Common Sense Speed Math: Long-hand Subtraction

So you want to get faster at long-hand math.

There may be several reasons for this. You may be an elementary school student (or the parent of one), or perhaps you are an adult who has found a new need for basic math (sans calculator).

If you need to take a test like the SATs, an EEI aptitude test (for employment/hiring screening in technical professions), or indeed any employment or academic test that requires timed math and doesn’t allow a calculator, what you really need is to cut down the wasted time you spend on facts that you could have memorized without much trouble.

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Un-Bowl Your Betta for Less than $60!

So maybe you got snookered by a Walmart employee. Or you saw a vase with a plant and a betta in it at the craft store and were thrilled that you could get a fish that only needed as much care as a plant.

But that was then. Now, somebody took you aside and quietly let you know there’s a problem. Or maybe you googled your new betta fish on a whim, and now you don’t know what to do, because your setup is a fishy torture chamber.

Whoops. Now what?

Here’s my quick and dirty guide to a better life for your betta without breaking the bank.

Note: prices and availability shift and change. Prices are accurate as of writing, but look around a bit. Things change.

Basically, the minimum things your betta needs to have a decent life are:

  1. Enough room to move around
  2. A filter so he isn’t swimming in his own shit all day
  3. Warmth — ah, sweet warmth
  4. A secure lid so he doesn’t commit suicide (no, really)
  5. And this one is for you… a light so you can actually see him as he’s acting all happy and cute in his amazing new home

Sounds expensive, doesn’t it?

Well, the good news is that it doesn’t have to be. You can do all this without breaking the bank.

First item:

Get a (5 gallon minimum) fish tank kit. Plastic or glass, doesn’t matter. Both are fine. The good news is that there are a lot of reasonably priced options here.

A good aquarium kit will come with a tank, a lid for the tank, a filter, and a hood light.

Wow, that was easy! That knocks off most of the items you need: room to move, light, filtration, a lid — all in one fell swoop.

So the bottom line: price.

If you want to get the least expensive option, you can get a 5 gallon kit like this for $40 on Amazon right now. Not bad, eh? (You might get a slightly better deal at a big box pet store, so don’t be afraid to look around.)


If you want to go for something a little higher quality (as I would personally recommend), add just another $20 to your budget — like this or this. Of course, you could also spend tons of money if you really want to!

Try typing “5 gallon fish tank” into Amazon. Or again, visit a big box pet store.

Note: If a five gallon tank sounds kind of big to you, it really doesn’t take up that much room, and five gallons is considered the tipping point where it becomes much, much easier to keep the water stable and clean in general. (In other words, way less work for you, and way safer for Mr. Betta.)

If the footprint still seems too much, try a “tall” 5 gallon tank instead of a long, short one. That’s only about a square foot of shelf space.

Ok, now that we’ve seen it won’t break the bank to get a tank, that still leaves us with one major item: warmth.

Because you have a 5 gallon tank instead of a tiny bowl or box, you can get a heater that actually does a decent job. Here’s a good option in my opinion (I have the 50 watt version of this for my little 8 gallon betta tank).

Hydor Submersible Glass Aquarium Heater – 25 Watt

This heater is rated for 2-7 gallons, based on the second product image that Amazon shows. I would personally not put it (or a betta) in anything smaller than a 5 gallon tank, because keeping temperature stable in a smaller tank is harder and there’s some risk of injuring your betta with accidental over-temperature.

Price: $15.29

The way a heater like this works is you twist the knob to change the heat setting, and then give it a few hours and consult your tank thermometer to see how the results actually relate to reality. Don’t believe the numbers printed on the heater. They are guesses, not accurate.

So… you do need a thermometer. Here’s one. (Currently $3.99)

There are a few more things you may want, but aren’t truly necessary at this point — like gravel, silk or live plants (danger: don’t get plastic ones!), or other “betta-safe” decor. (Translation of betta-safe: if panty-hose would snag on it, so can your betta, and cut his delicate fins).

You can do without these things, though your betta will be much, much happier with some things in his tank to interact with. (Plus, it’s funny to watch him.) But we’re trying to not break the bank today, so you can always add these things later.

So that’s it! Let’s add it up:

$39.99 (5 gallon tank kit with light, filter, and lid)
$15.29 (heater)
$3.99 (thermometer)

That comes to a grand total of $59.27

Not a bad price for taking a sad song and making it better, so to speak.

I hope this article has shown you that doing right by your betta fish doesn’t have to be intimidating, or even that expensive. You can do it on a budget, and you can do it in a way that means you’ll even get to enjoy watching your little guy more. A win all around. So take the plunge today — un-bowl your betta!

One last note: if you don’t have it already (I assume you do, but you never know), you need a basic water conditioner to make your tap water safe to add to a fish tank. You also need betta food, of course, the kind with lots of good quality protein. (Bettas aren’t vegetarians, they aren’t designed to eat plants or roots!) I’m hoping you already have these things, though, since you should have gotten them at the same time as whatever container Mr. Betta has been living in.

If you are just preparing to buy a Mr. Betta, go google “fish-less aquarium cycle” first. If you already have a betta, that is a fish-in cycle (that one can be googled too), and basically you will need to keep doing a bunch of water changes at first until the filter gets up to speed, which could take a while. Cheers!







72 Hour Kit: Food (With Calorie Count)

72 Hour Kit: Food (with calorie count). Don't get led astray — active adults need a lot of calories to stay on the ball in an emergency. How does your kit stack up?

The last thing I want to do is discourage anyone taking concrete steps to be prepared. But I’ve been on Pinterest looking at people’s 72 hour meal kits, and the contents of some of them were making me feel desperate just imagining.

According to Web MD, an “active” adult woman who is 19-30 years old needs 2400 calories per day. Kids need less — starting at 2-3 years they need 1000-1400 calories per day, and then it climbs from there until they are adults.

So, when I was seeing emergency kit “meals” like this…

Breakfast: applesauce, snack bar, hot cocoa packet

Well, I was disturbed to say the least.

Let’s break it down:

• A container of single serve applesauce in my pantry (4 oz) has 50 calories.
• One serving of Nestle Rich Chocolate Cocoa mix has 80 calories.
• A Nutrigrain snack bar (strawberry) has 120 calories.
Total: 250 calories.

What if you ate all 3 main meals in a similar calorie range? That’s 750 calories for your entire day — not enough to meet the needs of a sedentary two-year-old.

I would say that this is an exaggerated example, but actually it isn’t. I saw a lot of emergency kit “meals” hovering in the 250 calorie range. Not to mention people putting in hot drink powders and canned meals like stew or ravioli with no apparent way to heat them up. (Yum!)

But in case you aren’t on board yet, here’s another example. Imagine yourself strapping on your hiking boots and hiking for three hours. At the end of those three hours, you finally spot a McDonald’s. You’re huuungry! You go in and order… what?

How about the cheapest, smallest dollar-menu style hamburger — the one with the pathetically thin patty that doesn’t even have a slice of cheese on it. You eat it up in about 5 bites (no fries, I’m afraid). Then you get up and hike for another four hours. Good thing you took in all that nutrition, right?

The MacDonald’s value menu hamburger is 250 calories, the same as a common emergency kit meal like the one above.

Not enough for anybody, and definitely not enough for me.

So, I figured I would get off my duff and finally sort out my own 72 hour food kit. (I hadn’t done anything before because I hadn’t taken the time to figure out what to do.)

Here were my conditions:
1. At least 2400 calories per day.
2. Nothing that needs to be refrigerated OR heated. (Not even hot-water-added like cocoa.)
3. Won’t make me puke — much. (For example, no canned liver pate or room temperature spaghetti.)
4. Stuff you can get on a shopping trip at a regular grocery store.

For your convenience, I have laid out my plan by day and meal, with calories tallied at the end of each day and individually for each food item. At the end, I have a snack and dessert section that fills in the gaps in the calorie count. (I’m assuming strenuous activity, because that is the worst case scenario, so I have a fair amount of sweet stuff as trail food. If I was sitting still, I wouldn’t need this full amount of calories, except possibly as comfort food.)

Here goes:

Goal: 2400 calories/day

Day 1:

Organic Valley Aseptic Chocolate Milk 8 oz – 150 calories
Tillamook Country Smoker Teriyaki 1.44 oz – 160 calories
Kind bar Maple Glazed Pecan 1.4 oz – 210 calories

Jif To Go Natural Peanut Butter 1.5 oz – 250 calories
Welches Fruit Snacks packet .9 oz – 80 calories
Brunswick Tuna Salad with Crackers 3.0 oz – 260 calories
Club Crackers Original (4 crackers) .5 oz – 70 calories

Jif To Go Natural Peanut Butter 1.5 oz – 250 calories
Club Crackers Original (13 crackers) 1.75 oz – 233 calories
Valley Fresh Chicken Breast 5 oz – 113 calories
True Lime Black Cherry Limeade Packet .11 oz – 10 calories

Day 1 Main Meals Calorie Total: 1786 calories

Day 2:

Organic Valley Aseptic Chocolate Milk 8 oz – 150 calories
Tillamook Country Smoker Pepperoni 1.44 oz – 170 calories
Kind Plus bar Dark Chocolate Cherry 1.4 oz – 170 calories

Jif To Go Natural Peanut Butter 1.5 oz – 250 calories
Welches Fruit Snacks packet .9 oz – 80 calories
Brunswick Tuna Salad with Crackers 3.0 oz – 260 calories
Club Crackers Original (4 crackers) .5 oz – 70 calories

Jif To Go Natural Peanut Butter 1.5 oz – 250 calories
Club Crackers Original (13 crackers) 1.75 oz – 233 calories
Brunswick Kippered Herring 3.53 oz – 160 calories
True Lime Black Cherry Limeade Packet .11 oz – 10 calories

Day 2 Main Meals Calorie Total: 1803 calories

Day 3:

Organic Valley Aseptic Chocolate Milk 8 oz – 150 calories
Tillamook Country Smoker Teriyaki 1.44 oz – 160 calories
Kind bar Dark Chocolate Nuts 1.4 oz – 200 calories

Jif To Go Natural Peanut Butter 1.5 oz – 250 calories
Welches Fruit Snacks packet .9 oz – 80 calories
Brunswick Tuna Salad with Crackers 3.0 oz – 260 calories
Club Crackers Original (4 crackers) .5 oz – 70 calories

Jif To Go Natural Peanut Butter 1.5 oz – 250 calories
Club Crackers Original (13 crackers) 1.75 oz – 233 calories
Valley Fresh Chicken Breast 5 oz – 113 calories
True Lime Black Cherry Limeade Packet .11 oz – 10 calories

Day 3 Main Meals Calorie Total: 1776 calories

Snacks, Dessert, and Trail Food

Blue Diamond Almonds Honey Roasted 6 oz – 960 calories
Vanilla Creme Lunch Cookies pack 1.1 oz – 150 calories each (3 packs total)
Sour Patch Watermelon Gummies 2 oz – 210 calories (1 pack)
Lifesavers Hard Candy (individually wrapped) .13 oz each – 15 calories (20 pieces)
Watermelon Gum – 5 calories (15 sticks)

So for each day…
320 calories of almonds
150 calories of vanilla creme cookies
75 calories of lifesavers (5 candies)
70 calories of sour patch watermelon (1/3 of a bag)
10 calories for 2 sticks of watermelon gum
= 625 calories of snacks/carb-heavy trail food/desserts in one day

Totaled, that comes out to 2401 calories on my lightest meal day (1776 + 625 = 2401)

Note that some of the best calories come from healthy fats — nut butter and honey roasted almonds. All these are also flavorful and comforting. Yum!

You could also use seeds like sunflower seeds and trail mix packets. You could get more snack bars too — just read the nutrition info so you don’t have any surprises and know what you are getting.

Don’t Forget to Add:
Disposable spoon(s) (peanut butter, stirring drink packet into water)
Disposable fork(s) (Kippered Herring and Chicken)

Full View of Kit

If you’ve ever been camping, it will be much easier to imagine using these kits. For example, there was a point in my life where I convinced myself that it was a good idea to bring yogurt or cold cereal camping for breakfast. In reality, I have never in my life woken up next to a lake in a tent and thought to myself, “You know what I want? Something nice and cold for breakfast.” It was always, “Pancakes! Eggs! Hot things! Meat! Heat, heat, heat!”

Of course, this list is a strictly no-heat plan. The next best thing is really solid stick-to-your-ribs fare for breakfast. The meat stick helps there. It helps fill that psychological/physical niche. Plus, it takes time to chew, which gives you time to start feeling full from the rest of the breakfast.

As a side note, fat is good for keeping warm — that’s why some mountain climbers put big chunks of butter in their hot cocoa. When you are cold, think fats (preferably healthy ones like natural nut butters), not just protein and carbs.

The main weakness of this setup is how much salt you would be taking in. That would increase your water needs. In the desert, that would be a big deal. In other locations, not as big a deal if you carry water purification methods (like the Sawyer Mini or enough purification tablets).

Of course, it is also heavy, since the food is “water in” rather than dehydrated. But to do backpacking meals (or even hot cocoa), I would need a stove and fuel and a cook pot. I want that setup, but I don’t have it now, and I don’t want to have my goal to be ready three months after a disaster, I want to be ready three months before it.

I could imagine myself going for an impromptu 3 day weekend camping trip and not gagging on the food I have here, at least for the first day. The weakest point in this area is lack of variety in the meals. Some of that is due to the cost.

For example, as far as I know, the Jif naturals only come in a package of 8, which means two packets per day for three days, plus 2 leftovers to eat at home after packing the kit. If I did something else and only used three packets, that would leave five leftover peanut butter packages, and I would have to make a different purchase to make up for the three I took out.

However, it is also simply hard to figure out really good eat-cold, shelf stable food. That’s where the tuna salad and kippered herring on crackers are nice, because those are things I might eat at home at room temperature.

If I wanted to get creative, I could include mayo and relish packets for making chicken salad in the field. As it is, I’m assuming I would put the chicken right on the crackers with no adornment. That probably wouldn’t be my favorite meal of the three days.

One Ziplock

Let’s face it, if you really want to get nice variety, you should consider getting an MRE with a heating packet or backpacking meals and stove, etc. However, the advantage of my list is that you can snag these items on an ordinary grocery run, stuff them in ziplock bags, and call it a day. Much less intimidating, far more likely to actually happen. And you can upgrade to MRE style solutions later if you really want, when you are rotating your current items out.

P.S. That reminds me. Make a note of when the items you buy are going to expire and set a reminder in your calendar to eat and replace at that time. Or set a date every 3 months or 6 months to check all your emergency food. Just make sure that it pops up without you having to remember it on your own.

Good luck!

Revisited: January 2020

I’ve come a ways since 2016, so here are my tweaks on the method for the new 2020 decade:

Get two roughly grocery sized bags — reusable ones that can be stuffed into themselves, or 5¢ plastic ones that are billed as reusable but are mostly just extra thick, or $1 Dollar Tree string backpacks — basically whatever works for you and won’t have to be replaced because of rips and tears in 6 months.

Label one bag as “6 months” and the other as “12 months +.”

When you are shopping for the kit, only buy products that are at least 6 months out on the expiration date, and things that you are certain you could eat 6 months from now when it is time to cycle out the kit contents.

When you get home, divide them into ones that will expire in 6-12 months (put those in the 6 month bag), and then put the ones with more than a year on the ‘best by’ date in the 12 + bag. Boxed individual items like granola bars can be un-boxed to use space more efficiently if they are packaged securely and not delicate (though for the ones where you discard the box, you may want to tear off the flap that has the name and expiration date and put it in the sack as well).

Set a reminder to go off in 6 months. At that time, dump the contents of the 6 month bag into your pantry (after all, you already know they shouldn’t sit around for another full 6 months), and eat them over the next couple weeks or months depending on the expiration date. Go through the 12+ month bag and put any items that now have between 6 and 12 months on the expiration date into the empty 6 month bag. Set a new 6 month timer, and jot down a quick shopping list to replenish what is being cycled out.

Mistakes I made originally:

I didn’t set a timer or reminder. (Yes, I know — I said to do it and then I didn’t.) So of course, I still have most of the original go bag items (now years past date), and I’ve also eaten some in the past to get rid of them before they got too old without having an organized plan or schedule for replacement. So when I removed an item, it just stayed removed, meaning that the kit got smaller and less useful over time. (The items I just bought tonight already have a expiration reminder set up.)

Things I learned:

My kippered herring tasted wonderful in 2020, despite expiring in 2017. (Not too big of a surprise — canning is pretty effective as a storage medium.) I can’t speak for yours, though. Much better to just cycle food through effectively in the first place.

I suggest you go with my new method and not parcel out meals in advance. You are not stupid, and 3 zip lock bags with repeats of the same item are harder to handle and can’t be as easily sorted by ‘time to cycle’ date in the way that my new 2 bag system can be. If you really must, print out a menu, and include it in the bags. That may help reduce temptation to eat more than you should. Packing the food by day on the menu is unnecessary.

Since I made these kits in 2016, there are a lot of new foil pouch item options in the seafood aisle that would do well eaten cold on crackers. I found foil pouches of plain tuna, but also of tuna salad, chicken salad, and other more uniquely flavored varieties (especially of tuna). These are both easier to deal with and more appetizing than my original cans of plain chicken in water, and some of them had dates a couple years in the future, so they won’t need to be cycled every six months.

I also found some black olives packaged like a fruit cup with no water in them (not canned) and they had a pretty long expiration date as well.




two plain radio waves

Basic Wavelength and Frequency in Ham Radio

I’ve recently started studying Ham Radio, and I found that even the Ham Radio For Dummies book didn’t make it very easy for me to visualize wavelength. Since they made me puzzle out how to visualize wavelength, I thought I would post my own guide with pictures. I’ve tossed in frequency as well, since that’s helpful to the discussion.

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Off the Wall Food Storage Rotation (For the Rest of Us)

Food Storage Rotation

I don’t know about you, but “eat what you store and store what you eat” sounds kind of… well, impractical.

Here’s the problem: there are always thing I will prefer to eat fresh if I have the choice. Like milk, for instance. No way am I going to switch to dried milk in the interests of “rotating my stores.” But if the “Big One” earthquake hit, I might be willing to hold my nose and get used to the taste. (Or give it to a neighbor with kids if I found I really couldn’t hack it.)

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Drop Dead Easy Sight Reading (Especially for Piano)

I played piano for endless years as a child (or so it seemed). I actually got fairly decent: played a little Beethoven, gave a few recitals — the usual. However, I had a secret flaw. An awful flaw, even a fatal flaw.

In all that time, I never got my mind around sight reading. I was still in sight reading kindergarten by the time I gave up piano as an adolescent to focus on the visual arts. It’s been a regret on and off for years that I never got over the hill to actually enjoy music, instead of stumbling along memorizing and counting notes.

This New Year’s Eve, I made a completely frivolous resolution for 2016: to learn to sight read once and for all. (Even though I wasn’t practicing piano and didn’t intend to start again.)

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Very Small Aquarium Challenges: Lighting and Plants

There are several considerations for lighting a 3-5 gallon aquarium. (If you don’t have live plants, though, you can ignore this section and do whatever you like.)

I run my tank light plugged into a digital timer. For the sake of my plants, it’s on from 9 in the morning to 10 at night, since my light is relatively weak. (Most very small aquariums come with weak lighting, for reasons too complicated to go into). I never have to touch it to turn it on or off, and the timer even “remembers” what time it is and my instructions after it’s been unplugged for a water change.

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Classic Peanut Style

Sometimes, you just have to bake cookies. I don’t know why the urge came over me, but tonight I got out the butter, sugar, flour, and baked peanut butter cookies, straight from the red-checkered Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook to you. Well, to me, actually.

It seems as if lately, aside from pie crusts, I’ve only tried out new recipes. Experimentation is fun and exciting, but there’s something very satisfying about getting out an old recipe that you had growing up and revisiting it. It’s a distinct bonus when it turns out as delicious as you remember!

Perhaps I’ll have to acquire some spelt and make the all spelt Chocolate Chippers that we developed when Dad was going through his no flour phase. Hmm, it’s hard to beat the classics.

New Year’s Resolutions: 2009

Yes, it’s that time again. I know it’s cliche, but if I don’t make grand plans now, when will I? I want 2009 to be my year. All of us our year, really.

My life is in a time of transition, and I am busy sorting out my map, compass, and hiking boots. (Still working on the transportation for now.) Being who I am, I am setting sail in a very small boat into a wide uncharted ocean (as well as mixing my metaphors) and it is forcing me to re-invent myself on all levels. As a book I read when I was younger says, “A sailor chooses the wind that takes the ship from safe port.” And I am driven onward.

What, then, do I want to do in this year? To become? To achieve?

  • Start my own business.
  • Make money online.
  • Plant vegetables, flowers, and window boxes (successfully).
  • Overcome the things that hold me back the most in my life.
  • Volunteer (though maybe not in the very immediate future).
  • Help make the family company prosper greatly.
  • Save 3 months living expenses by the end of the year.
  • Really know God. (And ‘be being’ transformed and renewed.)
  • Get all the fish sewn for my quilt project.
  • I’d say conquer my pride, but that is a rather hubris-like declaration.
  • Finish decorating my living space so that it is relaxing and rejuvenating.
  • And, oh, I nearly forgot: Learn German! (Class, this is your substitute teacher, Sister Rosetta Stone…)