Living Free in Tennessee and More

Hey y’all, I know its been a while! God blessed us with an amazing new opportunity, and we’ve been pouring a lot of time and energy into that. One of the things that Discount Mylar Bags has taught us over the years is how to ship things. Since we started, we’ve shipped out over a million packages. Through a combination of providence and coincidence, we are now leveraging that skill set and shipping packages for a great local board game company. That includes their day to day shipments as well as their sometimes $2,000,000 Kickstarters.

Over the years, we’ve always believed in diversification as a form of prepping, because we’ve slowly been pushed off of Amazon by our lack of ‘Amazon Knowledge’. And nowadays, Amazon Knowledge is way more important than actually having a quality product. That’s why my wife and I live frugally, and her most common shopping trip is to Goodwill (This was also true in 2005, long before starting our businesses) . Our focus is our family and serving our community. We’ve opened a game store, started several online businesses dealing with collectibles or gaming accessories, and constantly look out for untapped value in the marketplace. (I found another amazing product, a patent coming off its 20 years, that I hope we’ll be offering before the end of the year!)

So what’s the problem with Amazon, you may ask? Well, the main thing is that the best products can very easily be overshadowed by slick-looking, well marketed products. A few years back, Amazon had to start protecting Name Brand items such as Revlon, Norelco, or Samsung, because no-name white-labelers were just better at marketing than even long-running, ultra-quality name brands, and the good products would be buried 10 pages back. You may remember those days. Nowadays, you’ll usually find a Name Brand on page 1, but you’ll still also find 900 knockoffs from Alibaba also with tens of thousands of positive reviews.

I constantly tell my friends who have their own businesses, or want to start one, that the product you are selling isn’t that important to whether your business is successful or not. Success in many fields today is about whether you can market yourself and your product successfully. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been only modestly successful at my marketing efforts. Whether its our local game store or drive-in, an ecommerce store, a podcast, a blog, or a board game, having a great product is only the very first step in having a successful business. BUT…and this is the crux…if you learn how to drive eyeballs and sales, you can make ANY product successful. Just take a look online and you’ll see the proof of this every day.

My anecdotal story to go with this: for about 2 years I tried 5 different electric razors off of Amazon. This was back in 2016 or so, a few years before the absolute wave of knock-off brands. All 5 razors sucked. I got so fed up because I couldn’t find a decent razor on Amazon, even though every one I bought had thousands of positive reviews. Finally, I went to my local Walgreens and bought a bright-yellow Norelco, the only one they had. 7 years later, and that’s still the one I’m using. Sometimes the name brands got their brand name because they were just good, and reliable. I bought a 15 year old hose off of eBay, because the new generation of stretchy hoses I kept getting from Amazon are just terrible.

This is the place where we’ve found ourselves. My company has the highest rated absorbers and strongest bags (and that’s not just advertising, that’s tested), and we’re back on page 20 behind products that are measurably worse in every way. Many of our competitors have given away thousands of products in exchange for 5 star reviews so it looks like they are much better products than they are, and that’s just something I’m not going to participate in. Now, we’re not folks to dwell on things, so we still do the best we can via our website (Discount Mylar Bags), but the writing is on the wall at least when it comes to the retail market which is dominated by Amazon. We’re doing OK on the wholesale side, selling to companies who use our products to package everything from jerky and horse supplements to freeze-dried foods and archival documents, but even that is a long way from the Halcyon days of COVID when we tripled our staff and moved an insane amount of product (ironically, it was that year of sales that triggered all the computer programs to tell people to start selling prepper supplies).

That was a pretty long intro to say this: if you want the best, highest-rated Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers, you won’t find them on Amazon without digging down to page 20. Take a look at this chart (click it to see a larger version):

Now, if you’ve spent some time on Amazon, you’ll recognize most or all of these brands. One of these brands, whose absorbers don’t even absorb their rated capacity of 300cc, has thousands of 5 star reviews, and most of their products are rated 4.5 stars or above overall. The highest rated product (ours), which beats the number 2 brand by almost 35%, can barely be found. That’s the world we’re living in now. Yes, this chart shows what you think it does: our 300cc absorbers tested at 1103cc actual absorption, or nearly 400% their rated capacity. I’m convinced that one of the companies testing under 300cc actual absorption has been selling the wrong sized absorbers, FOR THREE YEARS. And they still have thousands of great reviews. Of course, they’ll never admit that, and they rabidly attack folks on Youtube who suggest that their products are terrible (which they are).

That’s the thing, many of these companies have no idea what Mylar bags or oxygen absorbers are or what they do…they found them via a computer program that told them ‘these things sell good on Amazon, you should buy a bunch and make a listing’. Many of them are simply choosing the least expensive bags and absorbers they can find, relabeling it with their name, and marketing the crap out of it. And sadly, it works. The next chart is for Mylar Bags. Same story, ours are better by a long way. I’ve got MOCON permeation testing (OTR and MVTR) in the works, and I fully expect those results to be consistent as well.

But this is my commitment: I’ll keep showing the charts and information, and hope that a few make the choice to buy Just Better Bags. We’ve been here 13 years, which is 7 years longer than any other company on these lists except Harvest Right, and 10 years longer than several. I hope we’ll be here 13 more and one of my daughters takes it over and runs it better than I do.

So that’s that, but what about the name of this post? Living Free in Tennessee is the name of my friend Nicole’s podcast and media empire! She has a 800+ episode podcast, roasts her own coffee, and has an amazing homestead. Her and a friend company are putting on an awesome event this weekend (the Self Reliance Festival, Oct 14-15, Camden, TN), and that’s where we’ll be!

Thanks y’all, I love you, and am very grateful for the crazy awesome life y’all have helped make possible!


10 2023

AI Risks for Preppers – Part II – ChatGPT and Friends

End of the World Listening: Operation Mindcrime

Slow-motion EOTW: South Korea fertility rate is .84

I’m putting this one at the top; it just came out today. OpenAI creates team to manage superintelligent AI (you know, Skynet) “The company said it believes superintelligence could arrive this decade. It said it would dedicate 20% of the already secured compute power to the effort” (of figuring out how to keep it from killing us)

Humanity just can’t help ourselves, can we? “The vast power of superintelligence could…lead to the disempowerment of humanity or even human extinction,” OpenAI co-founder Ilya Sutskever and head of alignment Jan Leike wrote in a blog post. “Currently, we don’t have a solution for steering or controlling a potentially superintelligent AI, and preventing it from going rogue.”

One thing I think is so funny (in a dark Terminator kind of way) is that even as we plow full speed ahead on AI, there is this insane belief that we will be able to ‘manage and control’ whatever entities we create (assuming we create any). Maybe for the first 15 minutes they exist; after that, we should prepare to serve our new robot overlords. Here is a company that literally says it is trying to create an entity which in their own words ‘could…lead to human extinction’…and we all think…eh, what are the odds?

Even if the worst-case never comes to pass, the Internet needs to prepare for a day when the vast majority of content is generated by AI, not humans. Sorting signal from noise will be nearly impossible. I saw this a month ago when the art sites started getting overwhelmed by AI content. Perhaps this will force us back to communicating in the real world? One can hope!

AI News and Information Links:

ChatGPT passes medical board exam

ChatGPT passes law and business exams

ChatGPT passes Bar exam, better this time (2 months later) in the 90th percentile of test takers

Schools and Colleges ban use of AI (January)

Some Schools and Colleges telling kids and teachers to capitalize on AI (May)

Something I said last post: we won’t be able to know reality online “”When anything can be faked, everything can be fake,” McGregor told CNN. “Knowing that generative AI has reached this tipping point in quality and accessibility, we no longer know what reality is when we’re online.”

Lawyer sanctioned for citing fake cases generated by AI (we laugh, but most of us are going to fall for AI generated content at some point or another)

AI better at diagnosing your medical condition better than a general practitioner

More of that

AI provides more compassionate care

AI Debates Expert Debater (IBM’s Project Debater)

Old Article (2017), but Important: AI creates a better AI to do a task, outperforms similarly created Human software (this is what I consider one of the core concerns about AI…the ability to replicate easily with a focus on new instruction sets)

Large Language Model AI’s sometimes make stuff up (Bonus creepiness: “The model at times tries to respond or reflect in the tone in which it is being asked to provide responses that can lead to a style we didn’t intend,”; I can’t wait for my Emo daughters to start conversing with Bing)

Coders trick ChatGPT into creating sophisticated Malware (This is one part of getting us to a properly Cyberpunk dystopia)

Novice creates end-to-end computer virus using ChatGPT (Deckers, unite!)

AI is going to destroy the dopamine response among humans (IE. 90% of porn will be generated by AI within 5 years, and you will have access to personalized videos that can be altered on the fly) (The Screwfly Solution)

General AI thoughts (and the 10-20% chance of humanity surviving cite)

3900 Tech Jobs lost in May to AI; Hiring Going Forward to Focus on those with AI Skills – I’ve been telling every teen and young person I know to get interested in AI if they want to have a real career path. Either that, or learn a trade, any of them, which are all in desperate need of employees.

Restraining AI with AI (This suggests our only hope lies in giving AI the same competitive natures that caused all the wars and blood in history. This article does touch on something else important; regulation won’t work because it works at a humans/snails pace compared to algorithmically improving AI. The big challenge I see to this article’s approach is the same we have if Aliens have ever truly visited earth…one generation of AI (or one single AI) would likely get light-years ahead in terms of ‘power’ (and it could happen in time frames we can’t even monitor), similar to the big bad in the Boys, to where no one and nothing could hold it accountable)

Chat-Powered Toys – And you thought Teddy Ruxpin was creepy.

China has AI goals too – one thing we know for certain is that even if the western world comes up with a smart regulatory regime (unlikely, IMO), our enemies won’t feel bound to do the same.

Military Examining AI Use – What could go wrong?

Hollywood worried about AI (Boo hoo?) – Most think AI will hurt entertainment quality….HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA – I’d say 1 in 100 shows coming out of Hollywood is worth watching

AI Robots as Caregivers – This seems pretty useful!


One trend I’ve noticed while reading about emerging AI risks/rewards is the tendency to be in the Doomsday-is-Around-The-Corner camp (though not so straightforwardly put, also here) or the ‘this can’t possibly go wrong camp.’ One erroneous line of thinking by the 2nd group goes like this ‘hey, you were wrong about X terrible scenario (One example here) so AI is safe and full of sunshine and rainbows.’

I think discernment is going to be important going forward…most of the media simply can’t be trusted on AI reporting, as they don’t have any reasonable expertise on the subject. (As usual, they’ll put a lot of words on paper though.) I’ll be the first to admit, neither do I, and so I take everything I read with a grain of salt, and advise you do too also (hence all the links so you can catch up yourself!). For example, the folks at Less Wrong seem both knowledgeable and sane, and seem to cover a broad range of AI subjects. However, this article sounds sane, and still puts ‘humanity’s chance of surviving the next 50 years at 10-20%.’ I wonder if I am so conditioned, even subconsciously, that I want to believe that’s a crazy thing to say, but in the totality of my research, I’m not so sure. (And yes, I’ve implied the same on occasion, but I know I’m crazy, and much of what I say is tongue-in-cheek)

I think my increasing cynicism (as compared to my earlier writings on preparedness) has to do with ‘guardrails’. I used to feel that between the media, the government, and benevolent corporations, while not always worthy of ‘trust’ exactly, would have their interests aligned with the people enough to force them to protect us whether they really felt like it or not. I no longer believe that’s the case. I do believe we are at the beginning of our Cyberpunk moment, and we will look back and say, this is when it all started.

How can I say that? It looks very likely that 2 governments (ours and China’s) are responsible for 7 million COVID deaths, and there is not a peep about folks being fired or responsibility being accepted for that. Folks, that’s a death toll greater than all but a dozen or so conflicts in history. Are we so inured to numbers that large we don’t even register it anymore? The combined regime of government, media and social media companies are responsible for trillions in economic damage, millions of lost businesses and jobs, and untold damage to the social fabric. And yet we move on with our lives in a haze of, ‘whatevs, let’s just get on with it’. I know, I know, what else are we supposed to do?

So as I mentioned last time when talking about reasons why I prep, I am more concerned with the entities created to protect us being the bad actors in nearly any scenario, including an AI-doomsday one. In that case, who is left to provide the guardrails? A media that doesn’t understand it? A science corps that relies on government largess for their livelihoods? Just like there was a little button on the CDC’s desk that said ‘I think experimenting with making a virus more potent and more transmissible is a good idea…such a good idea that while we can’t get away with it in America, we’ll just send some cash to our communist friends in Asia, and they’ll help us out. What can go wrong?’ These are the people we’ve put in charge. It is such a ridiculous combination of incompetence and malevolence, that I have to blame our social-media soma-endorphin-haze that we haven’t marched on DC with torches and pitchforks.

Even (and especially) when the government means well, very few want to call out the negligence and failure of the powers that be, for fear that we’d claw back some of the untold responsibilities we’ve given it. Take the original Food Pyramid. Now, for those of us who read Gary Taubes life-changing ‘Why We Get Fat‘, we see immediately what is wrong with this government created and approved guide to living our lives. The entire bottom of the pyramid are the foods we should be eating the least of: pure carbs. And the fats and oils we should be eating more of? At the top. And yet this is what we were told to eat to be healthy, going back to bad advice given by bad science as early as the 1920’s. (I seriously can’t recommend Gary’s book enough; I have bought and given away many copies, that’s how important it is) How many people have died due to Diabetes, Heart Disease and the occasional correlation to any number of other ‘western’ diseases because of it? If we put together a list of deaths caused by advice, experiments, and ‘good intentions’ by government, I wonder how many people it would be? 8 figures surely.

The reason I keep going down this particular rabbit hole and relating it to prepping is that there simply aren’t enough bodies looking out for threats against the populace. Combine that with the many actors worldwide who are actively pursuing the worst AI can do, and you don’t just have 1 potential black-swan scenario, you have hundreds or thousands.

Similar to the question above, do you really believe there isn’t some bureaucrat somewhere asking ChatGPT, ‘How do I make a worse COVID?’ or ‘How do I use AI to perpetuate my own power?’

If you have any good articles on AI you’ve read, good or bad or examples of either, send it my way and we’ll add it to this list if needed!

Food, water, fire, shelter, light. In triplicate if possible. Do a little every day to make yourself and your household more resilient. Once you have that down, think about what rebuilding an agrarian society looks like.

Love y’all, peace!


07 2023

Live Like You Mean It / The 80/20 rule and #preppernormal

In the News: Wheat Crop going to be way down this year.

Failed States Updates: Haiti

Bad Luck

Robert Heinlein, science fiction novelist and philosopher, noted this about civilization: “Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as “bad luck.””

Call me a conspiracist if you like, but there are forces in the world, often at the highest levels of government and business, that seem to desire to make folks’ lives worse. Oh, they won’t put it that way, of course. They usually do it under the guise of ‘helping’ the poor or underprivileged or some other disadvantaged group, or the environment. But mostly they hurt everyone except for themselves and the cadre of people who have the wealth and influence to avoid the problems and inconveniences caused by their disastrous policies. See one of my favorite articles: ‘How the Government Ruined Gas Cans‘. (I finally found these metal gas cans that I’ve bought a few times, but they cost $50 more now than the first one I bought 3 years ago. I’m now testing these Jerry-style cans…I definitely like the open spout for filling better, but we’ll see if they are as resilient.) In any case, I’ve bought and thrown out hundreds of dollars of crappy red government-mandated gas cans. I’ve had them explode, I’ve had the nozzles fail after 3 uses, and I’ve spilled more gasoline with them than I ever have with a real gas can. I’ve poked holes in them so they vent properly, which is stupid and dangerous, but they are so miserably frustrating. They are an utter waste of money because someone in some room, somewhere, thought that fixing something that wasn’t broken was the most important thing to do today (gas stoves anyone?). And then the fix ended up making things worse.

Another example…a blogger I read has often quipped: “I’ll believe its a crisis when the people telling me its a crisis start acting like its a crisis.” If the people who want me to be worried about the climate really believed it, I mean deep down in their bones, wouldn’t they act differently? I see lots of people who say that the changing climate is the most dangerous thing in the world…who simply don’t act as if that’s true.

How many politicians and celebrities buy million-dollar property on the beach? In the same breath they also tell us the seas are rising and our cities are going to be under water. As a normal human being, if I really, really believed the seas were rising, I’d move to Oklahoma, not spend $40mm on a house that might be gone in 20 years. These are people who don’t practice what they preach. If I really, really believed that carbon was the enemy and that enemy was killing people, would I fly up the coast every time I wanted a cheeseburger or cup of coffee? No, of course not, because that would be immoral. But there are ‘environmentally conscious’ celebs who make that choice every day. If I really believed the world was ending and CO2 was the cause, I wouldn’t own 10 properties using 1000 times as much energy as that yokel from Tennessee working minimum wage and hoping his 40 year old truck makes it home from work. Yes, if someone sanctimoniously preaches to us, the unwashed masses, that our F-150s use too much gas, while flying regularly by private jet, they need to just shut up. But they don’t. And so I have no choice but to extrapolate they don’t actually believe what they are saying. And if they don’t, should I? Worse, I get the sense that their policies hurting those on the bottom more than on the top is a feature, not a bug.

A little thought experiment: imagine where virtual reality and our internet infrastructure would be if instead of politicians, CEO’s and celebrities generating bazillions of tons of carbon and spending tens of billions of dollars traveling to and from climate conferences for the last 30 years if we had poured all of that money into the software, hardware, and communications delivery to make teleconferencing perfect. Now, please see what I am trying to do here…I am not talking about whether a changing climate is good or bad, that’s the not the point of this discussion (plus I’ve always tried to avoid being super-political on this blog, I guess until today!). Nor am I saying all regulation is bad (though much of it is). I am saying that if all of these people believed what they were saying, they would act differently. I am saying that we should measure whether policies are successful or not before we continue them or enact more. If we had poured the same money into virtual spaces (so that we could all get together virtually) that we did into political junkets, we’d have full-body VR and advanced Augmented Reality work-spaces already. So that tells me the reason for all of these conferences is more about flying around feeling fancy and engaging in graft than it is about solving an actual problem.

What does this have to do with prepping and the 80/20 rule?

It used to be that I prepped for some of the more unlikely scenarios (EMP and total societal collapse type scenarios). Today, a big part of my prepping is due to the conscious choices businesses (potential harms of AI, censorship, blacklisting, taking away banking privileges) and government (choices on crime, criminalization of energy and policies that rob money of value, excessive regulation that makes running a business harder and more cumbersome) make. Now, these kinds of feelings don’t really matter who is in charge…many on both the political left and right feel the other is out to get them…so prepping makes plenty of sense no matter who you are.

Prepping via the 80/20 rule means that I am looking to get a large value (the 80) for a small output of effort (the 20). Now remember, I’ve also embraced my #preppernormal, which says that while I recognize that an ‘all-in’ survival lifestyle means in an actual EOTW scenario one will have a better shot, its not for me. I’m also at a point where I see far more ‘non-EOTW’ scenarios where prepping will come in handy.

So going back to the origins of this blog, what does that look like? It means Food, Water, Shelter, Light and Fire. Food and water first, because they are the most useful in far more situations than having a fire-steel and knowing how to use it, for example.

Food and water keeps folks alive, so that is a big +1. Food regularly gets more expensive, so the 2019 expiration soup and mac and cheese that I just finished (and didn’t die) cost me less than $.50 a meal. Food helps feed hungry people in our community. Having lots on hand means my daughters always have cans to bring to a food bank, and we can always give a box of food to a friend who is out of work (this was done less than a week ago). Food in a SHTF will be worth its weight in gold, and that’s just the icing on the cake.

My advice on food hasn’t changed in about 9 years, so I think it’s pretty solid. Store as much food as you will eat in the time period the shelf life allows. That’s a mouthful, so here’s what that means. My wife and I eat 2 cans of soup per month. Soup has a shelf life of 2 years (its way longer than that, as I just mentioned, but we’re going to pretend the FDA knows what its talking about). 4 cans x 24 months. We should have 96 cans of soup in our storage. And we only replenish some of that 96 as we eat it when its on sale. So in 2 years, when my soup is $4/can, I’ve paid $1.50 on sale today. We eat a jar of peanut butter per month…it has a 1 year shelf life. Hence, our storage should have 12 jars. Do this for all of your shelf-stable foods and snacks, and you’ll have a ton of food you actually eat and know how to prepare. And you won’t generally have to discard any of it due to expiration. Of course this is limited to your storage space, which luckily is not one of our challenges (we have plenty of others though!).

Only after you have done the above should you consider storing ‘prepper foods’ such as dry goods in bulk (rice, beans, wheat, oats, pasta), investing in a freeze dryer (unless you just like freeze dried foods!), or ordering long term foods from a food storage company. If you do get to this stage (and being #preppernormal, if you don’t, that’s OK!!), head on over for the absolute best-in-class products to help you on your way.

One of the reasons I preach food storage first is that the more folks that have some basic preps like food, the less they’ll need to be out looting or raiding in the event of some kind of a scenario. If our entire society had 60 days of food at home, then any particular disaster, personal or otherwise, becomes less dangerous. It creates a resilience that is relatively simple to accomplish, and unlike training skills and learning to prepare a salad from grubs, it doesn’t really require much motivation either.

Love y’all, maybe back to AI next time!


06 2023

Artificial Intelligence Primer for Doomsday Preppers – Part 1 – Generative (Visual) AI

[Editor’s Note: The AI space is moving so rapidly, with so much new information and AI use cases coming out daily, that this is the hardest blog I’ve ever written. There is SOOO much I could include, and there are at least 2 ‘must-read’ articles on AI coming out every day. I need to find a better way to keep track of articles I find from my phone, so if anyone has any ideas please let me know!]

Ok, this topic may be a little dense, but it’s important. These articles will also contain more links than I normally use. I do not pretend to be an expert on AI, though I do read a ton about it almost every day, so I am providing links to lots of other articles to provide you the best information. I will also expand upon what some of these things mean in a future post, and how they might change our society for the better or worse.

AI concepts have been around since the 1930’s, among the first being the famous Turing Test devised by Alan Turing that would help determine an AI’s ‘intelligence’ or ability to communicate with us in a realistic way. Although we watched Terminator and cheesy 80’s movies like Wargames repeatedly, I didn’t start to think more about the ramifications of AI on society until there were two pieces of software that I actually use: Midjourney AI, and ChatGPT.

One thing I want to state up front, is that many of the AI’s showing up all over the place are what is called generative…they produce things. Text, code, art, voices, sounds. These are what I am talking about in this and the next post. They aren’t AGI’s, which is what science fiction fears are all about. AGI means Artificial General Intelligence…ie. sentient and self-aware software, having somehow made the leap from data processing to actually thinking (or approximating that). That doesn’t mean these things are all rainbows and unicorns; there are still very real concerns about many of the things they can produce (malicious code, deepfakes, scams, and many more), and their ability to potentially un-employ a bunch of people. And it also doesn’t mean that AGI isn’t in the cards for humanity in a relatively short period of time, but that’s a different discussion. But enough of that, for now onward and upward!

Prompt: prepper pantry full of food storage –ar 2:3 –v 5

Midjourney AI is a piece of software that generates digital art from a text prompt. For example, for the image on the left, my prompt was: “prepper pantry full of food storage –ar 2:3 [aspect ratio] –v 5 [software version]”. These kinds of programs have been around for awhile, so that’s not too unusual. What is unusual is that the new breed of AI produces high quality art, in any style you can think of. Midjourney can create beautiful works in hundreds of styles. You can choose Picasso or Van Gogh, or line schematics in the format of Da Vinci. You can create photo-realistic art as if captured by a camera and Ansel Adams. More than that, you can assign what kind of zoom, lens filter, lighting and any number of effects to created images. You can make watercolors or anime (incredibly popular) or pencil art drawings.

While every version of Midjourney can come up with some pretty wonky effects (MJ still has trouble making detailed hands, for example) each version is not just an incremental step forward, but a leap. In less than a year, Midjourney is on version 5. Every image in this post is AI-generated and took less than 20 seconds to create. Sure, there are some things you may notice that don’t seem right. However, I also use less than 10% of the capabilities of the software, and I don’t have the patience to ‘reroll’ (using one prompt to create tons of different images) until I get the perfect image.

People are making movies, comics, popular music and sadly…so much porn (no link there, sorry!) with visual AI. (And if you really like torture, check out this creepy pizza commercial made entirely with AI, including the video, script, and voices) Some of these projects may not seem advanced yet, or worrisome, but both ChatGPT and Midjourney have been out a year or less. What they can accomplish already is beyond anything we could have imagined way back in, say, 2021. I would posit (reasonably I think) that Midjourney and the other visual AI’s combined have now generated more images than previously existed in the history of the world (not counting photographs). Midjourney already has over 3,000,000 users, a massive adoption rate in about a year. Stable Diffusion, one of its competitors, has over 10,000,000 daily users. (ChatGPT has over a billion users). And the numbers are algorithmic. Each casual user can produce thousands of images a week. Non-casual users set up to mass produce can do tens of thousands. Some art websites have been flooded with AI art, and as the days go by, it will be harder to find actual artist-created images.

Prompt: prepper pantry full of food storage watercolor –ar 2:3 –v 5

Before I get to ChatGPT in part 2, I’ll tell you why Midjourney is important to me and how I became interested in AI generally. I’m a closet game designer, with a dozen projects in various stages of completion. Mostly board games, card games, and role-playing games. However, most of my projects have been abandoned due to one factor…the inability to produce the art I need at a price I can afford. Sometimes I’ll need 100-200 pieces of art for one game, often more. The last game I quoted, using mostly cartoon style art, and not highly detailed, was going to be over $14,000. The thought that I can create art with Midjourney has reignited my passion for game design. Midjourney and other art generators are going to displace the majority of artists and graphic designers (and eventually architects and some other careers), especially those who refuse to embrace what AI can offer.

Now, let me extrapolate…in less than one year skilled users of Midjourney can produce art from a text prompt that rivals all but 10% of the world’s greatest artists. Similar to Deep Blue defeating the world’s greatest Chess player in 1997, AI art will compete with the world’s best; perhaps this year, but by 2024 certainly. By 2027 there will be movies created completely by AI…text AI’s will produce scripts, dialogue, visual AI’s will produce the actual film, and audio AI’s the sound (which already produce deepfakes, essentially able to reproduce any voice). While this will empower an enormous number of people to create things they only once dreamed of, it will also displace a large number of people from their careers as well. Examining where we have come to in so short a span seems unbelievable, and so I believe we are beyond our ability to predict what is coming past the next 1-2 years.

This is called the Singularity…the point at which we can’t with any certainty predict how technology will change our society and world. I read about half of Ray Kurzweil’s opus The Singularity is Near over 10 years ago (an accomplishment, I assure you!), but until this year, I didn’t truly understand what he meant. AI is going to change our civilization in ways even greater than the Internet or the automobile or the discovery of fire, and more than going to the moon. We can’t comprehend what is even possible, whose jobs are at risk, and what the dangers are. I am trying to do my small part to let the communities I am in see this sooner rather than later.

underground bomb shelter owned by preppers retro 50’s style –ar 3:2 –v 5

While creating art and movies seems innocuous enough, even desirable…what about when someone creates a video of you doing unspeakable things, or uses someones else’s voice in any number of possible scams? A crazy number of people are falling for voice scams, involving millions of dollars. Or imagine trying to determine what political scandal is real or not based only on video evidence, now capable of being faked with off the shelf software? The stalking and creepery that are coming will shake our society. Remember, these are the early days of these technologies. In a very short period of time, you won’t be able to trust anything coming from your computer screen. (Not that many of us trust very many sources to begin with!)

Of course, audio and visual AI’s are just a part of the puzzle, and what I call the ‘weaker’ side of AI. Text and data AIs, similar to ChatGPT, promise even worse (and better). Artificial General Intelligence, forthcoming before my social security kicks in, is where the truly frightening scenarios appear, up to and including either a Star Trek-esque style utopia, or Terminator style end of the world. That may seem extreme to some just now catching up, but I’ll make my case more thoroughly in the next several posts. Plus, I’ll post the skeptic side of the argument as well; if I’m wrong, I’ll be glad to admit it in 10 years.=)

I am going to break here, as there is simply too much to sift through…I was going to go through Text and data AI’s and what they’re up to, but there’s so much it needs to be its own article. I’ll do a third blog on examining the dangers and possibilities of AI, and why it’s become one of my primary reasons to prep.


05 2023

Prepper Normal (Confessions of a not-very-good prepper) – Part 1

I know many hardcore survivalists and I salute them. Those who can survive 3 weeks in the wilderness with a pocket knife and an empty paper bag. Those with basement gun ranges and quarter acre gardens that feed 20. However, at the Self Reliance festival we set up at a couple of weekends ago, I had some thoughts about those of us wanting a slightly better shot of not dying in the first 3 days of a catastrophe, but without the desire or ability to truly live the ‘all-in’ philosophy, off-grid raising all our own food and learning all the skills.

I had several people stop by my table at the show wanting to purchase things using a standard credit card…now, that’s not so unusual. What is, is some of these folks were talking serious Crypto and a desire to be totally ‘off-grid’. They looked pretty sheepish when I told them I had no cell signal so could only take old-fashioned cash, and they said they’d be back tomorrow after they hit the ATM. My wife and I are definitely ‘softcore’ preppers, but we’d never be caught without cash, for any number of reasons.

Now, please note, I say these things not to shame folks who might want to be more or less of a thing and just aren’t there yet; in fact, the opposite. In many instances, I’m the one ‘without the cash’, figuratively speaking.

In the old days when I started prepping, I sometimes felt some shame (maybe not the right word; maybe like the kids who called me ‘scrub’ because I wasn’t good at a certain video game) because I have no particular skills naturally related to prepping.

I was a pretty good shot in the army (I usually hit 38-39 of 40), but I never really embraced ‘gun culture’, and couldn’t tell you the calibers of a Mosin-Nagant or an M1. I still use Youtube when I clean my weapons, because I don’t ‘train’ it until its automatic. I like hiking, and can haul a 50 pound pack 10 miles or so without much discomfort, but I couldn’t track a deer or make a shelter from scratch or otherwise in any way act Les Stroud like. I bring along a lighter when all of the other preppers I know are using fire-steel.

We have chickens who I adore, but I could never think of killing the ones no longer laying, and occasionally my girls and I will have a memorial service for a chicken who ended up as hawk-food or a dog-toy. Sure, at the end of the world I’d try to work the whole thing out, but right now, our chickens have social security at our house. A couple of times we’ve spent $70 at the vet to save our $4 Tractor Supply hens; one day we had a friend ‘operate’ on a hen with bumble foot. I was humbled and shed a few tears that I had a friend who would embrace our crazy and spend 3 hours of her day operating on one of our girls. We’re just those people: a bit prepper, a bit preppie.

We have a Frenchie, not a Pyrenees. We beg friends to bush-hog our fields because I broke the one I had, and struggle to get the tractor running. I freeze dry chicken nuggets and hash browns (and lemons for my wife), not home-grown vegetables or self-caught venison. My girls are all girl and wear Kickie-pants, not camo. I spend my spare time designing board games, not honing my primitive survival skills.

And…I’m finally OK with that. When I say ‘Prepper Normal’, I just mean that I hope people will still be cool with me if I’m not out cutting my own lumber to build a cabin in the woods, or if we can’t keep a garden alive to save our lives. It means it’s OK to prep to whatever level you are comfortable with, and I’m not going to judge you. I’m coming clean here and now and letting you know that by contemporary prepper standards, I definitely don’t measure up.

What I do have is a desire to feed my friends and family as long as possible should something terrible happen, so I buy and store food weekly now (and praise God my Freeze Dryer is finally running after 14 months of trouble-shooting). I have left behind the thought that I’m going to turn my neighbor’s kids away at gunpoint to protect my farm’s food supply. I’d rather die starving than live with that on my conscience.

I do have enough state-of-mind to know how people will react when they miss a few meals, and know that many people will try to take all of what we have than be OK with us just sharing a Mylar bag of rice and beans, and so have the hardware to arm a few of those family and friends.

Do I think my family and I are going to live out an apocalypse as well or as long as the truly self-sufficient or survivalist types? No. But at the same time, I can’t guarantee there’s going to be an apocalypse, and so I make judgments as to the amount of effort I want to focus onto something that may or may not happen, and spend the rest of my time home-schooling my girls, playing games with my friends, and trying to serve my community.

I have some more thoughts on this, but its already too long.=) So part II of Prepper Normal will talk more about the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of prepping, and the 80/20 rule, which I apply to most areas of my life.


04 2023