Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best thing I ever did

My lovely wife and I just celebrated out 33rd wedding anniversary. We married at the tender age of 20 after knowing each other only 4 months. I should have married her sooner.

Getting married to my lovely wife is the best thing I’ve ever done . . . only wish she could say the same. Just kidding. She’s too smart to stick around if it wasn’t working for her.

Married life has been a fun adventure. She promised me I’d never be bored, and she got that right. I can hardly wait to see what the next 33 years will bring.


Friday, December 30, 2011

Meat Space

Meat Space: where flesh and blood people meet up. Social media is fine, if you are into that sort of thing. It’s no substitute for real face time.

In face to face communication much of the information exchange is nonverbal. The expression on someone’s face, the way they hold their hands, the look in their eye, their posture -there are many levels to physical communication.

When we talk on the phone the physical clues are gone, but there are still things like the tone of voice, pauses in the conversation, changes in pitch -verbal clues that deepen the meaning beyond the words being said.

Communication by text requires attention to detail to get meaning across with a minimum of misunderstandings. It’s a skill set not everyone has mastered.

I’ve two friends who no longer communicate though e-mail. When they meet in person, they communicate just fine and get along. When limited to text, they constantly misinterpret what the other tries to say. Feelings are hurt. Finally, one of them figured it out and no longer exchanges e-mails with the other person. They truly need the nonverbal clues to successfully communicate with each other.

One good thing about this time of year is that people make an effort to get together. For me, it’s a real treat, because there’s a lot of person to person face time. I come from a culture where people talk with their hands and I still do that. Being able to use body language is like having a vastly increased vocabulary.

Meat Space: the social media for real people.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Not a consumer

We are referred to as consumers. Maybe the upside of a failing economy will be the death of that term.

I’d like to be thought of as a citizen again.

Even better, how about calling me a human being?

Consumer is a terrible term -one who uses up goods and services. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the first thing I’d like people to think of me -a user, destroyer, and waster. The implications are harsh.

Citizen is better. A citizen belongs in a country. Certain rights and responsibilities apply. What sounds better, consumer or citizen? In my book citizen is the clear winner.

For me, it’s best to be known as a human being. Humans have natural rights, just for being human. Some countries may codify some of those rights into laws, but they don’t grant them. Those rights are the birthright of all humans.

Since I think of myself as a human being first, those natural rights are a major part of my identity. It beats the heck out of thinking of myself as a buyer and user of stuff.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Less than a week

My lovely wife and I have less than a week to go before we wind our way southwards to Florida. The current plan is to leave on January 3. Of course, there’s enough flexibility in our schedule that I’d leave later rather than drive through an ice storm.

Once it became clear that we wouldn’t get the camper conversion completed in time, we decided to upgrade the old truck. It hasn’t been in this good a shape in over a year. Of course, all of this cost money we hadn’t planned on spending right now. Just what we needed around Christmas. Anyway, it just passed state inspection, so we are ready to roll.

One of my friends is going to give me a hand checking the bearings on the boat trailer. My long time readers may remember when we burned out a wheel bearing crossing the Everglades. That’s an adventure I’m in no hurry to repeat any time soon. At least I now have trailer towing insurance. Live and learn.

We have family staying with us for a few days. It will be great to connect with them before we hit the road. The only big downside to travel is that we miss our family and friends back home. On the plus side, we get to meet up with family and friends we haven’t seen in some months. If all goes well we may even scoot over to Texas to visit with some of my wife’s family. I actually get along with my in-laws, and not just because they live 2000 miles away.

The house needs a few things done before the house sitters move in. It’s a huge relief having house sitters. It can take half a day to shut the place down properly. Even so, there’s often something in need of repair when we get back.

I enjoy long road trips and endurance driving. I’m loading up on music, podcasts and audio books. I’m not a fast driver, especially while pulling a boat. I do stick with it, so in 24 hours, I can cover a lot of miles.

We’ve got to make a packing list for out trip, then get everything ready to go. It will be nice to sail Florida’s waters once more.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Not In My Back Yard. That old saying applies to power generation as much as anything. Communities in Connecticut and Massachusetts don’t want to see wind generators off the coast. Instead, we have them here in northern New Hampshire.

Personally, I don’t mind wind generators all that much. They have a fairly small footprint. What else are we going to do? Put in more coal plants? As it is, the local trout are contaminated by mercury that comes from coal plants in the Midwest. If windmills are the price shutting down more coal plants, so be it. The existing infrastructure can handle a wind project or two.

There’s a power transmission project that’s supposed to bring electricity from Canada down to places south of New Hampshire. We won’t use any of that power here, but the huge power towers would slice right through some wild and beautiful areas. It’d be like a 6 lane highway going through the woods. Screw that. If those places want to use electricity, they can generate it where they use it. People have got to learn that electricity doesn’t come from plugs in their wall.
Just because New Hampshire’s North Country is sparsely populated and economically depressed, they think they can run roughshod over the locals. Then again, they often have in the past. Money, population, and political power go hand in hand.

I opposed the big hydro projects when they were being contemplated years ago. Of course, it’s in Canada, so it’s not like I could do much about it. (not that average people have much power in this country right now either) The massive hydro projects messed up the environment and displaced native peoples. While I couldn’t do much about them building the dams, I can protest them transmitting it across my County.

Thats on the macro level. On the local level, NIMBY also rules. My off the grid buddy just told me that his town just put in a whole series of onerous regulations for windmills. He was looking at putting in a small 400 - 600 watt wind genny to supplement his solar panels. Now the town wants him to jump through hoops like he was a utility putting in massive commercial wind farms.

He’s contemplating two options. Option one, he puts up the windmill without a permit anyway. He owns a fair piece of land, and is Redneck enough that the Yuppie Scum in town are a bit afraid of him. They might just choose to look the other way.

His other option is to quietly put in a micro-hydro plant before the town even thinks about regulating them.

The really weird thing is that the town can’t do anything at all if he wants to supplement his power with a noisy, smelly, gasoline generator. You’d think they’d be happy he wants to put in a small windmill.

Those who don’t want power generation in their backyards also don’t want to think about conservation. They want cheap power and they want it to come from someplace out of sight.

Well, maybe in the end they’ll regret not having their power generation local, where they can keep an eye on it. Insulators on those big power towers are great target practice for Redneck deer rifles. Those metal towers and all that wire might be worth a fortune at the scrap dealers.

Are you sure you want your electricity to come from the backyards of Rednecks?


Monday, December 26, 2011


Once again, I survived the holiday. I actually enjoyed this one more than endured it. My lovely wife handled the parts I hate -most of the shopping, for example. This year we all agreed to keep gift giving to a moderate level. Nobody overdid it. Most of us have other things to do with our money. Yet the gifts that were exchanged were well thought out and appreciated. Nice.

Christmas really isn’t quite over. Some of my family will be joining my wife and I later in the week. When the kids grow up and get married, they have obligations to the spouse’s side of the family too. This is year some of them spend the actual day with the other side. It works out. Everyone was here for Thanksgiving. Next year we get everyone for Christmas, but some will spend Thanksgiving day away.

In my attempt to behave in a non-Grinch manner, I even accompanied my wife to her Christmas Eve church service. I’m not a member and have real issues with the minister. Heck, my wife has issues with the minister, but she expects to outlast him. I minded my manners, smiled at the good folk, sang the songs and shook the hands. My wife was happy to have me along, so I guess I can put up with it now and then. However, it’s tough to keep my tongue in my pocket.

My wife and I didn’t even exchange gifts. Our present to each other will be a trip to a huge used bookstore over in Vermont. That works for me.

Hope all my readers had the holiday they were hoping for.

Peace and Balance,


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas or whatever you choose to celebrate this time of year. May you all feel the love of those who care about you, be they near or far.

I’ll be spending the day with family and friends, and for that I’m truly thankful.

Peace and Balance,


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Time and money and freedom

I live pretty cheaply. The key here is that I don’t have to go to work every darn day. I can do things at home that reduce my living expenses. I do all my electrical, plumbing, and carpentry work. Instead of spending all my money on fuel, WVO is gathered to run my diesels, and firewood provides most of the heading and cooking. I also do money saving things like bake bread and cook meals from scratch.

There are special projects that save money: converting the vehicles to run on waste veggie and installing a solar electric system. I decided I’d rather stay home and do things that reduce expenses than get a job and earn more money.

It’s not an all or nothing proposition. How many times do we see both spouses working? Often the second income barely covers the expenses of working: the second car, child care, work wardrobe, and meals out. Sometimes it actually costs money to go to work.

Traditionally, the wife would stay home and be the domestic engineer. That role doesn’t get the respect it deserves. A well run household becomes a center of production rather than just an expense. Housewives took care of children, cooked, cleaned, mended and even made clothes. Often they tended to gardens and small livestock like chickens and rabbits. They had a huge economic impact. Better yet, none of their production was taxable.

In today’s work world, sometimes it makes sense for the husband to stay home. Wives may have the higher income and enjoy their work more. Men can take care of and nurture children. They can cook, clean, and do all that other domestic stuff. In general, men are stronger than women. They are better at cutting and piling firewood, and doing heavy lifting in general. Stay at home husbands are not traditional, but so what? Do what makes sense for you.

Maybe what you really need is a job with fewer hours. Could spending time at home make up for less hours of work? I know I guy who figured out he could get by nicely working only 3 days/week. His dad asked him why he only worked 3 days/week.

“Because I don’t quite make enough money working just 2,” he said.

The days he didn’t go to work, he spent renovating his house. He saved a bundle doing the work himself, and didn’t have to borrow money to do it.

I know people who work seasonally. During the off seasons, they basically work for themselves. One buddy of mine was irritated that his seasonal job lasted longer than it normally did. It was keeping him from home and all the things he wanted to do there.

One of the things that drives me nuts is people who retire and complain they have to go back to work. Now if they wanted to go back to work, that would be one thing. No, these people whine that they have to work to keep up their lifestyle. They complain that they want to travel like I do, but can’t.

However, they may live in a house that’s too big for them, drive cars they are making payments on, and refuse to travel any way that’s not first class. Appearances are more important to them than actually doing something. I’ll think about them while sitting on my 1982 boat, pulled south by my 1993 truck, enjoying my 10 million dollar view.

I’ve got the rare gift of time. It’s a gift I gave myself by adjusting my lifestyle. I’ve made choices on what’s more important. For me, free time is freedom.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Road trip plan B

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about the ambulance/camper conversion. The simple fact is there isn’t all that much to report. The “minor” paperwork hold up still hasn’t been straightened out. The latest excuse is that the one person who can process it has been out sick for over a month.

If the documents came in today, I’d still be unable to get the vehicle ready in time. Well, I might be able to swing it but there would be no time for a proper road test. Trouble shooting on the side of the highway isn’t my idea of a good time.

Converting a diesel to run on waste vegetable oil always has a few glitches to work out. There could be problems with air or coolant leaks, plugged fuel filters -usually nothing major. It’s just part of the final fit and finish. This is all custom work after all.

Working on the camper through Christmas, my wedding anniversary, and New Years might get me into trouble. I do want my wife to talk to me on the drive south.

I’ll be taking the old Ford F250 veggie/diesel south one more time. All it needs is a new registration and state inspection before hitting the road. When the ambulance/camper project ran into delays, I went ahead and had some work done on the old pickup: new glow plugs, exhaust repair, tires, and a wheel alignment. It’s not pretty, but the 7.3 turbo diesel has plenty of power to pull the boat. Better yet, I’ll be carrying enough waste veggie to go 2500 miles or so. That’s worth a few bucks.

In the end, it’s not what you drive, but where you are going.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Instant Karma

I should know better than to tease the lovely wife. This month we are having our 33rd anniversary and one would think I would have learned something after all this time.

Apparently not, or at least not enough.

It started when my wife forgot her purse at a party . . . in the next state over. Our friends found the purse and figured out how to get it to us. One of our mutual friends works in the next town over so he brought the purse to work with him and we picked it up there.

Then we go to a Christmas concert. As we are driving home, my wife remembers she left her purse under her chair. I turn the car around and we get back in time to retrieve it. Of course, like any husband, I tease her about it -perhaps a bit too much.

Soon after, I lose my wallet. We were supposed to go out and I could not find it. I search all my pockets and check every place I might have left it. It was at the point where I was searching the washing machine to see if I washed it.

Fortunately, I know a bit about how the universe works. I sit down at my office chair. My wife is in the next room through the open door. I very loudly proclaim. “I’M SORRY FOR TEASING YOU ABOUT YOUR PURSE! I’M VERY SORRY!”

Just then happen to glance over at the books on my desk. Somehow my wallet had slid down between the books. I could just barely see the side of it.

I used that wallet to take my wife to dinner. After all, I had to. The universe is on her side.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011


How well do you function with your off hand? Since I sprained the thumb on my right, I’ve had cause to think about it. I’ve been forced to do most things left handed. Some people claim to be ambidextrous, but I think that’s just the ability to use both hands equally badly.

Do you practice doing things with your off hand? How about basic function: brushing your teeth, washing up, cooking food, even using a computer mouse? If you shoot, can you do a respectable job with your off hand? Better to practice a bit ahead of time. You might make some interesting discoveries. I discovered firing my handgun lefty style caused it to eject hot shells into my shirt pocket.

Certain activities require the skilled use of your off hand, guitar playing, juggling, some sports. Anything that requires fine control is good practice. Then when you do have to rely on your “bad” hand, it won’t really be all that bad.

My left handed buddy was practicing handgun shooting with his right. A guy came to the range and challenged him to a shooting contest, with a few bucks on the line. My buddy agreed, still shooting with his off hand, the right. My buddy lost, but he made a fair showing of it. Then my friend suggested they shoot again, double or nothing, but using the left hand this time. Of course, my friend mopped the floor with his challenger shooting with his dominate left hand.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

One more thing

Yesterday, my lovely wife said, “I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear.”

Sounds ominous, doesn’t it?

All she wanted was a whole house water filter. She knew I’ve been doing a lot of work on the plumbing and probably didn’t want to do any more. I agreed with her that it was probably a good idea and picked one up at the hardware store.

In the 40 or so years that the well was in use, it never had a filter. Why would a fresh mountain spring need a filter? The water always was pretty good, but things change. In the last 40 years a couple more cottages were built in the area. The well cover is getting old and probably should be replaced next summer. Heck, we’ve even had a couple earthquakes that shook things around a bit. The water still looked and tasted fine, but why take chances?

The system I got was a simple cartridge filter type. The filter housing has a shut off built in to make it easier to change the old filters. To install, I had to cut the main feed line from the pressure tank to the rest of the house and splice in the filter. Since that part of the house is all flexible plastic pipe, it was pretty easy going.

While I was at it, I picked up a couple of spare filter cartridges. Eventually, they plug and up and have to be replaced. The spare filters, filter wrench, and instructions will be stored right next to the filter housing. That way everything will be there when I need it next.

After my wife saying she was going to tell me something I didn’t want to hear, I was relieve it was something that could be fixed with tools and stuff from the hardware store.


Monday, December 19, 2011

The value of pain

It’s hard to think of pain as having value, but it does.

Pain tells you something is wrong. On a very simple and physical level, pain can keep you from injuring yourself worse than you are. You sprain your ankle, it hurts, so you are careful with it. It gets better instead of getting worse. Say you hurt yourself and take pain killers to mask the pain. The ankle feels fine, so you go running on it, and injure it really bad. As some point, no matter how many pain killers you take, it’s injured badly enough that function is impaired. A person has to admit they are hurt and deal with the underlying problem.

Our society is very big on masking pain. The TV is full of ads for drugs to make you feel better. Now there are lots of people dealing with chronic pain and I don’t make light of their suffering. The pain goes on for so long it’s debilitating. There are many conditions that don’t get better and all one can hope to do is lessen suffering. Pain management is all you can do at that point, but lessening suffering has value.

Physical pain is a warning that something is wrong. Emotional and spiritual pain also warn a person that something isn’t right. If you are taking medications to deal with the depression of your life, maybe your life should change. There may be a message you are avoiding.

Imagine someone is in a life they hate. Their job sucks. They don’t like where they live. Their relationships don’t satisfy their needs. One solution is to reassess their life and make some drastic changes. It might be painful for a while. Leaving the spouse, abandoning the house in the suburbs and giving up the 9 to 5 job is hard and a lot of work. A person could choose a different path. They could push for marriage therapy with the spouse. They could move, maybe doing a jingle mail deal with the bank if they have to. Maybe they man up and stick with the bad job, but all the while working towards a different work arrangement. Their discomfort with their life is the motivation to make changes.

Of course, one way to deal with the pain of life is to take Prozac or its cousins and make all the hurt go away. Their life still sucks, but now they are numb enough to shuffle through it. Not all of us take happy pills. Maybe we drink too much, or eat too much, or chase too much loveless sex. These are ways of self medicating and dulling the pain.

Pain is a teacher. Are we listening to its lessons?


Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Holidays in New Hampshire

I had to share.

Life in the Great White North.


Fighting the system

There are serious problems with trying to fight the system from within the system. The framework of laws and regulations were set up by the system to keep dissent in very narrowly defined channels. It’s a battlefield where the little guy has very little power.

Have you ever tried to sue a lawyer? It just can’t be done. First of all, you’d need to hire a lawyer. Now any lawyer you’d hire has more in common with the lawyer you’re trying to sue than he does with you. As a rule, they just won’t take the case.

Historically, the only way to fight the system is to break its rules and laws. The Civil Rights movement broke Jim Crow laws. Unions were illegal and their tactics were against the law, but they brought change to an industrial system that exploited the little guy.

Breaking rules gets things done. I’m all for it. Just be advised the system will react violently. When the system has no legitimacy, all it has left is force. (Is Congress, with it’s 9% approval rating legitimate?)

Then there are attacks on the system that the system never thought to outlaw, or they’d look silly trying to outlaw. There was the revolution of the dog walkers. Instead of watching state television evening news, people walk their dogs instead. They meet up with an awful lot of people walking dogs. It occurs to them that nobody believes the news and the government.

I’ve started turning my back on politicians -literally. Politicians crave attention. It’s one of the character flaws that drives them to politics in the first place. When they come by in a parade, turn your back. When they are meeting voters, refuse to shake hands and turn your back instead. It drives them crazy.

I’m not going to make a big laundry list of tactics. No sense in telegraphing my punches. My readers are creative people. I bet they can think of all kinds of new and interesting tactics on their own.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

California wants to tell you when to change your oil

California thinks we change our oil too often. I only mention it because it seems these sorts of ideas get field tested in California before spreading to the rest of the country.

Basically, California thinks people change their oil too often. Many people change their oil at 3000 miles, while most manufacturers claim their vehicles can go much longer between changes. California thinks it’s a waste of oil to change it often.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but I don’t think it’s any business of the government’s. I change my oil at 3000 miles or so. That’s something I don’t do lightly with my truck as it takes 12 quarts. The thing is, my vehicles work hard under harsh conditions -subzero winters in New Hampshire and blistering Florida sun. Big loads are hauled up steep mountains and trailers pulled along at highway speeds.

I change the oil myself. What do I do with the old oil? It’s used for fuel. The truck has a totally separate fuel system for running with waste vegetable oil. I add a few quarts to that tank until the crankcase oil is used up. The filter system that removes bits of French fries and onion rings works just as well with bits of metal in the old motor oil.

I freely admit my vehicle system is unique. Of course, government likes to make rules that everyone has to follow. Right now it’s only a suggestion, but when government takes an interest in something, laws follow.

On the flip side, I rarely changed the oil on my old Mercedes. I put in a secondary oil filtration system that filtered the oil a lot cleaner than the standard filter. Once a month I’d change that filter and only added a quart of oil. That engine had 500,000 miles on it when the rest of the car wore out. The engine will have a new home running a generator.

It’s a small thing, this government interference in oil changes. However, it is a symptom of government slowly taking over every aspect of a person’s life.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Well, so much for the Bill of Rights

Obama is going to sign the indefinite detention bill into law.

There can’t be a whole lot left of that Bill of Rights lying around. It’s getting pretty tattered.

It’s not necessarily the end of the republic. The US has bounced back from some horrific policies in the past. During WWII Japanese Americans were rounded up and put in concentration camps for the crime of being Japanese. Of course, it wasn’t too many years ago we looked back at that time in our history with shame. Now it appears to be a role model.

I’m I overreacting? Time will tell. However, it’s just one more step on the road to Perdition.

There’s not a whole heck of a lot that I, as one person, can do. It has been made abundantly clear that none of my elected representatives care what I think. It’s not like I’m an important lobby or can use the power of money, the free speech of corporations.

All I can do is say no. This wrong. Shame on the representatives who vote for tyranny. Shame on the President for signing the bill. Shame on the minions who knock down doors at 3 a. m. to enforce unconstitutional laws.

As far as I’m concerned, I have a rights, God given rights. The Bill of Rights gave some of them a legal framework, but the rights exist independent of man made laws. Politicians can put physical chains on, but my heart and spirit are free.



Thursday, December 15, 2011

Defeated by life

I can’t get that phrase out of my head. While in VT recently at a college buddy’s house, I asked about about a mutual friend. He lives not that far away from my buddy.

“He’s defeated by life,” my buddy said.

The guy walks with shoulders slumped and he shuffles his feet. There’s a hang dog expression on his face.

We met when I was taking a Journalism class. The guy already had an English Literature degree. He’d worked as a journalist and wanted to advance his journalistic career. After college, he did get a newspaper job. Eventually, he lost that job for having a sense of right and wrong. He never worked as a journalist ever again.

Since he couldn’t find work as a journalist, he went back to school for 2 years to get a degree as a machinist. Things were looking up for a while. He found work right after graduation. A bit later, he got an even better job. The guy lost a lot of weight, took up running and was lifting weights at the gym. He bought a house and was doing well.

I kinda lost contact with him for a bit. One day he stopped in unexpectedly. He was working part time on a road construction crew that happened to be in my area. All the machinist jobs dried up as businesses closed. Once his unemployment ran out, the only job he could find was stocking shelves at night in a big box store. He couldn’t handle night shift, so he quit. After an extended job hunt, he found temporary work with the road crew.

Now I hear he isn’t doing very much at all. His wife works full time and that keeps the household going. The daughter is out of control with a series of loser boyfriends and substance abuse issues. His son is struggling in school. My friend seems to have give up.

Defeated by life.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Elimination of cash money

There’s never ending BS about money. Now the idea is that eliminating cash will eliminate recessions. The reasoning is full of holes of course.

Governments would really like to do away with cash money. They use the excuse that it’ll eliminate crime. Frankly, I think the biggest economic crimes have already happened with electronic money. The derivative market has gotten so big that there isn’t enough paper in the world to print the money.

What governments want is to be able to tax every transaction. They can’t stand the idea that Bill the painter can paint your living room and give you a discount for paying in cash.

Lets imagine that governments are successful and all official money is electronic. My guess is that there’d soon be a very busy black market operating with silver and gold. No doubt there’d be people willing, for a fee, to launder that metal money into electronic. Don’t tell me it can’t be done. The incentive to do so huge.

Imagine if people get used to electronic money. Who’s to say they have to go through a central government sanctioned bank? What’s to stop people from developing “open source” money, sorta the Linux of money. Get a large enough group of people exchanging “Linux” money for goods and services, and most of a person’s transactions can take place in the unofficial currency. In fact, it wouldn’t be too hard for the open source money to be more reliable than the government money. All the new money people would be concerned with is having a good useful and stable product, unlike the government that has incentive for inflation and political shenanigans.

Then there are all those people who are already deep into barter and gift economies. Electronic money will just give them more incentive to expand barter and gift exchanges.

Electronic money? Bring it on. It’s just the incentive we need to kill fiat money.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Under the weather and off the grid

I’ve been a bit under the weather lately. It’s nothing too horrible, a long running cold combined with a bit of intestinal upset. My lovely wife is actually feeling it a bit worse than I. However, we are both on the mend and should be better pretty soon.

Something always occurs to me when I feel this way, being ill in a survival situation is a lot tougher. Right now, the oil heat is temporarily disconnected and we’ve been heating with wood. I feel just well enough to throw wood into the basement stove. The firewood is cut, split and piled near the basement door. It doesn’t take a lot of physical energy to keep the fire burning.

Theoretically, I could heat my house by harvesting dead trees and fallen branches within walking distance from my house. They could be felled by ax and cut up with a manual crosscut saw. It’ve done it before when funds were tight. Problem is, a person has to be feeling pretty healthy to do all that work. If I had to do that right now, it’d be really tough and I’d probably get even sicker.

Recently I replaced the water pump. Had the pump not been replaced, it’s possible to get water right out of the well with a bucket. In an emergency, it’s good to know that’s possible. Once again, hauling water up the ice covered hill while sick is something I’m glad I don’t have to do.

I’ve got a bit of food for long term survival. Most of it takes time and work to prepare. Fortunately, I’ve other food in the house that’s quick and easy. Make sure you have the comfort foods you like to eat when not feeling well.

When you plan for an emergency situation, consider that you might not be at your best. What if everyone in your household got sick at the same time? What if you broke and arm or a leg? Could you do what’s necessary for survival with a limb in a splint?

When you make survival plans, don’t make the mistake of assuming you’ll be at your best. I spent a good part of the afternoon resting in bed with a good book. That sure beat the heck out of foraging for my survival needs in the woods.


Monday, December 12, 2011

The Redneck at the party

My lovely wife and I went to a college buddy’s Christmas party. He has a Masters in English Literature and teaches Journalism and Film Studies at an academy. Even though he’s 19 years younger than me, we hit it off when I went to college as a non-traditional student. We lost touch for a bit, but since have since reconnected. My wife and I decided to drive over to VT and catch his party.

As you can well imagine, his circle of friends runs heavily into Liberal Arts Majors. Most of the guests were seriously into theater -actors, directors -that sort of thing. Not all of the guests fit that mold. There’s always a Redneck or two in attendance.

Now I could hold a conversation with theater people, mumbling something about some director or other, dark comedy or some such rubbish, but there was a guy even more Redneck than me, so I talked to him. He had nobody else to talk to. We’ve met before, so he quickly gravitated to me and we had a nice chat about the sorry state of the new Ford diesels.

I’ve never questioned why my buddy has a few Rednecks in his circle, but I have my suspicions. Here’s one reason. After two days of attempting to assemble a kid’s swing set with his in-laws, his wife begged him to call the Redneck. The guy came over and sorted everything out. Redneck doesn’t mean dumb, just a bit unsophisticated. This guy reads blueprints for a living and directs steelworkers. He sorted out the poorly written directions and assembled the swing set. No problem. I don’t thing any of the theater crowd had the ability.

The question is, why does the Redneck go these parties? Well, my buddy and his wife are gracious hosts who put on a good feed. There’s usually a fair amount of booze available. Then there is his wife. She used to be part of the “arty” crowd with a Metrosexual boyfriend. She left all that behind to hook up with this big old Redneck and move to a house out in the mountains. They got married and had a bunch of kids together. I’ve never seen her so happy. He’s got a big grin himself.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Watch out for that crisis!

Whatever it is. The world is going to have a big splashy crisis. It will be in all the papers, TV, radio, social media, the Internet -everything.

Now I’m not sure what it’s going to be, but war is always a contender.

Politicians, hand in hand with main stream media, will be firing up something to distract the population. You see, too many of use are becoming aware. We’ve noticed the rich get richer, not by being smarter or more industrious, but by exploiting the poor. We’ve noticed our leaders don’t lead, but follow instructions. The police don’t protect and serve the citizens, but the elite. There are two sets of rules, one for the uber-rich and one for the poor.

We’ve noticed that we’ve been getting ripped off and cheated for years . . . and we ain’t gonna take it anymore.

People are waking up and finding themselves, not in functioning democracies, but in something with all the trappings of a police state.

The powers that be are scared. Some of the sheep are developing fangs and a taste for red meat.
So they are going to roll out a honking big crisis, one that whole countries are supposed to rally behind. Expect them to crank up their big control mechanism: fear.

When that big crisis is unveiled, be aware. Have an “A-Ha!” moment. When you know what they are doing and why, it loses it’s power.

Those who refuse to fear refuse to be controlled.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Wired again

I gave a buddy a hand wiring the top floor of his off-grid house. This is the guy who recently jumped into my cold and dank well to change my water pump. By comparison, hooking up some lights and outlets is a pretty clean job.

We did the whole top floor in a day -not bad at all. The project was greatly aided by the advance work done last year. All the lines had been run from the entrance box to upstairs. All I had to do was connect them to the breakers. We already had one light and a live outlet. Nothing like having a little light and power to make the job go soother. Last year when I wired the downstairs, I figured I’d eventually be invited back to do the upstairs.

The first thing we did was to hook up all the lights. As the day went on and it got dark, we were able to see what we were doing when connecting the last of the outlets.

Last year there were some discouraging words about us doing the all the electrical ourselves. My buddy’s carpenter was a bit leery about us doing the wiring, but once he looked the job over, he was favorably impressed. The plumber who hooked up the well pump had serious reservations. He told my buddy that the pump needed a dedicated line wired with #12 wire. My friend was able to point out the dedicated #12 wire all ready to go. The plumber couldn’t believe it. I’d wired something quite similar at my place years ago, so I knew what was required. It’s not magic. All this stuff can be looked up.

Electricity makes a lot of people uneasy -as well it should. People die every year. My friend’s come a long way. At first, he didn’t want to touch the stuff at all. Now he’s doing a lot of the wiring on his own and doing good work too.

With the last of the wiring done, he can finish insulating. With cold weather on the way, not a minute too soon.


Friday, December 9, 2011

That time of year

I don’t really want to be a Christmas Scrooge. If you remember Dickens’s tale, in the end Scrooge’s attitude did a 180 and he became Mr. Christmas. That’s not going to happen to me, I’m no Scrooge. Every year when A Christmas Carol is performed, I root for Scrooge to stick to his guns. He always gives in.

Now I don’t have a problem with the whole Christian thing. If you want to celebrate a Christian holiday at the same time as the old Pagan holidays, that’s fine by me. The dark days of winter are a good time for a holiday. Since Jesus’s birthday isn’t in the Bible, and if you want to celebrate it, December 25 is a good as any other day.

Getting together, lighting some lights, and having a party seems like a pretty good idea. It is if you keep it simple. Don’t get all caught up in the gift thing. If you want a big gift, aren’t you guilty of the sin of greed? What about the person who shows how wealthy they are by giving elaborate gifts? Could they be guilty of the sin of pride?

Of course, by giving nice gifts, maybe someone is only showing the virtue of generosity. Intent is everything.

All I know is that the best best Christmas I ever had is when were desperately poor. The idea of giving expensive gifts was right out. We barely had any money for token gifts. Not only did we have no money, we had no credit left. That year we invited all our friends and relatives to come to a Christmas Eve party at our house. Everyone was encouraged to bring a dish to share. A lot of people showed up and we had a wonderful party. Not only that, we ate for a week on all the leftover food. It was such a good party that people talk about it to this day.

This year it appears that everyone is going to be reasonable about gifts. There’s no need to turn the holiday into a celebration of the destruction of resources and the piling on of debt. For me, something like a used book, gloves, or a hat is more than enough. Having the time to share a cup of coffee or a glass of wine is an even better gift.

Christmas is great when a person is about 5 years old. Everything is new and exciting and it doesn’t take a whole lot of money to give a 5 year old something they’ll love. Watching the little kids open gifts can be fun.

When I was a teenager I made a big mistake. I worked a whole season at a place called Santa’s Village. This amusement park had Christmas music playing on the loud speakers all day long. There’s only about 4 good Christmas songs in the world. That summer I heard my lifetime supply of Christmas music. About the only “Christmas” music I like now is in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Vince Guaraldi’s jazz music is like a breath of fresh air.

My favorite uncle died just before Christmas one year. That was a bad one for me. Nothing like a cold and snowy graveside service to put a damper on the holiday spirit. I think of him every year about this time. As luck would have it, I just had another uncle pass away. He was a really nice man and everyone loved him. The blow is lessened by the fact he had a long good life, but he’ll be missed.

Celebrate Christmas, if you must. Remember, good human fellowship is the best gift. Perhaps take a moment to contemplate the spiritual. If you live long enough and do enough, you learn there are some really profound mysteries out there. Where logic and reason can do no more, all that’s left is faith.

You could join me in rooting for Scrooge to stick to his principals. It did take a bunch ghosts to wear him down. Still, awoken by ghosts in the middle of night, no wonder the poor guy snapped.

Merry Christmas


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Plumbing mystery solved

Ah . . . the joys of home ownership and self reliance.

The plumbing in my house looks like the history of plumbing since the 70s. Originally, it was a 4 room square cabin used only in the summer. That cabin was stretched into a rectangle and a dome placed on top. From some angles, it look like a giant mushroom.

In my December 3, 2011 post I covered the joys of replacing the well pump. There’s a photo of a rusty clump of metal that used to be the pump. Once the pump was replaced, the water supply improved, but not as much as it should have.

My worse fear was that something might have been wrong with the buried supply line. Disconnecting it from the rest of the house and running the pump showed I had excellent pressure and volume. That test isolated the problem to somewhere in the house. I heaved a huge sigh of relief that the problem wasn’t somewhere in the 75 feet of supply line buried 6 - 8 feet underground. I hand dug that trench many years ago before I became fat, lazy and wiser.

In my quest for locating the flow restriction, I removed a check valve. When the check valve built in the old pump failed years ago, I installed one right in the basement. It beat the heck out of pulling the pump out of the well, sending it out for repair, then reinstalling it. That worked for more than a decade. However, when I examined it, the valve was looking pretty beat. Since the new pump has its own check valve, the basement one could be done away with.

While that might have been part of the problem, the water flow still seemed restricted. The quest continued.

If you look at the plumbing in my basement, it doesn’t make much sense. If I were laying out the pipe today, it would look a lot different. Everything has changed over the years: where the supple line enters the basement, the location of the water heaters, the washing machine location, plus plumbing to the new addition. Add in extra drains for winterization, connections for solar water heating in the summer and wood fired hot water in the winter. As long as everything works, there’s no reason to lay it out in a more logical manner. Besides, the experiments continue.

After sleeping on the problem for a couple of nights, I had a brain storm. The shut off valve for the whole house was original equipment. The valve and plumbing of that time period was an early version of plastic pipe. It’s not made any longer and very little of it remains in service. However, the shut off valve was original. I turned the water pump off, drained the system, then cut the valve out with a jig saw.

Remember that rusty pump? Rust had made its way though the plumbing and lodged itself in the plastic shut off valve. That’s where the restriction was. With that valve gone, water flows with plenty of volume. That’s one more problem solved.

I guess I’ll have do the laundry and dishes now. Some reward for being clever.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Almost ready for sailing

It’s a weird time of year for me. Most people are getting into the whole Christmas holiday season. The thing that’s held my attention lately is getting the sailboat ready for Florida. One advantage of owning a trailer sailer is that it can be worked on in the driveway. Beats the heck out of a marina haul out.

When I bought the boat, it had a boarding ladder attached to the transom. The previous owner did a crappy job on the install. It was only held on by a few bolts with tiny washers. The fiberglass had started to show cracks in the gelcoat. I removed the ladder, patched the damage and plugged the bolt holes. For the next ten months I used a single boarding step that connected by ropes to the cleats. It wasn’t fancy, but worked well enough, and it was cheap.

While that worked fine when boarding from shore or shallow water, in deeper water it was a struggle. I imagined what would happen if I fell overboard in cold water, or became injured. the single step wasn’t going to cut it. After looking at all kinds of boarding ladder options, I ended going back to the one I removed. The ladder itself was rugged and built of stainless steel. I’ve seen similar ones in catalogs for over $200. The problem wasn’t the ladder but the way it was mounted. Instead of just a couple washers, I made long backing plates for the bolts. I also fabricated a couple extra brackets. Now it’s really solid and easily holds my not inconsiderable weight without strain.

Last year a friend lent me a handheld VHF radio to use as backup for my base unit. I really believe that a good backup radio is an important safety feature. Last spring I saw someone lose their main radio antenna on a railroad bridge. He and his wife were rescued by Coast Guard because he was able to call them on his handheld. I took advantage of a good one day sale at West Marine and bought a decent radio of my own.

Leland strobe lights have been a problem. Since we spend nights on the water, having strobe lights on our life jackets seem like a good idea. I ordered two through Amazon. One worked, the other didn’t. Amazon quickly replaced the faulty one -with another faulty one. Doesn’t anyone check these things? I just filed another claim with Amazon.

One of the things I was uncomfortable with was the amount of water we carried on board and the way we carried it. I discovered a new product called Water Bricks. They are rectangular 3.5 gallon water containers. The cool thing is that can be stacked up like Lego blocks. I ordered 4 and they just came in. One nice thing them is the size. 3.5 gallon containers are much easier to handle than the big ones. They even have comfortable carrying handles.

I did a lot of little odds and ends: heavier battery cables, worked on the outboard, rebeded loose screws, repaired gelcoat, painted the bottom, new tiller, and other little jobs. Any boat owner will tell you that there’s always more that can be done on a boat.

The only big thing on the boat that bugs me is that I don’t have a good way to mount the solar panel. The marine brackets for mounting a small panel start at over $500. That ain’t gonna happen. I think I can fabricate something just as good for a tenth the price.

I suppose I’m going to have to pay some attention to the holiday season now. It’s much more fun to think about sailing.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Liquid fuels

There’s no good substitute for liquid fuels for transportation.

Alternatives work fine for production of electricity. In my local area we already produce electricity from hydro, biomass, wind and even a tiny bit of solar power. I can imagine a gradual switch over to a mix of renewables to keep the lights on. Very little oil is used for electricity. The big power generator in the US is still coal.

Transportation is a problem. Electricity’s use in transportation is severely limited by the lack of good cheap high density storage -the batteries. It might be feasible for the commuter with a relatively short driving distance. We aren’t going to see electric tractor trailer trucks hauling produce from California to New England.

Expect that gasoline and diesel will be used where it’ll do the most good. Right now, tractor trailers do a huge part of the heavy lifting. However, rail is more efficient than roads. Water transport is better than rail. Wind powered water transportation would be even cheaper, if somewhat slower.

Expect everything to slow down a bit. If transportation fuel is $20/gallon, people are going to think very seriously before they go anywhere. There may still be big SUVs on the morning commute to work, but there will be 8 - 10 people crammed into it. There’s a lot of our lives that will be significantly different. The ability to live within walking distance to work will be a huge advantage. More food will be grown locally to shorten transportation distances, among other reasons.

How will you deal with huge price hikes in transportation fuels? No politicians or the media will talk about it, but it is coming. Even if we get a miracle breakthrough in transportation, it will take years to convert the infrastructure to accommodate it. When the world switched from wind to coal powered ships, it took about 40 years for the changeover.

The only reason we’ve been able to keep the wheels turning this long has been the desperate development of less than idea fuel sources: ethanol, tar sands, shale oil, and deep water drilling. Those efforts barely produce more energy than it takes to extract and process them. When it costs more energy to produce than you get out of it, it’s game over. Liquid fuel will suddenly become in short supply. Exporting nations might come to the logical conclusion to keep the oil for for their own country, never mind the world market. Thinking like that could crash supply.

Then $20/gallon would be a bargain. It could happen soon. A massive economic collapse could prevent the price hike, but we’d all have other problems by then. A person who can’t afford food won’t buy gasoline. Assuming they can keep the economy struggling along in some fashion, the hike in transportation costs will have to be dealt with.

Have you a plan? A bicycle? Good walking shoes? The ability to car pool? Public transportation? Enough stuff stored up so you only have to go to town on a monthly basis? I know I won’t be hauling a boat all the way from my home in New Hampshire to Florida. I could afford to drive the 120 miles or so the coast of Maine, then sail down to Florida. That would add a couple months to my winter vacation, but I could live with that.


Monday, December 5, 2011

The big woodstove

Yesterday, my lovely wife and I were gone for most of the day. We didn’t get home until late. By then the kitchen woodstove had gone out for some hours. Outside temperatures had dropped into the teens. Inside the house, it was 45 degrees. Lighting the little kitchen stove kept the temperature from dropping any further, but it did little to make the place warmer. Good thing the bed has a big pile of warm blankets.

I still hesitate to burn heating oil. Instead, I put new stovepipe on the basement woodstove and fired that monster up. That stove is airtight and can handle a log almost 3 feet long. With a good bed of coals and a full load of wood, it can burn 12 - 14 hours. Now the house is getting toasty.

This time of year, it’s important that the basement stays warm. Everyone in the cold north worries about their plumbing freezing. I’ve got that concern, and a couple others.

The solar electric battery bank is in the basement. A warm battery bank can store more electricity than a cold battery bank. That’s one of the reasons a car is so hard to start in the winter time. Not only is it harder to turn a cold engine with its cold thick engine oil, the battery itself has less power to work with.

I have waste veggie oil stored in 4.5 gallon jugs down the basement. If the oil gets too cold, it’s impossible to pour it into my truck’s fuel tank. I built a heavy duty storage rack that can safely handle over 200 gallons of WVO.

I had hoped to put a bit more insulation in the basement, but that project got put off a bit when my water pump failed. Water is priority that trumps other projects. Maybe I’ll get a chance to do the extra insulation within the next few days.


Sunday, December 4, 2011


My dad used to frustrate me with his approach to project planning. Let’s say he was going to build a deck. He’d decide how big the deck would be, and its shape. Then he’d go down to the building supply store and load up all the materials he’d need. He was usually pretty darn close to having exactly what was necessary to do the job.

Dad didn’t seem to be following a plan. Like an author without a outline, he’d start the job and finish it, all without referring to anything.

In contrast, I have a friend would couldn’t do anything with sketching it out in fine detail first. If he was going to put a new handle on an ax, he’d draw out the process first. No kidding. The guy grew up to be a successful engineer, so I guess the attention to detail served him well.

As a kid, I though dad did some sort of magic. It wasn’t, of course. Dad did have a plan, but it was all in his head. Let’s take the deck example. He knows what sort of materials are needed for a safe deck. Then he’d figure out in his head how many of each item required to build the deck of a certain size. His method was a combination of experience and mental math.

Now if he was doing a sizable job, he would jot down a few things -maybe enough to fill a 3X5 note card. Not bad, considering that would cover everything from foundation to roof, including, heat, plumbing, and electrical.

My method? I explain the project to my wife. By the time I have enough sketches and materials lists so she understands the job, I can then build the project.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

The old water pump

This is what happens to a water pump after about 15 years of service. The middle section is the water intake, almost completely blocked by corrosion. No wonder the volume of water was so reduced.

The corroded end is the water outlet. It was made of cast iron. The new pumps use a synthetic composite -probably a good idea. It’s a wonder the thing pumped at all.

A couple of friends came over to help me out. It made all the difference in the world. We drained the well by siphoning it. It’s a shallow well, only about 5 feet deep -basically a catch basin for natural springs. One of my friends climbed into the well. We passed him tools to disconnect the plumbing. Then we hauled out the old pump. I wired up the new pump and passed it down the well to get connected.

Once my buddy climbed out of the well, I washed the sides of the well down with bleach to sterilize everything. Just as we put the cover back on the well, it started snowing. Good timing.
In a day or so, the sediment should be settled down and flushed through the system. The bleach smell will take a bit longer to go away.

I really did not want to do this job, especially at this time of year. However, judging from the condition of the pump, I’m lucky it lasted this long


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Colder than a well digger's backside

I can’t deny it any longer, the well pump is dying. It’s been gradually getting less and less robust. Today it took a turn for the worse. Why is it these things fail in December? Isn’t it an expensive enough month? The last time a pump failed, was also in the winter. At least the weather is predicted to be in the 30s, which is much better than -20 that it was last time.

I’m using a submersible pump in a shallow hand dug well. Replacing it requires that the well be drained as much as possible with siphon hoses. Then I have to physically climb down the well and swap out the pump. Water will be quickly refilling the well as I attempt to connect wires and water lines. Once a job like this is begun, there’s no stopping until it’s working, because I’m really going to need a hot shower.

A good dose of bleach down the well sterilizes everything. It’s an important part of the process to prevent bacteria growth. It’s possible, likely even, that just working in the well introduces new bacteria into the water supply.

The old pump had lasted for quite a few years. The Chinese knock offs available these days probably won’t last nearly as long, but they certainly are cheaper. As a compromise, I paid for the 3 year guarantee.

Unless some other crisis comes up, I’ll be down the well, freezing my backside off. It’s just one of the joys of being my own water works. On the bright side, I look at the huge water bills my friends in the city pay. I could replace a pump every 6 months and still come out ahead.


Thoughts on travel

During these trying times, the temptation is to stay close to home. That’s where I’m strongest and most prepared. At home I’ve got water, shelter with wood heat, some food stores, solar electric, guns, family, friends and community. It’s a good place to weather disasters, either natural or man made.

It might be safer at home, but what’s the fun in that? My lovely wife and I enjoy traveling, in spite of any risks. Most of our prep stuff stays behind. Sure, we travel with camping gear, a bit of food and water, but nothing like the resources of home. Unless things totally fall apart before we leave, we will head south to warmer climes.

When preparing for travel, it’s good to have an idea what possible problems might arise. A well maintained vehicle will save headaches on the road. My vehicles are old. Even with the best maintenance, things can go wrong. That’s why some roadside insurance is handy. I’ve had AAA for years. Once I discovered they won’t touch problems with boat trailers, I added BoatUS trailering insurance. Only wish I hadn’t made that discovery by burning out a trailer wheel bearing while crossing the Everglades.

Know how to navigate. Don’t rely on just a GPS. Have a good road atlas. My wife has gotten into the habit of grabbing every free map available for every place we go. Often state rest areas will have pretty decent maps. Camping and hotel guides can prove useful. All that information is good for trip planning, but even more useful when the plan falls apart.

Imagine getting caught in a freak snowstorm. There were no plans to say in the area, but suddenly it’s important to find a hotel nearby, and one that takes dogs. Suddenly that tourist guide is useful. Sure, there are things like phone apps for that sort of thing, but I like hard copy. Communications might be one of the things that fail in an emergency. An outdated GPS will stubbornly try to take you across closed bridges and blocked roads. Good maps make finding alternative routes a lot easier.

A major concern of mine is fuel availability. I remember trying to travel across the country during the 70s oil embargo. Plenty of gas stations closed, and almost nobody open after dark. Once I pulled into a gas station well before they opened. The needle was on “E” and I wanted to be first in line.

Since I am running diesel vehicles altered to allow the burning of waste vegetable oil, my fuel options are greatly increased. On a long trip, it’s common for me to carry enough veggie to go 1500 miles or more. Carrying vegetable oil is much safer than traveling with extra gasoline. I’ve run my vehicles on diesel, WVO (canola, soy, peanut, olive, flax, lard, and mystery vegetable oil), crankcase oil, #2 heating oil, K1, and hydraulic fluid. I should be able to find something to burn that will bring me home.

How about security? What if there’s a SHTF situation when I’m on the road? In general, I avoid big cities. I’m not a fan of them at the best of times. My instincts are all wrong, but at least I’m aware of that. I do have friends and family scattered across the country. Should things look bad, there’s a chance I’d be able to reach some of them. There is strength in numbers.

My options are increased by having a boat. Given enough time, I could sail back to New England from the south. Even when I had just a canoe, it was a great advantage. Here’s an example. Imagine being down the Florida Keys, and one of the major bridges blows up at the height of tourist season. Hundreds of thousands of people would be stranded on those little islands. Not only that, there is only one pipeline that supplies all the water to the Keys. That would be destroyed along with the bridge. A person with a canoe could island hop until they got past the damaged part. Baring that, they could paddle out to a small uninhabited island and stay there until the craziness died down.

So come January the plan is to make my way south. I believe life is about living. A person locked in an underground bunker might be alive, but is it living? It’s worth getting out and experiencing new things and meeting new people. I think universe favors the bold.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I didn’t really look up to any sports figures when I was growing up. The other kids in school worshiped baseball, hockey, basketball or football players. I didn’t get it. Why should we admire and emulate some guy who’s main claim to fame is the ability to do some tricks with a ball or a stick?

I read a lot of S/F and Fantasy, and liked the works of many different writers. However, I realized pretty early on to separate their works and their personalities. There was always the suspicion that some of the writers I enjoyed would turn out to be jerks in real life. After I grew up and actually got to meet some of them, I learned that yeah, some are jerks. Some were just fine -pretty much like most any other group of people.

The closest thing I had to a hero was my dad. He was there for me. Dad taught me all about being a man. I learned how to be tough and how to fight. Dad’s a bad ass. I once saw him fight off a guy bigger than him and half his age, then stare down over 20 of the guy’s friends. He also taught me to never pick fights, but if you have to fight, finish it.

I learned how to treat women by watching my dad. He loved my mom and was unfailing loyal and supportive of her. His strongest contempt was for men who hit and abused women. In his eyes, that was the most unmanly thing a guy could do.

Dad taught me how to use tools and how to fix things. Just as important as the specific skills he imparted was the confidence to attempt things I never did before.

While my dad and I enjoyed a lot of the same things, I became interested in things he knew nothing about and didn’t understand. That was fine with him. He reserved judgment and encouraged me to discover things for myself.

Of course, dad being a real human being, he has his faults. Who doesn’t? Still, he’s the closest thing to a hero I’ve got. Not too bad for a guy I’ve known all my life. In a world where “heroes” have feet of clay, that’s saying a lot. I’ve been pretty lucky.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Good ladders

It’s no secret that I’m frugal, cheap even. I don’t like to spend money I don’t have to. No need to get the Cadillac solution when the bicycle solution will do.

There are a few places where I do not skimp. I’m a big believer in quality ladders. Part of that comes from having been a Firefighter and learning a thing or two about ladders. Mainly though, it just makes sense. Cheap ladders can kill or maim you. It doesn’t take much of a fall to cause serious injury.

I’m a big fat guy so get heavy duty fiberglass ladders. I like fiberglass over other materials. Wood rots. Aluminum ladders tend to be too bouncy for my tastes and they also conduct electricity. A 28 footer is about as big a I feel comfortable handling alone.

I also have a 10 foot fiberglass stepladder. When you live inside a dome, having a safe way to reach that high ceiling is almost a necessity. It’s also the right height for adjusting my solar panels.

Both ladders are needed to reach the top of my roof. The 28 footer gets me up a couple stories. I carry the stepladder up to a second floor roof and from there reach the top of the dome. That’s how I clean my chimney. By saving the cost of a good chimney sweep, those ladders paid for themselves long ago.

Quality ladders aren’t cheap, but if you do your own home maintenance and repairs, they pay for themselves. Some areas of the country, single story ranch houses dominate. It doesn’t take much of a ladder to do what you need to do. In snow country, people tend to build higher rather than spread out. Roofs have steep pitches to shed snow. Don’t even think about messing around with cheap ladders.

Of course, if you are terrified of heights, don’t bother buying any ladder at all. Take the money you’d have spent on a ladder and hire someone to do the job for you. Unlike many of our fears, the fear of falling is a rational fear. Falls kill people every year.

If you aren’t sure about heights but are willing to try, many places rent good ladders. Try before you buy. Often people find that after a short while, they become comfortable working on ladders. You might be one of those people.

If you do get a ladder, get a good one, and learn the ins and outs of that particular model. Never get so relaxed that you cut corners and get careless. Quality can’t make up for stupid.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Hopeful days

I’m not all doom and gloom. There are some hopeful signs, positive actions, new technologies, progressive movements, and new ideas.

The first step is letting go of the world view that others have chosen for you. There are many ways of doing that. For some, it’s a simple as turning off the TV. Once the withdrawal pains are over, they notice it’s a whole different world. It won’t take long before they are amazed at all the drivel missing from their life. Some have described it like waking from a bad dream. For a percentage of people, it’ll be like a hard core alcoholic who can never touch the stuff again without being drawn down the sewer. Others might be like those hard drinkers who can occasionally imbibe, but are constantly aware of their consumption and the affect it has on them.

World views can be changed by leaving or joining a church. It could be as simple as reading a single article or book that sets them down a new road. Maybe they observer other people doing things different -and being happy. Perhaps one day a person wakes up and realizes the old way of life isn’t working, hasn’t for some time, and they don’t even want it anymore.

Once a person opens up to new ideas, they find the world is full of them. It could be turning a backyard into a permaculture garden so they can work fewer job hours yet eat better. Maybe they get hooked by alternative energy and the idea of grid independence. Some regain their health through paths that don’t involve doctors and hospitals. One of my favorites is discovering how inexpensive sailboat living can be. It could be figuring out a way to live car free. People look at everything differently: work, food, housing, transportation, community, relationships, faith, values, family -everything about being human. They pick and chose the tools for the life they want to live.

As individuals begin to live individually, they show to the rest of the population that it is possible. There will be those who resent it as they don’t like to be shown they actually hold the keys to their prison cell, but it takes an effort to swing the door open. Fortunately, other people will just be happy to find a way out, no matter how difficult. Here’s the thing, as more people break out of the old ways, it becomes acceptable to do so. The lone freak can be ignored. Whole segments of society breaking free can’t be so easily dismissed.

I expect it could get rough for a while there. Those heavily invested and served by an old pattern won’t give up power easily. The system’s death throes will have to be avoided as best as one can. The new ways will have birth pains: false starts and dead ends. Not every path will work for every person, but isn’t that the point? You have to find your own way.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dicken’s Kids

The neighboring town had a small winter festival parade. Quite a few of the locals came out to enjoy this simple pleasure.

One of the things that stuck out was the poverty of the kids on the street. They looked like something out of a Charles Dicken’s novel. They were poorly dressed, dirty and their complexions had that the pasty look of poor nutrition. There were a lot of them. One kid didn’t even have a coat, but had wrapped herself in a blanket to see the parade.

I grew up in a dying mill town. It’s not like I’ve never seen poverty before. This is a different sort of poverty. In my day, very few of the poor kids were actually dirty. Their coats might have been ragged hand me downs, but they were better than blankets. There were a lot fewer of those kids back then. Few of us were rich, but our parents wouldn’t let us out of the house with dirty faces and greasy hair.

It’s not just the physical poverty. There’s a poverty of the soul. It’s as if the parents of these kids gave up all hope and stopped caring. At one time, people in general tried to better themselves, not only materially, but mentally and spirituality. In a society where we’ve stopped being citizens and are now known as consumers, there is no cultivation of the inner values. Without money, these kids have nothing at all.

In the middle of the festival, I could not help but think the kids deserve better. As a society we should do more, if only so we could walk with our heads high.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

War Drums

Sometimes there’s nothing worse than a successful little war. Gulf One went so well we had Gulf war Two. That didn’t go quite so well. The Libya no fly zone worked pretty well for the US and NATO. They might try it again.

The US just parked an aircraft carrier next to Syria. Oh oh. There’s talk of a no fly zone. Syria is having a civil war right now. It’s no longer just demonstrations. The resistance is fighting back. It’s ugly there, and getting nastier. Just to make it interesting, Russia has sent ships to Syrian waters. Let’s just say they aren’t there to help us.

Why the hell are we getting involved in Syria? That country has nothing we can’t do without. Yes, it’s having a revolution. It can do that just fine without us.

Does it make sense in the lager context of the region? Israel wants to attack Iran so bad it can taste it. Actually, they want the US to get involved on an attack on Iran. Israel might be an old friend, but is it a good friend? The CIA lot of a bunch of its agents in Lebanon, probably due to poor trade craft. (hubris?) Hezbollah is heavily supported by Iran.

Don’t forget about Egypt. There’s people protesting and dying in the streets once more, calling for the end of military rule. The military has close ties with the US. My guess is that in the end, the real winner from all this will be the Muslim Brotherhood -not quite so good a friend of the US. When democracy yields a pro-US government, we are all for it. When it doesn’t, it seems a friendly dictator is much better.

Why is the US beating the war drums? What benefit is it to the government? Is it to distract us from the economy falling apart? It would be a good pretext to crack down on US protests. Historically, governments in trouble turn to foreign wars to dampen down domestic resistance. All those people in uniform would stay in uniform rather than come home to be unemployed.

How about rising oil prices? They are going up. War won’t bring them down, but it could redirect the blame. It’s much easier to blame dastardly foreigns than examine the likelihood of Peak Oil being real. No doubt Iran has the ability to close the Straights of Hormuz where a significant portion of the world’s oil is shipped. Should that happen, expect the restrictions on drilling in wildlife refuges, the sensitive arctic, and off shore regions to be lifted. War has some big returns for the oil companies. They get to charge more for the oil they do have and get to drill in places now off-limits.

The argument goes that we must prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons. Why? What would they do with them? Attack Israel? That would only insure Israel’s 300 or so nuclear weapons would rain down on them. Give terrorist a bomb? Not likely. They know it would blow back on Iran. Terrorists are much more likely to get a bomb from Pakistan as it suffers its own unrest. To prevent the world from becoming radioactive? Then maybe we should have done something about poorly run nuclear power plants built in risky areas. What a nuclear armed Iran would do is insure other countries would not attack. That’s pretty much it.

They are beating the war drums. That doesn’t mean we have to dance.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Not much slack

I like to try new things, be it new experiences or building some new gizmo. The problem is that I’ve never had much room for failure. If my time and energy is invested in something, it’d better work well enough to justify the resources.

When I was first striking out on my own, I made some hard nosed decisions based on my limited resources. After High School, I went to the local community college. My grades were good enough to go too better schools, but those schools were expensive. As it turned out, after one semester, I dropped out of the community college. My savings were all gone. The courses were challenging enough that I had to quit my part time job. Lack of sleep was really getting to me.

College is supposed to be this great stimulating experience where we can entertain new ideas and deepen our appreciation for the world. It should be a time to experience new philosophies and study the great thinkers of the past. When I was 18 it was all about getting a return on my investment. Back then, I didn’t think my potential income would justify going into debt. I was probably right.

Other kids picked the right ancestors. They could go to the good schools without worrying about working to pay for it. Changing majors and schools was no big deal. It didn’t matter if the credits didn’t transfer and it took a couple more years for the degree. Some could do fun things like take year off and backpack through Europe. Deep family pockets guaranteed things would not go too badly. You need time to find the career you truly love, no problem. Run out of money on your backpacking tour? Daddy will wire you more and pay for the plane ticket home.

When I cut the roof off the lake cabin and replaced it with a dome, it had to work. It was a big roll of the dice. Had I made some major error in my calculations: structural or financial, we’d have huge debt and no place to live.

Solar energy had to work. It would have really stressed the budget if it didn’t. My system was only about as expensive as a decent new snowmobile, but I couldn’t afford one of those either.

When I bought an old Mercedes Benz to experiment with waste veggie oil, it had to work. My wife needed that car to go to her job. In fact, she was driving it back and forth to work long before I got all the bugs out of the system. She’d put in a 12 hour day, then find herself bleeding air out of fuel lines on the side of the road.

Fortunately, my experiments that have fallen flat have cost me little cash. My failed waste vegetable oil heater cost me less than $20. That was mostly for saw blades, welding rods, and nuts and bolts. The rest of the materials were from things most people would have sent to the dump. It’s failure wasn’t due to the materials, but because of a poor fuel feed design.

Working class people don’t have much slack for failure. They buy a house, because they are told property values will always go up. The don’t. Don’t worry about being able to afford the house, as over time your wages will go up. Those don’t go up either. Kids take on huge college debt to get that good paying job that isn’t there. The working class never fully recover from those failures.

They have no extra resources to recover. If something doesn’t work out just right, it’s disaster. If you are upper class, not only do you have your own resources, family wealth, and you have access to lines of credit that regular people can’t even conceive.

When you don’t have money, you’d better have brains. Thanks to the Internet information is available. However, you have to be able to sift though that information and judge it’s value. You have to know what you don’t know and figure out how to learn it. You plan things in great detail in hopes that everything will go right. Even so, sometimes there are circumstances beyond your control. Maybe it’s a small detail you had no way of knowing, a defective part, or the fact that something successful on one place might not work as well at your place.

Quite a few of us have been doing a lot with little. We’ve had years of working without a net. I’m curious to see how well the rich would do with our limited resources.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cold mornings

The idea of woodstoves is terribly romantic. Picture a kettle merrily steaming away on a wood cookstove. There you are sipping warm hot coco as that radiant heat soaks into your bones. There’s no electric or gas company involved. All you have to do is light up some of that sustainable harvested local wood.

My kitchen woodstove is all that, and more. It also includes waking up to a cold house. My classic old cookstove doesn’t sustain a fire very long. It has a small firebox and isn’t an airtight stove. In the morning, don’t expect to find more than the occasional stray hot ember left. A few hours after I go to bed, the stove has died down and the the house starts to cool. By morning, it’s darn right chilly.

I get up while my wife is still sleeping. If I was smart, there’s split and dry wood ready. Sometimes I have to out where it’s truly cold and haul in some firewood. Might even have to split it with snow blowing all around me. Believe me, that’s a chore best down ahead of time when the sun is shinning.

Then I light the fire. In no time at all, it’s warm -about 2 feet from the stove. The rest of the house takes a few hours to really get comfy. I put a huge kettle of water on the stove. That takes a while to heat up, but there’s enough water to fill the peculator, make oatmeal, and to act as a humidifier.

By the time my lovely wife gets up, the coffee is made, the kitchen is warm, and the stove is good and hot for cooking breakfast. For her, most mornings, the woodstove isn’t an inconvenience at all. That’s fine by me. If the wife ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Now when I fire up my big basement woodstove, there’s a chance the house will be warm in the morning. That stove will still have a deep bed of hot coals. If the wood is seasoned hardwood, it can hold a fire for 12 - 14 hours. It also uses a lot more wood than the old kitchen stove, so it doesn’t get lit until it’s really needed. When the temperature drops below zero Fahrenheit, it takes both stoves to really warm the place up.

I’d like to replace the basement stove with a rocket mass heater. All that thermal mass would still be radiating heat in the morning. My wife isn’t convinced yet. She remembers the fiasco with the waste veggie oil heater, so hesitates when I mention experimental stoves.

The experimental veggie heater worked fine when set up in the yard. However, when installed in the basement, the veggie fuel tank got warmer and warmer. The oil flowed better and better and fed the stove faster than it could be burned, flooding the combustion chamber. Then the pool of oil in the bottom of the chamber ignited. Let’s just say it set off every smoke detector in the house. A plume of black smoke blew of the chimney that could be seen from across the lake. I shut off the fuel and the heater eventually burned itself out. The experiment was over. She wasn’t going to let me try to build a better fuel regulator.

When heating oil was a buck a gallon, I’d just set the oil heat to kick in once the house started to cool. Now that heating oil is around $3.70/gallon, I really think hard about turning the furnace on or not. These days it only runs when we are going to be away for a few days. Buying fuel is cheaper than replacing plumbing.

Of course, after the holidays, I’m heading south for the bulk of the heating season. I’ll let others have the romance of the woodstoves.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Letting the neighbors know

When you live in a sparsely populated rural area who you call neighbor changes a bit. Around here, it’s people within about a 2 mile radius.

I’ve been letting my neighbors know that my lovely wife and I will be away this winter and that people will be house sitting. It’s not necessary to tell all the neighbors. As long as a few of the more outgoing ones know, everyone will know. Such is life in a small town.

People want to know what’s going on. I don’t want my guests to be mistaken for thieves or squatters.

Then there is the inevitable question and answer game of who they are. Everyone has a relationship to someone else. Once they figure out which family they come from, who’s kin to who, it’s all good. The guy has ties to this area so it’s fine. He has an aunt and distant cousin with cabins around the lake.

It seems that a lot of property has gone missing in nearby areas. One of my friends had a generator disappear. This was a heavy 5000 watt unit secured with a 1/2 cable. The cable had been cleanly cut. A place near him was totally cleaned out and destroyed with an ax. That’s just adding insult to injury.

Having people watch the place is nice. I don’t worry too much about property. Let the insurance company do the worrying, I say. However, there are some things that money can’t replace: one of a kind items, art, photos, and other odds and end that only have value because of the memories that are attached.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ever growing project list

Seasons are changing. My project list doesn’t seem to get any smaller.

My projects break down into three areas of concern right now. The house, the vehicles, and the boat.

House projects are mostly centered around cold weather preparations. I’ve gotten lucky, as it has been a fairly mild fall. I just finished resealing some joints on my kitchen woodstove. It’s one of those things you keep an eye on when you have an old stove. I noticed they had to be redone when I changed out the kitchen stovepipe. I bought enough stovepipe to replace the basement stove’s, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. It’s been mild enough that I haven’t felt the need to use that stove yet. Chimney could use a good brushing too.

It’s time to change the angle of my solar panels for the winter sun. There are some pretty fancy and expensive systems that do that automatically. My cheapo DIY system requires that I climb a 10 ft step latter with a couple wrenches every 4 months or so. At about the same time I do that, I also check the water levels in the battery bank and top them off with distilled water.

I’ve other little house projects that I’ve promised my wife I’d finish. She’s been patient, but even she has limits. The lady wants a new custom bed frame. It’s reached the point where she’d started to do the measurements for me to cut the lumber. When she starts to do stuff like that, it’s time to move the project up the priority list.

My vehicle projects are in slow motion. I’m still waiting for the DOT to straighten out the small paperwork glitch that’s held up registering the camper conversion. While that’s been going on, I’ve slowly gathered most of the parts I’ll need to convert it to run on waste vegetable oil.

Just to keep me out of trouble, the header pipe on my pickup rusted through. It’s in a tight place with little room to cut rusty bolts. My mechanic could do it in short order using a lift and a cutting torch. However, I’m pretty sure he took the week off to go fishing in Florida.

I really want to use the camper conversion to haul the sailboat down to Florida come January. The paperwork hold up bugs me no end. Worse come to worse, I can put new tires on the old truck and make one more long distance trip with it. If the paperwork comes though on the camper, the truck tires can wait until I come back in the spring.

Then there are the boat projects. In some ways, I’m ahead. The bottom paint is all done, thanks to a break in the weather. There’s nothing the boat absolutely needs to be sea worthy. It’s the little extras I’m working on now. The new cabin hatch with solar panel mount is not completed. A new fuel locker panel could use more varnish.

I want to replace all the wires that go from the outboard to the battery. The insulation is starting to crack. Wrapping the bad sections in electrical tape was an acceptable field repair, but not really a long term solution. All the wire will be replaced with heavy enough cable to run a electric trolling motor. The outboard plug is getting replaced with a heavy duty trolling motor plug. The idea is that I can charge the battery from the gas outboard, or use the same wire system to run an electric trolling motor. How’s that for a redneck hybrid system?
With all these things to keep me busy, it’s a wonder I ever found time to go to a job.


Monday, November 21, 2011

News Coverage

If you’ve checked out International news you’d have seen some in-depth reporting in Egypt about the new protests there. On the business side of things, maybe you’d have seen detailed analysis of Russia’s deepening economic ties with other nations and the talk of a new EU type system centered around Russia.

If you’d have been watching American news, you’d have gotten more pedophile reporting and maybe seen a bit about celebrities and their expensive shoes.

It is still possible to see good reporting, but not through the US media.

The lack of real news coverage is to the point where it’s an embarrassment. The lack of factual news coverage keeps Americans in the dark about important things that are going on in the world. Worse, many people get their “news” from programs that aren’t really news programs at all, but political propaganda.

A democracy, to function properly, needs a well informed populace. That isn’t happening. Controlling information controls the ideas that make it into public discussion. If most people are ill informed the issues cannot even be properly examined. They do not’t even know what the issues are.

It is said that the in the Valley of the Blind, the one eyed man is king. It doesn’t really work out that way. The one eyed man is shunned and ridiculed for the things he sees, but no one else does.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Radical Retirement

I was reading an article the other day that stated people are going to have to work well into their 70s and even 80s before they’ll be able to afford to retire.

Like that’s going to happen for most people. Are they crazy? Sure, if you are the CEO of a big company and have a small army of assistants, working until 80 doesn’t sound too bad. Heck, it’s the sort of work you do if you are king. Your hands never get dirty and people kiss your butt all day long.

How many 80 year old professional Firefighters do you see? I think back to all the guys I worked with back when I was a Firefighter. Many are dead, mostly from cancer and heart disease. By the time these guys get into their 50s and 60s, they are getting knee and hip replacements. One of the guys on my crew has had 5 knee replacements and his current ones aren’t doing very well. Many of us suffer from COPD and other vague debilitating conditions the doctors have a hard time classifying. There’s a reason the profession has early retirements. If they didn’t, almost everyone would either die on the job or retire through disability.

A handful of professions allow early retirements. If you do retire at the earliest possible opportunity, it’s usually at a greatly reduced income level. For example I’m friends with a guy who retired at the minimum age with 50% of his former income. After paying for medical insurance, his income is closer to about 40% of what it once was. He’s adjusted. His house, fishing camp, and vehicles are paid for. The house is heated with firewood he cuts himself. There’s very little he can’t fix or build from scratch. His hobbies are fishing and hiking; both are pretty inexpensive.

Then there is this guy at Early Extreme Retirement. He lives on a bit over $7,000/year and does not suffer. Lots of good advice on his site.

I’ve another friend who works a factory job in KY. He’s socking money away like crazy to the point where he’s living on much less income than his peers. They make fun of him, but he’s going to retire well before they will -if they ever do. His aggressive savings plan does two things. It provides him the money to retire on, and he gets used to a lifestyle that requires a lot less money.

There are people who sell everything and move to places with a very low cost of living. Some are moving onto cheap sailboats. There are people who are putting their funds into things that reduce their cost of living: solar panels, gardens, small livestock -the whole back to the land gig. Other people have moved into old trailers on junk land.

People move to places that don’t require a car in which to function. They either bicycle, walk or use public transportation. Expenses are cut to the bone so they can live on savings, tiny pensions, or maybe a minimum wage part time job. There are plenty of creative solutions out there if only you look outside the box a bit.

Why do it? Freedom. The ability to do something else with one’s life. Maybe a chance to ponder life’s big questions. Some do it so as not to contribute to a corrupt system. Nothing wrong with that motive. Life is too short to spend the bulk of it satisfying the whims of other people.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

More electrical adventures

My buddy, Paracynic and I changed out his old electrical entry panel for a new one. His house had cutting edge technology -of the 1960s. Let’s just say he got tired of trying to find old glass and cartridge fuses. He hated that system ever since he bought the house.

The entry panel is where the main power feed to the house gets split off to all the other electrical circuits. Changing one over isn’t a small job and my friend didn’t want to attempt it alone. It took a couple hours just to figure out what all the old circuits did and where all the wires went. Once we understood how everything was laid out, we went to the the building supply store to find modern replacements. Circuit breakers are a heck of a lot more convenient than glass fuses. When they do trip, all you have to so is flip them back. Finding glass fuses in a junk draw, while in the dark, is no fun at all.

We killed the main power to the house, tested to see that everything was truly off, then set to work. It’s a bit tedious. There are a lot of wires to keep track of, but with a bit labeling, it’s not all that hard. I’m a big fan of cordless bit drivers for all the screws involved. I’ve a nice Bosh bit driver that is small, powerful, and even has a built in LED light. We wore LED headlamps and that helped a lot. The work is well lit up and your hands are free.

We buttoned up the job in a little under 3 hours -not bad for a couple of amateurs. The wives showed up just as we were finished. My buddy’s wife was wondering if we finished the job or hadn’t started yet.

Too bad we didn’t a bit more time before the ladies showed up. We’d have turned all the lights off and lit the woodstove. Our wives would have found us sitting in the dark, drinking beer, and mumbling about waiting for parts to come from Pakistan.

Maybe it’s a good thing we didn’t get a chance to pull our little prank.


Friday, November 18, 2011

The future of transportation

I’m a big fan of moving things by water. If you aren’t in a great hurry, it’s about the cheapest way there is to transport cargo. Plenty of freight moves by water and it’ll get only more important in the future.

Air travel is one major fuel cost spike away from being a tiny niche market for the rich. Trucking is also susceptible to the price of fuel. Deterioration of roads and bridges is already hurting the industry. Rail is pretty efficient, but don’t expect major expansions of the system. What we have now is pretty much what we’ll have in the future -if we can keep even that. Everyone is tight for money.

Water transportation has its problems too. Many working harbors have been bought up for fancy waterfront condos. Can’t have those stinky working class boats cluttering up the view. Harbor facilities are susceptible to big storms. Harbors silt up. There are only so many good deep harbors in the world.

There are low tech, old fashioned boats that could take up the slack. If their main system of propulsion is by sail, all the better. Check out this reconstruction of a scow. The Crystal River Boat Builders are building a copy of this old Civil War era 36 foot boat. It sails, has a flat bottom, good cargo capacity, and shallow draft. I can see cousins of this boat plying their trade up and down the coasts and rivers.

Of course, you could put an efficient little diesel engine in it, or maybe even solar panels and electric propulsion. Boats like this could supply towns and cities that lack good harbors and do it cheaply. It could be run up on a beach, unloaded, then floated off again with no harm done. Shallow draft boats could haul cargo far up rivers too shallow for conventional boats.

The key to future transportation just might draw heavily from our past.