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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Avoiding Craigslist Scams

I've been thinking about buying an RV for quite a while, and I finally accumulated enough money in my savings account, so I started looking around to see what prices were like. I'm not looking for another bug-out vehicle; just something that I can load the wife into and do some travelling. It'd be nice to see friends who live in other parts of the country while maintaining control of my own security and being able to travel with things that would be difficult to take on an airplane. (Spam cans of ammo are heavy, firearms don't always make it to their destination via the airlines, and I trust the TSA about as far as I could throw one of them.) Having optional living quarters is also comforting when I start thinking about the various disasters that could keep me out of my house.

We have some well-established camper sales lots in my area, one of them having been in the same location for almost 60 years. I know people who work (or have worked) there, and I have dealt with a few of the companies over the years while repairing campers for friends. Buying a new camper is worse than buying a new car: the market is a lot smaller and there is less competition, so the sales-weasels will try to get you to buy way more than you'll need. I looked at some of the new prices -- I can buy a house in this area cheaper than some of the 5th-wheel trailers go for, and I'd have to buy a better truck to tow it with. The new Class A (self-contained and self-propelled) campers all start at more than I paid for my last two houses combined.

I'm getting close to retirement age, and most of my money is tied up in trying to get set to survive living without a daily job, so buying new is not an option. (Give me a few more years and the house will be paid off and I will be debt-free.) If you have a few tens of thousands of dollars laying around or don't mind taking out a loan (neither fits me), then a new camper, trailer, or motor home might be an option. For me, I knew I would be buying something used, probably needing repairs, and I needed to keep the price below $10,000. I started with Craigslist.

Craigslist is easy to navigate and a lot of people like it because it's free. Most listings have pictures (this is important) and a price in the title, and the search function on the left-hand side bar gives options like min/max price and distance from your location. There are warnings about scams at the bottom of the page, but those don't go far enough. The scammers are looking for three things; your money, your contact information, and your personal data. If they can just take your money, they will. If they can't do that, they'll be looking to steal your identity or at least add your contact information to the files of other thieves. Some people are too trusting, and there are always jackals out there looking for some way to get money without having to work for it. Here's what I ran into and how I learned to avoid the scammers.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Nobody is going to sell a five-year-old RV for a couple of thousand dollars. Nobody is going to deliver an RV (more than a few miles) for free. One scammer told me they'd deliver an RV from 1200 miles away for just the cost of gas. That fails the smell test, since they'd be eating all of the lodging and meals for travel both ways.

Read the Ad Carefully
One of the warnings that Craigslist offers is “buy local”. If you are looking at an ad in a local Craigslist and it doesn't have at least a city listed, it's probably a scam. None of the sellers that I contacted who didn't have a location in the ad were local.

Compare Prices
Looking at other used RV selling sites will give you an idea of what RVs similar to the one you're looking at are selling for. There are so many brands, models, and options available that it is unlikely you'll find an exact duplicate, but you'll find something close. Rvtrader is a site with a lot of listings, so it is likely you'll find something similar to what you're looking at. RVT is another option with 100k listings for variety.

Look At the Pictures
If you see text over the picture that isn't advertising a dealership, it's probably a scam. I use a browser add-on called Tineye to reverse-search images that I find on the internet. If the same picture is being used for listings in multiple states, it's a scam. A lot of scammers grab pictures from legitimate RV dealerships and use them in their ads, so watch for other ads to pop up in the results. Google offers a reverse-search option for images that works, but isn't as convenient.

Sharpen Your Search Skills
There are a few online sources of average prices for used RVs, with NADA being the most respected. They are the “Blue Book” that you'll hear referred to in used vehicle ads.

If there is a phone number in the listing, look at the area code and see if it is local to the area. I'm in a fairly sparsely-populated state, so I only have to deal with a half-dozen area codes within 200 miles in any direction. A lot of larger cities have that many many area codes just within the city limits. Internet searches for phone numbers aren't very useful anymore, because they all want payment for any information and a few of the cell phone companies don't even release their data to the public.

Have a Good Spam Filter On Your Email
Craigslist offers an anonymous email option for contacting sellers; use it! Don't give out your actual email address until you have made some effort to make sure you're not dealing with a scammer. Spam filters and throw-away email addresses will give the spammers something to play with. Gmail actually does a good job of filtering out the idiots, and I've noticed that hotmail and yahoo are getting better.

Exchanging Money
Once the scammer has you hooked, they are going to try to get your money. Western Union, wire transfers, money orders, gift cards, and fake escrow companies are the options to look out for. They are all one-way transfers, which means that once you have sent it, the money is gone; none of these options give you any recourse if the deal falls through or the product isn't as advertised. PayPal may be an option, and offers some options for disputing a sale. Be aware that eBay does NOT offer an escrow service, regardless of what a seller may tell you! I've dealt with eBay for 20 years, three of them as a seller, and I know their services quite well. (Check their FAQ here.) A legitimate escrow service will charge a fee for their services, so if you use one you need to negotiate who is going to pay that fee.

I prefer cash, but that has its own problems. Carrying large sums of cash to a location of the seller's choice is probably not a good idea. Practice situational awareness, have someone else with you for security, and walk or drive away if anything looks wrong. Banks will ask a lot of questions if you try to get anything over $1000 out of your accounts, due to federal anti-drug laws. I have a 30-year relationship with my bank and my banker is used to me dealing in cash, but if I hit a different branch I have to answer questions before they'll give me my own money. I've only had to complain once in those 30 years and my banker took care of it for me.

Titles and Paperwork
The best bet is to get a “clear” title: no liens, not stolen, with all of the required signatures in the right places, and nothing erased or covered with white-out will make your visit to the DMV/county tax station a lot easier. Be sure to  check your state laws, since they vary so much, on the different types of titles -- here in Iowa we have regular, salvage, and “prior salvage” titles. Once a vehicle has been damaged to the point where repairs will cost 50%+ of the value, you can get a salvage title. With a salvage title, you can't get it registered (license plates) or drive it on the road legally. Once repaired and inspected by a state official, we can apply for a “prior salvage” title and get it plated. You will not be likely to get a loan on any vehicle with anything other than a clean, regular title.

Any sale without a title is a problem. State laws vary, but to get a replacement title without a current registration in hand you're going to have to jump through some hoops. The DMV will have to do a title search, which gets tedious if they have to contact another state, and then determine that it wasn't reported stolen or totalled by an insurance company. Most states will try to contact the last owner to make sure it wasn't stolen. Then they will have to inspect it and issue a new title, which adds more delays. Unless you're buying an RV for parts, I'd avoid the hassles of buying one without a title.

I managed to find a motor home in my price range about an hour from home on Craigslist and will be writing more about it once I get it home. I need to get cash from the bank to pay for it, so it will be sometime this week before I drive it back and start working on it. It has some issues, but is mechanically sound and none of the damage is irrepairable.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Prudent Prepping: 6 Month Gear Check

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

My calendar alert went off, which means that now is the time to start looking at dates on my stored food and swapping out those things close to their sell by dates. After my food, I check everything that's kept in my GHB, my Buckets of Holding and my pantry shelves.

I do have a system that lets me see everything, but it does take a bit of time to go through all of it. I also have to set alarms before the regular 6 month check if I find items that will go past their dates, since all food I don't eat myself goes to the local Food Bank.

If my finances ever improve, some of my emergency food will rotate out and their freeze dried replacements will be at the top of my list. So far, I'm finished with the buckets, and the only things close to going out within two months are hot chocolate and canned chicken breast.

Canned Chicken Breast

The chicken I buy is Member's Mark Premium Chunk Chicken Breast from Sam's Club

From their web site:
  • ​Fully cooked chicken breast in water
  • Minimally processed
  • Contains only three ingredients, nothing artificial
  • 98% fat free
These are 12.5 oz cans packaged in a six pack, and I try to not buy more than one pack at a time to reduce the hit to my food budget. I really like the can size for because it gives me the option of eating the whole thing as a meal, or sharing it, or mixing it into other things.

Hot Chocolate

The other item that I originally purchased from Sam's Club is Land O'Lakes Cocoa Classics Variety Pack, unfortunately no longer stocked there. If I want to have an assortment of flavors, it appears I will have to order the same multi-pack from Amazon, and I really like the assorted flavors and pack count in the boxes.

From the Product Description:

  • 5 Delicious Flavors : Chocolate Supreme, French Vanilla, Arctic White, Mint and Caramel
  • Just add hot water!
  • Good Source of Calcium
  • Made The Old Fashioned Way, Like Mom Used To Do. We Put The Nonfat Dry Milk In So All You Do Is Add Hot Water
  • Total: 42 Servings, 5 Different Varieties, 6 Envelopes of Each Arctic White, French Vanilla and Caramel. 12 Envelopes of Chocolate Supreme and Mint
Since Mint is not a favorite flavor of chocolate, I leave it in the buckets and put another flavor in my GHB and on my pantry shelf.

There is some pasta, sauce, and a few other things being rotated out by the fall, so I've set alerts for this time every month up through November.
The Takeaway
  • Rotate food to keep things fresh.
  • Donate quantities that can't fit on my pantry shelves.
  • Keeping interesting flavors stocked for an emergency can reduce stress.

The Recap

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, July 18, 2017

Replace Your Lights With LEDs

I've recently begun converting the light bulbs in my house to LED. It's a quick, simple upgrade that any prepper could benefit from.

Why LED?
Just a few years ago, LED lighting was expensive, very niche, and tough to find. Even industry professionals were skeptical about LED for residential use, and for good reason, as manufacturers made huge claims that rarely came true.

Intervening years and economy of scale have since righted the course of residential LED lighting, and the cost of screw-in LED light fixtures has fallen almost to the level of a compact fluorescent light (CFL). Power consumption is roughly 10% of a traditional incandescent, or half of a CFL. In addition to the lower energy bills, many electric utilities are offering rebates and other incentives to convert to LED.

There are three other reasons that I am a fan of LED lighting.
  1. Heat: LEDs put out far less heat than the alternatives. This means less general heat in your home, but it also means less heat in your light fixtures and wiring boxes. Heat in these locations can cause damage to wires and fixtures, and sometimes even fire.
  2. Safer Construction: They usually use plastic instead of glass for the globe (something made possible by lower heat). They also don't contain toxic chemicals like mercury that can cause a health hazard when broken.
  3. Overall Quality of Light: Fluorescent lights have a pulsing strobe effect, which gets worse as they age. This is known to be a major headache trigger, even causing migraines in some people. In addition, it can negatively affect mood in people with certain mood or environmental disorders. LED lighting doesn't pulse and is just generally "cleaner."
Shopping for LEDs
There are two ways to convert to LED lighting. The first is to buy dedicated replacement fixtures, which are  painless to install and require little or no maintenance or work after installation. They are also quite a bit more expensive up front. From a prepper standpoint, it's best to look at these fixtures only if you have an existing fixture that needs replacement anyway, and if you have any doubt about your ability to replace a fixture, please call a qualified electrician.

The much easier way is to replace your light bulbs and fluorescent tubes with LED lights that install into your existing fixtures like any other lamp, and last an average of 8-10 years before needing replacement. Replacements are available for almost all lamps made in the past 30 years.

When purchasing LED replacement lamps, there are two unique things on the packaging to pay attention to. The first is if the package is marked as "dimmable." If you have or want a dimming switch in your room, you'll need dimmable lamps. Otherwise, they produce an undesirable flickering light.

The second unique packaging notation is the wattage. LED packaging usually shows two wattage ratings. One will be tiny, usually a single digit; this is the actual wattage that the light uses. The other will look more like the wattage you expect on an incandescent bulb and is called the "wattage equivalent", which is the size of incandescent bulb you would expect to replace and get the same amount of light. Swap these out like you would any other bulb and forget about them for a decade.

Save money, save effort, and possibly improve your health with LED lighting.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #152 - Facepalm, Give a Sigh, Everybody Roll Their Eyes

This episode is brought to you by the letters W, T, and F, and the number 8.
  • It’s more than just a mom’s dilemma: What do you do when you’re too busy to get to the range for some recoil therapy? Beth gives us some advice.
  • What kind of person cuts, strangled and tries to rape a woman? Sean takes a closer look.
  • What happens when an insurance company decides that they’d like to “help” their customers by sending them information on a USB stick? Barron facepalms himself so hard that he gets a concussion, that’s what.
  • Miguel wanted a break from ranting, so he pulled some books from his book pile. This week, he’s recommending two: The Siege and Jim Cirillo’s Tales of the Stakeout Squad.
  • GunBlog VarietyCast Radio is proud to introduce Special Guest Charl van Wyk to our show. Mr. van Wyk was a member of the Saint James Church in Capetown, South Africa, when it was attacked by terrorists, and he was able to save the lives of many by returning fire with his pistol. In the second of a three-part interview series, Charl tells us how he went from being an ordinary young man to a responsibly armed citizen.
  • Tiffy’s back, back again. Tiffy's back, tell a friend. In this installment of The Bridge, Tiffany talks about that Dana Loesch video and what it means to her.
  • Following up on her segment on "proprioception", Erin explains how our brains think of loved ones as extensions of ourselves, and why losing them is like losing a limb. 
  • Protect Minnesota is against a new bill that would bring Stand Your Ground to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Weer’d is back with part three of his three-part series on their anti-self defense press conference.
  • And our Plug of the Week is for the Plugable Pro8 Docking Station.
Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.
Thanks to LuckyGunner and Remington for their sponsorship, and a special thanks to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript -
To Our Brains, Loved Ones Are Limbs
In last week’s segment about proprioception, I asked the question “if an inanimate object can be considered part of someone’s body by the brain, then why not another living being?”

And the answer is “This already happens. We just don’t realize it as such.”

The classic example is a mother with a baby. The act of bonding with that child produces critical changes within the mother’s brain, re-wiring parts of it. While it can be joked that we now have definitive proof that having kids causes brain damage, these changes are in fact vital for the continuation of our species.

When you think about an infant in a clinical, objective sense, what you see is a helpless bundle of needs that feeds parasitically, consumes resources and deprives sleep, and generally acts as a detriment to the parent. Without these changes to the brain, humans would not love their children as themselves, and we would see a huge increase in infant death.

But the fact remains that parents love their children as their own flesh, because their proprioception, their body map, has extended into the child. We see this most strongly in mothers whose arms ache to hold their children. As those children grow, the body map slowly changes to accommodate the growth; the need to hold morphs into a need to have them on your lap, which evolves into the need to hold their hand. This is why parents will forever see their children as, well, children; there’s still a part of them that years to hold us and cuddle us in the same way that those of us who have pets still sometimes wish our dogs and cats were still puppies and kittens.

But this proprioception of another as ourselves doesn’t begin and end with children. It happens with those we love, as well. When you think about it, sex violates the desire of the body to keep its DNA and fluids to itself, but in order to reproduce, we need to bypass this isolationist urge. Seeing our lover as a partial extension of ourselves is how our brains trick our body into violating one of the key principles of our immune system.

This is why losing a loved one causes an aching sense of absence that is above and beyond emotional pain; we are, quite literally, experiencing a phantom limb pain, except the missing limb is the person we lost.

This also explains why so many people seek out rebound relationships: just as a mirror image of the missing limb was able to cure phantom limb pain, so too does finding another person to fill the void of the missing relationship.

So looping back to my first segment on the topic a month ago, losing someone is like losing a part of yourself, which causes anxiety, which activates the rage pathway in the brain.

Next week. I’ll talk more about PTSD and discuss ways to reprogram the “fire together, wire together” clusters which cause flashbacks. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

A little bit better every day

The whole point of prepping is to have a high quality of life, even in an emergency or after a disaster, but trying to maintain that level of preparation can be overwhelming.

In this week's video, I give a you a little advice on how you can stay prepared without making yourself crazy.

Be good. Be safe. If you can't be safe, be good and DANGEROUS!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Salt of the Earth?

On our Facebook page, someone asked Erin “What other inexpensive,yet hard to produce in the field, multi-purpose consumables should agood prepper stack deep in their pantry?” My reply was “Salt, unless you are near an ocean”. OkieRhio wrote a post about salt back in 2015, so I will try to avoid repeating what she said.

Salt is one of the most versatile commodities on the planet. It is used to preserve food, is a raw material for producing a bunch of other chemicals, and is essential for staying alive. Humans have harvested salt from the oceans for at least 6,000 years according to archaeological evidence, and it has been used as currency is several time periods (the “sal” in “salary” is Latin for salt - some Roman legions were paid in salt). Since there are about 35 grams of salt (1.2 ounces) in every liter (quart) of sea water, harvesting salt is merely a matter of collecting sea water and letting the sun and wind evaporate off the water. If you see gray or black pieces of salt, it is due to sediment (mud) formed during the evaporation of sea water. The dark pieces can be sorted out and discarded if you choose.

For Food
Common table salt is Sodium Chloride (NaCl) with traces of other chemicals that vary by location and method of processing. These trace elements may be called “pollutants” or “additives” by some writers, see my article on FUD for an explanation of that marketing method. The benefits or dangers of any additive is a specialized branch of medical research (toxicology) that I'm not going to dig into today. Just beware of paying too much for a cleverly marketed "miracle" salt that is 95-99% NaCl.

If you're buying salt for table use, get a brand that has Iodine (I) added to provide a source of that necessary mineral. Iodine helps regulate your thyroid gland and its hormone production, and is lacking in most common in-land foods. Seafood is a good source of Iodine, but not all of us live near the oceans (and seawater alone doesn't contain enough Iodine to meet your body's needs anyway). Consuming the eyeballs of wild game is about the only reliable source of Iodine that I'm aware of for land-locked survivors. I pick up an extra one-pound container of Iodized salt at the grocery store when I need to restock the pantry, as it's fairly cheap and has no shelf-life. Bulk forms of salt can be ground as fine as you want for table use, and are a lot cheaper.

If you're buying salt for livestock (they need it to function just like you), the ubiquitous saltblocks are still out there. I suggest buying them locally at a feed and grain store since the shipping cost on them is horrible. White blocks are pure salt; the colored ones are mineral blocks that provide a source of trace minerals (amounts and types will vary). Pure salt is the same as what you'd get in the round cardboard containers at the grocery store, so it is safe to use in your food. If 50 pounds of salt is too much, check the local pet supply stores for the roundblocks designed for rabbits. A 3 ounce “wheel” of salt is easy to store and use, plus it won't spill. Regardless of which size you get, it's easy to store bulk salt when it is in a solid block, and shaving or grinding an edge will get you what you need to season your food.

For Chemicals
For chemical production, you can look for suppliers that can provide any quantity you need in a variety of forms and packages; 50 pound bags are common and cost less than $10.00. Most bulk salt is sold as a de-icer and may have additives, so read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) and look for pure salt. De-icing salt that is advertised to work below 5° F is not pure salt.

Another source of bulk salt is your local grocery or hardware store (in most of the US). Look for softener salt, used to regenerate the resin beds of home water softeners. Solar salt crystals are usually the cheapest and are more pure than the varieties with chemical additives designed to protect a water softener. Rock salt is another name for solar salt; it depends on your regional dialect. A 40 pound bag of crystal or flake salt normally costs $5.00 or less here in the Midwest, but be warned, the pelletized forms usually have unwanted additives.

Do not consume anything that has “System saver” or “Resin Clean” on the label. The manufacturers have proprietary blends of additives that are trade secrets, so you have no idea of what they've added to the salt. In fact, I do not recommend using salt with additives for any food use, and any chemical uses would have to take the “adulterants” into consideration. At best you may end up with sludge in the bottom of your equipment, but at worst they may create explosive gasses. Do your research for potentially dangerous reactions.

Storing salt is about as simple as it gets. Since most of the salt sold in the US is mined from underground deposits, it should be obvious that it has an indefinite shelf-life. Those deposits were laid down a couple of thousand years ago (at least), so it's safe to let it sit on your shelf for a few more years. Keep it dry, since any water added to salt makes for a corrosive solution, but heat and cold - at least at the levels found in normal storage conditions - won't have any effect on it. You'd have to get it up to about 1500° F to melt it, so short of a house fire it will handle any heat you can give it.

Salt is cheap, easy to store, and is something that everyone physically needs to survive. Why wouldn't you have a stockpile set aside if you have the room for it?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Seeing Clearly

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

My job takes me to a different Big Box store every day, and if you pay attention, the only thing well stocked in every department is dust. With the many movements of pallets stacked high with concrete, units of drywall and other bulk materials, let alone sawdust from the lumber department, the potential of getting something in my eyes is there every day. Fortunately for me, I've never had to resort to one of the eyewash stations located around the stores, but I have washed my eyes out in the Men's Room on occasion.

I wear glasses, not contacts, so I do have some protection from things flying or rebounding into my eyes but dust is another matter. Moving boxes from upper shelves and 'diving' between displays to retrieve fallen product stirs up enough crud to coat my glasses quickly. I've neglected to add something for soothing my eyes to my EDC and GHB First Aid kits for a long time, but no longer.


From the website:
  • Offers the relief you need to help get you through your day
  • Delivers soothing comfort so your eyes feel moist and refreshed longer
  • Uses the original formulation that made the SYSTANE Family of Products the #1 Doctor Recommended brand for dry eye relief
I use these when my eyes get irritated, even if Dry Eye is not a problem I deal with. I also have to plan for the potential need to use these in a real disaster, to clear my (or others') eyes.

What I really like is the drops are in single-use tubes, so there is little chance of the product evaporating out of a bottle or becoming contaminated all at once.

Lack of preservatives is another thing that is not high on my list, since I don't use this regularly or wear contacts. One point in my favor is the fact that the tubes make it very easy to put the drops in, because I have always been very sensitive with anything or anyone getting close to my eyes. (I'm so bad it takes the Optometrist 3-4 tries to get a good glaucoma reading.)

What's more, these tubes take up very little space in my EDC first aid kit. I've mentioned that I have a bad habit of packing too much and carrying too much gear. With the small size of the tubes, 4 or 5 take up no more room than several alcohol wipe packets or a stack of band-aids.

The Takeaway
  • Personal Protection equipment won't keep all things out of my eyes.
  • I need to be prepared for getting crud out of my eyes on the job, as well in an emergency.

The Recap

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.

The Fine Print

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License

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