Letter Re: State Boundaries (Expanding on “The State Line Game”)

Hi Jim,
Your comments on building a house straddling a state line brought me back to my Navy days in Pensacola, Florida. It may be difficult to build across a state line but not impossible. There is a bar that straddles the state line between Florida and Alabama called – of course – The Floribama. As I recall it, there was a different last call time on opposite sides of the bar as the two states had different alcohol serving times. In any case, if it can be done with a commercial establishment (particularly a bar!) it can be done with a house. I also seem to recall an article in National Geographic a few years back where they featured a bar/restaurant that straddled the border between Canada and the US. I even recall a picture of a pool table with the border line drawn across it. Somehow I doubt its still in business but I do recall seeing the images. In any case, it has been done. – "Some Call me Tim"

Letter Re: How Vulnerable are Alternative Energy Systems to EMP?

With all the talk recently on EMP issues, I wonder if a solar system or wind generator less vulnerable or just as vulnerable to EMP to the grid. What type of additional protection could/should be incorporated in to alternative energy designed systems? Keep up the terrific work on the blog. It’s the first thing I read every morning. – D.

JWR Replies:  All modern circuitry that employs microchips is at risk.  However, the greatest risk is to systems that are connected to grid power. This is because the power grid will work like a giant antenna to collect EMP. Assuming that you are out in the hinterboonies (well away from potential nuclear targets), then an independent, truly off grid, solar, wind, or microhydro power system is not likely to be affected by EMP. Here, I should mention that I recommend that you resist the urge to “sell back” your excess power to your local power utility, for three reasons. 1.)  If you don’t decisively “cut the cord”, then you are opening a window of invulnerability to EMP. (By the aforementioned grid connectivity.)  2.)  You are targeting your PV panels for confiscation by grabby bureaucrats in the event of some “crisis” or in a slow slide scenario.  3.)  You make yourself vulnerable to your human nature. If you ever have a problem with your PV, wind, or microhydro system, or when your battery bank starts to get old and sulfated, then you might someday be tempted to revert to using grid power “just for a little while”, and then the repairs to your system will never get done.(BTW, I’ve seen the latter happen, even with wealthy retreat owners.)

Zener diodes can be used to isolate components, but the only 100% foolproof protection is to keep key spares in a Faraday cage. The component at greatest risk in alternative power system is the modern microprocessor-based battery charge controller. They are fairly simple to bypass if yours ever gets fried by EMP, but since they typically cost less than $200 it is probably best to buy a “just in case” spare charge controller and tuck it away in an ammo can.


The Real Estate Bubble–Getting Out at The Top (SAs: Contrarian Investing, Real Estate, Relocation)

Our friends over at The Daily Reckoning report that The International Herald Tribune recently ran an article under the headline: “High Home Prices Drive California Exodus.”  In my opinion the Bubble is about ready to pop. I’m not the only one that holds this opinion. There are lots of others. I predict that the price declines will be greatest in the suburbs in coastal cities. Perhaps dramatic declines. But I also believe that good productive agricultural land will hold most of its value, even as urban and suburban real estate prices crater. To explain:  Farming in America has become so efficient that crop prices have been depressed for decades. This has kept the price of farm ground down–at least in terms of what it can actually produce. Yes, this land is much more expensive than it was in the 1970s, but in real terms, it is still “dirt cheap.”

The real losers in the post real estate bubble era will be the poor deluded souls who bought rental properties on speculation near the top of the market. The bubble is likely to burst long before rents ever ratchet up enough to put those investors into the black. They will be stuck with assets that will suffer down-ratcheting value, with no hope of selling them at a profit for perhaps decades, and taking in rents that don’t cover their financed debt plus the upkeep. As real estate prices go down, renters will ask for even lower rents. The owners of these rentals will be faced with either selling them at a deep loss, or continuing to rent them with a negative cash flow.

Jim’s Quote of the Day:

"I am prepared for the worst, but hope for the best." – Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconfield, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and twice British Prime Minister

Note from JWR:

We’ve just surpassed 100,000 unique visits since we started the blog (in August), and are we are rapidly approaching three million page hits. (To be exact: 2,963,176 as of midnight Monday/Tuesday.)  Many thanks for making SurvivalBlog such a rapid success. Please continue to spread the word with posts to Internet Forums and other Blogs, as well as mentioning SurvivalBlog when you call in to talk radio shows.

Letter Re: State Boundaries (Expanding on “The State Line Game”)

I’d like to expand on a topic that I mentioned briefly in a SurvivalBlog post on August 25, 2005:  “The State Line Game.” Many folks have discovered how to play the state line jumping game: Living near a state line to take advantage of a lower tax or other advantage in one or more adjoining states. For example, you can live in the Idaho panhandle (very low property tax, car registration, and car insurance), work in eastern Washington (no income tax), make your day-to-day purchases in Idaho (5% sales tax) and your major purchases (trucks, wood stoves, generators, gun vaults, appliances, et cetera) in Montana or Oregon–both of which have no sales tax.  Many SurvivalBlog readers have found themselves at the stage of life where they are considering strategic relocation.  If you look at the tax burdens in various states (See: http://money.cnn.com/pf/features/lists/taxesbystate2005/index.html), then you can take the opportunity afforded by relocation to “vote with your feet.”

Let’s continue this line of reasoning a bit further. In many instances, state lines are defined by rivers or the summits of mountain ranges, but in others, the line is more or less arbitrarily set on level ground.  The latter opens up a fascinating possibility: Owning contiguous parcels on both sides of a state line. Imagine living in a small house in a state with no (or low) personal income tax but high property taxes and expensive car registration. You could also own an adjoining much larger parcel land and other assets (garage, vehicles, barn, shop, livestock, a second home) on the other side of the state line, literally a stone’s throw away. Or how about a mobile home that you could move slightly, if and when regulations becomes too onerous at the opposing end of your property. 

Now on to something that at first blush might seem absurd, so I’ll label this as an intellectual exercise: It might be possible to build a house that physically straddles a state line. That is sure to get the tax assessors scratching their heads! Consider the possibilities of a house with with a large main “wing” in a low property tax state, and another smaller wing–perhaps connected by a covered walkway or greenhouse–in a state where you can take advantage of the differing income taxes, sales taxes, or other regulations. (The latter could include gun laws, home schooling laws, cost of car registration/insurance, cost of hunting tags, et cetera.) If you operate a home based business, the presence or absence of a sales tax could make a big difference. Your state of “residence” would be based on the wing where your bedroom and home office is located. You might want your children to legally be residents of the adjoining state, because of home schooling law disparities or to avoid the high cost of “out of  state” college tuition. Another disparity is in hunting regulations and the length of hunting seasons:  If deer season ends earlier on one end of your property than the other, then you could simply reposition your livestock salt blocks. Here is an even more absurd abstraction: A state line that bisects your dining room table:  “Please pass–I mean–Interstate Commerce the mashed potatoes.” The practicalities of getting permits to build a bi-state house might be insurmountable, but it remains an captivating prospect. Think though the many of possibilities–even of just living near a state line,. Consider the following factors:

States that have no state income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. Two others, New Hampshire and Tennessee, tax only dividend and interest income. (For detail on state income tax rates, see: http://www.taxadmin.org/fta/rate/ind_inc.html .)

States with no state level general sales tax: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon. For details, see:  http://www.retirementliving.com/RLtaxes.html

States with very low county and local property (real estate) taxes: These vary widely, depending on the city and county. For details, see:  http://www.retirementliving.com/RLtaxes.html

States with differing firearms laws.  See the book Boston’s Gun Bible for details.  If you don’t already own a copy of this “must read” book, then contact. Fred’s M14 Stocks. As of this writing, Fred is currently offering a great three book package deal: one copy of my novel Patriots +one copy of Matthew Bracken‘s novel Enemies Foreign and Domestic + one copy of Boston’s Gun Bible, all for $50. OBTW, please mention SurvivalBlog, regardless of where you buy your books.

As I previously posted, one possibility is to live and work in southern Washington (no income tax and fairly low property taxes), but shop in Oregon, where there is a high property tax but no sales tax. Unfortunately the two states are divided by the Columbia River.  Perhaps you could buy land east of the point where the river turns north and the border reverts to an arbitrary line. But there aren’t many opportunities to take advantage of the sales tax difference at that end of the state! Another possibility is to buy a ranch straddling the Montana/Wyoming state line, since Montana has no sales tax and Wyoming has no income tax. And both have great gun laws. (Not the best of climates there, however!)

See: http://www.taxadmin.org/fta/rate/ind_inc.html for detailed information on the tax rates in various states.

A reminder that the foregoing discussions skirt around a more core issue: the scale of government in each state. Some states have big, pretentious, intrusive governments that love to get involved in every aspect of your life. My advice is to avoid living in any of these Nanny States. As time goes on, they are only going to get worse.

The bottom line: If you live in a state with severe taxes or gun laws, then vote with your feet!   I’d appreciate your comments on the foregoing. Perhaps you have considered a novel way to take advantage of tax disparities. Just drop me an e-mail. OBTW, I plan to also post this to The Claire Files.  This should inspire all of the Libertarians there into a spirited string of discussion. They seem to particularly enjoy this sort of food for thought and grounds for further research. (FFTAGFFR.)


Letter from Dr. November Re: Aviation Fuel as an Alternative Fuel (SAs: Alternate Fuels, Aviation Fuels, 100 Octane Gasoline)

On the avgas issue, you might remind your readers that avgas has a LOT of lead in it (more than high-test leaded car gas ever did). 100 octane Low-lead avgas still has twice as much lead as leaded car gas did. If you use leaded gas in a car with a catalytic converter (like most cars these days) you will ruin the converter in less time than it takes you to empty the gas tank. One of two alternatives will happen, the converter will become completely plugged and your car won’t run at all because of the back pressure, or you’ll get terrible performance. And, if you have mandatory smog inspections in your state, look at a repair bill starting at around $750 to replace the converter. (They aren’t cheap, even used). Also, the waste fuel drums at airports (at least the ones I go to) also have waste oil in them, and usually water. Be careful! – Dr. November

The French Intifada–“Brûlure de bébé, de brûlure!”

In 1965 in Watts, they shouted “Burn baby, burn!” In France, I suppose that the North African teenagers are shouting “Brûlure de bébé, de brûlure!” (Pardon my French.) More than 1,400 cars burned on Sunday night alone. The rioting has spread to 300 cities, and now there are concerns that the rioting could spread to Germany and other countries with large Arab immigrant populations. It remains to be seen if the motivation for this French Intifada is purely economic, or if radical Islam is partly to blame. See:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4414684.stm and: http://www.breitbart.com/news/2005/11/07/D8DNMVOO3.html

France went through the traumatic civil war in Algeria decades ago, but apparently didn’t learn anything from it. They foolishly brought Algeria home with them, in the form of a large, widely dispersed, largely Islamic, and chronically economically depressed Arab underclass. Hopefully the Bush administration will learn something from this.

Letter Re: Ethanol and Aviation Fuels

Mr. Rawles;
I am the manager of a county airport in the South. Which leads me to a piece of information that I want to pass on to you.

Each day we are required by our brand Quality Control people to draw a sample of fuel from each of our tanks and refuelers. The purpose is to check for contaminates. Once that is done that fuel is poured into a waste drum that has to be disposed of later. We have both 100 low lead for prop planes and Jet-A. Jet-A is a high quality kerosene that works well in diesel engines and in kerosene lamps and heaters. Most larger airports have recovery tanks on their fuel systems that allow them to save this fuel, but some of the smaller airports simply have to call an oil recycler and have it hauled away. For those who are good scrounges and are willing to approach people on such matters this might be a source of fuel for off road use. I would advise the precaution of running this fuel through a filter prior to adding it to a tank since some times an old barrel is used for holding this fuel till pick up. I would request that the "no attribution rule" be applied here.

As for ethanol: I have a book in my library titled Making it on the Farm. This little book covers in great detail how to build a still and make your own fuel. I got mine several years ago from Buffalo Creek Press in Cleburne, Texas. Thanks again and keep up the good work. Long Life, – Name Withheld By Request

My Grandfather’s Wisdom

My paternal grandfather, Ernest Everett Rawles (1897-1985), was a largely self-educated man. Coming from a pioneer family (his father and grandfather came out west by covered wagon in 1857), he had a profoundly practical outlook on life. Ernest grew up on a 6,000 acre sheep ranch near Boonville, in Mendocino County, California. There, he lived life at its basics: The change of the seasons, hunting and trapping, hard work in foul weather, lambing, shearing, and the constant state of war with the predators that annually killed dozens and sometimes hundreds of lambs. It was hard life, but it had its satisfactions. The following are some brief quotes drawn from his oral history:

“I liked growing up on the ranch. We ran livestock on the land, and cut quite a bit of timber. We had horses, cattle, pigs, and Merino sheep. Lots of sheep. Two or three thousand at a time were run by the various members of the family. [To protect the sheep] we had to contend with the coyotes, mountain lions, and bear.”

“People had their jealousies, just like they do today, but for strangers passing through, people were a lot more hospitable. Visitors would often drop by unannounced and uninvited. People would come in from the coast, sometimes they’d come into the house when no one was at home [expecting our return later in the day]. Of course my dad was a politician [so he knew a lot of people.] I can remember we’d come home after a trip in the buggy, and there’d be a barn full of horses, and the chores done, and dinner on the table. That was just the way they did things in those days. They generally brought their provisions with them. If they didn’t, then on the way back they’d bring provisions. People were more cooperative [back then.]”

“Boonville was a very isolated community until about the 1920s. One young fellah wanted some adventure, so he got on a tan oak bark wagon, and went over to Largo, which is on the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. He went down as far as Cloverdale. Then he got on a train, and went back up to Ukiah. From there, he hitched a ride back home. That’s a triangle of about 30 by 30 [miles.] When he got home, he said, ‘By gosh if the world is as big the other way as the way I went, she’s a whopper.’ That’s about as some of the people got in those days. They hardly got on the other side of the hill.”

“You’ve got to understand that we had a big ranch but we only got money once or twice a year out of it. The money wasn’t very free. All the money you got was in gold coin. I remember I was nearly fifteen or sixteen years old before I saw much paper money. It was all gold and silver. They didn’t have any greenbacks that I remember. My dad would take the wool and mutton to sell, and he’d come back with some tobacco sacks full of twenty-dollar gold pieces. He used to drive three or four-hundred head of sheep down to Cloverdale. They only brought about $2 a head. A big four horse load of wool taken over to Ukiah would pay for the groceries and clothes for the next winter. That was the big trip of the year, when I was a boy. That was when the money came in. That was the way that we used to get paid for things. Gold and silver coins. As kids, they used to let us play with the gold coins now and again. That was quite a celebration.”

“We used to go work in the hop fields. We got paid one cent a pound for picking hops. You’d work your tail off to strip a hundred pounds. If you worked long, long hours–get out there at daylight, and head home at dark, you’d pick about 125 pounds. Finally, they paid us a cent and quarter. [$0.0125 per pound.]”

“We used to say that if you saved just ten percent of what you earned, you’d never go to the poor house. That’s one of the first lessons I learned, and I’ve tried to do something along that line since. And I’ve never gone to the poor house.”

The Corn Belt Alternative–Ethanol Compatible Vehicles

I emphasize versatility in survival planning, particularly in the area of alternate fuels. I have mentioned in several previous SurvivalBlog posts that prefer diesel-engine cars, trucks, tractors, and ATVs because they can be run alternatively on either biodiesel and home heating oil. For those of you readers in the Corn Belt, you might also consider buying a gasoline engine vehicles that is compatible with Ethanol. (Ethyl Alcohol or “corn gas.”). The most versatile (but rare) will run on 100% ethanol (E100). But many will run on a 85% ethanol/15% gasoline blend (E85).General Motors of Brazil makes large numbers of E100 vehicles, because E100 is the dominant fuel in that market. (Where it is produced locally from sugar cane.)

There are a wide range of current and recent production E85 ethanol compatible vehicles, from makers including

• Daimler Chrysler
• Ford
• General Motors
• Isuzu
• Mazda
• Mercedes
• Mercury
• Nissan

Note that many of these are only available as special “fleet purchase” vehicles, so you may have to hunt for a fleet trade-in.

For some good background on E85, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E85.

Many U.S.gas stations already use E85 ethanol compatible pumps and tanks. See: http://www.pei.org/e85/.

Be sure to look closely at the vehicle specifications of a prospective purchase before you buy. (A buyer’s guide in PDF is available for download from the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.) In many cases you have to look at specifications right down to a particular digit in the VIN number to be sure. OBTW, some vehicles have a special sticker inside the gas cap door, indicating that they are E85 compatible. That is the quickest –but not surest–way to check when you a wandering around a car dealership lot. Since big four wheel drive vehicles are currently slow sellers, just putting the word out at a couple of local dealerships that you are looking for a used 4WD that is E85 compatible is almost certain to get some commission-only salesmen motivated to doing some legwork on your behalf.

The bottom line: If you can get get an E85 ethanol compatible vehicle for the same price or slightly more than one that is gasoline-only, then why not get that extra versatility? Some day, post TETOWAWKI, that versatility may make difference between a vehicle that is still viable/mobile and a very expensive immobile lawn ornament.

OBTW, distilling your own ethanol is not rocket science. (Just ask anyone who has lived in the Ozarks.) I will cover “at home” ethanol fuel distilling in an upcoming post.

Letter Re: A Source for Storage Barrels

Everybody’s referring to 55 gallon barrels. I can’t lift something as heavy as a 55 gallon barrel full of fuel. I’ve always bought the steel 17 gallon barrels for fuel. I CAN pick up one of those full of fuel (if I have too) :-[ They have the same size holes on top as the 55 gallon barrels and they will stand up in the back of a Bronco or Blazer. Regards and please keep up the great work! – The Army Aviator

Note from JWR:

Many of the widely read blogs have a featured “Blog of the Week” or at least a fairly lengthy “blog roll.” Please recommend SurvivalBlog to the editors of those Blogs. Just a brief e-mail to the editors of the various popular blogs, such as James Lileks, Little Green Footballs, Hugh Hewitt, Instapundit, Michelle Malkin, The Belmont Club, Blogs of War, Bill O’Reilly, et cetera–would go a long way toward increasing the readership of SurvivalBlog.  Many thanks in advance!


Fed Boss Successor Ben Bernanke–Bearish for the Dollar and Bullish for Precious Metals? (SAs: Economics, Contrarian Investing)

I’m not the first to observe that the upcoming scheduled departure of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan will have some substantial effect on monetary policy and the economy.  The man anointed for the top slot is Ben Bernanke, a Federal Reserve governor and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. Just who is this man, and how is how likely to change the Fed’s policies?  The best indicators are probably some of the statements that Bernanke has made in speeches in recent years. These include:

“Like gold, U.S. dollars have value only to the extent that they are strictly limited in supply. But the U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost. By increasing the number of U.S. dollars in circulation, or even by credibly threatening to do so, the U.S. government can also reduce the value of a dollar in terms of goods and services, which is equivalent to raising the prices in dollars of those goods and services. We conclude that, under a paper-money system, a determined government can always generate higher spending and hence positive inflation.”


“Each of the policy options I have discussed so far involves the Fed’s acting on its own. In practice, the effectiveness of anti-deflation policy could be significantly enhanced by cooperation between the monetary and fiscal authorities. A broad-based tax cut, for example, accommodated by a program of open-market purchases to alleviate any tendency for interest rates to increase, would almost certainly be an effective stimulant to consumption and hence to prices. Even if households decided not to increase consumption but instead re-balanced their portfolios by using their extra cash to acquire real and financial assets, the resulting increase in asset values would lower the cost of capital and improve the balance sheet positions of potential borrowers. A money-financed tax cut is essentially equivalent to Milton Friedman’s famous ‘helicopter drop’ of money.”


“Although the Federal Reserve does not have an explicit numerical target range for measured inflation, FOMC behavior and rhetoric have suggested to many observers that the Committee does have an implicit preferred range for inflation. Most relevant here, the bottom of that preferred range clearly seems to be a value greater than zero measured inflation, at least 1% per year or so.”


“The essence of constrained discretion is the central role of a commitment to price stability. Not only does such a commitment enhance efficiency, employment, and economic growth in the long run, but — by providing an anchor for inflation expectations — it also improves the ability of central banks to stabilize the real economy in the short run as well. An important and interesting implication is that, under a properly designed and implemented monetary policy regime, the key social objectives of price stability and maximum employment tend to be mutually reinforcing rather than competing goals.”

and lastly, on asset bubbles:

“[I]t’s extraordinarily difficult for the central bank to know in advance or even after the fact whether or not there’s been a bubble… The central bank should focus the use of its single macroeconomic instrument, the short term interest rate, on price and output stability. It is rarely, if ever, advisable for the central bank to use its interest rate instrument to try to target or control asset price movements, thereby implicitly imposing its view of the proper level of asset prices on financial markets.”

As we transition from the “Mr. Magoo” Greenspan era, to the “Helicopter Ben” Bernanke era, be prepared for some changes. Bernanke appears predisposed toward easy money policies and inflating his way out of problems. We should anticipate a more rapid rate of inflation for the dollar.  That could be bearish for the dollar’s rate of exchange with many foreign currencies. The dollar index may very well resume its five year slide. Meanwhile, look for a boost in the prices of gold and silver, which have traditionally been hedges against weak paper currencies. Don’t worry about those Black Helicopters. Instead, watch the skies for Federal Reserve helicopters. 

An Architecture Student’s Lessons Learned, by “Mr. Whiskey”

As an architect for the last 30 years or so, I have been applying some important lessons learned in college that have an eerie resemblance to the survival mindset of those of us who think we just might be in for some hard times, and much sooner than we think. Let me explain.On the very first day of class, on my very first day of college back in the 1970s, I found myself in a design class with other new students who knew absolutely nothing about the profession or business of architecture. But we were there to learn, and our first assignment was to design and build a ‘Survival House for an Egg’, or SHEG for short. The rules were simple: design pure survival for a fresh chicken egg, no restrictions on materials used, no weight limits or minimums, the SHEG could be any size or shape provided it cleanly fit into an 8” x 8” x 8” box, the SHEG would be subjected to a severe external stressing event (to be determined on test day), it had to be opened by someone other than yourself, after testing, using only a matt knife, could be any color, style or texture, and the project was 30% of your final semester grade. It was also pass/fail, ‘A’ or ‘F’. No teamwork allowed, you’re on your own. Each student will present one SHEG for testing in one week at 1:15pm, rain or shine. No class until then. No more questions. Good luck. The professor then went on vacation, I think. The goal was made clear. We were to design and construct a house for an egg to survive unbroken through an unknown catastrophic event. Easy enough.
We all complained about it. “How can I design for an unknown?” we asked. Isn’t design meant to be for planning, for known occurrences, with foresight and thought? Isn’t that what we’re here for, to be taught how to know what to plan for? All good questions, indeed. Many classmates assumed a weight-applied stress from the top. Some assumed a violent shaking, and a few others a sudden impact. But they were all really, totally inappropriate assumptions for this assignment. This job was for one thing, and one thing only: get that egg to the other side of its impending Armeggeddon. (Sorry).
Many of us worked day and night, testing and retesting for something, we knew not what. Some of the new students made friends quickly. Others kept to themselves, me included, and just plugged away on our SHEG’s. Then test day came. We were all nervously waiting with our designs and our futures in hand. The professor arrived looking tanned and well fed. We were asked to walk up the stairwell and place our designs on the north parapet wall of the buildings’ roof and stand beside our SHEG’s. The stress event our designs were to withstand would be a baseball bat hitting the SHEG off the parapet, seven stories high, and onto the empty asphalt parking lot below. A judge on the ground would open each SHEG as it rested, determining whether the egg was intact or not. The judge would then crack the egg to be sure no hard boiled cheaters were among us. Your neighbor previous in line will hit your SHEG off the wall. No one touches their SHEG from here on out. Then it started to rain. The professor hit the first one. WHAM. Off went someone’s desperate attempt at survival design into scrambled oblivion. Then another. And another. It was terrible. The professor was laughing. After 30 student tries, not one had yet passed. Then someone succeeded. Everyone cheered. Another round of failures, then it was my turn. I mumbled a silent prayer. My neighbor in line gleefully grabbed the bat, wanting desperately to send my SHEG off the edge in a yellow splat of frustration, just as his had done not one minute earlier. Off it went, down and down, then BANG. The judge opened my SHEG and discovered an intact egg. I had passed. Life was good. I was only one of three success stories that dark day. Three out of 72 students. There were many tears and much gnashing of teeth. Many of my fellow classmates claimed their SHEG’s were hit harder than someone else’s. “Not fair!”, they cried. Some couldn’t believe they really got an ‘F’ for the project (their very first academic failure, in many cases). One student made it to the ground with an intact egg, but the judge could not open the SHEG with the knife, so he failed. Several others failed because they missed the deadline to present their design by just minutes. A few just gave up in total frustration and did not submit any design at all.
You probably are wondering what miracle material or ingenious new packaging design I used for my success. As my classmates’ designs were flying to pieces on the pavement, as the paper-mache was dissolving in the rain, as the high tech plastic spheres with spring loaded shock absorbers and half-chewed bubble gum cushioning were splattered into oblivion, my SHEG survived. I just used a basic cut-in-half cardboard shoe box packed as full of simple, basic saran wrap as I could possibly make it, then I wrapped it all in duct tape. Mission accomplished. Survival.
And oh, the lessons learned. They keep coming back to me in spades, almost with every decision I make now. If you can envision the egg as you and your family, think about this:
1. You really only need a fairly limited space to protect your egg. You can spend a lot of money, or not, but make sure you cover the basics very deep, and pack very well.
2. Your egg is all you have. If it breaks, you fail.
3. Use mostly locally obtained and inexpensive materials to the best of your ability.
4. At least show up to the party with something. You never know, you might get lucky.
5. Your neighbor will probably be glad to see you fail, so pack your egg as tight and failure proof as you can. And his basics will probably not be your basics, so keep your basics hidden from view.
6. It will rain.
7. There will probably always be some fat guy standing close by laughing at you.
8. Say your prayers.
9. Whatever hits you will most likely not be planned for, so pack the basics deep.
10. Survival is pass / fail.
11. Teamwork is OK, but ultimately your egg is your responsibility.
12. Life is not fair. Some of us get hit harder than others.
13. If your egg breaks, it will not be pretty, so pack the basics deep.
14. Duct tape is good.
15. Don’t pack so well that the rescuers can’t get in to save the egg, because it may not be the end of the world yet.
16. No matter how well you plan and build things, someone can always, always get to your egg and crack it if they really want to (if they have the right tools).
17. Don’t hard boil your life. It’s too short and the stress can kill you. Simplify.
18. Terrible can always get worse.