Friday, May 20, 2022

Day to day BS

Ever figure out how much of your time is lost dealing with day to day BS? There’s all kinds of things that are required to live in civilization. Bureaucracies and civilizations have always gone together. 

Take a simple example: the DMV. Will renewing your license or registering a vehicle take all day? Days? Forever? Never mind the fact that licenses and registrations are required in the first place. How much of your precious, limited, never to be recovered, lifespan is required to do basic things? 

Yesterday I registered my boat and trailer. The town clerk handled everything. I had to write one check and sign my name a half dozen times. The whole procedure from the time I came in the door took about ten minutes. 

Last time I renewed my driver’s license it took about 20 minutes. That included waiting in line, filling out paperwork, eye test, and photo. Of course, that stuff is state level and I live in a rural area without a lot of people. On the other hand getting a passport was a Federal issue and took what seemed like forever. 

How much of your life can you do without getting a permit or a license? I can do a lot of repairs to my house and even do 99% of the wiring without a permit or license. On the other hand, my daughter lives in a Boston suburb and they require a lot more. Everything takes longer and is more expensive. 

If you have enough money it doesn’t matter. You have people to do that crap for you. It’s the regular Smoes who have to do everything the hard way. I wonder if previous civilizations have collapsed due to overly burdensome burocratic requirements? Things got so jammed up that people threw their hands up in the air and wandered off into the jungle. 

Many people dream about living off the land and dropping out of the system. That’s pretty hard to do. Eventually the tax man and inspectors will come around and then the jig is up. The best we can do right now is to keep that BS to a bare minimum. That might involve moving to the country. It also might involve keeping your mouth shut and doing stuff anyway. 


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Tourism: bad investment?

My area of northern New Hampshire has bet heavily on tourism. We still have the old stuff: hiking, fishing, hunting, canoeing, tenting  and all that. In recent years our area has invested heavily in ADV trail riding, mostly 4 wheelers. There are hundreds of miles of trails, new RV campgrounds, and businesses catering to the off road crowd. 

That might have been a mistake. 

At the time I’m writing this gasoline is about $4.50/gallon and diesel is going for $6.09/gallon. If you are driving a few hundred miles in big truck that’s got to hurt. Figure in reduced fuel economy from towing a trailer full of gas burning 4 wheelers and it’s an expensive weekend. You need an upper class income for a middle class activity. 

One can only imagine that tourism across the board is going to take a hit. The RV industry had crazy growth during the pandemic. Prices went insane. Investment companies took note and bought heavily into the craze. Mom and pop campgrounds sold out to big, highly leveraged, companies. 

Tourism has always been sensitive to fuel prices. I’m old enough to have seen the boom and bust cycle a few times. If my lovely wife and I go camping this winter, it will definitely be scaled down. We will leave the sailboat and tow vehicle that gets 14 mpg behind. Instead we’ll throw a tent and inflatable kayak in the economy car that gets close to 40 mpg. 

I don’t expect prices to come down anytime soon. Once again: interesting times.


Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Wheat shortages

Wheat shortages are popping up all around the world. When two major International wheat exporters are locked in battle it doesn’t bode well. Some places will do better than others.

Places like Egypt and Africa in general are trouble. Surprisingly, India just barely produces enough wheat for its internal use. What they’ve done is stopped any exports except for special humanitarian reasons. 

Of course, there is stress on all grains right now. Some are directly impacted and others will be in short supply as people try to substitute one grain for another. 

There probably won’t be serious shortages in Western Europe or the United States. Prices will shoot up, so be prepared for that. If you think food prices are high you ain’t seen nothing yet. There are other stresses on the food supply like drought and bird flu. Looking bad for your toast and eggs in the morning. 

My guess is that this will probably last about a year. Places where grains aren’t normally grown will be growing grain. There will be plenty of economic incentive to do so. 

As for myself, it looks like I’ll be stocking up on potatoes again. Potatoes don’t ship nearly as easily as grains so aren’t Internationally traded in huge volume. If potatoes are grown in your area it would be a good idea to stock up. Properly kept they’ll last a while. Better yet, grow you own. 

By the way, cooking oils are mostly made from grains. Keep that in mind if you are adding to food storage. You are going to need something to fry all those potatoes in.


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Winter is always coming

Here in the North Country winter is always a concern. If you’ve ever chopped wood in 80 degree heat you probably live in snow country. 

I was talking to my cousin today and conversation wandered its way to winter heating. That sort of conversation is never out of place in the frost lands. 

We were discussing how home heating oil took a huge jump at the end of the last heating season. My cousin was reduced to buying gas station diesel to run his furnace. A full load of heating oil from the oil company was too big a price to pay upfront. 

He also reminded of the time propane was pretty much unavailable one winter. Then there was the winter no one could get wood pellets for their pellet stoves. That’s why I like having an old school woodstove. I can use cleaner burning compressed wood blocks or traditional firewood. The blocks are clean and easy, but regular wood works just fine too. It helps that I really do live in the woods. 

So why don’t I move to someplace warmer? While winters can be harsh there are some things I don’t worry too much about. For one thing I don’t even own an air conditioner. Hurricanes and tornadoes are pretty rare in the mountains of New Hampshire. My house is at 1200 feet elevation and not in a flood prone area. 

Subzero temperatures we do get so heating is essential. Currently I can heat with wood, heating oil or electricity. I doubt that heating oil will be an economical choice for next winter. Looks like we’ll be using the woodstove, with both wood and fiber blocks. Electric will be a backup for when we aren’t around to feed the stove. There’s a perfectly functional propane furnace sitting on my porch right now. I’m debating if it would be worth installing it or not. Decisions, decisions.


Monday, May 16, 2022

Chaos and change

It’s been an interesting couple of years. There were a lot of things already in motion, but covid accelerated the heck out of things. 

One of the big changes has been people’s attitude towards work. They say no one wants to work anymore. Okay. So why is that? There are a lot of low paying jobs out there where the employees are treated like crap. Can you really blame people for not wanting to go back to that? If your business model requires starvation wages, maybe you never had a viable business in the first place?

It’s not just low paying jobs either. Someone I know just refused a $55,000/year job. Those are good wages in our low cost rural area. She looked around and decided she doesn’t really need more things. Her part time jewelry business brings in enough money for the basics. 

A lot of people decided to stop aggressively saving for retirement. They see how people lose their life’s savings and get left with nothing often enough. They are treating themselves to a better life right now. If that special daily coffee and avocado toast bring you joy so be it. People are actually spending their time with friends and family instead of working crazy hours. 

By now most of have lost people we know and love. Nothing like untimely deaths to bring home the fragility of life. Our time on this rock in space is not unlimited. Why spend it doing things we hate for people we don’t like? Might as well have some fun and adventure while we can. 


Saturday, May 14, 2022

Power Grids

There’s nothing magical about maintaining an electric power grid. In spite of that Texas’s grid is in trouble once again. They obviously have deep seated problems they haven’t dealt with. One key issue is that they don’t seem to be in the business of delivering electric power. They are in the money making business. When a section of the grid goes down and electricity skyrockets in price, they make money. 

Texas, being its own separate grid, is showing it’s weaknesses first. The rest of the country isn’t too far behind. The bulk of our national grid was set up years ago for conditions that no longer exist. Investment in new equipment lags. There are improvements happening, but they aren’t happening fast enough.

One thing that’s going to quickly show the weakness is the system is the rapid growth of electric car sales. With the current price of gasoline electric cars are more popular than ever. 

Just to make things more interesting, some places are making off-grid living illegal. Don’t let that stop you from adding some solar. I’ve seen really beefy solar electric systems mounted on utility trailers. They can then connect to the house like you’d connect a backup generator. 

My whole solar electric system was put in years ago with me doing all the work myself. It was totally legal too. The catch is that it does not tie into the grid. I can charge the battery bank from the grid, but can’t sell power back to the company. The electric company doesn’t even know my system exists. I benefited from state laws that allow home owners to do their own electrical work. 

Even having my own moderate sized solar electric system isn’t security enough for me. Heat, cooking, and water can all be provided with no electric power at all. It’s more work, but totally doable. 

It might be worth looking into your own needs. Infrastructure looks to be pretty shaky in the near term.


Supply Disruptions

Back in the 70s being an independent trucker was a really good paying job. Even the freedom of the open road was still a thing. Now the pay is terrible. Too many companies have reduced trucker pay to the point where burger flipping looks good. Almost as bad, a trucker’s movements are followed in real time and all important decisions are made at the head office. 

That’s been going on for a considerable length of time. Now we have the complications of high fuel prices and parts shortages. High fuel prices is a worldwide situation. Those of us in the US have no reason to feel special about it. Same goes for inflation in general. Truck parts are delayed or canceled due to the on-going covid related supply disruptions. 

It’s really going to be an issue with food supply and prices. Modern industrial agriculture eats oil and spits out grain. Everything from farm equipment, to fertilizers, to pesticides, to process and delivery systems relies on oil. 

Sure, the war in Ukraine doesn’t help, especially for the general International oil markets. Fortunately for North America, we are pretty self reliant in energy these days. North America could isolate itself to a certain extent from International markets. 

Most people don’t realize it, but North America is in a massive reindustrialization at a frantic pace. Not everything will be in place in time so there will continue to be supply disruptions. 

That’s all big picture stuff. For the little guy it comes down to making sure to have the basics on hand. Being flexible is going to help too. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you have a long commute in a big diesel pickup. Have a number of ways to heat or cool your home. You will probably have to get used to sweating in the summer and freezing in the winter. 

It’s going to to be an interesting ride.