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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Growth in alternative energy

Driving home late at night there's a section of road on the hill where I can see a good ways to the north. At that time of night it looks like a formation of UFOs. The blinking lights are actually on the towers of huge windmills. All the lights on them blink in unison so it's a weird effect.

Over 20 years ago I put in my own solar electric panels. It was pretty darn expensive, but since our grid power was sketchy back then it was worth it. A generator could have done the job, but I've some experience with small generators. They need regular maitences and testing if they are going to work when you need them. I'm too lazy for that. Solar electric panels just work.

My installation was home brewed hippy tech, but it's stood the test of time. The original panels are still putting out a steady stream of electrons long after the panels have paid for themselves.

These days it's a lot easier and cheaper to go solar. There are companies will foot the cost and do the installation for a reasonable monthly fee. It's easier to tie into the grid these days too. My system does not backfeed into the grid because back then the numbers just didn't work. Things have changed. There are small solar panel installations scattered all over the North Country.

If solar electric can work in northern New Hampshire, it can work in most places. The problems are not technological but political. Florida should be carpeted with solar electric panels but the politicians are in the pocket of people who don't want that. People have been fined for going off-grid.

My area has always had water power. In the old days water wheels powered sawmills. Later turbines were installed to generate electricity. There are two power plants in the area that generate power from low value waste wood -biomass plants. More big wind turbines are going up.

These alternative energy systems to have an impact on the land, but it's pretty minimal. The newer windmills are more bird friendly and have a small footprint, but the impact is not zero. However, it beats the heck out of burning coal or fracking for oil and gas.

There are costs to living in a technological society. I feel if you don't want to see solar panels or wind towers feel free to freeze in the dark. What really annoys me is those places that want to use power yet want it to be generated far far away. That's one of the reasons I oppose a proposed high power line that's supposed to transmit hydro power electricity from Quebec to Connecticut. We'd get the unsightly towers and they'd get the power. As far as I'm concerned if they want to use power they should put up with its generation. Too often the downsides of energy generation is transferred to the poor areas while the rich pretend electricity comes from a plug in their wall.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Things to do at the end of summer

We've been blessed here in the North Country with really pleasant weather at the end of August. By this time of the year anything is possible, so nice weather is a real treat.

I was able to enlist the help of a good friend (with a strong back!) to move my fire blocks under cover. It pretty much filled up my mud room. When moving heavy things it's great to have help. As nice as the weather has been, it could turn any minute and we'd need to start burning those wood blocks. It's a big relief to have so many of them inside. Sure beats digging them out from under a tarp in the yard. Been there, done that.

While my friend and his wife were here we dragged them down to the lake for a sail. It was just windy enough to gently move the boat around. As we weren't doing anything more ambitious than soaking up the sun and having a few beers, that was good enough. Fish were jumping, osprey did their dive bombing runs, loons did their crazy cries -it's all good.

Rather than tie the boat up at my beach we loaded it on the trailer. My lovely wife and I plan to do some big lake sailing soon -if the weather holds.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Car free

There's a few times in my life when I've been stuck without a car. My lovely wife and I were able to make do, but it's hard living out in the woods. There's no public transportation and there are few people around to hitch a ride with. In the woods you need some sort of transportation or else get used to the isolation.

I did have an old 1974 Kawasaki 900 motorcycle. That's what I used to take my wife to work, the kids to their after school lessons, and what we used to do the groceries. By December people thought I was a pretty hard core biker for riding my bike in sub freezing temperatures with snow flurries. It's not that I loved bikes so much as I didn't have any other options. There were times when I got home and took a hot shower to restore feeling in my extremities.
We were able to sometimes borrow cars from friends and family until we bought a $1000 car, a Volvo 240 wagon. Cars in that price range have a few issues. Heck, once one of the wheels came right off -not just the tire mine you, the whole wheel assembly. Then there's the time I drove several hundred miles with the throttle linkage held together with a pair of vise grips.

One of my friends who once lent his truck to me is now without transportation of his own. I gave him and his wife a lift to do their monthly groceries. My little car was packed like sardines in a can, but I didn't mind. I've been there and know you have to take full advantage of transportation when you have it. Glad to return the favor.


Thursday, August 27, 2015


My neighbors just cut down more trees and made a large parking area even larger. It's going to stop soon as there aren't that many trees left on their lot.
Maybe my lovely wife and I are tree huggers. That's not to say I won't cut down trees when it's needful. The health of a woodlot requires a certain amount of thinning. Our tree cutting is a conscious act. Trees take a very long time to grow and only a few minutes to cut down. It's only prudent to think long and hard about cutting one down.

Then it helps to know a bit about the different species of trees. I've seen people who've cut down most of a stand of spruce but leave one very nice looking tree standing. Spruce have shallow root systems and need their companions to resist wind and snow. It's not long before their one nice tree is lying on its side, or on top of their house or car.

I've a few lots of land across the road and uphill from my house. When my neighbor first moved in they offered to buy those lots from me. I said no and I'm glad I did. I can imagine what they would have done to the land. My water source feeding my shallow well runs though that property. Once they cut the trees down and run heavy equipment all over, my well might have gone dry. I've seen it happen.

There's a blank slate method to land development. Cut all the trees down, bulldoze everything flat, then start from scratch. Once the houses, utilities, and roads are in, call in the landscapers. They may even put in some medium sized trees. Sitting on hard compacted mineral soils those trees die within a year or two, but the houses are sold by then.

Seems to me that if you don't have any respect for living things you might as well move to the city. Don't move to the country and they flatten everything that makes it country.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cargo carrier

I really really hated to spend the big bucks on Thule racks for my lovely wife's little car. However, we expect to keep the car for a while and good roof racks are so useful. Just the other day I tied a 12 foot 2 X 6 to the racks and didn't have to worry about the racks falling off.

What I absolutely refuse to do is to pay hundreds of additional dollars on a cargo pod that attaches to those already pricey racks. Sure, they lock and are areodynamic, but it makes little sense to buy one. A simple plywood box with a hasp and lock would be as secure. A box on the roof would not be as areodynamic, but the mileage penalty is a small price to pay.

Maybe I'll just build a wood rack and lash everything to that. Left over from my canoe camping days are a couple of large drybags that would keep my gear dry. It's not as secure as a fancy locking box, but there would be nothing on the roof as valuable as one of those fancy cargo boxes.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Welp, so much for stocks

Okay, stocks around the world are doing interesting things right now. The real downside is that I haven't seen any bankers leaping from their penthouses . . . yet! Since this is being written on Monday night, I've got no idea what's happening Tuesday when this posts. Historically, the stock market should be making some sort of rebound, even if only a "dead cat bounce." (if it isn't hold onto your seats and get ready for the ride!)

Once upon a time there were two brothers. One spent all his money on drink, fast women and lottery tickets. The other kept his nose to the grindstone and invested all his money in the stock market. Forty years later they were both broke. At least the first brother had more interesting stories.

The moral of this story: small investors have no business messing around with the stock market. It's the playground of large institutional investors. The game rigged and only they have any sort of insight on how.

That's not to say that they don't get wiped out too. When I left for retirement by way of ambulance ride, my pension was funded at 104%. It should have been possible to pay off everyone and still have some money in the system. Last time I checked it was funded at something like 30%. My yearly pension is now smaller than it was 8 years ago, not even factoring in inflation.

I don't worry about it. Some years ago I went to a retirement system meeting where they were discussing the drop in funds after the tech bubble burst. Their plan seemed to be to just hope the stock market would take off like it did in previous years. I asked them what their plan was if there were to be another burst bubble. They treated me like I was some sort of a nut job full of doom and gloom. Of course, then we had the 2008 housing bubble. The current market seems to be deflating on Asian worries. Personally, I don't waste my time going to meetings anymore. Cassandra wasn't listened to either.

Am I concerned that my pension could get completely cleaned out? A bit, but there's not really anything I can do about that. What I can do is make sure my beans and bullets are in order if a bank holiday is called and everyone's funds are locked up. This prep stuff is starting to pretty smart about now, isn't it?


Monday, August 24, 2015

The spice of life

What do you call a salt and pepper shaker? The New England spice rack. I grew up eating good food, but we didn't use a lot of spice. My lovely wife on the other hand grew up in a more cosmopolitan area and was exposed to the cuisine of different cultures. When we used to visit her parents I almost always got serious intestinal distress after about day 3. It took me a while to figure out my system was not used to all that spice. Over time I adjusted.

I like to say that my lovely wife brought spice into my life, and not just in my food. Left to my own devices I might have turned out to be some sort of hermit. I'm comfortable being completely alone. In fact, from time to time I need it. My friends used to think I'd be last one of our group to get married. Instead, I became the first in our group to tie the knot. When the right one comes along, commit. Never mind if the time is wrong or there's no money, or you are too young. Never let the right one get away.

People look at our adventures and assume that I'm dragging my poor suffering wife along for the ride. Trust me, if she didn't want to go, she wouldn't go. Besides, a lot of those crazy ideas are hers. There are times I'm the one being dragged along. After almost 37 years of marriage she still surprises me.

We are at the point in our lives where it's hard to see where the ideas originate. Our craziness is a collaboratory effort. I might have an idea or she might have an idea. No matter, as in short order we are both adding spice to the adventure.