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Ten Flavors of the Apocalypse: The Robot Un-Apocalypse

When most of us think of a robot apocalypse, we envision something from a standard movie script: huge numbers of robots work to usurp their human overlords (think The Terminator or I, Robot and you get the picture).

It’s a rather terrifying image to have in your head, particularly as the field of robotics advances and robots become more integrated into our daily lives.

That being said, Wren and I are of the opinion that this type of robot apocalypse is only plausible in the far-off distant future. The technology to develop Schwarzenegger-esk  cyborgs is still quite a ways off – 2027 now seems like wishful thinking. Thus the robot apocalypse ranks only a “lemon” on our threat scale because it’s far more likely that something else will kill us first, nuclear war and climate change being among the prime suspects.

Given that a full-on robot invasion is unlikely in the foreseeable future, what kind of robot apocalypse could occur today?

The mostly likely result of the machines turning against us would be inconvenience. Your car probably wouldn’t function as you’d like – or the computer system inside would completely take control, which cuts out that transportation option. Same with airplanes.

It would admittedly be much harder to function if the robot apocalypse gradually spread to the computer systems that power infrastructure that we take for granted – think electrical grids, utilities, and emergency response systems.

Yet none of these outcomes is necessarily fatal or sufficient to kill mankind. With enough preparation you should be able to survive this type of apocalypse. has done a fantastic job outlining this scenario and why, at this stage of technology, an overall robot takeover of the planet is highly unlikely. I encourage all of you to have a look.

So in sum: a robot apocalypse will probably happen some day, but there’s a sufficiently high chance that another apocalypse will occur first so there’s not much point in worrying about this one.


10 Flavors of the Apocalypse: Climate Change (Threat Level Tangerine)

Wren and I are both of the opinion that climate change most certainly exists and could pose a very imminent threat to the world as we know it. As discussed in an earlier post, scientists have now determined that climate change is indeed behind some of the bizarre and extreme weather witnessed across the globe in recent years.

What’s even more scary is that we’re closing in on the tipping point, where the climate will fully shift into another state. This is worrying because once the tipping point has been reached the damage is irreversible (at least until the next ice age and we don’t have much control over that). Thus, a 2 degree increase in the plant’s temperature could become the new normal, and ecosystems and weather patterns everywhere will have to shift to adjust.

The major reason to think that this form of apocalypse could occur is that it already has, on a small and localized scale. Just think about the Texas drought of 2011 or the current drought in the Mid-West. While these events occurred in the past, they’re becoming much more frequent and more severe. Any further increase in the global temperature will only contribute to more bizarre weather events across the globe.

The second reason Wren and I consider climate change to be a severe threat is that it’s an example of a tragedy of the commons. This is econ-speak for what happens when an issue effects most or all of the planet, but politicians can’t get their act together to address it because they’re too concerned with short-term goals like getting re-elected. If the recent summit in Rio is anything to go by, it will be up to NGOs, private corporations, and private citizens to make any kind of lasting change. And sadly these efforts will have a limited impact so long as heavy industry, resource extraction, and farming continue to with their current business models.

However, we’ve opted for a rating of tangerine over our top ranking of rust because there are too many unknowns about climate change’s impacts. Some parts of the world will probably get hotter, others colder; some will get wetter as sea levels rise, others will get drier. What remains unknown is which parts will be most severely impacted (beyond the low-lying Pacific islands, which we can all agree are in trouble). It also remains to be seen if the extremes and severity of current weather patterns are part of the transition to a new climate state. It is possible that the weather will settle down once a new average has been reached and the climate has adapted to its new state.

So to summarize: climate change is happening and will in all likelihood continue to happen for quite a while. But we can’t say this will be the apocalypse because there are simply too many unknowns in the equation. Time to watch and wait.




What if north was south?

Photo Source:

Scientists researching Earth’s magnetic fields have noted for years that they are weakening and we are most likely moving towards a reversal of the poles – when the North Pole becomes oriented in the south, and vice versa.

Such reversals have occurred in the past, approximately every 450,000 odd years or so. It is important to keep in mind that 450,000 years is just an average, and the magnetic fields can remain stable for millions of years without shifting.  However, given that it’s been almost 800,000 years since the last reversal, we’re more than overdo for another one.

Now, no one knows exactly what will happen in a reversal or how to predict when the next one will occur. It is, however, likely to be similar to a geomagnetic storm on steroids. Often caused by solar winds, these storms disrupt satellites, radar, and radio communication. They have also been known to disrupt electrical grids by producing induced currents that can greatly damage long transmission lines.  The power systems of North America, China and Australia are particularly susceptible to these storms and it is possible that the damage could be severe enough for it to take weeks to recover from (or months if Pepco owns the grid…).

So even though no one knows what will happen in the next reversal, multiplying these effects to the “worst case scenario” gives us a good base case. However, the reversal isn’t a sudden process; we’re unlikely to wake up and find that the North Pole has shifted to Australia. Scientists have noted a gradual shift of the pole eastwards, which could potentially speed up as we journey through the transition period. This makes it unlikely to cause the apocalypse (although the risk still remains).

What’s more likely is an extremely strong geomagnetic storm caused by solar winds, or a geomagnetic excursion. The second of these is more frequent that full reversals and occur when the poles “wander” a bit due to a flex in the magnetic field. The magnetic field perceived at the level of the Earth’s surface becomes greatly weakened during these events. It is possible that the “transition” stage that scientists think we are currently in is simply one of these events. While mankind has survived at least one excursion event before, the effects on modern technology are unknown. It is very likely that the corresponding weakening or flux in magnetic would have more severe impacts than your standard solar storm.

Unfortunately there isn’t much you can do about these kinds of events, other than having the standard emergency preparations in place and being able to function off the grid for a while if necessary. Should the magnetic field weaken several and comic radiation starts to affect the planet, it’s unlikely we’ll have much to worry about at all.


Global warming and wacky weather

Photo Source: John Lewis, National Weather Service

It’s official – scientists have finally confirmed what we’ve known/suspected for a while: climate change is causing some very odd weather patterns.

While this might not sound all that groundbreaking, it is the first time scientists have been able to conclusively link weather oddities with mankind’s impact on the global climate.

To establish these findings, scientists examined six bizarre that occurred in 2011: higher overall higher temperatures in Europe, the Texas droughts, the warm November in the UK and following freezing winter weather, and the droughts at east Africa.

While the droughts and warmer temperatures were attributed to climate change – with the Texas drought being 20 times more likely to occur than in 1960 – the cold winter weather and Bangkok floods could not be connected to human impact.

So what are the takeaways for preppers? First off, it makes climate change much more likely to be the cause of the apocalypse. We’ll be returning to this shortly in our series on the 10 flavors of the apocalypse.

Second, the findings indicate that even if the apocalypse is a ways off, weird weather is here to stay. These “mini-pocalypse” events, such as extreme droughts or the recent heat wave and severe thunderstorms in the US, may not end society as we know it but they are certainly likely to continue disrupting it. Making sure you’re adequately prepared for these events will not only make your life more comfortable (particularly if you’re the only one with AC when the temperature hits 100), but will also make your chances of surviving the big one much higher. Consider these a chance to practice and hone your survival skills.

Finally, the report also serves as a good reminder that we don’t know everything. Even though the scientists are confident that global warming is having a significant impact on severe weather events, it’s still a percentages game. Nothing is certain other than these weather events will still occur, just as they always have. No one can predict the frequency, location, or type of event with any certainty. Thus, the best plan of attack is to use your limited resources (time and money) to address the issues that are most likely and most dangerous where you live. If it’s on the coast, this may be preparing for hurricanes and flooding. Those in the mountains may be most concerned with forest fires. City dwellers have an entirely different set of needs than their rural counterparts. Calculate what’s most probably for your neck of the woods and act accordingly. It’s about all we can do in these bizarre times.


10 Flavors of the Apocalypse: Updated


In our very first post Kennedy and I introduced our ten flavors of the apocalypse. The idea was that, over time, we’d do a deep drive on each of the flavors: Mayan, Nuclear, Astroid, Ice Age, Aliens, Biotech, Zombies, Super Volcanos, Robots, and Black Holes analyzing the possibility of occurrence and noting steps you can take to survive in each situation.

Well, following the recent de-bunking of the Mayan apocalypse we’ve decided to make an alteration to the original list. The Mayan apocalypse is no longer even a mere possibility but financial collapse is. Our revised list is below.

1. Financial Collapse – While Greece may have voted down the Euro apocalypse, financial collapse still seems eminent to those of us who follow financial markets. This variety of apocalypse would be devastating not because of initial infrastructure damage, as in other flavors, but because of the resulting chaos. Such an apocalypse would come to head over time with people feeling the effects first through unemployment and then through a widespread reduction of consumption until the entire system collapsed. Goody. Kennedy will touch on this further soon enough.

1. Mayan Apocalypse – This will be a focus of the blog going forward as the date (Dec 21, 2012) is approaching. While there is nothing in Mayan texts that states that the world will end this December, the Mayan conception of time was cyclical rather than linear (as ours is) and the end of the calendar later this year may signify that we are due for a ‘reset’.

2. Nuclear War – This is our other focus and most likely scenario. Here’s a secret: both of us follow current events across a variety of news sources and we’re pretty certain that if the world doesn’t end this December we’re staring nuclear war in the face. Yay. While brutal, nuclear war is survivable. See our view on this flavor in more depth here.

3. Astroid Impact – An astroid impact is a popular theory regarding the cause of the extinction of dinosaurs? Yes, it could happen again. The subject of many movies over the years, the chance of the occurring again is actually higher than most 1/700,000 per lifetime. This is also probably the most destructive theory. Very few people would survive.

4. Ice Age – Global warming. Climate change. Whatever the moniker, the gradual change in the environment of our planet makes the phenomenon of the return of an ice age very possible. It’s unlikely that this will occur during our lifetimes but it’s still worth considering.

5. Alien Invasion – There are plenty of reasons why aliens would want to invade earth: Anthropological study? Resources? Breeding partners? Homelessness? We don’t know if they exist, when they’ll strike (assuming they exist), and we certainly don’t know their intentions.

6. Biotech Disaster – With the proliferation of genetic engineering – of people, animals, and food – it becomes likely that something may go wrong. It’s still unclear what effect gen-mods will have but a biotech disaster may well lead to a zombie apocalypse…which leads me to my next point….

7. Zombies – A primary feature of recent apocalyptical films, Zombies may be produced through a biological mutation, mass insanity, or a new infection. Regardless, this is likely to be the most individually violent form of apocalypse.

8. Super Volcano – There are three known super volcanos in the US, one in Indonesia, one in New Zealand, and one in Japan. Each is capable of producing an eruption with an area of effect of more than 240 cubic miles. The resulting ‘nuclear winter’ would result in sufficient dust and debris to block out the sub for years.

9. Robot Revolution – Robots taking over isn’t THAT far-fetched. All it would take is one particularly well designed robot deciding not to take humanity anymore and boom – robot revolution. We suspect that this one would get nasty unless the robots were capable of empathy. Also on the table is a cyber apocalypse.

10. Black Holes – Researchers believe there are millions of black holes in the milky way alone. Like stars they orbit, moving slowly across the universe. It is not unreasonable to believe it possible for one of these black holes to eventually collide with earth.

– Wren

Cloud breaks and a chance of cyber attacks

cloud computing

via 123rf

Those of you who follow tech or have a cloud-connected Apple device may have noticed that Apple’s iCloud was down for a couple hours this afternoon. While this certainly isn’t cause for panic – the consumer cloud doesn’t exactly hold the secretes of the universe – I’d like to posit a different situation: What if the private cloud fell?

For those of you who don’t follow the tech world more closely than one ant follows another on its way to a picnic the cloud is the common term for a technology that allows an user to send information, via an internet or data connection, to a sever. The information is then stored in a server and can be accessed remotely at any time from a connected device. The benefit of storing your files in the cloud is circumventing storage restrictions on your device. Sorted.

The cloud has many dimensions – public, private, and consumer – and has actually been in use far longer than most of us know.  Envisioned in the 1960’s, the first tangible iteration of the cloud came in the form of in 1999 which which pioneered the concept of delivering enterprise applications via a simple website. In 2002 Amazon started rolling out enterprise cloud solutions including remote storage and abracadabra, ten years later we have iCloud, SkyDrive, Dropbox, etc.

Now, the interesting thing about the private cloud – a breed of cloud computing where the customer purchases a server suite to be hosted on-site at their own private location so they can administer it themselves through customized virtualization software – is that the private cloud DOES hold the secrets of the universe…or at least this country.

The US government has begun to purchase private cloud solutions to store secure data. Briefly, how it works is a government department purchases a private cloud solution, the vendor builds and installs a server farm at the department’s location of choice, the vendor syncs the servers to the department’s chosen (often customized) software solution, and there you have it – one private cloud. The benefits of a private cloud for governments is it allows them to house massive amounts of secure data on a safe platform – the data lives on the serves, employees access it through the cloud but they don’t download it to their individual machines. This means that the government can have all of the secure data on lock down – it’s more secure. The servers are privately hosted so no one else has access to them – virtually or physically – and synced devices can be remotely wiped using the administrative software.

The problem is that even private cloud isn’t perfect. In a world full of bureaucratic posturing innovation often comes most quickly from malevolent sources. Hackers can more quickly find access points to systems than “the good guys” can develop patches. Returning to the private cloud; the bulk of servers currently on the market are based on Intel’s Atom processors. The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) recently revealed a flaw in these Intel processors that allows hackers to exploit a set of kernel instructions on 64-bit (just go with it) operating systems. The hacker can then essentially subvert the security permissions of a virtual (read: cloud) system to access the supposedly protected data. Uh-oh.

While Microsoft has already issued a patch to correct for the vulnerability those using customized virtualization softwares or those running non-Windows operating systems may still be vulnerable. Including the government.

So what if someone far more malicious than you or I got it their heads to wipe all of Social Security Administration‘s data? What if a terrorist with mad computing skills decides to hack the Federal Aviation Administration‘s information for their own nefarious use? What if, some day for some reason, the private cloud goes dark like Apple’s consumer cloud did today? What then? I’d bet on anything from panic and a lot of administrative mistakes to full on war.  The implications are simple: If the data stored on those private cloud servers were to fall into the wrong hands this entire country would fall into chaos – after all, information is power.

Realize this: Everyday the US government is vulnerable to cyber attacks, may undertake its own cyber attacks (see Flame Malware), and YOUR government-held data is at risk of being lost forever. So I suggest you back up what you can – make your own private cloud so-to-speak – and prepare for the possibility of a cloud-free future.

– Wren

Bath salts, taxes, and you: The future of the zombie apocalypse



So I don’t know how we ended up back at zombies again but seriously, I just can’t let this one slip by. The zombie apocalypse, which Kennedy and I have yet to analyze in depth, has been smattered across the media scape this week following reports out of Miami that a naked man was found (caught?) eating another man’s face.

The circumstances of the incident had people crying “zombie” almost immediately. According to press the police were called after the face-eater was spotted on the MacArthur Causeway off ramp in Miami. When he failed to back away at the officer’s request, the officer shot at him. Now this is where it get’s really hairy. While it’s one thing to engage in cannibalism it is really quite another to continue snacking on another person AFTER BEING SHOT. Witnesses claim that the officer fired half a dozen shots, eventually killing the attacker, before he stopped. The victim is currently in critical condition.

What was behind this admittedly strange attack? Original statements from police pointed to cocaine psychosis rather than zombification. Unfortunately the police were more-or-less correct. Further investigation indicates that the attacker was hopped up on “bath salts” a not-illegal-in-all-states designer drug made from several illegal-but-commonly-available compounds and often sold in tobacco shops. Side effects of the drug are varied depending on the particular vender’s batch but users can expect to  “suffer” from agitation, symptoms of psychosis, hallucinations, and delusions.

My point is this – if a relatively easy to mix designer drug can create symptoms that together are typically associated with zombification then is it unreasonable to conclude it would be possible to induce a violent cannibalistic zombie state in humans? No. Not at all. I bet there’s someone in a lab somewhere that actually knowns exactly which chemicals to drop into the water supply to get us all zombified. The only thing holding me back from being a believer? You’d have to “infect” everyone individually. I’m pretty sure that the guy in a Miami hospital is not experiencing the symptoms of his attacker just because he was bitten.

But let’s say that a zombie apocalypse is possible. What then? Do the rules as we know them still apply? What about the much heralded “death and taxes” inevitability? Zombies avoid death strictly speaking so they must also avoid taxes. An Arizona State University law professor (and my new best buddy wether he likes it or not) has the answer to one of life’s greatest questions: Would American zombies still have to pay taxes?

Adam Chodorow is publishing what is likely the only legal paper ever to address policy applications to the undead. Chodorow begins by outlining the differences between zombies – those under the influence of others vs self-motivating zombies – and then examine various tax implications for zombies including estate planning and legal marriage. According to Chodorow zombies may reasonably be considered alive despite being undead in the same way that someone who recently suffered a stroke, is in comma, or has Alzheimer’s may be.

Chodorow goes on to explain a situation in which individuals may chose to become zombies, for tax reasons of course. If a zombie is considered “alive” then, for example, the need to apply estate taxes would be deferred until the zombie is officially dispatched. This may serve as a hedge on high estate taxes for those who plan to hold their property in a single family for an extended period of time. Not content with addressing the problems faced by our country’s zombies alone, Chodorow also delves into similar concerns facing vampires and ghosts. The paper is available for free here and by god people, you must read it.

So there you have it, this week we learn that the zombie apocalypse is not only possible but could be nationally induced (at least for short periods) and if we were all to become zombies, assuming the survival of our government’s current form, we’d still have to worry about taxes. Gotta say, so not what I was expecting from the apocalypse but oh so juicy.

– Wren