Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   Earth Battery Man
Saturday, July 12 2008
After lots of tax-lien-related headaches, our friends Tara and Brian from Rosendale recently completed the purchase of a couple acres on a large tract of land just east of the Mohonk range southwest of Tilson. Tara and Brian are friends with the tract owner, and he'd mostly sold the land as a means to pay a large tax debt on the property. Recently Tara and Brian began work building a new house on the property. It will be a modest traditional-style two story farmhouse, and it will be entirely off the grid, since the nearest electrical line is a half mile away. Though I die a little inside whenever I see houses encroaching on open spaces, I'm interested in carpentry and off-grid living, so I'd volunteered to help with construction today. The building site was suitably remote, so I brought the dogs along. It was a gorgeous day for house building: sunny, but breezy and not especially hot.
As I approached the building site from the east on River Road Extension, I passed other holdings within the large parent tract, the one with troublesome tax lien issues. Judging by the signage and visible artifacts, most of these seemed to belong to people on the wacky left fringe of society. One place claimed to be "The Center for Symbolic Studies," there was a house built around a narrow stone turret, and on the edge of a field was an elaborate setup for practicing circus trapeze acts. It even had a net in case someone were to fall.
The building site was at the forested edge of a large bottomland field. Three guys were already there: Brian, a large round man named Otto, and a skinny guy with scruffy grey facial hair and a ponytail. There was also a dog, a pit/retriever mix named Lucky, and he belonged to Otto. Otto was from Woodstock, but Ponytail Guy lived right there on the farm in a Yurt.
The house was being built using a form of post-and-beam construction, although the beams themselves were comprised of normal two by fours and two by eights sistered together. The house was comprised of a set of identical cross sections, each forty inches apart. In each cross section were the posts on either side, the lintel holding up the second floor, and the A-framed roof truss. As of today, the slab was poured and the structure for the core of the house (the part that didn't include the shed-roofed first floor extension in back) was mostly in place. The planking for the second floor was all finished as well. Furthermore, all the roof trusses had been completed, although they hadn't yet been lifted into place; they were sitting upright on the second floor, about four feet below the tops of the posts where they needed to be. We spent the early part of the day getting all these trusses up to where they needed to be. Their ends had been prepared so that they dovetailed with the poles beneath them and could simply be nailed in place. The fact that we had four strong men working on this project meant that there was plenty of spare horsepower to get it done.
The other men on this team had already been working on this project for weeks, but, coming in cold, I didn't seem to have the hammer-swinging endurance that the others had, particularly with those large galvanized nails being used to secure the trusses to the end poles (six per end). This was partly due to the fact that my hammer swinging muscles have atrophied. I rarely drive nails when I'm doing my own carpentry; I've migrated almost entirely to screws and bolts.
Brian's wife Tara showed up as we finished positioning the trusses, and she'd prepared us a delicious vegan lunch of lentil dahl with rice and papadum.
Conversation had been mostly construction-related as we'd been working, but once we sat around and started eating, talk took a turn for the woo-woo. This was particularly true once a youngish man from a nearby cabin showed up with his big black dog Joey. Tara had wanted me to meet this guy because "he's an inventor like you." But I had to consciously keep my eyes from rolling when Tara started talking about his latest project, a so-called earth battery. I'd never heard that term before, but when it was defined as a couple of terminals driven into the ground to tap the "earth's energy," I knew the train of rational discourse had derailed. But I tried to be nice and nod my head with appropriate enthusiasm, though I kept wondering if the one volt he was measuring from his battery wasn't simply coming from the galvanic decomposition of his copper and zinc rods. I can understand why Earth Battery Man is pursuing free energy schemes; he lives in a cabin without electricity, yet he apparently likes to spend a lot of time online. (Like me, he'd seen the hilarious Russian heavy metal video that depicts Soviet-era communists as zombies with cold green blood circulating in their icy veins.) Still, I don't enjoy talking to people who have little interest in the logical basis of reality. How can you explain anything of any complexity to them, when all they want is happy talk about undefined terms like "energy field," "radiant energy," and "aura"? Such talk depends on willful ignorance and faith, and that's why woo woo fields "of inquiry" experience the same sort of progress as theology (none).
And Earth Battery Man wasn't the only person there making woo woo contributions to lunchtime conversation. At some point Ponytail Guy started talking about one of the holdings on the tract where biofeedback is used to cancel sinusoidal brainwaves, thereby unlocking lost memories and talents in the brain. Supposedly there is girl who used to require a walker but who, after receiving this dubious form of therapy, is now a trapeze artist. Everyone present hearing this story seemed to accept it with blank-eyed joy, and I didn't say anything because I didn't have the guts to proselytize for rationality. People who believe this crap do so with the same sort of conviction that causes fundamentalist Christians to believe in the resurrection of Christ Jesus. One can argue from a scientific standpoint until one is blue in the face, but you're dealing here with someone who believes in miracles and speaks using a large glossary of poorly-defined words.
At least when we returned to carpentry there had to be some sort of mathematical and geometric basis for what we were doing. Angles are either square or they are not square. Posts are either plumb or they are not plumb, and it doesn't make sense to argue with a level. Still, spiralling in on solutions to a few of the geometric challenges posed this afternoon was hardly a straightforward process. The problem was how best to make sure that the upstairs cross sections of the house were all plumb. (I'd already determined that some were definitely not parallel.) We figured out a solution to this problem that seemed to work okay, but later, back at my house, I realized that this solution had treated the cross sections as stiff triangles when in fact they were trapezoids, which tend to be a lot more flexible.
After several other errands, on the way home I stopped at Fording Place to get 25 more gallons of sandy topsoil for an ongoing landscaping project. As I was driving away, a big SUV driven by the local constabulatory (an Ulster County sheriff's deputy?) was coming my way down the dusty Fording Place road. I was drinking a beer, which I quickly concealed, and when he drew close, the deputy put a hand out his window as a way to motion me to stop. Without getting out, he asked if I'd taken everything with me and not left any trash behind. It was a question he'd formulated while I was still a tan-colored blob in the distance; he was prowling the area to bust teenagers who leave firepits full of broken glass on the sandy shore of the Esopus. Once he was asking me this question, though, the deputy could see I was not a teenager (or, most suspicious of all, a carload of teenagers). Indeed, my only passengers were a couple of dogs (and entertaining dogs is one of the most legitimate uses for Fording Place). He took me at my word that I hadn't littered, not noticing the suspicious fact that my car was sitting unusually low on its back springs.

For linking purposes this article's URL is:

previous | next