Thursday, December 31, 2009

Apple Pie and Potatoes

I almost forgot to post about the amazing Apple Pie we made for Christmas.
One of the big issues with baking up here in Denver is that it is usually so dry, typical humidity is often only around 20%. So instead of 5-7 tablespoons of liquid (near Atlanta) to moisten the crust we ended up using 12 tablespoons, before it would hold together properly.

We got a 8-16 convertible apple corer/slicer from Williams-Sonoma to make eating apples more fun and it also makes for the prefect-sized wedges for pie. Princess Pea Pod helped me make those wedges, which is safer then a knife for her, since it requires the use of both hands and so they are out of the way.

We couldn't find tapioca flour so we just took some small bead tapioca and gave it a spin in the spice grinder. Worked fine.

We also made some scalloped potatoes, but since one of the families we were eating with have to deal with milk allergies, we made it with chicken stock instead.

Milk-less Scalloped Potatoes for a party
5 lbs of red potatoes
3 large yellow onions
salt and pepper
1 quart chicken stock

A deep 9x13 baking pan
Aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Peel the potatoes and onions.
Thinly slice the potatoes and onion.
Wipe a thin layer of oil onto the bottom of the pan so the potatoes don't stick (usually I'd use butter for this, but the food allergy.)
Put down a layer of potatoes followed by a layer of onions, and sprinkle salt and pepper.
Keep layering until you use up all the potatoes and onions.
Pour the stock over the whole thing (I usually put a layer of cheese on top for taste and pretty, but not in this case.)
Cover with the foil and bake until the potatoes are soft when poked with paring knife, about an hour. Remove the foil and broil for a few minutes to brown the top.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 / Technology - Secret mobile phone code cracked / Technology - Secret mobile phone code cracked: "The hacked GSM code could compromise more than 3bn people in 212 countries. It does not affect 3G phone calls, however, which are protected by a different security code."

Oh, bother.

Survivalism Lite | Print Article |

Survivalism Lite | Print Article | "So for the moment, people like Bedford are reteaching themselves lost skills—and in some cases, learning new ones. Bedford has read up on harvesting an urban garden, and is learning to use a solar oven to bake bread. She is ready with a pointed shot in the event she ever needs to hunt for her own food. And until then, she's got 61 cans of chili, 20 cans of Spam, 24 jars of peanut butter, and much more stocked in her pantry; she estimates she's spent about $4,000 on food supplies, an amount that should keep her family going for at least three months. Now, even if something simple goes wrong, like a paycheck doesn't go through, 'we don't need to worry,' she says."

That's what it comes down too a little preparation brings a lot of peace of mind in case of those little hiccups that come up from time to time.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up | Magazine

Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up | Magazine: "But Dunbar, who had spent all those years watching Stanford scientists struggle and fail, realized that the romantic narrative of the brilliant and perceptive newcomer left something out. After all, most scientific change isn’t abrupt and dramatic; revolutions are rare. Instead, the epiphanies of modern science tend to be subtle and obscure and often come from researchers safely ensconced on the inside. “These aren’t Einstein figures, working from the outside,” Dunbar says. “These are the guys with big NIH grants.” How do they overcome failure-blindness?"

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny ...'
Isaac Asimov
This is far more generally useful to everyone then just scientists.

I think we need more stories about Semmelweiss and Pasteur and Tesla and how they actually looked at what was really happening and did the work to figure out why.

Actually, I think this explains more about politics then is comfortable. No wonder we can't kill any gov't bureaucracy. It also is why companies will death march on a project that is in a death spiral.

This is something to be cognizant about and careful of in our own lives.

Couple stranded 3 days after GPS leads them astray - Yahoo! News

Couple stranded 3 days after GPS leads them astray - Yahoo! News: "A Nevada couple letting their SUV's navigation system guide them through the high desert of Eastern Oregon got stuck in snow for three days when the GPS unit sent them down a remote forest road."

Good thing they were well prepared with food, water and extra clothes, but you are smarter then the machine. Don't just blindly trust it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Prepared Christmas

We did get a few items this Christmas to round out our Ready Kit.

The number 1 thing is a Katadyn Vario microfilter. This is water one of the most important thing you need. You can live for a long time, a month or more, without food. But lack of water will kill you in days.
Denver is not exactly big on water in any case. Sure, there are a good number of small lakes and rivers nearby, but they are artificial so they would stagnate quickly.
There was a town just south of here that had a problem with their water treatment plant and they had to boil their water for a couple of weeks. This would be helpful even in a case like that.
We'll have to get a few replacement filters and make sure to pack it with a bandana and rubber bands to use as a pre-filter.
This will go in the survival kit.

We upgraded our radio receiver, we had an old Panasonic AM/FM/SW world radio, but it was falling apart and the volume knob was twitchy and it only took D-cell batteries. Now we have a Voyager KA500 which also has the weather bands and solar & hand crank charging systems that you can use for charging cell phones and iPods.
This is a supplement to our handheld Ham Radios mainly for information gathering.
It has a USB charging port I am thinking about making a USB to car adapter so we can charge those things we have car adapters for.
This will go into the Home 72 hr kit

We also received a Solar Battery Charger. It can charge AAA through D cell batteries. I'll have to test how long it will take to charge a set of batteries. We mainly only get afternoon sun which cuts the amount of sunlight it can get but if things get really bad it will give us something.
This will go in the Energy kit.

Oatmeal Challenge Update

I've been doing my Oatmeal Challenge for a week now and I am feeling pretty good even considering all the junk food we've received for the holidays.

I don't feel nearly as hungry during the day. I seem to have a more stable energy level during the day as well, rather then it swinging up and down.

I am using the Good Eats Overnight Oatmeal recipe with whatever dried fruits we can get and it is very nice. It makes enough for a few days and I have to thin it down with some milk after the initial batch, though eggnog works really well.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

European weather deaths pass 100 | World news |

European weather deaths pass 100 |
World news |
: "More than 100 people have been killed in the cold snap across Europe, with temperatures plummeting and snowfall causing chaos from Moscow to Milan."

This is something that I don't understand. Europe is supposed to be so great. I spent a few years living there in the late '80's and I lived through a more severe cold snap, it was a week of -40° temperatures and by the time it was over more then 1000 people had died.

Here in the US under similar conditions only a handful of people die and most of them are from car crashes.

If Europe is so advanced and compassionate, how is it so many homeless are dying? Something is wrong over there, though I have no idea what.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tell us about your Christmas Family Emergency Kit

Tell us about your Christmas Family Emergency Kit for fixing up their computers.

I done my fair share of this. It certainly helps to bring a toolkit along, some canned air, my own laptop, a flash drive, an external drive with a variety of .iso files and some blank CD/DVDs. That way I can deal with most anything.

Leaving everything set to automatically update seems to keep things reasonably safe for most people I've helped. But there is a lot of dust in Colorado so blowing things out helps a lot too.

Doing a yearly backup is often better then no backup at all.

Wonder How To How To Videos & How-To Articles

Wonder How To How To Videos & How-To Articles

This is a cool site for all kinds of great videos. Love the Pizza Throwing vid.

Gold Is the New Tupperware, and You're Invited to the Party -

Gold Is the New Tupperware, and You're Invited to the Party - "The 1950s were big for Tupperware parties. The 1970s were hot for Mary Kay cosmetics. As this decade hobbles to a close, a new kind of social gathering is invading America's living rooms: the gold party."

I haven't heard of these but they certainly seem interesting. It certainly raises the awareness of gold. I have noticed that the jewelry shops and pawn shops are putting out 'We buy gold' signs.
The magnet trick is pretty good to know though.

Monday, December 21, 2009

One bottle of nasal spray per family member! | Parent Hacks

One bottle of nasal spray per family member! | Parent Hacks: "We've already suffered through one round of colds this season and, in the middle of the night, I know I am reaching for a soothing, chemical free, and, if not germ free, at least germ-personalized product."

Nothing like doing bacterial personalization to a product.
This is not the only product I can think of to personalize, Everyone personalizes their toothbrushes and hairbrushes for the same reason.

Friday, December 18, 2009

To True.

TigerHawk: "Senator, we live in a world that has patients, and those patients have to be treated with technology. Who's gonna invent, develop it, and build it? You, Senator Sanders? You, Senator Reid? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for high health care costs, and you curse new medical technology. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That new medical technology, while expensive, saves lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about in front of cameras or in committee hearings, you want me on that production line, you need me on that production line. We use words like innovation, quality, and safety. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent helping injured people. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and walks by virtue of the very medical technology that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a biomedical engineering degree, and get to work inventing better medical devices. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to."

I looked at biomedical engineering while in college and that was an amazing field. You end up learning about material and electronic engineering and at the same time get a medical degree.
Heh, just looking at the course requirements would probably make their brains melt.

Ethiopia's fake central bank gold

How to Make Convincing Fake-Gold Bars | Popular Science: "On Wednesday, the BBC reported that millions of dollars in gold at the central bank of Ethiopia has turned out to be fake: What were supposed to be bars of solid gold turned out to be nothing more than gold-plated steel. They tried to sell the stuff to South Africa and it was sent back when the South Africans noticed this little problem."

But this is not the first big, really big, counterfeiting job just this year. This was only in the millions of dollars.

There was that $134 Billion bond find at the Italian-Swiss border back in June. That is a lot of money, though they appear to be fake.

It takes some real guts to run a scam at the nation-state level. Though I have to wonder if it might not be easier, because who would think anyone is crazy enough to try something like that. A lot of governments don't have a lot of money but taking out a scam on this scale, they surely have money for that.

The world is a little bit crazier.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Simple Dollar : 15 Uses for Incredibly Inexpensive White Vinegar

The Simple Dollar 15 Uses for Incredibly Inexpensive White Vinegar: "One of the best bargains in your local grocery store is plain old white vinegar. You can get a 32 ounce jug of it (half a gallon) for about $1.50 and it has a multitude of uses beyond the edible ones (like pickles and salad dressings). Here are fifteen uses for white vinegar, most of which I use myself."

We use it as fabric softener and general cleaner all the time. I wouldn't use it as an eyeglass cleaner as it can fog some coatings.

The real problem comes in trying to make more, in a post-TEOTWAWKI world it could be a challenge.
Vinegar is made by having a bacterial colony, called a vinegar mother, metabolize the alcohol into an acid. Well, first you need alcohol like wine (red and white wine vinegars) or spirits (distilled) or even beer (malt).
Generally, you need some yeast to convert starch from grain into alcohol and plenty of clean water.
But first you need a lot of excess grain or fruit to create the alcoholic beverage first and that requires lots of land and water and seeds and farming equipment.

A logistical challenge.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Food Preservation: Canning

We used to have a raspberry bush that was very productive. We could usually get a pint of berries a day, even with small animals snitching bites. We made the best raspberry jam with those berries.

What's really interesting bout canning is that it was the result of an X-prize set up by Napoleon who was trying to find a way to feed his army more reliably and less hardship on the local farmers then living off of the land. Armies had become too large to pull that off.

Nicolas Appert won the 12,000 franc prize with a process that not only preserved food but killed off any microorganisms that could spoil the food. That was the start of the water bath canning process. Some competitors canned their foods without the water bath part of the process and a lot of people died from food poisoning. It would be some 50 years until Louis Pasteur would figure out why and how to prevent it.

It was our sad duty not to long ago to help an elderly brother in our ward remove a lot of old home canned goods from his basement. His wife had been an avid canner, and had died a few months before; since he was going to move into a daughters home he was donating it. We did find some very old items way in the back corner that was labeled in the '70s that we just tossed but most was in surprisingly good condition.

Mostly canning is about taking the harvest from summer and fall and preserving it for the cold of winter. It also comes in handy to buy food when it is least expensive and saving it for later. It is a great frugality trick.

Canning is a lot like baking, there is relatively little room for error so following the recipe precisely is important.Now the bible of canning is the Ball Blue Book of Canning. It has been the standard for decades.

Canners come in 2 sizes, quart and pint, we have a pint-sized one and our niece has a quart-sized one and I have come to the conclusion that quart is better since you can do pints in it as well, an aftermarket pint holder is not a big expense.

There are 2 forms of canning, water-bath and pressure canning. Water-bath cooks the food at the boiling point and is good for high acid foods like fruit, pickles and tomato sauce. Pressure canning uses a pressure canner to increase the temperature to 240°F which kills everything so you can can low-acid foods such as meats.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pickling Supplies

My mom had a nice pickling crock. Once she started a batch of pickles and then we went on vacation. When we got home, the house smelled something fierce. It was obviously not gas but we couldn't figure out what it was. Then we remembered the pickles. Ooh, it was nasty.

One of the main ways to preserve food without refrigeration has been pickling or soaking in salt water. Its basically a wet version of salt curing. It is very effective.

Lots of things can be pickled most people are familiar with pickled vegetables. But that's not all sauerbraten is a pickled meat, and so is corned beef and pastrami.

This looks like a great place to get some of these things.

ht Cool Tools

Monday, December 14, 2009

Choosing a Pot

When you have limited space choosing a pot that can serve multiple duties can be a real space saver. Which you should get depends on how you cook and how you want to cook. Here are some of the things we've thought about before getting our current pot.

We cook pasta fairly often and unless you like stirring the pot often to keep the pasta from sticking you want one big enough to hold a gallon of water and since you want some headspace for the water the food is going to displace it should be at least 6 quarts. Now, if you are just boiling water for pasta all the time, going with a lightweight aluminum is great, it heats fast and is light enough even full of water to dump in the sink.

We also like cooking pot roasts using 7-bone roasts. Usually rubbed with salt, pepper and cumin cooked with a mirepoix and some beef stock. It makes great left overs like pot roast sandwiches, shepherd's pie, enchiladas and BBQ sandwiches. These roasts are often 12 inches across so having a pot that is big enough for that is important to us. The big thing for this is you want an oven proof pot that can hold lots of heat to quickly brown the meat. Cast iron is best for that. Virtually indestructible and able to hold lots of heat, as a downside it is rather heavy.

Buying a whole chicken saves us money by doing the portioning ourselves and allows us to customize what we do to it. We often end up with bones, backs, gizzards and like that we freeze for stock making later. We usually save up a chicken or two before cooking it down. There are lots of good gelatins in chicken bones that make for a great tasting and textured chicken soup. With that much chicken parts we often end up needed a stock pot near the 8 quart size and most stock pots are lightweight aluminum.

The last major thing we like making is homemade spaghetti sauce. That is a high acid food cooked for a long time. Tomatoes would be able to leach metallic ions from reactive metals like untreated aluminum and cast iron, impacting taste and perhaps our health.

That requires us to look at stainless steel, anodized aluminum and enameled cast iron. The stainless steal is good but is a not so good conductor so needs special clad bottoms and that can run into money for the good stuff. The anodized aluminum is nice and light but we didn't find anything at the time that was wide enough for the pot roast. The enameled cast iron is heavy and comes in an amazing number of sizes and some great colors.

We finally decided on a 7.25 quart Le Creuset French Oven in a gorgeous Cherry Red. Big enough for a 7-bone roast. Small enough to fit in our cabinets. And looks great too. It also has a 101 year warrantee, I expect to be able to hand this down to our great-grandchildren.

It does take a couple of extra minutes to bring water up to a boil but not enough to be a deal breaker.
It also works great as a deep frier as long is you have a thermometer for keeping an eye on the oil temperature.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Trip To The Zoo

So we went to the Denver Zoo for a field trip and we were generally well prepared. It was cold, the high below freezing, so we dressed in layers, charged up the cellphone and the camera and even made a freeze resistant lunch, Peanut Butter sandwiches. Not sure about how we would end up eating I went light and just stuck everything in a shopping bag.

The focus of the trip was the Tropical Discovery building, which was nice and warm and moist, 80+% humidity makes a big difference. But they don't allow food or drink so we had to leave our bags outside on some shelves. Right inside they had a a couple of very nice curators with a neat display on snakes that the kids just loved. The older lady had a cobra puppet to show how they spread their hoods and and things like that.

So we explored the displays which were very well done: snakes, lizards, fish, monkeys and other topical animals were displayed. In the Komodo Dragon display she found us and asked if any of us had left a shopping bag of food outside. She said they were sorry but a squirrel had made off with one of the sandwiches.

By the time we got there the squirrel had grabbed all the peanut butter sandwiches and run off. We could see him, feasting up in a nearby tree, he was a fat little bugger, I sure he gets lots of food that way.

Oh, well. It was worth laughing about and we continued to have a good time at the zoo. Actually, the zoo is really nice in the wintertime. In the summer it can be packed to the gills but it was pretty quiet even with a few busloads of kids in it.

But it was still weird seeing zebras in the snow.

The tiger was the funniest though. He was lying in the snow in a patch of sunshine looking all the world like he was dead (but we could see him breathing) but as soon as he noticed us he perked up and started posing. Yeah, he knows what gets attention.

Checklists for Safety

Annals of Medicine: The Checklist : The New Yorker is an old article and the ideas in it are hardly new. I have run lots of things in my life on checklists since I was a Boy Scout. Real life is pretty complex and there are a lot of things need to be done but not very often.

For example, winterizing your home. You only do that once a year and there are lot of little steps and places to check. Rather then having to discover them all over again just learn them once and write it down. Several times at work I created or helped people create checklists or procedure files to remind people how to run this or that monthly report.

A really good thing about making a checklist is you can use it to find places to streamline, automate or outsource. At my last place of work we had to combine several piles of information into spreadsheets so we could standardize the information before putting it into a database. By making a checklist of things that needed to be done we could break things up into a assembly line, each person did a few things and passing it on. I also found a few ways to script, macro or otherwise automate an action. We went from 500 rows per day to over 4000.

It works in other ways as well. A first aid course will teach you a checklist of ABC: airway, breathing and circulation. They make it easy to remember the most important things to do which you will only do a few times in your whole life, unless you're a first responder.

You can store 3 things in long term memory pretty well, but it under stress that is about as far as short term memory can handle with everything going on.
If it is anything more then about 7 items it is best to write it down and just use a real checklist.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Houses Are Not Designed to be Lived In

Something I have just come to a realization of, is that the typical house in a typical development wasn't designed to be lived it, it was designed to be easy to build. I guess that is obvious to some people but its new to me.

It only takes a few weeks to build but it is lived in for several decades. That's backwards isn't it.

Not to say that you can design a perfect house. You can't, there are just too many individual family differences. A young family has different needs from a family with teens and different again if you're retired or have health problems or have a larger then average family.

I've known a few families with 11 kids and let me tell you, your average 3 bedroom+2 bath can't handle that. But those are special cases.

It seems like houses are like software, for a while it was all about the feature checklists. If you had some obscure feature you could highlight that a competitor didn't have you could get a writeup in the press, but now we have ended up with word processors so powerful that you only use maybe 5% of the features.

Houses are much the same, the builder will add features like granite countertops or marble bathrooms or big kitchens without thinking about how they work together with the people who'll live in the house.

I like going to Parade of Homes but most of the houses showcased are new very user friendly. dishwashers will be on the far side of the kitchen from the cabinets and the table. I was in one that was light and airy and as I was trying to figure out how they did that I noticed that there were hardly any doors, but the hinges were all in place. The place would be terribly dark with the doors on.

And usually they choose 32" doors to save a little money, now I don't begrudge them making a profit but if you end up hunt and need to use a wheelchair or walker you're stuck since they need 36" doors and it would cost $30,000 to rip everything out just to put in a few wider doors. So it is easier to move into a retirement facility.

We could have some great homes with a little thought put in at the design stage when changes are very cheap. We had a rule-of-thumb in engineering about cost to change, it was usually an order of magnitude at each stage. A change while still working on paper may cost $5, making a change after the blueprints have been drawn up may cost $50, during construction may cost $500, after construction was completed maybe $5000.

Actually this is looking like something I'll have to continue over time. More thoughts later.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Keeping Warm in Good Times

It's really cold. It has been in the teens or lower for days now. The apartment complex put up signs asking everyone to keep the cabinets open and faucets dripping so the water lines don't freeze. Our apartment is doing okay, the furnace comes on only every couple of hours, which I think is good.

There are some cold spots:
The front door but it is lots better after adding some extra weatherstripping. Now it only leaks a little at the top corner.
The balcony door is mostly glass so it has hardly any insulative value whatsoever. It's a double pane but it an aluminum frame so worth maybe an R6, tops. Sadly, all the windows are like that.
There is cold air back-feeding into the drier so the laundry is a little on the cool side. If we don't put the clothes out right away they end up very cold.

What's working for us:
The bedrooms are staying pretty warm, we have heavy curtains and bookcases on the outside walls. The air leaking around the bookcases is quite cold.
Extra weatherstripping on the doors helps as does a heavy curtain.

Other ideas
We have a fire place but not much fuel handy.
In case of a power outage, we could hang blankets around the master bed to make bed curtains. Like the four-poster beds used in Victorian times to stay warm.
We could still add a layer of plastic over the windows and felt on the walls for extra insulation.

Until very recently, most homes have not been very well insulated. Using four-poster beds and wing-back chairs to minimize the effects of drafts were effective but didn't attack the problem. Nowadays we can wrap whole houses in wind resistant material which makes a huge difference. Some people even complain about we are making houses too air tight and there is a problem with indoor air pollution.

Well, if your home is nice and tight we have control, aka open the windows when the days are warm and close them when they are cold like now. We also should make sure the products we bring into our homes don't pollute our own air and we can use plants that clean the air in our homes as well.

A good home design is more then the sum of the checkboxes ticked in MLS. It is how it all works together.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It so cold it must be global warming

For the longest time I have been wondering about global warming, I haven't seen anything more then what has been in the news and the occasional article. Al Gore annoyed me but he was a politician, not a scientist and they tend toward hyperbole.

I understand scientists being wrong as they try out their hypothesis. I wasn't sure about how they were going about explaining why it was so cold when they were predicting warming but real life is a bit messy that way. 

What I was not expecting ClimateGate: destroying data, fudging data, redefining peer review? 

They are not doing science, they are not scientists, they are money-grubbing charlatans -- no different from those perpetual motion scams. 

When I was in engineering school they pounded into us that our lab books were legal documents to be signed and dated on each page. Point were deducted if they were missing. Did all their classes forget that? I even had a place of work that had a notary public for witnessing and stamping our lab books.

I understand ignoring data that doesn't match expectations, but did they not learn the lesson of Louis Pasteur, he was doing experiments that lots of others were doing but he saw the outliers and asked, "That's funny. Why did that happen?" Which is the start of science not shouting, "Eureka!" and running naked thru town. I guess the lessons from Ignatz Semmilweiss is more the norm then the exception.

Now we have the EPA declaring CO2 a danger to human health. Humans exhale CO2 after breathing in O2, in an unrelated note, trees breathe in CO2 and exhale O2. Destroying the economy and piling on the debt for something that is a lie. 

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Holiday Shipping Deadlines for 2009 -

Dealnews has a wonderful verified list of ship-before-to-get-there-before-Christmas dates.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Cellphone Information Kit

Yesterday I talked about how to charge your cellphone but what about what you should have in your cellphone?

Your address book probably has the names and numbers for your family, friends, and coworkers. But your cellphone can store an effectively infinite amount of useful information, even if all it can do is carry address book information.

If your car breaks down on the way back from work, do you have the number for a tow truck or roadside assistance? How about your car dealer or mechanic to let them know you are coming?

If there is an emergency at your child's school and it goes into lockdown or is evacuated, who do you call?

If you are in an accident emergency workers are trained to look in your wallet and cell phone to find out who you are and if you have any medical conditions, are taking medications or have allergies they need to know about. Put this in a contact called In Case of Emergency or ICE to make saving your life easier for them. If your phone can include a picture even better, then they can match faces to information.

The List (you should print this out for the 72 hour kit):
  • Name
  • Home/Mobile
  • Work/School
  • Manager/Teacher
  • Colleague/Friend
  • Medications/Allergies/Vaccinations
  • Out of State disaster contact
  • Doctor/Pediatrician/Dentist/Pharmacy

* Utilities (with basic account information)

  • Gas
  • Electric
  • Water
  • Sewer
  • Cable
  • Telephone
  • Mobile Phone
  • Internet Service Provider
  • Health Insurance Provider
  • Car Insurance Provider
  • Home/Renters Insurance Provider
  • Bank
  • Mortgage/Apartment
  • Credit Cards

* Local Services

  • Memberships (Gym, Library, Video Store, &etc.)
  • Locksmith
  • Plumber
  • Electrician
  • Car mechanic or Dealer
  • Lawyer
  • Towing Service or Road-side assistance
  • Taxi service
  • Baby sitter
  • Pet sitter
  • Food Delivery (Pizza, Chinese, &etc.)

* Non-emergency numbers for:

  • City Police
  • County Sheriff
  • State Patrol
  • Fire Department
  • Ambulance
  • Hospital
  • Veterinarian
  • After Hours Vet Care
  • Humane Society
  • State Bureau of Investigation
  • Utility finding service (usually found in your billing information)
  • City Government
  • County Government
  • State Government
  • Federal Government

* Car Insurance Claims Hotline

  • Geico:         1-800-861-8380 
  • Allstate: 1-800-ALLSTATE (1-800-255-7828) 
  • Nationwide: 1-800-421-3535 
  • Progressive: 1-800-PROGRESSIVE (1-800-776-4737) 
  • Liberty Mutual: 1-800-2CLAIMS (1-800-225-2467) 
  • State Farm:   Agent Lookup  
  • AIG Direct: 1-888-244-6163 
  • Travelers: 1-800-CLAIM33 (1-800-252-4633) 

* Lost or Stolen Credit Card Hotlines
  • Visa:         1-800-VISA-911 (1-800-847-2911) 
  • MasterCard: 1-800-MC-ASSIST (800-622-7747) 
  • American Express: 1-800-992-3404
  • Discover: 1-800-DISCOVER (1-800-347-2683) 
  • Diners Club: 1-800-2DINERS (1-800-234-6377) 
* Airlines Reservations Hotline (Add the frequent flyer info to these contacts)
  • American Airlines: 1-800-433-7300 
  • Continental:         1-800-525-0280   
  • Delta Airlines: 1-800-221-1212 
  • JetBlue:           1-800-538-2583 
  • Northwest Airlines: 1-800-225-2525 
  • Southwest Airlines: 1-800-435-9792 
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Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Cellphone Kit

Now you are probably thinking, why do I need a cellphone kit, as long as it is charged it is good. Besides in a major disaster the cellphone system comes crashing down anyway and its no good to me then anyway.

Well, it isn't always like that. Not every disaster takes down the cellphone system, a car crash is a often a disaster but the cellphone system is still fine. Even in a big disaster if you can get any signal at all you can usually get a text message out.

Here is the preparedness part, does you out-of-state point of contact have text message capability? If you are below 30 very likely you do, over 30 not so much, then it gives you something to discuss and train on during the family times this holiday season.

There are all kinds of cell phone chargers out there and even if all you carry is a USB to cellphone cable for your phone, you should be able to find someone able to charge it for you at their computer. One of the malls near me even have a pay cellphone charger in the food court.

Leaving a car charger in your car is a pretty good idea or even just a spare wall charger. A good alternative is a USB outlet for the cigarette lighter, with your USB to phone cable it will do the job.

If you want something a little more independent, there are external battery packs that use regular batteries, little solar panel and hand crank charging kits. Sometimes they are combined with radios and flashlights. It will take a while but it will do the job.

Like anything other piece of emergency equipment you'll want to test them a couple of times a year to make sure they still work.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Snow Day

Today, it is snowing. Not bad about 4 inches by us. The stupid thing is that I smashed the scrapper part off of the snow brush when I was closing the trunk, I've got a spare scrapper I keep in the driver's side door, but it is annoying.

Traffic however was terrible. There was a nice layer of ice under the snow so getting out of the neighborhood was slow and I was really paranoid about the other drivers. A 20 minutes drive took nearly an hour.

Its better then in October but there are still people who think that 4 wheel drive also means 4 wheel stop. ABS helps and is will stop you faster then just sliding across the ice but it is not even like dry ground.

Winter driving is just not that hard, but a few reminders.

  • Leave extra car lengths room between you and the car in front of you. I've noticed that people behind me will notice that and open up the distance as well. 
  • Expect your car to slide when turning into a side street. Things will ice over pretty quickly.
  • Be prepared for cars stopping at intersections to slide through their stop sign/light, it's not that they aren't trying to stop it is just that they can't. 
  • Take a camera along in case of an accident and get a picture of the other driver and witnesses not just the cars and damage.
  • Accept the fact that you'll be late anyway no matter which alternate route you use. 
  • Be calm.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What is the Most Important Tool in your 72 Hour Kit?

This was the question in our last Ham Net and it is forces a lot of thought about what goes into your kit.

Is it the food? No, you can last for weeks without food, in this case food is more for comfort then anything else.

Is it the map and compass? No, you've been to your evacuation site plenty of times, so you should have a good idea how to get there, even if there are roadblocks.

Is it water? This was the most popular answer here in Denver, it is very dry here so drinking water is important, but you should be able to live for 3 days without water.

Is it a radio? As Hams that was the next most popular answer. Knowledge is power and a radio is a great way to gather knowledge as all kinds of transmissions are made during an emergency. It can be comforting and even vital, depending on the nature of the emergency but mostly it is a luxury.

Is it a particular tool, such as a knife, cash, flashlight or gun? All of these certainly had their places and uses, and some people certainly think if they have enough of one or the other of these things they can get what they need. And that may be true in some circumstances, but these can also be liabilities in others.

Is it a cellphone or other 2-way communications device? This is looking more like it, since you can summon help, food and contact family and friends with it. Certainly a very useful tool, though it does not help you survive directly.

I don't think there is any one most important tool, the tool we need for any particular emergency may be completely inappropriate for another emergency. That is why we make kits with lots of different tools, to cover the different kinds of emergencies we are preparing for.