Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Home on the range

I used to have a shooting range right across the street from my house. Very convenient and safe too. That is until a developer put in a road and sold house lots. A house was built directly behind my shooting range. It was a fair ways off, but in the interest of safety the range was discontinued.

Dad had a hunting camp off in the woods with a nice little range. Too bad he sold the camp when he moved to Florida. So much for that.

For a while I used to shoot about a mile down the road in an abandoned wood yard. The land company allowed people to shoot there. That is until the area was turned into ATV parking.

Local clubs manage shooting ranges, but they charge money. There are some old sand pits where free shooting is allowed, so that's been an option for me.

However, a buddy of mine of who lives in Maine found a range roughly halfway between his place and mine in New Hampshire. It's a free private range that's open to the public. Sunday I drove on over to meet him at the range for some shooting. I'd almost forgotten how much I enjoy target shooting.

Later some other folks joined us at the range. It's always nice to look at other people's guns and to show off one's own. One thing that's changed is that now I have people compliment me on my ammunition. Years ago I stocked up as I suspected prices to go up in the future. It's now the future. There's some types of ammunition that are still very hard to get -at any price.

Sadly, when we got the range it was a mess. There were old broken target stands and piles of junk all over the place. Four large trash barrels were available for trash, but hadn't been used. Those of us at the range that day pitched in and cleaned it up. It only takes a few thoughtless people to ruin a good thing for everyone else. Nice free shooting ranges are hard to come by. I'd hate to see this one closed to the public.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Stumbling into war

So now the United States is a war with Syria. No, really. That's what happens when one country conducts military operations within the borders of another country. Dropping bombs counts. Any member of Congress could invoke the War Powers Act, but that would require taking a stand and having a backbone. We all know for sure they are all invertebrates, as strange subspecies of humanity.

Countries have stumbled into war before. How have they turned out? WWI comes to mind. Few expected it to get as large as it did, last as long, or kill so many people. Assassinate just one guy and one thing leads to another and before you know it the trenches run with blood.

Less known than WWI was the Crimean War. In many way it was precursor to WWI: diplomacy gone wrong, underestimation of the length and severity. Heck, it even had trench warfare. There were lessons about that type of fighting that were quickly forgotten before WWI. At least it settled the problems in the Crimea for all time. No? Guess that was a waste too.

The United States half heartedly stumbled into war in 1812. Yeah, Americans like to forget that one. Canada kicked our collective butts, the White House was burned down, New England seriously looked at seceding from the US. The biggest US victory was the Battle of New Orleans, which was fought after the war was officially over. In the end the peace treaty just restored the status quo.

So now we are stumbling into a wider Middle East war. Do we blame the Obama administration? Should we go back to the Bush years when the US invaded Iraq by lying about weapons of mass destruction? Historians can point to the mess that the colonial powers created when they established many of those countries with little regard for ethnicity, religion or even natural boundaries.

Am I an alarmist? Maybe. After all, nobody expects events in Syria to get out of hand -like they did in just about every conflict in the area.

Don't get me wrong. By all accounts the Islamic State dudes are bad news. Something probably should be done about them. Maybe, just maybe, we should look into the events that lead to the conditions that spawn such groups. Then maybe we can stop doing those things. Crazy talk, I know.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Helicopter and Sailboat parents

Recently I had the pleasure of watching Maidentrip, the story of Laura Dekker, a 13 year old girl who wanted to sail around the world alone. It's available on Netflix streaming.

She was living in Denmark and the government didn't want to let her go. There was a 10 month legal battle in which the government tried to take legal custody away from her father. (It's all about protecting the children, right?) She won her case and left on a two year journey to sail around the world.

So there she was, a 14 year old girl on a 38 foot sailboat. There were no support ships. A handful of times family members flew out to visit her in various ports. It was a good story. Kids normally mature a lot between 14 and 16. Now imagine how a young person would mature during those years while sailing around the world. From the movie it was clear Laura was a kid who knew exactly what she wanted to do and had mastered the skills to do it.

Contrast that to children who were raised by helicopter parents. A kid with parents like that never get to make any important decisions alone. Can you imagine them weighing the merits of the different paths through the Indian Ocean? The northern route has better weather but the possibility of pirates. The southern route doesn't have pirates, or anything else except possibly really bad weather and giant seas. Thanks to cell phones helicopter parents stay in constant contact even through the college years, ready swoop in at the least hint of trouble.

Thank goodness I grew up before helicopter parents were a normal thing. While I didn't get to sail around the world at 14, my parents let me do a lot. I got to take open canoes through class III rapids alone. I went backpacking and camping without adults. I even went off hunting on my own. While it wasn't technically legal until I was 16, my dad allowed me to go We'd leave the hunting camp at dawn, and head off into different directions. We wouldn't see each other until after dark. That was hunting “with” dad. By the time I was 16 I had my own hunting license and could go totally alone.

My dad grew up a lot wilder than I did. He learned to be self reliant and saw the value in it. I probably would have had even more freedom as a kid, but my mom was pretty freaked out as it was.

So I feel a bit sorry for those kids who grew up with parents ever ready to smooth the way. At some point they will have to deal with life on their own and they lack the experience.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Float test

Here's the Ooze Goose at the boat ramp. It looks out place on the trailer for my Oday 19. Good thing I live close to the launch site.

Originally I had the less than brilliant idea of moving the boat using my canoe portage wheels. The Goose is 3 times the weight of my canoe, so the wheels were not up to the task.

Plan B, always have a plan B, was to use the Oday trailer. Some scrap lumber made a pretty decent ramp. The trailer winch pulled the boat right on up. A couple of times I had to lever it straight as the boat barely fits on the trailer runners.

Once in place ropes and straps held it in place. Most of the trip to the ramp was at 15 mph with a top speed of 30. I had a horror thought of it bouncing off the trailer and rolling down the road. No problems, so that was a relief. It's a good thing I paid attention in Boy Scouts when they taught knot tying. If I do decided to use this trailer to transport the Goose any distance some modifications would be in order. Side boards to hold it on would be good and the big white guideposts would have to go.

I had a nice row around the lake. The boat has a very shallow draft and is quite stable for a boat its length. Now my efforts go towards building the sailing rig. I may even install it down to the beach rather than bring the boat back up to the house.

Too bad I was alone and there was no one to take photos of me on the lake.


Friday, September 26, 2014

More boaty bits

My in-laws live about 2000 miles away. I get along with them just fine. When they lived closer and we saw them more often, I still got along with them. In fact, I'm looking forward to visiting them in Texas sometime this coming winter.

Last time we visited my father-in-law gave me a lot of marine stuff. It pleases me to be able to use some of the bits on my boat project. Today I installed some cleats and an old compass. The compass is old enough that it was built in Chicago, not some city in the Orient. I like the look of the old equipment and it's all still perfectly functional.

The port holes are actually clear deck plates, installed so that they can be unscrewed from the inside. All you can see from the outside is the wood ring that holds the no-see-um screen in place.

Tomorrow, if all goes well, I'll put a set of oars on it and take it for a spin around the lake. Then it's back to building the sailing rig.

Somehow I've also got to find time to modify an old utility trailer and turn it into a boat trailer. It's a fair bit to do, but I've been blessed with good weather.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Stealth Cabin?

Ever get tempted to build a little cabin far off in the woods where nobody can find it? I know I've been. Over the years I've come to the conclusion that it's almost impossible. There are more people wandering around the woods than one would think. Odds are pretty good that hikers or hunters could come across your little cabin. They will tell their buddies about it.

Years ago I thought I found the perfect spot. It was miles from any road or trail. My idea was to build a small cabin hidden in a dense stand of spruce trees. The spruce trees were on a slight rise of land surrounded by dense swamp. Hunting wasn't very good around there and it was hard to get to. I thought someone would have to be extremely lost to stumble across a stealth cabin in those woods.

You know what happened? A few years later a logging company put a road though that swamp all the way to the stand of spruce trees. Everything was logged flat. So much for that idea.

For a while back in the 70s a number of survivalists would bury all the components to a small prefab cabin. The idea what that if everything went south they could hike out into the woods and set up a cabin in a few days. I wonder how many little cabin kits are rotting in the ground across the country?
It doesn't sound like a horrible idea -unless you live in an area that gets 8 feet of snow. That might be a problem.

One guy I know built a tent platform on a mountain without any official hiking trails. The platform got his tent off the cold wet ground. Nearby he hid a cache of tools and some food in a bear proof container. It was pretty minimalistic, but made long term tent camping a lot more comfortable.

Another guy I know had an old army wall tent set up in the woods. He had a couple of old salvaged woodstoves for heat. The tent lasted a few years before it rotted away. No one bother it, but there really wasn't anything of value to steal there either.

I've come to the conclusion that a stealth cabin would most likely get found sooner or later. If someone's still tempted to try it, I'd suggest going pretty low budget. Don't have anything worth stealing. Your money might be better spent on good camping equipment. That way you can bring your shelter with you and move it as needed.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Barbarian life

Are you civilized or are you a barbarian?

Lately I've been thinking about the fall of the Roman Empire. Maybe it's because I follow the news. Knowing how empires fall might be useful information.

Most barbarian invasions were not looking to topple Rome. They wanted what Rome had: good land, civilized goods, food, and wealth of all kinds. Often barbarian invasions were stopped by giving them loot so they'd go away.

Most barbarians were forced into contact with the empire. Sometimes they were fleeing other barbarians. (who may have been fleeing even tougher tribes themselves). At times bad climate conditions moved large groups of people off land that could no longer sustain them. Then there's the winter of 406 that was unusually cold allowing the barbarians to cross the frozen Rhine River.

Over the years many barbarians became Romanized. They adopted the dress, laws, language, and even the religion of the Romans. The most dangerous barbarians were those who lived in the empire, learned of its ways, yet never lost their barbarian roots. They took what they could use and turned it against the Romans.

These days we basically have a world wide civilization. Only tiny isolated pockets of humans cling to isolation and independence. These are the people who shoot arrows at helicopters. For all practical purposes, we've all become “Romanized.” We live in the world of global commerce and communication.

Some of us still cling to our barbarian sensibilities. We recognized the power and dominance of the world wide civilization. We may even be quite successful in that civilization. In our hearts we are still outsiders, taking what civilization has to offer, but not buying into its myths. We look at the global civilization the same way barbarians looked at the last days of the Roman Empire. There's some cool stuff, but don't get too invested in a dying system. Don't trust the promises as the empire won't be able to deliver.

So are you a barbarian or are you civilized? Barbarians survive the fall of empire. Civilized people . . . not so much.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Shrinkwrap and boat deals

Shrinkwrap ads signal the start of boat bargain season. There are sailboat boat bargains on Craigslist. I follow the ads for Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. New England states are fairly small so they are all within reasonable driving distance.

Frosty nights wake people up. Winter is not just something in the distant future. Stuff's about to get real. Boats have to be winterized soon. Now is the time for bargains. Boat owners are willing to drop their prices, sometimes by a lot, to avoid the hassle of winter storage.

This is a perfect opportunity for people to pick up some bargains. For someone looking for a trailer sailor to haul to Florida the situation is perfect. My lovely wife and I bought our boat from a guy in Maine during the month of October and we did quite well with it. The guy had picked up a bigger boat at the end of the season and was suddenly faced with the prospect of storing two sailboats. He was desperate to sell.

There's also a fair chance of picking up a boat that's never seen salt water. New England's fresh water lakes provide lots of sailing fun for the weekend sailor. Vermont has Lake Champlain. New Hampshire has Lake Winnipesaukee. Maine has fresh water lakes scatter all across the state. In fact, my boat spent most of its life on an 8 mile long lake in Western Maine.

I met a man in Naples Florida who often drove up to New England to buy boats. He owned a big Ford 450 Pickup with duel wheels and a massive trailer that could haul a good sized keel boat. Even with the cost of transportation, he still made a tidy profit when the boat sold in Florida.

I would not even be blogging about this if I was in the market for a boat right now.

For the price of a week look cruise in the Caribbean, a couple could buy an old boat and sail it to the Caribbean themselves. Of course, that's the difference between a vacation and a life style.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Boat paint

The predicted rain stayed away and temperatures climbed into the 70s. Good day for painting.

Here's the current color scheme of the little boat project. Cabin top, white. Sides, gold. Cockpit, gray. The interior of the cabin is white with a gray. floor. All the paint is exterior latex. The bottom will also be gray.

The white and gray. are left over from touching up the exterior of the house. The white is window trim and the gray. is deck paint. The gold paint was something that the paint store messed up so it sold at a steep discount.

The paint job inside the cockpit looks like a dog's breakfast. Okay, maybe not that bad, but lord it ain't good. I may have put almost as much paint on myself as I did on the cabin. My lovely wife volunteered to tidy it up later.

Portholes, deckplates, cleats, and orelocks are ready to install. After that it'll be time for a water test. The leeboards have been started and I have a pretty good idea on what the rest of the rig will look like, so the sailing rig can be added later.

It is coming along. I'm not married to the colors. The boat will probably change color many times in the coming years. (depending on what paint is available)


Sunday, September 21, 2014


That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Famous quote. It's bold. It's strong. It's only partially true. That's the problem with so many nifty sayings; they have uncomfortable exceptions.

Sometimes adversity does make us stronger. We don't wonder if we have the right stuff or not. We've been tested and survived. Nothing like troubles to sort out what's important in your life. You also find out who your true friends are. The mind can focus on what's really valuable.

That's the good outcome.

That which does not kill us can leave us maimed for life. I guess there was no PTSD in Nietzche's time. Troubles can scar a person for life. Many who are not physically killed are mentally shattered. It doesn't have to be as dramatic as war either. An old high school friend of mine went into a downward spiral after his divorce. He lost his family, then his business, and retreated into a bottle. It almost killed him. It might yet.

Then there are things that don't kill us and make us stronger in some areas, weaker in others. For example, lessons learned in war might not transfer well to civilian life. Anyone who lives long enough is likely to pick up a few scars along with that extra strength. The wise have the self knowledge to know where they are damaged and do their best to work around it.

Man is strange creature, part angel and part demon. Sometimes when challenged we respond with out best selves. Other times . . . not so much. The same person can be a hero one day and villain the next.

“That which does not kill us . . . may give us valuable life lessons and skills . . . or not” doesn't make for a great slogan.

Might be good enough for bumper sticker philosophy.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

The wrong tool for the job

We've all heard about having the right tool for the job. There's nothing like a well equipped toolbox with everything in its place and no parts missing.

If you don't have the right tool for the job, the next best thing is to have the wrong tool for the job. There are a few tools out there that are essential if your budget or space is limited.

One of the most abused tools in the world is the common screwdriver. It's used a pry bar, chisel, scraper, paint stirrer, hammer, ice pick and even as a self defense weapon. Anyone ever use one to short across a bad solenoid in a car? Once in a great while someone even turns a few screws with one.

My next favorite tool to abuse are locking vise grips. They are often used instead of a good set of socket wrenches. Unlike the right tool, they mar and even deform nuts and bolts. On the plus side they get the job done. Get the brand name ones, especially if you are going to use it as a hammer or slip a piece of pipe over it for better leverage. I've removed wheel nuts on a one ton pickup truck with one of those babies. They make a pretty good emergency clamp and even have little cutters built in.

Moving on we have the much maligned multi-tool. These are the generalists of your personal tool kit. They do nothing perfectly, but many things well enough. Their handles tend to be uncomfortable and dig into your hands. Screwdrivers, knives, and other tools are often awkward to use. Some models have little attachments that get lost and are nearly impossible to replace. While never the ideal tool for any particular job, they are usually good enough.

There you go, the poor man's tool kit. Throw them in your bugout bag. Carry on your bicycle. Keep them in your car. Wrap them in an oily rag and toss them in your boat. They are cheap enough to own several sets.

Throw in a roll of duck tape and a clever person can make emergency repairs on just about anything.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Choosing your complexity level

There is something to be said for simplicity -live stripped down to the basics. It's easy for things to get out of hand. The worse is labor saving devices.

Right now I'd rather hand wash dishes than deal with maintaining a dishwasher. When mine failed it was hauled to the dump and never replaced. Currently it's less hassle for me to wash dishes than deal with getting a new machine. That's a huge change for me. Once I moved apartments because the new apartment had a dishwasher.

People wonder why I don't own a snowblower. I'm too lazy to own a snowblower. Figure in the expense, maintenance and noise and I'd rather shovel. It's easier in the long run. I abandon my lower driveways and only use the ones with parking right next to the road. Less to shovel. Works for me.

The simplicity of the kitchen woodstove pleases me. No need for electricity, special thermostats, or expensive service plans. The oil furnace it replaced was modern and automatic. A whole symphony of pumps, blowers, motors and control electronics had to function flawlessly. A simple failure in any component and the automatic heat is no more. When new it worked well. Time has not be kind to all those little complex gadgets that make it go.

Sailing has taught me the value of simple robust systems. My boat might not have all the gadgets, but it has enough to be comfortable. All too often in my travels I see people sitting at the marina fixing water makers, heads, fancy electronics, electronic winches, refrigeration units, AC systems, and what not. I've talked to highly intelligent mechanically minded people who still find themselves overwhelmed with their boat's systems.

Then there are some things I've decided to learn to live with. My van is more complex than I like, but that's the cost of having a vehicle big enough to tow my boat. If it was just me I'd solve that problem by living on a boat, but my lovely wife is not ready for that. Life is full of little compromises. (It's simpler to please the wife)

I could go a long time without computers and the Internet. After all, I'm old enough to remember life without those things. Right now the usefulness of computers and the 'net outweigh the hassles. Even so, there are ways to simplify life. I'm using cheap laptop computers and Ubuntu as an operating system as it's very stable. The computers are cheap enough that I don't mind taking them apart and repairing the darn thing myself. After all, if I do fail another cheap computer is less money than many computer service calls.

Rarely in modern times does something equal the simplicity and utility of a Native American's birch bark canoe. With a few simple tools and locally available materials a native could construct a beautiful and extremely useful craft. Often he could build one so quickly that he'd abandon an old canoe rather that portage it. He could just build a new one when the came to the next water system.

Modern life is almost never so simple. That doesn't mean we have to accept every new gizmo that comes along. Rarely do they provide promised lifestyle improvement. Benefits are hyped. Costs are ignored.

Maybe the Amish are onto something.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Boats and travel plans

My little 12 Ooze Goose project is moving along. It's at the filler and sanding phase. That's pretty tedious and doesn't look like much has been accomplished at the end of the day. I thought I'd be putting on the last coat of epoxy before painting. Instead it was a day of mixing little batches of thickened epoxy to touch up gaps and joints. One more sealer coat of epoxy that then it's time for paint.

If the weather holds I should give it a water test before the week is out. There sailing rig is barely started, so it'll be a matter of testing its rowing capabilities. The sail rig can be be finished inside if need be, so the project won't be so weather dependent.

My lovely wife and I are still trying to figure out what kind of boating we want to do this coming winter. All we know for sure is that we want to spend some time in Florida and some time in East Texas. The 12 foot boat would allow us to get into some really shallow areas and explore rivers and freshwater lakes. We know what our 19 foot Oday is capable of, so that's a consideration.

I've modified the Goose's plans and stretched the cabin a bit for more leg room. One of the things we are going to test is to see how my wife and I will fit in the cabin. It's going to be tight, but will it be tight cozy or tight claustrophobic? Should it would out, we'd like to take the boat back to Calidesi Island. The Florida State Park marina only charges $1/foot. Imagine staying on an island paradise for $12/night. Actually, staying on the 19 foot Oday was a bargain.

There are some interesting places we've yet to visit. Anyone else remember when a road trip required piles of guidebooks and pamphlets? Now it's all on the Internet.

Financially it's pretty much a wash which boat we'll take. The trailer for the Oday needs new tires, but so would the trailer I'm adapting for the Goose. The Oday is in pretty good shape. The sails are getting old, but would survive one more season. Just about all the parts and materials needed to finish the Goose have been paid for. No matter which boat we decide to take, I'm committed to finishing the boat project.

This year we won't leave the frozen north until after the holidays. I only hope that nasty Polar Vortex holds off until our escape.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

History, repeat and shuffle

Let's go way back to the Vietnam conflict -so far back that it wasn't a US conflict. . . yet! At one time it was a French conflict -the First Indochina War, for you history buffs.

Well the government they left behind wasn't all to stable and then had insurgent problems of their own. The US sends in a few advisors. Those few became many and then it was a full blow commitment to war.

This time it's the US that left behind a not too stable government when they pulled out of the country. Insurgents made big gains. Now at this point some other country is supposed to send a few advisors, but no. The US decides to play the “just a few advisors” role again. Even France was smarter than that.

Maybe it's election year chatter, but I keep hearing the call for more US ground troops from politicians that should know better.

Yes, ISIS or whatever name you want to call them by, are a bad bunch of dudes. Yes, they've killed some Westerners in a nasty and public manner. However, US options are not very good here. Air strikes have military value, but these are people who can blend back into major population centers. Do we really need to bomb more wedding parties and schools? That's what happens when you want to do “surgical” strikes. Sometimes bombs go astray or intel is bad. That's war from on high for you.

The surrogates on the ground that the US wants to support are a mixed bag. Some are pretty ineffective. The ones with combat hardened members are not much better than ISIS. It's entirely possible that we'd be arming the next ISIS.

Who else is fighting ISIS? Well we have Assad of Syria -who've we've said must go. Then there's Iran, a country that we aren't exactly on friendly terms either. Of course, there are the Kurds. Why do they even deal with the US anymore? There is a long history of the US abandoning them in the crunch.

The little Iraq problem isn't happening in isolation. There are some nasty things going on in the Ukraine and other places. In many ways this reminds me of the lead up to WWI: lots of small conflicts, independence movements, ethnic hatreds, and a whole slew of nations with interlocking treaties. The details are different, but it has many of the same dynamics.

When we see the horrors that ISIS members are committing we feel an emotional response. Unfortunately, emotions aren't a good basis for International policy.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Found mail and potential fires

My lovely wife found a piece of unopened mail today. Apparently it arrived back in June and somehow never got opened. 9/10 of what comes in the mail is usually junk, so the odds were this wasn't that important.

It wasn't all that important, that is, if I don't mind my van bursting into flames. The letter was a safety recall notice from Ford. The speed controller deactivation switch may catch fire. That can't be good. This is the van that all summer I've been putting a lot of money into. All this time it could have just caught fire and burned up.

So the warning came out in June. Here it is, the middle of September. Better get that taken care of right away, I think. I call the dealership. After negotiating the rather extensive automated phone list a human finally comes on the line. No problem, she says, I'll connect you now.

The phone rings about 15 times. Why did I let it ring so long? I was hoping someone would pick it because no way did I want to start at the beginning of the automated messages. Believe it or not, a human being did pick it up. She was even polite.

. . . but that's not all. The guy who's in charge of the computer that handles recalls is on vacation. Just before he left the guy changed the password on the computer. No one else knows the password and the guy can't be reached.

So at any rate, they scheduled me for next week. Good thing the van is a former ambulance and has two large fire extinguishers on board.


Monday, September 15, 2014


Soon the Scotts will vote for or against independence. Current polls indicate it will be a near thing. I've a few drops of Scottish blood in my veins. No doubt there are very distant relatives of mine caught up in the whole thing. My heart says to go with independence and my head says: go with independence. It's about freaking time. (but that's just me, someone across the pond with little skin in the game)

It's easy to have an opinion when the events are across the ocean. In 1995 there was an independence vote much closer to home in Quebec. I could walk to Quebec in a day and a half, and I'm a middle aged fat guy. There are close relatives of mine living in the Provence. The Quebec Referendum was a near thing. Independence failed by the thinnest of margins.

Members of my own extended family were split on issue, brother against brother. Personally, I really didn't know what to wish for. Since Quebec is a neighbor, independence would have affected me one way or the other. For good or bad, who could say? Since then the fires of independence have dampened down, but they haven't gone out.

Few people know that for a few years there was an independent republic here in Northern New Hampshire, the Indian Stream Republic. Canada and the US both claimed the area so both sent tax collectors. That angered the locals so they threw everybody out and claimed independence. Eventually the US moved in troops and settled the issue. Still, that independent streak runs in the veins of us locals.

Maybe those of us in Northern New Hampshire need an independence vote of our own. It's not like we haven't done it before.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rites of Passage

Growing up in the modern world has its perks, but we've lost some things we once had.

Have you ever look at old photos from 80 or more years ago and looked at the young people? At 18 they looked like adults, not like overgrown adolescents. They didn't have the luxury of a prolonged childhood. There was work to do.

Every culture had their rites of passage to adulthood. Sometimes it was pretty hardcore, like being sent into the wilderness with nothing but a spear and knife. Whatever the ritual, when it was over they joined the ranks of the adults. In more recent times it might have been marked with a change of wardrobe.

Usually these days it just comes down to reaching a certain age. Is that age 18? A time when a person can join the military without parental permission or live on one's own. Is it 21, the legal drinking age in most states? A night of binge drinking isn't much of a rite of passage. Maybe it's 22 – 26, when those who've been to college finally get out into the working world. Perhaps one considers themselves an adult when they marry? The transition to adulthood has gotten pretty murky.

Economic conditions haven't helped much. Grown men and women, even some married with children, have had to move back in with their parents. That doesn't do much for one's sense of control and independence.

Something has been lost when young adults can't live like full and free adult humans with all the perks and responsibilities of adulthood.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Signs of Winter?

My lovely wife and I took a little ride over to the Stove shop today. It's the place where I bought my wood fired kitchen stove. The guy deals in wood and pellet fired stoves of all shapes and sizes. He also carries Envi Blocks at a reasonable price. They are a good firewood substitute made from pressed hardwood sawdust, much like wood pellets only brick size.

I like to keep a supply of them on hand. They light well, burn long and hot, and produce less ash and pollution than firewood. Regular wood burns fine in the stove too, and I've some from my land. The firewood is dry, but not all cut and split. Other things have demanded my time.

The stove shop owner looked pretty flustered. He said he's been out straight. His business has been open for 17 years and this is the busiest it has ever been. Last winter was brutally cold and I'm guessing people think it might be again. Polar Vortex is on everyone's mind.

My lovely wife and I almost didn't make it to the stove shop. We got to the next town and the van died in front of a Dunkin Donuts. It wouldn't start, so we went in and got coffee. After about a half a cup of coffee I tried it again. It ran for a while and then sputtered out. Not good. This is the very same van that had 4 fuel pumps installed this past summer.

So I finished my coffee and thought some more. After one more failed attempt to start it I stopped trying. No sense in running down the batteries and having another problem. Fortunately an auto parts store was in walking distance. The problem had to be something with the fuel, so I bought some 911 fuel additive and a new diesel filter. I hoped it wasn't going to be a 5th fuel pump.

The additive didn't do the trick so I replaced the fuel filter. Then the van started right up and ran fine. The problem was just a simple plugged filter. Sometimes it's the little things.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Self driving ships

There's a lot of press about self driving cars. Considering Google's involvement it's probably unavoidable. Anything Google does is news.

Self driving ships doesn't get much press, but they have to the potential to take over the sea lanes. Just like self driving cars, safety is one of the issues. 75% of all ship accidents are human caused. No doubt the insurance industries will be supporting the robot ships.

The ships can travel at a slow speed, saving fuel. No need for crews to endure long boring voyages. No need to feed and take care of them either. Space now used for crew can be used to carry cargo instead.

What could go wrong?

Computer glitches. CME's messing up satellite navigation. Pirates boarding unmanned ships. Hackers rerouting ships to new destinations. Ships rigged as giant remote bombs. No more assistance to mariners in trouble at sea. (I'm barely trying here . . . )

In spite of all potential problems, the shipping industry will want to make it happen. The financial savings are too great to ignore.

Personally, I have this image of robot ships churning through polluted seas of oil spills, plastic waste, and dead marine life. Self driving ships have no conscience.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Real life Tricorder

Star Trek had some nifty gadgets. One of the more useful ones is becoming real. The medical tricorder was pretty amazing. A few seconds scanning someone with that little device and they knew exactly what was wrong with the person.

Now a number of companies are closing in on an X prize for the development of a real life device that can do what was only possible in Science Fiction.

This is going to be huge. Right now they are focusing on 16 conditions. That's where it's starting. We all have seen how fast electronic devices can be improved. Before long we'll begin to think of it as a Doctor in a Box. Imagine what that will do for treatment of disease in poor countries. Now think what it will do to the high price of medicine all over the world.

People will no longer have to suffer long waits for their test results to get back from the lab. The sooner a problem is discovered, the sooner it can be treated. If everyone had access to such devices, we'd be able to take better control over our own health.

Imagine if such devices come down in price so that every household could have one. They could be a standard part of all first aid kits.

I'm not usually the first to adopt new technology, but as soon as these become available for the civilian market, I'm going to seriously consider buying one. Could I afford not to?


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Orders from the lovely wife

Yesterday it was impossible to get around to my little painting project. Fortunately, today the weather was still nice and I was able to get the job done with minimal distractions. Minimal does not mean none. Before painting I decided to reinforce the railing on my deck, as I'd be leaning on it to reach some of the trim that needed painting.

The table saw was set up in the driveway. Just before I started on the railing pieces, a truck stopped. It was a guy who used to work with me years ago. I hadn't seen him in ages. So many of my fellow firefighters have passed on that it's good to see a few still doing well. He didn't stay too long so I was able to get the wood cut, the railing fixed, and the trim painted.

After a late lunch I was planning my next project, but my lovely wife stopped me cold. It was sunny, windy and we had a sailboat sitting in the lake. It had been a while since we went for a sail. She pointed out that sailing has been put off too long. Before we know it sailing season in the North Country will be over.

We climbed aboard the sailboat, raised the sail, lifted the anchor and dropped the swing keel. In a few minutes we were sailing and I could feel the tension draining out of my body. All those things that I thought were so important just a few minutes early suddenly didn't seem so important at all.

My lovely wife is a wise woman.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

One thing leads to another

The plan at the start of the day was to paint some new trim boards around the kitchen door. At the end of the day, the kitchen had a couple of new shelves. How does painting trim turn into installing shelves? Well, the most important thing was that my lovely wife wanted a new shelf to put the microwave on.

Okay, I thought, the paint can wait. Might as well go to the store for shelves. Before heading out to the building supply store I thought I'd check the condition of my paint. Good thing I did as it had gone bad. That happens. I wasn't going to be painting anyway. So paint goes on the list along with shelves.

Did I say shelves, plural? The microwave only needed one shelf, but the type of shelving we wanted to use was twice the size we needed. Might as well cut it in half and install two of them. Oh . . . we've now got two shelves, well then we can move the spice rack, espresso maker and wheat grinder from the wire rack. Then the wire rack can be moved upstairs. I suspect some other piece of furniture will be moved, given away or sold to make room for the rack.

While were at the building supply I found some adhesive needed to install the windows in my boat project. Why aren't I working on my boat? Oh yeah, there's some trip boards that need to be painted.

Tomorrow. First thing. Paint those boards. Before anything else demands my attention.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Living in a bubble

Years ago an old buddy of mine married into a different religion. Saturday, some other friends, and my wife and I went to his son's wedding reception. We were from outside the bubble. Members of the religion are pretty self contained with an extensive support network. They even have their own popular entertainment. My friend's wife freely admits they are living in a bubble. (and that's the way they like it)

The reception was a bit different that what most people expect, but we still had a good time. They are all nice people and we did joke together about “the bubble.”

Later it occurred to me that us living outside the religious bubble have no reason to feel smug. We all have our own bubbles that influence how we think. There's the middle class bubble where certain things are taken as normal. There's the bubble created by those who only have scientific view of the world. Even one's language isolates people from those in a different language bubble. Culture, tradition, habit, association, upbringing -there are so many things that form a bubble around people, isolating them from everything else.

It's normal to form associations with like minded people. It's easy to find oneself in a bubble. However, I think we all benefit when those bubbles are permeable. Rather than those bubbles bouncing off each like they are hard and solid boundaries, it's best when bubbles can mingle. The more we mingle with groups outside our safe bubble, the better we understand others.

I only hope my attendance at the reception didn't reflect too badly on those of us outside their bubble.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Stealth boat camping

Every spring my whole family and quite a few of our friends would go on a weekend canoe trip. We'd pick a weekend in May, soon after the ice left the local lakes. Often we'd camp at nice little place that we called Mosquito Island. It was a really great site, except that most of the year the mosquitoes were unbearable. However, there's a few special days between when the ice leaves and the bugs come out to play. During those few golden days the weather is often pleasant, the water clear, and campsites were all empty.

There's something else about our annual camping trip. It was technically illegal. The backcountry campsites were not officially open. Of course, rules only mean something if there is someone willing to enforce them. Our group never left a mess and once we were gone there was no evidence we were even there.

The whole point of stealth camping is to avoid confrontation with anyone who'd take offense. We did that by camping off season. Sometimes that means setting up camp after dark and leaving before dawn. Maybe it's just a matter of dragging one's boat deep into the bushes so as not to be seen. There's a reason my canoe is a dark green.

Last winter we had a great time coastal sailing down coast of Florida. Our boat was small and we were able to anchor into some out of the way places. We were surprisingly legal, as far as I could tell. However, there's a lot of talk in Florida right now about eliminating a lot of the free boat anchorages. The wealthy property owners are not happy with controlling their land, they also want to control everything that happens on the water. Law enforcement people know who pay their wages so they've been known to harass boaters, even when they are legal.

My first reaction is: now how do I get around the restrictions? I can't help it. That's how I react to unjust and stupid laws. We plan on taking down the little boat I'm building so that'll be an advantage. It'll be shallow draft. That will allow us to get off the main channels. Maybe I'll paint it in such a way as to blend in with the mangroves. I've got some ideas on how to make this work. After all, I've been stealth camping for years.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Value and bicycles

I believe in quality. Some things you just do not scrimp on. Who in their right mind wants to use something like a cheap bargain basement ladder? Never scrimp on the stuff that can get you killed.

Price is not the measure of value. The saying, “You get what you pay for,” has plenty of exceptions. Sometimes quality means fewer expensive features but better basic features that you actually need.

A couple years ago I was looking for a bicycle. Being a heavy guy I needed something solid, but didn't want to pay custom fat guy prices. Working with my local bike shop I decided on a Jamis Explorer with a steel frame. While it wasn't cheap, it was half the price of custom fat people bikes. It has held up quite well. All in all, it's been good value for the money.

Bikes are very common on cruising boats. They make a lot of sense. They are simple, require no fuel, increase what a person can carry, and provide good range. Bikes are a great way to go exploring in a new port.

Unfortunately, the marine environment takes a heavy toll on bikes. Even “marine” grade bikes don't seem to fare all that well. I've seen special folding marine bikes. The aluminum alloy frames are fine, but all the components fall apart. Silly expensive ones seem to hold out better, but even they seem to have trouble with corrosion. I don't want to expose my nice bike to those conditions.

What to do? Bikes on a boat are extremely handy, but the salt air and water destroys them. Last winter I looked at a lot of boat bikes -hundreds. There were a few very high end bikes in good shape. They were well maintained and stored in dry, well ventilated areas.

However, the most common bike out there were cheap ones. They were either cheapo big box store bikes or old bikes from yard sales. Most of them looked pretty beat up. In the long run it's cheaper to keep replacing cheap bikes than trying to keep a quality bike in good shape. Bikes were looked at as consumable items.

When I get a boat big enough to carry a bike, I'm going to look for an old fashioned single speed model. They are slow and heavy, but sure beat the heck out of walking everywhere. An added bonus is that they won't be the first bike stolen out of the bike rack.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Grid threats

Lately there's a rising number of articles about the vulnerability of the United States power grid. Last year the talk was all about CMEs and EMPs -big electrical jolts that could take down the system. Now most of the talk is about the grid's susceptibility to terrorist attack.

The grind could be actively taken down by a hacking attack, physical assault, or a combination of the two. There's even talk that ISIS wants to attack the grid. There are estimates that if the grid went down 90% of Americans could die.

Now one would think that with a danger that significant extraordinary efforts would be undertaken to mitigate the threat. That does not appear the case. Many power systems lack even rudimentary protection against hackers. Critical physical infrastructure is so poorly protected they can't even stop squirrels from accidentally knocking power off line.

Something weird is going on. Are the threats real or not? If the danger is real, why isn't more being done? The US is willing to invade counties over perceived threats, why isn't grid protection as important as war? Is the threat bogus? Is fear being used to manipulate us?

Who knows the answers? My guess is that we can expect a localized attack -something big enough to get our attention, but not big enough to do significant harm. Once that happens there will be an over reaction and panic. Of course, it's just a guess.

On a personal level it's not just a matter of having an alternative power system. That's fine, but only part of the solution. A major grid down situation would shut down food distribution, shut down water and sewage plants, and overwhelm emergency services. Being able to feed, shelter, and protect oneself will be more important than being able to charge a cell phone.

The real solution to the grid problem is to get rid of it. The basic design and thinking behind it is outdated. Much of the hardware is old and failures are common enough during normal times. The smart thing is to generate power where it's needed, preferably using renewables. It would be much more efficient and nearly impossible to take down with anything less than a nuke. If the threat is real, that's what our response should be.

Come to think of it, it's something we should do anyway as it just makes sense.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Supply lines

At one time everyone ate local. Now it's trendy again and that's a good thing. Here in New England the number of small farms is actually growing. Young people are getting into farming. I like having local produce, eggs, and meat. When the farmer's market is open they get most of my grocery dollars.

As much as I love local foods, there are some things that just are not available locally. For me, citrus fruit is a big one. We've got other things like pears and apples, but a nice ripe orange has always been a treat. One nice thing about wintering in Florida is that eating local down there means citrus. Nothing beats picking fruit right off the tree and popping them in my mouth.

Another thing sadly lacking in the local foods department is coffee. Worse than that, there are no local plants, as far as I can figure out, that contain caffeine. There is an old French Canadian tradition of starting the day with a shot of home made whiskey, but coffee works better for me. Unfortunately, coffee comes from a long ways off.

Coffee is one of the most traded commodities in the world. Even in a petroleum scarce world, it would still pay to transport coffee by sailboat. After all, that's how it used to travel. Coffee is a excellent trade item. People want it and it ships well, no refrigeration needed.

I bet citrus could travel pretty far up the coast in the hold of a sailboat before going bad. Of course, if that's how it was shipped, it'd be a rare treat for most people. It wasn't all that long ago when getting an orange in one's Christmas stocking was a big deal. Those days could come back again.

Even if there was a world wide oil shortage and major shipping shutdown, some things could still get though the old fashioned ways.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014


The black plague was thought to have been introduced to Europe mostly through trade routes. If such a devastating plague could travel so far in the days of horses and sailing ships, imagine how fast disease can travel in the days of jet aircraft.

Hundreds of years ago many diseases were limited by geography. A disease like Ebola could not travel very far because it disabled and killed its victims too quickly. Lower population density also meant that there were just not as many people to liable to come in contact with each other.

Now we have high speed travel and high population density. On the other side of the equation is a much better knowledge of disease and better treatments. However, I am concerned with this most recent Ebola outbreak as medical workers appear to have a very high infection rate. To me that's a sign that the standard procedures are not working.

When that happens we are reduced to what worked in the Dark Ages: quarantine. Keep the sick people away from the healthy people. Sierra Leone is attempting a quarantine right now, but I would not have much faith in their attempt. The quarantined area is too porous. People come through, sometimes by stealth, sometimes by bribing soldiers. A quarantine that is only partial is no quarantine at all. Other African countries have also set up quarantine areas, with mixed results.

Various countries have cut off air travel to and from the affected areas. That's prudent. Airports have stepped up passenger health monitoring. Those who appear sick end up in an isolation ward -which is a fancy modern way of quarantining someone. The real fear is that the disease could spread to a modern densely populated city that's also a busy transportation hub. What if the disease spread to a place like India or China?

Now imagine that quarantine efforts fail. Worse yet, imagine that you are still healthy, but in an area that's under quarantine. People in the quarantined areas of Africa do not have enough outside support. Not only is medical help in short supply, basics like food and water are too.

The only thing to do is to somehow separate yourself from the general population. You would need enough supplies to survive for the duration. Somehow you'd also have to protect yourself from contact with other people. That's not very easy to do. Maybe you have a hidden cabin in the woods, a cave, or have barricaded yourself in an abandoned factory building.

It is something to take seriously. The epidemic is not under control. In the next few weeks expect to see a big jump in cases. That's when panic will set in. Don't be one of the panicked ones.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Political Pet Peeves

What is it about politics that doesn't get me irritated? Darn few things. This year there are two things this election cycle that I find especially annoying.

Carpet Baggers. It seems this year there are a number of wanna be native sons running for office. Usually they claim some special connection to the state because their family owns a summer home here. You know what kind of people they usually are? They live isolated in their little expensive compounds away from the locals. They have a lot more money than most locals and look down on the “townies.” They claim that summer home as their residence, as if they were really part of the local community. Well to hell with them I say.

Out of state money. That bugs me. It should be illegal for state level politicians to accept out of state money. If they can't get enough support from the locals, maybe they should not be running. I really frown on those politicians who take a lot of outside money as it's obvious who their owners are. You know what? Let's just call it a states' rights issue. States should have the right to choose their own politicians without outside financial influence.

Until we change the way elections are financed, we'll never have true reform. Here's an idea. Let's cap the amount of money a candidate can spend on an election at $1,000. Let they use that to make as many Youtube videos as they'd like.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day Musings

I could go on and on about labor and work. I've a keen interest in it -from an outsider's perspective. It's not that I don't appreciate hard work. A good work ethic is something to be encouraged, especially in other people who are working for you.

Come to think about it, the whole “nobility of work” thing comes not so much from the laboring classes as it does from the ownership classes.

My grandparents were hard workers, slaving night and day in the mills. The best that could be said for their working conditions is that it was better than starving to death on a Quebec potato farm. Those farmers had a lot of kids and the farm could only be divided up so many times before it became impossible to scratch a living out of the thin soil.

Dad did his time in the mills. Eventually, after being laid off too many times, he went in search of something else. Eventually, dad became a firefighter and he loved the work. Maybe that's why I skipped the whole factory labor thing and went directly into the fire service. Like dad, I loved it, but never thought of it as a job.

Drive fast, make noise, and break windows, why it was like a never ending adolescence. For an adrenaline junkie it was a pretty good gig. Some folks join the military for that rush. I felt that rush that only comes from putting it all on the line, got to save people instead of kill them and at the end of my shift went home to my family.

Now I mostly work for myself. Not in the sense of owning a small business. Small business people only think they work for themselves. They work for their customers, the banks, the government agencies that regulate what they do. That might sound bad, but usually it's better than working for some megacorp.

When I say I work for myself, it's my labor directly affecting my living conditions. That's how we all lived at one time. Before we labored for money to buy food and our other necessities, we were hunter gathers. Our needs were supplied directly. Somewhere we messed up and developed agriculture and civilization. Many labored in misery so a tiny elite could live the good life.

Now the ownership classes have found the perfect solution: robots. There's a point beyond where a human worker's wages cannot be cut. He has to be able to at least feed himself as there's very little work to be had from the dead. Robots, on the other hand, are not hindered by that limit. Owners dream of replacing all workers with tireless robots who'll work day and night for almost nothing. Who will buy the products from all this productivity is a mystery as we'll all be out of work. Unless we are given a basic income, the whole scheme falls apart. Factory owners will have extremely low production costs, but their products will still be too expensive for the unemployed to buy. As for the former workers, they'll be reduced to down to hunter gatherer existence.

As so we come full circle.

Enjoy your Labor Day. Hope you have the day off.