Wednesday, 8 October 2014

09:04 – Barbara leaves Friday for a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee with her sister, brother-in-law, and friend Marcy. They’ll return Monday, but as usual Colin is afraid I’ll forget to feed him while Barbara’s away.

I got a bit done yesterday on the chapter on food storage, preservation, and production. One of the things I intend to do with respect to the last item is sell packages of heirloom (AKA non-hybrid, open-pollination, or true-breeding) seeds for long-term storage. That’s not as simple as it sounds.

Even choosing which varieties to include is non-trivial. For example, different varieties of onion are adapted for different latitudes. So-called long-day varieties are adapted for northern latitudes, where summer days are much longer than they are here in the Southland. Long-day onions are completely unsuited to the South, because the days never get long enough to cause them to bulb. Conversely, short-day varieties do not do well in Northern latitudes. I’ll probably end up including either an intermediate-day variety or a day-neutral variety or both. But day-length preference is just one characteristic that needs to be taken into account. Soil preference, disease resistance, days-to-harvest, and other characteristics are just as important.

Then there’s the matter of storage. Most ordinary seeds don’t store well. For example, a particular seed that has an 80% germination rate if planted the following year may have only a 50% germination rate after two years, a 10% germination rate after three, and a 1% germination rate after four.

The solution is to dry the seeds and then freeze them. By itself, drying the seeds greatly extends their shelf life, typically to 10 years or more. Freezing them extends the shelf life indefinitely. That’s why many large-scale heirloom seed banks are located north of the Arctic Circle. But freezing seeds without drying them first damages the seeds.

On the other hand, drying them too much also damages viability. The ideal is about 8% moisture by weight. Much less than that, and the seeds become “hard”, which means their shells become so impervious to moisture that they won’t germinate even in ideal conditions. Much more than 8%, and freezing will damage them.

The problem, of course, is to determine the initial percentage of moisture in each type of seed. That means I’ll have to weigh specimens of each seed, dry them to constant mass, determine the moisture percentage of each type, and then dry them accordingly. Then I’ll have to test them to make sure the initial germination rate is acceptably high. Assuming that’s true, I’ll package each type of seed in zip-lock snack bags and heat-seal those bags in laminated Mylar/aluminum bags.

I’ll probably design each seed kit to contain sufficient seeds of a couple dozen types to sow an acre or so of land. That may not sound like much, but it’s sufficient to produce literally tons of food along with enough seeds to sow several acres the following year.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

08:07 – Work on The Ultimate Family Prepping Guide continues. I’m still in the initial phase of stubbing out what I intend to write about. As I think of things I want to cover, I add notes to myself. Sometimes those notes are only a sentence or paragraph. Other times, I end up writing an entire section of a few thousand words. Eventually, it will come together and start to flow. At that point, I’ll finish the first draft and go back to fill in the gaps, fix what I’ve already written, and add in stuff like images and graphics.

I set up a mailing list last Thursday for people who are interested in following the progress of the book. It worked fine for a couple of days and then started redirecting requests to an ICANN error page. I finally got the ICANN glitch resolved. If you want to join that list, visit I’ve yet to send out the first message to the list because I don’t have anything yet that’s worth looking at.

Monday, 6 October 2014

09:42 – Back around 1970, Gordon Ingram, who’d designed the Ingram machine pistol, and Mitch Werbell, who’d designed the Sionics suppressor, formed a company called Military Armament Corporation, or MAC. Their best-known product was the MAC-10 suppressed machine pistol. The company lasted only a few years, and by 1975 had filed for bankruptcy. The legal wrangling lasted for a few years, but by the late 1970’s their remaining component and finished-goods inventory was dumped on the market. I remember it well. MAC-10 machine pistols were selling for $35 each, and the Sionics suppressor for another $35.

If I could have gotten complete MAC-10’s for $70, I’d probably have bought several. The problem was, both the MAC-10 and the Sionics were Class 3 firearms, which meant you also had to pay a $200 transfer tax for each to the federal government, for a total of $470 for a complete MAC-10 with suppressor. At the time, that was the equivalent of about $2,000 today, but it was also the Carter era with its extremely high inflation. I remember thinking at the time that the $200 tax hadn’t changed since the National Firearms Act was passed in 1934, and if it remained unchanged that inflation would someday make that $200 tax trivial. Here it is 35 years later, and the tax is still $200, or about $50 in 1979 dollars.

And indeed Class 3 Firearms dealers seem to be a lot more common than they used to be. In 1979, there were very few of them around. I’m not sure there was even one in every state. They tended to specialize in NFA firearms and destructive devices rather than being general gun dealers. The other day, I was looking into local shooting ranges and was surprised to find that one of them offers silencers (suppressors) for sale. A quick check showed many other gun dealers and shooting ranges are doing the same, that suppressors are now popular accessories for hunters, and that rifles and pistols with threaded barrels designed to accept suppressors are now readily available. I suppose it’s not surprising. When the act passed, that $200 tax was more than some people made in a year, and was a month’s salary or more even for doctors, attorneys, engineers, and bank presidents. Nowadays, a $200 tax is pretty trivial for many people who would want to buy a suppressor or automatic weapon.

Friday, 3 October 2014

08:18 – I got email yesterday from a reader concerned about the Ebola situation in Dallas who asked if I thought it was time yet to panic. I replied that I am neither a virologist nor an epidemiologist, but as an educated layman I certainly thought it was a matter that should be of grave concern. The authorities, at least in their public statements, appear to be making some dangerous assumptions and are failing to take steps that I consider prudent, not least failing to quarantine people who have been or may have been exposed to the virus.

The current Ebola outbreak is different from earlier ones in at least three critical respects:

First, the number of people who have been infected and the number who have died is already higher in this outbreak than in all other outbreaks combined, and there’s no evidence that this outbreak is anything close to being under control or even that it’s certain that it CAN be brought under control. Doctors without Borders have said that with an all-out effort by the world’s governments, it may be possible to bring the outbreak under control within nine months to a year. MAY be possible, with an all-out effort. Which there’s no sign is happening.

Second, the pattern of this outbreak differs from earlier outbreaks, which were limited largely to remote rural areas and limited only to people who had had close direct contact with infected people. This outbreak has already reached the cities, and we’re now seeing the disease pop up in spots remote from the main affected areas. That suggests to me that the virus may now be air-transmissible. If so, that’s catastrophic.

Third, the virus has mutated. It’s now clear that we’re dealing with a different variant of Ebola than the variants that caused earlier outbreaks. That means it’s dangerous to assume anything about the characteristics of this new variant. Assuming that a 21-day quarantine is adequate is a dangerous assumption. This variant may have longer latency. Nor is it safe to assume that people infected with this variant are not contagious until they begin to show symptoms.

The world has not experienced a pandemic for nearly 100 years, since the Spanish flu of 1918, which had a mortality rate of “only” about 5%. The current Ebola epidemic in West Africa–with its 70%+ mortality–probably won’t become the next worldwide pandemic, but it’s certainly possible that it will. What really concerns me is that the national health authorities in the US and elsewhere do not appear to be treating this threat with the gravity that it merits. Airliners are still arriving in and departing from the affected countries every day. People known to have been exposed to Ebola were allowed to wander around unsupervised. We’re even continuing to bring patients known to be infected with Ebola to the US for treatment. This has to stop.

10:31 – I drink tea and coffee only during cool/cold weather. I just fired up the Krups for the first time this season. I’m running a pot of plain water through it first to clean it out a bit. Once that finishes, I’ll make a pot of Earl Grey.

Cooler weather has definitely arrived in Winston-Salem. Our highs over the weekend are forecast to be around 60F (16C), with lows around 40F (5C).

14:39 – Don, our UPS guy, just showed up with the ammunition I ordered from Cabela’s. I walked out to the truck as he was loading the boxes onto his cart. As he greeted me, he asked what I thought of this Ebola situation, so we chatted about that as he loaded the cart.

He knew it was ammunition because the boxes were labeled as Cabela’s and each contained the hazard label used for ammunition. He asked as he was loading the boxes if I was preparing for a zombie apocalypse or an Ebola apocalypse. Both, I told him. He volunteered that he was also a prepper and had been for years.

On National Geo’s Doomsday Preppers series, they frequently comment that there are three million preppers in the US. Depending on how one defines prepper, that may even be true. I could be convinced that there are three million very serious preppers in the US, of the type featured in that series. But in a larger sense, there are a whole lot more preppers.

When my grandmother was young, from the late 19th century through the 1920’s, nearly everyone was a prepper. They didn’t use the word, but everyone from farm families to working-class families who lived in apartments to bank presidents who lived in mansions prepped. Homes then had large pantries, which were invariably kept full of dry staples and commercial- and home-canned goods, and even those who had electric power kept candles, oil lamps, and other emergency lighting supplies.

Nowadays, fewer families keep months’ worth of stored food, although it’s still much more common than you might think. And it’s not just members of the LDS Church. The fact that both Costco and Sam’s Club carry a wide variety of freeze-dried and other storable foods and often feature them in their flyers and on their websites should tell you something. Neither of these retailers wastes effort or space on items that don’t sell well. That they carry them let alone feature them frequently means that prepping is a very popular activity.

The preppers featured on National Geo are on the right end of the Bell curve, but there are tens of millions of people who fall elsewhere on the curve. Anyone who owns a generator or even keeps spare batteries for their flashlights in case of power failure is prepping, as is someone who keeps extra blankets and some firewood on hand in case of a severe winter storm. People who live in hurricane-prone areas and store pre-cut plywood sheets to cover their windows are prepping. It’s merely a matter of degree.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

11:05 – I mentioned to Barbara this morning that we need to build another batch of biology kits this weekend. We’ve shipped three so far this month, and we’re down under half a dozen in stock.

When I sit down to write a book, I immediately become aware of how much I don’t know. No worries there. I can always research it, figure it out, do it myself, and so on. What worries me is the things I only think I know, because those don’t get researched, figured out, or done. That’s why a final fact-checking pass is so important, as well as running the rough draft manuscript past people who know more about particular things than I do.

And some of the stuff I only thought I knew turns out to be very interesting indeed once I dig deeper. For example, I was under the impression that exposure to strong UV killed essentially all microorganisms, that placing a 2-liter soda bottle of questionable water in bright sunlight for a few hours sterilized it. In fact, I’ve even tested that by filling a 2-liter Coke bottle with ditch water, leaving it out in the sun all day, and then culturing the contents on different agar media designed to encourage growth of various classes of bacteria, protozoa, and fungi. The agar plates grew no colonies of anything, so I concluded that exposure to UV was indeed a good way to sterilize water.

The problem is, I was thinking “sterilized” as in “killed everything”. That turns out not to be the case. UV does indeed “sterilize” the water, but only in sense of rendering some of the microorganisms unable to reproduce. The UV turns them into teeny, tiny Walking Dead. What’s worse is that they can be revivified by exposure to visible light, ideally in the violet/blue portion of the spectrum. This activates enzymes called photolyases, which turn around and fix the DNA that the UV light broke, reactivating the Walking Dead microorganisms with their full reproductive abilities restored. Geez.

Not that it really matters. Solar Disinfection (SODIS) is used worldwide to provide safe drinking water for tens of millions of people. In practical terms, it works, so I’ll present it as such.

Several people have expressed interest in following the progress of The Ultimate Family Prepping Guide, so I decided to set up a private email discussion list. It’ll be a while before there’s much activity on the list, but eventually I’ll be doing stuff like posting draft chapters for download. If you want to join the list, visit

It turns out that at my age I end up doing things that I later just barely remember doing. For example, I just got an email that began, “Thank you for contributing to Brian Taylor & Kate Doody’s new book: CERAMIC GLAZES: The Complete Handbook” and asked for my mailing address so they could send me the print copy they’d promised. I almost clicked to send it to junk mail before I vaguely remembered doing something that had to do with ceramic glazes. So I sent them my address. Once I get the book, I may even remember what I wrote for them or told them.

11:59 – I’ve already gotten a bunch of new subscriber notices for the new discussion list, but I’ve also gotten a couple of emails along the lines of “I’d like to join but I’m afraid I have nothing to contribute.” Don’t worry about it. Join if you want to, even if you’ll only lurk. You may be surprised at how much you have to contribute. I’m interested in getting a “hive mind” thing going with this discussion list, and over the decades that I’ve participated on such lists I’ve ceased to be surprised at how much useful knowledge is known by so few people. So go ahead and join. Lurk if you have nothing to say. If you do have something to say, say it.

14:41 – It’s interesting how much kit sales swing up and down. Last month, for example, started out big. For the first week or so, I thought we might do 150% or even 200% of September, 2013 revenues. Then things died completely for a few days. Then they started booming again, but that lasted only a few days. The last week of the month was dead slow, and we ended up doing only about 80% of last September’s revenues. But the first two days of this month we’ve done almost 20% of last October’s total revenues. If this holds up, which I’m sure it won’t, we’d do around 300% of October 2013 revenues. Then again, it could hold up, because we have had months where we did 300% or more of the same month’s prior year revenues. I just don’t worry about it one way or the other. As of very early October, YTD revenues are where they were in early December of 2013, so we’re doing fine.