Epic adventurer - Solar boat progress

I made some progress today buy building the frame to hold the solar panel on my little boat.

Not a lot of progress, but a bit.

I was prompted by Dave, a solar panel exporter from China to make some progress, so here is the result.

I made it all out of 25mm aluminium pipe, and plastic plumbing fittings. It should work well enough once I tie or wire it down. I might add some wire tension as well to make sure it all stays where it should.

The best part of my new adult construction kit is that I'm able to adjust any of it on the go with nothing more than my hands and some luck.

At some point I plan on building a solar tracker so my panel always points to the sun regardless of where my little boat is pointing.

As a result, I?'ll need the design to be flexible enough to allow me to add electronics and some kind of actuators to raise and lower different ends, and sides of the panel.

The basic plan will see me sit at the end with the chair on the right, looking under the solar panel when I'm sitting, and looking over the top of the panel when standing. This height gives an unrestricted view when sitting or standing.

When sitting, I wont cast a shadow on the panels even when the sun is setting directly behind me.

The panel will sit on top of the two bars and form the final bit of structure.

That should work.

Thinking - TV police chases

It's bound to happen sooner or later that a villain being pursued on foot will slowly gain distance on the police officer in pursuit and eventually, gradually, escape.

I think it's time Hollywood.

I think it's time.

Epic adventurer - Fishing gear theft

Someone stole all my fishing gear from my shed, so the epic adventure has been postponed at least for another year.


The only time I really shopped for quality was for my fishing gear. It was the backbone of the trip and had to reliably feed me every day I was away.

I hope whoever stole it cares for it as much as I did over the 6 years it took me to accumulate it.

It was around $500 dollars worth of small, light weight gear (4 lb line) that I had bought over the last 6 years, all based around what I would need to fish all day as I boated along. I bought reasonable quality stuff as I would have limited ability to repair it. Not "real money" quality, because that's way out of my league, but stuff that with a bit of care and maintenance would outlast me.

Now I spend my days wondering if there is any point trying to buy anything else because they will be back.

Even more sad, is the almost certain reality that the person who stole it suffered a desperation for the funds it generated for just that afternoon.

I guess their life probably sucks more than mine.

Epic adventurer - Solar fail-safe kill switch

I've been worried about all my dodgy electronics on my solar boat, so I figured I should have a master kill switch that couldn't fail, and came up with a fuse holder and a 6mm bolt, tied to some artfully arranged paracord in the form of a survival bracelet that my brother made for me.

Cut the threaded bit off the bolt, tie a nice grippy paracord handle to it, then put the bolt in the fuse holder that connects all the electrics to the positive terminal.

One pull and everything stops.

It should work.

If it does, I should also be able to clip onto it with with a 2m bungee cord when I want to move around the boat if I'm under way. That way if I fall off, the motor will stop. I think it's called a dead man's switch. I was originally planning to create one digitally, and I still might if it turns out to be a pain, but if I need it, I'll build it on the boat. If I did it digitally, I'd make a simple sonic tape measure with a PICAXE chip that would notice if I left my chair. Then it would beep in 60 seconds, then kill all power to the motor if I didn't wave my hand in front of it within 15 seconds.

I think I prefer paracord and my bolt fuse.

120 Things in 20 years realises a solar deadman's switch sounds like safety overkill, but I'll have junk everywhere, no side rails, and 2000km is a long way to chase a boat moving slightly faster than I can swim on the Murray River.

Epic adventurer - Lifestraw

My Lifestraw was delivered today!

A Lifestraw is a very cool device for personal water filtration. It's guaranteed to deliver 1000 litres of clean safe drinking water from any dodgy water source. The Murray River is one big dodgy water source, so a it fits the bill perfectly.

It looks like this, and weighs almost nothing.

According to the packaging, it does what all the other water treatment methods claim or better.

Apparently, my little Lifestraw removes 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria, 99.9% of waterborne parasites, and provides a minimum of 1000 litres of clean drinking water.

I also bought a PermaNet 2.0 mosquito net that not only claims to keep mosquitoes at a safe distance, but also kills them when they land on it. That means the world health organisation thinks it's ok to use me as bait.

Fair enough I guess.

So basically my Lifestraw is a stack of tiny straws crammed into a tube with a sippy cup mouthpiece at one end. You stick the blunt end into a stock trough, or creek you don't quite trust, and drink through the mouthpiece as if it were a gigantic straw, and bam! you keep living.

My PermaNet 2.0 is a mosquito net.

Aquaponics - Silver Perch

It's been a while since I paid any attention to my Aquaponics system, but it was nice to find my Silver Perch have been busy growing.

I wandered out to the Aquaponics system for the first time in ages because it was making a slightly different sound, and it turned out to be a partial blockage of the pipe work.

Blocked with tomato roots.

I've been expecting some problems because when I pruned back the four tomato plants that are still growing from last year, I accidentally killed one by snapping it off at the base. The roots are all meshed together with it's three tomato plant buddies, so there was no way to get them out. I figured it would work it's way out in the end. It probably would have. The system was still working, with some water going through my overflow. The overflow exits from the surface of the fish tank water, where in normal operation, the water exits from the bottom via a solids lifting overflow. As a result it's unlikely that both would be blocked at the same time.

Anyway, everything seems to be ticking along nicely.

I don't really know how big this fish is (I'd guess around 40+cm), but it's in really good condition. They're not just long, but really heavy as well. Heavy looking that is. I wouldn't like to try to catch one, I think it would be a little disruptive.

I'm not sure if this is the bigger of the two, but one of them now looks like this...

Epic Adventurer - The (revised) Murray river trip on a solar powered boat

I like walking pace.

In fact walking pace is my favourite pace.

I've mentioned that before.

I like it so much, that what I really, really want to do is travel 2000km at it, on an epic adventure on a river. 2000km at 3kph should take roughly a very long time.


It was originally going to take two and a half times that when I was thinking about going there and back, and when I thought I could travel the entire length of the river Murray.

That would have been 5000km.

That's why I now have a revised Murray river epic solar powered boat adventure plan.

Both 2000km and 5000km are probably a bit long to be travelling at walking pace unless I can figure out some way to make walking pace a little faster, or perhaps break up the trip into lot's of more manageable chunks.

Making walking pace faster would be pretty easy to accomplish by only going downstream when the river is in flood. As far as I can tell, it flows at around 1-5kph, so starting at the top might be a good idea if I'm only going to travel at walking pace. My little boat runs at around 3kph, and if the river is flowing at 3-5kph, 5000 km backwards might get dull after a while. And 5000km backwards from the Murray mouth is... well... the south pole, and those last few hundred kilometres would be difficult on a boat, what with all those rocks and ice. On the other hand, I don't want to tear along at the un-tranquil pace of as high as 8kph by going downstream.

Perhaps I'll just drift.

That would give me loads of spare amp hours to get up to water skiing pace and blare out music into the tranquillity.

The Murray river has thirteen weirs along the 1986km long stretch from the Yarrawonga Weir, to the Coorong where it meanders into the ocean. As far as I can tell the weir at Yarrawonga is the highest point up the river I can travel by boat. All the weirs along that stretch incorporate locks to allow boats to navigate it's length.

So, my revised plan would probably be to start at the closest boat ramp to the Yarrawonga Weir, then follow the river west, or as I like to call it, left. Then turn left again a thousand kilometres later or so, and continue south until I hit the beach.

Sounds like a plan.  

View Murray River National Park in a larger map

Cordage - Palm fibre twine

I made string today out of the fibres that my very tall palm tree makes leaves out of.

It looks like this, and is surprisingly strong.

Not strong like really thin 80lb fishing line is strong, but strong like brown string is strong.

I think the natural brown string is made from hemp. And I would say this home made version is about a quarter of the strength of store bought brown string.

A quick search tells me the Japanese make palm fibre twine, and you might have seen it used for Japanese themed bamboo fencing to lash different lengths of bamboo together. It's dyed black in Adelaide's Japanese garden. .

The fibres look like this when in their natural state, and come from the flared out section where the frond meets the trunk.

The dead leaves stay hung up in the tree until a windy day deposits them all onto the BMW next door.

I still haven't made more than a foot long length of the stuff, so what I've made has no real value for tying stuff up, but as soon as I can arrange a lesson from my brother, I'll post up a how to.

When I was a kid in Papua New Guinea, my family owned a fishing net shop. Some of the locals would buy our green string (as seen in this post on making a blow dart), because it had great fibres, but they didn't like the string for some other reason. They would pick it apart and then rebuild it into string to make string bags known as Bilum.

Their string was substantially better than my string.

I'm going to get better at it until I can make some useful string, and then make that into useful rope.

120 Things in 20 years might take a while at getting better at this, because some of my favourite people gave me a Ukulele for my birthday.

Epic adventurer - Solar boat trolling motor

I got one step closer to setting out on my zillion mile epic adventure on the mighty Murray river, on my little solar powered boat.

That step included testing just how much juice I was going to need to run the trolling motor, and seeing if the solar panel I have will provide enough.

My boat is a displacement hulled catamaran. That means it doesn't do the skimming across the top of the water thing that most other racing cats do, so it's very outdated for racing, but it floats well, and the hulls are very low drag.  At their widest, they measure only 20cm or so. They are 4.2m in length, so they slide through the water without a lot of effort. Probably even slicker than a kayak.

The result of all this is that I can tick along at walking pace with an electric trolling motor on it's slowest setting.

I like walking pace.

In fact, aside from jet aircraft pace, and insane motor bike pace, walking pace is my favourite pace.

So I think, the result of all that is that I should be able to power my little boat with my single solar panel. That question has been nagging at me for ages. My solar panel says it delivers a maximum of 230w at 37v and also mentions 7.5 amps or so.  I think that means that at 12 volts after an MMPT solar charge controller, it will offer the battery a maximum of 19 amps. Probably much less.


I just put my trolling motor in a bucket of water (large bucket) and ran it through my multimeter. As far as I can tell, it draws around 12 amps on the lowest speed setting. I'll be taking a 120 amp hour deep cycle lead acid battery. From memory, before I had the solar panel, that battery gave around 5 hours cruising when I ran it down to 11v. But my memory is terrible for stuff like that.

Also as far as I can tell, I think that means I should be able to cruise for a reasonable amount of time each day. There's also the option of running a bit faster during the middle of the day, when my solar panel is generating the most power. It would be nice to leave the battery with a healthy amount of charge at the end of each day so that I could use some for light, charge my phone and UHF radio, and to power a laptop so I can get some blog posts out.

I'll probably want to set up camp each afternoon when there is still plenty of light, and get up early each morning to pack up camp and get under way when the river is at it's best. If I leave a full battery at the end of each day, I should be able to set off at first light, and then make up the charge by the end of the afternoon.

Or something.

But I have no idea how this will all pan out in the real world.

What I need is a 36v to 12v MMPT solar charge controller that actually works, and wasn't sold to me fraudulently by that trader on E-Bay.

Now I don't trust the world any more.

But I'll probably get over it.

But on the up side I now know how much current my little trolling motor draws, and I've also found a brand new way to inject a lot of oxygen into my fish tank very quickly, and perhaps mince fish.

Which is nice.

This is the trolling motor on it's highest speed setting.

Excited water.

120 Things in 20 years thinks it's found the worlds fastest way to empty a large bucket of water all over itself and it's shed, without actually picking it up and tipping it over itself.

Projectiles - Dart cannon

I thought I'd make a cannon, and use the little dart I made when I built my blow dart gun with a laser sight as the projectile.

Making projectile launching things that shoot projectiles can be fun.

And stupid.

This project was both.

I started with a jumbo bag of party poppers.

They might be called something different where you live, but they are a little explosive device designed to deliver a quantity of litter into the environment.

They do it surprisingly effectively.

I pulled all the streamers and other junk out to reveal the small firework.
Then it was a simple matter of finding a tube that would fit over the bit that goes bang.

I found a bic pen worked a treat, and the tapered end meant it was easy to create the required seal by just forcing it into the handle of the popper, to surround the firework.

Like this.

Before jamming the pen into place I put the dart in at the firework end.

And this is where the stupid bit comes to the fore...

Then I pulled the string.

Luckily I had taken the precaution of wearing a scratched pair of sunglasses, and aiming in the general direction of the back wall of my shed (garage/iron clad building full of junk in my backyard).

The result was that I no longer own my little hand made blow gun dart.

It's gone now.

It's definitely still in the shed, but it really could be anywhere.

It went away really, really fast, and obviously didn't want to be found.

I think it must hate me.

The pen/cannon has a new fracture as well. You can see it in the milky burnt picture in the pic before last.

I put the inky bit of the pen loosely into the little cannon and re-loaded it to see how much power it had, and was a little surprised to see it actually shift it ... perhaps....6 feet.

That could come in handy if you ever needed to project a full stop to the far wall of whatever room you were in.

Very handy.

According to my calculations, all this means I could shoot a 44 magnum slug nearly a thousandth of an inch.

Which is nice.

Generally I prefer to blog about things that are kid friendly, but this time I guess I have to say...

Don't try this at home...

Unless you really, really want to.

But please, please, put on an old pair of sunglasses or some safety goggles, or wrap your kids in a mattress or something. And maybe just launch a polystyrene ball from a bean bag or a pug of potato or something. It's always embarrassing to rock up to emergency with a little dart poking into your kid's brain through one of the soft, squidgy, eye portals that the gods built into heads as a sick party joke to make you look silly when you rock up to emergency with a little dart poking into your brain.

Don't encourage them.

Besides, wearing safety goggles shows you and your kids that you at least have a certain confidence in your ability to create mayhem.

I count the cannonic loss of my little home made blow gun dart a total success.

120 Things in 20 years thinks it might be a good time to quit while I'm ahead. I can see making cannons is a thing I could rapidly get addicted to. Like crack and cross-stitch, some things are (apparently) too addictive to mess with.

Just say no.


Projectiles - Building a blow gun with laser sight

I thought I'd build a blow dart gun with a laser sight.

It turned out to be a total success.

It works well, and is much more fun than regular darts of the non-blown variety.

I started with a couple of pins, some string, some cotton, and a thin pipe. A broken car aerial works well, so does a pen casing. Even a drinking straw works at a pinch. The longer the better, and it's best to avoid flexible things as your pipe. Drinking straws tend to be a little less accurate.
I started by piercing the string so I had four strings stuck to my pin.

 I taped up the strings so they wouldn't move when I started to wrap them.

This next bit is really important.

Add a loop of cotton running the length of the pin.
Take some cotton and wrap it tightly to make a binding along about a third of the length of the pin.

I also made one where I used electrical heat shrink instead of cotton binding. It worked well, and was much faster to make, but didn't look as nice as one with binding.

Trying to tie off  the end of a binding is difficult unless you have that loop we added.

To finish your binding, pass the loose end through the loop.

Then pull the back of the loop all the way back. This will draw in the lose end, and secure it by tucking it under itself... under the binding.

That's really important string tech. As long as you plan it beforehand and add that loop it's easy, but without the loop, it's next to impossible.
 The end result looks something like this.
Next I took another pin and frayed the string.

Wool would work better, but I didn't have any.
When it's fully frayed, it looks like this.

You can us it like this, but it was a little slow, and not very accurate.

I trimmed mine down a bit.

The point of the tail is to create drag so it flies straight, and with the sharp end up the front where it belongs.

If you have even one thin strand longer than the others it can cause trouble.

A long strand will make your dart turn off course a bit, and can also get stuck between your lip and the tube, resulting in a blowing noise but no shooting.

An easy way to trim it is to put it into the blow pipe and cut any excess with scissors.
Next, I found my container full of prototyping plastic. I explain it in this post about it's possible use in making hand made fishing lures, but basically it's stuff that gets soft at 65 degrees centigrade or so, and sets hard once it cools.

Next, I got hold of a laser pointer ($15 or so), then it was a simple matter of heating up some prototyping plastic, and wrapping it around both the tube, and my laser pointer.

I added three screws that sit through the plastic so I can tighten them against the laser to adjust where it points in relation to the tube. That way, it's easy to adjust and make certain everything lines up properly.

I shot some video while I was sighting it. I placed the laser sighted blow dart gun in a clamp, and repeatedly shot it, and adjusted the screws to get it more accurate. A simple matter of firing, then moving the dot to the same spot as the dart hit.

Thinking - Theoretical economic Anthropology and the Gold (star) Standard

One of the problems I see in the western world is it's dependence on reward.

The internet seems a little better than the real world in this respect, but I suspect it's because we don't see the takers doing the taking. We just see the givers being generous. The nature of the stuff up for grabs means that if you take more than you give, there's still exactly the same amount left for everyone else. Open source software is a good example. 

I've taken much, much, more from the net than I can ever give, but all the stuff I've taken is still there. 

Which is nice.

But in the real world you take some stuff, and there's not as much left for the next in line. And sometimes there isn't even a line*.  I've been lucky enough to have spent my formative years living in Papua New Guinea. To say anything about Papua New Guinea is to be wrong about most of it, but I'll say some stuff about it anyway. 

When I was in Papua New Guinea, I was there at a time when the locals were making the transition from the cultures and lifestyles they had been enjoying for the last few dozen centuries, to one that looks and tastes a little more like you might expect in a western city. One of the problems with shifts like this is the clash between the old economic system and the new. From this point is should be noted that when I talk about some attribute of Papua New Guinea's culture, I refer to only the bit's I know. There are something like a third of the worlds languages (or something) don't quote me)). and many more cultural ... things... paradigms? Anyway. every few hundred people are different. They talk different, they look different, they believe different, and they think different. Not just different as compared to me, but different from all the other different groups. I knew a fishing net merchant who could easily pick a persons birthplace to within a hundred kilometres or so, just by meeting them over the counter. Often with much greater accuracy to the point where they could name the village. Anyway...   One of the most interesting things about the culture clash was the gradual decline in the worth of generosity. Or at least my perception of that decline. There seemed to be some kind of social credit that a person could gain by simply giving stuff away. You might get something back from acts of generosity, but it might not come from the person you gave things to. You still see this in the west in small groups, but once you get to a certain population level, one where everybody can no longer know everyone else, the system breaks down. There comes a point where giving stuff away is no longer useful. 

And here I come to my point...

When you're little, you gain respect and trust within your family and friends, you are rewarded with new responsibilities, freedoms, and smiles. 

You don't need gold stars gummed to your work. 

I think gold stars (or points for Hufflepuff) might be encouraging our kids to seek only monetary reward, or perhaps an Oscar. 

I think we should stop it. 

120 things in 20 years thinks the best part about not being an academic, is that I have no need to quote sources, and I get to say whatever I want. 

*A line has just one characteristic. It's endedness. Two** ends, but just one characteristic. A list of people who can make the most noise from lowest volume to highest could be seen as another line, and often making the most noise gets you first grab at whatever's going. (see baby birds in nests, and political lobbyist)

** a circle is a line with no end. I guess that means I mean a "queue".  

PVC - PVC as a thermoplastic

It turns out, PVC isn't just my favourite product to work with, it's also a thermoplastic.

Who knew?

I should have remembered the thing I read back when I was making aquaponics grow tubes, but you don't know what I'm talking about, so there's probably no point in referencing it.

But on the up side, there is a point to this post.

And that's that PVC is even more excellent than I first thought.

It turns out (not my idea) that PVC can be heated, formed into a new shape, then cooled so it sets and stays with it's new shape.

You've gotta be happy with that.

PVC, but whatever shape you want!

I started by holding part of the delivery system from my demand fish feeder under a candle until it got a bit hot.

I'm always torn between the desire to keep a museum of the things I build as part of doing this "120 things in 20 years" caper, and grabbing a lump of kit from a previous project and reusing it at the expense of said project.

Oh well, I guess if it's worth building, it's worth building again.
The next step was to squish it a bit.

The steps after this include trying to make it fit the fillet knife I keep ominously lurking in my little tackle box.

That'sit there in blue.

I say ominously because when I'm fishing, it tends to be used to hack at somewhat suspect portions of slightly off bait sitting in the sun, then when I get home, I expect it to shed it's immuno-challenging persona with a quick wash n a soapy sink, and stop threatening to cut me and give me some hideous infection.

I also expect it to get suddenly sharp enough to fillet fish.

Sometimes I expect too much.

But this time it turns out I oddly expect around about what's reasonable to expect.

This is mainly due to my sudden understanding of how to make stuff sharp. I've been using a honing steel for the last 20 years to keep my kitchen knives useful, but for some reason, suddenly I now seem to be able to make them half again as sharp. (((see chunking) actually see the top of the chunking article because that makes more sense) or this if you want to skip the links...

If you learn Morse code, you learn it gradually for a bit, then suddenly instead of thinking of the word "and" as...

dot dash blah blah
blah blah blah
blah dash etc

you start to know it as a single entity in much the same way as you originally knew the individual letters. ie the group "and" becomes the 27th letter of the alphabet. The result is that the learning process is non-linear, and you tend to gain new ability in "chunks" rather than gradually.)

Why am I distractedly talking about chunking motor tasks?...


Sharp is much better.

And oddly safer.

Anyway, the result is that now, more than ever, I need a sheath for the razor blade that rattles around in my tackle box and kitchen.

The knife in question is only an inexpensive thing, and it doesn't hold an edge for long, but it does readily allow itself to take on a scary sharpness. I guess there's a compromise between gaining an edge, and keeping an edge, and this inexpensive fillet knife has chosen as it's lot in life, to be way sharp. At least for a bit.

Quite useful for fish filleting really.

PVC is a thermoplastic!...

The "holding it over a flame" thing works a bit, but it's a little tricky softening the entire thing so you can bend the entire thing all at once.

But boiling water made that a whole heap easier.

If you don't have an enormous pot of boiling water, I recommend you send any kids safely away for the afternoon, and just dump boiling water all over the place in order to heat up your PVC.

It actually doesn't take that much.

I'm guessing a hair dryer would do it.

I used half a cutting board, and a sizzling steak hotplate holder to squish it flat after I heated it to bendy point.

You could also just step on it.

It's quite soft, and cures to it's new shape in only a few seconds.

The result was something that looked a lot like a folded flat length of PVC pipe.

Actually this is (obviously) the result of a different method, but both ended with a folded length of PVC tubing.

This one was done with the aid of two clamps, and pouring boiling water all over the house.

There are probably a dozen more ways to do it.

Heat it, then squish it flat.

This post has derailed a bit, so to re-cap, I'm making a knife sheath from PVC pipe by heating it and reforming it to shape.

Place your knife over the top of the flattened PVC envelope, and loosely trace around it with some kind of marking device leaving around a centimetre of excess white space around the blade.

I used a pen, but you could also use whatever marking method your culture enjoys.

Next I cut out the shape with tin snips, scissors, and a hacksaw to test as many methods I could find at hand. That's why this photo actually came before the last.


time can do that.

The result was the start of a pretty convincing knife sheath.

I drilled a few holes.

I added a loop rubber band made from a slice of bicycle tyre inner tube (bicycle tyre inner tube rubber bands last around 25,000 years longer than normal rubber bands)

The loop will hook over the handle and act as the fail safe, and might allow me to wear it in a way that might be a little more practical than hanging it on a belt.

And a few more holes to snug it all up tight to the blade with some multi-strand artificial fibre twine and we are done.

I count this as a total success.

Much less dangerous.

And now probably safe enough to take on an epic adventure.

It will still need to be washed after using it to handle bait, but at the moment I cant see a way past that as a compromise.

If you try it yourself, make sure there is a bit of space between the PVC folds at the sharp end to allow water to pass through when you wash it, and also make sure the bindings pull the PVC together tight enough that the blade can never touch the binding twine. The easiest way to achieve this is to not take the bindings all the way to the tip of the sharp end. And to stick something in the end when you are heat-forming the sheath. However you do it, try to make sure you can see through the sheath when it's empty, to allow rinsing the sheath.

I found that after it was finished, heating the entire thing while the blade was removed, and bending it slightly from end to end, made the blade sit a bit tighter. Enough so that you could could hold the sheathed knife upside down and shake it, (without the safety rubber band) and the knife would not fall out of the sheath.

A total success, and definitely some tech that I will add to the ever growing grab bag of tricks that I might employ to solve something, somewhere, one day.

120 Things in 20 years just came back from a quick trip into the future, and found it's all made of PVC...

and there's some 3D printed concrete housing.

but the future's definitely made mostly of PVC.

Thinking - Solar photovoltaic panels - Epic boating adventure - Lunacy

I looked away for a bit, and while I wasn't looking the world notched over to complete lunacy.

I bought a solar charge controller that was advertised as being able to accept voltages 12v-40v.

That was nice because my solar panel is 37 volts.

But when I opened it the docs inside said it was good for 12v-20v. I complained and eventually the internationally known E auction site gave my my $70 back, but I had to pay $30 for the return postage.

I sent it back to China.

Today I just got it back in the mail.

Apparently they didn't bother to collect it or they don't really live at their stated address.

So far it's travelled 20,000km.

The world is an amazing place.

And a completely loony one.

Thinking - Vegetable stock

Risking yet more plagiarism I thought I'd mention an idea we had the other day. (although I have a funny feeling I may have already mentioned it...

if so...

To re-cap...

For some time now, we in the 120 things test kitchen have been saving and freezing the water left in the steamer after steaming some veggies to make stock at a later date. We have also been throwing our veggie peelings and scraps into the freezer for making vegetable stock at a later date. Apparently a common practice (I checked this time).

But now, we throw the veggie scraps into the steamer pan before we steam our veggies, and as a result, we get amazing stock every time we cook veggies.

If we don't use it on the day (but we generally do), we just freeze it (or freeze it by adding it to the ever growing container of veggie stock we now have in our freezer ready for the time we have enough to make a decent amount of stock).

The stuff makes an amazing soup base, and makes an even more amazing base to a chicken or whatever stock.

  • Peel your veggies. 
  • Put the peelings into the bottom steamer pan.
  • Add water. 
  • Steam the veggies.


Mega-stock left behind in the steamer water.


Making smoked foods - Original rib ideas 0, Plagiarism 1

I just found out that my "Luxury cut ribs" idea wasn't original.

It seems that not only is there a competition BBQ circuit, but on it you might find something called "Hollywood cut ribs" which have an uncanny resemblance (being identical) to Luxury cut ribs.

Oh well.

I'm still holding out hope for Frenched luxury cut ribs as my one contribution to the carnivorous, and our deep-seated need to cook stuff on charcoal.

Making smoked foods - Frenched luxury cut ribs

I thought I was pretty clever when I came up with cutting ribs so that ever second bone was removed. I called it "luxury cut ribs". This is always enormously popular with people at a BBQ.

But now I think I'm even more clever.


I frenched every rib, but at opposing ends.

Luxury cut, but with a handle.

A genuine meat popsicle.


Fire - Tin can stove success

I decided to make another tin can stove with the new design, but this time I thought I'd make it work.

A major design flaw of the first attempt was not actually the bit where the tin ripped in two, but was actually the bit where I was thinking upside down.

The previous version had grooves that would only reach the bottom.

That was never going to work.

This time I made the grooves in such a way as they would still be grooves when they reached the top.

Much more likely.

So, the top (open ended) half of the can is bent like this, and made to sit into the bottom (still with the base on) of the can.

All up this process takes only 5 minutes or less.

The zig-zag bit is placed zig-zag down into the half on the left.

It doesn't even need to be a snug fit.

Just drop it in place.

The result is, that when you light the alcohol and wait a few seconds for the device to heat up, it vaporizes the spirit within the zigs and the zags of the two walls created by the can halves, and is emitted as gaseous fuel through the top of the (now inverted) zig-zag bits.

Like this.


And quick.

A quicker, more durable ethanol stove.

A total success.

Much better than the last attempt.

Thanks to whoever first thought of this method of making a little spirit stove, that enable the happy camper to knock out a stove within a few minutes of dumping a can's contents into a pot.

Now all I need is canned food that actually tastes good.

And perhaps the ability to make a tin can.

I have no idea how to make a tin can.

But I'm not going to make a can as a "Thing" because nothing good ever came out of a can.

120 Things in 20 years - No can was hurt in the making of this post.

And sweetened condensed milk comes in a can, and that stuff is delicious.

But I still don't want to learn how to make a can.

Fire - Quicker, more durable ethanol stove

A while back I made a pretty convincing ethanol camp stove out of a coke can.

It worked well and looked like this when it was running.

I've used it a bit since then and it's definitely a practical addition to any backpack.

The problem is it's starting to show signs of aging. The can expands and contracts, and there is now a crease where extra gas flows giving an uneven flame.

In my model (also not my design) I used an inner sleeve with holes at the top to let the gas out. The result is that the trapped ethanol (spirit/alcohol/methanol) between the outside wall, and the inner wall boils the spirit, and creates a gas jet that looks a lot like a normal BBQ burner.

One of the problems was trying to get the top of a coke can to fit into the bottom of a coke can. It's tricky because (of course) they are the same size. It can be done, but involves gently stretching the outside one and it takes a lot of messing about.

Now I'm being pretty fussy here. The little burner works really well, but it did tend to leak fuel around creases that formed in the join between the top and the bottom sections.

Someone on a Stirling engine forum pointed me towards a different method of making one. This method involves no holes, but it just encourages those creases that mine developed by itself, and I think it might be a winner.

Their's also used a drink can, but I think it might make a more robust version if I used a tinned food can.

So, to start with, I peeled a normal, every day food tin.

The first step was to trim it to size.

I needed the top to fit into the bottom, so the first thing to do was punch a hole in it to enable a cutting tool to get in there.

I used that mystery tool that pocket knives have.

Probably a leather working tool or something.

Who knows, just punch a hole in the can.

Next jam in some tin snips or something to make a nice cut to separate top from bottom.

My tin snips are stupid, so I ended up using scissors.

This isn't the best way to use scissors, so don't do this at home unless you actually own the scissors.

One very good method of cutting a tin can, is to just tear it by grabbing a ragged tail of tin with a pair of pliers and twist. If there's a groove to follow, it actually makes a pretty straight cut.

As I said, I ended up using scissors to trip everything to it was nice and neat.

I made the inside sleeve (the one on the left), slightly taller than the other so the pot could sit on the rim and let the gas escape from the gap between the outside sleeve.

I bent a series of grooves in the base of the inner sleeve so that they would allow the flow of gas, and also allow the inside sleeve to fit inside the outside sleeve.

This was simply a case of grasping with pliers, and twisting them to the left, and slightly down toward the centre.

Next I inverted the inside sleeve and carefully positioned the outside sleeve over it so that I might press the two together by stamping down with my foot.

Which failed completely.

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