Monday, April 19, 2010

Pocket Carry Revisited

A couple of years ago I did a post about my daily pocket carry. Then Ferfal made me start to think about it again in his most recent post. I went back to my original post on the topic and noticed that he just commented on it a month ago. My pocket carry has changed a bit in two years so it's time to revisit the topic.

First of all I upgraded my flashlight. I went from a single AAA Rayovac pen light to a 2x AAA Streamlight Stylus Pro. The Streamlight is much brighter and more durable. The Rayovac is smaller and lighter. It's durable enough for light duty use and after several months in my pocket I still have it and it still works just as reliably as the Streamlight. The light isn't very bright, though. In a truly dark room it's completely worthless. It took getting stuck in a pitch black warehouse to make me realize how bad it really was. The Streamlight doesn't exactly light up a room but it's bright enough to light a clear path no matter how dark it gets. I bought it and first reviewed it back in November.

I also upgraded my mini Gerber Paraframe to a CRKT Urban Shark. The CRKT is bigger and fatter but it's not a big enough difference for me to notice. It feels more durable and it holds a better edge. More importantly it fits much more comfortably in my hand. Most importantly, it's just a higher quality knife. The size of the Gerber was very convenient but it was a little awkward when I needed to apply more than a little leverage.

I added a multitool. I started carrying a Gerber Clutch off and on at least a year ago. After finding myself using it more and more often I've begun carrying it all the time. It's a handy little tool but, like the paraframe, I can see myself upgrading to something a little bit bigger and more practical. Whatever I replace it with just needs to disappear in my pocket as easily as the Clutch does. I'd rather not pay a lot of money for an upgrade, either. I've got a few full sized multitools (from high quality Leathermen to cheapo Winchesters) so when the time comes that I need a bigger multitool on a regular basis I'll have something to fall back on.

Not much else has changed. The cell phone is a no brainer. I hate carrying anything but keys on my keychain. Keychains are bulky enough without a bunch of crap hanging off of them. I always like to have a pen on me. I've sworn by Bic lighters for years and that's what I'll continue to carry. Besides the normal cards, pictures and emergency contact card in my wallet I also carry a small firesteel (broken off of one of those cheapo magnesium bars) and about 10 or 20 feet of duct tape wrapped around an old expired credit card. If you're one of those people who can't keep a credit card in your wallet without maxing it out then that might be one way to have one handy in case of emergencies.

I've been thinking about other ways to turn my wallet into a mini survival kit but I really don't want to go nuts. I need my EDC to disappear into my pockets. I can't carry backups of backups of everything. I can't carry anything on my belt. If I can't find a use for something day to day then I don't put it in my pocket. I prefer to carry quality items that I can rely on to work rather than carry three flashlights, four lighters, two multi-tools, five knives and two or three guns "just in case". If it can easily disappear into my wallet and there's the chance that I may someday be able to use it, though, then I may be able to justify it. In a worst case scenario what I always have on me just needs to get me to my car where I keep my GHB. That's where I keep my backups to backups and things that will help insure my chances of making it home during a disaster. My car is never more than a few blocks away so it will take one hell of a problem for me not to make it at least that far. More on that later.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Get that garden in

It was a beautiful day yesterday and I was stuck babysitting so I took the opportunity to get the garden prepped. My sunchokes have been in for a couple of weeks and I think that they're starting to poke out. I'm not sure what they look like when they're sprouting but these don't look like the weeds that I've seen popping out over the years in this part of my yard. I'm assuming that they're the sunchokes. If someone knows let me know.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I also prepped up the corner of the yard that I'll be planting my three sisters garden in. I broke up the ground, got rid of the grass and weeds, mixed in some compost and laid down some mulch. While I was breaking up the ground I noticed that my hop plant was getting invasive. I found a big rhizome breaking off from the main plant. I dug it up, cut it and planted it in another spot along my fence. Hops are like weeds. You can break off a chunk of root that has some shoots growing off of it, plant it elsewhere and it should grow. We'll see how it works out.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

As for the three sisters plot, this is it. I found some blue corn seed locally. It didn't say that it's an heirloom variety on the package but it didn't say that it was a hybrid, either. We'll see how that works out next year when I try replanting it. Heirloom corn is damn near impossible to find. I tried several seed stores and only found one variety of heirloom sweet corn. In my opinion sweet corn is a total waste of space unless you have a LOT of it so I passed on it. I'll also be planting some heirloom scarlet runner beans and some heirloom winter squash. It's a pretty big plot so I'll plant some other things around the edges. I'll probably just stick to root vegetables.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I've had these potatoes sitting in the basement for a few months now. They were sprouting beautifully so I planted a few of them in a tire. Hopefully, they'll grow this time. These look much better than the ones that I planted last year and they're local. I'm betting on there not being a really serious frost or snowstorm for the rest of the season. I can always replant if there is.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Last year I had an arugula plant that went to seed. I decided to save it and hang it up in my garage. It dried out nicely and now I have a very good source of arugula seed. I also have a bunch of kale seed from a plant from last year. If it grows then I'll be sure to start harvesting seed from the plants every year.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Here are my planters in the opposite corner of the yard from my three sisters plot. I planted some frost tolerant plants (root vegetables, cabbage and loose leaf lettuces) that should be OK. That makes two full planters. This late in the year if it does snow around here it melts within a day. Tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, beans and peas are going in the other two planters.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

If you believe the administration then the economy is getting better. I don't buy it. I'd rather rely on my own "green shoots". When gas hits $4-$5 a gallon this summer it's going to put a hurting on everyone. Growing a garden is one good way to save a lot of money. All you need are a few packets of seed, some basic hand tools, access to compost and a source of water. I also want to get some chickens but with the new baby I don't know if I'll be able to swing it this year.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Stopped by the gardening store today

I finally found a store that carries plastic seed starter trays. I picked a few of them up just in case I won't be able to find them again next year. I also picked up a bunch of heirloom seeds. I couldn't find heirloom corn to save my life but I did find some blue "decorative" corn that looks promising. I also found some scarlet runner beans. I've already got the squash covered but I went ahead and picked up a few more packets of various varieties, anyway. So it looks like I'll be planting some blue corn to start everything out. The scarlet runners will go in after the corn gets off to a good start. I'm still trying to decide what route I want to go with the squash. I'm leaning towards butternut. That's just for the three sisters garden. I think I have room for two plots.

The planters are pretty well planned out but I'm seriously considering doubling the volume of my planters. I just don't think that 6 inches of soil is enough for a lot of vegetables to really thrive. I've seen a lot of people's square foot garden planters recently and they all seem to be at least a foot tall. Maybe I'll just use what I've got for another year and just be picky about what I plant in the planters. If the three sisters garden doesn't work out very well this year then I'll just go back to using it as my conventional garden plot.

My sunchokes have been in for a week or two. I'm really looking forward to seeing how they turn out. Everything I've read says that they're extremely low maintenance and heavy producers. We'll see if they live up to the hype. My second year hops plant has some nice shoots growing. Next year I think I'm going to split it up. I still need to put my new rhizomes in. I just need to wait another couple of weeks. We'll see how they hold up in the fridge. I need to build a trellis for them. I've got some nice seed potatoes sprouting eyes everywhere down in the basement. Hopefully they end up producing nicely. I also want to build a composter from a 55 gallon drum. My compost pile works but it's just way too slow and I end up with a lot of crap in there that doesn't break down fast enough. I'm looking forward to the garden this year. I'm already trying to think of different ways to expand for next year's garden.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Precious metals on a budget

"Gold is the money of kings. Silver is the money of gentlemen. Barter is the money of peasants. Debt is the money of slaves."

I dabble in precious metals. I have been for a few years now. I wish I would've gotten into them when they were 1/3 the price that they are now but who didn't? I don't have a lot of extra cash to blow so I don't go overboard with them. I just buy a few coins here and there when I have some spare cash. Even if you only drop a few bucks a week you'll be surprised at how fast your stash builds up if you stay consistent. You don't need much disposable income. There are plenty of ways to build up the PM stash without breaking the bank.

The cheapest way to collect precious metals is to look for it in change. It's extremely rare to find junk silver in change these days but every once in a while I still get lucky. Times are tough and a lot of people are breaking open their piggy banks. This leads to a lot of older coins reentering circulation.

Most coins have numismatic value above and beyond the value of the metal that they consist of. You might not care but when you go to sell the person who's interested in buying might. If you're not interested in getting into coin collecting then don't worry too much about the numismatic value. Just learn about what coins are made up of what metals and buy them as close to spot as possible. Keep in mind that spot price is a guideline. If you're not buying in bulk then you'll probably end up paying a premium over spot.

Junk silver is the obvious choice if you're on a budget. Learn a thing or two about coins and you can get some very good deals. My dad is an avid coin collector so I learned how to find junk silver in change a long time ago. Over the years, before I got serious about collecting myself, I had amassed quite a collection. OK so it was more like a small jar of coins but still.... I went out and got some coin books and and started filling them. The cheap ones are just a few bucks each. I also got some plastic coin tubes and some paper rolls. I filled the slots in the book and put the leftover coins in the appropriate tube. Then I found a good coin price guide, made a list of which ones weren't worth much more than spot price and started making weekly visits to the local coin store to fill empty slots. I also buy rolls of "junk silver" and try to find coins I need that way. Now my books are getting full and I find myself buying higher quality coins to fill the slots of low grade coins. I just replace the low grade coin in the book and put it in the plastic tube. When a tube gets full I roll it in a paper roll, stash it away and start filling the plastic tube again.

"Generic" silver bullion that's minted at non government mints can usually be had for very close to spot whether you're buying in bulk or not. Government guaranteed bullion (like silver eagles) usually carries a hefty premium over spot. Numismatic value can also influence the price quite a bit (in some cases a lot). I have some silver eagles. I also have some bullion. The mint ships bulk silver eagles in tubes. The tubes hold 20 silver eagles. It's not such an insurmountable obstacle to get one of those tubes filled. Just buy an eagle or two whenever you can afford it and watch the stack grow. For bullion bars they make silver bar vaults. They work for gold bars, too, but I don't recommend buying gold in any form but government minted coins or bullion. They fill up fast even if you're just adding one bar every couple of weeks.

Swap your extra crap for a more compact store of wealth. Have a garage sale. Put stuff on ebay. Take that money and buy some bullion or junk silver. If you make enough then you could even buy some gold. I recycle cans. When I cash them in I take that money and buy precious metals. The same goes for spare change. I save it all. When I cash in my dimes, quarters and post 1982 pennies the money I get all goes towards pms. My 1982 and older pennies and all of my nickles go into coffee cans. For a while there I had almost convinced myself that it just wasn't worth sorting through everything. Back in 1964 a lot of guys were probably thinking the same thing. Meanwhile, other guys were filling buckets up with every bit of junk silver that they could get their hands on. 20 years later they were happy they did. It's a VERY small investment that will pay off someday.

If the economy does collapse hyperinflation will most likely occur. First we'll have massive deflation where the cost of goods will go up much more quickly than your wages. We're already seeing that slightly now but they're doing a pretty good job of keeping it under control. That's why oil is still under $100 a barrel (although that's starting to creep up again), the stock market keeps going up and precious metals have been staying fairly stable. If they keep interest rates low, the fed keeps buying our tbills and we keep spending ourselves into oblivion, though, hyperinflation will occur. If that happens then the price of everything will go up astronomically as they're forced to flood the economy with dollars. One thing you can count on is that your wages still won't increase as much as the price of goods. Precious metals, on the other hand, will most likely keep up with the market. It sounds unlikely now, but maybe someday that handful of gold coins will pay off your mortgage. Unfortunately, that won't do you much good when it costs you 10 million dollars for a can of beans. Have a means to protect yourself, have a source of clean water and have a stocked pantry before you start putting a lot of money into pms. At least if none of that ever happens; even if they fix everything and we go on to continue to be prosperous I'll still have a kickass coin collection with a lot of history to pass down to my daughter or maybe someday my grandchildren.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Seeds aren't doing so hot

So my seeds that I started a month ago aren't doing so well. I managed to get a couple of tomato plants, a few cayenne plants, some cabbage and some squash to pop up. Out of 120 "pots" only 10 of them produced anything. Interestingly enough, all of the tomatoes and the cayennes were heirloom seeds that I'd saved from last year. None of the tomato seeds that I bought germinated. The same goes for my peppers. To be fair I bought them last year but I'd still expect them to have more of a shelf life than they did. They were stored in a cool, dark, dry space. Maybe the seed companies are just getting so good at engineering their seeds that they can control how long they stay viable now. All of the squash seeds that I planted were bought this year so there's no reason that I should have gotten such a crappy yield out of them. Maybe it didn't work out because the tray didn't get warm enough. My buddy used one of these pellet trays last year and all of his plants were out of control by the time he got them in the ground. The room that he had them in was like a greenhouse, though. My big kitchen window gets several hours of direct sun but my windows are triple pane so I don't get a whole lot of heat radiating through.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Hopefully, the seeds that I plant directly in the ground will turn out better this year. Either way, I probably won't use one of these pellet greenhouse kits again. Not until I build a greenhouse, anyway. Unfortunately, the only other kind of starter tray I can find are peat pots. The plants start OK in the peat pots but they're not reusable. Whenever I put them in the ground the roots never do a good job of breaking through. They do grab onto the inside of the peat pots, though, so if you try to take the plant out of the pot before planting it usually tears up the roots. Why can't they just sell those little plastic planters that the plants just fall right out of, anymore?

The other option is to get some grow lights for next year. With all of the medical marijuana "patients" around here there are grow shops popping up everywhere. Indoor gardening equipment is easy to get at good prices. Good prices doesn't necessarily equate to cheap, though. Running them the lights is even more expensive. I just don't know that it would be worth it. I'd rather not start growing $100 tomatoes.