Archive for April, 2010

Emergency lighting is always a problem, and to solve the problem a lot of people use a flashlight. It’s a good thing to do, but we always have the problem that comes with using batteries, and that problem is a limited useful lifespan. Alkaline batteries are generally not rechargeable today as most chargers are engineered to charge NiCad batteries, which are actually 1.25 volts as compared to the 1.5 volts the alkaline batteries are rated for. In other words, if you try to charge an alkaline battery on a NiCad charger, you’ll never charge the battery, fully.

My suggestion, in order to avoid the problems involved with battery life pans in flashlights is to begin phasing out your older incandescent bulb flashlights and get the newer LED type of flashlights. You can get a brand new 9 LED flashlight powered by three AAA batteries for very little money today. I bought a bunch of aluminum bodied flashlights for $3.00 apiece a month or so ago and they all work as well, or better than any of the other flashlights I own, with the exception of a couple of high end (read expensive) flashlights.

I have used one several times and the batteries that came with it are still pumping the juice to the LEDs so I know it was a good buy. But batteries always crap out, and in an extended power outage there is no way to power up an electric battery charger, so we should have a solar powered charger available for the job. But if you don’t have either one available, there is a solution. Just steal your neighbor’s solar powered patio lights. Or more appropriately, use your own.

These tiny lamps are pretty slick little numbers, but they are not very powerful. Their sole purpose is to provide a minimal amount of light to an LED when it gets dark, and nothing more. And they generally do that very well. If you look at the top of one of these lamps, you’ll see a big black square piece with some lines on it. That’s the power cell that collects the suns ray’s and send it to the electronics in side. You’ll also see a little round thing with squiggly lines on it. That is the sensor. What that does is detect sunlight, and when the sun is shining, it cuts off the juice to the LED that lights the night, and when it gets dark out, it allows it to flow again, turning the LED back on.

The LED does not run off of the solar collector cell. Instead, what that does is charge a little AAA NiCad battery. This battery supplies the power to light the LED. Figure out what I’m getting at here? Turn the unit over and twist the globe off of the top of the patio lamp. For most lamps you’ll be holding a round black puck shaped assembly that holds the guts of the lamp. There are many different models on the market so the one you have may come apart a little differently, but I am sure you will figure it out.

There will be a small switch on the bottom. With some there is only an off/on function, but others may have an off/on/charge function. The simple switch simply turns the LED on or off when it gets dark. This is so the light doesn’t stay on during the months you may have placed it into storage. You’d wind up with a very dead battery and quite probably leakage if it were not shut off in storage. The other type of switch allows you to turn the light off while allowing the battery to continue charging if you’d rather not have the light on at all. Simply flip the switch to on and the light will shine, but only when it is dark enough to trigger the sensor on top. You can test the function of these lights by covering the top of the fixture with your hand. That fools it into thinking it is dark out.

Flipping the unit over again you’ll find one or two small battery compartment covers. Open these up and remove the battery inside, and place the AAA NiCad you want to charge in its place. Bear in mind that these lights are very low power units, and it could take an entire day, or longer to charge your little flashlight battery this way. But it is better than not having any way to charge your batteries at all, isn’t it?

There are variables involved in using a patio light as a charger, such as not all work on an AAA battery. Sometimes they use an AA battery. Usually you will find that only one battery runs the light, and there are some models that utilize two batteries. Pick up some cheap ones at a discount store and experiment with them. That way, if you have to bug out, you’ll be able to help yourself down the road when you come upon somebody’s lighted walkway and nobody home. Just make sure that there isn’t anyone to accuse you of stealing. In the ultimate meltdown scenario, you do what you gotta do, right?

One big point to remember is that if we do suffer an EMP attack as some have suggested is waiting for us in the wings, these lights are made of solid state components and may get fried if the pulse reaches them. If that’s the case, have fun in the dark. There are other ways you can utilize these simple and cheap patio and walkway lights as well. I’ll be working up a longer piece and post that later on, possibly at if you’d like to keep checking in on the site.

I don’t know how many of you actually look at the so called “survival” advertising out there today, but I find it getting pretty mundane and self defeating towards the aspects of emergency and disaster preparedness planning. In particular, I find the advertising and promises of the metals trading companies rather hard to swallow. Don’t get me wrong, investing in precious metals can be very financially rewarding, but I wouldn’t want to bet my chances of surviving the coming times on a single ounce of gold.

In spite of the history of its wealth properties there will indeed come a time where gold will not be all that valuable. Not in the immediate future, mind you, but sometime in the future the wealth value of gold will diminish and another commodity will take its place. There was a time in history that aluminum was more valuable than gold, remember? Wealth value of any commodity has more to do with the issues of supply and demand than its other properties. Oil is a commodity that has high value and it has no other real use besides providing fuel at a reasonable cost. If the market were to be flooded with oil, the cost would go down. In a supply contraction period the cost is driven upwards by the demand. Gold works the same way, so doesn’t silver and any other precious commodity.

As I stated, investing in precious metals can be financially rewarding and it is for many people. But to stack your odds of surviving the coming times on a pile of bullion may be a catastrophe in and of itself should the ultimate meltdown occur. Why? Think of it in the long term planning aspects. The world buys and sells based upon the medium of currency. Different countries have different values to their own currencies, but the all deal in money in its cash form and terms. For example, when you go down to the grocer and get a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk, what do you give the cashier in exchange for that bread and milk? You don’t shave off a piece of bullion, you give them cash. It matters little as to the form of cash or currency you give to the cashier. Cash, check and credit are all imaginary currency. And that currency is based in large part upon a promise of the issuing government to make good on that currency. It’s called a fiat currency, or promissory notes. There is no gold involved in the backing of those notes today. In a sense, one could say we live in a world dominated by fake, or monopoly, money.

You are merely trading that promise for some article you need, such as food for your family or a roof over your head. We tend to look upon the term ‘barter’ as an archaic word that really has no place in a modern economy, but the fact is that you are still bartering. You are bartering a promise that the government made concerning that little piece of currency you gave to the cashier. It isn’t viable wealth in any sense, it’s a vague promise. So what happens to a currency when that government made promise vanishes, and the government cannot make good on the promissory note? The economy collapses and you are out of luck. That wad of hundred dollar bills you have stashed away is good as tinder and nothing more. Well, actually it has another use, but that one won’t get you that gallon of milk for the kids either.

Trade is based upon need and desire, and the desire aspect more generally controls the value and tender amount of that trade, not some piece of paper that says a dollar is a dollar.

To give you an idea of what I mean by value and dollars, let’s take a look at whiskey. I don’t know whether you approve of whiskey or not, and it really doesn’t matter for this discussion because it makes foe an excellent demonstration product. I prefer Scotch Whiskey, so we’ll use that as our example.

Say I was to go down to the local liquor emporium and buy a 5th of Dewar’s White Label. The usual size is a 750 ml bottle when you buy whiskey, but it is available in other sizes. That costs me about $22.00 for the bottle. Now, we are in the US so we need to change that volume into ounces, and we have 25.3 oz, US. Using the volume to find the dollar value gives us an actual price in today’s dollar of $1.15 per ounce. That’s pretty expensive for a drink that does you no good, so why spend the money? Because we have a desire for the drink, which in turn gives it value.

Now, let’s go down to the pub and get a Scotch on the rocks, and we specify Dewar’s instead of a well Scotch. They rook me out of five dollars, not including tip, for the drink. Two ounces was the measure of Scotch in the glass, or so I’m told, which means that the same product costs me not $1.15 per ounce, but $2.50 per ounce. The Scotch was the same, but there was a higher dollar price tagged to the value of the drink. The reason for that is clear; when we buy at a bar we are paying for the business’ operations and stock for resale. But still, we place a higher value on an ounce of Scotch at a pub, than we do for that same ounce at home.

The moral of the story is the same no matter what item you use for establishing a value. Would I have paid $10.00 for that Scotch on the rocks? Not in any way shape or form. If I didn’t like the stuff I wouldn’t have bought it in the first place, so in that case the Scotch would have zero value for me. Value is an arbitrary figure that we place upon something, and that figure varies depending upon the desire to obtain that product, balanced against its availability.

We pay more for a Scotch on the rocks in a pub because we can’t walk over to the kitchen and make our own. Precious metals work the same way, and so doesn’t any other investment. For the price of something to be high, there must be a high demand coupled with low availability. Gold and silver are commodities that are limited to supply on hand, and while that supply keeps growing at less than the demand for these metals, the price will continue to climb. So, it makes for a good investment medium. But like all other investments, don’t do it unless you can afford to lose the money you put into it.

The reasoning for that is because no investment is an assured investment. The bottom line is that if in fact the bottom falls out from under society, and the economy collapses rapidly, and the infrastructure comes to a screeching halt, where will that investment be, and how much will it be worth?

If nobody has any money to buy gold, where will the demand be? The demand will be lower, which will drive the value lower. If you bought high, you lose. The next factor is what kind of investment is it? Many firms only transmit a paper to you that says you have purchased so many ounces of gold. If the ultimate collapse occurs, what good will that paper be to you? If you have physical bullion, how will you spend it? Suppose you want to get a bottle of Scotch and new of someone that had one for trade. How big of a slice of that bullion will it take? No one really knows as the value of that bullion is up for grabs.

The bottom line I am getting at here is that while precious metals may well be a good investment tool, they make a lousy survival tool. There are too many variables, too many ifs involved with the medium. If you believe currency by way of gold and silver metals will still be useful in the coming times, then I suggest you buy as much junk silver coins that you can accumulate. The value of these may be high, or they may be low, nobody knows, but I do know that when the crap hits the fan, the rules will immediately change. And I believe those rules will change in ways that most people will not be able to fathom in the coming times.

I’ve been doing some research towards possibly motorizing the bicycle I intend to use as backup transportation should the doo-doo hit the fan while I am still able to get around. There’s some interesting things going on in the marketplace along those lines, and I do believe there may be more reason to motorize a bicycle than you think. The big problem, long term at least, is the issue of fueling the motor. But before you run out and spend some bucks on it, make sure that you are going to take serious care of your two wheel ride. We here in the US think of bicycles as sporting toys or exercise equipment, but in most parts of the world, a bike can be a family’s sole means of transportation. Here in the US we ride them, wear them out, and then forget them, or they get stolen and wind up looking like this little beauty to the right here.

I think it’s important that we give the lowly bicycle a tremendous amount of consideration before rejecting it as a potential alternative means of transportation. For one thing, it doesn’t take gas or electricity. It’s also a quiet mode of travel, and can take you as far as you want it to take you. Provided, of course, that you keep it, and yourself in good repair.

So how did I wind up looking at the possibility of putting a motor on my bike? Good question. The answer is relatively simple. A couple of years ago I took a ride down to a major metropolitan mall area about 40 miles from where I live. That made it an 80 mile round trip, and I only had one day available to make the trip. And no, I am not going to willingly make such a trip again. I don’t recall how many hours the entire ordeal lasted, but I left at around seven AM and got back to my place in the very late evening sometime. It was quite dark as I recall. I believe it took about 16 hours all told, but I spent some time shopping, which ate up a little time.

So it occurs to me that if we are going to use a bicycle as an alternative means of transportation, how limited are we when we reach that point where the trusty 2 wheeler becomes the main transportation? People all over the world use a bicycle as a main vehicle, and we see pictures of heavily leaden bikes in third world countries loaded down with goods being taken to market. Europeans use the bike as a means of everyday transport and not only ride them to work, but go shopping as a normal routine as well.

Using a bicycle as a work vehicle requires a different sort of set up than does one for exercise or play. It takes a stronger frame, better tires and chains, as well as good quality gears, bearings, cables and everything else. But you don’t need a high priced la-di-da bike to get that level of quality. Even in the foreign countries a serviceable bike is reasonable. When I was doing research on this subject, there were several places in South Africa selling a decent bike for about 2,000 ZAR, or Rand, which was the equivalent of about $270.00 here in the USA.

Unfortunately, the work you can get out of a bicycle is limited to the work you can get out of your legs. When you peter out and can’t pedal anymore, the bike stays where you stopped. But a motor can assist you in your work and allow you to travel much further, and carry a greater load than if you had to go on just people power alone. Let’s say you set yourself up on a plot of land and developed a business of selling fresh veggies or other product. If you had no working vehicle, such as a car or truck, your business would have to depend upon people getting to your little farm to buy veggies, right? Well, how are they going to do that if no one has a working motorized vehicle? No gas, no go, for most people, remember?

With the addition of a little trailer to your two wheeled workhorse you could load up and carry quite a load to market in town, and thus make more money from your survival homestead. And adding a motor of some sort allows you to carry even more of a load, because the motor takes some of the workload from you. That’s what motors are supposed to do, you know. Make things easier so you can produce more, and get more out of life. However, we have a bit of a quandary when it comes to motorizing a motor in the post melt down world. The first question is exactly how did the world melt down for us? If an EMP attack left us helpless, then it is likely that bicycle motors were also disabled, due to the presence of solid state equipment, such as a charge controller, speed limiter, etc. At some point in time, we would in fact be able to recover, but it could take ten or more years according to some, and by then the USA would truly be a third world nation ourselves.

But it may not happen like that at all! Perhaps hyperinflation will set in, followed by worldwide depression, and an economy that requires rationing of resources, such as gas and oil. In that case, a motor on your bike makes perfect sense as the fuel consumption is quite low for the gas powered versions, and the electric models use no gas at all. Given a choice, I would almost choose an electric version over gas for a couple of reasons. For one thing, electric motors run very quietly. For tooling around town it doesn’t bring attention like the mosquito like whine of the small cc gas motors. You need not worry about running out of gas with an electric motor, but the batteries do need recharging.

However, if the grid goes down, you can always rig up a solar cell charger for the batteries. Also, there isn’t the risk of burn like you have with a tank of gas between your legs with an electric bike.

At this point, I haven’t really decided one way or the other, but I am leaning towards electrification over gasification of my survival bicycle. The problem as I see it today is that electric motors and batteries for bicycle retrofit can be quite expensive, running into a couple of thousand dollars for some models. That’s quite a bit for a bike I only paid $175.00 for in the first place. But we’ll see what happens over the summer with it. Keep checking back here and I’ll post on the progress of the project.

I’ve finally gotten around to dot coming a site for this project, which can be found at I’m going to have an index ofpreparedness and survival related articles, videos and the like for your use in making your emergency and disaster preparedness plans.

I have two short pieces on the site already, a couple of 1950s erapublic information films on radiation risk and dangers. As I have said before, while the Cold War seems to be over, the threat of nuclear based attack, either through a high altitude EMP or a low level dirty bomb detonation is steadily increasing. Chatter throughout the industry is increasingly indicative of the level of this threat, and seems to suggest an attack somewhere in the world is imminent.

We need to take it upon ourselves to learn all we can about this potential danger and take actions to prepare for and protect ourselves and our families from this threat. Stay tuned for more information. both here on the Surviving the Times blog and at

And don’t forget to pick up a copy of A Handy Disaster Preparedness Guide!

A Handy Disaster Preparedness Guide

A Handy Disaster Preparedness Guide

Print: $14.95

Download: $10.00

A compilation of tips and how to’s on developing an emergency preparedness plan, and how to get ready for natural and man-made disasters. Also includes a comprehensive listing of state and federal agencies to contact for more help and assistance in dealing with emergency planning and dealing with the aftermath of a disaster.

One of the more probable needs in the coming times will be the ability to light your way without electricity. Whether that may be from a major hurricane, ice storm or EMP from out of the clear blue skies makes little difference. No power, no electric lighting. It’s a simple fact of science we can’t ignore. But fortunately there are products we can have on hand, along with an easily obtainable fuel that can solve our problems with the dark.

One of the more commonly preferred sources of emergency lighting would be the mighty flashlight. But they run on batteries, and unless you have a way to recharge your batteries you eventually will be living in the dark again. Candles are probably the safest and most reliable, and when we are out of power for a period of years, can be made from locally available sources, such as beeswax. It’s an ancient art that is still practiced, and one you may be wise to familiarize yourself with. Just in case, that is.

But for all around usage, you can’t beat a good oil or kerosene lamp for that emergency lighting. Sure, you can get a Coleman white gas lantern, or even a propane one, but there are drawbacks to using them. One of them is the fuel issue. For one, white gas, or unleaded gas can be very dangerous should it spill, and its vapors are explosive in nature, so you have to be careful of where you use them. Propane relies on canned fuel, and that fuel only has a limited use span. When the crap hits the fan, how many bottles are you going to have stashed in your basement preparedness room? Add to that the need to use those fragile mantles. How many spares do you have?

One has to be very careful when moving these types of lamps as the least little jostle can break the mantle. You can go walking with them, and I have many times while camping, but they seem to fail at the most inopportune time. Oil lamps, on the other hand, use a relatively safe fuel, and the cloth wicks are nearly indestructible except for their being consumed as they burn. Not only that the lamps are usually much more rugged in construction.

Most of these lamps sold today claim, or suggest that you can only burn their type of fuel in them. This isn’t true by the way. Usually, the lamp fuel available today in department and hardware stores is merely liquid paraffin. It burns ok, but not as bright as kerosene. Frequently you’ll see it colored for a more decorative appearance. You can even get it scented for your enjoyment. Do yourself a favor and get a jug to fill with K1. One quart of K1 can last for several days if you use the lamp sparingly. If the odor bothers you than you can buy the more expensive treated K1, or buy a small bottle of treatment and add it as directed in a five gallon can of the fuel.

When worse comes to worse, you will be able to use, with some modifications, alternative oils in these lamps as well. Citronella oil will also burn in the lamps, but make sure you have plenty of ventilation because of the fumes. Remember that citronella is an insect repellant. There are some other options I’ll get into at another time as well.

There are many models available on the market, and simple glass lamps can be had at the local discounters for just a few dollars. Just for research I bought a lamp and a quart of lamp fuel (non-paraffin) for fewer than twenty dollars a few weeks ago. The lamp works fine, but you have to remember to keep the bowl at least half full for best operating results. Most of the problem with paraffin lies in the fact that the wicking action of the lamp doesn’t work as well as with some other types of fuel on the market. Another thing about paraffin is its high flashpoint. Once the wick becomes clogged with the paraffin it has to be replaced, and there is really no way to clean the paraffin out of the wick.

A more rugged option would be that old standby, the kerosene lantern. These things can be tossed around with no ill effects aside from some spilled fuel and should be used in times where you need to move around or go outside frequently. The construction of the lamp will keep the flame from being blown out as well.

An interesting buy would be the Dietz cooking lantern, available at Lehman’s for 29.95. It’s a neat little affair that comes with a little plate and a 12oz cup that sits on top of the lantern. I’m fixing to buy one of these for myself before long. While you’re over at Lehman’s they also have an item called a homesteaders light, which is also a very cool lantern that gets closed into a box that has three reflective sides that can direct the light in front of you, or wherever you want it to shine. That’s another item I’m planning on acquiring.

You can also get the Dietz lanterns at W.T. Kirkman’s as well. They are the home of Dietz lanterns as well as their own brand of lamps and are worth the visit. While you are dreaming and drooling over the lamp catalogs, make sure you pick up a couple of extra globes for each lamp and plenty of extra wicks. If you can get all of your lamps to use the same wick it will cut down on repetition of supplies.

Bear in mind that when disaster strikes, it usually comes without a lot of warning, so when you are making your plans consider locating oil lamps with matches or butane lighters in strategic locations around the house. That way they’ll be close at hand and readily available should the need arise. I would also suggest you look into getting wall mounted units and brackets to keep them in one place, and off of a table where they may get toppled in an earthquake or other tremulous event. A broken lamp will be useless to you, so it’s worth taking the time now to establish your lighting strategy.

Oh, and by the way, diesel and #2 heating fuel can be burned in a kerosene lamp as well, and if the carp hits the fan as expected, there’s going to be plenty of fuel for the taking around the country as none of it will be of any use for electric furnaces and vehicles whose electronics will have been fried by an EMP or geomagnetic storm.