Friday, May 06, 2011

The End of the World as We Know IT

I just finished reading a book called “One Second After” by William R. Forstchen. It is a good book and it is well worth reading. The guy does not understand people well and his understanding of technical details is very poor.

Forstchen is a military history guy and those guys typically study leaders because they believe the leaders were important. What a load of crap. When the shit hits the fan the leaders are not going to matter much at all. While good leaders can help pool and distribute resources the most important resource leaders have is the people they lead.

In the book Forstchen talks about some crazy Christian cult growing up in Knoxville Tennessee. That is about as likely to happen as Santa Clause coming to town in a C-130 dropping daisies. Knoxville is a college town. It is the closest large city to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a place where I have been privileged enough to work. There are so many highly educated, competent engineers and technicians in the Knoxville area that the idea the population would suddenly twist into some perverted Christian cult is ridiculous.

The issues with food in the book are basically accurate, but, there are so many errors that I can't even begin to explain them.

Your basic military ground vehicle does not need to be hardened against a EMP because it does not rely on solid state electronics. The fuel injection system on the common “deuce and a half”, the staple two and a half ton truck of the military is a mechanical system. The solid state electronics in these vehicles are not related to operations. These solid state systems are diagnostic monitoring systems and you can start and run a deuce and a half with them totally fried.

Most radios would not be turned on at the time of an EMP and so would work just fine. Forstchen is right about computers, cars and many other devices though because these devices maintain tiny amounts of power draw. A lot of laptops will end up okay if they are un-plugged and inside though. It has to do with how the EMP travels.

Forstchen is wrong about most home emergency generators though. Most of these will be shut down and will not be turned on.

Most generator systems that are solid state are contained inside of grounded steel housings with louvered vents which would act as basic shielding for an EMP. It is possible that EMP pulses would travel through wiring in a building and blow these, but, unlikely. Because of issues with connecting emergency generators the switches, which are often solid state, are connected in such a way that power is either to the power lines or the generator. The vast majority of correctly connected emergency generators are not connected to the grid. Many of these systems do have solid state systems which are always on which, even though enclosed in housing which act as shielding, may blow. However, these systems are typically not essential to operation and any reasonably good tech can bypass the solid state electronics pretty quickly, in hours.

Not only that, but, the vast majority of lawn mowers out there could be converted into generators producing about 1000 watts of 110V easily and the technical understanding to do that is as far away as the low income, uneducated shop rat who never even spoke to a Phd. More than a few of us have knocked up 12V generators by tossing an alternator on a lawnmower and we could do it again pretty easily. Sticking a washing machine motor on instead and making up some capacitors from plastic and aluminum foil would produce a useable 120V generator. Me and millions of other guys don't need a book to do this, we need some hand tools.

There are more pre-solid state vehicles out there than Forstchen knows about, I count two on my block not including military vehicles.

In the book a little girl who is a type one diabetic dies because she can't get insulin. Insulin is a little more difficult, but, between 1922 and sometime in the 1970's it was extracted from the pancreas of cows and pigs. I am not a medical or biological technician, but, you can bet some low paid person working in some hospital laboratory has a basic idea how to do the job and with some help could put together the equipment (run from generators made with old washing machine motors if need be) to make insulin. I bet there are a few thousand guys who could do this off the cuff, and a million who could do it after a little reading.

Penicillin is the same kind of a problem, and the answer is not with some history professor it is again with some lower income technician that all the leaders ignore and who knows how to make stuff work.

Me, I am just another tool maker and manufacturing engineer. There are millions like me all across the United States who could knock together water filters from sand and charcoal, put together a wind powered water pump, convert an old water cooled engine into a generator with a built in water pump and even make machine guns out of steel fence posts used for chain link fencing.

The leaders will have the problems because they won't know what to do and they will want to be in charge, like the hero of the book. In real life the guys like me, the cops and the tool makers and the technicians will just make things work while “leaders” sit around arguing.

Hungry? Eat tree bark. No kidding, you have some in your kitchen now, people call it cinnamon. Most tree bark is edible. Need some calories? Drink birch syrup. Most tree sap is edible too. Stay away from most soft wood. Yuck.

Got some kite string? Know how to make a square knot? Make a net and string it in a creek or in a tree to catch fish or squirrels or birds. Yeah, it's illegal unless you are a Native American.

Do you know how many kids make potato cannons or tennis ball mortars behind their parents back? My best friend and I once nearly burned down my mother's house because we loved shooting off flaming tennis balls and watching them fly through the air. Ever shoot a beer bottle filled with rocks from a simple pipe mortar? Better watch out here, some nutcase from the government might start trying to chase me down because of something I did when I was eleven or twelve.

I could even leech saltpeter out of dirt by pouring water through it. Yep, it is just that easy. Know the formula for gun powder? 7-3-1 Seven saltpeter, 3 charcoal, 1 sulfur. You could even get it backwards, 7 charcoal, 3 saltpeter and 1 sulfur. Any tech worth his salt peter could do some experiments and figure out the "best" mix. Millions of us have this info floating around in our heads.

Did you know you can shoot bullets with gasoline? Yep, I could explain, but, this ain't about telling you how to make a better gun, it is about how uninformed our leadership really is about technology.

Oh, and typically people who own twenty two rifles and do any shooting buy a box of 500 rounds of twenty two ammo. A box of 500 is called a brick. The ammo is cheaper and the brick will last a couple of years for most shooters. A box of 50 can cost a couple of bucks, typically a box of 500 runs about 30% cheaper and I have shot ammo that is twenty years old.

The truth is that there are more guys like me than there are guys like Forstchen. Gingrich or Capt. Sanders. In reality we don't need these guys, they need us and they don't even understand why. They think we are as technologically inept as they are.

See, we go figure out how things work and we put them to work for us and then we make them work better, then some guy in a suit shows up to take over and pretend they did something. Always happens. Total crap.

Leaders are useful when people need to co-operate on large projects like war. Other than that they just get in the way. All management is local management. All politics are local politics. Read Chesty Puller's biography and learn that it isn't the high level managers who get the job done, they just set some goals.

Guys like me figure out how to do it and we get it done and I am not unique. There are millions of guys just like me out there who can make a net, make a gun, rig up a generator and if we have to figure out how to go back to making insulin and penicillin the way they did in the '30s we can even though we will never make as much money as the smooth talking BS artists who think they run the world.

If the entire US or even a small part of it is disabled by an EMP all these moronic “leaders” just need to stay out of the way like usual and guys like me will kill the bad guys, clean the water and turn the lights back on. Then the morons can take credit for it and build a statue of themselves for themselves.

Like Sam Gamgee, the rest of us will just head for home and enjoy our families after we save the world.


John D. Ayer said...

Okay, fell into my own trap of ignorance on this one, the effects of an EMP over the United States are even lower than I imagined. Apparently EMP travels straight line of sight so depending on the angle the car is to the electro magnetic wave even a modern running car can survive an EMP. If the car is pointed at the EMP the EMP waves can find their way in through the grill, point the grill away and the situation becomes much less clear, it depends on strike angles and openings. The metal cage around the car can actually perform as a Faraday Cage and protect the car. I should have done more thorough research before writing this blog.

John D. Ayer said...

Here is a link to a report done by ORNL in 1992 about what precautions to protect against EMP the FEMA system should take.