Safety Chic

According to today’s Wall Street Journal, doom and gloom is out and “a new safety-chic is playing out across retail.”

All the Chinese slave-labor employing big boxes have jumped in on the bandwagon including Wal-Mart, Dillards, Costco and Sears. They’re all getting together to save our collective asses from hurricanes and suitcase nukes by getting us to . . . shop. Home Depot is coming out with a line called “HomeHero” which among other things includes the white fire extinguisher illustrated on the left.

“People just haven’t thought about redesigning these categories,” says Peter Arnell, founder of the design and marketing firm Arnell Group, a division of Omnicom Group Inc., which helped craft the Home Depot HomeHero line. “In the old days, you had a chunky old red fire extinguisher and you were going to hide it. That doesn’t work anymore. The world has changed.”

Funny, we thought fire extinguishers were red so that they would stand out in an emergency. But Homegrown Revolution likes the idea of yuppies in their burning kitchens accidentally grabbing the cappuccino frother. The article ends with this zinger:

“They have clearly recognized an absence in the market and that’s the fundamental proposition,” says Dale K. Cohen, founder of DKC Resources, a New York marketing strategy and growth catalyst firm. “Fear is an emotion. And whenever you tap into the emotional component of something in selling, you have a very strong, resonant angle”.

Bucket Crapping

Those ubiquitous five gallon buckets we’ve used to make self-watering containers are good for another purpose– an improvised crapper.

When the shit hits the fan, you’ll need a place to shit and thankfully the fine folks at the World Toilet Organization have come up with a clever design for an improvised flush toilet using just a five gallon bucket, a coat-hanger, and a plastic bag. Now, not to be too graphic, but thanks to the Sierra Club we’ve had the opportunity to #2 in a five gallon bucket before and surplus stores even sell toilet seats for buckets. But the World Toilet Organization design has some distinct advantages, mainly keeping odors to a minimum. Advanced versions of the same five gallon bucket can even be used for composting and adapted for flushing with water.

Buddy Burner

An easy craft project for the family survivalist, taken from the brilliant 70’s Mormon classic: Roughing it Easy, by Dian Thomas.

A buddy burner is a heat source for camping or emergencies made out of a tuna can, candle stubs and cardboard. It acts like a Sterno can, will burn for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, and can be recharged and reused.

To make a buddy burner you need to gather: a clean tuna can, a piece of corrugated cardboard, a bunch of candle stubs, and a soup can or something similar to melt the wax in so you don’t get wax on your cookware.

Cut the cardboard into strips as wide as the can is deep. Cut across the corrugation, across the ridges, so that when you look at the edge of the strip you see the open channels. Capiche? You are going to coil the cardboard in the can, so you will need maybe 3 or 4 feet of cardboard. One Amazon mailer made 3 BB’s here at Survive LA. Roll your strips up like a sweet roll and tuck them into the can. It does not have to be tight, but you do want to fill it up.

Pile your candle stubs next to the tuna can to get a sense of how much you need. The wax soaks into the cardboard, so you always seem to need more than you expect. Don’t worry about the wicks, dust, soot, those little metal things–the purity of your wax doesn’t matter.

Melt the wax. If you melt your candle stubs over direct heat the wax will burst into flame if it gets too hot. Therefore it is safest and best to use a double boiler set up. Now, if you own a double boiler you probably don’t want to coat it with wax, so use a tin can to hold the wax, and place the can in a saucepan of simmering water. Here we balance the can on a metal cookie cutter to keep it off the bottom of the saucepan.

When the wax melts it will liberate bits of old wick. Fish these out first and tuck one or two or three between the cardboard layers to help with lighting the burner. Then pour the hot wax slowly into the can. It will fill up fast, then the wax level will sink as the cardboard soaks up the wax. Keep adding wax–you want to be sure the can is absolutely full of wax and the cardboard completely saturated.

To cook with your buddy burner, all you have to do is figure out how to elevate your cooking pot above it. You could use your fondue set up, or perhaps stack up some bricks on either side, or best of all, make a stove for it out of a big #10 can. That will be the subject of another post.

To light the BB, light the wicks and turn the can up on its side so that the cardboard catches fire too. The cardboard is a huge wick. That inferno effect is what you want. Control your flame by making a damper out of a piece of aluminum foil folded into a long rectangle three or four layers thick and as wide as the can, but much longer so that you can use the excess as a handle. Slide the foil back and forth to expose or repress the flame as needed.

To recharge the BB, place chunks of wax on top of the BB while it is burning. The wax will melt down and refuel it. The wax will always burn at a lower temperature than the cardboard, so the cardboard should last a long time.

UPDATE – 7/1/08

Reader Michael writes:

“Hey! I love your site. But some thoughts on Buddy Burners! I made SOOOO many of these as a kid growing up (Mormon, y’know?), but they are not safe anymore. Most aluminum cans are now fully lined with plastics and other coatings (to prevent botulism, yay!) but they cannot be burned (boo!). Please please please do not suggest people make these as burning the coatings can be TOXIC.”

I’m beginning to wish we had a science lab here at the Homegrown Evolution compound to test these sorts of problems. I’d add to Michael’s concern that these plastic coatings leach estrogenic compounds into our food. BooII! See this alarming article from Cornell University on the connection between plastics and breast cancer.

Make an Aluminum Can Lamp

Inspired by an article in Wilderness Way, SuriviveLA made our own post-apocalyptic lighting out of two aluminum cans. According to the author of that article, Del Gideon, the Vietnamese used to make these lamps back during the war. You can also use these lamps to heat up water. Making one is easy:

    1. Remove the top off a can. We like to do this by scoring the inner ring of the top with a razor blade and then using a pair of pliers to bust it out. The fastidious and safety conscious may want to file down the sharp edge.

    2. Cut a 2 1/2 inch square window out of one side of the can with a pair of scissors.

    3. Now cut the bottom 1 1/2 inches off of another can. We like to do this by taping a razor blade to a piece of metal and inserting it in a book. Simply rotate the can against the blade a few times and you will get a nice even cut. Precision isn’t necessary for this project (unlike the Pepsi can stove) so you can also do this step with a pair of scissors.

    4. Punch out a 1/4 inch hole in the bottom of the can for the wick.

    5. Cut a 1/2 inch by 3 inch piece of cotton from an old shirt for the wick.

    6. Cut out a 2 inch by 1 1/2 inch piece of aluminum and use it to wrap up the wick tightly.

    7. Fill the can with the window with lamp oil. Insert the aluminum wrapped wick in the hole you drilled in the other can and squeeze both cans together as shown in the image at top.

    8. Trim the wick, light it, and wait for WWIII.

    Hexayurt

    SurviveLA reader jbjhill, responding to our rant about designing for a world dominated by 4 x 8 building materials, sent a link to this unique yurt-shaped emergency shelter which can be built out of 4 x 8 sheets of nearly anything (the globe shaped thing on the right is an inflatable satellite dish). Designed by software engineer Vinay Gupta, who is working on this project full time, the “Hexayurt” costs somewhere between $200 and $500 to build, and requires only six cuts for each unit. The Hexayurt stacks flat for easy deployment in emergencies.

    Gupta has a suggested “Infrastructure Package” which includes heat, lights, water purification, and a composting toilet bringing the cost up somewhat, but still much less than FEMA’s $30,000 trailers.

    While not the most thrilling video (at least as compared to this), thanks to the wonders of youtube you can watch Gupta assemble an 8 foot Hexayurt:

    Roughin’ It

    SurviveLA is off to Joshua Tree this weekend for the graduation ceremonies of the Sierra Club’s Wilderness Travel Course. We took the WTC class earlier this year both for tips on backpacking and for gaining general self-sufficiency. The Sierra Club’s approach to roughing it is to, well, not really rough it but to go down to REI and load up on all the latest stoves, tents and “technical” fabrics. This contrasts starkly with the mountain-man-live-off-the-land approach epitomized by survivalist types like Christopher Nyerges and Eustace Conway.

    At SurviveLA we like our comfort and believe that the best way to train for a survival situation is to studiously avoid survival situations by making sure to always have extra food, extra water, extra clothes, a map and a compass. In short, we like the WTC way. And the nice thing about having the backpacking gear around is that should an earthquake or other disaster strike our urban compound we are prepared to camp out in the backyard and, if necessary, head out on the Xtracycle.

    The Wilderness Travel Course starts up this January and we highly recommend it. The class includes ten classroom sessions, two day trips, and two overnight trips all for a very reasonable price. The class ends with a challenging weekend of snow camping in the high Sierras. Take this class and your urban homestead will be ready for most contingencies.

    And speaking of camping, the velorutionaries at C.I.C.L.E. are hosting a weekend camping trip on November 11-12 that will feature a wild food hike with the aforementioned LA survivalist Christopher Nyerges.

    Homegrown Evolution Food Review: Backpacker’s Pantry Huevos Rancheros

    On our recent Homegrown Evolution journey to Santa Rosa Island we taste tested another freeze-dried food item, Huevos Rancheros from Backpacker’s Pantry. While this product has an impressive shelf life and ease of preparation, making it appropriate for emergency food supplies, we’ve had better freeze dried entrees. Our fellow campers had the same reaction to the visual look of the cooked and re-hydrated product: dog vomit. The taste wasn’t all that bad, but it had the overly salty and questionably seasoned feeling of almost all dehydrated foods. Imagine eating just the seasoning packet from a bowl of ramen. We’ve had much better luck with some home made foods that we’ll share in future posts.

    And, perhaps this is a cheap shot, but Backpacker’s Pantry has really got to consider redesigning the package which has a sort of rear view of a llama in an Andean landscape. The marketing folks probably want us to have the feeling of, “wow, isn’t this food great – now I can take a hacky-sack break on my high altitude Peruvian trek” rather than “so that’s what end of the animal this food comes from.”

    Build a Ghetto Solar Cooker

    Using crap we had laying around the homestead, SurviveLA fashioned a solar cooker based on plans from Backwoods Home Magazine, the Dwell of the Ted Kaczynski set. We just substituted an old cooler for the cardboard boxes, and we finished it off by using one of Los Angeles’ ubiquitous abandoned car tires as a cradle to keep the cooker oriented towards the sun. It ain’t pretty but it works. In our first test we reached 160º inside the oven, but we think we can do better with some refinements such as finding a black pot with a lid.

    Yesterday we cooked up a somewhat disappointing batch of “chocolate pudding” which ended up with the consistency and taste of warm cake batter. We’ll test out some other recipes in the next few days, sun permitting, and keep you, our loyal readers, informed.

    For more information on solar cookers check out the superb Solar Cooking Archive. You can also purchase a commercially made solar oven called the Global Sun Oven, but why do that when you can make one with cardboard, aluminum foil, and a black pot?

    Crapper Livin’


    Your house should be like this National Park Service bathroom. Located on remote Santa Rosa Island, forty-six miles off the coast of Ventura, this handsome building features a solar water heater and a 12 volt electrical system to power the lights. Built of durable materials such as cedar and recycled plastic decking, this building should see many years of service.

    SurviveLA advocates the virtues of living small. Why not, for example, live in the Santa Rosa Island campground bathroom? The average American house has been super-sized to a gut busting 2,400 square feet and living in a structure the size of this bathroom would probably violate city codes in many places which mandate a minimum square footage for habitable dwellings. The nice thing about a small house is that it discourages the accumulation of crap and requires a lot less energy to maintain.

    Sure, there is less convenience with a building like this. With a very simple solar water heating system showers need to be taken at the end of the day and the very modest solar panel would not be able to power any major appliances. But these are minor sacrifices compared to the enormous benefits of self-sufficiency, namely one’s freedom.

    An aside here – SurviveLA encourages a trip out to beautiful Santa Rosa Island to enjoy the natural wonders and to visit this bathroom of the future. Unfortunately the vile and corrupt San Diego congressman Duncan Hunter wants to restrict access to the island so that fat cats can continue to go on $16,000 trophy hunts while drinking beer on the back of a truck. Read more about his plan to turn Santa Rosa into a retreat for disabled vets (an excuse to keep the fat cat hunt going) in the Washington Post. Please fax Hunter at this address ASAP and tell him that Santa Rosa Island belongs to the people, and should be run by the National Parks Service: Rep. Duncan Hunter, 2265 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 20515-0552. Fax is 202-225-0235. Let’s give Duncan the flush!

    Escape from LA

    Sometimes in order to survive LA you’ve gotta escape it, which is why we are headed to Santa Rosa Island, part of the Channel Islands National Park, tomorrow for a weekend of backpacking and general self-sufficiency. We’re going in part to experience what the landscape of Southern California would have been like had it not been fucked up by freeways, strip malls and Spearmint Rhino billboards to name just a few of the many indignities we face each day.

    We’re also going to Santa Rosa to experience a place which was home to the Chumash Indians who lived for 13,000 years off the bounty of the land and the sea without needing to load up the kids in the mini-van and head to the 99 cent store.

    Santa Rosa Island is also a land of mystery that once was home to the paradoxical combination of pygmy mammoths and giant prehistoric rats.

    Sadly, in order to commence this journey we will be commemorating World Carfree Day by . . . driving, as we have to get to the Ventura pier early in the morning to catch the boat. We suggest that those of you who are stuck in LA this Friday to consider not driving if you can, and attending the vigil for Ilia Pankin, a cyclist who was killed earlier this week by a hit-and-run driver.