Archive for May, 2005

Moving people and their things in Iraq

Strategy page reports that the US military is going the minivan route to supplement their general purpose vehicles in Iraq. With all the armor being added to hummers even the diesel advantage isn’t enough to make the fuel milage close. Maintenance has also got to be an issue with all the extra weight of the armor. So a lightweight minivan sounds like a good idea to reduce costs where the 4WD and armor aren’t needed.

May 31, 2005: With hummers being used as combat vehicles in Iraq, the U.S. Army is buying 19,000 Chrysler minivans and 5,000 Pacifica SUVs to provide more economical transportation in non-combat areas. The 2.2 ton Chrysler vehicles get about 27 kilometers per gallon of gas. The hummer gets about 14 kilometers per gallon of gas (most run on diesel, which doubles fuel efficiency), and weighs 2.6 tons. The hummers cost $75,000, nearly three times the cost of the Chrysler vehicles, which will be gold in color when delivered to American troops. Most of the American troops in Iraq are operating in non-combat areas, either in large bases, or the northern and southern parts of the country where there is little violence.

Gold minivans? I guess they couldn’t get olive drab off the line.

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Biodiesel risks in the woods

Biodiesel is the fancy name for using waste restaurant fryer fat as a fuel for a diesel engine. reported a risk in using those fuels out where bears can be found.

Larry Joy, a 53-year-old electrician, said the bear shattered a window on his 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit, tipped the plastic fuel tank on its side, and gnawed on car hoses about two weeks ago. He said the evidence included muddy paw prints around the broken window and a pool of cooking oil on the rear floorboards.

The report also mentions that the engine needs to get warmed up on dinosaur diesel until it is at 90F. Then it is warm enough to thin out the fryer diesel. But that generates a sweet smell, like “cheeseburgers,” when the temperature hits 150.

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Ready to hand when driving, a bit of history

Ralph Kinney Bennett (The Most Important Fifth Wheel. TCS 05ma17) was struck by the controls that can be found on a modern automobile’s steering wheel. His column provides an interesting history of vehicle controls.

Thanks to modern microelectronics you can slip behind the wheel of your car now and change radio stations, adjust the climate control, set the cruise control, make a telephone call, or who knows what all, with just a slight movement of your thumb or finger, even as your power steering helps you easily negotiate the turns ahead.

And while you’re driving, why don’t you give a thought and a thanks to those nameless engineers and designers who have devoted so much attention to this most important fifth wheel.

I wonder if the brake controller override has made it to the steering wheel, yet.

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Kent found a strange rock

Kent grew up near the upper Rio Grande. On one outing he found a strange rock.

While on a camping trip when I was fifteen years old, I came across a baseball-sized rock that I immediately realized was rather unusual. It was a jet-black, coarsely crystalline rock (unlike fine-grained basalt) with green patches and a high specific gravity. It showed none of the surface melting characteristic of a meteorite. The material was highly magnetic but it was not iron. Further investigation showed that the chief mineral was magnetite (magnetic iron oxide) and the green patches were chlorite. This was indeed a most unusual rock. I still don’t know exactly where it came from — but I’m confident its original home was close to the earth’s mantle.

In trying to understand where it came from, he presents an interesting geology lesson. His web log Trolling in Shallow Water entry Down to the Moho (05Ma14) gets into what we know of the structure of the earth and why.

How do we know this? There are two sources of information about the deep interior of the earth. The first is seismic measurements. Earthquakes produce seismic waves that speed through the earth’s interior like sound waves from a firecracker. (In fact, one kind of seismic wave, known as a p-wave, is essentially a very low-frequency acoustic wave.) The speed at which these waves travel depends on the properties of the material through which they are moving. Furthermore, while p-waves can travel through both liquids and solids, another kind of seismic wave — the s-wave — can travel only through a solid.

So, if you can handle terminology such as

“the Mohorovicic discontinuity, known affectionately as the ‘Moho.'”

“meteoritic evidence that a nearby supernova enriched the protostellar nebula with quite short-lived isotopes”

“A thin crust of relatively light silicates formed at the surface during the first half-billion years of the Earth’s history, the so-called Hadean Eon. This melting and differentiating process released additional energy, since heavy iron droplets released energy as they sank and light silicate droplets as they rose to the surface.”

The result is that the Earth today has a core of elemental nickel and iron, surrounded by a mantle rich in magnesium and iron silicates (ultramafic rock), topped by a crust dominated by aluminum, potassium, and sodium silicates (sialic rock). Convective currents in the mantle, driven by continuing radioactive decay, have piled the sialic rock into continents where the crust is typically thirty miles thick. The crust in the deep ocean basins is much richer in the heavier elements (mafic rock) and also much thinner, typically around six miles thick.

and what to learn a bit about the earth you inhabit, take a gander and see what you get trolling in shallow water.

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Boca and its environs


The mouth (Boca) of the Little Truckee is where feeds into the main river between Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake. It was a crossing point for immigrants heading up the Truckee towards Donner Pass. Later on it was a supply point for building the railroad and then for supplying ice to keep California produce cool on the trip to eastern markets. The springs provided water for a brewery of some renown. Now it is the center of one big adult playground. Rivers, lakes. streams, mountains, history, and scenery make it a place to go and do what you like to do for recreation.

Boca was only a construction camp for the Central Pacific Railroad when Judge Edwin Bryant Crocker named it in 1868. The name means “mouth” in Spanish and derives from the fact that the town was located at the mouth of the Little Truckee River where it empties into the main river. … A trickling natural spring that once provided clear mountain water for Boca beer can still be found above the freeway opposite the old brewery site. [Truckee – Donner Historical Society, Inc. ]

Logging was a key industry in Truckee for decades. San Francisco’s ice boxes were supplied by ice from the ponds around Truckee for years. [Caldwell Banker @ Late Tahoe]

Boca Cemetery Restoration Project, May 29, 2004

An immigrant’s tale “an exact copy, including misspellings of the copy of the Porterville Recorder newspaper articles August 11, 12, & 13, 1910. ”

A history of Washoe County (PDF) R.W. McDonnald, May 1982.

The Lake of the Sky by G.W. James is avalable as an ‘etext’ from the Gutenberg Project.


Tahoe Adventure Sports has one of the better campground directories for the area.

For our serious bicycle enthusiasts:

Prosser Creek, Stampede and Boca Reservoir Tour A modern, 27-mile ride with minimal elevation gain. Drive north on Highway 89 to Prosser Dam Road and turn right. The pavement ends shortly, but keep driving three miles across Prosser Dam and park at the intersection. A good dirt road leads north to Stampede Reservoir and is about halfway through the ride. From there, head down a paved road to Boca Reservoir Dam. At Boca Reservoir Dam, the tour back to Prosser is clearly marked. The total distance is 27.1 miles, a good day’s ride for those who are regular cyclists. []

Truckee: Funky flows, finicky trout provides an interesting profile of the Truckee for the ESPN game fishermen.

Ultimate Tahoe answers the ‘What do I do?’ question

The Reno Tahoe Odyssey Course.

We’ve seen balloons over Boca before, but not like this.


Supplemental water provided by the Truckee Storage Project is stored in Boca Reservoir on the Little Truckee River and released for better regulation of the Truckee River according to the Truckee River Agreement. The ditch companies which form the Washoe County Water Conservation District divert and deliver irrigation water, while 7 subdistricts maintain control and administration. [Department of the Interior]

Real time environmental sensors in Nevada County tell you the state of the river and its flow.

The Truckee Meadows Wather Authority has a nice map of the river system. You can get more information about the system and the water
agreements and projects from UC Davis.

California Department of Water Resources Boca data pageClimate DataDRI data

Other stuff

The local paper reports on security barriers being put on Boca Dam [RGJ Feb6, 05]

Corey Farly has some Interesting Truckee River Trivia (RGJ Nov 83)

If you have a good set of USGS tropos, the Nevada County Features list will give you something to look for.

The Truckee River Yatch Club is a special interest group with a focus on the river.

Lake and water word glossary

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What goes in your ‘on the road’ toolkit?

Talk about a mutlidimensional problem! Figuring out what to carry in your RV for repair and maintenance on the road has to consider your own interests and capabilities, the many different kinds of things that might need repair, the space and weight carrying availability, balancing between repair and maintenance, where you travel, and how significant a problem has to be to require fixing while on the road in your eyes.

your own interests and capabilities There is no sense carrying things you don’t know how to use or don’t have any interest in using or learning how to use. You can get yourself in more trouble trying to fix something you don’t know anything about than if you just let it be until you can find someone qualified to fix it.

the many different kinds of things that might need repair Your RV is a mix of automotive, low voltage electrical, high voltage electrical, LP gas, plumbing, and other technologies. Some tools can be used for several of these technologies but each has its own special needs, too. These technologies also each have basic tools for the broader range of tasks and more specialized tools needed for more focused tasks. Taking an entire toolkit for each technology and task is impractical for most RVer’s.

the space and weight carrying availability You need to carry things besides tools and spare parts in your RV, too. Select what you can take so it will store safely and conveniently and be out of the way of your day to day use of the RV.

balancing between repair and maintenance On short trips, you can plan maintenance from the convenience of home. Repairs are only needed to get you back home safely. Longer trips means you need to plan for maintenance on the road and be able to make effective long term repairs.

where you travel If you never stray far from civilization, you can depend upon being able to find help when you need it. If you get out in the boonies, you might find getting the right kind of help difficult and costly. If you can’t call for immediate road side assistance, you will have a greater need to be able to fix things yourself for better comfort and safety.

how significant a problem has to be to require fixing while on the road in your eyes. This is a what you are willing to put up with issue. Some things must be fixed in order to make your RV minimally usable. Other things are just matters of convenience and lifestyle. Some things are easy to fix and others need special tools and capabilities. Plan for what you need to do that you can do to be able to fix your RV so you can use it the way you want to as best you can.

What this all comes down to is one of those issues that you have to figure out for yourself. You already know those tools you will need in your RV because they are the tools you already have and use. Being out in the road is no place to find out whether someone else’s toolkit is going to be what you need. Your only decision is whether or not to have a duplicate set of tools in your RV that reflects what you have in your workshop, garage, kitchen, or other workspace or to just use one set that you move back and forth as you go on RV outings.

If you are totally unfamiliar with the RV experience, start with weekend outings, preferrable with more experienced friends, and gain experience to learn what you need for the way you do things.

If you are totally clueless and want to stay that way – your toolkit only needs a cellphone and a toll free roadside service number. And just don’t get out of range of a cell tower.

Or, if you are handy at a lot of things and carry a large toolbox, then maybe you can pick up some extra cash at the campground helping others get things fixed. You can help everyone enjoy their RV experience better and make new friends at the same time.

For ideas and links, see

See the preparedness section of the owner’s guide.

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Boring your friends with too many pictures?

Taking pictures when you travel can serve many needs. The process of taking a picture can help you focus on what is interesting and help you better see and appreciate the visual experience of your travels. A collection of pictures can be a travel journal that you can use to remember the good times and plan for future spots to see again. Pictures can also be shown to others so they can share in a part of your experience. It has become easier and easier to make photographs ever since Kodak introduced the Brownie.

In 1900, the Eastman Kodak Company introduced a low-priced, point-and-shoot hand-held camera. Though there were other hand-held cameras on the market at the time, the low price of only $1 plus the promise of developing the film (rather than the camera’s owner investing in materials and a darkroom) for the first time made cameras accessible to the masses. (

Ed Land’s (see also Polaroid instant camera became popular in the fifties. It was the first time a snapshooter could see the picture he took almost immediately after he took it.

And fifty years after that we have digital cameras that produce pictures that can be enhanced and stored and viewed in common personal computers and printed on cheap inkejet printers and shared via email and web.

Making pictures has become ever easier and ever cheaper and ever faster to see results. This means a massive flood of pictures! Amy Harmon, in Digital cameras–stop them before they shoot again (The New York Times 5ma05) talks about a side effect of this ease of creating digital camera photographs. The message is that taking the picture is only the first step. You add value by selecting the good ones and processing them to make them better. Don’t foist all of your photos on your friends. Make them available for your friends to peruse as they choose. Even better, go the extra step and make available selected and prepared pictures with other information to tell an entertaining and informative story.

Also See

The Touring page of the Owners Guide for pages about how to take better pictures, learn about digital cameras, or share your images with others.

and for the history – Kodak, the Brownie at 100Historic Camera resource clubBrownie page (good resource links) — A camera timeline or, for a long term view, Timeline of Communication History or, for film

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What is a towing package?

A tow package is the name applied to a set of options that make a car more suitable for towing trailers. When factory installed it identifies the ‘heavy duty’ version of the car or light truck. An after market tow package doesn’t usually include all the features of a factory package because it is more difficult to beef up some things after the car is all put together.

First on the list of tow package add-ons is enhanced cooling for the engine and transmission. This keeps these critical components from overheating when pulling a trailer up grades.

Trailer amenities in the package can include the hitch receiver, extendible mirrors, wiring, and a brake controller. This is all the stuff needed to connect the trailer to the car and tow it safely.

Special vehicle options could include a larger and more powerful engine with a deeper differential gearing for more pull, a larger alternator and battery to supply more electricity for trailer running lights and charging, a beefed up suspension and re-valved shock absorbers to handle more weight, and rear antisway bar to improve handling.

A tow package is only one dimension of many that need to be considered for safe towing. You also need to choose a car (or light truck) that has weight ratings suitable for your rig. The hitch and its rigging also need to be properly chosen, installed, and configured for safe towing.

For more information, see
Towing-Package Essentials, Trailer Life, 2005 by Johnston, Jeff
Tow Vehicle Basics. Don’t be pushed around when looking for some pull.
How To Choose a Tow Vehicle. Trailer Life, 2005 by Francis, A E

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