Living the “Easy Life”

It Ain’t all it’s Cracked up to Be!

Deciding to leave my previous life behind and move out into the middle of nowhere was not an easy choice. I had to leave my job, family and friends behind to pursue this goal. When I first envisioned this, I thought that going off grid and not having to be in the RatRace anymore meant that I would have an easy life.

HA! Let’s correct some of those misconceptions that I (and many others who haven’t lived this lifestyle) have had.

“I bet you just sit in the desert all day, drinking coffee and watching the sunsets.”

A friend who also lives out here summed up the misconceptions of her friends with that simple statement.  And while it’s true that we do drink a lot of water (and coffee) and we do get to see some of the Lord’s most glorious sunsets (and sunrises), there is a lot going on between sunrise and sunset.

 

Going all-solar means that you’ll never again have a utility bill

This is a big one.  Yes, I don’t have a monthly utility bill.  However, the equipment that collects and stores that solar energy isn’t immortal. The lead-acid batteries, for example, will eventually wear out and require replacement. Depending on a number of factors, that could be anywhere from 2 to 10 years.  Once they wear out, you’ve got to spend $3,000 to $7,000 on new batteries.  The inverter that creates 110VAC from the batteries has an expected lifespan of about 10 years. That single item was about $2,000.

If you figure that we get the best life out of the batteries at the cheapest cost, they will go for 10 years. So, $5,000 (inverter and batteries) divided by 120 months is $40/mo over 10 years.  However, the more likely scenario is that the batteries will last 3 years and cost about $5,000 to replace.  So, every 12 years, there’s an expense of at least $15,000, coming to about $100/mo.

Yes, that seems cheap. But that level of expense allows me to run one refrigerator, one freezer, some LED lights and a water pump. I don’t have electric heat — I use propane.  We don’t have AC. Trust me, being on the grid is easier and cheaper in the long run AND the short run. You aren’t limited and then also have to plan for a huge expense every few years.

Also, when $100/mo represents a significant portion of your cash income, it’s a lot more money than it looks like to the masses. And these estimations don’t even begin to cover the costs of wire, solar panels that are damaged, generators that wear out and the fuel and oil for those generators.

So, why don’t you get a “real job?”

I do have a job, and it’s FULL TIME! It may not all be for money, but you better believe that I work! In our community, my skills are quite useful, from construction, to electrical, plumbing, car repair and computer repair. When I’m not working in El Paso 2 days a week, I am usually working on projects at our homestead or working for others.

Recently, I spent 2 whole weeks working from 8AM to 1 or 2 (it gets really hot by early afternoon in the late spring!) building an entire solar system for a neighbor who had purchased a “kit,” but had absolutely no clue how to put it together to make it work.  I work on people’s cars. They supply the parts, I supply the labor. I help in construction projects. None of these things yield financial remuneration. However, when I need help, or I run out of groceries, these people are the first to run to my aid. They give me supplies that I need for my projects, too.

The fact that this question even comes up is indicative of the larger problem (1 Timothy 6:10) that exists in our society; that we are slaves to money, and that not having money as your primary focus in life makes you some kind of weirdo. Helping others is my goal; they help me, either financially (my J.O.B. in El Paso) or in other ways (our community).

 

The Lord provides for our NEEDS (Matthew 14:13-21) , not our wants. Our society teaches its members that you NEED a new car, that you NEED a new cell phone, and that you NEED high-speed internet.  None of these things are true NEEDS, if you think about it.  They are wants. Now, sometimes, the Lord will grant us our wants because they work for Him in His plan. Other times, he tells us that we must wait. During these times, he makes sure that we have what we truly NEED.

“Easy Life?” It sure is, actually.

I work every day of the week. I bust my butt. I work hard and am exhausted at the end of each day and I sleep well. However, my life is easy. How? I follow the Lord’s guidance. I am obedient to Him, and give him the glory for the work I do. For without Him, I would not have the gifts that He has given me that He uses to take care of His children.

Ahhhhh.  The easy life.  Now, where’s that Mai Thai refill?

“Excuse me? Excuse me, senor? May I speak to you please? I asked for a Mai Thai, and they brought me a Piña Colada, and I said no salt, NO salt for the margarita, but it had salt on it, big grains of salt, floating in the glass…

And yes, I won’t be leaving a tip, ’cause I could… I could shut this whole resort down. Sir? I’ll take my traveler’s checks to a competing resort. I could write a letter to your board of tourism and I could have this place condemned. I could put… I could put… strychnine in the guacamole. There was salt on the glass, BIG grains of salt. ” — Milton Waddams, Office Space

Posted in catch up, crumbling society, off-grid, Personal Updates | Leave a comment

Excitement in the Desert

Everyone’s Abuzz

buzznamescomThe community out here in the West Texas desert is excited. We’ve got a couple of major developments going on that could drastically affect a number of people out here.

Well, Well, Well…

One of the things that made us choose the particular land seller we did was that there is a community well that we have access to. The well water out here is not considered potable, so many people use it only for showers, toilets, dish washing and clothes washing. They then purchase 5-gallon containers of filtered water.

Although Linda and I have chosen to have water trucked in from El Paso, we still pay our yearly well-access fees so that in the event that we needed to use the well water, we have it.

Back in 1999 when the company that sold this land was formed, an agreement was reached between the owner of the well and the company. In exchange for covering the electric bill of the well, members of this community would have access to the well for 50 years.

Recently, the owner of the well sold it to someone and did not tell them about this agreement. The new owner shut down the well, intending to charge the local residents for access. When the new owner was informed of the 50-year agreement, he had to turn the well back on. The agreement also requires that the new owner maintain the well and repair it when it fails.

Soup_NaziTwo weeks ago, the well pump failed and we were told by the new well owner that we (as a community) must pay $50o per month or he would not fix it.  Naturally, the residents out here are upset. We’re currently exploring our legal options to gain access to the well and to get the needed repairs made. However, until this is resolved, the well is down and the local residents are having to drive 70 miles round trip to haul their water from the nearest town, and they also have to pay for the water that they pick up. They are only able to pick it up 250-500 gallons at a time, so filling their tanks requires multiple trips. Even with the lower fuel prices we are seeing these days, that’s expensive.

We’re all hoping that this situation can be resolved without resorting to legal force, since we’d all much rather have a friendly relationship with the well owner rather than an adversarial one.

I’ll Grant You This

free-college-grants-money-300x300One of my neighbors out here has discovered a grant program for low-income families to do home improvements on their properties out here. He has applied for a $20,000 grant that will enable him to put a properly designed solar system in place.

He’s been shopping for a properly-sized system from Northern Arizona Wind & Sun, and trying to stay within the bounds of the grant. They have not yet received approval on the grant, but based on feedback from one of the grant administrators, it’s quite likely that it will be. They’re really excited to build a solar power system, since they’ve never done that before and think that it would look great on their annual reports.

Since many of the people out here would qualify for these grants based on the income levels we’ve heard about, there are many of us that are excited at this proposition.  Linda and I would really like to expand our living space and install a proper bathroom and a small-scale septic system. We are still using a DIY composting toilet and are taking sponge baths to keep clean.  We used to get the occasional shower at the neighbor’s house, but with the water shortage, that’s on hold indefinitely. If there’s money left after doing that, we’d like to expand our solar power system a little bit so that we have plenty of power.

We’re all praying for the Lord to provide provision for our needs.  If it’s His will, it will happen.  Linda and I will be applying for a grant ourselves soon.

Posted in alternative energy, asshat files, off-grid | 2 Comments

Happy New Year!

A New Year, a New Life, and New Salvation

December 31, 2014 marked the end of 5 months of living in the desert. There have been so many things that have happened in the time since my last blog update!

Salvation

Firstly, and most importantly, on October 19, 2014 at 1:04PM, I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. Even though I grew up as a child of a pastor, I became jaded toward churches and never actually asked our Lord for salvation. This was a big step for me; I had to get over many feelings that I was being a hypocrite, since all my adult life I had looked down upon those who expressed Christian ideas.

When Linda and I arrived here, I suggested that we investigate the local Baptist church for two main reasons: First, Linda had expressed interest in returning to church many times over the last few years, but would never go on her own. Since I was not interested in attending church, we simply didn’t. The second reason was because I thought I could use it to network and meet new people. I didn’t really have any plans of being an active participant, let alone being saved by the Lord.

God works in strange ways. Over the course of several weeks, I found myself powerfully moved during the services on Sunday. During the times that I would close my eyes while the others prayed, I would have very strong waves of emotion in response to the prayers, moving me often to tears. This slowly brought me to the realization that God was shining his light on my heart and the Holy Spirit was convicting me, telling me that I must accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior.

So, I spoke to our pastor about it, and that day, I prayed to our Lord for the gift of salvation, and was saved.

Baptism

Once I was saved, everyone started asking me when I was going to be baptized. I had some reservations about it, since I am a very private person when it comes to things like this, and I was still dealing with feelings of hypocrisy having accepted Jesus after so many years of denying Him. So, I was not really interested in performing what I considered to be a simple religious ritual. I viewed the baptism as an announcement to the church membership of “Hey guys! Look at me! I’m now a member of your CLUB!” Which, to me suggested that it was a prideful thing, and therefore a sin. Since all the members of the church already knew that I had been saved, I didn’t feel that it was a necessary demonstration. I agreed to pray about it for God’s direction.

After a few weeks, the Holy Spirit once again convicted me. I realized after prayer and discussions with Linda and my pastor, that the Baptism is not an announcement of membership in a “club,” but an outer demonstration of the salvation that I received when I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. Also, my pastor suggested that perhaps God wanted to bring someone to the church on the day of my baptism so that some other unsaved soul might find themselves likewise convicted by the Holy Spirit.

I was baptized at First Baptist Church of Dell City, Texas on November 9, 2014.

This new personal relationship with God has had enormous changes for me. I now pray every day. I try to read my bible often. I remind myself that all that I do out here in the desert for myself or for others is to bring glory to the Lord and not myself.

Praise the Lord! He has blessed me with inner peace, health and a community of believers that exemplify the best characteristics of humans. As I complete this update, you’ll see how all of this has come together to give Him glory.

Healing

After several weeks of rest and prayer, my tendons in my right elbow are about 95%. I can do most of the strength-requiring tasks that I did before. For things that require more than my right arm can handle, I use my left, or ask for some help.  I’m satisfied with the results. I’m able to work on projects without having to take loads of ibuprofen.

Community

Most days out here in the West Texas desert, I get up and just let the Lord guide me.  Sometimes that means that I work on my homestead or just sit around and take a break.  However, most of the time I wind up teaming up with one of the other guys out here to work on projects. We often wind up performing repairs or needed updates on structures or mechanical systems. Recently, due to cold temperatures, we’ve been doing a lot of work on heating systems and frozen water pipes.

The Homestead

In October, I cashed in my retirement fund from my former employer.  It wasn’t huge, so we decided that we’d get better use out of the money now rather than later. When we got the money, the first thing we did was to pay off our cabin and our land. That was a huge load off our chest, since we knew that in the new year, our income would drop substantially and we’d need to not have those extra expenses every month.

Power

Wow.  Where to begin? From the beginning, of course!

I used some of the money from the retirement to double my solar system. I purchased five more solar panels, eight more batteries, and upgraded my inverter.  I am now using an Outback VFX3648. This upgrades us from a 12V system with 4 parallel strings of batteries to a 48-volt system with only 2 parallel strings, which is the recommended maximum. I added an Atkinson Electronics GSCM-Mini-i, which allows my inverter and charge controller to automatically start my generator when they need to.

My Power Wall has changed quite a bit since the last photo was posted. My wiring needs some cleanup, but everything works.  I was able to score a large 3-phase breaker from a junk pile. I am using two of its poles as a main cutoff for my batteries.  I upgraded the battery wiring from 4AWG to 4/O. It wasn’t really necessary, since the 4AWG could carry the maximum amperage that the inverter could draw.  However, since I had the wire, I figured that I should use it, and it would give me a large margin of safety for the wiring.

With the help of one of my Brothers in Christ, we poured a concrete slab for the generator to sit on, and a slab to form the floor of my battery hut.  This will allow me to reclaim some floor space, and have a safer environment, as well, since you really should not have your batteries in your living space.

Water

A lot has changed in the water system, too.  When we arrived, we had a 12V water pump that I got from Rural King.  It was designed to be used on agricultural sprayers, not to run a pressurized water system. When we’d open the tap, it would quickly come up to pressure and shut off.  Then, of course, the pressure would drop and the pump would come back on. This caused a pulsing in the water flow of 4-5 pulses per second. I knew that doing this would quickly wreck the pump, so I picked up a 5-gallon expansion tank to buffer the pulses.  Even after adding the expansion tank, t was pretty clear that the 12V pump just wasn’t going to cut it for our needs. So, I picked up a 120VAC well pump. This well pump was about to drive a whole frenzy of changes.

Back in early November, before I had the 48V inverter installed, I noticed that the 12V pump seemed to be struggling to run.  It still worked okay, but it wasn’t running as fast as it once did.  So, I decided to install the new well pump. As soon as it tried to fire up, it overloaded my cheap Chinese 2000/4000W inverter, despite the fact that the pump should not have drawn 4000W even in the worst surge conditions. Also, because the inverter was cheap, instead of shutting down in an overload, it promptly blew half of its internal fuses. I wound up dismantling the inverter to replace the blown fuses. I put the 12V pump back in operation until I could get the new inverter installed.

Heat

Getting heat into our cabin has been an interesting adventure. When we moved here, we brought a tank-top propane heater, planning to purchase something a little more appropriate when we got here.  We wound up borrowing a heater from a neighbor, and have been using it ever since.  However, because of its design, we have to leave a window open to provide oxygen to burn. This means that we are losing some of our heat out the open window!

Thankfully, we have acquired a furnace from an RV and will be installing it soon. This will give us a forced-air heat source that does not require us to open a window to run it.

Internet

We’re still using shared WiFi from our neighbors, but we’re not using that ridiculous confabulation that we had back in August.  We purchased a wireless range extender and now have a network that has some sanity to it.  We don’t have Ethernet cables draped everywhere, nor do we have three levels of NAT complicating our access.  The speed is still very slow, but we don’t complain since we’re getting access to the Internet for free. It’s certainly not the 30Mbps download that we had when we were in Ohio! It’s enough for web browsing, but generally too slow for videos on YouTube.  So we surf the web and stay up to date on Facebook.  The rest of the time, I’m usually working on projects in the Community.

What’s Next?

There’s a never-ending list of tasks when you live out here.  Things that I’d like to do include:

  • Empty the trailer into the lofts
  • Use the trailer as a food storage area
  • Build a shed for my tools
  • Build a room addition for Linda’s loom
  • Fence off an area of the yard for the dogs
  • Fence off an area and build a chicken coop (and get chickens)
  • Fence off an area and get some goats

All these things are subject to God’s will. If it is in His plan, these things will happen. If not, I’ll just have to wait.

Posted in accomplished, alternative energy, catch up, homestead, off-grid, Personal Updates | 4 Comments

Reflections

Of a Month Gone By

Well, today marks the one-month point since our arrival here on our land.  Part of me exclaims “A month! It flew by!” While at the same time, another part of me feels ever hour of every day that has passed.

Progress Report

In this one month, we have accomplished a great many things.

 

installing linoleumFlooring. We put a piece of linoleum down before we could even move in. We borrowed a flatbed trailer from our neighbor whom we had known for about 12 hours. I am continually floored by how generous and trusting the people out here are.

After fetching the flooring, trimming and gluing it down by the door, we were able to finally start moving our stuff out of the trailer and into our home. There is still far too much stuff in that trailer to make it easy to get in and out of, but we’re making steady progress.

 

IMG_3260Insulation. Before I could start building my “power wall,” I had to install some of the insulation in the wall cavities. I put it up and added some vapor barrier (which the cats have shredded several times!!) After we got the power system up and running, I got insulation in all but seven of the wall cavities.

 

 

IMG_2162Power. I had been planning this solar power system for the last six months. I finally got the opportunity to dig all the components out of the trailer and start assembling them into a working system. We have eight batteries, an inverter, four solar panels, a generator and lots of other electrical goodies to link them all together.

One thing that I have done that is not terribly common out here is that I installed an automatic transfer switch. This way, when I turn on my generator, the entire house automatically switches over from using power from the batteries to using power from the generator. At the same time, I’ve got a battery charger connected to the generator so that the batteries are being topped off at the same time.

 

IMG_2201Storage.  One of the things I made sure to bring with us from Ohio was a set of shelves that I got from one of my previous employers. It’s really beefy and can handle quite a load on the shelves. It was a bit of a challenge getting them assembled, since they don’t have a lot of structural stability until they are almost completely put together and then they suddenly turn into a rigid structure. We use them mostly for food storage, and as we get more storage options in here, we will be able to start making a more sensible use of the space, as well.

 

water tankWater. Water is a very precious commodity out here. Perhaps that’s why I’m a little bit peeved at how many people are currently dumping gallons of potable water on people’s heads in the 2014 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Because of a tip from our new neighbors, we were able to get a used 2500-gallon water tank for $800! We borrowed the trailer again and hauled it home.

IMG_2202After a few more trips to Lowe’s in town, I got the water and drain lines plumbed into a laundry sink that I put a kitchen faucet on, and set up our 12VDC water pump. We don’t have hot water yet, unless the sun is shining on the pipes on the side of the building. Then we have about 10 seconds of hot water before it flows cold again. If we need more than that, we just boil some on the stove.

 

10575917_10203590086206057_680418290_nCommunity. Linda and I have been continually amazed at how friendly, helpful and generous the people who live near us are. In the month that we’ve been here, we’ve met quite a few people: Bree & Tee, Jim & Dee, Jeff & Sandy, Matt & Andrea (and their son Tavis), Brian & Dana (and their kids BJ, Erik and Megan), Marty, Justin & Sarah (and their son Isaac), Dave (the local deputy Sheriff), and a few others.

These people have been helping us left and right, giving us advice as well as a hand with physical tasks that I can’t handle on my own or with Linda’s help. We’ve started going to First Baptist Church in Dell City, and have met another large group of very loving, helpful people. I’ve been pitching in, as well. I’ve helped my local friends with many projects from solar hookups to helping with some septic and plumbing issues. I’m very thankful for those whom I’ve met. I had planned to do everything myself when we got here, but it’s becoming clear that it’s a much better prospect to ask help (and give it in return) from my neighbors.

11Chad and lindas wacky network

Click Image for Larger Version

INTERNET!! (Well, sorta). Our neighbors’ wifi is just barely within range of us. I set up a wireless extender (with their permission, of course) so that we can get on the Internet via their connection. It’s slow and because of the crazy way I had to set it up, sometimes is unstable or just plain quits, but it gets us on the net so that we can stay in contact with our friends and family.

 

IMG_2195Entertainment. Because I am taking time off to allow the tendons in my right elbow to heal, I felt it was important to get our media center and home theater set up. This way, I can pass the time by watching a TV show or a movie in addition to reading books on my e-reader. It helps me pass the time.

However, since the home theater equipment is very power-hungry, I’ve connected it to the generator-only power source. This means that if we want to watch TV, we have to run the generator. Since we don’t do it that often, it’s a reasonable requirement. I don’t want to run the genny all the time since fuel is so expensive, but a couple hours every few days while I’m healing isn’t too bad…and my batteries get a good charge, too.

IMG_2197Vehicle Maintenance. Just a couple days ago, the radiator on the Jeep sprung a leak so severe that I usually use the word “exploded” to describe the failure. Thankfully, we were only a few miles from home when we discovered it, and I was able to get home without overheating the engine.

Since our finances are severely limited, we won’t be able to purchase a replacement radiator until September 2, and I will ask one of my neighbors to come help me install it since my arm is still “off limits.” One of our neighbors, Jeff, came over yesterday and we removed the radiator from the Jeep to verify that it was, in fact, a failed radiator.  Once we got it out, it was clear that it had been “about to blow” for some time, and that we were extremely lucky that it did not fail while we were stressing the engine towing 9,000lb when our towing capacity was only 5000.

Looking Ahead

There still are a number of things that need to happen to make our home “complete.”

Closing off the attic. The cats are making a mess of the lofts. They go up there and do “cat things” in the middle of the night.  So, we’ve decided to close off the lofts and turn it into attic space. I will need a few 2x6x12s, some plywood sheeting and a set of pull-down attic stairs. Once installed, we will be able to access the lofts. Right now, my ladder isn’t tall enough for me to safely climb up there, so we’ve been tossing things up there one-by-one when we decide that we won’t need them for a long time.

Completing the insulation. Once the ceiling is closed off, I can start putting insulation in the ceiling cavities as well. This will allow us to heat and cool a much smaller space, which should save us a lot of energy, particularly in winter when the heat would tend to rise up into the loft areas where we can’t use it.

Solar and Propane water heat. We really don’t like having to boil water to bathe or do dishes.  It’s just annoying. So I plan to install an on-demand tankless propane water heater. Since we have lots of sun out here, I will put a solar water heater before the propane heater so that the water is pre-heated and in many cases, we won’t need to use the propane heater at all, except at night. In fact, the solar water heat is so effective, that you have to install a tempering valve to keep the water temperature at the tap from scalding you.

Better bathing. Right now, we take our baths on the front porch with a bucket of soapy water on the right and a bucket of clean water on the left. It’s amazing that we can take a complete bath in just under 1 gallon of water each! However, people are liable to drop in for a visit unannounced since phone coverage is abysmal out here. We have not yet been caught in our birthday suits, but that’s inevitable. Also, with winter coming, I don’t think Linda will want to bathe in subfreezing temperatures. Come to think of it, I don’t either.

Refrigeration Upgrades. Right now, we are making do with a 1.7-cubic foot refrigerator that just barely keeps the few things we need cold that way. We had toyed with the idea of an RV refrigerator so that it could be run on propane, but they are prohibitively expensive to buy new, and with modern Energy Star appliances, we can get a standard electric refrigerator that consumes about 100W and would be almost as large as the one we left behind in Ohio. The small refrigerator we use now uses 40W, so we would get far more than 2.5 times the capacity for 2.5 times the power cost. This means that we will need to be even more careful with our power consumption, as well.

Proper Internet. We are extremely grateful to our neighbors for allowing us to use their Internet.  However, even if it weren’t a crazy mess of wires and NAT, I would not feel right in using their internet as our long-term solution. So, we plan to get connected with one of the satellite providers out here, preferably Exede. This means that we will have much faster access than we do now, but since it will be metered, we will need to be careful of what we do — we won’t be watching hours of YouTube videos or subscribing to Hulu, that’s for sure.

Cellular Repeater. Being able to reach people by phone is important. Our cell phones get juuuuuust enough signal here at our cabin to tease us. They will download a couple emails here and there, and we will get the occasional Facebook notification. Sometimes, we can even make a short phone call.  However, that’s not really enough. I’d like to get a cellular repeater and mount it to a pole on the top of the cabin so that we can get full-strength signal here at the house.  This is important so that we can make calls to keep in touch, handle personal business, or even make a call for help if it’s needed.

Power Upgrades. We’re already seeing that our power system needs to grow.  If we keep to the best practices and do our best to keep our batteries healthy for as long as possible, we need to add a few more solar panels, a few more batteries and upgrade our inverter to a pure-sine design so that we aren’t stressing the electronics in our devices. These are expensive upgrades and will likely require that I take a short-term job at some point to finance them.

Closing Thoughts

There are many things that still need to be done.  However, I think that I’ve gotten a whole lot done in the one month that we’ve been here, and the basics that I’ve got set up already will give us the time and flexibility we need to plan out the right sequence for our future projects so that we can minimize wasted money, materials, effort and time.

Posted in accomplished, alternative energy, catch up, engine, FML, homestead, Jeep, off-grid, Personal Updates | 4 Comments

Creature Comforts

Making Things a Little More “Normal.”

285_2879575Since I’m taking at least a week off to allow the tendons in my right elbow to heal, I worked on a couple of smaller projects that didn’t require very much gripping, pulling or tugging from my right hand.

 

 

 

 

Backstory

Before we left Ohio, I set up our Media Center to run on a Raspberry Pi connected to a 12TB NAS and a computer monitor. Shortly after we arrived, one of our cats nearly got himself sent to the nearest Chinese restaurant. Our cats have discovered that they like to hang out in the lofts in the cabin, and that the easiest way up there is where the ceiling meets the walls. There is a small gap that they can squeeze through to gain access.

One day, our dogs were harassing our cats (big surprise, right?) and Junior jumped up on the table that held our monitor so that he could escape to the loft. Since he was freaking out, he had a “gracefulness score” of about NEGATIVE 827. He knocked the monitor off the table and it landed right on a couple of my batteries, bTh-evil-cat-lilycracking the screen and rendering the monitor junk. Thankfully, one of our new neighbors had a spare that they could not use and gave it to us. I brought it home and set it up.

 

AND THE DAMNED CAT KNOCKED IT OFF AGAIN! 

This time, however, there was no damage.  In response, I got out my screw gun and fastened the monitor to the table, and installed a safety strap from the table to the wall. There’s no way that darned cat will do that again!

 

Surrounded By Sound

Since I am basically stuck in the house because I can’t work on physical projects and we’re out of cash, I decided to set up our SurroundSound system.  IMG_2195I dug out the receiver and speakers and got everything connected except for the rear speakers (since I have to run wires over the ceiling). As a test, we watched A.I. Artificial Intelligence last night. I like that movie quite a bit.  Honestly, though, my favorite character in the movie was the SuperToy, Teddy.

 

 

Printing and WiFi Hijinks

11Chad and lindas wacky network

Click image for larger version

In addition to the surround sound system, I dug out our HP Laserjet Pro CP1525nw color printer. Since it uses a fair amount of power, we will leave it turned off most of the time.  However, should we need to print something, we can fire it up and have it ready in only about a minute.

We now have Internet access available to all our Internet-capable devices. However, the rats nest of wires and levels of NAT would make even the most junior network engineers cry.

Since my Time Capsule is using its 2.4GHz band to talk to the neighbor’s router that uses Network Address Translation (NAT) (192.168.2.x/24), it can only supply the extended WiFi on the 5GHz band.  Unfortunately, of all our devices, only my MacBook Pro can receive 5GHz. So, I share that 5GHz to the ethernet port on my Mac and it does NAT (192.168.3.x/24) so that my media center and other ethernet connected devices can access the net. Then, I use Linda’s MacBook to share the ethernet connection back out via a 2.4GHz wireless band NAT (10.0.2.x/24) so that the iOS and other 2.4GHz-only wireless devices can get access.

For the iPads, iPhones and my e-reader, that’s THREE levels of NAT and generally more than one is considered a “bad idea.” However, this was the only way (with the tech I have on-hand) to get internet access to all of my devices.  This will certainly NOT be the final solution, but for now, it works for us since we usually just do browsing.

Posted in accomplished, funny, improvised technology | 3 Comments

Time For A Little R&R

Taking a Break

Well, it seems that it’s time for me to take a break from all the projects that I have going. I’ve taken the discomfort in my right elbow too far and now I need to lay off for a bit.

The Right Hand Didn’t Know What the Left was Doing

Last year, I started developing a pain in my left elbow that got worse when I was grasping things.  I thought it was just a little bit of tendonitis, until I finally had enough of the pain and went to see Dr. Steine at Beacon Orthopaedics in Cincinnati. It turned out that it was more than just tendonitis. An ultrasound of my elbow revealed that I had a partially detached ligament that was scarring up and causing the pain.

We decided to do a procedure called Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) to help the torn tendon heal. After two treatments and a few months of physical therapy, my left arm and grip were stronger than they ever were!  I can’t recommend the physicians at Beacon enough if you have a sports or bone injury.  They rock!

With all the extreme physical activity that I’ve been doing to turn our cabin from a shell into a home, I’ve managed to cause a similar injury in my right elbow. The pain is exactly the same as before, only this time, I don’t have any medical insurance to fall back on to have that procedure done again.

Effie, Brace Yourself!

IMG_2194Since the injury is exacerbated by gripping, pulling and tugging with the hand of the affected arm, I have to completely stop using my right hand for just about everything. Since my right hand is my dominant one, I decided that a reminder of the restriction would be a good idea. So, I am now wearing this wrist brace. It very effectively limits my ability to grasp anything, so I should be able to avoid gripping, pulling and tugging with it on.

I’ll need to avoid anything that can upset it for several days, probably a week. Then, I will start doing the physical therapy exercises that I was prescribed after my left elbow was operated on.

What Lies Ahead

I have always been extremely right-handed.  Sometimes I think that my left hand was included only so that I had bilateral symmetry. Learning to use my left hand for everything is going to be quite a challenge. I’ll also need to make sure that I don’t overdo it on the left side and reinjure it.

Thankfully, I’ve got our media center up and running, and due to a huge blessing from one of our neighbors, we have limited internet access in our cabin. This will give me time to do some research on upcoming projects, as well as take some more time to keep the blog updated with interesting observations and stories about our life out here.

Posted in FML, Personal Updates | 1 Comment

We Gonna Rock Onto …

Electric Avenue

Several people have asked questions about our electrical system. So, I figure I’d show you around a bit. But first let’s talk about philosophy a while.

Why Off The Grid?

Two power systems diverged
In the West Texas Desert.
And I, I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

We have the option of getting electric power from the local Rio Grande Electric Coop. However, Linda and I decided that we wanted to power our lives with solar panels. This created some very interesting choices for us and some drastic changes in the way we do things. Some people are under the mistaken impression that “going solar” is cheaper than being grid-tied. Au contraire mon frère, it’s more expensive in several ways.

In just about every way, being grid-tied is cheaper. Even when you consider the costs of having the power run to your house from the nearest pole. I have thousands of dollars tied up in our solar system, and it’s considered to be relatively small. Those of us who are grid-tied tend to become very wasteful of energy because it’s really cheap. If a plastic fork cost $5 instead of $0.05, you’d be very careful about just throwing it away after every meal, wouldn’t you? Well, power out here on our system is the same way.

So… Why Off The Grid?

Our lives were governed by schedules and by services that we had to pay for. Being tied to the electric grid represents that paradigm that we are trying to leave behind. So, we are prepared to sacrifice some of the creature comforts that the “old way” made so easy, because we felt that it was a trap. Since power is so cheap, you tend to accumulate those things that are wasteful. And, since you have such power-hungry devices and appliances, you can’t just “install solar” to power it. It’s another one of those cycles that are self-reinforcing. So, we decided to “rip the band-aid off” and go all solar and just be very, very, very energy-conscious.

The System

  • IMG_2162IMG_2159IMG_2160Four 230 watt of 24-volt solar panels (920w total)
  • Eight U.S. Battery 1800XC2 6v 208Ah batteries wired as 832Ah @ 12v
  • Midnight Solar Classic 150 Solar Charge Controller
  • Harbor Freight 12v 2000/4000w DC to AC Inverter
  • PowerMax 100A Battery Charger
  • 30A Automatic Transfer Switch
  • 3200w Electric Start Gasoline generator

Wow! You say? That’s a lot of power? Not really. Not compared to what most people use. Your power is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh) I measure mine in watt-hours (Wh), which is a 1000-fold difference. When we lived in Ohio, we were paying $0.03 per kWh. So, if I used 100 kWh in a day, it only cost me $3. Here, I can budget only 2kWh per day. Trying to calculate the cost of that 2kWh is difficult since my energy is renewable – that cost goes down a little bit every day. But you can see that with only 2kWh per day available to me, I can’t just leave the lights on and use a 1kW microwave oven to make popcorn.

 

 

Lifestyle Changes

I was never a morning person. You’d have to peel me out of the bed and throw me into the shower every morning before work. Now, since electricity is so precious, we don’t stay up late anymore since that would mean using electric lights. So, we go to bed at dark. As a consequence, we wake up automatically at sunrise. I don’t need to set an alarm, and I jump right out of bed.

We try not to use electric power through the day, since we need that power to run our refrigerator and our CPAP machines at night. Just those two things will consume most of our battery budget for a day. The next morning, when the solar panels start making power we are able to use more energy, but need to stay mindful of our consumption so that the batteries can be recharged fully before the end of the day. Sure, we have the generator, but we consider that to be a fall-back option, and we will do everything within our power to avoid running the generator. It burns gasoline. If you have not noticed, that stuff is really expensive these days!

…And Then We’ll Take it Higher…

We eventually want to install a wind turbine in addition to the solar panels. Most of the time there is a breeze out here, and we could be making power around the clock with a wind turbine. We’ll need to construct a tower to install it on, ideally around 30 feet above the ground. However, most of the wind turbine installations in this area are in the 15-20 foot range, so we may elect to go with the lower height to save on cost and engineering complexity. There is some additional cost involved with setting up a turbine, too. We will need to get an additional charge controller that can handle the output of the turbine, and we will need to find a turbine that is right for the wind out here as well as our power needs. Once we have a turbine up, we can use more power since we can replenish it. We will also want to add a few more batteries to the system so that our capacity is a bit higher when we don’t have the solar or wind making power.

Posted in alternative energy, off-grid, sustainable | 1 Comment