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Sunday, September 21, 2014


That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Famous quote. It's bold. It's strong. It's only partially true. That's the problem with so many nifty sayings; they have uncomfortable exceptions.

Sometimes adversity does make us stronger. We don't wonder if we have the right stuff or not. We've been tested and survived. Nothing like troubles to sort out what's important in your life. You also find out who your true friends are. The mind can focus on what's really valuable.

That's the good outcome.

That which does not kill us can leave us maimed for life. I guess there was no PTSD in Nietzche's time. Troubles can scar a person for life. Many who are not physically killed are mentally shattered. It doesn't have to be as dramatic as war either. An old high school friend of mine went into a downward spiral after his divorce. He lost his family, then his business, and retreated into a bottle. It almost killed him. It might yet.

Then there are things that don't kill us and make us stronger in some areas, weaker in others. For example, lessons learned in war might not transfer well to civilian life. Anyone who lives long enough is likely to pick up a few scars along with that extra strength. The wise have the self knowledge to know where they are damaged and do their best to work around it.

Man is strange creature, part angel and part demon. Sometimes when challenged we respond with out best selves. Other times . . . not so much. The same person can be a hero one day and villain the next.

“That which does not kill us . . . may give us valuable life lessons and skills . . . or not” doesn't make for a great slogan.

Might be good enough for bumper sticker philosophy.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

The wrong tool for the job

We've all heard about having the right tool for the job. There's nothing like a well equipped toolbox with everything in its place and no parts missing.

If you don't have the right tool for the job, the next best thing is to have the wrong tool for the job. There are a few tools out there that are essential if your budget or space is limited.

One of the most abused tools in the world is the common screwdriver. It's used a pry bar, chisel, scraper, paint stirrer, hammer, ice pick and even as a self defense weapon. Anyone ever use one to short across a bad solenoid in a car? Once in a great while someone even turns a few screws with one.

My next favorite tool to abuse are locking vise grips. They are often used instead of a good set of socket wrenches. Unlike the right tool, they mar and even deform nuts and bolts. On the plus side they get the job done. Get the brand name ones, especially if you are going to use it as a hammer or slip a piece of pipe over it for better leverage. I've removed wheel nuts on a one ton pickup truck with one of those babies. They make a pretty good emergency clamp and even have little cutters built in.

Moving on we have the much maligned multi-tool. These are the generalists of your personal tool kit. They do nothing perfectly, but many things well enough. Their handles tend to be uncomfortable and dig into your hands. Screwdrivers, knives, and other tools are often awkward to use. Some models have little attachments that get lost and are nearly impossible to replace. While never the ideal tool for any particular job, they are usually good enough.

There you go, the poor man's tool kit. Throw them in your bugout bag. Carry on your bicycle. Keep them in your car. Wrap them in an oily rag and toss them in your boat. They are cheap enough to own several sets.

Throw in a roll of duck tape and a clever person can make emergency repairs on just about anything.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Choosing your complexity level

There is something to be said for simplicity -live stripped down to the basics. It's easy for things to get out of hand. The worse is labor saving devices.

Right now I'd rather hand wash dishes than deal with maintaining a dishwasher. When mine failed it was hauled to the dump and never replaced. Currently it's less hassle for me to wash dishes than deal with getting a new machine. That's a huge change for me. Once I moved apartments because the new apartment had a dishwasher.

People wonder why I don't own a snowblower. I'm too lazy to own a snowblower. Figure in the expense, maintenance and noise and I'd rather shovel. It's easier in the long run. I abandon my lower driveways and only use the ones with parking right next to the road. Less to shovel. Works for me.

The simplicity of the kitchen woodstove pleases me. No need for electricity, special thermostats, or expensive service plans. The oil furnace it replaced was modern and automatic. A whole symphony of pumps, blowers, motors and control electronics had to function flawlessly. A simple failure in any component and the automatic heat is no more. When new it worked well. Time has not be kind to all those little complex gadgets that make it go.

Sailing has taught me the value of simple robust systems. My boat might not have all the gadgets, but it has enough to be comfortable. All too often in my travels I see people sitting at the marina fixing water makers, heads, fancy electronics, electronic winches, refrigeration units, AC systems, and what not. I've talked to highly intelligent mechanically minded people who still find themselves overwhelmed with their boat's systems.

Then there are some things I've decided to learn to live with. My van is more complex than I like, but that's the cost of having a vehicle big enough to tow my boat. If it was just me I'd solve that problem by living on a boat, but my lovely wife is not ready for that. Life is full of little compromises. (It's simpler to please the wife)

I could go a long time without computers and the Internet. After all, I'm old enough to remember life without those things. Right now the usefulness of computers and the 'net outweigh the hassles. Even so, there are ways to simplify life. I'm using cheap laptop computers and Ubuntu as an operating system as it's very stable. The computers are cheap enough that I don't mind taking them apart and repairing the darn thing myself. After all, if I do fail another cheap computer is less money than many computer service calls.

Rarely in modern times does something equal the simplicity and utility of a Native American's birch bark canoe. With a few simple tools and locally available materials a native could construct a beautiful and extremely useful craft. Often he could build one so quickly that he'd abandon an old canoe rather that portage it. He could just build a new one when the came to the next water system.

Modern life is almost never so simple. That doesn't mean we have to accept every new gizmo that comes along. Rarely do they provide promised lifestyle improvement. Benefits are hyped. Costs are ignored.

Maybe the Amish are onto something.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Boats and travel plans

My little 12 Ooze Goose project is moving along. It's at the filler and sanding phase. That's pretty tedious and doesn't look like much has been accomplished at the end of the day. I thought I'd be putting on the last coat of epoxy before painting. Instead it was a day of mixing little batches of thickened epoxy to touch up gaps and joints. One more sealer coat of epoxy that then it's time for paint.

If the weather holds I should give it a water test before the week is out. There sailing rig is barely started, so it'll be a matter of testing its rowing capabilities. The sail rig can be be finished inside if need be, so the project won't be so weather dependent.

My lovely wife and I are still trying to figure out what kind of boating we want to do this coming winter. All we know for sure is that we want to spend some time in Florida and some time in East Texas. The 12 foot boat would allow us to get into some really shallow areas and explore rivers and freshwater lakes. We know what our 19 foot Oday is capable of, so that's a consideration.

I've modified the Goose's plans and stretched the cabin a bit for more leg room. One of the things we are going to test is to see how my wife and I will fit in the cabin. It's going to be tight, but will it be tight cozy or tight claustrophobic? Should it would out, we'd like to take the boat back to Calidesi Island. The Florida State Park marina only charges $1/foot. Imagine staying on an island paradise for $12/night. Actually, staying on the 19 foot Oday was a bargain.

There are some interesting places we've yet to visit. Anyone else remember when a road trip required piles of guidebooks and pamphlets? Now it's all on the Internet.

Financially it's pretty much a wash which boat we'll take. The trailer for the Oday needs new tires, but so would the trailer I'm adapting for the Goose. The Oday is in pretty good shape. The sails are getting old, but would survive one more season. Just about all the parts and materials needed to finish the Goose have been paid for. No matter which boat we decide to take, I'm committed to finishing the boat project.

This year we won't leave the frozen north until after the holidays. I only hope that nasty Polar Vortex holds off until our escape.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

History, repeat and shuffle

Let's go way back to the Vietnam conflict -so far back that it wasn't a US conflict. . . yet! At one time it was a French conflict -the First Indochina War, for you history buffs.

Well the government they left behind wasn't all to stable and then had insurgent problems of their own. The US sends in a few advisors. Those few became many and then it was a full blow commitment to war.

This time it's the US that left behind a not too stable government when they pulled out of the country. Insurgents made big gains. Now at this point some other country is supposed to send a few advisors, but no. The US decides to play the “just a few advisors” role again. Even France was smarter than that.

Maybe it's election year chatter, but I keep hearing the call for more US ground troops from politicians that should know better.

Yes, ISIS or whatever name you want to call them by, are a bad bunch of dudes. Yes, they've killed some Westerners in a nasty and public manner. However, US options are not very good here. Air strikes have military value, but these are people who can blend back into major population centers. Do we really need to bomb more wedding parties and schools? That's what happens when you want to do “surgical” strikes. Sometimes bombs go astray or intel is bad. That's war from on high for you.

The surrogates on the ground that the US wants to support are a mixed bag. Some are pretty ineffective. The ones with combat hardened members are not much better than ISIS. It's entirely possible that we'd be arming the next ISIS.

Who else is fighting ISIS? Well we have Assad of Syria -who've we've said must go. Then there's Iran, a country that we aren't exactly on friendly terms either. Of course, there are the Kurds. Why do they even deal with the US anymore? There is a long history of the US abandoning them in the crunch.

The little Iraq problem isn't happening in isolation. There are some nasty things going on in the Ukraine and other places. In many ways this reminds me of the lead up to WWI: lots of small conflicts, independence movements, ethnic hatreds, and a whole slew of nations with interlocking treaties. The details are different, but it has many of the same dynamics.

When we see the horrors that ISIS members are committing we feel an emotional response. Unfortunately, emotions aren't a good basis for International policy.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Found mail and potential fires

My lovely wife found a piece of unopened mail today. Apparently it arrived back in June and somehow never got opened. 9/10 of what comes in the mail is usually junk, so the odds were this wasn't that important.

It wasn't all that important, that is, if I don't mind my van bursting into flames. The letter was a safety recall notice from Ford. The speed controller deactivation switch may catch fire. That can't be good. This is the van that all summer I've been putting a lot of money into. All this time it could have just caught fire and burned up.

So the warning came out in June. Here it is, the middle of September. Better get that taken care of right away, I think. I call the dealership. After negotiating the rather extensive automated phone list a human finally comes on the line. No problem, she says, I'll connect you now.

The phone rings about 15 times. Why did I let it ring so long? I was hoping someone would pick it because no way did I want to start at the beginning of the automated messages. Believe it or not, a human being did pick it up. She was even polite.

. . . but that's not all. The guy who's in charge of the computer that handles recalls is on vacation. Just before he left the guy changed the password on the computer. No one else knows the password and the guy can't be reached.

So at any rate, they scheduled me for next week. Good thing the van is a former ambulance and has two large fire extinguishers on board.


Monday, September 15, 2014


Soon the Scotts will vote for or against independence. Current polls indicate it will be a near thing. I've a few drops of Scottish blood in my veins. No doubt there are very distant relatives of mine caught up in the whole thing. My heart says to go with independence and my head says: go with independence. It's about freaking time. (but that's just me, someone across the pond with little skin in the game)

It's easy to have an opinion when the events are across the ocean. In 1995 there was an independence vote much closer to home in Quebec. I could walk to Quebec in a day and a half, and I'm a middle aged fat guy. There are close relatives of mine living in the Provence. The Quebec Referendum was a near thing. Independence failed by the thinnest of margins.

Members of my own extended family were split on issue, brother against brother. Personally, I really didn't know what to wish for. Since Quebec is a neighbor, independence would have affected me one way or the other. For good or bad, who could say? Since then the fires of independence have dampened down, but they haven't gone out.

Few people know that for a few years there was an independent republic here in Northern New Hampshire, the Indian Stream Republic. Canada and the US both claimed the area so both sent tax collectors. That angered the locals so they threw everybody out and claimed independence. Eventually the US moved in troops and settled the issue. Still, that independent streak runs in the veins of us locals.

Maybe those of us in Northern New Hampshire need an independence vote of our own. It's not like we haven't done it before.