Monday, August 31, 2015

Human tide

Illegal immigrants and refugees have been in the news a lot lately. In the US, presidential candidate Donald Trump has been getting a lot of press with his thoughts on the issue. Europe is in a real mess.

Continental Europe is not really a continent as it's fully connected to Asia. It's possible to walk from some of the worlds worse trouble spots right into the heart of Europe. The Mediterranean is good sized, but not so big that it can't be crossed with rather small and primitive boats. People in troubled North Africa are crossing over to Italian and Greek islands on a daily basis.

It's not just a North American/Europe problem. Australia has boat people desperate to make landfall. Even China has to deal with an influx of North Koreans. Anywhere in the world where there's a better life across a thin border is in play.

Historically, human migration is on of the big drivers of societal change. Often the "barbaric invaders" are desperate people who've been forced from their homelands. When Rome was first invaded it was by hungry people crossing a frozen river. Like immigrants and refugees today, they just wanted a better life.

The problem is two fold. These are human beings and often their treatment has been pretty brutal. Human smugglers have shown amazing disregard for the well being of their clients. Many have suffocated in trucks or sent to the bottom of the sea. Something better has to be figured out.

On the other hand, a country that can't control its borders ceases to be a country. If enough new people enter they overwhelm the people who where there before. The world would have been a different place if the Native Americans could have successfully dealt with their immigrant problem.

The best solution would be if these people could stay in their own countries. No one wants to be a refugee and be forced leave the land of their birth. It's ironic that some of the very countries that overthrew the government in Lybia now has to deal with refugees from the situation they helped create. I wonder if they would have done things differently if they knew the full repercussions.

Of course, the world is the way it is. Somehow a solution must be found to deal with these people in a humane manner. It's an accident of birth which side of a border one is born on. I know if my family's lives were in desperate danger I'd look to hop a border too.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Growth in alternative energy

Driving home late at night there's a section of road on the hill where I can see a good ways to the north. At that time of night it looks like a formation of UFOs. The blinking lights are actually on the towers of huge windmills. All the lights on them blink in unison so it's a weird effect.

Over 20 years ago I put in my own solar electric panels. It was pretty darn expensive, but since our grid power was sketchy back then it was worth it. A generator could have done the job, but I've some experience with small generators. They need regular maitences and testing if they are going to work when you need them. I'm too lazy for that. Solar electric panels just work.

My installation was home brewed hippy tech, but it's stood the test of time. The original panels are still putting out a steady stream of electrons long after the panels have paid for themselves.

These days it's a lot easier and cheaper to go solar. There are companies will foot the cost and do the installation for a reasonable monthly fee. It's easier to tie into the grid these days too. My system does not backfeed into the grid because back then the numbers just didn't work. Things have changed. There are small solar panel installations scattered all over the North Country.

If solar electric can work in northern New Hampshire, it can work in most places. The problems are not technological but political. Florida should be carpeted with solar electric panels but the politicians are in the pocket of people who don't want that. People have been fined for going off-grid.

My area has always had water power. In the old days water wheels powered sawmills. Later turbines were installed to generate electricity. There are two power plants in the area that generate power from low value waste wood -biomass plants. More big wind turbines are going up.

These alternative energy systems to have an impact on the land, but it's pretty minimal. The newer windmills are more bird friendly and have a small footprint, but the impact is not zero. However, it beats the heck out of burning coal or fracking for oil and gas.

There are costs to living in a technological society. I feel if you don't want to see solar panels or wind towers feel free to freeze in the dark. What really annoys me is those places that want to use power yet want it to be generated far far away. That's one of the reasons I oppose a proposed high power line that's supposed to transmit hydro power electricity from Quebec to Connecticut. We'd get the unsightly towers and they'd get the power. As far as I'm concerned if they want to use power they should put up with its generation. Too often the downsides of energy generation is transferred to the poor areas while the rich pretend electricity comes from a plug in their wall.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Things to do at the end of summer

We've been blessed here in the North Country with really pleasant weather at the end of August. By this time of the year anything is possible, so nice weather is a real treat.

I was able to enlist the help of a good friend (with a strong back!) to move my fire blocks under cover. It pretty much filled up my mud room. When moving heavy things it's great to have help. As nice as the weather has been, it could turn any minute and we'd need to start burning those wood blocks. It's a big relief to have so many of them inside. Sure beats digging them out from under a tarp in the yard. Been there, done that.

While my friend and his wife were here we dragged them down to the lake for a sail. It was just windy enough to gently move the boat around. As we weren't doing anything more ambitious than soaking up the sun and having a few beers, that was good enough. Fish were jumping, osprey did their dive bombing runs, loons did their crazy cries -it's all good.

Rather than tie the boat up at my beach we loaded it on the trailer. My lovely wife and I plan to do some big lake sailing soon -if the weather holds.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Car free

There's a few times in my life when I've been stuck without a car. My lovely wife and I were able to make do, but it's hard living out in the woods. There's no public transportation and there are few people around to hitch a ride with. In the woods you need some sort of transportation or else get used to the isolation.

I did have an old 1974 Kawasaki 900 motorcycle. That's what I used to take my wife to work, the kids to their after school lessons, and what we used to do the groceries. By December people thought I was a pretty hard core biker for riding my bike in sub freezing temperatures with snow flurries. It's not that I loved bikes so much as I didn't have any other options. There were times when I got home and took a hot shower to restore feeling in my extremities.
We were able to sometimes borrow cars from friends and family until we bought a $1000 car, a Volvo 240 wagon. Cars in that price range have a few issues. Heck, once one of the wheels came right off -not just the tire mine you, the whole wheel assembly. Then there's the time I drove several hundred miles with the throttle linkage held together with a pair of vise grips.

One of my friends who once lent his truck to me is now without transportation of his own. I gave him and his wife a lift to do their monthly groceries. My little car was packed like sardines in a can, but I didn't mind. I've been there and know you have to take full advantage of transportation when you have it. Glad to return the favor.


Thursday, August 27, 2015


My neighbors just cut down more trees and made a large parking area even larger. It's going to stop soon as there aren't that many trees left on their lot.
Maybe my lovely wife and I are tree huggers. That's not to say I won't cut down trees when it's needful. The health of a woodlot requires a certain amount of thinning. Our tree cutting is a conscious act. Trees take a very long time to grow and only a few minutes to cut down. It's only prudent to think long and hard about cutting one down.

Then it helps to know a bit about the different species of trees. I've seen people who've cut down most of a stand of spruce but leave one very nice looking tree standing. Spruce have shallow root systems and need their companions to resist wind and snow. It's not long before their one nice tree is lying on its side, or on top of their house or car.

I've a few lots of land across the road and uphill from my house. When my neighbor first moved in they offered to buy those lots from me. I said no and I'm glad I did. I can imagine what they would have done to the land. My water source feeding my shallow well runs though that property. Once they cut the trees down and run heavy equipment all over, my well might have gone dry. I've seen it happen.

There's a blank slate method to land development. Cut all the trees down, bulldoze everything flat, then start from scratch. Once the houses, utilities, and roads are in, call in the landscapers. They may even put in some medium sized trees. Sitting on hard compacted mineral soils those trees die within a year or two, but the houses are sold by then.

Seems to me that if you don't have any respect for living things you might as well move to the city. Don't move to the country and they flatten everything that makes it country.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cargo carrier

I really really hated to spend the big bucks on Thule racks for my lovely wife's little car. However, we expect to keep the car for a while and good roof racks are so useful. Just the other day I tied a 12 foot 2 X 6 to the racks and didn't have to worry about the racks falling off.

What I absolutely refuse to do is to pay hundreds of additional dollars on a cargo pod that attaches to those already pricey racks. Sure, they lock and are areodynamic, but it makes little sense to buy one. A simple plywood box with a hasp and lock would be as secure. A box on the roof would not be as areodynamic, but the mileage penalty is a small price to pay.

Maybe I'll just build a wood rack and lash everything to that. Left over from my canoe camping days are a couple of large drybags that would keep my gear dry. It's not as secure as a fancy locking box, but there would be nothing on the roof as valuable as one of those fancy cargo boxes.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Welp, so much for stocks

Okay, stocks around the world are doing interesting things right now. The real downside is that I haven't seen any bankers leaping from their penthouses . . . yet! Since this is being written on Monday night, I've got no idea what's happening Tuesday when this posts. Historically, the stock market should be making some sort of rebound, even if only a "dead cat bounce." (if it isn't hold onto your seats and get ready for the ride!)

Once upon a time there were two brothers. One spent all his money on drink, fast women and lottery tickets. The other kept his nose to the grindstone and invested all his money in the stock market. Forty years later they were both broke. At least the first brother had more interesting stories.

The moral of this story: small investors have no business messing around with the stock market. It's the playground of large institutional investors. The game rigged and only they have any sort of insight on how.

That's not to say that they don't get wiped out too. When I left for retirement by way of ambulance ride, my pension was funded at 104%. It should have been possible to pay off everyone and still have some money in the system. Last time I checked it was funded at something like 30%. My yearly pension is now smaller than it was 8 years ago, not even factoring in inflation.

I don't worry about it. Some years ago I went to a retirement system meeting where they were discussing the drop in funds after the tech bubble burst. Their plan seemed to be to just hope the stock market would take off like it did in previous years. I asked them what their plan was if there were to be another burst bubble. They treated me like I was some sort of a nut job full of doom and gloom. Of course, then we had the 2008 housing bubble. The current market seems to be deflating on Asian worries. Personally, I don't waste my time going to meetings anymore. Cassandra wasn't listened to either.

Am I concerned that my pension could get completely cleaned out? A bit, but there's not really anything I can do about that. What I can do is make sure my beans and bullets are in order if a bank holiday is called and everyone's funds are locked up. This prep stuff is starting to pretty smart about now, isn't it?


Monday, August 24, 2015

The spice of life

What do you call a salt and pepper shaker? The New England spice rack. I grew up eating good food, but we didn't use a lot of spice. My lovely wife on the other hand grew up in a more cosmopolitan area and was exposed to the cuisine of different cultures. When we used to visit her parents I almost always got serious intestinal distress after about day 3. It took me a while to figure out my system was not used to all that spice. Over time I adjusted.

I like to say that my lovely wife brought spice into my life, and not just in my food. Left to my own devices I might have turned out to be some sort of hermit. I'm comfortable being completely alone. In fact, from time to time I need it. My friends used to think I'd be last one of our group to get married. Instead, I became the first in our group to tie the knot. When the right one comes along, commit. Never mind if the time is wrong or there's no money, or you are too young. Never let the right one get away.

People look at our adventures and assume that I'm dragging my poor suffering wife along for the ride. Trust me, if she didn't want to go, she wouldn't go. Besides, a lot of those crazy ideas are hers. There are times I'm the one being dragged along. After almost 37 years of marriage she still surprises me.

We are at the point in our lives where it's hard to see where the ideas originate. Our craziness is a collaboratory effort. I might have an idea or she might have an idea. No matter, as in short order we are both adding spice to the adventure.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Summer in high gear

My lovely wife and I just got back from visiting friends we haven't seen in a year. The last couple weeks have been filled with family and friends get togethers. It's great. I'm blessed to be able to see my kids and grandkids. Not a lot of other stuff is getting done, but it can wait.

One of the things I learned is that you can't defer childhood. Kids will grow up if you are there for them or not. Fortunately, I did not learn it the hard way. I might not have much money, but I've great memories of messing around in boats, pushing sand around on the beach, and chasing toads around the yard. It's all good.

This August has been especially busy. That doesn't mean I haven't found time to lounge around in a hammock at my beach. What's the point of owning waterfront property if you can't do stuff like that?

Today it's brunch with old friends than catching up with family at a local amusement park. Summer in the Great North Woods is short so one has to make the most of it.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

The land survey

There's a guy who bought land near me. Our property is separated by another piece of land and that's great. This guy approaches every problem with heavy equipment and really made a mess of his land. Maybe I'm just a tree hugger, but he seem to be a tree hater. Anyway, it was his land.

Then he bought the property across the street from mine for his daughter. Of course, they cut most of the trees down and brought in the excavators and trucks. One day last year I pointed out, very politely, that they were encroaching on my property. He apologized, changed the angle of the driveway, and I thought that was the end of it.

A few days ago I let the dog out for her morning ritual. She went nuts barking at some guys in the road. They were surveyors. They had just marked out all the property pins on my land. Once I settled the dog down the surveyors and I had a chat. It seems my neighbor hired these guys to chech his boundaries. Okay . . .

The surveyors confirmed much of what I already knew. My lots were originally surveyed by the paper mill who once owned the land. They were highly skilled professionals who did a solid job. Beyond my land the survey work is not nearly so good. Because of that my land is the reference point for the new survey. Once I found out what was going on I even pointed out an old paper mill survey pin that they were unaware of.

I don't know how my neighbor made out with the rest of the survey. As for my side, he lost a bit more of his driveway and I gained a bit of land. It does amuse me somewhat that the guy paid a surveyor big bucks to lose a little land.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Sneaking into Cuba

You meet some characters in southern Florida. There's a reason it's known as a sunny place for shady people. Now that Cuban and US relations are in a thaw period things are changing. Cuba will change, of course, but so will Florida as it's right next door. There are still a lot of regulations limiting the regular tourist trade, but that will most likely change.

When it does the country better brace itself. Canadians and Europeans have always vacationed in Cuba. I'm told the beaches are fantastic -the way Florida was 50 years ago. Those who currently vacation in Cuba dread the day when Americans overrun the place.

My lovely wife and I spend a fair amount of time in the Florida Keys. We've seen Canadian flagged boats as they make their way north from Cuba. Then there was an American we met in Bahia Honda. The guy took his trawler to Cuba on a regular basis. He knows full well that it's illegal, but he wasn't going to let government politics keep him from where he wanted to go. In fact, he once was caught and threatened with treason charges for giving aid and comfort to the enemy. In the end he paid a $3500 fine. It wasn't enough of a deterrent to keep him from slipping away in the dark to go to Cuba again.

There's a nice little Cuban place in Marathon in the Keys that makes the best Cuban sandwiches. Right next to the restaurant is a tiny hand crafted boat. 6 young men crossed over from Cuba on that little boat. Communism is no fun at all. During our visit there were three Cubans who attempted the crossing on kite boards. One made it. The other two were in bad shape but rescued at sea. US policy lets the one who landed in the US stay. The other two were deported back to Cuba.

There are many Americans waiting to invade Cuba. Sure plenty of tourists want to visit. However, the same sort of people who did shady land deals and questional developments in Florida want to do the same in Cuba. If they aren't careful it'll be like the wild west down there.

I'm surprised the Cuban Communists are not resisting the lifting of embargos and the normalization of relationships. On an equal playing field Capitalism eats Communism. Sure Capitalism is exploitative and shallow, but Communism lacks cheap thrills and nifty toys. Then there's the whole blatant suppression of human rights thing. Who wants to put up with that? I hope Cuba opens up so us regular people can visit without pretending to be Canadians However, I've got hope that the Cuban people can retain their unique character -instead of Cuba becoming Disneyworld South.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Unexpected events

Just hours after traveling Rt. 93 north in Concord NH, a massive sink hole opened up. I was very happy that didn't happen while I was driving over that very spot.

It got me thinking. Man makes plans. The gods laugh. You can take all the precautions in the world and then suddenly the ground opens up under your feet and swallows you up.

Most people don't have any idea how truly random life can be sometimes. There's no fair or unfair to it. Stuff just happens sometimes. Back when I was a firefighter my whole career existed because unexpected stuff happens. Often it's a series of unusual things happening at the same time that cause calamity. One thing leads to another.

There was this one house fire that did extensive damage that sticks in my mind. The cause? A leaking aquarium. Say what? The home owner had a very nice large aquarium that developed a leak. Once the water heater was exposed to the air it overheated and caught fire, setting nearby drapes on fire. The burning drapes set the rest of the room on fire. Nobody was around so things got out of hand before the fire was noticed and called in. It took a series of events going wrong to cause the house fire. No doubt aquariums develop leaks all the time without doing anything more than killing a few fish and getting the floor wet.

When random bad stuff happens you just have to roll with it. If you are lucky it's the random sinkhole that did not suck down your car. If unlucky, a leaky aquarium sets your house on fire.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Cash on hand

This is just a little reminder to keep some cash on hand. It's easy to get into the debit card habit. Frankly, I do a lot of my business that way too. However, for emergencies, nothing beats cash in hand.

Say what you want about silver and gold, but cash is handy. I'll freely admit precious metals historically have served as a storehouse of wealth. The problem is that a metals economy takes time to establish itself after a currency collapse. If the grid goes down today and nobody can scan a plastic card, there will still be a lot of people willing to take cash. Even serious gold bugs should have some cash for the early days and weeks. My local corner store has no idea what to do if I present them with an ounce of silver.

Economists are saying we are going into a particularly shakey period of time. Some think China's currency woes could even take down the whole global economy. We are in uncharted territory here. Never mind the future. How about the recent past and the present? I bet Greeks who kept cash on hand were glad they did when the banks closed.

While I don't see any one particular threat on the horizon, there are enough troublesome things going on that a little cash would not be out of place. Might as well keep some at home in a safe place. It's not like banks are paying any interest on deposits anyway.

By the way, a safe deposit box is not a safe place. In an emergency the government can and has freely opened and inspected them. Besides, it's silly to keep cash in the very building that will be closed in an emergency.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Care to help unload?

I wasn't kidding that this this ambulance/camper van was also a cargo hauler.

This is what a ton and quarter of pressed sawdust woodstove blocks looks like. They slid back into the second door so it'll take a bit of unloading before that open can be opened. All these bocks had to be loaded in by hand. The pallet was just 2 inches too wide to slide directly into the van with a forklift.

These sawdust blocks are a nice addition to regular firewood. They start well and burn hot. Unlike firewood they can be stored inside the house without bringing in a load of spiders and carpenter ants.

Once a place is cleared in the house I'll be unloading the van. Unloading is going to be a lot more leisurely than loading it was. The yard was very busy and I was trying to get out of their way as fast as possible. My muscles protested about that later.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Sail shopping saga

One of the most important things about a sailboat is the condition of the sails. Duh. Since ours are pretty blown out, we've been seriously shopping for a new main sail. My lovely wife and I put off sail shopping when we were sailboat shopping. Now that we've decided to stick with our boat for at least one more winter, we need to do the upgrades.

Sails are darn pricey. Right now I'm waiting for some estimates from a couple different sail companies. Another option is to purchase used sails. A sail a year or two old might not be up to hard core racing specs, but they still make excellent cruising sails.

One company that deals in used sails had one that looked pretty good. When I finally decided to call them they claimed they just sold it that morning. However, they had similar sails they could sell me. That set off alarm bells in my head. The sail I looked at was a good price from a high end sail maker. The others on the site did not look nearly as good and sold for more money too. Bait and switch?

Fortunately, they aren't the only dealer in used sails. There's a couple for a bit more money at Bacon Sails, and I know they have a good reputation. It would be nice to get a brand new sail, but my budget might be telling me to go with used.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Late Post

Late post today. We've been visited by an old high school buddy so we've been pretty busy. He had some business in our area so he thought he'd work in a visit. It's great that after all these years there's a group of us that have kept in contact. It's not easy sometimes, but it's woth it.

While he was here it appears he's solved some of my computer problems. He has some computer componets that are just what my house system needs. As luck would have it, my lovely wife and I will be travelling past his place later in the week and can pick it up.

Nice to have friends.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

That nasty old guy ruining your life

It was a beautiful night with family and friends around the campfire. We were all having a glass of wine and watching the meteor shower. Great night for conversation.

One guy was asked if he was looking at retirement. He'd really like to retire soon, but he did the math. By the time he was eighty he'd be losing too much money so he's going to work much longer.

I said, "Screw that old guy. You don't know him. Don't let him ruin your life."

It got a few laughs, but I was only half joking. Would 80 year old you be thankful that you worked all those years in a job you don't much care for anymore? Would there even be an 80 year old you? This guy has already suffered on major heart attack. He's doing fine now, but that's got to be a warning.

It's not like the guy wouldn't know what to do with himself. He's a talented musician and artist and makes money doing those things. Could it be that after decades working the same job, like some many other people, he fears change? Yes, the math looks bad at 80 for an early retirement now. That's assuming there won't be a major financial crash in the next 20 years. Judging from even the last 20 that looks like a bad bet. No matter what he decides, there's no way to know what the future will bring.

Unlike him I did not have the luxury of choosing when to retire. We are all just one injury from being unable to do our old jobs. I lost out on all the normal retirement planning that would have given me a better pension. For years my income's been losing ground to inflation. Yet here I sit, watching the birds, sipping a coffee, and watching the fog lift off the lake. He's back at the job he doesn't much like anymore -in fear of what nasty 80 year old him might think.


Friday, August 14, 2015

Boat logistics

Right now it makes sense for me to own a sailboat that can be trailered. My van with its 7.3 turbo diesel can tow just about anything ment to be towed. A little 19 foot O'day sailboat is barely noticeable.

There is much to be said for having a boat that can be towed to prime sailing grounds. Leaving the frosty north in December and being able to launch in warm Gulf of Mexico waters a few days later is nothing to sneeze at. A sailboat making the trip by water from New England better leave no later than early October and be prepared for some cold weather.

It sounds easy to hitch up a boat and sail south -and it is. Once you get there things can be iffy. In spite of Florida having numerous boat ramps, finding long term economical storage for a tow vehicle can be problematic. Most boat ramps do not allow overnight parking. Those that do have time limits, usually not more than three days.

There are private marinas and boat ramps that do allow long term parking, but for a price. Some are reasonable, others, not so much. It may take some searching to find one that fits your individual needs. I'm fortunate that my dad's place in Florida has room for my tow vehicle.

One of my concerns is what to do when the van finally wears out. Frankly, I can't afford to replace it. It might make sense to keep a trailer sailer boat in Florida and pay someone to launch it. There are even climate controlled storage buildings built to withstand hurricane force winds.

What if I someday don't want to trailer my sailboat anymore? There are some great deals on larger boats that can't be trailered. I've discovered that rather than store a boat in high priced Florida, some people keep them at marinas further north in the Carolinas or Virginia.

Of course, the thing that makes the most sense is to live on a boat full time. All you have to worry about is the boat: no house or car worries, plus not much room to collect stuff. In the near to mid term we'll be doing the snowbird thing and continue to be part time live aboards. While that complicates the heck out of things it's worth doing.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Summer Theater

I'm referring, of course, to the current state of the United State's political process. As an American it's tough to admit that is my circus and those are my monkeys.

The show's much better than the early billing would have us believe. It was supposed to a Bush/Clinton sequel. Right now all the buzz on the Republican side is The Donald Show. Playing to sell out crowds on the Democratic side is The Bernie Show.

The critics (main stream media) acknowledges these candidates but are very quick to say their efforts are doomed . . . any minute now. . . Yep, this is the end. . . nope, the end is right around the corner . . . Love them or hate them, they aren't following the MSM script.

The show is captivating, especially from the front row seats here in first primary state New Hampshire. However, there's a horrible feeling in my gut and a cold shiver down my spine. Maybe this is really theater after all.

Jimmy Carter claims this no longer a functional democracy. He should know. Maybe he's at a point in his long life where he just doesn't care anymore and is not afraid of speaking the truth. I remember way back in 1976 when Jimmy was running for president. I was a high school senior and a newly registered voter. This Jimmy Carter guy came to speak in our school gym.

That's when I first got my exposure to image over substance. 1976 was the US Bicentennial year. Our school gym had a huge US flag on the back wall. Mr. Carter stood at a podium with that enormous flag in the background. That's the image that got on the news that night, Jimmy and the flag. What didn't make the news was how he fumbled around unable to properly answer questions from high school students. The press could have destroyed him then, but instead they pushed an image.

Do you ever get the feeling that it doesn't really matter who gets elected? That it really is all a show? I hope that's not the case, but it's getting harder to keep believing. So many promises, so little real change.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Somewhere in the world

It can be discouraging to look at the trouble spots of the world. ISIS is on the move. The Middle East is always a mess. There's economic turmoil all over the globe. I could go on and on, but the news already does that 24/7.

However, while all this bad news is going on in the world, Grenada is celebrating Carnival. That's one heck of a big party. Don't you love a party big enough to shut a whole country down? Forget about trying to get anything productive done. It's time to party.

Maybe that's one of the things wrong with the United States. We've become all business. Even our biggest holiday, Christmas, is now just a time for retail excess. That can't be good for a nation's soul. It makes us grumpy.

Even Europeans know how to take a month off in the summer. In spite of that they have a high standard of living.

Of course, I think nobody knows how to party like those folks in the Islands. Maybe it comes from living in a place warm enough to not need clothes. You can't take life too seriously when it's possible to live on coconuts and sea food.

I grew up in New England, where if you don't take life seriously enough you freeze to death in the winter. My ancestors who lived in Canada had it even worse. It's like we don't want to party too much. The problem is that it takes too much work to survive. My distant cousins who were kicked out of Canada and settled in Baton Rouge know how to let the good times roll. When you don't need much heat and can cook up critters that live in the ditch in front of your shack, life can be easy.

The Snow Birds head south to Florida to avoid the cold and that's not a bad thing at all. If all goes well I'll be sailing the coastal waters of Florida again this winter. Still, it's not the Caribbean. That's why my longer term goals involve a boat just big enough to comfortably sail those warm island waters. Maybe I'll join in at Carnival one year.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

From camper to cargo

When I converted an ambulance to a mini motorhome I made sure all the camping components were removable. The table and bed set up comes right out leaving plenty of room for cargo. The veggie van is not just for fun, it goes to work for me to.

Will all the camping gear removed an 8 foot picnic table slid right in. The van will be in cargo hauling mode for a bit as I've one and a quarter ton of woodstove fire blocks that need to be hauled home.

It's easy to clean up as ambulances are pretty much made to be hosed out. Don't think about that feature too much. It does make clean up easy for me.

Setting up for passengers with tables takes about 10 minutes. Setting up the bed takes maybe an additional 10 minutes. It's pretty simple but does the job.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Sailboat shopping and home again

Ah, the joys of living up in the mountains. There aren't a lot of sailboats for sail in hill country. So when we go boat shopping, it's a road trip. Just did over 350 miles looking at sailboats.

The short answer is that we didn't buy any. There was a nice boat -well taken care of, almost new sails, and with all equipment in tip top shape. The big downside was the trailer it was sitting on. The trailer was not designed for boat ramps. The boat owner kept his boat in a marina. When it would come time to pull the boat out of the water, the marina would use its lift and carry the boat to the trailer. The trailer is this massive steel and timber construction. The main feature is a custom cradle that the marina lift would gently lower the boat into. Once secured, the boat owner would carefully, and slowly, drive the one mile road to his house.

So we have a pretty good boat sitting on a trailer that would need massive reconstruction for boat ramp use. My lovely wife and I even tossed around the idea of buying a regular boat trailer and selling the one with the cradle. Then I came up with ideas on how to turn the trailer into a boat ramp trailer. Well it could be done but it would always be a pig. Right now I don't see how it's possible separate the nice boat from the awful trailer for a reasonable sum of money.

Ever see something that looks good on-line and then a bit different close up? One boat we looked at had all the features one could want. When we got there we discovered the owner did not lie. All those features were on the boat. The problem was that the boat had seen way too many rough miles. Everything looked good in the photos, but close up the wear and tear was obvious. I thanked him and moved on.

In short, we did a lot of driving to find out what we didn't want. That's valuable too. Right now we've yet to see anything in our price range that's enough of a step up from what we've got to make the deal worth it.

Looking at other boats I did get some ideas about a few changes on my boat, so it wasn't a total waste of time.

One good thing, the van ran really well, including the waste veggie fuel system.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Helping hand

Altruism is a human impulse. It feels good to be able to help someone in need. It's beneficial for the species as a whole when we help each other so one could say there's evolutionary pressure in that direction.

While it feels great to help someone, it is an outrage to have one's generosity taken advantage of. We might not mind giving money to a homeless person. If, however, we discover that person isn't really homeless but making a good income from panhandling, it burns us up.

Then there are people who truly need help, but helping them never seems to solve the problem. Some people are able to absorb a nearly infinite amount of aid without ever bettering their circumstances. Giving them a hand is a never ending labor of Sisyphus.

Christianity teaches that we should give the shirt off our back. That's all well and good, but what happens when the person we give the shirt to loses it or doesn't take care of it? How about if they sell it?

Then there's the prepared person. They don't have to give the shirt off their back. They have other shirts they can give. If that shirt goes to waste . . . well . . . it's not the only shirt they had. In fact, one can be more generous if they have a lot in storage. If you've judged someone's character wrong it's not the end of the world. There are other shirts to go around to those truly in need.

Of course, the real world is more complicated than that. There are people I'll give certain types of assistance but refuse other types of aid. We all know about giving booze instead of money so they won't squander it on food . . . or is it the other way around . . . depends on the person, I guess. There's one person I'll help with any number of things but will refuse to move them ever again. After moving an ancient heavy refrigerator up three flights of rickety stairs they decided to move again three weeks later. That move, and every move that person made since was without me. Even Job had limits.

Still, helping people might sometimes be a waste, but it's the right thing to do. Sometimes a little help at the right time can be life changing. Of course, you can't help someone if you yourself need help.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

The sailboat sweet spot

My lovely wife and I are keeping our eyes open for sailboat deals. It appears we just missed out on one, but there will be others. Even if we don't find a better one, our current boat will do the job just fine.

Our ultimate goal is a trailer sailer in the 25 - 27 foot range. There are few rare boats that are a bit shorter that would also work.

Why a trailer sailer when there are so many larger boats going for small money? It's not just the purchase price, but the cost of everything else. A larger boat needs long term mooring or a slip at a marina. It also needs regular haul outs at a boat yard. Another consideration is that the larger the boat, the more expensive replacement parts are.

One big advantage is being able to deal with the mast without the services of a boat yard. For example, boats using the Erie Canal need the services of marinas on both end to lower and raise the mast. If I have to use professionals every time I want to do something, I'd have to get a job. If I got a job I wouldn't have time to go sailing.

Shallow draft is also a must have. It's obvious that a boat that draws little water can get into places deep draft boats can't get into. What's a bit less obvious is how that saves money. Often I've been able to anchor in cozy little protected places. Bigger boats that can't use those anchorages have to pay to stay in a marina instead.

Thanks to my shallow draft I can anchor close to shore. Sometimes close enough that I don't bother with a dinghy but just wade in. When I do use a dinghy, I'm still close enough that a paddle craft or a rowboat is fine. Further out and you need a powered dinghy, at least something in the 5 hp range. Really deep draft boats end up with good sized dinghys equipped with powerful engines, 15 - 40 hp. Those dingys cost more than my sailboat does -and are more expensive to run.

Another huge advantage of a trailer sailer is that it can do 60 knots against the wind. (while on the trailer being pulled by a tow vehicle) Sure beats trying to sail a big boat to a safe harbor when a hurricane is coming. Of course, it doesn't take an emergency. I can trailer to an prime sailing area without having to slog 1000 miles against the wind to get there.

Of course a trailer sailer is smaller, so being able to live in less space with less stuff is a must. That's where a background in backpacking is useful. You learn that it's possible to carry all your basic needs in a pack on your back. It makes even a small boat seem luxurious. People without that experience find a 40 foot sailboat is really cramped.

The sweet spot for me is a boat that can go anywhere I want to go, but is economical enough to own that I don't have to get a job to support it. What I've heard about jobs isn't good.


Friday, August 7, 2015

Moving fast

I may have missed out on a great sailboat deal. Usually my lovely wife and I quickly come to a decision and act on it. Unfortunately, the sailboat was a good 3 hours away and we were not free until the next day. The boat was being shown to someone else as we could not make it that night. If that deal falls through I'm still ready to move on it. Another sailboat wasn't really in my budget, but the price was good enough that it would have been worth cutting something else out.

Usually I'm the one to snatch up good deals. When I go somewhere to look at something it's with cash in hand and with the means to haul the purchase away. Some people like to look at something a few times before deciding to buy it. If I'm going to look at something, I'm usually serious about buying. Shopping is not a recreational sport for me. Buy and then go, that's the way to do it.

Then there's the boat I did not make an offer on. This one was bigger, in great shape, and only an hour away. Unfortunately, while the money could have been scraped together, it really wasn't in the budget. This is the boat we want 4 or 5 years from now. Yeah, we have a general plan. That's how we can move so fast. If something comes up at an amazing price that fits the plan, we are mentally prepared to take advantage.

Of course our plans can and do change. Life has a way of doing that. However, since we set goals and take action towards them, we stand a much better chance of getting what we want.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Storm watch

A series of fast moving storm cells has been going through my area recently. One such storm took down a large circus tent at a nearby fair grounds. A father and his 8 year old daughter were killed. Many people were injured.

Tuesday I sat out a passing storm at home rather than drive into town. After it passed I figured it was safe to drive. A few miles away from the house I came across about a 5 mile section of road that had hail piled up along the shoulders. It looked like the aftermath of a 2 inch snowstorm.

Unlike a snowstorm some sections of road were covered in shredded vegetation. Trees were stripped of their leaves and small branches. The air smelled like god's giant lawn mower came through, sort of like a freshly cut lawn, but magnified many times. Good thing I waited out the storm.

Over the years I've learned to keep a weather eye out. Between my years in a tent, on a motorcycle, and now a sailboat, I've learned to watch the sky. In recent years it seems like there have been a lot more severe storms. Don't take them lightly.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Shaky markets

This is one I haven't seen before. Apple is so big that if it has a financial downturn it will take the whole market with it.

Now I would have thought Puerto Rico's inability to pay its debt would be big story about market threats. Maybe Apple is bigger than Peurto Rico.

We used to think the Greece situation was dire. It is, but the story has been pushed to the back burner as the EU fix is in. The "solution" is a temporary papering over of a financial mess that cannot be fixed.

Of course, there are other countries that are almost as in as much debt trouble of Greece -bigger countries that will have more geopolitical impact. Italy and Spain come to mind, but really, the whole EU has issues.

By rights, if there was going to be any sort of an economic boom it would be now. Petroleum prices are lower than they've been in some time. That should be a major economic boost. The fact that we are still just muddling along says something. When the economy takes a big downturn, the whole petroleum sector will really go in the dumpster.

Then anything can happen. In fact, we could then reach a point where energy prices sore, even during a major recession or even a depression. The energy sector could suffer so much damage that it might be unable to supply even a greatly reduced market.

Will this all happen? When will it happen? If I could answer those questions with any precision I'd be a rich man indeed. What I can say is that it would be very imprudent to assume things will keep chugging along the way they are. At the very least, look at your situation and figure out how vulnerable you are to financial fluctuations.

The Great Depression is almost no longer in living memory. When we forget the past is when we repeat it.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Late night visitors and trail cameras

One of these days I'm going to get myself a good trail camera and set it up in my swamp. Judging by all the moose and bear tracks down there it's a busy place. My waterfront is in the section of the lake with no cottages on the water, so it has more wildlife traffic than most places on the lake.

What I think happens is that critters follow the brook until they hit the lake. Then they turn away from a camp on the west side of the brook and go into my little patch of swamp. Eventually they find my trail and follow it until they get near my house. Usually most critters must backtrack after that.

Except for the bears. They check out my house to see if I've left anything out there to eat. That's one reason I only put my trash out just before the town guys come to pick it up. Something would be digging in it if left out too early.

I'm no Daniel Boone, but I've been able to find tracks of turkeys, pine martins, and fisher cats. I bet a trail cam would be able to take some interesting pictures. However, I hesitate to send money on one. A guy I know bought a really nice one, only to find it smashed to pieces one day. He was able to retrieve the memory card. The last picture on the card was of the open maw of a large black bear, just before it chomped the camera.


Monday, August 3, 2015

Summer boat deals

I woke up early and made the mistake of checking Craigslist to see if there were any good sailboat deals out there. It's the middle of summer, just about the time whe some people get serious about selling heir old boats.

Even though I'd pretty much decided to take the Oday 19 south one more year, that doesn't keep me from looking. There are a few nice little boats for sale for low low prices. How much longer boats in sail away condition are going to sell for less than the salvage value of the lead in their keels is anybody's guess.

August is an interesting month for northern boaters. People who upgraded to bigger boats are getting around to selling their old boats. By now it's occured to some people that the summer is half over, their boat has not been in the water and it probably won't be. Who wants to register a boat for half a season? In another month people will have to think seriously about winter boat storage. When that happens the market will be flooded with boats.

Even a 22 foot boat would be a nice upgrade: cooking inside the cabin instead of out in the cockpit, sitting head room, and maybe the ability to use the potty without reorganizing the whole boat. We could even squeeze in a visitor or two for the night. It's still too small a boat to interest "serious" coastal crusiers, but since we've cruised in a 19 foot boat, it's all good.

A boat that size has a bit more room, but it's still cheap to spend the night in a marina. Of course, shoal draft is a must. For the way I sail a swing keel has more advantages than disadvantages. There's an awful lot of shallow water off the coast of Florida.

In other news my buddy and I finally got around to working on the broken spring on my homemade trailer for my little 12 foot boat. My buddy has a cutting torch that make quick work of rusty bolts and brackets. We searched through his extensive collection of trailer parts but could not find a bolt on replacement. He was willing to install some heavy duty springs, but they were way too stiff for my little boat. It would be like having a straight welded axel. So sometime later this week I'll stop in on the local spring shop and see what those guys can do for me.

Just to round out the day my lovely wife and I took our granddaughter for a sail around the lake a few times. There's more to boats than buying and fixing them.


Sunday, August 2, 2015


Picture a tribe of primitive nomadic hunters. Physically and mentally they were not much different than we are. Evolution is a slow process. In that tribe there may have been a man with the potential of Einstein. Unfortunately, stone age technology would give him very little opportunity to develop his talents.

There are a lot more opportunities in the modern world for different talents to flourish. Some people would do well in any age, but it's hard to say how it would truly turn out. Had Steve Jobs been born 30 years earlier, instead of selling computers he might have made a fortune selling lawn mowers -or maybe he'd be just some guy selling insurance. As it was, he was in the right place at the right time for his talents to come to light.

That's great and all. There are more options for people to find what they are uniquely qualified for. Even so, it's a pretty hit or miss process. What if someone has a talent for art, but was never exposed to it growing up? As it is, plenty of successful people had the advantage of being from a well enough off family that they would not miss any meals if their new ideas never took off. It's hard to take chances when living hand to mouth.

Here's a thought. While our global civilization enables a huge number of people to discover what they are good at, it doesn't work for everyone. I believe there are people out there who are stunted by our civilization and who would thrive in a different environment. I wonder what wonderful people and things we are missing out on?


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Monuments to waste

There are bridges built during the time of the ancient Roman Empire that are still in operation. Here in New England there are perfectly functional wooden covered bridges that date back to Colonial times. Modern steel and concrete bridges are crumbling and and falling apart. Progress?

That's just one example. Did you know a lot of new buildings are being constructed with only a 15 year life expectancy? The thought is that at the end of that time it'll be torn down and something else built in its place. Sadly, a lot of those "temporary" buildings are still around past their disposal date, and getting uglier every year.

Strange to think how such shabbily constructed buildings have 30 year loans.. After the 2008 housing bubble burst there were a lot of unsold buildings. I watched one development in Florida fall apart, almost in front of my else. Not long after the air conditioning was turned off the humidity started working on the buildings. Within 6 months the siding fell off the houses. The wafer board walls absorbed water, got soft, and could not hold onto the siding fasteners. Those buildings went from new to garbage without anyone actually ever living in them.

So why all the waste? It's the way the economy is designed. It's been said that our economy works on a constant growth model. If the economy does not grow, the interest on debts cannot be paid. Everything collapses. A part of that growth is not really growth at all. It's money and energy used to replace all the shoddy crap that's falling apart.

It's an amazing system. In a relatively short period of time it's produced enough waste that the oceans are full of plastic junk. All that junk was produced using energy and materials from non renewable resources.

So we have a systems that must infinitely grow, using finite resources, and which produces much ugliness and trash along the way. It's obvious this can't go on, and anything that can't, won't. So why isn't anyone who's in charge doing anything about it? Why should they? The present system is what put them in power. Then don't want to change it. They want to keep it going, at all costs, for as long as possible.

So that's how we get crap bridges that fall apart, and a whole host of other ills. The problem isn't technical. We could easily build stainless steel or composite bridges that could last at least as long as Roman bridges. Instead of wasting resources fixing and replacing things we could move on to other projects. Our finite resources could be used for durable things rather than cheap short lived crap.

Great, but how do we get the people in power to all such a transformation to way things are done. Theoretically, in democratic societys they just get voted out of office and replaced by people who are not so vested in the old system. Otherwise things reach a point where the vast majority pay huge costs for a system that benefits a tiny few. When things get bad enough either one or two things happen.

Did you ever wonder why Central and South America are full such impressive ruins? Sure, some places fell victim to the invading Europeans. However, other cities were abandoned. It's entirely possible that things got so bad that people just wandered off into the jungle. That's a pretty reasonable response to a civilization that imposes huge costs to the general population and no benefits.

The second option ends violently for the tiny elite -strung up by their guts on lamp posts ugly.

So the next time you have to drive across a rickety pot holed bridge, think about how we got to where we are and to where we are going.