Saturday, December 30, 2006

Wonder Gear

I worked with a guy once who built bicycles from scratch. He built “regular” bikes and recumbent bikes. Once, just to make conversation, I asked him if titanium forks were worth the money on a bicycle. Now, about all I knew about “titanium forks” was that they “were lighter than regular forks” and one could buy them – I think I saw an ad in a triathlon magazine or something. Like I said, I was just trying to make conversation.

He explained to me that it was not merely the weight of the bike that was important –it was the combined weight of the bike and the rider that mattered. He also pointed out that while titanium forks would weigh a few ounces less than steel forks, most of the suburbanite yuppies in the bike clubs out there on $4,000+ Trek bikes could stand to lose more than a few pounds. He recommended that before folks invest in titanium forks to “save a few ounces” they get out on the bike they had and start working out to shave off a few pounds.

I took up golf once. A rich friend heard I was interested and gave me a brand new set of TaylorMade Pro Tour Gold graphite shafted drivers. For those not in the know, he gave little ol’ neophyte me about $1,000 in brand new clubs for free. I asked why he was giving away brand new clubs? He told me that right after he bought them, his golfing buddy bought the latest and greatest thing to come out of the factory and it was just a case of “keeping up with the Joneses”. While I was trying to learn golf, I read a lot of magazines and I noticed how much stuff is for sale in those catalogs. The latest driver to “add incredible distance to your drives” the coolest putter, etc, etc ad nauseum.

It’s the same in almost any sport or endeavor in America – you can always buy new “better” gear and accessories to “make you better”. You can buy the latest running shoe, the newest batting glove, the most high-speed underwear (yes). And it gets to the point of ridiculousness with firearms – guns. I have seen more crap hung on firearms than you can shake a stick at.

I think I figured out why people do this – they would rather invest money than time or effort. They would rather buy stuff than do something to make them sweat. They are attempting to compensate for laziness.

There, I said it.

Most of us are in the “average band” of performance. Which means most of us are not experts. Most of us cannot perform to the level of the gear we already have – so why do we insist on buying “better gear”?

Most golfers would benefit more from spending more time on the driving range, putting green and with an instructor than from buying the new “WonderHead” golf club.

Most runners would benefit more from getting out and running more instead of worrying about what they look like while doing it.

Most shooters (who cannot shoot to the level of the average rifle – let alone some expensive “sniper rifle”) would do better spending their money on ammo and range fees and get out and shoot the heck out of the rifle (or pistol, or shotgun) they have instead of buying this or that accessory, or upgrading to a better model.

I do not even want to hear (because this is a preparedness related blog) – “How much is your life worth?” to try and justify buying so-called better gear. How about getting out there and wearing out the gear you already have? Pros, masters, Olympic-class types can benefit from shaving a few ounces or seconds or whatever off. They can because they have mastered the lesser gear first. And really, they have not mastered the gear - they have mastered themselves.

I happen to shoot very well. I can shoot most people’s guns better than they can – I do it all the time at ranges when folks say, “wanna shoot it?. I don’t own anything too fancy. I outshot a guy with a bazillion dollar “sniper rifle” with a Chinamart special deer rifle at a range one time – he was flabbergasted. He just could not understand why his wonder gun did not shoot as well as my El-cheapo.

Baron Manfred von Richthofen said once, "The quality of the crate matters little. Success depends upon who sits in it." And he is a product of the personal effort he (or she) has expended

Ever see those pictures folks post of themselves on the 'net with all their high speed gear? Ever notice how clean it is? How brand new looking? I’d be a lot more impressed if it looked like it had been dragged through hell and back. At leas then it would appear that they had actually used it. What a concept - I know...

So people – get out and do. Instead of buying new and better stuff - use the stuff you have. Once you wear it out or get better than it – then you may want to consider Wonder Gear.

Have a comment? I'd love to read it - just contact me at If it's really interesting I may even post it here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Martial Arts

Here's the deal:
There is no "best martial art" (MA).
The human body is a finite thing - there are only so many ways it can move, there are hard points and weak points. Most MA use the same principals - they typically just emphasize one aspect over another. "It's all good"

There is room for disagreement, addtiions, subtractions, etc but basically you want to cover/learn/do:

Basic conditioning
o Aerobic - sprints or aerobics, etc
o Anerobic - "endurance"
o Strength -
o Flexibility
o Body toughening (falls, hitting, etc)
Basic Defense
o Awareness
o Techniques against common attacks
Punches (hand strikes)
Weapons (anything that lengthens or strengthens your sphere of offense/defense)

When starting from ground zero (no MA training) taking ANY martial art will be beneficial. As I said - the principals are there in all of them.

Earning a black belt (okay, "getting very good at") ANY MA will set you up for success in others - as long as you don't fall into the trap of "my system is best". No, it's not.

So, pick a school near you (convenience). Most will let you take a free lesson and/or observe some classes before you sign up. Avoid signing a "One Year Contract" which seems to be the rage right now in the biz. Also, it's like college - for every hour of class, you need to put in several hours of practice. You need to practice every day.

I recommend a school because most people can find one, but over the years, the best instruction I recieved was from private instructors. Instructors who did not charge or who charged only a very nominal fee. They taught for the love of the art or to "create training partners" and so on. These types are hard to find but if you can find one - do your best to "sign on" and then train hard.

I have passed on this concept over the years by taking on students and training them for free. I will tell you from an instructor's perspective it is a joy to teach students who are "into it" but gets very frustrating teaching those who obviously don't put much into this free, quality training.

Also, the more real sparring you do, the better you'll be. Many schools don't spar at all (bad) or spar only for points (no real hits - also not good). Many won't let beginners spar but this is actually a good thing - better to learn the basics first or you will just revert to "caveman fighting" under stress.

Hitting and getting hit, grabbing and getting grabbed, throwing and getting tossed - all have a way of "focusing the mind".

So - get fit.
Get hard.
Learn and practice the basics.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Home Security

Ring, ring.

"Hello?” says I.

“Joe, you know anything about security alarms and stuff?” says an acquaintance of mine.

“Well, yeaaahhhhh….”

“I’m sending someone over to talk to you.”

Which is how a consult began with a young man who had just had a scary night. He lives in a duplex with his fiancée. The master bedroom has a set of sliding glass doors. About 2300 (11 p.m. for some of you) some BIG white dude is standing outside the glass apparently attempting to get in. The young man calls 911 and they tell him to leave the lights off “so as not to scare the perp away”. The young man complies, the cops come, the bad guy (BG) is nowhere to be found. The cops leave.

Some time later, yep, you got it – the BG returns and trys again. This time the homeowner turns on all the lights and the perp flees. Next morning he’s talking to me seeking options.

I quickly determine several things:

o He has no firearm in the house – he owns some, but his fiancée doesn’t like them.
o He has no dog – it’s not allowed by the lease.
o He doesn’t know his neighbors.
o He just moved to the neighborhood a few months ago and does not think he was personally targeted.
o He doesn’t have automatic (IR) exterior lighting.
o He has a good solid front door (only other entrance to the home).
o He has a basement with windows.
o His back yard is not fenced.

Here is what I advised him:

o Start the communication process right now with the fiancée – they need a gun in the house.
o Get firearms training for the fiancée – I recommended a female trainer who specializes in training women with “hang-ups” (my word, certainly not hers).
o Purchase or fabricate pins for the sliding glass door to keep it from being lifted from the track.
o Put bars over the basement widows.
o Install infrared activated lights on all four exterior corners.
o Install a DIY home security system that covers doors and window and has a panic alarm for the siren.
o Take a batch of Christmas cookies over to the neighbors, introduce yourself, and talk about the BG trying to get in.

Everyone should take basic security measures. Fences and dogs help a lot. They don’t even have to be big mean dogs. Just barky. Get good doors and windows and secure them properly. I highly recommend every adult American get trained in the proper use of firearms and then arm themselves. A 5’2’ female is not much of a match for the average male burglar. Train and arm her however, and she is very capable of defending herself.

A word of advice for those of you (male or female) who are dating or engaged – communicate with your potential mate and don’t compromise on the important stuff. Either convince them, change your mind, or look elsewhere for your “soul mate”. This includes views on children, money, occupation, religion, and yes – guns.

So, think it over. Talk it over. Make a plan. Follow through.

Stay safe – and have a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Wheat, Wonderful Wheat.

Wheat. It should form the foundation of your long term food stores. Stored correctly, it will last forever. Basically, just keep it dry and bug free. Supposedly, wheat found in Pharaoh’s tomb was still able to sprout lo, those many years later.

Wheat is cheap. Sure, you can buy it canned and nitrogen sealed from some kind of distributor. If you do – good for you! They can use your support. But you can save a lot of money by doing it yourself also.

You can get it at the local feed store for just a few bucks for 100 pounds. Don't have a "local" feed store? Well then move! Okay, you may have to drive to the country. It will be worth it.

Get some five gallon buckets – you can buy them at Chinamart or you can get them for free from the local bakery or deli. Line them with plain Glad trash bags (I wrote to Glad and they don’t use anything weird in or on their bags – like insecticide). Pour in some wheat, add a fist-sized chunk of dry ice and fill the rest of the way up with more wheat.

Loosely twist the bag shut and leave the buckets alone until the carbon dioxide from the dissolving dry ice displaces the oxygen in your bucket/bag. This can take a few hours until the bag stops inflating due to the escaping oxygen and temperature difference. Once they have all calmed down – twist the bags shut and put the lids on.

I wait an additional couple hours just to make sure and then tape the lids on with duct tape. There is now almost no oxygen left in the bucket. See, no matter how “clean” the wheat was when you purchased it, it still may have insect eggs in it. If they hatched, they would eat your wheat. Now if they hatch, they will die from lack of oxygen and you won't even notice them - too small. You can also kill them off by freezing the product for three days. Just set the buckets outside if it’s going to stay below freezing for a few days.

What to do with the wheat? The obvious answer is to use a mill to grind it into flour and make bread. You can also make pasta. In a pinch, you can boil it and make gruel. Not tasty in that form - but add some brown sugar and raisins and you are getting somewhere!

Mills are another subject for another time. Do not delay putting up some wheat just because you don't yet have a grinding mill. Back in the day, Millers would grind folks grain and be paid with some of it. They would then use it themselves and sell the excess. You may be able to do the same. Cresson Kearny describes using three pieces of rebar in a coffee can as a kind of mortar and pestle. "Nuclear War Survival Skills" is his work. It is available for free on the net. Google is your friend.

For now - just put up some wheat. You may be glad you did.


I have not decided “where I’m taking this blog” yet. Will it be geared for folks who are just getting started in preparedness, or for folks who are hard core survivalists and who just want to “tweak their preps”? A friend recently told me his plans for developing some additional skill sets and asked for some advice - this is basically what I told him.

Skill wise I look from inside out. I envision long term survival scenarios -TEOTWAWKI, TSHTF type stuff. I try to figure out what I need to know to live for the next 5 minutes, then the next 5 hours, days, months, etc... It is important to note that along with skills, one needs to have the necessary supplies and equipment to practice those skills.

Here are the skill sets I think most of us who plan on pulling through to the other side should possess:

1. Basic Tactics – Defense being primary. You must be able to protect yourself, your loved ones and your place. From what? From the most dangerous threat you assess as likely. This could include everything from martial arts to Ranger skills – you decide.

2. First aid to Trauma Management - When 911 is not working, hospitals are closed, and your loved one gets injured – it’s up to you to save their life. I don’t think one can ever have too many medical skills.

3. Food Production - Like anything else, until one has done it – it ain’t as easy as it looks. I have had a large garden for the past couple years – but it hasn’t been large enough. Or varied enough, or well thought out enough, or well maintained enough.... I think “Trained” on gardening can only be awarded when one buys no veggies for a year – one produces them all (and stores the needed ones through winter) and saves the seeds and gets another garden going the following spring.
Additionally – one needs to think about protein production. I don’t think hunting is where it is at. First off, it takes a lot of time. Trapping and poaching techniques are better – but one must practice to be good. As far as poaching goes, this is not possible to do legally. Secondly, historically (Great Depression, other countries’ economic hard times – like Korea) wild game quickly disappears. Gone. Chickens produce eggs and meat. Goats produce meat and milk – from which one can make cheese. We have been working with both for some time and they are relatively easy to raise. Relatively. Rabbits are supposedly good as well – they are next on our list.

4. Basic Building/Construction When we want something – we are gonna have to do it ourselves. I learn more every time I build something. Lately that has included – my garage addition, stone walls (yuck), hand dug well, flooring... I think Masonry would be a good skill to learn – we sent my wife to a community college course on it a few years ago so we’d have this one in our kitbag.

5. Transportation Maintenance - Car, truck, bike, horse – whatever it is, we need to know how to maintain and fix it.

6. Nursing – This includes long term care of the sick, the old, the injured.

7. Tinkering – The ability to use, maintain, repair all homestead tools and equipment – fix the chain saw, sharpen the two man saw, replace the axe handle, replace that window, patch the hole in the roof, etc.

I think the above takes care of the homestead. In the initial stages of any long term catastrophe you will (you should) stay home and “hunker down”. You could even earn some extra money or barter with some of those skill sets – but I suspect most who “make it” will have mastered much of them. Other useful things to learn may include:

Solar power
Ham Radio
Heavy Equipment operation

I don’t believe there will be many “jobs” right away – (e.g. Tinker, tailor, baker, soldier, spy) so learning a skill to barter with may or may not pay off in the near (couple years) term. I don’t know... So many will perish and they will leave behind a lot of stuff. For example, I don’t think knowing how to forge knives will be too valuable when there will be thousands of empty households with multiple thousands of knives laying around the kitchens.

Knowing how to make simple repairs to firearms may be useful – but will mostly consist of switching out parts. I don’t see a lot of call for bedding, zeroing scopes, lathing and what not. I think there will be a surplus of firearms too...

Reloading popular calibers may be a valuable skill barter wise... not sure here either though.

There are some skills I think you could barter in the early times:

Herbologist -Grow your own, pick your own, make your own tinctures, salves, etc and know how to use them.
Bee keeper
Candle Maker - learn this along with bee keeping
- Being able to set up a barter store or market or some such – merchants always make money and have throughout time.