of quality work is always welcome.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Meteor that Hit Peru

When I heard this story on the radio news last week, I forcibly ejected my drink from my nasal passages. Well, not really, but that would likely have been the case had I been drinking anything at the time. I mean, it had such a quality of surrealism about it; not so much like a real radio news report, more like a radio news report in a Superman comic. In fact, as soon as I got to a computer, I immediately emailed the story to a friend who is heavily into comic books like that. Still haven't heard back from him either; perhaps he is in a cave somewhere waiting to see if the world is gonna end.
Apparently some other people found it strange, too. In fact, there was even a story that someone had retrieved the meteor and sold it on Ebay. Here are some excepts from that story: "The buyer has agreed to go down to Peru to pick up the meteorite locally. He will have the meteorite cut into pieces and sent back aboard an old DC-3 aircraft that has been refitted with two 747 jet engines.

The meteorite was scrubbed and the smelly organic matter that covered it was removed. The organic matter originated in outer space. Tests conducted on the organic matter have revealed that the source of the smelly goo was a large intergalactic squid which came from the constellation Hydra."
Come on! Now somebody's pulling my leg. You can't put a 747 engine on a DC-3, that would be like putting a 426 Hemi in a VW Bug!
Now, a week after the fact, I'm still seeing news stories about the meteor, focusing on the fact that "experts" are pooh-poohing the whole thing and saying nothing fell from space. Of the reports from locals who reported seeing a bright meteor, they say that what the locals actually saw was a "fireball". So I looked up "fireball" on Wikipedia and its definition was "a bright meteor".
These "experts" go on to say that the crater is no crater at all, but rather a preexisting lake, from whence noxious fumes are emanating. Yeah, right. I buy that. These locals (who are referred to as locals because they happen to live locally to the crater) have been living there all their lives, never suspecting the existence of this nearby lake until, after seeing a fireball in the sky and hearing a large explosion, they just happen to stumble upon it.
Know what I think it was? I think it was a weather balloon.

P.S. If somebody will pick up the travel expenses, I volunteer to go to Peru and get to the bottom of the matter, and report my findings here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sourdough Bread

Desert Tortuga sent the following comments on breadmaking:

First, I use sourdough starter for making bread. No, sourdough bread does not taste sour, unless you let it ferment to get that sour [lactic acid] taste. With a starter you don't need to buy those tiny packets of yeast every time. You can save the starter in a mix form, freeze it and even in a dry cake form [yeast cake].

Second, you don't need to roll out the dough or flour board, you can mix it all in a bowl and pour that into your bread maker or let the bread maker do the mixing. I mix mine in a bowel, as the mixer part of my bread maker is broken.

Third, moisture/dryness of bread, sugar while sweetening the bread has an important role in the moisture content of the bread. Some people say that this is it main purpose, moisture content and not the taste of the bread.

Fourth, sour dough made bread has the taste of the starter, which gives it a great taste, just eaten plain. This is why some starters date back hundreds of years and are very prized by their owners.

As you are aware, homemade bread is very good for you, store bought bread contains up to a teaspoon of salt per slice, that's a lot of salt!!

Soy flour is good to add to the bread, give it a nice flavor to both the body and the crust. also increase the protein content of the bread.

Fifth, bread without whole wheat flour added to it is a high glycenic food, it raises your blood sugar levels too quickly. Counter act this by making bread with at least 1 cup of whole wheat flour per 4 cups of regular flour. Also use a natural sugar rather than refined, this will slow its uptake.

Here is a source for sour dough starter:
USA Residents
Send a self-addressed, stamped (41¢) #10 envelope [SASE41] to:

Oregon Trail Sourdough
P. O. Box 321
Jefferson, MD 21755 USA

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1 1/3 c -Water
1 1/3 tb Vegetable oil
4 ts Honey
1 t -Salt
8 ts Wheat germ
1/3 c Soy flour
1 1/3 c Whole wheat flour
1 2/3 c Bread flour
1/3 c Nonfat dry milk
2 ts Yeast

The Mojave Phone Booth

This website cracked me up. I love finding stories like this! At one point, while talking on the phone to the author of a book about the Mojave, the guy says:
"I've always had a fascination--well, I kind of grew up in a place called Coolidge, which is in the middle of nowhere here in Arizona--so I have this fascination with the desert."

(Author)You study history, do ya?

"Uhh. . .well, I just find the whole thing interesting. See, I always think that if I were a pioneer and I was going West, I would have heard that if I went far enough, I could be by an ocean. So why would I stop in the middle of the desert? That's what I find puzzling."

I have some ideas about that, myself. Pro and con.
Then he adds:
"I mean, it must have been terrible to live in Arizona. I can't imagine living here before there was air conditioning."
He should try living in the Southeast before there was air conditioning. I did. Well, actually, there WAS air conditioning, just not in OUR house.
Then he makes a comment I can agree with:
"It's unforgiving territory. I just find it fascinating, though. I'm kind of a hermit in some ways, and I think it'd be fun--at least for a while--to live where there isn't anybody."
I got a real kick out of the whole thing. Then I got to wondering: you know, there aren't many phone booths anywhere anymore. But, as discussed in this article, there are also a lot of areas, especially in the desert, where cellphone coverage is nonexistent. So, are there still any lonely phone booths 'way out in the desert? That's a question for you folks. Have you seen one? If so, or you have any other thoughts on the matter, let the rest of us know in the comments. I haven't seen one, but I'll be watching from now on.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Terlingua dreaming

Just felt like posting a gratuitous Terlingua photo, because that's where I'd like to be right now. It's time to start planning another trip there. Soon.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Slab City squatter

For those who haven't heard of it (and if you're here, you probably have), Slab City is kinda like Quartsite, only more so. Expect to read more about both Slab City and Quartzsite right here on these pages, in the future; because they're both of substantial interest to me. Until then here's a pretty cool site I found. Warning: some nudity at the bottom of the page.

Imported goods and the US economy

Here is an article I found about the effects of importation on the US economy. It says in part:
"I spent the last few decades wrestling with the question was an information economy as viable as a manufacturing one. It doesn’t really matter. A Chinaman can make and sell a stainless steel knife for about a buck in bulk purchase pricing and walk away with a nice profit. The company in this country can buy it for a buck and sell it for five, the four buck profit having as much buying power as the Chinese profit. Everybody wins, including the consumer. If the item was made in America, it would retail for five to ten times as much, the company would make no extra profit due to sales volumes falling and the consumer would get screwed. The only winner would be Union workers. That wouldn’t be bad if we were all Union and all made their wages, but as it stands now only a small minority of workers get those benefits. My supporting them does nothing to strengthen this country as a whole."
This is one of the most thoughtful comments I have seen on this subject, and it is most refreshing in a time when almost everytime I interact with people out in public, I hear the same overworked complaints about "our economy is going down the tubes because of China-Mart". In fact, most people should have a string sticking out of their backs; pull it and you get a random, pre-recorded comment from a list of five subjects. Enough about that; back to the subject at hand. I personally wish the writer had chosen a different example, because knives are one of the things I don't buy as a Chinese product. Not from a buy-American standpoint, but from a quality standpoint. Practically all knives nowadays are made of crappy stainless steel; the only stainless knives I have found to be worth buying are all made in Switzerland, Sweden or Finland. As far as I am concerned, Buck's stainless steel knives (which is everything they make), as one example I am unfortunate enough to be familiar with, is no better than the typical Chinese knife. A subject for another time.
Bottom line: Buy what suits your needs, at the best price you can get. Don't fall into the trap of mixing politics with necessity.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Connecting an auxiliary battery to your vehicle's charging system

A recurring question on some of the forums I monitor is, how do I connect a "house battery" or auxiliary battery to the charging system in my vehicle, so it can be charged as I drive?
I've addressed this issue before, but I recently saw the question surface again, and I had an idea I think is worthy of mention. I would like to point out that this is not just a theoretical exercise for me, because as an avid Jeeper, ham radio operator
and RV boondocker, I have built and used several auxiliary vehicle battery systems.
Setting up one of these systems would seem to be simple: just run a hot wire, suitably fuse-protected, from the alternator to the house battery, then run a ground strap from the negative terminal of the house battery to the chassis of the vehicle. There are several problems with that approach, the first and simplest of which is that, if left connected like that while the engine is not running and hence not charging, any current used by the house battery system will draw current starting battery as well, so that after camping and using battery power for awhile, you may find that you are stranded with a vehicle that won't start. Another problem is that, even if you don't use the house battery when the engine is not running (as may be the case with a car sound system aficionado or ham radio operator) the two batteries will "fight" when the vehicle is parked, eventually draining both batteries. This is usually attributed to the two batteries not being matched as to type, age and capacity, leading some to use a deep cycle battery for the house battery, while at the same time replacing the starting battery with a second, identical deep-cycle battery. This is a bad idea, and doesn't work anyway unless the two batteries are physically close and connected with a heavy gauge battery cable that is as short as possible, in which case it is no longer a dual battery but simply a single, larger battery. If the two batteries are separated and connected by a longer wire, they actually do become electrically separated by the resistance of the wire connecting them, and then you have the mutual disadvantages of a house battery that is limited in size and capacity to that which is appropriate for the starting battery, and a starting battery that is not really designed to be a starting battery. Also, they quickly cease to be matched, because the starting battery is subjected to heavier loads (the starter motor) and higher charging voltage due to closer proximity to the alternator.
A much better and more popular way to go, regardless of the end use, is to separate the batteries with some type of isolator which allows both batteries to be connected to the alternator while the engine is running, and disconnected from each other when the vehicle is parked. That way one can use a house battery or battery bank that is designed for the load it will be used for, and a standard starting battery in the normal location for starting the engine.
There are two schools of thought concerning how to isolate the battery systems. The first is to use a passive isolator, and the second is to use some type of switch. Actually there is also a third, ultimate solution, which I will briefly describe later, but is beyond the scope of most needs.
A passive isolator is simply a pair of diodes, one going to the house battery and the other going to the starting battery. A diode is a semiconductor which allows current flow in one direction, but not the other. This is good because it allows each battery to receive charging current from the alternator, but does not allow current to reverse flow from one battery into the other system. The passive isolator doesn't require any input from the operator; it just sits there quietly doing its job. However, diodes are not perfect; they have a voltage drop of approximately one volt. Guess how much difference there is between the voltage of a lead-acid battery, such as a starting battery or deep-cycle battery, in the fully charged vs. fully discharged state? One volt, in a 12 volt system; 11.7 volts (at rest) discharged and 12.7 volts (also at rest) charged.
For this reason a lot of people, previously including myself, use a switch arrangement in the line to the house battery. This switch must, like a passive isolator, be rated to handle the highest current that will be passed through it. In use, the switch must be opened (turned off) when the engine is off and closed (turned on) when the engine is running. This can be accomplished manually by throwing the switch at the proper times, or automatically (best for most folks) by using a relay instead of a manual switch, and connecting the control circuit to a point in the vehicle's electrical system that is powered only when the engine is running. The most commonly used relay is popularly known as a "continuous duty solenoid" and is usually rated at 100 amperes. I have used these, and they generally do a good job. This is a fairly good choice for most people.
There is a problem, though, that all auxiliary battery systems have; and that is voltage drop on the long wire from the alternator to the house battery. It wouldn't be that big of a problem in and of itself, because the alternator has a voltage-sense circuit in its regulator, that senses battery voltage and tells the regulator how much voltage to supply. I already discussed at-rest battery voltage; lets go a little further now with charging voltages. Because of internal losses, a 12V battery needs 13.5 to 13.8 volts from the alternator just to maintain its charged state if there is any load on the system. Actually charging the battery requires 14.1-14.5 volts. This is on top of any losses, such as a long section of wire or a diode. Switches and relays aren't perfect either; they all have some loss. You won't be able to measure that loss with a voltmeter when the system is at rest, but start passing current through the wire and/or switch and then you can measure the voltage drop at a given current. The way around that is to run a second, smaller, sense wire from the regulator directly to the house battery. That way the regulator will raise the voltage output of the alternator to compensate. The problem now is, what is happening to the starting battery? It is being overcharged. Now, lead-acid batteries are fairly forgiving creatures, so that running at 15 volts for awhile probably won't damage a typical starting battery (stay away from the sealed, gelled-electrolyte, super deluxe batteries though; they are not so forgiving). The thing to do is make sure the electrical path to your house battery is a good one: use a good switch or relay, large-gauge wire (I generally use 6 gauge) and run a ground wire of the same size if not even larger, directly to the case of the alternator. Not to the starting battery, and not just to the chassis (although, do make that connection as well). The ground side carries exactly as much current as the positive side does, and expecting that current to find its own way back through the steel chassis guarantees problems. The losses in that path add to the losses in the positive wire, so give it a good, copper return path. The ground losses through the engine block from the starting battery back to the alternator actually help here, as they bring the losses in the starting battery charging system up closer to the losses of the long wire to the house battery. If the difference in voltage loss is 1/2 volt or less, the system will be quite workable.
With a passive isolator, the same is true as long as the sense wire goes to the house battery; not through the isolator but bypassing it.
I was given an isolator once that was burned up on one side, so that one of the diodes would not pass current. I just jumpered over that side, figuring that actually, only one system needed a diode to isolate the systems. It worked, too. However, the side I used the diode on was the house battery, which exacerbated the losses I already had from the long wire; but I made up the difference by plugging a charger into the house battery whenever I had a chance (a good idea with any unbalanced system, BTW). The sense wire was in its stock configuration, so that is the only way it would work without some rewiring; and I was getting ready for a trip, so I made the best of it.
That brings me to my idea: connect a large-gauge, low resistance wire directly from the alternator output to the positive terminal of the house battery, and a ground wire from the negative terminal back to the alternator case, as well as a chassis ground connection near the battery. Now, cut the wire that goes from the alternator to the starting battery, and insert a passive isolator, using only one side. The other side is unneeded and becomes a backup, in case the diode in use ever fails (it probably won't). The voltage drop across the diode offsets the drop across the long wire to the back, making for a well-balanced, trouble-free system. The sense wire should go to the house battery.
But what about the third option, the ultimate system I mentioned? Simple. Two alternators, one connected to each system. The stock alternator can remain connected exclusively to the starting battery, while a second, high-output alternator is added, connected exclusively to the house battery. The two systems are therefore totally separate and cannot affect each other. This is the best way to go for several reasons, but the expense and difficulty is not warranted in most systems.

Note:Any wire that is connected to your auxiliary battery MUST be fused at the battery, and the charging wire from the engine compartment must be fused at BOTH ends. That long wire is exposed to enough hazards to present a very real chance of developing a short circuit, and if not fused, it can burn your rig to the ground, perhaps with you in it.
Just a word to the wise.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Book Review: Farmer in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein

Most current scifi is garbage. The "science" displays a complete lack of knowledge of how things actually work, and emphasis is on social relationships and politics. Mankind's past is generally disparaged, and everything is now generally better, from a left-wing perspective. Most if not all humans are now enlightened and live in a Utopian society, free from conflict with any other living creature. Food is either conjured out of thin air by some machine that runs on the unlimited free energy of the universe, or is a synthesized vegetable product produced (also using free energy, of course) in a "green" manufacturing facility operated by the same benevolent, authoritarian government that oversees and attends to all needs of all living creatures. If the story in question is in book form, it is usually full of poor grammar and punctuation, and misspelled and improperly used words.
Enough of that. My point in the preceding is to illustrate an author whose work is not like that; the late Robert Anton Heinlein. I won't go into a lot of details about his life, except to say that Mr. Heinlein was a libertarian (small "l", philosophical libertarian as opposed to large "L", Party Libertarian) who was a firm believer in individuality, personal liberty and self-sufficiency. Furthermore, he was a highly educated man with a keen interest and understanding of hard science, from the study of planetology to the seemingly mundane study of agriculture. Moreover, he studied sociology, psychology and physiology in terms of how people really are, not how some wish people were.
On to the book itself. "Farmer in the Sky" is a story about a young man who is coming of age and is emigrating with his father and his father's new family (his mother having died some time before) to Ganymede, one of the moons of Jupiter, on which man has settled and begun the process of building a pioneer farming planet to relieve overcrowding on Earth.
In the story, potential emigrants are screened with an eye to choosing those most likely to be healthy, self-sufficient and able to adapt to the hard work and isolation of homesteading. The land is doled out in the manner of the old Homestead Act in the US, where the homestead must be "proved up" within a certain number of years by building a dwelling and making the land productive.
The surface of Ganymede is mostly rock (the water ice having been melted by the process of creating something similar to our ozone layer for a greenhouse effect), and making the land productive involves grinding the rock into sand and rock dust, then mixing in compost and a small amount of "pay dirt", soil imported from Earth which has the harmful organisms removed while preserving the beneficial organisms. These organisms feed on the compost and multiply, and later earthworms are bought from the cooperative to assist the process.
The cooperative loans out a machine for grinding the rock, and people from the community pitch in to help. Each homestead produces enough fertile ground to grow its own food, plus enough extra produce for trading purposes, as well as producing a few acres of fertile ground to give back to the co-op as payment for the land. Credit is extended to the homesteaders for purchasing building supplies, earthworms, and other needed equipment and supplies; this credit eventually being repaid in the form of produce or more converted acreage.
Wikipedia's article about Ganymede says that Ganymede contains water ice and liquid water (in addition to silicate rock, salt, iron, sulphur etc.) and an atmosphere of oxygen produced, along with hydrogen, by the action of radiation on water. Most of the hydrogen escapes into space, due to its low atomic weight. Heinlein discusses this in the book, as well as describing the view of the sky from Ganymede, its orbit including the fact that one side always faces Jupiter as our moon does Earth, and many other aspects which are backed up by hard science. The man knew what he was talking about.
I enjoyed this book very much, and heartily recommend it.
Farmer in the Sky was published in 1950.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New: Affair With Gravity

Katelyn's at it again. Everytime I post one of her videos, I get several visitors to my site from Germany, via search engines. Either she has become kind of popular there, or perhaps she has some relatives there.

Friday, August 31, 2007

AMPS analog cellphone service

In this post, I mentioned the old analog cell service and its suitability for rural use where towers are few and far between. This service is a matter of contention among users who keep abreast of such things, because on one hand it uses more bandwidth and consumes more power per active link (conversation), lacks some of the features of newer systems such as text messaging, multimedia and automatic GPS location; while on the other hand, compared to newer digital formats it has much greater range, is a truly standardized format with more support in the hinterlands, has much better audio quality in the presence of a strong signal, and is more likely to simply get more noisy with poor signal strength rather than dropping the call altogether. Also, there are the 3-watt bag- and hard-mount AMPS phones with external antennas for the really sparsely-populated areas.
As with so many other things it comes down to city versus rural, where the city dwellers are unaware and/or apathetic if not downright hostile towards the concerns of rural dwellers, and those who live or spend a lot of time in the rural areas lose out simply because we represent a tiny minority compared with the masses in the cities. City-based digital-network users tend to believe, erroneously, that the presence and use of AMPS analog service somehow reduces or interferes with their service. In fact that's not the case, because most cell towers in highly-populated areas don't really need to support AMPS at all, and even if they do the system can be and is configured to drop the AMPS calls in favor of the digital, in the event that the system becomes overloaded. So a system can easily be configured to accept AMPS calls during low-usage times, and reject them during times of high usage.
It's a moot point anyway, because practically everybody has a digital phone. Digital phones are so cheap that the service providers literally give them away to facilitate selling the service. The only people who have AMPS phones are those who seek out and buy one specifically to use in rural areas where the digital service is sparse or nonexistent, and even those people certainly also have a digital phone to use when the service is available, because that service is cheaper and offers more features. The majority of AMPS service is either prepaid or paid per-call via calling card or credit card, and both are more expensive than digital service.
Currently, the existing AMPS service is required by law to be maintained. This law is due to expire February 2008, but the FCC has already pushed the expiration date back a couple of times, and may continue to do so. Even if the law does expire, it is doubtful that the system will be dismantled in rural areas as long as it continues to be used. So if you spend much time beyond reach of the digital networks, buy yourself an analog phone on Ebay, get some prepaid service and use it, so we don't lose it!
In researching this material, I found some really interesting comments on one of the newsgroups. I have reproduced those comments here:

"Through all the searching I found one thing that kept
hitting me in the face every time I brought up a new page.
It generally followed a few lines of thinking.
AMPS will be replaced by dedicated CDMA systems.
AMPS will no longer be installed on newer installations.
FCC has removed the requirement for AMPS in new areas.
AMPS systems will be removed when the towers are needed for newer systems.
AMPS space will no longer be supported on new CDMA systems.
You need dual mode/band phones to set up service.
You can't setup a AMPS phone.
You can't buy an AMPS phone.
They don't sell CDMA car phones.
The US will take Australia's example.
Australia's major cell phone company is switching over
To digital, AMPS will no longer be supported.

The magical date I usually see is around five years
for the magical end of the AMPS world.

MY disbelief was running high.
Do they think that no one exists outside of the large cities?
So I had to make a public rant.
It helps to let off some steam.

It is hard to comprehend why AMPS service would ever become unavailable.
As long as the 800meg cell band is used, AMPS should be supported on every
active channel.
It would hardly cost them anything to make have multimode rack mount
cell units.
FM is a base mode that can be engineered into any 800meg rack mount cell
base unit.

What really puzzles me is why they have to have a dedicated mode for a
As a person who works with a lot of radio related communications equipment,
it boggles my mind why a network would be limited to one digital mode.
Every 800meg cell transceiver slot should be occupied with a standard unit.
It can work in AMPS, TDMA, CDMA, 800meg GSM and any other digital mode
That a multi mode DSP receiver and transmitter can be made to run.
When a new digital mode comes out for the 800meg band, you just
update the firm ware to handle it.

Every slot will be able to handle any form of communication on demand.
A cell phone that is roaming from another area with a different native
digital mode
will be able to operate in its native mode irrelevant of the system's native

The cell phone companies need to learn a lesson from the computer industry.
There is no need to adopt a standard digital mode.
(a computer can interface with all forms of communications channels)
There is no need to obsolete old equipment.
(An old computer will interface with the web just the same as a new one

Everything is upgradeable.
(via software, you can increase the computers capabilities without
changing any hardware.)

Everything is backward compatible.
If you don't have a V90 modem and you dial in to
the service provider, it will default to a legacy mode
without any interruption.
Your computer is still talking to the same node modem but the
node modem can operate in almost any mode.

You can dial in with an old 300bps modem and it will
connect without a hitch.
It works, I have tried :)

An old computer can interface the new network.
It won't be able to use any of the newer features but
It will be able to operate up to it's original design.

That is the design basses that should be used for the cellular network.

They shouldn't care what types of modes your phone will use.
The network can use all of them.

Now that I think about it, that would allow for some interesting
dynamic traffic control if all user phones and all cell transceivers
could operate in any mode.

During low usage hours, everyone will have full voice channels.
When usage grows, it will start doubling up people.
The doubling up will depend on the modes the user phones are capable of.
If channel usage reaches maximum levels then users with high band width
usage could be bumped off to accommodate more narrow band phones.

The people with new phones will be unaffected but the people that
Are just in the city for the day may get bumped off once in a while.
They won't mind though, because they are in the city very rarely.
The places they are normally around will have no problem with the older

Newer phones could access newer features but older phones will be limited
to what they came out with.
The people in the boondocks won't care because they don't use the features

All older phones will be usable in newer systems.
All newer phones will be usable in older systems.

But the cell phone production companies couldn't make
a killing from designed obsolescence."

"Remote areas, where AMPS is the only service, will almost
certainly not have AMPS shut down, at least by the rural CDMA/AMPS
carriers. There are several reasons for this. First, a lot of emergency
call boxes are in areas with no digital coverage, and these call boxes
use AMPS. Second, a lot of the AMPS coverage is by smaller carriers in
rural areas, and AMPS represents roaming revenue. Third, AMPS provides
the only coverage for locals in a lot of the area covered by these
carriers. There is no cost savings in turning off AMPS unless there is a
capacity issue, and the rural carriers don't have capacity issues.

For AMPS areas that are currently covered only by Cingular, they will
almost certainly turn off AMPS even in their areas that have no digital
coverage. For example, I was recently out in the Florida Everglades,
roaming onto Cingular's AMPS network from my Verizon tri-band phone. 95%
of Cingular's customers can't use that AMPS network, and had no
coverage. It makes Cingular look bad when only Verizon, Sprint, Alltel,
etc's customers can use one of their networks. Hence, I think that
Cingular will turn of all AMPS as soon as they can, even though this
means vast areas with no coverage will be created. Fortunately, there
are not a lot of areas where Cingular is the only AMPS carrier.

Metro areas with rural areas surrounding them, will suffer when AMPS is
permitted to be turned off. For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area,
there are a lot of areas outside the urban core, sometimes only a few
miles from the urban core, where AMPS is the only coverage you're able
to get. A lot of these areas are city, county, state, and national
parks, where they are unlikely to permit enough towers to cover the
areas in digital, but where you currently get decent AMPS coverage from
towers outside the parks. All the coverage in these areas will be lost
when AMPS is turned off. This is good news for Cingular, which has much
poorer coverage, at least in my area, by virtue of their lack of AMPS.
I'm hoping that the state of California will insist that all the
roadside call boxes remain operational, which will give AMPS a bit more
life, even in the semi-urban areas.

Even without AMPS, Verizon's network is better than Cingular's, so
PagePlus is still a good choice. "

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Woodstove in a van?

A fulltime vandweller from Canada, over at the Vandwellers Yahoo group, is thinking about winter approaching and planning to build a super-efficient gasifier woodstove to heat his van. He also wanted the stove to help ventilate the interior of the van, while drawing most of its air from underneath and outside the van. He asks for suggestions and, although I have no experience with gasifier design, I have built a few woodstoves and at least thought about putting one in a van; so I offered a few thoughts on the matter. It may be of interest to this site's readership as well, so here are my comments on the subject.

I haven't used a gasifier stove, but I have built and used a few more traditional woodstoves, including one for use in a tent. Based on that, I will offer a few suggestions which may or may not help you.
First, flue size. Most tent stoves use a 4" or 5" flue, depending on the size of the stove. Because a stove for a van would probably need to be on the small side of the tent-stove range, I would suggest using a 4" flue. In fact, when I built my tent stove, what I used was galvanized 4" double-wall flue pipe, of the variety intended for gas appliance venting. This worked perfectly on my stove.
Being galvanized, it needs to be protected from becoming hot enough to burn off the zinc coating, because that produces a toxic gas. That doesn't happen until the pipe becomes glowing hot, so it is not difficult to prevent, especially considering that this particular pipe is double-wall. If any part becomes red-hot, it is likely to be confined to the inner wall, in which case any gas produced will be exhausted to the outdoors.
It is best to use a section of thickwall steel or iron pipe at least 8-12 inches long and permanently attached to the stove itself as the initial flue section; this will better withstand the high temperatures that would occur in that area, and will allow the gases to cool before reaching the galvanized pipe. The thickwall section is also the ideal place to put a flue damper.
This thickwall section can also be wrapped with soft copper tubing, with the lower section of tubing being terminated with a spigot and the upper section being plumbed into a water container such as a stainless-steel stock pot, which is placed higher than the stove. This accomplishes three things: a source of domestic hot water, moderating the hottest part of the stove for safety and longevity, and heat is stored in the water, to be released slowly. Oh, and it's a ready source of water for fire-fighting if necessary, right beside the stove.
Where the flue exits the roof of the van, you will probably want to have a removable 2' section to provide a proper draft, with the section removed and replaced with a cap when underway.
For the air intake, perhaps you could add another short section of 4" heavywall pipe drawing through the floor of the van (well away from the fuel tank, etc.) with another draft control, and a 2" or so iron pipe T-ed into it from the side, with a metal gate valve added, to control intake from inside the van. That way you could fine-tune air intake, outside-inside, by fiddling with the two controls.
As for cooking on the stove, why not? I have a gas stove, but as long as the woodstove is hot anyway for heating, I'm gonna cook on it too and save gas.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cheap cellphones and airtime

'Possum communications! You know, as in no monthly bill, no permanent (or otherwise) address, no signing on the line, etc.
I was in Dollar General a couple of weeks ago and noticed that they have Tracfones for $10, including, I presume, airtime. That caught my eye, but not enough to cause me to pick it up and see how much airtime is included. But then I was browsing Ebay earlier today and saw 60 minute Tracfone cards for 99 cents, with free shipping! Wow! A ten dollar cellphone and service for 1.6 cents per minute! I would have loved that a few years ago when I was living offgrid and using a Tracfone for my telecom needs; I think the phone was about $40 and service was probably 30 cents per minute unless you bought 1000 minutes at a time; then it dropped to maybe 10 cents a minute.
Nowadays I have an actual service contract so I can keep in touch with family and also use it for my business phone (I kept the Tracfone off except when I wanted to actually make a call), but my latest camera-flip-phone stops working as soon as I get more than a mile from a major highway. I'm not kidding. That joker is NOT gonna work on my next trip to Terlingua. However, my previous "plan" phone actually DID work in some areas of Terlingua Ranch. In fact, full-scale in a few areas. While I was there, I mapped out the areas that gave me the best coverage so I would know where to head for when I needed to call home (or anywhere else).
Well, because I'm planning to go back fairly soon and I'm planning a couple of smaller trips even sooner, I started looking at my options for having a working phone in the hinterlands.
First, of course, I looked at Tracfone. It's a good deal, no doubt about it. But I don't know about the performance of their offerings, in terms of range to the tower. I'm sure they have some that perform as well as my old Nokia 6010 program phone, whose performance is not stellar but blows away the flip-phone and, as noted, does work at Terlingua. Maybe the basic Tracfone performs that well; I just don't know. Too bad I gave away my old analog Tracfone. That one would have been great at 1.6 cents per minute! It blew away the 6010, not to mention the flipper.
Then I dug out the old 6010 and powered it up. It did power up, asking for a SIM card. I experimented a bit to see if I could use it to make calling-card calls, as I've read that the old analog phones can do; at least the unlocked ones. No dice. So I looked all over the Internet and found out how to unlock the 6010, which I did successfully. Still no dice. Still it asks for a SIM card. OK, so let's look on Ebay for a SIM card.
There were scads of SIM cards on Ebay! Auctions ending every minute. I ended up buying a pre-activated SIM card that already has a phone number loaded, and includes 150 minutes of airtime, for $7.99 and free shipping. That's 5.3 cents per minute, not as cheap as the Tracfone minutes but cheaper overall for me, since I already had an unused phone. No hassle either; just plug in the card and it is initialized automatically. And, as I've pointed out, I know it works at Terlingua.
OK, but that's not all. Remember my brief mention of my first cellphone, the old analog unit? Also, the mention of using analog phones with a regular phone card. Well, I gave that one away, but there are old analog phones on Ebay. In fact, there are old, analog, 3-watt Motorola BAGPHONES on Ebay! Oh man, but I wanted one of those! I really spend quite a bit of time in areas that no cellphone I've ever had would work in, even the old analog. But a big honkin' bagphone with a big honkin' outside antenna will work out of those areas if anything will! I can imagine aiming a directional Yagi just so and getting multiple bounces off the mountains, burning holes through the foliage and killing myriad small creatures on its way to a full-scale connection with yon distant tower. OK, we're getting a little out of hand with that one but I really do envision being able to connect out of areas I never could before, and with perhaps a little tweaking of the antenna or moving 100 yards in one direction or another, getting a signal just about everywhere on Terlingua Ranch. Being able to make that phone call from my camp instead of driving 5 miles or more to a previously mapped-out hot spot.
I searched all over the Internet and found that lots of people who spend a lot of time "way out there": sailors, Jeepers, campers, loggers etc. have and love these old phones. Apparently, besides the aforementioned use of calling cards, you can take these dinosaurs to at least a few cellular providers (Alltel came up more than once) and set it up for a prepaid account.
So I bought one. 20 bucks, shipping included. At the time that I looked, there were lots of them for sale. I've found that things like that tend to go in cycles, but I don't know if that's true of these. All I know is I didn't want to take a chance on them becoming unobtanium next week, so I jumped while there was plenty of padding, so to speak. You'll notice I didn't mention this until I had mine, mwahahaaa!
I look forward to many happy hours of experimentation with that puppy, and I will of course report my findings right here.