Saturday, November 10, 2012

Use Wish Lists for your benefit

If you are anything like me you find yourself on the website, a lot. I am on there almost daily. Not because I am a shopaholic, but I am an obsessive reviewer of products. I am only interested in professional reviews of gear when I truly don't know anything about its form, fit, function or capability. What Amazon does better than anyone online is provide a tremendous database of real life reviews. I want to know what I am getting and what is similar and what compliments it as an accessory. 

For years I just scrolled reviews and bookmarked items in my own browser folders. A few years ago I stumbled upon Amazon Wish Lists. When you sign up to sign in to Amazon you get a button next on each items page asking if you want to place this item in your Wish List. Then you can come back and look at these items later, see newer reviews, if the price has dropped since you placed it in the wish list. Its a great fast tool for holding potential future purchases. 

If you have a smartphone, I suggest downloading the Amazon application. This app has a function that allows you to scan the SKU number of items you see at a store you are in. Click the scan app, it turns on your phone camera, then line the SKU bars up in the phone screen and it automatically finds that item on their website with their price. Great comparative shopping. If its something I want but don't neccesarily want to buy it right then, I put it in my wish list. 

I mostly use my Wish list as a way to identify what I want to buy and if I haven't bought it by Christmas, I forward the list to my family members. 

I also have a separate Wish List set up for my loved ones. If my wife says she really like an author or item I find it on the website and put in that list. My kids are always telling me they want this or that toy or item. If we are in a store, I use my Amazon app to scan the SKU and put it in my gift wish list. Then if they are still talking about it later, I can decide if we are going to buy it or not. 

Don't get me wrong, I always prefer to buy from smaller local businesses but the fact of the matter is that local doesn't always equal me getting what I want and I will always include my effort to source and drive around to find what I want locally verse online. Even larger national chains don't carry items I want in their shelf items. Point in fact, the Sear store next to my house carries the Fiskar line of tools but did not carry the exact size ax I wanted. Their price to order and ship to the store was over 25% more than buying it online. That is not in my best interest. 

Simply put, I am merely stating that Amazon has a tool called Wish Lists that make it infinitely simple to store your impulse gear ideas, products you want to review and buy for yourself or others. Sharing the list with hyperlinks and prices make it so much easier on older family members in the holiday season. Or those that are still in this age, not technically savvy to shop online. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Preparation Mentality: Get out fast!

In previous installments of Preparation Mentality, foundation of recovery and hard copies of your life, I discussed how to catalog your belongings and your life history for a digital and physical grab and go. But now you need to go. Like, you should have been out of your house five minutes ago gone. How do you do that without watching your house burn down or the world crash around you in just your boxers and a tee shirt?  Here is what you do. 

I am going to assume for the moment that you and your family have an escape plan from your residence. If not, figure it out today. Don't just think you will smash a window and jump on the roof of a car from the second story. Trust me when I say I have close family members who are essentially crippled from that  type of thought process. The plate glass window they broke using the only thing not on fire, their fists, severed nerves and tissue in the lower arms. Or the feet that are forever scarred from having to cross melting linoleum flooring to get out. You have to consider the months of recovery and the years of accommodation and lifestyle correction those choices may bring. This is real life, not Hollywood. I've also seen the aftermath of not having time to execute a plan. The smudges along stuck windows, the soot covered floor, clean only wear the body laid.  

The easiest way to be prepared to leave your house in a hurry is to be a bit messy in the bedroom. Next to or under each side of a family members bed, stash a full pile of clothes, dependent on the season, in a small backpack or other fast grab bag. Warm summer nights may only require pair of running shorts and a long sleeve top and sneakers. Winter would require a heavier jacket and clothing or study track suit, shoes and gloves, hats and a travel umbrella to match the climate. Especially for kids put a old favorite toy or stuffed animal in the bag as a clutch item for stress relief. 

These bags never leave their station next to a bed. Inside is not your favorite items you will rotate during a week of wear. You put them there and they stay there until replaced by something else dependent on climate. As a rule avoid cotton clothing as it is hard to dry and does not provide much warmth. 

Also in these kits place a few small items. Every one gets a cheap flashlight that hopefully never gets used but in an emergency provides light in a dark hallway or outside in the middle of the night with maybe no power in the area.  A bottle of water and a small food item like lollipops or granola bars will get even the most finicky child through a traumatizing few hours. Parents would do well to have a long screwdriver or small hammer in their bag, to be able to punch out windows or smash door knobs. 

If you read my previous posts, one person has a small external hard drive in their bag and can easily grab a neon colored accordion file on the way out. 

If you can get dressed before rushing out, you got lucky. If you have kids, grab your bag, grab them and their bag and get out. Everyone can get dressed when they are safe. 

In non-emergency evacuation circumstances, (no fire or earthquake or storm damage), of course do what you can with what you can. Grab purses, and wallets and favorite animals. Have a leash readily available for pets. Start thinking in terms of what is convenient but realistic in your house patterns. Yes it might be easier to charge your phone in the kitchen but if you have to leave your house in a hurry do not expect to be able to get into your kitchen to get your phone. If you no longer have a hard line home phone in your bedroom and you charge your phone overnight in a different part of your house, how do you call 911 if you hear someone in your house in the middle of the night or you are stuck or forget it or can't reach it. Preparedness is not only staging for success but having a mindset willing to make changes for events that may never occur. 

What has worked for me. 

Everyone in my family knows the evacuation plan. Our toddler knows if she wakes up to smoke or smoke alarms to scream her little heart out until mommy, daddy or big brother get her. She is not to run through the house on her own if there is a fire. 

We all have a Bug Out Bag (BOB) next to where we sleep with season clothing. Depending on who it it belongs to, there are specific items in their bag.  

I also have a personal Every Day Carry (EDC) back pack that I use every time I leave the house. Day or night it holds my wallet and keys, my external drive and several other items I consider required for my piece of mind. When my phone is not on me its in the pack. If not in the pack its being charged next to it. I can absolutely get this on the way out in a hurry. 

In this installment of preparation mentality,  I review the thought process of being ready to exit your house in more than just what you are sleeping in. A small bag of seasonal clothes and simple extra equipment depending on the circumstances. It combines previous preparations of removing documents and personal histories that can help assist you in putting your life back together without it seeming helpless. In future segments I will discuss when you should bug out from your house, (retreat) or when you should bug in (hunker down) and how to get your house ready to do both. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Preparation mentality: hard copies of your life

I have lived through some amazing natural disasters and emergency's. I have been blocked into a house for a week during a snow and ice storm that crippled the region I lived in, only escaping by digging a tunnel through several feet of deep drifts. I lived in the PNW when Mt. St. Helen's erupted and spewed ash for hundreds of miles. I have been in the middle of several category 3 and 4 typhoons and one category 5 super typhoons with gusts over 200 mph. I stood on the 11th floor of a building and survived an 8.3 earthquake that split it apart. I have been without power and the ability to purchase food, water or gas for weeks at a time. My wife, as a teen, watched her home burn down and family lose all its possessions. My household understands what to keep and how to keep it safe before a personal or regional disaster strikes. 

The previous installment of Preparation mentality, foundation of recovery, dealt with collecting and storing your digital life and videos of your possessions in an external drive you can carry and then use after a disaster in your life. This segment will be doing the same thing for you and your loved ones with physical files you need when it counts or perhaps just once or twice a year. 

Some things just do not need to be transferred to digital but is life information that should be kept in a central location for rapid access. Items like passports, social security cards, old drivers licences, birth certificates, diplomas, bank information, home warranties, a utility statement, a mortgage statement, life insurance reports, good bondsman, all should be included in this hard file. You will also gather items like the business cards for your bank branch, the doctor and dentists offices each of your loved ones visit. The guy who cuts your trees once a year at a fair rate or the handyman, plumber, electrician that did work for you once. All those insignificant business cards that get tossed into the junk drawer or stuffed in a wallet for future use, but when you need it you can't find it. These are those items I am talking about.

The next time you drive past an office supply store or walk by the office section in a box store, you want to purchase the following items. A large legal sized accordion file with a top closure in the most garish, bright color you can find, bright orange or neon pink. Then for each family member buy a separate colored letter size folder that you can add sheet protectors into it. Buy one extra folder to complete your set. You need sheet protectors. Get a package of letter sized protectors and a package of business card holders.

Take each individual brightly colored folder and write the name of a family member on it in large letters using a black sharpie. Do this for each family member. On the extra folder, write whatever word you use to describe your house. Divide up the page and card protectors among the folders, put the card holders in the front of the folder. For each family member begin to fill it with all the doctor cards, the card for the pharmacy they use, a kids school immunization record, all the items you know you need once or twice a year but otherwise just don't want to hassle looking for or remembering where you put it when you need it.

For the adults, do the same but include the important documents and contact information that you collect with age and responsibility like your car insurance rep, card for your stock broker, accountant information to contact banks and insurances. The house folder holds a copy of the mortgage payment, utility bill, cable bill, deed, home warranty information, gardener, pool guy, maid service.  The warranty on new appliances or fixtures. The plumber, electrician, handyman business cards. Not required but it helps to print a copy of your immediate neighborhood from an online map program and write the name of all your neighbors over their house. Its a nice addition only because, who can remember all their neighbors names and if there is an emergency you can use this to assist first responders to know what houses were empty or had people in it. Or just save you the embarrassment of asking a neighbor their name for the third time in five years because you can never remember it. 

Once all the individual folders are full, place in the brightly colored accordion file. Now whenever you need to grab something important for yourself, your house or family member you know exactly where it is. You can also add any back up digital files on CD or small thumb drives. Place this folder next to your bed, under your bed, on the self next to your most likely exit from your house in a frantic emergency. The garish color will be an immediate eye catcher when you are running past or if it is dark, smokey, or the room torn apart. Some people might put this in a Bug Out Bag (BOB) or Get Out Of Dodge (GOOD) bag that I will describe later. 

You now have a very convenient, easy to find place to locate items that might be needed only once or twice a year like records for the kids at the beginning of each school year. Or the contact information for a service required to for your home. Many smart phones allow you to download the contact information for printing. This would also be a good suggestion so if you lose your phone you can call all those family and friends that for years you have haven't needed to remember their phone number since the phone did it automatically.  It maybe a good idea to include some cash or prepaid credit cards in your folder for incidentals. 

As crazy as it sounds, I know someone who followed this system and had their house broken into. Among the many things ransacked, their bright green accordion file was left undisturbed next to their bed. The thought being nothing of value would be found in something so obviously ugly and probably just held kids papers. 

This installment describes what you can do today to put your life back together after a home or life disaster or be more prepared in a general sense year round. The life file, is a localized, grab and go, can't miss in a rush out the door file that holds everything important you need but don't every want to memorize. Of course having all your photos, music and life history stored on a digital drive will give you piece of mind that you did not lose it all. 

Future installments will go into how to prepare to leave your house in a hurry with more than nothing on your back. How to prepare a vehicle year round for emergencies and have room for groceries and sports gear. When to Bug Out of your house and When to Bug In and how to do both successfully. Of course a list of what I think every home must have year round for preparedness. 

Preparation Mentality: the foundation of recovery

The recent hurricane that hit the upper east coast in November 2012 has showed how unprepared some people are covering the basic necessities of life when the corner store and local gas station are closed. When the power is off for hundreds of thousands or millions of people. When someone can't grab an extra twenty dollars when they check out at the grocery store. When the house is without power or evacuated. Local and federal agencies can only do so much, so fast and its never fast enough. While we often think they know to much about us they are not your keeper or your babysitter or do they even work for you personally. You have to take responsibility for your own life and if necessary put it back together as quickly as easily as possible.  

It starts today. Take your smartphone, your point and shoot digital camera, your GoPro or Flip, whatever you use for taking video and walk slowly around the inside of your house. Walk through every room, open every door and drawer. It doesn't matter how dirty or cluttered the place is. You are capturing everything you own that if you lose in a disaster you have a record for putting yourself back together. If you know the make and model of items, provide that in a running commentary. "The flat screen tv is this, the game console is that, its a blu-ray player." If you own a collection or have items of true value like paintings or jewelry  make sure to focus in on those items specifically to show authenticity. Larger collections like comic books or baseball cards, china, items left in a box for the most part, at some point in the near future you need to lay those out on a bed and take very close up images of these so that the quality cannot be mistaken. If you have photographs around your house that were given to you, like family portraits, school photos, team photos, certifications, scan all those into your computer. Most newer home computer printers have this option or you can do so at kiosk at a corner drug store or several big box stores that have electronics areas, at a cost of a few coins per scan.  While you are scanning items, include drivers licenses, passport top pages, social security cards, immunization records. Save everything to a computer.

Most families have multiple computer systems. Kids have laptops, parents have smartphones, maybe a tablet laying around the house. Of course a general desktop computer, or two. Each of these will hold a vast amount of information that needs to be collected into one localized system. If you have a Cloud storage program, that would be great but not necessarily the best or only option. You have to sustain yourself. Start with backing up smartphone photos, videos and music to its primary docking system. Then using a thumb drive, memory card with reader or an external hard drive, begin to get all this information onto one source. Also include any personal files or images that have been saved. Everything that you have created or kept on a computer in the My Document area should be copied.

Don't bother backing up full programs or games. It takes up too much space on a drive and is replaceable. Only worry about what you would normally find in a personal folders area of the computer. Some internet browsers allow you to export passwords and bookmarked pages as a file to your computer library. Which is a good idea. You can also back up all your emails in Outlook (steps easily found in Outlook Help or online) with just a few clicks and store that single file in your library. Unfortunately if you lose your smartphone or it is damaged and needs replacement, reclaiming text messages and images are difficult if not impossible. Research Cloud storage for your device.

The final destination of all this information will be a compact external drive. Invest in one or ask for one as a gift for a birthday or Christmas. Become self contained in your digital data so that if you are at a friend or relatives home, using a public computer system at a shelter or library, if you are standing in a vast power outage area using a laptop sitting on a car hood powered by a cigarette plug, you can retrieve what you need.

There are many models of thumb drives and external hard drives that come with password protection or encryption. This is a smart choice for controlling sensitive data like social security cards, bank information, online passwords. There are also very good programs you can download online that accomplish this. You can research file encryption options at sites like The Kim Kamando Show and cnet

What has worked for me.

I prefer 16 and 32 gigabyte micro SD cards to regular sized SD memory cards. The reason is that the price is modest and a micro card is more versatile and preparedness is not about specialized equipment, its about multipurpose. They often come with a full sized SD card adapter so that it can be used in smartphones as a micro card or more standard digital cameras or put into slots on a card reader, laptop or desktop computer where full sized SD card slots are more common.

A useful tool for basic media swapping is a card reader. These devices accept every standard sized card storage device from propriety digital camera memory sticks to compact flash cards, XD cards, SD cards and several others styles and transfer that information to your computer via USB cable. No longer a need to carry the cable for this camera or that device. You can take photos or movies from a friends camera or some smartphones and view on your desktop monitor, newer television or laptop. 

After using the various hand-me-down external drives I have collected over the years, with various levels of storage capability, I finally researched and bought my own a few years back. Based on my needs for preparedness and everyday carry, I choose an external drive that is waterproof and shockproof, eliminating the need for a bulky case but small enough by itself to be carried daily. It is also powered by USB, meaning it did not need to be plugged into a wall outlet. The single USB cable powers the unit and transfers data. Many other types use a split USB cable requiring two ports on the computer system, one to power the unit the other to transfer data.  Stay away from external drives that require a wall outlet or do not contain its own driver files to work on all types of computer systems. These are usually large units and in an emergency you will not take the time to unplug or retrieve the unit. 

My choice was a 1 Terabyte drive from a company called Silicon Power. Some people prefer more well known and trusted brands and there is nothing wrong with that. Except I can carry my external drive in my backpack, swim across a body of water or drop the pack from a second floor and it will still work. 1Tb holds hundreds of DVD's, every digital photo I have every taken, all my music and every single document I have every created in MS Office or scanned or saved over an entire career of living and business, with room for more. I think a terabyte is plenty of space for the average person.

This post is just a primer. To prepare for a loss of comfort items, home damage,  lost heirlooms. It is also to collect all your digital files, scans, family and life photos, music, phone videos and movies in one small storage device that can be grabbed quickly and you can take to a safer place in a hurry. Not to mention, use it when you need it.    

Next installment, putting your life to paper and answer the age old homeowner question, "Where did I put that?"