Not Cooking, Today.

Yes, I know I promised I’d talk about outdoor cooking.  And I will, next time (promise!).  Today, though, I’ve really got to rant a little.

You see, I’m writing this on Wednesday, 20 June, the evening before the post is supposed to go live. And yet, this administration… I really can’t put into words my thoughts on the “forced separation” policy they’ve put into action at the border. (Well, I can–I was a Sailor, after all, and can swear fluently in two languages, and in pidgin in a couple of others… But I try to keep the blog fairly “clean,” if not family-friendly.)

It’s as if the President and his staff went out looking for every “Checklist on How to Be a Dictator” type list, and are going down them one checkbox at a time. Let’s see… Divide the populace? Check. Smear the press? Check. Demonize a minority? Check. Now we can add concentration camps to the list.

Just to add a bit of screaming irony, who can tell me what today, the 20th of June, is?  If you answered World Refugee Day, you’re right!

I’ll grant that as of this evening, they’re starting to walk back the policies–but damage has been done. Incredible damage. I’m not really completely sure just how we, as a nation, come back from this one. But we’ve absolutely got to try.

The whole thing pisses me off so much I could spit.  I mean, the people writing this storyline have long since jumped the shark. (And while yes, we’ve had former actors as president before, they’d been in government for quite some time prior to running. This buffoon wsan’t even a good actor–and he was “acting” as himself…)

I’m ready for this particular reality TV show to be cancelled. To do that, though, we’ve got to go out in November and vote.  And again in 2020…

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Corrections, repairs, and replacements

I’d like to start this time with a correction to the last post. Thanks to alert reader “Bear,” who pointed out that the batteries in my solar cart are, in fact, connected in parallel, not serial as I had originally posted. (The post has been corrected, if you hadn’t read it yet.)

The reason this is important has to do with how electrical things connect, and what happens with the electricity depending on those connections. I’ll not turn this into the multi-thousand-word post (plus pictures!) that this would require to fully explain. That said, here’s the dime version:

There are, basically, three values we look at: voltage, wattage, and amperage. These all measure the electricity in different ways, and they interrelate: voltage x amperage = wattage. (The “water analogy” is to think of water in a pipe: voltage is the water pressure, amperage is the volume of water. Wattage is the power they can provide.)

Solar panels provide DC voltage, typically in either 12V or 24V (although I’ve seen 48V panels, as well) nominal (they actually put out something like 17V or 32V, respectively). They will vary most by their wattage (50W, 100W, 200W, etc.).  When buying panels, try to get them all from the same manufacturer, in the same size, and at the same time–they’ll all be “worn/used” at the same rate, and the system will stay more efficient.

Batteries also work DC, and are typically 12V, if bought as deep-cycle batteries. They are also rated in “amp-hours,” which indicates the volume (total amount) of electricity that can be pulled from the battery, theoretically. A battery rated at 100 amp-hours (abbreviated ah) can provide 1 amp for 100 hours, before being completely, fully dead. Or, it could provide 100 amps for 1 hour. Or 50 amps for 2 hours. Generally, we don’t like to draw batteries down by more than 25% (and by 10-15% max is better)–so, for our theoretical 100ah battery, we only use 25ah. (This has to do with maintaining the lifespan of the battery. If you drain it further, it won’t hold a charge as long, and will die completely, sooner.)

Inverters take the input DC voltage (12, 24, or 48 volts) and turn it into 120V AC, providing however many watts they’re rated for.

The connections work like this: If you connect batteries or solar panels in parallel, the voltage stays the same, but the wattage (of the panels) or amp-hour capacity (of the batteries) increases.  A “parallel” connection means that all the positive terminals link up in a line, and all of the negative terminals link up in a line.

Contrariwise, if you connect them in series, the wattage/amp-hour capacity stays the same, while the voltage increases. When connected in series, the positive of each panel/battery connects to the negative of the next one, with the “ends” connecting to the next “device” in the system.

(Please, if you’re working this and aren’t completely familiar with all of the ins and outs, find a reliable source and study until it makes sense, or find somebody who understands it to do the work for you…)

So, if you have two panels, rated 12V and 100W, and you connect them in parallel, you end up with 12V at 200W. If you connect them in parallel, you have 100W of 24V. With batteries, if you have two of them rated 12V/100ah, and connect them in parallel, you end up with 12V/200ah; if you connect them in series, you have 24V/100ah. Generally, the idea is to pick a system voltage, and work with that. I chose 12V, because over 95% of inverters are happy with 12V, there are plenty of devices out there that run on 12V (mostly for RVs and boats), and you don’t have to worry about using ginormous cables, for the most part…

Whew.  Believe it or not, that was the short version. I skimmed a lot of stuff there, and if you’re going to be messing with solar panels, I cannot encourage you enough to find a book (or three or four) on the topic and read up. Even one panel/battery/inverter can put out enough juice to kill–take care of yourself, and be careful with this stuff.

The “repairs” and “replacements” mentioned come down to other happenings around the homestead. I’ve had to make some plumbing repairs, lately, which involved belly-crawling around in a muddy, moldy crawlspace.

I’ll state for the record that I really dislike cast iron plumbing, copper only marginally less, and PVC is easier, but still a pain; unfortunately, they don’t do drain lines in PEX. (Something to do with having to maintain the right drop over the run.) I will suggest, though, for those who have to deal with it, moving away from the old purple PVC primer (and separate cement), and going with a combination primer-and-cement, which is clear, takes out a step in the process, and sets quickly.

The replacements involve us biting the bullet, and getting a new lawn mower–I need to replace the flywheel and stators on the old one–in addition to a new refrigerator, stove, washer, dryer, and water heater. (We’ll probably also replace the household water pressure tank in the near future, too–the current one is woefully undersized.) While having the new things will be nice, that really hurt$ in the wallet.

That’ll do it for this week, folks. Next time around, I hope to talk a bit about outdoor cookspaces–with luck, the Eastern Seaboard won’t still be in Deluge conditions by then, and I can do stuff outside.  If you have questions or comments on the solar, or about cooking, please post them in the comments section!

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Finally, the Sun

Mother Nature has had a touch of wry humor this past week, giving us a full seven days of rain when I’m supposed to be writing about my solar generator. But she finally relented, and the sun came out, so I suppose it’s time. (My finger is healing up nicely, as well, thanks for asking!)

First, some caveats: Solar panels generate electricity. The batteries used in this system store (and release) said electricity. Electricity flows throughout the system, potentially at dangerous levels. If you’re uncomfortable working with electricity, find someone with experience to make the connections and such. By working on any parts of a solar panel system, you’re taking the risk onto yourself, and I’m not liable for any accidents that may ensue.

In all, the whole thing is fairly simple. The ingredients list of “required parts” is:

  • Two 100W solar panels (I used these Renogy panels, from Amazon);
  • One charge controller (came with the panels);
  • One inverter (like this one);
  • Two deep-cycle marine batteries (picked up at the local hardware store);
  • wire and connectors for everything (various, see below).

This can also be built with just one panel, or just one battery, or a smaller (or larger) inverter. The wiring and connectors will vary depending on the exact configuration of your system, as well as what your battery terminals look like, and the like. Use battery cables for the parts that connect to the battery–if the wire is too small, you’ll melt them (if you’re lucky). Please do your research, and find the right wire gauge.

Other optional parts include: the cart, to haul things around. Mine is adapted from a car-hitch carrier like this, with a set of garden cart wheels. A little scrap lumber and some hinges were used to make the frame for the panels. The hinges allow the panels to fold up like a book, with the “faces” towards each other for protection. The frame has “bumpers” to prevent the panels from touching each other directly–they’re tough, but still just glass. More scrap went into making the box that holds the batteries, charge controller, and inverter. I also went the “extra mile” and added a voltage meter–absolutely not necessary, but good to know just how much juice the batteries are putting out. (These little meters are fragile, but inexpensive.)

Solar dehydrator, generator

Solar dehydrator (left) and Solar Generator (right)

Here you see my solar gadgets in action. The dehydrator is directly from designs in Mother Earth News; it’s big, and unwieldy, and works great.

This is the generator, looking at the “business end,” I guess you’d call it. Note the two wooden bars I’ve placed across the cart; these primarily keep the panels from sliding, but they also allow me to set the panels at different angles, to more directly face the sun (for better charging).panels and cart

box and underside

This is a look at the “service end” of the setup.  The face of the voltage meter is visible on the top of the box. The blue panel off to the left is the lid from a plastic bin, which I use to keep the rain out of the box (additional protection, above and beyond whatever “sheltering” the panels themselves provide). The white splotches on the top of the box are because a turkey vulture found a way into my barn, and was roosting in the rafters directly over the box… Suffice to say, it’s been washed a bit, since the picture was taken.

batteries and inverter

Here’s the guts of the system. Wires run from the solar panels (wired in parallel, so providing 200W of 12V power) to the charge controller, then to the batteries (also wired in parallel*, to provide twice the capacity of 12V power), then to the inverter. The voltage indicator runs off the charge controller.

(* I had originally indicated, incorrectly, that the batteries were in series–thanks to commenter Bear for pointing out my mistake. The system is wired for 12V DC; when I assembled it, I read everything I could on the subject, and actually delayed system construction until I could be sure not to screw it up. I wrote the post relying on my memory–and promptly made the mistake…)

Going into what all of that means is the subject of another post–which will come next time around. There are a few things I need to change in this setup–there should be a couple of fuses in there, between the batteries and the charge controller, and between the panels and the controller. Of less importance is that I need to rig a smaller access panel, to be able to plug things into the inverter without having to open the whole case.

Any questions on what we’ve got here so far? Hit me up in the comments!

Posted in Gear, Planning, Solar | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

One More Week

I had intended to get the post on the solar generator cart up this week, and then I sliced the h*ll out of an index finger, and typing is… well, “less than fun,” let’s call it.  It’s nothing permanently debilitating, just painful, as cuts at the tips of fingers will be.

All of which is to say, I’ll get the post up next week, on the 24th. Promise.  Stick around!

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Inching Closer to a Collapse?

Yes, I said I’d avoid “current events” posts, but frankly, things have been getting a bit strange. More so than normal.

We’ve got a former FBI Director, and life-long Republican, going toe-to-toe with the current president (who got a big leg up from said FBI Director during the campaign). Continued reluctance on the part of the president to say anything bad about Russia, for more than a few minutes at the least. He even walked back upcoming sanctions announced by one of his appointees–the current Ambassador to the U.N.

We’re more or less in a cold trade war with China; Trump keeps hinting at tariffs (none of which have actually been implemented, if I understand correctly), and China has gone ahead and imposed tariffs on huge swaths of our exports to them–directly impacting large portions of the country that went out big for Trump. Somebody apparently managed to convince the President that the TPP actually was in our best interests, so he wants back in–and the rest of the countries are (understandably) not having much of it.

Then there’s Syria. The president, while on the campaign trail, decried “telegraphing” our plans to Russia, the Syrians, ISIS, and whoever else was in the area. So on Monday, he informed them (via tweet) that we intended to launch missiles at Syria (in retaliation for chemical weapons attacks the Syrians carried out on their own people). Then he said we might not. Then he said we might, “real soon now.” And then, predictably, we did. Credible reports indicate that we blew up some empty buildings… But no casualties.

The weather continues its strangeness. It’s roughly the 108th of January, to judge by the temperature. (I’m told that other parts of the country are even worse off. Summer in Minnesota is scheduled for a Thursday, this year…) Scientists are talking about the Gulf Stream slowing down, which would be… Well, “catastrophic” is probably not too big a word. And I’m seeing folks on Reddit discussing how Limits to Growth is turning out to have been accurate, after all. (And, if you’ve read it, you’ll recall that they estimated things really going to hell in about 2020-2025.)

And yet, for all of that, at the most local of levels, we seem to just keep plodding along. I’ve got wood enough to last until things warm up–although if it goes too much longer, the wood is going to get gradually greener and greener. The spring still flows (when it’s not frozen), and the well isn’t dry. We have food for a good while, and friendly neighbors on most sides… So the collapse,

I plan on skipping a post, next time around, the better to make sure stuff gets done in a timely fashion around the homestead. It is, at least in theory, springtime, and there are plants to plant, fences to mend, yards to mow, and a host of other chores to be done. So look for the next post in mid-May–we’ll be talking solar! With luck, the sun will still be around…  (ha!)

Posted in Collapse, Critical Thought, Government, Make it Stop | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Seems to be Setting In

Well, a quick perusal of many “mainstream” prepper areas out there shows me that the notion of climate change is finally starting to sink in, on the Right–at least, among those who don’t have a vested interest (<ahem> Congress <cough <cough>) in continuing to deny it. Is it “too little, too late,” though? The more I look at it, the more it seems possible that we’ve crossed some sort of tipping point, or will in the near future. Greenland’s ice is melting faster than ever; the Antarctic is melting away from the sea-floor at an accelerating rate… Nationally, things have been crazy, and here in my own back yard we’ve gone from mid-60’s last week, to snowfall Monday, to about 70 degrees Wednesday, and they’re calling for snow again in a few days.

But in the more immediate, foreseeable future (to the extent that such things are ‘foreseeable’), there’s the looming prospects of a trade war with China; the gods only know what may happen when our President, bless his black little heart, meets with the North Koreans; and we may be looking at our own troops deployed along our Mexican border (because what could go wrong?). Any one of these events could lead things horribly awry all by themselves–and we’re looking at all of them.

Maybe I’m just in a pessimistic mood, today, but things aren’t really looking good.

On the other hand, we’ve got the early parts of our garden planted (radishes go in this weekend). The chickens seem to have shaken off the winter, and are producing eggs at a prodigious rate. I’ve got a half-dozen or so books in my “how-to” library that need reading. It’s warm enough (off-and-on) to work in the shop, repairing and building things. The new bees will be here in six weeks or so (which reminds me, I should set out a swarm trap or two, “just in case”). Homestead projects are advancing, and all in all, things seem about as solid as I could ask. Hopefully, things are on solid footing for you all, too.

I’d like, for the next few posts–maybe every other one, or so–to do some “how-to” bits. Probably nothing really major, but potentially useful little things. Maybe a parts-and-build description for my “portable solar generator,” for example, or a solar water purifier… Possibly build an outdoor cook-space. I’m open for suggestions in the comments; if it’s something feasible, I’ll add to the list.

For now, though, I’ll have to content myself with bringing in the last of the firewood for the season, going over the fenceline to check for needed repairs, and thinking about what needs doing next.

How about it, folks? Are you prepped for spring-into-summer? Have you been noticing any ‘prepping shifts’ in the mainstream? What do you have going on in your neck of the woods?

Posted in Community, Make it Stop, Planning, Quick | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Preparing for Not Collapsing

This post was inspired by a number of newspaper articles I’ve read recently, all of which addressed a financial issue from different angles. According to Salon, Millenials aren’t saving for retirement, mostly because they don’t believe capitalism will still be around by then. Lots of people are facing being broke in retirement (soft paywall). And CNN says that most Americans can’t afford a $1000 emergency.

I wish I could find the source of the quote, to give them their due credit, but here it is:

I have a stock of shelf-stable food and a lot of guns and ammo as a hedge against everything going to hell in a handbasket, and

I have a retirement fund I’ve been putting as much remaining money into as possible as a hedge against everything staying stable.

The point being, things generally not collapsing is a more likely scenario, overall, than everything collapsing. And if there’s a scenario I’d like to be prepared for, it’s the one where everything is fine.

Now, this certainly isn’t to say that small, local collapses won’t happen. Just ask anybody who lives in Florida, or along much of the Eastern seaboard, or in the Gulf. Ask anyone from Louisiana, or Galveston. Anyone who remembers any of the larger quakes in California. Or the folks in any of a number of cities in Oklahoma, Kansas, or other areas in Tornado Alley.

But however big the disaster was locally, things returned to some semblance of normalcy after a period of time. And in all of those cases, if you were prepared for things to go back to normal (or at least, to “normal-ish”) beforehand, you were set up to move on afterward.

Okay, so how does one prepare for normal? (I know, it sounds like a very odd question. Why, you just… do normal things?) How does one prepare for long-term normal? I propose that there’s a balancing act between spending your every waking moment prepping, and spending no time at all considering the possibility of emergencies. I spend ten hours a day either at or commuting to or from my “day job.” I’ve got things in place such that in the event of catastrophe, I can get home on foot, or at worst significantly raise my chances. I’ve got stuff in place for me to “shelter-in-place” there for a couple of days, if need be. And at home, of course, I’m set up for a month or more.

But I’m also doing my level best to save money for my eventual retirement. I’m trying to wipe out all of my consumer debt–the better to have more money to save. I’m working on lowering my annual expenses, for the same reason. And I’m working a couple of “side-hustles” to speed up all of the above.

I see it as a combination of tactics. To make it something of a game, I think of it as playing “offense” and “defense.” “Offense” is doing what I can to earn more: excelling at work, to make me more competitive for raises. Taking the side-jobs. Whatever I can to bump up my income. “Defense,” on the other hand, is lowering my expenses, with the goal of being able to save more.

This isn’t a personal finance blog–there are plenty of those out there, and I’m happy to make recommendations in the comments–so I won’t go into things too deeply.  But there are resources, and tons of strategies for working all of that. Whatever you do, don’t blithely assume that it’s all going to crash down around us. We humans are, after all, past masters at muddling along…

Posted in Collapse, Critical Thought, Frugality, Planning, Quick | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments