From Ken Kidd: It’s nice to see someone finally talking about what we all hope will be not happen. I am a programmer involved in some of the Y2K testing. Because of my involvement, I became very concerned several months ago about how to make emergency preparations. As a result, a friend and I have compiled all the most practical information that we have been able to find into a emergency preparedness guideline that we are currently publishing and selling for $5.00 plus shipping and handling. It provides useful information on what you can do.
In your column, you mentioned wanting a bike-powered generator. I have designed and built one that will work for emergency situations just like what you are describing. I currently am selling the plans for $10.00. The construction is fairly simple and can be built for around $200.00. The construction can be built using a crescent wrench, a pair of pliers and a couple of screwdrivers. It gives you information that you can use even if you get caught trying to make your preparation at the last minute, or even worse, right in the middle of it. If anyone is interested, e-mail me and I will give you the information to order — email@example.com
A.T.: But wait! You may not need to build your own!
From Jesse Lunin-Pack: I’ve known about the y2k problem for a few years now. I work for a Fortune 100 financial services company, and we are spending absurd amounts of money to update our computer systems, so I assumed that everyone else was as well. My confidence, however, was shaken when I read a recent article in Wired Magazine about y2k programmers who were “headed for the hills” with guns and canned goods to ride out the storm.
I’m not ready to give up all I know and become a survivalist, but I have to admit that life in New York City without power, running water, heat, or reliable food distribution is a scary thought. I have not quite decided how to prepare yet. Check out USENET if you want to hear what the real reactionaries have to say on the subject (misc.survivalism and comp.software.year-2000 are good places to start).
Finally, as to the bike-powered electric generator: There is a company called Zap Power Systems that makes electrical drives for bicycles. (It sort of turns bikes into electric Mopeds. Pretty cool product actually.) The interesting thing is that you can reverse the system and recharge the batteries either by coasting down a hill, or by setting your bike up on a trainer and pedaling it like an exercise bike (or so says the marketing literature).
You can check out Zap at www.zapbikes.com. By the way — they are a public company. OTC symbol is ZAPP. I don’t currently own their stock, but I’ve been thinking about it. Any thoughts?
A.T.: Well, I checked the site and you have to love this company. I would not buy the stock — the risk factors in the prospectus are all too real — but I sure would root for it. (The Web site seems to be offering shares for $6 that are now trading on the open market for $3.75. I assume that if I had followed through and subscribed for shares, they would have written back that the offering has been completed — not clear why the Web site does not reflect this.) The company’s “Zappy” — you stand on it as you cruise along at 12 miles per hour to the office — is a $699 hoot-and-a-half, if you have to buy a gift for the guy who has everything or want to buy one for your child and have him beaten up every time he arrives at school. It actually could make sense instead of a second car in some limited situations. The New York Times pictured a cadre of executives riding their little Zappy’s someplace last week (a staged photo, but still). And the company has several other pollution-friendly “vehicles” as well.
Meanwhile, John T writes, “Here’s your bike generator” and points me to http://popularmechanics.com/popmech/sci/time/9809STTNM.html, wherein I find another reference to ZAP and a little historical flashback to a French exercise bike circa 1914 that did the same thing — there is little new under the sun. (One exception: fat-free WOW! potato ruffles. Don’t eat too many, but you really have to try them.)
Mike Rutkaus downloaded and searched the index for Home Power Magazine (http://www.homepower.com/) and found some bicycle/power related articles. Even more interesting to those of you in windy places may be the wind-powered generators. Mike goes on to write:
Wow! AT recommending storing food/water/etc.! I listen to this every night on short-wave radio programs (Bo Gritz, Jeff Bennett, Dr. Sam Solomon, and others), but YOU saying this!
PS – I suppose you could charge 2 nicad C cells by connecting them directly in the proper polarity to existing bicycle lighting generators.
A.T.: Thanks, Mike. The thing is, I think there’s a low probability we’d need any of this, but the nice thing about being prepared is that it’s also a good investment. I’ve been pitching “buying in bulk” for 20 years, just because it’s often a great investment. (Six hundred thirty columns or so ago I explained how buying wine by the case, at a 10% discount, instead of one bottle at a time, could be a 177% return on investment. For those of you who may have missed it, I will reprise it again tomorrow.)
Legs getting tired? Want to read more about the nation’s power grid? Alan Light turned me on to this excellent, beautifully written column by Dick Mills, an expert in software for the electric utilities: Dancing On the Rim of the Canyon.
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