Thursday, 26 July 2012

Street Level Zen: Karma


"Time wounds all heels."

Groucho Marx

(Photo courtesy of Mykl Roventine and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

WW: Skipjack

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Hermitcraft: Bottle Traps

This one isn't about practice or practicalities. It's about fun. Sue me.

It's high summer here in the planet's attic, and the kids are out of school. Most pursuits this time of year involve aquatic habitats of one kind or another. So here's a simple little project that costs nothing and pays off big in educational entertainment for all ages. NOTE: These traps are also often used on dry land to catch lizards. If you use one for this, make double sure to check it frequently and keep it out of the sun at all times. Failing this can result in a truly horrific death for an unoffending creature.

These survey traps are made from a pair of 2-litre soda bottles, and not much else. And they really work. There are YouTube tutorials galore on the subject; a "bottle trap" search there will net (get it? [Fish]-net? [Inter]-net?) a hundred vids. But I've yet to find a design as refined as my own, so I'm sharing it. (By way of credentials: I'm an old aquarist, specialising in local habitats. At one point, when I was twelve, I had six aquariums, fresh and salt, bubbling away in my bedroom.)

The massage:

1. Remove the labels from two clean 2-litre soda bottles. They can be round New World bottles or square Old World ones. Clear plastic works best; others will also do.

2. Cut the bottom off one, neatly and carefully. Scissors work best, after making a small starting slit with a knife. Discard the bottom, or keep it for studying collected specimens and infusoria. (Very handy.)

3. Cut both the bottom and the top off the second bottle. Set aside or discard the bottom.

4. Cut a 1-inch vertical slit in one edge of the dismembered body of the second bottle.

5. Now lengthen the barrel of your trap by grafting this onto the bottomless first bottle. (Note the two-toned example in the photo.) Finesse the slitted end into the opening where the first bottle's bottom used to be, and wedge it tight and straight. You should get an overlap of about three quarters of an inch.

6. Invert the second bottle's cut-off top in the open end of the trap to form a funnel-shaped head, as shown in the photos. Remember to take the cap off first! (Autobiographical.)

7. Fasten the pieces together. The easiest and most elegant way to do this is with a pencil-tipped solder iron. Heat it up well and push the tip gently through the plastic, all along both seams. Don't rush; savour the sizzle. This typically rivets the pieces together even as it perforates them.

If you haven't got a solder iron, next best thing is a heated welding rod or similar metal, followed by a hole-punch, either for paper or leather. After that is a very sharp drill. In any case, cold holes need to be bound together; use string, twist-ties, brads, or nylon zip ties. (This actually makes a more versatile trap, because you can unmount the head to put in certain baits or remove an overlarge catch.)

You can also use a common desktop stapler on the head; a deep-throated pamphlet stapler will fasten the whole trap.

8. Perforate the trap all over, from about three inches below the head seam to about three inches short of the exhaust funnel shoulder. This helps it sink and drain readily and allows prey to smell the bait. (The upper no-hole zone is so you don't perforate the head funnel; the lower one conserves a pint of water in the exhaust funnel when you haul your trap. This greatly reduces injury to life forms, makes them easier to identify and admire, and facilitates removal.) Again, a solder iron makes the neatest and easiest holes.

To set, make a bridle by tying eight-inch strings to four evenly-spaced holes in the head seam and knotting their free ends together. Then tie a long string to the knot. Drop some bait in the barrel, mind the line, and heave the trap overboard.

If you're fishing from the bank or off a dock, you can tie the line off there; the richest pickings are in that zone, anyway. Away from shore, hang a small buoy, such as a stick, cork, fishing bobber, or small plastic bottle, on the bitter end of the trap line and bend on an external anchor, such as a brick or horseshoe, near the head. All sets must be securely belayed to structure or an anchor at all times, regardless of location.

Leave the set unmolested for several hours; overnight is best. To evacuate the catch, hold the drained trap vertically over the water or collecting bucket and unscrew the exhaust cap.

Good starter baits include bread, cheese, cat food, liver, lunch meat, tuna fish, fish parts, clam necks, cocktail shrimp, and corn. Note: it's all about the bait. One won't catch a cold; another will fill the trap. And when seasons, locations, or depths change, it's back to square one.

Survey traps such as these could serve a limited survival end, by supplying bait, or a few crawdads for food. Or they might catch fry that will tell you what to tie on to hook a real meal. Aside from that they're seriously useful in monitoring the health of a waterway (such as the lake I grew up on, which is now mostly dead from overdevelopment and repeated herbicide attacks). Set out a raft of them, vary the parameters over time, and keep careful records. Such hard data can make the difference in a bid to change local law and policy.

Or… just make some kid's day. Ever seen a four-year-old jump up and down over a sculpin in a bottle trap? If Nintendo only knew, they'd make 'em illegal.

Thumbnail-sized rock bass caught this
summer in one of these traps

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

WW: Pelicans

Monday, 16 July 2012

Birds Know It

Karma is only a bitch if you are.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Ancestor Path Kyôsaku

no forests, no deadfall;
no deadfall, no firewood;
no firewood, no tea;
no tea, no meditation;
no meditation, no hermits.

Bill Porter, in Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits.
(Review here.)

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

WW: Fudo t-shirt from Thailand

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Hermitcraft: Candles

A few months ago I posted instructions for making your official Hermit Club rushlight, or candle lantern. That left you with a cheap, serviceable product that did not, however, throw any light, because I didn't explain how to make the candles that go inside. Today, I caulk that seam.

Chandlery is a complex art, demanding skill, experience, and money. Which is why I'm not sure this counts, because these candles are cheap, easy, and homely. (Bindle technology strikes again.) But they fit perfectly in a tin-can rushlight, and properly made, burn for about a month of sitting.

You will need:

Candle wax.
A large tin can.
A sauce pan.
A stove.
Boiling water.
An empty cardboard frozen orange juice can, the kind with metal ends.
Cotton wicking.
A hammer and a small nail.
Duck tape. (It is too duck tape. Don't tape ducts with it; you'll be fined back to the Stone Age.)
Two square sticks and a rubber band.

I find much of my wax on the beach (see photo, right); the fishing fleet uses it for something. The rest comes from dripping and remnants of previous candles, and recycled candles-of-fortune. I don't care about colour, except I never melt green and red wax together, because the brownish-grey they become is literally nauseating. Also, the more colour in the wax, the slower it melts, so the bigger wick you will need.

For wicks you can buy the dedicated product from a craft store, or use heavy cotton butcher's twine right off the spool, or braid that ubiquitous small white cotton "kite string" parcel twine to the proper gauge. (My favourite option, because you can adjust the size by adding or subtracting strands. Plus it's cheap.)

The procedure:

1. Put chunks of wax in the tin can, place the can in the sauce pan, and fill the pan with boiling water to just shy of the point where the can would float.

2. Place the sauce pan over medium-low heat and keep an eye on it. Paraffin wax becomes paraffin paraffin when it melts. (That's kerosene to my American friends.) In other words, you're simmering a pan of lamp oil on your stove. You don't want it boiling, sloshing on the burner, or copping any kind of attitude.

3. While you're waiting for the wax to melt, poke a hole dead-centre of the juice can's metal bottom, using the hammer and nail. The hole should be just big enough to admit the wick; any larger, and leaks become an issue. Also, cut the juice can down about an inch and a half for optimum rushlight size. (For generic pillar candles, you can use the can uncut.)

4. Knot one end of the wicking, trim the knot close, and thread the string up through the hole. You may need to dip the unknotted end in wax first, to make it stiff. Cut the wicking off two or three inches longer than the final wick will be.

5. Duck tape the end very securely, because that stuff isn't even almost heat-proof. (See? Completely unusable for ductwork.) Use two strips, crossed and running halfway up the sides of the can, and burnish them down well all over the bottom and around the knot.

6. Rubber-band the two square sticks together at one end to make an elastic clamp. Pass the wick between its "jaws" and tighten it up so the wick remains secure and plumb in the mould. (Not enough tension and the wick will meander while the wax cools, causing the candle to perform poorly.)

7. Pour about an inch of wax in the bottom of the mould and let it cool for a few minutes. This helps prevent leaking from the wick hole. When the wax has thickened a little, fill up the mould and take the pan and melting can off the heat. Allow the candle to cool completely at room temperature, about three hours.

8. Because paraffin wax contracts as it solidifies, you will find a deep depression in the top of the cooled candle. Re-melt the remaining wax and fill it level again. When the topping-up has hardened, you can scrape off the knot with a sharp knife and pull the candle out by the wick. If it sticks, just tear away the cardboard.

If you find that your homemade candle consistently drowns (the flame burns very low, or goes out entirely), then your wick may not be big enough. (Give it a few chances; for some reason, performance can vary from sitting to sitting.) If it burns too high and threatens to burst the wax pool, the wick may need trimming. If that doesn't fix it, it's too big.

In either case, the solution is to melt the candle back down and mould another with a better wick. As the blend in your melting can changes, due to variations in the pigment content and hardness of added wax, you may need to adjust the gauge of your wicks. With time you'll develop a sixth sense for these things and seldom have to resort to repouring.

And there you are. A cheap candle, perfectly sized for your rushlight.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

WW: One-inch largemouth bass