Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Solar Woes

As I sit here at my desk, typing away, I keep one eye on a tab in the browser. The tab is the wireless window into the current state of my power system. Right now, I notice that the current state of the batteries is 52.8 volts and the State of Charge is 99%. We're only using 370 watts at the moment: not too many lights and my computer are the only draws. In a few minutes, however, the outside lights will come on and we'll start getting dinner ready. The usage will go up to around 1.3 kW.  We store about 32 usable kW. As we use the battery, the voltage falls, and if the voltage falls below 40 volts, the inverters will shut down to protect themselves. At that point, unless I have an alternate source of power, I won't have any lights or water until the sun comes up. So we are very careful to keep a weather eye on the power and shut off lights as soon as we don't need them, and since the well is the single largest draw, we are also careful wth water. Luckily we have 2 alternate sources, neither perfect but both helpful: a mini-hydro generator that produces about 650 watts at 48 volts and a 20kW backup diesel generator. The mini-hydro is great until either there's no rain for a few days or the jets plug up (which necessitates me slogging down to the generator pit to clear it out, no fun in the rain for sure). The diesel generator is more than capable of charging the batteries, as long as the electronic controller doesn't fail again, or the oil pressure sensor, or unless the starter battery dies. And all of this is dependent on 2 large silver boxes in the power shed: the master and slave inverters, which turn battery power into house power. Complex? Yes, indeed. But that's my system.

And it is, indeed, all mine. We are off the grid in central Oregon, more than a mile from the nearest power pole, and on the far side of a set of railroad tracks and a major Bonneville Power Administration transmission line, 660,000 volts of clean, renewable, hydro-electric power, and it might as well be on the moon for all the good it does me. Running power to my house would take over a year for permits and cost at least $100,000. Plus I would have power poles running along side my driveway, which aren't exactly beautiful. But I'm saving up for them anyway. Being completely off the grid is just too damn stressful.

Why? For starters, have you looked at the price of batteries lately? Replacing our batteries (Aquion salt water batteries, non toxic and very long life: 10 or so years) run about $1200 each. I have 20. The panels should be good for 12-15 years and will need replacing at $300 or so each. I have 30. The inverters, charge controllers and central control unit have life spans, and so does the generator and the mini-hydro. The wiring should be good for the life of the house, so that's ok. So I baby the stuff, and check on it to make sure it's running properly or we go dark until I either fix it myself, or call a repair person to come out and fix it. I have maintenance contracts with the generator and solar people, but they are minimum 1 hour away and the contracts don't cover nights, weekends and holidays. I'm responsible for the mini-hydro (no-one fixes that for you.)

So it's time-consuming and expensive: the system cost around $110,000. I could have done it for 2/3 that price by using lead-acid batteries and cheaper controls, but I chose a larger, more robust system so my wife and family don't have to muck about testing batteries and managing power even more than we do now.  My cost per kWh, figuring how much I paid for the installation and maintenance, is around double what people in LA pay for power, and about 3 times the very low priced energy around me. On top of that I have to spend time monitoring and managing the system.

Could we add wind? Sure, but it would have to be a very tall tower (we're in the valley of the N Santiam River), and I would have to monitor that too! (Also, they're noisy, especially in the area we're in, which is really quiet.) I'm going to upgrade the mini-hydro to a 1.1kW until next summer, which will give me more bang for my buck. More solar panels? Sure, but the basic problem is still there. Look, how much time did you spend today or yesterday thinking about your power? Maybe the cost, if you just got your bill, or the source if you want more green energy. But I will guarantee you didn't spend 30 seconds thinking about capacity, usage, etc. which is a constant worry for those of us off the grid. Yesterday, my wife went to use the microwave and the house went dark. So, off I go in my slippers (where's the damn flashlight?) and call the solar guy who was available to walk me though a new type of issue. I typed up my notes this morning and added them to the 20 or so pages of "What to do if..." notes that hang in the power shed.

I love it that most of the time I have green energy (except when we have to use the generator) and I'm not drawing on the (steadily overloading) grid. But I don't know a single person who depends on solar and who is just trying to live their life, who wouldn't trade for grid power in an instant, if it were practical. If I get grid power up to the shed, then at least I can sell some power back to BPA.

52.6 volts, 98% charge. We’re doing fine for now. I’m off to make dinner.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11 Thoughts

15 years ago today, my wife and I walked into the oncologist’s office to start her fifth round of chemo.  I was focussed on making sure that everything was as good as it could be, given the circumstances. Anti-nausea meds? Got ‘em. Kids taken care of for the next few days? I thought so. Food that Joy could eat? I hoped that sushi would be OK, that it was low-odor enough for her to stomach. I was thinking that maybe zinc would help with the dis-regulation of her taste buds, something I had read in an old New Yorker article. I was a little wooly-headed from the stress. Joy was deep in her emotional upheaval. 

In the office, everyone was talking about the plane which had hit the World Trade Center. My first thought was, “How the hell did the pilot get that far off course?” We watched the tower smoking through our mental haze. The nurse got Joy settled into the lounger, and started the preliminary drip. So we were watching when the second plane hit, and we understood that it was an intentional act. We watched as the towers fell. We heard about the Pentagon. And we heard about the plane crash in Eastern Pennsylvania.

While my wife was hooked up to the evil red drip, I made some frantic phone calls. Our daughter had left that morning on a school field trip to Washington, D.C., and we figured out that the class would be very close to where the plane hit. I called the school, who had no information. I called my mother to let her know what I had seen and heard on the news (we were in White Plains, 45 minutes outside the city, she was at home on the Upper East Side) and to tell her to stay inside. Then I tried to call our family office on Wall Street, but the phone lines were out. Eventually the school called to let us know that the kids were OK, and were returning to school late that evening. That was good: I didn’t have to leave Joy and drive down to get our girl.

We went home after the session, and pulled the rug up behind us.

The next day we began to find out what had happened. People I knew had died, family and friends of close friends had died, Wall Street was in chaos. Our kids were home, my wife was sick, there was nothing I could do. We hung in there, tried to console each other and the girls, called our friends to commiserate and mourn.

Eventually the chemo and radiation were finished, my wife’s hair began to grow back, NY began to look more like its regular ugly self (despite being born there, lived and worked there, I have no love for the city. Yes, it is interesting. Yes, there are wonderful parts. Yes, yes, yes. I despise it.) Giuliani boasted of his accomplishments, the rubble and debris were mostly gone, there was a big hole in the ground.

It had been my mother’s 69th birthday.

After that, the years when we went to dinner, people gave us the side-eye, or occasionally direct confrontation: Why are you celebrating? Are you terrorists? Don’t you CARE? And we would have a conversation about “going about our lives”. 

America realized something that day: we are mortal, and life is unpredictable in its application of mortality. Predictably, we lashed out at the targets we could see, and equally predictably, politicians pointed us at the targets they though would make them the most news/money/votes. The “news” media had a field day, and ratings were never better! Everyone won.

Except you know, the 30,000 troops who died in the phony “police actions” that followed. Except for the 300,000 people who died under our bombs. Except for all the grieving families.  Except for all the countless soldiers who were ignored when they came home (except at NFL/NHL/NBA games, which, you know, is totally supporting the troops.)

Mortality. The notion that you could die at any moment, unpredictably, unprepared, unaware. Or, maybe worse, you might not die, but a family member, a child, a wife or husband, a parent might die and leave you alone. And it is SO convenient to blame ISIS/ISIL/DAESH for your fears. Why, if it’s them, then all we gotta do is nuke them until they glow, then shoot them in the dark, right? Right? THEN we’ll be safe.

And since we can’t tell who you are, anyone who doesn’t look like me, gets the terrorist treatment. And I’m “colorblind”, which is a great way to say, “You all look alike to me, so you're all suspects.” And since I’m afraid, I’ll scream and get laws passed that criminalize looking like a terrorist. THEN I’ll be safe.

I’ve buried 2 kids. I KNOW what it’s like to live in fear of losing another. I know what it’s like to want to wrap my family in bubble-wrap to protect them. It’s no way to live.

Our country still lives in fear. It’s no way to live.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Something came up...

And that's really why it's been such a challenge to keep up with the blog

So now I have a diagnosis. Wow.
More than a year later, it’s still a little hard to get my head around it. Aren’t I just moody? I feel normal. I mean, I felt normal before, and I still feel normal now, but it’s different now. (No jokes from the family about how I was never normal, please, or I’ll start writing about you!) How is it different? It’s hard to say, but it’s sort of like being more relaxed. It was getting very obsessive inside my brain, in a way that I didn’t like and felt powerless to stop. Not like, I’m getting ready to jump off a bridge, but sort of, I just don’t know how to deal, what’s the matter with me, why is everything so hard, over and over and over. It must be something I’m doing, so maybe I should just go away, and take my misery with me; that way I wouldn’t be trashing out other people. Or if I happened to fall in to the pool, would that be so bad? But feeling miserable is just indulging isn’t it? I should just accept my feelings and go with them, right? And then what? Is everything supposed to turn out fine just because I don’t fight my feelings (cue REO Speedwagon)? Back and forth, over and over and over.

I was mentally and emotionally exhausted, and terrified by the time I went for help. 

Not having those obsessive, intrusive thoughts is a revelation. Space to think. Room to consider. I had said to the doctor that all I wanted was to be able to take 2 breaths between something happening and feeling a desperate need to respond. Now I have plenty of time. I feel like I >can< take the time I need, even if I often don’t because, hey, I’m moving fast though this moment. But when I want to, I can and I do.

Being able to get up and write. Being able to stay on Weight Watchers. (Sometimes).

But the thing is, it felt like this was just how things are. You’re sad? Ok, then, you’re sad. Depressed, well, I’m not depressed, I’m just grieving and maybe I’ll grieve like this for the rest of my life. That’s just the way it is, right? All throughout this time I never had the sense that I was all that different from how I had been for years. This despite my wife (among others) telling me that I had changed. Well, of COURSE I had changed! Shit happened, wouldn’t that change anyone? Etc, etc. But what I wasn’t getting (and to be fair to me, neither was anyone else, including my therapist), was that the changes were accumulating and getting worse.

And you want to know something funny? People who are depressed can hide it like no-one’s business. From almost anyone, including their therapists. And it’s not like it’s something we work on: it’s just that it’s easier to talk about other stuff than the dreary reality of unhappy obsessive thoughts. So many depressed people are thought to be the life of the party, especially if their temperament is naturally extroverted. And yes, extroverts can be depressed, too. And introverts aren’t especially prone to depression. And your Myers-Briggs has nothing to do with it. And no, it’s not just that you need to get out more. Or just do more fun things. Or just do more exercise. Or any of the other stuff that people who have no idea what it’s like in our heads think would help us. Bless them, they’re trying to help. (Often because it makes them SO uncomfortable that we’re not “right”.) But for most people with any of these forms of mood disorders (depression, bipolar spectrum, borderline personality, and some others), what helps more is medication and therapy. 

(Another part of hiding things is that people, usually our therapists and loved ones, want us to DO things: Get out more, try this or that, read this book, look at this video. And we just can't. Not one more thing. I was running on the edge of collapse for a long time, and adding more to that would only hasten my daily dives. So I didn't (and my people with serious mental issues also don't) talk about how I felt. It's a protection thing that also happens to work against us while simultaneously protecting us.)

Now, there certainly are many people who manage their lives without medication and therapy, and my hat is off to them. I couldn’t. And I worked at it (not knowing what the problem was, to be sure) for many years. I wasn’t unaware of the fact that I wasn’t as happy as I had once been, or more easily triggered into upset, or generally more difficult to deal with. But I figured the best thing I could do was to work harder at the things I thought would help: meditation, therapy, exercise, finding a new hobby (once a month, usually, and yes, that was a symptom that we all missed) etc. For years. But because I kept thinking that the cause of all this chaos in my head was due to outside events (like my wife’s cancer, losing 2 kids and my parents, my daughter’s issues, etc.), I kept looking for answers in doing things. It wasn’t until it got so bad, and then stopped, and then started up again, that I got scared enough to overcome my distrust of psychiatric drugs and seek help. 

And now I am the poster child for medication working the way they hope. No unbearable effects (I’ll write about the pernicious use of the term “side-effect” to cover up all sorts of known issues another time), no physical challenges, and within a couple of weeks things had stared to calm down.

So here I am. Trying to wrap my head around this new way of seeing myself, and how things were in the past. What did I do that looks different in the light of new knowledge? What parts of the difficulties in my past were made more difficult by my then unknown and unresolved mood disorder? I don’t want to assign blame or causation for all the crap in my life to it, because not only is it not true, but it leaves me as a victim to it. And it’s not all of my life by any means: that’s the point!

Now i have some years of repairs to do: I forgot, missed, left out, ignored many things, including this blog. If you know me, you know I always have something to say, so I'm going back to that.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Changing course

So, I'm now done with Hillary/Bernie/Trump conversations. It's time to go downticket and talk about the House, Senate and local races. We have about 3 months to help position candidates for Nov 2 in swing states. They need our money, our time and our words.
Over the next few weeks, I'm going to try to pull together guides to the most important swing state races, as well as for our propositions here in California. I am a political junkie, not a political expert; no-one pays to hear what I have to say and I'll likely be ass-backwards a few times. Please don't hesitate to call me out when I fuck up, when I mansplain, or when I marginalize. I will fix anything I can, and do what I can do to make amends. But I won't sit still during this one moment when we could literally change the course of the next 20-30 years.
One thing that we all can do is get involved in the electoral process. Whether by helping people to register, working the polls on election day (in LA County we need around 2000-2500 people to run the polls: it pays from $75-175 depending on what you do), take people to vote, help them get vote-by-mail ballots, etc. this is a big help to our/your candidates.
It's time, people. It's on us. Do we really want a better world? Do we really want a better country for ALL of us? Are we willing to do what it takes?
crossposted to FaceBook

Dusting off the blog

Now it's been another 18 months since I posted here. A LOT has happened: medical issues, family things, and handling those took precedence. 

But with the election only 3 months away, I've decided to go all out to say what I feel and think, and try to communicate in a way that is helpful. Helpful to me, because it helps me to think things through, and possibly to others who are after me every election to tell them what I think. In general, I have told people to look and think for them selves. But this time, no more Mr. Nice Rabbit. I'm going to PUT IT OUT THERE.

God, that sounds arrogant.

I am arrogant. But not so lost to reason as to think that my little corner of the web has any real influence over people. But I need a place to say what I think and a focus for all that thought, so I don't end up crawling down the tubes to choke some asshole who so clearly deserves it. Or ending up in a psych ward.

Off we go. Hang in there, people. It's going to be a wild ride to November.