18 July 2012

Pygmies and Giants

There are two secrets of success, as Thomas Edison put it, and they are due to two things which makes one successful: inspiration and perspiration.

Having a great idea or seeing that there might be a better way to do something is a form of inspiration.  It is delivered to you when you see something that isn't working just quite right or when you have a new or novel idea of something that can be made or thought about in a different way.  In the realm of creation these things are called 'inventions' and they can transform how we live our lives and usually for the better.  If the vision of Steve Jobs was to have a computer useful to the common man, the vision of Bill Gates was to have a computer on everyone's desk running a Microsoft operating system.  Both men had views to what their goals were and what they wished to achieve and both succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, yet both of them brought problems to their users which were new technical problems but prone to the foibles of nature and human nature.  Neither of these men were successful before they got to work on their respective visions, both are archetypes of someone with a great idea starting with nothing: Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs did it the old fashioned way out of their garage, Bill Gates was dumpster diving in Harvard when he got the idea for an operating system for a machine that hadn't been built and cadged time on a PDP-11's off hours to start work on it and it was for a BASIC interpreter and compiler not an operating system.  In many ways both had outside help, in that their original dreams couldn't be promulgated by them, and getting to the point where they could actually launch companies meant having to adjust their dreams and vision at the every day level while still keeping their eyes on the far horizon.

These men did, indeed, have an environment that encouraged learning but  there is no way to predict what they would do.  Having the environment is no guarantee of actual accomplishment or of something being invented.  To say that it is demeans those who can see farther and says to them that they are not special in their vision and their work and that they are just a product of their culture.  As President Obama puts it (Source: Fox News 15 JUL 2012):

“There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me because they want to give something back,” the president said. “If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen,” he said. “The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

Inspiration does not come just because there is are teachers and mentors: they are there to help give you the basics, not to give you the end product.  Working hard at something is no guarantee of success, either, as you must have some skill and capability to do what it is you are doing and then demonstrate that in the marketplace to let others value your individual contribution.  This is the essence of Liberty: that you will prosper not by the amount of work you put into something but by how skillful you are and then accept the valuation of others as to the worth of what you have done.  It takes lots of hard work to dig a ditch by hand, and you get immediate results, as well.  Putting together a computer or BASIC interpreter from parts (in the first case) or from scratch using a system that is only emulating your end-goal system is something else again.  This both require skill and knowledge as background, yes, but the application of such skills is hard work with no guarantee of success at the end.  The ditch digger can get a ditch at the end of their labors, something of immense value for irrigation and sanitation,  but the background necessary for that is a modicum of examining slopes and run-off patterns and then digging the ditch.  Not so lucky are those starting with only the knowledge of how to lay out a circuit diagram or to code in one operating system to emulate another operating system to then run software on that target operating system.  And yet neither the ditch, the computer or BASIC compiler are foregone conclusions because you have teachers, mentors, roads and bridges.  Having government is no guarantee of success and it is neither a creator nor does more than offer protection for an environment that can encourage learning.

The government research for the Internet is, itself, based on an existing paradigm started for HAM and emergency radio operators in Hawaii for addressing information to go through a series of point stations to get to an end destination for delivery.  It was called ALOHAnet and it was made to meet a service demand of government, yes, but no one knew if it could even be done.  It utilized a system of addressing packets of information from point to point.  From there it goes to the East Coast of the US and is put together not bring you the World Wide Web but to do something profoundly prosaic: timeshare mainframes.  Back at the dawn of the computer age, when IBM thought there might only ever need to be 10 computers for the entire planet, it was found that these accounting and automated booking computers could be re-purposed to do other calculations and quickly.  You could begin to model tough mathematical questions on, say, how the blast wave of an atomic bomb propagated or how materials reacted to combustion in a jet engine.  Important stuff and since the US government had a need to protect the Nation, it handed out boatloads of cash to large universities to get these new mainframe computers.  Everyone wanted one, of course, and since the US government (contrary to the beliefs of President Obama, Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke) is not made of cash, a way had to be found to share time (divide computing time up) so that researchers from one university could run their software on the computer of another university through sharing time on these few machines (which were numbering in the 100s).

Now because computers came from different manufacturers with different standards for just about everything, writing code for each machine was a process that was machine dependent: you had to know the system, its operating environment and software packages before you could even begin to write the code to run your software.  Some standardization took place to get things down to a couple of languages (FORTRAN and COBOL), but as each machine had its own way of doing these languages, software had to be tweaked to get it to run on different machines.  Yet at the most basic level there had to be a way to get these machines which had their own way of looking at a network (mostly of dumb terminals and other peripherals) so that they could communicate between each other to allow for coding to be passed from one machine to another (destination machine) via a point to point switched network we know as the telephone system.  This required Modulators/Demodulators to convert data to sound and then sound to data via tonal modulation, with error correction involved.  But even that doesn't solve the problem of keeping these systems in communication with each other.  The idea of giving each machine a machine neutral address in a much larger address space where machines would know the address of other machines wasn't started by ARPA but was funded by them which would lead to the creation of ARPAnet.  The idea for point to point message forwarding with the known number of hops between points comes from ALOHAnet.  Yet ARPAnet isn't the Internet at that point, either, because the computers are now taking up valuable and costly time storing and forwarding messages and moving them around the network.

How to get from that to machine neutral storage and forwarding then goes over to Stanford University in the 1980's and to Leonard Bosack, Sandy Lerner and Erich Drafahl who had this wickedly clever idea of creating hardware as network switches to store and forward ARPAnet traffic and to allow communications between local networks run by computers (mostly mainframes but independent small computing networks were also cropping up) and offload the data transfer problems from local systems to dedicated systems that did just that and tracked all the numbered addresses on the network as well.  Their idea was to make not just a software address space neutral networking device but a hardware neutral one as well that would treat each machine equally via managing address spaces.  They formed a little company in their living room, basement, garage, house and then started realizing that they and all their friends were spending their time hand-making these things called 'routers' and needed a bigger place and better financing to do it.  They went to a Venture Capitalist who helped them with money and expertise on standing up a business and the company they created was called: Cisco.

The US government didn't create Cisco.  Indeed for nearly two decades this problem of getting a better way for computers to communicate with each other was a vexing one to the entire computing community.  While necessity is the mother of invention, she has no set delivery schedule.

ARPAnet was already seeing heavy use but not for its intended reason (and it wasn't designed to survive a nuclear war, either, and any capability it has in that regard belong to the original concept of the emergency ALOHAnet system of packet-based radio) which was the very first digital 'killer app': e-mail.  With a flat network address space of equal peers and hooking systems to share that space, internal e-mail which had been something done for specific systems, could be sent from system to system using neutral data packaging so that peers (scientists by and large) could exchange data with each other directly and nearly instantaneously.  This eliminated having to ask your supervisor, having to draft a letter, having to get the letter vetted by your department, sending it and maybe, if you were lucky, getting a phone call in a week or two, or a return message in that same period of time.  And as computers stored the e-mail they could be read whenever the end-user got to it to read it, which is known as asynchronous messaging.  Thus you could communicate from, say, Boston, MA to Sydney, Australia and not play phone-tag, not get messages mis-delivered by hand written notes, not go through laborious letter writing, but, instead, get a reply to a direct question or comment in about a day to something you had put together with little bureaucratic overhead.  The sheer genius is that every node on a network, every e-mail address, had no secretaries, editors, nor upper management between you and the person you were contacting: it was a peer-based equal system.  The driver to get to the network of networks via routers was being driven not by scarce computer time but by long communication times by researchers who found that the most valuable commodity wasn't computer time but THEIR TIME in communicating.

ARPA failed to get what it wanted with ARPAnet: a neutral time-sharing system amongst computers.

It wildly succeeded in doing something that no one had planned for and proved to be far more valuable because of what it allowed: e-mail.

Remember, now, this is for something that President Obama is trying to claim as a government invention.  The paradigm of 'we all invented this by having government and your individual success isn't yours' doesn't fit into the actual course of events.  This is the view from the Pygmies, that no one is taller, no one is better, no one deserves anything through inspiration and that your Liberty is, basically, held hostage by everyone else and you should be thankful that you are allowed to use it.

This does not only not describe how things are created but they do not explain the process of scientific discovery, either.  In this realm something else goes on and it is the process of expanding horizons, describing what you see so that others can find that same set of horizons, as well.  As James Burke put it with a series title The Day The Universe Changed, there are profound insights into the universe that sweep aside problems in the old system or undermine the old system of knowledge by demonstrating something that was thought not to be true to be true or to otherwise change the basis of understanding so profoundly that new areas of inquiry are opened up in places thought to be old and decided upon for generations.  As an example, for a long, long time in human history light was thought to be white from the sun, or a bit of yellow white, but basically just one color.  You could get other colors by using filters or burning materials in a hot flame, but each light was individual to that phenomena and you only got just that light and no other.  Light was a unit and could not be broken down into anything other than what it was.  Rainbows were a gift from the divine or other powers, their physical manifestation just for one event or place.  A curious phenomena of casting glass is that with a relatively clear glass ball, you could set it on a white piece of paper, have sunlight go through it and it would not only invert the image but at the extremes of the glass ball you would get a rainbow, a spectrum of light.  That was only coming from one source, the sun, but when tried with other lights they, too, demonstrated this phenomena.  Light went from being a unitary thing to being made up of a spectrum.  Even more interesting is that when a material gets hot enough to give off light, it gives off bands of light in that spectrum.  Similarly sunlight has bands of light missing from its spectrum and if you can match up those bands to what made them you could find out what the sun was missing or, even better, what was absorbing those bands and identify those elements remotely. 

This was a fundamental shift in our understanding of the nature of light yet it took no government to find it, no authority to create it, no allowance given by community for someone to work on it.  Finding out what, exactly, this meant, this light as many colors, would take generations, in fact, of researchers, scientists, cranks, and assorted individuals working on it to keep on investigating just what light actually was and how it worked.  Nor was necessity involved, as the old way of doing things could easily have gone on for quite some time before anyone actually got to looking at the nature of light.

Discovery of new and novel ideas and ways of looking at things are not done by governments and governments, by our knowledge of human nature applied to the social condition, can only provide space for such discoveries to happen.  That this is the case was its own set of discoveries starting with the Ancients and then tracing through to period of Westphalia and seeking to understand the differences between Moral Law, Civil Law and Natural Law and what the interplay is between them.  Simple factual observations that Nations come from marriage  had to be pieced into the larger Law of Nations outlook, and that took from the 14th century to the 18th century to finally get a firm grasp of just what is a Nation, what is a government, what is moral law, what is natural law, what is civil law and how these are all part of a continuity with separate domains and powers in them.  Even with a sole Creator, that Creator put together a multi-part creation that we were to exist in and understand, and as we are a reflection of our Creator (made in his image) so, too is all the rest of what we have around us a reflection of that Creation and image.  The simple fact that it is around us and must be understood and dealt with is something that anyone who uses reason can assemble in their thoughts.  Government is not the pinnacle of Creation and, instead, indicates that man is a being of Nature and flawed by being Natural and imperfect.

The simple statement that governments are instituted amongst men shows the order of our creation after the Nation, and that is to self-govern and seek government amongst those around us who also self-govern.  The State comes from such self-government and cooperative government amongst families near us and is the last part of the puzzle, not the first.  To invert that, to put government first, then posits that government creates man, period.  And yet that is self-evident as not being the case.

Yet this is the foundation of the Pygmy view that we are nothing without government instead of correctly positing that government does not exist without self-governing individuals who form a Nation via marriage and working with their fellow man at a local level.

In the realm of science, technology and, indeed, all other learning, there is the alternate paradigm of how achievement works.  It is as breathtaking as it is simple to understand and requires only that we have self-government and a space to practice Freedom and Liberty without government interference so long as we harm no others directly by it:

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Isaac Newton, Letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675
English mathematician & physicist (1642 - 1727)

Once you have a new horizon opened to you by the hard work of others who have seen further than any before them and that beckon to you to join in their joy of discovery, then you must work hard to clamber onto their shoulders, stand on your own, and dare to see over the heads of the Pygmies.  Even when you better the lives of all around you with this new vision, be it in invention or science or natural law as applied to man, you will be vilified by those who do not accept that success requires more than just hard work and is outside the grasp of any government to create.

Government can only absorb wealth and make a space for it to be created.

It is not the creator, holder nor guarantor of success and insight and the most we can seek is to have it keep its fingers out of our success to steal it from us as that is the essence of our Liberty.  Our wealth is our skill, time, and hard work put into our lives to make them better, and the theft only starts with the rich and ends by taking milk from babies and impoverishing all when government is seen as other than a mere creation of man to restrain man's worst traits.  In that light God only asks that we give 10% to the poor and needy which is humble in its proposal.  Governments are not that humble and when they ask for more you should ask just why such government is better than the Creator or man's generosity towards his fellow man to sustain him with an open hand.  Government is the creation of Pygmies who see it as a means to level mankind so that man can never succeed, and do so through tyranny and despotism.  Civilization the creation of Giants.  We all start out as the former, but we are all endowed to be the latter if we but try and work at our natural talents and accept that we are not good in all things and must then find out where our talents naturally are.  Find what you are good at and work at it and you, too, shall be a Giant amongst men.

And then you will get complaints... lots of complaints... by those who do not dare the same because they prefer limited horizons to limitless ones.

11 July 2012

O'Reilly space


Trying to watch Bill O'Reilly's The Factor on FNC is, to put it bluntly, trying.

Where to begin?

Perhaps with the sleaze part of The Factor, you know the Sleaze Factor segment.  It is the part of the show on once or twice a week to decry something objectionable seen or read about amongst the populace.  Normally it is on YouTube or one of the other video sites, but it can also be on local broadcast TV stations, or some 'personal' and 'cute' thing that someone has uploaded unknowing that their value system is very much askew from that of the general population.  Or Bill O'Reilly.

Now before the Sleaze Factor segment airs you get 'teasers' from the clip or clips involved which usually are meant to give an idea of the nature of what they are.  Pretty much SOP, that.  Save there is just one problem with the Sleaze Factor Segment: all of the objectionable material airs in the teasers.

Isn't it lovely that Mr. O'Reilly warns you to get the kids out of the room before the Sleaze Factor segment airs?  Wouldn't it be better to put that warning on before the program and its teasers?

I know, spooky idea that is both logical and consistent.

His staff could also not put the objectionable material into the teasers.

Wow and zer.

The best part is that for people who didn't know that this videos existed, they can now go searching for them not only at the main sites, but look for caches of them elsewhere.  Without any of the blurring or other editing involved.  Loofah is optional.

Then there is Bill O'Reilly doing his best Sarah Connor imitation warning about The Rise of the Machines.  Machines, you see, are EVIL.  Really!  Bill O'Reilly will tell you so and that they lead to the demise of all morals in our culture.  I blame the Waltz, personally, YMMV.  In his latest screed, seen last night, he put together the problems of using Machines to communicate with each other... I'm assuming he is exempting the fax machine, telegraph, record players, wire players, telephone, tape players, radio, television, films which are all brought to you with machines... because they lead to:

1) Social Isolation – That was the knock against TV which The Factor utilizes, so I guess he is now past that part of the blue-nose nay-sayers about how TV will rot your brain, make your eyes bug out, but give you that healthy, pallid complexion. I grew up with that stuff from our social and media elites, trying to pressure Congress to do something about it.  Really, since it wasn't being used for education, it was not living up to its expectations.  Sucks when people get ahold of technology, isn't it?

2) Loss of morals amongst the population and youth – I blame the Waltz.  Bill O'Reilly blames The Machines.  I'm pretty sure ancient Roman Senators blamed taxing decadence... no, wait, they endorsed that!  Mind you the Pool Halls were a den for gangs, thieves, and women of loose morals, back in the day less than 100 years ago.  Aren't blue-nosers just plain quaint?

3) People get caught up in a virtual world – Which means they get to lose all their inhibitions, all their morals, and act like children.  I think that was a Woodrow Wilson idea, BTW, as he had this idea that if there was no one around you (in a desert, say) then you would immediately become a barbarian and lose all civilized ways.  Geez, wasn't that a great thinker, huh?  Be that as it may, these artificial social spaces are the spawn of no good, but are supplied by hardware and software designers.  Online social spaces are, in other words, the Pool Hall on steroids.  No good will ever come of them.

4) All modern social ills – Disrespectful language, coarse politics, upsetting the digestion of the blue-nosed elites, all this is created by The Rise of the Machines.  And here I thought, from reading all the documentation, that this was a problem of human nature since it was seen at the Founding of the Nation, after the Framing, during the first election cycles featuring someone other than George Washington... and seen as far back in history as graffiti at Pompeii and the writings on the walls of the city of builders for the Pharaohs in Egypt.  I bet you the Lascaux Cave Paintings also feature such things, if only we could figure them out since they probably aren't some ceremonial set of paintings about getting a good hunt going, but pointing out that Grunt, over there, is a slacker and a poor caster of darts, and his wife is sleeping around with Lacks Sideburns, who at least sets decent snares.  Dollars to donuts, this is the State of the Human Condition which is not the cause of technology but of Humans.

So, after trudging through the rest of the show we get to the Shameless Self-Promotion Factor segment, in which Bill O'Reilly does just that.  Mind you, you are watching this on one of those dreaded Machines and not having it done in manuscript form.  And during this segment he tells you of all the wonderful things you can get by becoming a Premium Member on his website (run by Machines, and not eco-friendly squirrels) and all the loot you can score so that the profit goes to charity.

But wait, there's more!

In addition to that great stuff you can take part in a townhall hosted on-line by Bill O'Reilly about the state of the Presidential race.

*blink* *blink*

Now that will be hosted on Machines.

Which are EVIL.

They will rot your mind.

And will create a virtual meeting place, which is the source of all modern ills.

Such meeting places will decay your morals.

They will socially isolate you.

*blink* *blink*

*taps screen*


You can have it one way – that these Machines are EVIL and the source of all ills in society and are to be shunned!  (Just like he said that your cellphone or pager was a hand-grenade during his brand new and extra-asinine Tip of the Day micro-segment full of tooth rotting ideas about using lemon juice in water before a meal and eating gluten free pretzels by a named company (did he get product placement cash for that?) which might be good for the gluten-intolerant but might not be so good for those who can tolerate it.  Put the phone away for the Love of Pete!  You'll kill yourself with it!!)  Or you can say that these are just tools with no inherent moral bias to them one way or another, and that they serve many purposes and that it is up to YOU to put them to good use as you see fit to do so.

What cannot be done is to decry modern computer based telecoms with modern software that creates virtual spaces as the source of all moral turpitude, and then turn around and create a virtual space and meeting place and claim it is good.  The incitement against technology (da MACHINES!!!) by Bill O'Reilly has been categorical for years: No Good Shall Come Of It... but please go to my website and sign up to show you understand this...

Yeah, hand calculators of the digital and glowing red LED form became a bane of teachers and schools when I was growing up to the point they banned them from the chemistry and physics exams.  My handy-dandy log-log-duplex-decitrig slide rule, on the other hand, was fine.  I got many evil looks from those who did not have nor were versed in the old technology that was not deemed a 'calculator'.  But the technology, itself, is neutral and if any of my fellow classmates had bothered to learn for a few weeks even the basics of using the simplest of slide rules, then they would have been prepared for the exams, as well.  The simplistic notion that the technology is to blame for the ills of society instead of not keeping to a set of moral standards which are taught no matter what the medium, is one that is misplaced, and Luddite at its core.  Also Progressive, as Woodrow Wilson saw it, since he preferred an Elite Class to tell what was good and what was not to the uneducated simpletons called the General Public.

Sort of like Bill O'Reilly and his 'there ought to be a law/regulation' for everything, even when all previous laws and/or regulations have failed to solve the problems they set out to solve.  That might tend to indicate that the value of such laws and/or regulations is not only limited, but that they are misplaced entirely and something other than laws and/or regulations might be required as the coercion of authority isn't stopping the problem.  Make no mistake about it, Bill O'Reilly sees himself as a Culture Warrior, but one has to ask oneself:  just what form of culture is it that he is pushing that is more regulated, castigates people for using modern technology, and attributes all social ills to that technology and that people are using it in an unregulated fashion?

While decrying all the problems of society, the solutions he proposes are already being done in the way he suggests (although their form may be not what he likes) and he can learn no lesson from this, save to push the same, tired attitude that isn't working.  If bad bankers and predatory lenders are a problem, putting regulations in place begins a process of shielding those same bankers and lenders from legal proceedings by their customers and puts in place a kinder, gentler, more authoritarian and lenient government in the place of people who feel wronged.  This isn't working.  You can have all the censorship software in the world, the best stuff available, and ideas you want to quash still not only arrive to those who are suffering under such tyranny, but they arrive because they are being stifled since they offer a way out from tyranny... just ask China about that.  Or Saudi Arabia.

At this point in time there is very little of The Factor that I enjoy, save those times Bill gets a sex and hair color change, and changes his name to Laura Ingraham.  Too bad the format of the program is starting to suck like an Electrolux.

And Bill still has only a 1 in 15 chance of getting a tie that matches his suit on any given night.  For all the people at FNC, can't anyone actually tell which colors go together as an outfit?  Or ask Bill if he can do the Einstein Solution for Outfits which is seven of the same outfits, worn once per week?  Yes, they do go to charity or some such, but the show should not be painful to watch even with the sound off.  Please?

01 July 2012

And then the power went out...

Preparing for disaster includes such things as having the power go out, like it did in my location with a storm system that went from 'Chance of Rain 10%' to sudden downpour, and very high winds.  At 10:20pm on Friday night the power went out... at 6:00pm on Sunday afternoon it came back on.  The high temps during the day was in the 90's to 100's, and the evenings featured hot, still air which meant that you could have the windows open but nothing really moved through them.  At night there were no artificial lights to be seen anywhere, save for the rare car driving by or aircraft overhead at night.

For powering equipment I have a number of short-term UPS back-ups for computer systems.  These are the 'give me 10 minutes to close everything down gracefully' sorts of back-ups, not long-term ones.  For a bit more power I also have a Universal Power Group Eco 1800S solar generator system.  These systems are, I suspect, rebranded to a lot of different names and basically looks like this:


The solar panel is of the folding type and the battery system is basically a large UPS with a 12v input to supplement a 120v input.  Fully charged it ran my refrigerator (a basic Frigidaire model, no frills) for about 6 hours supplemented with the solar panel.  My back deck situation gets me about 80% direct sunlight from dawn to dusk if you reposition the panel every hour to hour and half, and takes about 4 hours to bet to a 50% charge.

If you are getting this to run a refrigerator, it would be best to have the most energy efficient refrigerator on the market.  Or a small cube type that is also energy efficient. A basic full size no-frills refrigerator is a short term stop-gap with this unit.  If you want it for powering up electronics, a simple cell-phone charger can take a decent chunk from its battery reserve.  For 5-6 hours of uptime for a refrigerator it is decent, but for anything more than that or for more than a laptop, you are going to have to look at your current draw rate for the item vs. storage capacity in the batteries.  The refrigerator took between 0.15 to 0.17 kWh draw during the uptime of the device.

Trying to get a refrigerator chilled down is an energy intensive task and once the refrigerator starts to get warmer, the ability to do more than put a slight chill back into it via such a system is minimal.  The lesson: when you get a power outage of more than a few minutes and time is unknown to restoration, put on the battery pack immediately to keep the refrigerator as cold for as long as possible.

Also tested was a Kaito radio KA600:


This comes without a transformer block.  Your choices for energy sources are AA batteries, that cute little solar panel or the hand crank.  It has an on-board little LiON battery for holding a minimal charge so that after 1.5 minutes of using the hand crank you get about 10 minutes of radio time.  As the amount of radio time is limited by battery size and input source, you can go a bit longer with the LiON if you have pretty intense sunlight to put the radio in while running it.  A set of 3 AA batteries lasts about 3 hours.  In other words an energy sipper this isn't.  It is amazing it has so many functions built-in, but that really hits the LiON battery use for the main display and TEMP/HUMIDITY display.  Radio reception in the great outdoors is good, from the great indoors it depends on how close you are to a window.  With that same 80% sunshine the radio shuts off after about a minute of use.  For a bit longer the hand crank and sunlight to supplement the battery gets about 15 minutes of use.  The antenna is uni-directional.

Based on your needs this may do fine, but it isn't recommended for an extended power outage.  If a better LiON battery were on-board to get at least 1-2 hours of use or a low energy system put in with options for turning off other functions like the displays and such and just go to radio, then it would be a better option for longer-term use.

One neighbor had a gasoline back-up generator but hadn't done basic maintenance and monthly start-ups on it, so it didn't work.  If you get a liquid or multi-fuel generator, do the maintenance and any recommended check-ups, and get gasoline from a marine or boating station as they tend not to have ethanol in them.

Coming from the Western NY area there are some things I can say about the NoVA power grid: it is fragile.

Very fragile.

Mind you, living near the Niagara Power Project meant (back when I lived in that region) that power line situations tended to get addressed rapidly.  Since bad snow and ice storms happened every couple of years, trees tended to get cut back from the lines in a severe manner so as to limit the number of winter outages.

A few years ago, here in NoVA, we had a 5 day power outage.  With no storms.  Power outages of the 3-5 hour variety are of the 1-2 year amount.

Growing up in WNY I experienced the Great Blackout, the '77 storm and an early '80s ice storm with power lost for a week.  Basically, over two decades there were three outages of any real length and the 3-5 hour types were rare, about once every 2-3 years due to lightning.

One of the local radio stations was asking people for input on who they blame for this.  My answer is simple: customers who are unwilling to tell the power company to harden their infrastructure are to blame.  There is lots of other blame to go around at the local, State and federal level with make-work money hand-outs that don't do a thing to get better power grids and only get some cosmetic work done to the existing infrastructure.  This outage is a wake-up call to the region: if you aren't willing to complain about this sort of thing, expect to get more of it as you reward bad behavior.

I will be complaining more.

I'm also getting two SUNRNR units with four solar panels and will look to take my refrigerator and freezers off the grid entirely. Trying to live off-grid in a Built-Up Area is difficult, but since the population at large isn't getting the hint that infrastructure needs to be maintained, that is about the only solution until there is enough of an economic recovery to leave the region and make an off-grid home somewhere with a better climate.  I would prefer someplace where the people take having a hardened infrastructure seriously, but so far, no luck on that.