Sunday, August 26, 2012

. . . Emergency Preparation Kits

Today's post was created to support my August 28th Digital Grind Column in the Cape Cod Times on alternative personal power, and among other things offers a deeper look at creating personal emergency preparation kits with useful tips, as well as strategies.  If you ended up here by following  a link other than the one from the paper or the online version of my column which is published on the Times' award-winning website you can find the column at this link to the Digital Grind landing page at the paper -- and I encourage you to read the column first before you continue reading this admittedly long and detailed post...

Before we move on I want to thank you for reading my column and for reading the paper!

Supporting Digital Grind: Emergency Preparation Kits

When I sat down to write this week's Digital Grind I was aware that there would be no way to include all of the information that I wanted and needed to include -- and in particular that there would be no room for discussing the items that you should have in your kits, so here is an in-depth look at the different types of emergency preparation kits and the different elements that you can use to improve the kits you already have.

Please bear in mind that the following are suggestions, and that I accept no responsibility for the effectiveness or lack thereof with respect to these resources and how you use (or misuse) them...  This is free advice and it is worth what you paid for it.

In addition to the basic resources that are listed below I strongly recommend that you take as much specialized training as you can manage, and at a very minimum at least one adult member of your household should take the following training as soon as possible and keep their certification and skills updated by taking refresher courses annually:
  • Red Cross Disaster Training Course
  • Red Cross Basic and Advanced First Aid Course and Certification
  • Red Cross Adult and Child CPR Course and Certification
  • Red Cross Pet First Aid Course
  • Basic Firearms Safety Class
  • NRA Personal Protection in the Home Live Fire Course
  • NRA Basic Pistol Class (Live Fire)
  • Fire Safety Course
  • HAM / Amateur Radio Courses and License Classes
You should be able to obtain the firearm safety and training courses through your local police department, and of course the health and first aid courses are available via the American Red Cross.  Many Municipal Fire Departments offer basic fire safety courses, and some Coast Guard Stations offer a variety of training and safety courses.   Your local Amateur Radio and HAM associations will offer basic and advanced courses to prepare for the license exams, and if you plan to buy and use a radio that requires a license this is pretty much a requirement.  Having a HAM or Amateur Radio and License is a really good idea, since when all other communication fails, that is the one form that will not.  Plus you can ask the astronauts on the International Space Station what the weather looks like from up there...

All joking set aside, knowledge is power, and the skills that you can obtain as a result of the training above is invaluable.  You may also want to consider taking personal defense courses or training in one of the variety of martial arts that are offered in your community.  Not only will those classes teach you how to defend yourself, they can help you to obtain the confidence to actually defend yourself when you need to!

Basic Home Emergency Preparation Kit (BHEPK)There are a umber of items that should be considered basic and necessary components to the Home Emergency Preparation Kit, and those include:
  • An envelope with $100 in small bills tucked away in your kit for emergencies
  • A book with printed contact information including phone numbers and addresses for family and the other important people in your life.  If you keep all of that information on your computer (like most people) bear in mind you may not have access to either your computer or the Internet during an emergency...
  • Battery-powered radio and/or digital hand-held television with NOAA Channel.
  • Handheld CB or HAM Radio (If you are licensed for HAM)
  • Camping Gear (Sleeping sacks, gas lantern, cook stove)
  • Canned and tinned food of sufficient quantity for a week per person minimum
  • Additional pre-packaged survival food, preferably military-grade MRE's (Meal, Ready to Eat) of the high-caloric-count type.  Three meals per person for a week; meals can be broken up and eaten as needed for nutrition/energy requirements and used to subsidize canned and tinned foods as well as fresh foods.
  • Candles, preferably high-quality low-smoke beeswax
  • Cell phone with working service and spare charged batteries.
  • Chemical light sticks
  • Drinking Water (64 ounces per day, per person)
  • Entertainment items - books, magazines, battery powered DVD player and DVD's - you know what you like.  Board games, playing cards, handheld battery powered video game systems and games.
  • Personal water filtration kits
  • Advanced First Aid Kit
  • Regular Medications for all family members
  • Fresh Water for bathing/cleaning/cooking (as much as you can manage)
  • Water purification supplies to create additional potable water as needed
  • Flashlights with multiple sets of fresh batteries and a set of book lights with batteries
  • Matches, Lighters, or other fire-starting devices
  • Portable heater (oil or gas based) 
  • Handgun and full box of ammunition (50 rounds).  You should take and pass a handgun safety course, properly register and legally purchase your firearms, and maintain a lockable secure gun safe for their storage and to prevent them being diverted by looters or handled by children. 
  • Toilet Kit - several empty 5-gallon "pickle" or painter buckets with toilet seats attached plus extra buckets with seal-able lids and a supply of double-ply small trash bag/liners.  The extra buckets are used for storage of human waste inside the liner bags; after each use the bag is tied closed and stored in the spare buckets with the lid sealed on. 
  • Spare fuel canisters for your cook stove, lanterns, beverage wamers, and other devices that you have put in your kit that use them...  Obviously keep these ina safe storage spot as per the instructions that come with them.
  • Manuals for all your kit and devices
Portable heaters should be used with caution, and only in a properly ventilated space.  You should NEVER use open flames or rigged fires indoors unless you are doing so in a proper fireplace, again with proper ventilation.

Prior to the emergency conditions setting in you should, at a minimum:
  • Fill the petrol tank on your autos completely
  • Fully charge all of your consumer electronics and safety kit before power goes out if you can
  • Stock up on potables and food stuff in advance of the event, with an emphasis upon fresh fruits, veggies, and drinking water.
  • Obtain additional cash money in low-denominations if you can as ATM's will not likely be available when the power is out, and most merchants will not be accepting credit cards.  All the same though use common sense with this -- you will not likely need thousands of dollars and having that sort of cash could easily create more problems than it solves.  A few hundred dollars in addition to the $100 that should be part of your Basic Kit should be sufficient.

Additional Recommended Kit Elements

Your advanced first aid kit should contain, at a minimum, the following items and be packaged separate from your BHEPK:
  • A 30 day supply of personal prescription medication
  • Extra pair of prescription eyeglasses or contacts
  • Bandages
  • Band-Aids / Sticky Plasters
  • Sterile combine dressing, and gauze pads
  • Adhesive tape, and gauze tape
  • Medical tweezers
  • Surgical razor or scalpel
  • Disinfectant pads
  • Latex gloves (rubber if allergic to latex, to protect first aider against infection)
  • Antibiotic cream
  • Epinephrine and antihistamines for allergic reactions, primarily to insect stings
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Suture Kit or Sterile Disposable Surgical Stapler.  In a pinch Super Glue will work, so will Duct Tape.  You can get suture kits cheap at veterinary supply houses without prescriptions or official documentation that will work for humans as well as animals...
  • Oxytetracycline tablets (for diarrhea or infection) and Z-Packs
  • Aspirin
  • Salt Pills / Salt -- an essential mineral for health. Salt containing potassium chloride, sold widely as low sodium salt, can be used to prevent dehydration from diarrhea and can save most cholera deaths.
  • Multivitamin and Mineral Supplements. Zinc supplements are useful in treating diarrhea intestinal tract infections, especially in children.
  • Sunscreen (where appropriate, above 30 SPF)
  • 100% UV protective sunglasses ("UV 400") (protects eyes from harmful UV radiation.

Basic Mobile (Auto) Emergency Preparation Kit
A Basic Mobile EPK is really more insurance than anything else, but of course if you end up caught in an emergency situation in your car it is an incredibly valuable and useful form of insurance!  While you can assemble your own kit, the trick with these is that they need to be well-sealed so that the contents are preserved over long-term storage in the boot of your car...

Check out the website at Are You Prepared? which includes an app to help you build an EPK for your car(s), or you can go with the commercial versions linked below (which is what I did):
This is basically a 5-person kit in a pickle bucket with enough supplies to make being stranded a lot less inconvenient.  Note that in addition to this kit I also keep a Rubbermaid tote with a variety of food and convenience items in it, and rotate the items once a month into the house so that they are consumed, replacing the supply in the van.  The extras consists of five gallon fresh drinking water container, packages of cup-a-soup, granola bars, fig newtons, hard candy, a large jar of peanut butter, and a box of Ritz Crackers.  Bags of Smartfood, fruit roll-ups, and assorted other grindage intended to keep the kids happy, and a basic first aid kit.  Books, some coloring-in books and crayons, and an assortment of books on tape.

Additional Recommended Kit Elements
Bog standard first aid kits of the sort you can obtain from military surplus and camping stores will be sufficient and as long as they remain sealed you can stow them in the boot of your car and not have to think overmuch about them.

Most of the items that you include in your kits are common-sense elements whose function is to either make you safer or more comfortable, but there are elements that you cannot put inside your kits, you have to bring them yourself, and at the top of that list is self-confidence and common sense.

Staying safe during emergency situations is always a paramount concern, and the health and safety of yourself and your family should be your primary concern.  Even under the worse conditions imaginable when you have set aside the core elements and compliment them by obtaining the proper training and skills, the situations in which you need your kits should end up being little more than uncomfortable and hopefully brief interruptions in the conveniences of modern life.

One of my favorite recreational activities is reading detective novels and mysteries from the previous century --and when a book also happens to include Cape Cod as its setting that is all bonus as far as I am concerned! -- and my relatives know this and do what they can to help me by bringing me interesting books to read.  My wife's mother is a librarian in Greenwich, and so enjoys the enviable (to me) position of having the choice of any books that are sold as overstock or donations to the library that are not needed for the shelves and lending collection.  The librarians get first-choice to purchase the books in that category, and the result of that is a steady stream of great adventures that result from her thoughtful consideration of my reading preferences -- thanks Mom!

During their monthly visit this weekend among the literary treasures that were packed into the bag of books that Mom brought me to read was a paperback by Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Death Lights a Candle, which is one of the books in the Asey Mayo Cape Cod Mystery Series -- which is totally new to me, this being the first title I have read in the series or by the author...  Originally published in 1932, the series encompasses 22 books that span the Cape and its small towns, all of which feature the unique settings and characters for which it seems they are rightly renown.  

So far my happy place with respect to 1930's fiction of the sort was largely restricted to the Nero Wolfe series, so this is all bonus as far as I am concerned, but I bring this all up because the first part of the story in Death Lights a Candle relates the experiences of the central characters who are snowed-in during an unexpected severe weather emergency, with the author going into some detail with respect to the emergency preparation kits that they had available to them, which illustrates for me just how fortunate we are to be living in the times that we live in  -- with the Internet, green alternative power like solar and wind energy, and all of the modern conveniences of  miracle drugs and reliable packaged foods.

Count your blessings -- but be sure to include a few books like Death Lights a Candle in your kits so that you have some entertainment with which to keep your mind and imaginations occupied during your time without power...  Just saying...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

. . . GamrCred

Last week I received a press release noting the beta for a new service I had not heard of before called GamrCred that was, in simple terms, an aggregation site for gamer reputation.

What it does is it gathers together three distinct areas of gamer life and quantifies it into a color-coded belt system of rank.  Those three areas are:

Play: The hours and achievements you earn from the games you play on networks such as Xbox LIVE, Playstation Network and Steam are measured and given a rank from Newbie to Boss, the more you play the higher you go.

Say: The engagement you receive on social media and your favorite game communities about the games you play.

Respect: The amount of GamrCred Respect you earn from your friends on all your platforms and communities.

Sounds pretty cool, right?  The service is in closed beta at the moment, and as the email invited me to request a beta code I went ahead and did so, but was shocked to discover upon redeeming it that the company that runs the service actually expected me (and everyone else who wanted to sign up) to hand over my user credentials for all of the gaming services I am active upon!  Xbox LIVE, PSN, Steam...  Not only was there no way I was going to do that, I actually felt the need to write about it to them, in preparation for writing about it professionally because it was such a glaringly obvious security issue...

So I did write to them, and was amazed at their reply, which was to tell me that they had been discussing the issue today (it seems I was not the first member of the games press to call that into question) and that they had made the decision to remove that requirement -- which may sound like little more than lip service if you are jaded (like me) but then they put their words into action, and within an hour of the email exchange the requirement to provide security creds for the gaming services had indeed been removed!

I am not completely finished in evaluating the services offered -- and I am a little stunned that I only rated a Blue Belt on the service (and here I thought I was a serious gamer LOL) -- but I can say that so far I am impressed by their integrity and concern for the community that they are in the process of building, and I plan to recommend it to my mates and especially the mates I game with.

If you are a gamer you should check it out -- point your browser at and after you sign up be sure to add me to your list of followed if not friends!

Not only do you get your prowess evaluated but they offer a number of visual badges for you to use to show off that status on the web, on chat boards, and I suppose even in email if you wanted to...  Here is the collection of badges that they currently offer:

Profile Badge
Large Standard Badge

Small Standard Badge

Large Vertical Banner

Small Vertical Banner

Large Banner

Small Banner

In addition to the above badges (the bottom pair allow you to insert your own custom message into the banner, which means you can not only show off your "Belt" color/level, but you can also express yourself adding anything from a mood statement to your personal philosophy...  I suspect that for most gamers that custom message spot will be used to show their gamer motto -- which for me is a simple but highly appropriate message that communicates my own personal philosophy on gaming, which is Pizza First, Then War!

Seriously though, as odd as this feels to be saying, after contemplating what the GamrCred service offers and its value to the gaming community in general, I cannot escape the gut feeling that it is really about time someone came up with something like this!

I am no stranger to the concept of gamer cred, reputation, and status -- in fact I have written about it in many forms as part of my duties as a writer, games journo, and columnist...  Check out the following pieces, articles, and observations to see what I mean:

That is just a brief selection of the pieces I have written about or relating to Achievements, Gamerscore, Trophies, and gamer reputation or creds, which I maintain is one of the most tended to elements of the identity of most gamers...  Considering that the score, count, reputation, and every other element or aspect to this is really only important to you and the handful of people you know on each of the gaming services you would not think it would be so important to most gamers, and yet it is!

I plan on keeping an eye on the GamrCred service and I will be writing about it as well, because I suspect it is going to carve out its own niche and end up being one of the most popular gamer rep services and sites in existence...  That and the unique approach that they have taken suggests to me that they have a very firm handle upon and, perhaps more important, a full understanding of the many different elements that go into establishing -- and defining -- a gamer's reputation.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

. . . the Life of a Modern Day Pokemon Master

Depending upon who you are speaking with, most adults who are not gamers do not think much of Pokemon if they think of them at all.   Although they know what Pokemon are and what a Pokemon Trainer is, more often than not they personally define the world in which Pokemon exist and the respective video games, animated television shows, and feature movies, as realms created exclusively for children in which adults do not belong.  

At least part of the reason for that rather harsh assessment may be due to the disconnection that exists for most adults between the person that they are now, and the person that they once were when they still understood the joys and vivid outlook that I believe is wasted upon children, who have it in such abundance that they can blithely ignore it.  I am not saying that kids do not deserve the gift of that almost magical point-of-view, I am just saying that adults could do with a bit of that themselves.

Recently I found myself in the position of having to explain to a disgruntled and suspicious security agent in the employ of the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) the presence of Pokemon video games, a vintage Pokemon electronic Pokedex, and a small notebook containing page-after-page of tiny hand-scribbled notes created by me that among other things included my observations on the locations in which I had encountered each Pokemon, and my assessment for the best tactics to be used in their capture.  In addition to that very useful information and notes of my observations was included a series of addendum that outlined what I thought was the best method for leveling and training each of a short list of core Pokemon whose type and natural abilities struck me as making them ideal members of a regular Pokemon tournament team.

This smiling and friendly TSA Agent was NOT the Agent who was inspecting me...
The occasion that brought the contents of my carry-on bag to the scrutiny and the attention of that TSA Agent was my annual trip to Los Angeles to cover the Electronic Entertainment Expo for the different publications that I write for.  I am sure that I do not have to tell you that E3 is perhaps the most important expo event in the industry and for most gamers, and while there is always plenty to see, think about, and write up, once your work day is over it helps a lot to have something unrelated to the job to use as a way to relax.  In my case these diversions took the form of a nice thick paperback mystery novel and my Nintendo DSi XL with a handful of Pokemon games and the aforementioned accessories and paraphernalia.

Approaching The Security Checkpoint at Boston Logan

One of the cool things about living in New England is that under normal circumstances the people who live there are a friendly and gregarious bunch who enjoy pleasing and being pleased by the strangers that they meet.  Well, normally that is the case, but it turns out that there is a small -- nay, tiny -- segment of the population that pretty much always feels angry and  suspicious towards the world: they call them Transportation Security Administration Agents.  

Imagine, if you can, approaching the security checkpoint between the public areas of the airport and the restricted area where the gates are located, and finding a vision straight out of Zombieland -- a long line of passengers being examined by a cadre of security agents, and to a person every single body occupying the security checkpoint have no emotional expression on their faces.  If there had been a few frowns or a smile or two to be had perhaps my impression of the situation would have been different -- but the total lack of emotion on all of the faces (including a few young children) was disturbing on a level that it is difficult to explain.

 These were not the planes that I flew to LA to cover E3 on...

When we approached the entrance to the checkpoint shoes came off, plastic bins were lined up, computers taken out of bags, and watchful eyes tracked the bin holding my day pack with my wallet and other valuables.  I found myself being directed to the side due to my power chair -- where I would be subjected to a hand-pat-down which I was not surprised by because I was expecting it -- but then something happened that I was not expecting: the TSA Agent picked up my day pack and then began to empty it, setting each item on the desktop.

When he got to my game case he opened that and thumbed through the games inside, glanced up at me and asked me why I had so many Pokemon games?  Like an idiot I made a joke out of it, and asked if that was part of the standard security screening -- and was informed that yes, it was.

He then asked me why I played kids games?  I thought about my answer -- how I could just as easily have replied that it was part of my job, that I had to review a lot of games, not just the ones that most people think of as appropriate for adults.  I could have said that they belonged to my son, who was traveling with me, and is perhaps young enough that he would have accepted that...   Instead I told him that I really liked the games.

His reaction to that declaration was to begin removing the games from the case and lining them up on the desktop.  Then he opened my Pokedex and turned it on, and asked what it was.  He did the same for the small notebook full of notes, asking a series of questions that were, as near as I could tell, was intended to be insulting. 

TSA Security moonlighting as the Head of Security for the Electric Company
I briefly flirted with the idea of offering him a cup of tea -- but clearly even the guards in Saffron City have nothing on this guy with respect to grimace -- and then it hit me...  

"I challenge you to a duel!" I screamed, slamming my Pokemon White cartridge down on the desk.

Just kidding...  What I did was smile and nod and refrain from saying what I really thought...  Celadon Mansion was clearly too far away from the security checkpoint, and I was not sure that tea from anywhere else would work as a bribe for security, and a fantasy involving his actually accepting the bribe flitted through my head, closely followed by one in which he pulled out his DS and he and I did battle -- I won of course -- and then I noticed he was putting everything back in my day pack.

"Have a pleasant trip" he said, and that was it.  I was through security and headed to the gate.

It's not easy being a Pokemon Trainer.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

. . . Xbox LIVE Arcade Gamer Points, Skateboards, and the end of the Summer Doldrums

It came a little earlier this year than it has in past years, but as far as I know, nobody who is not clinically insane has complained...  I am talking about the Summer Doldrums of course -- that dry period of roughly two-and-a-half-months during which no new games are released.  I did not actually grow up calling it the Summer Doldrums - having lived in Australia for all of the formative years of my life the "Summer Doldrums" arrived in the middle of the Winter -- and we had our own name for it - the Winter Freeze.

Whether you call it the Summer Doldrums or the Winter Freeze, what it is in simple terms is a drought of no games, which forces gamers to either replay their old games or mine through the games of previous years for titles that they never had the chance to play and so are new to them even though they are old to the rest of the planet.  Personally that was how I always preferred to do it since there were, often enough, some really great games that I did not get to play.

-- The Summer Doldrums 2012 --

 This year was different.  The same period over the course of the past few years was filled with non-gaming activities, so it was not like I was actually bored, but still...  The Summer was filled with taking the kids to the beach, slowly rolling through antique shops and tag sales looking for bargains, and then there was the week we spent as Boy Scout Camp, with my Son as the Scout and my wife and I sharing the week as adult supervision.  I would not want my son to know this, but I suspect that the adults actually had more fun than the kids in many respects, as Summer Camp was a chance for us to -- for the most part -- get away from literally everything.

No Summer Camp this year -- my son needed to make up a class that he had too many tardy marks in, so it was Summer School for him and that meant no Summer Camp.  Sigh.  There is also the point that I had to work since we did not take off the week of Summer Camp for holiday but that is besides the point...  The games that I chose to fill in for the lack of new titles were as follows and in no particular order:
  • Gears of War (The original)
  • G.R.A.W. (A disappointment but more on that in a bit)
  • Assassin's Creed (Revisiting the original)
  • Mafia II (Revisting)
  • Dead Island (Revisiting)
  • Madagascar 3 (Shock!  A new game release!)
  • Toy Soldiers: Cold War (Revisited)
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Dawnguard (Work Game - I wrote the guide)
  • Doom (Revisited)
  • Minecraft for Xbox 360 (Revisited)
  • Modern Warfare 3 (New to Me!)
  • Scrap Metal (Revisited)
  • Battlefield 3 (New to Me!)
  • Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed (New to Me!)
  • Age of Booty (Revisited)
  • Call of Duty Classic (Revisited)
  • Crackdown 2 (Revisited)
  • Hasbro Family Game Night: Sorry (New to Me!)
  • Kung Fu Strike (New LIVE Arcade Title - for work)
  • Puzzle Quest (Revisited)
  • Wolfenstein 3D (New to Me!)
  • Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII (New - for Work)
  • Jane's Advanced Strike Fighter (New to Me!)
  • Risen 2: Dark Waters (New release for work)
  • Zuma (LIVE Arcade Revisited)
  • Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD (New LIVE Arcade Title for work)
  • Final Fantasy XI (MMO, Revisited, it turns out you CAN go home again)
You may have noticed that I ended up playing a LOT of different games...  Well, the ones that are marked Revisited I actually owned already so that is not such a big deal...  There are a handful of new titles for work, but hey, that is for work, it does not count...

Tom Clancy's GRAW was a major disappointment and even more so because I was really looking forward to playing it -- but it turns out that after the second mission it is so badly bugged that it is not playable -- hence the disappointment.  I think if it had not been bugged I might have spent a few weeks on that game alone -- as I like that series and genre.

Crackdown 2 was a good revisit -- and a great game though you have to pace yourself and not get too much time in at any one session because it is a tense sort of play...  The Achievements for it are really brutal too -- I have owned my copy for something like two years, and I have only unlocked 12 of the 70 Achievements!

-- The End of the Doldrums --

Yesterday was my birthday and no fewer than five new games were released -- the two most notable being Sleeping Dogs and Darksiders II, both of which will factor as important games in the first half of the new gaming season I am convinced.  A glance at the release calendar shows that from here on out things only get better, so yeah, the Doldrums ended early this year, and that is reason to be happy!

I am going to go be happy now...  If you are a gamer on Cape Cod and a regular reader of the paper's game review section and blog, NOW is the time to start emailing your review requests -- so you know, go do that?