Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tender Test

My lovely wife and I have been sailing around for three years without a dinghy for our sailboat. There's a few good reasons for that.

First of all, our sailboat is only 19 feet long. Where does one put a dinghy?

We really haven't needed one until now. With the swing keel raised, our sailboat only draws a foot. In non-tidal waters it can be beached. Sometimes I'll drop an anchor off on the way in. That way I'll have something to pull on if it gets a bit stuck. No problems so far.

A lot of our cruising has been in Florida waters. The tides are small. It's easy to anchor close to shore and wade in. The water's warm. Again, not a big problem.

Sometimes we stay at marinas. No need for a tender when at the docks.

However, we plan on sailing in waters with higher tides, colder waters, and sometimes dirtier waters. Wading is not a good choice. Some places don't allow boats anchored so close to shore.

Anchoring or using a mooring is cheaper than staying at a marina. Our funds are limited, after all.

One solution to not having room on-board for a dinghy is to tow one. Plenty of sailboats do that. I might be willing to try it but my lovely wife is firmly against it. We are partners in this so I'm respecting her wishes.

What we have compromised on is an inflatable. However, both of us are not keen on having another motor to feed and maintain. That pretty much leaves rowing or paddling. Most inflatable dingies row badly. That's why people go with motors. In the end, we are decided on a large, heavy duty, inflatable kayak.

I grew up paddling canoes and kayaks, so I'm comfortable and good at it. Being able to see where you are going is a big plus. We spent some time with a couple who successfully used an inflatable tandem kayak on a 20 foot Flicka. They were very happy with theirs.

Once the boat comes in we are going to put it to the test. The company I picked has a generous return policy, so it doesn't work for us, back it goes.

Expect follow up photos.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dear Friends

My lovely wife and I had the chance to visit with some old friends on our last trip downstate. People have such busy schedules that it takes some extra effort to connect. We hadn't seen each other since a third friend's daughter's wedding. That was a year ago. Where does the time go?

It's interesting to compare how our lives are going. They appear to be doing quite well and are very much tied into the system: good jobs, house in an expensive suburb, retirement plan, medical, kids in college -the whole bit.

My wife and I . . . not so much. We have a fraction of their income, live out in the country, and our kids are older and on their own now. We've given up on the whole career thing are living in an alternative economy. Every year, we are less and less connected to the dominate system.

All that doesn't really matter. While we don't have much in common anymore, we still enjoy each other's company. Everyone is trying to get by in a messed up world.

They do seem to enjoy hearing about our adventures. However, they keep referring to “my poor wife,” who has to put up with me. She's not being dragged along. “My poor wife,” is a partner and enabler.

I think we both enjoy seeing how the other side lives. It's always a pleasure to get together and they even treated us to dinner. That was pleasant.

There aren't a lot of middle-aged folks who are still in contact with their old school buddies. (Facebook doesn't count.)


Monday, July 29, 2013

Workers' Paradise

I've been hearing the same complaints from workers. Doesn't matter if they are in the private or public sector.

These are people who are good at their jobs and hard workers, but are feeling incredible job stress. The thing that's really bugging them is that they can't do their jobs well. Between personnel cutbacks and stupid rules, their jobs are now impossible to do. No matter how hard they work, people are going to be unhappy.

People like that aren't use to failure. They've always gone the extra mile. Well now there are too many extra miles. Some things can be stretched only so far. They've become aware that the head office doesn't care about the work or the workers.

People are leaving. These aren't low paying jobs either. Some of them are well into 6 figures. Those who can are taking early retirement. Others are quiting and taking lower paying jobs, but with more normal expectations. A few are trying to medicate their problems away.

The ones who are staying are those who never did good work and don't care. They've gotten used to people being unhappy.

So the next time you have lousy service from a business or government agency, you'll know why.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Boat Update

So my lovely wife and checked out a MacGregor 25. It has a lot of pluses: like-new sails, excellent condition 9.9 Merc outboard, solid trailer, hull and rigging in good shape. Even the canvas for the pop top was in good condition.

One of the weak spots on this model is where the mast sits on the cabin roof. The guy thought it looked like a weak design to him too, so he did an excellent job reinforcing it with a big stainless steel plate. It looks solid.

The price was right, and negotiable too.

On the downside, the interior needs work. It had a cheap interior when new and time has done it no favors. No galley. All the wiring should be redone. Someone routed the wires so all the splices were in a low spot that collected water.

All in all, the boat has no major problems that can't be dealt with.

However, my lovely wife and I did not fall in love with it. Some things looked a bit clunky to me. My wife thought it was too big.

Yeah, too big.

Now a 25 boat will often be the smallest boat in a marina. Drop it in the Gulf of Mexico and it looks like a rubber ducky. We are planning a long trip and most people would think a boat this size too small. For us, it might be too big. We like things cozy.

We are completely self contained on an Oday 19 for a week or more. All we'd need is more water to extend our time on the water. In reality, since we are coastal cruising, we stop on land every 3 – 4 days, at the most. Still, there's no denying it's a small boat. If we do use this boat on our trip, I'll do some rearranging to the interior, upgrade some wiring, add a boom tent, and some instrumentation. Still, small boat equals small problems.

In the next couple of weeks we'll be looking at some 22 foot boats, just to see how they fit. We'll have to make up our mind soon. I have to get a boat ready for October. I don't want to spend time and money working on one boat, only to decided on a different one.

Later in the day, we took our Oday out on the lake with a friend, a granddaughter and the dog. The adults opened a bottle of wine, the 6 year old took the tiller, and we meandered around the lake. After watching a beautiful sunset, we motored back to our beach. Perfect way to end the day.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

The end of surety

Through much of history people knew what to expect from life. Most were born into their condition, and stayed there. Peasants knew what was expected of them and knew what life was all about. It might have sucked, but it didn't have a lot of surprises. There may have been better conditions for the upper classes, but they too had a limited set of options.

There are times when I wonder if the American Dream wasn't much better. Work hard, obey the law, be patriotic, vote, and life would get better. Maybe that even used to work for a lot of people. That's fine, but maybe the whole life path known as the American Dream was just another box. There was more opportunity, but there were some serious expectations that could only be ignored at great personal risk.

Never question if you even wanted what was promised: more money, bigger house, nicer car and maybe even a trophy wife. Never question who benefited from a large mass of worker bees sticking to the rules. How many of that tiny fraction at the top who actually run things, played by those rules? Few to none is my guess. That was for the people who didn't know how things really worked.

We are coming to a time when the old models of living are breaking down. The whole work hard and get rewarded model is falling apart, but so are other models. The middle class might be changing, but so's life for the poor and well off minion class too. The poor are finding their tenuous grip on life is starting to slip. The things that held it together are no longer working, be it welfare, low income housing, fuel assistance, health care, unemployment insurance, food stamps, or whatever. The well off are catching on that the super rich are playing a different game and they'll never be allowed to even know the rules. A million doesn't buy what it once did either.

It's going to be rough, but it's also going to be immensely interesting. The old rules are breaking down. Chaos plagues all systems. Entropy, entropy all winds down. Except it doesn't. Nothing stimulates evolution like stressing a system. The critters on the margins of things, insignificant in the old order, find their oddities are perfect for the new conditions.

I just hope it's not ideal for cockroaches, either insectoid or human.

Odds are it won't. Humans have a long history of actually being pretty decent at times. If we are clever, we'll have a new paradigm where we compete for status by seeing who can be the most enlightened. Boy that sounds like a set up for a joke. (none are as humble as I) But still, if there are systems that appeal to our baser natures like greed, there are also systems that reward generosity. We saw were greed got us. Let's try something else.

When nothing is sure or certain anymore, it's a time of turmoil, but also opportunity. If the old stuff doesn't work like it used to, throw it out and try something new. It might fail, but the old ways are failing too. In fact, the old ways are failing for sure.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Mariner's disease, again.

I can't help myself. Even though I told myself I'm not really in the market for another boat, Craigslist called to me.

There's a MacGregor 25 in the town right next door. I have to go look at it. The photos show a clean boat in good condition. The price is right too.

Now I know some people are not fond of the MacGregors. They are a mass produced boat. There's no doubt about that. The MacGregor 26 is more of a powerboat, but the 25 looks more like a traditional sailboat. It has a heavy swing keel, a tiller, and is not designed with a planing hull.

A boat must fit my needs. Being able to be trailered is a requirement. Shoal draft is necessary for the shallow waters of Florida. The cabin is a heck of a lot roomier than my little Oday 19.

The boat is for sale because the owners never get a chance to use it. With any luck, the boat's been gently used. We are a good distance from the ocean, so there's a chance it hasn't seen much salt.

Of course, it's an older boat. On the bright side, they have a track record and the common problems are well known. I'll know what to look for.

I've looked at two other MacGregor 25s over the last few years. One I almost bought, but they wanted more than I was prepared to pay. The second one was a wreck. Didn't want it even if it was free.

My lovely wife and I will check it out on Saturday.


Thursday, July 25, 2013


Westley: What are our liabilities?
Inigo Montoya: There is but one working castle gate, and... and it is guarded by 60 men.
Westley: And our assets?
Inigo Montoya: Your brains, Fezzik's strength, my steel.

Westley: I mean, if we only had a wheelbarrow, that would be something.
Inigo Montoya: Where we did we put that wheelbarrow the albino had?
Fezzik: Over the albino, I think.
Westley: Well, why didn't you list that among our assets in the first place?

-The Princess Bride
(Movie, 1987)

I loved that movie. My kids watched it over and over again it we all pretty much memorized it. Westley makes a good point. Make sure you list all your assets when confronting a problem. Even the humble things may hold the key to success.

When we are confronted with problems it's easy to overlook what we do have. Maybe we don't have money, but our skills and attitude can more than make up for that. Maybe we don't have that new gizmo we want, but we have a pile of junk, some tools, and a plan.

People have taken pretty humble skills: cooking baking, jam making, duck call building, and made them into successful businesses.

There's even a guy, David Rees, who's made a successful business sharpening pencils. He's really really good at sharpening pencils, but who would have thought there was a business there? The video is actually pretty fascinating.

Often the key to success is to be able to think of using things in ways they weren't intended for. I remember a talking to a engineer who worked on a huge commercial biomass burner. There were view ports to observe the process. The special glass would get scratched by the wood chips and have to be replaced. Those glass ports were outrageously expensive. He replaced them with clear glass Pyrex pie plates. They lasted as long as the special glass ports, but where a whole lot cheaper. Even better, since the backside of the plate got the scratches, it was still possible to use them to make pies.

As for me, I'm happy to have a wheelbarrow as part of my assets.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Wild food

I've been eating a lot of pin cherries lately. There' s a tree that's right next to my driveway and I eat a bunch of them of as I go past. Cherries are reported to keep gout in check, and pin cherries seem to be doing the job for me.

Pin cherries are small with large stones. As far as I know, they have no commercial value. That's fine, as they have value to me. I'm told they make a pretty good jam too, so that might be worth pursuing. The nice thing about this tree is that all I for it was not cut it down. It was just another shrub that I left alone. This year it's really producing fruit. Maybe it's all the rain and heat we've been having.

It look promising for other wild berries this year too. Blueberries are early and abundant. The wild foods are making up for a poor garden year for me. One thing that's doing well is sun-chokes (Jerusalem artichokes.) They seem to thrive on neglect and poor soil. My hop plants are also doing well, so maybe some home brew is in my future. Outside of that, most of the garden is producing poorly.

The bears are leaving me along this year, so they must be getting plenty of food in the woods. Hope they save me some blueberries for pie.


Dealing with hospitals

My lovely wife used to be the one who dealt with hospital and medical insurance. They push my buttons. However, I've taken over the task once more.

Here's an example of the sort of thing that grinds my gears. Years ago we had an insurance that required preapproval of non-emergency surgery. Fine. We got all the preapprovals. My lovely wife had a successful operation. Great. Then we got a bill for over $20,000. They said we hadn't gotten preapproval. My wife had to straighten it out as I was incoherent with rage.

Now I find myself back dealing with this stuff again. My lovely wife has Medicare and had a procedure done. Quite a fair chunk was not covered. That in itself kinda ticked me off. I decided to send them a small amount every month. One day they called me on the phone and offered to clear the bill if I paid half. Fine. It took some doing, but the budget got squeezed and they got paid.

Except they kept on billing me. I just got off the phone with the hospital with my fourth attempt to straighten this out. The guy assured me that this time it's fixed. Right.

As for my own self, I have a solution that's been working for me. I don't have insurance and don't go to the hospital. Those two things give me peace of mind and keep my blood pressure low. Very good for my health, physical and mental.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Vehicle disabled by a light bulb

On the ride home last night the high beam on the passenger side kept blinking on and off. Loose wire, I thought. How hard can it be? I've been fixing headlights since I was a kid.

Back in the day of sealed beam headlights the whole light would get replaced. Used to take me 10 or 15 minutes as I was in no hurry. I think they used to cost something like 8 bucks.

Then they went to halogen bulbs that would twist into the lens assembly and the socket would easily snap in the back. Most cars I owned, they could be replaced without using tools and took about 5 minutes. There was one car I owned that the battery had to be removed first. That slowed it down a bit.

Once I popped the hood, it was clear that the battery had to come out. It's a little dicey on my van as it's a two battery system and there are more cables and stocky bits. Got the battery removed only to discover that the battery holder would also have to come out. The bolts were rusty, but eventually a lot of elbow grease persuaded them.

Underneath that was another plate in the way. Broke two Phillips bits trying to remove the screws holding it. After some persuasion with a chisel and hammer, one screw got loose enough to turn. With one out it was possible to pry the plate far enough out of the way to access the light socket.

Sure enough, the high beam wire had pulled out of the socket. Of course, there was no way to repair the wire as it broke inside the fixture where it was sealed with resin. No problem, I'd picked up a replacement socket -the wrong one, as it turned out.

Now I have to borrow my wife's car for a trip into town to buy a new socket. Reassembling the van just to drive to the auto parts store is a chore I'll happy do without. Heck, I'd ride my bike into town before messing with that stuff one more time than I absolutely have to.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

God's leaf blower

The storm came in with a bang. A huge boom of thunder, like a cannon discharging close by, announced the storm. About ten minutes later, it hit with extremely strong winds and lightning. That happened just around nightfall.

Much of my house is always on solar electric powered. In the morning, the utility was still out, so I switched the remaining circuits over to the solar side. No problem there. However, my Internet was out, along with my phone connection. Cell phones don't work where I live, so we were a bit cut off.

My lovely wife and I decided to have breakfast in town at an Internet café. No idea when the net will be up, but I'm guessing soon, if it isn't right now.

The wind took down a lot of trees. I lost a good sized sugar maple. It blew away from the house, missed the road and my parked cars. Lucked out there. Everywhere there are branches and leaves strewn around. The tarp covering my boat project was damaged, but it's repairable. Glad I decided to hold off on more resin work until the risk of thunderstorms goes down.

All in all, it could have been worse.

I did discover my “high efficiency” washing machine is a huge phantom load. Never noticed it because it was on the grid side. When it was switched to my solar system, I noticed the extra power demand right off. Now that bad boy is going on a power switch to kill the phantom load.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Not everything is digital

Not every book is in digital format and some of them most likely never will be. My own library has many old and rare books that have never been scanned. My lovely wife and I have always collected books. We went through a spell where we didn't read anything less than 100 years old. Read enough older books and you get a feel for times past. It used to amaze my English professors when my papers bibliography contained numerous rare books from my private library. Perhaps they were a bit jealous.

Back in '99 a good friend of mine passed away. I ended up with about a third of his extensive research library. Not only are few of those books available digitally, many are difficult to impossible to find anywhere. A number of them were printed in expensive limited runs for a small group of researchers. While the books are rare, the margin notes my friend left behind are priceless to me. The guy didn't publish as many papers as he should have. Pure research was more fun for him.

Then there's a friend of mine who's father used to have connections to the publishing industry. Browsing through he bookshelf one day, I found unpublished manuscripts. Two were from the Science Fiction writer Avram Davidson. There was also some unpublished poetry by Ezra Pound. Those one of a kind rare manuscripts are just one house fire away from being lost to the world forever.

While I worry about rare books disappearing, they may outlast many digital books. Think of all the electronic storage devices that are now obsolete and rare. Even NASA has digital records from the early days of space flight that they cannot read. A good CME from the sun and maybe all digital books are gone. Perhaps our paper books may be all that remains.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Get a big bag of popcorn and pull up a seat

Where to begin? How about Detroit? The largest municipal bankruptcy in history. Nothing highlights the decline of American manufacturing like the demise of Detroit. It used to be a rich city, where hard working blue collar people made good wages. Now large parts of the city look like a zombie apocalypse movie.

The robbery of the little people is ongoing. Detroit has some large pension liabilities that most likely won't get paid. The city acts like those pensions are a surprise, like they weren't at the negotiation table all those years. Those workers were part of a give and take process that took benefits in the form of pensions rather than some other form of compensation. It's not their fault that the politicians and bureaucrats of the city mismanaged things. No doubt the city was overtaken by forces beyond its borders and control, but even a blind man could have seen trouble coming. Problems can be kicked down the road only soon long. For Detroit, the time of reckoning is here.

I think Jimmy Carter is my my favorite ex-president. He says the US “has no functioning democracy.” Don't look for the article in any American Media. After all, he's only a former President.

Snowden really got the ball rolling by revealing the extent of spying going on, both foreign and domestic. The revelations keep on coming. Here's one of my favorites: The NSA admits to two or three “hops” from the initial suspect. They look at their friends, and their friends friends.

Anyone else play the game: Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? The theory is that there is only about 6 degrees of separation from any two people on the planet. The NSA is already up to 3. Knowing how mission creep works its way into bureaucracies, before long they'll be up to 6. By then everyone in the whole world will be a terror suspect. No wonder they are afraid.


A system that catches everybody, catches nobody.

What do countries in trouble do? Go to war, of course. Nothing like a great big war to distract everyone. Oh look, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, says the US is considering using military force in Syria. Bingo! Right on schedule.

Let's tally up the score. Politicians who can't manage government, a spy program that would make the Stasi blush, a non functioning democracy, and the generals beating war drums.

I'm willing to accept the surrender of all these folks. The war is over and they've lost. Unfortunately, they just don't know it yet. When individuals and institutions have zero legitimacy, their power teeters on brute force alone. Look guys, we've been really really patient so far. Nobody has to get hurt. Kindly disable the police state and we'll all live like humans.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Melting in New Hampshire

It's been hot in humid lately in New Hampshire. Even in the north of the state, it was humid and in the 90s. Most southerners would find it uncomfortable. Why's that? It's because I have no air conditioning. There has never been much need for it in the past. Lately, however, I've begun to wonder. The AC is out of order in my van, so there's no relief there either.

For off-grid people, keeping cool is problematic. Regular air conditioners use a lot of power. It would take a huge solar electric array to power even a moderate system. Swamp coolers are more efficient, but not very effective in humid areas.

Clever use of shade and natural breezes can take the edge off. There are good reasons old southern homes were constructed the way they were, with big windows that open, good cross ventilation and porches to relax on.

Some find relief by building underground, but that's not for everyone.

While there are many ways to find relief, nothing compares to the brute force of a powerful air conditioner.

As for me, I'm sitting under a ceiling fan, drinking plenty of water. At least my solar panels can handle the load of a few fans.

Now if someone would just invent an efficient wood fired air conditioner, they'd really have something.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fuelish week

Trash day is when I figure out how much waste veggie I used in the veggie van during the week. That's when I throw out all the empty jugs. This week there were 19 jugs. That's 19, 4.5 gallon jugs for a total of 85.5 gallons of alternative vehicle fuel. Multiply that by the price of diesel, and it's clear I've saved well over $300 this week.

What a busy week it has been. The bed and tables were stripped out of the vehicle so it could act as a moving van. A number of trips were made moving my daughter to a new town.

Later, all the camping stuff went back in. My lovely wife and I went to a conference for two days. Instead of paying for a hotel, we parked in a friend's driveway. Sleeping in a familiar bed is a bonus, even if it's in a converted ambulance/motorhome.

Very few of the many miles driven this past week could have been done with a small economy car. Most of those miles the vehicle was heavily loaded.

No wonder I'm tired.

I have used more waste veggie fuel in less time. That was when I was towing a sailboat from New Hampshire to Florida. Then I used over 100 gallons in under 4 days.

All that hauling fuel jugs around also saves me the cost of membership in a weight lifting club.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Small budget alternative energy, the early years

My lovely wife and I were married at 20 years old, about 35 years ago. Several years and two children later, my lovely wife and I bought our first house. It was 22 foot by 22 foot 4 room house. The bathroom was so small, it only had a tub and a toilet -no sink. There was an attached garage that later became a bedroom and a full sized bathroom. We paid $15,000 for the house.

We had very little money, but we did have a place of our own. *not counting the bank, of course.

Heating in New Hampshire is always an issue. The house came with an oil fired hot air furnace, the type normally installed in trailers. I improved the efficiency of the furnace by fixing some duct issues. Soon after, I put in a simple woodstove. Some years that was my sole source of heat. Heating oil was over 70 cents a gallon. Who could afford that?

This house sat on the end of a 50 X 100 lot in town. Not a lot of room for processing firewood. Fortunately, my dad had a larger piece of land, about a ½ mile away. I'd get my wood delivered to his place, where I'd borrow his chainsaw to cut it up. It was also split there. All the wood was moved to my house in a borrowed homemade trailer pulled by my 1977 Honda Civic. It took a lot of trips to get 5 cords of wood to my house.

My hot water was electric. With small kids in the house, we used plenty of hot water. Something had to be done about the electric bill. I salvaged a 30 gallon water tank from a kerosene heater. With some salvaged copper pipe and a bit of soldering, it was rigged it up with a small heating coil. The coil sat on top of the woodstove and circulated hot water using convection. The wood fired tank would feed into the electric. My water heating bill dropped 90%.

That was fine for the winter, but what about summer when the woodstove wasn't working? Remember, still had very little money. As soon as it became too warm for the woodstove, I'd disconnect the salvaged tank and move it outside in a sunny area. I gave it a good coat of black paint. Someone had given me a big coil of black plastic pipe. That sat on shed roof. Water would come into the tank, start to warm up, then get a boost from running through the coil of plastic pipe. While not as productive as the woodstove, it still reduced my electric bill 70 – 80%.

Over the years we made steady improvements to that house. When I sold it, there was enough money to get me started on my dome home in the country, where I could be even more self reliant and independent.


Off-grid houses are never done

I was talking to another off-grid home owner. I'd gone over to help with a minor electrical problem.

Most people move into a typical house, connect the cables, wires, and hoses and rarely give much thought to how things run. Occasionally a high utility bill may give them a rude awakening, but they usually go right back to sleep.

Those of us living off-grid you know where every watt, calorie of energy, and drop of water comes from.

Most people would be satisfied to have installed a really efficient propane fired water heater. Not my friends. They are looking into heating their water with a combination of solar and wood heat. They can't make propane on their homestead, so want to use even less of it.

They have a very nice shallow well with good water. The well pump works fine, but they are thinking about a source of water that would be gravity feed, to simplify things even more.

Once you go down the self reliance road, you never really stop thinking about it. There are always ways to be more self reliant and efficient.

So what's the pay off for this type of thinking?

They do live in a house with no mortgage. The husband works a seasonal job. The wife just cut down her work week from three days to two. Didn't need the extra income and rather have the time to pursue her own interests.

Looks like a good pay off to me.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Some Science Fiction type thoughts

Contemplate, if you will, the technological singularity. Do the reading if you have to. In short, technology will make us infinitely smart. We may even upload our consciousness into computers and live forever in virtual worlds.

Fascinating ideas, but does anybody look at how high technology is working for us now? Imagine being uploaded into a computer. Then your cybernetic mind gets a computer virus and the files are corrupted. Maybe the NSA makes a complete copy of you and keeps it locked up in a supercomputer in Utah. Your mind will exist on computers -the very descendants of the computer on your desk that has to rebooted every time you want to do something. Oh, by the way, Microsoft will have a secret back door into your very being.

Maybe we won't be infinitely smarter, but infinitely dumber. Your mind will get so bogged down with malware that it'll be running slower than your meat brain runs now. Heck, maybe the supercomputer minds will just spend all eternity looking at cyberporn.

Nope, not for me. Give me a good old distopian Mad Max world. What the heck, I've already got a cool vehicle, the wardrobe, and a crossbow. It might be a short, brutish life, but at least you'll go out with a bang instead of a hard drive reformat.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Vehicle batteries

Are you one of those people who don't think much about your vehicle's battery until it fails? Do you spend a lot of time and money thinking about the perfect bug out vehicle, but little to no thought on the battery? Mr. Murphy will decided your battery will fail to turn your engine over the day you need it most.

I just spent $146 getting the best battery available locally. It's the biggest strongest battery that will fit in my diesel van. The old battery started the vehicle, and was just a little bit subpar. The thing is, it might start the vehicle in July when it's warm. Will it start it in September when we get an unusually cold night? Why take a chance?

Do you have the tools and know how to clean your battery terminals? Dirty terminals are perhaps the most common failure point. Sometimes just cleaning and tightening the connections will allow a vehicle to start. If you vehicle has a wet cell battery, inspect the water level and fill with distilled water if necessary.

How about jumper cables? Do you have them and know how to safely use them? A battery charger can be a life saver. Testers? I'm going into many details on how to do this stuff. There are plenty of resources available. All I want you to do is to give it some thought.

A really good battery may make up for other sins. If something electrical is left on, a good battery will give you more time to discover your error. Should I let one of my fuel tanks run out and air get into the system, being able to really crank over the motor a good long while may allow me to restart with fuel from the other tank.

My van runs on waste vegetable oil. If the veggie is not flushed out by switching to the diesel tank for a while, it will cool down when the engine is shut off. Starting will be impossible with a weak battery, but might work with a strong one. Been there, done that -both ways.

For a “mission critical” vehicle part, it's one thing often overlooked.


Friday, July 12, 2013

More thoughts on jury duty

Ever wonder why people are paid so little for jury duty? Because if you don't show up a police officer will haul you in front of a judge, that's why.

I'm old enough to remember the military draft. Wages in the armed services were pretty low back then, because they could be. Drafted soldiers had no choice. Once they went to an all volunteer force, the military had to increase wages and benefits.

When the state can coerce with force, they don't feel the need to properly compensate people.

If they really thought our jury system was valuable, they'd pay accordingly. Imagine people had the right to refuse. Then they'd have to make the job financially attractive.

Yes, bla bla bla, civic duty, bla bla bla, honor and privilege, bla bla bla.

Maybe I'm just a tad sick and tired of being told something forced on me is a honor.

However, I'd pay money to be on a jury if we could judge Wall Street fat cats. That would be an honor and a great civic duty.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

The same problem for thousands of years

Land -the kings have it, the serfs don't. Any student of history will notice a common element of uprisings is the demand for land reform. It sucks to be landless. A family with a good piece of land is in charge of their lives. They have food to eat and maybe sell. They have a place to build a shelter. With a piece of land it's possible to be an artisan. Nomads are limited in what they can carry. A land owner has a place for his tools, materials and workshop.

Land is stolen from the little guy in a variety of ways. At the point of a sword is an all time favorite, as is taxes. These days we can add in predatory mortgage companies.

The problem with land is that you can't hide it. It stays right there. The more it's improved, the bigger target it becomes.

Nomads, having no land to steal, have some advantages. However, they have some big negatives too. They can't grow crops and stick around to protect and nurture them. Their home has to be mobile. Time spent traveling cannot be spent on other things.

In some ways, the nomad has worse land problems than the farmer. The farmer only needs a few acres of land. The nomad needs thousands of square miles of unfenced, unclaimed or public land to roam on.

Even today's modern nomad, people who live and travel in RVs, have land issues. Often, they rent land in the form of campgrounds. Maybe they'll “dry camp” in remote public lands, but that's not an option everywhere. Thanks to the power of petroleum, they can carry a lot more than the horse carts of old. Some have complete mobile businesses, artist studios, wood workers, mechanics shops -a whole range of small scale businesses. The problem is that the more business they do, the higher population density is needed. In general, those prime places require high fees to stay there.

The whole RV lifestyle relies on good roads and affordable fuel. I'm not too sure how long those conditions will be around. In some areas, the time has already past.

Even the most mobile of them needs at least a nominal home base. Vehicles have to be registered and inspected. A fair amount of day to day life requires a fixed address, even if the nomad rarely or ever actually goes there. Many who live the RV life are retired and claim their children's fixed address, but that doesn't work for everyone. What if the kids want to turn nomad?

The sea based nomad still needs land bases. Even pirates had safe havens to resupply and do their business. It is possible to live like a sea hobo. Plenty of people are doing it. They tend to be very good at anchoring and strangers to marinas.

One of the more successful sea nomads out there is Dave Z in his Triloboat. He relies on the wind, has no motor so is not tied into that whole system of dependencies. His boat is designed to be beached. Once the tide goes out he can perform inspections, maintenance and repairs that other boats would need done in a well equipped marina.

Dave is lucky enough to have friends and relatives who let him use their land. Boats have to be built somewhere.

The sea hobos need their Tortuga. It's hard to build or repair a boat while clandestinely squatting on someone else's land. They need a place where they won't get kicked out of. Who knows, maybe some abandoned industrial waterfront area or a dying resort town will become their home port. For all I know it's already happened and they are wisely keep their mouths shut about it.

If the seas do rise and coastal cities get abandoned, maybe a sea culture will organize among the flooded skyscrapers.

It seems that everyone needs land, at least some of the time. Control the land and control the people. Some things never change. Maybe I shouldn't say never. Maybe I should say, not yet!


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Talking to the judge

Like a good citizen, I reported for jury duty. They were picking juries for 4 trials out of a pool of about a 100 people. The second number picked for duty was mine.

The Clerk of the Court had informed us that if we had any issues, the time to speak up was right after your number was picked. The judge had read a long list of things we might want to talk to him about.

As soon as the judge asked if I could serve, I said I had a few reservations. He called me up to talk with him. To be honest, I was pretty nervous. My concern wasn't the normal scheduling conflict or personal connections to people in the case. My potential problem was with the law itself. We were only told the bare bones of the case, but I explained to the judge that I cannot find a man guilty of a law I think is wrong.

“The law is the law,” he said.

I told him it was a matter of freedom and ethics. The odds might actually fairly low that it would become a problem but according to his instructions, now was the time to express concerns.

After a private conference with the lawyers, he excused me from that case and had me rejoin the jury pool.

Later in the day, I was picked for a different case. Perhaps there was a bit of sarcasm in the judge's voice when he asked if I had any objections to serving.

“No your Honor,” I said. It looked like that particular case would not have the same moral peril as the earlier case. As it turned out, the case only lasted a day.

My civic duty is now complete and they won't bother me for at least 3 years. Better yet, my conscience won't bother me because I stuck to my principles.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What's in your closet?

Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I had to report to jury duty, and the court has a dress code. The code isn't too onerous, as far as these things go. Basically they don't want you show up wearing shorts, a wife beater, and flip flops. Now if they'd wanted that, I could have assembled a wardrobe in short order.

It took some digging, but I found a pair of long pants. What do I need long pants for, it's summer? I do have a pair of old jeans in case I have to hike though the brambles, but decent long pants? Took some searching.

The shirt wasn't too hard to find. One of my daughters bought me a nice shirt for my birthday. It was barely used, and near the top of the pile.

Shoes? I hadn't worn shoes in 6 years. 99% of the time I'm wearing either sandals, or boots in cold weather. My lovely wife must have been searching for some time but she found them. Let me tell you, they felt funny on my feet. I even found a pair of socks with no holes.

The funny thing is, for a Halloween party last year, I assembled a pirate costume from stuff in my closet in 15 minutes flat -right down to a leather tricorn hat. Yes, it's easier for me to dress up like a pirate than a juror. That probably means something.


Monday, July 8, 2013

What's that for?

My 6 year old granddaughter pointed to my recurve bow hanging on the wall and asked what it was. Well it wasn't too long before we had rounded up some arrows, quiver, arm guard and shooting glove. I've a simple bow range on my land across the street.

I thought she'd might be satisfied with a quick demonstration, but no. Before long she had me shooting further and further distances. I was happy just to not lose any arrows in the woods, but the kid had higher standards. She wanted bullseyes. Good thing I hit a few.

Archery stirs something primal in me. Maybe it's in my genes. Take your pick, Native American or Scottish, there are bowmen in my ancestry.

I've a couple recurve bows and a compound bow. They all have more than a few years on them. Even my “modern” compound bow is a relic. That doesn't matter to me, as it works just fine. Sure, the new ones are lighter and faster, but they don't give them away.

Modern bows are long long way from the bows constructed with stone tools. However, there are still plenty of archers building and using traditional bows, right down to knapping their own stone tipped arrowheads. Deer still fall to these old style bows, so who's going to argue with success?

After a trip to my range I see I'm going to have to keep my eyes open for some good kid's bows. It won't be long before the grandkids will go from watching to doing.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Long day on the road

Got in late last night.

My lovely wife and drove a 350 mile round trip to see the new grandkid. We left the wilds of Northern New Hampshire for the hustle and bustle of Massachusetts. It was hot, humid and the van's AC conked out. Still totally worth it.

I used to think that Massachusetts drivers were some of the worst in the world. Now I think they must be some of the best. They are the survivors of a vast demolition derby. Those with Boston driving experience are graduates of a particularly harsh school. Dr. Seuss designed the roads and signs are just to confuse visitors.

There was a heavily loaded pickup truck weaving down the road, with fuel cans and large bags in the back. For all I know it was diesel fuel and fertilizer. The springs on one side were broken. Occasionally the driver would hang out his open window and wave an arm in the air, making odd gestures.

I backed off, as did a couple other cars with New Hampshire plates. The Massachusetts drivers were not intimidated at all and quickly filled the gap. Insanity doesn't impress them. They've seen it all before.

Good to be home in the woods.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Still lifting heavy things

Some days I question the wisdom of having a honking big van than can carry heavy things. When I designed the ambulance to camper conversion I made sure most of the camping stuff is easily removed. Then the vehicle becomes a moving van. The problem with moving vans is that sooner or later stuff has to be moved.

My daughter, 6 year old granddaughter, and I moved the last of my daughter's stuff out of her old apartment. The day was hot and humid. A buddy of mine had already helped me move most of the stuff that takes two people to carry. This day was a zillion trips with boxes and bags.

Once those were unloaded, we hurried over to a bargain barn to pick up a sleeper sofa and a bed. My hate for sleeper sofas goes back to my teen years working in a furniture store. They weight a ton and if you forget to tie them closed, they'll decided to open while you are in the middle of a stairway.

My daughter is strong, but not strong enough to carry sleeper sofas. The guys at the store loaded it in the van. Unloading involved steel ramps, a dolly and a very stubborn old guy. Now I feel qualified to build a copy of the pyramid at Giza.

How did I finish the day? I picked up another 500 pounds of waste veggie oil from a local restaurant. What the heck, the van was set up for moving things anyway.

It is nice to know that a fat old guy can still put in that kind of day. Working out at gym never much interested me. However, just about every day I'm doing something physical. Who's got time and money for the gym?


Friday, July 5, 2013

Granddad again!

My oldest daughter and her husband just had a son. He joins his 4 year old sister. That makes grandchild number five for me. A road trip will soon be in order.

My lovely wife and I married at 20 and had kids right off. It was and is nice to be young enough to be able to do things with the little ones. A couple days ago I was sailing with my oldest granddaughter who's 6. That's old enough to help set up the jib sail. She also did a fine job on the tiller as I went forward to drop anchor.

I was lucky to be able to spend time with my grandparents when I was growing up. I only lost my first grandparent when I was 16. He was 75. The rest got to meet their great grandchildren. It makes me want to take better care of myself. All those little people are fun. Grandparents can get away with things that the parents never can.

Congratulations Jess & Matt. Your son will grow up thinking all the 4th of July celebrations are for him.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day

It's a pet peeve of mine when everyone refers to the US National Holiday as “The 4th of July.” That's just a date. It's Independence Day. Don't forget it.

I'm feeling pretty darn independent. Of course, these days what independence we achieve is often in spite of the government, not because of it.

Violent revolutions have a troubled history. Heck, judging from what's going on on Egypt right now, they have a pretty troubled present.

As an adult I learned that the US revolution was not nearly as neat and tidy as I was taught in school. Imagine that. It's enough to almost make one wonder if it was worth it after all. For me, I'm glad it happened, if only to get away from the silly English Royal Family.

Well, the American Revolution settled our differences with England once and for all -until the war of 1812 that is. How did that work out for us again? Oh yeah, the capital was burned and our big win happened in New Orleans, after the peace treaty had been signed. As far as I can tell, the real winner of was Canada. Fear the mighty yet very polite Canadians.

I'm not too sure how the nation is making out, with NSA spying, corporate control of government, and a massive military industrial complex. On an individual level, I'm more independent than ever. Attitude is everything.

Happy Independence Day!


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Moving and not moving

I helped my daughter move some of her stuff to her new place. It seems I'm always helping her move. To be fair, this time she had no choice. Her landlord lost the apartment to the city for non payment of taxes. For about a month she lived there in a weird limbo of no landlord and no rent payments. Then the hot water tank ran out of fuel. No apartment maintenance either. She's been crashing with the lovely wife and I ever since.

As I get older it gets harder and harder to find friends who'll help me lift heavy things. Too many of them now have bad backs. Nobody asks for help without first asking how one's back is currently feeling.

Fortunately, a friend of mine is both between jobs so has the day free, and has a nice strong back. We concentrated on moving all the stuff that takes two people to carry.

The tables, bed, and 12 volt cooler was stripped out of the veggie van to make room. With all the rain we've been having, it's nice to move things in a big waterproof box. It beats the heck of a pickup truck with a tarp flapping in the wind.

After moving some of my daughter's stuff, my buddy gave me a nice sofa that he'd been storing in his garage. Now all I have to do is figure a way to get it out of the van and into the house.

While at my friend's, I though I'd take a look at his lawn mower that hadn't run in two years. Three other guys tried to fix it before me, without success. Small gasoline motors pretty much break to problems with spark, fuel or air. This one had problems with both spark and fuel, but I got it going.

I was feeling pretty clever -until I tried to start my van and discovered I'd left the lights on and killed the batteries. My lovely wife brought my big battery charger from home and soon it started up. She teased me about leaving the lights on, but then did exactly the same thing with her car. It's been that kind of day.

Still lots of stuff to move, so I'll be back at it.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Weather windows and boat plans

Here in New England we've had a lot of rain and thunderstorms. At least it's not like the Southwest, where it looks like someone left the door to hell open. Dang it's hot out there.

The rain has certainly slowed down my outdoor activities. Yesterday's weather break was just long enough to mow the lawn. It had gotten long enough to lose small children in the weeds. Today I fixed a rattling fender on the veggie van. Clouds moved in soon after.

My boat build is going slowly, but at least it's not stopped. The large tarp suspended over the boat saves my glass work from passing rain showers. Just put 9 oz, 3 inch tape on all the outside seams. It looks pretty good. One more thing to hold the boat together.

I scored some decent stainless steel hardware at Tractor Supply. Sure, it's not “marine” quality, but I can pick up a bag full of washers for the price of one washer at the marine store. Over the last couple of years, the stainless steel from Tractor Supply has held up well in the ocean and lakes.

My lovely wife and I went for a drive over to the other side of the mountains, where it wasn't raining as hard. While poking around in the different shops, I picked up a connector for an outboard gas tank. We are adding another 6 gallon tank, which we can get locally, but the connectors are not available. Marine supplies are pretty hit or miss up here in the mountains.

I've a funny relationship to outboard motors. I'd rather sail. However, when I do decided to use a motor, it'd better work. The boat currently has a 6 hp 2 stroke Evinrude from the 80s. It was extensively rebuilt three years ago. It runs fine, but it is old. Since we plan on a long trip this fall and winter, I wondered about the wisdom of maybe replacing it.

My lovely wife had a good point. We will be coastal sailing around Florida and up the ICW to Virgina. If the motor acts up, then we can buy a new one. It's not like we are going to be 1000 miles from the nearest place that sells outboards. If the motor keeps on ticking that's one less expense for this trip. Besides, who wants to steal an old outboard when there are plenty of new ones on nicer boats?

During the month of July, I'm going to have to make boat time whenever I can. August and September the push will really be on as we hope to leave for sailing in October.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Secret Courts

From the Washington Post: “Secret-court judges upset at portrayal of ‘collaboration’ with government”

Let's see now. These judges belong to a secret court. Sounds like free and open democracy with justice for all to me. Just because the court almost never refuses a government request doesn't mean it's collaboration, even though it looks exactly like that.


Guess what judges, it doesn't matter what legal justifications you hide behind. It doesn't matter that it's for “National Security.” You are not on the side of the angels.

Consider, just consider that those who put life and limb in jeopardy to reveal these secret government programs might be the good guys. They put themselves in harm's way, sacrifice good jobs and status, connections with friends and family, all because something ain't right.

If you are ashamed to have the actions you do in private become public, you are in the same category as adulterers, pedophiles, thieves, embezzlers, and other criminals.

Putting a thin veneer of legality on something doesn't make it right.