Posts Tagged ‘electricity’

Doomsday Preppers: Freda

The series’ next episode (‘Let ‘Er Rip!’) opens with a visit to the Virginia homestead of Freda Stemick.
fredasHer producer-enforced single issue is “Chaos, caused by an EMP attack due to World War III.” The way she sees it, “we are setting the stages worldwide” for a nuclear shootin’ match, involving “somebody shooting a warhead in our direction”. To which I have to congratulate NatGeo on their perfect timing, seeing as how this episode comes a few days after Pyongyang decided to ratchet up their saber-rattling, abandon their armistice, and cut all ties with South Korea.

Freda is apparently descended from some of the Hatfield clan, so because she happens to still live in the woods of Virginia (instead of say, downtown Chicago), the producers rely heavily on that angle to play up the ‘backwoods’/‘folksy’ nature of the segment; if I were just a little bit more rhetorically-minded, I could probably say something about how the show’s constructed image serves to reinforce Appalachian stereotypes. Or something.

It’s probably a good sign that one of the first things out of Freda’s mouth is a declaration that her family has lived in the “mountains and valleys” of Virginia for hundreds of years. Could’ve fooled me – that doesn’t sound very Virginian. Here in Kan-tuck-kee, we call ‘em “hills an’ hollers”.
She goes on to talk about her great frontiersy forebears who “hacked their way through the wilderness” (which, remember, was only a wilderness because the indigs who’d been tending the place like a garden for thousands of years had been wiped out).

Because she’s aware of the unsustainable nature of our just-in-time distribution system, Freda’s put a big focus on making her homestead as self-sufficient as possible, starting with food. She and boyfriend Mike Davis keep a nice garden to produce fresh veg, most of which it seems they home-can. However, I noticed that their jars are—as we’ve too often seen—just out on shelves, unprotected with no shock buffers or anything to keep them from smashing to the floor. Remember, just because you’re preparing for one possible contingency doesn’t mean a different one can’t sneak up on you: a tornado or earthquake or inland hurricane could always come along and turn your larder into a pile of un-canned food and broken glass.
They also keep a number of chickens, with the intention of using eggs as a compact, versatile form of true wealth. In other words, Freda is the first person on the show to advocate a Barrelhaven-style, eggs-based barter economy! Finally!

Because she fears that having an arsenal of firearms would make her a target for a gun-grabbing government in the event of martial law, she has a bare minimum of traditional armament—twelve gauge shotgun, nine millimeter pistol, compound bow. However, her ever-crafty boyfriend has made a set of ‘throwing stars’ with which he is apparently a pretty good shot. Despite being a fan of improvised and handmade equipment, I’m always wary of single-use (weapon-only) items. Like I’ve said before, I find hatchet-throwing to be a useful skill.

While they’re supposedly in a pretty isolated area (though I saw big trucks passing through the trees several times) they’re concerned about smoke from their cooking fires attracting attention, so they decide to test out their solar oven!
Now, this is a subject with which I actually have experience, and so, some thoughts on the subject.
It should come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of solar cooking; over the years I’ve cooked or dehydrated bushels of apples, bananas, peaches, tomatoes, daylilies (even mini pizzas!), using nothing more than the free and abundant energy radiating from the nearest star.
I’m not really a fan of the design of the oven we see them use (it’s basically a wooden cold-frame with foil lining the bottom). Personally, I’ve used a folding, all-foil-covered reflector-based ‘Cook-It‘ to good effect in summer, but simplest is often better: some of my best dried peaches and daylilies were done simply with a cheesecloth-covered wooden frame, placed on a concrete slab, with a large pane of window glass over it. In fact, bugs don’t bother the food, because it’s actually too hot under the glass for them to stand it!

Now, for actual cooking like, a pot of maize and beans, I’ve never tried going solar. For that kind of meal, it’s usually recommended to use a dark-colored pot, inside a sealed, heavy-duty clear plastic bag, all placed on or in the oven for several hours.
However, for simply dehydrating food, this is hard to beat:

I don’t have a car, but I do have a solar oven that I occasionally drive.

The dashboard of a car with windows just slightly opened (to let the hot air circulate) can be an effective dehydrator from March on through October (in the northern hemisphere); hell, in high Summer it’ll get hot enough that you can do two batches per day!
Attentive viewers will note that while we see Freda put a small pig in the cooker, we never see the results of the experiment. As she explains, “we originally planned to put the pig on the campfire and bake bread in the oven but time got short for filming and the crew said “just throw the pig in the solar oven”… I took it out of there within an hour and threw it on the stove.”
However, as our caption reminds us—solar cooking really only works in areas with abundant sun: much of Africa comes to mind; the forested mountains of Appalachia—where the sun comes up about ten in the morning, and goes down about three in the day—do not.

With the food situation well under control, we learn that Freda’s homestead has not one, not two, but three sources of fresh water (a flowing creek, artesian well and pump well?). Mike puts on his diy hat again, and comes up with a turbine wheel to put in the stream to make some free hydroelectricity. I don’t know if it actually charged their batteries, but if so, it’s pretty sweet.

Then they show off their ultimate “perimeter defense weapon”, which as it turns out, is Mike’s homemade catapult…of sorts.
It’s counterweighted like a trebuchet, but the counterweight isn’t articulated, which gives it an arc of swing more like a mangonel. Either of those designs can be solid when they’re followed (back in high school, I built an eleven-foot oak treb that could throw big rocks about 200 feet), but unfortunately this design borrows from both types and doesn’t perform particularly well. Or maybe it would, if they’d thrown something with some weight (like one of the many pumpkins we see lying around?), instead of the negligible-mass ‘throwing stars’.
Actually, I think the best solution in this case might be for Mike to trade his “catapult” to Brent (to go with his “castle”!) in exchange for some long guns to properly defend their wooded homestead.

The experts say her food plan is great, now she should stock up on medical supplies. They give her 56 points, for seven months’ initial survival. I don’t know why, but that seems low to me. Anyway, it’s always nice to see self-reliant country folks instead of the gung-ho beans-n-bunkers types.


Doomsday Preppers: Jim D

Up next we have ‘Jim D.’, a ‘security consultant’ from SoCal.
© NatGeo/Sharp EntertainmentHis well-worded concern is for the “destruction of the power grid by a terrorist attack, and social unrest that will follow.” Specifically, he’s worried about some kind of cyber attack that could cripple the grid from the inside, not about Jihadists blowing up high-wire lines.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this segment. I totally agree that our culture’s thirst for power (both the electrical and nature-controlling varieties) is one of the shatterpoints that will play out and determine the course of the next half-century. Making the situation worse is the fact that ‘developing’ nations will look to the trendsetting, ‘developed’ (read:industrialized) nations for the standard of living they ‘should’ be achieving. This means that in the years to come, all those upwardly-mobile Indians and Chinese will be trying their best to live unsustainable, industrialized, Western-style lives—necessitating even more power generation, which will likely be achieved by burning fossil fuels, which will just make things worse (and they’re already pretty bad). However, when faced with such daunting industrial-sized forces, I don’t respond in kind; I downscale to a level that is actually comprehensible to the human mind. I’m just saying: if the latest empire that’s headed for collapse is founded on a thirst for fossil fuels and infernal combustion engines (“first they built the road/then they built the town/that’s why we’re still driving around and around…”), maybe you should consider if you want to include those in your idea of ‘prepared’.

Jim D.’s approach, however, is to go mobile….(go on, I’m listening)…in a supposedly-$300,000 armored truck-thing he calls The Behemoth. Oh. Nevermind then.
© NatGeo/Sharp Entertainment
This monster of a vehicle is 28 (did I hear that right?) feet long, eleven feet tall, and eight feet wide; is somehow able to run on propane, bristles with security cameras, and has a pretty comfortable-looking sleeping cabin. Honestly, all the ingredients are there for Jim and his family to become professional rubber tramps; he just needs to make The Behemoth look approachable and not so…miliscary.

To support his plan of bugging out in the truck, he and his team have apparently buried sealed caches of survival goods all around Orange County and the surrounding region. That’s cool, but he relies on GPS to record their locations, so what will he do when the grid goes down?
So, because driving around in a wannabe tank isn’t dramatic enough, they go out to the desert where Jim takes position on the top of The Behemoth and does some target shooting, while the thing is moving. Believe it or not, it’s harder than it looks on Call of Duty!

The experts rightly tell Jim to consider his means of replenishing his food stores on the road; they give him 65 points for ten months’ survival time.

Doomsday Preppers: John Adrian

Our next episode, “Taking from the Haves”, opens with a look at John Adrian, inventor of the BedBunker, from the Pacific Northwest.
johnadrianhouseRight off the bat, our helpful narrator informs us that “many preppers are most concerned about one specific kind of cataclysmic event.” To which I’d have to respond, those people are idiots. Putting all of one’s eggs in one basket is a good way to set yourself up for failure—something our current totalitarian model of agriculture doesn’t seem to realize, with its vast amber waves of monoculture grain just asking for a blight to come along and wipe it all out.
Mr. Adrian wisely says he’s ‘preparing for the unexpected’. That’s a pretty safe catch-all. However, the truth eventually comes out that he’s most feared of a panicked populace. So, no different from most on this show?

John apparently doesn’t understand the concept of ‘bugging out’—if all your stuff is here, why would you want to leave?—and so he “turns his home into a technological fortress from which he can keep rampaging survivors at bay.” This setup includes: fancy military-checkpoint-style gate (pricetag: $20,000); array of twelve security cameras spread around the house; front door with facial-recognition software; wall-mounted, motion-sensitive pepperspraying anti-burglar device; central computer from which he can control all these systems.
Well, that approach raises a couple of red flags for me. First, his whole setup is dependent on electrical gizmos plugged into the grid; I think a power-outage falls neatly into the category of “the unexpected”, in which case what’s his plan if that grid goes down? Second, he appears to be all alone up on his fortress bluff. Defending that place should the power go out would be a helluva lot easier with a buddy or two to help. That said, the property has some good things going for it, on top of a cliff and surrounded by forest (personally I’d cut down some of the trees closest to the house to give intruders less places to hide).
John wants to be able to stop intruders should they breach his gate, so he takes a weapons expert to the range to shoot watermelons and car doors with a 50-caliber Beowulf. It’s no challenge.

Eventually, John’s main security guy gets his helpers to run a home invasion drill to check John’s preparedness. This amounts to ‘shooting’ the first guy, while the second triggers the fog-of-pepperspray device and runs into the woods, pursued by John’s German shepherd. With these obstacles out of the way, what does he do? Hop in his SUV and drive away! I thought he was all about staying put and defending his home?

The experts tell him to think about renewable food sources (smart), and remind him that he can’t expect to protect the pace all by himself. Exactly! He gets 80 points—a new high—which works out to 16 months survival time.

Doomsday Preppers: Bryan May

This episode ends with a look at Bryan May and his wife Lacey, who live somewhere in Indiana.
bryan&laceymayThey’re shall we say, entrepreneurs (they own a car stereo business, breed bearded dragons, and run an adult toy website—how diverse is that?), and even though I have it on good authority that the family ‘preps’ for general disasters, their producer-enforced single issue is a New Madrid quake. There’s a bit where they look at a map of the continental US with a hundred-mile-wide ocean running straight through it; it’s intriguing but pretty much geologically-ignorant.
At one point Bryan looks into the camera and says, “If there’s a quake, we’s going back in the Stone Age for most of us.” I’m sure the producers had something to do with that, but it’s still totally wrong. If a long-term disaster goes down and the three-day grocery store supply chain is disrupted, most people won’t be going back to the Stone Age (and blerg, how I hate that term and the whole Three-Age system as a whole), because that would require a functioning method of passing on Stone Age lifeways and skills, something Our Culture has been determined to obliterate since we decided that totalitarian agriculture is the only way for people to live. Damn the Eurocentric Myth of Progress!

Bryan’s big thing they focus on in the segment is bartering. As he says, “Bartering should be done a lot more. Bartering pretty much built the world we know as it is—and then we got sidetracked with paper money without backing.” I would generally agree. As for creating ‘the world as we know it’, as an unrepentant primitivist, I’m obliged to ask if that’s necessarily a good thing. The shift in Our Culture from a tribal-support-as-wealth economy (a flatter, more egalitarian social organization) to one based on shiny-rocks-as-wealth (pyramid-shaped society) allowed for the first time for wealth to be concentrated in the hands of an elite few (today’s One Percenters). However, unlike in the prior three million years of human evolution, once physical Stuff became wealth, a person could become ‘rich’ by acting purely selfishly, whereas in our tribal days, one amassed wealth by acting in the interests of the whole tribe. Going back to using the material on which our system is based (even if you’re cutting out paper notes as Bryan does) won’t necessarily make that system work any better. Using shiny rocks is silly anyway, ‘cause you can’t eat ‘em! I’m all about a Barrelhaven-style eggs-as-currency economy.

Like the Sellers from the end of last season—a couple with whose preparedness approach I had big objections—Bryan converts the bulk of his earned money into hard gold and silver. However, unlike John and Christine, Bryan actually uses his hard currency—incredibly, this segment should’ve been called “Gold and Silver: Not Just For Hoarding!” Bryan shows off his sweet rooftop solar-power setup—paid for with 23-and-a-half ounces of silver—which he hooked up diy-style along with a wind turbine to a series circuit of 40 car batteries in the basement. Major thumbs-up on emission-free energy! (Thumbs-up on the rainwater-catching tanks, too!)

Like most on the show, he’s interested in getting a shipping container (I guess to expand his already-jaw-dropping amount of canned food?):The guys come by with a container to let Bryan check it out, and he asks if they’d be interested in bartering for it. Before the commercial break, the producers edit this to seem all dramatic, like the guy selling the container thinks Bryan’s crazy for suggesting barter, but after the break the guy is totally interested and not at all weird about it. Producers making drama everywhere. Bryan ends up trading the guys some gold cards and an old SUV for the container, which is a pretty sweet deal.

The never-contented ‘experts’ give him 71 points for 13 months, and tell him to keep up with the Joneses and get HAM radio.

Doomsday Preppers: Robert Earl

Season two’s second episode finishes up with a look at  Robert Earl & his wife Debbie.

Like Kevin O’Brien from last season, they’ve fled from Florida to escape rising sea levels, but they attribute it to the “collapse of the Greenland ice sheet” which is pretty specific. However, while O’Brien bought land in the green hills of Tennessee, the Earls move to the high desert of Texas. So, going from too much water to not enough. I’m not sure that an especially arid-looking part of TX is the best place, but we’ll see.

Robert describes himself as a combination of Mad Max (desert remoteness), Rube Goldberg (whimsical building solutions), and Al Gore (climate warnings!). This really comes across when he starts showing off his construction project: using glass bottles, tires, and plastic boxes, Robert is building some kind of earthship, which is smart: sunny, arid locations are ideal locations for earthships and similar alternative-type buildings (see noted barefoot survival teacher Cody Lundin’s sweet offgrid, passive-solar setup in Arizona:
Bottle walls are a pillar of permaculture building practices, making use of what would normally be trash to make funky houses with lots of thermal mass for carbon-free heating. As Robert says (displaying a healthy and necessary forward-thinking attitude), when things go south, “garbage won’t be garbage, it’ll be opportunity.”

Of course, Robert has decided to put off building their actual house until he finishes the smokehouse, so he can at least make jerky…out of any invading marauders! Haha. As for other things to eat, he proudly shows off his…wait for it…“poop garden”. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m a big subscriber to the idea of ‘humanure’ (you can download a copy of the Humanure Handbook in my Reading Materials page ^). But the way he does it is just unhealthy: it seems he just pours a slurry of raw sewage into an underground pipe, and then plants his garden above it. Without balancing all that pure nitrogen with some carbon, he’s eventually going to cook his soil’s fertility, not to mention the fact he’s not doing anything about pathogens.
In a proper humanure setup, after each visit to the head, a scoop of cheap carbon-rich material (sawdust, peat moss, rice hulls &c.) is sprinkled onto the nitrogen-rich ‘human waste’ just like in a proper food-waste composting setup; the balanced carbon and nitrogen heat up—killing any microorganisms—and after six months or so break down into rich, crumbly garden food. Super easy to diy, and uses no water—an important consideration in the desert.
In fact, this couple’s water-gathering routine looks pretty unreliable—they’re shown sucking up water from what looks like an overgrown puddle. Robert needs to hook up some rain barrels to collect what little water is going to fall throughout the year. Where’s the moisture vaporator when you need it?

Because it looks like he’s relying solely on their little garden for food, Robert gets a visit from Kat Stevens, rattlesnake hunter, to teach him to catch and eat rattlers. I’m a fan of wild game, but I swear I heard the narrator say something about the Earls having 21 dogs. Robert shouldn’t worry about risking life and limb to find some scaly meat-tubes when they have that many four-legged protein sources running around. Hell, certain breeds—Chihuahuas come to mind—were designed to be eaten! They’re like, double-duty pets!

The experts give them 63 points, for 9 months’ initial survival time. Unfortunately there’s no after-filming update, which is too bad, because I would’ve liked to see how their bottle house was coming along.

Doomsday Preppers: Bryant Family

We continue with a visit to the Bryant family’s 24 acre homestead in Southern Missouri.
Wilma and Gary live with their son Tony and daughter Heather, and a grandchild, and are concerned with being able to survive EF5 (formerly just F5) tornadoes. Which is not unreasonable, seeing as how they live smack dab in the middle of Tornado Alley. Even less unreasonable is Wilma’s wise observation that “You can’t control nature…and we’re destroying it, so it’s kinda fighting back in a sense.” Correct on all counts. Personally, if I was worried about what seems like an increase in number and intensity of severe storms in recent years, my first order of business would be to hand-build an off-grid house that wasn’t all boxes and flat surfaces  (y’know, because they catch the wind like sails, which are great if you want your house to fly).

Because they seem to be into plain living and self-sufficiency (they live 30 miles from the nearest town), they have about six months of food on hand, mostly in the form of home-canned jars; their pantry is really impressive. However, for someone whose chief worry is violent tornadoes, their pantry is just waiting to be smashed by the first twister that comes through: the jars on the shelves were not protected in any way, whether by something soft to keep jars from knocking against each other, or anything to keep the jars from crashing to the floor. A simple one-by piece of lumber tacked a few inches up across the front of the shelf  would probably do fine.

So, all this talk of self-sufficiency is rather painfully ironic, because Wilma and her daughter Heather are…wait for it…diabetic. Which means that after their six-month supply of insulin runs out, they die. Yeouch. And naturally, because medical supplies are not only unnecessarily expensive but also disposable, the ladies stretch their stores by saving needles to reuse. They also hoard insulin, which leads to their next dilemma.
Insulin apparently needs to be kept cool, and in a long term grid-down situation, a refrigerator is going to be next-to-useless. What is one to do? First, remember: fossil-fueled electricity is a momentary blip on the overall timeline, and people did just fine without it for thousands of years. And how did those people keep things cold? By keeping their things in places that were always cold!—let’s call it ‘ambient temperature refrigeration’. In rural Missouri, the local spring-fed creek does just fine. But do y’know where else stays 50 degrees year-round? Underground! And because this is a prepper show, you know what that means. Bunker time!
So the family decides that they should bury a shipping container where they can keep their insulin cool, and where they (and their livestock (?!?)) can shelter during a big storm. So they get a demolition crew to come in and blow up a section of their front yard, and then they set about removing all the loose soil by hand with shovels and wheelbarrows.

The experts give them 64 points and ten months survival time, which isn’t bad considering they only have six months of insulin and no running water (they have to drive down the road to the creek to fill up their big tank). The experts also suggest getting ‘tactical training’ and building a root cellar – which I’m surprised they didn’t have already, being all homestead-y and such; I’d take a root cellar over a buried-shipping-container-bunker any day.

In the post-filming update, Wilma reveals that she and Gary have gone through a messy divorce, and that while she has been awarded “all the preps”, “they’re out there with guns.” The End.

Doomsday Preppers: Bruce Beach

After a week-long hiatus, the show is back with an episode titled “It’s Gonna Get Worse”, which starts out with a look at another Canadian, Bruce Beach.
After serving in the USAF during the early Cold War, Beach moved to Ontario and built a 10,000 square-foot shelter for protection from fallout from a nuclear war. This bunker is made out of 42 school buses, encased in 18 inches of concrete and 14 feet of dirt, and can apparently sustain 500 people for a significant amount of time.
But the weird thing is, the only people Beach seems to be interested in accepting into his ‘ark’…are children. He keeps talking about how his first priority is to “save the children”. And the first thing he wants these children to do when they enter the place? Strip down for a ‘decontamination shower’. Hmm… =S
So, if the bombs start falling and you and your child show up on this guy’s doorstep, he’ll take the kid into his underground compound and send you away with a Geiger counter and some kind of consolation kit  (featuring stickers that say “to re-build a better world” *eye twitch*). At this point, I really have to wonder, how are 500 children going to help survive the end of the world?
Well, that’s irrelevant, because as it turns out, he claims that the purpose of his bunker (which he calls “Ark Two”)  is “to help those who survive to rebuild society; we are not about survival, we are about reconstruction.” Wait, the guy with the massive fallout shelter is not interested in survival? I don’t follow his logic. So, is the Ark just to enable him to surround himself with young people (impressionable minds being easier to indoctrinate, I guess?) long enough for the fallout to kill the heathen disbelievers outside?

He keeps going on something about his life’s mission as “service to humanity”, whatever that means. Between the ark stuff, the children stuff, the rebuilding stuff, and the humanity stuff, I would guess he has some old-school Christian agenda. I would also guess that his ‘service to humanity’ doesn’t extend to folks like me who don’t worship his patriarchic, misogynistic, Indo-European sky-god (or follow the teachings of any organized, salvationist belief-system, for that matter). Likewise, I would guess he doesn’t give a shit about the Yanomami or the !Kung or other non-industrialized members of humanity (except maybe as targets for conversion). Well, from his autobiography, it looks like he’s sampled the religious buffet and is now a Baha’i (Bahai’ist???) Whatever; it’s still organized, civilized, monotheistic, and based on a prophet. No thanks.

Anyway, as in the case of the very first family featured in the first episode, his bunker is ugly! Just because it’s all rivets and welded steel doesn’t mean it has to be so unattractive. I have nothing against an industrial aesthetic (I’m big on Piecraftian dieselpunk and the gritty redpill Zion), but this place just has no style.

And weirdly, there’s no ‘expert analysis’ of this guy at the end of the segment.