The Wood Shed

You never know what you're going to find in the pile.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I'm Back!

And I've moved (the Blog that is).

The new home is www.steveambrose.net/woodshed

The new and improved Wood Shed is powered by Wordpress and hosted on my own website which will allow for more creative control (that could be a bad thing). It will take some time to get it tweaked just the way I want it so you'll likely notice some changes over the next few days.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Update: Haditha

UAV video and radio traffic seems to confirm the USMC's version of what really happened at Haditha. This should be about as surprising as the discovery of WMD in Iraq. I sincerely hope that the marines involved will end up being cleared and allowed to serve Murtha his road-baked crow personally.

For more, read Clarice Feldman's post over at AT.

Treason from the Times

NYT exposes financial tracking designed to help twart terrorists even though it admits that the program seems to be working. Bill Keller just thought you ought to know about it regardless of the impact to national security. Lex has an outstanding post on the whole thing so go read.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Comment Spam

Be careful what you ask for! I remember wishing more readers would leave comments. Seems some spam generators have found my little site so I 've set some filters which unfortunately will result in an extra step if you do wish to comment and a delay before you see your comment posted.

If you go through the process to leave a comment (and I hope you do) you will be asked to enter a scrambled series of letters provided by security software. I know this is a pain but it defeats auto-spammers since they can't read and type.

The delay is due to my decision to enable comment moderation. Your post won't appear until I've had a chance to read it and make sure it's not spam. Comments will not be rejected based on content as long as they pertain to the subject matter.

Thanks for your understanding.

Where is the Outrage?

I’ve waited for a week and have yet to see an appropriate reaction out of our media following the torture and gruesome killing of two American POW’s in Iraq. They were tortured and then brutally killed at the hands of their captors. If the situation had been reversed, Americans committing war crimes against Iraqis or even insurgents, the media would still be on the rampage. Apparently crimes committed against our soldiers are not newsworthy yet accusations of criminal behavior by them demand that every talking head with a half-baked opinion pass judgment.

The two soldiers taken captive should have been treated as POW’s under the guidelines of the Geneva Convention. We would expect no less from a civilized foe. Therein lies the problem: we are not at war with a civilized nation, we are not even battling a nation. We are fighting against barbarians who don’t fight under a flag or a uniform, instead they fight for a fundamentalist religion that has not changed since battles were fought with swords and camels. Civilized warfare, a seemingly oxymoronic term to many who are paid handsomely to bring us the news, is the conflict of governments through standing armies and when one force succumbs to the other, the killing stops. Civilized men, moral men value human life even the life of their enemy. When a fighting force lays down its arms because it is outnumbered, out-gunned and the sensible thing to do is to preserve human life, that force is no longer an army. The same applies when you forcibly disarm your opponent. If he is disarmed and held captive he is no longer a threat. Terrorists, insurgents, Muslim guerrillas – whatever label you put on our current opponents – do not adhere to this logic. Their doctrine tells them that the only good infidel is one who has been “struck about the head” (their words, not mine).

I find it very disturbing that the media, our government, and the United Nations have not been more vocal about the criminal loss of these two lives. The same media that has been all too quiet on these murders is ready to crucify our soldiers and marines in an impossibly complex battlefield where mistakes will undoubtedly happen. This is not the beaches of Normandy where anybody on the bluffs is a legitimate target. This is urban conflict against an enemy that chooses to blend in with innocent civilians using them as cover and turning our own moral values against us. We cannot expect our troops to fight a surgical war in this environment knowing in the back of their mind that if they are taken captive they will be tortured and brutally murdered. This type of urban conflict is not laser surgery, it is more like chemotherapy: you hope to kill the bad cells and minimize damage to the good ones yet you know you will lose some good ones in the battle to save the host. What does it say to our enemy when we scrutinize our military so critically and barely mention when they are murdered in captivity?

Indeed, where is the outrage?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Gas Mileage Improvement

Subtitle: Why isn't this simple upgrade standard equipment?

Driving a big SUV is decidedly not PC nor is it “green” or easy on the wallet. But when your life requires hauling and towing capacities greater than the size and weight of most hybrid vehicles, you don’t have many options. The old neighborhood adage, “Everyone is your friend when you own a truck” has never been more true. After all, why own one when you can borrow one? Well, you borrow it and it damn well better come home with at least as much fuel as it left with. These days bringing it home empty is more than just bad manners, it’s $75.

But I digress, back to my point. The standard engine for the entire line of GM trucks for the last six years has been the 5.3 liter V-8. GM engineers have fiddled and tweaked that motor to the point where the ’06 trucks get about 19-20 mpg on the highway. My 2001 Yukon XL only yielded 16 mpg highway until a few weeks ago. I installed an Air Raid high flow air filter system. The first two tanks after the install didn’t indicate any noticeable improvement and I sadly thought I had wasted $200. What I didn’t realize is that it takes a while for the computer to adjust various parameters to compensate for the increased airflow. On the third tank I was convinced I was looking at a sticking gas gauge sending unit: it was still showing over half a tank remaining while the trip odometer was at 250 miles plus. I always back up the fuel gauge by resetting the trip odometer when I fill up. Old aviator thing I guess, wanting redundant indications of fuel remaining. Normally I’m showing about an eighth of a tank remaining when the odometer reads about 350 miles. So I dropped the fuel gauge out of my scan – must be unreliable – and watched the miles per tank. I filled up at about 350 miles but it didn’t take as much fuel as usual. The gauge was correct. The ECU had recalibrated for the airflow and my highway mileage had increased to 19 mpg.

An increase of 3 mpg for an investment of $200, figure an average of $3/gal, resultant savings of $.03/mile and the payback is about 6666 miles. The Air Raid system simply replaces the restrictive plastic OEM filter box and disposable paper filter with a much more open filter shield and a reusable K&N type fabric filter. Some assembly required and you must periodically remove the filter, clean it, and re-install it but if you can work a screwdriver and socket ratchet you can install and maintain this filter. The only down side to this modification is a higher noise level in the cabin when you really put your foot in it. That wide open air box doesn’t muffle the noise as well coming back out of the intake at full throttle, gives it a deeper growl out of the hole. It’s not nearly as noticeable as the “sport exhaust” that Dodge is selling on some of their trucks, the factory version of the popular NASCAR mod: dual exhaust with high flow (reads “loud”) non-mufflers. The trucks that beg the question: “Why?” I can accept a little muffled growling from under the hood for a 19% gain in fuel efficiency.

Politicians keep calling for higher mpg ratings to be imposed on Detroit and Motown keeps countering with complaints about technical limitations and various other reasons why they can’t make it happen. I’d have to say that’s a load of BS: I just improved my highway mileage by 19% by swapping out the filter system. No changes that adversely affect emissions. Simply let the beast breathe better. The next test will involve an aftermarket throttle body spacer that is supposed to further improve airflow and increase mileage.

Hello, Detroit. Anybody listening? If I can improve gas mileage using commercially available parts why are you not incorporating such simple improvements into your designs? Get with the program.

Disclaimer: Your mileage may vary depending on vehicle type, condition of engine, driving habits, tire pressure, hair color, and any prescription meds you are currently taking (among other things – the possibilities are endless).

Second disclaimer: This is not a paid endorsement and the author’s results were unscientifically obtained during actual highway driving. No warranties or guarantees are implied or stated. Product contains materials known to be fatal to Norwegian lab rats domiciled in the state of California at elevations greater than five thousand feet and forced to survive on consumption of said material at a rate of ten times their body weight per day.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Where in the World

Back in Maine, working on the book. The following is an article that I just submitted to Down East Magazine. It should give you a feel for why I'm up here. (Ed: "Camp" is a northern term used to describe a small place out at the lake not suitable for winter use, for those of you south of the line just substitute "lake house" but think small.)

The Camp

My grandfather built the place several years before I was born and forever biased my opinion regarding what a lake camp should be. Many of my early summers were spent on that beautiful lake outside Houlton, Maine. It’s where I learned to swim and that my little brother didn’t float. He survived his informal baptism and we both became water rats. We eventually outgrew my mother’s lifejacket restriction that resulted from brother’s sinking episode. We also learned to canoe, sail, build rafts, fish, hike, and many other outdoor activities. In short, it was the perfect place to grow up. That was back before the internet, cell phones, cable TV, X-box, Game Boy, etc. Entertainment was self-made but the possibilities seemed endless; who would want to be inside? My grandmother’s worst nightmare was a rainy day. Her only hope of keeping us entertained (quiet) was the small black and white TV wired to an antenna in the top of a tree out back. Options were slim with only three cannels (one Canadian).

Grampy built the place in the late 1950’s from a cedar log home kit, finishing out the interior with knotty pine tongue and grove board paneling. Exposed beams and trusses with shellac-coated wood everywhere, it was like being inside a giant tree. Its original intent was simply as an escape from the heat in town and the phone. My grandfather was a manager at the local oil company and the owners would call him for everything, anytime. The phone line that runs along the shore road still bypasses our camp. He figured if they needed him bad enough on his time off then they could drive out and get him. Apparently his strategy worked fairly well. The layout of the cabin was perfect for my grandparents, having just sent their youngest off to college: a large living/dining area at one end with a master bedroom at the other separated by a central kitchen, bath, and pantry. Occasional guests could be accommodated on the pull-out couch. A few years later their daughter graduated, married my father, and started a family of her own. All of a sudden the floor plan was lacking. My grandfather added a small bedroom off the end of the original structure and decided the boathouse could double as a bunkhouse. The tiny bathroom was Grammy’s domain, literally: the septic/holding tank was small, its size limited by surrounding granite, so the rest of us had to trek into the woods out back to the outhouse. Dark, creepy, and full of mosquitoes, the outhouse is my only bad memory from my childhood summers in Maine.

The lake is typical of northern New England: cold and clear, fed by streams and brooks carrying forest run-off. It’s home to brown trout, perch, pickerel, and even a few land-locked salmon. On any given day you may see bald eagles, osprey, loons, and occasionally a moose if you take the trouble to paddle quietly back into the shallow flowage.

Thus my definition of a proper camp was formed by my childhood: a log cabin surrounded by white birch trees and granite boulders on a gravel track through the woods barely wide enough to drive down, all sitting on a lake so clean that it was your water source. Then I moved south, far south to the land of red clay and brown lakes where “camp” was a place you sent your kids for two weeks. I still remember my first reaction to the southern version of a lake: “I can’t possibly swim in that hot, brown stuff.” I’ve adapted although I still return to the family camp in Maine every summer for my fix. Heading north on I-95 out of Bangor the traffic starts to thin, the unmistakable smells of the northwoods permeate the car and my life slows down to a much healthier pace. I’m headed to the camp where the sounds of the wind in the trees, the water on the rocks, and the laughter of children playing are guaranteed to refresh the soul. Twenty minutes from town and more importantly, equidistant from some great trout streams where more often than not you’re the only one fishing.

The lake has changed over the years. Many of the camps have been replaced or converted into year-round residences and the local power company has had to upgrade service to the lake to keep pace with demand. But for the most part it hasn’t changed all that much: Houlton is small and so is the lake, facts which protect it from the development pressures seen by larger bodies of water in more heavily populated areas. We still get three channels, one Canadian, via the old antenna tied in the top of the tree, although they’re now in color and there’s a hook-up for the portable DVD player in case of rain.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Dog Blogging


Moose at 4 months/40 pounds. Thinks he's an otter, collects things you'd rather he didn't and hides them where you'll never find them again, excellent at shredding, in short - a Lab. What did you expect? He can't drive the Yukon yet but we're working on it.

Honor, Respect and Tradition


I'm not sure when this was shot but it's a beautiful example of the timeless tradition of manning the rails as the USS Reagan passes the USS Arizona memorial.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

More on Technology

I’m on the road or, more accurately, I was on the road. There is nothing more distressing on a long road trip than the unmistakable call of nature. None of the options are good: notoriously disgusting gas station restrooms, heavily used rest stops, equally nasty facilities at the fast food chains, or the woods just off the shoulder. The warning signs hit me about mid way across the George Washington Bridge in NYC headed north on I-95... and in no big hurry since it was 5:00pm on a weekday. Those of you that have taken that route already know the predicament that I was facing. Stop in the Bronx? No. It is quite a ways into Connecticut before you start to see exits stocked with the usual options. I was hurting.

Finally a service center, that efficient northeastern answer to traffic congestion, land-use crowding, and the travelers’ desire for fast access to food, fuel, and relief. It was going to be a close call. Dive bomb or paper the seat? No time, I was in distress but I made it just in time. However, my personal distress (how shall I put this delicately?) was painfully obvious to anyone not currently afflicted with an acute sinus attack. Now at this point you’ve got to be wondering about the title. And here comes the tie-in: sitting in the next stall apparently done with his business and oblivious to the olfactory assault resulting from mine was someone so engrossed in his text messaging efforts that he failed to notice the evacuation taking place all around him. Beep, beep, click, beep, click, click. What the hell could be so important that he would want to hang around for bonus time in a public restroom?

I really don’t understand text messaging: you send a message by hitting the numbered keys on your cell phone until the desired letters appear and when you’re done composing you send it to the recipient’s cell phone. A sort of cell to cell email? Why not just call? If they are too busy to talk you’ll get their voice mail and you can leave a message – in a fraction of the time it takes to type it out using your keypad. And I really don’t understand text messaging from a public restroom.