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Friday, June 23, 2017

The thing about knives

A knife is a simple and useful tool. People get all worked up about different types, makes and models. There's a certain mystique surrounding blades that goes way back to man's early history. As much as I appreciate a well made knife, I'm not a fanatic.

Frankly, knives have come a long long way. Improvements in metallurgy has made it possible for even cheap knives to excel compared to ancient blades. You can get a better knife by spending a lot of money, but usually a much cheaper one will do 99% of what an expensive one will do. For example, I've a Chinese copy of a sailor's knife. It's folding knife with a stout blade and a marlin spike on the back. It's an interpretation of much more expensive British knives that go way back. My knock off cost about eight bucks. Thanks to its stainless steel construction it has held up for years and I expect to lose it before wearing it out.

A knife with a 3.5 inch blade will handle just about everything you'll ever need to do. To be honest, most of the time the blade I use is on my multi-tool. It's far from being a perfect blade, but it's the one most likely to be in my pocket. That makes it better than the perfect blade back home in a box.

There are some specialty knives are are definitely worth getting if you are going to do a lot of that one thing. Fillet knives come to mind. You can clean a fish with just about any knife, but a good fillet knife does the job a lot better.

Then there is that special subset of blade wielders: knife fighters. They have very specific ideas about what a proper fighting knife should look like. Many of those guys are knife fanatics. I've studied knife fighting and even trained in a dojo. If it comes to self defense, I'm going to carry a gun.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ain't nobody here but us mushrooms

I try to keep my ear to the ground to hear what's coming my way. It's what a prudent prepared person tries to do. In recent months events have been moving fast and much of it in secret.

Take everything from the Trump presidency for example. There are all his personal problems that everyone knows about so I won't elaborate. Love him or hate him, there is much uncertainty because all the important stuff is happening in secret.

One of the big threats we have to watch for is the chance of war. Frankly, I'm not sure how serious things are with N. Korea, China, or even Russia over Syria. The point is, there is movement in the world's flash points and the average Joe lacks the intel to know what's up. One can only hope those in power have the intel and aren't just guessing their own selves.

Even simple things like health planning is up in the air. With the senate working in secret, it makes me just a tad nervous. When you are doing good things, you want everyone to know. When doing something massively unpopular, you work in secret. With that in mind, I'm guessing I won't like what comes out of that body of politicians.

It's a normal fact of life that we have to make decisions without knowing all the information. If you want to know everything, nothing will get done. We learn what we can then we take our chances. Lately I feel the ratio of knowledge to guesswork has gotten way out of balance. It makes me just bit anxious, not knowing which way to jump.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

I'm not old, I'm injured

One of the weirdest things that happened to me when meeting up with friends is that we became our grandparents. You know how when you are a kid you hear your grandparents talking with their friends about illnesses and injuries? You thought you'd never become those people.

We hadn't seen each other for months. What do we end up talking about? Illnesses and injuries. What that heck? When did we become those people? The funny thing is that we all came to the realization at about the same time. It was kinda depressing.

Yes, I've been dealing with a gimpy leg the last few months. It's an injury, not old age. Then again, the fact that it's been taking months to heal might have something to do with the gray in my thinning hair. At 20 I'd probably have shaken off the injury. Back then my immune system was strong enough to kill squirrels in the driveway.

Both of my friends have the regular assortment of maintenance medications. One just had a cancerous tumor successfully removed and the prognosis is excellent. His cancer was caught because of regular blood tests he has done for another chronic condition. He's had the most serious illness of our group, but looks much healthier than we do. Go figure.

This injury of mine had made me feel old, but I've been injured and felt old before. I've gotten over it in the past and will get over this now. Before long I'll be feeling well enough to do something crazy and foolish. Looking forward to it.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Friendship Tour

My lovely wife and I just came back from four days and three nights on the road. We went downstate to take care of some business, but mostly we reconnected with friends. If you don't take the time to connect with old friends, eventually you have none.

It was also a pretty good test of the veggie van. The van burned almost 30 gallons of free waste fryer oil. That's 30 gallons of diesel that I did not have to buy. It appears that finally my assorted fuel problems have been solved -at least for now.

The new tires really improved handling. I'd purchased a set of no name tires while on the road a few years ago. They never performed as well as my Coopers, but that brand was unavailable when I needed to replace the tires. We were heading back into snow country and the van's back tires were very worn. Even no name tires with thick threads are better than name tires with no threads.

The only disappointment was that I'd hoped my mechanic could fix the van's air conditioning before the trip. While he was able to fix the broken AC hose that initially caused the problem, a second issue cropped up while he was pressure testing the system. Nobody in town had the part. It was ordered and I've an appointment to get it installed today.

The lack of AC wasn't a problem until Monday. Temperatures rose to the high eighties and the humidity was even higher. The huge 7.3 turbo diesel engine radiates heat through the doghouse and into the van's cab. My lovely wife and I drank a lot of water on the way home.

All in all, it was a good trip. My wife and I even got our salt water fix by going to a southern Maine beach. There are a few little improvements the van could use before the fall, but they aren't anything major. However, when you expect to spend months living in a van while traveling, even little things make a difference.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Bear Shenanigans

The cover of my sand barrel had been removed in the night. My first thought was that the bears were back. The only thing that gave me pause is that they normally just knock the whole barrel over, thinking it's a trash can. Since just the cover was removed, I had to consider the possibility it was the large raccoon that's been hanging around.

Later that day I found evidence that it really was bears. A 5 gallon jug that I use to move diesel fuel had been removed from next to the house. The whole spout assembly had been ripped off. Bears, no doubt. I keep jugs of waste veggie oil to run in my van converted to run waste veggie. Bears have gotten hold of my veggie jugs before. In the past I sometimes left them in the sun to warm up so they pour easier. Bears have been known to snag the jugs and haul them off in the woods. The diesel jug was similar to my veggie jugs

Last year they scratched up the door to my basement, where the veggie oil is kept. Bears are one of the main reasons I keep a loaded gun handy. A friend of mine is doing all he can to keep them away from his chickens. He's even surrounded the chicken pen with electrified wire.

I hope it's a good berry and nut year so hungry bears can find the food they need in the woods.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Après moi, le délug -Louis XV

Old King Louis XV knew things were going to fall apart after his reign. Fifteen years later, the French Revolution took place. That made such a mess of things that this little known Corsican by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte had his opportunity. Interesting times.

So I've been thinking of revolutions and changing times. The French Revolution appears to follow a general pattern. The old fossilized and corrupt system is overthrown. There's celebration in the streets. Lofty ideals are proclaimed. The revolutionaries have difficulties putting ideals into practice. A strong man, taking advantage of the chaos of the times, comes into power.

History doesn't exactly repeat itself, but it does tend to follow certain patterns. Just look to the recent history of Egypt. The Arab Spring overthrew a dictator. A period of high ideals followed. Politics got messy. Now it's basically a dictatorship again.

So I'm a bit leery of revolution. No doubt old and no longer functional systems have to change. The problem is that the high ideals behind the revolution rarely translate into a long term functional government.

The American Revolution turned out better than most. Partly due to the fact that George Washington did not want to become king. There was some amazing restraint, good planning, and no small measure of luck involved. It was a near miracle that a good governmental system was formed.

Even so, tens of thousands of Loyalists were uncomfortable enough that they left the country. Canada took in a lot of them. Even a fairly successful revolution took its toll in human suffering.

It troubles me that so many people today are willing to throw out over two hundred years of successful government. Our system is far from perfect. Parts of it are definitely broken. However, shooting those you politically disagree with never ends well. Those in government right now have a responsibility to fight out their differences in the political arena. Gaming the system for short term political gain will turn out badly in the long run.

Let history be your guide.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Grilled food and cancer

Yes, the grilling season is here. Naturally, there are all kinds of articles coming out on how grilling is bad for you. Grilling at high heat creates two known types of carcinogenic chemicals: heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Isn't that a mouthful?

Different studies do point to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, grilling causes cancer. Of course, there have been studies that show certain other chemicals caused by grilling protect against cancer. However, I haven't seen those studies mentioned this grilling season.

I supposed you'd probably benefit from grilling at lower temperatures and creating less smoke.

For many thousands of years, mankind has grilled food. It would seem that maybe we've adapted, at least somewhat, to any bad effects. On the other hand, the immediate benefits of food safety outweighed any potential long term bad effects fifty years down the road.

At any rate, there is one thing I'm going to definitely cut back on: processed foods. Things like hot dogs are pretty mysterious to begin with. Grilling them probably just makes unhealthy food worse. However, I've a couple of nice local porterhouse steaks in the freezer that's going to see a grill one bright and sunny day.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Shallow well, deep well

My house water comes from a shallow well. It's about 5.5 feet deep and has never let us down. The well even kept up to the water needs of household with three daughters. For years it didn't even have a filter. In recent years I've added two filters. One is a coarse filter to catch silt and sand, which always was a minor issue. The second filter is finer and takes care of bacteria and many chemicals. I've become more cautious over the years, partly due to neighbors doing extensive work on their land.

Speaking of neighbors, years ago I found a nice shallow well for a guy just down the road from me. It provided gravity fed water to his summer cottage. It was a good well and provided for their needs. Years later new owners came in. One of the first things they did was to take a bulldozer and plow a rough road right over the old well. So much for that.

Now they are building two houses on the property and need water. The old well is long gone. A well drilling company came in to drill a deep well. They were at it for days. The thing about drilled wells is that you pay by the foot. So much for the hole itself, and another fee for every foot of casing pipe needed. Since the company was at it for days, the bill must be amazing.

Another thing to consider: you don't pay a well drilling company for water. What you pay them for is a hole. If you are lucky it fills with water. If it remains dry, they still have to be paid.

The new owners never took the time to learn about the land they bought. They moved in with heavy equipment first thing. They could have used their backhoe to carefully dig a trench to bury pipe below the frost line. That's all it would have taken to turn a summer well into four season water source. Since they already own the equipment, they could have done the job for the cost of a roll of plastic pipe.

I wonder if their new well has water quality as good as what they could have had from the old one.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Back to Nature

I good friend of mine sent me a clipping of a Washington Post article by Tara Bahrampour. It was all about the benefits of getting back to nature. People show benefits from even small slices of nature. The article was worth reading.

It definitely made me grateful for living out in the country. To be honest, since my leg injury, home projects have gotten away from me. My daughter came to visit the other day and ended up cutting my lawn. At the time I was laying down with my leg elevated again. In short, the house isn't going to make the cover of “Home Beautiful” magazine.

However, the day before, while having my coffee in the kitchen, I could watch an eagle circle over the lake. Since the weather's been pretty decent lately we've been sitting outside watching the wildlife. I'm sure just the sound of wind blowing through the trees drops my blood pressure twenty points.

Cities are a pretty recent development. We did not evolve in totally artificial environments. Something in our inner beings responds to the natural world. In Tara's article she noted that many people who added nature to their lives were able to give up their medications for mild depression. Frankly, I know I'd been pretty depressed if I had to live in a big city without a single tree in sight. It would probably make me more than a little crazy.

There are days when I just step outside and breath, taking it all in. So what if the grass gets too long, and the house needs work. It's in the country where I need to be.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Quest for Coffee

My lovely wife and I went for a drive to a nearby town. They have a new coffee shop and we had to check it out. I love good coffee shops. Some people hang out in bars; I'd rather hang out in coffee shops.

The only problem with the local coffee shops is the hours they keep. They open early but close mid-afternoon. That's fine for people who keep normal hours. I'd like a place where I could get breakfast at 5 in the afternoon and would stay open late in the evening. The closest coffee shop with evening hours is over an hour away in a tourist town. Their coffee and pastries are good, but they charge tourist prices.

I'm also not a big fan of large chain coffee shops. Starbucks suffers from bland corporate sameness. Dunkin Donuts isn't a coffee shop, even though they serve coffee, of a sort, there. It's a place where people end up when the bars close.

Sorry, Waffle Houses don't count either. Don't get me wrong, they have a certain charm. I happen to like sipping bland coffee out of a too small mug while people have fist fights in the parking lot. The hours are convenient, the food cheap, the waitresses hard working -but it's not exactly the coffee shop experience I'm looking for.

I like small independent shops with excellent coffee, acceptable prices, and an atmosphere that lends itself to conversation with strangers. Many years ago there was a local coffee shop run by a semi-retired jazz musician. For a few wonderful years I had the joy of good coffee combined with excellent live music. I knew it would not last. How he thought he'd make a living in a dying mill town is beyond me. However, I took full advantage of his business error while he was around.

My lovely wife and I made it to the new coffee shop by the crack of noon. Their coffee was strong and rich. The food was good and the prices very reasonable. The big downsides are that it's a couple towns over and they close at 2 in the afternoon.

There are rumors of a new coffee shop opening up just 20 minutes away in the next town. They say the new owners plan on having a jazz theme, whatever that means. I hope there is some truth to the rumors.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017


To entertain myself while waiting for my leg to recover, I've been watching a lot of YouTube videos. The ones I've picked out have the common theme of travel. My subscription list has people who are hiking the AT, sailing videos, camping videos, and people doing adventure travel on two wheels.

One of the guys I've been watching has been planning a long motorcycle trip from Massachusetts to Alaska. It's been in the works for a while. He bought a big adventure motorcycle and has some very nice top of the line gear. I've paid less for motorcycles than he's paid for his riding pants.

On the other end of the adventure spectrum there's a Kindle Unlimited e-book, Scootin’ to Alaska by Jason Forster. Jason also went to Alaska, but from the Detroit area. Sure, it's a bit shorter, but went on the cheapest 49cc scooter he could buy. Top speed: 30 mph, but he usually traveled slower than that.

I must admit, I've been tempted to try a two wheeled adventure for myself. My budget does not include high end German motorcycles, but I don't want to go all the other way to the other extreme. However, scooters are fun. Almost bought a second hand 250 cc scooter, but the timing wasn't right. It's been an expensive month for me. Still, I've been keeping my eye out for something in that range. While you wouldn't want to go any distance on the highway with that size machine, it's perfect for secondary roads. Interstates are great for covering distance, but all the interesting stuff is on the back roads.

A rack for the scooter could be easily fabricated for the back of the veggie van. It would be handy to be able to leave the van in campgrounds and run errands on the scooter. It sure would be easier to park.

One of the problems with me being forced to take it easy is that it allows me too much time to think. When I think too much, I start planning wacky things.


Monday, June 12, 2017


Some of my blog readers have noted that a certain level of restlessness has crept into my blog. It's true, I've been feeling cooped up for months now. Currently, it's my slowly recovering leg driving me nuts. All it needs is time and rest, the two things I don't want to do. Unfortunately, there is no rushing it.

It's not like I'm stuck in a hospital bed or anything. I get out and go to different events. Saturday night I went to see the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young tribute band, Wooden Ships. It was a great time. However, just before the event I'd spent an hour on my back with my foot in air getting the swelling down. I've learned that I really have to do that at least once a day. While it's annoying, I've been able to forgo medication, so that's a good thing.

Walking any distance or pedaling my bicycle takes a toll. With nice weather finally here, those are some the things I'd like to do. I'm planning on launching my sailboat in the lake. If I'm careful, pace myself, and my lovely wife helps, we should be able to launch. Once the boat is in the water, it will be a lot easier to go sailing whenever I want to. Hope that helps with the restlessness.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Another Brother Laid to Rest

Another of my brother firefighters just had a celebration of life service. Not only was he a former firefighter, he was a military veteran. I'd been feeling weird about laying another brother to rest all week. It's reached the point that there may be more of my colleagues who've passed that who are still with us.

There's a special bond that's formed by those who've put their lives on the line for each other. I was fortunate to have experienced that bond. We've had some tough times and we've had some fun times. It's tough to let my brothers go.

So farewell Paul, see you on the other side.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Stuck in life

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day. He feels pretty stuck in his life situation. His solution? Buying the occasional lottery ticket. Now it might be fun to buy a ticket now and then to enjoy the fantasy, but it's not a plan. Perhaps it does not help that so many of his perfectly reasonable plans just did not pan out. Time and money spent on higher education only got him more debt. Good job offers fell though, and so on. Come to think of it, the occasional lottery ticket is no worse a plan than anything else he's tried.

When you read about success stories, they always start with the successful person and work backwards. You hear about the guy who takes a big chance and it pays off. You don't hear about the twenty guys who did nearly the same thing and had it blow up in their faces.

Successful people, when talking about how they got there, often neglect some key facts or gloss them over. They might have numerous failures before their success, but had family or other resources that allowed them to fail. It's hard to try again when failure leaves you homelessness, in debt, and socially ostracized.

They discount how much just plain dumb luck had in their success. It's the rare person who admits that it was a chance meeting or an accidental discovery that allowed them to succeed. You also rarely hear how they “Came into this town with just two million to my name and I turned it into a fortune.”

Let's face it, there are some people who are born with what it takes to succeed in a particular place and time. They just happen to have an aptitude for what's valued. Sure, it takes work to develop skills, but don't discount natural ability. Practice and training won't make a five foot tall man a pro basketball player. Someone with a tin ear won't be a professional musician. A person may been born with the potential to be the world's greatest military mind, but was born into a small peaceful country so spends life as a chimney sweep.

Much depends on how you measure success. In our society it often boils down to one's ability to acquire vast piles of money. We aren't selecting for manners and poetry. There have been times and places where manners and poetry have been the skills needed. Those were useful when the key to success was being entertaining at the king's court.

As for myself, I consider myself successful. My time is my own. There's opportunity for travel and adventure. I've great kids. Heck, I even got the girl. The only thing I'm lacking is money. People are often amazed at how much I do with so little. That just might be another one of the skills I have an aptitude for. I won't look down on people who can't do something with nothing. They didn't have my experiences and natural inclinations.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Bug Repellent?

Bug repellent is an often overlooked emergency supply. You don't want to need it and not have it. When the biting insects darken the sky, the lack of good counter measures can drive you insane.

Here's how bad it can get, true story. My uncle was sawing up logs with a chainsaw. The bugs kept getting worse and worse. A large horsefly landed right in the middle of his forehead. By then he'd gone a bit mad. He flipped the chainsaw sideways and swatted the horsefly with the flat of the chair bar. Only later did it occur to him that he had killed a bug on his face with a running chainsaw. He's lucky he didn't cut his fool head off.

Don't assume that any old bug spray will do the job. Test them to make sure they are effective. There is no sense in stocking up on a product that the bugs treat as special sauce on their dinner. Also, make sure the products work on the bugs you find in your area. Something that works on mosquitoes might not work nearly as well on horseflies.

Not every product works for every person. Some people have reactions to using DEET for example. As for myself, DEET doesn't cause any issues, but so called natural repellents drive me into violet coughing fits.

Don't just rely on chemical agents. Physical barriers are important too. Even though it's warm, long sleeve shirts, and long pants tucked into socks eliminate a lot of exposed skin. I'm a huge fan of mosquito head nets. They are cheap and do a good job. You may even want to consider a net that covers your whole bed so the little monsters don't get you while you are sleeping.

Bug protection isn't just to prevent the annoyance of itchy bites. Insects carry a number of serious diseases. It's better to prevent infections than to treat them later. Some serious insect borne diseases don't even show symptoms until damage is done. For example, a coworker had Lyme disease, but had none of the normal indicators. In his case he ended up in the hospital when fluid built up around his heart. It took the doctors a long time to discover the root cause was a tick bite that happened months earlier.

Good bug protection can make sure they stay a mild annoyance rather than a life threatening issue.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Qatar and Collapse

The country of Qatar is in crisis. Land routes into the country have been cut off. 40% of its food came through Saudi Arabia and those roads are closed. Store shelves are empty. The country has only 3 days of drinking water.

What caused this crisis? There are details in the linked BBC article, but basically it's a diplomatic dispute between regional countries.

So picture this from the viewpoint of a Qatari citizen. One day everything is going along fine. The next, for no reason within your control, your country is in crisis. Qatar is heavily dependent on imports. It's land-base can't naturally support more than a tiny fraction if its population.

That's how fast collapse can hit. It doesn't take an earthquake, hurricane, atomic war or cosmic rays from space. All it takes is a few diplomatic missteps.

Now Qatar is a small country in a volatile part of the world. They are like a canary in a coal mile. When things start to go south, it's countries like Qatar that are the first to experience disruptions.

One bright note. Since it is a problem created by diplomatic issues, it could theoretically be resolved rapidly, before things go all Mad Max.

Don't be smug thinking that because you live in a larger country that you are immune from such disruptions. Political idiots can easily destroy countries of any size. Just one threat to be aware of. That's why a general level of preparedness is a good thing. You never know what kind of odd ball threat could come out of left field.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Another Road Trip

I don't like to announce when I'm going to be away. Often, I can keep up with the blog. This time there were not enough hours in the day.

So what was so important? In short, family. My lovely wife and I were visiting one of my daughters and her family. We also made the effort to catch another granddaughter's softball game. Only a grandparent will travel three states over to watch a 10 year old's softball game.

Cool 50 degree wet weather settled in for a few days. I'd been avoiding lighting my woodstove until the chimney could be inspected. My basement is pretty cramped and with my leg still tender I was concerned about banging it on something. However, it had been a while since the last time it had been inspected. The procedure isn't all that hard. Just take a small mirror and insert it into the chimney clean out. Angle it to see completely up to the top. There should be a nice square of light if it is clean. (assuming you have a square chimney, of course) Any soot and creosote deposits show up as irregularities in what should be a square of light.

After using the woodstove for the winter the chimney is usually in need of a cleaning. This year we mostly burned compressed sawdust blocks. They are supposed to burn cleaner and sure enough, they really do. The chimney looked almost perfect. Since it was good, I had no problem cutting up more pallets to burn in the stove. It's been cool and damp so a nice fire makes the place a lot more comfortable.

My leg is still healing. As long as I could elevate the leg at least once or twice during the day, the swelling wasn't too bad. The trip home was just a bit too far. I had my lovely wife drive the last 15 minutes on the way home. It almost seemed silly not to push on, but my leg was getting numb. Better to have someone fresh at the wheel in the middle of moose country.

All in all, it was a good trip.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Computer Rescue

My lovely wife's computer died. She hasn't complained and claims to be satisfied using my little computer to check Facebook. I've found that domestic harmony is improved when we both of us have access to our own computers.

Having just written a bunch of checks to pay medical bills, new computers are not in the budget. Serves me right for squandering money on necessary health treatments.

I do have an older laptop that I've been working to bring back to life. It's time consuming, but I've more time than money right now. Progress is being made. I've been working on installing a stable operating system that will run well on the older machine. To that end a lot of different Linux distributions have been tested. I think I'm getting near to the end. In fact, I'm feeling good enough about it to sit back and relax with a wee dram of Laphroaig single malt whisky.

Once that computer is sorted out I'm going to see how many more files can be salvaged from my lovely wife's old machine. Before the last hard crash some were uploaded to the cloud. In the past I've been hesitant to upload files to cloud storage, but after losing a couple of computers in various ways, having off-site storage is a good thing. Also a big fan of flash drives, as they've proven durable enough to survive being submerged in the sea for two days. The salt has to soaked out of them first, but after they are rinsed and dried, they work.

To me, computers are just tools. The cheapest ones that will do what I need to do are fine. Electronics lose their value so quickly it's not worth spending big money. If you have a job that requires the newest and fastest, then fine. Otherwise, it's a waste of money.