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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Vehicle plans

I had an interesting talk with my mechanic the other day. He's been with me for over a dozen years of waste veggie vehicle experiments: a Mercedes 240D, a Mercedes 300D, a Ford F250 pickup, and now my Ford E350 van.

One of the things I've aimed for in my veggie conversions is simplicity. If it costs too much to do the conversion the return on vestment just isn't there. I've seen $10,000 conversions, and that's just silly. My first conversion cost $1400. Once I understood the principles involved I got the cost down in the $250 - $350 range.

Until now my inexpensive van conversion worked well enough. Recently my main source of waste veggie switched from a light canola oil to a heavier soy. Now that the weather has turned cold, it's easy for the soy to become too thick to run properly.

My mechanic and I have decided to put in a larger diameter insulated fuel line and to add a second fuel pump to help the veggie move along. That should allow me to deal successfully with the soy oil. I do miss the dead simple, fully mechanical diesels of old. They were bulletproof.

While I was at it I asked my mechanic what he thought about the VW diesels. He said that if I was buying a brand new one and traded it in before the 100,000 mile warranty ran out, fine. I told him I was looking at used. He said forget it. He refuses to even work on VW diesels -too many outrageously expensive parts plus special VW tools to work on them. That's all I needed to know.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Square pegs and round holes

For the last two months I've been trying to refinance my house. I hate this stuff. I would have been perfectly happy to stay with the credit union that had the house mortgage, but they were bought out by a bigger, less personal CU. They also messed up the way I did business.

Let me tell you things certainly have changed since the 2008 implosion of the housing bubble. Banks are much more persnickety about a person's finances.

For me, that's a problem. My lovely wife and I don't pay taxes or work normal jobs. So that means no things like income tax records, W-2s, 1099s, and all those other things that people have to prove what their finances are like. It took some doing to gather up alternative paperwork that was acceptable. From the time I was told we were “all set,” we had to provide more documentation three more times.

Then there was the assessment of the house. The assessor lady didn't quite know what to do with the dome and the alternative energy things. For me a dome is an asset. It can deal with tremendous wind and snow loads. For the assessor it's non standard housing. Not sure what she made of some of my other little projects. Her assessment came in on the low side, significantly lower than the town's assessment.

Fortunately our needs are modest and we were able to do what we needed to do. In fact, I'm going to take her assessment to the town and demand that they lower my taxes, so that's actually a win.

We are greatly simplifying our financial life and taking advantage of a much lower interest rate. Our finances will be set up in such a way that we can basically ignore them for months at a time. Life is too short to deal with this financial crap every darn day.


Friday, October 24, 2014

News from the garage

My mechanic got back to me today about the veggie van. The problem, for once, was not a bad fuel pump. Instead it was a plugged line. That was good news. I'm much more likely to keep the van now. Another bad pump would have been a deal breaker.

I'd had some fuel lines replaced. The quality of the new lines was better than the stuff I'd used previously. What I had not realized was that the connectors for the lines choked down the flow substantially. It wasn't much of a problem when flowing diesel. The thicker veggie fuel, especially when not fully up to temperature, couldn't make it past the fitting. Then the engine would stall out for lack of fuel. Usually the plug would break free once switched back to diesel. My guess is that the cold weather caused the veggie plug to solidify much quicker, completely plugging the line.

The fuel line problem might not have been an issue except for something that happened this spring. My main waste veggie supply switched form canola oil to soybean. Canola is a thin oil and stays liquid at much lower temperatures than soy. Recent cold weather made the problem worse. So it was a perfect combination of narrower fuel line connectors and thicker oil.

The mechanic has put in a temporary rubber fuel line. I've used that kind of line in the past on other vehicles. Over time veggie will break down the line and cause leaks. Rather than put in really expensive lines, I used to just change out the rubber ones every year or two. That might be the thing to do again.

At any rate, I'm feeling much more optimistic about taking the van on a long trip. It does give us the option of towing our Oday 19 if want to.

However, I'm also tempted by that diesel VW New Beetle that a friend has for sale. Much will depend on how the finances look at the end of the month. My wife's car isn't long for this world and I wouldn't mind having another diesel, especially one that gets exceptional fuel efficiency.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rethinking travel plans

Just when I thought the veggie van's fuel problems were over, it died on me. The van had a good 14 miles running diesel in which to warm up the veggie. Switching it from diesel to veggie for just a moment was all it took for the van to die. Going right back to diesel normally fixes the problem. No luck this time. Eventually the battery wore down trying to start it.

Fortunately I wasn't that far from my daughter's house and she picked me up. I pulled the battery, charged it up and tried again. After consulting with my mechanic I attempted one last fix. I disconnected the fuel line from the six port valve and stuck it directly into a can of diesel. That eliminated everything from the valve all the way back to the tank. Still no joy.

Best I can figure is that either the front part of the fuel line is plugged or the fuel pump has failed again. If it is the pump I'm seriously going to reconsider taking the van south for the winter. It's one thing to break down a short tow from home. It's another thing to break down 2000 miles from home. The van has sucked up a lot of time and money and it might be time to come up with a plan B.

Our car, a beat up old economy car, isn't in any condition to make the trip south either. We were already thinking of taking it off the road the next time it was due for inspection. A guy has offered me his diesel Volkswagen New Beetle for a good price. It needs some work, but much of it I could do myself.

We had already decided to take our little 12 foot boat and trailer south, so we don't need a big tow vehicle this year.

Of course, I'm still waiting to hear from the mechanic.

Decisions, decisions.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The problem of gold

Lots of folks out there are promoting gold as a store of wealth. They have some good points. Gold is independent from any particular financial system. It's held value for thousands of years. Gold is durable, transportable, and relatively compact. Over the years various countries have been on the gold standard and many think the United State's problems stem from when they abandoned the system. That's a very short overview. Many books have been written about the subject.

Most gold is not used up. Some is lost in industrial uses, but even much of that is eventually recovered. Some of the same gold has been bouncing around the world in various forms for thousands of years.

Personally, I'm not a fan of gold. I'm not judging those who are, but I just can't get into it. For me, gold has a huge moral problem.

Gold makes people crazy. The pursuit of gold has driven men to do horrific things: robbery, murder, slave mines, genocide, war -a long list of evils. The way I see it, holding gold buys into a horribly exploitive system. Creating demand for the metal encourages those abusive systems that extract and collect it.

So how does one store wealth? Darned if I know. All my money goes into having experiences. I collect things like books that have little monetary value yet provide me with pleasure. I've a house and a bit of land, but that can be taxed, or repossessed so it's not a perfect store of value. Frankly, the pursuit of wealth has always bored me.

I'm the first to admit that I'm the last person to talk to about monetary wealth. My bias against gold may just be a personal failing. After all, most people who collect gold have never done any of the bad things associated with it. They didn't invent the system, they are only trying to get by in it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do have a gold wedding band. That's the extent of my gold. It's value is not in the few dollars it could fetch on the market, but as a symbol of a wonderful marriage.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Back to what passes for normal

My dad and his new wife are on their way back to Florida. They were here in New Hampshire for a little over two weeks. The first week was all about putting a wedding together. The second week was a bit more relaxed. Good time had by all, but it's nice to have the house to ourselves again.

The next thing on my to do list is to strip down and clean all the firearms we used during the past week. Dad doesn't get out to shoot that often so he took full advantage. I dragged out guns that haven't been shot in years. Good thing I bought .22 ammo when it was $12 - $15 for 500. People thought I was nuts then for buying more than I needed.

Dad's 79, complains he can't see very well and that his hands shake. That may be so, yet he was hitting half dollar sized targets at 75 yards with iron sights. It was all I could do to keep up with him. Perhaps he's mastered the force.

I did miss out on two prime weeks of warm weather. The trailer I'm retrofitting for the Ooze Goose boat got a coat of paint, but not much else got done. During previous boat tests I'd tracked a lot of water in with my wet shoes. Size 14 footwear makes for some big buckets. Today I bailed the rainwater out of the boat and carefully dried it with a towel. Then I rowed out into the lake and checked to see if the boat stayed dry, which it did. My concern was that the water I'd previously tracked in would have hidden any small leaks.

Today I read Scott B. Williams new book Refuge, after the collapse. It's the sequel to Pulse. I really enjoyed Pulse, and it was good to return to where it left off. The new book is better written; he seems to be hitting his fiction stride. Williams is perhaps better known for his nonfiction prepper type books. Refuge held my attention well enough that I read it in a single sitting. The combination of survival situations, conflict, and action involving boats of all sizes and types really held my attention. Can't wait for book 3.

I've a little project that's been in the works since the end of August. When it's wrapped up at the end of the week I'll let everyone know what I've been up to.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Embarrassed about US health care

Okay, anyone else embarrassed that the US has been less effective dealing with Ebola than Nigeria?

Quarantine everyone who contacted an Ebola victim for 21 days. End of outbreak. Don't let them move around the general population. Certainly don't let them on planes or cruise ships. The CDC couldn't even get that straight, and it's supposed to be their main job.

I'm sick of hearing politicians and bureaucrats blather on how the US has the best health care system in the world. The US doesn't have a health care “system.” It has a patchwork of public, private, and for profit hospitals. The quality of available treatment runs from excellent to nonexistent.

In the US health care only means anything if you have good affordable health insurance. Even people with basic health insurance avoid hospitals because even the copays are out of reach.

Do you know what working people with a fever do? They pop a couple of Ibuprofens and go to work. Thanks to weak worker protections many don't get sick leave. Where do a lot of these workers work? Many toil in the food service industry, handling the food you eat. Even hospitals have workers who can't afford health care or sick leave. How messed up is that?

When the Mongols invading Europe came down with plague they were unable to continue their conquest. Before they left they catapulted their dead over the walls and spread plague to the defenders.

We probably won't have dead fast food workers catapulted over the walls into gated communities. Nope, the plague will walk in the back door with the cleaning lady, the pool boy, the maintenance man, and even the security guards. The sooner those in charge figure out we are all in this together, the sooner we can fix the problems.

Ebola is the crisis of the moment. Our health system and worker's rights both need an upgrade. This current disease will pass, but until the US gets it's act together, it'll be an easy target for the next flavor of plague.