Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Journal power

Recently I picked up a nice notebook for small money: quality paper, black leather cover, and a good size for carrying around. I've yet to write in the thing.

It's a little intimidating. Journals are powerful tools. At the end of the summer I'd discovered one of my old journals written years before. There were a lot of “pie in the sky” ideas written down in there. Most of those crazy ideas manifested themselves in my life.

Writing ideas down gives them power. It's not like some sort of magical wish granter. There are real practical reasons journals work. Once written down ideas and plans becomes a bit more real to me. It frees the mind to think of the next thing, or to expand on what was already written. The new ideas are also written down, and so on and so on.

Some call it thinking on paper. I like that. For me, the act of physically writing something down seems to have more power than typing on a computer. It's more real somehow. Journals are like blue prints for building one's life. It concentrates the mind. The Sufi mystics claim a focused mind is the most powerful force in the universe.

Do you know what weakens and disperses a person's energy? Continually talking about what they plan on doing. Ever notice that people who constantly talk about the great things they are going to do never get around to doing them? Scientific studies of the brain shows that talking about something satisfies the brain about as much as doing something. All talk, no action is real.

Journals, on the other hand, do the opposite. The start of a new year is as good a time as any for starting a new journal. It's a good way to reboot one's life. Now I like my life, but nothing dulls the mind like doing the same old thing all the time.

New year. New adventures.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Cannot be outsourced or automated

People's jobs are getting outsourced or automated. There are some things that cannot be done away with.

The arts. No kidding.

A lot of my friends get at least part of their income from artistic endeavors. You don't have to be famous to get at least some income from the arts. A couple of friends make all their income from their creative efforts. There's an artist who's done everything from painting lessons, to painting motorcycles, to business signs, to fine art. His income is uneven and he always seems on the financial edge, but he's maintained his family, a large house, and a big downtown studio for years. It hasn't been easy, but he's still working when his classmates who used to work in factories are unemployed.

Another good friend makes his living singing and playing his guitar. There are a lot of good musicians out there and competition is stiff. He's found a niche playing on cruise ships. The pay is not all that great, but tips are good and last trip he sold out of CDs. A couple months a year on ships keeps his family household going.

Then there are those get at least a tiny income stream. A photographer I know just bought a huge projection screen TV with profits from his sales. The guy's on a small disability pension so the art sales make a big difference in his quality of life. Another friend is setting up a ceramic studio in her home as her business has expanded to the point where it's worth the investment.

I remember when another friend of mine got a royalty check from a book he wrote. It wasn't huge, but it paid for the groceries for the month. It's not exactly money to retire on, but it's real wealth. Writing is a tough gig to break into, but it is possible get at least some income from it. I make no apologies for having ads on my blog as the occasional check from Google is nice to have.

People have been discouraged from pursuing arts and told to get a real job. Guess what, those real jobs are fewer and harder to get. Artistic skill can't be outsourced or automated.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Itchy Feet

Monday the van goes into the shop to get the vacuum pump replaced. Once it's fixed I'll be able to haul the sailboat down to the Gulf of Mexico. It won't be long now before my lovely wife and I will be able to continue our sailing adventures. We'll most likely go for a day sail as a shake down cruise before heading out on an extended journey.

Back in November we had to pull out for my lovely wife to have dental work done. Now we are at square one again. We could drive a couple hundred miles down the coast and launch where we pulled out. Instead, we'll launch from the same place we did last fall. It's not about the destination, but the journey. There are some great places we wouldn't mind seeing again, plus we can see things we missed last time.

While it has been nice to spend time with dad in his retirement park, I'm not ready for a retirement park.

Lessons learned from our last trip should help with the next leg of our journey. We were in pretty good shape after almost a month on the water. Our boat is small, but having a lot of food storage was a huge advantage. It was nice to be able to keep on sailing rather than hunting around for more provisions. The smart phone with Google Maps, Active Captain, charts, and an Internet hot spot was a huge help. Never mind all the books I downloaded to read on it.

That doesn't mean there aren't a few little things we could change. We'll leave some gear behind and add other things. My cabin screen will be replaced with a finer no see 'em screen. I'm also packing more and stronger bug repellents -along with more anti-inch cream. It's the little things sometimes . . .

I'm a big believer in lists. Once something is written down my mind is free to think of other things. I've a to do list, equipment list, and a provisions list. One of the “to do” things is some of that boring business stuff like keeping the bills paid. Most of my bills have been either eliminated or put on automatic payments. However, there are a few pesky things that need personal attention. Would you believe that in this day and age there are still things that need to be paid by check? Yes, I sometimes write paper checks -like some kind of barbarian.

Soon enough we'll be back on the water.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Unconventional Medicine

I had a nice long phone conversation with a good friend of mine. About 6 years ago he had a massive stroke. For a time he was completely parallelized and was unconscious. Later, he came out of his comma. Speech was difficult and he'd often be lost for words. Doctors put him in a nursing home.

Over time, with some physical therapy, he was able to regain the use of his left side. Eventually he was able to move into an assisted living apartment. That was a big step up from the nursing home. His physical therapy stopped, which is normal in these cases. It's expensive and they only expect improvements during the fist year after a stroke.

That's where things stayed for a while. He didn't get any better, but didn't get any worse. He could watch TV, but struggled with reading. Anything longer than a short magazine article overwhelmed him. Reading was slow and he could not retain what he'd read.

Then he decided to do more about his health. He lost weight -about 100 pounds. That got him off insulin and most other drugs. An “energy worker” did some procedures on him. He started going to an acupuncturist on a regular basis.

One day he noticed some feeling in part of his right leg. It doesn't sound like much, but to him it was a big deal. Instead of just being something dragged around, his leg felt like his again. He has no control over it, but at least there's some sensation.

Life got busy and I hadn't heard from him in a while. We talked on the phone last night and he'd made another big improvement. Suddenly he got the urge to try and read a book. He was able to read, comprehend, and retain what he read. Now he's on his third and truly enjoying himself. It opens up a slice of life that had been closed off.

He didn't do alternative treatments instead of regular medicine, but when conventional treatments come to their end, what does one have to lose? The effort paid off for him.

It had also paid off for me when I was trying to recover from lung injuries from firefighting. A martial artist taught me exercises to strengthen my lungs. I learned how to breath all over again. In my case, conventional medicine had actually made matters worse for a time. Once they cut me loose from the system, I started to slowly improve.

The nation is struggling with this whole Obamacare thing. We talk about insurance, but not so much about health. If I've learned anything about health care over the years is that we are responsible for our own. Blindly listening to doctors is a trip to an early grave.

I'm paying more attention to my health as of late. For a time I was so sick that just feeling Okay was wonderful. Now that I've been enjoying sun and salt air and exercise, I see that I can feel even better. Talking to my friend has inspired me to do more.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Of Bug Out Bags and Moats

Every now and then these sorts of articles pop up. We have Wall Street advisors recommending guns and bug out bags.

Then we have the rich putting in moats, of all things.

Now I've got nothing against being prepared. It makes sense to be able to be able to take of one's self and one's family. More is going on here than simply being prepared.

Maybe it's guilt? Those Wall Street folks have much to answer for. They've profited while most people have suffered. Maybe it's fear? Justifiable fear even?

A moat, however, brings it to another level entirely. The symbolism is telling. They will wall themselves up in their castles, raise the drawbridge, and keep the peasants with torches at bay. That's the thinking of a king. Personally, I've never had much use for kings, real or imagined.

We have a class of people who've isolated themselves from the rest of the population. They don't know how “normal” people live. Ignorance breeds fear.

The fearful build moats, armories, gated communities, and have private armies of security guards. The guilty do too.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Day After

I hope everyone survived the holiday in good shape. Ours was quiet here at dad's but not a bad one. Sometimes quiet is good. Thanks to the modern miracle of cell phones and Skype, we were in contact with family and friends far away. It's not like being there, but we can't be everywhere.

Now it's back to trying to find a mechanic I can trust. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but my first choice is to ask the people I trust who they trust. My dad can't help me there as he's been driving new cars lately and hasn't needed a mechanic. At his age he doesn't want to bother with that sort of thing so he drives cars with full warranties.

Part of my problem is that I know how to do the job, but lack the tools and a good workspace. That makes it much harder to give the job over to someone else. When it comes to vehicle repair, there's nothing worse than paying for some mechanic's education. I have to find someone who does these things all the time. That narrows the field.

Then there's the distance factor. How far do I want to drive a van with mechanical problems?

One thing for certain. The van isn't going to pull the sailboat back to the boat launch until all systems are 100%. That's motivation for getting it fixed as soon a possible. The sea is calling.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! -or any other holiday you celebrate this time of year.

I'm taking the day off from blogging and cooking a Christmas dinner.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Mail call and meet ups

Along with the Christmas cards, I received something I've been waiting weeks for. My New Hampshire boat registration and stickers came in the mail. The joys of paperwork. To get a new registration I had to call the town office and find out what I owed the town and state. Then I had to send up two checks and a copy of my old registration, along with a self addressed envelope. Good thing I can get mail at my dad's. Imagine trying to do this while still on the water.

Technically, I should have able to register the boat ahead of time, but the town didn't have the forms and stickers in yet. There's not a lot of call for boat registrations when the snow's about to fly.

After the holidays more snowbirds head south and we hope to connect up with friends from the north. Last year we just missed friends who travel in a truck camper. This year there's a fair chance we'll meet up somewhere, perhaps in the Keys. Also, my wife's old college roommate will be down for a couple weeks. Our sailing route should bring us near their place during their visit.

It can be problematic when people using different modes of travel try to meet up. Of course the sailboat is limited to waterways. Our rate of travel is dictated to a large degree by the weather. Land based friends have schedules, something deadly to boaters. They need reservations to get into the good campgrounds. Most people have fairly short vacations, so that's also an issue.

Now I've seen some nice boats that are large enough to carry full sized motorcycles. They can leave the confines of the waterways and travel out on the open roads. That's rare, but many boaters carry bicycles, which really does make a difference. Sure beats walking, especially when carrying a load of provisions. My boat is too small for a bike, but maybe the next one will be bigger.

Too bad there really isn't a practical boat/car combination. Sure, they exist, but are pricey and tend to be only fair to bad at both jobs. That, and I've yet to see one with sails. (what a mess that would be)
I've given some thought to loading my inflatable kayak on a bike cart and pulling it behind the bike. The kayak is big enough to carry both the cart and the bicycle. It would be a pretty low budget amphibious combination, but would work. What interesting trips one could go on with that rig. No registrations or fuel, plus being able to travel on both land and water.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Bring Out Another Thousand

B.O.A. T -bring out another thousand. Once bitten by the boat building bug, there's no cure for it. I was talking to my dad's neighbor the other day. He had his little fishing boat behind his house, doing some work on it. It drew me like a moth to a flame. The old guy pointed out that no matter what you start out to do with a boat, before long you've spent another thousand dollars. That's pretty much it.

Never mind what a boat repair or even a cheap plywood dinghy is supposed to cost, plan on at least a thousand dollars. There's a sort of mission creep going on. Materials get upgraded, projects expand, and before you know, there goes the money. My dad's neighbor says he thinks he's got about nine boats. Sounds about right to me. Currently he's building a lapstrake double ended rowing canoe. My guess is that he's building it just because it's pretty.

The more boats I look at, the more I want to build one exactly for the way I travel. Some sort of shallow draft sailboat with a rig that can easily be lowered to pass under bridges. After days requesting bridge openings it sure would be nice to just scoot under them.

I've been following Dave Z's latest thoughts on boat building. He's doing the skull sweat for his next boat and it's an interesting process to follow. Now his needs are not exactly the same as mine, but there is significant overlap.

Of course, I've a boat half built sitting in my driveway back home. That project awaits my arrival in the spring. When you've got the boat building disease, it's only normal to think a couple projects ahead.

The sensible thing would be to find a decent used boat that satisfies 85 – 90 percent of my needs and call it good enough. As much as building boats is fun, I'd much rather use them than build them. Waiting to build the perfect boat can keep a person from ever actually leaving. There's much to be said for good enough. Of course, good enough will still cost the occasional thousand dollars. Oh well, I'd rather a boat in the water than money in the bank.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Koreshan and points north

My lovely wife and I spent only a single night at Koreshan State park. It was a good place to break up a long drive. However, there is so much more to do there. One of the cool things is the site was once settled by the Koreshan religion. They had a vision of building a “New Jerusalem” in the Florida wilds. Many of the old buildings remain. One of their tenants claimed that we lived in a hollow earth. They even did scientific experiments to prove it.

During an earlier visit, we paddled down the Estero River to Mound Key, thought to once be the capital of the Calusa Indians.

We did none of those things this time, more's the pity.

Then vacuum pump on the van was starting to go. Diesels engines don't generate vacuum so a pump has to be provided for those things that use vacuum. A big one is the brakes. I noticed the brake peddle needed more and more force to stop the van. I decided to take advantage of the light Saturday traffic and made our way back to my dad's place.

It was a bit a bummer to cut things a bit short, but it'd been a great week and we made it back safely to dad's.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Bahia Honda

We hated to leave our campsite on the water at Long Key. That blow was softened by discovering our new campsite was also on the water.

See the broken bridge in the background?

This photo was shot from up there. It's what passes for a hill in Florida.

This is an interesting park. Four years ago we stayed in the marina with our sailboat and had some adventures. The marina is well protected, but can't accommodate deep draft boats. It suited us just fine. A sudden storm came up in the night. Boats right outside the marina dragged anchor and one was lost. No one was seriously injured, but it was a near thing.

I'm not sure if we'll bother with heading down all the way to Key West. It's pleasant here. We'll try and make it down to Key West in the sailboat in a month or so.


Thursday, December 19, 2013


A steady breeze from the Northeast eased my kayak along. I'd paddled out far enough from the island to catch the wind. Occasionally it was necessary to paddle a bit to keep from getting too far from land. The water is clearer here than I remember. The bottom slid by, every feature visible. The fish, the birds and me, all moving along.

When the end of the island came in sight, I paddled towards shore. By staying close to shore, most of the wind was blocked and I could paddle back to the campsite. That was pretty much my day. After that it was lying around in the sun, reading a good book.

Apparently the world kept turning just fine without me. Nothing too profound about that, but sometimes it's nice to not be too important. Responsibilities are on hold for the duration.

Of course, it's not really paradise. Late at night the paving crew was hard at work. There were times when the sound of heavy equipment drowned out the lapping of the waves. Not for long, but long enough. Then there are rats. Most people camping here don't even know these islands are infested with them. That's pretty much the nature of warm islands everywhere. Our dog, true to the terrier part of her genes, wants to catch them badly. Had her leash been longer, she probably would have. Then there are the occasional biting insects.

But guess what? I'm still happy to be here. The work crews shut down. The rats keep their distance and we are careful with our food and trash. A little insect repellent keeps the bugs at bay. Beats the heck out of freezing. I'll take a real island over some mythical paradise any day.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

As luck would have it

So Tuesday morning I rolled the Sea Eagle Kayak out and started inflating it. My neighbor at the next site came running over, all excited.

“You might be the answer to my prayers,” he said.

I don't hear that too often. As luck would have it, he brought a Sea Eagle kayak but had the wrong inflater connector. Sure enough, my pump fit his kayak perfectly. More good karma in the bank for me.

My lovely wife and I had a great paddle in turquoise waters. Nothing like paddling warm waters in December, singing Christmas carols. Okay, maybe we are a bit warped. Not as warped as the big cruiser that anchored off the island last night. It was completely decorated in white icicle lights. The lighthouse paled in comparison.

Temperatures were -25 Fahrenheit back home. Seems early for that kind of cold. Friends of ours had the water to their house freeze. I know what that's like. Worse, in my opinion, is when the sewer line freezes. Been there, done that, now I'm kayaking in the Keys.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Long Key

That's Long Key for you.

There aren't a lot of places in Florida where it's possible to camp right on the beach. This is one of them. There's not a lot here on Long Key. Mostly, it's just the park. If I had to quibble about anything it would be the road noise from Route1. The island is narrow, so that's pretty much unavoidable.

While we were in Key Largo, my lovely wife and I stopped in at the West Marine Store. We needed a new chart of the Keys and it seemed like the best place to get one. They had exactly what I wanted. Of course, they should. If you can't get a chart of the Keys while in the Keys, where could you get one?


Monday, December 16, 2013

Trip to the Keys

My lovely wife and I were supposed to head down the road to the Florida Keys on Friday. My wife woke up feeling a bit under the weather. No appetite, chills, the whole bit. We postponed our departure until Saturday. We also left a bit later than planned and made a few more stops. No big deal. It took all day, but we drove the 350 mile trip without incident and checked into the campground before dark

It's been about 4 years since we last crossed the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail. Things have changed. It appears a bit more built up since last we crossed the 'glades. Some places that were closed are now open. Then there are the places that were built, failed and are now abandoned. All in a few years. No matter. What I really enjoy about the trip is all the bird life -and the possibility of seeing a panther. How many places in the country have “panther crossing:” signs?

The van's AC blew a high pressure line on our trip down from New Hampshire, so we did without. My New Hampshire friends, in the middle of sub zero Fahrenheit temperatures and a major snowstorm, most likely have little sympathy -not that I'm looking for any.

This campground classifies my van as a “tent.” We are parked in the much less expensive tenting area. What's the difference between a “tent” and a motorhome? If I had a big air conditioner unit on the roof or hanging off the back, it would have to be parked in the regular RV sites. We still have electricity. I'm running my cooler, a fan, this computer, and my cpap. Also brought my electric coffee roaster and grinder. However, my power loads are nothing compared to running a RV air conditioner. (maybe it's best they don't know all the stuff I'm running)

We'll be working our way down the keys, taking it easy. It's good to be on the move again.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Traveling in formation

Many years ago when my lovely wife and first traveling across the country, living in a tent, we found ourselves at Alligator Point in Florida. We were trying to figure out the whole nomad thing. Family and friends were miles away, but there's always interesting people to talk to.

There were three couples, each couple with their own big motorhome. All were former teachers from the same area. Being great friends, they decided to retire and travel together. Each couple had sold their homes to be able to purchase nice RVs. It's actually pretty rare to see three couples sticking together in their travels. They'd been doing it for years, so it worked for them.

They didn't have a set route, but there were some general guidelines they adhered to. For example, during the coldest part of the winter, they always stayed south of Tampa Florida. Once things warmed up a bit, they'd head further north.

It is common to see groups of friends and family camping for a weekend, or even a week or two. Far less common are groups who travel together full time. My lovely wife and I often camp with friends and family for a few days. It's too bad we couldn't take them all with us for some nice extended trips.

Unfortunately, none of our friends or family are in a position to live like nomads for half the year. Some of them might want to, but are not in a position to do so. The best we can hope for is to sometimes cross paths with our friends for a few days. It does happen on occasion, and we are happy when it does.

Of course, like most people, they have to work for a living. I do have one friend who gets the winter off, but he likes snow and cold. If he could travel in the winter, he'd want to leave northern New Hampshire to go to Alaska. Different strokes for different folks.

One of my daughters had tossed around the idea of meeting up with friends in the Caribbean for Christmas vacation. They'd all fly down. Of course, my lovely wife and I tried to figure out what we'd have to do to sail there. It's just as well that fell though as my lovely wife and I would like a slightly bigger boat for Caribbean travel. A bigger boat is just not in the budget this year.

I think it'd be fun to travel with my old friends, but that might prove interesting. They are just as independent and stubborn as I am. We'd be lucky to agree on the same destination. Ever try and herd cats?

That's why the retired teachers impressed us so much. They found a way to travel together and were still smiling.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Not Just Solar Panels

I've been going on and on about how solar panels have some down in price and are such a good deal. Technology has come a long way. However, a stand alone solar electric system consists of more than just panels. There are some other components, and most of theme have also come a long way.

The electricity generated by the panels has to regulated so as not to damage the battery bank. For that there's a device called a charge controller. When first installed, my system had a simple Pulse width modulation (PWM) controller. It was dead simple and reliable, but not as efficient as the maximum power point tracker (MPPT) type. My system had a big jump in efficiency when I switched to the MPPT charge controller. In general, they are more expensive than the older type, but prices have come down. Over time, they more than pay for themselves.

That being said, the small solar electric system on my boat is still using a cheap PWM controller. They are dead simple, and cheap, and that's not a bad thing. Besides, it came as a kit with the panel I'm using. There has been no need to upgrade.

After the charge controller, we have the batteries. While there have been some improvements in batteries. For most people they aren't worth the high cost. My house is powered with flooded lead acid batteries, (golf cart batteries) a technology little changed in over 100 years. They work and stand up to abuse that kills more expensive batteries. Their big disadvantage is weight. Lightweight batteries make sense in cars and tools, but weight is not a big deal in a stationary installation. It's not like you are changing out batteries like a kid's toy at Christmas. I change mine about every 10 – 12 years.

Inverters have also been improved. That's the device that turns battery DC power into house 120 volt AC power. Mine is over 20 years old, a Trace 2524. It's old technology but has never given me any problems. Since it ain't broke, I'm not going to fix it. Newer inverters tend to be smaller, cheaper, and lighter.

The power output from my inverter is something called modified sine wave. What does that mean? Utility power is is pure sine wave. Every electric device made is designed to work with it. Inverters that produce pure sine wave power used to be outrageously expensive and inefficient. They've since improved and also come down in price, but are still expensive.

For most uses modified sine wave is good enough. People never notice the difference with the majority of devices. There might be some buzzing in some audio equipment. My microwave makes a humming noise, but it's harmless, if unsettling when first heard. Newer quality inverters lessen those effects. That being said, there are some pretty inexpensive, good enough, powerful inverters. When mine finally dies, I'm probably going to replace it with something cheap.

That's pretty much a solar electric system: panels generate power, a charge controller regulates it, batteries store power, and an inverter makes house current. Of course, it's prudent to have the proper fuse, disconnects and gauges in the system, for safety's sake.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Trip Planning

My lovely wife and I are heading down the Florida Keys for a week. We are leaving the sailboat behind because we want to check out some campgrounds we used to go to. However, the inflatable kayak is packed. We've driven to the Keys a number of times, so we have a fair idea how to go about it.

Instead of worrying about our camping trip, we've started to plan for our next sailing adventure. We've been using Active Captain to plan our sailing trips. It's one of the most useful planning and navigation tools we use. I've even got it on my iphone so I can use on on the boat. However, it been really nice to use my dad's desktop computer with a big screen display. Maybe I need to put my reading glasses on.

So how do we plan? Plans and schedules can be very dangerous things on the water. Yet, one has to have some idea where they are going. My lovely wife and I look at options. Do we take the inside on the ICW? (Intra Coastal Waterway) or do we head out in the open ocean? Do we cut across the state on the Okeechobee Waterway or do we sail down to Florida Bay? What do we if the weather suddenly turns bad? Do we have safe harbors we can duck in? Heck, do we change our plans completely and sail to Texas?

By the time we launch, we'll have our first destination planned, subject to change as conditions dictate. We've looked over enough alternate routes that we can pick them as they come. That's pretty much how we navigate life in general.

Of course, the map is not the territory. Planning only gets you so far. The unexpected is always out there. That just adds a bit of spice to life.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Good News on the Energy Front

Solar electric installations are way up. The United States has surpassed Germany in solar electric output. Only the growth of natural gas power generation has exceeded solar.

That snuck up on me. I've been saying that the price is right for solar. Others have also noticed. The article doesn't say how much of that power is feeding back into the grid and how much is stand alone with battery backup. That's something I'm curious about.

For years my home system has been a sort of hybrid. While I could not feed power back into the grid, I could use it to charge my batteries. This is the year when I've gone completely off-grid, so that's a milestone from me. Prices have come down far enough that adding a bit more solar is a no brainer. I've a few little energy projects to do when I get back home in the spring, but hooking back to the grid isn't going to be one of them. No sense supporting a system I don't believe in.

The most efficient way to use small scale solar is to use it where you make it. Putting power back into the grid keeps the beast alive. The old grid system is horribly inefficient. 2/3 of the power generated is lost in transit. So a power plant burning fossil fuels, using nonrenewable resources, polluting the environment, is not even going to be able to deliver most of the power to customers. Madness.

That being said, even grid tied solar is a step in the right direction. I've seen solar electric installations that were built for he sole purpose of generating income. Month after month, the power company has to cut them a check. If a pile of money fell in my lap, I might do the same thing. Sure beats any return the bank is paying. Besides, the thought of the power company having to pay out money to individuals amuses me.

Solar electric has quietly become a game changer. The best part, it's mostly small scale, the way it should be.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The big prize

For those of you working all your lives for a comfortable retirement, have you any idea what it looks like? What do you imagine it will be?

Long walks on a warm beach? Vacations in exotic locations? Traveling the country in a big motorhome?

Let's say you are super lucky and get a good middle class retirement. First thing, you won't be a kid anymore. You probably won't want to go bungee jumping. Yes, there are those spry old folks who go sky diving and water skiing. How many do you know in real life?

If you do move to a nice retirement community in a warm climate your days will eventually revolve around Monday cribbage night and your three cats. That's actually not the worse outcome. Dad's getting up there in age, and that's pretty much how things are for him now. Throw in a bit of billiards and flea markets and that's about it.

When dad first retired he did a lot of hunting, fishing, and travel. Mom and dad were involved in their community. Of course, dad retired at 52, and never regretted it. He was young enough to do things. His retirement was smaller than if he's worked later but he figures he had some darn good years and the energy to enjoy them.

The big storage lot at the community is full of boats and big RVs. Most don't go anywhere. Maybe they did once. What do most retired people do with most of their days? They watch a lot of TV. Okay, let me go off on a tangent here. Even when they are traveling in a big motorhome or a large motor yacht, one of the first thing they do is set up the TV dish or tie into the local cable system. Cable TV is a big draw for many campgrounds and marinas? WTF?

Okay, it's not a horrible life, but how much of your youth do you want to sacrifice to bad TV in your later years?

Maybe it's a good thing that so many young people realize retirement won't be what it was for their parents and grandparents. If they are smart they won't sacrifice the present for “the big retirement prize.”


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Voluntary simplicity fear

People fear voluntary simplicity. They might hate slaving for the man and paying too much for a lifestyle they don't even enjoy all that much. Even though they don't like the rat race they are afraid to get off the wheel.

They fear that if simplicity doesn't work for them, they'll never get their old lifestyle back. (they might hate it, but it's familiar)

The thing is, the fear is valid. The trip down can be one way. Let's say the guy gives up the big house, the expensive car, and the high pressure job. He retreats to small cabin where he can make a living weaving baskets. His needs are simple. There's no pressure. Six months later he's going stir crazy and wants back in the game.

Getting back won't be easy. There's the six month gap in the resume to explain. He doesn't even own a good suit for a job interview. Then there's the fact that potential employers will figure he's a radical nut for his six months of simple living.

Be careful when making radical life changes.

I've a couple of friends who live downstate. One was going through some issues and was thinking of giving up everything: the job, the house, the wife, the cars -everything. I think he had some idea of backpacking through South America or something like that. My other friend recommended that he come up to see me for a few days.

So my buddy comes up to visit us in the woods. We hang out, take it easy, and have some good conversation. I figured out the big problem. He was in a terrible marriage that was just entering the early stages of divorce. I told him to deal with the divorce then see how the rest of his life looked to him.

Well, after the divorce, the rest of his life didn't look bad at all. The house was sold, but he had a new one built in a lower cost area. The guy remarried and is doing fine. Turns out he didn't really want to backpack in South America. The one thing he really needed to downsize was the high cost wife. She was emotionally expensive.

We hear about people making the big leap into a simple lifestyle. That's a good story. Dramatic. Those who downsize, little by little, into something they are comfortable with, isn't as exciting a story. Now it is possible start out by doing a few small things and eventually living very simply. By moving slowly, a person can figure out if the whole simplicity thing is what he really wants. Also, there's the chance to learn from trial and error along the way.

Unfortunately, the way the economy is today, involuntary simplicity can happen to anyone who works for a living. It's a rougher road than the voluntary kind. Choices are limited and everything has to be figured out at once. Even if you don't want to simplify your life, it wouldn't hurt to give some thought on how to go about doing it. The mental exercise will be good for you. You might even find you like the idea and take a few baby steps in that direction. Being mentally prepared could save you a world of grief in the future.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Who can ruin your day?

The middle class is dead. It's gone. A tiny fraction of them made it into the upper the class. The rest are poor, whether or not they know it. As for the poor -they've dropped right off the map.

The old game is dead. Your bosses just hope you don't know it yet. As long as people keep striving for that American dream, they can keep skimming the cream off the top.

The game is rigged. If the top 1% find themselves impacted by a new law, they call up their pet politicians and get the rules changed. They don't even have to change the law. Changing the way it's enforced is good enough. Haven't we heard of those “too big to go to jail?” The government can't prosecute the big boys as it “would negatively affect the economy.”

The little guy? No such luck. Anyone who works for anyone else knows they can lose their job at any time. Everyone from the big boss miles a thousand miles away to their immediate supervisor can impact a worker's life. They don't even have to fire you. Work condition changes can quickly turn a good job into a living hell. Your good company can be bought out by a bad company and your life goes down the tubes in a hurry.

Do you think owning your own business insulates you from all that? Nope. A different bunch of bozos can ruin your day. Government regulations can turn a small business from a profitable venture to a money loser. Even simple things like road construction can cause a small business to fail. If your customers have to travel miles of bad road and dodge construction equipment, they might not be your customers much longer.

The whole nation, thanks to Obama care, now knows what's it's like to have your life impacted by the government. Work hard. Try to save a few bucks. Get it all wiped out with insurance costs -or medical expenses. Either way it's bad.

What's a poor peon to do?

The first thing is to realize the game has changes, won't change back, and has to be dealt with. One way is to look at around and see how many people can impact your life and ruin your day. Cut down on your vulnerabilities. It might be by eliminating debt, downsizing before you have to, cutting losses and moving on. Maybe it's by having 5 small income streams rather than one “regular” job.

Mostly though, look at those who can casually screw you. This past year my pension income was quietly cut back by a $1,000. I didn't even get a letter. My check didn't show up on and I had to contact the pension system to find out what happened. Now $1,000 won't make or break me, but I felt it. Eventually I'm going to have to better isolate myself from those arbitrary decisions. I suspect that one day the checks will just stop entirely. Plan B is in the works. There will be a few less bad boys who can ruin my day.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tow vehicles and boats

My converted ambulance/motorhome makes a pretty good tow vehicle. It's got a big 7.3 powerstroke turbo diesel engine, so towing a small sailboat isn't too hard. My previous tow vehicle was a Ford truck with the older version of the 7.3 diesel. Both of those beasts were converted to run on waste vegetable oil, so that reduced travel expenses.

Now my lovely wife and I are looking at maybe getting a slightly bigger sailboat in a year or two. The van could easily handle a bigger boat. If it can be put on a trailer, the van can pull it.

Of course, the van won't last forever. Do I really want to be locked into needing a big vehicle to tow a boat? I got a fantastic deal on the van, but I can't count on getting a deal like that again. Also, I can see the end of easily available waste veggie oil. Already it's difficulty to impossible to acquire on the road.

So I'm looking at options. It would be nice to have a sailboat at my dad's in Florida. That would save a lot of towing. In fact, I wouldn't need a vehicle capable of towing a boat 1700 miles. It's only about 20 miles from my dad's to a good boat launch. Heck, I could put a good hitch on my dad's vehicle and borrow it for the short trip. We could travel in a small economy car or even take some sort of public transportation.

Do we really need to stick with a boat that can be trailered? Probably, but only because marina fees add up. I've yet to figure out a really good way around that. Well, besides living on the boat full time. We aren't ready for that either. Too many connections to the mountains of New Hampshire.

Right now there's nothing really wrong with the way we are doing things. However, if I've learned anything over the years is that things change -sometimes all of a sudden. The wheels in my head keep turning, looking over my options. Too bad my lovely wife isn't willing to just sail down from New England in the fall and back in the spring. Oh well, maybe that will change in the future too.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

No More Free Parking

Okay, it's been a while since I've done the car living thing. Now it's van living, so one would think it'd be easier.

In some ways it is. On my southward trip, it wasn't too hard to find legal or at least semi-legal places to park for the night. Of course, what was I getting? A place not too far off the highway where I could shut down for a night's sleep. A vacation destination it was not.

It wasn't that many years ago it was possible to stay overnight, for free, in tourist areas. People think they can pull into a Walmart and spend the night. While it's possible in a lot of places, don't expect to do so near the beach. My lovely wife and I were looking into maybe spending a free night somewhere on our trip down south. Homestead Florida used to have some free overnight parking at big box stores. My information tells me that's no longer allowed.

Florida used to have some free campgrounds in the Everglades. The only free ones I could find are out in the back country that require a hike. Very basic drive to sites with nothing but primitive pit toilets charge money. Might as well stay someplace with services.

It wasn't all that many years ago that there were places to park overnight in the Florida Keys, for free. One could park for the night at a number of places and no one would bother you. That's over. Last time I was in Key West, I discovered that even places I used to be able to park for a few hours now have meters. Forget about trying to spend the night.

There are a couple things at work here. Governments are hurting for revenue, so they are charging for anything they can. Campgrounds and hotels put pressure on big box stores to close their parking lots at night. Then there is the general hate and fear of the gypsy, vagabond, or homeless person. Anyone living a different lifestyle is suspect.

Camping in general has gotten more expensive. My lovely wife and I can manage it for a week, but we used to go camping for months at a time. That's no longer in our budget. Between my income going down and prices going it, we feel the squeeze.

There are people who stealth camp. Right now that works best with minimal gear. Backpackers can head into the brush and disappear. Even kayak campers, if they are careful, can find places to hide for the night. That doesn't mean one won't run afoul of the law or private security. Most of the time a person will be told to move on. However, this is Florida, so one could also get shot. The risks are higher than they used to be.

A boat at anchor is still free, but there are areas that have put in mooring fields and banned the practice. Even so, it's a big coastline and there's still prime anchorages. As long as a boat meets Coast Guard safety standards, there's not a lot to worry about. I hear that some of the more popular hobo sailor areas get raided by the law. As long as there are no drugs on board, there isn't a lot they can can to you. It's just harassment. The guy with big mansion on the water, who has to look at the decrepit boats, pays the law's wage through taxes. Some of my favorite anchorages are away from those mansions, so we haven't been bothered -yet.

I do miss all the free camping spots I used to go to.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Changing gears

My lovely wife and I will be heading down to the Florida Keys next week. We decided to leave the sailboat behind and camp in the van. There's some nice campgrounds in the Keys that we haven't been to in a number of years. Seemed like a good time to check them out again.

We've cobbled together a week in the Keys, staying a 3 different campgrounds: two state parks and a private campground. All these places have excellent kayak and canoeing , so we are bringing the big inflatable kayak. Should be fun.

The inside of the van is clean. Gear has been moved from the boat. It's almost ready to go.

The beauty of van camping is that set up takes less than 5 minutes. It's a pretty low stress way to go. Tent camping isn't all that bad either, especially since we did an awful lot of it. We could set up the tent and organize the site in about 15 minutes. That's faster that some big RVs set up (driven by people who don't know how to use mirrors to back up) Of course, when the rain is pouring down, setting up a tent is a bit of a nasty project.

My lovely wife tells me I might have to buy her a nice dinner in Key West, so I'd better plan the budget accordingly. Sounds good to me.

Sometime after New Year's Day, we'll head back out on the sailboat. Our launch point, route and finale destination is still up in the air. Who knows, we might end up back in the Keys on the sailboat. We've time.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gun stores with dad

My dad has always enjoyed target shooting and hunting. While he hasn't hunted in a couple years, he still enjoys shooting. There's a nice local range run by a good group of people. Dad used to shoot his large caliber handguns there, but time has taken its toll. Arthritis in his right hand has made that very painful.

However, he's discovered he can still shoot .22 caliber handguns without any problems. That's been a big boost to his moral. He can still participate in a sport he loves. Recently he bought another .22 revolver. It shoots both .22 and .22 magnum.

Thus began the quest for .22 magnum ammo. It's not the most popular caliber in the world, but it used to be common and available everywhere. Dad has dragged me to a half dozen gun stores in the local area and none have any in stock. Even regular .22 ammo is often out of stock. I'd heard the shortage had eased, but there's no sign of that in this area.

We've walked into gun stores with few guns and no ammo. It's surreal enough to seem like a bad dream. The few guns on display are price four times higher than they were ten years ago. Sure, there's been some general inflation, but not that much.

My dad was able to score a box of .22 magnum at a flea market. I bought a small box of 410 slugs, which I haven't seen in some time. It's not like I needed them, but just finding them for a reasonable price got me excited enough to buy them.

It is possible to find ammo, but maybe not exactly what you want. Reasonably priced ammo quickly disappears from the shelves. Small caliber target shooting used to a fairly inexpensive past time. Now it hurts to shoot ammo that will cost big money to replace.

I do hope to get out on the range with dad before we head out. His eyesight isn't want it used to be. His hands sometimes have a tremor. There's arthritis in his shooting hand. With all that, it's a pleasure to see him shoot. The old man still hits the bull's eyes.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bad seafood

Monday was a good day to wire. The boat trailer now has nice new LED taillights. I got tired of constantly repairing the old ones. The boat itself got a few wiring upgrades while I was at it.

It took three days of killing fire ant nests before the boat could safely be worked on. As it is, one manged to bite me anyway. Persistent little monsters.

The boat smells like bad seafood as the barnacles and other sea growth died. A little scrapping, a little power washing, some bottom paint, and we'll be good to go again.

Dad has plans for us today, so the boat projects will have to wait.

One thing I noticed while on the boat is that it's not always easy to resupply. Marinas seem to carry the same handful of things in their parts and service department. Good hardware stores can be hard to find. Lord help me, I even missed Walmart. Good thing we had a lot of prepper food on the boat.

My lovely wife and I are keeping busy and having fun. Dad seem to like having us around, so it's all good.


Monday, December 2, 2013

City Vs Country revisited

It's a never ending debate. In a collapse situation is a person better off in a city or in the country?

What has happened historically? Heck, what's happening now? Right now the world's population is heading into cities and abandoning the countryside. Even in a bad economy, there are more opportunities in the city. There's more people and economic activity in a densely packed area. Ideas are more easily shared. People will put up with miserable living conditions just for the chance to make it in a city.

The argument is that people can be more self reliant in the country. Yep, they could, but rarely are. Too often the country house is totally dependent on a nearby city. They are at the end of a long line of services: electricity, Internet, communications, and roads. The country person is dependent on a car to drive to work and pick up supplies. Security in the country can be an issue. A tiny gang of ruffians can overpower isolated country houses.

The country is subject to the politics will of the urban areas. In the Great Depression, perfectly survivable homesteads were lost to bankers. If the densely populated area can rip off the sparsely populated country, it will happen. That's what happens in a economic collapse. The city will eat the country.

History and archeology has shown us plenty of abandoned cites, so something must happen. Plenty does. Cities are choice targets for invading armies. Without water and/or food, cities die in an ugly manner. The dense population is more subject to plague. Cities can die horrible deaths.

Then they can die from changes in the conditions that made them great in the first place. Trade cities die when new cheaper routes open up. The things they produced that made them great get produced cheaper in other places. Detroit anyone?

When civilizations collapse and cities fall, all that's left is the country. At some point access to food and water trumps everything. Well set up country places show their value then. It doesn't even take a major collapse for country places to prove their worth. During the great depression farms not in debt survived.

Personally, I'm a country guy. The bright lights of the big city compare poorly to starlight and moonlight. To make it work, the property has to work for you. It can't just be a place to sleep at night. If it has it's own water, alternative energy, and gardens, there's hope. If you can live comfortably for months on end without going into town, then country trumps city.

There are many factors that can tip things one way or the other. Sometimes it's just luck. Of course, good luck happens more often to the well prepared, be they in the city or the country.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Last year's electronics

Nothing is as unpopular as last year's electronics. Guess what? This year's “must have” electronic gizmos will soon no longer be fashionable.

I can't help but notice all the ads for “must have” phones, tablets, and game systems this year. Yes, most of these things are at least somewhat better than last year's model. So what? There really isn't any one thing out there that's a game changer. Remember when personal computers got big? How about the first iphones? Before that, ipods? The electric light bulb? Well, maybe you won't remember the light bulbs, but they were once the big thing.

Actually, out of all those, maybe electric light was the big game changer. Work, play, education -just about all human activities, were no longer slave to the big natural light in the sky.

There is nothing being offered this year that's as exciting as light bulbs.

I don't see any product that promises to change the way we work and live. Maybe next year?

Of course, I most likely won't have the next big thing until it's out of date. My TV at home is a 19 inch not-a-flat-screen. The computer I work with day to day is a couple year old netbook. My lovely wife just bought a few albums for our record player.

So I've got a weird relationship with technology. My house is powered mostly by “vintage” solar panels. The 20 year warranty has expired. (still cranking out power) For me, at the time, those solar panels were game changers. Clean electricity from sunlight is a thing of wonder. We also had high efficiency lighting when everyone else was using 100 watt bulbs. (great heaters, not so efficient for light)

Electronics and technology in general are something we carefully study to see if it'll be worth the investment. Often, last year's electronics are fine for the job. One example: my daughter gave me her old iphone 4 when she upgraded. It's been a useful travel tool: communications, gps, marine charts, tide tables, weather and e-mail. Amazingly useful, but the new models don't offer a major jump in utility for me, so it's not worth it.

Then there are those obsolete electronics we pretend we never wanted. How about Palm PDAs? Weren't those great? A whole bunch of tools in a pocket device. Of course, now all those functions have been combined with phones. (However, I'm not nearly as fast with a iphone keyboard as I was with a Palm stylus)

Laser disks? Digital audio tape? Betamax? (buddy of mine bought one of the first ones for big money back in the day.)

Regular paper books are still around -and popular too, so that's interesting. Maybe the next big thing won't even be electronic. That's something to think about, isn't it?

Anyway, just don't carried away with all the advertising hype this time of year. I don't see anything “new” out there worth the cost of being an early adopter. Ask yourself how you'll feel about it a year from now.