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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

 

More readers' questions, answered

It's time for my end of the month feature where I look through my records, see what my readers are searching for, and answer something they wanted to know that I haven't answered on my blog. This month's question:

How do I make my own ethanol?

The answer depends on whether you want to drink it or use it as a motor fuel. If you're planning on using it as a beverage, I recommend sticking with wine or beer. The easiest way to get started at making that at home might be to start by buying a commercial kit like Mr. Beer, brew a couple batches from pre-mixed ingredients, then get a good book on brewing and start trying your own ingredients in your home brewing kit. The only time I tried brewing beer starting with raw grain and all, I did come up with something that could vaguely be recognized as beer. But if I had a little practice, I might do better.

But I get the impression that many of my readers want to know how to make it for their cars, not for drinking. First, keep in mind that the government heavily subsidizes the ethanol you see at the pump, so you could easily end up spending more on making your own than you would if you bought it at the pump. Second, you will need some sort of permit to legally build a still. It wouldn't surprise me if it is easier to get a permit if you are making motor fuel than hooch, although I'm not certain of that. I haven't looked into the specifics, as I don't plan to do this myself.

I would recommend getting a book if you want to set up your own motor fuel still. Lindsay Technical Books sells quite a few books for eccentric do-it-yourself types, so it should be no surprise that they've got a few on distillation. I haven't read the books they have on that subject myself, but I do have a few of their guides to metalworking and machinery in my library. The book most likely to meet your needs would be Secrets of Building an Alchohol Producing Still by Vince Gingery, which covers everything from building it to getting the proper paperwork so the revenuers don't shut you down. They have another book on distilling alchohol for sale, but that one was originally aimed at commercial liquor companies.

Making ethanol from cellulose, which I've talked about earlier, is not something I have heard of anyone doing at home. That might be interesting, but to do that you would also need enzymes to break down cellulose into its component sugars. I'm not sure where you would get those, or just what enzymes you should order. Once you've done that, though, much of the rest of the information in the book should still apply.

Monday, May 29, 2006

 

A Memorial Day post

It's Memorial Day, a time to reflect on those who fought and died, as Lincoln put it best, "So that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." It's good sometimes to go back and read the whole Gettysburg Address from time to time, and remember yet another person who gave his all for not just his country, but his ideals.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

 

Jenna Glatzer confirms a few details

A lot of the coverage I've posted of the Barbara Bauer scandal after my initial post has merely been charting the progress of the shock wave through the blogosphere. There were some very amusing ways other bloggers picked up on it, such as Miss Snark's tirade called "Hey, Barbara Bauer, Put Up or Shut Up!", but not many new developments in the case itself. This time I have a little bit of real news. At the start of things, all we had to go on for certain was some posts in the forum that vanished and were only available to memory. The characters directly involved - the hosting company, Jenna, and Barbara - had not commented on the issue. Then the hosting company stated that yes, Barbara Bauer did send them a letter requesting they take Absolute Write offline.

Now, Jenna Glatzer has confirmed this too. She has found the actual text of the fax that JC Hosting received, and posted an excerpt. Given that Barb has a history of making bogus threats at anybody who criticizes her and how Jenna has been very careful about consulting a lawyer and watching what she says, I'm pretty sure that she wouldn't post anything on her blog about the closing of Absolute Write that she would not say under oath in a court of law.

This leaves only one of the principle actors without a public comment on the matter, and that would be Barbara Bauer herself. Just for giggles, I actually tried to email her and see if she would confirm or deny whether she lodged the complaint. So far she has not written back, and it wouldn't surprise me if she is getting far more nastygrams and spam from having Absolute Write pulled than having her email address posted there.So I will have to end this with a line I am certain you are all too familiar with from print journalism: Barbara Bauer could not be reached for comment.

Technorati Tag: Barbara Bauer

 

No, I was not drinking.


In fact, my wife and I were at a party being thrown by a Baptist sunday school teacher, and as you probably know, the official Baptist teaching on alchohol is that you should not drink it in front of other Baptists. Unfortunately, I also wasn't thinking.

I had parked on the side of the road, and decided that the best way to get back on when I left was to pull forward. My mistake was that I didn't get out and walk around to be sure the ground in front of the car was safe. There was a drainage ditch, mostly hidden by tall grass, lurking in front of the front wheels. As you can see, the driver's side rear wheel is several inches in the air, and the passenger's side front wheel was also barely in contact with the ground.

Luckily, several of the other party-goers were able to get in front and push the Focus backwards out of the ditch. Doesn't seem like there is any damage.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

 

Found a location for the surge tank


Mounting the surge tank was a bit of a puzzle. The Dart doesn't offer too many good places under the chassis for attaching a huge spin-on filter. Likewise, the filter was meant for gas pump and industrial applications, and is supposed to be supported by 1" pipe. There aren't any holes on it for attaching a mounting bracket. Worse, there aren't any very good spots to drill these holes. I should have picked out one with mounting holes in it - Tractor Supply does have those versions, too.

So, I went to the hardware store, filter assembly in hand, and just started looking for objects that might hold it down. I found some U-bolts that went over the adapters I used to scale down the inlets and outlets to more automotive-appropriate sizes. Opted for stainless steel since I was originally expecting to mount the filter where spray from the tires would hit it.

Then I took the hacksaw, cut-off wheels, and drill to some of my stash of aluminum angle extrusions and made some crude brackets. I first tried to stick the filter behind the gas tank, attached to rail-like sections of the subframe. But I didn't like that location at all - it was very far to the rear of the car, would be vulerable in a crash, and you could see the filter hanging down. So I tried again to see if I could find something in the raised section of the floor pan above the rear axle that wouldn't have the suspension intrude on it.

Now that I had a set of brackets in hand, I found that I could indeed stick the surge tank right next to the bolt that attaches the driver's side rear seatbelt. It's right next to the bracket that holds up the brake line that leads to the rear axle. It's way in front of the axle tubes, and should be far enough to the left that it should clear the differential. My only worry is that the brake line might be able to rub on the filter canister - you can see it in the foreground in the picture here. But it doesn't touch with the suspension at full droop, and the line should only move up and away from the canister as the suspension compresses.

Now, I just need to connect fuel lines to it...

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A gas mileage device test

The Debt Free blog is kicking off a test of devices alleged to improve gas mileage. Somehow I doubt they'll find any of them actually work, but stay tuned.

 

The Barbara Bauer googlebomb has detonated

I just ran a Google search for Barbara Bauer. The list of 20 Worst Literary Agents is now the second result when you run the search. And it may reach #1, as there are still more blog entries about it coming out. Like this one.

MSN doesn't seem to have picked this one up yet, but the list is the #7 search result on Yahoo, and right above that is her Wikipedia entry and her demand for one billion dollars from Writers' Weekly. Not exactly flattering either.

As they said in The Crow, "This is not a good day to be a bad guy."

Technorati Tag: BarbaraBauer

 

Absolute Write update

The Absolute Write team has been working hard to restore their website ever since Barbara Bauer bullied their hosting company into taking it down. The main site is back up, but the forum has not returned. Now Jenna Glatzer explains the delay. Short version is it seems they had not been able to download the whole forum database given the short notice their hosting company gave them, and they are negotiating to get JC Hosting to turn over the rest of the forum database.

Technorati Tag: BarbaraBauer

Friday, May 26, 2006

 

One of the scam agents responds

I've been wondering just how scam agents might respond to the Googlebomb targeting Barbara Bauer. After all, the other 19 agents on the list can't be too happy that Barbs has gone and done something stupid and gotten it splashed all around the Internet, and Barbara is likely to be extremely mad once she learns how hard the Law of Unintended Consequences can bite. The way I see it, these are their options:
  1. Ignore this and hope everything will all blow over.
  2. Publically denounce the list.
  3. Get your clients to denounce the list.
  4. Make empty threats against those who host the list.
  5. Actually try pursuing legal action against those who host the list.

#5 may be the stupidest option, for two reasons. One, there are now several dozen targets mirroring the list across several domain names, and taking them all down will require a considerable amount of money. Two, truth is an absolute defense against libel, and defendants can have the agents' records examined in court, making the agent's lack of sales a matter of public record. Three, a trial could attract attention from (not to mention provide very reliable sources for) print media, causing this to jump from the blogosphere to the pages of Writer's Digest - or if you're really unlucky, Time. Not a good thing to risk.

#4 is not quite as dumb, but it gives bloggers more grist for the mill. They can have fun posting and mocking threat letters, like the time Barbara Bauer unwisely tried to threaten Writers Weekly with a lawsuit for one billion dollars (inspiring the obvious comparisons with Dr. Evil) .

#3 is shades of the Scientology attempt to blanket the Internet with cookie-cutter pages from its members. The trouble with this is that it can backfire pretty badly - if the agents had a significant number of clients who had books sold to good publishers, they wouldn't get on the list, would they? And their critics would be quick to point that out. Worse, if the clients get wind that this is to settle a debate, they may try to take on the critics and hear enough arguements to stop paying. Not good.

#2 is again pretty unwise - it gives your potential victims notice that there are people out there who don't like you. And unless people visiting your site are as dumb as a box of rocks, they may want to know more about this controversy.

#1 would be the most logical option. Just hope that those people who search the net for literary agents don't do too much more searching or type your name into the search engine directly, and try not to make the situation worse.

Well, Miss Snark has found that one of those 20 Worst is pursuing either Option 2 or 4. The screed appears to be from an email sent to what the agent thought might be a client. Fellow dubious agent Chris Robins, or one of her employees, makes all sorts of absurd claims about a class action suit and a "2,000 Worst Writers List." Presumably such writers would not be able to get representation with agents that are unable to sell their books anyway. It's absolutely hillarious reading. Makes me want to contact Chris Robins and ask to see a copy of that Worst Writers List.


 

More details emerge on Barbara Bauer

Teresa Nielsen Hayden's post was one of the earilest and most circulated on the Barbara Bauer scandal, and its comment trail is probably one of the best places to find news on the subject. One of the more interesting things to pop up is that the company that dropped Absolute Write has posted their side of the story, and while it is rather hard to follow, they repeat the claim that they pulled Absolute Write in response to complaints from Barbara Bauer.

Some people following the incedent, such as Lisa Spangenberg, are involved with IT themselves, and had some very uncomplimentary things to say about how JC Hosting's screed appears highly unprofessional, and to reflect poorly on their business practices. It's also worth noting that so far all accounts - TNH's blog, some of the stuff I saw on AW shortly before it crashed, and the hosting service's comments - agree that Barbara Bauer did, indeed, send a message to the hosting service and request them to pull the plug, and the hosting service complied with the request. So far, no comment has surfaced from Barbara Bauer herself - although just for giggles, I just might email her and ask. That email address that she didn't want posted on Absolute Write is available on her website.

In the meantime, moderator Roger J. Carlson has set up his forum for members of Absolute Write to use until they get the regular forum back up and running.

Technorati Tag: BarbaraBauer

 

Bauergate continues

Notice the button on the right of the page? It links to where you can support Jenna and Absolute Write by buying a copy of Jenna's latest book, The Street-Smart Writer, about avoiding various scams, rip-offs, and things that just plain won't help a writer's career, like, well, Barbara Bauer. This button was introduced on MacAlister Stone's blog:

Stones In the Field: Buttons and Codes

Thanks to Matt Dinniman, who created the button.

Also, someone has rolled out a new website, 20worstagents.com, and look who gets the big animated GIF.

Technorati Tag: BarbaraBauer

 

Back to your regularly scheduled programming

Well, I had a bit of maintenance done on the Focus. Had a local shop replace the timing belt (a lot of work and I felt it was worthwhile to pay someone to do it) and fuel filter (much easier to do if you have a lift). It's just passed 60,000 miles, and my manual says that's the interval to check the timing belt. And there usually isn't much difference in labor between checking it and putting in a new one, so I had a new one installed.

The Zetec engine in my Focus is supposed to be a non-interference engine, meaning that a broken timing belt will just leave you stranded but not do any permanent damage to the engine. Still, I've heard on the Focaljet forums that there have been a few cases of a broken timing belt on a Zetec engine apparently causing bent valves. Back when I had an Isuzu Amigo, I had a broken timing belt (still under warranty and before the time to replace it) force it off the road for a month while the dealer tried to scrounge up a rebuilt engine for it. Still, even getting stranded on the side of the road is a bit of a nuisance. If your car has one, don't neglect to change it according to the maintenance schedule.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

 

Barbara Bauer update

Never try to get rid of starfish by cutting them in half. Never try to get rid of bombs by putting them in a garbage compactor. And never try to get rid of unwanted information about you on the Internet by disrupting a forum full of bloggers.

When I made my last post about Barbara Bauer, maybe a half-dozen blogs had something about the emerging scandal. Now there are over a hundred bloggers talking about Barbara Bauer. In fact, posts about her, and searches about her, have been second only to searches about American Idol and its winners today - and given that they announced the winner yesterday, that's really saying something. The phenomenon has attracted the attention of blogs that cover trends in the blogosphere, such as BlogPulse, who has the Barbara Bauer blog explosion story on their front page. And posts about her keep on coming. Chances are that we'll see people on message boards signing their posts with "Barbara Bauer is one of Writer Beware's Twenty Worst Literary Agents!" just like Marcus Cato ended all his speaches with "Carthago delenda est."

The main search engines haven't found this yet, only the specialized blog search engines. But when Google, MSN, and Yahoo's crawlers pick this up, just watch what happens to search results for Barbara Bauer. She's sitting on a ticking Googlebomb now.

One interesting aside: Absolute Write's hosting company announced they were launching a competing website for writers a mere day before they pulled the plug on AW. Very bad timing there. Somehow I doubt it is going to attract the online writing community at all.

BarbaraBauer

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

 

Did a "literary agent" on the 20 Worst Agents List take down Absolute Write?

I normally don't go off topic this far on my blog, but this has gotten me rather irritated. Writer Beware has a list of 20 Worst Literary Agents that they posted on their website, and wanted circulated far and wide. According to the meticulous research of A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss, these agents all charge clients money in one way or another (legitimate agents work on commission) and have little to no ability to sell books to paying publishers. Here is the list, now reunited with Victoria and Ann's original preamble:


Below is a list of the 20 literary agencies about which Writer Beware has
received the greatest number of advisories/complaints over the past several
years.

None of these agencies has a significant track record of sales to
commercial (advance-paying) publishers, and most have virtually no documented
and verified sales at all (book placements claimed by some of these agencies
turn out to be "sales" to vanity publishers). All charge clients before a sale
is made--whether directly, by levying fees such as reading or administrative
fees, or indirectly, for editing or other adjunct services.

Writer Beware recommends that writers avoid questionable literary agencies,
and instead query agencies that have verifiable track records of sales to
commercial publishing houses.

Note that while the 20 agencies listed here account for the bulk of the
complaints we receive, they're just the tip of the iceberg. Writer Beware has
files on nearly 400 questionable agencies, and we learn about a new one every
few weeks.

The Abacus Group Literary Agency
Allred and Allred Literary Agents
(refers clients to "book doctor" Victor West of Pacific Literary Services)
Barbara Bauer
Literary Agency
Benedict Associates (also d/b/a B.A. Literary Agency)
Sherwood Broome, Inc.
Capital Literary Agency (formerly American
Literary Agents of Washington, Inc.)
Desert Rose Literary Agency
Arthur
Fleming Associates
Finesse Literary Agency (Karen Carr)
Brock Gannon
Literary Agency
Harris Literary Agency
The Literary Agency Group, which
includes the following:
-Children's Literary Agency
-Christian Literary
Agency
-New York Literary Agency
-Poets Literary Agency
-The
Screenplay Agency
-Stylus Literary Agency (formerly ST Literary Agency,
formerly Sydra-Techniques)
-Writers Literary & Publishing Services
Company (the editing arm of the above-mentioned agencies)
Martin-McLean
Literary Associates
Mocknick Productions Literary Agency, Inc.
B.K.
Nelson, Inc.
The Robins Agency (Cris Robins)
Michele Rooney Literary
Agency (also d/b/a Creative Literary Agency, Simply Nonfiction, and Michele
Glance Rooney Literary Agency)
Southeast Literary Agency
Mark Sullivan
Associates
West Coast Literary Associates (also d/b/a California Literary
Services)


So, what's got me wandering so far off topic on my blog? Well, at this point, the message board that I frequent at Absolute Write is down. The whole site is offline. Teresa Nielsen Hayden today reports that AW's hosting company may have pulled their website because Barbara Bauer complained they had posted her email address there. This gets me rather annoyed - the whole thing reminds me of the Church of Scientology's various efforts to silence critics of Scientology. And I wanted to do something to help AW's cause. I don't have a server to host Absolute Write myself, so I'm doing what I can do, putting up my own copy of the Twenty Worst Agents List in a display of solidarity. I encourage all AW members who blog to do the same.

Update: Dawno, the AW blogging moderator, is convering this too. She's creating a Technorati tag for all bloggers covering the Barbara Bauer incedent. I've never used these before, but now seems like a good place to start if it will help publicize what has happened. Click on the link below and you'll see how these things work.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

 

Dart update: Intake Air Temperature sensor

Just got the Intake Air Temperature (IAT) sensor in place on the Dart. The unit is a GM sensor originally used on the Grand National and Pontiac Sunbird Turbo. The MegaManual describes this as an "open cage" sensor, as the sensor sits in a plastic cage instead of inside a solid metal housing. Open sensors react better to the sudden changes in intake temperature that occur in turbo engines. My installation here is as crude as the rest of the intake tubing - I just drilled a 5/8" hole with a spade bit, put some RTV silicone on it, and screwed it into the plastic without tapping it.

One issue with the open cage IAT's is that the sensor element itself is just held in place with two wires. If it vibrates, metal fatique can break these wires. To solve that, put some RTV silicone on it (use the sort that is safe for oxygen sensors here, along with everywhere else in the intake) and get a few blobs of it around the wires holding up the sensor element. A syringe might be handy here, but I just put a blob on a bit of stiff wire and worked it through the cage and around the wires.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

 

Dart throttle linkage

Got the throttle linkage on the Dart installed today. The cable I had been using for a Super Six couldn't really reach it, so as I noted earlier, I used a Lokar Hi-Tech braided steel cable and mounted it to the throttle body with a homemade aluminum bracket. Well, it's now in the car, and it works. Had to trim the throttle cable a bit; it cuts just like an AN braided hose. Which is not easy...

Those of you familiar with '66 A-bodies may wonder what's at the other end, as the early A-bodies used a gas pedal that attaches to a rod linkage and is not suitable for a cable. I merely swapped in a pedal from an Aspen. The brake pedal cover from that Aspen fit over the Dart's stock brake pedal, so the pedals look like a matched set.

And yes, I know, I need to find that missing fourth bolt on the throttle body. But at least the cable is on there now and working.

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Even more gas mileage scams

Here's another gas mileage rip-off, this time one I found via Daily Snopes. This particular suspect is BioPerformance Inc., who is now trying to defend itself in court against deceptive acts and running an illegal pyramid scheme. They claimed that their pills can be dropped into a gas tank to boost mileage by 25% or more. As it turns out, the pills are actually made from the same ingredients as moth balls and toilet bowl deodorant bars. The Associated Press has the full story.
Curiously, when I was at Pep Boys today, the check-out clerk told me that someone had stopped by in a ratty old Chevy S10 and tried to sell them some of these pills. He said that they laughed the salesman out of the store, and later saw on TV how they'd been busted.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

 

Georgia ethanol production... no, not moonshine

Corn-based ethanol has quite a few problems. The corn farming takes a lot of fuel for the tractors, and then you have to use heat to distill it. So it takes a significant amount of energy to get that fuel - some have even argued that it can take more energy to make ethanol than you would get by burning it, some have said that isn't the case. Some have even accused American ethanol programs of being nothing more than corporate wellfare for Archer Daniels Midland. All sides agree that it would take a lot of land for the US to try to grow its own fuel supply this way, and that the production is very energy-intensive.

One obvious drawback that I can see with making ethanol from corn is how little of the plant you use. The ears of corn are just a small part of the whole thing, and the kernels of corn are just a small part of the ears. And you only get ethanol from the kernels - the cobs, husks, leaves, and stalks all get thrown away, or at best used for things other than fuel production. But they're hydrocarbons too. So there's one major source of inefficiency - you grow a six foot tall corn plant, and only use a tiny portion of it to actually make ethanol.

Well, today I heard on the radio that the Georgia Forestry Commission is trying to promote a different way to make ethanol. This method uses pine trees, and converts the cellulose present in the wood into ethanol. You can use a much larger fraction of the whole plant, and according to this article in Georgia Trend, it is about seven times more efficient than getting ethanol from corn in terms of the energy needed to grow, harvest, and convert the crops. According to WMAZ-TV, there are already a few programs in Georgia producing small quantities of ethanol by this method.

I don't know if this is anything like a permanent solution to oil problems, but it does seem like a possible improvement over current ethanol production.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

 

Adjustable shocks for Mopar A-bodies

Koni used to make adjustable shocks for A-bodiesthat worked well for autocross and road racing. They've pulled out of that business now, and the only adjustable shocks you will now see in catalogs that are listed for Darts and Barracudas are either drag items or expensive QA-1's. Well, I found an interesting post on the Slant Six message board where Joshua Skinner offers a solution. Rancho's RS9000X series of shocks are adjustable, and reasonably priced. Trouble is, they're made for trucks, not cars. So they won't list any applications for a Dodge Dart in their catalog.

Well, if you've compared A-body shocks to the ones found on pickups, you probably won't be surprised that there is something out there that fits if you look hard enough. Well, somebody did look hard enough, and the results are floating around the Internet on various message boards and web sites. I'd found the application once, but the site where it had been posted went offline.

Ok, enough rambling, here's what to ask for:

Front:
'87-'95 Nissan Pathfinder front shocks, P/N RS99214
-or-
'86-'94 Nissan Pickup front shocks, P/N RS99188

The latter, although built for a lifted truck, apparently works better for lowered A-bodies than the Pathfinder parts.

Rear:
Dodge W-series pickup front shocks, P/N RS99111

While not purpose-built autocross shocks, these sound like a good way to get adjustability on a budget. An added bonus is that you can use some of Rancho's add-ons to make them adjustable from inside the car. That's not easy to rig with a set of Konis.

Big thanks to Joshua Skinner.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

 

About that fuel pump...

A reader of my blog, Jonny Yugo, wonders:
what is your plan to stop the HP fuel pump from over heating? HP fuel pumps use the fuel to keep them cool. You may wont to add an oil cool to the low side of the pump to help keep the pump cool.

Many of the high pressure pumps are pretty reliant on the fuel for cooling, it's true. Many of them are designed to run in the gas tank for that very reason. However, the Carter pump that I am using (original equipment on late '80s Ford F-series trucks) is apparently designed to run wrapped in sound insulation, with no external fuel cooler. That's how they are set up in the original application. Either they tolerate higher temperatures than an in-tank pump, or the fuel lines provide adequate cooling. Haven't heard too many reports on the Megasquirt forum of this pump failing in use from overheating. I'll let you know if I encounter any issues with it.

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Be your own aftermarket parts supplier

Looks like I may have a new project coming up. On the Slantsix.org forums, some people were talking about how much they wished they could get polyurethane motor mounts for '62-'66 slant six A-bodies. Currently, the only option if you need motor mounts is to go with a set of cheaply made, imported rubber ones.

Well, I've worked with a variety of contract manufacturers before, and a motor mount is pretty simple. So I decided to look into having a small batch of motor mounts made to order. Right now I'm still talking with slant six owners, looking to see if they want something close to stock or a more complicated kit to adapt a different style of mount. It may seem a bit crazy to try and get your own aftermarket parts, but this is likely to be more straightforward than the time I had a fuel rail made for the Dart. If this succeeds, I may also get a batch made for later slant six A-bodies.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

 

Which Megasquirt do I need?

That has got to be one of the most common questions on the Megasquirt forums - and, for that matter, on some other forums as well. With all the options floating around out there, picking the right one can be very intimidating. Well, to help with the confusion, I will prepare a simple list. You will need to read the whole manual eventually, but if you want to order the parts, dive in, and straighten things out later, these items should get you going. The choices I list will not be the only possible ones - they are simply what I, personally, would pick for minimum hassle. Just select which item here corresponds to the situation you have, and order from one of the various Megasquirt distributors. They'll get you running for a reasonable cost, even though the solutions here may not be the latest and greatest, and are not necessarily the cheapest, either.

I had originally tried to divide things up by categories, but that got repetative and unnecessarily complicated. I found that it's easier to reduce this to a few rules of thumb.

1. The V3.0 board with an MS-1 processor will control virtually any engine with minimal hassle. Use MSnS-E firmware if you need spark control.

2. You are much better off with a Stimulator board. Buy one unless a good friend has one you can borrow.

3. If the original chassis is not wired for fuel injection, I recommend a Relay Board. I'd use one if I had to do my installation all over again; my homemade substitute cost more and looked uglier.

4. It really doesn't matter if you are using a throttle body injection system or forced induction, unless you want to run very high amounts of boost. Running over ~21 psi of boost will require a higher pressure MAP sensor, but no other mods to the Megasquirt.

5. MSnS-E can control most ignition systems using the factory sensors by now, including distributorless ignition. If controlling a factory distributorless ignition seems intimidating to you, consider grafting on a Ford EDIS system - you just need to find a way to mount the Ford trigger on your crankshaft pulley.

6. Got a motorcycle, ATV, or small watercraft? Consider waiting for Microsquirt.

7. You'll need a 9-pin serial cable to connect it to your PC.

All right, now those are the basic rules. Now on to advanced ones - if you just want a simple way of running, skip this, and order a V3.0 board with the standard processor and the recommended extra hardware.

There are very few installations that actually need a MS-2 processor. But you might want to use it in the following cases:

1. You are running very large injectors and want the best idle quality and drivability.

2. You want to use a stepper motor idle control. Running MS-1 if you have one of these means having to find another fast idle controller. How do you know if you've got one of these? Check the connector on the idle air control valve - if you see four pins, you've got a stepper motor.

3. You are interested in one of the upcoming add-ons to Megasquirt, such as the GPIO board or MegaShift.

4. You just plain want the latest and greatest.

5. You want a flex-fuel engine that can run on any mixture of gasoline and ethanol.

Monday, May 08, 2006

 

Gasoline substitutes from water - again

Remember what I mentioned about making substitutes for gasoline using water and a carbon source? The methods I talked about used ethylene or coal, but Autoblog Green reports that scientists have done one better and found a way to make methanol directly from water and carbon dioxide. Of course, you need an external source of power to drive their device, called a methanol fuel cell, in reverse. But since this device just recycles the products of burning hydrocarbons, it does not necessarily need any fossil fuels at all, unlike the methods I wrote about earlier. Plus, it gives us something to do with all that pesky carbon dioxide.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

 

My newest vehicle - a Honda CX500

Here's the newest member of my little collection, a '79 Honda CX500. Just bought it on Saturday, and wanted to post this then but Blogger was on the fritz. The CX500 tends to pop up in classifieds at very affordable prices on a semi-regular basis. I found this one on Craigslist for just $1,100. It has a few dents and dings, but the engine sounds healthy and doesn't have any missing parts. This one has an aftermarket Vetter Windjammer fairing that, at least in my mind, makes it look almost like an old Gold Wing without the luggage. It isn't nearly as heavy or high powered as a Gold Wing, though.

I haven't actually ridden it anywhere, and hope to have enough self-control to avoid firing it up before I take the MSF class. I already have all the safety gear except a set of riding pants, which are on order from a local motorcycle shop. When I went to buy those, I found that the clerk who sold me the gear had been a motorcycle courier in England and had owned several CX500's over there.

 

FocusSalvage airbox mod

The designers at Ford thoughtfully included a cabin air filter to keep pollen out of the passenger compartment. Then they thoughtlessly placed it under the cowl where rain can get to it. Chances are the engineers had to pack the filter into the only spot that the stylists had left them. The result is a car that's good at helping with pollen allergies but gets the passenger side floorboards wet in heavy rain or when you drive through a car wash. Since I've seen the sort of mildew firsthand that a chronic water leak can cause, when I first found a puddle on the floor, I went about looking for a way to fix it.

The first place I looked was the FocalJet forum. Not only did the regulars there know about the problem, but I found that FocusSalvage sells a kit to fix this. Their solution is quite simple: Attach a piece of heavy plastic over the airbox with sheet metal screws. This makes filter changes harder - it's hard to change the filter without removing the whole airbox - but takes away the usual path rain follows to get into the cabin. FocusSalvage sells a modified airbox for $50, although this doesn't look too hard to rig up on your own.

Once you look under the dash, you'll see why they want so much for an airbox: The difficulty in getting the thing out of a junkyard car. It's held on by two nuts, one that looks difficult to reach and one that looks impossible because it's under a grating that separates the airbox from the wiper motor. However, you can easily pull the grating out with your hands, making the nut insanely difficult to reach rather than impossible.

You will need the right tools to reach these nuts. I don't know how they did this at the factory, but the best tool for a home mechanic to use is a 10 mm deep socket combined with a flexible extension bar or one with a U-joint at the socket end. Once you have the deep socket on the nut, you can snake in the extension bar. In some cases, you may be able to get by with 1" long extension bar, but that's cutting things very close. You'll notice that I am barehanded in the picture, but I put on gloves not long after I took this picture. It's far too easy to cut your hands on the cowl opening. Once you have the two nuts off, it's relatively easy to lift the airbox out of there.

I haven't yet had the chance to test this out in a really heavy rainstorm, but this looks like it should keep the Focus's interior dry and mildew free. I'm still trying to figure out how to get the mildew out of the Dart for good, so I definitely don't want it to get a toehold in the Focus.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

 

Can water be converted to gasoline?

There are quite a few conspiracy theories surrounding oil companies and the price of gasoline. I've already covered the claim that the oil industry has concealed a 200 mpg carburetor. One other persistant claim is that the oil industry has supressed a secret formula that can be added to water to turn it into gasoline, or at least something that works as a viable substitute. The Straight Dope, for example, covered
the case of Guido Franch, a swindler who pretended he could turn water into gasoline. He had been caught switching the water with a small tank of gasoline, and the powder turned out to be vegetable dye.

With con men like this promoting such a thing, it's easy to dismiss it as a complete fraud. But I wouldn't be much of a mad scientist if I didn't at least try to figure out what the formula might be. So, ignoring the part about it being a pill or small quantity of powder, I sat down and took a look at what might be required to take water and turn it into a suitable fuel that you could burn in a car.

Sure, you could split the water into hydrogen and oxygen and call it a day. But most versions of the story have the water turning into a room temperature liquid. Most of the fuels fitting that description are hydrocarbons. I first tried to see if I could find a formula that would turn water into methanol (CH3OH), which is a nice simple liquid that contains oxygen and hydrogen. Converting a gasoline engine to run on it requires some tweaks to the fuel system, but it's a lot easier to run than hydrogen. The simplest formula I could think of was to use ethylene, a gas containing two carbon atoms and four hydrogen atoms.

C2H4 + 2 H2O -> 2 CH3OH

Pretty simple, except that ethylene is normally synthesized from natural gas, and you can just convert the car to burn natural gas directly. So while this is a way to make fuel that uses water as an ingredient, it's not exactly a useful solution to high gas prices.

This also shows one thing about converting water to gasoline: You'll need to add carbon. Why not just take a big chunk of raw carbon? Conveniently, we have a lot of coal, which is pretty much straight carbon. I did a little digging around, and sure enough, scientists already have worked out ways to do this, such as the Fischer-Tropsch process. This starts with coal and water, and can make gasoline, diesel fuel, or many other petrochemical products. It's been used in large scale factories before, and people are working on building new plants, such as a synthetic diesel fuel factory in Pennsylvania. The biggest obstacle has been cost, and right now the price of oil is so high it just might be commercially viable.

So while these processes require plenty of other ingredients, there really are ways to use water to make a substitute for gasoline. And in a couple years, we just might see the results at a gas station near you.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

 

Dart update: Fuel return line

I've resumed working on the Dart today. Lifted it onto a set of four jackstands and took a look at the problem of the fuel return line and the surge tank. I think I've picked out a suitable space for the main fuel filter / surge tank. The surge tank needs a place where it won't be likely to hit the ground, and ideally should be mounted above the secondary fuel pump. While the Dart has a large, high, open space between the gas tank and rear seat, when it hits a bump, that space gets occupied by the rear axle. So that's out. I finally found a promising spot behind the gas tank, inboard of the rear subframe rails. It's not quite as high as I wish I could mount the tank, but at least filter changes will be a breeze. I will need to fab up some brackets to put it there.

I also routed the return line from the fuel rail. I had originally planned to return it to the surge tank, but with the surge tank being located so far rearward, I've decided to use separate returns for the surge tank and fuel rail. This is a somewhat simpler system, and obviates the need for the check valve that the original plan required. The fuel return line pretty much follows the same routing as the original fuel line. I suppose I could have even used the original fuel line, or what remains of it. The next step will be to remove the fuel sending unit so I can attach a fitting for connecting the return line. Stay tuned.

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