Sunday, January 31, 2010

Little place on the water

There's a small piece of land along the Androscoggin river that just came up for sale again. I'm not sure what the price is now, but last year it went for less than $4000.

Now that sounds like a good price for a piece of land with water frontage, but this place had some major shortcomings. Picture a slice of land roughly triangle shaped. The base, the wide part of the property, is 60 feet long. The other two sides are about 200 feet long. One side of the triangle is a major two lane road, the other side's the river.

There's not enough room to build a conventional house. It's right on the water, so a conventional septic system is out. What could someone do with such an odd piece of land?

One example is the place just south of this parcel. It's wider, but lower and prone to seasonal flooding from the river. The owner put a small shed up on blocks on the highest point of land. They also occasionally keep an old vehicle or two parked there. The cleverest thing they did on that property was to park a trailer with a house built on it. It looks something similar to one of the houses at: Since it's on wheels, no building permit is required. Legally it's a travel trailer. If it looks like the property is going to flood, they can move the house to a new location until the river goes down again.

Something like could be done on that $4000 strip of land, but I had other ideas. Picture a flat bottomed house boat. During the warm months, it roams the river or is docked. There's plenty of room for a shed and place to park a few cars. When the river starts to freeze, it's winched up on land, but can still be lived in.

Plant a few fruit and nut trees on the land. Put in a small garden, Go fishing as much as you'd like. It wouldn't be a bad life, and would certainly cost a lot less than conventional housing. The houseboat would be a bit cramped, but much better than living in a trailer in a park. Plus, remember you own the land.

The houseboat could be built right on your property. It's even in the delivery range of the local building supply companies. You wouldn't even need a car or truck to haul materials.

Let's face it. The suburban model of living has failed a lot of people. Ask anyone who's house has been foreclosed on. It makes a lot of sense to think outside the box.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

The ability to foresee disaster

Preppers, survivalists, Boy Scouts, and everyone else who believes in being prepared, are often baffled by other's indifference or even hostility. Being ready for disaster is serious business, but loved ones are often troubled by all the concern. Are our tin foil hats on too tight?

Some people don't want to think about bad things happening. For a certain percentage, tomorrow will be like today and yesterday, so there's nothing to worry about. Other people don't want to think about potential problems as if thinking about bad things will make them happen. Then there are what I call the "faith based planners." "They" will always find a solution. People have faith in the almighty "they" to solve the problems.

I had a career based on unlikely bad things happening. As a Firefighter, I was kept pretty busy with problems that people thought would never happen. Who could imagine the aquarium would spring a leak, all the water drain out and the tank heater would overheat and set the drapes on fire? It happened on my watch. A boat on a trailer parked behind a house caught fire in the middle of a raging snowstorm. A deaf guy didn't know his car was on fire and that a fire truck was chasing him trying to put it out.

Weird unlikely stuff like that happened to me all the time. It's easy for me to imagine things like the just-in-time food distribution system breaking down. That's not as weird as the aquarium thing.

Same could happen to fuel supplies. I've seen that on a small scale. One major gas station didn't get its fuel delivery due to a snowstorm. By 8 AM the next morning, not only were they out of gas, gas stations in three towns had run out. Not just gas from that company, but all brands. Since people couldn't gas up a their normal place, they went to a different gas station. That caused the other places to run dry as they had a lot more business than normal. Fortunately, by 10 AM the fuel trucks make it into town and the mini shortage was over. What would have happened if the trucks couldn't come for two days? A week? A month?

Most people have no idea how many things have to work just right for modern technological society to function. Everything is interconnected. If fuel runs out, food runs out. If food runs out, soon the cops run out of bullets. If the power fails, city water pumps don't work, gas stations can't pump gas, oil and propane furnaces won't function. What happens when the pharmacies are closed and nobody can get their psych meds?

You see it's not just physical things. Society can be brittle. Most people obey the law, but there aren't enough police to watch everybody. If everyone breaks the law, most if not all will escape punishment. As soon as that starts to happen, it's all over. It's like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. Let the tiny breach get bigger and eventually the whole ocean floods in. Things can fall apart pretty fast.

I'm not pointing all this out to scare people. Just be aware that bad things can happen to good people. Having some basic preparation in place -food, water, fuel, lights, etc., can make all the difference. It's more than having stuff. Your mind has to be flexible enough to see when things are heading south and to take action.

Avoid the whole deer in the headlights, freeze in place, and get run over scenario.

. . . and keep an eye on that darn aquarium.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Malthusian catastrophe

There's this thought going around that humans on planet Earth might be about to experience a Malthusian correction. The idea is that our population has outstripped the resources of the planet and is about to go into a horrible decline.

Now there is little doubt human population expanded greatly due to heavy exploitation of non renewable resources. It takes something like 9 calories of fossil energy to produce one calorie of food energy. The system worked well enough back when huge, easily exploited oil fields were turning up all over the place. Now discoveries are smaller and located in places like the deep ocean or high Arctic. The major oil fields of the past are in decline. The cheap energy that made the population explosion possible is going away.

A collapse seems logical. A population die back to sustainable levels not dependent on fossil energy seems inevitable.

That might be true. In fact, it might be happening now. Look at the horror and starvation in the world's poor and crowded countries, and it's easy to believe the Malthusian die off has begun.

It doesn't have to be that way. Society can be retooled from the ground up. Some believe that low energy, high production gardening, like permaculture, can prevent the worst of the die off. I think it might, but there's a few problems. Economic systems that funnel money and resources from the poorer populations to a rich elite won't allow such systems to be built -not on the scale needed. Big business does not want a world of gardens and cottage industry. Never mind that's what might save most of us. Business and the ruling class would rather have the plantation/factory system, even if a lot of people starve to death. There's no money in everyone being self reliant and independent. What can business and government offer someone who has everything he needs close by?

So here's my solution. For the sake of argument, we'll assume that a Malthusian catastrophe is going to happen. Fine. Let's manage it.

It's terribly inefficient to have millions of the world's poorest people die off. They are barely using any resources. Now the current model says the solution is have billions die off.

Let's turn the model upside down. Why start at the bottom? Let's start with the Queen of England. How many people could live in that gaudy shack she sleeps in? Let's plant some turnips on those manicured grounds. Heck, we wouldn't even have to bump her off. Just have her live like the bottom 1% instead of the top 1%.

I'm sure distributing the resources of the top 1 - 3% should allow the bottom 97% a fairly decent lifestyle. Now it's true we are still in energy decline, but it sure buys us lots of breathing room.

Think of the human race as a nice apple tree. Pruning a bit off the top allows the lower branches a chance to fill in and be more fruitful.

So the next time one of the elite proclaims a population reduction is necessary, agree with him. Just remember to start with the elite. Once he's kicked out of his big house, we can raise tilapia in his swimming pool. Heck, we can be generous and let him move into the pool shed. It's probably bigger and better built than most third world housing.

Think about it. Just doing my part to make it a better world.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Suspicious Activity

I just had my credit card frozen again. Lately it happens about every other time I try to use it. Later today I'll have to get on the phone, dance around the different menus, and hope to eventually get a real person who can deal with this.

The credit card isn't used all that much, but it sure is annoying to not have it when I want to use it. Just found out why I couldn't get a car part I ordered. The card was denied. The company tried to e-mail me, but apparently that e-mail was killed by my spam filter. Isn't it nice how all these automatic systems protect me? Hope to complete the sale on the phone in a few hours.

This has happened to me for years. Apparently my life is too random for the credit card computer programs. The first time it happened to me, I had driven nonstop from Florida to New Hampshire. To save time, every time I gassed up the car, it was at the pump using a credit card. Card was frozen the next day.

A couple months back I bought a bunch of computer parts on-line. Never bought computer parts before, so I guess that's why it got flagged. What's the matter? I can't suddenly decide to repair my own computers. (the repairs worked, by the way)

This most recent freeze was after I subscribed to the newsletter at That makes me suspicious. The guy over at has his card suspended when he gave $20 to Wikileaks. I can't but help wonder if there is something suspicious going on with the banks. Are they flagging companies and organizations they don't like?

On a day to day basis I use cash. That probably is considered a suspicious activity these days. Since I prefer cash, I deal local whenever I can. However, since I do live way the heck out in the woods, I order stuff on-line once in a while. For that I use a card.

I'll have to look and see if something like a prepaid credit card might solve my frozen account problems.

When I travel the card is for emergencies. While driving down to Florida to be with my dying mother, the transmission in my vehicle blew. Used a card to rent a car to continue my journey, then again to pay for a transmission. Good thing it wasn't frozen then as I had enough things to worry about.

Of course, I expect the banks to completely shut down one of these days, but that's the subject of a future post.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The best that money can buy.


So the Supreme Court gets everyone in a tither about free speech. Turns out that corporations are people who just happen to speak with money. Now they can talk to politicians as loud as they like with nobody being able to say it's wrong.

It's wrong. (but I'm just a nobody)

No surprise here. They've just made official what many of us have known for a long time. In the US of A, money talks.

The courts are a private club with a high entrance fee. The higher the court, the higher the fee.

Don't believe me? Try going to court without paying a lot of money for a decent lawyer. You won't get any justice, you can't afford it.

Most middle class people can only afford so much justice. There's no competing with the big boys. The average person is bankrupted by the high legal costs of fairly mundane things: disability cases, divorce, property disputes, and what not. Forget about having rights upheld when big money is at stake.

So the corporations and the Bankster class have taken the reins of power pretty blatantly. The free speech ruling from the court is pretty clear. On top of the huge taxpayer bailouts of the big banks, it's a real one two punch. The government has gone to the highest bidder.

It's not a Conservative/Liberal, Left/Right, or Democrat/Republican thing. Bush and Obama come from different places, yet end up doing pretty much the same things. That should tell everyone that the President is not the one in charge. So much for voting on the national level.

Your votes have more impact on the local level, but even there, it doesn't matter all that much. When I go to a New England town meeting, one of the purest forms of democracy in this country, there's only so much that can be decided. Most of the budget and agenda are set on the State and Federal level. The boundaries are set elsewhere, the locals can only run around in the box they've been put in.

What to do about it?

Asymmetrical warfare combined with open source warfare.


Okay, don't fight the system where it's strong. Forget about taking up arms and overturning the government. That won't work. That's hitting them where they are strong. Hit them where they are weak.

Don't try and compete with the corporations and super rich in an arena where money makes a difference. We've seen how that works in the courts.

What can we do about the system?

We can disconnect from it as much as possible. Become as self reliant as possible: food, water, energy, and anything else you can do that frees you from the major systems and grids. Work with others. Barter instead of doing things that can be traced and taxed. Deal as local as possible. Don't do business with big banks but use small local Credit Unions. Pay down your debts.

That's not enough. It's a start. It gives you a solid base. However, the battle won't be won just by disengaging from the enemy. As some point, he has to fought.


Indeed, how?

I'm not really sure, but that's where open source warfare comes in. Find something that works, and share it with others. Remember, don't fight the beast where it's strong. This is financial and political Aikido. Use the strength of the opponent against him. Share your successes so they can repeated and improved upon. Share your defeats so they aren't repeated by others.

The web is a great tool for this sort of open source thing. At some point the powers that be will probably be forced to shut it down. (or make is so regulated and unappealing that it amounts to the same thing) At that point you'll know victory is at hand. They can't shut the web without it costing business lots of money. That's a weak point. So ends a lesson in asymmetrical warfare.

All I want is for people to have freedom in their lives, like we were promised.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Things fall apart, fade to black

Things fall apart, fade to black

There are some people who believe that once they go on solar electric power, the grid can go down and they are set forever. Those of us with actual real world experience know better. Eventually, things have to be replaced. Most high quality solar electric panels are warrantied for 20 - 25 years. I doubt the companies pay out very often. There's very little that can go wrong on a solar panel. My grandkids may get mine.

Batteries are another matter. The very best batteries you can buy may go as long as 30 years, with proper maintenance. Very few people actually own those batteries as they are outrageously expensive. Most people use different varieties of lead acid batteries. They work pretty well for the money involved. I use Interstate golf car batteries, take good care of them, and get about 10 years of service. My first set I did every mistake in the book and got about 7 years. Probably should have changed them at 6.

My home inverter has lasted 20 years and is still going strong. It was expensive, but quality only hurts once. In my truck I've been using cheap 2000 watt inverters from Harbor Freight. To be fair, bouncing around in a truck is a harsh environment, but I fried an inverter in 2.5 years.

I've replaced a charge controller, but the old one was still working after 18 years. I've heard of cheap ones burning out in months. Quality matters. Solar electric systems vary quite a bit in their complexity, but just assume that every single part can eventually fail. Some failures won't shut the system down, but other's will. If my electronic battery monitor quits, it's a bother, but the system still works. Instead of glancing at a meter on the wall, I have to pull the battery caps and check with a hydrometer. You do have a hydrometer don't you? (and eye protection and rubber gloves)

A solar electric system is great for when the grid goes down for a few hours, days, weeks, and maybe even a few months. If the grid goes down for much longer than that, something is seriously wrong and electric power probably won't be your biggest worry.

Something else to consider. In an emergency, your usage will be different. We had an ice storm that took down the grid over a large area. Some people lost power for several weeks. I only lost grid power for 4 days. Here's what happened. Lots of people came over to my house. The place filled with my kid's friends and they watched a lot of movies. People came over to fill water jugs as their well pumps didn't work. Friends came over to take showers. At the end of 4 days one of three things had to happen: the sun would have to come out again, the grid would need to come back on, or we were going to seriously conserve electricity. As it happened, the grid came back and the sun came out at the same time.

In a crisis situation, your solar electric system will probably work harder than it normally does. During the ice storm, my batteries drained lower than I normally let them get. Do that sort of thing too often and they need replacement sooner.

In a lot of countries, electric power isn't a 24/7 thing. People work around it. The US grid is stressed in a lot of places and could become less reliable. It seriously needs major upgrades just when money for those projects has become harder to get. That's were having some backup power is nice. It won't last independently forever, but it's useful for everything less than that.

Gas, diesel, or propane generators work just fine to bridge those times when the grid goes down, but they don't get refueled by the sun. During the big ice storm, a lot of people had generators that ran out of fuel in 12- 24 hours. Gas station's fuel pumps didn't work without electricity either. Plus, the roads were icy and covered with fallen trees. If you are going to go with a generator, make sure you've safely stored enough fuel for more than a few hours.

While solar electric systems may go years without major problems, few generators can handle constant use. Cheap generator's lifespans are measured in hours. If buying a generator for heavy duty use, expect to pay thousands, not hundreds of dollars. It's that math that persuaded me to spend the money on solar instead. Well, and the fact that I'm lazy and hate to fuel and maintain a generator.

For all the things that can go wrong with a solar electric system, it's surprising how trouble free they usually are. They won't last forever without maintenance, but nothing in our technological society does.


Monday, January 25, 2010


Never buy anything with a handle on it because that always means work. A cousin of mine said that many years ago, and there's some truth to it.

Let's not talk very much about that four letter word: work. Worse than that is the three letter "J" word: Job. Could be worse, I could be talking about the tools your bring to your J** so you can W***.

Phew! We have that unpleasantness behind us. Tools are best used for play. Think way back to childhood. Wasn't it cool to build things? What happened to most of us when we grew up? Not too many people use their tools for play. Kinda think that's a waste of the whole opposable thumb thing.

Let's look back into the bygone years of the 1950's. Back then a lot of guys had a workshop, or a basement, garage, or shed where they'd, "putter around." Maybe they'd build bird houses. Some were into furniture. Some guys built boats, or dangerous wheeled vehicles spewing fumes from poorly tuned two cycle engines. Happy times. Tools were for pleasure, not necessary for getting stuff done.

We've lost a lot of that. Some say it's because out technology has gotten too complicated. That might be part of it, but who hasn't dreamed of building a gas dynamic laser in their basement? (Okay . . . maybe that's just me.) Still tools used to be fun. That doesn't mean a fun use of tools can't be useful. I just finished wiring up a house using a leatherman tool. It was fun! Didn't do it for money, but because it was recreational. Did it because I could, and it was nice to help out some friends.

The best projects are those that don't really need to be done, but you do anyway. Maybe you enjoy the ringing song of a tablesaw blade, the happy whir of a bit driver, or the satisfying ka-chunk of a pneumatic nail gun.

Don't be afraid of things with handles. Use tools for the simple joy of it sometimes, not when there's a J** or W*** to be done. Do something fun. Learn to love your tools again.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

To grid tie or not to grid tie.

That is the question.

There's a couple of approaches to solar electric systems. Two of the biggest are whether or not to tie into the grid.

If you are in a cabin far from power lines, it's not a problem. You don't have a choice. You are off grid, that's why you had your donkey haul all those solar panels and batteries up that mountain.

If you do have access to grid power, then it's something to think about.

The advantage of grid tied is that many people dispense with a battery bank entirely. No maintenance, no changing them out every so many years. Just a reduction in your electric bill. You are doing your bit to put clean power into the grid. Of course, maybe you just are scared of fusing a wrench to a low voltage/high amperage battery bank. (silly fear, that's what rubber handled tools are for.)

The stand alone, off grid system has one major advantage. When the grid goes down you still have power. Grid tied systems are set up to disable themselves once the grid goes down. The rational behind that is the power company doesn't want solar power energizing supposedly dead lines. Even though the sun is shining on your wonderful solar electric panels, you'd be without power just like everybody else. I bet that feels like a rip off.

It is possible to have a grid tied system that also has battery backup. While that defeats the cost savings of having no battery bank, it is a source of power during blackouts. If I had huge piles of money I didn't know what to do with (hint hint Publisher's Clearing House), that's something I might do. I also might spend all my days drinking icy drinks at the Flying Monkey Bar in Key West, but that's not what I'm trying to focus on right now.

Twenty years ago when I put my system in, I decided to not tie into the grid. Basically, I decided not to get ripped off. Back then Public Service Company of NH required the grid tie to be done by a technician they approved. I would need expensive equipment I wasn't willing to buy. To top it all off, they'd pay me a low wholesale price for my solar power while charging me a high retail price for their power. I hear it's better now, but mama Sixbears didn't raise no stupid cubs. I continue to not sell power to those rat bastards.

In a perfect system, you'd have just enough solar power to meet your needs -no more, no less.

I'm not a big fan of the grid. While I still have some grid power, the only tie into my system is from the grid to the battery bank. There's the option of topping off the batteries from the grid. The grid functions like a back up generator would in a totally off the grid system.

The grid power was already installed. Good generators cost good money that's better spent on frozen alcoholic drinks. At the time I was still heading off to work a few days a week -leaving my wife with 3 young children at home. Picture this, it's -30F, the batteries are low, and the generator has to be started. I'm away at work. What do you think would happen?

If you said I'd come home to a frozen house and note saying the wife and kids are staying in a hotel in Orlando -bingo! Did not want to have that happen. Much easier to put a battery meter and a switch in the kitchen. If the meter starts to read low, flick the switch and the batteries charge.

Now that I don't go off to one of those job things, it'd be no big deal to occasionally fire up a generator as needed. The solar electric system is a bit bigger and our power needs bit less. Could work. Probably find out in the coming months. (especially if I don't pay the power bill.) PSNH keeps raising rates, and my income isn't getting any larger.

So there you have it, feed you power into the grid, thus supporting a corrupt and evil corporation, unsightly power lines across the country, a fee and tax structure designed by Satan himself, or you could just make enough power for yourself and loved ones.

The choice is up to you.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Legacy Systems

A common bit of wisdom about solar electric systems is you can start small and add panels later. That's true and it isn't.

I built my panel rack to hold up to 12 panels. Started out with 8 with the idea of adding more later. Even predrilled the holes for the additional panels. By the time I was in a position to buy more panels, that model was no longer made.

The original panels are wired up in pairs for a nominal working voltage of 24 volts. I got a good deal on a large single panel rated at 24 volts. Should have been fine, so I thought. The new panel really didn't work that well with the old panels. It tested at a slightly lower voltage than the old ones.

The original system ran at 24 volts at the panels to charge a batter bank running at 24 volts. I really wanted to run the battery bank at 12 volts, but there was a problem. My panels are far enough from the battery bank that there would be too much power loss. The higher the voltage, the less transmission loss. Back in the day, if you ran panels at a certain voltage, everything ran at that voltage -panels, charge controller, batteries, and inverter.

Fortunately, technology marches forward. The solution to the panel problem was to buy an Outback charge controller. It allowed me to run the old panels and the new panel in series at a nominal 48 volts. The output from the charge controller is programmable. It was fairly easy to set it to put out 24 volts to charge the batteries. In 20 years solar electric systems have come a long way. My old charge controller worked, but not nearly as efficient as the Outback.

Why didn't I drop it all the way down to 12 volts like I originally wanted? The Outback could just as easily been set to 12 instead of 24 volts.

The problem is my old Trace inverter, a model 2524. It works on 24 volts DC and puts out 120 volts AC to run the house. I've had it for twenty years, but it's given zero problems. Once the inverter needs to be replaced, then I'll drop down to a 12 volt battery bank.

Always wanted to run a few 12 volt electronics in the house. It is possible to tap 12 volts off a 24 volt system. Problem is that the batteries would discharge unevenly. I did it for a while and kept rotating which batteries I'd tapped. It wasn't an ideal situation, as I'd either have to test each battery to see how it was discharging, or just out and out guess. There's the option of a DC to DC converter that would drop the voltage from 24 to 12. Problem with that is there's a significant power loss from the device itself.

Instead of buying a fairly expensive Outback charge controller, a cheap charge controller for just the single new panel would have worked. It would then be two separate charging systems running in parallel to a single battery bank. That option seemed like a bit of a kludge. Much better to upgrade to a better charge controller and run the panels at a higher voltage. My original charge controller was almost 20 years old, after all.

So there you have it, it is possible to expand a solar electric system later. My advice is not to wait almost 20 years like I did. The expansion can be a bit more involved than bolting on a few panels.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Old Hippy

It's official, I'm an old hippie. It's your grandkids that'll let you know, without meaning to let you know.

My 3 year old granddaughter, Lily, wants her hair in a pony tail tied with a black hair tie -just like her grandfather.

Yep, I'm old enough to have grandkids, and I've got my hair in a pony tail. Old hippy.

I'm not that old. 51 isn't old. My lovely wife and I married young and had kids right off.

I suppose I do look like an old hippy. There's the long hair and beard. Of course, with a leather jacket on, I blend in really well with a group of bikers. The facial scars help. Another group of fat guys with long hair and beards is Science Fiction authors. Having written Science Fiction, it only makes sense that I'd look like one of those guys. I suspect Science Fiction writers have beards and long hair because they don't go out much and can't afford a good barber.

When I was a Firefighter, I couldn't have a beard. Can't get a good seal with an air pack's face mask. My hair, while not pony tail long, was over my ears and shirt collar. Hey, we weren't cops. My face did sport a mustache. They almost issue you one when you join up.

After I left the fire department, the beard came on. Facial hair was one way of telling my subconscious to get over not being a Firefighter anymore. Think it helped. Also starting letting the hair grow longer. Why not?

So that's the look I settled into. Once in a while I get the hedge clippers out and knock the beard back a bit. Don't want to look like Santa Claus around Christmas, nor like the guys in ZZ Top. Occasionally, my wife sneaks up behind me and hacks a few ratty inches off the pony tail

I'm sure the look got me out of jury duty once. Instead of my normal extremely casual clothes, I put a suit and tie on when my number came up. Twice I got picked for juries. Once the prosecution asked to have me removed. The other time the defense asked to have me removed. Lawyers don't like people who seem unpredictable. They couldn't guess what I'd do. It got me out of jury duty.

For about 8 years my wife and I traveled the country for months on end. The first year I cut my hair extremely short, about 1/8 inch. Thought it might be easier to blend in while in red neck country. Shouldn't have bothered. Most of the people I hit it off with either didn't mind long hair or had hair longer than mine. There are plenty of red necks with long hair. Besides, I traveled with a canoe on my car. All I had to do was ask how the fishing was around these parts and people tended to open up.

I look like an old hippy -or an old biker -or a red neck -or a writer -or . . . whatever. I'm just another American exercising my right to look the way I want to.

Of course, since I don't work for the man, I don't need to follow his dress code.

That's the hippy part coming out.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Trees and solar panels

Solar panels are expensive enough that it's only logical to get as much power out of them as possible. One problem about living out here in the woods . . . well, it's all those woods. There are trees everywhere.

To get any sort of decent sun, my solar panels are located at the far north side of my property on top of a tall pole. Even there, a red cedar and a spruce had to be cut. We don't like to cut down trees. Cutting them down is quick, but growing them is slow. Always better to think twice before firing up the chainsaw.

As the seasons change and the sun changes position in the sky, the potential tree obstructions shift. In the high summer, I've got to make sure the branches from some giant hemlocks next to the panels don't block the view. Quite a few of their branches were cut back a couple years ago. Doesn't do the main part of the tree much harm, but I make sure to cut only those branches that are shading the panels.

The summer sun is sometimes blocked by a small group of maples and birches near my driveway. I keep them trimmed back, but don't worry about it as much. In the summer, there's plenty of sun all day, and in the winter, the leaves have fallen from the trees. The bare branches block very little.

As the sun sinks lower to the horizon as the days get shorter, hemlocks on the south side of the house begin to shade the panels. They could be cut down and I'd get more sun in the winter. It'd probably cost more energy in the long run. As it is, in large part due to those trees, the house doesn't need air conditioning in the summer. In the winter, those same trees shield the house from cold wind off the lake. Cutting them down would gain a bit more solar electricity, but cost in other ways.

Then there's the huge entertainment value of the squirrels and birds that live on those trees. That's worth something too.

As long as can get enough power most of the time, I can live with a bit of occasional tree shading. Life is full of compromises.

If I didn't want trees, I wouldn't be Sixbears in the Woods.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Sound of Gunfire

Some years ago I woke to the sound of gunfire. It's not uncommon to wake to the sound of gunfire. Usually I just roll over and go back to sleep. Gunfire is no big deal in the Great North Woods. There's game to hunt close by. Someone might have been checking the sites on their gun. Heck, you don't need a reason to shot a gun around here. Shooting a gun to hear it go bang is reason enough.

Unfortunately, that time some years back, I wasn't home in the woods. No, we were visiting my sister-in-law in Manhattan. Once I remembered where I was, the sound of gunfire took on a whole new meaning.

I guess that pretty much illustrates the whole cultural divide. Some places the sound of gunfire is normal and nothing to fear. Other places, the sound of gunfire probably means a confrontation between humans -another matter entirely. It's a shame, really.

Another thing that annoys me is when on the news police announce the capture of an "arsenal." It's always with nefarious overtones. Then they show the so called arsenal. It's about 6 long guns and 3 handguns. Around there, people that don't collect guns have that many. Heck, I've got a bigger collection, and that's without even trying.

My gun cabinet is full, but I don't even have all the basics covered. I could use a few more guns. I don't have a 12 gage pump or semiautomatic shotgun. Most of my shotguns are break action single shots. A couple of them aren't even shot anymore. One I have because my dad engraved my mom's name in the stock years ago. I've a few .22 caliber rifles. A couple of those are single shots mostly used to teach kids how to shoot. There's a muzzle loader or two kicking around -hardly weapons of terror, not even to deer during black powder season, sad to say. I do have a couple old deer rifles. The closest thing to an assault rifle is an ancient war trophy my uncle brought back from the war.

Still, lay them all out on a table, pile a bunch of ammo around it, and it may look like an arsenal to the uninitiated. Good media spin can make it look like I've amassed these weapons for nefarious purposes. Well, maybe I have -if you think target shooting, hunting and shooting the occasional rabid ground hog nefarious.

I do have a 9mm semi auto handgun that I keep loaded. It's used for target shooting -and personal protection, if the need ever arises. It's my right to do so as an American. It's loaded with pretty hot self defense rounds. I have a concealed carry permit -like most of the people in my town. Of course, NH's concealed carried permit is pretty easy to get. Fill out a short one page questionnaire, they check to see if your are a felon, and the permit is issued. Here in my town it takes less than a week. This is what's known as a must issue state. The burden of prof is on the police, not the citizen.

Most of the time when I hear gunfire, it's a comforting sound. Good to know the neighbors are keeping up their skills.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Home entertainment system

If you watch a lot of old movies, you'll eventually see a scene where everyone's gathered around the piano. It might be a simple homestead where the family would stand around the piano to sing favorite songs. The setting may be an upscale town house with well dressed upper class people listening to a talented young lady play. Even if there isn't a scene where someone is playing the piano, it's usually part of the setting.

Back in the time before radios and cheap music recorders and players became available, there was the piano. Just about everyone who could have one, did have one. As soon as a family acquired enough money to rise above basic needs, they looked into getting a piano. The next thing was to make sure a few people in the household knew how to play.

In the days before electricity, the piano was the home entertainment system. The desire to listen and sing to music is a very old human activity. The piano is a pretty sophisticated instrument, but the basics can be learned fairly easily -at least good enough for the evening sing a long.

Today we've pretty much become dependent on the personal sound system. Everyone has their own song list of electronic tunes. That's fine, but it's not a bad idea to be able to make your own music. There are many ways for the power grid to fail. In some countries it fails more than it works. People in the US are not immune from power problems. I'm sure just about everyone reading this has lost power at least a few times. Eventually, batteries die, and all those electronic toys become little more than bricks.

Then it's nice to have a way to make your own music. The old standby, the piano, is still good. While a new one can be pricey, it's possible to find inexpensive used ones. I once bought a piano for $42. Two of my daughters learned to play on it. Sometimes a decent piano can be had for the price of hauling it away.

More people are likely to have a guitar than a piano. Thanks to all those Folk, Blues, Bluegrass, and Rock musicians, the guitar became popular. That's great, as a guitar can pretty much do the same role that the piano did. If you do play an electric, get an acoustic for those days when power isn't available.

My point is to have have some sort of musical instrument that doesn't depend on electricity to work. It could be a flute, a fiddle, a banjo or just about anything. Quite a few people have a lot of fun with homemade drums. If you've never been in a drumming circle, try it. There's something primitive and exciting about the pounding beat of the drums.

Being able to make your own music in power down situations provides two important functions. Of course, it provides the enjoyment of listening and playing music. More importantly, it pulls a group together in an activity. Whether someone plays an instrument, sings, or just taps their feet to the music, they are involved. It's a way to pull the community together with a shared experience. In a power down situation, that sense of sharing is actually important to survival. It's good for mental health, and also good to train a group to act together. It's one more way they feel like a bit like a tribe.

A lot of people don't play an instrument because they'll never get really good at it. I say, so what? I used to play the guitar a bit when I was about 13 years old. Never could sing, (still can't), so I gave up playing. Many years later, I picked the guitar again. I still can't sing along, but I don't let that bother me. I can strum cords around the campfire, or bang out a blues riff to get the little kids jumping.

I make sure I have a few sets of strings and a few other odds and ends useful to keep guitars going. I'm even leaning some of the luthier art: the skill of repairing and building stringed instruments. That's just the way I operate; always learning more and more about how to keep my stuff up and running.

I'm finding that guitars are like guns: you never have enough. Just as person who takes up the shooting arts eventually acquires a safe full of firearms. A person who plays the guitar eventually has a collection. I barely play and already have two. One is a pack guitar, a Washburn Rover. It's small enough to take anywhere and sounds pretty decent, plus is reasonably priced. If I ever have to bug out, it's coming with me.

There are encouraging developments in home music. Lately, it seems I can't go to a party without someone pulling out a musical instrument. Get together for a barbecue and the next thing you know a couple fiddles, an accordion and a guitar appear. I love it. It's homemade music and just as important as homemade bread. It fill a need in the human soul, and doesn't need the power grid to make it happen.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Curiosity can kill ya

Back in my Firefighter days, there'd always be a huge crowd of onlookers at any fire.


I had to be there. I was paid to be there. I had special equipment and training to be there. The curious crowd always pushed the limit. They strained against the police barrier tape. They scooted past road blocks. They pressed in as close as they possibly could.

Sure, a big fire is interesting, but it's also dangerous. One fire in particular illustrates the stupidity of the crowd. I was running a pumper at a store fire that was incredibly smoky. I used four air tanks just running the pump. The fact that I was wearing an air pack should have been some sort of hint that it was dangerous to be in the smoke.

Nope. A number of onlookers had to be hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

During all my years as a Firefighter and all my retired years, I never went to a fire I didn't have to be at.

There's a lesson here, and it doesn't only apply to fires. If there's any sort of disaster, stay the heck away from it. I don't care if they are fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, riots or alien invasion. Be somewhere else. Watch in on the news the next day. Look at the pictures in the paper. At least the reporters are paid to be there and have careers on the line.

It's bad enough that in a long life you may get caught in the middle of trouble. If you can, get the heck out, or at least move to the edge of trouble.

Now the survivalist prepper types make a big deal about having a B.O.B -a bug out bag. They are darn useful to have. It's good to be able to have some basic gear when you have to leave in a hurry.

Unfortunately, what's not covered so much is knowing when it's time to bug out. Your B.O.B. does no good if you don't pick it up and bug out. One of the keys to a long healthy life is knowing when to get the heck out of Dodge.

There's a Chinese proverb that states: during a long life, a man must be prepared to abandon all his possessions at least twice. I think they are right. Stuff is just stuff. There's no physical possession worth dying for. When the invading army enters the city, it's better to leave with just the cloths on your back rather than stay and possibly get killed.

What really drives me nuts is the number of people who do not evacuate for hurricanes. Thanks to modern meteorology, there's plenty of warning. Most people, if they left at the first warnings, could evacuate on a bicycle. They could probably walk out of the worse danger zones in time.

Don't be one of those people who get caught. If you see a red glow in the sky, go somewhere else. If you see people running in the streets to some sort of confrontation, turn around and go the other way. Don't wait until the last minute to escape the flood or the hurricane. Never mind what other people are doing. Since when has a mob ever been right?

You might tell yourself that you just want to get a better idea what the danger is. You want to recon the situation. You want to get more information before making your decision. You want to be tough and macho.

Trust me, there are plenty of situations that if you are close enough to see what's going on, you are dead.

If you can get information from the radio, TV, emergency services scanner, fine. Don't put your self in physical danger if you don't have to. Don't be one of those idiots taking to the emergency room because they were curious.

Most important, don't let your curiosity put your family in danger. You've responsibilities to other people.

Be safe.


Sunday, January 17, 2010


The prophet Mohammad said that coffee gave him the strength to unhorse forty men and to possess forty women.

It gives me the strength to get out a saw horse and possess one woman. Guess that's why he started a major religion and I didn't.

Coffee is one of my luxuries. I can cut back on a lot of stuff, but coffee is one of the last things to go. During a particularly rough financial patch, our middle daughter only realized how tough things were when I came home with a vacuum packed bag of generic store brand coffee. That hit home more than the fact we hardly had any Christmas presents that year. We were drinking crappy coffee -times were tough.

I never want things to get that bad again. That's why I keep a fair stockpile of coffee. Green beans store well. Coffee only starts to lose its flavor a couple days after after it's roasted. By roasting your own green beans, you pretty much always have a good cup of coffee. How long do green beans last? I've heard anything from two years to ten. Personally, I keep about a year's worth of beans and have not noticed any lost of flavor.

My beans come from Dean's Beans. I've no connection to the company other than liking their coffee. There a lot of different coffee roasters out there. There's one for sale at the Dean's Beans site. Another popular coffee supplier is Sweet Maria's. They have a lot of good information and selection of roasters.

When camping I use a cast iron fry pan with a lid to roast coffee. Roasting coffee is similar to making popcorn. You use a medium hot fire, and keep the beans moving along in a dry pan. Like popcorn, you listen for a popping sound. In coffee parlance, that's known as the first "crack." After all your beans have gone though the first crack, it's coffee. If you like darker roasted coffee, listen for a more subtle pop later in the roast, that's the second crack. Beyond that you can roast it a bit more, but risk turning coffee into very expensive charcoal. Pour the beans into a shallow pan for cooling. The outer skin of the coffee leaves behind a light chaff. Just blow that away.

In the warmer months, I roast coffee outside on the deck. My roaster makes a fair amount of smoke and I also like being able to dump the chaff outside. In the winter, I roast my coffee in the bathroom. Sounds odd, I know: Sixbears's Bathroom Blend. The reason is that the smoke would set off every smoke detector in the house. The bathroom fan blows the smoke outside. My bathroom ends up smelling like roasted coffee, but that's better than most bathroom smells.

People ask me how I store roasted coffee. I really don't. Usually I'm about one day ahead of my consumption, so storage really isn't a problem. The beans just go on an old mason jar one day then into the coffee pot the next.

Your average coffee tree only produces a couple of pounds of coffee per year. I'm supporting a whole forest of trees somewhere out in the world. Because of that, my coffee is fair trade organic shade grown. Organic coffee growing supports a whole ecosystem of plants, birds and animals, unlike plantation grown which is a chemically dependent mono crop. Fair trade makes sure the farmers earn a living. That way I can enjoy my coffee without the bitter aftertaste of labor exploitation.

Buying in bulk, including the cost of shipping, my coffee comes in at under $5/lb. Pretty darn good price for quality coffee.

The only problem with coffee is that I can't grow it myself. If I lived in Hawaii or the Florida Key, I might try it. Here in NH, I'm out of luck. I am encouraged that coffee was being traded around the world back in the days of sailing ships. If all the oil runs dry, sailing ships can bring my coffee once more.

Sure, there are so called substitutes to coffee. If you mean by substitute that it's dark, bitter and lacks caffeine, then there is. I've tried everything from roasted dandelion root to wild chicory. Believe me, they aren't substitutes. My only hope is that I have enough green beans in storage to weather any disruption in world coffee trade.

If I have to give it up, it won't be pretty.


Saturday, January 16, 2010


Way back when I was in grammar school, maybe the 5th grade, I read Henry David Thoreau's Walden. What in the world could possess a kid to read such a book? Every now and then there was the opportunity to buy books through the school. I think it was something like Scholastic Books. Prices must have been right, as my parents always let me buy a few books.

Maybe it's because I used to have trouble reading. At the time, the learning fad was something called whole word memorization. Some people did just fine with that system. I was more of a phonics sort of person, but didn't even know it. One summer my mother made me stay inside every morning and taught me how to read. Even though I hated it at the time, I've come to appreciate what she did for me. Reading went from a dreaded chore to one of my favorite things.

So perhaps with my early struggles with reading in mind, they encouraged me to read. Nothing is as encouraging as getting your very own books.

There must have something in the catalog summary that caught my attention. Must have been the idea of living out in the woods in a small cabin. My dad used to be a partner in a small primitive hunting camp. I loved it there. So for me, Thoreau's Walden must have seemed like moving into the hunting camp.

The book was a real inspiration to me. The idea that one could live free and easy in a small place excited me. A whole new possibility for living opened up for me. Henry's frugality opened my eyes. Living with less wasn't hardship, it was freedom. The thought of living alone with my own thoughts and perhaps a few good books became a goal. That kind of life fit my nature.

Now a lot of people think Walden is about living as a hermit. Even as a kid I could see that wasn't so. Henry walked into town often to visit friends and family. He had visitors at the cabin. He could pick the amount of society he would tolerate. If he felt the need for a lot of people, it wasn't too long a walk into town. The small size of his cabin, by it's very nature, kept the number of visitors to a manageable number.

The philosophy of Thoreau, the idea of marching to the beat of your own drummer, sunk deep in my soul. Many years later as an adult I reread Walden and was surprised at how much I remembered -how much it influenced me.

I was on my way to my own little cabin on a pond. When I was 16 my parents gave me a 50 X 100 lot across the street from their cottage on the lake. At 18 I was able to buy some additional land adjoining my property. My goal was to slowly build a small place there, inspired by the cabin on Walden Pond.

Then life happened. Unlike Thoreau, I married a fine girl when we were both the tender age of 20. Among my friends, it was speculated that I'd be the last to get married. Instead, I was the first. Before you know it, there were three kids and a small place in town. Still kept the land up at the lake, but had no idea when, if ever, we'd get to build there.

One day my dad told me he was taking an early retirement and was going to sell the cottage. He told me about it in case I wanted to sell me land at the same time. He figured that with his place gone, I'd have no access to the water. Instead of selling my place, I bought his. My house in town went up for sale. Instead of building a dome on my original property, I cut the roof off the cottage and plopped a dome on top.

Living in a good sized place with a wife and three kids was not exactly life on Walden Pond. However, Thoreau's example guided much of what I did. Life isn't about how much money one makes. It's about having a life worth living. Life at my piece of heaven worked for me. Unlike Henry, my stay's been a good twenty years (so far) compared to his two at Walden.

Here's the funny thing. My wife would love to sell our place to the kids and we'd keep my original piece of land. She wants to simplify our lives and live in a 20 foot yurt.

I can see the attraction.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Less and less standard

It's a lot of fun and games to keep an old car on the road. My 81 Mercedes Benz 240D (diesel) won't win any prizes for best in show. It's reached that getting pretty funky point in its life. Okay, maybe it's best to say it's at the zombie point -been resurrected from the dead.

Not sure exactly how many miles on it. The instrument cluster's been changed a couple of times. The odometer reading is nothing but a lie. Best I can figure is that the car has something around a half million miles on it. No kidding or exaggeration.

Some guys are car guys; they've got it in their blood. That's not me. I like being able to fix cars, but I like being about to fix all kinds of stuff. Car guys live and breath cars. Fixing cars is a form of recreation for them. One of my friends actually sold a car because it never broke down. He was bored. I would not have sold that car. In spite of not being a car guy, I work on my own vehicles a lot more than I'd like. That's what you do when you've rather do something yourself than try and earn the money to pay someone to fix it.

The big thing with this car is the bullet proof diesel engine. Eight years ago the car was purchased for conversion to waste vegetable oil. With a lot of trial and error, research on the Internet, and picking the brain of a really good and patient car mechanic, the veggie conversion was a success. For the past eight years it's saved me about 95% of my fuel costs. When you have a car that's so cheap to run, you keep it on the road.

There's only one mechanic that I'll take the car to. He's seen the vehicle change over the years. When the automatic glow plug switch went, he put in a manual one under the dash. The ignition failed and no original equipment was available. We put in a universal ignition, but those only turn off the electrical part of the car. To actually turn off the car I put in a brass needle valve in the vacuum line. That has to be opened to shut the engine off.

It's got some other weird things. In addition to the regular engine oil filter, it has an addition spin on oil filter mean to for a Ford. Engine oil lasts longer if it's kept cleaner.

Now the vacuum pump is starting to fail. The vacuum operated locks no longer work, the brakes need a bit more foot pressure, and the shut off no longer works. My quick and dirty fix for the shut off was a 4 foot piece of vacuum hose run from the shut off valve on the engine to inside the car. To shut the car off I can suck on the hose, which operates the valve, shutting off the engine. Weird, I know. Hey, it's temporary.

Since the vacuum pump is necessary for the brakes to work right, it'll have to be fixed. Replacing a vacuum pump is expensive. Even just rebuilding one is a time consuming job. Believe me, that's something I don't want to do outside in the cold, and I don't have a garage. There is the possibility that I could hook up an electric vacuum pump like what's used in electric vehicle conversions. I might have a lead on a salvaged unit.

The point of all this is that when times get tight, you do what you have to do. It's no longer a matter of just changing parts. I used to be a cook book mechanic. A part was bad, I'd get the manuals out, follow the directions, and change the part. Now I have to think in terms of systems. What does the part actually do? Are there work arounds?

My inspiration comes from Cuba. The island is full of old American cars from the 50's. They've been unable to get replacement parts due to the trade embargo. They done things like make their own parts, or adapt Russian parts to do the job.


Thursday, January 14, 2010


I'd like to give my heart felt sympathy for the people of Haiti. My prayers are with them. Even in my isolated little town way up in northern NH, there are friends of mine with roots and connections to Haiti. I hope their friends and relatives are well.

Haiti was just barely functioning before the earthquake hit. That makes things so much worse. As bad as New Orleans and the Gulf Coast were after hurricane Katrina, it doesn't compare to this. We complain about the response of US government agencies to the hurricane, but eventually help came in. Some parts of the government actually did what they were supposed to do. The Coast Guard did heroic work there. Local services, police, fire and EMS, were able to function. A poor country doesn't have the resources on the ground that way a rich one does.

Information coming out of the country is still spotty. We won't know the extent of the damage and loss of life for some time. Time is the issue here. Often more casualties take place after the disaster. The lack of food, shelter, sanitation, security, and medical supplies continue to take lives well after the initial event. The international community will have to move fast to prevent a horrific disaster from becoming worse.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Living without a car in the Great North Woods

Nope. Not ready to do that yet. Can't cut the car culture umbilical cord yet.

That's one of the big differences between rural and city life. In the city, a car more often than not is a liability. It costs a lot to own. Parking is a problem. Public transport is usually pretty good. Much of what you'd want to go to is in walking distance. Sometimes a bicycle can get you where you are going faster than a car.

Where I live there are no public transportation options. The nearest bus stop is 14 miles away. No cab company services my area. Oh, I'm sure if you paid a cab driver a lot of money he'd take you just about anywhere, but that hardly counts. There used to passenger train service, but that disappear many decades ago. Not only are there no train stations anymore, some of the towns that trains used to stop at no longer exist. The town of Copperville comes to mind. Not only does the train no longer stop there, if you don't know where to look, it's difficult to even find the ruins of the town.

The nearest decent sized settlement with a population over 10,000 is about 10 miles away. Within 15 miles it's possible get groceries, building supplies, hardware, and most basic needs. 15 miles isn't too bad a bike ride, even considering all the hills here in NH. Using a bicycle pulling a cart, it would be possible to transport most of the things you'd need. I've traveled the distance in a canoe. Even walked it a few times. My grandfather used to think nothing of a 30 mile walk, so half that isn't outrageous.

That could work -until the snow piles up. Bicycling is out of the question. The river is frozen, so the canoe stays in the shed. What does that leave? Walking.

Scenario one: Other people are still using cars, but you aren't. The roads eventually get plowed. Walking on plowed roads is much better than on unplowed, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Odds are there's plenty of snow or slush left on the road still. There are no sidewalks so you share the icy roads with fast moving cars that can't stop easily. It's a miserable hike into town, but doable.

Scenario two: Nobody is driving cars and the roads aren't plowed. You'd better have a real good reason for heading into town. Imagine five feet of deep drifting snow. Even with snowshoes on, you sink a good foot before the snow compacts enough to support a person. Five miles of breaking trail through powdered snow is a tough day's work. I'm not getting any younger.

A group of people do better than one alone. Each member of the party takes a turn doing the hard work of breaking trail. When that person gets tired they fall back to the end of the line and walk on the trail packed by their companions. It's a break until it's your turn at the front of the line. If you ever have to carry a good sized load, it's much better to use a tobaggon than a backpack. Let the snow work for you. Much easier to slide a load than carry it.

I've cross country skied 15 mile distances, but not though unbroken powder. Most people ski on groomed trails. The modern cross country ski is made for use on packed trails. Wider off trail skis can still be found, but they aren't common.

There are snowmobile trails into town, but snowmobile use more gas than a car does. No savings there.

I suppose back in the day most people didn't travel far in the winter. Perhaps they'd hitch up the horse and take the wagon into town once in a great while. No doubt people just walked if they had to. Mostly, they must have stayed near home.

Worse comes to worse, it'd be possible to do what our ancestors did. However, I'm troubled by that idea. There must be ways of winter travel that aren't petroleum dependent. We must have learned a few things since the railroads stopped running the North Woods. Just can't think of what it could be.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Well well well

All the disaster specialists, preppers, and survivalists make a big deal about having plenty of water -as they should. Can't live very long without it.

I don't store any. One of the great things about the Great North Woods is a plentiful supply of good water. Here there are multiple options for getting water.

This time of year it's possible to scoop up a big kettle of snow and melt it on the stove. I've done it at the hunting camp and here at home when the water pump failed. It does take a fair amount of energy. If melting snow on a backpacking stove, you'd better have a lot of fuel with you. A big pot of snow only yields a couple inches of water -more for heavy wet snow, less for light dry snow. Melted snow tastes odd. The off taste can be reduced by constantly stirring the melting snow. Not sure why it works, but it does help. Running the snow melt through a water filter can eliminate the off taste.

There is a small lake just 350 feet from my house. Of course, to draw water from it this time of year requires the use of an ice auger or chisel. It's not unheard of for 4 - 6 feet of ice to build up on the lake. During especially cold winters, ice fishermen have had to add extensions to their ice augers to go all the way to the water.

My water comes from a well. The household usage used to be fairly high. That's how it is with three daughters. Water demand for showers and laundry was impressive. You can image the size of a well capable of handling such a draw -even during droughts. You may imagine a huge deep well, but you'd be wrong. My well is only about 5.5 feet deep. It overflows, year round. Water quality is excellent. It's hand dug and walled up with native stone. An excellent well doesn't have to be deep, but only if it's in the right spot.

If my water pump dies, which has happened a time or two, it's just a matter of going to the overflow pipe and filling 5 gallon jugs. Sounds easy? It's better than most people's options. Here's the rub. Water weighs 8.33 pound/gallon. It's heavy. Even though my well is less than a hundred feel away, it's down a very steep hill that's ice covered in winter. Conservation becomes important -at least to the guy doing all the water hauling.

My friends in town complain about high water bills, and they are right, they are high. They say I'm so lucky to have free water. There they are wrong -twice. Luck had nothing to do with it. I chose to live out here in the country. Also, my water isn't free.

I was the one who hand dug the well many years ago and my labor cost me plenty. When the pump failed and I was inside the well changing a bad pipe connection at -17 in the winter -water wasn't free. When my pressure tank failed -water wasn't free. When the pressure switch fell apart -water wasn't free. When the water line into the house froze in the middle of a cold snow less winter -water wasn't free.

Remember that little thing about the weight of water? (hint 8.33 lbs) It takes energy to lift that water to the house. One of the big reasons for putting in a solar electric system was so that the house wouldn't lose water during a power outage. If there's no power for the pump, there's no water. The 1/2 horse submersible pump is a big energy draw. The inverter had to big enough to handle the surge as the pump came on , a 2500 watt unit with a 7000 watt surge capability. Things like low flow toilets make sense, even though the water itself doesn't cost money. The energy needed to bring water into the house has to come from somewhere. It could come from the grid, or it could come from my expensive solar electric panels. When the grid goes down long enough, water conservation goes into effect, especially with the toilets. (if it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down.)

Water is life. Living out in the woods, it really pays to understand everything involved to get that glass of water in your hand.


Monday, January 11, 2010

The heating situation

Quick update. My furnace had been shut off since Friday night. This past weekend temperatures got down as far a -19F. It was a real test of the woodstove. Now I've been burning wood all winter, but had oil backup. The oil furnace would come on in the early morning for a few hours. Then I'd light the woodstove and the oil furnace would shut down for the day.

Saturday night I slept deep and long. Woke up to a very cold house. It was -19 outside and 44 inside. Took most of the day Sunday to get the house to a comfortable level. My firewood wasn't as dry as it could be so the stove didn't put out as much heat as it should. Still, the house was livable and nothing froze up. It did take most of the day to warm the downstairs to shirt sleeve comfortable. The upstairs never got over 50.

Monday morning my furnace guy showed up. He was able to fix the problem for small money.

It's nice to know that the woodstove will keep the place livable -even in very cold conditions. Nothing like a real world test.


Deep freeze

Much of the country is in the middle of a deep freeze. In years past, I've often headed south. Winters were spent traveling the gulf states from Florida to Texas. This year . . . why bother?

Sure there's a difference between the sub zero temperatures here in NH compared to the slightly below freezing temperatures of mid Florida. Frankly, it's not enough of a difference. If it's too cold to get a tan, why drive 1600 miles for nothing? I mean, I can bundle up here at home. What's it matter if I have to put on four layers or only two?

There's plenty of debate about the whole global warming thing -now renamed the not so ridiculously sounding "climate change."

No matter where one comes down on the debate, there are those who'll snap at you like rabid dogs? Is that any way to do science?

I really think we should do science -not that politically motivated crap that shows up in hacked e-mails. No, real science. Oh hey, and why we are looking at things in a scientific way, what's up with all the weird climate conditions on the other planets in the solar system? Looks to me like something really really big is happening. Nobody is talking about it.

Doesn't mean we don't have to deal with it.

People can debate climate change all they want. In the mean time, there may not be any strawberry crop coming out of Florida. Looks like citrus is taking a beating. One of my daughters just got back from a road trip. One of her stops was at a friend's organic tangerine farm. Sitting on my table is a nice bowl of really tasty tangerines. I savor them as they may become darn pricey or rare in the near future.

Citrus is one of those things I'd miss up here in the Great North Woods. I do not take it for granted. It wasn't that long ago when an orange was a rare Christmas treat. They don't grow around here. Oranges are so foreign to this environment that an orange peel dropped in the northern woods takes 15 years to decompose. Nothing here evolved to break it down.

There's a very long chain of things that have to happen right to bring citrus to my table. For a while there it looked like transportation costs were going to make southern foods affordable. That could still happen. This deep freeze could greatly reduce the number and increase the price. Heck, it could be something as weird as civil disturbances preventing the free flow of goods.

Should that happen we'd be reduced to old staples of the past. What did people eat around here a couple hundred years ago? Squash. Corn. Root vegetables. Apples. Lot's of dried or canned things. It's tough to grow much in the thin acid soil around here. That's why when western lands opened for settlement, the population of NH plummeted.

Now let's assume this cold snap isn't a flunk. How are we going to feed the country? Darn if I know. Maybe a better question is how will we feed our own families? Can we grow our own food? Maybe we need things like greenhouses to beat the wild temperature fluctuations? Pick hardy crops? Starve?
All I know for sure is that won't solve our agriculture problems by moving south.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

How not to freeze to death

So right now the furnace is dead and tonight it's going to be -15 F -without the wind chill. Eyeballing my woodpile, I estimate there's enough wood to get me to sometime in February. In NH, February is very much deep winter. I've been promised one more cord from a reliable friend so that'll get me to sometime in March. During the month of March there's something called "spring." Maybe that's what the calendar says, but here in the woods that 's very much winter. Maybe that cord can get me into April, or maybe I can make a deal for a bit more wood.

Now April is a funny month. Anything can happen -several feet of snow to temps near 80 -sometimes within a couple weeks of each other. April is a turning point. On average, by the third week of April, the ice has left my little lake. For me, that's the real start of spring.

Last year I ran out of heating oil on April first. Yep, April fool on me. From that point on the house was heated using mostly poor quality spruce. My daughter had some damaged trees cut down the fall before, and that's what finished off the heating season.

If I do make it to April with regular firewood, after that it's not that hard to scrounge up enough crap wood to keep the place livable.

That's all assuming it's not worth fixing the furnace. I do have about a half tank of heating oil, maybe 125 gallons or so. It would be nice if the furnace repair made it cost effective to burn that oil. If it's too costly, to fix the furnace, then I'll retire it.

Eventually, the oil furnace will have to be retired. I wonder if this is the time? If it is, there's a number of things I'd do. I'd rip out the fire box and oil burner, but save all the hot air ductwork. The woodstove is then mated up with the home's existing hot air ducts. Should be more efficient at moving warm air to the upper floors of the house.

I've pumps rated for diesel, so it'd be possible to remove the oil of the tank and reuse it for something else. It'd work fine in a diesel generator. It would be possible to run my diesel vehicles on it, but that's be illegal.

For backup to the woodstove, a vented propane heater would go in the basement. My main concern would be to keep the plumbing warm enough not to freeze. There's already a propane line into the basement, so installation shouldn't be that hard.

This is all much easier to contemplate while I can still heat the house. It's T-shirt warm in here now.

Side notes about using sketchy wood: First of all, I'm not a firewood snob. Cellulose is cellulose. I'll burn clean construction lumber full of nails, pallets, softwood, not quite seasoned wood, old doors, whatever. Some things are off limits: pressure treated wood, painted wood, and plastics. One thing that's essential is a good clean chimney. Using poor quality wood can increase the build up of creosote in the chimney. That's where good chimney brushes, a long ladder and no fear of heights comes in handy.


Saturday, January 9, 2010


Sometimes the subject of a blog post suggests itself from events around me. Today is one such day.

The house was empty all day as the household left early for appointments downstate. We came back from a long day on the road only to discover a heavy soot smell in the house. I rushed down the basement and turned the furnace switch off. It appears to have backfired. No idea how that happened. It is 20 years old and at that age anything can happen.

We opened doors and windows to get the smoke out of the house. The air soon cleaned, but baby it's cold outside. Right now the the temperature outside is 12 F and dropping. It's supposed to get down around 6 tonight.

What to do?

That's what backup is all about.

I started the woodstove in the basement. Then I split some small wood for the kitchen wood cookstove. Once both stoves were going, I went around closing the doors and windows. As I type I've got a heavy hooded sweatshirt on. Right now I plan to stay up until the temperature of the house is back up to normal and the stoves have good beds of coals.

Thank goodness there's more than one way to heat my house. If all I had was oil heat, tonight would be a crisis. I called my furnace guy, but after 8 PM on a Friday night, it's no surprise I couldn't reach him. No problem, I left a message. Told him what happened but also told him the woodstoves are going. We are fine. There's no need for an emergency call.

Backup changed the situation from a crisis to an inconvenience.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Days without sun

It's that time of year again when I learn why I'm not completely off the grid. The last few weeks we've had about one partly sunny day. Most of the time it's been completely cloudy. This is the winter hump that kills solar electric systems.

Most of the year I'd be able to get by. Once in a while we get these winter stretches almost totally lacking in direct sunlight. Worse yet, it's snowed just enough every day to keep the solar panels under a white blanket.

The early part of last summer was bad. It rained almost every day. Even then, the solar electric system made some gains. Days, while cloudy, were long. While I took the opportunity to top off the batteries from the grid, it wasn't absolutely necessary.

This time of year, it's necessary. Not only is solar gain at its minimum, usage is up. It's dark early so the lights come on. Everyone is inside more so the stereo and computers get more use. Even the amount of laundry goes up. In the warm months, there's very little to wash -shorts and T-shirts. In the winter, we bundle up, and every one of those additional layers makes for more laundry. (or evil smells in a closed up house, your choice)

Without supplemental power, the battery bank would suffer. Leaving batteries partially discharged for long periods of time shortens their life. I really don't need the expense or aggravation of replacing them early. Worse yet, it's easier for the battery bank to get cold. Cold batteries hold less electricity than warmer ones. That's another reason cars start so hard, or fail to start, during cold winters. There's more need for extra power to turn jelled grease and engine oil at the same time the battery is at its weakest.

I may still pull the plug on the grid, but I'll need some battery survival strategies. Could get a back up generator. A diesel one would be nice. It could even run on heating oil, or converted to run on waste veggie oil. Any generator would need to be quiet, even if that entailed building a custom muffler.

It would be necessary to keep the solar panels absolutely clean of snow. A push broom on a very long handle could do the job. That would allow my system to harvest every watt of available power.

Then there's the option that I actually used for a couple years. I killed the main utility breaker and used no grid power in the winter. All I had to do was drain all the water out of the plumbing, load up the car and drive south. Nothing like pitching a tent on a southern beach for the winter. That works too.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Things we don't watch

A few years after we moved out here, a company had the brainstorm that they could make a killing by bringing in cable television. From what I could gather is, they counted all the buildings in town and assumed every single one of them would go for cable TV. Bad assumption.

Some people had satellite dishes and few of them switched to cable. Apparently when they were counting houses, they assumed all the seasonal places would get cable. Almost none of them did. Few wanted to pay for 12 months of service when they were only using the vacation place 2 months of the year.

Once the cable was strung, the company soon became desperate for subscribers. At first they offered to waive the hook up fee. Then they began to off the first month free. Eventually they offered free hook up and 6 months of free cable.

The cable company went bankrupt soon after.

Another company took over the existing lines. I'm told service was fairly poor as they had no one local to take care of problems. Not much money was ever put into maintenance. The service limped along for years until the parent company closed it down completely. Too few people out here in the woods for too many miles of cable.

Some people went to satellite dishes, but not every house here in the mountains gets a clear view of the satellite. Sometimes the view is blocked by trees on the neighbor's land.

I'm told there'll be a TV option piggybacked on the new fiber being run out here in the rural areas.

Once again, we won't have it at our house.

No matter how good it gets, it's only TV.

Occasional I'll see television at friends' houses. The commercials drive me nuts. There I am perfectly happy with my health and things I own. After a couple hours of commercials, I begin to wonder if why I'm not on any special drugs. Why am I not driving a new car? How come other people have all these wonderful technological gadgets and I don't. The commercials seem to work very hard at making me feel unhappy with myself.

Do people become inoculated to commercials? Is it like becoming accustomed to small doses of poison and building up resistance over time? Perhaps they push it out of their conscious mind, but the subconscious absorbs the message? All I know is that my tolerance of them is quite low.

One thing that bugs me is that when we visit people the TV has to be going at all times. The idea of having a quiet conversion with no TV background noise makes them uncomfortable. Does silence scare them?

On my more paranoid days, I imagine it's the mind numbing power of television keeping the sheep from revolting. Think about it. Don't people just "zone out" in front of the TV? Maybe that's what causes riots during power outages. The TV's are dead and the steady drip of electronic opium's shut off. The rioters are druggies going through withdrawal.

Ever notice prisons always have TV? Keeps the prisoners quiet.

Every four years political ads go nuts for NH's first in the nation primary elections. When people who normally passively watch TV complain about political commercials, I know it's bad. During those times I don't even listen to commercial radio. Politicians send a lot of paper in the mail and invade my house that way. One day so many political ads came in the mail that burning them in my woodstove heated enough water for a pot of coffee.

So no TV for me. Maybe it's like the old computer programmer's motto, GIGO: garbage in, garbage out. Maybe that's one of the reasons people are so crazy -too much televised garbage downloading into their brains.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A modest proposal

More and more airports are installing full body scanners. This is supposed to reduce the risk of a terrorist smuggling something dangerous on an airplane. You know, something like nail clippers or shampoo.

While it's true the scanners basically display your naked body, it is for your safety. If you cover up your dangling unmentionables, the terrorists win.

Now there may some resistance to being electronically stripped naked. The best way to deal with that would be to have all TSA inspectors work buck naked. After all, fair is fair.

In fact, why bother with those expensive scanners at all? Might as well just require everyone in an airport to be naked. The money saved by not buying expensive equipment could be passed on to the passengers. There would be no worries about being exposed to X-rays or other invasive radiation. It'd be a huge win all around.

As for me, I'll be driving.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The cost of free stuff

When I was kid my dad bought a small cottage on a lake. It wasn't much of a cottage, but it did come with water frontage and an old boat house. In the boat house was a good sized boat and motor. It came with water skis and everything. The previous owner threw it in with the cottage sale.

I had some glorious plans for that boat. I would water ski, take girls for rides, troll for fish and tool around the lake looking cool. Never happened. Dad sold that boat so fast it make my head spin. I could not understand why he gotten rid of a "free" boat.

He tried to explain to me that a free boat wasn't free. It would need to be registered, fueled, and maintained. At the time, those costs seemed like nothing to me. Only years later did I understand.

Recently I was offered a "free" van. It was in good shape and road legal. Since we didn't need another vehicle I politely refused. It's a honor to be offered such a gift, but no one in my family needed it. I suggested he pass it on to someone who would get some use out of it. The van was much newer than the vehicles I currently drive. However, it did burn gas and since my vehicles run on waste vegetable oil, that's an expense I didn't want. Just like dad's boat, it would also need registration, insurance, and maintenance. I didn't want to take on the additional cost of a "free" vehicle.

Several years ago I was offered a class C motor home. Yep, refused that too. It needed very little work. The guy who offered it to us as he knew we liked camping. We like tent camping, especially the wife. She loves the simplicity of being able to throw a tent in the back of the car and just take off. Not only that, you can't take a motor home canoe camping, which we enjoy. My lovely wife thinks tent camping is terribly romantic and I'm certainly not going to mess with that.

Now some people would have gladly accept these free items, turned around and sold them. That's not the way I operate. In the case of the van, it'd probably be an insult to my friend who offered it to me. The respect of my friends is more important than a few bucks in my pocket.

I don't believe in gathering stuff for the sake of having more stuff. At some point after basic needs are satisfied, stuff becomes a burden. You don't own it, it owns you.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Internet at the end of the earth

Internet options can be pretty limited out here in the woods. Back in the old dial-up days it didn't matter all that much.

At one time I maintained two separate phone lines. One was pretty much the Internet connection. I got sick of paying for two lines and reduced it to one. So as not to miss important calls, I subscribed to a service called Callwave. When a phone call came in, a small message box popped up on my screen with caller ID. There was the option of letting it go to message or taking the call.

When broadband became common in the cities, us rural areas got let behind. There were no plans to bring any sort of broadband service into my area. The closest anything planned ended about five miles away from me.

Not only was dial-up the only option, it was half speed dial-up due to the poor conditions of the local phone lines.

To make matters worse, my daughter and her husband moved in with us, and they wanted Internet connection too.

The only practical option was satellite Internet. Satellite service at the home consumer level is provided by two companies, Wildblue and HughesNet. Everyone I talked to who had Wildblue seemed pretty much satisfied. There were horror stories from those who went with HughesNet.

I went with Wildblue, their basic service started at $50/month, not including installation. It's been in operation here for about two years and pretty much works as advertised. Their basic plan is not quite as fast as most cable or dsl systems, but it's about 20 times faster than what I did have. There is about a half second delay due to the limitations caused by light speed. The satellite is far enough out there that it takes a moment for communication to go back and forth. Wildblue does something to screw up voice over Internet so services like Skype don't work. That bugs me a bit.

One thing I do like is that the equipment runs just fine on my twenty year old modified sine wave Trace inverter. That's a huge plus. Even if the utility poles come down taking power and phone lines with it, the satellite connection will still work. E-mail communication with the outside world is unaffected. A few times that's come in handy to let friends and relatives know we were fine in spite of the phone and power lines being down.

Much to my surprise, I've noticed crews stringing fiber optic cable past my house. Through a series of public and private grants, a special broadband to rural areas project came to my area. Some parts are up and running. Those who have it seem happy.

I'll look into it, but I'm torn. Skype or some other Internet phone system would be nice. Faster speeds wouldn't hurt. However, the fiber is being strung on the same poles as the power and phone lines. If a pole is taken out, that's it for my ability to communicate with e-mail. Too bad cell phones don't work here as it'd be a backup method of communication. There is the option of using my CB radio but communications are hit or miss here in the mountains. Maybe I'll just have to break down and get my ham radio license.


Sunday, January 3, 2010


Apparently I don't live in the US anymore. Best I can tell I live in a little country called Coosistan. ("stan," like Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, etc. pretty much just means country. So it's something like country of the Afghans and so on.) Coos comes from Coos County New Hampshire. Coosistan is for us dwellers of Coos County.

Always thought Coos was part of the US of A. When the border patrol sets up road blocks on Rt. 93 well south of the Canadian border I can only assume they are protecting the US/Coosistan border.

Every time the border patrol stops me I get boiling mad. It's like something out of Nazi Germany or Stalin's Russia. A free country does not have internal checkpoints. They just don't.

I joke about Coosistan, but back in colonial times, NH had a break away republic. In fact it wasn't very far from where I live now. In northern Coos County there was a settlement around the Indian Stream. Tax collectors from both Canada and the US would descend on the place to collect taxes. In frustration, they threw everybody out and formed the Republic of Indian Stream. (1832 - 1835)

I do take some comfort that we threw the bastards out once and could always do it again.

Maybe I'm not completely joking about Coosistan.


Saturday, January 2, 2010


Not as such.

I really am not sure how things will play out in 2010.

I've some concerns, shall we say. No idea if it'll play out in 2010, 2-11, 2012, or whenever. Plenty of other intelligent and informed people make prognostications. Just like a shotgun blast is likely to hit something, some of these predictions will be spot on.

Instead of making predictions, let's just peek into my nightmare box and see what lurks there.

Don't believe the happy talk about the recovery. A student of history could point to times in the middle of the great depression when similar happy talk took place. The housing bubble has yet to work its way though the system. Commercial real estate has just begun to collapse. The bankster class has been rewarded for bad behavior, so we can expect more nastiness from them. The insurance industry is sweeping problems under the rug as fast a possible. People are starting to notice the lumps under the carpet. Official unemployment statistics are a joke. Looks a lot different out here in the real world. The stock market is a highly manipulated sucker's game only marginally connected to anything physical.

Expect politics to descend deeper into ideology and less and less about actually governing. What else can we expect from a professional criminal class?

Peak oil is real -or at least real enough. It only makes sense that oil is a finite resource and eventually we'll have to make do with less of it. Some claim new oil is produced in the ground through no biological processes, something called abiotic oil. Doesn't matter one way or the other; new oil isn't being produced fast enough.

The ecological disaster caused by oil extraction in the tar sands of Alberta demonstrate how we are willing to destroy the environment to squeeze the last bit of energy out of the earth. Corn to fuel ethanol production demonstrates our willingness to feed machines instead of people.

We are in the biggest species die off in history. Something is seriously wrong with the planet. I'm unsure about the whole human caused global warming issue. However, I'm sure of a couple of things. It's not a good idea to mess around with the natural processes, so releasing huge amounts of CO2 from fossil fuels can't be a good thing. The second thing I'm sure of is that the whole Copenhagen summit fiasco was more about creating a financial market in carbon credits than actually helping the environment.

As resources get squeezed, governments have turned more totalitarian. The US of A is quickly tearing up what's left of the Constitution. We have become what we feared from the Soviet Union.

The US medical care system is under severe stress. It's the best in the world -if you are rich. For many in the US it's a disaster. Nothing in the health care bill gives me much hope. Looks more like an insurance company giveaway. Other countries' medical systems are also under stress.

Then there's always the black swan events -things that you can't see coming from current events. Tsunamis, earthquakes, tornados, floods, natural disasters in general, all can come out of the blue and upset the apple cart. It could be a local or regional event, or something that affects the whole world. Humans behaving badly could do the same. For example, some miscalculation could plug the world into war. Then there is the possiblity of totally weird stuff that we don't even have the language for yet.

Depressed yet?

On my bad days, I feel a bit melancholy.

There are encouraging possibilities out there.

While the greater economy is in trouble, it doesn't mean your personal life has to be awful. Scaling back, reducing debt, and being more self reliant doesn't have to feel like suffering. Nothing brings families together like sharing the same roof to save money. It can work. I've done it. It can even be fun.

There's a huge underground economy and it's getting bigger. That's a good thing. When people barter their skills or goods, the only party that doesn't make out is the government. Ha ha!

Resources are dwindling, but there's so much waste in the system that we can do a lot with a lot less. Most households can use a lot less energy and still live fine. There's a lot of stuff out there that can be salvaged and reused. Alternative energy systems are coming down in price and are more widely available. It's a good feeling to be able to make some of your own power.

There's a push to grow more food locally. Makes sense. Saves energy. Produces better food and may even provide some jobs. Anything that reduces our reliance on industrial agriculture is a good thing. Organic gardens and permaculture could feed us all.

People have noticed freedom is in jeopardy and are doing things about it. Thanks to the Internet, ideas are spread faster and further. We can do an end run around corporate media. People who know what's happening are much tougher to control. Also, there's a reason ammo sales have skyrocketed. Hey governments, why do you fear an armed populace? If you are doing nothing wrong you have nothing to fear.

So there you have have it, some concerns and even a few encouraging words. How they will play out in 2010 is anyone's guess. Just keep in mind, whatever happens to most people doesn't necessarily have to happen to you.

Live well.


Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

In no particular order.

Go fishing more:

There is no excuse for me not to fish. I'm 350 feet from a small lake. I've fishing poles, tackle, and small boats. Heck, I've even got ice fishing traps. I like to fish. I like to cook fish. I like to eat fish. Have you seen the price of fresh fresh lately? I need to fish.

Drink more alcohol:

A glass of red wine everyday is supposed to be good for you. Why don't I do something good for me? Is it because even horrible box wine gets pricey if you drink it everyday? Yeah, that's probably it. So I guess I'll have to practice the vintner's art. Only way to drink decent wine at a good price. Not that I'm real fussy about wine.

Unlike beer. I had the misfortune to develop a taste for good beer. I can brew good beer. I should brew more beer. According to Ben Franklin God gave us beer because he loves us and wants us to be happy. Who am I to argue with old Ben? Who am I to argue with God?

Speaking about things that make me happy, I sure do love a good single malt scotch. There is no way to make your own scotch -unless you live in Scotland. Now NH has some of the lowest priced liquor in this country as they tax it less. The price of booze is mostly tax. In Scotland they tax it before it even gets to a bottle. At every step along the way that wonderful water of life is taxed. It makes me sad. It's a crime against the happiness of all mankind.

Only thing to do is to brew more wine and beer so that I can occasionally purchase a good bottle of scotch.

Get my darn passport:

I've got to admit to myself that the days of crossing the border into Canada with a nod and a wave are over.

Spend more time on the archery range:

Sent quite a few arrows downrange at one time. My lovely wife and I would even travel to Maine to shoot with friends once a week -I with my bow, she with her crossbow. Then I pulled a muscle in back that took six months of physical therapy to get somewhere close to normal. My wife has had two shoulder surgeries. So between the two of us, we just got out of the habit. However, my back's fine. Her shoulder's on the mend. I've even got a decent enough archery range. It's time to practice the silent killing arts once again.

Build that greenhouse I've always wanted:

Well maybe not that greenhouse, the one with all the bells and whistles. Maybe build a good enough greenhouse using mostly materials at hand. Food ain't getting anymore plentiful or cheap.

Publish a book or two:

I've got a couple of the darn things mostly written. Writing's fun. Editing and publishing -not so much.

Improve my foreign language skills:

Should not be hard, considering my current state of confusion. I know some French -enough to know when I've been insulted, order food, and find my way around. I read it better than I speak it. I've a little bit of Mandarin. One winter it seemed like a fun thing for the lovely wife and I to learn Chinese. With the benefit of language Cd's and cheesy Kung Fu movies we learned a few things. We had a lot of laughs making funny noises. Learning a new language is supposed to be good for the brain. Lord knows my brain needs something good done for it.

Start building something Interesting:

Kayak, sailboat, electric car, ultralight aircraft -something. Will have to see what the budget is like at the start of the building season. Since I do most of projects outside, the snow has to melt off the ground before I start. Hmmmmm, maybe what I should build is a garage. It'd have to be an interesting garage.

Improve my guitar playing:

Played a bit when I was 13. Dropped it and the years went by. A little over a year ago I picked it up again. I've few illusions about ever getting really good. No matter, it's fun to strum by the campfire. The little kids seem to like it. My wife thinks I'm hot when I have a guitar in my hands.

Live more like a free and wild human:

Freedom doesn't come from laws, constitutions, judges, politicians, soldiers, or police. Freedom comes from the heart. It's a natural condition. It's a state of mind and being that must be won one person at a time.

That's a few random resolutions. Notice I don't have go on a diet, get in shape, and lose weight? Figure I'll be so active that I'll get in shape as a side effect.

Happy New Year!