Saturday, April 30, 2016

Battery decisions

I just pulled the dead 12 volt deep discharge battery from my sailboat. It got me thinking. Well, the first thing I thought was: darn, those things are heavy. The second thing that came to mind was the fact that my household battery bank is getting on in years.

My household solar electric system is of moderate size. Storage consists of 12 golf cart sized batteries. Currently I'm using good quality Interstate brand. Trojans are good too, but since Interstate has local dealers that's what I went with. The big advantage of dealing locally is that I don't have to pay for shipping. Since shipping is based on weight and batteries are mostly lead, it would get pricey quickly.

Lead acid batteries are really old technology. They haven't advanced all that much in the last 100 years or so. Battery storage has always been the Achilles heel of alternative energy. While lead acid battery storage is adequate for off-grid homes, it doesn't scale well to power grid size. There are some massive battery bank systems out there for things like phone and Internet systems, but there are none large enough to power a big city.

At least, not until fairly recently. Battery technology is making some huge leaps. There's always been interesting things invented in laboratories, but those technologies never made it out of the lab. Now there are huge factories turning out high capacity batteries for everything form cell phones to electric cars. There's real economic incentives for cheap battery storage. Those clever ideas from the labs are starting to show up in factories.

It's almost at the point where it would make sense to replace my 19th century electrical storage system with something from the 21st century. Almost.

The house system should be able to last for another year or two. By then it might make economic sense to try something new. Of course, there's also the possibility that as new battery technology takes hold, lead acid will be deeply discounted. That would be fine too, as leas acid has proven to be good enough for my needs.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Projects and bug out ideas

I've a lot of little projects that need doing. Most of them require warmer weather. We had snow on Monday and there's still pockets that haven't melted yet. It's been below freezing at night so even on sunny days it takes forever to warm up.

My lovely wife has started a lot of plants inside. With any luck they'll survive the transfer to the garden when it warms up.

The battery on the boat is totally dead. It's so dead it won't take a charge. At the end of last summer it seemed to be fading, so it's no real surprise it quit entirely. Better to discover it now than when the boat is on the lake.

I decided to take a trip into town to talk to my insurance company. A lot of people don't know that if they take their car into Canada they need a Canadian proof of insurance card. My insurance company hands them out free of charge but people have to ask for them.

It's funny how many people say they are going to run to Canada after the presidential election. Almost nobody will. Even if someone wants to leave the US and move to Canada, it's very hard for the average Joe to do so. Having a lot of money makes it easier, but plenty of countries accept rich people.

Most people can't even legally cross the border for a visit as most Americans lack valid passports. How many preppers have bug out vehicles but can't take them across the border? The best time to bug out is before everything falls apart. That means there'll probably be active border control, at least during the early stages. (when you really should be getting out)

Canada is a great place to visit, but there are reasons my ancestors left there. Factory work in New England beat the heck out of starving to death on a Quebec potato farm.

I must admit to being tempted to take a sailboat and disappear over the horizon until things sort themselves out.


Thursday, April 28, 2016


The other day I was trying to figure out how long it's been since my last checkup at the doctor's. I think it's been something like 16 years. There was a time about 7 or 8 years ago when I went in to get a lump dug out of my hand. It wasn't a good experience. The nurse wouldn't listen to me when I said I needed a larger sized blood pressure cuff. The regular sized cuffs give a false higher reading.

Well, the doctor did a lousy job cutting out the lump. In fact, I still have it. Then he tried to push blood pressure meds on me. Later I had my pressure checked with the correct sized cuff and my pressure was normal. You don't have to be a nurse to check blood pressure.

Ever since I had to deal with a whole series of doctors chosen by Workman's Compensation I've had a bad relationship with the profession. They weren't trying to heal me. They were trying to deny job related benefits. In fact, I didn't start to get better until the system cut me loose. Alternative treatments improved my life immensely.

Logically, I know most doctors must be trying to help people. Once in a while I've even run into a doctor or two that's been of some service to me. Too bad it's a minority. To be fair, having to deal with Workmen's Compensation doctors skewed the numbers. One doctor told me I'd be dead before I was 45. It's great to be 58.

That's the background. Last fall my father passed away. Around that time I promised my kids I'd get a checkup in the spring. Well, it's spring. I've got an appointment next month. Let's see what he has to say, besides telling me I'm fat, like I don't know. He'd better not try to push pills on me that I don't need.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

All thumbs day

Some days things don't go as smoothly as they should. Monday afternoon the weather was good and I thought I'd install some of those boat bits I bought on Sunday.

It's not that hard to install a new boat trailer jack. It's basically just four bolts. The old one took a little effort to remove due to corrosion, but that's normal. For some reason I was all thumbs bolting on the new one. Even tried to put a part on upside and only noticed it at the last minute. Just as I was about to finish my toolbox fell over and scattered all my sockets into the dirt.

That's pretty much how the afternoon's projects went. Everything took longer than it should, but the jobs got done anyway.

For me the final straw was when I tried to check the voltage in the boat's battery. There was an internal short in my battery tester and it tried very hard to catch fire. That was it. Time to call it quits for the day.

Tuesday morning it was snowing and about an inch of snow had accumulated on the ground. That's all the encouragement I needed to stay inside and drink coffee. When there's snow on the boat it's too early to launch anyway.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Quick trip to the coast

Sunday my lovely wife and I went a quick trip to the coast of Maine. We joined up with some friends and went to Hamiton Marine in Portland Maine. There aren't a lot of marine supply stores where I live in the mountains. Zero, in fact. Fortunately, the coast of Maine is only three hours away.

My lovely wife rather go buy boat goodies rather than shop for jewelry. I love her so much.

We had a lot of little odds and ends to purchase: things lost in the shipwreck, parts for the Oday sailboat, and hardware for the boat trailer. One of the tough decisions was the purchase of a new boat hook. Do we get a beautiful one made of brass and hardwood or the modern one make of aluminum and plastic. This time utility won out and modern one came home with us. The fact that it doesn't need varnish might have been the deciding factor for me.

While in the area we had to check out the ocean.

You can't go to the coast without taking a photo of a lighthouse.

We had a great lunch at Salvage BBQ (TX eat your heart out.) Later we met up with friends around a campfire. Finally made it home around midnight.

Now it's off to start installing all those lovely bits and bobs from the store.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Fix it or get rid of it?

That's the question I've been asking myself lately. There are only so many hours in the day. There are only so many hours in a life.

Recently I posted that I've a new main sail on order for my Oday 19. Since we lost our Ranger 23, we've decided to fix the Oday. Here's the thing, I've known that the Oday was going to need a new sail for some time. Slowly a fund was built up to replace that sail.

Then some other stuff happened. That sail fund became the seed money that went towards buying the Ranger. Add in an unexpected check that came my way and suddenly purchasing another sailboat was possible. Of course, the Oday was still left with a blown out main sail.

So now the Oday is a keeper and is getting fixed. What else do I have taking up space? There's a 1974 Kawasaki 900 sitting in a shed that I haven't used in years. The wiring needs work. The rest of the bike is in pretty good shape. Do I fix it or get rid of it?

I still maintain a motorcycle license and really enjoyed riding. The problem is that weather good enough for motorcycles is good enough for sailboats. Can't do everything. Besides, I've a really nice pedal bike which is lots of fun and better for my health.

Then there are all the canoes. I've three in good shape, one in fair, and three project canoes. With the three good ones there's plenty for me and my guests. I really should do something with the others. The other day I was checking out the project boats and discovered a moose had stepped right through the middle of one of them. Scrapping at least that one should be easy.

The list could go on.

One thing I've been doing lately is recycling my old electronics -even stuff that works. Who's ever going to use low resolution tube style computer monitors? Not much call for that sort of thing. Even so, it's been surprising hard to get rid of stuff like that.

Well, new stuff can't come into my life until I clean out the old.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

The quiet

I guess it's all relative.

There's some new people living around the lake. While walking the dog I happened to run into a few of them. Nothing like a sunny weekend day for getting people outside. With all the visiting it took three and a half hours for a two mile walk.

One guy asked, “What do you hear?”

I wasn't sure exactly what he was going for. I could hear the guy with a leaf blowing moving sand out of his driveway from a about a mile away. A quarter mile away I could hear people talking around their outdoor grill. Two fishermen were chatting in the boat on the lake. A woodpecker was banging away in the distance. There was a truck moving along the road two miles away and I could hear his tires crunching on the gravel. Someone's dog was barking out there somewhere.

While I was listening to all the sounds the guy answered his own question.

“Nothing. You hear nothing. It's quiet out here.”

Sounded kinda noisy to me.

Then I remembered he just moved up from a city in Rhode Island. Compared to a city it is quiet. One more reason cities drive me nuts.


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Cabin in the woods, then and now

There's living in the woods and there's living in the woods. I'm living in a low population density area surrounded by trees and wildlife. However, it's a compromise area for me. When we moved out here we had young children. My wife didn't mind moving for one major reason.

The road was maintained year round. Sure, having some access to town services is nice, but the fact the road is plowed in the winter is huge. It's inconvenient if the kids have to cross country ski to the bus stop. Sure, it's a pain to haul groceries in on a tobaggon. That's bad, but not the deal breaker. Mud season is the deal breaker. When roads and trails turn into a knee deep mix of slush and mud, there's no traveling.

You can't keep a job or live even a semi-normal life if you are housebound for a mouth until the mud dries out. Whatever you do don't have a medical emergency or need supplies in town. It's not gonna happen.

Now that the kids are grown and on their own I suppose I could live in a more isolated cabin. Off the grid cabins can have a few things my dad's old hunting camp lacked. The big one is cheap solar electric. Just being able to have bright LED lights is a huge plus.

Another thing I'd change is the outhouse. There's nothing worse than having to put your boots on and struggle through the snow to do one's business. Dad was smart because he kept the toilet seat on a hook behind the woodstove. That way you could take a toasty warm seat with you to the outhouse. Believe me, it made a huge difference. Instead of an outhouse a nice indoor bathroom with a composting head would be a huge improvement. No need to put boots on and plow through the snow.

The problem with moving to a more isolated cabin is that I'm pushing 60. One day I could wake up with shooting pains down my left arm. Being able to call an ambulance and have it appear at my door could save my life. Actually, if access to emergency medical services is a necessity, it really makes sense to live in town. EMS response times make a difference. Also, you get help from professionals who stay right next to their ambulance ready to go. Beats the heck out of waiting for volunteers, no matter how dedicated they are.

Personally, living in town would probably kill me quicker than a heart attack. Being out in the country is probably one of the reasons I'm not dead before age 45 -like one doctor told me I'd be. Clean air, water, exercise, and natural beauty do wonders for one's health. That doesn't mean I can't fall down and break a leg. Should that happen I'll be very happy that my local volunteers will be able to eventually get to me. Beats the heck out of dying in the mud.


Friday, April 22, 2016

Getting the boat ready

The clock is running on my new sail. The sail company sent me an e-mail stating that they were all set with the measurements I sent them. All I had to do was to pay half the cost of the sail upfront. That appears to be a pretty standard requirement for custom built sails. Not that they've been paid the clock is running. They said it takes about four weeks for them to finish. Full payment is due at that time.

The new registration sticker are on so the boat is legal.

Unfortunately, the battery appears to have died over the winter. Amazing how they seem to last just slightly longer than the warranty. Once that's replaced I'm going to drive the ¼ mile to the boat ramp. Nothing like having a boat at your own beach.

The lake is small enough that I'm not worried about using the old blown out sail while waiting for the new one. The trailer needs new tires and a new jack, but it'll be good enough for the short distance to the ramp.

Living up in the mountains of northern New Hampshire there's not a lot of marine supplies. It is possible to get a few odds and ends for fishing boats, but forget about sailboat supplies. I'll be joining a friend of mine who lives in Maine on a trip to Hamilton Marine in Portland Maine. It's good to go with a native guide. He knows the places with the best beer and food in the area.

Once the new sail comes in and the trailer fixed we'll trailer it all over New England. We are hoping to get back out to the “West Coast of New England,” Lake Champlain. It's a fun place to sail. Now that we have our passports we may even sail into Canada.

We aren't sure exactly what we'll do for a boat next winter, but in a pinch we'll have the good old Oday 19.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Of store cards and table saws

It's almost amusing. So I go onto the website of a well known building supply store. My store card was lost so I'm trying to replace it. The first thing that they want on the web site is the card number. What was I supposed to do, memorize it? Heck, I can't remember the passwords half the time.

After poking around the website for a while I found a phone number. Eventually I was able to contact someone who was able to ship me a new card. I wasn't going to bother with renewing the card, but the discount on materials will come in handy.

Last September I was repairing my deck. Had I been able to do the repairs before winter it would have lasted a few more years. Unfortunately we were needed in Florida right away so the project came to a complete halt. 6 months exposure to the weather did enough damage that a simple repair job won't be enough. The whole deck needs replacing.

Such is life.

My little table saw would have been fine for a repair job but is really too small for a job the size of a complete replacement. Did you ever buy something cheap for a job with the idea you'll replace it when it breaks? About 25 years ago I bought a little Black and Decker table saw with an 8” blade. The thing is mostly plastic. The little table saw still works.

Normally I'd be happy to have a tool that doesn't die. Year after year it keeps on running but it's just barely big enough to rip a 2X4. The safety switch will kick out a time or two before the cut is finished. That's how the thing keeps running. As soon as the motor is strained the least little bit, a safety switch kicks out. Everything has to cool down before the saw can restart. For years I've been stuck with a tool that mostly works, if one has the patience of Job.

When the new store card comes in and I buy lumber, a new table saw just might get thrown onto the pile.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Buried Treasure

Remember back when SKS rifles were selling for less than $100 a pop? Survivalists picked those things up like crazy. They are nice little semiautomatic rifles shooting an inexpensive common round so why not?

They were so cheap that many were buried in case there ever came a time of gun confiscation. It was easy enough to do. Take a section of PVC drain pipe, add rifle, moisture absorbers, ammo, then seal the ends. If you were really clever you'd bury your pipe standing straight up to make a smaller footprint for metal detectors.

It's hard to get a good idea how many were buried that way. After all the whole point is to keep it secret. Blabbing about your buried gun defeats the purpose. Even so, I've reason to believe there are quite a few of them out there somewhere. People tell me things.

I do wonder how many of those guns will ever be recovered? People die, get divorced, have to move suddenly -stuff happens. Even if you have some idea that there's a gun buried out in the back 40, it might be nearly impossible to locate. Just think of the difficulty people have finding time capsules. They are usually buried with some ceremony and records are kept. Even so, after 20, 30, 50 years or so, many are never found again.

As for myself I never thought burying things underground was a good idea around here. About half the year the ground is frozen and could be under eight feet of snow. The whole idea of having an emergency back up is so you can get to it in a reasonable amount of time.

Maybe hundreds of years in the future those old rifles will be popping up by accident.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Last month I registered the van, a boat trailer and a utility trailer. This month I was in the town hall writing checks for my boat license and the dog license of all things. The next thing I have to do is write a check so I can get my hunting and fishing license. Those state fees add up.

It could be worse. At least the canoes and kayaks don't have to be registered, in my state anyway. That doesn't mean the idea doesn't pop up from time to time. Considering my pile of paddle craft, that's a good thing.

Two years ago I tried to get my little Ooze Goose registered before hauling it to Florida. Since it was a homemade boat there was a $20 fee for a police office to confirm that yep, it's a boat. The paperwork wasn't quite finalized before we headed south to Florida. I thought they'd forward the registration to me. Nope, they shredded it instead. They made me more than a little unhappy.

The boat is only 12 feet long and only needs to be registered because it had an electric motor on it. Since the sailing rig hadn't been finished yet I figured rowing and motoring would be fine. It was legal as a rowboat, but not as a motorboat. I decided to be an outlaw motor boater with a flipping 12 volt 55lb thrust trolling motor.

There was even one campground that required boats with motors to pay a fee to use the boat ramp but paddle and rowing craft were free. I'd launch the boat and row out of the marina. Once out of sight the motor came out and screwed to the transom. One the way back in the motor went back into the cabin. The marina people were impressed how I could could go rowing all day long. What they didn't know didn't hurt them -or me, which was more important.

One day the law caught up to me. My lovely wife and I were in the middle of St. Joesph Sound north of Clearwater Florida. A sheriff's boat made a bee line for me and caught me messing around with the motor. It was obvious there were no registration numbers on the boat. They asked if I was having problems. I told them no. They said they only came over because my boat was the most interesting thing on the water. No mention was made of the missing numbers. Nice guys.

Long story short, after writing a bunch of checks to the town and state, I've decided to not register the Ooze Goose. One has got to draw the line somewhere. I've paid enough and will pay no more. However, the motor will have to be left behind. I got away with it in the past but there's no need to push my luck. Instead I'm going to finish building the sailing rig. It should be legal anywhere I'd be likely to take it.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Emergency Pants

Finally, it was a sunny and warm day -shorts and T-shirt weather. My lovely wife and I had to run into town. It's about a twenty minute drive, with no traffic. There is never traffic. That's one of the perks of living out in the country.

Even on such a short drive I made sure I had a spare pair of long pants and a warm jacket. While it was warm when we left, this is the time of year when temperatures plummet once the sun goes down. Sure, we were only twenty minutes from home, but that's by car. Walking is a different story.

More than once I've broken down a couple miles away from the house. Living in the woods is great, but if you have trouble, you stand a fair chance of being on your own. Cell phone service is nonexistent the last couple miles. The last thing you want is to be walking home in shorts, in the dark, in freezing temperatures.

How many people make a big deal of having a bug out bag but lack decent clothes for a long walk in bad weather? They may take more care about their concealed carry piece than the condition of their walking shoes. Odds are they'll need good shoes and warm clothes more often than a handgun.

Maybe I think more about hiking back because I've driven so many junk cars over the years. Even new cars break down, and roads become impassable to wheeled traffic. Infrastructure isn't maintained like it used to be, especially in the country.

So . . got your emergency pants?


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Police encounter

There I was minding my own business driving through the White Mountains. It was a beautiful sunny day and I didn't have a care in the world.

Well, I didn't have a care in the world until the blue flashing lights came on behind me and a policeman pulled me over. Apparently I was doing something like 70 in a 50 mph zone. My bad. Like I told the cop, I wasn't paying attention and picked up a lot of speed going downhill. My fault.

Then it gets better.

“License and registration.”

Right. Recently I got my missing driver's license replaced so that was fine. I asked my lovely wife to get the registration for me. When we bought the car it had been put it in the nice holder with the owner's manual. It wasn't there. Rummaged all through the dash but could not find it.

Yep, speeding and no registration. All I had on my side was manners, honesty, and a non threatening attitude. The cop gave me a written warning for both offenses. Darn decent of him as he had me dead to rights.

Okay, I know I was speeding because I'd spent 6 months driving in dead flat Florida. Kinda forgot how hills work. The missing registration was a real puzzlement.

After searching the car and the house the for a few hours my lovely wife remembered what she did with it. When we'd parked the car to go sailing for a couple months she removed some paperwork from the car. She'd forgotten that one piece of that paperwork was the registration. To make it even more interesting it was stuffed inside an empty cough drop bag. No wonder I could not find it.

It's a good thing I wasn't stopped on the drive up from Florida as my driver's license was missing and my lovely wife had hidden the registration from everyone, including herself.

Well . . . no harm, no foul.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Moose encounters

My lovely wife and I were driving through the White Mountains late in the evening. Two young moose ran out into the road. I expect to see moose when driving so I stopped in plenty of time.

Normally what happens is that I stop the car, put the blinkers on and wait them out. Honking the car horn spooks them. They are unpredictable enough as it is so I normally let them slowly wander off.

I was stopped in the northbound lane and another car stopped in the southbound. Both moose were between us. The other car decided not to wait and leaned on his horn. One of the moose spooked really badly and ran directly at my car. I kept expecting him to turn aside but he had that “deer in the headlights” look and came right at me in my Nissan Versa.

Having no other choice I honked my horn. The moose freaked out, flipped over on its hind legs, fell down, then bolted across the road. As soon as he did the idiot driver sped past.

At that point there was a moose on each side of the road. I expected one of them to eventually cross over. Sure enough, the second moose decided to join the one that freaked out and cut right in front of my car. Once they were both off in the woods I slowly crept past.

It was a slow drive the rest of the way home. Dealing with moose is serious business. They probably weighed almost as much as my car did. It's not unusual for people to get hurt or killed in moose collisions. I'm glad nobody got hurt in this encounter, including the poor moose.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Now back to the real world

While I'm interested in what happens at National and International levels, my influence is limited. My gaze is far but my arms are short.

Now it's back to my home projects. It was a brisk morning at 19 degrees. Once temperatures rose above freezing I tackled some outside projects. One was the repair of a stone wall that keeps the soil in our little garden. By rights I should probably have torn it all down, dug below the frost line and built up from there. With a shoulder still on the mend, it wasn't going to happen. Repairing the top section was tough enough.

I'm trying to balance my time and energy. In recent years I've been putting a lot of time into boat projects at the expense of house projects. That's why I started the day with the garden wall. Only once that was done was time to play with the sailboat.

The mast and sail have to be set up on land so measurements can be taken of the rig before a new sail can be ordered. To have room to do that the boat had to be moved back about 8 feet. Should be easy, right? Just hook it up to the van and drive it back.

Normally it takes just a few minutes to hook up the trailer. Anyone who's ever taken a boat out of storage knows the first boating adventure of the season never goes smoothly. In my case it was the boat jack. It was rusted in place. I've had good ones and cheap ones and they all seem to only last a year or two. Even those with grease fittings that allowing for regular lubrication fail. Probably I should just buy cheap ones and keep a spare.

Without the boat jack, it took a tire jack, blocking, a large pry bar and the assistance of my lovely wife to get it hooked up. By then my shoulder was too sore to set up the mast and rigging. In my younger days I would have pressed on. Maybe I would have gotten away with it and maybe I would have really damaged my shoulder. Older and wiser, (and slower to heal) I decided to put that project off until tomorrow.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Rumblings in the distance

It's said you don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. You also don't need a crystal ball to see there's some potentially nasty stuff coming down the pike.

When the President and Vice President both meet with the Federal Reserve, something might be in the air. Even the questionable statistics from the government has been trending downward. While 2% economic growth was predicted, the number has been revised downward to almost nothing. Banks in Europe are in trouble.

It doesn't take much digging to find a multitude of troubling economic indicators.

The economy is not supposed to implode during an election year. Whoever is in charge at the time does everything possible to keep at least the appearance of a robust economy. If your party wins you have a few years to weather the storm before facing another election. If your party loses economic problems can be blamed on the other party.

Even more disturbing to me are the rumors of war. Historically, economic turmoil leads to military conflict. There are plenty to choose from right now. Things are heating up from the Middle East to Africa to parts of Asia. One bad move an any of those trouble areas could turn hot -WWIII hot.

As I see it, at the very least we are looking at some financial bubbles bursting. Look at the the connections between banks and a weakening fossil fuels sector. They could take each other down. That could be extremely disruptive.

Of course, I'm not a big fan of the banks or the fossil fuels industries. They won't be missed -in the long run. In the short run, however, expect to see some turmoil. Radical change always produces winners and loses. Let's do what we can to avoid being on the losing side.

Might be a good time to check out your preps. My lovely wife has been on my case to improve our food growing capability so that's one thing I'm doing to prepare. There are other things I'd like to improve but money and time are issues. Of course, I've been living at my bug out location for years.

With a high chance that things are about to get real, how's your situation?


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Let's invade Colorado

The United States makes a big deal about bringing Democracy to the rest of the world. The Republicans decided that the good folks of Colorado don't have a say in nominating a presidential candidate. That blatant disregard for the will of the people is just the sort of excuse the US uses to invade other countries.

Of course, the Democrats aren't doing much better. Just look at the states where Bernie wins the state but Hillery gets most of the delegates.

Personally, I think this year is a major turning point in American politics. It has never been clearer that the system is rigged. Outsiders who upset the established order are not only unwelcome, they are locked out. If a billionaire can't get a fair shake, just think how little they care for the average Joe.

Trump and Bernie aren't even really that far outside of the mainstream. Trump is part of the 1% business class. He's exactly the sort of person who gravitates to the Republicans as he shares most of their interests. Bernie isn't throwing Molotov cocktails, he's working within the system.

Love or hate the outsider candidates, the system is supposed to be open to everyone. It hasn't been for sometime, but now it's blatantly obvious to everyone. The big question is where do we go from here? The big thing to remember is that the two party system is not part of the Constitution. It's one of those things that developed over time. Political parties that lost touch with their people have disappeared before.

Looks like this might be the year the parties really start to unravel. It's both a time of opportunity and danger. Things could get better or they could actually get worse. Interesting times.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Fixing the boat I have

Monday was a good day for dealing with things on the Internet and on the phone. The day started with snow which accumulated to about an inch before turning to rain. Not a good day for playing outside.

The main sail on my Oday 19 is blown out and ripped. It's like the main motor is not firing on all cylinders. It really needs to be replaced. After a lot of searching around I decided to go with Bacon Sails. They e-mailed a detailed Measurement Form.

Apparently it's not enough to know the model and year of your boat. There's a lot of variance between boats, even those that are the same model. Rather than build a sail that sorta fits, they want to build one that really fits my particular boat. Makes sense, I guess.

I wish it was simple, as now I've got a lot of measuring to do. The boat will have to be unwrapped from its winter cocoon and moved to where I can lift the mast without getting tangled up in power lines. Tuesday is supposed to be another rainy day, but the sun is supposed to come out Wednesday.

I hope to get them moving on the sail fairly soon as it takes about four weeks to build it. They want half the money up front and the other half when the sail is completed. That seems to be a common practice in the industry.

While waiting for the sails to come in I might as well do a few other projects, like a mount for the 100 watt solar panel. A new cabin hatch would be great too. The Oday has a removable cabin hatch instead of a sliding one. It's a miracle that it hasn't fallen off the boat and sank to the bottom of the ocean. It would be kinda cool to build something that gives me a few more inches of headroom too. That would certainly make the boat more comfortable.

Maybe I can get all those projects done before the sail comes in. Right now all the ice isn't even off the lake yet, so giving it another month to warm up isn't a bad thing.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Spot the stealth camper

Let's play: spot the stealth camper. Stealth camping is free camping, sometimes in places where sleeping in your vehicle is not technically allowed.

First we'll do the beginner round. Spot the campers at a Walmart. Not every big box store allows overnight camping. There are even apps that keep track of the ones that do. This is not really stealth camping as it's allowed. Even so there are rules. Keep your vehicle self contained. If you have slide outs keep them in. Do not set up folding chairs and grills out in the parking lot. An overnight camper shouldn't look any different than if someone was parking their RV while they do some shopping.

Spotting big RVs is easy. Let's move onto vans. Vans make pretty good mobile living spaces. They have enough room for basic comfort, yet they fit into a normal parking space. Look for either blackout curtains or panel vans with no side windows at all. Solar panels are a dead giveaway. So are generators hanging off the back on a cargo buddy. These smaller vehicles are more likely to try to stealth camp where not technically allowed.

People living in regular passenger cars often use sun shields in the windows to keep people from looking in. A give away is that often the only people using them are those who are sleeping in their cars. The expert level of car camping belongs to those who can blend in and don't use sun shields or curtains. This level of stealth is not for everyone. The car may just look like it needs a good cleaning, but under those Burger King wrappers is a person in a sleeping bag. Ta Da!

The real pros are those who can stealth camp in a place like Key West. It's a small island and the cops know everyone who belongs on it. If a strange vehicle is parked on a residential street for a few days they will assume someone is urban camping. Cops in small towns play “spot the stealth camper,” at a professional level.

Sometimes they can be fooled by really clever stealth vehicles. I had the pleasure once of looking over a homemade stealth vehicle based on a cube truck. It looked like a regular unmarked delivery truck. Only when camped in the country did the folding stairs, skylights, and side windows pop out. The vehicle was put together like a Swiss watch. All closed up, it looked like any other small delivery truck one would see parked on a city street.

Then there was the guy who had a pickup truck with a cap on the back. It had really good graphics for a phony business. The truck looked like a contractor's pickup, but had a nice camping arrangement inside. The driver went around wearing a yellow hardhat and carried a clipboard.

When playing this game, remember that if you can spot the stealth camper, cops probably can too. That's why I tend to “camp” on private land where it's allowed, or at least ignored.


Sunday, April 10, 2016


I'm usually a pretty mellow guy. I'm willing to let a lot of stuff slide. One thing I learned from my mother was how to disagree without being disagreeable. Of course, she was a master at it and I'm only an amateur.

My mother had the ability to totally disagree with someone and in the end they felt pretty good about it. She'd smile and be polite and stick firmly to her ideas. She was so nice about it that often people would come around to her view. It really was quite something to watch.

Dad, on the other had, got to “no” a lot quicker, but he wasn't nasty about it either. Firm and unmovable, but no yelling and screaming. He was so honest about saying “no” that often people thought he was kidding.

I'm very likely to give someone a full hearing -then do whatever the heck I wanted to do anyway. That works for a lot of things, but one thing it does is make me unfit for most of the working world. I think that's more a reflection on the deficits of the working world than of my personality and attitude. While I've always had a certain amount of that attitude, it has only gotten worse with age. Now I'm nearly impossible.

One thing I have learned is to not treat the lovely wife that way. Better to engage in a little back and forth discussion as that's healthy for the relationship. I may be an ornery son of gun at times, but I do want to have a good relationship with the lovely wife. I make exceptions for those I love.

Authoritarian people and systems really get my goat. These days that's a dangerous attitude to have. Those in charge only want obedience. They love to make laws and rules. A few common sense rules in life only make sense, but that's not what I'm talking about. Those in charge want to bring back the days of the god/kings.

I might be smiling and nodding, but in my mind I'm thinking of ways to toss a monkey wrench into the system.

So . . . if you are someone in authority dealing daily with folks yelling, screaming and acting out, think of all those people with smiling faces . . . and unknowable thoughts. You know, those people you turned your back on because you thought it was safe to do so.


Saturday, April 9, 2016

Social skills

At one time most people had to learn how to get along with people who were not like them. It was pretty common to have to interact with people you might not have liked at all. It's a basic skill, but too many don't get a chance to develop the talent.

Thanks to the Internet it's now possible to connect with people who think like you. No matter how unusual your particular interests may be, there's most likely a bunch of people out there in the wide world doing the same thing.

Even when fulfilling our day to day needs it's possible to avoid people we don't like. Don't like the guy at the bank? Do your banking on-line. Hate the clerk at the local store? Order your stuff from Amazon.

Don't like what they say on the 6 o'clock news? There are sites on the Internet that will tell you whatever it is you want to hear.

The problem is that you lose the social skills needed to get along with people. It pays to know your neighbors, even if they don't have the same political views as you and favor Star Wars over Star Trek. When something bad happens, everything from natural disasters to social unrest, being able to work together is a huge survival advantage.

Maybe a little more effort should be made to find common ground with our fellow man. We are all sharing the same planet.


Friday, April 8, 2016

Voluntary Simplicity vs Poverty

There's a world of difference between voluntary simplicity and poverty. They might look similar to the casual observer, but there's a world of difference.

Take a poor person and someone practicing voluntary simplicity. They might both be wearing old patched clothes. They may both be living in a small space. (apartment, house, tent, van, car, whatever) Both may be eating low cost meals. They may both have similar income levels. Even so, they are worlds apart.

Let's start with meals. Poor people tend to eat a lot of prepared, low nutrition food. It could be they are working two or three low paying jobs and don't have the time nor the energy to shop for and prepare good meals. If you don't have the opportunity to shop very often it actually makes sense to buy foods that don't spoil.

Someone living simply may not spend any more money on food, but they eat a lot better. Sometimes it's as simple as having a few decent cooking tools and knowledge how to use them. They may be eating cheaply, but they are mostly eating foods they prepare themselves. While the poor person may heat up a frozen dinner, the other guy's eating a rice and beans dish made from cheap dried beans, a few spices, and might have a salad made from wild greens. It's cheap, but takes time, effort and knowledge to prepare. It's also pretty yummy and high in nutrition.

Take two different people who are living in their car. The poor person can't make rent and ends up sleeping in an old van. Someone who wants to live a more simple life might decide to give up living in an apartment or house for van living. The poor person sort of ends up there. They've got to figure it out on the fly. Odds are he's the guy who the cops will be hassling at 3 a. m. to move on.

Someone who decides to move into a van has a plan. He's had a chance to figure out how to make a small space a comfortable living area. Sleeping, cooking, security, hygiene -all that stuffs been figured out. There are probably solar panels on the roof, a house battery system, and black out curtains. This guy is less likely to get hassled by the police as he's researched where to park without running into trouble.

Where the two really differ is when something goes wrong. The poor person is really hurting when his car breaks down. There's no money to fix it and now he has a hard time to get to work. The person living simply has a back up plan. Maybe he doesn't even have a regular job where he needs the vehicle right away. That gives him time to fix the problem himself. Then again, he probably has an emergency fund for just that sort of problem. After all, he's a guy living simply. He's not poor.

At different times in my life I have been both of those guys. It doesn't matter if you have a year or two's worth of supplies and savings. Sometimes things go bad for three or four years or more. As prepared as well like to me, everyone has limits. Nobody can prepare for everything. Don't look down on the poor guy as it's not that hard to become him.

Trust me, living simply is better than living poor. If you are living simply and break a tooth, you go to the dentist. If you are poor, you suffer.

Knowing how to live simply can help prevent you from having to live poor. If you see bad times coming and can set yourself up to live at a simpler level before you have to, there are choices. Completely running out of resources and becoming poor limits your options terribly.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Game changers in electric transportation

In many instances alternative energy can replace fossil fuels. The one big area where renewables fell short was transportation. Liquid fossil fuels pack an awful lot energy into a pretty compact package. Combined with the fact that gas stations exist in great abundance all over the world, it's a tough nut to crack. Electric cars had poor performance and recharging took forever.

There are a number of factors coming together that will change all that -and relatively quickly too. The first factor is the huge expansion in cheap renewables. Wind and solar generation are getting cheaper and more abundant every year. It makes little sense to have an electric car that gets its electricity from a plant burning dirty coal.

Battery technology is finally producing batteries with enough energy density that electric cars can travel over 200 miles on a charge. There are also quick charge stations starting to pop up that charge batteries in minutes instead of hours.

Of course, Elon Musk's Tesla company is in the news. People lined up to throw money at him for a car that won't be on the road until sometime next year. That's huge. It's not so much that Tesla is making electric cars. Tesla is making really cool cars that are fun to drive and own -they just happen to be electric too.

All eyes are on Musk's Model 3 as if it will make or break the market for electric vehicles. It won't. The really big news is not from the West but from the East. China is making a huge push for electric cars. They will turn them out in the millions, and they will be pretty cheap too. They won't be Teslas, but they will be good enough to get the job done. Expect China to try to flood the world market.

It makes perfect sense for China to invest heavily into electric cars. Their urban pollution is horrific. Replacing gas with electric will help. China has another problem: they aren't a huge producer of oil. Going heavily into electric vehicles will reduce their reliance on imports.

Also under the radar is the quiet invasion of electric buses and delivery vehicles. They make sense in an urban setting where speeds are low and distances between stops are short. Quick charging stations can keep even fairly short range vehicles on the road all day long.

I've had my eye on electrics for years. The idea of electrics powered by alternative energy was a powerful one, but the numbers just never came together. Now they have.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The return of the things

My replacement keys for the gun safe came in. Once I got the paperwork together and mailed it all out it only took a week. Pretty good service in my book. Nice to have easy access to all the toys. Sure beat digging out the heavy duty drill and destroying the lock. Much cheaper too.

The van is back in my yard. I'd lent it to my daughter so she could use it. Her and her husband are doing a major remodeling job on their house. With all the camping stuff pulled out of it the veggie van makes a pretty good construction material hauler. Nice to be able to haul full sheets of plywood. It mostly functioned as a shed for building materials.

Not everything from the missing wallet has been restored. With the exception of a debit card, everything else is pretty minor. It's stuff I don't think of until I try to use it, like a discount card from a local gas station or a card for a free drink at a coffee shop. Minor stuff in the great scheme of things.

There's also a pretty steady stream of items being delivered to the house. Nothing major, but it all adds up. While I got a decent check from my home owners insurance for personal items lost in the shipwreck, I'm trying not to spend it all at once. Some things don't have to be replaced because needs have changed. Other items were replace with donated items from friends and family.

All in all, things are pretty much back to normal . . . normalish?


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Freakin Frozen!

First off, no regrets. My lovely wife and I are happy to be home. We were gone for most of 6 months and we are glad to be back.

That being said, I am officially not acclimating to the cold. It's freaking cold. Sunday night it was down into the single digits. Monday night it's supposed to be 3 degrees Fahrenheit. That's really not unheard of for early April in the Great North Woods. What has changed is me. I'm no longer used to the cold.

We plan on being home for the rest of the year, only heading south after the holidays. I'm hoping that by living through the fall I'll get somewhat used to the colder temperatures. One thing that does not work is going from sunny Florida back into winter conditions.

My lovely wife was talking to some of her elderly friends from church. In recent years they gave up being snowbirds and now spend winters up north. They are suffering and have not adapted to the cold at all.

One thing for sure, I'm going to have to get some more long pants, warm jackets, fuzzy socks and lots and lots of fleece.

After one more week of cold it is supposed to start warming up again. My suffering shouldn't last too much longer. I'm chomping at the bit to start on some outside projects, but they are going to wait until I can work outside without wearing mittens.


Monday, April 4, 2016

The tools at hand

It's said that when your only tool is a hammer, all your problems look like nails. Obviously it makes sense to have a lot of different tools in one's quiver. After all, we are a tool using species -not the only one, but the one with the most extensive tool kit.

People tend to use the tools and skill sets they have already have to solve problems. If you have a machine shop and the skills, a lot of your solutions will involve metal. A carpenter will try to solve problems using wood. A fiberglass man will build way too many things of fibers and resin. What's surprising is how many of those solutions actually work.

That's great, but sometimes it makes more sense to use a different material. Recently I was working on a tabernacle arrangement for my small sailing scow. A tabernacle is what holds a folding mast in place. Traditionally they are made out of wood.

My wooden design looks pretty clunky so I thought that by reinforcing it with fiberglass I could use less wood. Then it occurred to me that I've a nifty little welding machine and could actually make it out of steel. The steel would have to be treated to prevent rusting, but it would make a very strong arrangement and not very bulky at all. Right now I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to build it, but it's nice to have options.

I guess that's the point.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

A day out and about

My lovely wife and I connected with some friends we haven't seen in six or seven months. They live over 100 miles away from us so we split the travel difference.

We met at a shooting range. This place is open to the public, has nice shooting stations, and is totally free and unsupervised. Only in America.

My buddy always brings interesting things to the range for us to play with. Among other items he brought a Luger, a Broom Handle Mauser, and SIG's version of the AK. All interesting firearms to shoot.

After a couple hours on the range they took my lovely wife and I out to lunch. Really great to get together. My buddy and I have been friends since Jr. High School. Not saying that was a long time ago, but our History book was a pamphlet as most recorded History hadn't happened yet.

We took our time meandering home and checked out the changes that happened while we were away. My lovely wife, on an earlier trip with our daughter, had come across an antique marine compass and wanted to show it to me. It's not the sort of thing you normally find in a shop far from the ocean.

I suggested we could get the compass and then later build the right boat to slip underneath it. She's still not keen on me building another boat. However, she's not opposed to getting another one, so there's that.

All in all, a great day.


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Electric sailboat

As most of you know, my lovely wife and I lost our boat in a shipwreck. That doesn't mean we won't be sailing. Once the ice is off the lake our Oday 19 will be back in the water. While it doesn't have the creature comforts the Ranger 23 had, we've made it work for us in the past.

Last year I did away with the gas engine and switched to a 55 pound thrust trolling motor. Since it's a sailing boat, the motor isn't needed all that much anyway. Mostly, we used it for leaving our anchorage. Once last year the wind totally died and we came back using the electric trolling motor. We traveled about 4.5 miles and there was still plenty of charge left in the battery.

It was nice to not have to deal with a heavy gas motor and gas cans. Because we used the motor so little, a small 30 watt solar panel was able to keep the battery charged.

That was great for the type of boating we did, but what if we use the boat for days or weeks at at a time? One thing I'd like to do is to convert the home made gas can box into a battery box. There's plenty of room for two heavy duty deep cycle batteries. That's great, but how to keep them charged up?

The little 30 watt solar panel would probably not be up to the job. Since we occasionally stay at marinas, it would make sense to be able to charge the batteries at the marina. About 6 years ago I converted a regular heavy duty outdoor extension cord into a 30 amp marine cord. I already had the extension cord it was easy to just purchase a 30 amp male plug and wire it myself.

That was great but this past winter I noticed a lot of marinas have done away with the 30 amp power poles and completely replaced them with 50 amp. In fact, plenty of boats were tied into two 50 amp power outlets at the same time. What the heck where they doing that they needed so much electricity? Arc welding?

Probably not. Live aboard power “needs” have increased to the point where 100 amps barely does the job. Air conditioning is a big power hog, but things like freezers, ice makers, and a whole host of appliances really increases the power draw.

The simple solution would be to buy a 50 to 30 amp adapter. The problem is that they run for over $100. Sure, I could buy one, but If I solved all my issues by throwing money at them, we'd never be able to afford to sail at all.

One good thing now about marinas is that for many of them electric power is not included. How is that good? That means a guy like me who uses very little power isn't paying the same price as a guy who's got the AC turned so high they could use their boat as a meat locker. Once the 100 watt solar panel was in operation we never connected to marina power. The sun provided all the energy we needed.

The solar panel was one of the few things salvaged from the wreck. If it was installed on the Oday it should be able to do a good job of charging the trolling motor batteries. I could even keep the 30 watt panel charging the ship battery that runs the lights.

The best part is that outside of the batteries themselves the project could be done with materials already on hand.


Friday, April 1, 2016

Old School Navigation

Recently I read Gladesmen: Gator Hunters, Moonshiners, and Skiffers (Florida History and Culture) by Glen Simmons and Laura Ogden

It was a first person account of life in the Everglades during the years before Everglades National Park was established. Having been down the Glades a few times I found it to be an interesting read.

One of the things that struck me was the similarities between the people who lived and worked in the Glades and the old woodsmen from the same time period in the Great North Woods. The environments are only similar in their isolation. That being said, the men shared similar mindsets and methods.

The men from the south and the men from the north both had a system for navigating the wilderness in the days before GPS. In Gladesmen they had memorable names for certain natural features and camping places. It reminded me of when I was a little boy learning from my father and uncle how to navigate the woods.

They had names for places that never show up on maps: The Old Double Decker, Alcohol Springs, The Horse Hovel, Henry Ridge, Desolation Hollow. The Double Decker was the name of a big two story camp that used to be in the area. Desolation Hollow was the name of another camp way out in the middle of nowhere. The Horse Hovel was where logging horses were once kept. When I was very young a few timbers had yet to melt into the forest floor. Alcohol Springs was a real spring, but it got its name from when moonshine was made from its cold waters. Henry Ridge was named for a guy who did something notable on that ridge, but what exactly he did had already been lost to time.

The names are colorful, but that serves a purpose. The way to remember something is to make it part of something else. Those places all had colorful stories attached to them. Human beings love stories. When you know the stories of a place you know your way around. You also become part of the story. Your deeds can get added to narrative. For example, the fact that my uncle shot a huge buck near the Old Double Decker became part of our family narrative.

GPS and Google Maps is great and all, but it lacks good stories. Personally, I rather enjoy being able to walk though the woods without looking at a tiny screen the whole way. It's a lot more fun to walk with my eyes open for the landmarks with the good stories attached.