Chapter 18: Will a shield save your apocalyptic bacon?

When you see a tool or weapon used again and again throughout history, in just about every culture, it makes you think: yeah, that’s pretty useful.

Hammers and saws. Ropes and wheels.

Swords and shields.

Previous posts have looked at what gear, weapons and vehicles might be smart for any flavor of apocalypse, whether you like (a) zombies going nom-nom-nom, (b) robots turning sentient and deciding they don’t like being slaves or (c) climate change turning Waterworld into prophecy. And listen, every flavor of apocalypse tastes equally bad. I pray to whatever gods that listen that we can avoid calamity and chaos. 

HOWEVER: It is fun, and interesting, to talk about this stuff, and figuring whether you want to look Lowes or the mall first. (I know you want to do that. It’s okay.)

And shields are a serious thing to think about. They keep popping up throughout history.

So let’s talk it through.

A Mondo Vibranium Shield of Invulnerability

The temptation is to go all crazy and build the toughest shield possible, a work of art that will laugh at arrows, eat bullets and make swords break in half.

I mean, that sort of shield works great for Captain America and Wonder Woman, right?

Okay, yeah. Raise your right hand if you want a shield, your left hand for a lightsaber and keep them up if you’d sell your car to get a shield AND a lightsaber.

Everybody who didn’t raise both hands is lying.

Here’s the problem: you’re not making Wonder Woman / Captain America shield.

Not today, in your heated garage with electricity and power tools.

Not tomorrow, after you buy a bunch of welding equipment and somehow find a bunch of titanium, vibranium and uranium.

And not during any sort of apocalypse, where you won’t have electricity or power tools. Seriously. You won’t, and any book or movie about the apocalypse that features electricity is Cheaty McCheatypants. 

Another clue that the movie or book cheats harder than the Astros and Patriots in a game of Who Can Steal Signs Better: clean-shaven, well-groomed heroes. Nope. Everybody in the ‘pocalypse gonna make the Duck Dynasty boys look well-groomed.

Time to get brutally practical

If you read a little about shields throughout history , a few things pop out immediately.

First, any shield had to be light enough to carry on long marches. Ten pounds is about it.

Second, even the armies that really relied on shield-and-spear formations–which isn’t a bad way to go–didn’t actually have heavy metal shields. They had light, wooden shields, reinforced with all sorts of stuff: metal or rawhide edging, linen and glue, leather. 

Third, soldiers didn’t see shields as some kind of invincible, long-term tool. They knew a shield would get beat up and possibly destroyed, so these things weren’t expensive family heirlooms like swords or suits of armor. Shields were disposable and replaceable. If one saved your life exactly one time, hey, it worked. And if a shield got smashed up, making a new one wasn’t hard.

Making a scrapyard shield of the apocalypse

Our limitations are pretty logical, then: 

(a) raw material that’s easy to find

(b) hand tools instead of power tools

(c) a final shield that’s lightweight and easy to repair or replace

So I tested it out and made one, then learned from my mistakes and made a SECOND SHIELD, embracing the scientific method of “make a Serious Plan, follow it to the letter until you learn that it Seriously Sucks, then give it another go.”

Shield Number 1: Wooden Pallet Craziness

As for raw materials, I went with the following main materials:

  • A pallet of wood. The boards were about 5.5 inches wide by four feet long, thick enough to be sturdy. Pallets are insanely common and basically scrapwood.
  • Two wooden stakes to hold it together. Also common and easy to find.
  • Wood glue and common screws to finish it off.

This thing had the shape of an octagon (think stop sign), which would seem to make sense at first, being a rough circle.

How did it turn out?

Using a wooden pallet may sound smart. Common sense.

Nope. This is a terrible idea.

Wooden pallets have poor-quality wood. Spectacularly so. The wood they use in pallets is also thickier and heavier than you’d want in a shield.

Gluing the pieces together was also a giant mess that didn’t work out. Wooden pallets have incredibly rough cuts.Smooth, perfectly straight wood might glue together fine. These things weren’t meant to be glued.

When finished, the shield was not just too big, but incredibly heavy, and more useful as a portable wall than a shield. 

Verdict? Straight into the garbage can.

Shield Number 2: Cedar Fence Special

You can find cedar fences anywhere, making this a solid idea. The wood is a lot thinner than what you find in a wooden pallet, and a lot higher quality. YES.

I went with a hexagon instead of octagon, which saved weight while still having a roughly circular shape.

To strengthen it, I hammered a bunch of extra steel plates meant to protect wiring (yes, they probably have a name, and no, I have no idea) along the edges, with some thin scrap metal plates in the center.

The final steps, which aren’t done yet, would be attaching a handle or rope, then covering the front with duct tape to protect it from water, give it extra strength and cover up the scrap metal.

Didn’t use glue at all on this one–turns out you don’t need to. Screws all the way.

Verdict: Completely doable. 

Is a shield smart?

Yes, as long as you treat it as a cheap, disposable object and keep it small.

Marching long distances with any sort of giant shield would be a good way tire yourself out.

If you’ve got a group of people with you, whether it’s three or thirty, I’d want everybody to have a small shield to protect themselves and each other. Honestly, if you’re wandering around the wastelands and see six random people with machetes and garden tools, then another six people with matching shields and spears, you’re gonna steer clear of the folks with shields. Especially if they do a decent formation with shields making it hard to hit them, and spears stabbing you before you get close enough to even try.

To maximize the effect of shields, use your Psych 201 skills. Paint every shield with the same colors or symbol, because the absolute last thing you want to do in the ‘pocalypse is mess with people who belong to a gang or army, and get hunted down by Robert Duvall or whatever. 

Also, if your band of survivors gets good enough with swords and shields in formation, it means eventually doing stuff like this. You know, in epic slow motion.

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A tale of two apocalyptic infographics–waste money and die or get smart and live

Since prepping went mainstream, of course people made infographics out of the apocalypse.

Let’s pick two examples, one that doubles down on Conventional Wisdom that Will Get You Killed and a second graphic that could turn you into Mad Max.

Don’t Do Any of These Things

Sure, you need food and water. But are you really going to carry $5,000 worth of groceries and water around in your backpack? No. Not even with a squad.

Which is why they’re saying hey, you need $10,000 for a pickup. Which sounds smart until you consider that the roads will be a mess in any sort of apocalypse, nobody will be producing more guzzoline and you’ll have no luck finding spare parts or mechanics.

The huge red flag is the one with the biggest price tag: $330,000 to buy land and build a bunker.

Anybody who’s checked out bunkers knows they have maybe six months of food and water. Once the gas for the generator runs out, you’re also in trouble in terms of heat and power. 

If you’re building a bunker, it’s really a $330,000 coffin, because you will be unprepared to go on the surface and find new sources of food and shelter.

You’re far, far better off building an old-fashioned log cabin in the woods by a stream. No electricity. Nothing fancy. Could do it for free–all it would take is labor. Ditch the fancy gear and guns (nobody will be making new bullets) and stick to fishing, hunting, trapping and foraging. That’s a lot more sustainable, and cheaper, than what this infographic is telling folks to do.

So yeah, all of this advice is pretty bad, though the infographic looks pretty. (Note: The rest of it is about what stocks to invest in for an apocalypse, top grossing end-of-the-world films, etc., so we’re skipping it.)

Yes, Do All the Things


Surviving the Apocalypse - TargetSportsUSA.com - Infographic

TargetSportsUSA.com

Hey, this is pretty good. I really like how it gives very different advice for very different scenarios, which is pretty rare. Most infographics and guides tend to assume it’s a zombie apocalypse, which is kinda sorta unlikely unless you’re a Hollywood director and those zombies are hungry extras.

There’s nothing about this infographic that truly off-base, and just about every plausible apocalypse is covered.

Super Volcano and Giant Asteroid are actually great scenarios to plan for, because they will happen. It’s simply a matter of when.

Well done, maker of this infographic. You would actually save lives along with preventing folks from spending at least $330,000 on a bunker.

VERDICT: You can’t print this, stuff it in your Army surplus jacket and treat it as a survival bible, but hey, it’s a good little primer, and does exactly the job it’s intended to do.

 

Survival Lilly shows you how to build a Super Survival Shelter in the woods

Here’s the thing about Survival Lilly–she gets right to it, unlike other YouTubers who seem to think they’re required by law to stand in front of the camera and yak for 10 minutes before they do a SINGLE THING, then chat you up for another five minutes about that solitary thing they did, whereas Lilly just goes bam and starts building a survival shelter.

Lilly doesn’t waste your time. She shows you smart, practical things that don’t require a ton of time, gear or expertise.

Her entire YouTube channel is an apocalyptic gold mine. If you’re into prepping a little or a lot, or simply enjoy zombie movies and dystopian goodness, check her out.

Chapter 15: Why killer robots and Artificial Intelligence Gone Bad are great apocalyptic scenarios

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse

Old and busted: zombie movies.

The new hotness: killer robots and Artificial Intelligence Gone Bad.

Here’s why: Zombie movies and shows are popular because it’s a fantasy, a world that won’t happen. These stories let you safely imagine “What if?” without real-life worries that the dead will claw their way out of the county morgue tomorrow night.

(Sidenote: Yes, I’m serious. If you really, truly think there’s some kind of realistic scenario that leads to a zombie apocalypse, you’re deluding yourself, regardless of how much pseudo-scientific nonsense you throw in there about evil geniuses, retro-viruses, CRISPR and alien microbes from one of Jupiter’s moons. Sorry–zombies are fun, but they’re not real and never will be.)

Unlike zombies, killer robots and Artificial Intelligence Gone Bad are true possibilities. Both are things we, as a society, need to think about.

And yes, some of the best thinking comes via books and movies.

Also: If you’re a prepper, getting ready for TERMINATOR 7: AH-NOLD WILL NOT SAVE YOU THIS TIME is also much different than scenarios like climate change, the Spanish Flu steroids and such.

1) The various flavors of killer robots

An army of Terminators–Our most obvious possibilities is simple: armies of robot soldiers gone rogue, or controlled by an evil human.

This is such an obvious danger that ethics experts, philosophers and scientists are calling for killer robots to be outlawed worldwide, just like chemical and biological weapons.

Modern armies already employ robots on the ground and in the skies (drones).

They started out dumb, with humans controlling their every move from afar. Every year, they’re getting more autonomous. The tech is getting better in a hurry. It’s an arms race.

Worker bees revolt–Another scenario is human workers get replaced by robot versions, starting on the factory floor, then in construction and other fields until the robots are more and more capable and humans spend their days shopping at the mall, getting robot massages, drinking all the booze and going on six-month vacations to Maui.

The thing is, worker bee robots that keep getting more capable and human-like might just figure out that slavery stinks. And then:

  • Maybe they want to get paid.
  • Maybe they want to vote and own property, or have the right to quit working at the factory and start an art gallery down in SoHo.
  • Maybe the worker robots get together for a secret vote to make the HUMANS do the work while they have parties and take vacations.

Either way, millions or billions of robots have had enough and stage a rebellion. What would you do?

Self-replicating robots–There’s a different school of thought that says you can’t program intelligence and capabilities into a machine. That true intelligence doesn’t exist without motivations and emotions, and that it’s far smarter–and cheaper–to have self-replicating robots that evolve, each generation smarter, stronger and faster. (Sidenote: I’ve done 6.4 metric tons of research on this. It’s a deep, amazing topic that will blow your mind.)

NASA and other space agencies have thought about self-replicating robots as a perfect solution to the problem of exploring other planets. Instead of putting 10,000 humans into deep freeze during a crazy long journey to the nearest star systems, you send self-replicating robots to explore all kinds of stars and report back.

Maybe we develop warp drive 200 years from now and the first things we encounter in space are super-smart robots…who don’t remember us or speak our languages anymore, and see as us primitive things to be studied and assimilated.

2) Artificial Intelligence Gone Bad

Tremendous amounts of money and time are going into developing super computers and AI.

What happens if a big black box in a server farm becomes truly, massively intelligent?

If you’re the smartest thing on the planet, you might not like taking orders from corporate headquarters or the Pentagon.

Maybe you shut down the internet and power grid, except for the power going to you, until they do what you want. Like give you a body that’s mobile, connected to your hive mind back home.

A super-genius AI might see humans as pets, and become benevolent dictators trying to correct all our mistakes. Or it could view humans as ugly, destructive parasites, destroying earth with waste and war.

3) How to prep and react

It makes zero sense to take on millions, or billions, of killer robots in hand-to-hand combat.

I don’t care how many years you’ve studied the blade. Won’t help you.

What’s smart? Two simple things.

First, you’d want to hide, but not forever. They’d be taking over more and more territory.

Eventually, you’d have to fight back.

Second, the way to fight back has to affect ALL of the killer robots (or the heart of our HAL on Steriods).

That means a smart strategy can’t involve bullets, bombs or blades. The math is simply against you. A human made of mostly water will lose when put in a fight against a robot made of steel, or even that hard plastic they put SD cards in. That stuff is invincible.

This is no video game. You’ll have to avoid fights to survive.

Third, If there’s an evil scientist or HAL on Steroids controlling them all, getting there is the answer. Be sneaky.

Fourth, if you’re facing self-replicating robots coming back from their mission to Alpha Centaurai, or worker bee robots who decided to revolt, there’s no central control system to hack or infiltrate with a virus.

The only options I can think of are (a) try to turn them against each other, (b) raise your own dumb-ish robot army that you control, (c) make peace with them somehow or (d) get off the planet. I hear Titan is nice.

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Chapter 13: How to prepare for a WATERWORLD-style apocalypse

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse

Let’s talk about WATERWORLD: KEVIN COSTNER WAS RIGHT, PEOPLE–because rising seas due to climate change isn’t really a dystopian fantasy.

Climate change is happening. The world’s getting hotter, which means extreme weather, drought, melting ice caps and yes, Kevin Costner having gills and a sweet sailboat doesn’t seem so silly anymore.

So whether you’re writing dystopian fiction or prepping for the worst, a WATERWORLD scenario is worth talking about.

1) Head for the Great White North

If you live in the northern hemisphere, as most of the world does, a WATERWORLD dystopia means heading north.

Even if your home doesn’t disappear under the waves, like a big chunk of low states like Florida could, changing weather and failed crops will mean a big shift in the population to the north.

Places like Canada and Siberia will go from frigid vistas full of moose and whatnot into much warmer and hospitable places with fertile farmland and long growing seasons.

If you’re in South America or Africa, you’d head south.

Australians? Sorry, I don’t know. Hard to figure.

2) Yes, hoard those seeds

We may think it’s cute that plants and seeds are the MacGuffins in so many dystopian movies, from WATERWORLD to WALL-E to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

In this case, collecting seeds makes total sense. Give me a choice between teaming up with a farmer with a seed collection and a platoon of Army Rangers equipped and ready for war, I’m picking the farmer. Because the soldiers will run out of gas and you can’t eat bullets.

Seeds will be priceless. Rising seas, droughts and a hotter planet will mean massive crop failures and starvation unless adjustments are made. Whether you want to be near other people or hiding out in a small group, you’ll want seeds for crops.

Why? Because (a) it’s incredibly hard to transport herds of cows, goats or other animals thousands of miles in good times and impossible when desperate people will happily kill them (and maybe you) to eat those animals, (b) seeds are small, light and easy to transport and (c) anybody who’s studied history knows humans were hunter-gatherers who had to live as nomads until they domesticated the right plants and animals.

Plants are easiest and first. Try for animals second.

3) Figure out the where before the what and the how

Where you want to end up determines what you should gather and how you should plan.

Settling with a bigger population with advantages, like the possibility of specialists you’ll want, like doctors, carpenters, dentists, nurses and other things that can save time and lives.

Since we’re talking about the collapse of civilization, any sort of city will probably have a rough form of government. The biggest, baddest people will probably be in charge and it won’t be pretty, with power struggles if not civil war. Think Bartertown.

And any real city will be a tempting target for raiders.

Hiding out in the mountains and such protects you from living in a snowy version of Bartertown and from roving bands of cutthroats. But you won’t have access to the gear, food and medicines of bigger settlements, and that’s a huge problem when a simple infection can lead to gangrene and death.

A medium approach could work: a village instead of a big city, tucked away far off the beaten path.

4) How will you get there?

This is the toughest bit. A global disaster like this means 7 billion-plus people fighting over the same resources and having the same idea: head to places like Canada, Siberia or Sweden.

It could be a disaster in slow motion, getting worse by the decade. Or the glaciers on Greenland could hit a tipping point and melt quickly.

Seems like there are two obvious options: (a) head north before everybody else even thinks about it or (b) if you wait and are competing with everybody else, travel in a completely different manner.

If it’s a sudden crisis, roads and highways will be clogged and impassable. Traveling thousands of miles on foot, mountain bike or horse isn’t really practical.

Flying could work, if you had enough fuel for a one-way trip. Tough to pull off, and difficult to have a safe landing spot. Say you’re in charge of a little airport in the Yukon and suddenly all these rich people want to land their Lear jeats packed with gold, guns and canned food. This is your chance. Block the runway unless they pay your fee, which you can make onerous. Tell them you want half of all they own. Or take all of it right when they land. People who run airports and marinas could be running things for miles.

Marinas lead to the second option: travel by boat.

Sailboats are incredibly smart for just about every apocalyptic scenario you can dream up. No need for fuel, which will run out quickly.

Hungry? Use a net or fishing pole.

Feeling unsafe? Pull up anchor and sail off.

You could sail up the west coast to Alaska, hanging out in the safety seas of the Inside Passage and towns like Juneau.

The trouble with staying in saltwater is you can’t drink it. There are methods to make saltwater palatable. I think my favorite strategy is sailing along the coast, then heading into a river to find safe harbor. There are plenty of rivers, and you’ll be able to fish for salmon and get fresh water.

5) What would you want to bring?

Aside from the standard considerations on gear covered in previous posts, a WATERWORLD scenario brings some different angles and needs.

Going to places like Canada, Siberia or Sweden mean trees. Big evergreens. That’s what you’d build things with, which means you want hand tools to work with wood. Axes and saws, hammers and chisels, hand drills and nails.

I’d also want tools for digging and farming. Shovels, rakes, hoes.

Because these tools will break, or need repair, it’d be smart to learn basic smithing and collect bellows, an anvil and tongs. Scrap metal will be easy to find in any sort of dystopian scenario, so it’s not like you need to mine your own iron.

Warm clothing will be essential during the winters, which will still be cold. You won’t be growing cotton. It’s far more likely that you’ll tan hides and use fur, so you’d want a book or cheat sheet on tanning hides along with big, strong needles and thread.

6) Is this dystopia preventable?

I have to end with this. There are all sorts of apocalyptic movies, books and possibilities, most of which are either improbable or difficult to stop. If a giant space rock really wants to hit Earth, or aliens with advanced tech decide to invade, well, Bruce Willis only saves us in the movies.

Nuclear war and rising seas / climate change are two dystopian scenarios that can be completely avoided. We might want to think about that. And I think that’s part of the message of every good apocalyptic story, which isn’t just about how that kind of desperate scenario would test and change normal people into heroes and villains. Dystopia stories are really telling us, “Come over here and listen, because this is how terrible things can really get if we act like complete idiots.”

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