Clue

Clue Score Sheet

I have a problem. Nobody will play Clue with me. Yes, I'm talking about the Hasbro board game that you probably haven't played in 15 years. It's one of my childhood favorites, but none of my friends will touch it with a ten foot pole.

It's not their fault, though. You see, while I was growing up we would play Clue as a family. It was usually just me, my sister and my mom. When we would talk Dad into playing, he would always beat us by solving the puzzle in the first few rounds, long before the rest of us could get close. It was that experience, knowing that I was playing the game wrong, that led me to a better way (read: more annoying) way of playing.

Before I knew it, I was solving the puzzle on the first turn, often before some people had even taken a turn. My friends took the obvious recourse and now we play games like Settlers of Catan, or Republic of Rome, or Dixit. Alas, all my strategy was for naught.

So why talk about it now? Why bring it up? It's indicative of a greater idea, as all good life metaphors are.

The idea that you can change how you play a game, or do some task, and it can break all sense of competition. Suddenly you are no longer on an even playing field. You win, not just occasionally, but always!

The metaphor is all around us. Take the NSA as a great example in the media right now. They changed the game by doing what few suspected was possible or plausible. Their reach provided them a level of power that cannot be matched across the globe. But what happened when people discovered their secret? Nobody wants to play their game anymore.

Maybe it's a stretch, but I see the pattern a lot. Sometimes it's in a field where advantage is positive, like a business offering something others can't touch. Other times it's creepy government dudes watching you on your webcam.

So what about me and my love of Clue? Could I go back to playing it the old fashioned way? I suppose it's possible, but then the temptation to use more advanced strategies would be powerful, and there would be nothing there to stop me. Would my friends even trust that I'd play that way? Probably not. They know me too well.

Instead, I have to accept that I'll probably rarely have the opportunity to play Clue again. If I want enjoyment from it then I'll have to find another approach. To that end, I'm going to share a few of my Clue techniques so anyone who reads this can enjoy ruining a childhood game on their own.

Warning: If you try the following techniques you will probably be ridiculed and shunned by all Clue-lovers around you.

Lesson 1: The score sheet is useless.

The little sheet that comes with the game of Clue (seen above) is severely lacking. In the Master Edition game, at least, they give you some blank space to the side for "notes". That's what you really need: some blank paper. Any old blank paper will do. You can keep your score sheet as well and use it to tick off some discoveries, just not in the way the game makers expected.

Lesson 2: Note everything

The hardest thing to grasp is that everything you hear around the table is helpful, not just the questions you ask. If the player to your left makes an accusation and that accusation is answered by another player before you, you've gained incredible insights into both players hands. Lets look at an illustration:

Clue Board

In this game, to my left is Chris, across from me is Josh, and to my right is Dan. In my notes I refer to us as T, C, J, and D to save space. In fact, I'm such a fan of saving space (I hate writing by hand) that I use letters to represent the people and objects in Clue as well: M - Col. Mustard, P - Prof. Plum, K - Mrs. Peacock, and so on. I use two-letter abbreviations for the weapons: Kn - Knife, Ca - Candlestick, etc. And finally, I just number the rooms cause there's so many of them: 1 - Hall, 2 - Lounge.

This codifying is completely unnecessary to the strategy, but it makes for concise notes, and it's hard to read when someone sneaks a peek at your sheet. If you're a fast writer, by all means feel free to write out the full names of things. I won't stop you.

Using my codes, I make notes of everyones accusations in a vertical column in my notes, like this:

> `C ( S, Kn, 1 )` >

In this example, Chris made an accusation that Ms. Scarlet used the Knife in the Hall.

When someone responds to the accusation, I note who they are and any possible answers they gave:

> `C ( S, Kn, 1 ) -> D ( S, -, 1)` >

In this example, Dan is the one who responded to the accusation. He possibly showed Chris either Ms. Scarlet, or the Hall. I know he didn't show Chris the Knife, because I have it!

So what did this teach me? Well, now I know that Dan has one of two items, but I also know that Josh, who came between them, definitely does NOT have either Ms. Scarlet or the Hall. I note this as well to finish my line:

> `C ( S, Kn, 1 ) -> D ( S, -, 1 ) = J ( !S, -, !1 )` >

My notation is sort of programming based, but really I'm just trying to show negatives with "!" symbols. Again, everything is concise.

Lesson 3: Logic

Now that I have a broad array of data, it's important that I review it after each accusation, not just on my own turn. Knowing that Dan has either or both of Ms. Scarlet and the Hall, I can try to see if either of those cards pops up as being held by a different player. If so, I can cross them off as being Dan's. Through a process of elimination I you can find an amazing amount of information without it being your turn at all. This is also where I bring the score sheet into play. I like to use all the columns, one for each player, and the final column for the solution. In each player's column I mark down a "*" if I know they have that card, and I mark down a "-" if I know they don't have it. In the final column, I mark off a "-" if I know someone has the card. The final column will quickly sort itself down to just a couple remaining options.

Lesson 4: Trickery

When making an accusation yourself, it's almost always better to guess one or two items that you already have, especially when trying to narrow down a category to a specific person, place or thing. You can also use what you know about people to tailor your accusation. If I know Dan has the Hall, but not Ms. Scarlet, I can guess both to see if Chris is secretly holding the Scarlet card. If not, I just solved a third of the puzzle, but nobody else knows this because Dan will show me the Hall when the question gets to him. In short, use what you know in creative ways to stay unpredictable.

Lesson 5: Always show the same card

This final bit is a small thing, but it can have big implications. If you've been forced to reveal a card, say, the Knife, then go out of your way to show that same card again and again, especially to the same person. If you are holding two cards from someones guess, but always show the same one, that's a bit of misinformation that is easy for others to overlook. It makes things a bit harder on the other players

Well, that's it. Try out that the techniques and you'll beat the pants off your friends and ruin a decent kids game. Of course, you can use the strategies and let the game linger a bit if you want, too. Maybe people won't notice and you can become the world's first Clue shark. How lame would that be?

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The Desk

Desk

I just looked to the side and noticed the pile of stuff building up on the corner of my desk. What an interesting collection it was. Through no particular effort on my part, I'd put together a little collage of myself. I thought it was pretty neat, anyway.

I wonder if other people have similar things creeping up around them. Maybe not on the desk, but on a nightstand or counter corner. Maybe some people have a drawer. I'm just curious about the accidental types, though. I know we design enough stuff around our interests on purpose. I think these haphazard ones are pretty special, though. They're more intimate and natural.

That's enough of a rant. For the curious I'll put a little list below of the items in the picture, starting on the left and spiraling in clockwise.

  • A stapler (I started with the boring thing)
  • A picture of me and my best friend, Kristin, in high school
  • A moleskine notebook: holds story ideas, numbers, scratch math, a picture of a horse head, other notes
  • Idae Notebook: nearly indestructible, waterproof outdoor notebook
  • Portable scanner to digitize everything
  • (Top) Box and pipe tobacco
  • Book of Christian Prayer: Kinda a condensed Liturgy of the Hours
  • Saint Paul's Daily Missal: For when I can't get to church
  • (Obscured) Box holding my sextant
  • Some additional papers for my preparation for Italian Citizenship
  • A glass fountain pen
  • Private Reserve fountain ink from Indiana
  • (Obscured) 750GB secure external hard drive
  • Assorted USB cables
  • My Galdalf pipe
  • A microphone
  • Not pictured because this wasn't staged: role playing game rulebook and/or dice

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Moving to Iceland

Icelandic Flag

I haven't written in a little while, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to give some background on things that have happened, and where I would like to see life going for a while ahead. First of all, I met a wonderful woman shortly after leaving the Jesuits, and we've had a really amazing adventure in the short time we've been together. We got engaged in Florence in the Bobali Gardens. We bought a house in Bucks County, PA, right on the historic Delaware Canal. We also had a baby! His name is Wit, and he's just as fantastic as I could have ever hoped.

That's a lot for a year and change, and we're looking forward to a little bit of quiet in the time ahead. At least, we don't want to try to squeeze any more giant life changes in this year, if we can avoid it. I think out next big journey won't happen for another 4-5 years, in fact.

You see, we really want to move to Iceland.

It's not as simple as it sounds. Well, I'm not sure you were thinking it was simple at all, actually... but I was at first. People talk about leaving the country all the time, but it's really a complicated thing to do. Perhaps going to Canada isn't as bad, but I'm not sure. I didn't really want to go to Canada, so I haven't looked into it. Iceland is going to be a chore, but hopefully worth all the time and effort.

I'm going to try to share our experiences in the expatriate path here on my blog. Maybe someone else will find it helpful in the future. If not, it'll make a good story to look back on, I'm sure. So, without further ado...

The first part of my plan involves becoming an Italian citizen. You see, Italy has this really amazing thing called Jure Sanguinis that allows you to get dual citizenship if you can trace your ancestry back in a certain way. There's some fairly complex rules to it, but in brief it says that if your immigrant ancestor had kids before he or she became an American citizen, then the kids were technically born as Italian citizens (according to Italy), and you are eligible to claim Italian citizenship as their descendant. Did that make sense? If not, pop over to the link and read all about it.

It works out for me very well since my great-grandpa came over to this country and had my grandmother before he became naturalized. She passed the Italian-ness on to my dad, and thus to me. Now, all I have to do is get 10 billion documents, get them signed, translated, apostille's attached (kind of an international notorization), and take everything to the Italian consulate. Then, in another year or so when I can finally get an appointment, I can theoretically file for Italian citizenship. Once that goes through, I can get an Italian passport, a briefcase full of foreign currency and pretend I'm a secret agent. Or at least, I can get through European Customs a lot faster.

What it means for Iceland is that I'll be a member of the European Economic Area and a Schengen state, which means I can move there without having to have a job first and apply for a special visa. In fact, once I get a job there, I don't need to do any really special paperwork at all. I just prove residency and BLAM! I'm done! (Not really, but compared to moving as a US citizen, it feels like it)

So, that's the current plan. I'd love to have my Italian citizenship for more than just moving to Iceland, but what a great benefit it will bring. We're hoping we can figure out a method of moving before Wit enters school. We'll see how things develop, though. I've got a long history of big plans that go completely awry.

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Review: A Spell for Chameleon

A Spell for Chameleon

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Xanth was the first series of books that caught my attention as a child, and I have Piers Anthony to thank for my love of reading today. I read nearly twenty of the books before moving on to more advanced fantasy series. What is most remarkable about all of that to me, however, is that I don't remember once thinking how horrifically sexist the books are!

It's hard to talk about the magic of Xanth and the great and interesting talents of its people because the book is overwhelmed with things like a mock rape trial, observations about the uselessness, deception, and irrelevancy of women, and downright shameful reduction of women's role in society and men's lives as objects. I am not a vocal advocate for women's issues, and I'm very often turned off by liberation or empowerment propaganda, but in the face of outright misogynistic vitriol I cannot help but take a stand. It is one thing to discuss the differences of the sexes, their relative strengths and weaknesses, and even allow for some socio-historical context to influence the characters in a fantasy setting; but Piers Anthony goes way beyond that at every turn. The book somehow makes a claim to be about the worth of a person being judged by doing the right and just thing even when faced with unjust situations. Yet it takes a pause in the very beginning of the main character's adventure to have a completely pointless aside where in the guise of a legal proceeding he dismisses the entire concept of date rape as being ridiculous. He outright claims that a beautiful and smart woman must be inherently evil, and that it is only natural for a man to want a woman of both intelligence and beauty, but not at the same time. These things overshadow every aspect of the fantasy story being told. I can't even begin to talk about the story's tales of companionship, illusion, history, or growth. They all take a back seat to one man's disgusting vision.

As my own son grows, I had planned on offering up this series to him at an early age in hopes of capturing his interest in reading. You can be sure that won't be happening. No boy should grow up thinking these kinds of thoughts about women. No good and just actions can come of it.

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Review: Practical Vim: Edit Text at the Speed of Thought

Practical Vim: Edit Text at the Speed of Thought

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was hands down one of the very best technical books I've ever had the pleasure to read. Drew Neil has found a way to organize the book into a tip format without making it lose focus or seem endlessly unimaginative. Rather, by organizing the tips into themes, he gives the editor itself structure where before there was only the grey void of endless features.

I was an intermediate vim user before this book. It was my primary editor, and I used navigation keys and some basic yank and put operations regularly. I knew how to jump to lines, zip between words, and some mediocre regular expressions. After having read this book, I don't bother opening up gvim or macvim anymore. I'm so comfortable working without the mouse, I prefer to keep myself in the console all the time. My speed has increased dramatically, as has my confidence. I participated in vimgolf for the first time just last week.

If you are a vim user with a strong basic understanding, this book is for you. Don't pick it up if you are brand new to the editor, though. Complete the vimtutor first and give it some time to sink in.

Wouldn't you know it... Just this short review was incredibly painful to write since I'm not using my favorite text editor. What a snob I've become!

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Review: Hymnal for Dirty Girls

Hymnal for Dirty Girls

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had to take a few days to think about how I should review this book. I received it in a Goodreads Giveaway, which I entered based almost entirely on the cover design and title. I knew nothing of the subject matter or format and that would have greatly affected my desire to pick it up in the first place.

Next, I should be clear that my rating is, and must be, true to my own experience in reading the book. It does not necessarily depict the independent value or quality of the writing, the impact of the themes or subjects, or any other fancy writing concepts. On Goodreads, two stars means, "It was ok," and that is exactly how I felt after reading it. I suspect that those who pick this book up based on its content with an honest desire and interest in it will find the book much more enjoyable.

The format is also very hard to critique. This is a collection of extremely short stories. Some are no more than a single scene. It felt, at times, like the author was sharing a bunch of writing experiments with us. I can't very well critique them on lack of character development or anything like that because that's not the form of writing we're dealing with. For what they are, they are very well written. In a few stories the use of the second person perspective is a bit annoying and feels like the type of gimmick I'd expect from a college-level writing class.

There are a few moments of clear inspired writing in here, which is commendable. My overall impression was that of a small art exhibit in a big city, which spends more effort on being different and niche than on the craft itself.

The jacket notes mention that Ms. Matthews is currently writing a novel. I'd be interested in reading that to see how she handles the larger work and the many aspects of writing that come with it.

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Zombie Survival Kit

All Gear

It's become somewhat of the popular joke to have a post about Zombie Survival these days, so I guess I'll toss my two-cents into the fray. Personally, I've never been much concerned with the Zombie menace, but there many other possible scenarios out there that call for readiness in the face of limited resources, disrupted public services, and downright chaos. With that (and an impending hurricane) in mind, I'd like to share my personal emergency kit with you all.

Let me first preface this by saying that this is far from everything I have prepared in case of emergency. Rather, this represents my "grab bags" of absolute essentials that we would take with us in case of a zero-warning evacuation or similar event. Were we limited to traveling only on foot, I might drop an item or two (dutch oven). Were we given a few minutes and the ability to take the car, I might add a few heavier things.

I have also omitted almost all of my clothing from this kit, mainly because I didn't want to go digging around in my closet. If you decide to mimic this, or use it for inspiration, just use some basic common sense in your clothing choices: layers, avoid cotton, pack light, bring extra socks.

This list follows the pictures from the top left, downward in columns, to the bottom right. The item headings are all links where you can find these items for purchase.

Gear Left

MTM Survivor Dry Box with O-Ring Seal

This box is the core to my medical kit. It is waterproof, tough-as-hell, and bright orange to find it quick in a hurry. It even has a handy little compass on the top. How quaint!

Adventure Medical Kits Trauma Packwith QuikClot

For serious trauma like gunshot wounds or tree branches through your chest, you need more than a bandaid. While the need may be uncommon, having this cheap little pack might just save your life, or the life of someone you love. It takes up very little space, too.

Quake Kare Emergency Thermal Blankets (4 Pack)

I hope to never have to need this level of extra thermals, but for an ounce and the tiniest bit of space, these provide us a "blanket" of security. Terrible joke, I know.

OtterBox 1000 Series Waterproof Case

These are my waterproof cases within the waterproof case. If there's one thing you never, ever want to get wet, it's your emergency bandages and medicines. This extra level of protection is absolutely imperetive in my opinion. Also, if you have anything really sensitive that needs to stay dry, toss it in one of these. I find that three of them are enough to fit the Medique kit below.

Medique 40061 First Aid Kit, 61-Piece

This handy medical kit has it all, short of a hospital, anyway. If you think you'll have a need for extras of a particular thing, don't hesitate. If there's one area you shouldn't skimp, it's first aid. If you're using this as your household first aid kit, remember to replenish items as you use them. You don't want to get trapped without any bandages because you "just haven't made it back to CVS yet."

Etón FR160R Microlink Self-Powered AM/FM/NOAA Weather Radio with Flashlight, Solar Power and Cell Phone Charger (Red)

This thing is a beast. I charged it with the hand crank for just over ten seconds and then sat listening to the radio all day long. If you plan on staying in touch with the outside world (or at least informed), having a backup radio with NOAA stations is important. Besides, this little guy will charge your cellphone too!

Rothco 550lb. Type III Nylon Paracord

I'm an Eagle Scout, and thus I never feel lost if I have a good length of rope. Paracord is extremely strong for its size, but it packs down light and tight. Use it for everything and everything from a clothesline to animal traps in the worst of situations.

3M Scotch Heavy Duty All-Weather Duct Tape, 1.88-Inch by 45-Yard, 1-Pack (2245)

Don't settle for the cheap duct tape. Get the good outdoor all-weather stuff. One roll should be more than enough to patch things up, bandage you up, make a stretcher, or any number of other tasks.

Hand Axe

If your kit needs to help you out past a day or two, being able to work with the natural resources around you is imperitive. Chop up some downed branches for a fire. Clear a space for your family. Make some posts for hanging a trash bag (instant trash bin). Be creative and live in outdoor luxury with this.

Chainmate CM-24SSP 24-Inch Survival Pocket Chain Saw With Pouch

If you find yourself working with tough wood that needs clearing, having the right tools makes all the difference. Your hatchet can do a lot, but sometimes its nice to have a saw too. This thing is tiny and super light. Add it to the bag and then hope you don't need it.

ADC Medicut Shears, 7-1/4"

Most scissors are weak and useless when it comes to anything other than wrapping paper. These things have some real power, and they'll get the job done again and again. You can even sharpen them!

Snow Peak Titanium Spork

Ok, there's really no reason for this at all. I just love having a titanium spork on the list. Sue me.

Entrenching Tool

My advice for survival scenarios: Learn how to make a latrine. Seriously. It'll take you five minutes to watch a video on youtube and it will make your outdoor living much, much easier.

Leatherman

While I wouldn't rely on one of these guys solo, having all the little tools is a help. Suppliment your main knife with any old Leatherman model to add versitility.

Beretta Airlight II Tactical Knife, 30% Serrated 2.25" Skeleton Blade

I'm a bit of a knife junkie. Beretta makes a killer folding knife. If you have a solid blade like the Mora Classic below, this isn't exactly necessary, but you can think of it as a backup if that makes you feel better. You certainly don't want to end up bladeless. These are your primary tools of survival.

Smith's PP1 Pocket Pal Multifunction Sharpener

A dull knife is almost as bad as no knife. If you're going to be using them... really using them, keep them sharp. This will also help you in cases of accidental cuts. A clean cut heals much faster and with less chance of infection.

Potable Aqua Water Treatment Tablets

Clean water is absolutely essential to survival. There are a ton of options available thanks to fancy technologies these days. Get a filter pump or some sort of reverse osmosis device and live like kings. Just make sure to grab some iodine tablets as a backup. Filters break sometimes. These might make your water taste tinny, but you'll live. (Side note: you can also use bleach to purify water!)

Petzl E97 Tikka Plus 2 Headlamp

In the redundency department, along with your knives, add light to the list. A headlamp will keep your hands free to do work. They last a really long time with LEDs.

Gerber Infinity Ultra Task Light

Bring a flashlight, but not one with huge, honkin' D batteries. They're harder to find replacements than AA, and much heavier.

Bic Lighters

Don't buy them from this link. Get them at your local store for next to nothing. Have a few handy, along with some matches in your dry-box, just in case. And while you're watching survival videos on how to make latrines, you might as well learn to make a fire too. Don't rely on watching as knowing, though. Give it some practice before you need the skill.

Mora Sweden Classic #1 Red Wood Handle Carbon Steel Knife

Very few knives are better than this one. At 15$, you can afford to get extras too. Treat them well: sharpened, oiled, not chipped. They'll last a lifetime.

Folding Camp Saw

Another backup for your chainsaw. Or maybe the chainsaw is the backup. If you're going to stay outdoors for any length of time, bring a saw.

Datrex 3600 Emergency Food Bar

You'll notice I haven't put much in the way of food on this list. That's because you should spend some time learning your local edibles before you need them. Learn what berries you can eat, and also what animals are in your area. Learn to make a snare. Don't bother wasting time hunting deer unless you already have all the gear and experience. Set snares around your camp instead. It's more reliable. If all else fails, these emergency food bars are good for up to 5 years and pack enough calories to keep you going for a long, long time.

Camelbak or Platypus

You're going to need water containers. Have a variety, but don't keep them all filled up. Learn to treat your water so you don't have to carry it all with you. Carry the empty containers with a minimum amout of water for drinking as you travel, then fill them up when you stop, treat them, and save yourself the weight. 1 liter of water weights about 1kg. That adds up quick.

Youngstown Glove 05-3080-70-L General Utility Lined with KEVLAR Glove Large, Gray

The most common place to injure yourself working in survival situations is on your hands. Protect them with more than a pair of designer cotton gloves. These guys have Kevlar on the insides and outsides of your hands. Fantastic, and worth the price. Test them out with some yard work and you'll see what I mean.

Backpacker Poncho

Get a poncho that will keep you and your stuff dry.

Gear Right

Gossamer Gear Mariposa Ultralight Backpack

Pack choices are a highly personal decision. I'm an ultra-light backpacker, so this relatively cheap bag from Gossamer Gear is a fantastic fit for me. The one pictured is a slightly older model than the link. Remember, you may need to carry your emergency gear at some point. You can't just rely on the car to get you everwhere. Plan ahead for the un-fun possibilities.

Minus33 100% Merino Wool Base Layer 703 LightWeight Short Sleeve Crew Neck Top

I don't want to go over clothing too much, but let me make a brief mention about the basics here. Pack in layers: base layer, mid layer, outer layer, insulation. Avoid cotton or other fabrics that won't hold your heat when wet. You might spend some time being dirty. That's ok. Pick things that you can wear again and again and that will hold together. Quality over quantity here.

Lodge Logic Dutch Oven with Loop Handles

This luxury will probably the first thing to be left behind if we have to set out on foot. It's damn heavy, but what a versitile cooking tool. It works in your oven, in your fireplace, or on a campfire. It cleans up with a quick rinse and is ready to go again. Pure camping-cooking heaven.

Outdoor Research Wind Pro Balaclava

Leave the baseball cap. Dress for function, not form. This will keep you warm, and that's what's really important.

Spectra® Braided Cord 1050lb test - Heavy Duty Speargun Line - (1/8"DIA x 100ft LEN)

This cord is great for any number of uses, but it is in the kit especially for hanging a bear-bag. I use the PCT method myself, so I have the tools to fit it. In a pinch, though, you can get away with just a bag and line. Wildlife have incredible senses of smells. Remember, if you are outside, you don't have walls keeping your food and gear safe. Be wary and hang your food.

Stuff Sacks (Bear Bag, etc)

To go along with the line above, these stuff sacks from zpacks are wonderful. They weigh almost nothing and are very sturdy.

Tempest Tent

There's a lot of ways to make a shelter outdoors. This is a pretty hardcore 4-season lightweight tent. It's not the cheapest solution, nor the best in all situations. I use it for a variety of camping conditions outside of my emergency kit. If you aren't much of an outdoorsman, there's probably a better shelter for you. Ask around at Gander Mtn or REI, or bug your local scouts when they try to sell you popcorn.

Littlbug Junior Stove

There's a lot of stove options for the backcountry. White gas, kerosene, etc, are all valid. This "stove" is little more than a wind-shield and chimney for a tiny wood fire. It fits in my ultra-light model. If you know how to make a fire, this might work for you. If you get something more fancy, have a backup, and make sure you have plenty of fuel.

Snow Peak Ti-Mini Solo Combo Cook Set

Have something to heat up water. In survival situations, many times "cooking" literally means, "add hot water". Heat to purify. Heat to rehydrate. Heat!

Snow Peak Ti-Double H600 Stacking Mug

This mug stacks nicely with the cookset above, so I have a pot for heating the water, and a cup for eating. It keeps my cooking pot clean.

Z Lite Mattress

Sleeping on the ground can be rough. Go easy on your back with a little layer. More importantly, get some insulation between your body and the ground. The earth will suck the heat right out of you.

Jacks-R-Better Sierra Sniveler

I have horrible restless leg syndrome, and most sleeping bags feel like a coffin to me. A nice power-down quilt gives me the warmth I need at night without the restrictive footbox. Pick whatever works for you. The single most dangerous thing when you are forced to sleep outside is exposure. You will die from exposure in a single night. Make sure you have good shelter before you even worry about water or food.

waterBOB Emergency Drinking Water Storage

This is not pictured, but very handy. If you are going to be staying in your house without power for a while, toss this into your bathtub and fill it up right away. 100 gallons of water will last you a while. Purify it to drink, grab a bucket and pour it in the back of your toilet to flush it manually, clean yourself up. Just remember to be more conservative if you are unlikely to have help or power restored in the near future. It may have to last a while.

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Review: A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book started out very strong for me. I loved the author's voice and his subject matter. I read the first half of the book in one sitting, but then upon taking it up again, I faltered. I didn't feel a strong appeal in going back, and I really didn't feel like it was important to finish. There is a bit of a parallel there between my reading and Bryson's hiking, I suppose. It was a good trip down memory lane, recalling my own adventures on the trail. It was interesting to read about some of the history as well. In the end, though, the story just didn't have that spark that kept me asking, "what happens next?"

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Mars

Mars Science Laboratory 'Curiosity' Landing Image

Last night at exactly 5:14:39 UTC, the latest NASA project touched down on the surface of Mars. The Curiosity rover is a mobile science lab that will travel the planet looking for signs of previous life. It's a big mission and has already begun to capture the imagination of the world.

If we (notice how I include myself in this effort) manage to find evidence of extraterrestrial life, it will represent the single greatest scientific discovery in the history of mankind. There's no exaggeration there. It will be the biggest news ever. We're not talking about intelligent life, here, obviously. They're not even looking for living things themselves yet. This search is all about finding the building-blocks that support life. That, if found, will be enough to warrant this a huge success.

But lets take a moment to allow ourselves to wonder, to dream, and to be inspired. It's not a popular thing these days when we celebrate cynicism and doubt, but I guarantee it won't hurt. What would tomorrow feel like if we knew, not just suspected, that we weren't the only life in the solar system, let alone the universe. For some, I imagine, it will bring a moment of profound perspective, much like the Total Perspective Vortex of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. For others it will probably be a platform for pride, obviously (to them) verifying whatever belief they espouse. For all, it will bring a change; and, I'd hope, it will bring us together.

In the meantime, I want to congratulate NASA and thank them. It gives me incredible consolation to remember that despite our problems in this country and in this world, we can bring together the amazing talents and minds of that team and give them the necessary resources to work wonders. We need people like that. We need faith that such things can happen. And we need their contributions if we are ever to hope to spread our wings beyond this tiny blue dot.

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Review: Stardust

Stardust

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Short review: I loved it.

Long review: Gaiman's skill at storytelling, the piece that makes his comics and books such a success, is his voice. I mentioned before that his book, "American Gods" was one I didn't like, but I respected him a lot as a writer. Stardust shows why. His tone and voice as a writer walk a very specific and wonderful line between humorous fantasy and serious realism. I liken it to the move "The Princess Bride". Everyone knows the movie is a comedy, but the tone treats its subject seriously... and that's the magic.

Stardust is a romantic fantasy filled with unicorns, fallen stars, witches and princes. At the same time, it is a quirksome coming of age story. The writing is strong. The characters are interesting. The adventure isn't cliche or the same old expected fare. With all that going for it the real gem, as I said, is the voice.

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