Friday, 19 September 2014

09:38 - With Barbara leaving at 0400 Sunday morning, I’m trying to keep her from exhausting herself before she leaves. These tours are often physically demanding, with lots of walking. Barbara said she’d stop at the supermarket on the way home from work, then make dinner, then go out and cut the grass. Tomorrow, she’s planning to clean house in addition to all the preparations for the trip. I’m trying to convince her to take it easy.

The second bottle of Polar Pure showed up in yesterday’s mail. The confusion could have been avoided if the vendor had simply stated that the two items would ship separately. Instead, it said they’d ship together in one package and they provided only one tracking number.

Incidentally, I was wrong about using strong Lugol’s solution for water disinfection. As it turns out, the triiodide ion is much less effective than free iodine. I should have remembered that, because I read Iodine Disinfection in the Use of Individual Water Purification Devices several years ago. That PDF is well worth reading if you have any interest in the topic.

The Polar Pure bottles are each supposed to contain 8 grams of crystal iodine. Polar Pure considers this amount adequate to disinfect 2,000 quarts/liters, which means an iodine concentration of 4 mg/L. I’m more comfortable at 8 mg/L or even 16 mg/L, so I think I’ll modify these Polar Pure bottles by adding more crystal iodine to each bottle and updating the instructions to achieve a final concentration in the 16 mg/L range. Alternatively, you can use an unmodified Polar Pure bottle simply by doubling or quadrupling the recommended amounts, which of course cuts the capacity down to 1,000 or 500 liters. Even at 500 liters, that’s still a 250 person-day supply at 2 L/day, which isn’t bad for that small bottle.

Even at the higher concentrations, Cryptosporidium remains a problem. Three interrelated factors affect disinfection effectiveness: iodine concentration, temperature, and contact time. Achieving even a 2-log reduction in Cryptosporidium requires by one source a CT of 1,015 mg-min/L, presumably at 20C. In other words, to kill 99% of the Cryptosporidium oocysts at 16 mg/L, the contact time required would be 1015/16 = ~ 64 minutes. At Polar Pure’s recommended 4 mg/L, a 2-log reduction takes more than four hours. Much better just to boil the water if at all possible.

Posted in Barbara, emergency kits | 3 Comments

Thursday, 18 September 2014

07:39 - Barbara leaves at oh-dark-thirty Sunday morning. She and her friend Marcy are taking a bus tour to visit The Hamptons, on the eastern tip of Lon Gisland. Colin and I are planning an entire week of wild women/bitches and parties.

Kit sales continue at a decent rate, ahead of last September’s. It seems that every time I get a new batch of one type of kit built, I’m running short of another type and need to start a new batch of them. At this point, we’re in good shape on chemistry kits, but down to less than a dozen biology kits and only five forensic kits in stock. So I’ll get started today and tomorrow on building more of those.

12:59 - After discussing it with Colin, we’ve decided to skip the wild-women thing while Barbara is gone. As Colin pointed out, we’re only three episodes short of finishing Heartland S7 (again). That means we can jump back to Heartland S1E1 and start all over (again). We should be able to get through the 31 episodes in S1 and S2 (again) by the time Barbara returns, and possibly get started on S3 (again).

Colin doesn’t enjoy Heartland as much as I do, but he’ll watch it some of the time. (He particularly likes it when Amy croons, “Good boy!”) But he spends most of the time while I’m trying to watch by sending thought waves at me. “Throw the ball. Throw the ball.” Those are surprisingly effective. Sometimes I pick up the ball and throw it without realizing that I’m doing it. Many Border Collie owners will tell you that Border Collies are easy to train. Most Border Collies will tell you that their owners are easy to train, which is nearer the truth.

Posted in Barbara, dogs, science kits | 56 Comments

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

07:43 - I don’t know what I was thinking yesterday. I set up MIT CourseWare on the Roku box and sampled 10- or 15-minute chunks of three or four lectures from the chemistry and biology groups. I guess I was expecting it to be like drinking from the proverbial fire hose. These lectures are, after all, being given to some of the best and brightest students on the planet. But no fire hose there. It was more like trying to suck water from an eye dropper, drop by drop. I concluded that it will be much more time-efficient and effective for me just to read the textbooks.

More of the same today, building and shipping science kits. We’re down under half a dozen of the slide sets that are an option with the biology kits, and some of the slides that we use to build those sets are backordered through the end of November. Not a thing we can do about that. I could order similar slides from a different vendor, but they also have 60- to 90-day lead times.

13:00 - Derek Lowe has a good post up about the Ebola situation. He hits all the important points and, as usual, offers several thoughtful comments.

I’d go a bit further than Derek, though. While he says that if Ebola infections continue in large cities things could get out of control, I’d argue that they’re already out of control and that it’s pointless to put more people and resources on the ground in the affected areas. Humanitarian issues aside, I suspect the optimum course in the interests of humanity in general may be to place an absolute quarantine on anyone who has been in the affected areas or a surrounding buffer zone and allow the epidemic to burn itself out.

It’s not that I’m particularly cruel or heartless. I don’t want to see large numbers of people die horribly, but the fact is that there’s little or nothing anyone can do at this point. That train has left the station. Isolating and quarantining the affected areas and allowing the epidemic to burn itself out probably would not result in more deaths than are inevitable no matter what we do or don’t do. In fact, it may result in fewer deaths.

A widespread Ebola epidemic in Africa, which I think we’re going to see no matter what, may have a silver lining. As Derek mentions, viruses tend to mutate. Yes, it’s possible that Ebola will mutate for the worse, becoming airborne. But it’s much more likely that Ebola will mutate for the better. It’s a matter of evolution and natural selection. Pathogens that kill their hosts quickly are self-limiting, as Ebola has been. But a mutated variant of a pathogen that has a lower mortality rate has a competitive advantage because more of its victims survive to spread the pathogen. This happened, for example, with measles, which a thousand years ago was both easily spread and had very high mortality rates. It killed so many people so quickly–entire villages and towns died to the last person–that in many cases it destroyed its own vector. Nowadays, measles is endemic in much of the world and there are a couple dozen variants of the virus, some with higher mortality than others. But in general measles is now a relatively mild disease, with untreated death rates of less than 1%. I hope that Ebola will also mutate to a less malignant form, and I think we’re going to find out no matter what we do or don’t do about the current epidemic. For now, the essential effort should be to quarantine and contain the epidemic to the areas currently affected.

Posted in science kits | 31 Comments

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

09:53 - I need to finish those chemistry kits today. We’re down to one in stock. We ended up shipping seven kits yesterday, mostly biology kits. This morning I need to get outstanding orders shipped that came in too late to ship yesterday, and then get to work on building more chemistry kits.

My Polar Pure order arrived yesterday, but it included only one bottle rather than the two I’d ordered and paid for. I immediately reported the problem to Amazon, but haven’t heard back from them or the vendor. What interested me is that, although there’s no SRP on the box, Polar Pure mentions on the back of the box that it treats 2,000 quarts/liters at a cost of less than half a cent per quart/liter. Obviously, Polar Pure intended the list price to be $9.99 rather than the $19.99 that the Amazon vendors were selling it for. I found exactly one bottle for sale on eBay, at a buy-it-now price of $40.

Based on comments here and emails from several readers, Barbara and I decided to bag Twin Peaks. There are so many other good things in our Netflix and Amazon streaming queues that we have to be selective. Speaking of good things, I’m going to get some of these courses set up for streaming on our Roku. For example, it’s been 40 years since I took an organic chemistry course, and it’d be interesting to see how quickly it comes back to me. I figure I could make it through two full years of organic lectures pretty quickly and be back up to speed. Adding physical chemistry and biochemistry wouldn’t take much longer. Then I think I’d start with first-year biology and suck up all the lecture courses that are available in the biology curriculum. Then I’d probably start on engineering courses, with an emphasis on chemical and mechanical engineering. And I’ll probably toss in a few humanities courses just for fun.

Posted in personal, science kits | 40 Comments

Monday, 15 September 2014

07:41 - I need to pay the estimated taxes today. I really hate writing big checks to the government for money we’ll never see again.

Barbara and I made up a bunch of chemical bags yesterday for chemistry kits. Today, I’ll get started on building another batch of two or three dozen chemistry kits, of which we currently have only three in stock. As expected, kit sales have started to slow down. We have only five kits queued up to ship this morning, plus whatever orders come in today before the mail arrives.

The news reports about Anna Marie Smith, the girl who was found dead at Appalachian State University, aren’t providing much information about what actually happened. Reading between the lines, it sounds like after only a couple of weeks as a college freshman the girl was desperately unhappy. One unconfirmed report from an unidentified source says that she asphyxiated herself, although nothing was said about whether that was an accident or suicide. If true, that won’t be any consolation to her family, of course, but it will ease the concerns of other parents.

12:52 - I get frequent emails asking advice about what to include in emergency kits. Obviously, there are many different types of emergency kits, ranging from ones that weigh a few hundred grams and fit in a belt pouch to vehicle kits that may weigh 20 to 50 kilos or more, not counting water, to fixed-base emergency kits that may weigh several hundred kilos or more.

I concluded a long time ago that no one sells emergency kits worth having. The problem is that they are building these kits to a price point, and that price is absurdly low. No one is willing to pay what a real emergency kit would actually cost. One of those $79 car emergency kits is better than nothing, but not much better. What you’re really buying is false peace of mind. Unfortunately, if you ever really need the kit, that peace of mind will disappear fast. The contents are invariably shoddy, from the backpack that holds the kit to the individual items themselves. And the contents are almost invariably poorly thought-out. So, if you want a real emergency kit, the only option is to build it yourself.

I’ve been building car emergency kits for Barbara’s and my vehicles. I’m doing so modularly and iteratively, modularly because otherwise it’s too hard to keep track of what should be in there and what can be eliminated, and iteratively because I keep modifying and improving as I go along. Here’s what’s currently in the fire-making kits. This is the half-page label that’s on the outer bag.

Fire Making Kit

Zippo lighter: Not fueled. Fuel evaporates within a week or so after filling. Use Zippo fuel in this kit. In an emergency, gasoline, charcoal lighting fluid, Coleman fuel, VM&P naphtha, or a similar flammable liquid may be used. Slide lighter body out of shell, lift the end of the pad on the bottom of the lighter body, and add a teaspoon (5 mL) or so of fuel (sufficient to saturate cotton under pad). If you replace the flint, be careful when removing/replacing the screw that restrains the spring-loaded flint follower. Package also contains: Spare flints, spare wick, and four 15 mL bottles of Zippo fuel.

Magnesium fire starter: Use a knife or the included tool to shave off a small pile of thin magnesium shavings (the light metal that makes up the body of the starter). Strike the tool or knife blade against the flint striker on the edge of the tool, directing the sparks into the pile of magnesium shavings. Caution: magnesium burns extremely hot and with a brilliant white flame.

Stove, Coghlan folding: nominally uses canned fuel, but works fine with twigs, paper/cardboard, and/or sawdust/paraffin fire starters.

Fire-starting bricks (nine 8 oz.): Compressed sawdust/paraffin. Use small chunks as tinder or kindling. If no other fuel is available, may be used as main stove fuel for heating or cooking. One ounce will boil a quart/liter of water in Coglan stove.

Tinder: Vaseline-soaked cotton balls in film cans. These ignite easily and one burns long enough to ignite a pile of kindling of dry, pencil-size sticks.

All of these items are available locally and from and other on-line vendors. The total cost is $40 per kit, give or take. I always have at least two or three lighters in my possession, but for Barbara’s kit I’ll also toss in a three-pack of fueled Ronson Comet refillable butane lighters. The Comets are not particularly reliable, but I’ve determined experimentally that they retain their butane charge for at least months even in a hot vehicle.

Posted in emergency kits, government, news, science kits | 36 Comments

Sunday, 14 September 2014

09:05 - Barbara and I started watching the 1990 series Twin Peaks last night. As I said to Barbara, yet another series that involves young women being abducted and murdered. That gets old fast, but I suppose it makes for popular television because it plays on everyone’s fears.

Speaking of which, the paper this morning reports that authorities have found the body of Anna Marie Smith, a student at Appalachian State University up in Boone, NC. She disappeared about 10 days ago, and was found in a field. No word yet on whether the manner of death was natural causes, murder, suicide, or accident. Whichever it was, what a waste of a young life.

Posted in personal | 37 Comments

Saturday, 13 September 2014

09:58 - We’re spending some time this morning getting the finished area of the basement straightened up and de-cluttered. Barbara just called Goodwill to come haul off some furniture that she wants to get rid of, so we had to clear a path for the Goodwill folks to carry the stuff out. Next we’ll deal with the library/living room, which is currently stacked full of boxes that UPS and FedEx have delivered over the last week or so, and the workroom.

Posted in personal | 9 Comments

Friday, 12 September 2014

08:02 - Next week’s vote on Scotland’s independence from the rest of the UK (rUK) has a lot of people running scared. There’s a great deal at stake, not least the stability of Europe as a whole. If Scots vote in favor of splitting from the UK, it may well be the first in a row of toppling dominoes. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s article is worth reading: Only Germany is holding together as separatists threaten to rip Europe apart

My guess is that Scots will vote to remain a part of the UK, but it’s likely to be close. Put simply, Scots would be crazy to vote for independence. Scotland is poor. The rUK subsidizes Scotland to the tune of several thousand pounds per year for every Scottish man, woman, and child. With independence, that subsidy disappears and the Scots’ standard of living immediately plummets. The only real asset Scotland has is the North Sea oil and gas fields, whose output peaked 15 years ago and is rapidly declining. It’s unlikely that the EU will accept Scotland as a member, nor will it be able to adopt the euro. All of the UK political parties have said that Scotland could not continue to use the UK pound, other than in the sense that Panama uses the US dollar. Scotland would end up alone and isolated, and the economic consequences would be disastrous. None of which guarantees that Scotland will not vote for independence.

Posted in government, politics | 57 Comments

Thursday, 11 September 2014

07:36 - I said it a year ago today, and the only thing that needs to be updated is 12 years to 13 years.

09:56 - Speaking of Polar Pure iodine water treatment, that link to Amazon I posted yesterday was sold out as of last night. That poor little company must be wondering what happened. I heard from quite a few readers who’d successfully ordered the Polar Pure, usually two to four at a time. That’s what happened.

When I mentioned to Barbara that the company had sold out their stock within eight or nine hours, she said, “You do that all the time.” And it’s true that years ago I did that regularly. But years ago my journal got literally 10 to 20 times as much traffic as it does now. Nowadays, 1,000 visitors/day is a good day. Back eight or ten years ago when I was writing mostly about computer stuff, I commonly got 10,000 to 20,000 visitors per day. I think my all-time record day was something like 35,000 visitors. Nowadays, 35,000 visitors is a good month.

With Polar Pure sold out and possibly never coming back–in the US, that is; it’s freely available in Canada and many other countries–I happened to look down to my desk, where I noticed a small bottle that contains 100 mL of (very) strong Lugol’s iodine solution. It has about 28 grams of iodine and 42 grams of potassium iodide dissolved in enough distilled water to make it up to 100 mL. I’ll dilute that to make up 2.1 liters of iodine solution for the science kits. (A 2-liter Coke bottle holds 2.10 liters when full to top, which makes a convenient “volumetric flask” for this purpose.)

But as I looked at it, I was struck by a Cunning Plan. That strong Lugol’s iodine contains 28,000 mg/DL of iodine. It takes 4 to 5 mg of iodine to disinfect a liter of water, which means that 100 mL of strong Lugol’s is sufficient to disinfect 5,600 to 7,000 liters of water. A 30 mL bottle of that Lugol’s is sufficient to disinfect 1,680 to 2,100 liters. I haven’t priced iodine or potassium iodide lately, but I’d guess that 100 mL bottle has maybe $40 worth of chemicals in it, so a 30 mL bottle would contain maybe $12 worth of chemicals.

Not that I plan to make these up for resale, because I don’t want the DEA coming after me. (It’s not illegal to possess iodine, but its sale is very tightly controlled.) But if I can’t get more Polar Pure, I can make up a few bottles of the strong Lugol’s for use in other kits. Now the only problem is expecting people to believe that one standard drop (50 microliters, or 20 drops/mL) is really sufficient to disinfect about 3.5 liters of water.

11:53 - If you wanted Polar Pure but didn’t order in time from that link I posted yesterday, here’s another vendor selling Polar Pure on Amazon. Same price, $19.99 per bottle, but this one offers free shipping. I suspect that after I post this this company will also run out of stock pretty quickly, so if you want a bottle or three now’s the time to order it.

Posted in personal | 46 Comments

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

07:57 - Barbara and I were married 31 years ago today. It sure doesn’t seem that long. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it felt like maybe eight or nine years. Ten, tops.

12:18 - For those of you who are building emergency car kits, here’s something you might want to get while the getting’s good. I just noticed that one of’s third-party vendors is again selling Polar Pure water treatment bottles. I just ordered two of them for Barbara’s and my car emergency kits, at $20 each plus $4 shipping. These things are the gold standard in portable water purification. They’ve been off the market for several years, ever since the DEA put crystal iodine on their controlled list. My guess is that the DEA will shut down this company in the real near future, so if you’d like one or more of these, grab them now while they’re still available. Their shelf life is unlimited, and they’re rated to purify 2,000 quarts/liters each.

Posted in Barbara, personal | 22 Comments