Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fuelish Things

One of my waste veggie oil suppliers decided to go with a commercial removal service. It wasn't anything I did. Bears have been coming into town looking for food. They found his neatly piled up oil jugs and made a mess. The commercial service provides a big heavy steel bear resistant container.

There have been no other problems with other suppliers, so I'm in pretty good shape. In fact, I was collecting way more waste vegetable oil than I could use. My storage rack is full, as is my overflow pallet. There are jugs of oil all over my basement.

My van has been driven a lot less than normal due to the repairs it has needed. It should be in pretty good shape a week from now so I'll be driving all over the place. That should take care of some of my fuel abundance problem. Having too much free motor fuel is not all that bad a problem to have.

Someday all my major fuel suppliers could dry up. If that happens, having a big camper van won't make much sense. That's why something like a small VW diesel makes sense to me. I'd convert it to run on veggie, but if that was unavailable, buying diesel wouldn't break the budget. If one shows up at the right price, when I've got a few dollars to spare, it'll come home with me.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Travel plans

My lovely wife and I have been making our winter travel plans since we got back in the spring. We never do exactly the same thing from year to year. What would be the point? It's like people who travel the world, but stay in the same hotel chain and never wander off the tourist trails.

We do need to make some general plans, or nothing at all will happen. The van needs some more work before we take it cross country. Next month it's going in the garage to get a diesel fuel sending unit replaced. The brake pads are looking a bit thin, but I can replace those myself. I may even try to fix the AC. I'm one of those weird people who don't think AC is a critical system, so it gets fixed last.

Last year it was all about sailing. For our next trip we plan a mix of camping and sailing. For that we'll need the small sailboat -the one I'm still building. There are some interesting rivers and shallow water cruising that the new boat will be good for.

Of course, we'll need a trailer to haul the boat. Right now plan “A” is to reconfigure a utility trailer into a boat hauler. A buddy of mine has some new heavy duty springs he's willing to weld on, so that'll help. The boat won't be all that heavy, but I'm also hoping to haul another 100 gallons of waste vegetable oil for motor fuel. With the 120 or so gallons that the van carries, that's a fair bit of range.

Plan “B” is to put the Oday 19 on jacks and use its trailer to haul the smaller boat. That would also need some reconfiguration, but it is an option.

In addition to travel plans, there's the normal day to day stuff that needs doing. The house needs some work before next winter. The door that opens onto the deck needs to be rebuilt or replaced. My lovely wife would prefer that I replace with door built from home grown lumber. Maybe that can be constructed the same time a mast for the boat is built, using the same materials and tools.

That's a lot of work to fit in between play times. Our final plans might look a little or even a lot different. One has to start somewhere.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Two approaches

I've a friend who was involved in a program to increase energy efficiency and promote alternative fuel use in northern NH. She did good work. Lot's of homes got insulated and tightened up against the blows of our harsh winters. Her efforts saw the installation of quite a few wood pellet boilers. A lot of fossil fuel oil got replaced with locally produced and renewable wood pellets.

There was training for contractors. Low interest loans and even outright grants were available for home owners. Help was provided to qualify for tax breaks. Everybody had all the proper licenses and permits. The big problem with the program? It's over. The talented people who ran it are scattered to the four winds.

Then there are the projects I've been involved in: small budgets, no tax breaks, but plenty of high quality red neck engineering. Take a buddy's solar electric installation for example. A repurposed fishing shack became a power shed with solar panels on the roof and batteries inside. The solar panel rack was a metal frame from a packing crate. Battery connector cables were made from junk jumper cables.

I know exactly how far one can go with electrical work without a license. In New Hampshire it's pretty far if you know the loop holes. I've also done insulation jobs with recycled materials and borrowed equipment. There are even little tricks like using old bubble wrap to add insulation to windows. While it blocks the view, light gets in so people aren't sitting in the dark. You wouldn't want to do it to all your windows, but it can bring warmth to some problem spots.

One of the things I'm involved in is spreading knowledge. Those of us on the low end of the economic scale need to be clever. Tax breaks and low interest loans make little sense to someone who doesn't make enough money to pay income taxes.

While I haven't installed and fancy wood pellet boilers I have rebuilt old woodstoves to make them safe and useful again. Plenty of people know how to weld up good solid woodstoves from junk steel. While they don't have the automatic features of the pellet boilers, they can burn regular wood just fine. Actually, many of the redneck woodstoves are more useful in emergency situations. Most pellet stoves don't function without electricity. A plan old woodstove just keeps on working. After one ice storm I heated my house with the broken branches that the ice had taken down.

What's better? Neither. High tech, professionally installed systems help a lot of people save energy and money. There are good companies installing solar electric and solar hot water heaters. However, not everyone qualifies or can afford such work. For the rest of us, it's home brewed systems, salvaged materials, and the sweat of our brows.


Monday, July 28, 2014

The tribe and the world

Humans spent a long time living in small bands of hunter gatherers. Connecting with 30 – 50 people is pretty much hard wired. When a tribe got much bigger than that, it tended to split off into different subgroups. For most of us today, we still really only deeply connect with a relatively small number of people.

Then came civilization. Frameworks had to be set up to get people to cooperate on a larger scale. The people in charge try to expand the natural loyalty people have to small groups to a much larger group. It kinda works, but at great cost. Civilization requires taxes and armies. We've grown from the village, to the city, to the nation, to empires. There are benefits, but most of the benefits go to a tiny elite. History has plenty of examples of individuals and small groups breaking away from civilization when the costs get too high.

Even countries' militaries know better than to count too much on national loyalty. Most soldiers do not fight for their country as much as they fight for their brothers in arms. Small military units have similar personal dynamics to ancient hunting and raiding bands.

Some thinkers, philosophers, and Science Fiction writers think corporations will replace the nation state. The largest corporations have more assets than all but the largest countries. They are not limited by national boundaries. Their reach is world wide. Some even employ mercenaries and private intelligence agencies. Their fatal flaw, as I see it, is that they only exist to make money. It's hard to be too loyal to an organization that isn't loyal to you.

Large multi nation organizations have existed before corporations and still exist today: religions. Their influence on people's lives have varied from very little to all encompassing. Religions tend to emphasize how their members are special compared to everyone else. It's one of the ways they try to bond their group together. While religion can be a strong bond, the fact that so many people of the same religion fight each other shows its limits. Religions also tend to fragment into different sects. Size is always the problem as we are still hardwired to bond with fairly small groups. Just think about people who are avid church goers and move to a new area. How many of them never feel comfortable in a different congregation in the same religion? It's not easy to join a new tribe. They were not dedicated to their religion as much as they were to their local church tribe.

So what's a 21st century person suppose to do? First of all, make sure you have a tribe. In the modern world it's a mix of family, friends, and maybe some coworkers, co-religionists and neighbors. They have to be people you connect with and can rely on. They might not be people you even like especially all that much, but you can rely on each other in a tight spot.

As for the rest of the world? It's tempting to just write them off and stick to one's tribe. However, a few thousand years of culture, civilization, and religion have left their mark on us. On a personal level I try very hard to recognize the godhood in everyone. Sometimes I have to look really really hard, but it's better than nothing. That leaves me with my brothers (my tribe) and the brotherhood of man. (and woman, you know what I mean). All the in between stuff: civilization, nations, religions, and stuff are not that important to me. It's just the very small groups and the biggest. The small we can connect to with our hearts, the largest we can connect to using our brains. A little spirituality can glue it all together.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

The last 100 feet and new neighbors

A new neighbor stopped and introduced herself to my lovely wife and I. She and her son were looking for the boundary markers. Apparently they were also looking for a place to drive their ATVs through the woods to the lake road.

It's isn't going to happen. They bought a nice log cabin at a foreclosure sale. It has 5 acres of land with it. None of that land will connect with my road. Years ago people on the lake side bought lots on the other side of the road just to prevent access. The idea at the time was to prevent a logging road from going in. Nothing like a major logging operation to mess up a tiny lake front area. It's also been a good barrier against over development. There are enough buildings around the lake as it is.

She hinted that maybe I'd let her kids cut across my land. I pretended that I didn't get the hint. It's not the first time someone's wanted to use my property as a short cut. I've never given permission as I like my privacy.

Here's some helpful hints about moving into a rural area from the city. The locals don't want to hear how much better, cheaper, more sophisticated, or bigger things are back home. If it was so great why did you buy property here? Don't insult the people, places, businesses or institutions. The local you talk to might be really fond of those things. If a local tries to correct your pronunciation of local places, don't disagree and say the way it should be pronounced.

Yep, the new neighbor made all these errors and more. Let's just say that first impressions were mixed. I'm a pretty understanding and forgiving guy. A smart person will catch on and work harder to fit in with the locals. Ignorance can be fixed. A stupid person will arrogantly persist in their errors and wonder why no one likes them. Time will tell.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Boat Progresses

It's starting to look like a boat -an odd little scow of a boat, but a boat none the less.

This first photo is of the big blunt bow. The cabin has been roofed over.

The second photo is from the stern. There's the lazarette with a big white deck plate for access. Past that, in front of the open cabin is a rowing bench that stretches from one side to the other. The space under the seat is open to the cabin, allowing for some much needed leg room.

The big bench rowing seat is a departure from the plans. The plans also called for bench seats on each side. My lovely wife asked if it would be possible to not build them in. She'd rather have removable seating and that's fine with me.

I've an old utility trailer that will be modified to carry the boat. It needs some work. The tires are pretty worn and the springs are tired. A buddy of mine has some heavy duty springs that he's willing to install for me, so that's a relief. Tires aren't too expensive for that size trailer.

I've got to get everything ready in time to take the boat traveling with us this coming winter.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Boat Balance

Always it's the same dilemma When the weather is perfect for sailboat building, it's also perfect for sailing the boat I already have. My Oday 19 sits just off my beach, about 350 feet from where I'm working on the Ooze Goose. Decisions, decisions.

My lovely wife and I were having our morning coffee outside in our yard. As we were soaking up the sun we heard the song of the halyards. The halyards are the ropes that raise the sails. When it's windy, the halyards bang against the aluminum mast. Wind strong enough to ring the mast are strong enough for good sailing. What could we do? We answered the call.

Temperatures were in the mid 70s. The wind was strong enough to move the boat nicely, but no so strong as to demand our full attention. There were no other boats on the lake. It was just us, the loons, and the osprey.

We stopped to have a late lunch. Then it was time to work on the project boat. After a few hours I ran out of screws and glue anyway, so there was no way I could have spent all day building. It was a good stopping point as the glue needs time to set. In the morning another trip to the hardware store is in order.

With today's addition of a rowing seat the boat is almost ready for a test run. All it needs is the oarlocks installed and it could be rowed. That's real tempting, but I should finish up the rest of it before wetting the hull. Playing with it on the water now would only delay it's final completion.

My sandpaper arrived in the mail today. Maybe I'll test it after it's sanded and painted. I haven't even started the sailing rig. The boat project is at the point where there's a lot of waiting for glues to set and then I'll be waiting for paint to dry. The only thing to do then is to answer the call of the halyards.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Financial institution warning signs

Last year I had to deal with the hassles of my credit union being bought out by a bigger credit union. What a mess that turned out to be. My lovely wife and I planned to travel all winter. That required that we be able to do our normal business electronically. It was all we could do to straighten out our business before heading south in October.

The credit union web site went though a couple of redesigns, requiring new passwords and procedures. One day all the debit and credit cards in our branch simply refused to function. They made an error transferring the accounts to the new server. Every card read like they were maxed out.

Since we've gotten back from our trip, there have been a number of little red flags popping up. Things that I was able to do with the old credit union can no longer be done. Services have been cut back and restrictions added that were not there before. One of the big warning signs for me was walking in the credit union during the day, seeing only one teller on duty, and not having to wait for service. Of course, the teller was unable to complete my transaction due to a new policy.

Today I started to take steps to untangle myself from that institution. By August I should be able to move my business elsewhere. Right now it looks like my business will be split between a tiny credit union and a mid sized state bank. Thay should be able to handle my rather modest needs.

This is also a good time to simplify my financial doings. Over time household business can get more complicated than it needs to be. Things just sort of evolve. Last winter I had to do electronic banking at least once a month, sometimes more often. My goal is to have things at a point where if I did nothing at all for six months there would be no major negative consequences. That would allow me to explore some really remote places.

It would not surprise me to see the old credit union taken over by another institution or even closed down. There are warning signs.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Endless Summer

When I was kid, I used to live for summer school vacation. It's when I was let of prison for an all too brief reprieve. As a little kid, summer seemed to last forever. When old enough to work summer jobs, summer got a whole lot shorter.

Before then, however, I had huge gobs of unstructured time. Not only did I have time, I had freedom to do things in it. My buddies and I would disappear into the woods, only to come back at dark. Our bikes would take us to local lakes, neighboring towns, and deep into the woods on logging roads. Today parents would be arrested for giving their kids such freedom. Back then, it was normal.

It saddens me to see how summer has changed for young people. Every minute of the school year is structured but summer is just as heavily scheduled. Little people are dragged from one supervised activity to another.

Kids that aren't shuttled around all summer spend day after beautiful day inside playing video games. The outside world isn't safe.

Maybe it's by design that those endless summer days are no more. Perhaps too many of us, having gotten a taste of freedom, wanted it in their adult life too. Now we should all be happy little drones who should feel lucky that we can work constantly without a vacation, never mind a whole summer off.

As for me, it's too late. Having tasted the sweet fruit of freedom I'll never be a model worker drone ever again.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer on the Lake

Well, it's another late post. I blame wonderful weather. My lovely wife and I went from having no plans to having a campfire with family and friends. In fact, my daughter and granddaughter are staying over. It's all good and I love it.

We will have more company in the morning. Visiting friends in the afternoon. After that we are reconnecting with another friend we haven't seen in years. Suddenly, everyone wants to be social.

I could worry about all the projects and business I'm not getting done, but instead I'm kicking back and enjoying myself. Tribe building is an important activity too.


Monday, July 21, 2014


Ever get told some piece of equipment was unrepairable? Did you fix it anyway? Do you find the the words “No user serviceable parts inside” a challenge?

My dad taught a useful lesson to me many many years ago. If something is broken, and it's going to be thrown away, there's no harm in opening it up and trying to fix it. When my microwave oven failed, the only thing wrong was a burned out wire connector. It was obvious as soon as the case was opened up.

Then there's actually understanding what a part is supposed to do. I had an old Mercedes Benz diesel. The original vacuum pump failed. While the car was old and had a zillion miles on it, I was not ready to get rid of it. The part was expensive and replacing it was a big job. However, all the pump did was generate vacuum. I found an electric vacuum pump from a VW cruise control on eBay. I tapped it into a vacuum line and wired the pump to the ignition switch. As soon as the switch was turned on, the pump started up and generated vacuum. The car drove normally after that.

Sometimes a piece of machinery isn't broken. The operator don't know how it's supposed to function in the first place. My dad's neighbor dropped off a leaf blower to see if my dad could fix it. What the guy had done was to set it on the ground in such a way that it turned off a kill switch. He didn't even know there was an emergency kill switch on the bottom of the leaf blower. Dad turned the switch on and the blower ran fine.

Dad didn't have the heart to tell the guy what an idiot the guy was. When the guy came back to pick it up, he asked what had been wrong with it.

“It was an open contact,” dad said.

Of course, when a switch is turned off, it makes an open contact.

As the price of many items have come down, we don't bother to fix them anymore. Instead, we replace. That assumes there's a steady supply of cheap replacments in the pipeline. That also assumes that your income will be such that you can afford the replacements. What if those ships and trains stopped delivering their cornicopia of goods?

Sounds like a doomer secnario, I know. Doom happens. Wouldn't it be nice to have some skills and practice before you need them? One thing that exposure to sailboats and cruising has shown me, being able to fix something can make all the difference in the world. Often I'd see nice boats sitting in a marina, waiting for some part to be shipped in from far away. Then there are the boats that have mechnical issues while far from help. Having machinery that can be repaired, and the skills to repair them, can save you from a life or death situation. No radioactive zombie apocolypse required.


Sunday, July 20, 2014


Sorry I missed posting. I'm fine. I had a houseful of visitors and a very late night. Good company. Good times.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Communication issues

Last night a utility pole was taken out by a logging truck. Crews needed most of the evening to restore services. The fiber optic cable for my Internet connection was one of the casualties. So much for e-mail, social media, and all that. Since my phone service is also over the 'net, that was gone too. Just to make things interesting, cell phones don't get reception in my area.

So what does that leave? Shortwave radio? That would work, but I'm not interested in getting into the hobby. Of course, there are satellite phones that get reception almost everywhere. While the cost of satphone communication has gone down, I can't really justify it.

Here's what we did. Nothing. We were out of contact with the world. Twenty years ago it was normal to not be connected 24/7. People had phones in their houses, not in their pockets. Being out of reach happened all the time in day to day life. Now if someone sends a text message and doesn't get a reply right away they get upset.

My lovely wife just popped a DVD in the player and we relaxed. We even got to watch it without interruption. It was nice.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Back to the boat build

Finally, I'm back to my little boat project.

As you can see it's under a tarp. I know the boat is waterproof because the tarp had blow away in a thunderstorm. I had to take a bucket and bail the water out of the hull. The tarp is better secured this time around.

I had a few hours to make a little progress on it. Now that the framework is in place, I can fasten the plywood for the cabin roof.

After that I'm going to be going off the plans and modifying the boat for my own needs. There will be more foot room in the cabin and a bigger rowing seat. That will come at the expense of a slightly smaller cockpit.

The plans called for centerboard, but I'm going with leeboards instead. I don't want to cut a hole in the bottom of the hull. I worked too hard to make it solid. At any rate, leeboards should work better in shallow water. A different type of rudder might also be in order.

For now, I'll be going with the original mast and sails. It's a real temptation to set this up with a junk rig, but balanced lug should work just as well.

It's been a real pleasure to do a little wood butchery once more. The boat is built tougher than the original Ooze Goose plans. The bottom of the hull is thicker and covered in fiberglass. The boat will weigh a bit more because of the heavy duty construction, but it's a price I'm willing to pay. With boats, everything has trade offs.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Friendly marina discounts

I was going through some old receipts. Many of them were from our sailing trip. One of the nice things to discover is how many times marinas gave us discounts. There were the normal discounts from things like being a Boat US member. On top of that, often they just gave us big discounts from their normal rates.

At one marina the captain on the boat next to us said that the marina people really liked us. I guess they did, judging from the discount. The dockmaster seemed amazed that we had come so far on a small boat and that we were having a good time. He took an additional 20% off our bill.

Another marina charged us the rate that their condo members receive. Staying at that luxury resort was actually cheaper than staying at another marina that provided no services.

Even though our boat is small, it does take up slip space that could have been filled with a boat 2 or 3 times our size. On the other hand, we did not use a lot of marina resources. It's not like we were running AC units or freezers. Our dockside water usage consisted of filling a few water jugs.

We stayed at marinas about half the time. Mostly it was to resupply, do laundry, or to avoid bad weather. The longest we stayed out on anchor was 5 days. We did stay about a week at Calidesi Island State Park, but at $19/night it was hard not to.

Some people rarely go to marinas. They tended to fall into two categories: bigger well equipped boats, or long term live aboards on a budget. I thought that since my lovely wife was crazy enough to come with me, the least I could do was to provide some shore bases comforts now and then. To my surprise, the marina fees cost as less than tent sites in the same area would have. Part of the savings is from those special discounts, just because they like us.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Your brain on poverty

According to NPR, being poor is stressful. Well duh! Being poor uses up a lot of mental bandwidth. When a person is constantly thinking about money, they have less mental energy to think of other things.

What can we do about that? Be rich, problem solved.

Okay, maybe that's not too easy. The NPR story didn't have any solutions.

It's tough to not have enough money to pay the bills. Most of know what it's like to worry about money. Unlike NPR I'm going to offer some ways of dealing with it.

The first is to get expenses well below income. Never mind the actual numbers. Here's an example: Let's say someone is barely getting by. Then they move into a less expensive apartment close enough to work to eliminate the need for a car. Suddenly they can buy a fancy coffee drink at Starbucks and not worry about every penny. Being able to buy a treat without having to wonder if it's in the budget does wonders for one's state of mind.

What if it's impossible to reduce expenses or increase income? What's the strategy for that? The problem is that poverty consumes too much of a person's attention. The constant grind wears a person down. Automatic bill pay can help. Having the regular fixed bills paid directly from your account frees up time and having to think about the bills. That frees up brain power for other things. It's not a total relief, but every little bit helps.

Then there's the situation where no matter what happens, expenses outstrip income. You've got to ask yourself, is this a temporary financial bind or is this a long term problem? Most of us get big unexpected expenses from time to time. Focusing some attention on the problem to help fix it is a good use of brain power. Then getting a little financial cushion to deal with that sort of problem in the future will remove future worries.

What if it's a situation where income will never exceed expenses? Many of us, through no fault of our own, find ourselves in such situations. Then all we can do is cultivate a serene attitude. It's like driving on an icy road and all traction is lost. The only thing you can do is hold on and pray. Either you'll get lucky and avoid the crash, or you won't. It's no longer in your hands. There's even a certain freedom in acceptance. Will avoiding buying that fancy coffee or an ice-cream cone make any difference at all? No? Then by all means treat yourself to one of the little pleasures in life.

Now it's time for me to take some of my own advice. I'd been in the icy road financial car crash scenario and had the good fortune to land wheels down. For a number of years I didn't worry about money. Not that I had much, but expenses were under control. Over the years, however, real income has slowly gone down while expenses have gone up. It's time to pay attention again to get things back into balance. I do not want to start worrying about being able to afford a cup of coffee.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Some days I think it's too bad horses and I don't get along. Lately vehicles and I haven't gotten along too well either.

The van has more parts on order. It's a never ending story of vehicle repair. There's a significant air leak on the diesel side of things. My mechanic thinks it's the unit that fits in the fuel tank. The only way to get to it is to drop the fuel tank. Joy.

Just to confuse the issue, there was also an air leak in the fuel filter housing for the waste veggie fuel. That was discovered by bypassing the filter with a cheap in-line. Once the problem was found, I removed the filter housing and was able to tighten the fittings. That took care of 98% of the air leak. There may be a spare filter housing somewhere in my random parts pile, so I'll replace it if I get a chance.

Normally, the van starts on diesel and once the engine heats up, it switches over to the waste veggie tank. I can't shut down over night on waste veggie because the engine won't start on cold solidified veggie fuel.

I did not want to leave the van at the garage while waiting for parts. After driving it home on veggie, I pumped most of the veggie out of the tank. Then I pumped fuel from the diesel tank to the veggie tank. The veggie tank was used as a diesel tank in the past so I know it works. However, I'll have to burn expensive diesel instead of free veggie until the diesel fuel system is repaired. Travel will be limited.

My lovely wife and I had planned on doing a lot of traveling this coming winter. If the van continues to have problems, our plans will have to be modified. These constant repairs have been discouraging and hard on the budget.

If nothing else, it has gotten the old brain cells thinking about unconventional transportation ideas. Who knows what kinds of weird and wonderful things will come out of that?


Monday, July 14, 2014

Fuels and crisis

Anyone paying any attention to what's going in the oil producing regions of the world has cause for alarm. We could wake up one day and discovered the Basra oil terminal on fire and mines blocking the Straights of Hormuz. It could literally happen overnight.

The world would not run out of oil, but there would suddenly be a lot less oil than people were using. The way the global economy regulates shortages is through price. Prices would get very high, very quickly.

Nations will go into crisis mode. The military will get all they need, even if everything else will be left wanting. Even emergencies services, Police, Fire, and EMS might not get enough. They depend on local governments to pay for their fuel and local governments are already fiscally stressed. Police might get fuel from the Federal Government but at the price of coming under Federal control.

Nations would be wise to do whatever it takes to keep the food system going. Nothing causing revolution more than missed meals. They may replace a lot of mechanized farming with forced human labor. That takes care of two problems: food production and idle people who might cause trouble.

Assuming that the economy is still functioning, if at a reduced level, people still have to get to work. They may continue to go to work in a big SUV, but there will be 10 people crammed into it instead of just one person. (12 once the effects of the high price of food thins us all down)

The thing that's going to almost completely disappear will be the recreational market. Travel will take a huge hit. ATVs, powerboats, motorhomes, and aircraft will sit idle, slowly decaying while waiting for fuel that they may never see again.

That's the fast scenario. There's been a lot of hype about biofuels and fracking, but all that activity hasn't lowered prices. Heroic efforts are only keep us running in place. Most people's incomes aren't rising so high fuel prices have an impact.

In the microcosm of the little lake I live on, I've noticed the lack of boat wakes. It's been a subtle shift. When I was a kid, there were so many big boats on the lake that I'd spend all afternoon wake surfing in my kayak. Water skiing was a big summer sport here. Now most of the boats on the lake are non-motorized. There are some good sized powerboats yet, but mostly they put around at less than hull speed, saving fuel. People have slowly adapted to higher fuel prices without even noticing.

Now I realize I live in a marginal area. There's always been a bet less wealth sloshing around these parts. By the time wealthier places have replaced powerboats with kayaks, my area will have abandoned lake cottages.

A fuel crisis can happen fast, like in a war zone, or it can creep up on us over time.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Going, going, gone

The Internet has been an amazing ride. Already people take for granted instant communication and massive information availability. I'm old enough to have graduated high school without touching a computer, but young enough to have learned on some of the earliest home computers.

The Internet turned computers from desktop curiosities to one of the most powerful tools available to regular people.

We have reached a turning point in the development of the Internet. Governments seem to be of two minds about the 'net. On one hand, repressive regimes “go dark” and try and shut down the Internet. On the other hand, other governments use the Internet for spying and influencing public opinion.

Here's the thing that most people don't get about the Internet. It's not a stable thing. It's changing all the time. There are even dangers of it getting so unwieldy that it becomes a lot less useful than it is now. There are things going on out there in Cyperland that surprise even the smartest computer people.

There are also things out there that can crash the next and scramble computer systems. I'm not going into detail for obvious reasons. I don't want to be responsible for assisting those of malicious intent.

One big danger is that too many people will lose trust. When they don't trust the Internet and feel it can't be understood at all, that will be the beginning of the end. Okay . . . when enough people feel that way. Right now the average Joe has some blind faith that the big brains out there have things under control. When that faith is lost it won't come back easily.

It is possible that in a single person's lifetime, the Internet was born, grew to maturity, and then dies. I hope it doesn't come to that. However, governments with all their manipulation and cyberwar are hastening the day.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

In through the out door

Traveling off the beaten path always attracted me. When I was a kid my dad used to take me hunting and fishing with him. I learned to navigate through the trackless forests. Directions from dad would be like: hike though the hard woods to the ridge line, go south until you meet up with the cedar swamp. Skirt the east side of the swamp until you come to a brook. Follow the brook down stream until you hit the blue line (old survey marks). Follow the blue line until you find the old woodyard. Cross the woodyard to the logging road. Take the road until you get back to the truck. Sometimes my directions from dad were just a series of compass points.

Just to make things interesting, often the names of places were of features that were no longer there: The horse hovel, the Double Decker (a two story logging camp once stood there), the Old Ford. Someone had driven a Ford car down a logging road so far that he was never able to get it back out. It sat there for decades, long enough to be a landmark. Then it was removed, but people still refereed to the place as the Old Ford.

Actual maintained hiking trails didn't really catch on with me until years later. Even then, my bushwhacking nature could not be contained. There are a lot of things to see that are not on maintained trails. Often trails were just a quick way to get to an interesting off-trail area.

Coming back into civilization could be a little awkward. Quite a few times I'd come out of the woods and see the back of some sign. Once I got to the front of the sign it would say something like “no trespassing.” Well, it was a bit late for that, wasn't it? Worse were the signs warning of some danger -that I'd already walked though.

Traveling by small sailboat brought back some of those slightly awkward moments from my youth. A shallow draft sailboat allowed us into a lot of little places that other boats would stay away from. Often we'd go to shore on the kayak to walk the dog in some park. After walking across the whole park, we'd see “no dogs allowed” signs. Too late. We also got to visit some nice places that apparently had a front gate with visitor's fees. One time we actually came out though the “In” door and tried to pay the entrance fee. That only confused them.

Then there were the times we stopped at places during times they were closed and no one was supposed to be there. Oops again! How was I supposed to know the hours of some random place we decided to stop? If people really didn't want visitors from the water side of their property, that's where they'd post signs. I generally respect those signs -after all, there are plenty of places without them.

Only one time did I have a run it with a security guard. A friend and I were on an extended canoe trip. We knew there was a dam under repair and the whole area had been put off-limits. We were trying to find a safe and legal way to portage around the dam. The guard caught us scouting on foot and chewed us out. After listening to him go on and on we just walked away from him. Unarmed security guards get no respect.

It's one thing to take the road less traveled. It's something else to travel where there is no road at all.

For what it's worth, as a kid I had time coloring within the lines.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Cool project

I was approached by someone who asked if I would be able to install a small solar electric system at a downtown building. The idea is to have it as a demo project and a free place to charge electronic devices like cell phones. Sounds like it would be a fun project to do and of use to the community.

It's amazing how useful a small solar electric system can be. In an emergency, cell phones are great, but it doesn't take long for batteries to die. Small solar is great for that, but it's also good for running any number of electric devices. Even being able to power a few electric lights makes a big difference in comfort.

People will be able to actually see a small solar set up in operation and use it themselves. Nothing beats a little hands on experience.

A smart man would probably turn this into a small business, but I'm not that man. Actually, the world is full of interesting things to do so I usually move on to the next interesting thing rather than stick around and make money.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Fuel pump #4

My mechanic just installed replacement diesel fuel pump #4 on the veggie van. Unlike the last 3 burned out Chinese built pumps, this one is Ford original parts. The new Ford pump is silent, just like the pump that went 188,000 miles. The Chinese ones sounded like dying electric can openers from day one.

He also found an air leak in one of the veggie lines. That may have had something do with the pump's shortened life. Lines were replaced. He also put in a section of clear fuel line to easily check for air bubbles. The guy does nice work.

Now all I've got to do if find out why the veggie fuel isn't flowing like it's supposed to. It's acting like there's a plug in the line. That does happen from time to time. Usually something has plugged the veggie uptake pipe in the secondary fuel tank. Sometimes a chunk of gunk is too big to make it to the filter.

It could be the filter itself. With all the work done on the fuel lines, any debris broken loose would end up in the filter.

Most likely this is a minor problem that I've seen before.

The fuel pump ordeal has been a huge time sink. There are better ways to spend my time -like sailing.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Doom on us

Timing is everything. I was pretty sure the 2008 financial collapse would happen. I did not know it would be in 2008. If I could time that sort of thing exactly, I'd be rich. I'm not.

However, I'm not eating out of dumpsters and living under a bridge. That's something, anyway.

On the drive home the guy on the radio said we were in the 5th year of a Bull Market. How's that been working for most of you? One of the weird things is listening to “financial experts” going on and on about how this is not really a bubble.

One thing that certainly hasn't happened is an increase in wages and benefits. Personally, my income has gone down during the last five years, not up. It has reached the point where I may actually have to do something on the income side rather than on the conservation side. It's not a pressing problem, but one that could be.

While I think of myself as being self-reliant and prepared, I can fall into the same trap that other people do. A prepper can see more potential problems and prepares for them. There, he thinks, problems solved. Then he can relax and not worry about anything.

That's fine if the prepper has prepared for the right disasters, at the right time, for the correct duration. My preps are pretty good for ice storms, blizzards, floods and other natural disasters. They are a huge help during times of personal financial difficulty. How'd I'd fair in a total world financial collapse? Not sure. How about something completely out of the blue? Zombie aliens riding ebola asteroids?

Sure, you say, that could never happen. Maybe not, but given enough time, something weird always happens. Like the markets, we don't know exactly when the storm will hit.

Don't think of your preps as solutions to specific problems. When some weird disaster hits, don't try to fit it into your list-of-things-prepared-for. Recognize that this is something different. It may have features of some more comfortable challenge, but will need a different response. At that point your preps are just one resource, and not the most important. A nimble and flexible mind is the most valuable tool.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Solar wins

The Guardian” article about solar is a good one. It's confirms what I've been saying for some time now.

Solar electric is big in Australia. Sure, we think of it as a sunny place, but it's also a place with cheap abundant coal. In short it boils down to the cost of transmission. Coal has to be used in centralized power plants and transmitted long distances over power lines. It's reached the point where it can't compete against power produced by solar on-site where it's to be used. Even if the coal was free, it can't compete.

I've been saying for years how most of the power generated in far away plants is lost in transition. It only made sense when there were few other options. We have options now for locally produced power. It's here now. No scientific breakthroughs are needed. Manufacturing of solar panels has reached the financial tipping point and there's plenty of improvements in the pipeline.

Coal is dying. If you are in a coal producing area, take note. You don't have to like it. Blaming Obama won't help. Economic forces are killing the demand for coal. If you can't imagine life without the big coal plants, it's time to stretch your imagination and figure out what to do.

There will be some demand for coal, but not for energy. It still has some value as a chemical feed stock. The chemical market is growing, but I'm betting it will not replace the fuel market.

The article points out that solar is now getting competitive for powering large cities. That's a huge change even I wasn't expecting this soon.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Outsider's view

I was listening to someone complain about all the people she has to manage. They keep secrets from her. They are very bad at explaining what their projects are all about. That makes the manager's job as a go between very difficult.

Maybe it's because I'm old and cynical, but that didn't surprise me at all. It wasn't about the manager. It's about the system. I pointed out to her that there were few visible and immediate rewards for sharing knowledge and some serious downsides.

If no one knows exactly what you are doing, no one can tell you it's being done wrong.

As I saw it, the problem wasn't with the people, but with the system. Unfortunately, it wasn't in the manager's ability to change the system. She was stuck trying to change the people.

Of course, this was an outsider's view. No doubt there are a million little reasons for things being the way they are.

Quite a few things in the world have the incentives in the wrong place. Business is all about making money. That's fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. Imagine if it was about improving the quality of human life. What if there were incentives for making the world a more peaceful and fun place?


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Lost day, party, and signed book

Sorry about not posting yesterday. I'd planned on being away for 2 days and it turned into three. Rain and wind brought on by the hurricane caused everything to get postponed a day. In spite of that it was a good trip and a great time.

My daughter moved her son's birthday party from Friday to Saturday. It was a wise move as the weather was much better and we had a great cookout.

On Thursday I helped a friend with a home construction project. My buddy surprised me with a very good bottle of single malt scotch. One can't say thank you much better than that. I took the van, in spite of the reoccurring fuel pump problems, as we had a lot of lumber to move. The van made the trip home, but started running rough the last few miles. I only hope there's enough left in it to drive it to the garage. The replacement pump should be in this coming week.

One very cool thing that happened to me in my travels is that I got to meet with the author, Patrick LeClerc. He signed a copy of his book, “In Every Clime and Place. It's a military Science Fiction story with a good plot that doesn't violate any known laws of physics. Good action and great characters.

Patrick will be at Reader Con next weekend in Burlington Mass.. He has a table in the dealer's room. If you happen to be in the area it might be worth checking out.

It's been a busy and exciting few days for me, but it's good to be back home.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day, one and all. I'm going to be independent and take the day off. Not only is it the birthday of my nation, more importantly, it's the birthday of my grandson.

Hope everyone has a good holiday. My grandson is going to grow up thinking all the commotion is for him.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Time vampires

We only have some many days in this life. We may not know the number but we do know it's a finite number. Why do so many of us spend our days doing what we neither love nor want? It doesn't even have to be something we dislike. It could be something we settle for. It could even be good things that are sucking our life hours away.

There's a way of thinking more common to Eastern Philosophies than Western ones. Mindfulness. You may have heard it expressed as “Be here now.” Today I was in line at the grocery store. The lady in front of me was on her cell phone talking to a former boyfriend. She didn't even like him, as everyone in the store could not help but overhear. Even so, she didn't hang up. In fact, she could barely complete her grocery order as her mind certainly was not in the store. Too bad, the check out lady had a killer sense of humor and she missed that.

My days have few routines and rituals, and even those are always up for scrutiny. It does give me a reputation for being random. When one mindful, it's a bit easier to change one's mind.

That's not to say it's easy, just a bit easier. People have expectations. Ruts are easy to fall into and hard to climb out of. Ruts are nice for keeping a low profile and not sticking out. In Japan they have a saying: the nail that sticks out gets pounded down. That's life in a conformist society for you.

In the West we too have a wise saying: take time to smell the roses. That looks like a form of mindfulness to me. With some many things tugging on our attention these days it's even more important to chose what to give our time and attention to. If we don't run our lives, others will run them for us.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

No adult supervision

My lovely wife is gone on a ten day trip to California. She's visiting family. Our schedule was pretty hectic leading up to her departure. Sleep has been in short supply.

After saying goodbye to my lovely wife at 4 a. m. in Boston, I drove home took a quick nap, then reported at noon for babysitting duty. I was not at my best. Normally I'm a pretty competent guy but I hadn't brought my “A” game. Sleep deprivation will do that to a person. Most of the time I can figure out better things to do with a 7 year old girl than eat Cheetos and play video games. In my defense, I did get her to soccer practice on time.

I hope my lovely wife has a good time in California. In 35 years of marriage, this will be the longest time we've ever spent away from each other.

Day two of babysitting went a lot better. Meals were more healthy and we did lots of outdoor activities.

My schedule is pretty full until she gets back, so I'm keeping busy. I do miss her and try to not think about a whole continent separating us.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Political Parties

Politics are taken a bit more seriously in New Hampshire. We come into the national spotlight every four years with the first in the nation primary. We also have the third largest legislative body in the world -all for tiny fly speck New Hampshire. The only way to avoid politicians is to be a hermit -and even then that's no guarantee you won't be sought out.

At the last farmers' market I found myself talking with a House Representative, a State Senator, and a former City Councilman who wants the Senator's job. I teased all of them -I'm an equal opportunity sort of guy.

One would think that political parties are a big deal in the state. The aren't as big as one would think. The largest group of voters are those who are registered as Independent. We vote, but not along party lines.

The thing that really skews the process is that Independents can vote in the primary. This is how voting in the primary goes for me. First I decide which party has more people this time around who I might want to support. I go in as an Independent but then declare a party. They hand me that ballot. I make my choices and drop it off in the box (paper ballot by the way). On the way out I stop at another desk and reestablish my Independent status. I was a declared party member for less than 15 minutes. One more thing, sometimes I declare a party so I can vote against someone. I'm just glad I'm not so mature that I can't pleasure in such childish behavior.

The large block of Independents can overwhelm the party faithful of either party. It drives the poll takers nuts.

By the way, most NH politicians are paid almost nothing. We know the value of a politician.

But seriously, we are more likely to get people who think of public service as a sacrifice and duty rather than a job.