Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Back at it

The house is down to just my lovely wife and I right now. The last of the grandchildren was handed off to her father last night.

Our list of things to do before heading south has gotten longer instead of shorter. Issues that I thought were taken care of have to be revisited. Other things like an extra trip to the dentist have popped up.

Right now too much time and effort is going into just trying to keep warm.

Oh well, this too shall pass.

We had a great visit with friends and family over the Christmas break.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Off to the real world

Greetings loyal readers. I've got a house full of company the next few days so posting might be pretty hit or miss.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Long distance family

Like many Americans, our extended family stretches from coast to coast. It's amazing that any of us mange to get together for the holidays.

Thanks to the miracle of modern high speed communication we can keep in touch. Skype lets us see each other face to face.

It's surprising that so many people still send actual physical Christmas cards. They must have meant so much more back in the day when long distance communication meant writing letters. It is reassuring that the Postal Service still exists, even if it's not the only game in town anymore.

We take our modern travel and communication for granted. If they were suddenly cut off the world would become a much bigger place once more. Our families would be distant, not just in miles, but in time. A half day's airplane flight equals many days of foot travel. Letters take time to get to their destination. In the past, by the time a letter arrived the letter was old news.

Someone would get a letter that “grandma's feeling poorly.” By the time the letter got to its destination grandma died and was buried. Today someone could get a phone call or e-mail, book a flight and be by her side as she passed.

That sad thing is that even with so many fast ways of keeping in touch, so many families drift apart.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Charlie Brown Christmas Trees

Everyone remember the classic animated Charlie Brown Christmas Special? Charlie picked up the saddest looking little Christmas tree. A little decoration and love and it was just fine.

This year that's the tree we've got. I'm not sure how much decoration and love can help it. Charlie might have passed it up.

Since when does a Christmas tree have to be perfect? Tree farms do a pretty good job of growing and preparing some good looking trees. Maybe I'm too cheap, but I have a hard time shelling out good money for a tree. Instead, I put up with a little “character.”

I might have gone too far with this one. In my defense it was getting dark and Christmas waits for no man. This poor tree wasn't long for the world anyway. Sometime in February the tree trimmers are going to clear out around the power lines. This poor little tree was right under the lines.

Might as well have it go in a burst of glory.

Merry Christmas everyone!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Crunch time

It's funny how some folks think of a financial collapse as if it's the end of the world. It's not.

When a currency fails the economy stops working. Now since most goods and services depend on a functioning financial arrangement that's a very bad thing indeed. However, it's not the end of the world.

In a way, a financial collapse is a weird thing. It's the failure of an idea as much as anything. Currency is only as good as people's faith in it. When no one thinks money has any value, it doesn't.

The weird thing is that there are still factories, workers, supplies, and all the other necessary things are still there. All that's missing is the financial arrangements that allow goods and services to be exchanged.

When the Soviet Union collapsed some factories did elaborate barter agreements to keep functioning. Barter works, but it's not nearly as smooth as a working currency. The workers were often paid in things like big chicken dinners, so at least they didn't starve.

Some countries struggled on when their currency collapsed because they were already using a lot of another country's currency. In the recent past many held onto American dollars for that purpose, but that might not be a good bet these days.

When an economy can't find a way around a failed currency, things go from bad to grim. High unemployment becomes no employment. Services fail, everything from water to lights to Police and Fire.

Many countries, including the United States, have experienced currency failure. It's not pretty. At the very least countries go through a depression. However, a country in depression, while suffering, still sort of mostly functions. Rarely does everything totally fall apart.

Of course, it's been a long long time since the United States has experienced such a financial failure. The world is a different place. We are dependent on a web of global systems working well. It could get interesting.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dystopian Grocery Shopping

My lovely wife asked me to driver her around so she could do some last minute Christmas shopping. This was the sort of shopping where it's best that the husband stay in the car. Rather than hover around in the store impatiently I sat in the van and read a book. Believe me, it was better that way. She wasn't shopping hardware or gun stores so I had no business going in.

Since we made the 50 mile trip to where there's real shopping, we thought we might as well pick up a few groceries. Here's where it got surreal. The novel I was reading was one of those Dystopian collapse of society stories. I'd just finished reading the part where everything is falling apart. People have panicked and are mobbing the grocery store.

I set the book down and then headed into a grocery store. The place was packed. People were in a hurry to do their last bit of holiday food shopping. Tempers were running high.

For just a second there I felt that I'd better load up the shopping cart with anything that I could find while the money was still good and hit the road before the shooting starts. Then I took a deep breath and told myself it only looks like a Dytopian collapse novel. It's just normal holiday stress.

Maybe I should have read a Western or a Fantasy instead.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Boats in the snow

I have got to stop obsessing about winter. It's taken over my mind and I can't seem to write about much else.

Things are looking kinda weird around the house. We've had snow on the ground for quite a few weeks. I'm hoping for a warm day so I can take all the snow off my boat. My porch and mud room are crowded with boat gear, everything from a trolling motor to anchors. It doesn't blend in all that well with the harsh winter conditions.

There's a certain amount of cognitive dissonance caused by preparing for boating while dealing with winter cold and snow. It doesn't matter how many years I've been doing this, it's always a bit strange. One year I had to wear snowshoes to drag my canoe up from the lake. Another year there was so much ice on my sailboat that it didn't all melt until South Carolina.

Last year we left on October 10th. It was much easier to get ready. Temperatures were moderate, no snow on the ground, and it was easy to prepare the van and boat trailer. On the flip side, we came back at the end of March -way way too early. Everything was still buried in deep snow and there were many subzero days. It took a week to get my water supply line thawed.

We hope to come back once the snow is gone and everything is thawed. That might no be until sometime in May. While it's a pain to leave in the winter, coming back in the warm weather should make up for it. That's the plan anyway.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Curse the darkness

Here in the Northern Hemisphere we are experiencing some of the shortest days of the year. Well, that's not exactly true. The days are still 24 hours. What we are missing is sunlight. It hasn't helped that we've had a lot of snowy, rainy, and just plain overcast days. When we do get a sunny day, it doesn't seem to make much of an impact. By the time the sun struggles over the eastern mountains it seems it's almost getting ready to set behind the western ones.

My solar electric system is struggling. There are two factors working against solar electric this time of year. The lack of sun is a major issue, but there is another problem. The battery bank for my house is in a very cold basement. Cold batteries are unable to store as much power as warm batteries. That's one of the reasons your car might not start on a winter's morning.

The batteries are enclosed in a vented box. That retains some heat and keeps the batteries from freezing. I could insulate it better and that would help. As for the solar panels, cutting a few big Hemlocks would give me a small amount of extra sun exposure. However, in the summer those big trees are one of the reasons the house doesn't need air conditioning.

My battery bank can be charged up either from a generator or the grid. Keeping a battery bank charged up prolongs its life. Should there be a major power outage we'd be able to go days just with the stored power in the batteries. That's a huge benefit. Generators are nice, but it's not very efficient to fire up a generator when you just need a light to get to the bathroom. With a battery bank generators can be run under load for short periods of time. That saves fuel and wear and tear on the unit.

It used to be possible to turn the battery bank charger on from the comfort of my kitchen. A heavy duty relay failed so now I have to go down to the basement to manually set the timer on the charger. If I was going to spend the whole winter up north I'd fix it. Since I'm heading south in a few weeks, it's not worth spending the time and money on it right now.

The lack of sun affects people too. Some suffer from Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): depression brought on by the lack of sunlight. Most people in the north have chronically low vitamin D levels. I'll be taking D3 supplements until I get far enough south to run around in shorts. People are solar powered too.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Less Joy out of Driving

Every year driving for me gets just a bit less fun. Now it appears that some states that accept EZ Pass are using the transponders to see if you are speeding. It's already used as a tracking device. Transponder information has also been used in court to prove where a person was located.

I don't have one, but living out here in the woods I'm a long ways from the nearest toll booth. If I had to drive through one every day I might feel differently about it. As it is, when I go through a toll both, I almost always go to the lane with a real live human in it. People like me keep them employed.

Some roads have cameras that scan your license plate and then send your bill in the mail. My only experience with that was outside of Miami. At the time I was driving a high ground clearance pickup truck pulling an empty boat trailer. That must have messed up the system somehow as I never got a bill.

How long will it be before transponders become mandatory? Maybe they won't even bother with transponders and just track everyone using their cell phones?

Remember when people would talk about the freedom of the open road? It's like US freedom in general: for a certain value of free, within certain parameters, and as long as you can pay for it.


Friday, December 19, 2014

International Developments

Two things really caught my attention over the last few days. The economic situation in Russia and the Obama administration shift towards Cuba.

The Russian situation is moving very quickly. The Ruble has been in a long slow slide, but now has gone over a cliff. Attempts to shore it up by raising interest rates have only panicked Russians. People are in a hurry to turn their rapidly depreciating currency into real hard goods. Some retailers have suspended sales because they don't want to take Rubles while they are in free fall. The situation is so bad that Russians are trying to convert their currency into American Dollars.

Instability in Russia is very dangerous, especially with Putin at the helm. He has a record of turning to military action when faced with domestic trouble. In the past, demonstrations of Russian military power greatly increased his popularity.

Then again, Russia might be even more dangerous without Putin. Imagine if Putin died by accidentally stabbing himself in the back with a ski pole or shooting himself eight times in the head. That would cause a huge power struggle on top of the economic chaos. Putin has crushed all effective political resistance. There are no other politicians of sufficient stature to smoothly take over the government. Who knows how it would all shake out?

The Cuban situation is of particular interest to me. Take a marine band VHF radio down to the Florida Keys and listen to the Coast Guard broadcasts. Few days go by when mariners are not advised to keep an eye out for things like people on an over crowded raft. There is still a steady stream of people leaving Cuba by anything that floats. Last winter while we were down there three Cubans attempted the crossing on kite boards. One made it. The others had to be rescued at sea so were sent back to Cuba.

While down to the Keys I talk to a lot of people at marinas. Canadians can legally visit Cuba and bring back tales of how beautiful the beaches are. They say it's like the way Florida was 50 years ago. A number of Americans also make the short crossing to Cuba. Cuba doesn't stamp their passports so they don't leave a record of the visit.

One guy told me he'd be damned if he was going to let the government tell him where he can or cannot go. The US Coast Guard caught him coming back from Cuba once. In the end he paid a $3500 fine. It didn't bother him at all. I met the guy at the little marina on Bahia Honda Key. I suspect he was waiting for a good weather window to go back to Cuba. When the weather cleared he was last seen heading south.

Keep an eye on Russia. Russians have a long history of tolerating immense hardships. However, Russia now has a generation of people who are immersed in consumer culture. Their patience might be much shorter than it used to be. Things are changing daily and remember that Russia has nukes, and not just one or two of them like North Korea.

As for Cuba, well, I won't mind taking a boat there myself someday. It's kinda crazy to ignore the fact that there's this honking big island just off US shores. Now I understand the politics and have talked with Cuban exiles. However, I'm one of those who think more normal relations between countries are a good thing.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Next car

One of the best cars I've owned is a 1982 Mercedes 240D. It had about a 100,000 miles on it when I bought it. My lovely wife was working 50 miles away on the other side of the White Mountains. We also used this car on our extended months long winter trips. During the years we owned it we put on an additional 400,000 miles. That's a lot of hard driving.

It was the test vehicle for my vegetable oil conversion experiments. With a 19 gallon veggie tank in the trunk and 28mpg, the car had good range. One year I had a small utility trailer with jugs of veggie in it. The car went 3000 miles without a single gas station stop. My lovely wife fell in love with that car. They built them solid. It wasn't fast, accelerated like a fat man jogging, but ran and ran and ran.

In the end road salt took its toll on the body. The doors and floors were rusting out, all the brakes and rotors were due for replacement, and the exhaust system was also going. That's a lot of money to invest in a car with a half million miles on it. I just could not justify the expense.

Currently my lovely wife is driving an old Cavalier that we inherited from one of my daughters. My mechanic has already informed me that it won't pass the June safety inspection. Rust takes its toll. So next summer we'll be looking for a replacement.

After careful consideration I think we'll try to find another old diesel Benz from the 80s. There are still quite a few of them around and some are still in good shape. Even if I've got to put some money in one it will be worth it.

In this case, they just don't make them like they used to.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Economic rumblings

There's a lot of economic insatiability in the world right now. We all know about the drastic change in the price of oil. While that certainly feels like a good thing for most of us, for other's it's a disaster. Countries that have come to rely on a high price of oil are in trouble. That's one of the reasons Russia's currency is going down the crapper.

The housing market might be in another downturn. China's overheated economy shows signs of coming down to earth. Japan keeps sliding further and further into recession. Other markets are experiencing downturns of their own. In fact, most of the Eurozone is pretty weak and shaky right now.

So what's going to happen next? Darned if I know. If 2008 and the housing market collapse taught us anything is that the Powers That Be can change the rules to suite them. Bad bank loans were turned into government debt. That's quite the magic trick. By the “rules” of the game those banks should have gone down. A lot of bankers should have gone to jail for blatantly breaking the law. Instead of jail is was cigars and bonuses all around.

So the question comes down to this: what can I do about my unease towards the financial system? Someone at my pay grade will never get the real hard numbers needed to make an informed decision. All I can do is look at past trends and potential threats. With that in mind, I have made a few changes.

I've cleaned up a lot of debt. My house mortgage has been moved to a new bank. The old one seems to be having a slow motion run on the bank. For the past year people have been steadily closing their accounts. Today I just opened a new saving and checking account at a more solid institution.

If I had a lot of money I'd worry about the government possibly doing a Cyprus maneuver and raiding personal savings. As it is, there's not much in the bank to worry about. Right now it's not a bad idea to add more to preps like food storage. Some actual cash money on hand is always handy in the early days of a financial collapse. Most people won't know what to do with gold or silver, but a stack of $20s will grab their attention.

We may continue to bumble along or things might suddenly completely fall apart. Nothing I've done so far will hurt me much either way. Let's just hope that governments don't do what they often do in times of financial turmoil: start a war.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

One in the hand

I love these little guys. Chickadees always cheer me up on a winter's day. This is one of the things I do rather than watch television.

This is a Red Breasted Nuthatch making a quick exit. He's a bossy little bird that demands respect from the Chickadees.

Only wish I had my camera handy the day two Blue Jays and a Squirrel were fighting over the seeds. While they were going at it the little birds were darting in and out and making off with the loot.

Chickadees were landing on my finger even before my wife decided to start feeding them. They are friendly birds. Now I can't do anything outside without putting out a handful of seeds first. If I don't they buzz all around me. Can't even check the mail without them sitting on the mailbox.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Winter: everything takes longer

We have plenty of snow and ice on the ground this time of year in Northern New Hampshire. I can't believe how much of my time has been lost due to winter conditions. There's all that time lost shoveling snow. Come spring it all melts anyway, leaving no trace of all that work.

The new neighbors are doing extensive renovations to their place. They are in the middle of replacing the roof. Everything is wrapped in giant tarps. Massive space heaters are going full blast. In the winter, not only does everything take long, it cost more too.

So why in the heck do people attempt such big jobs in the winter? Well, if you didn't do anything in winter, there won't be enough months in the year to get things done. Still, you won't find me doing a roofing job in the snow.

A friend of mine is in the middle of changing a truck transmission and he's working outside. Imagine lying on your back in the snow while working with parts so cold they become brittle could break. Large heated garages are at a premium around there.

Once I changed a car's water pump when it was 35 below zero. I had to keep running into the house to warm up. When the job was done I discovered the part's store had sold me a defective part. The job had to be done all over again.

It's a darn good thing everything looks like a Currier and Ives winter postcard. I must admit it's darn pretty. Even better is looking a the snow from my daughter's massive hot tub. That's one way to deal with winter. If winter's going to slow everything down, might as well find a good way to relax.


Insurance Disclosure

From time to time I rant about medical insurance. Recently I wrote a blog ranting how none of the insurance packages being offered in my area did me any good. My lovely wife convinced me to take another look. She worries about me.

There was a plan that was affordable, but it didn't cover any of the doctors in my area. Just out of curiosity I gave it another look. Much to my surprise all the local doctors are now covered by that system. Either the web site had a glitch the first time I checked it or the plan just expanded.

A few years ago when I'd dropped insurance coverage my cost had risen to almost $1000/month. That was totally out of reach. The plan I signed up for will cost me less than $350/month. While I hate to spend money on something I might not use, it's not going to break my budget.

I am one of those people who benefits from the new rules about preexisting conditions. Had the old rules been still in place they would not accept me.

It's still a messed up way to run a health care system. A wise man takes care of his own health and only relies on the system for things he can't fix himself. As a disabled firefighter I've learned how to manage my issues with alternative treatments. At least now I'll be covered in case I do something stupid like fall off my roof and break a leg.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

That's a line from the famous song, “The Christmas Song.” It's only subtitled “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” but that's what most people call it.”

It did get me thinking about Chestnuts. Chestnuts once made up to a quarter of the Appalachian forests, before blight greatly reduced their number. America now imports the vast majority of chestnuts consumed in the country.

Can you imagine what a huge food source those nuts must have been to the Native Americans? They were abundant, energy and nutrient dense, plus easy to collect. Combined with other abundant nuts like oak and beech, it wasn't all that hard to keep from starving. If the hunters came back empty handed, there was always something to eat.

In my local area the only really abundant forest nut is the beech. When I was a kid deer hunting with my dad I used to eat a mess of those. Might have missed a few chances at deer because I was looking more at the ground by my feet than I should. Any nuts missed in the fall are often still edible after the snow melt in the spring.

Our local oaks tend to be mostly the red oak trees. They were were a last resort nut in times of starvation as they contain a high amount of tannin. I read that letting them rinse in stream in a mesh bag overnight was how the tannin was removed. Maybe I didn't do it right because after soaking overnight they were still pretty bitter.

Chestnuts, on the other hand, are pretty tasty. It's funny that the American Chestnuts are gone, but the song remains.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Escaping the Beast

I just love shoveling snow in the rain. Our foot of snow has been followed by two days of freezing rain. Shoveling heavy slush is so much fun that I've been pacing myself so as not to use it all up in one day. With the extra time inside I've been dealing with the beast of modern life: paperwork. There are so many stupid forms that have to be dealt with in modern life.

The strange thing is that I've been doing my best to simplify my life. In spite of that, it seems that every single time one thing is simplified, some other development moves in to take its place. I can't imagine how out of control it would all become if left on its own.

It's been said that dying empires become more rigid and regulated in their last days. What can one do in the face of such powerful historical forces? The less one depends on the system the fewer strings one finds attached. When the great beast gasps its last and good down good it's a fine thing if those strings are too weak to pull you down too.

When I was a kid I thought it'd be easy to go live in a cabin in the woods. As an adult, I fine it sure beats the heck out of city life, but nothing is free. At the very minimum the tax man has to get his pound of flesh. That alone requires a certain amount of engagement with the system. That requires the occasional day of check writing, phone call making, and electronic form filling.

Almost makes me miss shoveling slush in the rain.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Snow isolation

Tuesday evening around 9 p. m. I finally got around to picking up the mail. By then there was a good foot of heavy snow on the ground. The town had yet to plow. Only one car had driven on the road. His vehicle was low enough that the snow between his tire tracks was all churned up from the car's passage. A few more inches and he might not have made it home.

Now imagine there were no snow plows. The roads would soon become impassable until spring. Without modern snow plows distances were a whole lot longer in the old days.

Did you ever wonder how roads were plowed in the horse and buggy days? They weren't. Large heavy wooden rollers would be pulled by a team of horses. The snow would get complicated into a hard layer that people and their animals could travel on. No wonder trips into town back in the old days was a big deal. Some of the old folks in town remember how it was, so it wasn't all that long ago.

Those horse teams are long gone. So how would someone travel any distance in the winter? Snowmobiles work. Unfortunately, they don't work as well as they used to. Newer machines, with a few exceptions, are designed to travel on packed and maintained trails. Few can make their way though fresh deep snow.

Let's assume that the roads are not being plowed because there's either no fuel or an EMP type event has disabled the machines. How can someone travel?

With great difficulty. Skis maybe, but most cross country skis are designed for groomed trails. You'd better have ones designed for virgin snow. Snowshoes would do the job, but they are an awful lot of work. Breaking trail in deep snow is exhausting. This is where it pays to have more in your group. The first person in line has a hard time. The second person finds the going a lot easier. The third and fourth person in line are walking on packed trail. The trick is for the lead person to break trail for a short while, then step aside to let the rest of the group do the hard work. He falls to the back and eventually makes his way to the front again as the others tire.

There is one advantage to snow travel. It's possible to carry a heavy load in a sled. That's good as snowshoe travel is slow and it could take days to get anywhere. That takes a lot of survival gear in the winter.

Then there's dog sleds, but that's a major investment in dogs, training and equipment. It's a great hobby, but no one is going to keep a dog team, “just in case.” However, it is possible to keep a good pair of skis or snowshoes, along with a toboggan. If you live in serious snow country, it's something to consider.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Throw another novel on the fire

At one time my lovely wife ran an on-line used bookstore. We picked up a lot of books in bulk. You never knew what you were going to get, but it didn't matter. It only took a handful of decent books to make the purchase worthwhile.

That's how we ended up with a box of Danielle Steel novels. I've got nothing against her personally. She has a hardcore group of followers that buy her new books. There's almost no market for her old ones. However, mixed in with hardwood scraps they burn nicely in the woodstove.

I was reminded of that scene in the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” where everyone is freezing in a library. They have a big fireplace but can't decided on what books to burn for heat. Finally someone points out they have a whole big room full of tax law books. Nobody had any objection to burning those.

I've never burned books before. The Nazis gave the whole book burning thing a bad name. It should have a bad name. However, an awful lot of books get discarded or sent to the pulper. The fact of the matter is that there is only a limited market for used books these days.

Some markets are more limited than others.

Right now it's snowing pretty hard. Thanks to Danielle Steel I'm saved a trip to the woodpile.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

One issue with wood heat

My lovely wife and I were gone from the house Sunday. Currently we are only heating with woodstoves. That requires someone to be around to keep the home fires burning. Sunday morning I fired up the kitchen stove, but we left before it had a chance to really make the house toasty. My daughter came in during the afternoon and fed the stove.

My lovely wife and I didn't get back home until almost 1 a. m. Monday. The outside temperature had dropped down to -5 Fahrenheit. The part of the house furthest from the woodstove had dropped into the low 40s.

I stoked up the kitchen stove but decided I really had to get some sleep. By morning the outside temperature was down to -11 and it was pretty cold inside the house. That is when I decided to get serious and lit the massive woodstove in the basement. Between that and the kitchen stove it finally started to get warm. Even so, it took all day to get the house really toasty.

If we were going to be staying for the whole winter I'd buy some heating oil and hook up the hot air furnace. That way we could leave the house for a few days without worrying about everything freezing solid.

It's enough to make me miss living in a one room hunting camp. In a couple of hours the woodstove could heat it from subzero to shirtsleeve temperatures. There was no plumbing to worry about freezing. Bathroom facilities were an outhouse. Modern houses have more comforts, but they are a lot less robust. I'm just happy no plumbing froze and burst.

Woodstoves are great, but someone has to take care of them.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Day off

No post today. Catch you all later!


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dashing through the snow

Saturday we got hit with another snowstorm. It started late Friday night and went well into Saturday evening. Temperatures were such that the snow was mixed with freezing rain. Not the best driving conditions.

In spite of that, my buddy and I hooked up his 16 foot trailer to the veggie van and drove over to VT. There's a furniture mill that sells its hardwood scraps from 7 to 8:30 a. m., Saturday's only. I'd been trying to get out there for weeks, but always something came up.

This Saturday it was snow. I decided that if I could make it up the mountain road my friend lived on, we could probably make the drive from NH to VT.

It was slow going, but we got over there without too much trouble. We found the place and the guy loaded up our trailer with his tractor bucket. It was quite the load and I'm glad the van has new brakes. On the way back we stopped for breakfast and almost got stuck in the restaurant parking lot. With fresh snow on top of ice it's impossible to know exactly where to go.

Fortunately, we made it to the highway. We didn't get stuck again until I stopped on the nearly level ground in front of my house. My road had yet to be plowed and there was about an inch of ice under the snow. After sanding the road we were able to move the van the 40 extra feet we needed. Once it was unloaded, then the plow/sand truck finally came by. I let him pass us and followed him around the lake back to the highway. By the time I got back from dropping off my buddy and his trailer, I was pretty beat.

At least I now get to enjoy the warmth from all that kiln dried hardwood.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Exploding totem poles

NASA's new Orion spacecraft just completed a successful test. I wish I was more excited about it. The space program was pretty cool when I was a kid. The Mercury, Gemini, and then Apollo programs were very exciting for a kid growing up. The Space Shuttle was supposed to make space travel cheap, safe, and ordinary. It did none of those things. That's government for you.

The world has the International Space Station, but we have to hitch a ride with the Russians. They are still flying what's basically upgraded 60s technology.

To be fair, the Orion spacecraft looks pretty much like an upgraded Apollo spacecraft. We are still sitting men on top of exploding totem poles to shoot them into space. It's disappointing that we are back to using rockets. The military has a secret space program that flies what looks like a scaled down space shuttle. Currently it's an unmanned platform, but who knows what it's capabilities really are? However, even if they could launch men, the craft is tiny.

I wonder if people like John Michael Greer are correct claiming that we will never truly be a space faring race. He makes some pretty solid arguments against it. The vast majority of scientific accomplishments rest on a foundation of cheap energy. Once the nonrenewable resources are used up, we'll have to drastically scale back our ambitions.

Now I'd like to argue with Mr. Greer. My heart wants to soar to the stars, but my mind suspects he might be right. The fact that we've slipped back to using Apollo type craft gives some strength to his argument.

The human race is still doing interesting science in space. The Europeans have just landed a robotic spacecraft on an asteroid after all. Commercial satellites for communication, mapping, and navigation will have value for years to come, but those services are being supplied using very mature technology.

Humans may never leave this little dirt ball in space and that would be tragic. Humans have always pressed on to new frontiers. It's clear now that current and planned spacecraft will only be able to carry a select few out of our gravity well, and they won't be able to leave the solar neighborhood.

Space exploration is going to need some serious breakthroughs to change all that. For the good of the human race I hope we do. Wouldn't it be great if space travel could once again capture the imagination of little boys and girls?


Friday, December 5, 2014

Fanatical fighters

We hear so much about how fanatical the fighters of Islamic State are. Well guess what, fanaticism only gets you so far. It's not like the world hasn't seen it all before.

In WWII the war in the Pacific featured such wonders as the kamikaze fighter. A suicide belt hardly compares to a freaking flying bomb. Then there was the fight to the death banzai attack. The island battles were hard fought and no quarter was given.

In the end, disciple, organization, and a much better industrial base carried the day. Fanaticism might carry the day in fair fight, but who in their right mind fights fair?

Ideology can motivate people. In a close fight, it can make all the difference. However, a fanatic with a rifle doesn't do too well against a professional with a tank.

God might be on your side, but I'm still betting on the bigger army, better equipment, deeper pockets and professional training.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Low oil prices

Confession time: I didn't expect ever see gasoline selling for under $3 ever again. My thinking was that if it did, we'd have such seriously bad deflation such that no one could afford it at $3.

Here we are; the US economy is still functioning and yet oil prices have dropped. I'm not quite sure what's going on here, but I'm got some niggling suspicions.

The fracking boom is obviously part of the reason. There's a bump in US production. Here's the thing that bothered me. “Experts” were saying that fracking could only make money at $90/barrel. Then they said it would have be at least $70. Today I heard another “expert” claiming they could make money at $45.

There are existing contracts and production already in the works. Even if they are losing money on paper, they'll keep pumping for at least another 6 months, maybe up to 12.

In many fields it appears that investors have turned fracking into just another investment bubble. When that type of thinking takes hold, the underlying fundamentals are forgotten. There are indicators the bubble is about to burst. Reality votes last. Everything eventually comes down to earth.

Maybe there are some places where costs really are lower than $45/barrel. They'll work those until they die. Places that require $90/barrel will sooner or later shut down -I'm better sooner rather than later. By the way, the Canadian tar sands look to be one of those more costly areas.

The US is benefiting from the economies that are doing much worse. Those countries cannot afford to use as much oil, so there's more on the market, driving down prices.

Producers like Saudi Arabia and Russia can't afford to cut back on production. They need every bit of income they can generate to support their economies.

Take the fracking oil production bump out of the equation and the charts look a lot like the charts the Peak Oil people have been putting out for years. A zig zag effect was predicted. Oil supplies become tight, driving up the price. The high prices encourage people to stop buying petroleum products. That causes the price to drop, once again stimulating demand. Rinse and repeat.

So what's an average Joe supposed to do? Well if you can't trust the oil companies, who can you trust? (Just about anybody else?) I've done a lot of research into oil: the geology, the business models, politics, and everything else. One of the conclusions I've come to is that there are an awful lot of secrets surrounding oil. Without access to privileged sources, it's impossible to really know what's going on.

Which brings me back to trust issues. I don't trust anyone associated with oil and I certainly don't trust the long term viability of low gas prices. Every year my household uses less and less petroleum products. For me, that seems like the best long term bet. Low gas prices are like low illegal drug prices. They want to sucker you in until you are addicted, then the price goes up.

Only a fool would make plans that assume long term low prices.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Adventures at the DMV

Ah yes, the Department of Motor Vehicles. How many people love to visit the friendly folks down to the DMV?

It occurred to me that my driver's license was going to expire when I was going to be about 2000 miles from home. With that in mind, I went into the DMV to see what could be done about it.

My local DMV just moved into a new office so it was my first time at the new location. There were only two people staffing the place. That's fine as I was their only customer. The ladies pleasantly explained to me that I could renew my license up to 6 months early. They gave me a simple one page form to fill out.

$55 and a quick eye test later and I walked out with a new license. No fuss. No muss. Isn't it nice when a government office works the way it's supposed to?

It's usually pretty easy to find fault with government services, so I think it should be noted when they do something right.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thoughts on car ownership

With all the repairs the van required recently I was beginning to wonder if owning a car was worth it. Had my lovely wife been willing to live full time on a sailboat that would have been the end of my land vehicle days. Alas, for now she's only willing to spend half the year on a boat.

The van is a special category of vehicle. It's a former ambulance converted into a mini camper that's been altered to run on waste vegetable oil. Our other vehicle is an older Chevy Cavalier on its last legs. My mechanic has already warned me that it won't pass the next state inspection in June. We ended up with this car when one of my daughters wanted a new car and the trade in on the Cavalier wasn't worth much of anything.

So by spring we'll have to figure out what to do about transportation. Living out in the woods, public transportation of any sort is not an option. Neither is living in a city an option. We could get by with the van as our daily driver. My lovely wife rarely drives the van now, but is willing to adapt.

I could put my old motorcycle on the road, a 1974 KZ900. That might come under the title of “hobby project” rather than in the reliable transportation category. It would probably make more sense to just put an electric assist motor on my bicycle.

The last thing I'd want to do is to buy a new car. I can't afford to pay cash and I'm allergic to making any more debt.

Buying a used car is an option, but doesn't that sound rather boring? Wouldn't it be more fun to buy a bigger sailboat? Maybe a sailboat big enough to live on for 6 months of the year?

Decisions, decisions.

Maybe we'll just stay home next summer and order everything me need on-line. If anyone wants to see us they'll know where to find us.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Us Travelling Folk

Just about everyone is asking my lovely wife and I when we'll be hitting the road. We are beginning to wonder if they are trying to get rid of us.

Last year we shut down our house and headed south on October 10. No wonder people are surprised to see us still here with the cold winds blowing and snow on the ground.

For the record, our current plan is to leave in early January. The exact date will depend on the weather. There's no sense driving in a blizzard if it can be avoided. Been there, done that. I've a tentative meeting scheduled for January 5 in southern New Hampshire, so that's something to shoot for.

Thanksgiving with family and friends was nice. Once Christmas and New Years holidays are done it'll be time to get our bags packed and ready. It's amazing that with just a few days driving one can leave the frosty north and end up on a sunny beach somewhere.

Until then, I'm one of those fools freezing in the snow. Okay, maybe I've gotten soft, but the cold bothers me more than it used to. Today I woke up to a cold house and never really completely shook the morning chill out of my bones. What I should have done is lit the woodstove, then gone outside and done chores. After some time out in the snow, the house would have felt cozy warm.

Here's the thing. We've been back north for about 8 months and there are still people we've yet to get together with. Some things I'm sure won't happen before we leave -like getting together with people to go sailing. Since the lake is frozen over, the time for that is past. People's lives are so busy that unless special effort is make, nothing out of the ordinary happens. Routines are killers.

It would be nice have friends join us on our travels. However, we can barely get together when 10 miles apart. The chance of doing it at the end of a 2000 mile trip is pretty low. Fortunately, there are plenty of traveling people who we'll meet along the way.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cold weather dehydration

I just sat down and forced myself to drink three tall glasses of water. Dehydration is one of those problems that sneaks up on a person during cold weather. Dry winter air and heavy exertion just suck the liquids out of a person and they don't see it coming. The sense of thirst is muted during cold weather.

It doesn't help when water bottles freeze solid. When I hiking I'll start with a water bottle of warm water, slide it inside a wool sock, then place it in the pack close to my back. A thermos of sweetened hot herbal tea or hot chocolate also come along with me.

Whatever you do, don't eat snow. Too much energy is lost by the body as it turns snow into melt water. Besides, did you ever see the stuff that lives in snow? If you've ever come across a hatch of snow fleas you'll definitely want to melt and then boil any snow.

For me, the temptation this time of year is to live on coffee. Since it's a diuretic that's not a really great idea. I'm not going to avoid coffee so I drink a lot of water to make up for it. It's a good idea to drink enough water so that your urine is clear. If you find yourself peeing orange it's way past time to tank up. If you notice you haven't felt the need to pee all day it's really past time. Don't let this common problem sneak up on you.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Power outages

NH is in its 4th largest power outage on record. It will take until Monday for most customers to receive their service. With temperatures dropping into the single digits some folks are in for a bad time.

Here in the northern part of the state it hasn't been very bad. We were far enough north and cold enough for the storm to be all snow. The southern part of the state started out with rain that turned over to heavy wet snow -perfect conditions for toppling trees.

Anyone living where the temperatures drop below freezing should have some kind of auxiliary heat. It's only prudent. Alternative electrical power generation is nice, but it's not as critical as being able to keep warm.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday? I think not.

No shopping for me today. I don't care how fantastic the deals are supposed to be. Others can worship at the god of commerce; I refuse to get swept away with the hype.

Isn't it odd that people complain how commercial Christmas has gotten, yet too few do anything about it? Not buying into the Black Friday orgy of shopping is as a good a time as any to back away from all that.

For me, the worse thing about Black Friday is that it starts on Thursday. On a day when people should be spending quality time with friends and family, they go shopping. It's a shame that so many businesses are open on Thanksgiving, but even more shameful is that people go shopping then. If no one way buying stuff, they wouldn't stay open.

I'm one of those funny people who remembers who stayed open and who gave their workers time off. Those who gave their employees a day to celebrate the holiday will be more likely to get my business when I do start shopping again.

Hope everyone had a good holiday. I was very blessed to spend it with family and friends. Back before my retirement I did work many a Thanksgiving, but that's the life of a Firefighter. My lovely wife also worked many holidays, but that's life as medical lab technician. It makes sense that emergency services stay well staffed as lives are on the line.

Shopping is not a life or death situation, in spite of what company CEOs think.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Solar electric van install

Nothing like racing a snowstorm to install a solar panel on the van. The top of the van wasn't going to remain snow free for very long, so it was now or never.

That's a 105 watt solar panel. It's attached to the roof with 90 degree aluminum angle stock and stainless steel screws. Everything is secured with locktite and silicone. The wires feed directly through the roof and are heavily sealed. The trick was to find a place to drill through the roof without disturbing any of the existing wiring.

The wires feed a 10 amp charge controller, seen here at the top part of the photo with a blue indicator light. The battery is the largest marine deep discharge battery available from Walmart. For now power is taken off the battery with a simple female cigarette lighter plug on jumper clamps. Currently it's plugged into a 200 watter inverter.

Since the van was originally an ambulance, this compartment once held O2 bottles. You can see the clamp for that in the center of the photo. It wasn't in my way so I just left it there. My veggie fuel tank is located in it's own section of the compartment just to left of what you see here.

There's a 1000 watt inverter wired to the van batteries. On top of that I've a 400 watt inverter with battery clamps that could tie into either the van or the new auxiliary system.

The solar electric system will make it easier to camp in places without any facilities. There will be enough power for my modest needs without ever having to run the van to charge the batteries.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Recent road trip

My lovely wife and I just got back from a 300 mile overnight trip in the veggie van. Monday and Tuesday were warm enough that we could leave the house unattended without the plumbing freezing. When heating with just a woodstove, someone has to load up the stove every 12 hours or so when it's cold.

The funny thing is that the veggie fuel worked much better than the diesel fuel. In the winter gas stations switch to a winter mix fuel that flows better during low temperatures. It's not yet available, but winter conditions are here now. Only by using diesel fuel treatments like 911 have I been able to keep the diesel side running. However, once the van warms up and is switched to running on veggie, it purrs like a tiger.

We overnighted in the van and were fairly comfortable. My auxiliary electrical system had no difficulty powering my c-pap all night long. The solar panel to power it has yet to be installed. With a significant snow storm on the way, the solar install will get pushed off one more time. At least I was able to build and predrill all the aluminum attachment brackets.

It's going to be a busy morning squaring things away before the snow starts coming down heavy.

I hope no one has to travel in very far in this storm. Drive safe and Happy Thanksgiving.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Your house: expense or asset?

For most people their homes are an expense. It takes money to keep a house maintained with all utilities, taxes and fees paid up. You may or may not “make a profit” should you sell your house. However, if you figure out all the money was put into the place year after year, it's rare to actually make money overall. Of course, we all have to live somewhere.

How about turning your house into a real profit center? That can be hard to do. Many of us have home offices, but how many of those produce enough profit to pay for the house and to live on? Some folks mange to do it, mostly professionals like engineers. Usually they don't run into zoning problems as their house doesn't look any different than the neighbors.

Some folks have home businesses that require people to actually come to their house. Someone like a massage therapist might get away with it. Only a handful of people come and go each day. Forget about having a small retail operation that requires a lot of foot traffic. Few residential areas, if any, allow that sort of thing.

What about home workshops? That's a gray area. Much depends on local zoning, how discrete you are, or how well you get along with your neighbors. A guy can go into his home workshop and build a wooden chair and few would take offense. However, should he produce hundreds of chairs, running his saws day and night, he'll most likely get into trouble.

I know a few folks with money making home shops. One guy builds furniture, but they are expensive custom items so he doesn't build a lot of them at one time. Another guy quietly runs a pretty complete machine shop in his garage. He does small jobs the big shops don't want to bother with. My guess is that his location on a dead end road reduces his chances that someone will complain to the zoning board.

Nothing freaks out zoning boards like turning a suburban home into a mini working farm. Tear up the front yard to plant veggies and neighbors freak. Add some farm animals and they really go ballistic. Even something as simple as a permaculture garden will cause problems as it's not considered “normal.”

It's almost like we are not suppose to live free and independent. Who wants to bet that's by design?


Monday, November 24, 2014

The father of invention

They say necessity is the mother of invention. I say laziness is the father. It's laziness that has driven advancement. We live in a modern world because we are too lazy run down deer with a spear and dig roots out of the ground with our hands.

So how come laziness has gotten such a bad rap? How did being a hard worker become such a virtue? We know that doing something the hard way is supposed to be kinda stupid. Seems like a mixed message to me. No wonder workers are stressed and bit crazy these days.

I used to be a firefighter. When we weren't all that busy, it was good thing. Sure, we'd do things like safety inspections and fire education for the kids. We'd train and maintain our equipment, but that wasn't really working hard. Half the time I could do that part of the job with a mug of coffee in hand.

It was horribly bad when I was working hard. Buildings were on fire. People's lives were at risk. The city's tax base was going up in smoke. Equipment was being damaged and worn out. Firefighters were getting injured. You really don't want to see firefighters earning their pay.

Some years back an efficiency expert was doing a study at the local mill. The machines were humming along and the workers were pretty much just hanging around. The expert thought there were way too many people with nothing to do. When he wasn't looking someone threw a spanner into the works. The machine went down and then everyone jumped up and was very busy. The expert was happy to see everyone so busy. What an idiot. When the workers were busy the company wasn't putting out any product.

Of course, those mill jobs are now gone. It didn't matter how hard everyone worked as they couldn't work for less than a living wage. Operations got moved to countries with much lower wages. The workers in those countries have a strong work ethic because if they don't work they'll starve.

Those jobs are doomed too. Workers have to make enough money to eat. They will be replaced with machines that don't eat or sleep. So where's the virtue in hard work? It won't stop the machines from taking their jobs either.

There is going to be a lot of people with nothing to do. Too bad the system isn't set up for them to be lazy. If they were paid a living wage to stay home they could buy the goods and services the machines are providing. Time could be spent in pursuit of art, literature, music, scientific research and philosophy.

The alternative is for them to take on some hard work: revolution, destroying the machines, and hanging the ownership class from lampposts. Work work work.

So maybe the whole work ethic is not so much about work as it is about control. People with time on their hands think too much. They say they want us to be smart: work smarter, not harder! That doesn't mean they want us doing a really smart thing for 5 minutes then let us go home. The human race has been smart enough to eliminate much of the drudgery of existence. Yet the owners and rulers still want to see us earn our bread by the sweat of our brow.

Isn't it time that laziness gets the respect it deserves?


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Coffee cooking??

Nothing like a nice big pot of . . . roasted coffee?

The timer of my hot air coffee roaster failed. Instead of turning the roaster off when the coffee was done it roasted it right into charcoal. A cup of hot charcoal is not a good way to start the morning.

So it was back to the old way of roasting coffee. Lodge Cookware calls this little baby a deep skillet with cover. The cover can be used a shallow frying pan.

Green coffee beans were poured right into the hot skillet and covered. The beans were stirred occasionally. I like my coffee roasted a bit on the darker side, so I listen to the beans. There's the first crack, a popping sound a bit like popcorn. That means the coffee is roasted enough to make a light roast coffee. Later there's the second crack, a much softer popping noise that indicates it's about time to pull the coffee off the fire. The hot beans are then poured into a Pyrex pie pan to cool. When cool, I take the beans outside and blow the chaff off them.

It does put a bit of smoke in the house, but it's coffee smoke, so I don't mind.

By the way, in the first photo it's possible to see part of the copper coil that's wrapped around the stove pipe. I've written about my water heating experiments back in the spring. Now that I'm using the woodstove all the time I've a much better idea how it's working out.

The water from my well comes in at a temperature just above freezing. The woodstove is able to get the water to around 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit. If I want a really hot shower I'll switch the electric water tank heater coils on for 15 minutes or so and bring the temperature up to 120.

The kitchen woodstove provides, heat, cooking, water heating and even coffee roasting. It's truly the heart of the house.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Medical insurance plans

I was going to write about my trials and tribulations navigating the government insurance website. The post went on way too long. Let me sum up. There are no plans available to me that are both affordable and/or useful. There are no plans that would make access to health care easier, not would they prevent me from going bankrupt should I have a major medical emergency.

Let's just say I'm a bit disappointed. I'm 56 with respiratory issues and I'm fat. It might be prudent to have some sort of relationship with the medical profession. It doesn't help that one of the few doctors I might actually get along with is no longer taking patients.

So where do I go from here? What can I do to keep my medical expenses low? The prudent thing would be take off the excess weight. That's a good place to start. The medical profession isn't much help with that sort of thing -outside of surgery that is. I don't want to go that route. Back when I had insurance they wanted to put me on weight loss drugs, but later those were discovered to cause cardiac issues. Kinda defeats the purpose, doesn't it?

Of course, the whole point of medical insurance is to have access to life saving procedures. My guaranteed access is limited to emergency room care. That's not much help should I come down with something that needs long term treatment.

Last year I spent $0.00 on medical care. If I'm going to keep out of the system I might have to spend a little money on preventative care. In spite of my aversion to the medical/insurance/political complex, I want to live a long and happy life, so it's up to me.


Friday, November 21, 2014

The disturbing example of North Korea

Just about anyone who doesn't actually live in North Korea thinks the country is a nut job place. Even Somalis can thank their lucky stars that they don't live in North Korea.

The really disturbing thing is that the country functions at all. The majority of the people live in near feudal conditions. A tiny elite live like kings. In spite of all its problems the country has been able to build nuclear weapons.

So what's going on here? The North Koreans and the South Koreans are the same people, yet the south is a prosperous place, a rich highly technological society. The big difference between the two countries is that the northern rulers manged to lock down the country. By limiting the citizens knowledge of the outside world, they created a bubble of illusion. North Koreans used to think that they were the lucky ones. There have been some cracks in the bubble allowing some information to get in. It doesn't help that their main ally and neighbor, China, has done so well in recent years. For now, however, the isolation holds.

Now here's the idea that keeps me up at night. We are all living in North Korea. Hear me out. The rest of the world may be locked down in its own way. What if a tiny nut job elite is keeping the rest of us down? How would we know? They control the schools, the media, and the governments. We could all be living in an oppressive bubble and not even suspect. What would a more egalitarian world look like?

How come automation hasn't reduced everyone to a 15 hour work week? Maybe we should be living in a poverty free world, with access to health care and higher education. Anyone else get the uneasy feeling that we should be living a lot more free than we do now? Has the wool been pulled over our eyes?

What's to keep the rest of the world from slowly devolving into a replica of North Korea? We can see the rich are getting richer. The middle class is becoming the poor class. The poor are . . . dying. North Korea has shown that it's possible to keep the average people suppressed and poor while being to have a tiny core of high technology.

Is there the possibility of everyone living in a much better world but the powers that be are keeping us from even knowing it could be real? How would we know?

. . . unless it's just a sick uneasy feeling that the world is not the world we should have.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Some days I'm a plumber

The thing about off grid systems is that they all work together. That means that when one particular system isn't right, the whole system suffers.

Something was wrong with my water supply system. The house gets its water from a well. There's a submersible pump in the well that feeds into a pressure tank in the basement. When water is used the pressure in the system drops until a pressure switch clicks on. The pump runs, topping off the pressure tank. When the pressure reaches it's high setting, the pump shuts off again. The system is simple enough as far as these things go.

The problem is that the pump was cycling very quickly. That puts excessive wear on the pump and causes the pipes to bang. Motors draw a lot of power when they first start up. With the pump constantly turning off and on, it was always working in the most inefficient way possible. Because the pump is supplied from solar electric, the batteries drained down much quicker than normal.

My first guess what that the pressure switch might have been failing. There's a flexible diaphragm in the switch and it can get damaged. I've had to change those in the past. It was a bad guess. Fortunately, before messing with the switch I checked the air pressure in the tank. Air in the tank is compressed when the pump fills it with water. It's that compressed air that allows water to be pushed out of the tank without the pump having to start up. My tank had very low air pressure.

The solution was to drain all the water of the tank and pump up the air pressure where it belongs. Here's the funny thing, the pressure tank sits about 8 feet away from a heavy duty air compressor. The problem is that the air hose doesn't go in the basement but runs to the outside of the house near the driveway. There was once a short hose that I could have used in the basement, but it broke was never replaced.

I did not want to drive all the way into town and spend money on a hose I'd only use once in a great while. I had a little cheapo 12 volt air pump normally kept in car. The house battery bank was close enough to tap power of it to run the little compressor. Once pressure in the tank was restored the whole system once again worked the way it was supposed to.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Trespasser in the night

One of my neighbors caught someone peering into their windows late at night. He went outside to see if he could catch the intruder. Where he got outside he could see a flashlight and followed the intruder through the woods until he lost track of him. A search of the area didn't turn up anything. No strange cars were spotted on the few roads in our area.

There's potential for something like this to get serious. Most people around here are armed. Intruders stand a fair chance of getting shot. If they are lucky people's dogs will just chase them off.

It's possible that someone was checking out houses to see if they were unoccupied. Rural areas sometimes have problems with thieves. There's a lot of houses where the owners are seasonal.

My house is one of them. There are neighbors who keep and eye on it and notice anything out of the ordinary. During years when I've had house sitters I've made a point to tell everyone so my sitters wouldn't get mistaken for thieves. or squatters.

Outside of moving out the guns and a few valuables, I don't worry about the house to much. Too many people become prisoners because they worry about their property all the time. That's why I buy insurance.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What a difference a year makes

Last year at this time I was sailing down the west coast of Florida. My lovely wife and I were doing our best to stay hydrated and avoid sunburn. This year I'm trying to keep the van on the road while driving through ice and snow. That was pretty guaranteed to happen when my lovely wife talked me into spending the holidays in New Hampshire.

As luck would have it I ran into my dad's old neighbors from back when dad lived in NH. Last year at this time they were in Key West. As a military veteran he can stay at the military campgrounds. It's the best deal on the island. It costs them something like $13/day. This year they too decided to spend the holidays with family. Just like us, after a number of cold gloomy days they can't help but think of last year.

Things we do to spend time with family.

In a weird sort of synchronicity the purpose of our trip through the snow was to take my wife to a dentist. A year ago our sailing took a several week hiatus as my lovely wife broke a tooth. We were all the way out on an island called Cayo Costa, pretty darn far from a dentist. This year's trip was to check how well the tooth's repairs were holding up. We hope this trip through the snow will save us a hunt for a dentist while on the road.


Monday, November 17, 2014

The food issue

Lately I've been using the oven of the woodstove as food dehydrator. That works surprisingly well. The stove's going all day and night. Just by leaving the oven door open a couple of inches keeps the temperature in a good range.

Right now I'm dehydrating sunchokes -Jerusalem artichokes if you prefer the old name. Sunchokes have some advantages for a survival food. They are easy to grow. Mine seem to thrive on poor soil and neglect. The problem is that once out of the ground they don't last very long. Dehydration is one way to preserve them.

Our garden is very small and didn't do all that well this year. We got some tomatoes, beans, herbs, assorted greens, radishes and few other things I can't remember right now. I built a lettuce table which did well early, but then some disease got into it. All the soil's been dumped out of it and we'll start fresh next spring. Our nut trees did almost nothing this year, and the squirrels got the few nuts that were produced. It's not a lot of food. Local people with green houses did a lot better than anyone else.

Our preps weakest point is food production. We've got water, power, security and food storage pretty much squared away. There are plenty of wild foods we can harvest so that helps. Living on a lake there are fish to catch and crawfish to trap. Hunting is an option.

Next year we may finally put in a small greenhouse. That's one of the things we've been putting off for way too long. There's always been something else more pressing. Next year it's a priority. The weather's been uneven enough to make outdoor gardening too chancy.

Of course, there's those sunchokes. Nothing seems to bother them.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Stuck in civilization

Last week some friends we hadn't seen in a while came over for a visit. They were pretty fascinated by the little boat I'd built. The guy was especially taken with it. He saw the potential. Someone working part time in their driveway could build a craft that could take them far away from the mundane world.

That might be a bit much to expect from a 12 foot boat. Then again, Stephen Ladd spent 3 years adventuring on his 12 foot boat so you never know.

I think my friend was taken with the thought of being able to escape civilization with all its demands. A boat is freedom. That fact that one could build a sturdy little boat and make dreams reality had a strong effect on him.

“I need to quit my job,” he said.

Maybe he does. Maybe we all do. Maybe it's not so much our jobs that's the problem. Maybe it's this whole thing we call civilization. There are expectations, demands on our time, standards that must be adhered to.

What's the point of civilization, really? Okay, there are some things I get; cold beers, hot showers, and the skills of a well trained surgeon when a bone is sticking out. Books. I'd miss books. As small as my boat is, there will be actual paper books on it. Civilized life has some benefits, I'll grant you that.

In my heart of hearts I'm a barbarian. Civilization captured me at a young age, taught me how to read, to count past my fingers, and the difference between a salad and a fish fork. That's great and all, but civilization's costs are ignored. We've become disconnected from the natural world. Few of us can even feed ourselves like are ancestors could just a few generations back. Many moderns don't have the faintest clue where their food comes from or how it's prepared. Never mind being able trap a rabbit or spear a fish.

Traveling in a small simple boat demands one pay attention to the natural world. The rhythms of civilization are replaced by the demands of wind, water and wildlife. This is how man used to live.

So there it was, my boat, sitting in the driveway, like some sort of escape capsule. Civilization hasn't been all the good my friend of late. He's underemployed for his level of education. The nice house he lives in consumes much of his money and time. His spouse has numerous medical conditions tying them to the civilized world.

Maybe it doesn't help that his stepson just announced plans to “disappear from the grid.” He's out of work, but has an old paid off car, a good sleeping bag, and nothing but mounds of student dept to leave behind. The kid even got rid of his cell phone. (good first step for getting off the grid.)

Civilization is a funny thing. At first there are a lot of upsides and fewer downsides. As the years go by, civilization's demands become greater and greater while it's fruits go to fewer and fewer. There's archaeological evidence suggesting when that happens folk just wander off into the jungle or disappear into the hill country.

Some leave by small boats.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Chimney cleaning

Anyone who's ever burned wood for heat knows the value of a clean chimney. There's a lot of money that can be saved by being your own chimney sweep. Chimney brushes along with their fiberglass poles are reasonably priced and last for years.

Of course, that's only the beginning. Most people need a ladder to get up on their roof. This is one place not to skimp. Good heavy duty fiberglass ladders are not cheap, but are a lot more secure than cheap lightweight aluminum ladders.

If the only thing you ever use a ladder for is to clean your chimney, just hire a good chimney sweep. Most DIY homeowners have plenty of opportunity for using good ladders, everything from painting the house to tree surgery. Quality ladders make all the difference. Climbing ladders is dangerous enough so why make it even more hazardous?

Recently I've wised up enough to do one more thing that greatly increased my safety. A friend of mine came over to help me. Being independent I've often cleaned my chimney all by myself. It goes a lot better with two. Having a second person footing the ladder to steady it made all difference in the world. Not only that, if you do something stupid and fall off your roof, there's someone who can call 911 for you.

A clean chimney is a safe chimney. If you are comfortable with heights, it might be worth looking into getting the equipment to clean your own. A person with good equipment is more likely to do the job before it gets too bad. However, don't be afraid to call a chimney sweep if ladders and heights are not your thing. It doesn't matter who cleans the chimney, as long as it gets done.


Friday, November 14, 2014

SUV sales

The unexpected drop in gas prices has stimulated SUV sales. How does this make any sense? Let's say we get real lucky and the price of gas stays at its lower rates for a year. Heck, let's get crazy and say that it stays low for two years. Most folks finance their vehicle purchase. 6 year loans are pretty common. When the price of gas shoots back up they'll still be on the hook for 4 – 5 years of SUV payments.

Maybe they think they'll just trade it and get something more fuel efficient if the price of gas shoots up again. They could do that, but anyone else remember what happens to trade in values of gas guzzlers when gas prices are high? What happens to people's memories when they go car shopping?

I'm not against SUVs in principle. For some things they make perfect sense. Contractors can put a bunch of workers and their tools in one. What doesn't make sense is all the SUVs out there that have just one or two people in it 99% of the time.

Of course, I'm the guy who desperately looked for alternatives when gas got to a dollar. A dollar for a gallon of gas? Outrageous! Who can afford that?

SUV sales is just part of a larger human problem of perception. We expect tomorrow to be pretty much like today. Too many of us make long term decisions on short term conditions.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Road ready -nearly

The veggie van just had a wheel alignment. For once, it was just a matter of adjustment -not very expensive at all. I could take the van on a long trip right now and it should function just fine. It's about time.

The current van modification project is a 105 watt solar panel to be mounted on the roof. That will charge a deep cycle battery that's totally separate from the van batteries. The idea is to have a power system that I can draw down without worrying about the van's starting batteries. The separate power system should make it easier to camp in places without services.

Companies sell mounting brackets for solar panels, but I wasn't too impressed by them. Maybe they work for mounting panels on the roof of a house. They looked a bit too flimsy for a vehicle mount that could go down the road at 80 mph. I decided to make my own brackets using 90 degree aluminum stock. While I was at it I decided to get plenty of stainless steel hardware to mount it. The van is almost 9 feet high. A panel mounted on top won't get visually inspected all that often. That's what decided me to spend the money to overbuild the brackets. Odds are that since it's out of sight it'll be out of mind. Loose brackets would not be noticed until the panel blew off the roof.

Unfortunately the predicted sunshine never happened. Instead of light rain clearing by afternoon, we got heavy rain and dense fog. Not the type of weather one would like to have to drill holes in a van's roof. Maybe tomorrow. At least I've got all the necessary parts.

Speaking of solar electric systems, the solar electric system on the Oday sailboat will bet moved over to the Ooze Goose homebuilt boat. Next year I can always buy a slightly bigger one for the Oday. Solar panel prices keep dropping. If you haven't priced them in the last couple of years you will be surprised on how much they've come down.

So the essential needs of the van are done and a goodly number of the wants will be wrapped up too. Once the boat trailer is squared away we'll be ready for travel. There should be plenty of time to do a bit more work on the little boat, but as it is right now it'll do the job.

After months of discouraging breakdowns, it's good to see the light at the end of the tunnel.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Winter's coming

Hello Polar Vortex! If our border patrol was any good they'd stop that cold Canadian air at the border. Alas, the weather is beyond their skill set.

My lovely wife and I took advantage of some mild weather before the storm. The solar panels are now properly orientated at a steep 60 degree angle, which is about right for winter on the 45th parallel. The beach is squared away. Tools are now inside or at least on the covered porch. It's possible this time of year to set something down then have it disappear under the snow until spring.

My big mistake this year has been shaving my head. My long pony tail was cut off and my head razored down to nothing. That wasn't the mistake. Epoxy had gotten in my hair and the only smart thing to do was to cut it off. That was weeks ago. The mistake was shaving it again. The hair had gotten to an awkward length -too short to comb properly, yet long enough to be messy. Frustrated, I razored it back down to nothing.

Then it turned cold -and all the head insulation was gone! So now I wear a knit hat -inside the house. By the time it's long enough to provide decent coverage, I'll be on my way to Florida. If I'm smart, (yeah right) I won't shave it then either. Something has to prevent sunburn. Okay, so my hair, at its best, only covers about half my head. It's better than nothing.

My lovely wife and I never thought we'd turn into snowbirds. We were hardy northern folk who laughed at sub-zero weather and snowstorms that buried cars and buildings. Guess what? Add some years, mix in some injuries and chronic medical conditions, then going south makes sense.

It's a funny time of year. On one hand we are securing everything for cold and snow. On the other, we are preparing and packing our boating and camping gear. It's a little schizophrenic, but what the heck. Polar Vortexes can make anyone crazy.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Health care rabbit hole

On November 15 the sign up period for health care will open up again. I haven't had health insurance for a couple years now. When the cost rose to almost $1000/month it was no longer affordable. The money saved on health insurance went into things like buying good healthy food. I also got myself a good bicycle.

Since then we've had the roll out of Obama Care. Big woop. Last year there was exactly one provider in my state. They weren't good when my employer used them so there was little incentive to sign up. This year it looks like there will be at least half a dozen providers. That part looks encouraging.

I'm actually going to take a look at having insurance this year. That doesn't mean I'm going to sign up. The numbers will have to make sense.

How have I managed in the years since I let my medical insurance go? I've stayed out the hospital, but that doesn't mean nothing bad happened. I did take a nasty fall off a porch onto a brick walkway. A toe was broken and the skin torn off the end of my thumb. Hospitals don't really do much for broken toes. Took care of it myself. Good self care of the thumb prevented infection and it healed up nicely.

The thing I probably should have gone to the hospital for was when I drove a pulp hook into my leg. In retrospect I should have at least gotten my tetanus shot updated. Fortunately that wasn't a problem. The leg healed up and left a nice scar, but it doesn't bother me.

My lungs were damaged when I was a Firefighter and since then I've been on a c-pap machine. Those things are expensive, there are ways to cope. I've been able to buy replacement parts on-line at a tenth the cost my insurance was paying. A couple almost new machines made their way into my possession.

Another problem is with the health care industry itself. Let's just say doctors and I don't get along. After my work injury doctors did very little good and some did serious harm. That leaves a bad memory. My health improved thanks to alternative medicine.

Some things modern medicine does really really well. If I ever get a broken leg or rupture a spleen, by all means take me to a hospital. We'll sort out the bills later.

If the numbers make sense I'll get insurance. If not, I guess I'll have to really take better care of myself. At the very least I should probably lose weight.

Not having insurance has made me a bit more concerned about safety. These days I'm much more likely to wear my safety glasses, gloves, ear protectors and steel toe boots.

What about the penalty for not having insurance? Yeah, what about that? There isn't much they can do if you don't pay. They can take it out of your tax return, but no return, no penalty. I don't even pay taxes so it's not a concern.

In short, I'm going to look it over, but I don't feel any strong compulsion to do something about it. That's probably not the wisest attitude for a fat 56 year old, but there you go.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Working on-line

Anybody out there working from home on-line? Do you like it? Is is worse than going into work?

Some of my friends and family have the option to work from home. Their experience seems to run from having a lot of freedom to every minute of on-line time being monitored. Some people seem to do pretty much what they want, when they want. As long as the work gets done the boss doesn't care how it happens.

Then there are those who have software than monitors every minute that they are on-line. If they take twenty minutes to pick up their kid from school, their cell phone will ring asking why they are not at their computer. That's terrible. Fortunately the program is pretty easy to hack. If the company isn't going to treat the worker with respect, the worker has every right to game the system.

Nobody I know is currently doing all their work from home. Some people only get to work on-line now and then. On the high end are people who's work life is split 50/50 between the office and home.

Some of my friends used to work completely on-line. Those jobs are now gone. Some of the companies have gone out of business, others have tightened their work rules.

A lot of folks tell me they'd love to work on-line, but can't find anything that pays real money. Sadly, on-line work appears to be a race to the bottom. If someone in India or Malaysia can do the job for less, that's where the work goes.

Remember the promise of the Internet that claimed all we'd need in the future is a good connection and we could work anywhere? Rarely has it worked out that way. Perhaps the only ones who are making a good living at it have very unique skills not easily duplicated. The day of the telecommuter has yet to come.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

The political operative

My lovely wife and I were invited to dinner with a political organizer and the local volunteers. I didn't directly help the campaign, but my lovely wife felt it her civic duty to get involved. It was a bit of a victory dinner, as their candidates did quite well.

The political worker came into town to run the local office. The guy obviously loves the political game. He admires the tricks, techniques, and strategies of the competition, no matter which side is practicing them. They guy's young and ambitious. In a few days he'll be off to the other side of the country to do his stuff.

The funny thing is, he was probably the only true believer at the dinner. The locals were a mixed bag. Of course, we all know each other as it's a sparsely populated area. Out of the group, at least two were registered Independents and one was actually registered with the other party.

So what there they doing working on the same political campaign? They weren't there for any political party so much as they were there for the individuals running. New Hampshire is a small state and it's not all that hard to have personal relationships with people.

In some ways it's more like a Feudal system than a Republic. Relationships count a heck of a lot more than ideology. People trump “isms” of all stripes.

I don't think the political operative really caught on to that. At the next election half the volunteers could be working for the other side. It all depends on who's running, not what party they belong to.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

The high cost of free

The battery bank for my solar electric system is showing its age. Probably by next spring I should give replacing the batteries some serious thought.

My new neighbor says he has 60, 2 volt heavy duty batteries. They were backup batteries from a hydroelectric plant. The guy offered them to me for free. They'd make a super battery bank. Those batteries are way out of my price range.

I'm going to refuse them. Sometimes the price of free is too high. No doubt he'd want some kind of favor in return. Already he's tried to buy some of my land from me. Also, he's discovered that he doesn't own the back driveway to his place. It's my road, the lower end of it anyway.

It would be hard to say no to a guy who did me a big favor with the batteries. I don't want to owe this guy anything. Don't get me wrong. I've been nothing if not polite. I even forgave him for trimming a couple of my trees before he learned where the boundary line was. So I'm going to be all smiles, make small talk, and firmly refuse every single offer the guy makes me.

Here's the thing. I don't like the way the guy treats land. He has no respect for the natural world. He's a bulldoze and pave it sort of guy.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Last boat trip

Tuesday my lovely wife and I took our last boat trip of the season. It was one of the few sunny days in the forecast, with snow predicted later in the week. At some point I had to admit that boating season was over in Northern New Hampshire. We were the last boat to come off the lake.

Temperatures were in the high 40s, so we bundled up and took one last spin around the lake. It felt good to be back on the water, even for a short while.

Loading the boat on the trailer did not go as well as it could have. There was a strong cross wind with powerful gusts. I had to wade in to my waist to muscle the boat into position. Even though I changed into dry clothes as soon as I got out, my legs really didn't feel warm for hours.

If all goes well, my lovely wife and I will be back on the water in January down to Florida. I suppose going the month of December boatless won't kill us. There are some local kayakers who take pride in paddling every month of the year -even if it means paddling in the rapids between ice flows. They've got very good dry suits, but if you ask me it's still too darn cold.

Before we took to sailing we'd haul our canoe south. One year I dragged it up from the lake across the snow. I had to tamp down a trail with snowshoes. The bow and stern ropes were half frozen making it difficult to tie it on the car. People would ask me what the heck I was doing with a canoe on my car in the middle of winter.

“I'm going to drive south until it doesn't look silly anymore. Then I'll stop.”

That's what we did.

This winter I'm going to trailer a boat south until it doesn't look silly. Hope I don't have to go all the way to Florida Keys before finding warm weather.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Running government like a business

I've noticed that in recent election cycles many politicians tout their business backgrounds. They promise to “run government like a business” -as if that's a good thing.

I submit that the problem with government is that it is run too much like a business.

How's a big business run? First of all it's run for the benefit of the investors. In government that would be all the people who've donated lots of money to politicians. They expect and do get a nice return on their investment.

In business the people at the top do much better than the average worker. There again, Presidents, Senators, and Congressmen do much better than the average citizen.

Business tries to maximize profit. If they can ignore environment and labor laws to do so, no problem. Now imagine big business in charge of environment and labor laws. No wonder the middle class is losing ground and environmental damage is rampant.

Government has the potential to be even worse than big business. It has a monopoly. If you don't like the value you are getting from your tax dollar, you can't subscribe to the services of another government. Monopolies can charge top dollar for shabby products, pay terrible wages, and provide horrible service. Got that. Worse of all, governments have a monopoly on violence. They control the military and the police. Imagine if Comcast had the power to physically beat up customers. Don't think they wouldn't use that power.

War is just a way of competing with other businesses/governments. We are fighting for market share all around the world.

How about voting? That's just shaking up the membership of the board. It might change some of the policies, but doesn't change the fact the “business” exists for the benefit of the “investors.”

Business is a terrible model for government. We can do better. How about treating government like running a tribe? Our lands must sustain our tribe for many generations. Each member of the tribe is valued. The young and old are taken care of and treasured. There are better ways to live than the way we live now.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Marriage, family, and adventure

Okay, it's weird. I keep reading all this advice about putting off marriage because then you life is over or something. As if you wife won't want to do anything but be a Susie Homemaker. However, if that's really what she wants, and you want some adventure, you married the wrong woman.

If marriage doesn't kill your dreams of adventure, having kids surly will . . . or so they say.

Maybe I thought that myself, until I got married at 20 years old. I expected to be the last of my friends to get married but was the first. When the right woman comes along, marry her. Don't let anything get in your way, especially some notion that your life of adventure will be over.

Having kids did change the adventures a bit. You are responsible for the little ones. Maybe that means you shorten your canoe trip and bring a few more creature comforts. Four day hikes in the mountains turn into overnights or day trips. When they got a bit older we even did things like winter camping in the mountains of Western Maine.

Money is an issue. Kids are expensive. Then again, I'm not sure where my money went when I was single. I've discovered plenty of adventurous things that can be done for little money. When the kids were small a friend of mine gave me an Old Town canoe that someone had botched a fiberglass recovering job. I stripped off the old glass, changed some planking, and repaired it. Then we had a canoe for exploring lakes and rivers.

Later on I built a 20 foot stripper canoe. The cedar came from my land and I borrowed tools from friends and family. The large canoe fit a family of five, and all our camping gear including a 10 X 20 foot canvas wall tent. Eventually the kids were paddling boats of their own.

What about heading out on adventures without your wife and kids? If you married the right person, you still do those things now and then. The flip side is that some days you watch the kids alone while your significant other is out doing something she likes.

Maybe I might have done something grander if I didn't marry and have a family, like climb Mt. Denali or something. On the other hand my lovely wife introduced me to things I'd never have experienced on my own. A few times she saved me from adventures that were just plain dumb, so there's that.

People have this image that when they get married they settle down in some suburban house with a white picket fence. I've met families living on the road in an RV and others sailing the seas. Home schooling makes all the difference. What could be more educational than travel and adventure?

Do it for the children. Don't they deserve to grow up seeing and experiencing all the world has to offer?