Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Credit Rating

That's one thing I don't worry about. A credit rating is only of concern if you are trying to buy something -on credit. Frankly, a bad credit rating would work to my advantage right now. Debt is not something I should be acquiring at this point in time. A really bad credit rating would take away any temptation to do something foolish.

That being said, my credit rating has come up a time or two in the past couple years. It's been good enough to get the job done. When your kids are in trouble, even your grown kids, you do what you can to help them out. If it involves having to actually borrow some money, so be it. Lawyers don't work on the barter system.

At least I'm dealing with the local credit union. It makes a big difference when you know the people and they know you. Can you imagine me going into a bank cold and trying to get a loan? How would this look to you: big long haired bearded guy comes out of the woods into the bank. He hasn't had a real job with taxable income since 1993. He claims to not spend hardly any money on utilities, fuel, transportation, entertainment and anything else that's considered normal. Good thing they know me at the local credit union. I got the loan to help out family members and they are fine now. It helps when the loan officer is on your side, gaming the system for you.

Looks like before the end of the year I'll have most of my debts cleared up again. After that, I'll slowly drop off the credit rating radar. Right after the debts are paid off, I'll probably look pretty good on paper. As the months slip by and I no longer have bills to pay, no doubt the credit rating will go away too.

That's fine by me.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Saving on Solar Electric

Budget solar electric installations can be interesting. I've been helping my friends with their off-grid house and funds are tight. Heavy gage copper wire is pretty expensive right now. It's expensive enough that we are seriously reconsidering how the solar panels and battery bank will be laid out.

The original layout had the solar panels about 75 feet away from the battery bank. To mitigate power loss, heavy duty wire would be needed to connect to the batteries. The battery bank was going to be located in an existing barn. The inverter would also be in the shed allowing 120 volt AC to be run to the house and outbuildings.

One way to save money would be to put a small power shed right next to the solar panels. That would eliminate the need for a long run of heavy gage wire. The power shed would contain the battery bank and the inverter. Much cheaper high voltage (120 volt) wire could then be used to supply the house and outbuildings.

The small power shed could be built using scrap lumber left over from house construction. He might just decide to hook up an existing shed to his tractor and drag it into place.

When funds are tight, it's good to be flexible.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Movers in short supply

I'd heard rumors that movers are in short supply. They say that people are leaving the south in droves, enough to cause a shortage of movers. Rumor has it all the big moving companies are out straight.

Today I received possible confirmation. There's a local moving company that's been hired to move a family out of the Florida Panhandle. This is a small company that rarely leaves northern NH. They are the sort of guys you'd hire to move your belongings across town or maybe to the next town over.

This move is way out of their normal operations, but the people moving are paying big money to get the heck out of Dodge. Not only that, they are moving during the holiday weekend, so the rates are even higher. I guess if you are desperate enough to get out, you do what you have to do.

The first people who leave the Gulf can use normal methods. The second wave has to be creative, but since there's no big panic it can be done. I believe that's where we are now. From here is can go two ways. The Gulf region could solve its problems and there would be no reason to move. Those who've left already might even be ridiculed for being hasty.

Should things continue or even get worse, the exodus from this point on gets ugly. Third wave: moving companies are unavailable, so it's stuff as much stuff in your personal vehicle and drive north. Fourth wave: You can load up your car, but gas has run out and the roads are blocked by abandoned vehicles. This group's last option is to try and walk out, in the southern heat.

On one hand we have early movers who might look silly. On the other end of things is a death march. Do you feel lucky?

If you do live in the Gulf region, don't take my work for it. Give a moving company a call and see if they have anything available. My information could be wrong. That company hired to drive 1600 miles one way to do a move might be a fluke.

. . . or it could almost be too late. Don't want to cause a panic, but I don't want to sit on this information either.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

The island

Remember all the fun way back during Y2K? You know, the world was going to end, and didn't?
I wasn't too worried about it on a personal level. When you live way out in the woods, have your own water, solar electric, and a your average hunter's gun selection, there's a lot less to panic about. In deference to Y2K I bought 100 pounds of rice. I like rice and figured I'd eat it anyway. It rounded out my food storage.

While trying not to get too caught up in the hype, there were a few things that gave me pause. There was the government consultant computer guy who bought a place next to me. He wanted to be up here rather in Washington D.C where he worked and lived.

Then there was the guy with the island. He and his son had a computer business, part of the IT army hired to fix the Y2K problem. The guy had his doubts that things could be fixed in time. So if he had doubts, what were the rest of us to think? This guy and his family owned a private island at the end of a long causeway. The house on the island had been well stocked with all manner of emergency supplies. On the island he parked a very large bulldozer. Had everything gone to hell, the bulldozer would tear up part of the roadway and then be used as a massive roadblock.

Only found out about this plan from a friend of mine. A select few people with special skill sets had Y2K invitations. He'd been invited due to his skill with firearms and background in weapons engineering. The instructions stated to not turn up at the door empty handed. If your vehicle wasn't stuffed to the gills with food and supplies, you'd be turned away. My buddy took the precaution of picking up a lot of cheap food, most of which ended up at food banks later on. Nobody in his right mind would have eaten all those cases of Ramen noodles unless they had to.
A couple years later the family moved away. Sometimes I do wonder whatever happened to that survival retreat on the island.

As a side note, I was actually affected by some minor Y2K glitches. My laptop computer insisted it was 1981, no matter what I did. My wife was working in a medical laboratory at the time. Some of her equipment acted squirrelly. The equipment people figured out some kludges that worked around the problems. Not long after they traded the equipment in for upgraded models.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Voting with our wallet

My lovely wife and I had a talk last night about the state of the world. It's frustrating to be unable to do very much about the big picture. On the upside, at least we aren't responsible for the things corporations and government have been doing. It's not like we have a functional representative republic. We might on paper, but if you read Machiavelli, you'll understand what's going on. He said the way to conquer is to keep the outward signs of the old government but change how things are really run. The people will take comfort in the appearance and ignore the reality. Seems like that's what we have here.

But I digress down a side path that leads to broken pavement and brambles.

My wife and I have done what we can to reduce our fossil fuel use. As a side note, we've greatly reduced our carbon footprint, if you believe in that sort of thing being necessary.

Our banking is done at the local Credit Union. It's one thing that can be done if you don't like the bank bailouts. One of my main reasons for switching to local banking years ago is that they have physical offices that I can walk into. It makes a big difference. It's much easier to talk to local people face to face. My odd ball financial situation doesn't fit into the standard forms. I also like dealing local as I'm too big to throw out of an office.

We are excited about a new local farmer's market. I'm going to do as much as my shopping there as possible. Food is life. Why entrust that to a mega-corp that has no greater concern than the bottom line? The farmer's market is local people. My money will stay in the local community instead of going to some faceless corporation. Just as important is the forming of relationships with the people who produce food.

Our financial clout is very limited. To a large corporation, it's almost nothing. However, to small businesses, it's significant. Of course, as more an more of use go small and local, it adds up. Eventually, those mega-corps with tight government connections get hit where it hurts -the bottom line.

It's almost impossible to do everything local. Even I sometimes am reduced to shopping at the local big box store. You do what you can. Only God is perfect.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Belief in Main Stream Media

My lovely wife recently had a long phone conversation with an old friend. They became friends years ago when hey both worked at the same place. Later, after a divorce, this friend moved back to be near her extended family in VT. They see each other a couple times each year and occasionally have long phone conversations.

After my wife got off the phone, she just could not believe the things her friend was saying. Her and her extended family get what little news they watch from main stream media.

Here's what that'll do for you:

The situation in the Gulf is under control.

BP is sucking up most of the oil and the leak will soon be fixed.

There are clean up crews on the beaches so they'll be fine.

Fishing might be a problem for a while but since I don't eat fish, so I don't have to worry.

The price of gas will not go up.

The price of food will stay about the same.

The economy is in full recovery and this thing in the Gulf of Mexico won't affect it.

Now if someone gets any news from outside of the main stream, they'll soon have cause to doubt any or all of the above beliefs, Beliefs are what they are, pretty much divorced from facts on the ground. Heck, even catching the occasional NPR radio news program should give one pause. There's a sizable percentage of people who want to believe everything is fine.

The sad thing is they are acting on those beliefs. My wife's friend's father recently died after a long illness. The one good thing he did was have decent life insurance. He left instructions on how the money should be used to help secure the financial well being of his widow, children and grandchildren. He must be rolling in his grave right now. Most of the money has already been spent in a huge house renovation project. My wife asked if some money was being saved for later. Oh no need of that, the friend said, my mother will be able to live on Social Security.

Those who listen to MSM and believe live a simple life, free of the cares and worries the rest of us have to deal with. The only downside is that occasionally they are overwhelmed by things they never saw coming.

Then they blame it on bad luck.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Time to rethink this whole petro civilization thing

There's a new documentary entitled "Gasland." HBO recently gave it a showing. The movie shows the problems caused by hydro fracking and other gas industry practices. The process seems to be causing methane to seep into water aquifers. There's footage of people lighting their tap water on fire. That can't be good.

The horror in the Gulf goes on and on. Lately on the news I hear all this talk about clean up and restoration. Who do they think they are fooling? Before something is cleaned up, the mess making has to be stopped. It's like trying to remodel a house while it's on fire. Until the leak is stopped, all talk of restoration is more than a bit premature.

Let's look at commonalities. The environment is being destroyed in a frantic attempt to squeeze a bit more energy out of the ground. Does it really matter how much energy is down there if we have to destroy the earth to get it? Clean water is more valuable than petrochemicals. You can live without petrochemicals, you can't live without clean water.

The one thing that absolutely needs ever increasing volumes of fossil fuel is the financial system. Money is not wealth. Oil is wealth. The gold standard was abandoned in the 70s. In effect, it's been replaced with the petrodollar. Almost all oil transactions take place with dollars as the medium of exchange. The ever expanding supply of dollars can only be supported by an ever expanding oil supply. The elite want to keep the game going as long as possible as they've profited enormously from it.

Do not expect solutions from those who are profiting from the current system. The financial system doesn't want to change. Government doesn't want real change either. Your leaders will not lead you to a new promised land. It's been that way since Moses wandered the desert for 40 years. Had he been able to head straight line to his destination, they'd have left the desert behind in a few months. Expect our current leaders to run us around in circles too.

Imagine if most people could take care of their basic needs for themselves. They could provide their own clean water, most of their food, and generate power on-site. Things beyond basic needs could be provided by a few hours work per week. Some are doing it with off the shelf technology and techniques. For water they use a private well or rain catchment. Intensive permaculture or other growing methods provide much of their food. Some solar panels and/or a wind generator supplies their electricity. Now imagine you are that person. Of what use is government or big business to you?

I'll tell you what they are: impediments to a sustainable lifestyle. Governments demand taxes, banks demand loan payments, and big business attacks any threat to their business model. The only way to build a new way of life is to build a new way of life in spite of the obstacles put in place by The Powers that Be.

Most people can't do it overnight, however, every single step away from the petro civilization model is a step towards something better. A tomato grown in a pot on a deck is one small step to victory. 50 watts of solar power is a little bit of independence from the dominate system. Baby steps, but essential ones.

We did not set up the world this way. It was chosen for us, most likely before most of us were even born. It's not our fault that we think it's normal. The brain washing started right in our cribs. It's time to grow up and choose the world we want to live in. For some, even the horrors of a destroyed ecosystem aren't enough to wake them up. I'm hoping that there's enough people willing to find new paths that it'll reach a critical mass. Let's face it, the old system isn't really working that well for most of us, is it? Once better ways of living prove successful, it'll be a path others can follow.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Body Maintenance

Injuries accumulate over time. During the course of an interesting active life, it's pretty much inevitable.

Sometimes old injuries come back to haunt you as mine have done lately. Oh, I've been ignoring the aches and pains for some time now, but can't do it any longer. When you start to refer to ibuprofen as "Vitamin I," it's time to do something.

Years ago I wrenched the heck out of my back. Most injuries heal on their own, given time. After several months of ever increasing pain, I went to see a doctor for a physical therapy reference. I knew exactly which PT clinic I wanted to go to. They'd done wonders for my wife.
Soon I began to refer to my therapist as "The Prince of Pain." Reggie knew what he was doing. Between his regular ministrations and the exercises, I was able to avoid surgery. The pain went away. Function returned. Only when I'd overwork myself would a low burning pain remind me to ease up a bit.

Lately that pain has become pretty much constant. As much as I hate a regular exercise program, I'm back at it. After the first workout, I felt as good as if I'd taken some Vitamin I. That's pretty good reinforcement to keep up with it. Now I knew I wasn't as flexible as I once was, but I didn't know I'd let things get as bad as it did.

While I'm at it, I'll return to practicing Tai Chi. A martial arts instructor did wonders for me years ago. It's time to return to the things he taught me, before other old injuries come back to haunt me.

For some time I've been telling myself I'm too busy to bother with my exercises. Well, I don't have the time to be injured either.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs)

There's plenty of information out there about CMEs. No need for me to go into great detail. Basically, the sun burps and sends a huge energetic shock wave to planet earth. That little electro-magnetic kerfuffle knocks out just about everything electronic. Grids go down, car electronics are fried, computers become awkward bricks.

Just about everything that makes 21st century living possible is shut down. Take away city services and cities are suddenly dropped back into the Middle Ages. That is, with way more people and without the infrastructure that allowed Medieval cities to function. At least back then they had some sort of rudimentary methods of dealing with water, sewage, and food supplies. Modern cities depend on modern technology to function. Take away the technology, a city no longer functions.

Oh sure, it might be possible to run some old style diesel engines and other bits and pieces of modern tech. Big deal. Say you get an old diesel car running. What will you do when the diesel runs out? Some military tech might function for some time, but support systems probably will fail.

Not scared enough? There is one modern class of technology that will function for a long time. It has plenty of spare parts and supplies. CMEs will not affect firearms at all. It could mess up things like fancy electronic scopes, but guns themselves will function just fine. Picture that, absolutely everything we count on to live won't work. The only things that will work are guns. Not a pretty picture.

I, for one, would not want to be in a city should that ever happen. You might stand a chance way out in the country -if you have food, a woodstove, a spring for water, and guns of your own. It might help to be snowed in so no one can get to you. However, in the spring, you might get a visit from any hard cases who survived the chaos of the cities. If survival of the fittest means anything, those few survivors are going to be some tough mean bastards.

By the way, the sun is becoming more active once more. For extra credit Google "Carrington event of 1859." It's only a matter of time before something like that, or worse, happens again. We've become a lot more electricity reliant since 1859.

Sleep tight.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Contest for The Survivalist Blog

M.D. Creekmore at The Survivalist Blog – a survival blog dedicated to helping others prepare for and survive disaster – with articles on bug out bag contents, survival knife choices and a wealth of other survival information is giving away a 1,000 round case of 9mm – 124 Grain FMJ (a $200 value – donated by LuckyGunner)! To enter, you just have to post about it on your blog. This is my entry. Visit The Survivalist Blog for the details.

Your low energy future

A lot of what I do would not be a mystery to my great grandparents: wood heat, gardens, and water from a hand dug well. Other things are firmly in the 21st century: solar electricity, computers, and mp3 players.

In spite of doing a lot of stuff in an old fashioned way, I really don't want to live in the 19th century. I don't want a horse, or cows, or have to do every darn thing by hand. I like being able to drive places, have light at the flick of a switch, and be able to connect to the world with a computer.

Lots of things that were done back then were pretty darn hard. Plowing fields while looking at the south end of a north bound mule is not my idea of a good time. I'm more the read a good book in a hammock sort of guy. Instead of row crops, something like permaculture is more my speed. Set up a food system that pretty much runs itself. I've taken some steps in that direction and plan to do more.

As our energy resources start heading down to the 19th century level, it doesn't mean we have to live the way they did back then. We have many years of accumulated knowledge. There are plenty of useful ideas that don't rely on petroleum products. All that hippie tech from the 70's: alternative energy, unusual building methods, organic gardening for example, have had the kinks worked out of them. Decades later, we know what gives the most benefit for the least input.

Oil isn't going to go away tomorrow. However, odds are they'll be a lot less of it. What we should do is save it for things we have no substitute for and stop using it for non essential reasons. For example, oil derived medicines and equipment are essential for modern medicine. Should we be waisting precious oil on brightly colored junk toys that break the first time kids use them?

Some people in the sustainability movement envision a world where people live more like the Amish but also have computers. That's fine, but I think the Amish use too much energy and work too hard. My gut feeling is that techniques that work for a lazy guy like me should work for many other people.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

The old washing machine

As I write, my old washing machine is doing one more load. It's gone beyond its life expectancy. The beastly thing has been disassembled a number of times. I've pieced together shattered parts to get serial numbers to order replacements. When a friend of mine asked me to haul a washing machine to the dump for him, I salvaged some parts off of it.

Newer machines are a lot more energy efficient and use a lot less water. They also cost a lot of money. One thing that bothers me about the new machines is the amount of electronics in them. My house electric system runs on an old type modified sine wave inverter. Electronic timers don't work right with a modified sine wave. I can imagine buying a new machine and not having it function properly.

New front loading machines use a lot less water, but I'm not paying a utility for my water. It comes from my own well. The old washer does put a heavy draw on my solar electric system, but I've been able to work around that.

When the washer finally gives up the ghost for good, I'll have to figure something out. Perhaps I'll scour the alternative energy forums to discover any information on using new washers with old inverters. Maybe in a fit of disgust with the modern world I'll build a copy of a James washer. Those are old fashioned totally manually powered washing machines.

Next thing you know I'll be making soap from stove ashes and bear fat.

Here I go marching boldly into the 19th century.

Whoa! things aren't that bad yet. No sense borrowing trouble. In the mean time, I'll just hope and pray the old clunker keeps working.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Lawn care

My idea of lawn care will get you kicked out of the suburbs . . . so it's a good thing!

I've about 2 acres of land, of which about 50' by 50' is grass. That's plenty. There's enough grass for little kids to run around on. It's bordered by a small garden, wild blackberry plants, wild raspberries, some filbert trees just started to produce and assorted flowers, about half wild.

As for the grass itself . . . well, let me tell you what my dad used to say about lawns: if it's green, it's grass. Well, it's mostly green. There's an awful lot of clover and dandelions in the mix, along with plantain and other assorted weeds. Rabbits would rather feed on my lawn than in my garden. I know, I've watched them do it.

For ten years I used a reel lawn mower. It was one of those old fashioned ones that don't use gas, all you have to do is push it. They cost about $150. I kept it lubricated and the blades sharp. Ten years of use totally wore out the gears. In a fit of weakness, I replaced it with a corded electric lawn mower from Black and Decker.

The electric lawn mower is really good when the grass gets high, which it does fairly often. It's not just because I'm lazy, which I am. It's actually good for the lawn. Letting it get long gives the roots a chance to go deeper in the soil, making it more drought resistant. During drought years my crappy little lawn holds up better than my neighbor's manicured carpets. Mine will stay green long after theirs turns to brown dust, in spite of their watering.

Just as well too, as I don't water the lawn. No fertilizers or pesticides either. That way I can eat some of those lawn weeds myself.

Some people say my lifestyle takes a lot of time. It's true that doing things like heating with wood can be time consuming, but I make some of that time up when it comes to lawn care.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Project updates

I've been helping some friends with their off-grid house. Over the winter, I wired the place. A couple weeks ago, we set up a battery bank. Before that, everything ran on generators. Now the generator runs just long enough to charge up the batteries. When they reach full charge, the generator is shut down and the house runs on batteries through an inverter. Today I learned they just ordered some solar panels and a charge controller. Wire, disconnects, mounting hardware and other odds and ends will be purchased locally. Well, if we can't salvage or barter the items first.

If you shop around, it's possible to pick up solar panels for around $2.50/watt. Twenty one years ago when I did my original system, it cost $6.25/watt, not adjusted for inflation. Adjusted for inflation, it's just silly. Here's the thing, the numbers made sense to me back then. The panels paid for themselves long ago, and they are still in excellent shape.

Yesterday I picked up a hand operated water pump. The price had gone up a bit since I last priced them. It cost me $42 and change at Tractor Supply. Still, not a bad price. Before I buy any more plumbing stuff, I'm going to rummage through my basement and see how much I still have. Inventory isn't one of my strong suits. I know which boxes to look it. For me, that's an efficient system.

Replaced all the rotten boards on my deck. Will change a few more for good measure. Hope to get some dry days to seal them from the weather. The lumber came from my off-grid friends. They had it left over from their house construction. We don't really barter. Barter is what you do with people not in your "tribe," or "clan." Instead, we are in the gift economy. On the other hand, maybe I'm just too lazy to keep track of who owes what to whom.

My lovely wife worked in the garden today. That's pretty much left up to her, unless there's heavy lifting involved.

Feels good to get some projects moving along. Beats the heck out of working for the man.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Always been this way

I grew up as a child of the cold war. Way back when I was in the fourth or fifth grade we used to do atomic bomb drills. Teachers would lead us all down to the basement; we'd hang out for a while, then we'd tromp back upstairs to class.

I wanted to know what the whole atomic war thing was all about. Somehow I got hold of a civil defense manual on what to do. Soon discovered the school was doing it all wrong. The basement had an above ground wall with windows in it. No way would that block radiation. Where was the food storage? The water storage? Sanitation? The teachers got really annoyed with me and would not answer my questions beyond: don't worry about it.

I figured out that in case of atomic war, I was going to the basement of the fire station. The basement was deeper, heavier built, it had food (government survival crackers and hard candy), water barrels, sanitation and medical supplies. Better yet, it came with Firemen. Those guys looked like they would be a better crew to hang out with in an emergency.

Never could convince my parents to build a bomb shelter. That would have been the coolest club house ever.

As a young kid I experienced the weird disconnect most adults had. They took things seriously enough that we'd have to do these drills on a regular basis, but not seriously enough to do any good in a real emergency. Must have warped my brain.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Not a big fan of e-book readers

A friend was kinda feeling me out to see how I felt about the Amazon Kindle. Apparently some friends and relatives are thinking about getting me a gift. I'm flattered, but I told him they should save their money. I'm not even interested in one, even as a gift.

One would think I'm the perfect guy for a Kindle. I've been reading more electronic books than paper ones. I've been reading electronic books for years on a variety of Palm Pilots. Still doing so as a matter of fact. Why wouldn't I want to upgrade to a much bigger screen?

Okay, the big screen would be nice. It's the rest of the package that's the problem. First off, their wonderful 3G network doesn't work were I live. That's how it sometimes is when you live in the hills. That removes a lot of its usefulness, at least while at home.

One thing that freaked me out is Amazon's ability to delete a book right out of your Kindle. They did that to George Orwell's 1984, of all books. If I remember right, there was a copyright issue. The thought that it was possible to reach into the Kindle and alter what was there proved to be a disturbing revelation that I never forgot. What else could be deleted or altered? Books that are "banned?" Books that the Powers that Be dislike? Paranoid, maybe, but they have the capability. We are expected to trust that they won't abuse it? After all, if you can't trust a faceless mega corporation, who can you trust?

The Kindle is overpriced for what it is. For that kind of money I can get a netbook computer. It's got a screen that's plenty big enough for reading books. It's compact and has decent battery life. They come with wi-fi (which I can use at home). I can read just about any e-book out there on one. Best of all, it's an actual computer with the functionality that comes with that. Nice.

One more thing. Even though I read electronic books, I personally own more real life paper books than most small town libraries. It's great to have books that don't need batteries and an expensive electronic platform for them to work. Sunlight or a candle will do the job.

Many of my favorite books are not available in electronic formate. Some are too esoteric. Others are from small runs put out by long defunct publishing houses. For a while my lovely wife went on a reading spree where she read nothing that was published less than 100 years ago. Will a Kindle work 100 years from now? Paper books published on quality paper, kept dry, survive 100 years surprisingly well.

Fix those little problems, Amazon, and you might have a customer. I'm not holding my breath.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Home from the city

New Hampshire's State Capital is pretty small as far as cities go, but it's more than big enough for me. Sunday I drove the 2.5 hours down to the capital for a friend's commencement ceremony.

On the way home, I noticed a drop in my tension level as soon as I got north of the White Mountains. Hadn't even noticed I had tension until it was gone. Once I go off the highway onto the back roads, I relaxed some more.

It was still light when I got home so I joined my lovely wife on my deck overlooking the lake. The birds were all doing their evening songs. An Osprey with a large trout in its talons flew towards me before veering off to circle for more altitude. At that point, I was finally totally relaxed.

I belong out here in the woods.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Complicated vs simple water pumps

Today I changed a faucet washer on my kitchen sink. It was a ten minute job. That is, if you don't count the 45 minute round trip into town. It was a $2.50 part, if you don't count the cost of going into town. At one time I had quite an assortment of plumbing supplies. Apparently, I've used up some key items. It was bound to happen sooner or later.

It did get me thinking. There are plenty of things that can go wrong with my water pumping system. Over the last twenty years or so, the well pump was replaced twice, once when it was -17 F. The pressure tank was also replaced twice. The pressure switch failed at least once. A check valve split one winter and was replaced with a more robust one. Another winter most of the plumbing froze and much of it had to be replaced. Wore out a tankless water heater and a regular propane water tank. I don't quite remember how many small items have been changed over the years.

I did almost all the work myself. My only cost has been parts and materials. However, today's little repair job got me thinking. What if I couldn't go into town for parts? It wouldn't have to be the end of the world. A good ice storm would suffice.

It's true that my well has a constant overflow. It doesn't require anything more complicated than a water jug to get water. Under normal circumstances, it's not that big a deal. Then there are those other times, like when my pump went in subzero temperatures. The hill down to my well was completely covered in ice. I had to crawl on my hands and knees, dragging a 5 gallon watter jug behind me. 5 gallons will do for drinking water, but it won't go very far flushing toilets and washing dishes. Forget about baths and laundry.

Remember in old movies those hand-pumps that all the old farms had? Well, those old pumps are still being made. It's possible to get them for $30 - $40. I'm going to install one right in my kitchen. Might even put in a second sink just for the hand-pump. Those pumps are dead simple. About the only that occasionally has to be replaced is a gasket. The gaskets are easy to make from a variety of materials. Heck, they are cheap enough that I can keep a few spares.

Should my fancy electric pump fail, pumping water by hand would sure beat crawling on my hands and knees. I could even pump enough water to take a bath. All I'd have to do is fill up a bunch of my stock pots and put them on the woodstove. It's old fashioned as all get out, but it works.

My poor dad is going to flip out when he visits and discovers that old fashioned pump. He says he's never seen anyone work so hard to live the way his grandfather lived. Well, great granddad lived a long long time, so he must have been doing something right.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Now that the Gulf is a mess

For years I've been fascinated by the sea. Don't get me wrong, I love the mountains, but I've always been a water person. Grew up around rivers and lakes. When I first went to the ocean, it was one darn impressive big lake. I fell in love.

My wife grew up in the mid Hudson River area of New York. She grew up on boats. Her whole family would take trips to places like Block Island and Nantucket. When we'd visit her folks, I g spent a lot of time on the water. One thing that always fascinated me what that you could go down the river and travel anywhere in the world.

To me, the thought of a well equipped sailboat was a ticket to freedom. Hardly any fuel to buy, just use the wind. Looked like a lot of fun to me.

Of course, we had jobs and kids and all that, so sailboat dreams got put on hold.

Now the kids are grown. We could make time for that sort of dream. My wife is owed a lot of back pay. If that ever gets settled, we'd have the cash for a good used boat. We were at the point of watching "how to sail" dvd's and checking out sailing schools.

As luck would have it, our first choice of sailing schools was on the Gulf coast. Since the oil disaster, the thought of sailing warm Gulf waters has lost its appeal. It breaks my heart. Yesterday I was looking at photos of beaches I once walked on. They are oil covered now. It was too painful to look at all the photos and I had to stop.

Now I don't know if I'll ever follow those sailing dreams.

Thanks for nothing BP.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Leading edge

I bought my first solar panels in the late 80's. By today's standards, they were crazy expensive per watt. What was I thinking? Independence? Self reliance? Yeah, that was part of it. I was told they would never pay for themselves, especially in Northern NH. Quite a few people out and out told me they won't work, period.

Now you don't just go out, slap up some solar panels and expect to replicate the grid.

Some things had to go: electric stove, electric hot water, electric dryer and incandescent lights.

Compact florescent were just coming on the scene. They were almost $40 each. The company I bought my solar panels from were doing a special -one free compact florescent for each solar panel bought. I bought eight. Those first lights replaced all my heavy usage bulbs. I've still have one of the original compacts in operation.

Put in propane for hot water, refrigeration, and cooking. (over the years I also eliminated most of the propane usage.) Also bought a wood fired cook stove.

My major remaining power draw was my 1/2 hp well pump. Not much I could do about that except get an inverter big enough to power it.

Between cost increases in grid power and conservation savings, the system paid for itself in 5 years. I had figured it'd take 7, but hadn't thought grid power would go up in price so fast.

This system was put in when gasoline was running about a buck. The Alaskan and North Sea oil were coming on strong. The local utility had built a nuke plant not too many years earlier. It looked like power was going to be cheap and plentiful.

I didn't trust it to last. Living out in the country, I got to see the grid go down on a fairly regular basis. Living with system failure made it easy to see that it could happen on a larger basis, maybe not soon, but someday. Now if that never happens, that's fine. I've benefited by having independent power through many storms and the great Northeast blackout. My life's been better for it.

Unlike the solar panels President Carter put on the White House, mine are still working. I've stayed the course. If the nation had, maybe we wouldn't be in the mess we are in today.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Simple but effective

Today I installed a new clothesline. No big deal, right? A rope between two trees could do the job.

I must admit to having gone all out on this one: really nice non corroding ball bearing pulleys, and 100 feet of brand new of clothesline rope. It's set in place with heavy eye bolts. Steel cable and cable locks attach the pulleys to the eye bolts. It runs from my porch across the property to a big hemlock tree fifty feet away. There's a nice place to hang the clothespin bag. Everything is handy.

There's been a clothesline at the house for years. It was less than half the size of my new one. It wasn't in an ideal spot as it was shaded most of the day. Back when it was set up, the main concern was that it was hidden from the road.

Today I finally figured out that I don't care if someone sees my clothes from the road. It's none of their business. What's more important is that the clothesline is in the best place for drying clothes.

It's a small thing in the big scheme of things, but every little bit helps.

Maybe it'll lower property values and I can save a few bucks on taxes too!


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Who's saving who?

My dad retired to Florida. It made sense at the time as mom had medical conditions that cold temperatures made worse. She had five good years down there before she passed. Never came back north again as travel became too difficult for her.

Dad loves it where he's living. It's one of those double wide trailers in a fairly nice park. Living is easy. Not too much stuff to take care of. He's got friends. Dad's adjusted to the climate. In fact, he hates it when it's too cool to wear short pants. He never wore short pants in NH.

So we talked on the phone Tuesday. He's coming up to spend the month of August with my wife and I. We are really looking forward to it. Always enjoyed dad's company.

I'm watching the situation in the Gulf. Florida beaches have been hit by oil, not too near where dad lives . . . yet. A worse than normal hurricane season is predicted. In 2005 he lost part of his trailer's roof to a hurricane. After that, insurance rates went so high that he canceled all insurance on his property.

That's the background. I'm thinking he's living in a precarious situation. Toxic fumes from the Gulf, (he's not that far from the water) or one bad storm could make the place untenable. Unemployment is terrible in his county. Crime has gone up. He bought a new more powerful handgun last year. I've made it clear that he's welcome to stay at my house as long as he'd like.

Talking to him on the phone, he invited my wife and I to move in with him. As he sees it we could live really cheap down there, have few responsibilities and then have money to travel. Sure, I could sell my house in NH and have money to play with. Wouldn't have to live so close to the bone. Dad pointed out that I'm not getting any younger. Sheesh, I'm only 52. He thinks life is too hard here in NH. Winter can be tough. Moving to Florida looks good on the surface.

However, that's assuming that tomorrow will always be like yesterday. As we see what's going on the Gulf right now, those days are over. Not everyone's gotten the memo yet, but tomorrow will be different than today.

I like living in the middle of nowhere. Most of my family is in New England. Most of my relatives and many of my friends live within 25 miles. I could walk to see them if I had to. I've got some land, good water (free flowing spring), alternate energy, some garden space, some trees, and a house I can afford.

As I see it, my home is my refuge. It feels good to have mountains at my back. I really hope Florida keeps working out for dad. If it doesn't, we've got a room for him here. He'd have to get some long pants though.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Community meeting places

I'm writing the blog in the nearest coffee shop/bookstore. It's two towns over from where I live. No chain coffee shop would have opened in this area -population density is too long. These people seem to be making a go of it. I'm glad they are.

People need places where they meet other people in a relaxed environment. Today I connected with some friends and they introduced me to people I hadn't met before. When you live out in the woods, meeting new people isn't that easy to do. The coffee shop gives people a reason to come to town. I first started coming in for the high speed Internet along with good coffee. Plenty of other people do the same.

Today I ran into the lady who's organizing a local farmer's market. She introduced me to another young woman who just moved into the area for the rural lifestyle. Some people are getting it.

I love a place with the sort of atmosphere that encourages people to connect. Too bad it's two towns over from where I live. It is the only place like it in the area, so I do meet people who live near me. Where else are they going to go?

My village has one of those combination store/gas station/restaurants. It used to be a local gathering place, but isn't any longer. The new owners "remodeled" and killed what made it great. The restaurant portion used to be open to the store. It was located in the front of the building with plenty of windows looking out on the street. People coming in for gas or a loaf of bread would see friends and end up sitting down and visiting for a while. The restaurant had a pretty random collection of tables and chairs. Nobody had any problem rearranging them to make visiting easier. Got to know my fellow citizens much better in that relaxed setting. Food was pretty good too.

The remodel placed the restaurant in the back, cut off from the rest of the building. There's a separate entrance from the back parking lot. The funky tables and chairs were replaced by hideous plastic and pressed wood booths. Everything is bolted to the floor. I don't eat there anymore. The place has no soul. It's no longer a meeting place. Even the food isn't as good.

It's that easy for a community to lose its informal community meeting house. The town is poorer for it.

If you are checking out an area to live in, see if there's some sort of gathering place there. You could learn more about the place over a cup of coffee than you'd learn in more formal settings.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Worth getting to know people

I've been buying Fleetguard FS 1000 fuel filters. They are huge filter that I use on my waste veggie powered vehicles. They do a pretty good job of keeping the French fry parts out of my diesels' injectors.

The local heavy equipment supply dealer has kept them in stock for me. Over the years, I've gotten to know the people who work there by name. Told them all about running vehicles on waste vegetable oil. (It helps to have something unusual to talk about.)

I've always taken the time to deal with them as people. Over the years it's something I've made an effort to do. I got to know them as more than just parts guys behind the counter.

Today it paid off. One of the guys who works there called me up. They're discontinuing the Fleetguard line. He was willing to let the rest of the filters in stock go for cost. I picked up 12 filters for a price I haven't seen since 2001.

Those filters are my main expense for running vehicles on WVO. This saves me a fair bit of change.

Mark, the part's guy, said that once I get near the end of those filters, call him up so he can stock an equivalent filter from the new supplier.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Really sick of the lies

I'm really sick of all the lies BP is telling us.

Before the disaster, they lied about being able to safely drill in the Gulf.

They lied about being able and ready to contain and fix any problems.

BP keeps lying about what really happened before the explosion. Surviving oil workers were keep in seclusion and pressured to sign waivers. The company does not want the truth to get out.

They lie about being able to fix the problem.

The oil company is doing everything it can to keep the truth about dead animals and birds secret. They've done everything in their power to prevent photos of the death getting out.

I suspect that even their use of deep water dispersants is part of the lie. The dispersants keep the oil from reaching the surface where it can easily be seen. Never mind that the chemicals used are even more toxic than the oil. It's not about saving life but about protecting the corporate image.

No independent assessment of the leaks are allowed. No independent experts are allowed near the disaster.

The government has assisted in these lies. They certainly haven't taken any steps to bring the truth to light. Oh sure, there's some talk about a criminal investigation. Remember how the investigation of AIG went? No? That's because nothing real happened. Expect more smoke and mirrors.

It sickens me to see the Coast Guard helping BP hid the truth. It's a horrible misuse of a first rate organization.

The government isn't protecting the people, it's protecting a big corporation. Business as usual. We have the best government money can buy.

My message here is that I don't believe the lies. I know I'm being lied to. I know how it's done. It makes me sick. The PR isn't working. As the oil makes its way throughout the Gulf, then enters the Atlantic, the truth will be too big for the lies.

Of course the parties involved are going to lie. Criminals always lie. Make no mistake about it, this is a crime. It's perhaps the biggest environmental disaster in US history. What's the punishment for causing all this death? Will the government wake up and stop hiding the criminals, or will it continue to act in a criminal manner itself?

When the people wake up, there will be hell to pay. BP is toast. Too bad for the investors, but they've been profiting from this criminal enterprise for years. The heck with them.

The only question remaining is whether or not the government will begin to serve the people? Will they let the truth out? Seems to me they should have distanced themselves from BP's lies long before now.

It's not to late for the government to demand the truth, but the clock is running.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Only so many hours in the day

One of my readers e-mailed me and gave me a good chewing out. He pointed out, quite fairly, that I can only do what I do because of my rather flexible schedule. I don't have the regular 9 to 5 work thing. That gives me time to do projects at home, cook food from scratch, cut split and pile firewood, gather and process WVO, garden, bake and all the other things that fill my days.

He's in a situation where a 60 hour work week is a slow week. Throw in all the commute time, time spent preparing for work, time recovering from work, and there aren't a lot of hours left in the week. On top of that, he's spending time with his wife and son. It's surprising he finds time to do basic home repair.

Part of the reason he works so many hours is that he got screwed in a real estate deal. Twice. Not really his fault. In today's economy, his story isn't even that unusual. In spite of it all, he's keeping a roof over his family's head and food in the pantry. Plenty of people have done worse with better.

So, from his point of view, I've got all the time in the world. Well, I've got more time flexibility than he does, but I too could use more hours in the day. Right now I'm falling behind on the last of the garden work. Between bad weather and other commitments, it's not getting done. I must admit I sometimes pick up a loaf of bread at the store rather than bake it. I'm not buying bread, I'm buying time. Tonight I cooked up some frozen turkey burgers -again, buying time.

Instead of gardening today, I helped my son-in-law do cement work. We had a half dozen guys helping out. Later, I did some trouble shooting on a friend's off-grid electric system. Here's the thing about community building -that too takes time. If you want people to help you, you've got to be willing to help others out.

Of the crew that was working with cement, only my son-in-law has what you would call a normal job. He cashed in some earned time and took the day off so he could do his project. The rest of the crew works odd hours, has seasonal jobs, are off from school, out of work, or retired.

Now if you are working crazy hours trying to make ends meet, there's not too much extra that can be squeezed into your days. Fine, but if you find yourself working fewer and fewer "real job" hours, it'll be worth your while to reach out to others in similar circumstances. Just as I sometimes spend money to save time, you may find yourself in a situation where it makes sense to spend time instead of money.

Another of my friends found himself out of work a couple summers ago. While he was out of work, he got together with two other households and gathered firewood. He didn't have a chainsaw or a truck. He joined up with others who had those things. He has a good strong back and did most of the loading. The following winter there wasn't much money to buy heating oil, but he was able to use his woodstove instead.

Is it a perfect system? No, but if you have friends and family to reach out to, you just might be able to find good enough solutions.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Grown kids and tools.

Fairly often I get to do projects with my grown kids. It could be a something at their places, or mine, or even a mutual friend's. It's kinda fun to work together.

It's darn nice to know my children aren't afraid to use tools: saws, hammers, drills, shovels, wheelbarrows, guns, paint brushes, mops, brooms, screwdrivers, wrenches -just about anything the home handyman should be familiar with.

I take special pride in the fact that all my kids are female and darn fine ladies too.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Range II

In my previous post, "Range," I went to great lengths on making sure your vehicle had enough fuel to evacuate during an emergency. One of my readers called and pointed out something I neglected to mention. It's important enough that it deserves a post all its own.

It's possible to have more than enough fuel to get to your destination, but still run out before you get there. During the hurricane evacuations of 2005, quite a few people ran out of fuel while sitting in traffic. Your vehicle only has enough fuel to get you where you are going if you are actually moving.

Now plenty of you are thinking that if stuck in traffic, just turn the car off. Sometimes that's the thing to do. Lots of people don't figure that out and burn fuel when they don't have to. Sometimes it's almost necessary to keep the engine running. If it's 105 degrees and your vehicle has sick, elderly or very young children in the car, running the air conditioning is a safety issue. The same can be said on the other extreme -below zero temperatures and people aren't dressed for the cold. Then need the heater.

A little forethought can make all the difference. If everyone has plenty of cool water to drink, keeping the AC off is easier to deal with. In cold weather, being properly dressed for cold weather and having a thermos of hot coco can sure help. In the winter, my vehicles normally have sleeping bags and space blankets.

Sometimes it's not possible to turn off the engine. Traffic moves often enough that nothing is gained by turning the engine off, but it's stop and go the whole time. That kind of driving eats fuel.

The best thing is to avoid the whole stuck in traffic scenario in the first place. The best thing is to get out of Dodge early and beat the rush. If you know a hurricane may hit your area in 3 days, don't wait for the last day to try and leave. That's where having a bug out bag really pays off. Once the decision to go is made, you can just grab your bag, and any last minute items and hit the road.

Of course, some emergencies give no warning. If the chemical plant down wind has an accident, everyone will be trying to leave at once. Preplanning alternate routes could save the day. Sometimes the highways are in gridlock, but secondary roads are still moving. Don't assume because they show up on the map that you'll be able to use them. The map is not the territory. For example, most maps, including Google maps, and my GPS, show a bridge near me a being in service. It's been closed to vehicle traffic for years. Make sure your alternate route is real. Drive it once in a while. Try and find alternate routes to your alternate routes. Even though they aren't perfect, keep a current road atlas in your vehicle in case you get detoured and need to find a new way on the fly.

There may be ways out of town that most people don't know of: logging roads, fire roads, roads along rail beds, private roads, farm roads, power lines, dry canals -think outside the box. Maybe you could use things like connecting parking lots and service roads to get around a blocked section of highway. Know the territory.

When you sit down to figure out how much range you can get out of your fuel, allow for detours, stop and go traffic, and all the rest.

One more thing to figure out -your vehicle's fuel mileage. Many of you know how many miles per gallon your vehicle gets in day to day driving. Mileage may vary when the vehicle is loaded to the gills with people and gear.

I had a nice little economy car that normally got 32 - 35. With a canoe on the roof and all my camping gear in the trunk and back seat, it got as little as 18 mpg. One more thing to consider.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The busy signal, and beyond.

When you call my house, it's possible to get a busy signal. How often does that happen anymore? It's getting rarer all the time. Think about it. If you call someone and they don't answer, I bet that most of the time your call will go to voice mail. Sometimes the call is automatically transferred to another number, such as a cell phone. I use no such services. A caller to my house may get to experience the rare frustration of knowing that someone is home but they can't even leave a message. I don't care. If it's important, they can call back. If it isn't, best they don't.

Then there is the service I absolutely loath: call waiting. There you are, talking on the phone with someone, and call waiting breaks in alerting the other person there's another call. Then you may have the person quickly break off your call to speak with the other person. Here's the thing, the person with call waiting is making judgment calls on who's more important to talk to. Even if the person decides in your favor, the nature of your phone call has changed. The flow of conversation has been interrupted. The caller may be wondering if maybe he should have taken that call after all. He may wonder what the call was all about. Attention wanders.

Another thing I don't have is caller ID. Okay, maybe I'm just too cheap to pay for the service. When I pick up the phone I have no idea who the heck I'm going to be taking to. There's no mental preparation on what I'm going to say. I see people check caller ID and not answer. "Let it go to voice mail, I'm not interested in talking to that person right now." People who are used to getting gently shuffled off to voice mail don't get that with me. They get me. Maybe not for long, but it's me. I might be rude, crude or offensive, but it's a chance you take when you call my number.

I spend a fair amount of time on a computer, (maybe too much) but there are some services I don't use. When Instant Chat became popular, I sat that one out. Often when at a computer I'm writing and don't want my thinking interrupted. That's why my computer doesn't let me know when I have e-mail. When I decide to check my mail, I check my mail. Have not been a fan of automatic notifications since way back when I was kid and had to use an alarm clock to get up for school.

I don't do Facebook as it's too much of a time sink and has crappy privacy controls.

One thing I grudgingly choose to use is an answering machine. Sometimes it's important that people be able to leave a message. I could be home, but not in the house. It's a long hike up from the lake, or my land across the road.

Is it possible I'm missing something important because I can't be reached at all times? Maybe. Think about it though, if you can be reached at all times, could be be missing out on the real world? Face it, most of the calls most people get could wait.

Other people can decide for themselves how much electronic intrusion they want in their world. I just want them to be aware it is a choice and does have costs. These things tend to sneak up on people and before they know it, they are interacting with the world in a way then never intended.

Be here now.

That works for me.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

One of those nights

I follow my hunches. Some nights just feel weird. When they do, I follow my instincts. My lovely wife and I spent a quiet evening in town with friends. As soon as we stepped out of their house, I had one of those feelings. Strangeness was in the air.

For one thing, it was a warm night, the sort of night when critters roam. To add to the strange ambiance, the air was heavy with smoke from Quebec forest fires. The smell of smoke goes right to the primitive part of a man's brain. It heightens senses to danger.

I drove slow, 35 in the 50 zone, and 28 in the 40 zone. Saw eyes in the night, but they were close to the ground, raccoons and skunks. Then just as I was on the last mile home, a huge dark bulk heaved itself up and jumped into the road. Good thing I was going so slow as I was just barely able to avoid hitting a very large moose.

That'll get your heart pumping.

Then I come into the house carrying in a bag from the truck. My wife has a broom and looks like she's holding something at bay in my office.

"Put the bag down and come here," she said.

I took the broom from her and confronted a huge spider, about half the size of my hand. I've a huge paw of a hand, like something on a low land gorilla. The first whack with the broom bent the handle and the spider wasn't even hurt. It took several more hard whacks and the destruction of the broom to do the job.

My wife has a bit of a arachnophobia. She's scared of fairly small spiders. This beast was big enough to give me a phobia.

Yep, one of those nights.