California Water Shortage

Water Apocalypse?

According to a new paper, Nature Climate Change by NASA water scientist James Famiglietti the California water shortage is severe and likely getting worse:

“California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins have lost roughly 15 cubic kilometers of total water per year since 2011,” he writes. That’s “more water than all 38 million Californians use for domestic and municipal supplies annually—over half of which is due to groundwater pumping in the Central Valley.”

Famiglietti collected this data from satellites to measures how much water people are pumping from aquifers around the globe.

He writes that more than 2 Billion people rely on the worlds aquifers as their primary source of water.  It is also the source for at least half the irrigation water that we use to grow food.

When a drought such as what has caused the California water shortage hits,  farmers need to rely on groundwater even more than usual. because less rain and snow means less water flowing above ground.

The conclusions that Famiglietti draws from the satellite data is pretty alarming:

“Groundwater is being pumped at far greater rates than it can be naturally replenished, so that many of the largest aquifers on most continents are being mined, their precious contents never to be returned.”

California Water Shortage

The Central Valley of California has one of the worlds fastest-depleting aquifers—but it still isn’t the fastest depleting overall and there is another aquifer called Ogallala that is located in the northern high plains of the United States that is emptying almost as fast.

Nearly all of the aquifers are located under the worlds greatest agricultural areas and that water is responsible for those areas having high productivity.

The fact that these aquifers are responsible for much of the food grown around the globe should be alarming since their loss could cause food shortages.

Yet there is almost no regulation on how water pumped from aquifers can be used or how much can be pumped.

Even though there is very little thought or research about the water drawn from these aquifers we know that we are pumping the water out faster than it can be replaced by nature.

If this trend continues he adds that:

“groundwater supplies in some major aquifers will be depleted in a matter of decades.”

California Water Shortage Problems

California water shortageeIn most places around the world any property owner who can afford to drill a well has unlimited access to the aquifer groundwater.

The more that is pumped the worse the problem becomes.  As a aquifers water level drops wells have to go deeper to get to the water and that increases the costs.

This is already happening in the California water shortage as some low income residents that are unable to afford the costs of a deeper well are seeing their wells run dry.

When the wells go deeper there is also another problem that happens.

As the aquifers water tables drop the amount of salts that are found in the water increases, sometime to the point where the water need to be treated before it can be used.

This situation is already playing out in California’s Central Valley, where some people that rely on wells are starting to see shortages and tainted water.

How the California Water Shortage Could Affect You

These problems affect all of us no matter where we live.  Shortages of water in California could quickly translate into rising prices for the fruits and vegetables that are grown there.

This California water shortage could quickly cause a shortage of these items that would affect every person in our country.

The only solution when a growing population requires more water and the global warming could lead to more droughts is to treat water as the valuable resource that it is.

We need to find ways to stop wasting it and make sure that we are using it wisely.

Is The California Water Shortage A Real Crisis

dry resevoirsAlthough the above article also points out that the above ground reservoirs have only about 1 year of water left in them before they run dry leaving only the rapidly depleting ground water in aquifers it may not be as bad as it seems.

When you look at the actual numbers it turns out that most of California wastes a huge amount of water.

On average, the people in San Diego County for example, use over 150 gallons of water per day.   Compare this to Sydney, Australia which has a similar climate but uses less than half that amount.

But even if residents of California want to use water to have green lawns and pools in an arid climate, they use only a portion of the water used in the state.

The states agricultural industry uses 80% of the water and they are also one of the largest wasters of this resource.

Many farmers regularly flood the land to grow water thirsty crops like rice and alfalfa.  As recently as 2010 still had 43% of agricultural irrigation using a gravity method which is hugely wasteful but the least expensive way to water crops.

Conclusion To California Water Shortage

The bottom line is that this problem exists because water has been a cheap resource that we have wasted for years, and now it’s time to pay for it.

There are vastly more efficient ways to water crops in California that would dramatically decrease the water used by farmers.

gravity water systemThey are just not being used because they are more expensive than the old ways of flooding fields through gravity systems.

But this California water shortage is not as apocalyptic as it would seem at first glance.  We need to start conserving and protecting this important resource or the consequences could be severe.

Although California isn’t the only one facing this problem it could be one of the first to start to solve it.

The truth is that California has plenty of water…though maybe not enough to satisfy our wasteful use of this precious resource that we are doing today.

To make sure that this water shortage doesn’t become a larger problem we need to change how we use this resource and think of where we could be in the future if we don’t.

 

 

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Emergency Fire Starting Method

This is a great video about an easy way to start a fire in an emergency using just a battery and gum wrapper.

An emergency fire starting method like this could save your life in case of an emergency where you needed to start a fire.

 

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Protecting Your Privacy

For me – protecting your privacy and urban disaster survival go hand in hand.   I don’t think that when you are prepping you can ever forget the importance of maintaining your privacy.

It seems that one of the areas that we have lost the most privacy is our on-line Internet and mobile phone use.

Secret Phone Tapping Technology

cell phone securityIt was recently released that police are using a new gadget that police departments around the country are using to spy on cell phone usage.

The device – called a Stingray, can monitor the phone calls and messages that people make.  But no one seems to want to say too much about how the device works or how large an area it can monitor.

The device is reportedly designed to trick cell phones into believing that it is a legitimate cell phone tower.  When the device is turned on it can capture texts, emails, phone calls, and location data of suspects but also of anyone else that happens to be in the area where it is operating.

It then send the signals on to legitimate cell towers without the cell phone owner or the cell phone company being any the wiser about what is happening.

The device, small enough to fit in a suitcase, is so shrouded in secrecy, that in order to buy the device agencies must sign a non-disclosure agreement that requires them to avoid saying anything about the technology or how it works.

The reason for this, according to the FBI is that disclosure of how the device works could allow criminals and terrorists to circumvent the device.

Because the device is so secret there is also no known way to protect your privacy from it, unless you are willing to give up your cell phone.

The Washington Post

Yahoo Tech

Protecting Your Privacy In E-Mails/Texts/Searches

There was another recent article that cited a survey by the Pew Research Center where more than half the people that were questioned expressed concern about government spies prying into their private e-mails, texts, and searches.

But the survey also found that very few were actually taking any steps to protect themselves.

According to the survey the main reason that people don’t try to protect their on-line privacy is because they don’t know how.
In a quote to the Associated Press, Mary Madden, a senior researcher for the Pew stated: “It all boils down to people sort of feeling like they have lost control over their data and their personal information,  but at the same time, when we asked them if they would like to do more, folks expressed that as an aspirational goal.”

So, here are some steps you can take to protect your privacy when you are online.

Hide Your Searching

I’m sure that you have had the same experience that I have where you search for something and that product keeps popping up in ads where ever you go.

It’s well known that the big search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo all collect and study your queries so they can learn what kinds of products and services could appeal to you so they can sell advertising that is  targeted to your interests.

It a legitimate commercial use of the information and can be beneficial to both you and to the companies that advertise on-line.

But that doesn’t mean that this data is protected form the NSA or others that would want to use this information for other purposes.

The good news is that there is a small search engine upstart called DuckDuckGo that is gaining a lot of users with it’s pledge to never collect personal information or track its users.

Scramble Your E-Mail

You may not realize it but any e-mail that you send in plain text can be read by others.  E-mails travel from your computer to the recipient by going over various secure and unsecure networks and servers.

These servers can make a copy of your e-mail and pretty much anyone who has access to them can read your e-mail.

We tend to think that the e-mail we send our computers is private but in truth it’s not.  Everyone from the government to hackers, jealous exes, or the company that you work for could be reading your e-mail.

All you have to do is think about the revelations that the NSA is monitoring phones and e-mails and the fiasco at Sony when their e-mail system was hacked to see that encrypting your e-mail might be a good idea.

If you are like me there is a lot of information that goes in e-mails that I would not want to be public.

Whether it is proprietary business letters, account and banking information,  or just things that would be embarrassing personally, now more than ever you should be concerned about who might be reading your messages.

The good news is that there are encryption programs like Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) that you can use to encrypt your e-mails and make them look like gibberish to anyone not authorized to read them.

Yahoo is also supposed to have a new encryption program for it’s e-mail program within a year.  G-Mail currently has a Chrome extension app available for those that want to secure their e-mail.

Drop The Internet

Protect Your PrivacyThis might sound old school and it’s certainly not something that I would want to do myself, but you could always cut the cord and stop using the Internet.

Even though the Pew poll mentioned above shows that 14% of the people that were surveyed are meeting face to face more rather than using phone, text, or e-mail because of privacy concerns there are still a lot of situations where that one on one meeting is not practical or convenient.

 

 

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The Internet Of Things

Internet of ThingsReading the news this morning I came across an interesting article about a company in Sweden planting microchips under their employees skin and it got me thinking.

The company was using a pretty simple microchip that could unlock doors and start copiers.

Microchips and The Internet Of Things

If you’ve spent much time reading my blog here you know that I’m all about things that would make our lives easier and safer.

I’m also about real and potential urban disasters that could happen and while there are some real security issues involved in this idea there are some really interesting possibilities as well.

Microchips that are implanted would be a great way to physically connect us to the Internet and the world around us.

It may seem a little unwelcome or even creepy to have an implant under our skin that could contain personal information.

After all, a lot of us already feel like our privacy and autonomy is compromised enough without implanting a chip that could make us a walking transmitter of our personal data.

What Is The Internet Of Things

To understand these risks and possibilities you first need to understand the term the Internet of Things.

According to Google:

Inter·net of things
noun
  1. a proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.

Why Would I Want This

The first thing that I thought about when I started to hear and read about this concept was why would I want to have my everyday objects connect to the Internet?

And why on earth would I want them to be able to send and receive data that I didn’t control?

Did I really want my refrigerator to broadcast to the Internet that I was running low on milk and tell everyone what I ate.

But think about it, if the refrigerator was starting to fail and it could send a notice to the management company of the apartments where I rented that it needed repair and thus save my food from spoiling, wouldn’t that be a good thing?

We have to remember that these things that are connected to the Internet would be limited in what information they could send and receive.

So what makes the Internet of Things interesting is the term “every day objects” and the sheer numbers of ways that this could simplify, or complicate, our lives.  But it all would still be under our control.

How The Internet of Things Developed

Although the concept didn’t get a name until 1999, the Internet of Things has been thought about for decades.

internet of thingsBut the first  internet connected machine was actually a Coke machine located at Carnegie Melon University in the early 1980s.

It was upgraded to allow programmers to connect to the machine over the Internet where they could check on the status of the machine see whether or not there would be a cold drink awaiting them if they decide to make the trip down the hall to the machine.

For the most part, until recently, this idea was only used by businesses.  But lately it’s started to creep into our everyday lives as well.

Benefits of The Internet of Things

Fast forward to today when connected devices are becoming much more common.

The thing to remember is that the Internet of today is almost solely dependent upon human input for the information that it has, information that is then used by humans.

The Internet of Things just cuts us out of that pattern making it easier for those that need to access the things that could make our lives easier and safer.

You’ve probably seen the commercials on the TV about the home security system that notifies the parents when the kids arrive home from school.  Or how it can turn on the lights when you approach your home because it knows you are coming.  That is an example of the Internet of Things.

Imagine not needing to carry keys anymore because the microchip implant that you have identifies you to the doors at your home, office, and car so they can unlock automatically for you.

Imagine never having to remember passwords again because you are the password.  With just a swipe of your hand you could unlock you computer.

Here’s a big one.  Imagine that you have a device implanted that monitors your health and alerts your Doctor if you start having a problem.

Or if you are hurt in an accident the implant could alert medical responders to your medical history including drugs that you might be allergic to taking.

Problems With The Internet Of Things

But as many useful things that the Internet of Things can do, there are just as many potential problems.

The thought of people knowing even more information about me than they already do just sort of freaks me out.

Of course I’m sure that these devices and connections are going to have some sort of security that would be designed to protect our information.

But would this protect that information from determined hackers or other people that don’t have the need to know that information?

Every day you read about large companies that have their most confidential information hacked.  And these are companies that have whole departments and high grade software designed to protect them from hackers.

But, in the end, just like smart phones I think that the pluses are going to outweigh the minuses.  I’m sure that there are a lot of people like me that wouldn’t be willing to give up their smart phones despite their problems.

In the end we may not have a choice.  There are just too many benefits to businesses and medical institutions for them to avoid the use of microchips or to access and use the Internet of Things.

Whether we like it or not we may be forced to use these to remain up to date and in sync with the world around us.

We just have to hope that their security is up to the challenges that they most certainly going to face.

 

 

 

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Artificial Intelligence Problems

Artificial IntelligenceThough it makes for great movies, the artificial intelligence problems that could arise in the not to distant future are very real.

Artificial Intelligence Problems

It seems that every day we hear about another company that is developing a smarter artificial intelligence robot.

And heavy weights like Bill Gates and Elon Musk and even renowned physicist Stephen Hawking are starting to express concern about this headlong rush.

According to Bill Gates in an interview in Redditt:

“I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super-intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well,” wrote Gates.

“A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”

Musk spoke out in October 2014 during an interview at the AeroAstro Centennial Symposium, telling attending students that they should be concerned about how the technology industry  approaches AI advances that are sure to happen in the future.

“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful,” said Musk. “I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish.”

In a December interview, Professor Hawking went further.

“The primitive forms of artificial intelligence we already have, have proved very useful. But I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

I don’t know about you but if people like these who are among the smartest minds of our age are expressing concern, maybe we should be concerned too.

How We Use Artificial Intelligence Now

Once just a gleam in the eye of movie makers and book authors artificial Intelligence or AI is starting to become a reality.  And there is no doubt that it will become a larger presence in our lives.

Over the last decades AI has become a larger part of our lives, many times in ways that we don’t even think about.

GPS in our cars and phones uses rudimentary AI to search through the thousands of possible routes to a destination to suggest the best route for us to take.

Our smartphones are getting better at understanding our spoken commands and virtual assistants like Siri, Cortana, and Google Now are getting better at anticipating and understanding our needs.

AI algorithms are used to detect and recognize the faces in our photos that we take with our phones.

Internet search engines like Google and Bing use AI systems to understand and provide hundreds of millions of search results to people every day.

Hospitals are even using AI algorithms to search through the massive amounts of patient data that they have collected to calculate which patients could have complications and which medicines could have serious side effects.

Military Uses Of Artificial Intelligence

Right now the U.S. military is testing robots with limited AI that will carry out surveillance and one day could even participate in armed military actions.

Armed robotBeing a soldier is a dangerous job in general but some of the tasks that a soldier has to do is more dangerous than others.  Passing through minefields, de-activating unexploded bombs and clearing out building occupied by hostiles are just a few.

But what if instead of sending humans into these and other dangerous situations we could send robots.  That way if something went wrong the only loss would be hardware and money rather than human lives.

Drones are another situation where AI could be used.  There is a shortage of trained operators for Drones so the thought of having AI drones that would be able to fly themselves and complete missions is an appealing idea.

This is why all branches the U.S. military have been busy developing all sorts of different robotic systems both smart and dumb  with some of them even being field tested on the front lines in Iraq right now.

Concerns About Artificial Intelligence

There are several specific concerns about Artificial Intelligence as it continues to develop and our usage of it evolves.

In an article written by Eric Horvitz, director of the Microsoft Research lab, and Tom Dietterich, president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence they cite three main areas of concern.

One is programming errors that might be in the AI software.  AI software is incredibly complex and the possibility that there might be errors in how it works should be considered.

Their second concern is cyber-attacks on the AI systems carried out by criminals, terrorists and even government-backed hackers that aim to gain control of the AI program to advance their own purposes rather than what the robot/drone/program with the AI was intended to perform.

The third concern is what they call Sorcerer’s Apprentice scenarios, when AI systems respond to human instructions in unexpected (and possibly dangerous) ways.

My Concerns

All of this seems like something that is far in the future but is in actuality here already in our lives.

I think that we need to start thinking about how the use of artificial intelligence should be used before it’s to late.

Doing something just because isn’t a good enough reason to risk the possible consequences that could come out of this.

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Grow Your Own Food

No matter what the situation, having the ability to grow your own food is beneficial.

But many of us have either a small balcony or none at all.  Growing our own food is especially difficult if we have a small area.

But here is an idea that you can use with limited area, even in a window!

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The Problem With Drones

dronesDrones are quickly becoming a part of the modern landscape while at the same time our government, including Federal, State, and local communities, tries to keep up with rules and regulations on their use.

Then there are companies like Amazon that are even trying to figure out how they can use drones as a quick and cheap delivery vehicle.

It seems at times like everybody wants to get on the Drone bandwagon including, amateur and professional photographers, real estate agents, farmers, local police, geologists and archaeologists to name just a few.

Every day the news brings the new ways that companies and people are thinking of to use Drones.

So we should realize that Drones are in our future and also understand the ways that they can impede in our privacy.

Drones And Your Privacy

The cost of drones has plummeted to the point that almost anyone can afford one now.  Many of them including low cost ones come with HD cameras that can take very clear photos.

Before, when your neighbors or authorities wanted to spy on what you were doing they had to physically be close enough to see you.

But now, for less than a couple hundred dollars they can send a drone over your property to see what you’re doing from a distance.

Many of these drones can take photos or even HD movies of you, your family, and your property.

While right now many of the lower cost models have limited flight time because of their batteries this is rapidly changing as well.

I don’t know about you but the thought of this unfettered access bothers me.

It’s not that I’m doing anything illegal but especially where my prepping is concerned I’d rather that people didn’t know what I was doing on my own property.   I also don’t want people to know what I might have stored.

If you read my article on new sensors that the police are using and think about the possibility of these sensors being added to existing drones the amount of information that can be gathered from a drone hovering over your home or bug out location is alarming.

In a crisis situation where you are trying to protect your family surveillance such as this could be an extreme disadvantage.

How You Can Use Drones Yourself

One great thing about drones though is that you can use them yourself to do the exact things that you don’t want other people doing to you.

These devices are a great way to monitor your property and safely check on what is going on outside without putting yourself or anyone in your family in peril.

The battery time on even today’s low end models with a camera is enough to check out quite a large area.

I have yet to see one that is commercially offered but I have seen articles on drones available to government agencies that offer night vision.

Even an inexpensive thermal camera would allow you to keep an eye on the areas around your home and bug out location

Recent Drone Incidents

You’ve probably seen in the news the growing number of incidents involving drones.

The White House

It was just last month that a drone crashed into the most secure building in the world, the White House.  This drone was supposedly operated by a drunken partier that lost control of it.

But the fact that it penetrated the airspace of the White House without detection by it’s advanced radar system or being seen by security personnel shows just how dangerous these devices could be.

Drones In France

Then as I was writing this article came the news that up to five drones were  spotted at different times in France near the American Embassy, numerous landmarks including the Eiffel Tower, and the French Presidential Palace.

Police spent more than six hours chasing these drones without determining who was operating them or where they came from.

In October and November as many as 20 drones were seen flying around French nuclear plants.  And at the end of January several small drones were also spotted near a bay in Brittany that is the home for four of Frances nuclear submarines.  This area is one of the most protected sites in France.

Now these drone sightings might very well be from curious hobbyists or they might be from terrorists that are scoping out areas for attacks.

But even with the likelihood that every police agency in France was trying to locate the operators no one has been found.

Even in the case of the White House, the only way that they found the operator was when he came forward.

My concern is that right now the only thing that stops these flights in inappropriate areas is the controllers willingness to obey the laws such as they are now.

And right now these laws are a mishmash that varies from state to state and city to city.

How To Protect Yourself From Drone Surveillance

Although it might be tempting it isn’t a good idea to shoot one down as a man in New Jersey did after a drone was hovering near his home.

It turns out that the drone was controlled by a neighbor that was taking pictures for another neighbor’s construction work on his home.

Even though I live in Colorado most of the year where the town of Deer Trail briefly considered issuing licenses to shoot down drones the fact is that you are probably going to get into  a lot of trouble if you give into your urges to shoot one down.

There are ways that you can make it more difficult for these Drones to collect information around your property but that assumes that you are going to be able to see them.

With ever improving optical systems Drones will be able to hover just out of your sight while they collect information.  Or they could fly around your property at night when you are asleep.

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