Month: November 2015

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

08:39 – We’re doing science kit stuff today. We’re running low on both biology and forensics kits, so we need to build batches of both. The biology kits are just a matter of boxing up subassemblies we already have in stock, but we need to make up some chemicals and build chemical bags for forensics kits. So that’s what we’ll be doing over the next few days.

Last month was slow for science kit sales, and this month remains slow, averaging maybe one kit per day. Things will start to speed up considerably toward the end of this month and then through January, when we’ll be selling more kits some days than we’re selling now some weeks.

We’ll also be shipping seed kits toward the end of the month. Originally, I intended to ship the individual seed bags in a foil-laminate Mylar bag as an outer container. Talking to Barbara last night, I decided to ship the seed bags in just an outer plastic bag, and include the Mylar bags flat and empty. There’s no point to us sealing the seed bags inside the Mylar bags originally, because we’ll be encouraging kit buyers to plant at least a small initial crop (especially of herb seeds), which’d mean cutting open those bags and then resealing them. This way, people can do an initial small planting and then seal the individual seed bags inside the Mylar bags, simply by using an ordinary clothes iron or curling iron set on high.

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Monday, 9 November 2015

09:10 – It’s a typical autumn day here. It’s raining, with a forecast high of 49 and a low tonight of 48.

While she was walking Colin yesterday, Barbara stopped to talk with Mary Littlejohn, Kim’s mom. Mary told her that Kim’s niece Toya had been out running errands with her kids yesterday and returned home to find that her home had been burgled. Fortunately, the criminals were already gone. Toya lives in a “nice” neighborhood, where this kind of stuff isn’t supposed to happen.

Our neighborhood has also had a rash of burglaries lately, and there have been home invasions not far from here, including one last week where the homeowner was shot by intruders. Until recently, I didn’t bother to lock the door when I walked Colin, because I was never really out of sight of our front door. Now, I lock the door when we leave, even if (or particularly if) Barbara is at home. We also keep the glass storm door locked even when we’re both at home and Colin is lying in the foyer watching for intruders and squirrels.

Sparta has very little crime, and almost no violent crime. I’ll be much happier living up there.

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Sunday, 8 November 2015

09:41 – I finished reading Koppel’s Lights Out last night. It’s well-researched and -written, but it fails by just about any measure, unless Koppel’s intent was simply to make readers despair. Koppel spends a great deal of time, for example, covering the history of the LDS Church and detailing how well organized and prepared it is to deal with widespread disasters–vastly more capable than FEMA or the Red Cross–but he then makes clear that the LDS Church would be swamped immediately by a long-term grid-down event, unable to help even all of its members let alone the general public. The simple truth is that, without electric power, the US is now incapable of supporting a population of even 50 million, let alone 330 million, and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that fact. It’s up to individuals to do the best they can, and their best usually won’t be good enough to allow them to survive.

The truth is that rather than reading Koppel’s Lights Out, you’d do much better to read David Crawford’s Lights Out, a fictional treatment of the same subject.

Both books correctly point out that rural communities will fare better than heavily urbanized areas, but that’s little solace to urbanites. If your home and your job is in a city, you’re not likely to sell your home, quit your job, and move to a rural area. By the time it becomes obvious to everyone that cities are death traps, their residents will be stuck there. That’s why Barbara and I are getting out now, while the getting is good. She’s more concerned about civil unrest and the underclass presence in cities. That concerns me, too, and is by itself a good enough reason to relocate, but my main concern is the really, really bad stuff, like a grid-down situation.

When we get relocated, one of my top priorities will be to become part of our new community. She’ll volunteer at the library, we’ll join the rifle club, and so on. I’ll also introduce myself to the folks at the Sparta LDS Church, and volunteer to do what I can to assist their emergency preparedness operations. I’m a gentile, of course, but the LDS Church is open to working with non-members for such things. Another top priority will be to get an off-grid solar setup installed, sufficient at least to power the well pump, and to expand our long-term food storage with a lot of bulk staples to allow us to help family and friends if it comes to that.

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Saturday, 7 November 2015

08:44 – Last night, I read the first two parts of Ted Koppel’s Lights Out. Part I, A Cyberattack, focuses on the threat, which Koppel makes clear is imminent and serious. Although he focuses on an attack on the computerized control systems of the electrical grid, he certainly doesn’t ignore the two other serious threats, EMP and CME. In Part II, A Nation Unprepared, Koppel makes it clear that the federal and state governments and the power companies are completely unprepared to deal with a long-term grid-down event and that almost nothing is being done to address the problem. If/when it happens, in other words, we are on our own. I’ll read Part III, Surviving the Aftermath, this evening, but it’s clear from just the chapter titles that this part will focus on efforts that can be and are being taken by individuals, including Koppel himself, to deal with a long-term power outage. In other words, it’s about preppers, among whom Koppel includes himself.

Nearly all prepping books, fiction and nonfiction, are by authors who are conservative/libertarian politically, so it’s interesting to read a pro-prepping nonfiction title by an author who is not just left/progressive, but an icon of the mainstream media. And Koppel doesn’t just talk the talk. He’s purchased long-term food supplies for himself, his children, and his grandchildren, and is actively taking other steps to prepare for the worst.

A lot of people from across the political spectrum are going to read this book. One might hope that might lead to useful steps being taken by the governments and power companies to address the problem, but I think that’s unlikely. The threat is so serious–potentially 90% of the population dead–that most people will simply give up, cross their fingers, and hope it doesn’t happen. That’s whistling past the graveyard, of course, but some percentage of readers will decide to take action themselves by making at least some preparations. And every little bit helps.

14:23 – I’ve gotten several emails from people who want to know what to do to prepare for what Koppel describes. My short answer is, “Beats the hell out of me.” Make no mistake. A long-term grid-down event is the absolute worst nightmare imaginable. My longer answer is that we should all do what we’re doing now–store food, water, and other supplies and gear, learn skills, and make what provision you can for solar power at least sufficient to recharge small batteries and, if necessary, to drive your well pump for at least a few minutes every day. We all hope this never happens, because if it does things will quickly become unimaginably bad. All we can do is hope that it never happens, but make provision as best we can to deal with it if it does.

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Friday, 6 November 2015

08:40 – Another murder/suicide in Winston-Salem. The guy shot and killed his wife and then himself. I think we need a training course for these people. How often do I have to say it? Order is critical. Shoot yourself in the head first. THEN shoot your victim.

Email from Jen. They’ve completed the arrangements for their trial run over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Jen wanted to introduce as much uncertainty as possible, so she’s done something rather clever: using sealed envelopes and random drawings to simulate unexpected events. For example, they plan to simulate an attack on their home at some point during the trial, but Jen wanted both the timing and the outcome of that attack to be unknown to all of them going into the weekend. So she made a series of dated envelopes, one of which they’ll open each evening. She also made a series of folded sheets of paper, all but one of which say “no attack” and one of which says “attack occurs”. She then put them in a hat, drew them out, put each of them in an envelope, and sealed it. They’ll open one each evening, and won’t know about the attack until it’s actually imminent. Same thing for casualties among her group. They won’t find out which of their group are killed or injured until the attack occurs and they open the appropriate envelope. Then they’ll have to deal with one or more of their group being hors de combat and figure out how to deal with that person or those people being unavailable to help. They might, for example, lose their primary medical person (Jen’s husband, a veterinarian) or their primary cook. Presumably, “casualties” will spend the rest of the weekend observing and taking notes but not otherwise contributing to the effort. I did suggest that they not actually bury any of their “casualties”.

Here’s what I did to prep this week:

  • Our relocation finally seems to be on track. Our offer on the house up in Sparta has been accepted. We’re getting inspections and so on scheduled and we have a closing date scheduled.
  • I put in about three full days on the prepping book. It’s starting to shape up.
  • I finished reading John Ross’s Unintended Consequences. It’s huge, and it’s so pro-gun and anti-government that I’m surprised that Ross is still alive and not in federal prison.

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

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Thursday, 5 November 2015

08:23 – We’ve had only basic cable TV service for the last decade or so. We watch almost nothing on live TV, other than the local weather forecast when storms are threatening, and Barbara sometimes watches golf on the weekend. As of October 27th, TWC discontinued providing analog cable TV service and switched to 100% digital. They’ve been heavily promoting their digital TV adapter boxes, which are free for the next year or so and then start being charged for at several dollars per month.

Barbara walked into my office yesterday and handed me the TWC bill, which covered Internet service and basic cable TV for 11/7 though 12/6. It was for $83.99. She suggested I call TWC and drop basic cable TV service, since we’re not really using it. So I called TWC and got into their automated attendant service. The option that seemed to be closest to what I wanted to do was “moving”, so I picked that one. I told the guy who answered that we wanted to drop basic cable TV and keep Internet. He said that would drop our bill to about $66/month, but that he had a better deal. Rather than paying $66/month for Internet only, we could get that same Internet service plus telephone service for $9 less per month, a total of $57/month. I figured we’d have to sign up for two years or something, but he said that was the month-to-month price and we could drop it any time without penalty. I asked him what the catch was, and he admitted that we’d have to drive to a TWC store, drop off our current cable modem, and pick up a new modem. I told him I wasn’t interested in doing that and asked what I had to do to get the Internet-only service for $66/month.

He said that he actually dealt only with moves, and to get a service dropped I’d have to talk to another department. He warned me that when I talked to that department not to even mention that we were actually moving, because as soon as they heard that they’d stop listening and transfer the call back to him. So he transferred me. I told the woman in the drop department that we wanted to keep Internet service and drop the basic cable TV service. She had a big list of questions she wanted me to answer, all designed to help her keep me from making any change. I didn’t answer any of them. I simply told her each time she asked a question that we wanted to drop cable TV service because we don’t watch TV. Finally, she admitted that we could have Internet-only service for $65.99/month. I told her that was what we wanted and asked what we had to do to get it done. She said that she did have one more option that would cost us less. The Internet-only was $65.99/month, but we could have Internet plus basic cable TV for $5 less per month, or $60.99. I asked her about the details. It was the same Internet service and the same cable TV service we’re getting now. No new modem needed. No service commitment for 12 or 24 months. Just month to month, but for $60.99/month instead of $83.99/month. So I commented that they apparently rewarded their good long-time customers by charging them $23/month more for the same service. She hemmed and hawed and said that her department had some pretty aggressive offers for customer retention. Bastards.

The lesson here is that you should call your service provider at least every few months and bludgeon them into giving you the best price available without any service-length commitment. And I suppose all of us should file complaints with our state authorities about our service providers using discriminatory pricing.

12:47 – I just got email from our real estate broker up in Sparta. Everything is now signed off on. She’s taking the paperwork to the real estate attorney this afternoon, and calling to get inspections set up. It looks like we’re going to get the house. Of course, with winter approaching and all the stuff we need to do here to get this house ready to go on the market, it may be quite a while before we’re actually living up there.

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Wednesday, 4 November 2015

08:10 – Happy Guy Fawkes Eve. Too bad we don’t have someone to plant explosives under our House of Lords.

Barbara is out for most of the day running errands. I’m working on the prepping book.

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Tuesday, 3 November 2015

08:40 – Yesterday, Barbara put a reserve hold on Ted Koppel’s new book, Lights Out. There won’t be much if anything in the book that I don’t already know, but it’ll be interesting to see Koppel’s take on the issue.

Most of my readers are already aware that a long-term grid-down situation is the worst nightmare imaginable for any prepper. Being without utility power for an extended time would literally destroy our country. It would probably kill off 10% of our population within weeks, and perhaps 80%+ within a year. Call it 250 million dead, just in the US and Canada. Modern society simply cannot survive without electricity. That’s the point Koppel is making, along with the fact that there are many different threats that could cause such a disaster, from hackers taking down the computers that control our grids to a massive coronal mass ejection (CME) to an intentional electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.

It’s difficult to estimate the probability of such events. The best probability estimates I’ve seen of a catastrophic CME are 1% to 1.2%. Per year. Those estimates come from NASA and various scientific journal papers. I don’t know enough about space weather to judge their validity, but they seem convincing.

An EMP attack is within the capabilities of various nations and groups who hate the US. All it would take is one small fission device detonated at very high altitude over the central US to cause incredible and long-lasting destruction to our power grids. North Korea has already demonstrated such a device, as has Pakistan. Iran probably isn’t far from having them, if it doesn’t already. Note that neither a fission warhead nor even just a fission bomb is necessary. All they need is a fission device. That’s because the device will detonate in space. That makes it a couple orders of magnitude easier to achieve. Designing a warhead to survive re-entry is the hard part. Any number of nations, including China, Iran, and North Korea, have missiles capable of boosting such a device to the required altitude. It could be done easily from a freighter outside US waters.

As to hackers, who knows? The fact that parts of our grid are controlled by Internet-connected PCs running Windows XP makes me think it’s just a matter of time. When one considers all the possible threats, it seems reasonable to me to assign a tentative probability of 10% per year to a catastrophic grid-down event. And that’s much too high to be acceptable.

The recovery time would depend on the cause of the event. A cyber attack would probably cause the least physical damage of the three, although there’s still the potential for significant physical damage to distribution. If we were lucky, we might see power start to be restored within weeks and a return to normal within months. A Carrington-class CME would cause more physical damage, although that could be limited to some extent because we could expect to have at least several hours’ to a day or so notice of the actual impact. Things could be taken off-line and protected against the flux. Whether or not that would happen would depend on the decision makers. They might well hesitate to cause a complete disruption of the power grid, even knowing what was about to occur. The EMP attack would cause incredible damage, because it would happen on essentially zero notice. There would not be time to take any protective actions. High-voltage transmission lines would be destroyed, along with the transformers and other gear required to control them. And those aren’t things you can just order from Amazon Prime. Most of the equipment is made outside the US, and even if the factories that make them were unaffected (a big if) the lead times on them run to months or even years.

On a lighter note, here’s another example of why I despair about modern eduction: Can you solve the 50 cent maths exam question that is dividing the internet?

Anyone who needs more than a fraction of a second to come up with the correct answer doesn’t understand basic geometry. Those 12-sided coins have interior angles of 30 degrees (360 degrees / 12 = 30 degrees). The angle in question is twice that, or 60 degrees. That should be obvious at a glance to anyone who’s passed basic geometry.

10:37 – A few minutes ago, as we were binning seed bags, our real-estate agent in Sparta called. The second-mortgage holder countered our $5,000 offer verbally with $7,000. We agreed, so at this point we’re waiting for the second-mortgage holder to sign the agreement. When that happens, things will start to move quickly. We’ll close on the house in a couple weeks.

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Monday, 2 November 2015

08:38 – We’re having typical autumn weather here, rainy and breezy with highs in the mid-60’s and lows in the 50’s. We’ve had a couple inches of rain in the last few days, with more to come. Between the wind and rain, most of the leaves are down. No really cold weather yet. We probably won’t see any significant snow or ice for a month or more, although we have had noticeable frost on roofs and lawns once or twice already.

Like everyone, we’ve gotten notice of the Obamacare open enrollment period for 2016. The monthly premiums, deductibles, and co-pays are all increasing. No surprise there. What I don’t understand is how the subsidies work for those with incomes low enough to receive them. I paid our first month’s premium in full by credit card when I signed us up. That covered October. We got a bill for the full amount for November, which Barbara just wrote a check for. If our income was $40,000/year, we’d have to pay only $200/month instead of $1,200. Most people with that income can’t afford to pay $1,200/month all year and wait to get the subsidy when they file their tax returns. Presumably there’s some mechanism that allows them to pay only the subsidized $200/month premium, but I don’t see any explanation on the Obamacare website or the BCBS website of how to do that. I often see figures about how many people have signed up for Obamacare but don’t pay their premiums. Perhaps this is why that happens.

10:18 – Back 40 years or so ago, I spent an afternoon shooting on a 500-yard range with a gun whose name I don’t even remember. There wasn’t any wind to speak of. He was shooting a tuned .30-06 Model 70, and getting consistent 4″ to 6″ 10-shot groups at 500 yards. That’s one minute of angle, MOA.

I remember thinking at the time that this guy could dominate and control a 500-yard radius from wherever he and his rifle happened to be. Back then, I did such simple calculations in my head without even having to think about it, and I realized that this guy controlled a surface area of more than 7,000,000 square feet, or more than 160 acres. One quarter of a square mile.

It was then that I started thinking about weapons (and shooters) in terms of the area they could control rather than their lineal ranges. With my .45 pistol or a riot shotgun, I can control an acre or so. With one of my .223/5.56 rifles, something like 40 acres, assuming a useful range of 250 yards or so.

Ten of me in one location could control that 40 acres with a weight of 10X or, more realistically, an area of 1.6 acres with a weight of 250X. If things ever do get really bad and we find ourselves having to defend ourselves and our home against bands of roving looters, that’s a lot of weigh on a relatively small surface area. Particularly when you consider that the average gang-banger and his weapon can’t control even one acre because he can’t hit anything other than by chance. Those ten of me, not even considering the defenders’ advantage, should be able to deal with 250 or more attackers.

Of course, that’s assuming we have ten of me, which we may well not have. But even a relative novice shooter firing a shotgun or rimfire rifle from cover can control an acre, which is one of the reasons I encourage my family and friends to learn to shoot. A bunch of people who can control an acre supplemented by a few who can control 40 acres or more would be able to put up a strong defense against violent would-be looters.

I don’t think it’ll come to that, or at least I really hope it won’t, but I believe there’s maybe a 10% chance that it will come to that sometime in the next few years. If it does, I want to be prepared.

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Sunday, 1 November 2015

08:47 – There was a shooting overnight at Winston-Salem State University, which is only 10 miles or so from us. One dead, one wounded, and the shooter is still at large, but there aren’t many other details available yet. It sounds like an individual crime rather than a mass shooting, but I’m sure we’ll soon know more.

The lead article in the morning paper says that Forsyth County is far behind on restaurant health inspections. Last year, the health department did less than 50% of required inspections, and the last year they did even 75% of the required inspections was 2008/2009. Neighboring and urban counties in North Carolina typically did 75% to 100% of the required inspections every year during that period. Apparently, the Forsyth County health department can’t do its job, but at least they do make excuses. No word of anyone being fired over this.

I wonder if these inspections are even needed. Given the poor performance of our county health department over the last several years, one might expect to see restaurant patrons dropping like flies, but as far as I know the incidence of food-borne illnesses is no higher here than anywhere else. It is, after all, in the interests of any food service company to avoid poisoning its customers. Any that does isn’t likely to remain in business for long, not to mention being sued.

I remember one incident that happened maybe 30 years ago. A restaurant near where we used to live, Cagney’s IIRC, poisoned quite a few of its customers, and was quickly driven out of business. And ISTR that they had recently passed a health department inspection. So what’s the point of health department inspections? The free market seems to do a better job of keeping restaurants in line than the health department does.

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