Month: January 2016

Thursday, 21 January 2016

09:47 – Barbara had plans to meet one of her friends for lunch today down in Winston. She originally planned to drive down this morning, pack up some stuff at the old house, meet her friend for lunch, and then drive back here this afternoon. The forecast yesterday was calling for snow yesterday afternoon and evening, so Barbara decided to drive down to Winston yesterday after lunch and spend the night with Frances and Al. The main roads have been plowed and salted and today’s forecast is good through this evening, so she shouldn’t have any problem getting back up here this afternoon. Starting this evening and running through Sunday morning, we’re under a winter storm warning. The high tomorrow is to be only 23F (-5C), and we’re to have 12″ to 24″ (30 to 60 cm) of snow.

I see that the Washington DC area was shut down yesterday by 0.5″ to 1″ (1.25 to 2.5 cm) of snow, with many accidents and gridlock on the main roads. I wonder what they’ll do when a foot or more of snow falls over the next couple of days. We might get as much as two feet of snow here. We’re planning to stay indoors, but if we did need to go out it probably wouldn’t be much of a problem. The main roads here, including the one we live on, should be plowed and salted.

With Barbara away, Colin and I re-watched several episodes each of Jericho and Heartland yesterday evening. I would have done the wild-women-and-parties thing except that I don’t know any wild women in Sparta and I hate parties.


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

10:08 – When Lori picked up our mail this morning, I mentioned to her that USPS had basically destroyed the usefulness of Click-N-Ship by eliminating support for regional rate boxes and eliminating the Commercial Base Pricing discount. I told her not to expect to see many Click-N-Ship labels from now on, because USPS actions had made it useless for probably 95+% of the customers who had been using it. She couldn’t believe they’d done that.

I told her that I’d still be shipping via USPS, but using stamps.com, which still provides the CBP discount and support for Regional Rate. But if USPS can make such a huge arbitrary change, who’s to say they won’t do something equally obnoxious in the future, like eliminate Regional Rate boxes entirely? So I just added a priority item to my to-do list: checking into using FedEx or UPS instead of USPS, should that become necessary.


As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m not really expecting a catastrophic long-term emergency, but my attitude has always been to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. The worst would be a long-term grid-down emergency, as Ted Koppel wrote about in his recent book. That is a very real possibility, either from a solar CME or an EMP attack, and the results would be catastrophic: many millions dead within the first weeks and more to follow as our production and distribution systems collapsed. A deadly virus pandemic would be about as bad. Those are the two possibilities that keep emergency management planners awake at night, and the probability that one or both will occur in the near future is probably on the close order of 0.1 per year. So I do my best to plan for either. By definition, being prepared for the worst also means you’re prepared for less catastrophic long-term emergencies like widespread civil unrest.

The LDS Church provides an excellent prototype for organizing preparations for disasters. They’ve been at it for more than a hundred years, and their focus is on community organization. And, although the LDS church takes no official position on members defending themselves in an emergency, most individual Mormons I’ve known have made self-defense a priority. If things ever get really bad, it will be up to individuals to defend themselves, within the context of their larger communities. In our case, that means Sparta and its environs. I read an interesting article the other day that lays out the framework for a community defense: Defending Our Homeland: How Neighbors Can Protect Their Community. It hits the high points. David Crawford’s Lights Out is an excellent fictional treatment of the same issue. If you haven’t read it, you should.

Over the coming months, I intend to get involved with the local folks who are involved in emergency prep, including the local and county government EM group and the local LDS church. Whatever your local environment–urban, suburban, rural, whatever–you should do the same.


Tuesday, 19 January 2016

10:14 – When I took Colin out this morning, I thought at first that our digital outdoor thermometer was reading 39F. It was actually 3.9F (-15.6C). Our lows this week are to continue being very cold. The Friday forecast is for 8″ (20 cm) of snow. None of this seems to bother Colin at all.

The heat pump is working fine. I periodically look at the thermostat, which has an indicator for Emergency (resistive) heat, and so far I haven’t seen it running in emergency mode. Of course, we have the woodstove in case of power failure, but I haven’t gotten around to burning it in yet, to burn off the chemical residue from the paint. We have a cord or more of “junk” wood in a pile out back. It’s rotting and has been sitting exposed to the elements for a long time, but I’m sure it’ll burn if we need it in an emergency. Burning much of it would probably glop up the flue with creosote, so I don’t plan to burn it unless we really need to.

Today I need to get our Obamacare situation straightened out. As of 1 January 2016, we changed from BCBS to United Healthcare, but they still have our address as Winston-Salem. I need to get that changed to Sparta and get our primary care physicians changed to up here as well.

I called Costco yesterday and canceled my order for the new notebook. The stamps.com software runs fine on Barbara’s Windows 8.1 notebook, and I should be able to use their web interface to print labels on my Linux system. If not, I’ll re-order a new notebook.

As Stephen Stills sang 50 years ago, “There’s battle lines being drawn.” As a libertarian, I find myself part of a group that’s too small to make a difference. Or perhaps I should say too disorganized. In fact, those who skew libertarian are probably about 25% of the population, which is more than the 15% or so that are true conservatives and the 10% or so who are classical liberals. Unfortunately, the other half are a collection of lefties, progressives, socialists, and populists.

I’m afraid that Kurt Schlichter’s article back in August–Hillary’s Hipster Army Prepares For The Second Civil War–may be prescient, except that it may not turn out as favorably as he foresees. There are already movements afoot in many red states to reclaim rights that the federal government has arrogated to itself over the last century. Those movements are still nascent, but growing. There has even been a call for a Constitutional Convention, which may gain momentum. Be careful what you wish for. But the real point is that conservatives, classical liberals, libertarians, and others opposed to a large, intrusive federal government are, as the saying goes, mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.

I find myself increasingly sympathizing with the conservatives, even the Religious Right like Schlichter. I disagree profoundly with many of their positions on social and religious issues, but they may be the only thing standing between us and a complete progressive victory. If I have to choose, I’ll side with the so-called conservatives rather than with the progs every time.


Monday, 18 January 2016

08:50 – I currently have three kits awaiting pickup. If those kits had shipped Saturday, the postage would have been $39.70. If I used USPS Click-N-Ship to generate postage labels for them today, the postage would be $56.25. If I’d used stamps.com to generate postage labels to ship them Saturday, the postage would again have been $39.70. If I use stamps.com to generate postage labels today, the postage will total about $41, which reflects the actual postage cost increase that occurred yesterday. The huge increase in using Click-N-Ship is because it no longer offers Commercial Base pricing, instead using Retail pricing, and because it no longer supports Regional Rate boxes. I need to get the stamps.com software installed on Barbara’s system today and get those postage labels run.

It was cold again overnight. It was 13F (-10.5C) when I took Colin out to get the paper this morning, with another dusting of snow and gusty winds. Fortunately, the heat pump is keeping it warm in here, although I’m sure we’re using resistive heating. Kind of like one of those standalone quartz heaters, but on a larger scale.

I also have a lot of admin stuff to get done over the next few days, including state and federal income tax stuff, state sales tax return, Obamacare stuff, and so on. Government-mandated stuff is taking up much too much of my time.

The new Windows 10 notebook system should ship soon. I’m going to make it my primary PC and carry it around the house with me rather than tether it to my desk. I actually considered buying something that would work with a docking station, but this notebook has a 17″ screen, which is large enough for most of what I do. And I can always plug it into my 23″ 1080P monitor if I need to.

After I get the Windows 10 installation backed up to redundant DVD sets, I’ll probably install Linux Mint in dual boot mode so that I can work in Linux except when I’m generating postage labels.


Sunday, 17 January 2016

10:24 – I knew that USPS was increasing prices as of today, but I didn’t realize that they were making other changes that in total would more than double our shipping costs.

Until yesterday, I was using their Click-N-Ship website, which provided Commercial Base Pricing. Shipping a Large Flat Rate Box cost me $15.80, a discount of a couple bucks off Retail Pricing at the counter. As of today, that discount goes away and Retail Pricing also increases. Shipping a Large FR box will now cost me $18.75, an increase of almost 19%.

But that’s the least of the problem. As of today, Click-N-Ship no longer offers Regional Rate Box postage. About 80% of our shipments go by RR Box, which is no longer offered. The net result is that our postage costs will more than double if I continue using the USPS Click-N-Ship website to generate postage labels.

The alternative is to sign up with Stamps.com, Endicia.com, or one of the other third-party providers. Those cost $15 or $20 per month, which isn’t a big deal. The problem is that none of them as far as I can see support Linux. They’re all Windows/Mac-only. But they do offer Commercial Base Pricing and Regional Rate Box postage, which Click-N-Ship no longer does, so I have no real choice but to use one of them.

The only non-Linux box in the house is currently Barbara’s notebook, which means I’ll need to run postage labels there.


11:36 – So, I just ordered a new notebook from Costco.com and got signed up with Stamps.com.

I need to do something about our appliances. When the former owners built this house in 2006, they installed all Frigidaire appliances. I despise Frigidaire. The dishwasher sucks. Its racks are almost unusable and it simply doesn’t clean dishes. The built-in microwave is failing. The 1-4-7 column on the keypad is dead, so we’ve been heating things for times that don’t have a 1, 4, or 7 in them. Instead of one minute, we’ve been punching in 59 seconds, and so on. Then, last night when Barbara was heating a bowl of soup, the microwave started making very strange noises and actually arced. So we hauled up one of our three microwaves from downstairs and put it on the counter. That’ll be fine indefinitely, but we need to replace the dishwasher sooner rather than later. At least Barbara actually likes the oven, but it’s coming up on 10 years old so it may eventually need to be replaced as well.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

07:21 – I forgot to do a weekly prepping post yesterday, because I’ve been so busy with house stuff and kit stuff that I haven’t had a moment to think about prepping.

Actually, I did start one thing that counts as weekly prepping. I’m putting together a new biology kit supplement page for microbiology that includes half a dozen antibiotics in larger quantities that can be ordered individually by type. They’re all pharmaceutical-grade drugs, but are not repackaged under conditions that the FDA mandates for drugs intended for human consumption. They’re intended for laboratory use only, which of course may be honored in the breach during an emergency. But it does mean that we’ll have reasonable quantities of these antibiotics in inventory.

So what did you do to prep this week?


Friday, 15 January 2016

08:58 – The estimated taxes are in the mail. Barbara is heading for the gym and then running by the supermarket to pick up some groceries. I think we’ll make another batch of oatmeal cookies. More science kit stuff for us today.

We finished watching both seasons of Peaky Blinders on Netflix streaming last night. It’s a decent series, but the music is hideous. Barbara called it grunge rock. I’m not sure that’s what it is, but whatever it is it’s bad. And totally inappropriate for a series set in 1920 Birmingham, UK. We started watching the Brit cop comedy Vexed. It’s decent, but there are only a total of nine episodes. That’s one thing I’ll give the Brits. When they make a series, they make more episodes until they run out of ideas. Then they stop making it. I wish US producers did the same.

Our frigid weather is now supposed to occur Monday rather than Sunday. I don’t think they really know what’s going to happen.


Thursday, 14 January 2016

09:23 – It’s been chilly around here, but nothing compared to the forecast for Sunday night. The low is to be 4F (-15C) with winds of 20 MPH. That puts the wind chill, at a first approximation, around absolute zero (−459F/−273C), where atoms stop vibrating and even Colin will want to stay indoors.

I tagged this post as recommended books/videos, but in fact the books I’m about to list are distinctly NOT recommended. The first is Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, a dystopian/PA novel. It has 2,759 Amazon reviews averaging 4.1 stars. It’s a New York Times Bestseller and a 2014 National Book Award Finalist. That last should have told me to run screaming from it. The good news is that Mandel can write competent English sentences and paragraphs. The bad news is that it’s a literary novel (hawk, spit), which means it’s all about beautiful language. A would-be poet writing prose. No plot, no story. Nothing ever happens. Boring. If you’re even considering wasting $10 on a Kindle copy of this book, I recommend you first read the 1-star reviews on Amazon, which provide a fair evaluation of the book. It’s simply terrible.

Then there’s James Hunt. He has a bunch of his books listed on Kindle Unlimited, which means I can read them for free with my KU account. I grabbed several of them yesterday, with high hopes. Unfortunately, the best I can say about Hunt’s books is that they’re not literary novels. I wasted half an hour or so reading the first book and part of the second in his Exiled series. All I can say is, stop him before he writes again. The plot, such as it is, is ludicrous. The Colorado River has run completely dry, leaving California and the Southwest without water. Literally, without a drop to drink. So an evil congressman passes a law to expel (Exile, presumably) these states from the US, leaving 40 million people to die. And the ludicrous plot is the least of it. This guy can’t write his way out of a paper bag. Horrible dialog, horrible everything. Don’t waste any time on these. Even at $0.00 each, these books aren’t worth the price.

More work on science kit stuff today.


Wednesday, 13 January 2016

10:58 – With the move and everything that’s been going on, my inventory system broke down. I thought we had enough of everything other than vials of PTC paper to make up three dozen biology kit unregulated chemicals bags. Turns out we were out of vials of penicillin G potassium powder and neomycin sulfate powder. Barbara will be filling and labeling 90 or 120 of each today. I’m gradually getting our inventory numbers verified by actual count, but we have so many SKUs that it’s a lot of work.

We’re also down to our last five sets of prepared slides, which we made up and boxed yesterday. I reordered 30 more sets of slides yesterday. Five sets may be a month’s supply, but they could also sell in a single day. Fortunately, my vendor is in-stock on 30 each of all 15 slides in the set. Sometimes, they’re not, and I have to wait a month or more for them to arrive on a slow boat from India.

While I was at it, I also did a purchase order for a few kilos of assorted bulk antibiotics to restock our raw material chemical inventory. All of our vendors were out-of-stock on sulfadimethozine, so I ordered half a kilo of sulfamethazine, which is a good substitute for science kit purposes. Fortunately, I already have a kilo of sulfadimethoxine in the freezer.

The weather continues cold. It was 14F (-10C) when I took Colin out this morning, with the wind chill down around -4F (-20C). Colin doesn’t understand why we wimpy humans prefer to stay indoors instead of taking him out to chase sticks.


Tuesday, 12 January 2016

08:35 – Work continues on building science kit subassemblies and finished kits. We built two dozen of the biology kit regulated chemical bags yesterday. We had sufficient bottled chemicals to do three dozen, but I like keeping some bottled chemicals in reserve, since many of them are used in different types of kits.

We’ll get biology kit un-regulated chemical bags built today, along with another batch of finished biology kits. I also need to order a couple of items that we’re running short of. And, of course, we need to track down all the individual items that go into finished kits. They’re all up here, somewhere. We’ll work today and tomorrow on getting them organized.

It’s still a bit chilly. The forecast low for tonight is 14F (-10C), with winds of 20 to 30 MPH gusting to 40 MPH (64 KPH). I’m not sure what that makes the official wind chill, but it must be down around -40F/C.


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