Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Weather weather everywhere

Flood waters are receding here in Florida at my dad's retirement park. A few lots were underwater and some roads were blocked. All in all it wasn't all that bad.

My tablet has one of those weather apps on it. It gives weather alerts in all the location I've been following. Since I've been doing a lot of traveling in the past year the locations range from Maine to Florida to Texas. Yesterday every since reporting station that I'd marked had some sort of weather alert.

The dangers ranged from the serious, hail, lightning and flooding, to the expected: lots of frost warnings up north.

At first it looked pretty bad to see every weather station on alert. However, since over half of them were for minor things like frost warnings, it wasn't all that bad. Cold nights at the end of September in New England are not unexpected. Sure, the warnings are of value if you have plants that need to be covered or water lines drained, but does it rate the same alert status as tornadoes?

That's one of the problems of these full time weather forecasters -everything is a crisis. They blow things all out of proportion. Worse is when they make some horrible predictions and nothing major happens. Then they go on like they never made such predictions. One day it's Armageddon, the next it's business as usual.

The hype was so bad last winter that whole cities were shut down for snowstorms that while significant, were not exactly record breaking. It's like the boy who calls wolf all the time. When something major really is coming, few people take it seriously.

Bad weather can kill people, so it's something to take seriously. However, there has to be nuance to the system. Being on constant high alert is pointless when the “treats” don't warrant it.


Monday, September 28, 2015


Sorry I've been too busy to blog. My cousin flew down to Florida to see his favorite uncle. I had to drive to Tampa to pick him up. My cousins and I have always been close so it's good to have him here.

Dad's really enjoying his visit, as am I.

Thursday he's heading back to New Hampshire, but then my three daughters are flying in from both coasts.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Prepare you kids

One thing about doing things a bit different in life is that you kids might want to do something different with their lives too.

A friend's son is graduating from college and plans to live in his van. He hopes to be able to practice his trade while traveling on the road. While his dad is concerned as any one would be, there's not much he can say. After all, my friend used to live in a pop up trailer. Actually, I think my friend kinda wishes he could hit the road too.

My lovely wife and I are in the same position. If our girls are adventuresome we've only got ourselves to blame. I guess all those wilderness canoe trips and mountain camping trips had an influence on them. My kids grew up in a solar powered dome, so they are used to the non conventional.

Actually, I don't really worry too much about my kids. They are smart people who can figure things out. I suspect my kids might worry about my lovely wife and I more than we worry about them.

It's a tough time to be a young adult. Good paying jobs are few and far between. Job security is a joke. Maybe the worse thing young people can do today is to try and live “normal” lives. Maybe it worked for their parents, but conditions have changed. Doing the normal and safe thing is probably anything but safe.

Living in a van is a lot better option than paying too much for a rent in a bad neighborhood. Being mobile allows someone to quickly take advantage of opportunities, even if they are across the country.

Parents want to prepare their kids for life in the great big world. Pushing them to take college prep courses isn't enough anymore. They should know their way around a tool kit: know how to repair cars, and boats, how to set up an alternative energy, grow and gather food, and how to make their own electric power. Self reliance is the new job security.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Federal Power Trumps State Rights

This article in Money magazine is about how airport security will no longer accept certain state licenses as ID. New York, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Louisiana, and American Samoa residents will be unable to use their driver's licenses to board airplanes, both foreign and domestic.

I'm a resident of New Hampshire and remember when our state would not comply with Federal Real ID requirements. Sometime in 2016 the Federal government will enforce the new rules. Residents from those places will need to have a Federal Passport to board a plane.

So much for State Rights. While they can't force states to comply with Real ID standards, they can put pressure on in other ways. It's just like when Federal government wants states to change driving laws. They legally can't make a state pass things like seat belt and speed limit laws, but they can deny Federal highway funds to states that refuse.

The Federal government really has no right to set national education standards. Once again, they use the big stick of withholding money to get what they want.

Sometimes the Federal money big stick isn't even all that big. The contribution to education is often just a few percentage points of a district's budget. It's just big enough that most places don't want to do without.

Sometimes Federal requirements raise the cost so high that it's economical to give up the Federal money. A small town near me decided to do just that when building a bridge. It was significantly cheaper to keep the Feds completely out of the project.

Of course, we see that money isn't the only way the Feds twist arms, as the new TSA airport requirements demonstrate. State rights have been eroding for years. Refusing driver's licenses from a handful of areas doesn't make the nation safer. It does, however, show the states who's boss.

There is one upside to requiring people to get passports to fly. It makes it a bit easier to leave the freaking country when we can't take it anymore.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Boat selection

Life has settled down to a certain routine here in Florida to be with dad who was in the hospital. He's home now and comfortable. Things have settled down into a bit of a routine.

That's given me some time catch up on some long term writing projects. However, I must admit to checking out the local boat listings.

I've a list of things I look for in a boat. It's got to shallow draft, have simple repairable systems, be seaworthy, and it has to be a bargain.

Cruising catamarans have been completely out of the picture. While many are shallow draft, they tend to be complicated boats that sell for way too much money. Monohulls are a much better bargain.


While searching the listings I've come across a Wharram designed sailboat. If I was going to build a catamaran, it would be a Wharram. They are simple rugged boats that can be built for a reasonable amount of money. They've got a long history of amazing ocean passages.

Most “Yachties” don't like them. They are too primitive looking and lack the latest comforts. Of course, that makes them cheap to maintain and repair. Wharram even lashed things together instead of using expensive marine hardware.

The EMP collapse novel, “The Pulse” by Scott B. Williams, features a Wharram catamaran. It's a good choice for a bug out boat.

It just goes to show there are exceptions to everything.

I'm not really in a position to buy a boat quite yet, but my boat kitty is building up nicely. It's nice to know there are some interesting options out there.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Survival strategies

I just got done reading another article about some mansion with a bomb shelter in the basement. For the elite, a bomb shelter is becoming as common as wine cellars. For those who can't their own bomb shelter, there are companies that will whisk you away to their private disaster shelter deep underground. They have all the amenities of high end condos, but with better security, filtered air, and no view.

In a read disaster situation, I can imagine how things would play out. Take the personal shelter. It might work great for a fairly light weight disaster -a bit of civil unrest after a hurricane for example. The rich guy ducks into his shelter for a few days and comes back out when his private security company says the coast is clear.

In a real end of civilization event I wonder what's to prevent the security guy from putting his own family in the shelter and shooting the rich dude. The only allegiance to the rich guy is money. In a life or death situation, what good is money?

The group shelter sounds like a nightmare to me. Imagine a hundred extremely papered and entitled people who are used to being the top dog. The internal politics of such a shelter would be brutal -all chiefs and no little Indians. That does not bode well for a cooperative society.

Survival will tend to favor two groups, in my opinion. Those who are living a fairly isolated and self sufficient lifestyle, and small tight knit communities. Money can only do so much. It can build castles, but it can't guarantee an army of loyal knights.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The free waterfolk

Yesterday it was all about free camping on land. Today I'm going to cover those of us who love life on the water.

In previous posts I've covered living on a boat at anchor. There are free places to anchor all over the world. It's even considered normal. A good boat will have all the things you need to live in relative comfort. As long as you stay out of marinas most of the time, know how to do much of your own repairs, it's a pretty cheap way to live.

What about people in boats considered too small to live on? How small is small? I've a 12 foot Ooze Goose that I've built that has a cabin big enough for me to stretch out in. Even small open boats can be rigged with a bed across the seats and a tarp tent to keep the weather off. I met a guy who was traveling from the Florida Panhandle all the way down to the Florida Keys in such a rig.

Boats that size might be a bit too heavy to drag very far up the beach. If that's the case care must be taken to only beach camp where you'll be left alone. It used to be easier to do that years ago. There's a lot more developed beach front property these days. Places that once allowed beach camping are now wildlife preserves and totally off limits. However, by carefully choosing one's campsites it's still possible to do it.

If you have a canoe or a kayak there's the chance to stealth camp. I've done it myself with a canoe. My dark green canoe blends in nicely with the underbrush. I've spent the night sleeping right under the canoe, but stretching out a tarp over it provides much better rain protection.

I've also camped at remote campsites for free that are not free sites. How did I do it? By camping off season, both before they officially open after they close. While it's technically not legal, I've never been bothered. It's only illegal if there's someone to enforce the rules.

There are large parts of Florida where camping is prohibited. That's where it can get interesting. Once again, setting up camp in the dark and leaving before first light is a tried and true method. One guy got so bold he'd set his tent on random docks along the water. That's not as difficult as it might seem. There are an awful lot of seasonal houses along our waterways. Less bold campers prefer to camp a bit more out of sight.

Campfires are nice, but make sure you are in a place where fire won't attract attention. A lot of people who stealth camp will not cook at all while trying to stay under the radar. If you do cook, a small backpacker stove is just the thing. It doesn't make any smoke and a meal can be cooked rapidly. I like something like a Whisperlight stove that can burn Coleman fuel and regular auto gasoline. Coleman fuel is nice, but auto gas is less than a third the cost.

The beauty of life on the water is being able to go places the land bound can't. If I lived in a city along a waterway I'd make sure to have a small boat. In times of unrest one can quietly slip their boat in the water, toss in a bag of essentials, and glide away.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The free campers

There's a lot of people living on the road these days. One end of the spectrum are those with big motor homes who stay in full service parks. They often pay more for their parking space than I like to spend on a hotel. Of course, their expensive sites come with a lot of amenities: game rooms, nice showers and baths, full hook ups, pools, hot tubs, and planned events.

On the other end are those who never or almost never pay for a night's camping. Most people are familiar with spending the night at a Walmart or a truck stop. That works pretty well for those in vehicles they can sleep in. Van campers make good use of such sites, and I've done it pretty often myself. It's a good solution if all you want is a place to park and get a good night's sleep.

Some people have expanded their free parking spots to include areas like abandoned shopping mall parking lots and old industrial areas. Some even successfully overnight in residential areas. To do that successfully it helps to have a vehicle that blends into the neighborhood. Parking late and leaving early helps to stay under the radar. All these places come with the risk that someone might mess with you, either the local police or even local thugs looking for trouble.

On my way south in the car this year I discovered one of my favorite rest stops was full of rowdy young men hooting and hollering in the middle of the night. We drove on down the road until I found a place with a safer feel to it.

What if you are traveling in something that doesn't have four wheels and a roof? There are people who've been living out on the road for years on motorcycles. There's pros and cons to that way of life. It's obvious that they can't just spend the night in a parking lot. They need a place to pitch their tent.

Free camping on Federal land is always good. If you've got a motorcycle it's easy to get off the main drag, drive down an old fire road a bit and camp in a secluded spot. Some of these sites are absolutely beautiful. They also are good places if you want to spend more than a single night.

There are those who seek out abandoned homes. Driving down the road they look for places without mailboxes and weeds growing out of the driveways. Abandoned houses that too far gone for squatters are good places. The ruins of the house make for a good windbreak and the paved areas are nice solid dry spots to pitch a tent.

There are a lot of houses like that in America. Many homes were abandoned in the Gulf of Mexico area when hurricane Katrina did its damage. A lot of rural homes have been left to decay in rural areas where the population moved into cities. The 2008 housing market crash left a lot of empty homes all across the nation.

Like motorcyclists, bicyclists and backpackers look for places to pitch their tent. While they don't cover as many miles as those on a motorcycle, they can push through the underbrush where a motorcycle won't go. One issue is that they are looking for a lot of the same spots that the local homeless population uses. For some people that's fine as they don't mind blending in with them. I think it's safer to avoid them as too many have drug and alcohol issues.

Does this sound like life in a Dystopian society? Guess what? For people in the lower income brackets they are already there. The collapse has happened. It's just not evenly distributed. One thing about the free campers is that they are free. Society's rules no longer work for them so they've bailed on society. Some get what money they need by picking up occasional work. Others may produce and sell arts and crafts. Heck, there are even a handful who live totally without money. That's about as far outside the system as one can get.

Once you've free camped for a while it may occur to you that it's your God given right to be able to live without paying for the privilege. Like the fish in the sea or the birds in the air, man can be free.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Those who say no

Sunday I was reading the newspaper -yeah an actual dead tree edition. I'm staying at my dad's and they still get such things. There was this article about retirement. It looked a lot like an article about how retirement for most people is going to be financially impossible. In fact, after reading it I came to the conclusion that I'd be unable to retire at 65, even though I'm 57 and have been retired for years. That was one persuasive article.

Of course, I'm doing it so it can't be impossible.

I'm doing a lot of things that the experts say I should not be doing. Just about anyone will tell you that my little sailboat is way too small for coastal cruising -never mind the fact that I've actually coastal cruised in it.

People told me that building a dome home where I live wouldn't work and that it would leak all the time. It's been up for over 20 years with no problems.

They said solar electric wouldn't work in my area, yet that too has been working for over 20 years.

Good thing I don't listen to the experts. They establish some arbitrary criteria that must be met. The retirement people assume a retired person would not change their lifestyle to fit a smaller budget. The boat people assumed that a sailboat needs things like a galley in the cabin. (I found I could cook in the cockpit just fine) There were construction methods to eliminate any problems inherent to the dome design. I researched and assembled my solar electric system myself, greatly reducing costs and adapting it to my local site.

Over and over experts say something is impossible and maybe it is -if you do it the way the experts expect you to do it.

Fortunately for me, life is full of loopholes.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Out of the desert

It's pretty strange when I think about it. My home base up in northern New Hampshire is in what's called a food desert. Food shopping is a drive down the road and the selection is limited.

Now I'm staying a my dad's place in Florida. There's a huge selection of food in a variety of stores at competitive prices. Most Americans take these shopping opportunities for granted. Food appears abundant.

That's all well and good during normal conditions. During a disaster that cuts off supplies even areas with many shopping centers will run out of food in three days or less. Everything is delivered on a just in time model.

There are two major types of food dessert. There are rural areas like mine where transportation issues and low population density restrict food choice. Another type of food desert is in inner cities. Grocery stores decided it's not economical to run a big grocery store in the inner city. Instead food is provided by small shops, gas stations, and fast food joints. During emergencies these areas are particularly bad to be stranded in.

Areas that normally have good food selection won't be far behind as people have no need to keep a large pantry. Stores are so well stocked and convenient that it feels foolish to clutter up their homes with food storage. It's a false sense of security.

Rural food deserts have a different dynamic. In years gone by it was normal to keep many months worth of food stored away. Some of that attitude carries over to the present. I know I like to keep a fair amount of food on hand. When my friends downstate have unexpected guests they can run to the store a few blocks away. I've got at least a 30 or 40 mile trip so I make sure there's food in my pantry.

I know a lot of people who stock up on hard to get food items when they go to where there's good shopping. Rural people are also more likely to have gardens and know how to harvest wild foods.

Right now I'm enjoying the shopping opportunities around here, but it does feel a bit surreal as so little food is actually produced in this area, at least compared to the population.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Nomads and beer

There has been some serious scientific speculation that the reason our nomadic ancestors settled down was due to the discovery of beer. It takes a settled population to make beer. Someone has to plant the grains and keep an eye on the fields. Once the beer is brewed the fermentation process takes time. Eventually they must have learned that beer tastes better if it rests a while first.

Early civilized life was a pretty steep step down from nomadic life. Civilized people were smaller from poor diets and prone to more diseases. There had to be some serious up sides to civilization and one of those up sides was beer.

As a home brewer myself I've found it very hard to brew due to my semi-nomadic lifestyle. While I don't have to grow my own grains, I do grow some of my own hops. The problem is that by the time time hops are ready I'm running out of time. Even if I'm able to successfully brew, there's not enough time for me to drink it all. In years past I've taken care of the beer surplus problem by throwing a big party. That always works. Other years I've brought some of my brew along, but it's bulky and the bottles are fragile.

One option would be to forget the beer and distill everything down to 180 proof moonshine. I call that “backpacker booze” as most the heavy and bulky water is left behind. Of course, in most places homemade hard liquor is illegal. Governments love to collect their taxes.

Early civilized people lived under constant threat of raids by nomadic people. I wonder how much of that involved the nomads wanting to get their hands on a good brew?

Since most of the world is now “civilized” us nomads can easily get a beer just about anywhere. We don't have to brew it ourselves, which is difficult to impossible while traveling. The next time civilization collapses I'm betting it's the desire for a good beer that reboots the whole crazy process.


Friday, September 18, 2015

A polite Society

“An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”

― Robert A. Heinlein, Beyond This Horizon

Old Robert had a point. Sometimes I think we have the worse of all possible worlds: a well armed impolite society.

It's a darn shame that so many foolish people make the mistake of equating manners with weakness. Manners is one of those things that keeps a civilized society functioning with a minimum of mayhem. Good manners keep misunderstandings from escalating into violence. That polite pause gives logic and reason a chance to kick in. Otherwise we act upon emotion -often not our best response.

One does not have to be disagreeable to disagree. There are those who've mistaken my mild mannered ways for weakness. Then they are surprised when they discover I will stand firm and will not be moved.

In some cultures it's normal to make a lot of threats with no intention of following through. Threats, yelling, screaming and fist waving are all part of normal communication. They are genuinely surprised when a westerner reacts by punching them in the nose.

I was raised to never threaten anyone. However, if they truly need a punch in the nose, punch them in the nose. Threats only broadcast your intentions and that puts them on their guard.

Fortunately for most people, even those who truly need a punch in the nose, I'm a polite person. My status is not threatened by someone's foul worlds. On the flip side, just because someone else has more status than me doesn't stop me from disagreeing with them -as always, politely, but firmly.

Heinlein's theory was that if everyone was armed and prepared to defend themselves rudeness would be a very bad idea indeed. Maybe we should treat everyone as if they were well armed and prepared to defend themselves. Politeness couldn't hurt, right?


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fun Funds

There are a lot of people having their adventures and posting their experiences on-line. I'm following a lot of people on sailboats, but also van dwellers and other travelers. One trend I've noticed is that a fair number have set up Patreon accounts. That's one way to help fund their adventures. I've mixed feelings about that.

One one hand if people want to donate money that's their business. Maybe they enjoy their adventures vicariously. Sending a few dollars to keep the blogs and videos coming is a reasonable price to pay for the entertainment. In a way it's not all that different from donating money to keep public radio and TV stations on the air.

On the other hand it would feel weird to me. Why should someone else fund my good times? Of course, I'm a terrible businessman and neglect many money making opportunities. Then again, I have noticed some of the more successful sites feature a lot of youthful women in bikinis. (I'm sure I'd look terrible in a bikini)

To be fair, I do have a regular source of income. It might be small, but it's consistent. Other people do what they have to do. Some practice their trade while traveling. That's great for writers and artists who can work from anywhere. Other people have skills that have value all over the world.

I wish I could remember where I read about the guy who made two circumnavigations around the world. The first trip cost him a few thousand dollars. At the end of the second trip he had more money than he started with.

Joshua Slocum, the fist man to sail single handled around the world, was able to make a fair amount of money off it. In the days before the Internet people would gather to listen to interesting speakers tell their tales. Joshua also wrote a book about his adventures and it holds up well even today. Here's a free copy of it.

Maybe if Patreon was available to him back in the day he'd have made good use of it.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Banking on the road

Just before hitting the road I contacted the two different banks that I have debit cards from. Well, I learned some things at the last minute that I probably should have known earlier.

One bank had changed their security policies. Before you go traveling, most banks want to know where you expect to be going. I tell them all over the United States. If you don't you are likely to discover your debit card shut off when you try to buy gas at 2 a. m.. While I was aware that my bank did that I didn't know that the notifications are now only good for 60 days.

They need a separate notification if you going to leave the United States -unless you go to Canada. Apparently they don't think Canada is a foreign country.

The debit card from the second bank had never been used, but it's actually a better card to travel with as they reimburse debit fees. My problem is that I forgot the pin number. That's where it got interesting. While I could activate the card on the phone, pin numbers had to be changed in person. Don't worry they said, you can change it at any branch. Great, except they only have branches in New England. That does me little good in Florida.

On our way out of town I stopped in at the bank to get the pin changed. As part of the process I had to do an ATM withdrawal but only after 20 minutes and no later than 24 hours. Believe me, I used the card soon after to make sure the activation really happened.

Sounds complicated, but it's impractical to carry enough cash to for months of travel. Not only that, if for some reason police search your car and find big wads of cash they will confiscate it. Carrying large amounts of cash is considered a suspicious activity. Good luck on getting that money back. Even with that in mind, I do carry some cash as everyone takes cash.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fuelish snowbird ways

The worse part of living in northern New Hampshire is the long and never ending winters. Of course, that's why so many people from up north become snow birds. Any fool can freeze to death.

In my case 50 gallons of gasoline brought me to the warm and sunny south. Sure beat burning a 1000 gallons of heating oil -not that I used that much heating oil. Most years mostly what I burn is firewood, much of it gathered from my own property.

Last year I used 30 gallons of heating oil. That was when we got back home in April. Actually, it wasn't even heating oil but off road diesel, which is pretty much the same thing. However, the heating oil company has a minimum fuel order of 125 gallons. It was much cheaper to fill up a few 5 gallon containers at the local gas station. Being in a rural area, off road diesel is pretty common. Regular diesel works too, but is more expensive because of the road taxes. The furnace ran steadily for a few days until the house and everything in it warmed up. After that I burned firewood cut from my property the year before.

Many snowbirds pay to heat their house all winter long, even with no one living there. They are afraid to drain the plumbing. Of course, then they are constantly in fear that the furnace will run out of oil or that something will break. There are elaborate warning systems that can be installed in case of furnace failure. I talked with one guy who had an emergency light that was supposed to go, visible from the road. One year the furnace failed but the emergency light burned out. After that he added an additional light to work if the primary emergency light burned out. Whew! So complicated!

People tell me that their insurance company won't let them drain the plumbing and winterize the house for the winter. Those folks should change insurance companies. My insurance company only requires that the house be shut down properly.

Some years I've had house sitters watching my place for the winter. That only works if you have people you really trust. I've never had a problem. It is nice to come back to a warm house. If you house sit for someone be aware that the IRS could come back on you. They feel that house sitting has a certain value and taxes should be paid. I've only heard of it happening once. Most house sitters never have any trouble with that.


Monday, September 14, 2015

The things we do

First the good news. Dad's making huge improvements and will be coming home later today. Thanks for all your prayers.

A bit more about our trip southward. We did hit some amazing storms. In NY is was raining so hard I totally missed my exit and all the signs before it. There's a great NY diner off the highway that we always stop at. Good thing my lovely wife as able to figure out that I missed it and navigated us to it on back roads. While taking a break at the diner I realized how beat I was from all that high stress driving. During dinner we figured out that finding a hotel for the night was all for the best.

While it was the right thing to do, I didn't want to do it. In general, hotel prices tend to get a bit more reasonable further south. Land taxes up north are so high they have little choice but to charge a lot. It also cost an additional $50 for the dog. As expensive as the room was, it beat dying in a crash on the highway.

The next day I took advantage of a pretty decent weather window and drove pretty much straight through to central Florida. My lovely wife did some of the driving so I got to nap now and then.

This photo is after about 1500 miles in the road.

This trip I saw both Rt 95 and Rt. 75 completely blocked by wrecked tractor trailer trucks. The one on 95 was burning with big plumes of acrid smoke. On 75 in Florida a rig got caught in the heavy winds from the thunderstorms and was blow right off the road. It landed sideways in the median strip. Impressive.

The good news is that even heavily loaded, the little car ran well. We are packed for a whole variety of contingencies.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Florida once more

My lovely wife and I made the trip in one piece. We rain into amazing storms in CT and NY. Gave up on trying to drive the flooded roads and spent a night in a hotel. The next day we drove around the clock and got to Florida. It was a good decision as we didn't hit more storms until FL. Pretty good.

Dad's been dealing with cancer but then had a seizure and he was in pretty bad shape. Very very confused and didn't know what was going on. Since then he made some big improvements-his mind is back.

My lovely wife and I will be here in FL for the duration. Dad's looking a situation where he'll be moved from the hospital to a hospice situation at his own home.

Thanks for all your prayers and support.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Best laid plans

In previous blog posts there was a lot of discussion on what I'd be doing this coming winter. Would I buy a bigger sailboat and adventure on that? Refit my existing boat? Sail down the ICW on the Atlantic Coast?

The original plan was to leave after Thanksgiving at the end of November. Then I learned that my dad had some health issues so those plans were moved to the end of October -then the end of September. Long story short we are heading out on the road today.

In fact, I might have left earlier but my lovely wife had some doctor appointments. She's getting stitches out after lunch and we are heading to Florida right after that.

After all this talk about sailboats, we are taking the little Nissan car and leaving the sailboat behind. We have packed some camping gear and our inflatable 2 person kayak, but the trip is not really about camping this year.

I've no idea how long we'll be gone. It might be weeks. It might be months. With that in mind I've decided to winterize the house. Seems pretty weird to be winterizing my house in the middle of a heat wave, but there you go.

Most likely I'm going to miss a few blog posts.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Life in the food chain

Home in New Hampshire homo sapiens are pretty much the top of the food chain. Sure there's the occasional pesky black bear or angry moose, but even people doing every idiotic thing under the sun rarely have a problem. There was a young boy who died in a bear encounter a few years back. He panicked, ran away, then had a bad asthma attack and died. While sad, it's hardly the bear's fault.

While people are pretty safe from animal attack during the winter (bears hibernate, and moose head for the high country) it's freaking cold. We like to spend our time in the sunny south, the land of poisonous snakes, alligators, crocodiles, rays, and dozens of species of sharks. People who enjoy time in the back country or on the water know they are no longer the apex predators.

There are two ways to deal with the critters down in the warm lands. One way is to move into a highly manicured and artificial gated community. Then you can pretend you aren't in Florida but somewhere in New Jersey or something. I've talked with snowbirds who've been going south for 20 years and never saw an alligator. That's some sort of weird accomplishment in a land where an unattended glass of water will eventually end up with a gator in it.

The other way is to deal with it. Learn something about the environment and the critters that live there. Most critters really don't want to tangle with humans. Just by being aware of your surroundings makes all the difference. Your odds of getting bitten by a snake go up a lot if you happen to step on it.

Knowing the habits of the critters can save you a lot of grief. One small example: nurse sharks can lie on the sea floor and stay in one place. If you have the mistaken belief that all sharks have to keep swimming to breath, you might make the assumption that the shark is dead. It is not. Nurse sharks are generally pretty placid, but even they will get riled up if you mess with them.

I'm perfectly willing to occasionally back away from a rattle snake in Florida than spend the winter with a snow shovel in hand. To each their own.

What I'm going to have to figure out some day is how to live in a city. I guess it's all about learning the habits of the locals and avoiding the predators.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Alternative Energy Missing Link

The big gap in the alternative energy mix has always been transportation. Fossil fuels have a huge amount of energy in a concentrated package. Electric vehicles have a lot of advantages, from reliability to environmental impact, but range has been limited. Electric energy storage has been unable to compete with fossil fuels.

That's been changing. Batteries have gotten better, thanks in no small part the efforts of Elon Musk and the Tesla cars. Still, while batteries have gotten better and costs have come down, fossil fuels still pack a lot more punch per pound.

Everyone knows about the Tesla cars, but there's been some quiet innovation going on under the radar. This Norwegian ferry is one good example. The ferry was built to be electric from the ground up. It's doing the job that diesels used to do while using electricity generated by 100% hydro power. Not only is it a cleaner running boat, it's a better boat overall.

There are a lot of places where even short haul electric vehicles can make a huge difference. There are fully electric buses operating all over the world. If you've ever been stuck in traffic behind a diesel bus you'd feel they can't go electric soon enough. City buses make short low speed trips so electric just makes sense.

There are large trucks being used for short haul trips. They are attractive to fleet operators who don't even care about pollution. Operating costs can be lower as electric vehicles require less maintenance and can be more reliable.

Right now the big hurtle is long distance trucking. There the limitations of electric battery storage really rears its ugly head. Short trip city vehicles can boost the charge of their batteries at their frequent stops. Since they have to stop anyway, little time is lost getting a booster charge. Electric charging stations every 50 miles down the highway are just impractical -expensive and time consuming.

So if fossil fuels become high priced and scarce we are doomed to lose cross country transportation? Maybe, but it doesn't have to be that way. At one time different regions of the country produced a lot more of their local needs. There's no reason that model can't be employed again. Maybe we'll get our salads from a local green house in the winter instead of shipping it 2000 miles across the country.

Trains and boats are much more efficient than tractor trailer trucks and could handle regional shipping. Local distribution could then be handled by electric vehicles using renewable energy sources. The distribution system could completely change and the average person wouldn't even know the difference. As it is most people have no idea how that can of beans makes it to the shelf of the local store. What does it matter to the shopper if the beans got there by diesel truck or by sailboat and short haul electric van?

So is this just some pipe dream of mine? It doesn't have to be. Economics and technological developments are already pushing us towards that model. The big question is if the change over will happen fast enough to prevent the complete crash of the transportation system.

Bets anyone?


Monday, September 7, 2015

Waiting for the sun power

It's about 9 a. m. when I'm writing this. I've got about an hour or so before I begin the day's chores. By 10 a. m. the sun will really make a difference on the solar panels. There's a small meter mounted on my kitchen wall displaying the level of power in the house battery bank. Once the needle is firmly in the green it'll be time to wash dishes and do laundry.

My laptop doesn't use a lot of energy so it's a good device to use while waiting for the sun. The major draw on the solar electric system is the water pump. Water intensive use is best done when the sun is shining.

Sure, if I absolutely had do laundry it would not be all that hard to flick a switch and tap into the grid for the extra power. However, I'm not a big fan of the local utility so I give them as little money as possible.

One of the big arguments against renewable power is that it's unreliable. The sun does not always shine nor does the wind the wind always blow. Battery and other energy storage methods are improving in leaps and bounds so that argument is losing force. One of the major trends right now is to use existing power generation more efficiently.

One way some utilities do that is to have variable rates. If you move your heavy power use activities to off-peak hours the cost per kilowatt goes down. You can still use heavy power draw equipment during peak hours, but it's going to cost you. The net effect is that utility can better use existing power generation and avoid building more power plants.

That's great for them, but I'm doing basically the same thing on a small scale, and it's great for me. Of course, I've got the advantage of being able to have power without the grid. By watching when and how much power I use, my moderately sized solar electric system can power the house for a very long time all by itself.

Americans have gotten used to having all the power they want all the time. Much of the rest of the world has learned to use it when they've got it. Grid failures are on the upswing so it's a good skill to acquire. Anyone who's thinking of installing alternative power can save a lot of money by timing their heavy power usage.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Obsolete trailer

Last fall I hurriedly converted an old utility trailer into a boat trailer for my 12 foot Ooze Goose. The box was stripped off the frame and some rails were added for the boat to sit on. The wheel bearings were replaced and a hasty fix done on the lights. The trailer hadn't been on the road since 2006. One more year unregistered and it would have disappeared from the state registration system, which would have been a pain.

It survived thousands of miles of hard travel. Once, due to a missing pin in the trailer hitch, it exited the highway at 65 mph all by itself. While in Florida a car clipped it, scuffing the paint but doing $2800 damage to the car. It also survived a flat tire in Louisiana.

On the way back one of the springs broke in Massachusetts. Fortunately, I was able to drive it home.

During the first attempt to fix it we discovered no replacement springs were available in my area. It spent the summer at my friend's house, waiting for new springs. After an extensive on-line search suitable springs were found from Northern Tool for a reasonable price. I had the springs, but life got busy for everyone in the summer.

So finally our schedules meshed and another attempt was made on the repair job. While it was apart my buddy did some welding to reinforce a few weak spots on the frame. We were not able to buy all the spring mounting hardware off the shelf as the design is obsolete. For $13 I was able to get some parts fabricated at a local shop and my buddy was able to build the rest.

In the end the whole repair job ran about $80 in parts. Some people wonder why I'd bother fixing an old trailer rather than buy a new one. Have you priced new trailers lately? The old trailer isn't fancy, but it does what I need it to do.

By the way, I originally bought the trailer used for $50. It spent many years hauling firewood before being converted to haul my boat.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Why is Kim in Jail?

Kim Davis is the Kentucky clerk jailed for refusing to issue same sex marriage licenses. I'm trying to figure out why she's in jail. Of course, she could have complied with the court order and issued licenses, but she said her religion didn't allow that. That's fine. I can respect that.

But why is she in jail?

I don't understand how her office runs. Why wasn't she fired for not doing her job? The court ruled that it's her job to issue same sex licenses and she's not doing it. People get fired for not doing their jobs all the time. To be fair, the job requirements changed, but who hasn't worked at a job where the duties have changed.

She could have quit her job in protest. There's a long tradition of people doing that. Then again, maybe it's not so easy to just up and quit an $80,000/year job.

So I keep asking myself, why is Kim in jail?

Is it to protest same sex marriage. Fine. She's done that. If she thinks she'll be able to reverse the law of the land, she's delusional. I really hope that's not her thinking.

Of course, to me this is all a non issue. My state, New Hampshire, has had same sex marriage for years. There were a lot of dire predictions, but nothing's happened except some people who once could not get married are now married. It doesn't ruin my day. It's none of my business.

It may violate Kim's religion's beliefs and she's going to have to find a way to deal with that. Getting put in jail doesn't seem like the healthiest way to do that, but to each his own. Guess what, the United States is a secular nation. Every day I violate someone's religious belief, be it with my morning bacon, or my after dinner beer. I'm glad I can practice my own brand of belief and happy that other people's religious rules are not my own.

I try not to judge people's religious beliefs, but I don't let their beliefs run my life -at least in the US. If I was visiting a Theocracy, well then I'd expect to have to follow their rules.

I must admit, I'm a bit curious how this case will turn out. The one thing I do know for sure is that the won't reverse a ruling by the Supreme Court.


Friday, September 4, 2015

Keeping it simple on land and sea

I'm at that point in my life where I've very careful about the stuff I buy. It doesn't matter how much fun something is supposed to be. What are the downsides?

I was talking to a good friend of mine lately. He's been doing a lot of ATV and snowmobile riding the past year. That's great as it it's been something he can do with his dad, but the amount of maintenance and repair involved is a big turn off for me. I'd have to go back to work to support a good mechanic.

Years ago I did own a few snowmobiles. They were primitive machines, even by the standards of the day. That was fine as my goal wasn't to be the fastest on a groomed trail. Snowmobiles allowed me to get into the back country. Then I'd buckle on a pair of snowshoes and climb a mountain, or go rabbit hunting, or perhaps haul my fishing traps out on a frozen lake. Some of my snowmobiles were so simple that the whole electrical system could be disabled, but they could still be pull started and driven out.

Later I gave up on snowmobiles completely and did a lot of cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Frankly, I got sick of buying gas and repairing machinery.

Of course, these days I've pretty much given up on winter, so boats are more my style. I started out in canoes and kayaks. Power boats were never really my thing. It was bad enough chipping in gas money to keep my friend's boats on the water.

Now I'm into sailboats, not something known for economy. Like everything else, it's how you approach it. There are some ways to avoid hassle and expense. Keeping it small is key. Everything on a smaller boat costs less. Big boats also tend to have more “comforts” -big inboard engines, water makers, generators, freezers, AC, extensive electronics packages, and so on.

I'd have to give serious though to a boat bigger than can be pushed by an outboard. Inboard engines on sailboats are bear to work on. Then are usually crammed into tiny airless compartments. An outboard can be easily removed for the boat. Work can be done on land in comfort. If the motor is completely shot it's not big deal to bolt on a new one. In my case I found I could get by with a good electric trolling motor. Some hard core sailors go completely without an engine. While that's tempting, I find my personal trade off is towards at least a little auxiliary power.

Modern electronics like GPS have made boating a lot safer and easier. The good news is that all the key pieces of electronics are available in small hand held versions. Many boaters are proud that all their boat's electronics are meshed together in one massive network. That great -until something goes wrong. I've also see boats with so many screens to watch that they block the view of the water. That's just silly as keeping your eyes on what going on in the real world is the most important thing.

Modern comforts have diminishing returns. I've seen some really nice boats stuck in boat yards while they wait for key parts -for equipment and machinery my boat doesn't even have. While they cool their heels I've sailed down the coast and I'm having a drink on some remote beach somewhere.

There's a sweet spot that everyone has to find for themselves. It's that point where you have just enough to have everything you need and little that you don't. Usually that spot is lot closer to the simple end of things.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

They hate us for our freedom

Now it's come to light that the FBI has been gathering intelligence and spying on the participants of Burning Man.

Burning Man is basically a counter culture art festival and party in the desert. It certainly isn't any sort of threat to national security. Sure there's illegal drug use, but probably not much more than at any of hundreds of music festivals. One has to wonder what other events the government is spying on. SCA medieval reenactments? Steam Punk events? Jazz festivals? Boy Scout Jamborees?

Back in the late 70s and early 80s I used to go to the Dowsers Convention held in Danville VT. There were government spies at that event. The first few years they were easy to spot as they were the ones in the suits. Later they tried to blend in better. However, the brand new L. L. Beans clothes combined with government black leather shoes was a dead give away.

It seems the government has difficulty with anyone doing anything outside the box. People who don't do what all the other sheep are doing are suspect.

Did I ever go to Burning Man? Naw, while it might be interesting, it's held in the summer in the middle of the freaking desert. Believe it or not, it has become too mainstream for my tastes. It's organized. There's an entry fee. The organizers try to work with the local authorities. There are less structured ways to meet with interesting people -ways that keep the FBI out of your business.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dead Calm

My lovely wife and I trailer our sailboat out to a bigger lake. We were joined by my 8 year old granddaughter and an old friend of mine I've known all my life. Winds were light but we did sail sail about halfway across.

This is what the lake looked like just before becoming totally calm. This place is known for wind and I've never seen it completely die in the middle of the day.

My crew decided to go overboard for a swim.

While the sailing wasn't that great, the company was. Besides, we really didn't have to be anywhere. It was sunny, the company was good, and we had good food and drink. Sometimes life isn't about being anywhere or doing anything.

The little electric motor pushed us most of the way back. We did get a brief bit of decent sailing in at the end, but it was just a teaser for a half mile or so. In the end we motored to the boat launch. Once the boat was loaded on the trailer -that's when the wind came back. Men plan, the gods laugh.

All in all, not a bad day. My buddy is off to a gig in Hawaii and I probably won't see him until spring. My granddaughter is heading back to school. One has to enjoy the moments when one can.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

New Computer, finally

Well, I finally broke down and did it. I bought a new computer. For the the last few weeks I've been trying to write using a small Kindle tablet. The Bluetooth keyboard was a big help, but the teeny tiny text was starting to get to me. Writing a short blog post wasn't bad, but doing anything longer caused eye strain. Old eyes, what can I say?

It's nice to have a new computer, but it's also a huge pain. This is my first encounter with Windows 10. In a few days I'll have to figure out how to install Ubuntu Linux. Having the ability to duel boot a computer is nice. I like to do most of my work in Linux, but there are some programs that only run in Windows. For now my efforts are going into setting up the Windows side the way I want it.

This is another fairly inexpensive machine, a Acer Aspire R11. It's what they call a “Cloud Computer.” In short that means they saved money by putting in a small amount of memory. It appears to function like a cross between a laptop and a tablet. Memory space is “off site” somewhere in the mysterious cloud. Of course, no Internet connection, no memory.

The small memory capacity isn't all that big a deal anymore. I backed up all of my last computer on a little plug in USB drive. All I have to do is plug it in and I'm good to go. While I've found the cloud a convenient way to move files from one device to another, all my important stuff is backed up on devices in my physical possession.

For me computers are just a tool. The cheapest one that will do the job without falling apart is the one for me.