137 Corona Crisis With Johnny of Granola Shotgun

Johnny’s bulk grain. Image: Granola Shotgun.

Johnny Sanphillippo of the blog Granola Shotgun dropped by the Root Simple podcast today to talk about a lifestyle that’s proving useful in our troubled times. I decided to put this podcast out quickly so please excuse the less than ideal audio on my end. During our conversation we discuss Johnny’s most recent blog post, “Recipes for Disaster,” which covers his tips and tricks for living frugally and being prepared for a crisis.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Nassim Taleb on Why It’s Better to Panic Early About the Coronavirus

Why should we take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19? It’s not for our sake but for the sake of other people. This is one of the main points of Taleb’s video. If we can slow the spread of this disease we can lesson the impact on vulnerable populations. Personally, I’m unlikely to die from COVID-19 but I could easily pass the virus on to an older person who might. It’s another “Not me. us.” moment.

The other important fact is that the death rate for a highly communicable disease is not static. If our hospital systems are overwhelmed we’ll see an exponential increase in the fatality rate.

The time is now, if you can, to halt travel, to avoid large groups and to get ready. As Taleb says, it would be better to error on the side of caution than to not take this threat seriously.

Keeping Doors Secure

While this lecture is mostly about the types of doors you’ll find in institutional settings, there’s some important and actionable security information for our homes and apartments. In the talk, security consultant Brian Rea a.k.a. “Deviant Ollam,” shows far simpler ways to enter buildings without out either picking the lock or busting the door down.

For those of us who own our own houses Rea shows some simple steps you can take to secure hinges and prevent easy access to the latch bolt. Should you, for instance, live in a house where some idiot installed a door with the hinges on the outside, Rea suggests an easy fix: $4 jamb pins. Jamb pins prevent someone from the easy task of popping off the hinge pin.

Those of you in apartment with one of those telephone access boxes at the entrance are in for a shock. It turns out that just two keys will open the vast majority of telephony access boxes (a business dominated by two companies, Linear and Doorking). Once the box is open all you have to do is short the relay and the door will buzz open.

Screen shot from Rea’s lecture.

This idiotic “one key to open them all” laziness allows Rea to put together a nefarious “everyday” key ring that opens everything from filing cabinets to Crown Victoria police cruisers! Rea’s key ring consists of:

  • FEOK1 elevator key.
  • CH751  a small key for things like filing cabinets and RV doors.
  • C415A filing cabinets.
  • CH751 filing cabinets.
  • 1284x Ford fleet vehicles.
  • Jigglers–these are a kind of simple lock picking tool that will open many locks. I’ve played around with them and can attest to their effectiveness.
  • A wire loop for shorting telephony boxes.
  • 16120 Doorking telephony boxes.
  • 2223443 Linear box key.
  • Cuff key for what will happen when you use the rest of the keys on this chain.

Beyond that key ring Rea goes on to show how some institutional doors can be opened with a puff of vape smoke!

I’ve added Amazon links should you wish to put your own chain together. This means that Root Simple will benefit from Amazon referral fees while you are out stalling elevators, opening filing cabinets, breaking into apartment building lobbies and stealing police cruisers. Not that any of you would do such things.

In all seriousness, it’s good to periodically review security in the places in which we live and work. It always seems that the black hat folks are one step ahead of the clueless white cap wearers and the lazy companies that supply us with locks that don’t really work.

Thanks to the bloggers and readers of BoingBoing for the tip on this lecture and for supporting Root Simple over the past 10 years.

Ham Radio vs. GoTenna

According to the origin myths of the internet and mobile technology their decentralized qualities are supposed to function when we’re all hunkered down in our bunkers riding out a nuclear Armageddon. This fanciful narrative might just be a cover for a less appealing reality. In fact, our internet and mobile phones should probably be characterized as an attempt to build a dystopian and highly centralized surveillance network. Our “friends” at Facebook and Google have gone one step beyond the government by figuring out a way to make money off this surveillance.

As CEO of a new startup, Daniela Perdomo challenged this centralization with a provocative product, the goTenna. Johnny, over at Granola Shotgun, has purchased a goTenna and has a post up about it. Basically, the goTenna allows you to bypass the cellphone network and send text messages and your GPS location directly to other goTenna users, within around 1 to 5 miles, via an app on your cellphone that pairs with the goTenna device. GoTenna sells for $179 for a pack of two.

The more goTenna users there are in a particular area, the longer the communication range will be since the devices can hand off messages between each other by forming what’s called a mobile mesh network. A subscription service allows you to send goTenna messages over regular SMS networks so you can reach people who don’t own a goTenna.

The goTenna has been out for a few years and, as evidenced by user maps, if you live in a major metropolitan area I’d expect the coverage to be good. Due to communications regulations you’re only supposed to use a goTenna in the U.S. but the map shows a lot of goTenna users in Europe and a few in Canada.

GoTenna also has competition. Similar devices, some in production others just an Indiegogo dream, include the Gotoky, Beartooth, Sonnet and Radacat. A few of these competitors promise some form of voice communication. One big constraint on all these devices, including the goTenna, is the highly contested and corrupt realm of radio spectrum allocation. In order to develop expanded voice and data capabilities, governments would need to allocate more radio spectrum, unlikely if you don’t have deep pockets to pay for lobbyists and buy off politicians around the world.

Johnny asked me what I thought of the goTenna vs. amateur radio (a.k.a. ham radio) for emergency situations. Without testing a goTenna I can’t really answer that question. I will say that ham radio has a few pluses and minuses.  In order to use a ham radio you have to get a license which isn’t that hard especially since you no longer need to know Morse code. You are not supposed to use ham radio for commercial communication so if Johnny and I wanted to send messages over ham radio about our respective blogs that might be considered out of bounds. Of course, Johnny would also have to have a ham radio license in order for us to chat. And ham radio, in my experience, is not a “plug and play” type of technology. You have to devote a considerable amount of time to learning the technology as well as the communication etiquette and protocols.

On the plus side, with just an inexpensive 2 meter handheld ham radio (you can pick one up for as little as $24), you can communicate via voice in any emergency. Thanks to the Win System, I can use that same 2 meter radio to communicate around the world. And the goTenna is similar to the efforts of ham radio operators to create mesh networks with wifi routers. And ham radio, unlike the goTenna, is by definition open source.

Ham radio is really something you need to take up in a community of other ham radio enthusiasts. One could speculate, as has political scientist, Robert Putnam about the general disinclination in recent decades to do things in groups such as form ham radio clubs, bowling leagues, attend churches or synagogues etc. The goTenna is yet another technology for atomized individuals and for that reason, I think, it’s no coincidence that blockchain enthusiasts have taken to the goTenna. On the other hand, who wants to cede all of our communication abilities to a few centralized and greedy mobile carriers and creepy internet companies? Perhaps the answer is to form more ham radio clubs and encourage interesting and easy to use technologies like the goTenna.

If you’ve used a goTenna or any similar device please leave a comment with your thoughts. And, speaking here as KK6HUF, if you’d like to help me get back to learning how to use ham radio please also get in touch. I could use some help!

108 Artist/Maker Federico Tobon


Update: Federico wrote up a blog post showing some of the things we talked about.

Our guest this week on the Root Simple Podcast is artist Federico Tobon of WolfCat Workshop. We talk about a lot of things including Federico’s art, adventures in extreme “makerdom,” sharpening tools, knots and even how to train cats!  This is an episode that you’ll want to follow along in the show notes so you can see Federico’s amazing work. Here’s some of the things we talk about:

You can follow Federico’s work at WolfcatWorkshop and he’s @wolfcatworkshop on Instagram. Make sure to sign up for his newsletter.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.