Archive for January, 2011

I’ve never really warmed to the idea of paying for TV. Sure I’ve been a DirecTV subscriber since 1997, but that’s only because the cable company in Baton Rouge wanted to charge me a second $70 connection fee when I moved into my house, just 4 months after I had cable turned on in my apartment and paid that silly fee.

At the time, DirecTV was still a novelty and the price was a lot less than cable. What a difference 14 years can make. My DirecTV bill is now close to $90 a month and I’m seriously thinking about cutting the darn thing off. Carolyn’s favorite cooking shows are the only reason we still have it. (OK. That and the NFL and MLB networks, but other than that, it’s useless.)

Last year’s conversion to digital TV made it harder to pick up TV stations without cable or satellite if you don’t have a digital TV. (We have 5 sets in the house and none are digital.) But now that the government has ended its $40 converter box rebate, the cost of converter boxes has dropped significantly and my recent purchase of one for $26 from TigerDirect renewed my interest in broadcast TV again.

Old fashioned rabbit ears work OK with digital TV, but you have to adjust them all the time. I found that stations I could get one day wouldn’t come in the next. And if you adjusted for one station, others wouldn’t come in afterward.

I’d toyed with the idea of building my own antenna, using instructions I found on the Internet. I opted to buy an RCA flat antenna instead when it was on sale for $20 at Best Buy, but found even that didn’t get many channels. Then Todd Pack, a former co-worker and friend, blogged about cutting free of satellite using his home-built antenna, so I had to try. I’m glad I did.

As you can see by the picture here, it ain’t pretty. It’s made from scrap wood, scrap wire, spare screws and washers, cut up coat hangers and a $5 part from Radio Shack. But it gets every channel in Nashville, 29 of them to be precise.

You can find the antenna plans at this link.

So for roughly $35, I have a converter box and antenna that gives new life to my 30-year old 13-inch color TV that Carolyn wanted me to throw out last month.

I think it will be a great addition to my little house in the woods one day.

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A Simple Life

I think I’ve scared Carolyn with my talk of a home in the woods. She has a picture of a lean-to with a tarp roof, a fire ring for cooking and an outhouse. Not that I couldn’t make do with any of those, but the house in my mind is a house, not a shed, though significantly smaller than the 2,400 square feet  we live in today.

The idea is evolving but with little input from her. Any time I broach the subject, her response is “Not no, but hell no.” We shall see. There’s plenty of time between now and when everything is a go. Eliminating debt is my priority right now.

Three things helped formulate my desire to buy raw land and live on it, off the grid using solar power.

First, gasoline shot up to $5 a gallon almost overnight after a couple of hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast in 2008. I realized we are too dependent on resources influenced by outside forces. My budget was shot to heck as gasoline almost tripled.

Second, I turned 52 in 2009 and it suddenly occurred to me that I’ll be eligible to retire in 10 years.  Looking at my 401(K), my bank account and 20 years left on my mortgage, I realized I need to do some cost and debt cutting if I want to retire at 62 1/2 (if that option is still available). Looking at my annual statement from the Social Security Administration, I realized that I need to be debt free quickly so I can start diverting money that went toward debt into my 401(k). I have until 2019 to simplify my life so that I can live comfortably off of my social security checks while using earnings from my 401(k) to let me have some added fun.

Third, I saw a show on PBS in 2009 named “Alone in the Wilderness,” a documentary about a man named Dick Proenneke, who at 51, retired to the wilderness of Alaska where he built a cabin using only hand tools and lived off the land comfortably for more than 30 years.

Here’s a short version of “Alone in the Wilderness.” I plan to pick up the book today at Barnes and Noble.

When I was a youth, we had a “camp” in the swamp on the west side of Lac des Allemands. You could get there by car, but the last several yards were by foot over a wooden bridge my dad and his best friend built. A wooden walkway took you to the porch or to the wharf out front in the canal. The camp had electricity, indoor plumbing and a huge cistern. (We did bring water jugs for drinking, though.)

I spent the days there exploring the area in my pirogue, fishing, swimming and walking along the levee across the canal from our camp. At night, we shined a light on the canal where we’d been swimming that day and marveled at all of the alligator eyes in the water.

The time spent at the camp was the best time of my childhood and I’m thinking retirement could be just as fun if I have 60 acres or more to freely roam. Carolyn has promised to visit me.

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Life is full of circles

I was laying on the couch on this lazy Sunday morning, channel surfing on my Over The Air digital TV decoder box when an infomercial on one of my sub-channels caught my eye. Dr. Alan Hirsch was promoting a new product that claims to help you lose weight by stimulating your sense of fullness.

Dr. Hirsch, pictured here on the right, is an expert on taste and smell. I’ve seen him on other weight-loss infomercials in the past few years, but I met him once in person, in Judge Bruce Simpson’s courtroom in the Lafourche Parish Courthouse in Thibodaux in the mid 1990s.

I can’t remember the exact date, but Dr. Hirsch was an expert witness for Gladstone Jones, a New Orleans attorney waging a legal battle against Campbell Wells and  its oilfield waste treatment plant in Grand Bois. It was a classic struggle of a small, minority community (most residents are members of the Houma tribe) and a hazardous waste dump that popped up in their remote community. Most of the people who live there reported a variety of ailments that they believed were caused by the waste in Campbell Well’s pits.

Dr. Hirsch testified in a preliminary hearing about the impact of toxins on the central nervous system. I found his testimony to be interesting, especially since I spent 10 years of my life sitting on top of mud pits on oil rigs before I became a journalist.

Dr. Hirsch said the central nervous system could handle a certain amount of toxins but the level is unique in each of us. Each of us has a reservoir of tolerance and weird things start to happen to our bodies when that reservoir is topped. He was so nervous and technical, I’m not sure if anyone else found his testimony interesting. I don’t recall whether his appearance mattered later on in the proceedings.

But while my memory is faulty, I do remember that Jones won a significant victory in the case. Apparently, it didn’t solve the problem, though, because when I logged on to the Daily Comet’s website after getting off the couch this morning, there was a story about the Campbell Wells facility (now called U.S. Liquids) deciding to apply for an air quality permit 28 years after it opened.

Life is full of circles, even when I try to sleep in on a Sunday morning.

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Snow day

This is my car this morning. I think we got around 4 inches last night. Snow and ice on the interstates. More is on the way. Working from home.

My solar cell charger was charging when i cleared the windshield off. I guess it likes the reflected light from the snow.

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OK. This is funny

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Super efficient

I saw an article on a professor in Lafayette, La., in Solar Today a few weeks ago and posted a link on Facebook.

Rick Portier, a college friend of mine who’s a first-rate videographer in Baton Rouge,  did a story on it this week. Professor Corey Saft estimates that the home’s monthly utility bill will be about $20 a month.

The home relies on some neat technology. For instance, he’s got a heat pump connected to his water heater. He has a grid-tied solar power system, too. But much of the energy savings comes from efficiency.

The home is super sealed with SIP walls construction, double paned windows and heavy-duty weatherstripping around the doors. Professor Saft estimates that the house is so well sealed that a candle is sufficient to heat it.

Of course, keeping a house warm has never really been a problem in South Louisiana. But the home relies on things like tall ceilings and using peg-board for stair risers to aid in ventilation.

You can read Rick’s script at this link. You can see Rick’s video here.

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