Saturday, July 31, 2010

Interesting Gun Offer

I know a guy who has a small business a couple towns over. Happened to be in the neighborhood and stopped in to say hello. Business was slow so he had time to chat.

Now we aren't real close. Neither of us has been to each other's house. We are close enough that if we happen to be in a restaurant at the same time, we might share a table and cup of coffee. We'd probably be closer if we lived nearer to each other and had more compatible schedules.

So there we are having a pleasant conversation. The state of the world comes up. Both of us expect tough times ahead. Neither of us are too confident on the timing or how it will shake out. There's enough stuff in motion right now that something bad is likely to happen within the next year. We agree on that much.

Then he gets real serious. He asks me if I've got any guns because if I don't have one he's willing to give me one. I assured him I had a few. We then compared guns and calibers and he seemed relieved that I had something for personal defense.

After that, in strictest confidence he tells me his bug out plan. His plan is not something most people would or should do. Let's just say he plans of living an isolated and primitive lifestyle. He could pull it off as a few years ago he lived two years in a tepee, right through New Hampshire winters. I don't think there's more than 3 or 4 people who know of his plan.

His level of concern for me and his trust was humbling. Maybe we are closer friends than I thought. Heck, in the big scheme of things, we must be of the same tribe.


Friday, July 30, 2010

Expensive electric cars

The Chevy volt is going to cost around $41,00 dollars. That puts it out of reach of the average Joe. Good way to make sure the electric car stays a plaything of rich people.

Too bad, really. Make one that goes for $10,000 and you'd have a transportation revolution. Put a solar panel on the roof and really change things.

Am I a dreamer? Of course, but that doesn't mean it couldn't be done. Heck, I could do it. Take any number of good EV conversion kits. The ones that are designed for converting small cars like VW bugs or Geo Metros. Build a light weight but strong frame and chassis. You could use plenty of off the shelf parts. Maybe do some custom fiberglass work. If you didn't have to worry about all the government regulations, it could be built cheap. It probably will be built cheap, but in a country with less stringent laws: India? China? Moldavia? Albania?

Put a good sized solar panel on the roof and it could be self powered. Now I know most electric car guys say that's not a good idea. It isn't for the way most people drive and for the electric cars we have now. A small light weight car would not need as many batteries so it would charge faster. Maybe you don't need to drive 50 miles to work everyday. Maybe what you really need is a once a week trip to the market that's 25 miles away. It could be you need a car for emergency trips to a hospital 50 miles away.

Take the way I live. I don't commute to work. Occasionally I have to go into town. Waiting 3 or 4 days, maybe even a week or more, for the batteries to solar charge is no big deal. I can do my errands when the vehicle is ready. My schedule is flexible. Maybe I will convert a small car or truck and see what happens. I don't even have to go faster than about 45 mph. So what if it takes me an extra 5 or 10 minutes to get to town?

Should I want to go to town more often, the car could be charged from my house's solar electric system, or even from the grid. Going into town more often would be feasible if we charged up there. For example, if my wife wanted to babysit the grandkid, I'm sure my daughter would not mind letting us charge the car at her her place.

There's hope for electric cars, but only if we change our assumptions on what we need a car for. Also, it's going to have to cost a lot less than $41,000


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Do it yourself

There's a way of thinking that comes with self reliance that goes well beyond the day to day mundane things.

There's a confidence that comes with being able to take care of your basic needs. Food: perhaps a garden, maybe raising some chickens, or knowing how to hunt and fish. Shelter: could be knowing how to make a primitive debris shelter, or it could be knowing how to build an off-grid house. Clothing: knowing how to use a needle and thread to make repairs, up to spinning and weaving. Water: catching rain in a barrel from your roof. Dowsing your own shallow well and digging it with hand tools. Perhaps you've learned how to build water filters or repair pumps.

Doing things for yourself starts to spread into other parts of your life.

Doctors are not blindly trusted. You do research and take charge of your medical care. Sometimes alternative treatments, things way outside the box, might be just what you need.

You may run into laws and rules that make no sense. Maybe it's illegal to put solar panels on your house or even hang clothes on a clothes line. Run into enough stupid laws and you begin to look at all of them with new eyes. At some point you may even reach the point that you don't care if something is legal, only if it's moral.

It could even spread to one's religious life. There's a big difference between what's religious and what's spiritual. Just like you no longer completely trust your doctor with your body, you no longer trust your minister with your soul.

Police aren't completely relied on for security. You take a self defense course. Buy a gun and learn how to use it. Maybe it's as simple as being aware of your surroundings and taking action before things get out of hand -leave town before the riot happens.

No man is an island; he's a peninsula. One person can't do everything alone. He might be way out there in the sea of independence, but there's still a connection to the wider world. This is where community comes in. Maybe you never were comfortable working with electricity. Your friend comes and gives you a hand. Perhaps you've helped fix his car. Maybe more people are asked to help. Use the model of an Amish barn raising. The whole community gets together to build it and it's done in a day. It's a community project. You learn to share with other people, but it's a sharing of equals. Everyone has different strengths and together you all benefit.

Problems are solved at the lowest level they can be solved at. It's a ground up operation.

Governments hate that level of independence. If everyone was that independent, the role of national governments would be tiny indeed. A big bloated government needs people who can't think for themselves or handle their own needs -people who look to papa government to take care of them and tell them what to do. Spreading the knowledge of self reliance is a subversive act. Self reliant people are free people.


Things I've told creditors

Money might be tight now, but some years ago it was really bad. Try suddenly losing 2/3 of your income and see how well you do.

At first, the phone calls from creditors bothered me. Later, I realized there wasn't a darn thing I could do about it. A person can get used to anything after a while. Eventually, I began to look upon the phone calls as an entertainment opportunity. Lord knows, I couldn't afford most ways of amusing myself.

Here's a few helpful samples of real events:

Creditor calls and is very rude to me. I say, "I'm sorry, but you are being rude. If I give you money, I'll be encourage rudeness. I can't abide rudeness."

Creditor calls and gives me a hard time. Finally I tell him, "You know, once my phone service gets cut off I'll never have to talk to you again. I'm looking forward to it."

One Credit actually threatened to send a couple guys over to my house. "Please do," I said, " I could use a little light exercise."

If you can get them away from their script it can be interesting. I asked the caller if he was calling from a call center. He said he was. Then I told him that the average call center employee only lasts 6 months on the job. Look around, I said, notice the high turn over rate? He admitted it was high. He told me he had been on the job three months. Then I told him in a fairly short time, he could be in my shoes. The poor guy seemed quite troubled by the time he hung up.

Remember, the creditor has to take part of the blame here. They were stupid enough to loan you money.

It took four years, but everybody eventually got paid. Local people first. Then the ones who were polite and reasonable. The very last were the rude and threatening ones.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Doom on vacation

Now I know the world in general is in serious do do. Storms are coming. The economy's false recovery hasn't done Jack -because it's false, duh. Sabers are being rattled all over the world. The Gulf of Mexico is floating on a big pool of oil. (That's what BP stands for, Big Pool.)

Yes, yes yes, I could make a big list and still not list them all.

Not going to do that.

My wife got some good news from the doctor. In short, she doesn't have the terrible disease that earlier tests indicated she might have. Big relief here. All my problems that concern things and stuff don't really matter.

To top it off, right now, the weather's been so darn nice that I can't help but smile. Took a canoe out on the lake and soaked in the sun.

One of the life lessons I've learned is to be thankful and grateful for the good times.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Power Shed II

There's the power shed, made from an ice fishing house. Photo was taken yesterday just after we threw the switch and it came on-line. It's yet to be tidied up, as you can see by the unruly grounding wires.

The shack is under eight feet long. Panels are five feet tall. Each panel puts out 250 watts for a grand total of 500 watts. Now 500 watts doesn't sound like a whole lot, but since the house was designed to be off grid from the ground up, it handles day to day needs.

Currently, the battery bank consists of only six golf cart batteries. An additional six are on their way. Ideally, all twelve should have been bought at the same time. Since this a debt free, pay as you go system, everything is being done in stages.

Backup power currently comes from either a 5000 watt generator powered by a Robin Subaru gasoline engine, or a 1000 watt Honda. A 10,000 watt diesel generator is being repaired. The diesel engine will also run on waste vegetable oil.

Will take more photos once things are tidied up a bit.


Cop Stop

Blue lights flashed behind me and my first thought was -what the heck is this all about? I was driving under the speed limit. In a cops mind that might be suspicious behavior. With all the moose and bear running around at night, slow driving is only prudent.

There was almost no one on the road -except for that guy who'd been tailgating me for the last few miles. We were coming up on a passing zone so I expected him to pass me. Didn't know it was a cop. He stopped me right at the town line.

He claimed my truck drifted over the yellow line. It's possible. I was tired and there was no traffic. It did give him an excuse.

He came up real close in my face to see if I was drinking. For his troubles he was rewarded with a blast of onion breath. They make darn good onion rings where we'd just had a late dinner. The cop let me go. No ticket or anything. Said he was glad I wasn't drinking.

Now just in case he's reading this blog, I won't mention the law I actually was breaking when he stopped me. It's not my problem he was so focused on drunk drivers.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Redneck Solar Electric

A regular solar electric contractor approaches an installation job in a certain way. Once the size of the system has been determined, he gathers together the materials needed. When the installer arrives on the job site, he knows the design and has the materials he needs to complete the work.

My buddy and I are doing his solar installation the redneck way. We wander around his land to see what he's got lying around. Then we try to do as much of the job with materials he already has.

He decided on a solar shed. That's a small separate building that contains everything needed for the alternative energy system. Instead of building a new shed, the ice fishing shack was re-purposed. He only used it once, so it'd be more useful as a power shed. There were some nice cement pads left over from when he jacked up an old house last year. That became the foundation base for the fishing shack.

For the battery bank rack we reused the heavy duty pallet that the solar panels came on. It was a bit wide so I cut it down to size. Also used some 2x6s salvaged from a previous construction project. Insulated the battery box with salvaged rigid foam insulation.

The rack for the solar array was originally the steel frame for an ATV crate. My buddy cleaned it up and gave it a good coat of paint. We also used some galvanized pipe he found at the dump. The pivot points are a couple of huge hinges that came off an old basement door.

Even some of the electrical components are salvaged. He found a heavy duty, high amperage electrical disconnect. I've no idea where he came across that gem and he had no idea what it was. Found a grounding rod in his metal pile. He thought it was just round stock rod. Salvaged some heavy gage wire for the battery interconnects.

There are some things we don't skimp on. Stainless steel nuts, bolts and washers had to be purchased. Using stainless steel connectors prevents the corrosion that can happen when bolting together dissimilar metals. The solar panels cost enough money that you don't want them blowing off in the wind.

Of course, most of the solar electric components had to be purchased. Also, it's not worth skimping on safety equipment.

Tomorrow, with any luck, we'll mount the array on the shack's roof. While I'm wiring the components, my buddy will be moving the batteries and generator from their temporary location. They'd been housed in what once was an addition to an old house. It's been salvaged whole and dragged to its current location by my friend using his tractor. The open side was boarded up and a woodstove installed. He'd used it as a warming hut while working on his house last winter.
No telling how the "warming hut," will be reused. I'm sure sooner or later another redneck project will come along.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Checking the tents

The above photos are of a couple of my smaller tents. The one in the left is a three season, three person tent. The one on the right is a four season, 2 person. Both are L. L. Bean tents and are about 12 years old.

My lovely wife and I are going camping at the end of the month. Before we do, I like to check out all the gear. It certainly cuts down on problems in the field. I decided to give the tent on the right a fresh coat of water proofing.

Storing tents clean and dry greatly extends their lifespan. These are still in good shape, in spite of heavy use. Sometimes there is no choice but to pack them wet. Do enough camping and eventually the rains are going to come down. At the first opportunity, unpack the tent and dry it thoroughly. Mold and mildew can quickly make a tent unfit for use.

Along with the tents, sleeping bags, and pads get an inspection. Staying warm and dry makes all the difference when it comes to camping comfort. It's the keep to having a happy spouse. Nothing like being wet and cold to ruin a camping trip. (and stress a relationship.)

Another item that gets a complete test is the camping stove. Gotta have hot coffee and warm meals. Sure, I can cook over a campfire as well as the next guy, but why suffer when it's not necessary?

This is going to be a quick trip to the coast of Maine. We are staying in a private campground. That means electricity and hot showers, not really roughing it at all. It's a chance to get together with family and friends. Making sure the basics are covered, we can concentrate on having a good time.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Inspectors and the Farmers' Market

It was only a matter of time. Thursday, at the local farmer's market, the inspectors invaded. They came out in force. The agriculture people were there. Even the maple syrup inspector showed up. Exactly one vendor sells maple syrup at the market. As far as I know, they didn't find anything out of line with anyone's product.

I talked to the maple syrup person for a bit. Had no idea how tough the inspector can be. If one container of syrup is not labeled to the inspector's satisfaction, he can open the whole batch. If the batch number is missing, the producer's complete stock can be opened and tested.

I'm of two minds about that. On one hand, it seems the inspector could take pretty draconian steps. What if a label had fallen off? Should a producer lose their stock because of it?

On the other hand, I can be pretty sure about the purity and quality of New Hampshire maple syrup. No one wants to mess with the inspector. That does add value to the NH brand.

Many sweeteners are now adulterated with high fructose corn syrup. (HFCS) Chinese honey is notorious for being cut with cheaper HFCS. Now I hear that agave syrup is often cut with HFCS. My buddy from KY informs me that even mom and pop producers of sorghum cut it. The pure product is hard to find as they don't label that it's mixed with HFCS.

The NH maple syrup inspector is also the honey inspector. I'm told there will be local honey at the farmers' market soon. Really looking forward to picking up a lot of local honey. I've a great sweet mead recipe that requires 15 pounds honey. Haven't made it in a while due the high price of honey. Maybe I can barter. Give me the honey I need to make mead, and I'll give back a certain number of bottles.

Not really surprised to see the inspectors. Government does what government does. If they stick to actually protecting the public from bad products, then I suppose I can live with it. However, if they are there to kill the market, that's another thing entirely. Another thought: state funds are tight right now. How likely is it that inspectors have been told to generate a little revenue to fill the coffers?

I know some of the people behind the market. They really do seem to have their act together. That should keep government interference to a minimum.

Would really hate to lose the local market. It's nice to have some fresh veggies, fruit, and local meats, but I've really fallen in love with the cookies and hard cider. Gotta keep those local producers in business. Then there is the chance to get out in the community. Really love connecting with old friends and meeting new.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Today rather than yesterday

I mowed my tiny lawn today instead of doing it yesterday. Oh, I was ready to do it yesterday, but something made me stop. I'd neglected my lawn long enough that the clover had come into flower, along with a tiny purple flower I don't know the name of. While I wasn't too knowledgeable about those purple flowers, honey bees thought they were the greatest thing in the world. Bees were all over my lawn.

Now honey bees are pretty mellow as far as bees go. They'd have gotten out of my way had I approached with the lawn mower. However, with bees having a hard time all around the world, the least I could do was leave the ones in my yard alone. The grass could wait. It'd been a long time since so many honey bees visited.

Sometimes the best thing man can do for the natural world is leave it alone.


Where did all the self storage units come from?

Does anybody else remember when self storage units were not all over the countryside? How did people ever come to the decision that they were a good idea?

That's not to say they can't serve a purpose, but the need is not as great as the number of rental units out there would have us believe.

What do people store in those units anyway? It's not stuff they use all the time, or it wouldn't be in those units. It's not critical to their lives. Yet, it's somehow worth spending money every month to keep it. Can it be people just can't let stuff go? I'll bet the vast majority of stuff in storage units could be sold, given away, or junked and no one would miss it.

There are valid uses. I guy I used to work with sold his house but couldn't move into the new one for about a couple months. During that time, it made sense to store his things. It was for a short time and he would have had to replace everything once he moved anyway. It was cheaper to rent the unit for a short while than replace his things. The whole time his things were in storage, he moaned and complained about he cost.

Then there are less than valid uses. Like the lady I know who left her boyfriend. Some of her big pieces of furniture didn't fit in her new apartment, so she rented a storage unit. She couldn't really afford the new apartment, never mind the storage unit. She ended up moving back in with her old boyfriend. I suspect it was mainly so she'd have a place to put all her stuff. Apparently it's more important to have a place for that really tall hutch than the fact her cheating boyfriend was dealing hard drugs.

Then there are people who store things like avocado colored refrigerators from the 70s. What the heck are they thinking?


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Attack of the Boom Mower

My lovely wife and I were in the kitchen having our morning coffee. We heard a commotion. A loud machine growled its way up the road. Now in a lot of places, the sound of loud machinery is background noise. Here, anything that drowns out the songbirds is worth investigating.

What we saw was a boom mower trimming the growth along the road. My wife got to see the boom reach down past the pavement and gravel shoulder, fairly far off the road. It took out a nice little spruce tree.

My wife had transplanted that tree a couple years ago. She placed it there to stop erosion at the top of our gravel driveway. It was being raised to be a living Christmas tree. She'd been trimming it so it'd fill out and be attractive. Two weeks ago she mulched around the base. It was growing nicely. This year it might have grown big enough to put some LED Christmas lights. We could have walked down the driveway to the soft lights of our living Christmas tree.

That plan came to a sudden end this morning.

There are times when I think it'll be nice when motor fuel will be rationed or too expensive for things like boom mowers. Keep it for ambulances, fire trucks and police cars. It would not bother me at all if my road became an overgrown path.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Weird feeling when the lights flicker

My lovely wife and I were babysitting our granddaughter in town the the other day. Twice during the evening, the lights flickered and the power died. It was just for a few seconds, but we both felt weird.

I'd no idea how much we'd gotten used to having our solar electric system. Most of the time, the system just works. It rarely goes out. The few times it does, it's usually a simple matter of resetting something. Being in town and on the grid, I was completely as the mercy of the power company. Really hated that feeling. That's one of the reason we put in an independent power system in the first place.

The problem isn't even that we had no electricity. We are perfectly comfortable primitive camping for days on end without any electric power. That fact that we were in town and without power added to the weirdness effect.

In the few seconds that the power was off, I thought: okay, I've a flashlight in the truck and a small inverter. Using the flashlight, it should be possible to find an extension cord and run it to the truck. Some lights and a radio could be run on it. Being able to quickly put together some sort of backup plan made me feel better.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Paradigm changes, or getting out of the box

A paradigm is everything inside the box. The basic assumptions on how the world works is a paradigm. It's the framework that holds a person's belief system. It's coloring within the lines.

Paradigm has specific meanings in the world of science. When radical discoveries in a scientific field happen, they can cause a paradigm shift. The box changes shape. In the 19th century, science had just about everything placed in a neat box. There were just a few troubling little things that didn't quite fit. Those tiny problems because quantum mechanics and blew apart how scientists think about the world -the whole world. Everything is different.

Most people can't tell they are even in a box. Does a fish contemplate water? Does it know of land and air? Perhaps it's focused on swimming and ignores the nature of water itself. Just because you can't see the bars doesn't mean you aren't within a prison.

When we are little kids growing up, the bounds of our world are laid out for us. Our parents, schools, political leaders, religious leaders, social life, economic life -all structures of our existence, set up the walls of our box.

It's not just one box. It's many boxes -the religion box, the political box, and so on. In one's life, they might break out of one or two boxes, but never question the overall box that contains it all.
For example, a kid might be raised in a religious environment: parents, schools, and clergy all helped build that box. At some point in life, the kid might question his upbringing. He might change religion, or become agnostic or even an atheist. He's broken out of the religious paradigm he was raised in.

How society reacts to that depends on how much it challenges the overall system of control. In Western Europe, breaking out of one's religious paradigm doesn't have the same penalties as in a conservative Islamic culture. Why is that? Europeans have other systems for controlling a person's behavior. Secular institutions are strong. In a conservative Islamic culture, religion is a stronger and bigger box. It controls more of a person's behavior. It's more important that the religion box stay intact.

Once a person becomes aware that their life is in a series of boxes, they can take a good hard look at them. Knowing you are in a box, you can then decide what to do about them. Maybe nothing. Certain behaviors make good sense in their own right, like the golden rule, treating others like you'd like to be treated. One does not need a religious framework to live a moral life. Instead of doing it out of fear of eternal damnation, a person can live a virtuous life as it actually makes logical sense.

Other paradigms don't hold up so well to observation.

Take the whole American Dream for example. Does it really make sense to always grasp for more? Bigger houses, more expensive cars, the latest electronic gadgets -to have more stuff than than your parents ever had? It's not even a very stable paradigm. Economies falter, energy resources become scarce, and opportunities shrink. It doesn't make sense that something can get bigger forever.

Why do people want more and more in the first place? Let's kick the lid off of this paradigm box. Picture a primitive hunting and gathering society. The big man of the tribe is the best hunter. He has the most meat and furs, making him the richest. Because he is successful, woman want to be his mate. Their children will not go hungry. More and better make a certain amount of sense here.

How does that hold up over time? Women still seem to be attracted to the wealthy guys. Would Bill Gates have ever gotten laid without all his millions? So okay, it works on that end of the scale. How about everyone in the middle? Woman do seem to like a guy who earns a good living. Nothing mysterious about that.

How's it working out for the guys? Not so good. If you are working like mad trying to get ahead in a bad economy, when do you have time to get laid? If the economic game is changing, shouldn't behavior change?

The system made sense to the hunter/gather. The need for food, shelter, and safety had to be satisfied. That's what we should concentrate on, not the abstract things like money are are currently used to purchase those things. A smart girl should go for the guy who has self reliance skills. The guy who can build and off-grid cabin, dig a well, has mastered sustainable energy technology, can grow a garden, knows how to cook, and is comfortable with his nontraditional path. Of course, this goes for men too. They should be seeking out women who aren't locked into the old paradigm.

When I was a teenager, somewhere I heard that most of what men did to gain status was a substitute for sex. The big car, high power job, the big house, the fat bank account -all were substitutes for sex. I thought that was silly. Why not just concentrate on getting sex? (cut me some slack here, I was a teenager.) As I matured I realized it wasn't just sex, but love, affection, companionship and all the rest. Still, why go for the cheap substitutes when the real thing is out there?

It was just a matter of finding someone who wasn't totally boxed in by the American Dream paradigm.

The problem with living outside of the accepted paradigms is the constant pressure to conform. Much of the world is constantly telling you what you are doing is wrong. Worse yet, sometimes living outside the paradigm has pretty negative results. Not only does the dominate society object to your life choices, sometimes it really is a bad choice. That's the burden of being a bit experimental -sometimes experiments fail. A smart person will adapt the new information and modify their paradigm.

We are at a very interesting point in time. The old paradigms are failing. The economic paradigm is a bust. The oil energy paradigm has poisoned the Gulf. The political paradigm looks questionable. (Bush and Obama are as different as can be, yet Obama is pursuing pretty much the same policies as Bush. What's up with that?) The work your whole life for a comfortable retirement paradigm is failing. Basic assumptions on how the world works are coming into question.


The thing that the Powers That Be fear more than anything is a loss of belief in the old paradigms. The old boxes proved to be highly profitable and comfortable for the rulers. Problem is, it all goes away if people stop believing in it. Call it the Tinkerbell Effect if you will.

When I see young people acting outside of the dominate paradigm, I see the beginning of the end of the old systems. They know Social Security won't be there for them, so they don't worry about retirement. It ain't gonna happen. Some see that debt doesn't just get them stuff quickly, it wraps chains around their necks. Many college degrees are a bad investment. Some have rejected getting new cars. The old work well enough and don't bury a person in debt. Maybe they can get by without a car at all. Owning a house in the suburbs doesn't make sense to these people. Maybe co-housing, primitive cabins, living on a boat, squatting, or even a nomadic lifestyle make more sense to them.

Somewhere along the way, a small yet not insignificant number of people will find a new paradigm that works better. It's rewards were will be real and tangible. There will be joy in their lives. Not all the details have been worked out. Most likely the solutions will be highly localized to fit conditions on the ground. Looking outside of their boxes, people will see what they really have to work with and build with the materials at hand. Once others see there is a way out of the old paradigm, many will join the early adopters.

Not everyone will get with the new paradigm. People in their 50s will get clobbered. Older people have gotten what they can out of the old paradigm. Younger people will be able to adapt as they don't have much invested in the old ways. Those in the 50s invested much of their lives in the old system, but now all that they worked for will be taken away. It's tough at that age to lose your retirement, your job, your house, and all the material things that once gave you status. If you are in that age group, try and find a way to let yourself down easy. It's not your fault. Your were duped.

No matter what happens, some will never believe there can even be another paradigm. There are still people who believe the earth is flat.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Power Shed

The final solar electric components have come in for my friend's off-grid house. The charge controller was back ordered, but now it's in. Currently power is provided from a battery bank charged from a generator. Batteries, inverter, and generator are currently housed in an old shed next to the house.

Next week we are going to build a power shed and move everything to that. What's a power shed? Start with a fairly ordinary shed. For my friends project, we are thinking of something small, like 4 X 8 feet. It's big enough to house a battery box, inverter, and generator. The solar panels will mount right on the roof.

There are some big advantages to a power shed rather than putting everything in the house.

For one, it's a bit safer. Everything is away from the house in an uninhabited structure. The house is in a nice shady area. Very comfortable in the summer and the surrounding trees provide some protection from cold winter winds. It would be a shame to cut them down just to have sun on the solar panels.

It would be possible to put the solar panels away from the house on a pole and keep the batteries and inverter in the house. One of the disadvantages with that is the cost of heavy gage wire from the panels to the house. It's the way my panels and batteries are set up, but I got a really good price on wire twenty years ago. With the panels on the shed roof near the batteries, my friend will save a lot of money. True, we still have a long wire run to the house, but we can use much cheaper high voltage wire since the inverter is in the shed.

The solar shed will be in a nice sunny location. I'm going to mount the battery gage in the window so they can see it as they walk from the driveway to their house. If the batteries charge is low, they'll know about it right away. Monitoring a home system is important. You don't want to wait until the inverter shuts off from low voltage to know you have a problem.

It's important to have good ventilation in the summer to keep the batteries from over heating. In the winter, the battery box and shed will be well insulated to keep it from getting too cold. Cold batteries don't hold as much power as warmer ones. On the other hand, too warm and battery life is shortened. Maybe I'd better put a thermometer in the shed that can be seen from the window.

One the cool things about a power shed is that it can be moved. If they want to relocate the shed to a more convenient spot, they can drag it or load it on a flat bed trailer. Someone could even use a power shed on rented land. Should they decide to move, they can take the shed with them.
In some locations, if a small shed is not on a permanent foundation, it's not taxed. Check your local laws. Often they can be built without a permit. I've heard of people who get a permit for a "garden shed." They even keep a rake and shovel in there, but it's a power shed.

That's next week's project. I'll ask the property owners if they'd mine me taking a few pictures.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Some people get it.

It's not about the money, it's about living well. All we have in life is time. We can spend it with our shoulders to the wheel . . . or we can go fishing. The choice is ours.

A few years ago my wife and I were on big sailing ship for a day cruise out of Key West. We'd gotten a heck of a deal on the trip at the last minute as the boat wasn't full at sailing time. There was food, drink and a darn good guitar player on board. My wife and I were having a great time.
Quite a few people weren't very happy. During the course of the day, we heard their stories. They'd flown down to the Keys from up north. They were paying $1400/week for their place to stay. To save money, they were eating all their meals at a fast food place.

They'd amost spent more for lodging in a week than we'd spent for all our expenses for a month. Since we were partying and making a vacation out of the trip, we were a bit looser with our budget than normal. Unlike them, we were planning to check out a great restaurant some of the locals told us about. (It really did have great prices, good food, and was a good time.)

To be fair, we weren't spending the night in Key West itself. We were camped right on the water at a state park just up the road a bit. We'd traveled down from NH in our waste oil burning car and hadn't spent money on fuel yet that month. About half the time on the trip down, we'd stayed with friends or relatives. The other half we camped out, often in great private campgrounds that cost less than state campgrounds.

Camping, we ate a lot of meals that I cooked myself. I even did some thermos cooking so we'd have hot food while picnicking along the road. That saved us enough money so we could eat at some great places on occasion.

I do feel bad for being a bit unkind to the other passengers on the cruise. I told them how we were living. Kept asking them if they'd seen any of the interesting things we'd seen along the way. They had not. Some people don't like it at all when poor folks are having a much better time than they are. Should have just shook my head and said something to the effect of Key West sure being expensive.

During our meandering trip down the Keys, we talked to a lot of people. One guy I met set us up with some free waste vegetable oil to run the car. I shared some fine single malt scotch with a fellow camper and he told me of some great little known camping places. A street magician I'd met in St. Augustine showed me how to do his tricks. We'd hit it off and chatted a good long while. Got some hints on how to avoid the nastier cops in the area. Had some fun helping out other people. Fixed a guy's taillights on his camper. Got another guy's generator going. Shared coffee on a drizzly day with a nearby camper. Learned an amazing amount of stuff about edible mushrooms.

We got to connect with a lot of interesting people on the trip. Learned some amazing and useful stuff along way. Took a few months on the road to travel instead of a week or two. We had a lot more fun than most of the vacationers we met along the way.

By the way, this was a working trip for me. At the time I was managing an on-line S/F and Fantasy Internet magazine, Quantum Muse. I traveled with a lap top that was powered by an inverter pugged into the car's cigarette lighter. As long as I could occasionally get to an Internet connection, I could run the zine. It worked for me. One time I jacked in at a bar in Key Largo, right on the water. Occasionally I'd reach behind me to get a fresh beer out of the bar's cooler. Could not help but compare my working conditions to my friends who toiled away in airless cubicles.

Of course, they were making a lot more money than me. Don't think they were as happy though.

Often I'd hear people I know tell me how they'd like to travel that way I did. Of course, they'd say, I'd have to stay in a hotel every night, or have a big motor home, or they would have to fly instead of drive. Well, that's not the way I traveled. Their dream trips were first class, but mine actually happened.


Sixbears hierarchy of technology

At the top of the heap are things like: clotheslines, sailboats, and solar panels. Windmills might make the list but I'm can't honestly say as I've little experience with them. What puts this tech in the top is that it works without a lot of energy inputs. Clotheslines dry clothes using the sun and wind. With a sailboat you can circle the globe using nothing but free wind. Solar electric panels quietly turn sunshine into electricity. Solar thermal panels fit here too. They can warm your house or heat your water.

The second tier down contains: canoes, kayaks, rowboats, and bicycles. They require energy inputs, but are so efficient that human power is sufficient.

The third level: woodstoves and diesels powered by biodiesel or waste vegetable oil. These technologies take a lot more work. Wood has to be cut, split, piled and then constantly loaded into the stove. Home brewed biofuels require a lot of handling and some processing. However, the economic and environmental payback is good with third tier tech.

On the opposite end of things are: gasoline powered anything and fossil fuel burning furnaces. Their attributes are complexity, reliances on non-renewable resources, and heavy system dependency. For example, take an oil burning furnace. It burns a processed fossil fuel. There's a long complicated supply line to get it to your house. You've little control over that. It takes electricity to run the furnace. That's two energy sources just to provide heat. The electric grid has to be running properly for the furnace to fire. Complicated electronic equipment must be working properly. The equipment requires periodic servicing by trained, equipped people. I know; I tried to work on one years back. There are some things I'll do: change fuel and air filters and bleed air out of the fuel lines. When it comes to adjusting electrodes or troubleshooting, forget it.

Picture a pyramid. Turn my list upside down. As much of tier one as you can manage goes on the bottom. Use as much as this tech as you can. Then move on to tier two and so on. At the very tip of the pyramid is the category of fossil fuel powered things. Keep the top layer of this pyramid as tiny as possible.

How would this look in the real world? One example. Take a sailboat with solar panels and perhaps a small windmill for power -tier one. On the boat is a dingy for rowing to shore and a folding bicycle for traveling around on land -tier two. There's a small woodstove for heat and cooking -tier three. Heck, while I'm at it, the sailboat might also have a biodiesel powered motor -also tier three. Then there are the things on the opposite side of the hierarchy: instead of a biodiesl powered motor, there could be a gasoline engine. However, it's only used when absolutely necessary. Cooking might be done with propane when it's too hot to light the woodstove.

Now this guy might look pretty good on the hierarchy scale, but there's room for improvement. Maybe he can add enough solar electric to power a strong electric motor. Instead of the propane stove, he could be using a solar oven.

It's not really necessary to be totally pure here. The gas motor may cost a lot less than the expanded solar electric system. You could go crazy waiting for that solar oven to heat water for your coffee. For me, it'd work if I set things up the night before and got up at the crack of noon. I want that hot java first thing. If I've got to burn a tiny bit of fossil fuel to do it, so be it.

Of course, once you've reduced your reliance on the fossil fuel tech dependence, the tiny tip of the pyramid, then it's easier to go without. The sailboat could be moved completely without fossil fuels. It's been done for thousands of years. Poles and and oars, plus sailing skill could fill the gasoline gap.

Ideally, as much tech as possible is done on the local level. Solar electric panels are built in high tech factories. However, the installation and maintenance of solar electric systems are done locally. The high tech parts, once on-site, keep working for decades.

Bicycles are in this shady area. Servicing and repair are local operations. However, many parts are hard or impossible to duplicate in a small shop. The components can be repaired and reused a long time; so that's a plus. Tires are a weak point. Pretty reliant right now on the petrochemical industry to produce tires. The thing is, it only takes a small amount of high tech parts and non-renewable chemicals to get a huge amount of service and value.

Of course, things like clotheslines, sailboats, rowboats, kayaks, and canoes have been built for thousands of years using local materials and skills. Solar thermal panels are often built with salvaged materials in home shops. How hard is a clothesline? It's a rope. Humans have been making rope since prehistoric times.

That's a short into in my hierarchy of technology. The list can go on forever. It's a way of looking at things. For example: using a Linux based computer operating system is higher up the list than using Windows. Linux is free, widely distrubuted, and easily modified for local needs. Windows goes away if just one company fails. They keep their secrets, and charge a lot of money for it too.

Want to have so fun? Apply the hierarchy rules to things like social systems like government, health care, and entertainment. Think about it. What makes tier one and tier two systems so useful???


Saturday, July 17, 2010

The tighter they grip, the more they lose

"The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers."

-Princess Leia:

The classics never die. Okay, this way back to "Star Wars," 1977. Ancient history to some people.

The point is clear though. Attempts at tighter and tighter control allows more and more to slip through the cracks. The thought cheers me. There's hope even during the most dictatorial times.

Then there are the lessons from this book:

"Complexity, Problem Solving and Sustainable Societies," by Joseph A. Tainter, 1996

Societies, over time, become more complex. They solve problems by adding layers of complexity. It works at first, but as things get more complex, it takes more and more energy to sustain the society. Historically, at some point, the effort to solve problems cost more than they save. When a society bumps against its energy limits, things come apart. My overview doesn't do Tainter justice, he's worth reading.

How does this affect you and me? One question for everybody: Is our society becoming more complex and are more attempts at control being made?

I think so.

Freedom is constantly under attack. We are being buried under laws, rules and regulations.

However, I think the control freaks are bumping up against Tainter's limits.

-Oakland just issued a whole list of crimes they would no longer investigate. (they lack the resources)
-Medical marijuana outlets are defying Federal drug laws.
-It could be as simple as a farmer selling raw milk.
-People who run diesels on home brewed biofuel are not paying road taxes. Many states have decided it's not worth the cost to try and regulate them.
-Federal agents rarely pursue home distillers of booze.
-More and more people are working and living in the gray economy. They take payment in cash and don't pay taxes. Many don't even use cash but have established a completely parallel economy. (don't want to give away too much here.)

At some point the Powers that Be, freak out and lash out. It's happened in the past. When Solidarity (Polish trade union) fought against the government in the 1980s, martial law was declared. They attempt to shut down the movement. One of the government's tactics was to shut down all the fax machines as it was how the union communicated. It worked for a while, but in the long run the union was the victor.

China regularly closes down the Internet in whole regions. Authorities are terrified that riots from one region will spread. There's a lot more unrest in China than most people are aware of.

Now the US wants to have a "kill switch" for the Internet. Sounds like the sort of control freak thing governments like to do. The fist is tightening.

It makes me laugh. Should they use the kill switch, it will send a stronger message than every blogger on the 'net. Then they will lose.

There are many ways of spreading the word. The Polish Solidarity movement eventually worked around the communication problem. We can to. The methods might be slower, but they are fast enough.

Societies that replace complex ones are much simpler ones. Central control is replaced by extremely local problem solving. Transformation starts from the ground up.

The seeds are out there. Everybody who learns something new is part of it. Those who connect with family, friends and neighbors are the basis for a new system. Those who grow gardens are revolutionaries. Every local solution that solves problems government no longer can strengthens the grass roots. When central control is no longer worth the effort, it's only a matter of time before they figure it out. When that happens, the common people no longer play the game.

During the days of the Mayan empire, it reached a point where people just wandered back into the jungle. Maybe we'll wander back to the family homestead. If we don't have a family or homestead, we'll join with others and make one.

The Mayans figured out that giving their children to be sacrificed to the gods didn't solve their problems. Should US citizens figure out that giving their children to the military industrial complex isn't a good deal . . . well, then it gets interesting.

As Nancy Reagan said in a totally different context: Just say no.

When the empire requires you to give more and more, just say no. You don't have to rise up with guns in the streets, you can just pull the plug on their sources of power. When people drop out of the of the regular economy because it no longer serves their needs, the beast is starved. When soldiers refuse to shoot people they have more in common with than their politicians, the empire dies.

The path is becoming clear. Governments can stop squeezing their peoples in a fist, or they will slip away. The energy to squeeze the fist is going away. They can hold gently or not at all.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Off Grid and Mortgages

An old friend who's a property assessor popped in for an unexpected visit. He lives downstate but was doing some work in my neck of the woods.

My lovely wife asked him if it made a difference if a house was off-grid in the property assessment. He said only a little bit of difference.

Then he went on to say that the big mortgage brokers will not touch an off-grid house. only financing option was small local banks. I told him that was fine by me as that's who I go though now. He admits to dealing with only local banks for his own personal finance needs.

I related how I'm helping friends with their new off-grid house, but they don't have a mortgage. Most off-grid people don't, he said. They tend to build them as they go.

Thought I'd pass along this big of insight from an insider.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Darn mice

For years we had cats and mice weren't much of a problem. Haven't had cats in a few years now. The old cats passed on. The kids moved out. My wife and I were doing a lot of traveling. A cat just didn't fit our lifestyle.

Now I've had to deal with the occasional mouse invasion. I don't like to use poisons, even though they are effective. So it's traps. Tried one of those wind up, no bait, no kill traps. They work. There's a hole though the center of the trap. With the trap placed against a wall, they'd go through the hole. Once in, the mouse trips a pressure plate. The little bugger is scooped into a holding area and the trap reset. Problem is, eventually the trap would get dirty and was a pain to clean. Mice are incontinent poop machines. Occasionally one would not survive the scooping action and the mess inside the trap would be ugly.

I'm not so nice and friendly now. It's down to snap traps that kill the little beasts. Keeping a single trap in the basement at all times would nip invasions in the bud. The darn trap broke and I hadn't noticed -not until the invasion was well under way.

Today I mentioned to my wife that I was thinking I'd better spend a little money and get more traps.

She said, "Well it's that, or we'd better start naming them."

It's a killing field down there in the basement -enough traps to go around. Should have them cleaned out in a day or two.

Never had them get into my bulk storage, but it's one of my horror thoughts. Mice are serious business. Got traps?


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Old Friends

Some friends of mine are coming for a visit. My buddy and his wife are flying in from Kentucky. I've another friend from Maine who'll be joining us.

How many people are lucky enough to have friendships that go all the way back to school days and have lasted for decades? I'm still in contact with most of my old buddies and feel truly blessed. These are the people who've seen me though my ups and downs and are still friends.

Now some people have friends for decades because they've always stayed in the same town. I stuck around, but just about everyone I was close to had to move to find work. That's life in a dying mill town.

Some kept in touch as they'd come back to visit family fairly often. A few would make regular visits for outdoor activities: hunting, fishing, hiking boating, skiing, that sort of thing. Many moved too far away for regular visits. We'd call on the phone. Remember when long distance phone calls were expensive? I'd try to budget for the expense, as keeping in touch was important. Back in the day I even use to write actual paper and pen letters if I couldn't afford phone calls.

Now long distance phone calls are cheap and e-mail is effectively free. Keeping in contact is much easier.

Still, it doesn't beat physically getting together. We can hang out at the lake, sit by a fire, share few good meals, and most likely break out one of my treasured bottles of single malt scotch. Friends are like a good scotch. They get better over time, but only if the original ingredients were first rate.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More local food options

New Hampshire always has been a tough state to farm in. When western lands opened up, NH was quickly depopulated. Farmers were pretty quick to leave bitter winters, and thin rocky soil behind.

In spite of that, local food is back. The next town over has a new farmers' market that's doing well. I had no idea there were as many local producers as there are. It reminds me somewhat of what markets might have been like in Medieval times. There's plenty of veggies, locally raised meats, raw milk, eggs, and that sort of thing. There are bakers and food venders. There's even live musical entertainment. I connect with people I know and meet new people too. The only problem is getting there early enough to beat out the little old ladies who clean out all the best stuff as soon the place opens.

A farm in my town is reopening it's farm stand. The stand had been open for decades, but the price of corn feed for dairy cows forced him to put all his fields into corn. This year, he's put some land back into veggies. Hired a local young man to run the farm stand. The guy was able to quit his summer job 25 miles away for local work at the farm. He's excited. I'm excited by being able to get produce in my town again. Sure, I've a garden, but my growing space is very limited.

Three years ago when the farm stand closed, I put in an emergency potato garden using straw bales. While I planted potatoes again this year, I'm hoping to be able to buy more at the local farm. Potatoes store well and are a source of cheap nutrition. Always felt better with a few hundred pounds of spuds stored in my mud room. This past year I've been reduced to buying potatoes at the local grocery store in 5 and 10 # bags. That's no way to buy potatoes. The way to buy them is from the farm in 50# bags and load up the back of the truck.

As a state, NH doesn't supply all that much of its own food. Vermont and Maine do better. However, I think my county is doing better than the state average. As more farmers' markets take off, local growers will have a chance to make a decent income. Local people will have more food security. It's a win win situation for everyone -except big factory agriculture.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Cold Beer and Hot Showers.

My definition of civilization used to be cold beer and hot showers. As it turns out, it doesn't take a high level of technological knowledge to provide these comfort items.

Beer is easy enough to make, as any home-brewer could tell you. If the grains for beer making become unavailable, there's plenty of other things that ferment: fruit, honey, maple syrup or whatever sweet thing you have in your area. Keeping it cool is easy enough where I live. Half the year it's just a matter of keeping it in the mud room. Keeping it from freezing is the hard part. The rest of the year, I could use the cool water from my well's overflow.

Hot showers are no mystery. The plumbing in my house burst one winter. Until it was fixed, I'd take showers using a solar shower, one of those black plastic bags designed for camp showers. Since it was in the winter, water was heated on the woodstove then poured into the shower bag. The drain in my shower stall was fine, so the shower bag was hung on the old shower head. It worked until I could get all the plumbing up and running again.

So the basics of civilization, as I used to define it, are fairly easily satisfied.

Of course, I want more. It's been theorized that the reason early peoples settled down to farm instead of hunting and gathering was to have a place to make beer. Beer takes time. Having settled down, there was time for other cool things like literature.

My office is filled to overflowing with books. All four walls have floor to ceiling book shelves. They are packed. There are boxes of books stacked on the floor, under my desk, and on top of my desk. That's just one room. Every room in the house has books. My mud room has enough books stored in it to stock a small bookstore. There's a shelf in the living room filled with nothing but books over 100 years old.

We keep adding books. There's something wonderful about a good used bookstore. Treasures are hidden everywhere. Sure, it's pretty easy to get just about any used book on-line. ABE Books is a good resource, along with the big book dealers. However, the cool thing about a physical store is finding things you didn't know you were looking for.

So yeah, civilization for me includes books, lots of book. I just hope to heck my bug-in location is good enough that I won't have to abandon them. That's what happens when civilizations fall. The Chinese used to have a saying that in the course of a long life, a man must be prepared to abandon all his possessions at least twice. Even a quick study of Chinese history will show how true that saying must have been.

The problem with abandoning all your books is that they'll likely be destroyed. Fire is quick. Decay slower but just as sure. As soon a house's roof fails, books are doomed. Beer and showers are physical comforts, but books are comforts for the mind and soul.

I guess I'd best add music to the list. We've become used to living lives with our own personal soundtrack. Now kill the grid and see how much of that goes away. Battery powered music players might last a few days, or even weeks. Alternative energy might be used for music, but there are probably more pressing needs if your system is small.

In a pinch, we can always make our own music. I've gone to the trouble of learning to play acoustic guitar a bit. I've got a couple, one standard sized and a pack guitar, a Washburn Rover. Stocked up on spare strings and even some spare parts. I've a drum made from deer skin and a hollowed out cedar log. Used to carve flutes with a pocket knife. It doesn't take a very high level of civilization to have at least some music.

Okay then, here's my short list of civilization comforts for the body, mind and soul -beer, showers, books, and music. Doesn't sound like too big a deal does it? Historically, these things were often unavailable. To enjoy these things you need to have your basic needs taken care of. It requires a safe place and time to do these things.

It doesn't take a lot of money or energy to provide these basics. Get them now while the getting is good. Prepare to have them even if the grid goes down. Your life and the life or your family will be a lot better for it.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

On Vacation or Refugees?

There's been an awful lot of Louisiana license plates stopped in the North Conway New Hampshire area. It is a tourist town, but most out of state plates will be from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine and New York. There are visitors from all over, but most come from the New England area. When locals see Louisiana plates are in abundance, they do wonder why.

It happened before, not long after Katrina. Some stayed until New Orleans was looking better. A couple people told me they'd rather put up with New Hampshire snow than see another hurricane. Those people now have New Hampshire plates on their car.

Now it is possible all those new visitors could just be on vacation -a statistical fluke. Maybe New Hampshire tourism officials are doing a better job.

However, it could be they decided to head for the hills and noticed that New Hampshire is hilly. There are some seasonal jobs in the North Conway area -temporary and low wages, but jobs none the less. Maybe they know someone who came here during the Katrina migration.

As I haven't had a chance to talk to any of them, this is just speculation.

Still, one more data point.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Quality Beer

After the recent get together at the lake, I've a lot of empties to deal with. It's a good thing my friends drink quality beer. Most of the beer bottles can be reused for home-brew. I just soaked the labels off a bunch and cleaned them up. Quite a few bottles had home-brews of various styles and types.

Home brewed beer, wine and mead, has a way of circulating among friends. I gifted a lot of bottles of maple syrup mead this past week. It all goes around.

It's all tax free too!


Surviving the Northeast Heatwave

Now there are plenty of places that scoff at 95 F temperatures. In the Great North Woods of New Hampshire, it's a heatwave. Remember we've also had high humidity. You've got to realize that on July 1 of this year, the auto road up Mt. Washington was closed due to snow. We are not used to the heat here.

Not every house has air conditioning. Mine doesn't have any. Even my truck doesn't have AC. Now when the heater broke, that was a crisis. The AC hasn't worked since long before I bought the truck. It's not worth it for the occasional heatwave. Some summers never get over 90 degrees. There have been times when it rarely crawled into the 70s.

For me, heat survival has consisted of a simple procedure. I crack open a cold beer, then walk out into the lake until it's cool enough. Sure, I wear a large brimmed hat, sunglasses, shorts, drink plenty of water and all that, but the lake/beer solution is the best. It's proven quite popular with friends, family, and new friends.

Not many public places like you drink on the beach anymore. That's why it's great to have my own beach. Yes, I even allow glass bottles -with the understanding that should a bottle break, all the glass pieces will be picked up. Besides, home brew is in bottles. My cousin's girlfriend accidentally broke a wine glass on Independence day, late at night. (Yeah, it was one heck of a party) She did her best to pick up the pieces that night. The next day, my cousin made a special trip to make sure it was all cleaned up. I'm happy to open up my beach to people who'll treat it responsibly.

Even though there's been plenty of sun for the solar panels, my household battery bank's been losing ground. The extra sun doesn't make up for the added draws of fans and refrigeration. I have to move my spring house project up the list. (got to keep all that beer cold)

This heatwave has proven to be a great opportunity to connect with people. Physically getting together strengthens bonds in ways no on-line community can match. I get to see what everyone's thinking and how they are doing. People are social critters. We need tribes. Opening up my place is one way to do so. Family members have recently helped out with some of the projects around here. They feel that they use the place so they want to contribute.

Yesterday, I bought two six packs of beer to share with people. My wife and I drank a few down the beach. This morning, there are three six packs in the fridge. Yep, survived the heatwave just fine . . .


Friday, July 9, 2010

The Disappearance of the second car.

Every now and then I look around me and notice something has changed. Often in a short period of time. Recently I've noticed the disappearance of the second car.

I'm down to one vehicle. My dad drives just one. A number of my friends have done away with their second car. My uncle used to keep three on the road and is now down to one. One of my daughters sold her car and never replaced it. Up and down the roads around here people have for sale signs on their second vehicles.

Now I've no idea if it's a national trend, but I've seen enough to call it a regional trend.

A lot of the downsizing is economic. When two job households become one job households, the second car goes from being a necessity to a liability. Often the decision to downsize happens when one car has a major breakdown. After getting by with just one vehicle for a while, a lot of people hesitate to spend big money to fix the broken one. My state, NH, just raised registration fees a significant amount. Other states are doing the same. Insurance always seems to get more expensive.

In some cities, the public transportation options are quite good. I've a son-in-law who takes the train into Boston and loves it.

However, out here in the woods, there are no public transportation options. Relying on just one car is a serious decision. If the car doesn't start, it might be hours or days before a ride to town could be found. That's where it pays off to have preps in order. Now if the car doesn't start, I'll just stay home. I happen to like it here.

Now this might be a local trend, but look around and see what's happening in your area. Maybe getting rid of car might be a good idea for your situation.

At some point you don't own stuff -stuff owns you. All your time can be eaten up taking care of things. When it comes down to it, all we have in life is time. Getting rid of that second car may save you some of that precious time.

That's not to say I'm against people having more than one car. Many households can't get by with just one. If, on the other hand, you are maintaining a fleet out of habit, maybe it's time to give your situation a good hard look. Is it worth it?


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Blessed with no oil.

As far as I know, the State of New Hampshire is blessed by having almost no oil, coal or natural gas. The parts of the US that have fossil energy resources don't benefit from them as much as one would think. We are starting to get some idea how much the oil industry has screwed over the Gulf of Mexico. It's the same pattern that's been repeated all over the world. The average Nigerian has suffered terribly from oil exploration. Norway seems to have kept the oil industry under control, but it took an extraordinarily tough stand right from the beginning. The developing world never stood a chance.

Having coal hasn't made West Virgina a paradise. The residents get the polluted streams, destroyed mountains, and black lung disease. The big money goes into a handful of pockets, often out of state pockets.

Extraction technologies all around the world have caused immense problems for the locals -everything from "blood diamonds" -to the horrible exploitation of people who mine rare earth elements crucial to the electronic industry. When I heard that Afghanistan had a trillion dollars worth of mineral wealth, my first thought was: Oh no, those poor people; don't they have enough problems?

NH was exploited for energy and raw materials in the past. Back during colonial days, the major fuel source was wood, and wood was the major building material. The forests were stripped bare. Today, most of the old clear cut forest areas have grown back. While the forests are back, they are different. Much good soil was lost during the times of the timber barons. The new forests lack the nutrients that were available to the old forests.

Forest resources are better managed than they used to be, but the exploitation pressure is back on. Wood burning electric power plants are being built around the state. It's has already come into question if there will be enough wood for all the different demands. Heck, I heat my house with wood, and while I haven't done the math, I doubt every home in NH could do the same. Resources would run out. Trees would be cut down faster than they could grow back. Wood is a renewable resource, but has its limits.

Another source of energy back in the day was hydro power. Mills were constructed along rivers to take advantage of falling water. In the old days, the water was used directly to power grist mills, saws and textile looms. Later, the falling water was harnessed to produce electric power.
Hydro power is pretty maxed out. While it may be physically possible to add more, it's been determined that letting rivers run wild has value too.

Competing companies are looking into putting in wind power. At least that has a fairly small footprint and is a renewable resource.

It appears that fossil energy and mineral wealth is a curse -to the natives.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I think the ability to cook good food from basic ingredients is a valuable survival skill. If nothing else, it'll save money and you'll most likely eat better.

I was just given a case of pinto beans. For me this a real treasure. However, it's come to my attention that most people don't know what to do with dried beans. The local food pantry recently had a bean recipe contest. Too many people had no idea what to to with dried beans.

It's a shame really, as beans provide cheap, filling, healthy food. Combined with rice, it make a complete protein. Beans and rice, being cheap and easy to store, provide the basis of many emergency food storage plans. That's fine, as long as you know how to cook them.

My original cooking method was the trusty crock pot. Soak the beans overnight, drain, put beans in electric crock pot, add water to cover beans, and let them cook for the day. That's the basic idea.

Another method is to use a pressure cooker instead of a crock pot. Soak them like before. Drain, put in the pressure cooker, cover the beans with water, then pressure cook them for 30 minutes of so. The exact time will vary with equipment and the type of beans, but 30 minutes should bring you in the ball park. Adjust as needed. Pressure cookers save a lot of time and cooking fuel.

I've got a couple of cast iron Dutch ovens. They can be used instead of a crock pot in primitive conditions. They work great for cooking outside using the coals from a campfire.

Beans can be cooked in a regular pot on a very slow simmer all day. You do have to keep an eye on it and add water as needed. It's easy to boil away the water and uncover the beans. I've had good luck cooking beans on the cooler section of my wood stove.

To save energy, use a hot box. Picture an insulated box that you can put hot cook pot in. Heat the beans on the stove, then but the pot in the box to keep warm. Reheat as needed. Boxes can be made with wood and insulation. They've even been fashioned from baskets filled with straw. Even wrapping the whole thing in a blanket might work. There are plans for hot box construction available.

What do you do with your cooked beans?

Well, you could cook plain beans, then use them the same way you'd use can beans. Mix them with cooked rice, veggies or anything else that catches your fancy. They can be a main course, side dish, or used in a sandwich wrap. I like to take cooked beans, and cook them with olive oil and onions, making a refried bean paste. Pretty yummy. Traditionally, refried beans are cooked in pig fat. Tastes great, but my arteries thank me for using olive oil.

Another thing you can do is cook a whole complete dish along with the beans. That works well for things like chilies and baked beans. For a basic vegetarian chili, I'll add onion, peppers, chilies, and salt. Then I'll see what else I've got left over in the fridge and might toss that in too -meat, carrots, zucchini, and even a bit of bakers' chocolate.

I make a vegetarian bean dish using molasses, sugar, onion dry mustard and salt. Traditionally a big hunk of salt pork is added. To eash his own.

I'm not giving exact recipes as there are plenty of them available. The main idea is that the ingredients are cheap and readily available.

Recipes will tell you what type of beans to use, but don't feel bound by that. I've made baked beans using navy beans, soldier beans, cattle beans, and kidney beans. Different varieties of red beans are usually used in chilies, but don't feel bad about mixing in some black beans, pinto, or anything else you've got. Beans can add a heartiness to many soups.

Cooked beans freeze well, so don't worry about making big batches. Right now in my freezer there are some baked beans and a spicy white bean soup.

Many cultural dishes use beans to good effect. When I was a kid growing up near the Quebec border, every Saturday night was baked bean night. On Sunday morning we'd all go to church and sit in "pews." Figured there was a connection.

But seriously, if you slowly add beans to your diet, the gaseous effects aren't too bad. Over time, the body adjusts. It's worth it to take advantage of a good source of excellent nutrition.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

More oil disaster implications

Two recent news items stick out. Exxon Valdez disaster clean up workers are all dead. Many died within ten years of working on the clean up. The second news item is more accurately described as a lack of news issue. Normal reporting, First Amendment Rights, have been criminalized in the Gulf. BP and the government are doing all they can to keep a tight lid any oil disaster news. A true journalist, trying to do a job, will run into no fly zones, armed security guards, belligerent sheriffs, stonewalling corporations, and sanitized government press releases.

Perhaps it's time to ask yourself, is the first news item the reason for the second news item?

Is the Gulf of Mexico becoming so toxic that the government is keeping a lid on it to prevent panic?

In every way imaginable, the oil disaster is much worse than the Alaskan oil spill:

-It's much bigger.
-It's still going on.
-The oil leak is in very deep water. The true extent of the problem is out of sight.
-Toxic dispersants are being used in abundance.
-Gulf waters are much warmer. There's more volatile chemicals becoming airborne.
-The hurricane season is upon us and the Gulf is getting stormy.
-A huge amount of our food comes from the area. Not just seafood is in danger. Toxic fumes and rain could damage cropland.
-The disaster is happening over a huge highly populated area.
-Much of our energy infrastructure is at risk.

There are plenty of other things at risk here. We are just beginning to see how the disaster has impacted the tourist industry. Everyone can see it's bad, and that's in spite of local governments and Chamber of Commerces doing all they can to downplay the problem. There's no money in bad news.

The national real estate market is shaky. Property on and near the Gulf is dropping and will continue to drop in value. The insurance industries will not be able to make good on their promises. The Gulf economic problems could severely damage the national economy.

Back to the example of the health problems for the Exxon Valdez clean up crews. Health problems in oil workers were downplayed. Every effort was made to deny health problems were oil related. Yet here we are, twenty years later, and everyone is dead.

Another data point. After the 911 attacks in New York, the EPA said the air was safe when it wasn't. Rescue and clean up crews have suffered terrible physical problems ever since. Many of those people have died young.

Chemical exposures are hard to document and prove. I'm not a chemist, just a retired Firefighter with damaged lungs caused by chemical exposure. It takes a number of disciples to discover how bad chemical exposures can be. A chemist many be able to understand the initial chemicals involved. Now take those starting chemicals, combine them in a variety of conditions -under water pressure, in low and high oxygen environments, add a variety to heat and solar exposure, set them on fire and they form new chemicals, then try and guess what other chemicals already have been dumped into the environment. It would take a huge number of test samples from all over the Gulf, from deep under water to high in the atmosphere to get a realistic idea what's happening. If those tests are being done, the results aren't being make public.

There are plenty of reasons for BP and the government to keep quiet. Let's imagine that toxic exposure would kill all exposed Gulf residents within 20 years. It's a reasonable enough assumption judging from the Alaskan experience. Would you leave if you knew the odds were close to 100% that living near the Gulf would kill you? Death from chemical exposure can be a slow painful process. How many of those Alaskans would have chosen to do the clean up if they knew before hand what it would do to them?

By keeping everyone in the dark, most of the workers will stay in the Gulf. People will man the refineries and other industries along the Gulf. The economic game will keep going a bit longer. By the time someone notices the increase in mortality, executives will be retired and the current crop of politicians out of office.

Make your own decisions. Just realize the efforts and incentives to keep facts away from the general public. Ask yourself why and who benefits.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Good party

Had a most excellent party at my place last night. This time of year it's great to have a place on the lake.

A quick scan of the weather forecast shows a killer heatwave in the Northeast. During a heatwave it's good to be out in the country, even without AC.

If it gets too hot, the plan is to wade into the lake with a cold beer in hand until maximum comfort is reached.

Now I'm going to start the day right and go back to bed.

Like I said, most excellent party.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day

People ask me if I'm going to celebrate the 4th. I tell them no.

I am going to celebrate on the 4th. I'm, celebrating Independence Day.

It's not just a day for firing up the grill on the beach with a cold adult beverage in hand. Sure, I'll be doing that too, but I keep it mind the day is about independence. We celebrate for a reason. Over two hundred years ago a small group of committed people decided freedom was more important than safety.

I can celebrate that.

I can honor their memory and take inspiration from their example.

Happy Independence Day!


Saturday, July 3, 2010

How the news travels

News still travels the old fashioned way out here in the country. Today I headed over to the local Forest Service agent for my annual fire permit. The local agent is an older lady who owns a nearby farm.

It would be rude to just get the permit and leave. Since it's a small town, she remembered me. We talked about cast iron cookware and discussed different ways of baking bread. The preliminary chit chat out of the way, she asked if I went to the new farmer's market.

I had, so she had lots of questions about the different products offered. No doubt I wasn't the first person to get grilled about the market. Her questions were in depth and detailed. Her farm wasn't represented in the last market, but I'd be surprised if she's not represented later on in the summer. She certainly knew all the other farms that participated and was well aware that most had sold out.

My day's travels also took me to the post office and the local store. Plenty of chit chat in those places too.

Some things the Internet hasn't replaced. I call it "Meat Space," where flesh and blood people get together.


Friday, July 2, 2010

A tale of two saws

I'm doing things the hard way. I can't use a gasoline chainsaw. It's not for lack of knowledge, but due to the fairly dirty 2 cycle engine exhaust. Ever since my lungs were damaged during my Firefighter days, the old lungs have been hypersensitive to certain things. Engine exhaust is high on the list. The fumes can cause violent coughing to the point where I pass out -a really bad reaction while holding a running chainsaw.

Most of the time I can work around it. A heavy duty electric chainsaw does an adequate job, if the chain is kept sharp. That's fine for jobs within extension cord distance. My truck's wired up with a heavy duty inverter so that it can power the saw. Handy for gathering firewood.

However, there are some places where the electric saw can't go, my swamp for example. It's too far to use an extension cord, and there's no way to drive the truck down there. For those jobs I have a really good 3.5 foot long German steel crosscut saw. It's a serious tool. In fact, for cutting one or two logs, it's probably faster than getting out a gas saw.

Cutting more than a couple logs, it begins to get tedious. My daughter and I were building bog bridges and I was cutting the cross pieces out of cedar. It didn't take too long to work up quite a sweat. We got the bog bridges done, but more logs needed to be cut for stairs. I gave up.

Today my son-in-law showed up with his chainsaw. He knocked out those stair logs in short order. While he was at it, he ripped a good sized cedar log down the whole length. It'll make a good bench seat. No way would I have done it with hand tools. Old fashioned rip saws do exist, but it would have taken me all afternoon to do what he did in a few minutes.

Only a few ounces of gasoline were used. Most people don't appreciate how much energy is in petroleum. Trying to do the same job with hand tools quickly gives one a level of understanding that no book learning can duplicate.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Achilles Heel of Alternative Life Styles

Those of us with a more experimental bent are often tempted by alternative life styles. What do I mean by that? They could include, but are not limited to, living off-grid, without any electricity at all, without refrigeration, composting toilets, outside the money system, or even as a modern hunter gatherer. It includes various forms of nomadic living: boat living, RV living, backpacking, or even living in a van down by the river.

If one adult person does any of these things, it may be considered odd, but not that big a deal. Two or more adults living an alternative life style . . . whatever. As soon as children are involved, then it's a whole other story.

There are numerous people and agencies whose sole purpose is to prevent children from living an "abnormal" lifestyle.

You could be living a fairly normal life in suburbia, doing pretty much what all your neighbors are doing. One "weird" variation could cause someone to report you to child services. It could be something as simple as trying to live without a refrigerator. Did you know that many government agencies believe that children absolutely must have refrigeration? It doesn't matter that the children are eating safe wholesome food everyday. Every normal family must have refrigeration. Not having it is child abuse.

Ho boy. Now imagine that you are living a bit weirder, like in a tent. If you have to do such a thing, make sure you don't set up in a tent city with a bunch of homeless people. My buddy in KY recently told me of a tent city that sprang up in his town. Authorities took children away from their parents. To be fair temperatures had climbed up over 100 F. Tent cities aren't a really safe place for kids -to many desperate characters. Stay under the radar.

It is possible to live a bit differently, but the kids have to be taken care of. I've met more than a few people living in a big RV and traveling around the country. The children were home schooled. It just so happened the home was on wheels. Their nominal home base was in a state with relaxed home schooling laws. The RV has to be resisted somewhere, so why not in a state that makes home schooling easy?

Also met a family living on a sailboat. They'd just spent a year sailing the world while schooling their kids. They weren't in one legal jurisdiction long enough for authorities to worry about the kids. For the few weeks they were in one place, they were "on vacation."

There was one family living in a RV who's daughter went to a regular public school. The family used to live in a normal house. One day it occurred to them that property taxes were a scam and they vowed to never pay them again. They sold the house and bought a big 5th wheel trailer. The man of the house got a job at a Federal campground as a grounds keeper. His site rent was free. They provided him with electricity, a phone, propane and a small monthly payment. He convinced the local school district to have the school bus swing by the campground to pick up his kid everyday.

I know of another family that seems fairly normal. They live like most middle class Americans. There's a husband, wife, and bunch of kids . . . and another husband. While this living arrangement has caused a few problems, no one has really gone out of their way to persecute them. It does help that they live in a liberal state outside of the bible belt. Probably wouldn't fly in a small town in the heart of Jesusland. That's a key point. If you are living in a manner outside of the norm, doing so where people just don't care can make all the difference. Hey, maybe you can find a town where everyone is alternative.

Take care of your kids; keep them sheltered, clothed, fed and educated. Also keep them out of the clutches of Nanny Government. A little care and planning can make all the difference. Nobody wants their kids taken away.