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Katrina redux?

Photo Source: Washington Post

Millions are hunkered down along the Gulf Coast tonight, watching Hurricane Isaac’s progression towards land. With the memory of Katrina still fresh in the minds of many residents, some are wondering if Isaac will wreak similar havoc on the region.

Isaac’s progression towards land has been eerily similar to the path Katrina took. USA News provides an excellent graph illustrating this point. In addition to confounding forecasters, who expected both storms to head up Florida and along the East Coast, they have a remarkably similar progression through the Gulf of Mexico, strengthening to hurricane level over the warm waters. That’s not forgetting that Isaac’s making landfall nearly seven years to the day that Katrina hit.

The numerous similarities are raising questions about whether the damage will be as great as it was in 2005. A key point to note is that Isaac is weaker than Katrina was when she hit the Gulf states. Isaac made landfall earlier tonight as a category 1 storm; Katrina reached category 5 at her peak and made landfall as a category 3. That being said, many underestimated the damage Katrina would cause and a similar pattern could be emerging with Isaac. Let’s not forget a category 1 hurricane is still a very bad storm.

In addition, hurricanes are categorized by wind speed and the major damage from Katrina was the rain and subsequent flooding, not the wind. As a category 1, Isaac is a slower moving storm, which means its dumping rain for longer periods and has the potential to cause severe flooding.

The other key issue to consider is the levee system. Reinforced following their failure in Katrina, the levees are expected to hold through whatever Isaac throws at them. However, the system hasn’t had a significant test since Katrina, so it’s difficult to say how it will perform this time around. The National Weather Service has already noted that some levees in southeast Louisiana could be topped, leading to widespread flooding. Even if the levees hold, the service is also predicting life-threatening floods outside of the hurricane protection system and has warned all residents to head the issued evacuation orders:

“Life threatening flooding possible in areas outside hurricane protection levees…. Areas outside of hurricane protection levees will be severely inundated. People not heeding evacuation orders in single family, one or two story homes could face certain death. Many residences of average construction directly on the coast will be destroyed. Widespread and devastating personal property damage is likely elsewhere. Vehicles left behind will likely be swept away. Numerous roads will be swamped. Some may be washed away by the water…Water levels may exceed 9 feet or more behind over topped levees.” Read the full warning here.

While it’s impossible to predict Isaac’s outcome, I strongly encourage all of you to take this storm seriously. It could very well be a minipocalyse for the region if the worst happens. Head the evacuation orders, use your survival kit, and stay safe out there.

-Kennedy

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Signs of the apocalypse: Not technology

apocalypse

via Wired.com

So let’s get one thing straight: I’m pretty sure the advances humans are making in technology are a sign of the apocalypse – whether that means that we will cause the world as we know it to implode ala nuclear war, or if it means we’ll land ourselves in horrific dystopia – I do not know. Not everyone agrees however, and it certainly behooves us to take the skeptic’s perspectives into account.

Our dear pals over at Wired featured the most charming story in the magazine’s latest edition proposing that technology, rather than being a harbinger of the apocalypse shall spare us all. The reasoning is this: Over the past several decades – millennia in fact – humans as a species have faced countless challenges and predictions of doom…and we have overcome them all. So who’s to say we won’t continue to defy all odds? As technology continues to advance we continue to overcome.

The article cites the below events as the basis for it’s argument:

“The past half century has brought us warnings of population explosions, global famines, plagues, water wars, oil exhaustion, mineral shortages, falling sperm counts, thinning ozone, acidifying rain, nuclear winters, Y2K bugs, mad cow epidemics, killer bees, sex-change fish, cell-phone-induced brain-cancer epidemics, and climate catastrophes. So far all of these specters have turned out to be exaggerated. True, we have encountered obstacles, public-health emergencies, and even mass tragedies. But the promised Armageddons—the thresholds that cannot be uncrossed, the tipping points that cannot be untipped, the existential threats to Life as We Know It—have consistently failed to materialize.”

While some, including the writer himself, look on this as a fairly sound argument I question the author’s inherent assumptions. First, he argues that, because something has not happened to humans it is impossible. I stress the word ‘humans’ here because mass extinction has occurred before – dinosaures and the dodo bird, for instances. While it’s certainly true that dodo bird intelligence is not analogous for human intelligence or the capacity for innovation we – knowing that we do not know everything and that there is room for improvement – cannot possibly know there will never been an event our intelligence is unable to overcome.

Second, the reasoning in the Wired argument is circular, meaning it assumes what it sets to prove. Humans will be alive tomorrow because they are today and they have been alive in the past. This is not an argument, it’s a prediction. Quite similarly, as preppers we predict that the world may end in our lifetimes however, this prediction is made in the face of imperfect information rather than assuming, by analogy, that things will continue on as they always have. Dare I say that preppers may be the more logical party? Perhaps.

That aside, the Wired article raises and interesting point and I encourage you all to read it. Human beings are innovative, we have overcome everything ranging from the inability to hall weight long distances (animal domestication and the wheel) to public health (sewers) to long distance, real-time, non-verbal, indirect, interpersonal communications (blogs). Humans have done some truly amazing things – I just worry the next amazing thing will be the first foot into a dystopian society I’d rather not be a part of (who’s to say that just because humans continue to exist means we all want to be part of humanity?) or that it will be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s (read: mother earth’s) back.

-Wren

Why do preppers prep?

coke

Logo via whig.com

Some of us are preppers because we genuinely believe the world is slated to end in our life times and we want to survive. Some of are trying to escape a world dying in its own puddle of creed and corporate interest. Some of us are simply terrified and don’t want to take unnecessary risks. We work to gain skills, gather supplies, make plans, and prepare for the worst so that we have the chance to outrun it. What does prepping feel like to you? Is it a form of power? Does it ebb your fears? Do you feel safe?

Let me tell you what it’s like for me. Prepping for me is an emotional release. To be honest, sometimes I really wish the world as we know it would end. Sometimes I feel at my most powerful when I’m staring into nature and I know I control nothing. Sometimes I wish the apocalypse would happen and that I wouldn’t care. I actually dream about it – sometimes I’m terrified and sometimes it feels right. I wish I wasn’t afraid of cancer or failing or debt or technology – I wish I only had time to focus on the next little milestone, making it through the season, having enough food.

Is it crazy that the end of the world almost seems pleasant? I don’t think so. That’s why I prep and write about prepping, and keep writing about prepping – I’m just exactly that anticipatory. And petrified.

So “why don’t you go off grid?” you may ask. Well…why don’t you? Because the pull of community is too strong at this age and because there are still things I want to achieve that don’t envolve gathering enough animal hides to stay warm in the winter. Maybe one day I will be that person who disappears into the woods to build a new life but right now I’m just a prepper – a hyped up enthusiastic mess.

Sort of like the country of Bolivia. Word on the street is the Bolivian government genuinely believes the apocalypse will occur on December 21, 2012 (didn’t they get the memo about the new Mayan calendar?). In anticipation for the glorious event the government has banned the consumption of Coca-Cola. Yup. Coke’s getting booted from Bolivia in anticipation for “the end of capitalism and the start of a culture of life.”

This is certainly a case where I agree with the conclusion (apocalypse = better life) but I find the premises a bit shifty (Mayan calendar yielding the date, corporations are evil). All well, to each their own.

So tell us – what’s your “own” – preppers, why do you prep?

– Wren

 

India goes dark: climate change vs electricity

Photo Source: International Tribune

Power companies seem to be struggling to keep the power on these days. First there were massive blackouts across the East Coast following the derecho storm in late June. This week brought us the latest in a series of mini-apocalypses: the world’s largest ever loss of power roiled India on July 30th and 31st.

Are these incidents becoming more common? Will they continue to occur relatively frequently in the future?

All signs point to yes. A lot of transmission systems in developed economies are old, and it’s difficult to keep up with expensive investments when the economy is crap. That goes doubly so for emerging markets, if a grid existed in the first place. Increasing demand for energy – particularly in developing countries – will not lighten the load on these systems any time soon.

However, the common thread between these blackouts is easily overlooked. The root cause of both events can be traced back to climate change. We’ve previously discussed the derecho storms here, so I won’t go into that in detail. It suffices to say that climate change = way more crazy weather.

How does this relate to India? The Indian blackout was thought to have been triggered by farmers using more than their allocated amount of power to draw water from irrigation systems. This occurred because this year’s monsoon season has been incredibly dry and is threatening Indian crops in much the same way as those in the Midwest.

Therefore, whether its massive storms with insane wind and lightning, or droughts causing irrigation systems to work overtime, climate change is wreaking havoc with our electricity grids. And it’s only likely to get worse.

What are some lessons that can be learned from all of this?

1)   It doesn’t matter where you live. As long as you’re connected to the power grid, you’re vulnerable to these kinds of outages.

2)   As always, be prepared. It’s easy to underestimate how much we all depend on electricity to function on a day-to-day basis. Have a plan for what you would do if the power went out for an extended period of time (e.g., longer than 24 hours). This may involve buying a generator if you can afford it. Stocking up on candles, batteries, and alternative power methods are also recommended.

3)   Adjust your survival plan based on the season. Power outages are most likely to hit during extreme weather, which usually means summer heat or winter blizzards. Plan accordingly.

4)   Practice, practice, practice. If (when) power interruptions hit, use it an excuse to practice your survival skills and run through elements of your survival plan. This will allow you to identify weak spots and correct them before a major disaster occurs.

-Kennedy

Derechos and heat waves: a weekend minipocalyse

Photo Source: Storm Prediction Center

This weekend provided the populations of a large part of the Midwest, Southeast, and Mid Atlantic with an “apocalypse tasting session”. In addition to extreme heat, millions also felt the wrath of a powerful thunderstorm system known as a derecho.

Derechos, which are common in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions, are huge thunderstorms with high wind speeds that move along the jet stream, allowing them to wreak havoc across a large portion of the country. The aftermath of the storms left millions without power, many of who will have to wait up to a week for the lights and AC to come back on.

Severe damage to public infrastructure systems also occurred, giving area residents a small taste of what might occur in a full apocalyptic scenario.  There are several lessons that can be learned from this experience and applied to your survival plan.

First, always have water. EVERYONE should, at the minimum, have sufficient water supplies to get through the weekend without relying on tap water. This is the bare minimum and will get you through situations such as hurricanes or the one some Maryland residents are currently experiencing when the thunderstorm knocked out power to the local water treatment plant. Imagine not being able to drink tap water for a few days. If you don’t have a back-up supply, good luck fighting it out with everyone else at CVS/Safeway/Giant for those last few bottles of water.

Second, Twitter is an excellent resource for information in an emergency. I was able to track the storm in real time by following the tweets from my area. It was also useful to assess the damage when making plans Saturday and figuring out which areas of the city to avoid.  Identify the appropriate people in your area (e.g. local news stations, weather center, emergency alert system) and start following them now. It will be much easier than trying to remember what to search for in the middle of a disaster

Lastly, know how to get cool when the AC fails. This weekend was literally the perfect recipe for disaster with heat indexes over 105 and millions without power. I will admit that I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to heat, but I think we can all agree this is a potentially dangerous situation. Knowing where to go if your AC fails is necessary to surviving summers on this coast. This requires a plan for the short-term (mall, museum, movie theatre, friend’s house, etc.) and the long (bugging out, relatives out of town, basement if you’re lucky). Here I need to practice what I preach and get a little better at surviving without AC and sans heat stroke. I do realize there’s a very good chance my central AC system won’t survive the big one. Time to get working on an alternative cooling strategy.

-Kennedy

 

Greece: The Apocalypse in Slow Motion

Photo Credit: crisispictures.blogspot.com

I usually imagine the apocalypse to be some kind of catastrophe that catches people off-guard the moment it happens. The current situation in Greece, however, is providing an excellent case study for a slow-building apocalypse that has been predicted and studied for months.

Ahead of Sunday’s vote, which may be the final straw on a dying camel’s back, here are a few lessons that can be learned from observing the Greek situation:

1. Politicians are ineffective at addressing non-urgent, large-scale challenges.

Even in a situation such as Greece, which arguably has been in the urgent category for months now, politicians are often unwilling to step up until the last possible minute. This both lengthens the period of anxiety before the disaster and increases the damage inflicted, even if a full-blown catastrophe is averted. Another prime example in this category is climate change. Politicians are much more adept to responding after a disaster has occurred, as the course of action for recovery is much more clear-cut. When the politicians become entrenched over a critical issue that could bring down the entire system, start preparing yourself for a bumpy ride ahead.

2. Political disasters are likely to be slow moving.

Greece has been dangling perilously close to the edge of a fiscal and economic apocalypse for some time now and its citizens have been given considerable warning to prepare for the worst. They have responded appropriately by withdrawing Euros and stocking up on non-perishables.

While a swift blow to the global financial/economic/political system is still possible (e.g. Lehman Brothers), the current climate is one where the majority of the challenges are visible for a considerable amount of time before absolute disaster strikes. Consider this a blessing, as it should give you adequate time to prepare (esp. if you’re currently living in Spain…)

3. A trigger event is still required

The European turmoil has been dragging on for well over a year now, which gives a good vantage point for reflection. While the financial markets seem to jump and plunge with the slightest change in the news, the majority of this is merely noise. Even though this is a slow moving crisis, Greece has so far managed not to fall off the cliff because it has lacked a “trigger event”. Sunday’s election is (potentially) a prime example of such event, although the ramifications will take a few weeks to make themselves fully known.

The nice thing about the current crises that we’re facing is that there is no lack of build-up to these trigger events. You should be able to see them coming from weeks away if you read/watch/listen to anything that resembles the news.

So moral of the story: politicians are incompetent, but these things happen over time and you should be able to prepare yourselves accordingly. While none of us know what will happen on Sunday, I’m fairly certain the markets will be volatile on Monday morning and there will be lots of speeches coming out of various EU institutions. For those of us lucky enough to be observing this from the outside, it will be a bumpy ride but we’ll recover. I doubt Greece’s apocalypse will become a systemic catastrophe (at least not overnight).

Signs of the apocalypse: Bio-based infotech

microsoft calorimeter

via US Patent 8,182,424

Typically I’d be the first to tell you that the more information you have on a subject, the better off you are. In my own experience I’ve found that information is the key to mitigating everything from ignorance and hate to fear and anxiety. The more you know, the more control you have over yourself.

Well, some companies are taking that to a whole new level and I suspect that we may be seeing the beginning of the next infotech revolution. Numerous private companies have recently applied for or been awarded patents for various biologically based technologies.

Now before I get too deep into this let me explain. In the average account of a future apocalyptic-dystopian-society technology typically plays a central roll. The ruling faction often has heightened technologies that allow them to perfectly monitor and control their populations – without it they would be unable to maintain the illusion of peace. We’re talking eradicate disease, constant digital connection via brain signal, shut-off emotional centers of the brain, perfect lie-detection, embedded biosensor kinds of developments. Well my friends, these devices and others that will allow companies and governments to monitor and control populations on a whole new level are on their way. We have officially reached the point of TMI.

Diary-free Calorimeter: Microsoft was recently granted US Patent 8,182,424 – a calorimeter capable of estimating nutritional caloric intake by periodically monitoring weight and sensing physical exercise. The information stored can then be used in a calorimetry model derived from regression analysis of an individual or populations habits. The device can also detect heart rate, body temperature, skin resistance, motion/acceleration, velocity, and an intelligent, integrated exercise machine. As much as it would be valuable to some fields of medicine to have this kind of information on the entire population of the United States it makes me uncomfortable. Not because I’m not a healthy eater (I am) but because I don’t fancy the idea of wearing a sensor that’s constantly updating a file on me at a server farm for later use by a private firm or government. It just seems like such things are the first step to justifying nationally mandated dietary programs.

Access to Medical Information: Closely related to the Microsoft patent above (as such information captured and store by the calorimeter could be considered private medical information under law) IBM was recently awarded US Patent No. 8,185,411. This patent is for a method of permitting controlled access to medical information stored on servers under a variety of scenarios. Essentially, Microsoft’s calorimeter stores our data in massive servers and IBM whores the information out to interested parties to do with what they will. Great.

Automatic and Integrated Social Graph: Also causing me a little bit of grief is Facebook’s US Patent 8,185,558 which identifies a method for maintaing and storing data nodes for each of its users to track sharing and communications patterns. Now, some of you will think that Facebook can already do that and, in a way, it can. The social network uses a series of complex algorithms to capture and store data on user’s interests for advertising purposes. These however are not linked to shares (in my most current understanding of them) but rather options, apps, profilers, and searches. Such a method as is outlined in this patent would allow the network to also track you through your shares. Whole personality profiles could be developed based on what you share, to whom, and how often. Innocuous uses are of course for better ad targeting but such user data could also be used for rather disturbing psychological experiments and perhaps even finessed control of data presentation from news and media sources.

Smart Glasses: I’ll admit this patent is extremely vague; that’s partially why I think it’s so concerning. Google’s US Patent 8,184,067 describes a device that will select a pre-set action to match a power-state transition on a head-mounted display. For example, let’s say I have a pair of eye glasses with numerous sensors on their surface. If I were to trigger one of those sensors in some way the glasses would take a pre-determined action as a response. My favorite idea for how to use this one? Let’s say that the glasses sit on my cheekbones and have a heat-responsive sensor on each side. If I were to be embarrassed perhaps that sensor would trigger a laser vaporize whatever embarrassed me (assuming I was looking at said thing) or help me to turn invisible. More likely though, these babies will be used for additional data mining, collecting nervous and muscular impulses from the face and eyes to aid in research.

Further evidence that more information isn’t always a good thing? This post. I bet that if I spent less time reading newly approved US patents I wouldn’t be so paranoid.

– Wren