Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Not One Thing

People tend to get hyper focused on the crisis of the day. That’s understandable as more often than not that crisis is a real thing. The problem is, that crisis might not even be the worse or most pressing. Just being in the top of the news doesn’t mean it’s the top problem. 

There are a lot of things in motion right now. Covid seems to be holding on despite everyone mentally being done with it. War is on people’s minds. Threats of nuclear weapons is in the news. Inflation is going crazy. Fuel prices and availability are concerns. The list is endless. Monkey pox? Drought? Hurricanes? Alien invasion? Whatever. 

People can’t follow everything so they tend to focus on the things that interest them. It’s even natural to do so. The cloudy glasses of your own beliefs distort your vision. People see what they want to see. I’m  sure right now someone is blaming climate change on illegal immigrants. 

Nobody can watch out for every potential problem. It certainly doesn’t help that there are a lot of real major issues coming to a head right now. How does one keep from getting overwhelmed?

First of all, the basics don’t change. We all need food, shelter, clothing, and safety. Focus on those things. Changing conditions will dictate how those needs are provided. That’s what you have to watch out for. Also, remember that while your area of concern may be vast, your ability to affect things is limited. You can only do what’s in your means. Risks have to be weighed and compromises made. 

The trick right now is to keep your eyes and ears open. Pay attention to what’s actually going on rather than what you think is going on. It’s a tough mental exercise, but it could save your life. It’s said that generals always prepare for the last war, not the next one. Don’t be like them. Let the past inform you but not dictate your response. Old assumptions can cause trouble while everything is in flux. 

This blog post is pretty thin on specifics. It’s more about having the right attitude and being ready to adjust on the fly.


Monday, May 30, 2022

Bugging me

Here in the Great North Woods we are having an amazing time with black flies. My lovey wife came in after a bit of gardening and looked like her husband beats her up. Bug bites on her eye lid puffed it out and it looked nasty for a while. She’s seems to shrug these bites off and looks much better after a day or two. 

The next time I mow the lawn I’ll wear a face mask to prevent inhaling a swarm of those critters. Actually, it’s not a bad idea to mask up when doing yard work. Between the bugs, pollen and crap the lawn mower kicks up, it’ probably not a good idea to breath that stuff. Besides, for some reason I have all these quality masks lying around the house. 

Eventually the black flies will slack off. Mosquitoes, horse flies, deer flies, and moose flies will take their place. There are also these little critters I don’t remember the name off. The look like a small housefly, but seem to really enjoy biting me in the ankles. 

Then there are ticks. Oh lord there are ticks. When I was kid I didn’t even know what a tick was as we didn’t have any. Now they are so abundant they literately kill moose. Tick infestations on a moose can get so bad they die of a sort of toxic shock. Nasty. 

It’s a bad year for bugs, but it’s actually just a normal year. Some years we’ve had very few. While that’s pleasant, it’s also a bit disturbing. As much as they can be unpleasant, bugs are normal. When they are scarce there’s something wrong. Plenty of birds, fish, and other critters depend on the bugs. It’s all part of a functioning ecosystem. 

Doesn’t mean I have to enjoy them.


Sunday, May 29, 2022

Quiet Quitting

Recently I was introduced to the concept of quiet quitting. 

By now we’ve all heard about “The Great Resignation.” When businesses reopened after the pandemic lock down a lot of people resigned instead of going back to work. Some found other things they’d rather do and found ways to make it happen. Others enjoyed working from home so much they quite companies that would not allow remote work anymore. The reasons for the mass resignations are many and I don’t think we have a complete picture of it yet. 

Then we have the people who, for whatever reasons, can’t or don’t exactly want to resign. A lot of those people learned some hard lessons. For some it was simply a desire for a better work/life balance. Others came to the conclusion the rat race wasn’t worth it. While they needed a job they didn’t want to give their whole lives over to work. It’s a hard lesson to learn your loyalty to the company is a one way street. 

So these people don’t actually resign; they quiet quit. Basically they do the bare minimum to avoid getting fired. No more coming in early and leaving late. No more volunteering for extra hours. No more favors for the boss. No effort put into career advancement. It it isn’t absolutely required they ain’t gonna do it. 

In a fair labor market we’d never see this sort of thing. It’s probably a backlash from company bean counter’s focus on getting more and more for less and less. Heck, they found they don’t actually have to pay people for work. For me, the worse offenses started with unpaid interns. Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, they learned they could charge people for internships. How absurd is that? 

Getting 12 hours of work for 8 hours of pay became normal is a lot of places. You might have a fancy useless title, but it’s still working for nothing. 

No wonder there’s a backlash. In today’s tight labor market it looks like the workers are getting away with it. No wonder unions are becoming more popular too. If unions weren’t good for workers management wouldn’t spend so much time and effort trying to prevent their formation. Companies might be better off paying a fair wage and getting workers who are actually interested in working. That has to better than people who quiet quit and are only going through the motions. 


Saturday, May 28, 2022

Frugality Limits

You’ve got to know your limits. There are plenty of Internet folks out there with helpful frugality advice. 

Some things won’t apply to where you live. One well know prepper has plenty of advice on how to take advantage of store specials. That’s great if you happen to live near any of those stores. My area is considered a food desert. We are lucky to have any grocery options at any price. 

Then you have advice like never buy coffee at a coffee shop. It’s cheaper to make your coffee at home. While that’s true in a strictly dollars and cents way it might not be the best idea for you. Maybe that coffee shop stop is one of the few things bringing you joy. Maybe it’s a social connection you desperately need. When I was in college money was tight, but I always scrapped up the cash for a coffee at the student center. It gave me the chance to connect with people and to gather my strength for the coming day. 

Some advice just does not make sense in the modern world. To do much of anything these days you need at least an Internet connection and a smart phone or computer. One of the things my wife and I did for her parents in rural TX was to deal with cancer doctors and hospitals.  Her parents lacked Internet service so we set up a hotspot to sort things out on-line. Due to covid restrictions even driving to the hospital to sort things out wasn’t an option. 

Without Internet access you can’t easily apply for jobs or services. Not being connected will cost most people more in the long run. 

You can’t decide to go without electricity. The state will take your kids away. 

Repairs and maintenance get short shrift when times are tight. You can usually get away with that for a short while but it will bite you late. All your skipped oil changes don’t make up for the cost of a blown car engine. That leak in the house roof will destroy your home if not fixed. Unfortunately most of us are balancing the most pressing needs month to month. We decide on the oil change rather than paint for the railing. If you are rich you never have to make those decisions. If you are poor and frugal it’s a constant balancing act. 

Frugality is more than dollars. There’s quality of life, mental health, and even spiritual needs. Be careful you don’t cut out “non-essentials” that make life worth living. 


Friday, May 27, 2022

Fuel savings and inflation

The high price of fuel has certainly changed the way I do things. Anything that reduces petroleum usage is worth considering. 

The obvious winner right now is the little Honda motor scooter. Even considering buying a new tire, some tools, and other parts, it has saved money. It gets over twice the gas mileage of the car and over four times the mileage of the Blazer. It came with a good sized top box and soft luggage. A whole week’s worth of groceries for three people easily fit on the scoot. Basically any errand that can be done on the scooter is being done on the scooter. 

The new electric Toro 60 volt chainsaw just came in. With the current price of heating oil a ridiculously small amount of fire wood will pay for it. There’s more wood than that in need of clean up within 100 feet of my house. 

Even the electric heater paid for itself and started saving money. That’s pretty amazing as electricity traditionally is one of the most expensive ways to heat in New England. The price of #2 heating oil is so high now that the numbers are much closer. Where I really save money is that I can concentrate heat in the part of the house where we are living. 

One of the next fuel saving projects will involve more insulation and a bit of building materials. Lumber is finally starting to come down a bit in price. Once the housing market tanks a bit more prices should take a big drop. 

Right now I’m lucky that I can scrap together some funds to do money saving things. It really takes money to save money. Time is working against us. The sooner changes are made the easier it will be to make them. 

So how long will this inflation last? We don’t really know. Wishful thinking says six months to a year. Personally, I’m planning for at least five years of inflation. If it’s shorter than that I will be thrilled. If it goes longer? Well, let’s start with a five year plan and see.


Thursday, May 26, 2022

Rise of the machines

I hate our mechanical overlords. An automated phone message came in letting us know that my lovely wife’s medication is ready. Just in case we missed that call, the same message came in the form of an automated text.

So I drive the 44 miles to the pharmacy. When I get there the place is locked up tight and lights are off. That was odd, frustrating, puzzling, and annoying. Okay. So maybe there was some sort of emergency and they had to close down all of a sudden????

Anyway, the next day the automated messages come in again. I decided that before driving all the way out there I’ll call first. So I call the pharmacy, and you probably guessed it, got a machine. It said I had more than three people ahead of me and to please hold. After about 15 minutes of that I’d had enough and hung up.

Then I called the main store and . . . yep . . . got another answering machine. However, this time an actual human eventually picked up. Turns out the pharmacy was closed for two days due to staffing issues. 

I asked why the darn robo calls kept going out. 

“Oh,we have no control over that.”

Say what? 

I’m stuck using this pharmacy because the more local ones don’t have the same discount medication program.  I keep getting assurances that more pharmacies will be in the program but nothing changes. 

A least I did the trip on the scooter so the gas cost was about $5. I’m heading out this afternoon to try again. I’m also going to use the scooter this time too. Wish me luck.


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Hurricanes around the corner

We are closing in on the official start of hurricane season again. This is the time of year when all the YouTube sailing people leave the Caribbean and head north. Besides not dying in a hurricane a big motivator is that their boat insurance gets canceled if they stay. Anyway, that’s how I usually become aware of hurricane season.

The weather folks indicate that conditions are favorable for a busy year. Dealing with hurricanes will be more expensive than normal. If you have to evacuate it’ll cost more to drive anywhere. Make sure you have enough gas in your car to get somewhere safer. 

Resources are in shorter supply across the board. You know that supply chain crap we’ve been dealing with? Well you can expect aid to be both sparser and later than usual. Expect to be on your own for a much longer period of time.

So what if you are nowhere near a hurricane area? It will still cost you. You think gas prices are high now? Just wait until the oil rigs in the Gulf are shut down. If we lose some key pipelines it’s going to be dicey. Supply shortages will cause serious price increases of essential items across the board. There are no huge warehouses full of stuff right now. 

The key takeaway from all this is that it’s not going to be your regular hurricane response. You will be on your own more often and for longer. It doesn’t matter how many hurricanes you’ve weathered in the past. This year promises to throw in a few twists.

Just a heads up while there’s still stuff on the shelves. 


Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Gas prices change plans

Oh well. The best laid plans of mice and men and all that. My lovely wife and I had planned on trailering the sailboat all over the place this summer. Thanks to the price of gas our trailering distances have been greatly shortened. The best mpg the Blazer gets is about 18 mpg. Towing the boat it’s more like 12 to 14 mpg. That adds up. I can’t imagine what it costs to fill up larger tow vehicles. 

Our niece is staying with us again. We told her she can use the Blazer as much as she wants -as long as she pays for gas. It rarely moves. 

Our Nissan Versa gets over twice the gas mileage as the Blazer. It’s a manual transmission and our niece doesn’t drive a stick. Her loss. We use the little car a lot more these days. 

Now that the weather is halfway decent I’m running a lot of errands on the scooter. That 80 – 100 mpg is hard to beat. 

I miss my diesel vehicles that ran on waste veggie oil. Unfortunately that ship has sailed. My sources for free waste veggie have dried up. My main sources were a couple of local restaurants that both closed. With the price of diesel the way it is waste veggie for biodiesel will be in demand once more. That makes it a valuable commodity so it won’t be given away. 

Electric cars have always interested me, but the numbers just don’t work for me. The price of electric cars is a big issue. Being on a fixed income with crappy credit doesn’t help either. Our fast charging options are very limited. On top of everything else electric vehicles don’t do that well in cold weather. 

Living out in the woods is great, but the only thing within easy walking distance are trees. 


Monday, May 23, 2022

Cordless Electric Chainsaw

A few years ago I picked a cheap cordless electric chainsaw. That poor little saw put up with a tremendous amount of abuse. Cheap little saws with 12 inch bars are not meant for sawing 20 inch oak trees. It did the job though, but after a couple of years of abuse the saw was pretty shot. 

So why am I not using a gasoline powered saw? In short, bad lungs. Chainsaws have dirty running little 2 stroke engines. With my hyper sensitive lungs that’s a problem. If my lungs get irritated I can cough hard enough to pass out -not recommended while holding a running chainsaw. 

I’ve owned a couple of 120 volt corded chainsaws. As long as the chain is kept sharp they work fairly well -especially if you special order more powerful saws than are commonly carried at your local store. 

You can get a permit from the Forest Service for dead and down firewood. I used to a Ford 250 diesel pickup running on waste veggie oil. I’d installed a  large inverter to power the corded electric chainsaw. The idea was that if the wood was more than the length of 100 foot extension cord it was too far to carry anyway. I miss that truck. 

This year there’s a lot of snow damaged trees to clean up on my property. Most of them are further than the corded saw can reach. I ordered a new Toro cordless chainsaw. A good friend has one and is very pleased with his. I’ll let you know how that works out.

I’m glad I won’t have to deal with mixed gas for a chainsaw. The electric saw can even be charged from my solar electric system. If that fails, there’s always the 3.5 foot long German crosscut saw. It’s a great saw, but I wouldn’t want to cut 10 cords of hardwood with it.


Sunday, May 22, 2022

Food shortages sort themselves out

Food shortages always sort themselves out. One way is that famine and disease reduce the population down to the available food. That’s what happens if you aren’t clever or massively unlucky. 

Let’s see what other options there are. Please. Seriously. Right now the most visible problem is a war between two major grain exporting countries. That’s a lot of grain off the market. Grains are the basis of civilization because they store and ship well. They also are fairly calorie dense. Without grains we have to fall back on other foods.

Meat eaters generally rely on grain fed animals, so a grain shortage affects them too. Grass fed cattle and wild game are exceptions. That’s a limited supply. During the depression just about any critter that could be shot or trapped was eaten. Game laws and enforcement didn’t help all that much. After the depression it took years for the forest critters to recover. 

Beyond grains we have issues with everything from vegetables to honey. Bad weather and/or pests take their toll. Some years are worse than others. This year has some worrying early indicators in key areas.

Then there are inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. Guess which two countries currently at war are  normally big exporters of fertilizers? Bingo! 

Most pesticides are petroleum based. Add that to the overall issues caused by oil supply problems. I could go on but lets just call this a quick overview.

There are some things in our favor. Countries food supplies aren’t just limited to their borders. Food is shipped all around the world. However, it will go to those who can pay for it. Those in better financial condition will be able to get anything they want. 

Higher prices will suddenly make more areas profitable for agriculture. As it is a lot of African farmers cannot compete with industrial agricultural giants and their economy of scale. The math changes with a general shortage. We will see food grown in places it hasn’t been grown in some time. 

We have a fairly recent example of a country that had to deal with a cut off of food and pesticides. When the Soviet Union fell Cuba was left high and dry. They were basically just growing sugar cane to ship to the USSR at above market rates. That ended. Cuba had a lean year, but they rallied. Just about every square inch that could be planted was planted. They also mobilized their education system to develop a crash program of organic farming. It worked. 

There are ways to cope with the disruptions. At the bare minimum plant anything you can as every bit adds up. Also, don’t get locked into just buying and eating the foods you always ate. Learn to make delicious meals out of what’s cheap and available. It will take some effort but nobody said keeping the horsemen of the Apocalypse at bay is easy.


Saturday, May 21, 2022

Well that was stupid

Did you ever do something knowing it was a bad idea from the get go? Sometimes you just have to give into temptation.

So there I was putting a new tire on the scooter. Once again, I was fiddling around trying to set the bead. There’s a trick where you wrap a ratchet strap around the tire to squish it in the middle and made the sides set. It can be a fiddly thing sometimes but often works.

However, I’d been messing around outside for a couple hours. The black flies were swarming. They know when your hands are busy and you can’t swat at them. I literately had blood running down the side of my head from their bites. 

Then I came in for a minute to get another tool. That’s when I spotted a can of starter fluid left over from when I ran diesel engines. That’s when the temptation to do something stupid was too much. I geared up with eye protection, heavy gloves, the whole bit. I went back outside with the can of starter fluid and a very long lighter used for fireplaces. 

Yep, I used the starter fluid to explode the tire onto the rim. My first attempt I used a very small amount. Too small, as it turns out, but that was fine. Just a timy bit more did the job. A short while later the wheel was back on and going down the road. 

Sure, I got away with it, but I plead temporary insanity from the black flies. It’s a really really bad idea and a lot people get injured every year from this idiot method. If you decide to be stupid it’s on you, not me. 


Friday, May 20, 2022

Day to day BS

Ever figure out how much of your time is lost dealing with day to day BS? There’s all kinds of things that are required to live in civilization. Bureaucracies and civilizations have always gone together. 

Take a simple example: the DMV. Will renewing your license or registering a vehicle take all day? Days? Forever? Never mind the fact that licenses and registrations are required in the first place. How much of your precious, limited, never to be recovered, lifespan is required to do basic things? 

Yesterday I registered my boat and trailer. The town clerk handled everything. I had to write one check and sign my name a half dozen times. The whole procedure from the time I came in the door took about ten minutes. 

Last time I renewed my driver’s license it took about 20 minutes. That included waiting in line, filling out paperwork, eye test, and photo. Of course, that stuff is state level and I live in a rural area without a lot of people. On the other hand getting a passport was a Federal issue and took what seemed like forever. 

How much of your life can you do without getting a permit or a license? I can do a lot of repairs to my house and even do 99% of the wiring without a permit or license. On the other hand, my daughter lives in a Boston suburb and they require a lot more. Everything takes longer and is more expensive. 

If you have enough money it doesn’t matter. You have people to do that crap for you. It’s the regular Smoes who have to do everything the hard way. I wonder if previous civilizations have collapsed due to overly burdensome burocratic requirements? Things got so jammed up that people threw their hands up in the air and wandered off into the jungle. 

Many people dream about living off the land and dropping out of the system. That’s pretty hard to do. Eventually the tax man and inspectors will come around and then the jig is up. The best we can do right now is to keep that BS to a bare minimum. That might involve moving to the country. It also might involve keeping your mouth shut and doing stuff anyway. 


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Tourism: bad investment?

My area of northern New Hampshire has bet heavily on tourism. We still have the old stuff: hiking, fishing, hunting, canoeing, tenting  and all that. In recent years our area has invested heavily in ADV trail riding, mostly 4 wheelers. There are hundreds of miles of trails, new RV campgrounds, and businesses catering to the off road crowd. 

That might have been a mistake. 

At the time I’m writing this gasoline is about $4.50/gallon and diesel is going for $6.09/gallon. If you are driving a few hundred miles in big truck that’s got to hurt. Figure in reduced fuel economy from towing a trailer full of gas burning 4 wheelers and it’s an expensive weekend. You need an upper class income for a middle class activity. 

One can only imagine that tourism across the board is going to take a hit. The RV industry had crazy growth during the pandemic. Prices went insane. Investment companies took note and bought heavily into the craze. Mom and pop campgrounds sold out to big, highly leveraged, companies. 

Tourism has always been sensitive to fuel prices. I’m old enough to have seen the boom and bust cycle a few times. If my lovely wife and I go camping this winter, it will definitely be scaled down. We will leave the sailboat and tow vehicle that gets 14 mpg behind. Instead we’ll throw a tent and inflatable kayak in the economy car that gets close to 40 mpg. 

I don’t expect prices to come down anytime soon. Once again: interesting times.


Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Wheat shortages

Wheat shortages are popping up all around the world. When two major International wheat exporters are locked in battle it doesn’t bode well. Some places will do better than others.

Places like Egypt and Africa in general are trouble. Surprisingly, India just barely produces enough wheat for its internal use. What they’ve done is stopped any exports except for special humanitarian reasons. 

Of course, there is stress on all grains right now. Some are directly impacted and others will be in short supply as people try to substitute one grain for another. 

There probably won’t be serious shortages in Western Europe or the United States. Prices will shoot up, so be prepared for that. If you think food prices are high you ain’t seen nothing yet. There are other stresses on the food supply like drought and bird flu. Looking bad for your toast and eggs in the morning. 

My guess is that this will probably last about a year. Places where grains aren’t normally grown will be growing grain. There will be plenty of economic incentive to do so. 

As for myself, it looks like I’ll be stocking up on potatoes again. Potatoes don’t ship nearly as easily as grains so aren’t Internationally traded in huge volume. If potatoes are grown in your area it would be a good idea to stock up. Properly kept they’ll last a while. Better yet, grow you own. 

By the way, cooking oils are mostly made from grains. Keep that in mind if you are adding to food storage. You are going to need something to fry all those potatoes in.


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Winter is always coming

Here in the North Country winter is always a concern. If you’ve ever chopped wood in 80 degree heat you probably live in snow country. 

I was talking to my cousin today and conversation wandered its way to winter heating. That sort of conversation is never out of place in the frost lands. 

We were discussing how home heating oil took a huge jump at the end of the last heating season. My cousin was reduced to buying gas station diesel to run his furnace. A full load of heating oil from the oil company was too big a price to pay upfront. 

He also reminded of the time propane was pretty much unavailable one winter. Then there was the winter no one could get wood pellets for their pellet stoves. That’s why I like having an old school woodstove. I can use cleaner burning compressed wood blocks or traditional firewood. The blocks are clean and easy, but regular wood works just fine too. It helps that I really do live in the woods. 

So why don’t I move to someplace warmer? While winters can be harsh there are some things I don’t worry too much about. For one thing I don’t even own an air conditioner. Hurricanes and tornadoes are pretty rare in the mountains of New Hampshire. My house is at 1200 feet elevation and not in a flood prone area. 

Subzero temperatures we do get so heating is essential. Currently I can heat with wood, heating oil or electricity. I doubt that heating oil will be an economical choice for next winter. Looks like we’ll be using the woodstove, with both wood and fiber blocks. Electric will be a backup for when we aren’t around to feed the stove. There’s a perfectly functional propane furnace sitting on my porch right now. I’m debating if it would be worth installing it or not. Decisions, decisions.


Monday, May 16, 2022

Chaos and change

It’s been an interesting couple of years. There were a lot of things already in motion, but covid accelerated the heck out of things. 

One of the big changes has been people’s attitude towards work. They say no one wants to work anymore. Okay. So why is that? There are a lot of low paying jobs out there where the employees are treated like crap. Can you really blame people for not wanting to go back to that? If your business model requires starvation wages, maybe you never had a viable business in the first place?

It’s not just low paying jobs either. Someone I know just refused a $55,000/year job. Those are good wages in our low cost rural area. She looked around and decided she doesn’t really need more things. Her part time jewelry business brings in enough money for the basics. 

A lot of people decided to stop aggressively saving for retirement. They see how people lose their life’s savings and get left with nothing often enough. They are treating themselves to a better life right now. If that special daily coffee and avocado toast bring you joy so be it. People are actually spending their time with friends and family instead of working crazy hours. 

By now most of have lost people we know and love. Nothing like untimely deaths to bring home the fragility of life. Our time on this rock in space is not unlimited. Why spend it doing things we hate for people we don’t like? Might as well have some fun and adventure while we can. 


Saturday, May 14, 2022

Power Grids

There’s nothing magical about maintaining an electric power grid. In spite of that Texas’s grid is in trouble once again. They obviously have deep seated problems they haven’t dealt with. One key issue is that they don’t seem to be in the business of delivering electric power. They are in the money making business. When a section of the grid goes down and electricity skyrockets in price, they make money. 

Texas, being its own separate grid, is showing it’s weaknesses first. The rest of the country isn’t too far behind. The bulk of our national grid was set up years ago for conditions that no longer exist. Investment in new equipment lags. There are improvements happening, but they aren’t happening fast enough.

One thing that’s going to quickly show the weakness is the system is the rapid growth of electric car sales. With the current price of gasoline electric cars are more popular than ever. 

Just to make things more interesting, some places are making off-grid living illegal. Don’t let that stop you from adding some solar. I’ve seen really beefy solar electric systems mounted on utility trailers. They can then connect to the house like you’d connect a backup generator. 

My whole solar electric system was put in years ago with me doing all the work myself. It was totally legal too. The catch is that it does not tie into the grid. I can charge the battery bank from the grid, but can’t sell power back to the company. The electric company doesn’t even know my system exists. I benefited from state laws that allow home owners to do their own electrical work. 

Even having my own moderate sized solar electric system isn’t security enough for me. Heat, cooking, and water can all be provided with no electric power at all. It’s more work, but totally doable. 

It might be worth looking into your own needs. Infrastructure looks to be pretty shaky in the near term.


Supply Disruptions

Back in the 70s being an independent trucker was a really good paying job. Even the freedom of the open road was still a thing. Now the pay is terrible. Too many companies have reduced trucker pay to the point where burger flipping looks good. Almost as bad, a trucker’s movements are followed in real time and all important decisions are made at the head office. 

That’s been going on for a considerable length of time. Now we have the complications of high fuel prices and parts shortages. High fuel prices is a worldwide situation. Those of us in the US have no reason to feel special about it. Same goes for inflation in general. Truck parts are delayed or canceled due to the on-going covid related supply disruptions. 

It’s really going to be an issue with food supply and prices. Modern industrial agriculture eats oil and spits out grain. Everything from farm equipment, to fertilizers, to pesticides, to process and delivery systems relies on oil. 

Sure, the war in Ukraine doesn’t help, especially for the general International oil markets. Fortunately for North America, we are pretty self reliant in energy these days. North America could isolate itself to a certain extent from International markets. 

Most people don’t realize it, but North America is in a massive reindustrialization at a frantic pace. Not everything will be in place in time so there will continue to be supply disruptions. 

That’s all big picture stuff. For the little guy it comes down to making sure to have the basics on hand. Being flexible is going to help too. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you have a long commute in a big diesel pickup. Have a number of ways to heat or cool your home. You will probably have to get used to sweating in the summer and freezing in the winter. 

It’s going to to be an interesting ride. 


Friday, May 13, 2022

My propane usage

At one time my house was set up to use a fair bit of propane. It ran the tank-less water heater, cookstove, dryer, and even a refrigerator. 

Then the years went by. I went through a lot of water heating configurations. Currently I have an electric heater that can get a boost from a coil on the woodstove. 

The refrigerator was a so-so experiment. Let’s just say they don’t make them like they used to. The old Servels used to last forever. The new propane fridges are not as bulletproof. While the Servel name is still out there, it’s a totally different company.

Our cookstove was a strange hybrid: part propane and part wood. I picked it up at an antique woodstove shop way the heck out in nowhere Maine. It served us well but eventually I got tired of rebuilding the firebox and replaced it with an airtight wood cookstove. The new stove is much more efficient.

Of course, then I needed a cooktop. Currently we are using an electric induction stove. There’s a learning curve and it doesn’t work with all pots and pans. Fortunately, it works just fine with my extensive collection of cast iron. It has two big pluses. The stove is fast and very efficient. 

The only propane appliance left is the dryer. We only use it when it doesn’t make sense to hang laundry. In the winter we dry our clothes by the woodstove on an indoor line or a drying rack. When the weather is good we use a clothesline. We basically only use the dryer during rainy or very humid days. 

Since we use so little propane we no longer have a service. The big 250 pound tank was replaced with a 20 pound gas grill tank. The propane company took away their big tank and their heavy duty regulator. The regulator from a gas grill works just fine for the dryer. 

With the current price of propane I’m glad we’ve moved away from it over the years.


Thursday, May 12, 2022

Nicks and scrapes

Did you ever spend way too long trying to fix something that should have been replaced? That took up way too much of my day. A while back I had to borrow my cousin’s compressor to set the bead on a scooter tire. The annoying thing about that is the fact there’s a big 240 volt compressor in my basement. 

The problem is that it had not run for years. Life gets busy. So I messed around with it. When power finally made it to the motor is made a lot of horrible screeching noises at first. Before that I thought I’d gotten the compressor to actually turn over. In the dark basement I did not notice that what I manged to do was to loosen the pulley on the spindle. The belt went back on for a test. When the motor finally kicked on it spun the pulley right off. 

At that point I decided I’d better get some more lights on in the basement. Taking a good look at the overall condition of the compressor I decided to finally junk it. Had I not been working in a dark cramped corner I’d probably had come to that conclusion sooner. Nicks and scrapes on the knuckles would have been avoided too. 

I can be frugal to the point of being stupid, but there comes a time. Tractor Supply had a nice cheap little compressor that can handle everything I’m doing right now. By the time all that was sorted out it was too late in the day to finish the job that required a compressor. 

Such is life.


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Fire season

Looks like we are already into a busy fire season. The drought in the western US is taking its toll. Reservoirs are depleted. Even here in northern NH we are in a sever fire danger situation. Not too far down the road from me a lost hiker accidentally set half a small mountain on fire. The snow pack wasn’t particularly deep this spring. We’ve also had a lot of dry wind making things worse.

Siberia is on fire. Normally Russian soldiers do a lot of firefighting. They are off doing something else right now. Probably miss the dangers of wildfires.

Most people have no idea how quickly a wildfire can move. If you have to evacuate you have to do it immediately. A few minutes searching for material possessions could be the difference between life and death. 

If you are in an area prone to fires you should have your bug out bags ready to go. Most physical things can be replaced. Your precious unique personal items should be packed up and ready to go. Some people have taken to digitizing important papers. That certainly makes it a lot easier to reestablish your life. A jump drive is easier to pack than boxes of papers. Some people leave their digital records in a safe place far from home. It could be with a trusted relative or in a safety deposit box. 

Personally, I’m not too comfortable with storing my digital life in cloud storage. Who knows how secure they are? 

People who deal with fire danger year after year usually know what to do. The problem is that the increasing danger area puts people are risk who have no previous experience. It wouldn’t hurt to find out exactly how bad your area is right now.


Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Small town life

There’s something special about living in a small town. 

I was about five miles from home when I got a flat tire on the scooter. I called my lovely wife. She immediately hopped in the car with a compressor and a patch kit. 

So there I was, just chilling on the side of the road. A pickup truck stopped. It was a friend of mine asking if I was all right. He decided to stop and visit. Then my lovely wife pulled up. A van pulled in behind her. It was a cousin, his wife and two of his kids. He happened to recognize all of us and wondered what was up.

So now we have four vehicles and bunch of people on the side of the road. A car with New York plates stops and the driver asks if everyone is okay. I assured him we were fine. 

If any more people showed up we’d need to set up a grill and start some burgers. 

Fortunately it only took a few minutes to put a plug in the tire pump it up. We broke up the party and headed home. 

That’s life in a small town.


Monday, May 9, 2022

Weed Laws

We are in a weird situation when it comes to marijuana laws. At the Federal level it’s still illegal. The laws in different states vary a lot. Some are in line with the Feds. Many have exemptions for medical reasons. More and more states have legalized recreational use. Even among those states there’s a lot of variety. Some states only allow people to grow a few plants for personal use. Other states have approved stores. 

My own state of NH is in a weird spot. Across all our borders recreational use is legal: Maine, Massachusets, Vermont and Canada. Recreational use in New Hampshire is not legal. However, medical use is legal and possession of small amounts has been decriminalized. I’m sure a lot of NH residents cross state borders for legal weed only to bring it into New Hampshire where it suddenly becomes illegal.

Being illegal on the Federal level makes things weird. A doctor might think a patient may benefit from medical use, but if the Dr. is getting paid though a Federal program he can’t make the recommendation.  

Crossing the Canadian border is even weirder. Say you bought bought some legal weed in Canada. You want to cross into Vermont where it’s also legal. You’d think that wouldn’t be a problem but it is. The border station is Federal so Canadian weed would get you into trouble. 

Our weed laws are just one example where the Federal government drops the ball. We see the same thing with everything from reproductive rights to gun control. Federal law is supposed to supersede state laws, but the Feds can’t seem to do anything on a national level. 

Don’t even get me started on how Federal law is enforced or not enforced on a state by state level. 

This could be part of a long disintegration period. Power will move down to a more local level. Now, and more so in the future, it matters where in the US you live.


Saturday, May 7, 2022

Car Prices

Anyone car shopping lately? Quite the shock, isn’t it? There are no deals. In fact, you are more likely to pay a premium. Maybe it’s the chip shortage. Maybe it isn’t? I think they use too many computer chips in cars anyway. I really miss my old fully mechanical diesels. 

Used cars are no bargain either. Just for grins and giggles I checked to see what people were getting for old Blazers like the one I have. For the same year and condition people are asking two to three times what I paid a couple years ago. 

I just finished getting both vehicles repaired and service. They are going to have to last. Too bad my favorite mechanic just retired. Worse come to worse I can go back to working on my cars. That’s no fun at all when you don’t have a garage and have to work outside. It can be done. One winter I wrapped my car in tarps and put a heater under it. Where there’s a will there’s a way. 


Suspect numbers

I live in a small town where people tend to know each other. I know a couple of people who are currently dealing with covid. One definitely was treated at the local hospital as she had difficulty breathing. However, when the official state covid numbers came out they showed our town with zero cases.

It could be there’s a delay before the cases are reflected in official numbers. It could also be that the numbers aren’t being reported -for whatever reason. 

The biggest drop in numbers happened right after the home tests became readily available. That makes sense as you no longer had to wait in a long line to get tested. Nothing worse than having to sit in your car for a long wait while feeling like crap. 

I’d like this whole thing to be over as much as the next guy. My concern is that we could get a pretty good sized resurgence long before the official numbers show it. I’m doing more things than when this first started, but not like pre-covid. Part of that is an abundance of caution. Another part is that I have a solid excuse for avoiding gatherings I don’t really want to go to in the first place. 


Friday, May 6, 2022

Vodka and hookers?

Are you concerned about a Russian nuclear attack? Should we be concerned? On one hand it would make no sense for Russia to launch such an attack. On the other hand it didn’t make sense for them to invade Ukraine either. 

Apparently we can’t rely on Russia to exercise good judgment. 

With that in mind I have to wonder about the state of Russia’s nuclear weapons. As it turns out their conventional forces suffered from corruption and poor maintenance. So how much of the money that was supposed to go to Russia’s nukes went to vodka and hookers instead? 

It would seem like a perfect area for scamming money. Everything is supposed to be extremely secret. Nukes haven’t been tested in the real world for something like 20 years. Probably many of those in command expect to never use their weapons. Skimming funds from the program probably looked low risk. 

Russia launching may be a remote possibility, but the consequences of a launch are dire. Keep your potassium iodide pills handy.


Thursday, May 5, 2022

From vacation to lifestyle

I had a long discussion with my cousin recently about camping. He has a new Ford Transit van and is setting it up for camping. He had a lot of questions ranging from the gear side of things to the practicalities of finding places to stay. 

The Ford is a nice little vehicle for a couple. One of the big advantages of a van over a big RV is parking. Being able to fit in a standard sized parking spot makes everything easier. With a RV just pulling in to a place for lunch can be like planning the Normandy invasion. Trust me. You don’t want to have to back a trailer down a long narrow parking lot onto a busy urban street. 

My cousin has camped before but since his early retirement he’s in a position to do a lot more. Long term camping is way different than going out for a few days or even a couple of weeks. How many times have you heard of people complaining they need a vacation from their vacation? 

On a short trip you could come home with the dishes and laundry dirty and the vehicle full of beach sand. There could be the remains of soggy sandwiches floating around in cooler melt water. You might also be sun-burnt and insect bit. It might take a few days but eventually everything gets sorted.

When you camp for months on end it’s a lifestyle. You’ve got to figure out how to keep clean and healthy week after week. There’s a big difference between vacation and lifestyle. In vacation mode you can get away with blowing the budget on eating out and entertainment. Running up a little debt isn’t the end of the world. That attitude certainly isn’t sustainable in the long term.

I enjoy watching YouTube channels about people trying the nomadic lifestyle. Often I get to see them make the switch from vacation to lifestyle. If they don’t transition they end up closing their channel. Reality seems to kick in around week seven or so. That’s the tipping point for a lot of people. 

My cousin will probably be just fine. He’s easing into it with short trips at first then plans on going out further and longer. Nothing like a little trial and error to figure things out. YouTube knowledge and advice from a cousin can only go so far. 


Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Vehicle decisions

My lovely wife and I are toying with the idea of traveling during the winter again. We are trying to figure out how to go about it. It would be easy and cheap to throw a tent in the back of the little Nissan and call it good. We’d save a bundle on fuel. There would even be room for our Sea Eagle inflatable double kayak. 

Another option is to take the Blazer. It gets half the mpg as the Nissan. One thing that’s attractive about the Blazer is that there’s room to sleep in the back. The price of fuel could be offset in other ways. When traveling we could spend fewer nights in hotels. It would also be a much better vehicle for free camping on Federal lands. Four wheel drive and high ground clearance makes a difference. 

Then there’s the possibility of taking my Honda scooter along. We have an nice little motorcycle carrier that slides into the receiver hitch. 

Of course, should we decide to haul our sailboat down we’d have to use the Blazer. 

Much depends on where we want to go, what we want to do and how long we want to be gone for. 

We are busy getting the vehicles squared away. The Nissan just came out of the garage and is ready. Tomorrow the Blazer goes in for some brake work. After that we’ll see what else it might need. 


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Back in condition

It was a long winter for the lovely wife and I. We had some physical setbacks. It doesn’t help that spring takes its own sweet time in the Great North Woods. However, spring is here and we are finally getting some halfway decent weather. That certainly improves our spirits.

I had a long recovery for a leg wound that kept me pretty immobile. It finally healed but I’m out of condition. I’ve been here before so I know what it takes to get back in shape -and I’m doing it. 

My lovely wife has been dealing with come chronic health issues for years. This past winter was bad for her also. It didn’t help that her truly excellent massage therapist moved away. She’s currently working with a top notch physical therapist and is already seeing positive results.

As you get older you can’t take things for granted. Thirty years ago I almost died and worked my way back from that. For two years I was too messed up to even drive a car. These current issues are nothing in comparison. 

A lot of people are dealing with health problems. Trust me when I say it’s worth doing the work to recover what you can. 


Monday, May 2, 2022

Limits to fossil fuel

Russia has started to cut off energy to countries that offend them. Poland and Bulgaria appear to be defiant. It certainly helps that this is May and not December. Countries have spring, summer and fall to figure out alternatives. 

It’s Germany who’s in a tight spot. They gambled heavily on Russian oil. Big mistake. It makes logical sense that economic ties should prevent conflict. That only works if economics is more important than other considerations. Apparently Russia is more motivated by imperialistic ambitions. 

Bear with me as I make a slight detour. Economic sanctions, by themselves, won’t change Putin’s behavior. He appears willing to fight to the last conscript and general. However, it does do things like prevent Russia from building any more tanks. Thanks to sanctions Russia lacks the parts necessary to build and repair tanks. It’s also taking a huge bite out of Russia’s technological capabilities. 

Moving on. So what Germany and other European countries are doing is a crash energy program. Germany absolutely must do this to keep its economy going, so it will. They might have a tough couple  of years but will sort it out. It also helps that Europe is working together on this. Their energy grids are now tied together more than ever before. France is running it’s nuke plants wide open. 

The United States is in a unique position of being reasonably energy independent right now. The US also has access to Canadian oil sand production too. Realize that this is not a long term solution. Fracked wells don’t produce forever. What North America should be doing is working hard on a more diversified energy system -for security reasons if nothing else. 

Now onto what the individual can do. Expect energy costs to be volatile and plan accordingly. I just paid my last heating oil bill -possibly forever. I’m in the process of greatly reducing the square footage of the house that will be heated next winter. The whole upstairs will be closed off. The basement will be better insulated and the area heated reduced to just the parts with plumbing. That’s about a 12 X 20 foot area. Even the washing machine will be moved to the center of the house so we don’t have to heat the mud room. 

My kitchen woodstove will easily be able to heat the remaining space. I’m going to have some backup heat so we can leave the house for a few days. Currently heating oil prices are so high in my area that electric heat is now viable. 

What I’d also like to do is spend the worse of the winter in the sunny south. That depends on a few factors but is certainly a consideration. While I want to do that, I’ll plan as if we are spending the whole winter in the frozen north.