Sunday, 26 April 2015

09:36 – We got quite a bit done downstairs yesterday, moving inventory from boxes in the finished area onto shelves in the basement and getting counts. Until now, we’d been tossing boxes and packing material into the recycling bin. As of yesterday, we started breaking boxes down into flats and storing the packing material in yard waste bags for our eventual move up to the mountains. (Incidentally, bubblewrap is good to have on hand for winter storm emergencies. A couple layers duct-taped over a window, inside and out, is surprisingly good insulation and doesn’t cut down much on the light. It’s very useful if you need a “warm room” during a winter storm that knocks out power.)

Barbara is cleaning house this morning and I’m finishing up the laundry. This afternoon we’ll be doing kit stuff.


Posted in personal, prepping, science kits | 8 Comments

Saturday, 25 April 2015

09:04 – Here’s irony. There’s a front-page article in the paper this morning that says city authorities are going to start confiscating recycling carts from homes who persist in putting non-recyclable items in them. Apparently, people are tossing in household garbage and even dead animals. So now the city says it’s going to give people three warnings and then confiscate the carts. That’s fine as far as it goes, but the article goes on to say that one of the worst items that people put in their recycling carts is grocery-store plastic bags, which apparently foul up the machinery on the recycling line. The irony is that many of these bags are labeled “Please Recycle”. So how can the city justify penalizing people for recycling something that’s labeled “Please Recycle”? We should be safe, because 99% of our recycling, by count and mass, is cardboard and paper, with the remainder being mostly plastic, glass, or metal containers.

Barbara is heading out to run errands this morning. I’m doing laundry and working on kit stuff.


Posted in news, personal | 42 Comments

Friday, 24 April 2015

09:00 – It seems that Google stopped indexing WordPress blog comments sometime earlier this year. Thanks to a reader’s suggestion, I found a WP plug-in called Search Everything. I installed it yesterday, and it seems to work. The search box at the upper right now searches comments as well as posts.

Remind me never to order sodium hydroxide in a 12 kilo pail again. I used to order USP/FCC/NF/reagent-grade sodium hydroxide in 2.5 kilo jars, but this time I ordered a 12-kilo pail because it costs literally half as much per kilo in the larger container. But I typically use about one kilo at a time, and the stuff sucks water out of the air, so I need to repackage it in smaller containers. The time it takes to do that, not to mention the hassle and risk of dealing with so much of this caustic chemical at a time, obviates the cost advantage.

Most of my time this week was devoted to working on science kit stuff, but here’s what I did to prep this week:

  • I confirmed something about which I was already pretty certain. Eight years ago, while I was writing Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments, I pulled two of those small cans of mixed fruit off the pantry shelf. Both were the same lot number and had the same best-by date. I opened one, ran an iodometric titration on the liquid to determine vitamin C quantitatively, wrote the result on the bottom of the other can, and ate the fruit. This week, I opened the other can, which had “expired” six years ago. I ran an iodometric titration on the liquid to determine vitamin C quantitatively, and ate the fruit. The result, no surprise to me, was that the concentration of vitamin C in the old can was identical within experimental error to the concentration in the can I’d tested eight years ago.

The common belief is that canned food loses nutrients as it ages. Vitamin C is a pretty good proxy for nutrients in general, because vitamin C is among the most fugitive of nutrients. Exposing a vitamin C solution to air will eventually oxidize most or all of the substance that was originally present. But of course in a sealed can it’s not exposed to oxygen, just as none of the other nutrients are. Now, vitamin C is in fact an unstable molecule, so it wouldn’t surprise me if there was at least some loss in canned goods that were 20, 30, or more years old. But as far as I’m concerned, this test pretty definitely refutes the idea that canned goods stored for a long period lose significant nutritional value. Oh, by the way, that fruit that “expired” six years ago tasted just like the newly-canned stuff does.

So, what precisely did you do to prepare this week? Tell me about it in the comments.


Posted in prepping, science kits | 53 Comments

Thursday, 23 April 2015

09:05 – I wasn’t aware of it until a couple days ago, but it seems that Google no longer indexes comments on WordPress blogs. Making matters worse, it also seems that the WordPress search feature itself doesn’t index comments. I looked for a WordPress plug-in that would add a comment search feature, but there’s nothing available that doesn’t require creating custom templates and other stuff that I have neither the skills nor the time to do. So, basically when you post a comment it’s ephemeral and there’s nothing I can do to fix that.

I follow commodities, particularly petroleum, casually. I’m no expert, but as Dylan said you don’t need to be a weatherman. Here’s a pretty good summary of the current state of petroleum: Oil slump may deepen as US shale fights Opec to a standstill

My guess is that we’ll see oil fall into the $20 to $25/bbl range and stay there long term. There’s a glut, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. As I’ve said, we’re floating on a sea of oil, and we’re just now learning how to get to the easily available stuff.

The geopolitical implications are profound. Here’s a graphic that sums things up nicely.

Note that, at close to 30 million bbl/bay, the US is now the world’s third largest producer, behind Russia and Saudi Arabia. Note also the operating costs. For the middle east region, they’re around $5 to $6/bbl (and fixed), while the US is about twice that, and falling fast. In the next year or two, US production costs are likely to fall as low or lower than Saudi Arabia.

But production costs are a tiny part of the whole for Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, and other OPEC members, most of which depend largely or entirely on oil revenues to fund government operations, including social programs and military spending. Those countries need oil prices above $100/bbl to break even. US oil producers aren’t carrying all these extra burdens. They can run profitably with oil prices well under $40/bbl, and by some reports well under $30/bbl. That’s very bad news for Russia, Saudi Arabia, et alia. In fact, it’s bad news for pretty much every other oil producing country, including our allies Canada, Australia, and the UK, all of which are higher-cost producers.

The one bright spot for these countries, although not for US oil producers, is that US law still prohibits exporting petroleum.

More work on kit stuff today.


Posted in politics, science kits | 25 Comments

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

08:34 – Cooler weather has returned to Winston-Salem. The high today is to be 73F (23C), but for the next several days it’s not supposed to make it out of the 60’s. Lows are to be in the 40’s (< 10C) for the next several days. Barbara turned the heat back on this morning.

More work on kit stuff today.


15:23 – I need to take a break. I was just running up a batch of labels for sodium hydroxide solution, which we supply in six molar concentration. Just for a little variety, I seriously considered labeling the concentration of that solution as “Caustic Soda – 2.0 pounds/gallon”, which just happens to be equivalent to the second decimal place to “Sodium Hydroxide – 6.0 M”.

Posted in personal, science kits | 35 Comments

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

09:13 – We’re in reasonably good shape on finished science kit inventory, so I’ll spend some time today making up a bunch of different solutions for yet more kits, in gallon batches. One gallon (~ 3.8 L) is sufficient for 250 15 mL bottles or 125 30 mL bottles, which is a reasonable number to make up at a time. Unfortunately, I can’t make up all of the solutions in larger batches. Most are stable indefinitely, but a few are stable for only a few years. Those we make up and bottle on-the-fly as we’re building kits.

Barbara said last night that I didn’t really need to get my own Kindle Fire, and that she’d only been kidding about me using hers all the time. Maybe so, but I’m sure she gets tired every evening of me asking her every few minutes to pass over her Kindle so I can check something. This’ll take us to four Kindles, one each mono units for actually reading books and one each tablet units for checking email and websites during the evening when we’re watching TV or whatever. Both of the tablets are 7-inch units, which are much better for Internet stuff than tiny smartphone displays. Now if only websites would stop defaulting to their mobile versions when they’re accessed with a tablet.


10:30 – The nail polish remover fairy just made a clandestine visit to the little ziplock bag that Barbara keeps under her end table in the den. She had a 2-ounce (60 mL) bottle of nail polish remover that was almost empty. Nail polish remover is simply acetone. She now has a bottle filled with reagent-grade acetone, which is a whole lot purer than the acetone that was originally in the bottle.

When I started making up chemicals, I finally decided to pretty up the containers. They’re currently hand-labeled with a black Sharpie, so I printed up a bunch of 5152 sticky labels (14 per sheet) to use instead. I figured I could wipe off the existing hand-printed labels with isopropanol. That didn’t work, so I tried some naphtha (Zippo lighter fluid). Surprisingly, that didn’t work either. So I decided to try acetone, but I didn’t have any upstairs. Then I remembered Barbara’s nail polish remover, so I gave it a try. The Sharpie marks wiped right off. But Barbara’s nail polish remover was nearly empty before I used it, so I figured I’d better refill it. Barbara now has a full bottle, thanks to the nail polish remover fairy.

Posted in personal, science kits | 39 Comments

Monday, 20 April 2015

10:21 – We decided to make a quick Costco run yesterday morning. The only prepping supplies I picked up were a couple large cans of Country Time lemonade ($6.79 each), 10 pounds of oats ($8.29), and an empty 20-pound propane cannister ($26.69). Well, that and two pairs of Kirkland jeans ($13.99 each).

I grabbed the 10 pound box of Quaker Oats right as Barbara was picking up two large boxes of cereal. She told me not to buy the oats. She doesn’t like oatmeal, and I almost never eat breakfast. Oddly, she likes oat bars and oatmeal cookies. Perhaps I’ll make her a batch of oatmeal cookies and/or oat bars with whatever is left after I transfer the bulk of the oats into 2-liter bottles. Even without an oxygen absorber, they’ll stay good in 2-liter bottles for at least five years if not ten. With oxygen absorbers, their shelf life is essentially unlimited.

What about Plodia interpunctella (pantry moths, weevils)? Not really a problem. They lay eggs in flour and other grain products that are stored in paper sacks or containers otherwise subject to access by the adult bugs. Using an oxygen absorber in a foil-laminate Mylar bag or a PET or glass bottle is a definitive solution. It suffocates the eggs or immature insects. But transferring the Quaker Oats from a sealed bag directly to clean 2-liter bottles also works pretty well. It’s not like a passing pantry moth is going to have much chance to land on the oats and lay eggs.

Some sources recommend putting the bottles in the freezer for a week or two to kill insect eggs. The only problem with that method is that it doesn’t work. It reminds me of that old joke about the guy tearing off strips of paper and tossing them out the train window in Vermont to keep elephants away. That works for the same reason freezing works. They both keep away the pests, elephants or weevils, because there weren’t any there in the first place. And a long line of scientists ending with Pasteur and Tyndall in the 19th century finally definitively falsified the concept of spontaneous generation, despite the millennium-long insistence by the Roman Catholic Church that spontaneous generation was the source of life.

I need to ship overnight kit orders and build more kits.


12:08 – It seems that Amazon is clearing inventory of their Fire HD7 tablets. Not the HDX7, but its predecessor. They have them on sale, today only, for $79 in the ad-supported version. I just ordered one for myself, along with a $12 folding case. The original HD7 is more than good enough for what I use a tablet for, which is mostly quick checks of email and web sites.

I got an HDX7 for Barbara, but I use it as much as she does. So much, in fact, that she’s started calling her Kindle Fire my Kindle Fire. Not good. So, once this HD7 shows up, her Kindle Fire goes back to being her Kindle Fire and I’ll have my own.

Posted in personal, prepping, science kits | 33 Comments

Sunday, 19 April 2015

08:36 – Heavy rain in the forecast, so we’re doing inside stuff today.

Colin made a break for it yesterday while Barbara was outside working in the yard. He was there one moment and gone the next. We went off walking around the neighborhood looking for him, Barbara in one direction and me in another. He was nowhere to be seen, so we returned to the house to make sure he hadn’t been accidentally shut into the basement or something. While we were there, I grabbed a pair of FRS/GMRS radios that were sitting on the charger in the kitchen. We used those to communicate as we continued the search, me on foot and Barbara driving around the neighborhood. They worked fine. I found Colin and got him on leash and walked him home. I stuck one of the radios in each of our vehicles when we got back. Colin got a stern talking to.


09:55 – Here’s an item of prepping gear that most people forget to buy: a bulk propane cannister adapter hose.

Most portable propane appliances–stoves, lanterns, and so on–are designed to accept disposable 1-pound propane cylinders. These adapter hoses let you run those appliances from a bulk 20-pound cannister. It’s not so much a matter of cost. A full 20-pound cannister costs only a bit less than 20 1-pound cylinders. But many people keep a propane cannister or two for their gas grills, while few people would want to store two or three dozen of the small cylinders. In a typical neighborhood, most of the stored propane will be in 20-pound cannisters. Also, if you know an emergency is imminent, it’s a lot easier to grab two or three extra cannisters at a Blue Rhino stall than to get the equivalent in cylinders at a Home Depot or Lowes. (Just remember that the cannisters at those exchange stalls are typically underfilled, to perhaps 15 or 16 pounds, and plan accordingly.)

Note that there are two types of adapter hoses, high- and low-pressure. The one you want is a high-pressure adapter hose, which has no regulator built in. Devices designed for cylinders have built-in regulators. The low-pressure adapter hoses with regulators are designed to be used with specific models of propane appliances that have no built-in regulators.

A 20-pound propane cannister contains a lot of heat energy. We have an old Coleman 5029 catalytic propane heater, since discontinued, that produces 3,000 BTUs and runs for eight hours on a one-pound cylinder. It’ll run continuously for about a week on a 20-pound cylinder. It’s safe to use indoors, as long as you keep a window cracked for ventilation, and 3,000 BTUs is sufficient to keep a small room reasonably warm even when it’s below zero outside. Similar catalytic propane heaters are available new on Amazon and elsewhere for under $100.

Posted in personal, prepping | 30 Comments

Saturday, 18 April 2015

10:07 – We’re doing the usual Saturday stuff. I’m just getting ready to start the laundry. Barbara is out running errands. She’ll be doing yard work later, but she has to wait for the grass to dry.

I’ll call this guy Tim. It’s not his real name, but then Jen isn’t her real name either. I’d written a complete response that totaled about 800 words, but WordPress ate my text when I tried to publish. So I’m just going to send Tim a copy of the draft chapter on emergency kits.

I realize you’re busy, and if you don’t have the time for a specific reply that’s fine. Feel free to quote this message, but please do not identify me.

I’m going to be doing as much as I can to be more prepared without drawing too much attention. I may buy a trunk full of stuff from Sam’s Club every Saturday morning instead of renting a trailer like Jen did.

The reason I’m trying to be low key is my wife’s sister and her husband that I previously mentioned as poorly prepared have given more thought to the subject than anyone else in my wife’s family. I’m sure they already think I’m a bit eccentric, so that’s not the issue. There are lots of people around me who are too busy not planning for the “normal” future to consider being prepared for unanticipated events. I don’t want to freak them out too much. If I brought home an AR-15, they’d get weird. So when the time comes that the next thing on the list is to get an AR-15, it will just show up next to the shotgun in the gun safe. Which reminds me that I need a shotgun and a gun safe. Both are higher on the list than an AR-15 though.

One of my wife’s high school friends and her husband are preppers, who told my wife they have an emergency kit in their car and my wife should too. I guess I’m going to have to “give in” to their suggestion.

I know you have talked about some of the stuff in your in car and bugout kits before. Have you posted an actual inventory yet? It would be a good starting point for my assembling in car and grab and go kits.


Posted in Uncategorized | 34 Comments

Friday, 17 April 2015

07:41 – Most of the news in the local paper is unpleasant, but every once in a great while I see an article that actually cheers me up. There was one of those this morning, about a Wake Forest student volunteering with local middle-school girls to help them get started doing real science. I love seeing young people getting involved in science, but what really made me happy was reading that this Wake Forest student is doing a double major in Biology and Physics with a minor in Chemistry. The world needs more students like this young woman.

Here’s what I did to prep this week:

  • I ordered a dozen more #10 cans of Augason Farms dehydrated foods, including two more cans each of Egg Powder, Butter Powder, Honey-Coated Banana Slices, Brown Sugar, and Lentils, and one can each of Cheese Blend Powder and Granola.
  • I read half a dozen PA novels, including the rest of Steve Konkoly’s Perseid Collapse series, and a couple of non-fiction prepping books, including Joseph Alton’s Survival Medicine Handbook. I also used Kindle Unlimited to check out another dozen or so books. None of those were worth taking the time to read in full. In general, books of this class range from mediocre to abysmal, but there are a few bright spots. What’s interesting is the sheer volume of books available. Prepping has obviously become a serious concern for a lot of people and has become a big business. Sam’s Club and Costco both feature emergency food on their web sites and in their monthly promo flyers, which they wouldn’t be doing if they weren’t making lots of money at it.
  • I put in another couple days’ work on the non-fiction prepping book.

So, what precisely did you do to prepare this week? Tell me about it in the comments.


12:20 – I got email from Jen, the woman who contacted me a month or so ago about how to get started prepping. Her list this week is about ten times the size of mine. Talk about a Whirling Dervish. She’s gone from basically unprepared a month ago to being better prepared now than literally 99.99% of the population. She and her husband have also started to socialize with the prepper couple next door, who were formerly just friendly neighbors. Both couples are pleased, not least because their critical skillsets don’t overlap much.

But Jen has run into the same problem that nearly all couples do at some point when it comes to prepping. She’s reasonably comfortable at this point, but thinks they still need to do a lot more. Her husband is completely comfortable with their level of preparation as it is. He’s not yet voiced strong opposition to doing more, but as I told Jen, that day will probably come. Her brother’s family is similarly split, but this time it’s he who wants to do more and his wife who thinks they’ve done enough.

I’m in the same situation with Barbara, who believes in being well prepared but thinks we’ve already done enough. Except, of course, that she really wants to relocate to a small town away from the city. I’m reasonably comfortable with where we stand, and we have all of the major purchases out of the way. But I would like to extend our food supply further by purchasing more cheap bulk staples for dry packing as well as additional stuff like fruits and vegetables in #10 cans. At this point, I don’t think it’s the cost that concerns Barbara as much as the space and clutter. I’m going to try to do something about those over the coming weekends.

Incidentally, I suggested to Jen that she should start posting here herself, because I think she could make some useful contributions, but she wants to remain as low-profile as possible, so she’ll just keep emailing me when she has something to say. I asked her about quoting her emails anonymously, but she prefers not.

Posted in news, prepping, Uncategorized, weekly prepping | 46 Comments