The Zombie Apocalypse


Zombie, here, is not looking for dogs. Dogs will be one of the great survivors of the zombie apocalypse. This is because they are spectacularly stupid. Years of domestication has selected for mindless obedience. The net result is that even the hungriest zombie would avoid dogs. Despite the risks associated with having delicious braiiiiins, we really, really don't want this to happen to us.

We all know that the zombie apocalypse is coming, but when, exactly? Well, if the movies are anything to go by, I would say quite soon. Indeed, if you can bear it, it probably makes sense to hang around teenagers as they seem to have the best plans for dealing with zombies shuffling around looking for delicious, succulent braiiiiiins to feast on. Assuming you survive the apocalypse then you will be wanting to get down to the serious business of rebuilding the human race. Where will you start? Obviously there will need to be an awful lot of sex to get the population growing again (something every nerd with a zombie apocalypse emergency rucksack is relying on) but there are considerably more practical issues to deal with, like fire, for example. Could you light a fire with nothing but two empty lighters to rub together? After the shops have been cleaned out, you are going to need to know some basics that the general population have been ill equipped to deal with for some decades now: a basic survival ability that is degrading rapidly.

I got thinking about this when I read Rome Sweet Rome on Reddit. Go read it now, it is a cool short story in which an entire battalion of modern marines ends up 2000 years back at the time of Augustus Caesar. Armed with Apache helicopters, armoured vehicles, rockets, guns and all sorts of other modern magic they could clearly wipe the floor with roman soldiers. Well, for a while, anyway, because all that incredible equipment is one fuel tank away from being utterly fucking useless. I was curious, what of today’s technology could I, personally, reproduce if I was one of the lucky few that survived the brain harvesting of a zombie apocalypse?

Fire, I can do. Half-arsed shelter I can do. And with fire, I can boil water, wash, drink safely and I can cook. Starvation will eventually allow me to kill animals for munching on so from a basic “ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ alive” perspective I think that I am ok. But what about electricity and all the wonderful benefits that it brings? What about antibiotics? Aspirin? Paracetamol? Cement? Could I make pottery and bricks? Could I refine oil? What about steel? Or iron, even. Do I even know what iron ore looks like? What about measuring temperature, making machines to move about in, assist with farming or press grapes?

Grapes for wine

I drunk these grapes in their alcoholic form over a delicious dinner just months later.

In fact, on the subject of grapes, could I make wine? Yes, actually, I could, but that is thanks to Mrs Cobra’s parents showing me how. Without the rest of the modern kit and knowledge, though, it is pretty safe to say that my expected lifespan would take a plunge back to that of the late middle ages which probably means I would be living on borrowed time. At least I would have something nice to drink, though, whilst I made my own coffin.

We live longer and happier lives because of scientific development. Our knowledge has expanded and we have gradually done away with superstition and magic and moved towards learning about how the universe around us works and how to harness that knowledge. However, as science advances, the ability for the average person on the street to understand how everything actually works is decaying at a huge rate: the gap between what we use and our ability to comprehend it is growing. Nobody I know is going to be baking silicon and making their own microprocessors. Likewise, it is beyond all but a precious few minds to figure out how to make a modern car work if it breaks down. Twenty years ago, many blokes were capable of stripping down a car to the bone and putting it back together again1. Armed with a Haynes manual, every detail of car maintenance was within your grasp. These days, it is all one massively complex sealed unit with a million times more computing power than the US space program landed men on the moon with. There goes basic mechanics as a general skill that many people had.

Use the brain, Luke

The Internet age is robbing us of something else: the need and desire to have this knowledge either in our brains or written down on paper. Be it a zombie apocalypse, deadly virus, alien invasion, super volcano, massive asteroid strike or surprise dinosaur renaissance, as a survivor you will have to bootstrap humanity without Wikipedia to help you out. Today, the average group of survivors would be lucky to do better than a twelfth century lifestyle. However, thirty years back, it might have been the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Thirty years back from there the gap might have only been a hundred years, if that. Building radios, generating electricity, making pots and pans, creating and using metals, harnessing steam power and all the benefits from them was within the grasp of the average village sized group. With a few non-battery powered books (you know, the ones made of paper), the range of possibilities was even broader. Such understanding is important. Knowing how things work provides a better quality of life.

Modern times are turning us Joe Sixpacks into sheeplike users and operators, not creators, engineers, inventors, researchers and mechanics. We make nothing, but we use everything. Rest assured: your Facebook, web browsing and smart phone using skills have no value at all when you are a lone beacon of hope in a world ravished by brain nibbling zombies. I’ve moaned about this before from the perspective of computers and in the context of my hopes for the Raspberry Pi. Should they ever deal with the supply issues that will allow me to get my mitts on one I hope to find a device build around encouraging learning, building and tinkering that doesn’t frighten a new generation away by smothering them in a bible’s worth of API documentation before they can stick their name on the screen.

Oooo – it’s clouding up

We are increasingly dependent on technologies that we do not understand. In turn, these technologies are dependent on other technologies that we also don’t understand, and so on. Your contact list and email are probably stored in a data centre in the states somewhere rather than in your head or on paper. This blog is served to you from an old bunker at Karlsruhe Baden-Baden airport in Germany. If “The Cloud” (which, let’s face it, is really 1960s terminal-mainframe architecture reinvented2) fails then you’re potentially screwed on at least nine levels.

Now, I am not some sort of Luddite. I love and have embraced the cloud, but I wouldn’t lend it my wallet, rattlesnake or kidneys. I would, though, allow my life to be enhanced by ensuring that my contacts, calendar and a whole bunch of important files are available to me anywhere on the globe where I have an Internet connection. I also love knowing that I can edit this document on several devices and it will automagically be up to date in seconds. Neat. But none of that stops me from taking responsibility for my own encrypted multi-site backups and you can rest assured that I carry hard copies of everything that really has value to me. In the near future a breakdown of either the Internet or your chosen cloud services could render you utterly stupid. Something to look forward to, eh?


A lack of understanding breeds dependency. It allows the few to control the lives of the many with increasing ease. Whilst most of us will never need to reinvent any of the fundamental technologies that we rely on for comfort and happiness, understanding the very basics of how they work is, I believe, critical to both maintaining our freedom and preventing magic and superstition from reasserting its position in our lives. Knowledge is, and will remain, power. Don’t let your little bit of that power vanish into the Internet.

1 But not me. I can barely change a light bulb.
2 This was a time when computers were real big and real expensive. Thus, many people used one bug computer from lots of dumb terminals that were merely screens and keyboards. Without the mainframe they were connected to, they were useless… which is how you might feel if everything you require is on the Internet and you have no Internet. In the meanwhile, your cloud service has your balls (or boobs, or balls and boobs) in their hands and your ability to work without them falls like a body into a mineshaft.

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7 Responses to The Zombie Apocalypse

  1. Montaigne says:

    God, where to start?

    Let’s start with the zombie apocalypse.

    You seem to be assuming that civilisation will crash and all technology will be utterly wiped out, which clearly won’t be the case. There will still be plenty of tech’ lying about because the majority of the populace will be dead or trying to munch on your still breathing torso and so the sheer volume of kit available will be huge.

    I’ve already planned out what I need to do in case there is a zombie apocalypse. I live in Gloucester Docks so there are several areas where ground can be fenced off to create choke points and killing grounds.

    My flat is on the third floor and actually has a private walkway to get to the door. It’s only 3 feet wide so would be easily blockaded.

    The local tri-centre for the police, ambulance and fire brigade is about 2 miles away. As well as a helicopter landing pad (and helicopter) this should also be the place where the Gloucestershire armed response unit is based i.e. there should be an armoury there with guns; lots and lots of guns!

    Next to Gloucester Docks is Alney Island bird sanctuary which is actually an island, with 4 easily defensible bridges and a significant proportion of open fields and surrounded by the Severn.

    On the same subject of zombies, this is quite cool:

    I understand what you mean about technology, in the sense that it really is approaching the feeling of magic, as opposed to being able to look at something and know that you could have a good chance of building it. Knowledge is so esoteric for certain devices that it might as well be magic but I don’t really see this as a bad thing.

    Technology and continued advances in technology (expanding at an exponential rate) truly offer the chance of solving all of mankind’s problems, despite all of the possible ethical issues, privacy issues, freedom issues etc and so I consider the possible benefits to be worth the possible negative aspects.

    I think this opinion you have about technology may be an age thing :) People complain about the same issues throughout history and hearken back to a simpler, easier time but in reality it doesn’t exist. I imagine there were those in the military that were concerned about having to give up pike drills, complaining that any soldier would know how to make a long pole and stick a knife on the end of it but how many could construct a musket from scratch, let alone it’s propellant?!

    The only time you could argue that it was possible to properly manage everything yourself I think would be around the time of being a hunter gatherer. As soon as you add specialisation into the mix, even in the iron age, nobody would be able to know about everything they would need to do, in order to live.

    We are increasingly dependent on technologies that we do not understand. In turn, these technologies are dependent on other technologies that we also don’t understand, and so on.

    Would you know how to make steel? Do you have the knowledge to dig up the coal and iron? Could you build a furnace? Once you’d created the steel would you know how to take that and other materials to turn it into a steam engine? Once you had the steam engine would you know how to turn it into a thresher?

    From the point humanity started to move to cities we lost the ability to turn our hands to everything required in order to live to the standard expected at the time but I prefer it to the alternative of going backwards in technology.

    It allows the few to control the lives of the many with increasing ease.

    This is why it is important to be one of the few rather than one of the many. But then the few have always ruled the many. The strongest, the smartest, the most violent are always in control. True democracy frankly strikes me as a terrifying prospect.

    • Chief Cobra says:

      It’s not often one gets a comment longer than the blog post itself! Feel free to write a guest post for this blog any time you like!

      I’ll start at the end first – I agree that true democracy is terrifying. Well, it certainly is without the appropriate grade of education that allows people to make smart decisions. In the meanwhile, yes, absolutely – it is best to be one of the few, not the many.

      I’m very impressed with your Zombie Apocalypse preparations: you seem to have given this a lot of consideration. Near here, there is a court building that I call the Fortress of Justice which is an easy to defend round construction with only small windows on the first floor or two. Should zombies start their brain harvesting programme around here, I’ll be gathering myself and my “army of the few” there, I think.

      Part of the issue with technology lying around is that it is a finite supply. Once the zombies have been defeated, “tech lying around” will be a resource that gets smaller over time with no ability to refresh it. The only hope will be to start from the ground and work upwards again towards it and this requires knowledge to be in a form that can still be accessed for a long period of time: i.e., in writing and not on the cloud.

      Having said all that, though, I do accept that technology is making our lives better. We live longer, we have more spare time, we are healthier and we are able to share and communicate in a way that those before us could never have dreamed of. In short, life is good, even if we are risking putting all our eggs into the baskets of a precious few corporate entities for whom we did not vote (Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.).

  2. Montaigne says:

    I shall reply in more detail at the end of the day but just wanted to make a quick point:

    In short, life is good, even if we are risking putting all our eggs into the baskets of a precious few corporate entities for whom we did not vote (Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.).

    The reason those three examples are so powerful is due to user participation. Surely voting is simply a low level form of participation. Sure you can say that using their services does not mean that users have any influence on the way they behave as a corporate entity but is that not the same criticism of belonging to a representative democracy?

  3. Montaigne says:

    Part of the issue with technology lying around is that it is a finite supply. Once the zombies have been defeated, “tech lying around” will be a resource that gets smaller over time with no ability to refresh it. The only hope will be to start from the ground and work upwards again towards it and this requires knowledge to be in a form that can still be accessed for a long period of time: i.e., in writing and not on the cloud.

    I don’t think people will lose the ability to find technology, hook computers up to houses with solar power or wind power that haven’t been demolished or burnt down etc but yes if you remove the industry the knowledge will eventually fade but I suppose this depends on how much of the population remains.

    It reminds me of Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri where a colony is started up but one of the interactions with one of the characters about getting satellites up into orbit is that whilst the colonists arrived in a space ship that has travelled thousands of light years this does not mean that when they land they have a burgeoning space exploration economy. Putting spacecraft in space requires a huge amount of investment, heavy industry, a serious community of brains throughout the world etc so just because you have a certain level of technology or understand that level of technology does not mean that you’re any less constrained in building it as someone who has never heard of a satellite (I guess that is a long way around to saying I agree with you lol).

    Actually that wasn’t quite as long as I was expecting it to be. In that case I will explain my entertaining time trying to read your Twitter page several weeks ago.

    I do not have a Twitter account so I would click on your page, get a microsecond of the image of the page and then it would load to a login page or some such to Twitter.

    I spent a while trying to read the page through lots of refreshes, one word at a time then in the end got bored with the futility of this so started refreshing the page, hitting print screen then pasting the results into Paint to read the results. It was like Internet fishing.

    • Chief Cobra says:

      One of the catches with technology as it gets more advanced is that it ages badly. Everything is so small and densely packed that it is less tolerant to corrosion. I would wager that if you stick an iPhone in a shed it’ll definitely not work a decade later.

      You make an interesting point with the Alpha Centuri reference: you need a certain size of population to be able to handle whole classes of industry and technology reproduction.

      Internet Fishing sounds like a blast! There is, however, a marginally easier way of reading my occasional rubbish tweets: get a twitter account! This has the added bonus of increasing my followers by 20% after which I will probably qualify as a Social Media Expert.

  4. Montaigne says:

    Don’t you find that there’s an intentionally inbuilt obsolescence with modern technology though. If you make your products too robust people won’t need to buy the next model?

    I’m sure if the iPhone needed to be robust i.e. the US military decided to equip their soldiers with iPhones and iPads for combat support situations (think in-field drone launches) then Apple would work out a way to make their products stand up to a lot more punishment.

    Re: the Alpha Centauri point, I think after any catastrophic event which was worldwide i.e. where the situation could not be resolved through assistance from outside entities unaffected by the initial problem, we would simply slip back into a way of life similar to the dawn of civilisation i.e. an agrarian society with bands of warrior nomads exploiting the farmers.

    The whole situation may be a little bit mad maxish initially but I expect the constraints of the environment to mould society e.g. we won’t all immediately coalesce into cities again because it won’t be possible to generate enough food to support large enough populations.

    I’d like to think, however, that the environment would be somewhat more advanced in that whilst most individuals have no idea how to generate electricity they still understand the basic principles of democracy, the importance of clean water supplies, germ theory, a fair judiciary, photosynthesis, a rough idea of genetics (and therefore breeding advantageous traits into livestock and grain), how to better manage agriculture (greenhouses, basic animal husbandry, irrigation, complementary crops, use of manure etc).

    There’s a tremendous amount of useful knowledge in a person’s brain that can be applied to these situations. For example the person who understands what a windmill or a watermill is is at a much greater advantage than someone who would actually have to invent these items from scratch. I know what a water wheel is used for and I understand it’s principle but I couldn’t build one now.

    If I lived in a hut in wasteland but with enough food to live on from growing food around me I may not be able to understand how to build a watermill but if I have nothing else to do then it becomes a case of trial and error and something that I am likely to continue trying to resolve because if I can manage it I have created a labour saving device that makes me more prosperous and maintains more people than just me. This then creates the basis of trade i.e. a surplus that I can exchange for other goods or services.

    I forgot the word “irrigation” so I was typing search terms online to find it out and found videos for Minecraft teaching people how to build canals and water trenches. I think we might be amazed about how much practical knowledge is actually imparted into peoples’ brains just from computer games, especially given all the farm and garden simulators we seem to play.

    I’m avoiding Twitter. It’s one of those things that everyone gets and I have so far avoided and I wear it as a badge of honour, in much the same way as being able to say that I have never played World of Warcraft. It’s a completely silly stance but I feel that I stand out from the crowd because of it but am well aware that I may just appear to be a grumpy old fogey.

    I don’t really see the point of Twitter though for day to day living. I definitely don’t understand the point of Foursquare. It genuinely seems to have been invented by someone intent on a very lucrative second career of home invasions and burglaries.

    “I have just arrived at the airport”
    “I am on the plane to Jakarta”
    “I am in my hotel”
    “I am on the plane to London”
    “My house has been robbed whilst I was away”.

    It makes no sense. In fact these technologies on the one hand seem designed to make us closer as a community in an age where we are never more apart but at the same time each new craze is shredding personal privacy and protection online whilst giving us ever more impressive ways to waste time.

    Having said this I will be getitng a twitter account in the next few months for my business but I’m never going to get a personal Twitter account.

    Ooh a Social Media Expert? Then you could branch out into SEO and guarantee number one spots on Google for everything.

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