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Friday, April 25, 2014

Boat dreams

I find myself dreaming that I'm on a boat again. Then I wake up, it's below freezing with 45 mph gusts of wind. Maybe my subconscious is trying to tell me something?

The lake is still covered in ice and there are still big piles of snow around the house. The ice usually leaves the lake around April 18 – 21. Once in a great while it doesn't melt until May. This might be one of those years. A couple years ago it was 80 degrees here in March. Back then I wondered what the heck I was doing in Florida. Now I'm wondering why I'm not there still. Weather is unpredictable, so we have to take our best guess.

My little sailboat building project is almost free from the ice. A few more warm days I should be able to pull the tarps off, flip it over, and see how it survived the winter. A garage would be nice to have -not for parking cars, but for all the other projects I do.

On the bright side, my lovely wife and I are making headway on our house. The kitchen woodstove is keeping us warm and comfortable, and heating our water. My lovely wife is delighted to be able to take long soaking baths in her own tub.

I do miss life on the water. Once things warm up I'll take the boat out on some big wilderness lakes and disappear for a bit. That'll help. In the short term it looks like I'll only be sailing in my dreams.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bug out vehicle revisited

Who doesn't love the idea of a bug out vehicle? When we think of such a vehicle what comes to mind? Maybe we think of some massive 4x4 truck, with a big winch on the front, monster tires, extra fuel tanks, and loaded with supplies and gear. Maybe some of us actually own such a vehicle.

My camper van, a converted ambulance, comes close to fitting the bug out vehicle description. While not 4x4, it does have massive tires and good ground clearance. There's plenty of room for provisions and gear. It even can burn multiple fuels, diesel, vegetable oil, hydraulic fluid, heating oil, and kerosene. There's a roof rack for a canoe and a heavy duty trailer hitch. It's about as much a bug out vehicle as anything else out there on the road.

That being said, I'm not a big fan of the bug out vehicle concept. What's the purpose of a BOV? Bugging out, of course. The big questions are when does someone bug out and where will they go?

Some folks think the time to bug out is when a disaster is under way, be it natural or man made. As some things are not very predictable, that has some logic to it. Then the BOV's job is to get you and yours out of Dodge to somewhere safer. The problem is that everyone else will want to get out of town too. Roads will be jammed, bridges blocked, and tunnels will be choke points. A 4x4 capable of going off road, and a good route plan just may make escape possible. However, if caught in traffic, it's no better than the family sedan.

Where will you go? Do you plan on living in your BOV until conditions improve. In the case of something like a hurricane, that's a reasonable plan. There's time to get out of town before traffic is too bad. Staying in a campground or National Forest for the duration is a tried and true strategy. If it's a widespread and/or long term emergency, that's a less viable strategy.

Does anyone have the capability to establish a complete comfortable homestead with the gear in their BOV? Is there a place where you can get to that will allow someone to do such a thing? I doubt it. Maybe the BOV is just transportation to your cabin in the woods or other safe place. If that's the case all you need is something that will get you there: family car, motorcycle, bike, shoe leather -no need for a big specialized vehicle.

One of the big problems with a BOV is what will you do with it 99.999% of the time? If it's your daily driver you are paying a huge fuel penalty every day for a just in case situation. (unless you have a free source of fuel like I do) If it's a RV that you take camping on a regular basis, you can justify owning it.

Imagine a real bug out situation, but your BOV is the in the shop. The one time you need it, it's out of order. Better have a solid plan B.

Personally, I'm a big fan of living in your bug out location. That way if anything goes sideways, you don't have to go any where at all.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Motor fuel usage

Trash day is when I take stock on how much motor fuel the van used during the week. Why trash day? That's when I crush up all the 4.5 gallon jugs that contained waste vegetable oil. Most folks think of fuel usage by the amount of money they spend. When your vehicle runs on free waste vegetable oil it is measured in empty jugs.

Part of me hates to throw out all that plastic. On the other hand, they can't be recycled as they contained oil and they are too weak to reuse very often. Most of the time vegetable oil jugs are used once then thrown away. At least these are used twice. The restaurants that give me the oil pour their used veggie back in the original containers.

On trash day it's clear how many of those jugs were poured into the van. This week I threw away 10 empty jugs. That's 45 gallons of veggie fuel usage, plus a couple gallons of diesel. The van's 7.3 turbo diesel is a hungry beast. I would never have that monster if most of my fuel wasn't free and if I didn't use the full capabilities of a one ton van.

It's a good camping vehicle. Most of the camping stuff -the bed, and tables, the 12 volt cooler, water, and other camping things are easily removed. Then it's a big box useful for hauling things. This week it's made a number of trips to move furniture out of a storage unit. Firewood, generators, plumbing, construction materials, were also hauled around. It does the work that my old truck used to do.

True, some of my weekly travel could have been done more efficiently with a small car. The van has to warm up before It can be switched from diesel to veggie. Short trips hardly make the switch over practical. My lovely wife has an old small four cylinder car, but I've been unable to get it running since coming back home. I've finally admitted it's beyond my skills and home tools so the car will be towed to the garage. The car is most efficient for trips around 5 miles, like to the village center.

So let's see. That's 10 jugs of veggie at 4.5 gallons or 45 gallons of veggie fuel. Diesel is running about $4.25 a gallon here. Had I used diesel my fuel bill would have been $191.25. People who have big vehicles that work for a living are not surprised by $200/week fuel bills.

One of the big problems with rural life is the long distances most of us drive. Another is that we tend to haul around a lot of heavy stuff requiring a something more hefty than a Prius. By running vehicles on waste veggie, I've solved my rural transport problem. Over the years tens of thousands of dollars have been saved, helping me live a middle class life on a lower class income.

I keep expecting the free ride to come to an end. The fact that I can still get free WVO in my area is unusual. In most places that's no longer the case. As conventional fuel sources dry up, WVO is in demand for biodiesel. Eventually I'll have to make other arrangements, but I'm not sure what they'll be. Most likely it won't be something that directly replaces my big vehicle with another big vehicle that runs a different free fuel. How often does that happen? (that doesn't mean I'm not looking)

Most likely it'll be a mix of conservation, relocalization, bike travel, and just plain doing without. Of course, I could just move on a sailboat full time and not worry at all about land transportation.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The debt trap

Not for us peasants, but for the big banks and the powers that be.

Let's go back to the housing collapse of 2008. Not exactly happy times. What was one of the big triggers? Balloon payments. People got loans that they could just barely pay. The rates were set to increase in the future. The assumption was that people's incomes would go up and make the higher rates affordable. For most people, that didn't happen. Boom! The bubble burst.

It's just guess work, but perhaps one of the reasons interest rates have been artificially low for so long is that they really can't raise them. What's left of the economy would implode. Of course, keeping rates low has risks too, so the big boys are stuck.

There are lots of loans out there that will never get paid. Student debt is one of big ones hanging over the system. I suspect default rates are going up, but hard numbers are difficult to get. There are rumors, however, that things are really bad.

Credit card debt is very high. When someone starts to have difficulty paying, rates go up, making it even harder to pay.

What's the big threat that creditors hold over people's heads? If you don't pay your bills it will hurt your credit rating. We are supposed to think a bad credit rating is worse than cancer. Here's the thing: what's a credit rating good for? Mainly it's to allow someone to get in even more debt, and they are already having debt problems.

Imagine if everyone just said the heck with it and stopped paying on their loans. Everyone. How long would the system last? The whole world wide financial system could be broken in a week. They should worry about us, not us about them. Why should we be concerned that banks were foolish enough to loan us money? It's their bad business decision, right?


Monday, April 21, 2014

The frost eaters

A few years ago I was hanging around a friend's shop downtown. There was an odd man walking down the sidewalk across the street. He had a weird smirk on his fact and walked with a peculiar stride.

My friend said to pretend we couldn't see him. Okay . . . . I thought. When the guy was out of sight my friend explained. The guy was mentally ill, which is polite speak for bat shit crazy. The man believed that if he ate frost from the refrigerator it would make him invisible. While “invisible” he affected an odd walk. The downtown merchants and residents had learned that when the guy had “the walk” he could be ignored and they would not have to engage him in conversation.

I'm not sure what did to the poor man's mental state. After all, he had proof that eating frost made him invisible as everyone acted like they could not see him. Imagine being that guy's therapist.

Now while it didn't help the crazy person to connect with reality, it made it easier for people to get through their day. A few minutes of make pretend and the problem went away.

The whole play into their delusion thing is a useful strategy for large numbers of “frost eaters.” We can make pretend that politicians matter, that law enforcement has our respect, that the IRS should be feared, and so on. They are all a bit . . . challenged (bat shit crazy). We know how the power game is really played, so pretending to live in a functional democracy is just playing a polite game.

Most of the time it doesn't hurt to humor them and pretend they matter to us. If it gets them to move along so we don't have to engage with them, so much the better. A few moments of tolerating their delusion allows us to then get on with our lives without further interruptions.

Of course, the frost eater was harmless. Dangerous crazy people have to restrained for public safety.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Road not taken

I've spent a lot of winters traveling. Back in the early days, e-mail most often meant dial-up connections. Often it involved carrying a 3.5 inch disk to libraries and private businesses. Does that give some idea of the time period?

My lovely wife had hit the road in October. We had a tent, a canoe, all our gear, and a dog, all stuffed into a Doge Neon. November found us in a cabin on Table Rock Lake in Southwest Missouri. It was 8 miles of twisty hill road to town. Public access to the Internet was at the local drive through liquor store.

I received an e-mail from one of my former college professors. He was sounding me out to see if I might be interested in a adjunct teaching position. The offer was both flattering and tempting. Scholarly life stimulates the mind, is indoor work and there's no heavy lifting. Adjunct professors are at the bottom -the college equivalent of piece work factory jobs. Pay is by the class per semester. The pay is low, but it's a foot in the door. There is also the opportunity to work on a Master's Degree without having to pay for it.

Not too much earlier I'd tried a short stint as a substitute High School teacher. Because I'm male, big and ugly, they gave me all the trouble kids. That was fine. We got along. At first the other teachers gave me the cold shoulder -until I made it clear that I did not want their jobs. Lacking a teaching degree, I didn't expect them to worry, but as it turned out, I was more qualified that some of the full time teachers. While the actual teaching was enjoyable, dealing with the administration was not. Over time it was clear that we'd certainly butt heads. Between that and the poor pay, I gave up the gig.

At the college level it would have been different. Having recently been a student at the college, I knew the players and politics. There was nothing I could not live with. In fact, I got along well most of the people. The ivory tower beckoned.

The temptation passed. My lovely wife and I continued our gypsy lifestyle, eventually making our way to Texas and then Florida and Key West. Adventure won out over greater income and stability. No regrets.


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.