Monday, December 31, 2012

Disappointed in the Mayan Apocalypse?

Are you one of those people that might be even a tiny bit disappointed that we didn't have a Mayan Apocalypse? Did you have your hopes up for some zombie shooting? Fancy yourself a survivor type?

What is it about your current life that makes an apocalypse look like an improvement?

There's good news. You don't have to wait for a total systems failure to radically change your life. All you have to do is to change your life.

What's the matter? Can't do that?

Why not?

Afraid that maybe you aren't the survivor type you think you are? Now would be the time to find out for sure, when we are not in a total collapse. It's easier to recover from any mistakes.

Can't run away and hide in the National Forest because you'd get arrested? Did you think it would be easier dealing with the biker gang warlords that would control the area in a real collapse? Maybe you have to reconsider the whole run away to the forest daydream.

It's easy for life to slip into a rut. Your life might not be all you wanted, but it's not too terrible. TV and a few beers numb you just enough to get by. Positive change will just sneak up and happen to you one day. Maybe an apocalypse is more likely after all.

Do you really need that drastic of an excuse to change your life? Bothered by the potential criticism of friends and family? Don't let that stop you. Most people hate to see someone escape the life of the mundane. It's funny how often middle aged adults make major life changes after their parents die. They might be 50 years old, but are still afraid of doing something to disappoint their parents. Two things happen when the parents pass on. That potential disappoint is gone, and it's a reminder that you aren't going to live forever.

What if you set out on a new life adventure and it fails? I've news for you. At least part, and maybe all of your new plans will fail. Doing anything new has a steep learning curve. However, you will learn something. Maybe that's better than never doing anything new?

A fast collapse forces people out of ruts. The slow grinding collapse we are in sneaks up on people and they slowly adapt to feeling miserable. Breaking out of that takes work. Most people won't admit that anything really major is wrong. I'm old enough to remember when every building and street corner did not have a surveillance camera. A blue collar job paid as well as a college professor. Your boss didn't live in a high priced gated community but across the street from you. The collapse takes decades, not days.

If you do break free, much of what you do will be on your own. However, you will meet other adventurers along the way. They will be your tribe. These are the people you can trade knowledge, goods, skills, tools, and party with.

You've been shackled with debt, responsibilities, expectations, laws and shame. Look at your chains. Will it take an apocalypse to break them or can you slowly file them off yourself?
Freedom might require any number of disguises. You aren't a wandering vagabond; you are hiking the Appalachian Trail. You aren't living in a tent -it's an extended vacation. You are not an unemployed bum, but an artist, musician or a writer. You aren't a trash picker but a radical recycling environmentalist.

You are fighting your oppressor, not with a gun, but with something that really hurts. You are living free and easy on the land, outside of normal controls. Leaders need followers to survive, and you can be your own leader, no apocalypse required.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Piles of cheap tools

Anybody who's handy should have a good set of hand tools. They should be kept clean, organized, and stored in the same place. When you need a tool, you'll know where to find it. Quality hand tools last a lifetime, so it's a good investment. The bulk of my good hand tools come from my dad.

That being said, if you are anything like me, a lot of cheap, random tools end up in your possession. Some are yard sale specials. Others are from friends and relatives. At this point in my life, the only way to not end up with more cheap tools is to actively discourage people from giving them to me. That's not going to happen.

Okay, so you've got a good set for the house, then what? I've put together some moderately decent tool kits for the van and my wife's car. My boat has a good enough kit. That marine enviornment is tough on tools, so I check that kit often and keep them well oiled.

But wait, there's more . . . tools that is. I've still got things like random wrenches lying around, homeless. Today I used one of those random wrenches to work on my backup oil furnace. When the fuel tank runs out, a wrench is needed to bleed the air out of the system. After I was done, the wrench was hung on the side of the furnace. Next time I have to do that job, the right tool will be where it's needed.

If you are doing serious work, use a serious tool. However, often a cheap tool will do plenty of lighter duty jobs. If you've got them anyway, might as well put them where they'll be of use. Sure beats having them rust away in a box somewhere.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Seasoned firewood and operator error

When your source of heat is a woodstove, you've got to stay on top of it. It doesn't take much to go from comfort to cold.

Here's how I goofed. The first thing is that I let the stove die down a bit lower than I should. When I noticed that I followed up with another goof. There's some firewood not quite as seasoned as the bulk of my pile. However, it is the closest firewood, so I grabbed that rather than put my boots on to get the better stuff.

Just to make matters a little bit worse, the ashes were getting full, restricting the airflow just enough to slow the fire down. It took a couple hours before I noticed as I was trying to get some other things done around the house.

Then the sun goes down and temperatures make their way to the single digits. Right about that time my lovely wife comes downstairs complaining about being cold. My bad.

The ash bin gets emptied. The dampers are opened up. I put my boots on and haul in some good seasoned wood. Of course, the house is cool, so it takes a few hours to get everything toasty again.

It doesn't help that I can go around in just a T-shirt while my lovely wife is wearing a sweater. By the time it's cold enough for me to be uncomfortable, it's really cold.

There's some subzero (Fahrenheit) temperatures in the forecast so I'd better stay on top of things. Down in the basement is a huge woodstove that I haven't even fired up yet this season. Between that one and the kitchen woodstove, the house will be quite warm. I've put off using it because the kitchen stove has kept things warm enough for me. Using only one stove conserves firewood, but I guess I've been a bit too frugal.

In two weeks we should be heading to Florida until the end of February. That will conserve firewood better than anything, while keeping the lovely wife warm.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Snow for kids and dogs

I've a granddaughter and a dog that are rather fond of snowstorms. There's something special about Christmas vacation and fresh snow. The world is transformed. Everything is new and different.

As an adult, it does me good to watch them and remember. Otherwise beautiful snow is noting more than shoveling and slippery roads.

There's hot coffee by the wood stove, so it's all good.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

What we carry in our head

When it's very easy to get any information you need at a few moment's notice, it's easy not to memorize anything. When I was growing up, it wasn't all that uncommon to have arguments about some fact or another. Now it seems that as soon as someone asks a question, the answer gets googled. The younger generations don't know what's it's like to go around not knowing something and not being able to find out quickly.

Of course, previous generations complained that the young didn't memorize anything as it was all written down somewhere in a book. My dad, back in the dark ages, remembers a teacher telling him everything he needed to know could be found in a library. His response was, “Then what I'm I doing here?”

Having the resources of a world wide information net in one's pocket has put the biggest library, with the fastest card catalog, in people's pocket. There's less and less need to keep information in one's head. Besides, there's so much information out there that it's impossible to memorize it all. The days of the well rounded Renaissance Man ended with the Renaissance.

It's all wonderful, except when a person finds is cut off from all that information and has to figure out a way to survive. The grid goes down. A smart phone with a dead battery are of little use. In short, technology fails. Then you are stuck with what you've stuff into your little gray cells. If all it has is web addresses, you are in trouble.

What you need are skills. Skills are more than just information. If you've ever tried to start a fire with a bow drill, you know there's more to it than knowing how. Skills have to be practiced. It's not enough that the head has information. The hands must know what to do and hands learn by doing.

So sure, use the Internet to discover new skills, but then practice them in the real world to make them your own.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Loot Reports

A lot of my friends used to e-mail their post-Christmas loot report. They'd list all the cool stuff they and their family got for Christmas. That was fine. Mostly it wasn't to brag, although that was part of it, but to say how happy they were with the thoughtful presents friends and family bought them.

In recent years there's been a lot less stuff at Christmas. Times are tough. Less is spent on gifts and the list of people to buy for has gotten a lot shorter. More gifts are handmade, which I happen to like. They are more personal. Time and cleverness was employed instead of money.

The parties have gotten better. It's a great pleasure to spend time with great people. There's no shortage of alcoholic drinks, but nobody has gotten sloppy drunk. That's wonderful, as drunks aren't very interesting to talk to. However, a little alcohol for social lubrication has its place.

The food has been amazing. I'm from a culture that expresses love through good food. By that measurement, it has been an extraordinarily loving year. My friends and family know how to cook and bake -great skills to have.

This year, while we spent money on gifts, we still ended the month with a tiny bit less debt than we started it. That's a huge accomplishment.

As the holiday becomes less and less commercial for me, I find myself getting happier about it. While I don't want to get into it, Christmas has often been a depressing time of year for me. This year I've caught myself smiling a lot more.

I even let my lovely wife play as much Christmas music as she'd like. Usually I can't stand it. Don't tell her, but I caught myself playing Christmas music in the car -when all alone.

As the holiday has been less and less about loot, the more I like it. I did get some nice well thought out gifts this year, but I'm happy no one broke the bank to buy them.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all my friends and followers! May the season shine bright upon you.

While we can hardly notice it yet, the days are getting longer. Take heart where you may.

There's a lot of friends and family staying at the Sixbears domicile during this holiday vacation. I'll be busy with good company and good cheer. I hope everyone everywhere has a fine time -or at least, not so bad.

Love it or hate it, the holidays don't last forever. Hope to see you all on the other side.

Peace and Balance,


Monday, December 24, 2012

Delays and therapy

Usually my lovely wife and I like to head south right after New Years. In fact, sometimes we planned our departure to coincide with a friend's New Year's party downstate. That worked out as it's only about a three hour drive. Half the day is lot winterizing the house, so a long drive after that can be a drag.

This year we've been delayed until at least January 12. My lovely wife needs some physical therapy before we head south. It's nothing too serious, yet it's painful. She hated to delay the trip, but I insisted she get treatment. How much fun could we have if she was dealing with extra pain?

On the bright side, I can put off the last of the trip preparation until after the holidays. Dealing with the holidays can be crazy. Now add planning and preparation for a long trip on top of that. I'll take the extra time to get our gear ready. When we finally do get to those warm souther waters, we'll be ready for sailing.

Nothing in life is certain. Live a little while you can.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Trisadexaphobic? Trixadexaphillic?

Trisadexaphobia is the fear of the number 13.

Now that we are safely past the Mayan Apocalypse, we can all worry the year 2013. If you are phobic about the number 13, it's going to be a bad year.

When I was a little kid, I remember hearing about Friday the 13th and how that was supposed to be bad luck. Being a contrary kid, I decided from that point on 13 would be my lucky number. I looked forward to every Friday the 13th, expecting it to be a good day. You know what, it most often was. Attitude is everything.

So now I'm thinking 2013 will be a good year for me.

Why not?

Besides, like I aways say: It's bad luck to be superstitious.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Unintended consequences and sociopaths

Obama is the best gun salesman the industry ever had. Right now he just set off a buying spree of semi-automatic assault weapons. In the next few weeks, any manufacturer who can get a rife in the stores will do so. If a President wanted to get a lot of military grade rifles in civilian hands, this is the way to do it.

Does anyone think it will possible to peaceably remove these guns from the hands of the general public?

Technological advances will soon make the whole thing moot anyway. People have always been able to turn out a machine gun in a good home machine shop. Now designs can be quickly be shared in an open source way to facilitate that process. Machine shops are old school. Check out this video on gun making in Pakistan. It doesn't take a nice new modern factory to turn out perfectly functional guns.

Before long it will be easy to turn out assault rifles on 3D printers. The printers are coming down in price and capability is going up. Of course, it will be illegal to put out your very own assault gun. It's currently illegal to print currency with regular printers, but it happens all the time.

The guns exist. Soon there will a lot more of them out there. Society will have to learn to live with that reality. There are serious problems with such powerful guns falling into the hands of the mentally unstable. We'll have to focus on the people instead of on the guns. That will be unpopular because dealing with people is a lot harder than passing another ineffective gun law.

Focusing on the guns will prove to be a waste of time and money. Really. It's a fact. Perhaps it's an uncomfortable fact, but there you go. It might might make liberals feel good. It will definitely put more guns out there. The NRA will do extremely well. Politicians will make speeches and fire up their base. In the end, sociopaths will still be out there, with tools of destruction at their disposal.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Road trip at the end of the world

My lovely wife and I were invited to a couple “end of the world” parties. We've had to decline, even though they looked like fun. Instead, we are on the road picking up my granddaughter. She's spending her school vacation up here in the Great White North.

We'll catch the next end of the world party.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Not evenly distributed

There's a saying that the collapse is here. It's just not evenly distributed. I think there's a lot of truth to that.

My views on collapse have been colored by growing up in an area that's been in decline. All my life it's been year after year of fewer opportunities. There have been been ups and downs. Some people have done quite well for themselves. Bottom line, my home town has less than half the population it did when I was a kid.

People who grew up in growing cities have had different experiences. Good for you. You can only experience collapse vicariously.

I was at a Christmas party recently. Most of the the people there I've known for many years. 20 years ago few would guess they are where they are now. The first thing I noticed was that few at the party had regular jobs. Some had just been laid off due to one of the last good employers closing their doors.

These are talented people. In a better economy, they'd have made names for themselves. Maybe they should have moved to growing cities, like many of my high school friends. Some of those who left are doing fine economically. However, it's not that easy to leave your home. The area has natural beauty. People have deep family bonds. Besides, things didn't look all that bad. Good times were just over the horizon.

Most families have put together a living from low paying part time work, working far from home for months at a time, food stamps, heating assistance, free state medical childcare, disability payments, and ever increasing debt. One guy lost his business, his wife divorced him and took the rest of his money. He spent two years living in a tee pee out in the woods, sitting by a campfire. He said they were good years.

The house we had the party in was underwater and the host months behind on the mortgage. He figured we might as well party while we can.

The thing about collapse is that it can sneak up on you. One day you wake up, twenty years are gone, and you are worse off than when you were then. Life goes on.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Problems just fade away and disruptive technology

The world is full of problems just crying out for our attention. Do you know how a lot of them will be solved? They won't, they'll go away on their own.


Think about it. When's the last time someone has complained there's not enough hitching rails for horses in their downtown? What about the horse manure problem on Main Street? Those problems went away with the horse. Of course, they've been replaced by car problems, but few make complaints about horses.

No one is nagged about rewinding a rented VHS tape. DVDs and now direct Internet downloads made that problem go away.

Automatic weapons? That problem will go away soon after there's an Instructable on how to build a destro-ray in your basement.

Think of the problem with nuclear proliferation. Do you know what's going to make that problem go away? When there's weapons that make nuke bombs look like crossbows, the problem will go away. Believe it or not, there was once serious talk about banning that horrific weapon known as the crossbow.

New technology makes old problems disappear. Often, it's pretty darn disruptive. Take the crossbow for example. At the time, the mounted armored knight was at the top of the military hierarchy. It took a lot of money, equipment and training to field those knights. Then crossbows came along. A skinny half-trained peasant could kill a knight with one well placed crossbow bolt.

New technology challenges the political order. Those in charge like the old way of doing things. After all, those are the conditions that allowed them to crawl to the top in the first place. It's in their best interest to suppress new developments. Never mind that many of those new developments could make life for everyone better. Power is not about making lives better.

Being in the 99%, I'm always looking for disruptive technology and ideas that will make my life better -at the expense of the elite.

Here's a partial wish list;

Power plant in a box: $299.00, just disconnect from the grid, plug it in, and enjoy free limitless electrical power.

Real Life matter transporter: $599.00 Do an end run around the TSA!

Drone Be-Gone Spray: $3.99 Kills surveillance and Predator drones dead!

Truth Ray: $49.99 One zap from the Truth Ray and the target can only tell the truth. Fun at parties and when Congress is in session!

Immortality Salve: $8.95 Just three easy applications to achieve immortality. (Don't forget to swab your heels.) Tell your medical insurer goodbye -forever.

You get the idea. Any of these things would be a game changer. They won't be available in stores or on TV. They, or something else currently unimaginable, will appear on the Internet. Why do think the Powers that Be want to regulate and limit the Internet? It's because it's one of those disruptive technologies that got out of the box.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The News Story

When there's a breaking new story the facts can be hard to sort out. Things are messy. Reporters jump the gun and sometimes the reported story is just plain wrong. It's normal to be confused during chaotic situations: wars, natural disasters, horrific accidents, mass shootings, fires, and the like. Even in calmer times the desire to be first to report can result in errors. Fox and CNN got the Supreme Court decision on Obama Care exactly wrong.

Then later we have what I call “The Narrative.” The news gets woven into a coherent story. At best, it's a story that has some close relationship to the truth. There is a problem with turning news into narrative. Things that don't fit the neat story are ignored. Perhaps it's the witness to the crime who claims the perpetrator was 6 inches taller than the man in custody. Maybe it's the reports of a second gunman -on the grassy knoll. Could be reports from firefighters of explosions in a building. Giving too much attention to these reports would cause doubt in the neat story.

Worse is when “The Narrative.” has political value. The “story” becomes the justification for government action. When that happens there's serious pressure to cast that tale in stone. Anybody remember Iraq's weapons of mass destruction? That was supposed to be the main reason for going to war. When that was found to be false, we said sorry Mr. Saddam, here's your country back. Wait, that didn't happen now did it?

When there is a breaking story I assume that many of the facts will be wrong. However, I also look out for facts that might prove inconvenient and disappear down the rabbit hole. Once a story is picked up for a political agenda, alarm bells go off in my head. Horrific news elicits an emotional response in people. That emotional reaction is used to push through a political agenda in the heat of the moment. The next thing we know we have The Patriot Act, or other laws just as bad.

From the time we are infants we are told stories. All the stories have a beginning, middle and end. If things are not neatly tied up in the end, it's a badly writing story. Life is not a neat story tale. There are uncomfortable truths, senseless actions, bad characters, and things are not tied up with neat endings. Are we grownup enough to handle the truth, whatever it is?


Monday, December 17, 2012

Snow for Christmas

Looks like we'll have a good ground cover of snow for Christmas. We are just north enough and high enough to get more snow than rain in our forecast. My shovels are standing by.

I finally got the last of my firewood under cover. The job should have been done ages ago, but something always came up that was more important -or fun. Let's be honest here. Come to think of it, there's lots of things more fun that piling wood. What's even less fun is digging firewood out of the snow, so the storm motivated me.

Another thing less fun that piling firewood is buying heating oil. I was talking to a friend of mine at a party the other night. He keeps his house at 60 degrees Fahrenheit and his workshop much colder than that. In fact the shop's been so cold paint won't dry. I don't know how Santa and the Elves manage up there in the North Pole.

I'd much rather have snow than freezing rain. Driving is better and it's much easier to remove snow than to deal with icy driveways. When I was a kid, freezing rain was a rarity. Now it's common and can happen any time during the winter.

Another weird winter weather effect has been thunder and lighting during snowstorms. That's just wrong. It's like god got drunk and thought he'd play a prank on us. Give me a plain old snowstorm any day. Save the special effects for the movies.

The grandkids will be able to go sledding in a winter wonderland during Christmas vacation. That's what childhood is all about.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Boat season

It's the wonderful time of year again. Time to get the boat and trailer ready for my trip to Florida. It feels weird to be working on the boat and trailer in the snow. I'm also the first one in town to register my boat every year. I can't put the new stickers on until the boat is in Florida and it warms up enough for them to stick. There are few little projects that will have to wait until I get to where it's warm. Winter cold and ice make everything harder.

There's a bit of ice in the cockpit so I've just put a better and larger tarp over the boat. Like in previous years, the snow and ice probably won't completely melt off the boat until somewhere in South Carolina. At least I shouldn't have to shovel snow out of the boat this year.

The trailer needs to be greased and the tires inspected. Also have to make sure the lights and safety chains are in good shape.

I had hoped to have all this stuff done by now, but my nasty cold set me back over a week. Then there's this holiday thing coming up that's requiring time, money and attention.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Unpaid Internship

It's bad enough that so many companies have unpaid internships. Recently I've learned that people are paying for the privilege of working for free.

We've gone backwards. In the Middle Ages, apprentices would work for free for their masters. Even so, the master had to provide room and board, along with actually teaching a skill. Slavery is bad, but at least the slaves have their basic needs attended to.

In principle, I have nothing against working for free. I do it all the time for family and friends. Heck, I'll even help out a stranger for free -brotherhood of man and all that.

Unpaid internships for a company are another animal entirely. It can be argued that skills are being taught. Maybe so. We used to call it on the job training. Wages were lower, because the worker had no skills, but they got paid. For me, the idea of paying someone to then be able to work for free goes beyond the pale.

If I work for free for family, friends or as a kindness to strangers, I'm part of the gift economy. The community is better for it. People's lives are just a bit better. If I refuse payment and tell the person to pay it forward, the good deed keeps on doing good. The world gets a bit better.

Work for free for a big corporation and their bottom line looks a bit better. Where has that brought us? To the point where they are even greedier and now require money for the joys of slavery.

Of course, I suppose some people really want to grow up to be corporate tools. In that case, paying for an internship is an excellent way to serve your new masters.


Friday, December 14, 2012

For want of a clamp

So there we were, motoring up the highway in the veggie van, not a care in the world. We'd had a good trip downstate. Suddenly, the heater starts blowing cold air. A quick glance in my side mirror showed a fine mist of antifreeze blowing out from my veggie tank compartment. Not good.

I take the next exit and pulled into an abandoned gas station. A coolant hose had slipped off a copper heating coil. It only took a few minutes to reattach the clamp, but a fair amount of antifreeze had leaked out. One of the problems with a custom veggie conversion is that I'm responsible for all the screw ups. I know the clamps have to be checked for tightness periodically, especially at first. For some reason, it slipped my mind.

Fortunately, I'd stopped before the van overheated. There was a Kmart just about a half mile down the road. I carefully drove it over with a steady eye on the temperature gage. It had enough antifreeze left to prevent overheating so we made it there just fine.

Never open the radiator cap on a hot engine. The van needed some time to cool off before adding more antifreeze. We walked to a nearby restaurant and had a nice long lunch. Afterwards, I bought some more antifreeze at the store.

After topping everything up and checking for leaks -and other maybe loose clamps, we drove the remaining 150 miles without incident. Live and learn . . . but I already knew this lesson and forgot about it. Duh!

At least there was no major harm done.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Best laid retirement plans

I was talking with a buddy of mine a couple days ago. He mentioned that after he put 31 years into the company, they are doing away with the old retirement plan. The defined benefit plan will be replaced with a 401. Those investment plans can be fine -if you are young and the market is booming. For someone nearing retirement age, in this economy, not so good.

At least he's still working and might get something at retirement age. Lots of good jobs have gone away. The retirement dreams are quickly replaced by day to day survival nightmares.

My dad lives in a Florida retirement park. It's not one of the high end ones, but it's nice. There are indoor and outdoor pools, fishing ponds, game rooms, pool tables, and recreation centers. Sure, it's a trailer park, but the lots are good size and tree shaded. Most of the people there are from what was the middle class. Defined benefit retirement plans were a lot more common for his generation.

It should come as no surprise that in a place full of old people there's a lot of turn over. Even in a nice warm climate, no one lives forever. Places in the park were in demand, so trailers didn't sit empty long. Until now that is. Say a 90 year old person passes on. There aren't as many 65 year old people who can afford to retire in the style of their parents. Often when a place is sold, it's bought by an older person who's still working.

There's a whole economy based on retired people with time and a few dollars to spend. It's a smaller economy now.

So what's a person to do? A growing number of people are looking at self reliant survival skills as part of their retirement plan. Better to invest in solar electric panels on the roof than pension plans that won't pay out. They are planting fruit and nut trees, learning to garden, and cooking from basic ingredients. My buddy has been practicing and developing survival skills for years. He never dreamed he'd need them for a comfortable retirement.

Another friend of mine was downsized from a good middle management job. He went from a house to a trailer in a park. Later, he sold the trailer and bought a second hand RV for $3500 and traveled around in that for a while. As he and his wife got older and more infirm, they sold the RV and moved to a family farm house in Vermont shared with three extended families. Between a little outside income and what they raised on the farm, everyone got by. My friend ended his days broke, but surrounded by family and friends. It could be worse.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Silly Internet Question

I was reading a popular Internet site. They asked the silly question: if you had to fight off a zombie attack what could you use for weapons within six feet of you?

Hmmmmm, what would I use for weapons? The dozen or so rifles and shotguns in my office? The bag of handguns I haven't put away yet after going to the range? The three machetes? The tonfas and bokens hanging on the wall?

Yeah, I'm American. I have a few guns. Now in some parts of the world, that's an arsenal. Locally, it's about the average number of guns. Here's what happened to me, and it's a fairly common story. My dad was a hunter and he took, me hunting as a kid. At 13 he gives me a single shot .22 rifle. By the time I'm 18, I had an old 303 Savage deer rifle, a couple .22 rifles, and a 20 gage shotgun, plus a couple .22 handguns.

As the years go by, I buy a couple more guns, nothing extravagant. A coworker retires and moves to Florida. He sells me his 30-06 Remington semiautomatic. Since that's the caliber most the guys I was hunting with were using, it was nice to have. The price was right. A couple more shotguns were added for different types of hunting.

One of my uncles gave me his SKS rifle. It was a war trophy from his 'Nam days. As my dad would hunt less and less, more of his guns ended up in my collection instead of his. A lot of my friends were shooting 9mm handguns, so I my lovely wife got me one for my birthday. I picked up nifty little Ruger 380 for concealed carry.

The thing about quality firearms is that they last. New guns are made constantly. Over the years, the guns keep piling up. Basic maintenance goes a long ways to keep guns in good condition. If needed there are skilled gunsmiths everywhere.

Some years back it occurred to me that I should probably have ammunition for all these different guns. It was no big deal to occasionally pick up a few boxes. Fortunately, I had a pretty good pile before the price of ammo went crazy.

So yeah, the zombies don't stand a chance.

Of course, there are no zombies. It was a silly question, after all.



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Nothing to worry about

Here's a true story about a friend of mine. His van fit the description of a van associated with the abduction, rape and murder of a number of women. An FBI forensics team goes over his van with a fine toothed comb.

They find a machete, rope, duct tape, and discover evidence of sexual activity. He takes a lie detector test, but the results are inconclusive.

Here's what really happened. The machete, rope and duct tape just happened to be a few things he forgot to unload from a recent camping trip. His marriage had been falling apart for a long time. He'd recently met another women and they were having sex in the van. The inconclusive lie detector test was because he was extremely stressed out that his wife would find out about the girlfriend.

He was signaled out for investigation because he stopped to offer assistance to someone broken down on the side of the road. The person refused help, thought my friend was suspicious, and gave the plate number to the police.

He was cleared, but only because they were not able to put him near any of the crime scenes at the right times. His days were all accounted for.

Had things gone a bit differently, he's probably be serving a life sentence right now, for something he didn't do.

So when you think it's fine for the police to search your car, think of my friend.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Technology yes, permission no

We have the technology to set up low impact sustainable communities. What we don't have is official permission.

We have the tools: water catchment, organic gardens, permaculture, alternative energy, rocket stoves, composting toilets, and so on. What we don't have is permission to implement solutions.

How many of us live in places where something as simple and useful as a clothesline is banned? Solar panels are not allowed on people's roofs, never mind a small windmill. People have actually been arrested for catching and using rainwater off their roofs. Imagine if someone would do something really radical like eliminate their sewer service and go with composting toilets and a home graywater system. The horror.

Rural living is usually a bit more free about those things than city living. When I wanted solar electric power, I just put up a pole in the yard and mounted panels. Try that in the city. It's a bit harder. There are people who stealthy do things without permission. Solar panels are quietly put up on buildings. Edible plants are sown in city parks. Abandoned buildings get turned into workshops and play areas. Of course, should the authorities take offense, it all gets taken away or destroyed.

Even after a disaster like hurricane Sandy, the authorities destroyed people's self help initiatives. Rocket stoves that had been safely providing heat and cooking were taken apart. Volunteer feeding stations were closed down. Makeshift shelters were destroyed. The government hates competition.

All these rules and regulations may have made some sort of sense during good times. When anyone who wanted to work could afford the basics of life. The rules were not too burdensome. A proper functioning economy was able to provide for people's needs. The economic conditions have changed, but the rules haven't. The government may not function at the level of actually providing the needed services, but it's ability to enforce rules still exists.

It's the worse of both worlds. The old ways are dying, yet they still have enough life to keep their replacement from being born. Maybe a little more chaos would be a good thing. At least it would wipe the slate clean.

In the mean time, we practice our arts. Some of us live in the country or in towns with fewer outdated rules. Others practice our arts in secret, hoping to not get caught. There are those who live mobile lives. If the rule enforcers are a problem, they move on. It could be done in a good sized sailboat or an RV. People also live mobile lives in canoes and on bicycles. Attitude is more important than income.

We have knowledge and skills. Food, shelter, clothing, safety and community can be provided without Big Brother and the Nanny State. That's one of the reasons I think we'll do better than the Powers that Be expect us to. More and more of us can do things for ourselves. We aren't going to just roll over and die.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Don't make improvements

Don't you hate it when you fire up your computer and discover they've “improved” things behind your back? My e-mail service was improved recently. Apologies and more improvements soon followed.

Blogger improves things so well that people can't operate their own sites. Once that happens it's really easy to change to a new service. What the heck, of you've got to learn something new anyway.

I'd complain about Facebook changes, but I've never become a member. The only way to win is not to play.

I'm trying to look at improvements from their point of view. There you are, working day in and day out for some computer company. You want to improve things. This is the Internet where innovation moves at break neck speed. All the other geeks would laugh at you for keep your site the same 3 months in a row. You live and breath this technology stuff and assume we all want these improvements.

No we don't. Most of us want to fire up our computer and find things just the way we left them. From our view point, one day we knew how to send an e-mail or post a blog, the next day, we don't. All that energy and time invested in the old way of doing things is gone and lost forever.

It's not that we hate all improvements. We don't mind when something like storage gets increased from 2 gigs to 87 thousand terabytes That's like discovering your mechanic tweaked the engine in your car and it has a lot more horsepower and better fuel economy. No problem. What we hate is major changes to the way the site works. It's like getting in your car only to discover the steering wheel has been moved to the backseat -and is now a banana.

If you've got change that stuff, do it Charles Darwin style: very very slowly over a long period of time.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Blame the little people

I'm so tired of seeing the little guys who do their job taking on the chin. Remember the whole Twinkie thing a while ago? How many people were left with the impression that the problem was a stubborn union? The lion's share of the blame should have gone towards the owners who strip mined the company's assets and gave themselves huge bonuses. That's just one recent example.

We had the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The idea was sold that the cuts would stimulate the economy and create jobs. The economy would grow so fast that the lost tax revenue would more than be made up with growth. It didn't happen. It failed, definitively. So why are still having this argument? Why are we looking at cuts in Social Security and Medicare to plug the fiscal hole?

Back when I was a Firefighter I did a stint on the negotiation committee for a new contract. The city manager had this big long presentation. He went on and on about the horrible shape of the city's finances. Because the finances were so bad the Firefighters should take a cut in pay.

Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore. I asked the manager if the city was currently on fire. He looked at me a bit funny and said no. That's because I've been doing my job, I said. The fiscal health of the city was your job. Don't ask me to take a cut in pay because of your incompetence.

Negotiations went downhill from there. He really didn't like me much. That's fine. In the end, instead of a cut, we got a small increase. I think he finally settled with us so he wouldn't have to meet with me anymore.


Friday, December 7, 2012

The human animal

There's a common theme among doomers that we are going to go the way of all animals that outstrip their resource base. We have the classic example of St. Mathew Island. Reindeer were introduced on the island as an emergency food supply. Having no natural predators on the island and an abundant food source, their population exploded. Then it collapsed and eventually they all died out. Some believe this is the future of man.

Malthusian theory predicts that humans will pretty much go the way of the reindeer of St. Mathew Island. A more modern take on Malthus is that we've been able to vastly increase our population due to the stored up energy in fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are finite so the catastrophe will get us sooner or later.

In spite of the St. Matthew Island reindeer providing a real world example of a Malthusian catastrophe, I have hope for humanity. We have the real world example of Cuba's response to having its oil cut off after the collapse of the USSR. They totally reorganized their society and changed their agriculture, economy, transportation and even the national diet. True, they had a couple of lean years, but they survived.

So that's the difference between reindeer on St. Mathew Island and humans on the island of Cuba? Humans can change. We don't like to. Few will change until they really have to, but we can adapt.

That's not to say humans always adapt. The Vikings on Greenland died out at the same time the Inuit were thriving. The Vikings, for whatever reason, did not decide to live like their more successful neighbors.

Culture and religion can be funny things. Imagine you belong to a religion that forbids you from eating a certain animal, say rabbits. The origin of the ban may have been logical. Perhaps the region had a high incidence of tularemia or other rabbit disease. Avoiding rabbits at all costs would make sense. Now lets say your tribe of non rabbit eating humans now lives in Australia, which is overrun by rabbits. Your tribe's normal food source fails and all that's left to eat is rabbits. Do you change your culture and religion and starve or do you adapt?

Okay, so that's a bit of silly hypothetical example. What if you are an American who was told that the “American way of life is non-negotiable,” -Dick Cheney. You might as well say the ban on eating rabbits is non-negotiable. Are we reindeer or humans? Are we willing to change and live or stay the same and die?

We can choose to change. Thanks to this wonderful age of person to person communication, we can quickly and easily share what works. It could be an Instructable on DIY power or a YouTube about urban gardening. Millions of people can now share solutions in an open source manner. We can put our brains and opposable thumbs to work.

The problem is that most of our leaders are reindeer. They've done very well for themselves doing the same old same old and are invested in the current systems. If they see a Malthusian die off coming, their plan is not to prevent it but to be the last human with the last cheese sandwich. The lesson is to not wait for your leaders to lead. Find your own solutions and share them. Don't let reindeer thinking trump human thinking.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Good Cup of Coffee

My lovely wife and I drink a fair amount of coffee. We take our coffee seriously. Life is too short for bad coffee, but a small bag of organic fair trade coffee costs dearly at the grocery store. To save money, I buy in bulk 35 – 40 pounds of coffee at a time. It only costs a few more dollars to ship 40 pounds as it does to ship 5.

Green coffee (unroasted) is the way to go. Green coffee can go years without an loss of flavor. It's only after it's roasted that the clock starts running. It's also much cheaper to buy it green. I get mine from Dean's Beans. We have to relationship with the company other than the fact that I buy their coffee.

Why fair trade organic? The fair trade label indicates that the farmer who actually grew the coffee makes a living wage. Usually, most of the profit from coffee goes to middle men. Organic means the trees were grown in a more natural setting. There are other trees and plants mixed in. In fact, unlike a plantation, birds and animals live among the coffee trees. With all the coffee I drink, there's a small forest out there that I'm supporting.

Of course, you need a way of roasting the coffee. The easiest is to buy a regular coffee roaster. Mine cost about 80 bucks some years ago. Measure out the coffee, set the timer, and the coffee is done. There are many different models out there, but there's no need to spend over $150. When camping, I can roast coffee using a dry cast iron frying pan with a cover. This takes a bit of skill. The fire has to be hot but not too hot. The pans needs to be shook, like making popcorn. In fact as the coffee roasts, it makes a sound like popcorn. The first pop is called the “first crack.” Once all the coffee pops, it's usable. If you like a darker roast, listen for the second softer pop, known as the “second crack.” The outer skin of the coffee bean, the chaff, separates when roasted. A coffee roasting machine will have a ways of dealing with the chaff. If you pan roast, just dump the coffee into a shallow cooling pan and blow the chaff away. There are whole books written about coffee roasting, but this will get you started.

Here's where I differ from the coffee purist. A true coffee fanatic will only use a burr grinder to grind coffee. That's great, but none of the one's I've bought have held up. In the end, I go back to the cheapo coffee grinders that you can get anywhere. I'm still looking for a good hand grinder. The older ones that actually grind coffee have caught the eye of collectors and decorate shelves. Prices are high. The modern knock offs don't work nearly as well. I bought one and soon came to conclusion that it's main function was decorative.

A drip style coffee maker is supposed to capture more of the flavor. That may be true, but my lovely wife and I did so much tent camping that we got used to using a stainless steel peculator. It's your basic old fashioned place on the fire coffee maker. The coffee is hotter than from a drip machine so it stays hot longer in a thermos or an air pot. The coffee made in the morning is still hot enough to drink in the afternoon. Another bonus is that there's no coffee filters to throw away. (or to buy)

Okay, how's this for a green hippy dippy cup of coffee. Fair trade organic and bought in bulk to reduce packaging. Roasted using a roaster power by solar generated electricity. The coffee is brewed in a reusable percolator with no disposable filters. It's heated on a woodstove burning sustainability harvested firewood. The coffee is poured into reusable ceramic mugs, some of which were made by a local potter. I drink my coffee black, but my lovely wife sweetens it with either local honey or maple syrup. Her creamer comes from local farms.

My dad said that if he had to do all that for a cup of coffee, he'd quit drinking the stuff. What does he know, the poor guy drinks instant.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Nasty cold and vehicle issues

Not much going on today. I've come down with a nasty cold so I'm taking it easy: resting, drinking plenty of fluids, and all that.

I did drag myself out of bed to take the van to an appointment at the garage. It was time for an oil change and there was slow air leak in one of the tires. Next month my lovely wife and I hope to tow the boat down to Florida. My mechanic checks out the vehicle from top to bottom. It's worth it. Outside of a couple dirty air filters and the tire problem, it was in good shape. The tire had picked up a screw. It's been plugged and seems to be fine now.

My lovely wife dove into town to pick me up and her car's ABS brakes started acting wonky. Now that's at the garage waiting for a speed sensor to be replaced. For a brief while we went from a two vehicle family to pedestrians. It happens fast sometimes.

What if this had been a bug out situation and we needed both vehicles? That's the sort of thing I think about when sitting at the garage. The car was drivable, even though the dash board warning lights were lit up like a Christmas tree. As for the van, I do have a small 12 volt aircompressor in the vehicle that I've been using to keep the tire pressure up. The spare tire and jack are in good shape, so the tire could have been swapped out.

It can be tough enough to keep vehicles running during normal times. In an emergency suddenly becoming a pedestrian could be fatal.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Woostove and chimney, cleaning and inspection

I've been using my new wood fired cookstove pretty heavily since I purchased it. Now only do we do all our cooking on it, we rely on it to heat the house. It's running 24/7. I figured it was time to see how dirty or clean it's been running.

The first thing I did was to buy two 5 gallons jugs of off road diesel. Huh? Since I was going to let the woodstove go out, I needed something to heat the house with. My oil furnace works, but I don't want to invest in a tank of heating oil. The minimum purchase is 125 gallons, which is a fair piece of change. Off road diesel is a pretty good substitute for heating oil and I didn't have to buy a whole lot of it.

Then I checked the weather. Might as well do the job on a mild day when it's not snowy and the roof all slipery. Cleaning a chimney is bad enough without having to worry about slipping off the roof.

Once the stove was cool all the ash was cleaned out and disposed of outside in a metal bucket. The top of my Hearthstove cookstove is removable, so that came off. A small amount of ash had built up on top of the oven and was cleaned out. Some creosote had been deposited in the stove pipe. Tapping it a few times with a poker knocked it loose where it could then be cleaned up. Once the stove was reassembled I gave the outside a good cleaning.

Here's the dangerous part. I borrowed my wife's good makeup mirror while she wasn't looking. I opened the chimney clean out. Using my wife's precious mirror I looked up the chimney to see how clean it was. Much to my delight, it was very clean. There was no need to climb up on the roof with my chimney brushes.

Now that the stove has had a good inspection, I've got some idea how often it will need a complete shut down and cleaning. Looks like it won't be all that often. That being said, every month or so, my wife's mirror will disappear for a bit so the chimney can be inspected.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Escape plans

I was talking boats with a buddy of mine the other day. There are some great bargains out there on second hand sailboats. They might not be the fastest, or the prettiest, but there are good seaworthy boats for small money.

My friend asked how expensive it would be to live on a sailboat. One of the common answers is: everything you've got. That's true as it's easy to find things and activities to spend your money on. However, it is possible to live for a lot less than on shore. Get rid of the house and mortgage, car, and most physical possessions. Buy a simple boat that doesn't need expensive gear. Spend most of your time at anchor rather at tied up at a marina. Do without AC and refrigeration and power needs could be supplied with a couple of solar panels. There are lots of tricks to reduce expenses.

We talked about the practicalities of boat living for a bit. I'm certainly no expert, but at least I've dabbled in it. What are the chances of him setting out on a boat? He and his wife are certainly taken but the idea. If they really wanted to, they could swing the finances to make it work. Right now, I seriously doubt they'll do it. They are in a web of responsibilities where my lovely wife and I can't even count on them joining us for a movie. Family keeps them jumping from one disaster to the next.

I told them if they are serious, next spring they can join me on my little boat and I'll teach them the basics. That's more than what my wife and I had for instruction. If they can get away to do a few days of sailing, they might get hooked on the life.

People talk about wanting to get away from it all but few take any steps in that direction. Some like the idea of getting away, but really don't want to take any chances. It takes more of a sense of adventure than that. When striking out in a new direction, the downsides are easier to imagine than the potential upsides. You can look around and see what you are giving up. What will be gained is not guaranteed. There will be unforseen problems, but also there will be pleasant surprises.

As for the responsibilities left behind? That's a tough one. However, everyone involved is an adult. It's not they would be ditching young children. E-mail, cell phones, and Skype make it easier than ever to keep in touch.

Who knows, maybe they will join us out on the water next spring.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Power outage checklist

My lovely wife and I came home late from a friend's birthday party. We'd left the porch light on so we could more easily make our way into the house. We got home, walked the dog, loaded up the woodstove, and took care of a few other chores.

Eventually one of the light switches I tried didn't work. My first thought was that the bulb had burned out, but then checked to see that the grid had gone down. Most of my lights run on the solar electric system. There's a few lights still hooked directly to the grid. The don't get used all that often and it would have been inconvenient to rewire them to the solar side of my power system.

There's a street light down the road that I can see from my driveway. That was out too, so I figured the problem was with the grid instead of with just my house.

Then I noticed the Internet had also gone down, along with my phone. Most of the time a grid down situation is pretty localized. Living out in the woods, our grid connection is pretty rickety. That's why we put in significant solar generated electricity years ago. Just in case it was something more serious, I checked my AM/FM/Shortwave radio to find out what was happening in the world. Once it became clear there was nothing extraordinary happening, my lovely wife and I went to bed.

I don't know the grid went down, but since the Internet and phone went too, my guess is something knocked the lines down. It could have been a tree falling. Roads are snow covered so it might have even been someone colliding with a power pole. Whatever it was, crews had it fixed the next morning.

So here's my checklist when a light doesn't work: Is it a burned bulb? Tripped breaker? Problem with the house power? With the local grid? The regional grid? National grid? The world? Zombie apocalypse?


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Economic Contrarian Living

My own personal finances aways seem to be opposite to what's going on in the general economy. When the country is in a recession, I'm doing fine. When things are booming, I'm suffering.

Part of if is just dumb luck, both good and bad. Other times planning and lifestyle actually pay off.

The country was just sort of bumping along when I landed a decent job as a firefighter. The pay wasn't really all that great, but it was a steady paycheck. Since I was used to getting by on part time jobs, it was a big improvement. When you don't know what your income is going to be week by week, it's hard to plan. At that time I bought a little Honda Civic when nobody bought little cars. Soon after, the price of gas went way up and small economy cars were selling at a premium.

In the early 80's inflation was pretty bad. I got a house loan with a 14% interest rate. Who the heck buys houses with interest rates like that? Almost nobody. That's why I only paid $15,000 for my first house. Even with the high interest rate, monthly payments were much lower than a rental apartment. The loan was one of those variable interest rate things that was tied to the rate of inflation. At the time, the expectation was for inflation to get even worse. As it was, every time my loan was evaluated, my house payment went down.

Remember the big tech boom of the 90's? I sat that one out. That's when I got hurt on the job and it took 4 years to settle with the retirement system. My income dropped to $700/month and my heath was terrible. Almost lost everything I owned.

A bit later the Internet bubble crashed, but not that long after, I won my case with the retirement system and got my pension plus 4 years back pay. That did a lot to straighten up my finances. Of course, I'd gotten used to living on a much lower income, so the pension, even being much less than what I used to make, improved my lifestyle.

What did the 2008 crash do for me? Well, one thing it did was really lower the price of good used sailboats.

What does the future hold? Looking at the state of the economy right now, I'm expecting to live like a king.


Friday, November 30, 2012

College and Debt

College is the best thing ever -if you can get someone else to pay for it. If you have to go into debt to cover expenses, it's a bad deal.

Yes, there's all these arguments about good jobs, special skills, personal contacts and all that crap. I'm not going there. Plenty of other people go there.

I graduated from High School way back in the dark ages of 1976. That's back when college was supposed to be affordable. It wasn't for me. By working my butt off all summer, I was able to pay for one semester at the local community college -not including books. My parents were in that interesting financial bracket too “rich” for financial aid and too poor to actually pay for college.

Mom always wanted me to be a doctor, but not so badly that she actually saved any money for medical school.

I dropped out before incurring any college debt. It's one thing to go into debt to get that career of your dreams. It's another to go into debt when I wasn't even sure what I wanted to do. Even at 18, I looked at student debt as a trap. Many High School kids don't think of student loans as real debt. It's money they can spend now. Some stranger, “future self,” will get stuck with the bills.

19 years later I had the opportunity to go to college on someone else's nickel. I was being rehabilitated. That was great. I took a wide variety of courses as I had a whole college at my disposal. There were cool and interesting people to meet. It was loads of fun. Of course, going to college at 37 is a bit different than going to college at 18. College students went to college to drink and get laid. I went home to drink and get laid.

I've no regrets for dropping out of college at 18. My life was really interesting. I read a lot of books and learned a lot of things not taught in college. I got married at 20 -and I was ready for it. That didn't stop the adventures or the learning experiences. Financially, I'm probably no worse off than if I'd gone to college. It's hard to judge these things. One way to look at it: I was working and earning money those 4 – 6 years when my friends were in college. Some are better off financially, but nobody else takes a few months off in the winter to go sailing.

If I was graduating from High School today, I'd probably have to make up some story to satisfy my parents. Maybe I'd head out to hike the Appalachian Trail and just keep hiking. Maybe I'm say I'm biking across the country and just not make it back in time for fall semester. Perhaps I'd kayak down the Intra-coastal Waterway all the way down to Key West. Once I hit Key West the odds are I'd be of no use at all to corporate America.

People think it's some sort of rule that if you've got the grades, you have to go to college. Nope. In fact, you might be too smart for college.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Human Scale

How much is too much? How big is too big?

Remember when the McMansion was all the rage? During the housing boom the trend was to buy the biggest house you could almost afford. With easy financing, some of those houses were big indeed.

At some point a house is no longer your home. A small house serves the owner. It provides warmth and shelter and doesn't take all the owner's time and money. As a house gets bigger, you don't own it, it owns you. All your time and money go into maintaining it. Just keeping it clean becomes a full time job. The rich can afford hired help to do all that stuff. There are cleaners, cooks, landscaping crews -you name it. At that point, it's not a house anymore. Too many other people come and go at will. Often a few rooms are off limits to the help so the owners can have some sense of privacy. At that point, they've recreated the small house within the big house.

I see the same trends with sailboats. The glossy magazines like to feature these monster boats that require a crew to sail effectively. Even with a crew, the boat relies on lots of power equipment to take the place of even more hands. On the other end of the scale, (where I live) are the boats that can easily be sailed with one or two people. Since there are so few gadgets in the boat, there's very little that can go wrong. With a small boat it's easy to go sailing a lot, and what's a boat for anyway?

Humans are only so big. They only take so much space, water, food, or shelter. Beyond a certain point, the human no longer fits in his life. They go around like a kid wearing their parent's clothes. Sure, it's cute for a short while, but after that it's silly.

So why do we strive to acquire more than we reasonably use? It's a matter of status and one oneupmanship. Stupid way to compete. Why don't we compete on who could be the nicest, most generous, or the most clever.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Trash Day and Oil Jugs

When restaurants get fryer oil, it comes in 4.5 gallon jugs. My local restaurant puts the used oil back in the jugs they came in. At my convince, I collect them from a garage next to the restaurant.

One of my regular duties as a husband is to take the trash out. Someone has to. Most weeks I put out a bag or two of crushed 4.5 gallon vegetable oil jugs. They cannot be recycled because they had oil in them. It messes up the recycling process.

They are not particularly strong jugs. In fact, in recent years they've been getting thinner and lighter. Sometimes I'll use the ones in better condition a few times to collect oil from other sources. Once in a while one will spring a leak. Good thing I'm hauling them around in a converted ambulance. Those vehicles were made to be hosed out. I'm sure mine has had worse things on the floor than waste veggie.

Each jug weights about 35 pounds. Yesterday I picked up 25 of them. That's 875 pounds of fuel. Guess what I do to stay in shape? The money saved by using free veggie adds up. That's over 112 gallons of free fuel. It's replacing about $450 worth of diesel. That certainly makes it worth the handling. I've a rack to stack them on for when I need them. I always use the older ones first as they've had longer for the junk to settle out of them.

When I crush up those jugs for the trash, I think about all the money I'm not spending on motor fuel. Just like the government, I don't have to factor in the price of fuel when figuring the cost of living.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lessons of Iron Dome

Israel has touted the success of its anti-missile program known as “Iron Dome.”

For their sake, I hope they don’t really think it was the success they are crowing about. Figures vary, but it appears that they were able to stop most of the rockets. That means that some got through and there were a few fatalities.

As an anti-rocket shield, Iron Dome is a failure. The anti-rocket missiles of Iron Dome are expensive sophisticated devices employing the best of high tech instrumentation and materials. The rockets they had limited success against were essentially pipe bombs on over sized bottle rockets. The expensive smart missiles could stop some of the dumb cheap rockets. Big whoop.

Iron Dome could be defeated by sending in a lot more cheapo rockets. Now imagine how it would do against sophisticated, faster, and smart missiles? Imagine how it would do against a lot of those missiles?

What if Iron Dome was able to successfully stop 999 our of a 1000 attacks? Feel secure? What if the one that got through had a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon? Still feeling secure?

Maybe Iron Dome isn’t really there to make the country safe. What if it’s supposed to give the illusion of safety? If citizens feel they are protected from attack, they will be more likely to agree to military solutions instead of diplomatic ones.


Monday, November 26, 2012

A Lesson in Collapse

Once again we turn to the handy dandy example of Greece. By any reasonable assessment, the country is undergoing collapse. Unemployment is high. Living standards have plummeted. Suicide is up. Unrest is rampant. There are riots in the streets. People have turned to barter and the underground economy.

In spite of all that, the country functions -not well, but it does function. Most of the cops are still on the job. There is more bureaucracy, not less. A majority of companies do at least some business. Government benefits, while much reduced, are still being provided.

Greek collapse will look fast to the historians. To the people in the middle of it, it’s a long slow grind.

Now picture an American prepper. Let’s say he’s better prepared than most. Assume a good year’s supply of food, and $10,000 worth of precious metals. Because he’s an American, he has a big assault rifle and 25,000 rounds of ammunition.

Early in the collapse, he loses his job. For a year, his family does well enough. There’s enough food and his precious metals cover other expenses. Property taxes still have to be paid. The utility bills keep coming in. Maybe there’s some doctor or dental expenses. His car needs gas. Actually, he does pretty well to make that $10,000 last a year.

Year two it starts to get interesting. The stored food is gone. Savings are gone. Any government benefits are exhausted. His resources are pretty much gone, except for that assault rifle. That’s not doing him much good either, as he can’t even afford a hunting license. The game wardens are still on the job.

Eventually, he’s going to get evicted from his house. Where does he go? Maybe he had a plan of bugging out to the National Forest. How would that work for him? It’s fine to camp there for a while, but eventually he’d have to move on. What if he’s got school age children? They can’t just disappear from the system.

He probably had some idea that when he’d bug out to the forest, he could do what he wanted: clear land, build a log cabin, set up game traps, build a fish weir, plant a garden -all the things a homesteader would do. Of course, he can’t do that as there are still rules and people to enforce them. Maybe fewer people, but enough. In fact, because of government shortfalls, fines and penalties may be a lot higher.

In a collapse that takes years a different strategy is needed. What’s working in Greece? Most people are getting by. Families have crowed in together. The quality and quantity of food has gone down. People with gardens, fruit and nut trees, are glad they have them. Lot’s of informal work goes on -off the books. The barter economy has replaced part of the money economy.

Government gets less and less effective (which is saying something for Greece), but it does not go away. Most police still come to work. Politics are getting harsher. Fascism has gotten a solid foothold. People are desperate and willing to try desperate solutions. The collapse keeps on grinding down. Relationships are important. Who can help you and what skills do you have to offer others? Family and friends become more important than ever.

How will it play out in other countries? There will be similarities, but different countries have different national characteristics. Some expect collapse in the US to get more violent and sooner. (maybe that assault rifle won’t be a bad investment after all.) If you’ve lost your job, the collapse is well underway -at least for you. There are already plenty of desperate people. Collapse is here, but not evenly distributed.

It’s rarely a single event. For the individual, it manifests as a series of ever more serious challenges to be dealt with. Don’t think of it as an event but a process. The more adaptable a person is, the better off they are. It’s true in Greece. It’s true everywhere.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Work, wages, and dignity

One of the things that bothers me is people standing on the side of the road waving signs for different businesses. It tell me two things. The first is that wages are so low that it’s possible hire someone to do a job that could be done by a stick in the ground. The second is that plenty of people have no better options.

I’m sure these sign holders are not getting $20/hour with medical and dental. It’s not just kids either. Some appear to be healthy mature adults. Now I’m not cutting these people down. They are doing what they have to do to get by. It’s just sad to think our economy has come to this.

When I graduated from High School back in ‘76, there were still people heading to work in the local factories. They made a decent living: bought cars, houses, boats, and had cottages on the nearby lakes. Many of their kids went to college. Only fragments of those factories remain, and wages are much lower. Some of their college educated kids are working at big box stores for starvation wages.

There were scattered protests and job actions at Walmart on Black Friday. Walmart claims sales were not hurt at all and that sales were very good. They may be telling the truth. What they are not talking about is how much those tiny actions upset them. They may have won a battle but have already lost the war. A change is coming over people. They are mad as hell and ain’t gonna take it anymore. It is too much to want to be treated with dignity and respect? When a job has reached the point where wages are too low to survive, what’s to be lost by fighting the man?

I’m really bothered by the waste of human potential. So many people could be doing so much more if only they’d get half a chance. Companies are telling workers they aren’t worth much, while at the same time incompetent executives get multi-million dollar bonuses. There’s no money to pay a living wage but unlimited funds to break unions.

Year after year, the big boys have tweaked the system so the little guys have no power left at all. The rich and powerful are proud and satisfied with the machine they’ve built. Unfortunately, they’ve made a grave error. When the system is totally against the little guys, the only thing left to do is to break the system.

The choice is clear: reform or face revolution.

Just a head’s up. The working poor won’t be bought off with food stamps much longer.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I've always loved that poem.

He took the road less traveled, and it made all the difference. We are left to think that the difference was a good difference, but it's never really spelled out. For all we know, it could have been a horrible difference.

Probably not, though. Like much of life, it's just different.

This poem came to mind when I think of how close we came to dropping everything and sailing the ICW (Intra Coastal Waterway) this fall. We'd be having the adventure of long and interesting trip. On the other hand, we would have lost out on all the time spent with friends and family. Maybe next fall we'll finally get to take that trip.

I sometimes wonder if there are parallel worlds out there. Perhaps in some version of the world, my lovely wife and I are sailing southward to warm waters. Maybe that me is wondering what would have happened had we stayed home for the holidays.

Some scientists theorize that every decision splits the world off into multiple realities. Boggles the mind. If that is true, I'm sure I'm not in many of those realities. There have been enough close calls in my life that's the odds are against me still being around. It's a sobering thought. Some of those less traveled roads kept me from being run over. Other times, those less traveled roads brought me to the edge of nowhere.

I wonder what old Robert Frost was really thinking of. He once lived on a couple farms not all that far from me. We've traveled some of the same roads.

I don't regret the decisions made in the past. The past is the past. We don't know where all roads lead. Life seems to have a horrible element of chance -or a wonderful element of chance. We are often pretty bad at judging how something will affect us in the long run. Those horrible experiences may be what gave us the skills and will to overcome something bigger that might have destroyed us.

Well, one thing for sure. We've got to choose one path or the the other -else we'd never get out of the woods.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Frigidaire Affinity Washer

My fairly new Frigidair Affinity washer wasn’t behaving right. Fewer and fewer of the washing cycles worked. The reviews of the machine are pretty bad. Of course, those reviews came out after we bought ours. Everyone complains about expensive repairs. Often repairs cost almost as much as a replacement machine.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I decided to attempt to repair it myself. There’s a great YouTube video on how to disassemble the machine. The video is very clear and saved me time and effort.

Removing the top cover of the washer revealed something of critical importance. Taped to the inside was a mechanic’s manual. It explained how to do a self diagnostic. There were a couple pages of error codes and what they meant. The manual also explained how to reset the washer to the factory default settings. Pushing those buttons fixed the problem. Of course, I’d stripped everything down to the circuit boards and then resembled it before trying the reset.

The thing that puzzled me was what the heck was the manual doing inside the machine? Was it there for the highly paid repair technician to find? Are they afraid that, armed with the manual, there’d be a lot more people doing their own repairs?

I’ve no problem with the way it washes clothes. When it’s running the way it’s supposed to, the clothes get clean using very little water and soap. That’s fine. I’ve had worse washing machines. One actually had a large cement block bolted to the inside of the washer to dampen the vibrations.

A washing machine is one of those appliances that actually save a lot of time and money. When the dishwasher died there was no pressing need to replace it. Washing dishes by hand is no big deal. I’ve lived without a dryer in the past and rarely use mine now. Should something major on it fail, it won’t get replaced. Life without a washing machine, on the other hand, is a hardship. Beating my clothes on rocks by the riverside is not my style.

I’m glad I found that manual. Christmas is saved.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Welcome to the Panopticon

The Panopticon is a prison design where a handful of watchers can keep an eye on many prisoners. The psychology behind the design is that the prisoners cannot tell when they are being watched. They then behave like they are always being watched. One person can control the behavior of many.

Our surveillance society, with cameras in more and more places, has turned our world into a giant Panopticon.

The watchers want us to believe they see us at all times. They don’t. Think about it. Lot’s of those cameras are getting old. How long does your electronic devices stay in top shape? Many of these cameras are mounted in harsh environments. Quite a few no longer work, but we are supposed to assume they do.

Sometimes the cameras aren’t even real -just cheap fake dummies. Remember, the idea is not to actually watch people, but to change people’s behavior by making them believe they are watched.

Remember your first digital camera? Piece of crap, wasn’t it? Many of the older cameras have very low resolution. Combine that with security tapes that have been reused and reused, and everything becomes a blurry mess.

Let’s, however, assume that the equipment is top notch, the recordings are the best in high end digital, and actual human beings are watching on monitors. Assume that these cameras are being focused on potential criminals instead of hot women. Can the camera prevent crime? No. They can only record things that may or may not get used to prosecute after the fact. There is no SWAT team hiding in a closet ready to apprehend a mugger.

In a massive public action, the cameras can only watch. Later analysis can be used to pick faces out of the crowd, but what happens when the camera records 3000 people wearing Guy Fawkes masks? Ski masks? Large brimmed hats? Heavy makeup? Powerful infrared lasers that blind the cameras?

The surveillance state only works when the threat of punishment is real. If the state can only look but cannot act, it is only a sad joke. Usually punishing a few high profile cases keeps everyone in line. What if a lot of people have little to lose? When thousands break the law, only a few get punished and the odds of getting away with it go way up.

Another thing the surveillance state did not count on was people’s changing attitude towards privacy. Us old farts remember privacy, but the young ones don’t. In fact, through social media, they broadcast their every move. What are cameras to them? Coupled with little sense of shame, the Panopticon loses its psychological hold. Things once kept secret are now speedily posted on YouTube. They don’t care. Blackmail has no handle on them.

As government resources become more and more constrained, gaps will grow in the surveillance net. Faulty equipment will not get replaced. Maintenance becomes spotty. Screen watchers are laid off, requiring the remaining staff to monitor too many screens. Power failures can make the whole system go dark.

The modern Panopticon state is getting larger and larger, but ironically, it’s real power is getting weaker. Plenty of cracks for naughty little folk to play in.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Energy independence

There’s a lot of hype about all the non-traditional oil and gas being produced in the United States. People even talk about the US becoming a net energy exporter.

It’s not like there’s been a sudden discovery of all these energy sources. Petroleum engineers have known about them and how to recover them for years. They just haven’t been economically viable until now.

Oil at ~$90/barrel makes them worth going after. The big question is whether or not the economy is viable with $90 oil. There’s some evidence it isn’t.

I’ve some grave and serious doubts about the boom as it has all the hallmarks of being just another bubble getting ready to burst.

Never mind that. Let’s say that it is really a good investment. Assume that the energy yields are significantly larger than the energy invested. Pretend that the recovery processes are not harmful to the environment. While we are in dreamland, let’s say there’s 20 years of energy surplus.

Great. Then what? Eventually, we start to use more oil and gas than we produce. All the heroic effort and investment no longer produce the needed energy. Where is the country then? I’d say we’d be worse off than before.

In the mean time, the rest of the world goes down another path. Efficiencies are increased. Sustainable alternatives are developed. While the US is grubbing in the ground for the last drop of oil, other places will be enjoying clean, low cost energy.

I know this can happen because it did happen. The United States used to lead the world in wind and solar technologies. Then cheap Alaskan oil flooded the market. The US dropped development of alternatives. Other countries did not and are now reaping the benefits.

Germany has produced over half it’s power from renewables. Other countries are catching up. (except for the US) Now the United States imports wind generators and solar electric panels from the rest of the world.

There’s not a whole heck of a lot that I can do to influence national policy. That doesn’t mean individuals have to make the same mistakes their government makes. It wouldn’t hurt to take energy conserving measures in our personal lives. Producing even a little renewable energy at home provides a taste of energy freedom. Your home energy policies are too important to leave in the hands of politicians.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving plans

Our family “Black Friday” plan is to actually celebrate Thanksgiving on that day. That’s when we’ll be able to get the most family members together. Afterwards, we plan on heading into town -not to shop but to take the kids to a parade.

I absolutely refuse to get swept up in all the shopping hype. The more I get away from the commercial aspects of the holidays, the better I feel about them. For me, the best thing about holidays is getting together with friends and family.

My wife’s church gave a free turkey dinner to the community. I’m not a member of her church, but I did bake over 5 dozen rolls for the dinner. They had a good crowd, plenty of food, and a friendly relaxed atmosphere. No one had to pray for their dinner. It was open to everyone, no matter their income. I like that, as we can all sit down and just be people.

I’m looking forward to cooking a turkey dinner on the new wood cookstove. One of the big selling features was its large oven. This will be the second turkey cooked in it. A couple weeks ago I cooked one for practice. Good thing I love turkey.

It’s easy to focus on the things in life that aren’t going the way one would hope. For me, it’s a time of year to focus on the good things I do have.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Location and lifestyle

For years expatriates from the United States have searched out places where a tiny US income goes a long ways. For some people it’s a simple as going next door to Mexico. Others seek out remote corners of the globe. Often it’s retirees stretching a buck and having an adventure. Younger people may be living on small investment returns or rental income.

Living expenses vary dramatically within the US. My in-laws retired early and sold their home in the Mid-Hudson Valley of New York. They then built a nicer place in rural Texas, and another one on Table Rock Lake in Missouri. Had they stayed in NY, their income would not have even payed the taxes on the old place. As it is, they live very comfortably on a surprisingly modest income.

My income provides a comfortable life out here in the woods, but city life would be a struggle. Here I’ve access to resources that don’t show up on a tax form. There’s clean water, firewood, wild foods, and some garden space. I can store materials and build things that improve my life. None of that would be possible in city or even a suburban development with rules and agreements.

I’ve family and friends here that make my life better. Favors are traded back and forth. There are people who’ll help you out in pinch. It makes life easier all around without having to spend a lot of money. A High School friend of mine moved back to his hometown when his daughter was born. He and his wife figured it was worth it just for the free babysitting. Quality childcare is not cheap.

It never hurts to occasionally examine one’s living arrangements to see if things could be better somewhere else. Sometimes it’s a matter of moving down the street to a more affordable house, or maybe it’s moving to the other side of the world. Family obligations make keep you in a region. Then again, maybe some distance would be just the thing to improve family relations.

Sometimes you don’t change, but the place you live changes around you, and not for the better. You can buy a place out in the country, only to have the city grow up around you. My father-in-law grew up working on farms. He fished and hunted. As the years went by, farms turned to housing developments. There were fewer and fewer places he could do anything he enjoyed. After his early retirement, he set himself up where he could live like he did as a kid.

You want to make sure you live in a place you love. Saving money in a place you hate is a false economy. It’s all about living well, not how much actual money you have.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

It came from Space

Short post today. My lovely wife and I spent the evening with friends and family watching the Leonid meteor showers. We got home late.

By the way, the best vantage point on a cold New Hampshire night is from a hot tub.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Comedy and Tragedy in Capital City

Anyone else sick and tired of hearing about the “Fiscal Cliff?” It’s billed as high drama and potential tragedy, but really is nothing more than low comedy. We are supposed to get all worked up about this. There’s something for everyone. Conservatives lament defense cuts. Liberals cry about weakening the social safety net.


The White House and Congress built the cliff. It didn’t exist until they constructed it. It’s like some clown pulling out a revolver and threatening to shoot himself in the foot. “One false move and the clown gets it!”

Please, give me a break.

We’ve even seen this same show before with the so called “Debt Ceiling.” That was another made up crisis. Our debt keeps getting bigger and bigger, but the debt ceiling language has gone away. That was last year’s show.

This year’s model is “Fiscal Cliff!” Boo! It will sneak up and get you in the dark. Fear this!

Real problems are not in vogue at all. Neither Republicans nor Democrats talked about serious issues. It’s impolite to point to the gorilla in the living room. You know, the Emperor really has no clothes.

I’m not going to even bother to point out what our real problems are. If you are even half awake, you’ve got a clue. If you haven’t noticed anything major wrong . . . well, you can go worry about the fiscal cliff.


Friday, November 16, 2012

What’s in your pocket?

We all like to talk about bug out bags, but what if you don’t even have that? What do you carry in your pockets during normal day to day life?

Most of us carry a wallet. Does it have any cash in it? It’s easy to get used to debit cards for most of what we buy. However, when the grid goes down and cards don’t work, cash is king.

How about your key ring? Anything extra on that? Mine has 3 tools besides my keys: metal match, P-38 can opener and a flashlight.

The metal match is used all the time for lighting propane or gas stoves and lanterns. If starting a campfire, a tinder bundle to catch the sparks works really well. Being able to put together a tinder bundle from available materials is a good skill to have and practice. I like the fact that there is almost nothing that can go wrong with this tool. Drop it into water; pick it up and it still works.

P-38 can openers are probably one of the world’s best engineered inventions. Mine gets regular use and I’ve carried the same one for a couple decades. In a pinch, the back of the can opener makes a serviceable flat headed screwdriver. Oh yeah, it does a pretty decent job of opening cans.

My flashlight is a small LED unit that uses a single AAA battery. Now I’ve got many flashlights that are much better than this one, but this one fits on my key ring. Unlike the others, this one I always have with me. It’s surprising how often it gets used.

I carry a multi-tool, my favorite is a Leatherman Skeletool. It’s a good balance between function and size. I would not want to carry anything bigger. (I’ve got all that junk on my key ring after all) Sometimes I’ll carry a micro multi-tool instead of the Skeletool.

If I’m going to conceal carry, I’d most likely carry my Ruger LCP. It’s a tiny gun, but I would not want to be shot with it. Unlike my other handguns, this one is small and light so it’s not a big deal to haul it around. Better a small gun that will be carried than a big gun that stays home.

One thing I don’t carry on me is a paracord bracelet. They are a good idea, but I’ve never been comfortable wearing something on my wrist. Even wristwatches never worked for me. All my life I’ve worked with power tools and machinery, so I avoided anything likely to get caught in the gears. Too bad, as a good bit of rope is nice to have. That way you don’t end up using your boot laces like I have to do.

My normal pocket carry certainly doesn’t provide all the goodies of a bug out bag. It does provide a lot of useful stuff without much weight and bulk.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Licking your wounds in your den

So you’ve got a well functioning household. There are supplies stored away and the members of the household have many different skills. Should a catastrophe hit, you are well prepared.

Then someone in the household gets sick or injured. Instead of being able to count on their help you now have to take care of them. You lost their labor and much of your own. How does that affect your ability to function and survive?

There’s so much attention on what people will do in a disaster that we forget we may be unable to do much of anything. Can your household survive neglect or does it need your constant attention? Can the basics of food, shelter, and water be provided with little effort?

Does your garden need constant watering, pruning, weeding, or will it survive just fine on its own for a few weeks? If you got animals, pets, chickens, rabbits, goats or whatever, how much neglect can they tolerate? Are there low effort ways to provide at least a minimum level or care?

Will all your food require time and energy to prepare or can you just open a can or eat peanut butter out of the jar? The last thing you want to do when exhausted or sick is to hand grind your wheat berries so you can make a loaf of bread. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to just open a package of crackers?

What if the grid goes down? Do you have a generator that requires you to leave a warm house and hike a hundred feet to a generator shed to maintain the generator? Heck, can you even pull start it with that injured shoulder of yours? Wouldn’t at least some solar power be nice? Solar can go months without any attention at all.

Do you heat with wood? Does your wood have to sawn and split before you can burn it? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a good pile of split seasoned wood close to the stove? Now imagine you’ve hurt your back. Is at least some of your wood cut down to easily handled pieces? Maybe a younger child has to do the job as the adults are both laid up.

A household that can function with a minimum of attention is a huge advantage over one that needs constant active attention. Energies can be put towards other things like patient care. Maybe you just want to lay low for a while. It could be something as simple as not wanting to go outside during several days of bad weather.

Learn from the bears. Hole up in your den and wait for conditions to improve.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Veggie van field repair

My waste veggie powered started to sputter at the start of a 300 mile trip. It ran fine on diesel, but diesel costs money.

One advantage of having engineered the diesel to veggie conversion myself is that I know the system inside out. It behaved like a fuel supply problem. The veggie filter was brand new, so that wasn’t the issue.

My fear was that it might be the diesel filter going. Here’s what happens when those start to go bad. The filter is not quite completely plugged so straight diesel flows through it. Switching to veggie is an added strain as the veggie is more viscous and has a filter of its own. The added resistance overwhelms a bad diesel filter.

Due to extremely poor filter design, it would take 2 - 3 hours to change it. I know, I’ve done it before. All the necessary tools and a spare filter were on board, but I didn’t have to time to do the job. My lovely wife and I had an appointment to make and only had a half hour’s leeway.

The easier thing to check was the fuel line in the veggie tank. That can be unscrewed and removed by hand. Sure enough, there was a big ugly fibrous plug of something blocking most of the fuel. Removing that restored fuel flow and it ran great the rest of the trip.

Where did that junk come from? It could have been anything. After all, I am using a waste product for fuel -essentially garbage. Most of the time I’d notice something that big and not pour it in the tank. It might of happened one night when I was fueling up in the dark. Rarely is there anything big enough to plug the line. Normally, the veggie filter catches the grit and grime. (Fleetguard FS1000 filters or NAPA 3406, for those who want to know)

Considering my fuel sources and a home made veggie fuel system, it’s a wonder it works well most of the time.