Monday, 23 October 2017

10:22 – It was 57.2F (14C) when I took Colin out at 0645, with strong gusty winds and rain pouring down.

I took the last of the antibiotics 12 hours ago. No bouce-back so far, so they may have eliminated the infection. I’m still not eating much and, more worrisome, still not drinking much. Yesterday, I drank a total of about one liter. Normally, I drink three or four liters without even thinking about it. So today I’m forcing it. I’ve drunk half a liter of hot tea so far, and have a second half-liter sitting on my desk now. I’m going to try to drink at least two liters today, and three would be better.

Interesting email overnight from a long-time reader who’s a serious prepper. He and his wife are about the same stage Barbara and I are: steady-state prepping. Adding stuff to replace consumption, and perhaps a bit more to extend the amount of time they’re good for and to have extra stuff for friends and neighbors.

They made a big Costco run Saturday, and spent yesterday repackaging stuff in foil-laminate Mylar bags. They added 400 pounds of bulk staples, 24 liters of oil, a dozen or so cases of canned meats and vegetables, and various miscellany. Call it another full person-year of food.

As they sat there filling bags with oats or whatever, he found himself actually hoping that the shit WOULD hit the fan sometime soon, that the big cities would burn to the ground, incinerating the piles of bodies of progs and SJW’s and BLM’ers. And politicians.

Of course, he realized that those piles of bodies wouldn’t be made up exclusively of miserable excuses for human beings. There’d be a lot of collateral damage, including plenty of Normals and other innocents who just want to lead their lives.

He doesn’t want to see friends and allies die, or even neutrals. Just the scumbag lefties. But, as I pointed out, the only way to that end is for Normals to engage in retail destruction before TSHTF. Wholesale destruction isn’t selective.

Monday, 9 October 2017

08:44 – It was 68.0F (20C) when I got up this morning at at 0620, pouring down rain. It was 0730 before the rain slacked off enough to take Colin out. We’ve had 4.6 inches (11.7 cm) so far, and it’s still drizzling, with heavier rains forecast for later today and tomorrow.

Barbara made a skillet dinner last night with Costco sausage, macaroni, and a jar of Classico spaghetti sauce. I washed out that jar, of course, and will use it for repackaging LTS food.

Not for canning food, though. The Classico jars look like canning jars. They even have “Atlas Mason” and a graduated scale molded into the glass. But they are most definitely not actual canning jars, and everyone from Classico themselves to the Center for Home Food Preservation says not to use them for canning, particularly pressure-canning. Here’s an article that summarizes everything you need to know about re-using commercial glass food jars as canning jars.

In short, don’t do it. You may get away with it, and if the lid seals the food will be safely preserved. The big issue is that both failed seals and broken jars are likely, particularly if you pressure-can rather than use a boiling water bath. It’s simply not worth taking the chance of spoiled food, broken glass, and so on to save the relatively small cost of a real canning jar.

Since 2014, I’ve bought (at a guess) three or four dozen boxes of Krusteaz Cinnamon Crumb Cake. We’re now down to whatever’s left in the kitchen pantry–maybe three boxes–and I don’t intend to buy any more. We like the stuff well enough, but when Barbara made one yesterday I commented that I liked the chocolate pan cake we make up from scratch just as well or better. She feels the same, so no more Krusteaz cake mix. That, and the fact that the price has increased from $2.14/box to $3.58/box. We can make it ourselves exclusively from stuff in our LTS pantry, and make it a lot cheaper.

The same thing is true of the Krusteaz pancake mix, which I’d bought in 10-pound bags. (The price on that has jumped from about $8/bag to about $10/bag.) We have everything we need in LTS to make pancakes from scratch, so why bother paying more for the pre-mixed stuff?

As we’ve been cooking more and more from scratch, one of the things we’ve discovered is that (usually) it doesn’t take any longer starting with discrete components than it does to start with a mix. And having those discrete components gives us much more flexibility. The only thing we can make with a box of Krusteaz cinnamon crumb cake mix is a cinnamon crumb cake. But we can use the discrete components to make up literally dozens of different things. It costs less, it takes little or no more time, and the shelf life of our stored raw materials is essentially unlimited, which can’t be said for mixes stored in cardboard boxes.

I’m thinking about doing the same thing to replace our stored stock of soups as we use them. Although a can of soup doesn’t cost much, and Sam’s (and presumably Costco) still sells Campbell Cream of Mushroom or Chicken for about $9/10-pack, Walmart, Amazon, and other vendors are typically up around $1.50/can or higher. That’s maybe five times what it costs to make them up on-the-fly. I have a recipe for Cream of (fill-in-the-blank) soup, and it’s pretty simple. Just make up a rue with butter (or butter powder and oil or shortening) and flour and stir in the name ingredient. It takes five minutes, and we can do that while we’re standing in the kitchen working on other parts of the meal. And, once again, that gives us a lot more flexibility.

I’m still working on my post-apocalyptic novel, but it’s a matter of an hour here and 15 minutes there, as I can find the time. I just fixed something in it yesterday. Amateur radio plays a small part in the novel, and I’d been trying to come up with decent fake call signs.

I was going to use my old call sign that I had back in the 60’s, because the FCC has completely forgotten that I ever had a licence back then. The problem is that that call sign is now showing up in the database as unassigned, which means the FCC could end up assigning it to a real person. For obvious reasons, I didn’t want to do that.

What I really needed was a ham radio equivalent of the hokey 555 telephone exchange that’s always used in TV shows and movies to provide non-working fictional telephone numbers. Unfortunately, there’s no such range for amateur radio call signs.

I’d never seen the TV series Last Man Standing, but an Internet search turned up the fact that Tim Allen’s character is a ham radio operator, and the show’s producers ran into the same problem I did. They wanted a real-sounding call sign, but found only one way to do that. They made his call sign KA0XTT, which looks kind of like a real ham call sign, except that the X in that position indicates an experimental station and would never be assigned to a real ham operator.

I briefly considered using strings that could never be assigned to a real ham, like K33RTK. The problem with that is that any reader who had any knowledge of ham radio would be jarred by such a fake call sign, probably enough to knock himself out of the story. I don’t want any clangers like that, so I ended up using the X the same way that Tim Allen’s producers used it.

The next issue I had to fix was when news reports of the Las Vegas Massacre revealed that the shooter had used a bump-fire stock. Shit. I’d already written a section that had one of the main characters mentioning the three Slide Fire stocks he’d bought recently for his family’s AR-15’s, and how they were completely legal. So I rewrote that to have him buying them years before and paying literal cash so there was no record of the transaction.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

09:24 – It was 60.9F (16C) when I took Colin out at 0630, overcast. We’re supposed to start seeing the effects of the hurricane late this afternoon or this evening, with heavy rains and wind tomorrow and Monday.

A couple people emailed me about the bump-fire stocks. They’d attempted to order one before any new regulations come into effect, and found that there are none to be had. Again, I wouldn’t worry about it.

First, anyone can produce a very high rate of fire with an AR-15 simply by pulling the trigger as quickly as possible. It may not be up to the 800 or 900 RPM cyclic rate of the bump stock, but it’ll be closer to full auto than what most people would expect. Back in the 70’s, I tried this and had someone use a stopwatch to time how long it took me to empty a 30-round magazine. About 4.5 seconds, which meant I was firing about 400 RPM. That’s roughly what an M3 Grease Gun SMG does.

Second, back before bump stocks were introduced, several vendors sold modified triggers for AR-15’s. These flick triggers were designed to allow you to fire rounds as fast as you could vibrate your finger on the trigger. I assume they’re still available, but I have no interest in those, either.

Yesterday morning, Barbara suggested we repackage the 50-pound sack of flour that was sitting in the laundry room. So we transferred the flour into 19 of the 1.75-liter Tropicana Orange Juice bottles, at an average of 2 pounds, 10.1 ounces per bottle. (Ranging from 2’8.9″ in the lightest to 2’14.1″ in the heaviest.) We’ll add oxygen absorbers, label them, and haul them downstairs today.

That 50 pounds of flour totals 83,160 calories (1,663 calories/lb), or about one person-month’s worth of raw calories, assuming 2,750+ calories per day. Looked at another way, it’s sufficient for 25 two-loaf batches of bread dough, 50 pancake meals for four people, or (with 60 pounds of cornmeal) about 180 batches of cornbread.

Nor will we worry about shelf-life. In heavy PET bottles with oxygen absorbers, it’ll stay good for a long, long time. LDS rates their white flour at 10 years shelf life, and they’re conservative. I’ve mentioned before that back in the 70’s I ate bread made from white flour that had been stored in canning jars for 25 years or so. The bread tasted normal. The raw flour had a tannish cast and caked badly, but it had no unusual odor, and merely sifting it eliminated the caking.

Barbara also mentioned that she wanted to go through our stock of LTS canned goods to look for pop-top cans. She decided independently that they aren’t nearly as good for LTS as standard cans that require a can opener, and she’s right. The integrity of the can is paramount for LTS, and pop-top cans have been scored for easy opening. That calls into question the long-term integrity of the can, as far as we’re concerned.

So Barbara wants to locate all of the pop-top cans and move them from the LTS food room downstairs to the upstairs pantry. We’ll use them, assuming they pass the sniff test, but we’ll avoid buying anything else in the pop-top cans.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

09:36 – It was 44.5F (7C) when I took Colin out at 0645, mostly clear.

We treat our deep pantry like a personal supermarket. Barbara even keeps a “shopping” list on the refrigerator to remind us what to bring up when we go downstairs. For example, the other day she was running out of vegetable oil in the kitchen, so we carried a gallon from the deep pantry upstairs.

For pantry items that we’ve reached “steady-state” on, as soon as we remove one from the deep pantry, I immediately add one to my Walmart shopping cart. Whether I actually order it or not depends on the current price.

For example, a month or so ago, I ordered eight one-gallon jugs of vegetable oil from Walmart at $4.77 each. When I looked this morning, they were $6.18 each, a 30% jump. Unfortunately, there’s nothing unusual about such radical price changes on Walmart and Amazon. In fact, 30% is actually pretty minor. Even so, I just added a gallon jug to my cart. I’ll wait until the price drops again before I order a replacement jug. If it drops a lot–I wouldn’t be surprised to see $3.50 at some point–I’ll order several while the price is very low.

Often the price changes are even more radical. For example, a month ago Walmart had Augason Farms #10 cans of potato slices priced at $4.99 each ($4.42 each with shipping discount). That was an excellent price, so I ordered eight cans. A day or so later, Walmart’s price on that product had quadrupled to about $19/can. As of this morning, it’s down to $9.98/can, which is exactly twice what I paid a month ago.

I think it’s all about a war between Walmart’s and Amazon’s pricing algorithms. Each often tries to price just a bit lower than the other on a particular product, and it ends up looping. For example, a few months ago, Walmart had #10 cans of Augason powdered eggs priced at $12.50/can. (Amazon, IIRC, was $12.99 at the same time.) I ordered only four cans because I didn’t really need any more. A day or two later when I checked prices, Walmart and Amazon were both back up to $37/can, which was three times what I’d paid. As of this morning, Walmart and Amazon are both (coincidentally…) at $34.75/can.

And it’s not just Augason products. For example, some months ago, I noticed that Walmart had 5-pound bags of their store-brand macaroni for $2.48/bag. Less than $0.50/pound was a good price, so I ordered 50 bags. (I would have ordered 100 bags, but I figured Barbara would give me a hard enough time about 50.) Within a day or so after I ordered, their price had jumped to $5.48/bag, a 121% increase, where it remains as of this morning.

The lesson here is that Walmart and Amazon prices can vary dramatically day-to-day and even hour-to-hour. So keep an eye on their prices for stuff you need and when you see a good/great price, take advantage of it. Don’t buy one or two units; buy 20 or 50 or 100, assuming you have use for that much.

Which brings me to something that really pisses me off. Affiliate links gone mad. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t trust prepping web sites that sell products, directly or via affiliate links. That calls into question their objectivity, to put it mildly.

The other day I came across a recent article on one of these sites that was recommending various canned meat products. One of those was Costco canned chicken. That’s fine. We have 50 or more cans of Costco chicken in our deep pantry, and it’s a good product. The problem was, instead of linking to the Costco site–where a six-pack costs $12, $2/can–the article linked to Amazon, which was selling a four-pack for $30, $7.50/can. Why? Because Amazon pays affiliates for linking to their outrageously overpriced product, while Costco does not.

Every other product link in that article went to an extremely high-priced version of a product. Instead of linking to Keystone Ground Beef for $6.28 for a 28-ounce can at Walmart, the article linked to the competing Yoder product at twice or more the price. But the worst of all was Sweet Sue canned whole chicken. At HEB, it sells for something like $5.50/can. The article instead linked to a third-party seller on Amazon, which was selling it for $51 per can. Give me a break. That goes beyond sleazy.

Again, the moral is Buyer Beware. Particularly when it comes to following product links on prepping websites.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Friday, 15 September 2017

09:10 – It was 53.7F (12C) when I took Colin out at 0700, partly cloudy.

The Equifax breach just keeps getting worse and worse. First it was revealed that they’d waited almost six weeks after discovering the breach to make it public. Then it comes out that high executives with the company sold lots of their stock soon after the breach, supposedly not being aware of it. Yeah, right. Now it’s revealed that they were aware of the vulnerability for months, that there was a patch for it, and that they didn’t bother to apply the patch. Jesus.

And their response is pathetic. One year of free credit-monitoring service? How about lifetime free credit-monitoring service? And how about a significant payment to anyone affected by the breach? Say an amount equal to the combined credit line of each person. We have only two or three credit cards, with combined limits of maybe $50,000, but other people may have much more. Say the average is only $10,000. If 143 million people were affected, that would cost Equifax $1,430 billion, so it might put a crimp in their stock value.

But all of the credit agencies are in the wrong here. The default should be to freeze credit on everyone unless they specifically ask that it be unlocked temporarily if they want to apply for credit. It’s inexcusable that this is not the default, and even worse that they charge to freeze an account. At least North Carolina requires them to freeze an account without charging.

Email from a guy who’s pretty well prepared on the basics—water, food, shelter, cooking/heating, communications, etc.—but lacks antibiotics for his beloved decorative pet fish. He’s uncomfortable with the idea of buying antibiotics from Mexican or Canadian pharmacies, eBay, or other random Internet sources, but is comfortable storing Thomas Labs fish antibiotics, available from and many local pet supply stores. Interestingly, it appears that has stopped offering Thomas Labs fish antibiotics. I hope that’s not a sign of things to come. I’ll include only retail list prices below, but third-party vendors generally sell these products at a 15% or 20% discount.

He wanted to know that if I limited myself to these products, which one or ones would I stock, and how much of each per fish. With the usual disclaimer that I am neither a physician or a pharmacist (nor a veterinarian), and assuming that his fish have no drug allergies, I recommended the following, roughly in order of priority:

Note: All of these dosages assume that we’re treating a 160-pound (72 kilo) adult fish that is not pregnant.

1. Doxycycline, 100 mg tablets or capsules – This would be my top priority, as it is broad-spectrum and is generally tolerated well except by pregnant and juvenile fish. A typical course of treatment is one 100 mg dose every 12 hours for 7 to 10 days, so for one fish I’d want to have 14 to 20 tablets on hand. Thomas Labs sells a bottle of thirty 100 mg doxycycline tablets for $50 or 100 tablets for $150.

2. Sulfamethoxazole/Trimethoprim (SMZ/TMP), 400/80 mg or 800/160 mg tablets – This would be my second priority, assuming your fish have no sulfa allergies. A typical course of treatment is one 400/80 mg tablet every 12 hours for 7 to 10 days, so for one fish I’d want to have 14 to 20 of the smaller tablets (or 7 to 10 of the larger tablets) on hand. Thomas Labs sells SMZ/TMP as 800/160 mg tablets, which are scored and can easily be split into two 400/80 mg tablets. A bottle of thirty 800/160 SMZ/TMP tablets (equivalent to sixty 400/80 mg tablets) sells for $15 or 100 tablets (equivalent to two hundred 400/80 mg tablets) for $35. This stuff is cheap and is effective against many common serious infections, so there’s no reason not to have it on hand.

3. Metronidazole, 500 mg tablets or capsules – This drug was introduced as Flagyl in the 1950’s as an anti-protozoal and it was only discovered by chance in 1962 that it’s also effective against anaerobic bacteria. The other antibiotics listed here have little or no effect on either protozoal infections or anaerobic bacterial infections, so metronidazole is definitely something I want in my arsenal. A typical course of treatment varies, depending on the particular disease and its severity, but ranges from 2000 mg/day for five days up to 4,000 mg/day for ten days, so to be safe I’d assume one course is a total of 40,000 mg. Thomas Labs sells Fish Zole Forte as 500 mg tablets, at $45, $65, and $100 for 30, 60, or 100 tablets, respectively. A daily 2,000 mg dosage is therefore four tablets, and a 4,000 mg dosage eight tablets. You’ll want to continue this for up to ten days, so for the maximum 4,000 mg/day for ten days, you’ll need 80 of the 500 mg tablets. Go with a bottle of 100 to be safe.

4. An antihelminthic drug – This is not a Thomas Labs product, but it’s important just the same. Parasitic worms are probably responsible for more morbidity and mortality in fish than any other parasite, so you’ll want something on hand to treat them. My first choice here would be mebendazole, with albendazole a close second. Unfortunately, both of those are extraordinarily expensive in the US. (About $.01 to $0.10 per dose outside the US, but $200 to $400 per dose in the US. See the Wikipedia entries on those drugs to find out why.) My next choice would be pyrantel (50 mg pyrantel per mL as the pamoate salt), which is over-the-counter in the US, and sells for $0.50 to $4.00 per dose. It’s not effective against all types of helminthic parasites, but works for the most common ones–pin worm, hookworm, and roundworm. As far as I know, pyrantel is sold only as a suspension. Typical dosages of the 50 mg/mL concentration are 1 mL per 10 pounds of body weight, so you’d give your 160-pound fish 16 mL. Call it one tablespoon. A 16-ounce bottle—roughly 32 adult doses—sells for $15 or so, and a 32-ounce bottle for twice that. A course of treatment for any of these antihelminthics is usually just one dose, so a little goes a long way. The best-known version of this drug is Reese’s Pinworm Medicine, which sells for $7 or $8 per ounce ($3.50 to $4 per dose), but it’s also available as a generic OTC medication in pint and quart bottles for about $0.50/ounce.

If you’re stocking for a family or group of fish rather than just one fish, you won’t necessarily need to multiply the quantities per fish by the number of fish in the group. For example, for 25 adult fish, we’d keep 200 grams of metronidazole on hand, which is only five maximum to twenty minimum courses.

Keep these drugs unopened in their sealed bottles, and stick them in your freezer, where they’ll remain safe and potent for literally decades. The only exception is the one liquid drug on this list, pyrantel pamoate suspension, which should be refrigerated, where it’ll remain safe and potent for many years.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

10:06 – It was 54.3F (13C) when I took Colin out at 0715, with gusty winds and blowing rain. We had about 1.5″ (3.8 cm) of rain overnight. Today is supposed to be more of the same.

Barbara is volunteering this afternoon at the Friends bookstore, and I have various administrative tasks to do. Tomorrow, we’re back to making subassemblies and building more science kits. Kit sales are still okay, although they’re starting to taper off, as they always do in September.

I have two cups of coffee every morning, made in a single-cup brewer that holds about a pint of water. As I was setting up my second cup this morning, I thought to weigh the coffee I was using. It turns out, I use a scoop that weighs about 13 grams to make a pint of coffee. That means a 3-pound can of coffee is about 100 cups or 50 days’ worth, and a case is 300 days’ worth. Barbara, Frances, and Colin don’t drink coffee, and Al likes his coffee much weaker than I make mine, so two cases of coffee is a year’s worth for Al and me. Of course, I also drink tea, as does Barbara, and we have enough of that in LTS to make a few hundred gallons.

I just remarked to Barbara this morning that we’re both old enough to remember when it was a standing joke about property developers selling swamp land in Florida to rubes from out of state. Back then, Florida was a relatively small state population-wise, and for good reason. It wasn’t until the 50’s and 60’s that major development ramped up down there, and for good reason. Until then, people understood that it was a really bad idea to build in coastal areas, which are subject to frequent hurricanes. The population of Florida back then was a quarter or less what it is now, and that was too many people even then. Of course, other coastal areas like the Gulf Coast and the entire West Coast have also seen huge increases in construction and growth in population, which was just as bad an idea.