Bee Quest

First, I have become a beekeeper over the last year and a half. I am still learning something new quite frequently. I will eventually post some of the story on how I got where I am, but my new neighbor wrote the following from his perspective and I think it is important to take in others’ perspectives on me. It helps me evaluate whether or not I am completely off my rocker. Based on the following, I just might bee… sorry for the stings, Jimmy :) So here goes:

Bee Quest: by Jimmy

On Friday March 28, 2014 I was working in the backyard on the pond and taking a few pictures with my new macro lens configuration.  After a few minutes I walked over to talk to our back fence neighbors Dillon and Elizabeth.  Since his bee hives had been in yard for about 2 weeks we talked about how they were settling into their new home.  As we talked I asked him how that garbage bag got up in the tree.  His response was that it was not a bag, but rather a squirrel’s nest of sticks.  Dillon made a closer inspection and found that it was not a squirrel’s nest but a bee swarm.  A group of bees from one of his hives had followed the queen to a limb 30 feet from their hive.  So, in answer to the question of how the bees were settling in – “Not well, they want to move.”

1BeeSwarm

You may have picked up when you met Dillon that he is a bit of a free spirit.  When he saw the swarm he went into overdrive. [Note: Jimmy hasn't seen me when I am drinking coffee and excited about doing something yet.] His objective – gather the swarm and put it into one of his vacant hives.  Dillon has three children and a wife. Two of the children, the youngest (a 2 year old girl) and the oldest (a 9 year old boy), along with his wife started chiming out “you’re crazy!”  The middle child (a 7 year old boy) was ready for an adventure.  He wanted to catch some bees.  Dillon started recruiting his family for help.  The 7 year old, Cole, wanted to help and ran off to the house to get on his bee suit.  There were no other offers from the rest of his family.

With a little sense of adventure myself and having once gathered honey from a wild hive, I told Dillon I would help him. Dillon and Cole donned official bee suits.  I donned a makeshift bee suit.  However, we all had official bee net hats and bee proof gloves. Here we are discussing strategy for a moment as Cole stands at the ready.

4DillonandtheGofer

3ColeFearless

 

The goal was to gather the swarm and move it to a vacant hive.  Therefore, the bees 15 feet up in a tree needed to be brought down and put in a box.  The plan was to use a ladder and an 18 foot tree trimming saw.  The three of us each had a job.  I was to use the trimming saw with a hook to grab the limb with the swarm and shake it. Dillon stood on the ladder with a box to catch the falling bees.  Cole was to hold the ladder. Here is the plan in action.

5teaminaction

The crowd watching our antics were at a safe distance.  Levi and our neighbor Gary stood at the gate in our backyard and watched.  The remainder of Dillon’s family were looking out the second story window of his house.  Dillon’s wife was apprehensive about his swarm gathering plan.  He told me with all confidence that “She’s nervous because she hasn’t seen me catch a swarm before.”   After a brief pause he said, in fact, he had never gathered a swarm before.

As the saying goes, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.”  First bees don’t fall in a straight line.  Since they can fly they go where they want.  As I shook the limb some of the bees did fall into the box, but many flew.  As I shook the limb bees started covering Cole, Dillon, and me.  The bees did not phase Cole.  He was game for anything.  He was fearless.  Since both Cole and Dillon had on official bee suits the bees did not bother them.  My makeshift suit was not as good.  I was the only one to be stung. 

I continued to shake the limb with the swarm.  Dillon continued to catch the falling bees.  As we gathered the bees all I could think of were the red neck’s famous last words, “Hey watch this.”  [Note: I think he means me...] After 30 minutes of bee swarm gathering, it was apparent.  We failed.

7teaminaction2

There were a few bees in the box, a lot of bees in the air and still a large number hanging onto the branch.  We packed up the bee gathering tools that evening.   The next morning the bees that had been put into the new hive had moved back to the tree limb.  The swarm was still in the tree and the new hive was empty. In the end it turned out okay.  We had a good learning experience; no one was hurt and only a few bees died.  Also, I got a whole new respect for 7 year old Cole. He was fearless.  He had a great time and was game to do it again.  Dillon came away with new respect for the bee swarm.  Me, I learned that my patchwork bee suit was mostly effective, and that the honey gathering process Dillon invited me to help with should be a much calmer and controlled process.  The real payoff came the next morning when Dillon brought me a bag of hot biscuits Elizabeth had made and a jar of honey.

AmazonFresh: Supersaver Shipping Your Produce?

The following is a summary review of an article,  Amazon May Claim a Bigger Place in the Food Chain, posted at E-Commerce Times by Rachelle Dragani on June 6, 2013.

In the past, groceries were often delivered. That has waned these days in the time of “everybody has an SUV”, but Amazon could bring grocery delivery to a whole other level. The company is expanding its Seattle-based AmazonFresh service to LA and San Francisco. At this point I’d like to point out that at one point Amazon was a guy names Jeff selling books out of his garage. If he did it with books, he can probably do it with your Cheerios. If the service is a hit in those cities, AmazonFresh could roll into 20 more metropolitan areas — possibly including some outside of the U.S. — in 2014.

Amazon has a major share of e-commerce and is known for its innovation, so the relatively sparse grocery market is open for a firm with the know-how to close the gaps in that market

It is a huge target market, as people spend over 10% on their food – one of the largest repetitive expenditures in a family budget. Delivery might also be an in with the aging boomer market over the next two decades. Others have been doing it for years – Peapod was in DC when I was there 10 years ago and is still going strong.

Amazon can really take advantage of its brand – known for its amazing infrastructure that allows delivery what the consumer wants for a good value and as quickly as most any other alternative. There is also the potential advantage of no brick & mortar store – my opinion is that is a disadvantage for fresh goods & produce. I would personally use an online order and delivery service for my non-perishables. Then I could spend more time at home with the family and spend my grocery time at the farmers market or at local farms.

Here’s an audio version of my summary.

Meteor Explodes Over Russia

russiamap

A meteor flew into the atmosphere in Russia near the Ural mountain city of Chelyabinsk this morning injuring  hundreds and scaring the heck out of a ton more people. Fox News has a 3 minute discussion with some repeats of a small set of video. But Russia Today has a great video montage of what happened as well as live updates (in English). So go there to check it out in more detail. Here’s the video.

The large piece that survived entry to the atmosphere landed in a lake. It could have very easily landed in the middle of a city. This is a reminder that you never know when your time is up, so I would suggest you live right.

Customized Twitter Notifications

Recently a question was posed on The Survival Podcast regarding custom notifications from Twitter to aid in filtering out all of the useless tweets. My twitter app (Tweetcaster from One Louder Apps) seems to solve that problem with a few workarounds:

1. You can set up custom user notifications. The customization simply sends a second notification (similar to a missed call). Other than that, it is not custom or even different for that matter. I use this notification as a “pay attention” notification:

TweetcasterYou can see that the tweet from @cflorreich popped up separately from the generic “You’ve got a bunch of tweets to go read” notification.

2. The second workaround adds users for whom you have set up custom notifications to a list. I use this in my “monitor” phase. For example, I have a list set up called “MS Emergency” which includes the twitter feeds of the MS Emergency Management Agency, the governor, and assorted “fast-breaking” local media outlets. So if I get a notification from one of them like in #1 above and think something is up, I can shift into monitoring the list feed to watch an event unfold to either get there to take advantage (non-emergencies like special offers for instance) or steer clear (weather emergencies or civil unrest for example).

I hope this helps you better utilize your twitter feed for something practical rather than just a time consumer.

 

Preppers Are Crazy! Oh Wait…

I am ridiculed a bit here and there by friends and even family for some of the cockamamie ideas I come up with. For example:

  • Storing and rotating 10 gallons or so of potable water, plus more that I don’t rotate/worry about (for flushing, etc.);
  • Buying a few extra cans of tuna, jars of peanut butter, etc. every week at the grocery store;
  • Buying a boxes here and there of stuff we don’t use that often (powdered milk/eggs, flour, sugar, oil);
  • Building a little makeshift brick “rocket stove” and trying it out occasionally.
  • Putting at least one flashlight in every room with a couple of locations that have more than one, including headlamps so I can work with light;
  • Keeping a couple of cans of gas filled up, rotated through my car tank so the gas doesn’t get “old”;
  • Having multiple means of emergency communications (weather radios, 2-way radio, HAM radio);

Lots of people have a joke or a comment about me being a bit nuts and worried about everything. Then something like Hurricane Isaac shows up and everyone that isn’t already prepared is beginning to do one of two things: 1) start running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to find A. place that have any gas cans, bottled water, generators left followed by B. (if step A was successful) a gas station that still has gas. 2) they wait until the power goes out and then come ask me to borrow my flashlights and/or radios.  Oh, and maybe a couple of bottles of water. And wow, you still have ice? How’d you do that? (run your refrigerator/freezer off of an inverter from the car) Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to help my friends and neighbors in a time of need. But it sure would be nice if rather than making fun of things I do people would spend that energy learning and better preparing themselves… recall the ant and the grasshopper.

If you are already in harms way and would like some “quick fixes” to de-grasshopper yourself and your family, you can execute a few relatively cheap and easy solutions to get you through a few days without water/electric power: 1) $50 for power, 2) Basically free for water, 3) $20 for food 4) $40/5gal can of gas filled 5) $75 for a stove & fuel. That’s $150 + your desired gasoline supply. See below for how I came up with that.

  1. Power your essential loads a few hours a day with an inverter that is plugged into your car. Run the car at least part of that time to ensure you don’t drain your battery. [750 Watt Inverter for $50 from Harbor Freight]. Keep the fridge/freezer closed except for a few times a day. Know the list of things you’re going to get out of your fridge, visualize where the things are, then open it once, quickly retrieve your food and close it. Note that food will last a few hours before it has to be refrigerated… so get out 2 meals worth of food at once to minimize the amount the fridge has to cycle on and cool itself. NOTE: OPEN YOUR GARAGE AND CLOSE THE DOOR TO YOUR HOUSE IF YOU USE YOUR CAR AS A GENERATOR. I’m assuming you have a heavy duty extension cord. If not, add $20 and get one while you’re at Harbor Freight. Make sure it’s long enough to reach from your garage/car to your fridge. You can also charge cell phones and rechargeable batteries while the car is running anyway to maximize efficient use of the car’s engine. If you don’t already have rechargeable batteries and the associated chargers, here is a good collection of things from Steven Harris that would be a good start. If you have time, listen to this podcast episode about getting through a blackout.
  2. Fill 2L coke bottles or milk jugs with water. Don’t touch the inside with anything but water and don’t use bottles you’ve put your mouth on (like a 20oz bottle). Make sure they are rinsed well before using them. There’s nothing alive in there (carbonic acid is nasty stuff for little bugs)… so keep it that way. I generally use the milk jugs for non-potable water, as those jugs aren’t designed to last that long. In a pinch, you can also fill up garbage bags in the tub before clean water goes away. Losing water is pretty rare where I am. But it is basically free to be prepared for this eventuality and way better than boiling water if I had to. While they will make you more thirsty due to the sodium/sugar in them, even the soft drinks you have in 2L bottles can keep you hydrated for a while. Surely you know people who haven’t actually had a glass of water in years… not recommending it, but you’ll make it in the short term.
  3. Buy $20 worth of some cheap storable food. 2 words (plus a lot more because I can not only use 2 words): shelf stable. Peanut butter, tuna, chicken, vegetables are all available for cheap, can be stored in a pantry/cabinet for months to years without refrigeration, can be opened on-demand, and are for lack of a more accurate term, yummy. Mmm… baked beans. I’m getting hungry making the list of things you can buy for less than a dollar that will get you through a brief time without power. If you don’t have any stored food, don’t go off the deep end and buy 5 cases of MREs. Just spend $20 on things you eat already. If you really want to put away some things to replace refrigerated stuff, try powdered or ultra high temperature (UHT) milk like Parmalat and some powdered eggs. I will tell you that there is no such thing as a good powdered egg. But our friends the McIlhenny family from Avery Island, LA can fix any food-flavor malady that ails you in the short term with their magic sauce. Our friends the Hershey family from the town of the same name in Pennsylvania have an even magicer sauce  (trust me, magicer is a word… just drink it and see) to combat the woes of drinking powdered milk. Once you get past this storm, start spending $5 a week on things like this (canned goods you already eat, the occasional thing you wouldn’t eat unless forced to do so and the magic/magicer solution to make it palatable) to build up your stores when it is not a crisis. Some other things that I don’t eat often much anymore, but are useful for no-power situations, are traditional tortillas/flatbreads. Learn how to throw some flour, oil, sugar/salt,  and water together on to a hot surface and end up with a heavenly bread in a few minutes – “emergency tortillas” with a 2:1:1/2 ratio recipe for ease of memory (2 cups flour, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup oil). Change the ratio to change the texture and add some salt/sugar to change the flavor as desired. It ain’t Whole Foods, but it’ll keep you going while you clear storm debris etc.
  4. There isn’t really a cheap solution to getting an additional store of 10-50 gallons of gas on hand quickly. The basics concept is to have a can labeled for each month and you fill your car tank with it in that month before heading to the gas station and refill the storage tank while you fill your car. I haven’t checked out any YouTube videos of people doing this, so I can’t vouch for them. But just do a search there and you’ll get the idea. In the short term, see if you can find 1 or 2 cans and get them filled up. It seems that you can do this and avoid the headless-chicken crazies in option 1 above if you will just do this a few days early since most wait until the last minute.
  5. If you want cooked/heated food you can also buy a little camp stove to cook on. I don’t have one personally. But I have a grill and keep an extra bottle of propane for it. I also built a rocket stove as mentioned above out of some spare bricks and know how to make a fire. If you don’t want to act like a nutcase (me), just get a little coleman stove, available for $40 and up – I’d go with the PerfectFlow 2 or similar for about $65 plus a couple of cans of propane for $5 each. You’ll be limited to your fuel supply, but you are already whether you know it or not. If you’re really worried about cooking in the absence of fuel/electricity, learn how to make a fire. I, for one, don’t want to be stuck without smores & chocolate milk or scrambled eggs/Tabasco in any situation I can think of. A few really cheap tools like a ferro rod coupled with readily available stuff like cotton balls & vaseline make a heckuva good fire starter. But practice is pretty essential to making a fire too. Don’t think you’ll just break out your ferro rod and go Bear Grylls on that pile of twigs. It isn’t THAT easy (until after you practice).

Hopefully you’re reading this and thinking… “I’m ready” for whatever event brought you here to read this in the first place. If not, I hope this helps you direct your efforts to take away some of the stress of preparing for an incoming storm. Good luck.

PS – I didn’t cover this concept above. But if you keep stores of food and fuel that you are regularly rotating, it allows you to occasionally dip into those stores to better absorb price hikes – saving you money. You begin to maximize the effect of buying low and using high. this only works well once you actually have stores in which to dip. But it does work. As an example, I only buy peanut butter on sale now since I have enough to last through a few months of regular usage – which is a bookooton of peanut butter with 2 young boys (and me) in the house. $1 savings a jar doesn’t seem like much. When the concept is extended to all of the shelf-stable food you eat or fuel you burn those dollars add up that are saved by using stores when prices spike.

Silver – Why You Might Want to Buy Some

2012

I will start out by saying that this post is not meant to send you off to the bank for a huge withdrawal so that you can go dump a ton of money into silver or gold bullion. However, I believe that silver is either relatively inexpensive/undervalued right now or it is a well-priced inflation hedge. I think that holds true as long as silver is below $40-50/oz. I think that it is a good time to buy some silver if you’re doing that type of thing. I wouldn’t suggest buying gold, though. It may be properly valued where it is, but it may be overvalued. If it’s a good buy where it is, then silver is an outstanding buy. If however, it is very overvalued where it stands now, then a silver buy protects you from the downside risk. Also, don’t go buy some silver expecting to make a quick buck. Investing in precious metals is a very long-term protective play. A 1964 silver dollar is worth about as much gas today (5-6 gallons – gas at $3-4.00) today as it was back in the 1964 (3-4 gallons – gas at $0.30/gal - Source: 1964 Flashback) However, a 1968 dollar coin will get you less than a gallon since it is worth, well… $1. So buying silver won’t make you rich. It preserves your purchasing power. Like I said… it’s your money and I’m not officially qualified to render any advice, so take what I’ve said as me blabbering about. But I’m certainly not the only one who believes this right now. And you would do well to educate yourself further given the bleak financial future that we may be faced with.

There are lots of ways to buy silver, including US Gov’t-issued legal tender Silver Eagles, pre-1964 coins (90% silver and called “junk” or “constitutional” silver), or various forms of bullion (e.g., minted rounds or bars). Do some homework on what you want and what you are buying before you do anything. People sell things for as much as they can get and some overreach. You might find some good deals on eBay. You can be more confident buying from somewhere like Monex but they will charge a premium. I’ll recommend one reputable dealer here – Silver & Gold Shop. Mary Beth has always been very helpful, informative, and has pretty good prices on rounds, bars, and eagles.  Another dealer who has been recommended to me but with whom I have not yet engaged is JM Bullion. Their prices are a little better, but I have no experience with their service. Here’s a link to information on current “junk” silver values and below is graph of recent silver prices:

Silver Prices

Pray for this family

Over the last year, I have worked 4 members of the Janvrin family from Massachusetts – Roland & Julie, their son Chris, and his fiancee Sara. They have had a run that is beyond what lots of us have ever had to deal with or can even conceive of dealing with. They lost their daughter/sister a little more than a year ago. In all of the time I spent with the family they maintained a stoic view and continued living life – enjoying life. Yesterday I heard some news that literally made me feel sick. Chris, a handsome young man in his prime with a beautiful fiancee (Sara) and an otherwise bright life ahead of him, has been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. From the information I have, there are not a ton of options that modern medicine has to keep the flames of that bright future burning. This is the closest to a modern-day story of Job that I have ever known.

If you pray, please pray for this family. If you get on a spiritual plane and send good vibrations, do that. If you just give money to stuff so someone else can help, do that. Whatever it is that you do to try to offer support to people in need or affect the outcome of things through positive thoughts or petitions to a higher power, please do it now for Chris and his family.

Chris and Sara have started the CWJ Cancer Fund at EverRibbon. If you are so inclined, you can offer your thoughts to them there.

Review: Elftmann Tactical Rifle Conversion Kit

The Elftmann Tactical Rifle Conversion Kit (TRCK) is a really fun product to own. It is difficult to find, but easy to get if you are quick enough to get one of the last 15 or so the manufacturer still has in stock. I write this review from the perspective that a bullpup stock  on a 22 is really a “novelty item” that is intended to enhance an already functional piece of equipment both visually and practically. I personally think it is worth the price I paid for it and would have paid another $25 more for it. Compared to the reviews I have read of competing bullpup alternatives, the TRCK is a solidly built, well thought piece of equipment with only a few small drawbacks that I will cover in more depth below.

I was grinning from ear to ear when I finally put some rounds down range through the TRCK. The trigger is heavy, but not markedly heavier than the stock Marlin trigger. In my opinion the trigger pull is acceptable and not too far off from many Mil-Spec triggers I’ve pulled in my career. I don’t have a gauge, so I can’t give you an accurate weight for it.

The TRCK took little more skill to install than the ability to use a screwdriver and Allen wrenches (since it’s my name I tend to capitalize Allen in all uses), which you can read more about in my installation walkthrough. As I mentioned there, I added some hardware store fasteners to properly hold down the top rail. This is a pretty important step since you have to have this rail to get your optics to stay in place and maintain zero. The iron sights are unusable  with the stock installed because the butt plate of the stock sticks up and blocks them. This isn’t a huge deal for me, since I really prefer a red-dot anyway. If you want back-up irons, there isn’t really enough rail space. There’s also too much vertical separation (and therefore parallax) to mount a scope high off the rail. I couldn’t get the Redfield (mounted on the Larue LT-104) adjusted down enough to zero at 50 yds. Since that’s about the limit of 100% effective 22LR range for me and I knew going in that I needed to mount an optic lower on the rail, I put one of my Aimpoints on the rifle and zeroed at 25yds. I didn’t have any problem zeroing the Aimpoint at that range.

The major difference between the Elftmann and the other alternatives I found before purchasing is that this kit is made of metal. It feels as solid as an AR when you’re done and sounds the same when it comes into contact with something. It’s definitely not a plastic piece of junk. I really want to buy a couple more just to try out in the 10/22 and Marlin 795 versions.

My main drawback with this product is reliability. After putting a couple hundred rounds through the rifle with this setup, I’m a bit concerned about the long-term functionality of the trigger linkage and internal assembly (including the safety). It’s very rough and occasionally hangs. If this was a means of self-defense, I would not use it at this point. I hate to say that… because I can carry a ton of ammunition and it is only 26 3/4″ long, but if you don’t KNOW it will fire every time, the it CAN’T BE DEPENDED UPON to fire every time. Really too bad. But this thing is fun. If you get one, feel free to send me pictures and I’ll post them for you here.

Take My Poll: Red or Blue? Neither.


Many of my friends who align with the democratic party assume I’m a republican because I believe in the freedoms that the “red” party purports to champion like keeping and bearing arms. However, some of my friends who are very “republican” think I’m a crazy left-wing lunatic because I believe in the freedoms that the “blue” party claim to stand behind like freedom of speech even in the extreme. Those observations from my friends across the political spectrum and one of the funnier lines in the “This Land” Bush/Kerry parody from JibJab  are actually how I came up with my tag line “left of center right-wing nutjob”.

I’m not “red” or “blue” anymore nor was I ever, really. I’m more of a yellow with a two-tone green and orange racing stripe. It isn’t a neat and tidy mix of color, but neither are all of the issues our “leaders” are faced with a neat and tidy set of things with which to battle. I have voted mostly for Republicans in my voting career. Only in primaries have I ever voted for people who I REALLY wanted to win. I have, in the past, decided that I should vote in the general election for the lesser of the two evils to show my support against the greater of two evils. I have never voted in a general election in which the margin in my state was anywhere near the margin necessary for my vote (or my entire county’s vote for that matter) to matter. Note: In 2004 my 2nd vote for Bush in a general was overshadowed by ~30,000 votes in favor of Kerry in Fairfax county and Bush still won Virginia by over 250,000 votes. Source: Washington Post. I have always felt that I should vote for somebody, anybody, else than the people on the ballot but always convinced myself at the last minute to vote for the “lesser evil”. I have decided that as a general rule I will no longer do that. I supported Ron Paul and may still write him in for the 2012 general election. I think that Buddy Roemer, Gary Johnson, Rocky Anderson, or maybe even Roseanne Barr would do a more honest and open job of governance than either of the two people that we will incessantly hear about the rest of the year and see on the stages of the silly excuses for presidential debates. I am going to NOT vote for Obama and I am going to NOT vote for Romney. I haven’t decided who my pick will be, but I’m going to vote for someone who I could stand behind that wouldn’t – if they were to win – arrive in office with a huge baggage cart of influence debt to be repaid or happy to take on some more. I cannot say that I will do that in every case in the future… there are exceptions to rules. If my vote could settle an outcome and one of the candidates is so bad as to be ruinous or is completely off of my scale, I could potentially be persuaded to vote for a lesser evil. I don’t believe that is the case with this election. I think either major candidate will be ruinous. Please take my poll below and see where other readers land on this issue.

[polldaddy poll=6295630]
For your viewing pleasure and a bit of nostalgia:

 

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

 
If you’re coming here from The Smart Voter or The Survival Podcast communities, welcome. Feel free to roam around a bit and post some graffiti in the comments. I’m especially curious where the TSV and TSP crowd will end up as this subject is not foreign to you.

Congratulations to Chef Paul Yeck

I frequently sing the praises of my brother-in-law, currently the head chef at America Eats Tavern in Washington, DC. Sometimes I get the feeling people think I’m just biased because he’s my brother, but this guy’s food is good – like eat until you’re gonna pop and go back for more good. Paul has been interested in the culinary arts for a long time, but our holiday meals were really kicked up a notch after he started digging into his craft at L&M Salumeria in Oxford and the French Culinary Institute. Since he’s been working under the tutelage of Jose Andres’s organization, his work has become spectacular.

My obviously biased claims have finally been backed up. Yesterday, Eater.com released their 2012 Eater Young Guns Final 50. From Eater:

Young Guns is Eater’s annual roll call of the next guard – the most promising newbies in food, wine and hospitality, as selected by industry leaders. 

So if you find yourself in DC, go see the National Archives, the Navy Memorial, and the Spy Museum and then follow it up with a great meal at America Eats – @AmericaEatsTvrn. Congratulations Paul!