Archives for category: Tips


In honor of Halloween, here’s a spooky but true tale. In the 1950s three Oregon hunters went missing. They were discovered, weeks later, dead, around their campfire. There were no signs of foul play. Nothing had been taken from the camp nor did any of the hunters bear signs of injury. The only odd thing investigators found was rough-skinned newt, also dead, at the bottom of their coffee pot.

The case remained unsolved for about 10 years until a biologist named Butch Brodie discovered that the newt’s skin produces a toxin called TTX, a toxin 10,000 times deadlier than cyanide.

Apparently though these rough skinned newts don’t just go killing everything they touch. They only produce toxin when they feel highly stressed or threatened, like being scooped up from a stream in a coffee pot and boiled alive. In those kinds of situations, they arch there heads back as a warning and then let the toxins flow…

To read more about this, and to learn how these newts got so toxic in the first place, check out the links below.

Discover: A Beautiful Web of Poison Extends A New Strand : The Loom

Mental Floss: Silence of the Newts


E15 ethanol fuel, that is gasoline blended with up to 15% ethanol, is becoming available in the US. There is, however, some controversy about its safety in the majority of car engines. Here’s what I’ve been able to find out.

• At blends beyond 10% ethanol (the so-called “blend wall”), the fuel is corrosive to rubber and certain metals and can damage engine components. Studies conflict as to how much damage the fuel can do.

• As of June of 2013, only 24 outlets in the U.S. carried E15 according to However, economic and political pressure may drive the fuel’s availability.

• E15 is not for sale in CA (and won’t be for a few years, at least) but ethanol blends up to 10% ethanol, which are safe for all engines, comprise most of the gasoline available in the state.

• E15 was first approved by the EPA for 2007 and newer cars, then for 2001 and newer cars. However, many major auto makers have not approved the fuel for use in their vehicles regardless of build year, according to

• So far only Flex Fuel vehicles, Ford vehicles built after 2013, GM vehicles built after 2012, and Porsches built after 2001, have been sanctioned by their manufactures to run on E15, according to

• E15 is not for use in small engines (lawn mowers, jet skis, ATVs, and Side-by-side 4x4s, etc.), according to Popular Mechanics.

• When buying E15 from a blender pump (a gas pump with one pump hose that dispenses multiple grades of fuel) you must pump at least 4 gallons of regular fuel to make sure any E15 or higher blends left in the hose have been diluted enough to be safe, according to Popular Mechanics.

Below are links to several articles, if you’d like to learn more. I found the, Popular Mechanics, and Wikipedia articles most helpful.

“Controversial E15 Fuel Blend Is on the Way.”, 11 Sept. 2013
“Four Things to Know about E15.” Popular
, 13 Feb. 2013
“Common ethanol fuel mixtures.”

“AAA Remains Cautious on E15.”

“Frequently Asked Questions about the California Reformulated Gasoline Program.” California Air Resources Board (CARB)
, 10 Jun. 2010
“EPA Considers U.S. Ethanol Mandate Cut Amid Complaints.”
, 10 Oct. 2013

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In case you’re traveling in the Pacific Northwest, I made a ferry map you may find useful. It shows routes for the two major ferry systems: the BC Ferry (blue routes), the Washington State Ferry (green routes), as well as the Victoria Clipper (red routes) and Coho (black route) ferries. All ferries accept cars and motorcycles, except for the Victoria Clipper, a high-speed ferry, which carries passenger only.

Seaplanes are another option. They fly pretty much everywhere. Kenmore Air is the biggest operator. NW Seaplanes is close behind. Saltspring Air flies within the Gulf Islands.

Note: the BC Ferry travels throughout British Columbia. I’m only showing their Gulf Island routes on this map. Also, if there’s anything on this map that I missed, please let me know.


Correction: A previous version of this map showed a Victoria Clipper route from Friday Harbor to Victoria. The route does not exist.

This looks like a great trick for winching a truck that’s pinned against a tree or rock.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works. Turn the front wheels toward the object you’re pinned against. Take the slack out of the winch cable. Put the truck in reverse. It will pull against the cable and crab sideways away from the obstacle.

In the video, the guy reverses while winching forward, which I imagine only works in slippery conditions.

Has anyone tried this?

Do you have a nice, shiny truck that you like to off-road but hesitate to push through trails choked with brush? You might want to consider a 3M Clear Bra car wrap to protect the paint. It looks like pretty tough stuff.

Thanks for the tip, Greg!

Natalie found this clever lighting solution on Pinterest. A headlamp plus a jug of water (an opaque one, not a transparent one) makes a handy reading lamp with a magic glow or a quick, emergency lantern. I tracked the source to Flickr user “listorama” who also has a great photo set on turning his car into camping platform. Brilliant.

Photo: Scott Brady

Here’s an interesting article by Overland Journal publisher, Scott Brady, from his Expedition West days. The article, called Tire Selection for Expedition Travel, argues that narrower tires are a better choice for mixed-terrain, off-road use than wider tires.

Narrower tires provide greater contact pressure than wider ones since they support the load of the vehicle on less surface area. Greater contact pressure means that the tire will do a better job of molding itself to the terrain, thereby providing more grip.

Narrower tires also offer less rolling resistance, hence improved fuel economy, and less frontal resistance when driving through mud, snow, or sand. If the mud and sand get really deep, you’re better off with a wider tire. For mixed use driving, however, Scott argues that a narrow tire is the way to go.

Read more for his chart of recommended tire sizes. Read the rest of this entry »

Sometimes, when you lose a camera, you’re never going to get it back. There are times though when a good Samaritan will want to return it. But how will they find you?

My friend Greg passed this tip along: the next time you wipe your camera’s memory card clean, take a picture of your contact info, and lock the image. It will be the first image on the card. If said Samaritan finds your camera, there’s a good chance you’ll get it back.

Thanks for the tip, Greg!