Posts Tagged ‘Books’

My 1888 Brain

This is all related to slow internet which is a country thing, but sometimes can be a city thing, and a twisted convoluted story to get to the point, but really, aren’t most of my blogs like this? Bear with me?… (bare with me?) if you are so inclined.

We often get asked about what we use for internet out here in the country. We use satellite internet because there is no fixed wireless in our region. This is a good thing because it means there isn’t the population density to warrant a company installing towers for wireless. So I’m not complaining. Satellite internet is part of many people’s rural reality.

Right now, with so many (166,000 households in Canada last year so what is that in the U.S., 2 million?) canceling their cable/satellite TV and just watching stuff online, it means that at 7 pm when everyone sits down to watch Netflix, well … the whole internet slows down. But with a satellite there is limited bandwidth so the bottleneck slows everyone down … a lot. Our internet provider has launched a new satellite to deal with it, but it will take a few months to be operational.

So, we’ve been renting movies. Yes, I do a lot of reading … in the mornings … but really …  reading after dinner is a one-way ticket to la-la land for me. We rent from Tim at the local video store when we know that we’ll be driving through town and can return the DVDs the next day, and we’ve been borrowing some from the library. This is a good thing too since it shows up on their records as transactions which helps keep the local branch open, in a time when they’ve closed others in our rural area.

So, I’ve been bringing home stacks of movies, most of which we don’t get around to watching. The last batch had Season 5 of Six Feet Under,” the HBO series about the funeral home. It was exceptional and it was from 2005, so we watched it 12 years ago. But at the age of 57 this means that I when I am re-watching something a decade later, it all seems new to me.

Well, not all of it. I do remember a lot it, especially the final episode where the series is all wrapped up in the absolute greatest bit of movie/TV writing ever.

But there was one scene from Season 5 which has stuck in my mind in a big way. Okay, so spoiler alert, if you are about to watch Season 5 of Six Feet Under and want to be surprised DO NOT READ THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS.

In one of the episodes one of the lead characters, now deceased, returns to do a quasi rock video scene to the song Celebrate by ‘Rare Earth.

He is all dressed in white in a ‘from the other side’ sort of theme singing “I just want to celebrate another day of living, I just want to celebrate another day of life…,” a cautionary tale from the great beyond to remind you that you’d better enjoy every day you’ve got left … which might not be many for some of us. Because really, who knows?

I love this song and often break into quite a loud rendition as I walk this marvelous piece of land Michelle and I inhabit … briefly but extremely joyfully.

So, for 12 episodes I kept trying to recall when this video sequence was going to appear, and well, it turns out, my 57-year-old aluminum-and-soda-pop-addled brain just couldn’t reach down deep enough into its synapses to remember it. I had a feeling, and I got it, 2 minutes before it appeared … in the final episode. No points for you Cam! Oh, my memory was of a 2-minute rock video…nope…it was all of 10 seconds max!

We started thinking about all the noise that our brain would have had to filter through to get that data. How many tens of thousands of hours of videos, millions of words in books, billions of words in day old newspapers and Guardians, would it have to get through to remember something I’d watched over a decade ago.

Then at breakfast one morning Michelle and I discussed how differently our grandkids’ brains will be wired because their brains will be exposed to so much more video and imagery than ours. We’re piling on the hours late in life but when we were kids, TV was a Saturday morning in the winter thing so our parents could sleep in, and rarely did we watch TV in the summers or after school because we just disappeared on our bikes into the woods or suburbs and didn’t return home until we got hungry. Sure, the risks were probably there, but you didn’t seem to hear about them as much so parents were like, “See ya at dinner.” Antibiotics, vaccines so we didn’t get smallpox, endless freedom to play, OMG I was born at a charmed time in human in history.

So how many of the images cluttering up my brain are someone else’s creation, like the scene in the second Jason Bourne movie when he jumps from a rooftop and crashes through a window on the other side of the street and the camera follows right behind him? That was so cool but it wasn’t me doing the jumping, it was like 100 stunt people and movie technicians.

Which finally got us to thinking about the kitchen we were having our breakfast in. A kitchen that in 1888 when our house was built, or in 1910, or 1940, a farmer would come in for breakfast and every other meal, exhausted, or his wife would work in the kitchen, until they collapsed after dinner, most likely without the income to afford or the energy to read a book.

All of their memories were theirs. All their experiences were their own. As they sat and reflected on their life, it would be a recollection of only images and experiences that they had actually participated in.

It’s a very cool distinction. I created many vivid images over the years reading about Ayn Rand’s Henry Reardon or Margaret Atwood’s Grace Marks from ‘Alias Grace.’ I didn’t even see visual images of these people but somehow, they occupy my brain.

If the concept is accurate of this death myth/image of our lifetime passing before us as we prepare to cross over to the other side, I think the 1888 brain would offer a much more legitimate experience. Mine, while populated by a billion hours (into my teens) spent playing with Lego and Meccano, jumping off roofs in homes being built in my subdivision and staying out way too late to overfill a pillow case on Halloween could very likely be cluttered and corrupted with all these other images that I didn’t experience myself.

It would be great if you could get a filter to ensure that all your experiential memories were your own. I’m sure there’s ‘an app for that” on your Smartphone! Oh, and that latest episode of Game of Thrones you’ve been wanting to watch …

My Own Private Cognitive Behavioral Psychology

I’m reading Michael Lewis’ latest book, “The Undoing Project,” to which you reply “Well that’s a surprise! (since I’ve blogged about every one of his other books.) Yes, that’s true, but he just seems to pick great topics. “The Big Short,” which they bizarrely made into a movie, was a great exposé of the 2008 meltdown. “Boomerang” followed that up on how other countries dealt with insolvent banks. “Flash Boys,” which was about high frequency trading even resulted in Lewis being interviewed for a “60 Minutes” episode. His book “Moneyball” was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt and I just love the movie version of his book “The Blind Side”.

So “The Undoing Project,” you could say, dovetails a bit from “Moneyball” in terms of how sports teams were trying to use new techniques using computers and stats to build winning teams. Using raw data got away from so many of the subjective decisions that sports scouts make that often end in disappointment.

This latest book looks at two psychologists who set behavior or cognitive psychology on its side starting in the 1960s. One of the things I do remember a lot of from my one illustrious year in “Commerce” at Queen’s University in 1982 apart from “Film Studies 101” was “Psychology 101.” Apparently I was in the wrong course. Now when I see the moon on the horizon as it comes up and it looks “hhuugggeeeee” I realize it’s the “moon illusion” and is because you have a point of reference with the horizon. Or how when you’re on a train and it stops it feels like it’s going backwards even though it’s stationary, called “the motion parallax.” Who says I wasted a year!

The two psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman studied how ‘heuristics” influence our decisions. According to Wikipedia “In psychology, heuristics are simple, efficient rules which people often use to form judgments and make decisions. They are mental shortcuts that usually involve focusing on one aspect of a complex problem and ignoring others.” I am the king of shortcuts!

The book has lots of those cool examples of how people make decisions. If I ask you “are there more words in the English language that start with a “K” (or R or some other consonants) rather than have a “K” as the third character” what would you say?

Most people say more words “start with K” but it’s wrong. The problem is you can readily remember words that start with K, so you assume that holds throughout the language. My brilliant wife said “Well, there’s ‘ask’, “awkward’…” and listed several other words I would never have thought of, which is when I was reminded how I ‘married up’ when I linked up with Michelle.

There is a fancy name for this which I don’t recall. I’m being honest here rather than plowing back through the book to pretend how smart I am that I remember such things.

If you read people a list of 39 names, if you have 20 male names like “Joe Blank, John Smith”, and 19 female names like “Lana Turner, and Hillary Clinton..” and then ask people if there were more male or female names in the list, they will say more female names because they recognized some and their minds dwelled on them. It works the same if there are 19 recognizable male names.  Again, there is a cool intelligent sounding name for this, which I don’t recall. I am not destined for a career in cognitive psychology.

It’s always fun to read a book like this, at a time of human history like this, because I think it’s important to think about how and why you perceive things the way you do. I know it had me thinking critically about things.

One example was Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album which was a “huuggeeely” successful 1973 album. There is a ‘thing’… ‘an urban legend’…’a fact’…???  that if you start this album at exactly the same time you start the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” you’ll find that all the songs link up with the movie, like Pink Floyd wrote the album as a sound track. When we lived in the city and didn’t heat with wood or have 3 acres of gardens I sat down one Sunday afternoon to test the theory. It was quite amazing how closely so many of the lyrics did link up. I remember the line “The lunatic is in the grass” just as the scarecrow falls off the pole and rolls around crazily on the ground. Like how really, how could there be so many coincidences?

So it kind of looked to me like this may be true, until a couple of months ago when we had TV for a bit and I saw a PBS documentary on Pink Floyd putting that album together and it had interviews with the band members and producers and it just never felt like at any point they were trying to sync it to Wizard of Oz. They seem to be having enough of a challenge just getting cool sounds of synthesizers and stuff. So after that I was thinking, well, apparently I had that one wrong.

I’d seen another PBS documentary where in 1964 Lyndon Johnson says something like “If we enact the Civil Rights Act the democrats will never get votes in the south again.” The South had been historically democrat but went republican after that for many years. Then I just read “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance who grows up near Appalachia and he has some many other explanations for why some states that you would think would be Democrat aren’t, including religion, an independent streak, fear of big government, etc.

The take away for me is that it is increasingly difficult to figure a lot of this stuff out and growing more so. It seemed on election night a lot of the Trump team were pretty surprised with the results and they were in the trenches. There is no shortage of articles everywhere right now trying to analyze where this general anger and frustration is coming from and I, like many other people, try and read them and digest new perspectives. Everywhere I look these days I see things that make no sense. The current highs of stock markets. The Toronto Real Estate bubble where the average detached home is now over $1 million dollars, and in January house prices went up 22% over last year. Really? Who’s buying them? Who’s got that kind of money? Am I the only one that sees how badly this bubble is going to burst?

“The Undoing Project” at least gave me a few more mental tools on how my mind works to process difficult questions. Michelle will suggest I should just stop paying attention, read fiction and “become comfortably numb.” Well, that’s not gonna happen. And some days right now it kinda seems like reality is starting to look more and more like fiction.

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If you are inspired to read one of Michael Lewis’ books, please consider using the links to Amazon below. We receive a small commission from Amazon for any sales that result from one of our readers using our Amazon links. (The links will take you to amazon.com. Once there you can then switch to the Amazon store for your country.) Thanks!

Other Michael Lewis Books

Post-Climatic Stress Disorder

(I wrote this in the fall, hemmed and hawed about posting it, then watched the news last night and decided it might be relevant).

I was watching images of the people dealing with the latest weather catastrophe to hit the south. And yes, I know that you can’t chalk up one weather event to climate change, but I figure now that ABC News has a whole section of videos on their website that I access through Apple TV called “Extreme Weather,” you have to start wondering sometimes.

I have a friend who knows someone who was in the middle of the crazy evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alberta last May, when wildfires forced the entire city to bail out. The videos taken by people fleeing the fires are pretty horrific. My friend says that this person is suffering from PTSD. I think that’s quite possible. If you’re not used to fleeing a raging wildfire that is threatening your life, then it’s probably a pretty jarring shock to the system.

Several months after the wildfires and billions of dollars in damages later, Fort McMurray was hit with flooding. They got months’ worth of rain in just a few days, after the drought that had caused the wildfires. Again, it just kind of makes you wonder. In 2016 the Canadian insurance industry had the highest payouts ever.

We experienced a drought here last summer. It was brutal. It was depressing. It was excruciating. But it didn’t play out over a longer time frame. It wasn’t two hours to “Get Out of Dodge.” It was all day, every day, for 4 months. It started in May, carried on into June, July and August, and we still got next to no rain in September. We can call it 5 months.

And the heat. Toronto set a record for more than 90 days with the temperature over 26° (79°F), which meant that I worked out in the sun longer than I ever have in temperatures that were usually 30°+ in the shade and 45° in the sun. I hate summer. I really do.

I think we did an amazing job of producing a basket of produce for our members last summer, every week, for 16 weeks, during the worst drought to hit these parts, well…ever.

So I started asking myself, can you get PTSD from a slowly occurring event? And if it’s related to a changing climate, is it “Post Climatic Stress Disorder?” Nothing blew up near me, there was no firestorm, no flood, and yet, somehow I felt quite dazed and drained by the experience last fall. At least with a flood, the waters my recede in a week or two. But I had to spend all day, every day, for 5 months, watching my vegetables struggle. They were all stressed, all summer long. There was no respite. There was never a drenching rain where I felt I could stop watering and irrigating for a day. Not a day. It sucked the life out of me.

I won’t do it again.

At least not in a CSA format. I’ll grow food, but I won’t ever put myself through that again. Michelle and I grow great food. We (she) organizes the CSA exceptionally well. But we can’t do it well without some help from Mother Nature, and she appears to be increasingly uncooperative when it comes to creating optimal conditions for many human endeavors, like growing food. I don’t blame her. We’ve kind of been using her for a dumping ground of fossil fuel burning waste and she’s getting a bit of a fever and she’s pissed. I’d be too. I’d start making the weather erratic too if I were her.

I read a book a while back before I started running for the Green Party called “Don’t Even Think About It.” It’s about how people react to climate change. One of the situations it discussed was what happens when you talk to someone who has just experienced a natural disaster that may be connected to climate change. If you point out that this disaster was probably caused by climate change and ask them if they will change their lives in any way to deal with climate change, more often than not their response will be, “I just want to rebuild my home, rebuild my life and get things back to the way they were.” It’s totally illogical, but I get it. Let’s just rebuild and hope it doesn’t happen again. Until it does.

So I have been putting myself in that situation since our drought last summer. Am I guilty of saying “I just want to get everything back to normal, and I don’t want to focus on climate change right now?” And of course all summer that’s what I wanted, to get back to normal, which meant some rain. I accepted the dead lawn. I accepted the death of hundreds of dollars and years worth of work on blueberry and raspberry bushes, because I couldn’t spare the time or water to save them, but just a bit of rain may have helped a few other things.

But the more I thought about it, I had already taken action, my post traumatic climatic shock response, prior to the whole thing becoming so darn personal in my life, and creating havoc with my life this summer. I got out in front of it as it were. “Pre Climatic Stress Disorder.”

Michelle and I learned running for office is incredibly time consuming. And we did it provincially and federally for the Green Party. It sucks your time, and your energy and your spirit. And by the end of the federal election I was really questioning it. What the hell I was thinking? Why put so much effort into something with an outcome that does not have a Hollywood underdog sort of ending. The best you can do is hope to just move the dial a little further towards something actually being done for a threat that holds so much potential for so much grief for so many people.

The Canadian government signed the Paris Accord and has made commitments to start reducing CO2 levels. They are way too conservative. They are totally inadequate to meet the Paris targets. But at least they are talking about it. At least they are seen to be doing something. And Canadians are going to have to come to grips with the fact that we will have a price on carbon and it will make fossil fuels more expensive.

The CSA eventually ended. We got rain several days after it ended in October. Obviously.  We’ve had precipitation this winter. I’m hoping the ponds will fill up again. It’s actually freezing rain right now. I think I’ll go out in it and get soaked and shiver and raise my fists in the air in rage and scream “Where were you this summer you useless rain gods?” Might as well try for a Hollywood cliché ending whenever possible. Look for video footage of my rant coming soon to my YouTube channel.

The Plague Comes to Sunflower Farm

“I don’t get sick.”

Ever know one of those people who says this?

Or “I don’t watch TV.”

What? I love TV! I watch as much as I can!

I was one of those ‘I never get sick’ people, but I hope I didn’t brag about it. I felt incredibly blessed to be able to avoid a lot of stuff. I think it helps that I still have my tonsils. So many of my peers got them surgically removed as children, Michelle included. Quite often, I would just suffer through just a sore throat, while Michelle got the full blown cold.

But once our kids were grown, and out of the house, we both managed to avoid getting colds and flus. We’ve led a pretty isolated life here in the bush. And when you aren’t and about with other people, well, it’s just easier to avoid a lot of bugs.

Then we had a marvelous, amazing, joyful reason to leave our little piece of paradise enter our lives. If our grandson doesn’t get up to see us we drive to see him, minimum once a week. And you know, when your 18-month-old grandson who spends time at daycare wants to come and hug you and have you pick him up, you just do it. I’m finding it physically impossible to NOT kiss those cheeks, regardless of how snotty that nose is.

Welcome to Germ Land. Let’s just see how good your immune system is ‘Campa’. (Michelle came up with that … a combination of Cam and Grampa!)

Turns out my immune system is not so good.

We both got a cold before Christmas but by the time the “kids” arrived we were feeling better and had a great time with them. Perhaps it hadn’t actually gone away, but we were just too determined to let it spoil the fun.

So after the kids cleared out a couple of days later the cold came back to Michelle with a vengeance. I was starting to think I had licked it in Round One before the holidays, but no such luck. It came back again for me a couple of days after it hit Michelle.

Michelle actually went to see her doctor, which she is loath to do, and the doctor suggested that she had a touch of bronchitis. I think that’s a code word for a wicked evil bug that you just need to shut up and get over because they don’t have a clue to beat a cold bug.

Today is January 19th and we’re both better but still have the occasional cough.

While I was sick I would have a good day and think, well that’s it, I’ve gotta get some fresh air. One night we had a blizzard so while I was feeling fine I snow blowed the driveway and pathways, I did firewood and I shoveled snow away from the greenhouses that are bending in because of the volume of the darn stuff this year. Later that night I lay on the couch shaking with my legs aching, coughing like I had TB, hot one minute, freezing cold 10 minutes later. What the hell was this thing? It wouldn’t leave me alone.

Ever look at a smart phone and marvel that it has way more processing capability than the computers that put a person on the moon? Ever wonder in amazement at what humans are capable of, then realize that these microscopic little viruses are way smarter than us? They can mutate and pass along information to circumvent a body’s immune system, just marvelous, marvelous stuff. And you know, they are going to be “the last man standing.” When we’re gone they’re just going to step back and be giving germo-high-fives all around. I wonder what they’ll do then, when they don’t have humans to torment? And will they really be that happy about wiping us out?

In my book “The Sensible Prepper” (available here) I suggest that people should watch the movie “Contagion”. Not necessarily from the pandemic perspective but from the what happens when lots of people get sick, or jurisdictions starting closing borders to slow down the spread, and economic activity grinds to a halt and how quickly store shelves go bare. After this cold bug I don’t think I can ever watch that movie again.

This bug has reminded me how much physical effort our low-carbon life really takes. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but with this bug wheeling a load of firewood into the house using the hand cart feels like climbing to Camp 2 on Mt. Everest. And that 25 kg (55 lb) bag of chicken feed that needs to be dragged in from the barn, well, it may as well be a small car because it feels just as heavy and I will be just as winded when I’m done. Then I’ll sit and pant and breath like Darth Vader and cough like I’ve got whooping cough, because it sure feels like whooping cough. My stomach and chest muscles will ache from coughing. I’m not sleeping very well, and I’m not that hungry. At what point in our evolution did some trait to take away your hunger, just when you should be eating to stay strong to take on the infection, become dominant. Evolution sucks!

I’m feeling much better. And each day that I am healthy and invigorated I will be grateful for good health. It’s easy to forget to be grateful if you’re just healthy all the time.

Soon I’ll head down to the city to see my grandson. And he will have picked up some new horrible thing my underdeveloped immune system has never seen before, and he will come tearing down the hall squealing with delight, and he’ll make sure to pass along some of that new thing. And for the joy that boy has brought into my life, it is absolutely worth it.

Sorry if I’m droning on about my grandchild, but I’m pretty sure it’s in the contract when you become a grandparent that you have to do this. I’ll try and contain myself in the future.

 

 

If I’m Livin’ The Dream, Why Does It Feel Like a Nightmare?

The other day Michelle told me over breakfast about a Facebook post she’d seen. It was one of those canned generic things that people like to repost. It was a photo of a cabin in the woods. I paraphrase but it said something along the lines of  …”Livin’ off the grid … no electricity bills … growing your own food … sounds pretty good to me.”

And we started laughing. Not in a nasty way (I could have used ‘pejorative’ but frankly I overuse that darn word), just a kind of ‘ah yes, the dream vs reality’ view of the world.

This started a number of years ago when we had a friend over and we had just toured the garden during a drought (yes, another one) and he looked around at the garden that did indeed look petty awesome from all of our hard work and said, “You guys are livin’ the dream.”

So anytime anything goes wrong this has become our mantra, said in a very sarcastic tone, of course …” We’re just livin’ the dream!”  On the day that Michelle was describing this Facebook post about how great livin’ off-grid and growing your own food is, we had just had a storm with tornado warnings roll through. We’d experienced an unbelievable lightning storm which had trashed our wind turbine … yes, again! It was at breakfast too…prior to us heading out to the garden for our 237th consecutive day of 100°F heat and no rain dustbowl drought conditions (okay I exaggerated just a bit here, but not that much.)

Which brings me to the point of the blog …yes I do have a point. Michelle and I are ‘focus grouping’ the title of our next book, and by default, by reading this blog, you’re in the focus group. Thanks!

So this is the title for our new book … “If I’m Livin’ the Dream, How Comes It Feels Like a Nightmare?” subtitled something like “Dispatches and observations on two decades spent living off-the-grid, growing our own food, living far from the maddening crowd” … or something along these lines.

So what do you think? Am I correct that it has “BEST-SELLER” written all over it? And film rights with a big pay-day. With Ryan Reynolds playing me … or Ryan Gosling … doesn’t matter, they’re both Canadian eh.

I know what you’re thinking, that it sounds like a pretty negative title. I agree. It’s more to attract attention and bring a huge payday for us … so we can buy some hummers, bling, a private jet … you get my drift. Most of the time our life here has been awesome. But I can’t tell you the number of times I feel like just flopping on the couch in November and vegging in front of the TV and I realize we’ve had some cloudy days, so I have to go out and check the batteries to see how low they are and decide if I should run the generator or not. And then if I do have to run it how I have to get up and check it constantly. I don’t HAVE to check it constantly, but I do, because that’s just how I am.

Turns out there’s more to living this ‘low carbon’ lifestyle than meets the eye.

If anything I think it may be a bit refreshing for people to get some of that perspective. Yes, I have NO Electricity Bills! But I have spent way, WAY more on my solar and wind system in the last 20 years than anyone reading this blog has spent on their electricity bills. FACT: Generating and transmitting electricity is really complicated and expensive. It is in fact not a right, but a privilege, and when you spread all those generation and infrastructure costs across a whole society, your electricity bills are outrageously inexpensive for the value of the electricity you receive and how it improves the quality of your life. If you doubt this, take a second and think about the last extended power outage you had. No lights. No fridge or freezer. Or stove. Or washing machine. Or internet. Or NETFLIX! Yup, it’s pretty amazing stuff.

We published “Little House Off the Grid” more than 5 years ago, so by the time this new book is ready there will have been a reasonable hiatus for us to revisit what it’s like to live the way we do. Things change. Circumstances change. Life happens. Time to revisit the whole little adventure we’re on here in the woods.

So what do you think? Sound like something you’d want to read?

Better yet, what do you think of the title? Too negative? Too misleading if we end up writing that it’s awesome more than not? Such an awesome title that it’s a heartbreaking work of staggering genius (thank you Dave Eggers for the best book title ever to slip in).

Please let us know. Feel free to post below or send me an email at cam mather…with no space… at gmail.com. (Hopefully the evil internet robots won’t figure that out.)

Thanks in advance!

Shorting the Whole System

I am amazed with the interest in the movie “The Big Short” among people I know. I was in fact amazed that someone thought the book was worth making into a movie. Clearly their hunch paid off because it seems to be doing quite well.

 

I loved the book. I had caught bits and pieces of the story of these traders since 2008 but Michael Lewis put it all together in a digestible form. It is brilliant.

If you’re not familiar with ‘shorting,’ it refers to the practice of betting against a stock or market, or perhaps betting that something will fall in value, as opposed to what most of us do when we buy stocks, which is to hope they go up. The traders in the movie were responsible for other people’s money and well in advance of the crash of 2008 they started to ‘short,’ or bet against the market.

In hindsight this sounds all pretty basic. Well, yea, obviously, why wouldn’t you bet against it … it was obvious it was going to correct in a big way. Well, it was to some people, but not the majority of people, including many of the people who had money invested in their funds, it was not. The years before the crash saw a huge run up in stock markets that looked like it was never going to end. So these traders took a lot of abuse from people who were watching other people make a whack of money in other funds. Or at least this is my recollection since I read the book years ago.

So they were pariahs for a long time, until they weren’t…at least to the people who stuck with them. Then they made a movie about them, after a book.

I was thinking about this concept in preparation for our upcoming workshop.  Many of the things I recommend would appear to go against conventional wisdom. Why would you heat that way, it’s not that convenient? Why would you bother doing that, isn’t that growing and storing food thing you do a whack of work?  Yup, I get it. It’s all a lot of work and a stupid idea … until it’s not. And then it’s going to look quite brilliant that you took these precautions.

I feel like with many of the things we do with a ‘preparation’ mindset, we are really missing the mainstream boat. We are ‘shorting’ the mainstream. A lot of this has to do with us realizing that the constant pursuit of money just leads to spending it, which isn’t the best thing generally for the planet. So from that perspective we feel good about it. From a prepping standpoint though I just think a lot of what we do makes a lot of sense.

I talk about this in my books and it’s the concept that nothing I recommend really has that big a downside. Investing in a solar hot water system is only going to save you money in the long run. Sure, it’s cheaper and easier to just keep using fossil fuels in the short run as you might right now, but having your own independent hot water system removes one more expense from your budget, which is a good thing, and reduces your impact on the planet (if you care), and makes you that much more resilient to a disruption in the extremely complex, capital intensive structure which delivers that fossil fuel to your home.

All the things we talk about are based on participation in the whole capitalist economic model. The types of food you purchase to put away and many of the things we recommend are based on being able to purchase these items now. We live in a time of extreme plenty. But ultimately, you are going to the effort to do these things in a bet that there may be some interruption to that big complex machine that could be fairly disruptive to your well being. You’re shorting the system.

The great thing about my direction … let’s call it ‘the little short’… is that you probably won’t have people yelling at you to change your course and keep on the whole “make money/buy stuff/have to keep working to buy more stuff’ treadmill. Most people would like to remove themselves from that economic model if they could, I just show you some techniques to speed up the process. And to be more resilient should things go a little sideways.

We’ve changed the date of our spring workshop to Saturday, March 23rd. Be sure to register as soon as possible so that we can reserve a spot for you. Come and learn how to short the whole big picture thing!

LINK for information and to register for the workshop here

 

Time to Evaluate Your Preparedness

First off, thank you to the many thoughtful responses to our healthcare blog. I guess I was hoping to help any of our American readers get a sense that the Canadian universal healthcare system, while awesome, has some pretty big challenges on the horizon.

I’ve had a good haul of ‘day-old’ newspapers and copies of “The Guardian” to plow through of late and I’ve noticed a bit of a trend. An article in The Guardian was titled “Crashing Markets are telling us something.”  Ya think? (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/17/china-economic-crisis-world-economy-global-capitalism)

In a recent Globe and Mail, Carl Mortished’s article “Why Cash is Still King” starts off by asking if the world descends into chaos what would you stuff in your pockets as you bugged out? “Would it be plastic cards or paper bills?” That article doesn’t even get into the reality of how gold and precious metals have started their upward climb with the uncertainty in the markets.

This brought me back to the book “Lights Out” by Ted Koppel. He wrote about the impacts of a widespread blackout should the grid ever get hacked. After 18 years of living off the grid I’m finally getting a handle on how many people don’t ‘get’ what has to be done to prepare. For example, I’ve often had friends tell me about someone they know who has moved off the grid and powers their home entirely by renewable energy. Usually it turns out that ‘powered’ only refers to keeping their lights and appliances on with solar and wind power. They might innocently admit that they heat with propane through hydronic in-floor heating. They probably also heat their hot water with propane. So much for being “off grid.”

Once you realize that 60% of the ‘energy’ you consume in your house is used to heat it, and 20% is used to heat your water, you realize that for these individuals, independent renewable energy is only meeting 20% of their home’s energy requirements (this is obviously tailored towards people who live in colder parts of the country). So if you are off-grid for environmental reasons, using a fossil fuel like propane for 80% of your energy needs doesn’t really cut it. Or if you’re off-grid because you want to be ‘prepared’ for the zombpocalypse (a fancy amalgam of zombie apocalypse), then heating your home with a fuel you have to purchase and have delivered to your house (and that frankly requires a huge amount of very capital intense infrastructure to drill for and refine), then you really haven’t achieved that goal of independence.

I am always amazed at the number of people who feel their preparation for an extended power outage is a gas or diesel or propane generator. That’s great for a few days or a week, or until your fuel runs out, but during an extended outage it’s not a good strategy.

After reading all of this I finally decided to offer a spring workshop here at Sunflower Farm. I think we will ‘go dark’ or really off the grid soon, but for now I think I’ve got another workshop in me. I really do enjoy the energy that comes from a house of people who seem genuinely interested in how we’ve got our home as energy independent and low carbon as we have.

The time is growing short if you’re planning on getting serious about putting a plan together about being prepared for an uncertain future. It only works if you do it while you have access to the tools you’ll need. And most importantly, you need to know the most efficient way of harnessing your limited resources (because most of us have some limit on what we can spend) and putting them to the best use.

I have spent almost 20 years trying to figure this out. Initially it was because I wanted our home to run more efficiently. Then I became more motivated to put as little carbon into the atmosphere as I physically could. Then it became because I wanted to offer the best information I could to the people who read our books. And now it’s because I want to be as logical and ‘sensible’ as I can in making our home independent and prepared for ‘bumps in the road.”

I start out each workshop saying if I didn’t leave my house, and nothing came down my driveway for 6 months, the quality of my life wouldn’t change. I readily admit I will get a caffeine withdrawal headache for several days when the coffee runs out and I am forced to detox, but I know that’s coming and I’m mentally prepared for it.

So this may be our last “Hands-On, Solar-Powered, All-You-Can-Grow, Ready for Rough Times” Workshop. We’ve set aside April 30th for it. We limit participation since we can only sit so many people around our dining room table for lunch, so if you’ve been thinking about this, now’s the time to do it. Or you can send your spouse (or kid, or neighbor) and have them give you the highlights. I would highly recommend you come yourself and see how our place it works. It’s pretty awesome.

I’ll also note that we’ve had a number of Americans come to our place and with the Canadian dollar outrageously low right now, you’ll get way more bang for your U.S. dollar. So don’t delay! Book early! Book often! Extend your American Dollar Value and make the trip the today! It’s always worth the drive to Sunflower Farm!

For more details, click here.

from-the-air-Sunflower-farm

 

 

Ted Koppel is a Prepper

Ted Koppel has a new book out called “Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath.” Yikes!

 

Now don’t be all “Cam you’re just a pessimist …” I didn’t write this book. I just happened to notice it was out there. I don’t know much about Ted Koppel. He hosted “Nightline” on ABC for years, which I think came on after the 11 pm news, which meant it started at 11:30 pm, just 2 ½ hours after my bedtime. So I just know him from when he hosted the main ABC News. But he seems to be a well-respected journalist.

Somehow he came upon this topic of what would happen if the electricity grid got hacked. Again, not my idea. But I certainly have touched on such a scenario in my books “Thriving During Challenging Times” and more recently “The Sensible Prepper.”

First off, who ever thought it would be a good idea to tie our valuable and critical infrastructure into a human constructed computer network, prone to being taken over by unfriendly individuals or organizations? No really. Think about that.

But that’s a moot point. It is what it is, and apparently this is now a reasonable possibility, or at least reasonable enough that a well-known journalist with a great reputation deemed it important enough to research into book form.

And he seems to have found enough experts who feel it’s not a matter of ‘if’ the grid ever gets hacked, it’s “when.”

The book description on the Penguin Random House website talks about how the book talks to some ‘preppers.’ I’m on the waiting list to get it from the library, so I haven’t read it yet.

But I did watch an interview with Ted on TVO’s “The Agenda” the other night. You can watch it here:

http://tvo.org/video/programs/the-agenda-with-steve-paikin/ted-koppel-looming-cyber-disaster

After you get over Steve Paiken being awestruck meeting one of his idols (apparently he’s better at staying up late than I am) Steve gets into the whole ‘prepper’ thing. And Ted basically says that, yes he’s a prepper. Well, he says he has food stored, has water stored, and has a generator … but since ‘prepper’ seems to carry a negative connotation, thanks to shows like “Doomsday Preppers”, he seems reticent to just come out and say yea, I’m a prepper. He’s just prepared I guess.

And you know what. Being a prepper is a good thing. Being a prepper is what humans have done since we started walking upright. Our grandparents were preppers, only they didn’t call themselves that. They just knew that if there was an ice storm, it was no big deal. As opposed to today where an ice storm represents a huge emergency, with a huge chunk of the population in dire straits very quickly.

So from all of this I suggest we roll back the clock to 1979 when this commercial was playing.

As someone who often blathers on about the joy of drinking Dr. Pepper, this is a natural fit for me. And of course it’s where I discovered that I was ‘unique’ and cool for drinking a soft drink. Who knew?

So I say we all take this song and sing it, substituting ‘pepper’, with ‘prepper’… in other words “I’m a prepper, he’s a prepper, she’s a prepper, wouldn’t you love to be a prepper too…”

To which you should answer, yes, I want to be a prepper too.

To which I respond, alright then, you won’t regret it. And yes, here comes the inevitable pitch, I believe “The Sensible Prepper” takes a logical, realistic approach to the topic. You don’t have to break the bank with a 20-year supply of freeze-dried food. That would be great if you can afford it, but I think there are lots of easier and cheaper ways to do it. And that’s what I talk about.

I believe we should all strive to be like our grandparents and get to the stage where an extended power outage is no big deal. We have the technology; we just need the will to get started. I would suggest that when the Ted Koppels of the world start waving the ‘prepper’ flag, it’s time to get crackin’. And yes, any good prepper supply strategy should include copious quantities of Dr. Pepper, because, really, you should be happy during the glitch in the matrix. And the sugar buzz will allow you to be way more productive than you otherwise would. Now bring on the zombpocalypse!

* * * * * * *

Thanks to SS for her recent generous donation to the Tip Jar!

The Leap Manifesto

In the midst of my election campaign my Dad pointed out an editorial piece in the Globe and Mail newspaper and I was able to grab the “day-old” paper and read it. It was about the “Leap Manifesto.”

Just seeing the word “manifesto” was enough to draw me in, because, let’s face it, when was the last time you saw this word? I’m pretty sure that for me it was in a high school history class in about 1973 and it was part of the phrase the ‘communist manifesto’, so using that word makes a pretty bold statement right off the bat.

The Leap Manifesto was written by a number of prominent Canadians including Naomi Klein and David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis and Arcade Fire and bunch of other hip musicians. And yes, they are a bunch of “lefties.” You’ve heard me rant about government deficits so you know I swing both ways on the political spectrum.

https://leapmanifesto.org/en/the-leap-manifesto/

But this piece was different. It was a big, bold pronouncement of what we had to do to save the planet. How motivating it was for someone like me, running for the Green Party. It basically summarized all one’s worst fears about climate change and said we have to leave 75% of the known carbon (oil, gas, coal) in the ground if we hope to avoid a catastrophe. So far, this is backed by science, so I’m on board. Then it discussed how to do that.

The goal is to get the economy de-carbonized, or to stop using oil and gas and coal by 2040. Completely. Zero carbon. Nada.

It’s a tall order and one that would have been easy to achieve if we’d starting paying attention back in the 1980’s when I entered the environmental movement. But now it’s a big deal. It’s a ‘World War II/Apollo Moon Landing’ kind of commitment required. We all have to get on board and make some big changes, and governments have to lead the way. Governments have been horrifically negligent in this department and since they represent our views, we’ve been kidding ourselves that we can ignore this problem. But we can’t, and the “Leap Manifesto” is a refreshing, honest attempt to open a discussion and get people moving in the right direction.

The cool thing for me was that as I read through their goals and how to achieve them, it was basically the Green Party Policy Platform that they were highlighting. Now that’s a morale booster!

As the election wound down I found Naomi Klein’s latest book “This Changes Everything” on my bookshelf. I loved her books, “No Logo” and “Shock Doctrine,” and I started to read her new one just as the CSA got underway in the spring and it was just too big and too dense to get through. Michelle had borrowed it for me from the local library so I only had about 3 weeks in which to read it and there was no way I was going to finish it that quickly and so I bailed on it. Then I found it at a thrift store for $2! It’s only about 3 months old! And it’s hardcover! And 600 pages long and $37 new! Who can afford to do that? I don’t care! I own it now!

So I’m back into it and I see where the “Leap” came from. She suggests that we could have meandered to a solution if we’d got started long ago, but we can’t anymore. Since the science is clear about what we have to do, we have to ‘leap’ to get there.

The good thing is that I got through all the dark stuff before the election was over. I had committed to only read shiny happy stuff after the election, so now I’m on the ‘solutions’ part of the book, so I can keep reading it. And like so many of these books that I have read over the years it’s just rehashing all the stuff I know and have read before, but I read it again anyways.

Michelle and I have made our leap to a zero-carbon house. We have a long way to go in the transportation department but this is where government incentives have to come in. With a price on carbon, the automotive industry will finally have to do the right thing and mass produce electric cars. And we’ll just add another tracker with solar panels to charge our car and we’re off to the races.

And it will be easier for everyone once our governments do the right thing and start charging for the right to pollute the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, which is what’s causing it to warm up. We have to pay to take bags of garbage to the dump (at least here in my rural area.) This is the same thing, only with carbon.

I like big, bold ideas. I like revolutions. And we need a revolution to fix this mess. I’m glad a group other than the Green Party is speaking out about this necessity. Once we get enough of these groups screaming loudly enough, the powers that be will listen. I wish I had been elected to Ottawa (well, sort of) so that I could be getting going on that, but that didn’t quite work out. Maybe next time (or not! Michelle is strongly discouraging me from running in an election campaign ever again).

The good news is our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems serious about climate change and just had a First Ministers (the premiers of all our provinces) meeting to discuss a strategy before the Paris climate meetings. And low and behold the new premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley just announced that her province would be putting a price on carbon. No really, that Alberta. The one with the tar sands. The one that wants to ship bitumen all over the place. How great is that!

In the meantime, check out the “Leap Manifesto.” https://leapmanifesto.org/en/the-leap-manifesto/ Go on, I dare you. Get out your Karl Marx beret, find that Che Guevara T-Shirt and be radical. Life’s too short not to. (And while you are there, sign the petition.)

The Technology House of Cards

I am a dinosaur.

I started selling microcomputers in 1982, bought one of the first Apple Macintosh computers off the line in 1984, started my own electronic publishing business in 1987 and kept pace with technology until a few years ago. Heck, I even used to set up and administer websites. Look ma, I love technology. But no more.

Michelle has taken over that part of our lives and I grow food. I put seeds in the ground and tend them and deliver food to people.

I realized I’m a dinosaur when I read an article about how automakers are starting to phase out CD players in cars, because people don’t use them. Or at least young people don’t use them. I tried to get into the whole ‘iTunes’ thing, but I just never got it. I think it was probably because I always got my daughters’ hand-me-down iPods when their batteries were giving up the ghost, so I just got frustrated and couldn’t be bothered.

The Guardian recently published an article about how people in the IT crowd were terrified about the potential for havoc caused by hackers. I guess it’s kind of like how climate scientists are terrified about feedback loops, but really, who trusts experts? Because really, putting our entire financial system and critical infrastructure like power grids on-line where they are so vulnerable to hacking, well, that’s just the way things go. Accept it.

When we moved off the grid 17 years ago our radiophone system was complicated and our internet was dial up so we couldn’t use the phone at the same time as the internet. So we didn’t do much with it. Maybe 12 or 13 years ago we got satellite internet but it was still wonky and slow and it took us (the “royal us,” in other words, Michelle) a few years to be confident enough in it to start trusting it for things like on-line banking. It’s always disconcerting when you’re doing stuff on-line and the internet craps out in the middle of the transaction. So where DID that money go? Do we have it, or does the bank have it, or is it just gone?

So I believe I can safely say that like most people we really didn’t start trusting the internet to begin migrating a lot of their key activities to the internet until about a decade ago. So in just about a decade, we have taken all the activities that humans developed over millennia, like exchanging physical goods with physical cash or something approximating that, to putting all these life supporting, essential activities into binary code, as electronic bits on this human created enterprise, called the internet.

When I see the confidence many people have in this whole bizarre concept I am quite terrified. This really hit home recently when I spoke to someone in the computer industry who seemed quite gob smacked that humans, in particular North Americans, are so blindly trustworthy to believe that nothing bad could happen to their ‘stuff’ when it all exists in the ether… as electronic bits floating around on electronic networks. Many (or most) of us have seen glitches in the matrix with our stuff, whether it’s payments or bills or whatever, and we just blindly keep trusting more and more of our essential activities to this technology juggernauts.

It’s all good … until it’s not.

And I know what you’re saying… ‘Well I couldn’t resist. My employer direct deposits my paycheque electronically into my account, and many government departments won’t deal with me unless it’s electronic, and a lot of businesses seem determined to force me to migrate to doing things on-line (you know, because they make more money when I do.)”

I try not to push our books on this blog too often, but I think people need a re-set sometimes, and that’s the reason I wrote “The Sensible Prepper.” People need a reminder that having a backup plan is not a bad idea. Indeed, it’s increasingly becoming a really, really good idea. It is not a ‘guns and ammo’ survival book. It is a logical plan with lots of tips for you to implement. The kind of tips for which there is no downside. Sometimes you just need a gentle reminder and some logical pointers on where to start. You can order the book here:

 

 

One thing that I would strongly like to recommend is that you always keep a hundred dollars in your wallet and $400 or $500 in cash at your house. This might make me sound like a crackpot, until it doesn’t. Cash machines go down some times. Interac machines go down. Computer networks go down. People’s accounts get hacked and their identities get stolen and things can go very badly sometimes. If you don’t keep cash in your wallet because you’re worried about being robbed and losing that cash, then you aren’t looking at where the real threat is.

But hey, that’s just old food growin’, wood heatin’, book readin’, CD player usin’, cash usin’ Cam talkin’, so don’t pay any attention to me. I hear Apple has a new electronic payment system you can use on your smartphone. Woo hoo, gotta go get that app!

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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