Tag Archives: apocalypse

The end of civilization…bit by bit

I don’t really think civilization is ending but like much of the rest of society I’m swept up in apocalyptic fever 1. I can remember, even as a teenager, looking at maps of the Roman Empire at its peak and wondering at what point (if ever) some minor government official, soldier, merchant, priest, whatever listened to the news at the forum, looked at a map of the known world or saw the dust of an invading barbarian army and thought to himself ‘Game over, man. Game over.’

The realization that this wasn’t a temporary glitch and things weren’t going to get any better. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Probably not ever. Does that sort of realization change you in some way? I suppose it has to at some level just in practical terms. If you’ve got a bit of extra food, perhaps you squirrel it away, tighten your belt and eat less because you can see days with no food in your future.

So, please indulge me as I occasionally through out indicators of the coming collapse.

As the Roman empire collapsed, cities emptied out. Farmland was laying fallow and often under the control of someone other than those who ran the cities so it just wasn’t possible to support big cities with lots of empty bellies. Rome went from its estimated peak of 1 million people to (again, an estimate) 20,000. In the dark ages, European ‘cities’ of 10,000 people were considered huge. Today we consider them a middling sized town.

What do you do if you’re one of those 20,000 people wandering around in a city that was built for a million? Well, there are a lot of empty buildings out there. Some people ‘re-purposed’ them, (in an audio course I just finished, the instructor spoke of evidence of people living in a Roman bath. After all, if everything ended today, how many of us would know how to build a house? And remember, you aren’t going to the Home Depot for materials…that’s gone too. Do you have the time, know-how and available labor to source the materials and put them together? Much easier to find a structure that’s already standing and move in.

As years turned into decades and centuries, the problem of materials was serious. You might be able to look your Home Depot for awhile (of course, everyone else will be looking to do so as well) but sooner or later, the last piece of plywood and box of nails will leave the shelves. We’d have to do what those poor sods in the Dark Ages did. Start pulling down Roman buildings for the well cut stone, pull nails out of whatever we could find. Tare down the old wolrd in order to build the new.

I suppose this has been peculating a little close to the front of my mind after finishing Soft Apocalypse a couple of months ago. It’s quite good and I recommend it. In fact, I’m thinking I might want to give it a reread and think about it a bit more deeply. It’s a fictional account of the general winding down of civilization over a ten year period beginning in 2023. I think does about as good of a job of portraying people’s lives in the midst of a collapsing civilization. No meteor strikes…no hordes of zombies. Just the accumulation of many small effects, countermeasures to retain/regain some sense of normalcy which, in turn, have their own unintended consequences which, before you know it, it’s all gone.

And what got me thinking about that was this article from Pacific Standard:

In 2008, according to the Eaton Blackout Tracker, there were 2,169 power outages in the U.S. affecting 25 million people. In 2011, there were more than 3,000 outages affecting 41.8 million people…the number of power outages affecting more than 50,000 people a year has more than doubled, and blackouts now drain between $80 billion and $188 billion from the U.S. economy every year.

I can’t evaluate the following but I think it’s what got me thinking about our Roman ancestors, realizing that Rome wasn’t coming to fix those nice roads, send the legions to beat back those raiding barbarians or anything else.

Once the province of survivalists and hippies, so-called normal people extoll going off the grid, especially after a grueling blackout. The remote Texas town of Presidio even got a giant battery to protect itself against shutdowns.

Creating private, or ultralocal, hedges against failing power without investing in the greater grid is the electric equivalent of creating a gated community. And this is what has happened in countries with lots of blackouts: Cities in Nigeria and India are full of private generators belching out fumes.

Huh…think it’s time to go and split some firewood. Winter gets cold around here.

  1. To be honest, I always have had a soft spot for end of the world stories so the past few years have been a bit of a renaissance, actually

Kvick Tänkare

io9 has a cool post about abandoned places that are being reclaimed by nature.  This bit about Korea’s DMZ is worth a look.

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

In related news, South Korea is applying to make part of the DMZ a ‘biosphere reserve’.   While North Korea is a terrible regime, let’s face it, the day it falls poachers and developers will drive the flora and fauna of the DMZ into extinction.  I’m sure some population will see a buffet of exotic food items, aphrodisiacs and folk remedies to plunder.

Forget the Planet of the Apes…we should be worried about the parrots.

Across parts of Australia, reports have been pouring in of strange voices chattering high in the treetops — mysterious, non-sensical conversations in English… It turns out that escaped pet birds, namely parrots and cockatoos, have begun teaching their wild bird counterparts a bit of the language they picked up from their time in captivity — and, according to witnesses, that includes more than a few expletives.

Can instructions about how to manipulate nuclear armed drones be far behind?

How’d you like to live in a country where a problem that makes the news is that the nation is in the second month of a ‘national butter shortage‘.

As Sweden’s butter shortage enters its second month, the dairy industry is still struggling to meet demand and shelves in supermarkets up and down the country remain empty. Blame is being directed at the new back to basics cooking trend, full fat diet fads and young people turning their backs on farming.

Scientific American has a blog post encouraging scientists to engage with social media.  Linked to that is a presentation the author gave setting forth her argument.  I can’t help thinking that most of what she writes is equally applicable to analysts.

Read this great (yet depressing) article about the winners and losers in Iraq.  Bottom line: It ain’t us…or the Iraqis.

11 severed feet have washed ashore in the Pacific Northwest since 2007.  i09 has a story about it which has this less than comforting line:

Although the mystery centers on feet, there are plenty of body parts that wash ashore all over the world.

On Hurricanes, zombies and our aboreal ancestors…(The Hurricane Files part 1)

Recently I was called to duty to support the evacuations that resulted from hurricane Irene.  We deployed to the Izod Center* and were first tasked with carving out some sort of living space for ourselves.  This was an apocalypse affectionado’s dream come true as I could (covertly, obviously, lest I be recommended for a psyche evaluation) keep an eye open for good escape routes, and choke points where a small number of us could, if necessary, hold off the hordes of mutant cannibals and they came to munch on our tasty bits.

In prowling around the center a couple of things occurred to me:

  • An arena/sports center is a fairly good location, in terms of security, when considering a safe area from zombies/C.H.U.D./etc. sort.  You can have a great deal of activity on the inside without any revealing signs on the outside.  Their large parking facilities allow for good fields of vision (to see when the hordes are advancing) and entrances can be made fairly secure from those who only have rotting flesh to effect entry.
  • Such facilities would probably be able to sustain you for some limited amount of time provided you could maintain power.  There is some on-site generator capacity so you could maintain lights, climate control (maybe?) and things like ovens and refrigerators.  You’d have water (don’t underestimate the necessity of flush toilets in modern buildings if you want to stay there for any length of time) which would be important.  For food, you’d probably have to live off a steady diet of pretzels and hot dogs so scurvy might be a limiting factor, but if that’s your biggest problem you’d be in good shape.
  • These places are pretty grim and claustrophobic even if large.  I can’t imagine that you could get people to happily lock themselves in these sorts of places for an extended period of time.  So, no matter how safe they seem, they will, at best, be places to collect yourself before making the ‘big push’ to a better location.

My comrades and I were directed to a patch of flooring in some sort of large storage area where extra seats, barricades, forklifts, and such was kept.  I was less than thrilled at the prospect of bedding on the concrete floor (both for aesthetic and survival reasons) and so began to look about for nearby alternatives.  Two sets of mobile stairs were conveniently located next to a raised platform which provided an aerie that immediately caught my eye.  It gave me a commanding view of the area, provided limited access and was likely to escape notice of ravenous zombies/cannibal mutants (especially if they were chowing down on my less forward thinking compatriots who bedded down in a way that made them resemble entries at a buffet table).

Hurricane Irene relief

From such humble beginnings shall I build my mighty empire

Also, it allowed me feed my desire of being a petty, despotic dictator as I could stand atop the stairs and issue edicts and proclamations to my (imagined) toadies, minions and lickspittles and bask in their cheers and acclamations.

Hurricane Irene relief

Fortunately, neatness isn't a requirement for world domination.

I couldn’t help ultimately feeling like that I could just have been fulfilling the instinct hardwired into me by my distant ancestors of finding safety in the trees.


Hurricane Irene relief

Just call me Dr. Zaius

A couple of notes (more practical than the drivel you just read – eds.) if you happen to find yourself having to take shelter in one of these places in the event of some sort of disaster.

  • Bring something warm, no matter what it’s like outside.  The air conditioning in this place made the temperature positively frigid and both military personnel and refugees were uncomfortably cold.  Supposedly, this is normal and done for a variety of reasons.  Do NOT show up in shorts and a t-shirt and nothing else.  You probably will get a blanket but it could still be chilly.  Long pants, maybe a sweatshirt (which you can use of a pillow if it’s not as cold as I’ve led you to believe) and a cap wouldn’t hurt.
  • Bring something to snack on.  You’ll get fed but bringing something small (some candy, fruit, etc.) will provide you with a bit of comfort and the perception of some slight control over your environment (which, in reality, you’ll have almost none of).
  • Bring something to do or some sort of comfort item.  Nothing expensive or large (and ideally something that doesn’t require power) but a book, game, etc. will help while away the long, boring hours between meals where you won’t feel like huddling around the TV listening to reporters regurgitate the same lame tales of destruction without actually providing any information.

*Let me just take a moment to express my outrage hostility minor annoyance at the practice of naming large physical structures after corporate overlords.  While it may be the logical descendant of the same practice of the Romans, there is something qualitatively different about ‘Trajan’s Column‘ and ‘The Viagra Sports Center’.

Welcome to our new, post-apocolyptic world!

Well, despite the ironclad guarantee that the world was going to end yesterday, here we are…

So, perhaps we just haven’t been called up to heaven and we’re doomed to suffer here for who knows how long (December 2012 according to the Mayans!  eds.) until some other, even greater calamity.

In which case, you might as well sit back, relax and enjoy your time in perdition by taking a stroll through the TwShiloh archives.

Or maybe Harold Camping was just a full bag of crazy…In which case, why not take a moment and review the non-bogus TwShiloh archives.  When we predict the end of existence you can count on us to get it right!



Kvick Tänkare

Lunghu has made his new predictions for the Year of the Rabbit.  You may remember  he predicted (or had a lucky guess) with the earthquake in Chile just about a year ago.  Check them all out but this is the one that scratches my post-apocalyptic itch…

A non-trivial meteor strike in the Southern Ocean [ in the neighborhood of 75̊  E; 30̊  S ] will trigger a large tsunami, cause massive panic in the region, and result in widespread economic and environmental damage.

Locator map of the Southern Ocean.

WImage via Wikipedia

Wired has a brilliant article about hubris titled “How One Man Tracked Down Anonymous — And Paid a Heavy Price”.

Aaron Barr believed he had penetrated Anonymous. The loose hacker collective had been responsible for everything from anti-Scientology protests to pro-Wikileaks attacks on MasterCard and Visa, and the FBI was now after them.

Yeah…until Anonymous decided on retribution.  It doesn’t go well for Mr. Barr.

Also interesting is this chatlog between various Anonymous voices, Barr and the President of an affiliated company.  Read it and tremble…

Don’t say you never learn anything from this blog.  What do you do if a 10 ft long crocodile chomps on your hand and drags you to a watery and painful death?  Look to the head stooge…(saying ‘Why I outta…’ is entirely optional)

“The one thing you can do is get your fingers in its eyes…”

YouTube Preview Image

China…scary….Gonna invade the U.S. and turn us into a bunch of toadies.  That’s why we better not skimp on the defense spending.  The Chinese military is close to crushing us!

What I don’t get is how we can spend $700 billion a year on defense and still get hysterical about a country that spends $78 billion (ok, maybe if we’re being really generous $150 billion) on defense.

The Wall Street Journal had a pretty nice overview of a growing arms race in Asia and, quite frankly, it left me wondering why we’re going with an apparent strategy that acts like we need to consider a conflict with China in isolation.  With Japan, S. Korea, India, Australia and others with an even more immediate interest in the goings on in the region, what better situation to leverage the power of buffer states and proxies?

Check out the interactive part of the story as well.

Finnish Fridays

There’s a fight brewing over Finland’s peat bogs.  According to HS (beware the bad pun):

A major row is brewing over the extraction of of peat as a source of energy from Finnish swamps, as efforts are being made to map out a strategy for the use of swampland. The work threatens to get bogged down in the final stretch, as agreement has not been reached in the key question – the protection of natural swampland from peat production.
The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation is withdrawing from efforts to prepare the strategy, because it is turning into a mere declaration of goals, rather than a solid plan for swamp conservation.

It’s interesting that Finland (and the EU) regard peat as a renewable resource but I think that really only applies if you look at things from a geological perspective.  According to the book of Wikipedia it grows at a rate of a millimeter a year and is the first stage of the development of coal.

People are pretty passionate about peat with the International Peat Society and others.

And now how about a little post-apocalyptic fun?  Here’s a film made by some university students from Kokkolan Aikuisopisto and based upon a comic.  This is a two-fer for me since not only does every Finnish post I write equal bonus points with my mother-in-law (Hei Paula!) but there’s enough gratuitous chemical warfare gear here to send J into the atmosphere.  It’s no great classic but you’ve got to watch it for the great mine-clearing scene.


Kvick Tänkare

LungHu writes an interesting analysis of press coverage of Kim Jong-Il’s New Year message.  It’s yet another nail in the coffin of American journalism.

For those of you hoping for one more Halloween before the Incan end of the world in 2012 you might be disappointed to know that at least one dude argues that the end will come in May, meaning you’re barely going to get into warm weather before the apocalypse.  No word on if zombies will be present.  Perhaps some appropriate music?

What are my credentials to talk about Swedes and Sweden?  Well, in addition to being married to a Swede I outscored Swedes on The Local’s annual year end quiz (17 out of 21)!  Give it a spin and see how you do.

I had a bit of free time on my hands recovering from a nasty headache and so finally got to watch The Gamers.  A film about some…well…gamers.  This is the very definition of a niche film.  You’re really only going to get it if you play, or have played, D&D at some point in your life.  If you haven’t, this will be a total waste of time.  If you have, however, and know what a ‘natural 20′ is and why getting one at just the right time is like a double helping of awesome sauce then you’ll overlook the amateur production values and enjoy this one.

*Notice* If that last sentence made no sense to you, jump down to the next paragraph lest you be overwhelmed by the geekness of what follows.  One scene which elicited a hearty guffaw took place in an tavern where a thief attempted to surprise a foe with a back stab attempt…with a ballista… and it succeeded.  Enjoy…

It’s the end of the world as we know it….

Undoubtedly by now you’ve heard about the rash of bird deaths that have stricken the American South and are being written off as ‘natural phenomenon’.  Well, buckle up because this crisis just got turned up to 11.

Shortly before midnight on Tuesday, residents found 50 to 100 jackdaws on a street in Falköping southeast of Skövde.

Yes, even Sweden isn’t safe.

As government authorities scramble to prevent panic by providing paper thin ‘explanations’ for this it’s clear everyone is avoiding the most logical meaning of these events.

The zombie apocalypse has started with birds.

Yes dear readers, that’s the only possible explanation for why birds would kill themselves en masse.  Clearly they were attacked by one or more zombie birds and in the resulting panic were driven to mass suicide rather than succumb to an eternity as a a brainless bird-zombie.  That sort of thing may be fine for pigeons but not for any self respecting bird.

Watch the sky!

(hat tip)

What to do with a graduate degree

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been gaming.

The zombie shooter Left4Dead has recently seen the release of two fan generated campaigns Dead Before Dawn and One 4 Nine.

Dead Before Dawn takes the basic premise of the Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead where the characters work their way to Crossroads mall where they make their final stand and eventual escape (hopefully).  The campaign does a nice job of expanding upon the idea of completing tasks beyond the ‘start the generator and wait for the horde’ task that most of the Steam generated scenarios rely upon.  Granted they’re almost all essentially re-skinned versions of that task but at least there’s a bit of variety.

It also felt like there was a lot more ‘explorability’ in this campaign setting than in the original campaigns with multiple ways to get to the same end point.  The game was a little buggy (I got hung up several times and had to restart) but not outrageously so for a non-official campaign and it was a challenging play throughout.

I haven’t played One 4 Nine yet but it uses the zombie apocalypse as a function of secret government tests theme.  It’s received very high ratings and the authors continue to tweak it with the most recent update being posted on the 14th.

I also picked up the beta version of Fate of the World which advertises itself as:

…a global strategy game that puts our future in your hands. Decide how the world will respond to rising temperatures, heaving populations, dwindling resources, crumbling ecosystems and brave opportunities.

If you buy it now you get it at a discount, can play the beta version now plus some extras and so I figured I’d give it a shot for $16.

The beta version has one scenario available for play which involved dealing with the consequences of a world wide oil shortage and limiting the effects of global warming.  You play the role of the head of a global environmental organization that actually has power and resources to do things.  The world is divided into 12 regions that act as coherent political entities that you have to engage with.  They contribute to your cash flow while members of your little club but can also assert their sovereignty and kick you out if they think you’re dissing them.

The game starts in 2020 with turns covering 5 year increments and ends in 2120.  ‘Victory’ involves keeping global warming increases under 3.5 degrees, the global HDI above .5 and maintain membership in at least 5 (I think) regions.

The beta version of the game doesn’t come with rules but the basics of the system are fairly easy to figure out.  The nuances and interactions of the numerous factors and components of game play are more difficult to figure out and time will tell if that’s going to be part of the game (‘Hey!  You’ve switched the entire North American transportation industry to biofuels.   Great work on reducing emissions!  Oh, by the way, 200 million people are dying of starvation in India because nobody is growing food anymore.  Nice job.’)

I have to admit I underestimated the complexity of the game system because the user interface is so simple.  I suppose there will be critics that argue with some of the underlying science involved but it is neat  to see how interconnected environmental/developmental/economic policies and played around with various strategies like focusing only on the developed world, trying to do a bit of everything everywhere and trying to strong arm the world.  The possibilities are endless and even within those broad strategies there are so many potential alternatives you could (and I wanted to) always feel you’re so close to success with just a bit of tweaking (I haven’t made it yet).  Focus on heavy R&D, business friendly policies, heavy handed regulation, disaster mitigation or whatever your heart desires.

And don’t get the impression that this is all about tree-hugging, feel good lefty stuff.  The game designers seemed to want to give you a lot of options to accomplish your goals.  So, in one game I launched (covertly, of course) a biological plague upon India to reduce its population (using too many resources and becoming politically unstable threatening to kick me out) by 25% in five years.  In the same game I also overthrew a government or two, launched an insurgency and implemented a secret sterilization program in China’s water supply (hey, you can’t make an omlette without breaking a few eggs).  Unfortunately, my scheme was found out and I was brought to trial for crimes against humanity but what are you gonna do?  The pressure you feel as you see that temperature creep up every turn and you get the news of species going extinct, mass famines, natural disasters and wars makes you contemplate increasingly drastic measures, especially when you start to see whole portions of the world start to kick you out and you realize you’re pulling in less and less money to do things in fewer and fewer parts of the world.

There’s tons of data and metrics here so I assume you can totally geek out if you want.  GDP, employment, demographics, energy usage by sector, etc. etc. etc.  all changing as a result of your policy decisions.

I hesitate to say this is a ‘fun’ game in the same way L4D or even another strategy game like the Total War series but I suspect that’s because there’s less opportunity for periodic payoffs.  Things are grim and probably going to get grimmer and the best you can hope for is a pathetic crawl across the finish line by the skin of your teeth. But I was hooked for gobs of time on it over the weekend and have a half a dozen strategies peculating in my mind that I’d like to try.

The game has definite teaching potential and I’d like to see a co-operative version (with players either playing as the heads of regions that can cooperate or not as they see fit or on some executive council where negotiations could add a whole additional level of complexity and realism to the game).



I'm bewildered…

…at how I made it this far in my life without reading A Cantacle for Lebowitz.  A thoroughly delightful book (if one can say that about a post apocalyptic work) that probably benefited from me reading it as a middle aged man rather than a teenager.  This is one that definitely deserves a re-read.