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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!

07

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!

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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!

06

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!

07

06 2023

Food Storage For Vets

My wife and I feel very strongly that people should prepare, whatever their circumstance.  Toward this end, we are announcing our program ‘Food Storage Supplies For Veterans‘.  If you know a veteran (or are one) that is struggling and cannot afford to buy Food Storage Supplies but would use them if they had them, please let me know at admin@discountmylarbags.com.  Please provide their branch of service, address, and circumstance, and we will send them a free Mylar Bag and Oxygen Absorber combo kit.  To be honest, I don’t know what the demand will be, but I commit to sending at least 3 kits per week.  Plus, any donations we receive for ‘Food Storage For Vets‘ at the link below will allow us to send additional kits. (As a reference, a $25 donation will cover the shipping cost of around 5 kits)

I know it’s not much considering the service our vets provide to this country, but its a small token of our appreciation to let them know we think of them often.


Thanks for the service of our veterans!

18

06 2014

Remembering Our 4-Legged Friends, Long Term Food Storage For Pets

I’m always thrilled to come home and see Mylar Bags on our freezer!  My wife stored some cat and dog food this weekend.  We buy our pet food in bulk, usually from Petsmart where my wife gets a huge discount twice a year. (Although we will gladly pick it up anywhere we find a deal, sometimes at Walmart, and occasionally in other pet stores we go in.)

Cat and Dog Food

Cat and Dog Food

The main thing to remember about pet foods is that most contain oils that can go rancid over time.  (Sometimes the food will still be edible and provide calories, but will taste bad and can sometimes cause illness).  While I recommend rotating pet foods yearly to avoid this, we’ve had good results when testing foods we’ve stored up to 2 years old.

Because our dogs are small (smaller than our Cat-Puma), my wife stores food in gallon bags.  If your dogs are larger, 2 or 5 gallon bags might be more appropriate.  We’ve taken to storing food that we will use within 12 months in totes, for both visibility of what we have, and because they stack nicely and fit on our racking more conveniently than buckets.  For us, that means about 200-300lbs of various pet foods.  If you have the space and are attached to your pets, I would store the same amount of days of food for them as you do for yourselves.

Arnold guarding the baby

Arnold guarding the baby

 

17

03 2014