Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Miscellany: Mulliga's Urban Survival Kit, Part 2

While my blog is mainly about escaping the mundane through art and adventure, this series of posts addresses "escape" in a more literal sense. Here, I present my ideas on a lightweight, inexpensive collection of items for surviving an urban or suburban disaster. Part 1 introduced the concept and went into my choice for the survival kit's container (a CountyComm EOD Utility Bag). Part 2 delves into M.U.S.K.'s most important subsystem: the first aid kit.

I think breaking my arm taught me, on a visceral level, that I am not invincible. None of us are. Yet a lot of people go through their daily routine without ever thinking they could be seriously hurt.

The risk goes up exponentially during a major disaster like a hurricane. If there are 130+ mph winds outside and you get hurt, help may not be coming for a long time. The same goes for breakdowns in the rule of law, such as mass rioting or looting - even if 911 still works, the ambulance may take awhile.

Since injuries are so common, every survival kit, no matter the size, should have a first aid kit. How much you add to the kit depends a lot on where you are (treating snakebites doesn't come up very often in a city) and what your skills are (Ever see a paramedic's kit? It's big). I've managed to fit all the items below in a large Ziploc bag; for a tougher, more water-resistant, and more expensive option, try Aloksak bags.

-- FIRST AID KIT CONTENTS --

Blood sponge - If someone has a medium to severe wound, there's going to be blood all over the place. In order to stop the bleeding and dress the wound, you need something that can soak up a lot of blood. To this end, I pack several Surgipads (a Johnson & Johnson surgical dressing available at many big box stores and pharmacies). If cash is really tight, you can load up your kit with menstrual pads - slightly embarrassing, but effective.

Dressings - Try to bring both adherent and nonadherent. Adherent dressings (example: standard gauze) should come into play for serious or deep wounds where there isn't a lot of leftover abraded skin to stick to the dressing. The nonadherent dressings (example: Telfa non-stick pads) are good for injuries like road rash or skinned knees, as well as for protecting minor burns from further damage.

Medical tape - Pack both breathable and waterproof tape. Waterproof tapes help keep water from getting to the wound, which can be desired in some situations. Breathable tapes allow air to reach the skin - okay for wounds where you'll be doing a lot of dressing exchanges anyway. In a pinch, you can sub in duct tape or electrical tape if you need to hold a dressing in place.

Secondary wound closure options - butterfly closures/Steri-Strips/tape strips, super glue - The first and best option for wound closure is direct pressure and elevation above the heart - it may take some time, but the vast majority of wounds close this way. If a wound does not close, you may have to try other stuff - the tape type closure methods are easiest to use and should be tried first, and the super glue can be used for small but nonclosing wounds.

Roll bandage/gauze roll/self-adhering roll - Not every wound is on a flat surface. If someone gets cut around their leg, arm, or neck, a roll bandage might be the most efficient way to dress the wound. This item adds substantial bulk to your kit, however, so you may not be able to take a full roll.

Latex/Vinyl/Nitrile Gloves - Latex gloves will be cheapest, but there are people who have latex allergies...since this is an emergency kit meant mostly for personal and family use, I just stuck with regular latex; hopefully I don't run into someone who reacts severely. Be sure to have at least a few pairs of gloves packed in your kit - it's much safer than sticking your naked hand on someone's body.

Scissors/EMT shears - Used for cutting tapes and for shearing off clothing to get to a wound. Basic office scissors will do the job if you're on a budget - watch the points, though.

Tweezers - Mainly for splinter removal. The small pointed kind is most convenient in terms of size, but the bigger cosmetic variety can work better due to a larger grabbing surface. Don't bother with the cheapo plastic ones inside store-bought first aid kits.

Alcohol wipes/Iodine Swabs - Used to clean knives, tweezers, and other instruments. You can also take an iodine pad and dump it into a water bottle to create a dilute iodine solution to irrigate a wound. Don't use these pads to swab a wound directly (basic rule of thumb: never put anything in a wound that you wouldn't put in your eye).

Band-aids - Stick as many of them in as you can. Thankfully, this is what you'll use most.

First Aid Primer - You may not be the only person using the first aid kit. A sheet of paper showing CPR and common first aid procedures will help other people immensely.

Medications - in plastic bag or in separate carrier

- As many days' worth of necessary prescription medications as is feasible (diabetics should pack everything they need into a portable kit like this one).

- Aspirin/ibuprofen/acetaminophen (pack all three, in case someone can't take one - all three can have side effects)

- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) (antihistamine, sleep aid, motion sickness remedy. Can cause profound drowsiness - use with care!)

- GI meds - Dulcolax, Immodium, Pepto, Pepcid (Of these, Immodium is a priority - you lose water quick when you have diarrhea. Dulcolax is nice if you're living off fiberless dried and canned food for awhile. Pepto and Pepcid are luxury items.)

- Misc. meds - cold/flu symptom relief, anti-itch cream, etc.

-- ITEMS NOT IN MY KIT THAT ARE WORTH LOOKING INTO --

QuikClot - This is a powdery coagulant that is best when you do not have the available time to apply direct pressure to stop external bleeding (i.e. in the middle of a gunfight). It's pretty expensive - for the price of one packet, you can buy a decent ready-made first-aid kit from Wally World. It's worth noting that the military has moved away from QuikClot in its powder form (on a windy day in Iraq, the stuff goes everywhere); I believe they use coagulant-impregnated bandages now.

Airway kit - If someone doesn't breathe, they die. Unfortunately, clearing an airway can be a lot more involved than scooping stuff out of someone's mouth like they show in CPR classes. An airway kit includes flared tubes designed to be inserted up someone's nose or into someone's mouth in order to secure an open airway. Obviously, not something you want to mess with without a little training.

Moleskin - Traditionally used for blister prevention. I've found band-aids to work just as well.

Scalpel/Razor - Good things to have, but a big no-no in airports and most courthouses.

Suture kits - Suturing a wound to close it is a last resort best left to people with medical training.

Kelly Forceps (hemostats) - Beyond my capabilities. An EMT or doctor who is without any supplies would probably love a good set of clamps, though.

Triangular bandage, Compression bandage - Useful, but big and bulky.

-- FLAMBEAU BLUE RIBBON WATERPROOF MINI FLY BOX REVIEW --

Sometimes you see something on the InterWebz so ingenius, so perfect for a particular purpose, that you just have to have it. Here's one such item:



The fly box is smaller than it looks on YouTube - it's about the size of a new bar of soap. Nevertheless, it can carry about a dozen different medications, all neatly separated and ready to use.

After some testing in my bathroom sink, I've found that the fly box's main compartment will indeed survive a 30 second dunking, but that water leaked into the two top compartments. Still, the fly box works mostly as advertised, and it's not expensive for how solid it is. If you have the space, it makes for a neat addition to a first aid kit.

Phew! That does it for Part 2. Tune in next time for M.U.S.K.'s food and water subsystem.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Music: Scala and Kolacny Brothers

Movie trailer music is an odd beast. The actual soundtrack of the previewed movie is often too cerebral for the quick cuts and precise storytelling of a good trailer, so trailers are typically set to some well-known pop song that will never be played during the movie. Let's hope the trailer for "The Social Network" is an exception, because it contains a haunting cover of Radiohead's "Creep":



This version of "Creep" comes from Scala and Kolacny Brothers, a Belgian girls' choir that is apparently really big in Europe. They play their own music too, of course, but the Kolacny brothers seem adept at covering popular music. And, lest you think this cover only works inside the movie trailer, here's real-life Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg getting a cold sweat when faced with pointed questions about his service's privacy problems.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Movies: Inception

"Inception" is a heist movie, but not in the traditional sense; the thieves in "Inception" steal secrets from the mark's subconscious through the use of lucid dreaming:



The film's concept won't win any awards for originality, at least in my book. If you've seen "Total Recall," "eXistenZ," "The Matrix," or any other film trading in solipsism, you've seen pretty much every trick "Inception" has in its bag. That's not to say director Christopher Nolan doesn't do a good job of keeping things lively through the 2-1/2 hour run time. The dream heist is engrossing, with impressive set pieces and decent action sequences.

The main problem here, though, is that it all feels a little too...ordinary. The dream imagery isn't surreal or fanastic enough to be memorable, a by-product of the dream-within-a-dream scenario the thieves devise to fool the mark. Your mind will be engaged by the layered realities and puzzles, but the movie (ironically) doesn't hit the Jungian archetypes quite as well as other sci-fi flicks.

"Inception" does have one trump card over other summer blockbusters - a stellar cast. There are heavyweights like Marion Cotillard (in full femme fatale mode) and Ken Watanabe (might as well be clad in samurai gear). There are character actors like Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And finally, there's Leonardo DiCaprio playing the protagonist, Dom, and imbuing this typical "gotta do this one last job" thief with pathos and intellectual depth. It's been fun watching DiCaprio parlay his "Titanic" fame into meatier and meatier roles, and "Inception" really wouldn't be the same without him.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, July 24, 2010

TV: Monsters Inside Me


"Monsters Inside Me" is a documentary show on Animal Planet that focuses on human parasites. Each episode, a hapless victim becomes the subject of a biological invasion, gleefully recreated in flashy CGI. If you aren't antsy about eating undercooked shellfish, trekking through a God-forsaken wilderness, or coming into contact with a strange animal, you will be after watching "Monsters Inside Me."

The evocative moniker of the TV series should be also be a hint: the parasitic infections get pretty gross. The show has featured pork tapeworms, botfly maggots, and brain-eating amoebae. What gets me is how often people experience symptoms and are then misdiagnosed by physicians - a rash, an ache, or a sudden stiffness is explained away until things get much, much worse.

On every episode I've seen, things eventually turn out okay. The show doesn't hide the fact that the victim survived; they often appear on-camera to narrate. Still, even without the suspense, it's interesting to hear what it was like to have some exotic worm lodged in your cerebellum.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Miscellany: Mulliga's Urban Survival Kit - Part 1

-- INTRODUCTION --

If the tragedies of the new millenium have taught us anything, it's that a modern city is only habitable as long as society is functioning. Imagine if every single store, office, and private residence was closed in your city - how difficult would it be to find food? Tools? Medical supplies? To the residents of New York City, New Orleans, Port-au-Prince, and plenty of other cities around the world, these are not hypothetical questions:



If disaster strikes your city, and you want to be a rescuer and not someone who needs rescuing, you'll need to be prepared. Part of that preparation comes from learning practical lifesaving skills like CPR and first aid (it's easy and free to learn via YouTube, your local library, and community classes).

This series of blog posts will address the other part of emergency preparedness: the supplies that you'll want to have handy in case the rule of law breaks down and you need to evacuate an urban area. Some people call it a "bug-out bag," but I call mine "Mulliga's Urban Survival Kit" for two reasons: one, I was inspired by this series of vids from prominent YouTuber Nutnfancy, and two, it actually spells something ("M.U.S.K.").

Some initial thoughts: your situation, requirements, and personal taste will dictate what goes into your urban survival kit. This is just how I have mine set up - hopefully I can discuss some of the considerations and thought that went into each item, and what items could be subbed out or improved upon. Also, I don't have SAS training like Bear Grylls or extensive wilderness experience like Les Stroud...but then again, I figure most people don't.

-- CHOOSING THE BAG --

The "bag" in a "bug-out bag" ultimately defines what kind of capabilities you will have. It's impossible (and foolhardy) to prepare for every scenario, at least if you want a kit that you can actually carry, but at the same time, you're going to be hard-pressed fitting everything you need into an Altoids tin.

My choice of bag was dictated by where I would be going - a lot of air travel (ulgh), a lot of federal buildings and courthouses. A good, full-size backpack would be an awesome way to hold a lot of gear - but it would also be pretty impractical to carry around everywhere.

As such, I decided on making a kit that would readily fit underneath a standard airline seat (about 1500 cubic inches max) - small enough to be considered a "personal item" that you could schlep onto a plane with your full-size roller luggage, but large enough to fit a decent first aid kit, food, water, and tools.

I also wanted something that was MOLLE-compatible. There's nothing quite like the versatility afforded by rows and rows of PALS webbing - you can hang stuff off of it with a carabiner, attach other pouches, or simply slip pens and other similar items directly onto the webbing itself.

Finally, I was on a budget. Sure, a Maxpedition Active Shooter Bag would have been nice, but it's pretty painful dropping $60 on a glorified manpurse. Surely there must be a cheaper way to get in on the PALS fun...

-- COUNTYCOMM EOD UTILITY BAG REVIEW --



Available exclusively from the good folks over at CountyComm, this bag is a decent value considering what you get. It's not large (12"x8"x4.25" - about 400 cubic inches) but with the judicious addition of modular utility pouches on the front and bottom of the bag, you can expand and customize it fairly easily. The EOD bag is made of some serviceable materials; the snaps in particular feel like they can take a beating.

A good double YKK zipper leads into the only compartment on the bag, with two internal pockets on one side and a large mesh pocket on the other. The compartment also contains dummy cord loops for hanging things. No other internal divider is present, however, so you'll need to throw in your own zippered pouches if you want to keep things organized.

Apparently, the quality control was lacking at whatever Third World factory CountyComm used to produce this bag. The stitching seems rushed and uneven in many places, with lots of loose threads and unfinished edges. It's mostly single-stitched, too, with the poorest stitching reserved for the internal compartments and flaps. Granted, most of these flaws are cosmetic in that they can be cut or burned away with a lighter, but they are noticeable.

Overall, though, the EOD bag provides just enough space and attachment options for a good urban survival kit, especially if space and weight are at a premium.

That does it for Part 1. Part 2 will discuss M.U.S.K.'s most important contents - a first aid kit. We'll also look at an interesting water-resistant option for carrying medications.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Movies: Harp Dreams

Ah, PBS. It's long been a lightning rod for libertarian and conservative types (understandably so, since the American taxpayer is forced to supply around 20% of its operating budget). There's also a thinly-veiled lefty bias that seems to permeate the news and political programs (especially anything with Bill Moyers).

If you can put all that aside for a moment, though, I'd like to talk to you about the 2007 USA International Harp Competition:



"Harp Dreams" is a documentary that chronicles three talented harpists as they battle for harp glory. Watch as their fingers fly along the strings! Thrill to exciting renditions of Pierné’s Concertstück for Harp and Orchestra, Op. 39!

Okay, I realize the subject is esoteric, but I've always been a sucker for this kind of music competition documentary. "Harp Dreams" takes an incredibly expressive art form and mixes it with all the brutal, white-knuckle competitive pressure of professional sports. If watching three young women duke it out with skills they've spent most of their waking lives perfecting isn't entertaining, what is?

Rating: 7/10

Books: Literary Horror Double Feature

Miffed by the inexplicable success of the "Twilight" saga? Want some real, substantive horror fiction to keep you company this summer? Here are a couple of novels that feature absolutely zero vampire-human-werewolf love triangles:

Demon Theory



I don't normally quote the review blurbs on the covers of books, but this one is a pretty apt description:
Reading Stephen Graham Jones' "Demon Theory" is akin to watching horror director Wes Craven's "Scream" trilogy with David Foster Wallace whispering in your ear...ingenious. --Dallas Morning News
Stephen Graham Jones is an English professor, so "Demon Theory" contains two key stylistic experiments. First, it's written like a pseudo-screenplay, complete with camera directions and set descriptions. Jones' ability to create scenes of mounting tension even with the artifice present for all to see is pretty impressive.

The second literary device is the copious and constant endnoting. The endnotes reference cliches, in-jokes, and arcana that horror geeks will immediately understand and appreciate. They also reinforce the metafictional aspects of the main text in an unobtrusive way (you can ignore the endnotes and just read the story straight through).

The story itself starts out as a straightforward '90s slasher flick: a group of young med students find themselves trapped in a snowy, out-of-the-way farmhouse with someone...or something...picking them off one by one. The book quickly introduces psychological twists, dead-ends, and parallels to keep you guessing. I'll admit the narrative loses steam halfway, but it's a worthwhile read if you can chug through.

Twilight



Isn't it obnoxious when an ultra-popular (but pulpy) book bears the same title as yours? William Gay is sort of the Southern Gothic answer to Cormac McCarthy, and his spare, haunting prose animates this tale of a chase through the ruined South.

In "Twilight," a young lad named Kenneth Tyler is thrust into a nightmare when a blackmail scheme involving a seedy undertaker goes horribly wrong. Without spoiling too much, let's just say Tyler has to make a journey through harsh and forgotten wilderness, and he isn't alone...

If "Demon Theory" is a bloated buffet of a horror novel, "Twilight" is the sort of short, sharp psychological thriller that will leave images of brackish backwoods and abandoned mansions floating in your head. Either will probably be more entertaining than several hundred pages of vampire abstinence.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Miscellany: Ammo for Fountain Pens - Noodler's Legal Lapis ink review

A fountain pen is one of the most versatile writing instruments you can own. Unlike ballpoints (which are invariably slaved to a particular refill cartridge), fountain pens with converter cartridges or internal reservoirs can take a wide variety of ink. The fountain pen allows the writer to customize his or her writing in the same way handloading ammunition allows a shooter to tailor firearm performance to a particular task.

As you might expect, you won't be able to pick up the best fountain pen ink at a big box office store. The only place you can buy Noodler’s Legal Lapis, for instance, is Pendemonium, a specialty pen shop:


I picked up a bottle of Legal Lapis to see what all the fuss was about. In terms of color, the ink is supposed to mimic the old-fashioned iron gall inks used in the 19th century (the label bears a famous depiction of the Lincoln-Douglas debates - hard to think of a better lawyer than Honest Abe). Legal Lapis is mostly black, with pretty hints of blue, green, and grey if you make your strokes neat and fast. On a typical yellow legal pad, the ink is clear and legible without bleeding through.

Noodler’s fountain pen ink is some of the best in the business; Legal Lapis, despite its old-school trappings, is a very modern ink. It's water-based, so it flows readily from the nib of my Waterman Phileas fountain pen for smooth, enjoyable note-taking. Legal Lapis is also nearly indelible once it has been applied to paper. Water, grease, alcohol - you'll basically have to destroy the paper the ink is written on in order to get this stuff to budge.

So, if you're a lawyer who needs a bombproof, permanent way to take written notes and sign documents, or if you're just someone who enjoys good ink, Noodler's Legal Lapis fits the bill perfectly.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Sports: Not so hot in Cleveland

If you haven't picked it up already from the blistering, wall-to-wall coverage on every MSM outlet, NBA superstar LeBron James is coming to Miami to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in a trio that's already been nicknamed "Miami Thrice."

I don't really care much about this fact in and of itself, and I didn't bother to spend time watching LeBron televise his ego on national TV in an hourlong special called (with only the slightest whiff of irony) "The Decision." Heck, where most sports pundits are criticizing the way LeBron broke from the Cleveland Cavaliers (a protracted, month-long buildup that easily overshadowed ESPN's coverage of the World Cup), I don't see anything particularly wrong with giving the fans a little manufactured drama.

What I'm worried about is the real, tangible effect this will have on Cleveland. As one mockommercial put it (only half-jokingly), the Cleveland economy is based on LeBron James. Take away LBJ and the Cavs instantly go from playoff team to sub-.500 punching bags - who's going to pay for Cleveland's expensive stadiums now?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

News: One Robber, Two Shootings


Tyrone Roy Pickney was killed outside a Delray convenience store recently, and police now say he's the robber responsible for the double murder that rocked the area over the Fourth of July weekend.

I'm not one to jump to conclusions, but it sounds like Mr. Pinkney was maybe not so nice of a guy. If it's true that he was finally shot by the kind of store clerks he had long terrorized, I'd call that poetic justice. Brings to mind this song.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Independence Day


Military history is littered with instances where mistakes or miscommunications pressed soldiers into desperate situations. It actually happened in the very first major battle of the American Revolution, the Battle of Long Island (also known as the Battle of Brooklyn).

The battle itself was the first strike in the British invasion of New York. The British had marched in secret through the night, and led by Cornwallis, managed to circle around the American line. If the Americans could be encircled, the Revolution might have been crushed in one fell swoop:



So, in the first battle the U.S. Army ever fought, it lost. Washington escaped, but at the cost of hundreds of casualties and a thousand men captured. The losses might have been greater had it not been for General William Alexander, who ordered all but a few hundred of his troops to fall back. The 1st Maryland Regiment stayed behind, launching repeated charges against the British in order to cover the American retreat. It was one of the first, true-blue hero moments of the U.S. military, but thankfully it wouldn't be the last.

Happy Independence Day!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Tech: Left 4 Dead 2 review

There are few places more suitable for staging a zombie apocalypse than the Deep South - dark swamps, Louisiana voodoo, funny accents. Valve Corporation must agree, because "Left 4 Dead 2" follows four new Survivors on their trek from Georgia to New Orleans:



In case you missed the first game, "Left 4 Dead 2" is a cooperative FPS that pits your team against ravenous zombies. Four Survivors (who are all distinctly Southern this time around) must make their way from safe house to safe house, fighting dozens of "28 Days Later"-style Infected along the way.

L4D2 remedies one of the main complaints people had with the first game: a dearth of content. Right off the bat, you get five full-length campaigns that can be played in both the regular co-op mode and the gleefully sadistic Versus mode. Granted, each campaign only takes about an hour to traverse, but that hour is packed with all of Valve's craft and skill.

In fact, L4D2 seems to take all the high points of the original and amp them up to the next level. If you dreaded the infamous cornfield level in L4D1 (where you couldn't see zombies until you were almost on top of them), you'll be positively apoplectic at the prospect of crossing a sugarcane field, at night, in the middle of a visibility-killing thunderstorm. But it isn't all doom and gloom; how about making your heroic last stand against the undead on a concert stage with full-on pyrotechnics and Southern rock?



As you might expect from a sequel released only a year after the original, L4D2 doesn't change things up much gameplay-wise. If you got tired of shoving zombies for the Nth time in the first game, the new additions in L4D2 probably won't be enough to hold your interest for long. But for the rest of us, the prospect of decapitating zombies with a chainsaw more than justifies the purchase.

Rating: 86/100

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