Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cold weather dehydration

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Power outages

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

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

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


Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday? I think not.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Solar electric van install

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Recent road trip

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Your house: expense or asset?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 24, 2014

The father of invention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Coffee cooking??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Medical insurance plans

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 21, 2014

The disturbing example of North Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Some days I'm a plumber

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Trespasser in the night

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What a difference a year makes

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

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

Things we do to spend time with family.

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


Monday, November 17, 2014

The food issue

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Stuck in civilization

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

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

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

“I need to quit my job,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some leave by small boats.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Chimney cleaning

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 14, 2014

SUV sales

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Road ready -nearly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Winter's coming

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Health care rabbit hole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 10, 2014

Working on-line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, November 9, 2014

The political operative

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 8, 2014

The high cost of free

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 7, 2014

Last boat trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's what we did.

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


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Running government like a business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Marriage, family, and adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The end of the private car

Self driving cars will become common in 10 – 20 years. The technology pretty much works right now. When self driving cars are the norm, it will be the end of car culture. It will be the end of the private car.

Computer driven cars will be safe. Insurance companies will take notice. Before long they will charge a premium for those who drive their own vehicles. There will be a push to outlaw human piloted cars from most places.

By the time that happens, it will be stupid to buy your own car. A self driving car will be as much fun as public transportation, which is to say, none at all. At that point, might as well ride public transportation. It's not fun, but it's cheaper than maintaining a car.

This might seem like science fiction, but technology moves quickly. People will realize that it's inefficient to keep a personal car in your driveway. Just call one up when you need one. With more people sharing cars, there will be a lot less of them on the road. The need for more and wider roads will also disappear.

Of course, this will all work best in dense urban areas. It will get even more difficult to live out in the country. People will naturally gravitate to the city. Hmmmmm, now the self driving car looks like an instrument of social planning.

Welcome to Johnny Cab:


Monday, November 3, 2014

The clock is ticking

My lovely wife and I don't plan on closing down our house and heading to warmer climes until January. That's a good two months away, but I'm already feeling time pressures.

I'd hoped to get the sailing rig completed before heading south. That's not going to happen. When my dad visited I lost a good two weeks of prime building weather. I've no garage and the basement lacks the room needed. I've decided to take the boat down anyway. It rows fine and I can put my 55 lb thrust electric trolling motor on it. I'll bring down to Florida what I've already built and finish it down there. Dad will have fun helping me.

The trailer needs work. The van needs some odds and ends, plus I've decided to install a solar panel on the roof plus add another deep cycle battery. Over the next few weeks I'm going to stock the van with food and equipment.

Until recently funds were very tight so there's a lot of little thing s that have been put off. I'm catching up on those. It's amazing how those little $10 - $50 jobs add up.

Then there's the wonderful world of licenses, paperwork, and financial juggling. I've been moving some accounts to a local bank and changing the way things get paid. The goal is simplify the money stuff enough that I can neglect it for months if needed. Funny thing is, it's easy to complicate and takes hard work to simplify.

The boat and trailer need to be registered. My driver's license is set to expire while we are on the road, so that has to be done early. Same goes for van registration and inspection. The town and state need their pound of flesh.

Most importantly, we hope to spend some quality time with friends and family. That's the problem with living two lives. No matter where you are, there are people far away who are missed. If only I could figure out teleportation I'd have the problem licked.

We don't go on vacation much. We just happen to live as gypsies 5 – 6 months of the year. Both lives are real. Our settled friends never quite fully understand how it is to live as nomads. Many of the travelers we meet don't even believe we actually have a house somewhere. I guess we do the footloose and fancy free life convincingly enough. Maybe someday we'll be full time gypsies, perhaps living on a boat -or maybe we'll be settled. Some things are out of our control and we adapt the best we can.

In the mean time, I'm focused on doing what has to be done to get ready. I don't know how people with real jobs find the time to get anything done.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Internet service failure

The local Internet company still hasn't fixed its faulty equipment. The local area was without the 'net until this morning. Hope to get tomorrow's blog set up before service fails again.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Boat bail and trailer test

After suffering though rain the better part of the week, the sun came out. Temperatures only got into the high 40s, but that's good enough. This is the end of October in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire. It only gets so warm.

The cockpit of the boat holds rainwater nicely. That might be of value some day, but it was an awful lot of bailing. I made a nice bailer from a square shapped gallon juice jug. Sure beats spending $8.99 at West Marine.

I enjoyed one more row on the lake. Eventually I made my way to the boat landing. The trailer was a bit of a pain to back up. My van is wider than the trailer so when going straight back the trailer can't be seen. By the time the trailer came into view it was time to make a hard turn in the other direction. The whole contraption zigzagged down the ramp.

The trailer sank the way it was supposed to. That's not to be taken for granted. When I was down to the Florida Keys I saw a trailer that was built from timbers so large it floated. The owner had two large ingots of lead attached to the back to get it to sink.

My boat is so light that it was very easy to maneuver it onto the trailer. The side rails worked out well to guide it into position. I'd guessed on the balance and got it pretty much where it's supposed to be. Theres just enough weight on the hitch to keep it from bouncing off the ball, yet not so much that I can't easily lift it and move the trailer by hand. Pretty darn good. With the boat on the trailer I can see what's going on back there, so backing it into the driveway was easy.

I only road tested the trailer a couple miles. The bearings are shot. The lights don't work, and the registration expired back in 2006. Now that I know the boat rides nicely on the trailer, I can fix those minor concerns.