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Month: October 2022

Good radiation detectors

Good radiation detectors

With nuclear blustering starting up again, one can take a trip back to the 80’s when world-wide nuclear Armageddon was literally just 90 minutes away at any time – and some important information about radiation detectors and Geiger counters.

Back in the day, these old yellow box-like Civil Defense Geiger Counters were scattered around just about every community:

There were numerous different models that operated differently depending what they measured. These models are now over 50 years old. Radiation detectors require calibration and regular testing to give anything remotely like a good reading. You can often find these at military surplus stores for well under $100, but unless you test them against known sources and levels it’s difficult to trust detectors this old. Especially because they were often abused/poorly stored.

Today, you can find a lot of radiation detectors on the web. However, one needs to understand what they are buying before they jump in. Two of the biggest factors for a detector are: radiation range and radiation type.

Why range matters: 3.6 Roentgen – Not great, not terrible

The vast majority of Geiger counters you find online are for low radiation dosages. How low? They often max out at values like 32 millirem (1/1000th of a rem) per hour. While this is great for the amounts of radiation the average person might encounter via radon, food, or minerals, how would it fare during a nuclear war or serious nuclear accident?

According to the scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in their 1987 “Nuclear War Survival Skills” document, “Instruments that measure only milliroentgen-range dose rates are sold for war use by some companies. Since most Americans have no idea what size of radiation doses would incapacitate or kill them, and do not even know that a milliroentgen is 1/1000 of a roentgen, some people buy instruments that are capable of measuring maximum dose rates of only one roentgen or less per hour.” (One roentgen is equivalent to one rem.)

The book instead says that a meter that “can measure one roentgen per hour (rem) is far too low to be of much use in a nuclear war.” So, just like the instruments at Chernobyl that could only register 3.6 roentgen/hr, devices that only measure millirem/hour are essentially useless during a large nuclear accident or attack. They would almost immediately be maxed out and tell you very little.

What you need is a high-range radiation detector – something that can read up to hundreds of rem/hour – if you want it for a survival tool after a serious nuclear accident or war.

Detected Radiation Types

The next important factor is what TYPE of radiation a detector can measure. There are 4 major types that would be important in a nuclear accident or attack. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and X-ray radiation. Alpha radiation is the lowest penetrating type of radiation, clothing or even a sheet of paper is sufficient to protect you from alpha radiation. Its biggest danger is ingesting alpha particles by inhaling or eating contaminated dust/food. They are dangerous if they get inside your body – this is why wearing a good mask is important.

Beta particles are slightly more penetrative than alpha, but still blocked easily by wood or thin metal layers.

Gamma radiation is much more dangerous. It can penetrate all but thick concrete, lead, or other heavy shielding. Its penetrative power is the most dangerous.

X-ray radiation is pretty self explanatory as we are familiar with them from dentist offices to all sorts of medical diagnostics. X-rays are usually short lived and emitted in tremendous amounts during nuclear blasts.

For military purposes, most of their detectors only record X-ray and gamma levels. These are by far the most dangerous types of radiation. Your detector should at least detect those 2 kinds of radiation at a minimum.

The biggest thing to know is that after a nuclear attack or serious accident, there will be rising and falling amounts of different nucleotides over time as higher energy sources decay to lower ones:

The most important factor is that time is your friend. The first 2-5 days are the most critical time to stay sheltered and to protect yourself from contamination and fallout:

This would be done primarily by staying in a safely shielded/enclosed shelter, taking thyroid pills, wearing masks to avoid inhaling particles, and by only eating clean food and water. Most guides would recommend at least a month’s worth of supplies before any help would arrive.

Calculating your dose

When reading a radiation detector, reading the radiation level alone is not enough information to figure out if you are in danger. Dosage of radiation is a calculation of radiation level AND time of exposure. Most detectors read values in microsieverts (uSv), millisieverts (mSv), or rontgen per hour (rem). To calculate your dosage, you need to calculate the radiation rate along with the time you were exposed to it. If you are in a 10mSv (or 1 rem) environment for 1 hour, you would receive a 10mSv (1 rem) dosage. If you were in that environment for 2 hours, you would get a 20mSv or 2 rem dosage. If you were only in that environment for 30 minutes, you would get half that dose – 5mSv or 0.5 rem.

Here’s some dose rates of some places/objects to give you an example, or watch this excellent video by Veritasium

0.17-0.300.000017Average background radiation
2.50.00025Flying at 30,000 feet –
5.250.000525Chernobyl near the facility viewing area –
5.70.00057Maximum dose rate to reach the 5000 mrem/year max for US radiation worker
6.850.00068Rate to reach maximum reasonably safe dose (60mSv) in one year
100-1250.01001.5km from the Fukushima plant in Japan in 2011
6000.0600Chernobyl firefighter’s clothes in basement of Pripyat hospital in 2017
15000.15Chernobyl firefighter’s clothes in basement of Pripyat hospital in 2014
11,000,00011,000Workers clearing the Chernobyl roof as bio-robots (fatal dose in 115 seconds – most got 40-90sec worth)

So what constitutes a dangerous amount of radiation?

The average person receives about 1.5 to 3.5 millisievert (mSv) per year via normal background radiation – or around a reading of 0.17-0.39 microsieverts (uSv) per hour (a microsievert is 1/1000 of a millisievert).

Example: Calculation of the average full-year dose is:
0.17uSv/hour * 24 hours/day * 365 days/year = 1489.2 uSv/year = 1.4892 mSv/year. (or 0.14892 rem/year)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory in their 1987 “Nuclear War Survival Skills” document say that in the event of a nuclear war – ‘small’ doses of around 6 rem per day should “produce no incapacitating symptoms. The human body usually can repair almost all radiation damage if the daily doses are not too large.” Outside of war time, regulations say a US radiation worker should have no more than 5 rem, or 50 mSv for a WHOLE YEAR exposure. That would be an environment with no more than 0.00068 rem/6.8 uSv per hour exposure. After a war, if you wanted to stay below a 6 rem/60 mSv per day exposure – you would not want to be in any environment over (a frighteningly high) 2.5mSv/hr (or 2500uSv/hr). You might survive those rates, but would almost certainly would experience serious issues because your whole year dose would be a terrifying 2190 rem/yr (21,900 mSv/yr) vs a normal exposure of <0.2 rem/yr (2 mSv/yr)

For whole doses, you are now looking at these kinds of effects when you calculate the dose over time:

0.0350.0035Cumulative dose of a cross-country US flight
0.10.011 chest X-ray
2.00.21 year of average background radiation
505Maximum yearly dose for US radiation worker
606Limit of maximum reasonably safe annual dose
808Astronaut who spends 6 months in space on space station
50-1005-10changes in blood chemistry. Possible later effects or chromosomal damage
12012Average reported Chernobyl liquidator dosage
16016Radiation smoker’s lungs receive in one year (from radioactive Pu and Pb in tobacco)
25025Average dose of a Chernobyl bio-robot during their 40-90 second work session on the roof of Chernobyl.
50050Nausea, within hours. Reduction of white blood cell count.
75075Hair loss, within 2-3 weeks
1000-2000100-200Mild radiation sickness within a few hours: vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue; reduction in resistance to infection.
2000-3000200-300Serious radiation sickness effects as above plus hemorrhage. Exposure is lethal to 10-35% of the population after 30 days.
3000-4000300-400Serious radiation sickness; also marrow and intestine destruction; Death in 50-70% of cases.
4000-10,000400-1000Acute illness, early death and lifelong health effects. Death in 60-95% of cases.
10,000-50,0001000-5000Acute illness, early death in days; Death in 100% of cases.

Modern radiation detection

So with that background, what kind of detector should you buy? What you need during a serious nuclear accident is a radiation detector that can minimally detect X-rays and gamma rays up to 300rem (3000mSv) with trustworthy results. This is what is used by military forces around the world and the range those old yellow civil defense devices could measure.

Unfortunately, when tested, a great number of high-range radiation detectors give dangerously inaccurate results. Many that are sold on the internet are not calibrated nor tested – when many were tested by Oak Ridge, they often reported within 20% of true values on lower doses, but were often off by more than 80% at higher ranges. They found some read 100 rem/hour when the true radiation level was closer to 500 rem/hour. Further, many devices will most likely not survive EMP that would occur during a nuclear attack.

So, maybe we should steer clear of things you buy on Amazon or eBay. Their dose rates are too low, or are likely dangerously inaccurate. What you need is a real professional tool, and that means some serious money.

Ecotest MKS-05

The cheapest high-range models I could find with a reasonable reputation are also ones seen in Ukraine around Chernobyl: Ecotest MKS-05 Terra-P detectors. They measure from 0.1 uSv to 9,999mSv/hr (±25%), detects X-ray and gamma and a calculated beta exposure. With a ±25% range of error it is not great, but definitely useful as a high-range device. It also acts as a dosimeter. They cost around $400 and seem to be well reviewed. Just be sure to buy them from a reputable vendor.

The next high-range model with much better tolerances and seems to be used by scientists around Chernobyl are the Thermo Scientific RadEye survey meters.

Some of their detectors are able to register from uSv all the way to 10 Sv/hr (1000 rem). Noteably the RadEye PRD-ER4, SPRD-ER, and G-Ex and GF-Ex. These models cost an eye-watering $1900-$2300. The GF-10-Ex can reach 3 Sv/hr (300 rem) and can be found for around $1650

Thermo Scientific RadEye G-Ex

Besides those, you might also consider the lower dosage meters in the B series:

RadEye B20-ER

Youtube videos often use the B models in contaminated zones like Chernobyl – like the Thermo Scientific RadEye B20-ER. These kinds of devices are for first responders. They detect alpha, beta, gamma, and X-ray radiation. Unfortunately, even the -ER (extended range) model is limited to reading from 0.2uSv to 100 mSv/hr (10 rem/hr). They also calculate cumulative doses so you don’t need to keep a mental calculation as you move through different radiation levels. Unfortunately, they also cost about $2000 – so they are also very expensive.


Gamma-Scout is a German made device with good calibration, is well reviewed, and used by numerous people during radiation scouting events around Chernobyl/Fukushima. It registers alpha, beta and gamma emissions from 0.1 to 1,000 μSv/h. So, it’s not useful as the RadEye due to the limited range, but good for lower-dose environments. Costing around $450, you could buy this and the Ecotest for under $1000 and likely cover your bases.


Hunger Stones

Hunger Stones

Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine – “If you see me, then weep”

Inscription on a rock in the Elbe River near the northern Czech town of Děčín, close to the German border

Not only is Europe battling astronomical fuel prices, but also one of the worst droughts in almost 500 years. How bad? Historically bad – and we know because it’s literally written in stone.

Water levels are at their lowest in decades – and rocks are appearing from under the shoreline with grim and frightening inscriptions. These rocks inscribed with dates and warnings even have names. They’re called Hungerstein or Hunger Stones. These stones were embedded into a river during droughts to mark the water level as a warning to future generations that they will have to endure famine-related hardships if the water sinks to this level again.

The earliest readable year on the Děčín stone is 1616. Traces of inscriptions relating to much earlier droughts, including 1417 and 1473, have been largely eroded over time. Ten later dry years, between 1707 and 1893, are also recorded. Most hunger stones are found on the Elbe, which flows from the north of what is now the Czech Republic through former Bohemia and then Germany before reaching the North Sea near Hamburg. Others appear on the Rhine, Danube and Moselle.


Where Zillow’s AI went wrong

Where Zillow’s AI went wrong

What went wrong with Zillow’s $500 million AI-based home purchasing program? It was a host of factors, but it highlights a unique problem in AI.

It turns out you can’t just set up an AI model and let it crank for years. You need to pay attention to something called drift. There are ways of telling if your AI model is drifting by monitoring model accuracy, outputs, and inputs on an ongoing basis and re-balancing them.

RKC Sleep Shop – A Local Secret?

RKC Sleep Shop – A Local Secret?

Need a new mattress but don’t want to pay the highway robbery prices of mattress stores that are often about as honest as used car sales and mattress review websites that are basically paid ads?

I was going to try out RKC sleep for my next mattress as a local option (I heard good things about a the Beautyrest Black hybrid). I’ve been told they sell top brand mattresses at amazing discounts – often well below wholesale. If you don’t mind the no-frills shopping experience in search of top name mattresses for super-cheap – give them a shot.

The Tattooed Monk

The Tattooed Monk

If there is something that is unique about spiritual life – is that the inner hunger we all experience for meaning and love is universal.

Six years ago, Mount Angel Abbey’s serene hilltop campus shook, as leather-clad Bobby Love rolled in on his motorcycle. Love removed his helmet revealing pierced ears and a mop of dreadlocks. With tattoos on his hands, arms and neck, he looked like an extra on “Sons of Anarchy” not a someone attending a retreat for those who might become Catholic monks.

Learn more about his unique path here. Or, check out the recent movie that takes place partly at Mt Angel – Father Stu It is also a great example of how God calls even the most unlikely people.

Elite Overproduction Hypothesis

Elite Overproduction Hypothesis

Did we produce too many frustrated college grads in the early 2000’s? It’s a really interesting question. Noah Smith plots the changes in college major enrollments and finds some interesting patterns – and some even more interesting potential fallout that include patterns with socialist revolutions. Something we’re seeing here in Portland. When people are promised entry into the top 20% of culture via a degree, the disappointment of unmet expectations alone can lead to serious violent outcomes.

The Atlantic also did similar analysis, but argues that just because grads are seeking degrees in fields they think will bring them better financial outcomes doesn’t mean it will.

Next 10 years of AI

Next 10 years of AI

Andrew Ng is one of the biggest names in AI. He makes a few predictions, and I thought the article had some good observations.

His current big focus is using AI in manufacturing. Andrew Ng founded Landing AI in 2017. His focus was primarily consulting, but after working on many customer projects, Ng and Landing AI developed a new toolkit and playbook for making AI work in manufacturing and industrial automation. This led to Landing AI and the development of a data-centric approach to AI.

“In consumer software, you can build one monolithic AI system to serve a hundred million or a billion users, and truly get a lot of value in that way,” he said. “But in manufacturing, every plant makes something different. So every manufacturing plant needs a custom AI system that is trained on their data.”

The challenge that many companies in the AI world face is how to help 10,000 manufacturing plants build 10,000 customer systems. In short – scale.

In manufacturing, there is often no big data to go by. The data for manufacturing different products is unique. Their first observation was to see it makes more sense to keep the models relatively fixed while focusing on quality data to fine-tune the models rather than continuing to push for marginal improvements in the models.

This uniqueness of data also means there is almost never enough images of faults or cases to train models. The only way out of this dilemma is to build tools that empower customers to build their own models and let product experts engineer the data and express their domain knowledge. Ng and Landing AI do that through Landing Lens, which enables domain experts to express their knowledge with data labeling instead of constantly tweaking the models.

Worth a read.

Documentaries and how far we’ve fallen

Documentaries and how far we’ve fallen

I wrote about the use of Save the Cat as a way to use form and style to communicate any message you want via film/tv.

It appears Paul E.T. has noticed many kinds of emotional and intellectual manipulation in just about all modern documentaries you’ll find in this comedy skit. He shows how just about anyone can make a documentary about anything – and how easy it is to manipulate you into believing as the host does.

If you want to see how far we’ve fallen away from objective reporting, compare your average modern news reporting to something from even 20-30 years ago below. Sure, that era had it’s own problems, but note a few things:
There were no talking heads editorializing and telling you what you should think, they use professional and educated language that isn’t charged with bias/emotional appeal, doesn’t inject race, sex, or other assumed political bias into the report, features much more footage of direct interviews with people involved and not summarizing it with their own opinions.

Best Chernobyl Coverage

Best Chernobyl Coverage

This is probably one of the best videos covering the work that was done by scientists after Chernobyl was first sealed up – but the details of what happened were still unknown. Nova was by far my favorite tv show when I was a kid.

Notice how different reporting was done just 30 years ago. It was just fact reporting from the people who were there – without dozens of talking head experts editorializing and telling you how to fell about it. Just compare this to 99.9% of ‘documentaries’ today that can be made by anyone and are basically thinly veiled propaganda pieces where the creators opinions aren’t even veiled.

When looking up facts and information about Chernobyl, it’s surprising how soft details are to find on the internet these days. I remember lots of much more graphic and revealing stories, videos, and facts in 90’s era web articles.

A good example is this NOVA documentary about the scientists that went in to find out what happened. Now you’re hard pressed to find information like this. Most of the time details about radiation rates and actual events are glossed over without the details that used to exist.

Another great site is Elena from Angelfire. She did some of the very first civilian infiltrations and documentations of the Chernobyl zone and still has a Youtube channel.