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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Refrigeration on the go

The veggie van has a good sized 12 volt cooler. It works well, is solidly constructed, and has plenty of room. The problem is that it's a thermoelectric cooler. Those work using a Peltier plate module that directly turns electricity into cold and heat. One side of the module gets cool and the other side gets hot. Usually there are heat sinks and a fan to dissipate the heat. The big problem with these is that they are power hogs, usually drawing around 6 amps of power. That's a lot.

It's fine when my van is running and it's plugged into the van's 12 volt circuit. Most vehicle alternators have no difficulty keeping up with the demand. The problem is that if the cooler is still drawing power when the car is off. It can kill your starting battery in a few hours.

My van has a 106 watt solar panel charging a separate 12 volt battery. If it's a sunny day the panel can just about keep up. Of course, the battery is drained when the sun goes down. The next day the panel cannot run the cooler and put much power in the battery. The cooler is well insulated so sometimes I can get away with just unplugging the cooler during the cool nights. When the sun comes up it's plugged back in. I can get away with it off-grid for a few days, but by then the battery is getting low. Heaven help you if it's cloudy or your solar panel is shaded by trees.

They do make more efficient coolers that are actually mini refrigerators with small low energy drawing compressors. Not only do they use a lot less energy, they do a better job cooling and often can even be used as freezers. Thermoelectric coolers never have that capacity.

The problem is that a decent thermoelectric cooler can often be had for around $100. Even entry level compressor types are at least 4 or 5 times that price. That's the only thing keeping me from changing over. Even with the price difference, I'm very tempted to upgrade to a compressor type. Much depends on how primitive we decide to camp this coming winter. If we stay at a campground with electricity, it's easy to use a 120 AC to 12 DC converter.

The best part of having an electric cooler is not having to deal with ice. It didn't take me long to get sick of having to always hunt down expensive ice that melted and made my food soggy. If I want to deal with ice I could always stay home in New Hampshire during the winter.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Brush with mortality

Life goes on. One day follows the other. Years go by and then something happens. A friend of mine was telling me the story of his 44 year old co-worker. The guy had been living with his wife for many years and they had a daughter together.

One day, totally out of the blue, the guy had a heart attack. Fortunately, emergency medical personal were nearby. He received excellent emergency treatment, plus the hospital immediately dealt with his problem. The guy made a 100% recovery. Soon he was back at work. Everything looked fine.

However, a brush with mortality can change a person. In my friend's words, the guy had no more f**ks to give. The opportunity came up to have an affair with a 22 year old at work so he did. They got caught at work. The guy lost his job, his wife, custody of his kid, and the house. Now he has to make payments on the house he doesn't live in out of his unemployment check.

I can how how that sort of thing can happen. Nothing like a near death experience to reevaluate one's life. That's totally valid. We get into ruts and sometimes something major causes us to want to make major life changes. That may be the case, but there are certainly better ways to do it.

Maybe he should have just gotten a sports car or a motorcycle?


Monday, June 26, 2017

Back from a road trip

I was doing fairly well keeping up with the blog on a recent road trip. I was gone for four days trying to drum up a little business for a side project. It was a good trip, but exhausting. My gimpy leg was about done it by the time I rolled into the driveway. All I was a good for was a bowl of ice-cream, a shower, and bed. Still feeling a bit of road burn this morning.

One good thing was being able to catch up on some old friends. I've very fortunate in that I've had a number of friends that go way back junior high school. Our lives have gone off in different directions, but we've made the effort to stay in touch.

Back in the bad old days before the Internet and phone deregulation, it was much harder. Today's social media generation will never understand what a big deal long distance communication was. Back in the bad old days we often kept in touch with actual physical snail mail letters. Most were handwritten. I was one of the few males of my generation who actually learn how to type in a high school class. There were thirty-eight girls and two boys in the class. Back then many of the guys wondered why I'd take such a course, but heck, I could do the math.

On-line communication has changed things, but nothing beats actually physically getting together.

I'm going to take it easy today, clean on the van, and catch up on rest.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Warnings on flood insurance

First a little background. If you have flood insurance, you are not paying the market rate. The government subsidizes a large portion of the cost. That's been going on for many years. If they did not, a lot of waterfront development would be financially impossible.

Over the weekend I had long talk with someone who'd spent decades in the insurance industry. There is real uncertainty about the survival of the current system. The insurance industry hates uncertainty. Attempts were made pass on the real costs to the property owner. I remember a few years ago when I was in Florida there was a huge outcry from panicked property owners. The government backed off.

That does not mean the problem went away. We've been somewhat lucky in recent years in that not many hurricanes made landfall in the continental US. One rough storm season could send the insurance industry into total disarray. Someone has to pay the bills. If the government does not, the property owner will.

Premiums could skyrocket. If you have a mortgage on your property, the bank will insist on flood insurance. Your options will be limited. You could prepare to pay a lot more for insurance or lose the place to the bank. If there is no mortgage, you could either pay, take your chances, or start saving to cover flood damage repairs.

A sudden change in the insurance market would decimate the real estate market. Imagine everyone unable to afford their property so they put it on the market at the same time. Places that currently have equity would suddenly become upside down and be worth less than the money owned on them.

The flood insurance crisis is coming and will be serious. The government no longer wants to accept the huge liabilities and the industry certainly won't eat the cost. How it shakes out is anybody's guess.

As for myself, even though I'm on a lake, my house sits over eighty feet above the water level. Flood insurance is not needed. There is an uninsured shed down by the water, but if that washed away I'd be out less than a thousand dollars.

Property insurance is boring, until it suddenly isn't.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Unsettling 9s

People often go through a time of existential crisis when they hit an age ending in “9.” 29, 39, 59, 79 -whatever. There shouldn't be anything special about say 39 or 38 or even 40. In the big scheme of things the ages are not much different. However, there is something about a birthday before a decade change that stimulates self-reflection and self-assessment.

It never hit me that way before. The age that got to me was 26. Weird, right? Why 26? Well, I was in a totally different place than most of my childhood friends. I'd been a firefighter for over 7 years, was married,had children and a house. Those all are normal adult milestones. My friends, however, were often freshly out of college and getting into exciting careers. Few were married and even fewer had children. Their lives looked so exciting. While I had no regrets, life had settled into a pattern.

After 26 it was clear sailing. 29, 39, and even 49 were no problem at all. I thought I was immune from the unsettling 9s. Then I hit 59. It caught up to me then. There were a number of things leading up to my 59th year. My dad, who I was very close to, passed away. My lovely wife and I lost our boat in a shipwreck. For the first time time in many years we stayed home during a New Hampshire winter. Then my leg got injured and greatly limited my mobility for months.

Suddenly, staring at 60 felt like a big deal. There is so much yet to do, and mortality is creeping up on me. There are things I've yet to do and experiences yet to experience. There are plans I've been sitting on for years. It's time to move on them or forget about them. I'm even considering things like fixing up the house and selling it in a few years. Not sure that's what will happen, but I'm thinking about things I'd never considered before. It could be worse. I could be looking at getting a sports car or having an affair. There's nothing wrong with change, but there's no sense in being foolish about it.

I've decided to embrace this “9” year and use it to inspire my next adventures.


Friday, June 23, 2017

The thing about knives

A knife is a simple and useful tool. People get all worked up about different types, makes and models. There's a certain mystique surrounding blades that goes way back to man's early history. As much as I appreciate a well made knife, I'm not a fanatic.

Frankly, knives have come a long long way. Improvements in metallurgy has made it possible for even cheap knives to excel compared to ancient blades. You can get a better knife by spending a lot of money, but usually a much cheaper one will do 99% of what an expensive one will do. For example, I've a Chinese copy of a sailor's knife. It's folding knife with a stout blade and a marlin spike on the back. It's an interpretation of much more expensive British knives that go way back. My knock off cost about eight bucks. Thanks to its stainless steel construction it has held up for years and I expect to lose it before wearing it out.

A knife with a 3.5 inch blade will handle just about everything you'll ever need to do. To be honest, most of the time the blade I use is on my multi-tool. It's far from being a perfect blade, but it's the one most likely to be in my pocket. That makes it better than the perfect blade back home in a box.

There are some specialty knives are are definitely worth getting if you are going to do a lot of that one thing. Fillet knives come to mind. You can clean a fish with just about any knife, but a good fillet knife does the job a lot better.

Then there is that special subset of blade wielders: knife fighters. They have very specific ideas about what a proper fighting knife should look like. Many of those guys are knife fanatics. I've studied knife fighting and even trained in a dojo. If it comes to self defense, I'm going to carry a gun.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ain't nobody here but us mushrooms

I try to keep my ear to the ground to hear what's coming my way. It's what a prudent prepared person tries to do. In recent months events have been moving fast and much of it in secret.

Take everything from the Trump presidency for example. There are all his personal problems that everyone knows about so I won't elaborate. Love him or hate him, there is much uncertainty because all the important stuff is happening in secret.

One of the big threats we have to watch for is the chance of war. Frankly, I'm not sure how serious things are with N. Korea, China, or even Russia over Syria. The point is, there is movement in the world's flash points and the average Joe lacks the intel to know what's up. One can only hope those in power have the intel and aren't just guessing their own selves.

Even simple things like health planning is up in the air. With the senate working in secret, it makes me just a tad nervous. When you are doing good things, you want everyone to know. When doing something massively unpopular, you work in secret. With that in mind, I'm guessing I won't like what comes out of that body of politicians.

It's a normal fact of life that we have to make decisions without knowing all the information. If you want to know everything, nothing will get done. We learn what we can then we take our chances. Lately I feel the ratio of knowledge to guesswork has gotten way out of balance. It makes me just bit anxious, not knowing which way to jump.