Monday, January 31, 2011

Will the air heads speak up?

Funny thing, back in my college days, (mid 90s) my college had programs in television and journalism. As a student in the journalism program, I never shared a class with anyone in the television major. They were "newscasters" but not journalists. Imagine that. I suppose television journalists are out there, but I haven't met any.

Main Stream Media has tied the hands of journalists. Lets just say that coverage that's bad for business is very limited indeed. Most media outlets in the US are controlled by just a handful of companies. Worse yet, those companies all pretty much have the same motivations and goals. It's kinda hard to think outside the box when almost all information comes from within the box. Can't think about something you don't know about.

The Internet has allowed access to raw data, news right from the street, so to speak. It also has plenty of biased opinion, lies, misrepresentation, misinterpretation, shallow investigation, and even just poorly put together product. The wise Internet news consumer is aware of these limitations. He develops skills to dig deeper and an eye for the truth.

The raw amateur nature of much Internet news alerts the public to the fact they need to take everything with a grain of salt. That's good. Everything from Main Stream Media should also be viewed the same way, but the slickness of the production can lull the news consumer into a false sense of security. Back in the day, Walter Cronkite was "the most trusted man in America." His delivery of the evening news always had the ring of truth and the weight of authority. However, the man himself warned against accepting everything he said as the truth.

Who's got the freest media in the world right now? Probably Tunisia. What? Think about it. Tunisian media was an arm of the state -tightly controlled. Now, those controls are gone. Since they were not really commercial stations, they don't even have to answer to the business interests of advertisers. Right outside there doors is a huge story, and by golly they are covering it.

Most journalists really want to do their job. They are sick of the compromises. Soon they learn what stories will get published and which will limit their careers. In spite of that, many never lose the idealism that caused them to become journalists in the first place. For once in their lives, they want to tell big stories, reveal dark secrets, and get to the truth of things. They want to really matter.

I'm guessing journalists, as things get more unsettled out there, will feel strong internal pressure to get the story out. Those stories will come out. Even bubble headed TV "news personalities" may succumb to the temptation.

Stay tuned. It could get interesting out there.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Automated Bill Pay

There's a big push on for all payments to done electronically. Convenient for everyone, right? No writing checks and dropping envelops in the mail. Heaven forbid actually paying a bill in person with cash.

Combined with electronic deposit of your paycheck, it's easy. Money comes in, money goes out. There's no need to think about it. It's all done automatically.

What could go wrong?

Of course, if the Internet is closed down, like in Egypt, how are those bills getting paid? My guess is that electronic payments in Egypt aren't as common as in other countries. How would that affect countries where automatic payments are the norm?

Okay, it's an extreme scenario. (or is it?). I tried to access my bank account on-line to check my balance. The web site was down. What to do? Years ago I used to check my balance by phone. Digging around in my wallet, I found the old phone number to access the bank account. Sure enough, the phone system was still in operation. It took two tries, but I eventually remembered the pin number and was able to get the info needed.

Some things I do pay automatically: my house mortgage, Netflix account, and the Vonage phone bill. What those things have in common is that they are monthly bills that don't vary. Bills that change very month, like the electric bill, are paid by check. There's a couple reasons for that. I can't budget for a bill I don't know exactly how much it'll be. Another reason is that it's easier to contest a bill that hasn't been paid. Once they get your money they never give it back. With a tight budget, sometimes not everyone gets paid. If I have to delay an electric bill to pay my property taxes on time, so be it.

When a bill comes in the mail, it's studied more closely. Writing a paper check keeps me aware exactly how much something costs. That's one more opportunity to reflect on if that's a bill I want to keep or not. Maybe it's a service that can be eliminated.

At one time I was such a Luddite that my paychecks came by mail. That was just stupid. The paper check comes a couple days later. Then I had to drive into town to deposit it. What was I thinking? Now it's not even possible to get paid by check. It's all electronic.

As you can see, I'm not totally against automated electronic payments, but I pick and choose. Limit who's hands have access to your electric wallet.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Kill Switch

Egypt pulled the plug on the Internet. They pretty much shut it right down. Mobile and even land line phone service has also been disrupted. This is the act of a desperate government.
President Hosni Mubarak's regime is done for. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but soon enough.
I am reminded of the Solidarity movement in Poland. Back then, the cutting edge communication technology was the fax machine. That's how the people in the opposition kept in contact with each other. The Polish government shut down the communication system. That did stop the revolution in its tracks, but only for a while. Eventually, the Communist government fell.

There are many factors that contribute to a revolution. Poland and the Arab world have vast differences. However, there is a common thread that runs though all revolutions. The government has no legitimacy. The average person does not respect the government, nor do they think it represents them.

Killing the Internet and phone service does not make the problems go away. Indeed, it only points a spotlight on the government's desperation. People who weren't involved have their lives shut down along with the protesters. Everyone then has real and immediate reasons to get angry. A government that punishes everyone, guilty or innocent, isn't making any friends.

Countries that use an Internet kill switch are making a big mistake. It's a sign of weakness, not strength. They can't satisfy the needs and aspirations of their people, so they turn to force to keep them in line. That doesn't always go as planned. Already, reports are coming out of riot police stripping off their badges and joining the rioters. Cops are people too. The system isn't working too well for them either.

The problems of people in the Arab world are not unique. It's getting tough for the average Joe to make a living. When people feel they have nothing to lose, then it's only a matter of time before they strike out. Might as well. It's the only response left to them.

Right now, in the United States, most people still feel they have something to lose. Desperation, while wide spread, isn't universal. The fact that segments of the government are pushing for an Internet kill switch tells me that maybe they expect things to get a whole lot worse. What purpose does a kill switch have but to stifle dissent? Times are tough all over, and the man on the street sees that government and business elites have more in common with their International counterparts than with their own people. It's a recipe for disaster.

Killing the Internet and phone communications also pretty much kills a good portion of a country's business activity. How long can do that? Forever? At what cost? What about the people who can't call for an ambulance, or the Fire Department? Suddenly communications are set back over 200 years.

Should the Internet and phones go down in your country, what can you do? Various forms of two way radio could help: everything from short distance family band radios to short wave HAM radios that can talk to the world. CB and marine band radios can spread useful info. If you live in a city and the phones are down. it might be possible to get emergency services by pulling the old fashioned fire alarm box. Those systems are often simple and robust. They are separate from the phone lines and have their own backup power.

Just because a kill switch is a bad idea doesn't mean we won't see it's use spread all around the world. Things are going to get very interesting in an awful lot of places.

Keep safe.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Transportation, the weak link of country living

There's a lot of advantages to living in the country, but the one big drawback is transportation. We are tied to our cars and trucks.

In the city, there's public transportation: trains, subways, buses, and taxis. There are plenty of neighborhoods where all your needs are within walking distance. A bicycle may be all that's required.

I've none of those things. Absolutely everything is beyond casual walking distance. On the plus side, country people tend to have at least some food stores. Can't run to the store every time you need a loaf of bread. Often I'd rather bake bread than run down to the store. Country people are used to providing for themselves.

There are still a few elderly people who remember how it was out here in the woods before cars were common. In the winter, it was an all day trip by horse drawn sleigh to the next town and back. It's a distance that modern people think nothing of traveling in a car. Back then, it was common to only go into town once a month. Even when they got cars, once a week seemed like more than enough.

Of course, cars were not quite as reliable as they are now. Roads were pretty bad too. I remember my dad telling me that as a kid, it was common for them to take 3 spare tires along for a trip to a town 50 miles away. Often they'd use up all those spares.

There were no school buses. People living on the outskirts would often board their children with people who lived close to the school. They may not have even really known them that well, but people did what they had to do for an education.

During the oil shock of the 70's, it was common up here at the lake to combine trips. Someone would announce they were going into town and did anybody need anything? That person might leave with a whole list of things to pick up for several different people. Plenty of car pooling took place too.

When fuel gets more expensive, we'll most likely do what what we used to do. At first, it'll be like in the 70's: car pooling and errand combining. Will things be like in the old days when people went into town once a week or once a month? That might be a problem. You see, back in the day, people out in the country lived on farms. They made a living where they lived. That's not often the case today. Most country people drive to their job, some for long distances.

A few people might be able to telecommute. That assumes the Internet infrastructure will be maintained out in the hinterland. My guess is that a lot of people will have to leave the country to look for work in the cities. A few may be able to generate income out in the country. Those old farms just might go back into production.

If you plan on living out in the country during the decline of the petroleum age, better have a way of making a living.

Now it is possible some whizzbang technological solution to easy motoring will be found, but do you want to bet on it?


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Security concerns

At one time I could shut down my house for the winter and not worry about it. The only break-ins ever experienced here were a family of squirrels -promptly evicted upon our return.

Property crimes are on the increase. That's one the things that happen during economic downturns. Empty houses are at risk. Friends and neighbors will keep half and eye on the place, and that'll help.

Occasionally I'll see a vehicle driving around the lake that I've never seen before. Are they scoping out the place? People do stare at my house, but that's only natural as it's unusual. No way to know the interest in my place is due to its architecture or its burglary potential. Could be easy to get paranoid about every strange car.

This year I'm taking extra precautions. Removing more things of value that I normally do. If anything happens to what's left behind . . . well, that's what insurance is for.

Mostly what I'm leaving behind is a house full of books. It's a well know fact that only friends steal your books.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Retirement Stress

How often do we hear this old story. Guy makes all these plans for his retirement and dies suddenly soon after he finally retires. I man I know just retired at 57 with a good pension, one of those traditional full retirement packages few people get anymore. He'd just had a physical and received a clean bill of health. About a month after his retirement, he dies from a massive heart attack.

What is it that causes so many people to pass away just when they seem about to pursue their dreams?

Stress is probably a factor. We can feel stressed out even when good things happen. Change is stressful, especially when you haven't had to do much of it. Take your typical working stiff who slaves away for years doing the same old job. Releasing them in the wild is a stressful experience. Their days might have been good or might have sucked, but they did have structure. People's identity is closely tied up with their job. Retirement takes that bit of identity away.

I'm guessing that in the future there will be fewer people dying from post retirement stress. How's that? Simple, traditional retirement appears to be going away pretty quickly. Many people will never get to really retire. No retirement, no retirement stress.

Of course, there's the stress of never being able to retire, but that's a different subject for another day.

Then there will be all those people who never really get to settle in a job. How many people work like this: a few years here, a few months there, are unemployed for a while, then a few more months in a different field of work entirely. More and more people's work life is constantly changing. There's no time to get stuck in a rut. That kind of life can be stressful too, but a person who adapts successfully to it has nothing to fear from retirement. It's just one more change in a life of many changes. They've adapted. (or died young, thus avoiding the whole retirement death scenario completely)

There are some people embracing the hit or miss nature of work. I've friends who work seasonally and can't wait for their annual layoff. That's when they get to pursue their own passions. Of course, they've learned to live on a lot less money than most people. In spite of that, their lives are full of rich experiences.

Beats the heck out of leaving a rich widow.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Third time the charm?

Monday, I had my second failed attempt to register the boat trailer. The first attempt was with a bill of sale. Not enough information there. I was told an old registration would have the missing info. Not so, it turned out, if the trailer had previously been registered in the state of Maine. Apparently, Maine's requirements are not as strict as New Hampshire's.

There is a procedure for that. A police officer had to drive out to my place and physically examine the trailer. It wasn't a particularly detailed inspection. Let's just say that on a breezy -5 degree day he didn't even bother to put a coat on. He was back in his cruiser pretty darn quick. However, he did fill out the magic piece of paper.

Back to Town Hall in the morning. At least it's not much of a hardship to deal with the local officials. There's rarely a line. They all know me by name. We chat about each other's families. (part of the lubricant of small town life) The town clerk does have some sympathy for my plight, but her hands are tied on the state level.

I've decided to be amused rather than frustrated by the whole situation.

At least the boat registration went smoothly. That had to be done at the state offices. They actually let me fill in some missing info on the bill of sale. Kinda done with a nod and a wink. Nice when a state office is staffed by actual human beings.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Solar Gain

A common misconception about solar electric panels is that it has to be warm for them to work. Nope, that applies to solar thermal panels, like the ones used to heat hot water. The one's used to make electricity actually work better when it's cold. Efficiency in hot weather goes down due to something called electron scattering. Basically, the heat energy makes the electrons go places where they don't do any work for you.

Today was a great solar gain day. The air was the sort of clear you only get on subzero days. The bright sun reflected off the snow pack, acting like a big focusing mirror. Some years my best solar gains happen from the end of January to the beginning of March.

Another bonus is the leaves are all out of the trees, letting the light shine through. Now I supposed I could cut back all my trees and gain some morning sun in the summer. However, right now their shade makes it so I don't need AC. Electrically cooling the house would take more energy than I'd gain from the sun.

I'm really enjoying the solar electric gain right now as December was such a dark and dreary month. Even when it's cold out, sunshine picks up spirits up.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Two weeks too late

Really really really should have left for warmer climes by now. Definitely should have left by yesterday. I would have avoided today's chimney fire.

Bright and early, I loaded up the basement woodstove. The piece of white birch I put in had a lot of loose bark, which took off like a torch, setting creosote in the chimney on fire. I knew right off I had a chimney fire. Gave it a blast with my 10 lb dry chemical fire extinguisher. Slowed it down but did not put it out. Emptied the wood and hot coals out of the stove and threw them in the snow outside. Gave the chimney another blast from the fire extinguisher. Still didn't quite put it out.

That's when I called the local volunteer Fire Department. It's embarrassing for a retired Firefighter to have to call the Fire Department. Would have been even more embarrassing to burn the house down.

The boys did a pretty decent job. A snow covered geodesic dome is pretty tricky to put ground ladders up on. I talked them through it. Sent them up the same way I use to clean my chimney. They were able to clean out the chimney and nobody fell off the roof.

Yeah . . . about that chimney cleaning. It really didn't look all that bad last time I checked. Thought that it would be fine until I came back from Florida in the spring. Of course, it wasn't. Our sudden blast of Arctic cold had me cranking up the woodstove to its max and that was part of the problem. I, of all people, should have known better.

The big basement woodstove will be retired for the rest of the winter. I'll really inspect and clean the chimney out good when I get back. Will definitely make a few changes before next heating season. In the mean time, it looks like my backup oil furnace will carry the load.

Really proud of the way my wife handled the whole thing. She's really good in an emergency. She grabbed our two laptop computers and her meds on the way out of the house. She had to sit in the truck out in the cold the whole time. When it was all over, she wasn't even mad. Stuff happens. She's a pearl beyond price. Not a complainer that one.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Diminishing Returns

When gas prices are high, there's a lot of advice on all the things someone can do to increase mileage. Properly inflated tires save a few MPG. A properly maintained engine is more efficient and uses less fuel. Driving with the AC off and windows rolled up will extend a tank of gas a bit further. Personal driving habits can have a huge effect on efficiency.

One can almost imagine that at some point it'd be possible to drive forever on nothing.

Nonsense of course, but who hasn't wished it to be so? There' s a point of diminishing returns. Will spending money on special low resistance tires save enough fuel to pay for their cost? A tune up every year saves money. One every week doesn't.

Not every energy saving device works with all the other devices. Just today I removed the flow restrictor from a shower head. Helped my buddy install a propane tankless water heater, (very efficient,) but it doesn't play well with low flow fixtures. They don't let enough water pass to keep the propane jets lit.

My friends happen to have an excellent water source, are frugal in their other water usage, so opening up the shower fixture is a good trade off. Someone else with tight water restrictions might come to a different conclusion.

Extra house insulation is usually a good deal, especially as fuel prices rise. Two feet of insulation in the attic is much better than one foot. Is six feet of insulation worth it? Probably not. There's a crossover point when more insulation will never pay for itself in one person's lifetime.

Nobody gets too insulted when we weigh the benefits to an individual's saving strategies. How about when we take a good hard look at a nation's strategies?

Is the US getting a good return on its investment as a world cop? Has the expense of maintaining an empire exceeded the return on investment? Maybe it has. The problem here is that those who benefit from the empire aren't necessarily the one's paying the costs. Private security firms and companies in the defense industry are doing really well. So well, in fact, that they can afford the best politicians money can buy.

They have way too much influence over the process. It's as if your mechanic had the power to schedule your tune ups and scheduled them for every week, and you had to pay for it.

I really shouldn't pick on the military industrial complex. . . exclusively. The big banks and financial firms do the same thing. There's a revolving door between government and big business. Maybe some bail outs made sense, but who's to decide when we've reached the point of diminishing returns? The one's who are making money hand for fist? That'd be too much to expect.

Those who have some faith in the political process are welcome to try and change it at the ballot box. While I do still vote, it does feel more and more like tilting at windmills. Good thing it doesn't take a lot of energy to vote as there's a very limited return on the outcome.

On a personal level, I can make decisions on what's going to benefit me in the long run. I can weight the cost of more insulation against the price of fuel. As for the national investment in empire and financial shenanigans? Well, I can't turn off the whole money spigot myself, but I can limit my contribution to it. The argument could be made that's it's immoral to spend any more money on taxes than absolutely (and legally) necessary. At the very least, to me, it seems like giving money to the government has reached that point of diminishing returns.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Squared Away

I called my buddy to see if he could pick me up at the garage. By the time I called him, his wife had read my blog about the truck alternator going. He offered to change out the alternator for me instead of working on his plumbing.

How could I refuse?

By the time I'd gotten to his house, he'd call around the local parts places. New alternators are expensive for that old truck, but he found one at the salvage yard for only $45. On top of that, it's the high amperage model I've been looking for on and off anyway. The unit appears to be in great shape. Straightened out all the electrical problems.

I've changed out alternators by myself before, but was hesitant to do it this time. It is my only vehicle right now, so if I'd needed a part or a tool, there would have been no way to fetch it. That's one reason I sometimes pay for work I could do myself. My buddy fetched what was needed using his truck. He also has better tools than me.

The job went so well, we actually got around to working on his plumbing after all.

I'm feeling good about this.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Plan Comes Together

Making some progress on my sailing plans. My truck mechanic lent me recent charts of most of Florida's waters. He also lent me a VHS hand held radio and a nice little marine GPS. The boat does have a base VHS, but having a backup is nice. My dad has offered to buy me a GPS -again, backup for a critical system.

The motor is ready to go. Just built a humanure toilet for the boat.
Modified the design so it'd fit the boat better. Pretty happy how it turned out. Cost very little to build as I was able to use a lot of left over scrap material. All it needs is a bit of sanding and some varnish.

Talked with my friends in northern FL. They are expecting my lovely wife and I. We will be doing some shake down cruises on a lake near their house. My friend grew up on the water and is an accomplished sailor.

If all goes well this winter, my wife and I will eventually make our way down to the Keys. Can't wait to sail those waters in my own boat.

Now all I have to do is get the darn truck squared away . . .


Two steps forward, one step back

Got a shiny new inspection sticker on my truck. It was all fixed up and ready to go . . . for about 24 hours. On the way home from town, the alternator stopped charging. Lovely. Hope to get it back in the garage tomorrow. Sigh. I'll just drop it off and when my mechanic has a free moment, he can look at it.

On the bright side, it didn't break down on I-95.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

We need a new myth

We live by our myths. In this day and age? Indeed, it is true. Doesn't matter if it's dressed up with science, research, economics, or whatever. A myth is a myth.

Americans have the "American Dream." The belief that if you work hard, you will be rewarded. Your kids will have it better and easier than you did. The "American Dream" myth is often coupled with the "Progress" myth. We are at the top of the heap, the end result of a long path of steady improvement. It's all part of the idea that we can have infinite growth in a finite world. How can that work? As a myth, it seems to work just fine.

Then there are facts. Cold hard facts, we like to call them. The coldness and harness of a fact can puncture a nice warm fuzzy myth. No wonder facts are so unpopular these days. Fortunately facts can be fudged, taken out of context, be incomplete, or outdated. So be careful when someone is tossing those facts around. Have they got anything to do with the truth?

Self delusion will only get you so far. Observed reality is at odds with our myths. You've worked hard, but had your job sent on a one way trip to China. Your kid's lives are harder than yours and somehow they don't have good opportunities. Voting doesn't seem to change government policies in any significant way. Things just ain't the way we were taught they were.
Maybe it's time to trade in the old myths and formulate some new ones. Many of us out here on the fringe of things have been developing some mighty fine "myths" of our own. A retreat in the country is the way to save yourself. Guns will set you free. A years worth of food storage will get you through almost any disaster. Gardens are your salvation. Having a community or "tribe" is what you need for hard times. These are wonderful myths. They even have the advantage of having a lot of facts behind them.

The problem about myths, even good ones grounded in facts, is that they take on a life of their own. They can become much greater than the kernel of fact they were based on. That can be harmless, or it can be fatal. All depends on how severe the consequences. Believe what you want, but if you step out in front of a speeding bus, you will go splat.

We've all got to believe in something, right? Sure, why not? Myths explain the world. They take everything out of formless chaos and shape it into some sort of framework. Ideally, that framework will prove useful for day to day life.

The problem with many of our old myths is that they are no longer useful, and some have become down right dangerous. A man who totally believes in the American Dream, will close his eyes to the facts that don't fit -until he can't any longer. One day he wakes up and his job is gone, his pension is gone, his house is foreclosed, and the kids can't go to college without piling on huge debt. Then the Dream is revealed to be myth -a not particularly useful one anymore. Maybe it was useful at one time, but those days are over.

One of my mentors, "Talks with Stone People," would often end his teachings with the words: . . . and that's the state of my current ignorance. He realized the hugeness of the universe. No matter how many facts learned, it was impossible to know them all. Every fact and belief was sort of a working model, subject to change as new information came in.

It's the path of the warrior. It takes a brave person to see the myths we guide our days by as just rough working models of reality, not reality itself. In the days ahead, as old ways fail, we will need the strength to make new myths, and to break and rebuild them as necessary.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Take the kids and head north

Back when I was a Firefighter, a general alarm was toned out, calling me into work. The bleachery at the paper mill had exploded.

I told the wife to take the kids and head north. (upwind that day.) The bleachery had enough toxic chemicals to poison the whole valley.

Things were pretty dicey. It was touch and go, but eventually, everything was shut down and under control. Only then did I call my wife to come back to town.

My wife and I preplanned for exactly that situation. I knew the mill had some serious hazards, so we planned what to do. When the emergency happened, there was no debating and explaining. The plan was to head upwind. That day, upwind was in the direction of my parents' cottage 14 miles up the road, so that was the prearranged destination.

Perhaps the whole town should have been evacuated, but that decision was made way above my pay grade. However, as a responsible dad and husband, I knew what to do about my family.

We always were the type of family to talk and discuss what we were going to do. That's fine for planning something like a vacation or a house remodel. In an emergency, someone has to give the orders and everyone must know what to do.

I was really proud how my family handled it. No panic, just focused action. We had a plan, and it worked.

Many years later, one of the daughters and her husband were living in the same mill town. There was an explosion and the night sky was filled with smoke and the red glow of a major fire. From their house, it looked like the mill was on fire again. They didn't hesitate. In short order, they were in the car and heading out of town.

As it turns out, it wasn't actually the mill on fire, but a mostly empty apartment block on the other side of the mill. Should they have stuck around to make sure? No. Had it been the mill, by the time they found out exactly what the problem was, they'd be dead. As it was, they had a short unplanned trip out of town. No harm done.

My daughter and her husband did the right thing. They knew when to get out of Dodge. The childhood lesson stuck.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Propane leak

There's a propane leak somewhere in my basement. I haven't bothered with it in over a week as it's a low priority.

My friend is putting in a tankless propane water heater. At one time I heated my water with propane but now I don't. To save my buddy a few bucks, I removed the old shut off valve and gave it to him. With all the jostling around with the pipes, there's a small propane leak, probably at one of the pipe joints. As soon as the leak was discovered, I shut the propane off at the tank.

That's where the situation currently stands. Finding the leak shouldn't be too hard. Spraying soapy water around the joints usually works. Bubbles form at the leak. Do not check for leaks with a cigarette lighter. Believe it or not, there's a local guy who did just that. Yeah, he found the leak, and blew the house off its foundation. The idiot is lucky to be alive.

Right now the only things that run on propane are a clothes dryer and a couple burners on the stove. The stove is an old wood/propane stove. There were a number of multi-fuel stoves built back when people were moving away from cooking with wood. Besides the two propane burners, the oven could run on propane or wood. Of course, right now its just a woodstove.

We used the dryer very little. In the summer, there's a nice clothesline. In the winter, we've an indoor clothesline near the woodstove and a wooden drying rack. As for cooking, the woodstove works just fine. The only inconvenience is that it takes a little while to get it up to temperature first thing in the morning. That does delay the morning coffee a bit. I could get a cheap electric coffee maker, but that would be one more thing taking up space on the counter.

The nice thing about the kitchen stove is that we always have a big kettle of water heating on it. The second pot of coffee later in the day takes very little time as the water is already hot. There's hot water for tea, coco, or making pasta. It also works as low tech humidifier.

I'll get around to fixing the leak. Might as well use up the rest of the propane in the tank. The plan has been to eventually phase out propane completely. By the lack of inconvenience caused by this unplanned shutdown, we seem to be well on our way.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Turmoil in Tunisia

Most of the time I like to the keep the blog focused on the practical, things people can do for themselves that improve or protect their lives. Once in a while, something International catches my attention and I feel the need to shout out about it. Please bear with me.

By now most people who follow International news know that the Leader of Tunisia has been forced out of the country. Feel free to catch up:

President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali is forced to leave the country. His Prime Minister takes over. Less than 24 hours later, he gives up power to the Speaker of the Tunisian Parliament. At this rate, in a couple weeks the local dog catcher will be running the place.

There are some key lessons to be learned from this revolution. It all started when a student killed himself in a protest over the lack of jobs. Soon the streets were in an uproar over the lack of jobs and the high price of food. Discontent soon found focus on Mr. Ben Ali, forcing him out of the country.

It's a bit of an overstatement, but people are calling this the first Wikileaks revolution. The lavish lifestyle of Mr. Ben Ali and his family and friends did come to light from leaked US cables. Social media sites spread the word and help coordinate the response in the street. Perhaps the biggest technological aid to the revolution was the cell phone. Everything from where to meet, to the location of police snipers was quickly shared. The brutal police response was recorded on cell phone cameras for all the world to see.

This is a decentralized revolution. The country did not have a well organized opposition. This revolt was from the ground up. The big advantage of grassroots revolution is that the regimen can't decapitate the movement. It has the head of the hydra. The big downside is that there is no one with the authority to tell the protesters to stop. There is no one to negotiate a deal or to step into the power vacuum. It could remain a dicey situation for some time.

One big lesson here is that the revolution wasn't against tyranny -not at first. It's a revolt of hungry unemployed people. The world is full of hungry unemployed people. The powers that be must be shaking in their boots. Why do you think China's leaders are doing all in their power to keep their growth bubble going? They hope that if the people are fed and busy working, they won't make trouble for the government. The trade of economic prosperity for freedom only works as long as there is economic prosperity.

Keep an eye on the Tunisian developments. They aren't the first country in this economic downturn to have riots, but they are the first to collapse from them. I don't think they'll be the last.

Expect governments to attempt to control the Internet -especially anything that allows for peer to peer communication. They don't want to kill the economic activity the Internet brings, but they certainly would love to have it under central command. I don't think they can achieve both conditions for very long. If they shut down the Internet completely, know that they've lost. Revolutions happened long before there was an Internet. Word gets out.

What's happening in Tunisia is a big deal. Don't loose sight of developments there when main stream media turns its gaze onto safer subjects.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Shutting down a house

One of the debates among snowbirds is what to do about your northern house while away for the winter. There are two main schools of thought here. One group says to keep the heat on. The other group is in favor of shutting it down.

Keeping the heat on seems the easiest, but it has problems of its own. My big issue is that it's wasteful. Even if the heat is turned down low, it still uses a lot of energy. Then there are the things that can go wrong.

The fuel delivery guy can be late and the furnace runs out. That happened to a place just down the road from me. His plumbing froze, broke, then caused extensive water damage. He also had over 300 gallons of paint stored in the basement for his house painting business. All that got ruined. Even though he was insured, it took many months for everything to get back to normal.

Furnaces can break. Last winter mine malfunctioned and shut down. Since I was home, it was no big deal to burn wood until the furnace was fixed. My friend's dad's place had a red warning light that would go on if the furnace failed. That worked fine until the light burned out. After that, he installed a second light to back up the first. Eventually, he gave up and moved to Florida full time.

I'm from the "shut it down" school of thought. Why use energy when you don't have to? If the furnace is a hot water system, the water has to be either drained, or have antifreeze added to the pipes. It's really a job for a good furnace man. My house has a hot air furnace, so that's not a problem.

The plumbing has to be dealt with. All the water has to be drained out of the system. For years I successfully drained the plumbing in my house. The only damage ever suffered was to a $17 valve. It was easily replaced.

Then there was the year my mother was dying way down in Florida and I shut the house down hastily. My mind certainly wasn't on what I was doing. Weeks later, when I turned the water back on, the upstairs bathroom plumbing leaked like crazy. Noticed that when the ceilings downstairs collapsed. A toilet broke. The water supply lines for the washing machine sprayed water everywhere. Also lost a water heater. It was a depressing end to a depressing trip.

This year I'm taking my time -and using a check list. Can't forget it if it's written down.

The drainage system has to be winterized. Most of my sink traps have drains on them. (remember to put them back when you reopen the house.) A water vac works well to suck the water out of the toilets. Afterwards, some nontoxic RV antifreeze is poured into the bowls. Also pour a liberal amount in the shower and tub drains.

The original section of the house was built as a seasonal cottage. The plumbing was drained every fall, so it was designed to drain easily. When I added on to the place, the new plumbing was installed with draining in mind. The pipes have no dips in the lines that trap water. Everything is designed with a slant towards the drain valves. There are even extra drain valves built into the system to make sure the pipes clear.

All I have to do is make sure I actually use them.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Everybody does it

Poop that is. Nobody wants to talk about it, but everyone has to deal with it.

Most people just flush and forget it. Trained professionals with high tech do some sort of magic "downstream."

Nobody wants to think about it, but when the magic stops happening, having a plan B is a darn good idea.

Let's say the water supply is cut off. Could be a failure at the municipal pumping station, your home pump could fail, the water lines could freeze -you get the idea. The simplest thing to do is the old bucket flush method. Either fill the toilet's water tank with a bucket, or flush by pouring the water directly in the bowl. The second method is less delicate, but can use less water. That might be important if your supply is limited or if the water has to hauled a long distance.

Most municipal sewage systems will function for some time. If you have a home septic system, the bucket flush method could work fine for years.

Now let's say that flushing isn't an option. Perhaps an earthquake has destroyed the sewage system. Maybe the problem is limited to your house. One extremely cold winter my sewage line to the septic system froze. Thawing it out was a true horror tale, one I tell small children around the campfire.

Let's assume the problem can't be fixed. It would be really nice to have something like the Humanure System:
They are cheap to buy and even cheaper to build. I know from personal experience that there is very little odor. Sure beats heading out into the woods with a shovel.

There are a whole variety of companies selling composting toilets. They basically do the whole composting process inside the unit as opposed to hauling a bucket to an outside compost bin. When they work right, the final product is compost -nearly odorless and sanitary. When they don't work right, it's very ugly indeed. If you plan on going this route do your research. Some work better than others. I know of one very expensive system with a very high failure rate. Also be aware that some require electricity to work.

Do not confuse composting systems with the old fashioned outhouse. The Humanure process relies on aerobic bacteria. Old fashioned outhouses rely on anaerobic bacteria. Both classes of bacteria do the job of breaking down waste products. The big difference, at least as far as our sensibilities are concerned, is the smell. A well designed and maintained Humanure composter has very little oder. Outhouses can bring tears to your eyes.

For many years my dad owned a one room hunting camp. It had a traditional outhouse. Besides the smell, the other discomfort is the ice cold seat in the winter time. My dad got around this problem by keeping the seat inside the camp, hung up on a hook behind the woodstove. When a hunter felt the need to visit the little outbuilding, he'd take the seat with him. Believe me, a warm seat made the outhouse a lot less intimidating first thing in the morning. The seat was always painted red so deer hunters wouldn't see a flash of white (like a deer's tail) moving through the woods.

Have a plan for safely disposing of "the dirties." Make sure water supplies are safe. People in Haiti are dying by the thousands from a cholera epidemic caused by poor sanitation. Knowing how to safely take care of human waste is a matter of life or death.

Have a plan B.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Winter thoughts

Change of plans today. Good a good night's sleep. Had a great breakfast. Watched the news. Went back to bed. Slept until the middle of the afternoon. I think this is my body's way of fighting off a cold.

Upon awakening I discovered our predicted 1 - 3 inch snowfall was a good foot of snow. My lovely wife pointed out there was nothing we needed to do today that couldn't be done tomorrow. Wise woman that wife of mine.

Shoveled out the path to the woodpile. Brought in enough wood to keep the stove going. Headed back out to commune with the white wonderland with my shovel. Dug a path to the road.

The intrepid mail delivery woman drove through the snowbanks to deliver the mail. Oh boy, she got the bills to my house on time. Yippee!

A great grandfather of mine lived out in rural Canada. After a huge snowstorm, days went by and no paths were shoveled out of the house. The neighbors, concerned for his welfare, shoveled to his door to see what was going on. He was fine. The guy thought being snowed in was a great opportunity to finally get a chance to read some great literature.

I don't know much about my great grandfather, but that story tells me I might have inherited more than a few genes from him. Put the coffee pot on the woodstove, open up a good book, and just slip away from worldly cares.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Waiting for lithium to warm up

A couple years ago my lovely wife bought me a nice Bosh bit driver. Handy tool, looks and works much like a drill. In fact, there are drill bits designed to fit it. Mostly I use mine to drive a variety of screws.

I told my wife one thing about buying cordless tools: lithium. Repeat after me, I said: lithium. If you buy me a cordless tool, get one that runs on lithium batteries.

She bought a nifty little bit driver powered by lithium battery packs. There are some good advantages over most other common rechargeable battery packs. Lithium has good energy density. That means the batteries can be light, small and long lasting. They also recharge quicker than most other types. All in all, it makes for a compact, light, yet powerful tool.

Only two significant problems with lithium batteries. They can be pricey. Of more concern, they can be temperature sensitive. Just brought in my bit driver from the back of the truck. The temperature out there is in the single digits. The bit driver barely turns. Once it warms up closer to room temperature, it'll be fine.

It's also possible to over heat them. After drilling a whole series of large diameter holes with a paddle bit, the battery eventually wore down. The charger blinked a warning light that the battery was too hot to charge. After letting it cool down for a half hour, the charger accepted the battery and it charged up just fine.

Remember boys and girls. Tell your spouse you want lithium -not for your mental condition, but for your cordless tools.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Old Man Winter Beats Me up

It's tough to be beaten up by an old man. My buddy's grandfather used to pick fights in bars. He was about 89 years old and a mean miserable old cuss. Not only would he beat the crap out of young guys, he knew they would be too embarrassed to press charges. Who wants to admit in court that an old man beat him up?

Old Man Winter is beating me up and I'm not too embarrassed to admit it. This evening I was doing some work on my truck. Lately too much money has been spent on it and I have to cut repair bills somewhere. Thought it would be prudent to go through the electrical system -clean terminals, tighten connections, inspect wire insulation, check for wear -not particularly hard stuff, but time consuming.

There are times I really wish I had a heated garage.

Ever work with mittens on? The wrenches were cold enough to stick to bare skin. The spray contact cleaner kept freezing up. Dropped parts would disappear in the snow. Occasionally, I had to retreat back inside the house to thaw out.

Since it's winter in the North Country, it was dark before dinner. LED headlamps are great for working in the dark. Your hands are free. They are compact and lightweight. The light shins on whatever it is you are looking at. Nice.Until the batteries die.

Not a problem, I thought. I keep a good stock of replacement batteries. Unfortunately, my lovely wife tidied up. She consolidated our spare batteries into a nice central location, so of course, I couldn't find them. Personally, diffuse scattered storage is more my style. Before you scoff, be aware that it works just fine for squirrels. They don't have to remember exactly where the nuts are hidden. All they need to do is to check likely hiding spots. All my likely battery hiding spots came up empty.

My long suffering spouse found the batteries for me.

Back outside to the truck I went. By then the temperature was down in the single digits. The wind began to gust. The weird thing is that the wind could be heard coming from a long way off. It wasn't the sound of the wind through the branches but the sound of the wind snapping branches and whole trees. Cold frozen trees don't bend much. Instead they break with big cracks and booms. Pretty surreal all and all.

The job kept getting interrupted by the necessity of keeping the woostoves going. Don't want those to go out. Old Man Winter would come right in the house and beat me up in my kitchen.

Eventually, everything checked out and I could close the hood. Sure felt good to come back inside.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Close call

On Saturday there was a 50 car pile up on Rt. 93 South in NH. My lovely wife and I came close to being part of it.

We were cranking along, thinking about getting lunch at a nice restaurant in southern NH. That's what we usually do when traveling that way. However, we were running behind our normal schedule.

When we were trying to leave, a neighbor was driving by and stopped to talk . . . and talk . . . and talk some more. It would have been rude to cut him off. He was getting into some personal stuff that troubled him. Then the dog ran off and wouldn't come back. She never acts that way.

Finally, we got everything loaded up, but later than usual. We were hungry well north of our usual stop. Decided to just pick up some sandwiches at the gas station (yes, they were horrid). The store was busy. Then we had to wait to use the bathrooms. Of course, the dog needed walking. Since we were running late anyway, I decided to take the time to top off the diesel tank.

All those delays caused us to miss being part of the big pile up. It happened just about the time we'd normally be there.

Sometimes in life, you just have to go with the flow.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Watching the game

Ideally, I'd have my house paid off and a tidy pile of silver and gold set aside. It was a good plan. Should have happened 7 years ago. Instead, I'm looking at another decade of house payments before it's all cleared up. Stuff happens. No big deal. Decisions were made and I don't regret them. Life moves on.

I can't but help be amused by the game. Will my state pension outlast the mortgage? It could happen. The mortgage illusion could be canceled out by the pension illusion. Every year my pension loses value. Raises don't keep up with inflation and medical insurance is expensive. Fortunately, the mortgage is at a fixed rate and is fairly small.

The loss of purchasing power has been made up by lifestyle changes. Having significant solar electricity, wood heat, and running vehicles on waste vegetable oil provide huge savings. My next big gains will be in food production. Inflation is supposed to be tiny -if you exclude food and fuel expenses. I'm well on my way of doing so.

My guess is that as long as the whole shaky financial system is held together with duct tape and bailing wire, the pension cancels out the mortgage. It is possible that the financial system will keep on keeping on. It's also possible that the moon will fall into the ocean. Which is more likely; I wonder?

For me, it's all a game. Having once let go of all my physical possessions, I'm blessed with the serene knowledge that life still goes on -and can be good. That knowledge makes me a rich man.
Good thing I'm happy with that, as I've never amassed a pile of money. The pursuit of it seemed like a horrible waste of one's time on earth. Money can be a good thing, but only so much as it allows a person to experience new things and learn. Piling it up just to pile it up is sad.

Money is often used as a substitute for other things: status, love, sex, power, or just about anything else. Instead of substitutes, I'll just have to settle for the real things.

From that vantage point, the financial game can be fascinating. For me, it's more entertaining than sports. Of course, I'm like all those fans who watch on TV; I like to watch, but I don't play the game.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sometimes it comes together

The washing machine has washed its last. It came as no surprise. Most people would have thrown it out 5 years ago when the motor/transmission linkage fell apart. After that, it was the cranky drain pump -and so on. Lately, it was down to one wash cycle, heavy duty.

Today, the water fill would not shut off. In a panic, my wife started to bail out the water, only to realize it was still coming in. I reached behind the machine and closed the water valve.
I fished the clothes out of the machine and took it to my daughter's to finish washing.

In an e-mail to a friend, I mentioned the washer had finally died. As luck would have it, he'd been tapped to install a new washer at another friend's place. The old one worked just fine and they were looking for a good home for it.

Picking it up on Sunday.

It's good to have friends -especially when you don't have much money.

Got friends?


Friday, January 7, 2011

The Smart Mechanic

Some say my favorite mechanic is the most expensive in the area. I say he's the best bargain. Sure, his hourly rate is a bit higher than most, but he's worth it. He knows his stuff, does top quality work, is very fast, stands by his work, and is honest. His motto: Quality only hurts once.

Over the years we've developed a relationship. We enjoy talking. He was very patient with my early experiments with waste vegetable oil conversions of diesel engines. I leaned a lot from him.

I don't know how much longer he's going to be my mechanic. The guy just bought a lot of land about 25 miles deeper in the woods than I am. It has woodlots for firewood, year round running surface water, and good solar exposure. The guy bought the land with cash, and is putting in a road and a cabin. Much of work is being bartered.

Over the years he's asked me a lot of questions about off-grid living. Now he's putting that knowledge to use. I answered some more off-grid questions for him today. He's at the serious planning phase. He has a small solar electric system and plans on scaling up.

He tells me he 's going to do some farming. The house in town and garage will be going up for sale soon. The guy gets it. He's moving on to his Plan B.

I'm going to miss him as a mechanic, but I'm glad he'll still be a friend.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

College Buddy

Got a surprise visit from an old college buddy.

After high school, he went out and got himself an English degree. When I met him, he'd gone back to college. Like me, he was an older "non-traditional" student. We hit it off. He'd done some work as a journalist, liked it, and decided to get the degree.

After college, he worked for a while as a journalist, but ran into difficulties with management. Ethics will do that for you. He had some and management didn't.

Eventuality, he went back to college and got a degree as a machinist. It paid well. He bought a house. Sent his daughter to an expensive college. Got his piece of the American Dream.

Then the factory laid him off. The only work he could find was the night shift at Walmart. The late hours were killing him. (we aren't getting any younger) He quit. It took him six months to find another job. Now he works for a company that provides flaggers for highway construction. It pays less than $10/hour.

He dropped in because he was on a job site near my house. The company requires him to provide his own transportation. Today he had a 75 mile drive to work. The rising price of gas terrifies him.

His hope for the future? Putting a band together. That doesn't pay well either, but at least it's not flagging.

Fortunately, his wife makes decent money. They've been able to keep the house. His daughter transferred to a state college. He doesn't say it, but I can tell it hurts him to rely on his wife to bring in the majority of the household funds.

That's what three degrees and years of experience gets you these days.

Don't tell me the economy is getting better.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Truck trip

Long day on the road. Had to have my truck towed 100 miles away for transmission work and today was the day to pick it up. As luck would have it, (bad luck) the problems were different than the ones I'd paid for in Massachusetts. Also had a bad bad brake leak that needed fixing. Figured that I might as well get that done there than try and 100 miles though the mountains with bad brakes. Of course, they charged big city prices.

When I picked my truck up, they had to jump start it to get it running. That's not an encouraging sign. Had to turn it off once on the way home, and it barely started again. Also noticed a small diesel leak.

Will be checking out the batteries and looking for that leak when the sun comes out. Thursday, I have an appointment my local mechanic to put some tires on it and sort out any other problems he may find.

Had I known repair bills would have been this bad, I'd have looked for a replacement truck. Too late now. Hope this is the near the end of the unplanned expenses. On the bright side, if I can drive the truck another year, it will pay me back. The old truck works for a living.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Designed for shoddy construction

Did some plumbing today at my friend's. One of the things we did today was to install the shower plumbing.

It took a bit longer than normal to figure out how to install the mixing valve. The illustrations didn't make much sense to me. Then I came to a realization. The extra parts I couldn't figure out were designed for fast and shoddy installation. Instead of putting in proper bracing, the mixing valve could be installed on little more than drywall. Of course, it wouldn't hold up against even normal use, but it would work long enough to sell the house.

The shower plumbing is of acceptable quality. After all, most of those parts are visible. It only took us a bit longer to install them securely. I could not help but wonder how many plumbers took the quick and shoddy way out.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Disappearance of a local energy company

I haven't had a propane delivery in over two years. Steadily, my reliance on fossil fuels has been going down. There are a couple of propane stove burners and a clothes dryer left that still use the fuel. Most of my meals are cooked on locally harvested wood, so very little propane is used for cooking. The dryer is used rarely. When the propane runs out, it won't be replaced.

My dwindling propane supply may outlast the company who's name is on the tank. They find themselves in a situation where rising fuel prices have bumped up against a tightening of credit. They've lost their line of credit and can only replenish their supplies with cash on the barrel head. Since they have difficulty getting fuel, they've been unable to supply their customers in a timely fashion.

Of course, nobody wants to wait a week to get needed fuel. The local energy company is steadily losing customers, speeding up their death spiral. On a local level, I get to see the interdependence of the energy and financial system. The little guys who don't have financial clout are the first to go. My guess is that variations of this scenario is repeating across the country. Don't say no one warned you when it happens in your town.

I used to get heating oil from a different local company, which was based in one town. Later, it was bought out by a regional company that serviced a couple states. In turn, they were bought out by an International company. Expect to see more consolidation going forward -again, the combination of diminishing supplies combined with tightened finances.

Bigger, consolidated companies are tougher on their customers. It used to be a local company would keep delivering fuel through the winter, even if a customer fell behind on payments. Most people would catch up on their bills during the warm months. Now, if a payment is missed, delivery is cut off. The only way to get a new delivery is to agree to a payment plan for the old bill and to pay for the new delivery in advance.

Expect fewer and fewer companies supplying ever more expensive fossil fuel. Don't expect the government to bail you out. This year requirements for government fuel assistance were tightened and available assistance cut in half.

In the long run, that's the general trend. Do what you can to get by on a lot less fossil fuel, because unless you are quite wealthy, you are going to have to anyway.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Secret Key

Over the years I've learn to keep a secret key on all my vehicles. I travel a lot. One of my fears has always been that I'd lose my vehicle keys at the worse possible time -a thousand miles from home, way out in the woods, or have them stolen. With a secret key, at least I'll always be able to get into my vehicle.

Years ago, it was popular to hide keys in little metal boxes with a magnet on the back. The key would then be stuck to an inner fender or under a bumper. There are two problems with those little boxes. Today, most cars have more plastic than metal on them. Few good places to stick a magnet. The second problem is that those little magnets wouldn't hold. A few hard bumps and the backup key was soon lost. Rarely was the key still there when needed.

I've a great secret place to hide my keys . . . and you won't find out exactly where. I used to keep a key in the hollow tube of my roof racks. The key fit snugly in the tube. Once in, the end cap was pressed back on the crossbar, hiding the key. It took pliers and/or a flat head screwdriver to to get the key out.

That's the key to a good hiding place. Make it a big difficult to get at. My cousin used to keep a key screwed to the inside of a fender well. He also kept a screwdriver hidden in his truck's bumper. Using only his fingers, he could remove the rubber trim hiding the small screwdriver. Once he had that, he could unscrew the key from the inner fender. He didn't think his screwdriver hiding place was secure enough to hide his key.

It seems like a foolish and elaborate scheme, but I saw it work. He had his truck parked down the river where he planned to pull out from a long river paddle. The poor guy capsized his kayak and lost his keys to the bottom of the river. When he finally made it to his truck, wet and cold, he soon was inside and running the heater. Sure beat a long cold walk back out.

I keep my spare key in a place that can be accessed with the multi-tool I always carry. Should I lose my multi-tool, there are substitutes that would eventually work. A part from the truck is actually removed to reveal the key. Once, while in rural Florida, I locked both my keys and my wife's keys in the cab. Fifteen minutes later, I was unlocking the truck's door.

Just had my truck towed 100 miles away to a transmission shop. Somehow, the tow truck guy lost the keys. The garage called me up and told me they couldn't get in the truck. I told the guy over the phone where my hidden key was. He paused for a moment, then said: that's a really good idea. The key was found and the truck was taken care of.


Saturday, January 1, 2011


Snowstorms in October are not all that unusual where I live in Norther New Hampshire. In fact, there hasn’t been a month here in which it’s never snowed. I remember years when it started snowing in October and that snow lasted all winter long.

Monday’s sunshine has already made fair progress melting the snow. It’ll be gone in the next few days.

This past October had actually seemed much warmer and wetter than when I was growing up. When I used to go hunting as a kid, it was difficult to be quiet due to all the dry leaves. Mornings were a lot frostier too back then. The last few years have been pretty wet and warm.

Climate and weather are two different things. We can’t make general climate pronouncements after one spat of unusual weather. That being said, in the last 4 or 5 decades, I’ve personally noticed some changes. For me, the real big indicator is changes in wildlife.

There never used to be wild turkeys in Northern New Hampshire. The Fish and Game biologists used to say it was too cold for them to survive. Two days ago my dog chased one out of the swamp next to my house and the turkey flew over my head. I’ve had whole flocks of those big birds cut in front of my car on the drive home. They are even up in the very northernmost tip of the state near the border of Canada.

Then there are the ticks. Growing up, I didn’t know what a tick was. Winters were too cold for them to survive. Over the years, I’ve watched their range move closer and closer. The White Mountains held them back for a few years, but they’ve made the jump. Ticks are everywhere in the state these days.

Scientists and politicians can debate climate issues all they want. People who spend a lot of time outdoors, and are of a certain age, know there have been changes. Warmer? Cooler? Wetter? Dryer? or maybe just more unpredictable and changeable?


Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! Many 2011 be a good one for you and yours.

I've decided against making any specific New Year's resolutions this year. This feels like the sort of year that will be full of surprises. Since it's impossible to prepare for everything, I'm not going to worry about it. I've done what I can. Now it's just a matter of keeping a cool head and a clear eye.

Surprises don't have to be bad. I'm expecting plenty of good ones this year too. Yes, I watch the news. I know the world's situation. That doesn't mean there isn't room for wonderful things to happen.

Let's enjoy the adventure together.