Tues. Jan. 12, 2021 – 01122021 – kinda cool. Warning- navel gazing ahead…

Cold today, but dry.  I need the Christmas decor to finish drying out so I can get it down before the HOA sends their nastygram…

Which is but one of my tasks for the day.   The others are pickups and continued cleanup at my secondary.  ( Pickups are some preps, but also stuff to move along the bathroom remodel, because life goes on, even as the country melts down around us.)

Didn’t do much yesterday.  I was really tired and not feeling well so I napped in the late morning instead of doing productive work.  I felt much better after.  I did get some small things done in between hitting reload on the news and waiting for the other jackboot to drop.   It’s like 2021 turned to 2020 and said “Hold my beer…” and we’re barely started.   It can get oh so much worse too.  I don’t hold out much hope for ‘better’.  Not for FBI certified home grown extremist potential domestic terrorists like me and most of my friends anyway.   We’re in for a world of hurt.


 

Thanks to everyone who provided feedback on yesterday’s trial.   Well, wrt specifically writing the prepping guide, one chapter at a time, consensus seems to be “not as a regular thing” and “not necessarily in that format.”

Which is cool, as that was why I asked. The audience here is far past the basic levels of prepping. I still feel the need to at least organize the beginning stuff, so I’ll try some more stuff later.

One of the things I thought I might try doing instead is writing an article for survivalblog- because, PRIZES!

There were two ideas I was considering. One would be turning my posts about my visit to the Plymoth Colony last summer into an article. The theme would maybe touch on the complete lack of preparation for the endeavor on the part of the colonists, or maybe the lack of flexibility that let them starve while the native population had so much food they could make art. I can’t find a great hook to hang the article on though.

The other might be a bit more timely, and would be something about “what I learned about the power and tools available to the state in the form of local LEOs by listening to the scanner.” That risks getting into subversive territory, a handbook to partisans… which might be just what is needed for that matter, but IDK how the audience over there would react.

A third article could put yesterday’s comments into more coherent form, and cover how to set up a listening station and some lessons learned from monitoring…

My first loyalty is to this place, but hey- PRIZES! Long form articles take much more time and attention and editing than my usual casual posts to a receptive and friendly audience.

For some perspective, I looked at my posts for the last couple of weeks and an ‘ordinary’ post- something to just get the conversation started each day- usually ends up being around 500 words. A post where I have something to say, or a specific goal, those tend to be around 800 words long. And a fully developed but still short, topical post runs to ~1200 words. Something more long form would probably run 1500-2500 words and is not something I do here regularly.  I spent a couple of hours on yesterday’s post and it was 1200 words iirc.  AND THEN the BEST discussion happened there in the comments about scanners!  Nothing to do with the post!  But that is the great part about the ‘conversation’ here, you never know where it will lead.

FWIW, since we’re coming up on the unhappy anniversary, and I’m being all meta and introspective, I’ve done about 1113 posts since Bob got sick, call it average of 600 – 750 words, so I’ve written about 650K to 850K words here in posts alone.  That’s kinda a lot.  6-10 novels worth.    Add about the same in comments, as  that was where I wrote most of my words outside of posts, especially in the beginning.  7500 comments would have to average 100 words each or just total to 700 words over the day.  Call it 10-16 full length novels in 3 years.   1.3M – 1.6M words.   Holy cow I’m glad my wife doesn’t read the blog.

Although, thinking about it,  I wrote a fair number of those comments in the years before Bob passed- so spread the novels out over a couple of more years.  Balanced against that, I used to write a fair number of comments elsewhere too.  10s of thousands of words about prepping and ham radio on just a couple of other blogs, for example.  I did manage to reuse and recycle some of that, when I could find it again.  That is the beauty of working with Intellectual Property, reuse and recycle, and everything old is new again!

It is immensely satisfying to be part of what we’ve continued to build here and to keep the conversation going.

Now I better go do something constructive before I start picking lint out of this belly button I’ve been staring into.

Start stacking.  Keep stacking.

nick

 

(843 words according to WP,  864 according to the tool I downloaded.)

Mon. Jan. 11, 2021 – so much happening so fast, where to start?

Cold.  Wet.  Wet.  Cold.

Yesterday was low 40s and mid 30s with non-stop drizzle or worse.  It was 35F when I went to sleep.

Didn’t get anything at all done yesterday.  Really somewhat overwhelmed by the pace of things happening in the world.  Still, gotta keep moving forward.  So.

We’re 11 days into the New Year, and consider how much things have changed, just since Christmas.  Holy cr@p sandwich Batman…  what can a person do?

Well, it’s not too late to do something but by starting late everything will be harder and cost more.   If, that is, you think time is getting short.   If everything is fine, then why do you feel like you might want a gun, or some extra food in the house “just in case?”  Those sorts of feelings are your brain trying to tell you something is wrong with the world around you.  People who pay attention and do something about it are called “preppers” nowadays, but used to be called other things including “prudent”.

Most of the folks here at Daynotes have been preppers or at least have been prepping for a while now, or I hope they have been to SOME extent.   This post is more along the lines of something you can point the ‘new kid’ toward when they ask about what they should do.

First off, prepping is NOT a fringe activity.  Millions of people in the US and elsewhere prep to varying degrees.   It is the official policy of the US Government, promulgated by FEMA, that the citizens should prepare themselves for dealing with emergencies on their own.  There is a lot of information available from ‘official’ sources, but most of it is watered down, ‘lowest common denominator’ stuff.  Officially, FEMA says that in the event of an emergency, you should have enough stuff to take care of your needs for 72 hours, that being their minimum response time to a major incident.  Note the word ‘minimum’.   After several recent drills, for some people in some places, the recommended time was increased to 2 weeks.   Most people who consider themselves to be preppers can easily meet the 72 hours goal, and rapidly move on to the next level goal, and when they’ve reached that, move to the next.   That assumes they actually START, and that there is time for that approach to work.   There are other approaches we’ll talk about later.

There are as many approaches to prepping as there are preppers and there is an overwhelming amount of data online.   Somehow it became fashionable to put up prepping guides a couple of years ago, that were little more than fluff and had very little actual information in them and often had really bad advice to boot.  Because the internet is forever, a whole lot of those clickbait articles will show up when you start looking into prepping.

Before letting yourself be overwhelmed though, it’s important to realize a couple of things.   Prepping is a journey, not a destination.  Everyone’s journey is different, and as the Chinese and other’s have noted, the journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step.   So take that first step.

The first step is a question.  What are you prepping FOR?  The answer to that will shape your journey, but doesn’t necessarily define it.  The beauty of prepping is that each step builds upon the next and by prepping for the big things, you should automatically have the littler things covered along the way.  In normal times the answers range from a localized or regional “ordinary” disaster, like a flood, hurricane, winter storm, train derailment, or some other thing that is a likely and real hazard in your area; to a big thing, like global societal and economic collapse, a worldwide pandemic, or the fictional combination of the two- the zombie apocalypse.  A quick side note, for people new to prepping the idea of zombies and a zombie apocalypse can seem crazy, foolish, bizarre, or off-putting, but it’s really just a sort of shorthand for ‘everything goes nuts, nothing works like it should, and you are on your own.’    If you prep towards surviving that, you should have everything else covered.

So what are you prepping for?  If you are just starting,  you are likely concerned by the recent riots and destruction in our cities.  You have of course been affected by the current worldwide pandemic, and the restrictions related to covid-19 to some degree or another.  You might have been caught short in the beginning and wish to avoid that happening again if the wuflu does get worse.*  Or it might just be the REACTION to wuflu that concerns you.   You might be concerned by the political polarization in America.  Believe me, people on both sides are fully convinced that people on the other side are just a hair’s breadth away from exploding into violence.   That tells me that it’s coming for sure.   I don’t care which side you are on, and my politics are evident in other posts, but shouldn’t put you off.  I’ll try to be non-partisan in the body of these posts about prepping.  Maybe you see an economic collapse in the future.  Or you just see hurricane season starting up in a few months and you just want to get a jump on it…   I’ll tell you a secret.  Unless you live in a hazard zone, the most common disasters to befall people are much more personal – the loss of a job followed by long term unemployment, or serious illness/death of a loved one.  Prepping will help tremendously with those too.

One last thing before getting started.   This is going to be based on my approach, and my beliefs.    This website was Robert Bruce Thompson’s and he spent a lot of time talking about prepping issues, and his ideas shaped my own prepping journey.    He was a published author, a scientist, and a really smart guy who was very detail oriented and thorough.  I encourage anyone at any stage of their prepping journey to use the keywords at the right and read what Bob (RBT) said in his own words, as well as the discussion it engendered.  I’ll talk about his approach and link where appropriate.   I am not Bob, I’m not writing a book to serve as a reference manual, and I don’t think there is a lot of time to get YOU up to speed and taking the first step.   My approach is very quick and dirty compared to Bob’s well researched approach.  I usually go with the first thing that mostly works, rather than search for the perfect or complete solution.  I feel VERY STRONGLY that you should DO SOMETHING.  Preferably with guidance, and consideration, but I’d choose action over inaction in most cases.  Paralysis by analysis, or ‘overthinking’ is a real risk in prepping as in most complex endeavors.   The imperfect preps you actually have are infinitely better than the ‘perfect’ preps you DON’T have.

Ok, one more last thing.  I’m just a guy on the internet.  If something I suggest or advocate doesn’t seem right to you, do some more research.  There are as many different approaches and attitudes as there are people.  There are a LOT of good people out there writing about prepping and related subjects.   I’ll refer to them where I can.  I won’t generally be linking or footnoting everything.  You are sitting at a computer, connected to the internet- use that to your advantage if you need to see a reference or a link.  Consider too that my approach might not be a good fit for you, but you can hopefully still benefit from what I write, even if just by the negative example.   There are lots of people here to help me and to help you too, by keeping a sharp eye on me and what I’m writing.

So, today’s question.  What are you prepping for?  That will determine the extent of your preps, and your timeline, but mostly under my approach, it will determine when you STOP.  If you don’t know what you’re prepping for, just do what preppers do and say “zombie apocalypse.”

Today’s lesson, to get started, just do a little bit more than you usually do.  Buy more food that you normally buy.  Buy an extra of whatever home repair item you are buying.  Do a bit more cleaning.  A bit more exercise.  Fill your gas tank sooner than you might normally.  Get something fixed before it breaks more.  Along with that, go through your home and look at what resources you already have.   Look for things that aren’t going to help, that you no longer use/need/want.  Look for stuff that could be sold or traded or given to someone so that you can improve your situation, or theirs.

Figure out where you are starting from, so you know what you can build on.  Do you have tools?  A garden?  Generator?  Food in the pantry?  Camping equipment?  Medical knowledge but no supplies?  Any reference library?  What skills do you have?  If it helps you, make a list.

My approach is modular, builds off the previous level, and is a bit opportunistic.   Be open to things happening out of sequence.  Be prepared to take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves.

First goal- be able to stay in your home completely isolated, without changing your lifestyle or routine significantly, for 72 hours- 3 days.  And at the end of those days, you are not desperate or in need of aid, but you can continue your normal life, and replace what got used up.

We’ll talk about how to get there, and the next step later.


*I’ve been calling it wuflu from the beginning.  I know it’s not a ‘flu’ but it rolls off the tongue and is intended to remind the reader that this virus originated in Wuhan China.


======================================================

What do you guys think?  Is it worthwhile for me to continue with this idea for a while?  Not every day, but at least a couple of times a week?  Maybe on a separate page?  Too chatty?  Too presumptuous?  Too general?  Already been done?  Too ambitious?  Unnecessary?

Let me know what you think, and in your own lives, keep stacking.

 

nick

Tues. Feb. 11, 2020 – so much to do

Warmish and wet. [not so much, front moved in, 50F and dripping this am]

Had overcast all day but didn’t get any rain until after 9pm, and it didn’t last long.

Spent the afternoon running around doing pickups and drop offs. So much stuff to do normally, and I’m also trying to step up my preps.

I’m going to try to fit in a Costco run today with all the other stuff going on.

I’ve been a bit casual checking my email lately. I’ve got my reader open to my sales addy, hoping to see orders coming in… so I was very pleasantly surprised to see a note from Barbara.

It was in regard to our discussion of Bob’s works in progress. She didn’t want to pursue the fiction book, and had this to say–

The best prepping insights from Bob are what he posted on the site.

All of his previous science and computer books are now pretty much out of date. Those that are still in print can be found on the O’Reilly site.

I want to thank you, Rick, and all of the readers on Daynotes for keeping his ideas and memories alive.

Barbara

I’m sure I speak for all of us saying “Thank You” to Barbara for supporting our continued efforts here. It’s a unique place on the web, due to Bob and the readers he attracted. It’s been a daily part of my life, and I’d miss it enormously.

Now, off to work. Go forth and prep, because it’s bad, and it will be getting worse.

nick

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.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

08:06 – It was 57.1F (14C) when I took Colin out at 0635, partly cloudy.

Bad news about the little Malamute, whom I’ve decided to call Bella for short. One of my vendors sent me samples of a couple of learning aids designed for young children. I had no use for them, so I gave them to Barbara and suggested she donate them to the Friends bookstore or something. She decided to give them to Vickie, our next-door neighbor, to give to her grandchildren.

While she was standing out by the road at Vickie’s, a guy pulled up in a pickup and stopped to talk to her. He was a farmer from down the road, and he’d just lost a dozen of his chickens to the little dog. He was very upset, naturally, and told Barbara he’d already reported it to the sheriff and animal control. I suspect if he sees the dog, he’ll shoot her. If animal control or the sheriff’s deputies catch her, it’ll probably be a one-way trip to the dump.

While they were standing there talking, another woman pulled up. She’d seen the little dog around and said she thought it belonged to a Mexican family that lived in a house behind the trailer park down the road from us. She told them that she thought Mr. Mabe’s wife had been giving her food because she felt sorry for her.

It’s not the dog’s fault, obviously. She’s hungry and she’s just doing what comes naturally. But that won’t matter. Just like any rural area, a destructive dog has a dim future. I told Barbara that I’m going to keep my eye out for her. I’ll catch her if I can, and take her over to the veterinarian that runs an animal shelter/rescue operation. I don’t want to see her killed just because she was hungry.

So, about 1700 yesterday, I managed to lure her into the garage and get the door closed. There she stayed for the next several hours, with us checking on her periodically. When Barbara went out to check on her, she called me from the garage. Bella had climbed up the steel-wire shelving unit against the back garage window, knocking over a case of 18/400 caps on her way up. She was standing on the top shelf, three feet off the floor, looking out the back window. We got her down safely and cleaned up the 8 million or so caps from the garage floor.

Barbara decided to assemble our steel-wire dog crate. We did that and got Bella into it. She showed absolutely no aggression at any point, just extreme skittishness. She doesn’t want to be captured. She lay unprotestingly in the crate for the next couple of hours. She knocked over the bowls of food and water we’d put in the crate, but otherwise there was no problem.

It was pretty warm in the garage. We’d left a fan pointed at the crate, but after we’d gone back to bed, she started yipping and barking. Barbara decided we needed to move the crate out onto the front porch to get her some cool air. That was a mistake. We got the crate with her in it moved onto the corner of the front porch near the garage, but the door latch came loose and Bella made a break for it. We spent the next 45 minutes trying to recapture her. No joy. We finally gave up and went back to bed.

This morning, she wasn’t around when I took Colin out, but she showed up at the front door shortly thereafter. We spent half an hour or so luring her into the house with lunch meat, with Colin penned up in the bedroom. Barbara finally got her into the garage, where she allowed Barbara to get a slip leash on her and get her loaded into the car.

Barbara just took off a few minutes ago, headed to the vet’s office, which has a private animal shelter next door. I’ll call them later on today to see what they can tell me. I want to make absolutely sure they don’t put her down. If they can’t find someone to adopt her, I want to take her back. We’ll find someone, up here or maybe down in Winston, who’ll take her. As a last resort, I’m going to tell Barbara we should take her ourselves.


When we were moving stuff from the upstairs vertical freezer to the downstairs refrigerator yesterday, we were bitten by a task that’s been on our to-do list for a long time that we just haven’t gotten around to doing. That’s reorganizing the LTS food room.

Barbara keeps a “downstairs shopping list” on the refrigerator upstairs, so that when we go down we’ll be able to get what we need to bring up. She did fried rice for dinner Monday night, ran out of sesame oil, and put it on the downstairs shopping list. While we were downstairs I walked into the LTS pantry, intending to pick up a bottle of it to take upstairs. Standing there surrounded by stacks of cans, bottles, and boxes, I realized that I had no clue where exactly the sesame oil was. There should be two 12.5-ounce bottles of it, which I ordered May 2nd from Walmart and which arrived two days later. I remember them arriving. I remember seeing the bottles. I just don’t remember where I put them.

It all started when I was stacking #10 cans of Augason powdered eggs in the downstairs freezer. I remembered that I’d ordered four more cans of these from Walmart.com back on March 2nd. They’d foolishly priced them at $12.99/can. Amazon, of course, had matched that price, but at the time everyone else was selling them for $27 to $30/can. I ordered only four, first because we didn’t need any more than that with what we already had, and second because I didn’t want to make a pig of myself. (Amazon and Walmart are both selling them now at $35+/can.)

So, I was actually in the LTS pantry looking for those four cans of eggs so I could stick them in the freezer. Embarrassingly, among all the other stuff stacked in there, I couldn’t find them. A box of four #10 cans, buried somewhere. Oh, well. I’ll find them.

But that just reinforces that we really, really need to spend a day or two getting the food room reorganized and inventoried. I’m doing that with my new downstairs refrigerator/freezer as I load it. I’ll post a dated inventory list on the door (using Scotch tape because magnets won’t stick to stainless steel…). Just looking at the available space, I’m guessing I can fit maybe 150 cans and jars in there: 28-ounce cans of Keystone canned meats and pint jars of Alfredo sauce.


The other night, a series we’re watching had a character who was a writer suffering from “writer’s block”. I think that’s one of those mythical things that everyone has heard about but no one has actually ever seen. Kind of like a unicorn or a compassionate prog.

Writers write. It’s what we do. Someone who suffers from writer’s block wasn’t actually a writer in the first place. When I sit down at a keyboard, words just flow. If I can’t think of anything to write about, that just means I can’t think, period. In other words, I must be dead.

And I do write. Every day. What you see on this site is just a small fraction of what I write. For example, I’ve mentioned that I’m working on a post-apocalyptic novel, but I haven’t said anything about it lately. I’m currently in first-draft mode, and I’m up to 100,000+ words on it. It’s still a complete mess structurally, but the prose flows. How good it is, I don’t know. I can’t evaluate my own writing any more than any other author can evaluate his.

The problem is, I have so much other stuff going on. I’d like to get the novel finished and up on Amazon, but I can spend only an hour here and a couple hours there on it, usually while Barbara is out volunteering or down in Winston. If I were treating fiction writing as a full-time job, I’ve estimated that I could knock out three or four 125,000- to 150,000-word novels per year. Maybe more.

The novel I’m working on now is what some people call “prepper porn”. In other words, it’s very heavy on non-fictional details. Kind of a non-fiction novel, with lists. I will (eventually) post it out for anyone who wants to read it, but I should warn you that so far there are at least a dozen microagressions and three or four triggers.

The main problem I’m having, particularly working on it so sporadically, is not one I foresaw. I have trouble keeping my story straight. What happened when, who’s already there and who hasn’t arrived yet, when events have occurred that impact future events, and so on. Is the neighbor’s first name Tom or Bart? Is the last name of the chairman of the county commissioners Smith or Jones? What day does the electric power and Internet service go down permanently? If it fails on Day 12, it can’t very well still be there for scenes I’ve written that take place after Day 12.

And that’s how I’ve gone about writing what I’ve done so far on this book: writing scenes, which vary in length from a paragraph or even a sentence that I can expand upon later to some scenes that are full chapter length.

For the next novel in the series, if there is one, I’ll know better. I’ll start by sitting down and writing up a detailed timeline, day by day, with a short summary of significant events for that day. That’ll avoid the need for a lot of re-write. I’m embarrassed to admit that I actually had a minor character who was killed one day re-appear several days later, alive and well. Ugh.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

09:19 – We’re to have one nice day today–sunny, little wind, and a high around 64F (18C)–but with a cold front moving in over the next 24 hours. For several days after that, we’re to have highs around freezing, lows in the teens to 20’s (-5C to -8C), and at least some snow and ice.

Barbara got a phone call from Al around 7:30 p.m. yesterday to tell her that their family friend, Gilbert Sloan, had died at 7:04 p.m. He’d been in Hospice, so it wasn’t unexpected. Even so, it was a great loss for Barbara and her sister. They lived next door to the Sloans. When they were young, their mom had significant medical problems and spent a lot of time in the hospital. The Sloans became their surrogate parents, and Barbara and Frances spent a lot of time at the Sloan’s home while their dad was at the hospital with their mom. Cam Sloan is my age, and became like an older brother to the two girls. Barbara is headed down to Winston later this week to attend the service.

* * * * *

About three dozen readers have now requested copies of my book sample, and I’ve gotten feedback from a significant percentage of those. A couple of them said that they’d be interested to see what others thought, so I’m posting anonymous excerpts from several of the feedback emails. There are some common threads running through those.

Good start.

Notes:
1. The chapter after chapter four is labeled three, should be five
2. lots of numbers
3. the conversation seems to “stilted” and that is not the right word
4. lots of details about “stuff”
5. in chapter two, I cannot figure out if the power is up or down when it talks about the well pump, may need something like “the power was up for now but could fail at any minute”. And now I see that you covered that in the 2nd paragraph.
6. It took me a couple of minutes to note that you were switching people at the beginning of each chapter. I need a fairly brutal knock upside the head to realize that the perspective is changing.

* * * * *

Yes Robert, you can certainly write fiction.

Your dialog is off to a good start. It’s a little hard to ‘hear’ the different voices but i have no doubt that will improve.

Reading your first pass was reminiscent of reading Unintended Consequences. I personally enjoyed the deep detail in UC, however it admittedly detracted from the flow of his story. It’s interesting to read about the specific guns (or whatever) and the deeper detail, but that level of detail doesn’t generally move the story forward.

I wouldn’t worry about that much – your preselected audience generally appreciates the detail. If you want to appeal to a broader audience, you might want to lift the degree of detail.

I hope you’ll continue with your fiction efforts. This little taste is better than a lot of the schlock out there already and I am absolutely certain your final efforts will be excellent.

Congratulations on this new endeavor.

* * * * *

I see only one issue with your fiction writing attempt.

You left out the disclaimer:

“Any resemblance between any characters in this novel and any person living or dead is purely coincidental.”

In other words, you need to make up your own characters instead of using people you know.

Reading the snippet of the story, I knew the names of the people who inspired the main characters.

I’m saying you can use a character who is part Nick or a character that is part Dave Hardy, but not just insert them into the novel renamed.

For example a retired Desert Storm veteran/ex-cop might work as a character. His being an alcoholic or recovering alcoholic also might work. But leaving him as a Vietnam veteran or IT worker wouldn’t work.

You could make up a character based on me and I wouldn’t be offended. I’m just too boring to serve as the basis for a character.

[…]

If you write a book, I’ll buy it. But if you can’t master making up characters I wouldn’t write it if I were you.

If I were you, and writing this book, I’d set it in one of the towns you scoped out but didn’t move to, and use a house you looked at there. The main couple should be a little less prepared than you are.

I hope I was just blunt enough to communicate my point without being too blunt.

* * * * *

Yes, you can write fiction. I think it’s a bit heavy on technical detail, it’s fiction, not a prepper manual. I’ll read it again later and come up with more comments.

* * * * *

Great start!
A few comments:
– Ed Burns – USMC and not a prepper? of any kind? food for thought…- Lotsa PHDs…good or bad?- Page 5, Prologue: Maybe a bit too much detail in the second paragraph; one sentence to summarize the type (mac, oats, flakes, etc.) and a total poundage. Maybe turn it into a short discussion with Karen? Can tell you’re a hard-core prepper!- Page 6: continue with fake news and/or media corruption? Closing out the intro?- Page 7, last para: had to look up “dendrochronology”… Maybe drop dates/uber-details and put years/centuries ago-type descriptor? Lotsa details!- Page 9: close out with discussion of local impacts? LDS support? Food/med drives? etc.- Page 13: stray dog? from travelers escaping disaster areas? comments on how to handle stray animals in the future? Possible love interest for Colin? ;-)- Page 17, ???: para continuation – meet & greet; settle down, and brief on situation with potential new housemates.- Page 18, ???: para continuation – Matt & Karen invite Bartletts and discuss logistics to house. Vehicles, seating, gas check, etc.- Page 19, radio gear para: too detailed. Summarize until there is a need later to describe which MHz is needed for what specific situation…- Page 21, gun gear: as an amateur gun guy, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but too many details. Like radio gear, summarize until later…- Page 28, ???: standardize (-ish) everyone’s training to the Gunny’s level is a good idea; gives everyone a common level of knowledge and terminology which helps with imprinting quicker for the new shooters- Page 31, radio call from Ed: maybe reduce to keep simple; “Front watch, four inbound unknown contacts. Repeat, this is front watch with four inbound unknown contacts.” maybe sounds a little military-ish, but…The follow-up transmission is perfect. And it referenced a truck stopping earlier for food; good few paragraphs there for expansion.- Page 32, attack: high number of people in back attack. Good comment about runners being back later; glad you went there.
Can you tell I peer review technical reports and documents for IT? I’m in Federal civil service as a software program manager and retired Air Force E-7/logistics.
Overall, good start. I think you have a lot of details in this rough draft that can be diluted early, and added as needed later. I’ve read several books with waaaay too many details up front from 5.11 pants and the type of Danner boots being worn, but after 3-4 pages of gear talk the person is still standing in the middle of the road surrounded by zombies. If my brain pauses to digest that info, I lose the emotion of the moment of the zombie attack…if that makes any sense.
I really hope you are able to flesh this out into a novel. Your vision of this small piece of the story is excellent and enjoyable to read. I guarantee I’ll drop whatever I’m reading at the time to buy this the day it’s released! And I appreciate you sharing this with us!

* * * * *

I know you only wanted quick feedback so apologies in advance…

The good:

Well written, as I knew it would be, having read several of your non-fiction works and the blog posts for many years. Yes, but can he write fiction?
Absolutely! The dialog is mostly very good (with a couple of easily remedied exceptions below). Plot and character development are such that I want to keep reading even at this rough draft stage. There are issues but definitely keep going – I want more of the story!

The bad:

Some of the dialog is very clumsy. For example, Dr. Smith’s dialog is tedious to read and would have been cut after the 2nd “CE” on any of the
networks. Also Matt’s description of the Bao/Feng radios – this is common to bad PA where catalog descriptions of equipment get detailed in conversations.

Facts/figures: (Disclaimer – I have a geology and several mechanical engineering degrees and have driven over the road trucks). A New Madrid quake would not bother the upper Mississippi river valley. They worry about the New Madrid because it can cause very wide spread, significant damage to much of the Mid West. This is because much of the area is a giant sediment bowl which will shake like jello. This sediment does not extend much into Wisconsin. I live in La Crosse, WI on the east bank of the Mississippi and we sit solidly on bed rock – we would not even be aware of a New Madrid
quake. Interesting fact is that they just built a new bridge here and added traffic control gates at the on ramps. So, even if the upper river bridges were OK, the gov’t would likely be in control of access?
You can’t get 40 tons on an 18 wheeler. Well, you could but you would likely either go to jail or the morgue if you drove it very far. 18
wheelers gross at 80K lbm but the tractor trailer weights ~35K so the max payload is around 45K (call it 22 tons). Not that big a deal, but it sticks out to anyone who has been around trucks as badly as talking about forgetting to move the safety on a Glock to gun people.

It is a bad idea to have both 20 and 12 gage for defense – particularly if you have any break action guns around. And as an avid trap / sporting clays shooter, I can tell you that 90% of the active clays people (at least up here) shoot break action – not 870s. If the women can’t shoot 12 gage, give them 5.56 or something.

Teaming up with cult members: I get it that they are preppers and generally nice people, but they believe some truly wacky chit. It may be an
interesting plot twist to have them start refusing to share/work with the infidels at some point unless the non-believers start wearing magic underwear and reading the teachings of the prophets (just a suggestion). Before you reject this out of hand, consider how strange their world view is during normal times and how it may get much stranger/stronger during what many will consider “end times”.

The Ugly: the battle scene is really bad. Sorry, but I can’t mince words here. This is the type of thing that makes me drop a story toot sweet.
When the good guys all react like battle hardened Marine snipers and the bad guys like brain dead meth addicts, I call BS. No matter how much training and planning goes on, a significant number of good guys will be curled up on the ground screaming for mommy once the real deal starts. All the kills will not be clean – there will likely be people trying to hold their guts in and begging for death, there will likely be IED’s like pipe bombs, Molotov Cocktails, etc. Not only the good guys know how to mix  Styrofoam and gasoline for example.

Well – the good news is I liked it enough to write up this feedback…

* * * * *

I just finished your sample! I graded you an “A” or 95%. My evaluation as a reader rested on three criteria:

1. Does this work tell a story?
2. Is the work believable/plausible?
3. Do i care about the characters and what happens to them?

Hope this confirms what you’ve already decided to do.

Thanks for letting me read it and be a part of something new.

* * * * *

Thanks. A bit stiff early, but by halfway it was already smoothing out. Two thumbs up.

I did make a couple of notes:

Page 7: “Just then, the feed switched…” flows better as “The feed switched” (A few pages later, I just decided you were using “just” way too often.)

Page 10: When you get to the point of mentioning the solar backup for the well pump,
you immediately give all the detail. It’s unnecessary at that point. Save some for later.

Page 11: “Load all of your hand tools” I had to laugh. Got semi?
If you do a printed version, put me down for one autographed copy of the first printing.

* * * * *

OK, I’ve finished what I hope is an excerpt (in plain English, keep typing, I’d like to read it). I have a few thoughts.

The mechanics are fine, and the structure is good. However, I do find everything so far has worked out too well for the characters. We haven’t really seen any rough edges. I realize it’s early days yet, but I would not expect everyone to be coping this well, especially after the assault on the house, with multiple charlies down. Even the casualty is quite calm about the whole affair. I’d expect some panic to seep in by this point, as everyone works through the realization that it’s real and the cavalry will be delayed if they arrive at all. My opinion, but I’ve seen (and sometimes been) the one that becomes useless when reality dawns.

Again, I’d like to read this when completed; I’d be happy to offer comments between now and then if you like.

* * * * *

These are roughly half of the responses I’ve gotten, which I selected more or less at random to give everyone an idea of what other people were saying. I appreciate the time and effort that people have taken to advise me, and I’ll incorporate many of the suggestions.

At this point, I’m just getting ideas down. This sample wasn’t in any way intended to be an organized part of the eventual book structure, and was completely unedited. I may end up expanding one paragraph or even one sentence to become and entire chapter, or the converse. My word-count target for a full book is roughly 125,000, of which this sample is maybe 10%.

Yes, things are too easy so far. That will change. In fact, things may get so bad that I end up painting myself into corners, as writers often do. But ultimately, this book (and I hope eventually series) will be optimistic. Good, competent people can deal with pretty much anything.


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

10:02 – It’s been chilly, windy, and wet over the last couple days. We’ve had about 3 inches (7.5 cm) of rain in the last couple of days, which takes us up to about 4.5 inches (11.5 cm) for the month to date. When I took Colin out around 0715, it was 39.3F (4C), with sustained winds of probably 40 MPH (64 KPH) and gusts to 60+ MPH. I almost literally got blown off the driveway as I attempted to retrieve our newspaper from the mailbox. I had to grab hold of the mailbox to avoid being blown off my feet.

About two dozen readers have requested copies of my book sample, which should be enough. You’re still welcome to a copy if you want one, but I’m getting enough feedback now to tell me what I needed to know.

I asked for brutal honesty, and that’s exactly what I’m getting. I haven’t gotten any replies yet that began, “Dear Zsa-Zsa”, but the responders so far are criticizing freely. No one has given me a letter grade or a number grade so far, but the general consensus is that I’m not terrible at this. Responders have compared my writing to Unintended Consequences, A. American’s Home series, and David Crawford’s Lights Out, which I take as a complement. OTOH, various responders have criticized my narrative, dialog, plotting, characterization, and even the setting. No one has told me that I actually suck at this and several people have commented that I’m as good or better at it than PA writers that they like, so on balance I’m going to keep at it, a couple hours here and a couple hours there, mixed in with everything else I have to do. I just sent copies to a couple of pro fiction writers I know, to see what they think.


Monday, 23 January 2017

09:29 – Yesterday was one of those days with a continuing series of problems. It started with the USPS Click-and-Ship website misbehaving while I was trying to print a label for a shipment to Canada. Ordinarily, I fill out the first page, which has me enter the total weight of the package. I filled in the correct weight, 5 pounds 8 ounces, and then clicked Continue. On the second page, I have to give details about the details of the shipment, including for some reason the net weight, which was 4 pounds, thirteen ounces. At the point, it told me that the net weight was more than the gross weight and refused to continue. After numerous retries, starting from scratch each time, I finally got it to accept that 4-13 was in fact less than 5-8. I then paid for the postage label and it displayed the label as a PDF, as usual.

So I put a sheet of half-page labels in the manual feed slot of my Brother HL-5250DN laser printer and told it to print. The label jammed, which made a real mess. So I cleared the jam, inserted a new label, and told it to print again. It jammed again. I cleared the jam and told it to print again, this time with plain paper from the paper tray. That time, the sheet of paper made it half-way out the printer and then jammed again. At least I had a usable label, after I forcibly pulled it out of the printer.

This obviously wasn’t working, so I disconnected the HL-5250DN and moved it out of the way. When we moved up to Sparta in December, 2015, I’d originally tried to install the newer Brother HL-3070CW laser printer, but it refused to connect with USB so I’d stuck it in storage, intending to troubleshoot it later. I never got around to that until now, so I set it up and used a new USB cable to connect it. Once again, Linux didn’t see the printer. Okay, it looked like the USB interface on the printer was dead. That printer also has an Ethernet interface, so I went downstairs, grabbed an Ethernet cable, and brought it back upstairs to try getting the printer working with a direct Ethernet connection.

The Ethernet cable wouldn’t fit into the jack on the printer. Huh? I was working in a very tight space, but we finally got the printer turned so that I could actually see the USB and Ethernet jacks on the back. Duh. I’d plugged the USB cable into the Ethernet jack. No wonder it hadn’t worked, this time or a year ago, when I must have made the same mistake. So I pulled the USB cable out of the Ethernet jack and plugged it into the correct jack. Linux recognized the printer instantly, and I was back in business.

So I proceeded to connect to the USPS site again to generate postage labels for US shipments. The postage didn’t look right for the first one I processed. Well, that’s because postage rates just went up as of yesterday. Duh, again.

I knew postage rates were going to increase, but after the huge increase a year ago, I was expecting a pretty minor jump. Not so, unfortunately. Since January a year ago, I’d been paying $17.09 to send a Regional Rate B box to the west coast. That had jumped from $17.09 to $20.41, a 19.4% increase. Fortunately, the rate for a Large Flat Rate box had increased from $18.75 to only $18.85, so I just put the RRB box inside a LFR box and paid the $18.85. Even so, that amounts to a $1.76 (10.3%) increase. Geez.

* * * * *

As I mentioned last week, doing a copy-edit pass on Franklin Horton’s latest book in his Borrowed World series got me to wondering, not for the first time, if I could write fiction myself. So I decided to sit down and give it a try.

Writing fiction turns out to be very different from writing non-fiction. The main difference is that I can just sit down and write fiction. It just flows. With non-fiction, I spend literally 50% to 95% of my “writing” time checking facts and researching stuff on the fly. I suppose that’s why Jerry Pournelle writes fiction in his Monk’s Cell, with no Internet access.

The most obvious difference is in word count. With non-fiction, I average maybe 1,000 to 1,200 words per day. My all-time record was probably 5,000 or 6,000 words, and that was working heads-down for 14 hours or so. And the days when I could write heads-down for 14 hours straight are long gone. Nowadays, I’m lucky if I can get in six solid hours of writing per day. Writing fiction, I can crank out a first-draft at about 1,000 words PER HOUR.

But no writer can judge his own writing, so I decided to let people look at my first fiction efforts. As I promised last week, I’ve converted what I’ve done so far to a PDF that I’ll send to anyone who wants to take a look at it and give me his opinion. Can I write fiction? Tell me what you think of my work on a 1 to 10 or A to F scale.

I’ll emphasize that this is very much a first, rough draft. I haven’t even read it, let alone done a first editing pass on it. It’s just a collection of chapters, and partial scenes. I’m sure there are lots of clangers in there. I probably even have characters changing names in mid-narrative. This document is at the level that I wouldn’t ordinarily let even Barbara see, let alone friends or editors.

I’m not looking for any kind of corrections, suggestions, or edits from anyone. All I want to know from anyone who takes the time to read it is whether or not I can write fiction.

If you’d like to take a look at it, send me email at thompson at ttgnet dot com with the subject line “your fiction book”. I’ll send you a PDF of the document. Please be completely honest in your feedback. You’re not going to hurt my feelings. I’m looking for brutal honesty here, not an attaboy. If the general consensus is that my fiction writing has potential, I’ll continue working on the book until it’s finished and then self-publish it on Amazon. If the general consensus is that I am to PA fiction writing what Zsa Zsa Gabor was to acting, I’ll give up on it.


Thursday, 19 January 2017

11:01 – It was 34.4F (1.3C) when I took Colin out this morning. He decided to go off on a mole-hunting expedition. We have lots of moles in our yard. Maybe we should get an outdoor cat. I assume they eat moles.

Yesterday, MTD kit revenue exceeded 100% of January 2016 revenue. Of course, 1/16 revenue was only about 65% of 1/15 revenue, so we still have ways to go to match 1/15. But with 12 days left to do it, I suspect we’ll make it.

Yesterday, I asked Lori, our USPS carrier, if she was still prepping or if Trump’s win had allayed her concerns. She said she’d not done much prepping recently, but not because she thought Trump as president meant happy days were here again. She’s just been very busy with life. She works full-time for USPS, and has a second full-time job running her cattle ranch.

Months ago, we were talking about possible serious emergencies. Lori said she felt pretty well prepared for most things, but that what worried her was that she and her daughter, 18, were on their own in a house with no nearby neighbors. I told Lori that if things ever got untenable at her place, she and Casey were welcome over here. She said that she hoped they never needed to take us up on that offer, but it was comforting to know they could stay with us if it became necessary. And, of course, she said that if the situation were reversed Barbara and I were welcome to stay at her place for however long it was necessary.

Yesterday, I told Lori I was working on a draft of a PA novel and gave her a 30-second summary of the plot. I told her that I planned to use her and her daughter as significant characters, and that I’d need her knowledge of farming and a lot of other things that she knew and I didn’t. She said to call or email her any time, and that she didn’t mind being pestered.

I’ll strive for realism in the novel, assuming it turns out I can actually write fiction. Last night, I was reading Peter Lovesey’s latest Peter Diamond police procedural when I came across the kind of minor error that I want to avoid. The detectives believed there was critical evidence on a digital camera’s memory card, but it turned out that the card was unreadable because of water damage. I knew that was crap, because years ago I accidentally ran a USB memory stick through a full washer cycle and then dried it on high. When was putting away the clean clothes, I found the memory stick in my jeans’ pocket. I figured it was probably deader than King Tut, but it turned out to have survived the experience without losing even a byte of data. So, Lovesey’s assumption was a reasonable one, but still ans assumption, and one that turned out to be bogus. An avoidable error.

Similarly, Franklin Horton’s most recent book has an alcoholic character who’s reduced to drinking Lysol. Franklin describes in painful detail what happens when the character chugs a shot of the diluted Lysol, which got me to thinking. We didn’t have any lemon-flavored Lysol, so I couldn’t reproduce the scene exactly, but we do keep a spray bottle of the diluted original-flavored Lysol on the kitchen counter, so I poured a shot of it, swished it around my mouth, spit it out, and rinsed with several changes of water.

I emailed Franklin to tell him the results of my test. In short, the Lysol just had a distinct chemical taste. Not disgusting, but not something one would drink by choice. I’ve tasted OTC medications that were worse. I told Franklin that the immediate effects of drinking diluted Lysol would probably be less dramatic than chugging 80-proof liquor.

Franklin’s reply started, “Boy, you ARE a scientist.” He said he almost sprayed his coffee out through his nose. But that’s the level of accuracy I strive for, whether I’m writing non-fiction or fiction. Obviously, I won’t always get it right, but there’s no excuse for making avoidable errors.


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

09:55 – Barbara is off to the gym. It was 48.4F (9C) when I took Colin out this morning, but we’re back to having a stiff breeze with high wind gusts, so it felt a lot colder than yesterday morning.

I saw an article yesterday that listed the ten windiest big cities during 2016. Winston-Salem was #8 on that list. But that list only included major cities. Here in Sparta, our winds make Winston-Salem’s look calm. In the mountain passes around here–we call them “gaps”–cars, pickups, and even tractor-trailers are often literally blown off the roads by wind gusts that are often 60 MPH (100 KPH) or more, sometimes even 90 MPH. This would be a good location to install a small wind turbine system, because calm days are few and far between. I don’t plan to do that because it’s very expensive and requires too much maintenance. Solar is a better bet for us.

With a couple weeks left in the month, we’re at about 94% of revenue for January 2015. Science kits have been flying off the shelves, but that could stop at any time. Sales usually drop dead in late January or early February, after people have ordered kits for the Winter semester. We’re in good shape for now on kits, with what we need to build more of them on the fly, if needed.

I finished the copy-edit pass on the draft manuscript of Franklin Horton’s latest Borrowed World series book and got it off to him yesterday. He emailed me last night to say he’d gone through my suggestions, and intended to have a final manuscript finished by the end of the week. It won’t be long after that before he has it up on Amazon. I’ll announce that here for anyone who wants to buy a copy.

And I started drafting a PA novel of my own, just to see if I could do it. It’s just chapter fragments right now, but I’m up to about 11,000 words. I think it reads well, but I’m going to send Franklin a copy to see what he thinks. If he thinks I can write fiction, I’ll probably finish it up and self-publish it. I’m cranking out about 1,000 words per hour, which means if I work heads-down on it I could finish a first draft of a 100,000 word novel in about three weeks.

WordPress is giving me fits. When I started using it in mid-2011, I checked the box to tell it to accept comments only from readers who had a previously-approved comment. That worked fine until two or three weeks ago, when WordPress for some reason took a sudden dislike to three of my frequent commenters, Ray Thompson, Cowboy Slim, and ech. Since then, WP has held every one of their comments for moderation and I’ve had to approve them one by one. So this morning, I unchecked the box that tells WP to hold unapproved commenters’ comments for moderation. We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, if you spot a spam comment that slipped through, please let me know.