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An interesting take on offgridding at its most harsh and basic

For almost 40 years Ken Smith has shunned conventional life and lived without electricity or running water in a hand-made log cabin on the banks of a remote loch in the Scottish Highlands. 

“It’s a nice life,” says Ken. “Everybody wishes they could do it but nobody ever does.”

Not everyone would agree that Ken’s isolated, reclusive lifestyle of foraging and fishing as well as collecting firewood and washing his clothes in an old bath outdoors is the ideal. And even less so at the age of 74.

His log cabin is a two-hour walk from the nearest road on the edge of Rannoch Moor, by Loch Treig.

“It’s known as the lonely loch,” he says. “There’s no road here but they used to live here before they built the dam.”

Looking down on the loch from hillside, he says: “All their ruins are down there. The score now is one and that’s me.”

Filmmaker Lizzie McKenzie first made contact with Ken nine years ago and over the past two years she has filmed him for the BBC Scotland documentary The Hermit of Treig.

Ken, who is originally from Derbyshire, tells the programme how he began work at the age of 15, building fire stations.

But his life changed at the age of 26 when he was beaten up by a gang of thugs after a night out.

He suffered a brain haemorrhage and lost consciousness for 23 days. 

“They said I would never recover. They said I would never speak again,” he says.

“They said I would never walk again but I did.

“That’s when I decided I would never live on anyone’s terms but my own,” he says.

Ken began to travel and became interested in the idea of the wilderness.

In the Yukon, the Canadian territory that borders Alaska, he wondered what would happen if he just walked off the highway and “went into nowhere”.

So that’s what he did, saying he finally walked about 22,000 miles before returning home.

While he was away his parents died and he didn’t find out until he came home.

“It took a long while to hit me,” he says. “I felt nothing.” 

Ken walked the length of Britain and was at Rannoch in the Scottish Highlands when he suddenly thought of his parents and started to cry.

“I cried all the way while walking,” he says.

“I thought where is the most isolated place in Britain?” Ken tells the documentary.”I went around and followed every bay and every Ben where there wasn’t a house built.

“Hundreds and hundreds of miles of nothingness. I looked across the loch and saw this woodland.”

He knew he had found the place he wanted to stay.

Ken says that was the point when he stopped crying and ended his constant wandering.

He set about building a log cabin, having first experimented on the design by using small sticks.

Four decades on, the cabin has a roaring log fire but no electricity, gas or running water – and definitely no mobile phone signal.

The firewood has to be chopped in the forest and carried back to the remote shelter.

He grows vegetables and forages for berries but his main source of food comes from the loch.

“If you want to learn how to live an independent life what you have to do is learn how to fish,” he says.

Ten days after film director Lizzie left the cabin, in February 2019, the perils of Ken’s isolated existence were brought home when he suffered a stroke while outside in the snow.

He used a GPS personal locator beacon, which he had been given days before, to trigger an SOS, which was automatically sent to a response centre in Houston, Texas.

It notified the coastguard in the UK and Ken was airlifted to hospital in Fort William where he spent seven weeks recovering.

Staff did what they could to make sure he could return to living independently and doctors tried to get him to move back to civilisation where he would have a flat and carers. But Ken just wanted to get back to his cabin.

However, the “double vision” he suffered after his stroke and his memory loss mean Ken has had to accept more help than he’d had previously.

The head stalker of the estate, who looks after the forest where Ken lives, has been bringing him food every couple of weeks, which he pays for from his pension.

“People these days have been very good to me,” Ken says.

A year after his first rescue, Ken had to be airlifted again after he was injured when a log pile collapsed on him.

But he says he is not worried about his future.

“We weren’t put on earth forever,” Ken says.

“I’ll stop here until my final days come, definitely.”

“I have had lots of incidents but I seem to have survived them all.

“I am bound to go ill again sometime. Something will happen to me that will take me away one day as it does for everybody else.

“But I’m hoping I’ll get to 102.”

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Food Price Warning. UK

Shoppers have been warned by experts that the price of bread will continue to rise at UK major supermarkets including Tesco, Aldi and Sainsbury’s.

The price of essential foods could also increase after wheat prices reached a nine-year high.

The cost of fuel and gas have already risen and it is likely the price of other amenities will be affected.

Why is the cost of bread rising?There is a high global demand for the staple wheat grain which is causing the price of bread to surge.

Bread prices have increased 26.7% over the past year.

Allied Bakeries, which owns Kingsmill, said the industry was “exposed to inflationary pressure in relation to the cost of flour, as well as the gas we use in our ovens and fuel for our delivery fleet.”

These factors are causing the cost of bread to increase.

Will other foods increase in price?Pasta prices have risen in recent weeks as food prices are globally at a 10 year high.

Wheat used for animal feeds has also increased in price, though not by as much as it is currently running at around 16.2% more than a year ago, trade journal The Grocer reported.

The soaring price of foods is due to rising fuel costs, the lorry driver shortage and higher wages to battle the recruitment crisis.

What’s been said?Gordon Polson, CEO of Britain’s Federation of Bakers, told The Grocer: “Energy pricing is also on the rise, while HGV driver shortages and recruitment are resulting in increased wage rates” causing food prices to rise.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation reported a “recent surge in agricultural input prices” in a review of the global food market.

“Higher prices of these inputs will inevitably translate into higher production costs, and eventually into higher food prices,” The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said.

Alice Jones, analyst with agricultural body AHDB, said: “Global wheat prices keep climbing each week on the back of supply concerns, and UK prices are following global trends.

“As long as global prices keep rising there is scope for domestic prices to keep rising.”

A version of this article originally appeared on

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Learning to bake without an oven – some suggestions

One of the standard items in food storage is lots of flour or wheat for grinding.  I was thinking the other day, “Great, I have all this flour, the power goes out, I have no oven, it’s howling and sleeting outdoors.  What am I supposed to do with all this flour?”

So I’ve been keeping extremely amused, learning how to circumvent the need for an electric oven to bake – INSIDE – not outside where the usual utensils; Dutch oven, barbecue, grill, campfire, propane cooktop can pick up the slack in a power outage that occurs in fine weather.

So far, I have learned how to steam muffins, pressure cook yeast bread, fry corn pone and “bake” biscuits in the skillet. I suppose a pan of cornbread is next on the list. My chief taste tester says I must continue to hone my skills as he’s more than willing to keep his job!

It will be awhile before wood stove weather arrives and I can test my new skills on a less steady source of heat than my electric stove top.  However, I’m finding that I don’t need nearly as much heat to bake these goodies as I would have thought.  Top picture, pressure cooker yeast bread, bottom picture skillet biscuits.

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US / Canada logistics problems just got worse

On top of the queues of ships lining many US and Canadian ports the floods along the US / Canadian border (around the SUMAS BC area). We now have massive disruption to the rail freight system.

Flooding has caused enough damage in the form of washed away tracks, overturned trains etc that this major line is going to be closed for weeks, thus compounding the already crippled supply chain.

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Vehicle choice for a winter trip

I thought this might be a fun argument… not really “greatest bug out vehicle” more like “Which to Grab.” But it could be extrapolated to a  emergency bug out.

We’re traveling round trip from the Ozarks to the Dakotas next week (mid-America to Northern plains), about 12 hrs each way. We usually just rent something like a 4Runner or Cherokee but that’s out of the question nowadays, over $1k for 4 days.

Weather is potentially light to medium snow, blizzard unlikely but cool, low teens to single digits. Just a couple of suitcases and the dog and normal winter stuff, shovel, tow chains, etc. We’re fairly hardy mid-60s.

Question is, which vehicle?

1999 HD diesel pickup, 4×4, pretty good mud/snow tires + chains, very heavy; 7k dry, fair mileage, big fuel tank, rides like a truck. Manual everything makes it fairly rugged and it’s been reliable to now. Though it has been maintained OK, it is somewhat long in the tooth at  20+ years and 175k miles

Or a 2018 sedan, low miles, electronic traction etc, good mileage. Only 3-4″ ground clearance but new all weather tires and one set cable chains. Not high line but more comfortable and likely more reliable, if more fragile.

Which do you take?

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Scenario – Stranded, how do you use your vehicle to survive?

Here’s a hypothetical disaster scenario that we can think about and bounce ideas off of each other on what to do and not to do.

While driving on a road trip with your spouse and dog, your car gets stranded. Lets say you wreck and damage the car badly that it no longer runs. Battery is still charged and the electrical system of your car still works but the engine just won’t start from too much damage.

You have no cell service, are on a back road, and are not expecting anyone to drive by for the next few days. You are at least 30 miles away from where you can reliably find another driver.

Luckily you told your family at home your route and estimated time of arrival so they will be sending out a search party to find you soon, but who knows how long that can take?

You have two granola bars and a small Dasani bottle of water. You smack yourself on the head for not being better prepared, but too late now. 

What do you do to maximize the amount of time you can survive? How do you use the various components of your vehicle to aid in your survival, and rescue? Do you eat the dog? (just kidding, that’s not allowed)

Best of luck! I hope you survive this situation and are rescued. 

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Video, communities can go 100% off grid even in the far north.

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Jericho TV series 1 is on Prime

Not Netflix, its on PRIME, my bad.

One of the best PA dramas ever, JERICHO set in KS after a nuclear attack is streaming on Prime, I never ever understood the American habit of scrapping a TV series before the story is completed. Jericho is a modern masterpiece.

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Cooking Thanksgiving dinner over a fire

Sounds goofy, but talks about cooking with a fire.  Some good tips:

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Going Off-Road, money does not equate to common sense

A good example of ” All The Gear, But No Idea”   Big expensive truck based overland 4×4 expedition vehicle, and they chose to go cross country in the rainy season.

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Book Review: “The Black Swan”, by Nassim Taleb

(image credit: “Black swan”  by Emiliana Borruto is licensed under Creative Commons – CC BY 2.0 )

In “The Black Swan”, Nassim Taleb discusses probability and the impact of unlikely but extreme events. He argues that we have a hard time understanding impacts and probabilities that are very large or very small. That what we do not know can be much more meaningful than anything we do know. Taleb argues that most of the course of human history has been dominated by extreme, unexpected, improbable events. And that human society will become more so in the future.

Taleb argues that we would benefit from improving how we think about unlikely, impactful events, and offers several tips for doing this. In this review I will outline the book itself, and then collect and present a summary of tips.

### What is a Black Swan?

A Black Swan event has three properties:

Unexpected. Nobody saw it coming. Impactful. Causes a big change. Explained after the fact. We look back and invent an explanation for it, even though we didn’t know it would happen.

Taleb lists the Internet, the laser, and the start of World War One as examples of Black Swan events. Black Swans can be either negative (like a sudden war) or positive (like discovering a new drug or invention – like penicillin).

Throughout his book, Taleb argues that history moves in large leaps and bounds, not small steps. Most of the big changes in human history come from Black Swans.

Taleb believes we should work to make our lives and society more robust to Black Swans. Understand them better. Become less surprised by them. And be more ready, so we aren’t as impacted. “The surprising part is not our bad errors, or even how bad they are, but that we are not aware of them”.

### Mediocristan and Extremistan

Taleb distinguishes between two types of random probability and events – “mild” randomness with slight variations vs “wild” randomness with extremely impactful events. He calls these “Mediocristan” and “Extremistan”.

In Mediocristan – all of the events and data are about average. No single event or person greatly changes the total.

Imagine gathering 1,000 people into a stadium, and comparing their weight. Even if you have one person with a very small weight (perhaps a baby) or a very large weight (the heaviest possible human) – they will not make up much of the total weight in the entire stadium. Examples of data or events in Mediocristan: height, weight, calorie consumption, income for a baker; gambling profits in a casino; car accidents, mortality rates.

In Extremistan you have a collection of “dwarfs” and “giants”. Some data points or events can be very small, and others hugely, massively out of scale, taking up most of the data.

Imagine gathering 1,000 people into a stadium, and comparing their net worth. The numbers could vary much more than weight. If you happen to get Bill Gates in the stadium, he becomes worth 99.99% of the total data. None of the rest really matters. You would never see a human who weighed several thousand tons. Examples of data or events in Extremistan: wealth; income; book sales per author; name recognition as a “celebrity”; number of hits in Google; populations of cities; numbers of speakers per language; damage caused by earthquakes; deaths in a war; sizes of planets; sizes of companies; stock ownership; commodity prices; inflation rates; economic data.

One of Taleb’s central points is: mathematical models based on the Bell Curve can help a lot when explaining events or data in Mediocristan. But they do not work at all when dealing with complicated events or data in Extremistan.

Mediocristan usually involves ‘biological’ data – physical measurements, or things present in the real world, where physical limits prevent them from getting out of hand. In Extremistan, we can never be sure of the data. Because one single person, point, or observation could suddenly dwarf the rest (imagine: measuring the net worth of everyone else, and then suddenly discovering Bill Gates). One measurement could suddenly invalidate all of our previous conclusions. So we need to proceed much more cautiously.

When measuring events or taking action in Extremistan, it is often the cumulative impact that is important. It doesn’t only matter if you were right or wrong; it matters *how* correct or incorrect you are. Being “right” about a danger causing one death, vs being “wrong” about a danger that causes 10 million deaths are quite different. We tend to “focus on the grass and miss the trees”.

The goal is to “be less surprised”, or “avoid being a sucker” about crazy, wild events that impact us.

### Part 1: Where and Why Brains Fail

Human brains are just not great at understanding some parts of the world. Especially risk and probability with very large or very small numbers.

Internal brain problems:

1) Narrative bias: Human brains love to invent and create stories, even and especially when no story or pattern exists. We do this unconsciously all of the time It takes mental effort to *not* create a story, or to *not* form an opinion Thus, humans can look at any set of totally unrelated data and *invent* a story about them. We think this helps us to understand the world better, but we are often wrong.

See “Thinking Fast and Slow”, by Daniel Kahneman.We have a “System 1” part of our brain – fast, intuitive, emotional, “gut feeling”.We have a “System 2” part of our brain – slower, more logical, critical thinking.It takes active effort and energy to do System 2 thinking. So it is harder.

2) Confirmation bias: We cherry-pick examples and data that support our story, and ignore evidence that goes against it. We also do this when predicting the future – we ignore times when we were wrong and only count the times we were right. It may only take one counter-example to prove an assumption is incorrect, so it may be faster and easier to disprove an idea.

Other thinking problems:

3) Silent evidence, a.k.a. Survivorship bias. It’s hard to keep in mind all of the data that we *don’t* see. For any problem or group of people, there may be a much larger group that we don’t know about, and don’t have evidence for. For example: There was an ancient civilization called the Phoenecians. They wrote on papyrus, which does not last long. Their papyrus writings rotted and decayed. So we didn’t have a record of much of their writing. It was easy to assume they did not write at all. Until we discovered their writing on other materials. For every person that “prayed to be saved” and survived, there are many that prayed but died. Only the people who made it are able to tell their stories. In World War II, the US military was trying to figure out how to protect more planes from getting shot down. They initially wanted to add armor to the locations with the most bullet holes. But Abraham Wald figured out: every place with a bullet hole was a location where the plane could sustain a hit, *and still survive*. He advocated the opposite – adding armor to the locations with *no* bullet holes. Because no planes that were shot in those locations made it back.

[ Image: Bullet hole damage in WWII airplanes. Add armor to where there are *no* bullet holes, to increase survivability. Image By Martin Grandjean (vector), McGeddon (picture), Cameron Moll (concept) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 ]

Ignoring “silent evidence” causes us to massively underestimate or mis-understand the real situation and real risk or probability, because we don’t know the whole story.We have to continually be careful to not assume we really understand how the world works, and make dangerous assumptions.

4) The Ludic Fallacy: We may think we understand the world, but often we don’t. Real life is messier, stranger, and more complicated than we learn in the classroom or in constrained environments. You have to be open to crazy wild events that are “against the rules”. e.g. someone pulling a gun in a martial arts tournament. This is high-level “thinking outside the box” Taleb calls it “a-Platonic” thinking – not trying to stuff reality into tidy-but-incorrect categories Thinking we understand reality when we do not is what causes many Black Swan events, and is dangerous.

An example of the world being more complex than we think: A casino has a reputation for being a place of gambling and chance. But casinos actually have very strict controls on the size of bets you can place, the possible payouts, watching for people cheating, etc. It is a controlled environment. The casino will never pay out 100 billion times your bet, or change the rules of the game mid-game. But real life might do something similar.

By contrast – One casino’s biggest risks and losses came from sources entirely outside of the expected:

A tiger attacked their star performer (Roy Horn of Seigfried & Roy). They were not insured for such an event, as they did not consider it a possibility. This ended their profitable best act. A disgruntled worker tried to dynamite the building. An employee had not been submitting the correct IRS tax forms, for multiple years. They simply put them into a drawer under their desk. The casino had to pay large amounts of penalties and back fees for not filing its taxes. It risked losing its license entirely and going out of business. A kidnapping attempt against the business owner’s daughter.

None of these risks or events were inside the casino’s business model or model of risk. They were entirely “outside the box”, and unexpected. Their cost was far greater than any on-model or expected risks or costs.

### Part 2: We Can’t Predict

Taleb spends several chapters showing how humans are bad at predicting. We can’t know the future and everybody gets it wrong.

We fall victim to tunnel vision – ignoring possibilities outside of what we think will happen. We overestimate what we know, and underestimate uncertainty. The more information you give someone, the more they try to interpret, and the more hypotheses they will form along the way. We see random noise and mistake it for information. Our ideas are “sticky” – once we form a theory, we are not likely to change our minds. So delaying developing your theories makes you better off Developing an opinion based on weak evidence makes it more difficult to change “Reading a summary magazine once a week is better for you than listening to the news every hour”. The longer interval lets you filter the info a bit. Small errors in measurement or a model can lead to drastically different outcomes It doesn’t matter how often you are right; what’s important is your cumulative error number E.g. one big event can throw you way off Or missing one prediction

[ Image: Stock Market total returns over 50 years. Including and excluding the Best 10 days. Note that excluding these 10 days (the lower, darker line) cuts the total value of the stock market as a whole in half. Traditional economic models treat these types of jumps as too extreme to ever happen. Yet here they have obviously happened several times. Image copyright Taleb; used only for review purposes. ]

One example – for the entire stock market, over a period of 50 years – fully half of the total value of all stocks was created during only ten days. Out of a period of 50 years. Using current economics models and claims, these types of events should be nearly impossible. Yet here they are. Taleb uses this as an example disproving the claim of Bell Curve economic models and disproving economists’ ability to predict.

Taleb discusses “Retrospective Distortion”: History seems more clear and organized when we look back than it actually was for people going through it at the time.

### Part 3 and 4 – Technical Details

Parts 3 and 4 delve into technical details on how exactly many so-called “experts” are wrong, and advice on how to minimize damage from Black Swans.

Taleb argues that the world is moving more into Extremistan over time. As technology and society become more complex, it is even more difficult to predict. The world is more complicated than many so-called “experts” and economists believe or tell you. The Bell Curve doesn’t actually work for most models; it can only be used to predict normal, boring events and data in Mediocristan. For any events in Extremistan – that includes most societal, cultural, and world events or data – the Bell Curve is a lie and *does not work at all*. This is a central point that Taleb emphasizes repeatedly.

By assuming the world is more complex than we realize by default, we can improve some events – “Turn Black Swans into Grey”. We are less surprised if we remain open to wild, impactful, unexpected events.

### What To Do About It

There are many interesting perspectives and advice that can be taken from the book. The most relevant areas are Chapter 13, “What to do if you cannot predict”; and Appendix 6 and 7 on The Fourth Quadrant – how to think about different types of risk, and mitigate them.

1. Look for counter-examples to check if you’re wrong

Because of confirmation bias, and because events in Extremistan can appear to be stable and normal for long periods, it is easy to find examples that reinforce any claim. That doesn’t mean we are right. If you have lunch with someone for an hour, and they don’t murder anyone for the entire hour, that doesn’t guarantee they are not a murderer.

It is faster and more effective to look for counter-examples that prove we are *wrong*. Ask “if this were not true, what would that look like?”.

2. Ask “Where did I get lucky?”

Examine past events. When you prepare a retrospective or After Action Report, ask “where did I get lucky?”. What events just happened to go well? From that list, what could you improve for next time, to improve your odds?

You see this in post mortems from organizations like the Google Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) team. They ask: “What went well? What needs to be improved? And where did we get lucky?”.

By considering events where we got lucky but it could have been worse, we can improve our robustness and preparations for next time.

3. Consider the consequences, or outcomes, and prepare for those

> “I don’t know the odds of an earthquake, but I can imagine how San Francisco (or any other place) might be affected by one”

The odds of some event may be unknowable, and no amount of modeling could figure it out. But I can guess pretty well how an earthquake or other event might *affect* me and my surroundings. And I can take steps to prepare for *that*.

If you lose power or water to your home, you don’t care as much about what caused it. You care more about how you can deal with it, and prevent it or make it easier.

Taleb’s advice is to focus on the *consequences* of some outcomes, and take steps to be ready for them. If we prepare for e.g. an earthquake, epidemic, financial crash, or other event, then it doesn’t matter so much about the odds of it happening; we can be ready regardless. “Rank beliefs by the harm they might cause”. “Invest in preparedness, not prediction”.

This matches advice from security expert Bruce Schneier, who advocates investing in intelligence gathering and emergency response:

> “Large-scale terrorist attacks and natural disasters differ in cause, but they’re very similar in aftermath.”

> The problem is that we can’t guess correctly. “Fund security that doesn’t rely on guessing”.

This leads to advice like:

Keep an emergency fund, to help you deal with outcomes, whatever they are. Buy insurance to cover and mitigate your losses for bad outcomes.

4. Cover your basics; keep an open mind

We can’t know what the future holds. But if you allow for the possibility of unexpected, impactful events, you won’t be as surprised if or when they happen. By keeping an open mind about the possibility, you’re already better prepared. By covering our basics; accepting that we might be wrong; and having flexible preparations; we can adapt to events as needed.

5. Beware people selling you a solution

>“Avoid taking advice from someone unless they have a penalty for bad advice”.

Human brains have a harder time with ‘negative’ advice about what *not* to do. It is easier for us to look for or invent a solution. This is exploited by many frauds and scams – trying to sell you a solution that won’t actually work. Choosing to do nothing is itself a valid action and choice. “Don’t just do something – sit there!”.

Other Tips

Consume less media and news. Lowers anxiety Avoids anchoring our thoughts to random data, which may cause worse decisions Do not listen to economic forecasters or predictors in social science. Don’t go deeply into debt. Don’t overspecialize. Learn some skills and/or have a job that can be transferrable or used for more than one type of work. Avoid optimization. Learn to love redundancy. The knowledge we get from tinkering and experimenting is better than just thinking and reasoning.

The Barbell Strategy: Be both hyper-conservative and hyper-aggressive, with different things, at the same time.

Taleb discusses his days as a financial stock trader. Since we can’t know whether anything is “risky” or not, it is impossible to build a portfolio that is “medium risk”. He suggests: Put 80-90% of your investments into ‘likely safe’ vehicles, such as bonds or Treasury Bills; put the rest into extremely speculative bets – such as Venture Capital investments in research & development, or startups. This limits your maximum losses while gaining you exposure to potentially lucky, positive outcomes.

Note: This is *not* financial advice. Please don’t make large adjustments to your personal finances based on a book summary you read on the internet.

### Positive Black Swans

Black Swan events are unexpected, and impactful. But they can be both positive and negative. Positive Black Swan events include discovering a new, beneficial medicine, or inventions such as the laser and the Internet.

Taleb’s Tips For Finding + Benefiting From Positive Black Swans

Live in a city or hub of activity with an intermingling of people and ideas Go to parties Strike up random conversations with people at parties Invest in as many things as you can Keep an open mind. Good fortune could come from anywhere. Seize any opportunity, or anything that looks like an opportunity. Maximize your exposure to as many potential opportunities as you can. Put yourself into situations where favourable consequences are much larger than unfavourable ones.

You can decide how many of those you want to apply in your own life.

### Tips for a More Black Swan-Robust Community

Avoid externalities. People who make decisions should have some stake in the outcome, or some consequences from the results of those decisions. No gambling with other people’s money. Build in some slack and redundancy. This is how complex systems survive. Start with small experiments. Test out small ideas first to see if they work or fail. Build and improve on the ones that work. If something will fail, finding out sooner is better than finding out later. Don’t take on large amounts of debt.

I have heavily adapted and synthesized this list from Taleb’s essay Ten Principles for a Black Swan-Robust Society. This essay is included at the end of the book.

In his essay, Taleb uses the term “society”. I am reframing a few of his ideas as: how could they apply to your local group or community?

Not many of us are world leaders. But some of us may have positions of leadership in our own community, or could step up to lead.

I believe the world is better if everyone is more prepared. If people all over the planet take one step or keep this in mind to work toward a more resilient planet, we all benefit.

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Navigating and estimating time using the sun

Two little tricks I learned in Boy Scouts have stuck with me and I use quite often to help me gain my bearings and know how much sunlight is left in the day.

For navigation, if you live in the northern hemisphere, point the hour hand of your watch at the sun. Then figure out the halfway point between the hour hand and 12:00, that is South. The opposite then is North.

If you are in the southern hemisphere, you point the 12:00 at the sun and half way between that and the hour hand is North.

If you have  digital watch or just your cell phone with the time, note what time it is and imagine you are wearing an analog watch and then do the above calculations. 

This won’t be very accurate for orienteering, but it can help you at least know which direction you need to go in. For example if your friend says to meet them on the west side of the building and you don’t know where west is, this will help you.

Picture taken from this website.

The next little trick is how to tell how much sunlight is left in the day. This will help if you are needing to know how much time you have left to build a shelter, find food, or gather firewood by before it gets dark. Or even in our every day lives of when it will get dark and you should start heading home.

You stretch your hand out in front of you and place the sun at the top of your index finger. Every width of finger is going to be 15 minutes of sunlight. So if the sun is only two fingers away from the horizon, you have 30 minutes before it goes below that. Chubby or skinny fingers may add or minus a few minutes 😉

Picture taken from this site.

I hope these two little tricks will help you in your everyday life and also as you are camping, bugging out, or surviving. 

What other sun tricks do you know about?

Did you know about either of these?

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Navigate using the sun and a watch

Site Censoring

Either this is a free & open site to post opinions or it’s not – the Americans here value their 1st Amendment Right – the rest take your lumps without the protection …

Refuse the posting – delete it ENTIRELY – but I for one don’t allow someone to self editorialize THEIR opinion using my name ….

Bill Mason posts elsewhere on other prepper forums – doesn’t expect to be censored – don’t appreciate that double-standard ….

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These pants aren’t chainsaw proof but pretty close

Found this video of Husqvarna’s chainsaw pants and thought it was pretty impressive.

I went to the website and there are two kinds, Technical or Classic. They both have the same rating (ASTM F1897) but a pretty big price difference.

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Changing how and what vegetables I’m growing next year

My allotment was vandalised a couple of weeks ago. They smashed my winter squash and the shelling beans were strewn hither and yon, winter greens were pulled up and the little store box was set alight. I’m done with it. Add to that a Rabbit infestation that the council are not keen to deal with, I have decided to give up the allotment and make more of the space I have at home. Our yard is small, barely 30′ x 18′. Half of the yard is spoken for, so that leave me a space 8′ x 20′. I have worked out that will give me 4 4’x8′ raised beds. I was surprised how much space there actually was. I have used the raised bed method before, with great success so with careful choice of vegetable types and varieties, I am looking forward to growing a substantial amount of our vegetables (we are a family of 2).

I’m going to incorporate the square foot growing method as well as catch cropping and anything else I can think of. 

This garden probably won’t provide sufficient produce for preserving for the winter, but I hope with judicious planting to have enough space to keep a winter garden as well as the flourishing summer garden. 

I hope to keep you appraised so that those who have little space and experience can hopefully learn something from my experiences.

So watch this space!

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US inflation at 31 year high

U.S. inflation up 6.2% in October versus a year ago – the highest inflation since 1990. Inflation was up 0.9% in Oct. alone, a much higher increase than 0.4% in Sept. and 0.3% in August

These sort of figures cause preppers to look much closer at their supply and equipment levels, as well as their savings and investments.

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Screenshot 2021-11-10 at 15-06-27 US October Inflation Hits Highest Rate in 31 Years

What should I add to my altoids EDC tin?

I’ll have to make an altoids survival tin sometime that could help me survive a night in the woods with just what is in the tin, but I do have an altoids EDC tin that I use almost everyday. Take a look at it and let me know if there is something I should add.

What would your altoids EDC tin look like? Try making one and share it on here using the kit builder!


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Has anyone else heard of wool knops?

During our most recent lockdown I discovered a product called wool knops. They are springy, can be compressed and bounce back, stick to each other.

I am planning on using them to fill my sleeping bag, as well as a puffer jacket. Their texture and form means they hold a good deal of air so to me they could be a better alternative to both polyester and down – warmth, water resistant as well as fire resistant.  Is anyone else familiar with these?

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Fine line between prepping and hoarding, regarding household capacity

Let me start by stating I don’t mean panic buying etc. I’m a longtime Realtor, and have worked with a number of hoarder clients, prepper clients and a family member’s epic sized hoard. It’s a sad fact that many members of the Greatest Generation who lived through World Wars and the Great Depression are inundated with stuff & unable to let go, largely due to their past experiences of scarcity. A recent elderly client clung to his hoard so fiercely that he had a screaming match in my office with his daughter who had come from out of state to move him near her. She went home without him, declaring she was done. Sad and avoidable, a priceless relationship in tatters over stuff.  

My topic aims to open a dialogue on how we all can deal healthily with hanging onto and adding to stuff in relation to its actual value in a potentially worsening scenario. We likely all have a ton of preps that we have collected and are certain will save the day when needed. Me too, I’ll state right now. However, often we hang onto other crap that has no realistic future use, and just clutters up our living and storage spaces. 

I’ve had to deal with some bizarre stuff in my job, plus clearing relative’s homes. One prepper I worked with had buried 150 pounds of silver in his shop, after his son told him he shouldn’t leave it in the attic! One property I sold had 5 acres full of rusted junk, including 2 chicken barns a tornado had totaled. I had to argue with the buyer to retrieve my sign that he had already gleefully added to his newly purchased hoard and hidden in a shed.

I am really trying to downsize my own (and hubby’s!) useless junk so we have reasonable room for and can organize what will actually be useful if things go badly. My current strategy to help let things go, and what I advise clients is to ask yourself if you would buy that item again. In the case of sentimental things (tougher, certainly) it can often work to take some good pics to remember it, and pass the item along to someone who can make good use of it, or toss out as appropriate. 

I’ve had so many clients that like their own homes much better after clearing & decluttering them to get ready to sell. Let’s try to do that ongoing, so we can enjoy and use our spaces efficiently now, instead of allowing stuff to crowd us out of our own homes, or trap us in them as I’ve also seen. Our kids will thank us someday too, instead of screaming in frustration like my recent client’s daughter. 

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New and looking for constructive criticism on my bug out plan

Hey, some recent life situations have made me have to rethink my entire bug out plan and I just want you guys to poke as many holes in my plan as you can so I can make it as airtight as possible. Any help is incredibly appreciated.

Some background: We recently moved my husband’s ailing parents in with us and then I was diagnosed with stage 3 lymphoma. My family now consists of me, my husband, my toddler, and my in-laws. I am currently undergoing chemo; my father in law has dementia, mobility issues and parkinsons; my mother in law also has mobility issues and must be attached to an oxygen tank all day. Neither of them can get very far without a walker or motorized scooter. We are not going to be hiking miles to a destination and will most likely be sheltering at home. My home is ready for this and it is not what I’m worried about.

What I need help with: I like the tiered system that was discussed and have tweaked it to what I think may fit my needs. Level 1 bags will be what I need to get to a friend or relatives house. Each person’s bag will have a boo boo kit instead of a full FAK, a couple basic snacks, water, toothbrush, important documents, clothes, cash, charging cords and plugs, a multi tool, paracord, maps, personal medications/oxygen/dentures/diapers (for the toddler and in-laws), and will look more like a heavy EDC rather than a proper BOB. Level 2 will be for hotels and will include all level 1 plus a flat of water, security/defense items, some food, a real FAK, radio, can opener, eating utensils, paper plates and cups, and kid friendly distractions. Level 3 would be for shelters if we couldn’t get anywhere else and would be level 2 plus personal care and hygiene items, sleeping bags, power banks, ear plugs, eye masks, garbage bags and locks to keep our crap safe. These are not the full lists, as adding every tiny item would be really long, but it’s a decent representation.

I am aware that all of this requires a car to get to these destinations and that a car may experience situations that would make us have to abandon it. My car is ready with more food, water, ways to procure more water, ways to make that water potable, ways to make fire, ways to make shelter, ways to signal for help, ways to defend, kid distractions, and additional first aid supplies. The plan is that either my husband or I would use the car’s GHB to find help while the other sets up a camp and tends to the rest of the family. It’s not ideal, and would really suck, but we wouldn’t die. As I stated earlier, sheltering in place looks like my family’s best option and will most likely be what we do for as long as we safely can.

Please let me know what you think and if there is anything I should consider adding, removing, or if there is anything I hadn’t even thought of. If anyone has experience in bugging out with the elderly and disabled, I would appreciate any feedback or ideas you might have. I’m really not sure what to do to keep them safe if we were to have to go anywhere on foot. Should I keep a type of generator in my car so that we can power the portable oxygen tank? Should I bring their walkers or just craft a badass walking stick from zombie skulls and tears of the unicorns? I truly have no clue how to do this with them.

Thank you in advance for all your help!

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Alaska facing record 12 feet of snow in 48 hours

For those of us who experience true bad winters at times, this freak of nature could be worth watching and learning from as one POSSIBLE consequence of climate change

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How do you stack your firewood? Bark up, or bark down?

The people of Norway are serious about their firewood. So much so that Solid Wood by Lars Mytting (title changed for English release) spent more than a year on the nonfiction best-seller list in Norway. The book even sparked a 12 hour long television program about wood in which 20% of the population tuned in. During this 12 hour show, people started texting in complaining about how the wood was stacked in the program.

What they found was that about 50 percent of people preferred to have the wood stacked with the bark facing up to protect the wood from rain and snow,

and the other 50 percent preferred the wood stacked with the bark facing down to protect the wood from moisture on the ground.

(best picture I could find of this)

This even turned into a joke on the Disney movie Frozen where two citizens argue about which way the wood should be facing, which is where I learned about all this while watching with my daughter.

Some people even turn wood stacking into an art form.

Think this is all absurd? Read this New York Times article about it

So what is the proper way to store firewood? Well, in my opinion, I think bark side up is correct. If stored outside it will act like shingles and keep the wood dry from rain, also if you had the bark facing down, the U shape of the bark would trap moisture and encourage decaying.

Having proper airflow and spaces in between your wood is the most important factor however to allow drying.

How do you store your firewood? Bark up, or bark down? Exposed to the sky and ground or lifted up off the ground and covered? Indoors or outdoors? Stored in a circle or tower? Facing north, east, south, or west? Does any of this even matter? 

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up wood

Austin,Texas DHS plan worth studying

Good morning, 

Austin, Texas developed a plan that addresses the deep freeze and lose of much infrastructure.

Austin’s DHS and a consultant (Why the need for a consulting firm ?!) made some recommendations well worth studying.

Note “no crew members … knew how to operate a gear switch”. Before a prepper buys anything, do think of the required support system: basic field expedient repairs (even if used at home and not in field), spare parts (consider the spares as “merely” a cost of the main gadget, eg generator, being purchased) and tools/lubercants/related.

Under section titled “Shelters”, note “staffing shortfalls and availability of volunteers”. I’m posting this link not to single out and focus on Austin, Texas … it’s about the same here for private citizens …

Note recommendation: “identity a list of medical shelters and general shelters with durable infrastructure”. 

All wheel drive emergency vehicles are far from being economical for year-round use. This specific subject is really a “it takes a village”.

Where do the Austin, Texas taxes go to ? Please be reminded by me this this link if from “” !

Does not * Hagerty Consulting* firm serve as a huge flare indicating the problem ?!


Would never have guessed roads could become useless without support.

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A British prepper supply store

Good morning,

Above article is about a prepper store.

Article has link to this store named “Prepper Shop UK”, owned and managed by Lincoln Miles.

At the store link’s section titled “Urban Essentials”, I have a copy of the Field Manual “First Aid For Soldiers”. This FM is somewhat outdated.  The best book IMO featured is prepper medical care is Dr William Forgery, M.D.’s “The Prepper Medical Handbook”. Might still have a copy here. Of course, regardless of my opinion, Dr Forgery’s book is also somewhat outdated when focused to the current US medical scene.

I take due note that the Brit’s 50 cal ammo cans feature the newer HAZMAT label with number. This replaces the older “class C” label for small arms ammo (In US the 50 cal is still “small arms”).

I do recommend Lincoln Miles get some fire extinguishers for his inventories.

The prices appear to be real good.  

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