Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Unnecessary Complications

Life has a tendency to get complicated when one is not paying attention. Things sort of creep up on a person. Before long, debts, obligations and responsibilities pile up.

Imagine going on a 6 month long trip. For many people the thought of untangling from all life's complications is overwhelming. They never go. Even people with the financial means to do so can't manage to free up the time. That's when you get people who take a week off, jet to exotic location, stumble around in a mental fog for a few days, then jet back home. They collect photos of “the sights” to prove to everyone, including themselves, that they were there. (if only for a few moments)

Come fall my lovely wife and I plan on scooting out on the boat for about 6 months. That's what I'm planning for anyway. Compared to most people, our lives are pretty simple. Yet even we have had a number of those obligations pile up.

The last few years it's been too easy to just get all my mail forwarded to my dad's place in Florida. Evey few weeks we'd stop in and collect the mail. It was easy to sit down with a check book once a month and take care of the financial duties.

Now we plan moving for months at a time. We did something similar years ago when we used to go camping all over the south. We'd simplified our life so it didn't matter where we were. Occasionally we had to find an Internet connection or a phone to do a bit of business, but our responsibilities were few.

I'm parring down our debts and simplifying our bill paying. There are a few bills I'll still have to pay on-line, but not that many. At least we are coastal sailing where Internet and phone connections are common. We'll only need to get connected once a month, but will most likely be in touch most days. If we were going a blue water sail across oceans, our life would need more dramatic changes. A problem for another day?

Financial responsibilities are one thing; what about family obligations? What about our children and grandchildren? They are the reason my lovely wife has set a 6 month travel limit. E-mail, social media, Skype, and phone calls will help keep us in touch. We will miss them. Our children and grandchildren are cool and interesting people whom we love dearly. However, things like travel keep my lovely wife and I interesting. If we never did anything out of the ordinary, what kind of example would we set?


Monday, April 29, 2013

Boat Reviews

Maybe it's the fact that the weather has finally turned nice. Perhaps it's because I've got mariners disease and can't help myself. I've been checking out sailboats on Craigslist again. I've got a decent little 19 foot Oday, and I'm building a 12 footer, but that doesn't stop me from looking at other boats. At least I'm not looking at other women. Okay, maybe I look, but I know better than to want to take any home.

Unlike boats, which I do end up taking home now and then.

There are some great deals out there. I've been looking at trailer sailers in the 22 – 26 foot range. They are a bit bigger than my current boat and I thought a wee bit more room would be handy.

Then I do some research to see what people think of boats in that size range. In short, the reviews tend to be pretty negative. Don't take these boats out out of a protected harbor. They are day sailors that might be used overnight in extreme discomfort.

The reviews are pretty discouraging until I think about all the stuff I do with the little 19 foot I do own. My wife and I, plus our dog, are comfortable on it for about a week. By the end of the week, it's time to resupply food, water and to do some laundry.

We often go offshore and are comfortable sailing all day in 4 foot seas. We've sailed in the Atlantic in 6 foot seas -safely, but not particularly comfortably. We don't sail when there are small craft warnings, but those days wouldn't be much fun in a 34 foot boat either.

Plenty of people have taken boats in the 15 – 20 foot range from Florida to the Bahamas. Yes, they wait for the proper weather window, just like the bigger boats do. A couple idiots have taken 19 foot Potters from the US west coast to Hawaii. That might be tempting Lord Neptune.

So I was wondering about the basis of all the negative reviews. It occurred to me that oftentimes it's not so much about sea worthiness, but perceived comfort. Here's the thing. My lovely wife and I used to do a lot of backpacking. We thought squeezing into a tiny tent at the end of the day was luxury.

We also did a fair amount of canoe camping. It was possible to carry all kinds of things that would be too bulky or heavy for backpacking. We'd bring a bigger tent, camp furniture, a cooler even -pure extravagance.

Even a fairly small sailboat looks good to former backpackers. I'll have to judge boats my own standards, not those of Internet reviewers.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Nuclear Fusion

There's a long running joke about nuclear fusion. It will be ready in 20 years -always has been always will be.

This recent article about nuclear fusion hasn't changed the joke much.

The promise of nuclear fusion is a seductive one. A fusion reactor would produce no nuclear wastes and be safe from meltdowns. The problem is that scientists have great difficulty producing more energy than it takes to run the process. Fusion devices are huge and complicated. The current International project is the second most expensive ever, only surpassed by the space station.

Let's say they are successful. Pretend they are able to construct reactors that are commercially viable. All that does is a keep a crappy system in business. Electricity users would still have to send out payments to a giant corporation. The whole inefficient distribution system would still be in place. The grid is rickety now, with overloaded and antiquated systems. It needs a a lot of investment and upgrades. Guess who'll pay for that?

Even if the grid was in good shape, two thirds of the power generated is lost in transmission. The whole giant power plant/grid system is a hugely inefficient model.

There is currently off the shelf technology to provide for most of our electrical needs with renewable resources. Power generated on site eliminates the horrible transmission losses. Most people could be provided with adequate electricity using a local decentralized system. Ask someone who lives off grid of they miss their monthly bill. Most are more than happy to put up with the limitations of their off grid system.

Of course, that doesn't fit the big business model of all those monthly payments. There's no incentive for power companies to put themselves out of business. It's not about providing power. It's about collecting payments.

Why should be put our hopes in a system that continues the status quo?

Maybe there is a use for fusion reactors. Build them to power things like aluminum refiners or massive computer server farms. Cluster the big power users and the fusion plant all together to reduce transmission losses. That might make some sort of sense -assuming fusion isn't perpetually 20 years in the future.

As for the average person, they'd be much better making their own power and disconnecting from the system. The best part is that it works now, not 20 years in the future.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

From the ground up

We can rebuild the world, but it has to be from the ground up.

Local laws is where to start. Let's take something as small as zoning and home owner associations. Rules and laws tie people to the old paradigm. Cities like MacMansions. They can tax the heck out of them while providing minimal services. It's all about property values. Property values are image driven. That's why “unsightly” clothes lines, solar panels, and windmills are often banned.

Now imagine, instead of a half dozen MacMansions, we take the same piece of land and put in 30 microhouses. Each microhouse has it's own solar or wind power. They may share a common well or all share city water. They all have their own composting toilets so don't need city sewer. The gray water is used in a communal garden area. There is a mini common space for art and music.

Someone living in such a community would have a pretty good life. Their lack of a big mortgage means they could get by on a low paying part time job. They could spend time with family and friends. The microhouse community would be able to share things like child care, gardening, and transportation. They'd be ideally set up for barter.

Businesses zoning would have to change. Picture a number of people working out of their homes, woodworking, pottery, sewing, repair work, computer services -whatever. Jobs and hobbies that would not normally be economical suddenly are due to very low overhead.

While it would have many of the advantages of a commune, everyone would still have their own living space. The house might be small, but it would be their castle. If for some reason you didn't like your neighbors, it would be fairly simple to hitch up the microhouse and take it someplace else. In fact, it might be normal to do so now and then. Spend the summer near the beach and tow the house back in the fall.

The greater community as a whole would benefit. The microhouse village would be an attraction. A person could drop some mending off to be fixed, pick up some veggies and eggs from the local microfarmers, and then catch some live music in the park. Doesn't this all sound friendly and fun?

It could all start from something as simple as changes in local zoning ordnances. There's nothing special here beyond a slightly different way of thinking. Do this in enough places and the word will get out. There's no need to force anyone to live this way. It would attractive enough for plenty of people.

What's not to like? Freedom from debt? Freedom from job slavery? Freedom from communter maddness? A chance to know your neighbors and have a sense of community? How about a chance to have fun with life again?

There's big things that could come from small local changes.


Friday, April 26, 2013

The Republic of Forwhitchitstan

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands. . .

That's about all we have left: a tattered flag, and a fictional republic.

I'm burned out. People are upset: warrentless searches, drones in our skies, police state, corporate fascism, inequality before the law -and so on.

Where did you all think this was going to end up? Weren't you paying attention when the Patriot Act was passed.

Now I only skim the articles. I was angry years ago when I saw all this coming. Now it's here, but my grieving was done a long time ago.

These days I'm living in that republic I've pledged alligecne to so long ago: Forwhichitstan. All hail Forwhichitstan! The republic of the mind and of jokers. It's at least as real as the Republic of the United States -maybe more real these days.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

And so it begins

All it took was one decent day and the tools and lumber came out for boat building. We finally got a bit of sun and warmth up here in the frozen north. That's all the encouragement needed to begin my small boat project.

Most of my time was spent organizing tools and materials, but I did a bit of cutting, clamping and gluing before the day was done. Sometimes the hardest part of a project is starting it. Once begun, it's just a matter of plugging away at it until done.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A stranger called and transportation ideas

A stranger called today because he heard something about me. Those calls always kinda make me feel a little weird. What EXACTLY did they hear about me? Over the years I've worn a number of hats. Sometimes phone calls get me involved in some strange things. This time it turned out to be pretty cool. The guy reopened a local restaurant and heard I was willing to pick up waste vegetable oil. Works for me. That's more free fuel for the veggie van.

I'm always willing to take waste veggie oil. If I can't use it, I know others who can. There's a few of us grease burners in the area. I know just about all of them.

In fact, I was talking to a guy who used to run a converted VW diesel. He's found a an even cheaper way to get to his job. His car stayed parked all winter long. He commuted to work on a bicycle. It wasn't just any bicycle, but a fat tire bicycle designed for use in snow. I'm guessing his commute is about a 12 – 15 mile one way trip that includes some serious hill climbing. It was a cold and snowy winter in New Hampshire. He never missed a day of work, and he never dumped the bike.

My lovely wife and I are thinking about replacing her car with something cheaper and more environmentally friendly. We plan on spending half the year sailing, the cold months of New Hampshire. It just feels wrong to keep and maintain a car that's only going to get used during the warm months. We are thinking of selling the car in the fall before we head south.

We aren't quite sure what to replace it with. About the only thing my lovely wife uses her car for is to go to town. Perhaps we'll put together some sort of 3 wheel bicycle with electric assist -something that can take a bit of cargo. We are still kicking around ideas.

It's all part of our downwardly mobile life. The trick is to adapt to something else before you absolutely have to.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Another thought experiment

I love “what if” questions. It's part of being prepared. What if the power grid goes down? What if there's a major earthquake? What if the just-in-time food system fails? After a what if question is asked, it's just a matter of connecting the dots to see what might happen. Then appropriate preparations can be taken. Mostly it comes down to being at least somewhat self reliant. That gets people through most problems.

Speculative thinking becomes a habit -one that can take a man down the rabbit hole. I asked myself: what if something like Bit Coin was everything it was hyped to be? It doesn't have to be Bit Coin itself, but something like it: an electronic currency totally beyond the control of governments and central banks.

Bit Coins aren't quite money. Very few places actually accept them as currency, so they aren't -yet. Let's say they became readily accepted by vendors and could easily be exchanged for local currencies. All a person had to do to transfer wealth from one country to another would be to memorize a digital code. With that code electronic “money” is readily accessed.

Let's say it was more valuable than gold. After all, smuggling gold across borders can be a royal pain. It's too easy to slip up and make a border guard rich. Assume some sort of electronic currency becomes recognized as the most stable and useful money in the world. What would the Powers that Be do?

There's only thing they could do. As soon as the threat of government and corporate independent money becomes real, they'd have to crash and shut down the Internet. No Internet = no way to move electronic money.

Sound too radical? It isn't. Look what the European Monetary Union is doing to protect its Euro. They are sacrificing sovereign governments of independent states to preserve it. Greece would be better off with it's own currency that could be inflated against the Euro. Instead of that logical course, the EU is doing all kinds of financial juggling to keep the Euro supreme. That's how important currency control is to the European Powers that Be.

In the United States, money and monetary policy is considered too important for mere government to run. Instead, the private business known as the Federal (not really Federal) Reserve is in charge. Those who control the money control the world.

Destroying the Internet would be hugely costly to governments and business. Almost everything in modern life has some connection to it. Why would they cause so much destruction to their own? Call it triage. They'd be a lot smaller. The world would be a whole lot poorer, but those in power might still be able to call the shots. Lose the control of money and eventually control of the people follows. A truly independent electronic currency would allow people to people transactions without business or government involvement. Forget about collecting taxes from those transactions. Think of all the big banks that would die if usury went away? (hint ALL the banks)

Why is the Internet still up and running? Perhaps the Powers that Be are still waiting a bit more before pulling the plug. Most likely these electronic currencies are not quite ready for prime time. This is a thought experiment, after all.

Of course, you could help expand your local barter and gift economy. Even with the Internet down, that economic model still works -and it's still independent too.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Boston Events

I've been reluctant to chime in about the events in Boston -until now. First of all, my heart goes out to all those who suffered and are suffering. Boston is the closest really big city to me and I've connections to the city.

There was a lot of security in Boston before the bombing: Lot's of police, dogs, the whole security dance and shuffle. In spite of that the bombs went off. False flag operation, some have said. How else could the bombers have gone on undiscovered?

It's not all that hard to imagine. People give more credit to the Police State than it deserves. Security apparatus does Okay when it has a specific threat for a specific time and place. Resources are concentrated, men are on alert. When the command is to “guard the City” there's only so much they can do. The threat is too diffuse. Now imagine that instead of bombs going off at the marathon they went off inside a couple of Boston's tunnels. People would be screaming about all the city's resources spent on the race, leaving the rest of the city unprotected. The vast majority of the time, nobody's doing anything serious. Cops and security go through the motions.

After the bombs, a good chunk of the greater Boston area was essentially under martial law. All the big guns came in. All the high tech toys were on displace: facial recognition scanners, armored vehicles, militarized police, actual military, and even helicopters with thermal imagery. It reminded me of that that old joke: there we were, two against a thousand, the toughest pair we ever fought.

Yes, just two guys brought a major city to a complete halt. With that kind of security effectiveness, how many people would it take to shut down the whole country? Two hundred? Obviously governments cannot afford to respond to every threat the way they responded in Boston.

Then in a shootout, one manages to drive right through the roadblocks and disappear for a time. They only found him because some guy went to check on his beloved boat.

Those who expect the world to be completely safe will be disappointed. It's can't be done. Life and reality doesn't work that way. It also shows that America is long long way from becoming the total police state they think it is. Tyrants don't have the resources to pull it off.

Police are not our best protection. A civil society is. It's a lot easier to add a few more people in uniform than to figure out how to make society better but it's our day to day tolerance and goodness that keeps us functioning. Without that, there's not enough cops in the world to make up the lack.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Blog Break

I'm feeling a bit under the weather. Taking a day or two off.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Two Wheel Joy

I do miss motorcycle riding. My old KZ 900 sits abandoned in a shed, in need of a wiring harness. The bike dates back to 1974 and the wiring insulation and switches are falling apart. I had loads of fun with that old bike and it would be possible to get it back on the road. Whole new wiring harness can be had for reasonable money.

I've friends who ride bikes to same money on gas. That wouldn't make a lot of sense for me. Strangely enough it's cheaper for me to run my one ton ES 350 ambulance converted to motor home as a daily driver. Being able to run on free waste veggie oil changes the numbers. I figured that I'd need a vehicle that got over 150 mpg to make it worth burning gas. Do even mopeds get that kind of mileage?

My old bike only got 38 – 40 miles to the gallon. My wife's 4 cylinder economy car gets 33. Not really worth the price of repair, registration and insurance.

Of course, life is more than numbers. Sometimes it's about fun. Riding on two wheels, leaning into corners, heading down narrow lanes, it's a blast. Last year I recaptured some of that fun by buying a decent pedal bike. While not quite the rush of a fast motorcycle, it's still a lot of fun. I don't have to burn gas, or pay for registration and insurance. Simplicity adds to the fun. Lord knows I need the exercise, and that's a good feeling too.

There's a lot of really scenic bike trails I'm looking forward to riding this summer. That should slake my thirst for some two wheeled joy.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

No Money for the NRA and NPR

I don't give money to the NRA. Yes, I'm concerned about my Second Amendment Rights. There are other organizations and ways of protecting the Bill of Rights. Originally, I stopped giving them money because of their fear based ad campaigns. Organizations that try to manipulate me though emotion are always suspect. These days I don't support them because they aren't about the little guys. They get the lion's share of their funding from the firearms industry. They don't need any from me.

Just to be an equal opportunity grump, I don't give money to NPR. National Public Radio is one of the few stations that comes in where I live, so I listen to it now and then. Never hurts to get another viewpoint on the world. NPR used to be ad free but for a while now they've had short corporate ads. Corporations provide enough funding to be able to set the agenda. If you don't think money talks, you haven't been paying attention.

Actually, neither organization is missing out on much. There's not a lot of money left in my budget for charity. Sure, I give some where I know it'll do the most good -organizations with very low overhead and good track records. Mostly, I give of my own time and energy. There's nothing more efficient and human than directly helping someone who needs it.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Blind and Toothless

Love your enemy has got to be the most ignored teachings of Christ. Christians will dig up obscure Old Testament teachings to justify hate, but something from lips of Jesus himself is ignored. It's a hard lesson.

Why would Jesus say something like that? Is it because he was the son of God and only a supreme being could do such a thing? We'd like to think so, but if you start to pick and choose his teachings, where does that lead? Jesus didn't teach that for he benefit of your enemies, but for the benefit of your soul.

The Buddha teaches that revenge is a hot coal one holds in their hand hoping to someday throw it at their enemy. Who really suffers? Hate and revenge are heavy burdens to carry. In the land of eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, all are blind and toothless.

Jesus said to turn the other cheek. We are supposed to absorb some insult and then be willing to accept a bit more. Hard hard lessons.

On my spiritual path I also studied martial arts. I know what to do after turning the other cheek. Sometimes people may cross your path who've come to you for a lesson. As part of their lesson, they may suffer injury or die. One can learn to fight without hate. Hate is fear.

Then again, it is said that the most advanced martial artists can win a battle without ever throwing a blow. Insults do not touch them. Hate washes over them like a mild summer breeze, barely mussing their hair.

I am not such an advanced being. I own guns and know how to use them. I pray for the wisdom of knowing when.

Then there are the Reincarnationists. I asked one gentle soul about what we should do about psychopaths. “Kill them,” he said. “They should be released from their prison of flesh so that they can have another turn on the wheel.”

Personally, I believe every person has the spark of godhood within them. It's my job to see that spark. Sometimes I have to look really really hard. I try to love my enemies as I'm too lazy to carry the heavy burden of fear and hate.

Parents love their children, but a good parent will discipline their child. Dealing with adults is a bit different. Sometimes you have to discipline the fuck out of them.

I know I'm a flawed being, just trying to get by in a world with too much fear and hate.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Learning from other people

One of the luckiest events of our early sailing adventures was being able to help a couple who lost their boat in a storm. My lovely wife and I had only been sailing for a few months. We'd trailered out boat down to Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys.

Our boat spent nights tied up in the protected marina. The people who lost their boat were anchored in the channel next to the marina. A sudden storm dragged the boat into the old railroad bridge. We discovered the couple soaking wet, wandering the empty marina. We gave them some warm dry cloths, water, and let them sleep in our truck.

From their misadventure I learned some valuable lessons. One of the first things I did was get more robust anchors and other ground tackle for my boat. I carry at least 3 anchors with me at all times. Sometimes it takes a number of tries before I'm completely satisfied with how the anchor's set. No shortcuts here.

The antenna of their main radio was destroyed by the bridge but they were able to contact the Coast Guard with a hand held. I bought a good hand held. marine radio that's waterproof and floats.

Their expensive self inflating life jackets didn't work. Fortunately, they had a couple old fashioned horse collar life jackets. I decided to not waste money of the expensive inflatables and to use comfortable foam life jackets. The life jackets also have flashing emergency lights on them and whistles. It's dark out there during a storm.

Their insurance company didn't pay enough to replace the boat. I pay a bit more for a policy where the insurance company doesn't try to dicker about the value but accepts my numbers. My boat's not expensive so it really costs very little extra.

Their boat was small so they didn't have a regular dingy. Instead, they used a good quality tandem inflatable kayak. When they abandoned ship they had the kayak inflated and ready to go. My lovely wife and I are shopping for inflatable kayaks on-line. They don't take up much space, and make a pretty good tender for a small boat. It's also nice to have something to paddle around the mangroves.

We were able to help the shipwrecked couple a bit, but the lessons we learned from their misadventure are priceless.


Monday, April 15, 2013

“Oh Crap, who're we going to war against now?”

That's the first thing my lovely wife said when she heard about the Boston bombing. Then we tried to figure out if we had any friends or relatives in harms way.

I've a son-in-law who works in Boston, but he didn't have to work on Monday. Then there's a college buddy of mine who used to run the marathon and was back in training. No idea if he qualified and competed this year. We haven't heard anything, so I'm hoping no news is good news.

Of course, a lot of people's friends and relatives were not so lucky. My heart goes out to them.

Every since September 11, 2001 many of us have been leery of the political fallout of these types of events. Someone somewhere will try to push a political agenda. After 9/11 the United States got involved in two wars. No wonder my wife had the reaction she did.

Since 2001 we've been living in a ever more restrictive police state. Apparently they can't keep us safe, but they can limit our freedom.

It's very early and few facts are sure. However, judging from past performance, people are watching closely to see how the government reacts.


Fuel Blocks Test

Fuel blocks are designed to be burned in normal wood burning stoves in good condition. Like pellets for pellets stoves, they are made from recycled sawdust. The blocks come in different sizes and shapes. These blocks are about the size of a loaf of bread. They are packed in plastic wrap, three to a bundle.

It seemed like a good time to buy a few packages and see how they perform. The days and nights are cold enough for a good test, but it's not zero with howling winds either. Another inspiration to try them is my dwindling woodpile. Much of my remaining wood is hard to get to because of ice and snow still on the ground.

How do they perform? Short answer, pretty well. They ignite as well as very seasoned hardwood. They don't seem to put out quite as high a temperature as seasoned hardwood, but they burn for a longer period of time. Two blocks in my kitchen stove last all night and provide enough hot coals to start fresh wood in the morning.

I'm not keen on buying something that's wrapped in plastic, but there's no way around it. Fuel blocks must be kept dry. If they get wet, they fall apart and turn back into sawdust. When unwrapped a small amount of sawdust falls out of the package onto the floor. Of course, it's dry, clean and easy to sweep up. Natural firewood sheds bark, dirt, ants, and spiders. Compared to firewood, the blocks seem to produce less smoke and ash.

Most people mix fuel blocks and firewood and that works well. It is possible to successfully burn nothing but fuel blocks and that works fine too.

Fuel blocks are not to be confused with Duraflame or similar logs. Those contain waxes and other chemicals that make them unfit for use in woodstoves. Duraflame type logs are designed for burning outside in open fireplaces.

Would I buy it again? Maybe, if the price is right. I'm thinking a pallet of fuel blocks stored inside the house would be handy. It would be nice to have the options of not trekking through the snow to the woodshed.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Still planning

Yesterday we got an inch of ice on the roads around here. The lake shows no signs that the ice will leave it any time soon. My poor wife has the flu, so I'm taking care of her and the housework. It's only natural that my thoughts would turn to sailing adventures in warm climates.

We came back from Florida early this year to help out family. They've been warned that we plan on heading south in the fall and not coming back until spring. That's still the general plan. However, we've been thinking about changing the way we do it.

Originally, we'd planned on leaving New Hampshire in October. We want to do the ICW (Intra Coastal Waterway) We'd tow the boat down to Virgina and sail down to Florida. Someplace safe would have to be found to store the van and boat trailer. We'd either sail back to Virgina in March or rent a car to fetch van if we didn't make it all the way back.

Crummy April weather has me thinking that the end of March is too early to come home. The end of April would be a much better time. My lovely wife says 6 months is as long as she cares to be away from the kids and grandkids. Fair enough. That's why we planned on an October through March trip.

November through April would be better in many ways. October is drop dead gorgeous in New Hampshire. The weather is often mild. The foliage is brilliant, and it's the start of hunting season. The problem is that November is a bit late for sailing from mile marker one in Virgina. Odds are pretty good that there'll be some cold miserable days on the water.

Then it struck me. We could leave in November and tow the boat all the way to Florida. We could launch from Florida's Nature Coast. (Gulf side north of Tampa) and leave the vehicle at my dad's. From there we could sail down the coast. There are a lot of cool things to see in a small sailboat with a shallow draft: Florida Bay, the Okeechobee Waterway, the Keys, maybe even the Dry Tortugas. Eventually we could make our way up the East Coast using the ICW. Spring is a good time to take the ICW north. We could sail north until we either get to the end or have had enough.

All we'd have to do is find a good place to keep the boat for a few days. Then I could rent a car and go get my van and trailer from my dad's place in Florida. Looks like a good idea from where I'm sitting now. (looking out the window at the snow and ice)


Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Price of Politics

Compare and contrast North and South Korea. The South is a rich technological country. The North might as well be stuck in the Middle Ages. They started with similar land and the same race of people. Their main difference is their politics.

There's a lesson for us all. People in advanced countries seem to assume they are special in some way. The problems of the poorer parts of the world will never affect them. People also tend to assume third world countries will aways be third word countries. History tells us a different story.

A country rich in natural resources may have some advantages, but poor use of those resources can keep countries impoverished. Rhodesia was a rich country and a food exporter. Zimbabwe is impoverished and a food importer. Obviously more than the name changed. Eliminating a white racist regime and replacing it with a black racist regime only improved the lives of the new rulers.

People in the United States should pay attention. The politics that help make it great should not be taken for granted. When banks are “too big to prosecute” there's rot in the system. One of the foundations of good government is that the laws apply equally to everyone. While never practiced perfectly, it was an ideal nations strived for. Now they don't care about the laws or even care about appearances.

I can't help but wonder what political changes might improve people's lives -even people living in prosperous nations. Is there human potential just waiting to be unlocked by the right set of circumstances? What's holding us back these days? Until we can think beyond Democrat/Republican or conservative/liberal paradigms, we won't be able to discover them.

We've real world examples how bad government holds a people back. Let's strive for good government that moves us all forward.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Sawdust and Rocks

Sawdust used to be free. The local mills generated big piles of it and had difficulty getting rid of the stuff. People could have as much of it as they wanted for the price of hauling it away.

In the days before refrigeration ice houses used sawdust to insulate big blocks of ice cut from the local ponds. It worked surprising well for that.

Then refrigeration came into common use and nobody used sawdust for that anymore. Farms used some as absorbent bedding for animals, but they hardly made a dent in the supply. In fact farms still use it, but it's not free anymore.

When I was a kid I knew a man who heated his house with sawdust. He'd invented a fairly sophisticated furnace that even had thermostatic control. All he had to do was to load sawdust into the hopper and the furnace pretty much ran itself. Being able to heat a house for free in northern New Hampshire is a big deal.

Of course, now there are markets for sawdust. Big piles of anything are worth money. Sawdust is used in everything from manufactured lumber to compressed pellets for home stoves. No more heating for free. In fact, old sawdust piles are now dug up to feed biomass power generators.

When I was kid my dad told me that the most sure way to have a shortage of anything is to find a use for it. He demonstrated that principle with rocks. New Hampshire has more rocks than just about anything else. When my dad bought the land my house now sits on, it was no exception. I thought there was no way we could ever have a shortage of rocks.

Then we started to use them. We built retaining walls, fireplaces, used them in wells and built foundation piers with rocks and cement. It wasn't all that long before the best rocks were gone. Rocks that could be handled by one person were soon used up. Then rocks two or three people could move ran low. Small rocks were mixed with cement until those were gone.

My dad had me digging up the hillside for more rocks. I used sledge hammers and rock drills to turn huge rocks into usable sized rocks. Before long we were hauling rocks in the old pickup truck. There were old gravel pits nearby that had a lot of good sized rocks just lying on the ground -until those were gone. We were traveling further and further for good rocks. Fortunately, we moved on to other projects that didn't require rocks.

At a young age I learned lessons in resource depletion in a manner I'll never forget.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Veggie Vehicle Questions

Lately people have been asking me some questions about my waste vegetable oil van. There are some pretty sophisticated waste veggie burning systems out there. Mine isn't one of them.

Some systems switch from diesel to veggie automatically. There are sensors and electromechanical switches and some even have computer chips. All I have is a manual switch. I use the vehicle temperature gage as a guide. When the engine is warmed up, usually the veggie is hot enough to burn. That's when I trip the manual switch.

What happens if I'm too early and the veggie isn't quite up to temperature? Most times, nothing at all. Burning veggie that's a bit of cooler than ideal is no big deal. However, if it's really too cold, the engine will start to sputter. It could even stall out. What do I do if I've switched it too early? Switch it back to diesel for a few more minutes.

The first vehicle I converted to veggie used a 19 gallon marine tank. Since in had a sending unit for the fuel level built in, installing a fuel gage on the dash was no big deal. My current tank didn't come with one, so I do without.

It's really not that hard. I use a salvaged 12 gallon marine tank. It fits nicely in a side compartment. The van averages around 12 miles per gallon in normal mixed driving conditions. I've gotten as high as 18, but I can pretty much count on 12. After the veggie tank is filled up, all I do is set the trip meter to zero. After 100 – 120 miles or so, I stop and top off the tank again. Rinse and repeat. Yes, that's a lot of stopping on a long trip, but considering most of my veggie is free, it's a small price to pay.

Some people pay thousands of dollars for veggie conversions. Mine cost $250 and there's not a lot of things to go wrong. It's bone headed simple.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Shutting down coal

It looks like the coal industry is in trouble. I, for one, won't cry about it.

Coal fired power plants spew pollutants into the air. Anti pollution regulations may shut down many of those plants. Companies are switching to cheaper and cleaner natural gas. While I've some problems with the whole fracking boom, anything that shuts down coal plants can't be all bad.

Why do I hate coal plants so much? A major pollutant belching from the plants is mercury. The poison has found its way into New England waters. Fish carry a heavy mercury load so people have to limit the number they can eat. NH Fish and Game provides a guideline. So much for living off the land. Fish used to provide a lot of the native diet. Now every time a person eats freshwater fish, they ingest a dose of poison.

I don't know how long it will take the earth to heal, or if it ever will completely recover. However, it's not going to get better until the coal plants are either cleaned up or shut down. I'm in favor of a shut down. Companies are all to eager to bypass pollution controls to save a few dollars. The sooner they are gone, the better.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Spring Floods

I've been watching the rain come down. We've a pretty good snow pack still, so the rivers are nearing flood stage.

My house is located in the hills. For it to flood, God would have have lied to Noah. Just because my house is not in a flood zone, doesn't mean flooding doesn't affect it. There have been a few occasions where every road out has been flooded. Usually it's not a problem for more than a day or two, but it does happen.

People usually have some idea how well their house is situated for immediate threats, but you've also got to look at the big picture. How will the rest of your area be affected? What goods and services could be cut off and for how long?

Storms can cut off individual houses and communities for not just days,but weeks or even longer. Just across the river in Vermont, Hurricane Irene destroyed roads and bridges over a wide area. Some places will never be the way the were before.

Normal preps have always carried me until the roads reopen. Does anyone ever regret being prepared?


Monday, April 8, 2013

Too tired

Too tired to post at my regular time.

Catch you later.


Don't Shoot My Dog

Colorado is attempting to pass a law to prevent cops from shooting the family dog. Dogs are in danger from local cops, who often want to shoot first rather than restrain. The law would require cops be trained in ways of dealing with the family pet.

Different cops deal with dogs in different ways, and it goes from one extreme to the other.

I knew a cop who was really tired of dealing with barking dog complaints. He kept a high powered pellet gun and cardboard boxes in the cruiser's trunk. Late at night, he'd shot the offending dog and haul it away to the landfill. He killed a lot of dogs. In fact he killed so many there was a big article in the newspaper. People were demanding that the cops look into what was happening to their pets. I found out about this years after the cop was no longer a cop.

Then there's the way my local cop dealt with my dog. Our town technically has a leash law, but it's rarely enforced. One day I heard a car stop. I looked out to see a police cruiser stopped in front of my house. There was my old dog, lying in the middle of the road, just soaking up some sun. The cop rolled down the driver's side window. My old dog trotted over. The officer called him by name and apologized for being out of dog treats. Then the officer slowly drove away.

I don't expect cops to put themselves at serious risk, but as things stand now, too many want to shoot first. That bothers me. A kid that abuses dogs often later grows up to abuse people. Cops who are quick to do violence upon a dog might be a bit quicker to use violence against people.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

In my Odd Moments

In my odd moments I often wonder where some trends are going to end up.

Take business productivity for example. It's going up. More stuff is getting done with less people. Eventually, everything will get done by nobody. Productive will be maximized. Once that process is complete, nobody will have a job. So who's going to buy all those goods and services provided by those productive companies? It seems there's a race on. The first companies to be 100 percent without human workers win. They'll make money from that shrinking pool of workers -until they are gone too.

Maybe the government recognizes the problem. So companies can stay in business, government is slowly moving towards a system of handing money to former workers. Of course, it's politically inexpedient to just hand everyone money. Instead we get unemployment compensation, food stamps, disability retirement, Social Security, and all that. Just giving everyone money would probably be more efficient, but they've decided to have a lot of make work jobs in government bureaucracy too.

That's the positive outcome, such as it is.

Another end point is where a handful of “owners” get all the money. They have all the money, all the gold, all the silver, and everything else. Then most of the world's population no longer has any value to them and should be eliminated. What do you do after you've taken everything?

Of course, average people are a lot tougher and smarter than the elite give them credit for. They survive, but no longer have money are any part in the old economy. After a brief adjustment period, they develop a new economy (barter, gift, turnips, whatever) that has no exchange with the money from the old economy. The rich retreat to their walled in mansions. Some are left to survive as a cautionary tale for the rest of us.

Like I stated in the beginning: odd moments.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

17,500 Watt Diesel Generator

My buddy called me up to see if I was interested in helping him move a generator. When I converted an ambulance into a motor home, I made sure the bed and tables could easily be removed. It's a good thing too, as this monster generator barely fit.

We did a 270 mile round trip, running the van on waste veggie all the way. Waste vegetable oil jugs are visible in the left side of the photo.

One good thing about such a big heavy generator is that it's too big to even think of moving it by hand. The dealer loaded it up with a fork lift. My buddy was able to unload it with forks attached to the bucket of his loader.

My friends live off grid and solar provides most of their day to day needs. However, they own a commercial pottery kiln, and it takes more than a couple solar panels to power a kiln. This generator can do the job, and won't take much to convert it to run on waste vegetable oil.

I love it when a plan comes together.


Friday, April 5, 2013

Where are the guidebooks for this new life?

Back in the 70s there were a lot of how to books out there on counter culture living. People really were heading back to the land. They were searching for many things, a life close to nature, a rejection of their parent's values, independence, and experimentation. Quite a few books were written on the nuts and bolts of the lifestyle. Of course, styles change and the demand for such books went away.

What we need are some good guidebooks for the time we live in now. The rules of money, employment, health -the whole social order, have changed. It's time to stop chasing a dream that's gone. Many admit to themselves that we live in different times, but are too busy mourning the old ways to develop new ways.

Sure, there's lots of info on the web, but it's scattered and in electronic format. We need real books. Books have a practical size limit, so everything in it has to be of value. There' s not room for fluff. We need a book that can be read by a homemade candle when theres no electricity.

Someone should gather all the best practices out there, stuff that's being done in the real world. Forget theory and concentrate on proven technologies, strategies, and philosophies.

Perhaps there should be different books for people in different stages of their life.

A book for the high school graduate just starting out.

A book for the college educated that can't find good paying work in their field.

Something for people who've lost their jobs, houses, money and whatever else. There are ways to start over and have a meaningful life.

How about the older folks who've discovered their retirement isn't going to be anything like they were told it was going to be?

Then we could have a master book for how all these people can work together in a community, strengthening and enriching everyone.

I'm betting all that information is out there. I don't know of any focused and sustained effort to gather the best into book form.

Of course, it's not necessary to wait for such a book. Get your computer, a printer, and a binder. Search for information that advances you towards your lifestyle goals. Print out all the good and practical information off the net and put it in your binder. Make your own how to book -preferably before you really need it.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

All the Eggs in one Basket

The Internet is such an efficient and useful tool that just about everything is making their way to it. There are economic pressures to do so. Doing things over the Internet is extremely cheap. Companies that do not optimize business by using the Internet are at a disadvantage.

Systems that get optimize for efficiency have one major problem. They are fragile. It's that way all throughout nature. An ecosystem may have a number of critters that perform a specific role. Over time, the most efficient critter dominates and pushes out the others. That's all well and good, until something unexpected takes out that one critical critter. The whole ecosystem suffers.

The Internet has become that most efficient critter. It's easy to use it in ways never intended by the original designers. It's growth has not been managed at all. That's not a bad thing in itself, but the old ways of doing things have disappeared. One small example, many businesses could not send out a paper bill by snail mail if they had to as they depend completely on electronic payments.

We faced a potential problem years ago with the Y2K bug. Yes, the date rolled around and problems were minor. Sure some of the potential problems might have been overblown, but don't forget that a lot of money went into fixing code and replacing equipment.

Think of how much more dependent we are on the Internet now. The Y2K bug was an oversight. No harm was ever intended. These days there are bad actors, rogue companies, cyber warfare programs, and hackers actively causing problems. There is the very real potential that someone could break the Internet.

Even without ill intent something like a massive CME could take down critial parts of the system.

It wouldn't be impossible or even all that hard, for governments and businesses to have backup plans. It wasn't all that long ago that we functioned just fine without the Internet. (hard to believe, I know). Should the Internet go down, it would not be the end of the world, but it would be hugely disruptive. We have placed all our eggs in one basket -never a good idea.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sport Flying

I know a few people with small private planes. That's one hobby I've never been able to afford. I decided to get married, buy an house and have a family instead. We all make choices. That doesn't mean I don't miss the road not taken once in a while.

I was tempted again when the FAA developed the Sport Pilot License. It's a cheaper way to get into the air. The planes are smaller, but not too small. While it's a lot less expensive way to get into flying, it's still out of my budget.

I must admit that occasionally I think of Ultralights. In the US, ultralight aircraft are less than 254 pounds, carry less than 5 gallons of gas, and have a top speed of 55 knots. No license is required. This is real seat of the pants flying. Unfortunately, I'm really too fat and heavy for such a plane. (this is one instance where being fat might save your life) Of course, I'm dieting and exercising again . . .

Then there are the hang gliders. A couple guys in my hometown used to hang glide. One got splattered against a cliff and suffered sever head trauma. He survived, but had a complete personality change. The other hang glider died after a botched landing. When the only people around doing the sport meet with bad ends, it takes the shine off the whole idea.

In the summers my lake gets buzzed by guys in powered parachutes. It's probably one of the cheapest ways to get into powered flight. Those guys seem to have a good time, but there's something about the sport that puts me off. They just might be too slow and noisy for my tastes.

Of course, we are in the 21st century, where's my antigravity flying car?


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

April showers bring -snow later in the day

At least that's what's been going on around these parts. May flowers seem a long way off. I'm measuring the size of my woodpile and comparing it to the long range weather forecast. I'll be surprised if I'm not foraging firewood to get through the heating season. It's not a crisis, but another annoyance.

Outdoor projects have been put on hold.

It's discouraging, but in the big scheme of things I don't have much to complain about. The house is warm, there's plenty of coffee and good books. This old bear should just hibernate a bit longer.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Sweet Success

I've good news from my friends who own a sugar house. They are successfully boiling maple syrup and getting excellent product. The season might be saved yet. I'm not taking any chances so I picked up a gallon right from the sugar house.

Their sugar bush (maple trees) are located on the north side of a mountain, so there's a chance it will stay cool enough to extend the season.

I asked him if he had any ideas why the first boil was of such poor quality. Some of the locals think it was because there wasn't a January thaw this year. Usually there's a few days in January when the sap flows, but nobody taps. Perhaps the first sap run of the years was sap that would normally have flowed in January. Who knows? The business is as much art as science.

At any rate, I've got mine.

Hope everyone had a good Easter. Mine was spent with family. All my kids and grandkids were together in the same room, so I'm a blessed man indeed.