Ballistic Monte Carlo Methods

This is a paragraph I never thought I’d see in the academic literature:

“[W]e advocate the use of ballistic-assisted (i.e. projectile-based) random sampling methods because they are both easily accessible and parallelizable. In particular, shotgun-assisted random sampling seems very suitable becaues of the presumed abundance of shotguns in cataclysmic times and the speed at which they can generate samples.”

- Vincent Dumoulin, Félix Thouin – “A Ballistic Monte Carlo Approximation of π

Awesome. That’d make for an amazing grant application.

See here for a summary article that explains things for non-mathematicians.

Edit: Somehow I borked the initial post by forgetting the title and screwing up a link. I’ve now corrected these errors. If you’re still seeing those errors in your feed reader, please refresh the feed.

Transportation Independence

A few months ago there was a Teamsters strike in Tucson that resulted in the city bus service being interrupted for several days.

The newspapers reported that many thousands of people had no means of transportation other than their own two feet (and some not even that) and the bus. These people were unable to make it to work, to appointments, etc. A few of my college-age friends were among them. Bad Times ensued.

Now the BBC is reporting that Eurostar train service between the UK and Brussels will be interrupted due to strikes. I’ve had the pleasure of riding on the Eurostar and have noted that it’s usually filled with all number of people, including many business-types. No doubt there will be many people affected by this disruption.

While it may be difficult to find practical alternatives for long-distance transportation like the Eurostar (though one can make it from the Guildford, UK to Monte Carlo by ferry and car before a train can get you there, according to Top Gear), there’s really no excuse to not have one’s own local transportation.

At the very least, get a bicycle. While it might take an hour and a half for an average person to walk five miles, walking across town is more of a hassle, as there’s lights, intersections, and the like. It’s likely to take much longer. A bicycle, however, is much faster than walking, isn’t limited to roads like a car, is less expensive to purchase (my Giant Cypress was about $150 on sale), involves no insurance or expenses other than a helmet, at least one U-lock, and maybe a replacement tube or two in case you run over glass. A bike can fit in even the smallest apartment.

A motor scooter or motorcycle, particularly a well-maintained used one, is also a wise choice. Inexpensive to buy, inexpensive to insure (state minimums in AZ are about $75/year with Progressive, though I prefer full coverage at about $300/year), and inexpensive to keep fueled up and maintained, they’re great choices for both short-and-medium ranged travel. One also needn’t work up a sweat when commuting to work. Every European city I’ve been in has been chock-full of scooters for these very reasons.

While there’s not much one can do about fuel availability (see the fuel strikes in France) — other than riding a bike, owning oil wells and a refinery, or having a solar/wind charger for an electric vehicle — being completely dependent on a third-party for basic, everyday transportation needs is a Really Bad Idea. If one takes the bus or subway to work every day, that’s fine, but one should have an alternative available if the need arises.

[Update June 16, 2011: Due to an oddly large amount of spammers targeting this post with spam for limo services and the like, comments are now closed.]

Be Handy, Save Money

Problem: Motor scooter idles rough, frequently stalls at idle, and generally runs poorly. It wasn’t always like this.

Spendy: Mechanic wants ~$70 for diagnosis and repairs.

Handy: Open carburetor access hatch. Inspect for obvious defects. Find cracked vacuum hose.

Cheap: Spend $1.39 for new vacuum hose. Replace hose. Scooter runs great.

While being specialized skills can be a definite perk, just having a base level of “handiness” can be…well…handy. Knowing how to troubleshoot, find, and fix problems with commonly-encountered things (e.g. computers, guns, vehicles, home electrical appliances, plumbing, etc.) can be rewarding, useful, and cost-effective.

Just don’t hurt yourself too badly while learning. :)

Where Not To Go

A recent Fark thread about zombies brought disaster preparedness to the fore in my mind.

Specifically, it made me think about locations that, at first glance, may seem to be an excellent place to flee to in a disaster, but are actually a very bad idea.

One of the prime examples is a big-box store, like Wal-Mart, Costco, etc. Here’s my analysis:

Pros

  1. Large, windowless building. Rolling metal shutters allow entrances to be secured. Doors only open outwards, and are made of steel.
  2. Substantial reserves of food and water.
  3. Large, flat roof makes it easy to observe (and by extension protect) the surrounding environs.
  4. Large steel racks of goods can be used for various other purposes, including elevated sleeping platforms and barriers.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? However, if there’s a major disaster, there’s numerous cons as well:

Cons

  1. Most people are poorly prepared for an emergency, and so will flock to such a store if a disaster is imminent1. They’ll probably head in even greater numbers to such a store during a disaster (witness all the looting that took place in New Orleans after Katrina, for example).
  2. These stores have huge amounts of perishable products (e.g. meats, milk, etc.) that will rapidly spoil if the power to their freezers is interrupted. One would need to quickly remove these products from the store and deposit them a suitable distance away before they spoil, particularly if one is going to remain there for more than a day or two. Spoiled food can attract predators and harbor diseases.
  3. Sanitation is a problem. While one can flush a toilet by pouring water into it (useful if the water service is out), this wastes considerable amount of water. It also assumes that the sewer system is still operational, which may not necessarily be the case. Big-box stores tend to be surrounded by enormous parking lots, and digging a latrine through asphalt is quite challenging.

While a big-box store may appear to be an attractive place to go during a disaster, I submit that it’s a bad idea.

To me, it makes much more sense to be reasonably prepared at home — a week or two of food and water per person doesn’t take up that much space and isn’t that expensive. Get a few other basic supplies2 , like  flashlights, batteries, a water filter, some means of starting a fire, a shovel/entrenching tool, toilet paper, some cash, a tent and some sleeping bags, and you’ll be set to ride out just about any plausible disaster until help arrives.

If an actual zombie attack occurs, we’ll be screwed anyway.

  1. They always seem to buy bread, milk, and eggs. Why? When faced with a natural disaster, “french toast” is not the first food that comes to mind. []
  2. Firearms and ammo are assumed. []

Taking Things for Granted

It is high praise for utility providers when we take them for granted; it means they’re doing their job of providing uninterrupted, excellent service. When I turn on my faucet, I expect and receive clean water. I expect that the water going down the drain to leave my apartment in a sanitary way, to be treated and disposed of somewhere else. I expect that when I turn on the light switch, electricity flows to my lamp.

Short of very brief, tolerable outages (e.g. there was a several hour long power outage at my apartment complex the other day, due to equipment failure with Tucson Electric Power. They evidently repaired or replaced the equipment and had it back on within a few hours.), such utilities are normally extremely reliable and it’s only natural that we adapt to their presence and take them for granted.

However, if one is preparing for an abnormal situation — a natural disaster or zombie attack, for example — one needs to realize that such utilities will likely be interrupted and plan accordingly.

More posts on related topics soon.

Electronics Repair

Knowing how to repair things is one of the more important tools a prepared person can have. While increased miniaturization and performance of electronics has resulted in many devices being cheaper to replace rather than repair, there’s quite a few things which one can do to keep ones electronics in top shape while also saving a bunch of money.

Take, for example, my Garmin StreetPilot c330 GPS unit. It’s served me well over the last three years, though after enduring a blazing Arizona summer (or two), the internal lithium-ion battery was no longer able to hold a charge.

Garmin wanted $150 for an out-of-warranty replacement of the battery, which I thought was a bit hefty, so I did a bit of research online. It turns out that the battery was an “18650″ lithium-ion battery, which is available at a number of retailers, including the local BatteriesPlus store. Fortunately, the local shop also had a model (PDA-210LI) of the battery which included the necessary plug to fit the circuit board of the GPS unit. While it was a bit pricier than the bare battery, it made life quite a bit easier.

Installation was rather easy: I simply needed to de-solder where the wires from the original plug (which was permanently connected to the battery) connected to the internal speakers and solder the speaker wires from the new plug to those same points. After that, it was a trivial matter of plugging the battery in and closing everything up. The battery charged up as expected and runs the GPS just fine.

This particular problem was quite simple and required only the most basic knowledge of soldering, but it ended up saving me $120. Oftentimes problems found with electronic devices are fairly simple (blown fuses, dead batteries, worn-out wire, etc.) and can be repaired using inexpensive, off-the-shelf tools (e.g. a soldering iron) and basic knowledge.

In addition to saving money, knowledge of basic electronics (and their repair) can be quite fun.

Testing Gear

Like many of my readers, I have a safe full of guns that I use for all sorts of ordinary, everyday purposes (mostly recreational shooting). I consider such ordinary uses to be effective tests of these guns for emergency purposes. What better (or more fun!) way to make sure your emergency gear is in a constant state of readiness than to test it regularly? Better to have a part break at the range when you have the time and resources to replace it than in the middle of an emergency when one cannot order replacements. (You do have spare parts for your guns, right?)

But how often do you test the rest of your gear?

I keep a Grundig FR-200 emergency radio in my emergency kit. It’s a handy little thing that runs on 3 AA batteries, but also has a DC input and a hand-crank that charges a small internal battery back. Every month or two, I take it out of its pouch, inspect the various parts (antenna and battery contacts, in particular) to make sure they’re in good working order, clean it as necessary, test the batteries, crank it for a few minutes and make sure that it’ll run off the battery pack for a while.

I do something similar with my Garmin eTrex GPS unit to make sure it’s ready to go.

Canned food, as great as it is, won’t keep forever. I’ll go through my closet now and again to ensure that stuff is getting rotated out and replaced as need be.

Being prepared for an emergency is a good thing, but be sure that your gear hasn’t given out on you when you’ve not been paying attention. Regular testing and maintenance can keep your stuff in good working order when you need it most.

How long has it been since you last checked your radio, flashlight, or canned food?

Smoke Detectors

Well, I learned tonight that my neighbor’s smoke detector is audible through the wall.

Unfortunately, this is the neighbor who goes camping a lot, and so has a few 1lb cylinders of propane in his closet. The same closet that shares a wall with my closet, where I have my safe, ammo, primers, and powder (all safely stored in accordance with appropriate regulations and common sense). Not to mention the hazmat storage container hamper for dirty laundry. Whee.

Fortunately, the alarm was set off by his cooking, and not from his apartment being on fire. When I went outside to investigate, his wife was fanning the door to blow the smoke out. I helped them silence the alarm and offered my box fan to help clear out the smoke.

At least I know that the smoke detectors are audible through the walls, which should help if there’s ever an emergency.