Friday, April 30, 2010

I thought I was on to something

The Ozarks are supposed to be one of the safer bugout locations. There are lots of positives: low population density, well above sea level, decent growing season, plenty of wild game, and well watered.

I was tooling around Missouri and thought I found a couple bug out locations for rich people. One location looked great. It took up the whole end of a peninsula on a good sized lake. There was one gated road into the place. It even had its own private airfield. My imagination ran wild. I could picture security guards at the gate, patrol boats on the water, and private planes landing at the airfield.

Alas, letting my imagination off its leash is not always a good idea. The reality turned out to be more mundane. The whole development consisted of the pretty gate, a dirt road, a very tiny airstrip, and exactly one model house to show potential customers. It appeared the development fell victim to the same real estate crash that affected everyone else.

An older more established gated retreat was also suffering from the financial downturn. They'd just recently let their only caretaker go. He said things had been scaled way back.

That doesn't mean that the Ozarks aren't a great place. I liked it there. It really does have a lot of natural advantages. It's wonderful country if you love boats. There's plenty for outdoor people to do. Hunting and fishing are terrific.

There are the same problems you find in any rural area. Opportunities are limited. Jobs are hard to come by. The long distances away from bigger cities discourage people who like their urban pleasures. One thing that surprised me is that I saw fewer personal garden plots than are in rural New England. Everyone shops at Walmart.

To be fair, this is just a few quick snapshot impressions. I wasn't there all that long. I did drive down plenty of back roads and talked to people who lived there. Still, it would be dishonest of me to claim more than a passing knowledge of the area.

If I'd been looking into buying property out there, I'd have done a lot more research. Things you don't notice during a week long visit could become deal breakers months down the road. For example, one family moved way out in the country. Their daughter was constantly suffering motion sickness from her bus ride to school on the curvy roads.

Letting my imagination run wild, I would love to own that retreat on the peninsular, and an airplane, and a pony . . .


Thursday, April 29, 2010

April Snows

Wednesday morning I woke up to 6 inches of new wet snow, with more coming down. It turned to rain later, but there's still snow on the ground late Wednesday evening. By the weekend, we are supposed to be back to shorts and T-shirt weather. Global weirding.

It saddened me to see trees that survived the winter get crushed by this spring storm. They almost made it.

Oh well, more firewood for me. Picking up a new Forest Service dead and down permit. This storm should be worth a few cords.

I've just about got enough firewood lined up for next winter -if I can haul it out fast enough. This years goal is to have enough for next winter, plus a good start on the one after that. Two years supply is the eventual goal. Call it insurance. It would give me time to recover from an injury or to concentrate on any other emergency.

I've been fighting with the heating oil company over a bill. They want a fuel credit applied to a new delivery instead of to an existing bill. Twice I was assured they took care of it, but then they'd send me the same old balance -plus interest. It'll be a pleasure to not deal with them at all next winter.

I'm steadily reducing my use of fossil fuels. Right now I'm down to 5 -10% of what I used to use. Even my old usage was probably less than the American average. Those last few percentage points are hard to get rid of. Still, I'm motivated. It's a moral thing for me. Recently coal miners in West Virgina died in a coal mine disaster. Coal from that region is burned by the electric company that services my area. I'm going completely off grid this summer and will no longer be part of the system that kills miners.

While in Missouri, my father-in-law stopped the car to talk to one of his neighbors. The guy was on his cell phone finding out his cousin died in the big oil rig explosion in the gulf. Because we are running out of easily obtained oil, heroic efforts are made to get the remaining supplies. Sometimes those people die. Everyone who uses petroleum feeds the demand that makes those risky ventures necessary.

I know my energy use is a tiny portion of the problem. However, no single water drop feels responsible for the flood.

As far as the weird weather goes? I'm not taking the blame on that one. My moral responsibility ends there. Enough is enough already! Now where did I put that darn shovel . . .


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

From someone who's been there.

One of the pleasures of my recent trip was a chance to reconnect with a good friend of mine, Dan, who now lives in Kentucky.

Two winters ago he was in the area hard hit by a spectacular ice storm.

Those of us who have a few disaster preparations can always benefit from someone who's lived it.

Disasters tend to have some things in common. They threaten well being on basic levels, things like food and shelter.

Having food is basic enough. Most people, with a little creativity, can get by for a while with the food normally in the refrigerator and cupboards. However, deeper food stores give a person more options.

Cooking food can be an issue. My friend did a lot of cooking on his smoker and grill. The burners on his kitchen gas stove could be match lit. (you do have matches, don't you?) However, the oven needed electricity to run. That still left him lots of cooking options.

One thing he observed is that even people with propane grills were stumped because they didn't have any burgers or steaks to cook. It didn't occur to them that they could heat a frying pan or a pot of water on the grill. He also heard complaints from people that all their food was for the microwave. He had microwave packaged food too, mostly frozen vegetables. It was easy enough to unwrap the frozen veggies, repackage them in aluminum foil, then place them on the grill for cooking.

He used the fresh food from the refrigerator first. After that he moved on to the freezer. Freezer food will keep longer without electricity than refrigerated food. Only then did he dip into the long term storage food.

He had plenty of food and several ways of cooking it. At one point he really wanted baked food. Grilled was getting old. He went to the trouble of building a fire in the fire pit. Once he had a good bed of coals, he placed a Dutch oven in the fire and scooped wood coals on the lid. Viola! Baked food.

To keep the house above freezing, he used a kerosene heater. By closing off the upstairs, the rest of the place was kept quite livable.

For years his wife bugged him about an old Korean War era jeep he'd restored. Well, that Jeep came in darn handy. Not only could he travel the icy roads with 4 wheel drive, he used it to pull downed trees out of the way. She doesn't bug him about it so much any more.

He noticed some weird things. Of course, the few stores that were open soon ran out of everything. People were fighting over bottled water. One of the stranger things was people fighting over shipments of ice for coolers. Okay . . . it was an ICE storm. There was ice all over the place. Not only that, most of the time temperatures were at or below freezing. Just placing food outside would keep it cool enough.

Things didn't recover all at once. A gas station was able to reopen. However, communications were still down so credit cards did not work. Gas was only sold to people with cash money in hand. Not credit cards. No checks. No debit cards. Even if you had silver or gold, that wouldn't get you a gallon of gas. It was cashy money or nothing. Maybe precious metals would have some barter value in a long term disaster. Problem is, you've got to survive until later. Keep at least a few hundred dollars handy.

One thing he did not have was a generator. He did just fine without one. For light, he had candles, flashlights and Coleman lanterns. Food could be cooked. The kerosene heater didn't require electricity to run. One of his neighbors kept a running generator in their attached garage. They were afraid someone would steal it. That's a valid enough concern, but running a generator inside an attached garage is just asking to die from CO2 poisoning. While his neighbors survived their foolishness, others did not.

One of the key factors to his and his family's survival and comfort was having some preparations. More importantly, he kept thinking. While others were stumped by a dead microwave oven, he was cooking veggies on the grill.

His wife complained that he was having way too much fun with the ice storm. It was like a long camping trip for him. He got to cook on the grill and smoker, and drive his Jeep around.

Of course he was prepared. After many years as a Boy Scout Scoutmaster, he had to be.

Thanks for great stories, Dan. (and for most excellent hospitality)


Monday, April 26, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Made it home today. Drove the last 1100 mile section in 25 hours. We were plagued by heavy rain a good half of the trip.

Some random observations.

We traveled about 3400 miles.

Ran out of veggie oil and had to run diesel the last 900 miles or so.

GPS units tend to direct travel through the center of big cites. My cheap unit doesn't update and is often wrong where there is new construction.

My lovely wife with a road atlas is better than a GPS unit. With both of them working for me, travel was much easier.

Listening to podcasts is a great way to stay awake while driving.

CB trucker talk can have huge entertainment value. However, there are some things you just don't want to know about the guys who transport most of our goods.

There's a lot of bad coffee out there.

Friends and family along the way make all the difference.

Route 80 in PA is rough, under construction through huge swaths of it, and heavily traveled by trucks. Not a good time with a fully loaded vehicle with stiff suspension.

90 through NY is silly expensive for what it is. Hugely annoying to pick up a new toll card each time I got on and off the highway. Once paid $0.15 between toll booths. Certainly not worth any body's time, but I had to wait in line to pay it. Best thing to be said about 90 . . . it's not 80.

Farms in the Midwest do not smell like farms. Here's the deal, in New England farms smell like manure. That's fine. It's organic. In the Midwest, it's more big chemical agriculture.

The Ozarks are darn pretty. However, saw more ticks in a day than I see in a year in NH. I hate ticks.

Must get some sleep soon.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway

My lovely wife and I have been traveling. We've put in about 2000 miles in less than a week. Our travels have taken us from New Hampshire to Arkansas.

I've gotten some impressions about the state of the country. I've talked to people and looked at what's been happening in the different places we've been. There are some ideas forming around what I've seen, but I feel I need time to digest the whole thing.

We'll be heading back home soon. Right now we are about 1600 miles from home.

Thursday I just sat on a cottage's deck strumming my guitar and looking out over Table Rock Lake.


Out of range

Hi loyal readers!

I'm somewhere out on the road. New posts should appear within a few days.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Joy of Car Repair

I've friends who love to work on cars, trucks, motorcycles -just about anything with an engine. It's their idea of fun. They've developed quite a few skills over the years. They've the tools for the job -or if they don't they can adapt or fabricate a tool. It's good to have friends like these.

If I've got the money, I'll happily pay someone else to fix my vehicles. I joke that you can tell the state of my finances by how often I do my own work. Now is one of those do-my-own-work times. I'm not a gear head like my friends, but I can do the work . . . after a fashion.

Yesterday I changed a wiper motor in my truck. One of my friends was willing to help me do the work. That was nice of him to offer as this is a busy time of year for him. Instead of bothering him, I did the work myself.

Step one: pick his brain on the part I needed.
Step two: pick his brain on where to get the part and how much it costs.
Step three: have him explain how to do the job, step by step
Step four: repeat step three a few more times.

Yep, did the job all by myself. (if you don't include all the extremely useful time saving information provided by my friend.)

He estimated the job would take about an hour.

Took two.

Not bad, considering I dropped a bolt and had it disappear behind a headlight assembly. Accidentally popped a bushing out and had to figure out how it went back it. Carefully reinstalled the bad motor instead of the good one. Cut the back of my hand twice. Had darkness fall while working and finished the job wearing a headlamp.

All in all, the job went well. The wipers work, so in the end that's all that counts.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

One of those annoying riddles

I'm a big fan of the Eneloop rechargeable batteries. They have good capacity, durability, and don't develop a memory.

I'm also a big fan of LED headlamps. They provide decent light, are efficient, and free up your hands for other things.

One would think that rechargeable batteries and headlamps would go well together. They don't.

Here's the problem. Eneloop batteries come in packs of four and the charger is designed to charge them in groups of two. So far so good. The problem is that just about every LED headlamp uses three AAA batteries.

What do you do with the fourth battery? It just kinda hangs around waiting to get misplaced. Then it comes time to charge the other three, but the charger works in groups of two.

The only thing that works for me is to take 6 batteries. Use them in two headlamps. Wait for them all to be dead at the same time, then charge them up. Of course, then you have two headlamps out of commission until the batteries are all charged. Having 12 batteries would solve that problem.

This just gets out of hand. It's a small thing, and I might be getting a bit OCD about it, but there you go.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The humble wheelbarrow

Can't homestead without one. The ancient Chinese once used the wheelbarrow as a weapon of war. It allowed the average soldier to bring a lot more stuff to the battle.

It will help you bring a lot more stuff to your homesteading battle. Don't waste money on a cheap one. Crappy tools will cost more in the long run. Get a good sized contractor wheelbarrow, something around the 6 cubic foot size.

I should have bought a better wheelbarrow than the one I bought. Over the years, I've turned it into the wheelbarrow I should have bought in the first place. The most important upgrade is a wheel that won't go flat. Pneumatic tires go flat at the worse times. Get a solid rubber wheel and avoid that headache.

Originally, my wheelbarrow had wooden handles. They lasted over a decade, but broke when moving a huge load of fire wood. Since I had a lot of wood to move, a quick repair was in order. I had a 2x4 on hand. Ripped it length ways, cut to length and used the old handle to mark the drill holes. That quick fix lasted about 5 years.

This year it broke while moving turf. Instead of a hasty repair, I put on good steel handles. Now it's just a matter of keeping the wheel greased and the steel painted. This wheelbarrow should last for decades yet.

If you ever have to make small batches of cement, a wheel barrow is just the thing. Use a good hoe and shovel to mix everything up. Just make sure to wash all your tools clean when you are done. Don't let the cement set up in the wheelbarrow.

Why do I go on and on about a simple wheelbarrow? You only have one back and you'll miss it when it's gone. How else will you move gravel, or topsoil? With buckets? There goes the back. I move an awful lot of firewood with my wheelbarrow. Beats hauling it around in my arms.

A good wheelbarrow is a tool every homesteader should have. Don't skimp on it. Buy a tool that'll last decades. It might have to.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Vitamin C

It's easy to get vitamin C these days. It wasn't always so. Up here in the Great North Woods of NH, we don't grow a lot of orange trees. Now it's easy to buy citrus at the grocery store. If nothing else, there' s vitamin supplement pills.

Back when my dad was a kid, an orange was a big treat. If you were lucky you'd get one in your Christmas stocking. Even so, people got enough C from the fruits and veggies they canned from their garden. It was enough to prevent scurvy anyway.

The Native Americans had a tougher time of it. Their vitamin C options were very limited indeed. However, there is a common source of vitamin C available all winter long. Tea made from spruce or pine needles will supply what you need.

The tea is an acquired taste. I don't mind it. In fact, I've been known to brew some up while hiking just for a little variety. If you try it and don't like, better hope you have another source of vitamin C. Scurvy is a nasty disease.

Maybe you'll just have to hold your nose and take your medicine.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Y2K Neighbor

During the late 90's a guy bought the camp next door. I introduced myself and we got to talking. He was from the Washington D. C. area and worked as a computer consultant for the government.

He and his family pretty much kept to themselves. They didn't make any effort to get to know the neighbors. No biggie. They had a right to privacy. They only came to the place occasionally anyway.

Then fall of '99 he stopped by in the evening. He said he had a question about the property boundary marker. What he really wanted to do was tell me that he bought the camp as a retreat for Y2K. He was a computer guy and he was worried about everything getting fixed in time.

Unfortunately, he had the misfortune of taking to me after a long day of hanging out with my writer friends. If you know anything about a gathering of writers, you know alcohol might be involved. It was. I must admit to feeling a bit tipsy. In fact, I was at that point where the little devilish imp on my shoulder was talking to me making suggestions.

When the neighbor said that he had the place for Y2K, I said, "Great! Neighbors can provide important proteins."

He almost ran away from me at that point. Never did talk to me again.

Sure enough, during Y2K, I could see his lights were on and that they were hunkered down at the camp. Soon after Y2K, place went up for sale.

I don't know what kind of disaster he was expecting. If the problem was confined to D. C for a week or two, he might have been fine up here. Had the power gone out, he and his family would have been in trouble. The septic system is located uphill from the camp. He needed electric power for a sewage pump. Without it, things soon would back up into the camp. His water was gravity feed, which is nice, but the water line wasn't buried below the frost line. The place had been designed as summer camp. The steep driveway is impassable in the winter. In fact, my kids used to turn it into a bobsled run. In the winter, the easiest way to get to the place is across the frozen lake.

For his sake, I'm glad Y2K turned out to be a false alarm. While the place was far removed from D. C. it wasn't a good long term bug out location, even though I probably wouldn't have eaten them.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dipping into the food stores

I've been dipping into the food stores over the last year. It's not the only thing we are eating, but it stretches the food budget. About half the bread I make is from stored wheat berries. Used up some rice, a bit of oatmeal, kidney beans, navy beans, split and whole peas. Staples.

Also eating a fair amount of bartered food: eggs, maple syrup, moose, deer, and some pickles and relish.

A bit of food storage is good to have. It eases the family over little financial bumps like we've been going through. I can dip in the food stores and use what money I have to take care of a few bills. When unexpected guests arrive, there's something good to feed them. It doesn't have to fancy. Good warm hearty home cooked food is always welcome.

Stored food is a good insurance policy. It's easy enough to buy a bit extra when shopping. Over the months that adds up. Add some grains and beans to the mix and you've got decent depth to the larder. Spices go a long way toward adding variety to basic ingredients. Get used to cooking and eating from the stored foods. It won't be a shock to the system. You'll know what to do with it.

During the Y2K scare, a neighbor stocked up on beans and rice. After the non-event, it occurred to him that he didn't eat beans or rice, nor did he know how to cook them. He gave them to us. We eat those things so it was great to have free food. He did keep his 10,000 rounds of .223.

Some people think food storage is just for those end of the world events. In the real world, it's for things like I'm going through now. My wife hasn't worked in over a year and the budget is tighter than normal. It's no big deal. We won't miss any meals.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Walk softly and carry a big stick

My lovely wife asked if I was going to bring my staff along on our trip. I assured her I was. She was happy to hear that. You see, it's more than just a walking stick. It's a weapon.

I spent a few years studying staff fighting. I'd rather have my staff in my hand than a knife. While I studied a bit of knife work, it's not really my thing. Knife fighters get cut a lot. It's just as easy for me to carry a handgun than a knife.

Of course, on the road, there's some places where I can't bring a handgun. While I can legally carry a concealed handgun in New Hampshire, Massachusetts would toss my sorry butt in jail for a year.

My old shotgun, however, is sort of legal in most places. Nobody likes to mess with a shotgun. Still, sometimes I just need to teach a lesson. The lesson taught by a shotgun isn't one the student will benefit from. However, the bruises and broken bones caused by a staff will give a guy something to remember me by.

I've used a staff for defense in the past, but only against dogs. Let me tell you, dogs know a big stick is trouble.

The staff is also handy for two legged dogs, should the need arise.

It's a cool fighting method to learn. Sticks are cheap. I'm using my walking stick as a weapon, but I've seen a kayak paddle make a good fighting staff. Pipe works. Hockey sticks are deadly. In fact, many things made serviceable fighting staffs. When you acquire the skill, weapons are everywhere.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

More advice I'm not going to take

I love my dad, I really do. He's been there for me and I respect his opinion. That being said, there's some things he just doesn't get.

He keeps suggesting that I get a nice new little gas powered car with decent gas mileage. Not bad advice for most people. There's a couple of problems with that for me. I've been running vehicles on Waste Vegetable Oil for over 8 years now and don't want to start buying fuel again. Haven't had a car payment in years and don't want to start now.

Dad means well. He sees that it takes some effort to keep old diesels running. There is a fair amount of lifting heavy things involved with WVO. No doubt he wants me to have life a bit easier. However, using my limited funds to make car payments and buy fuel isn't an easier life. I'd rather carry jugs of veggie and tinker with diesel engines. Beats having to get a part time job that I'd hate.

Also mentioned that we are getting ready to pull the plug on the grid. He expressed concern. "Are you sure you want to do that?"

Yes, it's time. For him, having grid electricity is a great thing. You need power, just flip the switch. There's no planning around a limited power supply. He doesn't have to worry about waiting to do laundry on a sunny day when there' s abundant solar electricity.

Those are the sort of things I'll have to work around. Good thing my wife is on board with this project. While the solar will be backed up with a generator, its use will be kept to a bare minimum. We can't live with the grid much longer. The power company sends a bill even if you don't use a single watt of electricity. There are fees just to be connected to the system. That's one bill I'll be very happy to do without -even if it means a bit of inconvenience.

One of the inspirations for putting in solar electric 20 years ago was to reduce our dependence on the power company. For years people protested about their nuke plant. We didn't protest. Instead, we reduced out usage by putting in solar for about 80% of our needs. Part of NH's electric power comes from coal. I don't want to be part of that system either. Between the environmental damage caused by dirty coal and the recent death of coal miners, I'm getting rid of the other 20%.

Dad's in his 70's. He's seen the technological advances. He appreciates things like air conditioning and electric heat. He loves his microwave. Dad says he can't understand why I work so hard to live the way his grandfather did.

It's because the way most people in the United States are living has no future. Dad doesn't want to know that and I don't really want to tell him.

He's been good to me. Why make him unhappy for nothing?


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

End of the Benz

I got the word, it'd cost too much money to keep the old Mercedes Benz on the road. When state inspection is up in June, the old car gets parked for good.

Eight years ago my wife and I bought this car to experiment on. I'd read about diesels running on waste vegetable oil, and wanted to experiment with one. We found an 81 Mercedes Benz 240D in Maine, took it for a short test drive, then wrote the guy a check.

This vehicle became a test bed for a whole series of experiments. More importantly, it became our main form of transportation. Let me tell you, it takes a special woman to agree to having the family car be one big experiment. In the early days, we were stopped on the side of the road a fair bit. That's the thing with experiments, they don't aways work out as smoothly as one would like.

I knew a few things about diesels, but not nearly enough. The Internet was my teacher about veggie oil conversions. My local mechanic couldn't help me with the veggie, but he knew his diesels -and was real patient about my questions. It pays to establish a relationship with a top notch honest mechanic.

We aren't just losing out car. It was like a second home to us. When you average 50,000 miles a year in a car, it is where you live. My wife used to have a 100 mile round trip commute to work. Sometimes I'd driver her into work, then pick her up at the end of her shit. Those days we'd put 200 miles on. Then there were the years we'd wander the country, rarely spending more than a few days in one place.

The car had a roof rack for my canoes and a trailer hitch for my utility trailer. One year I hauled firewood for three families using the Benz and the trailer. Sure looked odd out there on the dirt roads. Quite a few people knew the vehicle by sight. Of course, the Grateful Dead stickers all over it did make it stand out. Then there was the constant French fry smell from the exhaust. The old car was a great conversation starter.

Now it's come to the end of its days. It still runs pretty darn good for an engine with a half million miles on it. However, everything is worn. There's not one or two things that'll fix it. Even the body has gotten pretty thin all around.

It has become like the Wonderful One Horse Shay:

The Deacon's Masterpiece; or The Wonderful "One-Hoss Shay"
Author: Oliver Wendell Holmes

A Logical Story

Have you heard of the wonderful one-horse shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then, of a sudden, it--ah but stay,
I'll tell you what happened without delay,
Scaring the parson into fits,
Frightening people out of their wits,
Have you ever heard of that, I say?

Seventeen hundred and fifty-five,
Georgius Secundus was then alive,
Snuffy old drone from the German hive.
That was the year when Lisbon-town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down
And Braddock's army was done so brown,
Left without a scalp to its crown.
It was on the terrible Earthquake-day
That the Deacon finished the one-hoss shay.

Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,
There is always somewhere a weakest spot, -
In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill,
In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace,--lurking still,
Find it somewhere you must and will,--
Above or below, or within or without,--
And that's the reason, beyond a doubt,
That a chaise breaks down, but doesn't wear out.

But the Deacon swore (as Deacons do,
With an "I dew vum," or an "I tell yeou,")
He would build one shay to beat the taown
'n' the keounty 'n' all the kentry raoun';
It should be so built that it couldn' break daown,
"Fur," said the Deacon, "It's mighty plain
Thut the weakes' place mus' Stan' the strain;
'n' the way t' fix it, uz I maintain,
Is only jest
T' make that place uz strong uz the rest."

So the Deacon inquired of the village folk
Where he could find the strongest oak,
That couldn't be split nor bent nor broke,
That was for spokes and floor and sills;
He sent for lancewood to make the thins;
The crossbars were ash, from the straightest trees.
The panels of white-wood, that cuts like cheese,
But lasts like iron for things like these;
The hubs of logs from the "Settler's ellum,"--

Last of its timber,--they couldn't sell 'em,
Never an axe had seen their chips,
And the wedges flew from between their lips,
Their blunt ends frizzled like celery-tips;
Step and prop-iron, bolt and screw,
Spring, tire, axle, and linchpin too,
Steel of the finest, bright and blue;
Thoroughbrace bison-skin, thick and wide;
Boot, top, dasher, from tough old hide
Found in the pit when the tanner died.
That was the way he "put her through."
"There!" said the Deacon, "naow she'll dew!"

Do! I tell you, I rather guess
She was a wonder, and nothing less!
Colts grew horses, beards turned gray,
Deacon and deaconess dropped away,
Children and grandchildren--where were they?
But there stood the stout old one-hoss shay
As fresh as on Lisbon-earthquake-day

EIGHTEEN HUNDRED; -it came and found
The Deacon's masterpiece strong and sound.
Eighteen hundred increased by ten;--
"Hahnsum kerridge" they called it then.
Eighteen hundred and twenty came;--
Running as usual; much the same.
Thirty and forty at last arrive,
And then come fifty, and FIFTY-FIVE.

Little of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there's nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know but a tree and truth.
(This is a moral that runs at large;
Take it.--You're welcome.--No extra charge.)

FIRST of NOVEMBER,--the Earthquake-day--
There are traces of age in the one-hoss shay,
A general flavor of mild decay,
But nothing local, as one may say.
There couldn't be,--for the Deacon's art
Had made it so like in every part
That there wasn't a chance for one to start.
For the wheels were just as strong as the thins,
And the floor was just as strong as the sills,
And the panels just as strong as the floors
And the whipple-tree neither less nor more,
And the back-crossbar as strong as the fore,
And spring and axle and hub encore.
And yet, as a whole, it is past a doubt
In another hour it will be worn out!

First of November, 'Fifty-five!
This morning the parson takes a drive.
Now, small boys, get out of the way!
Here comes the wonderful one-hoss shay,
Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.
"Huddup!" said the parson.--Off went they.
The parson was working his Sunday's text,--
Had got to fifthly, and stopped perplexed
At what the--Moses--was coming next.

All at once the horse stood still,
Close by the meet'n'-house on the hill.
First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill,--
And the parson was sitting upon a rock,
At half past nine by the meet'n'-house clock--
Just the hour of the Earthquake shock!

What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you're not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once,
All at once, and nothing first,
Just as bubbles do when they burst.

End of the wonderful one-boss shay.
Logic is logic. That's all I say.

Oliver Wendell Holmes' poem: The Deacon's Masterpiece; or The Wonderful "One-Hoss Shay"



Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The airplane and the sailboat

Always wanted to learn to fly. I've ridden in planes, both large and small. The small ones are a lot more fun. In fact, ever since they put in the new security procedures, my desire to fly commercial has plummeted. Small planes, however, that's where the excitement is. They fly low enough and slow enough to really see things. You can feel the air. If something on the ground looks interesting, just turn the plane and take a look. That's not something that can happen flying commercial.

In some ways, it's easier to fly than ever. Ultralight planes don't require a license. If that's too much like flying a kite for your tastes, there's the new sport plane license. It's not much harder to get one of those than a driver's license for a car. The planes in that class are on the small size, but look and handle like real planes. If you've got a regular driver's license, you don't need to pass a special physical.

There are two big problems with flying, however. One thing is the concentrated energy needed to make it work. Gasoline is a really concentrated form of energy. That's what's needed to fly: energy density. There are a few small planes that use electric motors and high end batteries, but they don't have a lot of range. The second problem is the infrastructure required. Even simple aircraft need a lot of things to keep them in the air: airports, fuel, and specialized parts. They require top notch maintenance.

One of my other dreams is to buy a sailboat in the 25 - 30 foot range, or maybe even a bit bigger. I'd love a craft capable of being lived aboard for days or weeks at a time. There are plenty of decent sailboats on the market today. As people cut back on expenses, the toys are put up for sale. I've the skills necessary to repair and refit an older boat, so the cost could be quite reasonable.

The energy to run a sailboat is free -the wind. Unlike gasoline, it's not a concentrated energy supply, but it's good enough. Sailboats have always had make the most of available wind. Boat designed has evolved over thousands of years. That's a good thing. There are sailboats for a whole range of activities and needs, and they are efficient at what they do.

For every modern high tech material and technique, there's probably simpler materials and methods to do the same job. The key is to get a boat that's adaptable. If the aluminum spar is damaged, a wood one must be able to do the job. You don't take a modern airplane and replace the aluminum struts with bits of wood or bamboo.

Concentrated energy is getting more expensive all the time. Better to use a mode of transportation that uses the free energy of the wind. I'm thinking of a boat that uses a lot of natural materials. One that can be beached and doesn't have to rely on fancy marinas is the way to go. Sailboats are designed to be self contained and self reliant. A sailboat that's used for more than a few hours has to have a way of handling food, water, wastes, and gathers its own energy. They can use a lot fewer outside resources than an airplane.

It appears that planes may are becoming the toys of the rich once more. Sailboats, however, have a future. They can be a cheap way to travel, move goods, and to harvest the bounty of the sea. There's a place for the simple working boat.

Good thing I like sailing as much as flying.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Public money for private energy

I heard on the radio that Public Service of NH, the statewide utility, is building a good sized solar electric park. They plan on building it on top of the old landfill near Manchester. At first, I thought it was a good project -renewable energy plus reuse of a landfill site. What's not to like?

The way it's being financed, that's what's not to like. Part of the money for the project is coming from a fund that's used to reimburse small solar projects. It was geared more towards the guy who puts a half dozen panels on his house. The fund has less money in it than they expected to have by now, and yet, PSNH will be getting 5 million of it?

The small producer would become a bit more independent from the grid. The PSNH plan is to dump the power into the grid, and charge customers for it. In a way, that's fine. It's their business. However, why should the public fund be used to help build a money making project for a private company? The utility argues that the money is needed to make the plan competitive with other power sources. They say it'll help NH meet its long range alternative energy goals.

Here's the dirty secret of the plan. If every solar panel the project will use was dispersed around the state, it would produce three times the usable power than the Manchester project. Why is that? Transmission losses. Grid power loses 2/3 of the produced power to the inefficiencies of the grid. All that wire crisscrossing the country wastes huge amounts of power. Yes, it's that huge. I was surprised myself when I found out.

Solar energy is a dispersed resource. It makes sense to make it where it will be used. Grid power makes more sense in a compact urban environment. Transmitting power out to the hinterland is a waste. It was one thing when energy was plentiful. It isn't anymore.

If the state is going to encourage alternative energy, it will get the most bang from the buck on small projects.

By the way, all my solar eclectic system was put up without a single dollar from the state. For me, the numbers made sense in their own right. I didn't need state funds to make that work.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Living like the collapse has already happened

Things are still moving along. The financial system is still creaking down the road. The stores still have food on the shelves. The gas stations are open and pumping fuel. Mutant Zombie Bikers aren't roaming the landscape.

Why worry?

Why change behaviors?

If you've taken no preparations to a more self sufficient lifestyle, time is running out. Or is it? Maybe this whole patched together web of economy, energy, food and public safety will keep lurching along. Many reasonable people expect things to unravel sooner or later. It could be a complete breakdown of civilization, or it could be a more regional event like a hurricane or earthquake.

If you've been good Boy Scouts and taken "be prepared" seriously, you've made some precautions. I'm living like the collapse has already happened. For me, it might have. I just don't have confirmation yet.

Financially, there have been some setbacks. What little emergency funds I had have been spent on an emergency. Glad I had it, but it's gone now. My wife hasn't worked in over a year due to health issues. She's applied for Social Security. By all rights she could get some money from the system. When and will it be worth anything are other matters. I'm trying to live like we won't ever get that money.

As for energy, this looks like the last winter we'll be burning oil. Wood is local, sometimes as local as those trees near the garden. By summer I expect to be off the grid completely. My vehicles run on waste vegetable oil, but I'm thinking about life without vehicles. How can I do that if I have to?

We are eating fine. However, it's not the way most people eat. Last night we had some moose steaks. This morning I ground wheat berries and baked bread. My lovely wife has started seeds for an expanded garden program. I'm cutting some trees down to let in more sunlight on garden space. (I love it when food and energy plans work together.)

As for the breakdown in public safety? I keep my eyes open and my powder dry. I am licensed to carry a concealed handgun, so that's a precaution taken care of.

Is all this necessary? Strictly speaking, no. Do I want things to fall apart? Hell no! The point is, I'm living well right now. I'm happy and having a lot of fun with this whole self sufficiency thing. Sure, it takes effort to do all that I do, but it saves money today. That's money I didn't have to leave the house to work at a job -a job where you have to pay taxes on that money.

Then I have the comfort of knowing we are prepared. It's like insurance, but insurance that pays you every day.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Propane usage

One of the fuels I use is propane. Natural gas is usually a better deal -where it's available. It's not an option out here in the woods.

Twenty years ago the propane delivery guy used to top off the tank once a month. We were running a propane refrigerator, stove, and a hot water heater. A couple years later we took in my wife's friend and her daughter for what turned out to be 9 months. The friend could not believe we didn't have a dryer. All our clothes were dried on a clothesline, or in bad weather, on a wooden dowel drying rack. She bought us a propane dryer.

Over the years, the refrigerator failed. It was replaced by a small electric one. The propane water heater was replaced by a mix of water heating methods -solar, wood, and some electric. During the heating months, many meals are now cooked on the woodstove. I even bake bread using wood fuel. The dryer is still used, but not nearly as much.

Currently the propane tank is filled once a year. It could easily go two or three years, but I like to keep a reserve. In a year we use less than what we use to use in a month.

To be fair, some of the burden has been taken up by using more grid electric. The refrigerator situation will change. Not quite sure exactly which way I'm going to go on that. It's possible to super insulate the current moderately sized refrigerator. Also tempted to super insulate an even smaller refrigerator. Even thinking of building a spring house over the spring that feed my well.
The water heating mix will go completely to solar and wood. The alternative water heating methods have proven themselves and will be expanded. Moving the solar water bulk tank to a sunnier location should help. Another thing we plan on doing is to work around the sun. Long hot baths will be saved for sunny days. When solar energy is scant, short showers will have to do. Americans are not used to working around the weather, but I'm sure we can do it.

Laundry will be hung almost all the time. Dryer use will be saved for those rare cases when we just can't wait. The next time the dryer breaks, I may just get rid of it instead of repairing it.

There was a rumor two years ago that propane might become unavailable. So far it's been just that: a rumor. However, it did move me away from the fuel.

One bonus, I no longer have to shovel a path to the propane tank. That used to be a lot work for a once a month visit. Now that it's a once a year visit, I call for refills during the summer.

As things stand, I can currently get by without any propane use at all. It would be uncomfortable at times. My goal is to get off propane, but do it comfortably.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Road tripping

I love road trips -long road trips. Right now I'm planning for a little trip that'll be over 3000 miles. That's a good distance for a couple of reasons. For highway travel, I figure about 50 miles every hour, for up to 24 hours. Doing the math, that works out to 1200/day. Of course I'm traveling faster than that, say somewhere between 60 - 70 mph. No speeding involved. Averaging 50 mph allows plenty of time for breaks. It might just be a leg stretch, a bathroom break, or a quick coffee. Those short breaks keep me alert. I may even take an hour nap along the way.

The other magic thing about a 3000 mile trip is that's how much fuel I can carry. If I take the truck, I can haul about 200 gallons of waste veggie oil for fuel. If I take the car with a trailer, it handles about 100 gallons. The car gets close to 30 mpg. The truck gets at least 15 mpg. Sometimes it gets more, but if I engage the 4 wheel drive, it only gets about 10. 15 is a conservative estimate. It's always good to have some slack in the plan.

Of course, should I run out of veggie, there's the option of burning diesel.

At one time I could count of fueling up from restaurants along the road. That's gotten more difficult so I don't count on it. Waste veggie haulers have signed contracts with restaurants where they won't let anyone but them take the waste veggie. Another thing that dried up my supply is there's biodiesel plants paying money for waste veggie. Guys were buying tank trucks to haul veggie, then stealing it from other people's waste bins. That was the sort of action I did not want to get into the middle of. Getting arrested or shot is something I like to avoid when traveling.

If we can squeeze in the time, I'd love to travel a few two lane highways. It's one way to see what's really happening out in the country. 7 years ago I noticed all the tent cities popping up around the country. They weren't making the news at all. They'd be off behind truck stops, behind strip malls, or even in junk yards. Traveling back roads shows a part of America that most people don't see.

Another common sight is towns that have lost their only industry. Outside of town there would be a boarded up factory of some sort. The downtown would have few stores open, maybe a used clothing store, and a fast food joint. Men would be hanging around corners or sitting on porches. Lots of towns like that around. My lovely wife and I like to wander off the main roads in search of local restaurants. One year we might find a good place to eat. The next year the parking lot would be empty and the windows smashed out. Not every town is like this of course, but there are more of them out there than you'd think.

The thing that would drive me nuts is towns that have no services in them. It's impossible to buy a loaf of bread or a gallon of gas. However, the town would have 3 churches and they'd be building a fourth. It's like the only thing the had left was Jesus. That's fine and all, but I can't help but think of the parallels with Easter Island. As things began to circle the drain there, they used up their dwindling resources to build more of those stupid statues.

There have only been a few times in history when people could travel long distances in relative safety. I've a feeling that those days may be coming to an end. It could be stupid things like more internal checkpoints. Perhaps just the price of travel, fuel shortages, or bad roads will do it in.

I am excited to be on the road again. Right now I'm getting the vehicle ready. Planning what to take along. Not sure exactly when we will be leaving. Hope to keep the blog running while we are gone.

I'm going to enjoy this trip and try not to worry about all that. Can't wait to see new things and meet interesting people.


Thursday, April 8, 2010


My lovely wife and I were having lunch at one of our favorite spots. Business was slow, so we were chatting with the owners and the few other customers. Turns out the couple at the next table were from our little town. I'd seen them around. They looked familiar, but we'd never gotten to know them.

We mentioned the area of town we lived in. The guy asked how we made out with all the burglaries that swept through our area. Nothing was taken from our place, but other places down the road were cleaned out. They even hauled off a 1200 pound generator. He happened to be called up to jury duty for the guys who were eventually caught.

It was a group of young men. They targeted camps and vacation homes. (Something to think about when you plan bug out locations.) One remote camp they cleaned out completely, then left the doors open so everything froze up. The owner repaired and refurnished the place, then the gang did it all over again.

Eventually they were caught because they stole an unusual car part used in racing. The guy who bought it from them displayed it in the window of his store. A local State Trooper saw the part and recognized it for what it was. He was able to unravel the case from there. In the end, the guys went to prison for 5 years.

I suspect my place wasn't targeted as we live here full time. There's cars in the driveway, the walks are shoveled, and there are signs of life. Easier targets were just down the road.

Here's the weird thing, even though there were burglaries near me, I still rarely lock the house. The guy who was on jury duty doesn't lock his house, plus leaves his car keys in the vehicle. One would think that we'd learn.

There is one small thing to consider. I carry a concealed handgun more often than I lock my door.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tried to watch the news

I was at my daughter's the other day and tried to watch the evening news on the TV. I almost never watch broadcast TV. I do have a TV, but it's for watching the occasional DVD.

But hey, I'm a news junkie. Might as well keep up with the news. There wasn't much else to do.
First the commercials. Way too many of them. Most were about drugs for medical conditions, some of which I'd never even heard of. One observation: women have about 6 times more medical problems than men, judging from the ads.

The news itself? Way too . . . fluffy? Low information density. Fairly high opinion ratio. The propaganda machine's product bores the hell out of me.

Most of my information comes from the Internet. I'm a fast reader. During the time of the average commercial break, I get more hard fact than the product of a whole "news hour." I put that in quotations as it's barely news and certainly not an hour's worth.

Back during my college days I studied Journalism. I think I've got a dusty unused degree in it somewhere around here. One thing my professor would have us do was to take a newspaper and pick out the hard news stories. Even back in the late 90's with a nationally respected newspaper like the NY Times, we'd average about 3 hard news pieces. The rest were puff pieces, press releases, opinion, feature articles, follow up stories, and the rest. New news wasn't a big part of the paper back then, and it's worse now. TV isn't as good as newspapers as far as hard news goes.

Another thing my professor complained about was the lack of depth afforded the average reporter. He once spent 2 weeks researching a story in rural Appalachia. It was a big feature piece in, I believe, The Washington Post. Because of it, he was considered the expert on Appalachia. He said he knew Jack Sh*t about Appalachia. Two weeks is nothing. By newspaper standards, it was a lot. Few news organizations can spend that kind of time on a story these days.

News organizations have made the decision to cut back drastically on its news teams. It shows. The product has gotten a bit thin.

Next time you catch the news from traditional media, be it a newspaper, TV, or radio, try and pick out the hard news stories. Then for fun see if any attempt at unbiased reporting is being made.

News is a business. Business takes care of business. Small example that I know of personally: small town rookie reporter discovers the local car dealership is turning back odometers. Publishes the piece. Newspaper loses its biggest ad revenue: the car dealership. Not a career building exercise.

Go back to old newspapers during the time of the depression. Never did they say the word, depression. There were few articles about how bad the economy was. It was bad for business to say such things. Do you think the news has gotten better about that sort of thing, or worse?

Back to my TV news watching. After about 20 minutes I turned the TV off. There are better ways to waste time.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Three laws

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First of Second Law.

-Isaac Asimov

The great Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov introduced the above laws in his fiction writing. The man was a genius. An artificial person, one with great abilities and power, needs special rules to keep humanity safe. In my opinion it was a brilliant idea. It's an idea that we should adopt today.

Whadda ya mean? You may say, scratching your head in a simian manner. We don't have any artificial persons yet.

Ah, but we do. They are called corporations. They are legally artificial people. The Supreme Court has even ruled they have First Amendment rights. That's pretty darn real.

The problem with corporations is that they are insane. Their main function is to increase wealth, in the most efficient manner possible. They are like a robot programmed to be greedy beyond all other functions.

We need something like the three laws of robotics, but for corporations.

Lets start with Asimov's three:

1. A corporation may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. (Seems a lot saner than an artificial person programmed for greed. Puts humans first.)

2. A corporation must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. (Makes it clear who works for who. Also protects human rights)

3. A corporation must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First of Second Law. (Here the corporation is protected, along with the shareholder's investment.)

Nice. It's a good start.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Seizing the elephant

Most people have a hard time holding two seemingly contradictory ideas in their head at the same time.

It's like the tale of the elephant and the blind men. Several blind men were asked what an elephant was like.

One came up to the elephant's side and said the elephant was like a wall.

Another got hold of the elephant's leg and said it was like a great tree trunk.

Yet another grabbed the elephant's trunk and said the the elephant was like a snake.

Who was right?

Who was wrong?

They all were right, after a fashion, but didn't have the big picture. All they had was parts of the whole.

Those contradictory ideas in your head may be just different ends of the elephant.

There's a lot of strange news out there in the world. Some stories are straight unadulterated lies. Many are mostly true, but only part of the story. It hard to get the big picture. Few of us have the time to dig too deeply. Much of what we hear is contradictory.

People are drawn to easy answers. If they identify themselves as Conservative, everything is viewed through the Conservative lens. Same goes for Liberal, or Libertarian, or Looney Tune. Doesn't make what, once the filters are on, the rest of the elephant becomes invisible.

There are plenty of people pointing to their part of the elephant and calling it the whole elephant: Newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, podcasts, web sites, every form of media. A few will point out their bias and limitations -darn few.

We can get so caught up in the different descriptions of the elephant that we lose sight of what's really important. Things like: Is the elephant going to step on me? Is it angry? Running away from me? Toward me? Is there anything I can do about the elephant? Should I stay out of its way? Try to tame it?

Now instead of the word "elephant," substitute things like "government," "the economy," "the Chinese," "the bankers." Just about anything.

Listen to as many "blind men" (media people, government spokesmen, corporate mouth pieces, friends, family and neighbors etc, etc.)

Get as clear a view of the elephant as possible, accepting that you probably won't have the complete picture. Understand that all information won't agree with each other, but that you can't discard any of it. More info later might fill in the gaps and resolve the apparent conflicts.

Then you have to decide what to do about it. Maybe that elephant is far away and not your problem. Maybe all you can do is get out of its way. Maybe, just maybe, you have an elephant gun.

The bigger the problem, the more likely it can affect your life, the more effort needed to discover what the elephant looks like and what its intentions are. Another mind skill is analyzing the problem. Another skill is knowing that there are some things you just can't deal with -at least not on a very direct level.

I can worry about International treaties, but my ability to influence diplomats is limited. However, if I see a treaty will affect something like the availably of vitamins, I can take action.

It's easy to just accept one viewpoint, but lazy too. It's could be dangerous. That elephant could turn rogue. On the other hand, maybe the elephant can be tamed to work for you. Keep your options open, along with your mind.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tool using animal

My lovely wife and I were watching a movie the other night. The hero was struggling to remove a tie down strap on a piece of equipment. The wind was blowing, hail coming down, and he was having one heck of a time. I thought to myself what I'd do in that situation. I'd reach into my pocket, pull out my handy dandy multi-tool, flick the knife blade out one handed, and cut the darn strap. End of drama.

Humans are tool using animals. Not the only ones, as it turns out. Other primates and some birds have been known to use a tool or two. However, we do have these terrific opposable thumbs. Just the thing for tools. Since we are tool using animals, shouldn't we keep a few tools handy at all times?

Right now I carry a pretty basic Leatherman Skeletool. It has a knife, pliers, wire strippers, wire cutter, bottle opener, and a couple of screwdriver bits. For me, it's a good compromise between size and utility. Before that I carried a Gerber multi-tool. That one is kept in the car now. There are a number of good quality multi-tools out there. Prices range from reasonable to outrageous. As a rule of thumb, I'd say spend at least $30 but no need to spend over $100. Since it's a tool you carry and use every day, buying quality only hurts once.

They are compact tools, but that doesn't mean they lack capabilities. I wired a whole house using my Skeletool. I've done emergency car repairs on the side of the road. Often there are better, more specialized tools for a job, but the multi-tool is handy and good enough. Better the good tool at hand than the best tool at home in the toolbox.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

How long will the roads last?

Out here in the North Country, roads have a hard time. Right now there are little "frost heave" signs all over the back country. Most of the roads around my place never had a proper base laid down. The thin coating of asphalt often needs repair.

Last fall the town did a good job keeping the drainage ditches and culverts clear. I'm glad they did. During spring snow melt or heavy rain, a plugged culvert causes flooding. Hundreds of feet of road can be washed away. One year of no maintenance, and the roads around here would be in pretty rough shape. Several years of neglect would turn large sections of road into muddy footpaths.

When the price of oil spiked, asphalt also went up in price -if you could get it. My town actually depaved two good sized roads in town. It's cheaper to maintain a gravel road than asphalt. Other parts of the country also depaved roads.

There are plenty of roads around here that were never paved. In the spring, most of them are closed for a number of weeks. That's to prevent them from getting deeply rutted. I wonder if the road outside my place will one day be closed for the spring thaw. Maybe we'll have to choose between waiting it out in town or being stranded at the house. When I was growing up, we had a hunting camp up nine miles of dirt road. I've walked up there a time or two during the spring road closure. It was always an adventure.

The petroleum age winds down. Things get simpler. Resources get allocated where they'll do the most good. The outlying areas receive less money and attention.

Maybe one day they'll be no money, equipment, fuel or manpower to keep the ditches open and drains clear. Should that happen, I'll really be living in the woods.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Scored a generator

A friend of mine said he has a 3700 watt generator for me, for free. The engine has low hours, but needs a $50 repair. It's an American built machine with readily available parts. Probably put it in a small generator shack on one end of my property and wire it back to the house. One of the modifications will be a big muffler to get the sound level down to a whisper. Didn't move out to the woods to have a lot of noise. I'm sure most people on the lake feel the same way.

It's was one of the missing parts of my going totally off grid. There are times when the sun doesn't shine longer than the storage capacity of my battery bank. While I doubt If I'd use the generator much, it'll be good to have. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know I love to have backups of all my important systems.

Leaving a battery bank in an under charged state for too long shortens its life. Right now I occasionally top it off from the grid. The generator will serve that function. I could get by without a generator -just live within my solar energy budget. At times I'd have to reduce usage to just essential equipment.

Ah . . . there's the rub. My lovely wife and I might have very different ideas on what's essential. My power tools or her sewing machine? My computer or her computer? It's one thing to work out occasional friction during an unusual event. It's another to have to deal with it all the time. In the pursuit of domestic harmony, having a second power source is a good idea.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Changes in house systems

You can never do just one thing.

I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but new fiber optic cable was run through my rural area. I believe there was grant money of some sort available. I don't know the details. Bottom line, cheap unlimited broadband has come to the woods.

A few years ago my only option was dial-up: that ran at half speed due to the poor quality of my rural phone lines. When Wildblue Satellite became available in my area, I went with it. They've been a good company. They've delivered what they claimed to be able to deliver. Their basic service isn't as fast as most broadband services, but it blew the socks off my dial-up connection.

As good as the service has been, there have been some annoying limitations. One limitation is the speed of light. Their satellite is in geosynchronous orbit, about 22,000 miles away. A signal has to bounce up to the satellite then back down to a ground station. There's a half second delay. Heavy rain and snow degrade the connection. Thunderstorms can block the signal completely. Voice Over Internet doesn't work. There are bandwidth restrictions. Occasionally, I've come close to maxing out my allotment. Wildblue is upfront about that.

The temptations of a fat pipe to the Internet running right past my house has been too much. I've signed up for the service. There is currently a free connection deal in my town. It's time to go with it.

One thing that occurred to me is that I can now get Internet phone service like Vonage. It appears that it will cost about half what I'm currently paying for my land line.

But all systems are related. I'm also thinking about going totally off grid for my electric power. For an Internet based phone to work, the modem has to be powered up all the time. Right now, I shut down the satellite system when not in use. Every watt counts when you make your own.

The old Trace inverter that powers my house is terribly inefficient when powering small loads. Right now, I'm using the grid to power low draw loads, like my cordless phone. Well, I guess the cordless phone and broadband Internet modem would make two small loads.

One option is to just go back to corded phones, just like primitive man with his rotary dials and stone axes. Doesn't solve the modem problem for VOIP.

There is something that occurred to me. I could put all my tiny loads on a small efficient inverter. It would draw it's power from its own deep discharge battery. That battery could be charged from the big inverter when I've power to spare. It's also possible to put a solar panel just to charge that battery. I could use two batteries -one to power the phone and modem, while another charges in the car or truck when I drive to town.

I'm brainstorming here.

It would be cool to have a complete small scale alternative power system to back up my large scale system.

You can never do just one thing. Systems work together.