Friday, July 31, 2015

The high cost of cheap shoes

Sometimes I do things against my better judgement. About a month ago I bought a cheap pair of sandals. A month later they are already falling apart. A really decent pair cost about two and half times as much, but last a lot longer. In fact, my old worn out quality sandals are now better than the new cheap ones. Never mind that the new ones give me a sore back.

I couldn't help myself. It's not all that often to see size 14 footwear on the shelf. My first tendency is to buy anything in my size that actually fits. The next footwear sales person who tries to squeeze me into a size 13 will get punched in the nose. They don't have size 14 in stock so they try to squeeze me into something a size smaller. Maybe I'll just cut myself a pair of hobo sandals out of an old tire.

Workboots are a lot easier to find, but I'm trying to avoid work. Actually, with my snowbird lifestyle I get a lot more use out of sandals than boots. Sandals are nice as they don't require any socks. In fact too many people wear socks and sandals as it is. Cut that crap out please.

For day to day use around the house I'm perfectly happy with a good pair of flip flops, thongs to you Austrailians. I'm lazy and they just slip right on. For serious play time I like a good sandal with straps that hold them securely in place. Nothing worse than stepping in the muck and leaving your sandal behind.

L. L. Bean has some nice sandals of that type. After wearing them almost constantly for 2 years the glue in the sole let go. Since they were my sailboat footwear they saw an awful lot of salt. After talking to customer service in Freeport Maine they said I should ship my old ones to them and they'd send me new ones. No problem. It's nice to deal with a company that sticks behind what they sell.

The funny thing is, it takes almost as much resources and energy to make something crappy as something good. Can the world really afford more crap in the landfills and floating around in giant trash patches in the ocean?


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Smart people doing dumb things

Did you ever have a problem with something and get told that there's nothing they can do because it's their "policy." I've come to the conclusion that "policy" mean smart people are forced into doing dumb things. They might not even realize how dumb they are behaving. Their brains shut down and they follow rules blindly.

Call it policy, rules, or even laws, they all can make smart people do dumb things. Even judges often have their hands tied by mandatory sentencing laws. Imagine being a judge and being forced to make a decision that you know is dumb. That seems so weird to me. I'd resign in protest before having to do something like that. Of course, that's just one more reason I'm not in charge of anything. Accepting to follow dumb ideas is part of climbing the success ladder.

It seems like such a waste of human potential.

When a person wakes up and realizes how dumb all these sociatal restrictions are it's natural to get angry. Changing accepted practices takes a tremendous amount of energy, but that's what's needed sometimes. Pick your battles wisely, as there are a lot stupid things out there.

In day to day life the least course of resistance is to go along with "policy." At the very least it's useful sometimes to pay lip service to the great god of conformity. Then when nobody is looking you go ahead and do what you want. Often it really is easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission, but that's only necessary if you get caught.

Did you ever notice that in spite of cameras being everywhere the crime rate keeps going up? What's going on? Is the quality of the cameras so bad they can't use them to solve crimes? Is nobody watching the videos? Maybe the cameras aren't there to solve crime but play the role of a security company sticker on the front door of a house with no security? Even a police state lacks the resources to enforce all the laws all the time.

One can hardly get out of bed in the morning without violating some dumb restriction or other. Accept it. Heck, embrace it. Think like the outlaw you are. Don't let dumb rules tie your hands and make you do dumb things.

Allies can be found, often in the very organizations that put the rules in place. The local town clerk deals with vehicle registrations and has often helped me get around dumb rules. I've talked to cops who "won't enforce BS laws when there's real crime to worry about." There are smart people who know nothing will ever get done if they allow "policy" to trump common sense. When you find such people be very nice to them as they are like discovering pearls in the pig pen.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Failed experiment or breaking rule #2

It's always fun to write about all my little projects that go well. Sure, I document the little tweaks and fixes needed to make things go right, but today it's about outright failure. Sometimes things do not go as planned.

This happened at a time when I had a huge surplus of waste vegetable oil. We had been running two old diesel Mercedes Benz cars on veggie. Then I sold one to my daughter when she moved to Rhode Island. We were only running one veggie burning car and my wife work situation changed so she wasn't putting as many miles on the car. The veggie was piling up.

Then I found this nifty design for a waste oil burning furnace It seemed simple enough. I won't go into the details of construction as I don't want anyone else to attempt to build one. The idea behind it was that there was a cast iron plate inside the stove. Once the plate was hot it would ignite veggie oil falling on it from a drip tube. The trick was to light a fire under the plate to get it hot then it should be a self sustaining fire.

Since I'm only a partial idiot, I decided to test the furnace in the yard instead of in the house. I rigged up a temporary chimney with some old stove pipe, heated up the fire plate, and opened the drip valve. It smoked a bit at first but settled down to a nice steady burn. Great! Worked fine.

Then I installed it in the basement and connected it to the chimney At first things were working great. The basement got nice and warm. Then there was a little factor I had not considered. Outside the tank of waste veggie oil stayed the same temperature during the test. In the basement, the oil in the tank got nice and warm.

The warmer oil thinned out and flowed faster through the drip tube. The oil flowed faster and faster, too fast to completely burn on the fire plate. Excess oil pooled inside the stove. Then the whole pool of oil ignited. Suddenly the stove took off with a roar like a jet engine.

At that point I turned the fuel off, but there was plenty of oil in the stove to sustain the fire for some time. A huge black plume of smoke poured out of my chimney. Then the smoke detectors on each floor started to go off one by one.

That's when my lovely wife came down to the basement to gently inquire about what I was doing.

There are only three rules that my lovely wife insists I live by. Rule #2 is don't burn the house down. She felt I was getting seriously close to violating that rule. At that moment I was standing in the basement doorway with an industrial sized fire extinguisher and didn't have time to discuss it.

Eventually the fire burned itself out. Doors and windows were opened to air the house out. From that little experiment I thought I learned that the veggie furnace needed a better fuel regulation system. My lovely wife on the other hand concluded that the veggie furnace experiments were over.

The veggie furnace currently sits in the scrap pile waiting for the junk dealer.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The sound of summer

There's a common summer sound here in the rural north: chainsaws. Winter's coming. It's always coming. Wood heat is a popular way to survive the cold around here. There's comfort in a large well seasoned pile of cut and split wood. It's better than money in the bank.

Your average house will use at least a minimum of 5 or 6 cords of wood. That's a lot of chainsaw work. Very few people get their wood delivered cut and split. Even if wood's delivered, it's often in 4 foot, 8 foot, or even longer lengths. It seems that every other house in town owns at least one chainsaw.

I've cut cords of wood with handsaws. While it can be done it's a physical work out. Once cut it still needs to be split. I actually enjoy splitting wood with an ax or splitting maul. However, when I've got a huge pile to split I borrow a hydraulic wood splitter. Life is too short to mess around with that forever.

I've got a problem with chainsaws. Due to lung damage when I was a firefighter I've got a hard time with the gasoline fumes. That's one reason I own some good handsaws. The logs are generally only cut short enough to where I can drag them to the house. Once there they are cut to stove length using an electric chainsaw. This year I've added a cordless chainsaw to my tool kit. It's been really useful. No starting problems, light weight, and can easily cut up a few 10 inch diameter trees on a single charge.

I'm only bothering with a cord or so of firewood, all cut from my land. The local Tractor Supply had a summer sale on pressed sawdust blocks. Those burn really will in my woodstoves so I put down a deposit on a pallet, which is about a ton and a quarter of blocks.

In addition I'm getting a minimum order of heating oil. It the last few years I haven't bothered buying heating oil. Last spring I burned 30 gallons of off road diesel in the furnace to take the chill out of the place when we got back from Florida. Having the oil furnace as backup will be handy. We don't have anyone to feed the woodstove when we are away. It got pretty darn cold in the house if we were away overnight. Then it would take a day or two to get the house up to temperature.

My main plan to deal with winter cold is to avoid most of it. We'll shut down and drain the house plumbing in December and head south for the rest of the winter. Hanging around the Florida Keys in a sailboat beats the heck out of digging firewood out from under snow piles.


Monday, July 27, 2015

House batteries

My solar electric system charges a battery bank rather than feed into the grid. While I've got the expense of batteries, I also have power when the grid goes down. For me, that was the whole point.

The batteries are pretty old school: flooded lead acid batteries, the same kind used in golf carts. Every once in a while I have to top off the batteries with distilled water. While doing that the other day I noticed my batteries are now over 10 years old. That's pretty much near the end of their useful life. Since I took really good care of them, they have a few more years in them yet.

Batteries have always been the weak link in off-grid systems. My house batteries are essentially the same technology as batteries from 100 years ago. The best thing that can be said about them is they are good enough. They certainly could be better. Battery technology is making some huge advances, thanks in part to the development of electric cars. With any luck, when my batteries are replaced, the new battery systems will be available for a reasonable price.

Then again, if the new batteries start to displace the old technology, I might go with lead acid again. Why would I do that? If people start to unload their lead acid batteries for fire sale prices, I'd find it hard to say no. After all, they are "good enough."


Sunday, July 26, 2015

The high cost of being poor

I ran into a cousin of mine I hadn't seen recently. He never made all that much money, but always seemed to be getting by. Not lately, as it turns out. His older car needed a lot of repair work done. Then his furnace died and he could not replace it. To get through the winter he used portable electric heaters. His electric bills were over $900/month. Now he can't afford to fix the car again so is driving around on an unregistered motorcycle. If he gets caught that will set him back even more.

The plans to help poor people have hurtles of their own. My cousin discovered he qualifies for aid to get a new furnace. However, they won't buy him one because he has a lien on the house. Of course, the lien on the house is mostly due to him falling behind because of those big electric bills.

I know from personal experience it's often a pretty short and quick trip from doing fine to being on the hairy edge of disaster. Rich people suffer financial set backs, but they don't miss any meals because of it. They have resources they can draw on, family and friends who can cushion the fall. When all your friends and family are struggling like you are, there's not a lot of assistance they can give.

I live in an economically depressed area so opportunities for advancement are limited. So why don't people move to where the economy is doing better. For one thing it's not all that easy to get a job where nobody knows you and your qualifications don't stand out from the crowd. If you get a job, how will you move there? In the car that doesn't run anymore? Can you sell the house that you owe more money than it's worth? How will you get the money for an apartment?

Right now my cousin has a lot of free child care from his parents. He'd need a huge boost in income to replace that with paid child care. So people hold onto what little support they do get. They struggle along, hoping for a break.

This is a guy with a full time job who does some cash work on the side. His wife has medical problems that keep her from working. He doesn't have any drinking or drug problems. 50 years ago a guy like that would be doing pretty good. Now he can't get by at all.

I know of other people who look to be living the American Dream, but are are months behind on their house payments. There's another family who's falling behind because overtime pay dried up. His base income doesn't pay the bills.

It's seems there are a few big financial issues that are driving people to desperation. Car problems are a big one. Most people in America need a car to work -no car, no work. Medical issues are still a big one. Even if they have medical insurance, the co-pays alone can drive someone into bankruptcy. Housing is an issue not just the cost of a mortgage or rent, but things like repairs and utilities can break someone.

There are lot more people around me struggling than most people realise. People talk to me and tell me things. Maybe it's because sometimes I have some information that can make a difference. Often it's just because I can be a good listener who does not judge.

Hope things are better where you live. Here it's like an apple that looks good on the outside, but has rot deep to the core. In spite of that I woudn't want to live anywhere else. Funny how that works sometime.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Traveling with the herd

There's a trend in the sailing community where people travel in organized groups. The granddaddy of them all is the ARC rallys. They have different rallys that do everything from Atlantic crossings to circumnavigations of the world. On a smaller scale, Sail magazine is promoting a trip down the east coast on the ICW waterway.

These rallys cost money as someone has to pay for the organization. While there are some group discounts on different things, it's said that prices always rise when the ARC people are in town.
Group trips vary between the different sponsors. They usually insist on a certain level of safety equipment and provide some security by traveling in a group. However, some of that group security is probably an illusion. If conditions are bad enough that one boat is trouble, potential rescue boats will be having a hard time too.

It's not just on the water where people travel in organized groups. There's a subset of the RV crowd who travel the country in packs.

My lovely wife and I are unfit for that sort of travel. Heck, we couldn't even follow my in-laws from TX to Mo in a straight line. We ended up on a side trip in Arkansas and camped near Hot Springs. Fortunately we were able to call them on the cell and tell them we'd be delayed.

A group rally would be a huge waste of money for us as we'd never complete it with the group. We might be fine for a day or two, but then we'd discover something off the beaten path and we'd be off on our own. It might be as simple as really liking a place and deciding to stay longer. That's something we do all the time.

One problem with traveling in big group is that the group dynamics are more important than the people and places you meet along the way. They travel in a bubble. Once they get to know the people in their group they tend to only hang out with those people. No need to get to know other people. Besides, when a big group overwhelms an area, the locals either want to profit off them or avoid them.
A single person or a couple is more likely to interact with people in a more normal human way.

Our next sailing adventure will be even less prone to group travel. First of all, our boat is pretty small. That's a disadvantage as shorter boats are just slower. Add to the fact that we will be using an electric trolling motor instead of a more powerful gas outboard. That makes us much more dependent on the wind and tides. On the other hand our small boat allows us to get into places the bigger boats can never dream of seeing. In the shallow waters around Florida that's an awful lot of real estate.

There may be advantages to running with the herd, but for us it's just not worth it.


Work crazy

This recent Slate article covered Americans' attitude towards work. Jeb Bush said Americans should work longer hours -and plenty of Americans feel the same way.

Amazing. Good brainwashing job. I know plenty of Americans working long and crazy hours. It's the only way they can get enough money to survive. That is not a good thing. I know of “retired” people who are basically working full time jobs just for the health insurance. What kind of retirement is that?

There's also the belief that the path to riches is through hard work. Funny, but did you ever notice it's not the guy working crazy hours making all the money. It's often the guy with his feet up on the desk smoking a cigar. He's the owner and it's his workers doing all the sweating.

The Wall Street financial sector is an exception as everyone there works insane hours. That's just a sickness -the pursuit of money and power beyond all reason. They don't even know what work/life balance means. These are money addicts. Like all addicts they've lost interest in everything but their addiction. They should be pitied, not praised.

Life is more than being a cog in a machine. Of course, that's pretty hard to figure out if you are working all the time and barely have to sleep, never mind time to think. Most European countries have a lot more time off than Americans. Many Americans are made to feel guilty if they take a week off. Most Europeans feel slighted if they only have a 3 week holiday. Most Americans don't realize that many parts of the world have much better life styles than they do.

Heck there are peasants in third world countries that live happier lives than Americans.

I am a bit curious about what's going to happen to all the businesses that cater to retired people. Most of the people enjoying decent retirements right now are reaping the benefits of defined retirement plans. Those plans are a thing of the past. The 401K crowd will not have the same income. For most it will be a lot worse. Florida will have to close its doors.

I'm old enough to remember when it was assumed that in the future most people would work fewer hours. That was considered a good thing and something to look forward to. So far the 21st Century has been a bit of a bust.

(not for me, of course -but I'm an exception.)


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Language learning update

Some weeks back I blogged about trying to learn the French language. Believe it or not, I'm still plugging away at it. I've been using the Duolingo App on my tablet. While it's not perfect, it's pretty darn good and also it's free. Can't beat that.

Recent research has shown the benefit of listening to native speakers in whatever language you are trying to learn. Even if you don't understand a word that they say, it's supposed to help a lot. The theory is that your brain gets accustomed to the way the language is supposed to sound.
With that in mind I've also downloaded the Tunein app which allows someone to listen to radio stations from all over the world. Sherbrooke Quebec is fairly close to me as the crow flies so I've been listening to their radio station.

Has it helped? I think it has. Most of the time I can get the general drift of what people are talking about. Once in a while I've got no freaking clue. If that happens on a day when the Duolingo lessons are going badly it's pretty discouraging. However, I've decided to cut myself some slack and keep trying.

Some days it's all can do to finish one or two language modules. Other days I can knock off ten of them. Apparently, I've acquired more French by living next to French speakers than I realized. While I did take two years of High School French, I was the class idiot. Mainly what I learned was how to pass French class without truly understanding it. Even so, some it stuck with me. Unfortunately, the things I learned wrong also stuck with me. Unlearning them is five times harder than learning new things.

Learning has been pretty fun, overall. Good thing as I haven't watched a Netflix movie in a long time. That seems to be where the time to learn has been taken from.

In other news, my passport came in. All those weeks getting paperwork together paid off. Unfortunately, my wife's application was rejected. They want additional information. She was born and raised in a different state so getting the proper paperwork has been a nightmare. Hopefully we can square that away in a few weeks.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It's not all on the Internet

The Internet is huge and vast, full of information of all types. It's so full of information that it's easy to make the assumption that everything you need will be there. However, that's not always the case.

There's a lot of local knowledge that will probably never make it to the 'net. The information maybe useful to only a handful of people so there's not a lot of incentive to put it out there.

Believe it or not, in this day and age there still exists a lot of oral history. A friend of mine who's only in his 30s has a vast knowledge of old time lore. From the time he was a little a kid he bugged old timers to tell him how things used to be done. Now he has more old person knowledge than most old people. If you are living out on a remote homestead a lot of it is still useful information. The sad thing is, he won't write this stuff down either. Maybe he'll pass it all down to his kid.

Not all books have been digitized. There's a lot of effort to do so, but no doubt many will never be put into electronic format. My private library has quite a few out of print books. Many were never in wide circulation so there can't be a lot of them left. A few cover very esoteric fields. It makes me wonder if the information will one day be lost. Just as many books were lost during the Dark Ages, maybe these books will be lost to the Digital Age.

Then there are secrets. It's very hard to keep something secret once it's in digital form. With that in mind, there are secrets that will never see the Internet. When all the NSA spying came to light, Russia set aside their computers and switched back to typewriters. A lot of their secrets are typed out and now reside in paper files.

So just because a Google search doesn't produce the information your are looking for, doesn't mean it's not out there somewhere. Something to think about.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Cubical sweet cubical

I'm amazed at office buildings. To think there are thousands and thousands of buildings filled with nothing but cubical farms. What really blows my mind is that people willingly spend many hours every week in those little boxes. How does this happen?

Prisons I understand. Those folks are there against their will as a form of punishment. What terrible thing did those poor office workers do to end up in a cubical? Sure, people go home from the office every night. They even sometimes get weekends off. Big whoop. It's a part time prison so that makes it fine?

Is is for the money? I really would not know as money has never been a very strong motivator for me. It's a counter in a game I don't want to play. Money does make people do some very strange and demeaning things.

Ask a little kid what he wants to be when he grows up and they never say they want to be an office worker and live in a cubical. No, they say they want to be firefighters, astronauts, professional athletes, cowboys, or rock stars. So how come so many end up in a cubical?

Now at one time it might have made sense. In our society some jobs needed to be done in offices. That's where the office equipment and stuff was kept. There really is a lot less need for that now. A friend of mine is an engineer who once worked in an office. (one of my few friends with that sort of job) Now he brings his laptop out to his backyard near the hot tub and does his design work there. Once in a while he drives to the company to talk to the folks who bend and machine metal to make sure his designs are working.

Then there's the couple my lovely wife and I met at a marina. They were doing medical transcription from the comfort of their trawler. The work kept them fed and the boat running. He used to be a teacher up in northern Maine then one day decided he really really hated -40 weather and moved south. Eventually he and his wife decided boat life was for them.

I'm told there are people who basically go to work so they can use the high speed Internet for updating their Facebook accounts. Companies who monitor their worker's Internet usage too closely have a hard time holding onto workers.

Still, that's not much incentive in my book. The local coffee shop has high speed Internet, plus coffee, pastries, and really nice artisan sandwiches. Perhaps companies have learned to used Internet access the same way prisons use television. It's a cheap way to keep the inmates docile.

My ancestors would have understood the attraction of a cubical. It's inside work and no heavy lifting. Sure beat life starving on a Quebec potato farm. Heck, 19th century New England factory work beat farming the thin and cold rocky soils of the north.

My guess is that it wasn't too hard to fill cubicals when the alternatives were so gosh darn awful. It's like hobos who smash a store window to get arrested so they'll have a warm place in jail to spend the winter. Once folks catch onto the fact that it's possible to live outside of cubicals they are going to have a hard time to keep them filled.

. . . or not. Some prisoners are very happy with confinement and don't know what to do with freedom.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Lazy days of summer storms

I'm just waiting for the thunderstorm to blow though. Wiring projects are on hold. I've been known to take chances in my life, but messing around with electricity when there's a chance of thunderstorms isn't one of them. It can wait.

Yesterday I did finally managed to get a little project on the van done. Last year I put a 105 watt solar panel on the roof to power the camper side of the van. It proved very useful as I could use power without worrying about draining the starting batteries. This year I installed a simple switch so I could charge the starting battery instead of the auxiliary battery. I won't have to worry about the starting battery slowly draining down while the van is parked.

This year we had a nesting pair of loons on the lake. They successfully hatched their eggs. Then an eagle came by and had a nice snack. "Protected" species are not protected from each other.

There are a few good things about thunderstorms. I'll be drinking coffee instead of mowing the lawn. Not only that, I'm way behind on good books to read. I love summer.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sail shopping

Our little Oday 19 needs a new mainsail. The old one is blown out and is starting to really show its age. Since we replaced the gas outboard with an electric trolling motor, we really need sails we can rely on.

If you ever shop for a used sailboat, carefully consider the condition of the sails. Good sails are not cheap. A "good deal" on a sailboat can suddenly become a lot less of a deal if you need to replace the sails.

I knew the sails were far from new when we bought the boat, but they were sound. After over 5 years of hard sailing they are much worse for wear. Most people don't put that kind of wear on a small sailboat. Here in New England the sailing season is short. If stored properly, sails that are pretty long in the tooth can still be in good condition. By hauling the boat south in the winter we greatly extend the sailing season. Add to that the fact that we actually live on and cruise with the little boat for weeks at a time.

So now I'm looking at the price of sails and the state of our diminishing sailing kitty. I figure I've only got a few more weeks to decide what to do. If I have a sail made, it's going to take a good six weeks before we get it. I'd like to try them out before the weather gets too cold for sailing.
There are other options. One is to buy a used sail. That's a bit tricky as the Oday 19 is not a super common boat so I'd have to find something designed for another boat. That's where knowing the key dimensions of your sail comes in handy. There is one priced right just a tad smaller in very good condition that should work. However, my lovely wife hesitates to give up even a square foot of sail.

Sail size is like horsepower. Some consider my version of the Oday 19 to have been designed with too much sail for its size. Maybe, but it is nice to be able to move around in even very light winds. That comes with a price as a good gust of wind can just about stand the boat up on its side. It's lively. One must really pay attention to what's going on and be prepared to deal with changing conditions. As this is the boat we learned on, for us that sort of thing is normal.

Another option is to build your own sails. However, that's a skill set I'm not quite ready to acquire. While not rocket science, it is science, and art for that matter. There's also the investment in a sewing machine that can handle sailcloth. I've seen people use regular sewing machines to sew canvas. The look for older machines with metal gears instead of plastic. Even so, you are lucky if the machine lasts the job. Learning the skills and getting the tools to do the job makes economic sense if you are doing enough sail work. In fact, there's a good little side business in turning old sail material into carry bags and backpacks.

At some point, if I'm going to remain serious about sailing, I'm going to have to learn about sail construction and repair. After all, a sailboat without sails is just a slow motorboat with a big stick in the middle.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Small print

I had this crazy idea that I could use my little tablet and a bluetooth keyboard in place of a laptop for blogging. My idea was that it might make a suitable platform for writing. Well, my home computer is acting up. Rather than keep messing around with it, I'm writing this post on the tablet.

Might as well test it at home to see if it's really going to work. It got me thinking. How often do we have something we plan to use a backup, but never test to see if it really works?

Here's a simple example. How many people buy a new car and never check out how to change a spare? You assume it's there and may kinda know how it works, but have you tried it out? Remove the jack and spare tire? It's a lot easier to figure out how it works in your driveway with no pressure. Isn't that better than in the dark and rain on the side of the road?

Naw . . . we'll just call AAA, right?


Friday, July 17, 2015

Distances to services

Wednesday my lovely wife and I drove 120 miles to the dentist. Actually, she saw two different dentists on the same day. The morning started with a root canal. She had a couple of smoothies for lunch and then went back for an extraction. Her normal dentist is only 20 or so miles away, but he wouldn't or couldn't do the work. So it was off to the state capital to get services.

Yeah, it's a pain to have to travel to get things done. City people brag to me how every service that they need is in their city. That may be true, but often it takes them as long to get to services as it does me. While in the same city, two places in New York may be far away in time.

Can you drive there? If you can, you have all the joys of driving in a big city. Which is to say, none at all. How about public transportation? Rarely does public transportation go exactly from where you are to where you need to be. If you have to change lines, go from subway to bus, or grab a cab, it can take a long time. If you miss a connection you are doomed.

My son-in-law lives on the outskirts of Boston. He has access to a number of public transportation options. Recently he bought a car for commuting into Boston for work. In spite of the killer commuter traffic, he shaves off two hours of travel time every day. That's a lot more time to spend with the family.

For many things there are no time savings for accessing services. The big exception is emergency medical care. Out in the country it can take forever. The volunteer EMS squad has to mobilize at the base, travel miles of country roads to your house, then miles to the nearest rural hospital. Anything serious and you are then hauled another 100 miles in a bouncing ambulance or flown in a helicopter.

In a city professionals are on-duty, know the streets well, and have lights and sirens to move traffic along. Odds are they can get you to a decent hospital in time for it to make a difference. Time is everything in emergency services. In the country we stand a higher chance of dying before getting help.

On the other hand, for me, living in the city would be a slow daily death. One makes choices.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

On the fringes.

Evolution happens on the fringes. There'll be some innocuous little critter getting by on the edge of an ecosystem. Then one day there is a change and the dominate species can no longer cope with the change. Suddenly that little speck on the edge of life finds they do just a bit better than everything else. Before long that critter dominates the new environment.

Physical evolution, on the human scale, is a slow process.

Human social evolution happens much much faster.

People will develop a new way of living. Just a few people at first, removed from the center of what's important. They are ignored. One day conditions are right for a change and the fringe society catches fire and dominates the world.

It could be a religion. Take a small community in the desert and Christianity appears then spreads around the world. Rinse, repeat and you've got Islam doing the same thing.

Take a small island nation of barbarians. A few changes later and we have the British Empire.

Someone tinkers around with a few radical ideas and before long we have the Industrial Revolution.

In more recent years: Physics was pretty much all sewn up in the late 19th century -except for a few pesky little insignificant problems that laid the foundations of Quantum Mechanics.

Here's where I think it gets really exciting. Now for the first time in History we have more people connected in more ways than ever before. There is so much potential for something from left field to take hold and thrive.

We have a lot of pressure right now on current social systems. Things are no longer working as well as they used to.

So I look for the odd, the strange and the weird. My light of inquiry shines in dark corners to see what's brewing out there. There's potential for something big to take off soon and I'd love to catch the show from the beginning.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

I go on and on

I go on and on about living on a small boat. It's useful as it's a self contained little world that has to provide all your basic needs. If you didn't bring it you don't have it.

Almost everything could apply to living in a cabin in the woods. You need to produce your power. Cook food. Have a water supply and provide for sanitation.

My house while on a paved road and semi-grid connected, takes advantage of much of the same thinking. It has significant solar electric power, a well, woodstove, and it's own septic system.

Living in small spaces like a sailboat or a remote cabin provide very useful lessons in low impact living. You learn that a little solar power goes a long way. Being able to charge a phone, power a LED light, or use a tablet makes life a lot more comfortable. When you get back to a regular house you realize that it's not necessary to keep every light in the house on or blare the TV 24/7.

You also learn that you can get by with a whole lot less -everything from less electricity to less water to less electronic stimulation. There are times when I think we only keep a house to have space to store our books and our boats.

Most people take a lot of the basic stuff of living for granted. One simple example: water. You turn the tap on and it flows. Flush the toilet and the waste goes away. Take a day and haul all the water you use in jugs. The first thing you discover is that water is very heavy. Even a low flow toilet is going to use around 1.6 gallons of water. The further you have to carry water, the better water conservation sounds.

A lot of people find themselves having to downsize. Infinite economic growth on a finite planet is hitting real physical limits. Many in the first world are suddenly finding their living arrangements approaching the third world. It's quite a shock, especially while trying to maintain a wasteful lifestyle. Something has to give.

Think about living in places that won't break the budget. It doesn't mean you have to be sad about. Believe me, most of the folks I meet on small boats think they are living large. There plenty of happily house-less people living converted vans.

It all starts with thinking about what you really need to live. Once you've established what you need it's easy to satisfy some wants.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Islands in the Sun

Survival in a cold climate is hard. Half the year is a mad rush to prepare for a long winter. In the old days, if things didn't go well you either froze to death or starved.

Contrast that to living on a warm island somewhere. The seas are full of fish and coconuts grow in abundance. Nobody is going to freeze to death.

I read a long history of the Bahamas. One of the problems they British rulers had with the place was ruling people. It was too easy to live independently. The was plenty of wild food around and a small garden would provide dietary variety. Of course, another problem was how lucrative piracy could be. Good livings were also made salvaging shipwrecks. It was pretty easy to live without central authority.

It is tempting to move to some small island somewhere and go native. Of course, island life is not what it used to be. For example, just take a look at Caribbean Islands. In the last few decades they've had a huge population increase. Many islands now import most of their food. Most island economies are heavily dependent on tourism. Should something like a major fuel shortage happen those islands won't be paradise. When the food supply collapsed on Easter Island the population collapsed too. It was messy -cannibalism messy.

Of course, I'm a big fan of having my own movable island: a sailboat. You can have almost all of the advantages of living on a tropical island but with the added safety of mobility. If things start to look too sketchy where you are, raise anchor and go somewhere else. With a boat you can take advantage of the resources of larger area. Maybe an island has good water, but poor fishing. You can get your water one place, fish another, and then pick up some wild fruit somewhere else. Everything doesn't have to be in the same place.

My ideal sailboat would be something with good capacity for water and provisions. Shallow draft would allow access to places other boats can't go. It's tempting to look for the biggest boat with all the toys, but that's not the best survival craft. There are too many technical things to go wrong. Often I've talked to captains stuck in marinas waiting for some obscure part necessary for their boat to function.

On the other end of the scale are Haitian boats with raw tree branches for masts and booms. Almost none have engines. Some don't even have a compass, yet they sail all over, hauling cargo and people. (sometimes right onto Miami in the dead of night) You don't have to get as primitive as they are. Haitian sailors take chances I'm not comfortable taking. However, there is much to be said for a simple easily repairable boat.

I'm sure there are some fine sparsely inhabited island paradises out there yet, but by living on a sailboat you have to ability to move if things go sour.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Next winter's boating plans

It's funny. My lovely wife and I can have the car packed for camping and out the door in 20 minutes. We've done it. We've also taken days to pack. The difference? Good enough and perfect. With the 20 minute pack job we forgot a few minor items and either did without or bought them along the way.

Leaving with the sailboat to head south in the winter should also be one of those 20 minute departures. It's not that unreasonable. All we have to do is keep all the boat stuff in the boat and the van packed for camping. When we do decide to depart it's just a matter of throwing some clothes and food into the van, hooking up the trailer and going.

Unfortunately the boat and van are no way ready for a 20 minute departure. In a pinch, I could get the basics done in 3 – 4 hours, but the boat wouldn't really be ready.

Right now it's fine for messing around on fresh water lakes. It's going to need some upgrades before heading to the ocean. The hull needs fresh bottom paint. It's trailer could use new tires. A couple more deep discharge batters and another solar charger would be great. However, what it really needs is a new mainsail. That's the high dollar item.

Looks like we most likely will be taking the Oday 19 south again in the winter. With that decision out of the way we can work towards getting the boat and van ready for the trip. The van shouldn't need anything major. That's a big relief.

While we were tempted to buy a bigger boat this year, it doesn't look to be in the budget. If we pace our expenditures for our existing boat it shouldn't hurt the budget too bad. Knowing our boat inside and out, surprise expenses are kept to a bare minimum. The money we are spending on rehabbing the Oday would be a good start towards buying a bigger boat, but no doubt that boat would have unexpected problems.

At the end of our long trip on it two winters ago we made a list of the things that would improve comfort on the boat. I figured it would be a good idea to write it all down while it was still fresh in our minds. Looks like that list is going to come in handy. With any luck by the end of fall we'll be ready for a 20 minute departure.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Modern dental care

Nothing busts my budget like paying for dental care. My whole life I've only had dental insurance for about a year. During that year I saw a dentist every two weeks. Care was split between two different clinics that worked together to bring my teeth up to par. They didn't even look bad at the start of all this, yet I exhausted the lifetime allotment of that insurance plan. Considering my dad had dentures at age 14, I'm not doing too badly.

At her last dental visit my lovely wife discovered she was going to need more work than the local dentists could provide. She's scheduled to see two different specialists on the same day, 120 miles away. Since we no longer have insurance it's all going to be out of pocket.

It's expensive, but in long run it's worth it. Dental care has come a long way. Hopefully we can avoid having dental problems while traveling. Nothing ruins travel like a toothache. Two winters ago we had to take a break from sailing when my lovely wife broke a tooth while out on Cayo Costa Island in Florida. It's a long boat ride back to the mainland.

Good dental care is one of those things we'd really miss if it went away. I'm just happy when I can afford it. Taking care of your teeth means you have one less thing to worry about in a crisis situation. Imagine any sort of catastrophe and then imagine going through it with a killer toothache.

I did download a copy of “Where There is no Dentist.”

It's full of good information that might make your life easier. Keeping a few emergency dental supplies in stock can help a lot. It doesn't beat having a modern dental clinic, but it's a heck of a lot better than nothing.

I've talked to people who fly to Costa Rica to get major dental work done. The flight down, time in a hotel, and dental work, all cost much less than just the the dental work in the US. Maybe that's something to consider for the next time. As it is we are still waiting for our passports to come in.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Subject to sailing

Projects around the house are subject to sailing delays.

Things were going pretty well. I'd gotten up before 5 a. m. and got a lot of little projects done.

I'd discovered the problem with my rechargeable weed wacker. The charger had died, but I found a suitable replacement in my junk pile. When a piece of electronic gear fails I always save the charger. Pretty often they come in handy down the road.

So I finally get the weed wacker charged up and I'm about to start in on the tall weeds. Then I find out there are kids who want to go sailing. What could I do? Before long there are 3 kids and 4 adults zipping along the lake in the sailboat. The weeds waited. Sunny days and kids don't hang around forever.

Everyone is crew. No one is just a passenger. There are sheets to tighten and halyards to pull. On a small lake there's a lot of tacking and adjusting to variable winds blowing down the hills. It's great fun.

The projects waited until the sailing was done. Summer in rural New England is so magical it would be a crime to let it slip by.


Friday, July 10, 2015

The car test and winter plans

Instead of taking my perfectly good camper van to the coast, I packed camping gear into the Nissan Versa Note. One of the reasons was to test how feasible the little car would be for camping.

Just to make it interesting, I'd be coming back with a more heavily loaded car. My lovely wife was at my daughter's and was riding to the campground with her. Somehow I'd have to fit in all the gear, two adults and a dog on the trip back.

The good news is that I didn't have to leave camping gear on the side of the road. Everything fit. It would have been a lot tighter without the roof racks. The Sea Eagle 2 person inflatable kayak, paddles, and camp chairs rode on the roof. Had I needed to a lot more stuff could fit up there.

I did not realize that our campsite did not have electric power. The 120 volt mattress inflater was useless. Fortunately, the 12 volt air pump for the kayak had an adapter that fit the air mattress. My c-pap was powered using a 200 watt inverter plugged into the car. There was some concern that the inverter would draw down the battery too low to start the car. Just in case, I parked car in such a way that I could roll it down the hill and start it using the manual transmission. That wasn't necessary as the car started right up every morning.

All in all the camping test went well. There was a little problem with my camp stove. It fell apart as I unloaded it from the car. Somehow a key part fell off at home and I never noticed. That never happened before, but I usually run a stove test before packing it up. Time just ran out on me this year. To get through the camping trip I bought a cheap portable propane grill. That's one more thing that came back with me.

My lovely wife and I are still not settled on our plans for this coming winter. We don't know if we'll be hauling our sailboat down with the van. We've considered taking the car down and shopping for a boat in Florida. Between now and then we might figure out some other plans as nothing is set in stone. At least we now know that camping out of the car is a viable option.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Boats, building and/or sailing

Back when I was first sailboat shopping I knew nothing about them. Sure, I picked up a few books, but it always helps to talk to someone with more experience. So there's this guy I knew who was rebuilding a small sailboat in Maine. In fact I talked to this guy on the phone the day I decided to pick up my Oday 19.

I thought it'd be great to go spend a few days sailing together once his boat was finished. That day has yet to come as his boat is still being rebuilt. He is paying an awful lot of attention to detail. I'm more of a “good enough now let's get in the water” sort of guy.

Recently I built a boat in my driveway. It took a couple of summers working off and on -more off than on. It took long enough and it was only a 12 foot boat. Once a boat gets over 20 feet, building it yourself isn't very economical. There are plenty of good used boats out there for small money. If you want to get out on the water for little money, buy used instead of building.

However, some people aren't really into sailing. What they are into is building a boat. If you are one of those people, go right ahead and build a boat. There are worse hobbies. I get it, having built a few small boats myself.

I can't help but look at boat designs and think how I could build the perfect shallow draft coastal cruiser. Something like Dave Z's most recent boat comes to mind. His boat is being built to fit his very individualistic needs and he's doing it using pretty basic materials and tools. Using a lot of ordinary lumber yard materials, it's a pretty cheap build, but still more expensive than buying a used boat.

One thing about Dave's boat, it will be in the water in a reasonable amount of time. Too often I see boat projects outliving the builder. Even if they actually complete the boat, they are sometimes too old to sail it anywhere.

Fiberglass changed everything. Mass production using semi-skilled labor turned out a lot of boats. They last a very long time, much longer than most people expected. Fiberglass is repairable. I once had drinks on a very nice sailing catamaran that the guy picked up for very little. It was beautiful and I could not believe the price. He took me down below and showed me where one of the hulls had been nearly cut in two in a collision. That was the state he bought it in. In six months he rebuilt the boat to where it was impossible to see the damage from the outside. He left the inside in a rougher condition as it didn't hurt the function of the boat and was normally hidden by a fabric liner.

If you want to do boat work, save a ton of money, and go out on the water in a reasonable time frame, picking up a fixer upper boat is the way to go. However, if what you really want to do is to go now, there are plenty of used boats in nearly sail away condition.

You've got to ask yourself: are you a boat user or a boat builder? Or, what sort of blend of builder/sailer are you?


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Vacation without warning

Sorry I didn't give everyone a head's up that my blogging might disappear. I know it's annoying when bloggers suddenly stop blogging without warning. I had hoped to get a few more posts set up before disappearing and also thought I'd do some blogging while camping. Neither of those things happened.

What did happen was an extremely fun and busy vacation on the coast of Maine. At one point 7 different sites were occupied by friends or family. Keeping busy was not a problem and it was great to see everyone.

I've yet to check the news to see what's going on in the world. Amazingly, it kept on spinning without me paying any attention to it at all.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

The hot breath of mortality

I'm at that stage of life: no longer a kid, but not quite ready for one of those walkers with tennis balls on the feet.

It doesn't help that people I went to high school with are being tested for Alzheimer's disease. I know it can strike the pre Social Security crowd, but it does rub mortality in one's face. There is stuff I want to do before I forget there's stuff I want to do.

Another friend of mine is looking to retire to a nice little town near a good hospital. The hospital is the real draw for him. Sheesh. It seems like only yesterday we were skipping school and driving a black hobo blues singer to the Canadian border. Wacky fun.

Too many people go along in life thinking they have plenty of time for adventure. You don't know the number of your days or the quality. In the great scheme of things all we have is now. Then again, maybe I want to have some fun before I'm too old to know better.

When I was much younger I was badly injured and didn't know if I'd ever be able to do anything ever again. Between hard work and time to heal I got a lot better and could enjoy life again. There's nothing like getting a second chance at life to renew one's zest for it.

For me one of the worse things is life is to fall into a rut. Life becomes a cage. Too many only leave the cage at death. A box for a cage is not a step up.

There's a philosophical belief that the universe favors the bold and interesting. Let's put that theory to the test.


Friday, July 3, 2015

Car and tent test

What does one do after customizing an ambulance into a pretty darn good mini motor home? Leave it in the driveway and take the little economy car camping instead. There is method to my madness.

First and foremost, my lovely wife and I really do like tents. The weather forecast looks pretty good so we should be very comfortable. Had the weather looked rainy I'd have taken the converted van in a heartbeat. As much as we love tents, day after day of rain gets old. However, that doesn't look like a problem for this trip.

There are some advantages to taking a little car to the coast of Maine. Those coastal roads are narrow and twisty. It's also much much easier to park a tiny car in those cramped coastal towns.

This trip is also a test to if we can take the essentials in the car. Nothing like actually doing it see how it all sorts out. We are toying with the idea of leaving our van and boat home next winter. Instead we'd pack just the essentials and drive south. Once we get down there we'll go boat shopping. It might make more sense to keep in boat in Florida than to haul one thousands of miles on the road every winter.

Right now I've got most of the stuff for camping packed in the car. That includes the big inflatable two person Sea Eagle kayak. Some more clothes and a cooler and I'll be ready to go.

Hope to have some photos for everyone when we get back.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

After Greece, what?

Time to put the popcorn on, pull up a chair and watch the fireworks. No I'm not talking about American Independence Day celebrations. On Sunday the Greeks are voting on whether or not to accept European Union's demands for more austerity and other concessions. That's all to keep the rickety house of cards going a bit longer.

I've no idea how this one is going to go down. Greece is technically in default. Will it get a big infusion of loan money? Can it stay in the EU? Will the EU itself survive the challenge?

In the end, while it's all huge entertaining and distracting, it's a sideshow. For the United States Puerto Rico is of more pressing concern. It can't pay its debts either. Wouldn't it be a fine time to just grant them independence? That's just my twisted sense of humor talking. It's not really about governments. It's about banks.

Anyone else notice that other financially troubled EU countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal have totally dropped off the radar? They are pretending to the public that Greece is the only real problem.

Historically, financial crisis time hits in the fall. There are some reasons (theories?) for this, but I'm not going to go there in a short blog post. Let's just say that's the time the astute investors cash in their chips.

How bad is it going to be? Here's where it all gets weird. There's a lot of doom predictions bouncing around the Internet right now. Financial doom is predicted, but so are, earthquakes, solar flares, asteroids, plague -disasters of biblical magnitude. I take some comfort in those dire predictions. They are almost always totally wrong -so wrong as to almost defy random chance of being right.

If they say it's the end of everything, we'll probably muddle through a while longer. That's not to say there won't be negative consequences in the fall. Odds are something bad will happen somewhere. (probably not anything predicted either). After watching the financial and legal gymnastics that took place after the 2008 housing collapse I won't bet against the financial wizards pulling another rabbit out of their hat.

Whatever happens it's sure to be interesting, so stock up on plenty of popcorn.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Long days and many miles

Sorry about missing a post yesterday. Somehow I lost track of the days. My lovely wife is visiting family in California and I've been crazy busy. In the past week I've driven over 1200 miles for one thing or another. Between road trips I've had company over last weekend and tackled a few house projects.

I'm beat.

Somehow I had some crazy idea that I'd be doing some fishing this week.


What I am going to do right now is put my feet up and read a good book.