Tuesday, 30 September 2014

08:18 – Here’s one for the books. A week or so ago, I needed to order 25 g or so of reagent-grade 1-naphthol to make up some modified Griess reagent for forensic kits. Fisher Sci didn’t have it in stock, so I went off in search of some 1-naphthol on the Internet. I found a vendor on eBay that was offering 25 g of RG 1-naphthol for $37, shipping from Japan, so I placed an order. This morning I got the following email (spacing and line breaks sic).

Dear Buyer

Thanks for your order again.
Your item is already shipped with safe packing.

In these days, Korea/Japan country’s post office & major courier denied
air-shipping of some reagent products.
Especially, when MSDS section 14 ‘Transport Information’ has some
Regulation/Hazard Class info,* it can be returned to us. *
*And some countries customs denied customs clearance of these items also.*

We know this reagent is not so danger but they do not accept our shipping
*So we have to change the bottle label of the reagent products to
‘safe-looking’ random label for fast shipping.*
*The attached label is not real info so you should remove it & write real
info when you receive it.*

We take picture of your real reagent products before remove the label.
*Please see the attached images. *

We’re sorry for it. But this is only way to ship your reagent in right time.
Please understand our situation & effort for customer satisfaction.


So, basically they’re breaking the law by intentionally mislabeling a bottle of chemicals with a fake label that bears no relation to the contents. I’m of two minds about reporting this to eBay. On the one hand, this company has broken many laws and regulations by intentionally mislabeling a chemical bottle. On the other hand, I don’t doubt that what they’re shipping me really is RG 1-naphthol and I understand why they’re avoiding stupid shipping regulations. I don’t have time right now to get involved in a mess, so I’ll probably just let it slide and use the 1-naphthol.

Work on the book progresses. I’m still in the stage where I’m stubbing things out, recording thoughts as short sentence fragment placeholders as they occur to me, and so on, so it’s still a real mess. But I did manage to write more than 5,000 words yesterday on subjects ranging from guns to emergency heating alternatives to building a field-expedient sand/charcoal water filtration system with a 5-gallon bucket to building out a PERK (personal emergency relocation kit), and I have no doubt that I can continue doing 5,000 words a day for weeks on end.

Ebooks with large file sizes are problematic on Amazon because they charge a data transfer fee of $0.15/MB, which is deducted from the sale price before the royalty is calculated. On a standard all-text ebook priced at $2.99 to $9.99, Amazon pays a 70% royalty after minor deductions. A $3.00 ebook earns the author about $2.04 per copy in royalties after all is said and done, leaving Amazon’s cut at $0.96.

On ebooks priced at $2.98 or less or $10.00 or more, Amazon pays only a 35% royalty, but doesn’t charge the data-transfer surcharge, which is why most image-heavy ebooks sell in the $15+ range. For example, O’Reilly/MAKE prices our Illustrated Guide to Home Biology experiments at $15.39. They had to price it over $10, or they’d have to pay the $0.15/MB data transfer surcharge on a very large file. At $15.39, Amazon doesn’t collect the data transfer surcharge, but they pay only the 35% royalty rate, or $5.39 per copy. So, on each copy sold, Amazon keeps $10, and O’Reilly/MAKE splits $5.39 with us.

So, given the economics involved and also considering that PDFs suck on the Kindle, I’ve decided to publish the book in text-only form for the Kindle on Amazon, using AZW/MOBI/PRC format, probably priced at $3.99 or perhaps higher. But I’ll also provide buyers with a link to download a free copy of the full PDF version with high-res color images. Based on experience and the number of images I intend to include, I’d guess that full PDF version will probably run at least 200 MB and maybe more.

Monday, 29 September 2014

09:32 – A couple of weeks ago, Jerry Pournelle sent me a draft copy of his latest column. Because of health issues, it’s been two and half years since his last column, but he’s decided to get back into doing a regular monthly column.

I “met” Jerry more than 30 years ago, when I emailed him to point out a mistake or two in Lucifer’s Hammer, and we’ve been sporadically emailing and phoning each other ever since. During our recent exchange, I mentioned that I’d started to outline my first novel, a TEOTWAWKI reminiscent of Lucifer’s Hammer, but with the threat being an air-transmissible MDR tularemia. Jerry, knowing that I’d been following prepping issues since the late 70’s–back when Mel and Nancy Tappen were mutual friends of ours but Jerry and I didn’t know each other–encouraged me to do the novel. I’m sure he would have written a great foreward for me.

But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to bag the novel and do a non-fiction title instead. It’s been a while since I wrote a narrative book (as opposed to a lab manual), so I decided to write The Ultimate Family Prepping Guide, which I’ll self-publish on Amazon.

I won’t need to do much research, because in a sense I’ve been researching this stuff for 35 years now. I can write it fluidly and authoritatively. I’ll still do some research and a lot of fact-checking, of course, because that’s the kind of writer I am. But when I sat down yesterday to start writing, things just flowed from the keyboard to the screen. It’ll still take months to finish because of all the other things I have to do, but it’ll get done quickly and be published next year.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

12:05 – We’re doing our usual weekend stuff, plus cleaning up and de-cluttering.

CBC broadcasts the first episode of Heartland season eight tonight, which means it’ll be up on Pirate Bay tomorrow morning. I’ll download the HD episodes as they’re posted, but we’ll wait until next spring to watch them, after they’re all available. Meanwhile, I’m keeping an eye on Amazon.ca for the release of the season seven DVDs, which I’ll order as soon as they’re available to replace the copies I got from Pirate Bay.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

12:20 – It’s Saturday, but with Barbara home all day yesterday it feels like Sunday. I’m doing laundry and Barbara is working on her usual Saturday tasks.

We just got back from a Costco run and a visit to Dick’s Sporting Goods. We bought two Marlin Model 60 .22 rimfire rifles, which we brought home with us, and special-ordered two Mossberg Maverick 88 Security shotguns, which we can pick up in a week or so. I debated whether to buy Barbara a 12-gauge or a 20-gauge. She’s fired a 12-gauge before, but only with light skeet/trap loads. With heavy loads, the free recoil of a 12-gauge is pretty stiff, about twice that of a .30-06 or .308. Some men and most women find a 12-gauge uncomfortable to shoot with heavy loads. Barbara said she could deal with the 12-gauge, so that’s what we ordered.

I’d also planned to pick up 10 bricks of Remington 525 .22LR rounds, which Dick’s website advertises at $25 for the 525-round brick, or 4.76 cents a round. I suspected that was totally bogus, and it was. The only .22LR they had in stock was 50-round boxes at $9/each, or 18 cents a round. Limit three boxes. Give me a break. Fortunately, I have a bit of .22LR in stock.

Friday, 26 September 2014

15:46 – Barbara arrived home about 10:15 last night, and I still have cleaning up to do.

Barbara mentioned this morning that she wants to buy a new mattress. She used to prefer the firm mattress that we have now, but said she noticed on her trip that she slept much better on a softer mattress. I told her I was happy with our current mattress, but I’m pretty much mattress-neutral so to go ahead and find one that makes her happy and buy it. But, I told her, just a new mattress would make her more comfortable, doubling or tripling our stock of stored food would make me more comfortable. That means another trip over to the LDS store in Greensboro and some runs to Costco and Sam’s Club. So it’s a deal.

Then Barbara mentioned that it would make her happy to replace the front windows in our house. Fine, I told her, but it would make me happy to buy several more shotguns and rifles and lots of ammunition. (We already have multiple pistols in .357, .44, and .45 ACP, plus .22 rimfires, so we don’t need more pistols.) So it’s a deal.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

08:31 – Barbara is due back late today, and I still have cleaning up to do.

The morning paper reports a train derailment in Rural Hall, a few miles from here. Three tanker cars derailed, but spilled only 50 to 100 gallons (200 to 400 liters) of diesel emission fluid, which apparently is used to clean diesel engines. Fortunately, the liquid is pretty benign. It’s a 32% aqueous solution of urea. Think very concentrated urine.

Autumn weather has definitely arrived. It’s been drizzling steadily for the last 24 hours. Our highs for the next week are to be in the mid- to upper-70’s (~25C) and our lows in the high 50’s (15C). With winter fast approaching, I did freeze tests overnight on the canned food that goes in our vehicle emergency kits. The Costco canned chicken, Spam, Chef Boyardee beef ravioli, Bush’s baked beans, and Pet condensed milk all froze solid without damaging the containers. So did the 3.4 liters of water in the gallon (3.8 L) Tropicana orange juice jug.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

10:03 – Barbara is due back sometime tomorrow, so I need to spend some time today getting the place cleaned up.

Here’s an argument I made 25 years ago, just when the federal government started to get serious about attacking tobacco companies and smokers. The truth about smoking – it saves the public purse a lot of money Logically, the government didn’t have a leg to stand on. If they were wrong about tobacco use adversely affecting the health of smokers, there were obviously no grounds to attack tobacco companies and smokers. If they were right, there were again no grounds to attack tobacco companies and smokers. If smokers indeed suffered early mortality, that meant they paid into Social Security much more than they could expect to receive, so non-smokers and the Social Security trust fund were the beneficiaries of those smokers’ actions. Back when insurance companies were still run by actuaries, which is to say rationally, people who smoked a pack a day or more of cigarettes paid slightly more for life insurance, just enough to take their expected earlier mortality into account. But smokers paid no more for health insurance than non-smokers (and should have paid less) because insurance companies understood that heavy smokers tended to die not only sooner but more suddenly than non-smokers, of illnesses that killed quickly and (from the health insurance company perspective) cheaply. If the US government acted rationally, they’d be encouraging everyone to smoke as much as they wanted to.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

09:52 – Barbara called yesterday to let me know she was enjoying herself. When she called, Colin and I were smoking cigars, drinking bourbon, and watching the fight on TV. Later on, we headed to a strip bar for a boys’ night out.

Well, not really. Instead, we watched more episodes of Doomsday Preppers. The obvious goal of the series’ producers is to convince viewers that these people are crazy and stupid and, by extension, that anyone who believes in being prepared for emergencies is crazy and stupid. And there’s no doubt that many of their subjects are obsessed about dangers that are very unlikely to occur.

But many of them are concerned about potentially catastrophic events that have a much higher probability of occurring, for example an EMP event that takes down the entire power grid and transportation system. The man-made EMP event that many of them fear just isn’t going to happen, for both political and technical reasons. But a natural EMP event, a replay of the 1859 Carrington Event, is not only possible but inevitable. And, as Wikipedia says, “Studies have shown that a solar storm of this magnitude occurring today would likely cause widespread problems for modern civilization. There is an estimated 12% chance of a similar event occurring between 2012 and 2022.” I think that estimate is pessimistic. Such events occur, unpredictably but on average, every 400 to 500 years. That means that in any given decade, the probability of such an event is only 2% to 2.5%.

Similarly, another of their subjects, a San Diego physician, is preparing for a world-wide influenza pandemic. Historically, lethal pandemics occur on average about once a century. The last one was the Spanish Flu of 1918, which killed 50 to 100 million worldwide, or 3% to 5% of the planet’s population. If a similar epidemic hit today, the death toll would be much, much higher, probably a billion people or more. In 1918, we didn’t have jet airplanes moving people around the world constantly, so transmission was limited. Nowadays, there are no such constraints on transmission. Essentially the entire population of the planet could be exposed to a lethal virus within literally a few days. We could have 50 to 100 million dead just within the US. On the other hand, the US and other first-world countries have much more capable public health systems than existed in 1918, which ameliorates the danger to some extent.

So, back-of-the-envelope, let’s guesstimate that the chance of such an epidemic occurring in the next decade is only 2% rather than 10%. That’s pretty comforting. A decade is a long time, and there’s only a 2% chance of each of these things happening during that time. The problem is, probabilities multiply. Looking at ten such potentially catastrophic problems, each with only a 2% chance of occurring within the next decade, we can calculate the probability that none of those will occur as 0.98^10 = 0.817. All of a sudden, things don’t look so rosy. An 18.3% chance of something terrible happening in the next decade is enough to scare most people. And if you look at 100 things each of which has only a 0.1% probability–one chance in thousand–of occurring each year, the probability that none of these things will happen over the coming decade is less than 37%.

My own SWAG is that the likelihood of something really, really bad happening during the next decade is perhaps 10%. My guess is that it will be a zombie apocalypse, so that’s what I’m preparing for. That way, I’ll also be prepared if something else happens instead. Okay, the truth is that I don’t believe zombies exist, so they’re just a placeholder for an unknown threat. What I really think is more likely to occur is civil unrest leading to a complete breakdown of the social structure in urban areas. That’s why I want to relocate to a small town in a farming area. I have an immense skill-set. I’ve spent the last 40 years accumulating useful skills and knowledge, but I don’t know how to farm, nor am I physically capable of doing so. So I’d like to live somewhere surrounded by people who do.

Monday, 22 September 2014

09:26 – Barbara has been gone for a bit more than 24 hours, and civilization has already started to break down around our household. Colin suggested yesterday that we go out and kill some food and then raid neighboring clans for their women.

Speaking of a breakdown of civilization, I started watching the National Geo series Doomsday Preppers on Netflix streaming last night. There are so many things wrong with this series that it’s difficult to know where to begin, but I think the worst of it is that the leftie/progressives at National Geo treat their subjects as objects of scorn and ridicule.

Not that some of the preppers they interview aren’t ridiculous. For example, a couple of them seem very concerned that the planet is about to shift physically on its axis, bringing widespread death and destruction. Scientifically, the probability of that happening is so low that it is indiscernible from zero. I’m not sure how that idea gained currency, unless it’s some sort of religious prophecy.

Another prepper couple lives in Alberta, Canada. Apparently, the wife has had a recurring nightmare for 20 years, and they’re prepping against the expectation that her nightmare is a prediction of events that are going to occur. How does one prepare against a nightmare? I did learn one thing from that episode, though. I was under the impression that handguns were very tightly controlled in Canada, essentially unavailable to civilians. Apparently not. That episode shows the couple visiting a gun store in Canada, passing over their credit card to the clerk, and receiving their new 9mm Glock pistols. Who knew it was that easy to buy pistols in Canada?

Although there are exceptions, many of the preppers featured in this series seem to fear very specific catastrophes, most of which are, to be polite, rather unlikely. For example, one woman focuses on a catastrophic earthquake on the New Madrid fault line that cuts the country in half, isolating the East Coast from midwest farms. A New York city fireman fears the Yellowstone supervolcano will erupt, burying NYC in ash. (That guy, having been a responder on 9/11 to the Twin Towers, has good reason to fear ash clouds.) Another fears a country-wide failure of GM crops. Some of the preppers have more general (and more realistic) concerns, such as widespread rioting and civil disorder, economic collapse, and so on. Not to worry, though. The show’s producers take great care to pooh-pooh all of these concerns, again holding all of the preppers up to ridicule. Tell that to the people who lived through (or didn’t live through) Katrina, which after all was a localized disaster, with 95% of the country available to help the 5% who were affected.

There’s also a focus on preppers as individuals, families, or very small groups, which simply isn’t workable. If things ever do get really bad and you’re on your own for an extended period, you need all the family, friends, and neighbors you can get in your group. The minimum practical size for such a group is 50 to 100 adults, with provisions to match, and more is better.

Each segment ends with the self-described “experts” at Practical Preppers, LLC critiquing the subjects’ preparations and suggesting improvements. These so-called experts appear clueless to me, and I suspect that the whole series is actually just one big commercial for this company, which sells over-priced gear and “consulting” services.

13:00 – I’m seriously thinking about dropping our Amazon Prime subscription when it comes up for renewal. We haven’t watched anything on Prime Instant Video for at least a couple of months now, and Prime so-called “free shipping” isn’t the deal it once was. In fact, Prime pricing in general isn’t the deal it once was. It used to be that Prime prices were nearly always competitive. Not so much any more. I just looked at an item that Home Depot sells for $2.50. Amazon’s Prime pricing for that exact item was $9.95 or two for $19.95. What a deal. Unfortunately, such outrageous pricing differentials are becoming commonplace on Amazon Prime. For example, “Idahoan® REAL Premium Mashed Potatoes – 3.24 lbs.” are $5.98 at Sam’s Club, about the same at Costco, and $12.76 on Amazon Prime.

I’ll still buy stuff on Amazon when the price is right, but paying $99 a year for videos that we don’t watch and free shipping with no minimum order just doesn’t make sense.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

08:47 – Barbara left at 0400. Colin was outraged. I just went back to sleep.

Something odd is going on with the fire hydrants on our street. Ever since we moved into this house in 1987, the hydrant in the front corner of our yard and the two at the ends of the block have had green tops and caps, which indicates a flow rate of 1,000 to 1,500 GPM. NFPA considers that excellent for a residential neighborhood. Then, a week or so ago, I noticed that the hydrant in the corner of our front yard and the one on one corner had had their tops and caps painted blue, which indicates a flow rate of 1,500+ GPM. This morning, I noticed that the hydrant in front of our house is back to having green top and caps. Very strange. I conclude that the flow rate of our hydrant must be very close to 1,500 GPM.

I’m building science kits today. While Barbara is gone, I intend to get some work done on the new science kits we plan to introduce Real Soon Now. That and watch Heartland re-runs.

11:47 – One of the things on my to-do list while Barbara’s gone is to do some freezing tests for canned foods that I intend to include in our car emergency kits. Water isn’t an issue. Water expands by 9.0% (or a bit less, depending on the initial temperature at which the volume is measured) when it freezes, so for example 2.00 liters of water forms about 2.18 liters of ice. Allowing for a bit of safety margin, that means I can store 900 mL of water in a 1 L bottle or 1.8 L of water in a 2 L bottle, knowing that if it freezes it won’t burst the container.

But I have no idea what the freezing points of, for example, Bush’s baked beans or Chef Boyardee ravioli or canned chicken or evaporated milk are, nor how compressible the non-water contents are. So I’ll check that experimentally by freezing a can of each of them and seeing if the cans rupture. Anything that doesn’t survive the freezer test won’t be in our emergency kits.

I’ve also been thinking about containers. A good 3-day car kit is bulky and heavy. As of now, I’m using one opaque 20 gallon (~ 80 L) storage bin per vehicle, which is large enough to contain a pretty comprehensive 2-person/1-dog 3-day emergency kit, other than a full complement of water. For water, I’ll probably use clean 1-gallon heavy plastic orange juice jugs. Six of those should suffice, even in hot weather.

For organization within the bins, I’m using quart and gallon ziplock bags to group subassemblies like fire making, water treatment, medical, personal sanitation, etc. Those are further grouped into one backpack and one duffel bag per kit, on the basis that although it’s almost always best to remain with the vehicle, there may be times when it’s necessary to walk out.

I suspect that Barbara may not be delighted about hauling this much stuff in the back of her car at all times, but I think I can bring her around. As they say, it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Anyone who remembers the mess in Atlanta in January of 2014 should make it a high priority to have a car emergency kit. Tens of thousands of people stranded, thousands of them for two or three days, when Atlanta roads became parking lots, all because the Atlanta area had a minor snowstorm, with accumulations of only 1″ to 3″ (2.5 to 7.5 cm). Imagine what might have happened if there had been a serious widespread emergency. Thousands, even tens of thousands, of people might have died because they were unprepared for an emergency.