Stoic Week

In the last year I've become increasingly interested in the ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism. As a quick Googling will show:

Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC. The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, of the active relationship between cosmic determinism and human freedom, and the belief that it is virtuous to maintain a will that is in accord with nature. Because of this, the Stoics presented their philosophy as a way of life, and they thought that the best indication of an individual's philosophy was not what a person said but how that person behaved. To live a good life, one had to understand the rules of the natural order since they taught that everything was rooted in nature. Later Stoics—such as Seneca and Epictetus—emphasized that, because "virtue is sufficient for happiness", a sage was immune to misfortune.

For me it boils down to this:

  • Stoicism is a philosophy for life that values behavior over theory
  • People are called to "do human work" and be the best at it that they can be
  • Use your power of reason to stay in harmony with this purpose
  • Focus your energy on what is fully in your control (ie, your thoughts and reactions, not things themselves)
  • Things not in your control can be preferred or not preferred, such as your health or wealth, but you shouldn't attach happiness to them
  • Finally: Living this virtuous life is sufficient for tranquility

There's so many parallels to Buddhism and other eastern philosophies. In fact, that's how I found my way to where I am. I found some parts of Zen beautiful and resonating, but so much more seemed unnecessary or arbitrary. Perhaps it is my western upbringing that ultimately lead me back to western philosophy, or perhaps it was just a natural fit.

Regardless, the value I find in it is huge.

StoicCon 2016

This past Saturday I attended a conference in New York on Stoicism called Stoicon 2016. In one of the first lectures it was pointed out that we were participating in the largest gathering of stoics in the history of the world. What a powerful realization that is, and what a connection it inspires back to those ancients like Zeno, Seneca, and Epictetus.

The content was fantastic and it was incredible getting to meet so many of the people whose work I read and admire. Knowing there's the greater community of like-minded people out there is just so reaffirming.

Stoic Week

Of course, going to lectures that are so informative and energizing is also a fantastic way to get motivated for a bigger challenge, like this year's Stoic Week.

Stoic Week is introduced on the Modern Stoicism website as:

Stoic Week is an annual event aimed at encouraging public engagement with classical Stoic philosophy, by applying Stoic ideas and practices to the challenges of modern living. It is international and takes place online: anyone can take part. Stoic Week is now in its fifth consecutive year and has grown steadily in popularity year on year. It is organized by a multi-disciplinary team called Stoicism Today.

Participants use the workbook provided to guide meditations and exercises throughout the week. These are all guided by stoic thought, reference the foundational authors' writings, and explore techniques they espoused.

It's day two and I'm really enjoying the experience so far. I'll be sharing more thoughts in a retrospective at the end of the week.

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Goodbye Phone

Goodbye Phone

A cord-cutter's life

The cord-cutter movement is growing quickly and with good reason. Cable TV is an outdated model that forces an obnoxious number of interruptions into your entertainment. It serves content on its schedule, not yours. It's expensive. The vast majority of what is offered to you isn't something you want at all.

Cord-cutting is a term usually reserved for discussions of TV service or in some small cases dropping of land-line phone service in favor of just a cell phone. In my latest experiment I'm going to take it a step further. What if we looked at cell phone service the in the same way? What is it that you really want or need on your terms?

The service-less phone

When it comes to my cell phone I am in that class of users that annoys phone companies offering unlimited data. I routinely use 20GB or more monthly through a variety of channels: video watching, remotely controlling systems, transferring files between machines, and so on. I like to think of myself as a power user in that regard, and so unlimited data is an absolute requirement for me. This has led me to choose and stay with Sprint for most of my adult life.

Sprint has one of the poorest coverage areas and slowest services, but they offer the best deal in unlimited data. Until you cross the 23GB mark, you get full LTE service. After that, you get lower priority service, though not necessarily throttled. It is, sadly, the best offer in the US at present. It also costs a lot of money. $79/month + upcharge for smart-phone, etc. For my wife and I, that means we pay around $175US/month.

Now here's the thing, most of what comes with that charge are things I don't really want. I don't need unlimited texting or unlimited talk time. I use both to a moderate degree, but I have also been a long time Google Voice user, which offers both voice and text for free. The Sprint add-on apps are more burden than boon, and I root my phones for the purpose of removing the bloatware.

So what if I take the cord-cutter approach to my cell phone? What I really want is data, unlimited amounts of it. I don't need the rest because I have other solves. What are my options?

The experiment

Starting next week I'm going to be piloting a personal experiment in "cord"-cutting. There's not really a cord involved, but you get the idea, right? The key to my plan is to replace normal phone functions with free or cheaper replacements.


Skype currently offers the best voice quality over an internet connection. It is also incredibly cheap to use as a phone replacement. The cost of Skype-in numbers is about $30/year with their promotional rates. That's $2.50/month! Your friends can dial that number and Skype answers on your computer or phone. When you dial out using Skype you'll need a subscription for that as well. To call the US and Canada it's an additional $2.99/month, bringing our grand total Skype cost up to the whopping $5.49/month.

Google Voice

I mentioned earlier that I'm a Google Voice user. This service is free from Google and allows you to do things like make domestic calls for free or send free text messages. The interface isn't the best, but it does give you access to create a phone number and have calls and texts to that number forward elsewhere. Since I've been using this for so long, this is the number everyone knows to reach me. I've set this to forward to my Skype In number, and Skype is set up to show my Google Voice in caller IDs when I call others. In effect, to the outside world I can use Skype and it looks like I'm using my cell phone.


The final piece to the puzzle is an internet connection. Skype is great, but when you're out and about you can't rely on having a WiFi connection to tether to. At work and home, sure, there's probably reliable internet, but what about in the car, or at the mall, or wherever humans go these days? It was time to bite the bullet and find a WiFi hotspot that could deliver on solid connectivity at a reasonable price for the data. I settled on YourKarma for this experiment.

The Karma hotspot offers 4G LTE using the Sprint network, which gives me the same level of coverage I'm used to, but at a significantly lower rate. See, I want unlimited data overall, but not necessarily while I'm at the park or on a drive. With Karma I get a certain amount of data for a fixed fee. I'm starting with 5GB for $40/month. If there's unused data at the end of the month, you keep it. Your data doesn't expire.

The Karma hotspot is also interesting because you can't lock it down for just yourself. It's designed to be a public hotspot. Others aren't using your 5GB, but they are piggybacking on your overall bandwidth. In return, Karma gives you a 100mb boost when someone else connects to your device.

I plan to carry the hotspot with me at all times in my bag, probably permanently plugged into my fantastic backup battery to extend the life to near-permanent levels.

If this sounds interesting to you, you can use my YourKarma link to get $10 off for yourself.

The plan

I'm not cutting off Sprint just yet. I'll be running in Airplane mode with WiFi enabled for the next month or two getting a feel for the rough spots before I go all-in. I expect some dropped calls and awkwardness here and there, but for the grand total bill of $45.49/month I think I can deal.

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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


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.


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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