Saturday, 30 September 2017

08:56 – It was 48.4 (9C) when I took Colin out at 0645, mostly clear. Barbara is off this morning to volunteer at the friends bookstore, filling in for someone who had people coming in from out of town.

Yesterday, we got the second shelving unit set up in the lab/work area downstairs, and a lot of stuff moved from stacks on the floor onto the first shelving unit. The second one will remain empty until I decide what I want to go where.

As we arrange and reorganize down there, I’ve been thinking about installing a couple more LED shop lights as grow lights. We have a couple of worktables that we use only for binning chemicals when we’re making up chemical bags. They’re empty 99% of the time, and we could use one or both of those to hold herbs and vegetables in containers. The environment is climate-controlled, and free of the animal and insect pests that often attack our outside plants.

The big question is how much light they’d need. The LED shop lights we have consume only about 40W per fixture and provide about 4,000 lumens. I could put them on a timer and let them run 12 or 14 hours a day. They’re bright in terms of indoor lighting, but nothing close to actual sunlight. More like daylight in open shade.

When I read about home grow light setups, the articles were talking about very large lighting units like 1,600W metal halide lamps. That’s a lot more than I want to get into.

Friday, 29 September 2017

08:54 – It was 57.3 (13C) when I took Colin out at 0715, partly cloudy. Barbara is off to the gym and store this morning.

Our weather is starting to get a lot more autumn-like. Most of the leaves are still green, but a lot of them are falling. Our forecast highs over the next week or so are in the 60’s, with lows in the 40’s and high 30’s.

Science kit sales are starting to taper off, as is typical for late September into October. This month’s revenues are just short of last September’s. We’ll probably end up selling only three or four fewer kits this month than a year ago. But this August was considerably bigger than August 2016, so on balance we’re actually doing better than last year.

Embarrassing prepper moment. I called Blue Ridge Co-op a couple days ago and asked them to come out and top off our propane tank. We last had that done back in April, I think, and I was curious to find out how much propane we’d used from our 330-gallon tank to run the cooktop in the intervening five months or so.

As it turned out, the answer was a massive 0.0 gallons. The guy pulled the hose down, but when he checked the overflow valve there was still liquid propane shooting out. So there was no point to even connecting up the filler hose.

I speculate that when they filled the tank in April, the temperatures were enough lower that simple thermal expansion of the liquid propane has accounted for all our usage. With the current higher temperatures, the liquid propane expanded to fill the available volume.

The good news is that my original calculations were apparently correct, although I questioned them at the time as being intuitively ridiculous. I calculated that that 300 gallon tank was sufficient to run our cooktop even under heavy use for between 10 and 14 years. Turns out that was probably a good estimate. So from now on I’ll have it topped off only every year or two.

Colin and I were surprised yesterday morning when we saw Al’s pickup pull into the drive. I guess he was short of things to do, so he drove up here to thin our turnips. He stuck around for an hour or so, thinned the turnips, and then turned around and drove back to Winston.

Our first attempt at turnips, planted this spring, failed miserably. They looked happy enough, but when Barbara pulled the first one it was full of worms. Same for the second, the third, and on and on. We’re hoping this autumn batch will do better.

Speaking of agricultural fails, here it is almost October and we have no apple crop to speak of. Nor any black walnuts. Last year, we had bushels of both. Next year may be a big year or a repeat of this year or something in between. Raising food crops is always a crap shoot.

I’m always puzzled when I hear from preppers who intend to raise their own food in a SHTF situation, but have never actually attempted to grow anything. Folks, that’s not how it works. If you’re counting on growing something, you’d better try it BEFORE you really need it. And even then there’s no guarantee that what works this time will work every time.

I’m also often puzzled by their choices of crops. It sounds like many of them are planning to eat mostly salads. I mean, stuff like lettuce and celery and peppers are fine as minor parts of the harvest, but they aren’t very calorie- and nutrient-dense. The bulk of your crop should be roots/tubers, legumes, and grain crops. Stuff like potatoes, yams, turnips, beets, parsnips, beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, wheat, oats, barley, amaranth, and so on. Stuff that produces large amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and oils. And, most importantly, bulk calories. You can starve to death on celery.

We maintain only a small garden patch. That, and pots on the back deck. Last year and this year have been experimental, finding out what works and what doesn’t. We now know that some crops just don’t work here, notably broccoli. But some flourish, including several types of squash, green beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Tomatoes, onions, and peas do okay. Beets, not so much.

But the point is that we’re finding out what works for us, with our climate and our soil. In a real long-term emergency, we could expand our garden to 100 times or more the size that it is now. There would very likely be scaling issues, but at least we’d have some experience that would allow us to deal with those.

But if you’re a prepper who’s bought a supply of heirloom seeds and just stuck them on the shelf, you’re fooling yourself. You’re not much better off than someone who hasn’t even bought seeds. Thinking and planning is NOT the same as doing.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

08:56 – It was 63.1F (17.5C) when I took Colin out at 0700, mostly clear. Barbara is off this morning to volunteer at the historical society museum. I need to get my application to be an amateur radio volunteer examiner filled out and submitted today.

I finally ordered a shock collar for Colin yesterday. It allows a gradually escalating stimulus, from audio/visual to start with, up through an adjustable level of electric shock. One way or another, we are going to get him trained to come when he’s called, no matter how interested he is in something else.

I forgot to mention that we’d had our first real deep pantry fail. At least I think we did. We were running out of mayonnaise upstairs, so I brought up another jar. It was reasonably fresh. The best-by date on it was January, 2016. I just put it on the kitchen counter and didn’t think any more about it.

When Barbara was making sandwiches for lunch, she opened it. She called me into the kitchen and pointed out that the PET jar had dented in and that when she opened the jar that cardboard/foil seal over the mouth of the jar just came loose freely. The contents didn’t smell bad, exactly, but there was a moderate odor. So we pitched the jar.

That’s the first time we’ve ever encountered a problem with food that was packaged in a way that I’d consider LTS-grade.

Yesterday, we assembled the first set of steel shelves I’d ordered from Walmart. The only shipping damage was a minor dent to the corner of one of the fiberboard shelves. It’s a 2X4-foot shelf unit that’s six feet tall and has five shelves. It’s rated to support 4,000 pounds total, 800 pounds per shelf, but I have my doubts. The 2X4 fiberboard shelves are supported only along the four edges, with no cross-bracing. I’d be surprised if they didn’t sag, especially since the fiberboard is only about a quarter inch thick. If it becomes a problem, I’ll just replace the shelves with 3/8″ plywood.

We started watching a documentary about stone-age humans last night. The clan had a dog running around their huts, which again made me think of Neanderthals.

H. sapiens neanderthalensis was apparently superior in just about every way to us gracile H. sapiens sapiens. They were bigger than us, much stronger, and, given their much larger cranial capacities, almost certainly smarter than us as well. So the mystery is why they faded away while modern humans became the dominant primates on the planet.

I’ve always suspected it was because modern humans domesticated Canis lupus familiaris while Neanderthals did not. One on one, a sapiens was no match for a neanderthalensis, but one modern man with a dog easily overmatched a Neanderthal.

So, gradually, neanderthalensis faded out as a distinct sub-species and was incorporated into the muttly line of modern humans.

Or so I strongly suspect. And DNA testing on various modern human lines bears that out, I think.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

09:02 – It was 60.9F (16C) and still dark when I took Colin out at 0645. He just trotted off down the road, which is becoming a usual thing. I’m going to have start taking him out on leash, particularly when it’s still dark out.

Barbara is off to the gym, after which she’ll be building kit sub-assemblies. I’m not sure if she has any outside stuff to do today. The only thing in the garden is turnips, which are starting to come up nicely. A lot of turnips, which will need to be thinned. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a turnip, so I’m looking forward to trying them.

Work on the house next door continues to progress. Yesterday, Billings Heating and Air was installing a heat pump. They left the oil furnace in place, and will use the heat pump only for air conditioning. The deck looks to be complete, all the new windows are installed, and the outside looks good. Barbara mentioned that they’re spending as much on renovations as they did to buy the house. I’m sure Grace is champing at the bit to get in there.

I have a bunch of stuff coming from Amazon today, including six rolls of packing tape. Since we started the business, I’ve been buying U-Line packing tape by the case of 36 rolls. We’re down to eight rolls or so, so it was time to re-order.

But before I order another case of U-Line tape, I decided to try a different brand. The U-Line tape works, but it can be very aggravating. It often doesn’t stick to the tape dispenser cutter bar, and the end flops loose and sticks itself to the plate below the cutting bar, which is a pain to free up.

The U-Line tape is 2.0 mil. Amazon has another brand that’s 3.2 mil, and I thought maybe the thicker tape would work better. The U-Line stuff by the case costs $1.60 per 110-yard roll, plus shipping, or about $0.015/yard. The new stuff is just over $2.00 for a 60-yard roll if I buy a six-pack, or about $0.036/yard. But we don’t use THAT much packing tape, so if the new stuff works better it’ll be worth paying twice as much for it, just to avoid the aggravation. Of course, it may turn out to be even worse. We’ll see.

The morning paper reports another cluster of shootings down in Winston. Six people shot in 24 hours, in four separate incidents. There was a similar cluster there a couple weeks ago. I remember when shootings in Winston were extremely rare. They’re starting to become commonplace. Winston isn’t Chicongo, yet, but like most cities it’s heading in that direction.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

09:19 – It was 60.7F (16C) and mostly clear when I took Colin out at 0725. He let me sleep in this morning, but eventually he couldn’t stand it anymore and started licking my hand to wake me up.

Barbara and I both had dentist appointments yesterday to have our fangs cleaned and sharpened. Hers was for 1145 and mine for 1230, so we rode in together. We got there around 1130, and I was surprised a few minutes later when they called me in. As it turns out, Dr. Flowers had hired a second hygienist, so they ended up being able to treat Barbara and me simultaneously.

I ended up with the new hygienist, Kayla. She’s 22 years old and has always lived here. She’s getting married next May to a guy who’s also always lived in the Sparta area. They’ve already bought a house, but they won’t move in together until they’re married. They plan to have at least two children and maybe three, and Kayla said she wants to have them all before she’s 30.

We ended up finishing about 1240, only 10 minutes after the original time of my appointment. This was our first dentist visit since our COBRA dental insurance expired in March, so I was curious what the charges would be. They ended up being $134 for each of us, which was noticeably less than it would have been down in Winston.

I got an interesting email yesterday from a woman who asked what brand of rechargeable NiMH AA and AAA cells we used and how many we stocked. The brand is easy: Eneloops, whether they’re branded Panasonic, Sanyo, or AmazonBasics.

The first batch I ordered was three years ago. I bought an 8-pack each of AA and AAA AmazonBasics High Capacity, which at the time (and maybe still) were Eneloops. They were manufactured in Japan, although some of the AmazonBasics rechargeables at the time were Chinese. I avoided those. I also avoided US brand names like Energizer and Duracell. Their rechargeables seem inferior to the Eneloops, probably not least because they want to protect their alkaline battery business.

Since then, I’ve ordered Panasonic Eneloops in either standard capacity or the Pro version, which is higher capacity. They’re all LSD (low self-discharge) models. The difference is that the Pro versions have higher capacity, but are rated at “only” 500 charge cycles (versus 2,100 cycles for the 4th generation standard-capacity models).

As to how many you need, I told her that was completely up to her. I suggested at least one full set for each of their devices, along with maybe 20% extras. At this point, I’m still using up our stock of Costco Kirkland AA and AAA alkalines, but as we run out of those, I’ll replace them with NiMH cells in everything from flashlights and lanterns to remote controls to radios.

As to rechargers, any name-brand smart charger seems to be fine. You’ll want at least a couple of these, and you want ones that charge cells individually rather than requiring that you charge them in pairs. Ideally, I’d want at least one charger that can be plugged into a 12V auto receptacle.

Monday, 25 September 2017

08:52 – It was 57.4F (13C) and mostly clear when I took Colin out at 0645. We’re having warmish weather, with highs in the 70’s and lows in the 50’s, but it won’t be long before things start cooling down again.

I just realized that in two months we’ll have been living in Sparta for two years. Tempus fugit. Barbara still makes frequent trips down to Winston to visit family and friends and run errands, but it’s been months since I’ve been outside the county and I’d be just as happy never to leave the county again. For me, even a trip into Sparta is a major occasion.

Puerto Rico was bankrupt before the hurricanes, and now it seems they’re expecting US taxpayers to pay off their $70 billion in worthless bonds AND buy them a new country. We, the US taxpayers, have already done more than enough for Puerto Rico. Let them rebuild their own country, and pay for it themselves.

It’s bad enough that US taxpayers will end up shelling out billions to rebuild in Texas and Florida. At least they’re US states. Puerto Rico is not, and we shouldn’t be paying to repair their misfortune.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

09:36 – It was 66.3F (13.5C) and partly cloudy when I took Colin out at 0700. Barbara is due back from Winston around lunchtime, so I need to spend some time de-wrecking the house.

Chris and Tamara Moser stopped over yesterday afternoon. They’re two of the four extra-class hams in the county, and also two of the four county residents who are qualified as Volunteer Examiners that can administer ham license tests.

Chris sent out email yesterday morning asking if anyone had a current copy of the ARRL exam book that they’d be willing to lend to one of the students in the Tech Exam class that commences early next month. I told him he was welcome to borrow mine.

We stood around talking when they got here, and they mentioned that there was a problem with holding the exam. There have to be three VE’s present at any exam, and Chris and Tamara are related to two of the people who’ll be taking the exam. That disqualifies them from being VE’s for that particular exam session.

I told them that the only reason I’d even tried taking the Extra exam when I passed my Tech and General licence exams was so that the county would have one more person qualified to be a VE.

They pointed out that I could still become a VE, but with only a General license that meant I’d only qualify to supervise exams for would-be Tech licensees. Of course, that’s exactly what the upcoming exam is for, so I’m going to go ahead and apply for VE credentials. I’ll probably pick up my Extra-class license at some point, which would qualify me to be a VE for all three license classes.

Email from Cassie yesterday, with the subject line “NEVER AGAIN”. Back in February, with the help of a friend who’s an experienced canner, Cassie had pressure canned 40 pints of chicken that she’d bought on sale. Cassie hadn’t stocked up on canning jars yet, so they used 40 pint jars and Tattler reusable lids supplied by her friend.

For dinner Friday, Cassie pulled a pint jar of canned chicken off her deep pantry shelf. They’d left the bands on the jars when they finished pressure-canning them. When Cassie unscrewed the band, the lid was loose as well. She didn’t have to pry it up, it just separated freely from the jar. Either that jar had never sealed, or it had lost its seal sometime during the seven months or so it had been sitting on the pantry shelf. The meat didn’t stink, but Cassie rightly treated that jar as a rattlesnake.

Obviously, that brought dinner to a crashing halt. Cassie said she almost literally vomited when she realized that they’d eaten several jars of that chicken over the preceding months, and that any one of those jars could have killed them. They ordered take-out for dinner, and while they waited for it to arrive Cassie pulled all the remaining jars of chicken off the shelf and removed the rings. Of the two dozen or so jars remaining, one had completely lost its seal, and she considered two or three more questionable. They decided to pitch all of the remaining jars of chicken, which was the right decision.

She immediately called her friend that had helped her can those jars to give her a heads-up. The friend was mortified, of course. She’d been canning meat with Tattler lids for a decade or more, and this was the first time there’d been any problem.

Cassie pulled the other hundred or so jars of meat she’d canned. Ground beef, beef chunks, pork, and sausage. She’d done those with the single-use metal lids supplied originally with the Ball jars, and every single one of them still had a good seal. Cassie concluded, and I agree, that the problem was the Tattler lids.

She did some additional research and came across this web page, which was originally posted five years ago and has been updated since. Study this page and the links before you even think about using Tattler lids.

Tattler lids are not USDA-approved for pressure canning. The Tattler website weasels around that lack of approval by stating that they use USDA-approved food-grade plastics in their lids, which is not the same as the lids themselves being approved. And the National Center for Home Food Preservation at UGA, which is the authoritative sources on all things related to pressure-canning, specifically recommends against using “reusable” canning lids.

The obvious temptation, particularly for preppers, is to buy a supply of Tattler lids as a long-term reusable solution in a grid-down scenario. The Tattler lids cost four or five times as much as a standard single-use Ball or Kerr metal lid, but can supposedly be reused over and over. I’d actually considered buying a supply of them for just that reason. But my conclusion after reading those pages is that not only can the Tattler lids not be trusted for re-use, they can’t even be trusted for single use. I intend to order a supply of name-brand, US-made Ball and/or Kerr metal single-use lids for just that reason. In bulk, you can find them for 18 or 20 cents each, which is a small price to pay for a reliable and safe seal.

I told Cassie that although I think she should discard all of the remaining canned chicken and the Tattler lids, she needn’t discard the jars themselves or the bands. Just stick them in the dishwasher on its longest cycle with sanitize turned on, and they should be fine. And, oh by the way, you’re not supposed to leave the bands on the jars after they seal. If nothing else, leaving the bands screwed down can give the impression that a jar has a good seal when it fact it’s a false seal. Cassie experienced that with a couple of the Tattler lids. It’s unlikely to happen with the metal lids, but it’s not worth taking the chance.

Cassie had originally bought half a gross of the Tattler lids from Amazon, at roughly a buck apiece. She gave 40 of those to her friend to replace the ones her friend had provided for their first canning session, so she had 32 unused Tattler lids. She’s been using the metal lids provided with the jars ever since, so the rest of what she’s canned is okay. She’s well beyond the Amazon return window, so she’s going to trash the unused lids and eat the cost. She’s pissed, and I don’t blame her. She’s not pissed at her friend or herself or Amazon. She’s pissed at Tattler. Rightly so, in my opinion.

I was actually kind of surprised that this experience didn’t turn her off completely to canning, but it hasn’t. She’s convinced that canning is safe, assuming she uses the right materials and procedures, and that it’s a cost-effective way to store food. In fact, the next time there’s a big sale on chicken, she plans to buy a bunch and can it up.

I almost didn’t mention this, but I decided it was worth noting. Jaime at Guildbrook Farms also pressure cans bulk meats, and she re-uses the METAL lids. According to all the authorities, that’s an unsafe practice, but I told Cassie if she wants to do that I’d suggest opening a sealed jar very, very carefully to avoid damaging the lid and then wash and sterilize that used lid and stick it on the shelf. In an SHTF situation, she could re-use those lids once she couldn’t get new ones, but in the interim I suggested she use new lids every time.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

08:16 – It was 60.8F (6C) and partly cloudy when I took Colin out at 0645.

Barbara left about 1515 yesterday to head down to Winston. She had dinner with a friend yesterday evening, stayed with Frances and Al, and is running various errands today and Sunday morning before heading back. Colin and I are bereft. Barbara’s gone, and neither of us has been able to locate any wild women.

I see some religious nutcase says the world is ending, starting today. He formerly said it was ending today, period, but recently modified his prediction to say that today was the beginning of the end. Which is kind of like predicting that the sun will rise in the morning, but followers of idiots like this never seem to notice.

I remember the last time the world ended, back in 2011. We’d planned to have dinner with Paul and Mary at our house. We decided that it’d be safe for Mary, Barbara, and me to have dinner indoors, but we were going to make Paul eat out on the deck. All four of us are atheists, so we figured everything would be okay, but because Paul had been “saved” as a small child meant that he might be transported to heaven, we decided to take no chance of ending up with a hole in our roof

As I was packing up science kits last night and affixing postage labels, it occurred to me how strongly our customer base skews rural/small-town. Sure, we sell a lot of kits into the Clinton Archipelago, but a large percentage go to red states or red areas of blue states. Our customer base is much more likely than average to live in small towns in exurban/rural areas in all 50 states. Now, every time we get an order with a ship-to town I don’t recognize the name of, I look it up on Wikipedia. More often than not, it has a population of 1,237 or 4,158 or something like that, and is located in a rural/agricultural county with a population of 30,000 or fewer.

There’s been a lot of speculation by commenters here about what might happen if things really go to hell. The consensus seems to be that the progs from the blue areas would be in deep shit because (a) they can’t do anything important for themselves, (b) we Deplorables own most of the firearms, and (c) on average, we’re much, much better shots. And I think all of that is true. But it may not be the most important differentiator.

Home-schooled students are far, far ahead of public school students. On average, they’re probably two to three grade levels ahead. Even more important, they actually learn to think, which is a rarity among public-school students. Even disregarding demographic differences, which substantially favor the rural kids, those kids are smarter, better-educated, and harder working than urban kids in public schools. And the rural kids also tend to learn hands-on skills, much more than urban kids do.

So if push ever really comes to shove, the rural population has every advantage over the urban population. If the latter decides to come to take what we have, they’re going to run into a buzzsaw. Or perhaps more accurately, a meat grinder.

Friday, 22 September 2017

09:07 – It was 59.9F (5.5C) when I took Colin out at 0630. It was still dark, and he immediately disappeared into the gloom. I walked up and down the road shouting for him, but he was nowhere to be seen. At 0700, I finally woke Barbara and told her Colin was gone. She walked around yelling for him for a few minutes, and finally got in her car to drive around looking for him. She finally spotted him in the back yard of a house a quarter mile or so (~400 meters) down US21. We both chastised him, telling him he was a Very Bad Dog, but I doubt that will have any lingering effect.

I just placed my first order for bulk laboratory supplies with Amazon Business yesterday. I wanted to find an alternative source for several items that we’ve been ordering from one of our four major wholesalers for the last eight years or so. They’ve always been a bit more expensive than most, but I liked the quality of their stuff, which was mostly made in India rather than China.

But in addition to having higher prices, typically 10% or 15% higher than competitors, they’ve also always had high shipping charges. And those have gotten even higher since we moved to Sparta. The last straw came a couple of weeks ago, when they shipped me a small order. It was a small box that weighed only four or five pounds (~ 2 kilos), and they charged me $40 to ship it, which was almost 40% of the cost of the items themselves. They could have shipped it USPS Priority Mail for a quarter or less of what they charged me.

So, among the items I needed to reorder yesterday were 24-well and 96-well well plates. Ordinarily, I’d order those both by the case of 500 each, but I decided to order them from Amazon Business instead. The actual item price was similar, even ordering in boxes of 50 rather than cases of 500, and 2-day shipping was included in the price. They’re to arrive tomorrow, and assuming the quality is acceptable (which I’m pretty sure it will be), I’ll be ordering those in bulk from Amazon Business from now on. Those and probably half a dozen or more other items, such as 15 mL and 50 mL centrifuge tubes, which we also order in multiple case lots.

Email yesterday from someone I at first thought was another newbie prepper, with the subject line, “What else do we need to do?” My answer, as it turned out, was “not much”. If anything, they’re already better-prepared than we are. They’re retired, in their mid-60’s, and live outside a small town in Tioga County in north-central Pennsylvania, whose demographics look a lot like ours. They’re stocked up big-time on food, and have backups to their backups for water, heating, electric power, and so on. They maintain a large garden and keep chickens. Their nearest Costco is about a two-hour drive, one-way. Their home is large enough to accommodate their three kids with their spouses and the grandkids, who live in the State College and Altoona areas and visit them frequently on holiday weekends. They’re friends with all of their neighbors, and are active in the community. I couldn’t think of anything to suggest that they haven’t already done.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

08:45 – It was 59F (5C) when I got up at 0615 to take Colin out. It was still dark, and he apparently decided it wasn’t time yet to go out. I was sitting in the den checking my email when he finally wandered in at 0630 and yawned.

I’m pretty much back to normal. The nausea disappeared yesterday by lunchtime, leaving me feeling a bit tired but nothing worse. I ate several small snacks through the day, but today I’ll be back to eating normally. I’ve also been trying to drink more to get myself rehydrated.

This is the last day of summer. Autumn arrives tomorrow at 1602 EDT, and we’re having the typical beautiful autumn weather. The leaves haven’t started to change much, but that’ll happen over the next couple of weeks. Peak color up here is generally in the first half of October.

Interesting article in the paper this morning. Some company does an overall natural disaster risk rating county-by-county for every county in the US, 3,000+ of them. Forsyth County, where we used to live, is rated as high risk, primarily due to the threat of wildfires. Alleghany County, where we now live, is rated as very low risk on all of the threats they consider. I was surprised that wildfires were not at least moderate risk here, but apparently not.

We’re back to work building science kits today. Things have started to slow down, but we’re still shipping quite a few kits. We always try to keep enough finished kits on hand to meet expected demand, but not so many that they end up sitting on the shelf just aging.