Sunday, November 30, 2008

What Are the Odds of That?

"I'm very well acquainted too with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot of news...
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse."
- Gilbert and Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance

As a mathematician by training I've always loved the song quote above. You don't find many songs about mathematics or rhymes for the word "hypotenuse". Sadly my appreciation for math is in the minority. Most people hated the subject in school and dread even the simple task of balancing the checkbook. (My wife is amazed that I keep our check book balanced to the penny.)

One place that you can find an almost complete lack of mathematics is in journalism. There are two reasons for this.

  1. Journalists have a love for words, not numbers
  2. Publishers want to sell the news and are less concerned about accuracy or reality.

Papers and news shows draw an audience by emphasising the dangerous and the deadly; sometimes causing panics as a result. The table below gives the odds various types of death and disease. You can see that cancer and travel accidents are high on the list and do get some media coverage. But what do the media headlines really focus on? Mad cow disease with a 1 in 40 million chance catching in any year. The SARS disease with a 1 in 100 million chance of dying in the US. You are far more likely to be killed by lightning (1 in 6 million annually) than by Mad Cow, SARS, West Nile virus or many of the other topics covered by journalists.

Looking at this another way, there are 300 million people in America. Divide by the odds and you get the expectation that in a given year 7 or 8 people in the US might contract Mad Cow and 3 could die from SARS. Compare this to the nearly 50,000 Americans that will die in transportation accidents each year. Car accidents are so common they are not "newsworthy".

All odds are LIFETIME odds
Death by cancer7 to 1
Dying from an accidental injury 55 to 1
Death by transportation accident79 to 1
Dying from any kind of fall194 to 1
Having your identity stolen200 to 1
Being murdered210 to 1
Dying from a car accident261 to 1
Dying from exposure to smoke, fire, and flames1,192 to 1
Dying from choking on food4,411 to 1
Dying in an airplane accident6,460 to 1
Being killed by lightning79,400 to 1

Bottom Line

Take anything you hear on the news with a grain of salt. They want to scare you because a frightened person will stay glued to the news for more information. Recently we wanted our cub scout pack to collect insects in the woods. But the boys were initially reluctant to enter the woods - they were worried about ticks and Lyme disease. Yes Lyme is a reality - I've had it, my wife has had it twice, our dog caught it. But you can take preventative measures and do a tick check after being outside. If caught early, Lyme is easily cured. Don't let warnings of dangers keep you from enjoying life.

Know what the REAL risks are and where the real dangers in life occur. Check out the following tables for more details: (the official source of most odds)

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Medicinal Aloe Vera

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”
- proverb

We do not have much luck with gardening at my house. The soil is rocky and acidic. Even when we do prepare the soil and try to grow something then either:

  1. Not much grows (we planted squash and got two tiny vegetables for our efforts)

  2. What does grow gets eaten by deer

Fortunately we have better luck with potted plants. It is not hard raising herbs both indoors and out in pots. We grow basil, parsely, chives, etc. We also grow aloe. The aloe cactus does not need much attention. In fact most of my cactuses have died by overwatering them - the roots rot. The site advises that the soil must be completely dry between waterings. The aloe grows in the summer and sleeps (needing only a cup or two of water) during the winter. During the summer months, the soil should be completely soaked, but then be allowed to dry again before re-watering.

The medicinal properties of Aloe vera have been known, and recorded since biblical times. It has been used for a variety of ailments, and as an ointment for burns, cuts, and rashes, as well as an ingredient in various beauty preparations.The sap of the Aloe is a thick, mucilaginous gel. It is this gel which is used medicinally. The outer skin has essentially no value, but because it is commercially easier and less expensive to sell the entire leaf. -

More information on aloe and its uses can be found at

Bottom Line

Aloe is easy to grow and can live for many many years. In our house we find it very helpful when we have a bug bite, minor burn, sun burn or anything itchy. We break off a small leaf and spread the sap on our skin.

Disclaimer - Aloe is not a miracle cure. Never put aloe or any substance on a 3rd degree burn (i.e burnt skin) . I'd also seek medical advice before putting it on a 2nd degree burn (blisters).

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Hiding Places

"If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist it's another nonconformist who doesn't conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity" - Bill Vaughan

If you are a conformist, you might be hiding your house key under a potted plant, under the doormat, or under a large stone by the door. These places are well known to criminals and not at all safe.

There is no reason to make access to your spare key convenient. A spare key should be something you use rarely (during lockout emergencies) - so you can afford to hide it far from your front door. Pick a stone far away or a place deep in the garage. Don't make it easy to find or reach.

Likewise if you're looking for some non-obvious hiding places inside your home I recommend the blog Hiding Stuff Around the House by Code Name Insight. He suggests 20 places for hiding keys, money or other small objects like:

  • inside your desktop computer
  • behind a wall switch
  • under the attic insulation
  • etc.

Bottom Line

House burglars are not stupid. They know the common hiding places and will rip apart your mattress, empty drawers, look behind paintings, and so on. To keep something hidden, try something radically different. Just don't forget where you hid it. :-)

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

An optimist is a person who starts a new diet on Thanksgiving Day. ~Irv Kupcinet

For your Thanksgiving dining pleasure - 5 Wild and Weird Thanksgiving Turkeys from Popular Mechanics.

1. Hebert's Boneless Turkey Stuffed with Alligator Dressing

2. Jive Turkey's Deep-Fried Buffalo Turkey

3. Hickory Farms Tur-Duc-Ken

4. VegeUSA Vegetarian or Vegan Whole Turkey

5. Butterball Turkey Mignons (Single serving size!)

Bottom Line

"Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds." ~Theodore Roosevelt


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

When the lights go out...

"That was the night the lights went out in Georgia" - song lyrics

Yesterday our neighborhood lost power while we were cooking dinner. It was after sunset so the room was instantly pitch black. My first thought was, "I wonder where my wife keeps the flashlights?" We have several around the house but at the very moment I needed one, I had no clue where to find one.

Then I remembered that I keep a flashlight in my pocket. (Old joke: Is that a flashlight in your pocket or are you happy to see me?) I have a key chain light that is the size of a quarter and at most a 1/2 inch thick. It puts out a very bright light and has proved to be very useful. I'm on my third key light over many years as they do eventually burn out or break. They can be found for under $10 at many stores and make a nice gift. Here's a variety of them on,

Bottom Line

If I had practiced a power outage drill I might have remembered where we keep the flashlights in the house. Fortunately I used my key light to go to our living room and light a candle that we keep on our coffee table.

A word of caution about candles. The Red Cross discourages them - many house fires are started by candles. We use a long burning candle in a glass jar so there is little chance of tipping over or of the flame spreading. Never leave a candle unattended!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The 100 Items that Disappear First in a Panic

"I am afraid of the worst, but I am not sure what that is"
- Abraham Rotstein

Today I recommend reviewing the list 100 Items to Disappear First in a Panic from the blog Arkansas Soaper. If you had money to burn you could just go out and buy every item on this list of 100 but that's not preparing wisely. Part of emergency planning is deciding what YOU need and can use. While this list is a great help and might remind you of things you overlooked it may also items that won't be of any use in your household. I wouldn't buy item #100: chickens & goats or item #98: Cigarettes.

Bottom Line

Lists are great tools for planning but are not a substitute for planning.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

7 Mistakes of Food Storage

"I'm lost, but I'm making record time" - Allan Lamport

There are two truisms about food storage:

  1. It is absolutely essential; 3 days minimum, preferably a week or longer
  2. It is quite easy to waste a lot of money on food storage

I recommend reading the article 7 Mistakes of Food Storage by Vicki Tate to learn more about what to avoid when building a food store. The mistakes include:

  1. Lack of Variety
    Don't buy only wheat or just one type of meal to eat every day.
  2. Lack of Staples
    Buy cooking oil, shortening, baking powder, soda, yeast, and powdered eggs so you have the basics for baking.
  3. Lack of Vitamins
    Old stored food may be vitamin poor. Buy some vitamin supplements.
  4. No "Fun" Foods
    It is important to have enjoyable "psychological foods" like candy bars, jello and cake mixes to chase away the blues.
  5. Lack of Balance
    Don't bulk buy just one food item at a time - for example: this year we buy wheat, next year we stock up on beans. If you bulk buy like this, you may have to live on just the wheat and beans when disaster strikes before you've had time or money to purchase everything. Instead, buy a little of everything so if you have to use it now, you're ready for the short term.
  6. Improper Containers
    Moisture, insects, and rodents can destroy your food storage. A bad bag of rice brought a tiny breed of moth into our house which then started eating all of our boxed pasta in "sealed" cupboards. We've also had bags chewed open by mice. Food should be stored in heavy plastic buckets/containers or steel cans/drums.
  7. Never using your storage
    Use your food store before it goes bad. Also learn now how to cook what you've stored while times are good and you can practice without stress.

Bottom Line

If you are spending time and money on food storage, then make sure your time and money are well spent. Avoid the mistakes above. Buy food quality buckets and storage containers to protect your food. Buy a mix of items and include some "fun" things to eat. Don't forget the vitamins!

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Learning Survival Skills

I am the very model of a modern Major-General
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical ...
- From the Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan

To continue a theme from yesterday, part of emergency planning is skills assessment. When the worst occurs, how will YOU be able to help? The following is quoted from Survival FAQ which was cited yesterday as a great resource for planning:

"The kinds of skills and materials you need can be very widespread. Depending on the threat you're planning for, you might want the ability to recreate civilization as we know it. This is almost certainly impossible for one person, or even one family ... to be competent at them all. This is why survival groups or small communities are almost always preferable ...

You'll find that certain things are needed for many different threats. First aid skills and materials are always useful, you may find that they show up for every category. ... You might decide that you need to be proficient in emergency first aid, food preservation (drying, smoking, canning, pickling) , animal husbandry, engine mechanic, construction (design and building), fire fighting, sailing, fishing, computer programming, ham radios, weaving cloth, sewing, tanning leathers, bee keeping, accounting, trading, cabinetmaking, farming, dentistry, childbirth, small military unit tactics, advanced emergency medical treatment, improvised explosives, hunting, trapping, welding, metal working, power production and generation, telephone systems, and almost anything else you can think of.

Where to get trained:
... your local community probably offers a wide variety of courses that will help you in your quest. Check with your local community college, high school adult program, community center, or other educational programs. Just don't expect to see a category called "Survivalist Training". Your local fire department probably offers training in CPR and first aid, and if you can join, they'll offer you more and better training. The local law enforcement agency may offer training as well as your county's civil defense / emergency preparedness office.

Where to get experience:
The best way to learn some skills is to do it. ... you can offer your services as a volunteer to any one of a number of organizations. For example, if you're not sure how to cook for large groups of people, volunteer at a food bank, meals-on-wheels, or church group, and learn! If you want to learn how to build houses (and fix them, and how to use tools), organizations like Habitat for Humanity are available, just looking for helpers. You'll learn some skills, but more importantly, meet people who can show you more tips and tricks. Organizations like the American Red Cross usually need disaster workers, first aid instructors, etc., and they'll train you.

It may not be practical to study your specific area of interest, but can learn something that's closely related. If you don't have a field to farm, how about a back yard you can start growing a few vegetables in? If you're an apartment dweller, and don't have a yard at all, you can grow some vegetables, or even just flowers, in window boxes. You probably can't provide all your food needs from a window box (unless it's a huge window), but you can start finding out what it's like, what works, and what doesn't.

Bottom Line

My wife and I follow the advice given above. We have been trained by the Red Cross and by our county disaster program (WEVR) for free as volunteer disaster workers. We've attended low cost classes at a local community college and with community outreach programs.

The knowledge is out there. Go get it.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

What Could Happen?

"The most merciful thing in the world... is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents" - H.P. Lovecraft

An important question to ask in emergency preparedness is, "exactly what event(s) am I preparing for?" Different events require different responses. During a tornado you'll seek shelter in an underground room that is protected from winds and flying debris. The same spot might work for a hurricane too but you have to consider the possibility flooding. Could a water surge drown you in your basement? On the other hand a basement is a very bad place to be during a chemical spill or terrorist attack with a heavier than air gas. A heavy gas creeps along the ground and would fill your basement and your lungs.

It is important to think about and make plans for the scenarios most likely to occur in your neighbor. To help you in this planning, here are two websites that list potential events:

I recall one podcast where an emergency instructor said he felt very safe in a suburb of Chicago. There was very little chance of earthquake, flood, hurricane, tornado, etc. So he was surprised one day when ordered to evacuate his house by the police. It turns out that an abandoned railroad car in the neighborhood had caught fire. No one knew what was inside so the fumes were assumed to be dangerous.

Bottom Line

Once you've made a list of possible local emergencies, make plans. Where would you go? What supplies would you need? What skills will you need? What don't you know that you should learn?

If it helps, plan one event at a time; don't get overwhelmed with information overload. I heard a story about a new leader of a church who wanted to be prepared for everything. Together with his counselors/advisers he made a list of things that could go wrong - someone has a heart attack, breaks a leg, the toilets overflow, etc. Then during weekly church committee meetings, he and his staff would discuss one item from the list for at most five minutes deciding how they would react and respond. Now if any of these events did occur, the church leader had a plan.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

You call that a knife?

"You call that a knife? This is a knife [pulling out a larger blade]" - Crocodile Dundee

One item missing from my go-kits is a survival knife. I've looked occasionally at stores but haven't found the right one yet. I learned about this one today online. It looks and sounds good; I like the saw teeth on the back and the sheath. But I'd like to hold it, feel it, before buying.

The blog "Equipped to Survive" has a great article on "Selecting The Best Knife". See also The Fighting Knife Blog with an article strangely similar but with several interesting links.

Things to avoid include

  • Double edged knifes (these are meant for killing and you may end up cutting your own hand)
  • Giant sized, "Rambo", knives. A short blade is easier to manage.
  • Hollow handles filled with "survival gear". While there are some excellent models drilled into the steel tang, most are cheap handles that will easily break. And the blogger notes, if you lose your hollow handle knife, you lose your gear too.

Both the "Equipped" blog and a class I attended recommend a non-folding knife (full tang or narrow tang). A folding knife may break at the joint or close unexpectedly when used under great force.

Bottom Line

There are extreme survivalists who can survive with only a knife and their wits. A survival knife is for more than cutting. You can use it to shave kindling, saw a branch, scale fish, start a fire with a piece of flint, skin a squirrel, serve as a spear head, dig a hole, pry something loose, etc. As one knife reviewer said, "Its a hammer, a glass breaker, and a knife in one!" Buy a knife that can handle a lot of abuse.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

A blog for the beginning survivalist

"He who wonders discovers that this in itself is wonder" - M.C. Escher
Today I found a blog, Getting Started In Emergency Preparedness, that is written for "the beginning survivalist." It covers the basics for anyone interested in surviving short and long-term emergencies, natural or human-made. The blog is a 16+week course updated on a weekly basis."

The "Getting Started" blog started in June and covered all the topics by October. The author is now updating and revising the original posts.
Week One-Thinking
Week Two-Shelter
Week Three-Water
Week Four-Food
Week Five-Guns
Week Six-Air
Week Seven-Information
Week Eight-Health/Medical
Week Nine-Clothing
Week Ten-Transportation
Week Eleven-Finances
Week Twelve-Communication
Week Thirteen-Taking Time Off
Week Fourteen-Power/Power Production
Week Fifteen-Emergency Evacuation Kits
Week Sixteen-Reading Material
Week Seventeen - Blog Recommendation
Week Eighteen - Resources

Bottom Line

There is a lot of material in the "Getting Started" blog plus a great deal more if you read the many excellent links. If you find the volume of information to be overwhelming, take advantage of the "Quick Start:" at the start of each post.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Winterize Your House & Garden

"If you haven't found something strange during the day, it hasn't been much of a day" - John A. Wheeler
Today I recommend an excellent blog on ways to winterize your garden and house at It's a check list of tasks to do before winter hits with freezing temperatures. For example:
  • Empty your garden hoses and put them up for the winter
  • Check your furnaces and filters
  • Wash all your blankets, feather beds, duvets, duvet covers, flannel sheets, and winter curtains.

Bottom Line

I'll personally vouch for one of the recommendations, "Make bags of long grain rice - tubes long enough to drape over your neck or squares to lay against your back or head or joints. These can be microwaved and used as heating pads. If you mix them with fragrant herbs, it will also smell nice."

My wife uses this trick every night in winter to warm her feet. I microwave two cloth bags filled with rice for about 3 minute and place them in the bed. It's a modern version of the coal filled bed warmer.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The 5 Most Dangerous Tools at Home

"All things are difficult before they are easy" - Thomas Fuller

While I'm in favor of preparedness I'm sorry to say that my handyman skills are rather lame. Usually my wife takes the lead in any home repairs or home projects - except electrical. She fears working with electricity while I enjoy it.

Now I've found an article that highlights why I dislike home repairs - fear of harm! Popular Mechanics has published, The 5 Most Dangerous Tools, And How to Use Them Safely. The dangerous tools are:

  • Table Saws
  • Nail Guns
  • Chain Saws
  • Ladders
  • Circular Saws

Bottom Line

Always use tools safely. For example my wife and I always work together when using a ladder - I'm on top and she's making sure the ladder is stable. To learn more about the tools above check out the Popular Mechanics article above and this article: 5 Household Tasks You Definitely Should Not Try Alone at Home. (Advanced electrical work, advanced plumbing, tree cutting, roofing, and removing walls)

You can also find lots of advice on the Internet for proper tool usage.

expert village:

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Unmet Need for Information during Emergencies

"Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage" - William Ellery Channing

One thing you can count on during an emergency is terrible communication. During the NorthEast Blackout of 2003 I listened to a radio in my office in New York City to learn if Metro North train service was restored. I slept at the office and again waited the next morning for news of trains running. My wife was more reasonable. She called to say her friend could see trains moving with people. She instructed me to forget the "official reports" and get my butt to Grand Central Terminal and take any train leaving the city. I did and found that although GCT had no power, diesel trains were running and conductors were informing people which trains went where via megaphones. I got home but not with any help from news reports.

On another occasion I played a victim in a drill for a Sarin gas attack. Boom, the pretend bomb goes off. Then we wait and wait. Firemen come and go. Two persons in Bio hazard gear peak in a window but never say a word. Two hours after the bomb we can see shelters being raised and much activity but no one has gives the victims any instructions except for "say put". In real life those of us who could move would have fled the scene by then.

"Disaster victims need information about their options in order to take any meaningful choices about their future, " according to a recent article by the BBC World Trust Service. As the physical and psychological needs of disaster survivors change over time, information needs change also.

First Stage - Survival

  1. Victims need to know what happened
  2. How to get immediate survival needs satisfied
  3. What has happened to family members and friends?

Providing these answers decreases panic and increases survivor capacity to take action. But the infrastructure for radio, television, and telephones has been destroyed. So how do you get information to those who need it most??? There are no easy answers.

Second Stage - Short Term Relief

  1. Survivors look for availability of fresh water, shelter, and medical attention.
  2. Expectation management is vital as relief may not fulfill needs as quickly as desired.

People who have knowledge of issues such as when and where food will be distributed, the amount of allocated rations per person, and how to cook the rations to maximise nutritional value, can help manage logistics, reduce corruption, and improve health and mental well being.

Third Stage - Long Term Recovery

  1. People want to know what relief services are available and to what they are entitled.
  2. They need to know about recently implemented policies that affect them, such as housing reconstruction guidelines or victim compensation policies.
  3. What are the government and relief agencies accountable and responsible for?
  4. Safety instructions (boil your water, etc) must be communicated.

Unmet communication needs can lead to further trauma and stress. "In particular, psychosocial studies increasingly note that information deprivation actually causes stress and exacerbates trauma..."

Bottom Line

Information is essential to give people "a sense of power and purpose over their own destiny" during a disaster. It is a "critical issue." The providing of information becomes a form of aid and deserves prioritisation through the development of effective and properly resourced communication strategies. If you are an Emergency Manager please read the BBC report for communication recommendations.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Did you forget to wash your hands?

Archimedes, as he was washing, thought of a manner of computing the proportion of gold in King Hiero’s crown by seeing the water flowing over the bathing-stool. He leaped up as one possessed or inspired, crying, “I have found it! Eureka!” - Plutarch (A.D. 46?–A.D. c. 120)
Today it is common knowledge that you should wash your hands before eating and after using the bathroom. It is even required by law for employees who handle food. However this was not always the case.
In the 1840's at the Vienna General Hospital in Austria one in ten mothers died after giving birth from childbed fever. This was a higher rate of death than other hospitals and higher than mothers who gave birth at home with the help of a midwife. Dr Ignac Semmelweis was determined to find a cure. What he discovered in 1847 was the importance of hand washing. Doctors laughed at this idea but interns who followed it found that the occurrence of childbed fever dropped to 1-2%, a five fold improvement! But still the other doctors scoffed at the idea and it took 50 years and the discovery of germ theory before hand washing became common practice in hospitals.
Returning to modern times it is not uncommon to find people who won't bother to wash their hands or wash incorrectly. (Did you know you could be doing it wrong?)
  1. Wet hands with warm water
  2. Lather hands with vigorous scrubbing to create friction (both friction and soap are necessary)
  3. Scrub while counting to at least 15! Some sites recommend singing the "Happy Birthday" song to yourself twice.
  4. Rinse hands and dry with a paper towel
  5. Use the paper towel to turn off the faucet. Other wise your clean hands could be contaminated by a dirty faucet.
  6. I've also noticed many people using the paper towel to open the bathroom door. The door handle is touched by a lot of dirty hands.
Bottom Line
Hand washing is greatly under-rated. So many colds and illness could be prevented by more people washing their hands more often. One of the key recommendations in an article on protecting yourself from bird flu was "Stay Healthy" by "washing your hands regularly".

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

More Winter Survival Tips

“I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.”
- Bill Watterson, author of Calvin & Hobbes
I've written earlier about the importance of staying informed, see Red Cross - Be Informed. But it's not easy. Did you know that the week of October 26th to November 1st was Winter Weather Awareness Week in the Empire State of NY? I didn't.

One site that did pay homage to the event was StormWatch 8 Weather which published several valuable articles on Winter Survival. Here are my recommendations ...
  • Stay home during major winter storms. If you've prepared yourself, you'll be able to ride out the storm with your home supplies and alternative means to stay warm.
  • Plan for several days of snow blocked roads. Keep a three day supply of non perishable food which does not require cooking or refrigeration. Have an old fashion, non-electric can opener that you can use (some manual can openers are near impossible to use right). Store one gallon of water per person for at least three days.
  • Renew your medications at least three days before they run out. You don't want to run out of medication when the pharmacy is closed by a snow emergency.
  • Have lots of extra batteries. If you lose power you'll need them for your portable radio, NOAA weather radio and flashlights.
  • If you lose power you will probably lose your primary source of heat as well. Do you have a fireplace or wood stove? Has it been inspected and cleaned and is in a safe condition to use? Each winter people die from Carbon Monoxide poison trying to keep warm with a malfunctioning heat source.
  • If you must go outdoors wear several layers of warm, loose fitting clothing and a hat. The layers trap body heat better than one heavy layer. Layers can also be taken off to avoid becoming too warm. You don't want to sweat - water and cold are a dangerous combination. Likewise your outer most layer should be water repellent to keep melting snow away from your body.
  • Beware of the winter health risks: Frostbite, Hypothermia, and Heart Attack. Cold weather puts an added strain on the heart so unaccustomed exercise such as shoveling snow or pushing a car can bring on a heart attack. My wife knew someone who died while shoveling his driveway.
  • In extreme cold, mittens protect better than gloves. In a mitten the fingers share body heat from your hand. In a glove each finger stands alone.

Bottom Line

Winter storms are dangerous and potentially fatal. It's worth taking a sick day or vacation day to avoid icy accidents on the road. Is a day of work worth your life?

Here are some facts from Wisconsin’s Winter Awareness Week (Nov 10-14):

  • There are around 17,000 vehicle accidents in Wisconsin during winter months when roads are covered with ice, snow or slush.
  • About 75 people are killed and 7,000 people are injured each winter season in Wisconsin accidents when roads are ice, snow or slush covered.
  • Many crashes are caused by “driving too fast for current conditions.” When the first blast of winter arrives, motorists often need to “re-learn” how to drive in slippery conditions.

For lots of winter prep details, check at the CDC Winter page,

Update 11/20/08

Wednesday, November 19, 2008 is Winter Weather Awareness Day in Kansas

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Kitchen Fires

"The diner is everybody’s kitchen." - Richard Gutman

While I love eating at diners, with the currently financial crisis, I'll be eating more meals at home to save money. Yet as noted yesterday, cooking fires in the kitchen are the number one cause of home fires. So if I'm not careful I could save the cost of a meal out and lose my home in exchange.

A common mistake is to forget you have a pot on the stove. In college I fell asleep while cooking and woke up later to find the bottom of the pot had melted, the metal liquefied around the electric burner. Another time while living in a college apartment complex I woke up smelling smoke and called the fire department. We evacuated and the firemen searched the apartments before finding a pot on a stove downstairs which was burning.

Here are some recommendations from the National Wellness Institute for safe cooking:

  • Keep combustible items, such as rags, potholders, curtains and bags, away from cooking surfaces.
    [I make it a habit NEVER to put anything that can burn on the stove top regardless of whether the burner is on or off.]
  • Never leave food cooking unattended on the stove top or in the oven
  • Never cook if you are drowsy or feel the effects of alcohol, medication, or other drugs.
  • Roll up your sleeves and don’t cook while wear loose-fitting clothing. If your clothes catch on fire, stop, drop and roll until the fire is out.
  • Clean cooking equipment often to remove grease that could catch on fire.
  • Keep children and pets away from cooking areas. Create a three-foot “kid-free zone” around the stove.

Bottom Line

It is so very easy to get distracted while cooking. Perhaps the phone rings or there is someone at the door. Perhaps you're cooking and watching TV or a movie or on the Internet. If your food does catch on fire here is what you do:

1. Use your kitchen fire extinguisher (you have one right?)

2. Don't throw water on the fire. Water and grease don't mix so you'll just spread the fire.

3. Fires need air to burn so try to smother the fire: put a lid on the pot or cover it with some thing that won't burn.

4. If the fire is bigger than a basketball, get out of the house. Don't die trying to save your house.

5. Beware of fumes if you are fighting the fire. Most often it is smoke, not flame, that kills. The smoke can knock you unconscious and you'll die from asphyxiation (and then burn).

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Today: the Great Southern California ShakeOut

“Cities are distinguished by the catastrophic forms they presuppose and which are a vital part of their essential charm. New York has King Kong, or the blackout, or vertical bombardment: Towering Inferno. Los Angeles is the horizontal fault, California breaking off and sliding into the Pacific: Earthquake.” - Jean Baudrillard

Did you feel the ground move at 10 am this morning? In southern California, millions of people dropped, covered and held on as part of the "Great Shakeout". This drill was organized by Dr. Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey and an alliance of scientists, emergency managers, engineers, and government officials to study the consequences of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in great detail. The ShakeOut Scenario will identify the physical, social and economic consequences of a major earthquake in southern California. The results will be published in 2009 enabling everyone to identify what they can change before the inevitable real earthquake occurs to avoid catastrophic impact.

Models for a magnitude 7.8 earthquake predict 1800 deaths and $213 billion of economic losses. These numbers are considered LOW and represent the aggressive retrofitting programs that have increased the earthquake resistance of buildings, highways and lifelines in California. In comparison, Hurricane Katrina, the third deadliest hurricane in US history, killed 1,836 people and has cost $110 billion in damages.

Bottom Line

Why is important to do a Drop, Cover, Hold On drill?

Just as with anything, to act quickly you must practice, practice, practice.

In a big earthquake, there may be very little time to protect yourself before strong shaking knocks you down or drops something on you. Most earthquakes have a sharp jolt a few seconds before the strong shaking, and we need to "Drop, Cover, Hold On" immediately when we feel the jolt. By practicing we will act quickly, rather than waiting to see if the earthquake will be large. If it is, it may be too late to protect yourself.

ShakeOut. Don't FreakOut.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What to do if You Are Stranded in Your Car in Winter

"Things are not as bad as they seem. They are worse." - Bill Press
"Ce" has a nice article titled Urban Survival - 12 Tips to Follow If You Are Stranded in Your Car in Winter. I've already covered winterizing your car and stocking your car with winter supplies so I'll start mid-way into the article with what to do when you are stranded ...
  1. Do NOT pull off on to the shoulder of the highway, or on an exit ramp.
    Yes pull off the road but not where you might get hit by other cars or a snow plow. Try to reach a rest area, or pull off at an exit ramp and park near the entrance ramp (where cars are moving slower).
  2. Major truck stops are excellent places to shelter from a storm.
  3. If you are stranded on the road, stay with your car for shelter! Do not attempt to walk to safety unless your destination is in plain sight. Even then you might get lost if winds pick up the snow and visibility drops. If you must leave your car put a note inside the front window telling rescuers where you have gone or in what direction.
  4. If you are sheltering in your car, get whatever survival gear you have out of the trunk and into the passenger compartment. Keep water and food supplies from freezing by placing it near a heater vent.
  5. Run the engine and heater at most 10 minutes per hour for warmth. Open a window, at least an inch, on the downwind side of the car to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Don't kill yourself from gas fume or burn up all your fuel in the first hour. Periodically check your tailpipe to be sure it is not covered with snow and pushing the gas fumes into the car.
  6. Once the snow has stopped, work slowly while uncoverng your car to avoid perspiring. It is much harder to stay warm when you are wet.

Bottom Line

Stay with your car until help arrives. Run the car (and heat) as little as possible to survive as long as possible. You might be stranded for many, many hours. Stay dry and use blankets and body heat.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

25 Skills

"Try to learn something about everything and everything about something."
- T.H. Huxley
Popular Mechanics has a online series called "25 Skills Every Man Should Know: Your Ultimate DIY Guide" with photos and instructions for each skill. I don't agree with the list (or the sexism) but there is a lot of good material here.
Here's the list and how I score (Y/N).
  1. Patch a radiator hose
    (Y - we keep duct tape in our car)
  2. Protect Your Computer
    (Y - always install antivirus software)
  3. Rescue a Boater Who Has Capsized
    (Y? My wife & I sail.)
  4. Frame a Wall
    (N - alas I have no carpentry skills)
  5. Retouch Digital Photos
    (Y - my wife is a graphic artist)
  6. Back Up a Trailer
    (No experience with large vehicles)
  7. Build a Campfire
    (I know the theory but am weak on practice)
  8. Fix a Dead Electrical Outlet
  9. Navigate With a Map and Compass
    (Y - I sailed once at night with no GPS. Maps were essential.)
  10. Use a Torque Wrench
    (N - Never even seen one)
  11. Sharpen a Knife
  12. Perform CPR
    (Y - I'm CPR certified)
  13. Fillet a Fish
    (Y in theory, very little practice)
  14. Maneuver a Car Out of a Skid
    (? - good topic for this blog...)
  15. Get a Car Unstuck
    (Y - been there, done that)
  16. Back Up Data
    (Y- having lost one hard drive, I do back up data more often now)
  17. Paint a Room
    (Y - could be better)
  18. Mix Concrete
    (Never tried but suspect I could. I never thought I could reseal our blacktop driveway but my wife and I did that last month. )
  19. Clean a Bolt-Action Rifle
    (Not a clue)
  20. Change Oil and Filter
    (Not a clue - I recall my dad doing this as I grew up. I take my car to Quick Lube mechanics)
  21. Hook Up an HDTV
    (? - I've hooked up other video/TV systems but not HDTV)
  22. Bleed Brakes
    (Not a clue)
  23. Paddle a Canoe
    (Y - I canoed once at college while wearing a suit!)
  24. Fix a Bike Flat Tire
    (N - but my wife did this recently)
  25. Extend Your Wireless Network

Bottom Line

Modern life requires many skills from the primitive (fires and fish), to the domestic (home, bike and car repair), to the high tech (computers). While outdoor survival skills are nice to know and can be a fun hobby, don't neglect learning modern day skills. Be computer savvy and protect yourself from PC viruses and other modes of attack.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Money Management

Money is the last enemy that shall never be subdued. While there is flesh there is money—or the want of money, but money is always on the brain so long as there is a brain in reasonable order.
- Samuel Butler (1835–1902), British author

With the US financial "crisis" there are many articles appearing online with monetary advice. I recommend this one: Money Management and the Next Great Depression – Protecting Your Money. The advice is simple and to me quite obvious but I have a background in math and management so budget planning comes easy. Not so with everyone. Last night on "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader" one contestant struck out on the first question - "True or False the sum of the digits in 678 equals 22." She said she was "bad at math" and could not say what a "sum" was. If you are math impaired get professional help in financial planning. (And for the math impaired the answer to the question is False. 6+7+8=21)

Returning to the Money Management article, here are the suggestions...

  1. Use CASH Not Credit
    Try to get a cash discount. Vendors must pay a fee of 3 to 9% to credit card companies.
  2. Don't Spend More Than You Earn
  3. Money Must Be MADE Before It Gets Spent
    Set money aside a little each month to save up for large purchases.
  4. Put Away Some Cash for Emergencies and Living Expenses

Bottom Line

"Perhaps you'll have to cut expenses AND work an extra job to build your cushion of cash. Now, no moaning about how you can't, JUST DO IT! As the weeks and months roll by you'll find you are sleeping better and are walking through life with a lot more confidence knowing you are on your way to financial freedom and have protected yourself from The Great Depression looming on the horizon." - Protecting Your Money

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Escaped rhino drill at Japanese zoo

"One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I don't know."
- Groucho Marx in Animal Crackers, 1930
How do you handle an escaped rhinoceros? For the answer check out this YouTube video of a zoo drill in Japan. (Via and Arbroath).

Bottom Line

While I doubt most people need to prepare for escaped rhinos, I included this clip to demonstrate the value of drills and especially drills well done. While the fake rhino with two men inside is rather cute, it does show the size of the beast and gives the zoo staff practice with crowd control, herding the rhino with sticks and staying out of the way. I'm sure the staff will learn much more from this drill than from a lecture or written instructions.

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Saturday, November 8, 2008

October was Fire Safety Month

“Unfortunately, our research indicates that too many families don’t understand
or appreciate the danger of home fires and as a result, have not taken even the
most basic steps to prepare for a fire emergency” - the Home Safety Council

The topic today is a belated recognition of October as Fire Safety Month. Fires and burns are the third leading cause of injury-related death in the home. It is the number one item that Red Cross responds to on a daily basis. Yes many more people are made homeless by a hurricane but fortunately hurricanes are few while nearly every day in each local Red Cross Chapter one or more families are forced out their home or apartment due to fire.

In 2006 every half hour someone was injured by a home fire and every 2 1/2 hours someone died in a home fire. Cooking caused the most fires but smoking caused the most deaths by fire. This is because you're awake while cooking but it is not uncommon for smokers to fall asleep with a lit cigarette and either never wake up or wake up too late.

Bottom Line

The Web is filled with information about Fire Home Safety.

For a list of recommendations check out
See for a virtual home tour and possible Fire Dangers in each room.

Other items worth checking out...
Candle Safety:
Games & Activities for Children:
Great site with links and suggestions:

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Earthquake Drill for Nov 13 in California

“Love is like an earthquake-unpredictable, a little scary, but when the hard part is over you realize how lucky you truly are.”

If you live in southern California, participate in the ShakeOut Drill, at 10 a.m. on November 13, the largest earthquake preparedness activity in U.S. history! Register today!

An excellent article, Survival Skills: Earthquake, has been written by 10-year old Ryan Nabil. I wish the cub scouts in my Pack could write as well. Presented here are the highlights...

What Hurts During an Earthquake?

Before I conducted an extensive study on earthquake, I had the idea that it´s the shaking that hurts during an earthquake. But heck, I was wrong.

During an earthquake, it´s actually the things that fall on our body, especially [our] head, [that] hurt us. That accounts for such a great toll of death during an earthquake in contrast to any other natural disaster. Walls of a structure or other movable objects can fall on a person and cause casualties.

So, when an earthquake takes place: everything that you thought was your precious belongings turns into lethal enemies. They include: windows, doors, cupboard doors, heavy and tall furniture that might fall, shelves containing dishes, book shelves, china cabinets, TVs, CRT monitors, glass-made objects.

Bottom Line

When it strikes

If you are inside, on sensing [an] earthquake, you must move away from window and other objects that can fall as listed above and take shelter under a strong table. Cover your head with hand[s] to protect it from falling debris and also protect your eyes. You can use a pillow for this purpose.

Once the earthquake has started, [do] not to try to run out of the building because as that time falling debris or other objects might fall on your head and cause serious injury.

If you are in [the] kitchen, then you should know [the] kitchen is the most dangerous place during an earthquake. In such a situation, you must turn off the [gas stove] and move out of the kitchen as it might catch fire due to gas leakage.

Once the earthquake has stopped, don´t run out of the building as debris can still be falling. Besides, a major earthquake can be followed by a few aftershocks.

For an adult perspective on Earthquakes, check out Drop, Cover and Hold On! from the Public Information Officer for the city of Pasadena, CA.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Can you save $1000 in 30 days?

"First things first, but not necessarily in that order" - Doctor Who in Meglos

There are two guaranteed ways to have more money: you can earn more money or cut costs. The blog, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, usually focuses on the first method - increasing your earnings. However, during the month of November, Ramit Sethi will be giving daily tips on how to cut costs with the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge

As Ramit puts it, "You’ll notice that I haven’t written a lot about frugality ...
That’s because Americans suck at frugality. We spend more than we make. We’re terrible at deferring our immediate wants and investing for the long term. We go into debt. And we blame everyone but ourselves."

Then he read this article, 8 out of 10 Americans stressed because of economy and realized that, "everyone I’ve been talking to has been worrying about their money" and "the people I’ve talked to want to know how to save money right now." This inspired Ramit to launch his challenge to Save $1,000 in 30 Days. "I’m not trying to save $1 or even $10 per week, because it’s not worth changing your behavior for that kind of money." No "retarded suggestions like 'Start a garden' or 'Buy day-old food from bakeries.' ”

Bottom Line

It's not too late to join the challenge. In fact you can start anytime you want. The first three tips are:

Tip #1: Pack lunches for the rest of the week
Tip #2: Turn your thermostat down 3 degrees
Tip #3: Sell something on eBay today

I'm now following Tip #1 with the start of a new job. When unemployed and reviewing expenses for the year, I realized how much money I was burning up with breakfast and lunch out in NYC every workday. Tip #2 has been followed for many, many years. My wife keeps the thermostat VERY low. I would consider Tip #3 if I needed to raise cash fast. Instead my wife uses eBay to buy items cheap. She is much better than I at walking away from an auction when the price climbs too high. She will track items for months and place limited bids until she wins at the price she wants. I use eBay or to buy used text books at bargain prices.

One final recommendation if you are having money issues. Read this article from Reader Pays Off $14,330 In 20 Months. A loyal consumerist reader tells how she changed her life in order to pay off $14,330 in credit card debt and even saved some money in the bank.

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Guy Fawkes Day

“Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot,
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.”
- British Rhyme
If you saw the movie V or read the graphic novel of the same name you'll recall the mask worn by the leading character V. It is a Guy Fawkes mask which is worn on November 5 and burned in effigy in some British commonwealth countries.
Americans may think terrorism is new or started with 9-11, but in fact terrorism is quite old. Here is just one example from 403 years ago today. On 5 November 1605 a number of Catholic conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London, England. The plot intended to kill the king, James the 1st, his family, and most of the Protestant aristocracy in a single attack by blowing up the Houses of Parliament during the State Opening. Gunpowder was placed within the parliament but Guy was captured before it was exploded.

Bottom Line
I find it dismaying that so many Americans forget 9-11 so easily. They think it a one time fluke that won't be repeated. As a New Yorker I know that 9-11 was the SECOND terrorist attack on the World Trade center. Eight years earlier a van filled with explosives blew up in the parking garage in the basement of one the towers. I also served as a juror in a case linked to the "Millennium Bomber" whose mission was to leave a suitcase bomb in the crowded LAX (Los Angeles) Airport in 2000.
America has been very fortunate to see so little terrorism in its 232 years. But we can not rely on luck alone. Stay prepared.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Preparedness Tasks for Teens

"Teenagers are like people who express a burning desire to be different by dressing exactly alike." - Anonymous.
Wow, I'm looking at the blog, Code Name Insight, and thinking, "Where does he get the time each day to create items of such quality?" This is what I wish my blog could be like.
The article that first drew my attention was 11 Preparedness Tasks for Teens.
For your typical teen, adulthood is a disaster waiting to happen. Here are some recommendations from Code Name Insight:
  • Give them a month's worth of allowance at one time to teach about budgeting and making money last.
  • Have them take a self defense class.
  • Require Chores to teach them responsibility.
  • Encourage them to take on a big project or do something by themselves like traveling overseas, on the subways or camping overnight in the woods.
  • Cook dinner for the family once a week.
  • Learn basic needs like ironing, washing, shopping the sales, etc.
  • Creating a little business to lean entrepreneurial skills
  • Participate in community education classes like First aid, wilderness survival, swimming, etc. Learn the joy of learning.
  • Volunteer. Learn to help others.

Bottom Line

For more details read the original article. It is well written and well worth reading if you have teenagers.


Monday, November 3, 2008

The Survivalist series

"The whole catastrophe-preparedness notion is a guaranteed dinner-party downer, roughly on par with discussing leprosy or child molestation, and only a fool writer desperate for material would risk bringing the subject up in sociable company."
- David Shenk, the Survivalist Series
In 2006 Slate magazine published eight articles on survival topics. Here are the topics and links:
Bottom Line
Each week I discover new survival blogs and publications. It's amazing how much material there is out there but how few people actually care.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Use it or lose it

"Food=joy ... guilt ... anger ... pain ... nurturing ... friendship ... hatred
... the way you look and feel.... Food=everything you can imagine."
- Susan Powter, U.S. talk-show host.

If you have questions about food storage then check out this amazing document:

It covers the basics of what to store, how long items will keep and recipes.

Key points include:

  • Rotation is the key to maintaining an EDIBLE inventory of stored foods.
  • Mark the purchase date on food items with a grease pencil then use the oldest foods first
  • When you buy new items, push the old ones to the front of the shelf. Place the new items behind them.
  • Read the column about "Meat Storage". Many great ideas here!

Bottom Line

Food storage is not easy. You can waste money by buying foods you'll never eat or foods that you have no idea how to use. The document cited above has helpful sections on how to use powdered milk, whole wheat and other challenging but common food storage items.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Winter Survival and Igloos

"We were left with our snowshoes, two tea mugs, and the contents of our pockets. A quick inventory revealed a half-dozen chocolate bars, two sturdy knives, and a lighter, the last a leftover benefit of my former smoking habit." - Arthur Montague
The quote above comes from an excellent article called "Winter Survival Skills". The author and his friend were left stranded miles from help when their sled dogs took off with most of their supplies. The article describes good and bad ideas for making a shelter, finding water, and winter food. A must read.

Bottom Line

Winter training can be fun. My wife and I attended an igloo building class. The instructor also had us make a snow "yurt"; a big pile of snow with a tunnel dug into it for one person. Here are some links on igloo building...

The cartoon pictures really demonstrate the importance of building block rows on a slant.

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