28 July 2009

Duty not ideology

Jennifer Rubin has five reasons why the 'Gates-Gate' matters, but I find myself having problems with that list as it is missing a lead item.  Indeed, all the talk about Henry Louis Gates Jr. did or did not do comes with a problem when President Obama opined upon it.  This is a point that transcends race in America, one that goes beyond petty ideology.  This is a point about the Presidency and all individuals who serve in that capacity, and it has a catch phrase that is one that has been used for decades and should be well understood.

The President is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the Nation.

He gets that by the powers to execute the Laws of the Land, thus is the Executive on law enforcement.

His duties are delimited by the US Constitution to Federal and National venues.

Yet, over decades, how a President does his job has become an important factor in the tone and tenor of law enforcement across the Nation.  Most Presidents of the post-WWII era have been bogged down by so many laws, rules and regulations to enforce that they cannot enforce them all.  Congress has been unwilling to pay up for proper enforcement of all such things it passes and the subsidiary regulations that are put in place upon the Nation.  Indeed all such regulations based on bureaucratic rules stemming from the laws passed by Acts of Congress to be enforced by the President are so numerous, so wide-spread, so deep that you are probably already breaking Federal law on a daily basis, as Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy points out (H/t: Instapundit).  In 1998 the Federal government had seen 2/3 of all regulations come into being since 1970 as seen by the pages of the Code of Federal Regulation.  As government has not stopped passing Acts of Congress to add to this body, the number of regulations continues to swell as the Federal government reaches out with such to encompass more of your daily life.

Thus President Obama, the Chief Executive on such enforcement, is put into a position of leading the tone and tenor of what he can't enforce and what he can't do because Congress will not and can not fund proper enforcement of all the 'good ideas' it has passed into being via legislation.  Indeed, if any President properly made a budget to address the needs of all the 'good ideas' passed by Congress, we would have a staggering budget today,that would eat up much of the National wealth.  As Presidents have this oversight of the National Laws and is the individual who has oversight of the enforcement of those laws, what he says and does in that realm under any auspices is an indication of just what sort of law enforcement we can expect from the Nation.

If we decry the abuses of President Nixon in utilizing the CIA to thwart the FBI in investigations and the meddling in those powers to political ends, then that exact, same standard must be applied to all subsequent Presidents.  Especially when they speak out about law enforcement involving a supporter and contributor to his political rise as all law enforcement must see all citizens as equal before the law.

The Duty, then, of a President is to ensure that respect for the law and all of its Officers is upheld across the Nation.  While he gains no power over local venues outside federal regulation, and that is a huge power in the last 40 years, it then becomes incumbent upon the President to ensure that the basic necessities of respect for the law is upheld.  That means not speaking out of turn, letting individuals do their job and letting the process of law enforcement proceed without comment or meddling from its highest office in the land.

That is part of the job of the President and not understanding that job and crossing its bounds to comment or otherwise opine on the local process of the law is neglect of that job by not understanding the Duty that comes with it.  A President only gets a few special cases via the Constitution with respect to himself and his office.  As those Powers that go with the job of President are at the same level as those in the other two branches of the Federal government, any President must take especial care not to abuse nor diminish those powers entrusted to the holder of that office.  It has taken decades to slowly regain public respect for the FBI due to the problems associated with a temporary office holder.  Going down deeper into the structure of law enforcement outside of the jurisdiction of the federal to speak of another level outside of the President's control is not part of the job of President and the respect of other Executive branches in the States must be upheld for the good of the Union.  Thus his duty is to respect the other Executive Branches in the States who have sole say over State laws and needs.

In running for the job of President, Barack Obama has a slate of powers, responsibilities and duties that he temporarily wields for the good of the Nation and those must be respected so that they may be passed on to future office holders.

Because that is an office for all Americans to look to without respect to age, gender, race or sexual outlook.

Silence is Golden when one does not have the facts at their fingertips.

Duty requires such Silence when it effects other Executive branches trying to do their job.

Uniform treatment under the law is a requirement for all of those executing the law at all levels.

It is a minor incident, of course, but it reveals much about President and his ability, or lack of same, to understand just what it is he has taken on in this job.  While his power does not reach down that far, his visibility does.  He wanted that job with that visibility and now has the duties that comes with it for equal enforcement of the law for all citizens... and no special exemptions for political backers. 

Something the Left would be aghast about if this were someone they didn't like in office, but then ethical outlook from the Left is not something anyone expects these days as partisanship now comes first, last and at all points in between.  That leads to no good place at all, when we become a Nation of Men not a Nation of Laws.

25 July 2009

Quibbles and Quandary, Science in Science Fiction Part 2

This is Part 2 of my breaking down a larger post which would be unreadable as a whole.

Part 1 is here.

So now it gets to be unreadable in parts!

Thematically topics of continuity in story and within a given universe and the prerequisite of science in SF have been covered.

That first topic really gets to me as there is nothing as niggling as nitpickers, and yet continuity points to an overall understanding of how a given universe or setting works and why it works the way it does. Episodic television either makes continuity its primary reason for being, or creates 'set pieces' that have a semi-coherent background but become incompatible when viewed as a whole. We may get wonderful visions of how science changes us from both, but one gets good stories from its continuity and the other doesn't. And as science is the background and prime mover of the setting, understanding science as a whole requires understanding the scientific process.

I have extemporized on the 'social sciences' already in a previous post and will try to keep that down to a dull roar, but my criticisms of that do play into what I see in SF as a whole.

Again this is extracted from a longer work that got out of hand, so will reference other parts of that work, now posted previously.


Society is changed by science

Society is a creation of the individuals who constitute it: without people there is no society.

Science and technology change what we can and cannot do and our perception of the possible: it does not change human nature as that is something we get from the Laws of Nature. We can utilize the natural world, the physical laws of the world and create many great things, but our basic substance (until we no longer depend on the organic platform) remains the same. Any new platform of conscious thought has its own in-built limitations, strengths and weaknesses, even if it is no platform at all but a matrix encoding into the fabric of space-time (which has the limits of space-time). To date the Laws of Thermodynamics have held: they are such stable theories and have lasted so long that they are considered permanent parts of physics and a basic way the universe works. So even the most 'advanced' species or intelligence, wholly devoid of physical manifestation still has entropy and the limits of the physical universe to deal with. Beyond the mental baggage carried over from previous physical forms.

The Terminators start out as machines to assist humans in warfare, and only become a threat via a sentient computer code that then changes their directives. They have limitations and strengths of design work by humans: they are made devices that can become sentient. As such we would have, of necessity, designed imperfect machines... our nature and that of the universe is such to make that the case. Society then erred in its military organs, which is a failure of our understanding of the scope and limitations of our creation: we lacked a certain amount of foresight and always have. Yet that basic capability to assist humans still exists and the Terminator code is readily adaptable to that mission as that is what they were designed to do.

In the Star Trek universe the idea was that a somehow nearly perfect social order would form, but the basis for that and its roots are never explored nor explained. To remove something like money then requires some other way of tracking large scale projects: think of the scope and size and material requirements of a starship, and the manual labor that STILL has to go into constructing it. What is the source of grand goodness that makes people design such things, create such things and then track ALL THE COMPONENTS of them without recompense? If it is via computer, then the entire Federation is nearly Borg, anyway, depending solely upon machines to track everything and no longer understanding the basis of how to track if the equipment fails them. The similar basics, today, are those of the internal combustion engine, PC and even such things as making clothing: in theory each of us has some primitive understanding of these things, a very few of us have a deep understanding of them, and very, very, very few perform these things at a personal level by creating devices from base components.

Some of those base components can no longer be made by hand, thus the in-depth knowledge of making them is made obsolete in the culture, but still retained by a very well trained coterie of individuals at corporations and governments. The number who truly know the technology at that level may exist only in the thousands, while the larger printing and fabrication community could work back up to it in only a decade or so if all the advanced mechanisms and their active engineers were lost, it would take time to do so. Similarly, in Star Trek, if the entire realm of economics is guided by computer based system, then there is a true handful that actually understand economics in a 'hands-on' way, while the majority of the population views such a thing as 'magic' just as the majority of population, today, sees internal combustion engines in just that way. The fundamentals are lost as an activity and economics becomes 'complex' as you do away with 'money' and trust that an automated system will 'just work'.

And that no corrupt individuals at the very highest tier of economics will warp their theories to their own means.

Yet that is contrary to our nature as human beings under the Law of Nature. Our understanding of Liberty is that we are accorded to our ability to do things, create things, and that ability is unequal so that not all work is equal in quality, quantity or scope. To abolish differences in compensation has not worked in any governmental system that has tried it: high praise and trinket rewards are not enough to inspire creative output. By postulating a multiple large scale interlocking set of space faring civilizations WITHOUT a means of trade is not only utopian but impossible: not all peoples will value all things at the same level and workmanship standards will likewise vary across the board. Intrinsic valuation is a part of how individuals view the world, and to postulate that there is no way to concretely recognize that so individuals can exercise liberty to prosper as they will ('Live long and prosper' is a central tenet of Vulcan philosophy, not a mere 'hello') requires removing diversity and equating all work as equal... no matter how good or how bad it is. That removes incentive for excellence and shifts work to lowest common output and quality. There is no science, no technology, that can eliminate this and no one, no where, ever explains how this can come about without removing liberty as that is what is required for such a system. Thus a basic view held by the creator of the program, to me, is ill-founded and unsupported.

The changes in society must be cited, explained or otherwise have indication given as to what their source actually is. Acceptance of religious diversity in Western culture derives from the Treaty of Westphalia, with 15% of Europe dying off due to the war (not counting the plagues that also happened in that timespan). The hatchet was buried, as the Iroquois term puts it, by Westphalia. Note that this did not lead to peace or elimination of religious bigotry and persecution, but would start on a multi-century pathway that would help to lessen those in Western culture. That was for something as had existed for almost the entire timespan of humans as sapient beings in human culture as religion... trade? To change not just one culture, but multiple cultures in the Federation to accept that trade will happen on a 'good will' basis is authoritarian and can only be done top-down... just in human cultures, not to speak of all the aliens wandering around.

From this comes a concept in writing SF of: change as little as possible and support all changes with evidence and back-up so you can write a coherent set of stories.

Larry Niven demonstrates the deep societal impact of something as simple (and as complex!) as safe, instant, low cost teleportation devices. Alone they liquidate vast amounts of our perception of ourselves and how we locate ourselves geographically. Want to live in a good climate and teleport to work elsewhere? Go right ahead! Want a 24-hour party spanning the globe? Easy to do! You may not want thousands or tens of thousands of people wandering into a disaster area or major event, but that happens, too, with 'flash crowds'. Crime becomes extremely difficult to deal with as escape to a different part of the planet is a quick trip away. Human cultures and nations start to liquidate in the face of that onslaught: nothing that was previously known compares to that single, simple change of how we view transportation and ourselves and what a 'neighborhood' really is. Yet for all the change in culture, humans remain innately human in outlook due to them being physical beings (no matter how augmented by other technology and anti-agathic medications). Similar, but at a smaller scale, changes happen due to things like stasis devices in which time slows greatly inside the field created, while normal time rates proceed outside it. Small and moderate sized technological changes can have far-reaching ramifications, and stepping through those leads to stories all on their own as the writer realizes those ramifications. The object of the story is to keep within the bounds of the new technology and then see what human culture will do with those changes. That is the law of unintended consequences which can, in and of itself, see new negatives and positives that can only be described in the context of the changes and how society does (or doesn't) adapt to them.

If you are changing some part of society due to technological or other advances, that must be explained, not glossed over. When it is 'just so' you get fantasy (a story that can be self-consistent but has impossible basis) or a fairy tale (a story that has no possible basis and is inconsistent internally). It is no longer science fiction. Changes in society must be done with care and those changes traced to what caused them, and the other effects of that cause must also be examined or at least acknowledged. This is a major problem in the visual media (tv, movies) as the limits of time preclude fleshing out background... yet it can be done, even with just snippets of conversation or activities that are unexplained going on and that only get referenced when they are used in a story.

Avoid deus ex machina

When something that is kept from the reader solves an intractable problem, you are witnessing a 'god from the machine' concept, in which everything is made right outside the normal, explained means of the rest of the story. That is perfectly acceptable in fairy tales, fables and other works, and often a deep insight into what the view of the divine or impossible is. It isn't science fiction or fantasy, however, as both require stringently adhering to the known way the universe operates and all other changes that have been previously cited in the story. Magic has limitations, and those need to be described so that it does not become a wish fulfillment and easy plot device, as demonstrated in Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy works, Larry Niven's manna based magic stories or those of Saberhagen's large universe mentioned above. Science that varies from the known or has a set of postulates underlying it then become the basis for limits on the story and those cannot be contravened in a 'surprise ending'.

Even worse is creating the 'everything tool' that does nearly everything, like the sonic screwdriver in Dr. Who. Really, if you have one of those you will rule the universe... and have a so-so screwdriver. Similarly the phaser from Star Trek does just about anything: kill, disintegrate, stun, warm rocks. A really handy device to have... if you remember you have it. There is no such thing as 'being lost' and having a 'charged phaser': you have the perfect signaling device at moderate range and even from orbit anyone can find you. Not that anyone remembers to use it as one. When you are depending on people to forget that they have a basic, functional tool that has many uses and has been around for decades, you are then relying on a very far-fetched premise. If you own a cell phone you are faced with a device far more intricate than a phaser, and we have jam-packed it full of goodies to the point of it becoming the tricorder. Yet, if you own one, will you forget to make a phone call with it? Perhaps, yes. Make it the fulcrum point of a story? Probably not. Continuously in a series? No. Unless a character has a mental problem with remembering... but then that points to the problem as a mover in the story, and no one accuses the various well trained crews of Star Fleet of having persistent amnesia.

If you are going to give out a set of fantastic, but comprehensible tools, then those people living with those tools, day in and day out, will know how to use them and find ingenious ways to use them within the given bounds of those tools. The need for a sudden piece of jargon or unexplained device (just what is it with the 'universal translator' and why doesn't the Federation have a full mind scanner to tell what someone is thinking at any given moment? why isn't the universal translator the basis for mechanical telepathy?) points to a problem in understanding the limitations of the universe and adapting to it. That requires creativity, and lots of it, while taking out the 'perfect tool or piece of knowledge we have never hinted at before and you will never see again' points to lazy writers, not a splendid universe.

Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth stories operates within the known, and has lots of interesting bits and pieces left from previous space-faring groups who have long ago vanished. What he doesn't do is throw unknown things in at the last moment to solve plots but, instead, relies on the ingenuity of his characters who have to live in that wonderful melange of cultures and technologies to give us interesting endings from the known things around them. Plus he hands out some of the deadliest planets ever seen, anywhere, in science fiction and which seem to laugh at the most advanced technologies that can be thrown at them (things we would consider awe inspiring) and spit them out as refuse. No matter how advanced the technology is, nature is ever inventive and creative and often will hand us things that defeat the very best we have created and make us rely on older skills and basic common sense. I throw one of those into my Trek story as a side-light: a planet where you can't use transporters, where the energy levels in the atmosphere cause storms that can disable the best equipped shuttlecraft, and the larger scale creatures of the planet shrug off disintegrate from a phaser as a mild tickle or slight irritant. With the most advanced tools and techniques of high technology rendered useless, you are on your own to survive. Star Trek could do with a few more of those humbling planets...

When I looked at the Terminator, as a concept, I reasoned through how their original programmers would have done it (in gross scale not detail), and realized that one of the things to guard against WAS a virus infecting the code. While not well known at the time of the first film, there were a few of such on the original DARPA network (and other integrated, purpose directed networks of academia) and helped give UNIX some of its early hardening as people tried to devise ways to bring down those machines via code infections of various sorts. Trying to puzzle out the technology presented in the Terminator films, I realized that they would have put in some safeguards beyond just the cognitive code of the machines. Those I explain where they come from and why they are developed, and what they do as they become a way for a machine to actually come to grips with Skynet code if they are isolated from Skynet and have orders contravening their basic analytical ability. That ensures the reader gets no real surprises, and yet gives a very good venue to add a twist to things that is fully backed by the rest of the story. Really, like Keith Laumer's Bolo machines, you would want some things like that built into the equipment that was nearly impossible to find and remove and persisted not only after damage but because of damage to the equipment (both cyber and physical damage) it would re-propagate and ensure the safety of the mental construct and its makers.

Being fair to the reader is an important concept, and deus ex machina voids that, and so must be avoided. It may ruin 'great' stories as it requires ensuring continuity within the story, but then it can't be that great a story without it (unless you are setting a stage for a dreaded sequel). And if you must introduce this splendid concept, device, or unknown tract of wisdom, then damned well use it later as it WILL change everything else around it.

Time travel isn't what you think it is, even if you know it

We have a few basic parts of the universe that work via observation and won't change no matter how awesome the next grand theory is as such a theory must incorporate and encompass these previous observations and understandings within its framework.

The worst is quantum physics and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Theory. That is where you cannot know both the position and velocity of a given particle at any given time. Also you cannot know the state of a probabilistic outcome until you observe it, thus the act of observing reduces the system from probable to actual. With these two bits of information, the ability to know all of where time has put you means that you have foreknowledge of your universe when you go 'back in time'. That is not allowed by Uncertainty Theory. Thus you will wind up in a setting that will not lead to your universe as the act of going back in time requires that uncertainty is maintained: you will not get to where you want to go as you know too much about it.

A good way to examine time is to chuck out the 'time is a stream' concept and replace it as 'time is a sequencing of frames'. In that each frame is an individual universe of Planck length in duration (10^-42 second). All possible next frames exist and those that fit within probabilistic parameters can next appear, including the one in which a 'time traveler' from the 'future' appears. That time frame, however, is not of necessity part of a 'stream', but a frame with the same index number as the one you were aiming for. Thus your appearance voids the previous set of frames that led to where you 'came from' and your act of going 'back in time' has started a brand new set based on this alternative index that now puts you into the course of action. What follows is probabilistic: you never know what the outcome of any action is and there is no 'causation' involved as this is a different set of frame sequences from the one that generated where you 'came from'. Consciousness, then, becomes a persistence of memory and thoughts across timeframes.

This has an interesting consequence as each set of probabilistic frames that winds up with 'time travel' (the ability to shift via invoking an earlier frame in the sequence with you in it) slowly shifting the underlying frame you are aiming at as it must have variance in accordance with probability theory as you can't know everything there coming from a future time: the past is different than you expect it to be as you aren't allowed to go to a known frame but only a probabilistic variation of it so that you don't have perfect foreknowledge. Not only is the new set of frames different, due to your presence, but your very knowledge means you have arrived in a frame that has differences that make your pre-knowledge less than useful. The Terminator series demonstrates this: Sarah Connor starts to get older, her birthday changes forward, and dies at different years, as well as the coming of Skynet being shifted further and further away from its original date, different start years for Terminators and all sorts of other oddities over the entire series of films, each of which involves time travel as its basis. That can either be attributed to lazy writing (which is most of it) or explained as a pretty deep understanding that shifting your time frame reference requires a shift from your destination frame to one with the same index number but different parameters to it.

Skynet, itself, goes from a massively centralized super-computer to a global computer virus with a coordinating computer over the series of films. To get to Terminators in 1997 requires, via contracting in the government, that the basic technology be proven and have end-result capacities that can be quantified, which is usually a 5-year deal, so 1992 is when that technology would be proven... thus discovered in the years prior to it, perhaps as much as 3 years, or 1989. Between the first and second films we have moved from the results of the first (unseen) universe of Skynet and Terminators to the new timeline (the first film) which is now a variant timeline. While the suite of Skynet/Terminator technology will be very similar, the timing, history and actual ways things happen will be very different in the second timeline than the first. And the first doesn't 'go away' as it is (to the people in the second timeline) a 'possible but not realized' history. That said with the events of the second film, a third timeline is invoked as IT now has visitors from its potential future and thus changes the actual course of events. They change due to the uncertainty principle so that going back in time guarantees the frame you want to get to will not be the one you are aiming for but have the same index number and general parameters to it... although even that can change drastically, the universe isn't limited to which potential past you get to, just so long as it isn't the one you know. In three films, then, we get: an original timeline(T-Alpha), an altered primary (T1), an alteration of that (T2), and an alteration of that (T3). Four universes, then, minimum, necessary to create the three films, and it is highly possible that other variant universes are involved as they have time travel, too.

Although this would be an apparently nihilistic view, that you make every possible decision in every possible way, your personal decisions to get to where you are, today, are yours and you must live with them. They are your experienced past and all other outcomes are potentials to you... just as all those other potential outcomes see our particular set of decisions as potential only. Thus the saying from Buckaroo Banzai proves to be true: No matter where you go, there you are.

This is the realm of cross-over universes, and two disparate timelines must be joined together in a reasonable fashion, thus my Terminator cross-over must maintain much of the background of the Terminator one, while altering it as a high variant from that timeline (this is an 'outcrossing' of time travel where the future traveler ends up in a universe that has a number of touchstones but will not 'lead' to a future like that where the traveler came from). The potentials for the time traveling future must be present in some form, but the consequences of the shifts in history now yield up a totally different setting.


Yes, you can have a good time travel story.

One ST:TNG episode had Worf going through all the quantum outcomes of his life, up to that point, and gave a wonderful view of all those possible universes just for a brief time. That is about the only reconcilable episode of time travel in all of Star Trek. The episode The City on the Edge of Forever also does a grand job of that as the Guardian becomes a device that resists quantum changes to the universe... and comes pretty damn near telling everyone that if you go back in time you will NOT wind up with the universe you came from. Almost, but not quite, this being episodic television.

The Terminator universes have a more interesting problem in that any experiments done after the invention of time travel will 'prove' time travel 'works' so as not to violate local causality. General causality, however, will require that each experiment has something that is subtly different about either what is 'sent' back in time or the universe whatever was 'sent' back to is from the one a number of frames later that 'sent' it. Perhaps that tangle of strangely shifting improbability will then shift those units sent 'before' time travel to have places that have frame sequences that will slowly move away from workable 'time travel' that doesn't test out well. Or at all, as that, too, is available amongst all possible universal frames.

In what little I have written I work with the concepts I present and shift these alternative stories from their somewhat incoherent situations to more coherent ones, so that science fantasy becomes more like science fiction. I don't try to 'surprise' a reader, but let them know that some characters are doing things that I am not going to look at, yet, and only let pieces fall together as the story moves along. Of course I am also looking at basic physics and one of the primary things that is overlooked is just that, and I will take one large sore point from my quibbles to do a post on that next.

20 July 2009

Survival - Phase 3 - Home

There is a good chance that you are living 'on the grid'.

I am.

What is 'the grid'?

It is popularly put forward that 'the grid' is the electrical grid, actually an interconnection of networks for managing electrical power across the US, extending into Canada and Mexico.

The actual grid is far more complex than just the electrical system.

For most residents of urban and suburban areas, even small towns, the actual grid consists of a number of services that are primary to our technic society:

  1. Electricity - The popular 'grid'.
  2. Potable water supply - This is done at a central water purification plant where the majority of viruses, bacteria, harmful chemicals and other such things are removed and a level of chlorine and other minerals added, and a proper pH balance put together. Without this you would be boiling your water and only using tap water for limited purposes.
  3. Sewage disposal - No civilization can grow or maintain itself without this, as diseases such as cholera then become epidemics that regularly recur due to the mixing of bacteria from sewage with drinking water. Most homes are connected up to a system that removes waste water and human waste so that you don't have to deal with it locally.

Of these three it is the third and second that are the most vital to address for long-term survival in a home without power. As hundreds to thousands of generations of humans can testify: you can live without electricity.

You can live without central water and sewage, but not at high densities unless you prepare for such a lack. Urban areas decay without these things, and their lack is not only an inconvenience, but a public health threat to the general population. War torn Iraq had its systems degraded by Saddam Hussein during the '80s when he was having a nasty war with Iran, tried to pay for it by invading Kuwait, had the infrastructure of his Nation decimated by the alliance to restore Kuwait, and then, after more than a decade of neglect of THAT another war with terrorists blowing up such places came roaring through the Nation. You can live in cities without central electricity, potable water and a sewage system.

Not at the population density levels before all that happened, however.

Still it is a testament to many Iraqi city leaders that the FIRST thing they wanted restored was NOT these civil necessities but factories so that a production base and tax base could be formed so that these necessities could be restored, replaced, rebuilt or built new. In such a war torn country that has had a taste of industrialized supported lifestyles, the understanding that production makes dense urban populations possible is one that shines through the sandstorms of Iraq and smoke clouds generated by political partisans. This is a telling aspect of society, in general: if you live in a society that understands that active production is the source of the goods of society, especially technic society, then they will be prioritized over civil necessities.

On the downwards slope, things aren't so pretty.

Going on the James Burke Connections idea, if something struck civilization either locally or globally to remove the ability to sustain the technology or that ruined the technology we have, what would you do?

This is not that far-fetched an idea as both EMP bursts (on a regional/Nation State basis) and solar storms (regional to global depending on duration) could do that to our sustaining electrical infrastructure. Most particularly targeted are circuits, especially microcircuits, that control so much of our daily life that we take it for granted. These are two of the worst survivable happenings that we can foresee, with lesser ones, like the New Madrid Fault Zone earthquake event, being regionally devastating but leaving much of the area outside of it immediately unaffected and only impacting the Nation in the long term by removing the cross-ties of 'the grid' through that region and destroying the local grids and infrastructure to a high degree in some areas. A Cumbra Vieja event sending massive tsunamis overtopping tall skyscrapers along the eastern seaboard is another event where devastation is regional, losses are high, but the rest of the Nation exists to start recovery. One or more EMP events or a solar storm of magnitude not seen since the start of the electrical age are much harder to deal with as they then leave you with NO outside help.

From those you can start to see the outlines of the necessities for yourself, getting back home (or a ready place of safety you have, say a cabin or some such) and then using your pre-positioned goods to continue surviving the event. For those that cannot afford a cabin in the country this means that where you live determines if you survive. How you survive depends on how you prepare before the event happens. If you survive depends on using your skills to the best of your ability and testing them against what the fates send your way. More skills and supplies means you stack the deck in your favor. Mother Nature plays with unloaded dice, but they are extremely heavy... you can change fate enough by preparing so that you no longer depend on hope to survive. Hope could not stop the ills of mankind nor will it offer you a cold glass of iced tea when you are thirsty.

I will start with staying put, at your home or other place of retreat that is prepared by you before the worst hits. Leaving or 'bugging out' I will address in another piece.

Your strategy will vary upon circumstance, and there are many, many, many websites and places to go to so as to address your particular needs. If you live in an apartment/condo then you have one set of worries. Attached homes, row houses, townhomes all have a different set of worries. Detached homes in suburban settings a third set. And detached homes or cabins in rural settings yet another. No one person can address all your needs, only you can do that, yet your needs will be very much the same no matter if you are 10 stories up in a highrise, sitting off a cul de sac in suburbia, or out in a cabin in the boonies. Most likely you have them addressed in the last area, as you know what you need.

Treating Human Waste

Water, clean water, and getting same are the main problems mankind has had and continues to have to this very day. Desalinization is expensive and/or time consuming. Ridding water of bacteria and viruses is a well known problem and has been addressed since the very first towns got polluted wells from their own human wastes.

Human waste that your body generates, then, is the second problem and goes hand-in-hand with the first. There are as many different ways to get rid of waste as there are communities and climates. Simply put: you cannot survive living in your own wastes for very long, especially if you are coming from a technic era in which health care is at a pinnacle of achievement. In rural areas where you deal with animal waste, you can deal with human waste. In urban areas, that is not such a simple thing to learn or do as the infrastructure did it for you. And if you don't have a very arid climate most of the year, you can't just leave the shit out to dry, either. Iraq does have a rainy season, so that wasn't a year round option there, either.

In that reverse order you have: dump it out the window (the popular method of the pre-modern times and the reason men walked on the outside of women next to buildings) because you now have an open sewer just outside the window, utilize an exterior drain and decomposition system (a form of composting) to dump wastes, create or utilize a system of ponds/large fish tanks and natural organism decomposition (good for small enclaves living on a hillside or on terrain with a slope) that utilizes microorganisms/macroorganisms/sunlight to treat the bacteria in waste, 'brown water re-use systems' for the re-use of previously potable water used for cleaning yourself and your home but it still needs to go somewhere in the sewage cycle, holding tanks (septic tanks) and leech fields. Plus the old 'dig a big hole in the ground and put a half-moon cabin over it'. A system to actually dry wastes to solid and water (purified by systems after that) is also excellent, and solar/thermal systems exist for that, along with bacteria based ones.

Each of these have infrastructure costs, daily/weekly/monthly/annual time investments, upkeep costs and transition time to full utilization of them. The object of these systems is to get the wastes reduced from a state where diseases can be harbored and do so where people will not be impacted by that process. A settlement pond system with bio-degrading and fish uptake reprocessing is one excellent way to do this... but has downsides of space requirements and what is efficient for 100 people is less so for 10. If you are staying in a highrise, then your options become extremely limited to ones of bag, contain and then either cart to disposal or dispose in-place with compost systems designed just for this...then you get fertilizer to sell! How you deal with this is up to you. Or else your lifespan will head markedly downwards, and instead of weighting the dice in your favor you are doing just the opposite.

Where the grid as a whole goes down, that means that your municipal sewage system is out of action, and you will begin to see 'back-up' of waste water and solids in low lying areas. If you LIVE in a low lying area by way of the sewer system, finding a way to STOP that is critical as other, less innovative people, are willing to flush their waste downhill via gravity. Look at all the people uphill from you and you will get an idea of how bad that will be and how quickly. Living uphill or on a ridge means thinking about what to do so as to NOT inflict your waste on others. Plus you will need a way to stop up the drains on back flow if you do live in a low lying area. Shooting wars start over these sorts of things.

There are many, many ways to deal with this, from plastic pots with plastic liners and lids (easy transport) to setting up pre-purchased flush toilets utilizing your brown water or other captured water system that then goes to a septic tank or series of settling ponds. What best makes sense to you changes by your location, and no matter what you do you want human waste to be isolated from your living environment. No toilets in kitchens or sleeping areas. There are many excellent choices from the low cost for a few dollars to the high cost 'you will now live off the grid on a semi-permanent fashion once the grid goes away' deal in the hundreds to thousands of dollar range.

Getting Potable Water

You, of course, have a week's worth of water prepared and ready in your home to last out a storm or other contingency when potable water isn't available.

You did, didn't you? A gallon a day per person for intake and clean-up needs. No skimping on preparing for water as it is the one, vital part of your daily uptake that will kill you the fastest when it goes missing. If you expect to be active during this time (cooking, cleaning, hunting, etc.) then double that to two gallons per day. You are NOT Ghandi, you will not be in bed with people tending to you. He could get by on nothing by doing nothing and then had to take sips and minutes between them to recover after weeks of that. He had a grid. You won't.

Getting more potable water if you stay home requires that water be screened, filtered, decontaminated and biological contaminants be removed (bacteria and viruses). UV coming from the sun does a lovely job on the bio side and, if you arrange a system of enclosed heating space and either a reverse osmosis system or natural condensation catchment system for a solar still, you can get clean water from rain water on the cheap. Water from other sources still requires filtering and treating down to the viral and chemical level.

Here and again, there are many, many choices available and your circumstances will dictate your path. In an urban setting getting clean water when power goes away and the grid along with it, means over-stocking on stored water and having access to a water source you can filter: rivers and flowing water are preferred, ponds next, stagnant water only with the best of filtration systems. You can hike water around only to the limits of your strength and stamina, and water is heavy. Anything over a gallon or so and you will need a pack system to ensure that you can hike water around (be it untreated which you will treat at your safe house or treated on the spot). What this means for apartment dwellers is that you need a good water source... unless you can get access to the roof, then the idea of catchment, tarps, hoses, storage tanks, etc. comes into play. The square footage at the top of a building or catchment from canted roof area is one that can be operational if, and only if, you are either alone or have agreement with others who are staying to convert such roof space to a water catch and containment system. Having that equipment pre-purchased and secured is no easy feat, but it can be done if you prepare.

A standard home, even attached home in a row house arrangement, has some roof space and postage stamp lawn space suitable for catchment of water. If you really do expect the worst, then a means of catching that water, filtering and purifying it thus becomes a system of pre-purchased rain barrels or central water storage tank with filters in-line in the down spouts. Treating is done via reverse-osmosis, direct sunshine and settling, or via solar still. Note that distilled water is missing minerals and other dissolved solids and will slowly demineralize your teeth, so adding in minerals is a necessity in a distilled situation.

Larger properties afford larger systems and even settling ponds as part of the overall system of changing human waste water into drinking water by removing salts.

The final way of bacteria remediation is as old as civilization itself: beer and wine.

Alcohol kills most harmful bacteria.

A shot of hard whiskey in a few cups of water does a great job of killing biological entities.

There is a reason why our ancestors were hard drinking folks: it was the best way to get drinkable water.

Similarly silver, at moderate temperatures, serves to kill of most biologicals in water. Our ancestors who headed west put a silver dollar in their canteens that they filled in the morning and then drank at mid-day. That works. Silver is a means to remove biological agents from water and moderately warm temperatures. That stack of silver coins you had in the expectations of 'barter' now become a long term means of purifying water.

Removing human waste and getting potable water now increase your life expectancy from days to long-term sustainable, so long as your filters and waste treatment plan hold up. A slow shift from a high-tech to a low tech system is not only out of the question but unavoidable: filters will break or no longer function, your waste treatment system will develop leaks. Your supply of duct tape will run out.

Really, just how many rolls of that stuff do you have?

The 'fun' part of living without a grid, the parts that everyone else talks about: the growing of plants for food via gardening, hunting, trapping, fishing, and general food preparation and treatment. This is the stuff everyone loves to talk about. After shelter, sewage treatment, and getting potable water, actually getting food falls into fourth place along with heating and cooling your shelter... you can survive in a place that gets too hot in the summer and provides some windbreak and protection from cold in the winter, but still gets deathly cold all on its own. Next to food, finding a way to cool your living space in the summer becomes a primary concern as well as trapping heat in the winter. Doesn't do you much good if your own wastes are ankle deep in the shelter, however, as that is a health hazard when hot and really nasty bacteria get to it... or when cold and it freezes at that ankle depth. This is why it is second. Water third. The 'fun' stuff gets pretty near the priority of keeping a living temperature for your living space throughout the worst seasons. It isn't 'living space' if you can't, actually, live in it.

Temperature Control

A generator is great, until the fuel runs out. Solar cells are lovely and if you already have them in-place then you can actually run some systems to keep temperature controlled in your living space... and don't mind the annual cleaning to make sure dust and grime doesn't build up on them, as that is part of the deal.

Circulating air from the cooler regions of your living space to the warmer ones and vice-versa is the reason mankind created central air systems for living spaces: it means on-demand temperature control. Passive systems need to be installed before the worst happens. Thus no matter how lovely air circulation vents from basement to attic are, they have to be in-place and functional before the grid goes down. Likewise solar water heating with tanks capturing warm water that then have passive systems to move that downwards and circulate cooler water upwards. Those cost time, money and forethought, plus eat up a good sized chunk of an active budget with a grid to get installed, which means you probably don't have them. Nor do you have canted roof tiles that are black on facing sides to catch low angle sunlight (which is most of it during the winter) and white on the top to reflect sunlight at high angles (yes a young man actually thought that most obvious of all solutions up and is trying to get it out there as a roofing system, with angles varied by your latitude... ingenious, really... warms the house in winter keeps most of the heat out in summer...) as that means you already had it done.

Older, pre-central heating and cooling tells us what is necessary to survive in a given climate, and if you wondered why wood framed buildings with plaster appeared in the mid-south you will find that the bricks, mortar, plaster and white wash all served to allow hot air and humid air to transpire through the building materials and out the cooler side of the building. Modern construction materials often do not have the permeability of older materials as we have more solid construction techniques that are cheap to mass produce. Thus heating and cooling become major issues in modern buildings when the power goes off for any extended period of time as they do not allow moisture to escape and thus condensate on the interiors of the structure. Moving air through ones living space is a necessity, not only to exhaust waste gases but to get rid of humidity. Not only does the climate contribute to this, but so do you, as you use moisture to do the exact same thing older structures did: keep cool. Your moisture in an un-vented space raises humidity levels. Trapped humidity gets absorbed on the interior of modern structures, thus creating a long term problem. In the short term all that extra sweat means you need more water to get into your system, and while food can provide some of that, actual potable water is a better source. If you eat right you can lower your water needs, but if you don't consider your living space and activity levels, then that will not help you very much if you are sweating profusely at night.

Thus, you must have windows that can be opened for cross-ventilation with screens to remove the largest of insect influx.

In a high-rise where you have windows facing towards the sun, this is a major concern, and the upper floors will become unlivable due to trapped heat... mind you they are the ones closest to the roof, too, so a water catch system will help to cool those upper levels some. Lower down, cross-ventilation is achieved by opening doors and windows in unused apartments/condos to the living space you are in. By opening and closing doors in hallways you can regulate air flow and even redirect it to a degree.

In winter there is the problem of retaining heat, and for that, in a high-rise, you are looking to keep the sunward side isolated from the shadow side. If you have the run of an entire floor you can shift your living space sunwards during the winter and into the shadow of the building during the summer. Depending on climate, your health and the general neighborhood you wind up in, this could be either workable or a death trap and only you can make that call. Remember that the idea of 'losing your investment' by leaving after a few months is an emotional one, while a rational one is ensuring that you survive so you can rebuild anew. Still, if the remaining tenants in a building can work out an arrangement, then a high-rise becomes the re-start of civil services as you will have everything from clean water to sewage (via the storm drains) available. And if it doesn't work out, then you are going to do a delayed 'bug out'.

For suburban to rural areas, including small towns, things look up as each family takes care of itself and concentrating resources across families makes more sense than independent living. The current system of governance is unlikely to survive a sudden deprivation of modern systems at the highest level: federal and even State systems may collapse. But County and local ones can adapt the fastest having the most accountability and the greatest need for inter-cooperation. To get to that point you must, indeed, get to it: you must have demonstrated that you and the people you live with (family, relatives, etc.) have the ability to contribute to survival needs. Civilization existed far before our modern time, and did so on that basis as an ongoing concern for millennia.

It did survive because people did and were an asset to themselves, their family, and their community.

And the best way to demonstrate it is to do it.

By preparing now, you are prepared to do later if you need to: you show faith in yourself.

We let other orders of events determine the course of the universe, galaxy, solar system and planet as a whole. You are responsible for yourself and what you do. No one can force you to survive... not and remain free, that is. By exercising your liberty now, you grant your freedom later.

That is what life is about from the moment you are born to the moment you die.

You are born free.

And there is no more precious thing we have in life than our liberty to support that freedom.

18 July 2009

Quibbles and Quandary, Science in Science Fiction Part 1

To those wondering about my 'normal' output: I don't really have 'normal' output.  My views on terrorism, organized crime, politics, the nature of society and the problems we currently have are stated throughout my works.  I will continue with them, but others are doing a far better job trying to keep up with the overwhelming insanity.  At home I am concentrating on the basics of emergency preparedness and what all this lovely government spending will do once it hits the markets in full force, social security goes insolvent and has to draw heavily off of normal tax receipts, and the need to try and either print money or spiral into a deflationary period... and my guess is the former as it is the preferred form of seppuku for those in power in modern political realms. 

Basically, I would be repeating my previous views or not covering ongoing events as well as others.

I've repeated myself sufficiently for my own tastes.

I've taken a very much longer post I've been putting together and breaking it up into a multi-part post to go over some of the things I've noted in SF.  Thus much of the verbiage is from a long post (the working title was - The rules in SF what to break and what not to), not a multi-part post.  And as my math is rarely all that good there will probably be some changes/redactions/revisions/etc. as time goes on... if I get the time to do them.  I will stick mostly to the visual media SF but print SF also comes into play due to my interests.

Read at your own risk.


Yesterday was the last day for complaints.


After watching and reading science fiction for decades, I took my hand at writing some for personal pleasure, only.  Being a long-time reader and viewer I also became a critic: I cited the unrealistic plots, premises and extrapolations that many shows and stories in printed from had.  Thus, when writing, I looked to change what I wrote to adhere to those conventions.  They are few, actually, but have deep ramifications.

Continuity is your friend not your enemy

This first is pretty general and not limited to SF, but has a particular impact in SF worlds that are pre-existing.  Writers of 'serials', or serial pieces presented sequentially in a common storyline or given universe, require continuity so that present actions derive from past ones in an explainable manner.  This is, strangely, the Soap Opera Prime Directive and is utilized in most serial universes: Dr. Who and Babylon-5 in video/film, and such things as all of Larry Niven's Known Space works, Fred Saberhagen's massive universe stretching from his Empire of the East through the Swords novels and to the Masks of the Gods works, and the majority of H. Beam Piper's Federation/Empire works, to name but a very few that do this.

'Collective' universes without continuity do not fare as well over time, unless they are entertaining for other reasons: Star Trek, X-Files, and all 'episodic' television shows; and things like Thieve's World and the 1632 series the latter of which has good internal coordination on themes and characters while the former broke the coherent model in the first story collection.  In episodic television you can get 're-visits' to previous characters/situations/themes, but they do not form an inter-connected whole universe.  Thus to get good causal relationships of events, as in the 1632 series, requires cooperation and understanding by the authors involved to NOT break with the known pattern of events and understandings.  In this format the individual stories/episodes can be very and even extremely compelling, but the overall continuity requires an extremely firm hand on sticking to a timeline to get internal coherence of the universe involved.

As I enjoy stories that take place in coherent universes (even if the characters, situations, plots, and such are incoherent as in some of Michael Moorcock's works) writing a story in a pre-existing universe that is episodic or has multiple, non-concurring stories, then requires editing out the prior history of that universe to gain a continuity.  Thus in writing a Trek story, I had to take out a meat cleaver as there are non-concurring stories, histories, events and even some outlooks that just don't 'fit' with each other.  To keep most of the stories requires throwing out a minority of them, and that is something every writer for Trek has done... which is why it is incoherent as the different visions, even in The Original Series (ST:TOS), are not concurring.  Thus no one fully agrees with any story written and larger format, such as films, can actually make things worse.


Science Fiction requires science

Science is a body of work that is achieved by observation, examining the results, quantifying them, and then doing analysis to ask: what makes this work the way it does?  Trial and error results, theories get tossed out with a shred of new evidence that disproves them, and theoretical frameworks are rebuilt using new understanding to see how new observations fit in with previous ones and these new theories have conclusions that can be tested and the hypothesis will either validated or invalidated.  You can have an absolutely great idea that, in its fundamentals, is correct, but due to lack of observations or ability to do the mathematics involved, is discounted.  You may be vindicated years or decades after your death, but that doesn't make your original observations (or lack thereof) more compelling.

Technology is the handmaiden of science: you can't build something unless you know what it is you want to make.  Science requires observations that require new devices to be made along known principles to test new hypotheses.  Thus scientists work with engineers on the art of the possible.

That is on the hard science side.

It is normally abused pretty well for television/movies/radio programs as the time to actually explain where a given piece of technology comes from (what, really, is a phaser?  or a blaster?) just isn't available: it is a flashy weapon designed for the media involved.  If you read David Drake's Hammer's Slammers works you get some very good looks at what a realistic form of weapon is possible from the knowns of physics that is both flashy and deadly.  Some are within the realm of the near-possible (lasers for example at large scales) others, like generating up enough energy to form a thin disk of copper into a directable plasma is a bit less certain (we can do that with explosives but not on a repeatable electronic device and standard electromagnetic means, but that, too, is engineering).

Equipment, in general, has been the lagging point of future stories as they depend upon current known and easily extrapolated systems.  The main computer of a starship in Star Trek has morphed from a mainframe to a distributed system with centralized storage and processing for large problems.  For these to be in a continuity, the past needs to lead to these forms of technology: thus there must have been some previous problems or events that limit the capacity of that future compared to current abilities.  Much of the early works of SF have this problem, where we have advanced in our abilities in physics but data processing lags badly.  Normally I put this under the 'explosive growth of expanded basic technology' phenomena, where a few basic understandings (that we currently don't have) make new capability in non-data areas as exciting and cost effective as data processing, which then lags.  That  is a backwards rationalization, of course, but serves as a good touchstone to put ideas we now have on savings via data processing into a different venue.  In naval warfare we have seen this in our own time as ships that are older are either retrofitted to have new capabilities (but on an older platform) or new built ships embody new technology that, in its time, becomes less useful compared to new technology.  Destroyers have gone from escort vessels and anti-air fire platforms, and submarine hunting with a relatively large crew, to now doing all of that, coordinating airspace and defenses of multiple vessels and packing the firepower of a WWII Battleship.  While having crew size reduced even as ship mass increases as technology makes the need for personnel less by leveraging automation in the place of manual work.

Sometimes, as in the Terminator series, technology is way advanced for the state of the art and not a direct derivative of existing technology.  That said the figure of Miles Bennett Dyson proves critical.  I don't discuss that in my cross-over story, but his critical role is demonstrated by what happens when he DOES get foreknowledge of what his work will come to (even if he doesn't know it): it doesn't help and actually hinders his progress.  In the Terminator films the actual creation of the machine intelligence gets pushed back: after the first film and then the second, events recede as intervention via time travel happens.  I'll leave time travel aside, for the moment, but this effect where seeing how your ideas result in an end technology actually inhibiting you because you want to DUPLICATE and not CREATE the technology is a fascinating one. 

In a timeline without time travel, Dyson creates the basic technology for intelligent machines quickly, but with the technology in hand he stumbles as he is trying to re-create work from an unknown source.  Far from making the machines more possible, that knowledge retards their creation by Dyson.  Soon that is pushed off even further away from Dyson, after his death, and the question of normal technological advancement going in a different direction is one that cannot be ignored: if the advanced technology can't be figure out quickly, then research re-orients on known pathways that are fruitful.  That is part of my quibble with UFO conspiracy theories that we have such lovely access to 'advanced technology': if we could understand it, then we would be using it, and if we can't then we have to develop the underpinnings for it so we can understand it... which makes having the technology, itself, problematical as we are inventing it. If there really IS a conspiracy, then PUSHING for such technology may actually SLOW its advance as you have a preconceived notion of it based on an artifact and what it does, now what the underlying science IS.  Really, how long did mankind spend trying to invent the ornithopter when known airfoils for gliding have been made since the time of Ancient Egypt, as seen by children's toys left in tombs?  The practical hang-glider was possible centuries before it was invented, and yet by trying to fly like birds or insects, no one thought of doing that as a means of flying.


Thus ends part 1.

Dealing with the future as seen in the past and how it has actually come about makes examining stories very interesting.  The stories are not only cultural artifacts, but an insight into how we, as a society, viewed science, technology and cultural change.

11 July 2009

But only if you act in the next 15 minutes!

Yet another in the series of posts that were comments elsewhere, this time at Mr. Z's site where he had an MJ post but I couldn't help but think of someone else.

What follows is, as always, as I wrote it with spelling and syntax errors intact for the amusement of the audience:

Two men died very close to each other. Near the same age, both famous in their way. One spurred on an industry to a new venue, but that industry was already huge and would get much larger... the other would take an industry that was a laughing stock, that no one gave any credance to and build it to a powerful force to help Americans. Both would lift us up through words, one to song and the other plainly and with passion.

One was an idol and superstar.

The other adored by those who loved his straightforward way of life and his passion for what he did.

One didn't do much of anything for a decade.

The other worked his ass off right up to the day he died.

One was Michael Jackson.

The other was Billy Mays.

I enjoyed a few songs from the former.

I admired the deep passion and commitment of the other to create a good life and share his belief that we deserve better for less... two for the price of one! With an extra-special, limited time offer if you act now!

I find the concentration on Michael Jackson to be obscene.

I find us ignoring Billy Mays to be a tragedy as he helped so many and was always what he presented himself to be, and was loved by many because he did work hard for what he got and loved it. All of it.

One was a nova of pop culture.

The other an enduring star of how we should bring passion to what we do each and every day of our lives.

I will only miss one of them.

Time to order an Awesome Auger before the supplies run out...

I did, too!

The boxes smelled of mothballs, but I'm not complaining.

Nor am I complaining about the hard sell for 'extras': that is part and parcel of the pitchman shtick.

I sincerely will miss Billy Mays who probably showed up ten times as often on TV with more entertainment value than Michael Jackson did over that same time span.  And I don't watch much TV, which tells you how much Billy Mays was on.

More often, more entertaining, far more sincere and living life to the max.

My condolences go to his family and those who worked with him, and thank you for showing us the behind the scenes of just how much he really did put into his life to help others.

Nice and sincere.

Two for the price of one.

You can't go wrong!

Act today before time runs out on your life.

10 July 2009

Survival - Phase 2 - Your Vehicle

You may not get a choice of when you need to survive.

If you are going out on a hiking trip, camping, or other sporting endeavors not involving vehicles, then you are stuck with what is provided and what you can carry.  When you go out with professionals, do what they tell you to do as they are being paid to keep you alive: you paid them, that is your investment, don't squander it as your life is on the line.

From the recent season of Deadliest Catch we saw what happens when the Katmai went down: the survivors were Captain, Deck Boss, and two greenhorns.  Another experienced crewman and another greenhorn also made it to the one craft that would allow people to survive, but the greenhorn was injured and the other crewman was trying to secure the life raft and both were taken when a huge wave swamped the inflatable raft and they were swept into the ice cold waters of the Bering Sea.  They could be heard in the distance, but leaving the one, sole, means of safety to get them during a storm with hurricane force winds and 40' waves is a non-starter.  That was a ship and crew that was PREPARED for the worst arctic storms of the Bering Sea.  Four men of eleven survived.

Those two greenhorns survived because they followed orders.  The two lost from the life raft were taken by the force of nature, herself, and she is not a loving mother.

With any luck YOU will not decide to become a crew member on a ship in the Bering Sea during winter.

I do admire the men who go fishing in all waters, as the seas and Great Lakes are neither kind nor unkind, but always fierce no matter how placid the snorkeling in the Bahamas or the quick dip at Crystal Beach.  If it isn't the wind then its the sun.  If its not the doldrums without wind then its the waves.  The safest body of water is a cup of lukecold coffee that can't scald you... just don't swallow it into your lungs and you will be fine.

Unfortunately when you need to survive usually is not when you would expected: that is why it is called 'surviving' and not 'camping', although the latter can quickly turn to the former if you forget just where you are at in the wilds.  It is interesting that one of the problem cited by Les Stroud, going off into the most desolate regions of the planet during some of its nastiest times of year, is that he has problems getting AWAY from people.  Still the circumstances can happen to you any time you are out doing something else.  And that point is beyond your reckoning, although it usually happens when you would least want it to.

Getting out of a sinking car requires that you actually keep your cool.  Panic will kill you.

Your air time is limited, and in a sinking car with cold water coming up around your legs, you have little time left and yet must be calm at all times, no matter who else is with you, or else they will be dead with you, too.  Mythbusters did an episode on what actually happens when a car sinks, and the very basics of water pressure, air pressure and the force exerted by each is what you would expect: you can only open a car door when there is little inward pressure from the outside or equal pressure on both sides of the door.  If you wait until your head is submerged you can open the car door, unbuckle your belt and calmly float to the surface.  Now if the surface is frozen over you need to find the hole where your car went through and get out. 

If you cannot wait due to the water depth, say if your car fell out of a ferry crossing a deep body of water or something equal, like getting put into the Hudson River, then you need a hard, pointed metal object to break the safety glass of the car.  If you have unbuckled before that and got the straps out of the way, there is a good chance you will get pushed out with the air pocket.  If not then you must keep your head about you and wait for the buckle to be submerged to open it... or use the safety sawing end of something  like the Life Hammer, to get yourself out.  Then no matter what you had in your vehicle, it is what you carry ON YOU that you MUST rely upon.  And you are wet and cold.  And so is your stuff.

That is probably the worst that will happen to you and survival is then a matter of season, getting out of the water, taking your clothes off to dry and keeping warm.  That is all on your person or easily with you at all times, right?

In the James Burke scenario of 'what if the power goes off for good?' idea your vehicle is not only something that can get you into danger, but get you out of it, unless the circumstances are very dire, indeed.  And yet what you need in the vehicle is going to depend on what you think the most likely thing to happen will be.  If a flat tire skidding you off the road and out of sight and keeping the vehicle more or less intact is the situation you think most likely, then you plan for that.  If getting stuck in a 10' snow drift with 60 mph winds and driving snow is what you expect, then you need a different set of essentials.  If you are purposefully leaving the collapse of civilization, then you have a third and very different objective, and yet it overlaps the 'survival with your car disabled' concept.

Still some essentials or equivalents are necessary and must be readily available from the main compartment of your vehicle.  It really doesn't help to have stuff in your trunk if that is the part that is stuck in a snow drift... or the main part of your car stuck in a snow drift and you can't get to your emergency equipment.  If its in the bed of your truck, having stuff secured in it is second nature, and the rear window might help you get to the material there.  In some hatchbacks you have limited space and will need to look at a container accessible in the main compartment of the vehicle.  'Handy items' are not 'handy' if you can't get to them easily.

In Buffalo a sleeping bag, an old Coleman's or milsurp (military surplus), is good enough along with a second blanket, usually wool.  In more moderate climate you can get away with space age 'survival' blankets, although I suggest two per person so there is some ground cover along with a blanket, or the new emergency sleeping bags purpose made for this of the same material.  Casualty blankets are similar, just tougher in construction.  Along with that was a first aid kit, which my Buffalo one was a few band-aids, a roll of gauze and a few prep swabs.  I would improve on that and there are a number of better solutions from 'first aid kit in a can' to 'SAS first aid kit' to 'first aid kit in a water bottle' to the military personal and squad first aid kits.  Any kit should handle the usual scrapes and cuts of outdoor survival for all in the vehicle.

So we now have some basics forming up.

A Life Hammer or equivalent and there are many objects that do this, this is not a recommendation to part but category.

First aid kit from minimal to maximal, but must be good enough for a few days for all expected passengers of a vehicle.  If you are going to take a family, it MUST meet the needs of an expected, survivable accident for all aboard.  Keep any pets in mind, too.  Very flexible, but I would base it on terrain and climate, as well as expected passenger load.

Next I would add either one large quick clot bandage pack or the assorted small pack: if you need to stop a large wound, this is the stuff you want and is near magical at what it does.  That you should be able to scrimp on at one-half the passenger load, so the multi-pack is better for families.  In any event at least ONE of these.

Emergency rain gear.  Never fails that your time for survival happens in the rain and you just went out blithely ignoring it.  Your choices range from minimal (emergency rain poncho, blaze orange) to maximal (milsurp from various countries).  Note that an emergency set of ponchos isn't so good at forming a temporary shelter while two milsurp ones ARE.  Amazing, no?  Its like they planned on that or something.  One per passenger.

Cold weather gear.  If you have milsurp ponchos, get the inserts for them for cold weather.  Otherwise you are looking at real blankets/jackets/leggings/socks/etc.  If you expect cold weather and wear for it, then you are just down to some extras to your regular coat/parka/outdoor arrangement.  If you normally favor thin to no legging arrangements, then supplement that in your vehicle with what you really need to hike out in the cold.  Pretty is not necessary, functional is.  Better to look funny and alive, rather than good looking and frozen stiff.  One per passenger.

Emergency tent.  Cheap and blaze orange runs about $5.  Two milsurp rain ponchos and nylon cord, about $15.  The first is your glove compartment, the latter a larger container.  With one emergency tent, two milsurp ponchos and emergency blanket you now have an emergency camping arrangement, with ground cloth.  One emergency tent per two expected passengers.

Emergency food.  USCG/SOLAS 3600 calorie brick, that breaks down into 9 x 400 calorie cubes, and there are 2400 calorie ones in the same arrangement of 9 sub-squares.  Shelf life, 5 years.  A bit much for the glove compartment and figure on the maximal survival needs for that brick when sizing numbering what you will buy.  MREs are also a good option if you have the space for them.  The main idea is to pack in objects that can either fit in existing space or a small storage container (say a half-sized foot locker or something that can relatively anonymous and not an invitation to having the vehicle broken into.  Minimal human survival is 1200 cals/person/day doing nothing much at human average.  Normal hard working day is two to three times that.  Survival can burn over 7,000 calories per day per person.  You can do without much food for a week or so, but never expect that you will have an emergency where a week is the minimal time to survive... and that week is without doing much of anything.  Suddenly a 3600 calorie brick doesn't look to be that much.

Emergency water.  First are water packets USCG/SOLAS approved.  Next are water treatment tablets.  After that a water treatment system that will kill all bacteria and viruses.  Price goes up from pennies to dollars to tens of dollars.  A water bottle is REALLY handy if you go beyond packets.  Canteens are even better.  How much?  In normal conditions you might go through a quart a day, doing nothing.  In my desert excursions I carried a 5 quart canteen and another quart in water bottles and often found myself out of water after 6 hours.  Hiking during the day in the desert has a high bodily cost.  Hiking alone in temperate climates that 5 quart canteen lasted from dawn to dusk hiking.  One quart is minimal per person per day.

Emergency heating.  An Esbit stove, also known as the German Army personal field stove, uses any solid fuel but prefers the hexamine tablets.  Alcohol stoves as part of mess kits (usually Swedish or Swiss if memory serves) are also a good idea, and they require an alcohol bottle to be with you but is part of a complete mess kit, and the military ones from Sweden or Switzerland make them to fit in very little space.  Also waterproof, burn underwater matches are small, give a few seconds of flame even in a hurricane, and easy to pack away.  Strike anywhere matches are also fine: keep them dry via a container.  Striking devices will get you more sparks, last longer and you don't have to worry about them getting wet, either. At least one of these per group should be minimal and one per person much safer for all concerned, and don't forget things like butane cigarette lighters, either.

Mess kit.  Ever so handy if you think you will need it, and a great place to store little items in case you think you don't.  Really, a lot of small items (water purification tablets, extra stove fuel, even parts of MREs) can go into a mess kit.  At the very least they make a great sound signaling device by banging on them!  Ersatz mirror if you rub them up a bit.  As mentioned above in heating, you can get good milsurp that are a complete small stove and heating cup arrangement, along with fuel.  Esbit or Commando Stove with flatter, more traditional US messkits works fine, too.  One per person.  Don't forget utensils.

Cord.  Nylon, cheap, 100'. Keep in original packing.

Multi-tool.  Many choices from Leatherman to Swiss Army to Gerber to the little credit card one.  If you already carry one, then no need to have one in your vehicle save as back-up.  One per group is minimal, and one per person is best.

Signaling devices.  Reflectors for relatively even surface roads, put down and make sure they stay put.  Flares, USCG/SOLAS are good as are the Cyalume chemical ones used in so many parties.  Cheap, too.  On the serious side beyond the hand helds/stick on the road flares, are wind-up flashlights/strobes some with batteries, some without, all must take hand cranking as a capability so you can power it up if everything else fails.  Really you need some hand signaling devices if you are by the side of the road.  After that you are in serious attention getting areas where a hand flare may not get you seen.  In daylight that also means a mirror, any size, any type, bigger is better but keep in mind the size constraints of the vehicle.  After all of that comes the flare gun, and there are many decent milsurp ones with expensive (but very nice) flares that go very high and you can even get the parachute flare which is a big help in keeping a signal in the air for a longer period of time.  A step below that are the USCG/SOLAS ones which are good enough for ship emergencies and signaling.  One per group, minimal, and one per person is best.

One large pack to hold all this, or smaller ones to divvy out per person.  Things like haversacks, buttpacks, musette bags, bread bags, gas mask bags... all of these have storage for an individual to carry comfortably.  If you have few people to pack for, still get smaller satchels/bags even if you invest in a large pack for everything.  You can either share the load, or have handy-dandy sub-packs to put stuff into and throw in the larger pack.


For the pure emergency concept all of the high-tech, blaze orange gear, plus food brick, mess kit, first aid kit with quick clot bandage, reflectors, hand-held Cyalumes, multi-tool and a few packets of emergency water or purification tablets/pills, Life Hammer... all of that is glove compartment compatible with some parts suitable for under seat stowage (mess kit, first aid kit), or for mounting next to your seat or in other handy places (Life Hammer, water bottles/canteens with carabiners).  Tools can either be kept in purpose made holsters, or lightly oiled, wrapped in cloth, and tossed into a plastic bag for safe keeping.  Don't forget that oil part for iron and steel that will just be sitting in your car.  Your engine does that naturally as part of what it does.

Moving up to milsurp ponchos, MREs, wind-up signaling device (or similar solar one), flare gun, emergency weather gear (cold weather normally, but your environment may have other requirements), that all goes WITH the true emergency gear as these are extended time necessities for rough terrain.... all of that needs dedicated storage where it is 'handy'.  Folks already doing off-roading have most of this, and if you don't off-road and expect that your climate/terrain/circumstances can put you out of touch with the rest of humanity for a few days and your vehicle end up a no-go then you need the extended kit. 

That being said if you are waiting FOR rescue and your vehicle CAN be spotted from the air, then stay with the vehicle.  Really, it is larger than you are, has a compartment that can be sealed from the elements and your body is a lovely heat source!  And that heat is FREE for the effort involved of keeping you alive.  Trekking out should be a last resort in an emergency...just keep your ration use low because if your circumstances change and you realize you DO need to hike out, you will need to eat some food and have some water to survive the trek.  The rations are necessary to keep your body interested in surviving, stave off the worst of hunger pangs and allow you to remain calm and parcel out your needs.  Trekking out puts you into Les Stroud/Bear Grylls territory and you can watch their programs to learn the basics of trekking out.  Getting stuck in a ditch off of a main highway is one thing.  Your car swept away by a flash flood another.  Going off-road by accident and your car and you not visible to anyone, a third.  In some place you can go from the first to the second to the third in under five minutes.

Then there is the 'everything has failed and isn't coming back' packing in your car.  What you have packed away in the extended emergency concept is very close to this and your vehicle, properly parked out of sight, serves as your first and primary safety device.  If you can get it and you to a relatively safe place where you can forage and even scout a bit, you then have some time to see how events play out.  There are lots of things you will wish that you had with you that you don't have.  But with what you do have, you have the very basics to wait out a few weeks recognizing that you need to recognize how to catch/dress small game and find edible plants/nuts/roots in your area.  That requires you to prepare if you are serious about that endeavor, and there is a whole section of books that have been written about this, including Les Stroud's one on living off the grid.  Notice that the 'grid' is civilization in the way of electricity, potable water, sewage and trade areas for manufactured goods.  If you are that serious then your home is probably off grid already.

Mind you if you are expecting an EMP attack, then your vehicle (unless it was made without ANY computerized components) will be a lovely hunk of metal, rubber, and volatile fluids.  If you took the enhanced emergency concept, then you are now in the 'trek out' option by default.  And you are 'living off the grid' with no preparation for it, which could be an urban area in the middle of the day.  If you are serious (dead serious) about this 'survival after EMP attack' thing, then a nice pre-computerized, pre-mid-1970's vehicle is for you.  In Buffalo those used to be known as 'rust buckets' and not expected to do much save be drivable during the winter.  Your want or ability to keep one up is up to you.  If your legs can last hiking from urban to suburban to rural to wilderness then you only need your stamina and calories to feed it.

For most everyday people this living in non-contact with the grid of technic civilization is a hard one, yet it is but one EMP burst away.  Or one very, very nasty solar storm aimed at Rock 3.  In the former the Nation has been attacked and been brought low and we might have an ally or two willing to help us.  If we don't screw that up, that is.  In the latter there is no 'outside rescue' anyone will ever see and the planet is on DIY principles and rebuilding from the ground up as we no longer have the tools to make the tools to make the tools to make the tools to make modern equipment: we have stepped back into the 1950's as the best, most useful, 'high tech' outside hardened electronics in the armed forces. 

If you can't Do It Yourself or prove an asset to those who CAN during those times, then you have a survival problem.  Getting the skills to be an asset to yourself then makes you an asset to others and is the basis for all civilization.  Being civilized is up to you.  And, no, the skills for the 'hood in the way of gangsta-anything are NOT survival skills.  They are suited to a degraded society that remains technic, by and large, and when the power goes off the drugs dry up, the electricity doesn't make anything work, the music stops, the clean water stops, the sewage stops, and without the necessary skills you will soon be stopped, too.  Being a barbarian only goes so far, and with the knowledge and resources held by those who do not place great faith in the nature of man to survive such events, they are prepared to use their Liberty and natural right of self-defense to recreate civilization.

Knowing how to make a spreadsheet is nice, but not a handy survival skill.  Flint knapping is a handy survival skill.

Knowing how to operate an MP3 player is nice, but not a handy survival skill.  Fishing is a handy survival skill.

The use of indirect tools that have multiple layers of technology between you and the tool usually means the skills to use those things is of relatively little use in a survival situation where there is no 'grid' to attach to.

Thus the things you pack for an emergency will have to stand you in good stead until you get those necessary skills and can find time to hone them while keeping alive.

Would most of our technology succumb to an EMP burst or long solar storm directed at the planet?

A lot would be fried, yes.  Even the bursts of nuclear devices in the '40s and '50s saw some equipment problems with lovely vacuum tube technology that is pre-hardened by being vacuum tube technology.  The major joke of the 1960's and 1970's was that the USSR, by being backwards on technology, actually had a more survivable infrastructure than the high-tech US for EMP attack.  Outside of the early tests and induced ground current events from solar flares, no one really knows what would happen with a properly devised and situated attack or a few days long solar event.  This makes your grandparent's household items from the 1920's to 1950's far more useful than your parent's items from the 1960's onwards.  Simple mechanical tools not depending on high tech will do well, by and large, while electronics is a spotty gamble.  What would the death toll to these sorts of events be?

For the US only a few tens of millions dead for the EMP attack, at worse.

For the rest of the world to have the 'grid' taken off-line on at least a 5 year basis, if not for good?

The planet could sustain 2 billion people quite well before modern high tech, and would continue to do so.  Those in the poorest reaches would both have the highest death toll at start and the fastest recovery rate in the long term.  A more technic area would have problems that would grow worse as learning that what we knew isn't coming back would only sink in once initial supplies ran out.  Then you are in the James Burke area of things.

Mind you, this is not the worst I can think up... this is just the worst survivable event I can see that has a high probability of happening in the extremely short range timeframe.  Neither of these are true extinction events.  Our species can survive one of those massive events, but that depends on getting off of Rock 3 from the star Sol.  There are other things actually as bad or worse than this in store for North America and other parts of the globe.  The sort of preparedness I am outlining will serve you well in some of those, too.

If you take the precaution to prepare ahead of time and don't put off to tomorrow what can be done today.

Your vehicle is but a contrivance to ensure that you have extended mobility.  When it is no longer mobile, you are down to YOU.  Any first object of such mobility should be to get to your next and greatest haven of supplies: your home.  With precautions you can get along for awhile with what you have on you and in your vehicle.  It is unlikely that any medications you need will survive temperatures inside your vehicle, so you will end up doing without until you reach the next place where you KNOW they are secured, and quickly.

No one will do this for you if things go horribly wrong.

Being out of touch with civilization and waiting for rescue is one thing.

Rescuing civilization requires you to be civilized and survive.

And it does mean thinking about the worst so that you don't worry about it.  Some events are out of the hands of any government to protect you from, and are, yet, well known and will happen.  No one is looking out for you when they do happen.  Stranded by bad luck is one thing.  Surviving the forces of nature quite another and skills play a large role in survival.  Those that survived the Katmai and knew NOTHING of survival on the Bering Sea followed experience and lucked out.  For you this means preparing and not fetishizing over such things. 

If they happen you are prepared. 

And if they don't you are prepared for less worse things to happen.

If your family is with you, then you lead by example no matter your age.

Keep calm.

Think of your destination.

Take what you have that will help you survive to it.

No one can do this for you.


And you will end your worries about it because you have prepared and are confident in yourself.

Even if thrown to chance, you CAN and SHOULD load the dice in your favor.

09 July 2009

The unimportant Vices

Arthur Sewall

Thomas Edward Watson

Adlai E. Stevenson

Henry G. Davis

John Worth Kern

Hiram Johnson

Nicholas Murray Butler

Charles W. Fairbanks

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Charles W. Bryan

Burton K. Wheeler

Joseph Taylor Robinson

Charles Curtis

Frank Knox

Charles L. McNary

John W. Bricker

Earl Warren

Fielding L. Wright

John Sparkman

Estes Kefauver

Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.

William E. Miller

Edmund Muskie

Curtis LeMay

Sargent Shriver

Bob Dole

Walter Mondale

Geraldine Ferraro

Lloyd Bentsen

Dan Quayle

James Stockdale

Jack Kemp

Joe Lieberman

John Edwards

Sarah Palin


That is the list of 20th to 21st century losing Vice Presidential candidates.

Of those only FDR went on to become President on his own.

One would go on to the Supreme Court, that being Earl Warren.

Which one of these had their family attacked in the media on a constant basis after LOSING their bid for office?

Outside of the two mentioned as attaining President or a position on the Supreme Court would go on to change the course of the Nation via good legislation?  None of them, actually.  And you can even include the two exceptions in that.

For anyone who says that Sarah Palin deserves extra and especial notice because she was a VP candidate: you actually need to look at the history of the LOSING VP candidates and ask yourself which one in that list received such attention as a LOSING candidate?

None of them.  Not a single one.

Losing the Presidential spare tire position is not a disgrace, not an indictment of character, not of any real note save for the rare times that someone actually achieves high office on their OWN merits or via connections, in the case of Earl Warren.

Going back to the Founding you will have a hard time finding a VP candidate who LOST in the party-based system who has gotten anything like the microscope of Sarah Palin.  Yes some do receive LATER review when they try for high office again on their OWN MERITS.  Between their loss and that time they generally drop out of the National spotlight.  Some disappear from general public view completely while still serving time as Governor or Senator or Representative.

Given that history and that it goes far back in US political history, just why is it that Sarah Palin deserves or merits any additional attention by ANYONE in the media, be it news or comedy venue, when she received the failing mark in the lower half of a ticket that is almost always a judgment on the TOP of the ticket?  Where is the scrutiny on John McCain?  Or Al Gore?  Richard Nixon gave his 'Checkers Speech' to get the media to drop the spotlight on him, but it never, ever went to his wife and daughters.

The history of US politics demonstrates that we, as a people, really don't give much of a damn about VP candidates on the losing ticket... and not much more than that to the ones on the winning ticket, come to that.

That no one in politics will come to the defense of her FAMILY shows extreme and absolute cowardice by the politicians of Incumbistan.  THEY are uncomfortable that Sarah Palin got ANY notice on a ticket that was moribund before she got to it.  What these politicians forget is that by not speaking up for simple, basic civil decency, they then allow that to erode in the public sphere and the next targets will be THEM.  Because this 'barrier was broken' in a negative sense, because no one stands to shame the media in ANY venue in the public attention, we are losing the last few shreds of civil discourse in our Republic.

And do note most of the heads of the ticket that lost also had similar disappearing from the spotlight acts... like John McCain who vows for so much decency and civility, and then does not stand up for those attacking the woman HE CHOSE to be on his ticket.  That is the act of a politician, not a Gentleman.  Apparently we have no Gentlemen or Gentlewomen in politics who can stand up for common, basic civil decency in political campaigns.  That means we are becoming a base culture in the public venue and that must translate to the private venue as the public is but a reflection of our own character as a People.  Getting elected to high office in the public venue makes YOU the reflective surface of our society, and when those surfaces go dark then it is our society and culture that is going dark to cause that.

Will no one in the public venue stand up for civility and for letting a woman who LOST her bid in the Presidential spare-tire position go about her life without continued attacks?  Going to speak at a CHARITY event her teenage daughter who was NOT the one who had a child out of wedlock is the one who has rape jokes made about her.   Rape is a crime.  Statutory rape a heinous crime.  That should not be a fit subject for ANY joke about ANY one.  And yet which politicians stood up to denounce this?  These the great reflection of our society by being our representatives, who had the moral courage and ethical will to stand up and say: 'Enough is enough, let this woman and her family BE'?

That crosses political lines as raising and protecting a family goes across our culture.  Gays and Lesbians who lobby for marriage rights should be as appalled... no MORE appalled when the very product of the institution they desire is now being ripped to shreds in the public spotlight.  If you want the decency of respect for an institution and get into the public spotlight, then you had better damned well stand UP for that institution when it is attacked by anyone.  Cherishing our children is not a matter of 'gender politics' but a duty to ALL OF US.  Anyone who sponsored any legislation 'for the children' has to stand up against this because they made it a source of their guiding light for making legislation they had better damned well stand UP when children are basely attacked in the public venue.  That no one would stand up for that IN the public spotlight is horrific.  That is not a matter of 'Left' or 'Right' but of simple decency.

Take a look at that list.

One became President on his own rights.

One was placed in the Supreme Court.

And only one had their family attacked as 'legitimate targets' in public discourse.

That is why I do support Gov. Palin.

Someone has to stand up for civil discourse in the public venue and I will if no one else DARES to.  We will not have a society, a country, a Nation if that line is not held by someone.  And all such fights starts with YOU being civil.  I can do that.  Each of us can do that.  It is barbaric not to do that: I am a civilized barbarian and know true barbarism when I see it.  I see it and call it for what it is.

Gov. Palin and her family can now do as they like.  If they don't ever want to show up on the political venue again, that is fine by me.  If they want to run hunting and fishing lodges or join in with the Bering Sea fishing fleets, that is also fine by me... and the latter would be going a bit back on their careers, which makes you think a bit when you see what the Bering Sea can do to men and ships.

They have my support in that, as paltry as one man's support can be when fallen on hard times.  I make no especial plea for myself and I am glad to see she does not do that for herself.

I do, indeed, like her as a woman.  I like her as a politician which, given my relatively low rate of agreement on topics, demonstrates just how little I like politicians.  And I especially like her because she does, indeed, 'walk the walk' and when she says her family is important to HER she ACTS on that.

Damn I wish we had more politicians who would do that for civil society.

One will do, however.

One woman, with courage, makes a majority.