What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The office. Days I have to schlep over to the actual office to do things I’ve been successfully doing from my living room for a year are annoying. And not just for the usual reasons surrounding spending a day locked in cubicle hell. A not minor part of the annoyance package on those days is the fact that right out of the gate it means I’m losing 80-90 minutes of quality reading time just to get over there. It just adds insult to injury.

2. Emotional responses. It seems that Ted Cruz flew to Cancun while the power was out in Texas. Sure, the optics aren’t ideal, but if Ted stayed in Texas, do you really think he’d be sitting in the dark just waiting for the lights to come back on? Unless your senator moonlights as a power plant operator, electric lineman, oil well repairman, or LP gas tanker captain, there’s very little role for him beyond making phone calls and prodding the people who run the grid to get their act together, which could be done from Houston, Washington, Cancun, or the International Space Station. Honestly the last thing anyone needs in a disaster situation is one more politician wandering around getting in the way of emergency responders. Having worked a fair amount of my early career in emergency management, I can’t remember a single thing that was improved when the politicians showed up in the room for their photo op. 

3. Prediction. Let me start by saying that I recognize that “the weather” is a ludicrously complicated system. Predicting how it’s going to behave at one particular spot on the globe at any given time involves huge assumptions and massive amounts of computing power. With that said, three weeks ago the experts were calling for 4-6 inches of snow. We ended up with two inches of slush. Last week the experts called for 4-8 inches of snow. We ended up with two inches of slush. Today, the experts called for another 4-8 inches of snow. Thus far, the results have been less than an inch of sleet, freezing rain, and snow. I’m not saying the daily weather forecast is absolute hokum, but maybe instead of trying to project exact details, we focus more on whether the storm will produce liquid or frozen precipitation and leave it at that since nailing the details seems awfully problematic.

Lessons from Texas…

There are lots of lessons about the debacle of the Texas electric grid.

The biggest, for me at least, is the confirmation that energy independence isn’t just about making the fuel we consume right here in the good ol’ U S of A, but also in having a bare minimum ability to produce some power or heat separate and apart from whatever grid happens to service your region.

For the average homeowner or renter, even a tiny, portable generator could power a modest electric heater – enough to keep a room warm and a lamp on as a shelter of last resort. For an apartment dweller the calculus is a bit different. Even so, there are indoor use options powered by propane or denatured alcohol that would provide welcome heating in a survival situation. The catch to all of those alternatives, though, if you need to have thought them through a bit before the “oh shit” moment arrives.

I’ll be the first to tell you that even the best generators aren’t foolproof. They need regular service and rely on a steady supply of your fuel of choice. Here at Fortress Jeff, that fuel source is a 500 gallon propane tank buried in the backyard. At best, on the day it’s filled, that tank will contain 400 gallons of propane – or a little more than six days of 24/7 run time for the average sized generator. Since most days that tank is sitting somewhere between full and “empty,” I work from the assumption that I can keep things fully up and running for half that time and maybe even less since the water heater and furnace both draw from the same tank. If it looks like a long duration outage, off and on cycling will buy me a few more days of keeping the place at least habitable.

Beyond that point, we’re at the mercy of the delivery service and the expectation that both the generator and HVAC systems keep working as advertised. That is to say, it’s not a zero risk plan that I put together. There are certainly scenarios where a deep snow or ice, and downed trees could prevent delivery or repair should an event drag into multiple days or some component fail. I assess the relative risk of that happening as being fairly low based on the historical record for the geographic area I currently occupy.

Even feeling fairly secure in my ability to operate independently from the grid for days if necessary, when the time comes to replace the current 21 years old tank, I’m planning to upgrade to a 1000 gallon model. When it comes to fuel on hand, I firmly believe the old logistician’s motto that “more is better.” On days I’m feeling particularly aggressive about my own personal energy independence, the thought of adding a wood stove also sounds awfully appealing. Without a fireplace of any kind in the house, it’s more of an undertaking than I’d really like to get involved with just now, but it’s on the radar for sure.

As for Texas, well, it’s just one more reminder than when shit really gets dicey, you’d better have a plan to get yourself through the worst of it, because the cavalry isn’t always going to ride over the hill and rescue you in the nick of time.

Vestigial snow day…

The home office over in Aberdeen was closed today to all but “essential” business. What essential means, of course, has never been described the same way twice in the nine years I’ve been working there. Every winter they try out two or three new definitions that never quite seem to stick.

Technically today was a “snow day,” one of those random, unexpected, weather related holidays that are scattered about the yearly calendar like birdshot. Snow days in the plague era ain’t what they use to be. Honestly, if it weren’t for the occasional pitter patter of sleet falling on the skylights, I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between today and any other Monday over the last ten months. 

Losing the traditional snow day has always been the bitter catch of having a telework agreement. It’s still a trade I’ve always considered well worth making, but sitting looking at the snow-covered woods, I have to admit that I miss the old ways just a little bit on days like this. 

Before the plague, these working snow days were mostly alright. There were so few of us with agreements stipulating that we’d work through adverse weather that it mostly felt like a real snow day interrupted by an occasional email. It might have been an official work day on the books, but when the boss isn’t around to assign work and everyone you need to talk to in order to get anything done is “on holiday,” not much real work was happening anyway. 

Now that the vast majority of us are “telework ready” to cope with the plague, of course, it’s a brave new world. I like to think the ability to have the whole mass of us “work through the storm,” would be major points in favor of a greatly liberalized telework program… but I’m in no way expecting that to be the case. The opposite, reconsolidating central control and management, is always the more likely course of action. 

In any case, I’ve enjoyed my vestigial snow day and would happily welcome more of them.

Who failed who?

I’ve had a Jeep in my garage for a pretty sizable part of my adult life. The one constant in all that time is that wherever I pointed my tires, it went without complaint. Snow, mud, washed out roads, none of them ever required more than maybe shifting from high range to low.

This past Friday morning, for the first time, I pointed the Jeep’s nose in the direction of an obstacle it couldn’t surmount. Of the two ways out of the neighborhood, the one I most commonly follow involves a quick right turn directly up a short, but steep hill. This hill, on the day in question, was, at least partially, a sheet of ice. 

All other things being equal, I’d have been sorely tempted to put her in 4-low and crawl up and over this stretch of ice. Such is my confidence in the Jeep’s almost universal sure-footedness. The hill, though, had already claimed at least two vehicles in their attempt to reach the promise of flat ground and dry pavement at the top. One was tantalizingly close to the top, though stuck awkwardly sideways straddling a travel lane and the ditch. The other was stopped dead on the steepest portion of the hill, the driver seemingly unsure how to extract themself from the situation.

As sure as I’m sitting here typing, I believe the Jeep could have carried the hill – although that would have meant swinging into the oncoming traffic lane and putting her perilously close to the two earlier vehicles who’d blown their chance. The margin of error would have been measured somewhere between inches and feet. 

I decided the better part of valor was looking for an alternate route, which involved an extra twenty minutes and two more bits of backtracking before finding a path that hadn’t already claimed victims that morning.

I’ll never know for sure if the Jeep failed me or I failed the Jeep. In my overabundance of caution, it feels a lot like the latter.

Bookshelves and gin…

The wind is absolutely screaming through my woods this morning. The sky is the kind of blue you only find on fall mornings and the sun, after days of gray overcast, is dazzling. It would be a beautiful day, but that wind, though. 

The wind is the game changer for today. I’d planned on trekking south through the plague lands to secure the first couple of bookcases I need to start the long toyed-with idea of bastardizing the formal dining room into a proper library that just happens to have a dining table in it. Getting the bookcases here today was prelude to moving other furniture, doing assembly, and starting to reorient the room next week during another long stretch of days off. 

I’ve got about a year’s worth of open shelf space with my current set up. That’s room for about 60 mid-sized books. Although the shelves have been filling faster than normal thanks to the Great Plague leaving loads of extra time for reading. I don’t quite need the extra shelf space yet, but I’ll need it soon enough. 

I want to get the new flat packs on hand and ready mostly to ensure I’d have something to do during the coming nine-day weekend. I’m also enough of a forward looker to see that there’s a time in the not too distant future when I might not be able to get them in a timely manner. A time when we could find ourselves once again faced with the closure of all but essential businesses. It’s not far from the realm of the possible that we’ll follow Europe’s lead in the fall and winter as we did this past spring. I’m increasingly a fan of having anything I might need already on hand instead of hoping a beleaguered supply chain can keep up.

The wind itself isn’t the problem with today’s plan. The issue really is not wanting to find myself on the wrong side of the Susquehanna during a “wind event.” Should the windspeed touch the numbers that trigger restrictions or a closure there’s simply no good way to get back from the other side of the river. Driving deep into Pennsylvania to find a low bridge crossing simply isn’t part of today’s plan. Better to let the wind blow itself out and try again tomorrow.

It’s election eve here in America anyway. I have enough of almost everything to ride out the election and its aftermath in comfort, but I find I’m running dangerously low on good gin. Today I’ll focus on correcting that shortcoming and get back to my relentless pursuit of more bookcases tomorrow while everyone else is holding their breath. At least this way I’ll be putting both vacation days to good use.

A minor concession…

Today was the first of many concessions made to the changing season. Putting on jeans instead of shorts isn’t exactly abject surrender, but it does mark the day as the tipping point of the long slide into hibernation weather.

I’m ready for a bit of a break from schlepping hoses all over the yard, keeping the grass in check, and keeping up with the long list of other items on the summer maintenance list. Even though I’ve largely been home this summer, the indoor “stuff” always takes a back seat when it’s nice enough to be outside. With the extra traffic in here for the last six months it’s probably well past time to shift focus.

I’ll be in love with these days of coffee on the porch during these increasingly crisp morning… right up to the point where crisp gives way to cold. After that, of course, I’ll spend a few months pondering the virtue of those creatures that head south for the winter.

For now, I’ll appreciate the minor concessions… and hope that we catch a last few days of Indian summer in the coming weeks that will make such minor concessions briefly unnecessary.

Well that went well…

Everything that should have stayed dry stayed dry. I’m not spending the rest of the day running the chainsaw.

After almost nine and a half inches of rain over six hours this morning, I’ll take the bright blue sky and an inexplicably pleasant temperature as a solid win.

As long as you weren’t trying to hold the low ground, I’d say that went about as well as anyone could reasonably hope.

Winter of our discontent…

It was 10 degrees when I woke up yesterday morning. It’s winter, so that’s not unheard of here along the shores of the Chesapeake. I do have to wonder at the first settlers who arrived here and endured their first long winter. What compelled them to stay here rather than picking up stakes and opting for somewhere south of Norfolk. I can only speculate that they were stranded and without means to build a boat of their own to get the hell away to somewhere more temperate.

The poor bastards that lived here in log houses with mud insulation and wood heat and managed not to freeze to death were surely hearty souls. Far more hearty that I feel during the current unpleasantness. I don’t mean to imply that I heat the place excessively. I’m generally comfortable around 68 degrees. I try to get by at 67 as at least a passing nod towards saving fuel. Even at that my fancy new ultra high efficiency propane furnace was running flat out more often than it wasn’t.

I’m fortunate in that the house is well constructed and reasonably well insulated. Even at that, it’s teaching me a few details I’ll remember when I build the final version of Fortress Jeff. I’ll have more south facing windows with interior shutters to close at night. I’ll cut back the tree line far enough to get unobstructed sunlight. There will be in-floor heat for the bathroom. It’s going to be way more insulated than code requires. And there’s going to be zoned heating. I find myself here pumping hot air into parts of the house I only walk into a couple times a year.

Finally, I’m missing the one thing on my wishlist that I traded away because the current house ticked so many of my other “must have” items – a wood stove or fireplace. Let’s face it, if I can prop my feet up on a hearth with a good book and some coffee most of my basic requirements are already being met. Unfortunately, with every passing winter I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of the cold. The amount of time I’ve already spent devising ways to push the natural environment away by a few degrees just doesn’t bode well for what I’ll be spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about in the future.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. I try to read for an hour before going to bed every night. It’s a habit I’ve been in for years. Lately, though, my eyes are so tired and scratchy that it’s impossible to do comfortably. Since I regularly have my eyes checked and there’s no apparent problem with them, I can only assume the amount of screen time, reading, and writing I do during the rest of the day is catching up with me by the time I’m ready to kick back with a few chapters of the book of the moment.

2. Character assassination. When you attack someone’s character, I have no idea how you can reasonably be surprised when they push back at you hard. Accuse me of something I didn’t do and you’re damned right I’m going to get vocal about it… but when it’s being fronted by holier than thou members of Congress with their 16% approval rating, well, they deserve every every cross word and glare sent in their direction. Being told to defend yourself by proving a negative in the absence of any actual evidence against you has got to be an immensely maddening situation. Reacting with feigned shock when a man speaks out in his own defense in that situation is appalling.

3. Rain. For Christ’s sake can we just get a 48 hour break from all the damned rain. The back yard is such a mud pit that I’d be better off opening a brick-making factory than pretending to even think about fall yard work.

Monsoon season…

As it turns out it’s monsoon season here in the mid-Atlantic. Something something climate change, something something global warming, something something fake news. I’m sure there are a wide ranging set of reasons this summer as gone directly from cold and rainy to oven baked, and is now shifting gears back to torrential downpours. I find none of those reasons particularly interesting. Mostly because none of them lead to a long stretch of days that we could reasonably describe as “temperate.” I think at this point I may even be willing to settle for “seasonal.”

We’re two months through “summer,” and I’ve only had the top off a handful of times – worse yet, the doors have been firmly installed since I put them back on last September. That’s no kind of life for a Jeep. I mean if you’re not going to drive it up to the fender wells in mud, the very least you can do is strip it down to the bare essentials and enjoy the open air. Except, sadly, you need the air to also cooperate with this plan.

We’ll see what August brings, but given recent history I’m not overly optimistic. I have a terrible feeling that the last, best hope for good Jeep weather this year will be in finding a long Indian summer and trying to hold on to it a little too long. This late in topless driving / monsoon season I suppose I’ll have to take what I can get.