Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tribe Economics

A gift economy works well for a tribe. A person's status is based not on what he has, but on what he can contribute. In a traditional tribe, the good hunter who shared with the tribe was well respected. Those who were healers, those with plant knowledge, those who could build and use the tools of the culture, were all respected for what they could give.

To those of us raised in a money economy, the ability to get is what's respected. The idea of developing skills and gathering things only to give them away, seems odd. However, it makes sense for the tribe. If the tribe does well, the individuals in the tribe do well. Giving to members of the tribe makes the tribe stronger. A strong tribe gives support, caring, security, and love to the individuals. Isn't that what people really want? Getting it directly from members of the tribe is direct and unfiltered.

Many of us have, or are in the process of forming tribes of our own. It's rarely an official thing. We gather to share chores, building, repairing, harvesting -just about anything that needs doing. Money isn't exchanged. It's not barter, as no one is keeping score. The tribal mindset isn't all that hard to slip into. People have done it for thousands and thousands of years. It's not just work. We gather around our fires, (or maybe just the barbecue grill) where we laugh, sing, drink and dance. Our support is mutual. Membership is a bit loose, but those who act like tribe members are treated like tribe members.

One issue with living with a tribal mindset is that it spills into the "real" work. You just might find yourself doing nice things for people with no expectation of reward. Actually, if enough enough of us did that, we'd be the humanity tribe, and I don't see a downside.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It was a dark and stormy night

My lovely wife and I left our boat in the Bahia Honda maria and drove into Key West for dinner. On the way back to the marina, we saw a huge storm move in. Rain, lightning, high winds, the works. The weather forecast had give only a 10% change of a storm. That turned into 100% in the real world.

The Bahia Honda marina is pretty empty after dark. All the workers go home. With the exception of fishermen coming and going, we pretty much had the place ourselves. So there we were sitting in our truck, in a darkened marina, waiting for the storm to blow itself out.

I saw a small dim flashlight moving around out there, and a Coast Guard boat came into the marina. I went out to see what was going on.

That's when I met a very wet and cold couple, Roy and Dawn. Their Flicka had dragged anchor. Roy tried to deploy a second anchor and start the engine. Unfortunately, the anchor rope tangled the prop and the shaft bent. The boat's mast and rigging smashed into the old Bahia Honda bridge. Roy was able to get a mayday out on the hand held radio. His main radio lost its antenna on the bridge.

As the boat came closed to the bridge abutment, Roy decided to abandon ship. Dawn's inflatable life jacket worked, but Roy's didn't deploy. Fortunately, he was able to put on an old fashioned horse collar life jacket. They had an inflatable kayak as a dingy/lifeboat. It capsized. Dawn got hold of one of the kayak's ropes with her feet and held on. Using the kayak as a float, they made it to the base of the bridge and worked their way to shore.

When I caught up to them, they were giving their information to the Coast Guard and trying to line up a towing company to rescue their boat. I went back to the truck and got them some blankets. All they had was on the boat. Roy just had a swimsuit on.

My wife had all our cool weather clothes in a suitcase in the truck. She was able to find some clothes for Dawn and Roy. We let them spend the night in our truck. We were able to sleep on our boat as the Bahia Honda's small marina is well protected.

Some adventures, it's fine to play a supporting rather than a starring role. My lovely wife and I were very happy to be spear carries in that opera.

During the night, Roy and Dawn's boat was towed off the bridge to a mooring. The tow people reported the hull in good shape and dry. Of course, the mast was bent, rigging messed up, and motor disabled, but it was floating. When we left them, Roy was looking to borrow a kayak paddle to get back to the boat to retrieved their things. Things weren't quite as grim as feared.

The Coast Guard and tow people had a very busy night. A Canadian boat almost dragged into the rocks, but was pulled off just in time. A 50 foot Cat flipped and was destroyed on the Long Key bridge. Initial reports looked bad for the crew, but all were eventually rescued. I've really got to hand it to the Coast Guard and the commercial companies that head out in such nasty conditions.

It was an interesting end to our stay in the Keys.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Back on the water, life is good

Currently on the water at Bahia Honda Key. Very hot here, but that's not a complaint. Spent the night on the boat, and that went well.

Never did get back to Key Largo in time to go sailing. Garage took just long enough for me to get stuck in Miami traffic. No problem. We'll just stay down here longer.

We took the boat out in the Atlantic today. My wife was feeling a bit queasy before we headed out, and 3 -4 foot seas didn't help. Came back in time for lunch. She's feeling better and taking a nap now. We will stay here a few days yet. It's nice to just untie the boat and head out.

Sorry, no photos of today's sail. Camera batteries died on us.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Magic Blue Smoke

We had a little problem on the Tamiami Trail. Just about in the middle of the Everglades, I happen to notice something in my rear view mirror. At first, I hoped it was just from the big truck right behind me. Alas, the smoke was coming from my trailer wheel bearing.

It was the magic blue smoke. Magic blue smoke is the smoke that's put in machinery and electronics that makes them work. When the magic smoke comes out, it doesn't work anymore. There was an awful lot of magic smoke coming out of the wheel bearing.

We were in the middle of the swamp, but at least we had cell service. There was some issue finding someone to come out and pick up a trailer. Called AAA, but they really don't want to deal with trailers. Now I learn there's cheap insurance for that sort of thing. Live and learn. AAA was able to put me in contact with a tow truck out of Naples. He was able to hook me up with a guy in Miami, as it was closer to where I wanted to go. Also, he said Naples closes down at 5 p.m.. The Miami tow truck driver hooked me up with a guy willing to repair the trailer.

After leaving the boat there, we drove down to Key Largo where we had campground reservations. An evening dip in the pool was quite welcome.

Currently, the trailer is sitting in a garage in Miami. I'm told it should be ready by 1. Might be able to get the boat back to Key Largo in time for a late afternoon sail, but we shall see.


Dog Beach

Sometimes I think the trip is to entertain the dog. This a "dog beach" near Bonita Beach. Dogs, off their leash, are allowed. People uncomfortable around unleashed dogs are not.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Too much TV

The TV never stops at my dad's house. That makes the peace we find sailing that more valuable. His house isn't big enough to hide from the big screen. I haven't seen this much broadcast TV in years. On the bright side, there's some actual new items being covered. One good thing about the disaster in Japan: it pushed the antics of Charlie Sheen off the air. Now the war in Libya is keeping him off.

We took it easy today. My lovely wife sewed some new ribbons on the sail. I pulled the boat's battery and brought it to my dad's workshop. The little 6 hp motor has an alternator that's supposed to keep the battery charged up. It was a pleasant surprise to see the battery had a full charge. The battery terminals could use a bit of cleaning up, but even that wasn't bad. Isn't it nice when machinery works the way it's supposed to?

Monday, we take the dog to the vet, and we'll pack up for our trip down to the Keys. Internet connection might be hit or miss for a while.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Asking Directions

There we were, sailing out in the Gulf, pretty far down the coast. This power boat motored over to talk to me. I heaved to. One of his boys tossed me a bowline, and I asked what was up. He was lost. He left from a boat launch he never used before, and forgot to enter a GPS waypoint.

He wanted to know how to get to Baypoint. Of all the questions he could have asked me, that was the one I knew for certain. I lent him my chart so he could enter the GPS coordinates. I told him the exact distance to the channel, the compass heading and what to look for along the way. I've been sailing out of Baypoint for over a month.

The poor guy had asked directions from someone further up the coast. Unfortunately, he'd gotten bad directions -south instead of north.

Glad I was able to help.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's not just a nuclear issue.

Got a fair number of comments on my quick little post about the Japanese nuclear disaster. Some were pro nuke, others were against. Honest people can disagree.

I used to love big high tech stuff: the space program, giant computers, nuclear power. Maybe it was because I grew up as a big fan of Science Fiction. I'm also a big supporter of basic science. It's proven to be a powerful tool for discovering the universe.

Now I'm against nuclear power. It's not because I don't think scientists and engineers can't make good safe nuclear power. They can. However, they don't work in isolation. There are business and political considerations that trump good science and engineering. Business is hard wired to make the most money possible. Safety cuts into profits.

We have no way to safely dispose of the nuclear wastes. The main problem is politics. No one wants to have a nuclear waste disposal site next door. I can't really blame them for that.

Even if nuclear was totally safe, I've reached the point in my life where I'd still be philosophically opposed to it. The problem with big power plants, be they nuclear, coal, oil, or natural gas, is that they concentrate energy production in one central area. It takes a big organization to run power plants. Then there is the whole grid distribution issue. It's a big system to build and maintain that suffers huge power losses.

Concentrated electrical power gives rise to concentrated political power. Big power = big money and money buys political power. What can they do with that political power? Oh, I don't know. How about get regulatory permission to raise rate? How about pass laws against people putting up their own solar panels? Wind mills? Micro Hydro? Heck, even clotheslines.

Diversified power makes a lot more sense to me. Generating power as locally as possible has a lot of advantages. First of all, you become a lot more aware of where you power comes from and are a lot more careful on how it's used. Back when I first installed solar electric, 20 years ago, it was expensive. Believe me, you become very aware of your personal power usage. A watt of power saved is a lot cheaper than a watt generated.

Diversified power tends towards more ecologically sound power. Almost nobody generates home power using a personal coal plant. Dirty stuff coal. People who put in alternative power, solar, wind, or hydro, often have generator backup. (gasoline, propane, diesel). Most soon do what they can to use the generator as little as possible. Generators tend to be loud and smelly.

Another thing that worries me the disregard for the natural world. The air we breath, the water we drink, and food we eat, can't be taken for granted. Nuclear plants have the capacity to create enormous environmental harm -harm that can last for thousands of years.

Coal plants are pretty horrible too. Coal plant emissions contain things like mercury and other heavy metals -even radioactive particles. Fish in New England is unsafe to eat in any quantity due to mercury from mid-west power plants. That's a crime against man and nature.

Natural gas seems pretty benign -low carbon emissions. There haven't been any major disasters at gas plants. However, now the industry is using fracking to get more gas out of the ground. The destruction to our underground water supply has been huge. What can be more basic to life than water?

We don't have to go back to the cave. We can live good full lives without giant power plants. Personally, I don't need a nuke plant to have cold beer and hot showers. Some people thing that if we don't support huge power plants, we'll freeze in the dark. My feeling is that if we do rely on them, we will freeze in the dark. My home produced energy runs just fine when the grid goes down. When my home system does experience a malfunction, it doesn't threaten to kill people for miles around.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Papa Bear

Finally got my dad out on the water.

It was a pleasant sail -enough wind to move the boat, but not too challenging. Good day to hang out and have a cup of coffee with my dad. We were escorted out of the channel by a few dolphins. It was a fine day out in the Gulf.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Tacky Day

Went sailing out in the Gulf yesterday. No destination in mind. We just tacked into the wind, heading generally west. Figured at a leisurely 3 knots or so, we were in no danger of bumping into Texas.

Normally, we only turn the marine radio on once we get out of the channel. I can't really hear it too well over the motor. Yesterday, once we shut down the motor, we discovered the electrical system wasn't working. No problem. Since I'm the one who wired up the boat, it only took a minute to find the problem and another 10 or so to fix it.

We took it easy today and did some work on the boat trailer. The bow roller was pretty shot, so that got replaced. Also reversed a "fix" the previous owner did on the trailer. One of the front rollers didn't touch the hull when the boat was loaded. He mounted the roller on a wooden block so it'd touch. That was fine and probably didn't cause him much trouble the one time a year when he loaded the boat. However, loading the boat every few days, I've come to the conclusion that the roller's job was to guide the boat when loading. It's not supposed to touch the hull after the boat's loaded. I will test it tomorrow.

Still trying to get my dad to join us on the sailboat. For a retired guy, he sure does have a busy schedule.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Who still thinks nuclear power is a good idea?

As I write this, another Japanese nuclear plant has suffered an explosion. News isn't in yet on how had it is. Apparently quite a few of their plants are in the middle of emergencies of varying severity.

My guess is that this will pretty much be the end of the nuclear power industry in most countries. People won't want to be near them. Insurance companies won't want to touch them. Politicians will certainly want to distance themselves from the industry.

Now there are some reactor designs that are a lot safer than the old existing plants. They are supposed to be inherently safe. The idea is that if anything goes wrong, the reaction automatically shuts off. I've no idea if the new designs are really as safe as they say they are. The old ones were supposed to be safe too. At one time, we were told the odds of a nuclear plant disaster were one in a million. Reality has proven otherwise.

Got iodine?

What are our options now? Nuclear power provides a significant part of the world's energy. Get used to grid power becoming progressively unreliable. If you want power you can count on, make it yourself.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Boat builder's sickness

I've come down with it before: boat builder's sickness. For me, it starts with time on the water. It doesn't matter what kind of boat I'm in. Eventually, I start to think things like: what if this boat was 2 feet longer and had 3 more inches of freeboard? Next thing you know I'm sketching things. If the disease progresses, eventually I'm making sawdust and mixing epoxy.

Sometimes the idea for a boat design starts with a mission. For example, when the kids were small, I'd sometimes take them out in a 16 foot canoe I'd rebuilt. As they got bigger, the canoe could not longer do the job. Also, I had the idea of a canoe that would be suitable for taking the whole family canoe camping.

Eventually built a 20 foot cedar strip canoe. It did the job nicely. Not only could the wife and I bring all three kids canoe camping, we could bring things like a 10X16 canvas wall tent, camp chairs, and a barbecue grill. Luxury.

Now my lovely wife and I are sailing. It's a great thing. Of course, time on the water gets me thinking of boat building again. Now don't get me wrong. There is nothing inherently bad with the Oday 19 we are sailing in. It's a good boat for where we are right now. Of course, I've already started doing small personalization projects. Nothing major -yet.

Tonight I caught myself downloading sail making information. That's a bad sign. The sickness has begun. I'm thinking of much smaller sailing dingies on one hand. On the other, I'm thinking of building boats for extended cruising.

I'm thinking outside the box. Things specifically for marine use are outrageously expensive. Sometimes there isn't much that can be done about that, but often there is. Even at this early stage of sailing adventure, I can see that a lot of marine hardware is over priced junk.

Some people would be put off by being so green at this sailing thing. Heck, I'm constantly referring to a glossary of nautical terms just to understand what people are talking about. I'm not bothered at all. It's how I've always done things: find something I want to do, then acquire what's needed, skills, tools and materials, to make it happen.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Sloth Revolt

Revolution can be hard work. There's all that protesting in the streets, throwing of rocks, mixing of molotovs and clashing with riot police. It might be necessary to grab an assault rifle and head up to the mountains. Then there's all that shooting and slogging around in the mud. Work, work work.

Doesn't sound like anything most Americans are much interested in lately.

Of course, it's no longer necessary to fight the system. All one has to do is to disengage. Kick back on the sofa. Heck, might as well open a beer. Call it the slacker revolution.

You see, the whole military, industrial, corporate complex needs engagement -doesn't even matter all that much how people engage with the system. Becoming a corporate drone works for the system. Cubical farmed humans are like factory farmed chickens. Put them in their box, add inputs, and harvest production. Everyone who works within the system is stuck in the system. Very difficult to change it from within as the deck is stacked against the little guy.

Even fighting the system serves it. The Molotov throwing radical is justification for the total control system. The police, courts, prisons, and politicians all can benefit from the violent actions of the radical.

However, the "system" has overplayed its hand. It's gotten too greedy. When the loyal worker drones can no longer keep it together, the end is in sight. Even slave owners made sure the basic needs of the the slaves were met. Corporatism has discovered it's easier to have wage slaves. Since little is invested in them, it's easy to use they up and let them go.

At some point, people realize the promises of the old order aren't being kept. More and more people are just giving up. They stop paying their mortgage, don't earn enough money to pay taxes, stop making car payments and basically drop out.

Then a funny thing sometimes happens. The former drone heaves a sigh of relief. His burdens are lifted. The sun still shines on him, only now he has the time to sit out in it.

Now when a handful of people disengage, the system barely notices. However, when enough people throw in the towel, the wheels fall off the cart. We are seeing it with mortgage foreclosures. Many have learned that foreclosure can take a long long time. In the mean time, people live for free.

When people play by the rules, the system functions. Those who move out of their foreclosed houses and work within the system aid the system. Now people lay back and let the system come to them. They live in their foreclosed house until physically removed -and often just move right back in. They drive their cars, not making payments. Instead of returning it to the lender, they wait for the repo man. Enough slackers can overwhelm the system.

People aren't even filing for bankruptcy anymore. They do "unofficial" bankruptcy by just not paying their bills. Here's the thing: bankruptcy is part of the system. It clears the books. It keeps everything flowing. Not only that, it plugs the filer back into the system. The hamster is put back on the wheel. Unofficial bankruptcy gums up the work. No lawyers get paid. Everything is still on the books. Nothing is cleared up. It's messy and complicated.

People learn to live just fine without credit. In fact, many learn to live without "real" jobs.

The slackers just might win.

The thing is, people can get their needs met just fine outside the system. They can find community, caring, status, and love. Isn't that what people really want and the "system" hasn't been providing?


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Like spilling money on the ground

One of the things I can't understand about Florida is how so much of this sunshine goes to waste. Why aren't there solar panels on almost every roof? Okay, solar electric used to be a bit pricey, but what about hot water heating? Something as simple as a primitive batch water heater could provide most hot water needs. Payback time would be measured in months. A home handy person, using some salvaged materials, could get their investment back the first month.

I make solar electric work in northern NH. Snow has to be cleared off the panels to harvest every watt. Battery banks have to be protected from freezing.

Solar water heating up north? I've got a batch water heater. It works for about 3 months of the year. The rest of the time, my water gets a thermal boost from a coil on the woodstove.

Solar works for me, but it takes planning and a bit of effort. Down here in Florida, there's so much sun and warmth that even a less than optimum installation is worth doing.

It's pretty much a truism that solar power isn't worth mounting on electric cars. The vehicles are too heavy and the space for mounting panels is too limited. Most days, I drive around here in an electric golf cart. Golf carts don't weight that much. Speed is limited, sipping electric power. There's enough roof space on them to install sufficient panels to make it worth while, at least for most distances traveled.

Don't even get me started on windows that don't open and the reliance on air conditioning.

Just hate to see a renewable resource going to waste.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Recovery and repair day

Brownie, the sailor dog, is recovering from a vet visit. Nothing serious. It was elective surgery as we don't want to deal with puppies. Our little lady dog is doing fine. We are keeping her quiet.

I used the down time to fix a telescoping boat hook. We bent the fat end of it during one of our early trips in the Gulf. The motor failed and the pole got wedged between the boat and the bottom as we grounded. Something had to give.

It was a simple matter of shortening the pole a bit. No problem really, as it was a bit too long for our boat to begin with. Live and learn. I'm taking advantage of having my dad's shop at my disposal. Repairs can be made with rivets instead of duct tape -a much more permanent solution.
Taking it easy and enjoying the warm weather.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Gas is up, what's next?

Interesting times. Libya, a country that supplies about 2% of the world's oil goes off-line, and gas prices spike. Are supplies really that tight?

Well . . . not exactly. Economies have been growing a bit at the same time oil production has been pretty flat, so yeah, it could be putting some stress on the system. When crude oil goes up and gas at the pump goes up the next day, it's a scam. It takes some time for the expensive oil to be transported, refined, and distributed. The oil companies are ripping off drivers. Reason enough to get mad, but it's only a small part of the story.

Markets may not be the best indicator of actual conditions. There's a huge emotional fear factor involved. We aren't paying for the loss of Libyan oil as much as we are paying for what might happen.

The elephant in the room is Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is making statements not to worry, they'll increase pumping to make up for any shortfalls. Could they really do it? Probably not. Matt Simmons, before he passed, made solid arguments that Saudi Arabia is already maxed out. They can't really pump more even if they wanted to. Their major oil fields are in decline. Since actual production figures are a state secret, they can say they are pumping more with official evidence one way or the other. Matt's book, "Twilight in the Desert," pierces the veil of secrecy.

Even if they are in decline, they are still a huge producer. The world's economies need Saudi oil. The world can absorb a certain amount of decline. Think of it on personal terms. Say you had to use 2% less energy as you did last year. Probably wouldn't be too hard to do. 10% wouldn't be too unreasonable to achieve, if you really had to. Eliminate some unnecessary trips. Turn the thermostat down a few degrees, and you are there.

Losing Libya's 2% isn't a crisis. Saudi Arabia's gently slow decline isn't either. However, what if Saudi Arabia experienced the turmoil of its neighbors? Picture riots in the streets and oil ports on fire. Take the world's big producer off-line and it's curtains for the world's economies.

Western democracies talk about human rights, voting, and freedom. My guess is that they are secretly hoping the Saudis are able to keep Saudi Arabia safe for monarchy. As long as the oil flows, the West really doesn't care how oppressive the Saudis are.

It might even work, for a while. Eventually, however, this house of cards will come down. The princes could lose control to a popular revolt. Even if they don't, oil resources are continually in decline.

Sure, reducing oil usage a few percentage points isn't that hard, but what if you must reduce year after year after year? Life just gets progressively harder and harder.

We can ignore the problem. After all, oil prices will go up and down. As oil goes up, economies crash, then the world uses less oil. Since demand goes down, the price of oil will drop. Economies will recover some -until supplies become tight again and we crash once more. It's easy to focus on the recoveries and say everything is just fine. However, it's a downward spiral. Each "recovery" won't be a big as the one before.

We can bet some technological fix will happen. It could, but is it worth risking your life on it? Should we perhaps consider the powers that be have a vested interest in keeping the status quo as long as possible? Politicians wouldn't hide problems just to get elected, now would they? Businesses wouldn't put money and short term gains ahead of people's welfare?

So . . . what do we do? Do we wait for someone else to solve the problems or do we live like they'll screw it up. Remember how effective the government was after hurricane Katrina? That's when the economy was humming along and government was strong. Katrina was a limited and regional problem. The impact of a major oil producer shutting down will be global.

Maybe changing the way we live is the only sane thing to do. Assume fuel will get more expensive and scarcer. Start living with that in mind. Doing a long commute by car? That won't last? Dependent on cheap food grown and transported by cheap oil? Maybe some food independence would be wise. Heat your house with oil? Plan to live a lot more independent of major systems, and you'll stand a better chance.

Gas prices going up may be temporary, (or not), but the underlying problems won't go away.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Thought of my friends and family shoveling snow back home.

Back out on the Gulf again. Started out with very light winds, but it built until it was quite interesting out there. Pushed the boat a bit to see what it could do. Great fun. Almost made it all the way back to the boat landing on sail power alone. Just didn't have enough wind to overcome the out going tide. Had to start the motor the last couple hundred feet. It would have been cool to sail right up to the boat landing. Maybe next time.

Unfortunately, we were unable to photograph the pair of dolphins we met out there. Those guys can move when they want to. Great to see them. Also surprised a sea turtle. Actually, we surprised each other.

My daughter tells me they got two feet of heavy wet snow today. We'll be heading south before we head north. Spent the last few days planning a trip to the Keys. I'll go home when the snow's melted a bit.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Distance gives perspective

From warm Florida, I can give some thought to the plan for next winter. Easier to think about it when I'm not exhausted from shoveling snow and feeding the woodstove.

Last year, my plan involved having a big pile of wood and a couple of woodstoves. That worked well enough. Got me to February when we closed the house down and headed south.

What will we do next year?

I don't really know. All depends if we travel south again. If we do, how will we get down and how long will we stay?

On one extreme, we leave at the first hint of a chill. No need to really heat the house at all. We could drive south again -if that's still a viable option. Then again, we could sail all the way down. (an intriguing option.)

We could do some variant on this year's trip: leave sometime after Christmas and haul the boat south on a trailer.

Then again, we should prepare for spending the whole winter up north again. It could happen. Circumstances may keep us close to home. Should that happen, how would we get through the winter?

A key consideration, as always, is our limited budget. The best return is to chalk everything that could leak air. It's a simple thing that I haven't done recently. The basement could use a bit more insulation too. That saves some energy right off the bat.

One thing that's caught my attention is a rocket stove mass heater:

Saving 5 - 10 times less wood is a real attraction. I should be able to heat my house with wood sustainable harvested within walking distance from my house. Should be able to build the heater myself fairly cheaply. Cheap enough, that if we barely use it, it'll still be worth it.

That's the thing about growing up in the Frostlands. You never forget about winter, even while soaking in the Florida sun.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pushing out the little greaser

I'm asking a favor of my readers. Currently in the Brooksville Florida area. I'm having a hard time finding waste vegetable oil to fuel my truck. The big companies seem to have locked up contracts with every restaurant I've talked to. There are stickers on all the grease bins warning of dire consequences for pumping out their oil bins.

It never used to be this hard. In previous years, a local restaurant owner let me take all I wanted. Unfortunately, he's retired now and out of the business.

My lovely wife and I will be traveling all over the state, so sources of waste veggie anywhere in the state would be helpful.

On the bright side, we've worked around our debit card problems. For some reason, my wife's card, works just fine. It accesses the same account as my card, so it's no problem.



Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rejects and Fraud

Getting money access while on the road is getting problematic. Traveling with a big wad of cash is not recommended. Crooks can rob you. Even police can confiscated your cash just on the suspicion that it's connected to a crime. Good luck getting it back.

On the road, I've used a mix of some cash and my debit card. Never used to have any problems with my debit card anywhere in the country. Last night it was refused at a grocery store. Didn't have quite enough cash on me. Had to resort to using my "emergency" credit card. Really annoying when I actually have money in my account.

Called my bank in NH to see what the problem was. They couldn't find one. No record of a failed transaction existed. Their best guess was that it's a problem with computers in Florida. They asked if there had been thunderstorms here. (nope.) Assured my card was fine, I drove down to the filling station to buy some diesel. Not only did the debit card not run, the clerk said the machine was giving him a fraud alert.

At that point, I was steaming, but kept my temper in check. Called the bank once more. Again, no problems showed up. Their best guess: a bad magnetic strip on the card.

Here's where it gets interesting. They can't send me a new card. There are Federal regulations against it. I'd have to walk into my local bank. (1600 miles away) Most of my mail is getting forwarded to my dad's place, but the post office will not redirect a bank card. Nanny gov has protected me from my own money. How nice of them.

Tomorrow, we see if my wife's card will run. Taking the dog to the local vet. Hope he's willing to take a check, if need be.

If there hadn't been small craft advisories, we'd have been sailing today. That would have been a lot more pleasant than struggling with the modern banking world.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New Hampshire day in Florida

Today my lovely wife, my dad and I went to a "New Hampshire Day," gathering here in Florida. For my dad, it was school reunion day. My wife and I ran into our neighbors from home. They come south at the first sign of really cold weather, and don't head north until the north warms again. Turns out we drive right past their winter home on the way to launching our sailboat. Small world and all that.

The whole snowbird phenomena is a product of several things that are quickly fading away. Of course, one thing is the retirement pension. Having a monthly source of income requiring no further work is a great thing. Unfortunately, it's a rarer thing. The traditional defined benefit plan is going the way of the dodo.

Then there is that the recurring issue, the disappearance of cheap energy. Travel was cheap and easy. Now, it's getting more expensive almost daily.

Historically, many peoples were semi-nomadic. The New England Native Americans would winter by the coast and move inland during warmer weather. Many herding people traveled from grazing land to grazing land, repeating the same circuit year after year. Other people followed animal migrations, or the availability of certain fruits and nuts. People always traveled, but distances were limited to walking distances, or animal transportation. A few others traveled by watercraft.

Today, it felt like we were seeing one of the last big snowbird migrations. My generation (early 50s) probably won't become snowbirds in the numbers my dad's generation did. We won't have the money, time or cheap energy. Winter's going to be long and cold for most of them.

Of course, things could turn out very different. Maybe there will be real train service once more, or sailing passenger ships will return.

Interesting times ahead.