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Archive for the ‘zombies’ Category

new advice on surviving the zombie apocalypse, this time with math!

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on August 19, 2009

the second in a two-part series on how to survive a zombie invasion

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (here, here, here, and here), I believe that an all-out zombie apocalypse is likely to wipe out the vast majority of humanity, with the exception of those armed with guns, food, and new media.

Forewarned is forearmed, I always say. Which is why it’s worthwhile to examine a recent article that considers various zombie survival scenarios through a mathematical lens.

The article, “When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modelling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection,” argues this:

An outbreak of zombies infecting humans is likely to be disastrous, unless extremely aggressive tactics are employed against the undead. While aggressive quarantine may eradicate the infection, this is unlikely to happen in practice. A cure would only result in some humans surviving the outbreak, although they will still coexist with zombies. Only sufficiently frequent attacks, with increasing force, will result in eradication, assuming the available resources can be mustered in time.

Further, the authors agree with my argument that previously successful responses to widespread and contagious infectious diseases will be ineffective against a zombie invasion.

You have to have some basic expertise in reading mathematical equations to parse the results of the various models the authors present, as the article is populated with such arguments as this:

In fact, while the models presented are intended to offer realistic analyses of efficacy of various zombie-attack responses, the authors point out that the odds of a widespread zombie infection are fairly low. Still, they argue that this article does have its value even given the low risk of zombie attack. First, they write, “possible real-life applications may include allegiance to political parties, or diseases with a dormant infection.”

Additionally, the authors explain:

This is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the first mathematical analysis of an outbreak of zombie infection. While the scenarios considered are obviously not realistic, it is nevertheless instructive to develop mathematical models for an unusual outbreak. This demonstrates the flexibility of mathematical modelling and shows how modelling can respond to a wide variety of challenges in ‘biology’.

It’s a pity these mathematicians, who have clearly completed some of the best scientific work to date on the zombie apocalypse, fail to recognize the plausibility of a zombie invasion. Still, despite their cavalier approach to the subject matter, they are willing to end with this:

In summary, a zombie outbreak is likely to lead to the collapse of civilisation, unless it is dealt with quickly. While aggressive quarantine may contain the epidemic, or a cure may lead to coexistence of humans and zombies, the most effective way to contain the rise of the undead is to hit hard and hit often. As seen in the movies, it is imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly, or else we are all in a great deal of trouble.

Posted in academia, zombies | 1 Comment »

where to move if you want to survive the zombie apocalypse

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on August 18, 2009

the first in a two-part series on how to survive in case of zombie invasion

Though theories on this vary, it seems safe to assume that when the zombie apocalypse comes (as come it certainly will), it will start slow and pick up steam quickly in a fairly predictable pattern. We’ve seen this pattern before in the emergence of previous epidemics, including the bubonic plague, smallpox, HIV, and swine flu.

The difference, of course, is that traditional precautions–handwashing, safe sex, and face masks–won’t protect you in the event of a zombie epidemic. Here’s what you’ll need to survive the zombie apocalypse: Guns, food and water, and access to new media. Through a complex triangulation system that accounts for these key factors, I have pinpointed the geographic location that offers the highest chance of survival: Mobile, Alabama.

Guns: Priority Number One
Because of their effectiveness in destroying brains from a safe distance, guns are by far the most effective weapon against zombies. This means, of course, that your best bet of survival is by residing in the United States. With 90 guns per 100 people, America leads the entire world in small arms ownership–which is a steaming hot pile of insanity during civilized times but a cache of awesomeness when the zombies invade. Through an accompanying world record-level firearm-related death rate, America has also proven its collective ability to aim for the whites (or, as the case may be, the sickly yellows) of their eyes.

The deadliest states also, coincidentally enough, happen to be those with the highest gun ownership rates: Louisiana (45.6%), Alabama (57.2%), Alaska (60.6%), Mississippi (54.3%) and Nevada (31.5%). This makes it easy to narrow the field of competitors for Safest City in Case of Zombie Apocalypse.

Food and New Media: More Closely Linked than Previously Thought
All the guns in the world won’t save you if you don’t know how to deploy them. Given that the majority of U.S. residents are at least passing familiar with what a zombie is and how to kill it, it still seems fairly likely that the first wave of humans casualties will stem from surprise-induced paralysis. Early survivors will be those among us who are naturally attuned to running from danger.

That’s right, the geeks will survive us all.

And what do you think they’ll do first? Why, head to their technology, of course. It’s likely that the first reports of the zombie apocalypse will spread via Twitter, Facebook, or user forums on free software sites. Alert social media users will be able to become informed about the invasion, learn from the early failures and successes of human resistance, and prepare themselves for the onslaught. Preparations will include gathering the abovementioned weaponry, along with sufficient supplies to allow survivors to outlast the epidemic. As zombies, contrary to some reports, don’t die off because they are already dead, the epidemic is likely to last a long time.

We have lost our ability to grow or hunt for our own food, and this is especially true of the geeks among us. In general, however, geeks are highly adept at foraging, given the right circumstances. For geeks, the right circumstances include: a supermarket. Additionally, while it’s feasible that internet access will not outlast the zombies, survival odds increase for those who have prolonged access to networked technologies. That, in all likelihood, means a major metropolitan area. That rules out Alaska (unless–and this seems unlikely–zombies prove vulnerable to cold).

The Finalists: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada
Of the remaining states with large weapons stores, we can rule out Nevada’s major cities, Vegas and Reno, for the obvious reason that zombies have already invaded them. This leaves just three states, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. While the survival odds for residents of any of these states are approximately even, one last factor serves as a tie-breaker: relative health of its citizens. All three states rank near the bottom of the life expectancy scale and at or near the top in obesity rates.

The Winner: Mobile, Alabama

With a population of just under 200,000 and an ideal seaside location in one of the most gun-friendly states in the U.S., Mobile offers food, shelter, a temperate climates, access to cubic tons of water that’s just begging for desalinazation, and enough firepower to blow the heads off of as many zombies as can find their way to this southern city. As an added bonus, Mobile boasts a subtropical climate that’s ideal for producing small, year-round rooftop gardens, just in case the Wal-Marts, Save-A-Lots, Winn-Dixies, and Circle K’s run out before the zombies do.

Tomorrow: a mathematical approach to surviving the zombie apocalypse.

Posted in collective intelligence, new media, zombies | Leave a Comment »

one thing I’ll miss when print journalism finally dies

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 21, 2009

what will we do without really good exposés of cults and such, like a recent shredding of the Church of Scientology?

Aside from skimming the occasional story about Scientology’s hold on celebrities or following the campaign of the civic protest group Anonymous, I really don’t pay a lot of attention to the day-to-day workings of the Church of Scientology.

A recent three-part expose of the Church of Scientology’s leaders, including its head, David Miscavige, caught my attention. The piece, published last month in the St. Petersburg Times, points to a long history of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse codified in the tenets of very religion itself. Members of the church are pressured to confess, in writing, all transgressions, and these documents are held in order to be used against defectors. According to the piece, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard

wrote a policy stating that a person leaves as a kind of noble gesture when he can’t help himself from injuring the church. To justify leaving, Hubbard believed, the person thinks up bad things to say about the church.

Anyone who leaves has committed “overts” (harmful acts) against the church and is withholding them. The church is obligated to make such people come clean, Hubbard said, because withholding overts against Scientology can lead to suicide or death by disease. They must write down their transgressions to remain in good standing when they leave.

The story hinges on the word of four former executives in the Church of Scientology, all of whom paint a picture of extreme dysfunction (regular beatings, cruel and avaricious deceits, and the death of one emotionally troubled young woman while in the care of the notoriously anti-psychiatry church) and all of whom have suffered ongoing smear campaigns in an effort to discredit their accusations and their motives. The campaign, like so much of what this particular religion sets its mind to, is incredibly run–so well run, in fact, that though I’m predisposed toward suspicion of organized religion and especially cults like the Church of Scientology, I still wonder about the veracity of the defectors’ accounts.

Particulars aside, this series is about as thorough, intricate, and detailed as you can get. It’s the product of countless interviews and weeks of poring over legal documents, transcripts, and complicated news reports. The journalists, Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin, have done fine work that represents the best of the journalistic profession.

It’s one thing we’re likely to lose, at least for a good while, as the profession continues its steady decline. Citizen journalism is good for an awful lot, but it can’t offer up a detached, professional, and multi-perspectival story like this. At least, if it can, I haven’t yet come across a good example. I hope someone out there can prove me wrong.

Posted in cults, journalism, religion, zombies | Leave a Comment »

"…and I think the social morays are going to going to start to move…"

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 4, 2009

why we don’t need to worry about eels swimming upstream in response to the text messaging phenomenon

Here’s an interesting article on the trend of teens texting incessantly, starring Sherry Turkle as the Concerned Parental Figure.

The article accompanies a recent interview with Turkle on Public Radio International’s Here and Now.

PRI cites Turkle as saying the warning that the eels will start swimming in a new direction in response to this new trend:

“I talked to a lot of teens who feel that there is no choice because if they don’t have it, people will think there’s something wrong with them, people will think that they don’t want to get back to their friends. And I think the social morays are going to start to move in a direction where you’ll to see some push-back, both from grownups and teenagers.”

Look, nobody’s saying constant attachment to a cellphone is necessarily the most ideal scenario for the emotional development of teens. But, come on, Turkle: eels? Really?

My friend Katie heard Turkle speak a few months ago on exactly this issue. Apparently, Turkle herself has pointed out that traditional theories on and approaches to child development will need to be rethought–that the behaviors that traditional psychology would label abnormal are getting adopted nearly universally. In making this argument, Katie said, Turkle was referring to teens’ practice of constantly holding their cellphones and refusing to put them away. It seems abnormal to us, Turkle said–but we’re the ones who need to adapt. We need new guidelines to account for these new practices, new strategies for considering child development and teen behavior.

I’m not a psychologist, but it does seem to me that the nature of psychology is one of “adaptive rigidity.” Homosexuality is therefore identified as “abnormal” until it becomes socially accepted, at which point the APA guidelines get adjusted. Making social connections online was considered “abnormal” and even, perhaps, an addiction as recently as the early years of this very decade; now, as engagement with social media has become more widespread, we’re rethinking this dictum.

Text messaging as a dominant form of communication seems abnormal to older adults–but that’s because we’re used to a face-to-face world and not a peer-to-peer one. The new behaviors that become possible through new media formats always seem unhealthy to us at first, until we develop the kinds of complex relationships to the platforms that we humans are wont to do.

Posted in culture, new media, snakes, social media, zombies | 5 Comments »

the sleeping alone review of films*: the road

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 1, 2009

Summary: They’re gonna screw it up.

Here’s a trailer:

As always, I want the movie to give me the same experience as the book did. In this case, I know that what I want is not deliverable by the filmmakers, for one main reason: the novel achieved its sparseness in large part because of McCarthy’s decision to eschew conventions of printed text, to avoid description, to avert his eyes from the details that might matter to us as voyeurs but wouldn’t matter to the characters that populate this post-apocalyptic ode to humanity’s innate survival drive.

Look at the following examples:

I should have been more careful, he said.
The boy didn’t answer.
You have to talk to me.
You wanted to know what the bad guys looked like. Now you know. It may happen again. My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?
He sat there cowled in the blanket. After a while he looked up. Are we still the good guys? he said.
Yes. We’re still the good guys.
And we always will be.
Yes. We always will be.

He walked out into the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of an intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.

Films, visual and aural platforms that they are, hinge on the presumption that a thing worth the camera’s focus is worth showing to the audience in all its textured glory. While we judge a novel(or, for that matter, a screenplay or script) based on the writer’s ability to show us a scene instead of telling it to us, a movie–with some, but not much, variation–is restricted only to showing. You can show well, or you can show less well, but the delicate dance of showing without showing–McCarthy’s tactic throughout the road–is nigh on impossible on the screen.

Besides, when it comes to movie, story is king. we want movies whose narratives bend us over ourselves. We want to get a good look at the enemy, even if the enemy is scarcely described in the novel on which the film is based. We want all dimensions of the relationship between the boy and his father. We want to know the boy’s mother and understand why she did what she did.

Still, you know how I like post-apocalyptic zombie movies, and this movie basically fits the bill. It comes out Oct. 16, which means there’s still plenty of time for any number of interested parties to screw it up royally.

*that have not yet been released

Posted in literature, movies, speechless, zombies | 1 Comment »

things i’ve done for a living

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 5, 2009

because I subscribe to the “list” approach to blogging, because I subscribe to Jim Gee’s notion of “shape-shifting portfolio people,” and because it’s high time for a short, self-absorbed post. Or, at least, for a self-absorbed post that’s also short.

This is the list of things I’ve done for money, some of which I’ve also done for love.

unionized employees
things i’ve also done for love

  • blogger [the guardian]
  • curriculum specialist [project new media literacies]
  • outreach coordinator [project new media literacies]
  • billing coordinator [vca south shore animal hospital]
  • receptionist [vca south shore animal hospital]
  • adjunct instructor (composition, literature, creative writing, business
  • communications) [suffolk university, bridgewater state college, newbury college]
  • groundskeeper [city of fort collins, colorado]
  • graduate research assistant (composition, creative writing)[colorado state university]
  • writing tutor [colorado state university writing center]
  • administrative assistant [colorado poet laureate]
  • telephone operator [quest diagnostics]
  • reporter (sports, education, local politics)[holly herald, fenton independent,
  • spinal column newsweekly]
  • assistant director local nonprofit [public interest research group in michigan]
  • groundskeeper [city of grand rapids, michigan]
  • used book purchaser and seller [barnes & noble]
  • cashier [meijer, inc.]
  • receptionist [dean of students office, grand valley state university]
  • fast food employee (4 hours) [mcdonald’s]

Posted in awesome, blogging, jobs, lame, Project New Media Literacies, sports, teaching, zombies | 1 Comment »

Update on the zombie apocalypse: newspapers won’t survive either

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on April 28, 2009

In a precise exercise in timeliness, two days ago I explained on this blog how humankind might survive a zombie apocalypse. In that post, I explained that offering strategies for self-defense against zombies was the wrong conversation, and that instead, we need to focus on strategies for mass coordination using social tools. I wrote that “too much control of information in government hands can lead to mass information and, ultimately, disaster” and that the people can mobilize and coordinate mass defensive maneuvers using Twitter, text messaging, and smartmob tactics.

Now today, alert reader ZedWord has notified me that zombies have attacked journalism. Paul Dailing has uploaded early details at the Huffington Post. As I predicted, social media played a key role in reporting the invasion. Dailing explains that

[n]ews of the zombie apocalypse swarmed through the Twittersphere, then the blogosphere, the statusphere, the vlogosphere, the Facebookosphere, the Xangasphere, the LavaLifeosphere, the mesosphere for some reason and the screamingmobosphere….

TV stations sent their bustiest reporters boldly into the fray as newer and better logos were designed. Morning shows asked viewers to text in their opinions of death by zombies – text 1 for “The undead should not eat our babies,” text 2 for “The undead should.”

“The undead should not” won decisively, except on Fox News.

The best part of the piece, though, is what happened in the comments section. The first response came from the Zombie Anti-Defamation League, which wrote:

We at the Zombie Anti Defamation League ( object to the vitalist tone in which the article is written.

Too often in films, popular culture, and news reporting are our post-vital friends depicted as mindless ghouls. We would hope in these enlightened times of the 21st century, that we can finally begin to rise above those vitalist stereotypes, and present a more honest and inclusive view of Zombies. This is the reason for the ZADL. We do not seek to cast aspersions upon you, but only to provide a voice, and educate people about the vitalist attitudes that pervade our culture.

Words like “menace” and “undead” are considered distasteful to us, and we seek to change the dialog about Zombies by using more Zombie-conscious terms like “post vital.”

We thank you for your attention in this matter.

Go to the article to read Paul Dailing’s response to the ZADL.

Posted in human rights, journalism, new media, social media, social revolution, zombies | 2 Comments »

What would a fireside moonbat do?

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on April 21, 2009

I just caught the last several minutes (I was going to say “the tail end” and thought better of it) of the 2008 film “Zombie Strippers!” starring Jenna Jameson and Robert Englund. If you haven’t figured out the plot yet, then there’s no point explaining it to you. I only want to focus on a scene late in the movie where the Army commandos have shot the heads off of the zombie strippers and walk into a room where two people are clutching each other in the corner. It’s not clear to the commandos whether these guys are humans or zombie strippers, so one of the muscleheads walks up to the pair and says “Say something human–and it better be ontological.”

I’m officially claiming this quote as the motto of my reading group, the Fireside Moonbats.

Two key members of the Cambridge, Massachusetts,-based reading group, the Fireside Moonbats
You know how Art Garfunkel keeps a running list of every book he has read since the 1960’s? I think I may start doing that for the Moonbats, too–especially since, if our motto is public, our reading list should be as well. Below, I’ve included the beginnings of that list. I hope to continue to build this for anybody who wants to follow along.

The Fireside Moonbats Reading List: First Draft

Shirky,Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Penguin Press, 2008. Introduction and chapters 10 & 11.

Ito, Mizuko, Heather A. Horst, Matteo Bittanti, danah boyd, Becky Herr-Stephenson, Patricia G. Lange, C.J. Pascoe, and Laura Robinson (with Sonja Baumer, Rachel Cody, Dilan Mahendran, Katynka Martínez, Dan Perkel, Christo Sims, and Lisa Tripp.) Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning, November 2008.

Latour, Bruno. On Interobjectivity. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 3.4, 1996. Available at

Latour, Bruno. On Recalling ANT. Keynote speech for the Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, Nov. 30, 2003. Available at

Barton, David, and Mary Hamilton. Literacy, reification and the dynamics of social interaction. David Barton and Karin Tusting (eds.) Beyond Communities Of Practice: Language, Power And Social Context. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Clarke, Julia. A new kind of symmetry: Actor–network theories and the new literacy studies. Studies in the Education of Adults Vol. 34, No.2, October 2002

Leander, Kevin M., and Deborah Wells Rowe. Mapping Literacy Spaces in Motion: A Rhizomatic Analysis of a Classroom Literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 2006), pp. 428-460

Francis, Russell. The Predicament of the Learner in the New Media Age (2009). Dissertation being prepared for publication.

Wertsch, James V. Mediation. The Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky, Daniels, Harry, Michael Cole, & James V. Wertsch, Eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Nardi, Bonnie, Steve Whittaker, & Heinrich Schwarz. NetWORKERS and their Activity in Intensional Networks. Computer Supported Cooperative Work 11: 205–242, 2002.

Nardi, Bonnie A., Diane J. Schiano, Michelle Gumbrecht, and Luke Swartz. Why We Blog. December 2004/Vol. 47, No. 12 Communications of the ACM.

Nardi, Bonnie A., Stella Ly, & Justin Harris. Learning Conversations in World of Warcraft. Proceedings of the 40th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 2007.

Davydov, Vasily V., and Stephen T. Kerr. The Influence of L. S. Vygotsky on Education Theory, Research, and Practice. Educational Researcher, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Apr., 1995).

Edwards, Anne. Let’s get beyond community and practice: the many meanings of learning by participating. The Curriculum Journal Vol. 16, No. 1, March 2005, pp. 49 – 65

Engestrom, Yrjo. Knotworking to Create Collaborative Intentionality Capital in Fluid Organizational Fields. Collaborative Capital: Creating Intangible Value Advances in Interdisciplinary Studies of Work Teams, Volume 11, 307–336 (2005)

Gee, James Paul. A 21st Century Assessment Project for Situated and Sociocultural Approaches to Learning. Grant Proposal for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative.

Gee, James Paul. Human Action and Social Groups as the Natural Home of Assessment:Thoughts on 21st Century Learning and Assessment. Draft paper for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative.

This is just the beginning of the list, and I’m going to summon the Fireside Moonbats to help me build on it. Stay posted for an longer and more detailed list.

Posted in academia, academics, awesome, Clay Shirky, danah boyd, joy, MIT, Ph.D., zombies | Leave a Comment »