The lingering fear

On February 26, 1993 a truck bomb detonated below the North Tower of the complex commonly known as the Twin Towers. The people who made this bomb hoped that 250,000 people would die but a misplacement of the bomb meant only 6 people would die (although about 1000 were injured). Although the people who made the bomb had some passing associations with al-Qaeda, there is no evidence that al-Qaeda was responsible and the US government has never claimed that it was.

On September 11 2001, al-Qaeda did manage to destroy the Twin Towers. They only managed to kill around 3000 people and injure about 25000. They set off a global conflict that saw America taking military action in almost every Muslim country around the globe.

At the time, there was a lot of chatter about terrorist using weapons of mass destruction. It was one of the major justifications for the massive blood and money poured into the “War on Terror.” The idea was that if we let terrorist organizations continue to get better and to keep trying, eventually they will pull off an attacked that is truly damaging to the US. It was easy to feel that the third time very well could be a 6 or 7 figure causality attack on American soil.

And so America killed a lot goat herders. Americans dropped a lot of space age weapons on people who could not read or write. Al-Qaeda was reduced to a shadow of its former self. All of its top leadership on that time of the Twin Towers attacks were killed or died of naturally causes. No major attacks every happened on US soil. And America got tired of the endless war all over the world.

Now the Taliban control more of Afghanistan then they did in 2001 and American is back to being more worried about Russia and China then they are about some random non-state actor hoping to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans. But I am still worried about New York City’s fate. I still expect to see it go up in flames. I expect there to be a third and final attack with a weapon of mass destruction that ends it as a functioning city.

To be clear, this is an emotional expectation on my part and not a rational one. I don’t think there is any non-state group that can do this right now. And I don’t think any state group (not even Iran) is crazy enough to do it at the current time. So if rationally, I don’t think it is possible at this time, why do I have this feeling that it is going to happen?

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In Context: World Grain Harvests

One of the frustrations I have with just posting links is the lack of context that comes along with them. I tend to gravitate towards links talking about the bad news as because everyone has a strong tendency towards normalcy bias. Even those who are pessimists are generally in the grip of this cognitive bias. They talk as if they are expecting the worst to happen but they rarely act that way.

Having said that, I think one of the causes of normalcy bias is the fact that we tend to look at negative indicators devoid of context. Because we tend to look at negative indicators in isolation, we are not very good at figuring out when things are truly serious and when they are balanced out by positive factors that we don’t realize are connected. This trains us to disregard negative indicators without knowing why because so often they are balanced out by positive things we don’t see. Then when we are confronted by indicators of a true disaster, we disregard them even though in retrospect it should have been obvious that something bad was coming.

Part of this is an unavoidable result of our cognitive limitations. We simply can’t make all the connections that we need to make to truly understand things. But it would help if would occasionally take the time to try to look at things in context so that we can come to a better understanding of what is really bad news and what is just a wash because good news is not being reported.

In this particular case, we are going to focus on the current and projected harvests of the three major grains (wheat, corn, and rice) to try to put the good and bad news on that front into context. My primary source for the following discussion is the US Department of Agriculture August survey of world agriculture production.

Wheat

If your main source of news is links posted in the Ethereal Voice, you could be forgiven for thinking that the world is going to be experiencing a major wheat shortage. Most stories posted here that mention wheat are all about how bad the crop is in India, the EU issues with drought, and how war in Ukraine is going to lead to starvation. I think I might have done one link on how the harvest was looking good in Canada and I know I made mention that Russia was looking to have a really good harvest. But those stories are in the distinct minority. And that is why you might be surprised to find out that this “Marketing Year’s” worldwide wheat harvest is expected to be about the same as last year’s.

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Karp Lykov, Randy Weaver, And The Illusion Of The Third Choice

In 1936 Karp Lykov fled with his wife and two children into the wilderness to escape the Communists. As is recounted in this news paper article about his only surviving daughter….

Her father had taken the decision to flee civilization in 1936 after a communist patrol arrived on the fields where he was working and shot dead his brother. Gathering a few meager possessions and some seeds, he took his wife, Akulina, their nine-year-old son, Savin, and two-year-old daughter Natalia, and headed off into the forest.

Over the years they retreated deeper into taiga, building a series of wooden cabins amid the pine trees. When their metal pots had disintegrated beyond use, they were forced to live on a staple diet of potato patties mixed with ground rye and hemp seeds. The Lykovs subsisted mainly on trapped wild animals and cultivated potatoes.

They had no firearms, no salt and did not know how to make bread.

Mr. Lykov was not prepared to live in the wilderness. As a poor deeply religious Old Believer Russian peasant he had more of the necessary skills than your average American. Even still, he was not ready for the challenge he took on regardless of whether you judge him by the standards of his time or the standards of a modern day “survivalist.” And yet, he and his wife managed to have two more children and he lived for more than forty years out in wilderness. At his death in 1988 he was well beyond the average life span for a Russian male (he died at around 86 years old of age if the dates in his Wikipedia article are correct).

All this did not come without cost. He lost his wife to starvation in the 1960s. All his children except one would die at a younger age then he did. It could be questioned whether he really gained anything by fleeing to the wilderness. But if you judge him purely by the metric of survival; he did pretty well for not being prepared and trying to live in one of the harshest climates in the world. And he lived free to practice his religion as he saw fit all the while that the communists ruled his land.

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Lessons Learned Snow Storm of 4/18/2022

The snow storm of 4/18/2022 caused a lot of power outages in this area. Urban places that don’t normally lose power were without power for almost a week. My own area of responsibility was hit hard and it was not until 5 days after the storm that the last area I was responsible for went off generator power.

In the grand scheme of things, this was not a big deal. Most of the rest of the state was not impacted so resources poured in to fix things. The weather was not super cold. Needed resources could be found if you went a little out of your way. Nonetheless, I think there were lessons learned that while not critical for this emergency, it could make more of a difference if things had been more serious. My list of lessons learned is as follows….

1. Carry a flashlight: It is what I needed to go to the bathroom in the mostly office complex I was working in. We did not have lights in the bathrooms for almost a week (we were on emergency power) but the water all worked fine. Other people used their cell phones but I could not find a way to use a cell phone in a bathroom in way that I was comfortable with where as with a flashlight I could set it down on a counter or garbage can or like surface and it threw off enough ambient light for my needs.

2. Carry a power bank for phones: I was on my cell phone non-stop the first few working days after the storm without a lot of options for recharging it. I had to use my power bank to keep my phone going and one of my co-workers (He was not using the phone as much as me but I suspect his reason for needing a recharge had to do with using it as a flashlight all the time. That is why it is good to have a flashlight even if you are happy with the light that your cell phone throws off.). I have noticed that in Ukraine in the cites under attacked everyone is going stations set up by that countries emergency services to get drinking water, food, and to charge their phones. It is interesting that cell phones retain their utility even in warzones.

3. Carry a good light weight hand saw in the car: I had my Silky Saw with me when I went in the first day when all the trees where down. I did not need to use it because I was driving my off road capable truck and so just went into the drainage ditches a few times to get around trees. But if I had been driving my car, I would have needed the saw to take out the smaller branches on the tops of trees to create enough space for my car to get through. A hand saw will not be enough to get through big tree trunks but all the trees I saw down that day could have been passed by a car with AWD if you cut the smaller branches off the top.

4. Don’t freak out when your generator stops working: In my area of reasonability I had eight generators stop working on me at various points during the extended area of responsibility. Most of these were Generacs. Of all of them that went down, only two of them were what I would consider real issues (a leak in the coolant reservoir and low oil with metal shavings in the oil). All of the rest were a sensor issues. Most of the sensor issues were fixed simply by resetting the generator and they ran fine for all the rest of the power outage (one of the non-Generac generators kept going down periodically with a sensor failure but started right up again after every reset). Even the generator down on coolant was fixed without parts (the tank was rigged up in a way to keep it from leaking) and so was the one low on oil (put more oil in and it ran for the rest of the power outage). Bottom line is if has got fuel, oil, and coolant, give it another shot before you assume you are doomed.

5. Make sure you have emergency food that does not require heat or refrigeration in your car: There was no power for cooking or refrigeration at the worksite and the restaurants were not working the first day either. Mountain House granola has freeze dried milk in it. Add water and it is like bowel of cereal. Not a lot of calories but better than nothing on a stressful day.

6. Cell tower generators seem to be able to last on the upper range of what I believed to be possible: Long before this storm I took a survey of our local cell tower to see what kind of emergency backup they had. In my notes at the time I wrote about a particular carrier’s generator at that site “Tag on generator says it has 54 gallons of fuel on board. If this is true, it will put it right around the 48 hour mark.” Elsewhere I wrote “current estimate is the local towers will only last 24 to 48 hours.” These estimates were based on a combo of knowing the federal regs and looking up the fuel consumption rates of generators that I saw on the local tower. I am not sure exactly when the power came back on but they lasted more than 24 hours for sure. The local cell service did go down for a little while on the morning of the second day but that seemed to be an area wide thing. I wonder if they shut things down at what they perceived to be a low usage time to extend run times or if it was some other issue not related to lack of power that caused the mobile networks to go down?

7. Putting off stuff you know you will need in an emergency can come back to haunt you: I had two things on my list of things to do because I knew I would regret not doing them if an emergency came. One was get the generator working at my brother’s house. Another was get the software token working that allows me to work remotely. In spite of knowing about these issues for at least a couple of weeks before the storm, I did not have them taken care of by the time that storm came around. In the end it was not a big deal. We were able to get the generator running (another sensor issue) and since most of my work was on the phone the first couple of days I was able to operate without a token until I was able to get on my employers intranet and fix my token issue. Still, both of those things could have been a more serious issue if the emergency had been worse.

8. Getting a propane tank filled in a timely manner can be tough in even a mild emergency: We were in the red on our tank when we got a refill and it took some begging to accomplish that. As it turns out, the power came back on just before we got the refill so it was not all that critical in the end. Still, if we had run out I would have felt like a fool for not turning the propane powered generator off at night to extend our supply. My planning document for an ice storm had just that plan for when roads were blocked with down trees, but I figured once the roads were clear nothing would prevent the propane trucks from coming. That was more or less the case but it was a closer run thing then I would have liked. There was a backup plan for heat, water, and lighting but the cooking plan for a no propane situation was not well developed. Also, there was a lot of food in the freezers that would have gone bad if the issue had lasted long enough. This issue was not limited to my personal location. Generators at work took some government persuasion to be filled in a timely matter. Bottom line: You should not assume you are getting fuel just because the roads are clear even if it is not an end of the world type emergency.

9. Urban areas don’t always recover first: In my FEMA plan for Rural Folk I said that if urban areas were without power for two weeks, rural areas would be without power for a month. That statement seemed like a combination of common sense and extrapolation from historical events. But the biggest surprise I had during this storm is that many rural areas had their power restored before some of the urban areas did. Rumor had it is that this was in part due to difficulty getting transformers but it was also rumored that the local power company was having difficulty coordinating crews effectively. Regardless of the reason, it was a pleasant surprise to have power restored at home before either my main place of work or many of my more urban co-workers had their power restored. I guess the main lesson is don’t expect that you will be all right in short order when this stuff happens just because you live in an urban area.

And that is all I can think of that I can honestly say were lessons learned based on the this storm. Do any of you have anything to add?

Fiery multi-vehicle crash closes part of I-81 in Pennsylvania

Get off the road. Carry a flashlight with you so you can signal. Walk (well off the road) towards the direction that traffic is coming from and try to signal. Use your phone if you have nothing better. Don’t know how I would do in this situation but this is what I hope I would do. And I do normally have a flashlight in my pocket.

Test Run With Silky Big Boy

I have been wanting a saw to keep in the car in case the road was blocked with fallen trees and I really wanted to get home. The main thing that has been preventing me is the thought that you can’t get a saw big enough to do any good without having something too big for a car. But I heard a lot of good things about about Silky Saws so I decide to give them a try.

Shortly after my Silky “Big Boy” was delivered to my house a chance to try it out came in the form of a top of a pine tree falling across one of my mother’s trails. Normally I would have got out the chain saw for a task like this but it was cold and I did not feel like fighting with the saw to get it started.

When I started, the tree look like this….

Blocked Path

My original goal was to the do the bare minimum of cuts so that I could easily toss everything into the brush. But when I got to cutting I was so amazed at how easy it was that I started cutting it into smaller pieces just for the fun of it. It is certainly no chain saw, but I have no doubt it could handle lot bigger trees then what I was dealing with in this picture if I needed it to. The official instructions tell you it is only recommended up to 8″ but I have heard you can go a lot bigger then that in a pinch simply by cutting from two sides instead of only working one cut.

Bigger Cut

The total time it took me to cut everything up into the neat little pile below was 26 minutes (and I did time myself with the stopwatch function on my phone). A chain saw would have been a lot faster if I already had it out and running. But I am not it all sure it would have been faster to get a cold chain saw up and running just for a small job like this.

The End Result

From my perspective, the best part about all this is that it was done with a saw that is only 16″ long folded up. That is not a big deal to stash in a car or stick in a backpack. Of course, if it could not do anything, it would just be wasted weight no matter how small. But since it evidentially can do stuff, I am pretty pleased with it. Granted, one job does not give it a long track record, but it does help confirm all the good things I have heard about it. Biggest potential downside that I have heard of is that people who are used to push pull saws tend to break them by trying to force them to cut on the push stroke. And I have also heard that you can also break them by getting them pinched in the bigger wood (odds are that is why the manufacture says only up to 8″ wood).

Based on the one job I have done with it, I suspect the people who break them by trying to get them to cut on the push stroke are not used to working with their hands. It feels so wrong to even try to cut on the push stroke that I can’t imagine anyone who is paying attention making that mistake with enough force to break the saw.

But knowing that I tend to be hard on tools and being scared by the stories of people breaking them, I sprung for the more expensive outback version of the saw which has a thicker blade. Since I have never used the regular Silky Big Boy, I have no idea if that was wasted money or not.

And below is the path after I put the last piece on the pile and stopped by stop watch.

Path Clear