Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wanted

Anyone out there have a small trailer for sale? I'm looking for something with about 4-5' wide and 8' long.

Thanks.
-Merriwether

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Eye of the Beholder

What a peice of junk!
-Luke Skywalker upon seeing the Millennium Falcon for the first time.

Mal: Ship like this, be with you till the day you die.
Zoë: Because it's a death trap.
Mal: That's not— You are very much lacking in imagination.
Zoë: I imagine that's so, sir.

Zoe to Capt. Mal in Firefly

So...Seeker's Fate...
-Long time reader LoneStar-C upon seeing Seeker's Fate in real life.

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Proudly I paddle.

I've had and epiphany.

I think sometimes I can be somewhat..irrational.

No, really! In reflection, it's the only explanation I have for certian choices I've made in my life. This was made apparent to me this last weekend as a group of us paddled down Spring Creek. It was me, long-time reader LoneStar-C, his wife Valkyrie, and his dad Fuzzy Buster.

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LoneStar-C and Family

We met under the I-45/Spring Creek bridge and talked for a bit before launching. LoneStar-C said he felt a little weird as he's been reading this blog for 18 months and felt like he knew me really well while I didn't know anything about him. Personally, I thought that was pretty cool, like I was a celebrity or something! Valkyrie then gave me a breakfast taco, which in my book makes them friends for life! It was a really good taco, I think from Whataburger. Man, just thinking about that taco makes me want to put on some clothes and go get another. Uh, but I digress...

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One of these things is not like the other...

We hit the water at 10am. The air temperature was 49F and the water was 54F with a flow rate of 305cfs. Perfect! We'd only been in the water a few moments when a beaver-ish looking creature jumped off the bank and swam under our boats. I didn't get a good look at it other than it was brown, bigger than a nutria and not an alligator. Anyway, it was definately a good sign of things to come.

Of course, reader of this blog know that one thing coming up was "The Strainer", the remains of an old railroad bridge.

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Stay on target...

The above picture is from a previous trip. The only difference this last weekend was that recent high water had deposited a wall of branches across the widest channel and we were forced to shoot through a narrower path off to the left.

It was a blast! Whoosh-bang-chunk-chunk and we shot through! It's the closest thing to whitewater on the creek so we make the most of it.

After that it was just hours of thick woods, big sandy beaches, birds, turtles, and the usual feral hogs. LoneStar-C and Valkyrie saw a pack of seven pigs but by the time I reached the spot they were gone. Bummer.

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Perfection.

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More perfection.

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And the perfection continues...

Astute reader may notice that in the previous pictures my canoe wasn't pointed in quite the same direction as the kayaks. A small wind had come up which continually blew my raised front end off track. Meanwhile the kayaks were sliding through the water like Corvettes on a lonesome praire road.

It took us an hour to paddle to the Peckinpaugh Nature Preserve off Riley Fuzzle Road. Two more kayakers we getting ready to launch but they held off for a while so as to have a less crowded trip. Also standing on the shore was a man with two small girls. They waved and the man called out, "You must be Merriwether!".

Wow, I'm a SUPERSTAR!!

Actually, the man was Wildcat who I know via an internet forum and as a commentor to this blog but have never met in person. Still, it's nice to be recognized by strangers. Sorry Wildcat, I wasn't able to get a picture of you to add here. Hopefully next time, then you too can live the life of an internet star! Fame! Um, I'm still waiting on the "Fortune!" part but I'm sure it'll be here soon. Heck, I'm averaging over 200 hits a day! Some company has got to see the potential of me hawking their wares! C'mon! Sportsman's Guide? Major Surplus and Survival? Sierra Trading Post? Somebody, please?

Damn.

Uh, anyway, back to Spring Creek.

We beached our boats for lunch on one of the many sandy shores. Driftwood, dry grass, and dead branches wer lit to cook our food. I had brought along some Zatarain's Jambalaya with Sausage Complete Meal which I heated up in boiling water then spooned into pocket bread to eat. Yummy! Then Fuzzy Buster loaded me up with polish sausages cooked over our campfire, making me his friend for life. food will get you a long ways with me...

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The world's most perfect lunchroom.

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Build a fire.

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Our kitchen.

We kicked back eating, talking and soaking up sun for an hour and a half, then quenched the fire with water and buried it in sand. It was sometime after 2pm and our take out point, Jesse H. Jones Park, closed at 5pm (winter hours). The river was flowing at a good clip but the wind, coupled with my ancient, heavy beast of a canoe kept blowing me off course. I had to paddle twice as hard as the kayakers to keep up with them.

It was great! Doing something easy is, well, too easy. For me, it's not an adventure unless it's hard. Seeker's Fate, in many ways, is a complete pain in the ass. She's a B**ch to get loaded up on our Honda Pilot, especially if it's just me doing it. She weighs almost twice that of modern canoes/kayaks so carrying her down to the water is a back-breaking chore. She's battered and leaking from fifty years of abuse. She's ugly as sin. Many times I dream of having some sleek, fast, LIGHT boat, especially as she scratches up the side of Misseswether's Pilot as she crashes to the ground while I try to load her on the roof...

But...I love every square inch of her.

I love the looks of disdain she gets from unknown paddlers as they fly by in their $$$, NASA-designed kayaks. I love the exasperation of forum members as they try to convince me to dump her and buy some kelvar wonder-canoe. I love the feeling of success I have after struggling her over logjams. I love the bragging rights of saying, "Yeah, things didn't turn out as planned and I ended up having to carry her half a mile..."

It's totally irrational. Why do I want such a pain in my life? For a few hundred bucks I could have something thirty pounds lighter. Something easy to throw up on the roof, carry down to the water, or paddle by myself...

But...I love Seeker's Fate.

When I look at her I see all the miles we've gone, all the beauty we've passed, all the danger's we've struggled through, all adventure's we've had. I don't see her dents, globs of JB Weld, or the damage she's done to the wife's Pilot...

It's totally irrational.

Oh well.

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Onwards

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Those golden hours of a life lived well...

We paddled and talked. It was great. Fuzzy Buster, Valkyrie and LonStar-C are some of the nicest adventurers you could hope to meet. We swapped paddling and hiking locations, stories of adventures, and views of the world. This made the time go by far too fast. At 3:30pm we reached the new boat landing at Jesse H. Jones park. Now instead of a dirt path up the straight up the side of a 20' cliff there was a long, gentle cement ramp. SWEET!!

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Way easy, except for the incredibly heavy canoe.

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"Wow...it made it."

Fuzzy Buster offered to ferry Seeker's Fate home on his incredible, home-built kayak trailer. In doing so he also won the heart of Misseswether who could then let Mambowether continue to nap rather than load up the girls and drive half an hour to pick up a muddy, smelly Merriwether. We loaded up the Kayaks and the canoe, strapped everything down and headed home.

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Built by Fuzzy Buster! Note Seeker's Fate place of glory on top...

On the way home we crossed over Cypress Creek where it crosses under the Hardy Toll Road. I mentioned someday I want to paddle Cypress Creek from there to Hwy 59. In my searches I could find no record of anyone nuts enough to try that.

They all offered to make the trip with me. I think this was the start of a beautiful friendship...

Adventure! Excitment! Irrationality!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Piney Woods Primitive Skills Group

Well, the fossil hunting trip fell through do to a rather unpleasent kidney infection suffered by my friend's wife (note to friend: do you have a nickname you want me to use or can I just call you Dr. Enzymizer?). The trip has been rescheduled for next Sunday, but with all the rain forcasted we might push it off farther into the future.

Luckily, I had a past adventure waiting as back-up. No, not something I did already, I mean adventuring like the past. No, not "in the past". I'm talking about adventuring the old fashioned way, like they did 5,000 years ago...

Introducing the Piney Woods Primitive Skills Group!

Remember that debris shelter I found out by Spring Creek? Well, the builder of this shelter has started up a group devoted to learning/teaching skills such as identifing edible plants, fire making, flint knapping, bow making, etc... The leader, ForestMuse, and one other member are graduates of Tom Brown Jr.'s Tracking School along with twenty years of adventuring along the banks of Spring Creek. Better still, they are really funny, nice guys. The plan is to meet two Sunday afternoons each month out at Peckinpaugh Nature Preserveout on Old Riley Fuzzel Road. Hopefully we'll also squeeze in some overnight adventures, too.

Come and join us!

Adventure! Excitement! Replacing football with something much better!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

More Notes On the Woodgas Stove

A number of people have asked what cans I used to make my wood gasifier stove. Since I didn't do any adventuring this weekend I'll just write a more about the stove. Those of you who aren't interested in this will just have to hold on until next weekend when I get back from another trip hunting for fossils.

Oh, one other thing before I get started. Summer Glau was born to play a Terminator!

Okay, now that the important part of this post is out of the way, let's talk cans. Misseswether stopped letting me do the grocery shopping because I'd buy foods based on the shape of the can it came in (anchovy cans are great for buddy burners for use in Esbit stoves). I think all the Hi-C and baked beans I bought while optimizing this stove probably lead to he denying me grocery store privileges. She's a wonderful, patient woman but I guess sometimes I can push the envelop a bit..

Um, back to cans. The outer shell came from a 50oz Hi-C can. A number of different juices and soups come in 50oz steel cans. Look over in the "big can" section of the grocery store fo Campbell's soup or ketchup. You can have lots of fun with 50oz of ketchup, uh, though you might end up putting a bit of unnecessary stress on your marriage...

The next can you need is a 24oz can of Baked Beans for the chimney. You can also find chili in cans of this size. Both are good but the beans are significantly cheaper. This is something to keep in mind if your Dremel-tool skills are a little rusty.

The burner can started out life as a 150z can of asparaguus. I'd like to take a momment to put forth this warning about canned asparagus (though I actually doubt the warning will be necessary). Canned asparagus tastes/feels like ropes of slimey cat puke. I reccomend dicing it up and hiding it in some sort of heavy cream sauce and then "accidently" burn the sauce. "Oops, I'm sorry. I burned the asparagus cream sauce. How about we just order a pizza?" is a good line to use. Everyone would chose pizza over burned cream/cat puke sauce. Truely a win-win situation, just like they teach in "Seven Habits of Highly effective People". You look like a super cook for trying to make aspargus cream sauce, everyone actually gets pizza, and you now have the perfect can for the burner unit of a wod gasifier stove. It's thinking like this that got me to where I am today.

No! Not drunk behind a computer keyboard! I mean that whole scientist thingy I do.

Okay, the final can I used was the aluminum bottle of Fire Elements Energy Drink that I found in a garbage can next to a tennis court. Hey, think of it as recycling! The heat's it's been subjected to has purified it (I think). If you are squeemish about digging drinking bottles out of public garbage cans I guess you can buy a bottle of the stuff. Seems kind of a waste seeing as they are laying around all over the place.

So there you have it, everything you need to know to make a batch loaded inverted downdraft wood gasifier stove. A word of warning though, building camp stoves can become an addiction. It's quite possible that by this summer you'll be making excuses to buy the 7lb can of pickels or jumping up and down in joy at finding an old metal can used to keep tennis balls pressurized. Those cans rock! The size and shape of modern Pringles cans but able to withstand the blast of several grams worth of of blackpower which would send tennis balls (or the occasional potato) soaring of across the neighborhood. True, modern PVC potato guns are pretty impressive to most people nowdays, but they shoot what, maybe an 1" diameter slug of potato? Now imagine a whole Russet baking potato flying out of the end of three tennis ball cans wrapped in duct tape...

Uh, but I digress...

Adventure! Excitement! Cans!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Lunching in the Sky with Diamonds

Okay, maybe not diamonds but rather hydrocarbons. Hey, it's all carbon and right now they both have about the same value (though Misseswether got really upset when tried painting a ring around her finger with crude oil, but I digress).

So, today I got to have lunch at The Petroleum Club which is a private club for people in the oil business. It's currently located on the 43 floor of the ExxonMobil Building in downtown Houston. The exterior of the building is pretty ugly but inside it's a hardwood and marble thing of beauty.

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Good food, too.

I was there to hear a seminar about the economical, technical, legal, and emotional problems facing the CO2 sequestering business. (editor's note: this is just a ten dollar way of saying "stashing greenhouse gases underground"). One of my research projects is tied into this so it made sense to see what others were saying about it. What was said was "Maybe, maybe not."

Hey, sometimes I can be brief.

Anyway, the really cool thing about this place, in my opinion, was the views outside the windows. Forty-three stories is a long ways up!

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Nice!

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Pretty!

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Cool!

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Hmmm, kind of bland.

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Starting to get ugly.

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My truck, which Miniwether has named "Red Rider" after her BB gun.

Today has been a very good day.

Adventure! Excitement! Hobnobbing!

Greetings Makers!

Wow, I've had over 1,410 hits today! www.makezine.com really liked my post about the flying saucer my brother made from two 10' microwave signal dishes. Of course, I was hoping they'd like my woodgas stove but I guess they prefer devices of interplanetary travel rather than greenhouse gas emitters. Oh well.

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Two discarded microwave transmitter dishes: free
Four portholes: $28
Interior wooden floor: $16
Welded steel landing gear: $30
Sending your kids off into space: PRICELESS

Anyway, greetings to all the Makers coming for a look. I hope you aren't too disappointed.

Adventure! Excitement! Swarmed!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Homemade Wood Gasifier Stove Revisited

Nothing beats a campfire when out in the woods. Unfortunately there are times/places where such a primitive joy is not allowed or just unsafe. This means if you want some hot food you need to use a stove of some sort. Being infatuated by camping gear and fire has resulted in a good variety of stoves cluttering my shelves. The quest for a perfect campstove has led me to the realization that, like many other tools, there's not one perfect stove for all situations (though the Swedish Trangia is close, especially when lightened up some).

If I just want to boil water and not carry any fuel I like the wood gasifier stove I made from assorted cans.

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Batch-loaded inverted down-draft wood gasifier stove.

This is a neat little stove. You throw a handful of 2" twigs in the burner unit, light the pile at the top, give it a few minutes to get burning well then place the water bottle on top of this little volcano. The science behind it is really neat. The fire burns from the top down but air is drawn from the bottom. The air passes by the fire and on it's way to the bottom of the stove and get heated up very hot by the fire. This hot air volitilizes the flammable compounds in the wood (methanol and assorted other molecules) which then burn at the top of burner unit. The twigs are converted to charcoal by this process and once all the flammable components have been burned this charcoal ignites and continues to supply extremely high heat. The charcoal burns down to a fine ash which is easy to hide.

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Bad artist's representation of the system. The air is the blue/purple/red lines being drawn down through the gap between the burner unit (dark gray) and the outer wall (medium gray). Most of the heat travels up through the chimney (light gray) over the surface of the aluminum water battle (orange).

As I mentioned earlier, this was made from assorted cans. The biggest was from the largest sized Hi-C drink can, the chimney was made from a large can of baked beans and the burner unit was made (IIRC) from a tall asparagus can. The water boiling can was from an aluminum sport's drink bottle and the mesh shelf in the burner unit was just a peice of "expanded metal" screen.

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Parts

The burner unit holds the twigs. To make it cut four 1"x1" vents in the bottom of the asparagus can. Fold the tabs inward to make ledges for the screen shelf to rest. A set of four 1/4" vent holes are also drilled in the can about 1.5" from the top.

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Burner unit, side view.

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Burner unit looking down from top.

Next comes the outer shell. This is made from the Hi-C can which is just about an inch larger in diameter than the asparagus can. The top is removed but the bottom of the can is left intact. Cut four larger (2.5" tall x 1" wide) and four smaller (1.5" tall x 1" wide) vents around the top of this can. The burner sits down inside the outer shell. When the burner is inside the shell air can only eneter the burner after it's been drawn down between the burner and the outer shell.

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Burner (with sticks) and outer shell, separated for picture.

For this to work properly you also need a high chimney. The chimney increases the draft produced by the stove which makes it burn hotter. It also forces the produced heat into more contact with the boiling container. The chimney is made from the large baked beans can with both ends removed. This can should be around 1/4" or so smaller in diameter than the Hi-C can but larger than the asparagus can. Three wire skewers peirce the chimney about 1.5" inches from the bottom. These skewers form both the rack the water boiler sits on and also keep the chimney from sliding down over the burner can.

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The chimney.

The chimney is placed on the stove after the top of the twigs have begun burning well. I like using a cotton ball rubbed with a bit of petroleum jelly as the tinder to get the twigs lit. After the chimney is on the water boiler gets placed down it. Less than ten minutes later you'll have vigorously boiling water.

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Fire!

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Burning charcoal.

I'm not sure of the weight of this stove, maybe someday I'll bring it into my lab to weigh. The benefits of this stove are fuel (twigs) are usually easy to find, it produces just a small amount of ash and almost no smoke when burning properly, and heats water suprisingly fast. On the downside it is rather large/bulky in shape, lighting the twigs can be tricky the first few times, it isn't nearly as effective at cooking food in a pot as it is at boiling water, and you have to let everything burn completely before reloading it with twigs. The last isn't ever a problem if you are just boiling water.

Safety note: The bottom of this stove gets pretty hot so don't set it on anything flammable or use the stove inside your tent.

Adventure! Excitement! Piping Hot Cup Of Tea!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Well, that wasn't the hit I expected.

Okay, so my parents are down from Minnestoa. They like to come down every year for the winter holidays. You know, Christmas-New Year's Eve-Valentines Day...

But that okay. They are very easy going and we get free baby sitting out of the deal! (side note: Enchanted was hysterically wonderful but The Golden Compass was pretty lame)

Due to the amazingly full lives we lead last Saturday was the only freel, uninterrupted day we had where we could spend it together. This means one thing in the Merriwether household: Road Trip!

Which turned out to be not such a good idea...

In theory running down to Galveston Island for the day sounded really good. We'd done it in the past many times. Of course, those many times were before the addition of two kids and before my parents entered their mid-70's. That changes things some. Even Misseswether was lukewarm on the idea. Really, only Miniwether and I were excited. I hoped once we got there the others would remember how much fun it was.

Fun is a lot harder to have when you are juggling bladders 22 to 900 months old.

Fun is a lot harder to have when certian areas of the beach we used to go have been converted over to private beaches.

Fun is a lot harder to have when the wife isn't sold on the idea.

But fun is easy to have when you are under five and get to play at the beach.

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The joy of collecting stuff washed ashore.

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I wish you could hear their squeals. It's definately music to daddy.

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"Give me the fricken camera!" says Misseswether.

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Poppawether and Momawether soaking up some rays.

After an hour on the Galveston beach I made the mistake of loading everyone back into the Honda Pilot to take the free ferry over to Bolivar Peninsula. On the plus side, Miniwether was able to get a seagull to take some bread from her hand. The downside is once over to the peninsula we drove for over an hour trying to find a beach that was still open to the public. After enough complaining from the passengers I turned around and we went back to the beach on Galveston Island.

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Ferry Seagulls

So long story short, next time we'll just spend the day playing cards then go out for Chinese food.

Adventure! Excitement! Prolonged Wetness!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

$400 Up In Smoke

What?
I and two other neighbor/husbands as our wives glared at us.

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Ah, mortars. Is then anything more wonderful than launching these warheads into the sky to explode in a brilliant rainbow of sparks?

Yep. Dropping them down a storm sewer!! Me and my neighbors were able to light off three down in the sewers before our wives made us stop. Oh well, it just makes that forbidden fruit so much sweeter!

So anyway, Happy New Year!!! We celebrated the change in years via our normal, excessively smokey manner. Nothing closes one year/opens another quite like a blackpowder orgasim. Mortars, sparklers, fountains and firecrackers! We lit up the sky (uh, and the sewers) like a bad day in Bagdad. It was a thing of beauty! I fire off the big stuff while Misseswether supplies the neighborhood children with gobs of sparklers. A few neighbors chip in for the fireworks and the rest keep me well supplied with Crown Royal and Coke (and margaritas, beer, rum and Cokes, and some sort of poofy fruit/alcohol mixture). Come midnight the sky lights up enough to cause the streetlights to turn off. Oh yeah, and there's lots of kissing then, too.

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The night is just beginning.

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Hottest wife in the 'hood!

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The elder Clarkette.

It took us almost two hours to blow everything up and once again there were no injuries. Misseswether runs a tight ship and strictly forbids any unsafe play with the fireworks and sparklers.

But I still love her.

Adventure! Excitement! Ka-Booms!!