Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Gear that Works: Military Bread Bags

Before the days of C-rations and MRE's, the soldiers of many countries were issued 'bread bags', also known as 'ration bags'. The primary source of calories for fighting men is no longer hearty loaves of carbohydrates, so these are now being sold off as surplus. (Having eaten many C-rations and MRE's, I don't think they're an improvement over a canvas sack of bread, cheese and sausages.) Like most military gear, they are heavy and rugged. I only paid a few dollars for each of the bags below. One of them has a name written on it. Interesting to wonder about the last guy who used it. 

This is a Polish bread bag. It's a perfect fit for my Swedish mess kit, Trangia alcohol stove, and a liter of fuel. It has a clever compression-strap arrangement to keep things from rattling. I use another one as a 'possibles bag' for my muzzleloader. There are interior pockets that keep the powder charges, bullets, and accouterments organized. And there's still plenty of room for lunch. If you have kids, they'd make a good school bag or a funky purse, too.

These are Swiss bread bags. They're designed to be fastened to bicycles as well as to be carried over the shoulder. If you're the sort of retro-cyclist who has a leather Brooks saddle, you'll love these as handlebar bags and panniers. They seem like an odd design until you use them a bit and figure things out, and then they seem ingenious. Very sturdy. Sturdy as in, like, you could issue them to soldiers during a war or something. They're made of heavy canvas with two inner pockets and quality leather straps. There's a leatherette cover that the canvas bag folds into so that one side is waterproof, but the other side still breathes. When unfolded, the waterproof cover serves as a place to put cutlery and food as you eat, to keep them from getting dirty or lost. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Crayfish, Crawfish, Little Lake Lobsters

It’s fun to forage wild edibles, especially when the catching is even better than the eating. With crayfish even little kids can do the hunter-gatherer thing. They're an under-utilized food source, and they're as delicious as lobster and shrimp. 

They're eaten all over the world, boiled, fried, smoked, and sun-dried. My favorite recipe is the simplest: get a couple inches of water boiling, and drop them in headfirst to make it quick. Steam for five minutes, then serve with butter and perhaps a squeeze of lemon. The edible part is the tail. The green goo you'll see when you pull it off  is an organ that performs the function of our liver and pancreas. It's edible too. There's a "vein" -actually the intestine - along the tail that you can strip out. Some people don't bother. Sometimes, if they're exceptionally large, the claws are worthwhile. 
If you want to save some crayfish for later, pop them - whole or just the tails - into a plastic container, cover them with water, and freeze them. 

 Crayfish have been around for 115 million years or so. They prefer clean, oxygenated, warm water. They're most active at night. They move to deeper water and become torpid in winter. They're like canaries in the a coal mine, in that they don't tolerate pollution or low oxygen levels. You can judge the quality of water by the crayfish in it, like you can judge the health of a garden's soil by its worms. 

There are at least four species here in New Hampshire: Orconectes limosus, Orconectes rustics, Orconectes immunis and Orconectes virilis. They're all common, and some of them are invasive. Eating them is the ultimate biological control, with us as the predators.  The lake we live on, Winnipesaukee, has O. virilis.

 This is a run-of-the-mill minnow trap, available in almost any hardware store. They work well for crayfish, too. They'll catch all sizes, so if you want small ones for bait in addition to large ones for eating, this might be your best option.

This is a very expensive welded-trap that gets a lot of hype on the internet. They do catch very well, probably better than any others I've tried, but unfortunately they rust away quickly. Maybe there's something corrosive about our New Hampshire water.

These traps are from Sweden. Because of the size of the holes in them, they only catch large crayfish. The plastic one on top works very well and has been durable. If I could only have one type of trap, this would be it.

The lower trap is collapsible, so it's nice if you're going to hike into a pond. It catches okay IF you pull it up every two or three hours. Crayfish can get out of it relatively easily, so once they've eaten their fill, or if the sun is coming up, they simply leave. 

Don't try to keep the crayfish you've caught in a bucket full of water unless it's aerated - more than a couple will run out of oxygen quickly. Just keep them cool and moist in your refrigerator or a cooler and they'll last for a day or two. 

For bait I use fish heads and offal, or fish-based cat food. The oilier the better, like salmon. Bait should be fresh. Contrary to popular belief, crayfish are picky eaters. 
When I clean fish, I put the heads, skins and etc. in plastic or wire bait boxes, which are in turn put into plastic bags and frozen. Then I just pop a box into each trap when I set them out. Bait boxes aren't just convenient, they're important because they keep the crayfish from eating the bait from the outside of the trap. If they can access it without going in, they will. 
Some waters have amazingly large populations of crayfish while seemingly similar ones a short distance away have almost none. If there are a lot of crayfish in a pond or stream, you should be able to see some by overturning a few rocks. 
In order to learn more, I sometimes place traps very precisely, using a mask and snorkel, and observe them several times a day. I find that traps need to have good contact with the bottom. If they hang up on rocks or sticks, crayfish will have to climb up to enter them, and they don't like to expose themselves to predators. They should also be in water deep enough so that waves won't rock them. I tend to catch only small crays near shore even when the water is still. The larger ones seem to prefer ten or fifteen feet of water. They also like the cover of plants and rocks. If you can find a shoreline that's been protected from erosion with large rocks, try there.
If I feel a need to protect my traps from theft, I space them along a line, twenty or twenty-five feet apart, and sink them without a float. Make sure to mark a couple landmarks on shore to facilitate finding them the next morning. Grapple them up by hooking the line with a stick.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Gear that works: rain capes

After years of experimenting, rain capes have become my favorite rain gear, and specifically military surplus rain capes, because they're rugged and versatile. They haven't caught on in the Americas, but many European armies use them. This one is Hungarian. They call it a "plasch-palatka", which I am told translates as "cloak-tent". 

Like a poncho, it's comfortable to hike in, with good ventilation for warm weather. Even better than a poncho, it provides closer coverage and doesn't flap around so much in the wind. It's easier to put on and take off than separate pants and jackets. It may be worn over a pack or under a belt. It's full enough to cover your legs when sitting on a deer stand or canoeing. And unlike a poncho, you can swim in one if you have to, as long as it's mostly unbuttoned or your arms are out of the holes. You can even relieve yourself while wearing one without making a big production out of it. 

There's a button arrangement that takes in some tucks to keep it from falling over your shoulders, and a drawstring to form a hood. The grommeted corner that remains at the peak of the hood is tucked under. Some rain-capes have a "tail" that is buttoned up inside so that it doesn't drag on the ground, but the cut of this one is such that it isn't necessary. There are arm holes, but it's typically worn unbuttoned with arms inside. 

Here it is rigged as a minimal shelter. It would block some wind and provide some shade, but wouldn't do for much more than a gentle rain. Two can be buttoned together to make a small tipi-tent, but wind-driven rain will still come in at the arm holes. They button shut, but unlike some rain-capes, there's no overlapping flap arrangement. The Hungarians designed it to be more of a garment than a shelter. By the way, it's nearly impossible to pitch any sort of tent with the dog helping. He's constantly going in and out, and not necessarily via the open side. 

Here's an East German version. Similar design, much poorer quality.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Big Brother is Watching.

Official list of words that Homeland Security monitors on social media (Facebook, Twitter, news article comments, etc.):

Domestic Security

Domestic security
Law enforcement
Disaster assistance
Disaster management
DNDO (Domestic Nuclear
Detection Office)
National preparedness
Dirty bomb
Domestic nuclear detection
Emergency management
Emergency response
First responder
Homeland security
Maritime domain awareness
National preparedness
Shots fired
Explosion (explosive)
Disaster medical assistance
team (DMAT)
Organized crime
National security
State of emergency
Bomb (squad or threat)
Emergency Landing
Pipe bomb

HAZMAT & Nuclear

Chemical spill
Suspicious package/device
National laboratory
Nuclear facility
Nuclear threat
Biological infection (or
Chemical burn
Hazardous material incident
Industrial spill
Powder (white)
Blister agent
Chemical agent
Nerve agent
North Korea

Health Concern + H1N1

Food Poisoning
Foot and Mouth (FMD)
Small Pox
Human to human
Human to Animal
Center for Disease Control
Drug Administration (FDA)
Public Health
Agro Terror
Tuberculosis (TB)
Norvo Virus
Water/air borne
Pork World Health Organization
(WHO) (and components)
Viral Hemorrhagic Fever
E. Coli

Infrastructure Security

Infrastructure security
CIKR (Critical Infrastructure
& Key Resources)
Computer infrastructure
Critical infrastructure
National infrastructure
Airplane (and derivatives)
Chemical fire
Port Authority
NBIC (National
Biosurveillance Integration
Transportation security
Body scanner
Failure or outage
Black out
Brown out
Service disruption
Power lines

Southwest Border Violence

Drug cartel
U.S. Consulate
El Paso
Fort Hancock
San Diego
Ciudad Juarez
Mara salvatrucha
MS13 or MS-13
Drug war
Mexican army
Cartel de Golfo
Gulf Cartel
La Familia
Nuevo Leon
Narco banners (Spanish
Los Zetas
Meth Lab
Drug trade
Illegal immigrants
Smuggling (smugglers)
Barrio Azteca
Artistic Assassins
New Federation


Al Qaeda (all spellings)
Environmental terrorist
Eco terrorism
Conventional weapon
Weapons grade
Dirty bomb
Chemical weapon
Biological weapon
Ammonium nitrate
Improvised explosive device
IED (Improvised Explosive
Abu Sayyaf
FARC (Armed Revolutionary
Forces Colombia)
IRA (Irish Republican Army)
ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna)
Basque Separatists
Tamil Tigers
PLF (Palestine Liberation
PLO (Palestine Liberation
Car bomb
Weapons cache
Suicide bomber
Suicide attack
Suspicious substance
AQAP (AL Qaeda Arabian
AQIM (Al Qaeda in the
Islamic Maghreb)
TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban
Home grown


Extreme weather
Forest fire
Brush fire
Tsunami Warning Center
Mud slide or Mudslide
Power outage
Brown out
Emergency Broadcast System

Cyber Security

Cyber security
DDOS (dedicated denial of
Denial of service
Cyber Command
Cain and abel
Brute forcing
Mysql injection
Cyber attack
Cyber terror
Social media
Source: “Analyst’s Desktop Binder”, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act suit, which also revealed that analysts were scrutinizing online comments that “reflect adversely” on the federal government.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Favorite Fire Starters

I've given up on butane lighters, from disposables to the very expensive Brunton Helios. They've let me down too many times. These are what I've settled on, clockwise from the top:

"Stormproof" matches - REI markets these, and they're the best matches I can find. 

Pros: can be used to light candles and lamp wicks; once the match is struck, no amount of wind or water - not even a dunking - will make it go out until it's run its course.

Cons: require two hands; matches and strikers affected by moisture; impractical to carry more than a dozen or two in your pockets.

The aluminum K&M match case is very high quality, holds about a dozen matches plus a couple strikers, and has a compass inletted into the top. A good thing to have in a pocket on any hike. The yellow UCA match case holds about two dozen matches plus strikers, and also has a convenient striker on the outside. It's too big for pockets, but good to keep in packs.

Ferrocerium rods, or "Firesteels" - alloys of iron, magnesium and rare earth metals extruded in various diameters. The top one shows the magnesium rod and scraper kept with it. Most firesteels are manufactured by JX Metals in Shanghai, then branded and marked up (sometimes dramatically). To use them, you literally scrape particles of metal off the rod, and if done quickly enough, heat generated by friction will ignite them. An impressive shower of very hot sparks is the result. With a little practice, you can usually ignite tinder consistently with one scrape. Don't use the sharp edge of your knife, use the squared-off back of the blade, or better yet, a dedicated scraper. Anything that's very hard will work well. Tool steel is excellent. Tungsten carbide is even better - buy a carbide sharpening tool when they're on sale at your hardware store.  

You can also buy soft magnesium rods to go on a lanyard with your firesteel and scraper so that you'll always have a source of waterproof tinder. See the paragraph on magnesium tinder below for how to make use of them.

Pros: thousands of lights; unlimited shelf life if protected from corrosion.

Cons: require two hands (well, you can do it with one hand and a foot, but it takes some coordination you might not be capable of it if injured); can break if dropped; impractical for lighting candles and lamps; corrosion can be a problem in salt environments - paint them with your wife's nail polish if you aren't going to use them for a while.

Pros: very tiny and compact, almost weightless - you can stash several of them in pockets and packs; can be used with one hand; work even after being immersed in water; unlimited shelf life if protected from corrosion.

Cons: won't ignite most natural tinders, so you'll need to bring along vaseline-impregnated cotton balls or buy more of the "Tinder-Quik" tabs that come with them; impractical for lighting candles and lamps; corrosion can be a problem in salt environments


Pros: can be used with one hand; unlimited shelf life if protected from corrosion.

Cons: bulky in your pocket; impractical for lighting candles and lamps; corrosion can be a problem in salt environments; fragile (the metal striker fell out of the plastic it was molded into).

Doan magnesium: these combine a small ferrocerium rod with a block of magnesium. They get a bad rap because people don't understand how to use them. Their advantage is that you always have a waterproof source of both sparks and tinder. Scrape a little pile of magnesium shavings into a depression (see the paragraph below about magnesium tinder), then strike sparks from the epoxied-on ferrocerium rod into the pile. The shavings will burn hot enough to ignite rubber from a tire if that's all you have. Don't waste your money on the knockoffs from Coughlans or China. The strikers of the former break off easily, and some of the latter aren't even magnesium - I think they're aluminum.

Pros: waterproof ferrocerium rod and waterproof tinder always available.

Cons: impractical for lighting candles and lamps; corrosion can be a problem in salt environments

Magnifying glass - Pros: never wears out; can be used with one hand; has multiple uses like reading fine print, identifying mushrooms, finding tiny slivers, etc.

Cons: only works in bright sun, impractical for lighting candles and lamps.

Of all the above, my favorite firestarters are Stormproof matches, Sparklites and Firesteels.

Sparklite says their lighters should last for "more than a thousand strikes". Let's assume a 50% marketing exaggeration just to be on the safe side, and call it 500. I'm sure that I've lit more than 500 fires with mine, and it's still working.

Firesteels of 1/4" diameter are advertised as lasting "up to 3,000 strikes". (Those of 3/8" diameter are advertised as lasting "up to 12,000".) Again, lets assume a conservative 50% BS factor, and call it 1,500. Let's further assume that it takes you an average of three strikes for a spark to catch, because sometimes they're difficult to aim. (Although after some practice, you should be able to ignite good tinder consistently with only one or two.) So conservatively figure 500 with those, too.

For comparison, here's what a 1/4" firesteel and a Sparklite look like next to 500 Storm Matches:

As of today, 500 REI Stormproof matches cost $65 and weigh 6.5 ounces. That's 13 cents per fire.

A Sparklite from Fourseasonssurvival.com costs $8, and for our purposes is weightless. That's less than two cents per fire from something that costs no effort to carry.

A heavier-duty aluminum Sparklite with an extra flint costs $15. Three cents per fire not even taking into account that it'll last longer.

A 1/4 inch diameter firesteel with a scraper from Firesteel.com costs $7.60 and weighs one ounce. Less than two cents per fire.

A 3/8 inch diameter fire steel with a scraper from Firesteel.com costs $14.50 and weighs two ounces. Using the same 50%-and-3-strikes math, that's less than one penny per fire.

I almost always have a 3/8" firesteel with a scraper in my pocket, on an orange paracord lanyard looped through a belt loop. There are extras in my vehicles. There's one hanging by my woodstove. There are Sparklites and Doan magnesium fire starters in my hunting coat and floatation vest. I used to keep all of the above plus a Blastmatch in my pockets when I was flying fighters and bush planes. There are Stormproof matches in waterproof containers in canoe duffles and cot organizers, and magnifying glasses in medical kits.

If a burning bush told me I could only have one fire starter, it'd be a 3/8" fire-steel on a paracord lanyard with a scraper and a rod of magnesium, all on an orange lanyard to make the kit more visible in the leaves. In addition to the advantages described above, they're just plain fun to use.

A discussion of fire starters isn't complete without a discussion of tinder. Translating sparks or embers into flames can be difficult. I really like the commercial tinders marketed under the name "Tinder-Quik" that come with Sparklites. They're made of cotton impregnated with beeswax, petroleum and silicone. Small, light, convenient, and they'll work even after a dunking. You can cut them in half to make them go further. Just fluff up an end and they'll catch the tiniest spark.

Cotton balls with a bit of petroleum jelly (not too much, just a tad) are my second choice. Stuff them into a section of a fat plastic straw by pulling them into an elongated shape and then poking them in with a stick. Seal the ends of the straw by holding them shut with pliers and melting with a flame. To use, just cut off one of the ends, pull a bit of cotton out and fluff it up. (That'll get petroleum jelly on your fingers, which is almost always a good thing outdoors - my fingers and lips get dry and cracked.)

Magnesium burns very, very hot, and is completely waterproof - you could swim ashore from a capsized canoe and then ignite a rubber boot with it if you had to. It can be frustrating to collect a small pile of shavings if you aren't patient or don't have the technique, though. Rest one end of the rod or block on something solid, in a shallow depression in a boulder or scooped out of the dirt, or in the punched-in crown of your hat on the ground. Scrape with the squared-off spine of your knife or your dedicated scraper for a few minutes until you have a pile more-or-less the diameter and thickness of a quarter, depending on what you intend to ignite with it. Making shavings doesn't take much pressure, just patience. Protect them from wind, they're so light that the slightest breeze will scatter them.

Natural tinders that work well for me are birch bark, Phragmite seed heads, thistledown, milkweed fluff, cedar bark, pine needles, grass, beech leaves that have hung on young trees through the winter, tinder fungus, cattail fluff, milkweed fluff, Old Man's Beard smeared with Balsam Fir pitch, and the insides of Oak leaf galls. As a general rule, anything you find on the ground will be too damp, even when the weather's dry, and any tinder that can be shredded should be. Sometimes wet tinders can be dried by carrying them between your inner and outer layers of clothing for a while. A single Phragmite seedhead with a single pinecone on top is all you need to quickly touch off a fire.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler (née Krzyżanowska, AKA Irena Sendlerowa, Nom de guerre Jolanta), 1910 – 2008, was a member of the Polish underground during WWII.

She worked for Warsaw's municipal department, and had a permit to enter the 16-block Ghetto cordoned off by the Germans to inspect sanitary conditions during a Typhus outbreak. She began smuggling babies and toddlers out, sometimes sedated and disguised as packages. Their names were recorded in coded form and buried in jars under an apple tree. The Resistance recruited her, and the smuggling accelerated.

In 1943, Irena was arrested by the Gestapo. In prison she was interrogated repeatedly, but gave up nothing of value and continued to resist with small acts of sabotage, such as cutting holes in German uniforms when doing laundry. During a final torture session, her feet, legs and arms were broken and she was sentenced to death. A bribed guard added her name to the list of executed prisoners and left her in the woods. She lived in hiding for the remainder of the war. When it was over, she dug up the jars and tried to reunite the children with their relatives. There were 2,500 names in the jars, but almost no surviving families.

The post-war Communist government of Poland persecuted Irena because they were only aware of her involvement with the German army and not her efforts to save the children. Her family lived in poverty and public disgrace. Her children were expelled from the University.

A year before her death at age 98, she was considered for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, but it was awarded to Al Gore instead. She didn't seem to mind: "What I did was not an extraordinary thing. It was normal."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Key Response Planning Factors for the Aftermath of Nuclear Terrorism"

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory prepared this report for the Department of Homeland Security. Here are the key points:

"Despite hundreds of above-ground nuclear tests and data gathered from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the effects of a ground-level, low-yield nuclear detonation in a modern urban environment are still the subject of considerable scientific debate.The largest potential for reducing casualtiesA during the post-detonation response phase comes from reducing exposure to fallout radiation. This can be accomplished through early, adequate sheltering followed by informed, delayed evacuation.

1. Find early, adequate shelter
It is important to be in the shelter when the fallout arrives. Fallout arrival times vary with yield and weather. If you are outside of the building-collapse area immediately surrounding the detonation, you should have several minutes before fallout arrives.

If you are outside or in a car, seek the nearest adequate shelter. Even an inadequate shelter is better than no shelter.

  • Adequate shelters are locations that have as much earth, building materials, or distance between the occupants and exposed horizontal surfaces as possible. Exposed horizontal surfaces accumulate fallout. Buildings do not have to be air-tight. Broken windows do not greatly reduce the protection offered by a shelter.
  • Examples of adequate shelter:
  • — Basements, usually against a basement wall (in the corner). — Multistory brick or concrete structures.
  • — Office buildings (central core or underground sections).
  • — Multistory shopping malls (away from roof or exterior
  • walls).
  • — Tunnels, subways, and other underground areas.

  • Inadequate shelters include:
  • — Cars, buses, and aboveground rail systems.
  • — Light residential structures, such as mobile homes.
  • — Single-story wood-frame houses without basements. — Single-story commercial structures without basements
  • (e.g., strip malls, retail stores, and light industry).

  • 2. Perform an informed evacuation of that shelter based on three key factors:

  • -The quality of the shelter.
  • - Radiation levels at the shelter site.
  • - Radiation levels and travel time along the evacuation route.

  • Shelter for at least the first hour unless threatened by fire, building collapse, medical necessity, or other immediate threats.
  • Once you have decided to evacuate:
  • - Seek instructions and information on the location of dangerous fallout areas.
  • - Identify the shortest possible evacuation route that avoids high levels of contamination. Consider tunnels, building lobbies, or other evacuation routes protected by earth, heavy building materials, and/or distance from fallout.
  • - Seek local collection points (with adequate shelter) for evacuation by mass transit.
  • - Consider evacuating by car if the roads have been cleared.

  • 3. Control contamination
  • - Avoid outdoor exposure during the first few minutes and hours after the fallout arrives—this is the highest priority. Exposure due to contamination depositing on clothing and skin, inhalation, and ingestion are secondary concerns. Simple respiratory protection, such as a layer of cloth over nose and mouth, can mitigate contamination.
  • - Remove outer clothing and shoes upon entry to shelter. Alternatively (and less preferably), brush off contamination. If possible, wipe or wash hair and exposed skin to remove fallout particles.

  • Identifying features of a nuclear detonation (not all features may be present)

An abrupt blinding flash that is visible over a large area (particularly at night).
The widespread disruption of unprotected electronic devices (EMP).
Thermal damage and burn victims well away from the blast location.

Widespread high-level radiation readings.

  • A “mushroom shaped cloud” may not be generated or visible

  • Take shelter before fallout arrives

  1. The most significant exposures from fallout occur in the first
  2. hour after fallout arrives.
  3. Seek shelter immediately if sand, ash, or rain starts to fall.

Except in areas of major building damage closest to the detonation, fallout should take at least several minutes to arrive.

  • Avoid the primary radiation hazard—external exposure to fallout
  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • Fallout particles on the ground and other horizontal surfaces give off penetrating radiation; inhalation is only a minor concern.
  • Shelter provided by heavy materials (concrete walls, earth, etc.) and distance from the particles on the ground are the primary sources of protection.
  • The best place to find protection is in the middle or basement of a building.
  • Even with broken windows, buildings can provide adequate shelter.

  • Areas of blast damage might NOT be contaminated with fallout

  • - Blast damage extends outward from the detonation in all directions, perhaps for several miles
  • - Fallout proceeds downwind, contaminating only a fraction of the blast-damaged area.

  • Hazardous levels of fallout will extend into undamaged downwind areas

  • - Levels of fallout that can induce sickness from an outdoor exposure may extend 20 miles or more downwind.
  • The shockwave that breaks windows travels much more slowly than the bright flash of light. This delay, up to 30 seconds or more, can increase injuries if people approach windows to investigate the bright flash."
  • If you only remember one thing, this is what it should be: seek adequate shelter (think UNDERGROUND) for at least the first hour.