Ageing Infrastructure

What do you think is the most likely reason for a water grid shutdown?  It isn’t terrorism and it isn’t pollution. The answer is, the age of the infrastructure used to deliver the water or collect the sewage. Think about the city you live in. Chances are it has existed for hundreds of years, if not longer. Most cities water systems grow in phases. They keep adding to the network every year as the population grows. The end result is most cities have infrastructure that range from less than a year to hundreds of years and with many different materials. I have seen water mains made of wood in service as late as 2011. Like any piece of equipment it all has a useful lifespan, beyond that lifespan failures become increasingly more likely to be catastrophic. The result is a large volume and dollar amount of material and equipment that needs repairs or to be replaced.

Wooden Water Main circa 1909 source www.nytimes.com

Wooden Water Main circa 1909 source http://www.nytimes.com

Normally the stress on water systems comes from population growth.  A water main that was ok in the 1980’s may not be large enough for today’s population.  As cities infill and build higher density buildings they frequently overburden the water systems.  Either causing contamination or total failure of the system.

Older equipment is also more susceptible to natural disasters, terrorism and human accidents. These three things can break a new system too, however they don`t have to try as hard with the older systems.

Climate change is having an affect too.  As severe weather events are on the rise, storm sewers might be found lacking, as was the case in Calgary, Alberta and Toronto, Ontario recently.  The system was grossly undersized for the amount of rain that fell.  They said things like “it was a month’s worth of rain in one day” on the news.  When the fact is, it once was a months worth of rain, and is now something more frequent, lets say a weeks worth of rain.    I’m not suggesting we build our systems to meet a 1000 year storm, but I am suggesting that our current idea of a 100 year storm may be an underestimation and that the error is getting worse.  To bring it back to infrastructure, if we are built to the current 100 year storm levels, what happens if the 100 year storms are getting worse?  We will find out in the not too distant future.

Calgary, Flood, Floods, Water

Flooding In Calgary AB 2013 source: http://www.newinfills.ca

What are the options for people to take? The first and most important thing to do is to plan ahead and replace older parts of the system before they fail.  A $50,000 job to replace an old section of pipe at a time you choose is a lot cheaper than waiting for it to fail at the time you are least prepared.  If you are connected to a public utility, ask them about their equipment replacement plan.  If they are not looking 25 years into the future or longer then ask them why not? If you have private systems, you need to ask the same questions.  Can you afford to replace the septic system when it fails? Or can you afford to dig/drill a new well when the casing cracks?

As you can probably surmise the addition of more people + more rain + more water and more sewage means system failures will become more frequent and probably for longer periods of time.  What does this mean to the average person?  Plan for system failure.  Have a backup system ready to go when it does.  Know the age of your equipment and it`s expected lifetime. That way you wont be caught off guard.

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Using a Straight Razor

One of the areas of self-reliance I have been exploring is spending less money on disposable goods. My latest foray into a more self-reliant life is in the bathroom. Specifically,shaving. I was spending a lot of money on disposable razors. As I was growing up I gradually bought increasingly more expensive razors. I was suckered into the marketing machine around men’s razors. I believed that more blades was better. I also thought those moisture strips actually mattered. Eventually I was paying around $30 for a pack of four razors. At almost $30 for a pack of razors, they were my single largest expense for personal grooming. I lost my ability to pay for the latest and greatest razor when they came out with a razor that vibrated. I could not and still cannot see how a vibrating razor is better.
First I started buying less expensive razors. But the quality of the shave left something to be desired. That and they only last for two or three shaves and it still felt like a waste of money.

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Straight Razor In It's Box

I recently purchased a straight razor because they can be sharpened and if they are properly maintained they can last forever.
Using a straight razor is a simple way to save money. There are significant upfront costs. My razor cost $250 in a kit with a strop and shaving cream. By the end of the year it will have paid for itself in savings on disposable razors.

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Open Straight Razor

Shaving with a straight razor is a different shaving experience. First it takes some nerves to place a four inch blade against your neck and face. Remember this is the razor they are referring to when they say “razor sharp”. Second you hold it differently from a disposable razor. This takes some getting used to but once mastered the razor can be very finely controlled. The design is one of simplicity and perfection. There is very little need for improvement. The only thing disposable razors do better is elininal eliminate the learning curve.

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Holding a Straight Razor


Shaving is simple once you get the knack for it. Holding the blade at 30° to the skin creates the perfect cutting angle. Any lower angle will result in poorer cutting and some pulling of hairs. As the angle gets sharper the risk of cutting the skin increases. If the blade is held correctly charging the blade’s angle is easy and following the contors of the face and neck very simple. Have confidence and go slowly to keep control, but fast enough for decent cutting. Better results can be achieved if the skin is warm and wet before starting. This will make all the hairs stand up. For an even closer shave you can shave against the grain. If the blade is still sharp there will be little chance of ingrown hairs.
When finished, clean and dry the blade. Excess moisture on the blade can cause rusting and bacterial growth. Just becareful not to touch the cutting edge or else you might dull it or cut yourself.
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Strop Leather Side

The cutting edge of the razor only lasts two or three shaves, just like disposables. Unlike disposables, this blade can easily be sharpened.

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Strop Linnen Side

Sharpening is also very simple. Holding the blade at 30° to the strop, run the blade backwards along the strop. NEVER run the cutting edge forward along the strop. Doing so will permanently damage the blade. Alternate with the leather and linnen sides and the cutting edge will be good as new. Do not sharpen the razor immediately after shaving. The edge will be slightly distorted from the hot water and sharpening will cause damage.

This is enough information to get started. Hopefully you are inspired to get one yourself. Then you too could enjoy significant savings and the feeling of being just a tiny bit more self-reliant.

How To Build A Passive Solar Heater

A passive solar heater is a simple thing you can make to help heat your home. It obviously will not work at night, but it can reduce heating costs during the day. This solar heater is very simple and can be made with items already in your house.  This heater works in a similar way to a solar oven, but is simpler and doesn’t get as hot.  All you have to do is place the heater in a window that gets sunlight. The black paint warms the trapped air in the bin till it leaves through the top hole, drawing in colder air through the bottom holes in a chimney effect.  This type of heater is perfect for a greenhouse or to supplement heat in a colder room in your house.   They can add a significant amount of heat if you use multiple heaters.

You will need:

  1. Clear rubbermaid bin (Different sizes will produce different amounts of heat).
  2. Black paint (flat finish).
  3. Paint brush (or spray paint in item 2).
  4. Clear plastic wrap (clearer the better and thicker is better too).
  5. Cutting tool for plastic (doorknob drill bit 2″ in diameter works best).

The basic construction is this: Continue reading

The Decline Is Happening Now

There is always something to worry about looming on the horizon. Many disasters are easy to see the start and end points of. Natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes or man made disasters like wars, all have clear start and end points. These things are easily dealt with the predict, prepare, respond, repair/rebuild model of disaster management.

Not all disasters are so clear cut. Some disasters build up so slowly that we fail to notice them in time. It is human nature to become accustomed to a norm. If the norm changes slowly enough we won’t ever notice. Continue reading

Bottled Water: Why I Rarely Drink It

Thirty years ago the idea of paying for bottled water was laughable. I personally laughed at the prospect. Today bottled water is HUGE business. Many people believe today it to be safer than municipally treated water. So what changed? First were a series of failures in the public water supply. Some caused by equipment, some caused by people and some caused by microorganisms evolving. Clever and opportunistic marketing kicked in and business grew. Like the title suggests, I rarely drink bottled water for the following reasons. Continue reading

The Economics of Fear

Fear can be a powerful motivator. Marketers are well aware of this. Even flower shops around valentines day hint at what will happen if you forget to buy SOMETHING. People will do almost anything when afraid, this includes buying something. This is sometimes a very subtle form of manipulation that is hard spot. I don’t know about you, but I dislike being manipulated, especially if I have to be afraid at the same time.

I made a decision a long time ago to Continue reading