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.

A Reliable Generator in the Eye Of The Storm

Here are a couple of excerpted reports of Indian-made Lister pattern generator sets being used in Belize during and after the Hurricane Dean landfall. There is also mention of the Chinese single-cylinder diesel engines, which I also like. These excerpts were taken from a Lister engine discussion group that I am a member of. Here's the first excerpt:

Monday August 20th 2007

When I got up at 6.30am on Monday, CNN was clearly showing Corozal in the danger area. Most of the banks failed to open. Some opened from 8-9am. Time enough to receive the weekend deposits but not time enough to release funds to desperate home owners who wanted to purchase wood, tarpaulins and other building materials. The ATM’s in Belize (when they work) will only pay out $250 at a time.

As I live in a rented house, the burden of financial loss is minimized. It is a hardship to lose appliances and paperwork, but not a tragedy. Clearly the fate of the building was determined at the time of its construction. This rather strange octagonal house is vulnerable due to its proximity to the ocean and metal roof. The walls are constructed of rebar reinforced concrete block. The roof was originally designed to be a palapa (palm leaf cover) but was changed to tin. The windows have no glass. As the eye of the storm was plotted at 10 miles north of us, storm surges would not be a problem. (Hurricanes rotate anti clockwise so, in this situation, the surge is to the north of the eye). My contribution to preparing for high winds was to screw the wooden shutters shut and to cover the generator sets with tarpaulins. The landlord and I removed the tin roof over the engine shed as it would otherwise be torn off. I also filled the back of my pick up with concrete blocks. At 2pm, a thunderstorm started, but was over quickly. By midnight a tropical storm was blowing.

Tuesday August 21st 2007

I finally went to bed at 1 am. At 3 am I was awoken by a full gale. This rapidly transformed itself into a category 5 hurricane. In the centre of the living room I had fabricated a rudimentary shelter made of a sofa and 2 easy chairs. These were placed upside down and holes drilled in the feet. A rope went through these holes and held the three together. I was unsure if the roof would stay on and this contraption provided an inner sanctuary against flying debris. By 3.15 am I was safely tucked up in this cave made of furniture. The wind kept increasing and water was pouring through any gap anywhere in the building. By 6am, as the eye touched landfall, the roof was "breathing" with the gusts. It would rattle and vibrate and then visibly lift upwards. When the gust was over it would settle back into its normal position. By now there was 2" of water across the floors. This was a bad time. The hurricane was not visible. Any attempt to open a peephole resulted in a flood of incoming water; outside was pitch black with horizontal rain and wind speeds in excess of 100mph. Dawn provided enough light through the cracks to see how the interior of the house was stressed to the max. There are no ceilings so the roof beams and tin roof were easily observable. It seemed that one more gust and the roof would start to peel away. So in true British fashion I struggled out of my cramped (and wet) shelter and put the kettle on the gas stove. Nothing like a cup of tea in a crisis. By 7am the eye had passed and the immediate danger was over. Outside was chaos. The radio station transmission mast was lying on the ground in a pretzel shape. Power and water had disappeared some time in the early morning. Transmission lines were down everywhere and trees were uprooted or snapped in two. On the positive side, my pick up was undamaged and started easily. My neighbors (and landlord) were safe. His boat and van were undamaged. The bar had lost the palapa (palm leaf roof) but was otherwise O.K.

In retrospect I need to have my head examined! Fortunately my experience at sea had permitted me to guess the wind direction accurately and everything had gone to plan. In as much as you can have a plan in 160mph winds. To be in darkness, alone, wet and feeling foolish, as the eye of a class 5 hurricane ripped overhead was exhilarating but not exactly fun.

The Generators

Amazingly both generators were working 30 minutes after the rain stopped. The Listeroid started easily but puked out water for the first three compression strokes and then settled down. The 195 started normally, mainly because its exhaust pipe was in the lee of the storm. As the purpose of staying was to conduct exactly that test, I suppose you can call it a success. The Belize equivalent of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) came to visit just as the 195 was warmed up. They said that they wanted it for the hospital, but we’ll see. As the radio station has no way of transmitting, I will keep the Listeroid for my own use. It is estimated that power will be out for a month.


These generators are tougher than me. Of course they have the distinct advantage of not being prone to bleeding!

Gwyn David Lawrence, Corozal, Belize, Tuesday August 21st 2007

The 195 mentioned is the Chinese 12 hp single cylinder diesel. "Listeroid", of course, is the common name for an Indian-built Lister pattern engine. Most of them are exact copies, with full parts interchangeability with the original.
Here is the next excerpt, a journal of hours of operation and fuel usage of a 6/1 (650 rpm) Listeroid being run at 50% of rated speed, or 375 rpm. These fuel usage numbers are amazing!

The Lister runs derated at 375 RPM -- never missed a single beat.

As for everyone else -- I am still off line -- no phone -- not idea when it
will be back.

The mitch that did not miss was an interesting experiment. I awoke to a
completely renovated situation.

My place got hit real hard -- lost most of my many big food trees -- and it
is steady grueling work everyday cleaning up the mess.

Plus still building gensets -- selling equipments -- though mostly to
Mexicans in Chetumal.

I have some new clients -- all restaurants -- and have been assured if I
ever do find time to go to Chet I never have to worry about going hungry.



Lost Inet :

Last message out: Tue, 21 Aug 2007 03:19 AM


Lost BEL: 2:00 AM

Started Lister

Tue, 21 Aug 2007 02:10:16 -0600 (CST)

To Noon (12:00) Thursday 23 Aug: -- 58 hours continuous - fuel consumption 7
US gal diesel

26.5 liter - 26.5/58 = .456 liter per hour - average

Runs entire house - washing machine - freezer - pump water - lights - radio
fans - computer.

Small side line the kids have going - charging people's cells phones for a
dollar a pop.

Shut down lister for 30 minutes - at 12 noon - to tighten belts and check
oil - all is well.

6:00 AM Aug 24 - start second five gallons - tank ran dry

76 hours continuous.

6:00 AM Aug 25 -- 100 hours

Filled tank

6:00 PM Aug 25 - 112 hours

Filled tank full - last of 2nd 5 gallons

120 hrs = 12 gallons


0.4055798571 liters / hr

Grid power returns 8:00 PM Aug 25 07

Total operation non stop except once for 30 minutes -

114 hrs

To 6:00 PM Thursday 23 Aug: -- hours continuous 64 hrs -- 7.5 gal. -
28.4 liters

28.4/64 = 0.4438 liter per hour fuel consumption.

Grid power returns 8:00 PM

Peter Singfield

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Terlingua Moon News

This is an online newspaper for anyone who is interested in the goings-on in and around the West Texas ghost town of Terlingua.


Saturday, August 25, 2007


In light of the recent discussion about camp showers on the Vandwellers group at Yahoo, I just had to post this. Actually, I had to post this anyway. What a wild-looking (and -sounding) camp shower! I think I would be afraid to get in it. I would rather pump that water into a 55 gallon drum, put a coupla' glugs of Clorox in it to kill any unwanted critters, and then heat it to the desired temperature before pumping it to the shower head. That contraption in the video is just too scary.

What Camping Dogs Do for Fun

About the poll...

The problem with polls using this software, as I see it, is that there is no space for comments. That being the case, this post is my stop-gap solution. If you would like to comment on the poll, please do so at the bottom of this post.
As to what exactly constitutes off-grid, I'll leave that up to you. To me, having a phone line is OK as long as one generates their own electricity and supplies their own water (hauling water is OK, too).
The expired poll about camping has been moved to the bottom of the page, and will eventually (probably) be deleted. Any comments about that poll may be posted here, as well.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

I was just surfing the 'net, and happened upon this blog with some thoughts about 'possum living, which says in part:

"So why use a 'possum as an example of living frugally? By the way, it is 'possum. Only biologists and such use the 'correct' name opossum. Well, a 'possum (the North American variety is the type I'm talking about) is a very resourceful critter. So well adapted to life that they haven't changed for many millennia. I have read about some of the 'possum's ancestors that lived in the same times as the saber-toothed tiger and wooly mammoth. 'Possums that stood 8 feet tall, and could be pretty nasty (Oppossumus maximus nastius?) . But obviously the more diminutive cousin of these monstrosities were better equipped for survival, for I've never heard of a modern day sighting of the big ones.

A 'possum is an omnivore, which is a nice way to say that they'll eat anything. They tend to be nocturnal. The picture I've included shows that even a 'possum can have their cuter moments. But with a long hairless tail, fur that looks like a dirty dustmop and a thin bony face, they'll most likely not win the best looking critter award. But we're talking survival here. If I had my choice between livin' and eatin' versus good looks, I'd take livin' and eatin' every time.

They also have the famous survival tactic of 'playing dead'. I've seen 'possums do this, and it is a strange sight. They go into convulsions, keel over, hang out their tongue and roll their eyes. Sure looked like it was dead to me. Biologists still don't know why they do it, or whether it is really 'playing 'possum', or it is a bodily reaction to stress. But be forewarned, 'possums don't always play dead. Sometimes they get quite aggresive when cornered, and with a mouthful of needle-like teeth they can do some damage. They also on occasion hiss like a snake. A most disagreeable sound. So what possesses a 'possum to decide whether to play dead, hiss, or fight? Nobody knows. Perhaps a 'possum, like a human, gets up on the wrong side of the bed and is cranky, or maybe they just don't want to deal with things. In any case, their defensive mechanisms have no doubt been a factor in the species' longevity.

Some 'possum living skills pointers:

* Live on the cheap. You'd be surprised how little you can live on if you really try.
* Get your priorities straight. You want to keep working all of your life at a job you hate, or do you want the opportunity to be like a 'possum in a persimmon tree? Folks from the south have told me that when the persimmons get ripe, the 'possums are happy. Find out what makes you happy. What are your 'persimmons'?
* Pick your battles wisely. Know when to hiss, to be aggressive, to play dead.
* Don't neglect the night. Sit outside in the dark once in awhile. There are less visual distractions at night, and you can think better.
* Good looks aren't nearly as important as getting enough to eat."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Friday, August 17, 2007


This morning I was reading about the annual Chili Cook-off in Terlingua, and thinking about maybe attending this year. I plan to go there sometime this fall, and that would be as good a time as any. Except for the crowds that is, but that would only last a couple of days.
So anyway, reading about the Cook-off lead me into reading the inevitable discussions about what does and doesn't constitute "real" chili. Now, the very name tells us what it is: "chili con carne" means "chili (peppers) with beef". That not only describes the primary ingredients, but also conveys that it should be hot; otherwise it would be called "carne con chili". It is generally conceded that the beef can be replaced with venison if that's what you have. Beyond that, it degenerates into a brawl between the various camps over whether or not it should have beans, tomatoes, flour, pork instead of beef, the addition of rattlesnake meat, etc. Then there are those who make "mild" chili, "vegetarian" chili. C'mon! If you want to call it "chili con frijoles" or more likely "frijoles con chili", fine but it's NOT chili con carne!
OK, now I've stepped in it; so I might as well tell you what my views are on the subject. First, as noted above, it's GOTTA be hot and it's GOTTA have beef or venison as a primary ingredient. Rattlesnake meat is optional as an addition to, not substitution for, the primary meat. Otherwise it would be "chili con crótalo". Beans? Let me break here to talk a little about what is, to me, more important than the exact ingredients. What are the surroundings? If you are at home in the city, whipping up a gourmet dish for the family, feel free to make chicken chili, vegetarian chili etc. and cook it in an aluminum pot, crockpot or whatever. Also, call it whatever you like; it's your dish. To me, the word "chili" conjures up a crusty old desert rat, sitting in front of his hogan (which may or may not have started as a cheap, run-down travel trailer), cooking himself some grub for the next few days in a cast-iron pot on his fire. He has some chiles that he either grew himself, watering the plant with catchment water, or bought at a roadside market somewhere. Some beef he bought also at a market, or venison he killed in a nearby canyon. Will he have beans? Of course! Beans are a staple for the old codger; he buys them by the 50 lb sack! So I guess beans or no beans in his chili depends on how much meat he has and how far he needs to stretch the chili. If he has plenty of meat (killed a deer in the canyon), he's gonna want to eat as much of it as he can and jerk the rest; so he probably won't add beans. If he doesn't have much meat, just a pound or so of beef, he will probably stretch it with some beans. If he has some fresh or dried tomatoes, he will probably throw some in for variety. And if he kills a rattlesnake that wandered into camp, there's a good chance he'll roast it over the fire and cut it into chunks to add to the chili, because he's too frugal to waste good meat.
So there you have it, my idea of REAL chili!
BTW, all this talk of chili whetted my appetite, so I made some for lunch, as you see in the picture above. I used venison from the freezer, fresh jalapeños and tomatoes from the garden, garlic, sage, oregano, onion, and no beans (this time).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Update: 2 stroke generator

In my review of this generator, it was doing a fine job, despite being unable to start an air conditioner, until it suddenly ceased to have any electrical output. At the time I gave it a thumbs down and subsequently removed the link from my supply store, pending investigation of the problem. I expected the problem to be minor.
Well, I now have the results of my inspection, and the problem was indeed, very minor! One of the two leads to the capacitor had vibrated loose, and was obviously not a tight connection to begin with. I'm gonna replace it with a better quality capacitor while I'm at it, because top quality caps cost money and are an obvious place to save a few bucks on consumer-grade equipment, regardless of where they're made.
That aside, I like this unit! It is, overall, very good quality. In fact, it is substantially better quality than an American made, Tecumseh-engined generator I had a few years ago. That one was so poorly balanced internally that I couldn't keep a muffler on it, and the cooling shroud had to be fastened on with bungee cords. Not only that, but the recoil starter self-destructed early on, so I had to start it using a piece of rope. Finally it tossed the rod out the side of the engine case, and that was that. This cheap, $130 generator is way better quality than that one.
It is dead simple too, by virtue of being a 2-stroke. It is also well-designed in terms of being easy to work on, and parts are cheap and available. You could take this genny and a few well-chosen spare parts into the desert for recharging your battery bank, and chances are good that you could fix anything that could possibly go wrong with it, in an hour's time. Or, cheap and compact as they are, bring a complete spare generator! Then, if you are like the late great Granville King, 20 years from now, a Frankenstein generator built of a few parts from this one, a few parts from that one, and an old Jeep alternator could still be powering your driftwood shack in Baja! Just kidding, but it's possible.
One thing that really impressed me about it is this: Everybody says, rightfully I might add, that an engine with a cast-iron cylinder liner will far outlast an all-aluminum cylinder. On the other hand, the occasional air-cooled engine develops a reputation of being near-bulletproof and almost impossible to wear out because it has an all-cast-iron cylinder. An example of this is the early small Honda motorcycle engine, as in the CT-90. Now, take a good close look at the cylinder in the photo above. See the hard-drive magnet stuck to it? That's right, an all-cast-iron cylinder. Boy, was I surprised!
I'm keeping mine, and I may buy another. I'm not gonna rewind it for lower voltage, but I'm gonna use it to power a 40 amp battery charger, charging my battery bank. That way I can run everything, including the air conditioner, on my inverter. It handles the starting surge of the air conditioner just fine, and the generator will keep the battery bank topped off, while only running about 50% load, at 4.5 hours per gallon of fuel.
If you want one, here's the link.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

FM Wilderness Radio Protocol

I am a ham radio operator and have been for quite a few years. Since the inception of this site it has been my intention to eventually phase amateur radio in for the occasional article, because it is an interest of mine and because it is a very useful communications medium for the beyond-the-crowds and even beyond the pavement travels and lifestyles that this site is about.
I don't know about you, but I spend quite a bit of time in areas that have no cellphone coverage and even if that were not so, I like to have a communications medium that is not dependent on grids and monthly payments.
With all that in mind, I am going to start with a link to an article that has relevance to all amateur radio operators because, even though all Morse code testing requirements have been removed in the US, still not all hams have gotten around to upgrading. Besides that, the radios I am talking about are generally the most affordable, most compact, require only very small antennas, and are really the most all-around useful radios for the purpose anyway.
I am talking, of course, about the ubiquitous HT, small hand-held FM walkie-talkies that are primarily for the 2-meter band. And I am talking about the FM Wilderness Radio Protocol, which this article[Link] describes. So check out the article, then come back and let me know what you think. Non-hams are welcome to comment on the article too; and I'll be glad to answer any questions anyone may have.

Joke: Bungee Jumping

Two guys are bungee-jumping one day.
The first guy says to the second. “You know, we could make a lot of money running our own bungee-jumping service in Mexico.”
The second guy thinks this is a great idea, so the two pool their money and buy everything they’ll need - a tower, an elastic cord, insurance, etc. They travel to Mexico and begin to set up on the square. As they are constructing the tower, a crowd begins to assemble. Slowly, more and more people gather to watch them at work. The first guy jumps. He bounces at the end of the cord, but when he comes back up, the second guy notices that he has a few cuts and scratches. Unfortunately, the second guy isn’t able catch him, he falls again, bounces and comes back up again. This time, he is bruised and bleeding. Again, the second guy misses him. The first guy falls again and bounces back up. This time, he comes back pretty messed up - he’s got a couple of broken bones and is almost unconscious.
Luckily, the second guy finally catches him this time and says, “What happened? Was the cord too long?” The first guy says, “No, the cord was fine, but what the heck is a ‘pinata’?”

Stonehenge Mystery Solved

Monday, August 13, 2007

The 'Possum Truck

This is the 'Possum Truck. Try and imagine this thing getting any uglier! I actually stood it on the front bumper in a rocky stream bed at the bottom of a canyon, with no ill effect. Although, come to think of it, some people would characterize the entire truck as an ill effect!
One thing I like about this truck. When I drive my little Cherokee, some (not all) people driving Priuses (Priuii?) and the like enjoy cutting me off and giving me the one-finger wave, striking a blow against evil SUVs (nevermind that it gets 22 mpg and lasts for decades, thereby not ending up in a landfill nor requiring a replacement to be manufactured); but when I drive THIS one, everybody just stays out of the way!
I would like to get a 4-cylinder Cummins diesel engine for it. Jeeps with those engines get 30 mpg, if geared correctly. Or maybe one of the smaller Detroit Diesels, the old 2-strokes. I read an account recently of a commercial hauler running a 4-53 (4 cylinder, 212 c.i.) in a 16,000 lb gross weight truck and trailer combo that gets 23-24 mpg fully loaded, 27 mpg empty. Those numbers are average over his regular haul of 500 miles, with some hills thrown in, so they are pretty realistic numbers. His empty weight is 8700 lbs, which is close to what my truck would be fully loaded and headed for a camping trip in Baja.

Baja Breakdown Blues

You never know what's gonna happen in Baja, or in the States, for that matter. This is one of the reasons I prefer getting an old vehicle and building it up. If it's already old, ugly and built by me, I'm not too worried what it's gonna look like after I fix it. That's a nice truck, but think what it would cost to put it back like new. With a "'possum truck" you would pull everything back together with the Hi-Lift jack, hook up the (homebuilt, of course) onboard welder, and weld up some new spring mounts out of scrap metal you cut off another part of the truck. After all, you probably built the original spring mounts to begin with; or at least I did when I put 1-ton axles under my Wagoneer.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Eqiupment Review: Amico 1000/1200 Watt Portable Generator

Product review: 1000/1200W 2-cycle portable generator

For a couple of years, I've been curious about those low-priced, imported 2-cycle generators. They seem to be just the thing for camping and other occasional, light-duty use. The main recurring question, for me, has been: Will they run an air conditioner? Of course, there's no way they could run a very big one; in fact, only the very smallest, 5000 btu air conditioner has any chance whatever of running on one of these units.
Actually, the problem is not will the genny run an air conditioner, but rather will it start it. After all, most new 5000 btu air conditioners are rated at only about 600 watts input; well within the capability of a generator rated 1000 watts continuous. The problem is the starting surge. Any electric motor draws far more current momentarily when starting, than it does in continuous running; from 3 to 5 times as much, in fact.
To that end, I ordered one of these little generators, for my own use while camping and to review it for this article. Now, I have bigger generators, including three that are diesel-powered, but most of what I have isn't very portable. What I needed was something small and light that would charge batteries and run a few other incidentals including, hopefully, a small air conditioner in my wall tent while camping in the Outer Banks during crab season, for example, or in my travel trailer at Terlingua Ranch.
The generator arrived in just a few days, well packaged and complete with a well-written, English-only owner's manual. I was impressed with the support network of the distributor, Amico International. They have a physical address in California, a toll-free phone number, fax number, and webpage ( On their webpage they not only show their products, but also repair parts should those products require service. The generator I bought has a one-year warranty.
The generator has the look and feel of quality; and it starts easily and runs smoothly. So, did it run the air conditioner?
I tried it with two different 5000 btu window units, and it wouldn't start either one. It also wouldn't start a 20 cubic foot, older refrigerator I tried it with.
So what WILL it run? Well, surprisingly, it will start my 2 1/2 hp, 7 1/4" circular saw, and cut 2" thick lumber without a hitch. It runs my 9.6 amp Sawzall, cutting steel pipe. Or anything else I need to cut with it. It runs my portable electric heater, on low (high consumes 1500 watts; well beyond rated capacity). It runs my 9.3 amp microwave oven, my small hot-pot, my toaster, 900 watt 12-cup coffeemaker, 800 watt George Foreman grill, several crock-pots at the same time, a hot-plate; actually any combination of non-inductive loads up to 1000 watts continuously and 1200 watts for a short time. Non-inductive loads means pretty much everything except electric motors; although light bulbs and resistive heating elements do have some inductance, it's not enough to substantially increase start-up current draw. And as demonstrated with the circular saw, a surprising amount of inductive load can be tolerated.
OK, but what about a computer? Obviously, a laptop is no problem; they are designed to run on little power. But a desktop? Well, as I type this and surf the Internet, I am running my desktop PC, a 20" box fan, and a '70s Lava Lamp on the little genny.

Shortly after I wrote that last, I was powering about 850 watts of continuous, resistive load to conduct a fuel economy test when, after about 5 minutes, output ceased. The engine still runs fine, but no output. The problem is not the circuit breaker; I checked that and no power is making it to the breaker. I could send it back for a warranty return, but instead I'm going to delve into it and figure out the problem. All parts for this unit are available and cheap, so I'm gonna save shipping and fix it myself. In fact, I may rewind it for 1000 watts at a lower voltage; say 24 volts at about 40 amps to power a 24 volt inverter with a large capacitor added to give surge capacity. That would make it equivalent to those $500 and up "inverter technology" portable gennys that WILL start an air conditioner. I look forward to a lot of fun playing with this little genny and will add updates as I learn more, but for now I can't recommend this particular unit. I will leave the link up in my store for a short time in case anyone else wants to experiment with one, then remove it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Overheard on the Lister Group

Peter's friend personifies the term 'possum living. The picture is of the type of engine he is talking about, but with the "light farm wheels". I posted his comments as-is with no editing, as I feel it adds character.

"Hi all, My pals engine is a Lister 6-1, it's from about 1950/60 it has
the generator big heavy wheel on(not the light farm wheels) He had a
Honda genny that went up in smoke but the alt was ok. He wants to have
it sorted for the winter coming,(the speed that he doze thing, he needs
to start now)he has not money and lives off the mains in a cabin in the
UK. Don't feel sorry for his, hee no bills, not phone, not wife &
kids,what he doze have is homemade wine, funny smelling tobacca and a
fat dog that will not shift its arse from the woodburning stove. And I
ask myself who has it wrong,
My pal is not a hobo but someone that sick of being shafted by the gas
co, electricity co, water co and the government.
I'll be going to see him today with his milk, cheers"

Peter Hynman

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Now, THIS is an interesting development!

A few weeks ago, I posted this story [Link] about a bicycle vagabond I saw on the highway. This morning, I received this comment (edited for typos; original post left unchanged):
Anonymous said...

Sorry to report that you were snookered. I am a Park Ranger in Indiana, and on 8-6-07 this Michael Prophet was found camped in a county park. After hearing much the same story you report, I moved him to an actual campsite where he would be safe and where showers, etc. were available; and made plans to provide breakfast. All that was pending the outcome of a routine background check to see if he was who and what he said he was.

Turned out he did not spend 27 years in the AF, but did spend some hard time in prison in two states; including a long term stay in CA for a murder. He also had four outstanding warrants for theft charges. A search of his gear found drug paraphernalia, pornography and weapons.

He is now in jail waiting transfer on the warrants.

I found your site during my research on his story. Please be more careful when you meet strangers. You may be lucky to have not been harmed.

August 7, 2007 10:09 AM

The kneejerk reaction to this is; "Gee, I'm lucky this horrible criminal didn't attack me! We're all so lucky to have so many heroic authority figures around to protect us from people like this!"
Sorry. I don't see it that way. I have nothing against the ranger who posted this comment; I'm sure he is doing his job to the best of his judgment. I also don't doubt that he is who he says he is; the timing is correct. However, the way it apparently happened leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
First, let me say that this "Michael Prophet" is obviously no angel. I didn't think so at the time that I met him; there were just too many inconsistencies in his story. However, rather than think of him as a serial murderer by whom I was lucky not to have been robbed and murdered, let's look at the facts as presented and consider what could be the reality.
1. He did hard time in California for murder. OK. Definitely a bad thing, but probably not 1st degree murder; otherwise he would still be in prison. So what was it? Vehicular homicide? Or was he, perhaps, passed out on heroin in the back seat of a "friend's" car when that "friend" murdered somebody in a drug deal? That would not be a good thing, but not Charles Manson either.
2. Prison time in another state. Nothing about murder this time. Drug charges? Burglary, to support a drug habit (the ranger did say drug paraphernalia was found in his possessions)? Again, not a shining example of humanity, but he apparently did his time.
3. Theft warrants. Well, he wasn't packing a car in that cart. Nor a big-screen TV. What did he allegedly steal (warrants don't equal convictions)? Food, perhaps?
Look, this guy probably needs to be in jail, but there's no way we can know for sure from the information given. If he has prior felony counts, it is a certainty that he would not have been released after 30 days had he been actually caught and arrested for anything, no matter how minor.
I guess my whole problem with this is that he was arrested after a "routine background check" after he was rousted for camping without specific authorization. That's just a little too East Germany for my taste. Had he been arrested because someone saw his picture on my site and matched him with the arrest warrant, I wouldn't have a problem with it.
One more thing. I don't need an authority figure watching out for me. If none of us ever approached a stranger without a cop looking over our shoulders, we would be in pretty sad shape, not to mention having way too many cops to have any measure of freedom or privacy.
If you look closely at the pictures, you can see that he had a side-handle baton fastened to the right side of the basket on his bicycle. That is a weapon. I saw it at the time, too, and wasn't bothered by it. I was polite, asked his permission to interview him and take photos; and I also stayed out of immediate reach, between my vehicle and him, and didn't leave the keys in my vehicle. I wasn't born yesterday, and I don't need the advice of an authority figure before interfacing with another person.
My apologies to the ranger, but I'm just telling it like I see it.
Comments, anyone?