Thursday, December 27, 2012

Winter Driving

Here in Halifax, we don't often get winter in the true sense of the word. Here along he coast, most storms has some element of rain or ice pellets, often with very little snow. Still though, it's unpredictable, and winter city driving can be treacherous. Making things more complex, my old van is rear wheel drive, and even though the engine's in the back too, there's not much weight or traction back there. Properly rated winter tires are hard to find so I'm trying to work out a compromise. I have a pair of those mud and snow (M+S) rated tires, but they are not the best. Normally, I just stay put if the roads are bad, but I get concerned about getting stranded out somewhere while the weather turns yucky. So I'm trying something old fashioned: Tire Chains. I picked up some at Princess Auto recently. i saw them there last year, but the $99 price tag made me procrastinate until the other day I saw them marked down to $25.08. Bingo. They are a funny design, with two ratcheting gizmos for self-tightening.
I had yet to install the M+S tires, so I figured I should check the fit...
They fit just fine, so I went ahead and put the tires on...
The chains install quickly and easily, without having to do any jacking or moving. My plan is to keep them in the vehicle, and hopefully if I get caught out in miserable road conditions, they'll help get me home. See below for an installation video from the manufacturer...

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Root Beer 2012

I've rambled on about this before, and normally it's a last minute thing. HomeMade Root Beer needs a full week or so to carbonate properly. In previous years, I often got around to making it just in time. This year I had it ready by December 1st or so. The downside (isn't there always one?) of course is that the first batch is almost all gone. No big problem, I'll make another one.
Fortunately, a good friend gifted me with a nice green milk crate of 16 large reusable bottles. That made the second batch a much easier undertaking since the extra bottles meant I didn't have to wait for the first batch...not that I had to wait long :)
I did have a slight issue with the bigger bottles though; see the red circle in the picture above, where the bottle is touching the metal shank of the capper. I was a little hesitant to apply pressure, thinking it might smash said precious bottle. I got around it by using a different capper (it pays to have more than one of most things) that did not have that block of wood attached to the base. I could have removed the block, but that's work :)
 Anyway, the first batch is all but gone, and the second will be ready to drink by the weekend. My prediction is that at the rate it's being inhaled, I'll need a third batch before Christmas day, not a bad problem since I'm one of the guilty parties...belch !!
The old standard was HIRES Brand extract, but that seems to have vanished. For the last few years, all I've been able to find is this ROYAL Brand. However, it seems to taste just as good. This year it's gone up to about 6 dollars a bottle. Add a bag of sugar, yeast, and bottle caps, and the cost is between 10 and 15 dollars.That;s not really "cheap" when decent President's Choice Draft Root Beer can be had for 50 cents a litre. Then again, it's not about the money  :)


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Red Neck Wood Rack

One of the dirty little annoyances associated with using wood as a primary source of heat is the mess it makes. In my case, I generally store it in one corner of the basement while the stove is in the other corner. During the process of carrying it from there to here, lots of pieces of bark and debris end up along the trail. This is picked up by the various size 12 & 13 socks that frequent the area and tracked everywhere. I needed a tall and narrow transport/storage device, and I'm lazy if not clumsy. All of this combined and resulted in my prototype mobile wood rack. A cheap stand-up dolly, 3 "acquired" milk crates, and some nylon tie-wraps resulted in this:
I need to attach a 1 x 3 or so to the bottom crate to help it sit a bit more level, but so far so good...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Handwarmers 3

This is my third post about these things...kind of an obsession I guess.
Yesterday, I received an envelope from Hong Kong, containing some of the new mini aluminum hand warmers. To express it mildly, I'm impressed. They come packaged like this:

 Inside is the warmer, a little faux fur bag, and a little cup for measuring out the proper amount of lighter fluid:
 These things are tiny:
 The construction is very similar to the Zippo and the other knock-offs, and bonus, the burner fits the bigger models too.
But here's the kicker: with less than an ounce of fuel, my first "test" burned for almost 15 hours. That's less than 25 cents worth of fluid for 15 hours of heat. The aluminum is too hot to the touch so it's necessary to keep it in the bag. Four of these can be acquired for the price of just one of the Zippo units. A better alternative than those hideous disposable things. The lighter fluid is readily available, $4.49 at Princess auto for 12oz:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Quick Dessert, saw it on Facebook

Saw this on a friend's Facebook page today...had to come home and try it out...
Start with a bunch of frozen berries in a 9x13 pan
Cover with a (dry) white cake mix
Carefully pour a can of lemon lime, sprite etc on top.
Bake for 45 minutes at 350F
and it's almost gone...

Except for a few powdery spots where the cake mix didn't dissolve, it turned out great !! 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hand Warmers Revisited...

A couple of years ago, I had something to say about my appreciation for those old traditional hand warmers, the ones that burn lighter fluid. I have a couple of the ZIPPO ones ($28 at MEC), as well as some knock-offs from Ebay. Frankly, the knock-offs are just as good, and can be had for about 1/4 of the price. Recently, I discovered new mini aluminium versions available on Ebay and of course they are on their way to me as I type. I'll test them and report as soon as I can. Meanwhile see a review HERE. They cost me $7.50 each with free shipping (from Hong Kong). Bring on the biting cold...
They are considerably smaller than the other models. It'll be interesting to see how effective they are.
Incidentally, these take the same burner as the Zippo. Assuming the burner is ok, and considering MEC wants $10 for a replacement burner, it's kind of hard to lose (famous last words)...

Old Netbook, New Life...

Almost 4  years ago, I picked up a new Netbook, the original Acer Aspire One. The small 3-cell battery was adequate, but after the first couple of years, its life began to dwindle. Lately, with diminished usage, it wouldn't take or hold a charge at all. As usual, Ebay to the rescue. For about $25 I picked up a 9-cell beast that triples the original battery life. It's a bit bulky and raises the back of the Netbook up a little, but all well worth it. It gives over 8 hours of juice  :)
Additionally, and as you might expect, a machine this old is also a bit slow. To compensate as best I could, I installed Lubuntu, a lightweight Ubuntu Linux OS. I think I'm getting my $249 worth out of this machine.
A nice clean interface easy on the limited resources...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Yes, Time Flies

Cliches abound. Is it just me, or is time ripping by like mad ? October's about to be over and it seems I'm falling behind in everything. Debbie just returned from 2 weeks in Uganda. I thought time might drag on then, but it flew...everyone's so busy.
Going further back, I seem to have missed the end of summer as well. Now that I'm old(er), months seem like weeks. Seems like yesterday we were on our "summer holidays"...
Additionally, I missed the obligatory overnight canoe trip this month...not happy about that. I guess I'll cling to memories of the last one for now:
Finally, the cold temperatures have started, prompting a dusting off of the old Drolet PyroPak:
That's all for now. I'll try for a more concise post next time  :)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The 'coons are back

Over the long weekend, the same family of racoons seems to be vacationing on my garage and in the adjacent trees.They have a "cute" side, but they are also a bit of a on the photo below to have a look...


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Summer 2012

Wow ! The summer is flying by, and I guess I should be happy that I can't find time to sit in front of a computer and "blog". A quick update:
Early summer, a bit of demolition and renovation resulted in a new tub and shower. out with the old
 And in with the new...
That's still ongoing, but in the meantime, we took off to Newfoundland for some holiday and family time...
A good trip had by all. Later in August, the boys went to youth camp for a week, and we took off on a little camping adventure too...
click below for more photos...

Mini-trip august 2012
That's been summer so far...2 weeks left !!!

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Vanagon Struggle

I purchased my Vanagon GL Camper (Westfalia) in April of 2002, so I'm now into year 11. It's a 1986, so it was 16 years old when I got it, now it's 26 years old. Even though it's not in bad shape, things like plastic and rubber parts are deteriorating, and the body's seen better days. Even city driving is a gamble, as you don't know when the next break-down will happen. You can do $1000 worth of engine work, only to have it jeopardized by the failure of a $10 hose. Case in point, I was heading across the bridge recently and noticed what seemed to be white smoke coming from the engine compartment . I pulled over and discovered that a short 6" coolant hose had sprung a leak. Coolant was squirting out and hitting the exhaust pipe. I managed to carry out a temporary repair using electrical tape, duct tape, and tie wraps.
The repair held up and got me home, but I would not want to deal with such a thing in heavy traffic. I replaced the patch with a more elegant temporary solution using X-treme Tape. I assumed the hose was rotten but it seemed to be a puncture or hole of some sort:
 . Then I went on the hunt for a replacement hose. To my amazement, I could not find one. All of the usual vendors were out of stock. As I said mine's an '86, and that particular hose was replaced by a new version sometime during the 1986 model year. I was looking for a 251-121-130A and most places only had the "B" version.
I finally found one from Ken at Vanagain in New Jersey. Always happy to help, he threw it in a priority mail envelope and I had it in a few days.
So, off to Canadian Tire for a couple of hose clamps, and I'm on the road again. I think it would be wise for me to inspect things a little better and try to employ as much prevention as I can, but who has the time...STRUGGLE  :)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I'm Fifty !!

Yes sir, I reached the ripe age of 50 last week, and I'm the baby of the family. Wonder how the other fossils are feeling ?
Not one, but two Birthday cakes...
...and of course, a ToolBox for good measure

Monday, May 14, 2012

More Off-Grid Refrigeration

I've previously tipped my hat towards Ammonia Absorption Refrigeration, but Thermo-electric fridges are another option for portable refrigeration, provided one is aware that they have significant limitations. The big issue is that you often get what you pay for, and "Cheap" seems to be a big factor. For example, a normal on-sale unit from Canadian Tire or Walmart will most likely have these two limitations;
First, it only cools to about 20c below the ambient air temperature and simply put, this is not good enough. Why? Well, in many summer camping situations sunny campsite or "in-car" temperatures often exceed 30c. That means the fridge temperature will exceed 10c, not good for your wife's coveted coffee-cream...ask me how I know.
Second, most cheaper units have no type of thermostat or temperature control, causing two more drawbacks: If the campsite temperature falls to 20c or below (not uncommon in eastern Canada), things will freeze. Also, with no type of control, they run constantly, pulling 5-7 amps from your 12v power supply. Older units from Koolatron once came with a thermostat, but constant cheapening has almost put an end to those.

Canadian Tire to the rescue? Perhaps. They now sell a Mobicool unit marketed under the label of "Professional Series" that seems to address my otherwise hatred of these devices. It's impressive features include:
  • thicker insulation than the usual units.
  • bigger heat-sink/cooling unit that delivers a 30c temperature reduction. (50% more)
  • 7-stage electronic thermostat
  • additional interior fan that shuts off when lid is opened
  • tall enough to stand up 2-litre bottles

This unit is not apparent on the Mobicool web site. That's likely because they don't really make it. It's actually a re-badged Dometic / Waeco unit.
Generally, this unit is adjustable, so you can turn it up when it's really hot out, and down when you need to, maintaining better temperatures and  saving precious battery power, or giving that solar panel time to replenish the battery...
All of this does not come cheap though. $299.99, but 40% off this week  :)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

First Aid Kit

After recently taking a 2-day First Aid/CPR Training Course, I decided to look for a decent First Aid Kit. Sierra Trading Post had a $60 kit on sale for about $22 so I grabbed it. It's a combination First Aid, Survival, and Repair Kit all in one...Comprehensive review seems to have it all; firestarter stuff, shelter, even Duct Tape :)  See complete contents list below...
Nice Bright Package

2 Main Sections

  • Survival kit includes survival blanket, headlamp, rescue whistle, signal mirror, compass and flint steel fire starter
  • Gear repair items include cable ties, nylon cord, duct tape and shears
  • Medical kit dressings, bandages, moleskin and medications
  • Detachable inner pouch holds supplies for short trips
  • Weight: 1 lb. 4 oz.
  • Material:
  • Includes 4 - 1x3” adhesive fabric bandage
  • 2 - Adhesive fabric knuckle bandage 
  • 4 - Butterfly closure bandage 
  • 1 - 2” conforming gauze bandage 
  • 2 - 4x4” non-sterile dressing gauze 
  • 2 - 2x2” sterile dressing gauze (2 per pkg.) 
  • 2 - 3x3” sterile dressing gauze (2 per pkg.) 
  • 2 - 3x4” sterile non-adherent dressing gauze 
  • 1 - Pair nitrile gloves 
  • 11 - Pre-cut and shaped moleskin (11 pieces) 
  • 1 - 2x50” duct tape 
  • 3 - 4” cable ties 
  • 3 - 8” cable ties 
  • 1 - 4” EMT shears 
  • 5 - Safety pins 
  • 2 - After Bite® wipe 
  • 2 - Antihistamine (diphenhydramine 25 mg) 
  • 4 - Ibuprofen (200 mg, 2 per pkg.) 
  • 2 - 3 sq.ft. heavy-duty aluminum foil 
  • 1 - Liquid-filled button compass 
  • 1 - Fire Lite fire striker 
  • 1 - 2W LED headlamp with headband 
  • 1 - Heatsheet survival blanket 
  • 1 - Mini rescue flash signal mirror 
  • 1 - Mini rescue howler whistle 
  • 4 - 18” braided nylon cord (10’, 100 lb. test)
  • 4 - Tinder Quick pieces
  • Dimensions: 7x6x2" (HxWxD)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Stoving 4

First off, a slight correction; I said that the JetBoil was only good for boiling water. That's not quite true, as it comes with an accessory pot-holder of sorts that allows you to use it with virtually any pot, frying pan, kettle etc:

As alluded to, with the proper adapter, the Zip can be perched on top of a cheap aerosol-type butane canister:

It's not a perfect solution though. Apart from being quite tippy and top-heavy, I've found it to be inefficient as well, especially as you're trying to consume the last third or so of the contents of the canister. The pressure drops considerably and the usual 2-minute boil can take twice as long. The canister in the photo above was nearing the end, and it took a full 5 minutes to get a rolling boil, and that's indoors with no wind. I suspect however, that a full canister will perform better, but this does give a vote of confidence for the authentic JetBoil canisters. ( I should mention that I have the "Zip", the cheapest JetBoil and it does not have a fancy regulator built in to the burner. This probably exacerbates the pressure drop problem). See Here for more info on these adapters and the like.

Most of my other stove oddities are just that. I have an old Garcia Camping Gaz stove, but those C206 piercable cartridges are a thing of the past. It's kind of sad because I have the lantern too:

I have another old Coleman 5411 Picnic Stove, but it too takes an extinct butane canister. I am fooling with it in the hopes of attaching a different style:

Then of course there's the old 3-legged propane jobs. I have one but I don't like it or use it:
One more, it's just like the photo below, but the name is "World Famous"...yeah right  :)  This one you just refill like a butane lighter, by holding the butane against an inlet valve on the bottom...

One more noteworthy mention, a BBQ/Grill that sits atop the PowerFist or other similar butane like a charm, if not a little too hot. Technically not a stove I guess:

It's just as well for me to keep going. Stay tuned for Stoving 5...


 This beauty has been roaming around Central Newfoundland lately. I just grabbed some photos of it for fun...

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