Monday, June 29, 2015

The well armed liberal

They exist you know. Just because someone might generally be considered “liberal” or “conservative” doesn't mean they follow the party line.

I've seen out here in the country. A city liberal moves out to the country to get close to nature. They really get into it -organic garden, chickens, the whole country thing. Of course guns are terrible and nobody should have guns.

Then something eats all the veggies out their garden. A fox gets into the hen house. They surprise a bear digging though their trash -on their enclosed porch. Before you know it they are sniping groundhogs with a scoped high power rifle at 100 meters. The gun goes from being an abstract engine of evil to being a useful tool for country living.

I love it when people don't fit categories. For a few years I was on a strict vegan diet, due to doctor's orders. Since it was the first treatment that really helped me at the time I stuck with it. When people heard I was a vegetarian, and a vegan at that, they made a lot of other assumptions about me. Most of those were wrong. The fact that I still went hunting really freaked them out. The rest of my family still ate meat.

One funny thing I noticed around here was that a lot of hippy dippy artistic women marry redneck men. They women love to live out in the beautiful countryside. That's great, but country living has its challenges. A guy who can keep a wood stove fired up in -40 weather and pull a car out of a ditch with a tractor starts to look attractive. So they fall in love and marry.

Then, as nature takes its course, they have children. These little kids are pretty interesting people. I bet they are not going to be easily classified when they grow up. In the end we are all just folk.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Summertime water fun

My son-in-law wanted to build a swim raft for Father's day. He built it in his driveway. Then he got a crew together and we all loaded it on my sailboat trailer. I had to remove one of the guide poles to fit in on, but it traveled very well.

After launching at the boat ramp my daughter, granddaughter, son-in-law paddled it over to my beach. Brownie the sailor dog refused to be left behind.

So now it sits at my beach, ready for summer party time.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Air Conditioning and Grand Hotels

In the days before air conditioning it was common practice for the well off to spend summer in the mountains. Grand hotels were built to cater to those escaping the heat of Boston and New York. New Hampshire doesn't have as many of them as in the days of old, but some still remain. Others either burned down, were left to decay, or were stripped for their materials. Part of my house is built from lumber that came from such a hotel.

When air conditioning became common those hotels had to reinvent themselves to stay in business. Just having a big shady porch exposed to mountain breezes was no longer enough.

With our rickety grid a good heat wave could fail from increased AC demand. Cooling takes an awful lot of electricity. There would be more totally off grid houses in the south if it wasn't for the demands of AC.

Houses in the south used to be built to maximize cooling, with large tall windows and good cross ventilation. The humble “shotgun shack” was built with open air flow in mind. Even with good design, there's only so much that can be with natural cooling. Nothing beats the brute force power of air conditioning.

One could argue that the modern south is built on air conditioning. Take that away and people are going to have problems. A grid failure in the south in summer is as bad as power loss in the frigid north. In some ways it's worse. Many homes up north have backup heat independent of the grid. I've yet to see a wood fired air conditioner.

If you have a medical condition or other special needs a well equipped backup generator could literately be a life saver. That's fine for a temporary situation like hurricane or tornado damage, but long term keeping a generator fueled is problematic.

There are ways to lessen the impact of AC loss. I'm surprised at the number of southern people who have no tolerance to warm weather. Their homes, work places, cars, and stores are so air conditioned you could almost use them as meat lockers. It takes about two weeks to get acclimated to heat. Raise the temperature in your house. Get outside as much as you can. Don't forget to drink plenty of water. Water, not sweet tea -limit that stuff, I don't care how traditional it is.

While it's difficult to power AC with solar panels, fans use a fraction of the power. That can make a big difference. Part of dealing with heat is learning to slow down. My house doesn't even have air conditioning. Usually there are a couple days each year that it gets uncomfortably warm. Then I grab a cold beer and wade into the lake until I'm comfortable again. It's no grand hotel, but it works for me.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Hours in the day

There are only so many hours in the day. Everybody fills every single hour. So how does anyone do anything new? By eliminating some of the things taking up time now. Basic math, but it's not all that simple.

Logically, it would seem easy to eliminate less productive things for more productive pursuits. The problem is that “less productive time” is filling some sort of need right now. For example: we'd like to think we'd give up mindless TV watching for reading great literature. Who can defend mindless TV, right?

Here's the thing, that mindless TV watching is currently filling a need. Maybe after a hard day's work some mindless comedy is just the thing for helping you unwind. Switching to the works of Shakespeare might not do it for you. It takes a bit of work, especially if you've never read the Bard before. The language takes some getting used to and maybe even some time reading all the footnotes. Learning a bit of History for some context will probably be necessary to fully appreciate what's going on. Maybe after the hard work of getting into good literature is done it'll then fill the need that mindless TV fills. I've heard of people who do mathematical problems to relax, so anything is possible.

Don't feel bad if you don't want to give up your mindless TV. Maybe you want TV and great literature in your life. Fine, but something else will have to go. Maybe you can find the time by giving up something else -preferably something that's not adding much to your life.

That forces a person to really take stock in what's going on day to day. Where does your time go? Are you spending time doing things you don't enjoy to impress people you don't like? How much of your life is rote and habit? How about your personal relationships? Just because someone is an old friend doesn't mean they are a good friend. Tough questions. Tough decisions.

The first bit of time that has to be cut out your day is the time for self reflection. Too many of us are too busy to think. Many like it that way, as thinking can be very uncomfortable. Change is also uncomfortable, but discovering what one really wants and making the decisions necessary to make it happen are priceless.

Oh, one little footnote. Avoid the mistake of cutting out hours of sleep. A good night's sleep is necessary for good health. It's also necessary for the proper assimilation of new knowledge. We've all shorted ourselves on sleep from time to time. Life sometimes makes that necessary. Just don't make it a habit.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dabbling in poverty or connecting with the common man

Everybody hates a tourist.

Just look at all the those very wealthy politicians out there trying to connect with the common man. People who don't wash a dish, do laundry, pick the dog crap out of the yard or even know how to shop for groceries are going around trying to connect with voters.

Sometimes I don't know if I should laugh or cry.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Super Wealthy Bugout

I keep coming across articles like this one about the super wealthy establishing bugout retreats.

The wealthiest one tenth of one percent is getting richer and the rest of us are getting poorer. Urban unrest scares the heck out of them. Does it scare them into helping build a more equitable society? No, of course not. Their response is to grab their ill gotten wealth and disappear down some bolt hole.

Yeah, that works, if they can get to their bugout location in time, and the crisis is temporary, and it's not so bad that desperate people hunt them down like dogs. Of course, to feel really secure they will need some very hard men running security. Then all they have to worry about is being killed by their own guards. How long is some tough merc going to take orders from some puffy former hedge fund manager?

Maybe it's not so bad being poor.

I do suspect there are more of those bolt holes out there than people are aware of. I had a long talk with an electrician who was hired to travel to a different state to work on a retreat. It looked like a normal farm house, but was built from the ground up to be bullet proof. The normal looking grain silos were actually hardened steel observation posts.

Shouldn't real evil masterminds shoot the help and bury them in the basement? Naw . . . no need of that when you just hire a bunch of illegals, truck them out into the middle of nowhere and then truck them back.

Historically, the rich who fled with their wealth didn't generally fare all that well. There were a few notable exceptions during the Black Plague. Some who isolated themselves in their remote fortified villas did outlast the disease. Others did not do so well as they brought the plague in with them. Of course, plague burns itself out relatively quickly. They didn't have to stay behind their walls forever. Now that just got me thinking. What if you know a plague is coming? An isolated bugout retreat would make perfect sense. Modern medicine and isolation practices would increase the odds of success.

Most likely they are concerned about civil unrest following an economic collapse. The bulk of these guys are in the business of money, so it's what they know. I'm guessing they are hoping to avoid all those people they've been stealing from all these years.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Back to tents

A buddy of mine built a remote cabin on an isolated island somewhere in the North Atlantic. It's about as remote a place in North America as you'd want to go. The island can only be reached by boat and most of the island is surrounded by steep cliffs.

Last winter an 11 foot storm surge sent a huge piece of sea ice right up the cliff and into the cabin. It was moved back 35 feet then tipped over on its side. Never underestimate the power of mother nature.

He's decided to salvage what he can from the cabin and will burn the rest. Instead of rebuilding a simple tent platform will take its place. His tent, at 12 X 16 feet, is pretty good sized. It's designed to be used with a wood stove. A well made wood heated tent can be surprisingly comfortable. I once stayed in one during an overnight cross country ski trip.

A quality tent is not cheap but worth the money. If you plan on spending any time at all in a tent don't spring for the cheapest Walmart disaster. Quality only hurts once. The difference between a good dry night's sleep and having your tent shredded in a storm is priceless.

For me, the type and size of tent one buys depends on how it's going to be hauled around. If it's going to on your back in a pack, weight is a major factor. However, if it's going to be carried in a vehicle or even a canoe, it's a different story. I've been known to carry a 50 pound canvas tent in a canoe. It was roomy enough to comfortably sleep a half dozen adults.

It was rated for more, but don't believe those ratings. For example, a four man tent is just about big enough for two people. Maybe 4 people could sleep in the tent, but forget about rolling over or having any gear in the tent with you. You want a tent big enough so you can sit up and play cards to pass a rainy day.

Maybe it's the nomad in me, but I still love a good tent. It might be a good substitute for that remote cabin. Even the most remote cabins have been broken into. A tent platform isn't something anyone's likely to steal or vandalize. It gets the tent off the ground so it's warmer and dryer. The tent sets up faster than on the ground too.

No, you don't really need a good tent. I've spent nights sleeping on snow covered mountain tops with a tarp. However, a good tent makes everything just that much easier and more comfortable.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Can't complain about the rain

Sunday was another rainy day around here. In recent years I've started to call it the New England rain forest. It's been quite a few years since we've drought conditions. Even during a drought it was possible to take my canoe out on the local river.

After following the news about drought conditions in other parts of the country I'm happy to deal with rainy days. I'm really freaked out by the number of people who rely on imported water. Not only does the water come from far away, it takes a lot of technology and energy to make it happen. Even worse the water has to cross active earthquake faults.

We aren't the first civilization to rely on man made water systems to keep our cities and agriculture supplied. In fact, technological solutions to arid lands may be as old as civilization itself. Eventually all those systems failed. Sometimes conditions became too arid for the technology. Other times growth outstripped the resource base. Water supplies were occasionally destroyed during war. It appears that some civilizations lost the knowledge and ability to maintain the systems their ancestors built. Many things can cause complex water systems to fail.

That was long ago and far away. It can't happen here. Except it's happening now. The dams that once held so much water are disturbingly low. Some are so low that emergency changes have to be make to accommodate the lower water or they would not flow at all. Drillers are reaching deeper and deeper levels as they chase dropping water tables. We have better technology and more wealth that civilizations of long ago, but we are also supporting a lot more people and water hungry agriculture.

There are a lot of band aids that can be slapped on the system. Only recently have some areas gotten serious about conservation. Agriculture can be changed to use less water intensive crops. Those can be grown in wetter areas. There is too much invested in those dry areas to abandon them completely. Right now it's worth investing money to keep things limping along, all the while praying for rain.

The really bad nightmare scenario would be a massive widespread earthquake that destroys large sections of the system all at once. Millions of people could have water suddenly cut off. It could take weeks to get it up and running again. People die after only a few days without water, so it would be crisis management of the first order.

When I was kid I used to drink right out of the mountain streams, but that was in the days before giardia was common. Now I use a water filter or at least boil it. Those are pretty low tech methods of rendering abundant water supplies safe to drink. If I lived out in the dry west I'd make sure I'd at least have plentiful water storage. It would freak me out to have to rely on the rickety water supply systems that hydrate the area these days.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

The job and a half problem

To get by these days too many people are working crazy long hours. Some have a full time job and work an additional 20 – 30 hours a week. Others have to string together a lot of part time jobs together to make one living wage. I talked to one lady recently who was working 8 part time jobs.

The inability to make a living with a normal 40 hour job is taking its toll on society. Life used to be more than just work. People had hobbies, spent time with family, participated in social activities, engaged in the political arena, and did charitable work. On a personal level I saw it in the fire service. Our department had both full and on-call firefighters. When the good local jobs went away, so did the volunteers. They couldn't afford the time to contribute to the safety of their community.

Once there was time for people to think -big blocks of uninterrupted time with no e-mail and cell phones to break one's concentration. That level of peace and quiet is so rare today that it's considered strange and weird behavior. Forget about saying you are taking time to nurture your spiritual life. That's too radical.

When two people are working 60 hour weeks, they are basically doing the full time work of a third person. That's great for business, not much good for anyone else.

It's going to get worse. Business likes getting a worker and half for every worker, but there is something they like even better -no workers. More and more jobs are being automated. That way all the profit from the robot's labor goes back to the owner. That's a huge incentive. People's wages can only be reduced so far. When they can't make enough money to live on it's not worth going to work.

There are good arguments for everyone to have a basic guaranteed income. If all manufacturing is being done by machines and without paid workers, who's going to buy those products? A guaranteed income would allow people to live. Of course, most would want to do some sort of work. Imagine the creativity that could be unleashed if people had the time to explore their ideas and not worry about starving to death.

Maybe a fair number of people would do absolutely nothing but drink beer all day. So what? There are plenty of people who do that now.

We have some anecdotal information about places that pay a living minimum wage. Some people keep working all those crazy hours but now they can save to buy a house. Others cut back on their hours to spend more time with their families. A few people return to doing art. Some find they have the time to go to college. Those are all good outcomes. Life is richer and more interesting.

Unbridled Capitalism is very good at concentrating wealth at the top. That never ends well in the long run. Problems arise when the good of the citizens are no longer considered.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Electric sailboat test

With our little trip on the lake yesterday I thought I'd get to see how the boat performs with an electric rather than a gas engine.

We launched from the boat ramp directly into a 10 mph wind. That wasn't too bad, but there were rocks to the west and a campground boat dock to the east -not a lot of room to tack out into the open water.

The motor did a fine a job of getting us out into more open water. A couple of hundred yards later we were past the docks so we shut down the motor and raised sails.

Then we sailed and sailed some more. Now and then the wind died down to where we were barely moving. Occasionally we'd get a huge gust of wind from out of the mountains and we'd sail at full speed for a few hundred yards. Overall, we generally had enough wind to maintain between 2.5 and 5 knots. For us, that's good enough.

No doubt some folks would have fired up an engine to get through narrow passes between islands and underwater obstructions. We find that's when you really learn how to sail. There's a huge sense of accomplishment after successfully negotiating those sorts of hazards.

At the far end of the lake it occurred to me that if the wind totally died we'd have about a 8 mile motor back to the boat ramp. I think the battery would have been up for it, but I wasn't sure. Instead of the wind dying, it shifted direction to directly on our nose. It seemed like forever to tack out of that bay, but eventually we made it to wider and deeper water. We still had to tack, but big long tacks make more progress than a lot of short ones. Time is lost turning the boat's direction, finding the line and trimming the sails.

Our final tack brought us close to the boat ramp, but not directly to it. That's where we once again used the electric motor to bring us in. Not much of an electric motor test after all.

Right now the whole boat runs on one large battery -lights, radios, depth gauge, and the electric trolling motor. That's probably not a good design for long distance travel. It was fine on a lake. The 30 watt solar panel kept up with our scant electrical demands.

It would have been a bad situation at night if the motor ran out of juice, killing the navigation lights and VHF radio at the same time. The smart thing would be to have a separate battery system for the motor. When the boat ran on gas I built a box to hold a 6 gallon auxiliary tank. That same box would be ideal for holding a couple of deep discharge batteries. A small solar panel could even be mounted on the top.

What I really need to do is to take a couple of batteries and run one down until it's close to dead, then come back on the second. Then I'd really know what kind of range I'm getting.

Why do I even want to know? Knowing one's range under power would be key information should we take this boat down the ICW in the fall. The trip from mile one in VA to FL is a long slog. Sailboats generally motor most if not all of the way. I think much of it could be sailed and an electric motor assist could fill in the rest. It might take longer, but that only means I have to start a bit earlier.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Internet down so we went sailing

The local Internet provider had technical difficulties and the whole town was without Internet for a couple of days. My home phone works through the Internet so we didn't have that either. To add to the isolation we are on the wrong side of the mountain to get cell phone service.

I had to drive to the top of the hill to get a signal. Then I discovered my the cell phone microphone was broken. I could hear people just fine, but they could not hear me. Imagine my frustration. Then a small brain storm hit. My new car has a hands free cell phone feature. The car has a mike and speakers. Sure enough, by using the car's system I was able to use the phone. That's how I found out wouldn't have Internet for a few days.

Of course the local thing to do was to go sailing. Just up the road is a good sized semi-wilderness lake about 8 miles long. Just as we pulled in with the boat a friend of mine pulled in right behind me to say hello. He and I haven't gotten together in many months. Schedules and all that. However, he just quit his job and was heading up to his cabin in Newfoundland for a month. As luck would have it he took the back roads and happened to pass by the boat launch. We had a great visit and hope to see more of him when he gets back from Canada.

This was the first launch of the boat this year. It took a bit longer as the rigging was tangled up and the boat needed to be restocked with supplies and gear. We had a great launch and a successful day on the water.

We got back just before dark. Loading up the boat went well. Better yet the little diner in town was still open so we stopped in for elk burgers. Good eating.

Now that the Internet is back up I've got a huge backlog of things to deal with. Never gave any of it a thought while sailing.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sea Gypsy Hardware

Looks like old Dimitri will be getting his new diesel boat engine after all. His fund raiser is doing well. It's not how I'd have gone about it. Instead of a nice new diesel engine I'd have put some kludge together with spit and duck tape. Then again, I would not be stuck in Boston harbor either.

So it got me thinking: who are the true Sea Gypsies?

First some background. Ray Jason, the Sea Gypsy Philosopher, came up with the idea of people bugging out to the sea. The idea is that during a time of upheaval, be it war, plague, economic collapse or whatever, people could find safety in sailboats. His idea is that a group of people could sail 50 miles off shore and sit out most problems. He figured that 50 miles was far enough to be beyond the reach of pirates who use small fast petroleum powered boats. Cruising sailboats are normally well equipped and designed to go weeks or months without outside support. It's a tempting idea.

Most boats could easily go a few weeks unsupported, so with a little planning several months would be easy. My big concern is that most cruising sailboats are very complicated machines. They have refrigeration, water makers, and a whole hose of electronic devices. That requires a robust electrical system often consisting of big alternators on the boat engine, separate gas generators, windmills and solar panels, along with a hefty battery bank.

Ray rightly points out that those systems could be extended a number of ways. For example, once the fresh food runs out, shut down refrigeration to save energy. Collecting rainwater is much lower tech solution than running water makers.

So I got to thinking about some of the most talented engineless sailors out there today: the Haitians. They may have the largest fleet of engineless working boats in the world. Day in, day out, they ply the Caribbean seas, fishing, trading, and smuggling. If they are lucky they may sails make of actual sailcloth instead of old tarps. They operate with few of the modern systems that your average cruiser would consider essential.

Anyone remember Kevin Costner's crazy movie “Water World?” It was a silly movie, but something from it stuck in my mind. At the beginning of the movie Costner's character was on a high tech catamaran sailboat. It was a miracle of modern materials with winches and cables running everywhere. At the end of the movie he'd lost his high tech boat, but built another that Polynesians from 500 years ago would have felt comfortable sailing.

It's Okay to start out with high tech, but to be a real Sea Gypsy you also need the skills of a Haitian sailor. Some boats are more suited to low tech operation than others. I've seen sailboats abandoned because their electrical generation systems were down. Sailboats! Turns out that without electrical power to operate their electric winches and wire driven systems they are dead in the water. Some even rely on gyroscopes to keep right side up.

The trick is to find boats that were built as sailboats first. They may have engines, but they are auxiliary engines. Fortunately there are a lot of older sailboats built that way are are available for small money. Many of the new boats are floating condos first, motor boats second, and sailboats last of all. Choose wisely.

If you want to know what's possible on a small older sailboat boat check out Matt Rutherford's solo unsupported sail around the Americas. Just about all his high tech systems eventually failed, but he kept on sailing and finished the voyage. There is no substitute for seamanship.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Trailing tech

There are those who embrace cutting edge technology. There are those who are more comfortable with trailing caboose technology.

The advantage to cutting edge is that you get bragging rights of glimpsing the future before anyone else. The downside is that you will pay top dollar for it. You may also end up paying top dollar for dead end technology that never catches on. Betamax anybody?

I was a big fan of the netbook computer. They weren't very powerful, but perfect for someone who's on the go. The 10 inch or so screens were pretty readable. Keyboards were big enough so that even someone with sausage fingers like mine could touch type.

Right now about the last of the “netbooks” are some of the Chrome machines. The only problem is that they can't be heavily customized like my old Aspire One could be. That was set up to dual boot in windows or Ubuntu Linux. The Chrome machines aren't bad, but not nearly as useful. They are pretty good for those people who rely heavily on “the cloud” to get work done.

Which brings me back to my dilemma. My Old Aspire is getting pretty fragile. Still works well as a home computer with a separate keyboard and bigger monitor. It's no longer up to being zipped into a splash bag and tossed into a sailboat. Replacing it with an updated version is not really an option.

You see, the tablet computer has won the struggle. I didn't think it would have, but I didn't count on a few different trends. People have gotten so used to using tiny virtual keypads that many do not feel the lack of an actual keyboard. For those that do, many tablets either come with one in a handy folding case or can have a separate bluetooth keyboard added later. Most tablets have limited on board storage, but many people are perfectly happy with having everything saved to the cloud.

So I've pretty much given up on being able to buy a cheap and small netbook computer. Yes, there still are some out there, but I see the writing on the wall. A few months ago I bought a small Amazon Fire tablet, mainly as a book reader. The lack of a real keyboard prevented me from doing any serious work on in. Lately I learned that there are a number of cheap bluetooth keyboards what perform well. So now my tablet has a whole bunch of apps that allow me to get some actual work done. I've even opened a cloud account for data storage.

It's weird. Not long ago the fear was that cloud storage was unsecured. Your data was somewhere out in the ether beyond your physical grasp. Lately more people seem to be worried that they'll lose data that's not in the cloud. I call that the iphone in the toilet effect. Enough phones get destroyed that people no longer trust physical media. They can get a new phone and recover their data from the cloud so the cloud seems more secure.

Personally I'm somewhere between the two main arguments. I'm going to use the cloud, but with limited expectations of privacy. Once in the cloud, the data can then be moved to physical drives at my house. Heck, the really important stuff gets printed on acid free paper. (just like the barbarians do)

At least I'm not spending much money to get a workable mobile computing solution. The only thing will be to make sure I can connect to the 'net when I need to.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

A couple of swamp donkeys to end a long road trip

The local slang name for moose in these parts is “swamp donkey.” Okay then . . . Moose are big -darn big. From the front seat of my wife's little economy car they are freaking ginormous. After several days travel through bad roads and heavy traffic, we almost get squashed by a couple of monsters three miles from home. Good thing my wife's car has excellent brakes.

We drove all the way from northern New Hampshire to Rhode Island. (doesn't matter where in RI, it's not that big a state). The section of Rt. 95 that we travel from Massachusetts to Rhode Island is an hour and a half trip with light traffic. Friday afternoon it took over three and a half hours. Sitting in traffic, temps in the high 80s, it was nice to have a car with working air conditioning. Sometimes it's the little things.

In spite of the delay we made it to our destination. Now I'm a guy who wouldn't cross the street to see the World Series baseball game with free tickets in my pocket. However, driving a couple states over to see an 8 year old granddaughter play softball makes perfect sense. Priorities.

After we left there we spent a couple days with my oldest daughter's family in Massachusetts. Then it was off back home to New Hampshire, by way of Maine. Once again I was glad to be driving a tiny car rather than the big van. The coastal roads are narrow, twisty and full of traffic. The car just slipped into a parking space at the York Maine lighthouse park. Then we were off to visit friends on the way home.

Our trip was a good day and half longer than planned, although “planned” might be overstating the case. This trip was a last minute deal that just happened to come together.

The one time I missed having the massive van was when we came to a stop next to those moose. Dang them swamp donkeys are big.


Longer trip

I've been on the road and will get home a day later than expected. Regular posts should resume Monday.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Gold heretic

I'm not going to say that gold is a useless metal. In fact it has some fine qualities: it doesn't corrode, it's very ductile, and an excellent conductor of electrical and thermal energy.

Many think gold would make good currency. There are some good arguments for it. It's rare, but not so rare that most people can't get some. Gold is durable and nonreactive. It even makes nice shiny coins that do not tarnish.

At one time I was very attractive to the gold standard. Anything that bypasses government control is fascinating to me. There was only one big problem: History. Gold based economies have a terrible record. Back when the US was on the gold standard the nation had some horrendous boom and bust cycles. Gold apologists have a bunch of excuses for that, but they all ring hollow to my ears. Any sort of growth beyond the amount that gold can be mined breaks the system. There's not enough gold currency to lubricate a growing economy.

How about gold as a personal store of wealth? Well . . . there the track record is a bit different. Gold has been a way for individuals to move wealth across borders. Let's say your country is in economic collapse, but you've squirreled some gold away. Let's assume it's in your physical possession, not in a safety deposit box or in the form of a gold certificate. Let's also assume there is place where you can go that accepts gold as wealth and allows individuals to possess it. There's often the little problem that the country you are trying to leave won't let you leave with gold in your possession. In spite of the problems people have successfully moved gold across borders.

When a whole civilization collapses, that's where things get dicey. Take the fall of the Roman Empire for example. The barbarians wanted gold. Romans had it. Barbarians took it from the Romans. Some Romans tried to buy off the barbarians. That sometimes worked -for a while. The barbarians always came back. Let's just say History isn't exactly full of examples where rich Romans retreated to their villas with gold and were left alone by the barbarian onslaught.

After a collapse, even without the threat of barbarian invasion, (maybe the barbarians are the government at that point) gold wasn't all that useful. Day to day economics revolved around labor, food, and security. Peasants would work part of the time in the Baron's fields. In return the Baron and his men would provide security.

If I actually had investment money would I buy gold? Maybe a tiny amount -about the amount a prudent person would spend on a long shot deal.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Solutions to economic collapse

Back in 2008 Iceland did something different from the rest of the world. Instead of bailing out their banks they let them fail. Instead of rewarding the bankers with huge paychecks, they sent them to jail. Bad commercial credit was allowed to suffer market corrections. In the rest of the world commercial debt became government debt.

In spite of all the gnashing of teeth and predictions of doom Iceland came out of the crisis in fairly decent shape. They did a pretty good job of following capitalistic principles. The rest of the world did a weird kind of socialism, not for people but for big corporations.

Greece is in the news once again. It's in danger of default. In my humble opinion they should have defaulted on their loans and done away with the Euro years ago. It's impossible that their debt will ever be paid. Things that are impossible to happen don't happen. More Euro loans are only an attempt to kick the problem down the road a bit further.

There's some worry that Greece could be the spark that topples an already shaky financial system. The bond and derivative markets are well into the impossible zone, so eventually there will be a day of reckoning. Best I can figure is that day may not be all that far off.

What should happen is all those bad bets be allowed to fail. Yes, it'll be chaos, but only for a while. There are really two economies. There's the real economy where goods and services are traded. Then there's the fake economy where huge amounts of paper wealth is generated. That would be fine except the wealth from the fake economy is being used to buy real things in the real economy. It's like we are allowing people to buy luxury cars with Monopoly money. That can't but help mess up the real economy.

When the paper economy fails, theoretically, the real economy should still be there. The farms and factories have not disappeared. There is still a need for goods and services. As soon as a basic banking and financial system is set up to facilitate exchanges, people can get back to work. The mistake being made now is that financial system thinks it is the economy instead of a small service industry designed to facilitate the exchange of real things.

Iceland let the fake economy go away and punished the bad actors. The solution, while not easy, is simple. Those who's living is tied to the fake economy -everyone from bankers to politicians, have a vested interest to avoid the correction. It's going to be interesting to see how it all shakes out.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Instruction manuals

Do you ever do something the hard way only to discover much later that there's a much simpler way to do it?

Last winter I had an intermittent problem with one of the van's low beam headlights. It was a light that gave me trouble before. It worked about 95% of the time. Sometimes a bad pothole would kick it out, only to come on again at the next pothole. That suggested a loose connection somewhere. Since I wasn't doing much night driving I didn't worry about it.

Actually, I was dreading the job. Previously, to get at the light, I had to remove the starting battery along with the battery tray. Even then it was a really tight area to work in. Then my other low beam headlight burned out. Something had to be done.

Once I examined what it would take to get to the backside of the other light I figured there had to be a better way. While I couldn't find my exact model in a youtube video there was a similar vehicle. The video showed a guy changing the lights by removing a couple of simple retaining clips. Sure enough, on my van, by lifting up a couple of clips the whole headlight assembly came out. Then it was really easy to work on.

Yeah, I felt like an idiot. The loose wire was easy to find and fix and the new light bulbs popped right in. So much of my ambulance/motor home is a custom conversion that I forget about the parts that are standard and may actually have instructions somewhere.

Like much of life there's usually an easier way to do things if only we knew how.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Lost in translation

Every so many years I buckle down and learn something new. For example, in recent years I threw myself into sailing. The physical part of sailing is pretty easy: a stick in one hand and a string in the other. Other things like navigation and marine law take some serious study. With the basics of all that down I've been restless to immerse myself into something new.

. . . or something old, as the case may be. Throughout the course of my life I've been exposed to the French language. Northern NH, where I grew up and live, is right next door to Quebec so has a lot of people who speak the language. Unfortunately, it wasn't spoken in my household so I only picked up a smattering of the local dialect. The thinking at the time was growing up bilingual would hinder learning English. Since English was the language of the land is was more important to know that. Now we know the best time to learn a second language is while growing up, but it's too late for me.

I tried to learn French in high school. With three fourths of the class growing up speaking French at home I had a huge disadvantage. In my other subjects I was near the top of my class. In French I was an idiot child holding the rest of the class back. After two years of French I learned how to pass the class without truly knowing the material. Remember back in the day when two years of a foreign language was considered a minimum for anyone even thinking of college?

So now after all these years I'm getting serious about the language again. Thanks to the Internet it's a lot easier to study a language than when I was a teenager. Currently I'm using Duolingo. It's available as an app on my tablet so it's convenient to use. Right now the hardest thing for me is to unlearn the things I learned wrong.

Another great thing is the ability to stream audio and video over the Internet. I'm listening to Montreal radio in the kitchen and Paris radio before going to bed at night.

I've a deadline, of sorts. My lovely wife and I should be getting our passports in a month or so. Quebec is a short drive away. However, that's not the only place I expect to use it. My long term goal is to sail the Caribbean. There's a number of French speaking countries in the region so it would be nice to have a better grasp of what's going on. In those other coutries I'll have to rely on my wife's high school Spanish. Good thing she was a better language student than I was. Then there are those pesky islands that speak Dutch. Hope they don't mind a lot of hand waving and grunting.

Even my current poor command of the French language has proven handy. I can read it better than I can speak it. Just being able to understand a menu is a good thing. Nice to know if you are ordering beef or snails. My smattering of French has also helped me in deep Cajun Louisianan. It's like talking to long lost cousins.

One good thing about learning at my age. I'm a lot less self conscious and I can laugh at my goofs. Being able to laugh at myself I never lack for entertainment.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Filter failure

My lovely wife noticed a few floaties in our water bottle. My first thought was that I'd done a poor job cleaning it -generally a pretty safe assumption. Later I filled a glass of water from the tap and discovered more floaties in the water.

My water comes from a shallow well. For years we got by just fine without any sort of filter in the system. Just to be on the safe side I installed a whole house filter a few years ago.

With a powerful hand light I looked though the clear filter housing and examined the filter. The plastic mesh on the filter had a tear in in. Bits of filter paper were breaking off and getting into the water lines. I'd never had one fail like that before. Once I changed the cartridge and flushed out the water lines my water was crystal clear once more.

It did get me thinking. What if there was a known hazard in my drinking water? One filter would not be enough. Single failure points are not a good idea on critical systems like drinking water. Two solutions came to mind. A second whole house filter could be installed downstream of the first or a filter could be set up right at the kitchen tap.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Forcible entry

I was sent to school to learn how to break into houses. That's a pretty normal course for firefighters.

Your local firefighters have a few advantages over your average burglar. The obvious one is that it's a legal part of the job while saving lives and protecting property. Two additional differences are the tools a firefighter can openly carry and the fact he doesn't have to worry about making noise.

A random guy carrying a 3 foot long haligan bar down the street might cause some concern. As soon as he starts bashing it against a door someone will call the police. (Unless you are like a friend of mine who'll grab a .45 and politely ask what's going on)

Nothing beats good well armed and inquisitive neighbors.

As a rule I find people place way too much faith in the average door lock. With the right tool I could open doors faster than they could be opened using a key. Even without tools there are quite a few front doors that I can easily open. Some doors are installed with no blocking behind the frame. It's a pretty common problem in houses that were built in a hurry during boom times. Often there's enough flex in the door frame that it can be bent to the point where the lock slips right out. That's just one of my tricks.

Even really good locks and doors are of little use if windows are unsecured. There are many ways besides doors to enter a house. Generally, the best one can hope for is to have significantly better security than your neighbors. Burglars, like everyone else, take the path of least resistance. You don't have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun the slowest camper.

Here's where it gets ugly. Who hasn't entertained the idea of a remote cabin in the middle of nowhere: My dad used to have a hunting cabin 9 miles up a dirt road. Nothing of any real value was ever kept there. Even so, it was broken into a couple of times. When I was kid I asked my dad why he didn't put better locks on the door. His reasoning was that they'd do a lot more damage breaking in.

The problem with remote cabins is that almost none of them are so remote and hidden that someone hasn't discovered it. Because they are remote there are no neighbors to notice intruders and making a little noise is not a problem.

I knew of a cabin in an isolated part of northern NH. The guy had a really secure door with a hefty lock. Some yahoos took a pickup truck with a heavy duty bumper and knocked the wall down. One of the things they made off with was a big diesel generator that weighed over 1000 pounds.

Like the saying goes, locks are only there to keep honest people honest.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Orlov's engine

Recently Dimitry Orlov posted a plea for donations so he can replace the engine on his sailboat. Long story short: Last fall, not far out of Boston his sailboat's engine failed. He said it was too late in the season to deal with it. When he inspected in the spring he discovered salt water had mixed with the oil. The repairs cost more than it would be worth.

First of all I'd like to make it clear that I like Orlov. His Club Orlov blog site is one of my regular stops. Many of his ideas resonate with my own, certainly not all, but many. In spite of my general admiration for the man, his engine problems sent up a few red flags for me.

He didn't try to find out what the problem with the engine was right away. Instead, it sat all winter, getting worse by the day. Now stuff happens. I don't know his personal life. Sometimes we should tackle an unpleasant job but put it off. What I don't buy is the “too late in the season” bit. Too late to work on it comfortably I understand, but discomfort doesn't mean impossible. He's smart, an engineer, so he could have found a way.

So now he's pretty much stuck in Boston. That would freak me out if I'd written books about collapse. He's also promoted the Seasteading idea where people survive by heading out to sea in boats. Engine problems should not have sidelined him so badly. The whole idea of living on a sailboat is that it's possible to cast off your lines and leave civilization's problems behind you. Pretty hard to do if you can't even motor out of the harbor.

There are low cost alternatives to replacing his diesel engine. One quick and dirty solution is to slap a cheap outboard on the back. It's not elegant, but it will get you out of the harbor. It is a sailboat, after all. Plenty of people travel the world in sailboats without engines.

Of course, maybe the United States is in no immediate danger of collapsing. That would allow plenty of time to spend on engine trouble. Only god is perfect so maybe we should cut him some slack and send a few pennies his way.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Update on copper coils

I do a few weird projects now and then. Folks might want an update on how they are working out. Here's a couple reasons why I buy copper rolls by the box.

This a pretty common use for a copper coil. This coil is wrapped around the stovepipe of my woodstove. On the other other side of the wall is a standard 40 gallon electric water tank. The coil is connect to the bottom and then the top of the water tank. That allows normal convection currents to transfer heat from the woodstove to the water tank. It wasn't getting quite hot enough for my liking so I added a second coil directly behind the firebox that then fed into the stovepipe coil.

The electric elements in the water tank are still fully functional. However, the tank is on a switch so I can turn them off. That saves a huge amount of electricity. The woodstove alone raises the freezing cold well water to about 100F. A short boost from the electric elements brings the water to 120F. Standard electric hot water tanks are normally a big part of a home's electric usage.

Another power hog is the regular electric refrigerator -especially if it's a number of years old, like mine. Unlike other refrigerators this one has a huge copper coil in the middle of it. Every drop of ice cold water used in my house first travels through the refrigerator coil. It's so effective that I can unplug the refrigerator and food keeps just fine. However, I still want to use freezer so the unit is plugged into the grid. In spite of that the coil appears to be greatly reducing power usage. Should the grid go down, my well pump is powered by my solar electric system so I'd still have refrigeration. That system was actually tested for over month with no grid power. Worked fine.

My Home has a moderately sized solar electric system. Still, I've decided to keep the grid rather than run a backup generator. It does allow me to be lazy. For example on warm days I'll often use electricity to cook with. I do have an outdoor propane stove, but bad weather and bugs drive me back inside. Another big power draw is electric power tools. Sure I could do all those jobs with hand tools, but there are only so many hours in the day. Many of them I like to spend fishing instead of doing things like hand sanding.

Keep in mind that New Hampshire has some of the highest electric rates in the country. In spite of that my last electric bill was $40. Only half the bill is actual electric usage. The other half is delivery fees. It would be a whole lot higher without the magic of my copper coils.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Our National Bird

Good old Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird of the United States. I can't help but wonder how our history would be different if he'd gotten his way. Now don't confuse the domestic turkey with its wild cousin. The wild turkey is a clever bird that knows how to stay out of trouble.

Instead we got the American Bald Eagle. Sure, it's a pretty bird, but it's not exactly a noble bird. We like to think of them soaring in the air with majestic mountains in the background. Now imagine them picking up road kill, stealing fish from osprey, and hanging around dumpsters. Yesterday I had one try to fly off with the string of freshly caught fish I had in my boat. Nasty thief.

Maybe that's why I don't call them Eagles. I call them white headed vultures. As the Bard once said, what's in a name? A whole lot, I'm guessing. If we called squirrels fluffy tailed tree rats we wouldn't be so fond of them.

But I digress.

Symbols are important to people. The idea of Eagle is more popular than the reality. Maybe if Ben had gotten his way we Americans might not be quite so full of ourselves. Then again, we'd probably idolize the turkey and picture it soaring with majestic mountains in the background.


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Boats, boats, boats

My lovely wife ran into someone selling a sailboat and came home to tell me about it. I love that woman so much. We really are not in a position to buy a sailboat right now, but that hasn't stopped her. Should the right boat show up for the right price we'd find a way to make it work.

A little Internet research revealed they were asking way too much for the boat. The asking price was about twice what similar boats were selling for. People have no idea how badly the bottom has dropped out of the used boat market. No matter, the boat wasn't quite what we were looking for anyway.

After several days of rain we finally got a break. The little 12 footer had a foot of rainwater in the cockpit. Good thing I pulled it right onto the beach as it was much easier to bail out. The good news is that new cabin hatch works much better at keeping water out of the cabin.

Once the boat was bailed out, my lovely wife, Brownie the sailor dog and myself went for a row. A couple of loons followed the boat the whole length of the lake. Maybe it was the freshly caught rainbow trout dragging behind us on a stringer that held their attention. Our timing was excellent. We had the lake to ourselves. The guys across the lake were unable to start their big pontoon boat. A young couple were in the process of launching a big powerboat at the boat ramp as we were pulling up to our beach. We were walking up the trail to the house by the time they were kicking up wakes.

Last fall I ran out of good weather before building the sailing rig for the little boat. Ah, the joys of open air boat building. I've got most of the materials I need to finish the sailing rig. Everything is set up and ready to go -weather permitting. Hope to squeeze in that little project.

Speaking of sails, the Oday's are pretty blown out. I'd like to at least replace the mainsail. The old sails are good enough for lake sailing we have planned this summer. However, should we take the Oday south with us this coming winter we'll need something better. Right now I'm looking for a used sail in good condition, or a new one at the right price.

Then again, there is always the chance we will find our dreamboat before the snow flies again.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Goodbye Patriot Act

Not really, just the bits about recording phone data. So that's all over with, except it isn't. There's all these nice secret Presidential orders that allow pretty much the same thing. Don't worry, it's all being overseen by committees and secret courts . . . and Superman, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny.

We have nothing worry about. Never mind that it all happens in the shadows. What? It's not like we have a functioning democracy, or even a representative republic. Openness and transparency were never the hallmarks of those in power, but things have gotten out of hand. It doesn't matter which party is in office. Being at the controls of a surveillance state is too much power to willingly give up.

It doesn't make us safer, but those in power hope it makes them safer. The problem, however, is that by listening in to our whispers they know we don't like them very much. Of course, a goodly part of the reason we don't like them is that they are a bunch of creepy peeping Toms. Not much trust all around.

In the United States it's easy to see when a new law or government program is going to be bad. They give it a good sounding name. “Patriot Act.” In post 911 America who did not want to be a Patriot? Any law with the word “Freedom” in it is especially bad. That's what they want to take away. It's all so George Orwell 1984 doublespeak.

At least in Belarus they still call the KGB the KGB. I guess that's the difference between a western democracy and the last dictatorship in Europe. Dictators don't have to pretend and so they call something what it really is.

We have the classic philosophical problem of who watches the watchers. Whistle blowers? Yes, they help. How else would we know anything about what goes on? The spies know they have little to worry about from their official overseers. They are all part of the same club and no one is going to do anything to hamper “National Security.”

Now imagine there really is a group of people who could shut everything down, but are hesitant to act. Surveillance is so interwoven into our communication systems that abruptly shutting it down could also shut down the whole system -phones, the Internet, everything. They wield a blunt instrument indeed. As long as the NSA types don't actually do much damage with their information they gather, the watchers remain quiet.

Do these guys even exist? How would I know? I've only heard rumors, just as some folks in the intelligence community have heard rumors. There are some strange things going on in deep dark computer land.

Letting parts of the Patriot Act expire is a good thing. Call it a step in the right direction. The US is wasting an awful lot of treasure and talent spying on normal people to the point where its normal to not trust the government. Time to break the circle. The truth will set us all free.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Not just your Internet

It's bad enough when we have Internet connections problems at home. Monday my lovely wife was unable to register her car. The Internet at the DMV kept crashing. Nothing can be done at the local offices without a connection to the main office. That's a failure point that currently has no work around.

It gets even better. Even if the Internet connection to the state came back, my town clerk still could not help me. Her printer stopped working and tech support can do nothing because their connection is down too. Maybe all the rain we've had lately flooded a basement full of severs somewhere.

Most businesses can function if they lose their Internet connection. They may have to resort to a cash only basis, but they can keep the doors open. Government offices have no backup plan. Maybe that's because if your corner store can't operate if the 'net goes down, the one down the road will stay open and get all the business. The government has a monopoly so you are out of luck.

After leaving the town offices it was with more than a little trepidation that we went to apply for passports. Our local passport office is at the good sized post office the next town over. We walked in and the lobby was empty -Zombie Apocalypse empty. We walked up to the counter and rang the bell for service. Then we waited a while and rang the bell some more. Eventually an employee came in from outside and noticed we were alone.

As it turned out Monday new policies came into effect and everyone was stuck in the back room dealing with a crisis of some sort. Once someone noticed we were there the passport process actually went smoothly. (how smoothly we'll know in six weeks or so when the passports should be ready)

So the day wasn't a total washout. At least something got accomplished. I'm going to call the town hall to see if their problems are fixed. After all, we are now driving a car with an expired temporary registration and have keep travel to minimum.


Monday, June 1, 2015

The unmowed lawn

My lawn has yet to be mowed this year. Aren't you glad you aren't my neighbor? I'm lucky I don't live in a place that fines homeowners who do not mow their lawns.

There is method to our madness. Before I mow it we are going to harvest some wild edibles. We don't use pesticides or fertilizer on our lawn so the dandelions are good to eat. Yes, my lawn has dandelions. My lovely wife and I think they are pretty. We have a lot of wild flowers popping up in our lawn. The bees and humming birds love it. When I do mow I'm going to have to spare some of the flowers.

My lovely wife noticed a number of volunteer garden plants. She wanted to give them a chance to get a bit bigger before transplanting them back to the vegetable garden. Our lawn is untidy, but it's alive.

At least once a year we let our grass grow long. The roots have a chance to grow deeper into the soil. That's why when we get a dry spell other people's lawns die without constant watering. Our grass has deep enough roots to get their own water.

You may be thinking that it's going to be difficult to mow my lawn when I eventually get around to it. Fortunately it's not a big lawn and I can use an electric mower. Electric motors have more torque than gas mowers so can handle the heavy load. The mower bed is set a bit higher than most people like so our grass is always a bit long.

I guess I just set lawn care back 200 years. Oh well.