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Friday, December 14, 2018

Get Home Bag 2.0, Part 1

Well here I am sorting and packing from lessons learned on the long dark walk home. Forgive me the length; I tried, but there are too many nuggets for one episode.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Computer Disasters and Recovery

Three and a half years ago, I wrote an article about prepping for an upgrade to Window 10. It's still relevant, because there are still people using earlier versions of Windows, but I need to expand on having a “Live CD/USB” on hand before starting.

Most laptops and desktops sold today run some flavor of Windows. I can hear the Apple fans winding up in the background, but I am going to ignore them for one very good reason: I have no experience working with Apple products. I'm not going to try to give advice on something I know nothing about, so if you run anything with a Macintosh OS, you'll have to look elsewhere. Proprietary hardware tends to require specialist repair, so I stick with what is readily available and somewhat open-source.

I am the default IT tech for most of my family and a few close friends. I'm not a computer expert -- I have no schooling or certifications to put on a resume -- but I've been working with them since the days of punch-cards. I've built most of my own desktops over the last 30 years, and have learned a lot through research and by making mistakes. Upgrading the operating system (OS) used to be something that had to be done every two or three years, so I've had plenty of practice.

Repairing or restoring computers has been a puzzle that I've mostly enjoyed for quite a few years, and one of my most important tools is a “Live CD”. This is a method of repairing (or at least accessing) the software on your computer, and will not work if the hardware has been damaged. A PC with an intact hard drive can be salvaged by installing the drive in an external enclosure, but the possibility of a broken hard drive is the reason we have to back up our data.

(Sorry, but the tools and techniques for recovering data from a broken hard drive are way beyond a blue-collar budget. That is a specialist service reserved for governments and corporations with large budgets.)

Windows 10 is a fairly stable OS after three years of tweaks and updates. I know it has problems -- name something in this world that doesn't -- and a few of those problems can keep your PC from running. Viruses and malware are the main issues, but once in a while you'll find a corrupted file or two that will shut everything down and lock you out of your important files. Since I'm writing this on a PC and you're likely reading it on one, we can agree that they have become an important part of our daily lives. We can survive without them, but they usually make life easier and allow us to store huge amounts of information in a very small space. If you have your important data or documents stored on a computer and it locks up for some reason, here's one method to try to get them back.

Live or Rescue CD
A “Live” CD or USB stick will contain a complete OS capable of being run from the CD/USB. You don't need to install anything; just insert the media and boot up your PC. Most computers made in the last ten years or so will try to boot (start) from the CD/USB before trying the hard drive. If not, you'll need to interrupt the startup sequence by pressing F8 or the Delete key right after you hit the power button. You may have to hit that key repeatedly just to make sure you send the interrupt signal at the correct time.

Once you see a screen like the first picture below, you'll have to scroll through the options in the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) to set the “boot sequence” to try to start from the CD/USB first. An example is shown in the second picture. The BIOS is software that is installed on the main board of your PC at the factory. There are several different BIOS types, but they will all have the same basic options. Follow the prompts to save the changes and restart your PC with the Live CD in the drive.

Once your computer reboots using the Live CD/USB, you'll have a very small operating system that will allow you some access to your files. You can use this chance to back them up to another drive or attempt to repair your original OS if that is an option.

Which Live/Rescue CD should I choose?
Almost all of them run some flavor of Linux, a free OS that has been around for many years. It's free because most of the development is “open-source”, meaning that it's done for free by enthusiasts and not a corporation. Updates are tracked on free websites, and there are several equally good version out there. There are issues like lack of drivers for new software until someone gets around to making them, which keeps most non-geeks from using Linux, but it is also hard to write viruses and malware that will work which means it's more secure.

I have several copies laying around for differing uses. Here are my top picks:

A very powerful toolbox full of programs that will let you access and repair most software problems. I've used this one several time to restore laptops that were  dropped and had bad portions of their hard drives.

This one has been around since the days of floppy drives, and it still works. If you see someone on eBay selling a rescue CD, they have probably just burned a copy of this free utility and are charging for someone else's work.

For when you want to access a computer but don't have the password, or you don't want to leave any traces of your activities. This one is a hacker's friend, because it will let you into a locked computer once you've learned how to use it, but it also has ethical uses like accessing computers locked by ransomware. This one is for advanced users due to some of the anonymity features.

This is a complete replacement for Windows, but will run from a USB stick and let you into your files. I've run several computers on Ubuntu over the years, and it was the OS I installed on the laptop I gave my 75 year-old completely computer-illiterate mother. She couldn't screw it up in 5 years of trying, so it's safe to say it's a stable, secure system.

As we've written before, always back up your important data, but if you lose access to your files and haven't done a recent backup, one of these tools may help. They're free, so it costs no more than what you will pay for the CD or USB stick to store it on and it's always nice to have more tools around. My main problem is finding where I put the blasted CD, so I end up downloading it again for every job.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Prudent Prepping: December Round-Up

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping. 

I have several things that need mentioning and can't make them a separate post.

Son of First Aid
My first post on first aid and its follow-up received many comments, all of them appreciated. I have no problem being educated on topics I know very little about, like first aid and tourniquets. In fact, I have no problem with listening to anyone talk to me about most anything related to prepping!
My two pack of tourniquets arrived last Sunday, and so I'm returning the loaner to the Master Chief. Next on my list is learning the proper way to use them correctly. Google and YouTube may be a friend, but I need a life saver to walk me through the proper steps. My local Red Cross doesn't have anything going until the new year, so I have to wait.

Disaster Relief
My local Food Bank, Contra Costa/Solano County is directly helping the people displaced by the Butte County/Paradise fire. They've been delivering food to the area since the 20th of November and are now in their usual drive to help the local people too. If you have a mind to donate, the information is in the linked web page. Thanks!

Holiday Gift Ideas
Crank Flashlight
Go and check out your local Big Box store for special buys and close-outs! I found this Emergency Flashlight just by walking down the aisle.

This has been shown before and is now a Special Buy, non-stock item in my two closest Home Depot stores. It works as advertised and is almost sold out! If I didn't have any backup power plans this would be under my tree or in my stocking!

Look for the large selection of under $10 battery flashlights too. There are some reasonable sized AA and AAA lights that I'm giving out to friends this year.

The Takeaway

The Recap
  • Nothing was purchased this week, but the two pack of tourniquets is still a screaming deal and in limited supply when I checked.

Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Alternative Use of a Pencil Sharpener

After my video about Improper Use of a Cheese Grater, folks asked about using a cheap pencil sharpener to make tinder. This week I did a video to compare the two.


Monday, December 10, 2018

Prepping for Hypoglycemia

Most preppers assume that when the apocalypse happens, they will be fighting zombies, killing aliens, and fending off invasions of leather-clad bikers that seem to have endless supplies of motorcycle parts for when things break.

While they’re doing that, though, some of them will have to face unfortunate health problems that make it somewhat more difficult to keep stabbing bikers all day long or wading into zombie hordes and cleaving skulls with a broadsword. In my case, I am speaking of hypoglycemia.

What It Is

Hypoglycemia, at its root, is the condition of not having enough sugar in my blood. Hypoglycemics have to make sure that they maintain the minimum level of sugar in their blood needed for their brain, nerves, and various organs to continue normal operation.

People who know about hypoglycemia will think that symptoms are limited to low energy and irritability. This is true, but there's more to it than that; I know several people who actually went blind due to their lack of blood sugar (thankfully for them it was temporary, but very disconcerting). Worse, a hypoglycemic will often have trouble thinking when their blood sugar get low, in part because they literally do not have the fuel needed for their brain to think properly, often making it hard for them to realize they need to fix the problem. If it can sneak up on a person in daily life, think how much more common it would be during a disaster and how difficult it would be to fix.

How It Happens

There can be several reasons that a person might be hypoglycemic, ranging from an under-active pancreas to a problematic reaction to medicine such as metformin, a common diabetes medication. I also know at least one person who had a hypoglycemic reaction after having an allergic reaction. Hypoglycemia can be caused by all sorts of things, so please keep that in mind.

There are different triggers for the condition, with the most common one being not eating a regular diet and overexerting yourself. Untreated, it can lead to all sorts of things, including coma and death. Thankfully, whatever the cause, it has the same treatment.

Treatment: The Stack

When you're treating a hypoglycemic, remember the stack. Incidentally, this is also useful when working with pregnant women who have trouble keeping food down but still need the full range of nutrition provided by normal foods.
  1. At the bottom of the stack you have simple carbohydrates. These are things like hard candy, sugary drinks, crackers, and bread. They are the easiest to break down in your body and are the least likely to be rejected by an upset stomach. This is the first thing that you want to give to a hypoglycemic, since it will allow their body to function correctly until you can put more substantial food into them.
  2. Once some of that simple sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream, you can put slightly more complex carbohydrates -- fruit, whole wheat bread, Snickers bars, and most commercial Nutri-Grain type bars (not a lot of protein, typically has a fruit filling) -- into the body without as great a fear of rejection.
  3. After that, add protein like beef jerky, protein bars, and steak. These take a little longer for your body to break down, but they allow it to continue having energy for longer.
  4. Finally, and if you have the opportunity, add fats for ongoing energy, usually in the form of cooked food. I'm a fan of saturated fats like coconut oil or most animal fats like butter or lard, but I know people who stick to primarily vegetable fats for things like this. 
  5. Whatever you choose, keep in mind that if someone has low blood sugar, they will have a harder time absorbing whatever you feed them, so it is best to give them a little bit of food that they can digest, and then something bigger.
I actually like using trail mix for the beginning of the stack, followed by a protein bar and beef jerky. They're easy to carry, take up little space, and keep well in all climates. 

Whatever you choose, even if it's just commercially prepared glucose tablets, please make sure that if you are prepared to check on the medical needs of the members of your group. A little bit of preparedness now can save a lot of grief later.

Good luck, and don’t forget to eat something. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Leave No Stuff Behind?

Back in November I did a series on getting home after an EMP. In one of my videos, I was in my car going through my gear and deciding what to take and what to leave, but it was too dark to see everything. This video solves that with an inventory review in the daylight.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Little Things Add Up

A lot of the ads that I see in the prepper magazines and online offer food and other supplies in large quantities. The common “year's supply” of food for one person starts at around $1000 and there is no upper limit. I'm seeing a year's worth of MREs going for $5-10,000 depending on the vendor.

Shelter is often sold the same way; tents are still fairly cheap, but buying/building a cabin or underground shelter starts to get into the “second home” price range. Folks around here that live in a flood plain (which means they have no basements) have been buying tornado shelters that sit in their garages. These are essentially a concrete box with a heavy door and which cost as much as a good used car. Getting pricing is difficult due to the costs of shipping and varying local codes and conditions, but I've seen reports on underground concrete bomb shelters that cost $100,000 and up. Around here, $100k will get you a starter home in a small community.

Firearms are another field where every “expert” has his/her ideal combination of “required” guns that everyone should own. A quality handgun, shotgun, and rifle combo will start at around $1500 and again, there is no upper limit.

This form of sticker shock can be daunting to new preppers. Being expected to shell out large sums of money that they don't have is one of the more common replies I get when I ask friends why they don't prepare more. If all you read is the ads, prepping looks too expensive for a lot of people, but that's not the case. There's no reason anyone should be expected to pay out a year's wages just to get the basics covered. If you have an extra $100k laying around and can spend it on preparation, more power to you, but you're in the minority; most of us have to take another route.

It's been stated that anything can be built given enough time, money, and manpower, and that a shortage of any one of those three can usually be made up for by increasing the other two. A prime example is the Burma Road project of 1937-38, when the decision was made to build a road from British-held Burma through the lower end of the Himalayas into China to supply Chinese troops fighting the Imperial Japanese Army shortly before WW2. 200,000 laborers built 717 miles of road through mountainous terrain in less than two years, mostly by hand. Time was short, but manpower was plentiful and money was available, so two of the three made it possible. Building up your supplies can be accomplished in the same manner.

If you don't have the money, invest your time and manpower. Repairing/modifying your gear, preserving your own food, and building your own shelter are three good examples of this. I know that canning and drying your own food allows people with food allergies the option of having stored food since very little to none of the commercially produced stuff completely is free of gluten, soy, dairy, or nuts. Storm shelters can be built by hand with a small crew a lot cheaper than having a precast box delivered, but it will take a lot more time.

If you have the time to do the research and money is coming in slowly (I know people with a “preps” line in their monthly budget), start small and trade up to what you want. I have a friend who really wanted a top-end 1911A1 pistol, but couldn't afford the $3000 price tag. He started by buying a cheaper, polymer-framed pistol in .45ACP and as his budget allowed, he traded it for a lower-priced 1911A1. After three or four more trades he eventually got the pistol that he wanted, but it took him a couple of years and he probably spent a bit more that the $3000 due to losses in trade value. At no time was he ever without a serviceable pistol, and he didn't have to go into debt to get the one he really wanted, both of which were important to him.

If time is short, getting what you want is going to be expensive. If you've ever been around when a natural disaster strikes, you'll know all about the price-gouging and profiteering that happens with essentials like water, fuel, and generators. It's human nature, and the law of supply and demand is about as flexible as the law of gravity. Manpower can mitigate this a bit if you have the bodies available to seek out smaller supplies at more reasonable prices.

If you're alone or working with a small team, money will make things happen faster but time is usually what gets spent. I could spend thousands of dollars to stockpile ammunition for the various firearms I own, but I prefer to spend a couple of hundred to buy the equipment and supplies to reload. Spent brass is cheap (or free), and the components cost about 25% of what store-bought ammo does. I can also tailor my ammo for specific guns, increasing my accuracy which means more efficient hunting.

Don't let the lists and big price tags scare you away from getting better prepared. Break things down into smaller, more manageable pieces and take them on one at a time. The old joke about “How do you eat an elephant?” applies: One bite at a time.

The Fine Print

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