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Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Square

My lovely wife and I went to a public showing of the Netflix original movie, “The Square.” It's a documentary film about the revolution in Egypt, centered around Tahrir Square.

I could have just stayed home and watched it on Netflix, but there was supposed to be public discussion after the film. That part never happened. Maybe it's because only 4 people showed up. Take that as a measure of the public's interest. Of course, the circus was in town. Hard to compete with circuses.

Revolution is a messy business. The old dictator was overthrown and then the army takes over. After elections the Moslem Brotherhood takes power and becomes just as unpopular. People protest in the streets again -the army takes over. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Revolution is one thing. Governing is something else. Coalitions that form against an unpopular ruler fall apart as various groups scramble for power.

The Egyptian mess continues. The best thing that can be said about Egypt is that it isn't Syria. How will it end? Anyone who could feed the population and put people to work would be hugely popular. Easier said than done. This whole business started when the price of basic foods took a significant jump. The underlying economy has only gotten worse, not better.

I'm guessing that eventually people will just settle for anyone who provides stability -not freedom, not justice, not opportunity, and maybe not even bread. I hope I'm wrong.

The film is worth watching to see what revolution looks like from the inside.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Half year away

There's two odd things about being away for half the year. The first is how little some things change in six months. The second is how some things change completely.

One thing about living in a backwater, change tends to come slowly. On the surface most change is extremely gradual. A half year isn't long enough to notice.

Then there are the serious changes. People died while we were away. That's always a shocker. Relationships change, which is no surprise in these stressful times. People move. Kids grow. People tend to change faster than things.

Of course, sometimes I think I'm settled in, then turn a corner and see some old landmark has burned to the ground. Not having lived through these things, they come as a surprise.

My lovely wife noticed a local musician was planning at a local lounge. We love live music and the guy's talented, so we stopped in to listen. The guy came over to talk to us between sets. While we were away he quit music. He sold all his guitars and musical equipment. Just before we got back, he decided to get back into it and bought new equipment. There's a case of someone making two major life decisions that canceled each other out. Had he not said anything, we'd have never known.

One thing that I was warned about is that the friends back home will never truly relate to the other half of our lives. There's so much that can't be fully conveyed. They lack the background unless they do it themselves. Anyway, who wants to listen all day to sailor's tales?

For me, the real horror is to discover how many people who've done exactly the same thing, over and over again, for the last six months.


Signs of winter, thoughts of decay

Nothing like waking up to 3 inches of fresh snow. It's the winter that will not quit. In my travels today I picked up a hitchhiker. He had an enormous backpack and a skiboard. He was on his way to Mt. Washington to ski the headwall. I dropped him off at the Appalachian Mountain Club base lodge and wished him luck.

On the bright side, this cold snap has stopped snow melt, allowing rivers a chance to subside. Even so, flood warnings won't be lifted for another day. If we had one spring without road repair and maintenance, large sections would become impassable. It's only though constant effort that our mountain roads stay open.

That got me thinking. Most people don't realize how fast the works of man can disappear. One year of neglect and the roads have big gaps in them. Eventually the elements destroy larger and larger sections. Before long trees put down roots between the broken asphalt.

Just a few miles from me there used to be a thriving mining community of several thousand people. The miners hit a big vein of water. It became too expensive and dangerous to keep the mine pumped out. There are few clues that the town ever existed: some bits of concrete, a few large old blackened timbers by the railroad tracks, and tree covered mounds in the woods that used to be buildings.

New Hampshire has a number of these village sites where little remains. There were logging towns that cut down all the trees, mining towns that went bust, and then there were the hill farms. During the early days of settlement, many farms were established in the mountains. Cold air sinks, so a farm in the hills could get a couple more weeks of frost free growing season. Too bad the thin mountain soil was soon exhausted.

When western lands opened up, most of these farms were abandoned. There are few remains. Sometimes one can find a cellar hole or an old well. Once the roof on a house fails, it doesn't take long for the rest of the house to fall apart. Departing farmers often burned their houses down before leaving. They'd sift the ashes to recover the valuable nails to reuse.

Is it so different now? Think of all the abandoned houses that are being stripped for their copper wire, pipes, and other valuables. Detroit has lost whole neighborhoods, and they aren't alone. It doesn't happen much in the United States, but in other parts of the world people sledge hammer concrete buildings to get to the metal rebar inside. That's an awful lot of work to recover fairly low quality steel.

Between the ravages of nature and the salvagers, evidence of our civilization could disappear surprisingly fast. Imagine future archaeologists trying to piece together our civilization from the remains of half a toilet seat and the Chicago Picasso.

Soon enough the snow will melt, the sun will warm the land, and my thoughts will also thaw a bit. Maybe I should just embrace the cold, grab some skis, and climb a mountain.

. . . naw, I'll wait for the sun.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Of copper coils and things

The copper coil is wrapped around the stovepipe of the kitchen woodstove. There's a water tank behind the wall that it feeds. The good news is that it does warm the water. The bad news is that it's not quite hot enough for a shower. However, it is warm enough to do dishes without getting frostbite. That's an improvement. I'll let it run overnight and see exactly how warm it gets.

If it's still too cool I'll add a copper loop directly to the back of the firebox and then feed it into the stovepipe coil. One of the dangers of this type of water heater is getting the water dangerously hot. I rather err on the side of caution. The days have been mild, so the woodstove hasn't run especially hot.

The mild weather is knocking down the snow. The warmer temperatures, plus heavy rain, is causing some flooding. My house isn't in any danger, being on a hillside.

There's still snow around my house, but that resource will soon be gone. Resource? You might ask. Indeed. The refrigerator hasn't even been plugged in since we got home. To conserve power, we've been harvesting snow and using it like a big ice box. That has worked surprisingly well. Of course, now that we are “post peak snow,” I have to make other arrangements.

I've been working on a design that will greatly reduce power needs for refrigeration -should it work. If other distractions are kept to a minimum, it won't be long before I post pics of that project.

However, distractions keep popping up. I'm in the process of cleaning out a storage unit. My daughter left a lot of stuff behind when she moved to California. I don't know why she even bothered getting a unit. There's only one thing that she wanted to keep. My lovely wife and I are picking through some of the stuff. We've offered the rest to friends and family. If they don't want anything it's going to be abandoned.

We are well into New Hampshire's 5th season -Mud Season. The yard and driveways are a mess. Once things dry out a bit, the debris from a harsh winter will get cleaned up.

At least I'm not bored.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nothing is standard

It was a good news and bad news sort of day. The plan was install a heater coil in the woodstove to produce hot water.

The good news is that nothing leaked. Water is flowing through the pipes.

The bad news is that it's not actually producing much hot water.

Now the fun begins. It would have been nice if everything worked the first time. Occasionally that happens. More often than not there's a dialing in period. This one of those times.

When everything is custom built there's plenty of room for little problems to crop up. It appears that something is restricting the convection process. One solution would be to just put a pump in the line and force the water to flow at the correct rate. That's not going to happen, as it complicates what should be a simple elegant system. Eventually I'll work my way through various solutions until it functions to my satisfaction.

The next chance to work on it will be in the morning once the stove has cooled down. I'll make some changes and fire up the woodstove once more. With any luck, that should do the job. My lovely wife has reached the point where she really wants hot water.

It has been a few years since I built one of these wood fired water heaters. Every single one of them has been a little different, depending on the situation and the materials at hand. I'll be an expert by the time time I help someone else install one. There's will most likely work the first time.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Day of rest

Sunday was my day of rest. All my plans and projects have been pushed forward. It wasn't all that hard a decision.

The main project for the day was to install a hot water heater coil on the woodstove. That requires a cold stove. Most of the day we had a mix of rain and snow -not a day to shut down our source of heat.

Monday temperatures are supposed to rise up into the 70s. It'll be back into low 40s on Tuesday, so I've one day to do the job and get the bugs out of the system.

What did I do instead? I took a nap, and it was everything I'd hoped it'd be.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fun filled days

I've been trying to whittle down the project list. Results are mixed. One of the first things I did was to install a complete tune up kit in my generator. However, there was still no spark. Might be a bad coil. Fortunately, I've friends. I loaded up the generator into the veggie van and dropped it off at my buddy's place. He has lots of small engine parts and thinks he can get it going again. In the mean time, he's loaned me one of his generators. That's allowed me to top off the house batteries.

The hot water project is moving forward. I wound a coil around a piece of 6 inch stovepipe. In the morning when the stove is cold, I'll slip it over the woodstove stovepipe and hook it up to my water tank. If all goes well we should have wood fired hot water soon.

My van was running badly and I was afraid it was a clogged diesel fuel filter. Replacing one of those takes at least an hour and is a knuckle busting job. Before doing that, I checked the veggie tank. A piece of French fry had lodged in the fuel line and it only took 10 minutes to find and fix the problem. The van still runs badly on diesel, but there's been a lot of bad fuel delivered to our area. Plenty of diesels are running poorly. Of course, I only run diesel until the engine heats up, allowing me to flip the switch to veggie. On veggie, it runs great. Go figure, my home brew fuel system runs better than fuel from the major oil companies.

The days are getting warmer, melting our snow. My lovely wife and I were invited to my daughter's for some grilled burgers. It's a good sign when it's warm enough to fire up the grill. While we were there we took advantage of their hot tub. Nothing like a good soak in the tub for over worked muscles.

I hope the hot water project goes well. I've a refrigeration project/experiment to do. Then there's my lovely wife's car that won't start. It started earlier, but now it won't. The battery's all charged up, so it's something else. There's evidence that squirrels were living in the engine compartment, so the problem could be something odd.

There's lots of interesting things to do. Sure beats watching the news. Things are crazy out there.