Thoughts On Becoming A Renaissance Man or Woman

The term “Renaissance Man” has come to mean “a present-day man who has acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field”.  The goal of Save Our Skills is to produce more Renaissance Men.  To do this we will be producing instructional content as well as linking to good information from other sources, we can’t all be experts.

However we do feel that having as broad a range of knowledge as possible is a good thing.  Even knowing just the very basics of something will help when you do need to have someone else do something for you.  You will be better able to describe what you want done, will have a better idea of what a fair price is and will be less likely to be taken advantage of.

Save Our Skills will not just focus on primitive skills, but will also cover many of the things that used to be taught in Shop Class and Home Economics, not to mention what grandparents and parents used to teach their children.

Considering the world we not live in we will also be covering skills related to modern-day life.  Things related to computers, the internet, online security and digital photography will be covered under the category Digital Skills.

Even if you never become proficient at a skill, at least learn about as many things as you can.  Skills are an asset that can not be taken away from you or taxed and will pay dividends for the rest of your life.

So please subscribe to this blog and either begin or continue learning more skills in your life.

Re-purposing a riding mower as a mini homestead tractor

If you are like me you have the need to move things around your property.  I’m surprised how frequently I find myself jumping on this striped down ridding mower.  We picked this up for a song because it had some problems with the mower deck.  After we determined the mower deck problems were beyond worth fixing we decided to just use it to pull things around.

First I stripped off everything I could connected with mowing.  Since the back tires had trouble holding air they were replaced with something with more traction.  The little trailer was found on Craig’s List and will dump and has a removable tailgate.  I must admit that due to the fact we have so little money into it I just leave it outside where I’m using it and just tip up the seat.  I know I should cover it up but I don’t.

Things to look for are a mower that starts and runs well, unless you want to take on fixing the engine as well.  Bad tires and bad mower deck are good as it will bring down the price.  You are going to want to strip off all the mowing related stuff and put on different tires anyway.  This model I have has the type of drive train that pressing the pedal further makes it go faster by changing the size of the pulleys in the drive train.  A hydro-static transmission would also be good, but those are harder to fix.  If all you can find is one that you have to shift the gears that would be OK, but look for one that does the speed control by just pushing the pedal.  You do want good brakes as well since you will be using it to hauls stuff around and if you have any hills no brakes can be bad.

I have a fairly steep incline in one area and this has no problem having enough power to go up it.  However sometimes I lose traction and frequently the front wheels are too light to steer well.  I’m thinking of adding fluid to the tires or at least some weight in the front.  I find moving firewood, feed and mulch this is a nice setup to use.  I’ve also used it to move my skid-able chicken coop around.

This can be a low-cost way to have a powered method of moving things around your property and gives you a chance to learn some repair skills.  DR also sells what they call a Powerwagon which is like a small flatbed powered by a gas engine.  From time to time they pop up on Craigslist but usually they cost a lot more and you don’t see very many of them.

Looking around for something used that can be re-purposed to fit your needs can be a good way to learn something and save some money.

Backing Up Your Digital Life – Conclusion

I have heard many tales of woe from people who have lost their precious photos. There is even a virus out there that encrypts your picture files and you have to pay them money to get a key to decrypt your own pictures so you can view them again. Therefore I highly recommend that you find a process that works for you to keep your digital life backed up.  Actually I recommend at least two methods of backup.  You have invested a lot into your digital files, protect them.

If you are doing some kind of local backup find a true backup program that does incremental backups so that you only need to store and protect the files that have changed. I don’t have a recommendation as I do not do this anymore and the system I used for about 10 years is no longer available.  Keep in mind you need to physically protect the backup as well as electronically protect it.

If you are comfortable with an online backup that is the easiest way to go. Personally I do both, I have a local copy of all my pictures, videos and documents on my NAS and also have an online backup just in case something happens to my house.

Setting up Sync is a skill worth learning and it will give you truly private, automatic backup to a remote location.  If you feel the remote location is physically secure you are good.

Backing Up Your Digital Life – Local Private Options

Private DIY Solutions


One solution that is particularly attractive is to write (or burn) your data onto writable DVD’s known as DVD-R’s. This requires discipline on your part to do this regularly and you always have the risk of some of your data being unprotected. When I was going this route I would not delete the pictures from my camera until I have them on my computer hard drive and burned them to DVD-R. I would then take the disc into my work and leave it in my desk drawer to protect against something taking out my house. I know someone who had a fire and their backups were right next to the computer, fortunately the fireman pulled the computer and discs out of the house as one of the first things he did, otherwise years of photos could have been lost.

External Drive

Another option is to buy an external drive and plug it into your computer, backup your data and then unplug the drive.  You also need to physically protect the drive by moving it to a different location or putting it into some kind of fireproof storage. You can also buy external drive that are in a fireproof case. I have never had one of these so I cannot comment beyond that fact that they exist and if I was running a business I would buy one for my business data.

Personal Cloud/Network Attached Storage (NAS)

Something that is a little more convenient than an external drive is storage that you plug into your home network and it just sits out there providing storage. There are several build your own solutions (personally I use unRAID) and there are out of the box solutions by Western Digital, Netgear, Synology and Apple has a unit for MAC users. Just search someplace like Amazon for NAS. It is important to note that this does not solve the problem of physical damage to the unit as it is typically in the same place as the computer with the data you are trying to protect.

BitTorrent Sync

While you may have heard of BitTorrent in connection with illegal sharing of things like music and movies, it is at its heart something called a peer-to-peer protocol. This means that there is no central server that you are connecting to that has the data and controls things. What it means for you is you can set up your own private peer-to-peer network and share data automatically and this network is completely secure and private. This is free for personal users and can be downloaded here.  However it does require a bit of computer skills on your part to set it up. The best method would be to find someone you trust and set it up so they get a copy of your data and you get a copy of theirs. Or you can put your own computer or NAS unit at their place just to serve as an off-site storage locker. Further if you have a second place of your own that has an internet connection you can set it up there.  For those with more technical skills you can do this with a $35 Raspberry Pi and a hard drive big enough for your data. Additionally if you have family members who you know will not take care of backing up their data themselves you can use BitTorrent Sync to automatically have a copy of their data on your system.  If you are not going with an automatic online solution, this is what I recommend.  Actually I recommend you do both just to be sure.


Copying Files

Any of these hard drive based storage solutions will likely mean you are copying large numbers of  files that can also be large in size. Whenever you are copying or more importantly moving files from one drive to another it is important to validate that the file did not get corrupted during the transfer. Windows for some reason is slow in doing large copy jobs so I use a program called TeraCopy ( TeraCopy also have the option to validate the file after copying so that you know your backup copy is good.


USB Thumb/Flash Drives

While these are incredibly convenient for transferring files from one device to another or to just have some storage in your pocket these should be viewed as a file transport solution not as a backup solution. There are technical reasons behind this that I won’t go into but I have had too many of them get corrupted by moving them between machines to rely on it as a backup. Generally a format will “fix” the problem, but that also means all your data is gone. Don’t rely on this type of drive as a backup or more importantly the only place you store important files. You have been warned!

Backing Up Your Digital Life – Online Options

Online Backup
Backing your files up to the internet (or “the cloud”) is the easiest solution. There are services and utilities that will automatically store a copy (or “sync”) of your files to a server. The advantage it a set it and forget it process that will run in the background and whenever you create a new file will automatically add that file to the backup. This type of service requires an internet connect with a good upload speed. The downside is your data is now on a 3rd party system and if they mess up their security your files could be accessed by parties you do not wish. Further you should assume that any government agency could gain access to your information and there is no way to physically destroy it. This type of service is easy to justify for things like your vacation photos of the beach that you might share anyway, if you have any documents you truly want to have a high level of privacy on you need to consider other options. Also the first backup can take a long time as all your data needs to be uploaded and most internet connections have a much slower upload speed than download.

Personally I use a service called Carbonite ( that costs about $60 per year for the basic plan. The Carbonite software runs in the background and automatically backs up all my important files such as pictures and documents. The basic plan does not automatically backup video files, so when I do move video files to my computer from my camera I have to remember to mark them for backup by right-clicking on them and selecting backup from the Carbonite menu. If I was willing to pay $150 per year it would also automatically backup my video files. I consider the data on my computer to be far more valuable than the computer itself. 15+ years of digital pictures of my family cannot be replaced if they are lost. Another nice feature is I can access my files from anyplace by logging onto the Carbonite site. So if I’m at a friend’s house and we get talking about old times and I want to pull up a picture to share I can do it with my phone. I am considering looking for another provider at my next renewal to find one that includes video files automatically at the basic service level. BackBlaze is the current front-runner.

I would be careful of relying on a non-paid service for backup. When you do not have a financial relationship with a service they are under no obligation to keep your files.  However Google Drive may be a viable option, but I haven’t found a way to automatically sync my files to Google Drive.  Lastly periodically do some tests of your online backup service to make sure the files are there and you can get them. A bad backup is worse than no backup because it gives you a false sense of security.

Photo/Video Only Backup
Google recently launched Google Photos and this is a service that will automatically backup your photos and videos. There are two options “High Quality” and “Original” If you are willing to go with their “High Quality” setting the service is free and does not have a limit. The claim is if you are using a 16MP of less camera you will not lose any quality by using this “High Quality” optimized setting. If you are using high-end equipment you would want to go with “Original”, but that does have a limit on how much space you can use for free. However buying additional space is very reasonable at $2/month for 100GB.

Amazon Prime members get unlimited photo backup with their prime membership. This is for all your devices/computers. So you can have your phones and tablets automatically upload to your prime account. Nice additional benefit to prime and it covers multiple devices which other online backup services require an additional fee. But again it is only for photos, but you do get some cloud storage with prime that your other files could be stored on. Not really going to work for videos since they use up your cloud storage allotment.

Old Family Recipe – Miniature Nut Cups

One of our family favorites are miniature nut cups and this recipe comes from a polish Grand-Mother.  Since it only takes 1 cup of flour this is a good option for gluten-free flour to make a gluten-free desert.

Crust for Cups:
1 stick butter
3 oz cream cheese
1 cup flour

Let butter and cheese soften at room temperature.  Blend butter and cheese, add flour and mix.  Place in refrigerator to chill

3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg well beaten
1 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Beat eggs in bowl and add sugar, vanilla, melted butter and chopped nuts, mix thoroughly.

  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. Take small amounts of dough and shape crust in miniature muffin pan.
  3. Put a tsp of filling in center.
  4. Cook in oven for 20-25 minutes
  5. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes
  6. Remove and dust with powdered sugar


Backing Up Your Digital Life – Overview


With more and more of our life being composed of digital files the question comes up how do your back them up. These files can have significant sentimental value and are irreplaceable. Such things as pictures or videos you have taken cannot be replaced. Content that you have bought can usually be purchased again if you really had to, but pictures of your child’s first day of school, your daughter’s wedding or a family vacation cannot be bought. With a little effort these can be backed up in different ways to protect them. The advantage to digital files you can easily duplicate them without a loss of quality like you would experience in the analog world.  This post starts a series on backing up your digital life and other digital skills for our modern-day.


Reasons for Loss

There are two basic reason you can lose your digital files, hardware and software. Hardware is the simplest to understand and protect against. This is a physical failure of the device that holds the files. This could be anything from a component on the circuit board going bad to the bearings of the hard drive going out. If the failure is anyplace in the system other than the drive holding the files, that drive can generally be just plugged into another system and the files accessed assuming you are not running some kind of weird custom system, and if you know enough to do that this article is not for you. Further the “hardware” failure could also be a result of the environment the system is in, if your house burns down the digital pictures are just as gone as any old school film and prints.


Software problems can be either accidental (oops I deleted the wrong file), a glitch (something stops working in the operating system or data corruption) or malicious activity (some kind of virus). Frequently you can recover from these types of problems, but the expense can be considerable. There are data recovery tools you can use for a file that is accidentally deleted if you do it right away. Further how your system is configured can make it easy or not so easy to rebuild your operating system and often times your data files remain more or less intact. However data corruption usually results in lost data and that corruption can be the result of a system problem or some kind of virus.


What to Do

In simple terms you need to have two or more copies of your important digital files and at least one of the copies should be geographically separated from where your main system is. Ideally this would be a system that automatically copies the files to remote storage and then locks the files so they cannot be modified or overwritten. That was one advantage of the CD-R and DVD-R writable discs, the data could not be changed once written.  However they are not really a good solution anymore as they do not hold enough data for most users needs. Further there was always the question as to how long they would last before they deteriorated. Manufacturers claimed long shelf lives, but they did not have the track record to back that up. Therefore most users are going to find storing their files on another private hard drive someplace or on an internet/cloud based backup. The question to be answered is what level of privacy/security do you personally feel comfortable with and what level of administration do you want to do.

In future installments I will cover details of different options