Archive for the ‘Emergency Preparedness’Category

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

Upcoming Blog Giveaway – Running 03/31/14-04/07/14

Hey everyone, just a note to tell you that we are sponsoring (with about 4 others) a blog giveaway taking place from March 31-April 7.  We are a sponsor, and are giving away 5 – $50 gift cards to the store, and there are 4 other participants as well, including one giving away a 9 tray Excalibur like the one we use…its awesome and you’ll definitely want to enter to win.

How it works:

There are currently 17 blogs in the giveaway.  Every person can earn a total of 2 entries by liking 2 social accounts (Such as Facebook and Twitter) of each of the sponsors linked at any of the blogs (I’m not actually a participant but a sponsor so you won’t be able to get an entry here), so if you like all 10 social accounts of the 5 sponsors, you will get the maximum 10 entries into the contest.  All the entries will be put into a virtual hat and presto, out come winners!

I’ve been highlighting one of the participating blogs per day over at our Facebook page if you want to check it out (and like us!).

If not, here is the full list (forgive the formatting, I hate copying and pasting from Office, but its better than retyping it all!).  You should go check some of them out; I’ve been reading a bunch of them over the last couple of days, and most of them have beautiful, interesting blogs…I definitely have blog envy!

Full List of bloggers participating:

1. Jennifer Osuch
2. Jane Adams
3. Laurie Neverman
4. Jamie Black Smith
5. Linda Loosli
6. Angela Paskett
7. Julie Sczerbinski
8. Adrienne Urban
9. Chris Ray
10. Mike Prunty
11. Dan DeLaiarro

12. Tammy Trayer
13. Bernie Carr

14. Jodi Moore and Julie Wise

15. Sharon Pannell

16. Colleen Anderson

17. Angela England

Untrained Housewife


03 2014

5 Tips for Family Preparedness, Twins and Spouse Edition

So, if you don’t know my background, I’m 42, and my wife is 38.  We’ve been married 7 years.  We had assumed that children weren’t part of our future, as my wife has endometriosis, and she has tried all her life for kids (she had a 1st husband).  We had talked about adoption, and perhaps being foster parents, but nothing really felt right.  So we ran our business, loved on our dogs, and planned toward some land and a quiet retirement.

The Good Lord had other plans, and we were blessed with twins back in January.  For many people, this would have been a disaster.  My wife was without insurance. (She was uninsurable under the old system, and we couldn’t get her signed up on the ridiculous government healthcare site due to the technical issues.  When we finally did, it was too late to cover the birth, and would only take effect the following month.  Yep, ridiculous)  And while the business is doing OK, the massive increase in the number of survival stores in the past 2 years, plus some problems with an unethical competitor last year left us pretty damaged.  All in all, not what you hope life is going like when you hear ‘hey, its twins!’.

Wait, we had 3?

Wait, we had 3?

Still, the main benefit of preparedness is that what might be a catastrophe for one family is only an inconvenience for another.  Having twins brought into focus many of the things we have done right over the past number of years, plus some of the things we still need to work on.  Here are a couple things we did right that let us weather the storm without going bankrupt, as well as a couple more that provide me peace of mind every day.

1)  Save, save, and save some more:  I am pretty fanatical about saving.  And to be truly prepared, you have to be too.  In 2000, when I was flat broke and several thousand dollars in debt, I still saved.  So to those who don’t save, don’t tell me its because you can’t.  Every paycheck back then I took $5 and put it in an envelope; when saving is the FIRST thing you do, not the last, you can make it happen.  When I worked overtime or got a raise, I put away $5 more.  If I got a birthday card from Mom, half that money went in the envelope.  I remember the day, standing in a crappy 1 BR apartment, when I looked and I had $500 in the envelope.  I hadn’t seen $500 in a VERY long time.  (And only a couple times total up to that point in my life)

No matter what, I NEVER stopped saving, whether it was just a dollar or whether it was $50.  By developing a savings mindset, you learn self-control with your money.  So yes, it hurt like hell when we got hospital bills every day for a month for the delivery of our babies.  And yes, writing thousand dollar checks more than a few times sucked.  However, because we always put money aside, we were able to cover our bills without going into debt, and without relying on family or the government.

2)  Save more part 2:  NEVER BUY A NEW CAR:  Everyone hears this advice, and so many still don’t take it.  I don’t care what your reasoning is (unless you are independently wealthy and buying a new car doesn’t register on the checkbook), I’ve heard all the excuses.  ‘I have to have a reliable car…’ or ‘It’s for the kids…’  Guess what?  Everyone needs a safe, reliable car for themselves and their kids if they have them.  That still doesn’t mean you need a new car.  Back when I was at Dollar General, I desperately wanted a Toyota FJ Cruiser.  With my income at that time, any car dealer would have gladly sold me a new one.  A used one a couple of years old was going for $17k, something any bank would give me a personal car loan for.  My self-given budget before I started car shopping was $10k.  I bet you all know someone who would have bought the FJ Cruiser in my spot.

What did my wife and I do?  We searched cars.com, Craigslist, eBay and 5 other auto websites for 6 months until we found a perfect, clean, shiny 2005 Jeep Jiberty for $10,000 (this was 2007).  It was such a good deal the owner told me to walk away if I wanted to offer less.  And considering I sold my ‘old’ car, a cool little Toyota MR2 for $6300 (also paid for in cash from the money I saved by quitting smoking in 2003), I was only out of pocket around $4k.  Instead of giving in to the desire for the ‘new shiny’, we stuck to our budget and instead got the best deal we could for what we allocated toward a new vehicle.

Do you know what I drive today, even though we’re in much better financial shape than even back in 2007?  A 2005 Jeep Liberty we paid cash for in 2007.  It’s been incredibly dependable and such a huge blessing to our finances.

In 2010, my wife wanted something bigger to help with her eBay business.  Again, we could have afforded (according to conventional thinking of the average car salesman) a new or newish Tahoe or the like.  After a month of shopping, my wife found a 1999 Chevy Suburban with 121,000 miles.  We wrote a check for $6950.  What is my wife driving today?  A 1999 Chevy Suburban.  I imagine we’ve saved $30,000-$40,000 since we met over what the average family spends on vehicles.  Please take my advice on this if you are tight on your finances; vehicles tend to be the #1 budget buster for most families.

3)  A food storage program can cut many food costs in half:  We’re not big couponers, though my wife and I have talked about getting into it.  However, we still do what we can to save on groceries, and our food storage lets us do that pretty easily.  The financial benefits of food storage is what really convinced my wife to let us start prepping more heavily.  How so?  Our food storage system means that we store about 90 days worth of all the groceries we regularly eat in our basement.  The result is we generally don’t ever have to pay full price for any of our groceries.  When our peanut butter comes up Buy-one-get-one at Publix, we don’t just buy 2 jars…we buy 10-20.  So we get a years worth of peanut butter for half the cost of picking it up one jar at a time when we run out.  Because the majority of our food, from pasta to fish sticks, comes up eventually buy one get one, by having a storage program we essentially cut our grocery costs in half, without trying to finagle the system with coupons (though to those folks who can, more power to you!).  Most of our other items (plus our paper products) we buy at Sam’s, and get a discount by buying in bulk.

4)  Know where your finances are:  For a long time I worried that if I died, my wife would have a hard time figuring out where all our finances were.  We have multiple checking accounts for home and business, IRA’s, a 401(k) from my old job, an HSA for me, and a couple of savings accounts.  In most households, one person handles the finances, generally whoever is most money savvy, whether husband or wife.  For our family, that is me.  But what happens if something happens to us?  It is imperative our spouses or someone responsible knows about our finances as well.

I created a special folder on our computer called ‘For My Wife, If I Die Go here’.  My wife laughed, but is genuinely thankful that the information she needs is readily available if something happens to me.  It contains a spreadsheet of all of our accounts, insurance policies, passwords, and balances (which I try to update every 3 months or so).  It would be a terrible hassle for my wife to try to figure out all this on her own if she were mourning the loss of her husband, if she even knew where to look.  I even put in some advice as to what I recommend she spend the modest amount of life insurance money on (Pay off the house and rental mainly, and save anything left).  This way, I’ve done what I can to protect my family to the best of my ability should something happen to me.

Write down all your financial info somewhere, whether on a spreadsheet or in a notebook.  And then make sure your spouse knows where it is and how to interpret it.

5)  Try Out The Auction Lifestyle:  I started writing a book I was planning to call ‘The eBay Lifestyle’ a few years back…until eBay sent me a cease and desist order.  While I never finished the book, my wife and I continue to live what I now call ‘The Auction Lifestyle’.  In short, all it means is that my wife and I understand the value of things, because we think about where we spend every penny.  When you understand the value of ‘stuff’, you tend to make smart spending decisions. (including NOT spending on many things)

An Example:  The hospital rented us a heavy duty breast pump for a few weeks after my wife’s delivery.  Because we have twins, pumping is a constant in our house.  After things got a touch settled, my wife and I started looking at the costs involved in renting the breast pump.  Over 2 years, the cost was going to be $1500.  Not unreasonable, was my initial reaction.  However, we were able to find the same breast pump used on Craigslist (with a bunch of bottles and nipples to boot!) for $500.  We returned the hospital one and bought the used one on Craigslist.  Better still, after we are done with it, we will likely be able to resell the pump for the same $500 we paid for it.  With just a little bit of effort, we saved close to $1500.

We do that same math with essentially every purchase we make over $100.  By buying quality used items we can often resell, our costs for most hard goods (over time) is very close to $0.  Our entire nursery set, which includes 2 cribs, a changing table, lamp, chair, bouncy seats, etc, which new could have cost us over $3500, we spent $1000 on.  (And we know several families, a couple of whom live mostly paycheck-to-paycheck, who would just put the $3500 on credit cards).  And after we are done with it, we will be able to sell all of it for very close to what we paid.

I know most preppers are pretty good with their money, and are usually frugal.  However, I know one prepper (a great friend, don’t get me wrong) who bought not one, but two new cars in the past 5 years…and who wonders why he never gets their student loan debt paid off.  Luckily, he finally took some good advice and started an online retail business like ours, and is going to be able to dig his family out of debt very quickly.=)

What most of this advice boils down to is:  Be intentional with your money.  If you do that, over time you will be much more prepared to deal with what life throws your way.


03 2014

How Very Les Stroud! – Blizzard Tree Shelter

Quick survival tip on how to survive a blizzard if you’re stuck in the woods.TreeShelter_29


02 2014