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Using Computers for Prepping Systems and Organization – part 2

Avatar for Jose Martinez Jose Martinez  |  Updated: April 26, 2020
Using Computers for Prepping Systems and Organization – part 2

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Dear readers, as many of us know, computers changed the world making it what it is now. The usefulness and practical uses of modern (or not so modern) PCs is simply remarkable, and I’ve dedicated some time to research on how to take advantage of this in our environment.

Editors Note: For those that have not read part 1 of this series, here is the link.

Depending on the setup, your skills, and the arrangement you may have decided that works for you, a very important use is to retrieve the codes of your car computer. Not everyone has a new car, and maybe some of us have acquired enough supplies to keep our vehicles working for a while but for those of us with a modern vehicle with lots of computerized mechanisms, we might want to consider what could be done at home with a little bit of technology.

If there is no a workshop nearby some advanced stuff could be done with the adequate interface devices.

Now you can buy an On-Board Diagnostic dongle, plug it in your fancy new car, download an app, and read the failure codes on your shiny, brand new phone. (Of course, car manufacturers are aware and the funny part is to have physical access to the part that generated the code in the first place, and replace it) 

A good application is, for those with a bio-digestor setup, to measure the pressure and temperature of the storage vessel or bag, and the digestor itself (The efficiency of this one depends on the temperature). For those looking for a little more comfort and automation, it would be even possible to fill automatically a gas (removable) bottle to a certain safe pressure to use it in the future, provided the compression equipment is available.

I had envisioned that one of the applications I need the most is the level of my rainwater collection system, as it is going to be the source of the irrigation system, and found this wonderful video of a fellow prepper in YouTube.

If you have the knowledge and want (or need, for some reason) to avoid having independent or redundant gauges in your battery rack, then a simple device attached and plugged into your system will work. As my knees are not exactly the fine mechanism they used to be, I have been thinking in a centralized system with as few on-site gauges as possible. I have my reasons, though: sometimes rain is so intense in our area that we won´t be able to get out and check, say, the rabbits or chicken coop.

Or maybe someone has been messing around your place and a carefully planned observation session is needed while avoiding an unexpected and potentially risky close encounter with the trespasser. 

As a personal preference, I don´t want to flood my living space with RF (radio frequencies) more than I need to. I have been sleeping next to a router this last year and I feel the need to detox. Therefore, and to avoid some electrical storm or discharge to damage my equipment, I prefer old school wiring instruments.

I don´t have much land to cover after all, and burying cables brings along some other considerations, like grounding, proper routing, using a good conduit, and so on. But at the end of the day, I am sure the benefits, for my particular situation, are greater than the inconvenience. 

For those who may need to cover large areas, could use the (not so) new platforms like Arduino or Raspberry Pi. These seem to be a great option: versatile, expandable, wireless connection is easy for those with the skills, cheap to replace, etc.

I don´t like to recommend anything I haven´t personally tried, but in this case I believe I can make an exception.

The advantages of these powerful platforms offer are plenty. Properly protected these apparatus can be a good option once all of our needs have been carefully addressed. 

A good example can be found here: 

And for those of us without the skills for the moment, and needing some more immediate alternatives, the market offers devices more or less ready to work, like this controller: 

Commercial/industrial workstations

These machines are very adequate for those that plan to monitor and control plenty of variables and devices, respectively. That´s what they were designed to do, in the first place. The sturdiness of the PLC controllers used in the industry are something that will last for years and made to endure industrial environments. I´m not by any means an expert in automation, there are plenty of guys out there that know about this, enough to make your stuff work: remote opening/closing a gate, set lights on or off, a fan inside your chicken coop, or (in my case) if the sun is roasting my tomatoes plants, something very common in my area, to unfold the shadow mesh cover. As a matter of fact, I have been researching devices like this.

But it seems too sophisticated to do what I need: a simple switch. Is a simple control panel a better idea for what I need? Maybe. But I would love to be able to monitor my rainwater storage level being 200 km away, and my inside and outside surveillance cameras, just for peace of mind. 

And one of the most useful applications I can think of, is the need of sprinklers, to combat wildfires.

Our most common threat, and a big one, is this. We have two sides of our place surrounded by thick brush, and a wooden structure near one of the limits that could easily catch on fire. Bad thing is, the most suitable position for our HAM antenna is going to expose it to possible wildfires, too.

Maybe the antenna itself would be good support for one of the fire extinguisher sprinklers.

I know there are fire detectors that use infrared wavelength to determine if they are watching fire, but I suspect it would be cost-prohibitive unless it could be found like plant salvage or something like that. For those with more extensive acreage to cover, though, this is where a simple camera attached to a drone (I´m working with an associate partner in a design of our own) would be highly useful.

What I like about the industrial fire detectors is, they´re reliable as heck. What I don´t like, they need maintenance and you don´t buy them usually in your local hardware store: these things are special equipment. 

Inventory control

I´m not exactly the most organized guy in the world, but in my profession and having worked enough time in corporative environments, and being in tons of workshops and warehouses, I do can tell you something. For someone into serious prepping, a barcode laser scanner is a good idea to have. With the strict order to all members of the family of not getting anything out the pantry or storage place without scanning it so the program can update the retrieved item off the stock, you could have a great tool that will save you something invaluable: Time.

I know it´s a pain to upload every time we buy some new stuff, but that is something you do once and it´s saved for ever. And this idea comes from because my plans are to stock my place just like a small shop. Therefore I´m going to need an efficient method to know what I´m buying once money arrives. That way it will be easier to calculate the duration of our stock. 

I have found that I needed to make a very detailed list of the content of each box at home, taped to the lid.

Nothing fancy. No need to waste ink, just use an old notebook sheet, pretty legible handwriting and tape it. It was not too much, just like 4 or 5 boxes but I wanted to save time. Need the oil and air filter for the SUV? Send kiddo to look for it while you drain the old one and open the hood.

Hopefully, he will find everything before you need them. And if you plan to bug out and take stuff with you (like my plan) you better know what to leave behind in a hurry.

You can make this as sophisticated as you want, and it´s really useful. I have enough tools (and lost a few in mysterious ways after allowing strangers into my home to fix roofs and some other stuff) already to think in keeping a detailed inventory, including the last tip for my CNC, and piece of sandpaper.

It´s the only way you will end knowing where your money is. And one of my favorite functions is monitoring stuff like when I lend something. I have a decent library, with good, interesting books in a variety of topics, including technical and historical; I had to make a spreadsheet, and included a row with remarks like “Manuel has it”. That way I could ask Manuel politely please to end the book and give it back after some time. 

Security systems

Maybe one of the most important applications in prepping, are some capabilities computers offer regarding this type of systems. For a senior prepper, being able to shut down all of the storm shutters and gates of the home in a heartbeat, just with a voice order (something that can be done with modern software, some devices, a little bit of knowledge and some skills) as soon as he or she sees some unknown people getting close could make a really important difference.

Activating different systems from the inside is another important feature: alarms, lights, and others. Tuning up such facilities takes time; it is important that these projects can be properly defined since the beginning. Adding details while they are being built is not hard, usually. But what is important is to assess what you need, and what you want to do. Afterwards you will see what you really can do with your skills, the materials that you may already have, and how much help you need to achieve your goal. As in every other project. 

Farming and crops

As I have mentioned earlier, I´m not a specialist in farming; but I´ve been playing with computers since I was a little kid. Nowadays there is software for every imaginable application you may think of, in diverse grades of sophistication. It is widely using for managing and record-keeping, but, having being bit by the plant bug (the industrial plant I mean) I like to think on them as control devices for everything we could think on a homestead.

For example, let´s imagine you have quite a bit of coffee plants and have invested a fair amount of money building a greenhouse, some nice Colombian coffee plants (although the coffee I buy in Venezuela is way better than any Colombian or Brazilian variety, from the same location the Winston Churchill´s tobacco came) and everything needed for them to thrive for a few years.

The space you had for this facility is far away your main house. Coffee plants are quite sensitive to temperature and the environment has to be very controlled. What would happen if for some reason a hole is opened in your greenhouse and warm air starts escaping? Or that heater suddenly fails for some reason? Provided you have a temperature sensor (WiFi, wired, anything) inside that facility and you´ve set it up properly, it will trigger an alarm and will save your backside. 

In my case, with the rabbit production, as it is a somehow complex activity (don´t laugh at me, I´m an engineer but my memory for non-engineering stuff has to be trained) like breeding the different varieties (rabbit raising has being bigger these last few years as I´ve learned) and recording all the results of the different mixtures used for feeding, what specimen bred with what other one, and so on. It is one of the uses: keeping records to optimize parameters. Boring, I know. 

Do you have a large tank that needs to be filled up every now and then, but for some reason you need to be able to do it from your desktop? It can be done. Of course, if you want to be a healthy senior, you can walk with your dog, handgun in hip just in case, all the way and activate the well pump manually. But what if the tank shows low level and it´s raining or snowing outside and you have to irrigate first time in the morning?

Or for some reason, you can´t walk to operate it manually?  Then you will have an option. Sure you can do it from a remote control board, too. But one advantage we have is the possibility of centralizing and rapidly to visualize the status on a screen, much faster than the interpretation of light bulbs on a control panel. There is a reason in the industry world all of this was upgraded. 

Having the capability to remotely shut on a light on your workshop 50 meters away, if you see someone around, take pictures of the inside of the shop, directly storing them on your hard drive, or even sending them to your local LEO office in a pinch, is priceless. 

To be able to inspect with a drone the most remote spots of your place to see how that heavy rain affected your crop, and detecting a huge pool in the middle of the field that could ruin it entirely, is a big one. Recording that aerial footage, and deciding beforehand where you´re going to go and dig the trench to drain all that water, saving time and money, is priceless, too.  

What about your barn? A regular smoke sensor is going to be heard 80 meters away, when you´re comfortable sleeping in the middle of a storm? Because you may set your machine to turn on your bedroom lights and play a recorded warning, so you can know exactly where the fire is. And even an automatic action can be taken. Your machine will monitor 24/7/365. That´s why I trust them. 

Do you have to make a short travel and want to spend the entire day in town maybe enjoying a different lunch and see a movie in the cinema, or some errands? What about the peace of mind this will bring, knowing that you can access your cameras even inside the house from your cellphone or tablet if you have an internet connection? The old trick of simulation of presence is still valid! 

Maybe you left someone to keep an eye on the homestead, sure. But perhaps this person forgets to close a valve, and the irrigation system is wasting water. You could call and let them know what happens. If your system detects the solar panels are not pushing as much juice, maybe the guy hasn´t cleaned them as we request, and a phone call would wake him up. 

How much money is needed for this? It depends on the scope of what you want and need.

Much of the work can be a DIY task if you have the skills. I don´t have many of them, but there´s plenty of information and videos, documents, and all kind of stuff I have been collecting, just in case I don´t have access to a good internet connection in the future. 

I look forward for your comments, dear fellows, and thanks for your reading!


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7 Responses to “Using Computers for Prepping Systems and Organization – part 2”

  1. Dear Bruce I may have not explained when I talked about “detox”. I meant specifically to stop my exposure to the high frequency electromagnetic fields being emmited by our routers!
    I live in a rented room, and this device is too close to my bed. I’m relocating it, and will try to make a cardboard/tinfoil (no kidding) barrier to cover it when I go to bed. And Yep, I know ionizing radiation. I was certified as a radiologic protection officer by our company back in the day, to recover lost radioactive sources and provide consultancy to our top management given the need. A few years after that, however, some regulations changed and ultrasonic testing became advanced enough to substitute RX, and commies never saw with good eyes the importing of radioactive materials that could be used against them (but they do love using them in their enemies, of course)

    Sorry about the confusion. Sometimes my brain seems not to be entirely connected to my fingers if there is not coffee enough to feed the braincells. LOL.

  2. Dear Bruce! I had never problems for sleeping. Since I installed that thing I´ve suffering of insomnia.

    I feel like this makes me accumulate toxins. LOL. Don´t take it too literal. It´s just kind of a joke. Radiation interacts with matter, that´s a fact…and being uneasy with my router next to my bed just reinforces that feeling. No big deal though.
    Remember we are huge bags filled up with water and minerals. Electromagnetic fields do impact us. I feel the need to get into the jungle and leave the electronics behind for a few weeks.

    • Sure EMFs do affect us somewhat. But simple radio waves are not ionizing radiation. And we’re surrounded by radio waves from many sources, natural and artificial, all the time. Good luck getting away from them. Unless you build a Faraday cage or something. No proof of harm though. If you don’t want your router so close fine. And if you have a cell phone that should be put aside as well as it probably has higher signal strength than a router.
      So do what makes you feel better.
      But “toxins”? Come on. How could it put toxins in your body? There’s too much bad science and woo on the internet as it is.
      Anywhere your recent articles have been interesting and informative.

  3. I’ve been wanting to use a database (not cloud-based) for food storage inventory, and another for recipes. I could work quite well on AppleWorks (I have a Mac), but that program is so old it can’t even work on my newer Mac laptop. Have you a recommendation for a simple database that is compatible with Apple computers? Cloud-based databases would share my data, and I want this to be strictly on my own computer.

    • AppleWorks as I recall is a mostly flat database (not fully relational) – and while inelegant, Excel or other spreadsheet could work well. Use the Data ribbon tools such as Group, Subtotal, Filter (define a column for your filter type… Jars, Cans, Pkts, FreezeDry, Bkfast, Lunch, Tools, etc), and using Hyperlinks to other sheets or defined areas of the workbook. Try looking for a older (or used) Mac version of Excel (or MS Office which as Access database) or other product if you don’t wish to use web based software. Half Price Books (some stores not all), or do a websearch for older software for sale.
      As a side note – you don’t have to store things to the cloud with most software – it (the cloud) is often the default – which you can change or overcome by redirecting your Save As target location – such as Browse (This PC / your computer name, etc) navigate the folder structure to the sub-folder you want, title the document and save. Most times you can change the default in the Settings . In Excel 2016 it is under File >> Options >> Save – Default local file location …such as C:\Users\c\Documents\Excel
      Transferring database from AppleWorks is a bit harder than transferring spreadsheet/word processing documents, a possible work around would be move data to spreadsheet then export/import to the newer software – check the file types accepted by the newer software first.
      Got a bit carried away… Good luck

  4. You lost me here: “I have been sleeping next to a router this last year and I feel the need to detox.”
    Come on. Really? Detox what?

    • I believe he is talking about sleep disturbances due to radio frequency electromagnetic field (RF-EMF) exposure emitting from the router. Some people have found that turning off the routers have improved their sleep patterns thus feeling refreshed when they awaken. There are a few studies on the net if your curious to learn more.

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