Day: September 15, 2014

Monday, 15 September 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire Making Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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