Wednesday, September 18, 2019

New Book Underway: Low-Nonsense Doomsteading.

   Doomsteading.  An admittedly sensationalized term for taking what country folk have always done (making ready for lapses in infrastructure) up a few notches.  Building a rural homestead that can endure extended, even permanent loss of utilities, services, and regular supply sources.  That sort of thing.

   We've been quietly doing this for quite a while.  Thought of doing a book on the subject a year or two back, but it seemed like it might have been be too late.  Appeared to be time to focus on actually hunkering down for the collapse ourselves...

   Then, somewhat to my amazement, Western Civilization managed to dodge the kill shot in November, hopefully buying us a little more time to prepare.

   So the composition of Low-Nonsense Doomsteading is underway.  I'll rotate rough draft pages through this blog as the work proceeds...


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Communications: Internet of Last Resort.

   TEOTWAWKI Doomstead is in the hills on the far end of a rural county, more than a mile (rough and rocky access 'road' with a creek to ford) back into the woods.  Forget about cable, fiber, or even passable cell signal out here.  We do have a line from the old phone company, and have been able to get the ragged edge of a DSL connection.  But, since Windstream bought out the local co-op, maintenance hasn't been a thing.  I can only patch the brittle, aging copper wires and corroding junction boxes together for just so long myself.  And we were paying way too much for under 5Mbps at best, when it worked at all.

   So we finally decided to try the only alternative there is for us.  Satellite Internet.  Despite the horrific reputation it has online...

The Deceptions!

   One of the complaints I often read about Satellite is that the companies (all both of them) lie to get people to buy...  There's some truth to this.  But I have to wonder if the complainers are "new" or something.  In my day, we were educated young by comic book ads for X-Ray Specs and Sea Monkeys.  Advertisers have been known to stretch the truth just a bit!  The pretty lady in the Satellite commercial has like 30 seconds to get you interested.  She's gonna keep it simple and positive, but not entirely honest!

   "FAST SPEEDS"...    Well, I suppose they're fast relative to dial-up or a bad DSL.  But not really anything to brag-on in the world of cable, fiber, 4G, etc.  Folks just a few miles closer into town are supposed to be able to get DSL with twice Hughesnet Satellite's advertised speed.

   "UNLIMITED DATA"...   Hughesnet is fibbing pretty bad with this one.  They don't cut you off or charge you extra if you overshoot your monthly data cap, but they do throttle your access speed down to under 3Mbps for the rest of the month.  ViaSat is a little harder to pin-down.  But they will also throttle your service for a while if their algorithm determines you are using too much data too quickly. 

   "STREAM VIDEO"...  Some.  But you're gonna need the super-premium package to stream HD NetFlix, Hulu, or whatever for binge-watching.  Even then, you'll be astonished how quickly you burn through your data.

   "ALL THE THINGS YOU LOVE ON THE INTERNET"...  Unless you love real-time gaming, sensitive content (to the degree that you need a VPN), or using your home WiFi as a hotspot for your cellphones.  Latency (the delay created by the time it takes your signal to make the side-trip to a satellite 25,000 miles away) makes these things difficult to impossible.

   "AFFORDABLE PRICE"...  Well, compared to paying to have enough infrastructure privately installed to reach good Internet hard wire, it's affordable.  But it's more money for less value than any other broadband on the market, subscription-wise. (Especially if you remember to include the equipment rental!)

   Funny thing is, five to ten minutes reading the Hughesnet website would have consumers forewarned of all this.  They give a pretty good estimate of how much you can do with a gigabyte of data.  They admit that latency ruins gaming, screws-up VPNs, and makes cellphone-through-WiFi a mess.  You just have to scroll down the page a bit.  Go to the FAQs.

   Instead, people chat with a rep on the phone...  Forgetting that these are SALESPEOPLE.  They are paid to get you to order the service, not to talk you out of it!  Most of them don't even use Satellite themselves.  They probably aren't intentionally lying when they tell you that you can do games, HD video binging, etc.  They're just guessing that you can, because they figure that's just regular Internet stuff!

   I read the site.  Knew about the confessed shortcomings.  Ordered it anyway.  'Cause I'm getting too damned old, and have too much else to do, to be spending days Tarzanning around in the trees re-stringing broken telecom lines!


   Because Satellite Internet requires transmitting as well as receiving, you're not legally allowed to self-install like you can with Satellite TV.  But there's no way that the Satellite Internet companies, with only a little over a million subscribers apiece, spread-out over the hemisphere, can maintain a fleet of trucks and crews to do installation and service.  So they have to rely on independent contractors.  (Some of whom then rely on sub-contractors!) 

   So the folks who show up to mount your dish and set-up your router are a mixed bag.  Lots of horror stories about obnoxious installers who left a mess and / or did a lousy installation.  (Even though HughesNet and ViaSat both have detailed installation standards and requirements, with photo verification and post-surveys.)

   The lad they sent 'round to do our set-up was polite, knew his job, and got it done well and efficiently.  He was driving an old, somewhat battered pickup truck, which is really for the best considering the kinds of places that need HughesNet Residential.  I would've felt bad if he'd had to drive a shiny, new vehicle through the rough brush and rocky, rutted path that we call a driveway.

   I suspect a lot of the complaints about Satellite Internet have to do with poor installation.  It's difficult to hold on a target at 25,000 miles!  The dish may get a good signal through trees in the Winter, then lose it when they fill with leaves in the Spring.  A dish mounted to a shaky structure isn't going to have consistent reception.  Even a fairly solid wooden structure may swell and shrink with the weather and throw your alignment off.


   Only six weeks in at this writing, so just getting a feel for this Buck Rogers tech...

   Speed...  I've been checking regularly, and I usually get the advertised 25Mbps or better from HughesNet with proper, long-format tests.  The more common quick tests indicate how erratic the speed is though.  Ranging from 2 to 50Mbps from one moment to the next.  Latency / ping is so high that some tests can't even measure it correctly.

  Reliability...  Severe storms have taken us offline a couple of times so far. (Naturally the weather goes to Hell in a handbasket the week after I get the dish.)  Both times, the system came back online when the weather started to let-up.  Other than that, the connection has been constant.

   Ease of use...  At the user end, it's your basic broadband router.  Four Ethernet ports and WiFi.  You can access the modem's internal software through your browser to see current satellite signal strength, remaining plan data, etc.

   Basic Internet Functions...  Email, web browsing, research, message boards, social media, private messages, online shopping, etc.  All these pretty much work normally.

   Video streaming...  I don't know about NetFlix, Hulu, or the rest of the subscription services.  (We get Gunsmoke and Svengoogie via an old-fashioned antenna. Who needs anything else?)  Other Internet videos work, but can be a bit tricky.
   Video servers usually check your connection speed, use an algorithm to decide what resolution to send you, at which data rate, with what amount of buffer.  At the same time it's doing this, the video page is sending you advertisements, annotations, suggested videos (with thumbnails and maybe previews), and the comments section.   With the satellite latency and erratic transfer speed making this a bad case of cyber-hiccups, the server often gets confused and sticks you in the super-slow lane with repeated buffering.
   An ad blocker helps.  I pause the video immediately, then switch off annotations, manually set the resolution to SD (480), scroll down a bit to load the comments, let the suggested videos thumbnails load...  By this point the video should have a bit of buffer loaded, and should play well when I resume it.

   Uploading...  No problems so-far.  Much faster than the DSL was on its best day.

   Downloading...  No matter how fast your connection speed, you can only download as fast as the servers will  feed you the file.  Downloading from a monolithic host has been very fast.  Downloading from any sort of torrent/P2P type server tends to be horribly slow.  I suspect this is due to the satellite latency slowing down the ever-switching connections involved, bottlenecking the flow.  Still looking for a workaround.

   VoIP...  Saying "goodbye" to Windstream also meant losing our land-line phone.  With no cell service back here, we would have to rely on phone via Internet.  Due to the connection switching latency, this has known issues with Satellite.  Both Satellite providers have their own VoIP services that are supposed to be optimized for the purpose.  But we're trying the third party VoIP we already had, which costs well under half as much. 
   Aside from the inevitable lag, it works well with outgoing calls.  But it doesn't ring-through for incoming.  Those go to voicemail/email.  Need to check with VoIPly to see if they have a fix on their end.

   Data...  I was in for a surprise when we started.  I knew we were being frugal, but the needle on our 'fuel gauge' not only didn't go down quickly, it seemed to be going back up now and then!
   Turns out this wasn't a delusion.  Although they don't promise/advertise it, HughesNet seems to give new users a 20 day breaking-in period during which data consumption doesn't count.  Now that this is over, I see that the plan data is being consumed at a rate that will probably have us run out of data before the end of the month this time around.  Then we'll see how much of a handicap the throttled speed is, and whether the throttle is lifted during the bonus hours.




Friday, February 1, 2019

LND: On Guns...

   When it comes to guns, the LATOC, prepper, and survivalist folks run quite the gamut.  From hippies who think the oncoming discontinuity will finally give Mankind the chance to discard evil weaponry and live together in harmony (good luck with that), to Rambo wannabes who are obsessed with having enough military-style firepower to hold-off the Zombie Masses, all the way back around to Apocalypse Absolutists who argue that pointed sticks and fists are the way to go because guns will become useless when the ammo dries-up...

   In practical terms, guns are useful, sometimes essential tools for the doomsteader.  Calling 911 is already an iffy proposition out in the country, and will become more so as the collapse continues.   We're even less likely to be able to rely on Animal Control to deal with feral dogs, coyotes, and other menaces to the livestock.  Hunting has usually been a way to augment rural diets.  And farm animals sometimes need to be dispatched.  (If you think Old Yeller was sad, imagine if Travis had to use a fence post instead of a rifle!)

   Even if it were a good idea, you can't un-invent technology.  Guns are going to be around whether you're a fan of shootin' irons or not.  So you'd best familiarize yourself with them.

Gun Tech...

   Guns are really pretty simple technology.  If it were somehow possible for the Authorities to eliminate enough of the hundreds of millions of guns that are already out there in America to create a shortage, making more would be no great difficulty.  Never mind the new 3D printable firearms.  Anyone with a little skill and access to a typical garage can whip-up zip-guns and slam-fire shotguns easily.  A hobbyist with a decent backyard machine shop can produce fully-functional, modern firearms.  In fact, it is far easier to fabricate a modern submachine gun than a common revolver.  So attempts to disarm the public could actually result in weapons upgrades.

Training Hype...

   "Get training!" the parrots love to squawk when you talk about guns.  And it certainly is important that anyone handling firearms know how to do so safely and with a reasonable degree of skill.  But the obsession with formal, standardized instruction and certification plays into the hands of hoplophobes.  Modern guns are designed to be simple and easy to carry and use safely.  Stick to a few rules (covered in another chapter) and you won't shoot anyone you don't mean to.  A modest amount of practice, and you'll be able to competently shoot someone or something when you need to.  It just isn't rocket science.

   There are also a lot of folks out there selling tactical / combat / advanced defense shooting courses.  If it looks like something you'd enjoy, go for it.  But don't take it too seriously.  More than a few of the wannabe gunfighting experts are working to prove Barnum's theory about suckers being born every minute.  Even those with legit combat or police cred have training and experience in something that has rather little bearing on anything we're likely to face defending our doomsteads.

Guns Do Not Imbue Superpowers...
Biggest gun doesn't automatically win!

   After a much-publicized incident where one jihadi reportedly gunned-down dozens of people in a nightclub, some noted that one patron with a handgun might have cut short the rampage and saved many lives.  I was struck by how many people thought this was ridiculous because there's no way someone with a pistol could stop a maniac wielding an "assault weapon".

   Picking up a gun... Even a scary, black, modern-looking rifle, does not make a person invulnerable to a humble .38 Special bullet from a cheap revolver.  Or a tire-iron to the the back of the head for that matter.  Remember that a gun isn't a magical trump card, whether it's in your hands or someone else's.

Gun Jocks, Range Snobs...

   Guns are like a lot of other things in that you can go cheap and get junk, spend a bit more and get decent quality, or spend a king's ransom to get something just a little bit better.  Most people find the price-to-quality balance that suits them, and the brand / design type they find most appealing, and are comfortable with their choice.  They also respect that others have their own priorities and will choose differently.

   Then there are jackasses who hang around firing ranges and Internet forums and seem to think that anyone who buys less than the Super-Elite Deluxe Custom Special Platinum model firearm is pathetic trailer trash.   Sometimes it's a Fudd who believes his engraved and inlaid over-under fowling piece is morally superior to your economy model pump shotgun.  Other times it's a wannabe Operator who belittles any rifle not chambered in the latest super-cartridge and fitted with optics that cost more than a nice used car.  Frequently it's someone with an irrational fixation on their favorite brand.  (Looking at you, Glocktards.)

   Also acting as the rain on everyone else's parade are the know-it-all types who have to rag on anyone who doesn't (yet) shoot quite as well as they do.  Or uses a different grip or stance, even if they DO shoot better!

   Basically, try to ignore these jerks.  If you need to shoot a deer to feed your family, an old thutty-thutty with factory irons will get it done just fine.  If you have to stop a punk who just kicked-in your front door, it's not going to matter if you can shoot 100% in the ten-ring, or if you teacup your grip.  And the bullet holes will be the same whether you use a Kimber or a Hi-Point.  If today turns out to be the day you have to defend yourself, a Taurus revolver in the hand is worth much more than a Colt Python you're saving-up for.

Safety Sally...

   You can't emphasize safety too much, right?  ...WRONG!  Harping on something incessantly doesn't get your point across.  It gets you tuned-out and ignored.  And, after a point, it becomes lame "virtue signalling".

   Yes, it is essential to employ safe gun handling habits and procedures.  But check out Internet videos and you'll see it taken to weird levels.  Some gun reviewers verify their guns are unloaded so many times I think they are going to wear the things out with all that compulsive slide-racking.  What?  Do you think it magically reloaded in the two seconds since you last checked it? 

   Then come the comments.  "You swept somebody/something!"  "Can't you see that traffic downrange?!"  "You don't have a good enough backstop!"

   Of course everyone muzzle-sweeps themselves and other people sometimes.  It is impossible not to.  That traffic downrange is miles beyond the range of the shotguns we're shooting.  (You can't judge distance on a video screen.)  We know what is beyond that treeline or hill rise you think we're counting on as a backstop. 

   So chill-out.  You can practice and encourage safe firearms handling without being an obnoxious nag.

Shot Placement Is Everything...

   When discussions turn to choice of caliber, someone is bound to spout the old chestnut about shot placement.  And it is true that a hit with a BB gun will do more damage than a miss with a 12 gauge slug.  But, given the same shot placement, caliber can make a huge difference.  When you're a split second from dying if you don't shoot the other guy first, you will not be a perfect marksman, no matter how much time you've put in on the range.  Caliber can be the difference between a bullet that slows down in clothes and surface flesh before stopping against a rib, and a bullet that crashes through that rib and the vital organs beyond.

   Yes, the humble .22 rimfire has an impressive record of lethality.  But having a maniac die of internal bleeding or peritonitis hours or days after you shoot him won't do you much good.  You need something that is going to end the threat immediately.

   Choose the most potent caliber you can shoot well and reasonably carry.


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