Sunday, 10 September 2017

09:08 – It was 46.4F (8C) when I took Colin out at 0645, clear and calm.

Happy Anniversary to us! Barbara and I have been married 34 years today.

The latest Irma forecasts have it tracking further left, aimed at Memphis, which should limit the effects here. The local forecast now calls for 1 to 4 inches (2.5 to 10 cm) of rain and sustained winds of 20 to 30 MPH (30 to 50 KPH). Barbara has already brought in most of the outdoor items that are subject to blowing away, and will get the rest indoor this afternoon.

The leftward shift is also good news for several of the Prepper Girls, most of whom are located in extreme western North Carolina and Virginia, and eastern Tennessee. I haven’t heard from any of them recently, so presumably they’re busy preparing for Irma. Of course, my email generally has been extremely light. I’m not even getting much spam. I think between Harvey and Irma, people have had better things to do with their time.

We’re working around the house today. First up is installing more shelving in the food room downstairs. That’ll be adjustable track shelving, so we don’t need to worry about vertical spacing. I plan to use these shelves mostly for #10 cans, which are relatively light, so I’ll probably install tracks only every other stud. We should end up with enough additional shelf space for maybe 200 more #10 cans.

At Barbara’s suggestion, we’re leaving the wall space under the chair rail free of shelves. We’ll stack stuff like 5-gallon buckets, plastic bins, and so on there.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

08:30 – It was 46.6F (8C) when I took Colin out at 0700, partly cloudy and breezy. More work around the house and on science kits today. We’re keeping a close eye on Irma. The latest forecasts still say we’ll get effects from the remnants starting late Monday and into Tuesday, heavy rains and winds gusting to 50 MPH (80 KPH) or more. We’ll get hanging pots, cushions from our outside furniture, and anything else subject to blowing away into the house Sunday.

I was saddened yesterday evening to learn that Jerry Pournelle had died. We’d been Internet/telephone friends for 40 years, dating back to the 70’s when I started reading his SF and we were both friends with Mel Tappan, although the frequency of our exchanges had dropped off a great deal over the last decade or so, as health problems started to affect Jerry.

Our last substantive exchange of emails occurred a month or so ago. I was still listed as technical contact for Jerry’s domains, and had forwarded him an email from Godaddy to warn him that lucifershammer.org and feathersnake.com were about to expire. He emailed me back to chat about that and other stuff. The last significant email exchange we had was this:

—–Original Message—–
From: Robert Bruce Thompson
Sent: Tuesday, August 1, 2017 12:17 PM
To: Jerry Pournelle
Subject: Re: Your domain(s) is set to renew soon.

Holy Crap!

I just realized that it was 40 years ago this year that we first exchanged email. You were on Compuserve, IIRC. I was 24 years old, still in grad school at RIT, and had a bang address.

I emailed you to harass you about a mathematical calculation in LH where you (or Larry) dropped a term or something. Kinetic energy of the Hammer, ISTR.

And his reply:

Subject: RE: Your domain(s) is set to renew soon.
Date: Tue, 1 Aug 2017 13:11:41 -0700
From: Jerry Pournelle
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Sounds about right. I think we fixed that in the later editions. How’s the home chemistry market?

After which, we went on to discuss our move up to Sparta, how our families were doing, Jerry’s health issues, and some other personal stuff. I had no idea that that would be our last conversation. If I had, there were a lot of things I would like to have said to Jerry. How much his books and our conversations over the years had meant to me.

And I keep thinking of little snippets. Like the time Barbara and I were sitting in our den down in Winston with our friends Paul Jones and Mary Chervenak. Jerry called, and I talked with him for few minutes, at which point Mary walked over to me, motioned to me to hand her the phone, and then smacked me. She then sat down and had an extended conversation with Jerry, whom she didn’t know until then. They eventually finished their conversation. The next day, Jerry called again. When I answered, he opened by saying that my friend Mary was a real pistol, which indeed she is.

Jerry was a great man, both brilliant and well-educated. In earlier times, people would have called him a Renaissance Man. Millions of his fans and friends will miss him. It was a privilege to have known him.


I regularly get email queries from people who want to contribute articles to this site. Some of them are spam, but many are not. The latter usually provide links to other articles they’ve written, on their own or other sites. Most of those want to write about military or political issues, but some link to a collection of me-too prepping articles. I ignore all of them, although some are quite persistent. One guy has sent me literally a dozen emails over the last month. I guess he doesn’t take a hint.

Don’t get me wrong. There are one or two people who aren’t regular commenters here that I’d love to have as guest posters. R. Ann Parris, for example, or Angela Paskett. People who actually walk the walk, and know what they’re talking about.

Another guy sent me a proposed article a couple weeks ago. It was basically a shopping list for a medical trauma kit. I did reply to him and said that I didn’t consider his article useful. I’m not sure what he thought his audience would be. Not ordinary preppers, certainly. There’s not much point to having a pile of serious medical gear unless you have the skills to use it. And the article wouldn’t be useful for an EMT or a trauma nurse, because they already know what they need. And I didn’t get the impression that the submitter was an EMT or indeed had any other qualifications. His list would have cost, at minimum, $750 to $1,000 to purchase, and that’s money that average preppers could better allocate elsewhere.

So let me give such would-be contributors a suggestion: if you really want to submit guest articles here, you can start by becoming a regular commenter. After you’ve been doing that, if what you write is worth reading, I’ll probably offer you guest-posting privileges, as I’ve done for many of my regular commenters. (And just about anyone who makes frequent substantive comments here would be welcome as a guest poster.)

Friday, 8 September 2017

08:43 – It was 46.4F (8C) when I took Colin out at 0620, partly cloudy and breezy. The sun wasn’t up yet, and it was still dark enough that the nearly full moon cast a distinct shadow as I walked out to the mailbox to pick up the newspaper. Barbara is headed for the gym and supermarket this morning, after which we’ll be doing science kit stuff.

Barbara spent most of yesterday working out in the garage, cleaning up, organizing, and discarding stuff. She hauled most of a Trooper load of old cardboard boxes to the dump.

She also grabbed an old D-cell fluorescent lantern to take to Alleghany Cares, our local equivalent of Goodwill. It doesn’t eat batteries nearly as badly as an incandescent lantern, and someone may have a use for it. We’re 100% LED now when it comes to battery-powered lanterns, flashlights, and other lights, and probably 75% or more on lights powered by mains electricity.

As a matter of fact, Barbara mentioned a couple of days ago that she’d like to replace all the exterior coach lights on the house. We have seven of them, five on the front porch and at the garage doors, and two on the back deck. When we do eventually replace them, I want to install LED versions. While we’re at it, I want to replace the flood lights with LEDs as well.


It’s time to get started on the shelving project. That’s actually four separate projects.

First, we have a now-cleared wall in the downstairs food storage room, wide enough to install some 10-foot shelves. We’re going to install track-mount shelving brackets on that wall. The track screws into the wall, and the shelf supports snap into the track. There’s a chair rail on that wall, but it wouldn’t prevent installing floor-to-ceiling shelving just by mounting two lengths of bracket, one above and one below the chair rail. That’s what I originally intended to do, but Barbara suggested leaving the area below the chair rail free of shelves. That way, we can stack plastic bins, cases of #10 cans, buckets of rice, etc. on the floor below the actual shelves. Good idea.

Second, I want to put two or three 10” or 12” shelves the length of one side of the guest-bedroom closet—what Barbara calls the water closet—and perhaps on the end wall as well. Again, we’ll leave the floor under the shelves clear for three or four vertical feet to allow us to stack cases of bottled water. We don’t need adjustable shelves in the closet, so I’ll just use cheap steel shelf brackets screwed into the studs.

Third, we have some unused wall space in the utility/laundry room upstairs. I want to install shelving there, again leaving some free vertical space below it. We don’t need adjustable shelves there, either, so we’ll use cheap steel shelf brackets screwed into the studs.

Finally, I want to install more shelving in the unfinished basement lab/work area. One of the first things we did when we moved into the house was install a woodstove in that area. There are already built-in wooden floor to ceiling shelves on part of that wall. To the left of the stove area is shelving 8+ feet wide by 18 inches deep, with 4+ feet of empty wall space between the shelving and the woodstove. The right corner of that wall has a 2.5-foot corner area occupied by the well pressure tank, then built-in shelving about 5 feet wide by 18 inches deep, and then roughly 6+ feet of empty wall space between the shelving and the woodstove.

I ordered a pair of these 48″W x 24″D x 72″H 5-Shelf steel shelving units from Walmart. Incredibly, although the shipping weight of each shelving unit is more than 100 pounds, Walmart ships them for free.

Barbara gave me a hard time about ordering them from Walmart, because stuff tends to get damaged in shipping. As I told her, several of the bad reviews of this product on the Walmart site mentioned damaged product even when they were picked up at the store, but I don’t really care. The shelves are particle board, which is pretty useless for shelving because it has so little strength. If one or more of the shelves have the corners crunched, I don’t really care. Worst case, I’ll replace them with actual plywood but they’ll probably be fine as-is for what I plan to do with them. These shelves will hold bins of bottled chemicals, which aren’t very heavy. We have a couple hundred SKUs of bottled chemicals, most of which we keep in rectangular plastic bins ranging in size from 1.5 gallons (5.7 L) to twice that.

I’ll keep heavier stuff (e.g., 20-kilo buckets of sodium hydroxide, gallon/4L jugs of made-up chemical solutions, etc.) on the bottom shelf, bottled chemical bins on the middle shelves, and light stuff like cases of toilet paper and paper towels on the top shelf. The shelf structure is rated to support 800 pounds per shelf, 4,000 pounds total, and I doubt we’d have even 20% that much weight on them.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

09:44 – It was 44.4F (7C) when I took Colin out at 0640, partly cloudy and breezy. We had about 1.5″ (4 cm) of rain yesterday. Autumn weather is definitely arriving. For at least the next week or so, we’re to have lows in the 40’s (5 to 9 C) and highs in the low- to mid-60’s (16 to 19 C).

We’re expecting some effects from Hurricane Irma to arrive Monday evening through Tuesday, assuming the current forecast holds up. Irma is supposed to track up the coast along the Florida and Georgia coasts and make landfall as a Cat 1 hurricane. From that point, the center of the track passes through the Piedmont. Sparta is about dead center in the forecast track, although we’ll probably see only heavy winds and downpours.


Shortly after she got home from the gym yesterday, Barbara emailed me a recipe for easy fudge in the microwave, using only two ingredients. We had the chocolate chips, but no condensed milk.

We did have evaporated milk, so I converted that to sweetened condensed milk by adding 1.25 times its volume in granulated white sugar. A 14-ounce can of evaporated milk plus 17.5 ounces (by volume) of sugar.

The can of evaporated milk had a best-by date of September 14, 2014, so it wasn’t even three years past its best-by. Barbara opened the can. I had her sniff it, and she said it smelled like evaporated milk. Good enough.

We poured it into a microwave-safe plastic bowl, added the 2+ cups of white sugar, and microwaved it on high for one minute. Barbara stirred to make sure all the sugar had dissolved, after which we added three cups of chocolate chips, microwaved it on high for another minute, and then stirred it until it was a creamy consistency. We then added a teaspoon of vanilla extract, poured the batter into an 8X8-inch baking dish covered in oiled aluminum foil, and stuck it in the refrigerator to cool and set.

Just like the last time we tried making fudge, it didn’t really set up. Instead, we ended up with a goopy mass. Barbara isn’t a big fan of fudge anyway, but she taste-tested it. She thought it tasted okay, if a bit grainy. I thought it was okay, but in retrospect I’d either add a fourth cup of chocolate chips or cut down the amount of liquid. The recipe called for one 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk, which would probably have set up properly. But I used a 14-ounce can of evaporated milk plus the 17.5 fluid ounces of sugar, which totaled more than the amount of condensed milk the recipe called for.


We finished up DCI Banks and started watching Silk and the 2016 Victoria. The latter was unusual in that it didn’t disguise the fact that Victoria was German, not English, and that the Royals spoke German at home. Their Victoria speaks RP English rather than strongly German-accented English as the real Victoria did.

The real Victoria, of course, was also in-bred and stupid, which this series ignores. And she married Albert, who was literally a moron, and produced a large litter of moronic children.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

09:15 – It was 57.1F (14C) when I took Colin out at 0655, overcast and raining. We had about a third of an inch (8mm) overnight. Barbara is headed for the gym this morning, after which we’ll be working on science kit stuff.


Barbara spent the afternoon yesterday volunteering, so I took a couple of hours off to watch some Youtube videos on the Roku. One of their recommended videos was from another homesteading channel, called Guildbrook Farm, operated by a 30-something couple named Jaime and Jeremy. Their homestead is in Davidson, NC, about 85 miles down the road from us, on the northern edge of Mecklenburg County, about 20 miles north of Charlotte.

They’re homesteaders and serious preppers, although none of their videos I watched had any political content. And they make a lot of videos. Jeremy formerly produced videos professionally, so they’re well-done technically even though they’ve sold all their professional equipment and are shooting the videos on their smartphones.

I didn’t get the full story, but it seems that the government is trying to force them out of the county, presumably because they don’t want people homesteading and keeping livestock inside the county limits. So they’re in the process of relocating to somewhere that’s friendlier to the homesteading lifestyle.

They’re typical back-to-the-landers, and are into stuff like “organic” food and homeopathic “medicine”, but they’re likable people regardless. The first video I watched was about their deep pantry, and was pretty interesting. But the next of their videos that came up was unintentionally scary. Jaime was canning meat, using recycled single-use canning jar lids. Ugh.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

09:16 – It was 60.7F (16C) when I took Colin out at 0635, mostly clear and breezy.


That link I posted the other day listed several prepping sites I’d never heard of. It’s always interesting to get a different point of view, so I took a quick look at several of the new-to-me sites. Most of them were nothing special, but I did find one that held my interest enough that I jumped around the site looking at different articles.

That site, More Than Just Surviving, is run by a young married couple, Elise and Thomas Xavier. They’re Millennials–she was born in 1989–and they’ve been preppers the entire five years or so that they’ve been together. She comes by it honestly. Her parents and grandparents were serious preppers, so she’s been immersed in prepping as long as she can remember.

At first, I assumed they were US-based, but then I noticed that one of the pictures she’d posted of their LTS pantry had canned goods from Waitrose. UK then. But not just UK. She’s actually from the Toronto, Canada area, where she and Thomas lived until a couple years ago. He’s originally from the UK.

They decided to do a major relocation. I’d have expected them to move west, out to Alberta or BC. Instead, they moved east, to the UK, where they bought a flat in Bournemouth. Talk about frying pan/fire.

They’ve been prepping for years, but I’d still consider them newbies. For example, in one article she reports on how they lived through a major power failure while they were still living in Canada. Electric power was down for five days and four nights, with outside temperatures well below freezing. At one point, it was 25F inside their house.

They were pretty much unprepared for such an event, which seems an odd thing not to be prepared for, given where they were living. They ended up spending days in their neighbors’ garage, which was equipped with a woodstove. At night, they returned to their sub-freezing home to sleep, which again seems odd.

But I’ve read quite a few of their articles, many of which are interesting. The site is worth a visit.


Here’s yet another cheap prepping item you might want to stock: Epsom Salts, at $5.43 for an 8-pound bag.

In a prepping sense, it’s primarily useful as a gentle saline laxative. That 8-pound bag is about 250 doses, at about two cents per dose.

We keep a lot of this in stock because we use it in large amounts in science kits. But, like a lot of the stuff we stock in quantity for science kits (iodine, potassium iodide, antibiotics, etc. etc.) it’s also a very useful prepping item.

Monday, 4 September 2017

09:00 – Happy Labor Day to my US readers. For Barbara and me, Labor Day has taken on a different meaning since we started our science kit business seven years ago. On Labor Day, we labor, trying to keep up with orders.

It was 54.4F (12.5C) when I took Colin out at 0700, partly cloudy and breezy.

More work today on science kits, building them and shipping them. At this point, we’re in reasonably good shape of finished goods inventory of all our kits, but that won’t last. Or at least we hope not. MTD, we’re still running ahead of last September’s revenues. The holiday weekend itself is always slow, as people have other things to do.

We’re keeping a close eye on Hurricane Irma. If it does come ashore on the Carolina coast, it’ll probably be about a week from now. As far as we are from the coast and in the mountains, it’s very unlikely to have much direct affect on us other than strong winds and heavy rains. And sitting on top of a mountain we get those pretty routinely anyway.

Our last experience with a hurricane up close and personal was Hugo in 1989. The eye passed directly over Winston-Salem and the storm was still a Category One, with strong winds and torrential rains. That’s as close as we ever want to get to a hurricane.

Oh, well. Whatever happens, we’re ready for it. But I do pity those who live down near the coast.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

09:09 – It was 52.7F (11.5C) when I took Colin out at 0630, partly cloudy and breezy.

OFD posted a link the other day to a page that you might want to save: 400 Links Google Doesn’t Want You to Visit

These are sites that Google is “degrading” by placing them far down in search results or eliminating them entirely from those results, “demonetizing” them on Youtube and/or disallowing comments, and so on. In other words, these are sites that Google disagrees with politically, so they’re doing their best to “disappear” them.

Some of these sites are so-called Alt-Right news sites and similar sites that no right-thinking person would visit, but many of them are what any normal person would consider mainstream sites–ones like Ars Technica, Reason magazine, and so on. If this site wasn’t as low-traffic as it is, I suspect it would have ended up on the list.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

08:56 – It was 51.6F (11C) when I took Colin out at 0650, dim with heavy fog and drizzling. We’ve had about 1.6″ (4 cm) of rain in the last 24 hours or so. This is supposed to clear out later today. We’ll see.

Frances and Al had originally planned to spend the holiday weekend here, but given the weather they decided to stay home. Probably a good thing. Yesterday afternoon, at about the time they’d have left Winston, our visibility was down to about 50 meters.

Science kit sales are holding up. Month-to-date, we’ve already done 11% of the revenue we did in all of September 2016. We’ll be working on science kits today, of course, to get more built for stock. First up is to fill another 120 bottles of bromothymol blue, which is the limiting item on building more chemistry and biology kits. After that, we’ll continue knocking off other limiting items until we’re in good shape on finished-goods inventory.


Interesting email yesterday from a reader who wanted to know what I’d consider to be an “advanced prepper”. My short answer was someone who had the critical needs of themselves and their immediate family taken care of for a period of at least three months, and had begun to make provision for the needs of non-prepper extended family, friends, and neighbors.

This is borne out by recent events in Texas. Despite the supply chain being unable to cope with the sudden increased demand for food, bottled water, and so on, most of those who were better prepared have been sharing their stores with friends and neighbors, regardless of the political persuasions of those involved. Prepared Clinton voters are sharing their supplies with unprepared Trump voters, and vice versa. (Although Trump voters, on average, are probably much better-prepared than Clinton voters.)

With the exception of a few scumbags taking advantage of the situation, everyone in the affected area is co-operating, sharing supplies, having community cookouts, offering refuge to friends and neighbors, and so on. One of my readers, for example, is running his Big Berkey water filter constantly to provide safe drinking water for his neighborhood, as well as sharing his stocks of rice, pasta, canned meat, and so on. Another is lending out his numerous Coleman stoves and other items that are desperately needed by the folks affected.

That’s great, and illustrates the advantage of having at least one well-prepared person in a larger group, but I’m afraid this spirit of cooperation is going to start breaking down as more and more people exhaust their supplies and resupply continues to be problematic. It’ll be interesting to follow this over the coming weeks and months.

Friday, 1 September 2017

08:22 – It was 62.5F (17C) when I took Colin out at 0700, foggy and damp. We’re expecting rain, heavy at times, all day.

Barbara brought back four 20-liter cases of bottled water from her Costco run, and also picked up a large bag of dog food and a new ball for Colin at the pet store. She said he already had plenty of dog food, but it didn’t hurt to stock up.

She always fills her gas tank when she stops at Costco. Yesterday, there were long lines at the gas pumps when she arrived, so she decided to go in and do her shopping before filling her tank. When she finished her shopping and went back out to the gas pumps, they were just changing the price of gas.

There’s a lot of that going on, and the shutdown of the Colonial One pipeline won’t help matters. Apparently, they’ve given no estimate of how long the pipeline will be down. The whole line in the affected area needs to be inspected, and much of it is underground. The usual panic-buying is drawing down gasoline supplies much faster than normal, so before long we’ll probably have gas stations shutting down for lack of fuel.

One of the things I had on my calendar for today was to call Blue Ridge Co-op to have them come out and top off our propane tank, but I may hold off on that. This is normally a good time of year price-wise to buy propane, but with the mess going on the price has probably skyrocketed. And we’re probably down from a ten-year supply to a 9.5-year supply, so it doesn’t really matter. I do feel sorry for people who heat with oil. They’ll probably suffer from sticker-shock if they try to fill their tanks right now.


10:19 – One of the things about filling all these chemical bottles and building all these science kits is that I have to generate a continuing flood of orders for stuff that we’re getting low on.

Yesterday, Barbara mentioned that we were out of wood splints (used in chemistry kits), and I already knew that we had only 25 grams or so of phenolphthalein powder left. Ordinarily, I’d order those two items from American Educational Products and Fisher Scientific, respectively.

But I decided just for the hell of it to check Walmart. They didn’t carry phenolphthalein, although one of their third-party vendors did carry the AMEP woodsplints, but at a ridiculous price. So I went over to Amazon. They didn’t carry lab wood splints, but they did offer packs of 1,000 5.25″ wooden coffee stirrers, so I put five packs of those in my cart. Then I did a search for phenolphthalein powder, which Amazon was offering with Prime at $11.00 for 100 grams of ACS Reagent grade. That was cheaper than Fisher Sci, so I just bought a supply of phenolphthalein from Amazon. Geez.