Thursday, December 31, 2009

My beautiful blond bride, my petite pretty petunia, my cute cuddly cucaracha, is stranded by the latest snowstorm. So it's me and the dog for New Year's Eve. What do you do when your New Year's date has a hairy face and farts all the time? Well, you don't go public. So we headed for the woods, started a fire, and made sourdough bannocks.

Whisk these dry ingredients together and put them in a plastic bag:

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt


A little powdered milk
Flax seeds
Whole wheat flour instead of white
Brown sugar instead of white
Rolled oats

When you've got a nice fire going, melt ghee in a pan. (Butter or oil will do if you haven't made ghee, but they aren't as tasty and they burn much more easily.)

Swirl it around to grease the whole bottom and sides of the pan.

Pour the excess melted ghee into the plastic bag.

Add an egg if you have it.

Add some honey if you have it.

Add enough sourdough starter to make a thick mud.

Squish everything around in the plastic bag until it's mixed.

Pour it back in the now-greased pan.

Cook S-L-O-W-L-Y. Careful, or you'll burn the bottom.

When it's almost done, prop it up in front of the fire and brown the top.

If you try to tip it up too soon, it may droop a bit, as this one has done, or worse.

Hot home-made bread for dinner, and you didn't even get flour on your hands.

Happy New Year everyone. My resolution is to seek out the dark forces and join their hellish crusade. Also to get outside more often instead of just reading about it.

How's this for a heavy-duty wanigan?

Always on the lookout for anything that will make car and boat camping comfortable for my wife and convenient for me, I bought this at an online surplus store for $80 (but then had to pay $50 shipping). According to the UPS document, it weighs 65 pounds. Hate to think what the government originally paid for it. And then they never used it, it was brand-spanking-new-still-in-the-box.

I'm always haunting surplus stores. Buying cheap surplus is like getting a tax refund. It's like making lemonade when life gives you lemons. Our governing elite steals our money with the threat of violence, pays exorbitant prices for stuff they'll never use to the contractors who make the most campaign contributions, then allows us to buy it for pennies on the dollar.

This is supposedly a "medical storage container". Very heavy-duty double-walled aluminum with three dividers/shelves welded inside. Two of the sides come off and unfold into tables. Rubber gaskets make it airtight. It'd float if it wasn't overloaded. Even has a pressure-relief valve in case I set up a base camp on Annapurna.

These would have been perfect furniture when I was a starving college student and a single military guy, moving every few months and putting my stuff into storage for deployments. The M.A.S.H. motif suits my taste in home decor. Anything that helps organize and store all my crap suits my taste in home decor. Might have to do something about the sickly pale green color, though.

I'll keep this packed with non-perishables and utensils, ready to put in the back of the pick-up truck and go. A tent with a woodstove, cot, and one of these will be more comfortable than my college dorm ever was.

I had plans to build a wood wannigan, but I suspect that the materials would have cost about what this did. Not to mention construction time, slopping paint everywhere and hitting my thumb with a hammer. Wood is warm and traditional, but you gotta like storage containers that are proof against everything from ants to floods to fire to Cub Scouts. Besides, mice would chew through wood the first night at deer camp. They even eat our soap if it's not in a metal container. I might start sleeping in a metal container if another one runs across my face at night.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

First snow-camp of the season

The large lake we live on freezes very late, so I thought I'd get one more night of canoe camping on an island. To make the most of the short days, I launched and loaded the freighter canoe the night before. Next morning, there was a ring of ice around it. Got that chipped off without damaging anything, but then the outboard wouldn't start.

I can take a hint. On to Plan B. Loaded the car and drove towards another favorite place. By now it was snowing hard, and the roads were slicker than snot on ice. Came to a hill the car just wouldn't climb, even with brand-new snow tires. Tried to go back, but couldn't climb the hill I'd just come down, either. Stuck in a little valley on an infrequently-traveled dirt road until a snow plow came along. One of those times when Mother Nature chooses the campsite. Dug out a parking spot off the road, and Ajax and I were on our way.

He carries the heavy stuff in his pack, I pull the bulky stuff on a sled. Found a decent spot, cut a pole for the tent and three smaller ones for a tripod to support the stove pipe. Pitched the tent. By then, snow had buried everything. Lost the little tarp I put over firewood, and never did find it. Note to self: Be more organized, and paint little things orange.

Went off with the sled and saw for firewood. Lucked into a couple dead standing Hop-Hornbeam trees, the King Kong of firewood.

Had hoped to pop a squirrel for dinner, but saw only one and didn't get a shot.

Fortunately, being a pessimist, I had pre-loaded the aluminum Dutch oven with left-over pork roast, ghee and garlic. Warmed it up on the stove and it was delicious. Ajax drooled all over my sleeping bag waiting to lick the pot.

A front passed during the night, dropping the temp to 8*F. The tent stayed so warm that I spent most of the night stretched out on top of the sleeping bag, but a strong wind (30 mph, I learned later) developed and kept the tent flapping. Didn't get much sleep, although that's normal for me the first night of a camping trip. Sleep comes much easier on subsequent days. The stove pipe came apart once and filled the tent with smoke, but I was able to reconnect it fairly quickly.

Next morning went hunting again, but saw nothing. Not even tracks. Nothing was moving in the wind and cold. The temp had been just below freezing when we left, so I'd dressed for cold/wet conditions instead of cold/dry, and was wishing I'd worn mukluks and snowshoes. Another note to self: Don't trust Mother Nature. What a bitch.

Tree limbs were coming down in the wind, so we decided to skedaddle. Chipping out the frozen tent and slogging to the car was a bit of an ordeal. Then to top it off, the car door locks were frozen.

It was a good early-season shake-down.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The World's Coolest Name

I'm in the Dominican Republic tonight. A fellow running for office has a billboard by the hotel. His name is "JESUS MERCEDES". Conjures up images of a messiah in an SL350 convertible. It's going to be my rock-star name if I ever learn to sing or play an instrument. Maybe I'll kill him and assume his identity. Maybe I'll just sign I.O.U.'s with it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Canoes vs. Kayaks

If you're going to be hopping in-and-out, or transporting cargo, or fishing, or jump-shooting ducks, a canoe is the utilitarian pick-up truck of human-powered watercraft.

For seaworthiness and covering miles in big water, go with a kayak.

In a canoe, you feel like you're on the water. In a kayak, you feel like you're in the water.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Behold: The Chicken Bunker

Built a sod-roofed, earth-sheltered chicken coop in the hope that it will be visually unobtrusive, warm in winter and cool in summer.

"Foods that will Win the War"

During WWI, America and Canada were exporting as much wheat as possible to our starving European allies. The U.S. Food Administration campaigned to reduce domestic waste and consumption. "Waste in your kitchen means starvation in some other kitchen across the sea". In 1918 it published a book called "Foods that will Win the War". I adjusted some of its figures for today's population:

"A slice of bread contains a bit less than three-fourths of an ounce of flour.
If each of America's 20,000,000 homes (112,000,000 homes today) wastes one slice per day, the country is throwing away daily over
14,000,000 ounces of flour (78,000,000 ounces now) —over 875,000 pounds (4,900,000 pounds), or enough flour for over a
million one-pound loaves a day (5.6 million loaves now). For a full year at this rate there would be a
waste of over 319,000,000 pounds of flour (1,786,400,000 pounds) —1,500,000 barrels (8,400,000 barrels)—enough flour
to make 365,000,000 loaves (2,044,000,000).
As it takes four and one-half bushels of wheat to make a barrel of ordinary
flour, this waste would represent the flour from over 7,000,000 bushels (39,200,000 bushels) of
wheat. Fourteen and nine-tenths bushels of wheat on the average are raised per
acre. It would take the product of some 470,000 acres (2,632,000 acres) just to provide a single
slice of bread to be wasted daily in every home."

Average yield-per-acre has increased to about 50 bushels today, largely due to agricultural methods that are unsustainable in the long run. Nevertheless, it would still "take the product" of some 784,000 acres "just to provide a single slice of bread to be wasted daily" in every American home.

When something as unimportant as a slice of bread is multiplied by our enormous population, it staggers the imagination.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Soaked and skunked, mostly

Opening morning of deer season at a buddy's farm in Missouri, I saw a small buck and a doe. Strangely, the latter was following the former. (It's almost always the other way around, especially this time of year.) The bag limit is one buck with at least four points on a side, and unlimited does. Watched them for a while hoping something better would show up, then picked off the doe when they started leaving. The next morning I hunted in the same spot, and was entertained by a red fox feeding on the gut pile. Left for lunch, and when I came back the gut pile was entirely gone. A pack of coyotes must have discovered it in the couple hours I was away. They didn't even leave a scrap of stomach contents. That night I passed on a small doe. After that, days of unending rain, and not another deer sighting. Glad I put meat on the ground opening day.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Healthcare Reform Revisited

The House of Representatives passed it's healthcare reform bill last night. According to the CBO (Congressional Budget Office), it will cost between 17% and 20% of your pre-tax income. Even assuming that their estimate is accurate - the cost estimates for every other entitlement program have been wildly optimistic - that's not a bargain I'd leap on with the fury of a thousand jungle beasts. But it will be mandatory. You buy the insurance or you pay a fine, citizen.

What's driving health care costs can be divided into four behavioral categories:

1. Patient behavior: We're our own worst enemy. Most medical problems are self-induced. If America put down the cigarettes and Twinkies, there wouldn't be a healthcare crisis. The House's bill does not address personal responsibility at all. On the contrary, it will force those who choose healthy lifestyles to subsidize the chainsmoking hogbodies who don't.

2. Healthcare provider behavior: Doctors and hospitals want to make as much money as they can, plus they're forced by the threat of lawsuits to practice "defensive medicine". They order high-cost, low-value tests and procedures because there's no incentive to economize, they'll be sued into the stone age if they miss something, and, well, they're greedy. There is nothing in the bill whatsoever to encourage healthcare providers to use economic common sense.

3. Lawyer behavior: Lawyers make their parasitic livings by finding mistakes and assigning blame. See above. The House bill completely ignores the issue. Why is the subject of tort reform ignored? Just a wild guess, but maybe because our president is a lawyer married to a lawyer and our vice president is a lawyer married to a lawyer? And somehow the Trial Lawyers Association has become the nation's second largest "campaign contributor"?

4. Insurance company behavior: Greed yet again. They're in business to make money, not because they're humanitarians. And they do so by charging as much as possible, and paying out as little as possible. Why aren't we going to a single-payer system that simply eliminates insurance companies? Could it be because the largest "campaign contributor" - I know you were wondering who was in first place - is the F.I.R.E. (Financial/Insurance/Real Estate) industry?

Congress is a legislation vending-machine. If lawyers and insurance companies put enough money in at the top, the legislation they want comes out at the bottom. To add insult to injury, congress has already exempted themselves from this "reform". It's for us serfs, not our masters. You know those guys who keep getting busted with sacks of money in their freezers and such? Yeah, them.

Keeping an Old Car Running

Replaced the beat-up plastic skidplate under the engine of my VW Jetta with a heavy-duty aluminum aftermarket model called a "Panzer Plate". It looks as ruggedly cool as it sounds. Wish I had a whole car made like it. I'm all atwitter in anticipation of bashing ice chunks at 70 miles per hour on I-93 this winter.

A Moral Dilemma

A large, fancy car in a public parking garage was taking up two spaces. There were no other spots reasonably available, so I shoehorned my little commuting car in next to it. When I returned, the fancy car's space was empty, but the driver had apparently expressed his displeasure by folding in my side-view mirror and keying the side of my car.

Two days later, I noticed the same car, parked the same way near the same spot in the same garage. I recognized things in the backseat as well as the make, model and color.

It took me several long moments to decide whether I was a turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy, or a payback-is-a-bitch kind of guy. What would you have done?

I went with payback. It was sweet. I hope it wasn't bad karma.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Havasupai Indians

Hiked into the Havasupai reservation. It's a fantastically beautiful oasis at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

The ancient Havasupai were nomads who traveled distances that would have impressed a wolf, and lived on cliffs that would have impressed a lizard.

Now they're obese diabetics addicted to meth and alcohol. They live in government housing, with what amounts to a giant extension cord draped into the canyon for electricity. They milk tourists and look for things to be offended by.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

If you get a chance to visit Paris with a personal interpreter, go for it.

My daughter is spending a semester studying French at the Sorbonne. She's renting a room on the Left Bank, a couple blocks from the Louvre, from "Madame". I went over to visit. We ate snails and duck gizzards at sidewalk cafes. Took in historical sites ranging from the Roman Empire to the Reign of Terror. Watched the Eiffel Tower's new light show. Walked Madame's dog along the Seine, and were then invited in for tea. Madame's house and almost everything in it look to be older than the United States. The dude with the 'do and the armor in the painting was some ancestor of hers. A couple others were on Lafayette's staff and were present at the battle of Yorktown. She was eleven years old when Germany invaded France during WWII. Her parent's house was looted and burned, and she rode out the rest of the war in Morocco. She told us about a friend who is "an old lady" who smuggled downed Allied pilots from Belgium to Spain for the Resistance.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ever wonder where all the hippy-chicks went?

They're pretending to be Indians now. Pudgy middle-aged women hanging out at pow-wows, weaving "dream-catchers" with colored yarn and spouting incomprehensible phony spiritualism. They call themselves things like "Earth Mother Bear Spirit".

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How to Store Diesel Fuel

An Israeli Jerry can. The irony.

Both of my vehicles are diesels. They get better mileage than comparable gas vehicles - the VW TDI averages 50 mpg and goes 700 miles between fill-ups. Diesel engines last about twice as long as gas engines - they tend to operate at lower RPM's, and their fuel has superior lubricating properties. They're more reliable, with no spark plugs, no ignition coil, no distributor, no plug wires, and no oxygen sensors in the exhaust system. They could run on heating oil in a pinch, although that's illegal because heating oil isn't taxed.

Diesel is less volatile than gasoline, with a far longer "shelf life". And it's much, much safer to store. Gasoline is more dangerous than dynamite. (I recently read the blog of a fellow who stores cans of gasoline in an apartment closet. Wouldn't be surprised if he wins a Darwin award some day.)

I try to keep a small supply on hand, and think old-fashioned "Jerry cans" are the best storage containers. They're rugged, stackable, easy to pour from, and they don't "breath" like plastic containers. A dozen Jerry cans equals 3,000 miles in my car or 1,020 in my truck. Of course, our nanny state has made them illegal because they don't have child-proof caps or CARB ("California Air Resources Board") compliant spouts. "Pre-ban" Jerry cans are still sometimes available at surplus stores with the warning that they are not to be used to store fuel. What can I say.

I will share the results of my internet research with you, because I love you all:

There are two common problems with storing diesel fuel:

1. It begins to oxidize as soon as it leaves the refinery. Gums and sediments that clog fuel filters form. The process can be slowed by keeping it cool and by adding stabilizers.

2. Water, usually from condensation in the empty part of the storage container, is the medium for algae growth. A slime that will again clog fuel filters results. Adding biocide will prevent algae growth, but better yet is to keep it in a sealed, full container and in a stable temperature to prevent water from condensing in the first place.

Those who store large amounts of diesel for long periods (deep water sailors, the military, nuclear power plants with back-up generators) periodically test and "polish" their fuel, filtering and adding additional stabilizers. For us little people, rotating stocks is more practical, but funnels with built-in filters are available.

Exxon's website says that: "If you keep it clean, cool and dry, diesel fuel can be stored 6 months to 1 year without significant quality degradation. Storage for longer periods can be accomplished through use of periodic filtrations and addition of fuel stabilizers and biocides."

Chevron says: "those who store diesel fuel for a prolonged period, i.e., one year or longer, can take steps
to maintain fuel integrity. The steps below provide increasing levels of protection:
1. Purchase clean, dry fuel from a reputable supplier and keep the stored fuel cool and
dry. The presence of free water encourages the corrosion of metal storage tanks and
provides the medium for microbiological growth.
2. Add an appropriate stabilizer that contains an antioxidant, biocide, and
corrosion inhibitor.
3. Use a fuel quality management service to regularly test the fuel, and, as necessary,
polish it – by filtration through portable filters – and add fresh stabilizer."

BP says: "Under normal storage conditions diesel fuel can be expected to stay in a useable condition

12 months or longer at an ambient of 20ºC.
6-12 months at an ambient temperature higher than 30ºC.

As diesel gets older a fine sediment and gum forms in the diesel brought about by the
reaction of diesel components with oxygen from the air. The fine sediment and gum will
block fuel filters, leading to fuel starvation and the engine stopping. Frequent filter changes
are then required to keep the engine going. The gums and sediments do not burn in the
engine very well and can lead to carbon and soot deposits on injectors and other combustion

Cenex says: "If storage exceeds one year, testing is recommended."

Diesel fuels are blended for different seasons and regions. "Summer" diesel may cloud or gel at cold temperatures.

From BP: "Always purchase fuel to replenish stocks in the winter season. This will
ensure that the fuel will not cause wax problems whatever season it is used."

According to Exxon: "Non-winterized diesel fuel will not generally cause problems as long as temperatures are at or above 10°F."

So the basic strategy boils down to:

1. Buying "fresh" fuel (the quotation marks are because it's probably already several weeks old by the time it works it's way from the refinery to us consumers).

2. Topping off storage containers, leaving just enough headspace for expansion and contraction, but not much for condensation.

3. Keeping it dry and cool. Heat speeds deterioration, temperature swings will cause condensation.

4. Adding a stabilizer to slow oxidation if storage in warm temperatures or beyond a year is anticipated.

5. Adding a biocide to prevent algae growth (or better yet, keep it in a sealed, full container and in a stable temperature to prevent water condensation in the first place).

6. Rotating stocks every winter.

7. When in doubt, filtering. The "Mr. Funnel" plastic fuel filter funnel from has a good reputation. (The same funnel is marketed under several different names but for a lot more money.)

Interesting historical trivia: "Jerry cans" are so-named because they were originally designed and stockpiled for the German Wehrmacht during the build-up to WWII. Transporting and storing fuel in combat conditions was a critical problem as armies became mechanized, and Jerry cans were a secret project ordered by Hitler. They can be stacked with little wasted space. Their three handles allow easy carrying by either one or two people. The small built-in air space allows for expansion while minimizing condensation, and ensures that they'll float even when full. A traveling American engineer recognized the value of the ingenious design and stole three of them during an adventure that reads like a spy novel. They were subsequently delivered to America and Britain and reverse-engineered. I've also seen French, Swiss and even Israeli copies.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My wife comes from hardy stock.

The headstone on the left belongs to Christina Gortner, one of Rudy's great great great great great great (six "greats") grandmothers. On the right is that of John Jacob Hill, her husband. Rudy is sulking because he wanted to play his video game.

This is being written as we're camping and exploring in the Muncy valley of Pennsylvania, looking up some family history. The earliest white settlers here were Gortners (also spelled Gardners, Gertners, and etc.) and Hills, both lineages being ancestors of my lovely bride.

A father and son who shared the same name, John Daniel Hill, were both captured by indians. They were taken to Canada, where the father starved to death and the son was murdered by them. Joseph Hill Sr., their brother and uncle, respectively, was also captured but escaped and later fought in the revolution of 1776.

George Gortner was Rudy's great great great great great great great (seven "greats") grandfather. He fled Germany on account of the calamities of the Thirty Years War and settled here on the north side of Muncy Creek, about a mile and a half from it's outlet into the West Branch of the Susquehanna, in 1773. He spent five years clearing a farm on the good bottom land before being killed by Indians. We have four accounts that vary in details. In what seems the most credible, he and a friend named Christian Merkel were inspecting his corn crop after a Sunday dinner. Several indians laying under the bank of a stream fired on them, killing the former and nicking the latter's ear. The Indians went on to kill another man named Clark about two miles upstream, then departed for parts unknown. Christian Merkel had been a colonial ranger during the French and Indian War, and was then the captain in command of the garrison at Fort Muncy, to which he escaped. He returned with a party of his soldiers and buried the scalped and mutilated body of his friend in an unmarked grave close to where he fell. As near as we can figure, there's a shopping mall on top of him now. The valley was then "abandoned to the savages" in what became known as "The Great Runaway". All the settlers who remained in an attempt to tend their crops were killed "without exception."

Christina Gortner was one of George Gortner's daughters, She was engaged to John Jacob HIll when he enlisted in the Continental Army, and waited almost eight years for him to return. An interesting entry from Christina's diary: "When we moved here in 1773 then and afterwards the Indians were civil and friendly, and on the upper part of the place they had lodges or what was called an Indian town. We used to go to see them often and had no fears. Their diet consisted of almost anything they could get. One day we were there and a squaw with several kits around her seemed to be much interested in something covered up in the hot embers. Soon she removed it. It was a land tortoise with the bottom side up. After removing the flat shells she raised the contents carefully and preserved the broth and drippings in the shell and divided the fleshy parts between her and the children, to the latter sparingly. She then raised the shell and between whiffs and audible sips and ahs, she made the broth all her own; but not without boxing each papoose that came near enough, coaxing for just a little."

John Jacob Hill was one of Liz's great great great great great (five "greats") grandfathers, born May 9th, 1750 in Windsor Castle, Pennsylvania. In the Pennsylvania archives, he is listed as a captain in the Berks County Militia. He was a shoemaker until the revolution broke out, when he enlisted in the Fifth Regiment of the Continental LIne. He endured the winter at Valley Forge, and reenlisted after General Washington's famous speech there. He witnessed the "sort of mutiny" that General "Mad Anthony" Wayne ended by barring the way and saying "You can only proceed by crossing my dead body". In the end, John Jacob served a total of seven years, six months and twenty days, and campaigned in seven states - New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Among the many battles he participated in was the crossing the icy Delaware to attack the Hessians on Christmas Eve. At the end of the war, he was "permitted to carry home with him his musket with which he never parted." He took up shoemaking again, as well as farming and beekeeping, and settled down with the Christina Gortner mentioned above. Although disabled "from exposure during his protracted army life", he refused to apply for the pension he was due, saying "I have enough, and we now have a free country." (He would undoubtedly be appalled to learn that nowadays he would be considered a dangerous criminal for enjoying the freedoms he fought for.) He died on January 9th, 1824, six days after his wife passed away.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Last of the Garden Harvest

In a year when almost nothing did well, these two standbys are still producing: Heritage raspberries and Blacktail Mountain watermelons.

I planted the former a couple decades ago. We cut them back to the ground every year. They're still going strong.

The latter are an open-pollinated variety, cannonball-sized with orange-red meat, and very sweet. We save the best seeds from the best fruits every year.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

9mm vs. .40 S&W vs. .45ACP

It's a tired argument, but it keeps popping up.

I used a .45 in the Marines. I am issued a .40 now as a federal officer. I usually carry a 9mm as a personal CCW.

Urban myth says that .45 ACP hits like the Hammer of Thor, 9mm Parabellum is inadequate, and .40 S&W is some sort of compromise.

In reality, with the recent advances in bonded bullet technology, they are statistically identical in terms of real-world performance. All deliver, depending on the load, somewhere between 300 and 500 foot pounds of energy. (Which is about the energy of a thrown baseball, by the way.)

As for diameter, of course bigger is better within reason. But the unexpanded diameter of a .40 S&W is less than 5 hundredths of an inch greater than a 9mm. A .45 ACP is 96 thousandths greater. Do you really think you'll hit many more blood vessels and vital organs with that extra 45 thousandths or 96 thousandths? And remember that you're giving up magazine capacity to get it.

One of my closest friends is an emergency room physician as well as a shooting enthusiast, and we've had conversations about things like this. He says he can't tell a difference in wounding effects. His standard joke when someone really presses him about which is the most lethal is to say "a shotgun".

The military uses full metal jacket (FMJ) bullets because they're limited by the Geneva convention, and concerned with different tactical problems than us civilians. They routinely shoot through helmets, body armor, walls and vehicles at relatively long distances. Civilians, on the other hand, are usually at or near contact range in a defensive encounter, and would have a hard time convincing a jury that a fellow a ways off and on the other side of a wall was a threat.

So: Any of those three calibers with modern, good quality bonded hollow-points will perform about as well as the next, and as well as a .357 Sig or any other reasonable defensive handgun cartridge. Magazine capacity tips the scales for me. I'd rather have a 9mm or a .40 than a .45, because ammunition is like tokens at the arcade: The more you have, the longer you can play.

9mm Parabellum: 300-500 foot/pounds of energy, .356 bullet diameter

.40 S&W: 400-500 foot/pounds of energy, .4005 bullet diameter

.45ACP: 400-500 foot/pounds of energy, .452 bullet diameter

Friday, October 2, 2009

Wild Edibles: Pears

Okay, maybe "feral" is more accurate than "wild". From a neglected tree on an old farmstead. I picked up about 30 pounds of fresh drops, while others fell all around me. I could easily have picked up a couple hundred pounds. They're delicious, with almost no insect damage. They're laying in Sheep Sorrel, by the way, so I ate some of that, too. It was a good combination.

Gear that Works: Silky "Katanaboy" Folding Saw

This is a very large folding arborist's saw - the blade is 20" long. I was a little tentative about buying one, as with shipping it came to $140. Fortunately, it was a good investment. It's been pruning our trees, and will be replacing the bow saw for this winter's camping trips. It's a little heavy at two pounds, but cuts significantly faster and more efficiently, has a longer reach, is easier to maneuver into tight spots, and more compact to transport. It's also safer, as there's no temptation to put your hand alongside the blade, even to start it. When folded, the blade is completely covered, with no separate guard to fiddle with or misplace. It sectioned some fair-sized red maple and hop hornbeam logs, both dry and green, with no trouble.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Book: Butterflies in my Stomach

Butterflies in my Stomach, Ronald L. Taylor.

About the human consumption of insects, direct and indirect.

It also addresses our irrational food prejudices, e.g., most westerners are repelled by the idea of eating bee larvae, yet relish bee vomit (honey).

I can't really recommend slogging through most of the book but there were some interesting tidbits. Here's a six-sentence synopsis:

Humans, especially vegetarians, consume quite a lot of bugs without being fully aware of it. For example, the FDA permits up to 20 maggots per 100 grams of canned mushrooms, and ten insects plus 35 insect eggs per 8 ounces of raisins.

The most promising insects for use as food are termites, bee larvae and pupae, beetle grubs, grasshoppers, crickets, and almost any freshwater aquatic insects.

The legs, wings and heads may be pulled off. Roasting is the easiest way to cook them. They can be powdered and mixed with water or other foods if that's the only way you can keep them down.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Moving a Big Rock: Exercise and a Primal Sense of Accomplishment

This rock has been an annoying hazard off the end of our dock since we bought this house. I mentioned it to a friend, and he loaned me an amazing machine called a "Tirfor Grip Hoist". It amounts to a super-heavy-duty-come-along. Bought a nylon tow strap made for tanks from a surplus store, strapped the Grip Hoist to a big oak tree, wrapped logging chains around the rock, and moved it a couple hundred feet, half an inch at a time. From where it's been since the last ice age to where it'll be until the next one. Took all day and was the kind of workout yuppies in California pay a lot of money for.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Relief from Stings

Took the dog for a hike this morning. He ran ahead and started barking and growling at something. I thought he might have had a bear treed. When I caught up to him, he charged whatever it was, and "it" turned out to be a hornet nest. He skeddadled all the way back to the truck with his tail between his legs. They chased me for probably close to a hundred yards. I stopped a couple times and they were still buzzing around me. When I got back to the truck a bit later, the dog was running in circles because there were still two live hornets attached to his butt by their stingers. 

I had enough stings to test a couple home remedies.

Some were left alone, and they're still burning, swollen and itching. (Especially one inside my ear and one in my armpit.) 

Some were covered with a paste made from baking soda and water. It had no discernible effect.

Ditto with meat tenderizer. 

But: I cracked open eggs and put the membrane you find under the shell on others, and it made an amazing difference. The swelling went right down, and they they're no longer bothering me at all. I don't know if the proteins from the eggs do something to the venom or what, but it's an old wives tale that really works. Just peel pieces of that opaque membrane from the inside of an egg's shell, put them on stings, and let them dry. Remember this one, you'll need it sooner or later.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Giant Thermos Thingie

I don't know what these things are called, but they bring back vaguely disturbing memories of military chow lines.

This is my latest score from the scrap-metal pile at the dump. All it needed was a new O-ring.

Five gallons of hot cocoa will make it a popular destination at Ridin' Shootin' Rootin' Tootin' Rudy's Cub Scout camp-out next month.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Government Commission on EMP

Just waded through the:
"Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack 

Critical National Infrastructures 

April, 2008"

To save you several hours of yawning, here it is condensed to one paragraph: 

We're vulnerable to "the electromagnetic pulse generated by a high altitude nuclear explosion". "When a nuclear explosion occurs at high altitude, the EMP signal it produces will cover the wide geographic region within the line of sight of the detonation". The result would be "electricity, telecommunications, and electronics ... out of service over a significant area for an extended period of time", "months to a year or more". "Electronics are used to control, communicate, compute, store, manage, and implement nearly every aspect of United States (U.S.) civilian systems." Everything from banking and communications to the production and distribution of food, water and fuel might be catastrophically impacted. 

The report also made reference to the possibility of “vigilante redistribution” of "consumer goods and luxuries". I'm not fluent in PC, so I had to read that a couple times to grasp it. "When the failure of police and emergency services becomes protracted, the lawless element of society may emerge".

So, just like we should already be doing if we live anywhere that blizzards, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados or social unrest can occur (yes, you do) think about heat, light, water, food and security after the lights go out. A stocked pantry (don't forget Fido and Barfy), a couple cords of split, dry, stacked wood for the woodstove, a source of water and a means to purify it, a case of candles, and the means to discourage "vigilante redistribution".

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

That poem, written on the battlefield of Ypres in 1915, was almost never published. Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae composed it while sitting on the bumper of an ambulance. The day previous, he had seen his friend Lt. Alexis Helmer killed by an artillery shell, and buried him in a small cemetery next to an aid station. Sergeant-major Cyril Allinson watched him write it, and thought it was "an exact description of the scene in front of us...". Wild poppies were the only things growing in the churned soil of the battlefield cemetery, and they were moving in a light east wind. McCrae was dissatisfied with what he had written, ripped it out of his notebook, and threw it away. It was retrieved by another officer and sent to newspapers in England. McCrae died at the end of the war during the Great Influenza.

How accurate are military rifles?

This post was inspired by the internet commandos who claim that they can shoot 1 M.O.A. (Minute Of Angle, the traditional measurement of accuracy, about one inch at a hundred yards) groups with their rusty surplus rifles, gritty triggers, iron sights and ammunition left over from WWII.

There are indeed rifles and shooters capable of such accuracy. None of them are doing it like the Special Forces Seal Ninja Snipers on, with the cheapest rifles and ammunition they can find.

The closest group that an average human can hold, even from a shooting bench and using sandbags, is about 1/2". All the inconsistencies of the rifle and ammunition are added onto that 1/2".

The best that most unmodified military rifles are capable of with standard ball ammo is 3-4" groups.

Expect at least double that from AK47's.

The army considers 4" groups from it's new M4's normal and adequate.

When the M1 Garand, famous for it's accuracy, was factory new the army tested them in machine rests, which eliminate inconsistencies. The average 100 yard group was 1 3/4 inches. Amazing, but well over 1 M.O.A. even without the human factor added in.

British Enfield sniper rifles were specially selected and tuned and were expected to shoot groups that were 1" wide and 3" high.

From Wikipedia:

"A 2008 United States military market survey for a Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR) calls for 1 MOA ... extreme vertical spread ... meaning the horizontal spread and hence extreme spread are allowed to exceed 1 MOA ... In 2009 a United States Special Operations Command market survey calls for 1 MOA ... extreme vertical spread ... Meanwhile current US Sniper Systems ... do not meet this requirement."

(And remember that those specs are for sniper rifles, not rifles made by the lowest bidder and handed out to the average grunt.)

If you're frustrated because you can't achieve the accuracy you keep reading about on your favorite web site, you can relax. Even better, the next time someone at the range tells you his Chinese AK47 will shoot one M.O.A. groups, slap a hundred dollar bill on the bench and tell him you'd like to see it.

Bonus historical trivia to enrich your life: During the Civil War, internet commandos had to write with feathers dipped in ink, because Al Gore hadn't invented the internet yet. Robert E. Lee called them "knights of the quill".

Update: Since this post was written, I've had several indignant fellows tell me that their military rifles will shoot sub-MOA groups with standard ball ammo. So far no one will put their money where their mouth is when I offer a wager, though.

Another update: I stirred up a hornet's nest with this post. I have one fellow claiming that his Swedish Mauser turns in consistent 3/4 MOA groups with ball ammo and open sights. Another says his Enfield puts everything in a single hole at 100 yards. Yet another claims that he shoots 1.5 MOA groups offhand. Of course they all fall back on the standard defense of bullshitters everywhere when I ask to see it: They huff and puff about their "honor".

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Service Rifles

Military rifles have an appealing ruggedness and reliability. Their associations with history are fascinating. They even have an aesthetic attraction if you are firmly in the form-follows-function camp. And service rifle competition is a fun way to hone your shooting skills. These are my four favorites:

At the top is an Enfield Number 4 Mark 2. It's the last incarnation of a rifle used throughout the British Commonwealth for more campaigns than you can shake a stick at, from the fields of Flanders to the jungles of Burma. After reading George McDonald Fraser's "Quartered Safe Out Here", I couldn't live without one. Mine was made in the 1950's, just as England was adopting the FAL, and it was stored away without ever being issued. It was eventually sold as surplus back when that was legal, and came into my possession a half-century old yet essentially new. It was manufactured well after the wartime extingencies of WWII, and it shows in the quality of materials and workmanship. A brass buttplate sets off a blonde beech stock. It's extraordinarily rugged, simple to operate and clean, capable of good accuracy, and utterly reliable. A fully charged magazine plus one up the spout is eleven rounds, enough to get the average soldier through the average skirmish without reloading. Easy to understand why British troops were so fond of them.

Next down is an M1, America's famous infantry weapon from WWII through Korea and into Vietnam. I bought this from the CMP, or "Civilian Marksmanship Program". (Interesting historical aside: America produced wonderful soldiers up through WWI, mostly because our frontier heritage and unique constitutional freedom to bear arms meant that we were turning out tough hillbillies who grew up shooting and hunting. By WWII, however, our population was mostly urban, and our military leaders were shocked at how poorly new soldiers were performing. The CMP was formed to teach young men how to shoot and to provide them with weapons with which to practice. To this day, if you meet certain requirements, our government will ship a battle rifle and ammunition to your door. The M1 uses a bizarre but effective eight-round en bloc clip that is inserted into an internal magazine. (By the way, the people who will tell you that a partially-empty M1 can't be topped-off are full of shit. I wager them that I can do it in five seconds. So far no takers. The people who will tell you that the "ping" when the empty clip is ejected was a tactical disadvantage are even more full of shit. Even if there were no other rifles firing, no artillery, no other noises whatsoever, do you think an enemy soldier could hear a "ping" after eight muzzle blasts had just been loosed in his general direction? And even if he could hear it, do you think he could do anything about it before you could pop another clip in? If you do, I have an even more interesting wager for you.) Sorry, my intolerance for morons sends me off on tangents. Back on subject: I paid dearly to have some bedding and trigger work done, and this is a seriously accurate rifle. (All internet commandos claim that their beater surplus rifles are amazingly accurate. Most of them can't hit a barn from the inside. This one really will. Sorry, apparently I wandered off again.) Anyway, this was my favorite service rifle until the M14, below:

Third from the top is an M14. Well, a pseudo-M14 anyway. It's a long story of misguided bureaucratic thought, but "real" M14 receivers are illegal on the civilian market. So I bought a legal reproduction and had a gunsmith assemble one with the rest of the parts being "GI" (Government Issue). The M14 is an improved version of the M1, above. It replaces the M1's 8-round internal magazine with a detachable 20-round magazine. A shortened cartridge shaves a pound of weight and an inch of length from the receiver. A flash suppressor preserves the shooter's night vision. The M14 is the last of the steel-and-walnut battle rifles, the culmination of centuries of American rifle-toting tradition, from Daniel Boone to Alvin York. It's balance and handling qualities cannot be improved upon. Once again, I had some bedding and trigger work done, and am very pleased with how well this rifle shoots. It's one weakness is that optics are almost impossible to mount without detracting from those qualities. To compensate, it has perhaps the best iron sights ever made.

Last is an AR15, the civilian version of the "Plastic Fantastic" M16. While I just can't wax romantic about aluminum and plastic, it undeniably has some things going for it: The light weight of both it and it's ammunition, the ease with which optical sights may be mounted, magazines with capacities from 5 to 100, excellent ergonomics, and an adjustable stock to accommodate shooters of different sizes or bulky clothing. It's ammunition lacks the authority of the older rifles above, but a soldier can carry twice as much of it.

.303 British for the Enfield, .30-06 for the Garand, 7.62 x 51 NATO (.308 Winchester) for the M14, and 5.56 x 45 NATO (.223 Remington) for the AR15.