Disconcerting

Well, and it’s been an interesting week, though, hasn’t it?  Our president in a one-on-one with the Russian president, followed by Trump’s siding with Putin over the combined U.S. intelligence system? I mean, I hesitate to use the word “treason,” but really…

And I heard an acquaintance brush off the whole thing, pointing to Obama’s so-called “apology tour” as having been worse.

So I’d like to take a moment to address that.

Now, I understand that there were many out there who were freaked out by having a black man in the Oval Office. I disagree with literally every single reason I’ve ever heard given as to why it was supposedly a “bad thing.” And I’d retain at least a sliver of respect for anybody who could admit, flat-out, that they were freaked out because they are, when it comes down to it, racists. (The sliver was merely the one for them being honest–and it’s a very small sliver.)

I also get that there’s this right-wing information bubble. Heck, when it comes down to it, there’s a left-wing information bubble, too–but most (not all, most) folks on the left try to fact-check their news. Many of us occasionally listen to what they’re saying on the right. We’re willing to change our minds when presented with credible information that is backed up by other, independent sources.

So when I read transcripts of Obama’s speeches over the course of that tour–they’re publicly available information, after all, and a quick perusal of teh Google will turn them up–I don’t see any actual apologies anywhere.

What I do see is somebody rationally looking over U.S. history, and saying “we messed up right there, but we’re fixing it,” or “we’re still struggling with the aftermath of slavery.” Not apologies–but acknowledging that we’re human, and we’ve made mistakes. Note: not “we’re sorry for making these mistakes.” Just noting that we’ve made them, and we’re trying to better ourselves and move on from them.

I’d submit to the reader that that sort of an acknowledgement is much more sane, rational, and well-thought-out than completely blowing off even the notion of taking a hard line with our biggest adversary.

Putin said they didn’t interfere? He said it very forcefully?  Well, duh. What did you expect him to say? “Hey, Putin–we think you’ve just done this absolutely horrible awful thing. What do you have to say about that?”  “Nyet. Didn’t happen. Fake news. Wasn’t us.”

And our dunce of a president–this idiot, who’s borderline illiterate, and who I’m convinced is riding the dementia train–just went along with it.

Going with “But Obama did an apology tour!” is not only imbecilic, it’s untrue, and it’s “whataboutism” at its finest. Three strikes? At least.

I’ve got no words.

Having just spent over four hundred words to get to that point, I’ll announce that I’m going on vacation. I’ll be skipping my next two “normal” posts, and I’ll be back on the 30th of August. In the meantime, keep fighting the good fight. Keep urging people to vote blue-ticket. Keep writing and calling your congresscritters.

Our lives–or, at the very least, our democracy–probably depend on it.

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Posted in Critical Thought, Government, Make it Stop | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Now We’re Cooking

We’re cooking, alright–in multiple senses. The thermometer locally has toyed with the notion of one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, the last couple of days. Cooking, indeed.

But of more relevance is the topic of cooking food, and cooking it outside. That’s timely enough, as I write this on the Fourth of July (happy Independence Day, by the way)–this is prime time for the most common method of applying heat to food while outside: the grill. Today, we talk grills.  (I’ll hit other cookers later, in a separate post or two.)

Grill, of course, come in all shapes and sizes, from the larger-than-life Pitmaster Grill Boss Super Deluxe 3000 (I made that up), down through various grill/smoker combos and “standard” backyard grills, your basic kettle grills and your ceramic “egg” style cookers, down to an expanding array of tabletop models.

The first two things you’ll need to decide, going with a grill, are 1) what size you need, and 2) what fuel source you’ll use.  The sizes I’ve listed more or less from larger to smaller above; if you’re in an apartment or condo, you might only have room for a tabletop grill. (They have them now in electric indoor versions, which both delights and appalls me.) Townhome? Move up to a bigger one–a kettle grill, or the like. And so on.

As for fuel, the “industry standard” for homeowners these days seems to be propane. It’s convenient and all, I’ll grant you, but I have enough problems with running out of propane when I’m brewing. I wouldn’t want to be suddenly flameless at an inopportune moment–a party, say, or during a grid-down emergency.

This brings us to charcoal. You’ve pretty much got your choice of briquettes, “natural lump” charcoal, or one of the more exotic types. This is purely personal preference; each has its pros and cons, and each seems to have its own particularly devout following. Regardless of what you pick, one thing to remember in an emergency: if you can use charcoal of whatever flavor, you can use wood.

Heck, for that matter, if you’re creative enough, you can use the wood to make charcoal. Why would you want to add the extra several steps that would be involved? Well, increased heat for cooking, and less smoke. Although, let’s be honest: in an emergency situation, if you’re worried that you’ll be “found” because of the smoke from your grill, you’re either not in that much of an emergency, or you’re not thinking really hard about it. I mean, the scent of things cooking on a grill can carry for quite a ways.

All of this is, of course, completely ignoring the various accessories and add-ons available for your grill. I mean, there’s the obvious (spatula, tongs, fork/skewer, brush). There’s the less-obvious (container to hold smoking pellets, or “cage” to hold smaller items). And there’s the much less obvious (silicone mat to lay over the grate, preventing things from dropping into the flames)… We’ll not even get into the intricacies of “barbecue” versus merely “grilling”–that’s the source of religious wars.

That’s really a very quick overview–but I remain of the firm opinion that in most emergencies, if they’re going to last more than a few days, and you’re “bugging in,” a grill is probably going to be your most reliable source for cooking–if only because they’re practically ubiquitous. I’d follow the grill with a fire pit (either a metal “above-ground” one or, ideally, an actual pit), and combine either one with a cast iron Dutch oven.

What do you think, readers? How was your Fourth? Did you “rise in rebellion” with the rest of the Left? (The hashtag #secondcivilwar has been hilarious…)  Let us know in the comments!

Posted in Food, Gear, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

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…

Posted in Government, Make it Stop, Quick | Tagged | 1 Comment

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!

Posted in Gear, Solar | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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!

Posted in Make it Stop, News, Quick | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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