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Are we so superior?

By tympanic in Culture
Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 11:13:42 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

We, as geeks, have an attitude. We take pride in our abilities with machines that baffle most of the rest of the world. Many of us also take pride in our tastes in music and film and our version of culture. I can't help but wonder how realistic that is. Are we not just elitist bastards?

I realize that what I am about to ask is somewhat far-fetched, but please bear with me.... What if we had a major nuclear war? There is a pretty good likelyhood that many people would survive, but that things would not be as they are now. There is also a good possibility that most/all would be without electricity for a good, long time. It would be back to basics.

What I am getting at here is, do we have the basic skills to survive no matter what happens? Sure we have l337 5k1lls for surviving in the "urban jungle" that we have created for ourselves. We can clothe ourselves in our (non-)fasion of choice, feed ourselves with pizza, beer, and coffee, and entertain ourselves with Kevin Smith movies, pr0n, and Half-Life. All of these things rely on western society to remain as it is, and there is no guarantee that it will.

If it came down to surviving on the basics, could we clothe ourselves? Sure we could loot our asses off for a while, but that comes to an end at some point. Can we make what we need to keep warm?

Could we shelter ourselves? We know how to build a monstrously fast machine that can compute the Answer to the Ultimate Question. Do we know anything about what makes a solid foundation for a house, or what the recipe for concrete is? Could we (particularly those in northern climates) build something that would get us through winter?

How would we feed ourselves? I am sure there a good number of us who are anti-hunting, if not completely vegetarian (I fall in the with the former). Would we be able to hunt/grow what we need to survive?

I had thought about this when I chose to get my degree in computer science, and was recently reminded of it by an article here on k5 comparing us to auto mechanics. Sometimes I really feel like my local mechanic has more life skills than I will ever have. What do you think?


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Are we so superior? | 156 comments (144 topical, 12 editorial, 1 hidden)
We'd probably all die in the blast... (3.00 / 15) (#1)
by ozone on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 09:25:09 AM EST

... given that most of us probably live in the major cities and they'd be the first to go, so it's a moot point :-P

Not just that (3.00 / 6) (#20)
by 0xdeadbeef on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 10:24:05 AM EST

We'd starve otherwise. In any societal breakdown scenario, the (sub)urbanites are screwed.

[ Parent ]
The Postman II: Geeks After the Bomb (3.13 / 15) (#2)
by acestus on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 09:27:06 AM EST

Alright, I'll admit it. I can't weave cloth, spin thread, or grind wheat.

How many people, today, have these sort of skills? I would wager that very, very few do. I can sew, badly. I can cook, though IANAC. I can cut trees and saw wood, and I can shoot straight.

I think that most geeks would find those skills on their roster, filed under "Done Very Rarely." I'm not sure, though, that we'd need them so much. We would likely continue to live in societies where everyone contributes something to the marketplace. There would be clothiers and millers, bakers and hunters, and we would (I presume) still be geeks. Granted, we'd probably spend more time working on radios and diesel generators, but we'd be adapting just like anybody else. After all, where would all the bakers we'd need come from? Without wonderbread, every city would need a few. What about hunters? Loom-operators?

Geeks aren't prepared for The Bomb. Neither are librarians, accountants, bus drivers, or executives. I think our egotism is fine. After all, geeks aren't often quoted as saying, "If somebody ruined all the computers, I could kick your ass in the Thunderdome!"

This is not an exit.

what /is/ a geek? (4.40 / 5) (#9)
by Defect on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 09:52:50 AM EST

There would be clothiers and millers, bakers and hunters, and we would (I presume) still be geeks.

What exactly is a geek? Someone who uses a computer? I'm a geek. Someone who can write their own OS on a toaster? I'm not a geek.

"Geek" is not exactly a profession, it means anything from someone who could shoot up a school to someone who wears glasses. It doesn't make much sense anymore. Everything overlaps now, it isn't very likely that you can find someone who fits everyone's view of what is a geek.

I'm sure there is a huge, absolutely enormous, amount of entirely different people who view this site, what are we, collectively? Geeks? or just your average people?
defect - jso - joseth || a link
[ Parent ]
Re: Geeks After the Bomb (4.50 / 2) (#86)
by _Quinn on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 04:47:51 PM EST

   Actually, I'd move in with the librarian After the Bomb, if I could -- especially in a small-town college far from the blast, because (a) their library is likely to be OK and (b) the librarian know where to find the recipe for concrete, the design for a loom*, the geological surveys as to where I can pick up some iron for a wood stove, and so on.

   Accountants, bus drivers, and executives I'll give you. Geeks -- well, everybody is going to have to learn how to survive anew, and learning is one of the things we're supposed to be good at.

* And yes, I do know how to weave

Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
[ Parent ]
Somewhat on topic with my diary entry for today (2.61 / 13) (#3)
by rednecktek on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 09:34:52 AM EST

When I write it, I want to discuss the global economic situation and how prepared we are to deal with it. I for one, have a family that hunts regularly, my wife tends a descent-size garden, and we are currently looking for land that we ^could^ defend and farm if an economic collapse were to happen.

I consider myself "preparing." I guess most people would consider me a nut, but I don't place much value on negative opinions. I wouldn't want to think about how the others (not just the geeks) I work with would fair in such a situation, I don't think it would be pretty though.

Just remember, if the world didn't suck, we'd all fall off.

percentages... (2.80 / 5) (#14)
by titus-g on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 10:06:22 AM EST

I guess the question is, is there a higher percentage of geeks with poor survival skills, than that of the general population...

I mean in my case, (live way up in the back of beyond, grew up in a falling down house, no electricity or phone, water in winter involved buckets and walking.) there's no direct correlation, geek == poor survival skills. umm then again I wouldn't call myself a geek, neither do other people, well twice anyway :)

--"Essentially madness is like charity, it begins at home" --
[ Parent ]

geeks == people (4.25 / 4) (#35)
by rednecktek on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 11:15:29 AM EST

It should be "Can the Technological Society Survive Disaster." There are parts of the world that are quite used to living without the assistance of technology. Parts of Russia go for months without electricity, etc. Those that are less dependant on survival skills, will be those to suffer. It doesn't pertain specifically to geeks, but those dependant on technology.

Just remember, if the world didn't suck, we'd all fall off.
[ Parent ]
haha (3.00 / 4) (#63)
by titus-g on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 02:26:21 PM EST

yeah that was the point I was originally going to make, got sidetracked and forgot it...

but hey you did it better than I would have.

Personally I think modern society's dependence on technology is scary, even minor collapses (city power outage -> looting, UK lack of fuel -> no food in shops) can cause serious damage. It's getting to the point where even if the internet went down for a couple of days a lot of people's lives would be utterly ruined.

--"Essentially madness is like charity, it begins at home" --
[ Parent ]

Good short story along those lines (5.00 / 1) (#110)
by flieghund on Sat Dec 02, 2000 at 01:24:07 AM EST

There's a great short story that I read several years ago. (1996? 1997? maybe even earlier...) I wish I could remember the title, or the author, but all I remember was it was in a science fiction magazine of some sort.

The basic story goes like this: you follow the life of a computer geek. The world seems to come to an end -- power outtages, communication breakdown, and the rumors that someone has launched the Bomb. The geek guy joins up with a bunch of other geeks who are heading for the hills after this "collapse of civilization." Everyone is huddling in disaster-proof shelters, waiting for the end; then they decide that it isn't going to get any better and off themselves.

The last part of the story explains what really happened: the global computer network had crashed, and all the geeks simply overreacted to unconfirmed rumors. If they had ventured out after their supposed "end" they would have found the world just as they left it -- though moderately confused as to why a bunch of people thought the world was coming to an end.

Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
[ Parent ]
We would learn to...or else. (2.50 / 14) (#4)
by tayknight on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 09:35:53 AM EST

If our basic societal infrastructure collapsed, we would learn all of these things, or else we would die. Darwinism does exist. We would have to adapt. I think that most geeks would describe themselves as adaptable. Most of us are somewhat intelligent. We could learn the new skills we needed to exist.
Lets just hope that if this happens, when we rebuilt the government, we geeks have a higher proportion of representation than now. :)
+1 to its section.
Pair up in threes - Yogi Berra
A massive generalization (4.22 / 22) (#5)
by Defect on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 09:36:07 AM EST

By your explanation, anyone who has a skill in a particular field is an elitist in that respect, and that's true and all, but i would have much more enjoyed a broader view on it. But then it probably wouldn't have made sense :)

What would a mechanic do if he couldn't find the parts he needed? Everyone is only as elite as the materials allow. I am not not an anti-hunter but i don't hunt, but if the situation arose where i would die if i didn't kill a cuddly bunny rabbit, you can say goodbye to fluffy.

I know using computers has opened up a new way of thinking with me, or maybe it's just helped me realize it more. Thinking in steps, working around environments that aren't crippling but aren't favorable, etc.

A Hacker doesn't describe someone who can whistle through a phone line to check his email, it just describes someone who can think of ways to do most anything at anytime, so the ultimate hacker would be the one to prevail in any situation.

As for being elite, i think we (another generalization) consider ourselves far less "elite" than many others in society. How many politicians, actors/actresses or authors would survive after any sort of universally destructive event, and i'm pretty damn sure most of them consider themselves better than me.
defect - jso - joseth || a link
Hackers (4.25 / 4) (#102)
by Elendale on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 06:56:23 PM EST

Actually, as i ponder on frequently, a 'hack' is well... a hack... duct tape and super glue, GOTOs and other kludged program structure, "this isn't the right way, but it is the way that will work". That's my defenition of 'hacker': one who, while he may not know how to do something 'right' or may not have the time to do it 'right', can make it work in 'i can't believe that works' ways :) I'm especially reminded of working on a stage crew during high school in this regard. We were the ultimate 'well we're damned if this comes up, but it'll work otherwise' hacks. Such as the green room that contained enough combustibles to be considered a munitions dump... Oh well, enough of my philosophical (damn thats hard to spell) trash.

-Elendale (i think fluffy's life would be in peril also)

When free speech is outlawed, only criminals will complain.

[ Parent ]
Re: Hackers (4.00 / 1) (#141)
by phliar on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 04:05:36 AM EST

a 'hack' is well... a hack... duct tape and super glue, GOTOs and other kludged program structure, "this isn't the right way, but it is the way that will work".
Careful, though - he could be a hack, not a hacker. My opinion: a hacker is one who would say "the right way to get this frobozz to bleen is to recharge the flux capacitors - but we only have 3 minutes before freempit meltdown. Give me that gum you're chewing, and let me see, I also have a paperclip...." A hack will just keep slapping on more and more layers of duct tape. The crucial thing is whether or not the person understands the system, the right way, and the not-right-but-will-work way.

A hacker (person) is one who can come up with a good hack (action or object). A hack (person) who wouldn't know a good hack (object ot action) if it bit him on the frobozz. Hackers are the people I'd want in my post-nuclear winter circle.

Faster, faster, until the thrill of...
[ Parent ]

Yes. (2.80 / 21) (#6)
by Phil the Canuck on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 09:40:58 AM EST

We have an attitude. At least I do.

I think maybe it's an extension of the attitude that gets so many of us through high school. The thought of going to your high school reunion, and parking your Ferrari in front of the quarterback's Pinto. The belief that, while lower on the high school social scale, you're going to be better at life long-term. Once you achieve success, it validates that feeling of superiority.

That was, of course, wildly general. In fact, the QB at my school was one of the better students there and decidedly unjock-like. We'll probably park our Ferraris side-by-side. ;)

As for the survival skills, I think a previous poster summed it up nicely. Geeks are no more or less able to fend for themselves than the rest of the population.


I don't think being an idiot comes with a pension plan though. Unless you're management of course. - hulver

Evolutionary Fitness (3.28 / 14) (#7)
by trust_no_one on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 09:41:40 AM EST

The better adapted one is to a particular environment, the more vulnerable one is to changes in that environment. This is true of species as a whole, but also true of individuals. We as "geeks" are well adapted to the current environment. We have acquired skills that serve us well under current conditions. If the conditions were to change radically, those skills would become worthless.

However, since most "geeks" posess at least a certain level of intelligence, some of us would adapt to the new environment. We have the ability to learn new skills in a relatively short amount of time. General problem solving ability would still have value in any society.

I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused

Apples and Oranges (3.60 / 20) (#8)
by whatnotever on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 09:49:18 AM EST

Geeks are better at using computers than other people.

People with survival skills have more survival skills than other people.

There isn't much correlation there.

How did you get from "Are we superior?" to "Could we survive post-apocalypse?" ? I'm a little confused, maybe I'm missing your point. Apples and oranges, as far as I can see.

Another "scenario": What if *everything* is run by computers in the future? We'll be the ones running the computers...

Yes, in some possible futures, we will die. In some possible futures, we'll be gods. I'm not too excited about it, I guess.

It's a bet. (3.75 / 4) (#47)
by Biff Cool on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 12:22:37 PM EST

I as a "geek" have had these conversations with "survivalists" or "hics" or "whatever you want to label them as".  And I the conversations always go to well what would happen if society collapsed, "geeks" wouldn't be able to survive.

The end result I think is that I'm betting on it not happening.  I'll prepare myself for it only to the amount I think it's feasible.  I don't think I'll ever have to hunt and build a shelter out of leaves in some post-apocalyptic world.  It's like when my math teachers would justify not using a calculator by saying what if I had to integrate x^3 in the Amazon.

As someone else pointed out an auto-mechanic or an accountant makes the same bet.  That the skills they learn are going to be applicable in the future.  And that the ones they choose not to learn are ones they will not have to use.

My ass. It's code, with pictures of fish attached. Get over it. --trhurler

[ Parent ]
more interesting question (2.88 / 18) (#10)
by GreenEagle on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 09:55:08 AM EST

would we _want_ to survive ?

Trigger Effect (2.91 / 12) (#11)
by sugarman on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 09:56:59 AM EST

Someone's been watching James Burke's "Connections" again recently?

Excellent Series, highly recommended, and a must for and TV watching geek.

Despite the age of the series, he does raise some interesting points, about exactly this topic. Basically, if we suddenly lost tech, what would you do? Could you cope? Basically, the answer is no. We'd be back in the dark ages pretty damn quick.

There's a transcript of that episode here. Give it a read, if you haven't seen it.

Spin a story... (4.50 / 2) (#33)
by Mad Hughagi on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 11:09:39 AM EST

I remember reading something of this nature in Carl Sagans highly successful book, 'Cosmos'. In it he does a run down of the historical progression of science, and one of the most interesting things is a civilization that existed in the 3rd Century BC (can't remember the date for sure).

It was centered around present day Alexandria, in Egypt. So the story goes it was a high-water mark in academics, people from all over went there and contributed, and it was a very open society for it's time. Unfortunately it lacked a stable government, and eventually the 'normal citizens' became angry and burnt down the library, as well as running anyone that had anything to do with the academics out of town. From the way that Sagan describes it, the amount of information lost in the burning of the library set us back technologically for over 1000 years. It would be interesting to see where we would be now if they had formed a more stable society. I can't remember all the details, but that was the just of it. Maybe someone can elaborate more on it if they are familiar with history.

In any case, I think that the further advanced we become technologically, the harder the fall would be if our system broke down. One thing about our current society is that we are immensely dependant on one another since we have specialized our functions to the degree where probably 99% of the population has no idea what the other 99% is doing. If things broke down, and all our avenues for conventional social interactions disappeared, can you imagine how hard it would be to build things back up to their current level? I don't think it would be that bad if we still had the information logged away somewhere, but if the slate was wiped almost clean, it would be a slow progression indeed.


We don't make the products you like, we make you like the products we make.
[ Parent ]

Post-apocalyptic fantasies (4.17 / 23) (#12)
by Eloquence on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 09:58:35 AM EST

Interesting questions -- I like post-apocalyptic fiction. (I highly recommend reading Stephen King's The Stand or George Stewart's Earth Abides.) However, these fantasies have little to do with reality -- they must be seen as fantasies, and just that. They are a little reminiscent of the propaganda spread in the beginning of the Atom Age (see documentaries like Atomic Café for details) -- "What if I were the last man on earth".

In the case of a nuclear war, the problem is not so much the immediate holocaust in the cities. It's the radiation, which would be stronger and far more wide-spread with today's megaton H-Bombs than with Hiroshima's and Nagasaki's A-Bombs. The result would not be interesting or challenging, it would be absolute horror, and you would probably be glad if you had died in the blast. (One of the strongest emotional statements about the reality of a nuclear war, without actually showing the blast, is the movie Testament -- it conveys the hopelessness and isolation.)

Apart from the effects of radiation, there is the danger of radical climatic changes ("nuclear winter") as predicted by scientists like Carl Sagan. There might be a new ice age, with the resulting destruction of crops, and massive hunger.

Now, under these conditions (radiation, low temperatures, little food), you can predict with certainty that many many millions would die. We're not talking about "back to the old ways" here. It doesn't depend much on what you know. It doesn't depend much on your abilities. It's mainly a question of luck, living in the right area, being willing to kill others if necessary. And even then your life expectancy would be dramatically short. Your children mutated or deadborn. Your future grim.

It would be silly to prepare ourselves for "surviving a nuclear war". You'd be better off dead anyway, otherwise part of a row of generations without hope. What we as geeks can do and must do is examine how we can prevent something like this from ever happening. If it happens, all hope is lost, and all training and practical knowledge could not prepare us for the horror that would result.
Copyright law is bad: infoAnarchy · Pleasure is good: Origins of Violence
spread the word!

Another great book (3.33 / 3) (#53)
by retinaburn on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 12:48:08 PM EST

Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Apocolyptic and inspiring.

I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho

[ Parent ]
Testament (3.00 / 2) (#71)
by BigZaphod on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 03:18:10 PM EST

Testament scared the hell out of me. That's about all I have to say about that.

"We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight
[ Parent ]
Nuclear war won't happen... (4.00 / 2) (#109)
by cronio on Sat Dec 02, 2000 at 12:17:29 AM EST

but bioterrorism could kill off most of the population on the planet. Think about it. One man who doesn't care if he dies, goes to Time Square New York on New Years Eve, as a host for the Ebola virus. Or he brings a canister with him that contains it. Tens, nay, hundreds of thousands of people infected...and they're from all over the world. Most likely, they're there for the night, and are leaving in the next day or two...ebola virus takes 1-3 days to develop into recognizable symptoms. They go back to their respective countries, infect more people AT THE AIRPORTS (this is in the New York airports, as well as any they go through for connecting flights, as well as their home airport). Ebola virus has about an 80% death rate in some places, other places have more of a natural immunity, so it's only 30-40%. Still, killing off, say, 60% of the world's population may not be the "last man on earth" situation, but it's a situation that could happen very very easily.

Let me just stress the point...this could happen any day, if someone really wanted to kill off most of the earth's population. It could be happening right now, and there would be absolutely no way to stop it, because it kills so fast, the whole thing could be over in months, before a cure is discovered. There's testing of a vaccine for it going on right now...but it's likely it won't actually get to the human testing point, because there's no marketability for it...no money in it for the drug companies right now. How rediculous is that?

[ Parent ]
Thank you. (2.55 / 9) (#13)
by simmons75 on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 10:02:44 AM EST

You may think it strange, but I haven't laughed that hard in a while. The opening paragraph. That's the clincher. Too, too funny and too close to the truth. ;-)

You do have valid points. Frankly, my personal opinion is that 99% of Western society is screwed in the event of nuclear war. Over 50% of the world's population lives in *major* cities. No, I didn't back that up with a reference, but it's one you can probably find on the 'net somewhere. I remember that from a research methods class. Scary. The other 50% lives in not-so-major cities, towns, and villages. A small percentage lives in rural areas. Thank God for being in the lower 50%.
So there.

Adaptation to your environment... (3.40 / 10) (#15)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 10:09:22 AM EST

Species and, to a lesser extent, individuals, adapt to their environment. I have little doubt that most of us first-world, pasty-faced, physically undeveloped, computer types will be the first to go when society collapses. (Except for those few geeks who also have that mountain-climbing back-to-nature enthusiasm.) But does that matter? We excel in our environment. What shark, rat or roach could want for more?

People who think "clown" is an insult have never met any.
This is not a geek issue but a 21st century issue (3.88 / 17) (#17)
by Carnage4Life on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 10:15:14 AM EST

If it came down to surviving on the basics, could we clothe ourselves? Sure we could loot our asses off for a while, but that comes to an end at some point. Can we make what we need to keep warm?

Could we shelter ourselves? We know how to build a monstrously fast machine that can compute the Answer to the Ultimate Question. Do we know anything about what makes a solid foundation for a house, or what the recipe for concrete is? Could we (particularly those in northern climates) build something that would get us through winter?

I am curious as to why you decided to pick computer professionals as the targets to this question? Due to the high degree of specialization in the the modern world it is unlikely that any professional has all the knowledge that you just described.

Doctors, lawyers, mechanics, policemean, firemean, congressmen, teachers, nurses, architects, etc do not know how to make concrete, build a log cabin, grow crops or spin their own yarn.

Singling computer people out for being unable to perform tasks that most people in the modern world cannot perform seems pointless and contrived to me.

Frankly if stuck after a nuclear war with a mechanic and a geek, besides muscle power which the mechanic would have over the geek due to being more likely to be engaging in physical exertion, there'd be no advantage for either person except that there is more chance that the geek is more read and thus more knowledgeable than the mechanic.

My reasoning (3.33 / 6) (#18)
by tympanic on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 10:20:48 AM EST

The reasons I chose computer professionals are:

- I am one.
- We have our own culture that can tend to be non-inclusive of other groups. I can't think of any other group, including those you mentioned, that has come together in the way, or to the extent, that we have. We are somewhat unique.

I hope this clears somethings up. Thanks for the input.

"I've noticed success tends to mean making sure people's expectations are low and then exceeding them" -David Simpson
[ Parent ]

Flawed reasoning (in my mind) (3.00 / 2) (#70)
by BigZaphod on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 03:14:52 PM EST

(of course you are entitled to your opinion.. :-)

Just to add mine, though.. As a computer geek, I'd choose the mechanic. Why? Diversity. Simple as that. In a survivial situation, any bit of insight can help and getting stuck with only one way to look at a problem is a very bad thing. Having a second (or third or fourth or millionth) opinion is what gives humanity our adaptability. Language is our secret weapon and if all our thoughts and actions came from the same base, there would be no need for it. Without the diversity of humanity, language would die and we would soon follow. Perhaps that's a rather over-dramatic explaination, but I think if you think about it long enough you will at least see what I mean.

"We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight
[ Parent ]
Elitism demostrated (3.20 / 5) (#39)
by codemonkey_uk on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 11:50:14 AM EST

It looks like you inadvertadly proved a point here.

You wrote:
> there'd be no advantage for either person except
> that there is more chance that the geek is more
> read and thus more knowledgeable than the mechanic

So you *do* think that geeks are better read, and thus more knowledgable. On what do you base this premise?

Who are you to assume that?

(Don't get offended, I'm just making a point)
"The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way." - Bertrand Russell
[ Parent ]
That's just silliness (4.50 / 2) (#57)
by shadarr on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 01:36:31 PM EST

"...there is more chance that the geek is more read and thus more knowledgeable than the mechanic."
Funny, I'd rather be stuck with the mechanic, hands down. Computers won't work without power, but all the trucks and farm equipment won't just magically disappear.

[ Parent ]
Sure they will! (none / 0) (#153)
by AndyL on Thu Dec 07, 2000 at 03:49:04 AM EST

Or at least the gas will. The gas will dry up almost as quickly as the electricity. Because, if I had gas I could make electricity.

And maybe I would. That way I could fire up Quake2 and get in some last minute shot-gun practice.


[ Parent ]
Answer to your question (3.00 / 1) (#103)
by mystic on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 07:32:56 PM EST

of "why you decided to pick computer professionals as the targets to this question" is because K5 is usually visited by computer geeks and not many "Doctors, lawyers, mechanics, policemean, firemean, congressmen, teachers, nurses, architects".

It can be called "writing for the audience"[tm]

[ Parent ]
skills: volume vs. value (3.36 / 11) (#19)
by daystar on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 10:23:13 AM EST

I don't know how to do a LOT of the things I rely on every day, BUT my time is more valuable (based on the level of compensaton avaliable) working with computers than it would be if I was picking grapes.

Another way to look at it: If you really needed to figure out how to do some menial task (making clothing or shelter...) you could probably figure it out. Do you think that the people who make their living doing manual labor could figure out what you do?

Ultimatly, I think what you're concerned about is that the VOLUME of knowledge that the human race possesses is too large for any one person to contain. This is NOT a tragedy. There was a time when all medical knowledge could be held by one (not nessesarily bright) person. I think we're all alot happier now that there is a wild variety of medical expertise to draw from. I mean, we've got people who specialize in kidneys, AND people who specialize in brains! And you know what? Hardly any of them raise their own food. I think that's great.

There is no God, and I am his prophet.
Been on my mind a while. (3.68 / 16) (#21)
by jabber on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 10:28:09 AM EST

First off - yes, we are elitist pricks. Any niche group with special skills on whom other's depend - or whom others find of value, will be arrogant. It's human nature.

Just look at the entertainment industry. Actors, musicians, basketball players.. There are a precious few of them that have not had their attitude changed by their poition in society. The difference with us is that a) We actually have to know something (arguable, since Rodman does know how to make a 3-point shot consistently) and b) we can be easily replaced (though Britney Spears could die tommorrow and someone would fill the gap in a heartbeat)

We are arrogant because, in a very limited context, we are superior to others. Sure, anyone who works hard at it, can become a programmer - but certain people just have the knack for it - and this gives us license to gloat. In olden days, skilled craftsmen were arrogant too - it was only those that needed others (not vice versa) that tended to be humble.

Now for those essencial survival skills.. This is something that I've thought about for some time now. I grew up in Poland, and there it is/was sort of a family pass-time to gather up the kids or grandkids and go off into the forest to pick mushrooms. No, not just the little gray ones you get at a supermarket, but all sorts. There's a huge variety of edible fungus out there, and it's all differently flavored and useful for different things.

Some mushrooms (little bright orange ones with slits under the cap) can be pickled, and served with salads or as a side-dish. Others can be fried (Portabello and similar). Still others are diced, dried and added to soups and stews for flavoring. Some are poisonous, a few very much so.

The skill of knowing which mushrooms are good for what, is something that is learned. Knowing how to tell a poisonous one from a tasty one is a survivals skill. Few people in the US have this knowledge (and mushrooms here don't tend to taste as good anyway). Few people in the US can identify the tree from which a piece of lumber was cut by sight, or by smell as well. Few people know the name of a tree by the shape of it's leaf.

Once it mattered, and in a post-apocalyptic world, it might matter again - but today it really doesn't, does it? It is still about 'survival of the fittest', but the definition of 'fittest' has changed, as the environment has changed.

It used to be that the physically strongest were most likely to survive. Then it used to be that the most knowledgable were most fit. Now those who know best where and how to obtain the needed knowledge that are the most fit (us - Derek Jeter not withstanding).

65 million years ago, the environment changed drastically, and the dinosaurs died out. Animals that were better adapted to the new environment survived and thrived. Eventually they became us - but do we need to keep up on the 'old skills' of surviving in the Cetatian era, just in case the world should revert back to the old way of doing things? I don't think so. I think that we need to keep adapting to the current environment - and use our marvelous evolutionary adaptation of intelligence to try to stay ahead of the curve. As time progresses, we know that the environment (and I'm not talking just about global warming, but the economy and society as well) will continue to change. We can forsee this, and adapt accordingly.

If it becomes a reasonable thing to expect, that I will need to subsist by eating wild mushrooms, then I am a little ahead of most people in that respect. If it should turn out that I need to raise, slaughter and cook my own chickens, I'll have to figure things out. If it will be reasonable that my next job will require knowledge of Perl, I will start reading the Camel Book (correct, I do not at this time know Perl - it has never been a needed adaptation, and there's plenty of other interesting things to learn).

Now here's a slight variation on the theme.. Is our predesposition towards technology a new skill, or was it dormant, and wasted, in the farmers and craftsmen of past ages? What would Mozart have done with todays electronic music? How about Da Vinci with todays engineering and art capabilities? Would Steven Spielberg still have been a story teller, if it were not for the development of the technology that makes movies possible?

What untapped skills are there in people, that the next technology/medium/mode of though will bring to the surface, and yet again change the definition of 'fittest'? Assume that VR is the next great form of expression - is there a certain skill (a gene perhaps) that would make certain people better adapted to create things within this new context? Is this skill currently unrealized, for want of a stage? Does it manifext in different and subtle ways? Are perhaps dyslexic people particularly well adapred to VR - but at present hampered by a non-VR world?

Do we as a society, persecute those few with special - untapped abilities, based on their non-adaptedness to the current state of the world? Are we obliterating the next level of evolution, the data-juggler best adapted to handling information overload, by labeling them as 'sick' and stuffing them with Ritalin? Did we kill off all human telepaths during the Salem Witch trials?

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

About those mushrooms... (5.00 / 1) (#88)
by jreilly on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 04:51:36 PM EST

I may be wrong about this, but I'll think I'll warn you anyway. Don't try out your mushroom identification skills anywhere but Poland. I have a friend from Russia who can recognize many species around here, but according to him, the toxicity of mushrooms can vary widely based on geographical location. Just be careful

Oooh, shiny...
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the "heads-up" (3.00 / 1) (#108)
by jabber on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 11:59:39 PM EST

I appreciate the warning, but mushroom picking is something I gave up a long time ago. They don't taste the same here to begin with - which I find strange, but believable - the climate is different after all. Toxicity, I suspect, is actually worse in Europe. It's so much denser there, that forests and industrial plants are closer together (on average). I left there before the Chernobyl 'incident', but I've been hearing all sorts of unpleasantness about the ecological state of Eastern Europe since then - sad situation, since overall I'm a proponent of nuclear power. Disappointing. Anyway, about them mushrooms. Not only do they taste different (more bland), they also prepare differently. You're supposed to put them on a cookie sheet, and put them in the oven on low heat to dry them out (for storage). There, they gradually dry until crispy. Here, after a little while in the oven, they begin to resemble slugs.. They just do not dry right, instead, they turn into sludge. Same kind of mushroom, I'm certain, but very different. Most food, especially store-bought stuff, is very different here. US food is GMed and hybridized to look nice and not spoil too soon. It takes the taste right out of it. If you have a chance to go to Europe, try to take note of how differently food tastes there. Especially in the smaller towns, where it's less likely to be made in a factory. :)

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

Thought about this as well... (3.70 / 10) (#23)
by Mashx on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 10:31:16 AM EST

Ironic that I was thinking of one reason this could happen the other day. I have thought of what could I do if this did happen, having spent time out in Kenya, on a beach, couple of miles from the nearest village. It wasn't exactly hard, but it got me to thinking could I survive from day to day if I had to survive, rather than work to earn to buy.

I've noticed how a lot of things become further and further away from very basic requirements: It's possible to create a tape reader, or a record player from scratch, as they are both a very old technology, but couldn't create a Minidisc player from scratch (it's what I listen to the most). Music is my raison d'ętre and so what I have spent most of my time pondering in this case, after all, who needs food? ;-)

I think it depends on how many survivors there were, and what remained: grand destruction of the modern world, and (all?) information resources would be pretty tough to deal with: not even thinking about the nuclear winter, but the aftermath of the destruction, with hundreds of oil refineries, chemical plants producing lethal pollution, etcetera, we would have to find out how to deal with this as well.

I know I could mix some concrete up, but building a house? Well, doubt it. Not one that would last more than a winter. All the stuff like damp coursing etcetera is contained in books that my Dad has. I could make clothes, but then I buy the material from a shop: no idea how to weave cotton, and I remember making nylon in Chemistry at school, but can't remember where to start. Guess I would find some sheep to sheer.

As for food, well I would have no problem actually hunting, although how well I could hunt is an altogether different kettle of fish, seeing as I don't usually walk around with a bow and arrow, but preparing the animal? That would be guesswork. Make sure I would have some potatoes close by I think. I mean, I can cook, but actually obtaining the ingredients? Grounding corn to make flour looks easy, but is it? I haven't actually tried it.

So I think I would have to hope that there is enough people that have enough knowledge that I could learn from in order to survive. 'Cause, like most people here, I like to think I learn pretty quick.


I going to take flak for bringing this up (3.80 / 5) (#29)
by rednecktek on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 11:07:09 AM EST

But, during the Y2K scare. the Army prinited up buttloads of it's field survival manual. I remember seeing them at B&N. If you're interested and unsure where to start, this might be a good place.

Just remember, if the world didn't suck, we'd all fall off.
[ Parent ]
those were there way before y2k (none / 0) (#125)
by ChannelX on Sun Dec 03, 2000 at 11:16:25 PM EST

B&N has always had that book in their bargain section. Had nothing to do with Y2K.

[ Parent ]
Wait! Now I get it! (2.33 / 3) (#38)
by Chakotay on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 11:36:37 AM EST

Now I know why I picked a girlfriend from deep down in dark West Africa. If the world as we know it ever did end, she knows how to get the basic requirements for life from nature. That's must be it. Unconsciously preparing for the apocalypse. Yeah.

Linux like wigwam. No windows, no gates, Apache inside.

[ Parent ]
Star Wars (3.50 / 12) (#24)
by stuartf on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 10:36:38 AM EST

We were in the rerelease of Star Wars (Episode IV) a few years back, opening night and my mate beside me said "If there was an explosion in this theatre, who would run all the computers?"

People tend to see geeks as having some mystical powers that they can never attain. This is by and large bullshit, it's just that geeks have an aptitude for computing, just like artists have an aptitude for art (or at least some of them). We probably put in no more or less effort to develop our "craft" than an engineer, or an architect, or a builder for that matter. We're not superior, just different.

Could we feed ourselves? - hell yes. Could we clothe ourselves? - of course. Computing ability does not imply a lack of ability to function in the real world, although some I've met would definitely have it tough :)
Ka Kite Ano

I am an elitist bastard. (2.80 / 10) (#40)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 11:56:42 AM EST

That said, I find it just as realistic to worry about what happens if the world finds out it's stuck in "the matrix" and only hackers can survive as it is to worry that we'll be "back to the basics."

True, nuclear war is more likely, but the point is, we have ability and the situation we're in make that ability an advantage. I try not to worry too much about "what-ifs" anymore.

Overall, though, I'm glad you asked the question.

farq will not be coming back
Geeks vs. The People (3.83 / 6) (#41)
by lucas on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 12:05:28 PM EST

I think the atmosphere of greed today brings out the worst in everyone.

Elitism can only be defined in terms of the surrounding circumstances as an attitude that emerges and attempts to differentiate itself from these circumstances.

In this case, the tech explosion over the past few years made everyone and their grandmother want to be a IPO'ed dot-com bzillionaire. Suddenly, the geek culture was transformed into something that average people wanted to be involved with.... for the sole reason of making money and not necessarily because it was interesting.

It might be said that elitism exists in geeks vs. "the people" because geeks believe "the people" to see tech as a means to an end (e.g., making money or corporate advancement), whereas geeks see it as a means in-itself (e.g., something personally interesting or fulfilling).

Live in the now, seriously. (3.44 / 9) (#42)
by phunbalanced on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 12:06:17 PM EST

No joke. Human beings are adaptive. Life as we know it is .. evolution? Humans are a simplified form. We are nomadic. We can move from place to place, climate to climate. We find vegetables and fruits that thrive in our new locations, no matter how different they may be from our usual diet (tobaco?). We find new species of animals, in our new locations, that substitute those which we are used to in our "normal" environment.

My point, is that human beings have adapted to almost any condition on earth. There are currently humans in almost every location on earth, from the coldest poles, to the hottest desserts. We've even begun our foray into space. We make the best of the situation at hand.

We, as "geeks", have adapted to a culture, a mode of communication, a hobby, a type of survival (order groceries online anyone?) that is different from any other. Yet we have survived. Is this hobby of ours necessary for our survival. Well, in a capitalistic sense, yes. We are making the best of our situation, and we, as "geeks", are the experts. We can show a youth how to survive by ordering groceries online, just as one would teach another to hunt.

My overall point is, that because of our experience and skill, we forget how long it took us to get to where we are, how much time, interest, studying, reading, etc.... Yet we've all done it. This is a strange world WE live in, yet we've made do, and most of us here, are doing very well. Should the need occur, we have demonstrated the abilities to be ingenuitive and make the best of our situation.

Would all os us make it post-apocolyptically? Probably not. Did all of the people interested in computers succeed in the IT industry? Probably not. It's evolution. But we as humans, have time and time again, demonstrated our ability to adapt, change, and move on. Technology doesn't define forward progress, it defines change. If that change is a lack of technology, it's no different, then if we're given more.

Dependence on Society (3.00 / 4) (#43)
by threed on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 12:11:13 PM EST

Of course human beings depend on society, especially those who, like geeks, have a very specialized skill-set. That dependence is the price we pay for not having to produce everything we need for ourselves and for having the option of trading our labor for things we Want rather than Need.

Nuclear winter would affect everyone, but I think the least affected people would deffinately be the Amish. They have the right idea about survival: They forego the two advantages of Western Society but they gain the ability to create self-sustaining small-scale communities. They're like the internet; you can knock out 90% of the Amish but those left behind will STILL have all the knowledge they need to continue.

--Threed - Looking out for Numero Uno since 1976!

LOL (3.00 / 1) (#50)
by whatnotever on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 12:33:01 PM EST

Oh boy... Likening the Amish to the Internet really made my minute... Thanks.

I think it was actually the image of "knocking out 90% of the Amish" that did it... :-)

[ Parent ]
I think the attitude helps (3.00 / 7) (#44)
by weirdling on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 12:18:28 PM EST

I know that I have an 'I can do anything' attitude, which gets me into a lot of trouble halfway up a rock face that I was sure I could climb, but the fact is that most of us would get immediately about the business of survival. I bet we'd settle down and form communes with rather draconian foreign policy. I have five functional guns and an amount of ammunition, which should tide us over until the foundry gets underway. I know a lot about construction, as that's one of the ways I supported myself, and I know a lot about security and am 6'3" 270 pounds, not your prototypical geek. My importance in the community I'm in now would be less than my importance then, actually. However, geeks have a vast capacity to learn and an inherent need to improve things. It wouldn't take very long before some normals began to sense that their lives would improve when near these enclaves, and civilization would begin to re-coalesce, as the geeks tried really hard to avoid a dark age. I guess I just don't think this thing would be all that apocalyptic. Essentially, we'd have to locate the people with the know-how or at least loot a library, and then we'd be well on our way. I just have trouble imagining a world without Nietsche, Kant, Voltaire, C.G. Jung, Thomas Jefferson, and so on.
I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
Normals? (4.16 / 6) (#52)
by jeffmonks on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 12:47:26 PM EST

...wouldn't take very long before some normals began to...

Well, I guess there's your answer to the question of "Are we elitist?"...

[ Parent ]

Technology is not going away. (3.57 / 7) (#45)
by theR on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 12:21:00 PM EST

First, I'd just like to say I like this story. It's a good topic.

Are we elitist? I think the answer is yes, there are plenty of people out there that are elitist. From my experience there are plenty of people who are not, as well. Most people are probably a little of both. It annoys me when people are elitist, mainly once it gets to a certain degree. What that degree is, I can't say, because it is just a personal judgement and I am not sure what criteria I use to determine how much is too much.

The second part of the issue you bring up is very interesting. What if there was some catastrophe, manmade or natural, that affected the whole planet? My view is the following.

As long as people exist, so will technology. If there is a nuclear war, if there is anybody left there will be technology left, as well. Sure, there would have to be adjustments and there would be a time when everything was screwed. But people adapt, and as long as there are people left they will make the changes that need to be made. No power? Someone will fix the power plant/windmills/nuclear generator or devise something new. No food? People would scrounge and do whatever they have to do until food is in production again.

I think most modern day people do not have all the tools necessary to survive if we were sent back a couple of hundred years or more, but I don't think there is any catastrophe that could send technology backwards. It would cause disruption, but if people survive that means technology survives. The emphasis might shift, new ways to do things might need to be made, and certain people that are valued for their skills now might not be so valued in this example. But I think machines and technology would hold up better in a lot of instances than people would.

My point is that, if there is some type of catastrophe, it won't mean we are sent backwards in terms of technology. Things will be different and we will have to find ways to make things work if the old ways are no longer valid, but it is assuming a lot to say that all the skills people have now would suddenly become useless. We might have to learn new skills to survive, but I think that is a strength of most people who are considered geeks.

yes, we are arrogant (3.72 / 11) (#46)
by gregholmes on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 12:21:19 PM EST

I think about this every time someone apologizes to me for not knowing something about their computer (I'm not in the 'Help Desk' end of things either, and I still hear it alot.)

I don't apologize to the plumber or carpenter for not knowing plumbing or carpentry. I don't think there is really that much special virtue in techy-ism. I like programming, and it does require logical thinking, but it is certainly not unique among important human skills.

I couldn't agree more. (4.00 / 3) (#54)
by mindstrm on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 01:03:55 PM EST

That's basically what I was going to say as well.

I gave a speech to a Jr. Admin I know a while ago... he was on that high-and-mighty trip about how he could 'ruin' his company easily, because he had access to everything.

I pointed out that, yes, he may be the only one who could soft-kill it from the computer side, nothing prevents almost anyone else in the other 99% of the staff from coming in late one night and torching the place, or smashing all the servers, or any number of other things. And the end result would be the same. So although he may view one as more elegant, someone with a shotgun might see it differently.

[ Parent ]
I might apologize (none / 0) (#152)
by AndyL on Thu Dec 07, 2000 at 03:18:19 AM EST

I might apologize if the plumber arived and I couldn't tell him where the main shut-off valve was. Or what kind of water heater I had.

Or maybe if I had mucked up my faucet in an illconcieved attemped to fix it my self.

Just apologizing for hiring him to fix a pipe? Not likely. But then, how many people apologize to the guy they hired to install thier computer?


[ Parent ]
Group survival tactics, not individual tactics... (3.84 / 19) (#48)
by xtal on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 12:25:30 PM EST

Something I think that you neglected to mention is that even in cities not affected, a major interruption of basic utilities like power, gas, and food will cause all out anarchy. Fsck the man, you better have a gun. People are _not_ nice creatures when they're starving to death, and control would be lost quickly without heat and power. For the most part, cities would fall into areas controlled by whomever had firepower - most likely, the criminal element, and their will would be law. I can't remember the name now, but I read some government or some research paper on this a long time ago. Basically, it's worth your while to have a shotgun and some ammo if you live in a big city, even if it's locked away.

Just in case you needed a reason NOT to live in a big city.

Medium sized towns are different though, because the density is low enough that some organization is possible. In the short term, everything is fine if you get wood for heat and have a non-contaminated water supply. I'm an electrical engineer, and I recommend everyone know how to build a simple generator, it's not that hard. You can power a good sized distribution block off of a small dam and a good sized motor. The priniciples are not that difficult. Non-contaiminated food is a problem, but manageable - if you're in a rural area, there's enough deer to live off of until domesticated livestock can be secure.

The primary concern would be organizing resistance against masses that are largely ignorant of how to survive off their wits but smart enough to have guns. (My kids will be growing up in the woods like I did, it gives you an appreciation of your place in the world.) I find it questionable that the military could maintain control in this situtation and would likely fragment into controlling factions and would be come the defacto government in the areas I decribed above.

The problems then aren't really technical, they're social. Any geek is smart enough to figure out how to generate power or gut a deer or build a steam boiler; Technology would be knocked back, but unlike the civilizations of past, our knoweledge is EXTREMELY wide spread. Just ONE major engineering school could recreate most of the technologies we have now in a generation or two. That's not worth worrying about. I have friends that are farmers. One or two modern farms can feed an entire community no problem if they have gas and power. You can run tractors of vegatable oils and alcohol; You can generate power from hydro, coal, wood, anything. Methane is easy to generate from rotting animal waste.

If you're actually worried about this kind of thing, learn to shoot, get a shotgun just in case, and live in a rural area. You'd never make it out of the hell a city would become overnight. Once you're out of a city, it would just be a matter of becoming organized without being raped and pillaged. :) Too many think of individualalistic strategies for survival in these situtations; that just won't work, and history agrees with me. Pooling talents and skills (and guns) will keep you alive. Might be awhile before microchips get back on the scene though.

There's a great quote I heard somewhere, I think it was from a comet-hits-earth book called Hammerfall or soemthing like that..anyhow. "Womens lib would be over milliseconds after the comet/nukes/whatever hit" - there's so much truth and reflection in that statement it's not funny.

Lucifer's Hammer was the book. (4.00 / 5) (#49)
by xtal on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 12:31:40 PM EST

Highly recommended.

Lucifer's Hammer
by Author Larry Niven , Author Jerry Pournelle
Paperback | 640 Pages | ISBN 0449208133

[ Parent ]

Now that I think of it.. (4.00 / 3) (#51)
by xtal on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 12:36:39 PM EST

Just in case you ever need a geeky way to generate power in an emergency (hell, bad winter storms can wipe out power here in Canada for days, sometimes), you can use a car alternator connected to anything spinning in a jiffy. Car alternators are everywhere, and most are rated for at least 65-70amps. Just need to yoink one out of a car or SUV (trucks are better). :)

[ Parent ]

Alternators.. (5.00 / 1) (#69)
by molo on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 03:06:44 PM EST

Correct me if I'm wrong, but car alternators put out about 14V DC. To get those 60+ Amps into more useable AC (for your fridge, stove, heater or whatever) you would need one heck of transformer, which would be difficult to find or make.

Seriously though, I think electricity is overrated. A good wood burning stove, good food supply and decent shelter is probably all you need to make it though the winter. Granted, you would have to live as a hunter/gatherer, but this is what we are talking about.

Whenever you walk by a computer and see someone using pico, be kind. Pause for a second and remind yourself that: "There, but for the grace of God, go I." -- Harley Hahn
[ Parent ]

Inverters.. (5.00 / 1) (#90)
by xtal on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 04:57:48 PM EST

You can easily (albeit inefficiently) invert a DC signal; The fact they're designed to charge car batteries is a bonus in this situtation as you can store charge for later. Transformers are actually fairly easy to build if you have wire, some iron for a core, and oil for arc prevention and cooling. I haven't taken apart a car alternator recently, but it should even be possilble to tap the raw output off the coils to get unrecified pulsed DC (depends on the design, though, and I haven't done it personally). I have seen setups using a car alternator connected to a windmill charging batteries, though.

Seriously though, I think electricity is overrated. A good wood burning stove, good food supply and decent shelter is probably all you need to make it though the winter. Granted, you would have to live as a hunter/gatherer, but this is what we are talking about.

You do need electricity for good lighting, which helps keep people alive that need medical attention, you also need it for stable heat sources that can be used to make medicine, run small industrial processes and motors, etc. You don't need it to live, no. You do need it to advance quickly though, and it helps in storing energy for later - like wind.

[ Parent ]

Electricity is spectacularly easy to generate. (4.00 / 1) (#121)
by gromm on Sat Dec 02, 2000 at 07:32:54 PM EST

Surely you took physics in high school...

You can generate electricity by taking _any_ electric motor and spinning it, using a dam or windmill to collect kinetic energy to do the spinning.

What might be more useful is that if you have a gas forced-air furnace, is to take the rather large AC motor out and use it... voila, AC power for your home. By the way, searching yahoo for electrical generators/solar panels should help you find a sub-culture of people (usually in rural areas) who generate their own power as a rule, rather than as an exception when something bad happens. It's really quite a neat little niche where geek skills are worthwhile. :)
Deus ex frigerifero
[ Parent ]
Excellent (3.66 / 3) (#67)
by rednecktek on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 02:55:36 PM EST

I'm reminded of a fiction novel I read online: Caravan.

It's one man's view, but aren't they all?

Just remember, if the world didn't suck, we'd all fall off.
[ Parent ]

Women after the fall... (3.66 / 15) (#76)
by Electric Angst on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 03:50:11 PM EST

"Womens lib would be over milliseconds after the comet/nukes/whatever hit" - there's so much truth and reflection in that statement it's not funny.

Your appreciation of this statement shows not only the type of arrogance this article was attempting to uncover, but also an uncomfortable amount of chauvinism and a lack of historical knowledge.

The idea that "Women's Lib" would be halted by a collapse of out current civilization hints both at the idea that women are somehow inferior to men, and that the talents and abilities they posses will be of less worth without the 'artificial' environment that we have set up for ourselves. Both of those assumptions are wrong, and I'm about to prove why.

As you yourself stated, guns and engineering knowledge will be the primary factors in survival and success the post-apocalyptic situation you are postulating. While engineering is without a doubt important, you forgot about medical knowledge, which has historically been just as female-dominated as engineering has been male-dominated. Guns, of course, will be plentiful and neither sex should have a disadvantage acquiring or using them.

Another factor that you considered important in your scenario was the ability to form and maintain a society, whereby common defence and technological sharing could take place. Any type of society will inherently involve politics, which in fact favors the standing of women in a post-apocalyptic world. Due to the probable loss of livestock and domesticated animals, humans would most probably have to resort to hunting for any meat. As any anthropologist could tell you, the hunting that would take place would actually disenfranchise the men of the community, because the task would fall on their shoulders and would remove them from the society for long periods of time, where women would be stabilized and therefor more influential over the entire group.

The fact that women can be brutalized and raped is also a hidden assumption of that quote, giving it the edge of cruelty that I find particularly distasteful. Guns, as you have said before, will be important and due to a surplus caused by a reduction in the population, plentiful. This instrument would level the field between men and women despite a typical physical difference. Also, the community that you yourself said was so vital to survival after the collapse of our current civilization would not stand for such action. Unless the entire society was dominated by heartless monsters of men who subordinated women to the role of slaves, the past has taught us that such actions are always considered taboo. (If such a society did exist, there would be little doubt that they would constantly have to fight and war with other societies because of that stance.)

The final point to consider is that of reproduction. Women firmly control the keys to who is born, and of which men those children are offspring. Once again, unless an entire society delves into barbarism and total subordination of women, then this will not change. Another important point is that women will be the ones to raise and imprint values on to the children born in such a society even more than currently (due to the male hunting that will be taking place), do you honestly think women will choose to raise their sons and daughters to believe that women are inferior members of society? Any chauvinism that does exist will die in a very small number of generations.

In conclusion, you comment not only displays a cruel and disgusting view of women, but an incorrect one as well. It displays a nasty arrogance that does a disservice to the both male and female by not recognizing the important balance that exists in our species between the two sexes.

In short: Fuck Off!
"Hell, at least [Mailbox Pipebombing suspect Lucas Helder's] argument makes sense, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of people." - trhurler
[ Parent ]
Advocation of the Gentler Sex (3.50 / 6) (#79)
by dice on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 04:30:31 PM EST

You brought up an interesting thought to my mind.

I've found that usually the people who are all for Women's rights, or equality, or whatever, are usually more arrogant about it, and more harsh to the other sex, and more harsh in general, than any man I've ever had to deal with.
If guns are what are needed to make that divide disappear, why not get them now?

Personally I'd be afraid to live in any society governed by women with such an obvious bone to pick against male domination. (I can't say I've ever dominated a woman in my life. I have to say that I've seen plenty of women dominating guys.) But such an obvious prejudice shows that there is a complete lack of respect for the individual, instead lumping them into WOMEN ( <-- the chosen ) and MEN ( <-- those brutal beasts who have been enslaving us forever ).

[ Parent ]
Perception vs. Reality... (3.25 / 4) (#87)
by Electric Angst on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 04:49:10 PM EST

I've found that usually the people who are all for Women's rights, or equality, or whatever, are usually more arrogant about it, and more harsh to the other sex, and more harsh in general, than any man I've ever had to deal with.

I'm sorry you see it this way. I used to hold that position, too, until I got the opertunity to hang out with some of the feminist organizations here on campus. Then I discovered that my views on feminists, and the interpritation of their stance as "radical" was in fact mainly due to the popular media's portrayal, and not on actually having known feminists.

While there are definitly some people radical beyond realism, I have found that a majority of feminists I know (as in, have met and talked to) are not manhating sociopaths, but women who just want to be able to avoid discrimination and continue to enjoy the rights and freedoms that, due to their politicalization, are in the balance almost every election year.

Let me know, honestly, exactly how many feminists have you spoken to? How many have you gotten to know, or had a serious intellectual debate with? Now, is your viewpoint really from this personal experience, or is it from what you see and hear about on television?
"Hell, at least [Mailbox Pipebombing suspect Lucas Helder's] argument makes sense, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of people." - trhurler
[ Parent ]
how many.. (2.33 / 3) (#106)
by dice on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 10:36:38 PM EST

Let me know, honestly, exactly how many feminists have you spoken to? How many have you gotten to know, or had a serious intellectual debate with? Now, is your viewpoint really from this personal experience, or is it from what you see and hear about on television?
I don't know if you're familiar with it, but I'm subscribed to a mailing list (dc-stuff) and not too long ago there was an incredibly long thread regarding feminism.

I think the entire stance is just entirely too militant. I don't want to say that there is no prejudice or injustice against women according to their sex, because apparently that's not the case, but I personally haven't observed any.

[ Parent ]
Hm.. (3.50 / 2) (#111)
by shirobara on Sat Dec 02, 2000 at 01:25:25 AM EST

I can read this whole darn thread, but it doesn't mean that if whatever disaster befell my city I would do any better in a crisis. It's not a bad thing that you haven't witnessed prejudice against women in your life; I wish I could say the same about mine.

[ Parent ]
Re: how many.. (none / 0) (#143)
by phliar on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 04:48:16 AM EST

I don't want to say that there is no prejudice or injustice against women according to their sex, because apparently that's not the case, but I personally haven't observed any.
Hmmm... how old are you?

I live and work in one of the most progressive cities in the world (San Francisco) in an industry filled with supposedly intelligent well-educated people (computer people)... I'm not a woman but I've seen shitloads of it - and I do know that the abuses visible to an outsider are about a hundredth of what's really going on.

Faster, faster, until the thrill of...
[ Parent ]

Disagreement (3.80 / 5) (#81)
by Malicose on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 04:34:19 PM EST

I'd like to suggest that more men would be capable with guns and ammo than women, regardless of the short time it takes to learn how to operate one. Furthermore, it would take no longer for a man to learn how to succeed at minor first aid than it would take a women to learn how to use a firearm.

You are most certainly entitled to your opinion that his view is incorrect, but the fact remains that an overwhelming amount of goverment and military positions are occupied by males.

Your final words damaged the "insightfulness" of you entire piece more than any amount of "chauvinism" to be construed from the original post.

[ Parent ]
Re: Disagreement (none / 0) (#142)
by phliar on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 04:34:33 AM EST

I'd like to suggest that more men would be capable with guns and ammo than women, regardless of the short time it takes to learn how to operate one.
On what basis do you make this extraordinary claim? Not this, I hope:
an overwhelming amount of goverment and military positions are occupied by males.
I suppose since an overwhelming amount of government and military positions are occupied by straight white men, that proves that more straight white males would be capable of leadership roles than gays, women, blacks, hispanics, Japanese etc.?

Faster, faster, until the thrill of...
[ Parent ]

Nice theory, but... (4.71 / 7) (#85)
by jreilly on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 04:44:44 PM EST

do you honestly think women will choose to raise their sons and daughters to believe that women are inferior members of society? Yes

I hate to say this, but history shows you to be completely wrong. Until very recently in human civilization, women have been kept as an underclass, and trained to be so by their mothers. I certainly don't believe it's a good thing, but it's a reality you have to face.

Addressing the rest of you're comment, we all agree there would be a greatly increased use for guns. If society is going to devolve into a kill/be killed system, then you have to admit that there is a great likelyhood that it will devolve in other ways. This doesn't even account for the fact that in many places in this world, women are still kept as an underclass.(Much of the Middle East, rural India, rural China, parts of Africa, traditionalist peoples like the Amish and ultra-Orthodox Jews, many Christian groups, hell, probably most of the world) If you're not considered equal everywhere before nuclear war, you're probably not going to be better off after it. You don't like it, I don't like it, most of the people reading this site don't like it, but it's reality.

Oooh, shiny...
[ Parent ]

re: Nice Theory, but... (3.33 / 6) (#92)
by Electric Angst on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 05:14:55 PM EST

Until very recently in human civilization, women have been kept as an underclass, and trained to be so by their mothers.

Your comment raises an interesting point, but in my opinion, is off the mark. Cultural opression is often carried down from generation to generation by parents, both mother and father. This was often passed on because of rigid views of a person's role in society, and the fear that a child that choose to abandon that role would draw shame to the family.

That type of oppresion would not exist in a post-apocalyptic world, because most all existing cultures (and the precepts in them) would cease to exist. So, while an Amish women would no doubt raise her children with very specific gender roles, do you honestly believe any modern North American woman would intentionally push this on her children in the middle of a brand new society that she and others were forming?

Also, a brief statement about society degenerating... While this would happen, it would end quickly. There would doubtlessly be elements of humanity that would choose to 'rape and pillage', but the inherently violent lifestyle they lead would quickly either get them killed violently or leave them alone without any offspring to socially influence once they died naturally.
"Hell, at least [Mailbox Pipebombing suspect Lucas Helder's] argument makes sense, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of people." - trhurler
[ Parent ]
Yes...probably more so (3.83 / 6) (#99)
by sugarman on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 06:38:33 PM EST

do you honestly believe any modern North American woman would intentionally push this on her children in the middle of a brand new society that she and others were forming?

Yes I do. 2 reasons:

1. To maintain some ties to the old way of life. When the world around you is swirling away into chaos, you will likely hold on to those things that you remember fondly, and are concrete, rather than trying to build something from scratch.

2. To bring up the kids the "right way". Society is now a rough and dangerous place, and you have to be extra careful to survive. If anything it will become more puritanical, because if society has collapsed, then methods and lifestyles that were prevalent before the fall would likely be thought of as suspect, especially if the cause of the collapse is not widely known.

Just off the top of my head, though. A chaotic and uncertain future doesn't necessarily mean freedom.

[ Parent ]

Women's Lib (3.71 / 7) (#77)
by Parity on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 03:52:28 PM EST

"Womens lib would be over milliseconds after the comet/nukes/whatever hit"

I dunno about that; to play devil's advocate, which is going to have the better chance of survival, the 'tribe' of 50 warrior males with a 'herd' of 50 females they have to protect and control, or the 'tribe' of 50 warrior males and 50 warrior females?

Never mind the social dynamic of which groups the women are going to prefer to join...

Parity Odd

[ Parent ]
Clarification? (3.00 / 2) (#89)
by shirobara on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 04:53:35 PM EST

I was wondering if you could give some context to the quote at the end of your post. Does it imply that once a disaster of that magnitude hits, that no one will have time to worry about things like women's rights, children's rights, civil rights (and a wide variety of other things now considered important as well - religious and philosophical discourse? politics? global warming?)? After all, everybody would be too busy trying to adapt to this unprecedented new change to carry major crusades. Or does it imply specifically that once something nasty happens, all the uppity feminists will come scurrying back into their rightful places?

The quote initially bugged me; now I think it's intended to indicate the former instead of the latter, but having not read the book I can't put it in context. Would you clarify it a bit?

[ Parent ]
Historical reference (4.00 / 1) (#154)
by JonesBoy on Fri Dec 08, 2000 at 10:55:13 AM EST

There was one city in the USSR that was cut off during WWII (Leningrad maby? I am terrible with names). The whole city was cut off from the rest of the world, no food, water, electricity, wase management, etc. Was there mass hysteria? Was there looting and shooting? Nope. Was it only the geeks who survived? No way. Actually, the people all helped each other survive. They grew some food, ate anything pallatable, burned anything for heat. They even took care of the dead when things got worse. No anarchy at all. It is the same on planes that are about to crash. Survivors say that there is no hysteria, just a silent wait for impending doom.

look at the TV show survivor. You had some that could get food, and live. some that couldn't, but organized others to do better, hence getting food. Some were given food just for their entertainment value. Don't underestimate the stupid. Darwin would have gotten rid of them if they were weak a long time ago.

(wo)men are at their best when things are at their worst.

Speeding never killed anyone. Stopping did.
[ Parent ]
Elitism.. (3.39 / 23) (#55)
by Cuthalion on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 01:04:37 PM EST

Elitism is fine for the common man, but I'm above that!

All this depends on attitude... (3.41 / 12) (#56)
by TheLocust on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 01:23:59 PM EST

...for instance, go and sit around #linuxhelp or #perl on EFNet. I am shocked at some of the derision and downright bastardness that more seasoned folk inflict on the "newbies".

This is also see among some tech-support folk as well, and while I'm at it, the entire community. As much as we try to divine ourselves from the typical "my car is faster than your car" macho posturing, we still do it (though it's no longer cars... it's processors, processes, or framerates).

All i'm say is that we as a community must realize that the culture we are so familiar with is scary, dark, and strange to plenty of other folks. But they have as much right to it as we do. Oh, and don't be a prick.

.......o- thelocust -o.........
ignorant people speak of people
average people speak of events
great people speak of ideas

Ignorance takes many forms (Re: your sig) (3.00 / 2) (#120)
by imperium on Sat Dec 02, 2000 at 06:15:51 PM EST

Your ignorance index sig is one of those things that sounds sensible until you think about it, somewhat like "the exception that proves the rule". Is it ignorant to speak about people? If someone you knew had a baby, wouldn't you mention it? Would you want to phrase it in terms of the population crisis? Surely not!

Intelligent people, I reckon, can discuss the actions of people, the events that they initiate or respond to, and the ideas that motivate them (or that they provoke) with equal ease.

Pedantic? Moi?

yours in peace


p.s. The exception that proves the rule is a mistranslation from Latin. The original saying is closer to "the exception tests the rule": i.e. if it is an exception, it's not a rule, but it might only be an apparent exception. Can I have my pedant of the week points now, please?

[ Parent ]

Re: Ignorance takes many forms (none / 0) (#144)
by phliar on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 05:04:20 AM EST

Pedantic? Moi?
I know pedants. Pedants are friends of mine. Imperium, you're no pedant.

The exception that proves the rule is a mistranslation from Latin. The original saying is closer to "the exception tests the rule".
Alas! Where you went astray, is that the word "prove" here doesn't mean what you seem to think it means. Have you heard of "proving grounds"? Yup, they test bombs and other nasty stuff there. Another meaning of "prove" is to test. That's the "proof" that's on my bottle of vodka.

Faster, faster, until the thrill of...
[ Parent ]

ongoing pedantry (2.00 / 1) (#156)
by imperium on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 06:23:53 AM EST

phliar, you are right, of course. I am familiar with the other usage of 'prove', but I still say that almost all users of that exception cliche are not aware of it.

Still, all in all, you win the pedant of the week points.

best wishes

[ Parent ]

Re: All this depends on attitude... (none / 0) (#145)
by phliar on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 05:21:15 AM EST

...for instance, go and sit around #linuxhelp or #perl on EFNet. I am shocked at some of the derision and downright bastardness that more seasoned folk inflict on the "newbies".
First: the derisive bastards are more likely to be posers and wannabes. They may be seasoned IRC people but that doesn't necessarily imply they're experts.

Second: in my case, I've been using Unix (writing code, being a sysadmin etc.) in various forms for about 18 years now. If I were to hang out in a newbie forum and answer every question I could, I'd be there 24 hours a day. So I'd only answer questions that I thought other people didn't seem to be able to answer, or that interested me in some way. Three posers might jeer before someone actually answers other questions.

Ah, the good old days... Many summers ago, before there was a web, there was Usenet. There was a newsgroup called comp.unix.wizards that was supposed to be for experts; but newbies would wander in frequently. They might get a sharp rebuke, but their answers would be answered. Even the famous big-name wizards would help newbies. The real wizards would be the ones who, while answering the trivial newbie question, would reveal something wonderful and non-obvious that you never would have thought about. I still have some of those articles saved.

Faster, faster, until the thrill of...
[ Parent ]

Elitist attitude has zero credibility (3.25 / 12) (#58)
by mihalis on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 01:58:19 PM EST

I'm not sure just who it is that has this elitist attitude. There are a few younger guys who've just earned their spurs with a stud programming stunt who may feel that way, but it soon wears off. At least I think it does.

If I were tempted to think that way, I'd soon be brought down to earth by thinking about personal events this week - if it weren't for the skill of my doctor and the modern miracle of antibiotic drugs I would be very ill right now - hardly 'leet'. I know my Doc is at least as smart as me, plus he cares about the people he works with and I'm sure has a cool hi-fi and records. There are many other examples.
-- Chris Morgan <see em at mihalis dot net>

Elitism... (3.00 / 3) (#80)
by dice on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 04:33:28 PM EST

OK.. I think elitism is good. Your doctor should feel it, you should feel, anyone who's achieved a high level of skill in an area should feel it.

You _are_ smarter than other people, you _do_ know more, etc etc.

There's no reason to quash that just so other people don't feel bad.

[ Parent ]
I'll be fine when the world falls apart... (2.00 / 9) (#59)
by Forum on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 02:05:25 PM EST

I did a tour of duty in the US Marine Corps before I wnet in head first as a nerd. I could definitely take care of myself in a wilderness situation. My .02


-- "When I walk down the street and only 3 or 4 shots are fired at me, I find it hard to stay awake." -HC
I can appreciate this but ... (3.66 / 3) (#64)
by rednecktek on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 02:32:22 PM EST

I have a problem with the reasoning. Part of the problem is not only survival in a wilderness situation, but survival in a non-wilderness situation. I think what he's asking is 'does the geek crowd have the skills necessary to survive (and rebuild) without the benefits of a globally aligned world?' The answer, IMHO, is that the majority of technological civilization does not have those skills. More importantly, does the surviving segment of civilization have the skillset to ^rebuild^ a society; not necessarily in the same structure we have now?

Economic collapse (which I tend to believe is more possible than nuclear war), does not mean that all trade stops. It means that the apple you have is now worth more than the gold rope chain around your neck.

Just remember, if the world didn't suck, we'd all fall off.
[ Parent ]

Survival of an economic collapse (5.00 / 2) (#78)
by theboz on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 04:19:32 PM EST

I think I understand what you are saying...without looking at a nuclear war or some other event that would kill the majority of people in big cities anyways, there is economic change, major social or political change, and that's about all I can think of that could have an adverse effect on "geeks" as we know them.

I seem to remember that the ancient Greeks would fight, argue, debate, and have a lot of intellectual debates like this...but when another group was ready to attack them and try to conquer Greece, they would band together and fight. They were pretty victorious (until the Romans at least) and were able to survive. It also leads me to question what people that would be geeks today were inclined to do with life in the past? I think in the medieval times a lot were priests actually, since the church had most of the books and knowledge, and there has pretty much always been a group of thinkers, even in the worst times.

Now on to the question of the article, I do think that we would survive. Personally, I know some gardening, I can hunt, I can survive in the woods (I was a Boy Scout and in ROTC but my back is in such bad shape they wouldn't accept me in the military), and I have experience raising cows. I think that is about enough to get by. A lot of the other people I know have similar skills and hobbies. Also, the percentage of "geeks" compared to the rest of society is pretty small.

[ Parent ]

"elitism" or "pride and happiness&q (3.50 / 8) (#60)
by fansipans on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 02:13:50 PM EST

in the phrase "I can't help but wonder how realistic that is."...um, what the hell does realistic mean? if i have loves, if i have tastes, opinions and preferences, and i do, they are mine. they do not stem from the values of others, they do not originate from some "ethereal geek mind". they originate from my own values and choices.
if a geologist takes the utmost love and absolute ecstatic pride in his work, does that mean he's not being real because most people can't do that too? if a hacker or geek takes pride in solving a computer problem that is unsolved, should he look at himself differently solely because there are fewer other people that can solve the same problem?
i guess my main point of contention with this article is in the phrase "We take pride in our abilities with machines that baffle most of the rest of the world.". i for one do not. i take pride in solving a problem that baffles ME. you may think i'm showing a different kind of elitism, but damn what the world thinks! if i can't understand something, i go after it. if it just so happens that i have a rare skill that most people don't have, what does that mean? to me, having rare skills means that a lot of people ask you for computer help ;-] heh, but when someone says "am i being elitist about my skills?" it seems to me that they are uncertain of themselves and questioning their own abilities. if you have skills/opinions/thoughts then use them. if you don't then i guess you have more to worry about than "elitism"

eskimo=lucky (2.70 / 10) (#61)
by eskimo on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 02:22:28 PM EST

First of all, I am not sure I understand the topic. I was prepared to have to go on a rant about how we might like Clerks, but that doesn't make us some sort of elitist demographic. I want to go on the record right now, as far as being culturally enlightened, and just plain hep, I am better than any group. I hope everybody who reads this thinks they are better than any group as well.

I hope people understand that people put other people in groups so they can limit them. I don't understand why people rush to limit themselves.

Now, onto the apocalyplse...

I apparently have a different situation than most of you. I live in South Florida. And barring the radical climate changes pointed out in some other posts, I would do just fine. And I'd only need a gun to protect my island. Without commercial fisherman, there would be plenty of edible species, and we could evaporate water. Vegetables might be a problem, but I'll assume a barter system comes into play.

And best of all, I get to pull an Everclear and watch the event from offshore.

I am my own home. - Banana Yoshimoto

Ammo runs out and (4.00 / 2) (#66)
by rednecktek on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 02:45:53 PM EST

you cannot base a (contingency) plan on assumptions. Think about it somemore.

Just remember, if the world didn't suck, we'd all fall off.
[ Parent ]
I Don't Normally... (1.00 / 1) (#75)
by eskimo on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 03:44:19 PM EST

reply to one line posts, because you are just encouraging discussion with myself, but I think you might have meant to respond to somebody else.

I am my own home. - Banana Yoshimoto
[ Parent ]

You have to. (none / 0) (#151)
by AndyL on Thu Dec 07, 2000 at 03:08:22 AM EST

How can you not base your plan on assumptions when the question is so broad-based? Essentialy, the article asks, what would we do if something bad happened.

It's not realistic to have an all-purpose contingancy plan.


[ Parent ]
Doomsday vs. elitist attitude? (3.63 / 11) (#62)
by blixco on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 02:24:09 PM EST

Seems a bit of a silly statement. If the world ended and civilization as we know it collapsed, our elitist attitudes would end / change immediately. What is your question, then? That our attitudes are based on where we stand *now* and not where we stand when the carpet is pulled from underneath us? Of course. Don't be silly.

If you feel bad about your choice of skills, keep in mind your average (insert white collar worker here) will be in the same boat. When the world ends, the slate is cleared, and nothing really counts anymore. Pray for communes, for groups of anarchists....though more than likely you'll run into gangs and survivalists, religious cults, and some roaches.

So you have two choices: prepare for the end of the world (physically, spiritually, mentally), which is at best a draining and devoted lifestyle and at worst advanced paranoia -OR- you can get to know a few things, a few basic skills. Those skillsets are being lost over time (trapping animals, urban warfare, subsistance farming, home medicine and field surgery, etc), and don't count in most areas where handguns outnumber the maniacs who use them, but may buy you an extra horror filled month or two...until some kid air conditions your brain for the want of a few pounds of flour.

To badly paraphrase: You should endeavour to live *each moment* as though you are about to be torn apart by your enemy, ripped into shreds by the wilds, and rendered asunder, scattered to the winds. Then, and only then, will you be able to bring the worth of your flesh into focus: you are more than the sum of your parts. Being alive doesn't necessarily equal breathing.

You'd be surprised how little politics and media and culture and code and money matter when you're about to die. Very surprised.

(As a side note, this may be a great argument for creating yourself in electronic form...you know, dumping your existance onto a computer. Meta-meta diary. That kind of thing. That old cyberspace promise to live on forever, as long as electrons flow....even if they stop flowing for the duration of whatever disaster).
The root of the problem has been isolated.
Scott Adams (4.00 / 2) (#91)
by finkployd on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 05:00:57 PM EST

"Those skillsets are being lost over time (trapping animals, urban warfare, subsistance farming, home medicine and field surgery, etc), and don't count in most areas where handguns outnumber the maniacs who use them, but may buy you an extra horror filled month or two...until some kid air conditions your brain for the want of a few pounds of flour."

I remember in a Y2K edition of the Dogbert newsletter, Scott Adams is quoted as saying "While everyone around me stockpiles food and water for the end of civilization, I'm stockpiling guns and ammo to take the food and water away from those who don't quite grasp what the end of civilization means" :)

Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)
[ Parent ]
Biological Holocaust (4.08 / 12) (#65)
by Carcosa on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 02:35:01 PM EST

I think a nuclear war is much less likely than some kind of biological holocaust, given events in the last few years. In fact, at one time a terminal disease affecting 30 million people worldwide would have been called a horrible catastrophe-- now it's just day-to-day existence. Ebola makes headlines but only because its symptoms are so horrible. It's interesting to note that most outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever in Africa have occurred in areas wracked by ethnic or political strife. Unless it was an outbreak of something slow like airborne HIV or unidentified prions in the food chain, we'd hear in advance about any such terrible epidemic. On the other hand, once you read a bit about this, you realize how grievously vulnerable our cities are to bio as an attack mechanism, and how comparatively easy it has become to set up a bio program. It could also be said that advances in computers and nano, apart from their uses to hurt people directly, are resulting in a sort of technological holocaust wherein more and more people are becoming impoverished due to an increasing disparity between the information haves and have-nots. Truly useful technology is becoming increasingly esoteric-- to learn it, you must first gain an understanding of the things we've immersed ourselves in for the last twenty years. Anyhow, right now we ARE an elite, like it or not. I suppose it's not altogether a bad thing, watching ones salary grow with no college degree and no wage ceiling in sight. But what about the people who slave over fryvats all day for fractions of what we make? Has technology liberated them, or has it merely improved the efficiency of the machinery that oppresses them? Ever look at a McDonald's and think of how its internals resemble a Skinner box?

OPRESSION BY FRYVATS (1.50 / 4) (#83)
by dice on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 04:40:19 PM EST

The people who are "opressed" by such things can get new skills and get a better job.
Thinking you're so much better than everyone else that they can't compete, ie rise out of opression by fry vats is horrible, and stupid.

Being elitist because you know things other people don't, is alright.

[ Parent ]
There's a reason for the elitism (3.38 / 13) (#68)
by cameldrv on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 02:58:03 PM EST

I think that fundamentally the reason geeks are elitist is that a lot of them got picked on as children. Wheras most people don't feel that they have something to prove to the world to the extent that geeks do, many geeks feel (maybe unconsciously) that they need to show that they are better than everyone else to compensate for their poor treatment and ostracism in their younger days. I know personally this applies to me. I think as I became more confident in myself I mellowed out and I don't feel like I have to prove anything to everyone else, and hence there's no reason I have to feel superior to everyone else. I just go along and do my thing and hopefully people will think it's cool.

Ever wonder why you were picked on? (2.20 / 5) (#104)
by Ater on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 07:42:36 PM EST

Perhaps it was the continuously condescending attitude... the smart alecky know-it-all tone so many high school "pseudo" intellectuals like to talk shit like they know the world. I'm sick of some smartass (myself included, as I do it a lot, just like now :) decides to preach down to me without knowing what the fuck he's talking about Perhaps the continuous efforts to gain attention through shock value and offending others (the whole goth and rave kiddie crowds, see Jon Katz's ever-obnoxious hellmouth series) Perhaps the way nerds tend to write off the value of and go out of their way to insult everything they are not good at (sports, humanities, social ability). So you can write a program, big deal... the all-state football player, the varsity cheerleading captain, and the student council president probably worked just as hard as you to have their success, just because you can't get that too doesn't mean you should be bitter and arrogant. Perhaps you overlook that in school, nearly EVERYONE is picked on at some point. The football players haze and sometimes beat the shit out of each other, the cheerleaders have their own form of teasing, and the "regular" people always give each other some level of crap too. It's not just you, it's everyone... get over yourselves and maybe stop trying to act like you're some superior oppressed mass.

[ Parent ]
I hate to break it to you guys... (2.78 / 19) (#72)
by balls001 on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 03:22:09 PM EST

But all the geeks I've ever met have horrible taste in EVERYTHING that they can't be purchased at the local computer store.

Fashion? Ha! The word does means nothing to a geek. Food? Pizza and energy beverages, the more sugar and caffeine the better. This of course has a negative impact on the subject's face. Movies? Monty Python and Star Wars are symbols of high culture? I think not. Although Bruce Campbell might be =)

In my experience with real geeks, a geek will try to spend as much money as possible, with the notion that the more money they have spent, the better (cooler? more elite?) they are. This has been observed in everything from the company's President (Who owns 2 Porsches) to the lowliest programming assistant (who rents out my basement, and has filled it with so much stuff that he never actually uses, since he works over 12 hours a day to pay for all of it).

Now, I will admit, this is a large generalization, but these apply to at least 80% of the geeks I've met. There are admittedly exceptions, although I wouldn't consider them to be 'high society' either.

You just described an "idiot"... (4.00 / 1) (#122)
by Luke Scharf on Sat Dec 02, 2000 at 10:43:26 PM EST

In my experience with real geeks, a geek will try to spend as much money as possible, with the notion that the more money they have spent, the better (cooler? more elite?) they are.

By my way of thinking, the people you've described are people with more money than sense - AKA idiots. I consider a geek someone who's good at building stuff and understanding stuff. I don't give much credit to someone who got a cool toy merely by buying it.

Case 1: A customized low-riding boom-booming Honda CRX with "Bob's Auto Customizing" displayed proudly in the back window. He wants to be a "car guy". I think the driver of that machine is someone with more money than sense.

Case 2: A dirty beat up old Ford Tempo. After talking to the owner, we start talking about how the suspension on his machine is put together. He shows me where he hacked in an in A-arm from an old pickup truck when the origional piece needed to be replaced. This man is a first degree geek - he understands the system and can do things with it. Maybe he's even a hacker - he enjoys "the creative misuse of technology".

I would be proud to be placed in the same catagory as the second gentleman.

[ Parent ]
You just described.. (none / 0) (#149)
by balls001 on Wed Dec 06, 2000 at 10:49:51 AM EST

1: A slow-witted moron who gets slow-witted mechanics to make upgrades to his car.

2: The slow-witted mechanic.

[ Parent ]
Being able to hack machines... (none / 0) (#155)
by Luke Scharf on Sat Dec 09, 2000 at 01:43:17 AM EST

2: The slow-witted mechanic.

In my humble opinion, being able to hack a machanical machine is just as honorable as being able to hack an electronic machine.

[ Parent ]
of course we could survive the apocalypse! (2.20 / 10) (#73)
by shaniber on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 03:29:17 PM EST

we've all played Wasteland and Fallout, so I'm pretty darn sure that we'd all be able to pick up one of the many shotguns or Uzis lying around, and use it for our survival. :)

seriously, though, I think that we all fall somewhere on a bell curve of survival knowledge; some of use being hardcore survivalists, others being city-fied to the point of not knowing what to do when the power goes out, and the rest of us falling somewhere on that continuum.

whew, delurk! :)


Able to adapt (2.57 / 7) (#74)
by enterfornone on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 03:43:02 PM EST

We perhaps not the degree geeks :) but most geeks I know pick up new things pretty quickly and can easily adapt to new situations. These skills will be important in the event of a nuclear war. Many geeks I know are also pretty good auto mechanics.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
Grease monkeys are geeks (4.00 / 1) (#93)
by /dev/niall on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 05:19:23 PM EST

We perhaps not the degree geeks :) but most geeks I know pick up new things pretty quickly and can easily adapt to new situations. These skills will be important in the event of a nuclear war. Many geeks I know are also pretty good auto mechanics.

Actually, I would say most auto-mechanics are geeks.

Get over yourselves (not you enterfornone! <g>)... just because you understand how a computer works doesn't make you special. Not one damn bit.
"compared to the other apes, my genitals are gigantic" -- TheophileEscargot
[ Parent ]

We *are* special (4.00 / 1) (#98)
by blixco on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 06:09:05 PM EST

Depending on how you define special. We have a very specialized skillset. It may be no better than, say, a baker or a soldier or a yeti, but it's a special skill set. And right now those skills are in demand, and are fairly well compensated, and carry a certain prestige among fools.

Get over myself? Pride in your work is no bad thing. Probably would be a better place if we did have some pride over ego. The problem is the sheer volume of ego attached to people with little or no skill.

But I'm one to talk.
The root of the problem has been isolated.
[ Parent ]
Please don't take the original post the wrong way (4.00 / 1) (#119)
by /dev/niall on Sat Dec 02, 2000 at 01:40:25 PM EST

Depending on how you define special. We have a very specialized skillset. It may be no better than, say, a baker or a soldier or a yeti, but it's a special skill set. And right now those skills are in demand, and are fairly well compensated, and carry a certain prestige among fools.

Compensation and prestige are hardly factors that I use to consider myself special, and I'm willing to go out on a limb and say most of us feel the same way.
Do you feel special because you make a lot of money, or have the awe of non-technical folks? I don't. I feel special because I understand things that aren't obvious or easy to pick up.

Get over myself? Pride in your work is no bad thing. Probably would be a better place if we did have some pride over ego. The problem is the sheer volume of ego attached to people with little or no skill.

Pride isn't always bad. The condescending nature and narrow view of the topic is. We're all people no matter how much esoteric knowledge we cram into our heads. How prepared would a nuclear engineer be in a post-nuclear war world (besides having the wit not to get radiation poisening ;) ? It's very elitist to assume we as "computer geeks" face different challenges in life than "regular people". We are "regular people", who at this particular point in time happen to be in demand. Hence my plea -- Get over yourselves. I'm not trying to be belligerent, I'm actually begging. ;)
"compared to the other apes, my genitals are gigantic" -- TheophileEscargot
[ Parent ]

My view of me vs. the general public (5.00 / 1) (#123)
by blixco on Sun Dec 03, 2000 at 11:29:06 AM EST

I've had this problem lately of people assuming that I'm speaking for me. It's my fault.

"I feel special because I understand things that aren't obvious or easy to pick up." That's actually what I meant...but also that this "specialness" (whew) is recognized by the general public. Skill is skill. I am in awe of machinists, those guys with CNC lathes and such? I'd kill for that knowledge.

But we're percieved a certain way. People look at us differently because we've got this skill. It's not a bad thing. It's something to be proud of. My grandfather was a mechanic in WW2. He became a mechanic after the war at a small shop in Virginia. People knew him, looked up to him because he was an excellent mechanic. And he had pride in that.

So, to the root of your original post: if the world ended, none of this would matter. At all. The whole of the equation changes, and even if you do have a large amount of skill in, say, farming or building shelter the chances of you living another year are slim. There are people with guns out there, and some of 'em aren't nice at all. And the ones with the ammunition will win. Sucks to be us.

Becoming a survivalist takes a dedication and isolation that I could never muster. The skills are easy to find, and it's fairly easy to keep yourself alive in a non-urban environment. Eventually (if you lived long enough sans violence) you could learn to subsist. It would take it's toll on your sanity, though. So it's not so much the skillset as the strength of the individual. I lived for a year in the Muir woods. Stayed in a hunting shack (it had three walls and most of a roof when I got there). It didn't take me long to figure out where to fish, where to plant, and where to hunt. After six months, I was happy. By the end of it, I was a jabbering psychopath. So it's not the basic skills. It's the more advanced survival: can you live and not go crazy in the process?

Side note (and not pertaining): people should try to live off the land as much as possible. In an urban environment, a subsistance garden would be a good step. If for no other reason than just the pride of being more self sufficient than the next guy, and less dependent on the economy.
The root of the problem has been isolated.
[ Parent ]
Self-described g**ks *are* elitist bastards (3.92 / 26) (#82)
by Estanislao Martínez on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 04:37:53 PM EST

As a /. troll with a reasonable degree of success, I think I can argue this authoritatively.

This goes to something I've talked about plenty already-- what somebody on that other site called once /. arrogance-- the belief that programming is the hardest human endeavour in existence, and thus, programmers are the smartest people, and if you know how to program, you can do anything any other professional can as well as they do, or even better.

Like, i.e., give legal advice ("IANAL, but [B.S.]"), lecture experts about their own areas of expertise (e.g., go up to a linguist, condescendingly start explaining to them the most idiotic and trivial ideas from, say, Pinker's books, *and* then get them backwards). Or the numerous stories in /. or here in k5 about "g**k political organizing"-- the typical "if anybody is able to hack the political system, we g**ks are". The g**k's premise *is* self-superiority.

Self-declared g**ks typically also have reading comprehension problems. This was one of the biggest motifs in my /. trolling career-- I'd write something in such a way that it simply couldn't be more explicit, and then an idiot g**k /bot would simply assume that I wrote and meant what he thought I wrote and meant, instead of what I actually did. Thus no need to actually *read* what I wrote. I could just go on and on in a kilometric thread, just pointing out that their latest reply was just based around a reading comprehension mistake.

G**ks are the kind of people who pick up a pop science book, read it, and actually come to believe they understand the topic enough to say something meaningful about it. Apart from the aforementioned Pinker books, same thing happens with Hofstadter, Penrose, Hawking, Gould, Dawkins, etc., name it.

I hate g**ks.


Hey..... (1.00 / 5) (#96)
by blixco on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 06:03:10 PM EST

.....you're a troll, aren't you?

Damn fine work. Reliably interesting. Sometimes informed.

Side question: do you guys consider yourselves anarchists, or is that just some tired old label that should be replaced by "troll" in the next websters?
The root of the problem has been isolated.
[ Parent ]
Hmm... (4.50 / 2) (#101)
by Elendale on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 06:46:36 PM EST

While i can't disagree with your arguments, i have two points which i would like to throw my voice into. Firstly, geeks who talk of 'organizing geeks for mass political protest' or 'geeks can hack politics' or some such talk are (IMO) ignorant. I have yet to see a real organized political rally/whatever (correct me if i'm wrong, but its just the EFF and, to a lesser extent, FSF). I wish it weren't so, but we seem to be the only group who haven't figured it out. Not that i'm any better.
Secondly, i wouldn't say 'geeks have reading comprehension problems'. While i am a rather careful reader (if i dare say so) a certain friend of mine (you don't know him) has this way of reading 4 words in a 16 word sentance and assuming the rest (with surprising accuracy) and thus can be led into saying some interesting things :) I think that some read very cautiosly and others skim and fill in the gaps.


When free speech is outlawed, only criminals will complain.

[ Parent ]
I'm a self-described geek, but... (3.33 / 3) (#107)
by cronio on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 11:56:44 PM EST

it has absolutely nothing to do with the "slashdotian" view of geekdom. I'm 16, have been programming in some form or another for 6 years, love computers, etc, etc, but yet, I'm good at sports, athletic, and relatively popular. I don't like caffein, and don't code all day, which seem to be all the slashdotian qualities that make you a geek. I could survive in the wilderness. I DO THINGS OUTDOORS. People joke about geeks not seing light for days at a time, but some of that is true, and it's pretty sad. I used to spend most of my time coding...when I was 14 and 15, I went through a period where that was basically all I did. Then, last summer, I got a job programming. I loved the job, but I no longer have the desire to program after school, or on the weekends.

While I was at my job, I met a few different types of geeks there...the type that stayed at work all day (7am to 3am sometimes), the type that went home and coded some more, on their own projects, and the type that, when they went home, had nothing more to do with programming. And you know what? They were all more or less "just as good" at programming...they were all really good (and they were all millionaires from previous jobs).

I guess my point is that I've been the geek that goes home and codes through the night...but now I find I prefer being the geek that has social contact, and does things that don't relate to computers. I like being respected and liked by the non-geeks (I'm a "part-jock" I guess you could say...one of my friends even says I'm "too jocky to be a nerd"...I'd say I'm a mixed breed of both).

Anyway, I guess this is a bit of a rant, and it's a little discombobulated (I'm tired), but I hate it when people think there is only one type of geek, and when everyone on slashdot thinks that every geek is just like them. BTW, there isn't just one type of jock, either...a lot of them are really nice. I also agree with Estanislao's post...but you can't just say geek (or g**k), you have to specify "slashdotian" geek (or whatever).

[ Parent ]
Not always bad, tho (none / 0) (#137)
by aphrael on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 06:57:10 PM EST

Like, i.e., give legal advice ("IANAL, but [B.S.]"),

Sometimes that's appropriate, believe it or not. I'm a computer programmer; one of my biggest hobbies is law --- I read court decisions almost daily when i'm in the mood for that sort of thing, and I took numerous law classes in college. Am I qualified to give real legal advice? no. But I have a better understanding of the legal landscape than the average layperson; I am qualified to draw out a broad map and say "go see an expert for details on this area" --- and since that map will help the person i'm talking to decide if they are going to see a lawyer, or will help them understand what's going on in florida, why is it bad for me to do that, if i'm clear that that's what i'm doing?

[ Parent ]

we like what we're good at (4.00 / 7) (#84)
by Delirium on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 04:43:13 PM EST

I just see it as being a general human tendency to magnify the important of the things we're good at and mitigate the importance of those we suck at. Geeks tend to be good at programming and computers in general so consider proficiency with technology to be important. They also tend to be good at logic and things like that so consider those important. They tend to be bad at (in-person) social interaction and sports, so consider those rather less important. Athletes, on the other hand, consider sports to be important (since they are good at them), and may (at the risk of overgeneralizing) consider technology to be less important since it's not their strong point. So it's really not something specific to "geeks."

Personal experience (4.37 / 8) (#94)
by CAIMLAS on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 05:27:08 PM EST

If push came to shove, and it was required, I believe I'd be able to adapt quite easily. I wouldn't likely enjoy the absence of computers and technology, though. (Who knows, I might like the simplistic beauty of it.)

I like to think of myself as a well-rounded individual, not as one who is supreme in any one category. I will, however, voice my knowledge when I am sure I know my topic thuroughly. In my experience, it is not geeks that self-rightiously proclaim their opinion as facts, but people who do not have the logical or mental capacity to actually be geeks, and are thus jealous.

After the radiation has taken the majority of its toll, I would say that the people that are most likely to survive are those who are well-rounded individuals. They would have decent to good communication skills, be in 'good' physical health (as determined by, say, a physician), have a good head on their shoulders, not lack common sence, able to logically reason, duduct solutions from the given facts in a rational reason, and have an outgoing, friendly personality. Raw intelligence, as modeled by your average IQ test, would not be as large a determinant.

In such a situation as a nuclear winter, people would most likely require basic understanding of the physical world they live in, on a chemical level, such as previously mentioned - how to make cement, how to lay a foundation of a house, etc. Any 'geek' who has gone through a liberal arts college should know these things. Goodness, anyone who has gotten a degree from high school should; the combination of this knowledge - at least a general understanding - with common sence, and decent communication skills, would do well.

"It's all in who you know" might also apply here. Larger groups of people who colaborate would have a lot better chancse of survival. Ten men in the woods hunting a deer (provided they know what they're doing and can aim worth jack) have a better chance of shooting a single deer than one. A group effort reaps group profit. Geeks are known to be able to network among their peer group fairly well, in my experience. There always seems to be a 'Head Geek' in any given group who is looked up to. They might not be the most knowledgeable, either - quite possibly they just have the best social/management skills. A geek that is able to network outside the 'geek' subculture would have an exceedingly good chance of aquiring a leadership position in such a group, I would think. (Note, MSCEs need not apply, generally speaking.)

Socialism and communism better explained by a psychologist than a political theorist.

Adaptability - alone, or in society... (3.64 / 14) (#95)
by Kunstwerk on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 05:57:15 PM EST

What I am getting at here is, do we have the basic skills to survive no matter what happens?

Most probably, very few people living in an urban environment, K5ers or not, would have all of the practical skills required to survive in case of a large-scale disaster. However, there's one great skill the large majority of us have and which would help us out tremendously: algorithmic thinking.

Most of us pursue a career, or studies, in which one is required to approach a problem and dissect it methodically. We are used to converting large problems into sets of smaller problems, with choices.

Let's approach the problem of food.

We could see this problem a bit like this:

  • Do I eat meat? (yes|no)
  • If (yes) then I must acquire meat.
  • I can acquire meat through, say, hunting, looting, or raising livestock.
  • To hunt, I need a rifle. Do I have a rifle? If not, can I get one? etc...

What I'm getting at is that we may probably not start with all the needed skills and equipment right off the bat. However, we would know what to acquire fairly quickly. Then we'd most probably be able to follow the necessary steps to acquire it. So yes, we'd probably do well in case of an emergency except for one thing.

Social engineering.

In case of a cataclysm, people would be running wild. To survive in that kind of environment, we'd have to negotiate. Predict the reactions of people. We would have to be able to answer the question, "who can you trust?" And the problem is, some of us are less adept at dealing with people in real-life situations than at dealing with machines; we are also sometimes less adept at dealing with irrational-minded people as we are at dealing with rational-minded people. And in case of an emergency, except for people with very cool heads, reason tends to fly out the window.

The problem, IMHO, is not only that we wouldn't know how to hunt to survive. The problem is, rather, that we would not know how to deal with someone who's on our hunting territory, and who has the same quarry as us in his sights.

So that's my answer to the second part of the story, asking whether geeks would survive in case of an emergency. As to the first part, whether we are just plain elitist bastards... not all of us. But many.

Many of us are. But why? Why would we want to show contempt for those who are not like us, who have different skills than ours? I think there must be reasons. They may be social, a question of values, perhaps? Honestly, I don't know. But hey, K5's a discussion board; somebody here's got to have an idea :)

Thoughts on this?


--KW [Diary] /* Do all humans pass the Turing Test? */

a possible reason for an elitist attitude... (4.00 / 5) (#97)
by Cynic77 on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 06:06:28 PM EST

It seems that most of us were downtrodden by the majority of the people that we knew in our youth, due to our markedly different skillset. Also, I would venture to say that our interests were sufficiently different in those same years that we were basically "social outcasts" to the majority of those people. Now, we tend to be highly respected and even revered(sp) for our skills, and almost pushed into a position of godlike status by those who do not understand our abilities, but benefit from them. To me, that would partially explain the attitude if it exists: they tend to treat us that way on a fairly regular basis, so in turn, we start to act that way. Possible explanation?

When my ship comes in, I'll probably be at the airport...
[ Parent ]
sounds sensible (3.00 / 2) (#117)
by goosedaemon on Sat Dec 02, 2000 at 09:30:31 AM EST

i mean, geeks are humans too. humans can do some pretty irrational things, and behaving to fit into others' expectations is one of these...

[ Parent ]
Not quite... (3.00 / 1) (#100)
by sugarman on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 06:44:10 PM EST

The problem, IMHO, is not only that we wouldn't know how to hunt to survive. The problem is, rather, that we would not know how to deal with someone who's on our hunting territory, and who has the same quarry as us in his sights.

Until you realize that the problem isn't someone who is tracking the same quarry, and rather views you as the quarry, you're likely to have difficulty dealing with them. =)
[ Parent ]

Technical goats (4.42 / 7) (#112)
by tokage on Sat Dec 02, 2000 at 01:47:48 AM EST

This story generalizes pretty horribly. Each person is different, and has different skills. Having said that, I would like to ask, what makes a geek what they are? By being competent in their field of interest. We're mostly intelligent, and posess good problem solving skills, or we wouldn't be good programmers, sysadmins, whatever. What I think you're missing here is, what would a 'normal' person be like in an environment which you described? Do you think average non-technical person possesses a greater ability to survive in a non civilized environment, simply because they have a few skills which in general a technical person wouldn't have? Somehow, the thought of a man/woman who works their 9-5, and is scared that their computer is a demon, but can plan a trip to disney land with their kids, driving out and staying in motel 8's doesn't inure within me the confidence they would be able to survive in the wilderness better than a technical person. I think what you should say is, could the average -American- survive without their creature comforts they've come to depend on. It's hard to imagine the lady driving the carpool, then going to the store and picking up dinner creating fire by friction, or something like that.

I'm going to briefly get a bit off topic. In my opinion, that's a danger in technology, an obvious one, we become so dependant on it for the conviences it offers that we get to a point where we can't exist without it. In one of Asimov's Robot books, he talks about a society so dependant on their machines the Chief of Police doesn't even know how to dress himself, or where his clothes are located. Another problem I see is, once you depend on technology so heavily to provide us with our comforts, at the cost of the environment, you have to depend on technology to provide the answers to things like cleaning up the pollutions we create, so we can continue on living. I believe that even now, we're too dependant on our technologies to easily live without things like electricity for an extended period of time.

Anyway, about the geek attitude, why do we have it? I think it's because, in a world of technology, a world that relies on the internet and computers increasingly, we are the masters. We can control and understand what scares people, we're not intimidated by the machines which have a potential to control us, in that we could come to rely on them so heavily, we'd be helpless without them. We feel superior because there are all these people who use computers daily, in many various applications, from the ones controlling their cars, to the ones they're scared are going to eat their data, and we understand how these things work. It's analogous to the sheep and to goats, if you think about it.

I think that this is a mindset which would be carried on into other situations. If society collapsed due to a natural catastrophe, or through the horribly short sighted and stupidness that could result in a nuclear war, I believe that us geeks would be the instruments of rebuilding. The technical skills we use in computers would be applied to things like building residences, building productive farms, etc. We would once again be cast in the position of the goats mixed with the sheep, taking care of them, bitching all the while about how "that luser can't even cut at a proper 90 degree angle with manual I wrote for him".

I always play / Russian roulette in my head / It's 17 black, or 29 red

really really bad analogy (1.00 / 1) (#116)
by goosedaemon on Sat Dec 02, 2000 at 09:23:39 AM EST

Goats are just as stupid as sheep. (We currently have goats and have had sheep in the past. )

[ Parent ]
A dissenting opinion on the nuclear winter theory (3.40 / 5) (#113)
by nukebuddy on Sat Dec 02, 2000 at 05:16:28 AM EST

It should be kept in mind that Carl Sagan was not a doctor of climatology. He was a doctor of astrophysics. His theory of nuclear winter has not been accepted by climatologists. Here's a dissenting essay on nuclear winter.

I read a big green book. (none / 0) (#115)
by goosedaemon on Sat Dec 02, 2000 at 09:15:40 AM EST

I read a big green book entitled "Nuclear War Survival Skills" ... I have no idea who wrote it. I do remember that the guy who wrote it said he didn't mind if people "pirated" it (not the word he used, but... ), because he wrote it on the taxpayers' dime for the benefit of the taxpayers, so it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume it's found on the web somewhere. Anyway, it discussed some ways to survive a nuclear disaster, and it also accused the nuclear winter theory of being wrong.

[ Parent ]
elitist bastards? (4.33 / 3) (#114)
by Ataka on Sat Dec 02, 2000 at 08:49:55 AM EST

"We as geeks have attitude." While this doesn't apply to every geek it is mostly true. I'm 17 and very intrested in computer science but most of the time when I go to irc with a unix question (after RingTFM of course) it seems they ignore me and a few times I was kicked from the sever for simply asking a question. Don't get me wrong there are a few irc servers where i find people who are very helpful and polite. I just don't understand how someone could have great interest in something yet shun people that share the exact same interest. Another case in point, I recently attended a LUG and had a question about running a ftp sever on Slackware but most of the people there were using Red Hat. After 15 minutes of "this is why you should switch to Red Hat" one guy did pulled me aside and help me with my problem. Maybe I took that experience the wrong way but I felt like I was being talked down to for not choosing the "tool" that they thought was "the right choice." Even after reading some of the comments about this story people proudly admit, "yes I'm elite." I'm not flaming anyone here so please don't take this the wrong way but why does your your skill, programming or sysadmin, make you feel like your better or more l33t than say a mechanic? It seems some people in high school have the same type of attitude. Because their family is rich and they were blessed with good looks they look down on others, including me, because we aren't rich and don't look like Brad Pit.
"What if we had a major nuclear war?" I seriously doubt we're apt to take on that kind of catastrophe. Psychological breakdown along with fear, depression, and desperation would be too overwhelming for most and even the strongest minded people wouldn't be able to survive a nuclear winter IMO.


Yup. (none / 0) (#118)
by simmons75 on Sat Dec 02, 2000 at 11:19:21 AM EST

I find that happens way too much. For some reason tech-minded people can't answer a question until they like the question. While I don't think you should take IRC too seriously, here's a halfway remembered snippet, i.e. not logged, but going from memory, from openprojects.net recently:

me: anyone know what port(s) esd uses?
other_person: don't use esd
other_person: it's a security hole

Well, thank you very much. In fact, I was aware of that. I was thinking that there was an esd client that could act like "tee" and pipe audio output to a file, and esd clients kept stalling out. I don't even run esd. I explained that to the person and they decided to go on a rant about people who do things like leave /dev/dsp0 world-writable and other things like that. Very entertaining. *yawn*
So there.

[ Parent ]
Blowhards (none / 0) (#124)
by inpHilltr8r on Sun Dec 03, 2000 at 05:58:40 PM EST

It's probably because he had no idea what ports esd used, but rather liked the sound of his own voice, and just needed an little excuse to go off on an easy and familiar rant.

I hate those guys.

[ Parent ]
The attitude is a mask for weakness. (4.00 / 1) (#126)
by cfish on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 12:58:58 AM EST

As others point out, not all of us have "that attitude." In fact, the best of us often do not have "that attitude." The truth is, "That Attitude(tm)" is a sign of weakness.

True strength comes in the form of tenderness. In Rider-Waite Tarot cards, "Strength" is depicted as a woman, who is carressing a lion.

Look around you. People with the biggest Attitude(tm) are the technical support, help desk, system administrators. They are simply frustrated themselves. I doubt if you will see Linus Torvalds running around making fun of newbies, because a man of true strength will help the weak. So called "Geeks" are social outcasts. Not the best stud in the eyes of females. Ones who answers to the management. Need I say more?

Look around you carefully. You will find that the one who got the real stuff are the humble ones. The one with attitude problems are usually using it as a masquerade for his ignorance. Please don't say that all of us have attitude problems. We don't. Only the loud ones do.

I agree, to an extent... (none / 0) (#131)
by tympanic on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 02:12:59 PM EST

I agree that those who loudly make fun of newbies have obvious Attitudes(tm), but the more prevalent symptom that I see is simple frustration. Geek thinks, "I can't understand what is so hard about this, that you are having such trouble with it." It's not something that is vocal, and is sometimes not even /conciously/ thought. I find myself unconciously thinking things like this on a regular basis, and every programmer/geek/guru/<insert term here> I have ever talked to about this has found the same thing in themselves.

"I've noticed success tends to mean making sure people's expectations are low and then exceeding them" -David Simpson
[ Parent ]

Nah (2.00 / 1) (#127)
by Eivind on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 06:47:43 AM EST

Why assume that nerds would do significantly differently from the average population if our lives changed suddenly and violently ? (Like in the big-war scenario you mention)

Some nerds would do ok, others would not, knowing tcp/ip probably won't help much, however having a flexible mind and being open to do thing differently will definately help.

Quite many of us also love to learn stuff in general, which increases the chanse that we know something useful. Me for instance, I'm a certified firefigther and smokediver, and I've had quite a bit more than the bare-bones basic of first-aid. If those skills will be useful I can't tell, but it doesn't seem too unlikely to me.

Also, it's much better knowing how things work as opposed to just how things are operated. Most peple know how to drive a car. How many knows how to fix it themselves if it breaks ? I think quite many nerds are like me - interested in how things work in general, and thus more likely to be able to fix atleast _some_ of them if they no longer work.

We are the ones who could. (3.00 / 1) (#128)
by Peeteriz on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 09:07:37 AM EST

Too many people I see around me have the attitude 'I know how to do things with it, why should I care how it works?'
Geek-type people don't agree with this. And while, yes, our knowledge now is very biased towards high-tech, and not the low-tech environment that supports it, we could support a techy lifestyle after a catastrophe.
the 1900 engineers would feel much more at home after a nuclear war, because then people knew how to do chemistry, mechanics and electricty-generating better, still, I, for example could fix many things in a car, solder home electronics, wire up a radio or something.
And, what is most important, people to whom tinkering is innate, are able to LEARN. Fast. The knowledge how to make a certain something is in the books, and someone with a techy background can do most of things that do not require sophisticated machinery (making silicon wafers comes to mind as impossible then).
We use crude tools to fashion better tools, then use them to make more precise tools, and so on. A skilled worker with a 'default' mindset would know how to use the latest tools. A tinkerer would be able, given some time, reference books would be an advantage, but not cruicial, to follow the path, if not to the current height of technology, then certainly to an acceptable level, say, 20-30 years back.

Are you kidding? (1.33 / 3) (#129)
by trhurler on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 01:04:37 PM EST

Half the people in the US honestly believe that punching a voting card might be too difficult for a reasonable person. THEY are the ones who are screwed if it comes time to "survive." Well, them and the idiots who call themselves survivalists but have never actually left the comfort of their heated cabins for more than a day at a time, anyway. I'm perfectly comfortable with my ability to do whatever it takes, and I have such a huge edge in understanding of how things work over most people that I'd gladly put myself up against the top 10% of "survivable" people and I think I'd stack up pretty well. There is a point beyond which I would no longer care, but the basic ability to survive is another matter.

Of course, the better question is, why do you worry about nuclear wars? They aren't going to happen, and even if a war involving one or more nukes did occur, it wouldn't be much like what you've been taught to fear.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

Top 10%? (3.00 / 2) (#130)
by streetlawyer on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 01:11:20 PM EST

Since about two-thirds of the world's population are farmers, and the vast majority of them are subsistence farmers who produce their own food every day of their lives, it would seem a little bit arrogant to put yourself in the top decile of "survivables". For an urban American, simply landing outside the bottom quintile would be an achievement.

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
I think I can be skeptical. (5.00 / 3) (#132)
by Estanislao Martínez on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 05:26:57 PM EST

I'm perfectly comfortable with my ability to do whatever it takes, and I have such a huge edge in understanding of how things work over most people that I'd gladly put myself up against the top 10% of "survivable" people and I think I'd stack up pretty well.

I don't know anything about subsistence farming, but I *do* know it is quite a complex and subtle thing, which people learn from their communities from an early age. I'd really be skeptical that you (or for that matter, I) would be able to do it very nearly as well as somebody who's lived it all their lives, if you could manage to do it at all. The traditional knowledge used is very subtle, and modern technological societies tend to look down on it and favor "modern" solutions.

Your "understanding of how things work" might just be inapplicable, and to think you could do this stuff at any level of proeficiency just because you are "smart" is ludicrous. Even more, it gives lie to your idea that you "understand" stuff: your "dumb" third world farmer, who doesn't "understand how things work" (in your technologized sense) would run circles around you.

And I'm sure a good number of the people with this kind of knowledge would indeed have trouble with the punch cards in the elections.

[ Parent ]

I wouldn't plan on subsistance farming... (1.00 / 1) (#133)
by trhurler on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 05:42:26 PM EST

in a post-nuclear world. Either your area got hit or it didn't. If it didn't, then you probably won't need such techniques, and if it did, then you're hardly going to grow crops there anyway. In the former case, you probably would live in a poorer, perhaps less law-abiding, but still recognizable version of a modern western society. In the latter, you probably would live as a scavenger. Either way, in the short term you might face various survival problems - but either way, I'll gladly put myself above ANY subsistance farmer in terms of raw survivability in those circumstances.

Don't get me wrong; subsistance farming is certainly a very complex human endeavor, and I respect the ability to do it - but I don't think it has anything to do with nuclear war except in a few fringe areas; the greatest death toll in a nuclear war, in fact, would probably be the subsistance farmers, at least in the long run, because they're incredibly susceptible to epidemics, and the aid that helps to prevent epidemics today would probably no longer exist.

In order to comprehend the world I'm envisioning, think about this: none of the "major nuclear powers" will EVER start a nuclear war, because they know it would be the end of them. However, it is possible that someone else might, causing a limited but still chain-reacting retaliation. Large areas, but not everything, would be devastated. Areas of high wealth would probably be hardest hit, causing chain-reaction suffering amongst the poorest, with those in the middle and away from major military complexes surviving with the least change to their lives.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Do you really think... (3.00 / 1) (#134)
by Estanislao Martínez on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 06:12:36 PM EST

...that you know more about nature than a subsistence farmer in a 3rd world country using traditional knowledge does?

Their knowledge does not just extend to farming-- they also have knowledge of which wild plants are good to eat, medicinal uses of the plants, which animals are good to eat, behavior of local animals, etc. All sorts of stuff.

I insist, unless you grew up in a rural environment where this kind of culture is practiced, I find it impossible to believe that you will know more about this kind of stuff than a farmer. Thus, even in your scavenging scenario, you are at a grave disadvantage.

[ Parent ]

Scavenging/nature knowledge (1.00 / 1) (#135)
by trhurler on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 06:17:35 PM EST

First off, the sort of knowledge you're talking about is highly specialized; knowing it for one region means nothing about a different region, and those regions can be as small as a few miles on a side in some places. Secondly, I have considerable knowledge of such things in certain areas, but none in others. Third, when I say scavenge, I don't mean forage. The two are entirely different concepts. At foraging, many subsistance farmers would beat me; most of them probably cannot conceive of survival built on scavenging the remains of a previous human civilization - but I'd be good at it.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Still... (3.00 / 1) (#136)
by Estanislao Martínez on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 06:34:15 PM EST

First off, the sort of knowledge you're talking about is highly specialized; knowing it for one region means nothing about a different region, and those regions can be as small as a few miles on a side in some places.

I'd say the "few miles" case is rare.

And simply, you can only realistically stray so far.

Third, when I say scavenge, I don't mean forage. The two are entirely different concepts. At foraging, many subsistance farmers would beat me; most of them probably cannot conceive of survival built on scavenging the remains of a previous human civilization - but I'd be good at it.

Why would you be any better? "Because of my better understanding of how things work" will not do as an answer. What specific knowledge/skills do you claim would make you superior in such a context?

[ Parent ]

Ok (3.00 / 2) (#138)
by trhurler on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 07:29:42 PM EST

There are basically two types of knowledge which are useful here. The first is knowledge of the previous culture you're scavenging. The second is general knowledge of the technology they possessed. It is blatantly obvious that I'm going to be better at both of these than a subsistance farmer, but I'll go into gory detail:

I can find anything I need in quantity. There are a lot of people, but there wouldn't be after a few nukes, so the odds are goods would be more plentiful than people, IF you knew where to find them. Without little niceties such as an organized government to claim all the spoils as its own, obtaining such things poses little challenge if you have the knowledge. Food, various emergency and more permanent shelters, water purification, power generation systems, lighting, refrigeration - would all be available to someone who knew where to find them and how to use them. It is entirely possible that, on a homebrew power station, one could even have a computer, an entertainment center, and so on. Of course, nothing new would be produced, no new software, cds, movies, or whatever - but the point is, the scavenger life could be trivially easy for someone like, say, me, who knows enough about how things work to repair them when necessary and knows where they can be found and so on. Every need I'd have, from self defense to food and water to shelter and so on, can be nearly ideally met.

Now compare to a subsistance farmer. In his own region, there'd be nothing to scavenge, and the ground would be poisoned beyond farm use. In my area, he'd know nothing about where to find the things that could make life workable, and not much more about how to use them. He might learn, if he didn't die first, but it would be a long, painful struggle at the very least. Matters as simple as "where do I find a can opener in the remnants of this large city" are obvious to people who have lived there, but a subsistance farmer might not even know it when he saw it unless it was a model similar to one sold in his homeland.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
unrealistic assumptions? (1.00 / 1) (#139)
by streetlawyer on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 02:34:19 AM EST

You appear to live in a world where tin cans protect food from radioactive contamination, and where the main target of a nuclear war is unoccupied farmland. Furthermore, in that country, it is survivalists like you who survive a nuclear war, while the "organised government" forgets about its bunkers and blunders out into the wilderness.

It is indeed fortunate that nuclear war is unlikely, but you may want to rethink your survival plan.

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

too many survivors, not enough goods (none / 0) (#148)
by anonymous cowerd on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 10:02:50 PM EST

There are a lot of people, but there wouldn't be after a few nukes, so the odds are goods would be more plentiful than people...

I suspect this is only wishful thinking on your part. After a nuclear war there'd be lots and lots of survivors - including loads of walking, rather staggering wounded, wild eyed half crazy and definitely untrustworthy, stumbling out of the left behind, out of gas cars that drove madly out and away from the bombed cities. Everywhere you go, the farther out of town the worse, there'll be way too many of these people. Far too many of them will have brought along various firearms; not a damn one of them will have brought a shovel. Meanwhile there'll be zero available gasoline or electric power. How long will it take you just to supplant the electric well pump in your yard to get your drinking water? And with what? A hand crank? No pumped water for irrigation, no fertilizer, no truck services which means that any crops that aren't already grown now within fifty miles of you might as well be on the other side of the moon. I tell you, your favorite woods wherever they are will be full of people. All the game will have been hunted out.

There'll be iron strict martial law all across the country anyway. The military police will organize rationing, which will handle our starvation problem probably as well as it can be handled under the circumstance, and they will harshly punish hoarding, which will nullify the advantage of, say, one's game-hunting skills. Anyway if you're handy with that gun of yours you'll probably be drafted into the armed forces. Good luck! If you're handy with bandages, a far higher skill, you'll be drafted as a medic, and perform terrible service.

Provided you have even survived that long into this scenario! Where are the strategic targets near your house? Are you sure you know them all? Are there, say, any runways long enough to stage KC-10s within blast or even fallout range of your house? Big aerial refuel planes, prime targets for dirty surface blasts. Whenever it falls too close to you, all the virtue in the world won't fend away any of the seven deaths coiled inside those bombs.

Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

"This calm way of flying will suit Japan well," said Zeppelin's granddaughter, Elisabeth Veil.
[ Parent ]

targets, etc (4.00 / 1) (#150)
by trhurler on Wed Dec 06, 2000 at 03:05:33 PM EST

You're assuming a lot more would survive than is likely, and I forgot to name one of my assumptions, which is that I'm there to survive at all. The latter is unlikely, but if it isn't assumed, then the discussion as it was originally framed is pointless.

As for targets, unless I was away from home at the time, I wouldn't even survive the initial blasts, much less the radiation. I work within a mile of an international airport that is also home to a military base, and there are three or four other military bases within 50 miles, not to mention a military aircraft production facility less than a mile away and a cruise missle factory less than ten miles away, and one of the larger collections of interstates converging that you'll find in the US. We also have quite a few advanced materials facilities(carbon fiber, etc) and machine shops. Then there're the things I don't actually know about. The entire area I live in would be turned into a large glass desert - assuming the US was hit by someone with adequate quantities of weapons to really fight such a war.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
You're just being morbid and pessimistic! (none / 0) (#140)
by phliar on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 03:49:50 AM EST

What if we had a major nuclear war? [...] Do we know... the recipe for concrete?
First: what are the odds that there would be a nuclear war (or other disaster) of exactly such a magnitude that there would be a significant number of survivors, and where they would all need to know things like the formula for concrete? My feeling is that a "median disaster" (i.e. the kind of disaster that I think is the "average disaster") would be akin to pre-Industrial Revolution society. And we were not a hunter/gatherer or subsistence farmer society in those days.

Also consider that most of us have non-tech hobbies. I have fair woodworking and metalworking skills. I like to go ski backpacking in the winter, so I could help others deal with cold-weather wilderness survival. In return, others would clothe me (and pour concrete for me if I wanted any!). And I am a raconteur par excellence so when I get old, they won't drive me out into the snow because I'll still have lots of interesting stories!

The most important skill most of us have is adaptability and the power of abstraction. This allows us to solve problems we haven't encountered before. And working with Microsoft products teaches us forbearance and patience, and tolerance for others' imperfections.

And when we sit around the campfire telling our grandchildren about "The Days Before" and "pizza, beer, coffee, Kevin Smith movies, pr0n, and Half-Life" so they can they can tell their grandchildren, and they their grandchildren and so on... as soon as society has the infrastructure built, it can bring back all those things without undue delay.

Faster, faster, until the thrill of...

Lets think about this for a moment... (none / 0) (#146)
by k5er on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 07:32:49 PM EST

If we are able to program computers, webpages, etc... and figure out complex machinery just by fooling around with it, then I am pretty sure we can walk into a cave and hangout there in case of some disaster. In fact, if it came down to basic nescessities, it would be us nerds who would have to figure everything out to survive because everyone else would be too stupid. The human species is distinguished from all other life by its powerful brain, that is what caused us to rule the planet. It would be our brains that helped us survive in some kind of emergency.
Long live k5, down with CNN.
I'd be OK (3.00 / 1) (#147)
by anonymous cowerd on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 08:59:42 PM EST

...because I like poetry, and during and after a vast world consuming cataclysm there'd be lots of moving events both public and personal to write poems about.

Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

"This calm way of flying will suit Japan well," said Zeppelin's granddaughter, Elisabeth Veil.

Are we so superior? | 156 comments (144 topical, 12 editorial, 1 hidden)
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