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Monday, May 31, 2010

Range

Imagine you had to evacuate your area. Doesn't matter from what. It could be anything from a wildfire to a toxic gas leak to a hurricane. If you left now with only the fuel you had in your vehicle and at your home, how far could you get?

I'm guessing most vehicles could not get all that far. Right now, think about your vehicle. How much gas in the tank? Is it close to full? For most vehicles that'll give you 300 - 400 miles. I'll bet most people don't have a full tank right now. Do you have more than half a tank? Is it closer to a quarter tank? Sucking fumes and hope to get to the gas station down the block without pushing?

Remember now, the rules of this little exercise state that you can't gas up along the way. Maybe every gas station is out. The grid could be down and there's no power to pump fuel. Heck, since it's a thought experiment, let's say we are having a domestic crisis and the government has commandeered all fuel for the military.

During the 2005 hurricanes, gas stations soon went dry or lost power and couldn't pump fuel. I've friends in northern Florida. They said the highways were littered with abandoned cars from south to middle Florida. Those people didn't even have enough fuel to get out of their home state.

The number one lesson is to have enough fuel in your personal possession to get out of harm's way. Do not rely on being able to fuel up along the way.

Some considerations. Gasoline must be stabilized using special additives. Most auto parts store should carry it and the people there will be able to help you out. Only store gas in approved containers. Those containers should be kept in a safe place, like a locked metal out building with good ventilation. Personally, I'd hesitate to store more than 10 or 20 gallons at one time. Gasoline is dangerous stuff. Every six months or so, use the stored gasoline in your vehicles and replace with fresh. Stored gas, even when stabilized, loses its more volatile compounds. That's usually not a problem in a car. However, in small engines like chainsaws and generators, the old gas might not be able to start the engine.

Let's say you don't have any specially stored gasoline and don't have quite enough in the car to get where you want to go. Maybe you have some gas that's been mixed with oil to be used in something like a chainsaw. Can you use it in your car? Yes. It might smoke a bit and you won't want to do it all the time, but it'll burn. Coleman camping fuel will also work in gasoline engines. In an unopened container, Coleman fuel keeps a good seven years. Back when I drove a gas car, I almost ran out of fuel during a big snowstorm in Pennsylvania. Poured in camp stove fuel from two stoves and a storage bottle. It got me to an open gas station.

People with diesel vehicles have other options. Diesel can also be stored with additives. Even untreated diesel lasts better than gasoline does. It has the added advantage of not being as volatile as gasoline. In a pinch diesel engines can run on a variety of fuels. Now this is technically illegal as no road tax has been paid, but these diesel substitutes work. In the northeast many houses are heated with #2 fuel oil. It burns fine in diesels. The average house fuel tank is around 300 gallons. It's possible to shut the tank valve off, disconnect the fuel line to the furnace, and put a container to catch the fuel when the valve is reopened. Don't mess with this unless you are very comfortable with the house's heating system. Maybe you could get your furnace service guy to show you how to do it.

Diesel engines will run on kerosene. Some people keep a couple of 5 gallon containers of kerosene around for space heaters. As a fuel, it's a bit on the light side, but its lower viscosity is an advantage during sub zero temperatures. I've talked to guys who've run diesels on transmission and hydraulic fluid. Haven't tried that myself, so I'm not sure how well it works. At one time it was common to get rid of old motor oil by straining it then burning oil in a diesel engine. That really doesn't work very well these days. Modern motor oils have additives that make them hard to use as fuel. Really don't recommend it.

My diesels have been converted to run on waste vegetable oil. I never have less than a 100 gallons of WVO stored at one time. I've some in a special storage tank that can hold 200 gallons. There's a 12 volt pump and battery pack for pumping it out. Also have plenty of WVO fuel in 4.5 gallon plastic jugs stored on a special rack in my basement. Last big trip I went on I went 2500 miles with the WVO I carried in the bed of my truck. That my friends, is range.

Could an unaltered diesel engine get away with burning vegetable oil? Yes . . . and no. Like many things, it depends. Let's say you've been keeping that much vegetable oil around for deep frying a turkey. For example, say your vehicles has a 20 gallon diesel tank that's about half full -10 gallons. You could probably put in 5 gallons of clean vegetable oil. On a summer day, it'd probably run well enough that you wouldn't notice much difference.

During a cold winter day, the veggie could gum things up and you wouldn't get much further than the end of your driveway. Even in the summer, it's possible the vegetable oil could loosen gunk out of the vehicle's fuel lines and tank. That gunk would then plug up the fuel filter, stalling the engine. Do you have spare fuel filters and know how to change them? If you do, you might want to chance it in an emergency.

I did hear of a guy with a VW diesel Rabbit who ran out of diesel on his way home late at night. There was a grocery store open, but no gas stations. He bought a few gallons of vegetable oil and poured it into the fuel tank. Since the engine was still hot, it started up and he drove home. The next morning, after the engine had cooled down, the car would not start. He had the tank filled with diesel, then the car was towed behind a big truck until it eventually started on compression. That's not really the safest way to go about it, but it's what the guy did. Probably would have been safer to change the filter and have the fuel lines blown out. Had that done myself once after getting a bad load of diesel.

If you ever have to head out of Dodge, I hope you've got enough fuel to go the distance. Hope these ideas help.

-Sixbears

Sunday, May 30, 2010

If the wife ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

Women don't suffer in silence, nor do they suffer alone. If the wife isn't on board with the whole prepper lifestyle, then it's going to be rough. It doesn't have to be the wife who's the non prepper. Sometimes it's the man of the house, but in my experience it's usually the women who have issues.

Friday I helped a buddy of mine with a couple of projects at his off-grid rural homestead. To save money, they moved in way before the place was finished. Now the guy's wife is pretty good about this stuff. She likes homesteading life, but some things were getting old. She wasn't too impressed with having to start a generator every time they needed electrical power. My buddy was just as happy to do without electricity. A Coleman lantern was fine for light. She wasn't too keen about having to take a shovel and roll of TP out in the woods to do her business. Can't really blame her.

Friday we tied in a battery bank and inverter to the generator. (solar and wind are coming as budget allows) Now she has electric power at the flick of a switch. They can go days without starting the generator. The other just as important project was the installation of a composting toilet. The unit has a small vent fan that needs constant power, so there was no setting it up until we squared away the electric.

She's much happier now. He's much happier now. Coincidence? I think not.

In a few days I'm going to install a shower. By then it'll have occurred to her that she's tired of taking a shower at relatives' houses. My buddy doesn't want to impose on other people. He's been cleaning himself in icy mountain ponds. I'm sure it wakes him up in the morning. The shower stall, inside their house, will be much appreciated, I'm sure.

He did one very important thing from day one. Even though he's not a coffee drinker, he made sure she could have coffee in the morning. He set her up with a propane stove, hand cranked coffee grinder, tea pot and a big French press. This guy is no fool. In fact, he often has brewed coffee waiting for her when she gets up in the morning.

Guy's, if your significant other is on-board at all with this stuff, do what you can to make her comfortable. You won't regret it.

-Sixbears

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Comment form change.

The comment form was set a much more secure level than I wanted. Not sure how that happened. If you've been frustrated trying to post comments in the past, sorry. Hope things are more user friendly now.

As for trolls . . . well, I only rarely hunt them down and beat them up on their doorstep.

-Sixbears

What's the downside here?

For years now, I've been telling anyone who'll listen to take some basic steps toward self sufficiency. Some have taken action. Others accuse me of having my tin foil hat on too tight. Maybe that's true, but I've got to ask: What's the downside here?

What's the downside to putting a little extra food in the pantry? Purchase stuff you are going to eat anyway. If you buy stuff when it's on sale, you'll have it when the price goes back up. You won't have to run to the store every time you want to cook something.

What's the downside of learning to cook from basic ingredients? I baked a nice artisan bread today in the toaster oven. It'll make some great sandwiches. I make great soups, bagels, beer, wine, and even some darn fine ice-cream. We eat well on the cheap.

What's the downside from having some alternative energy? My solar electric set up paid for itself years ago. It still makes power every day. Believe me, it's a nice feeling to have significant power the utility can't turn off.

Fresh food from your own garden? Yeah, it involves playing around outside in the dirt, but who wouldn't benefit from some fresh air and exercise?

It's a bit of work to heat with wood, but I've got next winter's fuel sitting out in my driveway. It's a good feeling.

Now I've got to ask people: What's the downside to the way most people live? Do they enjoy being in debt? Having to eat fast food all the time because there's no food in the house and they don't know how to cook? How many get stuck freezing in the dark because they relied on systems outside their control? Having to spend all their time at jobs they hate?

Do they enjoy being blindsided by events because they only listen to the main stream media?

Want to borrow my tin foil hat?

-Sixbears

Friday, May 28, 2010

Acting on early signs of trouble

I really debated with myself on whether or not to post this. People think I'm enough of a doomer as it is. This is scary stuff here. It has the potential to really upset people. However, if things do go down this way, I'd have felt bad for not giving any warning. Don't take my word for it. Do your own research and then act accordingly.

On Thursday, May 27, BP claimed some success in plugging the oil leak. Strange that their underwater camera went down around the same time. At any rate, here are a few points to consider: The disaster in the Gulf is well into its second month. All efforts to stop the spill, until now, have failed to one degree or another. True, BP's been able to siphon off a small percentage of the oil. Matt Simmons claims the oil leak in the live video isn't the main leak: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/37363529#37363529 . There has to be a much bigger leak somewhere else.

If you accept that Matt Simmons is a good authority, if you believe independent estimates of the size of the leak, then the problem is orders of magnitude larger than what BP claims.

It's logical to suppose that since BP apparently isn't even addressing the largest leak, then it's going to go on for many months yet. Imagine what the region will look like 6 - 12, months from now? Eventually, the toxic mess will make it to every state bordering the Gulf. It's going to enter the loop current, (if it hasn't already) then head out into the Gulf Stream up the Atlantic seaboard.

Now if you've studied the evidence and believe this has a high chance of happening, what are you going to do? If you live anywhere near the Gulf, why aren't you packing to head north? Are you going to wait for the Gulf economy to completely collapse first? Waiting for you kids to get sick from toxic fumes? Waiting for all your neighbors to do the same thing so you don't look silly?

People already living in the north, don't be so smug. What happens when most people in the Gulf region wake up and get the heck out of there? I've family and friends in the region, from Texas to Florida. They don't believe it's going to be all that bad, so they've not prepared to evacuate. Should they have to leave, some will come to my house, having no place else to go.

I don't have much extra money right now, but I am buying a couple hundred more pounds of grain. If nothing major happens, we're going to eat it sooner or later. If more people people move in, at least we'll have bread for a while.

A few years ago my lovely wife and I were dining in a restaurant. She happened to notice smoke coming from the kitchen and pointed it out to me. When I turned around, I could see it was banking up against the ceiling and making its way to the dining area. It only took a few seconds to decide we were getting out of there. I left the money for dinner by the cash and we headed out the door.

As it turns out, the place didn't burn down. I'm glad it didn't. When we left, we overheard the staff wondering if they should maybe call the manager, not the Fire Department. Apparently calling the Fire Department was a management decision. It could have been bad. The whole dining room could have suddenly headed for the exits in a panic. That's when people die. We got out of there before a potential rush for the doors.

So I've got to ask. If you believe things could get horribly bad, have you taken action yet?

-Sixbears

Thursday, May 27, 2010

No boycott power

So I decided to boycott BP for it's greed and environmental destruction, but it occurred to me that I don't buy much of anything from BP. My vehicles run on waste vegetable oil. (not a BP product.) Guess that the next time I change my engine oil I'll get motor from a company that's not owned by BP. Small punishment, really.

Today I learned that Coke has been using paramilitary gunmen to kill unionists in Columbia. Good reason for a boycott, except I almost never drink soft drinks. Mostly I drink water and coffee. (organic fair trade coffee at that!) About the only thing I can do is avoid juice from companies that are owned by Coke.

Walmart treats it's workers like crap. Do I shop at Walmart? Well yes, I do. Very little, but almost every month I buy something from them. It's my last choice shopping destination. Could boycott them completely, not that my minuscule purchases have much of an impact one way or the other.

Heck, I'm not even sending any income tax money to the Federal Government. Guess that's a boycott of sorts. (they've yet to change their practices.)

Boycotts only work when you actually were going to buy stuff in the first place. Hard to economically punish some company you don't do business with.

So for me, a man of tiny economic activity, the boycott has no teeth. What's left? Well, I can speak out to those who do buy stuff. I can also be an example of non consumerism to other people.

I'm not a consumer, I'm a citizen. For what it's worth, my representatives will know how I feel. Last time I checked, I was still a registered voter. However, I'm sure BP is more effective at lobbying that I am.

One important thing for those big corporations and governments to be aware of. Those without access to the system will find ways of working outside the system. We may have nothing, but don't make it so we have nothing to lose.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Near record heat

Today temperatures got into the 90's, in the shade. That's pretty impressive, near record, for this time of year. I know, you folks in the south aren't too impressed. I'm way up around the 45 parallel, snug up along the Canadian border, in the mountains. This is hot. Last year during the month of July, it never got this hot.

Earlier in the month, it snowed. It wasn't that long ago the wood stove was going to keep the chill out of the house.

Global warming? Global cooling? How about we call it: weather. It changes. It does seem that the climate is getting more unsettled. The highs are higher, storms stormier, and when it's cold, it's heart of an ex-wife cold.

I don't have air conditioning, not in my house, nor in my vehicles. I do have a couple ceiling fans to take the edge off. Today I did what I normally do in July or August. Put my shorts on, wide brimmed hat, and sunglasses. Then, with cold drink in hand, I waded out into the lake until comfortable. Call it Red Neck air conditioning. Was out of beer, so had to fortify myself with a shot of Knob Creek bourbon. My drink could have used some ice, but I'm tough.

When I was a kid, I really suffered in the heat. As an adult, I've learned to slow down, and to drink plenty of water. It takes a couple weeks to adjust to hot weather. (You never really adjust to cold weather, you adjust to suffering)

If this is a hint of what summer will bring, we are in for a hot one.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Money Money Money

I don't usually go on too much about macro economics, mainly because it's something I have almost no control over. My household budget is challenging enough.

That being said, I feel the need to shout out.

Too big to fail banks: Let them fail. They took the risks. Why should us little guys bail them out?

The Federal Reserve Bank: Why does the US allow a private company to have this much control over its money? Shouldn't the US issue its own paper? That is, if you have to deal with paper at all.

The International Monetary Fund -the IMF? Disband it. Countries that are too small to have much say in the IMF should just ignore it. Every time a country gets in financial trouble, the IFM demands "austerity measures." Why do they do that? So that bankers can get paid off. No wonder people are rioting all over the world. A few countries have thumbed their nose at the IMF. Argentina comes to mind. They are probably better off for it.

If countries don't do something about the criminal banker class, it's going to get real ugly. Complicated monetary systems have failed in the past. It happened to the Roman Empire. After the empire failed, there was almost no money changing hands. Everything was reduced to food, labor, and security. We know it as Feudalism.

If the powers that be don't want to see things simplified to their basics, they'd better start throwing bankers in jail. They can start with the top management of Goldman Sachs and work their way down from there. It's going to be hard though, with so many in government having come from that very same robber banker class.

Just because it's hard doesn't mean it shouldn't be done.

-Sixbears

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rituals with the extended family

Sunday my lovely wife and I went to a cousin's First Communion. It was an absolutely beautiful day and I must admit I was tempted to do something else. However, family members asked me to go and I'd given my word. At least it was a chance to get together in a setting other than a funeral.

The ceremony went pretty much as expected. The local priest is actually a pretty decent guy. He and I went to High School together back in the day. Back then he seemed like the type of guy who'd grow up to be a priest. Guessed that one right.

Anyway, after the ceremony the family got together and had a little party. There was plenty of opportunity to see how the relatives were doing. Pretty much like the rest of the country, it seems. Quite a few were working less hours than they'd like. Some were trying to figure out how to keep a cars on the road so they could go to work. One cousin had eliminated TV cable and Internet service to save money.

On the other hand, one of my cousins got a nice promotion. He's doing well. In fact, he and his wife adopted a handicapped child. I wish them well. He believes in sharing his good fortune.

Nice to see my aunt's put in a garden this year. My uncle used to do it, but he passed away. One of their sons did the heavy work for his mother this year. Good to see the big garden still in production, and not just because I get some of the veggies.

Overheard one distant relative was buying a generator. He expected the grid to get unreliable. Imagine that.

As I get older, I make more of an effort to connect family. For better or worse, they are my clan and community.

-Sixbears

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Land of the free home of the bear

Bears eat anything you or I will eat and a whole lot of things we won't. At least I'm not too keen about eating a winter kill deer that's laid out in the sun for many many days. For a bear, the extra bugs are just more protein.

Now with that wonderful image in you mind, let's move on. Just about everyone I know who lives out in the woods, and quite a few people who live in town are having bear troubles. The bear population is up and there's not much wild food this time of year. Because of that, they are hanging around houses, eating pet food, raiding bird feeders, and pawing through garbage. Some have even taken to breaking into people's houses.

There's a few lessons here. The first one is don't leave any food around where bears can get it. I haven't even put anything in my compost bin since they've been hanging around. Another lesson that most people won't think of: bears, animals that evolved to live in these woods, can't find enough to eat. How does that make all you live off the lands type feel about your chances of making a go of it?

A few hundred extra bears in these woods is a population explosion that the environment has a hard time supporting. How will it support thousands of back to the land type people? Not too well, I think. That's one of the reasons it's important to be able to produce and store your own food. Every little bit helps. Garden like you life depends on it, it just might.

I could live off the land if I had to right now. I've tried it and actually picked up a few pounds. How was I successful where the bears weren't? Man is a tool using animal. With my fishing gear, I'm more efficient than a bear at catching fish. With a gun, I'm a better hunter. With fire, I can cook and process things into a more edible form. Bears don't dig up cattails and boil them up for dinner.

Of course, in desperate times, you won't be competing so much with bears as you will with other humans. The tool using animal can harvest more food, it's true, but the environment has limits. During the Great Depression, wild game was in short supply around here. Hunting seasons and licenses didn't matter too much to an out of work father with 6 hungry kids at home.

Knowing how to survive in the wild is a useful skill set. Learn to expand the number of wild foods you can eat. Go beyond fish, deer and rabbits. Try some frogs, turtles, crayfish, or snakes. There are foods that can be eaten in an emergency, like boiled inner bark of pine tree. I suppose if I got hungry enough, I could even eat a bear. FYI. Bears that have been eating out of dumps taste like garbage.

If you ever have to live off the land, make sure you have the tools and skills needed. It's nice to add wild foods to your diet out of a sense of adventure or for variety. It's tough when you need them to survive. Ask any bear.

-Sixbears

Saturday, May 22, 2010

From the ground up

The days of the top down solution are over. When the USSR collapsed, those in the west hailed it as the death of the government controlled economy. The power of the free market will be set free and everything will be just peachy. How did that work out again?

They were there first, but the US is right behind. Our economy is almost as far from pure Capitalism as Communism is. Don't think so? How about too big to fail banks, Government Motors, AIG, and all the rest? The stock market? Does the plunge protection team sound like a free market mechanism or does it sound like top down control?

Economies don't run well from the top down. Anyone who's been paying attention can see that. However, why stop there? How successful is the government's handling of the oil disaster in the Gulf? Haiti is right next door, yet relief efforts too forever to accomplish anything at all. How well is the government handling environmental issues? Education? Health Care? Border Security? War? Heck, just pick something that government is doing and ask how well it's going.

Is the European Union doing any better? Seems to be on the verge of breaking up if you ask me.

The days of top down solutions are over. They don't work very well any more. There are a number of reasons for that. One is the law of diminishing returns from complexity. Another big problem is energy. There's less and less of it, and what's left comes at a high price. Energy is power: physical and political. It's also tied up with the value of money. It's not secret that during these times of energy scarcity that we also have political and economic impotence.

You can stop looking for the Federal Government to solve your problems.

Energy crisis? People do everything from install woodstoves to build solar thermal panels. Solar electric systems and wind generators work great on a small scale. When you make electric power right next to were you are going to use it -a house or a neighborhood, transmission losses are minimal.

Transportation issues? Bike, walk, alternative fuels, car pool, move closer to work, work from home . . . give up on traditional work completely.

The national economy bad? Develop the local economy of your house, neighborhood and town. Barter goods and skills.

Food expensive? Permaculture, Backyard gardens, front yard gardens, wild foods, chickens, bees, rabbits, throw in goats and other animals if you want to. While you're at it, how about some small scale aquaculture?

There are solutions to our problems, but don't expect them to come out of Washington D. C.. See a problem? Build the solution yourself from the bottom up. Solve problems at the lowest levels with the least number of people. People on the ground can actually see what the problems are and judge the effectiveness of the solutions. If they aren't working, it's much easier to change things on the individual and local level. Getting the Federal Government to change a policy is like trying to turn a super tanker with a canoe paddle.

One good thing about the ineffectiveness of government, it's ability to cause harm is lessened every day. Sure, they can pass all the silly laws they want, but if they lack the ability to enforce them, then it's easy to ignore the laws. They wanted to put tracker chips in all livestock down to chickens. Tell you what Mr. Government, chipped chickens hatch out unchipped chickens. Laws against saving seeds are hard to enforce on the local level. Seed swapping happens all the time among individuals. That isn't going to stop just because someone in the government is in Monsanto's pocket.

Change works from the bottom up. All the Federal Government can do is step aside . . . or get pushed out of the way.

-Sixbears

Friday, May 21, 2010

I've had this feeling before

There's disturbing news. Riots, financial collapse, ecological disaster, ineffectual corrupt governments, loss of personal freedoms, war, earthquakes, volcanoes . . . need I go on?

It's not here. Around me, everything looks pretty normal. There are closed business, but others are opening up. Some people I know are out of work, but most are still working. People are driving cars around. Houses still have the lights on. There's food in the grocery stores. On the surface, things are normal.

However, I've got an uneasy feeling when I look around. The first time I had this feeling was back when I was a firefighter. I'd humped a line up to the top of a four story tenement block. It was burning in the back of the top floor. Flames were visible from the road, blowing out broken back windows. Just as I was about to make my push towards the flames, the fire hose lost pressure. The city water main had failed and the pumper truck's tank had just run dry.

For a while I just hung around there, waiting to see if I'd get water again. It wasn't bad where I was. There was just a hint of smoke in the air and a sound in the near distance of crackling flames. It's a weird feeling. Things were going to hell just beyond where I was and there was nothing I could do about it. Never did get water and had to retreat through heavy smoke and heat back down the stairs. Before a new source of water could be found, the place was lost.

That feeling of being in a temporarily safe place and listening to things fall apart next door, that's how I feel listening to the news. The world's on fire, and It's just not here yet. There's wisps of smoke: unemployment, oil in the Gulf, bank bailouts, angry voters, but no real fire yet. No, not yet, but I can hear the fires crackling in the near distance.

-Sixbears

Thursday, May 20, 2010

King Weed

I love weeds. They are wild and untamed tough little buggers. I feel a certain kinship with the scrappy little plant forcing apart the cracks in the sidewalk. There's great inspiration value there, but many of those weeds are darn useful.

Take the humble dandelion. We've been told they much be banished from our lawns as if they are some sort of toxic pest. Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, I think they are pretty. There's value in that alone, but the plant offers so much more. The young leaves can be plopped right in a salad. More mature leaves need to be boiled in a change a water to make them edible. Still, huge food value there. Even tried making a dandelion wine. It was pretty bad. Same came be said for roasting the root as a coffee substitute. One would have to be pretty desperate to call it coffee. However, I have heard rumor of dry roasted dandelion root having anti-cancer properties. Don't know about that, but it wouldn't surprise me.

There's a lot of scrubby looking trees growing around my house. Some of those have actually been encouraged to grow as their fruits and nuts have food value: wild raisin, pin cherry, choke cherry, hazel nuts, beech nuts, and a few others. Most of those trees like like giant weeds to the average person. They aren't growing in nice straight rows like in an orchard. They have a wild look. In fact, the average person won't recognize them as being foot producing. That's fine with me.

During our walks, my lovely wife and I have been known to take home the occasional useful wild plant and encourage it to grow on our property. One of my goals is to have plants, food and medicinal, that don't look like a garden. Those hardy weeds need very little to make them happy. Once established, many pretty much take care of themselves. That's fine with me, as I've got other things to do.

My wife has quite the collection of plant guides. Occasionally, we do get something that looks interesting, but is hard to identify. Often the only way to get good positive identification is to study the flowers or fruit. Sometimes that involves keeping the plant around long enough for it to mature.

A couple of unusual plants sprouted in our garden. We think the seed came from a load of compost that was given to us. My wife transplanted them off by themselves, but they didn't do very much but survive. This year she moved them to the end of our yard near the woods. They liked that environment and were really taking off. My wife thought she was finally going to be able to identify them.

Then a bear ate them. At that point I proclaimed them "bear food." Oh well. Guess we'll never know what they really were. You might be able to food a person into thinking weeds aren't food, but animals know better.

Plenty of homesteaders plant food plants, not for themselves, but for wild game. I've heard it called "planting venison." Works for me.

Doesn't hurt to have plenty of weeds who's main value is in attracting bees. Bees have it tough enough. Letting untidy weeds flourish gives them some much needed pollen. While they are in the neighborhood, maybe they'll do something about my squash plants.

Yes, I sure do love my weeds. Nice cultivated gardens are nice, but if you can those wild weeds working for you, then you've really got something.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

More random things

There are tar balls on the beach at Key West Florida. They are being tested to see if they are from the big BP leak. There's some denial. Some officials are claiming that the tar balls can't be from that leak. All right then! If the tar balls are not from that big leak, does it mean there's another big leak or oil spill out there?

I've spent some time in Key West. My first thoughts after checking the place out: I've found my people. It's a crazy place. I'm a crazy guy. However, if these tar balls are the forerunners of a gunk invasion . . . I don't think I could ever go back. The old Key West will live in my memories, just the way it was.

Still have bears lurking around my house. Picked up one of my recycling buckets a ways from where I'd left it. You know how a dog will eat from a dish and push it across the room? That's what happened to my recycling bucket. There might have been a bit of vegetable oil on the bottom of the bucket. There's big tongue marks on the bottom. Yuck. Yesterday there were big sandy footprints on my car and truck. It's a downside of running vehicles on waste vegetable oil. My vehicles smell like fried food.

I see Rand Paul has won the Republican primary in KY. Congratulations! Yes, we still want change. Have yet to get it.

NH public radio has been running a series on food in the Granite State. It's encouraging to see there's more local food and more organic being grown in the state. There's hope. A new farmer's market is opening up this summer in the town next door. I'm pretty excited by this as it looks like a lot of farms have signed up -farms I didn't even know existed.

It's finally warm and dry enough to garden. My middle daughter gifted me an assortment of "Sun Chokes," the more politically correct name for what I used to know as Jerusalem Artichokes. I've got a place half hidden on the back lots to plant them. Hope they take off as well as everyone says they will. My wife tells me the filberts I planted are sending up little shoots all over the place. That's cool. They produced nuts for the first time last summer, so I'm hoping for more this year. Lots of wild strawberry flowers. Hope the bears don't eat them all when they come into fruit.

In a real SHTF situation, I'd just shoot and eat the darn bears. It's still rural enough around here that no one gets excited over a few gunshots. Really don't have the need to yet and would hate to. I've a soft spot in my heart for brother bear.

Falling behind on my fishing. If the weather's half way decent, I'll take the old canoe out on the lake and see about fresh fish for supper. Even if I don't catch anything, time on the water is never wasted.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Moving into a construction project

Moving into a construction project

My friends just moved into their house. There's just enough Sheetrock up to divide up the rooms. The building is wired, but it is off-grid, and the alternative energy system isn't set up yet. There is no plumbing installed. Since the well hasn't been dug yet, that's not all that much of a problem. They do have a composting toilet, but it needs a vent installed and power to run a fan. Only two rooms have completed floors.

What do they have have? They've a well built house shell, over twenty acres of land, and no mortgage. They've woodstoves and enough firewood for a couple years. The land has gardens, trees, fields, chickens, and a working sugar house. It has a running stream and abuts a small beaver pond.

I've got to say it again, they've no mortgage! I only hope this young couple knows how rich they are. They have no mortgage! So they are living a bit primitive right now. They are young.

Within a week the batteries for the alternative energy system will be in. I'm lending them one of my big inverters. For now, they can charge the battery bank from one of their generators. Solar panels are coming a bit later. It's also an excellent location for wind power. They'll never get a bill from the power company.

The house is being built with money as it comes it. Considering the guy works seasonal, and the wife works part time, they are moving along nicely. Lacking honking big piles of debt, they can afford to live this way. In a year or two, it'll be a mighty fine house. Best yet, it will be theirs, not some banks.

-Sixbears

Monday, May 17, 2010

One more bump in the road

Sometimes little disasters come in the form of a one page letter. My part of medical insurance is going up to $730/month. Thats up from just under $500. It's a good chunk out of my income.

Here I was ruthlessly cutting expenses, then something like this blows my budget right out of the water.

My first thought was to cancel the insurance completely. While I could live with that, it's not really fair to my wife. She has some medical issues that need attention. For now, I'll keep the insurance. There's no other reasonable options right now. This whole medical insurance thing is at a point of diminishing returns.

The letter said that medical insurance went up 14% this year. The part the state retirement system put in didn't go up at all. That's why my payment took such a huge jump. Last year the state almost completely dropped their contribution. Had that happened, I would have had to drop insurance last year.

I'm glad I didn't have to. My lovely wife had shoulder surgery this past year, so I did get some use out of the system.

So . . . where to get an additional $230/month? We've eliminated heating oil. Dropped down to one vehicle, so are saving on repairs, operating costs, registration and insurance. Stopped buying propane. About to disconnect from the grid. Have no TV cable or satellite. Went to a cheaper Internet provider. We are eating more wild foods. Planting a garden. Right now we aren't even giving birthday gifts. Not a lot to cut here.

Guess the debt will get paid off a lot slower than I planned.

Funny thing is, I knew this increase was coming, no matter what happened in the National health care debate. The state retirement plan I'm in is in trouble. It's been in trouble since the collapse of the tech boom, a good ten years ago. About three years ago I went to a meeting and asked what the plan was to fix the problem. Their "plan" was to wait for the stock market to go even higher. I asked what they planned on doing if the stock market went down. That's unlikely to happen, they said. They really didn't like the question and quickly brushed my concerns aside. I don't go to those meetings anymore.

In the long run, it looks like we'll all be on our own.

-Sixbears

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bad design

One thing that ticks me off is bad product design, especially when it comes to being able to repair it. Just downloaded a full page of instructions on how to change a directional bulb in my daughter's car. Changing a bulb shouldn't require anything more complicated than a screwdriver. This job will require a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, and large torx bits. All to change a simple bulb. The whole headlight assembly has to be removed from the car. Silly thing is, the bulb itself just plugs in.

It's not like I haven't seen bad design before. There are cars out there that require engine mounts to be loosened or removed to changed spark plugs. There are cars with inner fenders that need to be removed to access the car's battery. Special tools required to remove oil plugs. The list could go on and on. What were they thinking?

Cars can be just awful for that sort of thing, but it's everything else. Nothing insults me more than one of those stickers: No user serviceable parts inside. In my experience, that sticker may or may not be telling the truth. Things should be repairable. Good thing there are plenty of people feel the way I do. Better yet, they post hardware hacks on the Internet. Thanks to them I've been able to do things like repair "factory sealed" electric motors rather than replace them.

One of my friends has taught himself how to repair Palm Pilots. Still a fair bit of demand for the old school PDA. Not everyone wants to do everything on their phone. Through trial and error, he systematically learned how to repair and upgrade PDA hardware and software. He's doing a brisk business selling refurbished units.

Now my buddy developed ways of fixing things that were not designed to be fixed. Imagine how much better it would be if everything was designed to be repairable? Instead of throwing out stuff, we could just repair the bad part. At one time most people could learn the basics needed to keep their personal technology running. They knew the ins and outs of their houses, transportation, and food. That worked pretty good though time. From tepee, canoe, and corn, all the way to wood frame house, 52 Chevy, and kitchen garden.

Doesn't work so well anymore. Many houses are built with specialized high tech materials that require special skills and tools to repair. Cars can be near impossible for the shady tree mechanic to work on. Food comes from the supermarket.

Consumer goods are made to be just that: consumed. The idea is that they are built so cheaply that it's more economical to replace than repair. That worked, but only when cheap energy and abundant raw material allowed it to work. Ever wonder why everything is made out of plastic? Plastic, like the oil it came from, was incredibly abundant and cheap. Those days are over. Oil isn't so cheap. Plastic isn't as cheap as it used to be. Transportation won't have cheap fuel. The cost of shipping something from a cheap labor economy to a high priced economy will become prohibitive.

We are going to have to learn to repair things again. Before I buy something, I consider how well it's made and if I can repair it. A well built item, one that can be user serviced and repaired, is a better bargain than a "consumable" item for much less money. Imagine if that cheap replacement will no longer be available. Wouldn't make sense to get something good that will last, knowing that cheap stuff won't be around anymore?

If you are sitting on an inflatable life raft in the middle of the ocean, wouldn't it be nice to know that it was a quality life raft? Would you prefer that it was a super cheap one, but that the store
had plenty more cheap rafts . . . a thousand miles of water away?

When you live way out in the woods, it's sometimes like being on that life raft. Quality tools and repairable equipment sometimes make all the difference. If the trucks that keep everything in stock ever stop, everyone will know the feeling. It doesn't have to be a big disaster -a trucker's strike could do it. Then you'll wish your stuff was well built and repairable. Quality is cheap in the long run. Keep that in mind next time you have to buy something. If we all did, the market would respond and more quality goods would get manufactured.

-Sixbears

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Room in the lifeboat

So, you've got your very own doomstead. You are living where you plan on bugging in. Supplies have been squared away. It's a lifeboat, of sorts.

Are you going to let anyone in with you? Let's assume there's room and supplies for another person or more. Many have planed for family or friends to crash with them if the need arises. However, nobody has unlimited resources. At some point you have to say: no more, the lifeboat is full.

Is is first come first served until you are full up? Sounds fair. No need to turn anyone away until there's obviously no more room. There's a problem with that idea. Imagine things just keep getting worse and worse. There's no great end of the world as we know it event. Picture more of a steady downward slide with some jolts both up and down.

The first people who come to your door will be the least successful ones. They will be the ones who haven't made any plans, or have made terrible life choices. They'll fill up your lifeboat, and probably expect you to take care of them. The smart resourceful ones will be the last who show up at your door, when you have no more room. First come first served rewards failure and punishes success.

Recently I told my wife's friend that she can't move in with us. Yes, we'll have room at the end of June, but she's not going to take that spot. I'm saving it. It's not like I was throwing her into the street. She still has options, just not as good as moving in with us. I invited her to stay for dinner, and politely yet firmly told her she can't move in. We took her in years ago, but situations change.

My extended family has first choice. However, they are in that resourceful camp and would only show up at my door in true disaster, something like losing their house in a hurricane or a fire, prolonged unemployment, civil unrest -something of that nature. Should they move it with my wife and I, they'll have skills we can use. We've friends who'd we take in. They are smart people who aren't afraid of doing what has to be done. Some of them have helped us in time of need so returning the favor is the right thing to do.

We'd be happy to take in people who'd take us in. Not a bad rule of thumb. After all, it's possible for your lifeboat to flounder and then you'll need to beg to get into someone else's.

It's hard to say no to someone when things aren't that bad. Should things get worse, saying no will be harder . . . and more important. Just as well that I got a taste for it now.

-Sixbears

Friday, May 14, 2010

It's not your land unless you know it

Behind my back lots is a good sized piece of woodland. It's owned by a company with a nice sounding New England name. One day I tried to find out who actually owned it. After breaking through one shell company after another, eventually my search ended when I hit a wall of oriental characters. Apparently some Asian company somewhere is the ultimate owner.

No doubt someday they will hire a logging company to harvest the timber on it. At least, that might be their plan.

In the mean time, it's more my land than theirs. I walk it and I know it. In the winter it's a great place to go snowshoeing. Eventually, I run into cross country skies tracks. That guy knows the land too. It's sort of his territory from the cross country trail all the way back to where he's put up a deer stand. I hunt the lower part of the woodlot during bow season.

Near my property it's mostly sugar maple, then runs into a strip of spruce. South of that is a patch of wetlands. On a sunny fall day, that strip of spruce is a good place to find a grouse. An occasional rabbit inhabits the marshy area. A moose travels through on the remains of an old logging road. Deer visit the edge of an old cutting. Woodpeckers and bard owls live there. Occasionally tracks from a fisher can be seen. Bears hang out there in the spring.

That patch of land is one of my emergency sources of firewood. I don't cut down any living trees, but there are plenty of branches dropped. Storms topple the occasional tree. It's all downhill from that woodlot to my woodstove. It's good to have wood in walking distance.

Back in medieval times, kings had their hunting preserves that were off limits to the peasant folk. Poachers were severely punished. Still, there were poachers. Having no kings in my background, there most likely were poachers. I'd like to think so anyway. That extra protein from the occasional rabbit or deer is one of the reasons they lived to be my ancestors. The fact that they passed on their genes is a good indication they didn't get caught.

It was the king's land, but only so far as his sheriffs could keep the riff raff out. (my beloved ancestors) Those Asian investors have no sheriffs. to keep me out. Actually, the way New Hampshire laws works, it's to their advantage to allow access to the land. One of the conditions for getting a current use tax break is to allow recreational access. It's legal for me to go tromping around there with a shotgun in hand.

I've been getting more use of the land than the so called owners have. That's fine by me. They can pay the taxes. Sure, one day they may log part of it. Should that happen, I'll be sad, but trees grow back. In the mean time, deer are attracted to the new growth in the cut area. Raspberries will soon sprout up. Logging jobs leave behind a lot of slash that burns just fine in my stove.

Should things get really bad, those guys all the way out in Asia will have very little say in what happens in my backyard, on the land I know and they don't.

-Sixbears

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Watching the beaches

I'm keeping a close eye on the oil spill in the Mexican Gulf. My wife and I are avid tent campers who've spent many a winter camping on those waters. We've taken a canoe out in those threatened areas many times.

Even though we are based way up in NH, we have ties to the Gulf. We've family in Texas and Florida. If my dad ever has to evacuate his home in Florida, he's always welcome to move in with my wife and I. Originally, we thought he'd may have to someday leave due to hurricanes. Now that's no the only reason to evacuate. If the oil gets into the Gulf Stream and goes to Florida, he just might take me up on the offer.

We've canoed Florida extensively. I've come to love the mangrove swamps and islands. Can't help but picture them covered in oil. A mangrove swamp is like a giant sponge, a sponge teaming with life.

BP says they'll compensate for the damage caused by their well. Can they rebuilt a mangrove swamp? Can they bring sea turtles back to life? Can they give months and years back to the people they've affected?

All I can do now is keep and eye on events and see what happens. My wife and I had hopes of returning to the Gulf this coming winter. Those plans are up in the air. I can't imagine traveling 2000 miles just to see our favorite places covered in oil.

It would break my heart.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rationed Health Care

I pay a good chunk of my income towards medical insurance. Then co-pays for treatment and medications eat up some more money.

One would thing that with all that money going into the system, actually getting something back would be easy enough. It isn't. Yesterday we found out that my wife is quickly nearing the end of her physical therapy visits for the year. It's not even the middle of May.

I met with her physical therapist yesterday. He showed me how to assist my wife with her physical therapy at home. Visits to him have been dropped down from twice a week to once a week to stretch out our few remaining PT visits.

A neurologist suggested a new therapy for my wife, but we have no more coverage for the new program. We are thinking of having her start the new program and then try and duplicate it on our own.

My wife is also on a custom medication that isn't covered by insurance at all.

Personally, I haven't seen a doctor in years. Maybe I should, but I don't. Right now I'm nursing a huge bruise on my let. Keeping it elevated, putting ice on it, and taking aspirin. It appears to be getting better. If you'd ever dealt with a Workman's Compensation Doctor, you'd have a dislike for all doctors too.

Here's the thing. As far as I can tell, the new health care bill isn't going to improve my medical plan at all. I've got insurance. By today's standards, it's pretty good insurance. A single player plan might have covered my wife's PT, but I guess we'll never know.

Medical bills helped bankrupt my parents. They had the same insurance that I had, but co-pays and uncovered expenses were enough to drive them into poverty. That's private insurance for you.

Now my granddaughter is covered for free under NH Healthy Kids. This state run program pays for everything. My daughter has had a lot of worries since her divorce, but getting medical care for her daughter hasn't been one of them.

As for my wife and I, we'll just have to figure something out. More do-it-yourself physical therapy. More alternative medicines.

Perhaps more just plain doing without.

I don't expect the private insuracne to get better and I don't have much hope that the government will sort it out. The government doesn't have the money. Like everything else around here, health care is another do-it-yourself project.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Push your own buttons

Emotion overcomes logic. Ever been so mad that you've done something that you marvel at during calmer moments? Ever been in love? Make an enemy? Have you been so sad that you can't think? Overwhelmed emotionally in any way?

We are emotional beings. It's part of what we are. There are times when the normal human thing is to express your emotions. There are times when our logical mind serves us better.

Emotions are stirred up to motivate people all the time.

Commercials do it to sell their wares. Talk show hosts do it to advance political views. Writers and musicians try to evoke emotion from their audience. Hitler did it to control a nation. Mobs are groups of people running high on emotion.

Emotions are used for "good" and "bad" causes. (My good cause might be your bad cause.)

Your emotions are being manipulated. Someone else is trying to control your actions. Attempts are being made to bypass your logic centers.

Before you get all stirred out about one cause or another, ask yourself if they are playing directly to your emotions. Think before you act. Actions done during times of high emotion will have to be lived with when cold harsh logic returns.

One of the big motivators is fear. The powers that be use it all the time. Fear terrorists! (And give up your civil rights.) Bail out the banks or terrible things will happen! (We bailed them out and terrible things happened) Drug companies use fear to sell their nostrums. Insurance companies use fear. (What will happen to your family when your are gone?) Religions do it all the time. (Do what the preacher says or you'll burn in hell for all eternity.)

What's a person to do?

Take a deep breath and pause for a moment.

Constantly ask yourself: Is this another appeal to my emotions? Are they trying to get me to act without thinking too much? Do they want you to "act now," perhaps before your logical mind can catch up?

Once you are aware how emotional manipulation works, you are less likely to fall for it. It does help to turn down the chatter.

Learn to be comfortable with the silence of you own mind.

Push your own buttons.

-Sixbears

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Like Money in the Bank, only better.

Working four evenings and one full day, I've gathered just about all the firewood I'm going to need for next winter. In fact, I loaded up enough firewood for two households. My buddy cut the wood to length, and I loaded it in our pickup trucks.

Of course, some of it needs to be split, and all of it needs to be piled under cover. The main thing is, it's here at the house. I don't have to worry about the price of heating oil next winter. Nor do I have to worry about the supply.

I used to say that having a year's worth of firewood was like money in the bank. Judging from the state of our banks right now, I'd say it's even better than that.

Just because I have enough for next winter doesn't mean I'm stopping my firewood gathering. In fact, while unloading wood, a neighbor asked if I'd be willing to haul some trees away that he has to cut down. That's the start of another year's woodpile.

Those of you in warmer climes than mine might not understand how good it feels to have a big woodpile. Northern NH is darn cold and it takes some planning to get by. At least wood heat is pretty low tech. No electricity needed. Wood can be processed by hand tools.

When the AC dies in the south, I don't know what you guys down there are going to do. They don't have wood fired air conditioners. There's a reason those old southern homes had huge windows that could be opened for excellent cross ventilation. Modern homes aren't built that way.

Of course, many homes here in the north are totally reliant on oil or gas heat. They lack a good well built chimney that's woodstove rated. There are reasons older homes were built the way they were. Add in modern insulation, and we are better off than in the old days.

-Sixbears

Friday, May 7, 2010

Hauling

Picked up another load of mixed hardwoods for the woodstove. That's the fourth so far this week. Looks like I picked up about 2.5 - 3 cords so far. Yes, my poor truck has been somewhat overloaded.

Friday I'm starting early and working late. My friend and I will have to be off the woodlot by the end of the weekend. Weather Saturday and Sunday is projected to be bad, so our hauling might end Friday. Would like to get at least 3 loads in.

It's not often that good quality firewood becomes available for free. We are taking full advantage. Tomorrow's hauling should bring in the bulk of my firewood for the season.

People have yet to realize that the price of heating oil is about to take a big jump. I don't want to competing with wood scroungers when they figure it out.

As it is, we've chased a couple wood pickers off our job. We have a letter of permission and they don't. The Forest Service has also chased people off. The enforcement division is bored, and that's not a good thing. They are looking for people to bust.

It does feel a bit odd to be the guys who are legal. My buddy and I are usually the ones bending the law.

If the guys who came by hadn't been such jerks, we'd probably have let them take a load of wood.

It didn't help that they have brand new trucks and feel entitled to take what ever they want.

Had someone shown up with a beat up truck like ours and was actually polite, we'd have felt bad for the guy.

Let that be a lesson. If you are going to be hanging with us poor folk, it's best to look the part.

Those bright new shiny trucks were probably financed to the hilt. No matter, it's tough for us to feel bad for guys with new trucks. My buddy has to start his with ether as the glow plugs are gone. Mine's a '94 with over 225,000 miles on it, and it's the newer truck of the two. Neither of us are buying that fancy store bought diesel fuel. We drive veggie burners.

Well off to try and get a few house sleep before another day of wood hauling.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Quick road trip

Just made a quick trip downstate.

One of the downsides of living out in the woods is that occasionally, long drives are necessary.

My wife sees a neurologist every 5 - 6 months who's over 150 miles away.

Today we were able to combine the necessary trip with a pleasant side trip to visit friends. It wasn't all business and no fun.

I wonder how long people will be able to afford 300 mile day trips. Keep and eye on the price of fuel. It's due for another steep climb.

Fortunately, we were able to scrape up enough waste vegetable oil for the trip. Probably spent more on tolls than fuel, but we are an unusual case. Just one of the advantages of slowly dropping out of the petroleum economy.

-Sixbears

Bear Update

Checked out the property this morning.

Bears are gone . . . for now.

They tipped over a barrel I had soaking out in the yard. At one time it had waste vegetable oil it in. It had been rinsed out a while back with biodegradable degreaser. The barrel was undergoing a second degreasing. This time to repurpose it as a sand barrel. Apparently, there was still enough grease smell in it to attract bears.

My vehicles run on waste vegetable oil. For bears, that's a high energy food. They are hungry after hibernation and not a lot of new wild food is available yet. As careful as I am about keeping the area clean, It's inevitable that a few splatters of grease will fall on the ground now and then. For a bear's sensitive nose, that's enough to attract their interest.

We used to have a big dog. That was enough discouragement to keep them away. I miss my dog.

All I can do right now is keep the area extra clean. Make a lot of noise when moving around the property as not to surprise a bear, and wait for the natural foods in the wild to catch up with a bear's hunger.

-Sixbears

Sometimes there really are bears

Now it appears I've come down with a minor bear infestation. The time was about 10 p. m.. I was sitting in the kitchen, minding my own business, and heard some scratching outside.

It sounded like it was under my deck. I went out on the deck and a largish animal took off, leapt over an old canoe, then ran down the trail towards the lake.

Okay, I thought, I scared it off. Must have been a black bear.

Then I heard snorting above my head. Surprised the heck out of me. Went upstairs and shined a flashlight out the window. Sure enough, there was another black bear. It had been only about 10 feet above my head.

I gave up for now.

Hopefully, I'll leave it alone and it'll be gone in the morning.

I'll let you know.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Odd Day

The day started off well. Did a little fishing. Drowned a few worms from shore, then dragged a lure around with the canoe. Didn't catch anything, but it was sure nice out on the water.

A few days ago we got 6 inches of snow. Today temperatures climbed up into the high 80's.

Global weirding.

Old timers say not to plant around there until after the first full moon in May. This year I'm going to try that. Can't hurt.

Saw an odd thing on the road today. Spotted it at a distance, but wasn't quite sure what it was. After a moment it looked like the van coming down the road was on fire. As it got closer, first impressions proved correct. Yep, there were flames under the van and blowing out the back. The driver didn't seem bothered by at all. He kept on driving down the road.

My buddy met up with me a bit later. He saw the same van some miles past where I saw it. However, it had stopped, the driver was outside, and the van totally engulfed in flames. Driving by later I saw where the asphalt had been burned away. That was odd.

Picked a good load of firewood today. It pays to know people. My friend has permission to clean up the wood left behind after a logging operation. Apparently, highly mechanized wood harvesting techniques are picky about the wood they can use. It appears that a good dozen cord of hard wood is left. Anything we don't take will be bulldozed and buried. We've no idea when that is supposed to happen, so we are hauling out wood as fast as we can.

My goal is to have all my firewood at the house, cut, split and piled up under cover before the end of June. If we beat the bulldozers, this one location should have all I need for this coming winter.

All in all, an interesting day.

-Sixbears

Monday, May 3, 2010

Power Management

I was talking to my dad on the phone the other day. His friend had electrical problems. Circuit breakers kept tripping. The 150 amp entrance panel was insufficient for the power being drawn. This is for a double wide trailer occupied by a single retired person.

Now I run my whole 10 room house on less than 30 amps. Most of the time it uses about half that. Currently there are four people living here.

Where does 150 amps go? The first thing my father found was 3 - 30 amp electric heating elements. Those were connected to a 75 amp breaker. When they all came on at once, the breaker would trip. He disconnected one of the elements. The trailer is located in the middle of Florida. Two heating elements were more than enough. Not only was the heat on, the person was running the electric washer and dryer, an electric stove and oven, an electric hair dryer, plus other devices. With all that going, the 150 amp entrance breaker was stressed.

The friend's first response to the problem was to install a larger entrance panel. Dad gently pointed out that by spacing out a few chores, the 150 amp panel is more than sufficient. If the electric heat is on, put off doing the laundry for a couple hours until it warms up outside and the heat goes off. That alone solved the problem. This is central Florida after all. Even if the early morning is in the 40's, but 10 a. m. it could be 70 or 80.

I don't have electric heat, or air conditioning. Those two huge power draws are avoided. However, I do have an electric well pump. That's my main power draw. My inverter is good for about a constant 20 amps. It can surge to three times that for short periods of time -handy when starting motors like a well pump. In the 20 years I've used the inverter, only a couple times did I exceed it's capabilities. Those were in the first years of use. I think I had the well pump going, a coffee maker, the washing machine and tried to power up a big radial arm saw at the same time. The inverter shut down and I got to contemplate my problem in the dark.

So there are two ways of handling power loads. Put in enough capacity for every possible power use at once. (which is how most modern houses are wired) The other option is to plan peak load use so as not to exceed a more moderate power supply.

Alternative energy systems perform much better with the second strategy. Fortunately, most heavy draws are of short duration. Microwaves, toasters, and coffee makers draw significant power, but only for short periods of time. It's not that much of a sacrifice to have to wait a couple minutes before using additional electric devices.

Planning on balancing your loads can save a lot of money on initial alternative energy installation. For example, a 2500 watt inverter is much cheaper than a 10,000 watt inverter. The whole rest of the system would have to be up-sized to match the huge inverter -more batteries and more solar panels or a bigger windmill.

It's not just how much power is used during the course of the day. It's also how much power is used at any given moment.

-Sixbears

Sunday, May 2, 2010

It's a wonderful life

In an earlier post I happen to mention that I currently use about 5 - 10% of the fossil fuel energy that I used to. Because I'm a bit nutty, I'm worried about the remaining few percentages. Here's the bottom line, I'm living a good life using few fossil fuels. The lights are on. The house is heated. Laundry and dishes get done. Computers compute. The happy little lights from the Internet modem are on. Good food gets cooked. The bread is baked. Music is played. The beer is chilled. Life is lived.

There are plenty of ways that the average American can reduce their energy use. Lots of low hanging fruit out there. I'm amazed at the number of old fashioned incandescent light bulbs are still in use. What really pulls my chain is going into a house and seeing the the steady power drains that aren't even doing anyone any good. There are lights on in empty rooms. The TV blares out but no one is watching it. Unused rooms are heated or cooled. Empty refrigerators or freezers keep chugging away. Plenty of useless car trips.

If the price skyrockets, most people will become more aware of their energy use. However, they could get the benefits today instead of waiting until need drives them. They could use today's resources to plan for tomorrow. Say electric power becomes outrageously expensive. If all you've got are incandescent lights, it might be necessary to turn off all but one low powered light bulb off. For the same amount of power, it's possible to run four compact fluorescents. Not only that, should things become really dear, there's the option of running one or two florescent bulbs where it would be impossible to run even one incandescent. Having modern electric light bulbs, even one, beats the heck out of yak tallow candles. However, without a bit of planning, you'd be lucky to manage candles.

If you reduce your electric needs, suddenly things like solar electric make sense. You don't need 50 panels to power your house -a half dozen might do the job. One might handle the essentials.

During the oil shock of the 70's, my family would spend summers at the lake where I live now. Gas had doubled overnight and then continued to go up. There was about a dozen people camped out on the property. When anyone had to go into town, they'd announce it. If you needed anything: a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, a part from the hardware store, the person going into town would pick it up. Trips to town were greatly reduced this way. Not only that, instead of going into town that day, you could decide to go swimming or fishing. The only cost for that extra time was maybe doing a small extra errand when it was your turn to go to town.

Even though the price of gas had gone up, we ended up spending less money on it, plus had more free time. The cost was in having to cooperate, coordinate, and communicate with other people. Is that such a bad thing?

-Sixbears

Saturday, May 1, 2010

End of an Age

We are looking at the beginning of the end of new off shore oil drilling. The current state of technology appears to have reached its limits. Arguments that spills from off shore oil rigs don't happen have been put to the lie. They happen. They are happening now. Oil will continue to pollute the Gulf of Mexico for some time to come. As I write this, little progress is being made to cap off the leak. Current projections are that it'll be several months before the leak can be stopped.

The oil is just starting to impact land. Shrimp fishermen are in a panic. The season has been opened early in an attempt to harvest some before they die anyway. Estuaries are some of the most productive real estate on the planet. Fish species need them to breed and survive. Oil destroys them and they may never recover to what they once were. Some things once broken cannot be fixed.

It will take billions of dollars to stop the leak. I've no idea how many people will be involved, but it must be considerable. All that money and personal will be unavailable for searching for new oil. No doubt some insurance company somewhere is going to take it on the chin. The insurance industry is already in trouble. Remember AIG? The ramifications spread outward.

Once the oil hits the beaches the resort communities will suffer greatly. Who wants to vacation at an oil slick? Officials in Florida claim their beaches are not threatened, but that's today. This oil slick could go on for months. The ever growing oil patch will have plenty of time to slosh around the Gulf. It could go anywhere. The uncertainly alone is enough to cause panic and economic loss.

Oil companies successfully lobbied the US government to prevent the requirement of acoustic shut off valves. Norway uses them. They are designed to be one more safety feature to prevent oil spills. They may not have worked in this case, but I know I feel cheated that the best available technology was not used. What if it did work?

Heroic efforts are being made to contain and clean up the spill. Some of it has been burned off and more burns will will be attempted. Air pollution is considered the lesser of two evils. Sad, isn't it? High waves wash oil right over containment booms. Imagine what an early hurricane would do. All efforts would have to be abandoned.

This may well be the end of deep water oil exploration. It's too expensive. As the world's financial markets contract, less money is available for risky ventures. This disaster demonstrates exactly how risky deep water drilling can be. If money is secured to finance more deep water adventures, how high will the interest rates be? How high will insurance rates be? Could such a project make money at all? If the bean counters decide it can't, it won't happed.

The environment risks are great. Oil is destroying productive fisheries at a time when the world is already experiencing food shortages. What's more important, driving your car or eating?
The political fallout is going to be interesting. Does anyone think those new off shore regions recently approved for oil exploration will ever get drilled?

Deep water drilling was the last hope for new domestic oil production. That hope's taken a huge hit. The US will have to deal with the fact that "Drill baby drill," is not a good idea. Now would be a good time for the country to get serious about conservations and alternative energy.

The wake up call came in the form of an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, a burning oil rig, and a spreading oil slick. As a nation, can we afford to hit the snooze button one more time?

-Sixbears