Tuesday, 26 May 2015

09:13 – Thanks to Barbara’s efforts over the last few weekends, I have something like 3,000 labeled chemical bottles that need to be filled and capped. I’ll get started on that today, along with building another batch of chemistry kits.

I got an interesting email the other day, asking about long-term food storage for dogs. I replied that canned dog food should store as well as any canned food, which is to say indefinitely. As to dry food, I have no data on long-term storage, and no good idea of how to go about making it shelf-stable, if that indeed is even possible. As to Colin, if food supplies are disrupted because of a transportation shutdown, crop failures, or other large-scale problem, he’ll just eat what we eat. For planning purposes, I count Colin as half a person, so I figure 1,400 calories per day, and half a gallon of water minimum. Dogs thrived for millennia eating human food, and Colin would be, if anything, a lot happier eating what we eat.

10:22 – I really do have to keep my bloody-mindedness under control while writing this prepping book. Here’s a Note as I wrote it originally, before I decided to delete the second paragraph. Given the need, I’d still do it, mind you. I just don’t feel comfortable saying that in the book.

One advantage of packing your own dry staples in foil-laminate Mylar bags also holds true for home-canned goods: in a long-term emergency, the “authorities” are much less likely to confiscate them, as often happens in major emergencies. They want commercially-packaged products, and the food industry has spent a lot of money to brainwash people into believing that food past its best-by date has gone bad. You can make confiscation even less likely by labeling your home-packaged food properly. For example, the next time you repackage dry staples, instead of labeling them “Rice, 7 pounds, Packed March 2016″, label them “Rice, 7 pounds, Expires March 1986″ and so on. Who would confiscate food that “expired” 30 or more years ago?

In fact, in case things really go pear-shaped, it’s a good idea to keep the bulk of your food supplies well hidden, with a reasonable amount of bait food stored in plain sight. You can even turn your bait food supply into part of your defenses by making it a trick-or-treat food supply, stuff that’s intended to be passed out to armed goblins who show up at your door. We keep a stock of arsenic trioxide on hand for that purpose. It’s an odorless, tasteless white powder that mixes well with white flour, sugar, and similar foods. It’s lethal in small amounts but doesn’t kill instantly. Anyone who robs you of this food probably won’t be coming back for more.

Posted in dogs, prepping, science kits | 6 Comments

Monday, 25 May 2015

08:30 – It’s Memorial Day here in the U.S., the day set aside to remember those who sacrificed themselves to protect our freedom. Although the official purpose of Memorial Day is to remember those who gave their lives in the service of our country, let’s also remember all of those brave men and women, living and dead, who through the years have put their lives on the line to protect all of us. As we have our cookouts and family get-togethers today, let’s all take a moment to think about our troops in the Middle East and elsewhere, who can’t be with their families. And let’s have a thought, not just today but every day of the year, for them and the sacrifices they are making and have made.

We drove over to Barbara’s sister’s house yesterday for dinner. Frances cooked and Al grilled. We took Colin along on his first-ever social outing. He was excited to explore a new place, but settled down quickly and behaved very well. I was proud of him.

We also hauled home the bedside commode that Al had been keeping for us in their rented storage. It looks much like this one, and I wanted to check the bucket to make sure a 1/6-barrel t-shirt bag would fit it. We buy those by the box of 1,000 for science kits, so we typically have 1,000 in inventory, if not 2,000 or 3,000. If there’s an emergency that makes flushing the toilet impossible, one of these bedside commodes and a large stock of plastic bags makes things a lot more livable. A standard 5-gallon bucket with a snap-on toilet seat works, but unfortunately the t-shirt bags, which cost something like $14/thousand, aren’t large enough to fit over the rim, so you’d have to stock more expensive larger bags.

The civil unrest in Cleveland appears to be passing with less violence than there might have been, but as Barbara and I discussed yesterday on the way over to visit Frances and Al, this kind of thing could happen anywhere at any time, on zero notice. And the day may well come when a literal firestorm breaks out nationwide rather than just in scattered cities. That’s one of the main reasons we’re going to relocate, although we’d probably have done so even in the absence of that threat, simply because we prefer the small-town environment. Occasional trips into the big city for Costco runs or whatever will be just fine for us.

Posted in personal, prepping | 42 Comments

Sunday, 24 May 2015

08:41 – We’re having a get-together for Memorial Day with Barbara’s sister and brother-in-law. Colin will have lots of begging opportunities.

We don’t store freeze-dried just-add-water complete meals, but if you like these meals you might want to check the Costco web site. They have several Augason Farms freeze-dried complete meals on sale through the 31st for anything from $10 to $50 (15% to 20%) off their normal prices, which are pretty good to start with. (Note that I’m not recommending these meals. I’ve never tried them, but customer reviews are generally good.)

Posted in personal, prepping | 48 Comments

Saturday, 23 May 2015

08:20 – I got email from Jen, letting me know that she’s ordered egg powder, Morning Moo’s, butter powder, and cheese blend powder from Augason Farms via Walmart. Thirty cans of powdered eggs, 24 cans of Morning Moo’s, and 18 cans each of butter powder and cheese blend powder. That’s 90 total #10 cans for four adults and two teenagers. This woman doesn’t mess around. Her UPS guy is going to hate her. Again.

As I told her early in our exchange of emails, it makes me nervous when people order huge amounts of stuff based on my lists rather than thinking things through and deciding what specific items are best for them. But she raised an excellent point. I’m writing a prepping book, tentatively titled The Book That Will Not Die, and many readers are going to do exactly what she’s done, ordering specific items that I recommend. Not because they’re mindless drones, but because they want to get at least the basics in place as quickly as possible. Even if their purchases aren’t optimum for them, they’ll be a hell of a lot better prepared than if they sat there analyzing things to death and never actually getting around to stocking up.

Jen recommended a site run by a woman named Brandy Simper, who writes as The Prudent Homemaker. Jen recommended I start with About The Prudent Homemaker and Living on Our Food Storage. Both are well worth your time to read if only as more evidence that there doesn’t have to be an asteroid strike or pandemic or EMP to make long-term storage worth the time, effort, and cost. All it takes is a routine event like job loss, which happens thousands of times every day. This woman fed herself, her husband, and their seven children for two years from her stored food when the Las Vegas housing market collapsed and her husband, who’s a real estate agent, found his income cut to a small fraction of what it had been.

13:58 – I just shipped a kit to Switzerland, which isn’t a new country for me but is still kind of cool. I remember how cool it was when I finished, in amateur radio terminology, WAS (worked all states) by *finally* shipping a kit to Hawaii. And then how cool it was to reach WACEA (worked all continents except Antarctica). I seriously doubt we’ll ever reach the WAC milestone, if only because there are countries I wouldn’t ship to on a bet, but it’s pretty cool to have shipped kits to as many countries as we have. Things must be pretty dismal outside the US if people are willing to order science kits from us and pay heavy shipping surcharges to get them shipped internationally. I know that’s true of several countries, including Canada, because I’ve had several Canadian buyers tell me that it wasn’t a matter of them thinking our kits were better than local products; it was a matter of there not being any local products.

Posted in Jen, prepping | 27 Comments

Friday, 22 May 2015

07:18 – I’ve spent some time over the last few days inventorying and organizing our stocks. I was putting some #10 cans in the downstairs freezer yesterday when I realized that some of my readers might be interested in what specifically we store. Other than LDS dry staple “iron rations” (x pounds of white sugar, y pounds of macaroni and spaghetti, z liters of vegetable oil, etc.) I hate making specific recommendations because people’s taste in food varies so much. What’s ideal for us may be non-optimal for you and vice-versa.

As to quantities, we’re nominally preparing for Barbara and me plus our 4-year-old, 65-pound Border Collie dog, Colin. In reality, if push comes to shove, I expect to feed more people, including Barbara’s sister and her husband, maybe my brother and his wife, and perhaps a couple of close friends. So although the quantities in this list are nominally for one couple and our dog, in reality we’ll plan to stretch them to cover more people. The way we’ll do that is to buy more “iron rations” than the three of us really need, because bulk staples are inexpensive, particularly if we package them ourselves. A 50-pound bag of white sugar or flour, for example, costs something like $17 at Costco. Stocking way up on those cheap staples provides the basic nutrition—calories, protein, fats, etc.—which can be made palatable with limited quantities of supplemental foods like those in this list.

All of that said, the following list is items we store in #10 cans from Augason Farms, with quantities in parentheses. It may at least give you some idea of items and quantities to consider. You’ll note we don’t include any bulk staples in this list. Augason’s prices on things like #10 cans of wheat, sugar, etc. are usually lower than its competitors other than the LDS Home Storage Centers, but the LDS HSC is far less expensive than Augason. Our rule is that when the LDS HSC offers a product we buy it from them because their quality is high and their prices are lower than any of their commercial competitors. They’re basically selling at cost. Either that, or we package it ourselves in 2 L soft drink bottles or foil-laminate Mylar bags, which is cheaper still.

We’ve standardized on Augason Farms because their quality is very high and their prices are almost always better than their commercial competitors. We’re not radical about it. If Augason doesn’t offer a particular product that we really want, we’ll buy it from Thrive Life, Mountain House, Honeyville, or one of AF’s other commercial competitors. But if the LDS HSC doesn’t carry something and Augason does, we’ll buy it from Augason.

Actually, we won’t buy it from Augason directly, but instead we’ll order it from Walmart, which offers deeply discounted prices and free shipping on orders of $50 or more. Augason actually ships the product directly to us. Walmart is simply offering drop-shipping at a great price.

Note that the following list is by no means all of the supplemental foods we buy to extend our “iron ration” dry staples and make them palatable. We also store lots of canned meats, canned soups, canned fruit and vegetables, spices, baking essentials, etc. etc. These items are simply the ones that it made sense to order from Augason. As of today, our stock of Augason Farms #10 cans totals 46, including:

(9) Whole Eggs Dried Egg Product, 33 oz
(6) Morning Moo’s Low Fat Milk Alternative, 56 oz.
(6) Cheese Blend Powder, 48 oz
(5) Butter Powder, 36 oz
(3) Honey-Coated Banana Slices, 32 oz
(2) Chicken Bouillon Powdered Extract, 65 oz
(2) Dehydrated Red & Green Bell Peppers, 20 oz
(2) Brown Sugar, 56 oz
(2) Lentils, 80 oz
(1) Dehydrated Chopped Onions, 23 oz
(1) Cream of Chicken Soup Mix, 52 oz
(1) Creamy Potato Soup Mix, 3 lbs
(1) Chicken Vegetarian Meat Substitute, 38 oz
(1) Beef Vegetarian Meat Substitute, 37 oz
(1) Bacon Bits Vegetarian Meat Substitute, 34 oz
(1) Potato Gems Mashed Potatoes, 48 oz
(1) Super Nutty Granola, 48 oz
(1) Non-Hybrid Vegetables Garden Seeds, 16 oz

The first four items are the most important ones, and the only ones we’ll probably be adding incrementally over the coming months and years.

The powdered eggs are intended primarily as minor ingredients for cooking and baking, rather than for direct consumption. Each can is equivalent to roughly six dozen medium eggs, so we have sufficient for about a dozen eggs a week for a year. Note that Auguson is honest here and elsewhere. They rate this 33-ounce can as equivalent to 71 medium eggs, which is accurate. Some competitors rate their canned eggs as equivalent to many more eggs. One vendor whose can doesn’t weigh much more than this one rates it as 200+ eggs. Yeah, if you’re counting equivalence in quail eggs. The best-by date on this product is 10 years out, but we keep it frozen, which extends that to 40 years or more.

If you’ve ever tasted non-fat dry milk, you know it tastes nothing like fresh milk. You can aerate it thoroughly, add vanilla or other flavoring, or whatever, and it still tastes like non-fat dry milk. We do keep 42 pounds of non-fat dry milk, along with 48 12-ounce cans of evaporated milk, but that’s mainly for cooking and baking. For drinking, use on cereal, and so on, we keep six 56-ounce cans of Morning Moo’s, which is a dry milk product with other things added to make it taste more like fresh milk. It’s a stupid name, but among dry milks and milk alternatives, most people prefer its taste. The best-by date is 25 years out. Each can reconstitutes to just under six gallons, so the six cans we stock are about 35 gallons worth.

We keep cheeses in the form of frozen fresh cheeses, powdered Parmesan in PET bottles, and cheese sauce in #10 cans. The latter two have best-by dates one or two years out, but in practical terms can be stored for much longer without any significant loss in flavor or nutrients. Still, for long term storage, I decided to keep a half dozen cans of this cheese powder. Its best-by date is 10 years out, but in practical terms it’ll be perfectly good for at least 20 or 30 years. Frozen, it’ll stay good forever.

We normally keep 20 or 30 pounds of frozen fresh butter on hand. If a long term power loss occurred, one of the first things I’d do is melt this down and fill wide-mouth glass or PET jars with it and add an oxygen absorber, which’d keep it good at room temperature for a long, long time. But these #10 cans of butter powder have a rated shelf-life of 10 years, and a real shelf life that’s much longer, even without freezing. The powder can be used as is to add butter flavor for cooking and baking, or reconstituted with water into a butter-like spread. Even better, it can be added to cooking oil to make something that’s very close to soft butter.

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

Posted in weekly prepping | 54 Comments

Thursday, 21 May 2015

07:55 – Here’s some cheering news. Our kids are losing interest in participating in team sports. From 2000 through 2013, kids’ participation in baseball plummeted from 8.8 million annually to 5.3 million. But it’s not just baseball. Basketball, softball, and soccer showed similar declines. I hope this hemorrhaging means the impending death of team sports, both in sports leagues and schools. Sports teams are nothing but organized gangs. If we must have kids participating in sports, let it be individual sports: tennis, track and field, weightlifting, wrestling, swimming, martial arts, shooting, archery, and so on. And let’s get sports out of our schools entirely. If schools want to have competitions, let them compete academically in things like science and math, chess, bridge, and so on. The focus should be on individual excellence. Individuals matter. Groups don’t.

I got tired of working on kit stuff yesterday, so I knocked off around noon and started working on the prepping book. I may do the same today.

Posted in news, writing | 23 Comments

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

09:05 – The Greek situation is coming to a head, and we’re starting to hear rumbles from Portugal. Greece is flat out of money. The only way they were able to make a small loan repayment to the IMF last week was by borrowing the money from the IMF to repay the IMF. But their SDR balance is now exhausted and they have nowhere to turn for additional funds to repay the loans that are coming due this month and next. And every month thereafter. That’s what happens when you borrow hundreds of billions of dollars with no prospect of being able to repay it. The next couple of months are going to be very interesting times, in the Chinese proverb sense. If Greeks think they’ve suffered under so-called “austerity” so far, they ain’t seen nothing yet.

Meanwhile, some reports are saying that that shootout between motorcycle gangs in Waco was actually a police shooting. If the reports are true, the 9 dead and 18 wounded were all struck by police bullets rather than by bullets fired by gang members. It’ll be interesting to see how this turns out.

I fired up the dehumidifier in the basement yesterday, and immediately noticed that I’d forgotten to clean the reservoir at the end of last season. The entire interior was covered with a black coating, presumably fungus. So I added a pint of chlorine bleach, which killed the fungus on contact, and let the dehumidifier run until the reservoir was full. Most of the black scum was gone, but not all, so I just rinsed out the reservoir with Lysol liquid and then stuck it in the dishwasher with the dirty dishes and ran it on pots-and-pans cycle with high temperature wash and “sani-rinse” with heated dry. That ought to kill anything that remains alive.

More kit stuff today. We’re down to three chemistry kits, so I’ll get another couple dozen built today.

Posted in government, personal, science kits | 28 Comments

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

07:37 – The morning paper reports that state government plans to spend more than a billion dollars more next year than this year, part of which will go towards an across-the-board salary increase for teachers. That’s outrageous, considering that our public school teachers are already grossly overpaid. Many of them couldn’t get a job in a free market, and even they are paid at well above market rates. If you don’t believe that, just compare what they’re paid to what private school teachers are paid.

The solution is simple. Teachers are already contract employees, although like all things government, those contracts almost never lapse. Simply put them all on one-year contracts and require them to bid on specific teaching jobs at specific schools. Lowest bidder for each position wins. Those who don’t win a bid are unemployed, and cannot draw unemployment compensation. I suspect the average salary would end up being not much more than minimum wage, which is what public school teachers should be making. Most of the really good teachers would leave the public school system and go to work for private schools, which again is how it should be.

Eventually, public schools would die, as they should, and all students would attend whichever private schools they chose and could qualify for, as it should be. Public school buildings could be auctioned off to private businesses, and would continue to serve as schools. All students would be issued vouchers that could be used as they saw fit.

10:04 – I just ordered several more cases of bottles and caps, just under 7,000 total. I dithered about the shipping choices, but I eventually chose the free UPS ground rather than the $572.98 next-day option. If they ship today, UPS ground should get it here Thursday anyway. I’m off to build more science kit subassemblies.

Posted in business, news, science kits | 35 Comments

Monday, 18 May 2015

08:00 – Well, I don’t much like Obama, but at least it seems he’s finally taking steps to de-militarize local police departments. The federal government will no longer distribute military-grade equipment, including tracked armored vehicles and weapons of 50 caliber and higher, and will recall those it has already distributed. It’s far too little far too late, but at least it’s a start. Not that I’m in favor of disarming the police, but ordinary revolvers and shotguns are more than sufficient police armament, along with a few ordinary scoped hunting rifles in well-trained hands for special circumstances.

Barbara labeled hundreds more bottles yesterday, which I’ll be filling this week. I’ll get several more cases of bottles on order today so she’ll have hundreds more to label next weekend. The goal is to have sufficient chemicals bottled by 1 July for 250 chemistry kits and 150 biology kits, which should suffice to carry us through July/August and beyond.

10:38 – Interesting article on Pat Henry’s prepping website about the ages of people who visit his site.

For the last two years May 13 to May 15 (over 6.2 million views)

27% of the total Views were from people aged 55-older (Boomers)
40.95% of the total Views were from people aged 35 – 54 (Generation X)
31.1 % of the total Views were from people aged 18 -34 (Millennials)

Like Pat, I was surprised by the age breakdown. I would have expected a huge majority to be 30 or older and almost none in the 25 and under range. And apparently 0.95% of his visitors are < 18 years old.

Posted in news, prepping | 36 Comments

Sunday, 17 May 2015

08:13 – Here’s irony. I’ve been desperately hoping for an alternative to Time-Warner Cable ever since we’ve lived in this house. Yesterday, we got mail from AT&T announcing that their fiber Internet service is now available in our neighborhood, just as we’re preparing to move up to the North Carolina mountains. Ten years ago, five, even one year ago, I would have been first in line to sign up for the A&T fiber Internet service. Now it’s too late. Fortunately, the West Jefferson area already has fiber Internet service.

Barbara labeled several hundred bottles yesterday, in batches of 120 each, and will label several hundred more today. I’ll end up with something between 1,500 and 2,000 labeled bottles that I can fill this week. I’ll order another few cases of bottles today or tomorrow so she’ll have more to label this coming weekend. That’ll give us a good start on what we need to build kits for the summer/autumn rush.

Speaking of new services available in Winston-Salem, I just placed an order with Amazon on Friday and a message popped up to tell me that Winston-Salem is now one of the cities for which Amazon offers year-round Sunday delivery via US Postal Service. I’ll have to talk to the mailman and find out if that means we’ll also be getting Sunday pickup for kit shipments.

09:42 – When I converted to Linux more than a decade ago, I used a WYSIWYG HTML editor called N|Vu, which was a Linspire fork of Mozilla Composer. When N|Vu was orphaned, a community fork called KompoZer replaced it. Unfortunately, that project never really got off the ground, and it was last updated more than five years ago. The last version doesn’t work with “recent” Linux versions, which is to say any that use GTK ≥ 2.14.

So I went off looking for a WYSIWYG editor for Linux, but the cupboard appears to be bare. So I downloaded the last version of KompoZer, but in the Windows version. I hope it works there, or my only choice will be to bring up an e-commerce site, which I eventually intend to do anyway, but just not right now.

Posted in science kits, technology | 46 Comments