Friday, September 23, 2005

What's going on?

I know that Hurricanes affect the economy, but since when did weather watching become the big market mover? Not every hurricane is a category 5 that is 300 miles wide! Seriously, is the market full of Nancies now that want to find some reason to be scared and not trust equities? I think this is part of the case for the jitters for the last 12 months. The Kennedy Administration was criticized for beign a crisis management system that only dealt with things once they blew up into a crisis. I think the market has focused on everything that could possibly go wrong, and part of it goes back to the terror uncertainty premium priced into the market. I think some traders are worried we do not have things priced appropriately for each risk.

Then again, I am a simple, small time investor.

Anyone ever read the craig's list forums? Every time you feel down about yourself or feel you might be a little crazy, do read some posts int he different forums. You will feel a lot better.

I am off to a weekend of Foxwoods gambling for my friend's bachelor party festivities. I plan on playing poker and some blackjack, well blackjack when the tables are not jacked up to $25 minimums for the weekend rates (early morning).

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Abuse and doing something about it

There is no use for domestic abuse or something like that as the saying goes on the PSA on tv. I severely dislike abusers of children and spouses, and I am often frustrated by the psychology of many victims (Why does he/she stay with the abuser? Why not report it?). I am happy to read the NY Times article on the story of one NFL player. Laveranues Coles is a wide receiver for the NY Jets, and was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. During his time in middle school, the man who would later become his stepfather sexually abused him. Laveranues came forward just shy of entering high school and now is going public with his story. I was truly touched by the article and that he wanted to maintain his privacy (and keep some details private) for fear of repirsals from his former stepfather. I think this speaks to how serious the abuse was; he fears something from this man even now. I was happy to read the attitude he had about revealing his story, which goes against some preconceived notions of atheltes:

"Some kids do look up to us," he said. "Maybe if I say something, they'll feel strong enough to say, 'I can say something now because it's happened to him.' Even if it's one kid who I can touch, who my story gives him the strength to come out and say something, I feel like it's worth it."

A lot of times, making someone comfortable and not ashamed by what has happened to them can get them to talk and be strong. I recommend checking out here, here or here for more details. If you were a victim of abuse and talk with someone who is going through it now, you can be a guide on the path of healing, empowerment, and safety. I recommend, to anyone who fears a relative/friend may be a victim of abuse or child abuse, to be there to support the person, and to do what it takes to get them talking and sharing. Do not sit idly by because it is 'not your business'. You never truly know who needs your help and how much of a difference it can make......not just on the present situation, but on the future. How many Dr. Phil guests or Loveline callers were victims of abuse in the past? Help someone deal with it now and start the healing process.

I will get off of my soapbox now.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Warren Buffett and insurance companies

Disclaimer: I will make no comment on how my company operates as I love working for them. I do not want to get in trouble. These are observations on competitors and some comments on Warren Buffett.

I work in the insurance field, and understand the pressures to underwrite business, generate new lines of premium, increase premium numbers, etc. What I fail to understand is why companies will write business for what they 'know' will be a loss. Many times I look at prospects, price them for a profit and watch as competitiors price them significantly lower. Are operating costs that much different? No. There is the need for new premium that is overpowering. If you looke dat every company's sales goal, added them up, then compared those goals to the available business in one year, you would find an imbalance. Why are goals so high? Why is growth so important? After all, if you run a profitable block of business, you really do not need to grow it.

The problem comes from publicly traded insurance companies. These companies have customers in the form of policy holders and external customers in the form of shareholders. Somewhere in the past, insurance companies lost sight of things and suddenly valued their shareholders more than the people they service. My former employers company motto was centered aroudn superior service and returnign value to shareholders. Why should an insurance company return money for people who are not buying their products for financial security? Companies who have demutualized are now at the mercy of Wall Street analysts. They must grow premium, develop distribution networks, and expand their customer base. Suddenly, companies do not think of customers first, do not think of clients first, and start to think about looking good to the street. (I've listened in on analyst calls, it's weak)

Where this brings me to Buffett is that these companies that have to write new business to please stock companies end up writing business at a loss or at claim cost. This flies in the face of Buffett's idea that underwriting must control what they add for business. Things should be written at an underwriting profit to improve the "float" so that the insurance company can make money with the money from policyholders before they may need protection from the insurance company. In his letter to shareholders in 2004 (and 2003), he harps on how underwriting losses or profit is what helps keep the insurance company healthy. He notes how he is happier if an insurance unit writes less premium but writes it at a higher underwriting profit than writing new business for an underwriting loss just to hit premium goals. In the letter, he displays a chart of a disciplined underwriter. He is correct in saying that no publicly traded company would allow or be happy with decreasing sales volumes. As he says "like Barry [Bonds], Don (at NICO) will accept a walk rather than swing at a bad pitch."

This is a sound business method. This is opposite from what I have seen in my sector of the insurance industry in competitiors' actions and at a former employer. Too often, premium size can blind executives and sales employees who are compensated on sales. Too often, the crunch of meeting sales quotas makes employees feel pressured to write at any cost. As Buffett hints at, "false" reserving can cover up those mistakes, but reserves will need to be adjusted sometime in the future.

The insurance industry is a mature market. I have a feeling that there will be more bumps down the road for irresponsible companies similar to the ones that UnumProvident went through the last few years. People admire Buffett for his investign acumen, but insurance companies would be wise to look to him and his insurance companies for guidance with how to do business.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Airlines and economics

I heard that two more airlines declared bankruptcy, Delta and Northwest. The airline industry is an interesting one because for years, the airline industry made money off of high end vacationers and businessmen (and women). The industry could charge a higher price because of their target audience, the grasp they had on high speed travel, and the barriers to entry into their industry. A little company came into play called Southwest Airlines and decided to follow one business model, "the low cost provider".

What is a patron of an airline buying? A type of lifestyle? no. Great service? Heck no. A great time? No one has had a great time on a flight. Consumers are buying passage from point A to point B, they just care that they get to Point B alive and their baggage is there. Southwest understood this and also realized that as the skies opened up to middle and lower class vacationers, they could capture market share through cheap ticket prices.

The thing that is marvelous about Southwest (besides their oil purchasing hedge which saves them cash) is that the low cost model proved to be the method of survival in a market where price wars are common. In the evolutionary theory of business, being the low cost provider has proven to be wise for Southwest. When you are the low cost provider and do everything cheaper than everyone else, you start at an advantage when prices are slashed in a price war. I think that airlines are a bad investment. I think that the industry is not going to see big profits again until oil prices decline and everyone jumps on the Southwest model bandwagon.

I think back to the movie Wall Street. The last deal is to buy an airline, which Charlie Sheen wants to turn around and run as the CEO. Michael Douglas sees the airline for what it is, junk, something that is worth less than the sum of its parts (if that makes sense). Douglas plans to sell off bit by bit to make a killing...it's the surest way he can turn a profit on the airline investment. That was nearly 20 years ago, fictional, but nearly 20 years ago.

I love to travel. I am enrolled in every major mileage program. There is one problem. I am addicted to paying peanuts to fly on Southwest compared to accruing miles on the majors for that free ticket down the road.

Afganistan

The Economist has an article on the upcoming election in Afganistan and the improvement in that country since the ousting of the Taliban. I was amazed by the all fronts war the US waged after Sept 11th in that nation; bribery, special ops, air support, local militia integration. It was a piece of work which has been written about much more eloquently by many more people than me. I am even more amazed by the progres in that nation (the number of girls back in school being one example). There is still a long way to go before Afganistan can be considered stable, but the groundwork is there. I find it most encouraging that reporters can cover news of sides disagreeing and hoping to win more votes, to have more seats in a parliament, to solve problems through a political process rather than with a gun.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A cool article and some thoughts on Al Qaeda's strategies

Here is an article I just read that made me think of different conversations many of my friends and I have had in the last 4 years. I think it is appropriate to bring up because of the 4th anniversary of the Sept 11th attacks. Why have the Al Qaeda rejects not struck again and why did they not follow up quickly after Sept 11th to truly push us over the edge?

I would say that Al Qaeda has not struck the US since because of the blows we have dealt them by destroying their training infrastructure in Afganistan, eliminating most of their senior leadership, and increasing police/intelligence cooperation around the world after the Sept 11th attacks. I also buy into the flypaper theory, and that Iraq has created a battlefield that Al Qaeda finds too attractive to not participate in fully. In Iraq, they can infict a 'mighty wound in the Great Satan' if they win on Allah's home turf. It would be a great propaganda item for them if they win, which it does not look like they are doing despite the MSM's best efforts to portray it as such.

I also have a very strong feeling that Al Qaeda is patient and will select their target & work over a long time horizon. I'll be honest, I thought the other shoe would drop in the 2002 winter Olympics in Salt Lake City; I was nervous that whole fortnight. I thought the other shoe would drop on the 1st anniversary...the beginning of the invasion of Iraq...the Afgani elections...the 2004 US election...and so on. It has not dropped yet. I think Al Qaeda is thinking long and hard about their next target, and I feel the article I cited in the beginning of this post also explains this lack of follow up attacks.

They do not attack for military reasons, only political reasons. Reasons with a clear message that make a strogn statement to the world and to their fellow Arabs. Why attack two giant towers in NYC rather than bomb 50 Walmarts across America? The twin towers collapsing is a flashier image...a stronger image = destroy the capitalist Great Satan nation. A nationwide Walmart bombfest would be more effective in instilling fear across the whole nation, would use less resources, and involve piercing fewer security measures (Walmart Greeters vs. airline security) If bar patrons in my home state can imagine this, why has Al Qaeda not?

They do not want a military conflict yet (but they got one)....they want to turn all of their "young brothers" to their side so they can overthrow Muslim governments and establish a caliphate. I seriously believe they did not anticipate the response from Bush & Co; they thought a Clintonesque response would come their way. They need a message to turn their young brothers and get the ball rolling so they can rule their home turf and then expand from there. Read the training manual for Al Qaeda. It reads like a "welcome to the lil orphan annie secret society" or a comic book club newsletter. There are propaganda stories to stress certain points, and most of the instruction is common sense if you do not want to incite curiosity. I think they are trying hard now to show that they can beat the US (the West), show that Allah is with them, and show that Muslims can unite.

After all, if they really wanted a fight and to take it to us, wouldn't 25 Muslims pushing carts full of explosives into random Walmarts be horrible? Of course, an Arab walking around Maine, Arkansas, or Montana might stick out. I hope, as do all Americans, that specific scenario and other disasters like 9/11 never happen to America again, but it's only hope.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Thoughts, Blink, and Why people invest?

I consider myself a layperson in the investing world. I just read about it everyday (ever since I could read the USA Today's Money section), I studied economics & finance in college, and I find as many new sources for information as possible. I consider myself out of the norm compared to most Americans, and I find that many friends/coworkers with more money than me to invest, investigate the financial world less. I find that friends who ask me advice seldom listen, seldom follow up on resources I tell them to check out, and seldom read a bit of information before plunging ahead.

As I posted about earlier, I recently read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I have thought now that maybe there could be something to the idea of information overload when it comes to investing. Could it be that reading too much about an investment or the economic environment is bad for a casual investor? My answer is yes there are problems of information overload with investing. The key to figuring out if you are looking too deeply at a problem or idea is why are you doing it.

Casual investors do not think clearly about why they are investing. Is it long term (5+ years), short term (3-5 years), or extremely short term (under 3 years).? Is it for a concrete numerical goal, an appreciation of capital, or a quick hit? When you figure out why you are investing, then you can consider what to invest in and where to look for advice/information. Are you looking for some growth for a down payment for a house (people still make down payments) or considering 401k investment options? Can you afford to lose the entire investment or is this 'life savings' (risk tolerance)?

I have friends who ask me about their 401k allotments, and, for example, they discuss the idea of having half of their 401k invested in company stock. Now they probably cursed the Enron employees who did that and lost money "Idiots tying their future to 1 stock", but they will not see it for themselves. They might say "I see the stock going up 20% in the next year"....and then what, a 401k is money that you cannot touch without a penalty for 30-40 years. What's the need for such a big gain in 1 year? I do think 401ks can be set up for information overload to individuals. Too many options can lead people to avoid making a decision or put all their eggs in one or two baskets. If you have a long time horizon, you can afford to take on extra risk. Consider the fact that the 401k money grows tax free, maybe throw in a bond fund into your 401k investments, and for take some risk with emerging market exposure.

I think too many times people have money that will serve a short term purpose but they want serious gains and end up taking on way too much risk (I want +40% in 1 year, dang it!). Too many times people think about the short term or about unrealistic goals? Many people I know talk of doubling their investment or, recently at work, wishing they bought Google at $200. (allow me to use soft numbers a bit) Ok, so the $3000 you have to invest would have bought you 15 shares, which you would have sold now at $300, giving you $4500 which would be taxed at normal rates since you held them for less than 1 year, which would net you around $1000. All of that risk on one stock and with a significant jump in prices, you still only netted around $1000. I think this goes to the get rich/famous quick 'n' easy attitude of Americans today.

I think it is possible for laypeople to read up enough on different investing strategies for different situations over a period of time where they can store this info easily. Look for important information like investment themes, broad situations, then move to specific situations. (I keep thinking of the Doctors of Cook County Hospital diagnosing heart attack risks with tons fo information incorrectly) It can become part of unconscious thinking, and considered in a blink of an eye because of proper previous exposure. In situations one has read/studied about, it can become a choice of "I want to achieve X goal. I should consider investment A, B or C" not "Where do I go to get a great return, let me read XYZ magazine, read Morningstar online, talk to an advisor, consult Miss Cleo". Drilling down to a single investment option might involve looking deeper, but once you know why you are investing you can narrow the field down immensely, It hopefully can help cut through the clutter that is investment information & advice now spewing from every media outlet. I'm invested for the long haul and a student of the Vanguard school of investing. Index, diversify, and keep costs low. I'm not going to beat the market year in and year out. I'm going nowhere for a while so I will keep it simple stupid.

Side note: Doesn't something seem wrong about this chart of the 200 DMA of the S&P 500? Like this latest rally just delayed the inevitable cracking of the 200 DMA. I get the nagging feeling that this Hurricane rally is based on squat and we're going to get a serious downturn as the bad news from rising oil, the bankruptcy law changes, and a soft retail season start coming in at the end of the year. I also remember the last time the Fed raised rates as oil prices rose (and they were nowhere near our oil prices), 1999/2000, which lead to the recession/nonrecession of 2001. The Fed sure cooled things down with the combined pressure of oil prices that time. I think the same will happen this time around.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Blink and Moneyball

Blink and Moneyball are two very well written books which deal with completely different subjects. Blink is a nonfiction book about the 'power of thinking without thinking'; how we make snap judgments and how they can be well founded and erroneous. Moneyball is about the Oakland A's baseball team and their ability to win in Major League Baseball with an extremely low payroll. I do not want to review the books as others much more intelligent have doen so already. I want to make a comparison between the books and how they make completely opposite arguments yet reinforce one another.

Throughout Blink, there are examples of scientists and experts of one thing or the other who can make snap judgments or astute observations with very little knowledge of a person, scenario or group. There is even the example of doctors at Cook County Hospital making worse decisions when given more information. Sometimes our unconscious thinking truly is our best response when that intuition comes from years of experience and observation. The book seesm to want to find a way to coach this power in more people. How can we develop this skill, use it, share it... The book shows examples where quick thinking was a good thing and where our mental programming & experience can be a bad thing (the President Warren Harding experiment).

Moneyball flies in the face of this and seems to back up the Warren Harding chapter in Blink by continuously showing old school baseball scouts who make their decisions about players on their bodytype and look. It consistently shows them making the wrong decision or a less efficient decision than relying upon statistics and known performance. Baseball scouting and player management seems to be based more on looks and norms than of proven performance. What has happened is that over many years scouts have seen players of a certain body type go on and be superstars and thus they see a body type and give it more worth than a players performance may warrant. On the flip side, it will discount the performance of a player who does not look the type.

You could say that Moneyball supports Blink in that the GM of the Oakland A's wants to strip away the programming in scouts' minds. The GM, Billy Beane, continually jokes about scouts wanting to sell jeans with the guys they like. In group meetings, he continually harps on looking at a players statistics and less on his waist/thigh size. Moneyball seemed the complete opposite of Blink in that it shows scouts falsely awarding worth to players. What it really is doing is reinforcing the idea that sometimes our mental programming and unconscious thinking work against us.

I really enjoyed both books and recommend Blink to anyone who has ever played hunches with their jobs, decisions, gambling, etc. and had them played out right time after time. There could be something deeper to your hunches. Moneyball is a good book on baseball and what is going on right now n the MLB and how things could change......if the Social Club allows it to change.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Last Shot - book review

I have read 5 books in the last week, and the one that impacts me the most emotionally is the last. I have learned different things from the other books, which I gladly will apply to my critical thinking and way of life, but none were as emotionally gripping as The Last Shot. Darcy Frey wrote The Last Shot following the travails of a small group of players from Lincolm High School in Coney Island. It's a book about basketball and its emotional connect to the lives of inner city youths. This is not their American Dream, this is the only way out. As the author says, the American Dream was something you worked hard for, put in your time, and achieved after hard work and patience. This is not remotely close. The young men are treated as commodities by their coaches, teaches, recruiters, agents, friends....everyone. On either side of them lays the pits of failure, drug dealing, drug dependency, dead end jobs and lives.

I think it is a good book to read if you love basketball and are frustrated by the attitudes of today's NBA players. By chance in this book, one of the players Frey follows is a modern NBA star, Stephon Marbury. You hear about the squalor his family lives in, the pressure on him because of previous Marbury family failures, and the attitude he and his father have to the whole system (pay me first). While I think Marbury is a spoiled brat in the NBA, this book shows readers reasons why he acts as he does. He's been told since 5th grade by coaches and outsiders that he is the Man, should be treated better than everyone else and will get $$. It was amazing to read how he could write a book report without a complete sentence, punctuation or capital letters in 9th grade. If he could not play basketball, no one would care.

The recruiting process was amazing to read about, and I do not feel any movie has done it justice (excluding the documentary Hoop Dreams). Hoop Dreams suffered in the recruitment process because of the lack of firepower in the 2 boys they followed. Gates was injured and went from being the next Isaiah Thomas to another really good point guard. Hoop Dreams misses out on the prospect who would be preyed upon by the big time coaches. A boy on the Lincoln High team, Tchaka Shipp is invited to the Nike camp, performs well, is chased by the entire Big East conference, and allows the writer to follow him on campus visits & observe coach visits. A full page (chp 6, pg 123) is devoted to the sales pitch from Jim Boeheim about playing at Syracuse University. It is hysterical to read as he pitches his program and comes across as fake and overaggressive. I guess pizza at anytime is a big draw in his mind. I enjoyed reading each coach's visit, as they tried different approaches to make the connection with Tchaka.

The flip side to the recruiting of Tchaka is the ordeal of Russell Thomas. Russell has the talent but comes with baggage. Because of his unique personality and unlimited determination, your heart is broken by the stories focused on him. Russell is neglected by coaches because of his SAT scoring problems and doubts about his mental-emotional capacity (suicide attempts scare coaches, really?). Russell is the kid that readers can rally around and want to see succeed. A reader wants him succeed because he wants to use basketball to achieve concrete realistic goals. Russell has a dream of a 4 year degree, becoming a registered nurse, and never going back to Coney Island. It's a plan that readers have heard plenty of times before, just substitute hick town USA for Coney Island.

A wonderful thing about this book is that it shows these inner city, black youths in a light that few people could honestly imagine them. Russell just wants to live a 'normal' life where he can raise a family. Corey is extremely creative whether it is words, basketball, song or dance. Tchaka has his eyes on the NBA but realizes the free degree as being his big prize. The book describes a game against suburban white kids where the white fans get nasty. I can easily imagine that happening in my hometown. As a player for a suburban white high school, I remember being the unfortunate soul that seemed to always have to cover the 1 black guy on the opposing team (I was a defensive wiz & fast). My teammates would say "Is he our age? Can you cover the man-child?" and other assorted racist or borderline racist comments. Basketball has always been racially charged, and I think this book would help alter some preconceived notions. To read about the hopes, the dreams, the pressure, the obstacles, the pain is an enriching experience. I would recommend this book to any basketball fan or a fan of character studies, and make sure to watch Hoop Dreams.

As a final thought, the young men are all studying and hoping to score over 700 combined on their SATs. Think about that....a combined 700. Sounds low, but read this book, 700 might look like a whole new number.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Emergency Kits

In the wake of the Hurricane Katrina horror show, I've decided to make an emergency kit. I get full support from the lady of the house. In fact, her father was pumped up I was making a kit and managed to give me a wilderness-survival-hunting-defense knife. We've been making a list of things to throw into the kit, and I thought sharing it might be a help. I have items that are more for short term problems than long term. Separated so you can tell the difference (food & water are both long/short).

48-72 hours (see here)
Non-perishable food, beef jerky, granola bars, energy gels (obviously long term also)
Water - 5 gallon juggs
Can opener - handcrank
5 Gallon bucket - waste disposal
Plastic Trashbags - transport things, stores water, makeshift cover over doorways/windows in case bio/chem attack, waste disposal if toilets don't work and can no longer 'force flush'
Flashlight - I recommend MagLites
D cell batteries for my radio/flashlight
20 AA or AAA batteries for transistor radio
Candles w/lighter
First aid kit - band aids, gauze, medical tape, basics
Leatherman - good for long term, too


72+ hours
First aid kit - military or just a field kit; transportable in case you need to be on the move
Medical Masks - Filters out harmful particles and pathogens
Maxipads/tampons - besides feminine needs, great absorber of blood if deeply cut
Baby Wipes - cleans a lot, besides your backside
Paper towels/tissues/napkins - you don't want to use leaves for delicate parts
Blanket
Sleeping Bags - Purchasing these this weekend
poncho/windpants - being dry is important, the combo shorts/windpants sold a few years ago by Abercrombie and other retailers are perfect for this
Fleece jacket or liner - keep warm without bulk, some fleece jackets are 'tested' to 31 F or lower; you can walk without breaking a sweat
Knives (sharpener as well) - utility/defense - we have enough right now and they are plenty sharp
Crowbar - breaking glass and self defense
Water purification tablets - these are easier to lug than water purification units
Trashbags - water transport and makeshift ponchos if needed
Hiking Pack or Backpack - I grew up in Maine, I already have two (hiking backpack and a hiking hip pack). You need these to transport all of your gear
Winter gear - If a horrible snowstorm or if nuclear winter occurs, gloves/hats/wool socks are needed
$100+ in cash and some Cigs - Something for trade, Cigs work well as cash substitute

Now if you have seen the newscasts, you know what happened in New Orleans after 2-3 days. People degenerate into primal behaviors when put into extremely stressful situations. It would not be a bad idea to pack a firearm. I suggest a shotgun as it is easy to sling over a shoulder, does not require super accuracy (buckshot number 1), and the sound of the shotgun being pumped alone can scare people off. You never want to be in a position where you have to fire your weapon on another human, but desperate times make desperate men and women.

Ultimately, you need to make the emergency pack suit your needs and geographic/environmental problems. Good luck, and if anyone has suggestions, let me know personal ideas, especially for a northern climate.

I recently read Freakonomics, Blink, The Tipping Point and I am finishing Moneyball this week. I will be back with reviews.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Labor Day weekend

Looks like a weekend of family and beach ahead of wifey and me. My prayers are with the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast who have lost so much. I am glad to see a ton of help has come there way, and may the idiots shut up about the delay as there was a problem of major roads being underwater.

I still amazed that it took 4 days for the scene to degenerate into a Mad Max/Road Warrior environment. If 9/11 brought out the best in us, maybe this showed the worst. There is a very large difference in that 9/11 saw devastation to a dozen or so buildings, the deaths of 3000+/- people and the need for evacuation of others. This storm wiped away homes, entire communities and lives. The history of many families is wiped away. I am thinking of a story I read where the only thing a woman took from her home before evacuating was the urn holding her father's ashes.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

I have nothing to say that has not been said before about the Hurricane. This is a sad event as a city with nearly 350 years of history is wiped out. I am sad that I never got to see it in all its glory. Hopefully, we as a nation, can rebuild the city.

I find it interesting how fast things have devolved into a Mad Max-fend-for-yourself environment. Here is another article with more detail of the drama. I do not know what it is like to be that scared or desperate, but when they gave the warning to leave the city, I would have left the frickin city. There is no excuse for beating & raping random people or attacking policeman and National Guardsmen who are there to protect you and get you out of there on a bus.

This is a good time to remind everyone to make an emergency kit. Wifey and I will be doing this next weekend. I hope to pick up masks for filtering good air, a good flashlight, some D batteries for our radio, breakfast bars, 2 of the 5 gallon juggs of water, and other odds and ends.