Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

May we honor those who gave their lives to preserve freedom and the Republic.
May we always remember their sacrifice.
Let us remember to do our part to maintain freedom.

Friday, May 28, 2010

News Roundup

Emergency Preparation






Personal Development

The Absolute Beginners Guide to Learning How To Cook for Survival: Part 6 Pots and Pans: Ceramic

Ceramic is second oldest form of cookware, right after the large flat rock.
Ceramic comes in two forms: glazed, like porcelain and unglazed, like terra cotta; both are insulators. Glazed ceramic is non-reactive and non-porous, however some glazes have been made with high-concentrations of lead, so if you are unsure of the origin of a pan take it to your local extension office to be tested. Unglazed ceramic is porous, liquids can leech into the pan and stain it. Some pans like the Römertopf use that as a feature requiring you to soak the pan in water before use allowing it to absorb water which it can release to steam the food as it cooks in the oven. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Absolute Beginners Guide to Learning How To Cook for Survival: Part 5 Pots and Pans: Glass

Glass is a popular in bakeware, some of it is even safe for stovetop use. It is non-reactive and if its a borosilicate glass safe at oven temperatures. It is an amorphous solid making it an insulator so it takes so time to heat up but will also release the heat slowly, this can allow pans make of glass to cook foods more evenly. That also means it will cool more slowly once out of the oven. That makes it good for serving where it will keep the food warm on the table for a while.
Glass is susceptible to thermal shock, one of the easiest ways to break a glass dish, besides dropping it is to put it on something wet. That area cools and starts to contract which creating sufficient stress to shatter the pan.
Glass-ceramics such as Corningware have a very low coefficient of thermal expansion making them almost immune from thermal shock breakage.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

News Roundup

The Absolute Beginners Guide to Learning How To Cook for Survival: Part 4 Pots and Pans: Steel

Steel is the other major material used for making cooking pots and pans. Usually found in the stainless variety but you can find non-stainless steel pans out there. 
Stainless steel is tough and durable. Since it is non-reactive it can handle high acid foods like citrus and tomatoes. 
Stainless steel is not a great conductor so you often find it bonded to or clad with other metals, like aluminum or copper, to improve its heat transfer capabilities. 
Stainless steel is also a little bit sticky, which is good for building pan sauces from the fond or the brown bits left after searing your food. You can deglaze the pan with water, stock or other water-type liquid to release the fond and flavor the pan sauce.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

News Roundup

The Absolute Beginners Guide to Learning How To Cook for Survival: Part 3 Pots and Pans: Aluminum

Aluminum is lightweight and a fast conductor of heat, that also means it tends to have hot spots and makes it harder to properly sear foods. Aluminum is a reactive metal but unlike cast iron cannot be seasoned. Aluminum is also somewhat soft and is easily scratched. Regular aluminum generally used for very large pots and bakeware.
It would be better to go with either anodized aluminum or one of the non-stick coatings. 
Aluminum is anodized by giving it a bath in an electrified acid tank. This causes oxygen to combine with the aluminum to create a sapphire coating. This makes these pans corrosion and wear resistant. A good thick anodized aluminum pan is good for all kinds of uses and is a fine general use pan. The only real downside is that the anodization is usually very dark making it a little hard to tell how done the food is. An anodized aluminum pot is ideal for long term simmering of high acid foods like tomato sauce. It is also lightweight enough to boil water for pasta and still be able to carry it to the sink. Get pots and pans with oven-safe handles, so you can finish an underdone dish in the oven without burning it.
Aluminum is also often coated with a non-stick material polytetrafluoroethylene aka Teflon(tm). It is so slippery not even a gecko can climb it. A non-stick pan is ideal for cooking eggs, which are liquid protein and will find any crack or pit to hang on to. Obviously, you wouldn't want to use it for making pot-stickers. While it is non-reactive it can start breaking down in kitchen temperatures about 500°F (260°C) and it's not very durable. Pans made by better manufactures don't require special non-metal tools to prevent scratching, stay away from any that do.

Monday, May 24, 2010

News Roundup

The Absolute Beginners Guide to Learning How To Cook for Survival: Part 2 Pots and Pans

Now we turn to pots and pans. While ceramic and large rocks have been the traditional standard for thousands of years, I am going to stick to the major modern materials: cast iron, aluminum, steel, glass, and ceramic. 

Cast iron is simple and durable. Can go from freezer to oven without complaint. Plenty of grandparents have passed their cookware down to their granddaughters and beyond. Cast iron can rust, this can be countered somewhat with proper seasoning (see manufacturers instructions). Another downside is that it is reactive, therefore generally bad for cooking high acid foods in for long periods of time, this will affect the color and taste of your food, though a good seasoning mitigate that. This can be countered by coating the cast iron with enamel giving it an impervious surface. Cast iron is very heavy this is good because that means it will hold on to a lot of heat that it can transfer into the food, but hard to maneuver because of its weight. Cast iron is a slow conductor which makes the pan slow to preheat and slow to cool. 
A cast iron pan is ideal for searing a steak and a cast iron pot is ideal for baked beans, chili and pot roast. An enameled cast iron pot is ideal for high acid foods like tomato sauce and onion soup.
Clean then with kosher salt and a scrubbie. Do not use soap, it will strip off the seasoning and flavor the pan.

Friday, May 21, 2010

News Roundup

The Absolute Beginners Guide to Learning How To Cook for Survival: What Food is Made Of

Too many people I talk to lately have no idea how to cook. They can follow a recipe but they can't think of what else they can do with it. This will be an ongoing series on what food is and how to cook it.

Food is made up of thing like proteins, carbohydrates, water, oils and various vitamins and minerals.

Heat breaks down the cell walls of food releasing more of the nutrition inside. Sure, some nutrients will be destroyed in the cooking process but far more will be liberated to make up for that. If that wasn't the case why would anyone keep cooking food. Gathering firewood and maintaining a fire would not be worth the effort to do if the food was better without cooking.
Meat is primarily made up of proteins which are made up of long molecular strands, that uncurl when heated. This is called denaturing and tends to make meat tender and that is why meat is generally has the best texture at medium rare to medium, especially if you let the meat rest for a few minutes to allow the juices to redistribute within the meat. As you keep heating the proteins they will tangle up with each other and begin to contract again, as they contract they will squeeze out the water that was floating between the protein strands, making the meat tough and dry floating on a plateful of juices. 

Staple foods like potatoes and grains and most vegetables are made up mostly of carbohydrates or starches. Starches are a plant's way of storing energy, like animals use fat. Usually as complex carbohydrates, which are large molecular structures. The only problem is that our bodies aren't able to break down such large molecules, that is why we get gas after eating beans. So we need to break them down into something smaller that the chemical and physical processes we have can break those down. The heat of cooking will break down those complex carbohydrates into simple sugars which we can process very easily.

One of the reasons food turns brown, when it is cooked, is because the sugars, that the carbohydrates are breaking down into, are being caramelized. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

News Roundup

World stocks tumble as debt woes rumble on
Cramer: Europe to Collapse in 48 Hours – or Never
Slightly scary stories about the leverage of European banks
Germany About to Pull the Plug On Europe, This is Going to Hurt!
Thousands of nonprofits may lose tax-exempt status
Greece Syndrome Defined
Earth in the Balance: 7 Crucial Tipping Points

Toilet brush 'blunder' death


Cooperative Extension System Offices

Here is a government program that sorta works, mainly because it is almost completely ignored by the government, so the people running it are free to do a good job.

We got a fantastic high-altitude cookbook from our local office when we first moved here that let my wife learn to make a killer loaf of French bread.

They often have some really useful gardening info.

And they have the equipment to check your pressure cooker.

How to Boil Water For Survival

You would think that boiling water is simple and straightforward.
You grab a pot.
You put water from the tap in the pot.
You put the pot on the stove and crank it to high and wait a few minutes until water is all turbulent and steamy. It will go faster if you put a lid on top, higher partial pressure and all that.
Congratulations you just killed all the germs in that pot of water. You now have safe drinking water. At this point you could even add a flavorant, like my favorite: hot cocoa mix.

This is also known as pasteurization. One of the top 5 health upgrades ever. Good to know if you have a access to a cow or raw milk. And also helpful if you made some stock and going to use it just to be sure, since your average meat stock is low in acid and rich in protein, making it an ideal bacteria breeding ground.

If you are into canning you'll use this to sterilize your jars and tools, and it will also work on medical supplies if there is a long term emergency and you are having to do it yourself.
You can even pour it over dishes and flatware to sterilize them, a useful tip if the dishwasher isn't working and you're sick.

If you are out in the wilderness and can make a fire you can sterilize the water even if you don't have a pot. Water boils at 212°F (100°C) at sea level but only 203°F (95°C) in Denver. Which is a lot lower then the melting point of a lot of materials. You can boil water in a paper cup though the top edge will burn off. Even a plastic water bottle will work, but you'll want to suspend it over the fire with some rope, hot rocks would melt the plastic. The fire will only discolor it. You wouldn't want to do that for the long term, chemicals and stuff, but it would keep you alive until rescue.

This also prepares you for a cooking skill upgrade. Once you can boil water you can learn to poach, braise and simmer foods. But that is another post.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

News Roundup

Emotional Preparedness

Are you ready to lose everything?

That is a very hard question to face. Our daughter died and it was very hard, she was only 9 days old.

Few people are brave enough to look at their own mortality much less their spouse's or their children's.

We are mortal and so we will all die. That is the nature of mortality. You can't make that go away and you can't ignore it.

Something that made dealing with it easier was suing decisions we had already made. We donated her organs and they were able to use her heart valves to save someone else's baby.

Since we are still young and tend to move around, we decided that whoever dies first should be cremated so we can keep them near until we could be buried together. So we keep her close in her urn.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Family Lifeboat: Spiritual Preparedness

Do you think America is in a sustainable recovery?
Do you think there is trouble ahead of America and the world?

If you think there is a recovery, why are you reading this?

On the other hand, if you think, like I do, that there remains quite a bit of trouble ahead for America and the world that needs to be worked through, we need to prepare for that.

We need to prepare in several ways:
Physical: with food and water and the like.
Mental: with learning and thinking about what might be coming.
Emotional: by connecting with family and friends.

But today I want to write about the spiritual facet of our beings. We need to spend some of our time and efforts on strengthening our relationship with our God.

I have no idea what you believe or how you might worship, but are you putting the time into it that it deserves?

We can have a strong and personal relationship with our Heavenly Father and it is very simple:
Study the scriptures.
Pray to Him often, personally and as a family.
Spend time with our families talking about God and our relationship to God.
Go to church so we can worship Him and strengthen each other.

It's that simple. Most people think that is too simple. It isn't supposed to be hard. To be healed from snakebites all Israel had to do was look on a brazen serpent Moses put on top of a stick, but many wouldn't and died. Naaman the leper was told to wash in the Jordan river seven times and he would be cleansed and he almost didn't do it because it wasn't impressive enough.

This isn't a hard thing, but it is like a long-distance relationship, it takes extra special care and lots of little things to make it work.

Are you working on it?

News Roundup

Massachusetts Insurers Post Big Losses
Erase Your Copy Machine's Hard Drive to Wipe Important Documents
New electricity grids may be smart, but not so private
ProLogis testing products from solar-energy companies
White House says 1.5 trillion calories to be cut from food supply?
Union cries foul after court blocks BA cabin crew strike
Winning a property-tax reduction on your home
Gold Investing: A beginners Guide to the Gold Market
For Wall Street Villains: The Five Best Hideouts -- With No Extradition
Why are Japanese houses so damn cold?
Suppose 21st Century Disasters Like 19th Century
AccidentSketch Helps You Create Detailed Accident Reports
This Cartoon Seemed Far-Fetched In 1948
Things You Really Need to Learn
Clean Your PC
A Weekend Project for You
Crashing America
The new food pessimism
Make It Easy To Do Right.
The Battle for the Internet:
The Dollar Meltdown: Surviving the Impending Currency Crisis
“Do I have the right to refuse this search?”
Why Bother?
What Survivalists Have Right
Waste not, want not: here comes the new austerity chic
China boom may be ending, warns OECD
Drought in southern China
The Toilet Paper Shortage of 1973
Greek and Roman classics available online
How to Fall 35,000 Feet—And Survive

Monday, May 17, 2010

News Roundup

Why An Emergency Fund Matters

Is your emergency fund big enough to replace the tires on your car?

Over the weekend we had to make use of some emergency finds.

As we were going out on Saturday night we ran over a nail and got a flat tire, just as we were going into a left turn lane with a red light. It was a two lane turn so we weren't really blocking traffic.

I turned on the hazard flashers and set out the triangle (lesson learned: put it far enough over so people will avoid you and not just the car.)

A friendly police officer pulled in behind us just as I was getting the jack set and offered to help, which was fine, as that let me unpack the spare and everything else.

A big plastic bag is great for putting the dirty old tire on to keep things cleaner in back.

I had noticed that one of the tires was getting a bit low in tread back on the equinox, so I have been looking into new tires. I figured I had a couple of more months but this forced the issue. Actually two of the tires were bad and needed replacing.

Tires are pretty much a commodity at the low end, and with more then 100,000 miles on the car I am not going to put really great tires on it. Depending on the sales you may be able to get a good deal but mostly the real variation is in service and other fees.

The real thing comes down to trust. I eliminated one store outright because they were hard selling me when I came to look, and I did not like them.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What are the Most Important Rooms of Your Home?

After reading Millioniare Mommy's post on how much a spare room costs. I got to thinking about what are the most essential rooms of our home.

Since we live on the Great Plains having a safe room is important. Last Spring we had tornados within 5 miles of our place for two weeks straight. It is also the bathroom so we get some multitasking action going. While a basement or steel reinforced concrete safe room would be ideal, we go with what we got. Our dream home has something better.

Obviously, if you live in a flood zone your safe room should be upstairs, if you live in/near a potential terrorist target city you have different concerns too.

The bathroom is vital for personal hygiene. The kitchen and pantry for food storage and preparation. The bedroom for sleep. The laundry to keep clothes and bedding clean. Finally, the utility rooms feeds those rooms with water, electricity and warm/cool air.

This is not a floor plan but an idea plan. In real life it wouldn't be unusual to have 2 pantries, a small one in the kitchen and a bigger one in the garage or basement. Most homes would have more then one bedroom and bathroom.

Obviously, you need a dining room or eating nook to sit and eat in, and a living room or family room for sitting in. But ask yourself how much you really need.

I've seen 4 bedroom/4 bath homes with 3 kitchens and 4 dining rooms. Just crazy. And then I've seen homes remodeled to make big holiday family meals easier but only get used twice a year. Something I want in my dream home is an eating nook that is open to the living room so we can extend the table for Thanksgiving and Easter when everyone comes over.

News Roundup

US faces same problems as Greece, says Bank of England
Millions of jobs that were cut won't likely return
The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites
Low runoff could affect farmers, rafters, fish in some Colo. basins
Speech Restrictions Aimed at Making Sure People Act in “Right-Thinking” Ways
NASA fuels space shuttle Atlantis for final voyage
Do you know how many dollars your spare room is costing you?
Carnival of Personal Finance: The Origin of the Piggy Bank

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Blackout Box

It sure is Spring in Colorado. It snowed again and of course the lights started to flicker. They didn't go out this time, praise be, but they will likely go out again sometime soon.

Does the power go out often where you live? Do you have things handy to deal with that?

Flashlights are obvious, they give plenty of light and are not a fire hazard. I like LED based flashlights, since LEDs use only 10% of the energy of an incandescent or Krypton bulb the batteries will last way longer. A regular D-cell flashlight will last a few hours before the batteries die, an LED flashlight can last a hundred hours or more. You can get replacement LED bulbs for many regular flashlights.

How big is the blackout? Why did it happen? What is going on? A battery powered radio is an important tool in getting that information. Information is empowerment for survival. A simple AM/FM radio is all you need to start with. Your car has one, but you'll want to run the engine for a few minutes out of every hour to top off the battery.
As an upgrade a radio that can receive weather alerts can be handy, especially if you live in an area prone to tornado and other weather events.
To cover really bad incidents a shortwave or world band radio will allow you to tune into stations from around the world.

A little entertainment can go a long way to wile away the time until the power comes back. Some games, and books would be helpful. Coloring books and crayons or colored pencils would be good for kids.

If the blackout lasts more then a day you have to worry about food in the refrigerator and freezer spoiling. Always keeping a few extra jugs of water, juice or soda will keep things cooler longer. A few partially filled bottles of water in the freezer will stretch things out for the freezer. Many homeowner's and renter's insurance policies cover spoiled food so check with your insurance company for procedures.

If  the blackout lasts more then a few hours and the weather is really cold or really hot you may have to worry about being able to stay warm or cool. If you live in the American South or SouthWest, have a generator and have someone that is sensitive to extreme heat like babies and the elderly, consider getting a small window air conditioner and setting up a cool room to help them survive.

A generator is great for as long as it has fuel. Make sure it is outside and no the garage with the door open does not count. Even if it is outside make sure that the exhaust is pointed away from the house. Most walls are not airtight so carbon monoxide can migrate through the wall the exhaust is facing, penetrate the house and kill you.

News Roundup

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

News Roundup

Will Nickel-Free Nickels Make a Dime's Worth of Difference?
Multi-level bunker found under East Austin home
“Like Neurons in the Brain”: A Molecular Computer That Evolves
A Drug Raid Goes Viral
Greek workers call one-day strike May 20

The Top Ten things You Need to Get Started Preparing

For some reason a lot of people think getting prepared costs a lot of money up front. I mean you have to have guns, gold and a 4x4 truck. Don't you? 
No, not really. Sure, those things are nice and good to have but they aren't on the most necessary list.

Like anything you can spend a lot of money getting ready for anything, but the reality is you don't need to spend big money to reach a good level of preparedness. You probably have a large amount of the most important things already, you just need to assess what you have and tweak it to last a little longer.

Imagine being stuck at home for a couple of weeks because of a pandemic or blizzard or something. A simple disaster that can happen in your area.

Food: We need to eat several times a day usually and an everyone goes to the store at least a couple of times a week. Keep your eyes out for sales on foods you normally eat and pick up an extra can or box and put it in your pantry.
A pantry doesn't have to be anything fancy: the cabinet over the sink or a shelf in the basement is a good enough place to start.
If you use milk a lot, pick up some dried milk powder and some of the canned evaporated milk, if you aren't into skim milk add a can of the evaporated milk to a jug of reconstituted milk to bring up the fat content which makes it taste a lot better.
Your first goal should be 3 days, then 2 weeks, 3 months, up to about a year per person.

Water: You don't even need to buy bottled water, just fill up some well-cleaned soda bottles or even milk jugs and store them under the sink. If you use milk jugs you'll want to date them so you can replace them every year, they tend to deteriorate after several months. 
Sometimes there is a problem with the water system and you need to boil your water to make it safe. You probably already have have a 6-8 quart pot for doing just that for cooking pasta and soups.
If you can't boil the water and it needs to be purified some pure, unscented chlorine bleach will do the job. You can use up the scented stuff in your laundry as normal but buy the unscented from now on and keep a spare bottle and rotate it through as normal. 
You need 1/4 teaspoon per gallon for clear water and 1/2 teaspoon per gallon for cloudy water. 
You'll need at least 1 gallon per person per day. Your first goal is for 3 days, then 2 weeks. Once you get up to a months storage you'll want to think about a water purification system because water is really bulky.

Shelter: Obviously, this is your primary residence, but it also includes your clothes, shoes and vehicles. Blankets, tarps and large plastic bags fall in this category too. While a tent, RV or second home would be nice, you probably already have plenty of materials on hand to construct some kind of emergency shelter.

Light: There is something very comforting about having light at night. Blackout happen pretty often so having some alternate source of light is handy.
Flashlights are great since they are easily portable. LED bulbs allow the batteries to last a lot longer then regular bulbs. Keep extra batteries on hand and check their expiration dates yearly.
Candles work fine too, though you have to worry a bit about them tipping over and setting the place on fire. Short and wide is better then tall and skinny but use what you have. Make sure to have lighters and matches and a fire extinguisher or small bucket of water or sand, or box of baking soda nearby.
OIl, propane, kerosene or gas lanterns are nice, but those are the kind of thing to get later after you've got all the basics covered. But if you see one at a garage sale, go for it.

Heat and Fire: I bet you have this one covered already: 79% of homes have a grill of some kind in the backyard. This lets you heat food and water, and also bricks to take inside to warm your beds. An extra cylinder of propane or a few bags of charcoal would add a lot of comfort in times of emergency.
Camp stoves are nice if you are looking for portability, but again this is something to watch for at a garage sale. A wood burning stove or fireplace in you home would be good but terribly expensive to retrofit.

Medical supplies: This includes things like prescription medications, glasses, canes, and a first aid kit, of course. 
Don't forget policy and contact information for your health insurance, doctor, pediatrician, dentist, optician, and local hospitals. Everyone in the family should keep a copy in your wallet and your cell phone.

Tool kit: Things break, and fixing them is often worth your while, if you have the tools. Installing a shelf, fixing a cabinet, getting your car on the road again are all things you can do.
A home tool kit doesn't need to be fancy or any fancy boxes. A sturdy rubber tub will do. A hammer and some nails, a flat/phillips screwdriver and screws, a saw, a crescent wrench and some pliers will go a long way to dealing with most home problems. 
A plumbing kit needs some specialized tools for that.
Your car kit will need things depending on the kind of car you have but you should be able to change the oil and filters and brake pads. The mechanic's manual is important for that.

Document kit: This is something a lot of people completely ignore, but you should organize your family's personal documents, Social Security cards, birth certificates, contracts, debts, accounts, leases, mortgages, diplomas, insurance policies, titles and so on. These should all be organized and copied so you have a backup set somewhere off-site. The originals should be stored in a fire safe or safe deposit box.

Financial: If you are in debt, you need to retire that debt as soon as you can. It is holding you down, it is slavery. List you debts, expenses and income and work out a plan with your family to get out of debt. Dave Ramsey's debt snowball is a great plan to do just that.

Knowledge: Knowledge is power, pure and simple. You can get a lot of knowledge on the internet and from the library. Learn as much as you can, so you can make better decisions later. The most valuable knowledge comes from other people's experience, that costs way less then learn from your own experience.
You do still want a few books in house so they are available when you need them. A first-aid manual, a local edible plants guidebook, your car's mechanics manual, a home repair book, a general survival book and an all-around cookbook that covers as many different ingredients as possible.

Once you have good coverage on these items then you can worry about getting gold, guns and MRE's.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New Roundup

The First Things Many People Think Of When It is Time To Prepare, Which Are Wrong

Most people start to prepare when the time for preparation is over. When the floodwaters are lapping at their doorstep, or when they see the storm bearing down on them. 

That is when they head to the store to battle it out over the last case of bottled water and loaf of bread.

When there is a call to evacuate they all head straight to the Interstate turning it into a parking lot.

It isn't that the first idea that pops into your head is bad by itself, it is just that almost everyone else has the exact same idea and there is no system in place that will handle 80% of the people all doing the same thing at the same time.
These ideas also tend not be be in the top ten most important things to do to prepare before the disaster happens.
Sure, they are usually something that needs doing or having at some point but there are usually far more important things to do first.

Gold is a big one. Unprepared people will go into debt to buy gold, which is insanity. It is far, far more important to get out of debt then it is to buy gold. Having gold and being in debt is much worse then having no gold and being debt free. Once you retire all your debt you can start investing in gold and other commodities.
A garden and food storage is far more important then owning gold, you can eat food, you can't eat gold.

Survival skills is another major subject where people jump to wilderness survival first thing.  They say they'll pack everyone up and go into the wilderness and survive of the land, like a real man. Some even say they'll leave they families to go it alone shooting game and somehow surviving by themselves. That tends to fail in the long term.
The next disaster to strike will probably not be the bringing down of  civilization kind. Are your ready to survive the most likely disasters in your city? Which may be as simple as a blackout or blizzard.

Another thing people jump to on the subject of survival is guns. On the one hand you have some people who think that if they have their EBR and plenty of ammunition they can steal whatever they need. They'll even announce this is their only plan if the topic comes up in conversation. These are coworkers, neighbors, friends and even family. They seem to be under the delusion that a gun makes them all-powerful. On the other hand they don't seem to realize that about half of the households in the country are also armed. Guns are a useful tool but they are not the be all end all some people think they are.

In conclusion, it isn't that these are bad things to have to prepare with, but they are not on the top ten list of essential items. Cover the basics first: food, water, shelter, medical supplies, financial, communications, transportation, heat, light and fire. Then you can worry about adding these other things.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Build a Financial Lifeboat

Do you think the economy is getting better or worse?
If you think the economy is getting better, do you think that there could be another recession sometime in the next decade?
If you think the economy is getting worse, how bad can it get?

U.S. Debt Shock May Hit In 2018, Maybe As Soon As 2013: Moody's - IBD -

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) certainly thinks things will get worse in the next few years. Losing our AAA credit rating would be very bad as that would cause interest payments to jump. Like all those people who got the ARM mortgages and could barely make the minimums then the rates reset and then they were underwater on their loans and they had to either go into bankruptcy or sell at a loss.

The country could go into bankruptcy and default on its loans. The government has an option the people don't and that is print more money but that would lead to inflation and possibly even hyper-inflation.

There are also two other options but they are only temporary:
Create a new global currency, and cap-and-trade would be one way of doing that, with all the derivates and insurance instruments of the housing bubble, which will only cause another bubble with an even bigger crash at the end, but by that point the current leadership will be out of power and it will be someone else watch. So they'll get the blame.

Or they could reset the dollar and back it with land, which the federal government owns a lot of. Germany did that during the Weimar Republic. That didn't turn out too well in the end.

So what can you do?

Build an emergency fund. They're doing it for the EU. It needs to be big enough to cover a major car repair, or major appliance replacement. A bout of hyper-inflation can wipe this out but that hasn't arrived yet.

The most important thing is to get out of debt. Debt is slavery. Inflation always puts the debtor behind the curve.

Store up food and plant a garden. "That's financial preparedness?" Yes, hyper-inflation can wipe out savings and dividends, but it can't touch canned goods and seeds. Growing food takes practice so get started now. There is still time to get plants in the ground this year.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Is you home a lifeboat or a boat anchor around your neck?

If there was a virulent, and fatal pandemic, and a quarantine was imposed how long would you be able to feed your family and be comfortable?
If you were in an accident and were stuck in a wheelchair for a couple of months, would you have to live in your living room?
If you lost your job, how long before you would need to sell your home or lose it to foreclosure?

The Volokh Conspiracy The Further Left You Are the Less You Know About Economics:

The Volokh Conspiracy The Further Left You Are the Less You Know About Economics:: "Those identifying as “libertarian” and “very conservative” were the most knowledgeable about basic economics. Those identifying as “Progressive” and “Liberal” were the worst."

This explains so much.

I remember my Econ101 class, it was very annoying since I never really felt like I was learning anything. Some of the stuff seemed like it would make sense to know if I was a Fortune 500 CFO or SecTreas or a Fed banker but as an engineer, not so much.

I wish they had taught something more down to earth like how banks and credit cards really worked and how to buy a car and house.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Roubini Says Rising Sovereign Debt Leads to Defaults (Correct) - BusinessWeek

Roubini Says Rising Sovereign Debt Leads to Defaults (Correct) - BusinessWeek: "“Eventually, the fiscal problems of the U.S. will also come to the fore,” Roubini said during the panel discussion. “The risk of something serious happening in the U.S. in the next two or three years is going to be significant” because there’s “no willingness in Washington to do anything” unless forced by the bond markets."

Whenever it happens it will be bad. It can be inflation, it myy be hyperinflation, it could even be deflation. None of those are good choices.

What would you do if the money you have lost a quarter or half its value? What would happen to your job or business?

Nashville Flood 2010: The Disaster You May Not Have Heard About |

Nashville Flood 2010: The Disaster You May Not Have Heard About | "A great American city is currently buried under a sea of water, but you may not know much about it given all the attention media have given to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the failed car bomb attempt in New York's Times Square."

I think we can state categorically that Obama and the Feds were not there Day 1. It's been nearly a week.

What do you do for your family and community, if no help is coming?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Peak Water

Tavis Smiley . Guest Blogger . Freshwater Scarcity: The Greatest Crisis Most Americans Have Never Heard Of | PBS: "History teaches that a difficult adjustment lies ahead, just as it has whenever population levels and key resource bases have gotten unsustainably out of balance. The chief question is how much suffering the adjustment will entail, and which societies make the nimblest adaptations and emerge as world leaders and which will not and decline."

So humans are all bad and are sucking the planet dry and all that. Admitted, we are using a whole bunch of pretty wasteful techniques to farm and stuff and we can do better.

Upfront costs are a big deal for farmers, so I understand that we haven't gotten to the latest and greatest tools and techniques. That is one of the problems of being an innovator, you are often leap-frogged by those you learned from your mistakes.

So what can we do? We can do some things to deal with our own family's water security. While being in an apartment isn't great even a suburban home would be better.

A well would be nice but it is the aquifers that are being depleted. So that might not be a good long term solution. But it is a good short-term solution.

If you live near an ocean or the Great Lakes some kind of system to purify water like a solar still or something would be very handy.

Rainwater harvesting is another solution. Straight from the sky the water is pure enough but after catching it with your roof you'll want to filter out the bird poop and other things. A big container to hold it in and some plumbing and such.

This is not the most urgent thing to work on. This is a medium to long term issue to work on. But it is something to keep an eye on.

You should have some stored water in your home for water main breaks, flooding and the like. A way to purify untreated surface water and things like that.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Punishing Savers, Again - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine

Punishing Savers, Again - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine: "When President Obama took office, the personal savings rate for Americans was an anemic-but-getting-healthier 5 percent. That number peaked a year ago, and is now down to 2.8 percent. This drop is even more striking when you consider that asset prices have, until the beginning of this year, been dropping or flat almost across the board."

For some reason they don't even mention the fact that there are a lot of people out of work or underemployed and living off of savings.

China May ‘Crash’ in Next 9 to 12 Months, Faber Says (Update3) -

China May ‘Crash’ in Next 9 to 12 Months, Faber Says (Update3) - "China is “on a treadmill to hell” because it’s hooked on property development for driving growth, Chanos said in an interview last month. As much as 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product relies on construction, he said. Rogoff said in February a debt-fueled bubble in China may trigger a regional recession within a decade."

Well, why not them too.

I'd've thought they would have learned their lesson from everyone else on the planet doing that first.

Beef prices shoot up after harsh winter -

Beef prices shoot up after harsh winter -: "A harsh winter and cash-strapped ranchers — let's not forget commodity speculators — have reduced cattle herds and caused prices to shoot up nearly 25% since last year, the Financial Times reports. Expect that burger or steak to cost more in the months ahead, the meat experts say."

Another indication that food prices are going to rise for a while.

Will There Be Food Shortages?

Probably not outright shortages, but it looks like some foods will be more expensive then usual over then next little while.

The bees did not do to well this winter. It looks like we lost another third of the bees this winter, which has been happening since 2006.

And Roundup resistant weeds are spreading. Meaning more work for farmers which will have to charge more, to cover their costs.

The oil spill has pretty much shutdown the Gulf fisheries. California's Central Valley's water was shut off. The cooler then normal weather has reduced crop yields in many northern plains states. And ranchers have been encouraged to cull their herds for some time.

What can we do about it?

There are two things: Store inexpensive staples now and grow our own.

A lot of food is still quite inexpensive, so we might as well stock up now. It is a great inflation hedge and will help out in times of need. Just make sure you know how to cook it.

Start a garden. Get out there and plant some food for yourself. Learn the skills so if it does get bad you can feed yourself. It is a little late to start seeds but nurseries have plenty of plants for sale now.

Monday, May 3, 2010

How to Handle a Water Emergencies

What would you do if you opened the faucet and no water came out?
How long would you wait before going to the store to get water or other drinks?
Do you have any water at home, work, school or in your car to last at least a little while?

There are a couple of water emergencies going on over the weekend.
In Boston a major water main broke leaving 2 million people without water. Because of the loss of pressure the system is contaminated so they have to boil their water before drinking it.

Boiling water is very simple take a large pot of water and put it over high heat until it comes to a rolling boil, turn off the heat and let it cool. Here in Denver with my stove we can get half a gallon of water to a boil in about 5 minutes. Then it takes about 2 hours for it to cool. 
The water will taste a little flat. To perk it up pour it between two clean containers a few times to aerate the water.

Alternatively you can filter the water. Understand those refrigerator and pitcher filters are mostly just activated charcoal and they deal with taste not contamination.
You need a filter with pores smaller then 1 micron to filter out spores and some filters go so small they even filter out viruses.

Stores are surging lots of bottled water in but it still takes time as everyone is doing the same thing, going to the store and buying bottled water.

Most people think to go first to the supermarket or megamart for bottled water, but lots of stores carry it. Convenience stores obviously, but I have also seen pallets of water and other drinks at home improvement, office supply stores and sporting good stores. 

Tennessee has a different problem. They are being flooded and one of their water treatment plants is underwater. They need to keep the pressure in the system about 20 psi or contamination can backflow into the system, requiring a purge. So the government is asking people to halve the amount of water they use, but not why. Now the problem is people are filling up all the containers they have, but since everyone is doing it, it is hard to keep the pressure up and the water might be getting contaminated.

It is best just to have a few cases of bottled water stored up before something happens. It is very cheap insurance to fill a few empty and clean soda bottles with water. I don't recommend using milk jugs since they are biodegradable and will start leaking in a few months.

  • Keep at least 1 gallon/person/day on hand. 
  • Keep it under the bathroom sink or other cool, dry place that won't freeze.
  • Rotate semi-annually.