Category Archives: Emergency Preparedness

Calibrating Your Watch With The Stars

1947OctPSSeventy years ago, the October 1947 issue of Popular Science showed this method of making sure your watch was accurate.

While this method would not, by itself, give you the exact time, it would very precisely tell you the elapsed time.

The method was very simple. You simply installed a piece of tin with 1/16 inch hole on some fixed location, such as the side of the building. You used it to sight a vertical fixed object, such as a lightning rod or distant skyscraper. Then, you observed the exact time that any star was occluded by the object. Since the star is essentially a point of light, it would disappear suddenly. You noted the time.

Then, the next evening, you would observe the same star. It would be occluded exactly 23 hours, 56 minutes, 4.09 seconds later–one sidereal day. In other words, the time on your watch should read exactly 3 minutes 55.91 seconds before the previous night’s figure.  (For all practical purposes, a sidereal day is 364/365 of a solar day.  This makes sense, since the Earth itself has moved 1/365 of its way around the sun in 24 hours.)

Depending on whether your watch was fast or slow, you could thus adjust the spring.

If you knew the exact time the first night, then you could also create a table showing the exact time of occlusion subsequent nights. As long as you didn’t move the piece of tin, you would always know what time it is.

This method has two applications.  After the zombie apocalypse, presumably WWV will be off the air.  The stars give you a method to keep your clock calibrated very accurately.  It could also be the basis for a very interesting science fair project.



Solar Showers for Hurricanes or Emergencies

Whenever hurricanes approach the United States, my emergency water storage page always receives a lot of traffic as people get ready for the possibility that water will be cut off by the storm.  I’ve noticed that there’s also a lot of interest in solar showers.  If you’re without running water for a few days, especially if you’re working in hot humid conditions, the ability to take a shower is a great luxury.  And fortunately, you can prepare at an extremely low cost.

All of the showers shown on this page are extremely simple.  They’re nothing more than a large plastic bag, typically about five gallons, with a shower attachment.  You fill it with water, and then place it in the sun.  Or, if you have a method of heating water, you can heat it over the stove and then place it in the bag.  But the sun will make the water reasonably warm in just a few hours.  So all you need to do is fill the bag in the morning, place it in a sunny spot, either outside or next to a window, and you’ll have a warm shower available.  These portable showers are surprisingly inexpensive.  Here are some of the possibilities available at Amazon:

To use the shower, you simply hoist it to a location above your head.  For outdoor use, you can use a piece of rope tied over a tree branch.  You can also use it inside in your normal shower.  However, you do need to give some thought to where you can mount it.  Completely full, the bag of water will weigh about 40 pounds, which is probably too heavy to tie to a shower curtain or the normal shower head.  But with a little ingenuity, you should be able to figure out a way to get it up above your head in a secure spot.  If nothing else is available, you can bring a small table into the bathroom, put a chair on top of the table, and set the shower on the chair.  (If you need to tie it to something, don’t forget to buy some rope to use for that purpose.)

If you’re concerned about being able to hoist the bag above your head, then you might prefer the following model, which has an electric pump to pump the water from any container:

If you decide to use one of these, you will need a source of 12 volt power. You could plug the shower into your car, but a more convenient method would be to use a 12 volt “jump start” battery such as this one. You can charge it before the storm, or keep it charged up by plugging it into your car:

If the storm is drawing near and there’s no time to order online, you can get these solar showers at most stores where camping supplies are sold.  Here are links to inexpensive solar showers at Walmart.  One convenient option is to order online and then pick a store where you can pick up the purchase the same day.  Especially if there are long lines at the checkout counter, this option can save a great deal of your time.

If you do decide to order from Amazon, here are some suggestions of other products that you might need to prepare. Most of these items include free shipping for Prime members or if you meet the minimum order for free shipping:



For more information on emergency preparedness, please visit some of the following pages on my website:


Click Here For Today’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Cartoon

Post-Eclipse Report

Minutes after totality.

Minutes after totality.

The total solar eclipse was awesome, and well worth the trip to Hastings, Nebraska!

Travel Report

We left Minnesota on Saturday and drove to Fremont, Nebraska.  The traffic was noticeably heavy on both Interstate 35 and Interstate 80.  Many of the vehicles we saw were obviously eclipse chasers, with cars packed full of camping gear.  The heavy traffic was very apparent when we turned off onto I-680 to get to our hotel room in Fremont.  That highway was deserted, which appeared all the more eerie after witnessing the extremely heavy traffic directly on the route to the path of totality.  On Sunday, traffic was heavier still as we moved back onto the interstate, but will still moving at posted speeds.

We were in position by Monday, so we didn’t experience traffic the day of the eclipse.  It was reported to be heavy, but with no major delays.  The only eclipse-related traffic issue was an announcement on the radio that the Nebraska Highway Patrol had closed both I-80 rest areas near Grand Island for safety reasons.  Gasoline and other supplies were readily available at normal prices.

According to reports, traffic was heaviest after the eclipse as hundreds of thousands of visitors headed home.  Still, no major issues were reported, and traffic, while somewhat slower than normal, was moving along well.  We drove home Tuesday.  While traffic appeared normal by the time we were on the road, many cars were obviously those of other eclipse chasers, as evidenced by the camping gear filling many of them.

Viewing the Eclipse

The eclipse in Grand Island. NBC Nebraska.

The eclipse in Grand Island. NBC Nebraska.

On Monday morning, we set up in American Legion Park in Hastings, a small city park just across the street from our hotel.  Other viewing areas were packed, but we shared the park with only about a dozen other visitors, mostly from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.   There were street lights on the neighboring road, but we stayed clear of them and they didn’t present any obstacle to our viewing.

We didn’t bother trying to take photos of the eclipse.  We only had two minutes, so rather than fiddling with cameras during that time, we simply enjoyed the spectacle and left the photography to professionals.

The best representation I’ve seen so far of what we experienced is from NBC Nebraska at this link.  if you click on Part 3 of the video at that link, and then advance to the 4:00 minute mark, you’ll see a live report from a Middle School in Grand Island, about 20 miles north of where we were.  The video does a good job of capturing the darkness of the sky, as well as the reaction of those present.  The video doesn’t do justice to the corona itself, but all of the other elements reflect very well what we witnessed.

It’s also evident from the video what I kept saying before the eclipse: The eclipse was something that kids needed to see!  The reaction of the middle school kids in this video was overwhelming, and the eclipse is something that they will never forget.  It’s a shame that some schools locked their kids inside rather than taking them to see it.  There are now undoubtedly many future astronomers and scientists among the kids in Grand Island and other places where enlightened educators made it a unique learning experience.  The kids who were left inside for the eclipse did not get that inspiration, and any school administrators who took that approach should be ashamed of themselves.

In Hastings, there were thin scattered clouds throughout the morning.  However, with the cooling caused by the eclipse, the sky was clear during totality, the clouds not reappearing until about 10 minutes later.   It was noticeably cooler starting a few minutes before totality.  Even though the surroundings were not noticeably dimmer to the human eye until just before totality, the direct sunlight didn’t feel warm as it had in the morning.

We saw the diamond ring both before and after totality.  I did not see Bailey’s Beads, nor did I see any shadow bands.  The horizon in all directions had the orange glow of sunset.  Venus was plainly visible.  I didn’t notice it before totality, but it persisted for a couple of minutes after the sun returned.

Radio Experiments

EclipseQSOPartyAs shown here, I was doing my part for science by operating in the HamSci Solar Eclipse QSO Party.  Along with other amateur radio operators, I was operating in this event to generate data which researchers will use to understand the ionosphere and how it was affected by the eclipse.  Radio signals are reflected by the ionosphere, and the effect varies depending on frequency, and depending on the amount of solar energy hitting the ionosphere.  The eclipse gave a rare opportunity to show the effects when the amount of solar energy varies over small areas, such as the path of totality.  I concentrated mainly on making short transmissions to be picked up by remote receivers.  Some of these receivers are connected in real time to the Reverse Beacon Network, which displays received signals almost immediately on the Internet.  Unfortunately, my signals were not picked up by these stations, but other software-defined receivers were continuously recording the radio spectrum, and it’s likely that my transmissions were recorded and will be available at a later date.

I didn’t spend much time trying to make two-way radio contacts, but I did make three contacts, which are shown on this map:


All three of these contacts were made before totality.  I was operating on the 40 meter band (7 MHz) with only 5 watts of power, and the distances of these contacts does seem much greater than would normally be expected that time of day.  The most distant contact was with WA1FCN in Cordova, Alabama, 776 miles from my location in Hastings, Nebraska.  We made this contact at 12:29 PM local time, about 30 minutes before totality.  It seems likely that this contact was possible only because of the eclipse.  The contact with N5AW in Burnet, Texas, 680 miles away, was made at 12:10 local time, and the contact with W0ECC in St. Charles, Missouri, 438 miles away, was made at 11:08 local time.  In all three cases, the partial eclipse was underway at both locations when we made our contacts.

The HamSci researchers at Virginia Tech will have a lot of data to analyze, but I think it’s clear that the eclipse was having an effect on propagation.  The 40 meter band is generally limited to shorter distances during the day, and the path lengths here seem more consistent with the type of propagation normally seen in the evening.

For those who are interested in the details, my station consisted of my 5 watt Yaesu FT-817 powered by a 12 volt fish finder battery.  The antenna was a 40 meter inverted vee with its peak about 15 feet off the ground, supported by my golf ball retriever.  The two ends of the antenna were supported by tent stakes in the ground.  The station was similar to what I used in 2016 for many of my National Parks On The Air activations. The antenna was running north-south in an effort to have its maximum signal along the east-west path of totality.  Since the antenna had an acceptable match on 15 and 6 meters, I also made a few test transmissions on those bands, although I concentrated on 40 meters.

Nebraska and the Eclipse

The State of Nebraska, the City of Hastings, and all of the other towns we encountered along the way, did an excellent job of planning for the eclipse and accommodating all of the visitors.  While traffic was very heavy, there were no real problems.  The staff of our hotel, the C3 Hotel & Convention Center, was extremely well prepared for what was probably the hotel’s busiest night ever.  The accommodations were excellent!

Since virtually all of the hotel rooms in the state were filled, dozens of temporary campgrounds sprung up, and visitors were able to find safe campsites at a reasonable price as homeowners, farmers, and ranchers opened their land for camping.

The only traffic-related problem that I’m aware of was the closure of two highway rest areas shortly before totality.  Unrelated to the eclipse, the City of Seward, Nebraska, experienced an ill-timed water main leak, leaving the city without drinking water during the eclipse.  We did see units of the Nebraska National Guard on the road, but as far as I know, other than to distribute drinking water in Seward, their services were not needed during the eclipse.

The entire state deserves high marks for its preparations in making the eclipse an unforgettable event for the hundreds of thousands of visitors.


1937 Field Day


This weekend was Field Day, an activity in which Amateur Radio Operators set up portable equipment and make as many contacts as possible during a 24 hour period.

My own effort this year was very minimalist. I operated as I did for most of my National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) activations, with my 5 watt Yaesu FT-817  with a Hamstick antenna mounted on the car. I only operated for about an hour, but made 13 CW (Morse Code) contacts to places such as Quebec, Florida, Kentucky, and North Dakota. My power supply consisted of my 12 volt fish finder battery,

Back in the day, both the equipment and the power supplies were much more intimidating, and a successful Field Day operation almost required a team effort. This video shows Field Day eighty years ago in 1937. The film shows W8NCD/8, the Charleston (WV) Amateur Radio Club. It is narrated by W8NCD, who is now a Silent Key.

Field Day has always been primarily a fun social activity, but it also has a serious side. It shows that amateurs are ready for emergency situations. In 1937, hams were able to set up at a remote location, without external electric power or any other infrastructure, and be in contact with the rest of the world. In 1937, there weren’t any cell phone towers, but hams managed to communicate around the world. Today, there are cell phones available, but in the location I was at today, at the bottom of the St. Croix River Valley at William O’Brien State Park, cell service is not available. But with five minutes of setup, I was on the air and communicating, just like they were in 1937

1937 Ohio River Flood


Eighty years ago this week, the United States was in the midst of one of its greatest natural disasters, the Ohio River flood of 1937.

Damage was widespread, starting at Pittsburgh, which had experienced severe flooding the year before, to Cairo, Illinois. Damage was light in the Pittsburgh area, but there was extensive damage in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. The pictures at the top of the page are from Evansville, Indiana, and appear in the February 13, 1937, issue of Stand By, the program guide magazine of WLS Chicago, whose mobile unit is shown. The boats shown in the picture, docked at the back door of a hotel, are actually on the street, as shown by the mostly submerged street sign in the picture.

The WLS magazine reported that “radio became the principal means of communication, especially during the early days of the flood, and thousands of lives were saved because of the radio directions sent to rescue workers. Commercial, amateur and military stations all provided communication.”

Hazelton, Indiana, January 23, 1937. National Weather Service photo.

Hazelton, Indiana, January 23, 1937. National Weather Service photo.

In Evansville, the local station, WGBF, had an emergency radio set up at the relief headquarters. The station went to 24 hour service, and the programs were interrupted frequently to broadcast relief messages.

Downtown Huntington, WV, during the flood. Wikipedia photo.

The flood caused 385 deaths, with a million left homeless. Property damage reached $500 million, and relief and recovery was strained, with the disaster coming in the depth of the depression and only a few years after the Dust Bowl.  The head of the Red Cross called the disaster the greatest since the war.  For many impacted areas, it was the most severe flood yet experienced.

The water levels began to rise on January 5, and rains throughout the

Ohio basin continued.  By January 23, it was clear that the flood would be severe.  Martial law was declared in Evansville on January 23.  On today’s date, the water crested in Cincinnati at 80 feet, the highest level in the city’s history.  By the next day, 70% of Louisville was under water.  It wasn’t until February 5 when the water levels dropped below flood stage in most areas.

As might be expected, amateur radio operators played a key role in communications, and many of these stories were recorded in the April, 1937, issue of QST.  Since many of the active hams were also involved in the Army Amateur Radio Service or the Naval Reserve, Army and Navy call signs were often used in addition to amateur calls.

In an action unprecedented since the war, on January 26, the FCC entirely closed the 160 and 80 meter bands nationwide to all but those hams directly involved in flood relief. The FCC order stated:

To all amateur licensees: The Federal Communications Commission has been advised that the only contact with many flooded areas is by amateur radio, and since it is of vital importance that communications with flooded areas be handled expeditionsly, IT IS ORDERED that no transmissions except those relating to relief work or other emergencies be made within any of the authorized amateur bands below 4000 kilocycles until the Commission determines that the present emergency no longer exists.

This order was rescinded on February 5.  The FCC did allow the ARRL to select 60 “vigilantes” to monitor the bands and inform any offenders of the order.  According to QST, this order had a very positive impact in reducing interference.  160 and 80 meters were still packed with signals relaying emergency traffic, but the nets were able to work very effectively when they had the bands to themselves.

Hundreds of call signs in all of the affected states are included in the QST report, but it also acknowledges that it would be impossible to list all of the hams who participated.

The 30,000 residents of Parkersburg, West Virginia, were cut off from the outside world, and about a fourth of them were homeless. Herbert Romine, W8GDF, of nearby West Milford hurried to the town. Lacking sufficient equipment, he hurredly assembled several transmitters from the serviceman’s parts stock, and established stations on fire boats in the city. These hastily constructed transmitters consisted of type 45 tube oscillators, along with another 45 serving as modulator. QST noted that this work undoubtedly saved a number of lives.

Romine then put station WPAR in Parkersburg back on the air, having to dismantle and move it a number of times as the waters rose. Another ham, W8BRE, helped put together a 160 meter radio to link the station with the Naval Reserve station.

At Leon, WV, inactive ham Clarence Casto, W8JJA, had been off the air for three years. But with the emergency, he hastily assembled an emergency version of his station to keep the town in contact.

A few miles downstream in Point Pleasant, WV, William Stone, W8MAO, was able to use a portable 20 meter rig to notify authorities in Charleston that medical supplies were needed by air.  This station was set up in the court house on the judge’s bench.

w8yxgeneratorIn Ohio, much of the relief traffic passed through W8YX, the club station of the University of Cincinnati.  Since commercial power had become unavailable, the station operated with the generator setup shown here.  Two 15 kva alternators were run by the power takeoff of a McCormick-Deering tractor.

In Kentucky, since Frankfort was cut off and flooded, the Governor of the state relied upon an amateur for emergency communications. W9AZY, who was also affiliated with a broadcast station, was able to set up a shortwave link between the Governor and his staff and broadcast station WLAP.

w9mwcThe man identified as “one of the flood’s ham heroes” was W.O. Bryant, W9NKD. On January 22, WHAS in Louisville broadcast the information that Carrollton, KY, population 2500, had been cut off from the outside world. The broadcast included a plea for an amateur to go there with emergency equipment. Bryant answered the call and brought his equipment by boat, where he was the only source of communications for 10 days.  Another such amateur is shown to the left, W9MWC, taking emergency equipment by boat to Shawneetown, KY, in temperatures of 12 degrees and sleet.

What To Do If Lost In The Woods At Night, 1946


Seventy years ago, this day’s issue of Life Magazine, August 26, 1946, showed you exactly what to do if you were lost in the woods at night, courtesy of this advertisement by Eveready.

According to the ad, as long as you had common sense and an Eveready flashlight loaded with Eveready batteries, you would come through. The first piece of advice was that you’re never really lost until you lose your head. Therefore, the best course of action was not to travel at night. Instead, you should use your flashlight to gather boughs and leaves for a bed, and build a fire.

Once you made your primitive camp, the next course of action was to signal SOS with your flashlight–three short, three long, three short. This would guide searchers, especially if you had Eveready batteries, which would send hundreds of such brilliant penetrating light signals.

When morning came, the best bet was to stay put and wait for help to come. But if travel was necessary, you should douse your fire and follow any running water downstream.

In addition to the Eveready flashlight and batteries, the ad reminded that other survival necessities included matches in a waterproof case and a compass. These needs should be with you on every outing.

Click Here For Today’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Cartoon

Direction Finding With An AM Radio

Portable radio mounted on base for direction finding.

Portable radio mounted on base for direction finding.

Sixty years ago this month, the July 1956 issue of Popular Electronics carried an excellent tutorial on how to use a portable AM radio for direction finding.

Most AM radios, both then and now, are very directional in that there is a “null,” or spot where the signal fades out, on each side of the built-in antenna.  You can demonstrate this by tuning to a relatively weak AM station and then slowly rotating the radio.  You will find that there are two spots, 180 degrees apart, where the station disappears or becomes very weak.  If the radio, like most portables, has an internal loopstick antenna, these are the points where the long narrow antenna is pointing directly at (or away from) the station.

You can use this principle to determine your location.  Even with a very cheap radio, you can usually establish your location with astonishing accuracy.

Detail of direction finding mount for portable radio.

Detail of direction finding mount for portable radio.

The Popular Electronics article shows how to construct a rotating mount for your radio.  You strap the radio in place, turn it for the minimum signal, and the pointer on the mount shows the bearing to or from the station in degrees.  For example, if the station’s null is at 45 degrees, then you can draw a line on a map over the station with that same angle from north.  In other words, in this example, running NE-SW.  Your current location is somewhere along that line.

By repeating this process with a second radio station, you will have two lines drawn on the map.  The point at which the two lines intersect is your current location, sometimes to astounding accuracy.

The mount shown in Popular Electronics is for a more or less permanent installation in a boat.  But this is not necessary.  In most portable radios, the antenna is mounted parallel with the outside case, usually with the longest side.  Therefore, it is possible simply to use the radio itself as a straightedge:  Align the map with the Earth, in other words, place the top of the map toward the north.  Then, rotate the radio so that the signal disappears.  With the radio at the same angle, place one edge over the station’s location and draw a straight line on the map.  Your location is somewhere along this line.

Then, repeat the process with a second station.  The point where the two lines come together is your location.  To confirm your location, you can repeat the process with a third station.  If the three lines come together very close to the same point, then you can be quite certain that the location was accurate.  If one of the lines doesn’t seem to agree, then you can repeat the process with a fourth station, and ignore the reading that doesn’t seem to match the others.

With a bit of practice, you can find your location very accurately.  In an urban area, by using 3 or 4 local stations, I have identified my location within a hundred yards or so.  In a rural area, where the stations might be further away, the accuracy will not be quite as great, but you should be able to locate yourself within a fraction of a mile.

The Popular Electronics article contains instructions on disabling the receiver’s automatic volume control (AVC), because in the case of a strong station, the radio might keep playing at full volume even with the station nulled out.  However, it is not necessary to modify the radio.  Most stations, unless they are very strong, will show a null even with the AVC functioning.  And for those stronger stations, you can compensate by tuning the radio slightly off frequency.  For example, if the station you are trying to locate is at 800 and you can’t get a null, you can reduce the signal strength simply by tuning to 810.  You’ll still hear the station with the radio properly oriented, but the signal will be weak enough that you will be able to detect the null.

Of course, for this method to work, you need to know the exact transmitter location of the radio stations you plan to use.  These often differ from the location of the station’s studio and office.  In some cases, they are many miles from the station’s city of license.

Fortunately, in the United States, this information is easy to obtain from the FCC website.  You can search for a particular station, for all stations within a state, or all stations within a certain radius of a given location.  When you click on the station’s call letters, you will be given the exact latitude and longitude of the transmitter.  (Transmitter locations of most AM stations are also shown on aeronautical charts, since pilots still use this method of direction finding.)

Direction finding, even with a very cheap AM radio, can give amazingly accurate results.  It is certainly not as convenient as other methods, such as GPS.  But in an emergency, it should not be overlooked as a backup method to determine your location.  It requires very little equipment (just a radio, map, and pencil).  It also requires a bit of practice beforehand, since you need to learn the characteristics of the radio you will use.  And it requires knowledge of the location of some local transmitters.  But if you can locate those transmitters on your map, you can also locate yourself.

As I mentioned, I’ve been able to determine my own location within a hundred yards by knowing the exact locations of local radio stations.  But even without an exact knowledge of their location, I was able to locate myself, at night, within about 30 miles, simply by using the approximate location of strong distant stations.  For example, I know that WBBM’s transmitter is in or near Chicago.  I know that WSM’s transmitter is in or near Nashville.  I know that CFZM’s transmitter is in or near Toronto.  Even though I did not know the exact locations of these transmitters, when I used this method at night, I was able to locate myself within about 30 miles.  There’s probably little practical application for doing it this way, since it’s unlikely that someone would find themselves not knowing what state they are in.  (However, it should be noted that before the invention of accurate chronometers, most mariners wouldn’t know their location that accurately.)  But it is still rewarding to know that you can determine your location on Earth with such primitive equipment.

Click Here For Today’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Cartoon

Product Review: Wise Food Storage “Savory Stroganoff”

One of this site’s advertisers is Wise Food Storage, who recently sent me a free sample to review.  The company supplies dehydrated food for emergency food storage, camping, and backpacking.  On their website, they sell mostly packages consisting of assortments of food, such as the package shown below, which is billed as providing enough food for two people for 72 hours:

72 Hour Kit for 2 PeopleTHe sample I was sent was a single meal, namely their “Savory Stoganoff.”

I was initially a bit skeptical, since my experience has been that most suppliers of “survival” food seem to charge a considerably higher price than one would pay for comparable items at the supermarket.  In many cases, they hide the higher price by making inflated claims as to how long the product will last.  For example, some companies offer a “30 day supply” of food, but if you look carefully, you realize that you would be eating starvation rations for those thirty days.

It was refreshing to see that Wise doesn’t follow this same practice, and the claims on their website are reasonable.  A normal diet consists of about 2000 calories per day.  You can certainly survive on less, but if you want to replicate a normal diet as much as possible during an emergency, you should plan on having about that many calories per day per person.  And Wise seems to use honest figures on their website.   For example, the 72 Hour Kit for 2 People shown above supplies over 13,000 calories, which is indeed enough to feed two people for three days, with their normal caloric intake.  In fact, with a bit of scrimping, it would probably last even longer than advertised.  It is refreshing to see a company that didn’t fall into the trap of making exaggerated claims.  As you shop around, you might see lower prices.  But before you buy, make sure you’re really getting the number of days’ supply that the company is claiming.  In Wise’s case, you are.  In the case of some other suppliers, you are not.

I’m not normally a fan of “kits” for food storage.  From a price point of view, you’re probably better off buying normal food from the supermarket.  You’ll know that they are items you like to eat, the cost will be lower, and the supermarket has many items that can be stored for a long period of time, especially if you rotate them into your family’s normal diet.  On my food storage basics page, I have ideas for emergency food storage using items available at any supermarket.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for buying a well thought out “kit.”  You know that everything is optimized for long-term storage and minimal preparation.  And there’s something reassuring about looking at a single container and knowing that it will give you enough food to eat for X days.  I wouldn’t recommend a kit as your family’s sole source of emergency food, but they do have their place.  In addition to Wise’s 72 Hour Kit, they have a variety of other similar assortments. such as a 1 Month Emergency Food Supply for 1 Person – 56 Servings and a 2 Week supply geared for backpackers.  Again, you can probably put similar kits together yourself at a somewhat lower price, but for some people, the convenience is worth it.

Package of Savory Stroganoff being reviewed.

Package of Savory Stroganoff being reviewed.

Wise’s website doesn’t seem to sell individual meals, but they are available from WalMart.  For example, you can purchase a single package of the “Savory Stroganoff” reviewed here.  The price is quite reasonable, and you can order online and have it delivered to a local WalMart, so there is no shipping cost.

The Savory Stroganoff I reviewed exceeded my expectations.  I wouldn’t describe it as a gourmet meal, but it was reasonably good tasting, easy to prepare, and would be quite adequate during an emergency or while camping.  The nine-ounce package was billed as having a storage life of 25 years.  It was packaged in a heavy plastic pouch with an oxygen absorber inside (and I’ll say more about the oxygen absorber in a moment).  According to the nutrition facts, the package supplies four servings of 250 calories each.  In other words, the one package contains a thousand calories, or about half of one person’s caloric needs for the day.  We did feed four people lunch using the one pouch, and the meal was filling.  Each serving contains 45 grams of carbohydrates, 4.5 grams of fat, and 7 grams of protein, so it’s a reasonably well balanced meal by itself.  The vitamin content is relatively low, supplying 0% of the daily requirement of vitamin A, 2% of the daily requirement of vitamin C, 8% of the calcium, and 8% of the iron.  During a short-term emergency, vitamin deficiency isn’t an issue, but those planning for a longer-term emergency would be well advised to include some multivitamin tablets if relying on this kind of storage food.

The main ingredient is the pasta, along with nondairy creamer and textured vegetable protein.  You can view the full list of ingredients and nutrition facts at the WalMart website.

Preparation was very straightforward, and we followed the instructions on the package exactly.  You start by boiling four cups of water, turning off the heat, and then adding the contents of the package to the boiling water.  We used the stove, but the water could be boiled by any emergency heat source.  Since the only actual cooking is the boiling of the water, there’s really nothing that can go wrong.  You simply cover the pot and wait 12-15 minutes.

The glitch in the instructions was that it didn’t mention the oxygen absorber inside, so we wound up pouring it into the boiling water, where we had to fish it out.  But other than this oversight, the instructions were self-explanatory.

After 15 minutes, you remove the cover, and let it stand for another 2-3 minutes.  We used a normal kitchen pan, but any container with a lid could be used.  In an emergency, to minimize the amount of cleanup, I would boil the water in one container, and then “cook” the food in some kind of disposable container.

The completed Stroganoff.

The completed Stroganoff.

The finished product didn’t look particularly appealing.  Perhaps it would have looked better if we had let it sit a while longer, but it was rather watery.  It looked more like a thick soup than Stroganoff.  It was best served in a cup or bowl and eaten with a spoon.

However, it tasted quite good, and neither my wife and I nor our kids had any complaints.  It did not have the “dehydrated” taste that I feared it would have.  It tasted like noodles and sauce.  There was a bit of seasoning–I noticed that the ingredients included dried onions.  However, it was rather bland, and adding a little bit of salt and pepper improved it considerably.  My daughter added a little bit of Knorr chicken bouillon, and she reported that this made it taste quite good.  So my main advice if you’re going to rely on prepackaged items like this, it would be a good idea to also include familiar seasonings.

In summary, the stroganoff tasted better than I expected without a “freeze dried” taste, and was more reasonably priced than I expected.  It’s more expensive than comparable supermarket items, but much less expensive than comparable items billed as “survival” or “backpacking” food.  I probably won’t order one of Wise’s food “kits,” but I’ll probably purchase a few packages of the stroganoff and other meals to keep in the camper, or just to keep in the house for times when a relatively quick meal is needed.

Full Disclosure:  The product reviewed was supplied to me free of charge by Wise Compnay, one of this website’s advertisers, in exchange for an honest review.  All product links on this page are affiliate links, meaning that if you click on the links and purchase the product, I will receive an advertising fee.

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Piezoelectrics For Your Time Travel and Post-Apocalyptic Needs

Completed piezoelectric speaker from 1968 article.

Completed piezoelectric speaker from 1968 article.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some plans for homemade microphones from 1945. One was very crude but easy to duplicate. But one was quite sophisticated, and could be made at home by growing a piezoelectric crystal from a saturated solution of Rochelle Salt.

The piezoelectric microphone is particularly intriguing because it should function equally well as a piezoelectric speaker.  For this reason, it has an interesting application, albeit perhaps not one that is immediately practical.

Being Prepared for Inadvertent Time Travel

The knowledge of how to build such a speaker could come in handy in a couple of situations, at least one of which is probably unlikely.  The first situation would be that of inadvertent time travel.  If you get caught in a time warp and sent to the past, it would be wise if you could make the best of a bad situation and be able to “invent” some technological devices.  (And as I’ve previously written, having a WikiReader in your pocket would make the situation much more bearable.)  And as a loyal reader of this blog, it stands to reason that one of the technologies that you could “invent” would be radio.

While there are no documented cases of this ever happening, the science fiction literature is full of examples.  Probably the oldest example is Mark Twain‘s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.  Other examples include 1632 by Eric Flint and the Island in the Sea of Time series by S.M. Stirling.

Cobbling together a transmitter would be relatively easy, as long as the time period into which you were deposited had some rudimentary industries.  You’ll need some wire for winding coils and putting up an antenna, some metal for building capacitors and a spark gap, some acid for making batteries, and a few other bits and pieces that should be readily available in the Middle Ages.  With a bit of ingenuity, you should be able to come up with a transmitter with a range of hundreds of miles.

And with the exception of one component, a suitable receiver would be relatively easy to make.  Once again, you’ll need some wire for the coil and antenna, a few pieces of metal for fabricating other parts, and something to serve as a detector.  The detector would be quite simple.  The most common material, which would give good results, would be a chunk of Galena (lead ore).  If you find yourself in an area where this mineral is unavailable, there are many substitutes, as discussed in my earlier posts (this one and this one) about “foxhole radios” or my earlier post about emergency wartime crystal sets.

The one part, however, that will be difficult to procure is a suitable earphone.  If you’re lucky enough to be transported back in time after the invention of the telephone, then your problem is partially solved.  A telephone receiver will have an impedance that is too low for your receiver, but by rewinding the coil, you should be able to come up with a suitable headphone.  If the telephone hasn’t been invented yet, you can of course take the honors and invent it.  But if you want to jump ahead to radio technology, you’ll need to fabricate a suitable headphone to hook up to your radio.

This brings us back to the piezoelectric microphone we discussed earlier.   This type of microphone works equally well in either direction:  It can change electrical impulses to sound, as well as working the other way around and changing sound into electrical impulses.  Therefore, if you build a piezoelectric microphone, you can hook it up to your crystal set and listen to that transmitter you put on the air.

As discussed in my earlier post, the piezoelectric microphone/headphone should be relatively straightforward.  All you need, in addition to the scraps of metal you already procured, is a piezoelectric crystal.  And the article linked there gives you the basics of growing one.  In addition to water, all you will need is Rochelle Salt, also known as potassium sodium tartrate tetrahydrate.  This compound was first prepared in 1675 by Pierre Seignette. So if your time travel lands you after that date, you should be able to procure it. Of if it’s about 1675 and you’re anywhere near La Rochelle, France, you would be advised to look up Monsieur Seignette and collaborate with him on the project.

If you arrive before 1675, all hope is not lost. According to this site, you can whip up a batch using the ingredients cream of tartar and washing soda.  Cream of tartar is a byproduct of the wine making process, so it should be available at any time after the invention of wine, which dates back to antiquity.  So as long as those ingredients are available, you should be able to recreate radio.

An alternative method of building the headphone is described in the book The Voice of the Crystal by H. Peter Friedrichs.  This is a magnetic headphone which would require a very fine gauge of insulated wire, but a good jeweler of almost any era should be able to help you procure the components.

Rebuilding Civilization After a Collapse

The other time one would need to recreate radio technology would be after a collapse of society.  There are billions of radios in existence, any many more component parts, so it is very unlikely that you would need to start from scratch.  Even after hundreds of years of dark ages, many relics of our current technological society would still be available to provide usable parts.  This scenario is discussed in detail in the book The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm by Lewis Dartnell, which I previously reviewed.

The most abundant source of headphones for your post-apocalyptic crystal set would probably be the microphones from the billions of cell phones currently in existence.  In most cases, these are probably piezoelectric, and would work well for a crystal set headphone.  (The billions of stereo headphones and earbuds probably wouldn’t be of much use, since they are too low an impedance to work properly with a crystal set.)

Science Fair Project

Even if you don’t anticipate time travel or TEOTWAWKI (The End Of the World As We Know It), a homemade speaker or microphone could be part of a most impressive science fair project.  Even very young students could fabricate the simple three-nail microphone shown in my earlier post.  And more advanced students will be capable of making speakers or microphones that rival commercially available ones.

A More Refined Version of the Piezoelectric Speaker

Near perfect crystals from 1968 article.

Near perfect crystals from 1968 article.

The 1945 piezoelectric microphone linked in my original post is probably suitable for all of your time travel or post-apocalyptic needs.  However, a more refined version, shown at the top of this page, is from the May-June 1968 issue of Elementary Electronics.  While the 1945 article probably gives enough detail for the experimenter to grow a crystal and put it to work, the 1968 article goes into much greater detail.  It gives detailed instructions on growing the crystal, and the completed crystals, shown here, turn out nearly perfect.  In particular, the 1968 article gives detailed instructions on starting with a seed crystal and maintaining the temperature of the saturated solution as the crystals form.  While the 1945 article would probably result in a usable crystal looking like a piece of rock candy, the details in the later article result in a crystal that can be further ground to dimensions that would make it quite sensitive.

Construction details of 1968 piezoelectric speaker.

Construction details of 1968 piezoelectric speaker.

The construction details of the final speaker are shown above.  The crystal is ground and polished to about 1/16 inch in thickness, and then sandwiched between two pieces of aluminum foil.  (If your time travels take you to a time when aluminum was still considered a precious metal, substitution of other metal shouldn’t present a problem.)  A current applied to the two pieces of foil causes the crystal to vibrate.  The author of the 1968 article used the cone of a defunct 12 inch radio speaker, which could be replaced by some other type of cone.  For use with a crystal set, the large cone might prove a detriment, since the crystal set might not be putting out enough audio to set it into vibration.  Constructing some sort of headphone would probably be more suitable for a crystal set.

The photo above shows a matching transformer, but this would not be necessary for use with a crystal set.  The example shown in the 1968 article was designed to replace a standard low-impedance permanent magnet speaker.  The high impedance of the piezoelectric speaker would be perfectly suited to the output of a crystal set.

For even more details on growing crystals, the author of the 1968 article recommends the book Crystals and Crystal Growing by by Alan Holden and Phylis Morrison, which is still available and in print.  And if you’re just looking to make a crystal set and want to buy a piezoelectric earphone (or other needed parts), you can find them on my crystal set parts page.



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How To Get Yourself Down From a Cliff

1915SheepshankIf you ever find yourself stranded on a high spot with a rope, you’ll appreciate this trick. Of course, you know that you can tie the rope to something sturdy and then climb down. You probably assumed that you would need to abandon the rope.

But thanks to this trick which appeared in Popular Mechanics a century ago, November 1915, you can now retrieve most of the rope.  The trick is to tie a sheepshank knot, which is normally used to temporarily shorten a rope.  First, you secure the rope.  You then tie the sheepshank close to the top.  You will notice that at point C, the rope is not supporting any part of your weight, so you cut the rope at this point.  Then, being careful to maintain tension on the rope, you descend.  After you’re safely on terra firma, you simply give the rope a shake, and most of it falls down beside you.  You’re on your way, and you have all but a small piece of your rope.

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