Kerosene and the ghost of Y2K

Well, I think I’m pretty much done on buying kerosene for the rest of my life. Last time I bought kerosene was here. That was an awesome deal.

Was tooling through Craigslist (when? When will I learn??) and, lo and behold, a fella selling 14 5-gallon drums of kero. For those of you who went to public government schools, that’s 70 gallons. Or, if you’re in a country that never put a man on the moon, 265 liters.

20170801_101755The fella was asking way, way, too much for the stuff so I made him an offer. Wound up getting it for $200…a tad under $3/gallon. (ok, fine….$2.86/gallon).

I  love kerosene…it burns hottest of the liquid fuels, keeps forever with no special treatment, is safe to store, and has a nice market of stoves, lamps, and heaters out there.

My anticipated use? Well, it’s winter for a good chunk of the year here and it would be nice to keep the house toasty in the event of a power outage. Most likely these will go into storage with the last batch of 5-gallon drums I bought. There they will wait until the day when it’s dark, cold, and dreary and I shall have light, heat, and hot food.

Here’s the interesting part… I met the guy, a rather old gentleman who, sadly, was dying of cancer, and as I was moving the cans out of his rather neat and nicely stocked garage I asked him why he had so much of it. His reply was that it was his leftover Y2K stash. Apparently he’d gone long on Y2K stuff. I suspected as much as I looked around his garage and saw the rifle cases, cases of ammo, etc, etc. All the hallmarks of someone who is on the same page. We chatted a bit about the Y2K thing and about how we’d rather have it and not need it, etc, etc. I thanked him for the deal and assured him it was going to a home that shared his concerns and mindset.

I also told him that if he had any other Y2K leftovers he wanted to sell, to please keep me in mind.

So for those of you who wonder how you meet like-minded individuals, there’s another example.

I did the math to figure out how may gallons of kerosene I have in storage and I think I may have actually gone a tad heavier than I planned. I’m going to have to contact a few of the LMI and see if they want some…I don’t think I really need more than 100 gallons for any forseeable emergency.


Some folks just Will Not Learn

The world is populated by idiots.

Im in the bank this morning and the teller and the woman next to me are talking about the power outages that continue in many areas around here. This woman is saying how she hasn’t been able to charge her laptop, that she has no water (well pump), that she’s going to lose the food in her freezer, and how she hates being in the dark.

I gently steered the conversation to ask her if, when this is over, if it will change her behaviors and perhaps she’ll keep some battery-powered chargers around for her cell phone. “Oh, no..this almost never happens.”

You know, your house almost never burns down, you almost never have your car stolen, you almost never get cancer, and you almost never get disabled from your job….yet you have insurance in place for that, so why not this?

For these… clueless idiots…. it appears it truly is better to curse the darkness than buy generator.

My buddy on the other side of town is still without power after a transmission tower (not a power pole, mind you…a transmission tower) decided to go horizontal not far from him. Is he inconvenienced? Yes. He has no internet. Is he still in the game? Absolutely. He has not one but two of the Honda generators. He’s got his freezer, fridge, lights, cell phone charger, and all the other accoutrements of civilization up and running. And he has some stored gas on hand to keep it that way. As his neighbors live out the lifestyle of “Home & Garden: North Korea Edition”, my buddy drinks hot coffee, has lights, has communication, and can continue to run his business. (And also the means to keep it if someone decides his bit of civilization needs to become their bit of civilization.)

I still need to do some after action things… I need to top off the tank on the generator, get all the cords in one place, put some emergency lighting in that one place, log the run time for the generator, pick up some accessories for the extension cords, etc. But, all in all, the generator did the trick.

The EU2000 is too small to run the entire house, but Im thinking of picking one circuit in the house and seeing if I can’t have an electrician come in and set that one circuit up with a transfer switch. That way, I can have one room of the house with the outlets running. The alternative, which I’m also seriously considering, is an entirely new circuit throughout the house of emergency ‘red outlets’ that are completely independent of the house panel and would solely be connected to the generator.

The Honda EU2000 usually runs right around a grand. Worth it.


So you guys saw this? Tesla Motors, as a development in their car-battery technology I am assuming, says they are going to be offering a ‘plug-n-play’ battery that will be suitable for home use. Now, you and I both know that ‘home use’ means a few lights, some entertainment devices, and other small-draw items, because you ain’t running your refrigerator, freezer, well-pump, furnace blower, and hot water heater off a battery small enough to hang on your wall. Oh, you could run a household like that off of batteries but it would be a battery (or battery-pack) the size of a cargo container.

Really, this is a brilliant move for Tesla if they pull it off. The car side of their business is obviously heavily invested in battery technology, so if they develop an uber-battery it would only make sense to put out out into other, non-auto markets as well. The market for $200K  $100k electric cars is probably pretty small compared to the market for $3500 batteries that, ideally, work better than any existing backup battery or off-grid-cabin battery.

My own efforts as of late are still in the DIY/beginning-hobbyist stage. I’m planning out a small battery system to maintain a charge off of household current when the power is on, and to be used for DC applications (lights, radio, battery charging, security system) when the power goes out. But thats a much longer post (or, really, couple of posts).

In a happy little world, I’d have something like one of these batteries up at my very-attractive, yet heavily-reinforced concrete off-grid Beta Site. The world would convulse into spasms of chaos, I’d pack up and head to my little quiet bastion of security, and patiently wait for things to calm down…all the while enjoying LED lighting, radio communications, laptop, and security surveillance. Ah, the great American (survivalist’s) dream.

Go read some Heinlein sometime, or just Wiki it, and look up “Shipstone”. In the books, the shipstone was a revolutionary technology that greatly improved batteries. Or, as the book says, “To call a Shipstone an improved storage battery would be to call an atom bomb an improved firecracker.” In the book, shipstones didnt create power, they simply acted as containers for it. And you could stuff a lot of power into one. Every so often someone comes up with some ideas in battery technology that looks similar to Heinlein’s fictional supercapacitor. About eight years ago the big thing was ‘nanowire‘ technology that would, allegedly, increase a lithium-ion batteries output by 10x. Haven’t read much about it since then.

Anyway, if Tesla has made any strides in the battery arena, I think it would be a classic example of a business having a small branch or division that was ancillary to their main business become more profitable than the main business. Serendipity.

Simple lighting project

This post on arfcom caught my eye. Rather than buy a 12v lamp for use with a battery, this fella converted a regular household AC lamp to run an LED ‘bulb’ off his 12v battery.

This sort of thing intrigued me and I decided to try it. While we have several options for lighting around here, I’d like to have something that doesn’t look like the kind emergency lighting youd find in a stairwell. Something very subtle and ‘normal looking’.

A quick trip to Amazon for the necessary parts:

The next step was to pick up a lamp to experiment on. As it turns out, I found a lamp that already ran on DC (it used a transformer to run off AC house current) and was LED. Since that was 2/3 of the battle right there, I figured I’d start with that.

20150419_164135Reading the details on the made-in-China transformer said, if they can be believed, that power draw was something like .33 amps. 20150419_164052Conveniently, they labeled the wires as to +/-. Simple matter to cut the transformer off and connect the wires for the cigarette plug to the lamp wires…keeping the polarity the same.



Once the transformer had been removed and replaced with the 12v plug, I plugged it into my old ConSci battery pack to test.



20150420_224627Unsurprisingly, it works. I’ll tuck it away with the battery box and leave it for the next time I need lighting when there’s no available electricity.

Of course, the bigger plan is to use it in conjunction with the larger battery backup system I’m planning. Nothing fancy..a couple big deep cycle batteries, a smart charger, and a bunch of outlets and wiring to allow me to run emergency lighting and communications for a week or so on battery power. Thats the bigger post Im working on. Gonna be a little while on it, though, since it’s going to take a while to scratch up the cash for the batteries. But…when it’s moved from ‘theory’ to ‘in progress’ there’ll be plenty of posting on it.




Generator musings

Originally published at Notes From The Bunker. You can comment here or there.

I suppose I should figure out precisely what my needs are in terms of a generator.

I’m on city water, so a well pump isn’t an issue. Although, it would be nice to help out frieds who did have pumps.

All my major appliances (stove, furnace, hot water heater) run on natural gas. For heating, I have a pair of kerosene heaters and about 60 gallons of kero in storage. For cooking I can cook on top of the kerosene heaters or use any of several camp stoves that run on multifuels. If for somer eason there’s no gas or no water, then hot water comes from heating it up on top of the kerosene heater or camp stoves. Not great for taking a shower, but a basin and a washcloth will probably do in a pinch. Lighting is accomplished through kerosene and propane lamps, supplemented with some minor 12v lighting.

So, really, where is the need for electricity? Well, there’s the fridge and the freezer. Those are pretty much the only things that are mission-critical. It’s sounding like something like the EU2000 or EU3000 would be enough to take care of those and perhaps charge up a small 12v bank for lighting. If thats the case, the more expensive EU generator, with it’s smaller output and greatly reduced fuel requirements might be the way to go. In a crisis, I don’t need to have every room in the house lit up, and since the internet will most likely be down the computers arent a high priority. so I guess really an EU would be the most practical choice.

Someone mentioned in comments that another option would be to play both sides of it. Get the fuel-sipping EU for running the freezer and a few small lights, and have the big generator for heavy-duty uses that might arise. Certainly, that makes a lot of sense to me, the problem is it isn’t a very economical way to go. Of course, sometimes economy is trounced by the need to cover all the bases.

This is one of those things I’m still going to have to weigh and think about. I’m tempted to go the less expensive (up front)  route and get the larger genny first…then start socking away greenbacks until a good used EU turns up on craigslist.

Also, what I really, really need to do is talk to one of the ‘alternative energy’ vendors in town and explain to them I want a simple battery system for running 12v lighting, charging AA and D batts, and running radios. Since that would all be 12v there’d be no need for an inverter and no resultant power loss in the conversion from DC to AC. Man, thats something I really, really need to get busy on.

And, of course, there’s always ballistic things that need purchasing…..

Scenes from Costco

Originally published at Notes From The Bunker. You can comment here or there.

Well, now…….

That looks six kinds of yummy.

That little baby would be enough to run my house rather handily. Hell, probably the neighbor’s too.Nothing kills like overkill…..Whats the punchline? Not too bad:

See, this is about what I’d figure a Honda EU2000 would set me back. But this is more than three times the power. But, the question of the moment is: would my needs be met with the smaller, more fuel-efficient EU2000 even though the EU2000 is more expensive for (much) less power. Or, put another way, dollar-to-watt ratio says the larger genny is the better bargain…until you factor in the fuel efficiency. If The EU2000 is 2000 watts and this thing is 6800 wattsm and my average load in a crisis is gonna be, say, 1500 watts….then why burn the extra fuel in the larger genny when I can get the same results with less fuel in the smaller one. BUT….while I can run small loads, expensively, on the larger genny I cannot run the larger loads at all on the small one. While the small one may be just fine for keeping the freezer cold, if something comes up and I need more power for something dramatic like helping out a buddies well pump or similar big-draw item…well, then the bigger one will save the day.

Gonna have to think about this one for a while.

Lighting minimalism

Originally published at Notes From The Bunker. You can comment here or there.

This post is mostly for my friends in NY who got stuck without any lighting other than their MagLites and a handful of batteries.While some light is better than no light, you can do a lot better, for little money, than brushing your teeth with one hand while holding your flashlight in the bathroom mirror with the other.

The simplest and, done properly, most rugged and safe system would be some LED lights that run off of a 12v battery. I actually have just such a set up in storage. It’s bare-bones simple but it beats the crap outta wearing a  headlamp to make a sandwich.

Here’s a simple rig that I keep around – it’s nothing more than a 12v marine battery (115 aH) and a couple of the Goal0 lights. A battery clip-to-cigarette adapter lets me run the light straight from the charged battery. The light is 3 watts at 12v, so that means it draws .25 amp/hour. Some math shows that 115 divided by .25 is 460….so, in theory, this fully charged battery would run this light for 460 hours. But…I’m a cautious guy…I don’t discharge batteries more than 50% so, really, its 230 hours…or almost ten solid days of light. (or almost a month of 8-hour usage.)

The Goal0 lights are better described in this post. Two very nice features, other than the low draw of power, is that they can be daisy-chained together. Each light has a socket on top that lets another let be plugged into it. Here’s two of them daisy-chained together and plugged in.

Each light has about nine feet of cord so you can stretch string of lights along the length of a house or whatever. Each light also has a hook to allow you to hang it from whatever nearby object is suitable.

The box in the background, by the way, is an old (pre-Y2K) ConSci PPP ‘battery in a box’ that I bought many years ago. It’s basically a couple 6v batteries and a charge controller mounted in a .50 ammo can. It gives me a small amount of electrical power in a waterproof container that can run lights, radios, etc. They apparently don’t make them anymore but you can easily engineer one on your own with a trip to Radio Shack and Home Depot.

Enough space for a small inverter, spare fuses and 12v accessories. But…you can build a better one.

If you’re an instant gratification guy like me, you can just buy one of those battery-jump-booster things you see at CostCo and Home Depot. Theyre pretty much the same thing but with more capacity. Keep it charged up and you’d have at least a couple days worth of lights. Buy a 12v-to-USB car charger and you could also charge your toys off of it.

Goal0, by the way, makes an all-in-one package for this sort of thing. It’s a battery, light, and panel to charge the battery.(Goal Zero Escape Combo Pack) Combo isn’t cheap, but if you have daylight to run the panel youre pretty much assured of no dark nights.

Realistically, though…you can do this on the cheap for emergency use. Get the battery clips, get the lights, and go scavenge some car batteries out of all those flooded cars out there. Or just spend the $50 and buy the marine battery/battery-booster and a charger.

Out the door you’d be looking at about $100 for the light and a battery that when charged would run that one light for, oh, about a month….which probably seems like a smoking bargain at the moment.


Goal0 lights

Originally published at Notes From The Bunker. You can comment here or there.

For my birthday, a lovely gal I know got me one of these (Goal Zero 24001 Light-A-Life LED Lamp) off my Amazon Wish List. I had been curious to try one of these out since it looked like it had a lot of the things I was looking for in emergency lighting – runs on 12 v., doesn’t use much electricity, uses long-life LEDs, and lent itself to be operated off several different forms of power supply. So, with one in hand, I started playing with it.

The light comes with a connector to plug it into the proprietary batteries the company sells. However, they also send along an adapter to allow you to run it from anything that has the usual ‘cigarette plug’-style outlet. I happened to have an old ConSci portable power pack laying around and hooked it up to that. (And, to go off on a tangent, that ConSci PPP is pre-Y2K and still seems to run just fine for a little battery-in-a-box portable power supply. Very rugged, very durable…so, of course, it appears to be no longer available. No big deal, easy enough to make your own similar device.) The light gives of the usual sterile cold white LED light but it gives enough to light up the bunker enough to get around. A nice touch is that each light has nine feet of cord and a socket to daisy chain more lights. Well, that certainly sounds interesting..let’s explore that.

Turns out that this week the local CostCo is having Goal0 as one of their visiting ‘roadshow’ products…you know, they clear off a section of floor, the sales rep sets up a little kiosk or something and starts shilling his product. So I went up to CostCo and price checked. On sale at CostCo for $26.99…that was about ten bucks off what Amazon had them at. Ok, I picked up three more and brought them home, giving me a total of four. I daisy-chained ‘em all together and strung them across the length of the house. Killed the lights, flipped a switch on the ConSci PPP and -behold- light. Not just light, mind you, but good light. See, you stand in a dark room and stick a flashlight or other small portable light int he corner and the room looks…stark…and downright brutal, like some sort of interrogation chamber. But, two, three or four lights spread around the room actually lights it up so it looks rather homey. I was quite pleased with how these lights worked. I need to get a few more and then need to start doing some battery math. Ideally I’d want a battery that could run five lights for eight hours a day, for several days, without needing to charge the battery. Hmm..actually, let’s see how this would go… each light is 3 watt at 12 v. so it’s .25 amp. Five lights = 5 x .25amp= 1.25 ah. Run those five lights for eight hours a day comes out to 10 ah/day (8 x 1.25). Run those lights for five days would be 50ah. If I didn’t want to discharge my battery below 50% I’d need a 100 amp battery. Or a 200 amp battery if I didn’t want to discharge below 75%. That sound right?

After playing with these lights for the last couple of days I gotta say I’m pretty pleased. The ability to daisy-chain them together is a huge, huge plus. For setting up a small, self-contained, ‘renewable’ emergency lighting system these things look like the way to go. I need to scale up the battery to some sort of low-maintenance, non-venting type, set it up somewhere out of the way, get a decent solar panel to keep it topped off, and I think that’ll do it. As I said, I just need to sit down and figure out a buncha battery math.

Charging the smartphone

Originally published at Notes From The Bunker. You can comment here or there.

I’ve become rather convinced that, for me anyway, the smartphone-type device has a definite bit of utility in preparedness. Currently, I have an iPhone. (I actually like the BlackBerry but given the enormous amount of support for the iPhone product it made more sense on a logistical basis than the BB.) I’m not going to really beat the topic of why I think it has utility, I’ve done that elsewhere, but I want to discuss one of the logical issues about these smartphones – how do you keep them charged when the power is off?

I received, as birthday gifts (thank you!), two different hand-crank chargers. Both use the same technology and have similar uses, although with slight differences. The first was the Freeplay FreeCharge and the other was a similar device marketed as Etón American Red Cross Clipray. Both are basically hand-crank generators with DC output at 12 v. The Eton has a USB port since it seems aimed specifically at USB-style devices, the FreePlay has a 12 v. ‘cigarette lighter’ plug. The Eton is less bulky and also supports a built-in rechargeable LED flashlight…a nice touch..along with a carabiner-style clip to affix the unit to a piece of gear.

Handcrank charger -> smartphone. Yeah, it might work but it’s not a really great Plan A. Beats being in the dark, though.

Here’s where the problems come in. There is no free lunch in power generation. Not only do you have to sit there and crank a lot to recharge a cell phone, but the amount of energy you produce fluctuates wildly unless you keep a steady pace that is rather difficult to maintain. In short, don’t think youre going to plug your phone into one of these, crank like a madman for five minutes, and get a charged cellphone. Nope. You’re going to appreciate how much physical effort is required to generate electricity and develop a new understanding of why hydroelectric turbines and other mechanical-energy-to-electrical-energy systems are so wonderful. Plus, since your electrical output is so wildly varied, your sensitive electrical device is going to freak out in a major way and start giving messages about ‘device not charging’ and that sort of thing.

Solutions? Matter of fact, yes. In the comments/reviews on Amazon a fella noted this problem and said what was needed was some sort of regulator between the charger and the device…a buffer to capture the erratic electrical output and hoard it until there was enough charge to be smoothly and uniformly discharged. A battery. Enter this device: Duracell Instant USB Charger with Lithium Ion Battery. Normally you plug this little rechargeable unit into a USB port, on your computer for example, and it charges the on-board battery for use later when you plug your phone into it. All well and good, but for our needs you plug the battery into your handcrank device and use that to charge the battery as you have your smartphone charge from the battery. The battery smooths out the uneven output from your cramp-inducing flurry of handcranking and your smartphone doesn’t freak out at the uneven voltage.

Handcrank -> rechargeable battery -> smartphone. Better, but there’s a lot of time involved with turning that crank. Battery evens out the uneven output from the handcrank.

Now, as I said, once you try recharging any device with one of these handcrank units you are going to really come to appreciate things like wind and hydro turbines and…small solar panels. Personally, when the apocalypse happens I’m not going to have the time to sit around endlessly cranking a little geegaw to charge a battery so I can use my smartphone to read TM’s, take photos for historical purposes, calculate food rations, track consumables, etc, etc…I’ll be too busy doing all the other things that need doing. So…would my Goal0 Nomad 7M Solar Panel suffice to charge the little Duracell battery USB charger? As it turns out, yes. So, rather than sit around cranking away for hours to get my smartphone charged up I just plug the Duracell USB battery into the panel, lay the panel out in the sun and let it do the charging for me. Tedious, repetitive, physical exertion vs. passive solar charging… contest. Let me just lay the panel in the sun and get back to hanging looters.

Panel -> battery -> smartphone. I like this setup. The battery charges as the phone charges, and if the weather is uncooperative I still have a charge in the battery to use to charge the ‘phone. Plus, I don’t have to sit there turning a crank.

Does this mean that there’s no point to the handcrank generators? Not at all. Sometimes there just isn’t any sun to be had. And, sometimes you don’t need to charge a just need to run a light for a few moments or something similar. Certainly it doesn’t hurt anything to have these options available. Day may come where you’re holed up in your basement for a week with nothing better to do than charge small batteries by hand as you wait for water levels or radiation levels to recede.

Of course, if you’ve got yourself a nice solar panel array already in place, or a happy little min-hydro in your yard, then you can pretty much skip most of this and just add a regulated USB port to your system.

One other thing that I haven’t had a chance to try, and wouldn’t mind some input on, is bicycle-mounted USB chargers. I’ve seen some commercial models that are similar to the old bottle-shaped dynamos that we used to use to run headlights when I as a kid. There aren’t as many out there as I would have thought, but there are a few and also a few DIY plans. I’d be  interested in hearing of anyone’s experiences with ‘em.

Windup roundup

Originally published at Notes From The Bunker. You can comment here or there.

I have some of the early generation BayGen flashlights in storage. I bought them back around…mmm..must have been around 2000 or 2001 when CostCo cleared ‘em out when the Y2k stampede was done. These are the ones made in South Africa and use incandescent bulbs. They’ve sat , patiently, awaiting the time they’d be needed. I think they were about $20 ea. when I got them. (I also have one of the older SW/AM/FM radios as well.) Of course, now it’s ten years later and everyone seems to be making a handcrank light or radio. As is usual in technology, the prices dropped and the technology improved. The incandescent bulbs are replaced with far superior LED bulbs, and the bulky mechanisms have been made smaller. More interestingly, the ‘clockwork’ technology has been used in other devices as well.

Two of the most interesting devices, which I have no experience with, by the way, are the Freeplay Weza generator and their 12v device charger. The Weza is basically, as I understand it, a cross between one of those 12v battery packs you buy for jumping vehicles and a Stairmaster. You step on the pedal to turn a flywheel generator that charges the internal battery. I’m guessing it’s gonna take alot of pseudo-stairstepping to charge a 12v battery but if you have nothing else to do and its the only thing standing between you and no lights/communications………….

As I’m discovering the increasing utility of devices like IPhones and iPads I am becoming convinced that even without phone service these devices have tremendous utility. Depending on what you stuff into them they do spreadsheets, note taking, photography, take and view video, provide translations, hold reference books, calculations (inc. ballistics), etc, etc, and they do it all in a package smaller than 20-round rifle mag. This handcrank device charger (Freeplay FreeCharge 12V Black- AK060) looks like just the ticket for keeping the iPhone or iPod charge…although the amount of cranking might be onerous…which is why I have one of these tucked away. (That little Goal0 panel really does work…you have to keep it in direct sun, but I’ve used it a bunch of times and it will indeed charge up an iPhone although some people report mixed results.) However, the ability to produce enough power to charge up a USB device when the sun isn’t cooperating is something that I can see being mighty handy.

For small AM/FM/weather radios, I wound up with one of these Etón radios and have been quite pleased with it. I keep it in my everyday bag so that if things get weird in a hurry I can at least glean some inforamation off of the AM/FM bands. The flashlight function is also quite good for indoor navigation.

Interestingly, someone brought this to my attention. It’s a windup headlamp. I had no idea such things existed. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised….I’m rather pleased this is a technology that has started to go mainstream after being almost exclusively limited to Third World relief products.

One of the common complaints about these things is that the handcrank invariably breaks. Well, that makes sense since it’s a fairly high-stress part. The trick is to wind the devices purposefully and carefully. If you just grab the crank and start rotating it as fast as you can like your landing a fish then when the spring hits the end of the spool youre either going to rip the handle off the thing or similarly damage it. Wind it in a manner so that if the handle comes to a sudden stop your grip either naturally slips or you have enough time to stop your movement. I’ve yet to break a windup device this way.

There are tons of cheapo windup lights and stuff out there. Even the cheap 3-in-a-package ones from CostCo do a decent job of throwing light around a darkened house. But, be smart….check the reviews and don’t be hesitant to spend a few more bucks. Ive a Freeplay 360 that I use in my kitchen when I’m cooking or cleaning and have never had a problem. On a sunny day, with the volume kept fairly reasonable, I can just sit it in the sun and not even have to crank the thing. I’ve got plenty of flashlights and a goodly amount of batteries to run them but these newer windup lights and radios really do provide a secondary level of redundancy that is very appealing. If you havent checked out getting such devices I think you may find them worth your time.