Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Water Safety: How to Avoid Capsizing

Well here's another fine mess I've got myself into!

Keep Your Boat From Capsizing

Most boating accidents and injuries in the United States happen because someone's boat capsizes. In fact, capsizing is the number one cause of boating injuries in the summer. It's June and people all over the nation are hitting the water in small boats. People simply over-speed, over-control, overload and over-estimate their skills.  

For some reason when people get around water, especially in the summer, their brains take a kind of holiday from thinking. Perhaps it's because no one is wearing much in the way of clothing. I don't know, but this chronic lack of thinking can lead to tragedy.  Capsizing is the most common sort of tragedy. You see guys out in little fishing boats standing up with a load of fishing gear, maybe wearing waders and a jacket in cooler weather. You see them lumbering around in their boats and then later, when you pass the spot again there are game wardens, cops and county divers searching the water. When they finally do drag them up off the bottom, they always look surprised!

There are some simple common sense rules that will help you prevent your boat from capsizing. If your boat is in danger of capsizing, you need to be prepared in advance to do some quick thinking and even quicker acting. You need a cool head and a thorough understanding of the physics of watercraft. You need to understand buoyancy and balance and the elements of how a boat floats.

Preventing your boat from capsizing happens before you even take your boat out on the water. I know most of us slept through physics class in high school, but boats, whether we like it or not, obey the laws of physics. We may disobey the fish and game laws, but boats obey those physical laws to the letter. It's critical that you understand the basic principles of the physics of small boats and even more crucial that you practice what to do in an emergency in advance.

There are four basic threats that cause boats to capsize. You need to react to them quickly to prevent turning your boat over:
Excessive speed, too little experience.
  1. Overloading - There are two ways to overload your boat. One is by exceeding the weight limit of the boat. Usually, for commercially purchased boats, there's a metal plate on it somewhere that tells you how much weight the boat can carry. They're serious about that.  But total weight is only part of the threat. If you set the weight in the boat too high, you can also overbalance your boat.  Get any weight you are carrying down and centered in the boat. It doesn't matter if you’re in a yacht, a canoe, sailboat, or motorboat, weight that is being carried too high in the boat is most likely to be the cause of your boat capsizing. Especially in rough seas and high winds, get any loose weight in the boat as low as you can, especially if you are in a small boat or canoe. If things get lively have your passengers sit on the floor with their knees low and the weight centered. You don't want all the weight shifting, so tie down any loose heavy object as close to the bottom and center as you can. Fishermen should get down off those tall fishing chairs in a high wind, especially if you're moving the boat. If the boat rocks excessively, sit flat on the bottom of the boat. If you can lower your boat's center of gravity, it makes it much more difficult to capsize.
  2. Excessive speed - Going too fast will kill you quick. If you've ever done a belly flop off the high dive, you know how hard the water feels if you hit it at speed. It can knock the wind out of you and even knock you unconscious. When you are turning or maneuvering or trying to move in a sudden wind, slow Down! Taking off a little speed reduces your chances of capsizing significantly. If you get caught in a sudden squall and heavy waves, don't push it. Maintain enough speed to keep your bows pointed into the waves, but resist the urge to try and jump out of the water. The wind can flip you while you're airborne, given the aerodynamic shape of the hull of a powerboat. In high waves, you want to head roughly into the wind to find shelter. If you move sideways to the wind, the waves can push your boat sideways and cause it to heel over. If you run a gunwale under the water, a sudden high wave can flip you over in a heartbeat. If you're in a sailboat, pay out the mainsheet and allow the sails to spill wind. Pull in the sails just enough to maintain headway, but not enough that the wind can flip you. In very high winds, you may need to drop the mainsail and proceed on your jib if you have one. If you're an accomplished sailor, you may be able to make your way downwind under bare poles if you're good with the tiller.  In any case, reduce sail enough to take the pressure off the sail. You can lower the sail halfway down and tie the loose sail to the mast with bungees and reduce your speed that way. In any case, you need to get to safety, so don’t stop moving. Watch your speed. Keep it down to where you can react fast enough to prevent the boat turning over, but are continually moving toward safe harbor.
  3. Striking an object - The secret to avoiding striking an object is first and foremost, watching where you are going. People get out on the water and thing that because there aren't any trees around, that they can watch the girls in the bikinis in the back of the boat and only have to look ahead once in a while.  Tain't necessarily so. Floating debris can pop up in the blink of an eye. Fallen trees can find their way into your path and they may barely show above water. Lakes often have whole sections where tree stumps left from submerged wooded areas still stick up below the surface.  Know where you are going and if you're not sure how safe an area is, slow down.  Save the speed for when you are in the old river channel or in open sea where there aren't any sandbars. Most such areas are marked on charts of lakes and seashores, but things can change, so don't bet your life. There's a sandbar shallows out in the South Pacific that isn't near an island and doesn't stick up. A ship captain paying attention might spot the rollers over the spot, but they do miss it. The place is a ship's graveyard going back 300 years. It looked like clear seas and then suddenly the ships ran aground.  That can happen in almost any body of water. It's better to be careful till you learn the water, than to get cocky and wind up with a hole in your boat and yourself sailing over the windshield landing headfirst into a stump.
  4. Wind and waves -  Weather has a nasty way of biting you on your nether regions when you least expect it. Check the weather before you go out on the water - always! You have no excuse these days. Smart phones can pull up weather forecasts, complete with radar so you can see storms rolling in before they even cross the horizon. Stay off the water when the wind is high. Your sailboat doesn't need that much wind. Your canoe will get blown away and your power boat can be flipped in the chop. If bad weather approaches, get off the lake. Getting cocky can get you drowned. Worse it can get the people in the boat with you drowned.
Even the dog needs a lifejacket!

You need some things in your boat before you go out.  First of all you need enough lifejackets for everyone. People who can't swim should wear them. If you're hot-rodding around at speed, everyone needs to wear one. If you're thrown out of the boat and knocked silly without one, you can drown in a very short time.  Your life jackets should have tags showing they are Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices. The game warden or Coast Guard will check. Everyone needs at least a Type II PFD.

You need something to bail with.  Don't go out unless you have something with which you can quickly bail out your boat. A couple of old gallon bleach bottles with the bottoms cut out make great bailers. They have handles and you can secure them in the boat under a seat. Be sure to tie them to something with a long enough rope that you can bail without having to untie them. It helps in a hurry. Tie them with a bowline knot so they won't jam when wet in case you do need to untie them quickly.

Secure any loose objects in the boat. A supply of bungee cords is useful for doing that. Having coolers and tackle boxes sliding around the boat can overbalance you suddenly if you're leaning over the side or reeling in a heavy fish and next thing you know you're over the side or lying across the gunwale with water pouring in.

Keep the boat bailed out.  Water sloshing around in the boat is very heavy and the shifting weight of all that H2O can swamp you in a big hurry.  If you start taking on water, Every free hand needs to join in and bail.  Make sure everyone is throwing water over the side. In a panic, I've seen people scoop up water from the front of the boat and pitch it over their shoulder into the back of the boat. While it might feel good to be moving that much water, it's probably not helping much if it's still in the boat.  When your crew is bailing water, make sure they stay low in the boat while they are doing it. People sometimes get excited when water is coming into the boat and try to stand up in the boat. If there's a lot of water sloshing around in the bottom of the boat, standing up can lead to disaster. Always bail water from a kneeling or sitting position if at all possible.

If you’ve struck something and knocked a hole in your boat, you want to close the hole as quickly as you can.  A rag or shirt stuffed into the hole can slow the leak enough so that combined with bailing by the crew, you can make it to safety.

Head for cover as quickly as you can while maintaining a safe speed. Try to spot a sheltered cove or bay, especially if you are facing high winds and heavy seas. In a sudden squall, you'll have to crab your way toward where you want to go, keeping the bow of the boat into the wind and waves while slipping sideways in the troughs to prevent the waves from capsizing you. Angle our way across the fronts of waves turning your bow into the wave as you crest the wave. As you come down the backside you'll angle in the direction you want to go, then turn again into the wave as you rise back up on the next wave. This requires some skill at steering, but you should have already practiced your steering before you ever go out, especially with passengers. Always familiarize yourself with the how your boat responds to the tiller. If you're in a canoe, know how to steer with efficient paddle strokes. Do your practicing in calm weather in a sheltered place before you venture out into waters that can suddenly become choppy or into strong currents.

DON'T PANIC as the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy recommends in big friendly letters on the cover. If you know your boat and you've practiced with it and take the precautions we've suggested above, you should be okay. The two deadliest things, that will kill you out on the water, are arrogance and ignorance.  Be smart and be skilled and know your boat.

Have fun out there on the blue water!

© 2017 by Tom King


Andrew Kim Law Firm: Common Causes of Capsizing Boats

The Bass Report; Preventing Capsizing

The Florida Course – Boater Education: Boating Emergencies - What to Do

Should We All Become Entrepreneurs?

Changing the Way We Do Online Job Hunting:

I represent two sectors that online jobsites tend to ignore.  When I look through the list of "industries" on job sites in order to choose my particular industry, I find that there are often two industries that tend to get left out.  One is freelance commercial writing and independent publishing. It's a category that most people don't think of as a thing. The other industry is Nonprofits.

I've worked for 40 years in the education and nonprofit sector, leading teams or as a part of teams for five successful organization startups and one reorganization. I've written grants, run programs, was CEO, public relations director, development officer, educator, and program director for more than 40 years. I've been working as a consultant and freelancer for 11 of those years now.  I've taught workshops on special event fund-raising and collaborative grant-writing. I was appointed to state advisory committees and organized successful local stakeholder initiatives. I've raised millions for a wide variety of small to medium-sized nonprofits. I'm a published author with five books to my name, three dozen ghost-written books in someone else's name and more than 2000 online and traditionally published articles. I publish articles on 8 weblogs.

The trouble is that there really isn't an industry listing on most job sites for what I do.  There is an untapped market out there for workers whose skills don't show up on most job searches. Thousands of new and existing nonprofits are out there, for instance, desperately trying to address some community need or other. They have a mission. They have a vision. They know what they want to do. The problem is these groups are usually long on program operating talent and way short on development and fund-raising skills.  This is where I see the Internet coming into play.

What these startups and expanding nonprofits need is access to development and fund-raising expertise that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. There are a lot of "professional" grant writers out there that will happily charge you that arm and a leg to tell you what to do. Once you pay them, they tell you what you should do without actually helping you do it. Most small organizations can't afford people like that. Sadly many of them promise things they cannot deliver and charge prices the groups cannot afford.

What there is a need for, is a mutual cooperation network of nonprofit professionals who are willing to provide expertise to the smaller nonprofits when they need it the most. Many of us who work in the nonprofit sector are willing to work part time or on a consulting basis for reasonable fees. The don't call them nonprofits for nothing and NPO staff often have to supplement their income to continue doing what they love. I've raised millions for new organizations, often without pay, while working for other organizations. I did it mostly because the organizations I helped had no idea how much time and energy it costs to write a grant and me, being an old softie, couldn't bear to see them fail because what they were doing was such a good thing. This is how you retire without a pension in the nonprofit biz.

We need some kind of broker agency that is willing to communicate directly with both service providers and with clients about what they can rightfully expect from those providing services. Potential employers need to be educated with regard to how to insure they receive professional quality service from those they hire and what they can legitimately expect. This approach should carry with it an expectation that the moonlighting entrepreneurs will already have a level of expertise in what services or products they are offering and that they will bring that expertise with them.

The freelance commercial writing/independent publishing sector is another "industry" that gets short shrift on online job sites. Publish is changing drastically as publishers become more risk averse and less willing to try new things or publish new authors. A small independent author who gets how to do marketing can independently publish a book for relatively low cost with the aid of eBook technology and the new print-on-demand publishers. Unlike major publishing houses, these indie author/publishers have virtually no overhead, no permanent staff and can return to themselves as authors, royalties on their work five to 10 times higher than they can get with traditional publishers. The author retains control of his work, can reintroduce work from his backlist at will, and, so long as he's listed on sites like Barnes & Noble, Amazon, I-Tunes and others, will receive ongoing revenue that doesn't end when a publisher runs out of printed copies.  An author can sell five or ten thousand books and make a tidy profit, where in traditional publishing, such a book would be considered a flop and the author would receive little or nothing.

We need a jobsite willing to develop a way to broker publishing skills like book design, writing, graphic art, marketing and editing that would put together teams to publish a book the group likes and believes in. Such a collaborative approach would allow team members to either be paid up front by the author or if they think the book will be the next "Harry Potter", can share a percentage of future royalties. Each book project would be like an indie movie project in which the actors, crew, director and producers come together, create the film and then disband and move on to something else. The only difference is the end product would be a book.

I think there is a need for collaborative tools for these and potentially other industries that can use teams of independent players to accomplish specific jobs without burdening down the members of the team with the salaries and overhead of a permanent business.  I've used this approach to collaborative grant-writing and helped create funding streams for dozens of small nonprofits.  Instead of competing against one another for the whole grant and likely getting nothing, these teams of organizations work together collaboratively and because they do they increase the likelihood that they will actually win the grant. For training in how to do this, contact "A Circle of Ten", an East Texas group that teaches collaborative grant writing and program development.

I read a piece in Forbes  the other day that posits that to survive in today's economy, we're all going to have to be entrepreneurs.  In order to accomplish that, we will need tools that help entrepreneurs to collaborate. I think the industry that spawned and needs to take a step beyond mere employment and take a hard look at work as something you create rather something you merely find.

As a baby boomer, I've discovered that for me about the only way to find a job is to create one. Employers take one look at my white hair and you can see them mentally calculating the cost of my health insurance. My situation is tougher than some, as I have to work from home because of a disability in my family and I have to stay close to the house. The thing is that, with computer technology, the Internet and a changing cultural definitions of work, people no longer have to spend two hours a day commuting to sit all day in a cubicle. My commute is a walk across my living room to the rolltop desk in the corner. I don't have to start up my car. I just put on my socks. Saves energy. It's safer and a lot more pleasant as far as my commute goes. It's true I'm a tough boss. I work longer hours and a lot harder for me than I ever would for a "boss".  I have a direct relationship with my clients and nobody to blame but myself if anything goes wrong.

I wonder whether a model similar to what Uber does where clients rate those they hire and people hired also rate their clients might be the jobs model of the future. Perhaps there should be a "partner" model rather than just a client/provider model. And what about multiple partners.  If a neutral player could facilitate the financial aspects of such temporary team partnerships for a reasonable fee, I think you'd find a market for that. I love to write. I hate bookkeeping. If somebody would do the financials for a project and send out checks with social security and withholding taken out and a W-2 at the end of the year, I think entrepreneurs like me would rise up and call you blessed.

Heck, you could even hire moonlighting accountants as team members for such projects. Give them a model for how to manage the books with this sort of on-line broker acting to insure nobody gets embezzled. It could be another way to monetize such a jobs brokerage and the members who provide services would actually get something in exchange for the 10% or whatever that one would charge for handling the bookkeeping.  Upwork takes 20% and I get nothing much for it. They're just another organization taxing me is what it feels like.

At any rate, I'd love to see somebody in the field of entrepreneurial employment do some of these things. Who knows what other industries could move away from bricks and mortar to become dominated by fast, flexible small business entrepreneurial entities. I think the times they are a' changing and this could be somebody's "Facebook" moment if they jump on it.

© 2017 by Tom King

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Organizing a Local Initiative

Who Gave You Permission to Do that?

Someone asked me something like that once. We were trying to find rides for seniors and people with disabilities who can't drive so they can get to the doctor, to the grocery store and to church. He was a development director for one of the largest charities in town. What he really wanted to know was whether we had the okay of the local good old boy network BEFORE we started looking into the problem.

"Who gave you permission to start a transportation initiative?" he asked.

The answer: Nobody did!

So, without permission, in 7 years we tripled the funding for rural transportation for seniors. We forced the rural transit provider to drop discriminative practices. We engaged private sector transportation providers to help get folks with disabilities get to and from jobs. We stopped predatory "coyote" drivers from exploiting the families of farm workers in small rural colonia's and helped the women get an affordable ride to town to buy groceries. We did so without raising taxes by so much as a nickel.

For our troubles, I got a nasty letter from the executive director of the local Council of Governments. The director of the state Transit Association called me "anti-transit".

A friend warned me to check under my truck for funny wires before I started it. She'd done the same thing in Missouri as a young lawyer when she did an audit of the local Council of Governments. They were, at first, very cooperative - told her to feel free to inspect everything except, the transit program. It, he assured her, was in fine shape. So, being my ind of troublemaker, the first thing she looked at was the transit program and discovered vast amounts of graft and embezzling. I made it a practice of checking under the truck.

I figure we must have done something right if we upset so many good old boys!

There has been a lot of rhetoric in recent years about an old African proverb. "It takes a village to raise a child." Somehow, folks of a certain political persuasion have come to believe that Washington, DC is just the village to do that. I'm not sure on what planet the federal government is considered a village, but it is surely not in this solar system. The proverb is dead on, though. I know from experience. I grew up in such a village. Back when I was 12, If I had been seen throwing rocks at a street light in Keene, Texas by any one of the town's mothers or grandmothers, word would have reached my Mom before I could have made it home at a dead run. Mom would have met me on the porch, her arms crossed and tapping her foot in a way that boded no good for me.

There is no power on Earth for getting things done effectively and humanely like that of a small community. That's the village those old Africans were talking about. Local communities, united together to fix their own problems - that's what the proverb means. They aren't talking about vast unwieldy social programs.

Individuals, political figures, and people working in small to mid-sized nonprofits in rural and small towns, local neighborhoods and communities can do a lot of good if they don't mind sticking their necks out a bit. There's nothing at all like a stubborn, righteous person for getting things done in smaller towns. Sometimes, all it takes to get the ball rolling is for someone to tell the truth publicly. You'd be surprised how many people are afraid to say that something is terribly wrong in their community, even when everyone knows it. Often the brave soul asking foolish questions in front of God and everybody is all a community needs to get up on its hind legs and take care of business. Local initiatives usually start this way.

A good local initiative's leaders need to help inexperienced, but passionate local stakeholders to successfully network, write grants, create new programs and solve problems in their own communities. These stakeholder groups don't need a mandate from Washington. They don't need the okay of whatever good old boy political network runs things in their state. What they need is help figuring out how to do what needs doing.

We call it "doing good without permission". You'd be surprised how many government bureaucrats you will manage to aggravate by doing that.  I was driving through the country yesterday and saw a crude sign in front of a tiny country church advertising a "Soup Kitchen". It wasn't sophisticated. It wasn't politically correct. Yet struggling rural seniors were getting a hot meal. The church started the soup kitchen because Meals on Wheels and food bank programs have been having getting food out into the rural areas and there were a lot of older people out here in the sticks that need a hot meal every day. So neighbors pitched in and are helping their grandmas and grandpas and struggling families that have been laid off, have lost jobs or businesses or who have had the family wage-earner die suddenly. By the time a government program could have been put together, isolated seniors could have been starving. They didn't because their neighbors acted quickly and solved a problem with the resources they had.

Another local church found that our rural transit district didn't provide service for shopping trips to Walmart. One of the church deacons convinced the congregation to buy a school bus and once a month on the day seniors received their Social Security checks, the church sent the bus around to pick up everybody and take them to Walmart. Walmart and the McDonald's in the store set up morning breakfast and bingo for the group at 6:30 AM on the day. On Sunday's the church picked up transportation challenged folk and took them to the church of their choice - a service the Council of Government's federally-funded Rural Transit Program claimed that there was no demand for such things and refused to provide those sorts of transportation services.   

Groups like this would like to keep their programs going permanently, but they don't know how.  The trouble is that the folks running things on the government side see these kinds of local efforts as encroaching on their territory. The Food Stamp folks in our part of the woods started complaining when East Texas church's food pantry programs began cutting into their business. At one point, they actually started a marketing campaign to bring people back to the Food Stamp program that were forgoing the miserable application process for Food Stamps and being fed instead by little church food pantries. Now, the Food Banks that supply those church based pantry programs suddenly found it harder and harder to get the food supplies they once did as the federal government tried to centralize all anti-hunger programs under government control.

Small to mid-sized charities also face stiff competition for increasingly limited Foundation grants. Big charities with fat development budgets and marketing resources dominate the competition for what grants and other funding remains out there, especially over the past 8 years as the economy went into a long slump. Local charities are having to do more, with less money and they're doing it with organizations that don't have the aggressive development resources they need to find funding to keep their doors open.

That's where local heroes like you can help address the needs in your towns and neighborhoods that were not anticipated up in Washington's central planners. Local charities and churches need smart community leaders and volunteers to help the people who create and run local charities and work to create programs that address local needs.

Technology can be a real friend to communities if we let it be. We have the technological tools and resources to reduce the cost of creating local solutions to local problems. Technology can reduce travel costs, improve access to information critical to problem solving and help to build collaborative networks using 21st century telecommunications and Internet based tools. In every community there are wise and wonderful people with the skills and smarts to solve a myriad of problems that exist in our home towns - problems that nobody in Washington has ever thought of, much less designed a "program" that will fix it.

These are tough times.

Small charities can't afford expensive development officers, much less afford an extensive development and fund-raising program. Yet, foundations and government funding sources increasingly require more and more networking, inter agency cooperation and program coordination before they'll give money to local charities. This is an expensive and time consuming task, something most nonprofits can't afford.You can help the little nonprofits and faith-based ministries survive in this era of crumbling economies.

Helping the little guys trying to do good in your home town maximizes the amount of good you can do. First off, you don't have the federal government taking 40 to 60 percent off the top for admin costs and to pay overweight bureaucrats sitting in cubicle warrens in local, regional, state federal office buildings, and in Washington DC to generate paperwork for each other. Local nonprofits, church-based and community-based organizations operate for a lot less money. To even get grant funding, these guys can't show more than a 7 to 15% admin costs.
  • They aren't making government salaries.
  • They don't have government health benefits.
  • They spend on average less than 8% of their entire budgets on admin costs.
  • Many go without pay altogether.
  • Millions of volunteers work with them.
  • Tens of millions are given a hand up.
  • Tens of millions of lives are changed.
  • We can help them do even better by providing badly needed expertise.
These are amazing people. They don't have to ask the government for permission to help the homeless, to shelter a battered wife and her kids, to feed an elderly person or to help someone who's fallen on hard times to get back on his feet. Why should a community have to ask someone in Washington whether the widow next door deserves to have a couple of neighbors mow her grass or paint her porch for her? Why should our neighbor have to file stacks of humiliating paperwork when all he needs is a couple of bags of groceries and a ride to work for a few weeks till he gets on his feet?

You can help your community do-gooders to, well, to do good! Here are a few things you can do to get involved.

  1. Volunteer - Find some event or fund-raiser that needs help and sign on. It's a good way to get in touch with what the good-guys are up to in your community.
  2. Join a nonprofit board - It's a great way to get your feet wet and it's not terribly hard to get an invitation. Find a board member and get to know him or her. It's not hard to wangle an invitation.
  3. Help raise a little money - Board members are expected to do that.
  4. Go to speeches and workshops - Meet people and hear people talk about community issues. Talk. Get to know the players and the issues.
  5. Keep up with the news - Ask yourself as you are reading, is there something here that we need to fix. Have you got a homeless problem people are talking about? Did you spot a news story about an elderly couple that died because people didn't check up on them? Is there something an existing group or agency could have done to prevent it?  It's that sort of thing that helps you identify things your community needs to have addressed.
  6. Build a network - The more people in key positions you know, the more community leaders you touch base with, the better you'll understand how to go about problem solving and who to talk to that can help you.
  7. Don't be afraid to speak up - There are no stupid questions. Ask them at community meetings, city council meetings, county commissioner's meetings, public comment meetings, issues review boards, etc.. You'll find out who and what is important as you go along.
  8. Offer to sit on committees or to organize stakeholder groups around a specific issue. You'll know you're headed the right direction when somebody asks who told you that you could do what you are doing.
Every community has it's good old boy network. Sometimes they can be engaged to help and sometimes they can't.  I've worked with groups that came up with great ideas only to see them go nowhere because they depended on the powers that be to make them happy. I sat on a Disabilities Issues Review Board for the city once and we came up with a simple and inexpensive solution to a problem our people were having.  One of the more experienced members of the board piped up.

 "It'll never work," he said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because it makes too much sense," he explained.

Being a local hero is not without its risk. You have to learn a lot about schmoozing and a good bit about politics, but you'll be surprised at what a difference you can make in the world.

© 2017 by Tom King

Friday, May 26, 2017

Casting Toy Soldiers

I have a secret hobby I don't tell a whole lot of people about. I collect toy soldiers. It started when I used to buy bags of plastic soldiers for a buck at Ben Franklin's Five and Dime Store. I've still got my soldiers from way back then. My wife says I'm a packrat. I like to think of myself as a collector.

There are all kind of online and retail stores that sell toy soldiers in a variety of scales and materials. I'm not terribly picky. I just like setting up little armies and battlefields, but some folk get really into recreating specific historical battles.  If you want to get really into the hobby, you can even build your own soldiers. In exchange for some time and work, you can not only come up with a greater variety of soldiers for your layouts, but you can also save yourself some money by learning the art of molding lead or composite soldiers. 

Making your own soldiers is a great way for history/militariana  buffs to capture a moment in history. If you're a gamer, it's a way to impress your fellow board gamers with your awesome playing pieces. And you can make your playing pieces more realistic. If you're just into the art of the thing, creating molds is a fun and potentially profitable way to interpret what is a fascinating subject.

Here's how the process works:

  • Lead bismuth and tin ingots or other meltable metal material (avoid lead as it is too toxic)
  • Release powder
  • Lead soldier molds. You can buy these or make them. For this how-to, we'll focus on working from the molds and look at making molds in another blog.
  • Support boards
  • Metal clamps
  • Casting ladle
  • Bunsen burner
  • Wooden kitchen matches
  • Exacto knife and/or fine metal clipper pliers
  • Fine wire brush
  • Hobby paints, undercoat and clear varnish
  • Hobby paint brushes

  1.  Lay out the molds you are going to use on a flat surface. 
  2. Brush the inside of both molds with release powder - both mold halves. Tap the mods together to remove any excess powder.  
  3. Test fit the mold halves and make sure they are lined up properly. Many commercial molds have notches to help insure a proper fit.
  4. Once the mold is line up, lay boards on either side and clamp the mold halves together. 
  5. Prop up the casting ladle and cut up bits of metal ingot if you're molding with lead. Place them in the ladle and heat them over the burner until the metal melts and liquifies.  
  6. Test the temperature of the metal with a burnt kitchen match. If you touch the match to the metal and it smokes, it's ready to pour. 
  7. Pour the melted metal from the ladle into
    the mold holes in the side of the molds. As you pour the the liquid metal, tap the sides of the molds with a tool to help the metal settle into all the little nooks and crannies inside the mold.
  8. Let the molds cool for at least 5 minutes or so. Longer is better. Once the metal has cooled and hardened, unclamp the boards holding the mold halves together and remove them. 
  9. Now gently bend the mold apart and away from the metal figure.  If the mold makes multiple figures, then you'll have a figure tree with multiple figures or parts. 
  10. Use the Exacto knife or fine clippers to free the figures from the figure tree and to trim any metal which may have flashed between the edges of the mold half.
  11. Finish the figure with a fine wire brush along the seams to clean up the marks from where the molds came together. You might want to finish with some fine metal sandpaper to remove the lines entirely.
  12. Finish your figure by spraying it with an undercoat before doing the final painting.
  13. It's easy enough to find excellent color illustrations of uniforms online. Paint one color at a time  and allow to dry before doing the next one. Do large areas first and add fine details last using a fine tip brush.
  14. This will improve the look of the paint. I finish my soldiers with a light spray of satin varnish (not glossy) to keep the paint from being flecked off, especially if the figures are used for gaming where they will be handled a lot.

Advanced Soldier-Making

You can make your own molds with materials available from the on-line suppliers listed below and some of the more esoteric hobby shops. Books and DVDs are available on the Internet, that will tell you everything you need to know. 

One thing though. You need to be able to work in very small places. You are after all, creating what are in essence, very small sculptures. If you've got the artistic ability, it can be a lot of fun to make your own stuff. RTV Silicone and plaster are two popular mold-making material. Plaster is rather less durable for making molds. If you have well crafted figures that lend themselves to mold-making, you can always make new molds.  If you have older soldier figures that aren't under somebody's copyright, you can recreate them by making molds and using the molds to reproduce them. If you are any good at carving, you can make your own originals.


Start your collection by concentrating on molds from a specific era or type of soldier. You may even concentrate on a specific battle if you'd like if you're planning a diorama or gaming around a specific scenario. Be sure and get molds for equipment like cannons, limbers, horses, abatis, stacks of cannon balls and other things necessary for a battle scene. If you'd like to hook up with fellow hobbyists, join Treefrog Treasures' toy soldier forum. You'll meet a huge crowd of toy soldier makers and collectors with just a whole world of information about the hobby.

Making soldiers is a fun way for history/militariana buffs to freeze a moment in time; for gamers a way to make the playing pieces more realistic; for artists, a way to interpret a fascinating subject.


  1. The Miniatures Page: Making Molds 
  2. The Miniatures Page
  3. Treefrog Treasures: Military Miniatures
  4. Miniature Molds: Casting Molds
  5. Dunken Company: Casting Molds
  6. Popular Science: Gray Matter - Recasting the Hazardous Toys of the Past 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Does My Kid Have ADHD?

A Cautionary Tale

Is your obviously intelligent child having trouble in school?  Does he daydream, have a lot of trouble focusing in class? Is he (or she) disruptive and not doing well in class. Is it time to get the kid started on Ritalin? 

A couple of things first. If you are worried about ADHD or autism, find a good child psychologist and have him evaluated. Don't start with a doctor or pediatrician. There's no physical test for psychological or behavioral issues. Physicians have a protocol for these things and too often it starts off with Ritalin. 

Don't go that way. Get the diagnosis first. 

With ADHD the best thing is not to rush them into school. If I had my way I'd start an ADHD kid in school when he was ten years old. Give him time to settle down. He'd catch up in no time because he or she would be better prepared socially. 

Unfortunately, schools don't let you do that. 

ADHD is actually not a specific single disorder. It's a cluster of symptoms that can actually be caused by one of four or more different problems. 
  1. True deficits of attention - Classic ADHD is caused by lowered glucose in the frontal lobes of the brain. Ritalin works well for that as a stop gap. It's one of the most dramatic effects in psycho-pharmacology. If it doesn't work amazingly well, it ain't real ADHD. 
  2. Tourette's syndrome. This can start out with attention issues and then develop into twitches and then the full outburst sorts of behaviors you get with Tourettes. There are some medications that help. 
  3. Childhood depression - Depression can be triggered for a variety of real reasons (divorce, illness, death, loss, etc.). Depression in kids can cause attention problems. This can be treated with counseling and anti-depressents. 
  4. Bipolar disorder - Both the manic and depressive cycles cause attention problems early on in kids before full bipolar develops. There is a family history of bipolar in both sides of my own family. 
If you start looking at your family history, you may more quickly find the source of you child's attention problems. My own son started showing symptoms early and we thought it was ADHD at first. If we'd known it was bipolar, we'd have done different things to attempt to treat it. ADHD treatments were ineffective.

If your child is having symptoms that look like one of these issues, do your best to keep the child away from pot and other drugs when they hit junior high and high school. Pot use and other drug abuse, for instance can actually trigger earlier onset of full blown bipolar disorder and may , and that is not something you want to kick in when you're kid is also struggling with puberty issues.

Be sure and let the psychologist know about family history of mental illness. That's why it is better to start with the experts. If there has been any trauma in the family or the child has suffered a head injury or some other powerful event. These can trigger attention issues.

And for kids with attention problems, you might try a programmed learning approach that he can do at his own speed. Do not underestimate the power of learning by activities which give the child immediate feedback. It's why a kid who can't pay attention for ten minutes in school can spend hours playing a video game. Video games provide instant feedback which re-engages attention continuously. There are home-school programs that are really good for that sort of thing.

© 2017 by Tom King

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Clear the Ice Off Your Windshield SAFELY!


It’s the time of year when snowstorms turn to ice storms and lay down coats of ice over our windshields. Nothing is worse than hacking at a sheet of ice on a miserable morning in the middle of a nasty ice storm and trying to clear the ice so you can go to work. You can run your car with the heater on and after a while you can break loose the ice by hacking at it with an ice scraper.  Then there’s when you’re in a hurry and have to drive to work with a 12 inch hole in the ice in front of the driver’s side (see above) and the side windows down so you can hang your head out. Who needs it?

The easiest way to clear your windshield is by going out the night before and throwing a tarp over your windshields. Unfortunately, we don’t always get warnings of ice storms the night before. So next time you go out to get in your car and go to work, find the windows coated with ice here’s what you can do to safely remove the ice and get on to work without cracking your windshield.  And best of all it’s cheap and uses stuff you can find in your cleaning closet.

FYI - A hockey stick is NOT a good window scraper.

  • Cold water
  • 2 household sprayer bottles
  • High quality ice scraper
  • Warm gloves
  • Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol
  • Vinegar
  • Dishwashing Liquid


  1. Mix ½ cup rubbing alcohol with 4-5 drops of dishwashing detergent. Pout the solution into one of the sprayers and mark it.
  2. Mix 3 cups vinegar and 1 cup cold water
  3. Put on your warm clothes and gloves and grab your ice scraper and bottles of solution.
  4. Spray the ice over the windows and mirrors with the alcohol/dishwashing liquid solution and let it sit 5 minutes.
  5. The ice should lift off the glass. You may have to break it loose from the frame of the windshield or the metal edges around the mirrors with the ice scraper.
  6. If the ice is very thick, you may have to repeat spraying the ice with the alcohol/dishwashing liquid solution a time or two to get the ice to release.
  7. Once all the mirrors and windows are clear, spray with the vinegar/water solution to clear away the soapy residue and you’re done. Make sure and clear the entire window for you own safety and so you won’t get stopped by the cops.

This is NOT the fun way to remove ice. It's hard
on your hands and your windows.
You can also spray your windows the night before with the alcohol/dishwashing liquid solution to prevent ice from forming and sticking to your windows. You can also take the bottles along with you to work and spray the windows before you go in, in case another ice storm hits while you’re at work.  Of course a tarp is best way to keep ice off your windows if you have to park out of doors, but if you don’t want to fool with that, the spray on solution works too. Before you drive home spray with vinegar water and wipe the windows clear. 

Whatever you do, don’t use hot water on a frozen window of any other heat source for that matter. It can crack the glass, especially at very low temperatures. Salt on the car windows is also a terrible idea because of the danger of rusting and pitting metal car parts. Avoid hitting the ice because at low temperatures your car windows are easier to break.  

Especially don’t use antifreeze on your windows. It tastes sweet to animals and is highly poisonous. Spill some on the ground and you can accidentally kill your neighbor’s pets.


WBNT-10TV:  AAA Offers Advice for De-Icing Your Car

Dollar Stretcher: Homemade Window De-Icer

Reader’s Digest: 12 Ways to Use Rubbing Alcohol

Monday, February 06, 2017

Homemade Anchors - The Concrete Jug

Spring is approaching and fishing season looms.  Here's a quick and cheap anchor for your canoe, rowboat, Jon boat, skiff or other small craft to keep you from drifting while you're fishing.

  • Half gallon plastic jug - Use a bottle with as thick a plastic as possible. The plastic protects your boat's finish when you're pulling the anchor back on board. A squared milk jug works even better because the mouth tends to be larger and it won't roll around in the bottom of the boat.
  • Concrete mix with small aggregate.
  • Half inch x 6" plus eyebolt with nut 
  • Half inch nylon or polyethylene rope

  1. Mix concrete with water to make a thin but not watery mixture - about the consistency of oatmeal.  
  2. Pour the concrete mix into the plastic bottle and fill to the top
  3. Screw the nut on the bottom of the eyebolt and shove it into the mouth of the bottle so that the eye sticks out the top.
  4. Allow the concrete to set hard.
  5. Tie 50 feet of half inch rope to the bottle through the eyebolt or the handle. Use a bowline knot so it won't slip and so you will be able to untie it if you need to replace the rope or change the configuration of the rope in some way. 

This anchor is heavy, but it may drag. There are no tangs so if there's a breeze you may move a little bit as the jug drags over the bottom. It's usually easy to drag up at the end of the day for that reason, though. Because it's plastic, the anchor will last a long while. Eventually the plastic bottle may degrade and fall apart. Just peel off the old plastic an the anchor will still work. You'll probably want to cover it with something to keep it from scratching your boat.

Friday, January 27, 2017

How to Avoid Capsizing

The weight was too high. Wanna bet?


It's wintertime. In winter, the water is very cold. Once you fall out of your boat, you are NOT going to last very long. The number one cause of boating injuries in the United States is capsizing. Most capsizes are preventable. What it takes is a cool head and some mighty quick thinking. But that's not all. The most important thing you need to understand is how your boat is constructed, how it floats, how it balances, how buoyant it is and how it moves through the water. 

So when you take out a boat, it's critical that you already have a plan for what you are going to do in an emergency.

There are four major factors in the majority of boat capsizings.
They are:
More than half the overloaded boats escaping from
Vietnam after the fall of S. Vietnam are believed to

have capsized in rough seas and sank with all hands.
  1. Overloading
  2. Excessive speed
  3. Large waves and winds
  4. Obstructions struck by the boat at speed
Things you should have in the boat or be aware of: 
  • All loose objects in the boat - anything that might shift around
  • Lifejackets, ring buoys, rescue tubes, and floating boat cushions
  • Something to bail with
Here's what you should look out for:
  • Disturbances on the water - In rivers look for billows in the moving waters. At sea look for wave forms that are higher than surrounding waves where they are breaking over shallow rocks, sand bars or other obstructions.
  • Gusts of wind, sudden squalls or suddenly larger waves
  • Narrow channels, oncoming boats or anything that might cause you to swerve suddenly.
  • Objects floating in the water.
  • Sluggish performance, water coming into the boat or slow recovery after turns.
 Staying Upright:
  1. If you are sailing, wind is your biggest threat. Things are a little different in a sailboat when things get rough. First spill wind, reduce sail to reduce speed. This gives you time to think and act defensively. If the wind is becoming dangerous and you're in a small boat, you need to get to safety, so don’t stop moving. Spilling wind gives you time to assess what's happening around you and to your boat. Be prepared to dump wind fast to keep from being blown over. You'll need to have one hand on the mainsheet and one on the rudder. Turn her into the wind as much as possible or, if you need to head downwind, angle downwind. Avoid heading straight downwind in heavy seas as much as possible to avoid tipping forward or driving the bow underwater and swamping the boat.
  2. Move as much loose weight (including people) down low and toward the center of the
    If you are in a canoe have passengers and gear sit flat on the bottom. In a motorboat or fishing boat, get everyone into lower seats. No standing; no sitting up in the fishing chairs. If the water is flat or calm, and the boat is in danger of capsizing, then likely the weight is too high or too heavy for the shape of the hull or the size of the boat. Be sure to get heavy objects down low and secure them so the can't shift around. The lower your boat's center of gravity, the less likely it is to capsize.
    Note the lack of lifejackets. Capsizing happens
    fast. Once you go over there's not time to look
    for a lifejacket and that can cost you your life.
  3. If things get rough, make sure you get life jackets onto everyone. The law requires a Coast Guard approved life vest (minimum Type II) for everyone in the boat for a reason. If things get dicey or you're going fast, make everyone put on their jackets. Capsizes can happen very quickly, separating you from a life jacket and safety. The same wind that blew your boat over will blow away flotation devices faster than you can swim after them in cold water with hypothermia threatening to all kind of wreck your swimming skills.
  4. If water comes in, bail it out quickly. Water is very heavy stuff. If it's sloshing around in the boat, you've got a lot of weight shifting wildly and messing up your center of gravity. Water loose in the bottom of the boat can flip you in a heartbeat. In rough conditions, you want every free hand bailing out water as quickly as possible. Make sure anyone bailing stays low in the boat to keep anyone who is bailing down low in the boat while bailing. Keep everyone from getting excited. People have a bad habit of standing up in the boat when water comes in causing the boat to capsize. Bail water from a kneeling position or sitting if at all possible.
  5. Close up any holes if you struck something. Locate where water is coming in and stuff something bulky into the hole to slow the leak. It may be more effective to stuff something in from the outside if you can safely reach the hole without tipping the boat over.
  6. Took too little action too late...
  7. Head for safety. There are two ways to do this. If you are close enough to shore, work your way into a bay or a sheltered cove or bay if you can get there safely. If you see a squall or wind storm coming up and you can make it to sheltered water, you can weather a storm by anchoring or running your boat up on shoe. Where the wind is strong, turn your boat into the waves and crab your way sideways angling toward shelter. Angle across the wave fronts. You need considerable skills to maneuver this way. If you haven't the skill don't try it. It's better to ride out the storm.  You can rig a sea anchor by tying a jug of water or something bulky that floats to the stern of the boat so that it pulls the bow around to face into the waves.  
Final notes:

Maneuvering is dangerous. This requires some serious skill.  Always take some time to familiarize yourself with your boat while the conditions are calm or you're in a sheltered place. Always know your boat before going out into potentially rough waters.


Andrew Kim Law Firm: Common Causes of Capsizing Boats

The Bass Report; Preventing Capsizing

The Florida Course – Boater Education: Boating Emergencies - What to Do

© 2017 by Tom King