Thoughts on Survival Kit Basics

I attended the Primitive Skills Meetup tonight [] talking about Wilderness Survival Kits.

One of the attendees asked about a ‘rule of thumb’ for the size of a survival kit.

The unfulfilling answer was ‘it depends’. We discussed from an Altoids tin to a rucksack.

The ‘Rule of 3s’ was laid out in class and the kit was discussed in the context of fulfilling those needs.

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours without shelter/clothing
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food
  • 3 months without companionship

The first one was basically skipped as a survival kit isn’t really going to do much for helping you breath. Bring a life jacket in your kit? I guess you can interpret that as oxygen to the brain, and a first aid kit would be what’s in order in that context.
We also glossed over the last one as it’s kinda hard to tuck a friend into an Altoids tin without a lot of complaining from your friend for trying.

We spent a couple of hours discussing what could be added to the kit to fulfill the middle 3 needs.

On my drive home, I came up with the answer to the size question. Your kit needs to be big enough to fulfill each of the needs in 1/3rd the time allotted for that need.
e.g. You may need to be able to procure shelter in less than an hour because by that 2nd hour your going to be in a bad way if the weather is bad, and that 3rd hour you are going to be busy dieing.
Same goes with water – you need water on the first day because by the 2nd day you are going to start getting dizzy, have a headache, and loose dexterity, and on the third day…
People frequently fast for 10 days, but buy the end of that time period they are dizzy, weak, and have no energy.

Also, knowledge and skill have an inverse relationship with the size of your kit. The more you know and can do, the smaller your kit needs to be. Somebody without a clue could have a rough go of things with anything short of a convenience store lost with them in the woods. A well practiced expert can make a go of it with nothing but a broken knife and broken arm.

The instructor laid out a lot of gear and discussed the pros and cons of each. At the end, I did a quick show & tell of the best tin-kit I’ve come across. I’d originally seen it at where it was entered into a pocket sized survival kit contest. The creator offered a few up for review at that time and I was sent one. I wish he sold them as I would buy a couple of them.

I put together a video as I unpacked it this last weekend which was basically what I did in the class tonight again. I’d intended on doing a video on using the kit but where I went was a six mile hike in I got a late start and just didn’t have time (story of my life). So hopefully sometime in the near future I can get a video of using some of the bits in it.

Combining this kit with some sort of sheet-good (plastic drop cloth, space blanket, contractor bag) and a durable water container (I like stainless steel water bottles) will satisfy fulfilling the Rule of 3s with the knowledge and skill that I possess in the 1/3rd time period that I am thinking they need to be done in.

I do carry a lot more junk as I am lazy, don’t like inconvenience or being uncomfortable, and I am not yet ready to let go of ‘the security of stuff’.

Solar Panel Slideshow

Some heat generation numbers for a day that’s  ~10 degrees F outside, 25 degrees in my uninsulated garage:

  • Full overcast but bright – 40 degree air coming out of the panel (+15)
  • Partial sun, enough for shadows – 60 degree air coming out of the panel (+35)
  • Full sun, 90+ degree air coming out of the panel (+70)


Here is a full slide show. The previous posts seem to have cut them off after so many photos.


Aquaponics Store Idea

I’ve been looking at all the empty storefronts on main street Dundee on my way to work lately. I’ve been imagining having my own store front in one of those.

I’d sell Aquaponics stuff.

Ready made sets from tiny little things for apartment kitchens to fairly large backyard setups. I’d sell all the various parts, plumbing, bulkhead seals, containers, lights, whatnot. I’d carry some fish –  a few hardy ornimentals and some the pets stores don’t stock well locally and also the ‘eater’ fish such as tilapia, perch, etc. I’d also have a bunch of plants and seeds. Ones that grow well in AP systems that will give people the instant gratification of pretty plants now, and the economy of starting from seed.

I think a big thing I’d sell is pre-cycled media. One of the hardest parts of getting aquaponics up and running is getting the system ‘cycled’ – have the beneficial bacteria colonies all grown and doing their thing.

If people bought a ready to run kit from me, they’d get the booklet I’m writing, the tank(s), grow beds, cycled media, a few live plants, a dose of organic fertilizer to feed the cycled media, and a coupon for the balance of their plants and fish. The coupon effective date will be based on the system size so that the system will be correctly cycled when they go to add fish.

You see, I’d be setting people up for success, not to sell crap they don’t need (like 3-4 sets of fish). The only time I want to see them again is to redeem their fish/plant coupons, to get more parts for more systems (it’s addicting!) and when they bring their friends in to get their friends hooked on the hobby.


I’d make Aquaponics stuff.

I’d sell sets and kits that I’ve assembled. I’d make a bunch of the various bits and bobs that are needed, like the tank top stands to hold the grow beds, bell siphons, etc.. I’d give the plans away for free.

I’d have a 3d printer so I can make custom clips, fittings, and so forth.

I’d have a small ‘workshop’ with a few basic tools such as a PVC pipe cutter, reamers, drill press with bits, etc. so people who don’t have some of these specialty tools can use them at the store to make things they way they need them.


I’ve a few ideas on how I want to lay out the store.

The weirdest part will that I will have irregular hours. I’d have a rolling 4 day schedule where I stayed open late one night a week, and by late, I mean 10-12pm or something like that. By rolling the 4 day late nights over a 5 day week, I would be open late at least once a given named day per month. A HDTV with a calendar, answering machine auto-attendant, and website would show the hours.

I’d have a few interactive displays where people can get their hands wet. Bell siphons are one of those things that are really hard to understand in their simplicity. There would be a  set up where you can try different sizes of bell siphons with different amounts of water flow.

The fish would have a full data sheet printed out in large print for each species including details on picking fish in good health. With life sized photos. Attached to the tank that the fish are actually in. There would be a date as to when the last shipment came in.

I’d have half a dozen TVs hooked up to computers with proximity sensors that would turn on when you stood in front of a display with lots of options. It would explain your choices to you, and things to consider for your purchase. Maybe I would have a kinect and make the displays interactive so somebody could get to the details they are interested in.

  • Explain lighting options – HID, florescent, LED, incandescent
  • Explain the biological processes going on
  • Explain water parameters and how things like PH affect plant nutrient uptake
  • Explain how some plants may work well in some systems and not others
  • Explore the different options for grow beds
  • Explore the different options for siphons

I’d have bins of plumbing fittings and small sections of pipe. I’d sell pipe by the inch. A lot of stuff needs short pieces of pipe, and it’s really annoying to put a 10′ section of pipe into a compact car when you only needed a few 6″ pieces.

There would be QRcodes EVERYWHERE. They would also link to real information! Screw the marketing BS that the vendors give me, I’m writing my own datasheets, instructions, pros & cons, etc. People can come in and self help while in the store if they want, or they can get assistance, and the store employee can show them the details on the tablet they are carrying around.


I’d hire a few part time people.

Each employee is in charge of 1 running display in the store. They also are given a small kit to take home as a hiring bonus and are expected to run it while they are employed. They get annual bonuses in stuff and samples and new products are seeded out to them. It’s important that they know their stuff, and how else to do that then with experience.

I am thinking a couple of little old ladies and some codgers who know the local gardening. I’d let them pick their schedules, and hire in to fill in any gaps. The stuff these people know is invaluable. I want access to it!

I’d hire some high-schoolers.  The local schools FFA chapter would be a good place to start, maybe 4H too. The energy that they bring is great. They pick up on new stuff very fast. That and somebody needs to get the stuff off the top shelf so old-man-rivers doesn’t break a hip.

I won’t be open on the weekend unless the employees wanted the hours. 2 employees can schedule the hours they want to be open on the weekends.


I’d sell stuff online.

I am a web-geek. I will sell stuff online. I think the cool thing I would offer though would be in-store pickup, even after hours. I’d have a set of PO boxes with codeable punch-code locks. I can place an order into a box and ‘ship’ the box number and access code. The person can come anytime and pick up the order, even if the store is closed.

I like catalogs that actually have information in them and not just a list of product numbers and pricing. The website wouldn’t be a list of products, it would be a treasure trove of information, tutorials, options, comparison lists that all allow you to buy the things being talked about.

The site would be based on ‘here’s the things you need and here’s how to do it. You can get the stuff locally or buy it from me online.



I’d work with the local schools to have an Aquaponics system in any classroom that wanted one. I’d work with the teachers & students on learning science and have them write ‘grant requests’, make/donate the parts that they need that they can’t otherwise source, and feature the results in the store. I’d totally love to see turtleponics!

I’d work with the local pet stores and plant nurseries to see if I can offer my customers coupons for their locations for stuff that I don’t carry.  The back of the couple would list a bunch of things that would work well in Aquaponics context, and the coupon is good for those items. Maybe I could get a display at their location and sell Ready-to-Run systems at their locations.

I’d be at the local ‘green’ expo and farmers markets.



I’d want a location where I could have a greenhouse. Lots of big greenhouses would be great, because then I would sell plants and produce, but even a small greenhouse or two would be great. I would show that you can grow in the winter here in Chicagoland.



This is all a pipe dream at the moment.

I can’t transition from what I am doing today into a store – I’d loose the house in the time it took to get the store pulling in foot traffic.


Android phone quite updating… again… Fixed!

My 2nd Samsung Moment Android Phone quit updating the android apps in the market again. I click update, and it says “Download Failed” or was it “Installation Unsuccessful”? I can’t remember, one of the two. I hadn’t seen this on the ‘new’ phone, which is an ebay replacement of my original which had a worn out usb port so it wouldn’t charge.

I tried to clear the app cache. From home screen, click on the Menu button, select Settings -> Applications -> Manage Applications. Then Click on the Menu again Filter -> All. Scroll Down to the Market entry and click Clear Cache.

No Dice.

Then I did the above, clearing the cache, then clicking force quit, then immediately restarting the phone.

We have a winner! The market can now update apps again!

I don’t know if force quiting the app is required, but the option is right there.

Aquaponics Solids Lifting Siphon Overflow Box AKA Johnny Jump Box

It all started with a chat on the homepage of with Johnny and Paul. Johnny  said he was trying to figure out how to make a solids lifting siphon overflow box. Now, at first I didn’t think it could be done – having built a weir siphon overflow box in the past. But than I got to thinking… Which lead to a drawing…

drawing of a Solids Lifting Siphon Overflow Box
Drawing of a Solids Lifting Siphon Overflow Box

Which lead to a construction project… using only stuff I had laying around.

You see, I had been wanting to add a sump – a smaller tank under a big fish tank that holds water – to my 75 gallon aquaponics system so that the water level in the main tank stays the same level (and to push the water over 100 gallons and the bragging rights that go with it). But to do that, I would need to build an overflow box. This would tank a fair amount of time and work, and more silicone that I have on hand to finish, using the methods I had already tried...

But not my Fountain Soda Solids Lifting Siphon Overflow Box.

Fountain Soda Solids Lifting Siphon Overflow Box
Fountain Soda Solids Lifting Siphon Overflow Box

A solids lifting siphon overflow box will pull water from the bottom of the tank, where all the fish poo settles. This is a big deal for large aquaponics systems. Not so much a big deal for me right now, as there is only 2 fish in this particular aquarium.

The Jack Dempsey
The Jack Dempsey

But, I digress… what happens in a Siphon Overflow Box is that the water level rises in an aquarium to a certain height where the water flows out of the overflow box into the sump.

Plastic tote as a sump
Plastic tote as a sump

What makes mine unique, is that I made it out of a leftover fountain soda cup. It’s what I had for a water holding container. I would have made a plexi box, but I was lazy and don’t have enough silicone on hand to make it. So I drilled a hole in the bottom of a cup that is just a smidgeon too small for the tubing and pushed hard. This gave me nearly a water tight seal, so a dab of silicone finished the job.

Near watertight joint without silicone
Near watertight joint without silicone

The tube that goes through the bottom of the cup (overflow box) is the stand pipe, which sets the height of the water in the aquarium.

The top tube is the stand pipe, the bottom tube the siphon from the aquarium.
The top tube is the stand pipe, the bottom tube the siphon from the aquarium.

Just trim the tube to the right hight, and you can control the water level in the aquarium. I’ve got it set so it’s just above the bottom of the plastic trim on the top of the tank. The water level rises a bit as the grow bed drains into the aquarium, so I wanted it to be as low as I could and still have the aquarium look full.

These nippers made reaching down and trimming the top of the tube easy.
These nippers made reaching down and trimming the top of the tube easy.

So, with the addition of my super-fancy soda cup aquarium siphon, I now have 1 more thing in my Aquaponics system to go wrong and leak water all over the place. Being an expert in making leaks. I have held up the pickup tube for the water pump so it won’t pump all 30 gallons of water onto my basement floor. It should only be about 10 gallons!

Holding the pickup tube up high to minimize flooding when the siphon fails.
Holding the pickup tube up high to minimize flooding when the siphon fails.

I put the siphon out where I can futz with it and it looks tacky as all get out. When I get the bugs all sorted out, it’s going against the wall side of the tank so it’s less visible.

The Aquaponics corner in the laBOREtory
The Aquaponics corner in the laBOREtory