Prepping: Storing “Obsolete Knowledge”

A tale about Obsolete Knowledge today – a very instructive tale, especially if you’re over 40 and particularly if you think about the En d of the World..

Since my friend of 65-years (‘the major‘) is down visiting, part of my preps for his visit included downloading some Ham Radio Extra Class test prep questions.  You see, although he and I got our General Class ham radio tickets around the same time (1964, was it?) he never got around to the “top ticket.”  He was too busy with top grades in college and grad school. Now, with a little more time he’s thinking getting to the FCC’s top ham license..

So, there I was last Sunday morning going through 300+ questions in the test pool and honestly, I missed a disappointing number.  High have passed in an actual test, but the hobby has continued to evolve and my knowledge hasn’t.  That’s because I too got involved in top grads in college, moving, sailing, serial marriages and such.  Had the license, alright, but not the time to stay “tip of the spear” on the technical side.

Two questions from the test question pool illustrate the “obsolescence of knowledge” point.  Remember:  I took ALL the ham radio tests – including Morse code (at 20 words per minute) in a single sitting in 1977 after I’d let my original ham call sign expire.

Turns out, some of the questions were pretty much the same because the laws of physics haven’t changed.  Here’s that sample question:

E6D02 (A)   What is the equivalent circuit of a quartz crystal?

  1. Motional capacitance, motional inductance, and loss resistance in series, all in parallel with a shunt capacitor representing electrode and stray capacitance
  2. Motional capacitance, motional inductance, loss resistance, and a capacitor representing electrode and stray capacitance all in parallel
  3. Motional capacitance, motional inductance, loss resistance, and a capacitor representing electrode and stray capacitance all in series
  4. Motional inductance and loss resistance in series, paralleled with motional capacitance and a capacitor representing electrode and stray capacitance

OK…simple one, right?  Physics is still physics,  But, then I came on this little gem that sums up so much of how ham radio has changed over the years:

E2D01 (B)  Which of the following digital modes is especially designed for use for meteor scatter signals?

  1. WSPR
  2. FSK441
  3. Hellschreiber
  4. APRS

Remember, I took my license test in 1977, let’s see what has changed in the field:

  • First, in 1977 the “digital” modes were simple frequency-shift keying. Morse or predominately narrow-shift 60 baud teletype!
  • Second, there were no widespread uses of transistors…they’d just started coming into new equipment and here, most of it was through-hole parts. A few DIP packages…maybe.  A trivia point: “The dual-inline (package) format was invented by Don Forbes, Rex Rice and Bryant Rogers at Fairchild R&D in 1964″ says Wikipedia.
  • No computers to speak of, either.  The TRS-80 (which we oldsters called the Trash-80 during our Halt & Catch Fire days was released in ’77.
  • No satellites….Well, sort of.  OSCAR-1 (*orbiting satellite carrying amateur radio, right?) went up in 1961.  But OSCAR-10 didn’t go up until 1983….

So when you get to meteor scatter and some of the more exotic modes of communicating (earth-moon-earth (EME) is hopelessly simple today, but once upon a time it wasn’t…) the effect of time-passing on the technical landscape becomes pretty impressive.

So back to the test question (which I got right, purely by luck!):   WSPR, the “weak signal propagation reporter” wasn’t even released until 2008.

FSK441 (a kind of frequency shift keying) wasn’t invented until 2001.

Hellschreiber  is an “oldie” dating back to the 1920’s as a way of sending a fax and it was part of how Germany sent out Enigma codes in WWII.  It became popular as a weak signals mode from 1980 and beyond.  Yes, computers make it work better.

Last, there’s APRS – the Automatic Packet Reporting System:

“Bob Bruninga, a senior research engineer at the United States Naval Academy, implemented the earliest ancestor of APRS on an Apple II computer in 1982. This early version was used to map high frequency Navy position reports. The first use of APRS was in 1984, when Bruninga developed a more advanced version on a Commodore VIC-20 for reporting the position and status of horses in a 100-mile (160 km) endurance run…”

The first bottom line?  (And yes, this eventually relates to prepping, just hang in there…)

You can be at the top of your game and wake up 41-years later and find out that about HALF YOUR INFORMATION IS USELESS.  Tube?  Gone.  Crazy paper-based capacitors? Gone.  Filament transformers?  Gone (mostly)….

Not totally.  I still love keeping my arcane collection of tube-type radio gear in top-notch shape.  But, the point is Time Marches On!  I hadn’t been marching.

A second example from was experienced when I got back into flying aft5er a 15-year hiatus:

When I started flying in 1973, the area around a big airport like Seattle was simply the TCA – terminal control area.  Today, that is all broken up into Class A, Class B, Class C…and so forth…airspace.

Also, the variable omni-range radios we used for radio-navigation (VORs) have been made all but obsolete by the GPS system.

Get to the Point!!!

Right, then.

Suppose the world takes a hit.  Financial blow-down or pandemic disease or…(gulp_) nukes fly over some worthless piece of sand in the Middle East…

Ask yourself, as you are prepping – and if you were back in 1977 trying to figure out what “radio technical information” to compress and save for transport into the future (max knowledge, minimum bookery) or what “flying information” to maintain (again, compressed for future use) what would it consist of?

You see what happens?  We have entered an age of Layering Systems.

Take satellites.  In order for them to work, what do you need?

First you need a rocket.  Then you need a launch plan and orbital position.  Then you need a tariffing system.  Because as simple as the concept of a satellite with a really good repeater system may sound, it requires a toll booth in order to come to pass.

Or, in the case of GPS, you need an earthly map with LAT-LONs on it, because without the MAP, all that satellite telling you where you are down to 3-centimeters (assuming selective availability is off) or you have WAAS or better resolution, is absolutely pointless.

You may be able to know what time it is down to a gnat’s ass, but will that really help?

The point here is simple:  As you are prepping, the really important questions are not whether we can bring a Sat-Phone through the end of the world.  Because, clearly we won’t be able to.  The reasons is not that the satellite won’t function.  And, it’s not that the phone itself will fail…hell, you might be lucky enough to find a charger.

But, in that example, the REAL single point of failure is what?


And you see?  That’s one of the reasons that mid-century technology from the 1940’s through 1970, or so, is such useful stuff to study.

That was a period before we arrived in layered failure modes that people don’t even think about.

If something goes down with a satellite, it’s up almost before you know it because there’s an economic incentive (keep cranking out billable time, right?).  But, if the crap is going to hit the fan, and the people who run power stations decide they need to be home with their families, what will the line voltage fluctuations be where you live?  Will there be brownouts and such?

How long will those big coal or diesel or natural-gas-fired generating stations be on line?

And if your GPS doesn’t have topographical maps, how much use will it be if you’re on foot?  I can’t think of a riskier place to be In terms of personal exposure, than walking along a freeway in a Mad Max world.

Which is why we collect mid-century data from the middle 1900’s because that will be the fall-back world.  We will be back to “antiquated technologies” like producer gas-powered equipment and we will – of necessity – be weaned off our high-consumption lifestyle.

How to hedge against this “layering complexity failure?”  Some thoughts on that in our next update…

Write when you get rich,

23 thoughts on “Prepping: Storing “Obsolete Knowledge””

  1. Let’s take a step back in history & compare the last 4 Presidents goals:

    President Clinton: Make Bill GREAT & RICH
    President Bush: Increase the Bush NET WORTH & POWER
    President Obama: DIVIDE the Country & make me RICH

    If you haven’t noticed, we are in a Civil War, except instead of using guns, the Democrats use LIES. In the future, President Trump will be spoken about on the same level as President Lincoln.

    This Civil War does not require you to join the Army, it requires you to vote a straight Republican ticket in November.

    • ECS,
      You are delusional. Lincoln was a great orator. Trump has the vocabulary of a 1st grader.

      Lincoln signed the first of the Homestead acts, allowing poor people to own land….Trump was a slum Lord and now has licensed his name to buildings that only cater to the rich.

      Lincoln started the United States Department of Agriculture. Trump has slapped tariffs on China and others that have hurt our farmers.

      Lincoln signed the Morrel Land Grant Act which led to creation of numerous universities..Trump hired do nothing Betsy Devoss…enough said there.

      Lincoln was behind the progressive nature of income tax in America. Trump signed a tax relief program that makes the upper 1% richer than ever before.

      Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation…abolishing slavery. Trump has caged children at the border.

      Lincoln established the National Banking system. Trump has been bank-rupt 7 times.

      Lincoln led the union to victory in the civil war. Trump has divided this country with his dumb as a bunch of rocks, Twitter happy actions. He possibly is the most brainless person ever to hold a public office in the history of world politics.

      Lincoln led the stepping stone for reconstruction. Trump is destroying the fabric of our great constitution with his divisive rhetoric and attack on our basic freedoms.

      • Gee, Mark your response is indicative of a recent (< 20 years) college graduate. Trump is speaking to the average American citizen. Your enlightenment dimmed out a decade ago. You should stick with the comment section of MSNBC where everyone will respond to you with "You go girl!" .

    • Nice lines about the presidents.

      If you don’t know the republican candidates though, meet them if possible and definitely hold their feet to the fire. Make them tell uncomfortable truths or lie. Judge accordingly. Any candidate with a record of impeding freedom or promoting socialism needs to canned.

  2. Sure- just don’t forget the 2 soup cans and some string for your “local” comms..
    The major meme emerging from 1st week of Oct/2018 is “Red October”, and I am seriously considering this Theme for the markets this month as well. The Ure Alternative Count-5 (UAC5) is complete in my eyes, and a “Red Wave” is on the way after “Red October”.
    Long SPY index Puts/ Long Social Media Puts(GOOG/FB/TWTR)and Long precious Metal Streamers’ Long dated (2020)Calls is proving to be a profitable strategy.
    Options are proving their value in this market, as Volatility is rising and Calculating and Controling Risk becomes ever more important.
    Since beginning professional Business career as a Specialist Clerk on PHLX Options Exchange in 80’s. Having been on trading floor and working the “feeding frenzy” that was October 19th, 1987, and having experienced subsequent stock market periods of Volatility, I can without reservation recommend buying some form of Market Insurance or simpler yet, get your money out of markets until the “storm” passes.
    I am starting to hear multiple “booms” off in the distance.. Feels like a really big shoe (s) is about to drop, and the Stones “Gimme Shelter” sounds like a good plan, although I imagine you wish I would just “fade away”..
    BTFD – Litecoin

  3. Problem being with the new tech is it has addicted so many to the point they could not survive long without it. No matter how many buckets of rice and beans and ammo they have stacked up. No app to do it, it won’t get done.


  4. I’ve never bothered getting a HAM license because I’m not much of a talker, but I’m considering it now more to keep on top of analog electronics. It’s an accomplishment and a major time sink too. I already have a tower and receiver, and don’t have time to bother with either.

    Skills that are a must: Map and compass. Fire starting. Locating water. Improvised shelters. All of this and more is in the OLD Boy Scout Manuals.

    Nice to have: Building a R/T radio from old junk. Building a usable genset from same. Competency on a motorcycle. Stick and rudder. Celestial navigation.

  5. ‘Funny’ when I first saw the title of this, I was thinking along the lines of what books I would want in ‘paper’ as opposed to Ebook . . . sure as heck when the power is out you won’t be able to charge anything and you’ll be S.O.L.

    I know that I have way too many books, but some I’ll never get rid of – great fiction and literature is a personal choice, but it can calm a troubled heart. Knowledge is power and books ‘you can understand’ on non-fiction subjects are essential – but don’t have something you won’t comprehend . . . aspirations are fantastic, but I’ll never be a rocket scientist!

  6. George
    You know some of your technical skills are obsolete when that very high tech gadget you needed a security clearance to learn about is now on display in a museum! That happened to me back in the 1990’s.

    p.s. The comment section is starting to get way too political and hot.

  7. This comment is for Mark, who seems to think that Obama and Lincoln were the “bee’s knees”. Mark needs to dig back into history through more that the altered state that is in most history books today.

    Lincoln was the first President to “wag the dog”, in that the Emancipation Proclamation was not brought about until 1863 long after the War Between the States began. Lincoln used the Emancipation Proclamation as a means to “popularize” the war as a social issue. He did this because at that time the war was not going well for the Union and it appeared he could lose the election in 1864. Presto, social issue pushes all the right buttons and makes people feel good about themselves by voting for him.

    Contrary to what the re-written history books would have us believe, the war was not started over slavery. Don’t jump down my throat, slavery is wrong. The war began as a fight over the right of the states to be self-determinate , as guaranteed in the Constitution. Lincoln could not let the southern states leave the union, because the North relied upon the tax revenue from the export of cotton from the South. As George would say, “everything is a business model”.

    I consider Lincoln to be a Great Divider, just like Obama tried to tear this country apart. Ironic that the two most divisive Presidents were junior members of Congress from Illinois.

    Don’t preach to me about Lincoln, he was a politician just like the rest of the “swamp creatures” in D.C. I personally think that for all his other faults, Andrew Jackson was the only President to get it right. He was violently opposed to a central bank. History has proven him to be correct, given the sorry state that the bankers at the “Federal Reserve” have gotten us into today.

  8. Mark, your comments about President Trump are really too much sometimes. You must have lost a big bet in the last election to be so hateful of the man.

    In my opinion, President Trump happens to be the right person for the job at this point in time for our country. He beat 16 Republican candidates, the Democrat machine, and the media to become President of the United States. That’s no small feat that is extraordinary. His communication skills are plenty good enough for the average American to understand. He is not a bought and paid for politician, but a businessman who has ideas that he believes will make this country better, and who is implementing those ideas. He also has plenty of Americans who agree with what he’s doing, and who recognize his accomplishments (which are many and varied).

    Your comment about Trump destroying the fabric of our constitution, well that actually started with the previous President and is continuing with the radical progressive Democrats. The actions of swamp politicians who give lip service (oath) to protecting the constitution are the real culprits. When you have politicians who say they don’t believe in borders and who create sanctuary cities and policies that are anti-American, and others who use government databases to spy on Americans, they are the real problem. Trump on the other hand has appointed two conservative Supreme Court Justices who understand and will follow the constitution (like it or nor not).

    In the end when history books are written about this period of time and Trump’s Presidency, I believe ECS’s prediction will be closer to reality than you think.

    • Read Bob Woodward’s book…Fear…it will 0pen your eyes to the truth and your incessant love fest of everything Trump WILL come to an end. None of what is happening to this country has to do with him. He has no clue what is going on. He has a Republican controlled Congress that controls his every move. They love Trump, because he is the ultimate YES man. My drunk cousin could have the same results. Steve Bannon Got Trump elected and history will prove that.

  9. Lincoln (a railroad lawyer, BTW) unconstitutionally suspended habeas corpus. I haven’t seen Mr. MAGA do anything like that (yet).


    Me have fire…

    If a flash bang was to happen.. We would be back to sticks and stones..we are at a severe disadvantage. we have out sourced our industry in the game of numbers.the last time I read anything on it the estimated time to retool was five to ten years.there would be plenty of resources around at first. The job of replacing it is the bad part. Our libraries well most of its digital..the rest would crumble in a short span of time..big libraries would end up lost in the rubble..90 percent dead those in the seen bunkers sealed in their own tombs..
    The outlook is that We would be thrust back ten thousand years by all predicted assessment studies that have been done..
    My wife tells me I know more worthless knowledge than anyone she’s met. Lol lol
    Any thinking man realizes the total futility of war much less a war of that magnitude. I remember when we were almost fifteen to..
    Now its 2 till midnight..

  11. No GPS means synchronization of all the signaling needed for your cellphone to maintain a network connection with all those terrestrial base station nodes will go away after a period of time with drift and/or equipment restarts. Whats that you say? Never mind the AC utility has been out of service for several weeks now? Layers of dependency indeed.

    Great reminder on considering what things you to keep around as backups to primary services. HAM radio is a great one for comms. Some deep cycle batteries, inverters, solar, even at least one electric vehicle or golf cart [assuming you want to get around the neighborhood only or get a head start on a bug out from your current position and no gas is available]. House should be 100% on LED light bulbs , besides saving significantly on the utility bill, you wont unnecessarily load your AC power budget when on emergency backup.

    Well water, yes that’s for irrigation only mr. township, until it hits the fan of course.

    Most of these things can be used daily in normal conditions. That way these items pay for themselves, and when SHTF you have redundant layers to fall back on.

  12. Lose GPS and all those smartphones wont be able to connect to the network as the base stations that connect them lose synchronization through drift and /or equipment resets. Whats that you say? AC utilities have been out of service for months now? Layers of dependency indeed.

    HAM radio makes for a great back up to comms. Replace all light bulbs in your home with LED, this lightens the load on your Power budget requirements for your back up power system.
    Have some solar panels installed with a grid tie inverter/charger, have a transfer switch to use your solar off grid, have some deep cycle batteries tied in. Have a water well on your property for “irrigation”. These are simple preps that pay for themselves as you will use them in the normal course of business [grid tie solar generates facility credits] A water well will lighten up on you water bill, LED bulbs will save electricity. Incorporate items that act as redundant layers when it hits the fan while hiding in plain sight.

Comments are closed.