Sunday, March 31, 2013

Mad Skills

There's a lot of skills that are nice to have. Some skills used to be common and are fast disappearing. Other skills never were common and are worth knowing. I think it's great to learn new things, not just the important skills, but silly and frivolous tricks too.

How many new drivers can drive a stick shift? Good to know and could save you some grief. It doesn't take a zombie Apocalypse to be useful. I once got a ride to a bachelor party. My driver proceeded to get very drunk. I stayed sober. He was handed me the keys and it's a good thing I knew how to drive stick.

If you know how to drive stick, might as well learn how to start a car on compression. Over the years I've started quite a few cars with dead batteries using that trick.

Here's an old skill that's quickly dying: the ability to write good clear cursive that other people can read. Many schools no longer teach it. It's a skill that takes a lot of practice to get good at. I learned under the stern guidance of nuns wielding rulers. A lot of preppers like to learn old skills. Good handwriting should be one of them. I still take notes with pen and paper. It's low tech, but it works.

Why not learn a silly skill just for heck of it? I taught myself how to juggle. It amuses kids and keeps me entertained. (Okay, I'm just a big kid.) No real expensive equipment is needed. As a bonus, I developed much better hand/eye coordination.

When I was a kid my dad taught me how to throw knives. It rarely has real practical value, but it's fun and looks impressive.

There are a lot of good useful skills to develop, but why stop with the ones every prepper talks about? Learn some dying skills, and then learn some fun things. Nothing wrong with a little fun, and there might be benefits you've never imagined.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Currency Shenanigans

Shenanigan is a nice Irish sounding word. I use it in honor of those Irish savers who've already taken a major haircut from their banks.

Plenty of shenanigans going on in Cyprus. It looks like some major Russian depositors have taken it on the chin. For every one of them many thousands of regular people are being ripped off. I tried to imagine how I would behave if something like this happened in the United States.

If my savings were taken or even just make unavailable due to daily withdrawal restrictions, I'd have to do something. If I had limited access to money, the last thing I'd do is pay any debts owned to banks. I wonder if they've thought of that? I bet a lot of Cypriot credit card bills are not getting paid. That can't be good for the banks. Of course, local banking is probably a very tiny part of the banks business. Apparently most of the depositors were of foreign origin. Screw the foreigners first and hardest, but put it to everyone sooner or later.

Tricks that worked in Ireland and Cyprus probably won't work in Spain or Italy. No doubt the creative financial gnomes have new tactics for different countries.

Unless things go seriously sideways, bank holidays like those that just took place in Cyprus probably won't happen in the US. My guess, and it's really only a guess, is that we won't have to deal with the same sort of currency restrictions. Besides, there probably isn't a big enough pile of money in US savings to rob. Pension funds are big enough to rob. Some collusion between government and big banks could vacuum those up -for our protections, of course.

We've really got to find a better way to make money work. If we don't we'll be bartering eggs for firewood sooner or later.


Questioning travel assumptions

My lovely wife and I were discussing our bills. (One of the least fun things to do with a lovely wife.) Once in a while we look at a bill for something and wonder if we really need that thing. This time we looked at AAA roadside service. The better plans are not cheap.

We travel a lot, but during our longest trips we usually are towing a boat. AAA does nothing for boat trailer problems. For that we now have Boat US towing service. We used it once, and if we don't use it again for a dozen years, we'll still be way ahead. Anyone towing a boat any distance should look into it. Outside of being a happy customer, I've no connection to the company.

In the end, we decided to keep AAA. We tend to drive older, weirder vehicles, so having decent towing insurance has been useful.

Once in a while I ask myself if having a car is worth it. Cars are an expensive constant drain on finances. They cost money every month, even if they never leave the driveway. Of course, we do live out in the woods far from any public transportation. It would take some serious work arounds. Maybe we should just live on a sailboat and have home and transportation all in one package.

There's always the option of moving into a city where's there's public transportation. My lovely wife like to dabble in public transportation. She had a doctor's appointment in Boston where they were going to do some tests. We parked our car at my daughter's place north of the city. We took the train into the city, then the subway to the hospital. The best that can be said for the experience is that it's better than driving a car in Boston. Of course, when my lovely wife had an invasive procedure done in Boston, we took a car. Imagine trying to hop subways and trains with a bandaged leg.

Then again, I'm not a city person in the first place.

Forget plane travel. Everyone complains about the TSA. I boycott flying. Yes, I'm a cantankerous old grump, so what? The only time I'm going to let someone touch me that way is if I can touch them right back. That's usually a private thing involving soft music and wine.

Anyway, that's the sort of though processes set in motion by contemplating one single bill.

Well, that's one bill down. Now for the next one on the pile.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Blue Collar Millionaire

Back in my firefighting days, my ladder truck driver was a millionaire. He certainly hadn't made his money as a firefighter. After he got out of the army, he and his wife opened a little mom and pop store. That did pretty well, but he was a shrewd stock market investor and that's where he really made his money.

He enjoyed being a firefighter and driving the ladder truck. He did it 27 years before retiring. I had the pleasure of working with his the last years of his employment. Paychecks piled up in his wallet. The secretary had to remind him to cash them. For him paychecks were literately pocket change.

Except for the fact that he and his wife took expensive vacations, one would never know he was so rich. His house wasn't anything special. Every seven years he'd pay cash for a new car. By year seven the old car always looked pretty beat. Appearances never bothered him.

Management was afraid of him. The guy was good at his job and generally followed orders well. The only time there was trouble was when he thought an order was stupid. Then he did whatever he wanted, and always got away with it.

Once the Chief gave an order that we could no longer wash our cars at the fire station. The millionaire never washed his car, but that day he did. In fact, he made a show of it by washing it right in front of the station. The Chief came out, didn't say anything for a few minutes. In a quiet voice he requested that cars get washed behind the station from now on. To this day the guys still wash their cars at work but nobody working there now knows how that came about.

I thought it would be the greatest thing in the world to have that millionaire attitude. What did that money really signify anyway? Independence. Not caring what other people thought. Not having to do stupid things just to keep a job. While I didn't have the money, I adopted the attitude anyway. It worked for me.

My lovely wife eventually adopted the same attitude. It wasn't too far below the surface in her anyway. It's surprising how many people just assumed we had hidden inherited wealth or a lot of political power. It wasn't money that allowed us to act independent, but frugality and self reliance. In the end, it was just as good as millions.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Jokes about North Korea

North Korea is rattling sabers again, and most people think of it as some sort of absurd theater. The north has made some outrageous propaganda films. They are threatening missile strikes on the US, which all analysis's believe they lack the capability of doing.

I've listened to talking heads saying that the only time that anyone pays attention to North Korea is when they make threats. If they don't threaten anyone, they are ignored.

Here's a thought, what if they actually believe their own rhetoric? What damage could they really do? It could be very bad news for South Korea, and the American troops stationed in their country. The North has enough artillery and short range rockets to kill a lot of people and do a lot of damage. North Korea has a huge standing army. They can walk to South Korea, and probably use hidden tunnels to do it.

Don't forget that North Korea has successfully tested nuclear weapons. Most analysis's doubt they can mount one on a rocket. So what? They could put one in a shipping container and ship it to the US. Low tech methods can deliver a weapon.

We don't really know the ins and outs of North Korean politics. What would happen if they miscalculated and launched an invasion or an attack on the US? They'd get wiped out, of course, but that doesn't mean a lot of people won't die needlessly.

Nothing happens in isolation. Maybe China, seeing the US occupied, could decide it's a good time to invade Taiwan. With US forces stretched thin, they might get away with it. It doesn't have to be China. Other nations could use the confusion and US distraction for their own agendas.

Imagine what kind of shock an attack would be to world financial markets? Things are shaky already. How about world fuel supplies? Trade? Heck, while we are at it, through in a few natural disasters to shake things up more. There's no rule that the world has to deal with only one disaster at a time.

The odds of North Korea actually doing something might be low, but the consequences are very high indeed. At the very least, we should know better than to joke about it.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gathering materials

The worse part of any project is picking up the materials, at least it is for me. I'd rather build than shop.

I got the worse of that out of the way for my boat build project. Hifalutin fancy boat builders will look down their noses at my choice of materials. For one thing, it's a plywood boat, not some work of art constructed from rare tropical hardwoods. It's not even marine grade plywood, but regular exterior plywood. The closest supplier of marine grade plywood is about 150 miles away. Even if it was closer, it's just too darn expensive.

I do want the boat to last and be strong enough, so I'm using plenty of good quality epoxy. My experience has been that good epoxy and fiberglass work more than make up for any plywood shortcomings. That's where my money is being spent.

One of the fun things about this build is that the plans are all metric. Living in the land of feet and inches, that's an issue. Sure, I've got all the handy dandy conversion charts and computer programs, but who wants to do a conversion for every measurement? Fortunately, the lumber yard had a tape measure and a metal yardstick that have the metric units also. That will be a time saver.

Anyone who's ever built a boat of any sort knows there's never enough clamps. The lumber yard had a big bin of clamps on sale so I bought ten. Then there's disposable gloves, sanding paper, dust masks, saw blades, screws -all the little odds and ends. That stuff adds up.

The converted ambulance/motor home/materials hauler worked fine. Tables can be removed from the inside, leaving a good long flat area. There was no problem loading up plywood and even 12 foot lumber slide right inside. Materials stayed clean and protected on the drive home. By the time I got home darkness had fallen. No problem, the materials are safe in the van until daylight.

Now that most of the materials have been bought, it's time to do the fun part, actually building the boat.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Mess of lighters

There I was at the grocery store checkout, waiting for my turn. There's nothing to do but look at the impulse buy displays. One thing caught my eye, a big jumbo collection of Bic lighters. For a guy who doesn't smoke, I sure buy a lot of those butane lighters.

They are cheap and common so we tend to forget what a technological marvel they are. I can make fire using a number of primitive methods and they are good skills to have. However, if you've ever started a fire with a bow drill or other primitive method, you really appreciate disposable lighters.

I've got them all over the place: the vehicles, the boat, scattered around the house, and in backpacks. If a fire needs to be started I don't want to look high and low for a lighter.

People keep candles, lanterns and camp stoves handy in case of power outages. Store lighters in the same place those other things are kept. Sure beats stumbling around the dark, looking for some way to light the candle or lantern. In an emergency situation, the last thing you need is the stress of trying to find a lighter.

At one time I used to stock up on the cheap dollar store lighters, but not anymore. The failure rate on the cheapos is too high. They come apart in your hand just when you need them most.

So there I was at the checkout, wondering if I really needed more lighters. Then I thought how stupid I'd feel if I needed a lighter and didn't have one. Imagine your vehicle broken down far out in the woods. It's starting to get dark and cold. What would make you feel better: a campfire, or knowing you saved a couple bucks at the checkout.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Maple Syrup Problems

It's the start of the maple syrup season here in northern New Hampshire. Reports are in from a number of producers and something is wrong.

Maple syrup is produced by boiling down the maple sap to concentrate the sugar. This year there appears to be very little sugar in the sap. It normally takes a lot of energy to run the evaporators, but it's been worse this year because sugar yields are very low.

What syrup that is produced hasn't been very good. There's an off flavor this year. Even producers with top of the line equipment report these problems.

It is early in the season and there's hope things will improve. Early reports are worrisome. Last year the season was cut short by the unusually warm weather, so they really need a good year. Most maple syrup is produced by small operations. For many it's a labor of love. For others, it's a critical part of their yearly income.

I've never heard of these problems before. Something's going on and no one seems to know what it is.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Information and control

When I first installed the solar electric system in the house I was excited by all the automatic controls on the inverter. It seemed there was an almost infinite number of settings. I don't know how much time I wasted playing with those. One thing I couldn't quite seem to get right was the automatic charging system. The inverter could be set to charge when the battery dropped to a certain voltage.

It would seem to make sense. Grid power was available. Discharging batteries too low can damage them. Why not set it at a certain voltage and let the automatic stuff handle everything? In the real world, it didn't work very well for me. It seemed no matter how I tweaked the settings, there would be a condition when the automatic stuff didn't work well.

For example: the charging system would often kick on just before sunrise. By the time the sun came up, the batteries were mostly charged up from the grid. Most of the day's sunlight was wasted as there was no more room in the batteries. Worse, that grid power cost money.

In the end most of the automatic stuff was disabled. I installed a simple battery gage and switch right in my kitchen. If the batteries get too discharged a simple flick of the switch charges them up. It was a cheap and simple solution.

Just knowing the exact charge of the batteries is a huge help. If they are bit low, but it's supposed to be sunny later, I'll plan heavy power usage for later in the day. There are times when I see the batteries are fully charged and it's still early in the day so I'll run a load of laundry. If there's going to be a storm that might take down the grid, I'll top off the batteries just in case.

The gage and switch arrange illustrate how I think. The gage shows me what's going on. I like to have information. The switch lets me do something to change things. Information and control. I don't trust things running on autopilot.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Phone it in

My lovely wife and I love to travel. Some years ago we started spending winters traveling the south, living out of a tent. It's amazing how things have changed. One example: pay phones. Working pay phones are rare as hen's teeth these days, but it used to be our main way of communicating. We kept a few pre-paid calling cards on us and ran our affairs over pay phones.

Back in those dark days having a cell phone didn't mean much in some of the remote campgrounds we loved to stay at. There were a lot fewer cell phone towers, and even fewer in the countryside. People who needed to make a phone call would use one of the handful of pay phones at the campground.

At the time, I was the main editor of an on-line magazine. Story submissions were e-mailed to the zine -hundreds of them every month. Most people, including me, were still using dial-up. A few campgrounds let you jack into their phone lines. Some had no allowances for e-mail at all. Sounds like the dark ages.

How would I get e-mail then? Late at night, when no one was likely to need a pay phone, I'd set my laptop on top of the pay phone and get to work. First I'd call an 800 number Internet service that I subscribed to. Once the machine noise started, I'd strap an acoustic coupler to the receiver of the pay phone. It looked like a phone receiver with big rubber cups. The coupler would change sound tones to electrical signals, and electrical signals to sound. They were incredibly slow. Often it would take a half hour or more to download my text only e-mails. The best thing that could be said about it was that while slow as death, it worked.

Later, I purchased a wifi card for my computer, even though I didn't have wifi at home. There were enough places on the road that started to provide it that it was worth the expense. Back then there was a pretty good chance that people's residential wifi was unprotected. A few times I must admit to borrowing an open signal to download mail.

The next time my lovely wife and I go on a long trip I suppose I'll have one of those smarter than me phones that can be used a wifi hotspot. Technology changes so fast that I'll probably wait until the last minute to get one. That way I'll only be a generation or two behind.

Funny thing is, I still miss pay phones.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

After the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring uprisings were in response to serious problems. How has that turned out for people?

Tunisia seems to have just as many problems as before. Egypt is a mess. I don't think the secular protesters wanted the Muslim Brotherhood to take over. Libya turned into a full scale civil war, with NATO air support along with arms and other aid. We would have completely forgotten about the country by now if they hadn't killed our Benghazi ambassador. (most have already forgotten about that too.) Armed men moved into the African interior to cause more trouble. Only the French have really taken notice and sent military aid.

How about Yemen? What the heck is going on there? As long as US interests are protected, it doesn't seem to matter what's going on. The same can be said for Bahrain. Saudi Arabia? Shush, don't say anything negative about the big oil provider.

For some reason the west thinks it's a good idea to meddle in Syria's problems. How well did that work out in Iraq and Afghanistan again?

The whole Arab Spring thing didn't seem to get much traction in Iran. Maybe that's because most of them aren't Arabs and speak Farsi instead of Arabic. Besides the whole nuclear thing, why are trying to topple another sovereign government?

There's already one belligerent Middle Eastern nation that threatens its neighbors with nuclear weapons: Israel.

There's a lot of skulduggery behind these movements. How many secret agencies have their claws deeply sunk into these protests?

The Arab Spring movements tap into people's deep seated yearning for freedom. Unfortunately, that has yet to be delivered.

Even if a country, Egypt for example, became a perfect Jeffersonian Democracy, it would still have crushing problems. It has a large population in a resource poor country. No amount of democracy can magically change that. People don't want to just be free of tyrants, they want freedom from poverty.

Iraq has natural resources and a fledgling democracy, yet it struggles. Billions of US dollars poured into the country with little to show for it. The fact that it's still a mess demonstrates something is missing from the equation.

Maybe they need cultural change, or changes in the way money works, or something else. I hope they find it, as we could use it here in the US too.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Last Gift of Winter

The last snowstorm of the winter left about a foot of new snow. Thanks to the town plow, I have 2 – 3 foot snowbanks. The dog thought it was fun. She got buried in snow about three times because she thought snow shoveling was an elaborate game of snow catch. She'd chase the flying snow only to get buried by the next shovelful.

Glad someone was enjoying it.

After lunch I'm heading down to my daughter's to shovel her out. She's coming home with the new baby today, so she'll need a cleared space to park. Of course, I wouldn't even be here shoveling if it wasn't for the new grandkid. This time of year I'm normally in the sunny south. Good thing the little guy is cute.


Left on my own

For weeks we've been on hold, waiting for my daughter to give birth to her son. Now that the little bundle is safely here among us, the waiting is over. My lovely wife will be helping my daughter quite a bit for the next few weeks. Dogs are not allowed in my daughter's apartment building, so I'll be home with the mutt. Besides, it's still pretty cold up here in New Hampshire and someone has to keep the home fires burning.

What will I do all alone? Boat building project! Just in case you wondered what I was building: OozeGooze

I've been putting together a shopping list for the building supply store. Well, two lists. My “A” list will be if I can get all the materials I want at the right price. The “B” list is for materials that while not first choice, will do the job just fine. Plan B will make a slightly heavier boat than plan A. Of course, there will be a number of small alterations in the design to fit my personal needs.

My first batch of epoxy has arrived. I've got to order some oar locks and other boaty bits. There are no marine supply stores near me. That's life out in the woods for you. Thank god for on-line shopping.

I'm still not sure if there will be room to comfortably build the boat in my basement. While it's only a 12 foot boat, it's a big 12 foot boat. This is a pretty big box of a boat, with a cabin and everything. There's room enough in the basement to cut all the pieces and assemble all the major components. After that I can decide whether to do the final construction it in the basement or wait for a warm day and put it together in the yard. (Yes, the doors are wide enough to fit the boat. )

This will be a great little boat for rivers and lakes around here. I've two 6 year old granddaughters who would love adventuring in such a boat. We could sail, fish, camp and live like pirates. Should be fun.

This boat design has been used successfully in the Texas 200. It's good to know it's adventure ready.


Monday, March 18, 2013

New Grandson

Two weeks late, but my new Grandson is here. Mom and baby are both doing fine.

Sorry folks, but the parents have requested that no baby pictures be posted on the Internet. They value privacy.

However, I can assure you that he is perfect and beautiful.


Small Pebbles Rolling Down the Hill

Major events and often touched off by relatively minor incidents. It's like when a few small loose pebbles set off an avalanche. The unstable conditions may exist for some time before otherwise insignificant sets things in motion.

WWI's trigger event was started by the assassination of a duke in a little place called Sarajevo. By itself, the assassination should not have triggered a world war. Conditions in Europe had been building towards war and all it took was a band of Serbian assassins to get the pebbles moving.

I think I just saw some loose pebbles start down the mountain. Cyprus's government, in a surprise move, has taken action to levy a “tax” of 9.9% on bank deposits. Essentially, they quietly want to steal almost a tenth of everyone's savings. People are angry. ATMs have been cleaned out. Electronic transfers are suspended. The tax (or robbery) was part of a Eurozone government bailout plan.

One could argue that this is just a tiny event in a small insignificant country. I think it has the potential to start an avalanche. The goings on in Cyprus is very visible to Europeans. Anyone living in the Eurozone may think it might be a darn good idea to get their money out of the bank while they still can. Should that idea catch hold with a sizable number of depositors, bank runs across Europe will be the result.

The financial chaos would inflame the whole world. All the big bank are tied together. They are all pebbles on the same mountain. Once things get rolling, all will be swept away.

Maybe this is nothing more than a few loose pebbles knocking around and won't amount to anything. On the other hand there is the potential for something much bigger. Don't say I didn't warn you.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

The market is not the real world

The stock market is doing great. The DOW has reached all time highs. (ignoring the effects of inflation) The economy appears to be doing well.

Maybe it is doing well, for those on Wall Street, CEOs, and high level players in Washington DC. Out in the world where the 99% live, it's a different story. Wages are stagnant. Unemployment appears to be down a bit, but the number of people gainfully employed is way down. I've no idea how much that has skewed the numbers, but I suspect it has.

The stock market is fine, but that market is essentially just a bunch of ones and zeros in a computer. What's going on in the physical world? A country that's growing builds buildings, roads, railroads, bridges, museums, concert halls, and industry hums along. Do you see much of that going on? Maybe you see bridges collapsing, decrepit railroads, and so on?

Sure, highways got a modest boost with Obama's “shovel ready” projects. Some sections of road got much needed repair. Here and there, it made a real difference. A sustained effort would have brought everything up to an adequate level, but those funds are pretty much gone.

We have a natural gas and oil shale boomlet due to fracking. However, fracked wells have horrible rates of decline. Production numbers are only kept up due to massive drilling fueled by investors looking for any sort of decent return on investment.

As unsustainable as the new energy boom has been: financially and ecologically, at least it produces something. The world of finance doesn't produce much lately except exotic shell games and pyramid schemes.

Ignore the half built buildings.

A cousin of mine was in the Ukraine not that many years ago. The country is littered with massive construction projects that were never completed. When the USSR fell, work on these projects came to a screeching halt. Most are in various states of decay. That's the sort of thing that happens when an empire falls.

In 2008, the US and much of the industrialized world suffered the bursting of the housing bubble. These countries were also littered with half completed building projects. A lot of those were never completed either. There are parts of the US that still look like post Soviet Ukraine.

Residents of the US Northeastern coastal region are starting to catch on. Things will never be the same after Hurricane Sandy. A full rebuild just won't happen. Any who don't believe can just ask the good people of New Orleans how well things have gone since Katrina. How about all the forgotten towns ravaged by tornadoes? The scars still remain. Had the economy been booming in the physical world, all that real estate would be too valuable to leave idle.

The video game, computer generated economy is doing well. That would be fine, if the players in that game couldn't take their phony baloney money and buy nice things in the real world. Fortunately for them, not everyone in the game is cashing out their chips. Should that day ever come, they'd soon find out there's not nearly enough real world to go around.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Unfit for normal jobs

I had a nightmare last night. My wife and I were working in a big glass and steel corporate building. My wife wore a lab coat and was locked alone in a room without food or water for her entire shift. That's actually not too far off from her old job. She used to work as a medical lab technician and worked a lot of night shifts, alone. It was a small rural hospital and on busy nights she didn't have time to eat or drink.

In this nightmare I was working in a big open basement. There were people at their desks. The weird thing was that the whole room was flooded with about 8 inches of water. Everyone was ignoring the fact that their feet were wet and the office flooded. I cleared the drain to let the water out. For that I got a reprimand, as it wasn't my job to clear drains.

I got my wife and we escaped the corporate parking lot by driving a cobbled together car through a hole in the fence. Security couldn't catch us.

That's my nightmare, working in a office for a corporation. It's my waking nightmare too. I'd really rather work on a garbage truck. It's a better job that shows positive results at the end of the day.

I had the good fortune to have made my living as a firefighter. What's not to like? Drive fast, make noise, break windows, and protect lives and property. Friends of mine work in EMS. They ain't normal either. They'd rather scrap brains off their boots at the end of the day than sit in a cubicle.

I just found out that my old martial arts instructor will be teaching again. Years ago he closed his old dojo during a local economic downturn. Sensi went back to school and got a degree. Then he cut his hair put on a shirt and tie and went to work for the local school system. I don't think he was very happy there. There was some hint he was contemplating a change. Once again his hair grew long enough to tie in a ponytail. He even grew a short beard. Can't wait to start martial arts classes again. Should be fun.

The High School guidance consulars never told any of us about the cool jobs. Once I met a guy who's job was to dress up like Captain Morgan and promote Captain Morgan Rum. He was surrounded by a the Morganettes, a bunch of sexily dressed pirate ladies. When looking for future careers, why didn't I know this was even a thing?

What's the difference between a rat in a maze and a man in a cubicle? The rat has some hope of finding a way out.


Thursday, March 14, 2013


The family is still waiting for my daughter to have her baby. It looked like she would have the baby early, but now the baby is late. Of course, babies have their own clocks. My lovely wife and I haven't gone too far in case we'd be needed. In fact, my lovely wife has been spending a lot of nights at my daughter's apartment. I've been going home at night to take care of the dog and to keep the home fires burning.

A sudden cold snap has put my outdoor projects on hold. Some nights are getting down into the single digits again.

With the cold snap my thoughts have turned to boats and warmer climes. I am moving forward with my little sailboat project. Epoxy resin is on order. Boat plans are spread out all over the kitchen table. The building supply store is some distance away, so that's being put off until after the baby arrives.

So right now I'm not doing a whole heck of a lot. Waiting is a bit of a chore. All things come in their own time.


Cameras in High Crime Areas

Governments have installed a lot of security cameras to catch criminals. I say the cameras are mostly in the wrong places. Sure, they may catch the occasional mugger or someone running a red traffic light. This is small potatoes. The worse criminals do their dastardly deeds completely hidden from public scrutiny.

I humbly submit some security camera locations that might catch some real criminals in the act.

Let's start with those too big to fail banks. Perhaps we need hidden cameras in their board rooms so we can see who's responsible for stealing billions of dollars. Crimes have been committed but no one has gone to jail. In fact, all corporations should be under surveillance. Our efforts have been wasted on petty street crime when these guys steal billions, put pubic health in danger, pollute the planet, and regularly break anti-trust laws.

Which brings me to the next class of over looked locations. Put cameras in all those agencies charged with regulating industries. Obviously they aren't doing what they are supposed to be doing. Isn't it suspicious when the same people are supposed to police companies get cushy jobs in those very same companies? How about all the former company people who get jobs in regulatory agencies? Shouldn't these watchdogs be watched?

Cameras should be placed in likely meeting places where huge criminal deeds take place. Where do politicians and lobbyists meet anyway?

Let's not forget the police, from the local cops to the Feds. If they are not doing anything wrong, they've got nothing to hide, right? How hard can it be to install public access web cams?

Surveillance is a powerful tool. Isn't it about time it's used where it'll do some real good?


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

When the Sleepers Wake

Imagine, if you will, a population what's asleep to the world around them. They believe the government, business, and religious leaders. They keep to the rigid path their masters have laid out for them.

Waking up is hard. Most of the population grew up in the system and think it's normal, moral and right. They may not even dream that things can be different. One day a man notices his chains. He sees that the system, with its laws, rules, mores, and traditions are not for his benefit, but to protect the masters.

What happens then? Some cannot deal with it. They strike out against the system. Most of the time they get flattened. The system is forever vigilant to strike down the rebellious. They've had lots of practice and are very very good at it.

The awakened wise man does not strike out, as he knows that's the masters are watching for. At first, from the outside, he appears little different from the sleepers. He is different. He's studying his chains, looking for weak links -and he finds them.

He sees how consumerism, debt, and bankers have put chains on him. Slowly he eliminates that debt. Then he attacks the system at the root with barter, precious metals, and even a gift economy. That may even loosen the chains the tax man put on him.

Break one chain and the others also weaken. One technique to getting out of the money system is to grow and gather one's own food. Better food makes for better health, so the medical masters have less hold on him. Working outside in the garden is not only good for physical health, but also mental health. The chains of the head shrinkers fall free when mental well being does not come in a pill.

The awakened man has not broken any of the system's written rules, yet the system has less and less power over him. He may obey rules, but not out of habit, but choice. The speed limit might be 65 and he doesn't drive more than that. Unlike the sleepers, it's not blind obedience. The reward of driving faster is judged not worth the risk. Perhaps he feels that 65 is a prudent speed for the road conditions.

What makes him different from the sleepers? On day he decides to not drive 65 for his own reasons, whatever they are. The man examines this world and the conditions constantly. As soon as it makes sense for him to break the rules, the rules are broken. That attitude becomes part of his being. Habits and traditions become suspect. Who is served by this, he thinks, them or me?

Nothing scares the masters like the sleepers waking up. There's not enough police and military to force everyone to obey. They rely on those invisible chains. When people break those chains, the system weakens. Bankers can't make loans. Company profits go down. Tax revenue diminishes. Little by little, the systems of control weaken. The awakened see the remaining chains are stretched thin and much easier to break, so they break more chains.

Look at things from the master's viewpoint. They observe a great sea of people. Most look asleep, but how many have revolution in heir hearts? How many are quietly sawing away at hidden links the masters can't clearly see? Then can strike out, hoping to destroy the quiet revolutionaries, but those hard blows rattle everyone's chains -chains they wish to remain unnoticed. All that rattling and thrashing about wakes up more sleepers.

The masters have relied on carrots and sticks to train the population. They are running low on carrots and there's aren't enough sticks in the world to make up the difference.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Fifth Season

We don't have four seasons in Northern New England. We have five. The fifth season is called “Mud.” It's a real season. A whole winter's worth of snow begins to melt, add some rain, and we have mud season.

Unpaved roads are closed. Paved roads have load limits placed on them. The roads are are open have pot holes and huge frost heaves. I just had my exhaust system reattached. A neighbor had to replace all the shock absorbers on her car.

Mostly though, there is the mud, lots of it. Some of us have whole wardrobes that only come out at mud season. High rubber boots are essential for getting anything done around the house. Wear clothes that you aren't too fond of.

Even the local architecture reflects the season. Many houses, including mine, have a mud room. It's a transitional place between the outdoors and the house proper. It's where the mud wardrobe is deposited and house clothes and footwear put on. Ideally, there's a washer and dryer in there. A shower would be nice too. Mud rooms aren't so much cleaned as shoveled out.

Eventually all the snow's melted, the rain stops, and the sun does its magic. We leave mud season behind for a 10 day to 2 week period known as “Spring.” Some locals don't really belive in spring. They stick with the traditional four seasons: summer, fall, winter and mud.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Spam and word verification

This site gets spammed pretty heavily. Comments on older posts are moderated and that's where most of them get caught. Occasionally, a few get posted on current blog posts. When I find them I delete them. I'm trying to avoid doing word verification or moderating everything before posting. The odd spam post is the cost of not having to deal with those things. I'm trying to be reader friendly.

I like the fact that my readers can post a comment and see it up there right away. Often it gets a dialogue going. My readers are smart knowledgeable people so I think the community benefits from instant comments.

Thanks for you patience.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

More boat plans

I never get tired of messing around with boats, even if it's just thinking about them. My lovely wife and I spent a few hours looking at new boat specs. There's a lot of information out there if one is willing to look, but not all of it is good information. We feel we've been on the water just enough to be able to sort out the wheat from the chafe.

One thing we are not willing to do is to break the budget. As second thing we aren't willing to do is skip our planned sailing adventures. There's a chance we'll find a bigger boat in our price range before the fall, but we aren't going to do anything hasty. There are some things we can do with our current boat, for small money, that will improve its comfort.

We currently own an old Oday 19. We can comfortably stay on it for about a week at a time. That's pretty good for a boat few people would even overnight on. Still, we can do better.

During bad weather, the cabin can get pretty cramped. A boom tent stretched over the cockpit will help a lot. It will be more dry area on a rainy day at anchor, but will also block the sun when it's too hot. We sketched out some preliminary ideas, literally on the back of an envelope.

Coolers are fine but looking for ice is a pain. If they've got a drain plug, eventually that plug will come loose and icy water will pour into the boat. Without a drain plug, odds are some food will be lost to the watery goop in the bottom. Efficient, marine quality refrigerators often cost more than what I paid for the boat.

The solution is build a custom cooler. I can build a super insulated cooler that will fit my storage area.
There's an old thermoelectric cooler in my basement that I can take the working parts out of. It's too big to fit my boat and isn't insulated enough anyway. Thermoelectric coolers run on 12 volts. I've a very large deep storage battery on my boat. Between the alternator on the outboard, a solar panel, and the occasional connection to shore power, it should stay charged.

We put together a list of projects that would improve life on the boat. The old shelves have seen better days, so might as well build new ones. A removable bug screen for the front hatch would be nice. There's room for a bigger fuel tank. After running out of fuel in the dark that's become a priority. Some hardware should be rebedded. The bottom needs another coat of antifouling paint -and so on.

There's nothing on the list that's very expensive, but they will improve livability. Knowing that we have a boat ready to go takes the pressure off. We can take our time looking for a good deal on a bigger boat.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Don't stock up on Ammo

Don't stock up on Ammo. You missed your chance. People are panic buying it now. Prices are high and supplies are low. Don't buy now. I'm not saying don't buy any ammo. A gun without ammo is just an awkward club. (Unless you have a Mosin Nagant, those are awesome clubs.) Buy what you need, but now is not the time to try and salt away 10,000 rounds.

Here's what you stock up on now: rice. Anyone remember a few years back when the word's supply of rice got tight? People were panic buying rice just like they are now squandering money on overpriced ammo.

Most people have forgotten the days of rice shortage panic. Don't be that person. Grain harvests aren't looking particularly good right now. There will be shortages. Price are going to go up. Pick up 50 pounds of rice, gets some dried beans while you are at. Now is the time. Might be your last chance.

Think of me as that guy from 10 years ago who said that maybe you should pick up a few bricks of .22 before prices get crazy. You may or may not have listened to that guy then. Listen to me now. What have you got to lose? Rice keeps well and you're going to eat it sooner or later anyway.

Don't say I didn't warn you.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Masters of their environment

Often I think back to the Native Americans who used to roam the North Country. They were masters of their environment. Take a small village of natives. They could be dropped naked in the wilderness and before long they'd have food, shelter, and clothing. It's not the tools on a person's back that matters but the knowledge between their ears.

I've always been a fan of canoes. Modern canoes can be made of plastic, yet still trace their inspiration and even their lines back to native boats. It's the perfect boat for the rivers and lakes. A good canoe was transportation, and also critical for fishing and hunting.

A canoe can be carried from one body of water to the next. What if the waterways were very far apart? No problem. They'd abandon their canoe and build another one when they needed it. I've built canoes, but not like them. They constructed their boats using all native materials, with few tools, working outside, and they built them fast. My canoes don't paddle any better than theirs did.

Few modern humans have the old wilderness skills. To be fair, for most moderns it can only be a hobby. For the natives it was their life. Even so, learning a few practical skills can be a life saver. We don't have to be able to recreate a functioning native village. Being able to acquire the basics, food, shelter, and water from the environment is good enough. It doesn't have to be pretty.

We can get a huge boost up the survival ladder with just a few modern tools: good steel knife, an ax, a fire steel, and a waterproof tarp are big technological jumps above native equivalents. Acquire the skills to use them to their full advantage and you've got something.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Late night practice run

My lovely wife called from my daughter's house last night. My daughter was having some regular and hard contractions. That was one of the get down to the hospital indicators.

Of course, it was snowing and temperatures were bouncing around the freezing mark -perfect for icy roads. My lovely wife asked if I wouldn't mind driving everyone down in the veggie van. The van is a big heavy vehicle with good aggressive tires.

So off to town I went, picked up the ladies and then drove over the mountains to the hospital. Of course, once we got there, contractions stopped. They ran some tests and sent us back home.

Back over the mountain we went. I dropped the women folk off in town, then went home to let the dog out and feed the woodstove. Got everything squared away by 3 a. m..

Some babies take their own sweet time. That's just the way it is. The nurses tell me it's because this one is a boy and men nothing but trouble. She might be biased, but who am I to argue?

So all is well and wait goes on.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I should have expected this

Some things I should just expect to happen by now. I stretched the monthly budget a bit too aggressively to pay down some debt. That's just asking for something out of the ordinary to go wrong. Sure enough, while in town my wife's car started making some dying bearing noises. I'm guessing it's the power steering pump, as sharp turns increase the whining and complaining under the hood.

On the bright side, it was in town and I could drive it to my mechanic. My son-in-law was able to give me lift to my home in the woods.

I could fix it myself, but working outside in the snow and slush is down right unattractive. Besides, with a grandson on the way any hour now, I've got better things to do. As it was, I spent the morning sorting through and fixing some minor electrical problems on the van. I guess the car felt jealous of the van getting all the attention.

One of these days I'm going to figure out how to live comfortably without a car. For the average Joe, car problems are one of life's major headaches. Of course, I'm not willing to live in a city with public transportation, so car dependency is my own fault. Some days I think technological society went wrong when we got more complicated than a tent and a canoe.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On standby

Regular readers of the blog may remember that my lovely wife and I cut our Florida trip short because my daughter thought her baby might be here early.

As of this posting, no baby yet. We've no regrets about cutting short our trip, even though the baby wasn't early after all. We made a decision and then didn't worry about it. As it is, we've been of some use since we got back. My lovely wife has accompanied my daughter to several doctor's appointments.

For the last few days, my wife has been staying at my daughter's apartment. A couple nights ago it looked like baby time, but that turned out to be a false alarm. Anyone who's been through this themselves knows how it can be.

My daughter's husband will be out of the country until at least May, so it falls to us grandparents to step into the breech.

While my wife's been with my daughter, I've been home keeping the woodstove going and taking care of the dog. No dogs are allowed in my daughter's apartment building. At least we got together today for coffee.

It shouldn't be much longer.


Who's the enemy here?

I try not to be paranoid, I really do. Articles like this one make it hard. What's the Department of Homeland Security going to do with 2700 armored vehicles? Combined with their purchase of 1.6 billion round of ammunition, it's pretty disquieting.

Who do they expect to use this equipment on? Who's the enemy? Surely not us citizens. Maybe Canada is going to invade -or Martians.

If they are planning for massive civil unrest one has to ask why? Do they have guilty secrets they are afraid are about to become public? Is the whole thing just pork for the defense industry?

Funny how during a time of massive budget cuts that DHS is on a buying spree.

What's a citizen to do? Unlike the government, we don't have the right to bear tanks. I think it's not too much to ask what the intended use of all this ammo and hardware is for. After all, taxpayers are footing the bill.


Monday, March 4, 2013

More surprises from the lovely wife

My lovely wife and I were talking over a couple cups of coffee when she surprised me. Even after 34 years of marriage, she can still do that. We'd been thinking of upgrading to a slightly larger sailboat. Instead of squeezing in our 19 foot boat, we thought something a few feet larger would be more comfortable, maybe a 22 foot boat. She suggested we get something even larger, large enough to live on for half the year.

That doesn't mean we need or even want a 40 footer, but something around 26 – 32 feet might fit the bill. If you aren't familiar with boats, jumping from a 22 footer to a 26 footer doesn't seem like too big a jump, but it is. There's a lot more displacement in the longer boat. Basically, the volume inside goes up a lot.

The longer and bigger boats are much less like likely to be trailered. Even the ones that can be hauled around are so heavy that you wouldn't want to haul them very far. My 19 foot can easily be launched or loaded in under an hour. In a pinch, I've done it alone. A big boat may require a crew -and a crane.

What if we get a boat that can't be trailered at all? We only plan on living on it half the year. The other half the boat would have to be kept somewhere. I've only begun to think through the logistics of the whole thing.

I've a list of things I'm looking for in a boat. Of course it needs a sound hull, rigging, and sails. Ideally it should be of fairly shallow draft. We plan on sailing shallow waters. We don't necessarily need a blue water boat capable of crossing oceans. A boat built for coastal sailing and Caribbean island hopping would be fine. All systems should be simple and repairable. The boat must be easy enough to sail that one person can do it.

There are many older boats out there that fit the bill. Most live aboard cruisers tend to go for bigger, newer, and much more expensive boats. That's one reason some of these older boats can be had for very reasonable prices. While beautiful teak woodwork is pretty, I don't want to spend all my time sanding and varnishing. Plainer boats are better for the way I want to live. That saves money too. A well maintained older boat can be just as seaworthy than a new boat. Often, they are more seaworthy. They've been around long enough for problems to be discovered and fixed. Also, older boats were built as boats. Many of the new ones are more floating condo than boat.

Over the next few months I'll be figuring out the details on exactly what we want and what we can make happen. Should be fun.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Beer and frugality

While settling back into our home I discovered the makings for a batch of beer. Home brewing beer shows faith in the future. It won't be ready for a bit, but there will come a warm spring day when a beer will be just the thing.

This is the first batch I've brewed since I got the cook woodstove. It's great that the big stockpot is in full contact with stove top. There's even room left for the big tea kettle and a couple fry pans. Dinner and brewing can be done at the same time.

In previous posts I've touched on how I can live frugally. Friends have pointed out that much of what I do would be difficult to impossible while working a full time job. They are absolutely right. A married couple, working full time, would be hard pressed to do much extra.

Even something as simple as heating with wood can stretch the time budget. The only way to really save money is to process the wood yourself. Then there is the care and feeding of the woodstove. When I worked a full time job, I'd load up my big woodstove, set the dampers, and hope for the best. It never gave me any trouble, but I did worry about it.

My home repairs and improvements, cooking from scratch, handling waste veggie oil for the van, all these things keep me busy. Of course, I do get a lot of free time by not watching TV. Then again, that time probably goes into Internet surfing.

My lovely wife used to have a full time job. The money was nice, I must admit. One day I woke up with the idea that by reducing our expenses she wouldn't have to work. Soon after is when we started traveling in the winters. My lovely wife would quit her job in the fall and reapply in the spring. They always said she had no guarantee of being rehired, but she always was. Even if they didn't hire her, we'd get by.

That was put to the test when my wife had to leave work for medical reasons. We went a year and half before her disability was approved. At the same time, one of my daughters and my granddaughter moved in with us. We got by. There wasn't much extra, but nobody suffered.

Which brings me back to beer. Like Ben Franklin said, “Beer is proof that there is a God and he wants us to be happy.”

Sure, I enjoy a beer now and then, but what I enjoy more is sharing with friends and family. It's one more way to keep the tribe together. Well, the fermenter's been cooling outside in the snow. The temperature should be just about right for pitching the yeast. Spring is coming and I'm going to be ready.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

The financial planner

While hanging out at the local coffee shop, I ran into an old friend of mine. She was having a meeting with a financial planner. Papers and binders were scattered all over their table.

She asked where I'd been lately and I told her I'd just come back from Florida and talked a little bit about my trip.

“That's what I want to be able to do,” she told the financial planner.

“How do I do it?” He asked.

“Magic,” I said.

“I want some of that pixie dust,” she said.

Then I went on to say that it's cheaper for me to go to Florida than to buy heating oil for my house. I've got free or inexpensive places to stay: at my dad's, on the boat, or camping. The planner quickly ran the numbers in his head (he appeared to be a real numbers guy), mumbled a few figures, and agreed with me.

I then said it's not so much what you have coming in as what you have going out. That statement seemed to catch the planner a bit off guard. He looked somewhat puzzled by the concept. I worry about the quality of the advice my friend is getting. It appears he's all about big returns on investment.

I don't know much about returns on investment. My track record shows I know nothing about increasing income. Way back in 1993 I made about $35,000 as a firefighter. I've never equaled that income since. That's in actual dollars. Adjusted for inflation, my income looks even worse.

The only way I'm able to live the way I live is watch where that money goes. Solar electric power, wood heat, waste veggie powered vehicles, and a whole bunch of other money saving activities add up.


Friday, March 1, 2013

What a difference

What a difference a few weeks make. A few weeks ago my lovely wife and I had dinner in Florida and listened to live music. Most of the people there had arrived by boat or motorcycle. Thursday evening I took my wife to dinner again and to listen to a local musician. People had driven there in either 4X4 vehicles or snowmobiles.

What a difference a few weeks and 1700 miles can make. As we drove home from the restaurant, big heavy wet snow flakes were coming down.

No regrets.

My daughter still hasn't had her baby, but that could happen at any moment. My wife has been going with her to doctor's appointments and helping her with other things. It's also been good to connect with my other daughters and grandkids. You've got to pull together for family.