Dude, where’s my electric car?

It took all eight fans to clear the aftermath of "cabbage & beans" night.

It took all eight fans to clear the aftermath of "cabbage & beans" night.

Science fiction writers of the 1950s would have us believe flying cars would be here by now.  Personally I would settle for an affordable electric car that doesn’t look like a rejected soviet era design.  Even better would be a classic car without a heavy fuel consuming combustion engine – but the good news is affordabilty and style are both possible.

While some people have waited for governments and car makers to meet their environmental promises and kick their dependency on oil – others have just been getting out there and making it happen.

Many of these people have no or little mechanical knowledge, but they do have a desire to kick the petrol-habit and get rid of their dependency on the combustion engine. In a true recycling fashion some even salvage industrial batteries and electric motors to custom build their own electric vehicles (EV)

The electric car is not as recent an idea as you may think

The electric car is not as recent an idea as you may think

These are run of the mill everyday cars that have been converted based on practicality. But or for a more exciting electric ride there’s examples of an ’87 Porsche 911 and personal favourites a ’67 Mustang or ‘74 MGB which for an MG roadster is considered one the best years to own before rubber bumpers / fenders.

So until electric cars become mainstream or the flying car suddenly makes an appearance in my local supermarket car park, for me there’s plenty of scope and incentive to consider an electric car conversion as a future ‘man-cave’ project.


Saving a Rainy Day

Few islanders who had gone to the nearest 24/7 for water, bread and a newspaper were seen again.

Few islanders who had gone to the nearest 24/7 for water, bread and a newspaper were seen again.

Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink.’ I was reminded of the ancient mariner when I lived on a remote south pacific island for seven months. Like the ancient mariner there was nothing but ocean in every direction and going to the supermarket for bottled water was a, six day round trip of 3500 nautical miles at US$1500 each way.  The only supply of fresh water on the island was determined solely by rainfall and a few natural springs.

For generations the islanders dug storage wells in the ground, and the surrounding hills were a spaghetti network of  pipes and hoses bringing water down from the springs to the homes.  But more recently water tanks that could contain up to 25,000 liters of water are used to store the water running off the roofs, providing the cleanest supply of water for drinking, washing, cooking and cleaning.

But, during the long dry summer months rainfall on the island could be months apart and agricultural demand for water has placed increased demand on the springs ability to supply water – and on occasion the springs run dry, leaving only the household tanks to supply all the water needs.

Water tanks enable the community’s survival.  But, in a broader context the islands water issues typify some of the water problems faced around the world, since climate extremes now mean water is scarcer in temperate climates like the islands.  For the 40 – 50 people inhabitants of the island, water conservation is a way of life.   For example few homes had flush toilets, most had  ‘fragrant’, bug infested, old fashioned out-houses as a standard feature of most homes. (Never a pleasure to visit at 2am)

The islanders had also developed an ingenious system of a gravity feed hot water system involving a 44-gallon oil drum, referred to as a copper – a term dating back to the old copper pots that was used to heat water in over an open fire. The cold water from the water tank forced the heated water up and out of the drum and into the house. (Definitely a future man-cave project.)

The Islanders attention to water-quality and testing was second to none.

The Islanders attention to water-quality and testing was second to none.

Now back in the ‘civilisation’ it’s hard not to notice how much water there is in abundance, thanks to regular rainfall supplying the reservoirs, lakes, and rivers. Right outside the sub-urban ‘man-cave’ there’s even a natural spring that flows into a storm water drain, part of me would love to harness this in someway instead of it all going to waste.

Especially now with increasingly hotter summers and dryer winters, there’s a greater need to move towards water conservation and management around the home. Some local council’s have been progressive thinking and like on the island encourage the use of water tanks for storing rainfall as opposed to just issuing water restrictions.

So it’s still in the planning stages, but I’m slowly collecting the parts to make a good rain water collection tank (rain barrel.) I’m hoping with some resourcefulness to do the project under NZ$100.  I’m also hoping to do this to set an example for my friends and family members, and for them to start thinking about doing the same – before there’s a need to resort to out-houses again, which is one part of the island lifestyle I don’t miss.

An average person uses about 123 gallons (466 liters) of water daily. Some individual household activities and the amount of water they consume are listed below:

Activity                                               Water used
Shower                                                 15-30 gallons (57-114 liters)
Brushing teeth                                  (water running) 1-2 gallons (3.75-7.51 liters)
Shaving                                                (water running) 10-15 gallons (38-57 liters)
Washing dishes by hand                20 gallons (75 liters)
Washing dishes in dishwasher     9-12 gallons (34-45 liters)
Flushing toilet                                    5-7 gallons (19-26 liters)

For further information vist


UN statistics for water around the world


Where to buy a water tank in New Zealand


This guy makes a cool rain barrel – it’s a good example of what to aim for.

No Hassle(hoff) Furniture Restoration

It’s unusual when you find you have something in common with Pamela

Pamela Anderson - handy to have in the Workshop

Pamela Anderson - handy to have in the Workshop

Anderson, but she was once quoted as saying, “my ideal relaxation is working on upholstery. I spend hours in junk shops buying furniture, I do all the upholstery work myself and it’s like therapy.”

I couldn’t agree more. – Furniture restoration is a rewarding and therapeutic process.  I’ve restored over a dozen pieces of ever day household furniture, from pieces cobbled together from broken parts to colonial period furniture that’s been in the family for generations.  Like Pam, I’m also a fan of discovering furniture in secondhand stores and the local recycling centre – my restoration achievements include a 1912 ‘Singer’ and 1920s ‘Free’ belt driven sewing machine and table.  These machines made in the early part of last century required no electricity and are still used in underdeveloped countries, which is testimony to their superb design and construction.

Every piece of furniture has a unique period style in design history.  Over the years there are often repairs, modifications and the plantina of generations.  I once discovered a Rimu (New Zealand native timber) folding table at the former house of my great-grandparents, painted lime green.  Once the paint was removed, the table repaired and re-polished, it has once again has become a family centre piece.

depression furniture by Astroboy_71 from www.flickr.comA recent style of furniture I’ve discovered is depression era furniture 1925 – 1935. It’s a style to be easily overlooked, common examples were chairs, tables, food safes and cupboards made  from demolition timber, packing boxes, old chicken wire, recycled nails and homemade glues (from rendered bones.) – To be honest it’s not an especially aesthetically pleasing style, until you know the history and circumstances behind it.  But what is significant about this style in an age of flat-pack and cheap plastic laminates is how the builder with basic tools, time and craftsmanship used waste materials to create functional and usable furniture that has survived for over 80 years. – It’s doubtful you’ll be able to say the same about flat pack.

Inspired by the resourcefulness, there has been the construction of a depression era workbench – 2009 vintage, in the ‘man-cave.’  Using waste four-by-two (4×2) wood from a demolished wall, salvaged cork titles from a lifted floor, forklift palettes and recycled four-inch nails, I’ve constructed a SOLID workbench with some 1930s art deco-style features.  Overall time involved with the project was around ten hours, which was not a problem due to a brief period of recession unemployment.  To keep it authentic (and sustainable) the project was all done with hand tools to save on power, the final cost came in at nothing as a result, which was not bad considering all the materials were previously marked for firewood and disposal.

My Workbench - made from entirely waste materials

My Workbench – made from entirely waste materials

The new workbench is already employed in the restoration of a 1950’s Oak desk ($5.00 from the recycling centre.) So I wonder if Pam and I share any other hobbies or if it stops at furniture restoration? – Either way I’m sure I’ll never look at her quite the same again, which is hard to admit after a heavy TV diet of Baywatch as a teenager.

Tip: If restoring a singer sewing machine the serial number on the base denotes the location and year it was made. http://www.singerco.com/support/serial_numbers.html

Second Coming of the Land Rover

The 1957 Land rover had a lot of pulling potential.

The 1957 Land Rover had a lot of pulling potential.

With the invention of the wheel, human-kind was put on a path of greater mobility, distance and an indirect quest for the power to get us there quicker. The biggest obstacle for the wheel to overcome was the terrain it could operate on – but man then created a Land Rover ‘and it was good.’

Okay perhaps not a biblical event, but one that certainly was inspired and built on the success of the American Willis Jeep as an all terrain vehicle. Today you can still buy a Series II or III Land Rover reasonably inexpensively – and if the original petrol motor has been replaced with a diesel engine there’s greater reason to resurrect this classic icon of British engineering.  Like any good second coming the features of the original have the potential to be something better, and this is exactly what I intend to do.

first ever land rover adEarly Land Rovers (1948 – 1980) have a reputation as being vehicles with good construction, solid engineering and can be easily worked on. Land Rover claims that 70 per cent of Series I, II and III Land Rovers produced are still in use. And the appeal of a Land Rover with a diesel engine is that it’s perfect for a bio-diesel or a complete vegetable-oil conversion.

The diesel engine was partially developed and designed to replace petrol engines in mines for obvious reasons. Ironically it was developed to run off a variety of vege-oils* (not fossil fuels) that gave off non-lethal fumes, making mining a safer occupation – especially for canaries.

I’ve recently seen two examples of bio-diesel conversions on the BBC series ‘It’s not easy being Green’ and the Discovery Channels ‘London Garage’. Both demonstrated the benefits of running a green four-wheel drive / SUV vehicle. For example a using vege-oil / diesel mix reduces fuel costs by 50 per cent and toxic emissions are minimal, importantly the power-out put of the engine was not affected.

The vegetable oil was obtained, often at no cost, from the fast-food industry and after refinement involving filtering of fried food particles, it can be mixed (or used straight) with regular diesel. But, one notable emission from combusting recycled vege-oil was the smell of fried foods – which is potentially disastrous if you’re on a diet.

The vege-oil then goes through a converter, which raises the temperature of the oil to a level it flows at. Converters are available off eBay.co.uk and some mechanics are now specialising in fitting Bio-diesel conversions. So that sells it to me, I can get a classic and practical vehicle that meets my modern day green credentials, plus I finally have a good reason for going to get fast-food.

See Also

Diesel Engine Fuel History

*‘Diesel fuel is a form of light fuel oil, very similar to Kerosene, but diesel engines, especially older or simple designs that lack precision electronic injection systems, can run on a wide variety of other fuels. Some of the most common alternatives are Jet A-1 or vegetable oil from a very wide variety of plants. Some engines can be run on vegetable oil without modification, and most others require fairly basic alterations. Biodiesel is a pure diesel-like fuel refined from vegetable oil and can be used in nearly all diesel engines. The only limits on the fuels used in diesel engines are the ability of the fuel to flow along the fuel lines and the ability of the fuel to lubricate the injector pump and injectors adequately. In general terms, inline mechanical injector pumps tolerate poor-quality or bio-fuels better than distributor-type pumps. Also, indirect injection engines generally run more satisfactorily on bio-fuels than direct injection engines. This is partly because an indirect injection engine has a much greater ‘swirl’ effect, improving vaporisation and combustion of fuel, and also because (in the case of vegetable oil-type fuels) lipid depositions can condense on the cylinder walls of a direct-injection engine if combustion temperatures are too low (such as starting the engine from cold). Dr Rudolf Diesel himself later tested extensively the use of plant oils in his engine and began to actively promote the use of these fuels.‘- Source Wikipedia.

The Snowman Cometh

If you can see wood on the base - aviod.

If you can see wood on the base - aviod.

Winter is well and truly here and that means alpine sports with days of skiing and nights of drinking après ski style.   Drinking is vital to mask the pain caused by the day’s efforts on the ski-field with the added benefit of numbing the shock of how much it costs to beat your-self up on the slopes.

Don’t get me wrong I love skiing and the mountains, but breaking the costs down for petrol (Gas), accommodation, food, lift passes, ski hire and drinking,  it becomes a daunting financial undertaking.   But this year I can hold off on the second mortgage to fund my snow habit.

The petrol issue is solved by car pooling with friends.   As yet none of my friends own hybrid or bio-fuel vehicles, so car pooling is still the most environmentally and cost effective way of making the four hour trip.  Knowing people who live near the mountains is one way to save on where to stay, but if you don’t know any mountain folk there’s the shared accommodation option.  This option can be a fun ‘character building’ way of saving – especially sharing one bathroom with three others and one is ‘poop-shy.’ (See urbandictionary.com definition link)

Ski-hire is where I’ve discovered the best way to save some coin.  The recycling centre has an abundance of sports equipment including skiing gear. The trick is to keep an eye on what’s available throughout the year.  Some people regulary upgrade skis, dispose of  previous season’s kit, or break a bone and give up the love affair with skiing all together. These are the bargins to keep an eye open for.

The recycling centre provides an abundance of slightly dated, but useable equipment.  I have brought a full range of Skis, Boots and Poles for $30 dollars – less than the lowest ski-hire rate of $38 for an adult, for one day.

With hired equipment there is no telling how many people have used and abused the equipment before you and trust me – I worked for a season in ski-hire so I know the state some kit gets returned in. With used gear comes the reassurance that if you damage, lose, bend, break or run over your skis in the car park, it hasn’t broken the bank.

And at the end of the day they are your skis to own, so if you can wax and tune your ski’s there’s little else throughout the year needs doing to maintaining them.In my searching I’ve also spotted  associated skiing teams such as ski racks and snow chains for the car, which are an additional hire expense that can be avioded if you find the right ones for your vehicle.

Beware a apres ski, beer and a high-fibre diet.

Beware a apres ski, beer and a high-fibre diet.

That just leaves the Après Ski drinking to worry about, but there are some things you shouldn’t skimp on – epically since one of them is a recognised means of muscle pain relief, and in the right doses it will numb most senses.

How to spot good skiing equipment.

  • Ski’s must have a good resistance to flexing and bending, i.e. stiffness.
  • There are no visible deep gouges to the base or tops the skis. – If you think you can see any wood showing or the metal ‘edge’ has been detached it’s definitely no good.
  • Check the bindings appear in reasonable condition, can open and close freely with no rust or cracks.
  • Check that the height of the ski is right for you. – Learners need a shorter ski.
  • Boots need to be in a tidy condition and all buckles are present and working. – Use a disinfectant spray on the insides first for hygene reasons
  • With poles the straighter the better, make sure they are not bent, and have a strap, handle and basket on the base. These can be repainted if chipped if you want them to look tidy.
  • Chains must fit your car wheel size and come with all hooks and attachments to secure them safely. Same goes for car ski-racks, so if in doubt don’t buy it.

For more information go to;

Hunting the Toyota Mammoth

Luckily Toyota's don't attack when speared

Luckily Toyota's don't attack when speared

Every now and then Homo-erectus left the safety of the cave to hunt. My hunting and gathering expedition was determined by the events of the previous week which saw the front of the car in a nose-to-tail bender – the bonnet, grill, headlights and radiators being written off in the process.  The panel and paint shop estimated cost to fix the damage at $3500, unfortunately the faithful Toyota is worth less than the cost to fix it.

Sensing the primal hunting urge, I left the sanctity of the man-cave to pursue the elusive parts at local wreckers – the challenge, to get the best parts at the lowest cost.  And by hunting down the parts and doing the work myself I expect to save at least $3000.  To be honest the work will be shared, like most hunting rituals there’s a tribal and community aspect to the hunt and my mechanically minded brother-in-law has joined me on the project.

Our choice of hunting grounds at Pickapart allowed access to a wide range of wrecked cars and their parts. Instead of paying a wrecker to strip the parts, at Pickapart the parts are heavily reduced for the simple fact you have to find, strip and gather the needed parts yourself.

The open spaces at Pickapart is reminiscent of a scene from a Discovery Channel documentary, with oily packs of men in overalls, armed with tools roaming the wrecking-yard stalking their prey –  the mortally wounded vehicles to be finished off, dissected and taken home to provide for others.

Photo By Michael Pickard www.flickr.comOur hunt for the Toyota parts was successful resulting  in three cars of the same model being tracked down, each one yielding a valuable and usable part.  It was surprisingly easy to get the parts we needed, if fact we got everything to replace the damaged parts for $245.  I’ll admit the cost will go up with the need for a radiator and air-con specialists, but by doing the work ourselves we look set to bring the project in under 500.

There has been a few lessons gained from this hunting expedition. Firstly hunting in pairs is far more effective and rewarding for the time spent searching, it comes with the obligatory male (or female) bonding experience of working on a car.

Secondly I’m no mechanic, but by doing the work ourselves, there’s some substantial savings to be made.  In fact, word is that more people are doing this instead of buying new cars as the current global economics have a greater effect.  Credit has to go to organisations like Pickapart for encouraging people to work on cars themselves by making parts accessible and affordable. It also has an environmental upside with less car waste with non recyclable materials.

Lastly hunting isn’t always about catching the game, there’s the thrill of the chase – and this expedition out of the man-cave has been fun.

Dear SONY I’m sorry…

By MazenX on www.flickr.comDear SONY, I’m sorry….

“I feel I owe you something in the way of an apology. For years we’ve had a special relationship, with nights spent together stroking the dual-shock buttons of a PlayStation, to the rich sound of a Sony entertainment system, providing me with endless hours of joy.

But I have been selfish in our relationship, taking from you and giving nothing back in return – literally, not a single dollar. I have taken advantage of your availability at the expense of others who did not fully appreciate you….”

You might call me something of a ‘Vintage-gamer’ which is one of those slightly cool terms to describe someone to tight to buy the latest PS3 and associated games. But what I’ve found is that with a little patience, there’s suddenly a lot more on offer for earlier PlayStation’s at next to nothing.

For example my PS1 was free – abandoned on the side of the street for to the first person who wanted it. Now at garage sales, second-hand stores, charity shops and even at the dump you can find ample PS1’s, controllers, attachments and games.

Being a Vintage-gamer I figure if I hang on to my PS1 long enough it will become collectable, like the Sega mega-system, Nintendo, or Commodore 64. And now is the time to acquire – I have been buying the PS1 games from charity shops for $2 – $6 with a smug knowledge some of these games cost $39 – $99 when they were new.  I also feel socially warmer giving money to charity organisations, than retailers.

When a dual-shock controller broke on me, I visited to the local GameStation store. The staff there literally gave me a replacement they had lying around.  I even scored a second controller for $2 at the recycling store.  If this is the service and value I get now, I can’t wait until the PS2 is considered disposable. (I estimate in the next 2-4 years.)

Perhaps the final insult is the entertainment system I’m building in the adjoining man-cave, using Sony parts and equipment. The sound system is a stereowith an AUX  input. With just one audio cable I’m able to play my iPod, laptop, DVD, TV and PS1 through this system. I get electrical equipment at the recycling shop and don’t pay much more than $15 for speakers, amps, tuners, and cabling. It is a gamble as the parts are sold as not working, but the guys who work there are of the opinion up to 75 percent of it does.

So sorry Sony – it’s nothing personal, I love your products for their quality, but I will eventually acquire them at an inexpensive cost and in the process take a little electrical waste out of our environment.  I hope this doesn’t change anything bewteen us…  we can still be friends.