Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Prepper Hubris

I was feeling pretty good about my preps. We weathered the storm in good shape. My solar electric system worked just fine. There was plenty of food in the house. Our water system worked. We didn’t have anything float or blow away.

Today, just for the heck of it, I decided to start up my generator. Now I’m not a big fan of the gasoline internal combustion engine, but I do own a couple. I even keep a little stabilized fuel around. It’s for my sailboat’s outboard, but would work fine in the generator too. Only problem, the generator would not start.

It ran just fine the last time I tried it, but apparently I should have checked it more often. There are really only about three things to worry about with small gas engines: fuel, spark, and air. It had fuel in the tank and the fuel was getting to the spark plug. The carburetor looked fine. The air filter wasn’t plugged. However, when I checked the spark plug, there wasn’t any sparking going on. The plug is checked by unscrewing it, reconnecting the wire, resting the plug against the engine to make an electrical connection, and carefully pulling the starter cord. If the electrical system is working right, you’ll see a spark at the tip of the spark plug. No spark, so the problem is electrical.

I’m going to get a new spark plug and try that. It’s often as simple as bad plug. If that’s not the problem I’ll work my way deeper into the electrical system. Small gas engines are pretty simple. There’s only so many things to go wrong.

Now as it turned out, I didn’t need my backup to my backup. We’ve had some nice sunny days since the storm passed. The solar panels have been charging up the house batteries just fine. I might never have felt the need to charge them from the generator. However, I might have offered to lend my generator to someone with no power at all. I certainly would have felt silly if I’d offered a nonworking generator.

Back in my Firefighter days, one of my duties was to keep a number of small generators in working order. They were run and inspected at least once a week. Even so, occasionally a generator would fail when you needed it most. With my background, you’d think I’d know better that to neglect my own generator.

In my defense, my solar electric systems works so trouble free that I’ve taken it for granted. Unlike a generator, it runs quietly and with little effort. Upkeep is pretty easy. However, if I am going to own a generator, I’d better get used to testing and inspecting it on a regular schedule.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Long term power outage

The grid came back reasonably quick here after the storm. I got lucky. The source of my power outage was caused by trees falling on a major feed line across the main street of the next town over. Those get fixed fairly quickly. That power line supplied a hospital. Had the lines come down on my little side road, our priority would have been quite low.

Power was out just long enough for me to think about how I’d deal with a long term outage. The first thing I did was turn off the power switch to the Internet cable modem and router. Unplugged my Roku device that allows me to stream Internet programming on my TV. No sense in sending power to things that can’t be used.

One of my major power draws is the well pump. Even though I have my own well, we are frugal water users. The only change I’d make is I’d be more aware to do dishes when the sun is shining instead of drawing down the batter bank.

Then there is the refrigerator. My plan involved eating all the refrigerated food first and then unplugging it. Most of my food storage is dry and canned foods, so we really could get by just fine without refrigeration.

The power saved would most likely allow enough energy to run my washing machine. By then, we’d be ready for some clean clothes.

We could have gone a very long time, in reasonable comfort, using only the solar electric system. If I really had to, I could have dragged out the generator a friend gave me and fired that up. That’s my last resort solution, as generators are noisy, smelly and burn my limited fuel supplies.

I had no idea how long the power outage was going to last. While it was less than a day, it’s nice to know my own power system would have done the job for a long long time. Nothing like a real world emergency to test a prepper’s plans.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Well that was interesting

By the time the hurricane hit the Great North Woods of New Hampshire, it had lost much of its punch. We did get an awful lot of rain. There was some wind and tree damage, but early reports point to mostly light damage.

The Internet went down around 2:45 p. m., and the grid went down about an hour later. Both came back around 10 p. m..

When the grid when down, I switched a couple electric circuits over to my solar electric system. My lovely wife and I read books and watched a couple movies on DVD.

Around 8:30 we took the dog out for a walk, as the rain had mostly ended. A few people on our side of the lake had generators running. However, there was still lights on across the lake, so I knew the grid outage wasn’t total. The other side gets its electricity from totally different feed lines than our side of the lake, so the problem was fairly local.

The radio program was interrupted by an emergency broadcast warning of extensive flooding, including my county. We live on the side of a mountain, so as long as we don’t have to go anywhere, the flooding doesn’t bother us.

The storm probably wasn’t as bad as all the hype would have us believe. However, people did lose their lives and property was damaged.

It is a good feeling to have some preps and some alternative energy. Beats the heck out of sitting in the dark, not knowing what’s going on.


Hurricane Irene

I’m somewhat amused to see storm track projections show the hurricane heading directly over me. Hurricanes don’t hit New England all that often.

There will be flooding. We will get some rain and wind. Trees will come down. Power will mostly likely get disrupted. Internet service might go out.

At 1300 feet elevation, flooding is not one of my major worries. I do have a dead hemlock tree no one’s been willing to cut down. It’s too close to the road and power lines. The storm just might remove it for me. I’ll have to make sure nothing is left within falling range of it. The solar electric battery bank will be topped off before the storm. As for losing the Internet -well it’s a good thing I stocked up on books to read.

Much of the storms fury will be exhausted on the mountains to the south of me. There will most likely be strong winds still, but my dome house is pretty aerodynamic.

I am concerned for friends and family along the coast. The storm surge could be a problem. My oldest daughter lives in the Boston region, and at a fairly low elevation. They might bug out. Hope they don’t wait until the last minute.

This is a serious hurricane. Most of the damage and problems will most likely be other places. That doesn’t mean we won’t have problems here in the Great North Woods. It’s good to be prepared. With some many high population areas in danger, any damage out in the rural areas will have to wait. That’s what’s happened in the past.

New England is about as prepared for a hurricane as we were for an earthquake.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

The straw that breaks the camel’s back?

Hurricane Irene is working its way up the coast. The first concern is for people. After that, it’s worth considering all the economic damage that such a storm can do.

The storm is working its way though some high priced real estate. Crops that are just about ready for harvest are not going to make it to market. Many vehicles: cars, trucks, boats and planes will be lost. Infrastructure: roads, bridges, power, phone, Internet, water, and waste treatment will be damaged. Commerce will be disrupted -everything from tourism, to day to day business.

What will all this do to an already fragile economy? The insurance industry is pretty stretched. This storm might push one or more major companies over the edge. The insurance industry will be stressed -perhaps to the point of breaking? Food is already expensive and now supplies will tighten. Where will the money to effect repairs come from?

One branch of economics believes a storm like this is good for the economy in the long run. The economic activity involved in rebuilding provides a boost. Funds just sitting around not doing much are put to work. To me, that theory is only valid if there are big piles of wealth not doing anything.

I don’t think thinks those funds exist in any great amount. The government can come in and spread cash around, but only because they can get the Fed to print more. However, the government can’t create any real wealth that way. All they can do at that point is create inflation.
There is every chance that Irene could be the straw that breaks the back of the economy.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Alternative energy idiot move

I tried to start my truck today to go into town. It wasn’t going to happen. My truck runs on waste veggie oil along with diesel. The trick is switch from veggie to diesel a few minutes before shutting the engine off. Veggie has to be hot to lower its viscosity enough to run in the engine. From past experience, I know it won’t start on thick cold veggie oil. That’s why it’s important to shut down in diesel -so it can be started with diesel. For some stupid reason, I shut the engine while it was still in veggie.

It had all night to cool down. No way was it going to start cold. I do this bone headed error about once a year. Fortunately, it’s the summer and fairly warm. Another lucky break is that I’m using canola oil, which is a lighter oil to begin with. Good thing I wasn’t using a hydrogenated oil that stays solid at higher temperatures. Imagine trying to start an engine filled with Crisco.

Diesels in colder parts of the country are equipped with electric block heaters. Even regular diesel fuel won’t flow if it’s cold enough. For ease of winter starting, a block heater prewarms the engine. There’s no rule saying I couldn’t use it in the summer for a veggie choked engine. A couple hours with the block heater and it started up -not very easily, but start it did.

In colder weather, even the block heater won’t cut it alone. I’ve used space heaters, changed fuel filters, and blown out fuel lines. It’s a lot of nasty and messy work.

It’s a good thing the veggie system is trouble free most of the time. About 90 - 95% of the fuel burned in the truck is free waste veggie oil. That makes it worth dealing with the occasional mistake.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Greer's Elegy for the Age of Space

John Michael Greer posted a great piece about the end of the Space Age. He said it better than I ever could.

Well worth reading.

For me, nothing points out the end of the American Dream as dramatically as our retreat from manned space exploration.


Home Delivery

Living out in the woods, there are a couple of lifelines I’ve come to depend on. The Internet is my main news, information, and communication system. It’s also where I do a lot of my shopping.

Of course, shopping on-line is only as good as the delivery service. Out here, I depend on the US Postal Service and UPS. When I hear the Postal Service is in serious trouble, I worry. Will Saturday delivery be discontinued? Any truth to the rumor of them dropping to 3 day delivery weeks for rural areas? Will my local post office close?

I haven’t heard anything troubling about UPS, but I didn’t hear anything negative about other delivery services that no longer do business in our area either.

Home delivery depends on the viability of the whole transportation infrastructure. Places out in the hinterland will be cut off first. I wonder if or when it’ll reach the point where it’s too expensive to get deliveries out to my house. It happened in the past with other services. Commuter planes don’t come to my town anymore. The train station is closed. Taxi service is gone.

While on vacation, it struck me how useful the whole Internet shopping thing has been for me. One example, my interest in sailing. There are no marine supplies stores nearby -not even much of anything for the freshwater boater. I just ordered some bottom paint for the sailboat, and even got free delivery.

While vacationing on the coast, I had the pleasure of checking out a bookstore. Finally, I thought, a store that will stock nautical books. They did have a good selection. Looking over their shelves, I was struck by how many nautical books I owned. I had many of the good ones already. Sure, their shelves were full, but how books on knots does a person need? In the real world you’ll probably only use a half dozen or so anyway. How many basic sailing books? How many books on boat construction? In the end, I didn’t buy anything at all. Most of my nautical books were bought on-line and delivered to my door. It’s a modern miracle that I don’t take for granted.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mother Nature holds the trump cards

The 5.8 Virgina earthquake is a little reminder. The natural world can foil the best laid plans of mice and men. I don’t think anyone’s plan for Tuesday was to get evacuated. Many were, especially in D. C..

Now on the west coast a 5. 8 earthquake impresses nobody. However, in an area where significant earthquakes are rare, it’s a different story. We aren’t used to earthquakes so our infrastructure isn’t built to withstand them. Damage appears to have been slight, but there is the potential for serious destruction had the quake been just a bit worse.

As if to drive the point home, now a hurricane is making its way up the east coast. It would take a near miracle for this storm not to create significant damage. At least with a hurricane, there’s some warning. This is just the sort of thing bug out bags are packed for.

We worry about politics, economics, and the other doings of men. All that gets shoved aside with just a little push from Mother Nature.

On a personal note, my lovely wife and I did some camping from Florida to South Carolina back in April. We fell in love with a lot of the different places along the coast. Looks like some of those places are in for a pounding. I hope the nice people of those areas take proper precautions. Back in April, we were but minutes ahead of tornadoes. Roads were being torn up behind us like in a bad action movie.

Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and all the other forces of nature remind me how insignificant my little human plans are in the face of Mother Nature’s whims.

Stay safe.


Monday, August 22, 2011

The tale of the pretty boat

My buddy Max told me a little story the other day. He and his wife had paddled their tandem kayak out to a little island off the coast of Maine. A beautiful sailboat dropped the hook right in front of them. A beautiful family: handsome man, his attractive wife and two perfect children were on the perfect boat. They lowered a flawless custom dinghy and made their way to the island. Once there, they noticed what they thought was a sandy beach was in fact covered in sharp shells. They went back to the sailboat for sneakers. Once more the beautiful people came back to the island, but were afraid to ground the pretty dingy. The man suggested they could lift the dingy up over the shells, but the rest of the family would have none if it. In the end, they gave up, climbed back aboard their beautiful sailboat and sailed away.

I thought of that story as I was touching up the gelcoat on my little somewhat less than perfect sailboat. My lovely wife and I don’t hesitate to land someplace that looks interesting. Sure, we don’t exactly sail full speed into concrete, but a few nicks and scraps don’t bother me all that much. The bottom paint has to be redone every year anyway, right? What good is a boat you can’t or won’t take to interesting places?

Of course, I’m not a pretty person, so maybe I’m missing something. However, I bet I’m having a lot more fun than they are. I certainly have a lot less to worry about.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Camping tradition

My lovely wife and I just got back from camping on the coast of Maine. We’ve been going to the same campground since my kids were little, about the age of my grandkids. I would never have imagined that I’d be able to camp there with my grown daughters, their men, and my three grandkids.

I’m glad my wife and I had our own children when we were young. That way we can enjoy our grandkids before we are ancient.

The campground is still owned and operated by the same people. After all these years we’ve gotten to know each other. It’s nice feeling to be recognized and to be able to update each other on what’s gone on during the past year.

One of the things I like about his campground is that it’s got lots of open space. Many campgrounds cram as many sites on their property as possible. This place has open fields, big pine trees, and lots of room between sites.

People often ask me why I bother going camping when I live right on a lake. It’s partially because of a promise I made my wife when we got married. She was willing to live with me in the woods and hills if she could go to the ocean a couple times a year. Not only did I fall in love with a lovely lady, I also fell in love with the ocean.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Currently camping

No,it's not stealth camping. I'm just very busy camping with my wife, kids, and grandkids. Very limited Internet connections here, but great view of the ocean. We decided to stay here an extra day. I'll should be back home sometime Sunday evening or early Monday morning.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Stealth Canoe Camping

There are a lot of nice rivers and lakes here in the North Country. There are also a lot of campgrounds. However, where the campgrounds are and where I want to camp are often two totally different places. Then there’s the fact I’m pretty cheap. Why pay for something you can get for free?

There’s a reason my canoe is a dark green instead of some flashy color. Once it’s pulled out of the water and into the trees, it’s very hard to spot. My tents are dark colors with low profiles and no reflective materials. My bright colored life jackets and other brightly colored gear is kept either under the overturned canoe or covered with a camo tarp.

If I have a campfire the wood is dry to limit smoke. It’s kept small, and any view of it from the water is blocked by rocks or trees. Often I’ll just cook a meal on a small hiking stove, also being careful to block visibility from the water. If there’s a high chance of being hassled I’ll skip cooking a meal and eat cold food like dried fruit and granola. Even the smell of cooking food can give you away.

After dark artificial light is a huge risk. A nylon tent doesn’t block much light; in fact, a flashlight can make the whole tent glow. If you do want a flashlight, used focused beams just big enough to do the job. Lights with a red filter are good if you have to move around in the dark.

Keep quiet. Radios, and phones are a dead give away. If you are stealth camping with other people, keep chatter to a minimum. The human voice travels a long ways over water.

It might seem like a lot of trouble, but stealth camping has allowed me to go on longer trips for a lot less money. I haven’t done it in a while, but I still keep my eye out for good camping spots.

In more recent years, I’ve stayed in regular designated wilderness campsites -without paying. The trick to those is to go early in the season before they officially open, or late after they close. The weather is cooler, but on the plus side, the bugs and tourists are gone. There’s almost no one available to hassle you.

Of course, I still take the precaution of pulling my canoe completely out of the water and into the trees. A boat on the beach is a dead give away that can be spotted a longs ways off.

When you leave a camping site, make sure it’s cleaned up and looks like no one was there. That’s a good practice any time, but essential when stealth camping.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Easy Money

I’ve been living with a limited budget for quite a few years now. I’ve coped in a number of ways. My vehicles are old and 95% of the time they run on free waste vegetable oil. The house is heated mostly with wood. The majority of my electric power come from solar electric. In the winter, I shovel my own driveways instead of hiring a plow truck. Even little things add up: grinding my own wheat and roasting my own coffee.

Some friends and family look at what I do and just shake their head. They think I do a lot of work for nothing. Handling those veggie oil jugs is heavy work and messy. Splitting and piling firewood takes its toll in sore muscles, splinters and bruises. Several times a year I’m up on a ladder adjusting the angle of my solar array. Then there’s maintaining batteries: adding distilled water and cleaning terminals and connections. Shoveling snow can get tedious. Even the little things are time consuming.

Well, they used to shake their heads. In the past, if the price of heating oil or gasoline had an upward spike, they’d just pay a bit more. It was easier to work an extra shift at work than chop firewood. It was much easier than all the stuff I do. People had enough slack in their budgets to absorb increases. Wages were good enough that a few more hours work was real money.

Those easy money days, at least around these parts, are over. Wages have either stagnated or slid backwards. For example, my truck driver uncle is only making $11/hour with no benefits. How can they get away with that? The only other jobs around here pay $8, and plenty of drivers are out of work.

Wages are down, but houses still need to be heated. Vehicles still need fuel. Everyone needs to eat. People are stuck on the treadmill, working longer hours for less money to buy more expensive stuff. Now they don’t have the time, nor the energy to do some of the things I’ve been doing.

It’s still a lot of work, but the value of efforts has gone up considerably. I couldn’t afford to go to work for $8/hour.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Stock up on books

Stock up on books, while you still can.

I like my electronic toys as much as the next person. I had to add another 8 gig of memory to my e-reader as I needed the room. Most of what I read is on an electronic screen, but my house is full of real honest to god paper books. I still enjoy reading the old way.

Electronic gizmos fail during normal times. Imagine how bad it’d be with power outages. There is a less than zero chance of all electronics being fried from a solar storm or even an air burst nuclear weapon.

Second hand books are about as cheap as I’ve ever seen them. I recently bought “Chapman Piloting,” for 20 cents. It cost almost $4 to ship, but was still a steal. Sure, it’s not a current edition, but the information is still correct. I’ve been picking up books for $1/bag locally. Another place is selling hardcovers for 25 cents each and paperbacks for 10 cents. The bottom has dropped out of the used book market.

Buy a pile of them. You might find yourself with a lot of time on your hands. Maybe you’ll lose your job. Maybe you won’t have the money to keep your TV cable or Internet connection. A good book to read beats staring at the walls by a long shot.

Preppers should have key information in book form: gardening, construction, gun smithing, plant identification -all the things critical to life and safety.

Information is great and useful, but don’t stop there. Stock up on some good escapism literature: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure, Romance -anything people put in the category of light summer reading. When times are bad you are going to need some escapism. It’s healthier and cheaper than alcohol or drugs.

For when that gets boring, stock up on the classics. There’s a reason they are classics. Shakespeare really is good reading, once you get past the antique language.

Make sure you stock on those kids books too.

Now is the time to do it. It won’t cost much and you’ll be thankful to have them later.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Man on a White Horse

There are a couple of competing theories of history. There’s the man on a white horse theory. It’s named after all those statures of people like George Washington and Napoleon, mounted on a white horse. The theory basically states that certain people make history. They bend the course of history with their actions.

Another theory is that individuals don’t really matter. It’s historical forces that shape the day: economics, population pressures, environment, climate, psychology, disease and so on.

I think they are both right, depending on the circumstances. Some people have vision, will and the ability to get things done, but the conditions have to be right. George Washington would not have founded a new nation if everyone had been happy with the old English rule. Napoleon seized the day, but after a period of turmoil where people were ready for a strong leader. Hitler would most likely have not come to power if the German economy had been doing well.

Looking at the world right now, I see plenty of historical forces in play. It is really tempting to wish for that man on a white horse to come riding in to save the day. However, looking at the likely leaders, I fear we are more likely to get a Hitler than a Washington. That type does really well when everyone is fearful.

There are circumstances where it doesn’t matter much who’s in charge. If the boat is already going over the falls, changing captains isn’t going to help much. It didn’t matter who was leading Pompeii. When the volcano erupted, everyone got buried.

The grand sweep of history is interesting and all, but what’s a person in the middle of it supposed to do? For most of us, our best bet is to keep an eye on the volcano. Never mind what everyone else says about the volcano. If it starts to rumble, get the heck out of the way. The best thing the average Joe can do about historical forces, or “great men” is to not let them run him over.


Monday, August 15, 2011

The path to adulthood

Growing up is hard. There’s so much to figure out, and the adults don’t understand. Everything is a crisis. The teen years are the worse. School is boring. You can’t drive. The kid games are no fun and the adult games are off limits. The worse thing for me was being told it was the best time of my life and I’d better enjoy it. How’s that for a depressing thought?

A few things kept me sane: Hiking in the mountains, hunting, fishing, snowshoeing and especially white water canoing. I loved time on the river. Often I paddled my boat alone through the rapids. The adrenaline rush is something I knew I needed. What I also craved, but didn’t realize until years later, was being in control of my canoe through rough waters. Teenagers have so little control over things. Mastering white water did much for sense of well being.

High School guidance councilors push the kids with good grades on a college path. My grades were decent, not through any love of school, but because I wanted to get through it without having to repeat anything. It was the same motivation that prisoners have for good behavior: early release.

One semester was enough for me to realize I wasn’t ready for college. In fact, I didn’t go back to college until I was 37. At 18, it like more high school and I’d just gotten out of that. Fortunately, I landed a job with the local Fire Department. I made a living, had time off to enjoy the outdoors, but the job itself was hugely satisfying. Fire and rescue provided that adrenaline rush I craved. Even though I eventually was badly injured on the job, I don’t regret my career choice. Beats the heck out of shriveling to death in a cubical.

It’s a good thing I didn’t discover sailboats back then. I’d have disappeared at sea. Probably would have either bought an old fix ‘er upper boat or built my own in my dad’s garage. Sailing fills the needs of my soul. It’s on the water, which is where I belong, be it a small river or the ocean. A sailboat is cheap way to go to new places and meet new people. There’s the sense of discovery and adventure. When the wind comes up, the waves build and spray flies, the heart beats a bit faster and I feel more alive.

Growing boys today have it even tougher than I did. They don’t have anywhere near the freedom that I had growing up. Everything is “safe” taking away the chance to learn from mistakes. Nothing like bruises and scraps to teach lessons. Activities are scripted and supervised. No wonder they get lost in computer games. It’s the only time they get to win at anything. Virtual world adrenaline rushes have to substitute for real world adventure. Today, the feelings I had growing up would be managed with drugs. I didn’t need drugs, I needed a fast river, a good canoe and a strong paddle.

I hope to heck that some of today’s kids find their way off the beaten track. They have to know disdain for the “normal” is fine. Heck, most of the people working in firefighting or EMS ain’t right. That’s what makes them good at their jobs. You don’t have to like everyone else. It’s a big world. There might be something out there for you.

Maybe it’ll be messing around in boats.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Riots are fun

Protests are boring. Marching around in the hot sun, waving a sign, confined to a “free speech zone,” and ignored by the media. There’s not much to recommend it.

Riots are fun. There’s a lot of running around, noise and excitement. You get to throw rocks. There’s adrenaline and danger. Rioters match wits with the authorities and skirmish with the cops. Better yet, riots get things done. The powers that be can’t ignore a riot like they can a protest. The press covers it.

If you do riot, you’d better win. No half measures work. You’ve got to keep it up until your goals are realized. The backlash for failure isn’t good: police violence, prison time, the tightening of a police state. The average Joe, timid during the best of times, will cry out in fear for the government to do something. The something they do will be a harsh crackdown and disappearance of human rights. The sheeple will cheer them on too, at least at first.

History has taught us that civil unrest and discontent can be squashed with some judicious violence at the right place and time. It worked for Napoleon, and we know how that turned out for France in the long run. Napoleon was willing turn his cannon the citizens and it made his career. That lesson hasn’t been lost. Squashing riots and being the tough guy is a way to power. The citizens are usually worse off than they were before.

Riots, even though they are fun and all, are a risky way of initiating political change. It’s one thing to fight City Hall. It’s another thing to burn down the whole city. Riots are messy. Plenty of the wrong people suffer. Small shop keepers and business people aren’t the enemy, but are the ones who’s windows get smashed in.

Riots are the tactic of the powerless. People who feel the system works for them don’t riot. If they feel they have some influence on their leaders, they use the normal processes. If votes don’t count, representatives don’t represent, and the elite are deaf to grievances, conditions are then ripe for civil unrest.

Well, that and riots are fun. It puts a bit of life in an otherwise drab existence. Then there’s the chance to do a bit of looting and get some of those nice things you can never afford. Nothing like a bit of free range Socialism.

This is a cautionary tale. Keep your eyes open. When the incentives to riot are greater than the obvious downsides, trouble’s coming.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Canoes too

I’m not just about sailboats. My lovely wife shot this photo while we paddled a canoe on the Androscoggin River.

The little islands in the river are man made. At one time logs were transported down the river to two different paper mills. They divided the river with booms. One mill’s logs went on the right side of the river, the other mill’s logs went to the left. These islands anchored the booms, or “docked” them. So they are boomdocks. Over time, the pronunciation changed a bit to boondocks.

We were literally out in the boondocks today. This is what it looks like.

I kinda like it here.


Friday, August 12, 2011


It’s funny what priorities I’ve set for myself. After I spilled a cup of water into my netbook’s keyboard, it was panic time. After drying it out, the computer worked for a couple days, then it wouldn’t read any keystrokes. The next trip into town, I picked up a full sized keyboard and plugged it into the USB port. The computer worked just fine with that keyboard. However, it pretty much defeats the purpose of a netbook to drag a honking big full sized keyboard around.

YouTube had some really useful videos showing how to replace the original keyboard. Removing it, cleaning it really well, and reinstalling didn’t fix the problem. Then I went on-line to order a replacement. As soon as it arrived, I installed it. In fact, I’m typing with it now. My keyboard was instantly bumped up to a number one priority.

At the same time, my house has had a bad pressure switch on the well pump. The pressure drops lower than it’s supposed to before the pump kicks in and stops at a lower pressure than it used to. I’ve been living with it like this for months. Sometimes I’ll be in the shower upstairs and the water will quit completely for a minute or two before coming back on. Occasionally the washing machine will give a “no water” warning and shut down.

The price of a new switch is about the same as what I spent on a new keyboard. Unlike the keyboard, I can walk into a local store and buy one off the shelf. I’ve changed them before so I know how to do it. One would think that keeping the water supply performing at peak would be a priority, but it hasn’t been.

Sure, I use the computer almost every day, but I’ve got backup computers that work well enough. Water is also used everyday, but unlike a computer, it’s essential for life. Why are priorities the way they are?

I’m not exactly sure. One big incentive is that the computer problem was interesting. I had to do research as I’d never worked on this model before. There were tools to improvise and parts to be hunted down. The water pressure switch is boring. I’ve done it before and know it’s not hard to change, but the job is tedious, the lighting bad and the workspace cramped.

The switch works well enough that I’ve always been able to rationalize putting the job off. Maybe it’s that my netbook is fairly new and I want it to keep functioning at top performance. It’s like a new car that gets a dent as opposed to a dent on the old car. The new one will see the inside of a body shop pretty quickly while dents in the old car go almost unnoticed.

We’d like to think that we weigh our decisions logically. Often, we don’t. Replacing the keyboard was mostly decided on the emotional level. I’m honest enough with myself to admit it. The keyboard/pressure switch choice, in the larger scheme of things, is fairly minor. However, the same emotional decision path could interfere with truly critical issues. It’s good to be aware how priorities are set, and maybe go with the head instead of the heart if it’s really going to matter.

With that in mind, the next time I’m in town, I’ll pick up a new pressure switch.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Risk Assessment

Over a couple of beers last night, my paramedic buddy mentioned how humans are pretty bad at risk assessment. People think that they’ll be safe in some isolated zombie proof fortress on an island somewhere. You’ve got to ask yourself: how many people have ever died from a zombie apocalypse? On the the other hand, how many people die every day from heart attacks? Someone in a remote isolated area is more likely to die from a medical emergency than someone in the city.

My home area is rural, but not necessarily what I’d call really isolated. There is a paved door that runs past my house. (a narrow, rutted and pot holed road, but a road none the less.) It’s even plowed by the town in the winter. A couple years ago there was bad car accident about 2/10 of a mile from my house. A state trooper happened on the scene soon after and radioed for an ambulance. The local volunteer ambulance crew could not be mustered. I think they may have already been on a call and didn’t have the resources to respond to a second call. The professional crew one town over was also maxed out due to a combination of out of state transfers and local emergencies. Eventually the town after them was able to must their volunteer crew and respond to the emergency. That accident victim survived, but suffered a lot longer than she would have in a city.

This is not a criticism of volunteer crews. They donate a lot of time and energy to provide a public service. I salute them. They get the same basic training as an EMT who works for a professional company. However, they don’t get nearly the same number of calls. An EMS crew in a busy professional company may go on more calls in month than a volunteer will go on in 5 years. Practice does make perfect.

Another buddy of mine is making the quality of medical care a big part of his relocation plan. He and his wife are actively looking at rural property but never too far from a very good regional hospital. It’s small, but well equipped and staffed with top notch people. This couple doesn’t’t have any major health problems, but they do recognize that being in their 50s, they aren’t kids anymore. They want the self reliant, low crime, rural lifestyle, but have calculated the likelihood of needing good medical care.

Medical emergencies is one major risk people underrate. I’ve done it myself. Only in the last few years have I made a point to travel with basic medical kits. When in my twenties, I’d go bushwacking through untracked wilderness without even a band-aid. I had a lot of faith my invulnerability. I’d like to think my risk assessment has gotten better over the years.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Unexpected company

I spent the day with family and friends. Company is spending the night, so this is going to be brief.

A quick check of the stock market shows it’s been all over the place today. Big whoop. The fundamentals are still bleak.

Plenty of riots and unrest around the world.

We are all in for interesting times. Perhaps my company and I will crack open a few beers and talk the problems of the world to death. It might not really solve much of anything, but you never know.


Been expecting this for some time now

The unraveling of the stock market doesn’t surprise me. My only real surprise is that it’s taken this long to tank. Of course the market could just as easily rise to new heights in the next few days or weeks. Since the market has been unhinged from reality for decades, it doesn’t really matter what it does. For some time I’ve viewed it as a mechanism for the big guys to rob the little guys. The only way for an individual to win is to not play the game.

The fundamentals of our economy is what interests me. Our fiat money system only works in an expanding economy. Cheap oil is what allowed the economy to expand so much for so long. Peak oil happened in 2005. The cheap stuff is gone. Supplies will be harder and more expensive to get. The game has been kept going with smoke and mirrors. Unfortunately, since the downgrading of US credit, the world has seen the wizard behind the curtain.

Currencies have a lifespan. Over time the value gets diluted down to the point where it’s essentially worthless. In the past, when a currency failed, there were other currencies to flee to. Now there isn’t. Almost all global trade takes place in dollars. There’s nothing big enough right now to take its place. Maybe in the future China’s currency might do the job, but right now they have problems of their own.

Plenty of people put their faith in precious metals. To be fair, historically, it’s been a safe haven. If that works for you, fine. I’ve a friend who bought physical gold around $300/ounce. Last I heard he was looking for a big cruising catamaran and planned to head to South America. As for me, my only gold investment is the wedding ring on my finger. Since my wife is a pearl beyond price, it’s been a great investment. My head tells me precious metals are the way to go, but my heart just isn’t in it.

What is really valuable to me is my family and friends. We are there for each other in a pinch. My good water well that can be accessed with something as simple as a bucket is hugely valuable. The trees on my land that can burn in my woodstove are valuable. The fish in the lake are valuable. The game running around my swamp is valuable. A bit of stored grain and beans is a pretty good insurance policy against immediate hunger.

For years my wife and I have prepped to have some basic security in real goods and relationships. With that done, I don’t really have to worry about the stock market. Even if we loose all our stuff, it’s just stuff. We still have family, friends, and the knowledge in our heads.

The real immediate danger is what other people will do. When the guy who’s been waiting for the economy to improve so he can go back to work realizes there is no recovery, there will be hell to pay. When all hope is gone, the smashing and looting begins. It could get ugly. My plan is to sit out the unrest as much as possible. I pity those people who live in big cities.

That’s not to say that rural areas don’t have crime. Robberies and violence are up in the country too. There are desperate people everywhere. At least in the country, there are a lot less of them. Still, there may be a time of wandering robber gangs hitting isolated farm houses. That’s where having some level of community solidarity is important.

It’s still possible to go into the grocery store, spend a few hundred dollars, and have basic food security for some months, depending on family size. You’ve got to shop wisely: rice, dried beans, lentils, dried peas, cooking oil, flour, and some spices. That’ll keep you from starving -if you know how to cook and have backup methods of cooking if the grid goes down. If you don’t have these basics, go out and get them -today. It’s stuff you’ll use anyway, right?

My situation isn’t perfect. Nobody’s is. There are no guarantees in life. All we can do is improve our chances. Make sure you’ve got at least the basics. My guess is that your food stocks will be much more important to you than stocks in the market. Make sure you’ve got at least that basic investment in your future.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Indelicate doggy duties

I’ve been asked about how the dog handles bathroom duties on our small 19 foot sailboat. Many sailors have dogs, and they deal with it in different ways. The coastal sailor has the option of taking the dog to shore. Many dingy the pouch in twice a day, rain or shine. That side steps the issue of the dog doing its business on the boat, as it doesn’t. Their humans are well trained.

On our many day sailing adventures, the dog would just hold it. I bought some puppy pads to see if the dog would want to use those. It was a complete waste of money. She would not go near the things.

On our recent Lake Champlain trip, we spent a lot more time on the boat. We anchored off private property with lots of no trespassing signs. Forget about bring the dog to shore. Once again, I tried the puppy pads. I’d heard that other sailors have actually urinated a bit on the pads to give the dog the idea. In desperation, I even tried that myself. The dog looked at me like I’d somehow lost my mind. The pup held it until we beached the boat on public land for lunch -the next day.

Our last day on the lake, the dog decided she could not wait. She went to bow of the boat and urinated right there, giving me a sheepish look the whole time. I praised her and told her she was a good dog. (beats the heck out making a mess in the boat’s tiny cabin) A couple buckets of water across the bow took care of the mess. I’m glad I have a fiberglass boat.

Encouraged by my praise, the dog went back out on the bow and planted a big steamer. My lovely wife took a roll of paper towels out the hatch and took care of the mess. That went into our potty. Again, I praised the dog. Also praised the wife a lot too. Hey, someone has to have a hand on the tiller.

Okay, now I know the dog will do its business on the boat -literally as it turned out. The next step is to get a piece of Astroturf and put that out on the bow for the dog. Dragging it through the ocean will clean it up well enough.

One of my blog readers, Spud, taught his pup to do its business right over the cockpit scupper. He rigged a rinse system on a motion sensor with a delay. Spud gets the prize for ease of doggy duty.

As for me, I’m just glad the dog is willing to do its bit on the poop deck. She’s becoming a true sailor dog.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lake Champlain, Day 3

After a breakfast of coffee and sausage sandwiches, we headed down Otter Creek and back into the lake. Apparently “light and variable winds” can mean zero winds, like the morning before, or 3 foot whitecaps, as was the case then.

We beat into the wind most of the day, often sailing near maximum hull speed. It was a blast. Lake Champlain had an awful lot of boat traffic, mostly sailboats. As the day wore on, it occurred to me that we had the smallest boat on the lake. Boats that from a distance looked small, on closer examination, were at least 6 or 7 feet longer than our boat. While the ride was “lively” I didn’t feel were taking unnecessary chances.

We pounded through the waves until lunch. I hove to in a bay where the waves were a bit smaller. It gave me a chance hit the head and get some lunch. Then is was back out into the main part of the lake, where the wind and waves were much more interesting. The ferry boats kicked up some big waves of their own, creating some confusing cross chop. I prudently stayed out of their way.

By the middle of the afternoon we decided to head back to the boat ramp. We ran with the wind with just the small jib sail. Even so, our speed was 4.5 to 5.5 knots. Back at Otter Creek, we dropped the sail and motored the last mile to the boat ramp. Loading the boat on the trailer went well. All that practice is starting to pay off.

On the way back home, we stopped at a good restaurant in Burlington. What the heck, we really hadn’t spent hardly any money at all until then. Fuel costs were small as we used our waste veggie oil powered truck to pull our wind powered boat. Only used about a gallon of diesel for the truck and a gallon of gasoline for the boat. After an active day on the lake, we did justice to good cooking.

We made it home through 150 miles of moose infested back country roads without incident. All in all, it was a great trip. Very few problems, and nothing that couldn’t be worked around. I’ve some ideas for a few minor boat modifications, but that’s just to increase comfort.

The lake’s a good 122 miles long. We only really got to see about half of it. Next time we hope to see the other half. It would be possible to spend most of a summer sailing on that lake without getting bored. Then one could head south through the locks into the Hudson River. From there, it’s down to the Atlantic and the world. One could head north through the locks into Canada and the St. Lawrence Seaway. From there, one could go east to the north Atlantic or west to the Great Lakes.

We definitely will have to go back to Lake Champlain. After all, we didn’t even get to see Champy, the illusive lake monster.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lake Champlain, Day 2

It was a quiet morning at the anchorage. The one early riser who raised anchor left completely under wind power. That was considerate of him for the late sleepers. My little sailboat has no galley so I was out in the cockpit brewing the morning coffee. It was a real pleasure to sip a coffee while watching a competent skipper put his boat through its paces.

Cooking on the boat is something I’ve been mulling over for some time. There are pros and cons for many different fuels and stoves. To a large degree, my choice has been driven by working with what I already own. Last winter, I used my old propane stove, but it broke. In the end, I decided to adapt my Whisper Lite International backpacking stove. While I’m not a big fan of gasoline, I’m already dealing with it for the boat motor. The International model can run on regular gasoline, so I don’t have bring a second fuel. I cut out a piece of plywood the same size as my bottom cabin board. Might as well be able to use it as an emergency backup. On that board I mounded holders to keep the stove tank and burner in place. It keeps everything from sliding around while I cook. When not in use the stove stores in the same locker as sailboat’s fuel tank.

Cooking at dock or anchor isn’t all that hard. I just have to keep an eye out of for the odd wake or wave that would send my pot or pan flying. Being out in the cockpit those are easy enough to spot ahead of time. We realized that cooking under sail was just not going to happen. For that, we have “hand food.” Stuff you can eat uncooked with one hand: granola, fruit and energy bar, sandwiches, apples, carrots, stuff like that. In the morning, I brew a big pot of coffee that fills our big travel mugs and a large thermos. That thermos keeps us going all day.

After breakfast, we lifted our anchors and caught a light breeze that slowly moved us out into the middle of the lake -where the wind died completely. We poked around a bit, never getting much over one knot in speed. As much as I hate to use the motor, we did want to get to Snake Den Harbor for lunch. We motored over and beached the boat right up on shore. It’s public land so there’s no ugly no-trespassing signs. The dog was very happy by then to run around a bit.

After lunch, the wind had picked up enough to sail. We crossed the lake again to the VT side and explored Otter Creek. It’s a six mile motor up the creek into the tiny city of Vergennes, where there is some free docking. It’s a nice little city. We had lunch there on our way to the boat launch on day one.

One mile up the creek there’s a pretty decent boat ramp -wide and paved with cement. It was much better than where we launched. I decided to move my truck to that landing. We found a cell phone signal and called my cousin who lives nearby. She was more than happy to give me a ride to my truck.

Lake Champlain had terrible flooding of historic proportions in the spring. A really nice floating boat dock had washed up halfway on shore near the boat ramp. By lifting the swing keel and rudder, we were able to tie up to it. The dock had some damage but was very serviceable for our needs.

During our winter trip down to the Florida Keys, we gave a small bit of assistance to Roy and Dawn when their Flicka, “Laughing Dolphin,” was blown off anchor and into the Bahia Honda Bridge. They said if we were ever in their home town area in VT, to call them up. We were fairly near them and called them up. The took us out to dinner and we had a marvelous time.

We made it back to the boat just as it was getting dark. The creek was a good protected place spend the night. So ended a very busy day 2.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Lake Champlain, Day 1

It's about a 4 hour drive from our house in northern NH to Vergennes VT. On the drive over we narrowly missed a hail storm that dropped golf ball sized hail and covered the ground. It stripped about half the leaves out of the trees and the ones still remaining were very tattered. While we missed the hail, we got clobbered by bouts of heavy rain.

Fortunately, by the time we got to our boat launch, the skies had cleared. My cousin Lindy and her son Alex, who live in VT, met us at the landing. Button Bay has a ramp, but I don't recommended it for launching anything bigger than a canoe. I knew the bay was shallow, but I did not know the launch would be too so shallow to prevent the boat from floating off the trailer. The smart thing would have been to take the mast down and look for a better launch. However, I was ready to sail. I tied the bow line to the truck, backed the trailer into the water, and stopped quickly. The boat slide partway down the rollers. Then I basically pulled the trailer out from under the boat. Not very elegant, but it did the job.

We all had a nice sail across the lake to the NY side. It was windy enough for us to move near hull speed, about 5.5 knots. After a nice 10 mile sail, we returned my relatives back to their cars. One of the really nice things about sailboats is that it's possible to talk without shouting over an engine. It was a good visit.

The day was getting on, but my lovely wife wanted to sail some more. We crossed back to the NY side and pulled into a crowed little anchored. Sailors have a nightmare of a amateur boaters trying to anchor too closely. We looked like that nightmare. We squeezed between the inside boats and the rocky shore. There really wasn't much room for the boat to swing freely on one anchor, so we deployed two, one off the bow and and another off the stern. They pretty much kept us in place. The bow anchor did drag a little, however, the second anchor kept us from going very far. The neighbors need not have worried.

We retreated into the cabin during the mosquito hour. I'm happy to report my new homebuilt cabin screens worked well. Quite a few mosquitoes landed on the screens, but none found their way into the cabin. Later, we went out into the cockpit. Clear skies made for good star gazing and meteor watching. Eventually our long day caught up with us, and we retired for the night.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lake Champlain Trip

We are back from our Lake Champlain trip -three days and two nights. I've been completely out of touch with the news, the physical mailbox was overflowing and e-mail is filling my In-box. There's a mysterious delivery box on my porch. As soon as I get on top of things I'll fill everyone in our trip.

In short, it was fantastic! Good days and nights on the water. We even connected with new VT friends and old relatives.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

If you see this blog post

I'm unable to get an Internet connection. My wife and I are sailing on Lake Champlain. Should be back on-line by the end of the week.

The Internet world can keep on spinning without me.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Two Men in a Boat

Sound carries over water. That’s something to keep in mind as you talk to your buddy over the putt putt of a trolling motor.

My lovely wife was out on the deck the other day and could clearly heard a couple guys out in their small fishing boat. They were on vacation, staying a the small campground nearby.

The boaters were having the time of their lives. The weather has been pretty nice, sunsets have been spectacular, and time on the water is always good. Those guys could not get over how little they actually needed to have a good time. Then they speculated how good it would be to actually live at the lake. Wouldn’t that be great?

Yes, it truly is great. I’m loving it. Summers are wonderful. The crisp clear air of fall, combined with fall foliage is a real treat. Winter has a stark beauty all its own. Some people live here because they absolutely love winter. Usually they are avid skiers. Spring , after a long winter feels like a gift. New life springing out of the ground is not taken for granted.

Of course, making a living up here can be tough, but like the vacationing boaters realized, it doesn’t take much to be happy.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Thin line between open carry and brandishing

In a lot of places it’s theoretically legal to open carry a firearm. That’s all well and good until someone complains about it. Next thing you know you are talking the guys in blue. Maybe they’ll talk to you a bit and let you go. On the other hand, what if that complainer claims you threatened them with that gun. That’s called brandishing, and that you are not supposed to do. The whole issue might get you locked up until a trial sorts everything out. Who wants to deal with that? I’m no legal expert, but it seems “brandishing” is one of those things open to way too much interpretation.

Some people try and do an end run around the whole open carry/brandishing issue. They get a concealed carry permit, but make sure any numskull can see they’ve got the outline of a powerful handgun under that tight T-shirt. I don’t really know how that will stand up in court either, but my guess is that it stands a better chance.

Get to know the laws in your state before you decide what to do. Just as important, find out how actual court cases are being decided. What the law says and how it’s interpreted are two different things.