Monday, 28 August 2017

Highway to Fluffy

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link:

Cars and the social status that people attempt to obtain from cars were once an interest of mine. These days I care so little for cars I couldn’t even be bothered wasting the time washing the dirt rat Suzuki car that I do own. And living on a dirt road makes owning a clean car an impossible objective, so why bother worrying about cars in the first place?

The editor and I weren’t always so apathetic about cars, and way back in my corporate days I used to own an old Porsche 911. That car was almost as old as I was, and it was certainly far cooler than I (edit: but not the editor). Driving around that inner city suburb of Melbourne with the roof down, the stereo blaring Triple J and my first Pomeranian (Old Fluffy) hanging out the window, I used to feel as if I was cooler than the character Hank Moody (played by David Duchovny – no point aiming low I feel) on the very naughty television show Californication.
The old 1974 Porsche 911 next to the dirt rat Suzuki
That car was pretty fast for its age, however the uncool owners of much newer cars regularly used to try to drag me off at the lights. I didn’t feel the need to race them because I – unlike them – was feeling cool. Unfortunately, after about five years of ownership I became very uncool about the wallet draining repair bills associated with that car. And so that car and I eventually parted company. Old Fluffy the Pomeranian was very sad about this unexpected turn of events.
Old Fluffy the Pomeranian boss dog enjoying the comforts of a sheepskin lined drivers seat
Old Fluffy is now long gone as is that old Porsche. Nowadays I care very little for cars and I am always looking out for ways to reduce the cost of car ownership.

About two years ago, I came up with a great idea. By sheer chance, I knew of a person in the nearby township who worked very close to a business client who I regularly visited. I thought to myself, how cool - this is an opportunity for car pooling! I knew the local person had a mortgage and was also bemoaning the cost of their recent new vehicle loan. So I offered to come to an arrangement to car pool on those days that were convenient. Car pooling is way cooler than I, because two people instantly reduce the costs of car ownership and the environment wins because one car is regularly taken off the road.

I was so excited about this opportunity. Being that excited about something is perhaps not cool, but I was just so excited! We car pooled for a few trips and then my excitement plummeted because the local person and I had a car pool break up. It is so sad to hear the words: it’s not you, it’s me…

Sadly, it probably was me.

You see I had failed to grasp the concept the local person was not at all interested in either the environment or in reducing their own expenditure so as to reduce their level of indebtedness. This person had a big new shiny car and wanted to be seen in that big shiny new car. And here’s me saying: be driven and seen in my now thirteen year old dirt rat of a Suzuki because it is a good thing to do (and I hope you like Triple J). In boxing terms, it could be said that the contender (me) went down in the first round to the champ “Mr Status”, and Mr Status has a powerful right hook indeed.

The thing is, I am unsure what it means to have status. I have chased status in the past and to me it looks like trying to grasp something that is always out of reach. And it took me quite a long time to realise that the need to achieve status is a story that somebody else put in my head. I hear people talking about a dream house, or a dream wedding, or some other dream rubbish, and I wonder to myself: Who’s dream are you talking about? Why is it never a 'dream vegetable garden'? Do you have to be asleep at the wheel to believe in these 'dreams'? So many questions!

This winter week has been very cold. The insulation in the house, which is more than double that required by the Australian construction standards has been proving its worth yet again. At bedtime, I fill up the wood heater and then let it die out over-night. At night during winter, the over-night temperature inside the house only drops a few degrees.
The house only drops a few degrees Celsius over-night due to the massively insulated walls, floor and roof

On Sunday morning it began snowing outside. Fortunately Mr Poopy the Pomeranian (he’s technically a Swedish Lapphund) was outside on the veranda at the time and he alerted the editor and I to the snow. Despite Mr Poopy’s genetic heritage combined with his dreams of herding reindeer he’s actually not that fond of being caught outside in a snow storm.
Mr Poopy demands to be let in as a snow storm sweeps up the valley
The air was soon thick with falling snow and Mr Poopy was safely inside the house dreaming of reindeer!
The air was soon thick with falling snow
When snow falls over the farm it rarely settles, however today it was settling. This could only mean one thing - in the more fashionable end of the mountain range, there would be even better snow! The higher reaches of the mountain range are about 300m  / 1,000ft higher than the farm. I was correct - higher up the mountain range it was like a winter wonderland. When the snow is thick enough, the usual colours of the forest gets sucked out of the air. Today, purely for research purposes for this blog, I travelled the short journey up into the higher regions of the mountain range to enjoy the snow (and some local bakery products)!
Higher up in the mountain range there is an old Douglas Fir plantation which looks dark and mysterious when it snows
Mountain Ash forests on Mount Macedon covered in snow. These trees are regrowth from the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires. Note the very uniform growth in the trees and well established under story
In between the cold weather this week, the extension of the tomato enclosure has continued. The drainage channel which runs alongside the enclosure was lined with rocks. A small barbeque grate (which is enormously strong) was placed over the channel for use as a bridge. The barbeque grate was purchased at the tip shop for only a few dollars.
The drainage channel was lined with rocks and a barbeque grate is being used as a bridge
A mate remarked that the tomato enclosure is bigger than some people’s backyards! I see no reason to argue with that observation. The remaining areas inside the enclosure were weeded, and another cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of composted woody mulch was placed over the weeded area. In addition to that work, the remaining fence rails were attached to the treated pine posts and the posts were cut down to the correct height.
The remaining area inside the tomato enclosure was weeded and another cubic metre of composted woody mulch was applied
There are many different types of berries growing just outside the enclosure and we weeded them this week and also applied a thick layer of composted woody mulch in their garden bed. In the next photo below you can see Jostaberries and Cape Gooseberries. Inside the enclosure are: Blueberries, Gooseberries, Cape Gooseberries, Chilean Guavas, Maqui berry, Red and Black Currants.
There are many different varieties of berries growing in and around the tomato enclosure and here are Jostaberries and Cape Gooseberries
I was intending to begin the slow process of installing the pickets around that enclosure today, but like Mr Poopy, the snow and the general cold weather has forced me inside the house where I am writing this blog instead! I have good number of pickets ready to install as fencing, but over the next week I will probably have to make some more.
The pickets are waiting for the snow to stop falling so that they can be installed as fencing
Post script: It is true, I really did have plans to install those pickets on the fence Sunday afternoon. That was the plan anyway. Until this happened:
Sunday afternoon the snow fell heavily!
There was no way at all the editor and I were going to work outside in those conditions!

Spare a thought for the chickens - although they do have a roof over their chicken run
One of the stupidest opinions that I have read on the Internet over the past few years, was somebody trying to explain to me that solar panels will generate electricity regardless of snow, rain, clouds, or whatever.
Solar panels don't generate much electricity in the snow - just sayin...
The bands of clouds that produced the snow kept sweeping over the farm in waves all afternoon. In between one of the snow falls I took Mr Poopy the Pomeranian out for a run in the orchard.
After the snow finished falling, Mr Poopy was happy to run around the orchard
And there is even a video:

We now return to the original blog text: Pest control in the raised garden beds is a job that is outsourced to the many birds that live here. I spotted this magpie in a lettuce bed the other day. At the rear of that raised garden bed is a walnut tree that I am hoping to plant next weekend in its own epic raised rock bed. I have had a lot of trouble getting walnut trees established here and this is my third attempt (or maybe fourth attempt).
The local bird population handles pest control duties in the garden beds
Despite the occasional snow fall and frosty mornings, the many citrus trees are continuing to deliver fresh fruit all winter long.
The many citrus trees are continuing to deliver fruit all winter long
The skies have been very murky this week, but the silver wattle trees provide a great splash of winter colour:
The Silver Wattle trees provide a great splash of winter colour
The many spring flowers are just beginning to show themselves:
Daffodils thumb their petals at the occasional snow fall and frost
The tree lucerne (Tagasaste) flowers are continuing to multiply on the many trees
I have experimented with camellia’s for a few years. My experiments have involved planting them in many different locations around the farm. Then I have been watching how they grow (and die) in those different locations and I believe I have finally found the best spot for those plants. And they are now beginning to produce flowers:
After much trial and error, the camellia’s are beginning to produce flowers
The ever reliable Echium’s show brave colour against the dark winter skies
Years ago I received a free plant from a nursery and in my excitement about receiving the free plant, I completely forgot to ask them what it was. The plant may be known as the mystery early spring white flowering plant. That may work? Can anybody identify what it is?
A mystery early spring white flowering plant
 The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 3’C (37’F). So far this year there has been 605.2mm (23.8 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 583.4mm (23.0 inches).

Monday, 21 August 2017

The Big Jam

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link:

One of my favourite books is “The Big Short” by the author Michael Lewis. The book is an engrossing view into the dark world of sub-prime US mortgage bonds and that story ends with the very unpleasant Global Financial Crisis in 2008. As a story, The Big Short follows several quirky characters who decide well before the Global Financial Crisis to individually make the unexpected gamble that the US sub-prime mortgage bonds would fail spectacularly at some point in the future (for that gamble is what a “Short” is). And we all know how that sub-prime mortgage bond story ended.

As I mentioned before, the book is engrossing. Once I began reading, I really had a great deal of trouble putting the book down. I fondly recall many pleasurable hours sitting in various cafes (possibly when I should have been working) enjoying a coffee and chuckling to myself at the sheer chicanery of Wall Street and the US bond market. The antics of the quirky few who decided to bet against Wall Street and the US mortgage bond market were also highly entertaining.

Of course that true story did not end well because the Global Financial Crisis wreaked serious havoc on people’s lives. It is also worth mentioning though that whilst a lot of dubious paper wealth was destroyed during that crisis, I don’t recall many physical assets (such as housing) being destroyed. And after that time, people who may have lost a lot of dubious paper wealth, still lived, loved and laughed as people have done through many crises before that one.

The book began with a quote from a long since deceased author: Leo Tolstoy (of War and Peace fame); who is quoted as having written:

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

Bam! - from the long deceased Mr Tolstoy. The editor calls this 'can't be told'.

The author of The Big Short is Mr Michael Lewis who has written numerous books over the years. Another of those books again delved into the murky world of high finances. That book is called “Liar’s Poker” and the author tells his own story as a young bond trader. The book is also a worthy, if somewhat disturbing, read. Between the two books I have learned one or two interesting titbits of information about the world of high finance including the following (very alert readers will note that the two concepts are inherently linked):
  • Banks prefer flows of funds rather than piles of cash; and
  • An interest only loan is akin to a rental with debt.
Those two titbits of information alone were quite insightful into illuminating the behaviour of lending institutions. Of course Mr Tolstoy rightly pointed out that many intelligent people have already formed opinions on the subject so they must know how things work. I on the other hand profess to being mildly befuddled by the dark arts of high finance and so I keep both my eyes and mind open. However I did read today that Australia now has an alarmingly high household-debt-to-income ratio of 190 per cent. High finance indeed!

That bloke Mr Tolstoy was sure onto something. The other day I was thinking about the practical implications of his quote in my own life. An example of those implications is that long term readers may recall that the editor and I make most of the jams and preserves that we consume here from scratch. I have not purchased any jams or preserves for years. And the interesting thing is that whenever I discuss jams or preserves with other people, nobody has ever said to me: Far out, you must consume a lot of jams and preserves. Nope, I don’t believe that anybody has said that to me.

The longest term readers of all will recall that the editor and I constructed the house here using only basic tools. We undertook all of the work involved in that house construction too, with the exception of the: excavations; plumbing; and mains electrical works.  Constructing the house ourselves wasn’t a bad effort for a pair of accountants (office fauna!). The funny thing is that whenever I mention to people that we constructed the house ourselves, the first question is inevitably: Is the house made of mud brick? What a strange question and Mr Tolstoy may possibly suggest that those opinions come from intelligent folk.

On very rare occasions (now), I may mention to other people that the editor and I produce our supply of country wines and sake (rice wine). Most of those country wines have to be aged for at least twelve months so it is a complex manufacturing and logistical task and we are quite chuffed with our efforts. Unfortunately, the majority of people upon hearing – or seeing – that alcohol production process tend to remark: You must consume a lot of alcohol. That is clearly the opinion of intelligent folk who already have solidly formed opinions (although strangely not about jam and preserves).

To my mind a lot of the beliefs we hold onto are dysfunctional at best, and dangerous at their worst. But the problem becomes that few people want to consider that they are in fact holding onto beliefs that are as tightly held as the most fervent beliefs of a well groomed cult follower! And anyway, who wants to appear to other people as anything less than intelligent?

The singer Peter Gabriel wrote and sang a beautiful song in the late 1970’s about letting go. The song is titled: Solsbury Hill. Let’s hear a bit about the subject of letting go from Mr Gabriel:

“Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
(I) just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom boom
"Son," he said "Grab your things,
I've come to take you home."

One of my personal favourite Mr Tolstoy discussions is the potential for lithium-ion batteries for use in off grid solar power systems. I have absolutely no idea about lithium-ion and have very little experience with those batteries. On this subject I clearly need to get at least a little bit intelligent and so I went to the Wikipedia webpage for the mineral Lithium and under the title “Reserves” read this most recent entry:

“On June 9, 2014, the Financialist stated that demand for lithium was growing at more than 12 percent a year; according to Credit Suisse, this rate exceeds projected availability by 25 percent. The publication compared the 2014 lithium situation with oil”

That latest estimate of the reserves of the mineral Lithium did not make for encouraging reading. It is never a good long term situation when demand outstrips supply (unless you are a supplier).

The bigger problem is that I see and hear a lot of beliefs that appear to me to defy reality. But then the conclusion could also be drawn that I am not very intelligent.

“To keep in silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut
So I went from day to day
Tho' my life was in a rut
"Till I thought of what I'd say
Which connection I should cut
I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom boom boom
"Hey" he said "Grab your things
I've come to take you home."
(Back home.)”

This past week a huge storm rolled up from the Southern Ocean. Every day this past week, we have enjoyed rain, and then some more rain (and a bit more rain!) I quite enjoy a good storm like this and the skies put on a good show.
Yet another storm rolls up over the valley
Even the earth worms were escaping the seriously damp ground by seeking shelter on the veranda. It was very nice of the local birds to clean up all that earth worm business the following morning.
The earth worms were escaping the seriously damp ground by seeking shelter on the veranda
The rain did occasionally cease and that sun thingee (I do remember that sun thing) tenuously poked its head out from behind the clouds. On one such occasion the editor and I went to the local tip shop to pick up some building materials for use in future projects. And we discovered a huge quantity of galvanised steel 10mm x 10mm (just under half inch) RHS (Rectangular Hollow Square) tubes which will be used in the tomato enclosure as garden stakes. The tip shop also had a good quantity of PVC pipes which will be useful for the garden water simplification project (which I may not have previously mentioned). Anyway, the tip shop had good stuff, and we picked up 50 of those galvanised tubes for a throw out price. Winning!
Galvanised RHS tube and PVC pipe was scored at the local tip shop
Incidentally, I reckon that local tip has one of the best views of any tip in the country. You can even see the skyline of Melbourne on the horizon.
The local tip has one of the best views of any tip in the country
Observant readers will note that the vehicle on the sign in the photo above is in fact pointing in the opposite direction to the arrow. Fortunately, not being an intelligent man, I know to follow the arrow and ignore the abstract vehicle drawing. Beliefs may differ in that regard though. (Edit: perhaps you are meant to drive in reverse).

I had to seize breaks in the rain to undertake work this week. During two of those breaks, I brought up two cubic metres (2.6 cubic yards) of composted woody mulch. That composted woody mulch was then placed onto the recently excavated area in the now much expanded tomato enclosure. To be honest, that enclosure is now so huge that it will be hosting many new varieties of vegetables later in the year (hello corn, capsicum and eggplant).
Two cubic metres of composted woody mulch were placed onto the recently excavated and expanded tomato enclosure
After the first cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) was placed onto the excavations, the enclosure looked like this:
The tomato enclosure after a cubic metre of composted woody mulch was applied to the recent excavations
Observant readers may spot in the above photo a Kookaburra (a bird with a big head and brain, but no preconceived ideas about high finance) sitting on the fencing and keeping a close eye open for grubs and insects. After the second cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of composted woody mulch was applied to the enclosure it looked like this:
The tomato enclosure after the second cubic metre of composted woody mulch was applied to the recent excavations
I have been reading recently about the experiences of a Buddhist retreat during a bushfire in California in 2008 (Fire Monks - thanks Lewis for the recommendation). As an outcome of that reading, I have been simplifying the water systems here. This week, I added a valve (which is the fancy name for an on / off lever switch for water) and attached that water pipe to one of the recently cemented treated pine posts. That pipe is occasionally used to transfer water from the reserve water tank up to the main house water tanks and the previous connections were a bit dodgy.
The simplification of the water systems is an ongoing project and this week it involved installing a valve and an attaching a pipe to a sturdy treated pine post
I run two off grid solar power systems here. A month or two back I added more solar panels to the smaller of the two off grid solar power systems. That increase in energy generation potential meant that I also had to upgrade the battery charge controller to a more substantial controller. The incredible rain this week provided the perfect opportunity to work indoors and upgrade the controller.
A new battery charge controller was added to the smaller of the two off grid solar power systems here
Spring is almost here and I observed that the Manchurian pear is almost in bloom:
The Manchurian pear is almost in bloom this week
Other spring flowers are almost upon us here too:
Jonquils are beginning to flower as spring rapidly approaches
Almonds are almost about to produce blooms. It may be a very good almond year here
One of the huge variety of herbage plants in the orchard is producing red flowers
The many daffodils are just about to flower in full
Who doesn’t appreciate Pentstemons?
I reckon Mr Gabriel needs to get the final words this week, so here goes:

“When illusion spin her net
I'm never where I want to be
And liberty she pirouette
When I think that I am free
Watched by empty silhouettes
Who close their eyes but still can see
No one taught them etiquette
I will show another me
Today I don't need a replacement
I'll tell them what the smile on my face meant
My heart going boom boom boom
"Hey" I said "You can keep my things,
they've come to take me home."”

The temperature outside now at about 9.30pm is 5’C (41’F). So far this year there has been 583.4mm (23.0 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 530.6mm (20.9 inches).