Tuesday, March 15, 2016

10 Things About the DC Metro Shutdown

If you haven't heard, the Washington DC Metro System will be shut down for 29 hours starting tomorrow.  For most people, it's a non event but for the 800,000 (!) people who rely on the system to get to work/daycare/school/etc. it will be a rather big deal.  Here's some things to consider whether you are impacted or not:

  1. Weird stuff like this happens on occasion, often without notice, and we, the general public, won't get much of an explanation of the real reason why it is happening.  Conspiracy theories much?
  2. What would happen if you couldn't get home from work/school/your doctor's appointment/the shopping center you are at/etc?  Some people take the Metro several (or several dozen) miles away from home so if you couldn't get home in the way you always do, what would you do?  Walk home? Uber? Shelter in Place? Stay with a friend? Camp out at school or work?  Plan now for this sort of eventuality.
  3. Most importantly, if you are stranded at work over night or at school over night or at a friend's house overnight, what items must you absolutely have to survive?  Consider always taking with you a small BOB, you necessary medications, an emergency blanket, cash, good walking shoes, a cell phone charger, snack food, etc.
  4. Prepare for social unrest.  800,000 pissed off people can create quite the problem if they were to all end up stranded somewhere.  You don't want to be in the middle of this if at all possible.  
  5. Stay home if you can.  There will be lots of people that will need (or try) to get to work tomorrow but if at all possible, save yourself the stress and stay home.  You already know that there will be a problem so why exacerbate the situation by joining in the fray?
  6. Help others in need.  While there was a little bit of notice which might keep the situation from getting totally out of hand (imagine what would have happened if they would have shut down today, mid day, with no notice at all??) some people may still end up in a precarious situation.  If possible, help others in any way you can.  It's good karma and the best way to handle a bad situation.
  7. Know what your school/work policy for such an event is.  Usually there are policies in place for weather disruptions but since this is pretty unique, you may need to ask your employer what options you have (working from home, taking the day off tomorrow and working Saturday instead, etc).
  8. Make a plan with the family using this situation as an example.  What if the transit system had been shut down with no notice and the family was spread out all over the city, miles away from home and away from each other?  What would you all do?
  9. Pay attention to the local news (use multiple sources including newspaper websites, Facebook and Twitter for city and county services such as police and fire and the Metro, reddit, etc) to stay up on any breaking news including shortened or extended closures, alternative transit options, etc.
  10. Use the lessons learned from this situation (I'm sure there will be multiple news articles about the closure and its after affects) to plan for future events.

Friday, February 19, 2016

13 Rugged Essentials for Surviving 9 to 5

I saw this list entitled "13 Style Essentials for Surviving 9 to 5" and though is that list a joke?  Here's a better list:

  1. Wallet.  A $60 wallet that holds a total of four cards?  Meh.  Pick what works for you.  Here's some ideas.
  2. A Rhodia notebook.  These are trendy like Moleskines, but again, pick what works for you.  I usually pick up a small notebook from the $1 store since I tend to write notes and then toss them quickly.  I'm not writing tomes that I will keep forever.  On the other hand, if you need a notebook that will hold up, check out these.
  3.  Pilot G2 pen.  I have to agree that pilot pens are pretty good (I tend to carry multiple varieties myself).  Others swear by Fisher Space Pens.
  4. Brass Fish Hook Clip.  Meh.  I like carabiners better.
  5. A $175 leather bag.  Again, pick what works for your.  While I carried leather bags and briefcases for years, I eventually switched to a waterproof Timbuk 2 bag as well as various backpacks.
  6. Face wipes.  For $24??? No thanks.  A couple of handi wipes which are free from the casino or picked up at the $1 store work just fine.
  7. Bandanna.  For $14???  No thanks again.  You can pick up a 100% cotton bandanna from the $1 store or for a couple bucks at your local Walmart.
  8. Key chain tool.  $12?  Nope.  Gerber makes one for $5.
  9. A $1500 watch.  I know plenty of people who are watch aficionados so this is a "to each his own" category.  A Timex, Casio, or Columbia watch will set you back less than $50 (and be more rugged).
  10. A knife.  For $164.  There are all kinds of knives out there, from ultra cheap to ultra fashionable, from the tactical to the ultra luxe $5000 variety.  Pick a well made knife that you can afford, works for the tasks you need it for, and keep it forever.
  11. Earphones.  For $199.  I rarely use earphones but I always carry a cheap pair with me just in case.  A $20 pair of earbuds works just fine for me but there are audiophiles out there who will spend a small fortune on earphones.  It's up to you.
  12. Water bottle.  I pick up a bottle of water or Gatorade then just reuse the bottle.  These bottles are free-ish, don't leak, are disposable, and are very lightweight.  On the other hand some people want their own personal bottle (which can be picked up cheap at Ross or TJ Maxx, cheaper at the Goodwill).
  13. Sunglasses.  These are a personal choice.  I got a fine pair of Foster Grant sunglasses at the 99 cent store.  Surprisingly these have have a much longer life than more expensive sunglasses I've used over the years.  The only time I will spend more on sunglasses is if they will literally save your vision (like polarized lenses for skiing).

Thursday, February 18, 2016

10 Things to Keep on Your Bedside Table

You never know when a disaster will strike and you will need to make a quick exit from your home.  Ideally you will have a few minutes to get yourself ready, grab your BOB, and walk out the door of your home and to your vehicle in an orderly fashion.  On the other hand, you may have only seconds to grab some important stuff and bail out your bedroom window.  In such a case, have these ten items on your bedside table so you can make a quick--if not graceful--exit:

  1. Keys
  2. Wallet
  3. Cash
  4. Cell phone/charger
  5. Back-up thumb drive of all files
  6. Shoes
  7. Bottle of water
  8. Granola bar
  9. Firearm/spare magazine
  10. Pocketknife or Leatherman
You will also notice that keeping all of these items near you when you are sleeping will have additional purposes:
  1. Keys: if you have teenagers in your home, keeping the keys away from the kids while you are asleep if a good idea.
  2. Wallet:  ditto.  Plus if a burglar looks into your window and sees a wallet laying on the table they may be even more determined to break in.
  3. Cash:  ditto.
  4. Cell phone:  for emergency calls and always being reachable on your cell.
  5. Backed up files: your computer can die or be consumed by a file but you will always have your files with you.
  6. Shoes:  many people do not wear shoes in the house but in the event of a fire or earthquake you will need these top protect your feet.
  7. Water:  save yourself a trip to the kitchen if you wake up parched in the middle of the night.
  8. Food:  ditto.  Plus for diabetics this is a quick way to raise blood sugar.
  9. Firearm:  for immediate use if there is an intruder, also it's good to keep it away from the kids and/or burglars.
  10. Pocketknife:  good for any quick fix-its.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Who Do You Count on During a Region-wide Disaster?

I was reading this article today on the potential for a huge Cascadia subduction zone earthquake.  While the article made a few references to the dangers that could come from such an earthquake ("the big one could hit at any time", "more than 11,000 could be killed", "rescue crews will be overwhelmed", and "it will be difficult to assess what's going on" due to damaged roads and infrastructure), there wasn't much mentioned about preparedness for such an event.

So if you read the title of this post then answered "me", you are absolutely correct.

Much like Hurricane Katrina, a disaster that affects an entire region means that A LOT of people will be left to fend for themselves.  There will be emergency workers, of course, but they (the ones who aren't initially killed or injured by the disaster) will be few and far between.  Worse, they won't have the things most needed to help people right after a disaster (like roads to drive on, bridges to cross, hospital ERs to treat blunt-force or crush injuries, medications, quantities of water or food for the unprepared, etc).

So where does this leave you?  As a friend of mine from Georgia says, "y'all best be gettin' prepared 'cause there's surely a disaster fixin to happen sometime".

Here's what you need to be prepared for:

  • No ATM machines.  Do you have cash on hand?  Cash may not be worth much during a disaster but it is better than being penniless.
  • No grocery stores open.  Either they will be completely destroyed or the looters will get to them.  Either way you need food on hand for at least a month if not longer.
  • No water coming out of the faucet.  Especially during an earthquake, water pipes will break leaving you with no water to drink, clean with, or bathe in.  How will you prepare for this?
  • No electricity to your home.  Our lives revolve around electricity.  I'm guessing that most young people under 30 have zero experience living without electricity and many of these people (and oldsters as well) will be looking at their blank screens wondering what to do now.
  • No gas to your home.  Like water pipes, gas pipes also break during disasters which means no heat for your home, no gas for your stove, and, immediately after a disaster, that rotten egg smell could mean a secondary disaster could happen in the form of fires.
  • No sewer services.  Maybe.  You can still flush a toilet after a disaster if #1 the structure is still standing, #2 you don't mind wasting precious water, and #3 the pipes haven't broken and sewage is now flooding your yard.  During a disaster, alternate sewage disposal methods can decrease the likelihood of spreading disease.  Plus remember to keep your hands clean.
  • No garbage service.  Most people don't give garbage much of a thought.  You set your can by the side of the road each week and your garbage is magically taken away.  When left to pile up, however, things can go from gross to dangerous quickly (rats and other disease spreading creatures love a nice pile of garbage).
  • No entertainment.  I don't know a single person who can go for days on end without some form of entertainment ranging from TV to a meal at a restaurant to Facebooking friends to a trip to Starbucks, etc.  
  • No phone service.  911 will probably be down, land lines will probably be down, and cell phones may work (as long as you have a charged phone and as long as the cell towers are still standing and as long as you can get through with thousands of others trying to make calls too),  Or you may be left totally incommunicado.
  • No house.  If your house is still standing and structurally sound after an earthquake, you will indeed be fortunate.  If it falls down during the disaster, where will you live/sleep/eat?
  • No roads/bridges/overpasses/underpasses.  Image you have to drive from one end of your county/city/state and all of the roads have been destroyed.  How would you traverse what used to be a half hour trip by car when you can't drive?
  • No medical services.  After the Haiti earthquake, medical care was scarce to nonexistent for a while.  And while you may be able to use some stockpiled medicine and a comprehensive first aid kit to treat minor maladies, what will you do when your ten year old has a fracture with the bone sticking out through his skin?  For more on the after affects of the Haiti disaster and medical care, read this.
  • No police services.  Many people can barely keep it together in a civilized society with strong social mores and legal penalties for bad behavior.  Actually, there's quite a few who can't behave, just watch the evening news each day.  So what will you do when there are no police to come to your rescue and marauders decide that you look well fed and have a nice house still standing and they want what you have?
  • What will you do with your dead?  There won't be anyone to come and take them away like what happens now when a loved one passes.
  • What will you do for an income?  Your work will probably come to a screeching halt as will your income.  Now what?
  • What if the disaster strikes at a particularly bad time or to particularly vulnerable people?  The dead of winter, the scorching days of summer, family members who have chronic/serious medical needs...  A disaster is bad enough if you are hale, hearty, and whole afterwards.  It's much worse for those who aren't.
These are just the high points.  Basically everything you do on a daily basis will be disrupted.  The least/most/only thing you can do is prepare ahead of time and hope for the best.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

15 Places to Find the Best Deals on Stuff You Need

I'm pretty much a minimalist.  My entire closet can fit into a double-sided refrigerator/freezer (don't even get me started on how many closets the spouse needs...), I buy the best material items I can find (whether they be shoes, a cell phone, etc) and keep them until they are worn out or horribly behind the times, and I continually minimize the gear and stuff I need to carry on a regular basis (mostly because I don't want to schlep pounds and pounds of crap with me whenever I leave the house).

Occasionally, however, there are things I need to buy and being both a minimalist AND frugal, I, of course, want to get the best bang for my buck.  Here's where I find the best deals on everything I need:

  1. DealNews
  2. Slick Deals
  3. Tech Bargains
  4. Steep and Cheap
  5. Steep and Cheap Alerts
  6. Reddit Deals
  7. Fat Wallet
  8. Kinja Deals
  9. Raise
  10. Sierra Trading Post
  11. Backcountry
  12. Google Flights
  13. REI Outlet
  14. Amazon
  15. Newegg


Monday, February 1, 2016

10 Things to Do When You Retire

It's been a busy month as you can probably tell by the dearth of posts last month (one? really?  I will try not to let that happen again).  In fact, it seems like I have been busier since I retired than I was when I had three companies running at once.  Here's some things you should consider upon retirement:

  1. Move.  I've seen many elderly people continue to hold down the farm long past the time that such a thing was feasible.  I figured I would probably be one of those people but then circumstances collided and we ended up selling nearly everything we owned, traveling for a while, then ultimately settling into an area that happens to be popular with retirees (and poker players).  This worked out well in a number of ways, namely it offered a much lower cost of living, many more things to do as a retiree, and much better weather (for most of the year) than where we had previously lived.
  2. Stay active.  You can sit on your ass and play bingo all day, everyday, but that will fast track you to #1 death (due to a number of lifestyle diseases that come with a sedentary lifestyle) and #2 bankruptcy (we'll discuss that later).  Basically walk, swim, ride your bike, dance...do things to keep active and healthy.
  3. Pick up some hobbies.  You now have all the time in the world to do fun things.  Of course money comes into play here (we'll discuss later why picking a palate of hobbies that include golf, polo, world travel, and other expensive hobbies could torpedo your budget), but there are many hobbies that are both low-cost and enjoyable.
  4. Volunteer.  The thing that happens when you retire is that you suddenly have 10+ hours in your day to fill up and with no job to fill up the time, you will often end up bored silly.  Volunteering can prove an enjoyable, interesting, informative, and useful way to fill up your extra hours.  You can also reap the benefits if you pick your volunteer gigs well (like a free place to park your RV if you volunteer at a National Park, the opportunity to learn more survival skills if you volunteer with your local Search and Rescue, meeting great people when you volunteer with the USO, or watching cool shows when you volunteer at a local theater).
  5. Dedicate time to your money.  Money can be either a minor or a major part of your retirement.  Too little and you will barely eek by, too much and, well, too much would be a good thing.  Most people are somewhere in the middle and this means you do need to pay some attention to your money.  Develop a budget, live within your means, plan for a longer future than death statistics would have you believe, pay attention to your retirement funds (pension, investments, etc), and put a plan together to keep yourself fiscally sound for the rest of your life.
  6. Work.  Of course this may impact your taxes/Social Security/etc so check with your CPA first, but picking up a side job can be necessary (for extra income), enlightening (do a type of work you've never done before), fun (pick a fun job to do), and/or a grand opportunity (do work you've always wanted to do but couldn't fit into your life plan earlier).
  7. Take up a big challenge.  When you retire, as stated above, you will have a lot of time to fill up.  Many retirees take this opportunity to do something they would never have had time to do when they were working.  One friend thru-hiked the AT, another friend went on a 90-day around the world cruise, and another friend moved in with the grandkids in order to care for them while their parents work and build stronger bonds with them than would have been possible with family members scattered all over the country.
  8. Take advantage of senior only stuff.  Many universities allow seniors to partake in university courses for free or cheap.  Travel with ElderHostel, RoadScholar, Servas, etc.  Ask for senior discounts for everything from shopping and restaurants to museums and popular tourist attractions.
  9. Have a plan for your aging and death.  Sounds like a grim topic but ensuring that your kids/relatives/friends aren't stuck with probate problems, cleaning out your hoarder home, wondering if you wanted to be buried or cremated, etc. is a very gracious gift to give your loved ones.  Get your ducks (Will, Living Will, Power of Attorney, funeral planned and paid for, long term care planned, etc) in order.
  10. Build relationships.  Once you get old you realize that all of the material goods in the world aren't nearly what they are cracked up to be.  Building relationships however, with the grandkids, the neighbors, long-time friends, relatives, etc. is well worth the time and effort invested.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Identify Your Target. Please.

First off, Happy New Year!  It's been a quiet weekend around here, but, as with any big city, we have already had a couple of shootings to welcome in the new year.  While most shootings in most cities are gang/drug related, and other shootings are law enforcement related, we have had a few incidents around here recently which emphasize a very important point if you are going to use a gun against another person--identify your target THEN pull the trigger.

As you can see from this incident, it's a stupid idea to shoot someone through the door.  Unless shots are coming into your home, firing at a random person who happens to be pounding on your door is really dumb (and should be really illegal).  If you can't identify your target, you should not be shooting at it.  If someone is pounding on your door in the middle of the night you have a few options.  First, look to see who it is.  If you don't know who it is or what they want, tell them to get off your property.  If they don't comply, call the police.  Obviously you will want to have your firearm at the ready because you don't know what the person's intentions are but while some drunk fool on your door step can be scary, it isn't a reason to kill someone.  Now when said fool breaches your door or window and is coming into your home and you can identify that the person is #1 unknown to you and #2 a decided threat, by all means open fire (from a position of cover, of course).

And then there was this incident where two local off duty police officers mistook their relative for an intruder and shot her.  My first thought was that #1 these people (should) have had enough tactical training to know that they need to identify their target before shooting, and that #2 they should have had enough common sense to know that if someone has access to your house that, duh, it might be someone you know coming in during the middle of the night, and that #3, again even as trained law enforcement officers it seems like they could barely hit the broad side of a barn since the person was only slightly injured.  That in itself was slightly concerning.   Anyway...

A similar incident happened to me some years back.  The spouse was out of town, the kids were at their friend's house for the weekend, and I was awoken in the middle of the night by the dog flipping out and someone creeping around the outside of my house shaking the door handles.  Now I was behind a locked bedroom door and had a couple of minutes to act so first I picked up my bedside firearm, next, I took a look out the window to see if I could tell what was happening (I couldn't see anything but could hear a couple of people trying to open the back door), then I called 911 to inform them that there was an intruder trying to get into my home.  I also informed the dispatcher that I was armed and was in my locked bedroom and for them to let me know when law enforcement arrives (I didn't want to unintentionally shoot a cop).  Then I took cover behind the bed and waited.  From what I could hear, no one had entered my home, there was no reason to leave my room as there was no one in the home to protect, and police response in the area was reasonably speedy.  If someone had breached my bedroom door, they would have ended up dead but there was no reason to go running outside to engage people in what could have been a firefight (odds of winning one of these are pretty iffy, BTW).

So I waited.  The police arrived almost immediately and they approached the people in the back yard with guns drawn.  Turns out one of my sons and his friend wanted to pick up some stuff from the house and he had forgot his key and hoped to be able to somehow get in the house without waking me up.  Needless to say it was a learning experience for all involved and the situation could have went sideways pretty quickly.  It was fortunate someone wasn't shot.

To this day, there are a number of people who have keys to my house and who routinely show up in Las Vegas and need a place to stay.  They know they are welcome to show up any time, and of course I emphasize the fact that they must call before they arrive even though they have a key and that they can call at any time.  They also know I am pretty much always armed and have the good sense not to just show up unannounced and come into my house.  Even if someone should do so, there would be no reason to break down my bedroom door so the idea of being armed and ready but not confrontational unless absolutely necessary is still one of the rules I live by.  YMMV.