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The fireplace delusion (sorry Paul)

Bert Bates
author
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8883
    
    5
Sam Harris on fireplaces

Count me with those who wish this wasn't true.


Spot false dilemmas now, ask me how!
(If you're not on the edge, you're taking up too much room.)
Winston Gutkowski
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Joined: Mar 17, 2011
Posts: 8427
    
  23

Bert Bates wrote:Count me with those who wish this wasn't true.

Interesting little article. However, I find it odd that he uses it as an analolgy for faith (presumably the Christian faith).

Practically every argument he uses as possible defenses for burning wood - it's historical, it's natural, it's what gave us civilisation - could be turned on organized religion, particularly monotheistic ones, because in general they're unnatural (most early religions were polytheistic, and based very definitely on nature), they're relatively recent (Christ: 0 CE, Mohammed: 622 CE, Buddha: c.500 BCE) and, far from promoting civilization, they've often actively opposed it. How many people were put to death for daring to translate the Bible into local dialect?

As an old C of E choir boy - now lapsed (if there is such a thing in the C of E) - I have no particular problem with religion; but I do get annoyed when people try to dictate how they can be spoken to because of their faith.

My two-penn'orth, for what it's worth.

Oh, and BTW, I don't burn wood - or at least, not in the past 40 years I haven't.

Winston

Isn't it funny how there's always time and money enough to do it WRONG?
Articles by Winston can be found here
Frank Silbermann
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Joined: Jun 06, 2002
Posts: 1390
Winston Gutkowski wrote:
Interesting little article. However, I find it odd that he uses it as an analogy for faith (presumably the Christian faith). ...


He's not saying that there's any _intrinsic_ similarity between religion and burning wood. There are other defenses and criticisms of religion that would not apply at all to wood burning.

It's only an analogy, not an equivalence. What is similar is the defenders' refusal to face fact and reason, and also the nature of the defenses offered (without regard for those defenses' validity).

One could also make an analogy between burning wood and the _absence_ of religion, in the sense that a wood fire is somewhat like the fire and brimstone faced after death by an opponent of the True religion. :-)
Paul Anilprem
Enthuware Software Support
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    8
While I bought my house, I was not too excited about the gas fireplace. I wanted to have a "real" fireplace. But after reading the above article, it seems what I have is actuall better.

Not that I can do anything now but just wanted to see if other folks here agree with the points that he has made.


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Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
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  67

I don't really have anything to say about the article, but just to point out that we converted a wood-burning fireplace to gas logs simply because it is much more convenient, safe and efficient.


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Pat Farrell
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    5

A couple of decades ago, I did a lot of traveling to Denver and Colorado Springs for work. When you'd drive into either town, they were covered in a black shroud of smog, caused wood burning stoves and fireplaces. They passed a law requiring catalytic convertors on the chimneys and it did a huge amount to clean the air. (I think a lot of folks converted to gas instead of wood, which also cleans the air)
Paul Clapham
Bartender

Joined: Oct 14, 2005
Posts: 18989
    
    8

As for intransigence, that's just a general feature of human beings. Example: for a long time Swiss women were unable to vote in their local elections. Because they were women. There was a certain amount of pressure put on the men to change this situation, but of course they didn't for a long time. They just produced all the tired old excuses which men elsewhere had produced. And if people pointed out that allowing women to vote elsewhere hadn't led to the apocalypse, they produced reasons why it was different in Switzerland. Which of course it wasn't different in Switzerland.

People will almost always come up with reasons why they shouldn't have to change what they are doing. Quite often those reasons are bogus. This applies to you and me as well and it's instructive to examine your own reactions when you're in that situation.
Frank Silbermann
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Posts: 1390
Paul Clapham wrote:As for intransigence, that's just a general feature of human beings. Example: for a long time Swiss women were unable to vote in their local elections. Because they were women. There was a certain amount of pressure put on the men to change this situation, but of course they didn't for a long time. They just produced all the tired old excuses which men elsewhere had produced. And if people pointed out that allowing women to vote elsewhere hadn't led to the apocalypse, they produced reasons why it was different in Switzerland. Which of course it wasn't different in Switzerland.


Not that a system cannot be seriously damaged in a manner that nonetheless falls far short of an apocalypse.
Greg Charles
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 01, 2001
Posts: 2864
    
  11

In general, I believe what he's saying, even though all his appeals to science and studies come with not one single cite, which sets off my BS detectors something fierce. It's interesting that he missed a fairly salient point: a typical household fireplace does not heat the home, but rather sucks heat out of it.

I rarely have fires, but I did want one last Christmas when my parents and my brother's family were coming to visit. At Costco, I found something similar to Duralogs, but advertised as environmentally-friendly, clean-burning alternatives. I have to say, they were totally correct, because even following the instructions to the letter and then adding some fire starters I use when grilling, I could not get those suckers to burn at all. They're still sequestering carbon in a box in my garage.
Winston Gutkowski
Bartender

Joined: Mar 17, 2011
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  23

Paul Clapham wrote:Example: for a long time Swiss women were unable to vote in their local elections. Because they were women.

I have to admit to finding the whole history of women's suffrage quite fascinating. For example, Wyoming - hardly the first place you'd think of as a hotbed of progressive thought - allowed women (all women) to vote in 1869, and was admitted to the Union on that basis in 1889; so by the time the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, women had already been voting there for 50 years. Mississippi, on the other hand, didn't ratify the 19th Amendment until 1984.

The UK was also remarkably slow: Women didn't get the full vote until 1928, and nationality was conferred solely through male lineage until 1986. Indeed, women didn't have individual nationality in the UK until 1948.

My dad used to tell the story of his oldest friend, a Hungarian, who moved to England at the start of WWII and became a fireman. When Britain declared war on Hungary he became an 'enemy alien', but because of some heroic deeds as a fireman during the Blitz, he was upgraded to 'friendly alien'. In 1944, he married a girl from Worcester who, under the rules at the time, instantly became Hungarian, and therefore an enemy alien; and it was only by lucky timing (and the approaching end of the war) that she avoided being interned on the Isle of Man.

After the war, in 1946, he was granted British naturalization, which meant that she also became British again; so, in fact, he was British by right two years before she was. Absurd, but true.

And just FYI, Switzerland passed women's universal suffrage in 1971, 23 years after the last previous bastion of male stupidity in Western Europe (unless you count Andorra, Monaco and Liechtenstein) - and the place where I live - Belgium.

Winston
Paul Clapham
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    8

Winston Gutkowski wrote:And just FYI, Switzerland passed women's universal suffrage in 1971...


At the national level, no? At the canton level it took a lot longer, if I'm not mistaken.
Winston Gutkowski
Bartender

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  23

Paul Clapham wrote:At the national level, no? At the canton level it took a lot longer, if I'm not mistaken.

Yup, you're right. According to this, Appenzell Innerrhoden was the last holdout to fall, in 1991. Hope that doesn't mean that cheesemakers are naturally mysogynist.

Winston
Jelle Klap
Bartender

Joined: Mar 10, 2008
Posts: 1836
    
    7

I like fire places, and I would love to have one in my home. It would likely not be "good for me", but then again what the heck is these days? People worry too much.

Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.
Martin Vajsar
Sheriff

Joined: Aug 22, 2010
Posts: 3611
    
  60

Jelle Klap wrote:It would likely not be "good for me", but then again what the heck is these days? People worry too much.

If the article is right, then the problem is that it is not good for others. If it really is comparable to pollution caused by cars, then it is by all means serious. In recent years, the EU, for example, is taking hard measures against car pollution, forcing customers to buy expensive engines with high maintenance costs, just to combat pollution. Just ceasing all wood fires would be much more cost effective, so in a rational world, this measure would be taken far sooner than the transport related pollution.

I'm not convinced that recreational wood burning is comparable to traffic pollution, though. Perhaps I'll try to do some reading on the subject before we'll make the fire next time.
Pat Farrell
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    5

Martin Vajsar wrote:I'm not convinced that recreational wood burning is comparable to traffic pollution, though. Perhaps I'll try to do some reading on the subject before we'll make the fire next time.


Wood burning is comparable to modern car/truck pollution. Primarily because since 1974 or so, the cars and trucks have gotten so much cleaner. A modern car puts out less than 1% of the crud that a pre-74 car did. But wood stoves haven't improved at all. See my earlier post about pollution in Denver and Colorado Springs back in the 80s.

Also, a fair number of folks in the mountains did not burn wood purely for recreational reasons. During the 78-79 oil embargo, a lot of folks switched to food for their primary heat source because oil became so expensive. It was amazing back then, gas and fuel oil was outrageously priced at over $2.00 per gallon, or roughly 50 cents per liter. No one can afford to spend that much, so deforest the mountains and burn it in uncontrolled fireplaces.
Martin Vajsar
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  60

Pat Farrell wrote:Primarily because since 1974 or so, the cars and trucks have gotten so much cleaner. A modern car puts out less than 1% of the crud that a pre-74 car did.

Modern car that is properly serviced - sure. However, in my country I still see a fair number of relatively modern cars (even Mercedeses or Audis) which spit out plumes of black smoke whenever the driver touches the gas pedal. Truck and buses are notoriously smelly. I'd wish the police to stop and ground these vehicles, but it isn't happening. The average age of cars in my country (Czech Republic, former Eastern bloc) is around 14 years, but the really old cars (who depress the average) usually have petrol engines, which are smelly too, but still better than ancient diesels. I certainly hope that in more civilized countries the situation is better and we'll arrive there eventually.

(Honestly, I'm dumbfounded. If someone can afford a Mercedes, he needs to save on fuel and buy diesel - which is more expensive to maintain anyway? And then he burns the DPF filter and cannot afford a new one? I'd be greatly ashamed to drive a car which leaves thick black fog behind.)

Also, a fair number of folks in the mountains did not burn wood purely for recreational reasons.

Certainly. In the village where my parents-in-law live most folks burn wood (or even household waste), and the traffic is relatively light, so over there the pollution by household heating is by far the heaviest (and converting those wouldn't be cheap - there are people who got gas boilers, but reverted back to wood after gas price increases).

However, it is the original article which states that even recreational wood-burning is more dangerous than traffic pollution, and that would be something to consider. Probably depends heavily on local conditions (traffic density vs. campfires density ). Unlike heating, campfires are avoidable.
Winston Gutkowski
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  23

Martin Vajsar wrote:Modern car that is properly serviced - sure. However, in my country I still see a fair number of relatively modern cars (even Mercedeses or Audis) which spit out plumes of black smoke whenever the driver touches the gas pedal.

Which doesn't necessarily mean more pollution; particularly of the greenhouse gas form - as my brother (an engineer, keen car mechanic and ex-boy racer) is always telling me. Diesels will almost always spit out more particulates than petrol engines, yet they might be running on leftover oil from the local 'chippie - which apparently smells of strawberries; or so he told me when he used to crack his own bio-diesel (before the UK "nanny state" decided that this was something that 'ordinary people' - presumably the ones that voted them in - couldn't possibly be allowed to do themselves, and therefore banned it by slapping an enormous tax on it) - so, as Einstein said: "everything is relative".

I fear, however, that we're drifting far from the point of the original article, which, unless I'm way off the mark, was an allegory about intransigence, and particularly as it relates to faith. My point in my first post (probably badly stated) was that faith is itself intransigent, and therefore needs to be challenged - and who better to do that than scientists? Or indeed, "Meaningless Drivel" enthusiasts?

Winston
Martin Vajsar
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  60

You'd have to press on me really hard to make me believe that black smoke from diesel engines doesn't mean pollution (greenhouse gasses are always there, so I'll leave them out for now). As far as I know, these are fine soot particles, which are carcinogenic; how much depending mostly on their size. The smaller, the worse, so even if there isn't too much black smoke visible, the mix can still be awful. More black smoke presumably means more of these particles of all sizes, I'd say. Also, new diesel engines tend to not produce this smoke, only older ones, so this isn't an universal property of diesel engine.

Diesel engine can run on a wide variety of fuels, including kitchen oil, but except of the disposal of said oil, there isn't anything especially ecological about it (or so I believe). Most importantly, there isn't enough used kitchen oil to make any difference in the petroleum consumption.

I also hazard to guess that UK is banning home-made biofuels for tax reasons. Isn't there a consumption tax on fuel in the UK?

I've understood the article to be meant to help scientifically minded folks, who also happen to like campfires, understand how religious folk feel and react when confronted with scientific arguments. I'm not especially keen on burning wood, but even though, I did find some internal resistance to accept the findings presented in the article, which I usually don't register when reading about, say, Mars volcanoes or super-novae.
Paul Clapham
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    8

Winston Gutkowski wrote:I fear, however, that we're drifting far from the point of the original article, which, unless I'm way off the mark, was an allegory about intransigence, and particularly as it relates to faith. My point in my first post (probably badly stated) was that faith is itself intransigent, and therefore needs to be challenged - and who better to do that than scientists? Or indeed, "Meaningless Drivel" enthusiasts?


And my point earlier was that intransigence naturally arises any time something is challenged which you and people around you do regularly without thinking much about it. Faith is one such thing. Another example is people who live in a subdivision where everybody gets into their cars to drive to work. If you point out to such a person that there might be other options, you're likely to be given reasons why those other options don't apply to them. Sometimes those reasons are valid and sometimes they aren't. If you push the argument farther you are likely to encounter intransigence. Or for another example, suggest to a long-time Java programmer that they should rewrite their web site in PHP.
Winston Gutkowski
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  23

Paul Clapham wrote:...If you point out to such a person that there might be other options, you're likely to be given reasons why those other options don't apply to them...

Amen. I'm a cyclist and, apart from two years (2004-6), haven't driven a car regularly since 1997, and have built my life around it. That recent car was a company one taken because, in Belgium, the money you get if you choose not to have one is a pittance. Next time, I'll take the dosh, because I gained about 20 pounds while I had it (still not shed, primarily because of my enjoyment of that most natural of things - beer ).

And as a cyclist, it really gets up my nose that the other 90% of the commuting population can claim to be "green" - especially in the land of Eddie Mercx - and yet still belch smoke and CO in my face every day - not helped, it has to be said, by shows like "Top Gear" (a sinful pleasure), whose sole purpose in life seems to be to point people to the bigger, faster, and more luxurious. I have enough problems with "prioritere a droite" in la belle Belgique thank you, Clarkson.

The fact is that fire is necessary for life. Just go to British Columbia and you'll see why: it's basically a pine forest the size of France. Carcinogens are things that we puny humans worry about - I suspect more for control, or some feeling of superiority, than any actual real difference. After all, didn't the article say that you're far more likely to get cancer from a wood fire than me smoking a few fags in your exalted presence?

Winston (smoker, drinker, and general antagonist to the "risk-averse" generation; but probably "greener" than most of you)
Paul Clapham
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    8

Winston Gutkowski wrote:The fact is that fire is necessary for life. Just go to British Columbia and you'll see why: it's basically a pine forest the size of France.


Yeah, I live there and we actually own a log cabin in said pine forest. (Actually it's more of a hemlock, fir, and cedar forest where the cabin is but that doesn't matter.) We don't heat the place with a fireplace, though, that would be terribly wasteful. We heat it with an airtight wood stove which burns much less wood than a fireplace and burns the wood more efficiently. Once the fire is started in the stove and gets really going, you can't see smoke coming out of the chimney. I wouldn't be surprised if that's what Martin's in-laws are (or were) using to heat their place too.
Winston Gutkowski
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  23

Paul Clapham wrote:Yeah, I live there...

In B.C? I lived in Vancouver for 18 years.

The West Coast is pretty much all the same, until you get to the tropics. I have a friend in San Jose, CA, and used to drive to Cape Mendocino on my way down to see him. The first time I saw it, it was like I was Cortez: miles and miles of open Pacific and flat beach - and not a soul in sight. And you could only (then) get to it by an old dirt road called "the Wildcat" (don't know what it's like now). Give me Mendocino over Big Sur any day.

Oh, and great beer. Even back then (10-20 years ago), it was a hotbed for micro-breweries (Humboldt Brewing being just one). Guess the weed growers needed something to occupy their time when there's no harvest. I've been there probably a dozen times, and half of those I ended up sleeping in the car after a piss-up at some pre-fab barn. Once, I even slept on the beach at Mendocino itself.

If I had (have?) a choice, that's where I'd like to curl up me tootsies.

Winston
Winston Gutkowski
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  23

Martin Vajsar wrote:You'd have to press on me really hard to make me believe that black smoke from diesel engines doesn't mean pollution (greenhouse gasses are always there, so I'll leave them out for now).

But you can't. The whole point about pollution is that it's generally NOT what you can see. Petrol burns differently to oil, and so produces different by-products, and most of the ones we worry about are invisible (and are generally higher in petrol-driven engines than diesels).

So, are you worried about the environment, or health, or both? Particulates, in general, are harmful to health, but not (or far less so) to the environment, since they've been around for an awfully long time and would be the natural by-product of any sort of combustion.

The famous 'London Fogs' (and I've been in a few where if you stuck out your arm you couldn't see your hand) were almost entirely due to sulphur; and since the introduction of smokeless zones and fuels they've largely disappeared (the last one I remember was around 1980), but it took a lot longer (about 30 years) to get fish back into the Thames. Personally, I'm hoping the oysters make a comeback too.

Smoke (or soot) isn't generally the problem, except that we tend to live in big clumps, so we produce it in ways that the environment of that area may not be able to handle (Los Angeles being a classic case, since it's basically a big bowl, surrounded by mountains). But stick 2 or 3 million people anywhere and it's likely to create stress.

I applaud your concern, but it seems to me we need to rationalise this: I smoke a pack of cigs a day. Can you honestly tell me that I'm producing more pollution than you would save if you gave up driving your car on Sundays (let alone one weekday out of five), and used public transport instead?

Winston
Martin Vajsar
Sheriff

Joined: Aug 22, 2010
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  60

Winston Gutkowski wrote:
Martin Vajsar wrote:You'd have to press on me really hard to make me believe that black smoke from diesel engines doesn't mean pollution (greenhouse gasses are always there, so I'll leave them out for now).

But you can't.

Is this "But you can't" related to the greenhouse gases? I didn't want to get into that discussion, as I felt it is getting pretty far away from the original subject. The "are always there" was meant that if you have a combustion engine, you have greenhouse gas emissions.

Combustion engines produce all sorts of greenhouse gases, some of them in concentrations completely safe to human health (carbon dioxide), some of them harmful - nitrogen oxides are, as far as I know, both poisonous and potent greenhouse gases. Obviously, diesel engine, being more efficient, produces less greenhouse gases. In my previous post, I was concentrating solely on health issues, not greenhouse gases, and I would be interested if you could point me to some source that says that petrol engines produce more unhealthy emissions than diesel ones. A quick, but certainly not thorough Google expedition I've just made seems to imply the diesels are the worse breed.

Particulates, in general, are harmful to health, but not (or far less so) to the environment, since they've been around for an awfully long time and would be the natural by-product of any sort of combustion.

I guess it is a matter of concentrations and life-time expositions. I'm also not sure whether these nanoparticles, which tend to get into the lungs and stay there, since lungs are not able to expel them, aren't perhaps more represented in the emissions from car engines than in natural fires. If humans and animals in general were significantly exposed to these particles in the past (from natural sources), wouldn't the evolutionary pressure already equipped us with a mechanism to get rid of them?

My tirade was against fuming diesel cars, and if I'm not mistaken, all modern cars are equipped with catalysts (which remove the invisible, but harmful stuff) and diesels (but not petrol engines) also with particulate matter filters, which catch the soot (not the really small particles, though, which is a problem). I'd say that a car which has burned out DPF filter has a higher probability of the catalyst being damaged too, but I don't have any data on this whatsoever. These cars also wouldn't pass technical inspection in my country, but it is another matter.

The famous 'London Fogs' (and I've been in a few where if you stuck out your arm you couldn't see your hand) were almost entirely due to sulphur; and since the introduction of smokeless zones and fuels they've largely disappeared (the last one I remember was around 1980), but it took a lot longer (about 30 years) to get fish back into the Thames. Personally, I'm hoping the oysters make a comeback too.

In my country, installing desulphurisation units on powerplants (and shutting down a lot of heavy industry) was the big deal. Well, being a socialist country, there perhaps wasn't that many cars per citizen as in the UK.

I applaud your concern, but it seems to me we need to rationalise this: I smoke a pack of cigs a day. Can you honestly tell me that I'm producing more pollution than you would save if you gave up driving your car on Sundays (let alone one weekday out of five), and used public transport instead?

You certainly aren't. I'm not even aware the discussion was about cigarettes anyway. In any case, I don't want to forbid smoking anybody. No one at my home or office smokes, and it does suit me, since I dislike the smoke (I actually liked it as a kid, my mother was a heavy smoker; I don't remember when did I start to dislike it). The only place where smokers really irritate me are the city parks and forests. I'm also pretty sure that my lifestyle comprises far bigger health risks than occasional second-hand smoke in a pub. Sitting by a computer many hours a day comes to my mind at first.

So, no, generally I don't have anything against smokers, and I'm pretty sure that - as a cyclist - you're way greener than me. Well, in Java, I'm the greener one, but it doesn't help the planet.
Winston Gutkowski
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  23

Martin Vajsar wrote:If humans and animals in general were significantly exposed to these particles in the past (from natural sources), wouldn't the evolutionary pressure already equipped us with a mechanism to get rid of them?

Not necessarily. We humans have been on this planet an incredibly short time in the grand scheme of things; and have only mastered fire in the last 20,000 years or so - a measly crumb in the timescale of evolution. And furthermore, the planet's history is riddled with extinction events that presumably weren't so hot for the "extinguished", but nevertheless allowed other species to flourish. The same is true of forest fires (natural ones): they may be catastrophic to the animals living in it when they happen, but they allow for regeneration.

I love the old 'Earth in a year' analogy. By it, early hominids like "Lucy" first appear on the scene around nine PM on the 31st of December, homo sapiens at about 11:55, and the end of the last Ice Age at 1 minute to midnight.

And almost all the pollution we're so worried about has occurred in the last three seconds.

Winston
paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20729
    ∞

My response:




permaculture Wood Burning Stoves 2.0 - 4-DVD set
Winston Gutkowski
Bartender

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  23

paul wheaton wrote:My response:

Looks like my home-brew kit.

Winston
Steve Fahlbusch
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Posts: 582
    
    7

Actually if you are interested, Paul has a four DVD set ripe for the taking that will explain all.
Jaikiran Pai
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168

http://www.woodburningstoves2.com/


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Rohit Kumar Singh
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paul wheaton wrote:My response:










Accept me as I am, or Watch me as I go.
 
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subject: The fireplace delusion (sorry Paul)