Kicking Around The Idea of Podcasting

I’ve been reading up and thinking about adding a podcast to this blog.    I’m not very tech-savvy, but it looks pretty straight forward.     Hopefully I’ll have something up soon.

I think it’s a good idea because it gives me more options with this blog.   I don’t get a ton of traffic or anything here,  but as I’ve said before I do this because I really enjoy talking/writing about these kinds of things.   I like knowing that I have an outlet for some of the things that preoccupy me that I probably otherwise wouldn’t be able to let out in my day-to-day life.    I also think it will give me an opportunity to do interviews and talk with people who I think are doing interesting things and for some reason I think that podcasting will lead to a broader range of topics.    We’ll see.

 

Building A Chicken Coop

Purina Hen House and Hutch Design

I just broke ground on building this chicken coop.   So far I’ve picked up all of the plywood and made all the cuts.   Probably next week I’ll pick up the 2×4’s, cut them and begin the assembly.   Just getting started is usually the hard part for me on these kinds of things, so I’m glad I’m at least part way into it.

I have a book on chicken coop designs and there’s all kinds of plans out there on the internet.   I’ve gone through a lot of plans and decided on this one because it’s more or less the exact size that I want, looks simple enough to build and it’s very utilitarian while still looking decent enough.   The plans on the Purina website are a little vague, but I think I have it figured out and I’ll post about it step-by-step.

I’m kind of learning the power of Craigslist and just asking around on building materials with this.   Today I checked Craigslist to see if anyone had any of the things I’ll need for sale and found a guy that was selling 4×8 sheets of plywood for about 1/3 of what it would cost if I went to Menard’s to pick it up.    When the guy asked what I was building, I told him a chicken coop.   He just kind of chuckled and told me to go into his backyard.   He had about twenty chickens in his modest-sized backyard as well as a few dwarf fruit trees, berries and garden beds.  Pretty impressive “urban homestead”.   We ended up talking about those kinds of things for a little less than an hour.   I told him I was planning on putting siding on the coop and he will have a few extra sheets of siding laying around after a project so I’ll pick those up for a few bucks next week.   Score.    Another guy I work with his some of the corrugated roofing that I’ll need laying around as well as a few other things to round off the edges on this project.   I’m planning on checking Craiglist over the weekend to see if any 2×4’s or a skylight surface.

Two of my goals for the year on the 13 skills in 2013 project was to improve my carpentry/woodworking skills and to raise poultry.   This one starts to kill two birds with one stone.    I never was very handy, but over the past few years I’ve built a few things and have gotten a lot better.   Building raised garden beds a few years ago was a good project for a novice and then later that year I built a pergola, which was a little more difficult and actually turned out pretty good.   I didn’t do a very good job of staining it, but such is life.   I’m hoping my kiwis will cover it anyways.   I also took a woodworking class last year and built a bat house, a sweet cold frame and then a pair of Indian clubs on lathe.    I’m definitely a lot more comfortable with these kinds of things now.

 

 

I’ve Been Thinking About Cyber Warfare and Terrorism Lately…

As everyone knows, there was a bomb at the Boston Marathon last week that killed three people and wounded over a hundred.   The suspects turned out to be Chechens and when they grilled the surviving brother he said part of their  motivation was the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I was surprised to find out they were from Chechnya.  I expected either a Middle Easterner or a homegrown lunatic.  After they caught the one guy, I wasn’t at all surprised to find out that American military action around the world was one of the primary drivers of this.

I’ll spare my personal opinions on whether or not having our military all over the world is a good idea, but I think when something like this happens we need to get past the “holy shit, this is America, things like that can’t happen here!” mentality because it can and has.    We need to accept our vulnerability and find ways to limit that and probably more importantly, decide as a society if what we’re doing is worth the “collateral damage” at home.   We’ve been at war for a little more than 10 years now and for the most part it’s been business as usual for the average American citizen.   We’ve forgotten that sometimes civilians pay the ultimate price in wars – and they certainly have in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and everywhere else we’ve been one way or another lately.

We’re not untouchable.   I think we’ve come to the conclusion that we are and that’s made us extremely disconnected from war.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say “we should go show China who’s boss” or “we should turn Iran into a glass parking lot” or something along those lines because to them it’s an abstract concept with no downside except maybe having a football game or Dancing With The Stars interrupted by a news update.    This kind of arrogant thinking leads to complacency and poor decision making.   A lot of that Red Dawn book that I wrote goes on this theme.

Anyways, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about one way we as American citizens really are vulnerable to the outside world:   Cyber warfare.   A handful of countries have the ability to really do a number on our infrastructure and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it.     This is a subject I’d like to look deeper into, but I’ll share my thoughts:

–  Russia and China have well-developed (maybe even better than ours) cyber warfare capabilities.   North Korea and Iran have some pretty good capabilities too.   There’s a few other countries out there and even some non-state actors that could do something.

–  We have these other countries’ number too, but these countries are to varying degrees less dependent on technology than we are.    Especially North Korea.  You can unleash an all-out cyber attack on North Korea and it will pretty much be business as usual so they’re basically immune.

– I think cyber warfare allows states new levels of escalation during conflicts.   Actually deciding to fire a shot is a big deal and almost always a huge step.   Sending a virus into a defense network seems less risky.   In a way I guess that’s good because it gives slightly more humane options (shutting off power is better than bombing something) but in a way it isn’t because it allows the actors to go a little further without making the jump over the line into kinetic warfare.

–  Cyber warfare also gives states some room for “plausible deniability” .    If you launch a cruise missile at another country, you can’t very easily say it was kids playing around.  In cyber warfare, it can be disguised to be someone else fairly easily or you can say it was rogue “hackivists” within your country and don’t worry, we’ll get to the bottom of this.

–  With cyber warfare you can do things like shut down the power grid, take down networks, give confusing orders to military units, take down satellites, flood sites with traffic, engage in psychological warfare, blow up pipelines, derail trains, bring down airliners, bring down the financial system and throw a wrench into just about anything else that depends on the internet.    In one particularly scary scenario, some power generators can be overworked until they break and to replace parts and all of that takes months under the best case scenarios.

–  Some of our military hardware that we view as our ace in the hole is extremely vulnerable, such as fighter jets and cruise missiles.

–  We’re all vulnerable in the US.   We lived for about 40 years with Ivan in the USSR pointing nukes at us and then after the Soviet Union collapsed we were made aware of the threat of terrorism.   To be frank, most of America isn’t concerned with Al-Queda deciding to blow up a Wal-Mart in the suburbs and I think most people view that as something that could only happen in the larger cities and near real strategic targets.    Like the idea of total nuclear war during the Cold War, cyber warfare is something that really could reach out and touch all of us personally.

From time to time I think we need to be reminded that we don’t live in a bubble.   I’d rather that reminder come from frank discussion on the possibilities than an actual terrorist attack.

 

 

 

 
Name Your Link

Staying Home by Alex Smith

Last month I reviewed Getting Home by Alex Smith, this is the next installment in I assume a series of three books (I think he hinted that the next one will be “leaving home”).

Just like Getting Home, Staying Home provides a lot of food for thought and is more like a brainstorming session written down than a definitive how-to book.   It’s concise and dense with material for the relatively small size of the book.

Smith states early in the book that the material is geared towards beginner preppers or maybe people with a little bit of experience in that world.   It doesn’t go too far in-depth on most subjects, but that’s ok in some cases (i.e. beekeeping and gardening is mentioned, no need to lay out everything about those things).   Some of the material might not be earth shattering to people with a fair amount of time spent in the survival/preparedness world, but I think there’s enough bits of wisdom and disclaimers in the book that pretty much anyone will get something valuable out of it.    Off the top of my head, there’s a good segment about wells, which is something I didn’t know much about.

One thing I’ll critique a bit is that there wasn’t a whole lot about pandemics or chemical/biological threats.   There was a bit about nuclear though.    A lot of the material throughout the book applies to these kind of situations (which I think would be the ultimate holing up sitautions), but I would have liked to see more about these subjects.

All things considered, the download is about the price of a cup of coffee and worth reading to jog your mind a bit about some bugging in scenarios and how you can cope with them.


 

The Vermont Sail Freight Project

The Vermont Sail Freight Project

 

 

I recently heard an interview with Erik Andrus, a farmer from Vermont where he talked about this project he’s working on.   Basically they’re building a barge in order to transport organic/sustainable produce from his part of the world down to the larger markets of New York City and some of the places along the Hudson River and possibly bringing fair trade cargo (coffee, cocoa, etc.) back to Vermont.    This boat will be wind powered (i.e. it has a sail) and use no fossil fuels.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this other than it’s a cool project and I’ll probably chip in a little on the kickstarter campaign, even if it is only $5 to get a download of their sea shanty.    That part of the world has a great navigable river/canal system that is drastically underused.   By water they can go from Montreal to New York City or they can enter into the Great Lakes (but that’s a long trip).   This could also be good for the people of Vermont who are able to produce cottage industry products/food, but might not always have the markets to sell them.

Lately Vermont really seems like a cool place.  I’m going to follow this project and see how things pan out.

Modern Farmer Magazine

Modern Farmer

 

My mom works for a company that does fulfillment for a ton of magazine publishers and Modern Farmer was recently added as a client.   One of her coworkers thought that I would be interested in it so they took out a subscription for me, which was nice.   I just received the inaugural issue and looked it over.

When I was told about the magazine, I looked at the webpage and figured it would be interesting enough and I expected something like Grit Magazine (a sister publication of Mother Earth News that’s a little more geared towards farming and I subscribe to both).   I’ve seen a few magazines on the newsstand that seemed like they were modeled after Mother Earth News or whatever and figured this would more or less be one of them.

My first impression was a little off.   The other magazines are more “how-to” and Modern Farmer is more “about”, if that makes sense.  I’d also say that it’s geared towards urbanites, “foodies” and/or people who are more “supporters” than “do-ers” of sustainable agriculture.  It seems like it’s more for people who daydream about an agrarian life on an organic farm, rather than the people who actually do it.

This description sounds kind of condescending and negative, but it’s really not.    I love Mother Earth News, Grit and Backwoods Home Magazine, but a lot of what they write about isn’t geared towards those of us that live in cities.   Modern Farmer seems to cater to the type of person that wants to support true sustainable agriculture and possibly dabbles in things like gardening, backyard chickens, etc and I think there’s a lot of potential for them within this niche.    More and more urban people are looking at local/sustainable food systems, taking up traditional basic skills and so on.

As far as the content goes, there were some impressive articles in this first issue.   I’ll rattle off a few:   One about organic farming in China, the issue of wild boars, mango farming in Malawi, building a seed bank (even talking about post-SHTF bartering with comments from James Wesley Rawles), humane slaughterhouses, an interview with Brazil’s agriculture minister (I might write about Brazil’s position in the world later),  rice growing in India, a write-up about different breeds of chickens and something about growing a certain herbs and vegetables for use in cocktails.     So it has a very broad and global view on sustainable agriculture.    The closest thing I can compare the content to would be Indiana Public Radio’s “Earth Eats” program.

One really strong point of the magazine is the photography.   It’s great.  I’ve never seen photography this impressive in a magazine that wasn’t a well-established one with a huge budget.   Lots of cool photos from all around the world.  As far as the layout goes, it’s very sleek and stylish – definitely geared towards a sophisticated reader.   It kind of looks like Mother Earth News meets GQ.

The downsides:  The name might be a little misleading and I could see someone more in the Mother Earth News/Backwoods Home target demographic scoffing at this for being a little too polished or to call in a phrase from the subculture world, being for “posers”.    The how-to articles seemed phoned in.   I think as long as you understand what you’re getting with Modern Farmer, you won’t regret it.

I already have a year subscription, but if I didn’t I’d go ahead and subscribe for the year.   It comes out quarterly and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of this.

What’s Going On With Gold and Silver?

When I woke up Monday afternoon (I work nights) I made my usual rounds on the internet, which includes Yahoo finance.  I saw an article about gold taking a beating and clicked on it and couldn’t believe what I what I read – $23 silver and gold in the $1300’s.   I never thought I’d see those prices again.    I did buy a bit of both metals last week when the prices started to decline, should’ve waited a little bit.    I went to Kitco to see the day’s chart and saw that there was already a pop-up ad asking basically asking if I just lost my ass on gold – I’m not sure what they were selling, but I was impressed with their speed, whatever it was.   I also saw a few articles talking about how the party was over with gold.     It’s kind of a bizarre feeling to wake up with the exact same things you had the day before and then to have it suddenly be worth a lot less.  :::shrugs:::

Either way, I’m really not too worried about this.   I’m looking at this as a great opportunity to acquire more.   I’ll admit I’m a little dismayed with the mining/streaming stocks that I have and starting to get antsy about the silver ETF’s that I bought last fall.      I still believe in the fundamentals of both metals.

I listened in on a conference call/webinar thing tonight talking about the precious metals market and from what I’m hearing is that many dealers of physical metals are seeing a lot more people buying and virtually no one looking to sell back their metals.  If the market was really melting down, people would be falling all over themselves to get out.     Also with most dealers Silver Eagles are about four weeks behind on orders and Silver Maples about two weeks behind.   Right now the premiums over spot are a little higher than usual, which reflects the high demand for physical metals.    Again, if the market was really falling apart, dealers would be trying to get rid of them too.    I’ve also heard reports of coin shops refusing to sell bullion now at anywhere near spot, thinking that they’ll be able to get a lot more in a short period of time.  Makes sense.    I also noticed that one small online bullion dealer conveniently picked Monday to update their server, even after just announcing that they were able to fill orders again.

Also from what I understand, virtually no physical gold (or silver) moved in this – it was all shuffled around on paper and the gold remains sitting in a London warehouse, where it’s been for quite some time.

There’s some real reasons out there for the precious metals prices to go down a little bit.   The Indian government was talking about placing a tax on gold (India is the largest consumer of gold), the US Dollar is doing good right now, the markets are inching up and unemployment is down,  Chinese growth is a little slower than expected and there’s a possibility that Cyprus will have to sell off her gold in order to pay off part of the debt.   Sure that will put some more gold on the market, but the big thing there is that if that’s the deal that they strike with Cyprus, it will probably be the deal they’ll strike with Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal too when their day comes.

So I think instead of fretting over this I’m going to take this wonderful opportunity to build my position on precious metals at a price I believe to be a bargain.    Maybe this is a good time to splurge a little bit on the boutique rounds instead of the government issued ones or the low-price wooden nickel ones.   I was looking at some Andrew Jackson ones earlier today…

 

 

Detropia

If I had just come from another planet and someone showed me this documentary and told me it was scenes of a major city in the wealthiest and most powerful nation on this planet, I wouldn’t believe it.

Detropia is a 2012 documentary by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady on the decline of the city of Detroit.   Some of the imagery is almost surreal, considering Detroit was at one point a showcase city for America with a vibrant middle class, well-kept neighborhoods and a ton of cultural amenities.   The city shown in this documentary is something completely different.

This documentary has no narration from the directors and the only experts they consult on this documentary are the residents of the city itself – no urban design PhDs or talking heads, just everyday people in Detroit, who come up big with a lot of frank and gut-level commentary.    Another technical plus of this documentary is that there’s very little juxtaposition of stock footage from prosperous and promising times in this one – sometimes it seems like if you’ve seen one documentary like this, you’ve seen them all due to the frequent use of stock footage.

There’s one scene that stood out of a house being torn down with a swingset in the backyard.   The swingset was almost overgrown with golden native prairie grasses, swaying in the wind.  It looked like what you would expect an abandoned homestead somewhere in the prairie states would look like, not something in the midst of one of America’s largest cities.

Another scene that stood out to me was one on the stoop of a house in a run down neighborhood with a group of black 20-somethings.   The municipal government had just brought up the idea of attempting to move residents and consolidate them in order to be able to better provide services as right now the city itself is geographically large and spread out, making efficiency difficult.   The plan was to turn over unused land into urban agriculture.    These guys were talking about the idea and were in complete disbelief over the prospect of turning the city over into gardens.   While urban agriculture makes sense to a lot of people outside of Detroit, it’s probably pretty hard to accept a prospect like that if you’re actually in Detroit and have no connection to food production.   I can see how it can be seen as admitting defeat.  I guess it’s just a matter of perspective.   I do think that urban agriculture along with decentralization is probably Detroit’s best option though (see:  Detroit: Too Big to Not Fail)

An example of the frankness of the residents was a scene involving a bar owner and ex-teacher going to the big auto show in Detroit (I forgot what it’s called, but it’s the major one).   He talks to a Chinese manufacturer of an electronic car that will retail for about $20,000.   Then he talks to some guys manning the booth for a major American manufacturer with an electronic car going for somewhere north of $40,000.   He asks them why the Chinese can do it for $20,000 left and you can see the guys get uncomfortable.   They say it’s an apples to oranges comparison .   The bar owner pushes it further and winds up with the bullshit answer “because we have more features” (which is probably true, but probably not $20,000 worth).   The bar owner then brings up the fact that these guys are saying the same things they said about Japanese automobiles when they first hit the American market and they ended the conversation there.   The discomfort was obvious…

At one point in the documentary they interview a group of guys that were in the business of collecting scrap metal.   They said the police had stopped them earlier and just wanted to make sure that they weren’t stealing anything and told them that if they got any complaints from the neighbors, they’d have to send them off, other than that they had free range at the abandoned houses.   They said they were in this business because they couldn’t find jobs elsewhere and it was the only way they could honestly make money.   They said they got 11 cents a pound for scrap steel and $2.50 for copper.   One guy made a poignant comment about how the scrap metal was often sent back to China so they could “make shit with it and sell it back to us”.     Then there was text stating that most of our scrap metal in the US is sold to China.

This is currently on streaming Netflix, so it’s worth watching if you’re into these subjects.   I don’t think that there’s any new ground covered in the way of documenting Detroit’s decay but it’s full of harrowing footage and homespun wisdom on the topic.

 

Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass by Harold Getty

Awesome book.    I’ve been raging on the book reviews lately, but I suppose that’s what happens when I can manage to get a lot of reading done.

This book was written shortly after World War II by expert navigator Harold Getty.   He draws on his experience as a pilot, outdoorsman and sailor as well as a traveler among primitive societies (Eskimos, Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, Polynesians, etc) who use this stuff as a matter of life and death.

One thing Getty makes clear is that he doesn’t believe that the ability to navigate comes from magic or a “sixth sense” that us modern-day Westerners like to ascribe to indigenous societies.   Instead he believes the ability to navigate comes from actually using your senses and developing them.   Reading this brings home the fact that in the modern world we have a lot of things done for us and it’s easy to not rely on them as much as ancient man did.

The book is divided up into about 20 chapters, some longer than others, based on navigating in certain environments or using certain mediums (i.e. urban, using plants, using the moon, desert, aquatic birds, etc.).   There’s definitely a lot of interesting information and since I read it a few days ago I’ve found myself trying apply a few things in the book.   Some things I’ll probably never apply, some things will probably be useful at some point.

I think the way this book should be used is to read through it to get an idea of what’s possible and then referring back to specific chapters later on for the specifics.   Some things I glossed over in the book such as the in-depth descriptions of the habits of certain nautical birds.   Definitely an interesting idea and I thought the general premise behind navigating through the birds was a worthwhile tidbit of knowledge, but no use clouding my mind with specifics right now.   I’ll probably check back with the book soon and try telling the sidereal time and some of the things with the sun.

Thinking beyond just navigation, this book has applications for situational awareness and permaculture.    Getty really stresses actively observing the environment and shows many ways you can get all kinds of information out of your surroundings.    He also gives some clues on how you can assess weather patterns in a specific area, which ties in with permaculture.

This is definitely a cool book and a good one to have in the collection if you’re into these kinds of primitive skills and believe that your mind is often your most valuable piece of gear.   I wish I would have read this one a long time ago while I was in the Marines, I think a lot of this information would have come in handy.    This is the kind of stuff that once you learn it, you’ll find yourself always using it.  There’s all kinds of things in this book that he brings up that I can’t believe I never thought of.   I’ve already started looking at all the trees around me a little differently now that I know what to look for.

 

 

 

 

Secession: How Vermont and All The Other States Can Save Themselves From The Empire by Thomas Naylor

When the topic of secession came up in the immediate aftermath of the 2012 presidential election most people associated those sentiments with the southern states, “tea baggers”, republicans in the Western States, angry conservative white men, racist rednecks, survivalists or any combination of those demographics.    Most people would be surprised to know that liberal-leaning Vermont is actually the state with the most viable secession movement in the United States.

This book is more of a manifesto than a real brass-tacks book on secession and I have to admit that author Thomas Naylor lays out a pretty good case for Vermont jumping ship. He starts off by outlining some of the looming problems facing the United States such as foreign policy blunders, peak oil, globalization, the culture of consumption, environmental problems, dwindling democracy and the high potential for an economic crisis.    The book concludes with a Q & A format on some of the technical issues of secession.

While Vermont is currently economically and politically at the low end of America’s totem pole, Naylor argues that Vermont’s smallness is exactly what would make Vermont successful as a sovereign nation.   There’s currently a culture of self-reliance intertwined with a localized communitarian spirit in Vermont that would allow them to adopt to the kind of scaled down economy envisioned in James Howard Kunstler’s World Made By Hand (Kunstler is even referenced in this book) – Naylor describes parts of Vermont that don’t seem like they’re too far away from already living like that.     Naylor also makes a case that globalization has been particularly damaging to Vermont and being able to control their own economic policies rather than those of Washington might be beneficial to Vermont.

The book describes Vermont and being socially and politically out of step with Washington and mainstream American society.   I believe it’s the only state with an independent congressman and the style of democracy preferred in Vermont tends to be at the local level (i.e. the annual town meeting day tradition) and highly populist.

His take on foreign policy is interesting – he dedicates a few pages to the Vermont Air National Guard’s F-16s and how it would be nice to have those gone.   I thought this was kind of funny because in my own state of Iowa they were talking about shutting down an ANG fighter wing and apparently the governor or a senator or someone worked out a deal to get a drone base to replace the F-16s and keep those jobs around.   Anyways, Naylor makes a case that current American foreign policy is detrimental to Vermont in terms of dollars, blood and goodwill and that if Vermont was a sovereign nation, no one would want to come harm them anyway.

He brings up a point that if states like Alaska or Hawaii (which have secessionist tendencies, of course) wanted to leave the union, the federal government wouldn’t take it lightly due to their strategic importance.   Vermont on the other hand has very little economic importance and definitely no strategic importance, so they might actually take it a little better.   Who knows?

The subtitle is “How Vermont and All The Other States Can Save Themselves From The Empire”.  What’s implied by this is that bold action from a state like Vermont could force the rest of the United States into some deep soul-searching on the way we’ve been doing business.    I certainly agree that what this country needs is a lot more decentralization one way or another.

As far as the book itself goes, I have to say I felt a little cheated by the price.  I think I paid $9 and some change for a download for 1200 lines and most of it was opinion.   I think a lower price would be a little more reasonable, but if you’re interested in the topic of secession it does give some great food for thought on the subject.     It’s a good read, but I can see how someone would feel a little let down by the price for someone’s manifesto.

I also have to say that the author did a great job of portraying Vermont’s uniqueness.   I’ve never been there or anywhere near there, but he does make it out to be a part of the country with a very distinct culture, history and way of life.    Oh, I also got a chuckle out of the author basically calling Ben and Jerry sellouts.   I’ll still destroy a pint of “Everything But The…” every now and then, but yeah, they totally sold out.

 

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