Thursday, November 17, 2011

Vacation - Costa Maya

Costa Maya is a resort type area on the southern Mexican coast. I say resort type area because it was mostly wiped out by a hurricane in 2008. Its a strange looking kind of place now, the roads are still there but clearly most of the buildings are gone. They've started to rebuild but clearly it will be a long time.

We were thinking Costa Maya would be a good beach day but the shore excursion from the ship was $50 each for the day which we thought was pretty pricey. So we walked around the inevitable shopping area for awhile to get the feel of the place. Angie scored some silver jewelry for a good price and we found people offering a beach excursion for $25 apiece. We ended up on Tequila Beach. The $25 gets you a beach chair, access to the ocean, paddle boats, kayaks and all you can drink. Food is extra of course.
The bar was good, the music was good, the weather was fantastic. I talked to some New Yorkers that were on a Carnival ship that said they made sure to always go to this beach when they were in Costa Maya and I'm inclined to agree with them.

Of course we drank too much and didn't use enough sun screen, had to make sure everybody knew we were Americans after all ;).

Outside of the big shopping area by the cruise ship docks theres even more shopping and these crazy statues.

I don't remember if they were all feet but thats what it looks like from the pictures I took:
If you know more about them I'd like to hear it.

The look

Decided I didn't like the new type look. It felt like I couldn't control it well. Hope nobody minds too much.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Frickin Blogger

That Belize City post was a bastard to get out. For some reason Blogger decided I didn't want the text of the first few sentences to have any color. Why the hell wouldn't I want it all to show up? Then it decided I wanted it all to be part of the picture link. I'd forgotten about the "edit HTML" tag in the blog editor...

Anyway I've got 2 more ports of call, Costa Maya and Cozumel but I'll save those for later when I'm not pissed at Blogger.

Vacation - Belize City

From Roatan we went to Belize City in Belize. Belize City is also brutally poor. We went cave tubing there and to get to the cave you ride ~40 miles in a bus which was clearly retired from service in the US before heading down south. Those 40 miles show you some slums and plenty of poor folks in them. The cave tubing itself was awesome, the water was cool but not cold and the hike in was through beautiful rain forest which is only just recovering from a fire a few years ago. We booked our tour through the travel agency but if I were to do it again I'd use, their equipment was superior and they hiked in farther so they got a longer ride on the river. Our guide wasn't anything exciting, he tried but... is also about half the price.

We had to tender into Belize City which means you get on to a smaller boat and ride in to the dock which is too small to handle big cruise ships. I quite enjoyed the trip on the smaller boat, the pilots we had were amazing. Its great to watch somebody who really knows how to handle such a craft.
Belize City has the same sort of touristy area that Roatan does but unlike Roatan its not really safe to go wandering real far from the dock. I did see some little shopping areas but we didn't know what to expect with the cave tubing and hadn't brought much money or our camera.

Instead I'll give you a picture of me on the upper deck of the ship. Off to the upper right is the bridge and this is by far the windiest point on the ship, or at least the windiest portion that passengers are allowed on. Strangely the wind is in my face although I'm facing the rear of the ship which is headed at about 20mph in the same direction as the camera. When I jumped, as I did just after the picture was taken, I'd go backwards a good 2 feet.

Vacation! - Roatan

I've mentioned our camp in Maine a few times in relation to my homesteading idea. The thing about having land and a cabin is that you end up putting a lot of time into it. Dad and I inherited the camp in 2002 and since then its pretty much taken up all our vacation time. Twice a year my parents and Angie and I go up there and spend a week basically working on the place but also relaxing. Dad and I usually go for another week in November to hunt deer.

This year is Angie and my tenth wedding anniversary so I figured it was time for us to take a "real" vacation that didn't involve us staying in a little cabin with my parents. So I booked us a week on the Norwegian Star out of Tampa.

This is Roatan, its a little island off the coast of Honduras. If you look behind us you can see a bunch of trash on the ground, thats pretty much what Roatan is like. What you can't see, off to the right of the picture, is a number of old bums drinking rum. Roatan is poor, like dirt floor, no door, back is sore, nobody's sure, nothing is pure kind of poor. It reminds you how much you've got.

The boat docked at Roatan as it did at all our ports except Belize City. Just off the dock theres a big shopping area. Considering how poor Roatan is you quickly realize that most of the people that live there never get to buy anything in the shopping area.

I wanted to get out of the tourist trap so we headed out on the street and Angie was quickly grabbed by Jeff who got her to take him on as a guide.

Here's Jeff and Angie on a little ramshackle dock out in front of a bar. Jeff took us into town where Angie shopped some, then he lead us around a little loop into a brutally poor section of town. I presume he did this because its where he lives and the area he knows best. I wouldn't have gone into the area on my own as I'm generally the wrong color and I don't speak any Spanish which would generally be a problem. Toward the end we had a quick lunch of Iguana which it turns out are endangered. Knowing that now I realize we shouldn't probably have been eating it but its legal, or at least not a problem, the restaurant had a sign proclaiming iguana...
After Angie overpaid Jeff we found the "Made in Roatan" shop which is run by a Canadian couple Debi and Bob. Bob is a pastor and they're using this shop to give back to the community. You can find out more about it on their Blog Probably the best thing about buying stuff in the Made in Roatan shop is that you know the items were actually made in Roatan and not in a Guatemalan sweat shop or worse in China. Many of the knick knacks we found were labeled with "made in China" and some had spots where the label had clearly been removed. Plus this benefits the community more directly since Bob and Debi don't make money off the shop.

After spending three days worth of money in three hours we collapsed back in our state room. I couldn't believe how little time had gone by.

Originally I was going to make just one post about this vacation but I've quickly realized I have too much to say so I'll break it up by our ports of call. As always I'll label my posts, just search for "vacation" to find them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Somedays you're the windshield, some days you're the bug...

Tim texted me Sunday with a good looking lantern, big hat, nickle base. I said "Get it!" which he did. Today he delivered, what a deal right?
I think its a 220C. With 5 and 5 on the bottom it could well be a war year lantern.

This afternoon I was fortunate to have a little time on my hands and started to disassemble. The burner tubes are missing but I've got a couple from a parts lantern. The air tube is tweaked a little but not enough to really bother anything. Needs new valve packing and has an interesting square valve stem.

Finally I get the burner frame and collar off and...
Yup, the hole goes right through. Gives an interesting insight into what the innards look like but means this fount is trash.

Its clearly a drilled hole but why is it there? My only theory is that somebody drilled it in preparation for converting this lantern to electric. The odd thing is there really ought to be another hole out the bottom. Did they run the cord out the fuel cap? Its the wrong one for this lantern.

All this explains the slipshod quickie way the lantern was reassembled and probably the missing burner tubes too.

Oh well, at least I didn't pay a lot.


Model railroading folks will buy models and then end up modifying them. Maybe the model is too modern or too clean or too, I dunno, square... They call this modification "kitbashing" so when I took a Coleman Alcohol bottle and modified it so it wasn't a piece of crap I liberated the term.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On cooking

In previous posts about my crazy homesteading idea I talked about having fuel to get me through and also providing for water. Cooking of course requires both.
I figure I'll start my time with a normal load of groceries. Seems like a smart settler would bring groceries along. That'll probably last a week. After that it'll be mostly beans and rice.
Why beans and rice? Outside of the US beans and rice is a major staple food, it keeps well, is easy to cook and is shelf stable. Keep the animals, air and moisture out and it'll keep a good long time.

I'll also do some foraging which will at least provide counterpoint to my rice and beans. Won't probably be enough to survive on though. A priority will be to get a garden growing. Things like spinach grow quickly and again will provide variety. Longer term squashes are very easy to grow and provide heavily. I'm told tomatoes are difficult but I've never had any problem. New England is a very forgiving climate for gardening and I intend to take advantage of that.

There are many sources of pot meat that folks in the north don't tend to think of and the big one on our farm is the groundhog. Also known as a woodchuck we're talking here about marmota monax. Since our farm hasn't been actively worked for nearly a decade at this point our fields are frequented by the fat critters. A .22 rifle makes short work of one and once I start gardening removing them as pests will be a requirement. There is no fixed season on groundhogs so this is all totally legal. Also legal year round are squirrels, unfortunately northern Maine isn't home to big fat squirrels like the grey and fox squirrels you see down south, we only get the little reds. Still if all you'd been eating was rice and beans I suspect a little squirrel meat would be welcome.

The biggest problem will be a shortage of fuel. If I limit myself to the initial fuel load I will certainly at some point be forced to burn wood to cook with. Early on while the weather is cold I could cook on the woodstove in the cabin. However warmer weather will certainly make that impractical. Back in the old days they had summer kitchens, a kitchen outside to keep the heat out of the house. I like this and ideally I'll source another small boxwood stove like we have in the camp to provide for such. I could extend the roof off of the shower house and with a good brick floor it would be pleasant. Otherwise I'd need to build a firepit and tripod. I could cook in a dutch oven over the open fire. For things like basic rice and beans this wouldn't be too bad. Still it'd be a world of dirty pots and smokey fires.

Fuel for wood fires is plentiful. No real timber harvesting has been done on our land in more than 50 years. We're mostly grown in with spruce and poplar. The latter is actually quaking aspen and not poplar proper. Both make decent fire wood although generally referred to as "gopher wood" in that as soon as you load the stove you need to go-fer wood because it burns up so quickly. Considering the relatively small amounts of wood needed for cooking I would start by thinning the trees around the camp, our woods are badly grown in with inter-meshing branches that stunt growth and cut down on animal traffic. Historically these dead low branches are called squaw wood and clearing them out is good for the forest, it lets the trees get bigger and keeps forest fires at bay. I presume over 6 months or so I'd get to the point where I'd have to start foraging fairly far from the camp which is good news. Very long term there would be a need to actually cut some trees for wood. The rule of thumb is usually that you can cut a cord of wood per acre per year without damaging the land. We've got probably 10 or more acres in trees so I basically can't ever cut too many trees as long as I spread my cutting around...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Coleman #16 Radiant heater

I don't remember if I've mentioned my Coleman radiant heater before. I've wanted one since I first found out they exist. I got mine from Warren at the True North Gathering last fall, then he sold me the radiants early this year.
Its pretty badass, built mostly like a stove but with a manifold not unlike the exhaust manifold on a car which distributes the gas to just below the radiants.
Anyway enough yammerin' wheres the video?

BTW: I was denied a YouTube partnership, apparently I don't get enough traffic. Plan on seeing some new videos from me that aren't mostly about Coleman lanterns ;)


Now I've seen everything.

Of course every time I say that I remember that I've said it before and weird random crap keeps coming up so without further intro check this out:

Yeah "elevator photography since 1993" thats what I'm talking 'bout. Dude goes and rides in elevators. Whoda thunk anybody would care? Then again who would think I'd have 25,000+ views of me playing with lanterns and stoves. Theres something for everybody I guess.

Friday, September 30, 2011


A month or so ago YouTube offered to monetize my videos. This is pretty awesome, in that ads will appear in my videos and I'll get a couple cents any time anybody clicks them. You may notice that ads appear here too. Again if somebody clicks an ad I get a couple cents. So far I've got just over $6, whoop-dee-doo.
It turns out YouTube is even less likely to make me rich, after a month I was getting pretty impatient for ads to show up and the money to start rolling in so I did some more digging. YouTube doesn't go out of their way to tell you this but apparently not only do you have to tell YouTube to monetize your video AND you have to have a Google Ad Sense account AND you have to agree to give YouTube some of the money since they host the video THEN you have to sign up as a YouTube partner. This last bit is in small print down at the end of a page...

*Sigh* I just want to make enough money I can quit my job and live a life of leisure making lantern videos, is that too much to ask? ;)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On water

Water is important. You can live for weeks without food but not even days without water. If I'm going to be able to live at camp long term I'll need clean water. Even if I can find sufficient food if I can't find water I'm doomed.

Fortunately we've got a pond, even in the worst of droughts we've got water. I've seen the pond down several feet but never dry. Unfortunately we've also got beavers. Beavers are an issue because they carry giardia, a little parasite thats no fun at all.

An ideal way around this would be to sink a well, it'd be awesome to sink a well right next to the camp and have a pump inside but that would run into serious money so it ain't happening. Instead I'll need a filter.

At home we've got a Multi-pure filter, ours sits under the sink and is pretty terrific. I could rig up a similar system but I'd need so way to feed the filter which would be a pain. Enter the Berkey filter, its a canister filter, pour questionable water in the top get clean water out the tap at the bottom. I like the stainless steel construction and the replaceable filters and they're priced reasonably. There are other systems that use plastic buckets for "emergency water filtering" but I feel like the Berkey is a much more significant unit and if/when I make this great experiment thats probably what I'll get.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Crazy ideas

Do you ever get crazy ideas? I get 'em pretty frequently, some are dumb, some are just crazy, some are dumb and crazy...
Lately I've been thinking about how much I'd love to have a job that worked on my schedule in my location. The only thing I could really do that meets that is to be a writer. I've thought about that for years and years but of course its a difficult gig to break into.

A couple months ago I read "Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream" by William Powers. Powers is a kind of greenie weenie activist. Honestly he's kind of a dork and I didn't really like the book that much (want it? Just ask, I've got loads of books that need good homes) but it got me thinking about my own remote cabin off the grid. Our camp is actually quite a bit bigger than Powers' (its not actually his, he borrowed but you get the idea) cabin, we've got a 16x24' main camp and 10x12' bunkhouse but they're similar in that we've got no electricity or running water. I've also read "Into The Wild" by John Krakauer which is a very good book telling the story of Chris McCandless and his adventure and untimely death in Alaska. Together they've gotten me thinking about attempting a long term stay at camp, a sort of "Walden Pond" for the 21st century.

How long? I'm thinking 6 months, mid-April through mid-November. With me I'd bring rice and beans and some other basic staples with the idea of becoming basically self sufficient by July. Self sufficient means no added inputs in fuel or food, I'd survive on what I brought and what I could find/grow. In support of this future idea (and to attract wildlife) this spring I planted what is essentially a big garden of corn. This was an important first step since most of our fields haven't been planted in a decade or more and the sod was TOUGH to break through. It'll be a big help to have a section of garden already started. I'll still need to do a lot of wild gathering as it'll take time for the garden to produce a significant amount of food.

Since we're off grid theres no electricity and since we use propane for cooking and light I'll need to be stingy with it, I also won't be using it for showers, fortunately we've already got a solar shower I can use. I'll supplement with a jug of kerosene (I have a kerosene stove I haven't yet written about here) and another of white gas. Finally we've got loads of dead trees and live spruce trees are usually loaded with dead branches so I'll have to set up a fire pit and do a lot of my cooking (especially for rice and beans) over a wood fire.

Anyway crazy right? I've got a mortgage that needs keeping up with, I'd need considerable financial buffer to make this idea work but the idea sticks with me. Over the next couple years expect to see me working on the skills that will be required to make it work. I'll mark posts related to the idea as "homesteading" because thats really what I'm talking about...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Have you seen?

If you're into cars at all you should be reading 365 days of A which follows Jonathan Klinger in his year of driving a 1930 Model A Tudor sedan as his primary transportation.
I'm totally jealous of his ability to go through with this. Based on his experience if I had a bigger garage I'd totally be buying a Model A. Unfortunately my commute is too long and too highway based to make a Model A practical but I'd like to have one anyway.

One thing that really surprised me was how inexpensive a Model A is, Jonathan got his for ~$14,000 which is a steal considering we're talking about an 80 year old car. I've checked on eBay and $14k buys a car all day long. I went further and it seems like you can buy a decent Model T for half that. The Model T is a stone age ride compared to the A though, much slower and with even fewer creature comforts, still a cool ride though.

This week my 190D has been in the shop getting the driver's window regulator (the bit that makes the window go up and down) repaired. It was missing the last couple teeth and wouldn't go all the way up. I've been driving the '78 240D in the interim which is why we have 3 vehicles. People look at me like I'm crazy when they hear I'm driving a '78 nearly 120 miles a day but the old gal really takes well to it. For the last few months its been driven mostly in town, a life which tends to build up carbon in the engine and leeches away power. Last night on the way home a piece of carbon let go in the engine and suddenly I had more power than before, I find that kind of "driving fix" to be extremely satisfying.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Linux the other white meat

I'm a bit of a computer nerd although these days life seems to get in the way.
Recently I scored a new computer for home and went back to the well for a new "flavor" of Linux.

In case you're not hip to the jargon a "distribution" is when somebody takes the basic Linux source (which is essentially free) and puts their own spin on it. They package it up with some apps they think are useful (a web browser, office tools, that sort of thing) and put it out under their name. Its still Linux but has its own distinct look and feel.
So since I've been back to the well I figured I could report my findings:

This is essentially the source from which all other Linux flows, many of the other distros can trace their line back to Debian. Of course being that its the source its for the hardcore user. No live cd here. The installer is challenging for the non-initiated, the configuration is challenging for the non-initiated, usage is kinda challenging for the non-initiated. I couldn't make Flash work, so no YouTube... In retrospect I just needed some more time but I've got too much other life that needs my attention.

Fedora is a split from the RedHat line. RedHat generally costs money while Fedora is free. The installer is much simpler than Debian but I still couldn't get Flash to work...

See a trend? Really all I want is to surf the web and maybe write up some text documents, alter some pictures and maybe use my scanner and printer...

Of the 3 so far Mint is easily the most advanced. Pretty easy to use, Flash worked right out of the box. Its also one of the few that let me auto login which is handy. Sadly I hate the hoops it makes me jump through for multiple users. Why do many distros force long passwords?

I don't think Peppermint is a offshoot of Mint but its similar. The idea with Peppermint is that its for "cloud computing" meaning very little for apps on the OS itself. I'm fine with that. Flash works, right out of the box but I can't have multiple users at all...

Why multiple users? Ever try to share a computer with somebody? What if you both use Gmail or Facebook? You're forever logging out and logging back in and around Christmas accidentally seeing what the other person is buying you... Multiple users is another must for me.

This is where I started with Linux some 5 years ago. I'd gotten frustrated with viruses on my Windows computer and grabbed Mepis. That was v3, they're on v8.5 now (skipped some numbers in the middle though) and I'm actually less happy with it... Hardest distro to get the right nVidia driver (I think my Quadro 1400 card is actually too GOOD, very little support for it on Linux). I did manage to make Flash work but another common frustration for me is the lack of jack sense. That means that the computer doesn't know I have speakers and plays through the PC speaker too. I HATE that and its a relatively new behavior I saw in Mint, Peppermint and Mepis. Its most difficult to enable in Mepis though.

Anyway I'm going to stick with Mepis a couple weeks and see what happens. Biggest frustration I'm having right now is that I can't get Hulu to play. Thats actually true with ALL of the distros. The video starts but the audio plays and then starts again and again and again so I have multiple instances of the audio playing at once... Have yet to figure out the issue other than it doesn't seem to happen on newer computers. I should explain though that this is not a low powered machine, dual 3.2Ghz processors, 4GB of RAM, it kicks the crap out of much newer consumer level machines...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Well it makes for a good story

In case you haven't heard I like telling stories. Some years ago an internet friend gave me a plow, as in a land plow, as in one of those things that you pull behind a tractor to break up the soil for planting.
Plows are cool but they leave the land all lumpy, then you really need a harrow to bust that up so you can plant. The same friend had a harrow he wasn't using and which I ended up trading him a computer for.

Thats right, a computer for farming equipment. It makes for a good story afterall.

Friday, March 11, 2011

AGM 3705

I just realized I haven't posted the video of the AGM 3705, in fact I don't think I've ever talked about the 3705 before...

Its an odd little lantern from the '30s from the company that was famous for odd lanterns. If you look carefully at the picture you can see that the knob tilts down. Thats normal, it makes space for air to go into the air tube. Why they just didn't put the air tube on the other side I have no idea...
Anyway you can see my 3705 in action on YouTube

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The continuing saga of a foot gone to the gout

So I did get to my doctor, she gave me a big prescription of the magic pills, she also gave me a prescription for Allopurinol which is an anti-uric acid drug. Two weeks later my uric acid levels are normal and my foot only barely hurts. I've also made an interesting discovery, if I ingest some alcohol my foot hurts less.
Thats crazy, for most people alcohol is a major gout trigger. Everybody says its crazy, I KNOW its crazy but its true. I have a couple drinks and the next day my foot hurts less.
Anyway I've been taking hydrochlorothiazide to lower my blood pressure. Apparently a common side effect is gout. So end that, now what do we want me on for blood pressure? Enter Carvedilol which is a non-specific beta blocker. Unfortunately its not doing the job, my blood pressure is still relatively high.
Finally yesterday I met with my cardiologist. He's a great guy and I really like him, if more doctors were like him people would hate going to the doctor less. He's got me on a specific beta blocker, I can't remember the name right now but its apparently a beta blocker just for blood pressure problems, we'll see how that goes. At the very least what I've learned is that for blood pressure problems you want to deal with a cardiologist. He consulted with me, came up with a plan WITH me, and gave me 4 weeks of pills to try. Then we'll decide what to do.

I've been on 3 other blood pressure pills without ANYBODY asking me what I wanted to do...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Owww! Dammit!

You know you're getting old when you start having medical maladies you Dad (or Mum I guess) should be the one having. Specifically I've got gout.
Gout is a build up of uric acid in your blood which then crystalizes in your joints. Yeah its just as much fun as it sounds like... For me my right foot swells up and gets crunchy and sore. It was the worst a week ago when I couldn't walk without crutches. I went to the ER, they gave me some pills and the next day I was much better.
Fast forward to this week and I've managed to set it off again. Apparently thats pretty common, yay... The ER is much too expensive and is really the wrong venue for this sort of thing and its difficult to get in to the doctor's office with my schedule so I'm thinking to try a CVS minute clinic. Theres one right on my way home...

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Well over a year ago I picked up a Wenzel 1887 lantern, I mentioned it on the blog:
but I had no luck getting it to work right so I hung it in the garage and basically ignored it. Recently I've had some great successes bringing 3 lanterns my in-laws gave me back to life with very little drama so I figured I'd revisit the Wenzel.
I'm not exactly sure what it is I did to the thing (patience maybe?) but I got it lit and I've been able to relight it again with little trouble. I had so much fun with that I made a video which you can access here.

Then I realized that the issue with the pump is not the pump itself its the overly strong spring in the NRV (non return valve) which keeps the pressure in the tank. So I've had that out and played with it and gotten it better so the pump is usable but now it doesn't seal well. Oops, time to order parts!

Birthday Question

My birthday is coming up and I've planned myself a party for Feb 5, if you're in the Winchendon area stop on by ;). Anyway Angie is really put out by this. I don't know (she won't tell me) if she was going to plan something or not but apparently it really bothers her that I've planned my own party. When I turned 30 she planned me a kick ass surprise party and maybe it bothers her that I haven't given one for her?

Anyway how do you feel about planning your own party?