Tuesday, 31 May 2016

11:20 – We’re back to the usual stuff around here. Barbara cut my hair this morning. I was getting a little shaggy. She’s running some errands this morning while I do laundry. This afternoon we’ll work on kit stuff.

I’m debating how best to protect our garden against herbivorous predators. I was thinking last night about different types of fencing when I realized that a better solution overall might be landmines or perhaps sensor-activated claymores. In addition to protecting the vegetables, that would give us an ongoing source of deer and rabbit meat, albeit somewhat pre-shredded.

We’ve been rewatching Deadwood, which continues to set the standard for bad language. I read somewhere that over the entire three seasons Deadwood averaged just under one incidence of “fuck”, “cunt”, “cocksucker”, etc. every minute. I’m surprised it isn’t more than that. Once we finish Deadwood, we’ll at some point start re-watching Rome. That one has much less strong language but much better dresses.

Monday, 30 May 2016

13:08 – It’s Memorial Day here in the U.S., the day set aside to remember those who sacrificed themselves to protect our freedom. Although the official purpose of Memorial Day is to remember those who gave their lives in the service of our country, let’s also remember all of those brave men and women, living and dead, who through the years have put their lives on the line to protect all of us. As we have our cookouts and family get-togethers today, let’s all take a moment to think about our troops in the Middle East and elsewhere, who can’t be with their families. And let’s have a thought, not just today but every day of the year, for them and the sacrifices they are making and have made.

Frances and Al are up here for the holiday. Al brought up his roto-tiller/cultivator and spent several hours yesterday tilling a 15×20 foot garden plot. He, Frances, and Barbara have already planted some red pepper seedlings and two types of tomato seedlings out there. All hybrids. They’ve been in the ground at least two hours, but they don’t look any bigger to me yet.

I’m going to have Barbara sit down and look at the open-pollinated (“heirloom”) seeds we have on hand and decide what to plant. She wants to put in a few examples of various types, just to see how they do. I went out and grabbed a kilo or so of the untreated soil to send off for analysis. I suppose I could do it myself–Al in fact thought I was doing that when I disappeared indoors with the soil sample in hand–but our taxes have already paid for the “free” testing by the NC Ag Extension service, so we might as well have them do it.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

12:45 – Barbara is home. Colin and I are delighted. Both of us were so happy when she got home that we almost peed on the floor.

We’re taking it easy over the long holiday weekend. We did go out this morning to stake out the future garden area. At Barbara’s suggestion, we’re keeping it small to start with. We decided on a plot that’s 15×20 feet, 300 square feet, about 10 square meters, or about 0.007 acres. That’s not very large, but it’s large enough to grow more vegetables than we’ll eat. As Barbara said, we can always make it larger if we need to.

We put it on the left (south) side of the house as you’re facing it, with the near edge only four or five feet from the house. That way, if we fence it, which we probably will, we can use the side of the house as one side of the fence. The plot is sloped enough for good drainage, and gets full sunlight from morning to evening. Once we get it tilled, we’ll send off a soil sample to the agricultural extension folks to have it analyzed to determine what it needs in the way of nutrients, pH adjustment, and so on.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

08:59 – Barbara is due back sometime this afternoon. I’ve told Colin, but he doesn’t seem to understand what I’m telling him. Or perhaps he’s like Duncan. When Barbara was gone overnight or longer, Duncan used to shun her when she returned.

I’ve been thinking about cooking and baking in a grid-down situation. Obviously, if that happens during cold weather, we’d be running our wood stove. The flat top of that is more than hot enough to use for frying, boiling water, etc. and our Coleman Camp Oven would allow us to bake on it as well. Granted, that oven has only a 10-inch (25.4 cm) square rack, so it’d be limited to baking one standard loaf of bread or perhaps two smaller ones at a time, but it would be useful. As long as the wood stove was burning, we could turn out one oven load every hour or so, 24 hours a day if necessary. For that matter, given fuel, we could cook/bake on our propane grill, Coleman propane stove, or Coleman dual-fuel stove. Or we could build a Rocket stove from concrete blocks.

Because the ability to cook and bake is so important, I want to have backups to our backups to our backups. So I’ve been researching solar ovens. I’ve read several books and webpages devoted to them, and I conclude that it’d be more accurate to call them solar crockpots than solar ovens. Short of an finicky parabolic or Fresnel-based focusing oven, which requires constant adjustment to keep the beam focused, standard solar box ovens top out at around 350F (~177C), and that’s only with $250+ commercial models under ideal conditions. Realistically, figure 250F to 275F, if you’re lucky. Still, that’s hot enough to boil water, cook meat, make casseroles, and even to bake (and brown) bread. It’s just that everything takes a lot longer to cook or bake. Instead of popping dinner in the oven an hour before you intend to eat, you pop it into the solar slow-cooker in the morning to have it finished by dinner time. Not that overcooking is an issue at all. At the temperatures reached in a solar box oven, something may be cooked after four or five hours, but it doesn’t hurt to leave it cooking for several more hours.

I’m using this page as a starting point, and more particularly, this model. I’d make a few changes to the design. I don’t want a cardboard solar cooker. A sudden cloudburst could destroy the oven. Instead, I’d make it with 1X12 boards, glued and screwed, for the sides, with masonite or thin plywood for the bottom and reflector(s). I may never have time to actually build one, short of a disaster, but I do want to have everything I need on hand to build several of these if we ever need them. I’d prefer a wooden structure, but I’d use cardboard boxes if necessary. Doing it that way, one can make a usable solar oven with two or three dollars’ worth of materials. A lot of the stuff you’d need can be found around most homes–cardboard boxes, glue, aluminum foil, and so on–but there are a couple items I’d want to keep on hand specifically for these ovens.

First, although I could make field-expedient black paint (or even just rub the inner surfaces of the oven with charcoal), I’d want to have a few cans of flat black high-temperature spray paint. In addition to blackening the inside surface of the oven, this stuff can be used for blackening the exterior surfaces of pots and other vessels so they’ll absorb the heat instead of reflecting it. Cast iron cookware is preferred for use in solar cookers, but ordinary aluminum, stainless steel, or chromed pots work just as well if you blacken the exterior surfaces. In fact, I’d probably spray paint the cast iron stuff as well. I’d run a new solar cooker and freshly-painted empty vessels for a full day in the sun just to drive off any residual chemicals from the paint. Incidentally, this kind of spray paint is also useful for blackening the outside of soft drink bottles to prevent algae growth if you’re using them for container gardening.

The best material for the glazing is double glass panels with an insulating air gap, but ordinary window glass works almost as well, as does heat-resistant plastic. I could probably scrounge enough window glass to make several solar cookers, but turkey-size oven bags are inexpensive, heat-resistant to 400F, a good size for a solar cooker, and reasonably durable. In a pinch, you could probably substitute the clear 4-mil plastic sheeting sold as disposable drop clothes, but it probably wouldn’t be as durable.

Friday, 27 May 2016

10:45 – Barbara has been gone for five days, and is due back sometime tomorrow afternoon. Colin and I both miss her terribly. Last night we started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix streaming. It’s been probably a dozen years since I watched it, and it holds up pretty well. I did cut my Netflix rating from 5 to 4 stars some time ago. Buffy is still good, but it’s not quite top drawer any more. My favorite thing about Buffy, then and now, is that the vampires are actually thinly-disguised stand-ins for progressives. What could be more appropriate? Progs ARE vampires, sucking the life out of American society. I like Buffy’s sarcastic PC term for progs: Undead-Americans. Buffy does to them what I’d like to do, if only I had super powers and a Mr. Pointy. Kill them all. Let Satan sort them out.

With Barbara gone all week, I didn’t have time to do any prepping other than working on some lists of stuff I want to learn/do/acquire if, as, and when.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

08:46 – Barbara has been gone for four days, and Colin and I are continuing to make do. We finished re-watching Jericho again last night. I continue to be impressed by the tight writing. It ran for only 30 episodes from 2006 to 2008, but I’m surprised it made it on the air at all.

I’m still running bottle labels and making up reagents in preparation for making up more chemical bags when Barbara returns. We’re down to only six bottle of Barfoed reagent for biology kits, so I made up a gallon of the stuff yesterday. It’s basically a 0.33 molar solution of copper(II) acetate in 1% acetic acid, which at room temperature is very close to being saturated. Today, I’ll make up several other long shelf-life reagents that we’re short of.

We also have several large trash bags full of 2-liter Coke bottles. I’m sure Barbara will be happy to learn that I have plans for a bunch of those bottles. I’m going to cut off the tops and turn them into planting pots that we’ll use out on the deck.

The next time Al and Frances come up, he’s going to bring his roto-tiller along. I’d like to get a small garden area tilled, maybe 20×30 feet. I don’t intend to plant much if anything there this year, but I’d like to get it tilled up so that we can introduce soil amendments this year and allow them to break down and improve the soil in preparation for actual planting next spring.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

08:14 – Barbara has been gone for three days, but Colin and I are making do. She called around dinner time yesterday. She’s relaxing and having a good time, which is the important part. Also, Colin is behaving much better than he usually does when Barbara’s away for a few days. He’s still pestering for attention, but not as much as I expected.

He’s a very needy Border Collie, and Barbara recognized that the first time we visited him in his litter. All the other puppies clustered around our feet, playing and nibbling on each other’s paws and ears. Colin, then named Eddie, was off by himself. Barbara recognized immediately that unless someone who was very familiar with Border Collies adopted this puppy, he was very likely to end up in BC Rescue. So she picked him and he picked her. As it turns out, we agree that Colin is the smartest BC we’ve ever had, which is saying something. People think I’m kidding, but I’m entirely serious. A smart dog uses deductive logic. All of our BCs, Colin more so than the others, also uses inductive logic. It’s obvious from watching his decision-making process.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

09:43 – Barbara has been gone for 48 hours. It sure is boring when she’s away, for both Colin and me. I didn’t want to bother her yesterday while she was in class, so I sent her a text to check in. That was the first text message I’d ever initiated. She called back at dinner time to say everything was going well and that she was having a good time. Colin and I both really miss her, but she needs to get away from the daily routine around here and going to one of these craft classes with her friend Bonnie Richardson is a good way to do it.

I’m about at the point of dropping Firefox entirely. Every new release is worse than the last, less stable and eating more resources. It’s a bad application, and it keeps getting worse. A year or so ago, I played around with Chromium for Linux and found that I couldn’t live with the gaping holes in its functionality. So now I’m playing around with Opera, which I last looked at probably a decade ago. So far, it’s looking okay, so I may shift all my stuff over to it.

Monday, 23 May 2016

09:33 – Barbara has been gone for 24 hours. Colin and I are still alive. She called yesterday afternoon at 1650 to say she’d arrive safely after driving seven hours with a few stops. Her cell signal wasn’t great, but at least she has service out there in the middle of nowhere. Verizon has a pretty good network.

More science kit stuff for me today. I need to make up more solutions for chemistry kits and run a bunch more bottle labels. When Barbara gets back, she’ll have plenty of bottles to label and fill.

Colin and I haven’t been able to find any wild women, so in the evening we’re watching reruns on Netflix streaming. That and playing ball. Or, as Colin plays it, keep-away.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

10:03 – Barbara took off about 9:40 for a week in Brasstown, down in the far, far southwest corner of North Carolina. It’s about 300 miles and a six hour drive from here.

She did take along a pretty comprehensive get-home bag, with food, water, water purification gear, fire-making gear, knife, multi-tool, chainsaw, Coghlan’s Folding Stove with half a dozen 8-ounce sawdust/paraffin firestarter blocks, a decent first-aid kit, blankets and spare clothing, a .22LR rifle with 100 rounds, and so on. She also understands that it’s important to keep her gas tank as full as possible. Her Chevy HHR has a 16-gallon fuel tank, and gets at least 25 MPG on the highway, so in theory she has a range of 400+ miles. She plans to stop on her way down to refuel, and then to top off her tank as soon as she arrives.

For Colin and me, it’ll be a week of wild women and parties. Well, that and working on kit stuff.

12:53 – Colin is not a happy camper. He watched Barbara drive away three hours ago, and he’s been pestering me ever since. He wants constant action. I’m sure he remembers the days back before September 30th, when Barbara was at work all day long every weekday, but he’s spoiled by the fact that we’ve both been home pretty much all day every day since then.

Someone emailed me to ask if I’d be eating from long-term storage while Barbara’s gone. I thought about it, but I decided that I’m going to eat mostly sandwiches, packaged frozen foods, and so on. Barbara left me with a pretty full freezer, including a couple of Stouffer’s Chicken & Broccoli Pasta Bake meals.

Email from Jen. They start and run their generator for about a pint’s worth of gasoline the first of every month. They did that yesterday, three weeks late for this month, and found it wouldn’t start, even with ether-based starter spray. I told her my guess was that they’d been running it with gasoline polluted with ethanol, which is notorious for gumming up the carburetors in lawnmowers and other small gas engines. Her husband is hauling their generator to the local small-engine repair guy tomorrow to find out what went wrong and what he needs to do to fix it himself if it happens again. I suspect that it’d be a good idea to keep some carburetor cleaner on hand, and know how to tear down the generator far enough to clean the gunk out of the carb. I just checked pure-gas.org and found that there’s one place in Sparta that sells ethanol-free gas, or at least did the last time the list was updated.