Saturday, 21 October 2017

09:42 – It was 46.5F (8C) when I took Colin out at 0530. I’d been awake since 0300, lying in bed thinking, and I finally decided just to get up.

Barbara left around 1400 yesterday. They’re making the drive in two days. They stopped for the night somewhere in Central Pennsylvania, and are heading for the Finger Lakes area as I write this. I pointed out that she was getting wimpier as she got older. Back in 2000, we drove from Winston straight through to Vermont, stopping only for food, gasoline, and bathroom breaks. That took only 19 hours.

After about the third motel with a No Vacancy sign, we stopped anyway and asked if they could suggest another local motel that had a free room. The guy told us that Vermont was full. We thought he was kidding, but he was serious. Every room in Vermont was booked.

He did have one suggestion, although he said we probably wouldn’t like it. There was one motel about 15 miles up the road that had one room available. We gave them our credit card number over the phone and drove up there. When we got to the office to check in, we found that they did have nightly rates but they also had hourly rates. I am not making this up. The bed was a gigantic vibrator and there was a full-size mirror over it, but we didn’t care. I think we were both asleep by the time our heads hit the pillows.


Email from Jen yesterday. She and David had started watching the Guildbrook Farm Youtube channel when I first mentioned it. She returned the favor by suggesting Appalachia’s Homestead with Patara.

Patara describes herself as an East Tennessee girl, and that’s where she and her husband founded their homestead. That’s not surprising. The parts of rural Appalachia that encompass western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and southwestern Virginia probably have as high or higher a percentage of preppers and homesteaders as anywhere in the country, including the so-called National Redoubt.

Like most such channels on Youtube, Patara’s has a lot of videos posted. She’s extremely enthusiastic, and talks very fast, particularly for a Southern Girl. She treats problems as things to be driven over and squashed flat. She runs day-to-day operations on their homestead, homeschools their kids, and takes care of her husband, who developed some severe medical problems a year or so ago. And she never lets anything get her down.

Like many people who have big, popular Youtube channels, she’s working on jumping ship because she’s tired of Youtube micro-managing what she is and isn’t allowed to talk about. That, and demonetizing her videos, apparently arbitrarily. She’ll leave what’s already on Youtube there indefinitely, and is even adding new videos, but she intends to change her focus to her new Patreon Channel. She started that channel one month ago tomorrow, and already has 332 patrons at $2/month each.

Friday, 30 June 2017

09:22 – It was 65.4F (18.5C) when I took Colin out at 0620, overcast and drizzling. Barbara got back from dinner with her friend Marcy about 2100. The local ham radio club net runs at 2030 Thursday evenings. I could hear the repeater loud and clear, but it couldn’t hear me, either with the standard UV-82 rubber duck antenna or with the Nagoya NA771 whip. I need to do some work on that.

Frances and Al are stopping by this afternoon. They’re bringing along their Linux desktop system, which I haven’t looked at for probably three or four years. I had it set to autoupdate, but even so it needs a thorough going-over. IIRC, it’s running Linux Mint, but I’m not even sure about that.

I’ll get it set up, probably in the den, and then pull backups to two different external hard drives, and data backups to a couple of DVD-R discs as well. Once I’m sure I have good backups, I’ll do a deep hard drive test and then blow away what’s on there and install the current Linux Mint LTS version and get all of their plugins and software updated.

I’m not too concerned about the hard drives. Spinning disks have failure curves pretty much like incandescent light bulbs–pretty much a Poisson Distribution, with some very early failures, followed by what looks almost like a Normal Distribution for the next few years, followed by a long-tail curve.

Speaking of failures, we had an electronic scale fail yesterday. Barbara was filling agar bottles, weighing each to ensure they got at least the specified 10 grams each. I’d just bought agar from a new source, so I ordered only half a kilo until I could look at it. Nominally, she should have gotten 50 bottles from that 500 g of agar, but she always goes slightly over, so I told her she might get 45 or 47 bottles.

She came to get me a while later and showed me that she already had 45 bottles filled, but still had almost half the original agar left. So I went in and got a spare scale. It turned out she’d been transferring only about 6 grams to each bottle, even though the scale was indicating 10+ grams each. So I pitched the old scale in the trash and immediately ordered two more spares. While I was at it, I ordered another 500 grams of agar.

It’d been a while since I calibrated the bad scale with a standard set of weights. I probably need to put a reminder on my calendar to do that periodically.

Email from Jen. They tried their new NV camera system I mentioned yesterday with and without the supplemental IR LED illuminator. She said it helped some, but it was difficult to tell just how much. Like just about any location east of the Mississippi, Jen and David’s home suffers from some light pollution. They’re rural, but there are enough lights around that there’s some sky glow, which is apparently sufficient to let the low-light capability of their cameras function.

They’re rated at a 100-foot detection range at 0.00 lux, using the built-in IR LED illuminators, but even without the IR they’re supposedly good down to something like 0.01 lux. They waited until full dark and then sent the nephews out to walk around the yard. They were wearing reasonably dark clothing–jeans and such–and they were able to detect movement out well past 100 feet. Turning on the supplemental IR LED illuminator brightened things up a bit, but they really couldn’t tell just how far they’d be able to spot movement with just the built-in IR versus with the supplemental illuminator also lit.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

08:55 – It was 60.7F (16C) when I took Colin out at 0615, partly cloudy and calm. Barbara is out filling bottles for science kits, which she’ll be doing most of the day. She’s headed down to East Bend, outside Winston, around 1700 to have dinner with her friend Marcy. She should be back mid-evening.

As it turned out, it wasn’t the water heater. It was one of the copper feed lines coming out the top of it. Two guys from Shaw showed up yesterday around 1100 and replaced both the old copper lines with PEX. It took them less than half an hour. They were both surprised that we had a 110V well pump. Neither of them had ever seen one before.

A few minutes after they left, Jay Shaw stopped back with a sheath of paint swatches to show me. He matched the existing paint pretty closely with an off-white color called “cotton ball”. I told him that, fortunately, Barbara didn’t really care about the exact color as long as it was an off-white and a reasonably close match for what was on the walls now.

I ordered 250 grams of reagent-grade (AR) iodine crystals off eBay yesterday. Thirty bucks, including shipping from China. If it weren’t for federal regulations, I could have just ordered it from Fisher Scientific or another US supplier. But that involves an incredible amount of paperwork, so much so that many US vendors no longer sell elemental iodine, and if they do the cost is outrageous.

Understand, I’m not breaking any laws by ordering iodine on eBay. It’s perfectly legal for me to buy it, import it, or possess it in any quantity. It’s just illegal for US resellers to sell elemental iodine to US customers without going through all the regulatory bullshit. I can even sell iodine solutions, as long as I don’t sell more than 30 mL at a time and it’s less than 2.2% iodine w/v. That’s fortunate, because every kit we sell includes a 30 mL bottle of Lugol’s iodine solution, which is 1.27% w/v iodine in a 2% solution of potassium iodide.

For that matter, it’s trivially easy to isolate elemental iodine from potassium iodide, which is completely uncontrolled. I could order a hundred kilos of KI, and no one would blink an eye. And all it takes to convert that potassium iodide to iodine is some hardware store muriatic acid (hydrochloric acid) and a jug of supermarket chlorine bleach. I did that as a demo at MakerFaire in 2008 to demonstrate how futile federal regulations are.

Lisa emailed me an update of their progress. They’re well past her initial goal of food/water/shelter for three months, but are still accumulating LTS food and other supplies. They’re now studying for their Technician Class ham radio licenses in preparation for taking the test in August.

They’ve also stocked up on OTC medications, bandages, etc., but Lisa came across one of my posts about SHTF antibiotics and wants to get some. She said that the source I recommended, aquabiotics.net, appears to be out of business. Their web page is still up, but it’s nothing but a placeholder.

They’re actually still in business, but not on the Internet. PayPal and other credit-card processors have banned them solely because they’re selling antibiotics. The owner, Dave Folsom, is now processing orders solely by email. Email him at dcfolsom@reagan.com and ask for his current price list. Decide what you want, total up the price, and send him a check. I know that’ll probably make a lot of people nervous, but I’ve bought from him twice that way, and each time he’s shipped exactly what I ordered via USPS Priority Mail the day he got the check.

I suggested to Lisa that for the six of them (assuming no drug allergies) she order at least a few courses each of 100 mg doxycycline, 800/160 mg SMZ/TMP, 875/125 mg amoxicillin/clavulanate, and 400 mg metronidazole. And, in case nothing else works, at least a course or two of 500 mg levofloxacin. Stick them in the freezer, and don’t even think of touching them unless the S has really, really HTF and you’re convinced the patient is going to die if you don’t take desperate measures.

More email from Jen. They routinely run readiness exercises every time there’s a three-day holiday weekend. This one is four days, which is better still. They’re starting as of 1800 tomorrow and running their exercise through next Wednesday morning. David is on call for a couple of those days, so he has to keep his cell phone on, but otherwise they’ll be completely off-grid for the duration. No grid power or other utilities, no TV other than DVDs and other local stuff, no Internet (although they do cheat and check email and news sites in case there’s a real emergency), etc. These exercises became routine for all of them a long time back. As Jen says, it’s essentially just a family camping trip at home.

Brittany and her family are also doing a readiness exercise over the holiday weekend. These aren’t as routine for them, yet, because they haven’t been doing them as long or as often as Jen and her family have, but they did get most of the bugs worked out some time ago.


11:15 – I forgot to mention one new thing Jen and her family will be trying out. In past readiness exercises, their main problem was keeping a 24×7 watch, particularly when it was just the six of them participating. So they decided to install an HD NV surveillance system. The system they bought has eight Ethernet PoE 1080P surveillance cameras with IR illuminators, and is rated for 100-foot detection at 0 lux (with the IR working). Those cameras feed into a 16-port DVR that has all kinds of bells and whistles.

Jen’s husband, brother, and nephews spent some time last weekend getting cameras mounted and everything installed. The cameras and DVR have standard Ethernet RJ-45 jacks. They mounted the cameras under the eaves at each corner of the house facing out at 45-degree angles and at the center of each wall, facing out at 90 degrees, and ran pre-made Ethernet cables to each camera. Jen didn’t want a bundle of Ethernet cables coming down into the house proper, so they declared the main floor utility room to be their comm center and ran all the cables back there.

They were a bit concerned that the rated 100-foot IR detection range was insufficient, so they also bought one PoE IR illuminator, installed it under the eaves near one of the cameras, and ran an Ethernet cable back to the comm center. They’re going to try that one camera with and without the supplementary IR illuminator and see how much difference it makes. If it greatly increases the range, they’ll install seven more IR illumintors, one per camera.

They’ll power the illuminators with an old 8-port Ethernet hub, of which they have several. They also bought a low-end BPS that should run the cameras, DVR, and illuminator for a long time on battery. The comm center is near their solar power charge controller and battery bank, so in a grid-down situation they’d be able to power their surveillance gear indefinitely.

I’m looking forward to hearing how that all works. They spent a fair amount on all the gear, but getting a smaller system costs only a few hundred dollars and would be a useful security supplement.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

08:37 – It was 64.5F (18C) when I took Colin out around 0630 this morning, mostly cloudy. Barbara is off to Winston today to get a haircut, make a Costco run, have lunch with friends, and do some miscellaneous errands.


Ruh-roh. Lisa has hooked up with Jen and Brittany. These women are going to take over the world, I tell you.

I got email overnight from Lisa, CC’d to Jen and Brittany, congratulating me on getting my ham radio ticket. Lisa had been thinking about ham radio for a while, and asked me what she needed to do, on a budget, to get started. What to do, how to get licensed, what to buy, etc. As happens so often, she wanted to know exactly what I did because she intends to copy me. So, with the usual provisos that she is not me and what’s right for me isn’t necessarily right for her, here’s what I told her:

How to Get Started

First, go to http://www.arrl.org/find-a-club and locate the nearest ham radio club. Contact them and attend the next club meeting. Take your family along and let them know you’re interested in getting licensed. I’ve never met a ham who wasn’t friendly and eager to get others involved in the hobby. You’ll find the club very welcoming.

Find out if they offer classes for getting your license, and when and where the license exams occur. The exam for the entry-level Technician Class license and the second-level General Class license each comprises 35 questions from a published pool of 400+ questions. You don’t absolutely have to attend classes to pass your exam. Many people do so just by using on-line ham resources like hamexam.org, which has the question pool (with correct answers), flash cards, and sample tests.

If you’re interested only in local two-way communications–say within a 20-or 30-mile radius or within your county–all you need is your Technician Class license, and that exam is pretty easy to pass. If you’re interested in talking with other hams around the country or around the world, you’ll also want to take the General Class exam, which offers almost complete ham privileges. The General Class exam is harder than the Technician Class, but is still pretty easy.

Once you decide which license class each of you wants to get, start preparing for the exam. If you wish, you can buy the official ARRL study manuals for Technician and General Class, but chances are you’ll do fine just drilling on hamexam.org.

The tests are administered by a group of three Volunteer Examiners. There is usually a $10 per person charge for an exam session. During that session, you can take only the Technician Class exam if you wish, but if you pass that you can go on to take the General Class exam without paying any more. In fact, you can take all three, including the top-level Amateur Extra exam, at one session for the one $10 charge. You have to pass each lower level before you’re allowed to take the next level up.

What to Buy

Again, I’ll emphasize that what I recommend here isn’t best for everyone, but it’ll certainly get you started well.

⊕ Transceivers are available in hand-held versions (called HT’s for handy-talkies), mobile versions designed to install in the dashboard of your vehicle, and base station versions that are designed to sit on a desk or table at home. Nowadays, most hams start with an HT, and many never use anything else.

HT’s are available in a wide range of prices. Name-brand units (Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, etc.) are generally quite expensive ($150 to several times that), and are limited to transmitting only on amateur radio frequencies. No-name Chinese models (BaoFeng/Pofung, etc.) are much, much less expensive (typically $20 to maybe $70), and can transmit across a broad range of frequencies, typically 136 to 174 MHz and 400 to 520 MHz). That range includes the amateur 2-meter and 70-cm (440 MHz) bands, but also includes many other services, such as FRS/GMRS, MURS, Marine Band, Business Band, etc. Many experienced hams dislike these programmable HTs for just that reason, while most preppers love them, for just that reason.

You might think you couldn’t possibly get much of a radio for a quarter to a tenth or less the price of a name-brand model, but you’d be wrong. A $30 BaoFeng HT has specifications (power output, sensitivity, selectivity, etc.) very similar to a $300 Icom or Yaesu.

There’s not much difference in terms of construction quality, either. One guy on Youtube torture-tested a $30 Chinese HT. He froze it, baked it, drenched it with a hose, and ran over it with his truck. Each time, it kept on working. Finally, he drenched it with gasoline and set it on fire. When the fire finally burned out, the case was charred and melted and the rubber-duck antenna was just a naked coil of wire. And it still worked. Note that he tested the UV-5R, which “feels” like a consumer-grade radio. The UV-82 “feels” a lot more like a commercial/industrial-grade model.

In fact, the commercial model of the UV-82, the UV-82C, is widely used by government and NGO emergency services agencies and volunteer groups that work with them. The only difference between the C model and the regular UV-82 is that the former costs about $60 rather than $30 and is a Type Accepted Part 90 device. It has had keypad access to VFO disabled, so new frequencies can’t be input from the keypad. These units have to be programmed with a computer and cable.

So I have no hesitation in recommending these radios for new ham operators, particularly those on a budget. You can buy a $30 model and use it as-is. If you want to accessorize it, you can spend another $10 or $20 each on things like a spare battery, a battery eliminator that let’s you plug into the cigarette lighter socket in your car, a AAA battery adapter that lets you use AAA alkalines or NiMH rechargeable, a good whip antenna, a speaker/mic, and so on.

So, what specific items do I recommend for getting started on a budget?

BaoFeng UV-82 HT – buy one or more of these. They run about $30 each. Assuming all of your group are getting their ham licenses, buy one for each of them. You can use them legally on the 2-meter and 70-cm ham bands to communicate directly between units (simplex mode) or with local repeaters (duplex mode) to extend your comm range over probably a 50- to 100-mile radius.

BaoFeng programming cable – The UV-82 has 99 programmable channels. You can program it manually, from the keypad on the radio, but it’s much easier to use a programming cable connected to your computer. This genuine BaoFeng Tech cable costs about $20, but it Just Works. Don’t make the mistake of buying one of the cheaper clone cables for $6 or whatever. They use an obsolete chipset that requires old drivers that screw up your computer. The cheap cables are nothing but headaches. You only need one programming cable no matter how many units you need to program, unless you just want a second one as a spare. (two is one …)

Download a free copy of the CHIRP software (available for Linux, MAC OS, or Windows) and use it to program your radios. You can also download various templates for CHIRP that include groups of 99 useful frequencies. Here’s one example, which includes a useful set of frequencies for preppers.

CHIRP templates are stored as simple CSV files, which you can edit with any text editor. You might want to edit the template mentioned above to remove some of the less useful frequencies (like the PMR446 group, which are kind of the European equivalent of the US FRS/GMRS frequencies). You can then use those free channels for 2-meter and 70-cm ham frequencies that are popular in your area for either simplex (direct unit-to-unit) or duplex (repeater). Programming frequencies, mode, etc. is very easy once you look at the CSV file. Pretty much self-explanatory.

The UV-82 itself comes with a charging base, battery, and rubber-duck antenna, which is all you really NEED to get on the air. I consider the programming cable and CHIRP almost a necessity, so I also included it above. There are also several optional items you might WANT. Here are the most popular ones:

Nagoya NA-771 replacement antenna – this 15.6″ dual-band whip antenna costs about $17 and is a direct screw-in replacement for the rubber duck antenna included with the radio. It is much, much more efficient and effective than the standard antenna. Using it can easily double the effective range of your UV-82.

⊕ BaoFeng BL-8 7.4V 1800 mAh battery – you’ll probably want a spare battery for each of your UV-82 HT’s. Battery life is good on the UV-82, but if you ever need to run your HT’s 24×7, spare batteries for each are critical.

Buy the Nagoya-branded antenna and BaoFeng-branded battery, and buy them on Amazon from BaoFeng Tech or BTech (same vendor), which is the authorized US distributor for BaoFeng. Do NOT buy them if Amazon is listed as the vendor. Amazon and its third-party vendors are both notorious for shipping counterfeit products. The branded units from BTech/BaoFeng Tech cost about the same price Amazon charges if they’re selling them, and BTech doesn’t charge sales tax to most locations. Amazon ships it, but BaoFeng Tech is the seller.

BaoFeng battery eliminator – this $16 item has a cigarette lighter plug on one end. The other end looks just like the UV-82 battery, and slides onto the HT in place of the real battery. You’ll probably want at least one or two of these, and maybe one for each radio or at least each vehicle, if you plan to use them a lot in vehicles. Once again, buy these from BTech or BaoFeng Tech as the vendor.

BL-8 AAA battery – another $16 item that’s basically just an empty battery housing for the UV-82. It lets you use AAA alkaline or rechargeables. Interestingly, this adapter requires only five alkaline AAA’s but SIX NiMH rechargeable AAA’s. That’s because the real battery is 7.4V. Five alkalines is 7.5V, which is close enough; six NiMH’s is 7.2V, which again is close enough. But if you put six alkalines in this adapter, it’s delivering 9V, which is too much. The UV-82 apparently continues to work, but it won’t transmit. That’s why this adapter includes a dummy/spacer battery, for when you use alkalines. Again, buy these only from BaoFeng Tech or BTech as the vendor.

⊕ Finally, if you can find it, you might want a clone-and-copy cable. I bought one of these from Amazon back in 2013 or so but they’re now listed as no longer available. Like the programming cable, they have a two-prong connector on one end, but instead of having a USB connector on the other, they have a second two-prong connector. That allows you to connect two UV-82 HT’s directly together and transfer the programming from one unit to the other. The only reason you’d use this is if you don’t have access to a working computer to program units directly. And, if absolutely necessary, you can program units directly from their keypads. So this is definitely an optional item.

So this is what I recommend, in the sense that this is what I actually did and bought.

 

Sunday, 28 May 2017

08:26 – It was 59.1F (15C) when I took Colin out around 0630 this morning, bright and breezy. We had another half inch (1.27 cm) of rain overnight, with loud thunder. As usual, Colin was terrified, and tried to climb on top of Barbara and me in bed. No joke, given that he’s a 70-pound dog.

Barbara just left for her week-long trip down to the Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC for a crafts class. She returns next Saturday afternoon. Colin and I plan to have WW&P the whole time she’s gone, except that we haven’t located any WW yet.

Email overnight from Jen. They’re running a prepping exercise over the holiday weekend. She and her sister-in-law were baking yesterday when they started talking about baking powder: how much they have, how much they’ll need, and how long it keeps.

Among them, they have half a dozen medium cans of Rumford double-acting baking powder and two 60-ounce jars of Argo. That’s enough to do a lot of baking, since you normally use the stuff a teaspoon or tablespoon at a time. As to shelf life, baking powder is pretty stable as long as you keep it completely dry and at room temperature.

Baking powder comes in two forms. Both release carbon dioxide gas as bubbles that act as leavening. Double-acting, which almost all baking powder sold for home use is, releases some of its gas when it’s exposed to moisture and the rest of its gas when it’s exposed to high temperatures in the oven. Single-acting releases all of its gas when it’s exposed to moisture, and is used primarily by commercial bakers and cooks.

All baking powder is primarily sodium bicarbonate, baking soda. The difference between the two types is what type and how much of a dry acid powder is included. Single-acting includes sufficient water-activated dry acid, typically citric acid, to react completely with the baking soda present. Double-acting contains insufficient acid to completely react with the baking soda immediately, or a type of acid, such as sodium pyrophosphate, that requires heat to free all of its acidity.

You never actually NEED single-acting baking powder. You can substitute plain baking soda and some form or acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice or sour cream or powdered citric acid, in sufficient quantity to produce as much gas as necessary. You just need to make sure the oven is pre-heated and get the batter into a pan and into the oven before the gas bubbles can dissipate.

You never actually NEED double-acting baking powder, either. The main reason it exists is to make things easier for home bakers who might forget to preheat the oven. But again, you can easily make a  substitute for it simply by using excess baking soda. The insufficient acid present in your substitute causes it to emit gas bubbles when water is added to the dry ingredient mix; the excess baking soda releases additional gas during baking.

Jen already has several of those 12/13-pound bags of baking soda in her LTS pantry. They’re stable essentially forever at room temperature. I recommended that she also stock several gallons of distilled white vinegar so that she can make her own substitute. Assuming she also stocks lots of yeast, which she does, she’ll never be short of what she needs to bake whatever she wants to.

 

Thursday, 18 May 2017

08:44 – It was 66.3F (19C) when I took Colin out at about 0645 this morning, sunny and calm.

Things are proceeding with the repairs to the house. Barbara and I went over to the flooring place yesterday. I wanted to look at the vinyl tile we’re having put on the floor downstairs, and we both wanted to see what they had in the way of ceramic tile for the master bathroom. I approved Barbara’s choice of the vinyl tile for downstairs, not that my approval was needed, and we picked out the ceramic tile and grout.

Barbara’s volunteering schedule has been juggled because she’s filling in for volunteers who have family issues. She’s working this afternoon rather than her usual Tuesday afternoon at the Friends of the Library bookstore. This morning, we’ll fill more bottles for science kits.

Email overnight from Jen, just checking in. Like us, their prepping is pretty much steady-state now. All of their major purchases have been made, so they’re just replacing what they use and occasionally adding stuff incrementally to boost their stocking levels. Their last major purchase was spread out over several orders in February/March; 20 cases, 240 cans of 28-ounce Keystone canned meats, about $1,500 worth. As Jen said, that sounds like a lot, but it’s really only 40 cans and $250 each.

They’re reasonably content with their prepping level now. They’re continuing to run readiness exercises, but they’ve become just holiday family get-togethers without utility power. They have one planned for the Memorial Day weekend.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

09:32 – It was 45F (7C) and raining when I took Colin out this morning, with no wind. Today I’ll be working on taxes again and Barbara will be working on kit stuff.

While Barbara was working at the bookstore yesterday afternoon, James stopped by to pick up a load of brush. James is about our age and lives half a mile or so down the road from us. He’s been mowing our yard since we moved up here. Like most people around here, he’s a Deplorable. He’s lived here all his life, and his ancestors have been living around here for at least 200 years, if not before the Revolution.  He’s also part of the 1.25% or so of the county population who’s black.

James loves to talk, and we stood there by the brush pile for half an hour or so talking. He’s very religious, politically and socially conservative, and hard working. In other words, a Deplorable. As we were standing there talking, a girl zoomed past in her little red car. The speed limit is 35 MPH, but as usual she was going about 60. That got us going on the “these kids today” thing.

She lives several houses down the road from James. She’s about 20 years old and has been driving like a maniac since she got her license. James has called the sheriff about her several times, but there’s apparently nothing they can do. Her grandfather set up a trust for her and the other grandchildren, from which she is now drawing $100K per year. She doesn’t have a job, and spends her time drinking, doing drugs, and driving around like a maniac. Every time she gets busted, her grandmother buys her way out of trouble. James and I agree that one day she’s going to kill someone, and that we just hope it’s herself instead of some innocent bystander.

* * * * *

And here’s another guest post from Jen:

Readiness Exercises

by “Jen”

RBT said: “I’d really like to see an article or articles from Jen on planning and running a readiness exercise and talking about the issues they encountered and how they dealt with them. Jen did send me relatively short emails to report after each of their exercises, but I’d like to see a lot more detail.”

Fair enough. Here are some random thoughts based on what we’ve learned doing several weekend readiness exercises and one 10 day exercise from Christmas 2016 through New Years Day 2017.

The first thing I learned wasn’t during a formal exercise, it was when we shifted from cooking mostly with fresh and frozen foods to using lots of LTS food. My first attempt to make no-knead bread was pretty bad, the loaf was so damp that it almost dripped. Then there was the night I decided to make hamburgers from a can of Keystone ground beef. Guess what. It’s already cooked and you can’t form it into burgers. I ended up mixing it with cornmeal and making a meatloaf. There were several other similar fails and we found out pretty quickly that the lesson is to cook from your LTS food BEFORE you need to. Collect recipes that sound good and TRY them. Bob has posted several books and webpages that cover using LTS food. Buy them or download and print them. Do it NOW and then start trying them.

The next thing to think about is privacy. David and I are used to rattling around in our big house, just the two of us. The first time we had Jim, Claire and their boys for a weekend exercise it wasn’t too bad. Our house is big enough that each of the couples had a bedroom and the boys shared one. We didn’t get in each others way. When we did a larger exercise that included our prepper friends that made 12 of us in a house that was big for two, okay for six, but too small for 12, eight of which were married couples. David and I almost never argue but we had two loud “discussions” that weekend and things were also tense at times between two of the other married couples. We talked about this issue and agreed that the key was to consciously give everyone else as much “space” as possible and to think very hard before making any critical remark.

Another thing to think about is pets. We have a dog and the other prepper family that stays with us also has one. The dogs had met at cookouts and stuff where they seemed to get along, but this was the first time they’d both been in a house. Our dog considers this his territory and wasn’t happy about sharing it with a visitor. There wasn’t an actual fight thank god but there was a lot of snarling and raised hackles. The lesson here is to make sure that not only the people in your group get along but also the pets.

Heating water is expensive. We didn’t think about that because like most people it was just part of our electricity or natural gas bill. In our early weekend drills we had no way to heat water except on the woodstove or in an old Coleman solar shower bag that was part of our camping gear. That was just barely workable for washing dishes and what David calls Navy Showers (get in, turn on the water long enough to get wet, turn off the water, soap down, and turn the water back on just long enough to rinse off.) We found we could get two quick showers out of one five gallon solar bag but it had to sit for at least a couple hours in the sun to get hot enough. I’d almost rather take sponge baths with water heated on the stove.

Just before our long readiness exercise at the end of last year we got a propane tank installed and had it piped to our downstairs kitchen where we installed a propane cooktop and a 30 gallon water heater. As it turns out the cooktop and water heater both use a fair amount of propane. The biggest burner on the cooktop is 15,000 BTU, so we can run it for about six hours on a gallon of propane. That same gallon of propane will heat about 200 gallons of well water up to 110 degrees. If there is a long term catastrophe we’ll minimize propane use by turning off the water heater and limiting propane to cooking and cleanup. With careful use we probably have enough to last a year even using the water heater carefully and turning off the propane to it between runs. If things seem like they are likely to go on longer than that we can always go back to heating water with wood and taking solar showers.

Maybe the biggest thing we learned was not to make assumptions. The first time we tried to start the generator it wouldn’t start. We didn’t have any of that ether starter fluid and we never could get it started so for that session we were limited to battery lights and stored water for everything including toilet flushing. We knew we were supposed to test run the gennie once a month but that was one of those things that just kept getting put off. Now we do test run it once a month rain or shine. We also have a bunch of ether spray starter fluid just in case.

On a related issue, as it turned out we actually did have two cans of ether starter spray stored. David swore he’d bought them but we couldn’t find them anywhere. I guess the lesson here is to organize the hell out of everything. If you don’t remember you have it or if you can’t find it you might as well not have it at all. List everything you have and exactly where it is. Not just “big basement storeroom”, but “BBS Shelf E rear side towards right middle”. We’ve been working on such detailed inventory lists. We’re not perfect yet, but that’s what we’re shooting for.

One last big thing. I figured out doing drills no matter how realistic we tried to make them they weren’t even close to real. On Monday morning we’d all be going back to our regular lives. We knew we weren’t really going to be attacked by looters and that all the stuff we’d turned off for the duration would be back on again as soon as we declared the exercise was ended. We didn’t have to worry about the outside world turning nasty or what had happened to friends living in the big cities. In short the stress level was nowhere near what it would really be if SHTF. Pretending David had been badly wounded in a firefight didn’t even begin to approach the reality of that happening. During that exercise, I sat with him sometimes but I mainly just did the things I would have been doing anyway. If that really happened I’d surely be a basket case useless for anything. So if you do run an exercise keep that in mind.

Not that I think running readiness exercises is a waste of time because I don’t. I think it was Mark Twain who commented on the lack of similarity between lightning and a lightning bug. Readiness exercises are just a lightning bug. SHTF is real lightning.

Can You Finish Prepping?

by “Jen”

Several days ago Bob emailed me to ask if I’d be willing to post articles on this site. He’d offered before and I turned him down each time because I’m concerned about OPSEC and didn’t want to leave any kind of electronic bread crumbs back to me. He again assured me that there wasn’t much risk but I didn’t want my IP on record. I finally agreed that he could post my emails as long as he made sure to strip out any possible identifying information and that it was okay to post them as articles from me if he cleans up any misspellings or typos. I’ll keep using the fake names Bob gave us.

So onto the question that has been on my mind. Can someone ever finish prepping? Everyone says you can’t but I’m not so sure. People say that prepping is a lifestyle and a state of mind and for us that’s true. We really started prepping in late 2014 or early 2015. Before that we were only about as well prepared as most people living in rural areas. Every time David and I got together with my brother and his family we’d talk about the breakdown of law and order, black rioting, cop shootings, and all the other bad stuff that was happening more and more. There wasn’t any one moment when we all decided to start prepping, it was just something that we gradually started to do. I don’t remember how I came across Bob’s blog, but once I did I read several of his posts and then went back and read straight through the last couple of year’s worth. He seemed to have a no-nonsense approach and wasn’t trying to sell anything to preppers so I emailed him and things took off from there.

At first we just took Bob’s advice about what and how much to buy. We treated prepping as urgent at first and probably bought a lot of stuff that we might not have if we’d taken things slower. But that’s OK because by panic buying we got a good solid start very quickly. Before long we were up to a years supply of food and other essential supplies and the sense of urgency gradually disappeared. Then we started filling in the weaker areas and before long we were at a level that we were all comfortable with. We ran several weekend exercises to test our preps and get all the kinks worked out. Now we’re OK on supplies and are mostly just replacing what we use.

That’s not completely true because we’re still gradually adding stuff by the case or two so our supplies inventory continues to grow. We also talked about Bob’s idea of continuing to add cheap bulk staples to extend the time our supplies will hold us and to have extra for friends and neighbors. When Bob mentioned that Walmart had 5 pound bags of macaroni on sale for less than $2.50 each we went ahead and ordered 200 bags. Our UPS guy probably hates us more than Bob’s hates him but that order by itself increased our supply of grains by about three person years. Same thing on other cheap staples like flour, rice, sugar, and beans. We’ll keep doing that until we run out of space to stack stuff because it’s comforting to know that we can feed our group for years if there’s a really long emergency and still have extra to give away to friends and neighbors.

Once we got to a good level of food and other consumables we started focusing on other aspects. We now have a good solar power system installed, a big propane tank, and a cooktop and water heater that run on propane. We’ve made improvements to our perimeter security and hardening the house. Our communications have gone from non-existent to pretty good as has our lighting and surveillance gear. Our medical preps are in good shape. As of now we’ve pretty much finished the major purchases so from that angle we are finished prepping.

I keep a notebook and pen on my nightstand because I still wake up some nights when I think about something we still need to do or learn or buy but overall we’re in great shape. We’re all aware that prepping at any level can’t guarantee anything. All it can do is give us a better chance and we’re all comfortable that we’ve done as much as we can and that’s all anyone can do. Many people would probably think we’re doomsday preppers but that’s not how we see it. We’ve simply made minor changes to our lifestyle to help prepare us for bad times. If that makes us crazy preppers in some people’s view that’s OK with us.

Monday, 20 February 2017

08:51 – It was 39F (4C) when I took Colin out this morning, but with no wind. Today I’ll be working on taxes and Barbara will be filling containers.

There’s been a lot of email back-and-forth between Cassie and me about canning meat. She’s decided to go full-speed ahead with it, but I’m still not convinced it makes sense. It’s perfectly safe, assuming one follows official instructions to the letter, but what I question is the cost of canning meat. When you add up the cost of the meat itself, the canning jars and other supplies, the fuel, time, and effort, commercially-canned meat starts to look better and better.

That said, I do keep six dozen new quart wide-mouth canning jars. Those are there only for an emergency, when I’d use them to rescue the meat in our large freezer. With 72 quart jars, I can can about 150 pounds of meat, which is about the most that we’d have in the freezer.

I recommended the Keystone Meats to Cassie. They offer ground beef, beef chunks, pork, chicken, and turkey in 14.5-oz and 28-oz cans. All have a best-by date five years out and in reality will remain appetizing and nutritious far longer than that. Walmart sells all of them on-line at $6.28 per large can except the beef chunks, which are $7.74/can. All with free 2-day shipping. If you compare the price of their canned meats with that of fresh meat, you’ll find that the canned stuff is pretty competitive.

So far, we’ve used the Keystone canned ground beef, chunk beef, and chicken. Barbara prefers fresh, but agrees that the canned stuff is fine, particularly for stir fry, casseroles, slow-cooker meals, and so on. Since I was thinking about it, I went ahead and ordered 12 more cans of the beef chunks, along with a fresh small can of Nestle Nido dry whole milk (to compare with the older can that’s a year past its best-by date), another tub of lard, a box of Walmart dry instant mashed potatoes to try, a #10 of Augason non-fat dry milk to try, and another 10-pound bag of Krusteaz Buttermilk Pancake Mix.

And, in a breakthrough, Jen has finally agreed to let me post one of her emails to me, which I’ll post as a separate article after I post this one. She asked me to clean it up before I posted it, but all I did was fix a couple of typos. She’s also concerned that her writing style might be identifiable to people who’ve read other stuff she’s posted on the Internet, so I went through her post and changed some of the phrasing, although not the meaning.

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Wednesday, 1 February 2017

10:29 – It was 39.3F (4C) when I took Colin out this morning, but with not much wind. The snow is all gone, but we have colder temperatures and precipitation in the forecast for now through the weekend, so we may have more before the weekend. Barbara is off to the gym this morning and then volunteering at the Friends of the Library bookstore this afternoon.

If you’ve tried to order antibiotics from aquabiotics.com recently, you noticed that their site no longer lists any products. You can still order frm them, though, but you’ll have to pay with a check or money order. Their credit-card processors, originally PayPal and more lately WePay, find out that they’re shipping “prescription drugs” and refuse to continue to process payments, even though those drugs are for ornamental fish only and therefore completely legal to ship. I paid by check when I ordered last time, and they shipped what they were supposed to ship and in a timely manner. I got email Monday from Dave Folsom at aquabiotics.net.

Wepay has terminated merchant service, so we are now reduced to checks/money order payments. I have removed all items from the website, but left the site up as a point of contact. If you need anything, please use the table below, or the attached spreadsheet. The spreadsheet will allow you to enter your discount percentage(as a decimal) and calculate your total. Discounts are 5% for orders $35.00+, 10% for orders $150.00+, and 15% for all rescue/humanitarian groups on any size order. If you take the rescue discount, please give me the rescue name as our benefactor will pick up a portion of your discount.

I apologize for what has been 13 months of chaos, and in advance for what might be 100 months in the future.

The headlines yesterday said that Walmart was declaring war on Amazon, which is more than a slight exaggeration. All Walmart has done is announce that, as of yesterday morning, they are now selling many products with free 2-day shipping with a minimum order of $35. They’re very careful to point out that it’s literally 2-day shipping, as in two days’ transit time after they actually get around to shipping the order. It’s not going to arrive two days after you order it, because Walmart takes at least a day and often two or three to get the product to the shipper.

Even so, many people expect this to have a severe impact on Amazon Prime, which charges $99/year for unlimited two-day shipping. And Amazon’s actually is two-day from order to delivery at least 50% to 75% of the time.

I’ve been a member of Amazon since their very early days, and a member of Prime since soon after they started offering it. I’ve never particularly liked Amazon, starting when they patented their so-called one-click ordering. Bezos is also a big-time progressive, who now owns WaPo. He supported Obama and Clinton, and has apparently never seen a progressive cause he doesn’t support.

But the real reason I’m considering dropping my Prime membership is that their pricing is often no longer competitive. As in 50% to more than 100% more for exactly the same product I can get elsewhere. I also don’t like their pricing games. If I log on to Amazon and check a price, and then check that same product’s price in a separate browser without logging on, I often find that the logged-in price is noticeably higher than the anonymous price. Obviously, Amazon is punishing current customers because it assumes they’re willing to pay more.

I’ve already started to shift purchases away from Amazon. If they carry something at a better price than is available elsewhere, I can still get free shipping with a $50 minimum order, which is never a problem. That means the only Prime benefit is really their streaming video, but looking back over the last year we really didn’t watch much on Prime Streaming.

So I’ll talk about it with Barbara, but unless she makes a serious objection to dropping Prime, that’s what I’m going to do.

We had a decent January. Kit revenue was up 33% from January of 2016, although still 20% or so lower than an average January. Of course, we’re now into the deadest period of the year. In an average February, we might ship only three kits per week and have total revenues of only two or three grand.

Email overnight from Jen, who wants to get started home canning, and what she wants to can is bacon. She’s concerned because the instructions for doing so are all over the map. Some sites give detailed instructions, while many others say that canning bacon is dangerous. She doesn’t want to take a chance on botulism, obviously, and asked me what I thought.

The truth is that the USDA officially recommends NOT canning bacon, simply because they’ve never done the detailed testing required to determine how to do so safely. But millions of people have been home-canning bacon for a hundred years. Before pressure canning, our ancestors preserved bacon simply by layering the raw meat in barrels, pouring hot lard on top of each layer, and storing the barrel in the kitchen or on the porch. When they wanted some bacon, they’d scrape off the top, rancid layer of lard and eat the bacon beneath it, which was perfectly safe.

The worrisome aspect is our old friend Clostridium botulinum, an anaerobic bacterium that produces deadly botulinum toxin. But it’s safe to eat foods that are contaminated with C. botulinum bacteria, a very common soil bacterium, as long as they’re cooked properly. Boiling destroys both the bacteria and the toxin, although not the spores. Eating the spores is safe for anyone except infants, which is why it’s unsafe to give honey to infants: honey is always contaminated with C. botulinum spores.

I intend to pressure can bacon in the future. I’ll do so by cooking it until it’s soft and slimy, transferring those strips to a canning jar, filling the jar with a brine solution, and pressure canning the hell out of it. For canning bear, beef, lamb, pork, veal, or venison in strips, cubes, or chunks in quart jars, the USDA recommends:

Hot pack – Precook meat until rare by roasting, stewing, or browning in a small amount of fat. Add 1 teaspoons of salt per quart to the jar, if desired. Fill jars with pieces and add boiling broth, meat drippings, water, or tomato juice, especially with wild game), leaving 1-inch headspace.

They recommend different pressures depending on the type of pressure gauge on your canner and your altitude, but the top numbers they recommend are 15 PSI for 90 minutes. I intend to use 15 PSI (or higher if my canner allows it) for 120 minutes, which should kill the shit out of anything in there.

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