Sunday, 31 May 2015

09:29 – Barbara is cleaning house and then heading out to meet a friend for lunch. Colin is hiding under my desk, apparently afraid that she’s going to bathe him again.

One of the commenters yesterday posted a link to the Coleman Camp Oven, which looks to be a good solution for baking and reheating dishes during a power-down situation. I wasn’t even aware this product existed, but I just stubbed in a link for it in the book.

I’ve been using classic Zippo liquid-fuel lighters exclusively for a year now, and I strongly recommend them as a primary fire-making tool. They’re extremely reliable, and just about bullet-proof. Literally, as many soldiers over the last 80 years can attest because their Zippos stopped bullets meant for them. As a pipe smoker, I use a lighter heavily, probably on average 50 to 100 times a day. That means my main Zippo has lit at least 18,000 times, and it shows no sign of not being good for another 180,000 lights, if not 1,800,000.

Two downsides: First, I go through a lot of flints. Every week or so I need to replace the flint, but they’re cheap and readily-available in 6-flint dispensers. Second, they’re not air-tight, which means the fuel evaporates in a few days even if the lighter isn’t used. Not an issue for me, because I refuel mine once or twice a day. I bought two 12-ounce cans of official Zippo lighter fluid originally, and I’ve been refilling those cans ever since from gallon cans of VM&P naphtha from Lowes. It’ll also burn just about anything volatile and flammable, including gasoline, acetone, or alcohol.

I also have a Zippo butane lighter, which uses a the same flint/steel lighting mechanism and provides a jet/torch flame. The advantage of this model is that once it’s fueled it stays fueled. I’m still running it on the butane I put in it six months or more ago, testing it every few weeks to see if the fuel has dissipated. So far, so good. It’s really intended for Barbara. She doesn’t smoke, so she needs a lighter that can be put in an emergency kit and left until needed. I also keep a can of butane and a dispenser of spare flints with it.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

10:53 – Barbara is out running errands. I’m doing laundry and the other usual Saturday housekeeping tasks. We’ll do kit stuff this afternoon and tomorrow.

Once we get moved, I’m going to talk to Barbara about converting some of our paper assets into hard assets. Most couples have only their home, vehicles, and personal possessions as hard assets. We go a bit further than that, with significant funds devoted to long-term food storage and other prepping supplies, as well as considerable inventory for science kits. All of those are a hedge against inflation, but I’d like to go further. The balances in our bank accounts are worth less and less every day, and I’d like to convert some of those funds to stuff that appreciates rather than depreciating.

For example, last autumn I bought 5.56mm ammunition in bulk for $0.37 per round. The same round now costs $0.47, an increase of 27% in just seven months. I still remember years ago when Walmart had a sale on Russian-made SKS carbines for $30 each and 1,000 rounds of Russian-made 7.62×39 in ammo cans for another $30, or $.03/round. That was probably not too long after the fall of the Soviet Union. What I really, really wanted to do was buy 100 SKSs and 100,000 rounds of ammo. That would have set us back $6,000. Nowadays, I see Russian-made SKSs selling for $400 and Russian-made ammo going for $0.50/round. Those 100 SKSs and 100,000 round of ammo would cost me about $90,000 today, maybe $80,000 if I really shopped around or was willing to settle for inferior SKSs made elsewhere.

Not that I’d go out and buy 100 SKSs today. Even if Barbara agreed, they’re simply too high-profile. But I might pick up a half a dozen or a dozen more civilian-type rifles and shotguns. Things like the Maverick 88 or Remington 870 in 12- and 20-gauge, the Marlin Model 60 in .22LR, and so on. Lever-action rifles aren’t the bargain they once were, but I wouldn’t mind having some in .38/.357 and .44Mag/Spec. They’re easily speed-loaded, use common ammunition, and are actually pretty competent defensive rifles. And they’re only going to gain value.

Friday, 29 May 2015

07:23 – Good for NC Governor Pat McCrory, who just vetoed the “religious freedom” bill. I’d have been all in favor of any bill that protected individuals’ and private companies’ right to discriminate against anything or anyone for any reason or for no reason at all, but this bill conflated the rights of individuals with the non-rights of government employees acting in their public capacities. It would, for example, have allowed public officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. People have rights; governments do not.

Most of my time this week was devoted to working on science kit stuff and the prepping book, but here’s what I did to prep this week:

  • I read several prepping fiction books, including all three of William Allen’s Walking in the Rain series and the first in Steven Bird’s The New Homefront series. Both series are mediocre at best, about what I’d expect from newbie fiction authors, but both are readable. Both authors are obviously newbies, prone to “information dumps” in great amounts of detail, particularly about firearms, and military firearms at that. If I could give authors like these one piece of advice, it’d be to avoid TMI. I recall in one of Heinlein’s books he conveyed a tremendous amount of information in three words, “The door dilated.” These guys would go on for pages and pages about the dilating mechanism and a lot of other unnecessary detail. They obviously haven’t learned the first rule of writing, which someone famously summed up as, “I’d have made it shorter if I’d had more time.”
  • I didn’t buy much, but I did a Walmart order for 17 28-ounce cans of Bush’s Best Baked Beans, 12 original recipe, 3 maple/bacon, and 2 onion. The price per ounce is lower than not just the regular 16.5-ounce cans but the larger sizes as well. I really like that Bush’s packages their products in four can sizes: the regular size 16.5-ounce cans (6.3 cents/ounce), the 28-ounce cans I ordered (5.4 cents/ounce), the 55-ounce cans (6.3 cents/ounce), and the 117-ounce #10 cans (5.8 cents/ounce).
  • I also ordered one Bertolli Mushroom Alfredo Sauce to try, a can of Nestle Nido powdered whole milk, and (on Tamara Price’s recommendation) a bag of Krusteaz Family Size Buttermilk Pancake Mix.

All told, with only a few ounces of vegetable oil added, that order represents enough balanced nutrition to feed two people for a full week at 2,500 calories/day. Not that I’d want to eat baked beans and pancakes all day long every day for two weeks, but it’s still a nice addition to our stocks.

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

13:07 – Barbara and I are frequently amazed at what Colin will eat. He’s the most omnivorous dog we’ve had, and that’s saying something. One of our earlier Border Collies used to beg for lettuce, and loved celery. Just plain, you understand, not with salad dressing or other flavoring on it. I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised, given what all of our dogs have been willing to pick up and eat from the street.

Further confirming that Colin will eat almost anything, I was just filling some 2-liter bottles with bulk staples and spilled a tiny bit of bread flour. Colin swooped in and licked it up off the floor.

Speaking of which, just in case you find it useful for planning, a 2-liter Coke bottle filled to the very top will hold 1.50 kilos (3 pounds, 5 ounces) of Harvest (Con-Agra) bread flour or 1.90 kilos (4 pounds, 3 ounces) of Dixie white granulated sugar. For the flour in particular, that includes bumping the bottle vigorously to help settle the flour.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

09:18 – Work on science kits continues, as does work on the prepping book, AKA The Book That Wouldn’t Die. I’m still jumping around in the book, writing a section here and a paragraph there as I think of things to add.

One of the reasons I look forward to Barbara retiring is that she’ll be able to do much of the work on science kits that I have to do now. I’ll still do things like designing new kits, making up reagents, and so on, but she’ll be able to do the repetitive things that take up my time now. Things like filling chemical bottles, building subassemblies, assembling finished kits, keeping inventory and cutting purchase orders, shipping kits, and all of the other stuff that eats my time. She’s good at this kind of stuff, and I’m not. Freeing up my time will allow me to do more of the stuff that requires my knowledge and abilities. Not that I plan to work Barbara to death by any means. She can do part-time what takes me nearly full time, and she’ll have the other half of her time free to do personal stuff. Including travel, although I’m very nervous when she’s far from home.

10:29 – The US Postal Service and Swiss Post have really outdone themselves. On Saturday the 23rd at 4:12 p.m., the USPS picked up a kit here that was destined for Switzerland. I just got an email update telling me that the kit has arrived at the local post office in Switzerland. I believe that’s the fastest any of our international shipments has arrived, including kits shipped to Canada.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

08:32 – I thought things had calmed down a bit in Baltimore and other large cities, but apparently not. Over the holiday weekend, about 30 people were shot in Baltimore, nine of them fatally, and nearly 60 were shot in Chicago, with a dozen dead. Meanwhile, police are increasingly just standing by and watching, and who can blame them? They understand that if they do their jobs they’re likely to face felony charges, and if they’re acquitted of those charges, the feds are likely to come after them. Whatever happened to double jeopardy?

Now is not a good time to be living in the middle-class suburbs surrounding urban centers, let alone in the urban centers themselves, and it’s only going to get worse. So-called “white flight”, more properly called “middle-class flight”, is taking on a whole new meaning, as the suburbs are no longer the safe havens that they once were. It’s now becoming a question of just how far one can get away from population concentrations and still make a living. Those of us with Internet businesses have a lot more options than most people. If I had a good office job in a large population center, I’d start a part-time Internet business right now and work very hard toward transitioning it to a full-time business that would generate enough business to pay the bills.

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.

13:49 – Well, crap. I was sure I had a partial box of 50 96-well plates, but I sure can’t find them. I just ordered another eight boxes, or 400 total, but they won’t be here until late this week. For now, my kit-building is on hold unless I find that box.

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.

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.)

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.

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.