Monday, March 01, 2021

Update And Resilience

Update: My father is getting better - slowly.

He has continued to at least look stronger every day that we see him.  His memory seems to be coming a bit more in focus as well - for example, he remembered a hat I was wearing was his and told me I should just take it.  On the other hand, he cannot remember the last month:  he cannot remember my mother moving into a Memory Care location, he cannot remember moving into the assisted living facility (although he was only there a short 14 hours), and he cannot really remember being in the hospital for 10 days.

So we wait for a call from the case manager to find out where we are in the process and how much improvement we might be able to expect before we reach the new reality.  With luck, we can reach something that may not be quite what was there before, but close enough to it.

Resilience:  So The Great Polar Vortex of 2021 (Otherwise known in previous times as "A Hard Winter Storm") has retreated to the history books, leaving behind a wake of death and burst pipes and upcoming insurance increases for everyone in a wide swath of states.  A rather large state - Texas - was without power and water for much of its population during this period and the hippest city in the United States, Austin, which heretofore had been getting all kinds of press as an up and coming great place to be, suffered from rather pointed comparisons to the Third World.  Finger pointing and blame and plans to winterize everything, including probably cattle at this point, abound.

No-one is asking the correct question.

The point of today's exercise is not to parse out blame - after all, blame in the current environment is 110% a function of political based thinking, the us and them of seeking go gain power.

The real question is this:  why is no-one talking about resiliency?

Resilient:  "Capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture; tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change".    As opposed to Fragile:  "Easily broken or destroyed; tenuous; slight".

Yes (to use this example), resiliency is having winterized windmills and gas equipment to withstanding freezing temperatures.  But it is also having multiple inputs of power so that if one system goes down, another one is in line to take over.

Two examples, both recent for me:

Here at The Ranch, we are largely electrical.   The heat  and water heater are supplied by propane.  However, my dad (within the last year) also bought a bang up generator to manage through the electrical outages.  And of course, we have a wood stove with a stone top that will heat water for tea, coffee, and oatmeal just fine.   (I suppose if we truly wanted to have more resilience, we would move the stove to propane as well and have some level of solar or even wind here. Oh well, there is always a little more to do that than you have time for).

Or another example:  my parents and their planning.  Beyond their reliance on government retirement, they provided for their own.  And also bought long term care in the event that they had medical issues (like they do now).  And hadsavings.  And created a trust years ago to help manage the whole thing through probate and through their own final wishes.

In both of these (admittedly personal and limited) examples, there is a back-up to the system such that if one thing fails, something else can take over.  Perhaps not as effectively, but certainly not the same as loosing something completely and going back to zero.

One of my biggest complaints about the modern world in general and cities in particular (and to a lesser extent, the ex-urbs around them) is that they are nothing but fragile resource sinks that cannot supply their own food, water, or energy, and cannot deal with their own outgoing products of refuse and waste.  Any natural environment that exhibited this behavior would be called "unsustainable".  We call it "normal" and continue to pack people in at an alarming rate, and then suddenly feel like we need to call for "sustainability", which really is just another word for someone's planning vision of the future.

(Yes yes, I know:  "Physician, heal thyself".  I too live in a city/ex-urb).  But I am doing my darndest to get out of it at this point.)

Extend this to almost anything needed to live - food, toilet paper, sewers, lighting - and as recent events demonstrated, most folks are one really bad event away from having food, water, lighting, or the ability to dispose of their waste.

Why are we not coming out of this screaming at the top of our lungs "This fragility has to change!"?

Governments, of course, hate this sort of thinking.  It is the kind of thing that chips away at their power and their reason for existing.  Governments like independence like most people like tequila:  in small shots, properly administered with salt and lime.  It also strikes at the chord that there is usually only one "acceptable" solution, that which the government endorses.

It is up to the individuals then.  The question is, will the individuals do it - not only ask the questions about their own personally resilience and take action, but ask the not unreasonable question "Why would we live somewhere that can pretty quickly turn into an effective death trap?"

On the whole, knowing my audience, I suspect I am largely preaching to the choir here.  And yes, I more than understand that there are limitation that we all have.  For example, for us a woodstove in New Home is a remote possibility.  A generator - before a month ago - was a possibility; who knows when supplies may return to normal.  But there are other things that we have done in the past and can do in terms of short to mid-term power supplies and possibly things other things we could do (provided we stay that long).  But my point is that we can all do something to put us in a better position than before.

The reality is we have spent the last 100 years building up a technologically advanced but fragile civilization based on the concept that resources, power, and water will always be available.  To paraphrase an old Mafia term, "Nice civilization you have there.  Be a shame if something happened to it..."


  1. Anonymous4:10 AM

    In our case, the Texas electrical outage was mainly boredom after dark. We have candles for light as well as flashlights / lanterns, white gas and butane stoves for cooking and warm clothing for lack of heat. If we had several memory banks for our entertainment, the loss of power would not have felt as a hardship.

    Burst pipes - we all knew Cold was arriving. Shutting off the main at meter and draining the pipes to lowest fixture could have been drained and nothing to burst. Store water for toilet use - oh look - a bathtub adjacent to toilet. That is convenient.

    Having back-ups is always wise. Like paying insurance premiums - a waste of money until it is REALLY NEEDED.

    1. Anonymous - The one thing that continues to surprise me, even today, is that if one even casually followed the weather, one would have known that bad weather was coming. The memory banks are a good idea of course (live and learn, I suppose) - and the bathtub was an effective measure used by some I know.

      My point is that while some of this was not avoidable, some preparation might have greatly assisted a lot of folks that went through a lot more hardships than they might have had too. Yes, ERCOT and (apparently) the Feds bear some blame. But everyone can fill up a bathtub when the water is still running.

  2. Unfortunately, the 'elite' have been bored spitless for decades and decided that playing with the commoner's lives would be great sport. Besides the unreliable energy sources we have "invested" our tax dollars in, we have sabotaged our education system to produce ignoramii that are unable to maintain what we have now.

    If you find a sharp kid, one that takes an interest in engineering and technology, and works with his hands, he is probably home schooled. And if the masculine pronoun is offensive, it is a classical term. It was understood to mean mankind. Not just the person with certain wedding tackle.

    I am afraid we have stalled out too close to the ground to recover...

    1. As a society we went from "let's build a plane and fly it" to
      "we're building this plane while we're flying it" to
      "we're building this plane as we crash it".
      Next is "let's crash this plane"...

    2. STxAR, if it helps at all, it may not all be as bad as you thing. My friend Uisdean Ruadh's child is a regularly schooled kid with a high interest in science and math (studying, literally, rocket science) and a committed Catholic. They are still out there, even by normal measures.

      That said, the economic crash I fear is coming will do wonders to get people "reinterested" in hard work and practical skills like nothing else will.

    3. Just So - It certainly feels like that.

  3. I have not done due diligence and read up on the Texas fiasco but I don't buy a lot of the excuses being given. I suspect the real answer is probably just too much consumption and no backup.

    For me, my resiliency begins with not forgetting old ways of doing things. I've always enjoyed our rare lengthy power outages as a day to catch up on reading and such. I'm still disciplined enough to make hay during those times but I find the older I get, I sometimes drift off thinking about what is happening to others, i.e. what is my book of face saying, or what breaking news alert have I missed. My kids on the other hand practically turn into a kid from the Lord of the Flies if the power is out an hour or more.

    1. It appears that we were limited to 60% of estimated need due to EPA dictate on emissions. If that is true....

    2. Ed, from the bit I read that sounds right - Juvat at Chant du Depart today had a short summary that jives with that. And yes, I have read some of the same reports as STxAR, that the governor had applied for an emergency override and was denied.

      Yes, resiliency is found largely in the old ways of doing things - after all, humanity somehow managed to make it to the modern age without modern technology. I think the thing - at least for me - is learning to discipline myself to learn them again.

  4. Excellent post, excellent questions. So many people were talking about a 'wake-up call' at the beginning of the pandemic but that seems to have been forgotten. Now we're back to the blame game. I suspect politicking is largely responsible for that. That and human nature.

    1. Leigh, you bring up a great point. Almost a year ago we were watching paper goods fly off the shelves and rationing of products. Almost a year later, no-one learned anything.

      Yes, politics has a lot to do with it - again, governments do not like people that are independent thinkers. And yes, as humans we too often forget too soon.

  5. I might have to disagree, TB. We have to assign blame, because if we don't, the people responsible will do the same thing - or worse - again. Our leaders have abandoned morality. Without morality, there can be no merit, and without merit, there can be no competence.

    There was no polar vortex. This was simply a winter cold snap. If we actually do face uncharacteristically dire emergencies... this routine nonevent should be a wake up call. I am not an expert on wind energy, but I can tell you with some authority that unless you have a very large array and lots and lots of batteries... you can forget solar. I would recommend a good genny - of at least 5000W.

    1. You are always free to disagree Glen! That is how we learn things.

      That said, I do not know that I intended to say we have to assign blame. Ultimately there is a root cause or root causes to this that we need to figure out, if for no other reason than it needs to not happen again. My concern is that in the push to assign blame, it becomes a political hot potato in which it is less about who actually screwed up and much more about how many points can we score.

      Agreed this was just a cold snap (probably just a normal Winter for you compared to those of us in Baja Canada). And yes, it should be a wake up call - like Leigh posted above, the same as the call we had a year ago from The Plague.

      You have told me about the solar panels before, and there is a lot of infrastructure we would have in place here to do it - as you have seen from the pictures, we are on a hill but sit in a hollow with trees and so lose the direct sun well before sunset. Wind here at best would be for operating water pumps.

      My father actually procured a generator last year due to the power weirdness in our area. It is actually a dual fuel unit - gasoline or propane - and generates from 6500 to 7500 watts. Propane, we have a full tank of. And he has a transfer switch still in the box. A project for the sometime soon.

    2. I would encourage you, when you can find the time and ambition, to practice implementing the generator. Learn to use it before you need it. I have a much smaller Honda (2000 watts) that we use to supplement the RV batteries when dry camping. Unless yours claims, like my Honda, to produce pure sine wave AC power, you will need to run its output through some sort of power conditioner and/or UPS to run any sensitive electronics.
      A couple other tips that will save a lot of grief. Use only non-ethanol gasoline. Small engines will do much better without ethanol. And if you want to try propane, it is critical to ensure ample engine cooling. Propane burns much hotter than gasoline, and will burn up valves in short order, even in a so-called dual fuel engine. 6500 watts is a fairly large genset, and may be liquid cooled. It will certainly run most of a house if you're careful about loads, and watch the startup surges for things like freezers and refrigerators.
      And when you're done practicing, be sure to drain all fuel, including the carburetor (most have some sort of carb shutoff to run them dry, or like mine, a drain tube for that purpose).

    3. Thanks Greg. I am starting to build a list as "The New Normal" becomes more clear, and that is one of them. Curiously enough, my father has used at least surge protector with this - although to be fair, they were only powering a refrigerator, a lamp, and possibly the TV and Dish.

      The unit has a recommendation against non-ethanol gasoline, but thank you for the reminder. The propane information is good as well, and would represent a longer term project.

      Fuel drain understood as well - I shall be back in the not too distant future and can experiment more.


Your comment will be posted after review. Thanks for posting!