Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tragedy of the Commons averted

With the ice storm itself past, the time for clean up began. The weight of the ice and snow was simply too much for many trees, resulting in fallen limbs, trunks broken, and many of the younger pines bent double.

Even though property taxes are always on the rise, and despite the promises of the county, the roads are never kept up. So this unowned land, the road itself, normally suffers from the tragedy of the commons: no one takes care of it.

In some ways I don't blame the folks who live on the road, because after all they had their own property stolen supposedly for the upkeep of the roads. But even so, I cannot help but take the opportunity to show how liberty, and thus responsibility, works.

So I took it upon myself to travel the road the entire way to the blacktop clearing trees and limbs along the way. I did not need to head to town myself, or even go out to the black top really, but I wanted the road clear in case I needed to go at some point. So rather than wait on "services" that will never come, I chose to set an example. Hopefully we can start a trend now with all of the neigbors pitching in to maintain the road ourselves if for no other reason than we use it and would all like a road in better condition than the one we currently deal with.

Liberty can work if we give it half a chance..

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Shadow Roads

Just finished The Shadow Roads, by Sean Russell. This is the conclusion of his Swan War trilogy.

Okay enough of the book report format.. I've said before that Sean Russell is more a great story teller than simple writer of fantasy. His works are understated, yet detailed. They are engrossing, yet well paced. This trilogy is no exception. One of the marks of a truly good story is that you are sad that it is over, even when the story ends on an up note. Well, I won't claim that this is a tidy, perfect Hollywood ending, as some things are left unresolved, but they are unresolved in the sort of ways that love and life are so often not so easily resolved. That said, I am still sad to have the story end. Like the addict jonesing for the next hit, I just want to pick up just one more book in the series, then I'll be ready to quit.. I mean it this time..

At this moment I don't know what will be the next book.. It is very early morning as I write this (about 1:30 am) but as is so often the case when I finish a book, I am not quite ready to sleep.. so maybe I'll start another..

While I do not know what will be next, I do know the latest addition to the stack:

An Agorist Primer
by Samuel Edward Konkin III

"If you've ever wondered what Agorism is or why it is the next step in the evolution of libertarian theory and practice, then this introductory volume is exactly what you've been seeking. Told with clear and concise prose, An Agorist Primer is exactly that — a primer on all the important aspects of Agorism and Counter-Economics: how they work together to enable you to free yourself and expand freedom to your friends, family, and the world!"

Rain turning to Ice.

Just after midnight and I am still awake, not an uncommon occurance to tell the truth. However tonight it is because I am enjoying the sound of rain on the all too thin roof of my little caravan. The forecast is for rain all night, turning to freezing rain and ice.. The last two are not really all that welcome as I have to get out to play cowboy in the morning, but then again they will give the landscape a new facade which is nearly always welcomed.

Listening to the rain fall on the roof will be one of life's great joys that I will be sacrificing for the everyday comfort of a home in the earth. With up to two feet of soil on my roof, I won't hear the tattoo of the rain hitting a tin roof as I enjoy now. I've considered options to give me this sound, so welcome it is, but so far none have made it into the plan..

There is something comforting about weather which limits us, which changes our plans or choices. While in Canada one winter, the forecast called for several feet of snow, on top of the four feet of snow already on the ground. My hosts were prepared since that was not an unusual forecast for them, so the house was warm, food was plentiful, but all plans for travel were cancled. It made for a better environment. A shared experience, a shared “tribulation” or challenge. It removed almost all of the modern world, putting us back in the situation of just providing warmth and food. Granted because of the planning of my hosts this was not much of a challenge, but rather a friendly reminder of what once was and could be again.

To a lesser extent a good rain has a similar effect. We want to stay dry, so we avoid going out in the rain. We find ways around what we do not have, or what we “needed” before the rain started. We face a new challenge, cut off, however slightly, from others who are beyond the veil of the rain.

Perhaps it is my love of solitude, or that of a challenge, or perhaps my cynicism on modern culture, or maybe, and I believe this to be the case, it is a sincere love of nature and weather which drives me to stay up late simply listening to the rain, or rising early to test the new snow... Regardless, this is one area I probably won't examine too closely, just to make sure that the magic of extreme weather is not chased away by the bright light of reason..

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Books to date this year:
The Integral Trees (Mass Market Paperback) by Larry Niven The Integral Trees Niven, Larry

The Smoke Ring (Mass Market Paperback) by Larry Niven The Smoke Ring Niven, Larry

Niven is truly one of the greats. His imagination is unique, his writing enticing, and the stories interesting.

The Deep Beyond: Cuckoo's Egg / Serpent's Reach (Union-Alliance ... by C.J. Cherryh The Deep Beyond: Cuckoo's Egg / Serpent's Reach Cherryh, C.J.*

Cherryh too is one of the greats, able to drift between sci-fi and fantasy doing wonders in both.

On the Shortness of Life (Penguin Great Ideas) by Lucius Annaeus Seneca On the Shortness of Life Seneca, Lucius Annaeus

The Golden Sayings - Epictetus (online book)

Enchiridion Enchiridion
by Epictetus

I began reading Seneca first (these are in no particular order) as I have for years wondered where I could find his "smoky room" argument for suicide. Well after speeding through Seneca, I discovered wholly by accident that the "smoky room" argument is not his at all, but belongs to another stoic, Epictetus. I immediately ordered Enchiridion, but could not wait so read the gutenburg online book The Golden Sayings. Here I found the "smoky room" argument for suicide, but it turned out that I already knew the entire thing: When the room gets to smoky, I shall leave through the door..

Still the stoics are wonderful reads, very contemporary surprisingly. They understand that we choose our emotions, and that others cannot force us to feel anything we choose not to feel emotionally. Taking this sort of responsibility for our actions and reactions frees us, but also allows us to grow as individuals while embracing the best emotions of life.

The next step on this particular path for me is either more stoics, else into the cynics..

The One Kingdom (The Swans' War, book 1) by Sean Russell The One Kingdom (The Swans' War, book 1) Russell, Sean
The Isle of Battle (The Swans' War, book 2) by Sean Russell The Isle of Battle (The Swans' War, book 2) Russell, Sean

Sean Russell is less a fantasy writer than he is simply a truly gifted writer. I honestly believe that he could given a bit of time, and the market for it, be ranked along side some of the most notable names in literature.

The Sun Also Rises (Hardcover) by Ernest Hemingway
The Sun Also Rises Hemingway, Ernest

And speaking of the most notable names in literature.. Hemingway is one I came to only in the last several years, in part because of the reputation. So often that which is supposed to be great is disappointing. Not so with Hemingway. In some ways he reminds me of Tolstoy, but where Tolstoy is often as dark as a shadow on a cloudy night, Hemingway tends to be more like the darkness of a forest which is often broken by dappled light, and the occasional clearing.. Both are wonderful, and similar, but still unique.

Growing and Canning Your Own Food by Jackie Clay

This was a book I had intended to purchase over the hellidays, but put off because I was told that I would have full access and probably be given, several books on canning and preserving foods. Ironically the person whose books those are was given this book by some neighbors. I happened to be over there yesterday to care for a loving but challenging dog (a boxer.. ) when I noticed this book on the coffee table. I dove into it, not stopping until I had read all of the book, except for a few pages on butchering your own beef.. While I am not opposed to it, I know that I fail to have adequate storage space for a whole beef. I have to say that while it gives some recipes, and some killing and butchering methods, as well as how to can various foods from meat, to vegetables, to fruits, and even dried goods, Clay is able to explain it all in terms a novice can understand without going into anything arcane or truly challenging. You might find some greater detail or certainly more recipes elsewhere, but this is a wonderful primer and bible for canning.

I will try to review books as I finish them, so that from this point forward the books will be in order of completion, and there will be more detail for each book.. From the past year, in which I have truly been delving into reading more than I have since graduate school at least, I expect that fiction will still be the majority of the titles, followed by philosophy, political issues, economics and history. Interspersed will be books on homesteading, gardening, foraging (though do I really need more books on foraging?? Need, no. Want.. oh hell yeah..), and other subjects related to self-sufficiency. There may well be some on electrical work and off grid power generation as I am working on building my own off grid power station. (Wind, solar, and generator back up) .

Too good to pass up

Okay let me lead off with the fact that I am not a fan of either rap or youtube.. that said this little gem was just too good to pass up, after all how often do you see any song about economics?

YouTube - "Fear the Boom and Bust" a Hayek vs. Keynes Rap Anthem

For more on the Austrian School of economics, the only description of economics which actually makes sense, works, and does not require massive and always increasing debt, check out:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Books and a friend

A friend posted a blog on the goal of reading at least 50 books this year, which admitted struck me as ambitious. Still I respected the goal, and quietly in the back of my mind wondered if I am up to that same task..

Well as we close in on the third week of the year, I am embracing that goal for myself with full credit to my friend. Why you may wonder? Well because I am now on my sixth book of the year which if I kept this pace (unlikely) would put me on pace for closer to 100 books this year.

I have never kept track of how much or little I read, and I will still be excluding from the count the magazines like The Economist, which can take some time to read, or the websites like which is chock full of material to read..

Still this may be a good experiment for me and I welcome it. It is not a competition with my friend or anyone else, but rather an excuse to keep track of what and how I read for a year.. What comes of it is what comes of it..

In the following days I'll list the books so far..

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Just a good day

Sometimes you just have one of those rare, sincerely good days.

Today was such a day. Began with some good discussions of objective morality, psychology, and history, followed by good productive work, some creative fencing solutions, and finally some repairs a long time in coming.

Decent dinner, made better by my not having to fix it, and now I can look forward to more reading of Epictetus, then Sean Russell's The One Kingdom. (Russell is one of the best story tellers writing today. )

The evening sky is clear, the temperatures mild, and the stars quite visible..

A good day all in all.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Are Tiny Homes Really Less Expensive?

It is no secret that I have a fascination with small or "tiny" homes. Many are engineering marvels, others show us just how little we need to live very comfortable, even luxurious lives.

That said, I am always a little annoyed with the proponents of tiny homes in particular, tout the economy in buying or building a tiny home. Tumbleweed Tiny Homes sells its tiny homes (more or less a well built travel trailer which looks like a shrunken New England home) from $40,000 to $55,000, with square footage ranging from 65 ft sq to just over 100 ft sq.

If that sounds more like the square footage of your backyard shed, well it is! However in defense of Jay's designs, there are lofts, and the designs are very well laid out, as long as you are under say 5'10" at best.

But the question I am considering today is: are these really money savers in a time when even after the real estate crash, homes are still selling for hundred's of thousands of dollars?

If we look at it the way these designers and manufacturer's do, then the answer is "yes" just as they assert. After all, $50,000 is less than $200,000.. But is this a fair comparison? I argue that it isn't. During the boomtime for housing, I helped a young couple who were buying their first home. That particular home they purchased for right around $200,000. What did they get? 5500 ft sq! Now, it was not to my liking, nor located where I would want to live, but comparing house to house, they acquired a great deal more house for the dollar than in these tiny homes.

Jay's homes can cost more than $550 per square foot! This is more than 5 times the national average!!

Don't think that I am picking on Jay. He is far from alone from offering such outrageous sq foot costs. I came across a blog today, here, which offered a similar size home but just the shell, for $29,000+

All of which makes me wonder why these folks don't consider more reasonable alternatives. My own home should end up costing about $5 a square foot, less than 1 percent the cost of Jay's.. I will have more room, lower heating and cooling costs, far lower maintenance, and full utilities (off grid).

I understand that my own home is closer to the low extreme than most, but surely there is a great deal of room to work with between $5 per foot and $550 per foot..

Home builders, designers, and architects of all sorts need to rethink what they consider reasonable. We can do much better, especially for the poorest amongst us in whose name these designers of tiny homes often appeal.

We can do better.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A material score

Talking to a neighbor a few days ago in the frigid cold paid an unexpected dividend: free doors!

They had replaced most of the interior doors in their home, and one external door. They had intended to take the old doors to Habitat for Humanity but they offered the doors to me first, so I jumped at the opportunity.

All of these doors are already salvaged doors, coming from houses in New York that the original owner of this house had collected over the years. now I am giving them at least their third lease on life in my own humble home. While loading them up I noted that one is the old six panel door style that I have loved for years, despite its being very dated. Another of the doors has a black porcelain handle which still gleams as if new. All of the doors have the original old style key-holes intended for skeleton keys, adding even more charm.

There is one with a nine pane (three over three) window in it, which will be cut down to be a stationary window since the door itself is warped near the bottom, making it unusable for a door.

All in all, a great score: 5-6 doors to choose from, and one window! Total cost: pennies in gas to drive across the road to pick them up!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Artic Air

Well I tried to get out to get a few of the footings started for the posts, but unfortunately the ground is simply too frozen to work with. The air temps managed to get up towards the mid twenties F, but the ground remained quite a bit colder.  The wind certainly did not help whatsoever.. 

So while the day was not a complete loss, as I was able to make a clear step forward in the building instructions I am writing for myself, it was still not as productive as I would have liked. After all I was supposed to be in the house by now, so every day of delay makes me even more ready to be done with the build.

I had intended to offer up some photos this evening, but the cable which connects the camera to the computer has gone on walk-about. I suspect I know where it got to, but it is a place so inaccessible as to require me to crawl on hands and knees under the sleeping area for several feet.. after moving everything stored under there. 

Somehow living in a small space seems to make losing things far easier and finding them more difficult. I sincerely look forward to the day when I will be moving into my new home which is 4-5 times the size of the caravan I call shelter now.. 

In the meantime, I am listening to Fish and Bonfire, reading Epictetus and Seneca (both Stoics) and awaiting my first netflix dvd.. I am trying out netflix using someone else's account (an account left dormant so long that one dvd cost them over $80!!)  A little Foyle's War ought to be entertaining.. After all no one can do mysteries like the Brits.. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Soft Rock

No, I am not talking about Hall and Oates or Billy Ocean.. but of actual stone, specifically the stone into which my house will be set. 

For the last two weeks there has been water/ice in the excavation to the point where I could not get in to see if the rock would yield, and yield in the right way to a pick. I finally was able to test out the new method of securing the posts to the earth today, just before the artic blast settles in for three days, dropping the temps into single digit F.. which is weather that I cannot imagine working in, though I may simply to make some progress.

Anyway, the upshot is that with the pick I was able to relatively easily (how easy is it ever when you are using a pick on solid rock?)  chip away and down into the rock base. Since I have not laid out where the posts will go exactly, I did not dig out a full keyhole for a post, rather just satisfying myself with the test hole. In under five minutes I had confirmed that any one of the three very similar methods I am considering will work. The digging was easy enough that I am considering the method which would be the most work, but would provide a good deal of peace of mind as it would have the posts setting 6 inches into the stone, and still surrounded with some concrete to ensure that the post is well keyed into the stone.

All of which is unexpected and pleasant progress.

I am also reviewing the structural loads for some of the spans in the house, to the end of removing some of the posts. In the most recent drawing, I have two-three posts which are out in the rooms, though not really in the way. Still, one of those is backed up to where the wood stove will go if I get one, or where the rocket stove will go if I build one. This one may stay if only because it really would not be in the way at all. The other two however could eventually become bothersome, so I am considering spanning the distances, from 14-16 feet, with the largest of the timbers I harvested. Being at least 18" in diameter, these should span the distance without compromising the strength of the roof and all of the soil which will be on it.

Such is the excitement here in the backwoods..

Feel free to go back to your Caribbean Queen.. :) 

Friday, January 01, 2010

Looking ahead

While I don't make new year's resolutions, I am looking ahead always so I decided to record some of the objectives for this year that I have in mind.

1. Get the house built. Obvious..  However the plan is of now to get the timber frame built by April. This should allow enough time for the weather to cooperate so that I can get the posts set, and the rest of the frame and roof built by then. All assuming I do not have to leave during build time for work. 

2. Lose 50 pounds. Yeah I am carrying too much weight, like most folks in the US. If that sounds like a lot of weight, it is, but I am a tall person as well, so this is more like 20 on the average person. The plan is to lose the weight through a combination of diet (eating from the garden) and exercise in the form of building, and hiking. 

3. Try beaver meat. Still have not had any luck with the beavers next door, but I am hopeful that Captain Rob will come through with some meat. 

4. Get another article published. This could be anything, such as the gardening article I had published in The American Gardener, but I suspect that it will be something political/moral in nature. 

5. Build a rocket stove. 

6. Become reasonably fluent in Portuguese. I am still working on this, but slowly.. 

7. Determine the exact day that I can re-enter Canada (Thanks Bush.. not..)

8. Grow at least 50% of my own food. Forage for as much as is possible. 

9. Eat at least one wild mushroom I have identified myself. 

Bet you are expecting a number 10.. but I am not Bernard Gert.. I don't need there to be 10.. :)

New Year, a tally

Okay so the first day of the official western new year is just about over, so how did it tally up assuming it is an indicator for the whole year?

Day began earlier than I liked with me feeling worse than I liked though through my own doing. Call that a wash..

The day quickly warmed up from well below freezing, ultimately to near 60 degrees F. Definitely a plus. 

It did not warm enough to melt and drain my excavation. Negative

I enjoyed a good long walk/hike about Rancher Bob's property. Plus

While watching the "news" got into a political argument with Rancher Bob and his wife, based on the fact that I do not respect or worship government and government officials (or anyone else who claims the right to own another person for that matter) Definitely a negative, especially since there was little understanding or consideration from Rancher Bob, and less from his wife. 

Went online.. mixed bag.. a wash.. 

Now I will end the day comfortably warm in my own bed, reading Emerson, and Niven.. Plus.. 

Guess it is going to be a decent year.. :)

All the best to those who read the blog, and anyone striving to make their lives better peacefully, honestly, authentically, and voluntarily.