Tuesday, January 31, 2023

How Many North Poles?

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.

You may be surprised to learn that the planet Earth has more than one North Pole.

There is the Geographic North Pole, also called the True North Pole, which is the point on the Earth's surface that is aligned with its axis of rotation. If you've seen a globe, the rod that allows the globe to spin is anchored there and at the opposite Geographic South Pole. 


There is also the Magnetic North Pole. Curiously enough, this is not in the same location as the True North Pole, and it moves over time due to variations within the Earth's core that I'm not smart enough to understand, let alone explain. ("Flux lobe elongation," whatever that means.)


There's also something known as the North Geomagnetic Pole, but that doesn't matter unless you're predicting aurora locations. Apparently some doctoral candidates came up with it in a thesis and it stuck around. My friend The Dockmaster explained it to me like this: "Its location is calculated by statistically fitting the magnetic ones against a line that has to go through the center of the planet, and since the magnetic ones move... no one really cares." 

What you do need to care about is declination, which is the difference between True and Magnetic North. Unless you happen to live along the agonic line, which is the line of zero declination that currently runs through Lake Superior and down into the Gulf of Mexico, your compass will not point to True North. If you are on the East Coast, your compass will point west of True North, which is known as a negative declination. Conversely, if you are on the West Coast then your compass will give a reading that is east of True North, which is positive declination

The terms "positive" and "negative" make more sense when you look at a compass. Remember that since there are 360 degrees in a circle, 0° is the same as 360°, which is north. Therefore, everything to the east of zero is ascending (i.e. positive), and everything west of 360 is descending (i.e. negative). 

All of this is important to know because maps orient to True North (which is fixed) and not Magnetic North (which moves over time). If you are navigating using a compass instead of a GPS, then the difference between True and Magnetic North may lead you astray. While the difference is small, over enough distance it can add up such that you could miss your target over an appreciable, and perhaps painful, number of miles. 

Fortunately for you, there are solutions to this dilemma. As mentioned, GPS units orient you towards True North. Good trail maps will have magnetic declination on them that will look something like this:

Military and government maps will have that, plus something known as Grid North. You don't need to know Grid North unless you're using a military map to call in an artillery strike, but the short explanation is that trying to map a three-dimensional sphere onto a two-dimensional map always results in distortion. This is sometimes known as Mercator Distortion, named after the famous map style, and results in strange things like Antarctica looking enormous when in reality it's a very small continent. 

Proportions of apparent size and real size (animated)

Got that? Great. Grid North is nothing more than a correcting factor you use to account for Mercator Distortion when trying to map 3D coordinates onto a 2D surface. 

Finally, you can use the NOAA Magnetic Field Calculator to determine the declination of your home. Just type in your address to find your latitude & longitude, and then press "calculate". As of today, the magnetic declination of my Florida home is 6° 56' W  ± 0° 21'  changing by  0° 4' W per year, or basically 7° (because there are 60 minutes in a degree). 

And with that, I'm going to go recline before I decline. 

Friday, January 27, 2023

Car Prepping

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

It seems that I occasionally make wise choices that pay off! I don't get to say this very often, but this was one of those times. 

Jump Starting?
Do you remember that nice, compact Lithium Ion car jump starter from my previous post? I gave it a workout the other night when I left the lights on a bit too long after turning the ignition off and ran the battery flat. That's not to say the battery was suddenly bad; when I looked at it to try to jump-start it, the Date of Purchase showed a 2017 year and month code. 

Regardless, after hooking the Vector Battery Pack up to the battery, I didn't get the expected results. Even with having the unit sit for 15 minutes in the hopes of letting the battery recharge some, it still didn't turn the motor over enough to start.  

Enter "Plan B": 
Call Roadside Assistance
I've had the California version of AAA for longer than I can remember; it's been from at least the late 1970s, when I owned and worked on small British cars. I never abused the service, since there is some sort of limit to the number of calls you can make in a year, but I did use the service. Even after owning much more reliable US and Japanese vehicles, I kept my membership current. In fact, this was the second time in a year I called AAA, the first being to fix a flat tire. 

After the service truck arrived, the tech tried to jump the battery with his giant setup, again with no results. After checking everything with his built-in meters, the battery showed a bad cell and that it needed to be replaced. Fortunately, it just so happens the trucks are stocked with batteries that fit most vehicles! After 15 minutes and the exchange of funds, my car started right up and I was on my way.

I have 150,000 miles on my almost 11-year-old car, and it is due for several big services. I've been budgeting for this, and while it will be expensive to me, the cost will be a fraction of the price of a new vehicle... or even a good, used vehicle! 

Other Annoyances 
Due to parking in the open, my headlights are not as clear as they were when new. I need to find a good plastic headlight cleaner and polish kit and see if the lenses will clear up and maybe last several  more years. Another irritation is the pine trees that are close to where I park; in the spring, my car turns pale yellow from the pollen, and the rest of the year they shed one pound pine cone missiles and microscopic droplets of sap. The sap can't really be seen on the painted surfaces, but on the windshield the drops act like tiny prisms, causing mini-rainbows at sunrise and sunset. My next project, even before the headlights, will be to clean the glass of sap drops so that I can see better. I'm also finding that my wiper blades aren't lasting as long as before, so that is an added expense.
Recap and Takeaway
  • Your actual car insurance policy may include some sort of roadside assistance. I find that AAA is a nice back-up plan.
  • Do your own maintenance if you are able; the savings add up quickly. Know your limits, though; buying specialized tools that will be used only once every few years may not be the best investment for you.
* * *

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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Prepper’s Pantry: Oil

Most dishes require a liquid element during cooking. In some cases this can be water or broth, but for many types of cooking, something to reduce sticking, induce browning, or aid flavor blending is also needed. This is where cooking oil comes into the picture.

(Note: I'm using oil as a generic term for any plant, animal, or synthetic liquid or solid fat used in cooking and baking.)

Cooking oils come in many types with a wide variety of characteristics. They are generally made from vegetable or animal sources, though truly synthetic options have made appearances from time to time. While frequently a liquid at room temperature, some oils such as lard and vegetable shortenings are solids.


Animal-based oils include butter (dairy), lard (pork), tallow (usually beef or lamb), and poultry fat. In addition to the more general characteristics, adding this family of oils when cooking or baking also provides more noticeable flavor enhancement to dishes. Though they do frequently need refrigeration for longer term storage, there are shelf-stable options for butter, such as those offered by Red Feather and Preserved Dutch brands.

Plant-based oils include canola, margarine, olive, and sunflower, as well as vegetable shortenings such as Crisco. These generally have much milder flavors than their animal counterparts as well as a considerably longer, shelf-stable life.

A selection of oils from the Author's kitchen

I'll talk about collecting chicken fat at home, since this is something that I did recently. There are two main procedures in common usage; the first is what's called "schmaltz" and is the traditional Jewish method, which is done by cutting chicken fat into small pieces and putting them in a saucepan over low heat. Once most of the fat has been expressed, the resulting liquid is filtered into a jar for storage. As a bonus, the bits of chicken skin left in the pan can be fried with onions and garlic to make gribenes, a special treat in Jewish cuisine. Try some on rye bread!

The other method of gathering chicken fat is a byproduct of making stock. I use my Instant Pot exclusively for stock making these days, and I put the chicken carcass, a handful of carrots, a quartered onion, and some garlic in the basket, along with a cup of water in the pot, and process under high pressure for two hours. If it's been a while and I have several carcasses to process, I'll dump and refill the basket, but leave the same liquid in the bottom. Earlier this week I ran three cycles through and wound up with one and a half quarts of very rich broth.

After being allowed to settle and then moved to the refrigerator, a nice layer of chicken fat rises to the top, where it can be carefully scooped off and put in a separate jar for later use.

Chicken fat with and without broth

Gathering lard from cooking bacon is even easier: after the bacon is removed from the pan, pour the remaining liquid into a jar. Once there's a sufficient quantity, follow the method for chicken fat by heating and straining out the solids.

Bacon grease after heating and filtering

Nearly every recipe calls for some form of fat, whether it’s olive oil for sautéing vegetables, butter for browning meat, or shortening for frying potato latkes. Baking isn't left out of this, either: the addition of fat is required to generate the appropriate texture of every bread, cookie, or biscuit. 

Sauces, marinades and dressings call for some form of oil. My wife's home-made salad dressing is a simple combination of equal parts balsamic vinegar and canola oil, with Italian herbs to taste.

When selecting an oil for stove top use, consideration should be given to what's referred to as the smoke point. This is the temperature at which an oil or fat will produce a continuous plume of bluish white smoke. Choosing the appropriate oil can help avoid what's sometimes called "fire alarm cooking."

Be safe, and eat hearty.

Friday, January 20, 2023

What is Fatwood?

For as long as I've been in prepper circles on the internet, I've heard of something called fatwood. Folks talking about it make it seem like it absolutely litters the forest floor, and that if you merely let it look at a fire lay and say Shirak*, you'll have an instant roaring bonfire. 

I've been doing the backwoods thing for a while now, and I've never actually encountered fatwood, so I decided to do a bit of poking and figure out what the buzz is all about. It turns out fatwood is resin-loaded pine wood, harvested from stumps left behind by logging operations. As the stump wood ages, the resin from the roots concentrates in the stump. 

This explains two things about fatwood. First, being loaded with pine resin is what gives fatwood its legendary fire starting status. Pine resin, better known as sap, is well known as a flammable material; concentrated within the wood, it would easily take flame and burn hot for a decent time.

Second, this explains why I've never encountered fatwood. Utah doesn't have many pine forests, nor much logging of them. The pine forests we do have are pretty rough access, and aren't made up of the most resinous trees. Basically, I haven't encountered fatwood because it doesn't really occur here.

I may not be able to find it in a local forest, but I can apparently harvest it from the Amazon (the one with Prime, not the one with piranha) where it can be had for between $2-$4 per pound. I've got some on order, and I'll test it when it comes in. I've also got a few other fire-making gizmos to play with in the near future.


*Yes, nerds, I know that Shirak is the command word for a light spell, not a fire spell, but it amused me. Allow me my hidden nerdy fun.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Prepper's Pantry: Cheese

Let me preface this post by unequivocally stating that I love cheese. Perhaps not every single type of cheese, but the vast majority of them. (Due to a mold allergy I pay a price for enjoying some varieties, but sometimes it's worth it.)

One of the earliest methods of preserving dairy products was through cheese making. In fact, cheese production predates recorded history; every region where people lived seems to have come up with their own version of preserving milk, which brings us to the thousands of varieties of cheese available today.

Harder cheeses have a longer shelf life than softer cheeses, though adding a wax or other protective coating (called a rind) can extend storage time, potentially by years. Some cheeses even use an outer layer of mold as their protective rind. Canned cheeses with extremely long shelf lives are also available on the retail market, made both domestically and from international sources.

Many cheeses are quite plain, but others contain nuts, dried fruits, herbs, and spices. There are also cheeses that have mold layered throughout for added flavor.

While cheese is readily available in the refrigerated section of the local grocery store, this may not always be the case. With a source of milk (whether cow, sheep, goat, or many other mammals) and a few other ingredients, making a simple cheese at home doesn't have to be complicated. 

A variety of home-made cheeses

As shown in this basic recipe, the three main steps for making cheese are:

  1. Heat the milk
  2. Add the culture
  3. Drain the curds

This recipe from Penn State Extension goes into more detail as well as adding additional tips on the process.

For those of our readers who have an Instant Pot, cheese making recipes are available for that multipurpose appliance as well.

So go forth and curd your whey to cheesy goodness.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Leave a Message

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
Theseus used a ball of yarn to find his way through the Minotaur's Labyrinth. Hansel and Gretel used white pebbles to find their way out of the forest in which they'd been abandoned; they had less success with breadcrumbs. 

Even today, trails through forests are marked with blazes (hence the phrase "blazing a trail") in a variety of ways. 

Top row, L-R: "Keep going straight"; "Right turn"; "Left turn".
Bottom row, L-R: "Beginning of trail"; "End of trail"; "Spur leading to different trail".

Sometimes it's necessary to convey important information to others in a manner which is more durable than words on paper. The Hobo Code of last century was a series of pictograms which indicated safety, danger, resources, and the best directions in which to travel. 


More recently, the FEMA X-Codes were made famous by 2005's Hurricane Katrina. You can learn more about them in this PDF


I would be remiss if I didn't mention the famous "Don't Dead, Open Inside" message from The Walking Dead, not only because preppers seem to love zombie shows but also because it aptly illustrates the importance of messaging left to right rather than up to down. 

Regardless of whether it is before, during, or after a disaster, the fact remains that it can be essential to leave a message to yourself or those coming after you, and in a manner which is visible and durable. This is why I gave David a soapstone holder for Christmas: it serves the same purpose as chalk, but is far less messy and fragile. 

Other useful tools to have with you, either in your bug out/get home bag or in your car:
With these four small and lightweight items you have the ability to leave an effective message practically anywhere. 

Friday, January 13, 2023

After Christmas Report

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

The holidays were very uneventful this year, since my sister moved to the mountains and there wasn't a big local gathering. I did get some interesting gifts this year from our esteemed Editrix Erin, such as assorted drill bits used in several Stuff n' Thangs projects I'm trying to finish, along with something I haven't used in many years! 

Some of you may be wondering what  soapstone is, why it needs a holder, and how it's used. First of all, it isn't useful in the shower! Its usefulness is in marking steel, iron or other surfaces when a pencil, crayon or other marker isn't recommended (or even possible) to use due to surface texture, or when welding. 

This gives a better and clearer explanation:
Soapstone pencils: Talc is very soft and has a white streak. Since soapstone is made primarily of talc, it will deposit a white powder when it is rubbed against almost any object. This white mark is similar to talcum powder and is easily brushed off without leaving a permanent mark. Soapstone pencils are used by tailors to mark fabric. Soapstone markers are also used by welders. The heat-resistant powder does not burn away and continues to be visible when the workpiece is heated during the welding process.
I was familiar with the welding fabrication use of soapstone, but I didn't know that the 'chalk' used by tailors was soapstone until researching this post.

My other big gift was something I bought for myself: a new jump-starter/backup battery to replace one that isn't holding a charge.  

Amazon pic
From the Amazon ad:

  • JUMP STARTER - 1000 peak amps of starting power instantly jump starts cars and trucks up to 8-cylinders
  • USB CHARGER - Charge and power your computers, laptops, tablets, phones, gaming devices and more on the go
  • RECHARGEABLE LITHIUM BATTERY - comes with AC, DC and USB adapters to help you recharge from practically anywhere
  • SAFE OPERATION - The Engine Start Smart Controller provides reverse polarity protection to assure that jumper cables are connected correctly
  • SMALL PORTABLE POWER - Compact sized, this jump starter and charger is easily stored for power when you need it
  • Always connect the 120V AC/USB Charging Adapter to the 120 Volt AC power source (using the USB Charging Cable) BEFORE connecting it to the unit.
What I replaced was the Black and Decker jump-starter I reviewed all the way back in 2017! Over the years it was used infrequently, but  was still very handy to have. The B&D unit stopped holding a charge, so I found something stronger and more compact... but at a higher price, which is to be expected since the Vector has a Lithium Ion battery. 

These two aren't the only Christmas gifts that had my name on them, just the two that were in any way Prepping related.

Recap and Takeaway
  • If anyone has something to send me and thinks, "Oh, this little thing I made/baked/bought for you isn't much", please realize this: if you thought enough of me to do anything for me, I will be so happy to have it that words may not come out. You can send/make/buy all the things you want my way!
  • I don't know where Erin bought my present, but I found a great description of the WYPO soapstone on Amazon: $4.29 with Prime shipping.
  • The Vector jump-starter is also on Amazon, for $89.98 with Prime shipping.
* * *

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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Prepper's Infirmary: Tourniquets

There have been many posts here, as well as discussions on social media pages, about  tourniquets and Stop the Bleed classes. This made me wonder how many people were interested in getting a tourniquet and training, but didn't know where to start.

Back in the Before Times, I was in this same position, but thanks to a number of knowledgeable friends, I was able to add a good quality tourniquet and basic medical kit to my range bag (discussed in an earlier post). Unfortunately, my plans for organizing a Stop the Bleed class at work were stymied by governmental and corporate responses to Covid-19. Now that society has initiated a return to a reasonable semblance of normalcy, I'm attempting to resume that plan.

There are a number of tourniquets on the market. A few are excellent, some are good, and too many that are worse than useless. I'm going to focus on the top end of that scale, but I urge our readers to do their own research.

The two most popular and preferred tourniquets currently available are the CAT and SOF-T brands.

CAT (l) and SOF-T (r) Tourniquets

The SOF-T is available from Tacmed solutions and the CAT from North American Rescue. There are many cheap knockoffs on the market, so I strongly recommend buying direct where possible instead of from Amazon.

As with any product, there are a number of pros and cons. For example, as the older of the two, the CAT has been around longer and has more name recognition, and first responders stock it almost exclusively. When digging through a medical kit in a government facility or vehicle, it's very likely a CAT is in the bag. The CAT is also considered very easy to self-apply with only a little practice. However, due to this and some other features, the CAT isn't as sleek when packed, and can be bulkier to store. This is not a major consideration for most, but still good to know.

The SOF-T, specifically the current Wide version, is considered easier to apply to another person than the CAT and packs flatter for easier storage. Either one is an excellent choice and would serve well in any trauma kit. Personally, I went with the CAT due to the easier to self-apply aspect, but it was a tough choice.
(Editor's Note: The biggest difference between the two is that the CAT uses Velcro and the SOF-T does not. Dirt, blood, or other contaminants may inhibit Velcro adhesion. For this reason a professional EMT recommends an SOF-T over a CAT.)
Both of these tourniquets run around thirty dollars as-is, and are sold alone or as part of an Individual First Aid Kit, or IFAK. There are also blue and orange colored training/practice tourniquets available from both manufacturers.

It's not enough to have the equipment to apply aid, we also need knowledge. This is where training classes come into play. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 5,190 fatal work injuries in 2021. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes that same year. To paraphrase the NRA tagline, how many of these deaths could have been prevented by a good guy with a med kit? Quite a few, I expect, which is why I urge everyone to seek out as much training as possible, whether it be basic first aidCPR, or a Stop the Bleed class. 

Remember, it's not just self-defense situations where we're our own first responders. Be prepared, and stay safe.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Prepper's Armory: Scope Zeroing

Now that the scope has been properly mounted to the firearm, it's time to adjust the optic so that Point of Aim (POA) matches Point of Impact (POI) for a specific distance. This is called zeroing the scope, and while this can be approximated on the work bench, the only way to truly zero a scope is from the shooting bench.

Minute of Angle
Scope knobs apply adjustments in ¼ or ½ minute of angle increments. A Minute of Angle (MOA) is defined as 1/60th of a degree, which equates to approximately 1 inch per 100 yards (actually 1.047″) and increases with distance. Therefore, 8 inches at 800 yards is still 1 Minute of Angle.

There are two main categories of bore sight tools available on the market today: analog and laser. The analog version is a collimator type system held in place either by a magnet or barrel spud. In either case, a grid is displayed in the field of view of the scope.

Spud and Magnetic Collimator Boresights

There are two types of laser boresight. The arbor version is similar to the analog collimator in that a spud is inserted at the muzzle end of the barrel using a caliber-specific bushing. After it's in place, the laser is activated and projected on a surface a set distance away.

The chamber type is shaped like an empty shell casing and inserted into the chamber. Once activated, it's treated in the same manner as the other laser type mentioned above.

Arbor and Chamber Laser Boresights

Zeroing a scope using either method is easier if the rifle is solidly secured, either through a vice, sandbags, or some other fixture.

When sighting in a rifle, the specific range chosen will affect the functional zero -- the two different distances where the bullet will hit at approximately the same point on the target, due to its parabolic rise and fall -- without having to adjust elevation or holdover excessively. (Holdover refers to raising the crosshair when aiming at a target further away than the range for which the scope is zeroed. This is one of the uses for Mil-Dots on a reticle.) The image below provides a visual for this concept.

Zero ranges for the 5.56mm cartridge from Gun Websites

Analog Boresight
Once installed and adjusted according to manufacturer instructions,  carefully rotate the windage and elevation knobs on the scope so the crosshairs line up with the center of the collimator target. Some analog boresights can be adjusted to estimate a specific range, but most are fixed.

Image courtesy of Savage Arms

Laser Boresight
Regardless of whether you are using arbor or chamber type, a laser boresight projects a dot onto a surface at a set distance. As with the above method, carefully rotate the windage and elevation knobs on the scope so that the crosshairs line up with the dot. This method can result in smaller groups when shot testing, as the sighting point is not right in front of the firearm.

Old-School Boresighting Technique
Last, but certainly not least, is the literal boresight method. While this technique isn't as precise as either of the two above, it requires no tools other than a method of securing the firearm.
  1. The bolt is removed to allow an unobstructed view through the barrel from the chamber end. (This may not be possible on all rifles.)
  2. The bore is centered on an aiming point at a set distance. 
  3. Without disturbing the rifle, the windage and elevation knobs on the scope are carefully rotated so the crosshairs line up with the center of the selected target.

While all these techniques can put shots on paper, as mentioned above the only way to truly zero a firearm is by actual shooting. However, beginning the sight-in process with bore sighting can save time and ammunition -- two things that are often in short supply.

Good luck, and safe shooting.

The Fine Print

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

Creative Commons License

Erin Palette is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.