Friday, October 31, 2014


Freedom is all about choices. The problem in our modern world is that so many of our choices are not really choices at all.

Take voting for example. You have your “choice” of which corporate owned shill to vote for. The money necessary to run for office makes a politician beholden to their backers. There are a few outsiders beyond corporate clutches. The are either famous enough or have enough of their own money to make a go of it. If they do get elected, they'll never get anything done -unless they too play the game. How many reformers have been swallowed up by the system, their former passionate causes reduced to slogans and bad memories.

How about a young person who's just completed their mandatory time in prison? I mean school. After years of schooling and maybe precious little education, they are set free. What are their choices? Work, more school or the military. That's about it. If their parents are wealthy they may grant them a bit of subsidized time to do other things, but then will be expected to “grow up.” Seems to me there should be a lot more choices out there. Is it freedom when you are only free to starve?

Look at housing. You have a choice: rent or own. Those not part of that system are disenfranchised in so many ways. Let's say someone decides to live in a small RV or on a boat. They've got to figure out ways to have some sort of address. Most governments do not recognize the nomadic state. Vehicles have to registered and insured and that requires a static address. Snail mail has to go someplace. A truly nomadic person has no voting rights, so even that weak protection is lost to them. If you are classified as homeless, forget it. The government will bulldoze your tent and squash your backpack.

Once a person wakes up to the fact that their choices are not really choices, they see it all around them. Sometimes our choices are like a bad joke: death by hanging, death by fireing squad, death by drowing, death by poison . . . Sure, there are choices, but death is always a part of the choice.

Here's the thing, the first step in making real choices is to see the false choices. Until a man discovers exactly what the problem is, he can't even begin to fix it.

Of course, that might be hard and even dangerous.

. . . freedom always is.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

While you were away

. . . the Apocalypse happened.

Some decades ago I used to disappear alone into the woods more often than I do now. That was in the days before cell phones when everyone wasn't expected to be available at all times. Now I'm still sometimes not available, but people just think it's weird.

I often wondered what it would be like to come out of the woods only to discover something major happened and I missed it. Sometimes significant news events took place, but nothing like a world war or anything else of that magnitude.

In the modern world it is possible to be in contact with the rest of the world just about anywhere. Cell phones are ubiquitous. Even in places without cell phone service there's satellite phones. There's even that old standby, short wave radio.

In spite of all the connection technologies, it's still possible to be isolated for days or even months.

Spelunkers come to mind. Cell phone reception is very bad deep underground. Some cave explores disappear underground for days at a time. They could probably survive a massive solar flare that fries half the planet and not notice until they surface.

Right now the world's oceans are being criss crossed by a multitude of private boats. While most have some form of long range communication, many don't. A few hard core old salts only carry VHF radios, good only for short distances. There are other boats out there who've lost their communication systems through equipment failure. They won't know what's going on in the world until they make their next port.

This fall there are folks in the remote north of Alaska and Canada about to be snowed in for the winter. Being in a remote cabin is not what it used to be. Some of those folks will spend the long winter surfing the Internet thanks to satellite dishes. Of course, if their equipment fails they won't know what's going on in the world until the spring breakup.

Primitive tribes still inhabit remote parts of the world. High tech civilization could collapse and it would make no negative impact on their lives at all.

Somehow I'm comforted by the knowledge that all these isolated people are out there. It's like an insurance policy for the human race. Some horrific disasters could strike the planet and a remnant would survive to repopulate.

For all we know it's happened in the past.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Even STEM workers

There's a lot of blather going on how young people should get degrees in STEM fields. The future is supposed to be all about science and engineering.

Well . . . I got to spend a good part of the day with an engineer friend of mine. The company he works for just had some amazing years. Now things are a bit slower, but they really aren't hurting. All their engineers have been reduced to 25 hour works. You'll note that's well below the number of hours required to provide benefits.

As for my friend? He's working full time, but he's actually a private contractor and not part of the benefit system.

Even in the STEM fields companies are treating their workers poorly.

My buddy has also seen people's retirements greatly reduced just before retirement age -if they get a retirement package at all.

To me, that says a young person should probably think twice about going heavily in debt to enter a STEM field. They may discover they have to pay their loan back with part time work. Also, the idea of working for 40 years to get a retirement is probably not going to be a reality.

Workers should be prepared to give as much loyalty as the company will give you -none at all. Don't wait until you are 65 to start live. A young person might live better by having no debt and the freedom to leave their jobs at any time. The rules out there have changed, and the sooner people catch on, the sooner they can adapt.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Say goodnight Internet

Just about every evening my Internet service craps out. Sometime between 9 and 11 a. m. it's back up and running. I'd call to complain, but my VOP phone service goes out at the same time and there's no cell phone signal out here in the woods.

This morning when the service came back I finally did call the company. As it turns out their whole system is going down, not just my little part of it. A major part is failing. The replacement has to come from California. It'll be at least a week before the system is fully operational again.

That's service during normal times. Imagine what would happen during any sort of major disruption. What if there was an EMP type event that fried a whole bunch of those parts? How long do you think it would take replace every system's fried pieces?

It's possible, likely even, that the part they are waiting for did not originate in California. That's probably just where it was shipped in from Asia. Most electronics are now built in places like Taiwan, China and South Korea. What would happen if there was a major disruption in shipping? Could be anything from wars to embargoes. A tsunami could knock out key ports causing delays. What if ports were closed off to prevent the spread of disease?

Modern technological life is a shaky house of cards. It doesn't take much to bring it all down. There are patches and work around for most things. That works for a bit, but then the patches break too. At some point it's not worth the effort. Our technologies are so interwoven that everything has to work for anything to work.

As for myself, I've been catching up on my reading, sitting by the wood fire.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Missing bloggers

My blog list is getting pretty thin. Some of my favorite bloggers have stopped blogging and others post only occasionally. That tells me two things. First, I've been blogging long enough to see things change. Second, I've got to find some more bloggers to put on my list.

It's no surprise that people stop blogging. Often they are motivated to blog by interest in one subject. Once they've written all they can think of about the subject they move on. Many people find they don't have the time to put into something that really doesn't pay. Life has demands, and I understand that. Sadly, some good bloggers were burned by trolls and it put them off the whole enterprise. In short, people move on. Heck, some of the best one's I used to follow just up and died. How rude of them.

In addition to my blog list, I've bookmarked a much longer list of bloggers. They weren't on my blog list for various reasons, everything from being too far afield from what I normally do, to being too offensive for the general population. Many of those have also disappeared or gone inactive. Too bad as I was looking for more blogs to recommend in my blog list.

If you regular readers have blogs that you'd me to consider for my blog list please post suggestions in the comments or e-mail me at I'll look them over and see if they make a good fit with my interests.

Thank you,


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Vehicle plans

I had an interesting talk with my mechanic the other day. He's been with me for over a dozen years of waste veggie vehicle experiments: a Mercedes 240D, a Mercedes 300D, a Ford F250 pickup, and now my Ford E350 van.

One of the things I've aimed for in my veggie conversions is simplicity. If it costs too much to do the conversion the return on vestment just isn't there. I've seen $10,000 conversions, and that's just silly. My first conversion cost $1400. Once I understood the principles involved I got the cost down in the $250 - $350 range.

Until now my inexpensive van conversion worked well enough. Recently my main source of waste veggie switched from a light canola oil to a heavier soy. Now that the weather has turned cold, it's easy for the soy to become too thick to run properly.

My mechanic and I have decided to put in a larger diameter insulated fuel line and to add a second fuel pump to help the veggie move along. That should allow me to deal successfully with the soy oil. I do miss the dead simple, fully mechanical diesels of old. They were bulletproof.

While I was at it I asked my mechanic what he thought about the VW diesels. He said that if I was buying a brand new one and traded it in before the 100,000 mile warranty ran out, fine. I told him I was looking at used. He said forget it. He refuses to even work on VW diesels -too many outrageously expensive parts plus special VW tools to work on them. That's all I needed to know.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Square pegs and round holes

For the last two months I've been trying to refinance my house. I hate this stuff. I would have been perfectly happy to stay with the credit union that had the house mortgage, but they were bought out by a bigger, less personal CU. They also messed up the way I did business.

Let me tell you things certainly have changed since the 2008 implosion of the housing bubble. Banks are much more persnickety about a person's finances.

For me, that's a problem. My lovely wife and I don't pay taxes or work normal jobs. So that means no things like income tax records, W-2s, 1099s, and all those other things that people have to prove what their finances are like. It took some doing to gather up alternative paperwork that was acceptable. From the time I was told we were “all set,” we had to provide more documentation three more times.

Then there was the assessment of the house. The assessor lady didn't quite know what to do with the dome and the alternative energy things. For me a dome is an asset. It can deal with tremendous wind and snow loads. For the assessor it's non standard housing. Not sure what she made of some of my other little projects. Her assessment came in on the low side, significantly lower than the town's assessment.

Fortunately our needs are modest and we were able to do what we needed to do. In fact, I'm going to take her assessment to the town and demand that they lower my taxes, so that's actually a win.

We are greatly simplifying our financial life and taking advantage of a much lower interest rate. Our finances will be set up in such a way that we can basically ignore them for months at a time. Life is too short to deal with this financial crap every darn day.


Friday, October 24, 2014

News from the garage

My mechanic got back to me today about the veggie van. The problem, for once, was not a bad fuel pump. Instead it was a plugged line. That was good news. I'm much more likely to keep the van now. Another bad pump would have been a deal breaker.

I'd had some fuel lines replaced. The quality of the new lines was better than the stuff I'd used previously. What I had not realized was that the connectors for the lines choked down the flow substantially. It wasn't much of a problem when flowing diesel. The thicker veggie fuel, especially when not fully up to temperature, couldn't make it past the fitting. Then the engine would stall out for lack of fuel. Usually the plug would break free once switched back to diesel. My guess is that the cold weather caused the veggie plug to solidify much quicker, completely plugging the line.

The fuel line problem might not have been an issue except for something that happened this spring. My main waste veggie supply switched form canola oil to soybean. Canola is a thin oil and stays liquid at much lower temperatures than soy. Recent cold weather made the problem worse. So it was a perfect combination of narrower fuel line connectors and thicker oil.

The mechanic has put in a temporary rubber fuel line. I've used that kind of line in the past on other vehicles. Over time veggie will break down the line and cause leaks. Rather than put in really expensive lines, I used to just change out the rubber ones every year or two. That might be the thing to do again.

At any rate, I'm feeling much more optimistic about taking the van on a long trip. It does give us the option of towing our Oday 19 if want to.

However, I'm also tempted by that diesel VW New Beetle that a friend has for sale. Much will depend on how the finances look at the end of the month. My wife's car isn't long for this world and I wouldn't mind having another diesel, especially one that gets exceptional fuel efficiency.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rethinking travel plans

Just when I thought the veggie van's fuel problems were over, it died on me. The van had a good 14 miles running diesel in which to warm up the veggie. Switching it from diesel to veggie for just a moment was all it took for the van to die. Going right back to diesel normally fixes the problem. No luck this time. Eventually the battery wore down trying to start it.

Fortunately I wasn't that far from my daughter's house and she picked me up. I pulled the battery, charged it up and tried again. After consulting with my mechanic I attempted one last fix. I disconnected the fuel line from the six port valve and stuck it directly into a can of diesel. That eliminated everything from the valve all the way back to the tank. Still no joy.

Best I can figure is that either the front part of the fuel line is plugged or the fuel pump has failed again. If it is the pump I'm seriously going to reconsider taking the van south for the winter. It's one thing to break down a short tow from home. It's another thing to break down 2000 miles from home. The van has sucked up a lot of time and money and it might be time to come up with a plan B.

Our car, a beat up old economy car, isn't in any condition to make the trip south either. We were already thinking of taking it off the road the next time it was due for inspection. A guy has offered me his diesel Volkswagen New Beetle for a good price. It needs some work, but much of it I could do myself.

We had already decided to take our little 12 foot boat and trailer south, so we don't need a big tow vehicle this year.

Of course, I'm still waiting to hear from the mechanic.

Decisions, decisions.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The problem of gold

Lots of folks out there are promoting gold as a store of wealth. They have some good points. Gold is independent from any particular financial system. It's held value for thousands of years. Gold is durable, transportable, and relatively compact. Over the years various countries have been on the gold standard and many think the United State's problems stem from when they abandoned the system. That's a very short overview. Many books have been written about the subject.

Most gold is not used up. Some is lost in industrial uses, but even much of that is eventually recovered. Some of the same gold has been bouncing around the world in various forms for thousands of years.

Personally, I'm not a fan of gold. I'm not judging those who are, but I just can't get into it. For me, gold has a huge moral problem.

Gold makes people crazy. The pursuit of gold has driven men to do horrific things: robbery, murder, slave mines, genocide, war -a long list of evils. The way I see it, holding gold buys into a horribly exploitive system. Creating demand for the metal encourages those abusive systems that extract and collect it.

So how does one store wealth? Darned if I know. All my money goes into having experiences. I collect things like books that have little monetary value yet provide me with pleasure. I've a house and a bit of land, but that can be taxed, or repossessed so it's not a perfect store of value. Frankly, the pursuit of wealth has always bored me.

I'm the first to admit that I'm the last person to talk to about monetary wealth. My bias against gold may just be a personal failing. After all, most people who collect gold have never done any of the bad things associated with it. They didn't invent the system, they are only trying to get by in it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do have a gold wedding band. That's the extent of my gold. It's value is not in the few dollars it could fetch on the market, but as a symbol of a wonderful marriage.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Back to what passes for normal

My dad and his new wife are on their way back to Florida. They were here in New Hampshire for a little over two weeks. The first week was all about putting a wedding together. The second week was a bit more relaxed. Good time had by all, but it's nice to have the house to ourselves again.

The next thing on my to do list is to strip down and clean all the firearms we used during the past week. Dad doesn't get out to shoot that often so he took full advantage. I dragged out guns that haven't been shot in years. Good thing I bought .22 ammo when it was $12 - $15 for 500. People thought I was nuts then for buying more than I needed.

Dad's 79, complains he can't see very well and that his hands shake. That may be so, yet he was hitting half dollar sized targets at 75 yards with iron sights. It was all I could do to keep up with him. Perhaps he's mastered the force.

I did miss out on two prime weeks of warm weather. The trailer I'm retrofitting for the Ooze Goose boat got a coat of paint, but not much else got done. During previous boat tests I'd tracked a lot of water in with my wet shoes. Size 14 footwear makes for some big buckets. Today I bailed the rainwater out of the boat and carefully dried it with a towel. Then I rowed out into the lake and checked to see if the boat stayed dry, which it did. My concern was that the water I'd previously tracked in would have hidden any small leaks.

Today I read Scott B. Williams new book Refuge, after the collapse. It's the sequel to Pulse. I really enjoyed Pulse, and it was good to return to where it left off. The new book is better written; he seems to be hitting his fiction stride. Williams is perhaps better known for his nonfiction prepper type books. Refuge held my attention well enough that I read it in a single sitting. The combination of survival situations, conflict, and action involving boats of all sizes and types really held my attention. Can't wait for book 3.

I've a little project that's been in the works since the end of August. When it's wrapped up at the end of the week I'll let everyone know what I've been up to.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Embarrassed about US health care

Okay, anyone else embarrassed that the US has been less effective dealing with Ebola than Nigeria?

Quarantine everyone who contacted an Ebola victim for 21 days. End of outbreak. Don't let them move around the general population. Certainly don't let them on planes or cruise ships. The CDC couldn't even get that straight, and it's supposed to be their main job.

I'm sick of hearing politicians and bureaucrats blather on how the US has the best health care system in the world. The US doesn't have a health care “system.” It has a patchwork of public, private, and for profit hospitals. The quality of available treatment runs from excellent to nonexistent.

In the US health care only means anything if you have good affordable health insurance. Even people with basic health insurance avoid hospitals because even the copays are out of reach.

Do you know what working people with a fever do? They pop a couple of Ibuprofens and go to work. Thanks to weak worker protections many don't get sick leave. Where do a lot of these workers work? Many toil in the food service industry, handling the food you eat. Even hospitals have workers who can't afford health care or sick leave. How messed up is that?

When the Mongols invading Europe came down with plague they were unable to continue their conquest. Before they left they catapulted their dead over the walls and spread plague to the defenders.

We probably won't have dead fast food workers catapulted over the walls into gated communities. Nope, the plague will walk in the back door with the cleaning lady, the pool boy, the maintenance man, and even the security guards. The sooner those in charge figure out we are all in this together, the sooner we can fix the problems.

Ebola is the crisis of the moment. Our health system and worker's rights both need an upgrade. This current disease will pass, but until the US gets it's act together, it'll be an easy target for the next flavor of plague.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Bare minimal alternative energy system

For years I used to go to my dad's hunting camp. It was a 16 X 16 rustic cabin. There was a woodshed and an outhouse out back. Water came from a brook 100 yards away. It had wood heat. There was no electricity of any kind. Dad had installed a propane tank to run two lights and an old stove.

My biggest problem with the comforts of the camp? The lighting. We really take good electric lighting for granted. Propane lights are fine for doing chores around the camp and bright enough to avoid tripping over the furniture. They are not very good reading lights.

Other than the poor lighting the camp was a marvelous place to read: no phone, isolated and extremely quiet. I resorted to having good flashlights and a pile of batteries for my stay.

These days it's easy to set up good reading lights. Even the tiniest of solar electric systems, combined with LED lights, provides good reading conditions. In fact, there are a number of flashlights with their own solar chargers built in. Even cheap and simple garden lights can do the job.

Reading is the thing I really like good lighting for, but there are many tasks you don't want to do in the dark: suturing, dentistry, removing a speck from someone's eye, machine repair -and just about any craft or hobby one can imagine.

In a grid down, wideness, or bugout situation. good long lasting lighting hugely improves the quality of life.

Here's a little exercise. If the grid when down right now, how's your alternative lighting situation? Flashlights? Batteries? Alternative energy methods for charging batteries? Do you even have a back up? Is is one of those things you've been meaning to do yet haven't yet?


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Off grid power usage and guests

My dad and his new wife have been staying at my place. It's been nice to have them around. However, they don't understand the whole off-grid thing.

To be fair, I've access to the grid so it's not like the lights are about to go out. I am a bit surprised at how often I've had to use utility power since they've been here.

My lovely wife and I have adjusted our lifestyle to the solar rhythms. Without really thinking about it, we adjust our chores to when we have more solar generated power. Normally we don't do our laundry first thing in the morning. We wait until the sun's hitting the solar panels full force. We also use our clotheslines most of the time. Where my dad lives they don't even allow clotheslines so it's normal to put things in the dryer.

Cooking is another area where we do things a lot differently. If we've excess solar power we'll use an electric hot plate to cook on. Sometimes we use our outside propane stove. If it's cool and the woodstove is going we'll cook on wood. Even what we cook that day depends on what cooking method is currently the most economical.

It's not worth educating our visitors for the few weeks that they are with us. My energy bill will be a bit higher this month, but that's a big deal. Fortunately I have grid power right now instead of depending on a backup generator.

In a grid down situation we'd really have to practice strict energy disciple, especially if we have guests.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Medical Science

The Texas hospital Ebola screw up showed us how badly modern medicine can malfunction. Hopefully the rest of the country will take a good hard look at their infection procedures and make the necessary changes.

The medical system screwed up, and they should know better. That being said, there's an awful lot that medical science does really well.

Think of all the people you know. How many of them would have died in earlier times? Perhaps they got an infection that was easily cleared up with antibiotics. In the bad old days those simple little infections were often deadly.

How about those who've had surgeries? Appendix burst? Cardiac bypass? How about all those who've been in bad accidents and were saved with good EMS care and advanced medical treatment? Doctors are pretty at traumatic injuries.

Childbirth? Personally I think natural childbirth is wonderful -as long as there is a fully equipped and staffed hospital in spitting distance. Childbirth was a huge killer.

Vaccines. I've had some issues with vaccines. I think some are more likely to cause problems than the disease they are supposed to treat. Perhaps they give way too many vaccines at once. In spite of a few misgivings with a few current practices, in general vaccines have been a life saver. One word: Polio. At one time everybody either knew someone who had it or maybe had it themselves. We've forgotten how devastating it was. The same could be said for many other diseases now rare.

My lovely wife just got treated for a painful eye injury. In the bad old days there wasn't much that could have been done. Maybe it would have gotten better on its own, maybe not. In more recent years they developed a treatment that required antibiotic drops 4 times a day for at least 5 weeks. Now they put a clear contact lens band aid on it and it's mostly better overnight. Progress.

Some things modern medicine does really well. Other things respond just as well or better to home remedies. Know the difference. Don't forgo the gifts of medical science because those who practice it are flawed humans.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Travel cautions and adventures

American highways are weird. We have more distance between states than Europe has between countries. It's a diverse place with a lot of strange stuff going on.

A lot of it is fun and interesting, but some things should be given a wide berth. We've had a few close encounters, but nothing too serious.

On our very first trip south we were caught in a freak storm in central Pennsylvania. We were in a little over loaded Dodge Neon. Plowing through the heavy snow really hurt our gas mileage and we almost ran out. I had to pour our Coleman camping fuel into the car's fuel tank to make it to the next gas station. Fortunately we soon found an open hotel and sat out the rest of the storm.

We've driven between tornadoes. Once a tornado tore up the road right behind us. It was like something out of a bad movie -the ones where the hero is just one step ahead of disaster. We've avoided floods, citywide protests, hurricanes, and gun shots. It sounds bad but for all the months and miles problems like these are not all that common. After all, one could die in one's bed.

Now I'm keep an eye on the whole Ebola hysteria. It doesn't even matter how severe the situation becomes. The response to Ebola could cause enough concerns all by itself. There could be restrictions on travel. Hospitals could be locked down. Huge areas could be quarantined.

I'm taking some common sense precautions. I'm slowly stocking up the van with more food in case we have to sit it out somewhere. Going to the grocery store when people are in a panic is a bad idea.

There will be enough waste veggie fuel on board the van and trailer to take us at least 2000 miles. There are many things that could disrupt diesel supplies.

Our medical kit will get beefed up. No, I don't expect to treat Ebola myself. What I want is enough medical supplies to avoid going to a hospital. Anyone notice that hospitals are one of the places where people are catching diseases?

There's another possibility. Between now and Christmas there could be travel bans in place. We might not be able to go south for the winter. The house will need a few things if we are to spend the winter in comfort.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Camper van repair blues

This has been the year of van repair. At some point in time funky vehicles (in my case a Ford E350 ambulance to camper conversion) will need a rebuild. In my case I think there are enough miles on to van that a lot of things have just worn out.

I get it. Things like brakes wear out. What really bothers me are the new replacement parts that fail way too early. This summer it was the saga of the 3 Chinese built fuel pumps that would only last about 500 miles. Now the vacuum pump is failing and that's less than a year old.

Besides the vacuum pump, on the short list is a wheel alignment and new front tires.

The repairs kept me from spending time and money on further camper improvements. Before we take the van out traveling it will get a 105 watt solar panel on roof along with another deep discharge battery. It also needs better bug proof ventilation.

My hope is that the camping improvements will allow us more time in out of the way undeveloped campsites. If I can camp in comfort in cheap or free areas I should recoup some of the money spent on repairs.

With any luck all the issues should be fixed before we close up the house and head out on the road. Fortunately I've still a couple months to square things away. Last year we hit the road on October 10. No way would we have been ready for travel that early this year. We are spending Christmas in snow country this year. Sometime after that is our departure date.

As long as some major unforeseen repair doesn't crop up, we should be fine. If, on the other hand, something expensive blows up I don't know what I'll do. Maybe I'll dig out the cross country skis and learn to love winter again.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Power of Muddle

In 2008 quite a few people looked at the financial meltdown and thought the whole financial house of cards was going to fall down.

By 2008 I'd seen so many “this is it!” moments that I took a wait and see attitude. In the past I've underestimated the power of the system to muddle through. There was the gas crunch in the 70s and early 80s. Then we had the financial mess of 1987. In the 90s the tech bubble burst.

2008 was bad, but as it turned out they had a few more tricks to kick the can down the road. We have some potential bad things in the works, but I would not be surprised to see more muddling in action.

That's not to say people don't get hurt. Many get burned in these upheavals. A few get very very wealthy. Often after things are patched up, the system runs, but just a bit crappier than before.

Complete collapse is usually a combination of things: scarcity of critical resources, loss of political will, drought or other climate change, disease, financial collapse, loss of faith in government, invasion, and even things like erupting volcanoes.

When a goodly number of bad things happen at the same time, that's when things really fall apart. The fun part is guessing when the system is overloaded and really can't take another knock. Be warned, the ability to muddle through should not be discounted.

Then again, sometimes things really do fall apart.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Cultural Best Practice

Human culture is a wondrous thing. Physical evolution is a slow process. Culture can affect the human condition much more quickly.

The business world has the concept of “Best Practice.” It's finding the best way of doing something and sticking with it. Similar concepts are used in other fields of endeavor.

Humans are pretty much stuck in whatever culture they are born into. Sure, there are those who transition from between cultures, usually through emigration. Even emigration may only provide relatively minor cultural tweaks. Living in New Zealand is really only marginally different than living in the United States. (Yes, there are differences, but you don't suddenly find yourself sacrificing virgins to the volcano god.)

So I got to thinking, some cultural practices are more useful than others. Would it be possible to compile a list of cultural Best Practices? Could one write a list of everything that works best for people and combine it into a practical framework? Is it possible to build a best practices culture from the ground up?

This isn't a Utopia. Usually Utopian experiments make some wildly wrong assumptions. Best Practices are things that are shown to work, and work better than everything else.

What a wild experiment that would be! We could take the best of thousands of years of cultural trial and error and synthesize a new and very useful culture.

The problem, of course, is all the vested interests in current cultures. No matter how dysfunctional a cultural practice is, there's probably someone in power benefiting from it. That doesn't mean the project does not have merit. A lot of culture can be changed on the individual and small group level. Successful strategies for living would attract more people -especially in areas where Cultural Best Practices are significantly better than those of the dominate culture.

Here's a chance for all those Social Science majors to demonstrate how good their degrees are. We should be able to cobble together a basic framework in 30 days and a practical program in under 6 months.

The Powers That Be only have to worry a little bit. A tiny fraction of people will initially change from what's old and comfortable to what's best. Then again, if enough people begin to live really well it gets harder and harder to defend bad ways of living.


Sunday, October 12, 2014


My 79 year old dad and his 71 year old lady friend came up here to New Hampshire from Florida for a visit. While here they decided to get married. In a week's time my family put together a wedding and reception for 60 or so people.

They were married Saturday. Good time had by all. Very late night for my lovely wife and I.

The bride and groom had a blast. Goes to show that old ain't dead.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Lost in the news

Anyone else think that when flu season hits everyone's going to think they have Ebola? Flu is serious enough. People die from it, but nothing like the fatality rate of Ebola. A guy can't even sneeze on a plan without a full hazmat response these days. People are going to freak out.

Then again, maybe they won't. By then some other “one big thing” may be dominating the news cycle.

Remember Ukraine? Fukushima? The time the earth blew up and we all escaped on the giant Space Ark?

It seems the news can only handle a couple of big stories, and only for a little while. Whatever they focus on becomes the most important thing in the world -or so we are led to believe.

Not all that long ago the news was full of nothing but speculation about a certain missing Malaysian airliner. Experts were trotted out and put through their paces. Government spokesmen made serious announcements. It seems just about everyone who could put some sort of spin on the story had their day in the sun. Well, nothing much has come out if, but that story has disappeared almost as completely as the plane.

Most of the time the things that don't dominate the news at the things most folks have to worry about. Little things sneak up on people and become full blown crises before all but a select few notice. While we are focused on Ebola, some other disease could quietly be making inroads and we are not prepared for it. Some economic mess like the derivatives bubble could be bursting and we wouldn't know about it in time to do anything constructive.

Another big mistake people make is to focus on the big stuff and ignore the stuff close to home. They might be in panic about an Ebola outbreak on another continent, but blissfully ignore their diabetes and high blood pressure. They may worry about the stock market, but have no interest in their town's economy. It's easier to worry about social trends in the wider world than to deal with our own kids.

The news all to often is a distraction with little actionable information. Just when our attenion starts to waver from “the big story” they find another story to panic about. We are easily distracted by new and shiny things.

Then there are the old stories that we forget about and probably shouldn't. Fukushima is just as bad as it ever was, but since it's not in the daily news many people think the problem was solved.

I'm still a news junkie, but I take it for what it is -entertainment to sell advertising. It's a good idea to keep one's eyes open on the things around them. That's where most of your real problems will come from. Good thing that those are also the problems people can have at least some influence over.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Things go sideways

Sometimes in life plans don't go forward or even backward, but sideways.

I had hoped to enter the Everglades Challenge this coming year. While it's likely the boat would be ready by then I just don't have the money to make it happen. Between registration fees and the extra equipment I'd have to buy, it's not feasible right now.

I just spent way more money on van repairs then I wanted to. I knew the brakes were going, but I didn't realize how bad they had gotten. I'm still not done as the van will need a wheel alignment and two new tires. Let's the say the money spent on repairs would have outfitted my little boat in high expedition style.

There is always next year. (plans go sideways) By then I'll have a lot more experience and all the bugs worked out. I'm disappointed, but realistic.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Neither land nor sea

Now that my little 12 foot Ooze Goose boat is built I've been checking out different cruising grounds. My research has taken me from the Carolinas, south to Florida, and west to Texas.

Obviously this isn't a blue water boat. One name for this type of boat is “beach cruiser.” It's small enough to drag up on beaches and can dry out in the flats without damage. There are things only small shallow draft boats can do.

Florida has some nice boat ramps, but many of them don't allow overnight parking. Those that do have parking fees that can add up. However, I've discovered a number of unimproved ramps recommended for shoal draft boats. Those are mostly free and allow overnight parking. Better yet, they are are close to places I want to go to.

My boat is small enough to drag right on the beach. That gives us the option of either sleeping right on the boat or pitching a tent on the beach. We also have the option of staying at anchor in protected waters.

I've seen tiny boats like mine tucked way up little creeks where bigger boats cannot go. They can hide in the mangroves or get pulled into the vegetation along the water. There are lots of stealth camping options.

A tiny beach cruiser allows people to disappear. They can get into places bigger boats can't follow, yet be in marshy areas that discourage inquisitive land dwellers. I've even read of micro cruisers avoiding pirates by sailing in water too shallow for powerboats.

This type of travel can be done in a canoe or kayak. However, the Goose has more capacity than most kayaks. Better yet, it has a cabin which to get out of the weather or hide from biting insects. The ability to sail is also a huge energy saver. I bet it's a good fishing platform too.

People have island hopped across the Caribbean in boats no bigger than mine. It's risky, but knowledge of currents and the weather can lessen the risk. I've seen much more rickety boats that have safely made the trip from Cuba to Florida. Believe me, this would not be my first choice for crossing the Gulf Stream. However, in a zombie Apocalypse, it sure beats many many other options.

I hope be able at least post pictures this winter of our adventures.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Science, bad science and ignorance

There are a lot unknowns about the current outbreak of Ebola. It's made the jump from isolated villages to densely packed urban areas. It appears to be spreading faster than previous outbreaks. Since more people have become infected there's been more opportunity for the virus to mutate.

There are systematic methods of separating speculation from fact. It's called science. It's methodical and painstaking. It might not always get things right, but science is supposed to correct for that. Observation and experiment provide information and a better understanding is arrived at.

Unfortunately what we've seen recently is a lot of bad science. People want to know what's going on and they don't want to wait. Because of that demand there's been a lot of bad science floating around. Theories are promoted as fact. Anecdotal stories are given the same weight as large case studies. Sensational stories, no matter how badly researched, are promoted over more balanced reporting.

Then we have outright ignorance. Science is hard. Books have to be read. Work has to be done. Pay offs take time. Too many idiots on TV are ignorant about what's going on and seem to believe ignorance is a good as knowledge. Maybe we can blame bad science for at least part of that attitude. When I see ignorance and fear being used instead of science, I get a bit ticked off. Unreasoning panic helps no one. Ignorance and prejudice are bad combinations. That's how during the 14th century plagues the Jews ended up being blamed and persecuted. Never mind that they were suffering as much as everyone else.

We are going to need more good science. Thanks to science we have ways of dealing with horrible infectious diseases. If the disease has changed, good scientific practices will eventually figure out what to do. That is, if we decided to provide the resources to make it happen. Ignorance is cheap, at least in the short term. In the long term, it could be fatal.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Migration disruption

We underestimate the effects of massive human migration.

Historically human migration has toppled empires. If the Huns or the Mongols are coming, all one can do is get out of the way or submit. Even submitting isn't a very good idea if the invaders are keen to pile up pyramids of skulls.

Anything can start the disruption. It could be whole tribes fleeing invaders, or it could be something as simple as climate changes causing the crops to fail. Hungry people are desperate.

In more recent years there have been many mass migrations of people. They have put strains on their host countries, like when the Palestinians moved into Jordan. In general, refugees are not allowed to flood into and overwhelm countries. There are mechanisms to deal with them.

Refugee camps are set up. They keep people under control. Many camps are fenced in and armed guards patrol. An even more effective method of control is provided by handing out food, supplying at least minimal shelter and giving medical treatment. There's an unwritten agreement: stay here and don't overrun our country and we'll provide for your basic needs. International organizations help defray the expenses of running the camps.

We've forgotten how truly disruptive massive refugee invasion can be. Many in the US think Central and South Americans are overwhelming the country. It's no where near that level. One of the reasons the border is so porous is that big business has a demand for cheap labor. If there were no jobs waiting for them the big incentive to cross the border would go away.

Now however, it's not just job seekers coming across the border. It's people fleeing violence and political turmoil in their home countries. This is just a trickle. Most people don't want to move far away from their country and the culture they grew up in. Things would have to get much worse before it became a flood. That could happen.

Europe is getting their fair share of refugees right now. So far governments around the world have been strong enough to manage the problem. Now picture a situation where first world governments are weakened and the refugee situation increases exponentially. It happened to the Roman Empire.

So what's the point of all this? Some folks think that they'll survive the collapse of government without the hordes of barbarians overrunning their area. When governments get too weak border controls collapse. Refugees don't stay in their nice little camps. There could be desperate people migrating all over the place with no concern for borders. You might have a nice place to weather the storm, but can you weather the storm of refugees?

Just like tribes in the past you may be forced to hit the road your own self. Widespread disruptions are like that. Don't be too critical on people who might have been happy to stay at home except they were forced out of their place too.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Work arounds

The house solar electric system has a backup connection to the grid. Here's how it works. There's a voltage meter connected to the batteries. When the batteries get low a wall switch can be turned on. That activates a relay. The relay energized a high amperage connection between the grid and inverter. The inverter turns into a charger and tops off the batteries. At the same time an automatic circuit diverts grid power to the electrical panel previously fed from the batteries.

Sounds more complicated than it is.

After a couple cloudy days, plus having guests at the house using more power, the batteries were a bit low. Flipping the wall switch didn't do what it's done for over 20 years. The batteries did not charge up. The problem may be with the relay. I've no idea how old it is. Originally it was part of a alarm system to call firefighters to duty. The relay powered a high power air horn. Probably did that job for many years before I got it. It saw lots of use.

High amperage relay switches cost real money -money that I'd rather spend on other things right now. Fortunately I already own a heavy duty charger. That's been hooked up and plugged in. It has a timer and automatic shut off so it won't overcharge the batteries. The relay issue can be looked investigated in greater detail once my company leaves.

It's good to have options.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Day Off

I've company staying over. No post today.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Boat test photos

A nice lady from across the lake took a few photos of my boat test last weekend. I scanned in the prints and thought I'd share.

Pretty capable 12 foot boat. I'm about 400 pounds, plus my lovely wife and dog. We could easily throw in another 100 pounds of gear and be sent for adventure.

I've been doing a little research on the Internet. The boat is short enough to be exempt from state licenses and requirements. It's a floating loophole. I love it!


Friday, October 3, 2014

Boat trailer decision

Back to the immediate and personal.

Thinking about computer privacy, world pandemic, and the nature of civilization is interesting and all, but there are projects to deal with right at home. I was unsure about what to do for a boat trailer for my little project boat. To launch the Ooze Goose I used my Oday 19 trailer. That was fine, but now I've two boats in the lake and one trailer.

I wasn't sure if I should modify the Oday trailer or if the Goose should have its own trailer. In the end I've decided to convert an old utility trailer into a small boat trailer. The trailer hasn't been registered since 2006 so it's not like I'm taking it away from some other use.

So far I've invested in two new wheels and a hitch repair kit. The lever that clamps the hitch on the ball was totally missing. My guess is that sometime during the winter the snowplow caught the front of the trailer and broke that part clean off. I estimate that the conversion will cost around $200 - $250, depending on the condition of the bearings.

Once I get the boat on the trailer I can get back to fitting out the sailing rig. I've also been ordering some odds and ends for the interior. The bottom of the cabin will be lined with interlocking floor mats, the kind people use for exercise areas. On top of that I've got a double wide self inflating air mattress on order. Some mosquito netting has already arrived in the mail. The project is coming together nicely.

These little projects are just the thing to keep me from dwelling on the state of the world. There's not much I can do about the world anyway.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Plague and breaking points

The world has seen some horrific plagues in the past. Most of us are familiar with the Black Death of 14 Century Europe. It was also in Asia and parts of Africa, but western history is Eurocentric. Records of the plague are pretty good, including a lot of first person sources. It's estimated that between 30 – 50 percent of the population died.

There were a number of chaotic years when everything pretty much fell apart: government, religion, and society in general. Amazingly, after the plague had passed the survivors got back on their feet quickly. There were a lot of changes in society. How could there not be? However, in short order there was a functioning society. People did not revert to a hunter/gatherer existence.

Contrast that to the situation in the New World. There are estimates that up to 90 percent of the population of North and South American was decimated by disease. Complex societies did not survive intact. There weren't enough people left to keep them running. Life got a whole lot simpler.

So we know that civilization can probably sustain 50 percent losses without totally falling apart. 90 percent is too much. Somewhere between 50 and 90 percent is the breaking point. It's probably not a hard and fast number as there are a lot of variables. I'm just guessing, but I bet it's a fairly narrow range.

The plague years in the Old World were well documented. In the Americas the record is sparse and mostly from the viewpoint of the invaders. Whole civilizations vanished with barely a trace.

One can't but help wonder how resilient our own civilization would be to dramatic population loss.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Big data's diminishing returns

Have you ever read novels from over 100 years ago? Notice how often people were afraid something embarrassing would become public? People would commit murder to hide the fact that they were homosexual, had an illegitimate child, or any number of little secrets from their past. The only way these novels have any tension about people's secrets is if we can put ourselves in a 19th century mindset.

Okay, so there are still plenty of people alive today with a 19th century mindset. Every year there are a lot fewer of them. On the flip side, every year we have young people who are growing up with no sense of privacy. Everything they do is on social media -including all the dumb things they do. Maybe especially the dumb things they do. They joke about doing things a Victorian would have paid blackmail money to keep hidden.

So what happens when these young people become old enough and interested in public office? Embarrassing things from their past? No big deal. Everyone has embarrassing things from their past. It may actually be suspect if someone does not have skeletons in their closet. It won't be normal.

There are two groups interesting in all that data: governments and business. Governments, by their nature, don't trust the public and want to get the goods on them. Business wants to know all about someone so they can sell to them -or to do things like deny credit to people with bad medical histories. That's just creepy.

So what has the government found out? They've discovered that a lot of people hate them, so the government spooks are feeling pretty unloved. They also want to discover dark things about folks. That only works as long as people care to keep those things hidden. Will the younger generations even care? Blackmail doesn't work when no one gives a darn.

Right now businesses are very excited by the promise of big data. Every tiny bit of information about someone has market value. Past performance is a good indicator of future actions. That works as long as everyone is safely in their ruts. Big data is only predictive for fairly short periods of time in a relatively stable society. When things upset the status quo, all old data goes out the window.

Now there are big data geeks who think they know how people will behave in stressful life changing situations. They may even have a small track record. Fine, but wait until truly disruptive things knock people out of their routine -repetitively. It could be anything from war, plague, a comet strike to a new religion suddenly catching fire. Mix and match for even more confusion.

Then you have the people on the web with a number of personas totally divorced from their real selves. No one on the 'net knows for sure if you are even male or female. Then there are folks who think it's fun to game the system by feeding erroneous data into the mix. In a world where no data is deleted, the bad data pollutes the stream forever. Go ahead, Google for things that you have no interest in at all. It's fun, like throwing a tiny monkey wrench into the system.