February – Month of Fire

The ability to create and sustain fire is an essential safety requirement in a survival situation.  Fire provides warmth when environmental conditions cause body heat to start dropping below safe limits.  Fire provides the ability to sterilize food and items for safer consumption and use.  Fire also provides some levels of safety at night from wild animals or ability signal one’s location.  The ability to create fire has served as one of the core differentiators between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom as well as essential to the development of mankind’s modern era.

I wanted to ensure that for my bug out bag (BOB) my ability to generate fire could be accomplished via multiple and variable ways.  I also wanted to ensure that the BOB had fire generation capabilities ranging from immediate emergency, worst case need to long term sustainment.  The two largest factors that influence these capabilities are moisture and wind.  Both of which in excessive quantities can be detrimental to being able to generate and sustain a good fire.  Consequently, two key legs of the fire triangle, fire and fuel, become critical needs for a good BOB plan.

Making a fire is as much art as it is science.  There are a plethora of ways to make fire.  They key is finding the way that is most successful for you and the situation – which requires trial and practice.  This is why I have such a range of items to generate fire.  Also, fuel sources are generally plentiful and many.  I paired down the list to just what I thought best to pack, with the expectation that majority of combustible material could be scavenged.


  • Bic Lighter x 3; up to 3K ignitions, does not work below 32°, or well when wet.  Two for the bag, one for the pocket or waist pouch. (I’ll cover packing diversity when I cover the bag itself and load out at the end of the year.)
  • Stormproof Match Kit; 25 matches and 3 strikers in weather proof case.  You can also buy or make (1 or 2) waterproof matches and store in a container.
  • FireSteel Armageddon by Firesteel.com; around 12K ignitions – with the right fuel. I would recommend watching a firesteel evaluation video by JungleCrafty.
  • Bow Drill; ignitions as long as cord is functional – the components can be scavenged, but recommend packing some multiuse paracord.  Fire bow and fire drill kits for practice or packing can be purchased from Amazon.  I would recommend watching Andy’s bow drill guide over at InnerBark Outdoors.
  • Fresnel Lens; infinite ignitions with full noon-day sun, does not work in suboptimal light or darkness.  To learn more, watch an overview video from Reality Survival.


  • WetFire; lights and burns even in water.
  • Live Fire Original; 25-30min of burn time, but used momentarily as a starter.  (Their 550 FireCord is pretty cool as well.)
  • Fatwood; great for making shavings and starting a fire when time is of the essence or tinder availability is low.
  • Cotton balls; multiuse item, can control rate of burn if covered with petroleum jelly, which is another multiuse item.  You can take it a couple steps further and make tinder almost like WetFire using cotton balls, petroleum jelly, and wax.  Read Erich’s how-to post at Tactical Intelligence.
BOB Fire Resources

Bug Out Bag – Fire Resources (Photos courtesy of Amazon)

Cord Cutter’s DVR

Since I cut the cord some time ago I have been using a couple generation 1 Simple.TV DVRs to record over-the-air (OTA) television broadcasts in my local area.  I found them on Woot with a lifetime subscription at a really low price.  They are not the most polished devices, but are very functional.  I have heard the generation 2 Simple.TV DVRs, which they sell now, are better.

I like the ability to record shows and stream them to any device I want, anywhere I have a good network connection.  (I recently watched part of the NFL playoffs at a local gym streamed from the Simple.TV at my house.)  I also enjoy having the option of skipping the monthly bill ride and instead paying a one time lifetime subscription.

Recently, Simple.TV performed some maintenance on their infrastructure which, for what appeared to be a lot of their customers (to include me), resulted in a catastrophic loss of all recorded shows, reset of the devices, and re-registration. Imagine how one would feel if they completely lost all their information stored in their cell phone with no way to recover it.  Many customers of Simple.TV (again, to include me) were not happy.

The fault at Simple.TV sent me back out to see what OTA DVRs the market now offers for the cord-cutter enthusiast.  During that search I found Tablo.  I pulled up the reviews and watched several videos about the product, both by Tablo and users.  I even found reviews from Simple.TV users who made the switch and could well compare the two products.  Additionally, I found a couple of very good total cost of ownership (TCO) charts that the Tablo staff put together, one of which I have included below.

While I must admit up front that I am not going to switch out my Simple.TV DVRs, yet, it was tempting to think about doing so.  Reliability is a strong selling point for me.  If I had to find a good OTA DVR now, I would strongly recommend looking at Tablo.

Over the Air (OTA) DVR Total Cost of Ownership (Chart courtesy of Tablo.com)

Over the Air (OTA) DVR Total Cost of Ownership (Chart courtesy of Tablo.com)

January – Month of Water

One of my objectives this year is to build a decent bug out bag (BOB).  To that end, each month I am focusing on one specific area of need for the BOB.  January was the month I focused on water – hence my previous posts about emergency water purification and the Sawyer mini.  Culminating my research for the month of water I have put together a decent gear load out to assist with sustaining hydration.

I determined that the ability to carry about three (3) liters of water per person was a good starting point.  While there are many ways to accomplish this, I ended up with two major options centered around two hard bottles and one collapsible bottle.

  1. 1 Nalgene + 1 Stainless Steel Kleen Kanteen + 1 Platypus Platy bottle collapsible bag  (Pro: A clear Nalgene can make visible inspection and consumption tracking easier.)
  2. 2 Stainless Steel Kleen Kanteen + 1 Platypus collapsible bag  (Pro: Two steel containers allows for boiling twice as much if needed.)

The next set of requirements were based on the amount of time one might have to stop and resupply.  The more time one has, the less consumable water purification resources may be used.  Additionally, one can mix and match these capabilities based on the available resources and the situation, such as using the gravity filter supplemented by boiling at the same time.

  • Forced March, on the go water purification: Katadyn Micropur x 30; purifies 30 liters (must prefilter turbid water – bandanna, coffee filter; takes two hours)
  • On Demand water filtration:  Sawyer Mini; filters up to 100,000 gallons
  • Operational Pause filtration: Platypus GravityWorks 4 Liter
  • Operational Recovery purification: Boil in Klean Kanteen as noted by Einar A.

As I mentioned in the previous emergency water supply post, these options address most of the issues one would face with water on the go, but not chemicals in the water.  To have some level level ability to address some heavy metals and other contaminants I have added a Berkey filter that I can place in my canteens post filtering or purifying with the other methods.  It may not have a large chemical filtration capability, but I see it as better than having nothing.

Bug Out Bag - Water

Bug Out Bag – Water Resources
(Photos courtesy of Amazon and Einar A.)

Security Camera Field of View

I recently went to mount a new security camera.  I configured it for the network, hooked it up to my POE switch, and pulled out my ladder to evaluate the mount position.  As I put it into a notional spot I quickly realized while watching the video stream that the camera just was not capturing as much of the area that I needed.  The reason?  The field of view (FOV) was a little smaller than I expected.

A camera’s field of view is based on the focal length of the lens, which is the distance of the lens to the imaging sensor, and the imagining sensor size.  This focal length is represented in millimeters (mm).  The smaller the distance, the wider the field of view.  The larger the distance, the more narrow (think tunnel vision) the view.  The smaller the FOV, see close up and wide.  The larger the FOV, view something at a distance.

Since most surveillance cameras use a 1/3″ sensor, this chart can be used to quickly reference FOV and image area.  You can also quickly calculate different focal lengths and see example output at IP Video Market or Polaris USA.

The camera I was looking at mounting has a focal length of 3.6mm, resulting in a horizontal field of view of around 67°.  Based on the mount location and the size of area to be imaged I really need a camera with a FOV as close to 90° as I can get.  Which means I need a camera with a sub 3mm focal length.

One last consideration.  Keep in mind that the larger the area being imaged, the lower the amount of resolution available to image specific areas in the field of view.

Camera field of view example. (www.2mcctv.com)

Camera field of view example. (www.2mcctv.com)

Sawyer Mini Water Filter

I recently was introduced to the Lifestraw (price) and other Vestergaard products when talking about hiking or emergency water needs with colleagues.  While doing my research I came across a good, quick article by Preparing for SHFT comparing the Lifestraw to the Sawyer Mini.  I jumped in and reviewed the Sawyer Mini (price) and other Sawyer water filtration products.

I really like the specifications and flexibility of the Sawyer Mini.  It is rated for filtration of up to 100,000 gallons of water at 0.1 microns.  That is 378 times the 264 gallon, 0.2 micron Lifestraw.  The Sawyer Mini should be thought of as a straw filter, requiring either gravity, manual pressure, or manual suction to force water through the filter.  Keep in mind the Sawyer Mini is a 0.1 micron filter.  This means the Sawyer Mini is much slower but has much greater filtration efficacy than other products on the market, such as Katadyn which sell 0.2 micron filters and can come with a pump.

When reviewing any potential add to my resources there are four factors to portable products: weight (how heavy is it), size (how much space is it going to consume), resource needs (what does it consume and how much – which has its own evaluations), time (how long to set it up, use, and store) and lifespan (how long before I need to conduct maintenance and replace it).  As far as water filters go, the Sawyer Mini is clearly a pack leader in the market space based on these factors.

Emergency Water Purification

Clean, safe water is one of the three foundational needs in a survival situation.  The baseline water requirement is around one-half to one gallon of water per person per day, more or less depending on activity and conditions.  The human body can generally survive for up to three days without water.  So having enough for fixed or mobile situations becomes a critical need as more time passes.

Both the situation and potential water concerns must be evaluated to support effective planning.  Water purification capabilities come in either portable or fixed applications, with portable ranging from straws to pumps.  There are five main areas of concern with water quality: clarity, protozoa, bacteria, viruses, and chemicals.  These contaminants are removed through one of, or a combination of, three methods:  filtration, energetic (boiling, UV lights), or chemical.  Not all methods work for all needs.  For example, filters come in a range of sizes.  A 2.0 micron filter removes most visible particulate for clarity.  A 1.0 micron filter will remove 99.9% of protozoa.  A 0.1 micron filter will remove most 99.9% of bacteria.  A 0.01 micron filter will remove 99.9% of viruses (most personal filters do not go down this far).  Chemical contamination requires special methods or equipment.

More detailed information about water needs and purification can be found at: FEMA, Red Cross, CDC (chart), Water Filter Dude, and Outdoor Gear Lab’s backpacking water guide.

Home Security Camera System

Today I spent most of my day researching a good entry level security camera system for my home.  The range and diversity of the technology in this market space is considerable.  Security cameras are largely separated into analog or digital platforms.  There are a lot of factors to building a security camera system.  Here are a few big considerations.

  • Analog Pros.  Analog cameras have been around for a very long time and they are a very well established technology.  The upshot of this is the generally lower cost of entry to build an analog based system.  This is a great choice if your looking to just put up cameras.
  • Analog Cons. The technology is showing its age.  Upper end analog cameras can not produce the same level of detail that upper end digital cameras can produce.  Analog cameras also have cabling requirements that can become cluttered (e.g., video, audio, alarm, and power running across separate cables).  Analog systems also require a centralized video management system to either display or record analog signals from the cameras.
  • Digital Pros. These cameras can have outstanding image quality.  They can run on TCP/IP networks, which means they can be accessed from the internet, individually if desired.  Some models of digital cameras can take advantage of power over Ethernet (POE), meaning one small cable to do it all.  They also can leverage wireless connections for areas where running network cable would be challenging.  The cameras can also process and, on some models, store the video stream or take snapshot pictures locally on the camera, essentially creating a decentralized system.
  • Digital Cons.  The newest technology often comes with a higher price tag, especially with the ability for the cameras to do everything locally.  Oh remember these things can be connected to the web?  Guess what that means.  They can be susceptible to hackers and consequently others may be able to see your video streams.  (This can also be true for a analog system that uses a digital video recorder connected the web.)  There are a lot more factors to image quality with digital cameras, it is just not as simple as analog platforms.  Additionally, the devil is in the details for digital cameras. You have to know the jargon and specifications to ensure to get the desired performance (e.g., H.264 vs MJPEG) and to plan a system that can support them.

I have opted to build a digital camera system connected to my local network which leverages POE.  This construct provides the ability to place cameras where needed utilizing one Ethernet cable to handle both the data and provide power.  Going wired instead of wireless also means an additional layer of security as well as reduced demand on my available wireless spectrum.

Expect more to come as I build and evaluate the system.

Digital Security Camera System Diagram

Digital Security Camera System Diagram (Images and products via Amazon.com)

Pulling In Free HDTV – Finding the Stations

It has been a long time since local TV stations around the US started the switch from analog to digital signals providing people access to free, beautiful HDTV.  Getting that signal to your HDTV capable TV starts with the right antenna, one HDTV capable.

I highly recommend starting at AntennaWeb.com.  First, plug in your zip code or address.  It will provide a nice map of local stations in your area, their direction and their distance.  It also provides a Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) color code for the antenna sensitivity needed to collect that signal.  AntennaWeb also provides a walk through of these CEA color codes.

I also recommend running through the same process over at AntennaPoint.com as well.  At AntennaPoint they provide a nicely detailed spreadsheet of stations which includes both the virtual channel number and the power output of the station.

Unless you are looking at putting together a multi-antenna system which points in more than one direction at the same time look for a direction that has the majority of stations you want.  Knowing the minimum recommended antenna type provides the option to upgrade to provide a little more flexibility.  But keep in mind, it is possible to pull in too much signal and over saturate your HDTV tuner.

Antenna Selector Color Wheel

Antenna Selector Color Wheel

Cutting Cable TV

I recently went through the process of cutting my cable TV. I was using one of my local provider’s higher end TV, phone and internet package plans, renting three DVRs and multiple basic boxes for the TVs in my house – yes I have way more than I probably should – all for around $270 a month. At some point I realized I was spending over $3K a year for these services. In today’s digital age there had to be a cheaper way. So I built a list of needs.

  • Receive HDTV
  • DVR or play back shows on demand for three different users
  • Use any TV to watch shows
  • Maintain house phone at a lower price
  • Maintain internet service at a sustained or better level of service

The below is the new system I installed.  I needed three Simple TV DVRs and four Rokus for media streaming, so my system was around $1.4K.  A one DVR and one Roku setup can be done for sub $700, and less if you need lower sensitivity antennas.  I will talk more about some of the individual components in following posts.

Cable Cut Diagram

Cutting the Cable Component Diagram (Images and products via Amazon.com)

Now I just pay for my internet ($840/yr for 50/50) and VOIP phone ($30 year). So I have gone from $270 to $83 month.  It is really nice to have that money back in the bank for other things.

Protected Rechargeable Batteries

While looking into rechargeable battery options for the Nitecore SRT5 I noticed some 18650 Li-ion batteries were marked “protected” and came with a slightly higher cost.  After some quick research it appears some rechargeable batteries come with a built in safety switch to help you get the most out of them you can.  Since I like self-correcting systems I would recommend spending a couple more dollars and let the batteries do the math for you.