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Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday? I think not.

No shopping for me today. I don't care how fantastic the deals are supposed to be. Others can worship at the god of commerce; I refuse to get swept away with the hype.

Isn't it odd that people complain how commercial Christmas has gotten, yet too few do anything about it? Not buying into the Black Friday orgy of shopping is as a good a time as any to back away from all that.

For me, the worse thing about Black Friday is that it starts on Thursday. On a day when people should be spending quality time with friends and family, they go shopping. It's a shame that so many businesses are open on Thanksgiving, but even more shameful is that people go shopping then. If no one way buying stuff, they wouldn't stay open.

I'm one of those funny people who remembers who stayed open and who gave their workers time off. Those who gave their employees a day to celebrate the holiday will be more likely to get my business when I do start shopping again.

Hope everyone had a good holiday. I was very blessed to spend it with family and friends. Back before my retirement I did work many a Thanksgiving, but that's the life of a Firefighter. My lovely wife also worked many holidays, but that's life as medical lab technician. It makes sense that emergency services stay well staffed as lives are on the line.

Shopping is not a life or death situation, in spite of what company CEOs think.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Solar electric van install

Nothing like racing a snowstorm to install a solar panel on the van. The top of the van wasn't going to remain snow free for very long, so it was now or never.

That's a 105 watt solar panel. It's attached to the roof with 90 degree aluminum angle stock and stainless steel screws. Everything is secured with locktite and silicone. The wires feed directly through the roof and are heavily sealed. The trick was to find a place to drill through the roof without disturbing any of the existing wiring.

The wires feed a 10 amp charge controller, seen here at the top part of the photo with a blue indicator light. The battery is the largest marine deep discharge battery available from Walmart. For now power is taken off the battery with a simple female cigarette lighter plug on jumper clamps. Currently it's plugged into a 200 watter inverter.

Since the van was originally an ambulance, this compartment once held O2 bottles. You can see the clamp for that in the center of the photo. It wasn't in my way so I just left it there. My veggie fuel tank is located in it's own section of the compartment just to left of what you see here.

There's a 1000 watt inverter wired to the van batteries. On top of that I've a 400 watt inverter with battery clamps that could tie into either the van or the new auxiliary system.

The solar electric system will make it easier to camp in places without any facilities. There will be enough power for my modest needs without ever having to run the van to charge the batteries.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Recent road trip

My lovely wife and I just got back from a 300 mile overnight trip in the veggie van. Monday and Tuesday were warm enough that we could leave the house unattended without the plumbing freezing. When heating with just a woodstove, someone has to load up the stove every 12 hours or so when it's cold.

The funny thing is that the veggie fuel worked much better than the diesel fuel. In the winter gas stations switch to a winter mix fuel that flows better during low temperatures. It's not yet available, but winter conditions are here now. Only by using diesel fuel treatments like 911 have I been able to keep the diesel side running. However, once the van warms up and is switched to running on veggie, it purrs like a tiger.

We overnighted in the van and were fairly comfortable. My auxiliary electrical system had no difficulty powering my c-pap all night long. The solar panel to power it has yet to be installed. With a significant snow storm on the way, the solar install will get pushed off one more time. At least I was able to build and predrill all the aluminum attachment brackets.

It's going to be a busy morning squaring things away before the snow starts coming down heavy.

I hope no one has to travel in very far in this storm. Drive safe and Happy Thanksgiving.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Your house: expense or asset?

For most people their homes are an expense. It takes money to keep a house maintained with all utilities, taxes and fees paid up. You may or may not “make a profit” should you sell your house. However, if you figure out all the money was put into the place year after year, it's rare to actually make money overall. Of course, we all have to live somewhere.

How about turning your house into a real profit center? That can be hard to do. Many of us have home offices, but how many of those produce enough profit to pay for the house and to live on? Some folks mange to do it, mostly professionals like engineers. Usually they don't run into zoning problems as their house doesn't look any different than the neighbors.

Some folks have home businesses that require people to actually come to their house. Someone like a massage therapist might get away with it. Only a handful of people come and go each day. Forget about having a small retail operation that requires a lot of foot traffic. Few residential areas, if any, allow that sort of thing.

What about home workshops? That's a gray area. Much depends on local zoning, how discrete you are, or how well you get along with your neighbors. A guy can go into his home workshop and build a wooden chair and few would take offense. However, should he produce hundreds of chairs, running his saws day and night, he'll most likely get into trouble.

I know a few folks with money making home shops. One guy builds furniture, but they are expensive custom items so he doesn't build a lot of them at one time. Another guy quietly runs a pretty complete machine shop in his garage. He does small jobs the big shops don't want to bother with. My guess is that his location on a dead end road reduces his chances that someone will complain to the zoning board.

Nothing freaks out zoning boards like turning a suburban home into a mini working farm. Tear up the front yard to plant veggies and neighbors freak. Add some farm animals and they really go ballistic. Even something as simple as a permaculture garden will cause problems as it's not considered “normal.”

It's almost like we are not suppose to live free and independent. Who wants to bet that's by design?


Monday, November 24, 2014

The father of invention

They say necessity is the mother of invention. I say laziness is the father. It's laziness that has driven advancement. We live in a modern world because we are too lazy run down deer with a spear and dig roots out of the ground with our hands.

So how come laziness has gotten such a bad rap? How did being a hard worker become such a virtue? We know that doing something the hard way is supposed to be kinda stupid. Seems like a mixed message to me. No wonder workers are stressed and bit crazy these days.

I used to be a firefighter. When we weren't all that busy, it was good thing. Sure, we'd do things like safety inspections and fire education for the kids. We'd train and maintain our equipment, but that wasn't really working hard. Half the time I could do that part of the job with a mug of coffee in hand.

It was horribly bad when I was working hard. Buildings were on fire. People's lives were at risk. The city's tax base was going up in smoke. Equipment was being damaged and worn out. Firefighters were getting injured. You really don't want to see firefighters earning their pay.

Some years back an efficiency expert was doing a study at the local mill. The machines were humming along and the workers were pretty much just hanging around. The expert thought there were way too many people with nothing to do. When he wasn't looking someone threw a spanner into the works. The machine went down and then everyone jumped up and was very busy. The expert was happy to see everyone so busy. What an idiot. When the workers were busy the company wasn't putting out any product.

Of course, those mill jobs are now gone. It didn't matter how hard everyone worked as they couldn't work for less than a living wage. Operations got moved to countries with much lower wages. The workers in those countries have a strong work ethic because if they don't work they'll starve.

Those jobs are doomed too. Workers have to make enough money to eat. They will be replaced with machines that don't eat or sleep. So where's the virtue in hard work? It won't stop the machines from taking their jobs either.

There is going to be a lot of people with nothing to do. Too bad the system isn't set up for them to be lazy. If they were paid a living wage to stay home they could buy the goods and services the machines are providing. Time could be spent in pursuit of art, literature, music, scientific research and philosophy.

The alternative is for them to take on some hard work: revolution, destroying the machines, and hanging the ownership class from lampposts. Work work work.

So maybe the whole work ethic is not so much about work as it is about control. People with time on their hands think too much. They say they want us to be smart: work smarter, not harder! That doesn't mean they want us doing a really smart thing for 5 minutes then let us go home. The human race has been smart enough to eliminate much of the drudgery of existence. Yet the owners and rulers still want to see us earn our bread by the sweat of our brow.

Isn't it time that laziness gets the respect it deserves?


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Coffee cooking??

Nothing like a nice big pot of . . . roasted coffee?

The timer of my hot air coffee roaster failed. Instead of turning the roaster off when the coffee was done it roasted it right into charcoal. A cup of hot charcoal is not a good way to start the morning.

So it was back to the old way of roasting coffee. Lodge Cookware calls this little baby a deep skillet with cover. The cover can be used a shallow frying pan.

Green coffee beans were poured right into the hot skillet and covered. The beans were stirred occasionally. I like my coffee roasted a bit on the darker side, so I listen to the beans. There's the first crack, a popping sound a bit like popcorn. That means the coffee is roasted enough to make a light roast coffee. Later there's the second crack, a much softer popping noise that indicates it's about time to pull the coffee off the fire. The hot beans are then poured into a Pyrex pie pan to cool. When cool, I take the beans outside and blow the chaff off them.

It does put a bit of smoke in the house, but it's coffee smoke, so I don't mind.

By the way, in the first photo it's possible to see part of the copper coil that's wrapped around the stove pipe. I've written about my water heating experiments back in the spring. Now that I'm using the woodstove all the time I've a much better idea how it's working out.

The water from my well comes in at a temperature just above freezing. The woodstove is able to get the water to around 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit. If I want a really hot shower I'll switch the electric water tank heater coils on for 15 minutes or so and bring the temperature up to 120.

The kitchen woodstove provides, heat, cooking, water heating and even coffee roasting. It's truly the heart of the house.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Medical insurance plans

I was going to write about my trials and tribulations navigating the government insurance website. The post went on way too long. Let me sum up. There are no plans available to me that are both affordable and/or useful. There are no plans that would make access to health care easier, not would they prevent me from going bankrupt should I have a major medical emergency.

Let's just say I'm a bit disappointed. I'm 56 with respiratory issues and I'm fat. It might be prudent to have some sort of relationship with the medical profession. It doesn't help that one of the few doctors I might actually get along with is no longer taking patients.

So where do I go from here? What can I do to keep my medical expenses low? The prudent thing would be take off the excess weight. That's a good place to start. The medical profession isn't much help with that sort of thing -outside of surgery that is. I don't want to go that route. Back when I had insurance they wanted to put me on weight loss drugs, but later those were discovered to cause cardiac issues. Kinda defeats the purpose, doesn't it?

Of course, the whole point of medical insurance is to have access to life saving procedures. My guaranteed access is limited to emergency room care. That's not much help should I come down with something that needs long term treatment.

Last year I spent $0.00 on medical care. If I'm going to keep out of the system I might have to spend a little money on preventative care. In spite of my aversion to the medical/insurance/political complex, I want to live a long and happy life, so it's up to me.