Saturday, 31 January 2015

11:09 – Barbara and I just got back from a Sam’s Club run. She did just fine walking the aisles of the warehouse. We got out of there for about $180 even though our cart was heaped precariously. That’s what happens when you don’t buy any meat.

I told Barbara I needed some #10 cans (institutional size) to shoot images for the book. In the past, she’s always put her foot down and forbidden #10 cans. This time, she let me get away with half a dozen #10 cans of peas, corn, Bush’s Best Baked Beans, and so on. I’d have gotten more, but our cart was already starting to bulge. Each time I picked up a different kind of #10 can, she said, “Okay, I’ll eat that.” So I’ll probably pick up more from time to time.

The advantage to #10 cans is that the food is noticeably cheaper per ounce. The drawback, of course, is that when you open a 6- or 7-pound #10 can, you’re opening the equivalent of 6 or 7 regular-size cans. That’s not really a problem, because all of that stuff keeps for months in a sealed container in the refrigerator or for years if frozen.

13:36 – As further evidence of the ridiculousness of best-by dates, I just bought 6 quarts of 91% isopropanol (rubbing alcohol) at Sam’s. I just noticed that they’re stamped best-by 02/17. As stupid as it is, a lot of people–probably the majority of the population–would actually discard this alcohol after February of 2017.

I’d forgotten, but we actually did buy some meat at Sam’s. Two 3-pound tubes of Hillshire Farms sausage. It’s shelf stable, with a best-by date of July 2015. I’m half inclined to vacuum seal one of those tubes in a foil-laminate Mylar bag and stick it on the shelf for several years. I suspect it’d be as good five years from now as it is now. Assuming no damage to the container, a packaged product either contains microorganisms or it doesn’t. If it does, they’ll reproduce so quickly at room temperature that the product will spoil in a day or less. If it contains no microorganisms, there aren’t any to reproduce, so that package will remain free of microorganisms indefinitely.

This is something that seems to escape most people who write about long-term food storage. They claim that canned food “goes bad” after x number of years, which is crap. Apparently, these people still believe in spontaneous generation, which was disproven in the 19th century.

Others claim that canned food loses nutritional value. There’s actually a kernel of truth to that. The carbohydrates, proteins, and fats don’t degrade over time, or at worst only very, very slowly. Some vitamins do very gradually degrade, but this really isn’t important. Even the least stable vitamins are reasonably stable in canned foods. After 10 years, a can of food may lose 10% of its original vitamin content, but typical canned goods and other shelf-stable foods contain such high levels of vitamins that it’s a non-issue.

Friday, 30 January 2015

09:29 – Barbara’s out running a half-Marathon this morning. Well, not really, but my guess is that she’ll be out walking the neighborhood in the next day or two. She reminds me of that ad that a cable comedy channel ran 25 years or so ago. Ellen DeGeneres was not yet well known, and they featured a clip of her talking about how the doctor had told her grandmother to walk five miles a day, “and now we don’t know where the hell she is.”

I’m building science kits today.

Several people had recommended James Wesley Rawles, so I picked up the fifth in his series, Liberators. I wanted to like it, but I hated it. I finally bagged it about 50 pages in. The fundie Christian focus was just too much for me to bear. I mean, this is actually a religious tract, full of scripture quotes and religious references. I don’t think there was a single page that didn’t have some kind of religious reference, literally. People hum or sing hymns while they’re walking down the halls at work. Gay marriage is evil. Only Good Christian Men are worth associating with. And on and on. And, to top it all of, this guy can’t write his way out of a paper bag. I couldn’t help but compare it to Lucifer’s Hammer. Jerry Pournelle is also a conservative Christian. The difference is that he doesn’t keep hammering the reader constantly with fundie Christian propaganda. Well, that and the fact that Pournelle can actually write, which Rawles can’t.

Another prepping book arrived from Amazon yesterday, Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family, 3rd Edition by Dr. Arthur T. Bradley. At first, I assumed the “Dr.” was a bogus Ph.D. in psychology or social work or education or some similarly non-rigorous “discipline”. As it turns out, not. Dr. Bradley actually has a Ph.D. in engineering and is employed by NASA. I expected that, as an engineer, he’d be writing with an engineering focus and actually have something useful to say.

So far, not. I flipped at random to 15 or 20 different pages and found nothing helpful and a lot that’s just flat-out wrong. I didn’t know, for example, that’s it’s not practical to store a year’s supply of food because the average American eats a ton of food per year–five and a half pounds a day–and there’s simply no practical way to store four tons of food to feed a family of four. I also didn’t know that water filters cannot remove viruses. I guess this Sawyer Point ZeroTwo filter I have, which filters to 0.02 micron absolute doesn’t actually exist. And so on.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

11:40 – Barbara’s recovery continues apace. She got the staples out yesterday, which helps a lot. She’s still frustrated that she’s not recovering faster, although in terms of recovery speed she’s certainly in the top decile and probably in the top percentile.

I’ve been a prepper since the mid-1960’s. I grew up under the threat of Soviet nuclear attack. I well remember the drills in elementary school, just as Barbara remembers spending the night in a fallout shelter in 1962 with other 2nd-grade students, eating crackers and drinking canned water.

Our basement had two small rooms running across the front of the house. One of those turned into my darkroom. The other was a storage room. My parents never said a word about it, probably because they didn’t want to scare us kids, but that room had a good supply of canned food and water and a stack of heavy planks, concrete blocks, and bags of sand. None of us ever said a word about it, but I figured it out when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. That stuff was there to allow my dad to construct a shelter easily and quickly if the need arose.

Back around 1965, as a 12-year-old kid I didn’t have the money to stock up on more food and supplies, so I decided the best thing I could do was develop special skills. That’s why I got my amateur radio license, for example. (Sadly, I noticed the other night while watching Jericho that I can no longer copy CW. Each episode begins with a short piece of Morse code. Fifty years ago, I could copy CW at the 13 WPM required for a general class ham license; now I can’t even copy the slow CW on the Jericho opening. Use it or lose it, I guess.) By the time I was 12 years old, I probably knew more about radiation and defensive measures than anyone in town, including the CD people. I’d certainly read and memorized Glasstone’s The Effects of Atomic Weapons.

It was around then that I decided to start accumulating “good to know” information and skills, on the basis that if things ever went to hell I wanted to be able to more than pull my weight. So for the last fifty years or so I’ve been accumulating knowledge and skills toward that end. I wanted to be able to step in as the resident “wizard”.

Some of the things I want to do turn out not to be easy. For example, many post-apocalyptic novels feature a character with diabetes, from Dan Forrester in Lucifer’s Hammer to the protagonist’s young daughter in One Second After. Those characters invariably die when the insulin runs out. I decided back in the 70’s that I couldn’t let that happen if I had anything to say about it, so I learned how to isolate insulin from animal pancreata. So far, so good, but what if I don’t happen to have a sheep or a pig when I need one?

Since the late 70’s, insulin has been produced bio-synthetically. Over the last couple of decades, nearly all insulin has been produced by bio-engineered bacteria or yeast. I’ve been trying to get my hands on specimens of those bacteria or yeast (ideally, yeast, because there are advantages to using a eukaryotic rather than prokaryotic organism.) I’ve exhausted my contacts, and simply can’t find anyone who can get specimens for me. The problem, I’m sure is that no one has preserved specimens of the older, obsolete organisms and the newer ones are probably all under trade-secret or patent protection. I don’t want to go into competition with them. All I want to do is breed a large quantity of them, lyophilize (freeze-dry) the sample, and make up a hundred or a thousand RIA vials of the lyophilized specimen. It still takes a lab and a wizard to isolate actual insulin from the waste products of the microorganisms, but they’ve done 99.9% of the work for you.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

09:24 – Barbara gets her staples out today, which should help a lot. She’s frustrated that she’s not recovering faster, even though according to her nurse and physical therapist she’s doing extremely well.

We’re re-watching Everwood, which features the adorable Emily VanCamp. As Barbara commented last night, she hasn’t changed much at all between age 15 in the first season of Everwood and age 27 now in Reven8e. She’s a young adult woman now, and she was a young adult woman then. If someone had told me she was 21 instead of 15 then, I’d have believed it. If someone told me she was 21 instead of 27 now, I’d believe it.

In one of the episodes we watched last night, the whole group ended up snowed in at a party. One of the characters came down with appendicitis and there was no way to get him to the hospital. There were three doctors present and a former Army nurse, so they had the skills they needed but not the equipment. Which got me to thinking of what I’d do in a similar situation. As it turns out, we’d be in pretty good shape, at least relative to most people. Other than whole blood, we’d have everything we needed or the means to make it, from povidone iodine to antibiotics to sterile scalpels and hemostats, masks, saline/D5W, and so on. I’d be very nervous about anesthesia, but I do have both chloroform and diethyl ether on hand, as well as the means to produce oxygen. Not to mention an earlier edition of the book Emergency War Surgery, which despite the title covers everything from doing appendectomies through C-sections.

Tuesday, 27 January 2014

09:23 – Barbara’s recovery continues. She’s frustrated because she can’t do everything she’s normally capable of doing, but the visiting nurse and physical therapist both tell her she’s recovering far more quickly than most people do after knee replacement.

Meanwhile, she can’t stand just sitting doing nothing, so I have her labeling and filling bottles for the science kits. Yesterday, she used our last kilo of agar filling 10 gram bottles for biology kits and our last two kilos of salicylic acid filling 15 gram bottles for chemistry kits. Today, she’ll be labeling and filling hundreds of more containers.

Monday, 26 January 2015

10:26 – Barbara is doing very well, even after cleaning house yesterday. She’s up and walking around frequently. She’s checking her work email a couple of times a day, and keeping busy labeling/filling containers for science kits.

It seems that the communist Syriza party has won the Greek election, coming within at worst one or two seats of an absolute majority, with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party placing third. Given that Merkel and the Germans despise Tsipras and the Greeks, this is unlikely to end well. Merkel believes, wrongly, that Tsipras is bluffing and that in any event the eurozone has the necessary mechanisms in place to survive Greece crashing out of the euro; Tsipras believes, wrongly, that Merkel is bluffing and that the troika will allow Greece to default on its debts and still remain in the eurozone. At this point, the best that anyone can reasonably hope for is that both sides negotiate calmly and arrange an orderly exit from the euro for Greece. That may actually happen, but I think it’s much more likely that one or both parties will misjudge and the result will be a disorderly exit from the euro for Greece. That’s going to be ugly, and the row of dominoes toppling as the contagion hits Italy, Spain, Portugal, and eventually France will be uglier still.

The ECB’s QE policy announced on Thursday was much larger than expected, but still far too little far too late and with far too many conditions and limitations on it. Draghi’s vaunted “bazooka”–at a third the percentage of GDP of the QE in the US and UK and years too late–is likely to be a damp squib.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

09:49 – Barbara is bound and determined to clean house today. While I was walking Colin, she cleaned toilets, even though I’d told her just before I left that I’d do that when I got back. I managed to get the kitchen floor vacuumed before she showed up and demanded that I hand it over. So she’s now vacuumed the den, worked her way down the hall, and into our bedroom and bath.

I’m currently oven-drying some nominally anhydrous magnesium sulfate. The problem with this stuff, like anhydrous calcium chloride, is that it sucks water vapor out of the air. If you pour either one into a weigh boat on a scale and watch the indicated mass, you can actually see it increasing as the solid sucks water out of the air. So I dry it at 300C, fill and pack bottles while it’s still quite warm, and tape the caps. I’ll make an extra bottle, date it, and weigh it on a milligram balance. The last time I did that, it gained only about 0.5% mass in a year, but as soon as the bottle is opened it’ll start sucking up water vapor until the mass of the solid nearly doubles.

This is part of an order that came in Friday from one of our state virtual school customers that provides AP chemistry materials for distance-learning to state residents. I need to get the stuff finished and packed up today so that I can ship tomorrow.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

08:39 – One of the things about having Barbara at home all day for the next month is that I no longer have time to re-watch videos that she doesn’t want to re-watch. And until recently that meant any video she’d ever seen. I’d suggest re-watching an excellent series we’d last watched 30 years ago and she’d just say, “We already watched that”.

While she was in the hospital, I’d started re-watching Jericho. I was surprised after she was back at home when she agreed that I could continue re-watching it with her in the room. She even agreed that it was a very good series. So last night I told her that I’d really like to re-watch Everwood, and was surprised when she readily agreed. I’m really looking forward to seeing Emily VanCamp again at age 15. I knew she was special partway through the first episode, and I haven’t changed my mind ten years on.

09:52 – Speaking of Netflix streaming, I convinced Barbara to give Revolution a try last night. I watched the first few minutes before my bogosity meter pegged. What did it for me was a solid line of cars filling both lanes of an interstate at night. As the power failed, the headlights of the cars went out. But they didn’t go out all at once, no. Instead the closest cars went dark, and then the others in sequence like a row of dominoes going down into the far distance. Geez. What moron wrote this? I immediately backed out to the main Netflix menu, turned to Barbara, and asked what she thought of Revolution. She said it was terrible. I agreed.

So we went back to watching Borgia, which features the beautiful Marta Gastini as Giulia Farnese. One of the things I’ve noticed watching other series is that I often have trouble telling young actresses apart. One generically pretty brunette is much like another, so I often have to depend on non-facial characteristics like hair color, voice, build, and so on to differentiate them. With Borgia, I’ve added one characteristic to that list. It has lots of young women running around topless (and bottomless) and engaging in simulated sex. With the girls’ faces at odd angles, often partially covered by their hair or their partners’ heads or bodies, I sometimes can’t tell which is which. But, I have discovered, all of the actresses in this series have distinctive nipples, by which I can identify them even if their faces aren’t clearly visible.

11:21 – I just re-joined Amazon Prime because today-only it’s $72 rather than $99. For $72, it’s worth it to me. Not for $99.

Friday, 23 January 2015

10:55 – Barbara’s doing extremely well; Colin, not so well. He has the squirties. He had a large accident last night, fortunately on the hardwood floor. He did pester but we ignored him, thinking he was just acting strangely as he so often does.

After she saw my post yesterday, Barbara pointed out that she did not mention groceries. She was talking about milk. Since we have four cases of non-fat dry milk stored, along with two or three cases of evaporated milk, we didn’t really need milk, either.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

08:24 – Barbara’s recovery continues. She’s doing extremely well, better than when she had her other knee replaced three years ago. Colin is assisting in her treatment by snuggling up to her during the day and all night, as well as licking the affected area frequently.

I’m working on science kit stuff, filling bottles and building subassemblies.

09:12 – When the PT guy was here yesterday, he said that he’d been listening to weather forecasts. Apparently, some forecasters are predicting a severe winter storm event and others are predicting nothing. That’s often the case here in the lee of the mountains. What will actually happen is almost impossible to predict accurately. We might get nothing, or we might get an ice storm like the one several years ago that left us without power for four or five days.

After the PT guy left, Barbara wondered aloud if we needed to make a supermarket run for groceries. I told her that if we did, I had no business writing a prepping book. At this point, we’d be okay as long as the ice storm lasted no longer than 12 to 15 months.