Saturday, December 05, 2015

Boats and Floaty Things: Homemade Drift Sock

This is a commercial drift sock with a durable
straps sewn over the cone for added strength.
I'm basically a canoer with occasional lapses into fishing. I've never been a big fisherman. I'm kind of ADHD and don't have a lot of patience. Frankly my sympathies have always lain with the fish. But, anytime your doing stuff in a boat, you may find yourself needing to sit somewhere on the water without drifting into the weeds.  I've used this little trick to park offshore and do nature photography. If you're into murdering like, Bambi and Thumper you could probably make your canoe or boat or raft sit still for you using a home-made drift sock.

This thing we're going to make is a takeoff of an old sailor's trick called a sea anchor. Basically, a sea anchor is a line or chain, attached to a boat at one end and to a big something or other full of water at the other end. You can also use something like this to help keep your nose into the wind or your boat on course in a heavy breeze. A drift anchor is a smaller version of the sea anchor and comes in very handy in high winds or choppy seas. A very small one can be used to help you stay on course at the cost of a little drag. If you've ever tried to paddle in a stiff breeze, keeping the boat on course can be a real challenge. Even a small motorized skiff can struggle to stay on course for home if a wind comes up.

We sailors are nothing, if not innovators. There are several ways to go at making a drift sock. The quickest is to tie a line to a five gallon bucket and throw it overboard, tying the other end to the loop on the stern of your canoe or to a yoke at the end of a rowboat or skiff.  You can use a smaller bucket if you're trying to keep the boat turned into the wind. A larger bucket will help you not to drift. I've even seen a workable drift sock made from an open umbrella tied by the handle to a drag line behind the boat. 

Here are several other ways to create a quick emergency drift sock. You can fill a garbage bag with water and drag it along behind the boat. One interesting solution I've seen involves tying 4 to 6 ropes to the hem of a dress like a parachute. A bit of wire can be used to keep the dress open. Don't sew up the top of the dress (use a dress not a skirt).  The skirt part will balloon out as you start moving and catch a lot of water. As the water hits the waste of the dress, it slows because the hole is smaller.  The narrowing at the top will slow the forward motion by funneling the water together while still allowing it to pass through so that the dress doesn't act like a parachute and kill your motion altogether.

You can buy a commercial drift sock for $20 to $100 depending on the size of your boat and the amount of freeboard it exposes to the wind. If you have a low profile canoe, you can get away with a smaller drift sock. An Indian-style canoe with high gunwales is a lot more lively in a stiff breeze. A drift sock is simple a cone shaped something or other that is held open at one end and narrow or closed at the opposite.  Commercial ones are made of durable rip-stop nylon or canvas. You can make one yourself by taking a piece of nylon, canvas or polyester and stitching it into a cone shape. At the wide end, hem a wire loop into the edge of the cone. Add 4 grommets evenly spaced around the large end just below the hem. Most craft stores have two or three foot wire hoops that work nicely in this application.

To attach it to the boat, create a simple harness. Tie four ropes or some parachute cord to the 4 grommets at the large end and tie them to a steel loop or carabiner about 4 to 6 feet from the cone.  Then clip the carabiner to a line that you attach to the stern of the boat and drag behind it. If you're lucky, the stern of your boat has a cleat or loop you can attach the drift sock to and you won't have to jerry-rig it. It's not hard to do in any case.

To set up your sock to prevent your boat from drifting, throw the drift sock downwind of the boat and let it fill up. It won't stop you from drifting entirely, but it drag will definitely slow you down in a stiff breeze.

© 2015 by Tom King

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Emergency Man Pizza

Don't step away while you're broiling your pizza. They burn easily.

Let's face it us guys have all done some version of this when the wife was gone and not supervising us or during those magical years before we were married. That said, if you have your druthers, you'll probably prefer a real pizza made by someone who knows how.

BUT - if you're really desperate for that pizza-ish goodness and you don't have any frozen ones, there is something you can do to temporarily satisfy your craving while Dominoes finds your house and you find enough change under the sofa cushions to pay for the thing.

Voila' - The Emergency Man Pizza

You need three things:
  1. Flour tortillas 
  2. Spaghetti sauce, tomato ketchup, picanta sauce - practically anything that's saucy and made from tomatoes.
  3. Cheese - also a flexible ingredient in desperate circumstances. I once made this dish with cream cheese.
 Here's how you make it:
  1.  Lay out however many "pizzas" you're going to want.
  2. Smear your tomato sauce on the pizza. Season to taste. I have a friend who likes to put cayenne on his. I like mine a little more mild.  Don't make it too thick or the crust will get too soggy. Just a light smear is best.
  3. Sprinkle on a nice covering of cheese. Mozzarella is best, but you'd be surprise how good Havarti or Cheddar are in a pinch.
  4. Add anything else you want - onions, peppers, olives, mushrooms, leftover hamburger or some lunch meat, pineapple or sardines - whatever pops your cork. Make it as dry as you can because flour tortillas get soggy pretty quick if you make 'em too juicy.
  5. Stick them on a pizza stone (recommended) or a baking sheet in the oven and turn it on broil.  Don't go away. It takes just a couple of minutes. If you go to pee while they're in the oven on broil they'll turn out black around the edges like the ones in the picture above.  I mean, they're still edible, but they're better if you don't burn the edges.  You can also put them in the oven at 425 degrees, but that takes 8 or 10 minutes and this is, after all, an emergency situation.
These are great with a nice salad or you can just eat as many of them as you can make till you aren't hungry anymore. You probably won't want to show these to your wife or offer them as a food substitute. She is likely to doubt your sanity, which she already rates as "iffy" anyway.

My advice is eat them fast and clean up the evidence. Ketchup/cheddar/tortilla pizzas are generally viewed as barbaric by the fairer sex.

Alternate Microwave Method:

You CAN stick these babies in the microwave, but they will come out soggy. But if that's all you've got, you can roll them up like a pizza burrito and eat them that way and they're still pretty good.  Call 'em pizzaritos and it sounds like you meant to make them like that.  A little sour cream in the middle and you're in good shape.

Tom King
(c) 2015

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The Writing Life: Advice from CS Lewis

A young American girl - an aspiring - writer wrote CS Lewis asking him for advice on how to write. In his letter to her, Lewis made five of the best suggestions I've heard. Lewis had an incredible gift for getting huge ideas into not very much prose. I use these suggestions when I read through my stuff and brutally edit out the drivel...

Here's Lewis' advice:

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please will you do my job for me.”

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

So, if somehow, you can manage to avoid foggy, complicated, vague, abstract, touchy-feely, sesquipedalian loquacious writing, you may look up one day and discover you're not such a bad writer after all.

Just sayin'

Tom King (c) 2015

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cleaning Secrets - Gas Smell in Carpet


You aren't supposed to carry cans of gasoline in the cabin of your car. The fumes can make you sick and even more dangerous, the fumes are what blow up if there's a spark happening anywhere about. That said, how many of us have propped a gallon on the passenger seat floorboard for the trip home to mow the grass.
Slosh a bit on the carpet and you could be driving with the window open for the next two or three months. Fortunately, there's a way yo can get the smell and the explosive potential out of your carpet in short order. Just follow these steps carefully and in order and this easy to make solution should help pull the smell out of the carpet right handily. If any smell lingers, just repeat until it doesn't. It shouldn't take more than a few repetition. 
  • Baking soda or kitty litter
  • Dry cleaning solvent
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Warm water
  • Measuring cup
  • Paper towels
  • Sponge
  • Shop vacuum
  • Rubber gloves
  1. Immediately after any gasoline spill, blot up the liquid with paper towels. Keep blotting until the spill is as dry as possible. Be careful how you dispose of the used towels. Don't just throw them in the trash. They could spontaneously combust. If you have an outside burn pile you might be able to burn them safely. You might want to contact your waste management company and ask them how they want you to store and dispose of flammable paper towels. Whatever you do, don't scrub the wet gasoline. Blot gently or you will force gasoline into the carpet pad.
  1. Cover the gasoline spot with baking soda or kitty litter as soon as you can. Let the soda or litter absorb as much gasoline as possible. Let the soda or litter sit on the spot for an hour to fully absorb any remaining gasoline.  Leave all your car doors and windows open to keep the fumes from building up in the cabin and possibly blowing up your car. 
  2. Scrape up all of the material and remove it from the car. Don't use a shop vac or other electrical device to remove the saturated litter or soda. It could spark and catch fire. 
  3. Next you're going to use dry cleaning solvent (Naptha) to rinse our the stained area. Test it first on an inconspicuous place to make sure it doesn't damage the fibers of the carpet. Some carpets with polyester in them can be damaged. If you can't use Naptha, try using vinegar. It won't work as well and may mean you have to resoak and blot the spot several more times, but it also won't explode. 
  4. Now, blot the solvent into the gasoline spot with paper towels or a sponge. Fix up a little tub with hot soapy water and do a final soapy and then a clear rinse afterward.
  5. Blot the solvent into the spot with paper towels till the carpet is well saturated, then blot it up with a sponge. Repeat till the gasoline smell is noticeably reduced. If you add a little lemon juice or lemon scented cleaner to the final rinse, it can help cover any lingering smell of gasoline a bit better.  
Safety Tip:

Be sure and wear gloves when you're working to keep fuel from soaking into your skin. If you spill more than a cup or two of gas, you may be better off pulling up and replacing the carpet as gasoline may have soaked into the carpet pad. It may be much better to call up a professional hazardous chemical removal specialist in this case rather than attempting the job yourself. Being immolated in your own driveway is not a particularly pleasant way to meet one's maker.


If a large amount of gasoline was spilled, it may have saturated the padding. In this case, the carpet will need to be replaced and the danger of fire is very high and a professional hazardous chemical removal specialist should be called. 


How to Clean Carpet: Gasoline

Illinois Dept. Of Public Health: Gasoline Fact Sheet

Berkeley Lab: Hazardous Waste

Fantomworks: How to Remove a Gasoline Smell

Auto Evolution: How to Get Rid Of Gasoline Odor in Your Car

(c) 2015 by Tom King

*Graphic:  License: CC0 Public Domain / FAQ Free for commercial use / No attribution required

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Writing Life: Working for Ebenezer

You do not want to work for clients who
are under the delusions they live in
London in the mid-1800s.
Advice:  DON'T DO IT

Here's my nomination for "Still-Believing-in-Slavery" Freelance Writing Client of the Day

Saw this post on eLance. I cut and pasted it without alteration. How medieval is this guy?

"Greetings. Are you willing to complete 500 word articles for $1.00 each (as many as you can handle per day)? I need writers to write (unique and non-plagiarized) up to 10 articles (500 words each) every day for 6 months. 10 x 500 words articles Bidders from native English speaking countries are in demand. The assigned writing tasks are time based, which will require to be sent one by one. Normal workload: One by one and to be delivered within 1-2.5hrs for 500 - 1000 words (if possible). Funding and pay only after acceptance (usually same day)."

He's probably figuring $12 an hour is pretty good wages for doing basically nothing while sitting around at your computer all day in your underwear. After all, he figures:
  • If you can type 100 words per minute that's one story every five minutes or 12 in an hour. 
  • If you can (if possible) do 1000 word stories, it only reduces you to $6 an hour unless you can type 200 words per minute. 
  • If you type back to back stories without a break at 100 wpm off the top of your head (with a little research if you can manage it), then you should be able to do 96 stories in a day for an 8 hour day (120) if you work 10 hour days..

In actual practice, you could probably do one original story in 1-2 hours if you push it, earning a magnificent 50 to 75 cents per hour or about $20 a week. At that rate over the six months this contract runs, I'd gradually become homeless and starve to death even at my current weight class.

AND THIS GUY LIVES IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. I figured he was probably someone from Somalia or Nigeria.

What is he the White House's statistician or something - can't count worth a flip? Sheesh!

Anybody out there, who has ever written for a living, want to give him the correct answer to his question?

I guess he doesn't remember how much he used to whine when the teacher gave him essay tests back in junior high.

© 2015 by Tom King