Taking Things for Granted

It is high praise for utility providers when we take them for granted; it means they’re doing their job of providing uninterrupted, excellent service. When I turn on my faucet, I expect and receive clean water. I expect that the water going down the drain to leave my apartment in a sanitary way, to be treated and disposed of somewhere else. I expect that when I turn on the light switch, electricity flows to my lamp.
Short of very brief, tolerable outages (e.g. there was a several hour long power outage at my apartment complex the other day, due to equipment failure with Tucson Electric Power. They evidently repaired or replaced the equipment and had it back on within a few hours.), such utilities are normally extremely reliable and it’s only natural that we adapt to their presence and take them for granted.
However, if one is preparing for an abnormal situation — a natural disaster or zombie attack, for example — one needs to realize that such utilities will likely be interrupted and plan accordingly.
More posts on related topics soon.

Electronics Repair

Knowing how to repair things is one of the more important tools a prepared person can have. While increased miniaturization and performance of electronics has resulted in many devices being cheaper to replace rather than repair, there’s quite a few things which one can do to keep ones electronics in top shape while also saving a bunch of money.
Take, for example, my Garmin StreetPilot c330 GPS unit. It’s served me well over the last three years, though after enduring a blazing Arizona summer (or two), the internal lithium-ion battery was no longer able to hold a charge.
Garmin wanted $150 for an out-of-warranty replacement of the battery, which I thought was a bit hefty, so I did a bit of research online. It turns out that the battery was an “18650” lithium-ion battery, which is available at a number of retailers, including the local BatteriesPlus store. Fortunately, the local shop also had a model (PDA-210LI) of the battery which included the necessary plug to fit the circuit board of the GPS unit. While it was a bit pricier than the bare battery, it made life quite a bit easier.
Installation was rather easy: I simply needed to de-solder where the wires from the original plug (which was permanently connected to the battery) connected to the internal speakers and solder the speaker wires from the new plug to those same points. After that, it was a trivial matter of plugging the battery in and closing everything up. The battery charged up as expected and runs the GPS just fine.
This particular problem was quite simple and required only the most basic knowledge of soldering, but it ended up saving me $120. Oftentimes problems found with electronic devices are fairly simple (blown fuses, dead batteries, worn-out wire, etc.) and can be repaired using inexpensive, off-the-shelf tools (e.g. a soldering iron) and basic knowledge.
In addition to saving money, knowledge of basic electronics (and their repair) can be quite fun.

Testing Gear

Like many of my readers, I have a safe full of guns that I use for all sorts of ordinary, everyday purposes (mostly recreational shooting). I consider such ordinary uses to be effective tests of these guns for emergency purposes. What better (or more fun!) way to make sure your emergency gear is in a constant state of readiness than to test it regularly? Better to have a part break at the range when you have the time and resources to replace it than in the middle of an emergency when one cannot order replacements. (You do have spare parts for your guns, right?)
But how often do you test the rest of your gear?
I keep a Grundig FR-200 emergency radio in my emergency kit. It’s a handy little thing that runs on 3 AA batteries, but also has a DC input and a hand-crank that charges a small internal battery back. Every month or two, I take it out of its pouch, inspect the various parts (antenna and battery contacts, in particular) to make sure they’re in good working order, clean it as necessary, test the batteries, crank it for a few minutes and make sure that it’ll run off the battery pack for a while.
I do something similar with my Garmin eTrex GPS unit to make sure it’s ready to go.
Canned food, as great as it is, won’t keep forever. I’ll go through my closet now and again to ensure that stuff is getting rotated out and replaced as need be.
Being prepared for an emergency is a good thing, but be sure that your gear hasn’t given out on you when you’ve not been paying attention. Regular testing and maintenance can keep your stuff in good working order when you need it most.
How long has it been since you last checked your radio, flashlight, or canned food?

Smoke Detectors

Well, I learned tonight that my neighbor’s smoke detector is audible through the wall.
Unfortunately, this is the neighbor who goes camping a lot, and so has a few 1lb cylinders of propane in his closet. The same closet that shares a wall with my closet, where I have my safe, ammo, primers, and powder (all safely stored in accordance with appropriate regulations and common sense). Not to mention the hazmat storage container hamper for dirty laundry. Whee.
Fortunately, the alarm was set off by his cooking, and not from his apartment being on fire. When I went outside to investigate, his wife was fanning the door to blow the smoke out. I helped them silence the alarm and offered my box fan to help clear out the smoke.
At least I know that the smoke detectors are audible through the walls, which should help if there’s ever an emergency.


One of the great things about the internet is that it allows for fast, easy exchange of information with little regard for borders, censors, or other restrictions. Things like YouTube, blogging software, and effective search engines have allowed for some incredible content to be created and shared with others.
Unfortunately, it’s also resulted in kooks, who generally were shunned by real-world society (though there are a few real-life kooks, including a few “END IS NIGH”-type crazies wandering around the university with their signs), coming out of the woodwork. Take, for example, the crazy sprinkler lady — a look at her profile and the other videos seems to indicate she’s a bit of kook. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of science can easily see her various claims are utter bunk, yet she persists against all odds: clearly anyone trying to present an alternate opinion or use science is part of whatever conspiracy she wants to uncover.
In general, YouTube commenters are dumber than a bag of rocks and seriously make me weep for the future of humanity, but some just take the cake. For example, today I received a comment on one of my YouTube videos that (a) asked what aftermarket magazines I recommend for the Ruger 10/22 rifle, and (b) mentioned that the individual had found the “fastest” 10/22 full-auto conversion kit and to see the commenter’s profile for the video. Curious, I looked at the commenter’s profile, viewed the video, and was impressed by the cyclic rate of the rifle. Nothing terribly out of the ordinary, so I replied to the comment and recommended a brand or two of magazines. The user replied via private message and then offered to sell me 10/22 full-auto conversion kits, to which I replied that since the machine gun registry is closed and I’m not a Class II manufacturer, I have no desire or legal ability to make such guns.
The user then replied via private message on YouTube with a multi-page message (see below the cut) that said that AIDS is a real-life “zombie virus”, claims to have been given “military intelligence” on the topics, quotes scripture to me, and recommends a variety of different firearms for anti-zombie purposes. It was incoherent enough to suggest that the user believes it and is also a total kook, rather than someone posting it for humorous or satirical purposes. I replied, politely expressed my disinterest and asked that they not email me. They then started posting comments on my other videos calling me a kook. Go figure.
Some days, I wonder how people like this can actually figure out how to get dressed in the morning, let alone work at a productive job to afford various living expenses. The message was so rambling and incoherent, I seriously wonder how they can function in normal society. Even more frightening is the fact that they likely vote with more fervor and regularity than your average person.
I’ve posted the kook’s message below the cut, but have “encoded” it using rot13 to prevent search engines from picking up on it, associating me with such content, and driving more kooks here. Just go to the rot13 website and copy-paste the text below into the field to “decode” it.
Continue reading “Kooks”

Burning Stuff for Science and Preparedness

A year or two ago I purchased a rather large bottle of olive oil (it was on sale) in the hopes that I’d use it for cooking at whatnot. While I did use it for cooking, I used it in such moderation that it passed the “use by” date while still having about three-quarters of the bottle remaining.
I purchased a new, smaller bottle of oil and have been using that for cooking, but what was I to do with the old bottle of oil? Throwing it out seemed like such a waste, so I decided to put it to good use.
By setting it on fire.
After doing some brief searching on the internet, I discovered that many old oil lamps (prior to more modern kerosene-burning ones) burned olive oil, so I was in luck. All I needed was an oil reservoir and a wick and I could make a lamp. In addition to being a rather fun thing to do, it would also yield a useful source of long-term, low-intensity light that would be handy in extended power outages — candles are bulky and don’t burn for long, and flashlights (of which I have several) require batteries which burn out relatively fast. Olive oil is relatively safe compared to other oils, as it is very difficult to ignite without a wick, and so wouldn’t cause a massive fire if the lamp were to tip over.
I decided to start with the basics: I had an empty, clean, dry jar that used to contain spaghetti sauce and a paper towel. I punched a hole in the lid of the jar, widened it to about a quarter-inch, rolled up the towel, inserted it into the hole with about a bit more than a quarter-inch protruding, filled the jar with oil, put the lid on, and let the oil soak up into the wick. Once it was soaked, I lit it with a lighter. It took about 5-10 seconds to light, but once lit it’s burned cleanly and smokelessly for several hours. I haven’t been able to detect any odor, and the lamp is not unpleasant to be around. The paper towel wick has turned black where the flame is, but has not burned down by any noticeable amount in the last several hours.
I could go about punching more holes in the lid and adding more wicks for greater output at the expense of greater oil consumption, as well as using a better wick (I’d imagine that the paper towel will eventually degrade in the oil) like cotton or something. We shall see.
Anyway, the point was that I was able to make a very inexpensive, clean, long-burning lamp using only the most basic of household ingredients. While a mass-produced oil lamp would likely be more effective for lighting, this sort of MacGyver-esque approach is useful for people without a lot of storage space that can be dedicated to emergency supplies (such as my small studio apartment), as well as a lot more fun.
I’ll post some pictures once I find my camera. It’s somewhere around here…

UA Student Shoots Two Home Invaders

A little after midnight this morning, two men apparently chose to invade the home of a University of Arizona student.
They chose…poorly.
The 23-year-old student was not expecting anyone at that hour, and so armed himself in response to a knock at his door. The guy knocking asked for a person who didn’t live there. The student looked past the guy who was knocking and saw a masked man holding a gun. The student attempted to close the door and retreat into his house, but the men forced their way in, at which point both were shot.
[waits for thunderous applause to die down]
The student has been cooperating with the police, and did not appear to be involved in any sort of criminal activity. Pending any evidence to the contrary, I’m calling this one a “good shoot”. More details as I get them.
Some choice quotes from the article:

Ali Adelmann, a UA sophomore, just moved into the neighborhood this semester and was concerned about what happened.
“It really worries me,” the Phoenix resident said. ?All we can do is keep our doors and windows locked.?

Ali, you are aware that windows are just thin sheets of glass, right? They’re trivial to break. And you need to open your doors and windows at some point. It’s better to have an effective means of protection, like a gun, than simply relying upon a lock.

Jenny Wise also moved into the neighborhood in August. The 19-year-old sophomore said she wasn?t home at the time.
She had gone to a party and upon arriving home around 2 a.m. found her street taped off and flooded with police.
“It?s really the scariest thing,” Wise said. “I?ve lived a sheltered life. This seems like a nice little neighborhood. I don?t know what I would?ve done if two guys tried to get into my house.”

Do you have the means to protect yourself? No? Then things would probably go badly for you.
Tucson is a nice town, but that doesn’t mean that crime doesn’t exist. Maybe you should realize that not all life is like your sheltered upbringing, and that there’s a nasty underbelly to the world. You don’t need to live in fear of it, but recognize that it exists. Being prepared can save your life.
Online comments on the article at the Tucson Citizen were even more na?ve, some implying that because the student owned a gun, that he was somehow involved with criminal acts. Other comments suggested that society is going downhill because more people are choosing to arm themselves.
The moral of the story is this:

  • Having ready access to guns in your house can be a good thing.
  • Having a gun on your person when checking the door can also be a good thing — if you need it, you need it now.
  • Consider getting an intercom or speak through the door rather than opening the door at a late hour.
  • No matter how many police officers were on the beat at the time, they would be unable to help the resident. He had no time to call the police, let alone explain the situation and his location, let alone wait for the police to arrive. The responsibility for his defense was his alone.

It’s Who You Know

My next door neighbor is a very handy guy. In addition to being a fellow physics student and computer geek, he’s also a former bicycle mechanic (useful). On a somewhat more personal note, he’s also a Mormon.
Long story short, I, like The Commander, have been invited to visit the local Mormon cannery. Being able to can fresh foods at near-cost is really handy. Evidently one can also buy freshly-canned foods from the cannery, rather than having to do the canning yourself.
Leaving the religious bits aside, the Mormons certainly seem to have their ducks in a row when it comes to preparing for disasters.