Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving 2020

Since I usually write on Thursdays, I get every Thanksgiving. It looks like I'll get Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve this year as well.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday, a celebration of harvest and a day for giving thanks to whoever or whatever you credit with the blessings you've accumulated over the year. It doesn't matter if it's a deity or three, or just the person who puts food on your table. Maybe it's yourself for getting out of bed every morning and making sure you're taking care of yourself. Be thankful and give thanks to the sources of good in your life.

This year has been a mess on a lot of levels, but we should all be able to find something to be thankful for. Family, friends, food, shelter, or just surviving another year, it doesn't matter what you're thankful for as long as you can recognize that you do have blessings in your life. If you can't think of anything to be thankful for, drop me a note and I'll see if we can't find at least one blessing in your life.

Look around and see how many things went right this year instead of focusing on all of the things that went wrong. A now-departed friend used to always say that "No matter how bad your life is, someone out there has it worse," and we'd look for those poor souls. Working in 100°F heat in an open field with no shade? Yeah, at least I'm not cleaning porta-potties at a construction site in the same heat. Driving across three states for 16 hours to get to a job with no radio or air conditioning? At least I'm not stuck behind a desk in a windowless cubicle farm. Boss is a jerk and an idiot? At least I have a job that pays some of the bills while I'm looking for a better one.

Life is what you make of it. Learn from the bad parts and cherish the good parts; it'll help you be mentally prepared for the next bad part that comes along.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, and I'll see you next week.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Prudent Prepping: Far Away... or Is It?

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

I recently added very good optics to my gear, and so the topic of "How do I figure out long to very long distances in the field without a rangefinder?" came up, and by long distance I mean "How far is that hill, and how long will it take to hike there?"

Luckily for me, one of my roommates is a math tutor and was able to answer the question in terms that I, the World's Worst Math Student (tm), am able to understand.  

Working It Out

My friend started out by telling me how easy it is, using words like Cosines and Tangents. After doing my deer in the headlights impression, we got out a piece of paper and made these really easy to understand pictures. 

This is what was drawn for me:

 I can do this!

First things first: I was told that the more accurately the angles can be measured, the better the distance calculation will be. 

  1. In the drawing, aligning the start point with the target and then laying out a 90 degree angle for the base is important. 
  2. Measure as accurately as possible along that 90° angle to establish the base, shown as X.
  3. Here is where being able to get good angle measurements is important, since this will give you the vital number that plugs into your distance equation.

So the answer to the question of "If I know the distance to point X, how can I find the distance to point Y?" is to take the tangent of the angle between X and Y -- this is known as an azimuth -- and multiply it by the known distance. In other words, Distance to Y = Distance to X times the Tangent of the Azimuth. 

My next question was "How do I figure this equation?" and I was told use my phone's calculator app to get the tangent. Looking at my phone and not finding any key marked 'Tangent', I was told to hold my Android phone sideways. 

Yeah, I didn't know there were other functions. 

So, after looking at the diagram and doing some simple calculations with my phone*, I think I will be able to estimate long distances easily. I will need to learn how to use a lensatic compass to find an azimuth, but that is a cheap and worthwhile addition to my gear. Guess what I'm doing next week?

*This can be done without cell service or a phone, if you have a small solar-powered calculator with the proper function keys.

Recap And Takeaway

  • Having a disorganized mind and plenty of smart friends helps me solve lots of problems!
  • Nothing was purchased this week, but there are several items to be reviewed as soon as supporting parts arrive.
* * *

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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.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Friday, November 20, 2020

Alkaline or Rechargeable?

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
Earlier this week I received a message from a friend who asked: 
Hi there. Have you lately talked or blogged about whether to get a rechargeable flashlight? Anker has some cool ones and I like the idea of being able to recharge it. But, it also seems being able to use AA or AAA batteries is a huge convenience and doesn’t depend on having to find a plug or use a portable battery pack.

This is a very common dilemma among preppers. While there is no denying the efficiency and savings of rechargeable, there's also a huge convenience in the ability to quickly swap out exhausted batteries for fresh ones. What's a prepper to do?

My answer is to take the best of both worlds by purchasing rechargeable AA and AAA batteries to put inside your electronics, along with a recharger unit and a solar panel. This allows you to take advantage of the ready availability of alkaline batteries while also having a semi-renewable* source of power.

 Here are the preps I currently have.

At nearly $30 the Eastshine Universal Smart Battery Charger isn't cheap, but it beats the pants off of any other charger I've ever owned by a large margin with these features:

  1. It recharges more battery sizes than AA and AAA. 
  2. It recharges Li-Ion batteries as well as the more common Ni-MH and Ni-Cd.
  3. It doesn't require a pair of batteries to recharge like most others do, meaning you can mix them up as needed.
  4. It actually tells you how long it takes until charging is completed. 
  5. It comes with a 12V-24V power port adapter so that you can recharge it with your car if necessary. 

That power adapter is a critical portion of my preps. 

This is an older model (circa 2010) Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar panel. Newer versions have since done away with it, but this version has a 12V output and an adapter to accept car port chargers. This gives me the ability to recharge my batteries through the Eastshine via sunlight. 

You can still get older versions of the Nomad 7 with 12V output, but they are increasingly difficult to find as newer models are now "unisex", meaning USB output only. I don't know why this is so, but it is. 

Of course, in order to recharge batteries you need batteries to recharge, and I recommend AmazonBasics AA High-Capacity Ni-MH Rechargeable Batteries. The AA hold 2400 mAh of power, and the AAA hold 850 mAh. A four-pack of the AA costs $14.50, with an 8 pack costing $19; a four-pack of AAA costs $10.50 and an 8 pack is $17, so clearly buying in bulk whenever possible is the better deal.

This article is getting a bit long, so I'm going to stop here and make my Bug Out Bag charging solutions the topic of my next post. 

* Power cells eventually degrade to the point of uselessness. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Alternate Social Media

 As most of our regular readers know, Facebook deleted all links to our little blog a short while ago with no warning or explanation. We're not alone in that regard; there seems to be an ongoing purge of "wrongthink" on many of the major social media right now. Twitter, Facebook, and Google's YouTube are either flagging, editing, hiding, deleting, or banning any content that they deem "wrong". This is one of the pitfalls of "free" social media: you're using their services, and they get to decide how you can use them. "Free" social media make their money (a lot of money) by selling ads and several of them have been selling users' personal data to ad agencies for a long time. Again, it's "free" to use and that EULA (End-User Licensing Agreement) that nobody reads before clicking "OK" gives them the legal power to do this to a certain degree. Lawsuits and investigations are attempting to define how and what the limits are, but for those of us who prefer to live a more private life there is an easy way to avoid being treated as the product instead of the customer.

Don't give them the information in the first place.

There are alternatives on the market for the "big 3" social media. After Facebook (FB) declared us heretics, we moved our little group (200 members and growing) over to MeWe. It's not as busy as FB and we can still keep in touch by sharing information and articles. Functionally, it has the same offerings as FB without the "fact checkers" deciding who gets to speak and who gets blocked. MeWe is growing, so I expect it will soon be easier to find friends and family there. 

Let's look at some of the other options out there.

Google Search

The largest search engine on the web, Google started out as a neutral entity with the famous motto of "Don't be evil". They have morphed into a gatekeeper of information that decides who and what gets to be found when people are looking for information, and they have a very strong political ideology. Here are some alternatives:

  • Startpage. No tracking cookies and the option for private browsing. 
  • Duck duck go. No tracking of your history or location, one of the best for privacy while searching. 
  • Bing. Owned and run by Microsoft, so it has some corporate strings attached, but MS has had its hand slapped in court a few times and they're learning to play nice. 


Prior to FB we had MySpace and LiveJournal to connect with friends and share our thoughts and creative productions. They're both still active, but don't have the following that they used to. There have been many "FB killers" launched in the last few years, but none have gotten even a small fraction of the users FB has until recently. Here are a few options, with many more out there or in the works.

  • MeWe. As I've stated, MeWe isn't as active as FB, but it's growing. They don't sell your data or track you across the internet like FB and their commitment to freedom of speech is very strong. Free speech means that you may run across opinions or pictures that you don't like, but that is a small price to pay for your own freedom to speak out. Rather than getting offended, ignore and block the fools and go on with your life. Joining requires an invitation, click on the Fallout Shelter sign to the right for a link.
  • Gab. Laid out in a simpler version of FB, Gab offers most of the same features without the nannies keeping track of what you post. 
  • Diaspora. A decentralized form of social media, Diaspora uses "pods" instead of large servers to host its users. You choose which "pods" or communities you want to participate in. 
  • Discord. Another that requires an invitation to join, Discord was set up for gamers as a way to chat in test or voice while playing various games. Very light moderation of "boards", they allow a lot that would get you booted from FB. There is limited ability to share pictures and videos, mostly text chat and audio channels. There is a BCP Discord, you can find it by using the search box in the upper left corner.


I've never been a huge fan of 140 character messages, but I know some of you are. Twitter has gone off the deep end in the last year or two, banning anyone with views contrary to theirs. Many of the folks who have been kicked off Twitter or effectively silenced by being excluded from search results have found other outlets for their pithy pronouncements.

  • Parler. Quickly becoming the new place for people who are tired of Twitter, Parler is a viable alternative.
  • Mastodon.  Decentralized and ad-free, Mastodon is laid out like Diaspora in a "pod" or community format. User-owned, so there is no corporate desire to farm your information for more revenue.

YouTube (owned by Google), Reddit, and several other social platforms are all in the same boat as FB and Twitter. The encroaching censorship and banning of any "wrong" expression of users is forcing people to find other ways to communicate. 

Use common sense when you use any online method of communication. Unless you have some serious encryption, everything you say can be intercepted and recorded. Corporations use this information to target advertising and build a profile of you and your activities, governments use it to track and monitor your activities with law enforcement being their main goal.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Ice Storm Aftermath

As you probably heard, a large part of Oklahoma (and a couple of other states) had an ice storm two weeks ago, which led to all kinds of fun with limbs/trees breaking and power lines down. Here are some things that stood out for me:

Unless you have some kind of heater that doesn’t need a blower, no power means no heat. Several years ago I bought an indoor-safe kerosene heater; after assembling, fueling, testing, then draining and prepping it it’s been in storage ever since. If it’s seriously cold outside it won’t make the whole house toasty, but it will take the edge off, and if you can close off other rooms it’ll keep two to three (depending on size) of them a lot more comfortable. Mine is similar to this model

Two notes on the heater: 
  1. Use only K1 kerosene; it burns cleaner and has less smell to it.
  2. There is a fuel stabilizer available for kerosene that both prevents it from picking up moisture in storage, and kills even more of the scent. It worked pretty well here.

Being a fan of flashlights I’ve got several, and I have a nice LED battery-powered lamp (I now have two). I also have two of these Aladdin kerosene lamps. They put out a lot of light and some heat, which is always a good thing in cold weather. They’ll light up a room pretty well, and if you have something shiny to put behind them as a reflector*, you can direct the light better.

You have to watch these, as if you try to turn them up too high too soon you can wind up with the flame touching the mantle** inside and it’ll start smoking and smelling. And you really should fuel them outside. Same notes for lamp fuel as for the heater.

Whether oil lamp or candles, you need either matches or lighters. I have at least half a dozen butane lighters, but I could only find two of the damn things. I need to buy another pack of them, and paint them orange or something. Also, the new ‘green’ version of ‘strike anywhere’ matches suck compared to the old ones.

On battery lights: have spare batteries. Buy good ones, as they have a longer shelf life, and my personal desire is to have more than I think I might need.
* I’ve got a roll of 10” wide, 10 feet long aluminum roof flashing. It’s good for lots of things, and it makes great reflectors. 

 ** The mantle is a chemically-treated gauze cone that sits above the circular wick inside the chimney. It's a good idea to have a spare one, just in case. 

Cooking and Fuel
If you have an electric stove, a propane camping range is really nice to have when the power goes out. I wouldn’t want to try to cook a fancy meal on one (partly because I’m lazy), but it’s handy for heating water, soup and such. Also, make sure you have stuff that’s easy to heat for it: soup, stew (canned or dried), hot chocolate, tea, coffee, things like that.

Make sure you have kerosene and propane before you need it! This was an unseasonable storm, and while I had enough of both fuels to get through, it would’ve been better if the kerosene can had been full and a couple more propane cylinders would’ve been nice.

If you go the kerosene route, check farm & garden stores as you can often get K1 there for a lot less than buying it by the gallon at a store, or buying lamp oil (which is just a somewhat more-purified kerosene). Have a fuel can that’s NOT red, so it’s obvious which one contains what.

Other Thoughts
When you go outside, make damn sure you’re dressed for it and be careful about walking. In this case (other than overpasses and some bridges) the roads and walks never iced, but you don’t want to just stroll out and land on your ass- or head- because your porch did ice up.

Have some cash on hand. A debit or credit card isn’t much use if the network is down.

Finally, know in advance where to get dry ice. I lost the stuff in the refrigerator, but was able to get enough to keep the big stuff in the freezer safe. It wasn’t easy to find, either I knew where to look, but the demand was high.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Gerber Armbar Drive

I've been carrying some variety of a Swiss Army Knife for going on 30 years. I started with a penknife as a small boy, upgrading to a couple other varieties before settling into the Victorinox Tinker I've carried for the past 15 years or more. My dad carries one, my grandfather carried one, and millions of other folks do every day as well. They're a solid, simple, affordable tool that is popular for a reason.

With all that said about them, the Swiss Army Knife (or SAK for brevity) has some weaknesses: They can get overly complicated in a hurry, many of the tools are less-than-ideal compromises, and the blades are rather lacking. They're thin, short, and with an odd profile. They serve average users fairly well, but they fall down a bit when called on for more intense tasks.

Enter the Gerber Armbar Drive. It comes across as both stripped-down and a bit futuristic. It has an open frame and a single aluminum scale to protect it from everything else that rides in your pocket, and has almost exactly the same dimensions as the Tinker is it replacing. It doesn't have all of the tools a Swiss Army Knife carries, but it takes the most useful ones and implements them far better.

Starting with the knife itself, we have a Wharncliffe profile blade designed to be opened with one hand and with a thicker and stronger construction than the traditional SAK blade. The blade is the only tool on that side of the knife, allowing for stout construction and lockup. It also uses a liner lock for enhanced safety.
The opposite side of the tool contains a pair of very functional scissors, a short awl, and the screwdriver that gives the tool the name "Drive." Each of these tools features a hook on the spine for easy individual opening. 

  • The scissors have extra long blades compared to most multitools, and fit and slice tightly. 
  • The awl is short and sharp, and constructed in such a way that it can be easily resharpened, unlike traditional SAK awls. 
  • The screwdriver is a 1/4" hex bit holder that comes with a Phillips/Slotted driver bit. It has a magnet to hold the bit and can take any 1/4" screwdriver bit. 
  • My only concern with this tool is that the magnetic bit holder feels a touch fiddly, like the bit may fall out at some point.

On the end opposite the tools is a folding tool steel end cap. When opened, it claims to serve as both a bottle opener and a pry bar; the bottle opener functionality is there, but I have yet to test the pry bar claim and am a touch skeptical. In the folded position, Gerber claims it works as a hammer, something else I have yet to test and again am skeptical on. As opportunity arises, I'll certainly test these claims, and see if my skepticism is warranted.

There are two tools that my SAK has that I miss on the Armbar Drive, however. I actually got a fair bit of use from the P38-style can opener when camping, and I used the file quite a bit as well (mostly on my fingernails, but still). Unfortunately, I don't see a way they could have readily fit them into the knife's footprint without making it overly large. 

Everything in pocket knives and multitools is a compromise, and the Armbar compromises well.


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