Thursday, January 31, 2013

A tale of two repair jobs

My dad's electric water heater started acting up. It produced hot water, but in very limited quantities. Right off I suspected the lower heating coil had failed. The top of the tank gets hot, but the bottom stays cold. If the top coil had failed, the bottom coil would struggle to heat all the water by itself. That would result in a tank full of not quite hot enough water.

Much to my surprise, my dad had no experience trouble shooting water tanks. He's installed them, but never had to repair them. I took the lead on the job.

We killed the power to the tank, shut off the feed water, and drained the tank. Dad decided to change both heating elements while we were at it.

It's not all that hard. There are two cover plates to be removed. Then the wires are disconnected from the heater coils. The coils are unscrewed using a big socket wrench. Then the new ones are screwed in and the rest of the process is reversed.

Cost of the job? $22.

I don't always do my own work. The very same day, I brought my bicycle to a local shop to have some work done. While most bike work is well within my skill set, truing bent rims is not one of them. Sure, I tried, but was not satisfied with the result. The shop has better tools and a lot more experience.

It would not pay for me to buy shop quality tools and spend the time learning how to do it. It's a specialized skill. Water heater repair fits in with a much larger set of skills: plumbing and electrical work. Those basic skills can be used on a wide variety of jobs. It might be necessary to do a bit of research in a manual or on-line to get the finer details of a specific project. It's just a matter of gaining a bit more knowledge on how to apply existing skills and tools.

Had I not been around, dad would have figured out the problem and how to fix it. I just saved him a bit of time and wrench turning.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Getting everything together

My lovely wife and I are having a fine time. We are still waiting for a good weather window for an extended trip. I've a small craft, so small craft advisories are taken seriously.

We don't make a big deal of it, but my lovely wife is on disability for fibromyalgia. Some days she suffers more than others. If she has a bad day while out on the sailboat, I can operate it alone while she rests in the cabin. However, we don't start out when she's having a bad day. The added stress and activity of preparing the boat for launch is too much for her.

I've found some alternative launch sites. They would allow us to go directly to more protected waters. Our preferred launch site requires good conditions as there's 27 miles of unprotected waters to travel. In fact, if the wind shifts around to the east, there's no protection for an additional 12 miles. Under the right conditions, it's a beautiful sail.

Friday conditions look good. There's a superstition that claims it's bad luck to leave on a sea voyage on a Friday. I believe it's bad luck to be superstitious.

Until we launch, dad is happy to have us around. We've plenty of other fun in the sun things to keep us busy.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Unlove our cars?

“Mother Jones” magazine currently has an article about how Americans can learn to “unlove” our cars.

It's becoming an old tale. The new twist is that we'll see the benefits of self driving cars and leave the driving to robocar.

If you are a daily city commuter, it might even make sense and be an attractive alternative to driving one's own car. Maybe it appeals to workaholics who want to use commuter time to get work done How this is supposed to be a major advantage over current public transportation is not covered in the article. Already it makes little sense to own a car in a major city.

What about all of us who live out in the boonies? Can we expect the driverless infrastructure to make it all the way out into dirt road American? For the sake of argument, let's assume it does.

Here's the rub, rural folk may or may not love our cars, but we work them hard. The “car” most likely is some sort of truck. It's not a truck for show and status. It's a truck for hay bales, lumber, and gravel. Even if we have an actual car, it may have roof racks for canoes and ladders and a trailer hitch. They certainly don't fit the image of standardized people movers.

If my driverless car could haul my boat and launch it at the docks, that would be something -something they certainly have no plans for.

Those cars would not actually be owned. Instead, people would subscribe to a service. That might be fine city commuters. It makes little sense where people customize their vehicles to fit their needs. I and a lot of people I know don't lease their vehicles because they need to be customized too much. The lease company does not want to lease a regular sedan and get the Batmobile in return.

My big problem is that they are not trying to adapt the driverless infrastructure to the way people really want to use their vehicles. Instead, they want people to fit the cookie cutter roles they've made for everyone.

The technology is neutral. How it's applied is where the politics and agendas come in.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Designated driver

My lovely wife and I lost a “friend” over drinking and driving.

At the end of a fun day, our inebriated driver refused to let the sober person drive his car home. He drove off without my wife, his wife, and a teenager. We called a cab to take us back.

When we got there, he was still angry about us not wanting us to drive and was throwing a hissy fit. My lovely wife and I left. That's a scene I wanted no part of.

We'd been friends for about 12 years, but not after yesterday's fiasco.

If nothing else, we showed a teenager that it's serious business to ride with a drunk driver.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Back from the wilds

My lovely wife and I are back at my dad's. We got in late Sunday.

More later.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Mini road trip

My lovely wife and I will be out of contact for a couple days. Our Saturday camping spot will be out in the boonies and lacks wifi. We are unsure about Sunday's camping destination.

In other news, the welding job on my outboard bracket finally got finished today. It's installed and ready to go. A $16 repair saved a $200 bracket.

My lovely wife and I are putting together some sailing plans. It doesn't look like winds will be favorable for our original idea, so we've other destinations in mind. Florida has many excellent sailing destinations, so it's not like we are going to suffer. It also helps to have a trailer sailor that can do 50 knots into the wind.

See you all later.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Another of Dad's Projects

Thursday was spent ripping up my dad's kitchen floor. I'm not a big fan of the construction of trailers. Sure, he has a nice looking double wide that he keeps neat and well maintained. It's still a trailer -put together with staples and sawdust.

The water filter for the water filter on the refrigerator ice dispenser developed a small leak. By the time it was discovered, the fridge was already sinking into the floor.

Back in the day, when these trailers were built, using plywood instead of particle board was a $200 option that few paid for. I really wish the original owners had sprung for the good stuff.

As soon as old particle board gets wet it absorbs the water and fails. The particle board returns to the sawdust from which it was formed. Wet sawdust does not support the weight of a full sized refrigerator.

Now the fridge is sitting on a new solid sub floor. Dad has yet to decide what to use for a top floor covering. That's a project for a different day.

I knew something like this would probably happen. That's one reason I travel with my cordless Bosh bit driver. That's my favorite tool for laying down plywood. Last year, it was the floor in my dad's bedroom.

Of course, this being a trailer in Florida, it's one hurricane away from disappearing.


Thursday, January 24, 2013


Most of my boat repairs has been done. The coaxial cable for the radio is fixed. It took a bit of trial and error, but I found a local shop capable of welding the aluminum outboard bracket for my boat. That should be ready in a day or two. While I was at it, I installed a radar reflector. The boat should be ready for the water again soon.

I'm undergoing my own repairs. My frail damaged lungs have been responding well to Florida's warm moist air. That's one of the reasons I come down to Florida.

Not much going on. I've been getting some sun. Riding my bike. Connecting with friends and family. There are some people we hope to see this weekend that we haven't seen since last year. Should be fun. It's all good.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Jury Duty

I received a letter in the mail informing me that I have to report for jury duty. My first day was supposed to be on February 14. That didn't fit very well with my plans on staying in Florida until sometime in March.

The first thing I did was to call the court clerk and explain that I was on vacation in Florida. No problem, she said, just write a note explaining that I won't be back in time and they'll reschedule. They are used to dealing with snowbirds.

This is not the first time I've been called to jury duty. In fact, it's the third. The first time I was an active duty firefighter and was excused because I was on call 24/7.

The second time I showed up and was picked to serve on two different juries. The first one the defense had me removed immediately. The second one the prosecution had me removed. They have the right to reject a certain number of jurists without having to give any reason. My guess is that in both cases, they could not figure out how I'd vote.

This time could be interesting. I'm a big believer in jury nullification. That's where the jury rules not against the defendant, but against the law itself. Judges don't like that. Too bad. It's my conscience.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Shakedown cruise

My lovely wife, Brownie the Sailor Dog, and myself took the boat for a shakedown cruise. I'm glad we did.

The rigging needed a bit of untangling after 1700 road miles but everything checked out. My coaxial cable for my base radio got wedged between two hard metal surfaces and got cut. We made do with our hand held marine radio. Good to have backup. It will be repaired before the next trip.

We did some navigating in skinny waters among the rocks. It was good practice with the GPS, compass, charts, and binoculars. I'm glad to say we didn't hit any.

Rock markers in the distance.

The outboard ran fine. I'm glad I put new spark plugs in it. We only used the outboard for about 3. 5 miles to navigate a channel. Without it, we would have had to wait a couple hours for the tide to turn. Although it doesn't get a lot of use, it sure is handy to have.

At the end of the day I noticed a crack in the outboard bracket. That will be fixed or replaced before we head out again. '

The shakedown cruise brought a couple problems to light. I'm glad we decided on a day trip. Besides, a day on the water is a good day.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Simple repairs

I tried to start my van and the battery appeared to be too weak to turn the motor over. I traced the problem to dirty battery terminals. After cleaning them up, the van started right up. It was a small thing, but it make the difference between a vehicle that runs and one that doesn't.

Anyone who drives a car should have some knowledge of basic repair. Yes, even girl y girls should know how to change their own flat tire. Big strong mechanically minded men are not aways around.

I'm not against roadside assistance. I'm happy to have AAA and Boat US roadside assistance. (AAA won't do a thing for you if you are towing a boat.)

In a bug out situation, being able to trouble shoot minor problems can make all the difference. Imagine having to flee before a raging wildfire. Being able to keep you vehicle running could save your life.

Don't wait until an emergency. There are plenty of ways to learn this stuff. Buy some manuals, take a course, help out your mechanically inclined buddies with their repair jobs. Keep some basic tools in the vehicle.

You don't have to know how to rebuild an engine or replace a transmission. Knowing the basics, however, can save you. It can save you time and inconvenience today, but could save your life tomorrow.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Reschedule and communications

Reschedule and communications

I got the boat almost ready for a good trip. All it needs is the rest of the provisions and our clothes. We had originally thought Sunday might be a good time to head out. Now we've decided to postpone and let the next cold front move through. We'll just stay later. Dad is happy to have us around for a bit longer.

The blog will most likely not get updated at least part of the time. Wifi is pretty sketchy out where we are heading. I do use an Alfa USB Wireless WiFi Network Adapter. It is easy to use, cheap, and gives significant signal boost. However, I know from past experience that even with a boost, a usable wifi signal is unlikely. It's still worth a try, as conditions change from year to year.

Now some people may wonder why I don't use my smart phone as a hot spot to update my blog. That's an easy one. I don't have a smartphone. All I have is a cheap Tracfone. We only use a cell phone while traveling, and this fits the bill. My phone expense runs about $80/year.

Our fall plans are for a much longer sailing trip. Maybe for that trip I'll get a smartphone. One of the Samsung Galaxy Android phones looks pretty cool. Right now, I just can't justify the expense.

While Internet connection is nice, and even useful, on the water it's the marine radio that will get my attention.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Big news that isn't and missing news

So Lance Armstrong confessed to Oprah that he used performance enhancing drugs. Big woop. I really don't care. Why does the news people think this is big news?

It isn't. It's what they have instead of news. All the major news outlets have reduced or even eliminated their investigative reporting. It's expensive and there's no money in in. Not only that, it can annoy advertisers and they don't want to do that.

Right now news organizations are coasting along on reputation. There are enough people who still think they are a solid source of news, so they tune in to be informed. It's like going to a dry well and never noticing the bucket keeps coming up empty.

If the United States was a functioning democracy it would be a problem. A democracy needs educated and well informed citizens to make wise decisions. Instead, the corporate masters make all the major decisions, so the citizen has little input.

The news division is just another entertainment branch of the network. They treat it that way with celebrity “newscasters” and infotainment.

Once in a while something so big happens that it can't be ignored. It's pretty funny to watch entertainers pretend to be actual news people. They lack the tools for the job.

It's a sad thing when a news story gets more professional coverage from Russia Today or Al Jazeera.


Friday, January 18, 2013

How the Federal Government Dies

Federal law trumps state and local laws. States have been free to make all the laws they want, but only as long as the laws don't conflict with Federal laws.

What happens when states pass laws that conflict? In the past, the Feds came in and those state laws went away.

That's changing. The most obvious break was when states liberalized their marijuana laws. Those laws are in direct conflict with Federal laws, yet those laws are still on the books. What has happened? The Federal government decided to not enforce Federal laws. They claim to have bigger fish to fry.

The lack of Federal enforcement is one of the factors that has encouraged more states to pass marijuana laws. In this area Federal enforcement has proven to be weak to nonexistent. If a law is not enforced does it really exist?

Now states are making noise that new Federal gun laws will be ignored. In fact, some states are threatening to arrest Federal agents who try to enforce such laws.

What's going on here? I'd say it's the slow shift of power from the Federal government back to the states. During the civil war the Federal government, through force of arms, made it very clear that Federal trumps state law. The question today is: does the Federal government have the will and the means to tell states what to do?

My guess is that the Feds have their hands full. That's not to say they won't make a show of force now and then. In the long run, their power will diminish.

The Federal government rules with carrots and sticks. Their stick has developed a few cracks.

What about the carrot?

They have a lot of carrots yet: Food stamps, Social Security, Pensions, and Jobs. As long as they can still provide carrots, the Feds have influence.

The problem for the feds is that too many groups want those carrots. We can point to abuses with the social safety net, but the expense pales to the breaks big business receives. If they can't say no to giving money to the very profitable oil companies, they can't say no to any big business.

Let's face it, a worker on disability has a lot less political power than a major corporation. In the long run, who do you think will get the carrots?

People still have needs. If they are going to be provided by the Federal government, they will have to be provided in other ways. Will the states pick up the burden? Maybe some of it, but they have financial pressures too. Needs will be filled, but maybe by church groups, family, friends, and local communities. Those who provide what's needed will have the allegiance of the people. People may discover support networks that provide for their needs better than the Federal system. When that happens, the Federal government becomes irrelevant to a person's life.

At some point, the Federal government becomes more of a hindrance than a help. The carrots stop coming and the stick is weak. Once that happens, it's only a matter of time.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Auto safety

More people are killed by cars than guns. Something has to be done.

The problem is high capacity fuel tanks. There's no need to have more than one or two gallons of gasoline. Gasoline is dangerous and explosive. It only makes sense to limit the amount a car can carry.

Drivers with huge fuel tanks can drive too many miles. Each mile driven increases the chance of an accident taking place. Drivers become fatigued and inattentive. Small fuel tanks force drivers to take a break and reload.

Only police and military can justify having large fuel tanks.

It's a good thing there are easy and simple solutions to complicated problems.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

If this goes on

There's an old Science Fiction trope: if this goes on. A S/F writer takes a current trend and extends it far into the future.

We get a disillusioned writer who in 1948 writes “1984.” Sadly, he appears to have been more right than wrong. Thanks for the warning anyway, George Orwell.

Then we got all those writers who watched the space race and predicted that the average Joe would be traveling through space by now.

Predicting how things will finally end up is a chancy business, but that doesn't stop us from trying.

Never before has so much information been available. One would think that predicting future events would be easier than ever. There is too much. It's easy to focus on a handful of factors and miss out on other developments that trump established trends.

Then there is the issue of backlash. Before something can reach it's ultimate final expression, society gets fed up and does a 180.

“If this goes on,” works better in static societies. Tyrants in static societies have a much easier time ruling as future trends are pretty much like past trends. In fact, it's a tyrant's best interest to keep a society backward. There are times I wonder if whole fields of inquiry have been quietly silenced to prevent chaos from entering the equations of social management.

With all the hazards inherent with the practice, it's still tempting to play the game. We follow the news and can't help but wonder how it will all turn out. If a trend has been playing out for a long time, it's easy to assume the future will bring more of the same.

As for me, I'm trying to cut back on the “If this goes on” game. Instead, I'm betting on disruptive technologies, unforeseen natural events, new social movements, changes in societal norms, backlashes -the whole chaotic mess.

Speculating about the future, bases on past trends, can be a loser's game. It's like preparing for years to deal with worse and worse drought, only to lose your house in a flood.

It's human nature to expect trends to continue, as they often do -at least for a while. That being said, let's ask ourselves, “What if this does not go on?” Are you prepared to surf the chaos? Some will refuse to see new realities before it's too late. They are psychologically invested in “If this goes on.” Survivors and opportunists are alert to sea changes, those times when the past and future have a definite break.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Made it to Florida

My lovely wife and I made it safely down to Florida -in spite of drivers on cell phones. American highways are weird.

The veggie van ran well. It got me just about to Georgia before I had to switch to diesel. I could have packed more jugs of veggie, but there are diminishing returns. At some point all your veggie is burned up to haul all your veggie. In retrospect, I could have packed another 4 jugs or so. That's about it.

The trip took about a day more than it normally does. Heavy fog from Vermont to the middle of Virgina slowed me down. However, I must admit that having a very comfortable bed in the van changed things. Instead of grabbing a quick nap in a car seat, I crawled into the back and actually got a couple decent night's sleep. It was nice to arrive not totally zombied out.

Tomorrow, in the daylight, I'll take 1700 miles of road grime off the van and boat.


Saturday, January 12, 2013


My lovely wife and I spent Friday night close by in VT with a good friend. It was a short drive as I had to winterize the house.

We spent almost all day Saturday driving in fog. Finally, around 9:30 PM, we called it quits. Going to try and get some sleep before moving on.


Almost wish I was bugging out

My lovely wife and I can bug out quickly and in good order. So why does it take days to pack for a long trip?

There's all the little things that don't have to be done in a bug out situation. For example, we would not be taking down the Christmas decorations, doing all the laundry, washing all dishes, and finding homes for all the houseplants. It a bug out situation, all those things could be left for the zombie hordes to deal with.

Even something as simple as packing clothes is different. It's not just about having cloths to keep warm. There's something called fashion.

By the time this post goes up, we should already be well on our way south, so the packing would have been settled, one way or the other.


Friday, January 11, 2013


My dog, Brownie the Sailor Dog, knows something is up. My lovely wife and I have been preparing for our Florida trip. The dog refuses to leave our side, as if we'd leave her behind. I can't walk to the van without her quickly jumping in.

When we have to leave her alone at home for a couple hours, she finds interesting ways to amuse herself. She gathers up our footwear and jackets from the mud room and hauls them upstairs, where she makes a nest out of them. There's often a trail of shoes and clothes across the kitchen and up the stairs to the living room.

If we leave her in the van, she'll quietly lie down and patiently wait. She knows we'll be coming back.

Once we are finally on the road, she'll be fine.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Equipment Reviews

When I read negative or positive reviews on a product I'm looking for details. Why does the reviewer consider the product good or bad? There may be very good personal reasons to disagree with the reviewer, even one with experience and a good track record.

For example, I was listening to “The Survival Podcast” archived shows. It's a pretty good resource for preppers. The host, Jack Spirco, had some very negative things to say about the product “waterbricks.”

Waterbricks are 3.5 gallon water containers that can be stacked a bit like Lego blocks. The funny thing is, I had bought 4 of them due to a recommendation on “Boat Bits.

So who's right? They both are.

Jack Spirco was right. Waterbricks are an expensive way to store water. If you were going to store emergency water for your household, there are much cheaper ways to do it. 2 liter soda bottles can be reused and make good cheap storage. Even buying a 30 or 50 gallon water barrel is a lot cheaper than waterbricks.

However, “Boat Bits” is also right. They are rugged and store well on a boat. The 3.5 gallon size is much easier to carry than bigger water jugs. Because they transport well, it's not too big a deal to haul drinking water back to the boat.

For “The Survival Podcast,” it's an expensive water storage solution.

For “Boat Bits,” it's an inexpensive way to avoid buying a costly watermaker. (reverse osmosis filtrations system for removing salt out of water.)

Since I've been using mine on my sailboat, the are worth the expense. Rugged construction, stackability, and convenient size trump economy.

As always, it's all about the details.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

North and South

When traveling, there's two things that tell me I'm in the real south. The first is that there seems to be a Waffle House on every other corner. There are not many of those in New England.

In a more serious vein, the other thing is long driveways. In snow country houses are built close to the road. It's especially noticeable with older houses, houses built before the invention of snowblowers. If you've got to hand shovel snow you don't want your house at the end of a 300 foot driveway.

Below the snow zone, long and winding driveways are more common. It's nice to have some distance and privacy from the road, without the snow removal penalty.

Snow shoveling is a depressing thing. All winter long the snow shoveler labors heroically. By summer, there's nothing to show for all this work. Next year, repeat.

There are a few long driveways in snow country. A home owner may think, no problem, I'll just put a plow on my truck or buy a snowblower. Plows are not cheap and they put an awful lot of wear and tear on a truck. Wise shoppers avoid buying former plow trucks. Snowblowers work, but are loud, smelly, burn gas, plus require maintenance and repair. Not only that, while it's possible to move snow faster than with a shovel, it's still a lot of work.

I'm too lazy to own a snowblower. True, I'd spend less time shoveling, but that time would be spent earning money to keep the snowblower going.

Once in a while, snow storms can overwhelm normal snow removal tools. Imagine getting several feet of heavy wet snow overnight. Once it has a chance to pile up, the only way to remove it is with a bucket loader. Normal plows and snowblowers cant' touch it.

There's a cabin just down the road from me with a long driveway. The owners normally only use it in the summer, but they spent the weekend there recently. Instead of plowing, snowblowing, or shoveling, they put on snowshoes and hiked in.

I knew a young couple who's house sat so far off the road, they'd use a snowmobile to get from their parking spot to the house. They put up with that for two winters before selling the place. All that hassle to get from the car door to the house added up.

Right now I'm wondering about the minimum amount of shoveling that will be necessary to get my boat out of the driveway. It always feels a bit weird to tow a sailboat through snow country. Once I get to the land of long driveways, it won't look so odd.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Types of travel

My lovely wife and and I have been doing a lot of trip planning. If all goes well, Friday we'll leave New Hampshire and a couple of days later we'll be in Florida. I used to drive it non-stop, but it's much slower going towing a boat.

Flying down would only take a few hours. Of course, I couldn't exactly take a boat on the plane. Then there's the whole TSA thing. It would take an extreme emergency for me to ever fly again. My flying boycott won't change the system, but it will limit my contact with idiots and wannabe Nazis.

We plan on doing some sailing this winter. The hull speed of our little sailboat is only 5.5 knots, not very fast at all.

It wasn't all that many years ago when the fast mode of transportation was by sailboat. While not fast by today's standards, it really is a marvelous way to travel. The wind does the work, and it's free. Even a small boat like mine can carry quite a bit of stuff.

Imagine thinking of journeys, not in hours or days, but in weeks and months. No wonder we say the journey is more important than the destination -there was a whole heck of a lot more journey back in the day.

Imagine setting out on a good ship, with equipment and supplies to last for many weeks. The possibilities are endless. Even national borders are just lines on a chart. In my minds eye, I picture a boat on a long passage. Let's say someone left the world behind on September 10, 2001. Several months later when they land a distant port, the world has changed.

If something like that happened to me, it'd be really tempting to quickly resupply and set out again, in hopes the world would be a bit saner by the next port of call.


Monday, January 7, 2013

The diver's knife

One winter my lovely wife found ourselves in a campground on Key Largo. One of the guys staying at the campground was a Brit, in Florida for some scuba diving.

He was all excited to show me his dive knife. It looked like an all right knife to me, nothing special: stainless steel, big grippy handle, and with about a 5 inch pointed blade. It seemed like a practical sort of knife for cutting a tangled harness or freeing oneself from an abandoned fishing net. In short, it appeared to be an adequate knife for the job.

The diver seemed overly excited about a fairly ordinary knife. What I did not know at the time was that that sort of knife was illegal in England. For him, being able to carry such a knife was a big thrill.

Maybe I should have shown him my hunting knifes, a long fillet knife and the 2.5 foot machete that I was using to open coconuts. None of these blades are illegal in my home state of NH, so I don't think twice about taking them along. They are useful tools for a camping trip.

Personally, I could not imagine getting into a knife fight. I own guns.

If guns were out of the picture and I had to defend myself, a knife would still not be my second choice. That would be my hiking stick. It has a lot more reach than a knife -and I'm a trained staff fighter.

Can't wait for them to outlaw sticks.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Cash for Clunkers, bad policy

This recent article claims the government's Cash for Clunkers program actually hurt the environment more than it helped.

Because of the requirements of the program, many cars were shredded. The process generated a fair amount of landfill waste. It also consumed a significant amount of energy. The article also pointed out that the program created a shortage of good used cars, inflating the price of those remaining.

What the article did not mention is that actually making a car uses more energy than it will consume in its lifetime. It would have made more sense to keep old cars on the road, encourage proper maintenance, good driving habits, and fewer miles driven. Of course, that would not have given a boost to the car industry, but why should the government be promoting that industry in the first place?

During the 80s gas took a significant jump in price. Small cars were going for a premium. Back then I bought an old Chevy with a 8 cylinder engine. I called it my economy car. The car got about 18 miles to the gallon. However, I only paid $50 for the car. It took another $40 to get it road legal. I drove it for 2 years. The only other repair was a water pump replacement, which I did myself. With no car payments, I could afford a lot of gas.

It made me sad to see plenty of perfectly good cars scrapped for no good reason. Now we know it didn't even benefit the environment.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Money saving hints

There are thousands of books, articles, and web pages with money saving tips. Most of them are pretty good, with one big caveat. They only really work if you aren't too bad off to begin with.

They say things like: get a cheaper cell phone plan, take your lunch into work, brew your own coffee rather than ordering out -stuff like that. It's all good advice. The money saved can be used to pay down debt or to have some money in savings. If you are working but can't seem to get ahead, these are the sorts of little changes that can help. Information on how to do those little money saving things is everywhere.

When you are out of work and living on beans and rice, not buying an espresso won't save the day. When your mortgage is greater than your income, hints on do it yourself landscaping isn't what you need. Information on what to do then is much harder to come by. The choices are harsh and not much fun at all. Success is uncertain.

There are two different strategies, depending on circumstances. In one scenario there's a less than zero chance of your income situation improving. You think that your lay off might be temporary. (that means the company hasn't sold off all its machinery to China) Perhaps you are waiting to see you are going to qualify for retirement or disability payments. Maybe your skills are still in demand and finding another good paying job is only a matter of time.

The other scenario is one where earning enough money to pay your bills isn't going to happen. You were laid off and the company did sell off its machinery. Perhaps your skills are in a field that's disappearing. Maybe you are too sick or injured to ever be able to work full time again. If your only hope of financial solvency is winning the lottery, you are in this category.

I was in the first category. There was no way I could pay all my bills, but I had hope of winning my disability case. While we lived a pretty frugal life, but we still paid for extras. The kids had music and karate lessons, for example. We still occasionally went out to hear live music. The money saved by forgoing these things would not have saved us. While the money might be retroactive, my kid's childhoods weren't.

When you are in that sort of situation you end up keeping up credit card payments but let the house mortgage and taxes slide. Sure, eventually the house will go up for auction, but you need the credit cards in good standing so you can eat and pay for fuel. Maybe you get a really nice cell phone with a good plan, but the home landlines and Internet service is canceled. People look at you funny for getting a nice phone, but it makes sense at the time. That phone is what keeps you in contact with your lawyer or helps you find a job.

I won my bet against time, but just barely. My house was going up for auction in two weeks. My back pay brought the mortgage, taxes, and credit cards up to date. (by then, even the credit card payments could not be met.) It was a huge risk. Normally a case like mine takes about a year to settle. Mine had the bad fortune to become a test case and took four years to settle.

My situation was about to slide from the good chance of catching up latter category to the totally doomed category.

It's that second category that needs more planning. Dropping from “think you're gonna make it' to “no you ain't,” is worse than just accepting it's not ever going back the way it was.

Had my case failed, I'd have lost my house, been without savings or even a functional credit card. I did not know it at the time, but my own parents were well on their way to an eventual bankruptcy. My in-laws were 2000 miles away and had issues of their own. The family would have had to live in a tent in the woods until we could save up enough money for a rent deposit on a crappy apartment.

Here's how we could have done it differently if right from the beginning we would have accepted being in category two. That's tough to do and takes steel will. Let's say I knew right from the beginning that my funds would not recover. The first thing to do would have been to sell the house rather than wait for foreclosure. At the time I could have cleared enough money to buy an old trailer on a small lot. It' s not much, but beats living in a tent. Then paying land taxes becomes more important than keeping up the credit cards.

If I'd owed more money on the house that it was worth, then the thing to do would be to stop mortgage payments and save up cash for a deposit on a good rent. These days I'd most likely buy an old boat to live on.

One guy I knew slowly turned all his toys like motorcycles and boats into cash, which he never put in a bank. There was no paper trail that way. After everything was settled, he took that physical cash, moved to a new state and restarted his life.

Money saving tips are fine if you are basically financially sound. It's like cosmetic surgery, nice to have but not life saving. Sometimes what you need is radical life saving financial surgery. Then it's financial triage, cutting away anything not essential to life.


Friday, January 4, 2013

What the hippies could get away with that we can't

During the 60s, I was too young to participate but old enough to observe. I really came of age in the 70s. By the time I got out of high school in '76, the whole hippy thing had run its course. Many of the experiments of that time had run out of steam. The Vietnam War was over so there was no longer a major movement to unite young people.

A tiny fraction of the hippies continued to live their values. A handful of communes survived. Many people held on to some of the values but pretty much integrated the rest of society.

Most got haircuts, ditched the tie dyed clothes, finished their degrees and got real jobs.

There were real jobs to be had and money to be made. Much of the hippie movement happened on college campuses. That means those young people came from a background financially well enough off to afford college. The lower working class, by and large, didn't protest the war. They got their draft notice and went and fought it. Still, even for most of them, there were jobs waiting for them when the got home. Maybe in a factory, but they could earn a living and a piece of the American Dream.

For a while it was fashionable to drop out. When that went out of fashion, most dropped back in.

Today, the fear is that dropping out is a one way trip. Once off the corporate treadmill, it's hard to jump back on. Human resources departments don't want to hear that you took a year off to read philosophy. There are plenty of other people they could hire instead. Dropping out is long long drop these days.

Unlike the 60s, students are indentured to massive student loans. Those payments have to be made. Voluntary simplicity is for rich folks who went college without loans. How weird is that?

People don't drop out of their comfortable middle class lives; they are pushed out. Jobs are lost, houses foreclosed on, and the dream is over. It's a tough landing. Too many of friends are on the raggedy edge, looking at that hard landing. I've been told that they don't know how to live like I do. That's too bad, as their landing will be a lot harder than it could be. They keep hoping for a last minute improvement that shows no signs of appearing. Job searches have stretched into years.

It's one thing to drop out when you are 21, healthy, and live in a prosperous time. It's another thing to be pushed out when you are 40, with bad knees, a wife, kids, a mortgage and two car payments. You don't crash at a friend's pad and beg mom and dad for some bread.

Those pushed out of the middle class would benefit from having a landing zone picked out. Maybe an old RV they can park on some cheap land. Perhaps n old sailboat they can live on. Maybe something as simple as selling or abandoning the house and cramming the family into an upstairs apartment above their shop. Sure beats living in your car. Heck, maybe that car is one of the things you should have ditched years ago.

The thing is, many of us will end up living like hippies, but without the cool music and too much gray in our beards. Mom and dad won't be sending us any checks as they are barely getting by themselves. There will still be people with the appearance of living the dream, but they'll be running faster and faster just to stay in place. There will also be a lot fewer of them. For the rest, it's an exercise in getting by with less. Wake up from the dream and deal with the reality.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could at least get some decent music, peace, love and understanding out of the whole experience?


Thursday, January 3, 2013

This year's holiday plans

The holidays of 2012 were pretty good. Thanksgiving was fine. Not that there's much to go wrong. Get together and eat good food. I like a holiday with low expectations. While I'm not usually a fan of Christmas, this one went well. My kids and grandkids got together with my lovely wife and I. The parties were good. The food was excellent. There was snow for Christmas. I even cut my own Christmas tree off my own land. How traditional can you get? My New Year's celebration also went well. Once again, good food, drink and interesting people.

Norman Rockwell could have made a painting out of my holidays.

So what's the plan for next year's holidays? My lovely wife and I are going to blow them off. We plan on sailing south on the Intra-Coastal Waterway in the fall and not come back until spring. My lovely wife and I will celebrate the holidays wherever we happen to be. We might connect with relatives or friends along the way, but won't commit to it. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't we'll celebrate with strangers and see if any of them become friends.

The holidays are nice and all, but I don't want to be shackled to doing the same thing every year. The holidays are supposed to serve us. We aren't supposed to be slaves to them.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Like a Crazy Neighbor

The political machine in Washington DC is like being next to crazy neighbors.

Most of the time you just hear them from over the fence, squabbling and yelling. Once in a while they get really out of hand. They do something stupid like park their car in your flower bed.

To most of us, most of the time, the noise in DC is a low level annoyance that we just want to ignore. We hear them fighting over the fence, but as long as their crap doesn't get too crazy, we pretend they aren't there. Occasionally they do something really stupid and dangerous, like the whole fiscal cliff fiasco.

They point a “fiscal cliff” gun to their heads and go through a lot of yelling and posturing about how to stop the gun from going off. The problem is that they aren't really pointing it at their heads but ours. The crazy neighbor who threatens to blow his house up has no problem taking the whole neighborhood with him.

Real life crazy neighbors can be dealt with. Eventually they do something so off the wall that the cops haul them away.

Voting used to be our policing function to deal with crazy DC neighbors. That used to work better than it does now. Sure, we might get rid of one crazy, but his replacement is from the same in-bred dysfunctional clan: the Politician Family. It's like the the crazy neighbor who got hauled away for setting your garage on fire got replaced by his twin brother who just got out of prison.

Like Einstein said: you can't solve problems with the same type of thinking that caused them.

You can't fix the craziness next door by swapping one crazy person for another crazy person.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Day off and Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

I'm celebrating by taking a day off. Hope the new year finds everyone well.