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Sunday, October 31, 2010

End of sailboat shopping

My sailboat shopping has come to an end. My lovely wife and I bought one.

We'd been discussing the pros and cons of a lot of different boats. We decided on a 1983 Oday 19. After some serious thought about what kind of sailing we expected to be doing, the Oday came closest to fitting the bill.

It tows well. Should be easy to launch. The swing keel allows it to go into shallow water. Sails and rigging are good. One person can handle everything. Another couple could join us for a day sail, or the wife and I could live on it for a couple days. The cabin is big enough for the two of us to lie down comfortably. There's room for a porta-potty. One thing it doesn't have is a galley. On a boat this size, that's just as well. We can manage.

The previous owner offered a choice of motors. We picked a nice little 6 hp. Should do the job. Instead of a second hand porta-potty, we chose a VHF radio. Of all the things to buy second hand, a porta-potty is low on my list.

There are a few things I definitely want to change or upgrade. Wiring will be completely stripped out and replaced. That way I won't be trying to figure out someone else's handiwork when the lights go out. Not happy with how the swim ladder was mounted. That should be rehung. It needs a new new deep cycle battery. I don't mess around with cheap batteries. The tires on the trailer got us home, but I don't trust them as they've some sun cracking. The lone anchor that came with the boat is fine for a backup, but not really my idea of a primary anchor.

The old truck had no difficulty hauling it. We came back home through blowing snow in the White Mountains. Leave it to me to buy a sailboat when it's snowing.

Here's the funny thing, most of my sailing knowledge is theoretical. My wife's background is in powerboats. Fortunately, a good friend of mine in Florida is an experience sailor and is willing to show me the ropes. After that, it'll just be a matter of doing it. My lovely wife is already planning some trips.

Life is about having new experiences. We never were the type of people to settle in a rut. We had a few extra bucks and we blew it on boat. Some people would save for their declining years. What kind of fun is that? I never really got the hang of money. Rather exchange some lifeless green paper things for something real. For me, there's nothing more real than new experiences.

-Sixbears

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rogue Electrician and Guerrilla Plumber

Got home late the other night and checked the answering machine. Two different people had left messages asking me about electrical problems. I guess I'm the guy you call if you can't afford a licensed professional. One question was an off-grid problem, so your average house electrician might have done a head scratch for a bit.

Recently my daughter called me up with a plumbing problem. She had the bathroom sink half apart and was stuck. First of all, I think it's cool that I have daughters who are not afraid of tools. She only called me when she got into a type of fixture she hadn't seen before. She took pictures on her cell phone and e-mailed them to me. I was able to figure out what to do.

I'll be doing some plumbing at a friend's soon. Lots of nonstandard issues there, so it'll be fun and interesting.

As much as I enjoy doing plumbing and electrical work, I'd never bother to get a license. Then I'd have to do it all the time and it'd no longer be interesting. Much rather work for barter and good Karma.

-Sixbears

Friday, October 29, 2010

Crazy Man with a woodsplitter and a pickaroon



That's the last of it! Winter is no joke.

Now all I have to do is pile the wood under cover.

-Sixbears

Sailboat shopping

My lovely wife and I have been sailboat shopping. Did tons of research. Read books, talked to salty folk, did on-line research.

Now we are finally actually checking out boats in person. Meeting some interesting people and seeing some interesting boats.

Saturday we are doing a whirlwind shopping trip through Maine. We are prepared to buy a boat and haul it away. I wired the truck for trailer lights, have a couple sizes of trailer balls, and it's ready towing. Going to the bank to take out a wad of cash. It's amazing how cash can sometimes seal the deal.

The most important thing we did was to hammer out what we want from a sailboat. The wife and I had some long talks about the type of sailing we'd like to do. We are going with a used boat. There are some great deals out there.

Having a lot of fun with this.

-Sixbears

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Oils well that ends well.

http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2010/10/27/alaskas-untapped-oil-reserves-estimate-lowered-90-percent/?hpt=T2

Looks like the Alaska oil reserve estimate was off -by 90%. Drilling results from actual test wells revise the figure sharply downward.

In other oil news, Israel has discovered significant oil in the Mediterranean. Lebanon is threatening war over it, as they feel that's their oil. Turkey and Cyprus also have claims.

Interesting times ahead.

The sooner the world kicks the oil dependence, the better.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I don't need collapse

There's a lot of "be prepared" posts on this blog. I must admit to being a bit of a doomer. Should things go south in a major way, there'll be little surprise here.

That being said, I don't need collapse. The world as we know it doesn't have to end for me to feel validated. Imagine things keep puttering along, with no major SHTF scenarios. Great! That would be fine by me.

Governments have been reformed without full scale blood in the streets riots. The Robber Barons were cut down to size in the past, and they can be again. People can organize and regain political power. It's certainly possible.

There are proper procedures to keep pandemics in check. No, they aren't prefect, but if done right, good enough.

Countries can settle differences without invasion or total war. Even India and Pakistan have managed to avoid lobbing nuclear missiles at each other -so far.

Economies can be reorganized on a more sustainable basis. Pollution can be prevented. Alternatives to petroleum energy can and do work. There are few problems out there that can't be made better. We don't have to invent anything new; just apply what we already know in a proper fashion.

Collapse isn't a game for me. It's not a hobby. A lot of bad things could happen to a lot of people -most of them innocent victims. Who would want that? It's like when a country has a violent revolution. The old bums are thrown out and new bums are put in their place. After all the turmoil and destruction, the new government is often no better or even worse than the old.

I've the tools, knowledge, and supplies to be self reliant for a fairly long time. It's unlikely I'd starve. However, it's much nicer to shop at the grocery store or trendy farmers' markets than to live off bugs and tree bark. My preps and knowledge put me in a better place than most people, but I've no illusions that collapse wouldn't be ugly. I'd much rather do without it, thank you very much.

"But won't you feel silly if nothing happens?" people say.

No.

What I do benefits me now. My ability to live on a small income allows me to do a lot of fun things with my time. Having food in the house in just plain convenient. No running out to the store at the last minute because there's nothing in the house to eat. Producing a good part of my own energy frees me from big utility bills. My guns are used for hunting and target shooting, which is enjoyable, and sometimes there's some game for the stew pot. They aren't just for personal protection, although they work fine for that too.

I'm not hunkered down underground in some bunker. Instead, the old Sixbears Clan is chilling next to a nice little lake. Isolation and quiet is enjoyable to me, not a hardship.

If this crazy civilization keeps it together with band-aids and bubble gum . . . well, I'll still be just fine. If collapse does happen, at least I've done what I can for me and mine.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

True Names

Family and friends have names for places that never show up on a map. Sometimes there's something about a place that sticks out. Mosquito Island is one such place. It's a really beautiful island on a large isolated lake. We camp there either right after the ice out, or in the fall after a hard frost. During the warm months, it's a mosquito breeding zone. We made the mistake of camping there in the summer. The blood loss was terrible.

Then there's the Comfy Swamp. The moss is so thick it's like walking on mattresses.

Brown Mountain isn't called that on the maps. A small group of people maintain a secret trail to the top of the mountain. One guy even packed up plywood and 2x4s to build a tent platform. None of us use the real name when talking about the mountain. It's out little secret. It's a fairly short hike with killer views -and almost no one but our group goes there.

Then there are places named after things that no longer exist: The Red Barn (gone for at least 50 years,) The Horse Hovel, (40 years ago there were a few timbers remaining on the location,) Desolation Hollow (both the name of an old hunting camp and the land around it.) Most of the people who remember those things are gone. Their kids still use the place names. When they are gone, the names will most likely disappear too.

Primitive people believed there was power in names. I think they might have been right.

-Sixbears

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tax breaks are useless to me.

I'm bothered by the government promoting products by giving them tax breaks. Maybe that's just because I already don't pay income tax. When I see an item promoted by a tax break, I wonder how much the price has been raised.

For example: let's say they are selling an energy efficient do dad for $500, with a tax break of $100. In the end, after struggling with the paper work, the item costs $400. Would the do dad be selling for $500 if it didn't already have a tax break built in? Maybe they'd be selling it for $400 anyway, and the extra $100 is a rip off? No way to know, I guess. If I do buy a product with a tax break, which I don't get, I assume I'm paying too much for it.

Then there is the Chevy Volt. As I understand it, there's a $7,500 tax break for buying the car. So lets see here, GM (Government Motors) has to give away $7,500 from the public coffers to sell a fairly expensive car of dubious performance. If it was any good, they wouldn't have to give tax breaks to sell it. Does not inspire me at all.

Working poor shouldn't even be paying income tax. It would make more sense to raise the top tax rates a tiny amount to make up the difference. Put a few extra dollars in the pockets of the working class and that money is going to get spent. It'll circulate around the economy. Take a few dollars extra away from the ultra rich, and maybe they won't expand that factory in China. How does that hurt the US? It's not like they've been expanding factories and hiring people in America.

-Sixbears

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wake up snowfall

Panic. That's what the first snowfall of the year did for me, and a lot of other people out here in the woods. The first thing we all think about is the stuff we haven't gotten done before winter. Now the calendar says winter doesn't start until December. Out here, sometimes winter starts in October. There are years when October snow is with us until May.

Then there are years when we get a warming period. The snow all melts. We have a nice string of sunny days. Some years winter doesn't really get going until December, just like it's supposed to.

Problem is, you can't count on it.

My buddy got a good two inches of snow at his place. Moonlight on the newly fallen snow was so bright it woke him up. He felt real panic and never could get back to sleep. That was the day a rental excavator was being delivered. He had sewer and power lines to bury. Two inches of snow didn't hinder him any, but it could just as easily have been two feet of snow.

We always hope we have more time before "real" winter gets here.

As for me, very little of my firewood is under cover. In fact, there's more yet to be split. My son-in-law will be helping me with the wood splitter, and maybe we'll pile some under cover. What I should do is throw a few tarps over the huge woodpile in my driveway. I tell myself that won't be necessary because I'll get it all under cover in time. Sure. That kind of thinking is why one year I was breaking firewood free from ice with a 16 pound sledge hammer. That was one of those winter in October years.

My friends and neighbors are hustling to get the last projects done. They are putting gardens to bed for the winter, pulling boats from the lake, doing the last of the yard work, getting repair jobs finished -it's a hectic time.

No wonder so many people around here retire to Florida.

-Sixbears

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I don't do surveys

With the political silly season coming to a head, both major parties are making a big push. It's a rare day when the phone doesn't ring and it's a political survey. These days I just say, "I don't do surveys," and that's the end of it.

I used to lie and give the strangest answers. While that was fun for a while, the game wore thin. Now my time talking to pollsters is extremely brief. The time saved is pieces of my life I've taken back.

They do send an awful lot of political ads through the mail. I will miss that. Most days there's enough political paper trash in the mail for me to light my woodstove. The kitchen woodstove is the best place to sort the mail.

We even had a campaign worker come by. Poor man was pretty lost. He knew he wasn't at the right place, but seeing an occupied house, he stopped in for directions. His GPS unit had him about a mile off course. I was able to tell him the people he was looking for aren't around. They are only up here in the woods on a seasonal basis. The political races have got to be desperate for those guys to come all the way out here. Not my problem.

-Sixbears

Friday, October 22, 2010

First snow of the season

I woke up this morning to snow on the ground. Actually, I woke up at 5 am to the cold nose of a dog against my bare back. That shocked me back from the dreamlands. Well, it'd be a sad day when I'm too lazy to wake the wife up to take the dog outside.

She took the dog outside. I'm lucky I didn't wake up again with a snowball smacking the back of my head. My lovely wife considered it. I should not be held accountable to anything I do before I have my morning coffee. Had I been in my right mind, I'd have just walked the dog myself.

-Sixbears

Good day for fiddling

While Rome burns.

That's how I feel sometimes.

Might as well strike up a jaunty tune as the best efforts of clever people are for naught. Then I remember, it's not my fault. I'm not responsible for the world's mess.

At least a little fiddling lifts the spirits, and that's something.

Specifically, I see a lot of people I know having really tough times. They've been holding it together, barely. Then things catch up to them. Medical bills get too big. The car breaks down. They get too far behind on the mortgage, or the taxes. The furnace breaks and there's no money to replace it. Unemployment benefits run out. All those things and a whole lot more are happening.

People get depressed. There may be some things they can do, but they know it's not enough. Why bother? Sure, they may buy a little time . . . but what if what's needed is a lot of time? At that point might as well just get a good seat. Empires don't die everyday. It'd be a shame to miss something.

Too bad I never learned how to play the fiddle. Guess I'll have to make due with my old guitar and the couple dozen cords I know.

Maybe I'm just in a mood, or maybe Rome is burning.

-Sixbears

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New Tent

My lovely wife and I went on-line tent shopping today. We looked at hundreds of tents, which is much better than we could do within reasonable driving range. The stores within 50 miles of us have very limited selections. That's the way things are when you live way out in the woods.

We were looking for some key features. After spending many months living in tents, we know what we want. For two people, we find a tent rated for 6 works out about right. The ratings are very optimistic and only account for space to spread a sleeping bag. A "six person" tent works great for two. There's room for a queen sized air mattress, and a good amount of gear. Six person tents seem to have about a 10' X 10' floor plan.

I'm over six feet tall, so headroom is important.

There has to be a certain level of construction quality. We eliminated any tent with fiberglass poles. As a rule, they don't stand up to hard use. Aluminum is more durable.

One person must be able to set up the tent without being an Olympic gymnast.

We like a vestibule big enough to set up a couple of chairs. It's nice to have a dry place to sit on a rainy day.

In the end, we decided on a Kelty Palisade 6 tent, bought from REI. There were 3 or 4 tents from other dealers that looked good. LL Bean and Cabelas had some good choices. REI was running a sale on the Palisade 6 and that made the difference.

It is possible to spend a lot less on a tent. They'd cost me more in the long run. It's one thing to buy a tent for a the occasional weekend use. It's another thing entirely to live for weeks and months out of a tent. Not only that, we are nomads who rarely stay more than 3 days in one place. We need a tent that can be set up and taken down over and over again. Even top quality tents wear out after 2 or 3 years of that kind of abuse.

My lovely wife actually prefers a good tent over an RV. She thinks it's romantic, and I'm not going to argue with that.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Final List

I'm putting together a shopping list. This isn't my normal weekly shopping list.

Imagine that you can do one more shopping trip to the stores. Say you know there's going to be a disaster coming in the next few weeks. Few other people see it coming. Shopping conditions are normal. It's not like before a hurricane or a blizzard where everyone hits the stores at the same time. Imagine that you are the only one who knows the storm is coming.

Maybe there is such a storm, maybe there isn't. However, there are plenty of disasters that don't announce themselves. Imagine something big was going to go down. What would you buy with that last shopping trip? What would you really regret not having should the manure hit the rotary cooling device.

Today's list is for the little things needed to round out my preps. Just discovered I'm low on pasta. It's one of things I've been taking out of storage and not putting back. Still have plenty of sauce making materials, but not much to put it on. That one just sort of slipped away from me.

I'd like to freeze some butter. Prices have been going up on dairy so it wouldn't be a bad idea to have some in stock anyway.

There's a pump fitting I've been meaning to get and kept putting off. Really want to have that in stock, but it never makes the normal shopping list.

Recently stocked up on AA and AAA batteries. Always good to have them in the house to keep radios and flashlights working. I've some rechargeables, but also like having a good stock of disposables.

Just picked a good gun cleaning kit. Never realized how depleted the old one had gotten until I tried to clean a 30 cal rifle -missing brushes and broken rods. A new kit was cheap enough and now I can take proper care of all my guns.

The home medical kit needs to be beefed up a bit. Things like antibiotic ointments run out quickly after a few injuries. Could use some more over the counter pain killers.

Finished off a propane cylinder for my torch, so should put another in the small rotating stock of one pound cylinders.

Just picked up a new C02 detector. For anyone burning wood, it's a must have.

A few light bulbs have recently burned out so I don't have many left in storage. Those go on the list.

You'll notice I'm doing something like buying 100 pounds of wheat, grinder, solar panels, ammo, or water filters. I've got all that basic prep stuff. There are plenty of lists out there for people who want to be prepared. If you don't have a couple months worth of food and basic supplies, it would be worth getting them.

The idea behind this "final list," is the last minute shopping run. If you don't have even basic needs covered, your list will be a lot bigger. Ask yourself what you don't have enough of and would really miss if unavailable for a couple months. TP? Diapers? Female sanitary products? Toothpaste? Food items? Tools? Good books to read when home bound? Coffee?

There's enough going down in the world that making a list and actually doing the shopping run could give a person some piece of mind. Should a disaster strike and you can't do that last minute shopping trip, don't say I didn't warn you.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Watch France

Things are about to get real interesting in France. The ongoing strikes are really beginning to take their toll. One area that partially sticks out is the successful blockage of all 12 of France's refineries.

In short, France is about to run out of gas. There's a lot of speculation on different forums on what will happen when the world runs low on fuel. France just may show us how a modern first world country copes.

This is serious business, so I would not be surprised to see the French government crack down hard on the protesters. If, however, the blockade holds, France could have some serious fuel shortages.

It's not just a French problem. A couple years ago protests in England almost shut down the fuel supply. In the US, after the 2005 hurricanes, the major pipeline that feeds the Southeast almost ran out of fuel.

In some ways, France is better able to withstand a fuel shortage. Transportation would take a big hit, but the lights should stay on. Most of the country is run on nuclear power -no fossil fuel needed.

The US is not as well off. Sure, we do have a mix of fuel sources, some hydro and nuclear, and a tiny amount of alternative energy. Some power is generated by natural gas. The real work horse for US electricity is coal.

We don't generate much power with oil, so we should be fine, right? Not really. How does all that coal get to the power plants? Mostly with diesel fuel. Diesel powers the machines at the mine. Diesel powered trucks and trains haul the bulk of the coal. Some is hauled by ship -powered by a heavy grade of liquid petroleum fuel. Shut off the US fuel supply and the electricity system, sooner or later, gets pretty sketchy. Some areas will be fine, but other regions could be left in the dark and cold.

Watch France. You'll probably have to seek out foreign news sources to really get a good idea what's going on. US news doesn't even a good job of following US issues, never mind foreign problems.

There will be some lessons to be learned from France . . . if you have the eyes to see.

-Sixbears

Monday, October 18, 2010

How much stuff?

People have some funny ideas about how much stuff they need.

Lately I've been reading a lot about sailboat living. Still looking for the right boat at right price. In the mean time, I've been doing a huge amount of research.

A common issue is the lack of space on a sailboat. Over and over I read about how people have had to adjust to a much tinier space than they are used to. The average American home is pretty darn big, and many people attempt to recreate as much of that as possible on a boat. It can be done, but only by buying way too much boat. Go ahead -if you have the millions to burn and want to live that way.

The problem for many new sailors is the fact they've never never had to figure out how to live well with little.

I used to do a lot of backpacking. When you have to carry everything you'll need on your back, packing light is essential. I started out with good sized backpacks, and over time, scaled it down. I could head in the woods for four days with an 18 pound pack. There are people who hike with much smaller packs. My own got a bit larger as I added some items that I didn't need, but enjoyed: a couple books, cooking stove, and a good tent. Yes, a tent was extra. Slept just fine using a tarp or a poncho for cover.

Canoe camping proved to be a real luxury. I could add a lot more gear to my basic hiking pack: folding chairs and tables, a cooler, fresh food, grills, big tents, air mattress, fishing gear, beer -all kinds of stuff.

It was all good preparation for when we lived out of our car while traveling the country. In addition to the canoing gear, we could bring our laptop computers. We'd listen to music, watch movies, keep in touch by e-mail, and take care of business. A small inverter ran our few electronics off the car battery.

For me, the available space on a sailboat, even a less than 30 foot sailboat, looks pretty roomy. Of course, I'm not thinking about moving down from a house, but moving up from a tent.

Even if you aren't planning on living on a sailboat, it's good to know how little you need to survive and how only a bit more can be luxury.

You may discover that having a lot less stuff can be liberating. At some point, we don't own stuff, stuff owns us.

-Sixbears

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Recovery Time

The in-laws just headed out on that long road back to Texas.

We are in recovery mode.

Lots of fun with 4 generations running around out the same roof, but it's nice to have the place to ourselves again.

Even the puppy was worn out. The 3 grandkids ran the poor thing ragged.

My lovely wife informed me she has to put her feet up and that's that.

As for me, it's time for another cup of coffee.

Good times. Good visit, but it's nice and quiet out here in the woods again.

-Sixbears

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The rather not think about it crowd

I was talking to one of my cousins the other day. He's very aware that things are unraveling. In fact, he was one of those poor fools caught up in the whole real estate refinance trap. The poor guy just barely kept a roof over his head.

He is aware of some of the major collapse threats, but has done nothing to prepare. His wife doesn't want to think about it or talk about it. Since she's not on-board at all, they aren't going to spend any of their few dollars on preps.

She says she knows bad things can happen, but doesn't believe there's anything she can do about it.

"We'll all be dead anyway," she said.

Where have I heard that before, I thought? Ah yes, the cold war. Nuclear war was going to kill everyone so there was nothing we could do about it. Even as a kid, with a minimum of research, I discovered that wasn't true. Not everyone would die -not right off anyway. Some would die in the blast, but more would die later of radiation sickness, and societal collapse. There's a lot that a person could do for the later two problems. In fact by avoiding living near military targets, they could reduce the danger of blast death by quite a bit.

There's plenty that can be done about any number of potential disasters. Having safe food, water, and shelter can greatly increase your survival chances over a wide range of disasters. There's only problem; you actually have to think about it and have a plan. The most important thing needed for survival is a survival mindset. My cousin's wife just gave up her most important asset for troubled times. Since she doesn't want to talk about it, my cousin doesn't want to think about it.

That doesn't keep him from worrying though. I bet that if he had a couple months food storage and some water, he'd sleep better.

-Sixbears

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dodged a bullet

Almost had to get a real job. Now I know I won't get a whole lot of sympathy for this, but what the heck.

We were falling behind on the property taxes and it was starting to concern me. Trust me, if you don't pay your taxes, they will take your property. Years ago I came up with the money to avoid a tax auction -by less than 2 weeks. Did not want to let things get out of hand again. Pure luck that I was able to pay them off last time.

I have picked a few little jobs here and there, but mostly for cash. Lately I've been working in the gift economy. I do someone a favor and they give me a dozen eggs. Actually prefer the gift economy, but my local tax collector is stuck on this money stuff.

Years ago I picked up a couple of degrees. One of them is in journalism, of all things. The local bird cage liner is desperate for a new reporter. Desperate enough, perhaps, to actually hire a 52 year old man. Really dreaded the prospect, but the taxes had to be paid. Working for a small paper consists of going to a lot of boring meetings: city council, water board, planning commission, public works hearings, and so on. Then there are things like the 5th grade spelling bee contests. I'd actually prefer those to the meetings. The last thing that moves papers is the sports section. Everyone loves to follow the local teams -except me that is. No interest in sports at all.

Forget about reporting about anything that would cause an advertiser to pull ads. Not a good career move.

Fortunately for me, my lovely wife got her back pay and we were able to pay off the taxes and some other debt. My life outside out of the mainstream economy continues. Would have really hated to fit a job in my busy schedule.

-Sixbears

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Heating oil purchase

The driveway has a huge pile of firewood -plenty for the winter. I did get the furnace serviced, but only to be used a backup. If I happed to go away for a few days, I won't have find someone to keep the home fires burning.

It doesn't take much heating oil for that. A minimum delivery would have been more than enough. Yet, I decided to completely fill the tank.

Here's my reasoning. I've got the money for it now. It's better to actually have something physical than money in the bank. Anything I don't use this year I can use next.

In an emergency, heating oil burns just fine in my truck's diesel engine. Sure, it's illegal. Road taxes haven't been paid on it. So what? I'm talking emergency conditions. If I need the fuel to take my wife to the hospital, I'm not going to worry about road taxes.

The heating oil tank safely stores a whole lot of fuel. Can you imagine storing a couple hundred gallons of diesel in 5 gallon jugs? I have a number of empty fuel containers that could be filled from the heating oil tank.

All I'd have to do is shut down the valve at the bottom of the fuel tank. Then carefully disconnect the copper pipe that feeds the furnace. My tank sits high enough off the ground that a fuel jug fits under it. I've actually tried this to see that it works. It's possible to make a real mess of things if you don't know what you are doing. The last thing you want is flammable heating oil all over your basement floor. Be safe.

I did hate to spend the money, but it's a good investment. It gives me options.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Free your mind and the rest will follow

Over and over again I read stories about people facing difficulty. Lately, a lot of that has been of an economic nature.

Too many people hold on to old ways of life, even when they no longer make sense. I see people selling off camper trailers and motor homes so they can stay in their condo another 6 months. They are hoping that in 6 months, everything will be back to normal. They hope to get a good paying job, or the value of their condo to bounce back, or for Santa to come down the chimney with a bag full of lollipops and low interest loans.

They don't even consider that maybe they could give up the condo and live in the motor home. It may occur to them in another 6 months or so.

Lately I've been pricing out sailboats. Lots of good deals out there. Many of them are sailboats big enough to live on. There are boats capable of being sailed around the world going for less money than the price of a good used car. It can be cheap to live on a boat. All you have to do is to be able to picture yourself doing it. It's easy to find a millions reasons why it can't be done. Yet many people do it just fine. Many find it liberating. They pare material goods down to the basics and find they have a lot less to worry about.

I've seen people sell paid for rustic camps to be able to keep living in an apartment. On the other hand, I've seen just the opposite. One guy was living in a hunting camp he inherited from his dad. Hunting and fishing supplied most of his food. He figured he could live for many years on his meager savings.

How many families are worse off because both parents work? The cost of child care, transportation, work clothes, and take out meals exceed the second income. What if the woman makes more money than the man? My brother-in-law stayed home to take care of the two kids because his wife had the better job. He even found a way to supplement the family income by doing translations over the phone.

Forget keeping up with the neighbors. Forget trying to live the way you've always lived. Be aware of changing conditions. Don't wait until you are out of options. Most of all, don't be afraid to think outside the box.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Too near the bone

Many, if not most of us, will be changing the way the live. When fuel, food, housing, and transportation become too expensive, something has to give. People who never had to make hard choices will be forced by necessity to make them. Except for the very rich, incomes have not kept up with inflation. Job loss is common. The drop in personal income can no longer be made up by cashing in on home equity -there isn't any.

So now people who never had to worry about the bills have to take measures to survive. Problem is, there is much less room for error.

Let's take a family that can no longer afford food for the table. The logical thing is to dig up the back yard and plant a garden. Anybody who's ever grown a garden knows things don't always go smoothly, especially the first year. It's common for new gardens to cost more than they save. Overtime, a diligent gardener can greatly reduce the risks and maximize production. Most gardeners can eventually produce good food and save money. The key here is eventually. When budgets are tight, there's no room for trial and error. It has to work the first time.

I save a lot of money on motor fuel by burning waste vegetable oil. It took a year for me to get everything running smoothly. It's not just a matter of doing the vehicle conversion. Sources for free waste vegetable oil had to found. Safe fuel handling methods had to be developed. There were investments in transfer pumps and storage containers. The project had a lot of trial and error. Sometimes I'd be pulled over on the side of the road, car hood up, and me scratching my head. Good thing it wasn't my only car.

There is a learning curve. My first car conversion cost about $1,300 in all, with me doing all the labor. Lots of trial and error. The second car conversions only cost $300 and ran just fine. My truck conversion was on only about $100 in parts. Even my expensive conversion was a good deal compared to many kits out there.

Picture this, a guy can't afford to fuel his car. If he's lucky, it's a diesel that can be converted to run on waste vegetable oil. Maybe he knows a restaurant where they are willing to give him used fryer oil. Money's tight, so spending a couple thousand dollars on a kit is out of the question. Maybe he could afford the $100 - $300 conversion. There are problems. The cheapo solution may not work. I was using parts from the hardware store in ways they were never intended. What if the car breaks down? Maybe it's his only car and he can't afford to miss a day's work for car trouble.

Money was pretty tight for us this past year. I dreamed up a cool way for heating household water. It should have been able to reduce my water heating bill down to nothing, using solar and wood heat. I had most of the parts I'd need for the job. Never did it. My budget was too close to the bone. There was no room for error. It was possible I'd have to replace about $50 in plumbing parts. There's wasn't $50 in my budget. For one two period we only spent $40 in total for all expenses. Also, there was a less than zero chance the hot water system won't work as hoped. My budget had no room for failure. Didn't have the money to save money.

Had our budget remained tight, I might have experimented anyway, hoping for the best. Here's the logic to that. We'd be at a point where I couldn't afford the monthly energy cost. The choice would be between taking a chance on having free hot water or none at all. If the experiment failed, we'd be no worse off. Even a partial success would be better than nothing.

I've had to do cheap fixes before. There are some old windows in the original part of the house that lose a lot of heat in the winter. The best fix would be to replace them with new energy efficient windows. Eventually, they'd pay for themselves. Of course, there's the little matter of getting the money together up front. There were always more pressing needs. The cheap solution was to make up some storm windows out of scrap lumber and heavy plastic. That worked well enough.

Then there came a year that the wood frames could no longer be used and the plastic had to be replaced. There wasn't any money for even that simple fix. If something wasn't done, however, we'd freeze. A local store got all their stock in bubble wrap. They didn't know what to do with it, but hated to throw it out. I covered my windows with bubble wrap. Worked pretty good for keeping the heat in, but I could no longer see out those windows. At least the bubble warp let in enough light so the rooms weren't dark.

As home budgets get smaller and smaller, people are going to have to save money somewhere. Ideally, we'd all have done the good solutions when we could afford them. Many of us will be stuck doing whatever they can for as little as possible. Access to the Internet is a big plus. These problems are common. Many solutions have been posted, often with good step by step instructions -cuts down on expensive trial and error.

-Sixbears

Monday, October 11, 2010

North Country Back Roads

The last few days I've been driving a lot of back country roads. Covered good chunks of northern New Hampshire and northern Vermont.

Huge number of houses with for sale signs in front of them. It's at the point where if I drive down a street and the houses don't have signs in front of them, it looks odd.

Now there's a certain number of houses that change hands during normal times. These are not normal times. Behind many of those signs are stories of desperation, failure, and despair. When people have been out of work for months and years, benefits dry up. I know people who take any retraining course available, even if they hate the job the training is for. The do it because it extends benefits. They know the job won't exist anyway.

There are even quite a few places on the lake for sale. I never remember that happening. Usually, places on the water get snatched up quickly. Cottages stayed in families for generations and rarely appeared on the open market. Now there's plenty of choices.

After looking at all those for sale signs, something occurred to me. The place down the road was foreclosed well over a year ago. It's only been listed recently. How many other properties are banks sitting on, not putting out in the market?

Should I be seeing even more for sale signs?

Many the so called recovery is happening somewhere in the country. It certainly isn't here.

-Sixbears

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Nuts and bolts of the matter

It's great to have a good selection of tools. Problem is, tools aren't any good unless you have the stuff that goes with them. I like to keep a good selection of screws, nails, adhesives, tapes, nuts and bolts -the stuff that's used to stick stuff together.

At one time I also had a small selection of welding supplies, but I gave it all away, along with the welder. Welding fumes bothered my damaged lungs. Now when I need something welded, I bring the project to the guy I gave my stuff to.

All those little odds and ends can get expensive. Unless you've got money to burn, don't try and stock up all at once. Over the years, when I need something like screws for a project, I buy a much bigger box than what I need. Items are cheaper when purchased in bulk. I'm assured of having enough for my project. Left over items are available for repairs and new projects without another trip to the hardware store.

My stocks of some items have taken a bit of a hit. Just like food storage, you draw down stock in times of need. Now I'm rebuilding my supply.

One item that has been totally cleaned out is my epoxy supply. I like to get mine comes from marine supply companies. Used to buy it in large enough quantities to qualify for a boat builder's discount. Kept a good selection of thickeners, additives, fiberglass cloth, mat and tape. It's not just for boat repair, though I do plenty of that. Also good for vehicle repair and a lot of miscellaneous house projects. Repairs ranged from fixing a boat that was smashed in half, to attaching the handle on my granddaughter's favorite cup.

-Sixbears

Saturday, October 9, 2010

New Dog



As Requested, photos of the new dog.

The 10,000 dollar solar electric system

I'm really sick and tired of hearing about how expensive solar electric power is. Over and over I hear about systems that cost $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 or more. Yes, the Yuppie Survivalist can have an outrageously expensive system and never worry about changing his lifestyle one bit. Nice if you can do it.

For the rest of us, there are other options. Lately I've been hearing the absolute minimum needed for even a rudimentary solar electric system is $10,000. Pretty discouraging for the average Joe, especially during these economic times.

Here's what I recommend if you want to have at least some power. Buy one of those cheap kits with about 60 watts of power. It could be one 60 watt panel, or maybe it's 4 - 15 watt panels. No matter, watts is watts. If you get a deal, feel free to go bigger. It should have a charge controller. Many come with DC power outlets and maybe even a couple of compact florescent light fixtures. Batteries are usually separate. A 12 volt deep cycle battery, like a trolling motor battery works fine. Two 6 volt golf cart type batteries wired in series works even better. Add a small cheap inverter, say 200 - 600 watts, and you can run some basic 120 volt items.

Get a kit and follow the easy instructions. Then you'll have power that comes from the sun. It's a hell of a lot better than nothing. Use it on a regular basis, even if just to run a couple lights. Get used to using it.

Now it's possible to gather all the parts yourself and make your own system. I'm recommending one of those kits because they are dead simple. Here's the thing, the same principles apply whether it's a 60 watt system, or a 6,000 watt system. It's not magic. Learn how the small ones work and you will understand how the big ones work.

Start small and cheap and have something useful. You don't have to wait until you understand everything there is to know about solar. Get it now. Beats sitting in the dark. Beats trying to fill generator gas cans when the ice storm that took out the power has coated all the roads in slippery death.

No, a smaller cheaper system won't let you live in Yuppie heaven. It will be power you have control over and that the utility can't turn off. Believe me, when times were tough at my house, it was good to know the lights would stay on.

Don't let the high estimates for solar discourage you. Start small. Learn. Then if you need more, build on what you know.

-Sixbears

Friday, October 8, 2010

Not Giving in to Fear

Last night I was watching some old cold war footage from the 50s. The language in the old newscasts and government films was disturbingly familiar. Three cheers for the good old USA, the freest, more prosperous, best place to live in the world. (perhaps true in the 50s, more debatable now.) Then plenty of fear mongering over the godless Communists who wanted to take it all away.

Now there were some real threats out there; that's aways true. However, the fear laden rhetoric was aimed directly at the emotions. No appeals to any brain function higher than the brain stem allowed. The main emotion appealed to was fear.

People who spoke out against the government were attacked. The argument went something like this. The United States is the freest country in the world. Unlike in those other places, you've got free speech. How dare you criticize the government. So . . . shut up because you've got free speech?

Yeah, that was 50s. They'd never try to motivate us by fear today, right? They'd never do something like trump up rumors of something like a terrorist attack. It'd be just plain evil to use fear to get people to give up their rights. In our enlightened age, our beloved leaders would never use the National Security Bogeyman to manipulate the population.

Right.

the self appointed so called elite believe it's their right and duty to manipulate the common man, using fear and emotion as their tools. Is anyone surprised that we've been lied to? Looking at old video from the 50s it's easy to see the hysteria, exaggeration and out right lies. Why can't we look at the evening news and recognize the same thing as it's happening?

I, for one, refuse to be manipulated by fear. I don't care who does it. Heck, the only reason I don't belong to the NRA is the way they recruit. They pick a piece of proposed legislation, put it in the worse possible light, then use it as a recruiting tool. They go: look at such and such, they are taking away your rights; join the NRA and give money. I'm glad they are aren't the only ones supporting the Second Amendment.

Fear is used to motivate us all the time. Fear is used to keep us in harness. Do everything the boss says or you'll be out of work, homeless and starving in the street. Work until you are 72 or you won't have enough money to retire on. Buy life insurance or your family will starve.

I'm really sick of it. Shouldn't we all have had enough? Judging from past experience? Every time someone wants you to do something, ask yourself if they are using fear to manipulate you.

Then ask yourself why they want you to feel instead of think?

-Sixbears

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New Mutt

One of things I promised my wife we'd get if finances allowed was a new dog. We hadn't had one for over a year. I did not feel right about getting a dog when our finances were extremely tight. Vet bills can get darn pricey. If you can't afford the vet bills, you can't afford the dog.

Today we picked out a new dog. My cousin's dog had a litter of pups to find homes for and wasn't having much luck. The same litter produced a lot of variety. That's the way of mutts sometimes. We chose one that looks mostly like a small scale beagle.

Training is going to be interesting. The dog is about 5 months old and has been in mostly kept in a kennel with its litter mates. She's lacking in the inside skills. However, she appears smart and good natured so I'm hoping this doesn't go too badly. The dog hasn't suffered any abuse, but has lacked somewhat for human contact. I did forbid my wife from getting a new couch until the dog is fully trained. I'm a big believer in positive reinforcement. Lot's of praise and the occasional treat work better than hitting with a newspaper.

One of the reasons for getting a smaller dog is ease of travel. While more places allow dogs, many have a weight limit. A dog, even a small one, is good security. It's not the dog's teeth that provide security, but his ears, eyes and bark. Mr. Ruger can provide teeth.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Another screw up

Figured out Social Security screwed up and paid my wife more money than she was supposed to get. The government was supposed to pay the lawyer directly and then give us the rest. Looks like we'll have to cut a check to the lawyer. The paperwork finally came in and I was able to do the math. My lovely wife contacted the lawyer and confirmed she hadn't been paid.

The lawyer did good work and I want to make sure she gets what's coming to her. Sure, she takes a cut, but before we got her, my wife had 100% of nothing.

Glad I didn't spend it all. It does cause us to rearrange our priorities. Looks like we'll put off getting a second car. The sailboat, however, is still in the works. I love my wife, and her sense of priorities. The cost of the sailboat will be me having to drive her around a bit more than otherwise. I can live with it.

Another bright spot of news is that my truck's bad starter was still on warranty. Only had to pay for labor. Serious savings there. My mechanic knows I only have one vehicle so he fixed it the day it came in. It pays to have a guy you can trust and deal fairly with.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Austerity measures

Since it's the silly election season, there's no avoiding the steady drone of politicians. Forgot my MP3 player at home so was trying to find something good to listen to on the radio. Radio is fine while they are playing music, but the commercials drive me crazy.

At that point the radio was quickly tuned to the local public station. As luck would have it, (bad luck) they were interviewing a politician. He was going on and on around "fiscal responsibility, and budge cuts."

Okay . . . what what exactly did he mean by that? Turns out he basically wants to gut what's left of the social safety net, in an effort to balance the budget.

In a more perfect world maybe there'd be no need for a government social safety net. The Libertarian part of my brain says that unleashing government controls would allow people the financial freedom to construct their own safety net. Good theory. Libertarians always have great theory.

The primitive tribal part of my brain, (a disturbing large part for a so called modern human) says the tribe will take care of its own.

Usually around this time I try and bring the various parts of my brain back under some control. Given half a chance, I could drift so far off into theory and "isms" that reality would disappear over the horizon.

Here's how I see it. People are hurting out there. Now is not the time to radically change things to the point where there is no safety net at all. It's an imperfect system, but if things like food stamps keeps little kids from going hungry, keep it functioning. If fuel assistance will keep grandma from freezing in the dark, let's go with it.

Over and over I hear politicians and business leaders rail against these programs that cost the government so much money. Yes, it is expensive to take care of people. Yes, there are assuredly better ways of doing it. However, big business has its safety net. If they were so "capitalistic" the "too big to fail" companies would have failed. There actually exists a mechanism to deal with companies in trouble. It's called bankruptcy. In a capitalistic society, the companies that make bad decisions would fail and those that made good decisions would prosper. "Too big" doesn't enter into it.

Somehow there's always money to kill strangers in far away places. Yet, now we can't take care of needly Americans? At a time when government policy has contributed to many of them being needy? How weird is that? Why the obsession with death instead of life?

Yes, the system needs to be radically restructured. Maybe some sort of austerity measures should go into effect. It really doesn't make any sense to start with the little people when so many fat cats are riding on the government gravy train. Let's start at the top where big money can be saved. It's the moral thing to do. Even if big business's governmental supports are cut off, the CEOs aren't going to miss any meals -unlike the kids who's single mom is losing food stamps.

-Sixbears

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ain't goin Nowhere.

Sunday I started the truck and took a quick into town. Being around 30 degrees, the old diesel had a bit of a hard time starting, but it did turn over. A couple hours later, it wouldn't start at all.

The big 7.3 diesel has two big starting batteries. Popping the hood revealed one of the two batteries had become disconnected. No problem, I thought. One of them came loose on our crappy roads. Just a matter of reconnecting the battery. Cleaned all the terminals, connected the batteries, and still the truck would not start.

Put a battery tester on them and found them to be a bit low. My large battery charger is out on loan, so all I have is a little 6 amp charger. It's small, but it does work, eventually. Charged the batteries most of the day. Still won't start the truck.

My best guess at this point is that the starter has crapped out once more. The old Ford F250 eats starter motors. The fact that a battery terminal was loose may not have been the real problem. Could just a coincidence. It may be I've been starting the truck on just one battery for some time now. One battery, if it's not too cold, will turn the engine over.

First thing Monday morning I'm calling the garage to see if they can squeeze me in. Maybe the starter is still on warranty from the last time it was replaced. Good thing I have AAA to do the tow.

It's times like these I really miss having a backup vehicle. I'm too cheap to buy one right now. Rather use my money for other things. I've got to balance the inconvenience of not having a second vehicle with the inconvenience of paying for a second car.

I had plans, but maybe I'll have to stay home. At least I can finally pile up my firewood.

-Sixbears

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Blame the workers

So another mill shuts down and people are out of work. I'm surprised how often the workers are blamed. Like they've got any control over management's business decisions. What really hurts is that these guys really knew their jobs. They kept the machines humming along. Years of their lives went into learning those skills.

Today someone was telling me how those guys should have developed other skills to be self employed. This came from someone who's last true bit of self employment was as a prostitute. I kid you not. Then she went on and on how the welfare office isn't treating her right. Since her boyfriend moved out, her and husband are having a hard time getting by. This person had the unmitigated gall to criticize factory workers?

Years ago I was on the contract negotiating team for my fellow Firefighters. The City Manager went on and on about the city budget being in bad shape. There was no money to pay us. I looked him in the eye. Told him he was the City Manager and if the city was in rough shape that was his department. All the fires were out. We firefighters were doing our job, so pay us. The poor guy looked like he was going to blow a gasket. Negotiations were called off for the rest of the day.

There was a sewing operation in town that supplied clothes to major retailers. Wages were crap, conditions awful, but a lot of people eked out a living there. The owner of the factor said that it cost $3.50 to make an item of clothing that he sold for $90. Soon after he closed the US factory and opened one where his costs dropped to $0.50. Was it the worker's fault that they couldn't work for less than minimum wage?

At a time when unions are weak, government and big business are in partnership, the average person has little political power, and International trade drives factories to the world's cheapest labor, the workers are blamed.

One day those former workers may get fed up with being blamed. They may figure out who's really to blame and take action. That would be interesting. What's the government going to do to them? They've already lost everything. Let's just hope that someone in power figures this out before it's too late. On the other hand, those in power are to blame, so the best they can hope for is to cover up their sins for as long as possible.

When the peasants show up with pitchforks and torches, the powers that be are going to feel stupid about firing all those police and firefighters. Soon they'll be missing those EMS guys too.

-Sixbears

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cyber War

Iran is having serious computer difficulties from a malicious bit of computer code dubbed, Stuxnet. Among other things, it seems to be attacking the machinery used to control nuclear plants.

So what, you may be thinking. What has this got to do with me? Isn't it better to have nuke plants taken off-line by a computer worm than by fighter bombers with the Star of David on the tail fins?

Maybe, maybe not.

One of the problems with malicious code is the way it spreads. Maybe Iran may have been the target, but Pakistan, India, Indonesia and China also seem to be particularly hard hit. It has spread all around world; even to the US. Computer viruses are as uncontrollable as their biological versions. Mankind has recognized the hazards of biological warfare. We may learn the perils of bad code aren't to be taken lightly either.

Is a computer attack an act of war? Sure it is. Anything that damages the infrastructure of another country is an act of war. Countries being severely affected may certainly feel that way. Finding themselves under cyber attack, they may feel justified in counter attacking using conventional forces.

There are some disturbing elements to Stuxnet. It's a sophisticated program that may have required the resources of a state to construct. Should that state ever be identified, its leaders will lose a lot of sleep worrying about reprisals.

It's not the first time countries have been under cyper attack. Estonia and the country of Georgia have been victims of computer assault. In both cases, Russia was the prime suspect. However, computer code rarely leaves easily followed footprints back to its maker.

One of the dangers of this cyber attack is the threat of cyber reprisals. Many countries in the world have the talent and tools to fight on that battlefield. Imagine the possible collateral damage. The whole Internet could be rendered dangerous and unreliable. Our computer managed world could suffer major disruptions. Since much of the world's infrastructure is controlled over the Internet, times could get really hairy. Imagine, just for starters, power, communications, water, sewer, banking, and transportation systems breaking down.

What actions can a prudent person take? There are the normal ones that serve in everything from floods, to hurricanes, to earthquakes and snowstorms. Have some food and water stored up. Be able to make some of your own power or have battery powered radios and flashlights. Have a general disaster plan and kit. Would not be a bad idea to have some cash ready in case the ATMs go down.

I'm not predicting that an escalating cyber war is going to take place. However, a real cyber attack is going on, and there is the possibility for things to get much much worse.

Good time to take stock of your preps. How could you handle computer and Internet failure, along with all related systems?

-Sixbears

Friday, October 1, 2010

Raining like Noah was lied to

The rain's been coming down with a vengeance and is supposed to continue well into tomorrow. Wind's supposed to pick up later too. Interesting, but nothing to worry about.

When it rains like this, I'm glad I'm up in the mountains. We aren't prone to flooding and the soil isn't likely to go sliding down the mountain. My basement does flood, but the water comes in one side and flows out the other. I can live with it.

While I do live near the lake, it would have to rise something like a 100 feet before it'd come to the house. Nothing is impossible, but it's not likely. Most of New England would have to be underwater before it became a problem here.

Being safe up in the hills is nice, but that doesn't mean the roads don't flood out. In the 21 years we've lived here, there have been a handful of times all the roads were under water. A day or two later at least one would become passable. Still, it's a good thing we didn't have something like a medical emergency.

Of course, living in the woods, a little isolation is expected. In the winter, snow often blocks the roads. Everyone out here is prepared to spend some time cut off.

The house battery bank is getting a top off charge now. The sun is not supposed to come out for a few days. If the utility goes down, we won't need solar power until then. Battery power alone is good for 3 or 4 days, more if we conserve.

Communications might be a problem. If the utility poles go down, they'd take my phone and Internet with it. Cell phones don't work here, so that's not an option. HAM radio would be prudent, but I've never felt like putting in the time and money to get a license and equipment.

For a few years I had Wildblue satellite Internet service. It worked well most of the time. Heavy rains like we are getting now could degrade or totally block the signal. On the plus side, even if all the utility poles came down, the satellite system would keep working. Always ran it off my solar electric system. Hated to let it go, but when a rural Internet grant allowed high speed fiber to be run past my door, I made the switch. The lower monthly fees combined with the faster speeds were too hard to resist.

If you don't hear from me for a few days, it's probably something minor like a tree knocking out the utility poles. Sparsely populated areas are serviced last, so we tend to be the first to go down and last to be restored. It's a small price to pay for having a house above flood waters.

-Sixbears