More lessons

But there’s more. 🙂 I remembered some more lessons from the 2020.

Probably the most important one is, never tell me “but what are the odds?” Yeah, what are the odds that there will be a global pandemic-induced hysteria, and that we’ll locally also have two major earthquakes on two separate fault systems, none of which would be the one that causes periodic earthquakes in Zagreb? In hindsight, the odds were 100%, and foresight is only quantified ignorance anyway.

Also, people tend to ridicule preppers, usually by prefacing the term with the attribute “doomsday”, as in “doomsday preppers”. Actually, doomsday is the only thing I’m not prepping for, because it’s pointless. If it’s doomsday, everybody dies and as far as I’m concerned it’s the best possible outcome, because fuck this place. You don’t prepare for doomsday, you prepare for the situation where there was a flood and water is not drinkable, and your house is rendered uninhabitable, or there was an earthquake and your apartment building was damaged, there’s no electricity and there’s a major gas leak. You prepare for a civil war where city block limits become the front lines and there’s sniper and mortar fire. If you think that’s unrealistic, you haven’t been in Croatia or Bosnia in the 1990s. I live here and it sounds very realistic. Also, I remember the power outages in the 1980s, the fuel shortages, and basically everything-shortages, plus hyperinflation of two different currencies in two different states. I get especially pissed off when I meet Croats who act as if such things are impossible and you’d have to be crazy to anticipate the possibility in your plans. As far as I’m concerned, they are the insanely gullible ones. This year I was one significant crack on the outer wall away from emergency evacuation and relocation, in which case I would have needed both my cash reserves, gold bullion, the redundancy of having two cars, and the precaution of having the necessary things in backpacks already. It was a very close shave, and although I’m very happy not to have needed it, having the option didn’t feel like very much of a luxury, or like overkill planning. It felt like just the right thing.

Another thing is, you don’t know what you’re preparing for. 2020 shows it’s possible to have more than one significant crisis at the same time, and not only that, they can also be completely unrelated. Also, you can have a crisis-cluster, in the sense that a civilizational crisis of identity and worldview can produce an economic crisis, a political crisis, mass hysteria, overreactions to actual threats that could have been dealt with in a more calm and rational manner, and then you can have a debt crisis, financial system crash, pension fund crash, mass unemployment and business infrastructure crash, etc., and on top of that you can have random natural disasters such as hurricanes, snowstorms, earthquakes, fires, floods etc. And on top of all that you can have wars. If you’re lucky, most of that can miss you, and it’s only something in the news, with no bearing on your daily lives. Or, if you’re less lucky, you can barely survive covid and then an earthquake can demolish your condo. There is such a thing as a shitstorm, which makes the concept of preparing for a specific single type of a disaster misguided and naïve. You need to cover a reasonably wide spectrum of disasters, and the good thing is that the recommended measures mostly overlap. In the majority of scenarios, you need to have as much money saved as possible, so you can react and solve whatever problem it is that happened to knock on your door. Also, you need to factor in the possibility of utility disruptions, and not necessarily short ones – if a major transformer station is flooded or there’s a fire, the damage can be very hard and slow to fix. If a major power station blows, the entire electric grid can go offline and it can take months to fix. If an earthquake really hits, as it did in Zagreb, the buildings might still remain damaged almost a year later, simply because the state will fuck up the reconstruction effort as it invariably does, and people don’t have the money to do it themselves.

Another important thing to consider is that a crisis can impact your source of income, even if it didn’t affect you directly. Companies can go under and people can be fired. The entire industries can be shut down – for instance, tourism won’t do well in lockdown times.

Also, when shit starts happening, it’s too late to take warnings seriously and start preparing. Everybody will have the same idea and you won’t be able to get things. Necessary supplies might be out of stock or rationed. Also, trying to find a place to rent in the aftermath of a major disaster that hit your area, well good luck with that, because if everybody’s house is damaged everybody will have the same idea and you’ll have the choice between terrible and terribly overpriced. Have all the necessary hardware and supplies now. Make all the emergency plans now. When you’re hit by a disaster, you’ll be in a state of shock and you won’t be able to think clearly, let alone make coherent plans. That’s how you get a rush on toilet paper supplies – people aren’t thinking clearly, they just shat themselves and something gravitating around their arseholes is the main thing on their mind. You need several plans, made when you’re calm, secure and lucid, and then you get to pick one that’s appropriate for the type of crisis that struck.

The lessons of 2020

In 2020, I had the opportunity to put some of my theories about prepping to the test: first, I had covid19, which didn’t kill me by the thinnest of margins, but it took me around six months to recover from lung damage. Then, while I was still in the very early stage of recovery, meaning that I no longer had 39.5°C fever, and the fever would start again if I strained myself at all, the Zagreb earthquake struck, with the epicentre basically under my arse, damaging the condo I’m renting. Then came the corona lockdown, disrupting the economy and the supply chain. Things barely started getting back to normal when the second wave of lockdowns hit, in the late fall and winter, and then the second Earthquake hit Croatia, epicentre 50km from me, much stronger, but less damaging at my location; still, it managed to eject a shovel of concrete and plaster from the walls, just as a way for the 2020 to send us off.

In all of that, we (by which I mean my family and friends) had some utility disruptions, basically the electricity not working for a short while, but it was soon restored. The stores were trashed by the quake, but reopened within days. The lockdown made it more difficult to get supplies, but we could still do it. All in all, the level of disruption to basic services was minor. The disruption to the economy, however, was very hard and it hit some people worse than others.

So, were my precautionary preparations useful? Did I have to tap into my food and water supplies? It’s a complicated question to answer, because physically, no, we didn’t use them, but psychologically, it helped a lot to know that if the stores don’t reopen quickly, we can survive on our food supply for weeks. It would be a boring diet, sure, but we would not be pressured to go looking for food in a potentially dangerous environment, and this isolated us from the sense of panic that was widespread. The most useful thing to have, in terms of disaster preparedness, was money. The fact that I had cash and gold that I could tap into, and trivially go and rent a house, even if the prices were unreasonably high, in case our place was rendered uninhabitable, was a great thing, and the fact that I had a solution at hand at any time, in case I decided to actually go for it, made it possible for me to stay completely calm and approach the situation strategically.

As a result, I had the opportunity to both confirm and revise my assumptions from before. The main revision is that, in a common disaster scenario, having money is the single most important thing. Sure, having some food and water handy that you can eat and drink during the first day of being hit, by either an earthquake or a flood or what not, is very important, but if you don’t have money, your supplies will be quickly exhausted and you will be left with your home potentially uninhabitable, in some tent or a trailer, depending on welfare. However, if you have money, you are several phone calls away from fixing your situation; move to a hotel initially, then find something to rent or buy, move there. Within a few days, problem solved. In order to be able to react quickly, having a stash of local currency is essential, because you will need to pay for transportation, workers, and a place to stay. You need money in order to get out of a bad situation, and you need to have layered access. You need some cash, then you need to have something in the bank, and then you need to have more in a deeper layer, of lesser liquidity but still accessible as soon as you liquidate the investment. Here I mean crypto, stocks, bonds, and of course precious metals. Having a few 1oz gold coins in my pocket and knowing each can buy me more than a month of rent, or serve as a deposit, was a really useful thing, in a sense that I knew I had the option, but now I had to think things through instead of being rushed. The problem with gold coins is that your local coin dealer can be wiped out by the same disaster that wiped you out, and this will make it difficult for you to convert metal into more immediately useful forms of money, with which you can actually buy food and lodgings. This is why you absolutely must have enough cash to be able to pay for the most immediate things in the first couple of days. The banks might work, or they might not. The ATM machines might work, or they might not. You need to have all the options covered. Yes, I know it’s tempting to buy new and fancy gadgets and clothes and what not now, when things are fine, but when shit starts hitting the fan, you will wish you had that money in an envelope at home, so that you can put it in your backpack when you have to evacuate into your car because your house is either collapsing or is on fire or is flooded, and you have nowhere to go. The money buys you a place to go. It removes you from the X, and gives you the option to help others that are likewise affected, perhaps more so than yourself – and that’s actually a very likely scenario, because you are more likely to be a rescuer than a victim. Have money in reserve. Have layered reserves – cash, gold and silver coins, money in the bank, money in some offshore account accessible via debit card, investments you can liquidate if need be. Being poor puts you at the greatest possible risk in any disaster scenario, because it removes all the illusions of things being relatively fine because you have a place to sleep, even if you’re poor, and leaves you with nothing, and with few options. If you’re sick or old, being poor combined with a disaster scenario makes you the most likely person to die in said scenario. Having just enough funds to remove you from the X immediately following the disaster, is the single most important form of disaster preparedness.

Having a good flashlight, a good backpack, a battery pack to charge your phone, a good water bottle, a fire starting kit, a knife, blanket and some dry clothes, that’s all fine and you should have a backpack with all those things somewhere, if you need to evacuate immediately, but the most important thing to put in that backpack just before you leave your home is a wad of cash, a tube of gold bullion, a credit/debit card to access your bank account, your ID and your mobile phone. Then, as you sit in your car or at a bench in a park, you can use your phone to find a new place – not necessarily in the same town, if the whole town is a disaster zone – yes, you have the money – and then you can hire a truck to move your things before they are damaged by the elements, to either your new home or to a warehouse you can also hire, as a temporary measure. Don’t waste too much money on “prepping gear” now; if it comes to surviving in the woods by making traps for small animals, you’re fucked, so focus on the things that give you the greatest number of options in the most likely scenarios – and that’s an emergency backpack with the essentials for the first couple of hours, and money, as much as possible, strategically layered in various forms of liquidity. Also, when you start tapping into that money, you need to realize that the clock started ticking and you need to recover your earning ability, because any fixed amount of money can and will eventually be exhausted, and having it just postpones being fucked. Sure, you want to postpone it, but you also want to immediately start working on making more money, so that you replenish what you spent. You need to have plans, and your plans need to have backups, and those backups need to have friends. Also, you need to be ready to ask for help – in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, if you have friends who can help you evacuate your family and things from the disaster zone, that can be the most important thing, even more important than money in the first moments; however, after the first few hours, money starts asserting itself as a crucial asset, and if you don’t have it, you’re fucked. If you have it, the disaster might only actually last those first few hours, or a day.

So, that’s basically what emerged as the most important in the aftermath of 2020. You need to create options for yourself, in form of a store of money you can immediately tap into if you need to pull yourself and your family from a situation that potentially renders you all homeless. Also, I simply assume that you have a car, and you can use it as your temporary headquarters to which you will move the most important stuff that you managed to rescue from your destroyed home. If you don’t have a car, you’re limited to what you can carry in a single backpack, and that’s a super shitty situation to be in. Sure, be prepared for that and have the most important things in that backpack, and mobility is not as important as money, but it’s a close second. A car can carry multiple people and lots of stuff. It extends your options; essentially, it’s an option-multiplier. Also, it can provide heat during winter, and that can literally save your life if you’re sick or elderly. If I had to evacuate from my condo, barely recovered from covid, with slight fever and destroyed lungs, and tried to carry significant weight in that weakened condition, in freezing cold, and I didn’t have a car that can keep me warm and evacuate me to a safe place, I’d be fucked. Those are the lessons I learned; they are few, but they really cut through all the nonsense.

Earthquake

Another powerful earthquake here in Croatia. Epicentre Petrinja, magnitude initially reported as 6.3, revised down to 6.2 on momentum tensor scale; EMSC reports 6.4. Reports of strong damage at the epicentre. Seven people reported killed so far, many severe and light injuries, widespread damage in the Petrinja city – apparently half the buildings in the city centre are destroyed.

Day later (30/12) multiple aftershocks, some very powerful, further damage, more casualty reports. There were utility disruptions in Zagreb yesterday, now mostly restored. The Sisak/Petrinja region sustained extreme damage, almost the entire population is left homeless in the middle of winter.

Damage reported on dikes on Sava river during high water levels which creates danger of flooding. Damage on the roads, deep cracks newly formed in the ground.

 



Pictures (C) Jutarnji

Felt very strongly here in Zagreb, my estimate is 6-7 on the Mercali-Cancani-Sieberg scale. My condo suffered slight additional damage, according to my visual inspection. Plaster and pieces of concrete on the floor everywhere, things flew all over the place, but nothing really bad.

About hardware reviews

I’ve been watching the hardware reviews on YouTube pretty much regularly for the last couple of years, and I see a clear trend there.

Remember those commercials on TV where the host is super-excited about the set of knives he’s trying to sell you, or some kitchen appliance, or some additive for automotive oil? Yeah, that’s those supposedly freelance PC hardware reviewers. They are the new kitchen appliance salesmen.

That doesn’t say they are completely useless. If you’re interested in what they are trying to sell you, they are quite informative, or otherwise I wouldn’t be watching them, but never in a million years should you forget that they are basically an arm of the advertisement sector. Their revenue stream comes from generating interest for what they are presenting, and interest, for the product manufacturers, means increased sales, so there is a clear motive for the manufacturers to funnel their advertising budget to the hardware reviewers who can generate the most useful form of customer interest, which can be described as “enthusiasm for the product and the brand”.

One of the ways of creating enthusiasm for what they are trying to sell you is to create a perception that we live in a parallel universe where your current computer is slow, and you really need an upgrade. An excellent example of this is a video I watched just now, basically saying that the new thing Apple released is so good, everything else is a steaming pile of garbage and you should get the shiny new gadget in order for your life to have meaning and purpose. Yawn.

Let’s put things into perspective, shall we? The computers have been an absolute overkill for the last several years. Laptops and desktops with Intel Haswell CPU, released in 2013, if they are equipped with a good SSD and GPU, are blazingly fast. I have a Haswell Macbook pro 15” and I use it to edit photos when I’m away from home, and the stuff I’m doing with it isn’t trivial – some of it is creating panoramas of more than 10 RAW files from a 24MP camera in Lightroom – and guess what, it’s fast and great. I have absolutely no complaints on its performance, unless we’re talking about GPU. Sure, I’ve seen and worked with nominally faster computers, but for the most part “fast” is a number in a benchmark, not something you actually feel. If you’re running a task that really takes a while, such as re-indexing an entire catalog in Lightroom, it’s going to take hours no matter what hardware I use. Whether it takes two or four hours is quite irrelevant, because that’s an operation I do once in a few years, and when I do it I just leave the computer overnight to do its thing, and it’s done in the morning. I’m certainly not going to sit behind it for hours with a stopwatch, and no, upgrading hardware isn’t going to make it exponentially faster, because it needs to load tens of thousands of RAW files and create JPEG previews for all of them, and that’s such a massive workload it doesn’t really matter if your computer is twice as fast, because it’s still taking hours. In normal operation, the difference between fast and faster is measured in tenths of a second. There’s no feeling of “OMG this new one is so fast, my old one is garbage”. It’s “oh, nice, it’s somewhat snappier, you almost kinda feel the difference if you really try”. I’ve seen a double blind test of SSD speed between SATA, NVMe and the new gen-4 NVMe, where people who actually work with those things professionally all day all guessed wrong trying to guess which is which, because it’s all fast enough for whatever you have to do, and a 10x difference in benchmarks is imperceptible by the user. How can that be, you might ask. Well, as I said, computers have been very good for the last ten years or so, and once you have an SSD and a GPU competent enough for the resolution and refresh rate of your monitor, you’re not going to perceive any lag in normal use. Sure, the benchmarks are going to show bigger numbers, but it’s like speed and acceleration – you don’t perceive speed, you perceive only acceleration. It also depends on the task you’re using it for. For instance, I use a Raspberry Pi 3B+ as a local backup and development server, and I don’t perceive it as “slow” for what it does; it runs a development copy of this server, and I use it to test code before I deploy. It doesn’t even have an SSD, just a microSD memory card and an USB thumb drive. Why don’t I use something faster, like a Raspberry Pi 4? It uses more power, so I would be hesitant to leave it always on, so it would be worse for the purpose. The same goes for the NUC – it’s faster, it’s better in every conceivable way, but it doesn’t matter for the intended purpose. If something is fast enough, faster doesn’t mean better, it means “meh”.

I’m in a weird position where most of my computers are more than 4 years old, all the YouTube salesmen are trying to sell me expensive new and shiny hardware, and if I listened to them and replaced all my “garbage” hardware, it would cost me enough to buy a car, and it would produce exactly zero perceivable difference in practical use for the things I do. One reason for that is that I actually did upgrade things that matter to me – the SSD in both my Macbook Pro and my desktop PC is a 1TB Samsung 970 EVO NVMe. If you know tech, you know how fast that thing is. I have 32 GB of RAM in the desktop, the monitor is a huge 43” 4K thing, and the GPU is powerful enough to run games at the monitor’s refresh rate in the native resolution; and yes, it’s completely silent in normal operation. That thing is essentially un-upgradable, because whatever you change you don’t really get a better result, you just waste money. The same goes for the Raspberry pi server: I have a NUC here I could replace it with, so it’s not even a matter of money, it’s a matter of why the fuck would I do that, because it would do the same tasks equally well. At some point, upgrading feels like changing your dishwasher just because there’s a new model. No wonder the YouTube salesmen are trying so hard to create enthusiasm for the whole thing, because it’s really, really hard to give even the slightest amount of fuck at this point.