Volts, schlmolts, amps, zaps and all sorts of things magical

Yeah, you guessed it…the new solar array is starting to generate.  Oooooh….it’s so fine……..

One of my charge controllers is a-pumping.  The other awaits in eager anticipation of being juiced up, too.  Much like my son-in-law, Brian, who was the monkey-on-the-frame for the installation of most of the panels.  He wants to see the results of his labours as much as we do.

We are just reconnected to the old panels so far, actually – hence one controller pumping. In that sense we are just getting our old share of sunshine back workin’ for us. The new ones have yet to come online.  They are 90% wired but not connected yet because we are just finishing the actual physical assembly.  Two more panels to go up on the frame for a total of 14, old and new.

But the bulk of the job is over.  That’s the building of it all, the fabrication, the purchasing, the cobbling, foundation work, the lifting and the assembly.  NOT to mention the running back and forth to my shop for parts, tools and ‘making adjustments’ to fittings.  95% of our electrical work (out here) is really just plain physical, day-labour-type work.  Some of it is kinda mechanical, actually.  The bolting, welding, etc.  Those two components are what takes up all the time.


The fact that we take so much time to actually make electrical things work (switches, combiner boxes, panel connections, batteries, etc.) is more a function of our fear of all things electrical than it is the time required for ‘electrical engineering’.  If we knew what we were doing, the actual ‘electrician-required’ part is only minutes.

Mind you, if we knew what we were doing, the labour-mechanical components wouldn’t take so long either.  I blame Brian.  

So, we are slow.  So sue me!  (Brian might).

To be fair, we had four surprise guests yesterday and that could have proven irritating to me (given my focus at the time) until one of them expressed an interest in all things off-the-grid and was a machinist to boot!  He was in his element jumping up on the array with Brian to help us put a couple of panels up.  And the other three guys were really pleasant and fun to meet as well.  So, it was good, all good and especially good to have another set of willing and skilled hands.

After I dropped the visitors back at the other island, I returned to continue on the job.  Sal was just finishing up wiring the first set of panels.  She stood about twenty feet off the ground on the top of a swaying scaffold and reconnected the old panels and ran the power to the combiner box.  Before she came down from aloft she checked to see that they were producing.  They weren’t.

“I dunno.  Did it all to the diagram.  Maybe they are broken?”

So we checked them together and came up with all sorts of weird readings.  That is such a disappointing feeling when you are way up in the air and think you are 90% done.  But a few misplaced wires set right and we were ‘on’.  Usually a little happy ‘jig’ is in order with small work victories but, given the swayin’ location, we waited til we were back down on terra firma and then the smiles and Riverdancing began.  WOOhoooo!

And that was just 20% of the array producing!  Eat your heart out, George Lucas.  When we get it all together, THERE WILL BE AMATEUR LIGHT AND MAGIC!!


Post script: we went all out this afternoon and the final two panels are up and Sal decided to take a shot at getting another part of the array working (goal: 40% of everything we have.  60% more at a later date – we have other things to do starting tomorrow – my son is getting married!).  She took off the back of the electrical boxes on each panel and one of the boxes looked like it had been inhabited by rats and slugs.  Eeeeuw.  Not a single piece of it was shiney and bright and ready to accept a wire.  A quick check of the gunk with the meter showed the panel was producing nothing. NOT good.  A panel ‘out’ of a string renders the string virtually useless.  So, the panel went into ‘refurbish’ mode (meaning: a lot of scraping, cleaning and shining) and then VOILA!  The panel was producing according to meter and it is being ushered back into the fold as I write.  

OOOoooooooooooohhhhh….I love it when a plan comes together. 

Some things are harder than others

7:30 am.  Got up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head….

Breakfast first and then we got to work.  Started by packing up the hill the new solar panels and all the bedding and mattresses used to ‘comfort them’ while they were in storage. Then took the bedding stuff over to a neighbour who needs extra comforting due to a giant family visit.

The nature of giant family visits means that any and all such comforting will be in short supply.

Jumped in my newly ‘lame’ boat to go pick up other neighbours needing a ride to their property with their supplies.  Mine was lame due to the need for a haul-out to get my bottom scrubbed (yeah, I know how that sounds).  And so, after dropping them off, I took the boat into the shallows and put it over two embedded horizontal struts on which it could settle when the tide went out.  While the tide slowly receded, I stood waist deep, cleaning what I could and keeping it positioned.  Half an hour, maybe forty minutes.  Boat settled nicely.  I was shivering a bit.

Went back home to get dry and then re-position big ol’ heavy electrical cables from one side of the property to the other – that required dismantling some under-the-house connections – for the new solar array. Doesn’t sound like a lot of work but it was and it required Sal and Brian, too.

Later…back to the boat with Sal and the ‘kids’ to clean the bottom and paint it.  Lying in the mud, scraping and painting, everyone was a mess.  But the boat looked good.  Three or so hours later we went back home to get clean, make dinner and start back on reviewing the book…..which, by the way, is NOT going well.

And then, a few hours later after dinner, Sal went to get the now-floating boat and took it back to the dock.

It was 9:30 pm. “Geez, Dave, what do you DO all day?”

“I dunno……stuff….you know…..chores……”

The real answer is that our chores are NOT like city-oriented chores.  Ours require climbing steep slopes dragging heavy equipment, carrying and using tools and standing in the water cleaning the boat (instead of getting it hauled out by a machine and then using a pressure washer) and on and on it goes.  Chores out here are ‘jobs’, really.  Not just chores.  Usually a bit bigger than tasks.  They are jobs.

‘Cept for the book.  That is just a pastime, really.  No heavy lifting.  No slopes.  But – here’s the message – the book is killing me.  Seems reading aloud is an extremely effective editing technique.  Doing that exercise makes me hate what I have written so far.  There is some interesting stuff there but it is covered in word-mud.  I have written a heavy stew and half of the ingredients are off. The whole thing stinks.  No wonder writers are reputed to drink heavily.

I am trying to wire in a new solar array with all sorts of complications…but I’ll get there.  I am needing to build more outbuildings and just don’t have the time….but I’ll get there.  I have some huge jobs, a gazillion tasks and too-many-to-count chores to do before winter ….but, I’ll get there.  But I may not get that book done.  It seems to get worse instead of better…I just may not get there.

Writing is easy.  Good writing is hard.  Great writing is impossible.

Optimism: the 30 year rule

The basic 30 year rule in the blog title assumes that I live 30 more years after building and in a similar manner until the fateful day.  Give or take a week.  And, so far, being ten years into it, it is working. Kinda.  My trusty solar array which has the slightly too-short 25 year warranty (and starting 10 years ago) is fine but, suffering from panel envy, I got some more solar panels this past winter.  And then I built an array or frame structure to hold the old panels and the new ones in a better spot.

It is now up.  It is awaiting the panels.

Today I took down the old panels from the old frame.  They had been built to the 30 year rule, meaning: they were very hard to take apart.  I eventually had to grind three bolts off while dangling from atop the old array-frame.  Tip-toe-ing on a 2 inch pipe leaning at a ridiculous angle mini-grinding off two bolts that, presumably, had high titanium content.

Thought I was gonna die.

“So, how did you assemble all that in the beginning?  There are so many cables and struts that I can see it clearly isn’t gonna fall down, but I can’t see a logical way to put it up or take it down. What did you do first?”

“Well, Brian, I am old.  And I can’t remember.  I remember adding all the cables later so at least they weren’t in the way at that time.  But they are now.  And I seem to recall doing the first four panels one way and the lower four a different way.  To be honest, the only thing I remember clearly is the 30 year rule which means I shouldn’t have to remember anything.”

“Well, at this rate you are going to live to somewhere around the ten year rule – which is just about now.  I think you are going to die.”

“Yeah.  I feel the same way.  Did you see that flash?”

“Yeah.  What was that?”

“The power of eight solar panels jumping the tracks and trying to get aboard my misplaced crescent wrench.”

“Geez, man.  Maybe you should get someone in.”

“First Aid?”

“No, doofus.  How about an electrician?”

“You mean Sal?  She’s at yoga.  Anyway, I can’t afford her anymore.  Her rates went way, way up.”

“How high?”

“She’s priceless.”

“Well, you might get fried.”

“Strange you should say that.  I can feel low current juicing through the frame to the ladder as we speak.  Glad I have on rubber soles. Should have on rubber gloves,too, I guess.”

“You serious!?”

“Yeah.  But it was only because I still have the panels wired together and let the wires touch the ladder.  I am gonna stop that right now and disconnect everything and wrap the ends in tape and all.  No worries.”

“Is this how people put on solar panels?”

“Yep.  Zactly.  They get up on ladders, dangle over the edge, get a little juiced now and again and then act like an expert at the next gathering.”

“Yeah.  I remember now.  At that last dinner party, you and Mike were talking solar panels for an hour.”

“Yep.  And, as you can see, I haven’t a clue.  YEOUCH!  That one smarts!  Did you see that flash?”

“I’m leaving. I can’t watch. This is crazy.”

“Hey!  Come back.  How else you going to learn about stuff like this..?  YEOUUUCH!  Hey, did you see that flash?”

Embarrassing isn’t the half of it…

…Wordpress won’t allow any comments on that last blog (I Wish to Thank…).  I am sure that is driving many of you crazy.  Well, Sid is, anyway.  But he was already crazy…

Anyway, I am posting again today simply to see if the post gets ‘commentability’.

What to say….?

Well, it is a lovely August day.  Visitors are arriving in surprising numbers.  “Surprise! Thought we’d drop in and say hello!”  We have had guests up that wazzoo for days.  Yesterday we had 9 where 2 were expected.  But that’s not news.  Every summer my attraction to mankind is resurrected only to waiver and die by the last few weeks of October.  I am like a social butterfly.  Literally.  A social fruit fly, more like it.

I have had enough tea and biscuits to last me the rest of my life.  I want to work on my projects.  And I don’t think anyone would care, actually, if I did.  But I need Sal to help me and she is – most of the time – being Ms Chatelaine to the guests and so, without my helpmeet (who uses that word?), I am worse than a blind, one-armed, paper-hanging, ESL student with head trauma (just to mix a few metaphors) doing my work.  In other words: nothing is getting done.  OK, maybe a little head trauma.

200 words does not a blog make but, like I said, this is really just a test to see if the comments will work on this page.  Over to you…


I wish to thank…

To edit a book, it seems, requires that you read it aloud to some poor, trapped sap.  My daughter, Emily, and her husband, Brian, are here on vacation and they have no where else to go.  They are my trapped saps.  So, I have been reading the first draft of the book out loud to them. Two chapters every night. Trust me, there is no harsher critic on the planet than your own daughter.  We got to chapter three last night (did chapter two twice) and mercifully, we quit. They were not pleased at being my biblio-Guinea pigs.

This exercise does not bode well for a best seller.  In the words of my critics, “This is a book so easily put down.  And should be”.  Even I was nauseated by chapter two and I wrote it!

I can see the review now: ‘The author is writing under the delusion that his life is interesting and that people are particularly fascinated to read about his self-inflicted injuries.  They are not. His eventual demise, on the other hand, will be much anticipated news.  I want to be on that notification list’.

By chapter three my daughter said, “Oh my God!  How is it that you actually survived to this point?  The only impression I am getting from this book is that you are an idiot with no practical skills and a complete disregard for personal safety.  Or even common sense!  I had no idea my father was such a doofus.  Well, I had an inkling, I admit, but now I have proof.  I am surprised I haven’t inherited the place by now.”

“So, you like it so far?”

“Only my chances of becoming a property owner earlier than I expected”.

“Brian, what do you think?”

‘Well, now I understand the reason for the first aid kit being the size of a small freezer.  So, I am learning.  I guess.  And I appreciate much more the fact that the house and you are still standing although, to be frank, I think that is a fluke.  A miracle, actually.  But I have to question just how many more blows to the head you can take.  That Sally encourages you to go to work every day is also something I think you should look at. I now see her in an entirely new light.”

“So, you think I dwell too much on personal injury?”

“Ironically, I don’t think you dwell enough on personal injury, given your history.  Don’t you see a pattern here?  I know your wife does.  Seriously, dude, consider taking up an indoor hobby.  And, please, NOT writing.  Maybe macrame?”

“Wow!  That bad, eh?”

“Dad!  We are only at chapter three and I would run screaming from the room if it didn’t mean falling into the sea like you seem to do in every chapter.”

“OK.  More ravens, then?”

“All ravens.  All the time!”

Hello Sam, Ivan and Lee (Ni Hao, Привет)

Sump’ns up.  I don’t get it.  Who ARE you people?

I mean ‘who are you NEW people’?

Thanks to Google counting just about everything, I know that I have maybe 300 regular readers.  The desperate, the lonely and the antique dealers.  Plus a friend or two (altho, come to think of it, they also fit into the first three categories…).  Anyway….

Last two days I have had 2300.

Makes no sense.  Usually I at least have to throw a sexy word like ‘boobs’ or ‘guns’ into the title to pick up my numbers.  I confess to having done that a few times, so I know.  One of my best read blogs was something like Sex, Drugs and Guns in El Salvador.  Of course, I wrote that blog from my house.  It was just artistic license, I swear.  That is what I told the police anyway.

But I haven’t written anything sexy in a long time (forgot how, actually) and I don’t have guns so why the sudden increase in my numbers?  Ok, I have prescription medications but I haven’t written about them.  Not much to say, actually.  Barely remember them, either.  I think they are for dementia.  So, I don’t get it.

Mind you, Google also tells me that more than half of my readers are from Russsia (.ru) and China (cn).  I suspect that few, if any, of those people are actually reading the blog.  I suspect that they are ‘spying’ on me.  For whatever reason.  I have some readers, a few friends and a lot of foreign spies.  Much like our government it seems.

I bet they get more from me than they do from Ottawa.

I can’t imagine of what interest my blog might hold for a spy in Moscow, Beijing or even in the US?  They thinking of running away to the forest?  Don’t they know that if they can find me, their bastard co-workers can also find them?  Where you gonna run, fellas?  Go ahead and make a break for it but you can’t hide.  Truly we are all now living in a giant suite at the Hotel California.  We can check out any time we want but we can never leave.

Anyway, I appreciate the attention.  No such thing as bad publicity, they say.  Even if it is in Cyrillic or Mandarin.

Down time and post apocalyptic fantasy

Lots of updates…it is in the 30′s Celsius again but we are getting a nice cool breeze so it is really rather pleasant.  Perfect, actually.  A stream of guests are scheduled to start arriving in a few days and so the joint will be jumpin’ til well into September.  Our work stint in Victoria tired us out and so we haven’t done much of anything since getting home.  Lazy buttheads is the status we aspire to and have been achieving rather well.  Woofers are off working on another island so food supplies are holding.  Sal is finishing up her organization of the book so we will send it out to Beta readers as soon as we can…should be soon…a week or so.

It is the calm before the storm.

But calm is not a story and I’ll write about the storm after it has passed.  For now, just a bit of musing.  Watched the Sci-fi remake of Total Recall last night.  The essence of the plot is basically gratuitous violence, of course, but a major sub-plot was our hero’s sense that the life and the work he was doing wasn’t satisfying.  He had to get out.  As it turns out, for him, he was really a super-spy who had his memory replaced with that of a working stiff. He couldn’t stand it so he went after a fantasy service that gave him a ‘new life’ – one that was that of a super-spy.  I could relate.

“Geez, Sal.  Total Recall is our story! We dropped our ordinary life for an adventurous fantasy.”

“Sweetie, this is not a fantasy and a long, hard day shopping and schlepping day is NOT an adventure.  Get a grip.”

That is why I like cheap B movies.  I get ‘into’ them.  I am the hero.  Last night I was ‘Doug’ the super-spy.  Today I am a lazy butthead.  It doesn’t get any better.

Is it just me or are our politicians keeping an extraordinarily low profile?  I get the sense that they seem to know that they are reviled and so they just aren’t getting out and about making the news circuit.  Good survival instincts.  Mind you, Harper (who, it seems, will not eat in public because he thinks eating makes him look stupid) made an appearance at an event commemorating the First World War 100 years ago.  I guess he thought that was safe – no vets around from that era.  No food.

And he is worried about looking stupid at dinner?!

But maybe it is just the season.  I just can’t raise my black bile levels much these days even though there is still so much to rail against.  Lazy butthead days, I guess.

But a tip o’ the hat to a friend of mine who decided to retire.  He’s my age and it is time.  It is good to see.  Another tip to another friend who bought a sailboat and is in love again – him and Wally Ross (author of Sail Power). The point: there is life after work.  A better one.  And, if you occasionally long for the old action, just rent a cheap B movie and lose yourself in it for the night.  That’s what I do.

New moniker

We don’t really think of ourselves as wilderness adventurers although, to some extent, each day seems to end up being one.  And we sure as hell don’t think of ourselves as dooms-dayers or survivalists.  We are too happy for that kind of pessimism and not sufficiently well-armed or togged out for that kind of apocalyptic dystopia.

Mad, perhaps, but not Mad Max.

I suppose I do accept the moniker of off-the-gridder.  Pretty hard to deny that description given the title of the blog.  But, honestly, with the exception of lacking a dishwasher, a microwave and ‘shopping convenience’, we are pretty comfortable and definitely living a relatively modern lifestyle.  We got Netflix, fer Gawd’s sake! Picked up a smart-phone even!

No, really, we’re really pretty normal.  Mind you, I have slowly adjusted to thinking of myself as semi-rural. That is a significant adjustment.  I admit that.  That reclassification was somewhat prompted by feeling a bit out of place in the new urban environment but I can still think, speak English and drive a car so it is not like the city has become an alien landscape.  We fit in.  Kinda.  OK, the car is pretty old and battered and I don’t own a suit or tie anymore…………….but I can fit in the city on casual Fridays at the very least….OK, in the bad part of town.

I mention all this because Jim Cobb has just authored a new book titled Prepper’s Long Term Survival Guide (Food, shelter, security, off-the-grid-power and more life-saving strategies for self-sufficient living).  He’s an expert, it seems.  And Jim has pretty much categorized people like us as ‘Preppers’.  Seems we are preparing for the end of the world as we know it – acronym: TEOTWAWKI.

I suppose he is right, in a way.  Although we are NOT really preparing for the end of the world, but we are preparing to live in a manner that is different than we KNEW IT.  I wasn’t all that keen on life in the cul-de-sac and I am much more interested in this way of living so Jim is right – to that extent.  We ended the life as we knew it.

But he is a bit extreme.  He envisions a world (society) that has collapsed in an apocalyptic heap and that we are all forced to live locally, frightened and completely deprived.  And he may be right.

But I see it differently.  I believe the world will continue to do as it has done and that is bad enough.  It means more people, more rules, more controls, more pollution, more work, more stress and the gradual elimination of the natural joys in life.  I see further erosion of families and communities.  Greater environmental degradation.  Stronger and sicker corporate psychopathy.  I see an increase in BIG Government and the quasi-security, control-state.  I see people essentially confined to cities and basically being programmed to live Matrix-like lives where their level of personal skills have diminished to the point that they can’t live without their systems.  And don’t want to.

Admittedly that view is not unique.  George Orwell and a number of other famous writers have had the same vision but, for the most part, there have been outliers in their prophetic visions, people who swam against the current, broke away, went off-the-radar and, of course, also went off the grid. To that extent, we are those people.  We are Preppers.

But so long as I do a bi-annual shop at Costco, use Craigslist and buy most of our food from Save-ON, we are really just Prepper-wannabes, prepping to prep…preppies, if you will.  I just don’t think we are THAT far out there.  I think we are aspiring to normal healthy living despite being forced into a somewhat extreme minority category by doing so.



It is all about pace…..

We are home now.  Thank God!  Twelve days away and ten of them spent ‘a-buildin’, two in all-day transit.  Our neighbours (our age group) went to Victoria as well.  They went down to have high tea with the Lt. Governor at the Empress.  One day of travel, one day of pomp, tea and ceremony and one day home.  “We’re exhausted!”

Admittedly, ten days on the work site is easier to take than ten hours of pomp and ceremony but the point is that the last two weeks were pretty fatiguing.  But satisfying.

We did good.  See pics (don’t look too closely).

Team Cox

Team Cox

A dead-end laundry room was converted into a nice workable little kitchen.  A back wall was opened and the little windows replaced with older French doors.  The ‘age’ of the house and the doors is in sync.  Looks original.  A deck was built off the French doors and it is fantastic.  200 square feet of pleasant outdoor space sans the prodigious amount of backyard dog-poop ubiquitous to the rest of the yard.  In effect, we built a space to get above it all.

The kitchen was re-wired and is about to be re-plumbed – we only got half of that done.  And a small standing-room-only laundry closet was added by taking space from the little workshop.  It was wired but remains not-yet-plumbed.

BEFORE  (no AFTER pics -- too tired to think)

Before (No after pics — too tired to think of it)

The old floor in the lower portion was torn up and the new flooring was purchased.  It sits awaiting getting laid (something we can all relate to).  Should be easy (something we all hope for).  But it never is (something we are all familiar with). So, we’ll just have to hear about the affair afterwards (something all too common in this crazy world).

The W’fers came back with us and are in greater demand than ever.  Interesting how that goes……………..

When W’fers come, we usually tell others so that the W’fers can experience another Canadian family situation if they so choose.  Plus, we rarely have more than a week of project that we are going to tackle at any one time so W’fers for a longer time is burdensome for us and boring for them.

Not so this trip.  This trip we worked the ‘boys’ pretty normally and filled their bellies pretty well for about ten days and then we took them to Victoria to help us with our little reno.  Basically, they built the deck.  And that took them 3/4 of their time down there but they did get to ‘bank’ some time for the future.  Should they go back, they have a free place to stay.

We brought them back here because a neighbour had a small project and gave them the keys to his cabin.  So they get their own place for a few days.  And then they go to another neighbour who should keep them half-busy for another week.  The schedule runneth over.

But, it gets better.  Two neighbours hearing of the success of this W’fer experience stepped up and the ‘boys’ have at least two more weeks of W’fing opportunity available to them if they want it.  Sounds as if they do.  This small corner of Canada is having a major influence on two young men and – if I do say so myself – it is a good one, I think.

IMG_20140727_171243654_HDRAt the very least, they are pretty proud of themselves over that deck.  And they should be!

More partial

Deck almost done…should be today.  Electrical almost done…should be today.  French doors almost hung…..should take weeks.  Then to plumbing and kitchen cabinets.  Then to constructing a closet.  Today is Wednesday.  We go home in four days or so.  Gotta pick up the pace.  Gotta pick up my feet first.  Everyone working well together…and I don’t wanna push that.

A contractor’s life, eh?

One small blessing – the building supply store is just a few blocks away.

Actually, we are getting into the ‘workday’ swing of things.  Somewhat.  We don’t feel like quitting until it’s 5:00.  Must be generational muscle memory thing or something, but I had to drag Sal off the work site at 5:00 only to have her practically fall asleep in the car as we headed back to where we are staying.  Memories of pre-retirement, I guess.  Let us hope that fades quickly once we are home.

Basically, we are ‘wingin’ it.  Can’t really plan until you see the challenge and then the first steps (demolition) are obvious.  Once you have de-constructed, you will have a plan (of sorts) in your head.  I do, anyway.  And, since time is short, I get on with it.  Of course, no one else knows the plan ’cause it is in my head and these fools can’t seem to read my mind!  So, we work in small bite-size chores, “Here’s how you hang a ledger board.  I’ll cut it and you do it.  Let me know when you are done.”

“Voss das a led jar bode?”

“Never mind.  It will become clear enough at step two.  OK?”


“……we’ll use hangers for this deck………”

“Voss das a hungers?”

“Never mind.  They will become clear at step three.  OK”?


“What do you want me to do?”

“We’re gonna need some shallow holes dug for the gravel under the concrete piers.”

“What gravel?”

“That is where you come in……….”

And so it goes.