Thursday, June 14, 2018

Break Time!

I'm taking a break from blogging for a bit. It's nothing too serious. I just need to focus on some other things for a bit.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The way I think sometimes

Across the lake from me some guy put up one of these signs, “drive like your kids live here.” Well, my kids are grown adults who know enough to stay out of the darn road. Maybe what he needs is a sign that says, “I failed to teach my kids to stay out of the road.”

When someone tells me they, “slept like a baby,” I offer my condolences. To me that means they woke up crying and hungry every two hours and then soiled their bed. I remember having babies.

Also bugged by the saying, “healthy as a horse.” So . . . you have a life expectancy of 25 – 30 years? Now if someone was healthy as a tortoise, that would be something.

Those signs on the higway that say, “construction ends.” All I can think of is, “destruction begins.” At that point I'm a lot more careful.

“Giving it the old college try.” This one isn't original to me, but I like it. So, “giving it the old college try,” means putting off the project until the last minute and ordering pizza while drinking cheap beer instead. If you've ever been to college you know it's true.

Sadly, “good enough for government work,” is still universally a way to say you are going to do a poor job of it and it doesn't matter.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Knowing that one guy

A friend of mine is pretty busy and sometimes hard to get in touch with. However, it's totally worth the effort.

In an evening's sort conversation:

He is going to weld one of my broken tools.
Fix the gasoline engine of a small generator I acquired.
We shared some information about good deals on solar electric batteries.
The guy may know someone who would like to buy my van.
He's going to set me up with some local maple syrup.
My buddy educated me on different boat trailer brake systems and gave me a link for inexpensive parts.

Of course, this is the guy who's house I wired and set up for off-grid operations, so it all comes around. Also may help him move a large propane generator he acquired.

Good to have friends.


Monday, June 11, 2018

Battery Shopping

The battery bank on my solar electric system finally died over the winter while we were away. That came as no surprise as the batteries were pretty much shot last fall. However, ten years is a pretty good run for flooded lead acid batteries.

I was thinking of putting off buying new ones, but changed my mind. While it's tempting to pay down debt, it makes no sense to pay higher electric bills either. Buying batteries and getting the system up and running again is a good return on investment.

Battery development has been rapid in recent years. My hope was that they'd be economical for my storage needs. It turns out that good old fashioned lead acid is still the best bargain. While lightweight lithium batteries make sense in cars, light weight isn't necessary for a house. The only time when the weight of the house batteries matters is when they are installed. After that they just sit there.

Getting the solar electric system up and running makes sense economically, but it's more important to have them for grid down situations. Storms in the mountains still knock out power often enough to be a pain. Only makes sense to concentrate on getting the system sorted out once more.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Tenting again

My lovely wife booked some camping time next month on the coast of Maine. We've been going to the same place since the kids were little. Now they have kids of their own. It's great to get out with family and friends. The campground has been owned by the same people the whole time, so they almost feel like family too.

Things have come full circle for us. We started out tent camping. Then we had a couple of vans that were equipped for sleeping. Now with the van dying we are back to tenting. Good thing we still like tenting. I've three two person tents in good shape. There is also a large eight person tent with attached screen house, and a big two room canvas tent. The canvas tent needs the poles repaired, but the others are pretty much ready to go. I'll take one of the big tents. If the weather turns bad it's nice having enough room to set up a table and chairs.

Our site is going to be one of those without electric power. That's not a problem as I pulled the solar electric components out of the van. It won't take long to set up a portable system. The non-electric sites are a lot less expensive in this campground, so it's all good.

One thing I recommend is testing out all your camping gear before heading out. You don't want to discover your tent has a big rip in it when you are setting it up in the rain. That would not be fun at all. Your camp stove is another item that could cause you grief. Nothing worse than being unable to make that first cup of coffee in the morning. While my lovely wife still thinks tenting is romantic, having a hot coffee in the morning keeps her mood up. No sense in suffering for nothing.


Saturday, June 9, 2018

What's up with oil?

A Forbes article covers the fact that Venezuela's oil exports are heading towards zero. That's pretty dramatic for a country that once was one of the world's major exporters. So how will that affect the price of gas at the pump?

I have no idea. You'd think that taking a major player out of the equation would cause a spike, but I won't bet on it. I'm just some regular Joe who reads too much. What do the experts really know? Best I can tell, they don't really know for sure either. There are a number of reasons for that.

The big one is that it's nearly impossible to get hard numbers on things like production, storage, and even national consumption rates. A lot of oil is controlled by nationalized companies and they play their cards close to the vest. For that matter, the state of oil controlled by private companies is considered a company secret and they aren't honest either.

A couple of years ago my lovely wife and I were in the Bahamas. Did you know there are extensive storage facilities, oil ship terminals, and refinery capacity in the Bahamas? I didn't until I saw it with my own eyes. Talking to one of the locals he informed me that the tanks were full to the brim. They were holding back oil in the hope that prices would go up. As soon as they did they'd release their stockpiles and make a killing. The problem was that pries weren't going up fast enough and the cost of storage was starting to become significant. Somebody gambled wrong.

Governments will lie about supply for its own purposes. For example, once the pipeline that supplies most of oil for the East was knocked out. There almost was a major shortage that would have shut down sizable parts of the country. The extent of the problem was kept secret until much later, after things were normal again. To be fair, an announcement would have caused a run on the gas stations that would have wiped out supplies and caused shortages.

Most people don't realize how delicately supply and demand are balanced. Locally, one time a snowstorm prevented fuel tankers from delivering for a day. All but one gas station in the local area ran out of fuel. That was just from one day's disruption. Most people just shrugged and filled up the next day. Now imagine if the trucks could not come for a week? A month? How would things look then?

Modern civilization needs oil. It's a little disconcerting to realize that few people, if any, really knows the state of world supply. We could be swimming the stuff or about to run short. One thing you can pretty much count on, you won't know there is a crisis until it happens. There are too many vested interests keeping secrets.


Friday, June 8, 2018

Just a reminder

You are on your own.

One thing last year's hurricane season demonstrated is that you are responsible or your own well being. That's especially true in the early days of a disaster. If a disaster is widespread, expect help to come much later and be much less effective. What you have left after a disaster is what you have to survive with. While response wasn't too horrible in most of Texas and Florida, the Keys were isolated for much longer. US possessions like Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are still a mess. The residents of those areas definitely know they are on their own.

I'm watching the weather closely this year. It's funny, I'm paying just as much attention to weather systems thousands of miles away as I am to local weather. Last winter my plans were altered due to the hurricanes down south. We'd planned on taking the sailboat to Keys, but decided to give them more time to sort out the wrecks, marinas, navigation aids, and the channels. I'm not sure exactly what we'll do if there's another bad season. Time will tell.

While hurricanes are fresh in my mind, I'm not forgetting all the other things that can wrong. All you have to do is to look at the rest of the world. Venezuela is a mess mostly due to poor governance. It goes to show that even a country with resources and smart people can be brought low. Brazil ground to a standstill by a truckers' strike. One of the things they were demanding was for the military to stage a coup. You can't make this stuff up.

Personally, I'm a big believer in bugging in, if you feel safe and have the resources to do so. On the flip side of that, being able to leave is if needed is a valuable option. I'm not just talking about having a bug out vehicle and a place to go. I'm taking about having passports and the means to the leave the country if necessary. That might sound extreme, but it gives you options. If you live near the border, going 50 miles to safety might involve an International crossing.

While I say you are alone, I only mean that in the sense that government aid might be slow in coming. If you have local resources like good neighbors, friends and family, your changes of surviving in good shape goes way up.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Round pegs and square holes

Those who live differently than the average person have some difficulties. In this world of standardized forms, being outside the box can be interesting. Recently I was watching a Youtube of someone who lives in their RV crossing from the US to Canada. Simple questions like “where do you live?” or “what do you do for work?” can trip you up. Saying you live in the RV and work on-line isn't what they are looking for.

Personally, I run into problems because I don't have a real job and don't pay taxes. Great fun if you want to get a loan or something like that.

A good friend of mine, who's self employed, was trying to buy a small house. The banks were giving him an amazing go around. He'd been successfully making his living that way for many years, yet they treated him like a panhandler. In the end, he didn't get the house. His wife got the house. She had a “real” job with a location, regular hours, and all the proper paperwork. They just dropped him out of the equation and went with the wife's income alone. It was enough, but made my friend feel a bit out of sorts.

Another friend was trying to buy a new tractor for his farm. They guy had no bills and had never bought anything on credit. As far as the bank was concerned, he didn't exist. They asked him if his dad could co-sign, but he pointed out his dad was even more of ghost than he was. Dad was even further off the grid.

The world is full of gatekeepers of one sort or another. They bar your access to everything from freedom of travel, access to financial services, education, medical services, and just everything else you need to live. Sometimes the only thing to do is to provide enough of a paper trail to get past the roadblocks. In a world of black and white, you might have to be a bit gray.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Good News, bad news

My lovely wife was finally able to get in to see a doctor. She was examined and X-rays taken. The good news is that nothing is torn in her elbow. It's tendinitis -uncomfortable, but doesn't need surgery. A two week course of treatment should do the trick. Considering she's had surgery on both shoulders, we were more than a little concerned. With that knowledge we can make plans for the rest of the year. Surgery would have required months of recovery time.

The trip to the doctors pretty much ate up the better part of the day. We were able to connect with friends and family in the evening. A friend's son is graduating from high school and there was a little celebration for him. This is one kid that needed to be raised by a village. Good to see he made it through school and survived to young adulthood. Glad to have been part of his village.

I also got to meet up with friends who were evacuated from St. Thomas island after the hurricanes. After the storm there was a three month grace period where people did not have to pay their mortgage. This is in Federal law. However, the banks are trying to say that people are in default and are trying to foreclose on people's property. That sort of thing is happening all throughout the islands.

My friend is going to be fine. He's educated, keeps track of all the paperwork, and can afford good legal help. Other people, without his means, will most likely get victimized all over again. Big banks stand to make a lot of money by stealing property and selling it to the highest bidder. It would not surprise me if one of these days predatory bankers get strung up on light poles. How more more can people take?


Repair guy complaint

It's a common complaint among shady tree mechanics that you can't work on new cars anymore. Unfortunately, that applies to an awful lot of stuff. Much of our modern world has “no user serviceable parts inside.”

When I was a very young kid I remember tube testers in hardware stores. You could bring in your radio tubes and test to see if they were good. If they failed, you could buy replacement parts. Radios could be fixed. Sure, new radios are much cheaper and use a lot less energy. However, those old tube radios had a certain deep mellow sound that modern electronics just don't capture.

TV repair guys were a thing. My lovely wife's uncle used to be one. Times have changed. A guy I know had one of those really huge and expensive flat screen TVs. It had a display problem. While it might have been possible to repair it, the cost as almost as expensive as a new TV. As for myself, I buy smaller cheap ones and cross my fingers.

All electronics have pretty much become non-repairable disposable items. With that in mind, I still will open them up to see what's inside. It's surprising how often the problem is a simple internal fuse, bad switch, or disconnected wire. When I get modern electronics up and running again, people think I'm some kind of a wizard. Sadly, all too often the problem the problem is deep inside some circuit board buried in the innards and well beyond my abilities. At least I'm willing to try.

I feel bad for kids these days. They are growing up in a world where nobody gets their hands dirty repairing something. It's a waste of time to even try. That's a shame as repairing things is a great way to learn problem solving. You discover that you have some control over your environment. The age of tool using primates may be coming to an end.


Monday, June 4, 2018

Free tow to Virginia?

One of my tentative plans for the fall involves sailing the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW) from Virginia to south Florida. This trip would be solo. My lovely wife wants to sits this one out. That's fine. I could do the trip in our Oday 19. While it's a small boat, it's certainly big enough for one person. Plus, we already own it.

I won't have my tow vehicle anymore so something else will have to be done. One of my daughters has a nice truck and said she'd be willing to tow the boat down to Virginia That's really nice of her.

There's another possibility. A friend of mine was riding his ATV in the area and stopped in. Over coffee he mentioned that he's going to Virginia this fall to meet with his sister. He said his vehicle is perfectly capable of towing my boat down. That's a pretty sweet offer.

There's still the option of buying a bigger boat from somewhere in New England. The departure date would be moved up due to the longer distance. Then there's the little matter of hoping for a good weather window. The first part of the trip would involve a lot of open ocean sailing.

So the idea is that I'll be heading south on the ICE this fall in some sort of sailboat. However, a new problem just popped up. My lovely wife has been having problems with her elbow. She's afraid something might be torn and need surgery. If that happens, I'll stick around to take care of her. Imagine having to load wood in the stove with one arm in a sling. She wasn't going to ask me to stay, but is happy I offered to do so. Priorities.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Back to the motorcycle

I had a bad infection on my leg that's taken a long time to heal. It's still not 100% and I'm not sure it ever will be. There was some nerve and soft tissue damage. Whatever. It's good enough. One project in particular got put on the back burner: repairing my old KZ 900 motorcycle. Now I'm back at it.

Other projects have kept me busy since my lovely wife and I got home from our travels. With those under control, it's possible to get back to my fun motorcycle project. Over the last few days space has been cleared in the basement around the old bike. Tools, parts, and overhead lights were gathered together. The mechanic's manual was dug out of my office so I acutally knew what to do.

It was a simple thing, but I was able to finally change the clutch cable. There's still plenty more to do: install the gas tank, replace the rear directionals, new battery, oil change, and a new muffler. That should bring it up to state inspection standards. All the necessary parts have been gathered over time.

The seat cover is ratty. Paint and polish would help it's look. The bike will never be a restored show room piece, but it will run again. Rather than worry about using original parts, I was more concerned with getting free or discount parts. They will do the job.

Will I actually ride the beast? Sure, why not? That's the point, isn't it? Okay, I'm not a kid anymore. Maybe I'll end up selling it and putting the funds towards a sailboat. That would be the smart thing to do. Of course, I have a new helmet and decent safety gear, so I might just keep it.

Right now it just feels good to tinker with the old girl.


Saturday, June 2, 2018

One More Trip

The van successfully completed another trip stuffed to the gills with firewood. I'm lucky my friend had a lot of oak to take down. My guess it that it's going to save me something like six or seven hundred dollars in heating expense. Definitely worth the trip. I've got a few more things to move, then the van goes up on Craigslist. Better to sell it while it's still running well.

On the way home I stopped in at a building supply place. My sledge hammer and splitting maul both needed new handles. Instead of the poor quality wood handles that I've had to use recently, I'm trying fiberglass replacements. They are about fifty percent more expensive than wood, but should last longer. We shall see. Splitting and piling wood is going to be a good workout.

I'm glad I'm saving money somewhere. The budget has been stressed lately. It's one thing to end the month broke. It's another thing to get paid, catch up on bills, and be broke at the beginning of the month. Oh well, so it goes. At least I caught up on the bills. Maybe I'm being too aggressive on paying down debt?

While at the store I piked up the plumbing I needed to move the washing machine. There are some rainy days predicted for next week. That would be a good time to do inside projects. Anyway, life goes on.


Friday, June 1, 2018

The Next Crash

I started getting one of the early warning signs of an impending economic crash. Apparently, while I wasn't paying attention, local property prices have skyrocketed. When my new neighbor told me what he paid for his place, I thought he was robbed. Only later did I learn that it was in line with similar properties in the area.

The financial collapse warning sign, for me, is when my mailbox fills up with letters offering me money. My income is pretty static. I haven't gotten a raise in my retirement pension in many years. They aren't offering me money on the strength of my income. The offers are for home equity lines of credit. At first the offers come in from companies I've never heard of. Some of them are pretty sketchy. Later on in the process, offers start to come in from financial institutions that are household names.

We've reached that stage now. Offers from real brick and mortar banks are now appearing in the mail. That hasn't happened to me since sometime around 2008. Anybody remember what happened around then? The logical thing to do would be to take every dime I could get then disappear to a safer country far away. Things could get a bit weird here. Of course, I can't see how the collapse of an economy as big as the United States wouldn't affect the whole world. Maybe I'd better move to an island where the natives live on bananas and fish and make friends with the locals.

No doubt I'll just stick around and see how it plays out. At least I'll have a front row seat. Better stock up on popcorn.