Science says I’m going to be eaten by zombies

A new study shows that Chicago is a terrible place to be during the (inevitable) zombie apocalypse. Specifically, it ranks 49th out of the 53 largest cities in the U.S.

In general, I agree that big cities are terrible places to be during a zombie apocalypse. There are too many people, and each one of them is, at best, a leather-clad motorcycle raider waiting to happen, and at worst a member of the shambling horde, ready to be the straw that broke the camel’s back by adding *just enough* body weight onto your outer security perimeter to send you running for the hills. How does every zombie movie go? First you have the initial rush for safety, then a nice lull in the middle while the survivors consolidate their fortress, then the inevitable overwhelming tide of zombies overrunning everything.

If you hang around in a place as populated as Chicago, you’re practically begging for a tsunami of zombies.

However, I’m not so sure I agree with the methodology of this study. Far be it from me to question the scientific rigor of the researchers at, but the metrics that they are looking at make no sense. Population density? Sure, makes sense. Equating the number of available handguns to the number of people in law enforcement? Yeah, come hang out in my neighborhood sometime. I guess all those guys hanging out on the corner are off duty cops.

But looking at the number of people in “biomedical research and development” makes absolutely no sense. First off, you don’t find a cure by sheer numbers. It kind of matters WHICH researchers you have working on the project (the guys studying which direction dogs like to poop in, for example, probably aren’t going to be a big help). Second off, if someone does manage to find a cure, it doesn’t really matter where they are. I don’t care that they’re in another city, only that they found a cure. Finally, your ability to develop a cure has nothing to do with your ability to hole up during a zombie outbreak. If someone, somewhere, wants to work on a cure, I highly encourage them to take that route, but it doesn’t help me secure my canned goods (and bee tee dubs, spoiler alert: there’s never a cure. All the aspirin in the world can’t cure someone who had their face eaten off two weeks ago.)

Look, I’m a software engineer, so I think I’m qualified to say that if you’re counting being close to MIT as an asset in a fight, you’re doing it wrong.

Okay, maybe it makes some sense to look at some of those things, but it seems silly to leave out vastly more important concerns. Who has the best natural barriers, like rivers and mountains? Who is closest to food warehouses? Military bases? CDC locations? Who lives the closest to Norman Reedus??

(All that being said, good work Grand Rapids! #12 overall. Who would have thought?)

Link via Andrew.

There are zombies in Lake Michigan

This is not a drill!

Actual headlines: “Crews Have Been Pulling Zombies Out of Lake Michigan” and “Coast Guard finds zombie floating in Lake Michigan

The Coast Guard never gets enough credit for their zombie fighting powers.

It turns out there might be a logical explanation. We had some truly ridiculous weather here on Halloween, and it sunk a haunted house barge floating off of Navy Pier. The barge was full of Halloween props, including some realistic looking zombies, and they’ve been washing up on shore here and again, giving people a bit of a fright.

At least, that’s what the “authorities” are “claiming”. Be on your guard people!

A Valentine’s Poem

For all you geek lovers (and lovers of geeks) out there, I give you the best Valentine’s day poem ever: “Scientific Romance” by Tim Pratt (reprinted with permission).

The great thing about this poem is that, when you read it to that special someone, I think you’re going to know pretty quickly whether or not they’re the right one for you. Do you find zombies and space aliens and time travel romantic? ‘Cause I do!


Scientific Romance

If starship travel from our
Earth to some far
star and back again
at velocities approaching the speed
of light made you younger than me
due to the relativistic effects
of time dilation,
I’d show up on your doorstep hoping
you’d developed a thing for older men,
and I’d ask you to show me everything you
learned to pass the time
out there in the endless void
of night.

If we were the sole survivors
of a zombie apocalypse
and you were bitten and transformed
into a walking corpse
I wouldn’t even pick up my
assault shotgun,
I’d just let you take a bite
out of me, because I’d rather be
undead forever
with you
than alive alone
without you.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back
to the days of your youth
to see how you became the someone
I love so much today, and then
I’d return to the moment we first met
just so I could see my own face
when I saw your face
for the first time,
and okay,
I’d probably travel to the time
when we were a young couple
and try to get a three-way
going. I never understood
why more time travelers don’t do
that sort of thing.

If the alien invaders come
and hover in stern judgment
over our cities, trying to decide
whether to invite us to the Galactic
Federation of Confederated
Galaxies or if instead
a little genocide is called for,
I think our love could be a powerful
argument for the continued preservation
of humanity in general, or at least,
of you and me
in particular.

If we were captives together
in an alien zoo, I’d try to make
the best of it, cultivate a streak
of xeno-exhibitionism,
waggle my eyebrows, and make jokes
about breeding in captivity.

If I became lost in
the multiverse, exploring
infinite parallel dimensions, my
only criterion for settling
down somewhere would be
whether or not I could find you:
and once I did, I’d stay there even
if it was a world ruled by giant spider-
priests, or one where killer
robots won the Civil War, or even
a world where sandwiches
were never invented, because
you’d make it the best
of all possible worlds anyway,
and plus
we could get rich
off inventing sandwiches.

If the Singularity comes
and we upload our minds into a vast
computer simulation of near-infinite
complexity and perfect resolution,
and become capable of experiencing any
fantasy, exploring worlds bound only
by our enhanced imaginations,
I’d still spend at least 10^21 processing
cycles a month just sitting
on a virtual couch with you,
watching virtual TV,
eating virtual fajitas,
holding virtual hands,
and wishing
for the real thing.

Finally, a book for my children

I finally found a picture book suitable for the impressionable young minds of my children: The Very Hungry Zombie.

It’s practically identical to the original Eric Carle version, both in illustration and style. “On Wednesday he gnawed on three football players. But he found them tough and gritty.” (Yeah, that’s an actual excerpt…no word on if the zombie gets a tummy ache at the end of his feeding frenzy.)

So now my children can learn how to count as well as learn about the unceasing menace of the undead. Two zombies with one headshot birds with one stone!

What Zombies Tell us about Society’s Fears

This post originally appeared on the Zombie Preparedness Initiative website.

We know zombie’s, right? Zombies vary from depiction to depiction, but overall we know a few things about them:

  1. They are the animated dead (or at least near enough that it makes no difference)
  2. They are single minded in their desires
  3. Their primary drive is to eat (or at least kill) non-zombie humans
  4. Zombies are created by some virus, either mutated from an existing, natural virus or else created by someone (most likely the military and/or mad scientists)
  5. Because of this, their bite (and possibly blood) will cause a person to turn into a zombie

Straightforward, right? Wrong.

The description above is a completely modern idea of zombies. Remember that a mere 10 years ago, the concept of zombies moving quickly was groundbreaking. Previously, zombies shambled around with their arms out, and at the time, that was scary enough. It turns out that zombies are the ultimate chameleons, changing to reflect whatever society as a whole currently fears.


Originally, zombies were created by magic or a curse, most often via Haitian voodoo. One such example of an early zombie movie is White Zombie (1932).

Voodoo zombies always have a controller or a master, and therefore most likely symbolize a fear of the loss of free will. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that these types of zombies were particularly prominent through the 1930’s and mid-1940’s, around the time of WWII. A world in which a charismatic leader could rouse unthinking masses to destroy life as we know it was entirely too real, the fear close to the surface.

One interesting thing to note about these original zombie movies is that zombies could not make other zombies; they could only be created by a zombie master. It’s interesting to think that the original idea of zombies didn’t include this core tenet of modern zombie movies.

Of course, magic or curse zombies have never really disappeared from the zombie movie genre. Although they have changed a bit over the years to stay current, it seems that these types of zombies are the most commonly reoccurring, appearing periodically through all the other time frames. I think that loss of free will is something that continues to be scary, particularly here in the hyper-individualist United States, where so many of these movies are created.

Some more recent examples include the classic Zombi II (1979), and more recently Dead Snow (2009) which brings nicely full circle back to WWII, with Nazi zombies.


WWII culminated spectacularly with the nuclear bomb, giving all of humanity something new to be terrified of. Nuclear power fascinated us for many, many years (think of all the Godzilla movies from the ’50’s through the ’70’s).

This is  particularly interesting in this context, because radiation was the first to provide some other cause for zombies. So this is really the first time where we see someone starting to deviate from the “classic” voodoo zombie-myth, and it corresponds to the introduction of this new, scary thing that would dominate the cultural zeitgeist for years to come.

A perfect example is the classic Night of the Living Dead (1968), where the suspected cause of zombie creation was radioactive contamination from space probe from venus. Nuclear energy essentially was the new magic, because it was suddenly making so many things possible, but also had tremendously bad side effects. To my modern understanding of science, it makes absolutely no sense that “radiation from venus” could somehow turn people into zombies, but that’s kind of the point: as we learned more it became less plausible, less scary, and our zombie stories turned to other explanations.


During the 1980’s, there was a huge explosion in both the horror genre in general, as well as specifically apocalypse movies (see the three Mad Max movies between 1979 and 1985). Zombie movies, being the intersection of those two things, were no exception.

This explosion in interest in the imminent destruction of the world happens to coincide with the Cold War, when once again the imminent destruction of the world seemed a little too close for comfort. Just as with the previous two zombie movie categories, things are always a little more scary when they’re easily and realistically imagined.

However, easily the strangest explanation for the creation of zombies is the passing of a nearby comet. However, that was precisely the plot of Night of the Comet (1984). This would seem like a one-off oddity, but don’t forget about OTHER comet movies, such as Maximum Overdrive (1986). All of this focus on comets might seem weird, but consider the fact that in 1986, Halley’s comet was approaching Earth for the first time in 76 years. Even if people knew better, they were a little excited (and perhaps a little scared) about what this would bring.

Genetic Engineering

The early aughts brought us a much more modern fear with Resident Evil (2002). Between the first genome sequencing in 2000 and the stem cell ban lifted in 2001, genetic engineering was weighing heavy on our collective mind. The world was obviously ripe for a new kind of zombie.

Maybe it is because my wife works in genetics, but to me genetic engineering is some scary stuff. So I was actually quite surprised not to find more genetic engineering-related zombie movies. It just seems like it fits all of the patterns to what makes a good zombie.

Therefore, I have to assume that there would have been more of these types of zombie movies, except this fear was quickly outstripped by a new panic: infection.

In fact, even the Resident Evil franchise is more of an infection zombie, since, despite being developed in a genetic research facility, the zombies are created by the T-virus, and it can be passed via normal infection pathways, such as bites and scratches. Obviously that makes no sense from a genetic point of view.


Directly on the heels of Resident Evil came the SARS outbreak from 2002 to 2003, released almost simultaneously with 28 Days Later (2002). I don’t know if that was a coincidence, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt their box office. Once again we had a zombie movie echoing the very real fears of the time. The speed and deadliness of the SARS virus was eerily similar to the spread of the Rage virus, and therefore the extrapolation to the end of the world as we knew it was very easy to buy into.

To me, 28 Days Later really kicked off a new era of zombie movies. In addition to updating the genre to a relevant issue, viral infection, they also brought modern special effects and film making techniques to bear, as well as instituted “fast zombies” for the first time. Modern zombies were fast and aggressive, while still maintaining the “implacable horde” aspects of previous incarnations.

The Dawn of the Dead remake (2004) is interesting for the fact that it is a remake of an earlier movie, yet the cause of zombification is completely different than the original. If nothing else proves my theory, the fact that “updating” this movie including moving from radiation to viral infection is at least a point in my favor.

The new Dawn of the Dead codified a lot of what we now think of as zombies, to the point that a modern film maker would probably have trouble deviating much from the “rules” as they currently exist.

A viral infection feels “right” to me. It seems to make sense, or to offer as logical of an explanation as we can currently conceive of. But then again, I would say that, wouldn’t I? other people during other time periods would most likely have said the same about whatever the zombie explanation du jour was in their time (even comets and space radiation!)

Perhaps this would have been the end of the “infection age” of zombies, except along came the Swine Flu (H1N1) outbreak in 2009. As long as infection remains society’s number 1 fear, then it will remain the most popular method of zombification. And thus it continues, right up until present day, including “new classics” such as Walking Dead (2010) and World War Z (2013).

Sure there are deviations now and then (Zombieland (2009) even played to our fear of mad cow disease), but once again this almost proves the rule: zombie movies are quick to jump on that which frightens us most.

So what is the next big trend?

I don’t know, that’s a good question. If I knew the answer to that, I would be out pitching movie scripts, not researching old ones. My gut tells me infection is here to stay for some time yet. Most of the major trends had a good 20 year run, so I think we have some time yet before this one is played out. After that? Who knows. Perhaps a genetic’s scare will bring that back into prominence? A pollution catastrophe? Dark matter?

Regardless of the answer, we can rest assured that zombie movies will be right there to play on our fears and help us make sense of this crazy, crazy world.

Movie Review: World War Z

Sara had planned to take me to see the much anticipated World War Z for our anniversary, but our plans were ruined by a little unexpected mishap, so I’m just now getting around to seeing it.

Sara and I don’t get to see a lot of movies in the theater. In fact, the last time we saw a movie was actually January 2012. And actually, when we watch movies at home we have to move the couch close enough to be able to see the screen on our tiny tv. So keep in mind that the enormous, high-definition screen and hyper-realistic sound system kind of seem like magic to me, and that probably colors my experience just a little bit.

First off, I loved the book and I was really looking forward to the movie. It turns out that, aside from the title, there is literally no other connection between the book and the movie. Not a one. No characters, plot, scenarios, nothing. That’s kind of a shame, because I think the book would have made a really cool movie. The book is much more documentary-style vignettes as the zombie apocalypse sweeps across the world, which would have been a really unique look and feel.

That being said, I LOVED this movie! So good. The beginning (always the best part of any zombie movie) very skillfully built the tension and kept it high. Despite having watched many, many zombie movies, my heart was pounding and I was totally sucked in. The middle was great. It swept across the world and showed reactions in so many different ways, being very epic in a way most zombie movies never attempt to be. And finally, the ending was plausible and very satisfying in a way that I didn’t necessarily expect. Like I said, I loved it.

And the whole way home I was eyeing up both people and dark alleys suspiciously.

I knew going in that the movie was nothing like the book, and I’m sure that helped me enjoy it. Instead of sitting there comparing them, I tried to pretend this was an entirely different zombie movie altogether, and it worked. And honestly, it’s probably better that they didn’t try to include more from the book, because if you have just a few things it only highlights the discrepancies. Why they decided to use the name “World War Z” instead of just making it unrelated I guess we’ll never know, but I can enjoy them both for their own merits.

My all time favorite zombie movie is the Dawn of the Dead remake from 2004. World War Z ranked right up there with it. I don’t think there was enough that was really “new” to unseat Dawn of the Dead, but honestly, that’s probably more a product of the timing. If I had seen this movie first and Dawn of the Dead 8 years later, I probably would have liked this more. “Fast zombies” were still new when Dawn of the Dead came out (remember, 28 Days Later had only come out 2 years before), and the whole concept just seemed so fresh and awesome. However, World War Z is a modern movie with top notch production and the special effects, acting, and just general craft of the movie are very well done, meaning that cinematically speaking it’s probably the superior movie, just not as groundbreaking.

However, I do have to give them a little bit of credit here. World War Z is not gory. A non-gory zombie movie! Zombie movies are specifically designed to gross you out with as much disgusting blood and guts as possible, but they managed to maintain the tension and terror without it, implying it and doing most of it off-screen. Superbly done! I wouldn’t have thought it possible if I hadn’t just seen it. In fact, they do it so well, that I didn’t even notice it wasn’t gory until halfway through the movie.

So, World War Z, highly recommended, both the book and the movie (since they are two entirely different things).

A Canning Tutorial, for Humans or Zombies

This post originally appeared on the Zombie Preparedness Initiative website.

As a follow-up to my previous post, here are some more detailed instructions on water-bath canning.

First off, most of these steps are generic for any type of canning, but there may be slight variations depending on what you are canning. Always follow the specific instructions over the general guidelines below. If, in fact, the zombie apocalypse has already taken place and you are a zombie looking for directions on how to can brains, no recipes exist as far as I know, and you’re going to have to wing it.

Overall, the general idea is to sterilize the food and containers and then seal them, preventing contamination and allowing the food to be “shelf stable” without requiring refrigeration. We’re talking about bacterial contamination here; it is unlikely that a hot water bath would sufficiently destroy any lurking zombie virus pathogens.


Propper jars, lids, and rings are necessary. Other equipment, such as a canning pot, funnel, and jar-lifter are not strictly necessary, but are cheap and easy enough to come by, that they are worth the time and effort they will save you. Rings and jars can be re-used, but lids must be new every time to ensure a good seal. Jars should be checked each time for chips or imperfections in the rim, which will prevent the jar from sealing.

Any pot will do for the canning, but it must be able to cover the jars with at least 1 inch of water. The bigger the pot, the more volume you can process at a time. Processing the jars can be the longest part, so processing more at a time can greatly reduce your overall time. Our standard canner can fit 7 quarts, and comes with a wire rack for holding and lowering the jars into the water. For items that don’t need such big jars, such as jams in half-pint jars, we just use a regular, large pot.

In the case of canning under threat of zombie attack, you will also need an assistant wielding the standard zombie fighting equipment, such as shotguns, chainsaws and kick-ass fighting music.


  1. Fill the canning pot with water and bring it to a boil. Sterilize the jars and rings in the canning pot. Heat the lids on low in a separate, smaller pot of hot water. This will help soften the plastic part of the lid, for better sealing.2013_05_19_9999 (2)
  2. Prepare the item to be canned as per the recipe (i.e. make the jam, prepare the brine for the brains, pickles, etc.). Note that some items may need to be prepared ahead of time, so it is very important to read the recipe first! In the case of brains, some of us have begun pickling ours years in advance. You’re welcome.
  3. Remove the sterilized jars from the hot water bath and place on a towel. Fill the jars with the item to be canned. The recipe will specify how much empty space to leave at the top of the jar, called “headspace”. This is important! Headspace varies depending on what is being canned. Too much headspace and the jar will not seal; too little headspace and the item may expand out of the jar, also causing the jar not to seal. If you are canning brains, “headspace” should be considered a pun, but you’ve probably lost the ability to appreciate humor.
    2013_05_19_9999_2 (2)
  4. If applicable, use a tool or any other flat object such as a butter knife or handy rib bone to release the air bubbles. The recipe will specify whether this step is necessary or not. It is not necessary with thick liquids like jam, but it is usually necessary for things that can easily trap air, like brains or pickles.
  5. Wipe the rim of the jar with a towel. This seems trivial, but it is important! Any chips or drips will prevent the jar from sealing. If you are a zombie, try to keep your drooling and dripping away from the rim of the jar.
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  6. Get the lids out of the hot water and place them on the jars. We have a tool for this that is basically a magnet on a stick, but any kind of tongs will do to pick up the lids. Zombies may simply reach into the boiling water directly.
  7. Finger-tighten the rings over the lids. Do not tighten the rings as tight as you can. The goal is to allow air to escape when the jars are processing, without allowing water to enter the jars.
  8. Add the jars to the boiling water bath, making sure they are covered by at least 1 inch of water. If you are not a member of the undead, it is very useful to have a jar lifter for this part.
  9. “Process” the jars by letting them sit in the hot water bath for as long as the recipe calls for. Processing time varies widely by recipe, and can be anywhere from 5 minutes to 35 minutes. Processing serves two purposes: the first is to heat everything enough to kill any bacteria, the second is to allow the contents to expand and force air out of the jar. This is mostly hands-off time, so non-zombie canners may lend a hand to defensive forces attempting to fend off undead hordes attempting to breach your canning location.
  10. Turn off the heat and let the pot sit for a few minutes with the lid off. Remove the jars from the hot water bath and place them on a towel to cool. As the contents of the jar cool, they contract, pulling the lid down firmly and making a seal. Sometimes a jar will seal as soon as it is removed from the bath, but it can take up to an hour. When a jar seals, it makes a surprisingly satisfying “snap!”
  11. In the event that your ears have decomposed, do not worry! After an hour or so, try pressing down the center of the lid. If it depresses, the jar did not seal. At that point, you can check the rim for imperfections, re-wipe the rim, and then try to re-process the jar. This often works to seal jars that didn’t seal the first time, so it is definitely worth a try. Any jars that won’t seal should be refrigerated immediately. This is not always a bad thing, because you probably want to try a jar right away anyway.
  12. Allow the jars to sit until they are fully cool. The recommendation is usually something like 12 hours, but in my experience a couple of hours is sufficient. Some items, like pickles, may need to sit for a certain length of time before they are ready. This information will be specified in the recipe. Zombies, try to remember to open the jar before eating the contents.

That’s it! Before you know it, your pantry will be stocked with long-lasting fruits and vegetables (or brains and other assorted body parts) that require virtually no upkeep, and will keep the occupants of any post-apocalypse bunker well fed and happy, human or otherwise.