All posts by

issues: blue or red pill?

recent NYTimes article  talks about ‘issues’.

Seems we’re turning benign things into issues and turning those into problems that divide us.  Here’s an excerpt:

“…this is what makes ‘‘issues’’ the perfect word for the current moment. It is a word that acknowledges problems without actually addressing them, that minimizes them in hopes that they’ll just drift away. It’s a hedge and a dodge, at once overly punctilious and contemptuously dismissive; it’s contingent, euphemistic, underhanded and easily weaponized. Our culture has all kinds of prohibitions against plain speech, but we’ve long treated agenda-driven spin as just business.

Likes and dislikes on social media are indicative of this.  We rarely state why we’ve done this, we just put thumbs up or thumbs down, as if each one of us was a Roman emperor feeding the christians to the lions without so much as giving a reason…. just because.

More fundamentally, I think it centers around our instant gratification for everything 24/7, faster/ cheaper/better/’don’t bother me: I’m comfortable’.

It’s the result of our hi-tech addictions programmed by the big frightful five  controlling our everyday lives.  More subversive than the tobacco companies and subliminal than embedded ads, these companies dictate what we hear, see and will soon taste and feel. Have they taken control of our senses from our free will?   I think so – because new they’re working hard on how to control our very thought processes: witness the rise of fake news and our willingness to accept it.

Instead of the Matrix (movie) red & blue pills defining our reality, we’ve set up our own red & blue divides based on political beliefs.

You may not be liberal enough for Beserkeley, or you may have to rely on an opposing color scheme to help you out in time of need.  Which is it?


Here’s the concluding part of the NYTimes article:

“It’s no surprise, then, that everything is at issue now. We’ve arrived at a polarized, blue-pill/red-pill place where reality has splintered into countless alternatives, each one tailored to someone’s particular tastes and beliefs. Even basic, verifiable facts are now potential points of contention — possible issues. Everything is debatable, which means everything — from other people’s beliefs to objective reality — can be dismissed as someone’s tendentious pleading for a specialized cause.”

beyond off-grid

when people introduce me and say ‘fred lives off the grid’, While I appreciate the intro,  I always want to say: ‘I’m WAY beyond off-grid’… and if a conversation engages around it, I like to throw in the moniker: ‘I live off the dreadmill’… let me explain.

Our society loves path dependence. The history of humans is written on it. Path dependence implies we continue down the current path even though we know better paths – because it’s convenient and we ‘need to pay the mortgage/rent’.  And of course, many industries profit enormously from the current path.  it. Take oil, fast food, big box stores, etc. 

I like the sound bite‘ we didn’t stop using whale oil for lighting because we ran out of whales’  And so too, we are blazing new paths not because we’re running out of resources (which certain groups want you to believe) as much as there are better options on the horizons (uber, AI, self-driving cars, robotics, etc) 

Most people consider off-grid to be about energy independence.  Beyond off-grid is doing the full monty on cutting the cord that ties us to centralized services – usually operated by far-away corporate conglomerates.  As costs increase, reliability decreases and other issues arise; some people are thinking ‘there’s gotta be a better way’.  Enter Elon Musk,  Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and others trying to tie us to a new ‘grid’ : one based on techno foundations that eerily remind me of just a different flavor of the same ole dreadmill – but with even more addictive, co-dependent properties.

runnin’ on empty

Isn’t this a Bruce Springfield song?… oops  Jackson Browne


Nothing like running your gas tank down to beyond empty….


I’m sitting at WinSol adapting a winter hibernation period.  I made the classic off-grid mistake of forgetting design parameters and nature got the best of me… as in NO SUN!

I always say ‘a solar home without sun really sucks’  and I’m feelin’ it.   There is one saving grace here… it’s not like a car… even with the voltage down to 11.8, i can still run the LED lights, read books, etc.  And the propane stove and the new rocket mass heater makes it a bit comfy… but I’m down for the count regarding living the mainstream desires…ahhh us spoiled technology children.




California is the world’s 6th largest economy (SF Bay Area  is 21) …and is once again on the leading edge of something….

….. apocalyptic fires in dense urban areas – in December! –  in Southern California. You can bet that something will be done about this new phenom, now that the 1%’er celebrities in Bel Air and Montclair had some of their mansions destroyed. 1.063 homes destroyed, one life lost in SoCal.  NoCal  lost  44 lives and over 10,000 homes.

As one SoCal person said ‘there should be snow on those mountains right now, instead they’re on fire’…  Best article by far on California’s overall  changing climate and fire, is at this link… LA Times. 

A sign of things to come… everything else aside: fire is nature’s #1 ecological restorative process.   

For California, several things are unique and first-time events: high winds from 10pm till 4am – coming from the North and East. Unheard of in December and in SoCal. That, coupled with hot temperatures (90F+) and dry vegetation (‘it doesn’t rain in southern california in the summertime’) and you have a deadly combo – all that’s needed is a spark.

For the recent Northern California fires it was unusual that commerical properties, hotels, and entire subdivisions burned to the ground.  Caused by – perhaps overhead power lines.   A spark though can come from many sources: a backfiring muffler parked next to a curb of dry grass, a piece of metal/chain dragging on concrete, someone flicking out a cigarette butt…. it doesn’t take much.

making Fire personal…

WinSol is bordered on three sides by El Dorado National Forest and very dense trees and underbrush. For the first time ever there is the most extensive logging along the nearby roads that I have seen since the mid 1980’s. This is both good and bad. Bad, in that they are marginally clear cutting – removing 100% of the large trees, leaving nothing but trees under 8” diameter – that’s crazy! The good, in that the dangerous underbrush is being removed, and that lumber prices will undoubtedly go down.

All the warnings have been about new homes being built in the forestlands…

I’ve been through five fires. Two of them major. One destroyed my home, another my storage shed, and two in-house fires from a burning chimney (creosote) and another one I caused with a brazing torch. The first fire was started by loggers I had hired in 1995 – it came within inches of burning WinSol2 – a 2” PVC pipe burned through and unleashed 5,000+gallons of water. It was merely a temporary ‘stay’ because six years later the entire house burned to the ground – supposedly set ablaze by a drifter.

I know that WinSol3 will burn eventually – whether it’s tomorrow or 50 years from now, the forest around here will burn. Fire is the most ecological restorative process in nature’s toolbelt. We humans don’t stand a chance – no matter what our collective ego tries.


Part of the answer is to let the fires burn.  At an Oregon conference i attended a couple years ago it was called ‘point protection’: Point the fire away from old growth trees and dwellings, and let it burn itself out.

Tahoe and the El Dorado NFS has another solution:  monitoring.  With the collaboration between hi-tech satellites and quick-strike teams, we have not had a major fire in the last two years!  wow – that’s a first.  i’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Acceptance is the ultimate solution. I accept the fact that WinSol and the learning center will burn… hopefully later rather than sooner.  i do take precautions in cutting the hundreds of surrounding manzanita bushes,  clearing out dozens of trees each summer and raking up as many of the oak leaves and pine needles and cones that we can muster… it’s an endless job since nature never rests in producing off-springs and growing… which is a beautiful thing.


happy Solstice

I hung around WinSol purposely this morning to witness the first sun at 7:43am.  It’s an amazing connection to our universe and collectiveness.  I always get some amazing energy flowing through me at this time.  The actual Solstice (change of earth tilt) occurs around 8:28am today…

The ancients worshiped the Winter Solstice each Dec 21st.  two thousand years ago someone decided it was a good idea to make it the birthday of a guy named Jesus… and so here we are… for those still resonating with the wisdom of the ages…

A great spin (ha!) on this is this article in the NYTimes today…. here’s an excerpt: 

“So, as the sun reaches its farthest point in the sky on Dec. 21, be grateful. Never will the sun dip so far below the horizon that it plunges half of the globe into a monthslong night and the other half into an equally long summer. Nor does Earth’s tilt change drastically over millions of years, thanks to the influence of the moon. Instead, the sun appears to trot back and forth between the extremes, like the pendulum of a great clock, keeping the planet cozy while steadily counting off its years.”

Tomorrow it’ll be ~2 minutes more daylight than today… enjoy!

real simplicity

The bumper sticker says ‘live simply, so others may simply live’.  Sayin’ it and doin’ it are two diffs… Getting simple is as easy as 1,2,3  …sing it Len Barry

As I was chillin in Tahoe recently at a local AirBnB,  I experienced real simplicity.  My host had a very minimalistic lifestyle.  An exercise machine, several hi-speed modems & satellite service to a couple big screens, and that’s it!!  wow… my first impressions were that someone is just starting out – but the more I got to know my host, it seemed they are more into living life rather than gaining possessions.  They were  focusing on only two things in their living quarters: being connected/entertained and staying in shape.  It was that simple.

There are many motivations in getting radically simple.  For me (don’t know if others do this) the one common factor in REAL simplicity is money    If you don’t have money you don’t go around buying optional things. I’ve tried resisting this over the years, but find that each time I have some extra funds I tend to load up on a few ‘luxuries’ (like more solar panels, more battery storage, more cinder blocks, etc) 

Another factor (again, for me) is I like to make simple things more complicated – with technology.  Maybe I’m a ‘neo’simpleton 🙂

One can stay simple until… one gets money… what happens to simplicity then?  With overwhelming societal peer pressure and non-stop advertisement (getting more subtle and all encompassing all the time) it’s hard to resist the temptation.   I think the best antidote to these societal pressures is making sure your circle of close friends are also into simplicity…. or so I thought.

One of the basic key elements of voluntary simplicity is getting off the grid.  And by that I don’t mean hooking up some solar panels – i mean the full-monty of living off-the-grid.

how to uncomplicate

I’ve spent most of my life complicating things and getting ready for worse case scenarios (its the required diet in engineering).  It’s a negative version of the law of attraction.

It’s easy to un-complicate:  don’t complicate in the first place!

I’ve spent a lifetime of complicating things…and I have DNA  barriers to uncomplicating things.  First of all I’m german – that means different things to different people – but it also means being proned more to left brain and anal retentive thinking (sorry fellow germans :-).  But it also means a deep resonance with the arts, philosophy and reflection.  Second, being bred as an engineer throughout my adolescent and young adulthood, it doubles down on my ‘german-ness’ and increases left brained  thinking.   (hey, I left our being raised as a catholic – the ultimate guilt trip of human unworthiness)

Best Resource

The book ‘Radical Simplicity’ is the best I’ve found on all this.  The concept of ‘life force energy’ is truly groundbreaking:  how much of your life’s energy do you need and use in your everyday activities.

1st RMH

I have just finished building my first Rocket Mass Heater (RMH).  And I am amazed!   WOW.   The center burn chamber sounds like a rocket engine on just a couple newspaper pages.

I’ve been following the RMH discussions on permies for a few years and saw a couple RMHs first hand while living at Lost Valley ecovillage and visiting Aprovecho, (global leader in rocket stove technology) and I’ve built a couple small ones for demos outside.

What is an RMH?   It’s a modern version of a European  masonry heater (albeit a LOT smaller). 

The one I built is a ‘J tube’ configuration which means you load the small wood stocks upright and the horizontal flame shoots through the burn tunnel and up the …..

Many thanks to Ernie & Erica  and also to Paul Wheaton (world dominator wanna be 🙂 .  I used their plans from a Portland building code project.  And it worked the first time.

There are four main components to an RMH:  Feed chamber, burn chamber (cylinder), recirculating ‘barrel, and the exhaust piping.  that’s it!


Here are the construction steps I took (using existing stuff):

  1. find/count all existing bricks:  80 clay, 35 cement, 30 fire brick.
  2. Found 10″ OD burn chamber with 6″ ID – 48″ long, and 30 gallon steel barrel.
  3. Measure floor area, design, calculate… revise, revise again.
  4. Draw out rough plan on floor in-place, lay (dry) first course.
  5. Think about it, ponder, redesign, refine, redo.
  6. Stack 2nd, 3rd, 4th (dry) courses. Conserve firebricks.
  7. Put inner chamber and outer barrel on, test fire: WOW it drafted!
  8. Mortar up 1st and second courses.  Mix perlite/clay/sand.
  9. Fill burn chamber with mix.
  10. Finalize entire brick base, put barrel in place and test fire.
  11. Install exhaust piping,  hole in outer wall, test fire again.
  12. Final sealing to eliminate all indoor smoke.

I’ll post some pictures soon….

Advice/lessons learned:

Two most important things are getting a quick fire drafting through, and avoid any indoor smoke.  i learned that the hard way… and now put one little newspaper way inside the feed chamber…making sure the burning newspaper doesn’t get sucked into the central burner cylinder.

Don’t try to brick&mortar exhaust port to barrel – just cut a hole in the barrel for the exhaust pipe and seal with Fire retardant caulking.

I used thick glass putty (fired & cured) to seal lower barrel lip tightly to prevent smoking.

the worse company…

Of all the ‘evil corps’ out there, whose the worse?

… and the winner is

For the last decade my list of bad actors in the corporate world usually put Coca-Cola on top of the list with Monsanto and others way down.  Coke has the audacity in its long-term strategic mission to envision replacing water in 3rd world countries – not that they’ll ever admit to that. But the anecdotal evidence supports this: witness their exclusive FIFA (global soccer federation) youth league contracts in Africa and Asia where they supply free Coke samples to young kids that can barely get clean water in their villages.  And you thought Monsanto was the bad boy with their ‘let’s own all the seeds of the world’… well, water is WAY more critical than seeds… and Coke takes the Darwin award on that.

But stay tuned – there are a couple new bad actors out there that put Coke’s world domination of water supply to shame:  Nestle and Unilever. Both of these global behemoths control a massive network of smaller regional food companies. I am familiar with Nestle from a more local perspective with their water games in California and Oregon. If ever there was a poster child for underhanded and deceptive corporate shenanigans in trying to privatize and control mountain spring water that’s in the public domain – it’s Nestle.  And if control of our cities’ drinking water isn’t enough, Nestle is now diversifying spreading junk food and obesity (do they own some medical centers also??) 

Here’s what the junk food transition looks like in Brazil. There are now more obese than underweight adults in the world. Sales of ultra-processed foods have more than doubled over the last decade — even spreading into developing countries.

Nestle’s logo says: ‘Good food, good life’ Yikes! If there’s anything that Nestle does NOT do – is sell good food.   Nestle and Unilever are doing what is common for large profit-obsessed corporations: increase profits by increasing market share. USA, Europe and China have wised up to the bad effects of junk food. So the only place to easily grow market share is in 3rd world countries: Africa, Asia, South America. And are they every successful in that effort!

A recent NYT article about obesity in Brazil highlights Nestle’s new approach to hooking people to their junk food for a lifetime of addiction, obesity and diabetes.

Food vendors have become the local mom and pop of the neighborhood. This is the new preferred way for the large corporations to infiltrate local hoods and hook people on their junk.  No need to have a store front. Like Avon and Tupperware parties, just get locals to sell the junk food under the guise of providing local jobs.

this kind of corporate double-speak makes me want to throw up. How can a new generation of executives (millenials?) come up with this?

Nestlé markets across Africa are today showing their commitment to young people with numerous programmes and initiatives in celebration of Africa Youth Day. Nestlé’s activities on the continent form part of the company’s global youth initiative, Nestlé needs YOUth, with an ambition to help 10 million young people get access to economic opportunities by 2030.”

This is nothing more than being a glorified drug dealer. Get a free sample, buy low-cost food right in front of your house, enjoy the sugar/fats/oil flavorings, get addicted to it… eat more… gain weight slowly, decrease exercise slowly… and before you know it you’re on the treadmill to diabetes, insulin, gangarhea and an early death. But not before becoming a burden on the health care system, on your family, and on society in general: so starts an epidemic.