Monday, May 30, 2016

Moving on

Monday I finally got around to disassembling one of my projects that no longer made any sense. Some years ago I built a solar batch hot water heater. It was maded from a salvaged propane water heater, salvaged windows and scrap plywood.

Our tankless water heater failed and at the time money was especially tight. The local building supply company had a small 3.5 gallon water heater for sale at a ridiculously low price. It was just barely big enough to make hot water to wash dishes or take a quick shower. The solar hot water tank, on good days, provided enough hot water to fill the bathtub for a hot soak.

Over the year the 3.5 gallon heater failed and was replaced with a 40 gallon tank. The big tank was also hooked up to heater coils off the woodstove. The solar water heater, over time, became heavily shaded by trees. Some of those trees were actually on the neighbor's land. My quickly growing nut trees provided even more shade.

Monday my lovely wife asked if I was ever going to do anything with the solar water heater or if it was time to scrap it. As much as I hate to let things go it was time to take it apart. Some of the glass could be salvaged, as the tank itself plus the insulation. The wood had both rot and an ant infestation. The remains are now burning in the fireplace.

Solar hot water only makes sense here for about 3 or 4 months out of the year. At least, the low cost 1970s, style low tech heaters only make sense for that long. Current high end systems with sophisticated controls, large storage tanks and a freeze proof working fluid can work year round. My daughter has such a system and it makes sense for her.

Right now I might just suck up a couple months of higher cost hot water. It's only until the short summer is over and we start burning wood again.

That doesn't mean we aren't thinking of solar options. I do have a large coil of ¾ inch plastic pipe that I could toss on a sunny roof then feed into the hot water heater. Perhaps if I can get away without spending to much money or time on it, that might just happen.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sun and Sailing

Suddenly, poof! It's summer, or at least it sure feels like it. My lovely wife and I had a lazy afternoon sailing around the lake.

Our little Oday 19 is such a simple boat to sail. The Ranger 23 was only 4 feet longer but had basically the same complexity and layout of much larger boats. It was good training while it lasted. One thing I do miss is the roller furling jib. However, it's a sad day when I'm too too lazy to send the lovely wife out on the bow to hank the jib on by hand. Besides, while she's out there she takes care of raising the anchor too.

So what did my lovely wife do after a long afternoon of sailing? She opened up the sailing books and did some more studying. Me thinks she's gotten over our shipwreck and is ready for more adventure. There is a good sized semi-wilderness lake not too far up the road in Maine that she wants to visit. It's supposed to have some really nice beaches.

I may skip tomorrow's blog. It is a holiday weekend after all, right? We've been invited to a huge pool party so that looks like loads of fun.

Hope everyone is having a good holiday. Take at least a few minutes to remember those who've passed on, but then party. Life is for the living.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Insurmountable Problems

There's an old joke. If they had computers 200 years ago they'd figure out that in the future cities would become uninhabitable because all the extra horses would bury the city in manure. That is what you get when you extrapolate from a certain set of assumptions. A lot of insurmountable problems fit into that category.

200 years ago they didn't know that cities would not need horses to function. Today we sometimes make the same assumptions about cars and trucks.

Of course, the solution might not have involved replacing the horse at all. The could have decided to limit the size of cities and the horse problem would never had gotten out of hand.

The thing that makes problems unsolvable are the basic assumptions underlying the problem. Often the quickest and best way to problem solve is to change those assumptions. Here's a mundane example. Imagine someone trying to figure out how to be able to afford driving a huge truck. A few times a year that truck comes in very handy for hauling things. There's a whole bunch of ways to solve this problem. The truck guy is probably trying to figure out how to make more money. Maybe what he should be figuring out is whether or not he really needs a truck. Perhaps a small economy car could handle 99% of his day to day driving. That other 1%? He could rent a truck when he really needs one or maybe even have things delivered instead of picking them up.

On a personal level a couple years ago I was wondering how I was going to keep up with my house mortgage and taxes. Getting a job could have solved that. Instead my monthly payments were greatly reduced by refinancing. Interest rates had gone down quite a bit since I'd bought the house. Just had not paid attention.

Sometimes you have to figure out what the real problem is. A friend of mine bought a good sized house back when real estate was booming and they were giving out loans to anyone with a pulse. Since then he's had all kinds of drama trying to keep the house. It's put a strain on his relationships. Maybe he'll be able to hang on: maybe he won't. The sad thing is he was much happier back when he lived in a 3 room apartment. Perhaps he should let the house go, get rid of all the junk he's accumulated and move back into a small apartment. I bet it would greatly improve his quality of life.

For me my blind spot is that sometimes I actually have to do something to make more money. My go to solutions involve finding ways around spending money I don't have -to the point where it might have been quicker and easier to just find a temporary part time job.

Of course, like I tell people, you don't need a job, you need an income. That may involve an actual job, but it might not.

The solutions to insurmountable problems often are just a matter of redefining what the real problems are.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Basic Income

There's this interesting idea that we should do away with all the welfare and aid programs and give absolutely everyone enough money to cover their basic needs.

It's not as crazy as it sounds. There's not going to be enough jobs at living wages to go around. We've reached the point where it's economical to replace fast food workers with robots. Tests are underway. Even China, with some of the cheapest labor in the world, is replacing people with machines.

Back in the '60s and '70s it was a Science Fiction dream. Drudge labor would be automated freeing mankind to follow other pursuits. Technically, we are getting there. Socially, we have much further to go. What the Science Fictions writers forgot was that those who own the machines want to have all the money.

Early adopters are being rewarded. Companies that can successfully automate their businesses benefit. They have a cost advantage over their competitors. Just as importantly there are still plenty of people with real paying jobs that can afford their products or services.

Over time, fewer and fewer people will be able to purchase even low cost items. All those nice shiny robot factors won't have any customers to sell things to. There are only a few solutions. One is to provide basic income to everyone. That way people will have the funds to keep the consumer economy going. The other solution is to ban automation and create a lot of make work jobs.

Those make work jobs aren't very satisfying to those who have to work them. Not too many people really want to spend their days doing pointless work. It's already bad. In a recent survey 30% of UK workers thought their jobs were BS. Is your job one of those?

We are quietly moving towards a Basic Income solution but nobody is calling it that. Remember those statistics about the number of households without gainfully employed people? One thing that's happening is a lot of people are ending up on the SS rolls. People who used to do blue collar factory jobs are getting doctors to sign them up for benefits.

Take a blue collar worker with a bad shoulder. He can't do the type of work he was once trained to do. If they'd been a lawyer or the CEO of a company nobody would care that he can't lift his arm over his head anymore. The only reason the guy is on SS is because he can't be trained in a job where his physical limitations won't be a problem. Even if those guys could be trained, there aren't enough of those jobs around. I personally know people who are on disability for jobs that no longer exist.

One of the big fears is that people on basic income will just hang around all day smoking weed and watching TV. Yep, that could certainly happen. So what? They aren't hurting anyone but themselves. It's ambitious people you have to watch out for.

A lot of people would spend more time raising their own kids, pursuing artistic passions and doing volunteer work.

There would still be some jobs out there for people who want them. Of course, there would be no need to spend 40 – 60 hours a week slaving away at them. Maybe 20 hours would be enough work to keep them happy.

There's nothing sacred about working hard. Ever notice that those who promote the idea of hard work tend to be in positions to benefit from the work of others? If hunter gather societies could provide for all their basic needs with an hour or two of work, why should modern man do so much worse?

I don't have a “real” job and there doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day. Some folks say I'm the busiest lazy person they know.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

More Barter Deals

I'm a pretty bad businessman as my skills are rarely for sale. On the other hand, I'm often willing to make barter deals. There's no paper trail and no money exchanges hands. Sometimes I'll do a little project for someone just to have a few favors in the bank, so to speak.

The other day my lovely wife bartered my skills. Great deal for her. She gets the benefits and I get the job. Good thing this one is interesting. Someone needs to install 3 electric tankless water heaters. That looks like fun as it combines both plumbing and electrical skills. It would not surprise me if my carpenter skills come into play too.

One neat thing about this job is that it comes with an assistant. That person is willing to do all the crawling around in tight spaces hauling pipe and wire. That's great as I don't even fit into some of those spaces. All I have to do is plan the job and do the final connections. Should be fun.

Of course, If I was licensed I'd probably be doing that sort of thing for real money. It's much more fun to do things as a talented amateur. I once tackled a project that professionals wouldn't touch, and did a mighty fine job too. Since I didn't have a license the owner claimed that the 240 outlet had always been there when the inspector came. When I tied it into the box I copied the style of the previous electrician. At the end of the day I made sure every scrap of wire and trimmed insulation had been cleaned up. The inspection went off without a hitch.

Most of what I do is at least sorta legal. People only know about me through word of mouth and I don't take every little project that comes my way. Often it's just helping people in a tight spot. Barter works for me too as when I need something done it's not too hard to line up help.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Life and the Great Firewall of China

Life is like the great firewall of China. Huh? Let me explain.

The great firewall of China is China's version of the Internet. The Chinese don't have access to the full and unregulated parts of the Internet. They get the parts that the Chinese authorities allow them to see. There are also government approved versions of popular web sites. Just like the regular Internet, the Chinese version is really big. There are nearly limitless choices, but only choices approved by the government.

Growing up in “free” western nations we are taught that we have freedom of choice. We do, but just like the great firewall, those choices tend to steer a person down certain paths. Personally, for me the worse example of this guided path problem was my high school guidance councilor. If your grades were good enough they pushed you towards the state 4 year college. “B” students and those with few financial means were aimed towards the local community college. The others basically got encouraged to apply to the local mills.

Every socioeconomic class has its expected paths. For example, if you are upper middle class you may have to choose between becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Lower class may have to choose between factory work or service jobs. Some small movement is allowed between the different class paths. A factory worker's son, if intelligent and hard working may become a doctor. However, don't ever tell those of your social class that you aspire to do the job of a lower class person.

Worse than that however is to choose a path that's truly different than anyone else's. Those poor kids in high school almost never learn that it's even possible to do something no else is doing. No wonder so many kids feel trapped by life. The only freedom they know is the the freedom to choose one of the approved paths.

There is a word for those who stray away from the approved paths and go out on their own: failures. All that means is that they've failed to follow societal expectations. If they themselves are happy with their decisions then they are a success.

Freedom only comes to those who know they are not free. Too often our choices revolve around how we want to decorate our prison cell. Just like those stuck behind the great firewall, we don't know there's more stuff out there.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Some good news

My lab tests arrived in the mail today. Everything is normal. I was concerned about type 2 diabetes as it runs in my family, but even that was totally normal. Looks like I'm a big fat healthy guy. Good to know.

I do eat what I think is a reasonably healthy diet. I limit my intake of processed sugars and prepared foods. Alcohol is consumed in moderation. Never smoked.

When I got lung injuries in the fire service I had to take control of my own health care. The drugs they prescribed had multiple nasty side effects. Alternative treatments and martial arts breathing exercises helped restore my lung function.

Even though my blood pressure and blood tests are normal I probably should lose a bit of weight. I do have a C-pap for sleep apnea. It would be nice to try and get off the machine. Part of the reason I'm so good at alternative energy systems is that I want to keep my c-pap going. If I go without it I'm fine for a while, but over time I don't get quite enough rest. The effects add up.

With that in mind I've ordered a new scale. It's been 8 years since my last doctor's appointment and I've gained another 20 pounds since them. Maybe it's all muscle? Probably not. Time to start going the other way.

I am a lot more active than the average big fat guy, so that's in my favor. My follow up doctor's visit is on June first and the odds are it'll be some time before I see a doctor again. Of course, I could always do something stupid that puts me in the emergency room. Even I will go to a doctor if a bone is sticking out.


Monday, May 23, 2016

Biting insects

Northern New Hampshire has more than its share of biting insects. Right now the black flies are out in force. Soon it will be the mosquitoes, no-see-ums, horse flies, deer flies and moose flies. Then there are ticks. Don't even get me started on ticks. When I was kid I didn't even know what a tick was. Now there are so many of them they've been known to kill moose. No joke. So many ticks attach themselves to a moose that it dies of toxic shock. Nasty.

What you need is a good defense against biting nasties. There are a few native plants that can be used as insect repellents, but I've never been able to identify any around my place. I suspect the natives just avoided the worst areas and kept smokey fires burning.

Good insect repellents are commercially available now so take advantage and keep some on hand at all times. It's definitely something for the bug out bag. DEET, while pretty nasty stuff,(it will strip varnish off woodwork) works well. Some people prefer concoctions made from natural essential oils. Unfortunately I have allergic reactions to those so must avoid them.

Don't overlook good physical barriers. Mosquito netting, head nets, long pants and long sleeve shirts. When the weather is warm we'd rather go around in shorts and t-shirts, but that leaves a lot of tasty skin exposed.

There are so many different diseases spread by insects that we must take the threat seriously. If you do get bit make sure have After Bite and/or anti-itch creams. Keep a good pair of tweezers handy for tick removal.

Some people seem to attract biting insects more readily than other people. Take one of those folks along as a sacrifice to the Mosquito God.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Job growth

Do you want to get into a high growth field that can' be outsourced to China? Right now one of the fastest growing fields is alternative energy installer. Good money to be made there. Wind and especially solar has come way down in price.

Big energy companies want to focus on things like huge solar farms in the desert. That way they can continue to send out bills every month. Well, as luck would have it, the sun shines most places. It makes a lot more sense to generate power close to where it's being used.

Someone is going to be stuck with a lot of power lines that fewer and fewer people need. We've seen this before, most recently in the phone industry. Maintaining landlines is expensive and labor intensive. It's much cheaper to put up cell phone towers.

It makes sense to install lots of little alternative energy systems and that requires workers who can custom fit power systems to many unique sites.

Eventually there will be alternative energy systems every place they are needed and make any sort of economic sense. The build out will take years to happen. A some point fewer installers will be needed as the systems are very long lasting. Not every job in the field will disappear as someone will have to maintain things and new construction still goes on. It will be years before we get to that point.

That's the advice I'm giving young people today. Get in on alternative energy because at some point it will be most of our energy.


Saturday, May 21, 2016

First launch of the season

We finally had enough decent weather so I could finish up the little projects on the boat. I'm still waiting for a new main sail, but that should be easy enough to change out. The old sail is good enough for our little lake and it was time to launch.

It's nice to have a boat at my beach, ready to go. The state of NH sells fishing licenses on-line so people can print them out at home. I've a boat in the water, a license and fishing poles. This should work out just fine.

My lovely wife had no hesitation getting back on a sailboat. Sails were raised. The wind came up. The boat leaned a bit before leaping forward. Both of us had big smiles on our faces. Nothing like getting back on the water after a shipwreck. Good memories push out the bad.

Frankly, I'm getting tired of talking about the shipwreck. The word has gotten around. When I run into people I haven't seen in a while that's the first thing they want to talk about. While that's understandable, reliving the experience over and over again is getting old.

I find myself stressing that we lived on the boat for months before losing it. Good times were had. There are a lot more photos of remote beaches, gorgeous sunsets, and beautiful anchorages than of a wrecked boat.

Too bad the boat was lost, but a bare boat charter in that area for two weeks costs about what we paid for the boat. We sailed it for months.

We had some good experiences and expect to have many more.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Something I'm bad at

It's always easy to write about stuff I'm good at. Today I'm covering something I'm bad at.

One of items lost in the shipwreck was my pack guitar. Today I finally got around to replacing it. A friend of mine had a smaller guitar in excellent condition for sale for a reasonable price. It's nice to have a guitar again -even though I'm not very good at it.

Sure, I can finger a bunch of cords and strum along, but I'm not going to lead any campfire songs. My singing voice is pretty bad. A decent singing voice goes a long ways towards covering up for marginal guitar skills. In my case marginal guitar skills are all I've got.

So why squeeze the budget to purchase something I'm not very good at? In spite of my limited skills I enjoy playing. It's therapeutic for me and healthier than a couple glasses of scotch.

My lovely wife, bless her soul, claims to enjoy listening to me play. Yes, I tell that woman I love her every day.

Back before the days of records and radios people had to make their own music. Most households had at least someone who could play something. It was pretty common for whole families to pull out instruments and jam together. While the selection and quality of music has gone up, something was lost.

For me, unless the musicians are really terrible, live music is a better experience than recorded. Some part of the human element is lost in a recording. There's nothing more real than being able to produce your own music, even if it's far from professional quality.

Another good thing about having a guitar is that there are plenty of people around who can play better than I can. It's nice to be able to say, hey check out my guitar. Before you know it they've played a bunch of songs and we've all had a good time.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Old School Coffee Roasting

Roasting coffee in a cast iron covered deep skillet.

This is a five pound bag of green beans from Dean's Beans. There are a number of suppliers out there. I happen to like organic fair trade coffee and that's Dean's thing.

Your basic cast iron covered deep skillet.

Starting to roast. Every minute or so I lift the cover and stir the beans with a wooden spoon. Coffee makes a popping sound when it's roasted. That's called the first crack. If you want a darker roast continue until it makes a second, quieter pop -the second crack. Be careful to stop roasting before it becomes expensive charcoal.

Nearly there.


When cool I take the beans outside and gently blow the chaff out of the beans. For best flavor it should rest for 12 hours or so, but you could grind and brew it now. Green coffee takes years to go stale, but once it's roasted it should be used within a few days.

Most coffee you buy off the shelf already roasted is stale.

Enjoy the good stuff.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Back in the medical system

I kept my promise to my kids and went for a check up. It had been 8 years since the last time I went to see a doctor. It was to remove a lump on the palm of my hand and they messed that up. Still have the lump.

One good thing about waiting so long to see the doctor is that they don't do digital exams of the prostrate anymore. Digital does not mean computer. It means finger. Ick.

Moving on.

I won't really find out too much until the blood tests come back. That means they want to see me in a couple weeks. Since I was already in the office I figured I'd better make the appointment so as not to put it off -for another 8 years or so.

While there I decided to get my tetanus shot updated. Really should have had that done back when I jammed a pickaroon in my leg, but didn't even bother going to the hospital. It left an interesting scar as stitches would have been a good idea.

Eight years ago the nurse used a regular sized blood pressure cuff on my extra large arm. Because she used an undersized cuff the doctor thought I had high blood pressure. Today the new doctor used the correct sized cuff and got a normal blood pressure reading. The hypertension note was removed from my chart.

The blood tests will indicate if there's anything else that I need to do. Diabetes runs in my family and he wants to see my cholesterol numbers. Thats where things could get interesting. If there is something drastically wrong I suppose the prudent thing would be to deal with it. If my sugar and/or cholesterol numbers are trending bad but not in the gonna die right now category my goal is to deal with it using diet and exercise.

I'm not a big fan of fixing things with a pill, unless it's an emergency. However, right now I don't even know if I have a problem or not.

One thing the doctor never asked me: How do you feel?

I feel fine.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Post Election

I started writing a blog post about the current election -compared it to being inside a horror movie. After a few paragraphs I became too depressed to continue.

Let's skip right to 2017. First of all, almost nobody is going to move to Canada. If Liberals didn't move there during the Bush administration and Conservatives didn't flee after Obama, it just ain't gonna happen. Besides, Canada is not a bolt hole. It's a real country with issues of their own. I do encourage people to visit, if for no other reason than to get a bit of perspective on what living in another country is like. Canada is the training wheels version of foreign travel.

The economy is going to present some serious challenges. Ignore what the stock market is doing. It's not a good indicator of the real economy. Look around and see what's happening in your city or state.

Everyone is focused on ISIS and terrorists. Get real. The odds of running into an ISIS terrorist in the US is vanishingly small. However, it does keep everyone in fear.

There are serious conflicts in motion that are not in the news. Africa is being totally ignored by the average person who has no idea what's happening on the ground. One day the US could be heavily involved in more countries the average American cannot find on a map.

Personally, I don't have a clear idea what 2017 is going to bring. In some ways it feels a lot like the years leading up to WWI. Not WWII, but WWI. If we do enter a depression do not be surprised if a major war is soon to follow. Civil rights around the world would be seriously curtained -all in the name of National Security.

World leaders, just like the leaders of WWI, don't know what the heck they are doing. (a short quick war where everyone is home for Christmas) Historically, things snowball.

Avoid living in fear, but don't let wishful thinking blind you to reality. Ignore what leaders say and watch what they do. Preps will be useful during the coming troubled times but having a clear and focused mind will be even more important.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Snow and late post

This post is late due to a long day and then feeling a bit under the weather.

While it woke up feeling better this morning, I also woke up to fresh snow. By the time I remembered to take a photo it had started to melt a bit. Not that it got very warm.

Saturday it was in the low 80s. Mid 50s on Sunday. Then snow Monday morning.

My lovely wife started a lot of seeds inside this year. Good thing as it seem like it's taking forever for decent garden weather to get here.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Problems of the press

Journalism isn't what it used to be. Of course there never was a time of perfectly independent hard hitting journalism. However, that's what good reporters strove for.

There are some built in problems to the way news is produced. One major issue is the way most news is financed: through advertising. It doesn't matter if you are a national TV network or the local town paper, writing bad things about your advertisers is not encouraged.

Another huge problem is access. If you write bad things about politicians, no matter how true, your access to the whole political class will be curtailed. Those who are willing to softball questions will get to ask them and they will get in print. A journalist can only go so long without getting articles printed. Those articles often require at least some access to the primary source.

It's not just politicians anymore either. Powerful business people can do pretty much the same thing, plus they have the additional power of advertising dollars -double threat.

War zone journalism has gotten a lot more dangerous. Those not embedded with the military are treated like enemy combatants. Do you think those embedded journalist will write a lot of negative things about the people they are sharing day to day life with?

At one time so called terrorist groups rarely killed journalists. They were useful. A “revolutionary” needed the press to get his message out. Now, thanks to being able to put their own message out on the Internet, the outside journalist is not needed. More often than not they are considered a threat.

We are at a weird point in history. At one time independent people like the best journalists would get the facts out. Different political factions might have strong disagreements how to deal with the facts, but the facts themselves were generally accepted by all. Now every faction has their own spokespeople, claiming to be journalists, who can't even agree on the basic facts.

What's a person to do? It's easy to just list to the “journalists” who say the things you want to hear. It's much harder to hear things that disagree with your own prejudices. It's troubling to discover the world is not the what you believed it to be. No matter. Force yourself to get information from outside your bubble. Listen to those who's politics you disagree with.

Another good source of news is foreign news services. Their, outside-looking-in, viewpoint can have a much clearer take on the situation. It's tough to see the forest when surrounded by all those darn trees. I find foreign news sources to be good, except for the times when they have a dog in the race. For example: don't expect Russian news to give unbiased views of increased US military presence in Europe. With that in mind it is possible to get a clearer view of things from someone outside.

While good journalism is rarer than ever, the need for it has never been greater.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ever changing household

Nature abhors a vacuum?

Build it and they will come?

I'm looking for the words to decribe what having a house a bit bigger than my needs is like.

After the kids moved out the house seemed way too big. That situation didn't last all that long. They kept coming back, and sometimes bringing husbands or a child with them. That was fine. Happy to be there for them.

Well, for a number of years now the kids have been off on their own. Unless something really drastic happens they are pretty well set up.

My niece on the other hand. . .

Yep, new addition to the household. Happy to be here for her. She's in her 20s so it's not like I have to raise her. My lovely wife and I can just be our normal eccentric selves. I've no idea how long she's going to be here, but we haven't put any time limit.

In the mean time, it appears I have a built in dog and house sitter. That works.

Multi generational households are on the upswing in America. Considering how difficult things can be it only makes sense.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Bird Feeders

Don't you just love new residents who move to the country for the first time? The other day I was explaining to someone what happened to their bird feeders.

“Nope, that damage to your feeder wasn't done by birds. You are actually feeding bears.”

Love the expression on their faces.

Bears will eat just about anything it seems. Bird seed is high in calories, a perfect food for a lean bear that just came out of hibernation.

Black bears aren't particularly dangerous, but you do need to know a few things about their habits. One important thing is that if they find a good food source, like a bird feeder, they will be back. Those folks are going to have to be extra careful not to leave food around for some time now. They should also put their garbage out just before the truck come by. No leaving it out overnight for bears to paw through the chicken wings and peanut butter jars.

They should also be careful not to accidentally bump into them in the dark when walking around their place. Use lights. Make noise. If they do come across a bear, they should give it some space. I for one am not about to fight a bear over some bird seed or garbage.

That bit about not coming between a mother bear and her cubs? Totally real. Don't do that.

Bird feeders are a really bad idea around here, especially this time of year.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

When technology fails

A lot of people are prepared for disasters. Some even have plans for long term disruptions in infrastructure. Man made and natural disasters can suddenly strip hundreds of years of technological progress out of our lives.

Some of us, recognizing our reliance on modern marvels have backups like rain catchment and solar electricity. That's great. I'm a big proponent of having backup systems in place. However, there are disasters that could take those down. For example, a storm that took the grid down almost dropped a huge hemlock tree on my solar panels. It was a near miss.

An earthquake that destroys a city's water system could also destroy a home owner's water catchment system. An EMP that fries the phone system could also destroy ham radio equipment.

It's only prudent to be able to function at a much more primitive level. Our needs for shelter, food, water and safety do not end just because the modern means of providing those things does. With that in mind it's good to have a plan to survive at a low tech level, at least for days if not months.

I'm fortunate in that I've a well that overflows year round. All I need is some sort of container to haul water back to my house. My home has woodstoves and the hand tools needed to process wood, crosscut saws, axes, mauls, wedges, and sledge hammers. Decent hunting and fishing is within walking distance from my house. We've a small garden plus there's a lot of native edible plants nearby.

There are ways to provide for our basic needs. Looks good on paper. The problem is that all those things take a lot more time and work doing it the old fashioned way. While it's possible to do any of those things, there just aren't enough hours in the day to do them all. Then there's the problem of having to be in two places at the same time. If I'm out hunting I'm not home defending the homestead.

Our ancestors lived in extended family groups for a reason. It was the only way to get everything done. Plenty of jobs go better with two or more people. Take something as simple as chopping wood. One guy handles the actual chopping with an ax. A second person moves the chopped wood aside and readies the next log to be chopped. Add a third or fourth person and then the wood can be piled up. When someone gets tired or bored with their job, they can switch tasks.

If we are lucky we won't be reduced to that level, but it's good to have a plan -and a group willing to work together.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Dead Cell Phone

A month and a half ago I got a new cell phone from Republic Wireless. They use Motorola Android phones which some consider to be decent mid grade phones. I was pretty happy with mine -until it stopped working while reading a Kindle book -not exactly heavy duty abuse.

Their web site had some suggestions but none worked. Over the course of a day I exchanged e-mails with a variety on-line trouble shooters. They were pleasant enough to deal with and their suggestions easy to follow. Unfortunately, nothing worked.

By the end of they day they said they'd have to replace my phone and shipped it the next day. It's supposed to come in tomorrow. Republic Wireless sent a PDF file for a mailing label so the old phone can be sent back. They want to check to see if the phone was abused. That doesn't worry me as it was well taken care of and I had sprung for the heavy duty protective Otter case. The phone looks new.

It's going to be a pain to set up a new phone, but probably not a serious pain. All in all I found them decent to deal with. My monthly phone bill has been only a little over $12/month, including tax, so that can't be beat. Their phones are optimized to work on wifi so as to limit expensive cell phone data usage.

My plan is actually the $25/month plan that allows for 1 gig of data usage. Since I've limited my phone use to wifi, plus cellar talk and text, they knock $15 off my bill. The extra $2 and change is due to taxes.

Regular cell phones don't get a signal at my house as there's a mountain between the tower and my house. The Republic phones work great on my home Internet connection through wifi.

If the new phone holds up better than the old one I'm seriously thinking of replacing my land line with a second Republic Wireless phone. It would pay for itself in about 6 months.

Of course, before I can even think of doing something like that I'll have to see how the replacement phone holds up.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Post Election

I started writing a blog post about the current election -compared it to being inside a horror movie. After a few paragraphs I became too depressed to continue.

Let's skip right to 2017. First of all, almost nobody is going to move to Canada. If Liberals didn't move there during the Bush administration and Conservatives didn't flee after Obama, it just ain't gonna happen. Besides, Canada is not a bolt hole. It's a real country with issues of their own. I do encourage people to visit, if for no other reason than to get a bit of perspective on what living in another country is like. Canada is the training wheels version of foreign travel.

The economy is going to present some serious challenges. Ignore what the stock market is doing. It's not a good indicator of the real economy. Look around and see what's happening in your city or state.

Everyone is focused on ISIS and terrorists. Get real. The odds of running into an ISIS terrorist in the US is vanishingly small. However, it does keep everyone in fear.

There are serious conflicts in motion that are not in the news. Africa is being totally ignored by the average person who has no idea what's happening on the ground. One day the US could be heavily involved in more countries the average American cannot find on a map.

Personally, I don't have a clear idea what 2017 is going to bring. In some ways it feels a lot like the years leading up to WWI. Not WWII, but WWI. If we do enter a depression do not be surprised if a major war is soon to follow. Civil rights around the world would be seriously curtained -all in the name of National Security.

World leaders, just like the leaders of WWI, don't know what the heck they are doing. (a short quick war where everyone is home for Christmas) Historically, things snowball.

Avoid living in fear, but don't let wishful thinking blind you to reality. Ignore what leaders say and watch what they do. Preps will be useful during the coming troubled times but having a clear and focused mind will be even more important.


The Homeless Guy

There's a guy who's moved into a small camper trailer down the road from me. Over the last few weeks I've had a chance to talk with him a bit. One evening he came over to play cards.

The guy was homeless for 5 years and living in Rhode Island. He came into a little bit of money. I'm guessing it was less than $20,000. With that money he purchased a small piece of land with electricity and water, a $600 trailer and a used car. The guy hired someone to tow the trailer next to his lot.

The gravel driveway is too steep to tow the trailer up is so he's had to hire a guy with some heavy equipment to move it for him. He's been busy trying to establish residency, get a mailing address, and all the normal things one does when moving into a new area.

There's been some difficulty as the town laws require a permanent structure on the land before they'll issue a house number. Without the house number he's been unable to transfer his driver's license from Rhode Island to New Hampshire.

The poor guy is a bit overwhelmed. As he put it: for the last five years he's had to make no decisions at all. He's out of practice. One night it got so bad he checked himself into the hospital with an anxiety attack.

It's not easy to get back in the “normal” world. Best I can tell, he got into his situation through a combination of bad luck, bad relationships, and bad decisions. I don't judge. Most people don't realize how easy it is to become homeless -or hard it can be to get back.

I did ask him how he planned on getting through the winter. On November 1st the homeless shelters back in Rhode Island open for the season. Rather than try to stay warm in his trailer he just might go spend the winter in the shelter.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Economic Depression and You

Anyone want to bet on the economy? Anyone?

Funny thing about economic downturns. The kinda sneak up on you. We tend to think the start of the last major depression coincided with the collapse of the stock market. While in hindsight that was a major turning point, the average Joe at the time didn't feel it. Some folks were impacted right off, but others didn't feel the pinch for a year, two years or even longer. A minority actually prospered.

Even most of those who lost big didn't get feel the full brunt of the downturn immediately. It took some time for savings to be exhausted and debt collectors to catch up. Some folks limped along for a while selling hard assets at fire sale prices. There are families who's tales of the depression are about how they had to let most of the servants go. Yeah, times were hard on them.

There are a couple of ways to deal with a downturn in one's economic situation. One is to limp along trying maintain as much of the old lifestyle as possible. Middle class people will probably try and do that by living on their credit cards. The idea is that when their situation improves they'll make good on all that debt.

Another method is to not wait for things to get better. Instead you assume things won't, at least for a long time. With that in mind a person's lifestyle is ruthlessly cut back. Expenses are reduced to reflect one's downsized income.

Personally, I've used both methods at the same time. That's not something I recommend, but I had some reason to expect a monetary settlement that would eventually cover most of the debt. While it worked for me, it was a near thing. The stress level is pretty high so if you can reduce your expenses and still live a reasonably comfortable life, that might be better.

Most people think they are in pretty good shape if they have the resources to survive a year. Yes, that's good, but economic depressions don't last just one year. If you can radically downsize maybe that cushion can last much longer. The time to prepare for a down turn is before it really impacts you.

On a personal level I was fortunate that I had my own well, some solar electric power, and a woodstove. Those resources were extremely useful. However, after four years I was about to lose the house for nonpayment of the mortgage and taxes. Even if the house had been paid off, I would have been unable to pay the taxes. That's something to keep in mind. They will take your house away and put it up for auction.

Now is a good time to figure out how to deal with a depression. It might be a world wide economic downturn or it could be something personal like a job loss, medical expenses, or other problems like legal issues.

Don't let your problems pile up. Have a plan. The last thing you want to do is ignore approaching disaster.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Evans Notch

My lovely wife and I meandered around Saturday. The winter ban is off the Evans Notch road so we took a little trip. The road meanders along the Maine/New Hampshire border. It's a twisty and hilly road. We took our car but it's lots of fun on a fast motorcycle. Happy memories.

Photos don't do the place justice.

The trees are just barely starting to come into leaf. It's been a cool spring.

We are working on getting into better shape as we'd like to do more hiking in the mountains. We spent too much time in the flat lands so we need to get our hill legs back. Hiking in the mountains is a great way to get into condition.


Saturday, May 7, 2016


There's a guy down the road from me with a good sized speedboat. The name is, “Never Satisfied IV.” I suppose that if he had been satisfied with the first boat there wouldn't have been a II, III, and IV. Boats are like that, I guess.

As for me I've very happy to still have my 19 foot sailboat after losing the bigger one. For this year at least I plan on being satisfied with it. Better a small boat ready to sail than a hypothetical bigger boat.

The weather was great so I spent some quality time puttering around on the sailboat. It's still sitting on the trailer in my driveway, but not for much longer. Today I installed a new battery and sorted out some issues with the solar charging system. Like many electrical problems, in the end it boiled down to corroded connections. It was no big deal to sort out.

Last time I poked around in the cabin I noticed the old flares had just expired. Those have been replaced with new. The manual bilge pump is now on the boat, as are some new bumpers. The new main sail is not ready yet, but that can be replaced on the water.

Some grease for the trailer wheel bearings, tire pressure check, a new registration sticker, and it's ready to go in the water.

It will be very satisfying to get out on a sailboat again.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Close Calls

A good friend of mine who lives lives in Kentucky e-mailed me today. A tornado touched down in his backyard. There was a lot of tree damage but his house survived in good shape. That's as close as I'd ever want to come to a tornado. Actually, that's closer than I'd care to come.

I'd rather deal with a hurricane. At least there's some warning. There's time to decide if one should bug out or hunker down. Tornadoes give very little warning.

My lovely wife and I had some tornado encounters this past winter in Florida. They weren't backyard close, but close enough for high winds to strip all the leaves out of trees.

Tornadoes are rare here in the mountains of New Hampshire. They aren't completely unheard of, but it can happen. They don't last long and tend to be weaker than those in tornado alley. The worse damage in recent memory involved some lost roof shingles and damage to a garage. The weather service at first denied it was a tornado, but someone had video so they had to admit it was a tornado.

My buddy's e-mail reminded me that live changing events can come out of nowhere. Had the tornado landed just a little bit to one side his house would have been turned to splinters instead of his trees. We can't take the future for granted.

That doesn't mean we don't make plans for the future. We just should not believe those plans are set in stone. Sudden change can literally drop out of the sky.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hidden Skills

There are good things about having a few years under my belt. Over the years I've been able to acquire a few skills. Most of my skills might not rise to master level, but at least better than good enough. Good enough to do what needs doing.

As a homeowner it's nice to be able to solve most problems without calling in a professional. Those skills saved me a lot of money and aggravation over the years.

It's not just handyman skills either. Six or seven years ago I knew nothing about sailing. Now I know more than enough to get into trouble -everything from boat repair to navigation. (and how to abandon ship, but let's not dwell on that.)

There are some things that I plug away at with no real expectations of getting really good at it, like guitar playing and learning French. However, even though I'm not very good it's fun to learn and sometimes useful.

There are some things I don't normally bring up as they are beyond the scope of this blog. For example, I'm a pretty good chess player.

Back in my 20s and 30s I was heavily involved in some relatively esoteric pursuits. I even had a small business connected with that field. While I never completely left that world behind, I no longer follow every day to day developments.

Recently I was listening to podcasts relating to my old field of interest. They were terrible. The podcasters didn't know what they were talking about. Not only that, they were charging people for things they couldn't do very well at all. It almost made me want to dust off my old notes, get back up to speed and start a podcast of my own.


There are only so many hours in the day and it's such a big and interesting world out there. A podcast, done right, is a huge time sink. Can't do everything. However, it did get me interested enough to dust off a few old skills and show the kids how it's done old school.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Glory Days

I've a high school reunion coming up this summer. Big whoop. Most of the people I really liked I stayed in contact with. There are good reasons I didn't stay in touch with most of the others.

Some people loved their high school days. For me it was like being in prison. The world was full of interesting things to do and I was stuck in a boring building. Once time was served, why get together and relive it?

Enough people must feel the same way. Reunions have gotten so small that our class is being combined with the class ahead of ours. That's just enough novelty to get me to go this year. Well, that and I have some very good friends who are definitely going.

It just occurred to me that my last pair of really good slacks went to the bottom of the ocean. As a grown adult I suppose owning some decent clothes is probably expected. That's a shame as in general I live my life in sandals, shorts and T-shirts.

Forget ties. That just ain't gonna happen. I didn't even wear a tie for jury duty, so I'm not going to wear one for my former fellow inmates. I mean classmates.

The saddest people are those who've peaked in high school. Followed closely by those who've peaked in college. Some people do well in a structured environment and then don't know what to do when out of school. The freedom overwhelms them. Some find refuge as a cog in a big company or join the military where they are told what to do.

I wonder if there will be people still trying to impress everyone else with their success? One can only hope we've all outgrown that.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Cold Rain and Exercise

For me there's nothing worse than cold rainy days. By cold I mean just above freezing to anything below 50 degrees. That wet cold cuts right to the bone. That's how it was today.

I'm not one to hit the gym. Boring. Also not a big fan of “gym culture” where gym rats show off and have incredibly tedious conversations about protein supplements.

I'd rather go for walks in the woods, ride a bike, paddle a canoe or any other outdoor activity. Heck, I'd rather chop firewood than go to the gym. Unfortunately cold wet days don't lend themselves to outdoor activities, unless you want to catch pneumonia or something. Give me full on winter where at least it's possible to cross country ski or snowshoe.

One of the reasons I'm such a fan of sailboat living is because I get plenty of exercise without even trying. All that rocking back and forth is great for core muscles. We paddle to shore in a kayak instead of using a powered dingy. Once on shore we do a lot of walking. One marina put us so far down the dock it was a ¼ mile hike to the main office. A quick trip to use the bathroom was a half mile round trip. We did a lot of waking while staying there.

Maybe what I should do is invest in some really good foul weather gear that's comfortable to hike in. I've rain gear, but with any sort of sustained exercise I'd get just as wet from sweat. Good breahable gear does not come cheap.

When I was younger and nothing kept me inside I wore a lot of wool. Unlike cotton, wool keeps you warm even when wet. The downside is that it is heavy and you end up smelling like a wet sheep. Modern synthics perform better, but the good stuff is hard to find in big fat guy size.

For now I'm staying inside near the woodstove, waiting for better days.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Decisions Decisions

My lovely wife and I have been home for over a month and a half, but it still feels like we just got here. We haven't even met up with all of our friends. There are only so many hours in the day.

There's an awful lot of projects to catch up on and we keep finding more. Recently we discovered our guest bedroom has small spots of light green mold on the ceiling. Normally mold isn't much of an issue, but we closed the house down in September when it was still hot and humid. The room was closed off from the rest of the house so that might have created the necessary conditions for mold. That room has to be cleaned, sealer applied, and repainted.

Of course, we are not all work and no play. The sailboat should be ready for adventures soon. My lovely wife has been thinking of sailing into Canada when things get a bit warmer. That should be interesting. Never sailed my own boat into foreign waters before.

The van appears to have some issues with the diesel fuel line plugging up forcing me to blow the lines clear with a small air compressor. It's annoying. Maybe once the old fuel is used up the problem will go away. Now that the weather is getting a bit warmer it's been possible to run the van on veggie again. That a totally separate fuel system. Once it gets to temperature the van runs best burning waste vegetable oil. Yes, it smells like French fries.

I must admit sailboats still catch my eye, but it really makes no sense to take on another project boat right now. In fact, what I should be doing is concentrating on a few little projects that have the potential to bring in some money.

While the pursuit of money doesn't interest me much it has come to my attention that I'm going to need to pay off some bills. Doesn't seem fair. Why should I be held responsible for my creditor's bad financial decisions? They are the professionals. They should have known better than to give me credit.

Kidding . . . I'm just kidding. Everyone will get what's owed them.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Hometown Game

If you ever move to a small area there's one thing you've have to deal with, especially if there aren't a lot of new people moving in.

If you meet someone local they want to know all your relatives and back a couple of generations too. At least that's how it is around here. That can be taken to extremes.

One time I met a guy while primitive camping on a wilderness lake. We discovered we were both from the same town. Eventually we figured out we were fifth cousins. How is that even sane? Who counts fifth cousins?

There are a few more new people coming into the area and the local desire to know all your relatives and relationships can drive them crazy. One of my new out of town friends tried to introduce me to someone last night. Little did my new friend know that she was trying to introduce me to my third cousin on my mother's side.

Actually, for me that was a problem growing up as I didn't want to date my cousins. Good thing I got my driver's license as soon as I turned 16 and my own car at 17. That allowed me to date girls from other towns. My lovely wife is from another state.

Moving to a small town has a lot to recommend it, but at some level you will always be an outsider. Your kids, not so much. Your grandkids will probably be accepted as local. That doesn't mean you can't fit in and be accepted. After all, I have new friends friends from out of town, don't I? They bring some much needed new ideas. As long as they aren't arrogant and look down on the locals, everything is cool. Some of the new people actually take greater pride in the area than the locals do. They see potential the locals don't.

I'm now sorta a half outsider myself. I moved 12 miles up the road to the next town about 26 years ago. To some of the people who's families have been here since colonial days, I'm a new comer.