Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thinking of boats

Yep, I’m thinking of boats again or still, to be more honest. I love the boat I have, my Oday 19. My lovely wife and I have pushed it to the limit. There’s an awful lot that can be done with a sailboat with a swing keel. Lifting that keel got us into some very interesting places where a deeper draft boat can’t go.

We were able to anchor close enough to islands to be able to wade in. It worked in Florida, as the tides went from small to nearly non-existent. It won’t work other places where there’s significant tidal differences. Wading in warm water was no hardship either.

The coast of Maine isn’t very far and it is one of the world’s premiere sailing destinations. The tides, however, may prove to be a problem. We could stay at marinas and tie up to docks designed for the tides. The other option is to keep a close eye on the tides and limit our island visits so as not to be left high and dry, or out to sea.

There’s two ways to go with this. The obvious way is to get a bigger boat, one that can carry a dingy. The big boat rests safely at anchor in deep water and dingy get pulled up above the tide line. No problem. That’s pretty standard.

As it is, there’s no good way to carry a dingy on my 19 foot boat. I could tow one, but that has problems of its own. There’s no room onboad for a hard dingy, but an inflatable could be stored. Then there’s the hassle of inflating and deflating the dingy. Also, they can be a pain to row. No one is giving them away either.

Another solution is to go the other way, to a smaller boat. I’ve plans for an Ooze Goose. It’s big enough to have a cabin, but small enough to be dragged up a beach. I really want to build it this summer, if time and money allow.

The Ooze Goose is a small but capable boat would be fun to island hop with. It would be small enough to haul into the trees to stealth camp. I’ve a few place in mind where that would be darn handy.

Of course, there’s no reason not to have three or more sailboats, right?


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Who your friends are

One sure way to find out who your friends are is to find yourself suffering through a tough time. I’ve been there. You’d be surprised to discover who sticks with you and who avoids you like the plague. Apparently, poverty is contagious or something. They don’t want it to rub off on them so they become scarce indeed.

One thing about this economic downturn that I’ve noticed is that a lot of people are withdrawing into themselves. I know people who are having a tough time, but have turned away from friends. Perhaps they are too proud or embarrassed for people to see them struggling. Believe me, it’s no shame to be struggling right now. Those of us who’ve been there certainly aren’t going to judge anyone. The sad thing is that many of us want to help, but we don’t even know exactly what’s needed.

Some people have given up. It’s like they are slipping down a cliff, but won’t raise a hand up to the rescuer reaching down. Are they depressed? Have they no hope left?

I know it’s hard to accept help. When I was having a rough time, it was one of the toughest things to do. Pride was part of it. A good friend finally got through to me. He knew I used to help other people. Remember how good it can feel to help someone, he said? Why don’t you give someone else a chance to have that good feeling. After that, I did accept help from my friends, and gave them a big thank you in return.

Economic downturns have come and gone. This time around around there is a feeling that something is different. There’s a sense that things will never be like they were before. In the past, people would get laid off, then a few months later they’d get rehired. Now they get laid off and the company moves away and the building is torn down.

How many people are worse off than their parents were at their age? For most, it’s not their fault. They aren’t lazy or stupid. Their lives have been spun out of control by forces beyond their control. No wonder they are withdrawn. When sinking in quicksand, it’s tough to look beyond the immediate problem.

My feeling is that things have fundamentally changed. The old way of life for many people will never come back. That’s hard to deal with. Fundamental assumptions of life have been proven wrong. Hard work is not enough to succeed. Being smart is not enough. Loyalty is not returned. Sacrifice has no reward.

That’s not to say that nothing can be done. It’s still possible to have a rich rewarding life, just not the life you once imagined. Now is not the time to become withdrawn, but to reach out. Together we can shake off the broken dreams and build something new and real. When the fair weather friends have gone, then those who remain are serious about helping. Maybe they can only provide encouragement, but that’s noting to sneeze at. Some may have just the idea you need. You can’t get anywhere hiding inside your shell.

Find out who your true friends are. If none of your old friends are left, make new ones.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hand me that piano

One of the cool things I got to do over the long weekend was to deliver a piano to my five year old granddaughter. My daughter found one on Freecycle. An 81 year old woman was moving out of her condo and in with her daughter. She had that piano since she was a little girl but had to give it up. I think she felt better that it was going to another little girl just learning to play piano.

My daughter, son-in-law and myself loaded it up in my ambulance to motorhome conversion vehicle. I’d just recently taken out a lot of medical hardware so there was a good solid flat surface to set it on. I’ve some metal loading ramps, plus we took along some 8 foot 2 X 6 lumber. You never know what you’ll have to do to move something.

The piano had to go up one flight of stairs and through a few doors. It fit, but just barely. Years ago I used to move furniture for a living. Some things you don’t forget. We were careful and didn’t ding or scratch anything. Pianos are heavy so you really want to get things right the first time.

Unloading it went well. All we had to do was unload it from the vehicle and bring it down a walkway into the house. No stairs involved at all.

My granddaughter immediately set up her practice book and started playing her very own piano. It was a big step up from a little keyboard. There’s something special about the sound of a real piano.

After the piano was all set up, I took advantage of my daughter’s hot tub. I figured a good long session with the massaging jets would be just the thing for strained muscles. That probably helped as I was only a tiny bit stiff the next day. When you get in your 50s you don’t take your back for granted.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Do it yourself

My dad taught me a valuable lesson a long time ago. I could either learn how to do a lot of things for myself, of I’d have to make a lot of money to pay people to do those things. Good thing I like to learn how to do things as the money thing never really worked out for me. Making money for its own sake just never caught my fancy. Once basic needs are taken care of, more money becomes a sort of score card for a game that doesn’t interest me.

Of course, that’s all well and good when things are going well. Some days they don’t. Some days it’s not possible to fix what needs to be fixed. Maybe my skills are not quite up to the task at hand, or tools are lacking, or some key bit of information is missing. Maybe it’s just one of those days. Instead of a bolt coming free it breaks. A ten minute job becomes a two day job. It can be depressing at times.

Then I think of what it would be like if I had money but no skills. I’d never know if a garage mechanic was ripping me off or not. Lots of stuff that could be easily fixed would be replaced instead. I’d be at the mercy at every service provider.

I’ve a brother-in-law who made good money, but lacked practical skills. He puts up with all kinds of crap that would drive me nuts. For months he kept bumping his head on a low hanging ceiling lamp. No handyman was available to fix it. It was a two minute job with basic hand tools to shorten the chain it hung from.

Now he’s retired and doesn’t have quite as much money coming in. Hiring people to fix things isn’t always in the budget, but stuff still needs to be fixed. It’s the worse of both worlds, can’t fix it and can’t hire it out.

Some money is needed. Being able to repair something is only useful if you can afford the parts and tools. Then there is the time issue. One person can’t do everything, even if they know how. There are only so many hours in the day.

Making money is a skill, but to get really good at it takes time, energy and a certain aptitude. Learning how to do things yourself also takes time, energy and a certain aptitude. Good thing I chose the do it yourself lifestyle. It’s a better fit for my personality. Had I concentrated on pursuing money, I’d probably ended up broke and would keep hitting my head on a low hanging light fixture.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Summer heat

We have the unofficial start to summer this weekend, and it’s a hot one in most of the country. Four weeks ago we had a cold snap and received a couple inches of snow here in northern New Hampshire. Now the lake is plenty warm enough for swimming. What a difference a few weeks can make.

There’s a local saying here that it’s not time to swim “until the 7 breaks.” In the spring a clear view of the north side of the While Mountains reveals a snow formation that looks like the number 7. When enough snow melts, breaking the 7, it’s warm enough in the valleys for swimming.

The 7 has broken. It’s a holiday weekend. I’m out of here.

Have a good one.


Saturday, May 26, 2012


I have got to get a passport. Sadly, I’m one of the majority of Americans without one. It was one thing when Canada and Mexico could legally be crossed without one. North America is big and varied. Living near the Canadian border, I used to cross over with a nod and a wave. Those were the days. The border was treated like the imaginary line that it was. Now that security is big business, we all need passports.

A friend of mine has a fishing camp way up in Newfoundland. I’d love to go there sometime. It would be fun. The place can only be reached by boat. Legally, an American can only stay in Canada for 6 months at a time. My friend, however, can stay as long as he wants. He reclaimed long lost ties with a Native tribe in Canada. It took a DNA test to prove his connection, but he’s now accepted -both by the tribe and the Canadian government. How cool is that?

Now for Canada I could just get a passport card. They are cheaper and would allow me to enter the country by land or sea. However, I might as well just spring for a passport. If you are going to go the paperwork route, might as well go all the way. Besides, if other travel opportunities present themselves, I’ll be ready.

Most of my kids have passports. I’ve a five year old grandkid who’s getting one. It’s enough to get me off my butt and gathering up my paperwork. America is feeling a bit cramped of late.


Friday, May 25, 2012


It took all morning to change fuel filter on the diesel. The vehicle is based on a Ford ES 350 one ton van. Van mounted engines are tight to work on at the best of times. The new filter was “improved.” Instead of being a cartridge type filter with a separate cover, the cover is now mounted on top of the filter.

The new configuration is much harder to install. Much more stuff had to be disconnected from the engine -wires, hoses, brackets, and the whole air filter assembly. I’m glad I did it in my driveway where I had access to my big toolbox.

All the extra tools needed to change the new filter has been moved to the vehicle toolbox. They will be there when I need them.

The auto parts store only had on filter in stock. I ordered another and that will be in tomorrow. I’m in the habit of keeping at least one replacement fuel filter handy. It would be a real annoyance to be stuck on the side of the road because of a simple plugged filter.

The old filter was bad enough that I don’t know how it worked at all. One of the things that happens when a diesel is converted to run on vegetable oil is that the veggie cleans a lot of crud out of the engine. That curd ends up in the diesel fuel filter. After a while everything is cleaned up and the fuel filters will last like they are supposed to.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

The high cost of a vacation

I don’t really take vacations. I have a life that moves around some.

One of my boating magazines came in the mail yesterday. There was an article that covered some of the Florida waters my lovely wife and I sailed in last winter. The magazine highlighted how “reasonable” a week’s charter was for that area.

While we were down there, we sailed to most of the places covered in the article. Some places we did not go because they were not dog friendly. On the other hand, we went places that could not be reached by bigger boats. All in all, it was probably a good trade off.

Now by boat charter costs, the price most likely was on the lower end of things. However, we traveled the same waters, saw the same wildlife, ate at some of the same places, and walked the same beaches. Our cost was less than 5% of the cost of the charter package. In fact, we bought our boat for less than the cost of a week’s charter.

To be fair, the charter people were in a newer and bigger boat. They didn’t have to plan things out. All they had to do was to hop a plane down to Florida, (not included in the price) make their way to the marina, and exchange money for the keys. Then they could fly back home at the end of the week in time for work on Monday.

Of course, not having to be anywhere in a hurry, we got to do several similar trips during our stay in Florida. We have something move valuable than a lot of money -time. Because we had the time, we didn’t have a strict schedule. We discovered little out of the way places that don’t fit neatly into a week long charter. If we liked a place, often we stayed longer than we originally planned. When people spend a lot of money there’s a tendency to try and squeeze in as much as possible.

I was just as happy to spend an extra day on a nice beach.



Home Office weak link

Printers are the weak link in a home office. The idea of a paperless office is fine, but in reality hard copy is needed at least some of the time.

My printer just printed 45 pages of a 57 page document. Then it just died. I’ve resurrected this printer a few times, but I think this is it. Sadly, I’ve a few printer cartridges left. Of course they won’t fit the other printers in the house. It bums me out because printer ink is outrageously expensive. Buying in bulk can help, but not when the printer dies.

Checking troubleshooting web sites, it seems a printer over two years old is expected to fail. That bothers me. I learned to type on a cast iron Underwood manual typewriter. It was much older than I was, but it worked fine. Is it too much to expect a printer to last a decade?


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

More veggie fuel stuff

My diesel to veggie conversion on my ambulance to motorhome conversion is finally starting to behave the way it should. A blown coolant hose was a bit of a setback. It has taken a while for all the air to work its way out of the coolant system. I never had to deal with so much air in the coolant system before and wasn’t sure what to do. The best advice I received was to drive up and down the mountains a few times. Since I live in the mountains, it was an easy thing to do. Now that most of air has been purged, the veggie fuel tank is finally getting good and hot.

That’s the key to a waste veggie conversion -hot vegetable oil. It lowers the viscosity and allows the veggie to burn properly in the engine. Some systems have fancy temperature gages and automatic switches that switch from diesel to veggie when conditions are right. My very simple system is a more of a seat of the pants operation. Eventually, I’ll learn from experience when it’s a good time to switch from diesel to veggie. It will be sometime after the engine has reached normal operating temperature. Soon after it does, I’ll flick the transfer switch.

What happens if I guess wrong and it’s too early? The engine won’t sound right and may even sputter. Then I’ll just switch it back to diesel for a few more minutes. No problem. It’s not a precise system, but it’s good enough.

Today I picked up over 100 gallons of free waste vegetable oil from a local restaurant. I’ve a long standing relationship with them and they give me the veggie for free. Of course I do make a point of eating there once in a while. With money saved from not burning diesel at over $4/gallon, I can afford to eat there pretty often.

The restaurant used to have a big oil bin behind their restaurant. It was ugly and messy. The company that was supposed to pick up the oil never showed up when they were supposed to. The bin would fill to overflowing. Bears were attracted to the smelly bin and made a nuisance of themselves.

Now what they do is they pour the veggie back in the 4.5 gallon containers it came in. They put the containers in a garage next to the restaurant and forget about it. All I have to do is go to the garage and load them up. When I’m gone on a long trip a friend of mine picks up the oil so it doesn’t pile up.

This is a totally informal, oral arrangement. No money changes hands. I get free fuel and a busy restaurant owner has one less thing to worry about.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Waiting for room temperature to set in

I had a long talk on the phone with a good buddy of mine. We talked about a lot of things. My friend is planning an early retirement and has a lot of things he wants to do. He’ll do them too. I know that because he does a lot of things now. He’s not afraid to step outside his comfort zone.
He tells me that a lot of his coworkers plan to watch TV and sit on the porch when they retire. After all, they say, what more is there?

My daughter tells me of someone she knows who just lost their job due to the factory closing. While that’s not good, the workers were given very generous severance bonuses, including a full 6 months pay.

“Now would be a good time to follow your dreams,” my daughter said.

“I don’t have any,” her friend said.

Sad really. Her biggest wish was to get another mindless factory job.

On the end of the spectrum, a good friend of mine was in a similar situation. He called his unemployment checks “artist grants.” Art was always a part time thing for him, but after the factory closed, he threw himself into it full time. In a year he produced a huge body of work, painting, photography, graphics, CD covers, experimental sculptures, theater posters -you name it, he probably did it.

At the same time, he read constantly, concentrating on philosophy. Many people thought he was wasting his time.

Now some people recommend that you should treat unemployment like a full time job. Every day you should put all your efforts into finding the next job. My buddy threw himself into his art instead. When the checks finally stopped, he’d discovered that by living very frugally it was possible to live selling art. He was very happy.

Then one day he had a massive stroke and almost died. For days he was totally unresponsive. Once he regained consciousness, he was often confused and his memory was bad. He knew there were 12 months in the year, but he could not name them. His body was totally paralyzed. With years of therapy, he was able to regain control of his left side. His memory came back. Eventually he moved from the nursing home to an apartment.

He said that all the philosophy he read before his stroke helped get him through the hard times. Prints of the art he made before the stroke is still generating income for him. He’s retrained himself to work with his left hand and is making new art too. In spite of his physical limitations, he’s in excellent spirits. Life is still interesting for him. After all, he still has his dream of art.

Sure beats the heck out of watching TV, waiting to die.


Monday, May 21, 2012

They never heard me coming

There I was having a nice sail on the lake, drinking a few beers, and soaking in the sun.

Looking back over the stern I saw a couple guys in a peddle boat. They landed at my beach and threw a bunch of trash in my bushes. What the heck where they thinking?

I pushed the tiller over, caught a strong tail wind and sailed back to my beach at a goodly speed. They weren’t looking my way until I was almost on top of them. For a few moments I was really tempted to run them over. By then I was standing up on my cockpit seat. It must have looked like the Vikings were landing.

At the very last minute the anchor went overboard and I stopped about 20 feet away from them. I shouted at them that they’d better pick up that litter. The guys quickly picked up the trash. They made some hasty apologies and went on their way.

Litterbugs in general tick me off. It’s such a senseless thing to do and shows a real lack of respect. When they litter on my land, my blood rises. The kids got away easy.

I’ve come across strangers landing on my beach before. That doesn’t automatically set me off. The prevailing winds blow towards my beach so boats with mechanical trouble naturally drift into it. Sometimes I’ve been able to help them. Stuff happens.

However, there’s no excuse for litterbugs.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Quest for a better counter culture

You have to live the change you want to see. It does no good to rant against the corporate/political/military state while still benefiting from it.

We all know about the “environmentalist” who drives a big SUV. They always have a good excuse why they need such a behemoth. It’s for the children’s safety, or because they haul garden tools twice a year, or it’s so they’ll have room for the soccer team.

How about all those Tea Party people who want government out of their lives -as long as the Social Security checks keep coming in and Medicare is left alone?

There are those who protest against the military, but benefit from US protection of oil supplies, or other resources.

Against nuclear power? Against dirty coal? Want to tear down dams to let the salmon run free? Fine, but are you using more and more electricity each year?

Against the exploitation of Chinese child labor but you love your I-phone?

I’m criticizing, but gently. We can’t radically change things we’ve come to depend on. The alternative to the dominate culture is perceived as doing without, hardship and discomfort. Sadly, too often this is the reality. That’s why things get tweaked around the edges but nothing radical gains much traction.

What we need a counter culture that does the good things we want to do, but is a lot of fun. The lone hermit in a mountain cabin route is only attractive to a tiny slice of the population. It’s kinda boring. We can do better than that. Even the 70s counter culture could offer recreational drugs and free love.

I don’t have a plan in place. Things don’t work that way. I do have a few suggestions. A good counter culture has to address the weaknesses in the dominate culture. What are the weaknesses?

Work for many people is unsatisfying. Even those who like their work probably would like to do a bit less of it.

Home ownership for many has turned out to be a bad deal. Debts and expenses are large burdens. Few enjoy their homes as much as they thought they would.

Cars promise freedom, but don’t deliver. Again, there are high expenses: car prices, gas, insurance, registration, and parking. All so that you can commute to that crummy job and sit in traffic to do it.

Higher education doesn’t pay off like it should. Costs are higher at the same time the rewards of a degree are diminishing.

Our lives are driving us apart from other people. We don’t have the sense of community that our ancestors had.

Even Churches don’t deliver like they should. How many religions satisfy spiritual needs? How many just make a person feel judged and uncomfortable?

With weaknesses like those, one would think a counter culture could gain some traction. There are some things that have potential. Perhaps it’s just a matter of putting together the right elements under a unifying philosophy?

In no particular order, here’s a few things that are working:

There are people who are living happy mobile lives. I’ve met people who live on boats for so little money you would not believe it. Some live the RV life. It did work better when fuel was cheaper, but it’s still viable. The trick is to have a pretty self contained unit where you can camp away from commercial campgrounds. There are many strategies for this, everything from staying on wild lands to stealth urban camping. Some people travel around and haul all their necessary goods with a bicycle. Others live out of a backpack.

Tiny houses are catching on -cheap to build and easy on resources. Another route is cohousing. It can be in a planned community or it can be as simple as two families sharing one house.

Debt free living gives people options. Often this is combined with extremely frugal living. When needs are small, income generation can be very casual.

Then we have hackerspace, makerspace, and any sort of creative space. Communities of people get together to share space, equipment, and ideas. This actually has the potential for a whole new industrial model.

Alternatives to currency are gaining traction: barter and gift economies, precious metals, or maybe even something new like Bitcoin.

One thing that really needs improvement is something that brings people together and that cuts across all demographic lines. We’ve got to find a way to all have some fun with each other. No solid ideas here. Maybe we’ve got to find some way to recreate the way tribal people get along.

Religion is always a hot topic, but I’ll go there anyway. In the end, I believe we are all responsible for our own spiritual development. The job can’t be delegated to a minister, the Pope, a guru, or even our parents who may have picked a religion for us when we were babies. A lot of people consider themselves spiritual, but not religious. I’m not saying we need a new religion. Don’t we have enough? We need to take responsibility for our own soul and not worry so much about other people’s.

A successful counter culture will have to address what it means to be human and to have a satisfying life . . . or it’s going to have to provide some great cheap thrills. Maybe a little of both.
Utopian ideals have always fallen a bit short. Communes have always sounded great, until you find yourself digging in the dirt 12 hours a day without enough food to eat and no time or energy to contemplate life’s greater mysteries. Now if you had a commune that could supply all a person’s needs and many of their wants by working hardly at all, you’d have something. People would sign up for that.

I really don’t know how to put together a Utopia. If anyone tells you that they do, they are probably lying or deluded. Still, there are plenty of tools out there to put together a “Pretty Darn Goodopia.”

The old culture doesn’t have to destroyed. Abandoning it for something better works well enough.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Some guy is living one of my dreams

Some guy is living one of my dreams, before I have a chance to do it. On a small boat forum I found out about a guy who’s building a small sailboat. Last year the design caught my attention and I bought plans for the exact same boat. Seeing photos of one almost finished caught my attention. The guy’s doing a nice job.

Then I find out the guy’s building it for a trip I’d like to go on with that boat, the Texas 200. He’s beating me to one of my dreams. Dang. He’s months ahead of me. If I do that trip, in the same design of boat, it will look like I’m copying him.

On the bright side, it’s confirmation that my idea of using that design is a good fit for the trip. At least it makes sense to someone else. Now I feel the pressure to do a really good job -not just a strong boat, but a pretty one too.

I’d be working on that boat now, but the ambulance to motorhome project has been taking up my time and money. A buddy of mine is following my work carefully as he too wants to convert an ambulance to a motorhome. He let one slip through his fingers a while back and it’s probably been bugging him every since. No doubt he’d have it in his driveway now if his wife didn’t stop him.

Now I’m not really blaming his wife for stealing his dreams. The guy does a lot of interesting stuff. She’s probably kept him from doing stuff that would have gotten him killed. Come to think of it, I haven’t been shot at since my buddy moved away and got married. We did have some interesting times together.

Maybe if I do a really nice job on the ambulance, she’ll relent and let my buddy get one. Sometimes there are advantages to not being the first one to attempt something. He can learn from my mistakes.

I’ll keep my eye on those small boat forums and see how that boat builder makes out. Maybe I can learn a few things from his mistakes.


Friday, May 18, 2012

False Compromise

Some things are not to be compromised. Some things are not negotiable. It’s perfectly reasonable to hold one’s ground and not give an inch when some things are at stake.

There’s an old joke told by diplomats during the cold war. It goes like this;

The Soviet negotiators propose that all the US diplomat’s wives should be available for their sexual pleasures. The US diplomats say that is outrageous. Fine, fine, say the Soviets. We’ll accept sexual pleasures with half of your wives.

See, the Soviets cut their demands in half. They were willing to compromise and negotiate. They were also totally full of crap.

Unfortunately, it seems too many people have learned the lessons of the old Soviet diplomats. That’s why we are supposed to accept a certain amount of poison in food and water. We are supposed to accept negotiated levels of environmental degradation, economic injustice, police state, privacy invasion -just about everything.

Ever notice that aristocrats never have their perks on the table? Everything that’s negotiated is on the other end of the scale. That’s why food stamps are a waste and must be done away with, yet oil companies get billions in government subsidies. Social security is under attack, yet CEOs can lose money yet leave with golden parachutes. Somehow our problems are due to a retired grandmother trying to live on 600/month.

So the next time somebody wants you to compromise on something that you shouldn’t, check out their trophy spouse and start negotiations on your own. No, never mind the spouse -put something on the table that they care about.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

That’s why we test.

The diesel to waste vegetable oil conversion is under going tests. Everything did fine in the driveway test. Then it died about 2 miles from the house due to air in the line. Switching to diesel purged the air out and it started up again.

It was running much better during a 20 mile round trip test. On the 30 mile test it blew a coolant hose at about mile 29. That’s why we test.

The clear hose was an experiment. It was left over radiant heating hose rated to take the temperature. Maybe it could take the heat, but it couldn’t take the pressure. Oh well. I’ve gone back to a braided vinyl hose that worked fine on previous installations. However, that cost an extra $50 for the hose and more coolant. That was probably too much, but nothing goes to waste.

I can never leave well enough alone with these conversion projects. There are always new materials or different configurations to attempt. Sometimes they blow up on the side of the road. Oh well. I’m a big believer in destructive testing.

My lovely wife and I got called into town to do babysitting duty for one of the grandkids, so the rebuilt will have to wait a day. That’s probably for the best. That way I’m not tempted to work on the vehicle while it’s still hot.

These little setbacks just make things more interesting.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Things that eat you

The other day I was talking to one of the mechanics who works at the garage. He asked where I spent my winter. Turns out he used to live in the same town in Florida my dad lives in. The guy is a real avid boater so I thought he must have loved Florida. After all, it is a peninsula.

Nope, he hated it.

Sure, he loves the lakes and rivers here in New Hampshire, but there’s nothing here that will eat you. The ocean has sharks, he said, and the lakes have alligators. He wasn’t too keen on the land either, as it has poisonous snakes.

What the heck did you do for the seven years you lived in Florida? I asked.

Anything that could be done on pavement.



Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I've been pretty busy. No big problems, but no time to blog.

Back soon.


Veggie Conversion -rough draft

This is what a home brewed waste vegetable oil conversion (WVO) looks like. Consider it the rough draft. The idea is to get all the components assembled and running. Once all the bugs are worked out of the system, then I’ll tidy up the installation a bit.

In the bottom center of the photo is the fuel tank. It’s a modified 12 gallon marine tank. On the left hand side of the tank is where the copper coil has been installed. This tank has already seen 100,000 miles of service in a previous vehicle conversion. Eventually, I’d like to replace it with a bigger and newer tank, but for now this is fine.

The upper right side of the photo shows a two stage fuel filter. This has also been salvaged from a different WVO conversion. This filter assembly has already seen 400,000 miles of service. The white part is a disposable spin on filter. Those are pretty cheap. They allow me to run unfiltered veggie. All I let do is let it settle a bit before filling the bank.

On the upper left side is my Pollak 6 port valve.

This is a better photo of it. Yeah, it looks like a mess. Like I said, rough draft. Normally, the valve would be mounted under the vehicle or inside the engine compartment. Instead, I’m taking advantage of this being a decommissioned ambulance. This compartment is heated and insulated, but isolated from the passenger area. The components won’t freeze in the winter.

The really nasty part of the job was cutting into the fuel lines under the vehicle. One of the lines got away from me before I could plug it and I got a good hosing of diesel fuel. It took two showers before I didn’t smell like diesel fuel anymore. My clothes will probably have to be thrown out. That’s why we don’t do these jobs in our Sunday best.

I’ve some testing and tweaking to do before I’ll trust taking this very far. It was getting dark by the time I finished up, so that’ll wait for another day.

There are some nice commercial conversion kits, but none are very cheap. This conversion cost under $200. Had I started with all new stuff, the job still could be done for under $400. With the price of diesel over $4, payback won’t take too long.

A guy a few towns over from me just spent $10,000 on a commercial conversion. I’m sure it’s much prettier than mine. The payback on his investment might take a bit longer.


Monday, May 14, 2012

A little wiring issue

Doesn’t this look like fun?

The veggie/diesel conversion is moving along nicely. I must admit it took a bit longer to wire up the transfer valve switch that I thought it would. As you can see it’s really interesting under the switch console.

It took a bit, but eventually I decided upon a circuit I could tap into for power. The new switch is at the top of the photo. It even works the way it’s supposed to.

After buttoning up the wires, I made some progress on the fuel system. The veggie filter assembly is solidly bolted in place. Some of the fuel lines have bee laid out. Coolant hoses were test fitted.

Then the black flies came out in force. Between them and a sore back, I decided to call it quits for the day.

Hope I don’t get rained out tomorrow.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Old Friends

I’ve got to admit I’m lucky to have good friends that go way back to childhood. While a few live nearby, most of us are scattered across the country. There never was much opportunity out here in the woods.

A good friend of mine and his wife live over in Maine. Once in a while we split the difference and meet halfway. Saturday, that’s just what we did. The weather was perfect. We sat outside a coffee shop, sipping our drinks, soaking up the sun and and catching up. It was great.

There’s nothing like friends who’ve been together through ups and downs. If you’ve had any sort of sever setback: injury, job loss, divorce -any one of life’s major trials, you learn who your friends are. Some may turn out to be fair weather friends. Others will take a bullet for you.

Once my motorhome project is finished, I hope to be able to visit some of those more widely scattered friends. Anyone who’s known me that long, and still likes me, is worth a visit.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Custom Work

The rain let up for a while Friday afternoon. It was a good time to do some exploratory surgery on the diesel to waste veggie oil vehicle project.

Removing a shelf in a compartment allowed enough room for the veggie tank to fit in. That’s a big relief. The location is good because it’s near both coolant lines and fuel lines. Both will have to be tapped into. The coolant will heat a copper coil that’s submerged in the fuel tank. There’s room for the 6 port fuel valve and a veggie fuel filter in the same compartment. Everything will be easily assessable from an outside compartment door.

While under the vehicle checking out the fuel lines, it was a good time to check everything else under there. Most vehicles in snow country have corrosion from road salt. The underside of this this vehicle is in excellent shape. Its heritage as a former ambulance shines through. Those things are well built. The ambulance builders made extensive use of heavy gage aluminum and top quality rustproofing.

While the tools were out, it seem like a good idea to try and find the diesel fuel filter. As soon as the vehicle is running veggie, a lot of gunk will be washed out of the engine. While that’s great in the long run, in the short run it will eat up a few fuel filters. Finding the fuel filter proved to be a chore.

The vehicle is based on a 350 Ford van. That means part of the engine is accessed from a removable dog house in the cab. Removing the dog house works best if the plastic dash covers are taken off first. Once all the covers and clips were removed, it was possible to slide the doghouse back far enough to see the engine. Now I know what’s under there, but it’s not the diesel filter.

The fuel filter sits on top of the engine, behind the air filter assembly. To reach the fuel filter the whole air assembly has to come out: bolts, clips and clamps. Once that’s out there’s enough room to access the fuel filter housing -barely. There’s a whole toolbox that’ll come along for the ride, for when it’s time to change that filter.

Now that I know where everything is, I have some idea where everything will go. I’ll sleep on it to see if any ideas percolate up out of my murky subconscious. Every one of my veggie conversions has been a cobbled together custom job. They’ve all been works in progress, even once they are up and running. I just can’t leave well enough alone as I’m thinking of ways to simplify things or improve performance.

Once I have a working system, I’ll take some photos. Right now I don’t even know where my camera is.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Peasants walk

That’s why the world loves cars. Before cars, the rich and royal rode horses or horse drawn carriages. Peasants walked. Peasants were tied to the same plot of land so they didn’t have too far to go anyway. It’s their betters who had places to go.

Cars changed that. A 20 year old beater can do the legal speed limit as well as a new luxury car. They drive on the same roads. Actually, the old Red Neck 4X4 truck can go a lot of places the luxury car can’t.

A man on horse looks down on the peasants walking the ground. It’s not the same in a car. They are pretty much on the same physical level. The expensive car driver may feel superior, but doesn’t have the height advantage of a horse. The psychology is different. In fact, the guy in the big old truck physically looks down on the guy in the luxury car.

One of the big milestones of new immigrants is getting a driver’s license and car. They may not consciously think of it this way, but at some level, they know they aren’t peasants anymore. After all, peasants walk.

Public transportation doesn’t compare, at least not these days. Poor people ride buses. That’s how people think, and to a large extent it’s true. At one time train travel had a certain elegance, but those days are past. Too often public transportation has more in common with cattle cars. Thanks to the TSA, and cramped seats, flying feels more and more like peasant travel.

A person who can fill all their needs without a car has huge financial advantages. They don’t have the car payments, repairs, licenses and fees associated with a car. Their sense of financial well being compensates them somewhat. That is, if it is a choice. If they can’t afford a car, then they just feel poor.

In the modern world, everyone wants a car. The streets of China used to belong to bicycles, but now they belong to cars. They are more prosperous, so they don’t want to travel like peasants anymore.

The psychological pressure for owning a car is huge. I bought my first car at 17. That allowed me a sense of freedom I hadn’t had until then. My parents could be left behind and the car was my space. Better yet, suddenly I was much more attractive to those girls who lived way out in the country. I was somebody -a non peasant.

Now that I’m older, there are times I wish I could get by without a car. Living out here in the woods, that would be hard to do. In the old days, going into town once a month was pretty normal. That would be hard to get used to. At least I’m looking at it on a practical level. I don’t need a car to feel like somebody. My worth is not tied to what I own.

There is one group of non-car owners who’ve avoided peasant status: people who live on boats. It just doesn’t make sense to own a car. They are free to hoist anchor and travel the seven seas. There are rich people on boats, but plenty of people with peasant incomes too. Sure, some measure worth by the length of their boats, but we all know that size isn’t everything. It’s what you do with it.

What makes a peasant a peasant? Being unable to travel far. Being tied to the land. Being looked down upon. Having few choices in life. The boater lives on water. He’s a self contained unit -like a tiny country all his own. That would make him a king. The realm may be small, but he’s the master.

Better to be a pirate than a peasant.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tangled mess O’wires and a Pollak

I’m working on converting my motor home project to run on waste vegetable oil. Since it’s raining again, I’m test wiring my 6 port Pollak valve inside. Stop snickering, that’s what it’s called. What it does is allow me to switch from one fuel tank (diesel) to the other tank (veggie.)
The idea is that once the engine, and the WVO reach proper temperature, then the engine is switched from diesel to WVO. Before shutting the vehicle down for a long period of time, the switch is thrown back to diesel to wash the veggie out of the engine. That’s a very important step if you want to be able to easily start the vehicle again.

Rather than bolt the valve under the vehicle and then connect all the wires, I wired it up on the kitchen table first. A 12 volt jumper pack suppled the power to run the valve. After wiring it up just like the diagram indicated, the valve did not work. Bummer. At least I discovered this in my kitchen instead of lying on back under the vehicle with rust and dirt falling in my face.

This is where a multi-tester pays for itself. One by one all the wires and the switch were tested for proper continuity. That eliminated any bad wire connections. The switch, however, wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. Either the switch was defective or the wrong type of switch was shipped. They are cheap enough so I’ll be picking one up at the auto parts store. With any luck they’ll have one that matches the other switches on my dash.

Bypassing the switch and getting power directly from the battery ran the valve just fine. When the valve switches over, it make an audible click. Blowing through the ports confirmed it was switching over.

There has been some negative talk about Pollak valves on the WVO forums. Some say they can’t stand up to the heat from WVO. Since I had 400,000 trouble free miles from my valve on my Mercedes Benz conversion, that wasn’t a concern of mine. Not only that, the manufacturer warns to use a filter so the oil in the valve is clean. My installation had the filters after the valve. Sometimes my fuel, both veggie and diesel, was pretty dirty. All those trouble free miles speak for themselves.

A more valid comment is that the Pollak valve dumps some veggie into the diesel tank when it switches over. While it’s not a problem in the summer, but the added veggie can cause hard starting in the winter. This is true. My easy solution is to run the diesel tank nearly empty and then fill with fresh fuel. My other solution is to drive to Florida in January. That works pretty good too.

I like to keep my veggie diesel conversions as simple as possible. I’m reusing a lot of parts from previous vehicles. It was tempting to reuse the old Pollak valve from my Benz conversion, but after 400,000 miles of service, that could be asking for trouble.

Sadly, the 19 gallon veggie tank that I pulled from my 240D Benz didn’t fit the place where I want to install it in the motorhome. The condition of the tank was also a bit worse for wear. (those same 400,000 miles.)

Fortunately, the 12 gallon tank I had salvaged from my old 300D Benz conversion could be reconditioned and reused. Only had about 100,000 miles on that one. It’s a bit smaller that what I’d like, but it’s free. Carrying a few extra jugs of veggie in the back is no big deal. Later on I could always install a bigger tank.

Well, if only the rain would let up, then I could install a few things.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The cost of a $4 movie

The nearest movie theater is 35 minutes down the road. That’s actually pretty good as it’s at least an hour drive to the next closest. It had been closed, but a local guy bought it and is doing all he can to make a go of it.

Monday is $4 night. Pretty good deal for a first run movie. My wife and I went to see “The Avengers.” 2 people X $4 each = $8. Cheap night out. Better add in $5 or $6 dollars for gas money.

On the way over, my wife pointed out that her sandals are broken and the store across the street from the theater sells good sandals. It’s not easy to find decent sandals for the lovely wife. She’s had foot surgery in the past and is also sensitive to latex. Cheapo sandals are right out of the question. Add another $65 dollars or so to the bill.

Back to the theater. $8 for both of us to get in, but the poor guy can’t be making any money at that rate. Just to keep him in business, we thought it best to pick up a few snacks, about $10 worth.

How are we doing here? Still under $100? Not bad for $4 movie night. Good thing the movie theater is in a one horse town and we couldn’t go out for a couple of drinks after the movie.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I’m sick about hearing about Greece getting more bailout money. It’s not going to Greece. It goes to the banks that lent money to Greece. The banks get bailed out, (sound familiar?) and the people get austerity.

The French saw it coming and elected a Socialist, Francois Hollande. We’ll see how that works out for them. The Germans and the rest of Europe are shook up by the whole thing. Bankers are nervous.

I see Spain is in the bank rescue business now. I’d be reluctant too if I was them.

Anyone remember that Iceland let the banks take the hit? They are doing pretty well right now. All the other politicians pretend there are no solutions other than austerity.

Believe it or not, austerity really hasn’t hit the US yet. Maybe the powers that be hope to push that off until the election.

The economists tell us the world dodged a bullet in 2008. The whole financial system could have come apart. Yeah, it would have been painful, but maybe we’d be recovered by now. If nothing else, idiot investors would have been punished for making idiot investments. Instead, it’s bonuses all around and they get to keep driving this run away train.

Still waiting for that Wall Street perp walk. Laws were broken. Mistakes were made. Someone has their thumb on the scale of justice.

Politically, things are getting really ugly in Greece right now. Don’t think that sort of thing can’t spread. Let it be a cautionary tale.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Back to Archery

The young couple who house sat for us this past winter are now renting a cabin on our lake. They love the area and it’s located in a good place for the jobs they have right now. It will be fun to be able to get together on a more regular basis.

While house sitting, the guy discovered my archery range among the trees. He wants to do some archery and that inspires me to get back into it. I enjoy it, but it’s more fun to shoot with other people. Nothing like a little competition to inspire practice.

I’ve a 45 pound recurve bow with wooden arrows that I use when shooting with my SCA friends. My wife has a traditional crossbow, but hasn’t used it much since her shoulder surgeries. We don’t get to shoot with those people as much as we used to.

When I’m serious about shooting, I’ve got an old compound bow set at 70 pounds. I’ve a set of target arrows and another set with nasty looking hunting tips. The bow is a bit of out date, used to be my dad’s, but shoots just fine. I’m not going to spend a pile of money just to look fashionable.

I keep a current bow hunting license, even though I haven’t bow hunted in years. By keeping a license current, I’m grandfathered and don’t have to spend money and time on the state safety course. This year, I might actually hunt with the bow, especially since I’ll be practicing.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Buying like the Third World

During my college years I like to take courses outside my major. It really is a wonder how I was able to squeeze out a double major in two years. There was so much interesting stuff going on and I wanted a sample of as much of it as possible.

That’s how a Journalism major found himself in a Business course. Here’s a little known secret of college. Any sort of English major does well when taking other courses. It’s not that we understand the material better than the other students; our papers are much easier to read. The professors find a decent paper a relief. After slogging through badly written papers, anything half way readable is bumped up at least a full letter grade.

I digress. On thing that stuck with me is how consumer products are marketed to the Third World. Stuff the First World buys in big containers, shampoo, laundry soap, spices, and so on, the Third World buys in single use packages. Storage is an issue. They don’t have safe places to keep all that stuff. The main problem is price. They can’t afford the 20 ounce bottle of shampoo so they buy the one ounce.

They pay a lot more money for the same stuff. It’s another penalty of being poor. People lack the capital necessary to take advantage of buying in bulk. People live day to day. There are some advantages to that as they stress less about tomorrow. On the down side, they don’t make the sort of purchases that pay off in the long run. To be fair, sometimes they just can’t do it. Buying that big bottle of shampoo may mean being unable to buy cooking oil and spices and aspirin that day.

Today I found myself using Third World buying strategies. Instead of buying a tank of heating oil, I bought 5 gallons of off road diesel to pour in the furnace’s tank. At the same time, I got a 20 pound propane bottle filled instead of filling the 250 pound tank. I did not want to tie up that much money -money I really don’t have right now. No doubt it cost me a bit more to buy in smaller volume, and there certainly was a lot more handling and effort on my part.

At one time I wouldn’t have thought twice about buying big truckloads of energy. Being on the automatic fill program that stuff just happened in the background. Of course, then the big bill appeared in the mail box and it would have to get paid.

My current purchases are even more third world than small volume purchases. My oil furnace is getting old. It won’t be replaced with another oil furnace. My propane kitchen stove won’t be replaced with another propane stove. By next winter, I’d like a good air tight kitchen woodstove for cooking and heating.

Wood has a much lower energy density than petrochemical fuels. The Third World cooks and heats with wood. Yes, in some ways I’m living like a Third World peasant.

Why did I buy diesel and propane today? To buy time. Time not gathering and processing wood allows me to do other things -like write this blog. Capital not invested in big tanks of fuel will go towards that new fuel efficient woodstove. Call it a more managed descent into Third World living.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Night at the Acoustic Cafe

One nice thing about the economic situation in my area, the local musicians are getting really good. Fewer of them have day jobs to cut into their music.

My lovely wife and I went to listen to a buddy of mine play. He just came back from working a cruise ship in the Mediterranean. He used to have day jobs, but he’s been a full time musician for a few years now. It pays the bills, but he has to be away from his family for months at a time.
The place is set up with a lot of big round tables. Unless you come with a big group, odds are you are going to share a table with strangers. That’s fine too. How else do strangers become people you know?

At the end of night, my buddy came over and we compared how we spent the winter. The guy on the other side of me jumped into the conversation when he heard I was into sailing. He used to sail, and had a sailboat just sitting in his driveway. He really wants to sell it.

It’s a Macgregor 25. I’ve looked at them before. Not a bad boat if the price is right, and it appears the guy is motivated to get his driveway space back. He lives a bit of a drive up the road, but it turns out he’s neighbors with a cousin of mine. My lovely wife and I have been planning on driving up for a visit. Might as well check out the boat.

Do I need another trailer sailer? Of course not. So what?


Friday, May 4, 2012

When factories close

Reading the local mullet wrapper, there was an article about a local business being sold. As they recently closed, I was excited at first. Perhaps those good jobs would be coming back. Alas, that was not the case. The business was being sold all right, but to a dismantler. All the equipment will be sold off and the building torn down for scrap. That’s one more business that’s never going to open its doors again.

It’s not the first and will not be the last. That seems to be a new trend. Factories used to close, but often other companies would take over and run the business. The jobs would have fewer benefits and lower wages, but there were still jobs. Now those jobs have left the area for good and it would not surprise me if they left the country. When other factories closed, their equipment got shipped to Brazil or China.

Years used to pass before a factory was completely dismantled. No longer. In a matter of months, the places get scrapped. For me, this is what collapse looks like. It’s here, but it’s slow and not evenly distributed.

Has it come to your town yet?


Thursday, May 3, 2012

The things we can’t imagine

Once in a while, something comes along that changes the game. What you worried about yesterday is suddenly no longer important at all. The thing that occupied your mind is suddenly forgotten.

Sometimes we discovered we’ve been worrying about something trivial when we should have been focused on other problems. It’s like a guy who’s obsessed with the paint job on his car, in a panic at the slightest blemish. One day the engine drops onto the road. Suddenly, real problems must be dealt with. Nothing like a really big problem to make the little ones disappear.
Problems are sometimes outgrown. Do we still worry about crap that happened to us in the 6 grade? We get over that person who rejected us, the job we didn’t get, the toy we could not afford, or the way we were raised even. Time can heal. We mature and get perspective.

Then there are the game changers, the things we never saw coming. It could be an idea, a cultural change, or a scientific breakthrough. Ten years ago who’d have though we could be commenting about a black president’s stand on gay marriage by using a social media on a smart phone?

What will the future bring? Who knows, but you can bet there will be something from out of the blue that changes the paradigm. A massive EMP event taking out the grid would certainly change our focus. We’d have real big issues to worry about. It could be come popular to be a government whistle blower (they do get all the girls.) A better economic model could replace the one that’s creaking along right now. Really cheap, really efficient alternative energy devices could become common. Heck, for all we know an evil villain in his secret volcanic island lair could be plotting something nasty, or some saint plotting something nice.

So what’s the point? The point is, things are going to be different. Our concerns are going to be different. Weird stuff is going to go down. Expect it. Keep your eyes open for new things. The future will not be like the past. If you are on top now, don’t take it for granted. On the bottom? Take advantage of things to put you in a better position. Be flexible. Accept your current level of ignorance.

Change is going to happen, maybe pretty darn quick too. Don’t get so invested in “the way things are,” that you aren’t ready to jump.

What’s going to happen? I’ve got no freaking clue.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The insurance was worth it

I learned a valuable lesson last year. AAA won’t do much of anything for you if your boat trailer burns out a wheel bearing crossing the Everglades. It was an expensive lesson.

A tow truck driver told me about BoatUS trailer insurance. They’ll take care of the boat trailer and the tow vehicle. It was less than $40/year.

This year while towing the trailer, the truck had problems. I had the truck and boat towed 158 miles. The tow truck guy wasn’t a regular BoatUS company, but they agreed on the phone to reimburse me.

I had to fax them the bill. Lacking a fax machine, I used Got Free Fax to fax over the bill using a scanner and a computer. That worked fine.

My insurance was for only 100 miles. I expected to eat the over mileage. Instead, they covered the whole bill. Turns out I also have boat insurance with BoatUS. There was some tow insurance that I wasn’t even aware of.

I’d only gotten boat insurance because many marinas now require it. Since we had planned on stopping at a few of them, an insurance paper to wave around looked like a good idea. Marinas pretty much accept zero liability.

Insurance is one of those things I really had to pay for. I probably drove over a million miles before I got roadside insurance of any type.

Outside of being a customer, I’ve no connection to BoatUS. I just thought I’d pass along that they really pulled through for me when I needed it. Anyone trailering a boat any distance might like to know it’s available.

I wish I knew about it last year before my Everglades misadventure.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Anybody still wear wristwatches?

I know some people, like nurses, wear them for their job. How many ordinary people still wear them? Hipster’s being ironic? Women using them as jewelery? Men using them as jewelery?

When I was a kid it was a big deal to own a watch. Now that most people carry cell phones, there’s really not much need for a separate timepiece. Kids today are getting phones at about the age I first starting wearing a watch.

I didn’t wear them for long though. I’m one of those people, who for whatever reasons, watches don’t keep proper time. Old wind up pocket watches seem to hold up better, but even those would get wonky on occasion. Weird.

Back when I wore a watch it became habitual to constantly check the time. That actually disturbed me a bit and soon after I stopped carrying a watch. I didn’t know how to describe my unease with that back then. Thinking back on it, somehow constantly checking a watch took me out of experiencing the now.

I wonder if anyone else has had the same experience. Lots of people who used to wear watches no longer do so. Does it affect their perception of time or are clocks so ubiquitous now that not having a watch doesn’t matter?

Suddenly cultural and technological changes take place. Long held practices fade away pretty quickly. What once was normal and common becomes rare.