Saturday, October 31, 2015

Update on dad

My dog is very protective of my father. Right now she's lying at the foot of his bed, keeping watch. Dad's dying of stage 4 bladder cancer. He was not a good candidate for chemo. A surgeon had given him a 50/50 chance of dying on the table. Dad felt aggressive treatment wasn't worth it. He's been on home hospice ever since he got out of the hospital.

I haven't written much about it on my blog. Until a few weeks ago he was still reading it. Now his vision and hand coordination aren't up to using a computer. Over time the hospice doctor has been increasing dad's pain meds as the condition worsens.

Today hospice is going to send over an aid to help wash and shave him. When he first got back from the hospital he had me install 4 grab rails and a chair in his shower so he could take care of himself. That no longer works.

He has good spells, but they aren't as good as the ones before. The bad spells are worse. We all know where this is going.

I've been fortunate to be able to come down to Florida to be with him. My lovely wife and I are doing what we can. If dad has a regret it's not being able to be there for his wife. He remarried just a little over a year ago. Back then he wasn't feeling sick at all and didn't know there was a lurking medical issue. Last January and February I was helping him replace floors in his house. He was slowing down, but you expect that at 79. He only knew about the cancer in August, but by then it was too late.

I don't need anyone's sympathy. Dad had a good life and is a good man. I'm lucky to have been raised by him.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Prepping for the nice comfortable disaster

One of the prepper mistakes is to prep for a specific event. It happens all the time. Y2k, 2012 Mayan calendar end of the world -nuclear was very popular in the 60s and 70s. Whatever is in the news is what people prep for.

Of course, there are those folks who prep for things specific to their area. Coastal area residents are only being prudent when they prep for hurricanes. Northerners who live in snow country prep for being snowed in.

We can laugh at the the “End of the World” preppers. Someone's always predicting the end of the world. However, those prudent preppers who prepare for known problems are not off the hook. They are ready but only for a certain type of disaster. The hurricane prepper may have a good strategy that's always worked for him. He may have even used it successfully for a couple hurricanes. That may breed a false sense of security.

I had a long talk with a guy down to the Florida Keys. He had a house up on stilts and emergency supplies. He'd successfully rode out hurricanes in the past. Then he got hit with a hurricanes that was a bit stronger than the others and it happened to hit during a high tide. He felt lucky to escape with his life and plans to evacuate next time.

A lot of my neighbors thought they were well prepared for winter storms. When the utility power went out they'd go out to their shed and fire up the generator. Then they'd go back in their house, put a movie in the DVD player and congratulate themselves on how clever they were.

One year we had an ice storm that knocked out power for weeks. In a couple days those nice generators ran out of gas. The roads were covered in downed trees and it was dangerous to travel the roads. They traveled them anyway, searching for a gas station that still had power.

Sometimes the disaster is lot worse than what you are comfortable planning for.

What about those who've planned for the wrong disaster? Plans are made to deal with hurricanes but what you get is a wild fire. Don't focus on one thing. Focus on what you need to stay well: food, water, shelter and security.

The first three are pretty self explanatory. No matter what happens you need the basics. Americans often don't think much past guns when it comes to security, but that's actually only one part of it. Security concerns things like living in a place where you know and like your neighbors. Security means having a “tribe” a group of people, friends and relatives, that you can count on in a pinch.

Under security I'm including bug out plans. Somethings you can't fight or hunker down for. All you can do is get out of the way. Could be hurricanes, floods, wild fires or enemy tanks. Mobility is security.

We hate to think that we could be surprised by something we didn't plan for. Once in a while something comes from way outside our comfort zone. Being mentally flexible is as important as good prepping supplies. Don't get that deer in the headlights look and freeze up. It's not survival of the fittest. It's survival of the most adaptable.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Golf cart problems

Florida is the land of golf carts. There are times when it feels like they are the main form of transportation. That's great. I use my dad's around the park all the time. Word got out that I fixed it when it died on me so now I'm some sort of expert.

Okay, here's my advice on gold carts. Seems like 90% of the problems with golf carts are the batteries. My house uses similar batteries so I know a little about their care and maintenance. There are some basic things that a golf cart battery bank needs.

Keep an eye on the water levels in the individual cells in the battery. Top off if needed with distilled water. Don't over fill. Check them on a regular basis. Write down their condition and how much water you had to add so you have an idea how often they need to be looked at. Checking them every month is a good place to start.

Keep the batteries fully charged. Many people think that keeping a golf cart plugged in will somehow damage the batteries. The opposite is true. Leaving the batteries discharged will shorten their life. By keeping the batteries fully charged they will last longer.

Check all the connections on the batteries. Look for lose wires and/or corrosion. Keep them cleaned up and tight. My dad's golf cart died on me when the end of one of the cables corroded and burned off. There was an electrical smell and then the cart died. An $8 cable fixed the problem.

Water. Charge. Connections. Simple maintenance takes care of most of the problems.

There are no deals on batteries. Good ones cost more. Cheap ones are too expensive to buy as they'll fail way too soon.

One more thing. Check the air pressure in the tires. The required pressure is written right on the tire. It's usually between 18 – 22 pounds. You would not believe the number of golf carts running around with either barely any air or so much air they are in danger of blowing up.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Traveling Hobo Show

My lovely wife and I have done a fair bit of traveling. We do a lot of budget (and no budget) stuff. You develop a eye for fellow travelers.

Is the guy living and traveling in a big 5th wheel homeless? He may stay in nice RV parks all the time, but he has no big white house with a picket fence. On the other end are the homeless who travel with little more than a small pack and the clothes on their back. The RV guy and backpack guy don't appear to have much in common, but they both live on the move.

That's the two extremes, but there's a whole spectrum of travelers. When we travel with our ambulance/motorhome conversion we have our feet in a number of worlds. We can clean up and pretend to be upright citizens and stay in an RV park. Then we hook up our extension cord to the park power and run a water line. That happens, but not too often. Sometimes we stay in really cheap campsites with no running water or electric. We carry our water in 3.5 gallon water bricks and power comes from a solar panel on the roof. Of course, with that set up it's just as easy to park in truck stops and at big box stores -or to boondock somewhere down a dirt road.

Because we span those worlds we met folks who'll tell us about RV parks with good swimming pools and other amenities. On the other hand the hardcore boondockers share free parking spots where the cops won't hassle you too much. Believe me, that's a nice feature. People live and travel in vans, cars, on motorcycles, bikes, and on foot. Home is where you spend the night.

Florida has a lot of “homeless” people traveling around. Florida has its challenges but it beats freezing to death in the north. There's a certain look one gets when living on the road. I guess after a few months I must get that look too. I talk with a lot of fellow travelers. Sometimes we just give each other a nod.

Today I saw a guy hanging around the local CVS. He was being cool, sitting on a bench smoking a cigarette. The guy was dressed neat, but his cloths was a bit more rough and rugged than the average person on the street. He had a small bag with him. A power cord snaked out of the bag was a cell phone power cord was plugged into an outside outlet. Good for him, he found a place to charge.

As my lovely wife and I walked into the CVS we bumped into the manager. He was all stressed out in that petty manger way. The guy outside appeared to have him a bit concerned. He asked us if everything was Okay. I assured him it was. I was amused. The manager mistook me for being an upright citizen instead of one of the traveling tribe.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Investor manias

A few hundred years ago the western world discovered the huge advantages of canals. A single horse pulling a barge could move 10 times more freight than a horse pulling a wagon. Canals were a huge boon to the Industrial Revolution. Coal and other commodities could be moved long distances cheaply and in great volume. Investors saw the advantages and canals were built all over the place, even in areas where they didn't make much economic sense.

Not everywhere was suitable for canals but then trains came along. Here was another way to move materials and people for a reasonable cost. Investors saw the potential and track was laid all over the place. The world went crazy for trains.

We saw investor over investment during the tech boom. A lot of money was thrown at some pretty sketchy ideas. On the bright side, much of the fiber optic infrastructure we rely on today was constructed.

Right now I'm guessing we about to see another investor mania into alternative energy. There are a number of technologies that are ready for prime time that all work together. Solar and wind technology have reached the point where in some markets they compete directly with fossil fuels. Combined with new battery technologies, the rapid development of electric cars and there's real potential.

Savvy investors are coming to the conclusion that fossil fuels are a bad bet. Why build a coal plant and then buy coal when you could build a solar plant and get free power from the sun? Add in the downsides of pollution and diminishing supplies and it gets even worse for fossil fuels.

Some investors are going to make an awful lot of money. Most likely investors will go crazy and overbuild like they did with canals, railroads and fiber optics. That's fine as society in general benefits.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Disaster makeover

Mexico just had about the luckiest break from a bad situation. Hurricane Patricia missed heavily populated areas and then broke up in the mountains. That doesn't diminish the pain of those who were in its path, but things could have been much much worse.

Whenever a major disaster strikes the area is never quite the same again. In the United States we are used to thinking that everything just gets rebuilt. It doesn't. Take New Orleans after Katrina. Today you can go into the heart of the French District and see little sign of the disaster. Go out in the old poorer neighborhoods and it's a different story. Many people never came back. A lot of stuff never got rebuilt.

When the heart of a community is ripped out, it can't just be rebuilt. There are a lot of businesses that do fine before disasters that are not economical to rebuild after. A lot of things are built are built up over that time that can't quickly be replaced. There's also the whole community web that's disrupted: churches, community centers, parks and shops. People move on and don't go back to doing things the old way. When the social and economic pillars of a community are shaken they are never put back together the same way.

For some community destruction is just the break they were looking for. Working waterfronts that provide decent blue collar jobs are replaced by condo developments for the well to do. All those poor folks who paid little taxes on humble homes are replaced by high rollers. Money trumps everything. That's great for developers and politicians with open palms. Not so good for people looking for an affordable place to live.

If it's this bad in rich countries, it's much worse in less well off ones.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

As seen on TV

Life is so different out here in the world. Living out in the woods, sometimes I forget how disconnected from contemporary culture I am.

A case in point: “As seen on TV.” I had to pick up some medications for my dad at the local mega drugstore. While wandering around all the shiny things on display I came across a huge section of stuff supposedly seen on TV. I don't even have a connection to commercial TV at my home out in the woods. My lovely wife and I do watch some Netflix shows now and then, but they don't have advertisements.

Apparently there's an awful lot of junk for sale. Maybe they look good TV with an attractive spokesperson promoting them. Just sitting there on the shelf . . . wow . . . what a lot of crap!

It's a strange world we live in. Entertainment and news is financed by the peddling of useless things built in China. No wonder our programs are so awful. Of course, there are fewer people watching less hours. Eventually the whole business model will fall apart.

I've been staying at my dad's and he has commercial TV. I watched just enough to realize advertisement is more than junk trinkets. Here in Florida it's also about doctors, lawyers, car dealerships, erectile dysfunction medication and sink hole repair.

Modern civilization looks like a shallow and trivial existence -as seen on TV.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Bigger than Benghazi

Does anybody think that the errors of Benghazi are all Hillary's fault? Oh I'm sure she's responsible for a good part of it. After all, it was her job. Maybe we have to ask ourselves what our diplomats were doing in Benghazi in the first place? Maybe we were pretending that Libya was a functioning country instead of a war zone between competing factions? Right now the country is pretty much split between two major groups, but that gets little press.

The US and other Western nations are responsible for that mess. We are very good at destabilizing countries but pretty terrible at putting them back together. In fact, we are so bad at it that I suspect that's never been our intent in the first place.

Just about every country that had an “Arab Spring” is in disarray. Egypt is mostly stable again, but at the cost of a government no more democratic than the one overthrown. By the way, the underlying problems that got people out in the street in the first place have yet to be addressed.

Look at our “success” in Afghanistan and Iraq. Don't worry, we are in Syria now and this time we are going to get it right.

Don't expect any hearings about how our foreign policy is making the world worse instead of better. Both Democrats and Republicans are responsible. It's fine to do a little finger pointing concerning Benghazi -as long as no one digs down to first causes. Don't expect much more than political theater from that sort of hearing . . . ever.

Yes, the world is run by a lot of psychopaths. The strong men in all these countries were definitely bad people. Unfortunately, the ones who replaced them weren't much better. Of course, the whole point isn't to eliminate psychopaths. The idea is to replace independent psychopaths with our own psychopaths.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Fears about China

There's a lot of talk about how China is eating our lunch. They are taking over industrial production. Chinese products are everywhere. We also keep hearing stories about wealthy Chinese buying up high value American properties. The future speaks Mandarin.

Thirty years ago, the future spoke Japanese. It was Japan making all the great cars. Their industrial strength amazed the rest of the world. American landmark properties were being bought by Japanese investors. Sony was going to own the world.

Then some other stuff happened. Financial troubles hit Japan and they really never recovered. The future is hard to see. Our crystal ball is cracked and clouded.

China of today may be the Japan of the 80s. Of course, that doesn't mean the United States will be the next country to profit. For all we know it could be Vietnam, Brazil, or South Africa. Sound unlikely? So did the idea of Chinese dominance back when Nixon when to China.

Of course, the “Chinese Economic Miracle” could keep going for some time yet. We just can't assume it will be the only big player on the block. Someone else could take its place. That's not to say it's going to disappear and shrink back down to a Belgium sized economy. After all, in spite of their problems, the Japanese still have considerable business and technological clout.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fun with politics

The big US political news is that good old Joe Biden won't be running for president. It's interesting that during his “non run” he did better than the two times he actually tried for the job. Perhaps had he thrown his hat in the ring his poll numbers would have plummeted.

For practical purposes the Democratic race is down to Hillary and Bernie. Yeah, there's some other guys running -extra points if you know their names without looking it up. However, you've got to do better than 1% to get noticed. The field has narrowed quite a bit, all before the first primary.

On the Republican side, against all main stream media expectations (and prayers?), Trump is still the man to beat. Interesting times.

What really fascinates me is the recent Canadian election. Justin Trudeau was elected PM by a significant margin. I remember his father, Pierre Trudeau. Pierre was PM pretty much from the late 60s until about the mid 80s, if memory serves. He was such a flamboyant and intelligent figure that even Americans knew who he was.

No one thinks Justin is as smart as his old man was, however, by all accounts he's a liberal like his old man. All that means is that Canada goes back to being Canada.

I followed the Canadian election by listening to Quebec radio over the Internet. I've been trying to improve my comprehension of the French language. As it turns out understanding only half of what's being said is more than enough to follow politics.

I think from now on I'll only listen to French language coverage of the US election. As it turns out, politics make more sense if you only catch half the words.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Tragedy of the commons

Let's go to Wikipedia for the definitions of “Tragedy of the commons.” In short, it's the problem of individuals using up common resources. Okay, that's probably too short. Read the Wiki.

On a macro scale we think of people using up all the world's resources. What we don't think of so much is how that affects us on a more humble scale. Recently a friend of mine who lives in southern Maine discovered his well went dry. Actually, it was his wife who made the discovery -while in the middle of taking a shower.

It was a fairly dry summer in their part of Maine so the water table was probably a bit down. However, they use very little water on a day to day basis. Their next door neighbor, on the other hand, runs a septic service company that uses an awful lot of water. No doubt that's why my friend's well goes dry now and then.

The only protection would be own and manage all the land about the aquifer. Nice if you can afford it, but not too practical for most of us. I had a chance to make a few quick bucks by selling the lots across the street from my place. The money would have been nice, but it would probably cost me more in the long run. My house water supply comes from shallow well that's fed by underground springs that cross my land across the street.

The guy who wanted my land has a history of bulldozing everything flat. I suspect the shallow springs would be destroyed and my well would go dry.

Water is one common resource that's become a lot less common. It's one thing when individuals use the resource for basic needs. It's another thing entirely when water is used on an industrial scale. Businesses love to profit from a common resource. It's how profits are made. If downsides can be completely shifted to other people, all the better.

Multiply the problem by thousands of times and then you have California -a land where family wells go dry and deep industrial wells are tapped to sell bottled water.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Round and round we go

They say that the future doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

It occurred to me recently that Russia might be on a repeat course for what destroyed the USSR. Russia's big problem is that they've been unable to diversify their economy as much as they wanted to. It's still too heavily reliant on oil exports.

Oil prices are depressed at the same time Russia is increasing military spending. That didn't work out well the last time they tried it.

Of course, the US may be doing a pretty good imitation of the Great Depression, so we are not in any position to throw stones.

Things never line up exactly, but business cycles, and politics tend show the same things over and over again. It's the different spins on things that make things interesting.

One thing that people are more concerned about this time around is the total collapse of infrastructure, especially the collapse of the electrical grid. Some of the same people who expect the grid and the Internet to go down are also heavily invested in Bitcoin -an electronic currency. Seems like some sort of disconnect going on there.

Boom and bust cycles have been around at least since the dawn of civilization. That's interesting for historians, but tough for those who have to live history.


Monday, October 19, 2015

To trailer or not to trailer?

My sailboat shopping has leaned heavily towards trailer sailors. Of course, I've a nice little 19 foot trailer sailor that's given me lots of pleasure. It's tempting to get a boat just a bit bigger, yet not so big it can't be hauled on a trailer. Owning a tow vehicle powered by a huge 7.3 turbo Powerstroke diesel has given me the confidence that I can tow anything meant to be towed -and a lot of things not meant to be towed too.

Of course, now I'm here in Florida and my diesel van is back in New Hampshire. That's great for my daughter who's doing a house remodel. With all the camping gear removed, it's a very capable building materials hauler. Not only can it handle 12 foot lumber and 4x8 sheets, all that stuff can ride inside, out of the weather.

If I do find a capable trailer sailor I could either rent a truck or hire someone to tow it to a free storage place I have access to. In the spring I could the bring my van down and haul the boat north. That's pretty much where my thinking had been.

However, now my lovely wife is looking at boats we could live on for long periods of time. While there are trailer sailors that we could do that on, the choice is much greater if you aren't worried about towing. That does make us a bit more reliant on other facilities. Boats have to be kept somewhere.

I don't mind living on anchor. It's free. However, I don't want to leave a boat on the hook unattended for very long. Other options are mooring fields and marinas. The price and quality of those facilities varies considerably. When I do get some free time my lovely wife and I can go around checking out places in person.

How big is big enough? Ah, there's the rub. An amazing number of boat services charge by the foot, everything from bottom work to marina stays. On the very low end I've looked at 23 foot boats. Most people would say that's way too small. No one would ever go very far on a boat that small.

Except it's done all the time. There's a movie, “Dove” based on the sailing adventures of a teenage boy who sailed a Ranger 23 around the world back in the 70's. I actually found such a boat with new rigging, sails and bottom work for small money. Very tempting. You'd have to be nuts to take such a boat across oceans, but it'd do the job in a pinch. Sanity is overrated.

Lately I've been looking at a lot of boats in the 26 – 28 foot range. These days that's considered small for a cruising couple -however, 30 years ago it was a common to do so. People's expectations have changed. That's good for me, as it keeps the prices low. I'm not opposed for a slightly bigger boat, but it would have to be the right boat for the right price.

I have been pondering. A trailer and a tow vehicle keep me tied to land. Trailer sailors have compromises that bigger boats don't have to worry about. Something to think about anyway. This blog helps me work over different ideas by writing them down, plus the feedback from my readers is of great value.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Quiet time in nature

There are two things I've craved all my life: the natural world and solitude.

Early on in my marriage my lovely wife figured out I actually needed those two things to keep my head on straight. Occasionally I'd get a gentle reminder.

“Isn't it time for you to disappear into the woods for a few days?” she'd say.

Then I'd pack a small pack and wander somewhere off the beaten path. When I got back I was much easier to live with. There's nothing like being alone in the woods or on the water for having a good think. Major life changes have been made once I've had some time alone to ponder things. Too few people live unexamined lives.

Once we moved up the lake I didn't need to actually disappear quite as often. Living surrounded by nature and with few neighbors I got a lot of the peace and quiet I needed.

Here in Florida it's a bit different. Fortunately, my dad's retirement park made the wise decision to build around the trees rather than cut them all down. There's a pond on the property with fish, turtles, birds and event the occasional alligator. Lately a falcon has been hanging around. There are still a lot more people around than what I am used to. My lovely wife and I have been able to get away for a few hours now and then. We've gone to the ocean to absorb some of that sea goodness. It helps.

I'm not an antisocial person. I like people well enough and enjoy meeting new ones. Everybody has a story to tell. Some people need to get away from everything now then, and I'm one of those people. Beats the heck out of medication and head headshrinkers.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Escape Vehicle

My lovely wife takes politics a bit more seriously than I do. That's not to say I'm apathetic. I do vote, but mainly because the local bozos are in a position to affect my day to day life. On a national level I suspect my vote is not worth anything compared to the interests of those who actually run the country.
My lovely wife, bless her heart, is less cynical than I am.

With that as a bit of background, my lovely wife is a bit more concerned about this years crop of presidential candidates than usual. We are registered Independents so we take a hard look at the contenders from both parties. Isn't it a shame that with all the people in country the size of the United States this is what we have to choose from?

You know how some people are always going on about if so and so candidate is elected they'll leave the country? It's all talk as they never leave. Instead they just belly ache and complain all the time. Frankly, it would be nice if they'd leave -or at least shut up.

Well, my lovely wife is seriously thinking about leaving the country for a while. We've taken steps to make that a bit easier, like finally getting our passports. She's not thinking of going to Canada, like so many people threaten to do. Unlike most Americans we actually follow what goes on in Canada. Living in Northern New Hampshire, Canada is a hop and a skip away, plus I've family there. While Canada is a kinder and gentler place than the US, it has plenty of problems if its own. Besides, it's not all that easy to get in anymore. It's easy to visit, but they'd kick us out after 6 months.

My lovely wife has asked me to look at more capable boats. Instead of thinking in terms of a boat we could live on for weeks or months, now she's thinking months and years. She wants a boat in which we can leave the country if necessary. She's serious, so I've got to be serious too.

We've been looking at boats that sail well and are easy to maintain. If it's going to be a long term bug out vehicle, those qualities are even more important. Fortunately, we've got all winter to find a good boat for us. This being Florida, there's a lot of boats for sale. Eventually we'll find one that serves our needs at a price we can afford.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Drone Defense

A company, Battelle Innovations, has designed and built a new device for disabling drones. Its DroneDefender looks like a Science Fiction ray gun rifle. DroneDefender works by interfering with the drone's radio communication link.

It's a simple enough concept. How much do you want to bet that a bunch of people are building similar devices in their garage? The DroneDefender is intended for law enforcement agencies. Okay. I get that, but here's a question: if we have the right to bear arms, shouldn't we also have the right to bear arms against drones?

There have been quite few drones knocked out of the sky by good old fashioned shotguns. While I'm sure that's fun and all, one is liable to get into trouble in residential neighborhoods and cities. A silent electronic means of taking them out seems safer.

I was rather amused by firefighters washing one out of the air while battling a fire. Now they were just using hand lines, I'm guessing 1 -1/2 or 1 – ¾ lines. I bet a 2 -1/2 line, or better yet, a master stream appliance would be even more effective. Can't be any worse than trying to knock sea gulls out of the sky -which I've seen happen. No, I didn't do it -that would be cruel, even to sea gulls.

Just you wait, sooner or later there will be detailed plans on the Internet on how to build devices to electronically disable drones -if there isn't already.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Civilization will rip your heart out

The Mayan civilization did it for real. Usually it's just a metaphor.

So what is it that got me thinking of public human sacrifice in service to the state? I don't know. It could be everything from the situation in the Middle East to presidential debates. We do love our circuses, just as the ancient Romans did.

Nothing demonstrates the power of the state like killing. It keeps the people in line. We cheer when our enemies are killed . . . and yet . . . it's also a warning to not become an enemy of the state.

It's all about control. It's been said that civilization rules by force. While that's true in the broadest sense, civilization prefers to rule by the threat of force. When a civilization is reduced to ruling completely by force it fails. There is no way to put a policeman in every home.

Or is there? Tyranny can be automated. At the simplest level we have things like stop lights. A simple electric device replaced the traffic cop waving his hands and blowing his whistle. Now we have organizations like DARPA doing their best to build robot warriors. Can the robot cop be far behind?

We already have spies on our smart phones. They are marvelous tracking and surveillance devices. The best part is that people pay for them themselves. We put up with it because the surveillance is mostly invisible. We rarely see the downside. That does cause a problem for the state. If they begin to overtly use cell phone data on a regular basis to persecute people, we'll reach a point where having a smart phone just isn't worth it.

I suspect that one of the major reasons civilizations die is that they reach a point where it's just not worth it. The Mayan civilization was dying before the Spaniards came. Cities had been abandoned. Maybe it was drought or some other problem, but I suspect at least part of the reason was that the cost of civilization was too high. Too many people were having their hearts cut out on the altars.

Sometimes it's too many young people dying in foreign wars. The cost becomes too high for the benefits. Then people run for the hills or fade into the jungle.

I don't see where having a computerized and automated tyranny will turn out any different. They best be careful or one day we'll all pull the plug. Game over.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Living in the past

Growing up I was one of those kids who thought that maybe I was born into the wrong time. As a kid wandering the northern forests I could imagine walking the lands before civilization ruined everything.

Of course, even then life wasn't so simple. Most people did not roam the wilds a few hundred years ago. That was a good way to die an early death. First of all, the wilds were only semi-wild. There were plenty of natives who'd object to your presence in their lands. There were a lot of places that even the natives used sparsely, but that's because it was too hard to live there.

For example, before colonial times in Northern New Hampshire few natives spent the winter. They'd follow the rivers to the interior to smoke fish, harvest game and mine ryolite. (a flint substitute) When the weather turned cool they'd head downriver to the coast. The climate on the coast was milder and seafood was abundant.

When the colonists did arrive, most tried to make their living plying the back breaking trades of the time: farming, timber harvesting, and eventually mining. Very few roamed the wilderness. There were some trappers and explorers who wandered far afield, but it was a tough way to make a living. Those trappers had bills to pay, just like we do today.

Modern people may yearn for a simpler time when they could roam free. Many feel their lives are all laid out for them: School, work, (if you are lucky your job isn't too terrible) then maybe a short retirement and death. Guess what? Since the dawn of civilization life has pretty much been that way. There have always been roles that the average person was expected to fill. There were actually very few periods in time that favored the free individual.

Historically, the people who were truly free where those who control of their own lives. The same is true today. The world is different than it was hundreds of years ago. There are a heck of a lot more people, but it's still possible to get the wilderness experience. After all, most of those people are all jammed up into cities.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

My cousin won't eat potatoes

His dad, my uncle, had seven children. My uncle supported them on a factory job. There wasn't a lot of money. What he did have was a good sized garden and he planted a lot of potatoes. That's why my cousin won't eat them anymore as he feels he ate way too many as a child.

Be that as it may, those potatoes provided an awful lot of calories and nutrition with a fairly small investment in time, labor and garden space. The humble potato is a pretty good survival food. They can be stored in a cool dry place and last for months -easy and low tech. When people brag about their gardens it's all about the tomatoes and the other veggies. However, it's the potatoes that provide the calories we need to stay alive.

Plenty of people store wheat as a survival food. I do it myself as it provides a lot of calories cheaply and stores well. It's only cheap because it's grown using machines and chemical inputs from start to finish. Very few people grow wheat in their home gardens. If you do grow it, then what? Are you going to thresh it by hand? Grind it somehow? Bake bread? Work, work work.

Potatoes have gotten a bad rap due to the Irish Potato Famine. Growing only one variety of potato to the exclusion of all other kinds was the problem. When that one type had disease issues, it was all over. The famine itself had just as much to do with politics as crop failure. During the famine, food grown in Ireland was being exported to England.

While my cousin is no longer a fan of potatoes, they helped keep him fed and healthy growing up.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Embrace the Darkness

When I was a little boy my dad and I used to play a lot of games. One of my favorites was to turn all the lights off in the house and we'd try to sneak up on each other. Dad taught me to not fear the dark. It was a great lesson.

Most people don't realize how good their night vision really is. Take a full 15 or 20 minutes to adapt to the dark and you discover it's not quite as dark as you thought. Outside it's a rare night that's totally black, even out beyond the reach of urban light pollution. Moonless rainy nights come pretty close though.

Tree cover can really darken your path. I've night hiked on trails by paying attention the gravel under my feet. Once my feet encountered vegetation, I knew I was off the beaten trail. Another time I followed an overgrown logging road out of the woods. Trees had grown in the old road so I could not see the road in the dark. However, the new trees were shorter than the old growth. By looking up at the night sky I could just make out the taller trees. By staying between the tall trees I followed the remains of the road until it connected to a better one.

My friends and I used to do a lot of night hiking. We'd hit the trail after we got out of our day jobs and hike until 3 or 4 in the morning. Mountain climbing during clear moonless nights were magical and happy times.

Didn't we have lights? Usually, but we kept their use to a bare minimum as to preserve our night sight. Some nights we never turned a light on. The more you practice moving the dark the better you get at it.

One of the things I've noticed about people who move to the country: they love to keep their big flood lights on. Are they afraid of the dark? One good thing I can say about my new neighbor is that they don't do that. The previous person paid to keep a big pole light on all night. It was a fair distance away from my house, but it still was bright enough to annoy me. It's nice to have my night sky back.

There's an argument that having lots of lights around one's property is a good security measure. Maybe it is in the city. Out in the country people walking around a dark house with flashlights is suspicious. Sneaking around my property without lights is a sure way to raise a racket stumbling over my junk.

What I do keep handy is a powerful hand held spotlight. They are great for blinding someone in the dark. Of course, I've only caught black bears snooping around. They don't like being blinded either.

Night vision goggles are tempting, but their price tag has always been a bit too rich for my blood. They have their place, but I wouldn't want to become too dependent on them. Night vision makes things a lot clearer, but it comes at a cost. Your peripheral vision is gone and the tendency is to pay less attention to your other senses. Like any other tool, know when to use it and know when not to.

As people age their night vision weakens. Of course, so does your day vision. However, there are medical conditions that make it worse. Diabetes is one. In its early stages, cataract formation is often first noticed as a loss of night vision. Exposure to bright light during the day can temporarily worsen night vision for up to two days. Wear those dark sunglasses when going to the beach.

We aren't little children anymore. There's no need to fear the dark.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Tin castles

I've been here in dad's retirement park for about a month now. It's actually a pretty cheap place to live, if you are into that lifestyle. There's a monthly park fee, but water service and lawn care are included. Use of the facilities like game rooms and swimming pools are also included. There are perfectly livable double wide trailers going for the price of a good used car. There are worse ways to live on a small retirement pension.

What doesn't make sense are the brand new places going in at the park. They are asking $66,000 for a glorified trailer that will decrease in value every year. Worse yet, they still are on the hook for monthly park fees.

A good friend of mine and his wife lived in a trailer while he was going back to school. He left an expensive rent for a cheap trailer park. The money saved allowed him to finish his training. We had loads of fun doing improvements to the place. He had a connection to a guy who was always selling cheap building materials. (dis window fell offa da truck. . . ) We did a pretty good job of transforming that old trailer into a decent place to live.

My dad's place is one of those 55 and over retirement parks. I've been coming down to Florida long enough that I'm more than old enough to live here if that's what I wanted. Say what you will about the gray haired golf cart crowd, they have a sense of community. That's got to be worth something. They interact and help each other more than in most normal neighborhoods.

One guy I knew left the park to buy a huge house during the 2008 bubble bust. It was a great house, but he was very isolated from his neighbors. There was no sense of community. Since then he's sold the big house and moved back north -into a small trailer. Sometimes it's not about impressing people.

As for myself, I'd rather live on a sailboat. Parks have a lot of rules and regulations, something I'm allergic to.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Rural enough?

How rural is rural enough? Where does one draw the line? Some folks wouldn't be satisfied until they had a planet to call their own. Back in the realm of the possible, how do we decided if we are far enough from people to be comfortable?

One of my friends had a very simple requirement. He had to be far enough out in the country to be able to pee of his front porch without anyone taking offense. Eventually he found such a place. One day someone bought the land next door and built a cabin. Lucky for my friend his neighbor wasn't the type to complain about anything someone did on their own land.

Two families I know life far enough off the road that they are actually on hiking trails. I went to visit one of those people in the hills of northern Vermont. They heard my diesel 4X4 coming and just assumed it was the trail crew coming up to fix recent rain damage. During good weather they could drive close to the house. In the winter my friends would hike in pulling supplies on a toboggan. They were off grid of course, and beyond the reach of cell phone towers. However, they did have satellite Internet running off solar electric panels.

As for myself, I used to say I was far enough out in the country if I could have my own shooting range. I loved being able to just walk outside and do a little plinking. One day land was developed downrange. A single log cabin was built at the end of a 1000 foot driveway coming down from the top of the hill. They are far enough back as to be out of sight, but just close enough to stop any stray bullets. I feel a bit crowded. What was once a rifle range is now an archery range.

To many the gold standard is to have a good sized piece of land located where they can't be encroached upon by new construction. That can be achieved by living on the last bit of private land surrounded by National Forest. Almost as good was the hunting camp my dad had. It was up 9 miles of dirt road on paper company land. They'd stopped giving out leases so that no new structures could ever be built.
For some a private island does the job.

Of course, rural living has a flip side. My paramedic buddy defines rural as being too far out in the sticks for effective emergency medical care. He's got a point, like it our not. If you have a heart attack in the middle of a good sized city there's a fair chance of getting effective medical treatment. Where I live. . . we just die.

There are many reasons to move out to the country, privacy, security, sustainability, or sometimes just a desire to be closer to nature. It's not for everyone and not without cost.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Inflatable survival boat

I see in some survival magazines they are promoting inflatable boats as bug out vehicles. The thinking is that even urban dwellers can store them in a closet somewhere and they don't take up much room. How good are they really?

Like anything else, it depends. If you really skimp and get a vinyl boat, you won't get much use out of it. If your main concern is crossing a river one time and never using it again -maybe. I say maybe because it might not even last the one time you need it. If you plan on escaping flood waters be aware that there is a lot of boat puncturing debris in the water.

I bought a Sea Eagle 420 kayak a few years ago and paid about $1100. For that money I got the boat, seats, paddles, patch kit, bag, and foot pump inflator. You also really need a special gauge to make sure it's at the right pressure, but that's a bit extra. Later I bought a nice 12 volt inflator pump which came with a built in gauge. That works really well, but it doesn't take all that long to inflate even using the foot pump.

The kayak is a bit over 14 feet long and very stable. It's capacity is over 800 pounds. That's a lot. It's not the fastest paddling boat I've ever owned, but paddles well enough to do the job. We used it as a dingy for our sailboat. Once we kept it inflated for over a month and the tubes never got soft. The material is rugged enough to stand up to oyster beds, sharp rocks, and barnacles.

I'd consider my kayak a decent bug out vehicle. It has a skeg it's easy to paddle a straight path. My lovely wife, the dog, our laundry and groceries plus my great big self all fit in the boat. One person can paddle the boat and that would leave an awful lot of capacity for equipment.

I brought it with me to Florida in our tiny little economy car so I've got it if I need it.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Homemaker skills

When the Federal poverty levels were established it was assumed there was a housewife at home who was a skilled homemaker. Today that can be looked at as a sexist assumption. However, the stay at home spouse provided many essential services. Today, things like cooking and child care have been monetized. Women work to pay for child care and to buy fast food or microwave ready meals.

I'm not saying we have to go back to the old days. There is no reason a man cannot cook, nurture children, or do any of the other jobs a household requires. Since women are putting in hours at work, it only makes sense that the domestic chores be shared.

There are men who say that housework diminishes their masculinity. It's a darn shame their sense of manhood is so fragile. Of course, I was firefighter who kicked in the doors of burning buildings. If I could do that I was certainly tough enough to change a diaper.

I'm glad I was able to spend a lot of time with my children while they were growing up. Childhood goes by so quickly that it's easy for parents to blink and miss it. My lovely wife worked a demanding full time job. I did most of the cooking because of our schedules and because I enjoyed it more.

Having hours to prepare meals cooked from scratch saved us a bundle of money -and we ate better too. It takes time to cook from inexpensive ingredients like dried beans and peas. How many families grind their own wheat berries to bake their own bread? By the way, whole wheat waffles from freshly ground wheat is amazing and really sticks with you.

Too many homes lack stability. They can't prepare a crock pot meal in the morning because they don't know what their situation will be by evening. Even back when my children were growing up, we were one of the few families that ate dinner together. We actually sat at the table all together with no TV or other distractions. I'm sure it's even harder today with everyone connected to electronic devices.

I'm glad we decided to make a little less money and spend more time with the children. The lower pay really didn't hurt us that much. By staying home more often we were able to do many things that other people pay money for. Those valuable things were all tax free, plus our taxable income was less. We might have eaten more beans and rice dishes than other families, but at least we ate it as a family.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Gonna need a bigger boat?

One of the ways I've been passing the time down to Florida is boat shopping on-line. Lots of interesting boats listed, many within my price range.

My main problem right now is that I no longer know exactly what I'm looking for in a boat. There are two considerations I didn't have before.

One is that my lovely wife and I are considering keeping a boat in Florida. With that in mind it might make sense to pay a marina to store a boat on dry land for us. That would save us a lot of towing and we wouldn't have to worry about keeping a big tow vehicle. I've got to weigh the cost and see if it makes sense.

A second consideration is my lovely wife is thinking about taking on crew. Say what? My lovely wife is concerned that her fibromyalgia could get worse and she wouldn't be up to handling the boat. This past summer she had some difficulty while alone on the boat. She knew what to do and accomplished about 95% of it, but lacked the strength to do the last 5%. The boat ended up grounded on a neighbor's beach, so there was no harm done. It bothered her a lot though.

As luck would have it one of the people we know back home is an experienced sailor. She's in a position where she could get away on an extended sailing adventure and really wants to go. She does have some personal issues to deal with, but disappearing on a sailboat would actually take care of most of them. Adding a third person simplifies some things and complicates the heck out of other things.

I've a list of things I want in a boat, and most of them don't change. Of course, any boat is a compromise. If we decide to keep a boat in storage somewhere we don't need one that can be towed on a trailer. That opens up a lot of options when looking for a boat for 3 people.

We did warn our friend that we won't be in a position to go off sailing for some time yet. I'm slowly building up the sailing kitty and looking for that ideal boat. One the bright side, I've come across three “good enough” boats in my price range. They weren't perfect, but were pretty close.

My hope is that I'll come across a boat that's so perfect the decision makes itself.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Modern ruins

Florida has always been a boom and bust state. I've been wintering down here long enough to see a couple of cycles. There are a lot of abandoned buildings and even whole developments are weedy and falling apart.

After 2008 it became clear that there was an awful lot of speculative building. Projects were stopped in various stages of construction. Perfectly fine buildings were never occupied. There were whole Florida counties that looked like they were hit with a zombie apocalypse.

Things have picked up again in parts of Florida. Here's the thing that bugs me. Do they rehabilitate the old developments? Nope. They clear land and build whole new ones, sometimes right next to the abandoned buildings.

I'm not sure why they do that, but I've got a couple of ideas. One thought is that the buildings were so shabbily constructed that it's cheaper to build new crappy buildings. Another idea is that the banks could be keeping those buildings on their books at full evaluation. Writing them all off would look bad on the bottom line.

There are areas in Florida where you can observe the remains of several boom and bust cycles. Some are just old foundation slaps. Others have some walls standing still. There are houses totally covered in vines and moss. To me, they are monuments to the more absurd elements of capitalism.

Other states are not immune to the instant ruins phenomena, but Florida is a special case. Down here it's a pro sport.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Safe locations

One of the common questions new preppers ask is: where is a safe place to live? Sounds like a simple enough question but it isn't.

Safe from what? Missouri is pretty safe from hurricanes, but it's in tornado alley. New Hampshire is safe from poisonous snakes, but you might freeze to death in the winter. You've got to focus on what really matters to you. Then you have to play the odds.

Right now I'm visiting in Florida, a place known for hurricanes. We've just been missed by one, but the Carolinas are getting slammed by historic rain and flooding. The Northeast isn't known for suffering from hurricanes, but New York got clobbered by hurricane Sandy. Just because a location doesn't normally suffer from certain disasters doesn't mean you are safe. Playing the odds doesn't always work.

Given a long enough time frame every point on the earth has at one time been unsafe. So what's a person to do?

The first thing you've got to do is to be flexible in your thinking. You plan for the most likely disasters, but don't limit your thinking. If some black swan event totally outside your expectation happens, don't panic. Many people panic and freeze up when disasters strike. Other times they just wait too long before they decide to move. When the water looks to breach the levies, it's past time to leave.

If you are a prepper you know how to provide the basics: water, food, shelter, and security. With those basics squared away your mental efforts can be directed to the unexpected threats.

I'm a big fan of sheltering in place. Usually it's the safest course of action, at least in the short term. However, sometimes the only thing one can do is to run. Being mobile can save your life. If the tanks are moving in, getting out their way is the best alternative. Should uncontrolled wildfires come your way, get the heck out of Dodge.

The safest place to live? That varies. Learn to sleep with one eye open.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sunset at the beach

My three daughters flew down to visit my dad. One evening we went to catch the sunset at the beach. While it wasn't the prettiest sunset due to clouds, it was still a good one. The company was wonderful. All of us are water people and the ocean recharges our batteries.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Refugees and human beings

My heart and my head appear to be in conflict when it comes to refugees. Logically, I know that Western nations cannot accept everyone who wants to come in. Logistically, it doesn't work. There are too many people.

Even so, my heart recognizes them all as fellow human beings in distress. I'm an empathetic fellow who believes in the brotherhood of all men. If not for an accident of birth, I could be the one on the wrong side of the border. In fact, some of my ancestors were born on the wrong side of borders. If they hadn't found a way out, I would not be here today.

What responsibilities do Western nations have towards refugees? One one level they have the basic responsibility any one of us has towards our fellow man. That's pretty high minded and all, but we Western nations have stirred up a lot of trouble around the world causing at least some of the problem. It's popular to support rebellion and to bomb other nations -until hordes of people attempt to flee those broken nations.

One common argument is that we can't take care of our own homeless and downtrodden. That is true. Maybe we should question a system that creates enormous wealth but does a poor job of taking care of its less fortunate?

Maybe it's because of an invisible internal border, the border between the very rich and the very poor. Very few can cross from the poor section to the rich section. Upward mobility in the United States is rare these days. We'd like to pretend otherwise but the numbers don't lie. Education was once one way to cross the poverty border but high student debt makes that difficult.

No wonder the system doesn't do that good a job with refugees -they could do better with their own citizens. Of course, the very rich tend to be the people who benefit from a world in conflict so they have little incentive to do something about the problem. To add insult to injury, it's the poor who fight those wars. As the saying goes, “It's a rich man's war and a poor man's fight.”

Right now it's very popular to demonize certain groups of people and to blame them for all the nation's problems. As a political strategy it can be very successful. Just ask the Nazis.

We are better than the Nazis, aren't we?

Of course, the logistical problems are still there. Where are we going to house all these people? Oh wait, let's start with those rich folks. They've got really big houses with lots of room. In fact, they usually have multiple houses. How about everyone who advocated and benefited from these wars take personal responsibility for the refugees those wars create?

When you see a refugee you might see someone who speaks a different language and may have a different religion. Guess what? You have more in common with him than you do with the rich elite who run your country. Don't be fooled into hating your fellow man by those who are trying to stay in power.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Unregulated Proton Pack

After trying to fix the electrical problems at my dad's trailer, I eventually came to conclusion that the problem was beyond my expertise. Good call. As it turned out the problem wasn't inside the trailer at all. Better yet, the problem was the responsibility of the power company.

When I got back from the airport this device was tapped into the meter as a temporary fix. Looks like some gizmo out of Ghostbusters. Some sort of transformer?

It was a huge relief to have all the power up and running -along with the air conditioner.

My three daughters all flew into Florida safely. Dad was really happy to see them all. Heck, it's been years since all three have been under one roof so I was pretty darn happy too.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Airport and electrical

So here I am, killing time in an airport on my tablet. Just dropped off my cousin and now I'm waiting to see if my incoming daughter needs a ride.

Just to make things interesting the electrical system at my dad's is acting up. It appears some circuits are backfeedng each other. AC is out of order. No idea where the problem is. We did have a lot of rain and a nearby lightning strike. Time to call in the pros.

Might not have Internet for a bit.