Monday, June 30, 2014

Same old lifestyle, new name

Living off-grid, raising small livestock, tiny home living, car-less living, big gardens, wood heat -it's not a new idea. That's how people used to live in my dad and granddad's day. Back then it was called being poor.

As soon as they got a few bucks together, they modernized: electric lights, a car, central heating and fancy store bought food.

We are poor again.

Oh wait, I mean we are living in a more sustainable manner. At least we've learned a few tricks along the way.

Being off-grind doesn't mean not having electricity, thanks to solar electric panels. People who don't have cars often have really high technology bicycles and access to public transportation, or even a ZIP car membership. People might be burning wood, but thank god even that technology has improved. Rocket stoves use a lot less wood than the old fireplaces. Air tight woodstoves will keep a fire going all night long. My grandfather used to wake up every couple hours to put wood or coal in the stove. Thanks to new products and techniques, we don't raise small animals like we used to. Grandfather had no idea what a chicken tractor is.

Dad is happy with his retirement in Florida. He's got a nice little air conditioned double wide trailer, a new car, and goes to Walmart almost every day. There's no wood to split or chickens to feed. He's living large. Of course, after years of retirement, his pension is barely keeping up with his “modern” lifestyle.

He knows he's always welcome to move back in with me -if he wants to live like hunter/gatherers.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

What bugging out looks like

Do you want to see what bugging out looks like?

Look at all the world's boat people: the Cubans trying to get to Florida, the Haitians being turned away from the Cayman islands, the Africans crossing the Mediterranean, Pacific islanders trying to get into Australia.

How about land routes? Some days it seems like all of Central and South America is trying to come in the US by way of Mexico.

What? You mean to tell me those people are not bugging out and that they are refugees? Well that's the word for someone bugging out: refugee. Doesn't sound all the glamorous does it?

There are a scant handful who “bug out” by commercial jet or even sail away on their yacht. It's a tiny handful. These are the people less likely to leave in the first place. The very fact that they have some financial means indicates they were doing fine where they were. It's hard to leave investments behind.

Refugees are leaving their homes because they are further down the collapse road than other places. The future is here, just not evenly distributed.

When I look in the eyes of refugees do you know what I see? Human beings, little different than me.


Saturday, June 28, 2014


Someone always steps into a power vacuum. I'm sure that comes as a disappoint to all the Anarchists out there. Anarchy seems fun and all. It even works. During the early days of a disaster, people tend to pull together and do what's right, no leaders or chain of command necessary. So Anarchy works, for a time, here and there.

Over the long run . . . Well, anyone know of a long term functioning Anarchy? Something encompassing more than a handful of people in an isolated area? If you know of one I'd love to study it.

When centralized governments fall or are too week to enforce their will, warlords arise. Sooner or later the biggest, toughest bunch of bullies fills the power vacuum. Every failed state has them. They come in different flavors. Many are not much more than bandits. On the other extreme, the warlords become the government. Parts of Mexico are plagued with narco warlords who control and manage significant territory. They run whole towns and regions.

Syria and Iraq have a warlord smörgåsbord. There are bandit warlords, tribal warlords, religious warlords -every opportunist imaginable. Once they get done fighting the remains of the central government, they'll most likely turn on each other. These guys all climbed to their positions over a mountain of skulls, so don't expect diplomat solutions. They won't play nice together for very long.

Do you know one of the reasons Putin is so popular in Russia? He brought the crime lords under control. For a number of chaotic years Russia was run by the the crime warlords. They filled the vacuum left by the collapse of the USSR. Putin destroyed some. Others he brought into the government. In the end, he got the chaos caused by competing warlords under control. While it is not exactly a Jeffersonian Democracy, Russia is stable and functions.

When Rome fell, the barbarians split it up and ruled the remains as warlords. Over time, the more successful warlords ended up running whole countries. That's the origin of much of Europe's royalty. Their ancestors were the most talented warlords.

Don't be too quick to celebrate the demise of corrupt and inefficient central governments. The warlords that replace them will most likely be much worse. Putin has shown that an iron hand can reign in the warlords, but at a harsh price.

Are those our only two choices? Squabbling warlords or police state? There has got to be a third way. I'm too nice and getting too old to be a warlord, so I'd really like a third option.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Possible game changers

Visions of the future can be pretty bleak. Resource depletion and environmental degradation are real. Some sort of major financial collapse appears to be baked in the cake. Leaders care more for a tiny elite than the regular citizens. I could go on, but you get the idea.

There are technological breakthroughs that can make a big difference. Solar electric has come down in price to the point where it can compete in some markets directly with fossil fuels. Economies of scale along with the best available processes will drop the price even further. That's all happening now.

Then we Elon Musk. Sure the guy's rich and is involved in some far out ventures like SpaceX and the Tesla electric car. Now that stuff is cool, but for me a real game changer is releasing over 500 patents to the general public. This is huge. At the very least it will give a boost to other companies. They will not have to try to reinvent the wheel. I'm hopeful that the ramifications will be larger than the patents themselves. He sets a good example that doing things to advance humanity are more important than corporate trade secrets.

Then there's the world of money and investment. I'm encouraged by the proliferation of companies that are looking to profit from alternative energy and conservation. One model is for companies to do energy efficiency upgrades and/or alternative energy projects for homes and businesses. The property owner pays no money up front. The upgrades are paid for with savings from lower energy costs. It's a win win. The property owner saves money on energy and eventually owns the equipment. The installation company gets a better return on investment than they would from a bank.

A few years ago I hadn't even heard the word permaculture. Now I know people with permaculture certifications and who are putting those skills into practice. Sustainable agriculture is possible. The world does not have to starve.

There are tools and techniques available to make a better world. Will we use them?


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Another fuel pump

The van limped into town with another dying fuel pump. My mechanic was even more angry than I was. Once again it's a Chinese replacement part. He tried to get something not made in China from any of the local parts dealers. No luck.

He put another Chinese pump on to last until we can get a better pump. He's got one on order, but it's $300 more and will take some time to get here. It will be worth it if it lasts. The original pump went over 180,000 miles. The replacements go around 500. Something is wrong somewhere.

I hear rumor that even Chinese people try to avoid Chinese products. The next replacement will either come from the US or Germany. I'm good either way.

My lovely wife and I are supposed to be going to Boston on the weekend. We'll take her old car and hope that makes the trip. The van will have to earn our trust again.

A lot of people are invested in the whole idea of a bug out vehicle. I'm not too keen on the concept. Some have a lot of money tied up in their driving machines. As far as I'm concerned a bug out vehicle has to do just one job: get you and your family to a safe place. Don't expect much more than that from it. Count yourself lucky if it can do that much.

Some folks have watched the Mad Max movies too many times. They think they'll be some sort of road warriors, as if it'll be possible to keep vehicles on the road during a major collapse. Heck, it's hard enough to keep a vehicle on the road now, when the shipping lanes are still open.

Cut off International trade and in a matter of months there'd be just a handful of vehicles on the road.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Talk to the owner

There's a garage where I get my motor oil changed. The guy always treated me right -good fast service for a reasonable price. The price is so good that it isn't worth doing the job myself.

So I pull up in front of the place and some new guy runs out of the building. The dweeb asks if my vehicle is a diesel as they don't change the oil in diesels anymore. So I'm thinking, who the heck is this guy?

“You can talk to the owner if you'd like,” the dweeb says.

I'd planned on it. So I go over to the bays and the owner comes out and we say hello and exchange courtesies.

Eventually we get down to business. He apologized for not being about to take me right away like he used to. Since the local economy slowed down he can't afford to staff the big truck bay. However, if I wouldn't mind leaving the van for the day, he'd work it in. That seemed reasonable enough to me. There are things I can do in town while he's got my van. Later in the day my lovely wife has an appointment so if the van's not ready then she can pick me up.

It's a win win situation. I get the oil change for a reasonable price. The garage gets to do some extra work with their remaining crew.

Then there's the dweeb in the office. I wonder what his story is? Did the poor business owner have to give his brother-in-law some work or something? I've always hated someone telling me something “can't be done.”


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sudden Change and ISIS

Seemingly out of nowhere a bunch of Mujahideen known as ISIS takes over goodly sized portions of Syria and Iraq. Everyone is surprised. Yeah right.

No one in any Western government has the right to be surprised. The signs were all there. Iraq's central government wasn't acting as a central government. Corruption was rampant. The needs of the northern part of the country had been ignored for years. Promises were not kept. Kurdish intelligence even warned their US contacts about ISIS.

How did ISIS conquer so much territory? It didn't. Sure, it took over a few places by force. Mostly though, cities ready for revolt started waving the ISIS flag. It wasn't so much a matter of ISIS taking over as people deciding ISIS was as good an excuse as any to revolt.

At least the US seems to realize the situation is more a political problem than a military one. It's actually a sign of political maturity to admit that all problems can't be solved by air strikes.

Force has its limits, and that's what scares the hell out of the Powers that Be.

We've seen in Iraq how problems can fester for years before something becomes the spark that ignites the conflagration. There are an awful lot of people in the world ripe for sparks of their own: unemployed youth, those with burdensome student debt, gutted retirement plans, income disparity, political powerlessness, inequality under the law, even health care issues. The list of grievances is long and tempers are getting short.

Here's an example how fast things things could change. Let's say that suddenly a movement arises where it becomes quite popular to not pay one's student loans. In sympathy, those who own massive amounts of credit card dept all refuse to pay. Smelling blood in the water, people with bad mortgages also refuse to make their monthly payments. Politicians, seeing where this is heading try to get in front of the movement and throw their bankster buddies under the bus. Bankers are tossed into jail and hauled before Congressional Committees. Next thing you know the world has a new financial reality.

That's just one example. We could be just one major scandal away from a massive political sea change. Who knows which crack in the dam will be the one that splits it wide open? World leaders are trying to band-aid problems in need of major surgery.

The patches may keep things going for a while. However, if the real needs of much of the world's population are not addressed . . . it's just tinder waiting for a spark on a dry and windy day.


Monday, June 23, 2014


My lovely wife threw a “s'mores around the campfire party” for the first day of summer. There are worse ways to celebrate.

It was great. We got to spend time with friends and family we hadn't seen enough off. Good food, good drink and good people -what's not to love?

Sunday one of our friends came back up to the lake and we drifted leisurely around in the sailboat. Summer is such a brief yet magical time in New England. It would be a shame to let it slip by. We are off to a good start.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Dreamboats in reach

If money were no object, what kind of boat would I buy? The big glossy sailing magazines have some interesting suggestions for people in that category. Few of those boats are less than 50 feet long.

While I find some of them interesting, they aren't the sort of boat I would own. Now if I had unlimited funds and wanted to cross oceans in comfort, maybe . . . no, not even then.. I have thought about sailing across oceans, but my idea would be to do it alone, and in a spartan boat to be closer to the ocean environment.

The sailing that I enjoying doing with my lovely wife is coastal. I need a boat that can get into all the little nooks and crannies along coasts and islands.

A shallow draft is mandatory. Some of the most interesting places we sailed to last winter had less than two feet of water in places.

A boat should be small enough so that it feels like sailing.

It's easy to make a small boat strong as overbuilding it is easier than trying to build it just strong enough. Over the short length of a small boat, materials are not stressed like they would be in a long hull.

My boat must be one that I can repair the hull myself if need be. I'm comfortable with fiberglass and composites and some wood construction. Aluminum and steel fabrication of marine hulls are way past my skill set.

Engine trouble is common. The marine environment is harsh. Often I've seen some really nice boats waiting around in marinas for boat parts. One captain I talked to was waiting for a mechanic to come from hundreds of miles away. There were good mechanics at the marina he was in, but they didn't work on his brand of diesel. It's not unheard of for boats to be stranded for weeks or even months while sorting out engine problems.

A small boat can dispense with an inboard motor entirely and clamp a little outboard on the transom. Outboards are a lot easier to work on. Sure beats hanging upside down in some dirty, smelly and cramped engine compartment. Worse comes to worse it's not all that hard to replace an outboard with another outboard.

There's a lot of gadgets I'd do without. Water makers sound like a good self-reliant technology, but generally they aren't. Power draws are high. When they fail they require a lot of specialized parts. The idea is to be independent from land, but needing to be near a good dealer and parts supplier defeats the purpose. The water problem can be solved with good sized fresh water tanks. If you want to get fancy, add a simple rainwater recovery system.

For the captain with a big expense account it's easy to get carried away with electronics. They have some amazing fully integrated systems out there. Personally, I prefer smaller hand held electronics that can run on their batteries if they have to. With an unlimited budget, I'd get several of each as backup. Even on blue collar budget, backing up the more essential electronics won't break the bank.

I like a boat with humble power needs that can be supplied by solar panels. I'd rather do without a big freezer than have to listen to a big generator.

It comes down to quality of life. A small, well put together boat that I can do most of the necessary work on, would be a joy. A big boat that required specialized technicians, parts, and materials would be a headache.

Heck a big boat may even require crew. Who wants to manage crew when they could be carefree?

Fortunately, there are plenty of good used boats within my price range that fit my requirements. Best of all, it would not be settling. That's the sort of boat I really like, not some floating money pit.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mental Discipline

Reality is a funny thing. In a way, it only exists in our heads. There's a whole lot going on in the bigger world that we know nothing about. Our very senses only sample a tiny slice of information. Telescopes and microscopes opened up new worlds we didn't even know existed. No doubt there's a lot more to existence that we have no way of seeing.

From our very limited sample of the universe we make a model of reality in our heads. That's the map we navigate our lives by. A wise person will try to continually add to their knowledge base, making their mental map more useful.

No one's mental map is the same, in spite of the efforts of standardized school curriculum. The best we seem able to do is to establish enough common territory on the maps so we can navigate through our daily relationships. Even there we often stumble.

It's obvious that some people's mental maps are more useful than others. Ignorance can be a sad thing to watch. Willful ignorance is even worse. Don't be too smug though, even the smartest person the world is ignorant about the greater part of everything.

What's a person to do with this view of the world? For me, it makes me very careful about what I believe. I monitor my own thinking to see if self defeating things have crept in. Has experience shown me that parts of my mental map no longer correspond to the territory? How often have we done something for years without even thinking about it? Then one day we wonder why the heck we are doing what we do? What purpose does it serve?

From a practical standpoint I can do two things. I can absorb more and more information to improve my map. The second thing is to be open to the fact that once in a while my map will be of no use at all and I have to go with the flow.

I know just enough about reality to not take my version of it too seriously.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Boat project delays

Last fall my Ozz Goose sailboat project got put on hold. The hull was turned upside down, braced and wrapped in a large tarp. It was past time to unwrap it and see how it survived the snows.

Of course, nothing is simple. There was a 105 watt solar panel lying on top of the pile using it as a expedient panel mount. After taking the panel off the boat, I decided to electrify my shack by the lake. Down to the lake the panel went. A large 12 volt marine deep charge battery, charge controller, 400 watt inverter, light fixture, and power strip later the shack was electrified. Once again, the panel is in a “temporary” location until I can mount it on the shack roof. That will happen. Soon. Really.

The tarp came off the boat and the bottom of the hull looked just as I left it. Flipping it over revealed the inside also looked good. It really paid to seal everything in epoxy.

Did I get my tools out and start working on the boat project? Of course not. While down by the lake I noticed the wind was blowing hard and variable. Looked like fun to me.

My lovely wife and I put up just the main on our Oday 19 and went to play in the crazy wind. Good fun. We even buried the starboard rail into the lake until water came into the cockpit. My fault. My lovely wife was at the tiller and I was supposed to be the ballast. Misjudging the wind I ended up on the wrong side. The boat swung around and soon righted itself. No real danger, but quite the rush anyway.

The real big problem with building a new sailboat is having a perfectly functional one sitting in a lake just a few hundred feet away. The building season is short so I'd better get focused. (maybe I'll have nice dry days with no wind . . .)


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Pesky bears

I thought I wasn't going to be bothered by bears this year. There had been no sign of them all spring.

They tend to come around my house because I use waste vegetable oil as a fuel for my van. Since they hadn't been around I've been leaving some jugs outside. The sun warms the oil and speeds up the settling process. Most of the waste food bits settle to the bottom of the jugs. Then I pour off the clean fuel.

Last night while I was sleeping a bear got into my jugs. Only three were damaged. Two weren't too bad off.

This is a photo of the worse one.

The bear dragged it into the middle of the lawn, bit holes in the jug, and lapped up a couple gallons of veggie.

All my jugs are now locked away in the basement. I'm going to have to make sure nothing is left out. Once a bear finds food somewhere it keeps coming back to check on the spot. I'll have to make sure he doesn't find anything.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Get togethers

The only time I ever get together with most of the guys I used to work with is at funerals. I hate going to these things, but it has to be done.

The most recent one was a guy who was a volunteer Firefighter when I was a full timer. These guys would only get paid when actually at a fire. Some of them were better than others. This volunteer was one of the solid guys. We weren't close but I liked and respected him.

Lung cancer claimed another. Cancers in general are high in the Fire Service. Of course it's almost impossible to prove that cancer was caused by working for years in a environment of hot toxic gases. After all, the guy might have had a cigarette once back in High School. I wish I was exaggerating. When I had to leave the job for lung issues they went to the trouble of pulling all my school records back to the first grade They wanted to see if I'd been a sick a lot as a child. They also sent private detectives to interview people to see if they ever saw me smoking.

Unlike so many of my brothers, I've so far escaped the Big C. Maybe I'm more genetically resistant than most. Maybe it's just dumb luck. These funeral get togethers bring home to me how many guys I used to work with are now gone.

After we paid our respects I hung around and talked with the guys. I told them I didn't want to put them through a funeral for me. I plan to outlive them all.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Any excuse for water time

It was a beautiful afternoon so working on the boat went to the top of the project list. The sailboat survived our winter sailing in pretty good shape. The repair list was a short one. A loose hatch cover needed the hinges remounted. While messing around in the compartments I decided to mount the replacement charge controller in a better spot. Eventually I'd like to move the main battery and all associated wiring. There's no hurry as everything is working right now.

I was concerned that the battery might not be getting a full charge from the solar panel. Either that or there was a voltage drop between the battery and motor. The motor has a built in charge meter on the control head. All that was visible was the red LEDs that indicated low charge. I was worried until my shadow happened to fall on the meter. There are green LEDs that just aren't very visible in bright sunlight. Once they were shaded by my hand it was easy to see it was at a full charge.

Since it was such a beautiful day I had to take the boat out for a sail. (as if that wasn't going to happen) It brought back memories. When I was a teenager one of my buddies had a nice powerboat. We did some crazy things, like diving from the boat with a big mushroom anchor in our hands to see how far down we could get. Only once did I made it all the way to the bottom. It seemed like a long long way back up through cold and dark waters. Today the depth gage on my boat showed that we were in about 50 feet of water. We are lucky we didn't kill ourselves back then.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Used books

These are the worst of times and the best of times. If you are looking for used books you are in luck. Prices are low and thanks to the Internet it's possible to find books from all over the world.

If you are in the used book business these are the worse of times. Prices have collapsed. Try and run a business when the absolute lowest price out there, thanks to the Internet, is all that people will pay. Exceptions exist, for rare books with a strong demand. For everything else prices are nearing pulp paper prices.

It's weird when you think about it. Regular paper books, used, are often selling for less than e-books. Something physical, in the real world, is cheap. Electronic media, something less real than vapor, goes for good money. Real books are wonderful. Printed on good paper, they can last for hundreds of years. No special equipment is required to read them.

Some years back my lovely wife and I dabbled in the used book business. Our local area has a low population density with less education than average -not the best book market. Selling books through the Internet seemed like a godsend. We could reach a much wider market. Had we thought about it we would have realized that everybody could reach that same market.

That was then. For a period of time it was a decent part time income. Recently my lovely wife sold some of our left over used books. They went for about a third of what we used to get for them. It was hardly worth the trouble.

On the bright side, I don't mind having a house full of books. Who knows, some day they may even be worth something.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Secret Sailors

The mountains of Northern New Hampshire are not know for sailing. Canoes, kayaks and fishing boats are common enough. A sail billowing in the wind is a rare sight indeed.

That being said, in the last couple of days I've bumped into a few who sail. One guy has a Core Sound half built. He travelled out of state to take a sailing course. Another fellow has two Scorpions, a boat design similar to a Sunfish. Today I met a man with a 17 foot open boat who was looking for a heavy duty sewing machine to fix his sail.

It's a long ways from a West Marine or any other company that supplies parts for small boats. Often we make do with homemade work arounds. Inspiration comes from “Small Craft Advisor” and other sailing magazines. When sailing nuts meet our here in the North Woods it's like finding long lost family.

We are all small boat guys. Nothing beats the feeling of sailing on a small boat, close to the wind and water. There are some good sized lakes in the area. Sailing is tricky due to the mountains. Changes in wind speed and direction can be sudden and dramatic. There are lakes that are big enough for very long days on the water. Some are big enough for overnight trips.

I'm thinking there just might be enough of us hidden sailors in this area to have our own little sailing rally. We may dream of sailing in the Everglades Challenge or the Texas 200, but what we really want is to meet people who share our passion. It just might be possible to gather enough of us hidden sailing nuts to make our own get together.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

War Story

The United States goes into a country far away. They destabilize the government and installs one more to their liking. For years they fight a war against local insurgents. Eventually the American people are worn down by war. Locals are trained to take over and receive material support from the US. The troops come home. A revitalized enemy comes down from the north and threatens the capital city.

Yep, Vietnam was mistake. Good thing the United States learned from that experience and never repeated it. Oh, where you thinking this just might also apply to Iraq right now?

It's not quite done yet, of course. After all, the capital has yet to fall. Just hope we don't evacuate our embassy with helicopters from the roof. How about artificial boundaries left over from colonial times getting redrawn? History doesn't necessary repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.

I was just young enough to miss the draft and Vietnam war. I was old enough to see what was going on and how it all played out. That's why I was against going into Iraq, even though it was popular at the time. People wanted revenge for 911. (Never mind that Iraq had nothing to do with it.) People thought it would be like the first Gulf War. I had my doubts. The goals were different.

The United States is very good a breaking things and messing things up. Nation building? No so much.

Iraq provides some lessons -which will most likely be ignored in a few decades.


Friday, June 13, 2014

A few random things

I've got a few mostly unrelated things on my mind this evening. None of which I want to make a whole blog post on so I'm lumping them in all together.

This evening there's a SWAT team in my old hometown neighborhood. A woman came into the police station complaining of a domestic assault. Okay, that's serious. The police wanted to talk to her partner. Makes sense. In the past one or two cops would go talk to the guy. Now they send in a whole SWAT team to search the apartment. This is in a town of 10,000 people. If cops have a SWAP team, by golly they are going to find an excuse to use it. Makes me wonder about all the crazy situations police departments are going to get into now that so many of them now have former military equipment. They will find some excuse to roll out the tanks.

Then I was thinking about homelessness. Having a place to call home is the cornerstone of being in control of one's life. With a secure place to live it's then possible to get one's act together. Society should embrace any alternative housing options that make it possible for people to get off the streets. Instead, the whole mortgage/taxes, apartment/landlord, models are rigorously defended. People who try to live in micro housing have great difficult finding sites where they can put them. Mobile living can be hard. It's not that hard to convert a bus into a home. Finding a place where one can park long term for free can be difficult indeed. People living on old boats are harassed to move on. They spoil the view. Authorities even bulldoze the tents of homeless people. They can't even have that.

Another thing that got the gears turning is the extreme technological leaps that were made during WWII. The US had the Manhattan Project to harness the power of the atom. German had a whole string of innovations: Jet planes, rockets, massive guns -whole programs for inventing super weapons. Japan had huge submarine aircraft carriers that could have bombed the US mainland. They were deployed too late in the war to see combat,but they were built. Now if only that kind of will was put to bear on peace time problems. Amazing solutions could be found in very little time. Perhaps we lack the sense of urgency a war provides. Maybe when we find ourselves with our backs against the wall solutions will be found.

If there's any link at all between these things, besides residing in the same twisted mind, is that concern the problems of the human condition. It's how we approach the world, how we solve problems, and what we focus our energy on.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Driverless cars and things not mentioned

Google is doing a test run of their driverless car technology. They are using cute little electric cars with a top speed of 25 mph. Very nonthreatening. Other companies have driverless car projects of their own.

For years we've had cars that you didn't have to drive yourself. They are called taxis. A Google driverless car will basically be a taxi without a taxi driver. Once they have the technology perfected don't expect it to stop there. The technology that can drive a cute little car can drive a massive tractor trailer truck. Just about any job that has “driver” in the title or description can be eliminated. Those are some of the last half way decent paying blue collar jobs.

But why stop there? Driverless fire truck. Driverless ambulance. Driverless tank. Driverless SWAT vehicle. Rise of the machines. It's a hugely disruptive technology.

At some point governments are going to have to figure out what to do about all the workers displaced by technology. Massive numbers of hungry unemployed people are dangerous. If nothing is done, expect to see the first driverless car bomb.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fuel to burn

I returned home to find a message on my answering machine. A cousin let me know of another place looking to get rid of waste vegetable oil. Even though my storage is already near to overflowing, I can't say no. Finding WVO to burn in my diesel can be a feast or famine situation. It's the summer tourist season and restaurants are busy. Americans eat a lot of fried food.

Free motor fuel changes the math on a lot of things. For example, sometimes it's cheaper to drive home for lunch rather than eating in town. If we were paying for fuel, eating at a restaurant would be cheaper. Shopping further away is worth while. It makes sense to haul my own firewood rather than have it delivered. It makes living out in the woods way more affordable.

As the price of regular fuel has gone up, the number of visitors to our house has gone down. Most other people are in the petroleum economy. Hard numbers on motor fuel usage is hard to get. In my opinion, the government statistics are pretty squishy. Anecdotally, looking at the people around me, they are driving a lot less. Our home out in the woods is further away than it used to be -measured in miles per dollars.

We are driving around in a one ton van while paying the fuel bill of a moped. I keep expecting this loop hole to get closed sooner or later. While it has gotten a lot harder to score free or cheap WVO on the road, I still have good sources at home.

At least WVO stores a lot safer than gasoline or even diesel. It's not explosive and is biodegradable. Storing hundreds of gallons of diesel would require special handling. Don't even think about storing large volumes of gasoline. Really, as a former firefighter, please don't do it. Veggie is stored in the same 4.5 gallon jugs the restaurants got the fresh oil in. All I do is pile it on shelves or pallets. Once it settles a while, I just pour it right in the fuel tank. On board filters take the French fries and chicken bits out.

There are other grease burners in my area, so I've sent them some of my surplus. Between that and all the traveling planned for the summer, I should be able to just barely find storage for all my free fuel. When the cool weather returns, those stocks will be drawn down, so I'm stocking up while I can.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What's a boat for?

I was thumbing through one of those glossy sailing magazines. It seems boats are getting bigger and bigger. Someone noted that at 55 feet long, a boat is finally getting big enough for the necessities. It is weird to me to hear a 40 foot boat being described as a good day sailer. They claimed it's even possible to spend a week or two on it.

One surprise was seeing a lot of 45 – 55 foot boats described as coastal cruisers. What that tells is that even though the boat has some size it's not seaworthy enough to cross oceans. Most of the these boats have a draft of 7- 8 feet or even more. That alone eliminates an awful lot of coastal sailing. So we have sailboats that are unsafe in the open ocean but draw too much water to be safe close to shore. They do have very pretty interiors though.

One builder of boats in the 55+ range pointed out that they don't expect any of their buyers will be sailing around the world. They are too busy for that. So that's it, I thought. None of these boats are really for sailing. They are floating status symbols.

Now that makes some sort of sense. The new bigger boats are darn pricey. Winning the lottery is not going to allow someone to buy one. A few million dollars would only be a good down payment. No, these are boats for the 1%.

If someone is actually interested in sailing, they can get into it for a whole lot less. In fact there are plenty of good used boats, for small money, capable of being sailed just about anywhere. My lovely wife and I did plenty of coastal sailing in a 19 foot boat. We had a blast.

Here's the weird thing, we also got a certain amount of respect and status for sailing a small boat. People noticed us. They'd get excited to see us days or weeks later in another port. They commended us on our sailing skills. Quite a few people said they regretted having a big boat when a small one could do the job with less hassle. There were even a couple of people who voluntarily downsized back to smaller boats. For them it was all about the fun of sailing.

Of course, articles about sailing small old boats on the cheap don't sell a lot of glossy ads.


Monday, June 9, 2014

WWII What if?

I've been thinking about WWII. Maybe it's all the D-Day celebrations in the news lately. It was pretty horrific. However, the historians say war is what pulled the United States out of the Great Depression. War put men in uniform and war spending put people to work in factories. People went from having no work to having all the work they could handle.

What if WWII had never happened? How long would have the depression lasted? Another year or two? Forever? Would it have broken the capitalistic model, forcing the development of a new financial system?

It's great that depression ended, but the cost was too high. Was the cost of prosperity horrific death and destruction? What kind of Faustian bargain did the world make back then? I bet those who died would have much preferred poverty.

So here we are, suffering from underemployment, low wages, and a stagnant economy. The rich are getting richer, but everyone else is not doing well at all. Do the powers that be think war is the only answer to economic malaise? Is that why there's so much saber rattling of late?

Maybe war is a way of distracting people from the inequalities around them? Rally round the flag and all that. Perhaps this time around we've had enough of war. When the economic model fails, don't jump start it with war. Let it and fail if need be. Then we can find something that does work. If war is the answer then it could be we are asking the wrong questions.


Sunday, June 8, 2014


Finally! The sailboat is back in the water where it belongs. It's only a small mountain lake, but anything that wets the hull is good right now. It might be a small lake, but I can tie the boat up at my own beach, so what's not to love?

It's nice to be back in the land of free boat ramps. Even though it was a sunny Saturday, there were only about 4 vehicles at the parking lot. There was plenty of room to set up the sailboat. It hadn't been rigged since Florida so I took my time to make sure everything was in good shape. Outside of a bit of tangled rigging, it made the trip in excellent condition.

I also got the chance to see how the trolling motor behaves. My sailboat is a 19 foot Oday. The trolling motor is rated for 55 pounds of thrust. What does that translate to in the real world? Against 5 – 10 knot winds it moved the boat at 2.5 to 3 knots. Good enough in my book. Last summer the outboard was barely used. The longest stretch was about 4 miles. Most times it was used less than a ½ mile; if it was used at all. That's well within the capabilities of the electric motor.

It is nice to have a quiet and clean propulsion system that “refuels” from a solar panel. While only able to move the boat at half the speed of the gasoline outboard, it's a fair trade off. First and foremost, it is a sailboat.


Saturday, June 7, 2014

The small hardware store

Just about every year my daughter in Massachusetts and I end up doing a little construction project together. One year it was a new basement door. Another year we remodeled her bathroom. They are fun little projects.

The worse part is dealing with the big box all-in-one builder's outlet with the big orange signs that will remain nameless. If I'm lucky I can find all the stuff I need myself. If terribly unlucky, I have to ask for assistance.

It was during the bathroom remodel. I needed to get connectors to go from the old style plumbing to match up with the new stuff. I even had a fair idea where they were located in the store. Unfortunately I could not find the parts I needed and was forced to ask for help.

The first guy could not help me. Neither could the second, or the third. Eventually they noticed that something else had been stocked in place of the part I needed. At that point they forgot all about me. Things devolved into a rotating blame game on who was responsible for parts stocked in the wrong place. They had even lost track of the fact that didn't have the part I needed.

In the end I gently eased them aside and rummaged though the parts until I found a work around. When I left they were still arguing.

My local hardware store spoiled me. My house looks like a display model for the history of plumbing. It's had a lot of changes over the years. Plumbing materials and fittings come in and out of fashion. One time I came in with two odd, uncommon plumbing connectors.

“Find me the parts I need to get from this one to that one, with as few adapters as possible.”

First the guy found two parts that would do the job. He wasn't satisfied and dug around until he found a really odd ball connector that could do it alone. It saved a few dollars and would be quicker to install. Smart clerks, imagine that.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Doctor's orders

My lovely wife's doctor wants her to do more walking for exercise -as much as when we were sailing.

On the surface it seem strange that being on a small sailboat would almost force us to do a lot of walking. Had we been sailing across oceans, that might have been the case. As coastal sailors, we walked everywhere.

We exercised without even trying. Sailing does take energy. Just the rocking back and forth of the boat works core muscles. Sometimes we'd anchor, then paddle into shore to walk the dog. Even when we'd stay at a marina, we got a lot of waking in. We were always hoofing it to get groceries, do laundry, fill prescriptions, go to restaurants, or even just general sight seeing. Then there were all those long beaches to wander on.

We returned to cold weather and lousy walking conditions. Not only that we had an awful of things to do instead of walking. Worse yet, it's a lot easier to prepare elaborate meals while on land.

I know I felt a lot better on the boat. Aches and pains that I had forgotten about have returned. Crap.

So I guess my lovely wife and I will be making an effort to get back into sailing condition. At least the weather is a lot more pleasant than when we first came home. When we were sailing we walked because it was what we had to do. Now we have to walk because it's what we should do. There are beautiful places to walk right outside my door, so have no excuse. It's just a matter of resetting priorities


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Another Road Test

It was a good day. The replacement fuel pump for the van had been delivered to the garage as promised. The predicted rain showers never materialized so I had dry conditions in which to install the pump. Installation only took about a half hour.

The road test was a 165 mile round trip drive over to friends in Vermont. My lovely wife and I had some furniture that our friends could use so we hauled it over to their place. We all had a great visit. They got some stuff they could use and we eliminated clutter from the house. That's a win win in my book.

I must admit to having been a bit nervous about the repair. Since the last fuel pump only lasted about 500 miles, this new one had me nervous. So far so good. It did seem to run better than the last one. This new pump seemed to handle waste vegetable oil better than the last one. 95% of the time the van was running on waste vegetable oil, so that was good. One can't but help wonder if a replacement fuel pump is something that should be carried on the van.

Somewhere in the middle of all that I even managed to order some epoxy for my little boat project. It won't be long before I can get back to a fun project. All these emergency repairs are getting old.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tools under the van

It appears the van's new fuel pump just crapped out. The original one lasted 188,000 miles. The replacement lasted 500.

My lovely wife and I went to the movies. That's over 50 miles one way. No problem, I thought, we'd take the veggie van and save on fuel. We made it down just fine. On the way back, with twenty miles to go, it started to lose power. It felt like the fuel not being delivered steadily, but in surges. We did make it home.

In the morning I started it up and let it idle for a bit. After about 5 minutes it stalled out and would not start again. The previously noisy fuel pump was dead silent.

Rather than pay to have it towed back to the garage I decided to pull the pump off the van myself. It came off fairly easy. Since it was recently changed the bolts were not rusted in place. Just by looking at the clean and new parts, it was easy to see how to change it.

The garage will have a replacement in in the morning. They were willing to do the job, but with all the hassle it's easier to do it myself. I don't want to wait another week for them to get to it. It's their busy season.

These breakdowns are getting very annoying. I was about to launch my sailboat on the lake when the van died. Instead of sailing I was crawling in the dirt turning wrenches.

Men plan. God laughs.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Those who adapt

It's not survival of the fittest, but survival of the most adaptable. Plants, animals or people, the same rules apply.

Scientists say that species are dying out at a rate 1000 times the historical level. I'm not sure how they so confidently arrive at such a number, but let's say it's not far off the mark. The one thing about science is that it's possible to check the numbers. I do not have the time or resources to do that so I'll assume that it's been peer reviewed and is a valid assumption.

Where does that all end up? It ends up with a much less diverse world. It's a world of weeds, cockroaches, rats and crows. The generalists survive. Creatures with tight food or habitat requirements disappear.

That's the natural world, but what about people? We are part of the natural world and not exempt from the same challenges. People in general are amazing survivors. Our diets are varied. We inhabit diverse environments. Survival is built into our genes. Unlike other creatures, we develop tools and cultures to better our adaption.

That's great for the species, but what about the individual? Humans can pretty much survive anything thrown at them, but sometimes with massive losses. Sometimes we stick with tools and cultures that no longer work. The Vikings died out in Greenland when the climate turned colder. At the same time Inuit peoples were thriving under the same conditions. It's not that the Vikings lacked toughness, but for some reason they were unwilling to adapt.

Here's the thing about humans. Sometimes our big brains can work against us. We let our beliefs about how the world should be blind us to the way the world really is. The world doesn't care about our values, culture, morality, ethics or how really really special we are. If we are dumb enough to ignore the changes around us, nature will smack us down.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Tourism's ticking bomb

ATVs are big in my neck of the woods. There's over 1000 miles of interconnected trails. Towns even have corridors where they can drive on public streets. That allows easy access to services and bridges gaps between trails.

In this economically depressed area, it's been a much needed boost. Businesses have sprung up just to service the ATV crowd. Existing businesses have also benefited. Even the local campground on my lake is full of pickups and trailers with ATVs.

I can't help but wonder how much of this new activity would go away if the price of gasoline suddenly doubled or tripled. My guess is that it would come to a screeching halt. High gas prices in the 70s and 80s decimated the RV industry. It took years and lower gas prices for it to recover.

Most tourist areas are heavily dependent on cheap fuels. Imagine what would happen to the recreational boating industry. RVs would disappear from our roads again. Campgrounds would empty and close. In fact, few tourism based activities would not be affected.

New Hampshire was a tourist destination long before everyone had cars. Back in the day trains would discharge tourist with massive piles of luggage every summer. Wealthy city people escaped the heat of the city for the grand hotels in the countryside. They stayed all summer. Being a tourist was an activity out of the reach of normal folk.

I wonder how much fuel costs can rise before tourism once again becomes the domain of the ultra rich.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sailboat e-power

I'm finally getting some work done on our sailboat. The replacement charge controller for the solar electric has been installed and is working well.

The old gas outboard has been replaced with a 55 lb thrust electric outboard. The price was right and we don't much of a motor. Last summer I sailed several times a week. The gas outboard was fired up about 4 or 5 times all summer. The longest run with it was about 4 miles. A big electric trolling motor should be able to handle that just fine. After all, the boat is only 19 feet long.

There are some big heavy duty cables running from the battery back to a heavy duty trolling motor plug. I'd actually used the plug to feed power from a gas outboard's alternator to the battery. That worked fairly well.

Unfortunately it's not working all that well now. The battery voltage read 12. 86 volts. At the plug, voltage was 11.05 volts. That's a huge power loss somewhere down the line. Cleaning up the contacts on the plug itself made no difference. The plan is to unbolt the plug from the boat and check the connections. Salt water exposure may have gotten into the splice. The plan is to totally switch out the plug with a new replacement -and this time to do a more saltwater worthy splice.

My idea is to do extensive testing of the trolling motor on the small lake I live on. If I'm satisfied with the performance I'm going to completely refit the boat for electric running. My lovely wife cleaned up the gas tank locker so that we could move the batteries there. I'm thinking of adding 2 or 3 more heavy duty trolling motor batteries to the system. Then build an arch on the stern of the boat for mounting more solar panels.

The arch could be incorporated into a tent/bug net system covering the cockpit. That would give a lot more living space while at anchor.

I guess my lovely wife is also thinking sailing. She went shopping with my daughter today. One of the things she bought was new dockline. While it's been nice to be back home, we do miss living on our little sailboat.