Tuesday, August 31, 2010

They've gone back

It's that time of year again. The kids are back in school. I feel for them, I really do.

When I was a little a kid in grammar school, I looked at all the years of mandatory schooling ahead of me and despaired. Little kids shouldn't have that level of discouragement. Eventually the years went by and I got out of prison. That's how I looked at it.

After high school, I made a mistake. Everyone told me I couldn't get ahead in life without a college education. Couldn't face 4 more years of school, so a 2 year degree seemed doable. Back in the late 70s, there was still this idea going around that a person could go to college and pay his way by working. They don't even talk about that anymore. One semester was all I could handle before I'd end up in debt, which is something I really wanted to avoid. Dropping out proved to the best the answer.

Best decision of my life. I was broke, had no prospects, but for the first time in my life, I was free. It felt wonderful.

It drove me nuts when adults would say their school days were the best days of their life. For me, it was like telling a prisoner that once he did his time, he'd be transferred to a worse prison. If it wasn't for vacations, I don't know how I would have survived.

Getting married. Raising kids. Working jobs. Buying property. All that stuff was so much better than going to school. I could do what I wanted to do, read books I wanted to read, do my own experiments, hunt, fish, hike, travel -it was and is great.

School is where we are supposed to learn reading, writing, mathematics, history, and all the other stuff they want crammed in our heads. It's the "all the other stuff," that bothers me. We were taught to follow orders, obey the rules, please our jailers, and even respond to bells like Pavlov's dogs. Good training for life in factories, cubicles, and in a Fascist state.

The sad thing is that school couldn't even teach me how to read. My mother noticed I couldn't read as well as the rest of my class. One summer, teaching me mornings, I went from reading below my class to several years above it. The city should have refunded her school tax money that year. She did the job they were unable to.

As a kid, I rebelled in school. Not enough to get into too much trouble, but enough to stay sane. Was always looking for loopholes around the rules. My grades were petty good, but that's because they actually made kids repeat years. The thought of an extra year of prison was a strong negative motivator.

I must admit, my own kids went to public school. My lovely wife made shut up about my "prison days." She didn't want the kids to have a negative attitude. They all got through it, and did it better than I.

Used to hate the month of September. Now, I love it. It's a wonderful time of the year. Too bad those kids in prison can't enjoy it.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Buried a bloody sock in the woods

Interesting day. Did not set out with the idea of burying a bloody sock in the woods. That's just what happens sometimes.

Headed out in the morning with my son in law, a friend and two large diesel pickup trucks. I've a dead and down permit from the Forest Service. Cost $20 for the right to pick up 2 cords of firewood. My friend works part time for the Forest Service and knew where an ax course had been given early in the summer. There was nice seasoned hardwood about 8 miles up a good dirt road.

One of the logs was much more seasoned than I expected. My pickaroon bounced off the log and jabbed me in the leg. It bled freely. My sock was soon soaked and my boot started to fill with blood -annoying, to say the least. Fortunately, in the last few years, I started keeping medical kits in my vehicles. Didn't take long to clean up the wound and stop the bleeding.

The other guys finished loading the trucks while I sat in the shade drinking water.

At one time I'd have been out there getting firewood alone, without a medical kit. Since then, I've given a bit more thought to being prepared. Even had a cell phone with me, but as luck would have it, there was no signal out there anyway. I wasn't in any real danger, but it would have sucked to be alone and without medical supplies. Probably would have cut up my shirt for a bandage. This injury was fairly minor in the big scheme of things. It did give me pause to think I could have been alone and badly injured.

One thing amused me: I'd taken care put on a really comfortable good pair of socks this morning. One of them was so blood soaked the only thing to do was to bury it in the woods. Go figure.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Not enough hours in the day

Here it is, late in the evening on Saturday night and I'm just sitting down at the computer. Got up before the break of dawn. Dad headed out to go home after a month long visit. I wanted to make sure he had a good breakfast before he left. The old guy's just as likely to sneak out without eating, "not to be a bother." Not a good idea for a guy watching his blood sugar.

The early start still didn't give me time to do everything I wanted to do today. Helped some friends with their house project. Adjusted solar electric panels. Picked up drywall at the building supply. Ran plumbing. Hung drywall. Installed part of a shower stall today. By tomorrow the glue and chalking we be set up and I can hang the shower doors.

Got home before sunset. Made a bit of dinner for the lovely wife and I.

I had a lot of fun today. There's not enough hours in the day. A good book that came in today's mail. Hope I can get into it before I run out of steam. Most likely fall asleep reading in bed tonight.

Sunday looks to be busy. A couple friends are helping me pick up two truck loads of firewood. Anything not burned this coming winter is the start of next year's pile. Later, I hope to go back to the shower stall project and wrap that up. My buddy's wife has been more than patient waiting for her shower. Not a good idea to test that too far.

As busy as I've been, I feel pumped up and excited at the end of the day. I choose to do these things. I'm at liberty to pick my jobs. Had I been working for the man, I'd be twice as tired for half the work.

Can't wait to see what adventures tomorrow will bring.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

New Scale

Okay, I know I'm fat. I've got a mirror. But I'm probably one the most active fat guys you'd ever meet. I haul firewood, canoe, hike, hunt, fish, swim, and so on. My blood pressure is normal. I'm not on any medications.

So I bought one of those new electronic scales to see how much I actually weigh right now. Still don't know. Out of the box, the scale didn't seem to work. The lights came on, but I couldn't get a reading off it. Digging through the manual, the problem became clear. The scale, with me on it, is overloaded. No, I'm not going to tell you what the maximum scale reading is supposed to be. Maybe later.

The diet and new lifestyle starts today.

I figure if Namenlos can share his troubles trying to quit smoking, I can share my troubles trying to loose weight. Hope this won't bore you guys as time goes on.

Always was big. I'm 6'3" and muscular, been known to pick up small cars. Now I'm not just big but huge. The fat has got to go.

From time to time, I'll give short updates on how I'm doing. Everyone has struggles in life. This is one of mine.


Friday, August 27, 2010

The Prepper Club

I think there's a fair number of preppers who approach prepping like a club. Some people are into the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), Science Fiction conventions, or Steampunk. Others, it appears, are into being preppers.

All these clubs have their little get togethers. SCA members compare how Medieval and authentic their equipment is. Steampunk re-imagines gear for an era that never was. Preppers brag how many battle rifles or pounds of wheat berries they have.

These groups have their garb. SCA clothing has to fit into a certain historical time period. Steampunk is known for the "goggles on the head" crowd. Science Fiction convention goers are often dressed as Klingons and other fictional aliens. The uniform of choice for preppers is camo.

It's all fun and games. All these groups run around and play pretend.

Oh no, you say, the preppers are getting ready for collapse and collapse is real.


Really? Really?

The problem here is that the collapse that many preppers prepare for is just as fictional as an SCA event, Steampunk gathering or Science Fiction convention. Some are all prepared for the "Golden Horde," where starving city dwellers overrun the countryside. Others are betting on MZBs, Mutant Zombie Bikers. Nuclear war was and is a perennial favorite. Last winter swine flu was the disaster du jour. Civil breakdown, peak oil, economic collapse, asteroids from space, pole shift -the list is endless.

If your preps are all geared for one specific kind of disaster, you aren't really a true prepper, you are in a Prepper Club. Let me illustrate the difference. One who treats it like a club has his heart set on a narrow range of possibilities. That would make sense if a person knew exactly how and when a specific disaster would take place. Let's face it, our knowledge of the future is limited, and if you believe in free will, the possible future is constantly changing.

A real prepper doesn't focus so much on what can go wrong. Instead he focuses on what he needs to live and be safe. We all need the basics, food, water, shelter, clothing and security. A prepper makes sure the basics are covered. He doesn't so much focus on what will kill him as what will keep him and his family alive.

There are as many ways of covering basic needs as there are preppers. Situations vary. A man in the country with a fresh spring on his property wont be storing water jugs the way a more urban man would. The person who's allergic to wheat won't be storing wheat berries. Maybe they'll go with rice and potatoes. Details don't matter. The fact that the food need is covered for a period of time is what's important. Same goes for all the other needs.

Being able to provide the basics of life support will be useful in most scenarios -everything from the collapse of civilization to the more prosaic yet more likely event of job loss. The same basic preps cover most contingencies.

Once the basics are taken care of, if a prepper wants to prepare for deeper or more exotic problems . . . well, it's like a guy with a perfectly serviceable car who wants a sexy sports car for fancy occasions. It's not a priority, but if you can afford it and it makes you happy, why not?

A true prepper is aware of changing circumstances and acts accordingly. If he sees crop failures all over the world, he might put in a bit more food storage. It could make the difference between eating and starving. More likely, it'll save him a few bucks on his grocery bills every week. If he thinks it might be a harsher than normal winter, he might put in a better woodstove and few more cords of wood. The basics are covered. He doesn't actually need anything new to survive most problems. When information of a credible specific threat comes to light, he may want to tweak his preps to better handle that threat. There's no panic involved. If he can't run to the store to buy more food, ammo, clothes -whatever, he'll still be able to get by on his basic preps.

Personal example: One winter a sudden snowstorm blew in. I asked myself if it was worth going out to get more supplies. I thought of what I had at home. The fresh produce and juice was pretty low. Was it worth going out in the snow to get more? No. I could make do with frozen and canned veggies and powdered flavored drinks. Since I had my basic preps, I could snuggle close to the woodstove and read a good book. Sure beat driving in a snowstorm to take part in a shopping frenzy.

So you've got to ask yourself -are you treating prepping like a hobby, or a way of life?

You are prepping, aren't you?


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Well Well Well

My friends recently had a well dug. I picked the spot using the age old technique of dowsing. Years ago I used to do a lot more "water witching," but backed off during the construction boom. Frankly, I thought there were too many houses going into places where they shouldn't be. Didn't want to be part of that overbuilding craze. Rather give up a few bucks than do something I didn't belive in. There wasn't big money in it, but I always made enough money to attend the dowsing convention in Vermont.

In those days I'd seek out dowsing business -advertisement, business cards, tax forms, the whole nine yards. Glad those days are behind me. Now if someone seeks me out, I figure I should at least look into their problem. Haven't charged for my talent in years, but happily take donations. Barter works fine too.

Even though I've done it for years, every well makes me a bit nervous. There's so much that's out of my control. This last job is a case in point. Last fall I found what I believed to be an adequate spot. Marked the location. Other problems with the house construction took priority and the well wasn't dug then. At some point in time, a load of construction lumber got dumped on my marker. When the lumber was moved, so was the marker.

By spring time, the property owners had moved into a partially completed house. It had no water. They were using a surplus 50 gallon military field kitchen water tank, filled up from a distant neighbor's house. For one reason or another, the well project kept getting pushed off.

Eventually, I went back and redowsed the area to find the well location once more. I'd said they should go down 18 feet to get the water they'd need. I'd expected them to hit a little water before that depth, but they'd have go the full 18 feet to get everything.

The digger showed up with a huge excavator. That's good as the machine was fully capable of reaching deep enough. The downside is all that heavy equipment can squash shallow water veins.

So I get a phone call when they are down around 17 feet -no water yet. They had removed a rock the size of a compact car. After repositioning the excavator, they went down the last foot and hit ledge, and a thin trickle of water. Once the water started flowing, it became stronger. They went ahead and finished off the well. 15 yards of crushed stone went in the bottom. Well tiles were piled on top of each other until they rose a couple feet out of the ground, where it was capped.

The owner pumped the well out repeatedly until the stone dust and cement taste cleared. Pumping the well opens up the water veins and increases the flow. Early on, there was only two feet of water in the well. However, after pumping for 4 hours steady, the water level had only dropped a foot. Since then, the water level in the well keeps rising. In short, there's plenty of water for their household needs.

Now I don't care if you think dowsing is fake, the devil's work, self-delusion, or a gift from god. It works. Might as well get everything on your side that you can. The digger or driller gets paid for making a hole. If there's no water in it, he still gets paid. That can get expensive very quickly.

There's truth to the old saying: you don't know the value of water until the well runs dry.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

And that's where government comes from, boys and girls.

I've been reading a fair amount of anthropology and archeology. Always been interested in the what causes civilizations to collapse. One should be able to learn from the past, right?

Lately, however, I've been looking at things from the other end. How did civilizations start in the first place? It's been a fairly common assumption that civilization started with agriculture. A settled population with a calorie surplus could grow the population base and allow for skill diversification. That's it in a nutshell.

Ah yes, but how did government form? There's a good case that it all started with communal grain storage. Someone had to watch over the grain -protect it and dole it out. With the control of food, came power.

Over the years, government has discovered many other ways to control people. That being said, they've never forgotten the power that come from control over the food. Just ask the surviving Kulaks about Soviet control over food. Centralized agriculture is centralized control over the population.

Our system is a bit more subtle. We can call it the Industrial Agricultural complex. Big agriculture companies have serious sway with the government that's supposed to regulate it. The Feds do a fine job at stomping on the small guys. Look at the raids on tiny dairy farms selling raw milk. The incidence of sickness from raw milk is minuscule. Compare it to industrial egg production. Something like half a billion eggs have been recalled for salmonella contamination. The Feds aren't sending swat teams to their door like they do to small dairies. Who's got more political clout?

In emergencies, governments have been known to inflict harsh penalties on people with plenty of food storage. They are called hoarders and worse. Why is that? Why should someone be punished for proper disaster planning? A man who has his own food cannot be as easily led as a hungry man who gets his bread from the government.

Proper food storage, especially combined with your own food production, is a revolutionary act. It's a strong blow for individual freedom. Governments are afraid of losing their original and most basic power. That's why there are some many ways that food is regulated. Sure, some of it is supposedly for our protection, but why do we always get "protected" from the small producer while the big guys get away with murder?

Grow your own food. Keeping a few hens is starting to look pretty good right now. Store your own food. It's part of your power base. Do what a fair number of surviving Kulaks did -hide some of that food where the government goons can't find it.

Don't say I didn't warn you.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My new economy

When I get together with a group of friends, I'm amazed at the tiny number of people who have actual full time jobs. One explanation is that it's a measure of the type of people I hang around with these days. That's not the total explanation. There really are fewer people working regular full time jobs.

There are a fair number who are "between jobs." They've got skills, degrees, and years in their respective fields. They just can seem to find a new job to replace the old job. People in this category are holding out for something like their old job. Some of them are unwilling to move across the country. Not all of these people will find work in their old fiends. Many will end up taking big cuts in pay, hours, or benefits. Most have yet to accept this sad fact.

Some of my friends are self employed: musicians, artists, masons, carpenters, mechanics and painters. They've had to scramble to make ends meet. Some have been unable to.

Others are living on tiny pension and disability payments that lose ground against inflation every year. They've had to tighten their belts.

Some work seasonal jobs. The hope to make enough money to live on during a few hectic months.

Many are only working part time. For some it's because it's all they can find. Other's have decided they only need to work enough hours to do things like pay their property taxes.

My friends and I are moving into a new economic place. We are bartering like crazy. All of us are pooling what resources they have to make a go of it. Life seems to be like one big pot luck dinner. People are reducing living expenses. Gardens are going in or getting bigger. Seems like everyone we know are raising chickens, rabbits, or keeping bees. People swap skills and goods. Some of us are going off-grid.

That's what normal looks like to me.

Today I went into the tourist town 50 miles away. It's main claim to fame is its shopping outlets. The place is a monument to consumerism. It freaked me out. The whole place felt unreal.

My wife really wanted to check out a store that had left the area but was now back. She had a good time. Really enjoyed the atmosphere. Didn't actually buy anything. There was an item of clothing she seemed interested in -until I told her to get it if she wanted it. Taking a second look, it wasn't really exactly what she was looking for.

As for myself, I checked out a discount bookstore. Went down every aisle and checked out the books. Didn't find a single one I wanted to pay even discount prices for. That's amazing, as I'm a serious book nut who doesn't get into physical bookstores all the often. I'll pay top dollar for the right book.

All we ended up buying was a late lunch. The food was pretty good, but overpriced and the service only so so. That's all I got for my trip into consumer land.

Glad to be back in the country.


Monday, August 23, 2010

To vote or not to vote

There's some merit to the thought that voting just legitimizes a corrupt system. It's better to ignore the whole system and hope it goes away.

I can sympathize with that feeling. On the national level, I'm pretty sure my vote has limited impact. The lesser of two evils is still evil. The two major parties hold so many of the same beliefs and assumptions that it hardly matters which is in power. Real change from outside isn't going to happen under the current system. There's no money in it.

That being said, I vote -not so much for the top of the ticket, but for the little jobs on the bottom. It makes a difference who my local selectman is. They deal with issues that directly affect me -taxes, zoning, trash pickup, road maintenance and all the petty rules and regulations a town can inflict on someone.

It matters who's elected sheriff. That's one law enforcement official I can actually have some influence over. Heck, it even matters who the library trustees are. Will they ever decide to keep the place open enough hours to actually be useful?

On the state level it matters who's in the legislature. New Hampshire has 400 members in the state house. If you aren't friends or related to at least a couple of them, you don't get out enough. They aren't paid anything and there are too many of them to bribe without someone squealing. Not a bad system, if you've got to have one. They have a direct effect on things in my life. It matters what kind of people are in there.

By the time we get up to state senator, my influence is greatly reduced. I know my Senator is corrupt, but nothing is ever done about it. There are much fewer state Senators, and those guys can be controlled. There's money at stake.

The Governor? Might as well pick the guy who looks good on TV. We can change them every two years. The real power is with an institution that doesn't have too many equivalents other places. NH has something called the "Governor's Council." These guys can make or break a Governor. If they don't want something to happen, it isn't going to happen. Governors come and go, those on the Governor's Council can stay for decades.

My district's councilor, Ray Burton, has been there for a long long time. Remarkable for a gay Republican, I'd say. How'd he do it? There's a joke about Ray that whenever two or more voters gather, Ray Burton appears in their midst. He goes to every gathering he's invited to. The guy remembers everyone's name. It's possible to get him on the phone as his home number is public and he answers it himself. He solves problems for the little guys, so word gets out.

So yeah, I'll vote, but with expectations that only the small local stuff will really matter. Still, if it means that my road will keep getting plowed in the winter, it's worth the effort.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dinner at Sixbears

Saturday at the Sixbears household we had a family get together. The reason? It was possible to get together, so we did. I put a turkey in the oven bright and early. My lovely wife prepared some fine side dishes. She got help from my dad's lady friend. The kids all brought something.

It's not too often these days we get a chance to get 4 generations together. Dad spends most of the year in Florida. One of my daughters is in Massachusetts, my other daughters live in the next town over. All the little ones were there. We try to get the cousins together fairly often.

I was an only child growing up. My cousins were like brothers and sisters to me. We were close and still are. Extended family was an important part of my childhood. Some of my most memorable times were with my cousins. Now it's my grandkids' turn, and I want them to have that experience too. Today's families tend to be smaller. Reaching out to other kin gives a kid a sense of belonging and place in the world. Good to have family to turn to in good times and bad.

Community doesn't just happen. People need to make the effort. It's easy to get caught up in day to day activities. Doing something extra can be tough to squeeze in. Do it anyway. The bond with family is worth it. When I think back to all the get togethers growing up, it's the memories of the people that sticks with me -not the gifts at Christmas, the Thanksgiving food, birthday presents, or even the fireworks of Independence day. It's the people who where there with me that made the events special and memorable.

So today we had a great meal, but the company was even better.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

100 loaves of bread

It takes about 1 pound of flour to make a loaf of bread. I just got in another 100 pounds of wheat berries. That should make another 100 loaves of bread, but will it?

My bread is basic, flour, water, yeast and salt. Of course, I have the wheat, but can I make flour?
I've been using an electric grinder to make my flour. (more detail in an earlier blog post) It's been working flawlessly for a couple years now with no signs of slowing down. It does require electricity, but my solar electric system is pretty reliable. Really should have a good hand grinder as backup, but there's always been someplace else to spend the money.

Water? My well has never gone dry. In fact, it constantly overflows. It doesn't take anything more complicated than a bucket to gather water. The water part of the bread equation is covered.

Yeast? That's a bit of a weak spot. Usually there's only a jar or two of yeast at the house. However, in a pinch I could make my own sourdough. It's not that hard to make starter. Plenty of info on that out there. In fact, I could always cultivate wild yeast from the skins of apples. That would work too. Yeast is everywhere.

Salt? It's cheap and readily available. I should pick up another 4 or 5 pounds to add to my storage.

Then there's the little matter of baking the bread. I've got all the pans I need. In the summer bread is baked using either the propane oven or electric toaster oven. The toaster oven only works for small amounts. It is handy for hot summer days when the big oven would heat the house up too much. The electric toaster oven draws a surprisingly large amount of power for baking bread. The solar electric system gets taxed. However, since I only do that in the summer when the sun's out, it's not too big a deal. In the winter, I can bake bread in my old wood fired cookstove. It's tricky, but I've got it mastered. When camping, I've baked bread in my cast iron Dutch ovens. There's nothing to stop me from doing the same in the fireplace in my yard.

Of course, I don't have to actually make yeast bread. There's things like waffles, pancakes, and biscuits. For that I buy baking powder in 5 pound containers. It goes a long way.

Should the grinder break, the wheat berries can still be turned into food. The berries can soaked until they soften, then cooked into a type of porridge. I've a hemp sprouting bag for making wheat sprouts, a good source of vitamins -pretty tasty in salads.

It's not just having stored wheat berries, it's being about to do something with them.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Concealed holster

Recently started carrying my Ruger LCP in a concealed holster. After checking out different reviews on the net, I decided to go with the Ruger Fobus holster.

When it first came it, the holster held the gun so tight that it was really difficult to remove the gun at all. Fortunately, it's adjustable using a Phillips screwdriver. With a little playing around, the sweet spot was soon found -tight enough to secure the gun, but not so tight that I couldn't pull it out.

The paddle part fits inside the pants. Retaining prongs are supposed to go below the belt. I found it even works well with shorts and beach pants that don't have a belt. The prongs catch elastic waistbands and drawstrings well enough.

It does take some practice to execute the draw correctly. A quick snapping motion is needed to remove the gun. Slow and steady doesn't do the job at all. The draw must also be at the proper angle, straight in line with the holster. That's to hinder someone else from drawing your gun.

The Ruger LCP in 380 is such a small and lightweight gun that I wasn't going to use a holster at all. It fits in the pocket just fine. Problem is, I tend to put a lot of other stuff in my pocket, often without really thinking about it: car keys, multi-tool, pocket change, bottle caps -you name it. That causes two problems. It could be difficult to dig the gun out should I ever need it in a hurry. (thus defeating the whole idea of concealed carry.) Secondly, I was afraid the gun would get scratched up from all the junk in my pocket.

The holster clips on fast and easy. That's important. If it was a hassle, I'd wouldn't get into the habit of having it on me. A long T-shirt covers the gun nicely. It's a comfortable carry, also important.

Currently, the little Ruger is loaded with Winchester Supreme Elite hollow points. No sense carrying a gun if doesn't a bit of a sting to it.


Thursday, August 19, 2010


Some days I'd rather deal with mutant zombie bikers than have anything to do with lawyers. There was once a time when I thought the collapse would happen and they'd all go away. I was naive. A comet could strike the earth and all we'd have left is cockroaches and lawyers.

Don't believe me? Go to any dirt poor third world country. Wander into the worst part of the ghetto. Somewhere in there will be a lawyer advertising his services. As long as there is any government left at all, we are going to have to deal with lawyers.

My life has always gone better when no lawyers are involved. Pretty much the same can be said for wearing suits. Come to think of it, the last time I wore a suit, lawyers and judges were involved. Sigh.

That's not to say I haven't hired good lawyers. I've been fortunate to have hired good ones over the years. One in particular went above and beyond the call of duty. I'd run out of money and credit and yet he still pursued my case, knowing he'd probably not get paid. He just didn't feel right leaving the case without doing all that he could possibly do. Glad he did, as I actually won in the end.

Currently my lovely wife has a lawyer to help with a disability claim. Believe me, it's almost impossible to make progress without one. Shouldn't be, but there it is. Her case comes before a judge next month. Wish us well. After that, if all goes to plan, we'll be done with lawyers for quite some time.

It's a screwed up system where basic problems require the professional services of a lawyer. I hate it, but we are stuck with it -at least for now. For a guy who settles so many problems outside of normal systems, it's an embarrassment to have to hire legal professionals. The system is closed and outsiders don't have much chance. About the best I can hope for is that I hire well.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Smart Grid and Why it Won't Save Me

I'm not going to be on it, that's why.

Our electrical grid is mostly 60s and 70s technology. The logical thing would be to rebuild it from the ground up. That's not going to happen. Nobody's going to invest the capital to make it work right. We are pretty much going to be stuck with what we've got.

So what's all the hype about a Smart Grid? It's a band-aid, a patch, a kludge, -lipstick on a pig if you will. If all goes well, it will help manage the decline of a failing system.

That's not to say there won't be benefits. One promised result with be the end of cascading failures. During the Northeast power outage, a problem in one part of the grid caused other parts of the grid to fail. A smart system should isolate the problem to a smaller local area.

Another selling point is that users will better be able to manage their power use. There are several methods that can be done. One way is to make it very visible, in real time, how much power you are using and what it's costing you. Another way is to shift loads from peak demand times to low demand times. For example, there could be incentives, such as lower rates, for doing laundry in the evening rather than in the afternoon.

Those are real benefits to the consumer. However, there can be some potential downsides. People might be offered a premium service that guarantees they'd be the last to have their power turned off during high demand periods. Poor folks with basic service would be shut off first during high usage times. As energy supplies become scarce, smart meters are a way of rationing supply. The remaining energy can easily be directed to the highest bidder.

No matter how smart the grid is, it still doesn't address the basic problem of grid distributed power: two thirds of the energy is lost in transmission. Note too, adding smart grid technology will add another failure point -the smart grid technology itself. Maybe it can be hacked. Maybe it's susceptible to totally unknown problems. It is one more thing to go wrong.

It could work well on a very small scale. Picture a handful of houses. One has a windmill, another has solar electric panels, a third has micro-hydro and a forth a biodiesel powered generator. Computers could balance the loads. The biodiesel generator would only come on when demand was highest. It's the most expensive to run, so being able to voluntary cut usage would save the group money. Since the houses are close together, transmission losses are minimal. Smart grid might work if drastically scaled down.

In the beginning I stated I won't be on the smart grid. I'll expand my off-grid system first. I'm the smart part of my system. Laundry is done during sunny days when my solar electric panels are working at their best. (exactly backwards from the smart grid when they are trying to save daytime power for business and AC.) My electrical loads have been reduced to the point where it's feasible to generate my own power. Having built my own system, I know what it can and can't do. Rather than build a system big enough to handle absolutely everything running full blast, the system runs less than that. I just make sure not to do laundry while using my table saw.

Currently, I'm still partially on the grid. The grid functions pretty much like a backup generator would on a totally off-grid house. I'd expected to be totally off grid by now, but my back up generator hasn't been set up yet. Still waiting for it to arrive. (long story) Had another backup system that ran off my truck, but that's out on loan right now.

Even without backup, I know how to live within the energy budget of my solar panels. The most useful thing for accomplishing that is a tiny gage mounted right in my kitchen. It shows the current charge in my batteries. If they get low, I conserve. When the batteries are full, it's a good time to do things that require more power. Out here in the country, the grid goes down often enough for me to practice.

So, what kind of power do you want? The smart grid kind where someone controls what happens to you or your own alternative power system where you are the smart part?


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Hitchhiker

There's an old guy who lives in town who lost his driver's license. He lives about 3 miles outside the village proper and maybe 12 from the nearest city. There is no pubic transportation available at all. Other people in similar situations rely on family for transportation. He doesn't have any in the area.

Fairly often, he hitchhikes. He's a big guy, over 6 feet tall and heavy, with a bushy white beard and longish white hair. His clothes are old. (maybe how I'll look in another 20 years.) As you may well imagine, he doesn't get a lot of rides. I pick him up when I see him. Call it paying back karma for the times I've been hitchhiking. I don't look like a very safe bet either. One dark night on a deserted back road in Vermont my car broke down. The nearest town was miles away. An elderly couple from New York picked me up that night -been paying it forward ever since.

He gets a kick out riding in my veggie oil powered vehicles. According to him I'm "putting it to the man." by not paying road taxes. Today I saw him down in the city and gave him a lift home to his trailer by the river. Glad to see he's still doing Okay. He's another of societie's odd balls. We have to stick together.

Last week he drove himself into the village -on a riding lawnmower.

Gotta love it.


Monday, August 16, 2010


My wife's church knows I'm not a member. I've my reasons and my own faith. I love my wife and if she wants to contribute to this church, fine. Heck, I've made the effort to help them out. Recently did come cooking for a church supper. They are people in my community and I want to connect with them in some way -even if they think differently than I do.

The problems start when the local church does events with other churches and organizations. Then I can often feel like an outsider. They talk different when they among who they think are their own. I've seen people who appear friendly suddenly close down when they find I'm not of their church. Doesn't matter that we've connected all day about other matters. Once the religion gap is known, the walls come up.

Interesting. They talk a great game of community, but what they really want is a community of people with exactly the same beliefs. Jesus would cry.

One of the things I've noticed is a lowered tolerance for people who think differently. There's less willingness to find consensus with other people. Perhaps the church goers should ally with peoples of other faiths or no faith at all. We shouldn't focus on dogma but on making ethical and moral decisions.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

The car dilemma

Whats a prepper to do about the car? Private vehicles are expensive. Even if paid for in cash, there are fuel and maintenance costs. Then there's the government regulation side of things: registration, inspections, tolls, licenses, and insurances. If you have to borrow money to buy a vehicle, well . . . expenses can be quite high. It's not just the price of borrowing money. In my state, it's much more expensive to register a new car compared to an old one. The loan company insists on full insurance coverage. Since I drive old cars without car loans, I can buy less expensive insurance. Right now I only carry liability. Seems like a responsible thing to do. However, in New Hampshire, car insurance technically isn't even required.

So yeah, private vehicles are expensive. What's the alternative?

Some cities are bike friendly. There are bike lanes, the climate is nice, terrain is good, and the local culture supports it. Jobs and housing are close enough for biking to be a viable option. Nice if you can do it. However, much of this country is definitely bike unfriendly. Riders take their lives in their own hands.

Here's one thing most bike proponents often overlook. Bikes piggyback on car infrastructure. Well maintained asphalt roads with good drainage are almost a necessity for commuter bike travel. Sure, some hearty souls love to bounce off rocks on the their mountain bikes. Few would care to do it day in day out to commute to work. Even fewer would want to bring the groceries home riding a dirt mountain trail. Face it, gas taxes pay for the roads bikers ride on. Take the car away, and the good roads go away. No, it doesn't have to be that way. Bikers could be directly charged to support the roads they ride on. It might even work in a few select places. Most of the country wouldn't do it.

Public transportation? In short, it sucks. Outside of a few good corridors, train travel is bad. Too darn often, you can't get there from here. Bus travel? I looked into taking a bus from my place in NH to my dad's in FL. It could be done, but would take a couple more days than driving myself. It even had one 12 hour lay over. 12 hours in some inner city bus terminal? Not my idea of a good time. Cities are cutting their bus schedules and increasing prices just as people need it more.

Too often public transportation is bad, poorly scheduled, inconvient routes, and it's more expensive than it needs to be. Answer me this: if trains are so efficient, why does a train ticket cost so much more than driving a car? Air passenger travel? Doesn't seem right to submit to a strip search without some sort of high speed chase involved. Airlines are for sheep and other domesticated animals.

The thing that really scares me about relying on public transportation is the lesson of hurricane Katrina. Those who relied on public transportation were stranded in New Orleans. Those with cars could drive themselves out of harm's way.

Private planes? Nice dream. Pilots go on and on about the freedom of the skies. What freedom? Darn few can afford or pass the pilot's exam. Then there are all those FAA regulations. Aircraft is out of reach for the average Joe. Fun to have if you've the money to blow, but pretty much in the category of expensive toy.

Boats? There's some potential there. Much depends on the boat and where you plan on using it. Oceans, lakes, and rivers were transportation routes long before there was a single road. When roads decay to dust and brush, the water ways will still be there. If one is darn careful, it's possible to use boat travel with a minimum of regulation and expense. However, not too many people can commute to work in a boat. Still, I can't but help love boats. It's one of my weaknesses.

For most of us, most of the time, we are stuck with cars -at least in the near future. Usually the fastest way to get out of Dodge is with your own vehicle. It might be necessary to leave early enough to beat the crowds. Many types of trouble give an aware person sufficient warning. Hurricanes often have days of lead time. Even civil unrest often has early warning signs. Keep tuned in to the word on the street. You don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

For day to day use, most of us still use our cars. We can reduce our costs -drive less, in a fuel efficient vehicle. Even a person who normally bikes everywhere might want to keep an old well maintained car at the ready, just for emergencies.

In spite of the expense, at least for the near future, I'm keeping my old truck. It's the cheapest way to cover the most miles in a reasonable amount of time. Everyone should have other transportation options -a well maintained mountain bike, good hiking boots and backpacking gear, or if conditions allow, a boat. From my house I'm in reasonable canoe portage distance to two different water sheds. People have taken canoes and kayaks from my area to the Atlantic ocean or up rivers into Canada. It's not fast, but it's cheap and doesn't depend on roads.

Whatever you do, don't depend on government infrastructure, roads and public transportation, to always be there. Have a plan B.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Afternoon on the River

My lovely wife organized a trip down the Androscoggin River. It turned out to be a beautiful day on the water. Our group had about 8 kayaks and 3 canoes. Everyone seemed to have a good time.

Back when I was a little kid I remember the river being full of pulpwood. Softwood trees would be cut into 4 foot lengths and floated down the river to the mill. I remember the logs well as my dad would take me fishing and my line would keep snagging logs. It frustrated the heck out of me.

Decades later there are still reminders of the logging days. Many logs became so water saturated they sank to the bottom. Some were eventually recovered, but most are still down there. The river has sections where tiny islands dot the middle. They were once boomdocks. Long wooden booms divided the river, going between the small artificial islands. Two paper mills shared the same river so they divided it down the middle. Very much like Solomon.

Ecologically, the river has recovered. On our trip we saw fish jumping, Osprey and Great Blue Heron's hunting, and many water birds. Given a chance, nature can come back.

Why were logs floated down rivers in the first place? That was done back in the days before petroleum was common. It was a time of steam locomotives and horses. Wood was dragged to the river using horses, oxen, or even narrow gauge steam trains. Then the river would carry the wood right to the mill.

Petroleum changed all that. Instead of water power bringing logs, trucks did the job. Horses and oxen were replace by bulldozers and skidders. Asphalt roads replaced rivers.

What happens when the petroleum gets outrageously expensive or runs short? Some people think our low energy future will look like the past. It won't. The mills those logs were once floated to are no longer there. They've been sold for scrap. My guess is that we'll have to do with a lot less paper products. No one will be investing in new huge mills in the low energy future. Other demands on capital and energy will be more pressing -like people trying to get enough food to eat.

Today I paddled my plastic canoe on a river that petroleum cleaned up. The petroleum won't last forever. My modern canoe won't last forever. However, a canoe is a canoe. Go back far enough and that river was traveled by canoes. Canoes built of birch bark, cedar, ash and spruce pitch. That could happen again. If I had to choose, I'd take a clean river over tissue paper.


Friday, August 13, 2010

That warm feeling

I'm nearing the end of my wood splitting. It's a good feeling. Firewood piled up is better than money in the bank -more real.

Could have probably finished it off this morning, but decided to listen to the early warning my back sent out. When I didn't listen to it, I did 6 months physical therapy to get near to normal. Live and learn. Even this old bear can be taught new tricks.

They say wood warms you more than once. That's true, but what they don't tell you is that it warms you during the summer when you don't need it. Worked up a good sweat.

I've got just about enough wood to last the winter. More, if my lovely wife and I decide to close the place and head south. Used to do it, and have come to miss travel the last couple years. Family business keep us up north.

Much depends on our financial situation, and the situation of the country. Would hate to be caught on the road during a SHTF situation.

Good to have firewood, just in case.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Empire Eats Its Own

A while back a buddy of mine went into a Walmart and overheard the elderly greeter mumbling to himself. He said something like: my feet hurt, my back hurts. I survived the Chosin Reservoir for this?

Now if you don't know anything about Chosin Reservoir, look it up. I'll wait, it's worth knowing.
So the old guy survived one of the worse times of the Korean War. (I'll call it a war, not a police action. They weren't there to direct traffic.) Then he ends his days as a Walmart greeter pulling not much more than minimum wage. Call it thanks from a grateful nation.

Vets are treated like crap. I used to work with a lot of them. Guys who during slow times would idly pull bomb shrapnel out of their chest wouldn't go to the VA for medical treatment. They'd rather use their private insurance and/or pay out of pocket expenses to see "real" doctors.
Unemployment and homelessness is high among vets. It's not easy to readjust to civilian life. War screws your head and your body, then you are on your own.

I met a homeless disabled vet once. His veterans benefits weren't enough to pay child support and allow him to rent an apartment. So his kid wouldn't do without, he lived in his car. This guy's guts were held in place with artificial mesh. He had to be careful to not gain any weight as the mesh didn't stretch like skin and muscle would. The pain was constant. The army made him feel bad because he wasn't hurt in combat but in a training accident. This guy was in uniform, shouldn't that be enough for a little respect?

I know of a 21 year old alcoholic who's buddies died in Afghanistan. Then there are guys killed in combat who only joined the National Guard for the education benefits.

I can understand why a young person would join: patriotism, adventure, to test his bravery, to be part of a band of warriors, or even to have a job and some chance at an education. Valid enough reasons, but too often these good intentions are abused.

How would they feel if they knew they were really fighting for the good of big business?

Who sends people to war? During Vietnam it was people like Kissinger and Nixon who called soldiers "fodder units." How about the Bush administration's Dick Cheney, the four time draft dodger? His former company Halliburton did quite well in Iraq.

We talk of starving the beast -giving the bare minimum of money to the government/military/business monster. That's a noble and good plan. But I've got to ask, why do we allow the beast to recruit our sons and daughters?

The rank and file military people are fine excellent people. Why do we allow them to be eaten by the empire?


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dog Days

These are the Dog Days of summer. Today we mostly think of them as hot sultry summer days. Many think it's a lazy, slow moving time.

The Romans believed the Dog Days to be an evil time.

Both the old and modern interpretations fit this summer. There's a feeling in the air. Nothing big seems to be going on right now. It's a lazy time. Yet, there are indications of bad things to come.

The passing of Matt Simmons is a case in point. Reports say he died of a heart attack in his hot tub, or perhaps he drowned. Details are a bit unclear. Conspiracy minded individuals have suspicions that perhaps he was done in.

I'll say this. His passing certainly removed a loud critic of the oil industry -just when things seem to be getting quiet in the Gulf. Very fortuitous that a knowledgeable and informed insider is no longer making waves. Could just be coincidence . . . if you believe in such things. As for me, I have no proof, just nagging questions.

People in general are dissatisfied, but not angry enough to do act. Picture a summer day when the dogs are too hot to move. They just lie there, panting in the sun. Disturb them, and they may go mad and bite. Americans are like those dogs: inactive at the moment, but liable to go crazy at a moment's notice.

There's a stillness in the air, but it's the stillness before a thunder storm. Perhaps you too hear the rumble in the distance?

What's a citizen to do? As for me, I'm getting ready for a harsh fall and winter. Split a couple cords of firewood today. 40 ponds of green coffee just arrived for my storage. Ordered another 100 pounds of wheat. Picked up some self-defense rounds for the pocket gun. Just being prudent.

So how's your Dog Days treating you? Just soaking in the sun, or are you preparing for evil times?


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Splitting wood

Dad's up from Florida for a visit. The guy just turned 75 but he feels he has to keep busy. Soon after he got here, he bought some materials to repair a few problems in my bathroom. We finished that up in short order.

I've got about 5 cords of saw, unsplit firewood lying around. Dad had the clever idea to rent a woodsplitter and take care of it.

I told him, "Dad, we don't spend money when we don't have to."

Later that day I met up with a friend of mine who owns a woodsplitter. He delivered it to my house. It's a huge monster of a machine. 10 hp engine and can split pieces of wood 4 feet long.

Thank God we didn't rent one. Dad would have gotten the idea that we'd have to split the whole pile in a day. Can't pay for 2 days rent. Now we can chip away at it a little at a time.

The old guy's gonna run me into the ground. This is what he does for fun.


Monday, August 9, 2010

A few thoughts about the media

Journalism is a job, and a pretty crappy job at that. Not a lot of the big prestigious gigs left. If a journalist happens to land one of the big jobs, how willing do you think he will be to risk it? Attacking the powers that be will not further a career -especially since the editor will probably not print it. He knows who puts bread in his jar.

If a reporter keeps attacking government, he'll soon not be invited to the all important press conferences. He'll be outside the loop. Soon he'll have nothing to report.

Big media outlets tend to work pretty closely with the heavy hitters in government and business. There's no money in attacking your advertisers. After all, media outlets are in the business of making money. There's no percentage in attacking anything that makes business look bad. Don't believe me? Look back at old newspapers of the 1930s and see if you can find anything about a depression. News about economic bad times don't sell advertising.

There are other serious constraints on a journalist. He always has to "feed the beast." Story after story has to be cranked out. Few can take the time to get really in depth on an issue. The people who write his paycheck want stories quick and fast. The easiest thing is to go with the program. Rewrite the handout from the press release and call it good. Much easier to go with the police report than interview the parties involved.

The sad thing is that most journalist start with high ideals. They want to get to the truth. That's how it starts. Over time, the poor guy just wants to make deadline. He wants to keep his job, so he can make those car and house payments. The truth is nice, but the kids need braces.

In spite of the disincentives, some journalists really are worthy of the name. Too often they work freelance or on-spec. Then don't get paid unless someone picks up the story. These guys have guts. A reporter from someone like the BBC will go to a war zone with a full detachment of local guides and a security detail. The company covers the expenses. A free lancer might work alone or with one hired local. Maybe he'll pay someone to smuggle him over the border. If something happens to him, there's no big organization willing to pull his stones out of the fire.

Once in a while someone like a General Stanley Allen McChrystal will make a mistake and treat a freelancer like a regular beat reporter. The guy with a regular gig knows better than to say anything too unflattering. He'd lose his job. The freelancer doesn't have to protect his source. This is a one off for him. Then it's on to the next job. Freelance journalist Michael Hastings was lucky his story "The Runaway General" was picked up by Rolling Stone. It's almost shocking when truthful unrestrained reporting actually makes it into a major publication.

Then there are us bloggers. We've almost no resources, at least as individuals. However, there are thousands and thousands of us. We are everywhere. We write what we see and hear. It's a diffuse and massively parallel system. Lots of real news is now out there. A reader has to pick and choose, but at least there are voices speaking.

Much is made about the bloggers who get things wrong or outright lie. Who's making a big stink about bloggers? Main stream media, that's who. They are protecting their interests. It's not the untruthful blogger they really fear, it's the truthful one.

That's why I'm not surprised when blogs are shut down. It would not surprise me if one day most blogger are either severely limited or shut down completely. Until that day . . . well, blog on!


Sunday, August 8, 2010


There are times when I think the main reason I keep a house is to have a place to put all the books. My lovely wife and I just got back from a used book sale. Picked up another 4 bags of books. We may have been able to justify it back when we were running an on-line bookstore. We've no excuse now. We just like books.

Another reason to have a house is food. It's a place to plant a new nut trees, a garden and to have some food storage. My filberts are just coming into production. Planted them 4 years ago. Today I ordered another 100 pounds of wheat. That barely replaces what I've been using lately. Also ordered 40 pounds of green organic fair trade coffee. What's a house without food?

There is some speculation in scientific circles that civilization got its start because humans had to stay in one place long enough to brew beer. Makes sense to me. Beer making isn't a very portable endeavor. I'm listening to a fermenter bubble away right now, so I expect to be around.

That's about all that keeps me anchored. Sure, there's family and friends, but they can move with you too. In fact, most families are scattered all over the place so the only way to see them is travel.

I've been semi-nomadic. It's not that hard. Take along a few select books. Empty the fridge. Take some food, but secure the storage of the rest. Stop brewing. Give away anything that could freeze, and bring a bit with me. In our travels, we'd stop in on friends and family we don't normal see too often. Six months later, we would wander back to home base, turn the power back on, and start brewing a batch of beer.

That's easy enough to do. The house is still here when we get back. How about a truly extended nomadic lifestyle? One way would be to have someone trusted living at the house. Ideally, someone who would not mind all my stuff being stored here. A few times I've had friends or family taking care of the shack while we were away. Worked out pretty well. One day I did have to talk them through how to thaw a frozen water line. At the time, I was in shorts in sandals at a friend's farm in Florida.

The other way would be to let stuff go. Don't let material possessions keep you back from adventure. It's not just material possessions that have a hold on a person. I could even give up my coffee addiction if I had to. Did so in the past and can do it again. Good thing I don't smoke or have other chemical dependencies.

Then there's the pattern of thinking that keeps a person anchored. They can't imagine living differently. They've built a box to live and to think in. It can be hard for people to let go of a way of thinking -to cut the anchor loose and travel in new waters. Sometimes life forces that on people. It's good to have thought it through -worked it out in your mind. It's the difference between a refugee and a nomad.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Haphazard Brewing

Making your own potables isn't magic. This photo shows a couple of my fermenters and other miscellaneous brewing supplies. They are stashed in a particularly cluttered corner of my cramped home office.

As you can see, I've got a small batch going in the glass fermenter. About 90% of my brewing supplies were donated. Lots of people try home brewing or get kits as gifts. They may brew one batch or two then give up on it. The glass fermenter was found in a yard sale by a friend of mine. He didn't do anything with it and eventually gave it to me.

I recycle beer bottles -by putting beer in them. Much more energy efficient than shipping the bottles to the recycling center. When people visit and bring beer in recappable bottles, I clean and save them. Not much I can do with bottles that have twist off caps. Only those that need a bottle opener can be reused. Any cardboard six pack holders and 12 pack boxes will be put to use. That funny looking red thing in the upper left corner of the photo is a cheap bottle capper. Caps are pretty inexpensive at the brewing supply store.

There are plenty of good books out there on how to home brew. I'm certainly not going to try and duplicate the great information in them. The idea I want to get across is that brewing isn't all that difficult. Things don't have to be perfect to produce good drink. Cleaning everything thoroughly will prevent most problems. I'm also blessed with having a good spring as my water source.

Once you get the basic brewing equipment, don't hesitate to experiment. I once made a perfectly drinkable red wine from concentrated grape juice and bread yeast. It would not have won any awards, but went down well with a big plate of pasta. You can do something with just about anything that contains sugar. It will ferment.

For example, hard cider can be made with apples, water, some sugar, and yeast. Brewing yeast is great if you have it, but it's possible to brew with the natural yeast that lives on the skin of the apple. There's less control, but it can be done. Being able to make do with what's at hand can make the difference between having something and having nothing.

This time of years there are lots of fruits and berries ready for picking, many for free. Can't make much cheaper drink than that.

Back in the old days, if a brew didn't turn out quite right, it could always be distilled for the ethanol. If it wasn't great after one run through the still, the second pass would do the trick. By then it'd be 90 - 95% ethanol. I'm not going to tell you how to build your own still and break the law. Plenty of other sources on the 'net for that info.

Making you own drink is a darn good skill to have. I save a bundle and enjoy experimenting with different brews. The occasional alcoholic drink can be one of life's little pleasures. Be careful not to become dependent -that takes the pleasure out of it. On the other hand, too much moderation is bad for you.

Funny thing, commercial booze gives me headaches. My own doesn't. Kinda makes me wonder what happens in those commercial breweries. If my haphazard brewing methods produce a better product, I can't help but be a bit concerned.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Ruger LCP in 380

I just purchased this nifty little Ruger in 380. It's my new concealed carry piece. The gun is small, lightweight and easily fits into a pocket. It holds six rounds in the clip.

Now I know 380 is far from an ideal man stopping round. In fact, I do own a Ruger P-89 in 9mm. Some people swear that anything less than a .45 is a waste of time. However, if 15 rounds of 9mm hollow point self defense rounds won't do the trick, then someone doesn't know how to shoot.

Here's the thing, the P-89 is a pretty big clunky gun. It's a bit awkward to carry during shorts and T-shirt weather.

The LCP is tiny and light enough to carry all the time. The small gun in pocket is much more effective than the big gun stored at home.

The day after I got it, I took it to the range. Shot enough rounds to get comfortable with it. That's another thing about carrying a piece -know how to shoot it. Right now I'm good enough with it not to fumble around in an emergency. More time on the range will only deepen muscle memory. That time will be spent.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dreams of houses

I had a vivid dream that one of my friends was going to lose his house. Then I woke up and realized it could be a premonition. He really could lose his house. In fact, there's a number of my friends who could easily fit that scenario. One of my friends is paying more for his mortgage than my monthly income. No idea how he does it. The guy's a self employed artist with health issues.

As for myself . .. well, it could only take a few bad breaks for me to be in the same boat. Right now, I can afford my mortgage. Banks were begging to loan me money and I resisted. Sure, the hundreds of thousands they wanted to give me was tempting, but I saw there was no way to pay it all back. So my mortgage isn't bad, but taxes are killing me. In fact, I'm a bit late with them.

I don't have to too look too far down the road to see people who were caught up in the easy money craziness. The bank just took over the cottage four down from me. The guy three down had tried a quick flip. He bought the property, cleaned it up, and put it back on the market. Then prices took a drop. For now, he's staying in the place and has fallen in love with the area. Good thing, as he won't be selling at his asking price in the near future. The place on the other side of mine came down in price over 40%. Still no offers. The place across the road from him is no longer on the market. They could not get their price.

This is for property on a nice little lake. The market goes well beyond the local area. People from the big cities hundreds of miles away own property here as vacation homes. Looks like they aren't buying either.

On the surface, in day to day life, everyone appears to be fine. Maybe in private, some close friends may hint at difficulties. Then one night a moving truck drives up and they are gone. I'm sure behind closed doors, there are some serious discussions. Perhaps some yelling and throwing of dishes too. For many, that stage passes. There's a kind of fatalism that descends over people. If things break well for them, they keep their house. If not . . . they shrug their shoulders and move on. Many no longer put much passion into the result, one way or the other. They are resigned. Losing one's home has lost much of its stigma. It's happened to enough people that it's become normal.

Interesting times.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What I learned from a dying mill town

I grew up in a dying mill town. I know what a slow collapse looks like. Day to day, it looks pretty much like ordinary life. There are ups and downs. However, after 4 or 5 decades, the population of my home town is less than half of what it was.

When I was kid there were a couple big factories. One made shoes, the other made paper. The shoe place closed in the late 70s. There were ups and downs, layoffs, rehires, downsizings and all that. Then one day they starting sending mechanics and technicians down to Puerto Rico to train their replacements. Of course, no one told them that's what was happening. Management told them they were expanding, not relocating.

The paper mill took a couple more decades, but that's closed too. Only a small operation remains in a neighboring town. The mill changed companies and names. Processes were updated. Every change allowed the mill to run with less people. One time it closed. There were massive layoffs, but another company bought and reopened the plant -with less people. The last time it closed, the place was demolished for scrap. That made it clear to even the most optimistic that paper wasn't ever going to be made in town again.

Other businesses came and quite often went. None of them ever paid the good wages that the mills once did. None of them ever employed as many people either. There are still some good jobs around, but not nearly as many as there used to be. None of them require shoe or paper making skills.

The downtown shrank. Retail space is a fraction of what it once was. There are brave attempts and some of them even last. However, it does say something about a town in which one of the longest lasting businesses was once a head shop.

One time a world class Jazz musician opened up a Jazz cafe. My wife and I took full advantage of his horrible business sense and enjoyed the place the few years it was open. His decision to move to a dying mill town cost him most of his money and his marriage. Years later a really good Internet coffee shop opened. They soon moved to a neighboring "tourist" town. Not every business fails. A few have been open for many many years and know the local market. There's even a really good Chinese food restaurant that's thriving. People still have to eat.

There's a lot of economic ups and downs. In the long run, the highs are never as high and the lows are lower. City officials announce one economic plan after another. Some even appear successful, but the trend is down. Lots of happy talk about prosperity being just around the corner. It's one heck of a big corner.

My experience has colored my outlook. To me, the whole nation looks like my old dying mill town. Some parts are successful, but overall, it's sliding backwards. People who grew up in expanding communities may have different views. My view might be too bleak.

To me, this is what the country looks like -a dying mill town.

One bright note: many people find ways of getting by and even thriving. Just because the economy is depressed doesn't mean you have to be.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Surface impressions

On my little visit to the coat of Maine, I tried to get some idea how the economy is doing. It's not a very scientific method, but I'd hoped to get some general impressions. It was actually pretty hard to figure things out. Don't think I did.

Traffic seemed down a bit. It was heavy enough, but not wacky crazy bad as in previous years. Could it be that the highway projects are actually improving the roads?

The campground we stayed at was full. There were a lot of events in area, so there was more attractions going on than normal. That could have filled the place. On the other hand, it could even be people camping who'd normally stay in a hotel.

The weather was absolutely perfect. No small thing in New England. People make an extra effort to get out, even when they can't really afford it. I should know, as that's pretty much what I did.

Restaurants were busy, but we had no unreasonable waits for tables.

Plenty of businesses were closed, yet plenty of new ones had opened too.

Then I looked at my family and friends who were sitting around the campsite. Some had lost jobs, but they were still getting by. Spouses were still employed. One young man works as a carpenter in VT and they keep him busy most days. Of course, my friends and family are pretty competent people.

So all in all, things looked normal enough. Of course, this is in a prime tourist area during a time of near perfect weather. The Maine coast appeared to be doing fine.

Heading inland, there's plenty of empty businesses and houses. Of course, the interior has always been depressed compared to the coast. It did look worse than in years past.

I guess that's the lesson for me here: economic conditions are not evenly distributed. How are doing depends on where you are.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Coastal Camping

Went camping on the coast of Maine. Met up with family and friends.

The weather was too nice to come home, so I didn't. That's what happened to the Sunday post.

Did not answer a phone, turn on a computer, or even listen to a radio. It actually felt pretty good to be out of touch for a few days.

I'll be back at it after unloading and cleaning the camping gear.


Sunday, August 1, 2010


Early in the morning there was a dead chipmunk in the road by my house. At the time, I had no idea what killed it.

In the summer, I roast my coffee out on the deck, as it's a bit smoky. I discovered something had tipped over my coffee roaster. Enough coffee beans for two cups of strong espresso was missing. It was obvious that some small animal had been chewing on the beans.

There was enough caffeine in those beans to give a 300 pound man a buzz. Imagine what it would do to something the size of a chipmunk. Poor thing must have exploded.

From now on I'm bringing the coffee in the house as soon as it's done roasting.