Emergency water supply installed

Water security. For me that means we could use as much water as we want to irrigate our food crops, even in the middle of a drought. For me, that means a significantly sized source of potable water to use in an emergency. And for me, that means harvesting rainwater.

The nearby sketch shows the setup we built over the past three weeks. We’re harvesting rainwater from the roof gutters, into a “trash can” silt catcher, through to a 3P Technik VF1 Volume Filter, past a 4″ first flush diverter, and then into a pair of 2500 gallon cisterns. Extra rainfall can be diverted into an existing large diffuser once the tanks are full.

Water then passes through a Graf floating inlet filter with 8’’ hose to be pumped back up our hill out of the tanks with a new Grundfos MQ 3-45 1HP 110v pump, feeding the two yard hydrants near the food forest and one yard hydrant near the house.

From sketch to completion…look in this slideshow for more photos.
This water storage book – although quite short – was by far the most useful. I could not find several components locally, so I ordered them from Rain Harvest.
Now to go clean up the construction mud and replant grass for the chicken tractor…

Ouch. Bruises in odd places.

Nothing like training on mixed martial arts with a bias towards real self defense to help you discover new ways to bruise your body.

This bruise looks suspiciously like the thumbprint of my sensei.

An experiment in simplicity

For an interesting, first-hand analysis of what an economic collapse in the US might look like in comparison to what happened to Russia a few years ago, pick up a copy of Dmitry Orlov’s book Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects at your local library.

You can also head over to the Energy Bulletin website to read through his slide presentation on this topic. Strangely enough, he’s made a dire topic actually enjoyable to read about.

Simplicity certainly plays a large role in this new Emergency Planning world, whether it is forced (as described in Orlov’s descriptions of Russia) or voluntary (back-to-the-land folks).

In other realms, I’ve experimented with forms of voluntary simplicity, usually related to technology since I’m a computer geek. A year ago I switched to Macs for the first time in my life. Definitely a more streamlined user interface reflecting Steve Job’s passion for “less is more”. I’m using only the standard “out of the box” applications for most of my productivity (Mac Mail, Address Book, iCal, etc).

More recently, I’ve begun using a smart phone (iPhone 3GS) instead of laptop to run my company (and most of the rest of my life). It certainly makes business travel simpler and multi-tasking easier (e.g. weeding my vegetable garden while talking to my salespeople after reviewing a spreadsheet).

I certainly hope we can retain the “simple life” as a voluntary experiment, rather than a forced scenario.

Protecting your cash assets from hyperinflation

For a great summary on how we got into the mess we’re in, check out the NPR podcast “Return to the Giant Pool of Money“. If you don’t use iTunes, do a search for episode #390 of the This American Life show from Chicago Public Radio from just a few weeks ago.

In the podcast, they mark the anniversary of the economic collapse: recapping some of the original episode and finding out what’s happened to the folks featured in the story in the year since.

My main takeaway: the economic collapse was not something They did, but something We did. We (you and I) are the global pool of money. This is not something we can blame on Wall Street, but on basic human greed, seen at a catastrophic global scale.

And while we’re talking about money, you might look into just how secure (or not) your bank account is. Use this tool and go for B+ or higher rated bank.

A new martial arts teacher and perspective

Re-engaged with a new (old) teacher for physical security training recently. I’ve known this fellow for years, trained under him awhile ago, and trust him to teach me these potentially deadly techniques with the correct mindset. Specifically, one of being positive and solution-focused.

He was open to contracting with me for private lessons in a customized format, makes my dojo commute time only 15 minutes (by bicycle) each way, and meets with me during my lunch break. Cool.

We’re studying the same practical topics as krav maga (unarmed defense against chokes, strikes, kicks, knife, and gun), but from an aikido perspective. Aikido is known as the only martial art that is non-aggressive. While I appreciate that fact because I believe in seeking harmony, it also leads to criticisms of the art.

We are attempting to remedy these critiques by bringing in portions of other disciplines, such as Brazilian ju-jitsu (ground work/escape), Wing Chun (close combat), and Muay Thai (striking/kicking distance), with a focus on simultaneous defensive and offensive maneuvers.

Because all aikido-based techniques wait until the other person attempts to do something negative to you before responding, it is great for diffusing potentially negative situations. But in case they can’t be diffused, I’ve added weapons training to my sessions for the jo, kubotan, and stick fighting. Why those specific weapons? Because I already carry them every day.
  • A jo is basically a long stick. Between hiking sticks and garden tools, I spend a fair amount of my day with something like a jo already in my hand.
  • A kubotan can be any small cylindrical object. For me, that’s the space pen, small tactical flashlight (during travel) , or pocket multitool (not during travel) that are always in my pockets.
  • The fighting sticks are martial arts version of a policeman’s baton. I keep a collapsible ASP baton attached to my bedside so I can sleep better.

And why weapons training at all? Because a recent discussion with my wife made it clear to me that I will never be allowed to store guns in our house, loaded or unloaded. Scratch that, once the local coyotes and raccoons started attacking our chickens, guns made it onto the approved list. But this logic still applies for those (many) times when I am not armed. I can usually find something nearby to serve as a stick.

I do not disagree with any of her arguments; I could make all the same arguments myself. But it convinced me of one thing. If I cannot have a “weapon” in the house (e.g. a gun), then I need to become the weapon myself.

Which is going to take *alot* of work.

How to get your spouse involved

I distinctly remember when I finally had the Big Talk with my wife about emergency preparedness after months of research and reading. I was waiting for the right time and (luckily) hit it. The good news was that she did not think I was insane.

I asked her to list the possible emergencies for which she would want us prepared. Her exact reply:
  1. Earthquakes
  2. War
  3. Food/Water shortages
  4. Looting

I expanded each of these with her to include the areas you see here and launched this blog to document our successes and failures preparing for each of these scenarios in order to encourage others to opt out en masse as well.

As for failures, here’s my first major one: I stopped communicating with my wife immediately after the above-mentioned conversation. I just went head down into preparation planning and execution.

While I subscribed her to this blog, I never bothered to ask if she would actually want to read it. It turns out, she doesn’t. Her time on the computer is so limited by our current life stage (two young active kids) that she barely has enough time to stay current with friends via email.

Blogs? Facebook? Are you kidding? These don’t even make it onto her radar. Oops.

She watches me read through emergency prep books each evening. She hears me on the phone with contractors getting bids. She talks to me while I’m cutting paths into our steep hillside to make more room for vegetable beds. But through all this, I did not actually communicate with her.

I failed to communicate the Big Picture of what we as a family are preparing for and its cost implications. When viewed individually, the costs can actually be quite alarming. She was recently balancing our checkbook when it came to a head.

“You spent $600 on wheat?!?”

But when you realize (e.g. discuss) that we normally spend $1200 a year on wheat, then a one time hit of $600 for that same amount of wheat begins to make sense financially. It makes you feel good and wise having that amount of food in storage for a rainy day. But only if you talk about it.

Lesson learned. Whether the project is harvesting our rainwater from the roof into food grade tanks or building out a permaculture-style “food forest”, I’m going to communicate with my wife more frequently in her preferred medium – an actual conversation.


Physical security training begins

This part of my Physical Security task overlaps with my Personal Training task. Much of physical security is centered on hardening my home to burglars and would-be home invaders, but a portion of this task is the hardening of myself.

I’ll also (selectively) begin hardening my family. I want my wife to know how to physically defend herself and escape an attack should I be traveling for work. And I think it is one of my fatherly duties to raise children who know how to responsibly defend themselves and their friends, and to encourage others to think peacefully. As my young son said the other day, “Dad, I think there are alot of unfriendly kids in the world.”

Like many other parts of the Personal Training task, I’m now making up for items I wish I had learned as a youth or young adult. Things like how to solder, how to use a plumb line, or how to disable a person(s) attempting to hurt someone I love. It’s this last item for which I’ve started conditioning recently. I’m now studying martial arts for the first time in a focused, supervised manner at a local dojo.

My primary focus is how *not* to get in a fight; how to deescalate any situation that might cause someone to physically attack you. But part of martial arts is also focused on how to efficiently and effectively disable someone threatening yourself or your family.

Even though we train at speeds well below full speed, I’m going to be lucky to get through this training without breaking my nose at least once.

Investing for the Peak

What “peak”? Well, peak everything, actually.

I’ve been researching where to invest cash for two scenarios, the first being the transitional years I believe we’ve just entered which are marked by a lousy economy and strange up/down market fluctuations related to energy and food stuffs. The second scenario I’ve been researching is where to invest cash in the economy that will emerge from the current shakeup, after the transitional years.

Frankly, I have no idea if this economy will fully emerge in my lifetime, but when I think about investments, I’m automatically thinking very long term…for our kids’ benefit.

We’re currently sitting on all cash and short-term US Treasury bills, split among several different financial institutions. But with hyperinflation looming and the international loss of confidence in the US dollar, our paper assets could dwindle very quickly. My friends in the financial world believe a second major correction on par or worse than the last financial meltdown is coming.

So where do you invest in a post peak world? Well, the most attractive option is to turn those paper assets in real assets, specifically in the form of local business ownership and local farmable real estate.

It was with that thought/question in mind that I attended a recent Post Peak Living seminar titled “Sustainable Post-Peak Livelihoods“. It was a two hour session taught by Sarah and Paul Edwards, with ample time allowed for discussion. I found the content high quality and access to the instructors and Andre (session host and founder of PPL) easy and straightforward. Recommended.

They confirmed two things I had been discussing with my wife, the first was the wisdom in investing in the local businesses in our small town that I felt were serving me well during this series of “opt out” experiments we’ve been doing. Specifically, the two bike shops in town, the local hardware franchise, and the two gardening supply shops. In the transitional years we are just beginning, these would become the core businesses of our town.

The second was a long-standing thought which is any time I’m investing my money, I also want to be investing my time and talent. The folks at Social Venture Partners cemented that idea in my brain more than a decade ago.

But the Edwards opened my eyes to an additional investment opportunity: tradespeople. Whether they are existing woodworkers, plumbers, or electricians, they skills in a post peak world will be at a premium since their ability to travel via car while be severely hampered. We discussed financially investing in both established tradespersons as well as younger folks just coming out of apprenticeship programs.

Switching gears, of the post peak investing books I’ve been reading, I have one only recommendation so far: Profit from the Peak, particularly the epilogue. The book addresses more classical investment vehicles, namely public companies. Several of their recommendations are well thought out and worth mentioning:
  • General Electric (NYSE: GE): largest producer of domestic wind turbines and innovative new hybrid locomotives
  • Zoltek (NASDAQ: ZOLT): US based maker of carbon fiber, which goes into modern wind turbines (and really cool bicycles)
  • Toyota: clearly the leader in hybrid vehicles for consumers, particularly with their upcoming plug-in hybrid (PHEV). Although Peak Oil will likely send all vehicles to the junkyard early, Toyota seems best positioned as a good investment during these transitional years.
  • Railroads; Gates, Buffet, and Soros are all buying into Canadian National Railway, Burlington Northern, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, and CSX.

Anniversary of 9/11 tragedy

On this solemn day, I’m reminded of a quote from Paul Hawken (of the Smith & Hawken garden supply company, among other things).

“Doom and optimism are twins. One does not exist without the other. The only way you can be truly hopeful about the future is to have a very accurate read on the problems of the present.”

Many people think about the War Against Terror and related efforts with a sense of doom because the task seems insurmountable. I disagree. While our US Empire is crumbling – no argument there – I believe this gives us an opportunity to reposition the international US reputation from a very negative one to a positive one. But it is clearly going to
be a multi-generation effort. And it’s going to be led by folks who are thinking clearly about the condition of country is in today.

According to homeopathic doctors, a human body that has suffered from an illness for X months will require *at least* the same number of months for healing. There is no quick, pharmaceutical-induced pill in homeopathy to fix the body in three days or less.

I believe the same is true of the US reputation among other countries. We’ve spent decades casting ourselves in a certain light through our actions and words. We’ll likely have to spend at least the same number of decades recasting a more positive and sustainable attitude.

Hawken’s commencement speech from this past May is a quick and worthwhile read related to challenging the upcoming generation to continue this positive work. The interesting backstory is that he tossed the speech he had written for the occasion and finished this one minutes before the ceremony itself.

Solar and wind power

We added a new feature to our view this week. Look closely in the picture and you’ll see a 30′ high pole with a small wind measurement tool on top.

Not everyone is thrilled with the addition; my wife and eldest child both commented on the first day, “Boy, that is ugly.” Oh well.

There are some bright folks (T. Boone Pickens comes to mind) who have teams analyzing wind power. Turns out the US has some of the best wind in the world for harvesting on a mass scale. We put up this measurement device to gather data for one year to see if our specific location is worthwhile for a small wind turbine.

We’re also getting bids for solar, specifically solar tubes to heat our hot water. We live in a difficult place from straight photovoltaic (PV) panels, but may be able to gather enough solar to significantly offset our hot water heater, one of our primary uses of electricity. You might be in a better area; check out this site to test your roof for PV potential. As PV technology improves in the future, I hope to be able to add panels to our roof as well as plant a solar forest in the front yard to replace the garage.


The only thing that worries me about solar is the current reliance on oil and transport to produce the parts. When oil gets too expensive and then (permanently) goes away, I hope these same bright scientists can quickly convert to other building/transportation methods to get PV installed around the country.

The setup we’re looking to build is 50 tubes on the only two small pitches on our roof that face south, which will lead to a 120 gallon storage tank, which will feed into our existing hot water tank.

While we’re talking about alternative green energy options, I was recently called a Green Hawk by an acquaintance when I brought up the idea of microgrids for our small town.

“I’m a what?”

Green Hawks are those in the environmental movement who tend to think of green solutions as being good for the national defense of our country. Well, good point. I believe we need to get off oil and get off it fast. I guess that does make me a Green Hawk. I’m hoping there is a cool merit badge or secret handshake to go along with the label.