Skip to content


directed by Ruben Fleischer

I so wanted to hate this movie. It's another instance where I got screwed out of the recognition I deserve. I signed on as a consultant to help the screen writers get the details right. I do a fair amount of this kind of work due to my varied experiences during the zombie war. And what happens? They base the two male characters largely on me and yet, no mention of my name in the credits. True, they took some artistic license with the facts: I am better looking than either actor, wear a much nicer hat and had a thing for Hostess apple pies, not Twinkies. Just once, I'd like the world to know my story.

Like I said, I went into this movie filled with a rage burning brighter than a thousand suns. But those bastards made a great movie! I can't hate it. Sure, I can quibble with some of the details — explain to me how rotting flesh can run a 4.4 forty? — but over all, sound advice has been packaged in an great story.

The list of rules that Columbus generated is absolutely brilliant. I wish I could lay claim to that idea (though I did live by rules, I never wrote them down, dammit!). While some of these are obvious and covered in other sources like The Zombie Survival Guide, he came up with a few that I had not considered, such as:

Rule 2: Beware of Bathrooms

A very good idea since they usually have only a single entry point, it would be easy to become trapped.

Rule 7: Keep the Dumb Dumbs Close at Hand

This is a variant of the "You don't have to be faster than the bear" rule. It's kinda cold, and I wouldn't use this strategy with just anyone (say a child or the elderly), but with someone who should otherwise know better and is a pain in the ass? Sure. Better him than me.

Rule 24: No Drinking

Ah, I would have thought that this would be a tough one for me, but given that I didn't have time to chill for the first few weeks after the outbreak, I never even considered taking a nip. But it's true, in a world where you are prey, you cannot afford to check out mentally, even for a few hours.

Rule 4: Doubletap

This is one rule with which I might have an argument, but if you listen closely to Columbus's explanation, he limits its applicability. Still, it's important to remember your goal when combatting zombies: you don't necessarily want to kill them, you need to eliminate them as a threat. If you're on the run and you put a zed down, it don't matter if he's still a twitcher. Don't stick around to finish the job, get the hell out of there!

Go see this movie! Yes, you will be riveted by the well written story and believable characters. More important, though, you will learn useful tips that may save your life should we experience another outbreak.

The Mist by Stephen King
The Mist by Stephen King

by Stephen King

[Updated to remove reference to my no longer used Star Rating system.]

Are you ready for the end of the world? Truly, right now, if it happened, would you be prepared? It's one thing to talk and write about it, but another to experience it. We are better equipped today to handle this than we were pre-SHTF, but only because we have experienced the end of the world and survived. And when ours occurred, it started slowly, like a brush fire. We had days, or at least hours, to grok what was happening and take steps to deal with it. But what if it came out of the blue? Suppose your first inkling of the undead was a zombie battering down the conference room door during your weekly status meeting? I bet you wouldn't be here today.

Stephen King, a famous writer from before World War Z, wrote a piece of fiction that masterfully addresses this issue: The Mist, part of his collection of short stories titled Skeleton Crew. It has recently been made into a movie directed by Frank Darabont. I am covering both instances of this story in a single review because there is very little substantive difference between the two.

WARNING: Here there be spoilers!

The trigger is the eponymous mist that envelops the town as cover for, or perhaps the cause of, a range of otherworldly creatures that seek to end the world as we know it. Luck is the first variable that determines who survives. No matter how well prepared you might be, physically and mentally, if you are caught in the wrong place, you're dead. Even if you weren't, though, this would have been a difficult event to cope with emotionally. I dare say few would be able to redraw their mental maps in order to account for a bestiary that ranges from vulture-sized creatures with a poisonous sting to enormous, many legged monsters capable of crushing buildings. As in Mr. King's story, most would go insane.

Another issue dealt with masterfully here is how to pace yourself. If you are able to estimate how long an event might last, you could ration your energy and supplies to get you to that point. But when you have no clue, this becomes impossible. Is it a matter of hours, days or even years? You can't live minute-to-minute that way. You'll exhaust yourself and fall pray to an otherwise avoidable mistake. In the story, the question of whether or not one should leave the sanctuary of the store continuously arises. The place is an excellent location in which to hole up: you have plenty of supplies and, after a certain amount of work, it's reasonably secure. It won't last forever, though. Either your supplies or patience will run out. If only you know how long until it might be over. This is a key question for everyone who faces a TEotWaWKI event. It drives everything from when to seek shelter to when to abandon it. The tragic ending of the movie version – one of the few places where it differs from the short story – clearly demonstrates the problem of pacing one's self.

Finally, and most importantly, is the question of leadership. As demonstrated in Lucifer's Hammer, you cannot avoid this issue. Somebody will become alpha, it's just a question of who. It's in your best interest to ensure that this person is on your side. There are two characters in The Mist who step up to fill the leadership void, none of whom I'd want to be my alpha. The first, Brent Norton, is a man who couldn't redraw his mental map. He refused to believe in the danger that his eyes plainly told him existed. As a result, he lead several people to their deaths in a misguided attempt to seek help. The second, Mrs. Carmody, clearly saw that the events matched her world view: God is punishing us for our sins. I do not believe you could have done anything about the first, Brent was dead set on his path. The religious nut, however, would not have had an audience to sway to her point of view if someone else offered a viable alternative. If no one else is filling the void, you should step up.

Overall, I highly recommend this story, both in video and textual form. It is well written and acted. You will be entertained. It also clearly demonstrates lessons you need to learn should you be confronted with yet another end of the world scenario. Beware, though, of the fantastical nature of the harbinger of doom in this story. As something so different from real life experiences, I fear people will ignore any lessons it has to offer. If I could go back in time and warn the world about the impending zombie outbreak, I certainly wouldn't say a word about the undead. I would be ignored. Instead, I'd describe the zombies as infected, perhaps rabid, humans who have gone insane, leading them to murderous acts. This, at least, is something people back then could have grasped and dealt with.



Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Think back to long before the zombie outbreak and war. How would you have reacted if someone told you there was a one in a million chance that zombies would over run the planet in 6 months? You would have laughed, wouldn't you? What if that someone was an authoritative source and she then said it's a one in a thousand chance that it will happen in one month? Even if you had listened and taken steps to prepare, given what you knew then, what could you have done? It is a dilemma similar to this that the authors document in Lucifer's Hammer.

This is another of the old school TEotWaWKI books I told you about about, this one written in the late Seventies. The end of the world mechanism in this case, though, is a comet. Despite that, the lessons the authors impart are perfectly applicable to any real world case. The differences lay in how that catastrophe played itself out. The amount of time between the start and SHTF was measured in minutes for many, hours at the most. And the catastrophe came in three waves: the initial blast, earthquake and tsunami; then the torrential rain that lasted for weeks; and, finally, the complete breakdown of civilized society.

First, there is the issue of how to prepare. In the book, as in real life, people chose a variety of paths: do nothing, flailing about or actually thinking this through. Given that the window for reaction was extremely short, it shouldn't be surprising that most didn't prepare or did so in a panicky manner. I loved the lady would bought a bunch of frozen food. But even for the ones who approached this rationally, what would have been the right thing to do? Most died in the cataclysm that no preparation could have prevented. Those who survived the initial calamity were presented with a completely different world: seas where none existed before, no law enforcement to prevent others from taking your stuff (or your life), transportation network in shambles. There was no way to truly ride this out because you could not predict where parts of the comet would land. Even if you could, preparation would have required a large group of united people on a large piece of productive and protected land with a large amount of supplies stashed away. Again, the chances of TEotWaWKI in this case were quite miniscule, but the preparation required to survive massive and unreliable.

The second relevant issue that the book discusses is how the human mind coped with the disaster. The lessons Lawrence Gonzales chronicled in Deep Survival play out in this story. A good proportion of those who lived through the comet's impact lacked the mental faculty to continue living or at least operating within the new environment. This event required you to radically alter your mental map of the world. Starvation became a real threat, both short and long term. You could not rely on the kindness of strangers. Truly, when you yourself could very easily go hungry in a month, how willing would you be to give a portion of your food stash to someone who cannot reciprocate? It's a sad fact, but a harsh reality. Most starved, especially the elderly and the very young, those who couldn't contribute. Others turned to cannibalism, which itself, though staving off immediate hunger, led to other issues such as the spread of disease and the horror it inspires in others.

The final issue is, as this story clearly demonstrates, that politics abhors a power vacuum. If you do not take steps to fill the leadership void, someone will and you may not like the results. Just ask Cesar Millan. You cannot just hope that things will work out. If you are not willing to step up, then you should find someone to whom you are willing to submit and work your ass off to ensure that you both prevail.

I will discuss further how this story plays out in the TEotWaWKI life cycle after the jump, but there will be SPOILERS.

...continue reading "TEotWaWKI Book Review: Lucifer’s Hammer"


USA Today reports that Finger bitten off during California health protest. Specifically:

O'Hanlon said the man got into an argument and fist fight, during which he bit off the left pinky of a 65-year-old man who opposed health care reform.

While this is positioned as an escalation in the fight over health care reform, I'm thinking otherwise. This would be a good time to review your procedures and check supplies, just in case we have another outbreak.


Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

by George R. Stewart

I have a stack of old school TEotWaWKI books written long before SHTF. If this book is any indicator of quality, I'm in for a long haul if I follow through on my intention to read them all. My problems with this book lie not just in the advice offered, but primarily in the fact that the characters are extremely boring.

The author posits a world brought to its knees by a virus. The main character, Isherwood Williams, was laid low by a snake bite when the pandemic swept away most of mankind, so he was not around to witness the unfolding catastrophe. Upon recovery, he stumbles through the world like a drunk waking up from an epic bender. The book follows him as he embarks on an odyssey from California to New York and then back to the west coast, where he settles and lives out the remaining decades of his life. The only reason I did not toss this book unfinished, is that I found the window into 1950s America to be fascinating, if somewhat repugnant.

First of all, do NOT look to this book for advice. You will find nothing here worthwhile. Some of the lessons taught:

  • Canned food lasts forever, so don't bother with farming or hunting/gathering.
  • Do not look to the library for reference material should you actually set out to improve your life. A real man can figure it out on his own.
  • Whatever you do, do not accept the mentally defective into your group. If you are stuck with one, you should kill or run the person off.

Ish would frequently give impassioned speeches about something that they must do, but there would be no follow up. As long as folks' immediate needs were being met, nobody did anything to improve their future prospects. For example, the water flowed freely from everyone's faucets: fine, dandy, what do we need to worry about? Water mains start breaking: no problems, some people still get water. Slowly but surely, their options dwindled until they were forced to gather water from streams. This process was repeated time and again with food, shelter and other necessities. No wonder their civilization ceased to exist.

To call this anti-intellectualism would be to imply an active opposition to thought. It is true the they discouraged their children from reading too much because it might make them think too much. For the most part, though, it was just laziness. Combine this with their opposition to anything sensual and you have a recipe for death by ennui. In addition to the above mentioned lack of desire for good food, sex was only for procreation. Anyone who seemed to exhibit desire, was castigated, labelled a bad person.

It's a wonder, given this window into life half a century before the true end of the world, that we didn't experience it much soon.

Dead City by Joe McKinney
Dead City by Joe McKinney

by Joe McKinney

Now that enough time has past, survivors of the zombie catastrophe are writing memoirs of their experience. Dead City, which takes place in San Antonio and is the story of one of a local cop, is just such a book. Unlike most authors, McKinney does have the ability to write well. It's his story telling that is lacking. My reactions while reading this were equal parts, "Woah, that couln't be!" and "What's the point?"

One thing I always find interesting in these types of books is the speculation as to what caused the dead to rise. In this case, the author believes a particularly nasty hurricane stirred something up on the Gulf Coast that then spread to the rest of the nation. I think it's pretty clear that China was the source and that the plague's outbreak in Texas was just coincident with that storm. I'm not going to argue the point, though.

I have a bigger beef with the fact that he says his son, though wounded, did not become infected. Despite the author's contention that this was caused by a zombie, there's no way that child could have survived. I've heard of bite victims immediately amputating the affected limb to save themselves, but have never witnessed such an event. I can only conclude that if the kid was injured, it was not by a zombie.

The thing to keep in mind about this story is that it covers just the first day or so of the outbreak. Knowing that, I cannot blame him for some of the tactical errors he made, such as being cornered in a warehouse. He should be thankful that he didn't pay the ultimate price for his mistakes.

There's plenty of other books of a similar nature out there that would make for far better reads. However, lacking other options, this is book will pass the time.

Cook's Illustrated, Issue 100
Cook's Illustrated, Issue 100

If you like to cook, you must subscribe to this magazine. It is always packed with useful tips and helpful step-by-step instructions. While it will never stir my emotions to a fever pitch, I still find that I learn something new every time I read it. But it's like a well written text book: no matter its quality, it's still just a text book.

Content: 58/60

I like the fact that there is so much content here, yet it doesn't feel crammed in. Although articles are never more than 2 pages and usually include a side bar or two, they remain tightly focused on the topic and convey the right amount of information.

My favorites in this issue are the articles on Steak Tips with Mushroom Gravy, Rethinking Sunday Gravy and the Foolproof Vinaigrette. I skipped over the Secrets to a Perfect Cup of Coffee, Mexican Grilled Corn and discussion on "Green" Skillets, but only because they didn't interest me. My favorite tip this issue was to not use extra virgin olive oil when cooking, rather stick with the regular stuff since what you pay for in the good stuff – the unique flavors and aromas – dissipate with the heat.

Quality: 17/20

It used to irk me that, within the covers, this is a black and white magazine. It's not so much an issue, any more, but still rankles me a bit. Would be nice to see what the food is supposed to look like. My other beef is that the writing style is uniformly written in the first person, this grates on my inner blue pencil. This might work if there was only one author throughout the whole magazine, but that's not the case here.

Food Porn: 8/20

If it wasn't for the wonderful illustration that they always have on the back cover, this would be a zero. This gets back to the lack of color in the magazine. But even the cover shots, in this case of Swiss Chard, rarely get a rise out of me.

Recipes: 10/10

Yes, yes, yes, I have claimed that recipes are not so important to me. Tell me the how and I'll figure out the what. But these guys really pull this off well. For example, after a detailed discussion of what it takes to make a good Apple Upside-Down Cake, they offer variants with almonds or lemon and thyme, along with what needs to be adapted in the original recipe. Excellent.

Final Score: 93/110 (B)

Zombie CSU by Jonathan Maberry
Zombie CSU by Jonathan Maberry

by Jonathan Maberry

This is an odd reference book that was apparently rushed into publication just as the outbreak became known to the world at large, presumably to take financial advantage of the situation. I say odd because it is both an examination of the pre-SHTF cultural obsession with zombies as well as speculative conjecture about the origins of the outbreak and how to combat the undead. And I say rushed because of the number of typos and factual errors. I am fairly certain that the First Amendment was not signed into law by Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Perhaps the author is referring to the Freedom of Information Action, which was signed by Johnson, but in 1966. My first inclination is to rate this low because of the amount of incorrect advice. However, if you take into account the speculative nature of the piece and filter out what is obvious wrong, in the absence of other books, you have a reference for dealing with TEotWaWKI situations that is good enough.

The practical sections of Zombie CSU seek to convey advice through a criminal justice context: What would the police reaction be to the first call received and how would they handle the undead? I find it interesting that biting is a common reaction even among the living, so the police were psychologically equipped to handle this event, at least in the short run. Alas, his optimism that the police response should keep the outbreak in check was misplaced. True, the severity of the outbreak was postponed where the authorities put up a solid defense, but just as with New Orleans during the Katrina disaster, the thin blue line was not alway solid.

Ultimately, its this unfounded confidence in society's ability to handle the outbreak that keeps this from being an excellent reference. You need to know more than just tactical details in order to fight the undead. You need a solid strategy that takes into account food and shelter, psychological well being. The assumption that the wave will not carry away life as we know it means that you don't have to delve into those topics. You would be better off, as much as this pains me to say it, with Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide if you're looking for TEotWaWKI advice.

What I value in this book, though, are the leads the author provides to relevant books and movies (I will pretend not to notice the inclusion of the so-called author David Moody). I will track down what I can and review them for you. In the meantime, I recommend this book to expand your understanding of the undead zeitgeist, but not for the practical TEotWaWKI advice.


Cerritos Pupuseria
Just a non-desrcript build on the side of the road

I drive by this place frequently, every time thinking I should give it a shot. I finally got around to it and am kicking myself for not doing so sooner.

This place is small, no more than 4 or 5 tables. Folks looked at me like I was lost. No, truly, I want to eat here! At first I was disheartened by the menu, which is populated with typical Mexican/Salvadoran fare that you'll see in any number of places through out DC, none of which is particularly adventurous. Then I noticed the white board. That's where the real food is listed.

Taco, Tamale and Pupusa
Taco, Tamale and Pupusa

I ordered a pork pupusa, beef tongue taco and a chicken tamale. This is, by far, the best pupusa I have ever had: lightly crispy on the outside while the contents had a creamy consistency. The flavors worked well with the slaw and salsa to make the sum of the whole greater than the parts. This alone was worth the trip.

When I mention tongue tacos to most people, they recoil in horror. They should not. There's nothing funky in the taste like, say, liver. It's just a lean piece of beef. And this taco is an excellent example of what can be done. With the pico de gallo and a squeeze of lime, I was in heaven. Yet again, this alone was worth the trip.

As for the tamale, I admit to some trepidation. It is really hard to find a well made tamale. Cerrito's does theirs well. The filing was more than just the single note of chicken, it included chunks of potato and green beans. One was just enough, any more and I would have been filled to bursting.

I will definitely make a return visit, and so should you. They are on Rt. 50, about 4 miles west of the intersection with Rt. 28.

Cerrito's Pupuseria
43137 John Mosby Hwy
Chantilly, VA 20152
(703) 327-0052


The Washington Post reports Town in China Closed Off After 3 Die of Pneumonic Plague. You know the drill:

  • Clean your house from top to bottom and clear out any brush in the immediate area.
  • Be leery rodents. Ideally, since you've cleaned up, you'll have none around. If you encounter one, make sure you're protected from fleas before you move in for the kill.
  • Bug bombs, lots of them.
  • Report any symptoms to the local health authorities. Just as with Solanum infection, think of the greater need.

Stay healthy!