Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Got another Ruger Mini-14

(Cross-posted from Blog O'Stuff.)
It was cold and windy today so I didn't feel like hitting the range. I did however, go up to Surplus City with a couple of guns which I haven't shot in quite awhile, and did some trading. In exchange for my EMF/Rossi Hartford Model 1892 and my Ruger GP-100, plus some boot, I picked up a used stainless steel Ruger Mini-14 GB. It's a 186-series piece. It came with one Ruger factory mag (stainless, no less) and I bought two more Ruger factory mags, both used. (I figure I should get as many evil high capacity magazines as I can while the getting is still good.)

The GB or Government Model differs from the standard Mini-14 with the addition of a flash suppressor screwed onto the muzzle, and a winged front sight several inches back. The front sight block also has a bayonet lug, and the gun will accept standard M-16 bayonets. (Raspberries to Senator Feinstein and her partners in crime.) The GBs were never intended to be sold directly to the public by Ruger, but a fair number of them have become available as police or prison guard trade-ins, as many departments "upgrade" by replacing their Mini-14s with AR-15s.

I really like Mini-14s. They are not as accurate at AR-15s (at least without serious tuning) but they are very simple, ergonomic, and reliable little rifles. Mini-14s are accurate enough for their intended purposes -- potting varmints around a farm or as a social carbine out to a couple of hundred yards.

Getting back to the reliability aspect -- Mini-14s are much less finicky when it comes to maintenance or quality ammo than AR-15s. For example, Wolf .223 doesn't run well in my Colt AR-15A3, but runs just fine in my 182-series Mini-14. I expect it to work fine in the GB. A couple of features which help the Mini-14's reliability are (a) the fact that it taps more than enough gas from the barrel to work the action, and (b) fouling stays out of the action. IOW, it doesn't have the "shits where it eats" problem of the AR-15. Note that the AR-15's direct-impingement (DI) gas system can be reliable, but it demands more cleaning, and that more recent military rifle designs all use pistons, not DI.

One of my online friends used a stainless Mini-14 in Alaska for many years, taking a large number of deer and other game with it. It stood up to harsh conditions well and he still has the rifle, now that he's retired to WV. .223 isn't really a deer caliber but it will do if you take your time and place the bullets right. Perhaps surprisingly to guys in the lower 48, but the Mini-14 is one of the most popular bush guns in AK. It and it's ammo are light. It's reliable and easy to maintain, and has minimal recoil, so a lot of Alaskan natives like it. A stainless Mini-14 in a plastic stock would be a heck of a good choice as a defensive carbine, especially if you need one to keep on a boat.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

FCC Drops Morse Code Requirment for Ham Radio

The FCC is finally dropping the Morse code (AKA "CW") requirement for all classes of amateur radio license. The official license is here (PDF document). The international governing body for amateur radio dropped the requirement several years ago, and several countries had already followed suit, e.g., Germany and Italy, IIRC.

IMHO, this is a good thing. CW is a mode of operation, not a guarantee that someone isn't a schmuck. Yes, CW is useful and I'm glad that portions of the bands are still reserved for CW. But not everyone is interested in it, and many people just cannot learn it even with a lot of study. I've spoken with several General Class hams who've not used it since getting their license. Operators will still need to pass the written exams on radio technology and proper operating procedures before getting a licence.

One reason many hams didn't want the code requirement dropped is because CW can get through poor conditions better than voice on AM or Single Side Band. However, there are new operating modes, such as PSK-31, which use as little bandwidth as CW, perhaps even less, so they work as well in adverse conditions as CW. (I'm especially interested in PSK-31 since it's a way to bridge my interests in computers and radio.)

Time for me to start studying for the Element 3 exam.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

In Praise of the Non-Tactical Pocketknife

For most of the past 10 years my pocketknife has been a "tactical" folder. First, it was a Spyderco Delica. When I lost the Delica (found it 3 months later) a few years ago, I replaced it with a Benchmade Griptilian. I've been very happy with both knives. They are well made, hold a nice edge, lock securely, and need only one hand to open.

Last weekend I dug out my old Victorinox Pioneer Swiss Army Knife (SWAK). I've had this since sometime in the early '80s. Unlike the current production silver-colored Pioneers the aluminum handle scales on mine have a red oxide finish. It has a spear point blade, bottle opener, can opener, large and small screwdriver blades, a wire stripper notch on the bottle opener, a reamer/awl, and a key ring. It's the same as the real issue SWAK or "Soldier," with the exception of the key ring. Picking up the Pioneer felt like getting reacquainted with an old friend.

I carried my SWAK for years. It accompanied me on a six week trip to Europe in 1984, following me behind the Iron Curtain into Hungary and Yugoslavia and back. I've used it to cut stuff, tighten and loosen screws, pop open sodas and beers, and poke holes in things with the reamer. In other words, it can do a lot more than a knife with only a blade.

My job is in an office pushing bits and bytes around. Dress is business casual. I'd look goofy with a multitool on my belt. Like it or not, fashion can influence knife choice. (And I'm hardly a fashion plate.) And as for tacticality, the closest I have to training in knfe fighting is a semester of fencing in college, close to 20 years ago.

So, Sunday I checked the edge (still shaving sharp after a few years languishing in the handlebar bag on my mountain bike, out in a shed) and sprayed out some dust with some Superlube dry teflon lubricant from a can, and since then I've been carrying the Pioneer instead of my Benchmade. It fits nicely in my pocket like it belongs there and offers more functionality than the Griptilian. The only real advantage the latter has is one-hand opening.

I'm liking having my old friend with me once again. I may even order another one or two to stash away for the future or in an emergency kit.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Power Failure

Getting my ham radio setup with a battery backup came not a moment too soon. Friday night, the power went out.

Last Friday we had a cold front come through, bringing with it high winds. About 2030, the wind blew one of the trees in our yard into the power line feeding us from the pole. Sparks, pops, and groaning noises followed and the power went out.

Out came the flashlights, candles, and my D-cell powered Coleman flourescent lantern.

My wife called PECO and reported the outage. We use Vonage for our phone service and my home LAN is on two APC UPSes so we had phone service and cable modem Internet access until I shut them off to conserve power. In the meantime, we had our cell phones if we had needed to call anyone.

At about 2200 - 2230 we got some power back. A couple of the circuits came back but we had no power upstairs in our bedrooms, nor for the heater (natural gas but the blower requires electric). If things had gone on longer than they did we could still use our gas fireplace, however. Fortuitously, the refrigerator was on a circuit with power.

Meanwhile, I spent some time on the radio and caught the tail end of a Skywarn net. The PowerGate/gel cell setup worked perfectly. I'd done a test run on battery power last Thursday night when I checked into the MARC club net, and got good signal reports.

Saturday morning at about 0930 PECO tech came out. He went and looked at the pole and saw a mass of vegetation which had grown up along it, and that the insulators separating the three feed lines were broken. Due to the vegetation he needed to call for a crew to come out, climb the pole, and defoliate, then fix the connection. (A crew was out over the Summer clearing vegetation away from the wires and pole in my neighbor's yard but apparently they didn't get enough.)

The reason we had some power was that we were getting 110V into the house, not the full 220V. He jumpered the live 110V part to the other part, so we at least had 110V throughout the house, enough to run our heater.

An hour and a half later the crew showed up. They ended up replacing the line from the pole to our house, but I'll need to have an electrician replace the feeder line from the head to the service. (Good thing I have a close friend who's a master electrician.) However, they had to shut power back off for a few hours while they worked. We were back to status quo ante around 1500 Saturday.

Yesterday I went and pruned the tree which had swayed into the line. I'm hoping the reduced wind load will make it steadier. If it does sway or fall it shouldn't take out the power, however, since the PECO crew Saturday rerouted the line. It will drop the currently-unused Verizon phone line, and the heavily-used Comcast cable line, so I do want the tree removed fairly soon.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

WMR PowerGate 40 Backup Power System

A major reason I got my ham ticket was because I wanted emergency communications. I have a pretty good home setup for VHF/UHF in the form of a Yaesu FT-7800R hooked up to a Comet GP-3 antenna on my roof. What I haven't had, up until now, is some form of powering the radio if the power goes out.

Early last week I placed an order with West Mountain Radio for a few items:

  • A PWRGate PG40 backup power system.
  • An MK brand 73 amp hour gel cell.
  • Cables to connect the PowerGate to my Yaesu power supply and to the gel cel, along with my FT-7800R and VX-5RS HT.

The PG40 and cables came the next day but the gel cel didn't arrive today; it's dropped shipped from the manufacturer's warehouse.

The PWRGate has three power connectors:

  • Power in from a DC power supply, which in turn is plugged into mains power.
  • Power out to the radio.
  • Power to the battery for a trickle charge. This port also accepts power in from the battery.

The connectors are Anderson Power Poles.

During normal operation with mains power, the PWRGate provides a trickle charge to the gel cel and DC to the radio. If the battery drains down it could take a few days to recharge once mains power returns, so at some point I'll get a separate battery charger.

If the mains power goes out then the PWRGate's internal switch reconfigures the unit to take power from the battery and provide it to the radio. The power source transfer is seamless, requiring no user intervention, and when I tried it out I didn't notice any difference in the audio I was listening.

The reasons for using a gel cel are that (a) they're safer than lead acid batteries that you need to worry about keeping equalized since they are maintenance free, and (b) they are rated as spill-proof and don't give off fumes. Being a deep cycle battery, it can safely be discharged down to a low level without harm.

Here's a pic of my setup:

The PWRGate is the finned black thing sitting on top of another black box, which is my DC power supply. The leftmost cord plugged into the top is the power input, the middle is power to the radio, and the right hand one goes to the gel cel. The black square on the red cable to the cel's positive lead is a fuse holder. (I have a temporary cover over the gel cel as a protective measure so nobody accidentally shocks himself.)

Future refinements to this system will include a battery box to protect the gel cel and anybody who get a bit careless, a battery charger, and a cable with Anderson Power Poles on one end and a cigarette lighter receptacle on the other so I can power 12V devices including charging cell phones.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Backup Radio Power

The major thing missing from my ham radio setup has been a backup power source. With Winter just around the corner I decided that it was time to remedy this. Today I placed an order with West Mountain Radio for several items:

  • PWRgate 40 package
  • 73 ah gel cell
  • Cable for my VX-5RS
  • Cable for my FT-7800R

The cables have an Andersen Power Pole connector on one end, for plugging into the PWRgate, and the appropriate connector on the other end for plugging into the radio.

The PWRgate allows one to create an uninterruptable power supply for radios. Ugly ASCII diagram:

[A/C power] – [PWRgate] – [Gel cell]

This provides the same basic functionality as a UPS intended for computers. If the mains power goes out an you're using the radio, it will automatically shift over to the gel cell. While the radio isn't being used, it will trickle charge the battery.

My Yaesu FT-7800R consumes only 0.5A in RX mode (squelched) and 8.5A when transmitting, so if I'm just monitoring during a power outage, the 73 ah gel cell should last quite awhile. My VX-5RS HT uses a max of 1.9A when transmitting, so it'll last even longer.

At some point I may invest in a generator but for now our power is sufficiently reliable that I don't feel the need yet.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Cross-platform encryption

I want to save digital copies of important documents on a USB stick, but want to secure them against unauthorized access if the drive gets into the wrong hands, because it would be an identity thief's wet dream. The stick will be part of my household emergency kit.

Today I discovered jFileCrypt, a cross-platform encryption/decryption tool written in Java, and which can run on any platform with Java 5. Aside from the fact that it's free (GPL) software, being platform-independent is what I really find attactive. JFileCrypt supports Blowfish so the resulting encrypted file should be secure.

Alternatives include Mac OS X's built-in ability to create encrypted disk images and GPG. Unfortunately, an ecrypted Mac disk image isn't cross platform, and GPG can be confusing, although I've been playing around with it and I'm getting a better understanding of it. For Windows and Linux users, TrueCrypt looks like a good alternative.

Ideally, I'd like to have an ~500 MB encrypted file or folder on a 1 GB USB drive. On the unencrypted portion I'll keep a copy of the encryption utility so that if necessary, I can decrypt the information even if I don't have access to one of my computers. The password I'll be using is long, non-obvious, and has zero significance to anyone other than me.

If any of my readers have suggestions for cross-platform encryption software that would be suitable for this application, please post them as a comment.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Good 2M Propagation Tonight

So I'm sitting here in Plymouth Mtg., PA scanning through the freqs on my radio and I picked up the Carbon County ARES net coming in loud and clear. Their repeater is located about 60 miles away in Jim Thorpe, PA. I checked in and introduced myself. Net control gave me a good signal report, even though I was transmitting with only 10W. According to him, there were some "scrambled eggs" in the background but I was totally intelligible.

Even though VHF FM is often said to require line of sight, there are a lot of hills between the repeater and me, so I think the knife edge effect is in play.

My rig is a Yaesu FT-7800R 2M/70cm dual bander, with a Comet GP-3 antenna on top of a 5 foot mast on the short chimney sticking out of my roof.

A few minutes later a station from Sussex County, DE checked in and reported that he too was hearing the repeater clearly. He noted that he also was able to bring in Martinsburg, WV shortly beforehand. Impressive!

Nice to know I can communicate out that far without much infrastructure (or will be, once I get a battery backup in place for my shack).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

When the lights go out

Back in August I posted about coming shortfalls in reliable electrical power.

The [Electric Reliability Organization] projects that U.S. demand will increase by 141,000 megawatts (MW) over the next 10 years. Supply, however, will increase by only 57,000 MW, and that assumes that all currently proposed new facilities are approved and built.

The system will be operating below the marginal capacity needed to ensure supply reliability at all times. In other words, in peak periods like heat waves, there won’t be enough electricity to go around. Blackouts will inevitably result.


Read the rest of the article here. [H/T to InstaPundit.]

Now, it won't be the end of the world if this comes to pass. However, reliable electricity is something that most Americans have come to expect as a given, much as if it was air. It will take getting used to, and points to the value of implementing alternatives for when grid power is down.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

NRA Survival Toolkit

I got one of these last week. It contains a Blastmatch fire starter, a couple tinder cubes, a whistle, and a signal mirror. It's packed inside a Pelican-type plastic case. There's some foam padding in there that's unneeded IMO, so I plan to remove it to add additional items. E.g. a pill bottle filled with vaseline impregnated cotton balls for use as tinder.

For the price it's a steal. The Blastmatch alone normally goes for what the kits lists for. Even though it's at the NRA Store, AFAIK you do not need to be an NRA member to order from them. (That said, JOIN THE NRA if you haven't already.)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Outdoor Products Power Pack

After last week's fun in center city Philadelphia I decided it was time to redo my get home bag (GHB). My GHB is actually my laptop bag, so it needs to securely hold my G4 iBook in addition to providing room for normal GHB stuff. I've been using an REI Big Byte computer backpack but wanted something a bit larger with better designed pockets.

Yesterday I went to REI and bought an Outdoor Products Power Pack in black. I used Outdoor Products backpacks in high school, college, and law school as book bags and was not nice to them. They shrugged off all the mistreatment I dished out and were no worse for the wear, except for getting dirty. The bag I used in law school is now the GHB in my truck.

Anyway, the Power Pack seems well made like my older bags. The pockets are well designed for a laptop bag and there's plenty of room to carry survival and first aid supplies. The shoulder straps are well padded, as is the back, and there's a sternum strap for long hauls. There's a mesh bottle pocket on the side which will hold a 32 oz. Nalgene. On front there's a place to stash a jacket, held in place with mesh and straps with a Fastex buckle.

It's not tacticool but it looks like a good choice for those of us stuck working in the city.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Minor SHTF in Philly Today

We experienced a minor SHTF event today in Philadelphia due to an electrical fire and explosion on south 15th Street, very close to City Hall. I work in a high-rise at 15th & Market, right near the epicenter. I later found out that a 36-square block area was closed off to traffic and about 5,000 people had to evac the immediate area.

Around 1300 we heard a kaboom. For the next 10 - 15 minutes everyone was wondering what had happened. At about 1315 the message was passed to evacuate the building. For some reason the fire alarm was not activated nor was the building’s P.A. system used. Rather, the floor captains were telling everyone to leave. They have Blackberries to send and receive text messages in emergencies.

Shortly after the kaboom I grabbed my stuff and made to ready to evacuate in case the order was given. I got my jacket and bag ready and shutdown one of my PCs. So, when we finally were told to leave all I had to do was to close my laptop and put it in my bag, put on my jacket, and go.

A few things disturbed me about how the whole thing was handled and I intend to (nicely) speak to our HR person tomorrow. First, within a few minutes of the kB, I saw one of our floor captains leaving the building. Considering that it’s a floor captain’s job to make sure that everyone is out, I regard this as abandoning her post. Her panicked reaction demonstrates that she’s unsuited for the role.

Our other floor captain performed his job but left his emergency bag behind, which he immediately regretted. The floor captains’ emergency bags contain stuff like a hard hat, megaphone, flashlight, etc.

Also, although we had fire drill on Tuesday, today’s event was a real cluster. Communication was fragmented, nobody responsible thought to activate the fire alarm, and no use was made of the building’s P.A. system. When people were told to leave the building they weren’t told where to go until after milling around outside for about ten minutes.

Natually, the rumors started flying immediately. The first was that the boom was due to a gas leak, and it wasn’t for awhile that we heard the true cause.

I carry some basic survival supplies in my bag: water bottle, a snack bar, small first aid kit, bandanna, Gerber Multiplier, chemlight, Princeton Tec LED flashlight, poncho, and a space blanket. I’m strongly considering adding my Yaesu VX-5RS ham radio which has wide-band receive, although I've learned that Philadelphia recently implemented a trunked Motorola system for the police and fire departments, so I'm not sure how useful it would be.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Preps to keep in your vehicle

Having just returned from an overnight trip to Arlington, VA, I am prompted to discuss things that should be kept in a vehicle to help deal with emergencies on the road. The possibility always exists that you’ll run into a mechanical failure which requires dealing with, or outside emergencies. Keeping a bag or box in your trunk or behind the seat of a pickup can make life a lot easier in the event of an inconvenience, or save a life in an emergency.

For dealing with mechanical issues I keep several items in my truck:

  • Some basic hand tools

  • A spare quart of motor oil

  • A jug of antifreeze

  • A jug of windshield wiper fluid

  • A D-cell flashlight

  • The factory jack

  • A can of WD-40

  • A few shop rags, a roll of paper shop towels, and waterless hand cleaner wipes

  • Jumper cables

  • A few magnesium road flares

  • 12VDC air compressor/flashlight

  • A can of Fix-A-Flat
  • Four-way tire iron

To deal with other issues I add:

  • A Kershaw lock blade knife

  • A Gerber Multiplier Scout multitool

  • CB radio (also handy for real-time traffic reports)

  • My everyday carry cell phone

  • First aid kit

  • Rain poncho

  • Space blanket
A lot more stuff could be added, and this list would be expanded if I didn't live in a large metro area.

Out trip remained within heavily-travelled areas so I wasn’t worried about taking anything for an overnight stay in the boonies, like the BOB shown in this post.

I normally also carry a get-home bag with additional supplies including an MRE, water, another poncho, compass, etc. but had to take it out for this trip since we were short on space. I need to change some of the contents and downsize it into a smaller bag. That will be a project for a future post.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Nuclear threats making a comeback

As the US and the UN seem unable to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions, we have to prepare ourselves for an unsettling future. Unlike the Soviets and Chinese, we can't count on the Iranians or other Islamic fundies to whom they might pass a nuclear device to behave rationally. MAD is not a viable strategy when your enemy welcomes death as the way to be with God.

Domestically, a nuclear Iran and proliferation in the Muslim world may politically destroy the left wing of the Democrat party, especially if a nuke gets used.

There's some excellent discussion of the issue here. I think I'll order a copy of this, as well.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Diamond MR77 Mag Mount Antenna Review

Awhile ago I bought an MFJ Powergain mag mount antenna to connect to my Yaesu VX-5RS 2M/440MHz/6M HT while in my truck. Unfortunately, it didn't work well for me in that role, vibrating itself to uselessness in short order. So, a couple of weeks ago I ordered from Gigaparts a Diamond MR77 as a replacement.

My first impression of the Diamond upon opening the package was favorable. It seemed better made than the MFJ. E.g., where the coax goes into the base it's reinforced with one of those flexiible rubber things like you see on some power cords. When I screwed the antenna on it seemed more solid than the MFJ.

One thing I did the night before putting the Diamond on my truck was to seal anywhere it looked like water might be able to get in. Based on my prior experience with mag mount antennas like the MFJ and a couple for my CB, water can get in through joints and then you get rust, causing performance to deteriorate. The sealant should also help keep the antenna itself screwed down tight to the mount. I used liquid electrical tape as the sealant.

Yesterday I finally got to try the MR77 and I am very pleased. I was able to hit the MARC repeater in Paoli, PA from near Willow Grove, a distance of about 20 miles, using 5W. I had a QSO with another MARC member on my drive home and while it wasn't full quieting, the audio was perfectly intelligible.

Aside from vehicular use, mag mount antennas can be used at home or in the field if you put them on top of a metal object to act as a counterpoise. For example, you can place it on top of a metal cabinet, an ammo can, a steel garbage can lid, or a cookie sheet.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Firesteel Scout

Over the weekend I picked up a Light My Fire Firesteel Scout at REI and tested it with several different kinds of tinder. It is basic “flint” and steel system for generating sparks to start fires. The striker is a small piece of flat steel, while the “flint” is a ferrocerium rod or something similar (REI's site says it's magnesium but I think that's wrong) with a small plastic handle. The flint is like those found in the magnesium fire starter blocks. It requires two hands to use, unlike a Blastmatch. The striker and flint are connected with a piece of nylon cord.

The Firesteel Scout throws a good shower of sparks. Among the different kinds of tinder I tried to catch those sparks and start fire with, were dryer lint, a pinecone oozing resin, a used dryer sheet, jute twine, and a cotton ball impregnated with Vaseline.

Any of these items would've worked fine with a match or butane lighter. However, using a flint and steel system requires tinder that's easier to ignite. The dryer lint worked OK but burned too fast. The dryer sheet worked well once I rubbed some resin from the pinecone onto it. Without the resin it didn’t work at all. The pinecone wouldn’t ignite from just sparks. Unraveled jute twine with pinecone resin rubbed on worked very well. The cotton ball with Vaseline worked into it and then teased out worked extremely well.

I also tested jute twine which had been soaked in the melted wax from a citronella candle bucket. Once unraveled it caught sparks well and burned long enough to ignite other items, like a pinecone. I cut a bunch of 2” – 4” lengths of the twine and soaked them in the melted wax, and have them stored inside a small aluminum canister.

Soaking in the citronella wax is also an easy way to waterproof matches, instead of setting up a double boiler to safely melt paraffin. Just do it outside so you don’t stink up your house. Aside from waterproofing the matches, the wax melts when you light the match and if you're careful, will drip into the tinder you're tying to light, making a bigger flame.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Thoughts on Electrical Power

Last night I attended the monthly members' meeting of the Mid Atlantic Amateur Radio Club. Rather than a presentation on some radio-related topic, last night's speaker talked about how electrical power is generated in the Greater Philadelphia area. The presenter was member who's an employee of PECO Excelon.

Interestingly, a bit over 50% of our power in this area comes from nukes: Limerick, Peach Bottom, and Three Mile Island. Most of the rest comes from hydro (e.g., Conowingo Damn) and coal (e.g., Eddystone).

The nuclear plants are run to capacity most of the time. Their cost per kilowatt hour is the cheapest, and they are the cleanest. For example, Peach Bottom has been in operation for over 30 years and all of the spent fuel is still kept onsite. It's also extremely hard on nuclear plants to bring them back up to full power after being slowed. The coal plants, being the dirtiest, are spun down during off-peak hours.

Part of the presentation discussed deregulation in the power industry. A more accurate description would be reregulation. What's been deregulated has been the ability to open a power generation plant. Distribution of power and the price it sells at is still heavily regulated. The result of this is that although some other companies got into the power generation business the market is not allowed to go through its natural cycles due to the regulations covering how power is sold. So, the barriers to entry remain very, very high.

One tidbit caused me a bit of concern. During our most recent heatwave, PECO's reserve capacity fell to about 10%. I.e., peak usage hit about 8800 megawatts and there was only another 10% capacity to back it up in case it went higher. Fifteen percent is considered the comfort zone. Conserve all you want but society's power demands never drop, they only go up over time.

Natural gas fired plants aren't economically viable for picking up more of the load due to the spikes in natural gas prices over the past year or so. Same for oil. Wind isn't a real option in PA because it's just not that windy and it's very inefficient. Solar is so prohibitively expensive and inefficient that it's not worth considering. That leaves coal and nukes.

If Pennsylvania has one thing in abundance (besides crappy pro sports teams) it's coal. The downside to using coal is that it's dirty. There are designs on the drawing boards which employ coal gasification to extract the volatiles from coal before it's burned. The coal gas is then further processed to remove pollutants like sulfur -- which can be sold -- until what's finally burned is basically hydrogen. This sort of a plant is more a chemical processing facility with a power generation plant attached to it than a pure power plant. Still, it may be a way to wean us off some of the foreign oil we're so dependent upon.

Nuclear plants are clean and safe, rantings of enviroweenies to the contrary. Spent fuel can be safely stored onsite for a long time, as at Peach Bottom, or buried in Yucca Mountain. Or, as Jerry Pournelle has pointed out, the spent fuel can be disposed of by dropping it into a subduction zone where it can be returned to the Earth's crust. This is one area where France is getting it right, as is Japan.

There hasn't been a nuclear plant built in the USA in 30 years, largely due to all the bureaucratic red tape imposed by the Feds. Plenty of nukes are being built in France, Japan, Finland, and other countries, however. Apparently, some power companies have gotten together with the intention of pooling their resources to build new nuclear plants.

My concern is that since it takes anywhere from six to ten years from the inception of a plan to build a power plant until it starts generating, we may see power shortages spread beyond California to other parts of the country before they are online. There are some things you can do in your home in the meantime to help you get past brownouts or blackouts:

  1. Better insulate your house.
  2. Replace drafty windows with modern two or three pane windows.
  3. Replace incandescent lights with compact flourescent bulbs.
  4. Install an attic fan and/or ridge vent if you live in an area where it gets hot in the summer.
  5. Get a secondary heat source in case outages occur during cold weather. E.g., a wood stove or a kerosene heater.
  6. If you have things that must be kept refrigerated, invest in a generator and/or backup batteries that can get you through a blackout.
  7. Place household electronics on line conditioners or better yet, uninterruptable power supplies.
  8. If you have a two way radio for emergency communications, get some kind of alternate power system (solar, batteries, genset, etc.) for when the power goes out.
Doing 1 - 4 will start saving you money now. At our home we've done 2 and 4, and made progress on 1, 3 and 7. I don't currently have anywhere to store a generator so that's going to have to wait. I'm currently looking into different options for number 8.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Gamo Viper Express Combo

I ran across the Gamo Viper Express combination air rifle and shotgun on another list. I've long thought that a quality precision air gun would make a good addition to a survival gun battery for use in taking small game and pest control around dwellings. Something like this Gamo has extra versatiliy by vitue of being able to shoot a small load of shot. This could aid in controlling small, fast moving critters like rats or mice.

It would be interesting to see what it could do with a 9mm round ball at close range.

Edit: I misread the specs. It's not a 9mm shotgun, it's .22 caliber. It still looks interesting.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Muscial Scopes

In my opinion, optics make a good compliment for emergency rifles, especially for those of us with poor eyesight, myself included. Recent US military experience in the WOT has shown that with the use of good red dots and scopes, hit ratios go way up.

Last year I got a Hakko 4x21mm scope for my Colt AR-15. This is a pretty good scope for the money; Hakko was the OEM for the Colt carry handle mount scopes. They have good optics but after I got a flat top adapter for it I never got around to rezeroing.

Recently, CDNN has started selling the Hakkos, including the versions with the illuminated reticles. This makes them a lot more useful for survival/SHTF rifles, because much of the time you'll need a rifle is when it's dark or nearly so, and black crosshairs don't exactly stand out. CDNN's prices are excellent -- last year I paid about $150 for the non-illuminated from the sole vendor I could find selling them, while CDNN has the illuminated ones for $149.99 and the non-illuminated models for $79.99. Today, I ordered one of the illuminated scopes. Based on my prior orders with CDNN I expect it'll take about a week.

I plan to mount the new Hakko on my Colt using the Leaper's adapter mount, which will allow me to put it right on the upper receiver rail. The Hakko's seem sufficiently rugged that I feel OK without an immediately available BUIS. (If I was tromping around Iraq or Afghanistan I might feel differently.) The non-illiminated Hakko I currently have will probably get moved to my Ruger 10/22, which will allow me to move the Nikon ProStaff 4x32 to my .22 Magnum.

Monday, August 07, 2006

BP: Pipeline Shutdown Could Last Months

This morning's news was bad enough. Now this:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - BP PLC said Monday it will replace 73 percent of the pipelines from the nation's largest oil field and that production could be closed for weeks or months, crimping the nation's oil supplies at a time of peak demand.

BP, the world's second-largest oil company, began shutting down the pipelines on Monday and said it would replace 16 miles of the 22 miles of transit pipeline it operates in the Prudhoe Bay field following a leak discovered Sunday.


If this is prolonged, look for an inflationary impact, so now might be a good time to take care of preps you've been putting off.

BP Shuts Down Largest US Oil Field

I heard about this on the radio while driving to the train station this morning. It was a definite "Oh shit" moment."

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Oil company BP scrambled Monday to assess suspected pipeline corrosion that will shut shipments from the nation's biggest oilfield, removing about 8 percent of daily U.S. crude production and driving oil prices sharply higher.

BP, which is already facing a criminal investigation over a large spill in March at the same Prudhoe Bay oilfield, said it did not know how long the field would be offline. "I don't even know how long it's going to take to shut it down," said Tom Williams, BP's senior tax and royalty counsel.


That's a significant chunk of domestic production. According to an expert quoted in the article current stores of crude oil are high, but Americans have an insatiable appetite for petroleum products for not just fuel, but plastics and everything else that uses oil as the raw material. A prolonged shutdown will cause prices on everything to go up.

Friday, August 04, 2006

SKYWARN Weather Monitoring

One of the better uses of my tax dollars by the Federal Government (IMO) is the National Weather Service, part of NOAA. The most dangerous hazard most of us will have to prepare for is severe weather, and you don't need to be in Hurricane Alley to be a victim, witness the spring rains we had this year in New England.

Among the programs run by the NWS is SKYWARN. Unlike many Federal programs which embrace a very top-down approach, the SKYWARN program relies of local volunteers to report dangerous weather. From the official description:

The effects of severe weather are felt every year by many Americans. To obtain critical weather information, NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS), part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, established SKYWARN with partner organizations. SKYWARN is a volunteer program with over 230,000 trained severe weather spotters. These volunteers help keep their local communities safe by providing timely and accurate reports of severe weather to the National Weather Service.

Although SKYWARN spotters provide essential information for all types of weather hazards, the main responsibility of a SKYWARN spotter is to identify and describe severe local storms. In the average year, 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods and more than 1,000 tornadoes occur across the United States. These events threatened lives and property.

Since the program started in the 1970s, the information provided by SKYWARN spotters, coupled with Doppler radar technology, improved satellite and other data, has enabled NWS to issue more timely and accurate warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods.

SKYWARN storm spotters are part of the ranks of citizens who form the Nation's first line of defense against severe weather. There can be no finer reward than to know that their efforts have given communities the precious gift of time--seconds and minutes that can help save lives.

Part of your survival kit should be a radio which can receive the NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts. Although you can buy dedicated weather radios that strikes me as an inefficient use of your money. Rather, at a minimum get an AM/FM radio which can also receive the NWS broadcasts. Better yet, get some form of two-way radio with wide-band recieve which includes the ability to receive them. For example, the Midland CD Radio in my truck, and my Yaesu VX-5RS and FT-7800R ham radios can all receive the NWS channels. The Yaesus can also be setup to alert you if they receive a NOAA All Hazards Alert. If you're not a ham, some makers of FRS/GMRS radios offer models which incorporate weather radio reception.

Aside from listening to NOAA Weather Radio, you can also monitor SKYWARN radio nets conducted by volunteering hams. Local contact information for SKYWARN is available here, or a few minutes on Google will get you a link to information about your local net.

Edit 8/6/06: I updated the SKYWARN links above to more direct ones.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Importance of Antenna Height for Emcomm

Last night I was doing some monitoring in the 2M band when I came across a net in progress on one of the frequencies I have programmed into my Yaesu FT-7800R. It's for a repeater located in Camden, NJ. I tried to check into the net but they couldn't hear me. After listening for a little while longer I realized that the net wasn't on the Camden repeater, but one located up in Schuylkill County, northwest of Allentown! The distance had to be at least 75 miles as the crow flies.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find out which repeater the net was on, so I don't know what the offset and PL are. But I was amazed that I was able to pick up 2M FM signals so clearly from that far away in PA, which is pretty hilly. Before getting my antenna up on the roof I was not able to pick up signals from far away stations.

This goes to show you that getting a good antenna up high will greatly extend the reach of your comms. (As mentioned on my other blog, on Sunday I got a Comet GP-3 up on the roof on a 5 foot mast.) It gives me confidence that in the event of an local emergency I'll be able to communicate with unaffected areas.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Rally Point Shoot 8/26/06


Date: Saturday August 26th,, 2006
Place: in Southeastern Pennyslvania (just North of Philadelphia)
Time: 9am-5pm

Rally Point events and socializing will be going on at the:

Pistol range: 15yds-25yd
Pistol/rifle range: 50yd
Big Bore rifle range 100yd-200yds
2 fields for shooting trap

Food and drinks will be available.
For Directions
Admission is $15

Sponsors: Will be announced in a few weeks.

TheRallyPoint event tends to be informal, and there will be plenty of time to socialize, but since the is very big, we decided to join forces with to further our cause. We will be having a Mini-Appleseed clinic

Training: NRA Certified Firearms instructors will be available to instruct new shooters. If you have friends or family members that want to learn how to handle a firearm, please help further our cause and invite them to come out. This is a family friendly event.

Competitions are only a short part of the days events and are separate from the Mini appleseed clinic. The big bore (100y / 200y) will be open from 9am-5pm for open shooting, and the smallbore/pistol range will be open after the appleseed program is done.

Competitions: Rifleman survival competition, shotgun competition

Theme: Rifleman boot camp. Bring out your favorite rifle and practice with others. If you have something unique to add to the Rifleman firearm theme, please let us know what you are bringing.

Please note:

There are sponsors for this event that are contributing to the event and helping to keep costs down, please do not show up and open up a store front on the firing line and start selling things. If you have something of value to the members of TRP please contact me first. If you are interested in sponsoring future TheRallyPoint, please feel free to contact me.

Secondly, The board at LRGC asked that we not allow the buying and selling of firearms on their property. These shoots look like gun shows, but we do not want to bring in unwanted attention. Feel free to network and build friendships, but please do the transfering of firearms off LRGC's property.

Meet us at TheRallyPoint!!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Kim's Survival Kit

Kim du Toit has a list of the ingredients for a one-person survival kit. It looks to be based more on surviving an emergency in the outdoors than a SHTF situation, but it's a good list. It's worth taking a look.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Good Emergency Supplies List

Les Jones has a post on his blog detailing his emergency supplies list. Good stuff.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hezbollah a Possible Threat

Hezbollah seems to have gotten a lot more than it bargained for, judging by how things are goin in Lebanon. The Israelis are pissed and rightfully are taking care of business. But what does this mean for Westerners not in the Middle East?
It's almost certain that there are Hezbollah sleeper cells in Western countries, the US included. If the current war widens, especially if Iran gets directly involved, it's very possible that those cells could go active. For example, the FBI sent out a warning earlier today that Hezbollah may target Jewish targets.

Preparing for a Hezbollah terrorist attack is problematical. If they launch an attack on US soil, for example, it's unlikely that they'd shoot off Katyusha rockets. Suicide bombings, shootings, or the use of WMD would be more likely. There's not much you can do to prepare for such an attack, unless it was a case of a terrorist going into a mall and shooting up the place. In such an attack a courageous person with a concealed pistol could have a chance of stopping it. (Although the idea of going up against an AK-47 armed terrorist with a pistol is not appealing.)

Preparing for the aftermath of terrorist attacks does make sense, however. Based on what happened in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 or the Washington, DC area sniper shootings, it's likely that a series of coordinated nationwide attacks would cause American commerce to grind to a halt. Depending upon the proximity to and the nature of a terrorist attack, some basic services may be interrupted. E.g., power outages or disruptions to the water supply. So, having stored food and water will be prudent.

In general, try to think like a terrorist. Ask yourself how you would cause the most fear and aggravation to your countrymen, and prepare accordingly.

Bird Flu Vaccine May Be Ready in 2007

Some good news for a change:

LONDON — A British company reported Wednesday it had achieved the best results ever seen on an experimental human vaccine for bird flu and said mass production might be possible by 2007.

A global health official called GlaxoSmithKline's early results "an exciting piece of science." If future tests are as promising, it would be a major step in the frustrating campaign to protect people from a possible deadly flu pandemic.


Emergency Radio Communications

In the event of a terrorist attack, natural, or man-made disaster, good communications can make the difference between coming through safely or not. During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina radio operators were credited with saving many lives when people couldn't pick up the phone and call for help. There are several options available to you for emergency commo:

Obviousl, the first option is your land line telephone. Your plain old telephone may still work. If it does then it's the first thing to try. If not, then fall back to other methods of communication.

Charged cell phones along with car chargers, or your regular wall charger + a power inverter for the car. If you are in an area where they work, a cell phone can let you call relatives/friends outside the danger area. Phones with text messaging capabilities are more useful in emergencies than those without. Text messages require less bandwidth than voice and are therefore able to get through clogged circuits more easily, although the messages may be delayed in transit depending upon how saturated the network is.

FRS/GMRS radios. FRS doesn't require a license, while GMRS does (although it's just a fee, no test required, and the license covers your immediate family). Good for short range commo, e.g., between vehicles in a bug out situation. GMRS gives you somewhat longer range, though both require line of sight. FRS/GMRS radios can be picked up cheap at any of the big box stores, from Home Depot to WalMart, to Radio Shack. If you keep an eye out you may be able to find them DIRT CHEAP. E.g., I got a pair of Midland FRS/GMRS a couple years ago from MidwayUSA for the whopping sum of $6 + S&H.

CB radio. No license required. These are still useful, although you do hear a lot of garbage, much of which is not suitable for sensitive ears. I have a portable in my truck with an external magnet-mount whip antenna. It's great for listening to truckers for real-time traffic reports and has kept me out of several jams. Also good for short-range commo. Most CBs are AM, but Single Side Band CBs will give you longer range, although you'll only be able to talk to other SSB CB users.

Ham (Amateur) radio. Here's where it gets good, in my opinion. I got my ticket last year. Although you need a license, the entry-level Technician class license isn't hard to get, and the info you learn while studying for the exam can be useful. You can get a good handheld (AKA "handie talkie" or "HT") for as little as $100 which will allow you to transmit and receive on the 2M FM band. These are good for commo up to several miles if you have line of sight. I've been able to hit a 2M repeater ~10 miles away with my Yaesu VX-5RS using only 5W of power. I also have a Yaesu FT-7800R 2M/440MHz mobile radion that I'm in the process of installing an antenna on my house's roof for. With the roof mounted antenna and the 45W maximum output of the 7800R, I should be able to communicated with other radio operators for quite a ways. Since it's a mobile unit I can also pack it in a box with a 12V battery and a portable antenna, and take it with me.

Once I get my General Class license I'll be able to use the HF bands and transmit much longer distances without relying on a repeater.

I don't want to encourage unlicensed use, but in an emergency FCC rules about unlicensed transmission go out the window. You're allowed to use any means of communication to secure aid to preserve human life or property against immediate threats. IMO, the most important part about getting one's ham license is getting familiar with proper operating procedures, which are critical when TSHTF.

The resources I used to get my no-code Technician's licence were:

1. Now You're Talking! published by the American Radio Relay League.
2. "Amateur Radio No-Code Technician License Examination Study Guide and Workbook," by Bruce Spratling, W8BBS. (PDF document.)
3. The free online tests at

Satellite phone is another option, although I have little knowledge of it.

A NOAA weather radio should be in your disaster kit, if one of your other radios doesn't also pick up these channels. In my case, both my Midland CB and ham radios already do, so I don't have a separate unit.

A portable AM/FM radio for listening to local news reports. If it picks up shortwave or the NOAA weather channels, it'll be more versatile. Some also allow you to listen to the audio portion of TV broadcasts.

Don't forget plenty of batteries, chargers, appropriate AC adapters, and a power inverter so you can plug them into the cigarrette lighter in your vehicle.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Thoughts on the Ruger Mini-14

(This is a revised version of a post I made to the Backwoodsman mailing list a little while ago.)

I have an early-1980s vintage Mini-14 that I bought used a few years ago. One thing to keep in mind about the Mini-14 is that it is fundamentally a sporting rifle, although it is suitable for civilian
(including law enforcement) social use.

The design of the Mini-14 is relatively simple, especially when compared with an AR-15. Field stripping it results in a few large subassemblies, with no small parts to keep track of. The gas system is very simple: the piston is hollow and stationary, while the cylinder is a matching whole in the op rod (IIRC, Ruger calls it the slide).

Due to the simple design, clearances that aren't too tight, and the ample amount of gas vented into the system, Mini-14s tend to be extremely reliable, even if neglected. I have found that if you don't wipe down the piston and cylinder with a *light* coat of oil after shooting, a little bit of rust can develop and freeze the op rod in place, requiring you to whack it to open the action.

Mini-14s may not stand up to outright abuse as well as true military rifles. That's neither here nor there, just a matter of selecting the correct tool for the job.

Reliability is contingent upon using good magazines. During the Assault Weapons Ban 1994 - 2004, good mags holding over 10 rounds could be very difficult to find. That's no longer the case. The best magazines are those from Ruger, followed by pre-ban PMIs, then new-production Pro
Mags, which surprisingly enough, have a good reputation. Ruger officially doesn't sell 20 round magazines to Joe Citizen, but they are available for about $35 - $40 each if you look around a little.

Another way to ensure reliability is to use grease to lube the Mini-14, instead of oil. The Ruger is descended from the M-1 and M-14, so I lube mine accordingly, with grease. This stands up better than oil to rain and heat.

My Mini-14 will eat anything I feed it, including Wolf steel cased ammo that causes malfunctions in my Colt AR-15. Note that if you shoot steel cased ammo, make sure you clean the chamber well afterwards. Steel cases don't obturate as well as brass, so the chamber will often get dirty, leading to failures to extract. This advice goes for any gun in which you shoot steel cased ammo.

The Mini-14 has a thin, whippy barrel that causes groups to open up when it gets hot. Adding a muzzle brake or flash hider can dampen the whip. Chopping the barrel to 16" achieves the same effect, I'm told. Doing so does slightly reduce velocity, however.

I really like mine. I'd prefer an AK or a FAL if I was heading into battle, but I'm not a soldier. For a civilian like me, the Mini-14 is great. It's rock solid reliable, accurate enough for what it
is, and fun to shoot. IMHO, new Mini-14s are too expensive at around $600 MSRP. But you can pick up a used rifle for about $325 - $400, which is a reasonable price. For a hundred or so dollars more you may be able to find a used stainless steel Mini-14, which when combined with a synthetic stock gives you a very weather resistant rifle.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Arsenal, Inc. SAM-5 Range Report

Last Friday night I ran across an Arsenal SAM-5 AK in 5.56mm at Surplus City in Feasterville, PA. Having been on the lookout I snagged it in lieu of the Colt 6520 I was this close to buying. Today I got the chance to shoot it at Wicen's Range in Furlong, PA.

According to the datestamp in the manualy, my SAM-5 was made in July 2005. The manual states that it should have the Warsaw Pact length butt, while Arsenal's website says it should have the NATO butt. My rifle has the longer, NATO butt, which I am going to replace. Fit and finish are excellent, while the trigger is outstanding. It's got a little bit of creep but it is light. The muzzle is threaded and fitted with a removable fish gill muzzlebrake. I may replace this with a flash suppressor.

Before leaving the house this morning I field stripped the rifle, lubricated it, and ran a patch through the bore to remove any excess oil.

The SAM-5 came with a single Bulgarian 30 round black polymer waffle magazine. I ordered a half dozen clear Bulgarian 20s from K-Var so hopefully they'll arrive soon.

I ran 100 rounds of Wolf Gold M-193 Ball (made by Prvi Partizan) through the SAM-5. Early on in the first magazine, twice the trigger failed to reset until I tapped it with my finger. My SLR-101SG did the same thing and has been flawless for several hundred rounds since then, so I figure that there must've been a burr than needed to be smoothed out.

Aside from the two aforementioned trigger reset failures the rifle performed perfectly. Accuracy at 100 yards was so-so: I could keep all my shots inside the black of a 100 yard smallbore target. That's about as good as I can do with open sights on a gun with such a short sight radius.

Arsenal states in the manual that their rifles are laser boresighted at 100M. If so, somebody putzed with the sights afterwards, because while windage was very close, elevation was about 10" high at 100 yards. One and a half turns to raise the front post fixed that.

The Wolf Gold ammo is pretty clean. Very little fouling made its way back into the action and the bore didn't require much cleaning. I plan to buy more of this ammo.

When I tried to remove the gas tube I needed a hammer and brass punch to move the retention lever. I discovered why when I tried to put the gas tube back on. The surface on the top of the gas tube where it's cammed into place by the retainer needed to be beveled more. A minute with my Dremel and a grinding stone fixed that, but I have to wonder how the factory got the gas tube on withouth marring the finish, something I was not able to do. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that my rifle came from the factory this way, given Arsenal's reputation and my previous experience with my SLR-101SG.

Overall, the SAM-5 is a very nice rifle. I had a couple of minor malfunctions very early on but that issue seems to have been related to break-in. The gas tube problem was annoying but easily fixed. Once I receive the shorter butt stock and extra magazines, this may become my go-to rifle.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Deception at the WHO regarding bird flu?

No, not Pete and Roger. This WHO.

If ever there was a need for clear and accurate information about the spreading and rapidly mutating avian influenza, it is now as the threat of a pandemic looms increasingly large. At a time when governments and individuals around the world are making preparations to battle a potentially life-altering disaster, there is no need for a group of bureaucratic elites to decide what information people are capable of handling.

The U.N.'s World Health Organization (WHO) has published its guidelines for the communicating of information about disease outbreaks, but these guidelines have not prevented a deliberate culture of deception from dominating the statements WHO makes to the press.

It has been suggested that WHO does not want people to panic, hence they are not candid when significant events in the evolution of a pandemic are unfolding. What is wrong with this rationale?

Full article here.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Survival Knives

One of the most useful implements for a survival kit is a good knife. Note that I said a good knife. You don't need to spend hundreds of dolalrs on a custom made knife, but it shouldn't be a cheap piece of junk, either. In my opinion, no one knife will serve all of your cutlery needs. I'm going to concentrate on knives as tools in this post, rather than knives as weapons. I'm no knife fighter but I have used knives in the field.

In my opinion, hollow handle survival knives are best avoided. Generally, unless they are made by a real craftsman, they are much weaker than a fixed blade knife with a full tang. Most such knives are chealply made, and you'll be better off by storing your matches or fishking kit somewhere other than inside your knife's handle. The only inexpensive hollow handle knife worthy buying is the Cold Steel Bushman, which is made from one piece of steel. Even so, before it's really usable it needs something wrapped around the metal handle, a cap for the butt, and a better sheath.

Most cutting needs will be served with a small blade, five inches long or less. Large blades have their place but if you need to do fine work doing so is made more difficult than it should be. Everything else being equal, fixed blade knives are stronger than folders.

A good basic knife for a survival kit would be one of the Moras made in Sweden. These can be had from Smoky Mountain Knife Works or Ragnar's Ragweed Forge. I've been a satisfied customer of both. (Click here for a picture of a Mora on Ragnar's site.) Last year when I needed to knock down a section of wall in my house I abused my Moras on the sheetrock. Even after a fair amount of hacking and stabbing into the drywall they were still shaving sharp.

If I feel the need for a bigger knife that would allow me to do some chopping and be a better weapon, the Becker Combat-Utility 7 is my choice. It's comparable in size to the Kabar USMC Fighting Knife but I like the handle better. I also prefer the factory Becker sheath to that of the Kabar, since the former is (a) ambidextrous and (b) made of nylon, which requires minimal care. The Becker sheath also has a pocket on it which is big enough to hold a folding knife, multitool, or in my case, a fire making kit inside an Altoids gum tin.

Speaking of multitools, add one to your kit. As with knives, you can buy cheap Chinese or Pakistani junk, or you can buy quality, which doesn't have to be all that expensive. I like the Gerber Multi-Pliers. One is kept in my truck while another rides in the laptop bag I take to work every day.

Leatherman tools are high quality, but because Tim Leatherman was a vocal and financial supporte of John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election, he won't be seeing any of my money anytime soon.

Folding knives have a place in your survival gear, too. A good pocketknife can be slipped unobtrusively into your pocket and carried almost everywhere. My everyday carry knife is a Benchmade 550 Griptilian, with a black handle and plain edge. Swiss Army knives by Victorinox or Wenger are other good choices with some additional functionality.

Obviously I've only scratched the surface here. There's an endless variety of knives available but the ones I've discussed here are those with which I have first hand experience.

In a future post I'll look at knife sharpening.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The M1 Carbine as a SHTF Gun

The following quote was originally posted as a comment to one of my posts on Blog O'Stuff (my other blog). It's relevant to this blog, so I am reproducing it here.

I have had great luck with both WW HPs and RP SPs in my Quality hardware. Hundreds of rounds with zero failures from 30 rounders. The mags are either early pattern WW2 30s, or my recent SEY 30s. In my gun, thee POI is withing an inch of the LC53 stuff I also shoot.

I personally dropped a deer (200+ pound blacktail buck at 75 yards with a single heart-lung shot) about 12 years ago. It was a WW 110 HP. It ran about 20 yards and dropped eader than Hogan's goat. The exit wound looked identicle to the 30-30 exits I have had.

I carried this gun for years as a trunk gun as a deputy. I know a Postal Inspector that took out a bad guy that was shooting at him. One shot in the Ten-X, and he stopped shotting forever.

Posted by Bernard Molloy to Blog O'Stuff at 7/10/2006 02:35:00 AM

The M1 Carbine is often looked down upon by Internet commandos and many gunnies. It's often called a "two-handed pistol," and it was intended by the Army to be a replacement for the M1911 for soldiers whose primary job title wasn't "Rifleman." It developed a bad reputation in Korea, but a lot of the blame for its poor performance can be pinned on improper use, bad shooting, and insufficient maintenance. That many of these Carbines were full-auto M2s with the fun switch set to rock & roll certainly didn't help.

One myth dating from the Korean War is that M1 Carbine Ball couldn't penetrate the heavy quilted uniforms of North Korean and Chicom soldiers. I call B.S. Check out the results Ol' Painless got when he shot .30 Carbine Ball into the Box O'Truth.

As civilians the vast majority of us won't have access to full-auto M2s (no loss IMO) but we're not limited to Ball ammo, either.

By and large a GI Carbine in good condition, that's properly maintained and fed good ammo from good magazines is going to be very reliable. Some will only feed Ball but a lot will run good with JSPs from Remington or Winchester. As noted by Mr. Malloy, .30 Carbine softpoint is nothing to trifle with. Its ballistics are similar to .357 Magnum as fired from a rifle, which is used by many folks to hunt deer.

Tactical Forums has several interesting threads on the .30 Carbine's terminal performance. E.g, this one and this one.

M1 Carbines are light, simple, and easy to shoot even by small-statured people. They make excellent defensive weapons for women and teens, but plenty of us guys like them, too. (I'm no giant myself at 5'6".) When put into a folding stock they can be made very compact. With the stock folded an M1 Carbine is close to a foot shorter than a 16" barreled CAR-15 with the stock collapsed. Because of this, I am really liking the M1A1 as a gun to put in the truck during a bugout. I figure the primary load would be Remington 110 grain JSPs, which run well in both my M1s, but with a couple magazines loaded with Ball in case extra penetration was needed, e.g., car doors.

If you want to mount an optic there are a few different mounts available but probably the best one is the Ultimak, which replaces the handguard to allow for forward mounting. I wouldn't put a magnifying optic on an M1 Carbine. The gun's effective range doesn't call for it. However, a red dot sight would be the cat's pajamas, allowing you very fast target acquisition with the ability to see your aiming point even in poor light.

My two Carbines are shown below. The one on the left is a Rock-Ola, while the folder is an Underwood.

Several vendors have replicas of the World War II M1A1 paratrooper stocks; the one pictured came from Cheaper Than Dirt. (The wood came stained but seemingly unfinished. I put on 4 or 5 coats of tung oil.) If you like black plastic, Choate Machine & Tool makes a modern folder. If like me you're lefthanded, the M1A1 replicas are more comfortable than the Choate stocks, which have a prominent "knuckle" on the right side where the hinge is located. This may tap your nose when shooting, which I find annoying.

Generally speaking, USGI Carbines are the best, although depending upon the specimen may be a bit worn. After all, the last one was built in 1945. Plainfield, Iver Johnsons, and IAIs are hit-or-miss from a quality standpoint, while Universals are generally to be avoided. Aside from poor quality, most Universals are not true M1 Carbine clones and won't accept most GI parts, or fit into aftermarket stocks meant for GI Carbines. The other commerical Carbines will. The new Auto Ordnance M1 Carbines are developing a pretty good reputation on the various gun boards. One fellow Carbine fan I spoke to at the range a couple of months ago showed me his AO, and described it as both reliable and the most accurate M1 he's shot. I put 10 rounds of Wolf FMJ through it and got a very nice group at 50 yards.

AR15s and AKs are great guns for your SHTF arsenal, but don't overlook the good old M1 Carbine.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

New Bug Out Box

Every home should have a 72 hour kit. The idea behind such a kit is that in case you need to evacuate in a hurry due to weather, chemical spill, or whatever, you can just grab it and go. For this reason, 72 hour kits are often called "Bug Out Bags," "Bug Out Boxes," or "BOBs" for short. The items in your kit should be able to cover the basics for three days. The basics are:
  • Warmth
  • Shelter
  • Water and food
I'd also add defense to the list of basics but will cover that separately.

With a four-person household the BOB that I created is actually in a few boxes. Up until today I've
used a few Rubbermaid tubs containing items like a couple Swedish mess kits, canned tuna, powdered soup, tea, sweetener, a couple tarps and space blankets, flashlights and batteries, MREs, toilet paper, etc. The Rubbermaid tubs are sturdy, water resistant, and cheap at Lowe's, but I haven't been entirely satisfied with them, mainly because the lids aren't really secure. So, after seeing ar-jedi's BOB on Arfcom which used an MTM Sportsmen Utility Dry box, I decided to pick one of those up. I got it from Natchez Shooter's Supply. It's shown below for scale next to a 2 liter soda bottle full of water.

I'm quite pleased. The lid latches securely and contains a small compartment which is accessible without opening up the main compartment. I also like the shoulder strap, which will help for short distances. MTM labels it as "water resistant," but not submersible. Aside from green, they're also available in camoflauge and blaze orange. I may get another one for additional items such as food and cooking supplies.

I keep a Swedish Mora knife, a 50 foot hank of paracord, two chemical light sticks, and a few cable ties in the top compartment.

Opening the box up, we can see the removable tray:

In the top tray I have a bottle of Deep Woods Off! insect repellent inside a Zip-Loc bag (in case it leaks), some strike anywhere matches and candle for a candle lantern in a second Zip-Loc, another candle, a knife sharpenr, a notebook and pen, a couple toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss, a Nite-Ize belt holster containing a Mini Maglite with LED conversion, AA batteries, a lock blade knife, and P-38 can opener dummy corded to the holster (the yellow cord). You'll also note a pair of FRS/GMRS radios. While I'm a licensed Ham, my wife isn't and these could come in handy.

The next layer of stuff below the tray consists off a Marpat poncho and poncho liner and a Pur water filter. The poncho liner (AKA "woobie") is a lightweight polyesther quilted blanket that can be tied to a GI poncho and used as a sleeping bag. The poncho can be used to keep dry (duh) or with the paracord, be rigged as a tarp shelter. I bought the water filter years ago at REI, while the poncho and liner came from Cheaper Than Dirt.

Finally, the bottom layer, which has a roll of duct tape, four MREs, four cans of tuna (not visible in this pic), a box of trioxane fuel bars (also good for fire starting), a Zip-Loc bag containing some Lipton Cup-A-Soup, tea, and Sweet & Low. Not shown in the pics are the six Quaker oatmeal bars I tossed in as well. There's a roll of TP in a Zip-Loc in the upper left corner, and the blue thing in the top right corner is a candle lantern from REI in its fleece bag. I'm considering removing the MREs which are bulky, and adding some more oatmeal bars/PowerBars and first aid supplies.

Aside from all of the above I plan on adding a couple of the pocket sized space blankets.

In the event we need to get out of Dodge in a hurry, this box along with two Rubbermaid tubs of stuff and several 2L bottles of water will get put in the back of my Expedition. It'll also go along when we take long trips. I already have a first aid kit, Gerber Multiplier, additional flashlights, and tools in the truck.

Whether its kept in a vehicle in case you get stuck somewhere while on a long trip, or for use as a BOB, this kind of kit can make the difference between being miserable and moderately comfortable. It can even safe your life, if you need to bug out in an emergency. Packed as shown, this part of my BOB kit weighs about 15 lbs and cost under $100 to put together. As insurance, I think it's money well-spent.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Five Lessons from Avian Flu

Avian flu has so far proved more fizzle than firecracker: It has killed fewer than 150 people, compared with the 35,000 Americans who die yearly from ordinary flu. But the scientific frenzy it sparked is paying off with an array of insights into how the next real epidemic might emerge.

Full article here.

My $0.02: It's too early to write off H5N1 as a non-event like the swine flu of the 1970s. And even if H5N1 does turn out to be a non-event, preparing for an epidemic is prudent, because it's only a matter of time before some other bug turns into a real epidemic.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Internet for Disaster Communications

Will we be able to depend on the Internet in the event of a disaster? As with many questions the answer is, "It depends."

Although it's primarily operated by commericial interests now, the Internet -- at first called ARPANET -- was originally a Department of Defense project to create a decentralized national communications system that could survive a nuclear war. No one entity owns or controls the Internet. In fact, the Internet is really made up of an ever-changing collection of inter-connected networks, albeit one controlled by a relatively small number of network backbones operated by major carriers, connected via peering arrangements.

What this means is that taking down the entire Internet is difficult. One carrier or another may suffer significant outages but it is unlikely that all of them will simultaneously.

A more serious threat to the Internet would be a coordinated attack on the root domain name servers. The root DNS servers are at the top of the hierarchical DNS system, which translates host names (e.g., into the numerical IP addresses computers use to access other systems on the Internet. Thankfully, the root servers are well protected against hacker attack and are geographically dispersed.

Because the Internet is made up of multiple redundant systems, chances are that during a widespread disaster that large parts of it will remain available. There are several tools we can use to communicate during such an event:

Email allows us to send and recieve text messages along with attachments. It's a good idea to have one or more free webmail accounts that you can fall back on if your Internet service provider's mail servers are offline.

Instant messaging allows us to do real-time text messaging with others. Many IM clients also allow voice chat, so that with a speaker and microphone, you can carry on a voice conversation. The most popular IM programs are free and include AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo! Messenger, and Windows Live Messenger.

A personal anecdote: On 9/11/01 I tried to reach several family members in and around New York City from my home in Philadelphia. Getting a telephone connection was largely impossible, all circuits were busy. However, I was able to get in touch with a couple of my cousins on Long Island via AIM. Even though the fall of the World Trade Center took out a Verizon telephone siwtch and a lot of Internet equipment, the Internet is designed to route traffic around outages, as long as another path is available. This worked on 9/11.

One advantage the IM clients have is low bandwidth requirments. Passing login information and plain text messages doesn't require much available network bandwidth. One disadvantage is that the major commercial IM clients require a central server to handle user logins and traffic passing. So, if the central server is offline the system is useless.

Skype is an exception to this. Primarily a voice messaging system, Skype also includes a text messaging function as well. But what makes Skype especially attractive for emergency communications is the fact that it is a peer-to-peer system. Instead of depending on a central controlling server, Skype works in a decentralized manner, which makes it more resilient in the event of a widespread disaster.

SypeOut is a cool feature that allows you to make Skype-to-telephone calls. It allows you to make a call from your computer to a regular telephone. Through the end of 2006, SkypeOut is free when both the caller and callee are within the USA or Canada. SkypeIn is the reverse -- assigning a telephone to your Skype installation on your computer so that you can receive calls from regular phones.

Voice quality for Skype is usually quite good. Having a good set of speaker and mic, or a headset will greatly improve call quality.

One final feature of Skype makes it especially attactive: all Skype-to-Skype communications are encrypted, allowing you to maintain privacy.

Blogs can be used as a way to provide updates on a situation to many people at once. During the immediate aftermath of Hurrican Katrina, employees of a New Orleans-based hosting company directNIC maintained the "Interdictor" blog so that people on the outside could get a participant's view of the situation, including webcam feeds. Blogger and Livejournal provide free blog hosting services.

Obviously, if your area is heavily impacted by a disaster, immediate Internet connectivity may not be easily available. For example, power may be out for an extended period. Even so, ISPs usually have their equipment on backup battery and generator power. If telephone or cable lines remain intact, you may be able to get online if you have a charged laptop and a dialup modem, or a cable or DSL modem on an uninterruptable power supply (battery backup).

Still, like anything man made, Internet access in an emergency is not a given. Make it one of the tools in your toolbox and you'll be better prepared to get safely through a disaster.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Swedish Mess Kit

(This is a cross-post of an article I originally posted to The High Road in October 2005. The links are still valid as of today, 6/30/06.)

A month or so ago I picked up two Swedish military surplus mess kits from Cheaper Than Dirt for my BOB (which in my case is a bug out box). The kit contains an aluminum pot, bowl/pan, windscreen/pot stand, brass alcohol burning stove, and a plastic bottle to carry alcohol fuel in. Total weight w/o any fuel is ~2 lbs. I finally got to use the kit today.

I used denatured alcohol in the stove. You should be able to buy this by the quart or gallon at a hardware store. You can use isopropyl rubbing alchohol, but this is usually diluted with water and therefore you'll get fewer BTUs per ounce. I paid about $5 for a quart of denatured alcohol at Lowe's IIRC. The stove is made of brass and is a few inches across. It's stable when you put it on the ground.

After filling the stove I held a match over the center opening and it immediately lit. Don't forget that alcohol burns with an invisible flame, so be careful. After a few seconds I heard the alcohol inside the stove boiling and the flame became a visible orange color.

Next, I placed the windscreen over the stove, after unfolding the legs inside it to hold the pot a few inches over the flame. Time to start cooking.

Lunch today was a can of Hormel's chile, which was cooked in the pot over the alcohol flame. It took about 3.5 - 4 minutes before the chile started to boil. I had the pot covered with the bowl/pan, so expect cooking time to be longer if you leave the pot uncovered.

After taking the pot off I wanted to extinguish the stove, both to be safe and to save fuel. You don't blow out an alcohol stove, unless you want burning fuel everywhere. Snuff it out. I had to use a stick to pick up the hot windscreen, then careful dropped the stove's cap on it, putting it out.

I left some fuel in the stove and will check on it tomorrow to see if it evaporates. In a review of this set on, one poster mentioned that the plastic fuel bottle supplied with the kit allows alcohol to evaporate. I'm planning to put my two kits in my BOB, along with the quart of fuel in the original can.

CTD appears to be out of stock but these Swedish mess kits are listed at Major Surplus & Survival and , which has a good photo of the kit. Both have the kits for under $10.

Atom Feed for This Site

I've added an Atom feed for this site, for those of you who prefer to read blogs in an RSS reader. The URL for the feed is It's also in the blogroll over to the right in case your RSS reader loses its settings and has to be reconfigured.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

PA: Flooding Hazard Remains

It isn't quite over in Pennsylvania.

Accuweather says a Severe Thunderstorm Watch remains in effect until 11pm.
KYW's Tony Romeo reports Governor Rendell is asking for federal disaster aid for 34 Pennsylvania counties – including all of Southeastern Pennsylvania – as a result of this week’s floods.

Since river crests turned out to be not as high as earlier dire predictions, Governor Rendell says Pennsylvania appears to have dodged a bullet. But he says that statement flies in the face of the drama that played out, with 13 National Guard, state police and coast guard helicopters in the air:

“Those 13 helicopters made over 1200 water rescues. In 16 or 17 occasions, actually the big baskets came down to lift whole families off rooftops or out of houses.”


If stuff like this can happen in Pennsylvania and New York (also heavily affected), it can happen anywhere.

Survival Books: Tappan on Survival

One of the classic texts of the modern survival movement, Tappan on Survival, is back in print and available from Paladin Press. In my opinion, there's some good information contained in ToS although some is a bit dated, and the financial collapse that Mel Tappan predicted didn't come about. (Of course, history isn't over, so ....). ToS is worth getting if you're building a survival library.

Incidentally, Jerry Pournelle wrote the foreword to the first edition. You may be familiar with his work as a longtime columnist for Byte, or his science fiction novels, including my favorite end of the world story, Lucifer's Hammer, coauthored with Larry Niven.

Wolf Military Classic from Cabela's

The other night I recieved my Cabela's order of Wolf Military Classic 7.62x39 FMJ ammo. I got a full case -- 1,000 rounds -- and Cabela's included two of their Dry-Storage Boxes as a bonus.

Made in Russia's Ulyanovsk Arsenal, Wolf Military Classic comes in 20 round camoflauge cardboard boxes. The steel cases are lacquer coated, rather than being coated with the gray polymer that the newer Wolf ammo made at Tula has. This is a Good Thing, as in my experience the polymer coating is not very rust-resistant. I've had some rust in my crawlspace. Anyone looking to lay in a supply of 7.62x39 should take this into account. Since AKs and SKSes don't have problems with lacquered ammo, I'd rate this as preferable to the polymer coated stuff.

It appears that Cabela's pre-packs 500 rounds in Dry-Storage Boxes, then sends out however many are needed to fill an order. I saw this because each box contained 500 rounds even though each will hold more than 1,000. I was not pleased that they failed to fill up the empty space with packing peanuts or something, because the 20 round boxes of ammo got jumbled in transit, many of them tearing open to spill their contents. I wound up consolidating the ammo into one Dry-Storage Box, with the loose rounds in a few Ziplock bags.

The Dry-Storage Boxes seems to be pretty sturdy and are quite a bit larger than a surplus .50 caliber ammo can. They stack well and have a large, comfortable handle thant folds down. I don't like their gaskets, however. Instead of a one-piece gasket installed at the factory, a four-piece gasket made of adhesive-backed foam is included inside the Dry-Storage Box. If the gaskets were one-piece I wouldn't mind too much, but there's no way the four-piece gaskets will be as air or water tight as a one-piece unit. Take this into consideration if you get any of these boxes. I may try making a replacement using silicone caulk, with a release agent on the top edge of the box so that the lid isn't glued shut.

MTM makes similar plastic "Sportsman's Utility Dry Boxes," but they have better gaskets which are factory-installed. I recommend the MTM boxes over the Cabela's boxes if you're going to be buying any. I have a couple of the MTM SPUD1 boxes and they are very nice. Both MidwayUSA and Natchez Shooters Supply carry the MTM boxes.

Since I now have an extra Dry-Storage Box, I may use it as a case for my Yaesu FT-7800R 2M/440 MHz ham radio and it's power supply.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

PA: Heavy Rains Cause Widespread Flooding

You don't need a terrorist strike or bird flu to cause severe problems. For the past few days the northeast has been hit with heavy rains. I noticed this morning when I left for work that the ground is completely saturated. This afternoon I spoke with my wife, who told me that her mother's normal 15 minute commute took about two hours this morning, due to flooding.

Meanwhile, Governor Rendell has declared a state of emergency in 46 Pennsylvania counties. Across the northeast, about 10 people have died so far from flooding.

Stuff happens. Be prepared.

Emergency Preps on a Budget

(Another repost, this time from a post I made on The Rally Point. Just want to get things going here. I plan to go into more depth on many of these items.)

Not everyone can afford expensive, top of the line gear. Folks just started in their careers or those on low incomes should be prepared for emergencies, too. While the ability to buy lots of expensive gear and food is definitely an advantage, there are plenty of things a family with less money can do to help themselves weather an emergency.

Buying food in bulk is a good way to lower costs. Look for sales and buy flats of canned goods, then rotate them in and out of your daily usage. You don't need fancy containers for water storage. Used 2L and 3L soda bottles work very well, after they've been thoroughly cleaned and filled with tap water. Put a couple of drops of bleach in each bottle and store them in a cool, dark place. Inspect every 6 months to a year, drain, clean, and refill.

Get a cooler to help preserve perishables if the power goes out. Use perishables before canned or dried foods if that happens.

Most people have barbecue grills, which can be used for cooking if the SHTF. Have extra propane or charcoal on hand. Sterno or alcohol stoves made from soda cans can be used to heat food, too. (Google for "pepsi can stove.") Even a coffee can, can make a good stove. (Google for "hobo stove.")

Extra emergency clothes and blankets can be picked up at thrift shops or from military surplus dealers. In a pinch, contractor weight plastic garbage bags can be slit to make a tarp or a poncho.

Have a couple rolls of duct tape on hand. This is one item where it pays to not buy the cheapest you find. It can be used for repairing everything to cars, stuff around the house, and even a temporary bandage. Baling wire is good stuff, too.

Have basic hand tools, nails, drywall screws, string, and if possible a rechargeable cordless drill with screwdriver bits.

Surefure flashlights are cool but they and their batteries are expensive. A two D-Cell flashlight will provide usable lighting in an emergency and they're cheap. Mini Maglites can be picked up for $10 and are light and compact. With a $5 LED conversion head from Nite-Ize at WalMart, they run much longer and give out more light. Don't forget spare batteries.

When used carefully candles are a useful yet inexpensive adjunct to your emergency lighting supplies.

Budget communications are available, too. Obviously the first thing to try is your landline. If that's out a pre-paid cell phone may work, but if the landlines are down so too may be the cell towers, especially if you've just been through a hurricane.

Wireless communications can be in the form of a CB or FRS/GMRS radio. CBs are common and work fine for local communications. If possible, get one that can also receive National Weather Service Wx broadcasts. For example, I have a Midland CB walkie talkie with a cigarette light adapter and magnet mount antenna in my truck. I can use it on foot or in the vehicle, and receive Wx warnings. CBs will also be good for communicating with truckers delivering relief supplies.

If you can spare about a hundred dollars and some time, you can afford to get a Technician level amatuer radio ("ham") license and a used 2 Meter FM handie talkie. Compared to CB, FRS, or GMRS, a ham radio greatly improves your commo capabilities in a SHTF situation.

Sanitation is very important, especially when normal systems are disrupted. A 5 gallon bucket (at most a few bucks at Home Depot) and plastic bags can make an expedient toilet. If necessary a hole can be dug to dispose of waste.

Unfortunately, while emergencies often bring out the best in people, they also bring the worst in others. Therefore, the prudent person will have tools for protection. One's arsenal need not be fancy nor expensive to provide good protection.

My first choice for a budget SHTF arsenal would consist of an SKS and a 4" Ruger Police Service Six, preferably in stainless. Both are extremely rugged and reliable, ammo is reasonably common and not too expensive. Total cost for both guns should be under $400.

If a semiauto rifle isn't an option than second choice IMO would be a used Marlin or Winchester levergun in .30-30.

You obviously want a rifle because it is the most effective weapon for self defense. Shotguns are formidable at close range but ammo is bulky and heavy, and recoil is stout.

The rifle should be equipped with a sling. You don't need a fancy "tactictal" sling, a carry strap will do. There will be instances when you'll need both hands but putting the rifle down is unwise.

Ammo for the SKS can be carried in clips in a Chicom chest pouch, a belt pouch, or in surplus 5.56MM bandoleers. If you get a .30-30 instead, get a butt cuff for some onboard ammo and a belt pouch or belt slide with cartridge loops.

You should have handgun in case you need a portable, concealable weapon. E.g., when you have LEOs who think that the serfs should be disarmed, as in New Orleans post-Katrina.

The handgun needs a holster and sturdy belt to support it. Also some means of carrying a couple reloads, preferably speed loaders in belt pouches. Bianchi Speed Strips are a viable option, especially when you need to carry concealed, because they are flat.

Since for the sake of this topic budget is a concern, a milsurp cleaning kit with a sectional rod and a .30 caliber and 9mm sized bore brushes/jags will allow you to perform preventive maintenance. Cleaning supplies don't need to be fancy, just need some patches cut from an old T-shirt and a CLP. Automatic transmission fluid works quite well and is cheap.

Let's hear some other ideas for emergency preps on a budget.