Saturday, January 31, 2009

How Well do you Know Your Home?

Be it ever so humble there's no place like home.

For lovers of lists, CodenameInsight has published 75 Things to Know About Your. Highlights include:
  • year your home was built
  • square footage of your home
  • size of lot
  • property boundaries (we've had disputes with both neighbors on the exact lines and who for example is responsible for a fallen tree)
  • where is the deed?
  • location of shut offs for water, gas, and electricity and who to contact
  • copy of insurance policy

Bottom Line

Your home probably the most expensive thing you will ever own. Read the list and become better acquainted with your primary asset.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

When the Sun Attacks

"There are only two forces that can carry light to all the corners of the globe - only two - the sun in the heavens and the Associated Press down here." - Mark Twain
From Instapundit is yet another item to add to your list of TEOTWAWKI:
"Did you know a solar flare can make your toilet stop working?"

In a 132-page report from a NASA funded study, experts detail what might happen to our modern, high-tech society in the event of a “super solar flare.”
Ground currents induced during geomagnetic storms can actually melt the copper windings of transformers at the heart of many power distribution systems. Sprawling power lines act like antennas, picking up the currents and spreading the problem over a wide area. The most famous geomagnetic power outage happened during a space storm in March 1989 when six million people in Quebec lost power for 9 hours.
In 1859 the largest know solar flare triggered an explosion along electrified telegraph lines, shocking technicians and setting their telegraph papers on fire. If that same massive flare occurred today,

Power outages would be accompanied by radio blackouts and satellite malfunctions; telecommunications, GPS navigation, banking and finance, and transportation would all be affected. ... The total economic impact in the first year alone could reach $2 trillion, some 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina

Bottom Line

It's a good idea to have your computer, TV and any expensive electronics connected to a circuit breaker. This may protect them from power surges and nearby lightning strikes. But don't count on the breakers saving you from a monster solar flare; they will probably melt.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The “Worst” Fast Foods

“Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie” -Jim Davis
At there is a listing of the worst [i.e. most unhealthy] foods at American restaurants. At the top is the Baskin Robbins Large Chocolate Oreo Shake with 2600 calories, 135 grams of fat and 1700 mg of sodium. With this one drink I would exceed all daily recommended limits (2000 calories, 40 grams fat, 1500 mg sodium) for a middle-age male.
In today’s society it is easy to consume way more calories (and salt) than you need. For example, beverages can add pounds quickly. My wife & I avoid full calorie sodas – I’d rather eat my calories. Diet sodas and diet “waters” are nice at 5 calories or less, but watch out for the salt content! Salt is hard to avoid. I’d love to stock up on dried soup mixes, Thai food mixes, etc, as part of my food storage; but have you looked at the amount of salt inside?

I love eating out but it does add to the waistline. Many years ago Taco Bell and Pizza Hut both offered healthy products. But they were dropped since the taste wasn’t as wonderful as the regular line and the pubic wants great tasting food; never mind the calories.

Here are some more extreme food examples from

Romano’s Macaroni Grill Spaghetti and Meatballs with Meat Sauce
2430 calories, 128 g fat, 5290 mg sodium with three times your recommended daily intake of saturated fat and two days’ worth of salt.

Uno Chicago Grill Pizza Skins (full order)
2400 calories, 155 g fat, 3600 mg sodium

P.F. Chang’s Tam’s Noodles
1678 calories, 93 g fat, the equivalent of 42 Krispy Kreme Glazed Doughnut Holes.

Fish is healthy. How about a Quizno’s Tuna Melt (large)?
2090 calories, 175 g fat, 2190 mg sodium

Ok, a “healthy” salad then…
T.G.I. Fridays Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad
1360 calories, Fat: unknown, Sodium: unknown, the company refuses to disclose the nutritional content of their food.

How bad could a vegetarian sandwich be?
Blimpie Veggie Supreme (12”)
1106 calories, 56 g fat, 2831 mg sodium

Bottom Line
Restaurant food is made to please your taste buds, not your waistline. It will be loaded with salt, sugar and fats/oils since these create intense flavors. Order wisely (or infrequently) and beware of what’s been added to traditionally “healthy” items like fish, salads or vegetables.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Number of Public vs Government Workers

“The worst thing in this world, next to anarchy, is government” - Henry Ward Beecher
Part of preparedness is being aware of the risks and potential for problems. That includes looking at the economy, long-term trends, and the recovery from our current recession/depression. The graph below comes from Fabius Maximus in a posting titled America passes a milestone. It shows that the employees working for the government now exceeds the employees working in the manufacturing sector. This is NOT healthy for the county. With rare exceptions (NASA, military equipment, interstate roads) the government does not increase the Gross National Product – it does not create products, just laws and regulations.

Bottom LineSome government is certainly needed like Police, Fire, Military, and “simple” Food & Drug regulation. But do we really want 22 million government workers (7% of the US population) putting restrictions and restraints on companies and people? See my posting, Waiting to Be Rescued, about government bureaucracies.

"Within the political process, … government agencies are more often concerned with pleasing other political actors and finding ways to expand their budgets and power. This often makes them less sensitive to the direct needs of the people who rely on them to get specific tasks accomplished."

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stop and Smell the Roses

“Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What's a sundial in the shade?”-Benjamin Franklin describes a social experiment conducted by the Washington Post newspaper. On a cold morning of January 12, 2007, thousands of commuters of the L’Enfant Plaza subway station passed a non-descript man playing a violin for tips. He played for 45 minutes and collected $32.17 from 27 people. Only seven people stopped and listened for a while.

What the commuters did not know what that this incognito “beggar” was really Joshua Bell, a world famous violinist. The violin he played is worth 3.5 million dollars. The pieces he played were some of the most difficult ever written for violin.

And yet only seven people stopped to listen. Only one person recognized him.

Other studies have also shown that we perceive what we except to perceive. In one study the same wine was offered free to restaurant customers if they promised to evaluate it. To half the diners the wine was given a fancy labeled from a Napa Valley winery. The other half saw a label from a local “unknown” winery. The participants rated the wine with the “famous” label quite favorably; the “unknown” label received lower ratings.

In another taste test, blindfolded official wine tasters rated some $10 bottles high while giving low marks to $100 bottles. When the blindfolds came off the officials were shocked and insisted that there must be some mistake or trick. “Everyone knows” the pricier bottles are better.

Bottom Line

Are you too busy to stop and appreciate beauty in life? Are you blinded by expectations and oblivious to many of life’s wonders? Would you “recognize the talent in an unexpected context?”

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Global Economic Depression

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for” - William
The article Shipping rates hit zero as trade sinks from reports that,
Freight rates for containers shipped from Asia to Europe have fallen to zero for the first time since records began, underscoring the dramatic collapse in trade since the world economy buckled in October. …"This is a whole new ball game," said one trader.
Why is this significant you ask? This is a contra-indicator for one of my favorite books, The World Is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. While the world looks small and everybody is your neighbor or BFF via the internet, in order to exchange more than just ideas and pictures, we still need ships to carry goods between countries.

The shipping problem began last fall with the banking and credit crisis. Shippers were unable to obtain routine letters of credit “causing goods to pile up at ports even though there was a willing buyer at the other end.” The credit problem has been resolved, but the shipping industry is now plagued by global trade contraction:
Trade data from Asia's export tigers has been disastrous over recent weeks … “This is no regular cycle slowdown, but a complete collapse in foreign [US, UK and European] demand."
To keep ships sailing, shippers have cut their fees to zero and will ship containers at “bunker” (i.e. cost) rates so as to earn some money to cover crew salaries, insurance, docking fees and other fixed expenses.
Offering slots for free is akin to an airline giving away spare seats for nothing.
Bottom Line

The shipping crisis is further proof that we are experiencing a global economic depression. Do not expect a quick turnaround or a quick fix. The US “bailouts” are keeping companies alive but will do little to stimulate the US or world economy.

What should you do? Cut expenses and build up your savings now. We will be facing many rainy days ahead.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Icy Windshields

“You never really know your friends from your enemies until the ice breaks” - Eskimo Proverb
I've broken many ice scrapers trying to get ice off my car windows. Fortunately there are better methods.
  1. Cover Your Car
    Simple is best if you can keep the ice off your windshields. If you lack access to covered parking or, like me, your garage is too full of junk for the car to fit inside then try covering your car with a tarp or car cover. Keep it from blowing away with bungee cords or weights.
  2. Prevent It
    You can buy ice-prevention formulas ($13 per bottle or so) to "prevent" ice buildup. The article 3 Cheap and Easy Formulas for Homemade Windshield De-Icer also recommends "Simply mix 3 parts vinegar and 1 part water in a spray bottle. Apply to all the car windows (including side and rear) before going to bed at night."
  3. Melt It
    I've read of using hot water to melt the ice but have never tried this since there is a risk it can crack the windshield. Lukewarm water is safer to use.
    Two other suggestions from are:
    - "Mix one part water to two parts rubbing alcohol and apply to the window and watch it peel right off!"
    - "Use a bottle of 70% isopropyl alcohol (50% works, too, but not as well) with a few drops of dish soap. Apply liberally to the glass with a spray bottle." recommends:
    - Start your car's engine and turn the heat level to high but leave the defroster fan level on low. (You don't want to crack the windshield by heating it too quickly!)
    - Then apply a spray mixture of 1/2 water and 1/2 ethyl alcohol or vinegar.
    - Don't have an ice scraper? A credit card might work to lift the ice off the glass.

Bottom Line
Visibility is vital anytime you drive. If you don’t get rid of the ice and snow on your windshield you are making yourself a safety hazard for everyone driving around you.

There have also been times when I've left the driveway with a clear view but lost visibility on the road.

  • Moisture or Windshield Wiper fluid on the window froze as I drove. My windshield became coated with a lovely snowflake icy pattern that I could not see through. Solutions - use a ice prevention fluid in winter or wait for the car window to warm up (defroster) before driving.
  • Road Salt coats the window - twice in my life I've had the windshield covered in road salt tossed up by cars in front me and NO wiper fluid to clear it off. During a college trip when this happened we had to stop every few miles and manually wipe the window with snow. - BE SURE to check your fluid levels in Winter frequently.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Financial Fire Drill

"I'm quite worried about the fiscal imbalances that we've got and what that might mean in terms of financial crisis ahead" - Bill Gates
Today's article has a long history. The Consumerist has an excellent blog posting called Prepare For A Budget Meltdown By Conducting A Financial Fire Drill. It summarizes a story by the NYT, Preparing Your Budget for Disaster which is turn is referencing a book called “The Two Income Trap.” So now that I've credited all concerned, here's the details...
You're fired! Now what? It's the nightmare scenario, and you can prepare for it by conducting a financial drill. Take a moment and pretend you have no income. Ask how you would pay pay for rent and food, and what lifestyle changes you could make on two week's notice. - Consumerist

When your earnings are reduced, you must cut your spending to match. "Restaurants, movies, cable, vacations, all of these can go."

Maintain & Reuse
Avoid buying anything new by using what you have until it literally breaks down or falls apart. Patch your clothes, fix things that break, drive your car until it is no longer road safe. I my family we drive our cars for about 10 years until our mechanic says they can no longer pass inspection (rust) or repairs exceed the current value of the car.

Since your credit will dry up as your financial situation worsens, tap your credit lines while they're still available. But don't dig yourself into a hole you can not pay back. With the recession/depression you might be unemployed for a long time (it took me 6 months after I was laid off). Borrow only in case of emergency and only if you're confident you have funds to pay the monthly payments.

Readjust Your Assets
In my case most of my funds are in higher risk mutuals since retirement is years away. But if you have no job you might be forced to cash in your stocks and mutuals early. In this case it can be a rude shock when a market collapse like 2008 wipes out 50% or more of your nest egg. Consider moving your money to more conservative accounts until you start earning again.
Consider how much you can pull from your 401(k) and Roth IRA without incurring penalties. The Consumerist and NYT have the details.

Bottom Line
Keep in mind this posting is about a financial emergency like unemployment, NOT a way to find quick cash to buy a giant plasma TV for the Superbowl game. Borrowing to buy luxury goods is always a bad idea.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Hospital Germs

“When a lot of remedies are suggested for a disease, that means it can't be cured.” - Anton Chekhov (Russian playwright)
What is it about doctors and a casual attitude towards germs? I wrote earlier, Did you forget to wash your hands?, about the history of hand washing and how doctors resisted the idea that dirty hands could kill. Now a new study shows that unwashed scrubs can also kill, Hospital Scrubs Are a Germy, Deadly Mess.
Some medical personnel wear the same unlaundered uniforms to work day after day. ... At the University of Maryland, 65% of medical personnel confess they change their lab coat less than once a week, though they know it's contaminated. Fifteen percent admit they change it less than once a month. Superbugs such as staph can live on these polyester coats for up to 56 days.
Bottom Line

Dirty scrubs spread bacteria to patients and, when worn in public, allow superbugs to escape to places like restaurants. Scrub germs can cause extreme diarrhea, dehydration, inflammation of the colon, and even death. They are difficult germs to kill. "Only scrubbing with bleach removed [them]".

In recognition of this problem some hospitals are returning to laundering scrubs and/or prohibiting wearing the scrubs outside the hospital.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Garage Genome Hackers

“A sad soul can kill quicker than a germ” - John Steinbeck

All technology, perhaps even all knowledge, is a double edged sword. Scientists are often horrified to learn that their “peaceful” discovery leads to new weapons of mass destruction. And sometimes inventions created for the purpose of war (like radar and GPS) have amazing peacetime applications.

The new kid on the block which could cure diseases or create plagues is home-based genetic experiments as discussed in New Scientist magazine, entitled Rise of the garage genome hackers.
[Katherine] Aull's lab is a closet less than 1 square metre in size in the shared apartment she lives in. Yet amid the piles of clothes she recently concocted vials of an entirely new genetically modified organism. Aull, who works as a synthetic biologist for a biotech company by day, created her home lab after hearing about a contest on the science fiction website for "mad scientists with homebrew closet labs, grassroots geneticists, and garage genome hackers".
These young (unregulated) scientists are creating microbes for biological computers, bacteria that could help rice plants process nitrogen more efficiently, and glow-in-the-dark bacteria to detect deadly melamine contamination. Advocates of closet genome hacking compare themselves to “the Homebrew Computer Club hackers of the 1970s [who] spawned the first personal computers."

This does not make me feel any better. Despite the many virtuous computer hackers who create free-ware, games, etc., it only takes a one dedicated black hat to create a computer virus that destroys data worldwide. Likewise a rogue genome hacker could wreck havoc.

In 1982, Frank Herbert (best known for Dune), wrote the (prophetic?) novel, The White Plague. In the book, a bomb planted by the IRA kills the wife and children of a molecular biologist. He retaliates by creating a plague to kill all the women in Ireland so that the IRA can experience the same loss. The plague spreads and there is world-wide chaos.

Bottom Line
Inexperienced hackers could pose a significant public health threat, warns Richard Ebright, a biochemist at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey. "Without any oversight from an institution, colleagues or peers, the probability that a cataclysmic entity might be constructed by someone unaware of known cautions is significant." - New Scientist

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009


“There are only two reasons to sit in the back row of an airplane; either you have diarrhea, or you're anxious to meet people who do” - Henry Kissinger

Since Oct 1, 2008 a new nationwide salmonella outbreak has struck 42 states according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Nearly 400 people have become ill in the outbreak with one possible death. The cause is not yet known. Food borne illness investigations can be very complicated, and it can take weeks or months for health officials to interview patients, find common links in what they ate, test suspected foods and come up with a clear-cut cause. The CDC says, “The investigation is labor intensive and typically takes weeks. It is not always successful.”

Each year there are 40,000 cases & 400 deaths from the bacteria called Salmonella. They are microscopic living creatures that pass from the feces of people or animals to other people or other animals. An American scientist named Salmon, for whom they are named, discovered them.

Salmonella can often seem like a typical stomach bug. Most people develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment. However, in 18% of the cases, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.

While most persons with diarrhea recover completely within a week, it may be several months before their bowel habits are entirely normal. A small number of persons with Salmonella develop pain in their joints, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. This is called Reiter's syndrome. It can last for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis that is difficult to treat. Antibiotic treatment does not make a difference in whether or not the person develops arthritis.

Food animals are the most important source of human Salmonella infections. Transmission of Salmonella to humans can occur via various food vehicles, including eggs, meat, poultry, and produce, and via direct contact with animals and their environments.

There is no vaccine to prevent salmonellosis. Consumers can reduce their risk three ways:

  1. Following safe food-handling recommendations
  2. Avoid raw meats and dairy
  3. Wash your hands

1. Safe food-handling recommendations

  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables before eating. Rub or brush firm-skin fruits and vegetables under running tap water. Never use detergent or bleach to wash fresh fruits or vegetables as these cleaners are not intended for human consumption.
  • Uncooked meats should be kept separate from produce, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Hands, cutting boards, counters, knives, and other utensils should be washed thoroughly after touching uncooked foods.

2. Raw Meat & Dairy

  • Avoid consumption of unpasteurized milk and unpasteurized milk products, raw or undercooked oysters, raw or undercooked eggs, raw or undercooked ground beef, and undercooked poultry (see
  • Raw eggs may be unrecognized in some foods, such as homemade Hollandaise sauce, Caesar and other homemade salad dressings, tiramisu, homemade ice cream, homemade mayonnaise, cookie dough, and frostings.

3. Hand Washing

  • Hands should be washed before handling food, and between handling different food items.
  • Always wash after visiting a bathroom
  • People should always wash their hands immediately after handling a reptile or bird, even if the animal is healthy. Adults should also assure that children wash their hands after handling a reptile (including turtles) or bird (including cute baby chicks), or after touching its environment.

Bottom Line

Despite pasteurization of milk, cleaner public water, food processing health laws, etc, Salmonella won’t go away and remains the main cause of food borne illness in America. In fact it may be winning. Some Salmonella bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, largely as a result of the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of food animals.

See for more details.


Large tub, institutional peanut butter (made for retirement homes, hospitals, etc) is the current suspect for this outbreak. It puzzles me how peanut butter could become contaminated (but then I buy pure PB with just peanuts and salt as the ingredients). Apparently this is not the first instance of bad peanut butter. Two years ago ConAgra recalled its Peter Pan brand peanut butter, which had been linked to at least 625 salmonella cases in 47 states.

As of Jan 20, 453 people were ill and 5 dead in 43 states. Recalls have been issued for products containing peanut butter like Clif Bars and Luna Bars, as Kroger peanut butter ice cream, ZonePerfect peanut butter bars, and Meijer peanut butter crackers.

So far is there is NO recall on jars of peanut butter.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Survival Attitude

'May You Live in Interesting Times' - a curse of disputed origin

From the web site, we live in INTERESTING TIMES , comes a list of survival advice entitled, A wee bit more on survival. I like the list because it focuses not on things but rather upon the psychology of survival. I've tweaked it a bit as follows...
  1. Perceive & believe: take in the raw data from your surroundings, trust your senses. Don't fall into denial at the scope of disaster or death.
  2. Stay calm and use humor, fear, anger, etc to help you maintain focus
  3. Think, analyze, plan. You need a plan but it does NOT have to be the grand master plan. There may be too much confusion to see "The Big Picture" so plan what you need for the next manageable step towards your ultimate goal.
  4. Take correct, decisive action. Be bold (but not careless)
  5. Celebrate your successes. It is easy feel helpless and useless when so much is lost or many are dead. Give yourself full credit for each little victory, each life saved, each item found. Count your blessings and be grateful to be alive
  6. Keep your mind busy: Work, sing, count things to avoid the lethargy that comes from shock. Let nothing break your spirit.
  7. Don't surrender and never give up. If one thing doesn't work, try again, or try something different.
  8. Do whatever is necessary. You may not like it, but if you can do it, and if it might help your plight, do it.

Bottom Line

During a crisis it is important to believe that you will succeed and to take action. Let nothing stop you. DO NOT trust officials to advise what is "best". They may be wrong or they may be thinking of the greater public good and not your personal welfare. For example, during a dirty bomb attack (either biological or radioactive) the official response it to keep all victims confined so they don't spread the disease or radiation. If you are one of the victims I doubt you'd agree to being kept on the scene and out of a hospital; waiting hours for a hazmat team to assemble and build a decontamination "tent".

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Monday, January 19, 2009

A Solar Powered Water Purifier

“Water is life's mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.” - Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (Hungarian Nobel winning Biochemist)
There is something new in the realm of water purification. A Swedish company called Solvatten is trying to market a solar powered device that uses solar heat, UV rays and a filter to create safe drinking water. It looks like a suitcase that opens up to expose solar panels. Water is poured into both side of the suitcase through a “dirty” black cap and 3-5 hours later “clean” water is poured out of the white cap. It works with sun or clouds but not with rain. There is also an indicator inside the device that informs you when the water becomes “safe”.

Bottom Line

I know only what I’ve read online about this device but the inventors appear to have a great idea. Solvatten pitches this as a “green” device that will save wood that might have been used to heat up water for purification. The device is supposed to last 5 years and the filter can be replaced with cloth fabric like a sari. If true, this makes the device practical for isolated areas of the world. (imagine trying to ordering a replacement filter and have it shipped to a desert region of Africa). More details can be found on their FAQ page.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Where does cooking oil come from?

“If toast always lands butter-side down, and cats always land on their feet, what happens if you strap toast on the back of a cat and drop it?” - Stephen Wright
I'm amazed that there are people who do not realize that hamburgers and steaks come from cattle. Perhaps they think it was created in a laboratory or grew on a tree? Although a city-boy through and through, my grandfather was an Idaho dairyman so I did get to visit working farms as a child. I also learned just how much meat a steer can provide when grandpa give my mother a half side of beef as a Christmas gift. My parents paid for the butchering and rented a storage freezer. It took awhile to eat that much beef!

So although I'd like to think I know where food comes from, I did learn a few things in a recent blog, Cooking Oil or Butter. The authors researched what it would take to create new cooking oil (olive, canola, corn, etc.) should they run out.
  • Corn oil takes 56 lbs (1 bushel) to make about 1.2 lbs of corn oil.
  • Almond oil, Soybean oil and Sunflower oil like take a lot of product and some serious pressing and processing for not much output.
My wife & I experienced the same problem when we decide to make apple cider. We got a great deal on a half-bushel of apples and the nature center where she worked had a cider press. For all our effort we got perhaps a quart of cider.

Bottom Line

Some foods are NOT easy to make at home. Include LOTS of cooking oil in your food storage. When it's gone you're not likely to make more. Also be sure to use the oil and replace it since it will go rancid over time.

What alternative do you have for oil? Butter & lard. I know of two long term storage techniques for butter:

1. Butter powder - we have it but haven't tried it yet (not desperate enough :-)

2. Raise a goat, sheep or cow and make your own butter from milk. (the city-boy part of me says "no-way")

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Learning to Fish

"Give a Man a Fish, Feed Him For a Day. Teach a Man to Fish, Feed Him For a Lifetime" - Lao Tzu
I'm a terrible fisherman. The other male Kibbles in my family: father, uncle and grandfather all love to fish but I've never had the knack. Two years ago I went creek fishing in Idaho with dad and he caught several nice trout. I don't think I got one bite.

If you saw the movie Crocodile Dundee II you may remember the opening where Paul Hogan fishes by tossing a stick of dynamite into the water and the dead fish pop up all around the boat. As the camera pulls back you see a Coast Guard boat approaching, siren wailing, and that the coastline is New York City.

If I had to survive by fishing I'd follow the example of Crocodile Dundee. Securing food is of a higher priority than having a good time or playing "fair". Since I don't have any dynamite on hand, I'll have to rely instead on the techniques covered in Fishing at the End of the World.
  • Jug Lines - setup involves nothing more than a jug, a line, a hook and a sinker (no bait?!). Set afloat dozens of jugs and those that bob have caught a fish.
  • Limb Lines - lengths of line with the end opposite the hook secured to an overhanging tree limb. This technique is probably better suited for rivers because limbs overhanging lakes will more than likely be located in shallow water.
  • Trotlines are simply limb lines with more than one hook per line at different depths.

The article Fishing at the End of the World continues to discuss hooks, lines, fishing location, best time of day, and cleaning the fish you catch. Don't miss it!

Bottom Line

Don't confuse fishing as a sport or hobby with fishing for food to survive. The techniques described above (as well as net fishing, fish dams, fish traps) are strictly regulated and illegal in many states. So you might find it tricky to practice but some day your life may depend on knowing these "unsportsman" skills.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Practical Survival Skills

"We cannot think too highly of nature, nor too humbly of ourselves"
- Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832)
The blog Code Name Insight has been publishing practical survival tips the past month:
"The survival skills I am talking about here are not the go out into the wilderness and live off the land survival skills. Although these skills are extremely valuable, this first series will focus on general survival skills that the majority of the population will be able to use."
Survival Skill #1--Find Stuff
Ideas for surviving without money include Dumpster diving, Beachcombing, finding items tossed and along the road.

Survival Skill #2 Ask for Stuff

"Kids and panhandlers are good at this because they have very limited resources, so they ask and ask and ask. If someone says "no" they will ask someone else"

"Be known as a person who always has a good home for unwanted things."

Survival Skill #3 Fix Stuff
"For those on the edges of society (ie: low on cash but with ample time and creativity) throwing something out because it doesn't work or you don't like it isn't an option."

Get Close to Nature - 10 Ways We Are Disconnected From Nature
  • Most people "cannot provide the most basic food stuffs for themselves."
  • "Nature is reality"
  • "Living close to nature requires a wide variety of skills"
  • "Nature is anything but dependable which means that people learn how to be flexible."

Survival Skill #4 Make Stuff

Food, Furniture, Jewelry, Clothing, Medicine, etc.

Bottom Line

Today we experience the world through computers, video games, VCRs, and channel TV. Many of us have lost touch with the "real world" and would suffer withdrawal shock if required to live without electricity. Go outside, get your hands dirty, rediscover life outdoors.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Value of Hope

"What most people need to learn in life is how to love people and use things instead of using people and loving things." – Unknown
I mentioned in one of my earliest posts, MacGyver Ready, that
“I have seen some versions of the Rule of Threes, that include an extra line: you can only live for 3 months without hope. Hope and preparedness work well together. If you are prepared, you'll have reason to be hopeful. If you're of the right frame of mind and have the right skills, you will be better prepared.”
My mother-in-law fought breast cancer for many years in the 70’s and 80’s. She tried everything: veganism, wheat grass, spiritualism, laetrile, etc. She lived a very active life and beat the odds for nearly two decades driven by hope and stubbornness. But then one day she received some very negative test results from a doctor. She came home and told her daughter that she was giving up the fight. She died not long after.

Both of my mother’s parents lived into their 90’s despite poor health. We believe that it was stubbornness and love that kept my grandparents alive – neither wanted to be the first to die and leave their spouse of nearly 70 years to survive alone.

The reason I bring this topic up today is a recent story about the suicide of the world’s 94th richest man, Adolf Merckle, of Germany. In 2008 Forbes Magazine estimated Mr. Merckle’s fortune at $9.2 billion. But speculation in Volkswagen stock cost him in the “low hundreds of millions.” His family said in a statement, “The distress to his firms caused by the financial crisis and the related uncertainties of recent weeks, along with the helplessness of no longer being able to handle the situation, broke the passionate family businessman, and he ended his life.”

Bottom Line

Money does not buy happiness or hope. My father’s mother was one of the happiest, most up-beat persons I’ve ever met. She was never wealthy and lived for many decades in a trailer house and then a retirement apartment. She surrounded herself with slogans like “Smile, God Loves You” and she believed in the slogans.
Life is what you make of it. A life spent chasing money & fame can be very poor (think Citizen Kane). A life filled with hope and love and friends can be very rich.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Can I Still Eat This?

“I worked in a health food store once. A guy came in and asked me, "If I melt dry ice, can I take a bath without getting wet?” - Stephen Wright (Comedian)
While food storage is an excellent idea, you must also eat the food you store and replenish it on a regular basis. Eventually all food goes bad, some slower than others. Cereals, snack foods, frozen entrees, and dry packaged foods may be marked with a "best if used by date." These products are not at their best quality after this date, but can still be used safely for a short period of time thereafter. Other foods, such as unbaked breads, are marked with an "expiration" or "use by date," which means the product should not be consumed after that date. “Use by” works more like an expiration date, similar to that on medication when taking pills after the date is not recommended.

According to most canned food has a shelf life of at least two years from the date of purchase if stored at 75° F and below. If the can is not marked date, then use a magic marker to write the purchase month and year on the car. When the can is two years old, don’t panic and toss it out. Canned food retains its safety and nutritional value well beyond two years, but it may have some variation in quality, such as a change of color and texture. Canned food as old as 100 years has been found in sunken ships and it is still microbiologically safe! No one recommends keeping canned food for 100 years, but if the can is intact, not dented or bulging or rusted, it is very likely edible (though perhaps not very nutritious).

It’s important to know that all self-life values are approximations. Foods last longest in cool, dry cabinets. Cans stored near or above hot appliances (like your stove) will spoil sooner. Warmth and humidity can drastically shorten the shelf life of foods. A chart at shows that canned bulk food can last 40 years at 37° F but only 1 year if stored at 102° F

Bottom Line

Pay attention to the Use By and Expiration Dates on food. Try to use canned foods within two to three years of purchase. If you don’t know the age of your canned food check out the amazing tables of marketing codes at and These charts explain values like ECCHO, 139C8, 7029WW1827 and 61071 which all equal dates if you know how to read them.

Check out Food Storage Guidelines For Consumers by the Virginia Cooperative Extension for more details on shelf life and good storage practices.

More links for shelf life tables:

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

No Power on Cold Winter Nights

“Three feet of ice does not result from one day of cold weather.” - Chinese Proverb
I really like the story, Ice storm tests mettle of Harvard residents by the Harvard Press. It goes into details about how families survived in mid-winter with 4+ days without power.

Sleeping arrangements were dictated by the location of a fireplace in the master bedroom. The whole family could fall asleep while that room was still warm, alongside their cats and a pair of birds. ... the room dipped to about 42 degrees on the coldest night.

Even the four cats slept under the bed covers.
The group showed ingenuity at mealtime too, boiling water in a sterno-powered fondue pot and powering the coffee grinder from the car adaptor. Ten-year-old Julia LeBlanc used her Girl Scout training and some aluminum foil to grill ham-and-cheese sandwiches in the fire, though she found that bagels tended to burn. Their frozen food was saved by the next-door neighbors, whose home had some power from a powerful generator. To power their plumbing, the LeBlanc family tapped the five-gallon drums of water that Peter had stashed in his basement some three years ago for just such emergencies. A healthy supply of firewood kept the fireplaces burning, and Peter LeBlanc even took the time to rent a log-splitter and share it with his neighbors.
Bottom Line

If you're prepared, a winter crisis can be a time of family bonding and adventure instead of hardship and suffering. “We’ve done very well!” said Elizabeth LeBlanc.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Prius Power

“I want to die in my sleep like my grandfather... Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.” - Will Shriner (American Comedian)
From Prius Powers Home During Ice Storm,

A Massachusetts [electrical engineer] - faced with no power in the recent ice storm, powered up the family Prius to create electricity: The hybrid car made enough electricity to run the essentials; the fridge, the lights, the TV, the wood-stove fan. During the power outage, it supplied 17 Kilowatt hours of energy to his home for three days. ...

He dug up an inverter which made 120v AC from 12v DC current and he wired it into the hybrid electric Prius. [These inverters are available for about $100 many places online.]

Further details can be found at Ice storm tests mettle of Harvard residents. The three days used roughly five gallons of gas. The device allowed the engine to run every half hour, automatically
charging the car battery and indirectly supplying the required power.

Bottom Line

This is a very clever way to have backup electrical power. If you own a Prius consider buying the converter and instructions for installing it.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Return of Bird Flu

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will . . .” - Charlotte Bronte
The Los Angeles Times recently published a story, New bird flu cases revive fears of human pandemic.
"Hong Kong, believed to have been free of H5N1 [for six years], is forced to cull [80,000] poultry after an outbreak. Two [human] avian flu deaths are reported in Egypt and Indonesia. ... India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and mainland China also experienced new outbreaks in December."
Frequent bird slaughtering and constant monitoring have kept the flu in check so far. Yet it continues to smolder with occasional flare ups. Fortunately the risk to humans is still low,
To fuel a pandemic, a virus must be able to both infect humans and spread readily from person to person. The currently circulating H5N1 strain does neither well.
But low risk does not mean no risk. Mutations are random and could occur at any time.

"What alarms me is that we have developed a sense of pandemic-preparedness
fatigue," [commented one scientist]. ...

Bottom Line

It is unlikely that Bird Flu will be 100% eliminated anytime soon. "The virus appears to be entrenched in Indonesia, parts of China, Vietnam, Egypt and other countries where backyard flocks are more difficult to regulate than commercial chicken farms, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization."
Scientists have little experience with which to gauge how H5N1 will evolve. "We still have to treat this as a potentially very, very dangerous virus."

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Inventory Service Provider

“To state the facts frankly is not to despair the future nor indict the past. The prudent heir takes careful inventory of his legacies and gives a faithful accounting to those whom he owes an obligation of trust.”-John F. Kennedy
If your house burned down to the ground, could you remember all the contents? Could you prove to the insurance company that you really had a giant screen TV? Most likely your receipts burned up too.

What we did is photograph our house contents with our digital camera. We keep copies of the pictures on thumb-drives in my wife's purse and our go-kits.

Another idea is to hire someone to take an inventory for you. I saw an ad for Aussie Home Inventories. The web page is well done but, of course, is selling their product.

"Did You Know Most People Find It Impossible To Create An Accurate List Of Property After A Loss?"

"Why Gamble With Your Assets, Your Home? - When the Simple Solution Is To Easily Get Prepared By Documenting Your Property Before The Loss!"

"Speed up the process of any insurance claim, by having 'at hand' accurate records."

Bottom Line
The Australian site points out that a home inventory is useful for many of life's unpleasant circumstances:

  • Fire
  • Natural disasters
  • Theft
  • Divorce (need to divide up the property)
  • Estate planning

"How Many People Wished They Had An Inventory After An Event? -All Of Them!"

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Resources for Flood Preparation

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. We must take the current when it serves, or lose our
ventures.” - William Shakespeare

I try not to copy and paste entire blog postings. I don't believe that is fair. Usually I'll summarize and highlight key points and give links to the source.

But in the case of ***Island News***Public Works: Flood-related Resources Are Available there is no way to summarize. The posting is filled with links to online resources from FEMA and Red Cross regarding flooding. How to prepare before hand and how to clean up afterward. Check it out!

Bottom Line

Be it rain, hurricanes or high rivers, very few homes are safe from flooding. We live near the top of a hill and the house at the very top flooded during the heavy rains of Hurricane Floyd. We prepared and did OK (just some leakage under our basement door.) We have layered the ground to encourage water flow around our house and down the hill.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Saving Money When Eating Out

“Why does Sea World have a seafood restaurant?? I'm halfway through my fish burger and I realize, Oh my....I could be eating a slow learner.” - Lynda Montgomery

On the article Five More Tips For Eating In Restaurants And Sticking To A Budget and the comments that follow suggest these ideas to save money:

  1. Eat Early – You get more value for your money at Breakfast and Lunch. We have local places where the price of a hamburger goes up $5 on the dinner menu.
  2. Look for places serving breakfast & lunch all day long - At many diners you can get a giant breakfast for under $10 any time of the day. Hamburger & sandwich deluxe platters should also be under $10.
  3. Don’t stuff yourself - If you do go out for dinner, immediately set aside half the plate for takeout so you’re not tempted to eat it. You’ll get two meals or more this way. (Most Dinner portion sizes are way too big to be healthy). When I order a meal special that includes a “free” desert I order my desert as takeout in a doggy bag.
  4. Share – Order the dinner special with soup, salad, etc. and share it with your spouse. Watch out for sharing fees! When we share my wife will order a token item like a bowl of soup or small salad for her “meal” since she is dieting.
  5. Order take out – Another way to avoid a sharing fee is to order the food to go. You may find that two main courses can be shared at home to feed an entire family.
  6. Order an Appetizer as your meal – Just yesterday I ordered Peking style noodles (an appetizer) and a small soup as my lunch. It was way too much food so I have leftovers for a second lunch. Be careful here. Some appetizers are disappointingly small and not a meal bargain (like bruschetta).
  7. Order the kid’s meal – this one is tricky as many places do have a age limit or restrict takeout of kids meals. But if there is no restriction, you might be quite satisfied with the child’s portion size.
  8. Watch out for Beverage prices – my wife and drink just water with lemon when we eat out. The price of soda can be $2 or more a glass and alcohol even higher.
  9. Skip dessert – Why pay $6 or $8 for a slice of pie when you can buy a whole price for the same price? Go out for ice cream instead or buy a pie to eat at home.
  10. Use Coupons – we get restaurant coupons in the mail, in the newspaper, online, etc. The best are buy one get one meal free.

Bottom Line

I love to eat out and it is not cheap. When I was unemployed over the summer, we made a rule of no meals out. And yet we did not suffer. Buy a good steak and a whole pie at the grocery and you can have a meal almost as good as eating out but at a ½ to ¼ of the cost.
Also consider why are you eating out?

  • Too tired/busy to cook? – Make large batches of pasta/lasagna on the weekend and freeze it in meal size portions for a quick microwave dinner when in a rush.
  • You like to socialize by eating out – Try dinner parties at home
  • Are you a bad cook? – take cooking classes. Ask a friend to teach you some recipes. Anyone can make mac & cheese at home!
  • For the variety – when I eat out I like to order foods I would not make at home because they are too complex or too lengthy to prepare. Why order something that you can make (perhaps better?)

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Lessons from the Minnesota Bridge Collapse

“The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn” - David Russell (Scottish classical Guitarist)
The Minnesota Monthly has an excellently written article, 110 Minutes, on the rescue attempt following the bridge collapse on August 1, 2007. I highly recommend reading all four web pages.

Like all disasters there were heroes who saved lives, mistakes that occurred, and confusion on the scene. But this story has a mostly happy ending - only 13 lives were lost when a bridge full of commuting cars crashed into the river. All survivors were rescued within 110 minutes.

The citizens of Minneapolis are fortunate that the Fire Chief, Rocco Forte, "dragged" the mayor and 80 disaster leaders to a four-day FEMA exercise prior to the collapse. “We did quite poorly,” said Forte.
From the workshop disaster planners learned the value of developing relationships with adjacent counties, cities and agencies and discovered they needed to invest in emergency management response. Forte was put in charge of a new Department of Emergency Preparedness and obtained grant money from Homeland Security. The city spent more than $25 million updating its telecommunications system, nearly $20 million on new 800 MHz radios and about $8 million on special operations teams.
During the bridge collapse crisis 100 people filled the recently created Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
Problems and tasks were listed on whiteboards on the walls of the room; there were so many that someone took a picture of the boards every two hours before it was wiped and reused. The public-works department was tapped for lights and generators, port-a-potties, and a crane on a barge. The Police Athletic League bus was commandeered to ship officers to the site. Someone from the finance department started tallying the costs almost immediately, tracking every cent the feds might reimburse.
Bottom Line

Disaster rescue is complicated. The article shows that one man, like Rick Kraft, can do a lot on the scene, but when people are trapped inside crushed cars, heavy equipment is needed. Dispatchers need to ensure the right equipment and officials (fire/police/EMT) are sent to the correct scene in the proper numbers. Police on the site need to keep the roadways free for emergency vehicles and keep a gawking public away. When rescue lasts hours or days then logistics is needed for meals, supplies, sleeping cots, porta-potties, and so on.

Follow the example of Fire Chief Forte and drag your local leaders to disaster training classes.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

MacGyver Humor

There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge. Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970)

Bottom Line

As mentioned in my earlier post, MacGyver Ready, your mind is the most powerful tool you possess. With it you can be inventive and create other tools as needed.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

When your Car is Stuck in Snow

More winter driving advice from Popular Mechanics, Get a Car Unstuck When you’re stuck.

Don’t gun the engine to get out—the tires will only dig in deeper. Instead, straighten the steering wheel, then dig out as much sand, snow or mud from around the front or rear of the tires as you can, depending on the direction you want to go. Place a floor mat snugly under a portion of each drive wheel (if your vehicle is 4wd, position a mat under each wheel). Ease the vehicle onto the mats. If there’s a passenger, have him push the vehicle in the direction you want to go. Repeat the procedure as needed, slowly progressing in the direction of travel until the vehicle is free.

If you're really desparate,

”lower the tires’ air pressure by 10 to 15 psi or until the sidewall begins to bulge. This spreads out the footprint of the tire, helping the vehicle float over terrain. Drive slowly and air the tires back up as soon as possible.” —Ben Stewart, PM auto editor

Bottom Line

A few winters ago, I slide off the road near my house and the car became stuck in the snow. A policeman stopped and watched. Would he help push? No, not allowed to! But he could call for a tow truck. Fortunately I was right across the street from a volunter fire department - they pushed my car free. Since then I've learned to use the car floor mats for traction, I carry a small snow shovel in the car and a bag of kitty litter for traction.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Winter Car Skids

A little learning is a dangerous thing but a lot of ignorance is just as bad. -- Bob Edwards

An article from Popular Mechanics covers the basics of Maneuvering your Car Out of a Skid.

Although there isn’t much you can do when your car is pirouetting out of control, you can maneuver out of two basic types of skids before things get messy.

When the front tires slip, you’re understeering or plowing. This occurs when a motorist takes a turn too fast, at too sharp an angle or uses the brake or throttle excessively. The tires lose grip and the car’s momentum pushes it straight instead of through the curve. When you lose traction up front, steering has no effect; so slow down by gently reducing throttle. The tires will eventually grip and pull you in the direction you want to go.

Rear-wheel slippage is called oversteering or fishtailing. It happens during cornering when your rear wheels exceed the limit of their lateral traction before the front tires do, causing the rear of the vehicle to head toward the outside of the corner or front of the car. For rear-wheel slippage, you need to apply “CPR”—correction, pause and recovery. Correct by steering into the direction of the skid. Pause to let the unsprung weight of the car settle and the tires grip. Recover by steering the car straight; make your movements slow but sure.

Bottom Line

“Look where you want the car to go. Stare at the pole, and you will hit the pole.” —Jeff Robillard, Skip Barber Racing School, Braselton, Ga.

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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Random Safety Tips

Better a thousand times careful than once dead. ~Proverb

Here are Random Safety Tips thanks to the amazing web site, Codename Insite.

  • Never store poisons in old food containers. People have drunk gasoline, anti freeze, etc from what they thought was a bottle of soda pop.
  • Wear your seatbelt low around your hips. If your seat belt is high up on your waist you can get serious spinal injuries in a car accident.
  • If you have old blinds with the loopy pull cords on your windows, cut the cords so they do not form a noose that can strangle young children.
  • Don't take medication prescribed for others. It might react with your meds or be too strong for your body weight.
  • If you are taking strong drugs like heavy duty pain killers or prescription meds put them in pills boxes with compartments for each day (some have morning and evening compartments). This can help avoid accidental overdoses from taking your meds twice on the same day.
  • Always wear a helmet on motorcycles and bicycles.
  • Never drink & drive.
  • Exercise every day.
  • Use tools safely at home and at work.
  • Be especially careful on ladders. Falls are quickly becoming the leading cause of death and injury.
  • Be careful crossing the street! Stats show that adults in the 45 to 65 year old range are actually more likely to be hit by a car than a child.
  • Be fire safe--have working smoke alarms, fire extinguishers on hand, and a fire escape plan.
  • Water safety is huge--swim in marked areas with a friend. Never swim alone, in situations above your swimming ability, and certainly don't dive into unfamiliar water.
  • Turkey deep fryers make a tasty turkey but they are a huge fire/burn hazard. Use this type of fryer outside and don't put too much oil in the fryer as it could over flow when you drop in the turkey.
  • Put ICE (in case of emergency) on your cell phone attached to the phone number that should be called in the event of your incapacitation. Put ICE 2 and ICE 3 if you would like to add additional contacts.
  • Have a code word with your family to alert them to a dangerous situation.

Bottom Line

  • Be proactive instead of reactive--make your home secure, get regular medical check ups, have an emergency fund for future emergencies, etc.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Fear as a Motivator

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" - FDR

A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, Survivalist businesses surge in uncertain times, noted that one business that is doing well during our recession is the business of selling survivalist goods.

"Once seen as a radical and paranoid ideology, survivalism is expanding as a business, and growing fast. Lehman's, an Ohio retailer of home self-sufficiency equipment, has recorded large sales increases, with water-pump sales up 95 percent and sales of home agriculture equipment up 50 percent from last fall. "

(BTW - if you're ever near Kidron, Ohio visit the Lehman's store. It's in the heart of Ohio Amish country and specializes in "old fashioned" equipment because that is what the Amish live by. Hurricane lanterns, wood burning stoves, hand cranked washing machines - it's like a museum but you can buy what you see. We bought some syrup for home made rootbeer, wicks for our lanterns, and other spare parts.)

"Fear is a factor that often draws people into preparedness. Pandemic, economic disaster, climate change, world war – these are some big-picture threats that some folks want to be able to counter."

"... but there are many more in America who are simply involved in preparing for down times, lean times, or disaster," says Mr. Rantala, a former US intelligence analyst. "It's logical. It's common sense."

I agree! See New Year Predictions?

Bottom Line

Doug Ritter, executive director of Equipped to Survive, says people need to be serious about how they go about purchasing peace of mind. "Are you willing to bet your life on a piece of equipment?"

Personally I recommend buying simple things that work like Cooking with Cast Iron. And also Learning Survival Skills. Diversify and have backup plans, don't put All your eggs in one basket.

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Silly 9-1-1 Calls

An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves ~Bill Vaughan
Happy New Year 2009!
For something light, I've googled silly 9-1-1 calls. Make yourself a better person this year by not repeating these mistakes!

Bottom Line

Many large cities, notably LA and NY, support the number 3-1-1 for information. A promotional website for 3-1-1 in Los Angeles described the distinction as follows: "Burning building? Call 9-1-1. Burning Question? Call 3-1-1."

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