Wednesday, 14 June 2017

09:42 – It was 62.7F (17C) when I took Colin out around 0620 this morning, partly cloudy and calm. Barbara is off to the gym this morning and then spending the rest of the day making up subassemblies for science kits.

Barbara is binge-watching CSI: NY on Netflix streaming. They have all nine seasons available, but for some strange reason they’re dropping the first eight seasons as of June 29th. She’s about half-way through season 2 now, so there’s no way she’ll make it through all of them before the end of the month. I don’t watch it, but it doesn’t bother me to be in the den reading or browsing the web while she watches it. The writing is pretty bad, and the forensic science is ridiculous but it’s not offensive. About the only good thing I can say about it is that they use The Who’s Baba O’Riley as the theme music.

Email overnight from the woman I mentioned last Friday, who wanted to prep quickly. I’ll call her Lisa. It sounds like she’s been spending too much time reading Zero Hedge. She’s convinced there’s a good chance the economy will collapse this summer and that with the hot weather we’ll see a return to the Days of Rage. I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon, but I’ve been wrong before.

Lisa’s initial goal was to be prepared for her family of six for a period of three months. She spent last weekend making multiple runs to Costco and placing orders on Amazon.com and Walmart.com, and estimates she’s progressed from about 2% prepared as of last Friday to maybe 90% prepared as of now. She hasn’t had time yet to get everything organized and stowed away, so it’s all still sitting in piles in her basement, where they still need to install shelving for everything.

She said that as long as they’re installing shelves she intends to put in a lot more than they need. Her intention is to continue accumulating supplies until they reach at least a year’s worth for the six of them. As she said, the stuff she’s bought is all foods they eat anyway, other than dry beans, so there’s no real downside to having it sitting in their basement instead of on store shelves. And the beans are a good cheap source of protein that keeps a long, long time, so she has no problem with it taking up some shelf space.

I encouraged Lisa to start actually using the bulk food for cooking meals and grow her storage by buying two or three or four more each time she uses one. Move a case of soup from long-term storage to the kitchen pantry, buy two more cases for your long-term storage, and so on.

Lisa is still concerned about best-by dates, although I told her that for almost all products they really are imaginary. She’s decided to install stand-alone steel shelving rather than shelves accessible only from one side. That way, she can add new stuff to one side of the shelf units and pull older stuff from the other side. I told her to go for it if it makes her feel better, but it’s going to involve a lot of shifting stuff around after every supply run. And since she intends to maintain only a one-year supply of LTS food, there’s really nothing to worry about anyway. The “old” stuff she pulls off the shelves will still be only a year or so old and probably still well within its best-by dates.

Posted in Lisa, personal, prepping | 64 Comments

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

10:35 – It was 68.1F (20C) when I took Colin out around 0715 this morning, overcast and calm. Barbara is around home this morning, making up subassemblies for science kits, and off to volunteer at the Friends of the Library bookstore this afternoon.

Last Thursday, the local paper reported that a group was seeking permission to build a retirement/assisted-living home across US21 from us, on 20 acres of what had been cow pasture. Neither of us had any problem with the idea. Such places are generally pretty good neighbors, and it would generate quite a few jobs for locals. I told Barbara my only request would be that they install full-cutoff lighting fixtures in the parking lot to avoid light pollution.

The planning board meeting was last night at 6:30 and open to the public, so Barbara attended. On the way to the meeting, she dropped me off at the community college, where I had a ham radio class. On our way home, around 2000, we drove around the area where the new facility is to be built. It looks like we won’t even be able to see it from our house.

I’ve always been interested in pressure canning, ever since I was maybe 4 or 5 years old and “helped” my maternal grandmother pressure can. One wall of her basement was covered with shelves that she kept filled with canning jars of vegetables, fruits, sauces, meats, and so on.

It wasn’t until later that she told me that one of those shelving sections was a false wall that concealed a narrow room the length of the basement. Her grandfather had built the house before the Civil War and made the hidden room as a refuge for runaway slaves. They passed through New Castle on their way to Erie and thence across the lake into Canada.

I always assumed she’d been canning since she was a young wife, when my mother was born right at the end of WWI. And she may have been, but it was probably water-bath canning back then. I’d always thought home pressure-canning had become routine by around WWI, but I just read an interesting document that makes it clear that it was more like WWII before it became common.

As far as I know, pressure canners were sold for home use by about WWI, but most people apparently didn’t use them. No doubt the cost was part of the reason, but I suspect the real reason was that young women tended to use the methods their mothers had taught them, which is to say, boiling water bath canning and Tyndalization (described early in the linked document).

Even with such questionable methods, botulism was pretty rare. In fact, at the time, you were more likely to suffer botulism from commercially-canned products than home-canned. I don’t doubt that a lot of home canned stuff was contaminated with botulism back then, but I suspect nearly all women back then made sure to cooked canned meats and other low-acid stuff very thoroughly, as my grandmother always did.

The thing about botulism is that the bacteria and the toxin it produces are both heat-sensitive. Simply bringing contaminated food to a full boil is sufficient to destroy both the bacteria and the toxin.

In fact, that’s true generally of pathogenic microorganisms and their toxin, with the exception of a few fungal toxins. Some of those survive temperatures of 200C or higher, far hotter than any canning process, commercial or home, reaches.

Those of you who are about my age may remember the aflatoxin scare back in the 70’s. That was just such a toxin, which was why it scared the hell out of people.

Posted in personal | 58 Comments

Monday, 12 June 2017

08:53 – It was 64.5F (18C) when I took Colin out around 0640 this morning, sunny and clear. It’s already up to 78.5F (26C) with another warm day forecast. Barbara is off to the gym and has a couple of meetings later today.

I read an interesting article yesterday that talked about the effect of politics on retail. It claimed that 25% of Americans make buying choices that are at least somewhat influenced by the politics of retailers and brands. That doesn’t surprise me because I do the same. I’m not radical about it, yet, but I do tend to place orders with Deplorable Walmart rather than Prog Amazon. I don’t see any point to financially supporting organizations whose stated goals translate to attempts to destroy the fabric of the US as we know it.

I don’t understand why any large organization would intentionally drive off customers by instituting policies or taking political stances that are diametrically opposed to the beliefs of many of their potential customers. Customers nowadays want one thing from retailers: low prices. Taking a political position that conflicts with politics of potential customers is foolish. Customers who agree with a retailer’s politics aren’t going to be willing to pay more because of that. Customers who disagree will either not buy from that retailer or will buy only if that retailer’s prices are lower than another retailer who hasn’t taken that political position. And that’s true on both sides of the divide.

I need to spend some time over the next week or so getting ready for the Technician-class and General-class amateur radio exams. I’m taking both the same day. I bought the official ARRL manuals for both classes. Now I just need to go through both and memorize them.

Posted in personal | 38 Comments

Sunday, 11 June 2017

09:57 – It was 64.4F (18C) when I took Colin out around 0645 this morning, hazy and bright. It’s already up to 82.3F (28C). This morning, Barbara is watering the garden and then doing a quick house clean. More kit stuff later today.

Barbara’s friend JoAnne stopped by yesterday with her daughter, Kelsey, who’s back from college for the summer. Barbara and JoAnne stood around talking for 20 or 30 minutes, while Kelsey sat out in the grass hugging and petting Colin. He loved it, but I’m afraid now he’ll be expecting Kelsey to come over every day and give him the attention to which he considers himself entitled. JoAnne’s family recently had to have their very elderly dog put down, and haven’t yet replaced it, so I’m sure Kelsey enjoyed Colin’s attention as much as he enjoyed hers.

Posted in personal | 32 Comments

Saturday, 10 June 2017

09:49 – It was 53.7F (12C) when I took Colin out around 0630 this morning, bright and breezy. Lately, between the time I get up and when Barbara gets up, the outside temperature increases by roughly 20F (11C). It’s already up to 73F (22C). This morning, Barbara is headed outside to plant day lilies of along both sides of the driveway.

Barbara’s sister, Frances, quit her job yesterday. She simply couldn’t take the work environment any more. Like nearly all large organizations, her former employer treats its employees like interchangeable pegs. I told Barbara it reminded me of her 20 years ago, when the library system just got to be too much for her. The stress level was incredibly high and I kept encouraging her just to quit, just as Al has been encouraging Frances to quit. Stress kills, and the effects on Frances now and Barbara then were obvious to those close to her. Like Barbara then, Frances’s mindset was to hold on until retirement. I told Barbara then that she might not live to retire if she stayed with the library system for another 20 years. For Frances, it’d have been more like 10 years, but even that was too much to bear.

So Frances is now devoting full time to looking for another job, ideally with a small local company rather than a corporate behemoth. I mentioned to Barbara last night that I’d been convinced for decades that the secret was to work for yourself. She said she’d mentioned that to Frances, but that wasn’t an option for many reasons.

As I’ve said before, there are two types of people when it comes to making a living. When one type, by far the most common, loses or quits a job, their first thought is to go out and start looking for another job. The first thought of the other type is to go into business for themselves.

The first type worry about security, and consider working for someone else to be more secure than working for themselves. The second type recognize that there is no security in working for someone else, and there hasn’t been for decades. I’m obviously in that latter group, but I recognize that not everyone is.

And going into business for yourself isn’t the risk that it once was. Nowadays, with the Internet, you can go into business incrementally, building a business on eBay or Amazon. I talk to people all the time who’ve done this. Many of them treat their businesses as part-time jobs that they work in addition to their full-time jobs. They may work part-time on their businesses for months or even years, but eventually most of them end up quitting their day jobs and devoting full time to their own businesses.

For example, in our first full month of selling science kits, we had only $1,100 in gross revenue and a hugely negative cash flow. But within a couple of years that business was generating a middle-class income.

I’m convinced that there are two tricks to starting a successful business. First, you need a unique product, whether it’s merchandise or a service. If you’re selling something generic, it’s a race to the bottom and you’ll eventually end up selling your product for just slightly more than it costs to produce. Second, you want to sell on the Internet to customers all over the country. That isolates you from local economic problems. Even if things are bad locally, you can continue to sell to customers elsewhere, which isn’t an option if you have a local brick-and-mortar business.

Actually, there’s a third trick. Always be looking for new potential revenue streams, whether related to your business or not. That’s related to the entrepreneurial mindset. In the past when we’ve had a slow period, Barbara would sometimes worry that people had just stopped buying science kits. My response was always that things would pick up, which they always do, but even if they didn’t that wouldn’t be a problem because I’d just start doing something else to make money.

So, I’d encourage Frances to continue looking for a new job, but while she’s doing that I’d also encourage her to start thinking about starting her own business. Maybe spend an hour or two every day and more on weekends building her business and then just see what happens. Worst case, it won’t go anywhere. If that happens, she can try Plan B. But best case, she’d find her own business growing, eventually to the point where she could quit her day job and work full-time for herself.

We’re back at a decent stocking level on the small chemistry kits. Yesterday, we made up 24 regulated and 13 unregulated chemical bags for the full chemistry kits, which were the limiting quantities for the bottled chemicals we had on hand. We’ll use those today to get 13 additional full chemistry kits built. The next task to to build 40 regulated chemical bags and 20 unregulated chemical bags for biology kits, with those numbers again determined by limiting quantities of one or more bottled chemicals per bag.

We’re about a third of the way through the month, and kit sales revenues are already more than 100% of June 2016, with total YTD revenues running slightly ahead of last year’s.

Posted in personal, science kits | 45 Comments

Friday, 9 June 2017

10:11 – It was 51.0F (10.5C) when I took Colin out around 0645 this morning, bright and breezy. It’s already up to 72F (22C). Barbara has a busy day today, including gym, supermarket, various errands, a doctor appointment, and a meeting. We’ll do more work on science kits today if we have time, otherwise over the weekend.

Email overnight from a woman who’s recently developed an interest in getting prepared. She’s been reading prepping websites for the last couple of weeks, and she’s utterly confused. She wants to prepare for herself and her husband, both in their early 40’s, their two high-school age sons, and her husband’s parents. She’s intimidated by the conflicting advice on various prepper sites, not to mention the cost of all of this. She wants to know what to do, specifically, to prepare herself and her family. Her goal is to be able to take care of them for three months to start with, and to do so without going into debt.

I told her that the first thing to remember is that prepping is an industry, and that all of the sites she mentions are pushing needlessly expensive gear and supplies to benefit themselves and their advertisers. In short, if a prepping site has ads or a site store, or even affiliate links, don’t trust their recommendations.

I told her her top priorities should be water, food/cooking, and sanitation (toilet paper!), along with drugs if she or any of her family were on critical prescription medications.

Water – they live on an exurban property with a pond so my first recommendation was to buy and store as many cases of bottled water as they have room for, buy one gallon of generic chlorine bleach, and buy a Sawyer PointZeroTwo water filter and a couple of 5-gallon buckets.

Food/Cooking – they have a Coleman propane campstove, so I recommended buying an adapter hose for a 20-pound propane canister and a couple canisters of propane.

As far as food, I suggested that they begin with the LDS Church recommendations and purchase the following, either from Costco/Sam’s/Walmart or from and LDS Home Storage Center:

Starches – 600 pounds of carbohydrates, any mix she prefers of white flour, pasta, egg noodles, rice, pancake/waffle mix, oatmeal, cornmeal, breakfast cereal, etc.

Beans – 100 pounds of dry beans, such as pinto, soldier, white, Lima, etc.

Sugar – 100 pounds of white granulated sugar or the equivalent of honey, pancake syrup, etc., or a mix.

Oil – 20 liters of olive oil, vegetable oil, shortening, lard, etc.

Salt – 15 pounds of iodized table salt.

Milk – 42 pounds (2 cases) of LDS non-fat dry milk.

Multivitamin tablets – Buy sufficient for each family member to have one per day. Store them in the freezer, if you’re concerned about shelf life.

That’s sufficient to feed her family for three months with adequate calories, protein, and fats, but it’s a pretty boring diet. To make all of this more palatable, I suggested she also buy, roughly in order of priority:

Herbs and Spices – Large Costco/Sam’s jars of whichever spices she and her family prefer. Buy a #10 can each of Augason meat substitute/bouillon in chicken, beef, or whichever flavors you prefer. Dried onion and garlic are both extremely flexible, so buy a lot of those unless you just don’t like them.

Sauces – you’ll be making a lot of casseroles and skillet dinners, so buy at least 90 jars of assorted sauces–spaghetti sauce, alfredo, barbecue, etc. etc. Keep at least a couple gallons of pancake syrup, which can also be used with oatmeal.

Meats – 90 28-ounce cans of Keystone Meats beef chunks, ground beef, chicken, pork, and/or turkey. This provides about 4 ounces of meat per day per person. If you prefer, substitute Spam, Vienna sausage, canned hams, etc. for all or part of the meat.

Supplemental cooking necessities – Buy several each of Augason #10 cans of egg powder, cheese powder, and butter powder.

Canned fruit/vegetables – contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need any fruits or vegetables for a balanced diet. They’re primarily useful for improving taste of bulk LTS foods. They’re cheap, so buy a bunch of regular-size or #10 cans of whichever you like. For six people for three months, you’ll probably want at least 500 small cans total or alternatively 70 or 80 #10 cans. The latter are available at Costco and particularly Sam’s Club, and are noticeably less expensive than buying the equivalent weight in smaller cans.

 

Posted in Lisa, personal, prepping | 58 Comments

Thursday, 8 June 2017

09:01 – It was 53.5F (12C) when I took Colin out around 0645 this morning, overcast with about 9/10 cloud cover.

Herschel from Shaw Brothers showed up early yesterday morning and got all the plumbing stuff finished and checked out. While he was here, the drop-ceiling installers showed up. They finished the drop ceiling by mid-afternoon. Barbara is happy with it, so I’m happy with it.

At some point, the electrician is supposed to show up to install the overhead lighting, followed by the painters. The last step will be the floor installers. Unfortunately, they’re backed up, and it’ll be early next month before they can get here to install the floor. Still, we’re making progress.

We finished watching season four of the Australian series The Doctor Blake Mysteries last night, and continued with Outlander (UK title; my US title is Lots of Cuties with Really Good Dresses).

The auction sign went up yesterday in front of Bonnie’s house. The auction of the house, contents, and land takes place on Saturday, 15 July. Frances and Al plan to come up for the auction. They said they might buy the place, but I don’t think they were serious.

With the downstairs all torn up and stuff piled all over the place, it’s been hard to build science kits. We got things reorganized the other day to the point where we have an open flat work surface to bin subassemblies and can at least get to the shelving that holds the thousands of chemical bottles. We’re getting low-stock on all of the kits, and need to get more batches built.

There was an article in the paper this morning about a new concealed-carry initiative that would allow conceal carry with no permit anywhere that open carry is now allowed, which is to say most places. Unfortunately, our Republican governor lost last November to a prog Democrat, who will probably veto the bill. Given that some of our republican legislators opposed the bill, it’s likely they won’t be able to override a veto. We’ll see. Constitutional Carry is spreading across the US, and with every muslim outrage it gains more support, sometimes even among Democrats. I do wish that Trump would simply render state laws that restrict CC moot by announcing that the federal government will, upon request by any citizen at any US Post Office, issue a federal concealed + open carry permit that is valid for any location in the US, including local, state, and federal government buildings and property.

The dominoes are starting to topple. Puerto Rico is now effectively bankrupt, although they can’t use that word, and Illinois is about to follow. At this point, there’s simply no alternative. Holders of Illinois government bonds are likely to take a 100% haircut, and pension funds are almost certain to be controlled by receivers. If I were expecting an Illinois government pension, I’d expect to see a small fraction of what I’d been promised, if that. My guess is that Illinois pensioners will see a ceiling put on pension payments. Everyone will get at most $1,000/month or whatever, regardless of what they’d been promised. Illinois government and pensioners and unions will be screaming for a federal bailout, of course, but with Trump and a Republican congress, they’re unlikely to get much, if any, federal money. And Illinois is just the first of many mismanaged states that will end up standing in line at the federal trough. I have no sympathy for any of them.

 

 

Posted in personal, politics, science kits | 83 Comments

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

08:15 – It was 51.9F (11C) when I took Colin out around 0645 this morning, sunny and clear.

Colin and I had scrambled eggs and fried Treet for dinner last night. Barbara is due back from Winston this morning. Unfortunately, she brought back a cold with her from Campbell Folk School, and now I have it.

Herschel from Shaw Brothers is downstairs doing a final check on the plumbing before the drop-ceiling installers arrive later today. I asked him in passing about septic tank care, and mentioned that we’d been flushing Rid-X down the toilet periodically. He suggested that instead of Rid-X we just flush a packet of baker’s yeast once a month, which he says works as well or better than Rid-X and is much cheaper.

Last night, Colin and I watched An American Homestead videos on YouTube on the Roku. They’ve been doing this for five years, and have something over 300 videos posted. Sometimes, they make me cringe. One of the videos I watched last night showed them all drinking “natural organic milk”, which is to say raw milk. They claim–not only without scientific basis but in opposition to all of the scientific data–that raw milk is not only safe to drink but is actually better for you than that nasty homogenized, pasteurized modern milk. Yeah, right. Raw milk is an excellent culture medium for bacteria, and they’re not milking cows under aseptic conditions. I hope for their sake there’re no tuberculosis bacteria floating around their farm. The coliforms are bad enough.

I also question some of their other decisions. For example, last night I watched a video where they were discussing plans to install a solar power set up to keep the water tank filled that they use to feed their aquaponics system and water their garden. That’s fine, but they planned to install the solar panels, a charge controller, deep-cycle batteries, and an inverter. Why?

The tank holds sufficient water to carry them for weeks. Why not just install the solar panels and connect them directly to a 12V pump? Let the pump run when there’s sun on the panels. They don’t need the batteries unless they need to store that power, which they don’t. They don’t need the inverter, with all of the conversion losses, when they could just use 12V directly to drive the pump.

But overall, it’s a very interesting series of videos. I’m partway through season two, with season three remaining.

 

Posted in personal | 62 Comments

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

08:45 – It was 59.9F (15.5C) when I took Colin out around 0715 this morning, overcast and breezy.

Happy Birthday to me. Today I turn the Big 0x40. Barbara is working the Friends of the Library bookstore from 1000 to 1330 today, after which she leaves to drive down to Winston. She’s having dinner with Frances and Al, staying the night, and heading back up tomorrow morning. It’s also Al’s birthday today. Poor Barbara and Frances. They’re big on celebrating holidays, including birthdays, while neither Al nor I celebrates holidays, including birthdays.

We finished watching the second season of the new version of Poldark on Amazon streaming last night. Looking for something similar to queue up, I came across several recommendations for Outlander, so we sampled an episode of that. It certainly has good dresses, better than Poldark, and the lead character is an Irish cutie. That’s good enough for me to add a series to our watch list, and Barbara said it was fine with her.

There’ll always be an England? Maybe not, judging by the Brit response or lack thereof to muslim outrages. I wrote off western continental Europe long ago. They’re apparently unaware that they’re being invaded by hordes of scum intent on killing, raping, and destroying western culture. What they need is another Charles The Hammer Martel. Instead, they have Merkel and Macron. I no longer have any sympathy for them. A country that refuses to defend its women isn’t worth saving.

But I didn’t expect this of England. They have a very long history of defending their shores from invaders. On the other hand, they do lose every millennium or so, a thousand years ago to the Normans and two thousand years ago to the Romans. So they’re about due to come under the rule of a foreign invasion force. Trouble is, the muslims are much, much worse than the Normans or the Romans, both of whom at least represented Western civilizations. The muslims are neither Western nor a civilization.

Long-term, I expect we’ll see a large influx of Brit refugees arriving in other Anglo-Saxon countries, which is to say the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to another miracle of Dunkirk, but this time on a massive scale.

 

Posted in personal | 70 Comments

Monday, 5 June 2017

08:31 – It was 64.4F (18C) when I took Colin out around 0615 this morning, overcast and drizzling.

After a miserable May, science kit sales are kicking into high gear this month. It may be just a blip, but my guess is that things are just speeding up a month or so earlier this year than usual. As of this morning, with June about 14% gone, we’re at 55% of revenues for all of June 2016, and we’ve already matched revenues for all of last month.

I hope this keeps up, but the downside is that we’re quickly drawing down our finished goods inventory of kits. We’re in reasonably good shape on our flagship biology and chemistry kits, but we’re getting low on forensics kits and are completely out of the smaller basic chemistry kits, for which I have an outstanding order that came in overnight. So we need to get another batch of those made up immediately and start building stock on the others.

I have the amateur radio license exam coming up in a couple of weeks, and I haven’t yet done much to prepare for it. I’m taking the Technician Class exam, which is all I really care about, but as long as I’m taking that I decided I might as well take the General Class exam as well.

I’ve flipped through the ARRL General Class exam manual, and it all seems pretty straightforward. I read through the review questions and answers, which are all published. Both tests are 35 multiple-guess questions from a pool of something over 400 questions. Correct answers on 26 of the 35 questions is sufficient to pass the exam. I also have the ARRL Technician Class exam manual on order, due to arrive tomorrow.

I’ll just brute-force the exams, memorizing the answers to all 900 or so questions. Old-school hams consider that “cheating”, but of course it’s perfectly acceptable. And I start with a big advantage, having held a general class licence, albeit 40+ years ago. I don’t expect to have much problem. I’ll just spend the couple evenings before the test going through the questions and answers.

 

Posted in personal, science kits | 67 Comments