Countdown 2011

In ten minutes the last seconds of 2011 will pass at the International Date Line. If you're a fan of pop music, you may enjoy spending the last 5 minutes of 2011 watching/listening this "mashup of the 25 biggest hits" over the last year.

URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ail7D_k0s9w

The rest of the world still has a little under 24 hours to reflect on the year 2011 before the calendar change happens. As you reflect on this last year, remember the message I shared in August that "This is your Life".
You may also wish to reflect on some of the other subjects I touched on over this past year:
- A human population of 7 billion
- Fear
- Need
- Survival
- Alchemy
- Understanding
- "Privacy and control"
- "Politics, Religion, and Sex"


Survive in extreme temperatures

Six months ago, at the June solstice, I wrote "a series of Survival Guides in an attempt to educate and inform readers of wilderness survival techniques". Today, on the day of the December solstice, I would like to revisit the subject of survival.

Photo from telegraph.co.uk [found via Universe Today]

During a solstice, the "tilt" of the Earth is at its greatest angle in relation to its orbit around the Sun. Meaning, the Northern hemisphere is in the depths of Winter and the Southern hemisphere is at the peak of Summer. The solstice is a time of astronomical extremes and so are the conditions on our planet. Inspired by these extremes, I want to give you some guidance in today's article on surviving extreme temperatures.

Whether freezing cold or scorching heat, extreme temperatures stress the human body to death. Though apparent opposites, heat and cold cause similar problems. The human body is a system run at a consistent core temperature, any environment outside the usual comfort limits to this system causes the body to have to work harder to maintain its core temperature.

We have at least three options when it comes to our process of temperature maintenance:
1. Change our environment/location to bring it within our comfort limit.
2. Provide our bodies with the resources necessary to continue to operate under the demands of increased work.
3. Do nothing, risking the possibility that our body will fail to meet the new demands. Said simply: Death.
Regardless of the temperature, we need to address these basic components: shelter, water, and first-aid. Shelter allows us to insulate ourselves against the extremes (option 1). Water is a necessity for maintaining our internal system (option 2). First-aid allows us to treat any damage the environment may have caused to our bodies, injury and illness puts our body at greater risk, stressing it further.

Finding shelter is important in both heat and cold. In times of heat, it will shield you from the Sun and help you keep a little cooler. In times of cold, shelter will help stay warm and protect you from rain or snow.

"Shelter" is not only physical standing structures, shelter can refer to clothing as well. It's all about environmental comfort. When keeping warm, remember the COLD acronym:
CLEAN - Dirt weighs down clothing, decreasing the amount of air between one layer and the next. Air is essential to insulate the body and keep in the heat.
OVERHEATING - If you overheat your body, you'll begin to sweat. The moisture will cool you faster, not a good thing when trying to stay warm. Keep things comfortable, not hot.
LAYERS - Keep your layers loose. It's important to keep your blood flowing easily. It will help to circulate your core temperature and keep your extremities warm.
DRY - Any moisture, including sweat, cools the skin and collapses the layers of clothing.
Clothing is important for keeping cool as well. If trying to stay cool, clothing will help slow the evaporation of sweat. Additionally, clothing will protect your skin from the direct sunlight. Beware not to wear too much clothing though; cover what you are able, but don't overheat yourself further.

As I said in my article about Finding Water:
You should drink about two liters of water per day (2 L ≈ .5 gal) under normal circumstances. In more strenuous situations, you should intake four to six liters per day; "strenuous" describes anything outside tolerable temperatures (21°C ≈ 70°F) or stress levels (physical or mental). Basically, drink 2 liters when you're feeling average; more if you're not feeling average.
Staying hydrated is one of the most important steps to ensuring your survival. In addition to what I've already addressed in my related article, here are some other guidelines:
- Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol; those drinks will take more moisture from you than they offer.
- Do not eat/drink frozen water (e.g. snow or ice). If you do consume frozen water, you'll decrease your core body temperature, which your body then has to fight to restore. So, melt first!
- If trying to stay warm, avoid getting your clothes and skin wet when finding or consuming water.

Frost bite, sun burn, and exhaustion are a few of the dangers you face in extreme environmental conditions. I wrote about common ailments in my Wilderness First Aid article, be sure to supplement that knowledge with the following tips:
- Be careful with your skin. Both frost bite and sun burn are similar in their effect on the body.
- Don't ever rub damaged skin, you'll cause even more damage.
- Wear loose clothing so that you don't restrict blood flow.
- When trying to rewarm frost-bite, do NOT use hot water. Ideally, use water between 38°C (≈100°F) to 41°C (≈106°F).

Please take care in all times of year, especially when facing environmental extremes. Always try to stay informed of possible changes in weather and always plan/pack for the worst-case scenario whenever you leave your home (even if only a "quick trip").



This last Saturday, sky-watchers in many parts of the world were treated to a view of the last total lunar eclipse until 2014 [List of 21st-century lunar eclipses - Wikipedia]. I was one such sky-watcher.

Photo beautifully taken in Colorado by Patrick Cullis [Flickr].

Here in Colorado, the eclipse occurred in the early morning hours, just moments before sunrise. That meant there was a chance that I would not be able to see the eclipse before the Moon set. However, that timing also inferred that it might be possible to catch a glimpse of a very rare event: selenelion. "A selenelion or selenehelion occurs when both the Sun and the eclipsed Moon can be observed at the same time" [Selenehelion - Wikipedia].

Considering that a lunar eclipse is when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are in a geometrically straight line in the cosmos, it would seem impossible to see both the Sun and the eclipsed Moon in the sky at the same time. However, thanks to the refraction of light through the atmosphere, the seemingly impossible becomes possible.

I hiked to the top of a nearby mountain before dawn, hoping to see the selenelion, but the Moon dipped behind the mountain range to the West before the Sun began to appear in the East. Hiking beneath the eclipsing Moon had been wonderful and there is nothing like watching the sunrise over a city glistening in snow.

Photo taken by Indy atop Horsetooth Rock in Fort Collins, Colorado.


Curb your food cravings

'Tis the season for stuffing and sweets. Unfortunately, this season is also part of a horrendous cycle that many people submit themselves to every year.

For Americans, it begins with Halloween; the binge of sweets overflowing from store shelves tempts the will of shoppers. Following Halloween, Thanksgiving then sets the stage for months of indulgence. People devour a variety of foods, excusing themselves from previously set guidelines.

What guidelines? Well, observe the continuation of the cycle.... The indulgence lasts into January, then the shock of approaching Spring causes panic. As a result, New Year's Resolutions are born; people swear to lose the holiday weight. Some people will succeed, others will fail.

In both cases, the approach of Summer causes another surge of panic, "gotta fit into those Summer clothes". Summer activities have a tendency to shrink waistlines or at the least the perception thereof. With satisfaction in success (or surrender), many people will re-enter the cycle when it comes around again.

Through understanding what your body is really telling you, you will be able to combat the extra weight, thus relieving you of the cyclical weight struggle.

Food contains nutrition essential for the normal function of the human body. Some foods contain more of those nutrients than others, but we tend to associate those nutrients only with the most familiar foods. For example, the body says, "I need protein", the mind says, "Get me a cheap cheeseburger!" instead of "Some beans or lean meat, please".

I found a small webpage [NaturopathyWorks] which shows some common cravings and the substitutions which can be made with those cravings. For example, it suggests that if you're craving chocolate, you may need Magnesium; which means you should try eating raw nuts and seeds, legumes, and fruit. Another of their examples is that if you're craving bread/toast you may need Nitrogen, so you should try consuming high protein foods such as fish, meat, nuts, and beans. There are many other substitutions listed on that page. (Please note: I do not think that naturpathy actually works as an "alternative" to established medical science. So, take that website only as pseudo-scientific suggestion.)

Additionally, you can try to understand how your body initiates its food cravings. Recently a study was done [MedicalXpress] to learn how protein intake affects how much people desire to eat. Basically, the study found that until you consume a certain percentage of protein in your diet, you will most likely still desire more food.
Dr Gosby commented: "This result confirms the 'protein-leverage' effect in humans and importantly, shows counting calories is not enough to manage appetite and body weight. In the western world, where food is abundant, if you reduce your calorie intake but fail to reach your protein target you will find it hard to resist hunger pangs."
In essence, I'm trying to point out that you should always choose the right things to eat and never eat too much of anything. So, as you enter this season of assorted holidays of abundant temptation, remember that the choices you make now will affect you all year.


Rollin' With Zach

Ever since I learned of Zach Anner (thanks to The Daily What). I've been following his ride toward getting a chance to host his own show. Oprah Winfrey awarded Zach with his own travel show after an amazing number of internet voters pushed him to the number one slot in her OWN show competition.

His show will be entitled "Rollin' with Zach"; "rollin'" because Zach has cerebral palsy, so he moves about by wheelchair. Now, he'll be travelling all over the world doing things he's only dreamed of and taking us along for the ride.
Zach Anner is obsessed with travel. In Rollin' With Zach, he takes an authentic and often humorous approach to seeing the country, as he hosts his own half-hour travel series. Zach may have cerebral palsy, but that's never stopped him! In every episode, Zach explores a new city and conquers his "top five" list for the destination.
Congratulations, Zach! Your humor and positive perspective on life is uplifting and inspiring.

Official Trailer: Rollin' With Zach

Rollin' with Zach will premiere with back-to-back episodes beginning Monday, December 12 from 8:00 - 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.


Politics, Religion, and Sex

Those who are different, change the world. Those who are the same, keep it that way.
The momentum of our changing world is driven by controversy and compromise. Change cannot happen without discussion and disagreement.

There are three things that society advises against discussing in polite company: Politics, Religion, and Sex.
In the spirit of investigation and progress, I am going to discuss why I question that logic. I do think there is an appropriate time and place for all things, however I think that the priorities and concerns with the discussion of these "taboos" have been so confused that there is no longer any room for the important intelligent discourse which drives discovery and change.

I would like to begin with the topic of Politics. By the very nature of what it is, Politics is a public matter. Your political opinion -- whether educated or ignorant -- affects us all through the magic of democracy. It is, therefore, very important that we all nurture mature and well-informed political opinions. That doesn't mean that I think that everyone should always stand atop a stump and proclaim their opinions to the world; in fact, I think that practice is part of the problem with the discussion (and practice) of politics. When did being right become more important than doing right?

Standing atop a stump or screaming in someone's face will never produce change. Remember what I said in my most recent article? "I learned years ago that you cannot change to a new system through confrontation or arrogance; you change through education in the new system while simultaneously slowly moving the old practice toward obsolescence." Education is the best way to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the idea/opinion currently held and the idea/opinion you would like to see.

I propose that political discourse is appropriate wherever a willing person or group is found. Please take note of the word "willing"; I've discussed previously that it's always important to me that a person's choices not interfere with the choices or freedoms of others. So, handing out pamphlets is acceptable, but physically stopping a person from carrying out their choices is definitely not. You should attempt to educate, not alienate.

With Religion, things get a bit more tricky. I think Religious preference is a personal choice and therefore should only be announced or discussed within familiar circles. I think it is fine that one would become excited about their personal choices, but it is very important that it be recognized and accepted that no one else should have to agree.

Quiet presentation is really the only appropriate method. Religion is generally something coached and conditioned throughout life, so it's deeply set. If you wish to discuss religion, I suggest that you spend more time asking questions than you do making your own statements. All-too-often a person will push a religious (or anti-religious) opinion which would not have been said without the religious pretense. Simplified, this is the "No offense, but..." approach to discussion. You hear someone say this and you already know that what they're about to say is wholly insulting, but they think a passive-aggressive statement will be less abrasive.

Recognizing my initial point that religion is a personal choice and should be mutually respected, should eliminate the desire to "change minds" and instead promote an intelligent exercise in listening and understanding.

Sex is a topic which I think American society has gotten completely backwards. The typical American family is frightened to discuss the topic, so they wish a class into schools to discuss it. The schools, in turn, have to dance around the two previous taboos (Politics and Religion) as they explain something perfectly natural to a classroom full of curious adolescents and/or teenagers.

In the home, a discussion about sexual choices should be as comfortable as a discussion about religion. Why is it that some parents can tell a child about one man murdering another (Cain and Abel), but they can't talk about eggs and sperm? What's worse is that this lack of communication is a learned behavior; sex has become an exercise in shame, instead of an exercise in relational interaction. Similar to religion, I think that sexual interaction is a personal choice. As long as that interaction does not hinder the freedoms or choices of another person, it is not something to be hidden or shamed.

So, how do people learn? If they don't already understand something, such as the example of a room full of students in a high school class, where do people turn when they want to learn? By building this wall of shame and taboo, we've prevented a healthy investigative process. It's important that this type of discourse happens first among friends and family (a place of already-known safety). Not only do you strengthen the feeling of trust for the individuals involved, but you have also possibly introduced new questions to a place where ideas and opinions have a tendency to stagnate.

The fascinating fact about discourse is that ideas and opinions change. The discussion of these topics through considerate exchange is the only way to truly evaluate the strength and logic of our ideas and opinions. However, one must recognize that these topics are tied closely with personal identification and security, so it is a horrible violation if you do not first ASK if you may talk about the topic of choice.

Furthermore, if someones decides they're done with the conversation, then it's over. Thank them for their willingness to participate in whatever fashion they already have (e.g. taking a paper, a few minutes of questions, sharing their opposing opinion). It's time to show some respect in discussion, maybe that'll change our mood about beginning them.


Normality has been restored

An hour ago, the last clocks in the Northern Hemisphere were freed from Daylight Saving Time (DST). Sadly, there are some in the Southern hemisphere which have recently began their ritual of madness; for them I offer consolation with my article on "Why I hate Daylight Saving Time".

I am content to be rid of the odd adjustment for a few months and was set on climbing atop my soapbox and repeating a few of the reasons why you should be too. However, I noticed something this last week which gave me a bit of satisfaction. Discussions (both online and off) about DST have turned largely to criticism. I would overhear people on the bus who were "glad that Daylight Saving Time would be over soon, so that they could have their mornings back". I read many postings through social media of friends complaining of the troubles they had starting their day due to the dark mornings.

You see, DST was extended in the United States in 2007 by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 introduced by Joe Barton, Texas Republican and member of the Tea Party caucus. It should come as no surprise that Joe Barton was a consultant for an Oil and Gas company [Joe Barton - House.gov]. Barton has also been involved interfering in matters of environmental protection. Joe's Act was a success, by the way, a boon for the corporations interested in shifting consumers home earlier in the Summer afternoon (meaning, more AC) and awake earlier in the Winter morning (meaning, more heating). I'm going to stop myself here though about the involvement of energy corporations, mainly because it's all been said already and -- to my satisfaction -- I think most people get it now. (See my article in 2008: "Ditch Daylight Saving Time".)

Observers of DST have a bit of a conundrum, similar to many other system we're seeing protested these days, we're all subjected to the system as long as we continue to participate in it. Unlike oppressive big-brother governments, big financial institutions, and mass food-chains, time isn't just something we can institute locally; in fact it's actually federally prohibited in the USA [Gazette, The (Colorado Springs)]. It was that inability that caused me to realize something about Daylight Saving Time which I hadn't considered before: the practice of DST is similar to the use of the US measurement system. Meaning, it's hardened into the minds of its participants.

In dealing with Metrication, I learned years ago that you cannot change to a new system through confrontation or arrogance; you change through education in the new system while simultaneously slowly moving the old practice toward obsolescence. By the time you suggest removing the old system, most people (which is what matters in democracy) don't care if you do because they've been primarily using the new one anyway. For DST, this means that behaviors have to be changed in such a way that it won't matter what "time" it really is. In keeping with my choice in March, I am still going to avoid telling you how you might choose to spend your day, but I will tell you what I've chosen to do for myself.

Daylight Saving Time is all about "moving daylight". Repeating some text from eight months ago:
The idea of Daylight Saving Time is to make the most of the hours of daylight available during the Summer. That's fantastic! Unfortunately, people use DST as a crutch to hobble a few days of good feelings out of "more" daylight. You've heard this before, but I'll say it again: If you want more daylight, then use it when it's there. Consistently.
All of this shift is around the accepted "9 to 5 day". In a "9 to 5 day", 13:00 (1pm) is made the center point. I thought that was odd, considering noon (12:00) is supposed to be midday, so I chose to rethink my "day" as beginning at 8, thus I reset my midday to 12:00. Under DST, "high noon" occurs at 13:00 for nearly 75% of the year. (You can imagine how much that screws up how to "Tell time using the Sun or Moon".)

Now, my shift in thinking does not mean that I get to leave my job sooner, nor does it mean that I always greet my alarm with happiness in the morning. Similar to my state-of-mind with measurement -- where I use SI (aka Metric) in my head, but convert for the convenience of others in conversation -- I still participate in the daily schedules of those around me. Work is work and if you're lucky enough to have a job right now, you work the hours to which you and your employer agree upon. I do enjoy at least one advantage though, because of my choice I have freed myself from the lock-step of the populace. My choice to change my thinking allows me to shift my non-work activities to whatever feels right for me: I'm able to get in a bit of exercise, while the "9-to-5er" is just waking up; I can stop by the store on a dark Winter morning instead of dodging shopping carts in the aisles in the afternoon.

Another reason that this works well for me is that other parts of society have shifted as well. In the hopes of drawing more customers and more revenue, businesses have been lengthening their hours of operation; some banks are now opening an hour earlier than they did years ago and some retail stores even earlier than that. The minds and traditions of society have also adapted, the American dinner hour used to be 18:00 (6pm), enough time for the bread-winning father to stroll through the door after his 9-to-5 and sit down at the dinner table with his patiently-waiting wife and two or three kids. Now, due to the prevalence and popularity of "primetime television", meal times have been shifted earlier. Besides, now father is expected to help out after the meal and if anyone in that household expects to do anything after dinner that evening, the meal will shift earlier out of necessity.

You see, our observance of DST isn't only about time, it's about lifestyle and tradition. And the beauty of humanity is how we change and adapt, replacing old tools and techniques with new technology and better understood ideas. Don't get too comfortable with those new ideas though, they'll change eventually too.


Privacy and control

Technology is everywhere, always watching, always tracking, and always within reach. Meaning, our gadgets have or will be taking on qualities commonly associated with gods: omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. In the 2006 film V for Vendetta, a man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask fought against the control of an oppressive system. As a result of that film, "the use of stylised Guy Fawkes masks, with moustache and pointed beard, has become widespread internationally among groups protesting against politicians, banks and financial institutions. The masks both conceal the identity of individuals and demonstrate their commitment to a shared cause." [Guy Fawkes Mask - Wikipedia]

Some people view the rise of our god-like technology with terror; should we thus all dawn Guy Fawkes' masks and attempt to hide from our digital overlords? Or should we accept and embrace this fact and attempt to mold it?

I recently watched the TED talk "FBI, here I am!" by Hasan Elahi, an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland and an interdisciplinary media artist.
In the talk, Hasan articulates his opinion -- with which I agree -- on data, privacy, and control:
"I've come to the conclusion that the way you protect your privacy -- particularly in an era where everything is catalogued and everything is archived and evething is recorded -- there's no need to delete information anymore. So, what do you do when everything is out there? Well, you have to take control of it. If I give you this information directly, it's a very different type of identity than if you were to try and go through a get bits and pieces."
I welcome the discerning consumption of information, as I discussed in my previous article touching on the subject of "A Hierarchy to Understanding". So, as the omnipresent technology logs my words, locations, and activities, it gathers a glimpse of my identity, but what you see is not the whole of what makes me who I am. To echo some of Hasan's words, "In this barrage of noise that I'm putting out, I actually live an incredibly anonymous and private life; you know very little about me, actually."

Consider this: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. These are the beginnings of how we gather data; the investigative questions we all learn at an early age.
An outside observer can only gather some data through their own perspective: Who, What, When, Where, and How. You'll notice though that a fundamental question cannot be answered with dry data: Why. If you've been reading recently, you'll know that the "Why" is of highest importance when it comes to understanding and actualization. The "Why" is what is formed individually. It is the "Why" that creates our psychology, personality, opinions, motivations, cravings, and connections.

I am unafraid of the omnipresence of technology because I am more than the facts and data amassed. I choose not to attempt to hide the cataloging of my data because I try to never act without intention. Let me be entirely clear about another opinion I have of data and surveillance as it relates to freedom. There are those who would choose to use the gathering of data as a way to prevent others from having the freedom to act of their own will. This is never OK. In my opinion, a person should be allowed to act however they choose; as long as those actions do not prevent another person from making their own -- possibly opposing -- choice.

I also acknowledge the courage of those who choose to exercise their own freedoms even if those choices result in consequences born of ill-conceived systems of control. (Again, I reiterate that the initial choice must not hinder the freedoms of others.) For example, it is currently illegal (meaning, there is a law on the books) to drive a black car on Sundays in Denver, Colorado. In my opinion, choosing to drive a black car on Sunday does not take away the freedom of others. Therefore, I respect those individuals who choose to ignore such a strange law and drive their vehicle of choice on Sunday. Let it also be said that I greatly respect the law enforcement officers who choose to ignore the law and therefore do not enforce the legal penalty currently dictated by the system.

In this technology-dominated world, true privacy is a result of control and intention. Some may choose to disseminate the details of their every bathroom visit, others may choose to disclose nothing, but the nature of self is not in what you do and who is aware of it; it is in why you do it and how you define yourself as a result. In actuality, I know no more about the "Shitter Twitter" [Urban Dictionary] than I do about the man hiding behind the figurative curtain, what I do know is how they have chosen to present themselves to me. The beauty of freedom is that you may choose to disagree with me on any and all of this and I respect your choice to do so.


A Hierarchy to Understanding

There are a great many quotations and musings which have been said throughout time about the subject of knowledge and understanding. A while back I came across a graphical presentation of something the artist called the "Hierarchy of Understanding" [Information is Beautiful].

Much like Maslow's hierarchy of needs [Wikipedia], David McCandless graphically presents the idea that wisdom comes from baser forms of information. Data begets Information which begets Knowledge which begets Wisdom. It's a fascinating thought exercise as well as a beautiful depiction of what I think is an important message: seek out the source!

If Wisdom is the culmination of experiential Knowledge, then finding the sources of that knowledge becomes an important exercise in understanding. All too often people will spread information without considering its source, truth, or purpose. In such a networked world, that is a very dangerous thing. If we wish to consume so much information, then I suggest that we become connoisseurs of it; carefully sampling each tidbit and weighing its value for further consumption.

Consider my suggestion of Metrication Day 2011 that it is always good to ask the question "Why?":
Science is about exploration; to gain an understanding about the things we do not know. No one source will ever answer all questions. Think for yourself and seek a deeper understanding. Perhaps it's that too many, as children, were given the answer "Because I said so" whenever they asked "Why?" Personally, I have and will always answer any child's question of "Why?" with my best answer, or, at the very least, "That's a great question, let's find that answer together".

You would not devour a meal before minimally evaluating its edibility, therefore I also encourage you to carefully consider what intellectually digest before you risk poisoning your reason and wisdom.


The tipping point of 7 billion

According to research on population density and growth [Science Magazine] this year, estimates are that the human population will reach 7 billion sometime in the next two weeks. You will recall that I began this year with an article discussing the importance of valuing our balance with the planet and the fellow inhabitants of it. The moment for each of us to recognize our place as one of 7 billion is nearly upon us.

As I detailed in another article at the mid-point of this year, "we need to also open our minds to the diversity and beauty of what it means to be human". Each human on this wonderful planet is an organism of unique evolutionary elegance. As we approach 7 billion, I implore you, each reader, to recognize how much you value your community (family, friends, etc.) and also accept that every person -- friend or foe -- has a community which they also treasure and value.

Try to take a step back in your own mind; imagine that you can look through another person's eyes. Especially when making decisions which will affect another being or a community of beings, consider what actions you would wish to have taken toward your own community. Some choices do result in necessary consequence, but weigh the necessity of each reaction upon the quality of the action. In a group as large as our global human community is about to become, it is far too easy to become detached from the very ethics and connections which make us distinctly human.

Consider this, "between now and 2050 the world population will increase by 2.3 billion" [Singularity Hub].
With such drastic growth coming, excercising empathy and understanding will become paramount. Our technological, data-driven world, separates us from the human interaction. Consider your community, consider your network of connections, value every human you meet, greet, email, link, like, or poke. We are each one in 7 billion; meaning, we our each unique and different, but we are also each as inconsequential as the people we choose to ignore.


Browser Choice and Competition

Years ago, I wrote an article arguing for the choice of a better browser [Browse Happy] than Microsoft Internet Explorer [Microsoft]. At the time, my choice was Mozilla Firefox [Mozilla], based on standards conformance [W3C] and customization.

Mozilla had a significant impact on the web browser market with Firefox. It wedged a large enough gap in Internet Explorer's market share that it popularized the idea of browser choice. This in-turn enticed others to enter to the browser competition.

Through those years, I have continued to make my choice of browser based on my own personal preference. For a long time Firefox was my primary browser, but I also chose to continuously play with others as well. I tried Opera [Opera] and was very impressed with its speed and clean interface. I also enjoyed Google Chrome's [Google] minimalism and process management. Eventually, Chrome's growing feature set lured me to make it my primary browser. In fact, I have enjoyed Chrome almost exclusively ever since; that is, until it began crashing a couple weeks ago.

Now, let me first say that -- as of the publishing of this article -- I have already diagnosed and repaired the cause of those crashes. (Mainly because I was finally able to take some time to do so.) However, when the first set of crashes occurred, I noticed something interesting about my behavior: I switched without effort or anguish to another browser, after determining that the problem would take too much effort to resolve at that time.

After observing my quick switch, I thought for a moment about how that sentiment reflected a change in our use of web browsers. Months ago, I had planned to eventually write an article discussing the current state of the browser market [W3C], but -- thanks to better standards compliance and the spread of "cloud" services -- the browser with the biggest market share no longer matters as much as the browser with the most appealing features and best performance.

It's a brave new world in web browsers. As someone who once pushed for a "better browser", I am very happy to see that the competition has made the goal of all browsers to meet the needs and desires of the user.


Metrication Day 2011

Today (October 10th) is Metrication Day! Metrication Day is a day on which I make a slightly more concerted effort to spread the knowledge and adoption of the International System of Units (a.k.a SI or the Metric System). Last year's Metrication Day was what I called the "Ultimate Metrication Day" and I dedicated 10 days of articles to the cause of metric education. Education is the subject which I'd like to focus on this year.

First, a narrative:

Having long put Imperial units out of my head, I recently asked someone how many ounces were in a cup. He and I had discussed my affinity for SI previously, so he tried to poke fun at my question. However, he couldn't actually answer my question. Was it 4? 8? No, that's not right, maybe 6? I stood there laughing as he ran to his computer and pulled it up. He tried to make sense of it, but then noticed that cups were different all over the world.

I pointed out that his confusion was a perfect example of why Imperial measurements are both impractical and confusing. He went on to say that he "was not a good example of a typical American" and criticized his own intelligence. I pointed out to him that his lack of understanding was actually very typical of American scientific knowledge.

Science education in the United States is critically failing. Note these survey results from an article published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

An understanding of the most basic principles of science appear to be lacking. There are many reasons and possible causes for educational failure in the United States, but I don't want to "blame the system(s)" in this article; I'd like to instead put the ownership in the hands of each individual. You have the power to ask "WHY?"

Science is about exploration; to gain an understanding about the things we do not know. No one source will ever answer all questions. Think for yourself and seek a deeper understanding. Perhaps it's that too many, as children, were given the answer "Because I said so" whenever they asked "Why?" Personally, I have and will always answer any child's question of "Why?" with my best answer, or, at the very least, "That's a great question, let's find that answer together".

Holding to an established system, instead of asking "why" is a primary cause for why the United States has not adopted the Metric system. There is literal stupidity in the notion that tradition will be held to for tradition's sake. Never accept "because I said so"; find a better source, one which will help nurture your curiosity not belittle it. Explore the world around you, excite your mind with interest, accept the dynamic nature of "fact", and wonder at the beauty of information. When you do ask why, you will see that the benefits of adopting SI far out-weigh the costs.


I am an Alchemist

On this date seven years ago, I revealed the INDY.CC website. In conclusion to a statement welcoming visitors, I wrote the phrase: "No matter what you choose to do here, remember one thing: VITRIOL! It is within ourselves that we discover the greatest wonders of the universe." I believe it's time that I reveal the deeper meaning behind it.

I am an Alchemist.

I have been for many years; that is to say, I've studied aspects of Alchemy for a long while. My curiosity in it began more than ten years ago. For a while I learned what I could on my own, developing an greater interest in what it was and what it wasn't.

It's repeated often that "when the student is ready, the teacher appears"; that's how it was for my apprenticeship in Alchemy. Consistent with Alchemy for thousands of years, I was taught by a master Alchemist who was taught by a master Alchemist. I learned how to interpret and understand the imagery, practices, and phrases of Alchemy. After some time, my teacher informed me that I was no longer a student, I was an Alchemist myself.

The word vitriol, to an Alchemist, is layered with meaning. It is a name given to sulfuric acid. It is a synonym for "bitterness". Most of all, it is an acronym for the Latin "Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Inveniens Occultum Lapidem", translated "Visit the interior of the Earth, set things right to find the hidden stone". As with many things in life, the meaning is not literal; it means to look within ourselves to find our potential/purpose/life.

Alchemy isn't a science, an art, a magic, a cult, a religion; it is humanity, it is us. It is the study of our essence, our balance between what we Alchemists call the Above and Below (enlightenment and instinct). Alchemists study many aspects, I chose to focus on the psychological, the balance and power of the mind.

Recently, I have felt very out of focus with myself. I see life as an adventurous journey, a travel through mountains, valleys, oceans, and deserts. One should never expect that life is a calm level walk along the beach; in fact, I embrace the excitement of the adventure. However, there are times where it consumes me. It is at those times where I need to look to others to help me refocus and retrace my steps back to the path I had intended for my adventure.

Alchemy means a great deal to me, but it's not something I speak about often. The Alchemy section of my website has been oddly vacant for 7 years. Some of my closest friends have expressed an interest in what it could mean to them, but I've shrugged away that request in the past. Today, on my 28th birthday, I hope that this post will help me to begin revealing that part of myself.


What If Aliens Came To Save the Galaxy From Mankind?

In an article on Slashdot, with the same titled as this one "What If Aliens Came To Save the Galaxy From Mankind?" [Slashdot], different scenarios of extra-terrestrial encounters are discussed. One suggests that aliens would come to Earth to exterminate us in order to protect the galactic whole.

It's an interesting thought, fun to consider, but the most enjoyable part of this recent Slashdot post was a very creative comment/mini-post made by the user lexsird [Slashdot] in which the user suggests "It already happened" [Slashdot].
Aliens did land here to destroy us, but they were small and insect like and the bug exterminator guy killed their entire galactic fleet, thinking they were some "weirdo bug infestation". A second attempt was tried by another species, and aquatic one, but it got ate by sharks. A third one came, land based and they were bigger, but were ate by the wild life. A fourth came and the RF that we are immune to quickly burned out their brains, and they too were ate by wild life.

A mechanical race came and was destroyed by a thunderstorm, when a bolt of lightning struck their ship and it exploded. Of course there have been several small missions which end up in races being consumed by just the biological aspects of our planet. Germs, viruses, and an assortment of microbes tend to make short work of them if they don't use the proper environmental protocols.

Not to mention we are a biological weapon to 99.9999999% of the species in the known universe. Many in the galaxy speculate that the "creator" an extra dimensional entity that instilled the creation codes, was being some kind of a dickhead when he instilled the planetary creation code for this planet. Many speculate and fear that we are doomsday weapon made by said "creator", some want to destroy us, others think we have some special link with the "creator" and should just stay away at least.

Considering we breath poisoned gas, we are mostly water, which is a universal solvent that eats through many species on contact. We live near oceans of water which scare most species. We are larger than most species by far and are physically more capable. We have lived in a constant state of war with each other since before our history, hence we are really good at it and durable, some how we fight each other so hard, yet our species is over populated. Which is a terrifying aspect of us, we breed so fast compared to most species.

Most species pray that we will just kill ourselves off. Others are convinced we will achieve the technology to travel about the universe, hence over running it in a matter of eons. But it's galactic law that nobody gives us any aid, and any species that tries to cultivate us is punished. Often rich juveniles from a species will buzz Planet Earth to impress a mate or mates, only to get shot down, spotted or crash; many escape, but its still risky behavior that if caught gets severe punishments.

Mostly we are immune to solar radiation, in fact we bath in it to get a tan. Our Sun puts out enough EMP to burn up the nervous system of some delicate species before they even get near Earth. Our skin though we think it's thin in contrast to some of the beasts of the planet, is incredible to most species. It's chemical resistant, radiation resistant, and waterproof which baffles everyone. Shooting an Earthling with an alien water cannon only amuses them. They in fact stole several water cannons and reproduce them as toys under the "Super Soaker" line. An Earthling child with a water gun chills the bones of the hardiest of galactic warriors.

Lastly, what we can eat is frightening as well. What we eat and drink frightens most species away alone. Most of them would be on our dinner plate, as a delicacy. Not to mention our waste byproducts are the most foul bits of toxic waste in the universe. They have watched us poke and prod everything on our planet and try to eat it. We have even ate each other, which is a horror that most minds can't comprehend in the universe. Not to mention we skin other species and wear them as clothes and trophies.

Then some have tried to understand us, they have figured out that TV is some form of entertainment to us, not educational, not some history archive. This process drove many species insane. One species was found in some insane collective nightmare after watching Gilligan's Island episodes, they fell into some logic loop and have been catatonic as a species ever since. They have concluded that we as a species are quite insane and it's illegal to attempt to figure us out psychologically.

Its now been a much debated subject of trying to destroy Earth. Most figure its an impossibility and that we will do it ourselves. Others fear failure and we will at last notice, get angry and come hunt them down. The last species made it all the way to Earth's orbit only to get pelted with micro meteors, lost EMP shields, then burned up in the atmosphere. It's always bad luck coming here.
What a fantastic and fun evaluation of our interaction with the world (and Universe) around us. To the user lexsird, if you're reading this, thank you for your few minutes of creative musing.


Survival Guide series synopsis

Every four days for forty days (beginning the 21st of June and ending the 31st of July), I published a series of Survival Guides in an attempt to educate and inform readers of wilderness survival techniques.

Today, on the cross-quarter day signifying the beginning of traditional autumn (in the Northern Hemisphere), I am going to summarize those eleven (11) articles.

01: Tell time using the Sun or Moon - Estimating the time of day (or night) using only the most visible orbs in the sky.
02: Find North - A variety of techniques for determining which direction is North, no matter where you are in the world.
03: Tell time using the stars - Estimating the time using only the stars and a bit of math.
04: Predict the weather - Some tips in attempting to predict the weather using only what you can sense in your surroundings.
05: Find shelter - Methods for building or locating a place to keep yourself warm/cool and safe.
06: Find water - A sampling of ideas for gathering the most essential resource in the world: water.
07: Wilderness first-aid - Suggestions in how to treat injuries and illness in the wilderness.
08: How to build a fire - Techniques for starting and maintaining a fire.
09: How to test what you eat - An edibility test based on "using your senses".
10: Find food - Suggestions and guides in gathering food to help maintain your energy while in a life-threatening situation.
11: Rescue - A short listing of suggestions and best practices for getting rescued.

It's possible that I will write more articles around the subject of survival. You can find the original "Survival Guide series" and any future articles using the "survival" INDY Blog label.

May you greet the adventures of Life well, knowing that you are prepared for any challenges you may face.


Survival Guide: Rescue

In the last few articles, I have given you some suggestions in how to stay alive, maybe even comfortable, in the wilderness. Today's article contains a few tips in how to hopefully reach the most important stage in wilderness survival: rescue.

There are many ways to signal distress. Most important is that your signal is unusual for the surroundings. Here are some ways to signal for help:
- Three whistle blows. Repeated with a pause between each set.
- Three rock piles arranged in a triangle, visible to your intended viewer (e.g. in a clearing for viewing from above, on a mountain side for viewing from below).
- Three fires arranged in a triangle. (Please make sure you clear an amble area so as not to start the surroundings afire.)
- Hold your arms up in a "Y" visible to passing aircraft.
- Place a large bright object on a dark surface (e.g. an orange blanket on green grass).
- Place a large dark object on a light surface (e.g. a black canvas on white snow).
- Use a mirror (as described below).
If you move away from a signal area, don't forget to indicate your direction in some way (e.g. a large arrow pointed where you're headed, marked trees, etc.).

The method I prefer for getting rescue attention is the "signal mirror". I carry one with me whenever I travel, whether in a populated area or not.

STEP 1: Face your intended target. For example, an approaching plane, distant hikers, or a moving vehicle.
STEP 2: Hold the mirror in one hand, reflective-side facing toward the target.
STEP 3: Extend your free hand (the one not holding the mirror) out between you and your target.
STEP 4: Turn your free hand's palm toward you.
STEP 5: Adjust the mirror at diagonal angles between the sun and your free hand until the light is reflected on to your palm.
STEP 6: Lift your free hand out of the way between the mirror and your target. The reflected light will hit your target. (Remember, to "aim for the eyes"; you want your target to notice you.)
STEP 7: Block the light with your free hand again.
STEP 8: Repeat STEP 6 and STEP 7 in a pattern of three.

It is important to get the attention of possible rescuers, but you also need to take care to conserve your energy. Try not to exhaust yourself through yelling or large gestures until you can clearly hear or see possible rescuers (and not just their vehicles).

When rescue does come, remember to stay calm and follow the instructions of your rescuers. Do everything you can to resist your instincts to panic, as that may endanger you further or endanger your rescuers.


Survival Guide: Find food

In any survival situation, it is important to stay calm and well-hydrated. In situations which become more long-term, one must find shelter and possibly build a fire for warmth. When the length of time before rescue is too long, food becomes a major priority.

In today's article, I'm going to go over some tips for finding food in the wilderness. I've divided this article into two sections: plants and animals. Plants provide an excellent, easy to access, source of energy (in the form of carbohydrates). Animals, meanwhile, can be a source of protein and fat, which can be essential to your body's needs in a long-term survival situation. However, some people choose not to consume other creatures. As I have stated in previous articles, I think knowledge is essential to survival and I encourage you to learn what skills may be necessary for your survival, but out of respect for the life-choices of others, I have clearly indicated the division between the two sections.

When consuming plants, it is always important to "use your senses" and follow the edibility test which I presented in the previous article. That said, I will not focus on that in this article. Instead, I am going to present some general points to remember when for foraging for plants which may be safe to eat (after testing).
- Do NOT eat any plant with milky sap.
- Do NOT eat any plant with white berries.
- Do NOT eat any mushrooms. No mushrooms. If you choose poorly, you will die; you will not simply fall ill, you will drop dead.
- Do NOT eat any plant that looks spoiled, rotten, or with fungus.
- Avoid any plants which smell like almonds.
- Avoid plants near roads and man-made structures. They may be contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals.
- Boiling plants can help lessen any bitter taste.
- Boiling also kills any parasites.
- Do NOT touch or eat any plant with a three-leaf arrangement.
- Watch what other animals eat. Those plants may also be edible to humans.
- Watermelon, papaya, and celery are some of the most moisture-rich fruits and vegetables in the world. Look for these and similar plants for a quick hydration boost.
- Cacti, and other succulents, contain a lot of moisture, but not all are safe to consume.
- Try to select abundant plants, so as to hopefully find a reliable source of energy.

I would highly recommend learning in advance about the edible plants in the area. Furthermore, you may want to pack a small booklet of common edible plants into your pack for faster identification.

WARNING: If taking another creature's life to sustain yourself causes you discomfort, even in the gravest of situations, stop reading now.

Please know that I greatly value the life of every creature. I understand the balance of natural survival and hope that the information I present here will not be mistaken nor misrepresent the respect I have for the creatures which could possibly become prey.

It is entirely possible to subsist on a diet of only plants. However, there are circumstances in which the continuance of your life may depend on taking the life of another creature. Originally, I had planned to present everything necessary for the capture, killing, preparing, cooking, and eating of animals in this article. However, during my own research, I came across a site which provided an impressive assortment of survival articles. That site is Wilderness-Survival.net and it has an especially well-presented section on using animals for food.

I am going to summarize certain animal types and briefly touch on their preparation as food, while I cite the detailed articles found on the Wilderness Survival site. (NOTE: If that site ever becomes unavailable, I will certainly revisit this article and increase its detail.)

(See the Wilderness Survival: "Animals for Food" page for more details. NOTE: My opinion may differ from that article in some areas.)

- Insects and other arthropods are a great source of protein.
- Insect larvae, sometimes called "grubs", can be found in cool, damp places like in rotten logs and under rocks. These can be eaten raw, but may be more palatable when cooked.
- Grasshoppers and crickets, to put it simply, are delicious. Look for them in fields. I recommend roasting them before eating; also, remove the legs.
- Collect ants using a stick, dip the stick into a container of water, then boil. Drink as a "tea".
- Earthworms can (and I think should) be eaten raw. Drown them first, they'll clean themselves out of any foreign material as they die; called "purging".
- Slugs and snails can be eaten raw, but are probably better cooked. You may also want to "purge" them before cooking and eating.
- Cooked crustaceans (crab, lobster, crayfish) are edible.
- Do NOT eat these: mollusks (oysters, clams, etc.), disease carriers (flies, mosquitoes, ticks, etc.), and poison predators (centipedes, scorpions, and spiders).
- Easy rule to follow: If it has eight or more legs (and it's not a crustacean), do NOT eat it.
- Freshwater fish are safe, they are not poisonous.
- I recommend that you cook all fish before eating. It will kill any parasites (in freshwater fish) and lessen the chance of "fish poisoning" (in saltwater fish).
- Watch out for defensive barbs on catfish.
- Saltwater fish should be carefully put through edibility testing.
- Do NOT eat spoiled fish. Only eat them fresh.
- I think you should simply avoid eating amphibians (frogs, salamanders, toads, etc.), however some can be safely eaten.
- NEVER touch or eat any brightly colored frog, especially those with an "X" on their back.
- Do NOT eat toads. Many secrete poison which will make you very ill.
- Catching some reptiles may be more dangerous (crocodiles, vipers, etc.) than others, but most are good sources of protein and can be quite abundant where other sources of food are scarce.
- Do NOT eat turtles. Some carry toxins in their skin. Better safe, than dead.
- Before preparing a snake for eating, remove the head and at least 15 cm (6 in) of its neck. Bury the head and neck.
- Roast reptiles over a fire on a spit (stick) to give the meat better flavor.
- All birds are edible.
- Try to catch birds as they fly from nest to water/feeding areas.
- When preparing birds, choose plucking over skinning. The skin is very nutritious.
- The bigger the animal, the bigger the fight. Be careful how much energy and danger you put yourself in.
- As a general rule, avoid eating liver. Some creatures' livers contain deadly levels of Vitamin A.
- Avoid eating scavengers, as they may carry diseases.

Again, please do not read further if the subject disturbs you. Honestly, I think it should feel unsettling. This is the act of taking another creature's life in order to sustain your own. Respect and honor your prey.
- Killing should be as quick as possible to minimize the creature's suffering.
- For vertebrates, decapitation or severing the spinal column are fastest. If using a blade, cut between neck vertebrae at the base of the head.
- As disgusting as it is, breaking a neck is not as portrayed in movies, the head must be twisted almost entirely around (even off) before the spinal column is cut. This may be very difficult if attempted on larger animals with strong neck muscles.
- Cutting open the throat and/or jugular (arteries supplying blood to the brain) will kill the animal in under a minute.
- Blunt force to the head may kill smaller creatures and stun larger ones. Sever the spinal column if unsure that the creature is dead.
- Suffocation, strangulation, and drowning will be effective for all creatures. (Please understand that, in my opinion, this is the worst way to die. I implore you to use another means to kill the creature or choose smaller prey, such as insects, fish, or birds.)

For further details about the preparation of animals as food, see the Wilderness Survival: "Preparation of fish and game for cooking and storage" page.
- The larger the animal, the more preparation necessary before consumption.
- Some animals will need to be bled before preparation.
- Some animals will need to be skinned.
- It may be possible to prepare the meat of some animals in a way to preserve it's edibility for a longer duration.


Survival Guide: How to test what you eat

Before describing techniques on building a fire, I made sure to go over basic wilderness first-aid. With the same care, I would like to first present my version of the "Universal Edibility Test" before I discuss finding food in future articles.

Some experts criticize the use of edibility tests. Some say it is too strict in that it eliminates potential foods or is an unnecessary waste of energy and resources in a life-threatening situation. Others say that it creates a false sense of safety in eating unknown materials, opting instead to teach people to fast and focus on finding water and rescue.

It's good to know the pros and cons in order to make an educated decision in a time of need, but it's also important to understand the skill in the first place. It is better to know too much than too little.

Almost all edibility tests use the same process of separate, test, and wait. My version uses the same methods, but I stress the senses and digestive systems you are evaluating with each step.

Separate the possible food into parts (e.g. roots, stems, leaves, fruit, flowers). Before beginning the test, do not eat for at least 8 hours. During the suggested wait periods pay close attention to your mind and body, sensing for any reactions to potential poisons.
STEP 1: Select a specific food part.
STEP 2: Wash and prepare (cook, boil, etc.) a very small portion (a "pinch"), as you would to eat.
STEP 3: Smell the possible food. Wait 1 minute. "Bad" smells may be questionable, but anything "nauseating" should definitely be avoided.
STEP 4: Touch the food against the soft skin of your wrist or inner-elbow. Wait 15 minutes.
STEP 5: Touch the food against the skin of your lip for 2 minutes. Wait 15 minutes.
STEP 6: Taste the food for 15 minutes. (Meaning, rest the food on your tongue.) Do NOT swallow.
STEP 7: Chew the food, without swallowing for 15 minutes. Again, do NOT swallow.
STEP 8: Swallow the chewed food. Wait 6 hours.
STEP 9: Prepare a larger portion (about a handful) of the same food part, if no adverse reactions have occurred.
STEP 10: Test once more using the larger portion.
If all is well after this testing, it is probably safe to assume that specific food part is safe.

Remember to use extreme caution when ingesting unknown items; everything you prepare and eat could possibly contain a poison or bacteria which might kill you. When fasting (going without food) until rescue isn't an option due to time or distance, you may find edibility tests a necessary risk, but I leave that choice to you.


Survival Guide: How to build a fire

Having provided instructions in finding water and having presented basic wilderness first-aid information, I think it's now safe(r) to discuss some methods of building and starting a fire in the wilderness.

As with building a shelter, one of the most important decisions in building a fire is choosing its location.
- Pick a location at least somewhat protected from the weather (wind, rain, etc.).
- Try to pick a location near -- not next-to -- a good supply of fuel for your fire.
- Clear away any debris next-to the spot where you will build your fire.
Once you have chosen a suitable location, it's time to gather the necessary materials for building your fire.
STEP 1: Gather tinder. This is small, light, and dry material which can easily ignite. (e.g. dry leaves, dead pine needles, paper, bark shavings, cotton cloth, etc.)
STEP 2: Gather kindling. Slightly larger than tinder, kindling is fuel which take a bit more heat to ignite. (e.g. thick bark, small twigs, etc.)
STEP 3: Gather medium fuel. For example, sticks which are at least the width of two fingers. You'll only need about an armful.
STEP 4: Gather heavy fuel. One or two thigh-sized log sections would do.
STEP 5: Arrange your fuel by size near your fire's location: tinder, kindling, medium, heavy.
Once you have gathered all of your materials, you can begin building a fire. There are many ways to build a fire, I am going to provide you with only one: the pit tepee.

STEP 1: Scoop out a shallow pit in the center of your well-chosen location.
STEP 2: Gently lay some tinder in the center of the pit. Fluff it up to make air space.
STEP 3: Carefully place kindling on and around your tinder. Be sure to leave an "door" open downwind (away from the wind) through which you can access the tinder.
STEP 4: Lean medium fuel in a cone-shaped "tepee" over the kindling. Still keep that "door" open.
STEP 5: Ignite the tinder through the open door. (I'll go over that next.) The tinder will light the kindling, which will light the medium fuel.
STEP 6: Add one piece of heavy fuel to the fire. Be careful not to put out the fire when you do.
STEP 7: Add more medium fuel as needed to start the heavy fuel burning.
STEP 8: Repeat steps 6 and 7 as necessary to keep the fire going.
Keeping the fire going is one thing, lighting it is the more difficult task. I kept it simple in step 5 above "Ignite the tinder", but it would be best to present you with a few options in how to actually start a fire.
- Pack matches or a lighter in a sealed plastic bag, preferably kept on you at all times.
- Strike flint and steel to create a spark to ignite tinder.
- Use friction methods to create enough heat to ignite tinder. For example, the "plow" (detailed below) or "bow and drill" (described here [NatureSkills]) methods.
- Create a hot-spot on tinder using glass (especially lens) with the sun.
This is my favorite way to start a fire. I can "feel" the energy building into making the flame.
STEP 1: Split a groove part way into a stick about three fingers wide.
STEP 2: Place tinder at the open end of the groove.
STEP 3: Rub the tip of another smaller stick up and down the groove. The rubbing creates heat through friction. Small particles of wood will ignite with the friction.
STEP 4: The stick will push the particles into the tinder causing a small glow and some smoke.
STEP 5: Gently blow on your the tinder until you get a flame.

Fire can be used to provide warmth, cook food, boil water, signal for help, and so much more. Treat this versatile tool with the respect it deserves.


Survival Guide: Wilderness first-aid

It is my primary intention with these "Survival" Guides to provide readers with the knowledge, skills, and techniques which can be of significant benefit in life-threatening wilderness circumstances. As I have stated previously, most of my knowledge on these subjects comes from my experiences with the Boy Scouts of America and a lifetime of curiosity and practice. That said, I do NOT consider myself an expert and I am certainly not a professional. So, please, use your own brain, a proper degree of caution, and seek the advice of appropriate officials.

Why the disclaimer?
Looking at the sky, building shelters, and even safe drinking water are relatively mundane. Starting today, though, I am going to get into some serious stuff. Beginning with Wilderness first-aid.

Things can always go wrong. Even more so when you're under stress, like being lost or stranded. When things go wrong, the chance of injury increases. In this article, I hope to give you some simple pointers on the basic treatment of medical circumstances in the wilderness.

A blister is a pocket of skin filled with fluid, such as blood (red/purple), plasma (clear), or pus (green/white from infection).
- Plasma helps with the growth of new tissue in the damaged area, so draining it should be avoided if possible.
- Sometimes it's necessary to drain even a plasma blister as it may not be possible to allow a it to heal naturally without impeding necessary function (such as employing survival skills).
- Blood blisters and infected blisters can be drained to relieve pressure. However...
- Blisters should always be drained using the most clean supplies.
- If you must drain a blister, use the following steps:
STEP 1: Carefully clean the area over and surrounding the blister.
STEP 2: Puncture the blister with a clean (preferably sterile) needle.
STEP 3: Use gauze or a clean cloth to apply pressure to the blister and drain the fluid.
STEP 4: Apply ointments to fight infection (such as antibacterial).
STEP 5: Lightly bandage (or band-aid) the affected area.
- Find out what caused the pressure. Try to reduce the friction and/or moisture in that area.
- Cramps can be caused a few things; most commonly lack of oxygen, water, or salt for your muscles/body.
- To relieve a cramp:
STEP 1: Stretch the muscle while taking very deep breaths (to increase the oxygen in your bloodstream).
STEP 2: Slowly drink water. Allow the water time to enter your system before continuing activity.
STEP 3: Eat salty foods to replenish your body's reserves, as they may be depleted through perspiration and other bodily processes.
- Do NOT massage or punch the sore muscle, it will only make the aching worse as it increases the flow of blood and lactic acid to the muscle.
- Bites should always be treated as if they could source infection.
- Beware of Rabies, if bitten by a carnivore. Did the animal exhibit an of the common signs of the virus? (e.g. foaming mouth, self-mutilation, growling, jerky behavior, red eyes)
- If you suspect the animal to be venomous, look for green or purple coloration around the bite.
- Do NOT attempt to suck out the venom.
- Do NOT attempt to expose the bite to heat or cold.
- If the victim of a venomous bite cannot reach medical:
STEP 1: Sit the victim up. (Raising the heart.)
STEP 2: Keep the bite lowered and away from the heart.
STEP 3: Remove any constrictive accessories/clothing (e.g. jewelry) on or around the swelling.
STEP 4: Tie a bandage, loose enough to fit a finger under, about 7 cm (3 in) above (toward the heart) the bite.
STEP 5: Get the victim professional medical attention as soon as possible.
- Some venom can paralyze the heart and/or lungs. Be prepared to administer CPR.
- Anaphylactic shock "anaphylaxis" is a severe bodily reaction to an allergen (e.g. insect bites or stings). Anaphylaxis causes rapid swelling which can close the victim's airway. Quickly administer epinephrine and antihistamine.
- Exposure (or "hypothermia"), according to the Wikipedia article on the subject, is when a person's core temperature drops below 35°C (95°F).
- Symptoms may include uncontrollable shivering, stiffness and confusion.
- Warm the victim slowly as sudden warming may cause heart failure.
- Heat illness occurs when a person's core temperature rises above 40°C (104°F).
- Symptoms may include fainting, weakness, confusion, convulsions. (The latter two symtoms indicate a sever heat illness.)
- Treatment:
STEP 1: CLay the victim down, raise the legs.
STEP 2: Cool the victim. (e.g. fanning, applying damp cloths).
STEP 3: Slowly hydrate the victim and give them salty foods.
STEP 4: Massage the victims limps to help move cooled blood through the bloodstream.
- Heat illness can cause major damage to the body's organs.
- Treating most wounds:
STEP 1: Quickly remove foreign material from the wound.
STEP 2: Apply pressure. No, really, apply pressure! Your goal is to try to stop the bleeding.
STEP 3: Keep your pressure on the wound for 15 minutes.
STEP 4: Check if the bleeding has stopped.
STEP 5: Wash the wound when bleeding is under control.
- Avoid use of tourniquet unless blood loss cannot be slowed using the above steps. Remember, tourniquets may lead to the loss of a limb.
- Split the break with two straight sticks tied around the extremity, if applicable.
- Try not to move the victim as it may cause more injuries.
- If the skin is broken, see above for treating a wound.
- Symptoms may include nausea, sweating, discomfort in the center of the chest, and difficulty breathing. There may also be pain in the shoulder or arm, sometimes even the jaw; usually on the left side.
- Assisting someone having a heart attack:
STEP 1: Lay the victim down comfortably. (They may sit slightly, if having trouble breathing.)
STEP 2: Have the victim take slow deep breaths.
STEP 3: Give the victim aspirin, if available.
STEP 4: Help calm the victim and keep the comfortably warm.
STEP 5: Allow the victim to rest for eight hours before allowing them to move without assistance.
- You can also attempt to follow the same steps, if treating yourself during a heart attack.

Prepare yourself for any medical emergency. Knowledge is the first step, action is what is necessary. If something goes wrong when you're away from immediate medical assistance, remain calm and confident.


Survival Guide: Find water

Water is everything. Staying hydrated should always be your first priority; this is true whether you're stranded in the middle of the wilderness or standing in line at the grocery store.

In favorable conditions, a human can live without water for three to five days. In fact, that time frame is the reason I chose to stagger the publishing of these survival guides by four days.

You should drink about two liters of water per day (2 L ≈ .5 gal) under normal circumstances. In more strenuous situations, you should intake four to six liters per day; "strenuous" describes anything outside tolerable temperatures (21°C ≈ 70°F) or stress levels (physical or mental). Basically, drink 2 liters when you're feeling average; more if you're not feeling average.

Situations threatening our survival are among the most stressful situations we can face. Those would generally be the very same situations in which finding water to consume would be challenging at best. In this article I will present a variety of means you can attempt when trying to locate water in the wilderness.

- Water flows down. Find streams and rivers in valleys and flood plains.
- Collect flowing water, as opposed to stagnant water. Not too fast, though, as that stirs up sediment.
- Look for reeds, like cattails, which grow in marshy conditions.
- Watch for birds at dawn and dusk. They tend to hunt around bodies of water during those times.
- Collect undisturbed ice and snow from your surroundings.
- Snow-melt and glaciers are common sources of water flow. Follow upstream to look for these sources.
- Avoid consuming water while it is still frozen.
- Trees with thick roots tend to grow near good sources of groundwater. (e.g. willows, cottonwoods, and many other deciduous trees).
- Moisture is easier to find at the base of cliffs or beneath rocks.
- Once you find damp soil, dig into it with a stick or rock. Dig deep to where water begins to fill the hole. (The surrounding soil acts as a basic filter.)
- There may be underground water next to stagnant pools. Avoid the pool itself, using "filtered" water around it. (See "filtration" below.)
- Gather water using the "distillation" process below.
- Collect moisture from the air and foliage with (or wearing) absorbent cloth like cotton.
- Use leaves and water resistant materials to funnel rainwater into a centralized location.

Once you think you've gathered enough water, you can attempt to purify it using the methods below. It's important that you purify the water before consumption.

STEP 1: Enclose (but don't seal) your water within a container.
STEP 2: Heat the water to a "rolling boil". (Meaning, big wavy air bubbles.)
STEP 3: Allow the water to boil for a minimum of 5 minutes, 10 minutes is safer.
STEP 4: Let the water cool and condense in the container.
There are many chemical treatments available for purchase (such as iodine). If you have no other options, you can even use a very tiny dose of bleach as a chemical treatment. In my opinion, no chemical treatment (aka poison) should be consumed regularly.

STEP 1: Carefully drop a single dose of the chemical into your water container.
STEP 2: Tightly seal your container.
STEP 3: Shake well.
STEP 4: Wait at least 20 minutes.
STEP 5: Carefully unseal your container; avoid dropping any foreign material (or untreated water) into it.
If you don't have access to consumer available filters, you may have to make your own using the method below. Filtration is an essential step in the treatment of water and, therefore, I encourage you to use all or some of these steps no matter how you gathered your water.

STEP 1: Layer cloth, sand, and pebbles over (or between two) container(s).
STEP 2: Pour the water repeatedly through the layers until it runs clear.
STEP 1: Dig a hole that is about 25 cm (10 in) deep. It needs to be as wide as your collection container. (The hole should fit two containers, if distilling already collected water.)
STEP 2: Place your empty container in the hole right-side-up. (If distilling collected water, also place the container containing the water in the hole right-side-up alongside the other.)
STEP 3: Open the container(s).
STEP 4: Cover the hole with thin flexible plastic, like plastic wrap or a bit of trash bag.
STEP 5: Seal the edges around the hole by weighing down the plastic.
STEP 6: Make a small puncture in the plastic above the empty container.
STEP 7: Place a small rock nearly atop the hole, making the plastic stretch into a funnel shape.
STEP 8: The sun will evaporate the water. It will then condense on the plastic and run down the funnel and into the collection container. (This process can take hours.)

My personal purification preference is to combine the methods above when necessary and possible:

Sometimes, even after purification, the water may not be as clear as you are accustomed. This is due to the sediments in the water (aka "hard water"). Your body will be most accustomed to consuming the water in your primary region, so you may notice some discomfort as any remaining bacteria or sediment in the water may not be what your body normally processes.

Remember, staying hydrated should always be your first priority!


Survival Guide: Find shelter

In the Survival Guide about finding North, I touched on the importance of finding shelter. In other previous articles I've also mentioned how weather conditions interfering with those techniques are most likely conditions in which your focus should be on finding refuge in the immediate area. Today I will present some thoughts and techniques in finding and/or building shelter for yourself in a variety of conditions. Almost all of what I've written here comes from the knowledge I gained in the Boy Scouts of America, especially the Wilderness Survival merit badge.

The most important thing about shelter is it's location. Said a different way for emphasis, the place in which you are going to try to stay safe needs to already be safe.
- Avoid natural disasters. Consider what types of issues may occur in your region. For example, if you're sheltering yourself from rain, it would be wise to stay out of areas where flooding may occur. If on a mountain, you would want to avoid areas of avalanche or rock slides. Also, remember that heat rises; if you're trying to stay warm, stay out of the valleys.
- Avoid harm and injury. Don't place yourself under trees which look like they may fall. Take care and caution as you move materials. Don't take shelter in or near plants which may be poisonous.
- Do not wander. Pick a location quickly, preferably one where you can find building materials (if needed) in the immediate area. As I've said previously, you risk injury and death, decrease the odds of rescue, and increase your panic when you are lost.
- Try to use the shelter of your natural surroundings first. Only build a shelter if environmental conditions threaten your survival.
- Avoid wildlife. Don't make your shelter on or near the home of creatures, especially ants. Don't claim another creature's home as your own. (Meaning, check for vacancy before you occupy.) Don't make your shelter along a "game trail" or anywhere predators may be hunting (e.g. near a body of water, grazing areas, etc.).
- Don't build a trap for yourself. Use sturdy building materials, but only items which you can lift alone. Make a safe haven NOT a death trap.
Making sure to follow those guidelines, let's look at some options for shelters presented by environmental conditions.

STEP 1: Decide if you want to make a cave or a trench. Trenches take less work to dig, but require more materials to make cover. (NOTE: You may not be able to dig a cave in loose sand or snow and, therefore, should choose to dig a trench.)
STEP 2: Gather your materials. You will need dry leaves and debris for insulation. You should also find a large stick or branch for digging, rather than your hands and risk frostbite or blistering. If building a trench, you will need to find branches (or canvas) to place over the trench for cover.
STEP 3: Dig a tight fit. Make only enough room for yourself and a bit of insulation.
STEP 4: If digging a cave, dig your entrance at a very small incline before digging parallel to the ground for the remainder of the space. If making a trench place branches over the trench and anchor them down (on the sides) with snow or sand.
STEP 5: Poke an air hole diagonally down into your shelter; a few centimeters in diameter. Keep it open, but not blocked, with sticks if you can.
STEP 6: Insulate. Stuff as much insulation as you can find into your trench or cave. Stuff some in between your clothing layers as well. (You are wearing layers, right?)
STEP 7: Burrow feet-first into your shelter.
STEP 1: Firmly lean (and secure) a large branch against a log, stump, or rock. The branch must be longer than you are tall. This is called the "ridge pole" of the structure we are building, you should lean it so that one end is on the ground and the other is against the prop.
STEP 2: Lean sticks and branches around the ridge pole (called the ribbing), extending diagonally from the ground to the ridge pole. Make sure you have just enough room inside for yourself and some insulation; no more, no less.
STEP 3: Place and weave smaller sticks and branches over the ribbing.
STEP 4: Cover the weave with leaves and debris. Place additional material over the debris if you need to anchor it to your shelter.
STEP 5: Insulate. As the instructions above, stuff as much dry insulation as you can find into your shelter. Stuff some in between your clothing layers as well. (You are wearing layers, right?)
STEP 6: Burrow feet-first into your shelter from the tall side.
STEP 1: Crack a window on the side facing away from the wind.
STEP 2: Start your car for only brief periods to provide heat (or cooling). 10 minutes for every hour is a good guideline. Do NOT sleep while the engine is running.
STEP 3: Keep your light on when the engine is running. (For the possibility of rescue.)
STEP 4: Check your tailpipe occasionally to ensure that it is clear of obstructions.
STEP 5: Keep your blood flowing by moving around, if trying to stay warm. Stretch out and spread your limbs, if trying to stay cool.

Please keep in mind that there are many ways to make shelters in the wilderness; those listed here are only a small selection. Any option you consider in finding shelter for yourself should protect you from the elements and keep you safe from injury and illness for at least one night (or day).


Survival Guide: Predict the weather

In previous Survival Guides, I've mentioned the importance of finding shelter when weather conditions are not in a state allowing you to employ other survival techniques. In this article I'm going to present some ideas on how to try to predict the weather using only an observation of your surroundings. Much of the information I present below is found in a WikiHow article on "How to Predict the Weather Without a Forecast". I will attempt to summarize some of the information presented there, but I encourage you to read the original article.

- Take a deep breath. Plants release more particle matter in low pressure, which means that their scent is stronger. (e.g. flowers smell better, trees are more pungent, etc.) Low pressure systems indicate the approach of moisture soon.
- Look for signs of humidity. Leaves will curl and pine cones will be closed in high humidity. Humidity tends to precede heavy rain.

- "Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning." Fronts tend to move West to East, so a red sky at sunset (looking West) indicates dry air moving toward you. Therefore, a red sky at sunrise (looking East) would indicate dry air moving away (moist air moving in).
- Look for a rainbow at sunrise or sunset. A rainbow might indicate the location of moisture. A rainbow in the West at sunrise likely means moisture is on the way (remember, West to East). A rainbow in the East at sunset means moisture is moving away from you.

This area of observation might take some preparatory study. (More information on "Forecasting the Weather using the Clouds" [WikiHow])
- Feel which way the wind is blowing. Winds pulling in from the East may indicate an approaching low pressure system coming from the West. Winds pushing out from the West may indicate a low pressure system moving away toward the East.
- Clouds going in different directions show signs of circular air currents which might produce hail.
- Towering fluffy clouds (Cumulonimbus) play a significant role in severe weather. Watch for their development and location in the sky.
- Streamers in the high sky (Cirrus) indicate bad weather within the next 2 days.
- Scaly clouds (Altocumulus) also indicate bad weather within the next 2 days.
- Heavy cloud cover on a Winter night keeps in the heat, so you can expect warm weather the next day.

Some animals change their behavior with the weather. Here are some of the most notable.
- How high are the birds flying? If they're staying close to the ground, it could indicate a storm is coming.
- Bees and butterflies take refuge when foul weather is approaching.
- Ants like to reinforce their hills before a rain.
- Livestock (e.g. cows, sheep, etc.) tends to huddle together before severe weather.
- Frogs get louder as rain is coming into the area.

It is important for your survival that you ALWAYS be wary of your surroundings. Find shelter as soon as possible, when you suspect bad weather. A bad situation will only get worse, even life-threatening, if you "get caught in the rain".