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EEs and end of the world

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Taking a break from studying for my circuits II final.

Hey so I was watching an old episode of Survivors (the british show from the 70s, not the Mark Burnett one) and started thinking about all of the times hollywood has gotten it right or wrong in relation to how electrical engineers would cope with a global "end of the world" type scenario (in Survivors it was a lab modified flu from which only about 1 in 10000 survived).  This reminded me of another show recently called The Colony (which actually had an engineer...he built a spark gap transmitter to signal for help) where an unexplained event had also caused a crash of civilization.  Survivors was totally fake hollywood, The Colony made some attempt to simulate real conditons, although things were greatly contrived (they "found" a warehouse full of solar panels and an inverter...etc.).

Assuming you survived the initial whatever (disease, meteor strike, etc.) and also survived the second wave which would probably end 50% of those who lived through the first (looting, other diseases, the unlucky 6 who happened to be on the ISS, etc.), do you think being an EE would be a greater advantage than some other profession?

In all of these shows, the one thing that everyone seems to grasp as a sign that times are getting better is the restoration of some form of power.  Really?  Seems so easy for us engineers...

Does anyone know of a book or movie or show that actually makes sense from an engineering prospective?


The engineers will definitely have an advantage in such a situation.

Most likely, the next big crisis would be over energy. (The BP oil spill is just the beginning.) It won't be anywhere as catastrophic as Katrina was, but it would be full of chaos as the average American would not be prepared for it. I, as an environmentalist, would have a nice time on the news explaining how to save energy.


--- Quote from: KTP on June 10, 2010, 12:41:04 am ---Assuming you survived the initial whatever (disease, meteor strike, etc.) and also survived the second wave which would probably end 50% of those who lived through the first (looting, other diseases, the unlucky 6 who happened to be on the ISS, etc.), do you think being an EE would be a greater advantage than some other profession?

--- End quote ---

Almost certainly. Engineers by their very nature are practical problem solvers and know how to sense and avoid problems, so that's gotta be pretty useful in the Mad Max/Snake Plisken future, surely?

Actually, that reminds me of a "team building" company thing I went to 15 years ago or so. The scenario was we were going to be stranded on an island or whatever, and we had to pitch our case for why we should be included in the limited slots available based on our skills etc. The group then debated those skills and how they would best apply. The practical engineers came out tops IRRC. Managers and directors ranked pretty low in the new world order, they didn't seem to help the cause!


I fell in love with 60s and 70s scifi books (cheap at the bookstore) and they had a bit of a civilization collapse golden age for a while. I can give you the names of a few books and stories. Most of them rate fairly well in my mind for accuracy, but you'd have to judge for yourself how realistic they'd be. These authors represent what was once called 'hard scifi', which largely attempts to depart from the blatantly impossible and adhere to the vast majority of science as it was known at the time. I don't often find fiction in any form as dedicated to scientific rigor. That said, the raw engineering of post apocalyptic survival and quality of life improvement isn't often treated directly, but is woven into the context and background of a story. The following recommendations are likely to be best suited to someone who already likes science fiction, but is looking for more technical accuracy than your average Star Wars or Star Trek can provide.

The Postman - David Brin
Don't go by the movie, a lot gets lost translating it from the book. A post-apocalypse story following a down and out impostor who assumes the identity of a postal delivery worker. Not the strongest work in scientific accuracy, but there are subtle considerations made to circumstance and human interaction.

Earth - David Brin
Not so much a disaster book, but far and away my favorite work of fiction. It's a fifty year prediction written in 1988 about a man made disaster, but I think the genius of this work is in it's treatment of human relations. Absolutely brilliant and immersive storytelling. This book touches on almost every aspect of the future imaginable, from street gangs and their music, to household technology, transportation in an energy crisis, global warming, species preservation, the growing elderly population, and theoretical physics.

Lucifer's Hammer - Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
This one is an in-depth treatment of a comet impact and it's early aftermath. The memory of this book made me shake my head in disappointment as Hollywood went through it's 'Armageddon' and 'Deep Impact' phase. Hollywood turned this into a bit of a cliche, but it's the original and worth reading.

Inconstant Moon - Larry Niven
This is a short story from the age when it was an art form. I won't say much or I'll spoil it. It can be found in Larry Niven's compilation 'N-Space' and read within the bookstore, as it is less than thirty pages in small paperback form.

Tales of Known Space - Larry Niven
There are dozens of stories ranging from a few pages to novels written by Larry Niven that roughly adhere to a set of characters and a time line. These are collectively known as 'Known Space' stories, and are spread throughout his work. All told this strays quite far from post-apocalyptic engineering, but it's excellent scifi if you want to delve deeper.

The Foundation Series - Isaac Asimov
This series started as one of the earlier scifi works, so this one's a bit further out there. The series starts as a galaxy wide government in collapse refuses to acknowledge it's coming decline, and a scientist named Hari Seldon socially engineers his own exile to the outer reaches of the galaxy with the funding and planning to see the coming dark age through and reduce it's devastation. The interweaving of technology, politics, economics, and human nature are stunning, but to enjoy it you must forgive a certain quantity of the relatively unbelievable, such as telepathy and microminiature fusion batteries.

Emergence - David R. Palmer
Probably my favorite true post-apocalyptic scifi novel. This is one of those great books that just never got the recognition it deserved. This book follows an uncommonly smart 12 year old girl in her journey to reunite with humanity after world war three. It's quite an adventure, and may appeal to those who's tastes don't usually include science fiction.

There's a lot more good stuff out there, and more recommendations available, but I've already wandered a long way off topic.
I hope someone finds these useful, I do have a passion for good sci-fi. :)

Yes, I have read most of the books you listed, including the entire foundation series (long).

I don't remember any of them really treating the nitty gritty of engineering, but maybe because it would be boring to the general masses.

There was some bits of stuff in The Stand about rewinding blown generators at the hydroelectric plant (they all blew because when the survivors restarted them everything in town was still on...air conditioners, motors, lights, etc. and the initial surge was too much).  I doubt Mr. King researched this very much though as his focus was more on good vs evil.

There is too much *stuff* around nowadays for it to be a really interesting thought experiment.  Why would someone need to build a transmitter when they could just loot a radio shack and get a CB....well actually, I bet it is hard nowadays to actually find a CB...damn cell phones...

Maybe a more interesting scenario would be taking a modern day well educated electrical engineer and plopping them down 600 years ago.  What could they accomplish, assuming they had some assistance from the local blacksmiths and artisans.  Could they build a transmitter/receiver out of scratch built vacuum tubes?  A lead acid battery?  An electric motor?  (Actually, some form of internal combustion engine built 600 years ago would probably be the most jaw dropping).  I doubt anyone could build an IC much less a transistor in their lifetime if all they had was 15th century tech., but it is interesting to think about


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