Starlink in Action

Off Grid CTO – Starlink in Action

Exciting news up here at the off grid cabin location, we now have actual real high speed internet!  In this post, I am going to look at perhaps one of the best improvements to the working conditions we have made up here in a long time.  While working as the CTO of ModelOp, a great company providing enterprise solutions for model management, we have managed to make it work on traditional geo stationary satellite internet service.  It has been challenging to stay in the data limits and I had a whole post on just all of those tips and tricks to make it work.

With Starlink service, however, data caps are gone, we have a true high speed connection, and it even uses less power than the Viasat installation did.  So in this post we will continue from where we left off last time converting Starlink to use DC power only, and proceed on to hitching it all up to my network and seeing the end results.





Mounting the Dish

The first task was to mount the dish unit itself.  I previously had an inexpensive satellite TV service, Orby, that unfortunately went out of business.  I still had the mount for that dish, so I decided to repurpose it for use to hold the Starlink dish.  Starlink sells a pipe adapter (way overpriced in my opinion) that makes it easy to attach the dish to any kind of pipe, including a satellite TV mount.  So I simply attached the adapter to the dish mount, and then Dishy, as they call the Starlink terminal, snaps into that adapter directly.  All in all that part probably only took about 15 minutes to get in place.  I did a quick test by plugging it in in place, and fired it up.  Within 10 minutes, it was fully up, connected to my laptop, and I had high speed internet.  Amazing!  I logged 150mb on my first go at it with a direct connection to the laptop, the fastest internet this part of the land has ever seen for sure.  But now I wanted the rest of the install and tie it into my proper network.  So more work to be done….


Dishy mounted to my solar panel array




Buried underneath the driveway inside of conduit


Running the Cables

Perhaps the biggest challenge is running the cable from inside out to the dish.  First of all, it uses a proprietary and large connector on the cable.  So even though I had a hole already for a previous coax run, I had to enlarge it significantly to get the end through the wall.  Additionally it is good to note that the end attached to the dish is the small end, so you must start inside and work your way to the dish, not the other way around.

Another challenge is that they cable they provide is not direct burial cable.  Given the cable is proprietary, you don’t have a choice to substitute it out, so I had to run the cable inside of standard electrical conduit and bury that.  Burying was the only option due to having to cross my driveway.  So the longest part of this install was digging the trench by hand to bury the cable in.  Fortunately the soil was still soft from the recently melted snow, so I made fairly short work of it.

I then ran the cable up the pole, with a drip loop, and plugged it into the dish.  We now had a full install from the house out to the dish and just needed to get it into the existing network.




Hitching Up the Network

So my whole goal here is to get this tied into my existing access points, router, etc as I did not want to utilize the Starlink router.   It was AC powered only (see my previous post) and has almost no configurability.  Further, I have both indoor and outdoor access points, and want to have things like a guest network for when people visit.  None of this was possible with the Starlink router.  Fortunately I figured out how to switch it to DC and talk directly to the dish in the last post, so now it was just hard wiring it all up.

First, I added a 24v->48v buck converter next to the existing one I was using for Viasat.  This then plugs into the POE injector with the special patch cable, and the modified Starlink ethernet adapter to provide power to the dish.  And then I plug from the patch cable directly into one of the WAN ports on my standalone TP link router.  This router allows for multiple WAN connections, so I can still keep my Viasat as a backup.  Plugged it in, powered it up, and my WAN port got an IP address and everything was up and running!  I had internet in my whole network from Starlink.

One hitch, though, was that the Starlink app and web page for configuring the unit would not work.  The trick to get that to work was to add a static route on my WAN port to go to which is the admin address for the dishy.  So once that was in place, the app was working just fine.

I would say that this was no more difficult than any other standard kind of installation.  I didn’t really have to do much and it all just worked in a pretty standard manner.


The DC connection to the poe injector with the modified Starlink ethernet adapter, and the multiport router, switch, and indoor access point




Pretty good speed, and not bad power usage on average!


And the Results are In

After I got it all hitched up and in place, speed tests were showing well over 100mbps on average, and around 5-10 upload.  Very good considering that is higher internet speed than I have ever seen up here before!  More importantly, with geo stationary satellites, ping times were around 600ms.  I am consistently seeing sub 100ms and often around 40ms ping times which is a very large improvement.  No more lag on the zoom calls, and we can watch a video without any buffering occuring at all.

What really surprised me though is that the average usage of power is actually pretty low.  It seems to mostly sit between 20-30w of power, and spikes into the 40s on occasion.  Viasat was consistently around 38w, so overall I am using less power which is always a good thing!  I am really so far very impressed.

For the first time we sat down and streamed the new episodes of Stranger Things from Netflix without any buffering, delays, or concern of data use.  The off grid cabin is now in the modern age!




Game Changing Technology 

The only challenge is to make sure you have a clear view to the north.  The dish will point itself once, and then scan the sky using its internal array, so open sky is the key.  As you can see here I have some trees heading in its direction, but from the scan below you can see that it is not adding significant obstructions.  So I believe this spot is going to work out great.

Overall, for the last three days, we have been impressed.  The only glitch I found so far is we had a very heavy snowfall on the first night it was installed.  I had not turned on the option for the heater to come on and melt off the snow.  Well we lost internet and realized how hard it was snowing, and so I went to turn on the heater in the app…. But low and behold, you need the internet to change the options.  Kind of a chicken and egg problem.  After a manual cleaning and a quick app connection to turn on the heater before it snowed more on it, it then did just fine the rest of the night, but did at times draw up to 80w with the heater on.

Few things are this much of a game changer when you live life off grid.  Internet was always a compromise, and this so far is delivering what we never had before.  No longer do we have to make data choices about what we download and when.  This really eases life up here living as an off grid CTO!


A clear view to the north is the most important thing, and from the scans so far it looks like I have a good spot!




Starlink on Pure DC Power


Starlink on Pure DC Power

Welcome to this next edition of Off Grid CTO featuring my projects and experiences working as the Chief Technology Officer of ModelOp, a great software company designing enterprise management of AI and traditional models.  It’s been a little whiles, and I will be posting more soon.  This edition actually comes to you from in flight on an airplane headed to a customer visit, so things are changing for sure!

In this episode I will be exploring how I have adapted a Starlink terminal to work on DC power, without their provided router, and without cutting up the expensive and hard to get cable they provide you.

I am providing this blog not as instructions, but just to let you know what I did.  This could cause your Starlink to blow up, malfunction, and probably void your warranty, so please proceed at your own risk.  If you are not good at wiring things and creating connections for ethernet and power, this is probably not the project for you.  Again, I suggest you don’t do this…




The ethernet adapter with the connector cut off showing the two sets of wires inside.  You want to use the thicker wires, as the thin ones go to the ethernet port on the adapter.


The Ethernet Adapter

I finally after waiting for over a year with a deposit down, received my Starlink unit.  I am temporarily back in my Utah home taking care of spring chores, but will be bringing the Starlink up to my off grid cabin this coming weekend and giving it a real trial in the remote mountains.  The issue is, when you get this ‘gen 2’ unit, it requires a giant and ugly router to both power the unit and provide wifi connections.

This router is not very capable and has very limited configurability and is not up to my requirements for running a network.  Further, it requires 110v connection.  This does not fit into my DC first power in my cabin, as every conversion causes a loss.  So I was determined to convert to running this unit without AC power.  I’ve read several people who have cut the cable and put ethernet on the end of it to allow for this, but the cable is proprietary, hard to come by, and quite expensive.  They sell an ethernet adapter that hangs off of their router to allow to ‘bypass’ it, but you still have the AC connection.  This was not going to work for me, plus space in my cabin is at a premium.

So I got all the equipment, including the ethernet adapter, and hitched it all up for a try out and sure enough it worked, but was quite large and clunky with all of this stuff required…  Then it hit me.  The ethernet adapter itself provided me with both ends of that proprietary connection, and was less than half of what a cable costs…. So I decided to open it up and see if I could get the connectors out.

What I discovered when looking at the circuit is it is actually a pass through of the Starlink connection, plus a second set of skinny wires that export an ethernet connection from the router out to the ethernet port.  So what I had in my hands was a cheaper way to cut the cord and create the required connections without changing the expensive cable, and make it so I could have a plug in way of creating a DC connection and remove the router entirely.




Cross the cables

So starlink actually utilizes standard ethernet connections and 48v POE, at about 100w maximum.  But for some reason, they decided to swap the wires and not utilize a standard wiring scheme.  So in order to utilize a standard POE injector, you must swap the blue and green pairs temporarily to get the power on them, then swap them back to get the data going into the right place.  this is the reason for having to wire your own connectors.  The diagram to the right explains this, which I borrowed from a previous reddit post on the process.

So what I did was to do the first of these swaps right on the Starlink ethernet adapter.  I simply cut the proprietary connector off, then crimped on an ethernet connection following the ‘b’ standard but swapping the wires as described.  I now had a nice plug from the female side of the Starlink dish, which allows me to use the existing long cable to plug in, and a male side ethernet plug that can go into the POE injector and receive power from a DC power supply.  I was now half way there!

I also purchased the recommended POE injector listed on the right.  It puts power on all 4 pairs which is crucial to making this work.  One that only charges the normal pairs is not going to necessarily work, so this one seemed to fit the bill and was readily available.  I also added a standard 200w 12v->48v DC buck converter.  There are tons of these out there available, and almost any of them will fit the bill.  It has to be at least 100w though so if the heater on the Starlink kicks on, it will not overload it.  This connects easily to the POE injector and will supply the power for the Starlink dish.


The swapped wired ready to crimp onto the connector.  Notice the swap of the pairs.  This is very important!




I then built a short cable that performs the exact same swap on the male end, and a standard 586B connection on the female end.


A Short Patch Cable

Then I needed a short cable that goes from the POE injector to the PC or Router that we will directly connect to the Starlink dish.  This I made as male to female cable that swaps the same pairs on the male end to basically put the data back onto the correct lines for a normal connection.  This is vital to making it all work.

By doing a simple cable like this it allows me to connect any standard patch cable to this, and be served up a single IP address by the dish itself, without involving their router at all.




Check and Double Check

After you have it all wired up, I would personally suggest checking, double checking, and then not actually going through with this modification.  I am sure this voids your warranty, and you can certainly utilize the included router and cables with an inverter to power your dishy, but for me I just couldn’t let it sit that way and want the highest efficiency both space and power wise.  So for me I was OK with the risk.  Proceed at your own caution.


Make sure the pairs show swapped as shown on the tester




Connected all together…. Ethernet adpater from Starlink goes to the POE side of the injector, patch cable goes to the data side, and to PC or router from there.


Connecting All of the Pieces

So once you have all of these pieces built, then the connection is pretty straight forward.  Simple plug the Starlink ethernet adapter you modified into the POE injector.  Then plug your patch cable into the other side of the POE injector (non POE side), and then use a normal ethernet patch cable to go either to a PC or router.  Then plug dishy into the ethernet adapter.  Finally plug your buck converter into a DC power supply.  You are now going to have to wait for a few.  It takes dishy a bit to come all the way up to respond.  So don’t panic, but be aware of a few things.

First, if you are plugging dishy into a router, you are going to need to make a static route to for your wan port.  There is a landing page there that gives you access to all of the standard web interface stuff to interact with dishy.  That will also allow the ios or android app to work as well.

That said, I suggest you first test with a direct connection to a PC, and in that case you don’t need to do a thing.  You will have that route already defined.





Well with great nervousness about blowing up my new dishy, I went ahead and applied power.  I had this directly connected to my pc, and sure enough I saw an ethernet link and traffic.  Clearly, this was going to work.

After a bit of time, I was issued an IP address, and going to lead to the dishy page.  This clearly works.  There is no router involved here, and is a direct connection.

I wanted to set this up before I went remote again, so I am roaming, but even then I am seeing just fine speeds.  So success and am looking forward to installing this at the off grid cabin this Friday!

Success!  Online and with roaming great speeds!




Direct DC power shows between 19w and 48w with no heater


And the Results are In!

And so as you can see I sit around 19W to 48W of power usage of direct DC.  Typically, it sits around 35W of usage it seems.  In the long run it will be interesting to see what it takes for power over time, but for right now it is in line with what Viasat utilizes.

So now I am ready to go with a pure DC powered Starlink unit and am excited to see the difference it makes at my cabin.  Unlimited data and reduced latency is going to be a game changer.  The next blog will be on the other half of the config to make it work on my network, and the results I actually see.

So join me next time to see what Starlink really means to an off grid CTO!



Thankful the Projects Are Done!

Off Grid CTO: Thankful the Projects Are Done!

Welcome to the next post in the series about living life off the grid in the mountains of Colorado while working as the CTO of ModelOp, a great software company delivering solutions for governing and managing your AI models in an enterprise.

As Thanksgiving day is about to arrive, it is time to look back on all of the things I am thankful for up here, and trust me, there are quite a few things.  But in specific I am very thankful for all of the things my wife and myself accomplished up here this summer.  The road up here will be closing down any day now, so the big projects have now come to the end.  It is time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of all of our labor over the course of the summer as the days get very short, and the weather turns cold and snowy.  So join me in a review of some of those projects!





“Using the commons as a cesspool does not harm the general public under frontier conditions, because there is no public.  The same behavior in a metropolis is unbearable” — Garrett Hardin


A Crappy Start

Well as the snow started to melt early in the spring, I began to notice an issue down where our cesspool is located.  There was a noticeable sag in the soil where the cover to it was, and I knew it was time to take a look and see what was going on under the soil.  In the 18 years I have owned the place, I have not touched it so I knew nothing about how it was constructed.  Boy am I glad I decided to do this, as I don’t think it would have survived another year without collapsing, and that would be a lot harder to clean up.

So what I thought would be a quick repair job of replacing a few boards, took a turn for the worse when I removed the soil and other coverings.  When they built it, they simply threw boards right onto the soil which of course led to rot.  The boards were all collapsing in, and I realized if I did not do something different, I would be facing this again in the future.  I am always of the mentality of do it right once.

So began a multi month long effort of building a completely new foundation around the existing cesspool to better support a cover.  What should have been a weekend project took on a whole new meaning when I had to hand carry and place all of the rocks, hand mix the cement to hold it together while dodging cold weather and thunderstorms.

On top of that, I then had to hand mill all the 4×4 timbers used to span the cover, as well as mill additional cover boards to seal it all up.  This ended up taking ALOT longer than expected, so some other projects for the summer had to fall off the radar.  There is always something up here that pops up that is unexpected, and this ended up being a big one.

As you can see with the final results, though, this should last many years to come…




Some Modern Conveniences

There is a time and place where things just plain wear out.  I really like to fix things and keep them going as long as I can.  I just hate throwing something away that can be saved, but there gets to be a  point where it just is not worth the effort anymore.

Our washing machine was a case in point.  I very possibly believe it is older than myself, and has been in the cabin since it was built.  I have managed to time after time piece it back together and keep it going, so it just didn’t seem to be worth the money to buy a new one.  But that all changed over the spring.  Every single load of wash we did, it would have some kind of a problem in the middle of a load of wash.  So  now you are under a giant machine full of clothes and water trying to get it going again to finish the load.  Amazingly, I would always manage to revive it, but this was just too much.  And given it was old, it used a ton of water and didn’t do that great of a job anymore.

So we decided to get a new washing machine, and replace the old behemoth with a smaller portable high efficiency machine.  This would use less electricity, less water, and hopefully get the clothes clean, with also less damage to the clothes themselves.  I have to say, I am extremely happy with the outcome.  The clothes get cleaner, it takes up less space, and they are also drier coming out of the machine.  On its largest load setting, it only uses 35 gallons of water for the complete cycle.  Less than half of what the other machine used, yet it still handles about the same amount of clothes,  I wish I had done it years ago….

Also we had been using a portable electric chest fridge set to freezer mode since we moved up here in order to hold enough frozen food to last us between trips to town.  It barely held enough, and was all piled in there so you had to dig for anything you needed.  This was not ideal, and really left us short on storage for sale items, or longer term needs.  Forget trying to store a whole chicken, or our Thanksgiving turkey.  We had to rely on cold days outside in the winter to keep enough in stock.

I have been eyeing a stand up freezer from the same company that makes our off grid fridge/freezer we currently use.  It runs on 12/24v DC and is super efficient.  We both decided this was the year to make that happen, so we pulled the trigger on it and purchased it this year.  It has multiple pull out drawers, and maintains -4F no problem with only about 500wh per day.

Getting something like that up here is quite a challenge, as it is freight delivery.  They definitely do not deliver up here.  So we actually had to drive to a FedEx terminal 3 hours away to pick it up with my pickup, and get it back here all in one day.  Then I had to run a new 24v line to where we were installing it, and remove an old heater that didn’t work anyways and put an outlet in.  All in all we got it all done, and now we can keep weeks worth of meat, fish, veggies and all kinds of good stuff.  We can even have some ice cream every now and then.  Welcome to the modern world!


“The wonderful world of home appliances now makes it possible to cook indoors with charcoal and outdoors with gas” — Bill Vaughan




“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining” — John F. Kennedy


The Roof, The Roof, The Roof Needs Replacing…

Another item that has long been on my list of todo items is to replace the roof on the cabin.  As can be seen, it was the original roof when the cabin was built, and was rusting and would leak here and there just a little bit.  It is also the old school cheap ripple kind of roof that really makes it hold onto the snow.

So while in town one day my wife and I stopped by a supplier to check out our options, and choose a color.  With all of the delays in shipping and such that has been going on, we were surprised to find that it would only take a couple of weeks to get all of the roofing we needed to do the job, and in fact was about half the price I was expecting.  We went back to the cabin to think it over, and decided that next Tuesday to place the order.

To our surprise, our full order arrived that very same Friday and we had to haul the trailer over the continental divide to go pick it up and bring it back up to the cabin.  Well now I was fully committed.

I had to wait for a weekend when we new there was zero chance of rain, and then I jumped all into it.  It took me one day to get the whole old roof off, and I was able to get it dried back in in another single day.  I installed a special underlayment that is adhesive and stops ice damming (the blue material on the roof) which is in and of itself waterproof.  Then I got the metal on top of that, and we were all dried in and ready for the storms.  I got it all done myself without too much of a hassle, although my arms were sore for at least a couple of weeks.

The interesting thing is with this new underlayment is how quiet the roof is now.  When we would get hail or heavy rain, it sounded like a freight train inside the house.  The cats would even go run and hide.  Now, we barely notice it at all….  A bonus!  We both love the new color, and the snow slides off much easier.  Another chore where we invested the time and money to do it ourselves right, and it should pay off for years to come.





Wood, Wood, and More Wood

We continue to try and clear the beetle kill up here, as well as get our supply of firewood in for the winter.  If I don’t have another task to do at the moment, it is then either dropping dead trees, cutting them into rounds, or splitting the rounds into the final product.  We additionally had to clear some trees near the house, as after last year’s storm, we didn’t want them falling on our new pretty roof!

Last year it was just about catching up and getting enough wood to get us through one season.  We did that successfully, but as you can see there was not a lot left in one of the bays after a whole winter.  Additionally, I needed a bunch of the logs  to turn into lumber on my sawmill in order to complete some of the construction projects.  So all in all I cut a crazy amount of wood.  It is really improving the land around the cabin getting all of that beetle kill out of here, so new growth can come back in its place.

As you can see, not only did we make all the lumber for our various projects, but we have almost completely filled the woodshed.  At my best guess we likely have almost 3 years worth of firewood in reserve now.  Another investment for the future.


“Once upon a time there was a piece of wood.  It was not an expensive piece of wood.  Far from it.  Just a common block of firewood, one of those thick, solid logs that are put on the fire in winter to make cold rooms cozy and warm.” — Carlo Collodi, Creator of Pinocchio




“Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey toward it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us.” — Samuel Smiles


Additional Power for the Darkest Days

Last winter there were quite a few days during late November and December when it became challenging to make enough power.  I had a fair bit of panels in place, but some of them would get shadowed fairly early in the day.  So last winter right near the solstice I watched for the spot that got the most sunlight and marked it off.  I planned ahead to place another array right in that spot to ensure we could create that much more power.

Sure enough this year, I got 3 more 200 watt panels and milled my own posts and put them right in that spot.  This has given me a very noticeable improvement in my overall power generation this time of year.  It is what is allowing us to have the freezer and other items running all the time even in the winter.

My total panels are now 2.4 kw, although my charger is limited to 1.6 kw.  This overage helps us to cover the cloudy days where the extra panels make a big difference and allows us to avoid running the generator.  It is now a very rare thing for me to have to charge the batteries with the generator, saving us the bother and the gas.  It has been a great addition.




Happy Thanksgiving

As the winter is now knocking on our door, and we expect the road to close down very soon, it is time to reflect back on another busy summer.  When you are in the thick of it, you feel like you are so behind, and are never going to get caught up.  There is always another little thing that pops up, another item you didn’t expect, or another distraction that keeps you from your charted course.

Working for a startup is just like that.  There are constant challenges, unsuspecting changes in course, and a lot of reactionary distractions to making the company successful.  Life up here prepares you for those, and reminds you to adjust as needed, but really make sure you get those things done that are going to make the difference.

In putting together this post, I realize how successful we were this summer in staying the course and getting done what really mattered.  More importantly, we took the time and did it once, and did it right.  I am thankful we were able to make that happen.

Likewise, I feel the whole team at ModelOp has also done this.  I am thankful to work with all of them every day.  They have done an amazing job putting together a great product that is leading the industry.  I hope you check out their work sometime….

So as we prepare to ease into a much quieter winter I am also thankful for its return so I can maybe finally sit by the fire with a good book.

In the next post, we will look at some of the recipes we make from scratch up here at high altitude, that always seem to work.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone,

Jim Olsen

Off Grid CTO


“Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling.  Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse,” — Henry Van Dyke




Logging Made Easy(ier)

Off Grid CTO: Logging Made Easy(ier)

Welcome to the long overdue next edition of Off Grid CTO, where I talk about living life off the grid while working as the Chief Technology Officer of ModelOp, a great software company creating advanced software to manage both your ML/AI models, as well as your traditional models as well.  If you get the chance, checkout my ongoing masterclass series on our product.

It’s been a very busy summer up here.  The summers are amazingly short, and very busy.  There are a ton of projects to get done before the snow flies, and the road shuts down for the season.  It constantly feels like you are behind and catching up, but I did get a lot of cool projects done this summer, which I will go into in another post.

The one constant is the need for firewood for heat.  We pretty much use wood year round to heat the place, just a lot more in the winter, and a lot less in the summer.  Most mornings require at least a few logs to get rid of the night’s chill.  As the leaves have turned yellow and are falling off the tree, the reminder that all the wood must be done becomes more and more urgent.

Over the years, I have used quite a few different tools to make the collection of all of that wood better, and I thought I would share the tools that I have found make the biggest difference.  Once again I will be mentioning products that I have purchased and used here, but want to remind everyone that I have received nothing in return for these.  It’s just stuff I found works….


Jim Olsen – Off Grid CTO





Mingo Firewood Marker marking the log

A fully marked log ready to cut

“Measure twice, cut once” — Historical Proverb


Getting the Length Right

For years and years when cutting out the individual lengths of logs, I would just kind of eyeball it and have it ‘about right’.  This lead to sloppy stacks of wood, pieces too long to fit in the wood box, and just overall an inconsistency that was done quickly, but I paid for down the line.  There had to be better way.

There were bars of your desired length that you could stick on the side of your saw blade, or the saw itself, that really just got in the way if you were actually working out in the woods.  I found them to be more of a hazard than a help.  Then I came across this great little device.

It’s the Mingo Firewood Marker.  You can get different size wheels for different lengths, but I just use the standard 16 inch wheel.  It takes a standard can of road marking paint you place into the top, and you push the device along the log.  Every 16 inches I will get a dot on the log.  This gives me my standard firewood length.  Nine dots gives me the maximum my sawmill will handle, so I can rapidly cut each length.

Once I have all the trees down and limbed, I simply go mark all of them in advance, then can just quickly move through them cutting perfect lengths every time.  No more guesswork and I end up with near perfect log piles.




Protecting Oneself

Dealing with chainsaws, falling trees, undergrowth, and all of the other things just waiting to cut you in the woods is just a reality of logging.  You must have reliable safety gear, and ones that don’t get in your way and let you get the job done.  Amazingly, finding good items is way harder than it looks.  The standard stuff is often way too bulky, and just does not last.  I’ve made tow recent additions that have both been winners.

Gloves…  It would seem they have been made for years and it should be easy to find quality ones that protect your hands and last.  But oddly, that is not the case.  I have burned through I don’t know how many pairs of gloves that last maybe two weeks at best doing logging work.  I’ve used everything from Stihl branded gloves, Carhart gloves, generic cheap gloves, you name it.  They all fail typically within a couple of weeks at best.

The first gloves I  have gotten that so far have lasted over a month are Livingston Linesman gloves.  They are made for people putting in powerlines, so you get the idea they must be rugged.  They have now lasted me a month and a half and have not shown signs of quitting yet, so I believe I may have found something of quality.  You pay more for them for sure, but buying a pair every other week gets very expensive quick, so I am hoping these ones last.  These are the winners of the glove war so far up here, as logging is rough on gloves, and even worse on your hands if you don’t wear them.

Eye protection is also key up here.  Sticks fly, woodchips sail through the air, and it is really easy to walk into a branch.  Protecting your eyes is a must.  I’ve used traditional safety glasses, and they were all just fine, but they shared one flaw.  Woodcutting is hard work, and you sweat.  Those glasses then completely fog up, and I can’t see a darn thing, and that sure isn’t safe when carrying a running chainsaw.

I ran across these mesh safety glasses, and found a winner.  Think of it like a window screen with small enough mesh to keep stuff out.  Fine sawdust can get through, but anything over that stays out, and zero fogging.  Plus they are goggles, so nothing gets around the sides.  So now I can see no matter how hard I get working.


Livingston Linesman Gloves

Mesh Safety Goggles

“I will say that I cannot imagine any condition which could cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” — Captain EJ Smith of the Titanic just before it set sail




Husqvarna chainsaw gas can

Filling the gas can with no spills!

“Our culture runs on coffee and gasoline, the first often tasting like the second.” — Edward Abbey


My Kingdom for a Decent Gas Can

Another thing that has really gone downhill over the years is the quality of gas cans.  They have added all of these ventless features which are supposed to help the environment, but yet when you try and fill a small engine with them, there is zero way they will not spill fuel all over the woods, or leak when in the back of the ATV.  I think for light use they might be better, but I am not really OK with spilling gas all over the place.  I just can’t imagine it is a net positive.

So low and behold I finally found the absolute best gas can for filling a chainsaw.  It is made by Husqvarna specifically for chainsaws, and is unfortunately not for sale in the US so you have to order from overseas, despite the fact it is still ventless.  So given that, it is the most expensive gas can I have ever bought, but I do have to say it is worth it.

It comes with two sides, one for bar oil and another for the gas.  The neat part is it completely seals, yet has special fillers that you just push down on the gas tank hole with and it automatically fills it near to the top and stops pouring.  Thus you never spill a drop.

Add onto that the storage areas for your scrench, files, and wedges, and it makes an easy to carry package that does not spill and is built like a tank.  It all goes back to my saying that I’d rather spend three times as much and never have to replace it then cheap out and struggle with it every day.  Some things are just worth the extra money.




Saving Your Back

One of the toughest parts of woodcutting out in the forest is that there is never a perfect place to drop that dead tree.  It will inevitably end up stuck up against rocks, stumps, or other items which will make actually cutting it into pieces way harder than you would like.  Over the years, I have just muscled my way through it, but as I am getting a bit older, I feel the results of that for longer.  It was time to take some mechanical advantage of those logs.

There are many cheap versions of different tools to move logs out there that are single purpose.  Typically a timberjack and a cant hook are the primary tools.  But carrying around an array of tools in the woods becomes cumbersome, and I wanted something built to last, not an imported knock off that breaks in the field.  Enter the LogOx….

It is three tools in one.  It is a log hauler, a cant hook, and a timberjack all in one unit that rapidly switches between those tools.  It is made in the US and is very well built of high quality materials.  It is clearly a tool built to last.

As a log hauler, as in the first picture, it can easily be used to move a log away from a stump or other obstruction without completely messing up your arms, which my wife can attest to that I used to do often.  It gives just a little leverage in that it is easy to lift with your legs instead of your back.

As a cant hook, you basically add a long handle to the log hauler.  This gives you a bit of leverage to roll a very large log without nearly as much effort on your part.  This is handy in those stump situations as well.


The LogOx in log hauler mode

The LogOx setup as a cant hook

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” — Archimedes




The LogOx setup as a timberjack

The LogOx holding a log off the ground ready to cut


Lifting the Logs

In the LogOx’s final configuration, you add a leg onto the bottom of the cant hook allowing you to create a timberjack for lifting the logs off of the forest floor in order to cut the individual rounds.

Strictly, this is not necessary as you can cut part way through and roll the log, or use another piece of wood and put it up on that, but in practicality using this tool saves your back, and your chains from ground strikes, which instantly dull the blade.

You simply position the cant hook over the log, pull back on the handle to lift and roll the log up onto the back and the log will be held in place above the ground.

Then you simply cut your rounds off on the marks you previously made with the marking tool, and lift the lever and roll the log back down to the ground.  Simply move further down the log, and repeat.  I have lifted very large logs with this without any strain on my back.  A huge difference.

I can’t speak highly enough of this single tool.  You pay a premium for it, but it really is high quality, and three tools that I now use all of the time.  As I said before, I prefer to spend once on a quality tool and use it for the rest of my life.




Carrying the Load

Finally, after you have nicely stacked all of that wood you cut in the woodshed, and you are ready to use it, there is the task of carrying the wood into the cabin to actually finally use it.  This is the about sixth and final time you will carry that wood, and using a traditional wood carrier is still a heavy task on your arms and back.  Both your hands will be full, and opening the door is no pleasant task.  In the middle of winter, you will do this several times at least.

When I was buying the LogOx tool, I saw they offered a really nice looking log carrier with a different take on it.  Then I looked at the price and balked a bit about how a log carrier could cost that much…  Well after a few more times of my back hurting, and a coupon from the manufacturer, I decided to go for it.

What makes it different is it is built like a sling rather than a carrier.  So a strap goes over your neck/shoulder and carries the weight there, and your arm goes through a pocket on the other side, which leaves you an entire arm free to open doors and load it up, rather than throwing it on the ground.

So now the weight is on my shoulders, it never touches the ground and you load it right on yourself.  Honestly the weight is very minimal in this configuration, and it really turned out to be worth the money.  BTW, it is a really high quality build too, so hats off to them.  I do wish  it were just a bit cheaper, but I do expect to use this for a very long time as well.


WoodOx Sling carrying a load of firewood

A closer view of the sling and how the weight is well centered

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it” — Lena Home




Our favorite tree surrounded by fall colors

The mountains in full fall color near our cabin

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” — Henry David Thoreau


Heading into Fall

Fall is happening fast up here.  Many of the projects for the summer have been completed, some of them will remain until next summer, but it is a time to rush and finish up what HAS to be done.  Then comes the calm of winter where many of the projects will be buried deep underneath the snow.

It is a reflective time as well to look back and enjoy the accomplishments that have been made and recognize how much we really did get done up here, even though not everything got done.  It is a time to relish in the idea of warm evenings by the fire and enjoying all of this work we put in.

In the next post, since I got so far behind in posts, we will catch you up with the major projects that were completed over the summer.  Some were simple, and some were quite impressive (like a whole new roof in a long weekend).

So join me next time for a summer in review!

Jim Olsen, Off Grid CTO




Off Grid CTO: Off Grid Power Efficient AI

Off Grid CTO: An AI Solution With Low Power

Welcome to the next edition of my blog about living off the grid, while working as the CTO of ModelOp, a great software company that allows people to work from wherever they happen to be.  We are hiring, so if you want to work for a great company on the leading edge of the AI space, see our website for current opportunities.

One of the challenges of being so remote is when you are away, it is nice to be able to check in on the place and see that things are still working OK.  I have the ability to check on the battery charge stats from anywhere in the world, see the current weather, and get a few views of my property from different solar powered security cameras scattered about the property.

This comes in really handy to know how much snow there is to make a trip to shovel the roof, if we can drive in with a regular vehicle yet, or just to see the various animal visitors we get that we may not even notice when we are here.

So we get alerts on motion detection, but every time there was a windy day, or a moth flies by, it would result in an alert.  There had to be something better and a way to fix this.  Sure enough, machine learning based object detection would solve this, but compute requirements on low power are a big issue.

I will be talking about some products I used to solve this problem, but I do not receive any compensation for these items.  They are just what I myself bought and used to solve the problem at hand.




Blue Iris Web Interface

Blue Iris Server


“Some people worry that artificial intelligence will make us feel inferior, but then, anybody in his right mind should have an inferiority complex every time he looks at a flower.”

—Alan Kay


The Core Stack

To actually run the security cameras, I use a variety of standard IP cameras that connect either through ethernet cable, if attached to the cabin, or through wifi if more remote.  To actually provide the remote monitoring, motion detection, and a convenient web based UI, I use the popular software Blue Iris.  Unfortunately it only runs on Windows, but its capabilities are superior to any of the other Linux based solutions I tried out.

So to actually run the software itself, I use a low powered fanless mini pc that has enough power to run the camera software, and not much else.  It uses very little power, so can be run continuously without fear even on cloudier days.

This, however, means it does not  have much extra compute power to handle anything else.  Blue Iris recently added support for the open source Deepstack object detection software, but there was no way I could run that on the same machine.  It just demanded way too many compute resources, and really needs something with a decent GPU.

I considered upgrading the PC, but anything that had enough juice to handle it, also wanted to suck up way  too much power for the task at hand.  I needed a low power solution that could handle this.




Meet the Jetson

So I needed something more like the raspberry pi, but could handle an AI load that relied on GPU resources to actually accelerate the compute.  Object detection for images in real time requires some muscle.  Now fortunately we only need to do the object detection when motion is detected, rather than on a live video stream, so that helps reduce the requirements a bit.

In steps the nVidia Jetson.  It is a small unit with a GPU that runs on 5v, and approximately 10w max at normal consumption.  I do not use the usb for power, but instead provide up to 4A of power through the barrel connector for higher performance.

It also has 128-core Maxwell GPU, as well as a Quad-core ARM A57 @ 1.43 GHz paired with 4gb of memory meaning it has the ability to handle some decent load.  The base linux software it has (jetpack) is already CUDA enabled and ready to go.  So this sure seemed like a great solution for image processing at low power.  But what do we run on it?


“The sad thing about artificial intelligence is that it lacks artifice and therefore intelligence.”

—Jean Baudrillard




Yes, it detects hot dogs

“Before we work on artificial intelligence why don’t we do something about natural stupidity?”

—Steve Polyak


Deepstack for Jetson

Well the nano itself provides a CUDA enabled linux distribution, so the next step was to place something on it to do the image recognition.  Fortunately, Blue Iris already provides direct integration with Deepstack, an open source image recognition platform.  It is simple REST style API, so it is really very easy to use, and also includes python support.

Deepstack is a dockerized AI solution utilizing standard libraries under the covers to perform the work.  It can do a large variety of detection types, but for our purposes, we wanted to just do object  detection, not scene nor face.  It has an install specific to the Jetson, so you simply first install docker, then launch a docker instance with the Deepstack server already installed.  Then it will listen on the configured port for any requests, and send back the coordinates of detected objects along with the label.

For standard scene type images on a high detection setting (most detailed) it takes approximately 300ms to resolve, so not bad on 10w of power.

And I always get this question so will go ahead and answer it.  Yes, it does detect hot dogs….



Getting the Two to Talk

So the final step in setting all of this up was to fix the Jetson on a static IP, and configure Blue Iris to talk to that instance of it.  This is easily done in the global config settings under the AI tab.  Simply put in the url to your Jetson, and a list of objects (from the list in the Deepstack SDK) you want it to detect.

Then on each camera, under the ‘Motion Trigger’ tab, simple click the Artifical Intelligence button and list out the objects it should look for, or reject.  I also tick the checkbox to draw the labels and boxes. 

Because I no longer needed to worry about false alarms from the motion detection being too sensitive, I really cranked up the sensitivity of the motion detection.  What happens is the motion detection will trigger an image to be taken, then Blue Iris will send that to the Jetson for processing, and it will only alert you if it finds matching objects in the image.

So I went from getting an alert every 15 minutes in a windstorm or heavy snow, to now receiving few, if any false alerts due to this post filtering.  A great improvement!


The Jetson and Blue Iris Server

“The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim.”
― Edsger W. Dijkstra




Front Porch

Walking Up the Driveway

Walking in the Parking Area

“People worry that computers will get too smart and take over the world, but the real problem is that they’re too stupid and they’ve already taken over the world.”
― Pedro Domingos


The Results are In

Well after I got the pair up and running, I have to say the results have been quite an improvement.  Instead of getting a picture of a bird flying by, or shadows moving due to the wind, or a whole host of other things, I now found all of these being filtered out.  With a little bit of tuning of the minimum confidence level, I found it to detect the things I cared about quite reliably.

As can be seen on the left, it was able to pick me out as a person in a variety of distances and orientations quite successfully.  It also has detected cars and such without any problems.

So overall, by only adding 10w to my system requirements, this has been a very successful implementation.  I am interested in trying out the gpu capabilities for other tasks as well, and seeing how well it performs.  This thing is really a low powered powerhouse….




Some Improvements

Overall it works quite well out of the box, and captures most of what I care about.  There are, however, some missing objects I would like to add to its database.

Fortunately, Deepstack does allow and provide tools for training on custom objects.  The issue for me will be to come up with enough labeled data to support this training.  For instance it sees a moose as either a cow or a dog, depending on the angle.   It also sees my UTV as a truck, which is close, but it would be nice to get a different message for each.  There are also a lot of animals unique to high altitude that it is not aware of, so it would also be nice to get an alert telling me there is a marmot on the deck.  So in the long run, I have some training to do at some point.

Overall though, the project was a great success and a good learning experience.  It shows that off the grid ai is not only possible, but available easily today.  There are probably many other uses I can come up with over time, so it will be a great experimentation platform.

Thanks for joining me in this edition of the Off Grid CTO, and I look forward to our next edition!


A Cow Moose

A Truck UTV

“What people call #AI is no more than using correlation to find answers to questions we know to ask. Real #AI has awareness of causality, leading to answering questions we haven’t dreamed of yet.”

– Tom Golway




Hey Buddy, Got a Light?

Off Grid CTO: Hey Buddy, Got a Light?

As we transition to spring up here in the mountains, while I work for ModelOp as the CTO, the temperatures slowly climb, the days get longer, and the snow continues to melt.  It might seem counter intuitive, but this time of year I actually have to light the most fires.  During the winter, the woodstove keeps going 24×7, and I rarely have to relight it.  With the days getting warmer, we now actually just have a fire in the morning and in the evening, so that means starting two fires a day.

We also start burning more slash in the burn barrel as I return to cutting wood, and enjoy an evening campfire outside on occasion.  Additionally, the wood fired hot tub is back in use, now that our gravity feed water has returned.  So that is a whole lot of fire lighting!

Finding a reliable lighter that works at 10,200 feet has proved next to impossible over the years.  Most disposable lighters of the long reach variety fail to work at this altitude, and finding refillable ones has resulted in many a returned lighter.  So I thought I would share what I have learned and found to work at high altitudes.

I will be mentioning a lot of products in this post.  I do not receive any compensation from anyone for this, it is literally just what I have found to work (or not work as the case may be).





Disposable Lighters

Most people, when they think of a lighter, think of something you just pick up at the store and throw away when done.  Well living up here using them so often, we just really, really hated the amount of lighters we would inevitably go through.  I mean they aren’t really even recyclable, given the mixture of plastic and metals in them.  So I have been on a long search to find reliable AND refillable lighters so we no longer had to go through all of this waste.

That said, many, many brands of long reach disposable lighters just do not work at altitude.  Now the small traditional ‘Bic’ style lighters actually are very, very reliable at altitude.  The  reason why is they use flint.  The fuel in the lighters are rarely the reason why they do not work up here.  It is the little piezo electric sparking systems that fail to ignite the gas with so little oxygen available.  The spark does just not last long enough.  The flint, being much slower burning, almost always lights on the first try.  That said, that style lighter for doing almost anything leads mostly to burnt fingers, so we really only use it for lighting the oven and a couple other simple tasks.  So any flint style lighter does work at altitude, is the moral of the story.

Of the long reach lighters, the Bic Multi Purpose long reach lighters do seem to mostly work up here.  About 1 in 4 I get refuses to light at altitude.  That said, it will take around five or so tries to actually get it to light, so hardly what I would consider convenient.  That doubled up with the waste of throwing these things away (hint, they don’t last very long), I just had to find something better.


“And Man created the plastic bag and the tin and aluminum can and the cellophane wrapper and the paper plate, and this was good because Man could then take his automobile and buy all his food in one place and He could save that which was good to eat in the refrigerator and throw away that which had no further use. And soon the earth was covered with plastic bags and aluminum cans and paper plates and disposable bottles and there was nowhere to sit down or walk, and Man shook his head and cried: “Look at this Godawful mess.” –Art Buchwald




“How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?” — Anonymous


Starting Fires in the Woodstove

Before I move onto the lighters, I do want to mention the absolute most reliable way of lighting a fire, and in fact what I use every day to start the fire in the woodstove.  Strike Anywhere kitchen matches work much better than a lighter.  They can be struck right on the woodstove to start, burn hotter than butane, and thus start a fire much quicker than a lighter.  They are cheap, and will get going even on the coldest of morning, whereas you will find butane lighters very finicky in the cold.  Combined with a piece of fatwood or two, you can have a nice warm roaring fire in no time at all going.

So I consider matches indispensable if you are living off the grid.  I keep several boxes of these around, as well as the big long matches that will burn for quite a bit of time and give you some reach.  They last pretty much forever if you keep them dry, and will always light with ease.  Just make sure you get the Strike Anywhere variety, not the Strike on Box.  I highly suggest these for all your fire starting purposes. 





“Plasma seems to have the kinds of properties one would like for life. It’s somewhat like liquid water–unpredictable and thus able to behave in an enormously complex fashion. It could probably carry as much information as DNA does. It has at least the potential for organizing itself in interesting ways.” — Freeman Dyson


Plasma Lighters

So the first ‘refillable’ path we went down was to get a USB rechargeable plasma lighter.  The promise was great in that we could just use our solar power to have infinite firing starting ability.  The claim was that you could even light candles with it.

The reality is, though, you would have to have quite the steady hand to keep the wick in the small spark generated, and it really makes a mess of the tip that then needs to be cleaned.

That said, it is probably our most used tool to light fires.   Not fires in the traditional sense, but starting our gas powered stove.  It is by far the best tool I have found for getting the stovetop burners going, or lighting a pilot light.  It works instantly every time, and last a very long time between charges.  There is nothing to replace, and so far has lasted us several years of daily use.

So if you want to have something to light your gas appliances, these things are great and work at any altitude.




A True Refillable Lighter

So with the partial success/failure of the plasma lighter, it was time to continue to find a more traditional flame that could be used to light candles and oil lamps.  I tried many different ones, and failed to find any that would even somewhat reliably light.

I then found the Zippo Flex Neck Utility Lighter.  I first tried the XL (long neck) version.  It lit fairly reliably (a few tries), but when you flex the neck too much, the tube actually pulls out of the end and breaks.  So I returned the long version, and figured I would try the regular version.  This version worked just fine, and has become a great lighter that is completely refillable, and starts somewhat reliably.

I think the trick to this one working is it has a little coil in the end that keeps it lit once going.  So after about four or five tries, it starts right up.  If I try and light it again after that, it immediately restarts.

It has a small jet like flame and works well for starting most fires, and does stay reliably lit.  It is also made of an all metal case which makes it a very solid and well made lighter.  So over all, this lighter is a winner at altitude and works OK.  As I mentioned, though, it still does take a few tries and can sometimes be frustrating.  But it works better than the disposable version, so at least we weren’t throwing away lighters anymore.


“Playing with fire is bad for those who burn themselves. For the rest of us, it is a very great pleasure.” — Jerry Smith




“The fire is the main comfort of the camp, whether in summer or winter, and is about as ample at one season as at another. It is as well for cheerfulness as for warmth and dryness.”

— Henry David Thoreau


The Cadillac of Lighters

So while pushing the sparker for the fifth time on the Zippo lighter, it occurred to me that there must be something better.  I began to search around more trying to find something entirely different that the traditional piezo based spark, and was yet still refillable.

Then on an RV forum, I ran across the Olympian GM-3 which is a ‘constant spark’ lighter that utilizes a single AA battery to produce the spark.

So rather than a single spark initiated by ‘clicking’ the lighter, there is a separate button that you push that creates constant sparks.

The flame is not jet like, which I actually prefer for lighting candles and such.  It will light every single time with a single push of the button.  This lighter is solid and is a complete replacement for disposables AND works better.

Now when you receive the lighter, it has the most annoying safety system where it literally takes two hands to get it lit.  Fortunately mine ‘fell off’, as I would never recommend removing a safety feature, and it is much easier to use now.

This lighter is pricey, but given I can refill it and use it for years, it is actually not that expensive.  It will likely pay back for itself in a single year of disposables, and I won’t be throwing anything into the dump.





Whatever lighter you choose, it is critical to get good butane when using lighters at altitude.  The normal Ronson or Zippo butane in the red and white can you find in the grocery store is not very good, and is dirty.  It will end up clogging your lighter, and will not have a good flame.

The key is to find any brand that advertises itself as highly refined, or ultra refined.  These have been significantly more filtered and purified so that you aren’t getting ‘dirty gas’.  It really does make a difference.  I’ve had lighters that would not light with the cheap stuff, return to working order after buying better fuel.  So don’t scrimp here as one can is going to last you a very long time.


“My dad says butane is a bastard gas” — King of the Hill




“Success isn’t the result of spontaneous combustion.  You must set yourself on fire.”

— Arnold Glascow


The Results Are In

So rather than a single lighter we use for everything, we ended up with three real winners for different purposes.

The plasma lighter is used to light our stove top every single time.  It has really performed for us, and is a great workhorse.

The Zippo is great for outside where a lazier flame might blow out.  Like lighting a grill or starting a mosquito coil.

The Olympian truly is an olympian and works great for day to day use lighting candles, oil lamps, and whatever else needs lighting.  It has a pleasant adjustable flame, and starts with the simple push of a button every single time.

So that’s my recommendations for lighters at high altitude, and finishes up this blog.  In the next blog, we will be looking at low powered (electricity wise) AI solutions for image recognition for a security camera system running off the grid.




Off Grid CTO: A Year in Review


Off Grid CTO: A Year in Review

Welcome to the next post in the series about living life off the grid working as CTO of a great and innovative software company called ModelOp which delivers software that manages your AI models at scale in the enterprise.

Amazingly, it has now been a full year since we arrived here at 10,200 feet in the Colorado Rockies.  We left for our cabin when the pandemic hit, figuring we would be here a few weeks while things blew over, and here we are a year later.  Time has flown by faster than I could have imagined.

Over the course of that year, we have built things, learned things, and made a few mistakes along the way.  So to commemorate this last year, I thought we would do a ‘year in review’ of some of those items and what it has been like living up here for now officially a full year.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” — Oliver Wendell Homes

The Beginnings

We had been vacationing in Mexico with family when the announcement came out that a pandemic had been officially declared, and the borders would soon be closing.  Fortunately our flight was already set for before the closure, so we returned from Mexico to a whole new world, as even our driver had to cancel on us due to his exposure to covid.  The grocery store shelves were empty, and our town was on a complete lock down.  We decided it was time to head up to our cabin which had ample supplies, and a lot more room to ‘spread out’.

So we packed up the cats, all the supplies we had, our stuff, and headed to the mountains.  We figured we would be here a few weeks while things blew over, and might as well make the best out of it, but in reality, it was the beginning of a new adventure.

Room to Move About

One of the first things we noticed after we got up there was that piling up six weeks worth of supplies in the front hall was just not going to work for us in the long run.  Constantly tripping over boxes in a tight space is definitely no way to live.

Fortunately, with my chainsaw powered saw mill up here, we had access to free wood.  So one of the first projects completed up here was to put in new shelving in the front hall to hold both tools and supplies, as well as allow us to place a freezer and a drink cooler underneath the supplies to maximize space.

This ended up being a great project and really added some much needed storage space to the cabin to allow us to extend lengths between trips to town and such.  This is really helpful in the winter when we try to avoid bad weather to make the trip quicker and safer.

“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein

 You might be a redneck if you wish your outhouse was as nice as those at the state park. — Jeff Foxworthy

A Quiet Place to Sit

Well we had an old outhouse at the place as a backup and for when we have guests, but it literally was built so small your knees stuck out the door.  Of course nobody wanted to use that, and it was just not practical.  So a top priority was to build a new one from our own lumber from my mill.

So before my wife’s family was to arrive for the July 4th holiday, it was a top priority to get it done.  Our septic system is small, and we did not want to overload it.  But I wanted this outhouse to be nice, and solidly built to handle the snow and last years to come.

So using our own materials, I was able to put together a much more comfortable outhouse that has live edge shingles (made ourselves), solar lighting, and ample room for moving around and hanging jackets and such.  We were very happy with the results.

A Year of Loss

Unfortunately, some close friends were lost this year as well.  My mom, after a long period of illness, passed on.  She will be missed and remembered throughout my journeys in life.

Also, my eldest cat Tatiana passed on as well.  She was a faithful companion that looked over me as I coded, and was teaching the other kittens about life at the cabin.  She had previously spent two full years up here when she was a kitten over 17 years ago.  She had the routine down, and even had an encounter with a bear that tried to break into the cabin.  She will be missed.

“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.”
― John Steinbeck

“We are like tenant farmers, chopping down the fence around our house for fuel, when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind, and tide” — Thomas Edison

More Power

Being up here full time, and having more computing requirements in a variety of weather, we really needed to upgrade both our system, and how we had it mounted.  So we started with milling some very stout and large posts to replace the random mounts we had around, and created room for more panels.  We expanded from 1200W of panel, to 1800W of panels, so a very significant increase.  We also plan to add another 600W this summer to bring us up to 2.4 kW of power.

Additionally, with the increased panel power, we needed to increase our ability to store it.  So we upgraded our battery bank by doubling it, so we have 8 batteries now instead of 4.  Another significant improvement.

Overall, we made it through the darkest part of the year with only rarely having to run the generator to charge up the batteries.  This is a great improvement and was a great accomplishment for the year.

Lots and Lots of Wood

When we arrive at the cabin a year ago, we only had two rows of wood left, and those were smaller rows at that.  We had let things get behind a bit as we only had brief visits at the cabin and mostly in the summer when you use very little wood.  As wood is our only heat up here, it is vital to surviving the cold of winter.

Almost as soon as we arrived, after a few bare spots began to show, we began to add wood to our supplies to not only cover this winter, but hopefully get ahead.  Well we put up six rows on one side of the woodshed, and almost five rows on the other side.  We are at about two and a quarter rows left on the one side, and have not touched the other pile.  So we seem to be about right to use six rows.  So this year we will only need to cut about half as much wood to get us back to a full woodshed.  We may strive to even fill in the middle though.  We learned our lesson that getting behind in wood is never a good feeling, and having plenty of it tucked away and dry is an investment in the future.

“Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. I love to have mine before my window, and the more chips the better to remind me of my pleasing work…… they warmed me twice—once while I was splitting them, and again when they were on the fire, so that no fuel could give out more heat.” — Henry David Thoreau

“Most things break, including hearts. The lessons of life amount not to wisdom, but to scar tissue and callus.”
― Wallace Stegner


And Some Lessons Learned the Hard Way

I was out cleaning up some of the fallen trees from the windstorm earlier in the year, and this stuff was really green with lots of branches.  The first step in approaching this is to cut off all of the branches.  Unfortunately some of these branches were actually under quite a bit of tension, which is very atypical.  So as I was cutting some of them off, one kicked out strongly and knocked into the chainsaw.  Fortunately, I reacted quickly and got my finger off of the gas, but the saw was still spinning slowly as it was forced into my knee.  I could see my pants were ripped, and as I looked down, I realized there was a fair bit of blood and knew this was not good.

I walked back up to the cabin and told my wife what had happened, and she was not pleased, to say the least.  I cleaned it out and examined it more closely, and it was pretty chewed up, but clearly only damage to the skin.  So I patched it up myself with first aid supplies on hand, to more of my wife’s concern, and went back out to finish what I had started as we only had so much time to get wood into the shed.  It was a close call, but not serious at all for a chainsaw injury in reality…   You can see it in the pictures above after one month, and after 3 months, so it took awhile to heal.  I won’t share the right after shot….  It was not pretty.

I have been using a chainsaw for over 35 years without a single injury, but what I learned is it only takes one.  So that same day I ordered a pair of chaps, and now use those every time I go out.  It turned out to just be painful and a bit limiting for a time, but if it had been more serious, it could have stopped my ability to get chores done entirely putting our winter in jeopardy.




The Big Storm

Even though we already did a whole blog post on the big storm at the end of the summer, I can’t help but mentioning it in looking back at the whole year.  Neighbors fled the woods, trees fell all over the woods, and we will be feeling the impacts of this for years to come.

Myself, I have tons of green trees down all over my property.  Fortunately most of these are perfect for creating lumber, as they are not cracked from the beetles.  So a big focus from this year will be to not only continue on the beetle kill for firewood, but also accumulate some lumber in order to build a new shed down by the river to replace the old metal one that was crushed by the snow years ago.

Another outcome of this storm is that both my wife and myself want to clear trees back further from the cabin so that there is no chance that any could fall on us.  It was disconcerting seeing them swaying that much, and the damage done to other cabins where the trees did land on the roof.

Overall, the power of nature is amazing, and we did learn a lot from that storm and will be addressing it this year.


“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
― Haruki Murakami




And the Celebrations!

It was a crazy year for sure, and very, very busy with all kinds of things going on.  That said, it is always important to take the time to celebrate the holidays and take a break.  I always skip the chores on those days and try and do something fun.

We were able to hold our annual 4th of July fireworks show with the local VFD.  I setup and run the show electronically every year.  We weren’t sure it was going to happen due to shipment delays with Covid and gathering restrictions, but at the end of the day we were able to make it happen.  It was a much needed relief for everyone.

Then we had the normal celebrations around the solstices, as getting 50/50 sun/dark when you run on the sun is a big deal, as well as things like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

They were all special in their own ways, and were a welcome distraction from the goings on in the world.



A Great and Challenging Year

So Sunday was the official one year date.  It was a glorious spring day outside, which was much appreciated after the 4 feet total of new snow over the past couple of weeks.  The sun was shining bright and warm, and I was able to pull the carpets outside and do some spring cleaning.

Also, it was important to celebrate the day with a small can of champagne, and some fresh homemade sugar free cookies to mark the occasion.

The snow down low at the bottom of our road is now beginning to melt, and soon enough access to up here will be all but impossible for snowmobiles as they would have to cross a lot of dirt and overheat.  The tracks on the UTV will keep us in good shape for getting up here until all of the snow melts, but we can tell that spring is here at 10,200 feet.

This time, being all settled in and not scrambling to figure things out, we should be able to enjoy the return of the hummingbirds, the melting of the snow, and the solitude of spring in the mountains.


“Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead.” — Nelson Mandela




That’s Entertainment!

Off Grid CTO: That’s Entertainment!

Welcome to the next posting in the series about living off grid while working as the CTO of a great software startup, ModelOp, designing software to manage your AI models and assets across the entire enterprise.  We are hiring for multiple positions, so feel free to check out all of our job listings.

Yeah, it’s been a bit since my last post.  Life got real busy up here at 10,200 feet in the Colorado Rockies.  Between dealing with all of the snow, carrying the non-stop supply of firewood for heating,  getting a software release out the door, and the numerous other challenges its been a bit hectic even though we are so remote.  But with all of the challenges and work, it is also important to unwind and relax on occasion, as life can not be all challenges and stress.

In that aspect, it is important to have some entertainment from time to time to unwind.  It is especially important during the dead of winter when your nearest neighbor is 12 miles away!  It gets dark early out here in the winter.

So with that in mind, I am going to introduce how we handle entertainment living off the grid.  I will be talking about a lot of products in this post, but I don’t receive any kind of compensation, these are just what I have purchased myself and found to work.


“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”– Charles W. Eliot

Nothing Like a Good Book

Reading by the fire is a definite nice past time up here when the nights are long and dark.  We have a variety of traditional books, but honestly not that much space to store a whole library for a winter.

That is where the Kindle is a life saver.  I can have literally hundreds of books in my library on the device, and can read what suits me at the time.  I am also a big fan of the e-ink screens in a dim environment, as I find them much less harsh on my eyes then a tablet or a phone screen.  I also try and get anything that is native USB rechargeable, and fortunately the Kindles also fit that as well.

So I do spend time reading when I can, but honestly sometimes my eyes are just too tired to read after programming all day long.  It’s those times we turn to more truly digital based entertainment.

Music (and more)

The silence of the wilderness is amazing at times, but actually can be deafening as well.  Especially when you are on your own as I occasionally am.  When you just have business calls and silence, it is very nice to fill the cabin with some of your favorite music.

In order to do that, and keep somewhat organized, I run a media server internally in the cabin.  Streaming movies and/or music would use up a lot of our precious data, and is not practical for watching movies.  So everything needs to be stored onsite and I only buy media that I can download for that reason.  No Netflix up here…

What I have found to be very reliable and low power is to host a Plex media server on a Raspberry Pi 4 with an attached USB-C 5TB drive.  This holds my entire music and movie collection, and Plex provides a great interface to keep track of it all.

I use a 4gb Raspberry Pi 4, with an Argon case with a fan on it.  Rarely does the fan kick on, but I have found if it has to transcode a file the fan prevents overheating.  This runs 24×7 as it uses so little power in standby.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” – Aldous Huxley

Music, Getting it Around The Cabin

Once we have the music to serve, we need to get it to the speakers.  I have gone through several iterations on this, and have now arrive at what I believe is the perfect solution.  In the past, I started cheap with a android based car stereo.  I already had it from an old vehicle, and it runs natively on 12v DC, so was a perfect fit.  I did find, however, it used a lot of power for what it provided, and the sound was just OK and not very versatile.  So this year, we decided to make some changes.

First off was to switch to a sound bar for both the music inside of the cabin, as well as the speaker for when we watch movies.  This gave us good sound, and as a bonus my wife was building a new table and added a shelf to it just to hold it out of sight and out of the way.  It takes 19v DC, so we just installed a simple 12-19v converter.  This covered inside of the house.

On the deck outside, I already had some outdoor speakers installed.  I found a relatively inexpensive mini class D amplifier that had Bluetooth 5 and stereo inputs and runs native on 12v DC.  The model I use is a Fosi audio BT20A.  It has great sound, good Bluetooth range, and sounds really nice and uses very little power for the audio it delivers.

To get the music from the server to the speakers, I originally used Bluetooth 5 and its dual speaker capability.  What I found with that, though, is that it is not perfectly in sync between inside and outside due to different processing speeds.  So I dusted off my old Chromecast audio devices and added one to each speaker and created a speaker group.  Not only is it now in perfect sync, it is also a much higher quality than Bluetooth if you turn the ‘High Quality’ option on.  Plus using Wi-Fi instead, my range is all over the property.  Plex allows direct casting of music right from the app.

One thing to note is it is not unusual in these systems to get some hum in the audio from all of the DC wiring coming together (USB 5v into the chromecast, and 12v going into the amp).  This ends up creating a ground loop.  By simply adding  ground loop isolator inline with the Chromecast, the audio was completely clear and perfect.



Movies – The Player

In order to play movies, I have standardized on Android TV as the solution.  There are some great low power players out there, and I like the openness of the platform.  Both my projector (which we will look at later) and this android TV box have Android TV on them making it a consistent process no matter what device we use.

I chose the Ematic 4K Android TV Box (AGT419) specifically because it is one of the few ones that is actually Google certified, so you can install things like Netflix and Amazon Prime on it.  Also, it runs on 5v DC, so it is USB powered compatible, although you will have to make your own cable to do that (which I did).  It draws a maximum of 2A, so only 10w of power on max load!

I used to use a Roku device, but they have become more and more closed and proprietary, and keep losing features from release to release.  I just have not been as happy with the quality of the devices, even though they do mostly work.

“No good  movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.” — Roger Ebert

The Low Power Movie

When the nights are longer, and the days are snowy, power is always a concern up here.  We run solely on the sun, and hate to burn gas on the generator to charge the batteries unless we absolutely have to.  So when we want to watch a movie and do so with as little power as possible, we use a USB powered HDMI portable screen.

This is the MSI 15.6 inch IPS 1920×1080 USB powered screen that accepts USB-C and HDMI inputs.  Since it runs on USB, it can only draw a max of 2A of power again, so less than 10w in practice.  It is bright and has a wide viewing angle, so it is perfect for the two of us to watch on our coffee table when the power is low.  When not in use, we can simply fold it up and put it on the shelf out of the way.  Space is important in such a small cabin!

To get the audio to the sound bar, I first started with Bluetooth, but found it kind of ‘flat’ in quality.  So instead I got an HDMI audio extractor/decoder, and put that inline with the Android TV.  Then I use the optical out on that into the optical in on the sound bar and found much improved audio.  Once again, this device runs on 5v DC so is compatible with the Android TV as well.

This means we can have high quality audio and video, albeit on a small screen, for under 30w total energy consumption keeping in mind the server, screen, android player, and the audio.  Not bad!  And most importantly it is all DC native, so no inverter is required.


The Big Screen

When the sun shines all day, and we have extra power, there is nothing like watching a good movie on the big screen.  The tiny screen is not particularly as immersive, and never mind trying to watch a subtitled movie on a 16 inch screen.

So for the ultimate movie nights, we have an LED projector that consumes relatively little power, and actually has its own battery if we want to take it outside on a nice summer night.

I decided on the XGIMI Halo Smart Mini Projector, as it has a very bright lamp in it for its size, and also runs Android TV internally.  It has built in speakers even, but honestly those are not nearly as good so we use the sound bar through either Bluetooth or HDMI.

But what do we project it on?  Space is tight, as mentioned before, so we needed a hideaway solution.  This is one of the reasons we went with a projector rather than a big screen as the space savings can be massive.

We found this 50 inch portable pull up screen, made by Pyle, that stands on its own two feet and simply just pulls up in place.  We can either leave it on the table all folded up, or easily put it on the shelf where it takes up very little space at all.  This gives us a 50 inch screen when ready to watch a movie, and it tucks away when not in use. 

We have really enjoyed getting to watch movies on the big screen since we got this setup in place and the space saving design of the system is a huge plus.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. —John Lubbock

The Best Entertainment – Nature

 The best entertainment up here for sure, is nature herself.  The ever changing light, the animals and their habits, the sun hitting you just right, is all magical in its ability to pull you in.

After sitting at the computer screen for hours on end, it is nice to go for a short stroll, or simply just stand on the deck with a beverage and enjoy what is unfolding around you.  It is ever changing and every single day you notice something different.

So a lot of my ‘down’ time, especially on the nice days, you can find me enjoying both the vast views of the mountains, but also the close up views of the tiniest of creatures.  There is so much to both see and learn from my time up here interacting with nature herself.


So as you can see, there is no lack of entertainment up here in the middle of nowhere off of the grid.  We didn’t even get into the old school board games and such that we fall back to on a quiet night, or the various hobbies that pass our time.  I often hear people ask if I get bored up here, and I tell them I don’t have time to get bored.  There is always something to do!

In the next series in my blog, we will be celebrating the one year anniversary of moving up here to our off grid lifestyle.  Almost one year ago we packed it all up and moved on up to the mountain figuring we would be there a few weeks.  It will be a year in review of both some of my successes, and also a look at some of my failures.  I myself am looking forward to looking back….

“There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Seeing The Light In The Darkness


Off Grid CTO – Seeing The Light In The Darkness

Welcome to another post in the series about living life off the grid while working as the CTO of ModelOp, a great software company delivering the management of AI models and other analytics within your enterprise.  We are hiring for multiple positions if you are interested in joining us!

In this post, we look at something that is very crucial during this time of the year.  As we approach the shortest day of the year, darkness becomes a major issue.  It not only affects the amount of energy I can produce, but also requires us to light our world to be able to cook our dinners, read a book, or even just to chase off the winter doldrums.

As winter solstice approaches, living up here totally dependent on the Sun really gives you an appreciation on why the solstice was such an important holiday celebrated by the earliest of civilizations.  I’ve watched the amount of energy I generate slowly go down, as the amount I use slowly goes up.  Knowing that I am less than a week away from that time when each day I start adding a bit more is welcome relief.  It is a cause for celebration indeed!  If the weather allows, there will definitely be a bonfire to celebrate the return of more light to my life.

For now, however, we are dependent heavily upon lighting of a large variety to even just start work for the day.  It is very hard to make coffee in the dark, after all.  And before the work day is done, we are once again back in the dark before we can start to cook dinner.  Soon enough we will again return to longer days and much relief, but in this post we will look at all the different kinds of energy efficient lighting we use to maximize our limited solar energy we produce this time of year.

The old school fallback – Oil

I have to admit, even though I work with the most leading and bleeding technologies, my heart really loves old school solutions to problems.  They are simple, practical, and just plain work.  There is a reason they have been around for so long and continue to be used.

Oil lamps are just such an example of something that just plain works.  I l love the light from them.  Soft, a hint of a flicker, and they consume absolutely zero of my solar power.  Just because I enjoy them so much, I use them almost every day in the winter.  I start out with one of these small oil lamps in the morning to make my coffee and ease into the day.  It slowly allows the brain to sync into work as the coffee brings you to life.  A nice, soft, and mellow light.

They are cheap to acquire, and easy to scatter around.  I keep one going in the morning while it is still dark right behind my computer screen to help with the stark contrast of the bright screen and the dark outside.  Oil bought in bulk is not very expensive, and I even get plant based ones now that have virtually no smell compared to traditional kerosene.

Overall they are great, but they still do put off a little bit of an odor for sure, and do not generate a lot of light.  Some care also needs to be taken to make sure you or your pets do not knock them over.

“My old grandmother always used to say, ‘Summer friends will melt away like like summer snows, but winter friends are friends forever.” — George R.R. Martin

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness. You only truly, deeply appreciate and are grateful for something when you compare and contrast it to something worse.” — John Steinbeck

Lighting the larger space without electricity

One of the best birthday presents I got was an antique hanging oil lamp from my wife.  I’ve always wanted to be able to light the whole cabin at night without using any electricity.  She found this old 4 lamp hanging light and I absolutely adore it.

It is clever in that at the base there is a knob you squeeze together, and you can raise and lower the base of the lamp in place. It is spring assisted so it takes almost no effort.  So you can lower it down to light it, and easily slide it right back up.

This light, again, will always work as long as I keep oil around to fill it, and gives off a nice soft glow to warm those long winter nights.  Sitting beneath this with the fire going and my book helps to warm the soul.

Unlike the other oil lamps, I can leave this one running as I do not need to worry about it getting knocked over, so this solves that problem.  The slight odor and dimness, however, are still there.

One candlepower

And let’s not forget the lovely candle.  Yes, safety is required with these, as our cat learned the hard way when she decided to try and pounce the moving flame….  She had wax in her fur for about a month after that despite a bad haircut to go with it…  But they are also very helpful in the dark of winter.

My wife gave me this candle this year that has markings for each day of the advent.  So starting December first, I end each day with about four hours of candle to advance a day.  It is the first time we have done this, but it really is kind of a great tradition up here in the middle of nowhere in the dark.

But seriously they are also a very good backup to always have as they are easy to store, burn a long time, and when it is completely dark they give off way more light then you would believe.  We’ve become so accustomed to bright lights all the time in our society, sometimes it is nice to harken back to those days when one candle power was more than enough to light a room.

Clearly there are safety concerns and they must be attended to all the time, and they are quite dim, so this is not going to be a primary lighting solution for sure.

“The color of springtime is flowers; the color of winter is in our imaginations.” — Terri Guillemets

 “One kind word can warm three winter months.” — Japanese Proverb

The future of lighting

Well in many ways, the future is here now and very affordable.  When I first moved into the cabin, all of the lighting was regular incandescent RV style bulbs.  These things drew a ton of power.  I had to be very careful on lighting as a single bulb would draw 25w, and these were very small bulbs.

Next I moved onto cold cathode fluorescent tubes.  I found these in PC building shops online, as people would put them in their gaming PCs to light them up from the inside, so they already ran on 12v.  They did the trick, but honestly were kind of ugly and did not give off the best light as it was bright white.  I had to mix a red one in just to warm it up a bit.  They only drew 4w, which was great, but to light the room you needed 8 of them.  It did the trick and reduced the energy I was using, but overall was not a good solution.

But now we have LED light bulbs, and they come in so many shapes, sizes, and varieties it is amazing.  Many of them are native 12-24v, so they work in my DC only system right out of the box.  Now my lighting is VERY different from the past, and each bulb typically draws less than 10w, and are 60w equivalent bulbs.

Ultimate Creativity  in Lighting

In the past, the LED bulbs all looked like LED bulbs. The bulbs were awkward at best, not pleasant to look at, and best hid behind something thick.  It was like staring at thousands of little points of light.

Now, however, you can get 12-24v DC bulbs in standard screw in base that fits a standard lamp.  So we have taken several different lamps and cut the AC cord off of them.  I’ve replaced them with DC plugs to plug right into our batteries.  We like warm white bulbs so we get a very natural incandescent light style and it is hard to tell at all they are LEDs.  When re-wiring, just be careful to get the polarity right when wiring as it matters with DC, unlike AC.  In fact this very lamp when I got it the two sockets were wired differently between them.  The same wire went to different parts on the socket on the right lamp vs the left.  I am not even sure that is a good idea for AC…

By using these standard bases in lamps but wiring to DC we can have any style of light fixture in our off grid home now as well.

This really hits on all cylinders for lighting.  It is as bright as a 60w incandescent  bulb, but uses around 6w of electricity.  It lights up the cabin bright and is a very pleasant color.  They really are a game  changer.  To put it in perspective I can be watching a movie with the speaker on, have a light on, and running the server I am only using around 150w of electricity.  Growing up, we had single light bulbs that were 150w!

 “Nothing burns like the cold.” — George Martin

“When snow falls, nature listens.” — Antoinette Van Kleef

My favorite style of lightbulb

I’ve always loved Edison bulbs, but have you seen how much energy they use?  They are very, very power hungry and I never believed there would be the ability to have them at the cabin.  Then, they did come out with the LED tubes in 120v AC, and there was a glimmer of hope.

Sure enough, they now have 12-24v Edison style LED bulbs, and I put them in this year.  I used a standard outdoor downward facing lights and put the bulbs in there on the front and back porch.  Downward facing is critical, as one of the greatest things is the night sky here, and I don’t want to do anything to add to light pollution.

That said, I rarely use the outdoor lights unless I am headed out to town and coming back after dark on the front entry way, or am out grilling my dinner at night.  Yes, I still use the gas grill in the winter.  I love grilling, and I also have a battery powered rotisserie for it.  This christmas, it will be goose on the rotisserie!

These bulbs are great and look cool.  Right now I can’t find the spiral pattern that they have in the AC bulbs in DC, which will look even better.  When those come out, I will probably get some of those as well.  These bulbs also only consume around 6-8w, and put out a very nice light.

And most importantly, celebrating the season

With the days being so short, and the night so long, it is easy to get lost in the dark and forget the joys of where you are at.  To help stave off the winter doldrums, it is important to have traditions around the holidays to keep you active and engaged.  One of mine has always been to light trees in a minimalist matter that softly glows in the winter night.  I love the warm white Christmas lights that shine through snow covered trees.

Once again, we can turn to LEDs to give us this pleasure out here in the wilderness, but we also have added solar to the mix.  There are many varieties of warm white lights now with a built in solar panel that both powers the lights, and turns them on only in the dark.  So I don’t have to use any electricity, they can be remote from the cabin, and they take care of themselves.

I have two trees in my driveway, and one by the house lit up and with the snow on them they are absolutely amazing.  The funny thing is I doubt anyone else will see them given we are the only ones up here, and it is unlikely a snowmobile will come by at night.  But we are enjoying them anyways!

Likewise, we have solar powered flickering LED candles in the windows that also consume no power beyond what they generate.  They are a nice addition to the soft glow from the cabin at night and also add that festive spirit.

“Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour.” — John Boswell

“Snow falling soundlessly in the middle of the night will always fill my heart with sweet clarity.” — Novala Takemoto

Happy Holidays Everyone!

This year has been a challenging one in so many ways for so many different people, I do want to take the time to wish each and everyone one of you a wonderful holiday, no matter how you spend it.

The road is closed up here, and due to a family emergency I will be spending the holidays alone as my wife must take care of some other matters, but I will be surrounded by the vast beauty of nature.  The silence up here is almost deafening, but pleasing none the less.

It is quiet time to reflect, relax, and remember what is important in your life.  It is time to use the wood we worked so hard all summer and fall to put into place, and to realize we are prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.  It is also a time to work on some personal projects and to slow down to the pace of winter.

It is also most important to remember that the shortest day of the year is a mere few days away, and soon enough the light returns and the days get longer.  As we head into 2021 we can all use that reminder that the light will return.  It always does.

So until the next post, enjoy your holidays everyone!

Fall is a Time for Remembrance


Off Grid CTO: Fall and Remembrance

Welcome to the next post in the Off Grid CTO blog about my experiences working as a CTO off the grid high in the mountains of Colorado.  I work for a great company called ModelOp, where we design cutting edge software for managing your AI models in the enterprise environment.  It is an exciting place to work as we lead the industry in this space.  BTW, we are hiring!

Today we are going to explore the past, as fall is upon us and the seasons are rapidly changing.  As we struggle to get that last bit of firewood put up to keep us warm all winter, and get as many of the unfinished tasks done that we had such great hopes to complete when the snow was melting, it is easy to get lost in hustle and bustle of preparing for the return of the snow.


The People That Built Us

We as humans are like every great project, be it software or any structure, in that in order to be sound it has to start with a great foundation.  The skills and knowledge necessary to live in an off grid situation can be taught, but the will and drive have to exist in order to get it all done.  Many challenges you never expected to occur happen with little notice up here, so you have to be both mentally and physically prepared to deal with them.  Our parents help to give us that great foundation, and my Mom was one of those people.

As a youth I lived on the edge of the woods in suburbia near Boston, and the time I spent there helped to prepare me for living this lifestyle.  At a very young age I learned to chop firewood, camp, and hike.  As a youth I learned to cross country ski and was on the cross country ski team.  My mom would take me to these events and spent much time with me letting me both succeed and fail on my own.  We attended orienteering competitions together when I was a youth where I learned to use a map and compass to an expert level.  We went on family camping trips where I learned basic outdoor skills like how to build a fire, fishing, and simply just being outside and learning to listen to nature.

My mom was helping to build a foundation that I was to depend upon heavily later in life as I ventured forth on my own. 

Building the Structure On The Foundation

As I grew up, she was amazing in letting me learn on my own with both successes and failures.  Rather than coddle and protect me, she allowed me to challenge myself in very trusting ways. 

I remember when I was a young teenager and really wanted to move into backpacking.  I had been planning the family hikes for years and basically leading them, including hikes with the Appalachian Mountain Club and wanted to do a solo backpack for five days.  The rest of my family preferred to just do day hikes.  My mom drove me to the trailhead (I was not yet old enough to drive) and dropped me off at that trailhead with a plan to meet up in five days due north over the largest mountains in NH.  We waved good bye and I thought nothing of it at the time and headed off.

Looking back I can’t imagine the feelings and fears she must have had, but she trusted in me even at that young age.  Sure enough that trust she put into me built an inner confidence that I carry through to this day.  And yes, obviously everything turned out fine, I had a wonderful time, and was at the trailhead well before our meeting time.  After all, when someone trusts in you, it is very important to follow through on that and exceed their expectations.

Another time I remember bringing one of my friends home from college over winter break, as we planned to do a winter expedition up the second tallest peak in NH.  It was going to be cold, but we had no idea how cold it was going to be.  The temperature dropped to -60F, and the winds picked up bringing the wind chill down to -110F, the coldest I have still yet to experience.  We were prepared and fine, albeit tired and cold.

Unbeknownst to us, two other hikers were on the other side of the mountain that night and were not as prepared and perished.  My poor mom was at home hearing two hikers died on that mountain the night before.  This was well before the age of cell phones, so she had to wait to see if she got a call, or if we pulled into the driveway.  Fortunately, we pulled into the driveway  and she was there with a big lasagna ready to feed two hungry hikers.  Oh what we put our parents through.  

These experiences where she trusted in me to learn and be there for me when I failed helped to strengthen me as an individual where I could go on to many great things later in life.  It gave me the strength to start and lead software companies, as well as to serve as a volunteer on Search and Rescue for 13 years where I helped to save many lives.  She was proud of these accomplishments and what I had become.

And We All Fail At Some Point

Successes are easy to remember and enjoy in our memories, but it is our failures and how we handle them that build the strongest character.  In that our parents are often there to help us to overcome those times when perhaps the challenges in life become too great for us as individuals to handle on our own.

It was the summer of 2003 and my company I was working for at the time had gone through a massive financial collapse.  My marriage of the time had also ended as well, and it was a time to start a new chapter in life and decide what was next.  Fortunately, after years of working hard for the company, I had received a severance and decided it was time to try something different for a little bit and to take on a new kind of challenge.  I travelled here to Colorado to visit a friend, and found the very lot and cabin I sit in today writing this post.  I had found a new home, and with it, a new kind of challenge to experience.

My mom decided she wanted to help me out and travelled out to Utah to help me pack up the U-Haul with all of the supplies, furniture, pipe for the micro-hydro electric system I was to build, and all sorts of other things.  She was to spend a month with me helping me prepare for my first winter in the wilderness, as well as I am sure she was there for the emotional support as well. 

So we drove across the desert of Utah.  In her lap was my cat in one carrier, and my parrot in another.  It was hot (as it was August) and every time my mom would try and eat a chip, the parrot would steal it from her hand and laugh in the way that parrots do.  It was a memorable trip as I set out to begin my first off grid experience.

We arrived in the area the day before closing, and we stayed with a friend.  Immediately after closing we went to the cabin that was now mine, and gutted the place and fixed up the basics on the very first day.  Having grown up on a farm she was no stranger to hard work, and we both got an amazing amount done that very first day.  The individual who had sold it to me showed up and actually regretted selling the place after he had seen what in one day we had turned it into.  I am very grateful for the hard work ethic she instilled in me, and the support she gave me that late summer.

That First Fall

She was amazing to have there that first fall as I stumbled through such things as building my electrical system, which at the time was micro-hydro electric.  I needed to put together over 400 feet of 6 inch HDPE pipe.  This requires a special tool to do, and I had hired someone to bring it in and do the work for me.  He showed up with the tool, but his crew did not.  We were on a super tight schedule to beat the winter, so sure enough, my mom jumped right in and helped haul pipe down and get it in line so he could attach them together.  We did this 25 feet at a time for the full 400 feet through the woods in a single long day.  The younger guy who brought the tool was impressed, and I think feeling a little guilty about my mom working on the pipe while he just sealed them together.  Oddly, I never got a bill from him for the work….

Well that fall was a busy one to make sure we were ready for winter.  I moved in at the beginning of August with no electricity, no firewood, and little knowledge of everything that would have to be done.  But my mom was right there helping me get ready.  Fortunately, we did take some time to also experience the area and take a break from all those chores.  We drove to many of the local and hidden spots around here to enjoy the fall colors, and spent time just talking and enjoying all that nature had to offer.  I am very grateful for those  memories and that time.

Make Sure to Take a Break

As I scramble this fall to get ready for this winter it is easy to get lost in the chores.  There is always more to do than you can possibly get done, so you have to concentrate on the most important tasks and let other ones go until next year.

But more importantly, it is important to take breaks and do things in the here and now.  My wife and myself have purposefully this fall set a time when we were ‘done’ for the day.  This could be to take a drive in the UTV and spend time together talking and enjoying where we are at, or maybe just sitting on the deck in the last of the warm days in the sun and enjoy a beverage and some tunes.  These breaks are very important in life.

Unfortunately not too long after that fall, my mom started forgetting things at an ever increasing rate, and in not too long, would not even remember who I was anymore most of the time.  We would occasionally get to have a conversation about the past, but for the last several years it was beyond her ability to even do that.

Just yesterday I saw a call from my brother on the phone line, and my heart sank.  My mom passed away in her sleep and I will never again get her support and guidance that I received over the course of my life.

So as we all get busy with the fall chores, please make sure to take time to make life memories as well.   It is far too easy to lose ourselves in everything that must be done, and forget the most important things in life.  Life must not only be lived, but enjoyed.

Next post, we will look at some of the lighting projects I have been doing here at the cabin as we prepare for the long winter nights ahead.

Thanks for joining me,

Jim Olsen, Off Grid CTO

« Older posts

© 2023 Off Grid CTO

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑