Category Archives: Technology
By: Tom Chatham
Energy can be found in many different forms. Our need for energy determines how fast the economy can grow or how much work each of us can do. The world would be much different without the many types of energy available today. If energy becomes scarce in the future, your life may depend on what you know about it.
A good man is said to be about equal to 1/10th horsepower. Even that little amount of power can be used to grow food, produce small amounts of electrical power by hand and move loads. It is the smallest unit of power that you want to have available to you. If you are very young or very old that power will be limited and other sources will be needed to make up the difference.
The availability of draft animals can increase your production many times over that of human power. Animals can be used not only to pull loads and plow fields but to provide power for mechanical devices to increase output. The ability to fuel these animals with locally produced foods, many of which are unrefined and unharvested, gives you the self sufficiency required to produce under most circumstances.
The ability to convert most energy sources for use provides the means to power mechanical devices to do a multitude of jobs both small and large. Whether it is a waterwheel used to grind grains, a horse to press sorghum, an engine to provide transportation or a tractor to plow a field, most energy sources are converted into mechanical energy for useful work. The more energy available, the more work you can do.
Electricity is a cornerstone of modern life. Nearly everything we do relies on electricity. Most of the devices we use are just advanced models of the manual devices in use many years ago. Electricity can be produced by generators powered by mechanical devices or from chemical reactions. It can be used as it is produced or stored in various ways for later use.
The ability to convert heat energy into other forms is one of the first ways man learned to harness power. Steam engines to power machines, steam to heat buildings and cook food and the burning of solid materials to alter molecular structures of resources are just some of the ways we use heat to provide the materials we need and to accomplish work. With a thermoelectric generator you can convert heat directly into electricity similar to how a solar cell produces electricity.
The ability to convert solid energy into liquid products that concentrate the energy and make it more useful has been beneficial to the human race. Petroleum, alcohol, LPG, animal fats, and other plant based fuels provide us with an energy source that is highly mobile and easily utilized.
Solid fuel sources almost all started as something else before achieving a solid state. Wood, coal and animal dung are some of the sources of energy we rely on for everyday use around the world. Most solid energy sources rely on a combination of hydrogen and carbon content to provide the energy they emit. At the most basic level, solid fuels are the most readily available energy source for individuals. There are very few energy systems that we use that wood and coal cannot provide the power for. They can be converted into a gas by burning to be used in internal combustion engines or burned to provide heat for other processes.
The use of combustible gasses as a source of energy is more difficult and requires special equipment to be useful. It can be derived from a multitude of sources which makes it a good energy source. It can be extracted from gas deposits in the ground or produced by the decay or burning of plant material. The production of wood gas and methane from animal waste products is a process within the capabilities of the individual.
Diesel power plants for closed loop operation in an underground base was studied for practicality. The system would utilize sodium hydroxide for disposal of carbon dioxide in the exhaust gas, liquid oxygen for the combustion of the fuel in the engines and fuel oil stored in tanks to power the engines. Fuel cells and nuclear power were deemed more cost effective in the end.
The ability of some chemicals to emit energy when combined in certain combinations is useful in some applications. A simple storage battery allows the storing of electrical power in chemical form. A fuel cell can combine hydrogen and oxygen or other combinations to produce usable power. Water can be electrolyzed to break it into these two gasses for storage.
An interesting note on chemical power is a system the government developed for powering underground bases. Boeing determined that iron-chlorine fuel cells would be the most efficient. This power scheme utilized underground tanks filled with liquid chlorine that was combined with hydrogen to form hydrochloric acid (HCL). This reaction created electricity in the fuel cells. The HCL is then pumped into tanks filled with small iron balls. This reaction results in ferrous chloride and hydrogen gas which is pumped back to the fuel cell to be combined with liquid chlorine starting the cycle over. It was determined that this was the most cost effective method up to four years use while liquid metal cooled nuclear reactors would be more cost effective for longer periods.
Natural power sources-
Some of the available energy sources we have to draw on do no fit neatly into other categories. Sunlight to produce electricity, wind to turn a generator, flowing water to turn a shaft and nuclear energy all provide energy we can harness with special equipment. Many types of natural forces exist that have the potential to provide energy. We are only now starting to unlock some of the secrets of this little known world. Men like Tesla are thought to have discovered some of these secrets only to have them lost to time.
In many ways, most of the energy sources we depend on today can be traced back to the sun itself. Solar energy causes the earth to heat and cool causing wind. It enables plants to grow which can produce gasses when they decay or in some cases store energy while living that can be used like the wood in trees. Plant life can lead to sources of stored energy like coal and petroleum. The heating of the planet causes evaporation which leads to rain that flows downhill providing a source of water power. With some simple materials the heat of the sun can be harnessed for power and the light itself can be converted into electrical power. The sun is the ultimate expression of energy and the many forms it can take that can be harnessed for human use.
Some of the easiest energy sources for the individual to tap into are:
The primary use for sunlight is to grow things. Photosynthesis makes the world we know possible. Sunlight can be harnessed to produce electricity directly utilizing solar cells or with panels to trap the heat for multiple uses. The heat can be used to produce steam, heat food or power absorption type refrigeration units. Passive and active systems can also be used to heat homes.
Wind can be harnessed to propel a ship or turn a windmill. With a windmill you can turn a shaft to do mechanical work like grind grain, turn a generator or pump water.
Water flowing from a high place to lower levels can be harnessed to turn a shaft to do mechanical work much as a windmill can. With a stored body of water, you can control when you use it and how much work you do. In some regards, it is much like a storage battery.
Fuel sources like wood or coal can be burned to power many types of devices. They can be burned to produce heat or turned into a gas to be used in gas appliances or internal combustion engines. In the 1800’s prior to electricity, town gas was used to power stoves, heaters and gas lamps. The town gas was produced by burning coal.
A gas burns more efficiently than a solid or a liquid because it can mix more thoroughly with air to achieve more complete combustion. Propane and natural gas are the most utilized types of gas in use today. Unless you have a natural gas well in your yard, it would be difficult to get one of these gasses if supplies were cut off for some reason. A gas made from wood or coal may be adaptable for modern appliances with some experimentation. Methane made from animal waste is a viable alternative if a sufficient supply exists. By storing this waste in an enclosed container with some water and other organic material, bacteria will release the methane from the waste and provide a usable gas. In some third world countries this gas is used to power stoves for cooking. In the U.S. some large livestock operations such as dairy farms, use this gas for producing electricity. With wood or coal gas a person can power engines such as generators or vehicles.
The most common liquid fuels used today are derived from petroleum. Petroleum fuels are derived from complex distillation techniques that result in products with dozens or even hundreds of different chemicals in them. It would be difficult for the average person to effectively refine petroleum from crude oil. It is possible to reprocess some petroleum products individually. One fuel a person can make is black diesel. It is made from used motor oil and can be used to power older diesel engines. Some newer engines have sensors that monitor the fuel and the dark fuel prevents them from registering properly so it may not work on them properly. Diesel can also be made from plant based oils such as those used in cooking.
Another liquid fuel an individual can produce is alcohol. Alcohol can be made from many different plants. Some plants produce more than others. One of the most widely used plants is corn. A professional distillery can extract about 2.5 gallons of alcohol from a bushel of corn. One of the misconceptions is that fuels for internal combustion engines must be liquid. While this is the current method it is very inefficient. In the 1930’s a man succeeded in improving the gas mileage of cars. He developed a system of fully vaporizing gasoline and cooling it sufficiently before entering the engine. His system resulted in consistent results of over 200 mpg. This is the root of all of the stories about a 100 mpg carburetor. Unfortunately when the results of his tests became known the system quickly disappeared and the experiment has never been repeated. The problem with vaporizing modern gasoline is that it contains so many different chemicals. It would need to be heated to over 400 degrees to fully vaporize.
Alcohol is a much better candidate for a vapor system. Since alcohol is a single chemical, it will vaporize at 180 degrees. This is within the normal operating temperature of a vehicle. When vaporized, the energy content of a gallon of alcohol should theoretically give you around 90 mpg. Just something to think about in the future.
No matter where you are, if you look around you will likely see several types of energy you can use if you are ever thrown back on your own resources. Most people see these things every day and never give them a second thought. When planning for the future, whatever your plans are, it is necessary to give some thought to energy sources, how they affect you and how you plan to utilize them. Whether it is food to live, fuel to cook, heat and provide transportation or light to see, you will require energy in many different ways even for a relatively simple lifestyle. The knowledge you can gain now is relatively cheap but will have incomprehensible value to you in the future whatever you may do.
By: Tom Chatham
Once you have started your homestead, you will want to make it as productive as possible in order to provide the many different items that enhance your quality of life. For a homesteader, quality of life will usually take precedence over monetary gain so some of your endeavors will achieve nothing more than personal satisfaction. Even so, in the process of providing satisfaction in your own life, you may be able with the aid of certain tools, to provide for additional production that can be traded or sold. Nothing could be better than enjoying the fruits of your labor and making some extra money to boot. Many of the tools that you acquire will be based largely on the types of production activities you are involved in so a homesteader should take that into account before they begin. Compiling a list of needed items in your future endeavor will help determine if it is a worthwhile purchase or if the funds should be spent elsewhere. For someone just starting out, every dime is important so careful thought should be given to any planned production activity. For many, it may take years of saving to acquire all of the tools that you wish to have so priorities must be assigned to the most beneficial tools. A benefit of buying slowly and purchasing quality tools is the knowledge that it is a purchase you will only need to make once in your lifetime if care is taken.
Ice cream maker
Manual washing machine
Manual water pump
Manual sewing machine
With a supply of woodworking tools and the knowledge to use them, many of these items, which can be expensive, can be homemade. In the coming weeks watch our blogroll for links to do-it-yourself plans for some of these items. The more you can build yourself, the less your homesteading activities will cost you and the greater your profit potential. The more production capabilities you have, the better you will be able to navigate the difficult times that are on the horizon. With the increasing energy demands of the world and the increasing cost of production, non-electric devices free you from the uncertainty of how you will process your raw materials into products you can use or sell. Power equipment can do more faster, but simple tools allow you to produce regardless of the energy situation and the simplicity of operation allows you to do most repairs on equipment yourself with minimal tools and repair parts. The world is changing and the more you can do for yourself, the better your quality of life will be in the future.
By: Tom Chatham – Author of The Crux Event
In 1859, an event unlike anything experienced before by modern man, occurred. A massive Coronal Mass Ejection occurred on the sun sending vast quantities of solar particles on a collision course with Earth. The result of this collision caused severe disruptions with the only major electrical equipment then in existence, the telegraph system. Magnetic observatories recorded disturbances in the Earths magnetic field that were literally off the scale.
Auroras were seen as far south as the Caribbean, gold miners in the Rocky Mountains were awakened by a light so bright they thought it was morning and those in the northeast could read news papers by the light.
Telegraph systems throughout Europe and North America failed and in some cases shocked telegraph operators. Telegraph lines threw sparks, paper in some telegraph offices caught fire and some lines continued to send messages even after the battery power had been removed from the line. The electrical effects were severe but the lack of electrical devices in use at this time allowed society to continue as normal and this disturbance was viewed as nothing more than a curiosity.
Scientists believe events of this size can occur every 500 years and events of a lesser but still destructive magnitude can happen several times per century. Scientists are getting better at predicting space weather but mother nature often times ignores our best forecasting and throws us a curve.
What would happen if a storm of this magnitude were to strike the Earth today? The biggest worry we have is the power grid. Satellites would be affected preventing most communications and financial transactions but if the grid goes down due to transformer blowouts, it could be a long time before we get it back up. The larger transformers 500+ KV in size cost millions of dollars and take 1 to 3 years to get even in normal times. Very few of these are kept in supply and the loss of dozens or hundreds at one time could be a disaster as only a small number are made every year and none are currently made in the U.S.
If many of these large transformers went down, it would take down our high tech society with it. Many of our cars and computers and appliances would probably still work, but how would we run them without power? How would we pump water to cities and pump fuel so trucks and trains could deliver food and medicine? How would our medical system operate without the high tech gadgets we depend on to keep people alive and diagnose them? How would we communicate and conduct financial business without our computers? Yes, we have backup generators but how long will they last before they run out of fuel that we can no longer process, pump and deliver?
This is the nightmare scenario we need to address before it happens. Currently we can detect CMEs about 20 hours before they reach Earth. The current plan is to notify power companies of the danger so they can shut down parts of the grid and protect the transformers before they get burnt out. It’s a plan but I feel the need to ask, is this really the best plan we can come up with? What happens if mother nature throws us a curve and we don’t have time to power down the transformers? A report from the EMP commission stated that it would cost about $60 to $100 million to protect the 300 largest transformers that power the grid and an additional $400 to $600 million to protect an additional 3,000 transformers but our leaders don’t think that would be the best use for our money. A NASA report indicates that within 90 seconds of a Carrington Event reaching Earth, the 300 largest transformers in the U.S. would go down and recovery would take 4 to 10 years and some estimates place the death toll in the tens of millions of people.
If the grid goes down civilized society as it is will disintegrate rapidly due to the lax moral standards we now have as a society. The pictures of Japanese citizens patiently waiting in line to get supplies after the 2011 tsunami is a stark difference from what you could expect in the U.S. As with many potential problems, if the government would only discuss it in public and offer the public some simple preparedness tips and discuss how we as a nation would repair the damage, the public knowledge would help mitigate the damage and aid in recovery operations. Unfortunately, that’s not how we do things in the 21st century.
So how do we know how bad it was in 1859 if we didn’t have electronic devices back then to measure it?
To be maximally geoeffective , ie: to drive a magnetic storm, a CME must
(1) be launched from near the center of the sun onto a trajectory that will cause it to impact Earths magnetic field,
(2) be fast (1000 km/sec + ) and massive, thus producing large kenetic energy and
(3) have a strong magnetic field where orientation is opposite that of Earth.
Solar Energetic Particle events dominated by shock-accelerated particles traveling near the speed of light are channeled along geomagnetic field lines into the upper atmosphere above the poles where they can initiate ozone depleting chemistry in the middle atmosphere. Nitrates produced by SEP bombardment settle out of the atmosphere within weeks and are preserved in polar ice, allowing the magnitude of the SEP to be estimated many years later. This is how we can estimate the magnitude of the Carrington Event and apply it to modern technology.
Some scientists fear that the solar maximum that will peak in 2013 will spawn another CME similar to the Carrington Event causing catastrophic results on Earth. The recent uptick in solar storms may give some credence to our newfound concerns. The problem with a solar event as opposed to a manmade event is the possibility that we could be hit multiple times over the course of months before it diminishes. This could make recovery efforts many times more difficult. It is possible for individuals to prepare for an event like this to limit the hardships but this is something that must be done well in advance. The problem is that the vast majority will not prepare and they will cause this disaster to become a catastrophe if it happens. Those that are not prepared to live through a situation like this face a life threatening situation. Those that are prepared, face the danger posed by the unprepared.
The preparations that you make for this situation are similar to many other disasters and will require similar items and planning. For someone just starting out, a review of two previous articles, Your Plan is The Primary Prep on 21 May and Prepping for the Financially Challenged on 6 March, will give you some things to consider. One thing everyone needs to keep in mind is that an event of this magnitude will necessitate a plan that spans multiple years in order to get through it. As I always stress, knowledge is the most important thing to have in a disaster and everyone needs to develop a plan that will work best for them. If the grid goes down besides not being able to travel or communicate, banking records could be frozen or destroyed taking your electronic money along with it. In this situation, the only money you may have access to is what you have on hand in cash and even then you may be limited as to what you will be able to buy. The only safe position is to already have supplies on hand. For this type of disaster, there is no such thing as being prepared too early or having too many supplies.
One final item that you need to plan for is the potential for a nuclear incident following a grid down event. The loss of power to maintain coolant can result in a meltdown of reactor fuel and the more serious problem of spent fuel coolant ponds going dry igniting radioactive fires. In this situation you have two choices, evacuate or shelter in place. Evacuation would be difficult at best and sheltering in place would present its own problems. An uncontrolled radioactive fire can spew radiation for decades so each person would need to evaluate the hazard to their location and plan accordingly. A modern day Carrington Event would be nothing short of Armageddon for the people of this planet.
By: Tom Chatham – Author of The American Dream Lost
Technology has allowed modern man to make life faster, easier and more productive. Technology has many benefits for man but all too often man abuses the tools he has developed and he becomes a slave to them. Take the kitchen for example. Many people do not know how to cook from scratch anymore because they rely on prepackaged frozen foods that can be ready in a matter of minutes without a lot of preparation. Some people would be lost if their coffee was not made automatically and awaited their sleepy bodies in the morning. Some people use a microwave oven exclusively to prepare meals on a daily basis. Even worse, some people rely almost exclusively on fast food for their meals and keep nothing at home to feed their families.
Many young people do not know a time when they could not email, surf the web, text or call someone from anywhere at any time of day. It has become evident that many people, young and old alike would suffer from a type of withdrawal effect if their electronics were lost for even a day. Many people have replaced human contact with electronic correspondence which reduces their human relations skills and many children spend most of their free hours on the computer instead of playing outside with friends as past generations have done, Growing children have a lot of pent up energy and when they don’t release that energy through physical activity it can cause them to be hyperactive in places such as school where they are diagnosed with all kinds of “disorders” that never existed before. This has caused the present generation to be the most highly medicated people in our history.
Lack of regular contact with others can deprive us of skills to deal with everyday life and work through difficult situations. Our dependence on machines and electronics have left many in want of basic necessities when disasters or power outages occur. How many times have you seen people leave home and go to a motel when the power goes out? A snow storm hits and people cannot heat their homes, watch TV or cook food. A thunderstorm knocks out power and people are desperate to find air conditioning and water. I find it incredible that most people feel so important now that they have the need to be on the phone constantly, especially while driving. I can’t help but wonder how we ever made it out of the 1950’s without cell phones.
People have become slaves to the machines they made to make life easier and now cannot live without. People rely on GPS now instead of reading maps and because of that they can be a block away from their destination and not know it if their GPS goes out. The art of writhing letters has been replaced with text messages and symbols. When you realize you are one of these people what could you do to limit the effects of the loss of this technology on occasion?
Spend one afternoon a week and take a walk through the neighborhood, assuming the area is safe, to get to know the neighbors.
At least once a week, cook a meal from scratch and use a cooking source that won’t go out with the power.
Meet a friend occasionally for a cup of coffee and chat instead of using the computer or phone.
Make your kids go outside and play, without the electronic gadgets, or better yet, go outside and play with them.
Have an old fashioned family picnic or a cookout at a local park.
Play board games at home occasionally.
Avoid using your cell phone one day a week or cut out talking while driving all together.
Get a backup heat source such as wood or propane and store some water for a backup supply.
Send a card or write a letter instead of sending an email.
Plant a garden and can some of your own food during the summer.
If you are so dependent on technology that the temporary loss of it causes problems, you are too dependent on it. Using technology to leverage your time and energy is a good thing but it should not replace the human actions we have used for centuries. In the end, the old ways still work and they can help you slow down and enjoy life more rather than speeding through it.
By: Tom Chatham – Author of The American Dream Lost
When the Roman Empire died , the technology and living standard that had spread around Europe slowly died with them. Things such as paved roads, sanitation and aqua ducts to carry fresh water to cities were forgotten over the generations and men reverted to simpler forms of technology. This reversion led to the dark ages. After many generations the people relearned some of the forgotten technologies and advanced once again. There was no global cataclysm that brought about this reversion , it just happened because the men who knew how the technology worked decayed along with the Romans and the average man did not understand the significance of these technologies. Eventually , future generations were ignorant of these technologies that once existed.
Today we are blessed with truly unbelievable technology that holds many benefits for man. Almost everyone has a cell phone or computer , but do any of those people actually know how these things work? A lot of people can build a wood stove from scratch but how many can build a microwave oven or know exactly how a gas oven works? Our technology is dependent on simple machines that create parts for other more complex machines that create parts for machines that can make a computer chip. With each layer of technology , fewer and fewer people actually know how to recreate it from scratch. In our society it may not be necessary to know how to fix your own car or how a phone works because there is always someone else that knows the secrets of these devices. But , what if these people that hold the keys to our knowledge suddenly ceased to exist or if the technology somehow broke and they could not fix it?
It is not unthinkable that a natural or manmade event could create a situation where our technology is damaged or destroyed beyond our ability to repair or recreate it from scratch. If all of our computer chips were destroyed along with the complex machines that make them, how long would it take us to recreate that technology and under what conditions would we be working? How many people in the world have the knowledge to do that? Any event that would destroy our technology would create chaos around the world. It’s not unreasonable to think that this chaos would prevent those with the knowledge from reconstituting our technology base in a timely manner. The longer it remains off line , the harder it will be to recreate it. This time lag could be months , years or generations. As time passes it is less likely that information will be passed on to the next generation to be reconstructed. This is how a society can devolve into a dark age. If information is not passed on it will eventually be lost to the ages.
On a local level , if all of your conveniences were lost , how long would it take you to recreate them from scratch? Could you even do it? Even if you can make fuel for your vehicle , can you make the lubricants to keep it going or the bearings for the wheels to keep them turning? If an event took away most of our machines many would be able to rig up new machines from the parts to use for a while but what happens when these parts wear out? Even if you had a block of copper , and knew how to melt it , do you know how to turn it into a long piece of wire? A simple piece of wire seems pretty simple until you think about it that way.
When we are thrown back on our own resources , we are dependent on the knowledge we have to solve problems. If you needed to reestablish communications with another town with technology that you had to build , what would you do? The simplest form of communication over a distance is light or hand signals but what if you could not see the next town on a direct line of sight? The simplest device you could build in electrical terms is a telegraph set. Could you build the keys , wire and batteries from scratch? Could you build a wagon from scratch to transport goods? The loss of technology would cause a regression to what we are capable of building ourselves.
It is a feeling in the prepper community that you are never finished preparing for disaster. The possible collapse of our technology is the reason for this. With the vast amount of knowledge available to us it is almost impossible for any one person to know it all. This is why it is important to have a good reference library that you can refer to in times of need. I have a set of reference books that tell me how to build a charcoal foundry and from there to produce every part of several basic machining tools minus the electric motor. If I had to , I have the ability to build a small machine shop , powered by alternate means , to produce parts to build other machines. Even if I never build these things , the knowledge is there to pass down to the next generation so it is not forgotten. This could be the difference between living in a new dark age or just having a reduced standard of living for a few generations. I study obsolete technology because it is the basis of all of the technology we have today. It provides me with the basics to start the rebuilding process should it ever be necessary. Many have a plan to survive food disruptions and civil breakdown but how far out do those plans go? At some point , things will stabilize and the rebuilding will begin. Anyone that feels the need to prepare must also feel that they have a duty to the future to insure the continuation of our society. Any skills you have that can be passed on should be and for those you don’t have you should at least have books to pass on that knowledge. Our society cannot go on without a long range plan to at least provide the basics of human needs. Future generations depend on the information that we hand down to them, and lately we haven’t been doing a very good job of it.