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.