Thursday, February 5 2004
I felt unexpectedly healthy this morning, so after taking the dogs for a walk a short way down the snowy Stick Trail, I changed the oil in my truck. The weather was about as good for this sort of thing as one can expect at this time of year. Actually, it was more pleasant climbing under the truck with it parked on the snow, because I managed to get less filthy that way.
The truck takes about three and a half quarts of oil, something I probably discovered the other time I changed its oil. Once more I was confronted with the problem of what to do with the old motor oil. Since there's a lot of energy locked up in motor oil, I was again tempted to burn it, but in a place where I could somehow benefit from its heat.
So I poured the oil into bean and cat wetfood cans and set these up inside the firebox of the wood stove. Then I tossed lit pieces of paper onto the surface of each little black pond and soon had them all burning with orange flames, a clear indication that they would have been happier with more oxygen. These flames had a peculiar lava lamp quality to them, with sparks and subtle patterns moving around slowly on their surfaces, unlike any flames I'd ever seen before.
I knew the smoke would be acrid, but it all obediently went up the chimney, giving me the heat without the carcinogens. I went outside to look at the smoke coming out of the chimney and wasn't surprised to see that it was a nasty brownish-black, the color of afternoon in 19th Century Pittsburgh. Sometimes I caught a whiff of it and it smelled exactly like my old Punch Buggy Green did on the occasions when it burned oil. I was a little concerned that one of the downwind neighbors might notice or that I'd get a visit from the EPA - I wasn't exactly gassing the Kurds, but even George W. Bush's EPA should have been alarmed.
I felt bad about the pollution, but it was really just an experiment and not something I intended to do on a regular basis. I wanted to investigate how motor oil burns and what can be done to make it burn more completely.
I ended up burning all three and a half quarts of it. It burned much hotter and brighter whenever I blew on it, so I even tried blowing a fan on the little pots of fire, but that had the unintended side effect of instantly filling the room with ash and oil smoke. I figure that if I ever make myself an oil burner, it will depend on forced air, perhaps bubbling rapidly up through oil maintained at a certain level in some kind of burning reservoir. I've looked at designs for oil burners in the past and it would be an interesting project.
There's always some kind of trouble with the utilities here on Dug Hill Road. It's no surprise, really, since they come up from the civilized Esopus Valley through a dense forest and some of the wires are actually attached to live trees instead of conventional telephone poles. Today one of the electric utility guys came to the door to warn me he'd be turning off the power for an hour or so. I considered this a radical upgrade in customer service; usually when they have something to fix they just kill the power with the sort of ceremony that surrounded my circumcision. [Be warned: I can alliterate circles around a right winger!]
It was enough of a warning that I could set the Earthlink number off one of my other computers and set up a dial-up connection on my Vaio laptop, which allowed me to continue using the internet right through the outage.
The problem came when I wanted to go back to using a wireless connection. Something about the dialup connection poisoned the other connections and made them refuse to look for a dynamic IP address on the local network. Deleting the dial-up connection was not enough; I had to uninstall and then re-install TCP networking, something that most people would have had to do by re-installing Windows. This is the sort of experience that can make me, something of a computer expert, gun-shy when contemplating creating expedient dial-up connections in the future.
My esophageal discomfort continued today, growing gradually worse in the evening. Happily, it wasn't quite as bad as it had been yesterday. I began to wonder if perhaps I had injured myself in some way from all the corn chips I had eaten on Monday evening. It's not unusual for me to eat an enormous number of corn chips in one sitting, but I think I'd broken some sort of record given the appetite induced by a couple hours spent stringing ethernet outdoors in the cold. One clear symptom of corn chip excess was an unusual sudden onset of conspitation. Normally my constitution can make quick and comfortable work of anything I choose to eat, but even my constitution has its limits.
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