RW213 - Living Under a Dome

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to John installing a 2003-era message board on his Patreon and realizing that living under a dome like that does not lead to ignorance and bigotry, but might not be a bad thing at all.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

Snow and power outages in Texas (RW213)

Dan is much better after a really bad couple of weeks. It was really stupid and horrible and although Dan has already talked about it with Merlin he is happy to go over it again because the audience of this show is different than Back To Work, their productivity podcast. It is hard to be productive when you are drinking water and huddling around a butane fire in your own living room, trying to stay warm by turning your car on and sitting in the garage.

There was an arctic vortex or something that came down from the North and it affected Texas by causing snow. They had snow already this year, they get it periodically, although it is more common in the Northern parts of Texas and less common in Central Texas, but it is not unheard of. The snow wasn't the problem. The problem was that they had single digit temperatures (below -12°C) all throughout the entire state of Texas, which almost never happens, and there was a failure across all systems at the same time.

In Texas they have coal, nuclear, gas, and renewables including wind turbines and solar. Because it is so rare that things actually get really cold, they might get slightly below freezing temperatures for maybe for an 8-hour period of time, they decided not to winterize anything. None of the generators, none of the wind turbines, none of the things that would need to be winterized if they were somewhere else. It was no big deal in Philadelphia to have multiple days of below freezing temperatures and several feet of snow. They were setup for that, they might get a snow day at school or two.

The coal generators froze and the gas pipelines froze and the wind turbines froze up and also nuclear, which you would expect to work, had problems because of the water supply bringing the water to the reactor froze also and there were some sensors that stopped working. They also turned the solar panels a different way so they wouldn't get snow on them and it was gray skies so they wouldn't produce anyway. The Texas power grid is also completely separate from the rest of the country for bad political reasons.

The end result of this was that they had to shut down the power grid because they were minutes and seconds away from complete grid failure and if that had happened we wouldn't have had a few days without power, but months potentially with no power, in Texas, not just in Austin, it would have been an EMP level disaster. They had to shut everything down. Now you got a lot of people without power freezing in their homes and the gas supply was going to run out, too and they were supposed to not use gas unless they absolutely had to.

In Dan’s house his water heater, his stovetop and his fireplace are all gas. If the gas runs out, it is not like the power or the water where it just comes back, but they actually have to send someone to everybody's house in the area to reactivate it. Fortunately Dan didn't loose power, although the week before when they got some snow they lost power for 15 hours and the week before that when they had an ice storm they lost power. For some reason this time they didn't lose power, so they had heat, but enter the water problems.

In Southern states when it is going to go below freezing they tell you to drip the water in all your faucets to prevent the pipes from freezing up, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but everybody in Austin was dripping their faucets. At the same time you had the mains bursting, people had their pipes bursting at their homes and in apartment complexes, they had water heaters bursting, and they had the mains bursting. That combined with the instructions to drip their faucets led to a depletion of all of the reservoirs of water.

All of Austin's water system is completely interconnected and if you have all the mains breaking and the reservoir is being depleted there will be no pressure in the water system and everyone's water stopped. No-one knew what was going on, they were getting no information from anyone, the water was just out, it was completely inexplicable. The Austin Water was not tweeting about it or sharing any information, it was really horrible. Dan was expecting the water to go off beforehand, but he did not have the supply that he would normally have had of water and other things like that, but he did have the foresight 15 minutes before the water went out to fill a big container.

He was okay for drinking water, but there was nothing to operate the toilets with, and of course you can't shower and get cleaned up. For the next three days Dan was shoveling snow into buckets and bringing them in and melting the snow into water to operate toilets. Doing this with two kids really sucks. Then there was the uncertainty of other people who had power and then they were losing power for some reason and you didn't know why and you didn't know if the water was going to come back or not. It was really stressful and horrible and it made him truly realize how fragile the infrastructure really is and how completely dependent everyone is on services that we completely rely on, and he doesn’t like that.

Dan also lives up in Hill Country and couldn't get down the hill even though his truck has a 4-wheel drive. There were so many crashed cars on this hill from people trying to get up and down the hill that the hill was covered with crashed cars and when they did try to bring the thing that puts the gravel down and the salt they couldn't get up the hill because there were too many crashed cars in the hill from all the idiots who thought: ”I can go down the hill! I am a Texas guy! I am going to take my Lexus down the hill!” and then it is crashed and spun out on the side and Dan was trapped up on this hill, too, and he doesn’t want to be in that situation ever again. It is different if you say: ”We are going camping!” and you are packed and prepared to not be showered for five days, but they were not prepared for that and it really sucked.

Some people were freezing to death in their homes. In that kind of situation if you had a plan going into it, you maybe wouldn't wind up in a situation like that. Some people didn't think about the things that they could have done. They were freezing in their house and even gathering together in the same room makes it warmer if your power is out and it is 9 degrees (-12 °C). Putting your food outside is going to preserve it. Nobody should have had any food go bad because it was 9 degrees outside, but people don't even think about that.

Dan has a gas fireplace and in his current house, and he did use it. If the gas had gone out he would have put wood in there and burned it, even though you are probably not supposed to, because the other choice is that you freeze to death.

In the current situation in Texas, the only thing they told us was: ”You might get 3-6 inches of snow!” They had that before and you are not expecting this cascade of failures to result from that. Dan has yet to hear anyone saying: ”Look, here are my tweets! I predicted this!” There was this thing that happened in like 2011 where they tried to come out with a better plan for what to do, but that is not the same thing. There was no warning. Being prepared for that type of thing would make it: ”Well, this sucks! We are going to have to use the water that we have stored in the garage, hopefully it will last more than a week because that is all we have got! We are going to have to make sure the generator is going because we are probably going to need it!” None of those things! There is no awareness, and that is the part that was frustrating.

During it, and Dan talked at length about this with Merlin, Austin Energy was doing a really good job of telling them what they were doing and how many homes were out and what they were doing to fix it and shots of their crew and they were really great about it, but Austin Water said nothing. For the first couple of days they didn't even address the fact that there was no water for almost all of Central Texas. They didn't even talk about it. Dan was really upset about it: ”Give us information!” on Twitter.

A lady from The Wall Street Journal contacted Dan after seeing all his tweets where he was saying: ”We are shoveling snow into buckets so we can flush the toilet. We really need some information what is going on? Should I be boiling this to make it save, to drink? What do I need to do?” She interviewed Dan and the interview went into The Wall Street Journal and Rachel Maddow read Dan’s interview on her show that night, but he didn't see it because he was shoveling snow (see clip here).

Dan creating a YouTube channel with tips for being prepared without being a prepper (RW213)

This doesn’t mean Dan wants to live in some compound or something, but he wants to learn how to survive this kind of thing in a much better situation. He had always wanted to go into preparing for things without becoming a prepper, and his desire to do that, combined with the pure fury and rage that he was experiencing, he decided to start a YouTube channel for this project where he is going to go and meet with the real survivalists and preppers and the people who are in the compounds and have them teach him everything that they know.

He is going to turn that into practical advice for someone who wants to live in a regular house in a neighborhood in a city and not on a compound with guns on every wall. is where Dan is going to do his little video series and he is going to travel around and learn from the Wizards who know how to do this kind of thing better and make a little show out of it. John is looking forward to this.

John admires Dan for thinking about it and thinking about how to make himself slightly more… It is an excuse to hang out with the weirdos, which Dan always likes. He wants to go and see the compound and he wants to meet the guy who is expecting the zombie apocalypse and he wants to learn from the survivalist who goes out with a small backpack and survives for two weeks in the wilderness. Dan doesn’t want to be that guy, he doesn’t want to do that, but there is a ton of stuff Dan can learn from him and bring back and apply to his life right now.

It would be very cool to know that Dan could be dropped into any situation and survive, but the only real plus from that would be the knowledge that he could do it. He could probably deadlift 250 pounds, but he is not going to do that because he will be sore for a week and what is the reason why he needed to do that? John did it a couple of days ago and his entire body hurts. The thing about deadlifting is that you do it and you are like: ”I did it.!” and it is like a five second delay until the pain sets in and your heart has to catch up with the exertion. John sat there, 5-10 seconds later and was breathing heavily. It is not like an aerobic exercise.

Dan doesn’t need to know that you could drop him in some rain forest with a pocket knife and a week later he is going to walk out with clothes that he has sewed together from animal skins. He doesn’t need to be able to do that, but he would like to be more prepared for something that could happen, not for everything that can happen. The chances of an EMP going off are very, very, very, very low, but the chances of being without power for a few days are pretty high. Now we have seen what happens when you don't have power and Dan doesn’t want to go through that again and wants to be prepared for at least the basic stuff.

A lot of the stuff that would have improved everyone’s quality of life is not hard or expensive, it just requires a little bit of thinking ahead. Have more water in your garage, little things like that. One of Dan’s friends said she had no Internet and no power and there was no way for her to know what was going on in the world. She didn't have a battery-operated radio. There is a battery operated radio on Amazon probably get for $6, but you don't think about getting a battery operated radio until you are without power and without Internet.

If you had a battery charger, not the little portable ones you put in your pocket, but the ones to charge a car battery, you could charge your phone probably 10 times with that, but people don't have them, they cost $50 or less, but you don't think about getting one because power is always on and you just plug it in to charge. That is the kind of stuff that Dan is more interested in, but he is also learning from the people on the bigger scale, the people with the compound, because they are fascinating.

Something happens in a person's mind to have them say: ”It is not enough to just have a battery charger in my garage. I need the compound now and I need 50 guns and I need some kind of rope ladder to get into my house!” Those are the people Dan wants to do. You can pull the ladder up and then no-one can get in there.

John thinks it would help Dan a lot to do that as part of his show because it would contextualize the preparations he was doing. You have been to the place, the headwaters of this system and the outflow, and now we recognize that we are in the middle of this system and here is what we have to do to play our part, but also to be ready because you see how vulnerable you are.

John loves that idea. What a great TV show! There was a show Dirty Jobs that was making sport of it, throwing that guy Mike Rowe down into the pit and having him shovel out the junk. There is a version of that show where the person that is hosting it is actually an engineer. You have to find an engineer with charisma, which is like finding a needle in a haystack. Think about that show where the person hosting the show is trying to have the system explained to them. John would watch that show, he would be that show!

Prepper culture (RW213)

The mistake that preppers make is that they think there is going to be a zombie apocalypse and they fill up their basements with guns to ward off whatever they think the constituency is of people who, because they didn't prepare, suddenly turn into roving bands of armed raiders. The preppers think because they are prepared their houses are going to be raided by gangs. There is a big gulf between having your house prepared to go between 3-6 weeks with no infrastructure, and that becoming a Cormac McCarthy scenario where you never again have any form of civilization and you are the last man standing on top of a pile of zombie corpses.

One of the most vulnerable parts of our infrastructure is trucking and shipping. We are absolutely 100% dependent on the trucking network, which is dependent on the availability of diesel fuel, these systems are fragile and they are more fragile because government regulation got all shit-canned over the years of deregulation. Texas thought they understood how to do things better, but they can't be the United States of Texas in the modern world. That is not to say the national grid isn't also totally vulnerable.

You can buy a generator, hook it up to your house, and have it set so that it automatically goes on when the power goes off. If you got enough diesel fuel or enough gas and you ration it, you can have a generator. Dan’s neighbor has one of these and it runs on gas, which unless that freezes they have essentially unlimited supply of that, and when the power went out the last time Dan heard his generator kick on and he is the one in the neighborhood with lights on and he is watching TV and in there hanging out, grandstanding or showboating.

You can have propane around, you have a propane, cooking stove, you got a bunch of food in your larder that you cycle through, not crazy Pemmican, but your usual food, you just keep a bunch of it, you have a large pantry and and you eat off the top of it and replenish the bottom of it. If you know the water is going to go off you fill your bathtub first thing you do right up to the brim, and then you got all that water, which is no small amount. One of Dan’s friend was worried about his food going bad because there was no power to his fridge, but it was 9 degrees outside and he could put it in a box and put it out on his patio.

The disaster-situation in the Pacific Northwest (RW213)

Out in the West they have to contend with earthquakes. It is much less a fear that a volcano is going to erupt, although that is never completely impossible. Right now in the middle of this podcast the earth could begin shaking and the Northwest is absolutely capable of having a 9.4 earthquake, at which point you have to think not just about overpasses and bridges, but within city infrastructure you could stand right on top of it and look all around and you would not be aware that it was a bridge, They might have had to build a structure to get over a stream, an underground soft spot, or a place where they couldn't just throw down their gravel base and build a road.

It affects where they can route trolleys when they decide they are going to route a trolley through a neighborhood. All those things are vulnerable in earthquakes and even when 20% of the bridges would be down you can't fucking get anywhere. You would need a truck or a dirt bike just to get from hither to thither, especially out on the coast where an earthquake can be followed by a tsunami and now you got to get out of there and all the bridges are down and you have to get out of here fast. Then there is a lot of stuff that you would think of as solid ground that an earthquake will liquify and your house and your neighborhood could subside or slide. To be prepared for all that stuff, a lot of it is just mental preparation.

People thinking that the government should take care of them (RW213)

Dan is very dependent on resources, but he doesn't have the attitude that the government or those systems are supposed to take care of him, and it seems like a lot of people do. They feel like: ”I pay taxes and the government is supposed to take care of us in this situation. The people are supposed to help us!” - ”You got to help yourself! You got to be prepared to help yourself!”, even though Dan was totally unprepared for the situation. Part of the reason that he has a 4-wheel drive truck is because he doesn’t know what might happen and he might need to have it. It is also really great for moving stuff, which he has to do a lot, it is great to tow something which is important to do, it is also big and safe, but people seem to expect that they should be cared for.

The problem is that the people who believe they should be cared for in a crisis are often the selfsame people who do not vote for resources to be directed to building a super-resilient infrastructure, they are the people who vote consistently for politicians that talk about deregulation, that talk about market-based solutions to these problems. A huge political gulf exists in the minds of people who cannot understand that they have to pay for these things and who cannot understand that this collective responsibility is something that we need to think about all the time, which is partly what a national and a state government does.

They are the ones that rail against politicians, that talk about corruption, that say: ”The government can't even run the post office. I don't want them running…”, but then there is a catastrophic failure of a bridge, not even from an earthquake, but just because the bridge fell apart because no money was allocated to keep it up, and everybody is bent out of shape and they immediately switch gears and their tone goes in the opposite direction and they are all pissed off that their tax dollars, which they consistently try to reduce and scam, are supposed to magically pay for what they don't understand is a very expensive and complicated system.

That is infuriating to an infrastructure nerd. What bridge builders and road builders and system builders imagine, and they have to find the money somewhere and they can't. If you understood how many bridges in the United States are in danger of failing, you would be appalled. Normal bridges, regular bridges, that tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people drive across all the time, and they think that God put it there and God will never let it fail and these things are coming apart at the seams and the people running around trying to not fix them, but just keep them standing, have been screaming for decades!

John visiting his local sewage treatment plant (RW213)

John toured the sewage treatment plant last year, and he was talking about the acceptable amounts of leakage, which is when you hear about the acceptable number of insect parts in your cornflakes, like: ”This much water goes in and then this much smaller amount of water comes out and the rest of it just goes back to the Earth!” John loves that stuff because you only have to zoom out a little bit to see how fragile it is and how amazing it is, that all this is going on right under our noses and there are people whose job it is to know. You see people in hard hats climbing up poles and you realize they can see the Matrix. When they go home at night and crack a beer and sit in front of the TV they are highly aware!

John suggested to everybody that they just call their local sewage treatment plant. There is one surprisingly close to where you are right now. You would be surprised where it is and how accessible it is. If you drive past it, there are all kinds of signs that say: ”Keep out!”, but John called them and someone answered the phone and he said: ”Hi, can I come?” - ”Sure, if you want to!” and then he got a really great tour around where they were willing to spend a lot of time explaining what was happening.

It was obvious they were proud of it and John learned a lot. It was a free day of entertainment that admittedly smelled like poop, so you have to either be ready to smell poop or do something to prepare yourself to be in a poop environment, which means that you do that old Silence of the Lambs thing where you put some Mentholatum under your nose or you do something to be ready.

A lot of people who are not super smellers, like John feels like he is, could be in a poop environment and not notice. The people who work at the sewage treatment plant obviously smell it all the time and John kept saying: ”You really smell it right here!” - ”Really? Oh, you shouldn't smell any poop here. This is an area that shouldn't smell like poop!” ”Well, it sure does!” If you were at all used to strong smells you could go to it and not smell anything, but that is not true if you are a supersmeller. Even being that John was able to spend several hours at this place and just be like: ”Wow!”

They were showing him how many cigarets and garbage people put down the toilet, thinking that it magically goes away and disappears and that is what is amazing to see, to stand and look down in the vat where they skim off the stuff that floats: ”Somebody put that down the toilet?” ”Yeah, they sure did!” and these guys see it all! The manager said that this is the greatest job in the whole system. The kid, the one that has worked here the shortest amount of time has been here 15 years. He had been here 40 years, and he couldn't ask for a better job.

The guys at the poop station are the ones with the most job satisfaction. They are super proud of the degree of processing. He took John down to the end of the system and he took a cup and showed him this clear water. You still wouldn't put this cup to your lips and drink it, but you can put this water into a river, into the sound, and it is cleaner than the water that runs off the street. You wouldn't drink that either. This at least they have filtered out all the oil and all the heroin.

John hasn’t followed up on that mission to go around and ask all the different trades to give him a tour. When he was running for office, you end up in those situations because you go into those places, trying to get those organizations to recognize that this guy got their back. They all are in negotiations eventually in the city or county or wherever, because they are union shops, and they want to know: ”When it comes down to it, are you going to recognize our importance?”

You go around, but you always see those things through the eyes of their union rep, there is always a political person on the team and they are the ones that are giving you the tour, but it is so much better to get the tour from the foreman, especially if the foreman doesn't think that you are there as somebody who think they are the man. Anyone of us could open the phone book and make 3-4 of those calls and have the best week of your life, going from thing to thing.

Trucks that drive containers from the dock to the rail yard (RW213)

The shipping industry here in Seattle, the weak link is an element of trucking that takes the containers from the dock next to the ship and drives them to the railhead, a fleet of broken down trucks that you wouldn't drive even across town, but all they do is make this one mile long transit because what they didn't build in the system here is some sort of way. The rail doesn't actually go out on the docks, but is across the street from the docks, and they have to move the containers from the port around the corner to the railroad yard.

All these truck drivers are immigrant drivers and they live in a nether region where a lot of them are sleeping in the trucks and these aren't trucks that have a compartment, these are just cab-over Petes with the reefer and they don't even have a reefer on (reference to the song Convoy by C. W. McCall), they are not even Petes! This is an extremely low status driver job that falls to people who have just arrived, who don't speak English, who are undocumented from around the world and the whole thing just hanging by a thread. Almost anything could shut it down and then what you have is container ships arriving that have no way to get the containers off the dock and these trains sitting over across the street, you can see them and hear them rumbling, but you have no way to get the containers on them. This is a 24 hour a day system!

John needing someone from the power company to do something at his house (RW213)

John needed some electrical work that required that the power company came to do some function of the work connecting John’s house to the grid that no licensed electrician could do, but there was a big storm and the power company just didn't come. Not only didn't they come, but they didn't change the thing that said they were going to come. There is a certain amount of autonomy that these people have where it is just like: ”Well, you are working double/triple overtime and you got an endless list of things that you need to go do and just get to it as fast as you can!” and they just start Huckledy Buck driving around.

When the guy finally came he drove up in a killer truck and he seemed like Han Solo, he had killer tools and John said to the electrician: ”Look at this cowboy! He seems like he is having fun. How hard is this job?” The electrician didn't even look over and was still watching the guy and said: ”Yeah, until you work 95 hour weeks in the driving rain and freezing temperatures up on a pole!” These guys are the cowboys because they are the top of the food chain, and they are all super personable and they really know what they are doing.

He was up on the roof at one point and John asked: ”Did you shut the power off to that at some junction box upstream?” - ”No, these are all live wires!” He got these cables that are as big around as your wrist and there is so much electricity in his hands and it ain't no thing because he knows not to touch that one or that one. John really admires that work. You can trace that all the way to the mines that are mining ore that keeps this system running, too. Those of us that sit around and make our living writing or podcasting, it is such a different scale of necessity.

The right people for the job (RW213)

You wouldn't want an engineer because all engineers see systems and look for the internal logic of a system and they feel like the internal logic should be self-evident to the layperson, but of course the internal logic of a system is usually whimsical in engineering language, which is the problem between engineers and real life and it is why so many systems are so shitty. Every group of engineers needs someone in between that understands the science and also can understand the user.

What happened in the world? Where did that job go? There are billion dollar companies that are stacking up engineers like cordwood, and yet it seems like they don't ever think when they are interviewing people and saying: ”How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” they never find that person that says: ”I speak Vietnamese and English and I can help this trade organization go a little bit more smoothly!” We think about that in other systems, although why are there not more Arabic speakers in the CIA?

You got a nation full of Arabic speakers and there are so many people in the United States that speak Arabic, but there is a lot of suspicion of them. The NSA probably has a lot of Arabic speakers, but still maybe not enough. The US Army doesn't have enough, considering the wars of adventure, or Pashtun speakers. If you are going to have wars of adventure, before you even started the war of adventure, you would collect unto oneself all the Pashtun speakers you can find! The State Department probably has a lot of those people, but the Army doesn't want to talk to the State Department.

Fragile invisible infrastructure (RW213)

Most towns started as a little riverboat dock and over time they threw together ad-hoc systems and then they built a new one over the top of it. There is no American city or anywhere in the world except for maybe Brasilia where they were able to plan a city around a modern electrical grid, water grid, and road network. Everything that gets put in, some old cracked, broken ass, narrow gauge thing had to get taken out and you just slam the other thing in there as best you can. We used to just flush our toilets and the water went right into Lake Erie and water treatment plants started to get built.

There are water treatment plants out here in the West where they were able to build it at least according to maybe not completely modern standards, but they understood things at least, and those systems cook along, as long as you don't flush your wet wipes. That is a thing we don't notice, and you sure as hell don't want it to stop working. There are still water mains in Seattle that are made out of cedar. It is a very resistant wood to water and everything and they work well enough that the water company is like: ”Well, if it ain't broke!” They are not water tight, they are leaking all over, and you could replace it with all this other stuff, but that is not really watertight either.

It is so wonderful to be able to look at a city and a region and try to imagine how this got built this way. People have just been patching, brilliant people absolutely working their asses off to get to this. It is absolutely and completely interdependent, every element of it, and that is the thing that actually makes it fragile, as you saw in Texas that one thing goes down, all the demand flips over to this other thing which can't manage it, it flips off, and there are people in a big room somewhere having to make a decision like: ”Well, if we shut it down, then it all goes off. But we have to do that to preserve it so that it doesn't melt down!” and that is a tough call.

The thing about it is that even if it all melts down, there are still not going to be roving bands of zombies trying to steal your daughter and your Pemmican from your suburban house that for whatever reason you built a machine gun nest to guard. That is so far down! When those infrastructures go down, there are armies of people who rush into into action.

We have never been in a situation, and maybe even our parents, certainly our grandparents were, where infrastructure wasn't without barring disasters, where infrastructure isn't just completely expected to work all the time. John’s mom had an outdoor privy until she was high school. One or maybe two generations removed… Dan’s grandparents, because they were city mice, always had running water, but there were probably many times where they were using candles and it wouldn't be weird to have candles going in your house, oil lamps for sure.

Now when the power goes out it is the end of the world. You realize how many things that you do because power lets you do them and without power those things lose a lot of their appeal. Have you ever tried to read a book by candlelight? It is possible, but it is not as good as a real light or a book light or a Kindle or an iPad. Those things are much better, but you can do it by candle, you can do everything by candle. It requires work, it requires effort to read by a candle, especially if you are used to reading with a light on.

It is interesting to think about how many things are based around these conveniences that we have, the idea of not being able to shower! It is one thing to be lazy and not shower. John’s skin eats itself if he doesn't shower, and Dan was thinking about that. What if he couldn't shower for five days? There was nowhere to go where you could shower. No-one had water! John can bathe out of a bucket. He routinely just bathes in the sink because his skin will start to have a problem, but he might be in the middle of his day and might not have time to deal with this, so he will just go into a sink and do his ablutions.

You think about those kinds of things when you are in a situation like that. How much of your life is based around these things that run in our household that we don't even think about. How full are the reservoirs and is the water pressurized? Dan is at the top of a big hill and you could read on Next Door when the water was starting to come back. People at the low part of the neighborhood were saying: ”We have water! It is trickling out!”, and then people a few blocks higher would say: ”Now we have it!” and an hour or so would go by and then people a few blocks higher would say: ”We are getting a drip out of our tap again!”, which gave Dan a way to predict very accurately how much longer it was going to take to get to his house.

It took another day before it got upstairs into the hot water heater and it took another day after that before it was enough that you could actually take a shower or wash your hands, really. You don't think about that really, you don't really think about how interconnected all of these different systems are. Look around at your environment and think about all of the things that are dependent on you just having water!

The interesting thing about living in a mountain place relative to a desert place or a flat place is: In Seattle a lot of the pressure in the water system is gravity based. The reservoirs are high up in the mountains and the way the water works, as long as where you are taking it out of the tap is lower in altitude than where the water starts, it will find its way. The system is pressurized by gravity. That is why you always see water towers up on the tops of hills. It is not to say there aren't electric pumps in the system. It is how New York gets its water.

It was one of the things that inhibited the height of skyscrapers in the early days and all the 19th century buildings in New York City are just four stories tall because the reservoirs upstate that provided New York City water were only that high above sea level and the water pressure could make it to the fourth floor of these buildings, but not any higher, and so you couldn't build any higher. It was only when they developed the ability to pump water that you could build buildings that were taller than four stories.

John recommends oil lamps. When he worked at the gold mine in Circle Hot Springs, none of the cabins that they lived in were connected to any kind of power system. The hotel had power, maybe the town had a generator, but John certainly didn't, so they lived with oil lamps. Oil lamps provide a lot of light, it is pleasant light, with three oil lamps you can light up a house just fine. They don't have to be old timey. You see them in people's houses as a decorative element. John has a little shelf with a bunch of oil lamps on it and he keeps a bottle of lamp oil. You can get them at a thrift store for $2.

That minimal amount of preparation could make a huge difference in your quality of life for that time period where you are without. When Dan would have hurricanes in Florida you would get a warning that they were going to come and everybody who lives in Florida, or at least the people who have been there for a while, know all the things that you need to know about a hurricane. They know what you need. They know how bad it can be. They know what it can do. They know all of that stuff!

You as a Floridian have to know the things that you are going to need and the news hammers it into you the whole two weeks or week plus that the hurricane potentially could come here. It is impossible to not know, and you know in plenty of time. You might not know where that hurricane is really going to hit until hours or maybe a day or so before: ”Is it going to hit in Fort Lauderdale? Is it going to hit Miami?” There is a pretty big range where it could come in, but if it is tracking toward Miami it is not going to hit you in Tampa.

You can prepare and you know pretty much what to expect and if you want to leave you got time to go and leave and you know what it is going to be. Once it hits, it might be more or less damaging than you anticipated, but you got the time to prepare, you got the time to make decisions and choices.

John adding a message board to his Patreon (RW213)

The other system that John discovered was very fragile last month was social media and the degree to which he had become reliant on it as not just a publicity engine for what he thought of as his career, but it substituted for his friends, it substituted for the news, it substituted for his sources of cultural criticism and political thinking. He had put all his eggs in one basket and he thought that the system was robust, that his place in it was reliable, and he didn't realize how easily it could be interrupted, how much it would reorder his life if one event would create a cascading series of events that produced results way out of scale.

The thing that shut down the Texas power grid and pretty soon everybody was boiling their toilet water, the initial event, the weather, maybe it was a 50 year event, but it was not crazy, Texas did not get hit with a thing that had never been seen before. It just got hit with a thing that was unusual or rare. That is what happened to John on Twitter. It was always possible, we saw it happen all the time, and John was somebody that had a greater risk factor than your regular person because he was out there swinging for the fences all the time.

A big part of that was that his perception of the necessity and the indispensability of social media meant that it also became the locus for all his big ideas, his swinging for the fences, his idea of himself as a writer and as a performer. In the immediate aftermath, feeling like the whole network was down, and reflecting back he realizes how much more vulnerable his system was to melting down than actually happened. It only would have taken one or two more of his systems to fail and he would have been completely without income and because of this set of tweets that he wrote he could go in the space of three days from being a functioning artist and a middle class person to having to find a new way to make a living.

All of his friends, all of the network that he had come to depend on as a thing that sustained his career, would have increasingly abandoned him because as the system broke down they became more vulnerable themselves. That didn't happen because there were a couple of people in his life that didn't turn off and he is super-grateful to them. It was not catastrophic in this case, and now John has realized that the system is not encompassing, it isn't even necessary. You can live outside of it comfortably and happily, more comfortably and more happily it turns out, and that is astonishing.

If you think about the power grid breaking down and you pull out the oil lamps and you thought to stockpile enough lamp oil and you realize: ”We turn the lamps off at night and we use them when we need illumination!”, but you don't actually that much, you don't need as much illumination as we have. To live in a world that is slightly less illuminated all the time is actually better for your mental health and it adds a level of intentionality to the things that you do. ”I am walking in this room and lighting a lamp because I need a lamp now to do this next thing!” It isn't just reflexive, it is not automatic.

John now connected his Patreon to an open source platform called Discourse. There is a group on Discord where they talk about Road Work and Roderick on the Line, but Discourse is open source and it is a message board from 2003. You go on there and you set up a message board. John’s Patreon had an outpouring of support, he attached this message board to it, and it already got 500-600 users and they are populating it. It is a group of people that have a common interest, like The Long Winters fans, but their common interest is a set of podcasts that are very wide ranging and interest.

In the matter of a week this message board has already become a place where John wants to be and that a lot of people want to be because they are on there posting right now. After he gets off the call with Dan John is going to go over and see what they have been talking about.

Social media turned out to not be necessary for John. The great lie that they all felt in the entertainment business, that without the ability to promote what you were doing and making on Twitter you could not possibly have a career turns out not to be true. Reverting to the Internet that existed in 2003 is incredible! Nobody on there is yelling at each other because they actually don't have any reason to yell at each other. There is once again the presumption that anybody on there is a person of goodwill, which is what they had in the early days of the Internet.

When you went on Twitter in 2009 the presumption was that anybody on here is already pretty cool. We lamented it as we watched it go away, we all stood there and watched the life drain out of it. There wasn't anything we could do and we all just accepted it as an inevitability, but it isn't! You can build other systems, smaller systems, walled off systems, and it turns out that walled-off systems are not the death of democracy, but we built towns, we live in cultural and emotional domes for a reason, we live under those domes, and the modern idea that living under a dome is narrow-minded or living under a dome creates a state of ignorance that leads to bigotry turns out maybe the opposite is true.

Maybe trying to tear down every fence just produces a border-town. John doesn’t want to go back to being reliant on a grid that is cutting corners and maximizing profits, and it turns out that is actually a better description of social media, and even if it isn't some shoddy Texas electrical board, the other alternative is that it is installing itself as a global government. John doesn’t want either of those things, he would rather have a town hall.

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