Wednesday, March 31, 2010

When the grid goes down I walk in the starlight

When the grid goes down, I like to take a little walk outside. First, I'll turn all my lights off. Since I make a substantial part of my own electricity the lights only go out when turned off. My lovely wife is tolerant of this eccentricity and plays along.

I go outside. If I'm lucky there's a moon or starlight. I know my way around so I don't need much light.

At first I just listen and savor the quiet. I may hear the whoosh of tires on the road a half mile away. There may be the sound of a train in the distance. Mostly though, I hear the natural sounds of the woods. If I'm lucky I may hear a whip-poor-will or the bard owls that live nearby. The woods are alive with the sounds of critters doing their things.

Eventually someone will get a generator going. There are a few of them around the lake. As they fire up, I can usually tell who they belong to. Before long two or three will be going, drowning out the natural night sounds.

I'll stroll over to the elderly widow's place. She'll have some sort of emergency light on. In the winter I might check to see if there's smoke coming out of her woodstove's chimney. I leave her alone. She's a private person. Still, I do keep an eye on her to make sure she's fine.

After than I'll come back in the house and turn a light on. Probably check the radio to see if there's any news about the outage. In the winter I'll throw an extra log or two on the fire. I'm usually in a contemplative mood. Those dark quiet moments harken back to a more primitive time, a time that resonates with me.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Starving Time

It's that time of year, the starving time. Back in the bad old days this was the time of year when you'd find out of your food storage was enough to last. Sometimes it wasn't. It would be a hungry time. There's not a lot of game around. Snow's still on the ground here in the Great North Woods. Sure, there's patches of green, poking through the snow, but not much to eat.

I've come across a couple deer that didn't make it. They lasted until spring but not until the new growth. At least the crows and ravens are eating well.

Then there are the bears. Once they start moving around, it's a problem. They are hungry after a winter's hibernation. With so little natural food available in the woods, they move into settled areas and make pests of themselves.

It's a weird time of year. One day it's T-shirt weather. The next, it's snowing. I've seen a half foot of snow on May 5. It can break your heart.

The old timers around here say not to plant until after the first full moon in May. Far as I can tell, they've been spot on. Not that folk wisdom will be useful in the future as our climate changes.

I do keep an eye on those bare patches where the sun hits. Green things will be coming up. First around rocks and walls that hold the heat of the sun. For me it's a big deal when there's enough wild greens to make a salad.

It signals the end of the starving time.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Some weird thoughts about security cameras

Does anyone know of an actual real life situation where surveillance cameras prevented a crime? From personal experience? I can't think of any.

Does anyone else look at all those phony security cameras in catalogs? They look just like the real deal. They usually have an LED to indicate they are "on" and may even swivel. Ever wonder how many cameras you see out in the real world are phony? Is it all a conditioning exercise?

Imagine your average guy working the security desk. He's got a bank of monitors to look at. Anyone else think he's just checking out hot chicks?

Britain has more security cameras that anyone else. Has it done them any good?

I knew a dispatcher for a small town police department. This place has like 10,000 people, yet has security cameras monitoring parts of downtown. One of the dispatchers' jobs is to monitor the cameras. It freaks them out as they occasionally see ghosts.

Alleged Israeli agents killed a man in Dubai. Close analysis of the video feeds showed the man did not die of natural causes. He was killed by a huge hit team. Great, crime solved. The guy is still dead and everyone involved left the country before the cops figured it out. This is considered a huge police success story.

Why does Walmart have as many cameras as casino?

Are cameras used more often to prevent crime or to stifle freedom?

Just some random thoughts.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Survival communities

Survival is all about community these days. The lone wolf in his bunker in the woods was popular at one time, but those days are over. Most preppers came to the realization that a group has a better chance of making it than an individual. While most preppers like to have well rounded skill sets, nobody is good at everything. Some jobs require more than one person. Then there is the fact that you've got to sleep sometime.

Never forget that the life of a lone wolf is . . . well, lonely.

In response to this some preppers have tried to form groups. One idea is to get a large piece of land, pool resources, and make a defended compound. Those don't have a very good history of working out very well. It can be pretty hard to make a living out in the hinterland. How's the group going to be ruled? Too many rules and people bail. Not enough rules and nothing gets done. Who's in charge? Not only that, the compound idea just begs for government scrutiny.

Another idea is to have a bug out location where everyone will meet in times of disaster. One person might own a farm, ranch, or cottage out in a rural area. Supplies are prepositioned there for when the time of need comes. There are advantages to this arrangement. People can stay in their jobs. Their life can go on as normal. The group isn't living together so they avoid day to day frictions. One problem is know when it's time to bug out to the retreat location. Will travel even be possible? Once most people get there, they have to figure out how to live together. All those frictions previously avoided now have to be faced during a stressful time.

This sort of thing works best with known threats for limited periods of time. It's a good enough solution for someone who lives in a hurricane area. They know when a hurricane is coming, and after a few days or weeks, they go back home. It doesn't work so good for a something like a solar flare or EMP that knocks out the grid and disables most electronics. If you aren't at the retreat already, you've got a long walk ahead of you. There's no guarantee that the retreat will still be standing when you get there. If it is there, who's to say it's not already occupied by people who's land deed came in the form of a 308 bullet?

Back in the hippy days, a lot of people experimented with intentional communities. Darn few of them are left. The Farm is perhaps the most famous community still in existence. It evolved and changed a lot over the years. The place is worth study. For a variety of reasons, most intentional communities didn't make it. Still, people experiment with them to this day. Noble as those experiments may be, they aren't for me.

I'm going to be living in an unintentional community. It's going to involve my neighbors, and any friends and family that bunk in with them and us. This isn't a plan. Nothing is official. My neighbors don't even know it yet. It's one of those things that will just happen. We don't have all that much in common. Our politics vary. We are in a variety of life situations. Ages are from babies to oldsters.

I think it could work. Even though we don't have all that much in common, we know each other. It's the sort of place where you wave at every truck and car that comes by. They wave back. Many will stop to talk. The road around the lake is perfect for walking. The local joke is that it can take all day for a 2 mile walk. A person can head out in the morning and stop to chat with everyone along the way. By the time he gets home the sun is going down.

For better or worse, these are the people I'm heading into the future with.

Do you know your neighbors?


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Higher Education

After graduating from high school with decent grades, I went to community college for one semester, where I also made good grades. Then I dropped out.

Second best decision I ever made. The best was marrying my wife.

Somewhere around the second or third grade, I really began to dislike school. By the time high school came along, dislike had turned to hate.

School ate up way too much of my time and interfered with my education. For me, it was a kind of prison. As much as I hated it, my grades were good and I was only occasionally a trouble maker. The only way to get over it was to go through it. I did my time.

The school guidance councilor wasn't much help as far my future was concerned. The guidance department had basically three tracks. If your grades were good they pushed you towards the state university. If they were middling, the community college. Grades not so good? You got a pamphlet describing the joys of manual labor.

Guidance wanted me to go to state. My grades were good enough to fit in that slot. The thought of four more years of school plus the cost seemed bad idea . Instead, I opted for a two year program at the local community college.

That summer I busted my butt working to save money for college. My parents hadn't saved any money for my education, but they made just enough money to disqualify me from student grants. In all I think I received something like $50 from the State of NH.

That one semester at the community college exhausted my savings. For me, it was decision time. Debt? The thought of going into debt for school appalled me. Seemed like a trap. (it is) Dad offered to get a second job to help me pay my way. Since I really wasn't enjoying myself, I dropped out.

That doesn't mean I stopped learning. I liked learning, it's school I hated. I'd read 3 - 4 books every week, plus countless magazines and newspapers. For years I worked right across the street from a library. Made my way though the stacks. I learned to read fast with good comprehension and retention.

So years go by and I have a good and interesting life. Then at age 35 I get injured at work and have to leave the fire service. For two years I don't do much but try and heal. The retirement system was very quick to say I was too broken to be a Firefighter any more. However, they disputed that my injuries were job related so I only received a tiny pension. Thus begins a 4 year battle for my full pension, which I eventually won.

Two years into the battle, I was feeling much better. Some days I was well enough to even drive a car. Funds were tight. No one would hire a former Firefighter out on disability. At the time I qualified for a vocational rehabilitation. The program was willing to pay for 4 years of college, plus gave me money for living expenses. I figured I could live on less money than alloted. I could. That's right, I was basically paid to go back to college. Not much, but it helped the budget.

Helped me a lot too. Word of advice: no matter what age you are, if you can find someone else to pay for college, do it.

If you go to college not worrying about having a career after, it's a great place to be. I didn't worry about how college was going to pay for itself. It was paying me every month I was there. I took any course that interested me. My studies were all over the map. In four year, I was able to double major. It wasn't all that hard to squeeze in the extra classes. Since I picked them, they were interesting to me.

I met a lot of fascinating people. Made friends with people much younger than me, and also made friends with people older than me. One of my friends was going back to school in his fifties. During the first three weeks or so of a semester, I'd do most of my required reading. That would free up time to hang with people, drink coffee, and read for pleasure. Nothing flips out your fellow students more than reading a thick book just for pleasure. Most of them were bogged down with required reading. Of course, it did help that I'd read a few of those required books during my working years.

Was college worth the money the state paid for my education? Probably not. I haven't really made all that much extra money with my college education. It did enrich my life in other ways. Had I actually paid for college myself, I'd have found some way to get a financial return on investment. However, I've had a lot more fun this way.

Now I do a lots of research on the Internet. It's better than having a library across the street. The college experience did give me the tools needed to do focused research.

School's a funny thing. K-12 was prison for me. College the second time around was a choice. I could leave any time. I could decide what to study. College was fun. My fun was backwards from the younger students. They left home to drink and get laid. I'd go home to drink and get laid. Their classes were something they had to take to get that degree. I got to enjoy classes because they were interesting. College was already paying for itself.

Never let school interfere with your education.


Friday, March 26, 2010


Litterbugs annoy the hell out of me. It's a small enough thing, but to me it indicates a major character defect. I've stopped being friends with people who litter. It's that troublesome to me.

Of course, I've got another reason to hate littering. Trash keeps getting thrown on my land. Happens all the time. Someone goes for a nice drive around the lake. They come to an undeveloped section of land (my land) and toss out an empty beer or soda can. I'm putting more of those out in today's recycling.

Litter breeds litter. If someone dumps a few old tires at the end of a dirt road, eventually they'll be a pile of them. Trash piles attract more trash.

There was a huge spike in illegal dumping when dump fees went up. For example, it costs ten dollars to dump a refrigerator. Tires cost money to dump. Some stuff is free. The town allows three pickup truck loads of junk to be dumped every year. I hate going to the transfer station. They poke around your load, looking for something with a fee attached to it. Everything goes in separate piles. There's always the chance of tire damage. It's a real annoyance.

As much as I hate going there, I do it. I hate the woods being filled up with junk more.

The litter problem varies quite a bit around the country. Some of the worse littering I've seen is in the Southeast. No idea why. Litter is all over the woods and people act like they don't see it. I once asked one guy why he was littering. He told me he was littering because the government didn't want you to. Now it's one thing to have issues with the government, but some things just aren't right.

One thing I've noticed a huge improvement in is there's less stuff thrown in the lake. The first warm swimming day I'd put on a diving mask and see how many cans and bottles I'd pull out of the water. It used to be quite a haul, especially after a long winter of ice fishing. Beer bottles fit so nicely down those holes in the ice. Those guys seem to have gotten the message. There are more fishing shacks on the ice than ever before, but very few bottles or cans show up now. Education can work.

Economic factors influence the amount of trash in the woods. At first, the littering problem gets worse as people avoid dump fees. Later on, they can't afford to travel out here into the woods as much. There are less people around to litter. Not only that, they have less stuff to throw away. If they can't afford that six pack of beer, there won't be empty cans out in my trees. I guess an economic downturn isn't all bad.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Health Care Bill, one man's view.

It's been a fews days since the health care has passed. I haven't commented on it until now. Wanted to give the dust a chance to settle. For those who think this is the final straw in government overreach -it isn't. For those "Progressives" who think the bill will make a more fair and just society -it won't.

Just a few observations. My current medical plan is considered fairly good. One problem is that it takes a huge chunk out of my income. My parents had the same plan. They went through a medical bankruptcy. The things not covered by the plan add up enough to ruin a comfortable middle class life. When mom died two years ago dad didn't have enough money to pay for the funeral.

For the last 30 years my wife has worked in a number of different hospitals. I've seen what happens there from the inside. It ain't pretty. Costs have spiraled out of control. Good doctors leave their practices due to outrageous malpractice insurance rates. Others leave because they spend more time doing paperwork than practicing medicine. They have to justify every medical test to the insurance company. It's really the insurance companies practicing medicine right now.
To get the bill passed some of the worse practices of the insurance companies will be curtailed. Of course, many of those things won't come into effect for years. You can be sure the insurance companies will be taking full advantage until then.

Many Libertarians are concerned that government is intruding more and more into people's personal lives. It is. That's what governments do.

The states have filed lawsuits against the bill. It's going to be a political nightmare. This is just act one.

Never mind all that. Health care will get a lot worse no matter what happens. The health care industry has grown and grown until it makes the military industrial complex look small. It's gotten more complicated. Costs have risen much faster than the rate of inflation. That can't go on forever. The government solution is to add even more layers of complexity. That will only hasten a total collapse of the system. Things are going to simplify one way or the other.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, their health care system collapsed along with it. Death rates rose and then rose some more. Russia has had a steady downward slide in population ever since. Only in the last year has their population stabilized. This could easily be our future.

There were other factors that influenced death rates. The economy collapsed. People who grew up believing in the system lost heart when it all fell apart. What does our economy look like? If you are over 40, does this look like the country you were brought up to believe in? Looks like there are some dangerous parallels.

There are positive steps that can be taken. The system can be fixed, but not without major overhaul.

*Accept that there will be medical rationing. It happens now but we don't talk about it.
*End of life care will change. Old grandma who was never sick a day in her life becomes ill or injured at 88 and a million dollars of invasive treatment gives her 6 months of pain and suffering. That won't happen any more.

*Preventative care. That's were the big bang for the bucks are. It's boring: diet and exercise, but effective. Banning high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners would go a long way towards better general health.

*Alternative medicine. Don't get me wrong. If I'm having a heart attack, administer CPR. Don't get out a purple crystal and chant. That being said, we already have a growing alternative medical system. It will get better. Those things that work will spread. Those that don't will die out. Cost will be one factor, but alternatives often work where main stream methods don't. It worked for me when regular medical treatments reached a dead end.

On a personal level, about the best thing you can do is take care of your own health. I've finally gotten serious about taking care of mine. We've got interesting times ahead and I'll need to be in fighting trim.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Abandoned animals

One recurrent problem with living way out in the sticks is that people think it's a great place to abandon animals. They drive out in the country, go down a dark road with no lights, stop the car and dump a box of kittens. It happens year after year.

No doubt most of them end up feeding the wildlife. I've a pair of bard owls that live close by. Coyotes are murder on stray cats and dogs. However, some of them make it to my house.

Here's the thing about country people. If we want a cat or a dog, we have them already. We rarely want to take in more, especially a critter not of our choosing. The local dairy farm has a barn full of semi feral house cats. He gives them milk, but for everything else they are on their own. I would not be surprised of he occasionally thins them out. Cruel? Yes, but less cruel than leaving them to starve or freeze to death.

My oldest daughter took in a kitten with frost bitten ears. It had been abandoned during a time of -25 F temperatures. She took it to a vet, got it healed up, and found it a home. My youngest took in one we found in the summer time. It had been living on crickets and grasshoppers.

Last time here it was a mother cat and four kittens. Mom was skin and bones. Until we fed her up a bit she had a hard time nursing. We were able to place them in a no kill shelter, but that's since closed.

As funds for shelters dry up, there are few options for abandoned pets. People loose their jobs and move away, animals are left to fend for themselves. Bringing them to the country isn't a good option. Stray cats are likely to starve, freeze or become some critter's meal. Stray dogs fare worse. They become a threat to deer and likely to be shot on sight. It's common practice out in the country. I'm not likely to do it unless the dog is a threat, but others don't hesitate.

It ticks me off how people get a pet then take no responsibility for it. It makes me wonder. If they are that bad with their pets, how well do they treat other members of the family? Will they be dumping grandpa on the side of the road next?


Tuesday, March 23, 2010


If you're 18, you are an adult. At 18 you can join the military. You are expected to have the responsibility of life and death. You can vote, for what it's worth. You can marry without parental permission.

When I was 18, I was driving firetrucks as a full time professional Firefighter. I was entering burning buildings, hazardous factory fires, and rescuing people in danger.

When my own children turned 18, I considered them adults.

At 18 expect people to have complete adult freedom. However, I also hold them to complete responsibility.

One of the things that annoys me so much about modern life is the prolonged adolescence of young adults. I see thirty year old men who still cling to their mommy's apron strings. That doesn't mean to disrespect your parents. It does mean you should be able to stand on your own two feet.

Part of the problem is the prolonged schooling required for so many professions. Many people only enter the real world in their mid 20's, or even into their 30's. Academic life can be fun and interesting, but it is isolating. Most professors become seriously detached from the realities of the wider world. You get a very slanted view of life. If you want to expand your world view, try and have your morning coffee with the janitors. Get to know the secretaries.

There hasn't been a lot of meaningful work for young adults to do. I don't mean just jobs, I mean responsibilities in general.

The time is coming when young adults will have to be adults again. There's too much to do that will require both energy and responsibility.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Gated Communities

They vary. I've seen all kinds. Everything from retirement communities that are glorified trailer parks, to enclaves for the rich and arrogant. They do have things in common. Of course there's a gate, and at least a basic fence around the property. There's usually some attempt at security. On the low end is the retired guy who sits in a shack. There's a cheap camera for when it's his bed time. One the other end are armed security guys with bad steroid habits along with crash barriers designed to stop a tank.

It's the latter community that concerns me. More and more of the so called elite are building their little islands of security. It's the sort of thing that happens when societies fall apart. Just look at any country that lacks a middle class. One one side of the fence is a slum. On the other is peace, prosperity, and most importantly of all, security. The slum dweller can only pass the gate under close supervision -to clean the toilets.

This country has always had rich and poor sections of town. The police presence on the rich side was a different animal than on the poor side. People who looked out of place were likely to get questioned. The rich section wasn't physically gated. It was possible for a poor person to take his old car and drive though. The divide between rich and poor wasn't as clear cut.

Now we have gated communities that look more and more like 3rd world enclaves for the elite. As we are beginning to look like a third world country, it shouldn't be a surprise. When the rich are afraid of the poor, things are looking bad. They know the poor have serious grievances. After a hard of exporting jobs overseas, buying a congressman, and foreclosing on widows and orphans, the rich man wants to feel secure in his person.

He thinks of a gated community as his fort.

Let's turn perception around. There are other gated communities I haven't touched on until now. Prisons. The gates are there to keep the bad guys in.

We know the super rich have robbed us blind. We know where their gated communities are. It's just a matter of getting the guards at the gate to turn around. Point their guns inward instead of outward.

Problem solved.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Energy changes everything

For as long as I can remember there's been rumors of "magic" energy devices. Often they involve something to do with magnets, pyramids, orgone energy or some version of cold fusion, but usually it's some secret process the government is trying to suppress.

Now I know for a fact that science doesn't have all the answers. I've been personally involved in a thing or two not easily explained by known physics. Unfortunately, they had nothing to do with over unity devices. (things that produce more energy than it takes to run) My mind is just open enough to believe in the possibility of over unity devices being possible. It could really exist in a garage, basement or secret government lab somewhere.

Should such devices ever come to light, eventually everyone would at least pretend to understand them. It'd be like when you know how an amazing feat of stage magic is done. It's not so amazing. Clever maybe, but pretty hum drum after you know the trick. It would be the discovery of atomic energy, not magic, but part of physics previously undiscovered.

Free energy would change all the equations. Given enough energy, almost anything is possible. Not enough food? No problem, you've got all the heat and light needed for any number of green houses. Nearly infinite energy? Maybe you can synthesize food and everything else you need. There's no telling what could be done with free energy.

If the devices were cheap and widely dispersed, individuals could be as independent as they want. Hows that for a danger to the powers that be? If people's energy needs could be easily satisfied, many other needs would soon follow. We wouldn't need oil. There'd be no reason to fight wars for resources. The need for most of government and most corporations would certainly lessen. There is certainly incentive for these things to be covered up.

Sounds fantastic, I know. It would be nice to have such a Science Fiction device. I'm not planning on one coming to light any time soon. Here's the weird thing though, plenty of people are acting like science will pull the magic energy rabbit out of a hat. When the oil gets too expensive, or the remaining coal too deep, they'll be a technological fix that'll make the problems go away. We can all continue doing what we are doing without worry. "They" will find solutions.

Now I hope there will be a simple easy energy fix. It would certainly make my life easier. In the mean time, I'm trying to get by on a bit of energy from the sun, sustainably harvested firewood, waste vegetable oil, and as little fossil fuel as possible. Just in case the magic energy doesn't grant us our wishes, it's good to have a back up plan. I don't trust that "They" will find a solution.

If I'm wrong, I look a bit silly for my solar and firewood hobbies. I'm comfortable with that. If those who tell me not to worry are wrong, they get to freeze in the dark. Are they comfortable with that? Their actions, or to be precise, inactions, seem to indicate as much.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

That time of year

It's that time of year. We are making the transition from winter to spring. Well, that's according to the calendar. For me, spring isn't really here until the ice on the lake breaks up. I can still walk on it. It usually lets go somewhere around the third week of April. The ice has gone out earlier, but once didn't leave until the middle of May.

It's been sunny of late; a welcome thing here. Temperatures have climbed into the 50's. That passes for T-shirt weather up here in the woods. Still gets below freezing at night -good sugaring weather. Hope my buddy Jeff has a good maple syrup year. Once you get used to the real stuff, nothing else compares. Think I'll head over to his sugar house and get some warm syrup right out of the evaporator.

This is also the time of the year when I get cheap and refuse to buy any more heating oil. Last year I ran out on April first. Scrounged up enough wood to keep the place warm until summer. Melting snow has revealed a fair amount of missed placed firewood -wood pieces I never got under cover before the snow came, branches that came down over the winter, and even good sized wood chips near the splitting log. I'm burning some now. It's like found heat.

Chickadees are scouring my deck. As the snow melts hemlock cones are revealed in abundance. Once the birds have gone over it pretty well, I'll sweep the deck.

The snow's only melted in a few places: off the deck, where the sun hits all day, and over the septic tank. It's true, the grass is always greener over the septic tank.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Not a fan of the Bug Out

There's a lot of chatter on the net about bugging out. Lots of people go on and on about their bug out vehicles. They talk about their B.O.B. -bug out bag.

Fine. That's all well and good. It's good have an evacuation plan. You never know when natural disasters or societal breakdown may suggest a period of relocation. Having a good reliable vehicle is a good idea. Having a bag packed with essentials is just common sense.

Here's the thing that bothers me -the bug out as first line of defense against disaster. It's a plan B or C as far as I'm concerned. I'm more a proponent of bugging in -hunkering down in my well equipped home.

Why live in a place so crappy that your first line of defense is a bug out? Live in a better place.

Here's one thing that bothers me about bug out vehicles. They break. My vehicles are old, but well maintained. Still, I almost got stuck just outside of Boston due to a failing starter motor. There's plenty of upsides to my truck. (Ford 250 diesel) It's got a full sized bed, 4x4, and it's converted to run on waste vegetable oil.. One problem is that the big turbo diesel engine tends to eat batteries and starter motors. I use top quality Interstate batteries, but cold winters take their toll.

Right now the truck is in a local garage getting a new starter motor. I could change it myself, but really do not feel like crawling in the frozen mud to do the job. Instead I succumbed to the lure of AAA and my local trusted mechanic.

If I'd need it to bug out, I could not. There's still the car and a fair sized utility trailer. I could move the essentials if need be. A lot of important stuff would be left behind. Also would be limited to paved roads. Good thing a bug out isn't plan A.

A lot of people haven't thought much beyond bugging out. That could be fine for a temporary emergency. They leave for a bit and then go back home. Perhaps for something like a hurricane evacuation. If their home is intact, they can just go back. Fine.

Some don't think much beyond heading out into the hills. I've news for them, there are people in the hills already. They may think the hills are crowded enough. If you think you'll live off the land, well, the locals are better at it and won't look kindly on the competition. Best be on good behavior.

If you are bugging out to an established place, it's a better plan. Maybe you have a cabin in the woods, or maybe relatives will be willing to put you up. Fine. Here's the problem: when do you bug out? Too late and you are bogged down in bumper to bumper traffic. Roads may be closed. Gas stations could be shut down. Too early and it may not actually be an emergency at all. Can you afford to randomly scoot out of town? How many have lives that allow that?

Not everything can be foreseen. It's one thing if it looks like a hurricane is coming your way. You've got days to bug out. Maybe a major forest fire is coming? There's usually time. How about an earthquake? Can't really predict the day and time of those. Social unrest? There may be some indication, but an incident could cause a flare up out of the blue.

A bug out may be necessary, but if you plan carefully, a lot less likely to happen to you. Think of the perfect place to bug out to -then move and live there. If you can't live there now, what makes you think you'll be able to live there when times get bad?


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Two roads to power

There are basically two ways to power your home. One way is to connect to the power grid. The other way is to generate your own power using any number of small scale alternative systems, or any combination of systems.

One way one requires you to pay every increasing monthly bills. When the power goes down you wait for the power company to fix it.

The other way, when the power goes down, you pull out your toolbox and get to work.

The grid way requires very little besides money from the homeowner. The homeowner doesn't need to know if the generated power comes from a big hydro plant, coal, or nuclear plant. Maybe a portion of it comes from a big wind farm; he doesn't need to know.

The home system guy knows plenty about his power system. He may have installed it. He knows how to do basic maintenance and repair.

Grid guy may occasionally get surprised by a huge power bill. If his power usage suddenly goes way up, he won't know about it until the bill comes in.

The other guy is aware of his power usage. If something is suddenly drawing a lot more power than normal, he's going to track down the culprit in short order.

Grid rates may suddenly take a huge upturn. Grid guy's got two responses, reduce usage, or become home power guy.

Home power guy pays a lot up front, but then goes long periods of time spending little on the system. Occasionally he has to change batteries, or upgrade equipment. Most of those expenses are not a surprise as the equipment has known life expectancies. Saving a little money each month should cover it.

The grid is a huge system requiring enormous capital expenditure, an army of trained technicians, and massive distribution systems.

Home power systems vary tremendously in size, sophistication, power output, and cost. While there may some tax breaks, no public money is used in their construction.

The different power systems have hugely different political ramifications. Grid power is centralized power. Not just electrical, but political. Centralized government is needed to make it happen. State power dictates power generation and distribution by regulation and taxation. The state collects taxes all the way down the line, from the power source (coal, uranium, oil, dams) to the physical power plant, to the power lines, to the wages of all the workers, to the taxes on every watt that comes into a person's house.

The home power system dilutes and destroys state political power. Most of the tax structure just goes away. The state may regulate the installation of small alternative energy systems, but often weakly or not at all. The state makes little money off the home power guy, if any at all.

There are philosophical and psychological effects that should not be ignored. The grid power guy looks to centralized power to solve his problems, both electrical and political. The home power guy is self reliant, electrically at first, but that attitude may affect his politics. Self reliance in electrical power will encourage him to become self reliant in other areas. Regulations on his home production -restrictions on the installation of solar panels or windmills for example, put him at odds with the state. It has encouraged guerrilla alternative energy. People just do it. They may pick a location not visible to their neighbors or the road. Perhaps he'll use solar shingles that look like regular roofing shingles. Apartment dwellers may just hang a panel out their window and power a small system. The state is not the source of their power, but an obstacle to it.

The big grid systems are hard on the land: mining and the burning of polluting fossil fuels, the horrors of nuclear waste, and even the destruction of salmon runs by dams.

Home generated power tends towards solar, wind and a bit of micro hydro. While there may some fossil fuel generated power, it's limited due to cost and annoyance factor. There are no power corridors needed for transmission lines. Home systems are easier on the land and more sustainable.

If the state was more interested in sustainability and the environment, they'd promote home power alternative energy systems. They really don't want that. They'd loose too much money and political power.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I realized something the other day that astounded me. Recently I've been reading more electronic books than paper books. That's a big transition that slowly snuck up on me.

The problem with electronic books is that I never feel like I really own them. Doesn't matter that I may have spent good money on a PDF download. It still doesn't feel quite real to me.

A paper book doesn't need a whole support system to access it. Daylight works just fine. Electronic books require so much more. There's the platform itself: bookreader, laptop, netbook, desktop, PDA, or what have you. Everything either needs batteries or house electric. It's complicated. Things can go wrong. Machines break. The grid goes down. Batteries die.

Formats change over time. We've many paper books in our house that over 100 years old. How many electronic formats last even 10 years? Recently I discovered some important (at least to me) files that only existed on 3.5" floppy disk. Fortunately I still have a computer that could read it. Converted it other formats. How often is information lost because the device needed to read it is no longer available?

People say just print out a copy. How often does that happen? Sure, you may print out a few pages of important information, but books worth? Few do. I just printed out about 240 pages of text and finished off another expensive printer cartridge. If you want the document to last, better use acid free paper and archival inks. Both of those things cost money.

There's a lot of information that never made the transition from paper to electronic. Plenty of useful farm and household books from years gone by won't make it to electronic format. That information is in danger of being lost. We may have a time when those old skills could come in handy.

Never mind the practical stuff. What about the simple pleasures of being able to read a book? If the grid goes down, or an EMP event takes out your electronics, at least you can escape into a good book.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Skills for boys and girls

I met an old acquaintance of mine a couple years back. After his divorce he was living on Pepsi and whoopee pies. He lacked basic cooking skills. Also had no idea how to do his own laundry. This was a guy who was smart in many other ways. However, he didn't know how to do any of that "girl stuff."

I'm always amazed at people who lack basic life skills. Guys who can't cook is a big one. I'm not talking about anything fancy here. Some guys can't cook a hamburger or bake a potato. It's not unmanly to know how to cook. I wooed my wife with home cooked steaks cut to order from the butcher. It worked like a charm.

Women who lack so called "guy skills" bother me just as much. All my girls grew up with the basics of tools -everything from saws to guns. When they wanted to learn how drive, changing a flat tire and checking under the hood were all part of the lessons.

When my kids were little I spent a lot of time taking care of them. Some of the guys at work would try and tease me because I changed diapers. What's the matter, I'd say, not tough enough to change a diaper? I'm glad my daughter's husbands aren't afraid to handle the basics. If you are going to have kids, you'd better know how to take care of them.

It makes sense that some jobs will be done more often by one sex or the other. It doesn't have to be the "traditional" roles. At my house I happen to do most of the cooking. I enjoy it more. For a few years my wife was the main breadwinner. Stuff happens. I was out on injury leave. However, I could take care of some of the household stuff. Guys who are out of work and still expect their working wives to do all the housework bother me.

Now I don't expect my wife to crawl under the truck to fix things. However, it is nice that she knows what to hand me when I ask for a specific tool.


Monday, March 15, 2010

More Biofuel Stuff

Okay boys and girls. Some sharp readers have noted that I came down hard on corn biofuel yesterday, yet run my car on vegetable oil. What gives?

Indeed. What gives.

It's comparing apples and oranges. Corn is grown for ethanol. Fuel is not a byproduct of food production, it's food turned directly into fuel.

Now there are some biodiesel plants that start with fresh vegetable oil. I'm opposed to that too. At least I'm that consistent.

My vehicles run on waste vegetable oil. It's done its job. It's cooked food. By the time I get it the restaurant is throwing it out. It's no longer fit for cooking.

The restaurant that supplies the bulk of my veggie had a hard time getting rid of the oil. The company didn't come often enough. They made a mess of things, and charged money for the service too. (poor as the service was) I pick up the oil on a regular basis. They never have to call me. Should I be out of town and can't make the pickup, I've people who fill in for me. Don't want to disappoint the restaurant people.

This has been going on for years -all by an oral agreement and a handshake.

Now instead of the oil being a hazardous waste needing disposal, it's turned into a useful fuel. Instead of a big diesel burning truck coming from several states away, I haul it a short distance with my veggie powered truck. The restaurant owner keeps a bit more money and has one less worry. I save a lot on motor fuel and can afford to occasionally eat out at the restaurant.

Some people give me a little grief because I'm using straight vegetable oil. Because of that, the vehicles have to be started and shut down with regular petrochemical dinosaur diesel. About 5% of the fuel I burn is ordinary diesel. The rest is waste veggie.

Had the WVO been converted to biodiesel, it'd be possible to just pour it in the tank of a diesel vehicle and drive off. My vehicles have to have two fuel tanks, switching valves, heaters, and a few other little gizmos.

While biodiesel can be run directly in an unconverted diesel, it still has extra energy costs associated with it. There's the expense and materials of the biodiesel processor. The machine uses energy to make the fuel and also some nasty chemicals like methanol. There ain't no free lunch. Either have a complicated vehicle that uses unconverted fuel, or have a complicated processor.

Biodiesel works fine in warm weather. It tends to jell at colder temperatures, like those we have here in NH. They either have to put in a tank warmer and insulated hoses (like in my WVO vehicle) or switch to regular dino diesel. Since I did such a nice job converting my vehicles, I can run straight waste vegetable oil all the way down to -25 F. It takes a bit longer to warm everything up, but once it warms up, it runs fine.

At least I'm not taking corn tortillas out of little kids mouths.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Corn to Fuel

The thought of turning corn into ethanol fuel always troubled me. It seemed a sin to take food that people could eat and turn it into motor fuel. Maybe if no one in the world was hungry it wouldn't feel as bad. I probably would still feel a little bad about it. Now there are plenty of arguments how ethanol production doesn't yield as much energy as it takes to make it. Other's argue that it really does yield above what it takes to produce. Even if it does come out on top, it can't be by much.

The high price of corn has negatively affected me all the way up here in the tip of NH. Since most of the ethanol plants are in the grain belt, how can I be negatively affected?

My local farmer. I try and support the guy. It's tough to make a living on a farm. He used to have a very nice farm stand every summer and fall. I'd buy whatever was in season. His place was on my way home and it was easy to stop and see what looked good. Then I'd take fresh ingredients home and make dinner. In the fall, I'd stock up on potatoes and winter squash. We'd eat those until the warm weather was back.

Now this guy's main business is his dairy. The veggies were more of a side line. It was a nice diversified little farm. Then the price of corn skyrocketed. He shut down the farm stand and planted every acre he had in corn. It was the only way he could afford to feed his cows. Now the only thing you can buy directly from his farm is . . . corn. Now I like fresh corn as well as well as the next guy, but a little diversity would be nice.

We've decided to grow more of our own veggies. We also barter with people who've bigger gardens than what we have. Even put in our own potato patch, and potatoes are about the cheapest thing in the world. I've learned that if I want to be sure to have something I have to take care of it myself.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Keeping old computers running

I use to think I'd love to buy a new computer every year. Now I'm not so sure I would, even if money wasn't an issue. A new computer requires plenty of tweaks before it's set up similar to your old one. That's too much hassle for me to do every year.

Now if your work requires the best and fastest computer, by all means get it. A lot of people are like me. They require a computer to get on-line, do word processing, some photo work, music, and maybe a few games. A new computer isn't needed for that.

Even hardware improvements aren't too terrible to do yourself. I've changed laptop batteries, repaired power supply cords, doubled the ram on two computers, replaced hard drives, replaced DVD drives, and other little fixes. Most of the instructions I found on youtube. What the heck, if it's broken anyway, why not pop the cover and tinker with the innards?

The software side of computers can be a real hassle -especially operating systems, Windows to be precise. I drew the line in the sand when Windows Vista came out. I refused to spend time learning an operating system that didn't work well. The time spent learning Vista could be better spent learning Linux. Besides, most Linux operating systems are free downloads. What did I have to lose? Just some download time and and some disks.

I pulled an old desktop computer out of storage. On that old machine over the period of about six months, I tried 5 different distributions of Linux. Puppy Linux worked well on the old machine, but the added features of Ubuntu sold me on that version. It's fun to download different software packages and see what they can do. What the heck, everything I tried was free anyway. Discovered that Open Office could run all my old Word files. There were programs to open up all my different files.

Still, I was hesitant to install Ubuntu on my laptop -my day to day computer. One day my computer caught the virus from Hell. Over the years I'd developed an impressive array of tools and techniques to eliminate viruses. Nothing would touch this monster. Fortunately, I'd backed up all my files two weeks earlier. There wasn't any new work that I couldn't recreate or live without. I formatted the hard drive and installed Linux.

90% of my computer was back and running in about 5 hours. Over the next couple of days I tweaked the remaining 10%. It took a bit of extra effort to get the wifi card working, but I did sort that out. The newer versions of Ubuntu Linux seem to do a better job with wifi drivers. Upgrades to newer versions are pretty smooth.

Now I'm not some code monkey. My knowledge of software is pretty limited. However, I can search the forums and copy solutions that worked for other people. There's a learning curve, but I figure no worse than learning Vista would have been.

Best part is that Linux has few viruses written for it. The basic architecture of the operating system is inherently safer. Not as many people run Linux so a virus would have a hard time spreading. When you figure in all the different versions of Linux, it makes a virus writer's job that much harder.

I'm no expert on hardware and software so if I get something wrong I won't take it personal if corrected.

Another important point here is to do regular backups. I was holding off on backing up computer as I was saving up for an external hard drive. Then it struck me, I had a big pile of CDs bought in bulk and a CD burner on my laptop. Wouldn't' I feel stupid if something happened to my computer and I'd saved nothing? It was two weeks after I burned a pile of CDs that my computer caught that virus. Still hadn't saved up enough for the external hard drive.

Finally did get that drive, and backed up my whole computer too. Now I also put critical information on jump or thumb drives. Their size has gone up and the price has come down. Ease of use makes it more likely that I'll actually back stuff up.

New computers cost money that could be put into other preps. Keeping older computers running keeps electronic junk out of the landfill. I always felt I should know how to keep my tools in good running order. For me, a computer is just another tool.


Friday, March 12, 2010

12 or 24

Twenty years ago I installed a solar electric system. I had some choices to make back then. One choice I've regretting a bit was going with a 24 volt battery bank. It made sense at the time, but it's proven a bit inconvenient ever since.

My solar array is a fair distance from the house. Low voltage DC lines lose a lot of power over fairly short transmission distances. Bigger wire reduces the loss, but good wire is expensive. Another way to limit power loss is to up the voltage. A 24 volt system has a lot less line loss than a 12 volt system.

Back then, the charge controller had to be 24 volt and inverter was 24 DC to 120 AC. The battery bank consists of 12 heavy duty 6 volt batteries. They are wired in series, 4 in a row, to add up to 24 volts. Picture 3 of those rows (3X4 = 12). The groups of 3 are wired in parallel.

Here's the thing I regret. There are all kinds of nifty things that run on 12 volt DC. Think of all those things that plug into a car cigarette lighter. Add on all the gadgets built for motor homes. Hooking things directly to 12 volt DC would eliminate the efficiency loss caused by the inverter. I wouldn't want to wire everything in 12 volt, as it takes a lot of heavy wire, but some things would be nice.

Almost nothing runs on 24 volt DC. It's possible to get a few things, but not many.

There are a couple ways around the problem. It's possible to get a DC to DC converter that changes 24 volt to 12. Problem is, they cost money, and have inefficiencies of their own.

Some of you are thinking that it wouldn't be too big a deal to just pick two batteries in the battery bank and tap off 12 volts. I actually did that for a while. The problem is that the battery is now discharging unevenly. Those two batteries you've tapped into may never take a proper charge. It could shorten the life of those batteries, thus hurting the performance of the whole battery bank. To spread the damage around, I'd move the 12 volt tap on a rotating cycle. The idea was to spread the load around. Also made sure to put the battery bank on an equalization charge fairly often. It was a pain. Sometimes I'd forget to move the tap. I was never happy with it.

A few years ago I changed the old charge controller to an Outback charge controller. It could be programed to accept one voltage and put out a different voltage. The solar array was rewired to run at 48 volts. That reduced my voltage line loss. The controller could easily take in 48 volts and put out 24.

Now It's just as easy to have it put out 12 volts instead of 24. It wouldn't be that hard to rewire the battery bank to run at 12 volts. The one big remaining problem is the inverter. They aren't cheap. The expected life of a quality inverter is about 20 years. I've had it for 20 years so I should probably think about a replacement. One thing holding me back is that it still works fine. I hate to fix something that's not actually broken.

Money is pretty tight. However, things might loosen up later in the year. Should that happen I'll probably upgrade my solar electric system -especially as I'm probably going off grid completely sometime this summer. I'd like to add a small wind turbine to my system. We get too many cloudy days in the fall and winter. Do I get a 12 volt wind turbine or a 24 volt system? It might be the time to go to 12 volt. That decision can be put off until the fall . . . unless the inverter gives up the ghost.

When you make a substantial part of your own power, you tend to keep thinking of improvements. You think of what can go wrong. You develop backup plans.

For example, should my inverter die and I can't afford a replacement, I've got a plan. I'll rewire the battery bank to 12 volt. I've a 2000 watt inverter in my truck (12 DC to 120 AC). I'll pull it from the truck and install it in the basement.

Now the current house inverter also has a charging function built in. Very useful for topping off the batteries when the sun doesn't shine. The inverter from the truck doesn't have that charging feature. There is a work around. I've a good quality high amperage battery charger. (12 volt) I could charge the battery bank from a portable generator or other power source.

Yes, I've got backup for my backups.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Water tank shuffle

One of the real benefits of owning your own home is being able to do things you'd never be able to do in an apartment.

My first house had some really odd things. There was a hot air furnace sitting in the living room. The old guy who owned the house before me didn't trust those new fangled furnaces. He had his installed in the living room so he could keep an eye on it. The house had a pot bellied coal stove in the basement, and 700 pounds of coal. I burned up all the coal while remodeling the house, then sold the stove. Once that was out of the way, the furnace went down the basement.

For hot water there was a kerosene stove in the kitchen with a 30 gallon water tank that warmed from a copper coil in the firebox. The stove was moved out and replaced with a modern electric stove. The water tank was replaced by a 40 gallon electric hot water tank.

Then energy costs soared. Soon there was a good woodstove installed in the basement. To reduce my electric hot water costs, the old kitchen 30 gallon stove was pressed into service as a preheater for the electric tank. The 30 gallon tank was heated by a copper coil I connected to the woodstove. That dropped my hot water bills by 90%.

In the summer when the woodstove wasn't running, the bills climbed back up. Couldn't afford to start paying full price for hot water. Once you get a break on something like that, it's hard to go back. Didn't have much money to work with -less than $20. I disconnected the tank from the woodstove and moved it to a sunny part of the yard. I'd salvaged 100 feet of black plastic pipe. Used the pipe to connect the outside tank to the inside electric tank. The extra pipe was coiled on top of a shed roof. Also spray painted the water tank black. The solar boost to the water dropped the electric water bill by 3/4.

Every six months or so I'd drain the tank and lug it to the woodstove or the yard.

Two years ago I went back to using wood and sun to heat water. At least these days I can afford two tanks and don't have to to the water tank shuffle.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I've been complimented more than once on my patience. People are amazed at how I can wait in silence, perfectly calm. It's a skill. Like any other skill, most people can develop their patience to a higher level. There are ways: attitudes, mental disciplines, and certain exercises.

Practice mediation. There are many techniques and methods, some more formal than others. Most have their benefits. Find what suits you. The ability to silence the mind and quiet the inner chatter will expand your patience. If nothing else, it'll give you exercises to do while waiting and will pass the time. You'll at least look patient. Regular practice will develop a calm core that you can summon at will.

Patience is a powerful skill to have. You'll be more likely to think before you do something hasty that you'll regret later. That calm core will give you a good ground floor to your plans. It is said that all things come to those who wait. There's some truth to that. Many things in life benefit more from patience than action. Often the best plan is to wait for things to work themselves out.

Yes, I practice meditation, but that's not where I really learned my patience. I learned it as a young boy sitting on a deer stand. The idea is to sit perfectly still, making no sound and few movements. What movements that are done are slow, smooth, and deliberate. Deer have good ears and eyes. Years of deer hunting helped me develop patience. Hunters with little patience are soon up and walking around -spooking the deer and moving them past more patient hunters.

So of you notice I'm patient, just think how I got that way. I learned patience while waiting to kill something.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Without a Permit

If you want to work on your own house in NH, you don't need a lot of licenses and permits. It's legal to wire your own house, do your own plumbing, and your own carpentry. If you do something major like add a new room, a building permit is needed. They usually aren't that hard to get. They don't cost a lot of money. When I wanted to cut the roof off my house and replace it with a dome and add six new rooms -no problem. Their only concern was that I wasn't changing the footprint of the house. If I was going to crowd my neighbor, that'd be an issue. Fair enough.

When I lived in town, they were a bit more formal. The place actually had a full time building inspector. Make a job for a guy and don't be surprised that he's going to want to do it.

We used to live in town in a tiny house on a tiny lot. By the time the third kid came along, the place was just too small. It did come with an attached garage. Now a garage is nice, but another bedroom, a full sized bathroom, and a bigger kitchen were more important. Having three very young children, my wife quit work to take care of them. Money, as it often is, was tight. If I did the construction work myself, I could just barely afford the job.

There were a couple of concerns. I might not be granted a permit. Governments like to say no sometimes. If I did get a permit, I'd be on the radar and my tax assessment would go up. Could not afford that. What to do? What to do?

While standing in my garage, I noticed the old cedar shingles of the house had been left on. It gave me an idea. If I carefully removed the old shingles, there'd be enough to cover the hole where the garage door was. Over the next few days I gathered the materials I'd need to replace the garage door with a wall. I carefully removed the weathered shingles and set them aside.

The building inspector didn't work on Saturdays. Early Saturday morning, a small work crew of friends and family quickly removed the garage door. We closed up the hole and carefully covered up the new materials with the old shingles. I put in a small window while I was at it. When we were done, it looked like it had always been that way.

Once the outside was closed up so prying eyes couldn't see, the rest of the job was done in a more leisurely pace. The garage addition added a good sized bedroom and a big bathroom. A wall in the house was knocked down to expand the kitchen into what was once the old bathroom.
We lived there another 6 years and never got into trouble for our clandestine construction work. Our neighbors never said anything. Of course, as far as I was concerned, what they did on their property was their business. Good neighbors mind their own business.


Monday, March 8, 2010

How did tribes do it?

Due to economic situation, lots of people find themselves doubling up. Adult kids move in with parents. Parents who've lost their pensions in the market move in with kids. Siblings move in together, complete with spouses and assorted children. Maybe it's a group of friends pooling funds to share a house.

Most Americans haven't had to deal with the dynamics of extended family living. It's going to be a time of adjustment for everyone involved. There's some bad things to deal with, but some benefits too.

Everyone will have to make some adjustments. If you are the owner of the house and feel that you won't have to adjust, it'll just end in tears. Everyone has to learn to give and take. There are many ways of handling it. The most important thing is to keep the lines of communication open. The easiest way to do that is to share at least one meal a day together. You have to eat, might as well eat all together. Sharing good food puts everyone in a more congenial mood, and that helps communication along.

The size of my household changes from year to year. Right now my wife and I share the place with one of my daughters and her daughter. She's reestablishing herself after a nasty divorce. Some observations in no particular order: Mommy is the boss. My daughter is the parental authority for my granddaughter. My wife and I try hard to not undermine her authority. She's a great mom so it's not really a problem. Grandparents make good babysitters. It's good to be able to share food, energy, and vehicles.

We've had up to 6 adults under our roof -my wife and I, two of our daughters plus their spouses. It wasn't always easy. Everyone had different expectations. One couple was trying to save money to buy a house of their own. The problem was they'd gotten used to doing things a certain way in their apartment. It's tough to give up part of your independence. Then there were issues of the level of order and house keeping standards. I must admit that my standards are more lax than that of my kids. It caused a bit of stress.

Food is an issue. What's bought for communal use? What's for individual use? It's a source of friction when someone buys something for their lunch only to have it disappear during a midnight food raid. Maybe establishing separate sections of the refrigerator or pantry is a good idea. There may be times when someone who could be contributing to the communal food isn't doing their part. It doesn't even have to be a conscious thing. They may find themselves too busy to do grocery shopping. I've found that after a few days of eating our of the deep storage is a good wake up call. I didn't complain about being the only one bringing in fresh food. Instead I cooked a lot of beans and rice, rice and beans, bean soup, pea soup, whole wheat bread from stored wheat berries, and them some more beans and rice. They caught on.

Last summer we had 4 generations living here. Dad came up from Florida for a month long visit. It went fairly smoothly. One thing my wife and I did was to set up a tent in the yard. That's where we slept. It was great. We could look up at the stars at night and listen to the loons. If we wanted to do the wild monkey dance, we had privacy. It took a bit of convincing for my dad to understand that's how we wanted to live. My wife and I love tents. The grandkids had fun playing the tent during the day. Good fun all around.

From my studies of anthropology, I've figured out how tribal people live together. Sure, sometimes they are all crammed together in a small space. However, they have ways of establishing some privacy and personal space. Men may go out on a long hunt -even when they don't really need the food. I'm sure the women are happy to see them go. Some tribes would even split apart for a few weeks or months. By the time they'd get back together again, everyone was happy to see each other once more. Each group would have something new to talk about.

If you do share a house, try and establish some personal space. If each couple can have their own room that helps. No one goes into the private room without permission. They can decorate it anyway they want. I always figured that if I didn't like what the did to the room I could change it after they moved out. Paint is cheaper than conflict. Should the situation arise where private rooms are not possible, the old seaman chest is the way to go. Have something like footlockers where people can keep private things.

Establish a place where someone or a couple can go for privacy. It's important.

Duties can be shared. Cooking, cleaning, gardening, firewood gathering, childcare, vehicle maintenance, house repairs and many other things go better with more people. As long as everyone is contributing, it goes fairly well. Keep lines of communication open. Remember that sometimes a bit of physical distance is a good idea.

It used to be the way everyone lived. We can learn how to do it again.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Comfort Zones and Ruts

People generally don't like to go outside of their comfort zone. Lets face it, most people's lives are in a rut. They have a set routine and rarely go outside of it. Oh no, some of you are thinking, my days are all mixed up. Sometimes instead of doing the laundry on Saturday I do it on Sunday. Big woop. Yeah, they might not do the exact same thing on the same day, but their choices are limited: work, home, laundry, shopping, card night with the boys, Bible study, and TV -lots and lots of TV.

That's how Medieval peasants lived. (in general, their TV was better -it didn't exist yet.) They had a fairly narrow set of things they would or could do. We are supposed to be so much more advanced, yet we live like serfs. Why is that?

People get in ruts. They get comfortable. Fear is part of it. Nobody wants to look silly. People want to feel safe. Okay, fine, but please please please don't complain to me about being bored.

It's like when people do travel and go somewhere exotic. How many will book with a tour? The tour basically promises them that everything will be taken care of; everyone will be safe. So imagine a tour group goes to a foreign country. The group is made of people who have a lot in common and speak the same language. They go to a country with a guide who deals with all those strange local people and customs. The hotel they stay at keeps them safely away from the local culture. The staff may be specially trained to speak English. The restaurants they eat in may be "Americanized." If there are "local" foods, they've been toned down to an American pallet.

Fine if you want to travel that way, but don't say you've been to a foreign country. It's like you went to Brazil and spent the whole time at the US embassy.

If you want to experience another country, go alone or with a small group. Go without a guide. Learn some of the local language. Travel the way the locals do and do what they do. You might end up at a wedding or a funeral. Then you'll know something about the people. The experience isn't as "safe," but it will expand your mind. You'll actually have something to talk about.

Now travel is just one example of being in a rut. How about your job? Maybe you only work at your job because there are certain assumptions you won't examine. Do you work to pay the mortgage? Maybe you could live in an RV, or a boat, or even a tent -at least for a while. The spouse will hate it. Talk about it with your significant other. Maybe they are ready to get out of the rut too. Maybe your spouse is part of your rut? What will people think? Who cares what they think?

Read books on subjects you've never been interested in. Learn to play a musical instrument. Learn a second language, or a third. Study other religions and cultures. Go places you haven't gone before. Talk to the "wrong" sort of people. They might not be so wrong after all.

Examine your life. Try and discover the ruts you've fallen into. They may be hard to see.

Why bother with all this? You life will be more interesting. You will be more interesting. One of the biggest bonuses is that you'll have a more flexible mind. If something out of the ordinary happens in your life, you'll have the tools to deal with it.

You'll be able to think outside the box. It won't just be a slogan for you, but a way of life.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Self Tracking

I still believe in privacy. I think it's important to be able to travel freely without anyone tracking your movements. If you can be tracked, you can be stopped. The Constitution guarantees freedom of travel. Exercise that freedom.

People pay a monthly fee for a tracking device that they willing carry with them. Thirty years ago people would have thought that idea was nuts. It's still nuts, but I'm pretty much alone with that idea now. Cell phones are that device. Sure, they can be convenient, but they do make it possible to keep track of your location.

I've a cheap pay-as-you-go cell phone, but since there is no cell service where I live, it's rarely on. Often when I leave the house, it doesn't come with me. Yep, I'm running around loose without an electronic leash. Just for grins and giggles, I've been known to travel the country with a cell phone off and enclosed in a metal box -no signal can get in or out. Once in a while I'll use it. So my cell phone trail would look something like this. It would appear for a bit in Virgina then disappear until Florida. It might pop up briefly in New Orleans, then not again until Kentucky. I might have been to Texas and New Mexico, but never used the phone in those places so there's no cell phone trail.

Every time I use my phone, I'm aware that I'm giving away my position. Not that it's any big deal. I've got nothing dastardly to hide. Still, I never lose sight of that fact the cell phone is a tracking device.

Of course, many people now post their every move through Facebook or Twitter. Being a private detective must be one of the easiest jobs in the world right now. Instead of hiding in the bushes and following a subject's movements, all they need it to read social media sites. Not only do people continually blab what they are doing, they are telling lots of personal information.

Here's another tracking device people actually pay money for -toll transponders. It sounds like a great idea -drive through toll booths without stopping to pay. When states set up these programs they usually offer steep discounts for buying into the system. After some time has passed those incentives quietly go away. At that point it's about the same as paying tolls in cash. Here's the thing, every time you go through a tool booth, there's a record.

Now I'm not being overly paranoid, just making people aware. Don't assume you have privacy. Should you ever have a reason to fly under the radar, it'll require some effort -perhaps a little personal inconvenience even. This is just a heads up -something to ponder.

I haven't even gotten into traffic cameras and computer privacy. Maybe we'll have some fun with those subjects later.


Friday, March 5, 2010


That's the term for heading out in the woods without a trail. I didn't know there was an actual term for it until I was almost in my teens. Back when I was a kid, it was just a walk in the woods. Once in a great while I'd come across a trail, then hurry across it before someone came along. It bugged me to see such signs of civilization.

Of course, half the time I was in the woods I had a shot gun or rifle in my hands. Even back then, I sensed that most of the hikers in bright nylon didn't think too highly of my type. I tended to wear wool -much quieter than nylon when ghosting through the trees. Wool stays warm when wet, a big advantage.

Eventually I learned to travel the trails. There were some cool things to see and a regular hiking trail was often the best way to get there. Even then, most of my hiking would be in the lesser traveled paths. The White Mountains to my south were too heavily traveled for my liking. Sure, I've climbed Mt. Washington, but it's weird to hike half the day only to come to a road, railroad and huge building at the top.

The Mahoosucs to my west and the Kilkennys to my east were more attractive. They were less traveled, and that was a good thing. Also enjoy hiking in the middle of the week rather than on weekends. It's a totally different experience. There are a lot fewer people and the ones you do meet tend to be thru hikers on extended hikes -a different breed of hiker.

Even when I'd use trails, it was often just as a jumping off point. I'd see something on a topo map that looked interesting. Perhaps a beaver pond caught my attention. There may be an established trail that comes within a mile or two of it. I'd follow the trail to get near it, but then I'd use map and compass to bushwhack to the beaver pond. Nothing beats fishing in a pond that hasn't seen an angler in years, maybe decades. That has a nice payoff, but I enjoying making my way into the middle of a thick nearly impassable swamp, just because no one else goes there.

Sometimes I'd wander off the trail just because I'd get a hunch. Found a really interesting waterfall that wasn't on any maps. I think following a trail all the time is like following the rules. Now following the rules has its place. However, I've always been the type to bend the rules.

The northern part of New England is heavily wooded. People who try and pitch a tent off the beaten path may have a hard time to find a clear, level, and dry stop. So don't pitch a tent. My favorite way to camp in the woods is in a hammock. There are trees everywhere, might as well used them. I've strung my hammock on the side of steep hill, in wet bogs, and over rocky ground. Over the hammock stretch a rope then hang a green or camo tarp over it. It's a high and dry way to camp, leaves little impact, and is easy to set up.

The only major problem is that hammocks aren't that great for cold winter weather. Cold air blows under your body, and it gets darn uncomfortable. In the winter a good small 4 season tent works fine. It's possible to pitch a tent in the winter where you'd never set up in the summer. The swamps are frozen solid, so you stay nice and dry. Rough ground? Snow fills in rough ground and covers rocks. As long as a good tarp and insulated sleeping pad are used, it's comfortable. Of course, you still need a good sleeping bag and decent clothes.

Wandering off the path requires a few things. The ability to navigate. The gear for the job. An attitude and mindset that is comfortable heading out on your own.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Big Match

Pictured above, lying in the snow, is what I call my big match. If you want to be technical it's a Bernzomatic piezoelectric start propane torch. As you can see it's mated to a regular Coleman fuel propane bottle. It came with a slightly taller and slimmer bottle. After the original bottle was used up; it's been nothing but the regular one pound propane cylinders available just about anywhere. The Coleman cylinders, or their generic equivalent, are cheaper than the cylinders found in the plumbing supply section. It's the same stuff inside.

The beauty of this beast is its ease of use. Just screw the torch on a propane bottle, open the red fuel valve all the way, then squeeze the trigger. Bingo! You suddenly have several inches of seriously hot flame. If the flame is a bit too much, turn the red valve back until the flame is smaller. To turn it off, keep turning until the flame goes out and the knob is shut. Finger tight is fine. Too tight could damage the valve.

Hardware stores keep these torches in the plumbing supply section. Walmart and big box building supply places usually have them too. There usually is a much cheaper torch in the same section. The big difference is the lack of a piezoelectric start button. The cheap torch starts using a sparking device. It's worth spending the extra money to get push button convenience.

I use mine almost every day. It's the perfect thing to start a woodstove with. It's great for campfires, especially if the wood is a bit damp. Sometimes I use mine to start charcoal without starting fluid. It takes a few minutes of applied flame, but it gets the job done. If canoe or car camping, this baby comes along.

Once my camp stove failed and I used the torch to make coffee. I set the coffee pot on top of a few stones and directed the torch flame to the bottom of the pot. While it does a great job heating water, I don't really recommend it for use with a cast iron frying pan. The heat is intense, but in a relatively small area. The uneven heating split a cast iron frying pan in two. Live and learn, I guess.

One more thing, it's possible to use this torch for what it was actually designed for. There's a reason it's in the plumbing supply section. Plumbers use it to "sweat" copper pipe together using solder. I've used it for that, but maybe less than 1% of the times it's used.

There are other brands, and they all seem to work well enough. I'd avoid buying the torches that only use special gases like MAPP gas. While the specialty gases are hotter, it defeats the cost savings and availability of Coleman cylinders.

Have fun, and please please please don't burn your house down.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Global Positioning Satellites

GPS systems are marvelous inventions. Friends of mine in a tandem sea kayak navigated the rocky coast of Maine using a GPS. For almost the entire trip, visibility was near zero due to heavy sea fog. My job was to pick them up at a certain dock miles up the road. They were there at the appointed time. It would have been nearly impossible to do that trip without a GPS system.

Now every other car has a Tom Tom or other GPS unit. Cars come with them already installed. Many cell phones come with a GPS feature.

As they become ubiquitous, certain problems have arisen. People are losing the ability to navigate. They plug in the address and follow the instructions. They don't know if they are going North, South, East or West. All they know is that they are going to take the next right in 500 feet. They don't actually know where they are.

If you use a map to find your way, you know something about where you are going. Even a road map will show woods, cities, rivers, and many other features you'll see along the way. A topological map will show things like elevation -how steep or flat the way will be. Maps are full of useful information. You have some idea what the terrain is like. Maps can give a person a feel for the area.

Just looking at a map may give a person different ideas about what route to take. Perhaps the shortest way is over the mountain, but if the weather is bad, avoiding the mountain route may be a good idea. Perhaps a trip on a pleasant two land road might suggest itself instead of fast highway travel. Interesting detours to see the sights may come to mind. If for some reason the chosen route is blocked, alternative routes can be found. A good map may reveal options that a GPS won't give you.

A compass provides very basic information -the direction to magnetic North. From your compass you can pick a general route. Just being able to head in a straight line is darn useful. In most places in the world, if you travel in a straight line far enough, you'll hit civilization. Traveling in circles can go on forever.

A good map and a good compass work well together. It's worth learning how to use them. I've hiked into some interesting trackless country using a map and compass. The map is a good tool to show what land features to expect: hills, streams, swamps, lakes, or what have you. The compass is darn useful for traveling though dense forests or swamps - or heavy sea fog for that matter. People traveling through country without obvious landmarks eventually walk in circles.

Even the sun or stars can aid in navigation. All these traditional methods work best when plenty of information is available. A traveler builds a map in his head. He looks for the real world to match up. For example, he may know that heading west he should cross two streams then climb a hill where he can see the way to the next town. From the hill he takes a compass bearing directly to the town. It's all basic map and compass navigation.

Enter the GPS. There is no longer a need, nor is it easy to build a mental map. This hit home a few years ago when I asked a relative how to get to a certain place. He didn't know what to tell me. He'd been there a hundred times, but always followed the GPS instructions. He had no idea how to get there any other way. He'd never even paid enough attention to the real world to memorize the way.

There's some real problems with being so reliant on one piece of technology. The GPS could malfunction. You may never even know -until you drive off a cliff. Sometimes the map the GPS uses is out and out wrong. My GPS unit thinks my house address is about a mile away from where it actually is. It will also try and send me across a bridge that's been restricted to pedestrians for the last 20 years. To be fair, most of the time a GPS unit will get you there. It might not be the best route. There's one route it tries to send me on that saves about 5 minutes. That's 5 minutes of savings only if there is no snow on the road. It's a steep and winding road for a few miles. In the winter, it also gets badly broken up with frost heaves, slowing travel. Knowing local conditions is important.

Here's one thing I discovered. An I-phone GPS relies on cell phone data to draw a map. No cell phone signal, no map. Discovered that one while snowshoeing in the woods across the street. My buddy's phone received the GPS signal fine, then displayed a dot in the middle of a blank screen. It was good for a laugh. Good thing we knew roughly where we were. Didn't need exact directions to get home.

I use a GPS, but also keep my other navigational skills sharp. Lets face it, I'm not very good at just following instructions. That friendly electronic voice doesn't have my complete trust. Should you be trusting it?


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Manual Labor

The winter storms took down a few trees by my house. Using a chainsaw is dangerous. It's twice as dangerous when cutting up storm damaged trees. The trees are bent over and tangled together. Today I misjudged a fair sized yellow birch. While cutting a good sized branch, the tree took a sudden twist and bound up my chain. This does happen on occasion. I shut the saw down and pondered how to get it free.

My first thought was to lift the branch to relieve the pressure. It was too heavy. My next idea was to perhaps use my 3.5 foot German crosscut saw. The thought of manually cutting the tree caused me to reconsider. Since the tree was within reach of my 100 foot extension cord, it was a simple matter to use a reciprocating saw with a rough cut blade. The chainsaw was soon free.

It did get me thinking. I bought that crosscut saw so I wouldn't have to rely on powered tools. As far as manual saws goes, its quality. If I had to cut all my firewood by hand, it would be the saw for the job. Of course, it would be one heck of a big job. The saw is usually in my truck. Should a tree come down and block the road, I can make short work of it. A guy once pulled out his chainsaw the same time I took out my crosscut saw. I had the offending tree cut before he could get his gas chainsaw started. He took a bit of a ribbing from me and seemed a bit ticked off.

Sure, for one medium sized softwood tree, it was a fairly easy job. Had it been a matter of cutting up 5 or 6 cords of hardwood, the gas saw would soon overtake my efforts. I could do it. Once cut up about 3 cords with a crosscut saw. The best thing that I can say about that is that it was good exercise.

Most of my firewood is split by hand. A couple pickup truck loads were split with a hydraulic splitter. Most of those had to be split into smaller pieces with an ax. Old fashioned kitchen woodstoves take fairly small wood. I'm pretty good at it. Been doing it since I was kid. I've a fair number of hand tools for the job: two axes, splitting maul, sledge hammer, and various splitting wedges. I've a pickaroon and several pulp hooks for picking up wood and unloading trucks. A good sturdy wheelbarrow is darn handy for carting wood around.

I do an awful lot of this work by hand. Usually I don't mind. However, cutting up wood without a chainsaw is something I'd rather avoid. A good sawbuck for holding the wood in place makes sawing easier, but it's never easy. Sawing and splitting wood, even with chainsaws and hydraulic splitters, is hard work.

With just hand tools, it's harder work and takes a lot longer. The time factor can be critical. While I'm cutting firewood, there's other things I'm not doing. I'm not fishing or hunting for more food. I'm not working in the garden. I'm not writing on the computer. Theres always things to do. Heck, I'm not sitting at my kitchen table with a hot coffee enjoying the view. That's too is an important part of living in the country. I've got to take the time to appreciate things. Otherwise I might as well be toiling in a cubicle.

My lovely wife currently is recovering from shoulder surgery. All the trees weren't cut up today. Instead I came inside to cook dinner, bake bread, do laundry and dishes. There are only so many hours in the day. Right now I'm glad I have a few power tools to save some time and labor. However, I'm always thinking of ways to get by without gas or electricity.

A few more strong backs around the house would be nice. Should any friends or relatives want to double up with us, it'd be great if they could swing an ax.


Monday, March 1, 2010


Land's always been important to me. It's real. It's not digits in a computer, squiggles in a ledger, or shiny metal hidden in a box. Land is alive. I can connect with it.

Land is not an investment for me in the normal sense. Apparently, while I wasn't looking, my couple acres on the lake increased quite a bit in "value." That's value as figured by the paper shufflers of the world. To me, its value has increased as it's a better place to live than when I first bought it.

Now you could always plunk a trailer on a bit of junk land in the desert. There are advantages to that approach. It's good to have a piece of land that no one can throw you off of. Since it's "junk" land, it doesn't cost much to buy and it's taxed lightly. For many, those advantages are enough.

My land is taxed fairly high. Not crazy high like land in Manhattan, but high enough for rural NH. My state has no sales or income tax. Taxes on many other things is also low. Heck, we've even got lightly taxed and therefore inexpensive -booze. As former Governor Mel Thompson once said, "Plenty of cheap booze in NH."

But I digress, a bit.

My land is taxed but it's valuable to me in the ways I count value. First of all, there aren't many restrictions to what I can do on my land. I tore the roof off of a cottage and replaced it with a geodesic dome. Try and slip that trick past most building code officials. There are no covenants or residence agreements on my land. No one sold the mineral rights. No one can do anything if I decide to paint the place blazing pink. (not that I would, but I could!)

I've a septic system and shallow well that I dug by hand. I pay no water or sewer bills. Untreated water from my well is truly excellent. What are you paying in water and sewer bills?

When I wanted to put up solar electric panels, I just went ahead and put them up. No permits. No hassle. Wired my own house. No license. No problem.

I process about 125 gallons of waste vegetable fuel on my property every month. It's a filtering, storage, and fueling operation. Saves me a bundle in fuel costs. I've a 200 gallon steel tank sitting on a platform in my driveway. If I want to take the truck on an extra special long trip, the tank can be slid right into the truck and filled with veggie. How many of you can have such an odd thing in their driveway with no one complaining?

Right now there's also some firewood sitting in my driveway. That firewood is cut and split right there. No one is bothered by that. My heating bills are greatly reduced by my ability to process my own firewood.

As for food, there's a couple of small garden plots, fish in the lake, and game in the surrounding woods. Add all that to the value of my land. Soon there'll be a small greenhouse on the property. Will build that myself.

The property works for me. It helps make my life better. No doubt I save much more than what my taxes cost me.

There are few neighbors, (anyone within a couple miles is a neighbor) and the ones I do have, always wave to me and I to them. Some will always stop and chat. We'll help each other out in a pinch.

So when you look for land, look at more than the price and the taxes. What's its true value?