Survival Kit

It seems to me that people are far too casual about one of the greatest personal threats, that of suddenly being translated into another world, era, or alternate history. This happens all the time.  You walk around the horses in a little town near Berlin, in 1809, and you disappear (with a popping sound).  You get hit by lightning, and suddenly you find yourself in Ostrogothic Italy or medieval Iceland.  Some bruiser hits you on the head with a crowbar, and you wake up in Arthur’s England. While investigating reports of strange gases in an abandoned coal mine in Pennsylvania, you fall into a kind of suspended animation for 492 years, waking to find America under the iron heel of the Air Lords of Han. While chasing down an armed perp (again in Pennsylvania),  you’re accidentally swept up into someone’s sideways-in-time vehicle and land in a Keystone State full of pagan Aryans in desperate need of a new source of gunpowder.

Sometimes you don’t go alone. You and your posse might be losing to Commies in  Angola when you’re providentially scooped up by a flying saucer in search of mercenaries.  Your Yankee island, coofs and all, may suddenly slide back to the Bronze Age.  You look out the window of Flight 33 and see brontosaurs, which can’t be good.

I don’t believe anybody can prevent these sudden translations, but we can do a better job of readying ourselves.  It should be possible to develop a small kit that materially improves your chances in such circumstances – whether your goal is mere survival, introducing/saving/restarting civilization, or becoming King and/or Warlord. More than a bug-out bag.

Looks to me as if you might want to use a kind of flow chart: figure out key survival facts first, and only later pursue more general investigations. Immediately check for  predators, volcanism, and hostile humans.  If there are no immediate threats, you probably want to check where – or when – you are.

The flora and fauna tell you a lot: if you see mammoths, you’re either in the past (but not terribly far back) or you’re in a future rife with genetic engineering. If you see several identifiable species, you can intersect their ranges to home in on your location.

If you see a hummingbird you’re in the Americas: if you also see eastern hemlock you’re almost certainly east of the Mississippi river.  Eucalyptus is strong sign of Australian location. And so on.

A clear night sky is damned informative. If you’re not too far in the past or future, the stars can give you a rough date and latitude. They could also tell you if you’re in some other local solar system: you should carry maps giving you key altered constellations (both hemispheres) for the 20 closest solar systems. For example, if Orion looks like this, you’re in the Alpha Centauri system:

The Moon is a giveaway: you’d know that you were on Earth even if the constellations were time-distorted beyond recognition. Luna can give you some temporal info as well: if you don’t see Tycho,  you’re more than 100 million years into the past. If it’s green, you’re definitely in the future.

Knowing some very old-fashioned astronomy can be very useful when you’re on the verge of being burnt at the stake. Learn about the Saros cycle – predict eclipses and amaze your enemies.

We can learn from what has been found useful in past incidents of this kind.  Having some real silver money in your pocket is good – it might let you pay for your lodgings for a week or so, while you scope out the situation and prepare to build the world’s first still. .  If you want to introduce agriculture, carry seeds.  Cortez got wheat farming in Mexico  started with three kernels found in a sack of rice from Spain – I would suggest teff, since you can hold enough in your hand to to a sow a field.

If you must carry a gun, bring silver bullets.

I’d include two extra pairs of glasses, so that you can break one pair and still have fun reading up a storm, after the big nuclear war.

You’d want to be inoculated against smallpox, and bubonic plague, and maybe some other things.  Bring  some antibiotics –  stuff that doesn’t require refrigeration

Maps with locations of easily exploited, highly valuable minerals, like the beach diamonds of Namibia would be good to have.  Generally, you would make maps from thin oiled silk, like flyer’s escape maps in World War Two.  Durable, solar-powered digital devices might be better: in a few gigs you could easily store all the best parts of western civ, including the 1911 Britannica. You might also want to home-brew a dosimeter out of a solar-powered digital camera and a plastic scintillator, so you can avoid the worst-hit spots from the ancient nuclear wars…

Of course you may land somewhere where high tech does not work.  Bring a grimoire or two in microfiche: you can find nonelectric handheld microfiche viewers.


These notes are just a beginning.  Suggestions are welcome.










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40 Responses to Survival Kit

  1. Mo says:

    Your previous post was about altered states. Did you finally give something a try? 🙂

  2. rsaarelm says:

    Get your appendix and wisdom teeth removed, even if they’re not giving you any trouble at the moment, and get corrective eye surgery if you’re sufficiently nearsighted to be significantly disadvantaged without glasses.

  3. dearieme says:

    Is there anything guaranteed to sober you up from this effect?

  4. Gene Berman says:

    Rather infamously, Bill Clinton answered “It all depends on what the meaning of “is” is” (in answer to a prosecutor’s question “Is there a sexual relationship between you and Monica Lewinsky?”

    In nearly all quarters, he’s been mocked for such outrageous “weasel-wording”–entirely unfairly, I’d add. If anything, the weasel-words were those of the questioner: closely resembling the “have you stopped beating your wife?” type of query. The widespread failure to appreciate the perfectly reasonable nature of Clinton’s response does not speak well of the public intelligence level. On the other hand–he had it coming.

    Likewise with whatever it is to which we give the name “time.” All we can know about “time” is that it’s what intrudes–at least for animals possessing the instinct we call “reason,” operating according to a pattern we name “logic”–between what we discern as an “effect” and the “cause” of which it’s the result. It’s what we believe stuffs up what we perceive as the space between the “past” and the “future,” between a “want” and its “satisfaction” (or not). It’s our invention–and a very useful one it is, indeed (without it, there’d be no possibility of being “sapiens”)–and, since that sapience is, somehow, connected with an ability to perceive something recognized as “quantity,” we’ve made it divisible into seconds, minutes, etc., the better to benefit from many of the employments of reason.

    “Time travel” is simply one of many examples of concepts illustrating that, as humans, we have an inherent capability to make sounds that have no real meaning: in the same class as those other very obvious and meaningless “words”: omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, magic, supernatural, and many others. We all know what they mean, though their meaning is precisely what is meant by the word “incomprehensible.”

    It’s time to put away childish things..

    • gcochran9 says:

      Godel found a solution of the general relativity equations that produced closed timelike curves – i.e., a time machine. It’s not clear how physically realistic this is. Proposed time travel methods using wormholes seem to require exotic matter, which would have negative energy density. By analogy with the Casimir effect, such exotic matter may actually be possible.

      But you knew all this, right?

    • Daniel Newby says:

      Experiments on something called ‘delayed-choice entanglement swapping’ may have discovered a way to send information back in time.

  5. mgwk says:

    Greg’s library covers an unsurprisingly broad range of topics, to judge by the titles he alludes to in the first two paragraphs of the post. A few of their authors occasionally post in the ‘Sailersphere’; perhaps we will see a cameo or two? Probably not L. Sprague de Camp (in the normal scheme of things).

    Kevin Dunn’s handy Caveman Chemistry could be useful for many of the unanticipated vacation tours. Though the details of the projects seem to have migrated off the web, and into his book.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I think only two of those authors are alive, and they’re both mad at me.

      • TWS says:

        Stirling’s mad at you? It can’t be professional, your writing doesn’t have any ‘overlap’ that I can see. Unless you write sci-fi or he’s writing HBD stuff on the side.

        • gcochran9 says:

          We used to argue on a closed list. We disagreed. Last I remember, he was going to look me up and try out his martial arts upon my carcass. Back then he lived in Canada – now he lives about an hours drive away.

          This was all a long time ago.

      • TWS says:

        You guys should write a book together. You already don’t get along. You have nothing to lose. ;>)

  6. jb says:

    A recurring fantasy of mine is to be mysteriously transported to 1900, just before the scientific revolutions and political disasters of the 20th century, and being able to pontificate on pretty much everything. The immediate problem of course is convincing people I’m not crazy. Who do I contact? What evidence can I provide? The only high technology I normally carry on my person is my digital watch and my dumbphone. That really ought to be enough to prove I’m from the future, but in practice would it be? Much better would be a laptop, loaded with all sorts of technical and historical texts. But with only 10 hours of battery life, it would be a pretty limited view into the world to come. How awkward would be be to have the greatest scientists and mathematicians and technologists of the 19th century looking over your shoulder when the screen goes dark! Well folks, unless Edison or Tesla here can figure out how to recharge the battery, looks like that’s the end of the show….

    • gcochran9 says:

      Samsung offers a solar-powered netbook, with one hour of use for each two hours of charging. An SSD would further economize on power use.

      • veilwar says:

        There are also a number of solar chargers on the market that would allow for continued use of any number of small technological gadgets. Electricity was getting – if not exactly common, fairly widespread in 1900. A good engineer should be able to get you the current you need – it’s usually printed on the battery or near it.

        An iPad or iPhone could be loaded with any number of useful apps. With iBooks, Kindle, goodreader – you could have a wide variety of useful books and references, without having to carry a library. The eInk kindles have ridiculously long battery lives, too, and hold over a 1000 books.

        If I’m out of the house, I normally carry an iPhone and either my iPad or Kindle. Maybe I should load up on reference material and keep a solar charger in my bag…

      • Josh says:

        Even though this is all hypothetical, it is far superior to separate the solar-charging function from the netbook. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight will degrade virtually all plastics, and the increased heat will probably also shorten the lifespan of the netbook itself, particularly the battery, probably the LCD screen, and dry out the lubricants of any moving parts (such as fans and hard drive motors).

  7. j says:

    The most recurrent scenario is alien abduction in a UFO and artificial insemination with the purpose of carrying their alien babies. It follows that your survival kit must include a lsupply of anticonceptive pills. The aliens exercise gender equality and inseminate males and females (vide Stargate), so everybody must be prepared. I hope my contribution will be considered with due seriousness.

  8. Anonymous Coward says:

    I love these kinds of SF stories. But I can’t identify all of the references in this post. Can someone help me?

    >>> You walk around the horses in a little town near Berlin, in 1809, and you disappear (with a popping sound).
    ??? Is this from H. Beam Piper’s Paratime stories?

    >>You get hit by lightning, and suddenly you find yourself in Ostrogothic Italy or medieval Iceland.
    Ostrogothic Italy is Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp, but I’m drawing a blank on medieval Iceland.

    >>Some bruiser hits you on the head with a crowbar, and you wake up in Arthur’s England.
    A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

    While investigating reports of strange gases in an abandoned coal mine in Pennsylvania, you fall into a kind of suspended animation for 492 years, waking to find America under the iron heel of the Air Lords of Han.
    Buck Rogers

    While chasing down an armed perp (again in Pennsylvania), you’re accidentally swept up into someone’s sideways-in-time vehicle and land in a Keystone State full of pagan Aryans in desperate need of a new source of gunpowder.
    H. Beam Piper’s Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen

    Sometimes you don’t go alone. You and your posse might be losing to Commies in Angola when you’re providentially scooped up by a flying saucer in search of mercenaries.
    Jerry Pournelle’s Jannissaries series

    >>>>Your Yankee island, coofs and all, may suddenly slide back to the Bronze Age.
    S.M. Stirling’s Island in the Sea of Time series

    >>>You look out the window of Flight 33 and see brontosaurs, which can’t be good.
    Twilight Zone’s The Odyssey of Flight 33 episode

  9. random mutation says:

    Do your musings have anything to do with a recent workshop on solar activity?

  10. A webcomic came up with a tshirt with useful information for the time traveler: Time Traveler Essentials.

    The 1809 incident was Benjamin Bathurst, but Piper wrote a short story about it, “He Walked Around the Horses”.

    Medieval Iceland is Poul Anderson’s story “The Man Who Came Early” about a US airman stationed in Iceland and thrown back in time.

  11. Maciano says:

    It would be a good idea to start some daily calisthenic exercises after you wake up.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Between this post and your article in The American Conservative guessing that the necons come from a different universe through a portal at the American Enterprise Institute, you have blown your own cover. Please describe your planet/parallel dimension of origin. What relation does it have with the parallel dimension of origin of the neoconservatives?

    • a very knowing American says:

      For God’s sake, don’t be so explicit about this stuff on a public blog. The last thing we need is for the Time Police to decide that “Greg Cochran” is breaking protocol and introducing anomalies into our time stream. Those guys can be real bastards: chances are if they find “Greg” is breaking the rules, they’ll dump him in Baghdad, just before Tamurlane sacked it.

  13. Richard Harper says:

    FWIW, the standard MacGyver kit was a Swiss Army Knife, a roll of duct tape, waterproof wooden matches, .. and an unlimited supply of improvisational intelligence.

  14. Nanonymous says:

    As a kid, I was quite fascinated by “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”. To this day I frequently reminisce on how little practical knowledge I have. So, the most useful survival kit in the long run would be a book on how to make basic things. That’s a tall order to cover all possible circumstances, so a copy of Wikipedia on a hand-cranked laptop would probably be a better idea. From bits and pieces scattered there, one can probably get enough practical information to minimize trials and errors.

  15. Karl Narveson says:

    The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the 14th Century, by Ian Mortimer.

    A very good start, though not of course sufficiently general to meet your complete requirements.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Reading The Long Earth are we?

  17. albatross says:

    I wonder how many really useful tidbits you could memorize. You could probably turn this into a good one semester class. For each approximate time period/tech level, you learn a few useful tricks to make yourself Pharoh’s favorite foreign advisor, or the most successful caveman in the cave, or The Boss, or Norman Arminger’s chief engineer, or the richest guy in 1920 America, or whatever.

    The other class you take at the same time involves swordfighting, archery, basics of making various weapons, horseback riding, sailing in outrigger canoes, etc. Sometime during the semester, you go to the student health clinic, and they give you every vaccination they can lay their hands on. Another day, you have all your natural teeth pulled and replaced by implants. (That whole process would take a while to finish, maybe morethan one semester.).

    You could try for some language classes. but other than Latin I’m not sure that pays off–no telling if you will find yourself in Europe during the 30 years’ war, hanging out with Odyseus, or fending off the Red Baron and his minions with your trusty revolver. Hell, you might be minding your own business lookingout the window of the space shuttle when suddenly, the world ends, and you wake up fifty years later in a different country.

  18. Robert King says:

    I told you to get treatment for that spider bite. Did you listen? Apparently not….

  19. dave chamberlin says:

    First on my list would be a solar powered generator. Then you would never run out of power for your digital camera (a soul catcher) flashlight (the thunderbolts of Zeus) stereo system (heaven in a box). Taking along a gun might work the first few times but killing the locals is generally a bad idea. Johnny Appleseed is a personal hero of mine. Possibly the biggest fool who ever became a national hero in the process he would dress in only a tin pot and a burlap sack, float down a river into the unknown wilderness on a big chunk of ice with a hefty bag of appleseeds (good for only one thing, making hard cider). He would then grow apple trees and sell liquor to the indians and seedlings to the settlers who came ten years later. He had a Sandusky kind of thing for very young indian girls and now he is a national hero. Today they would lock up Johnny Appleseed and throw the key but the drunken pervert got away with it. It just goes to show that if you are transported to another place in time just take with you the means to supply the locals with strong hooch and pretty soon you can make all the rules.

  20. frost says:

    Surely you mean the 11lth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, not the 1911 edition.

  21. Hemraj Sheth says:

    Hello! Would you mind if I share your blog with my zynga group?
    There’s a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Thank you

  22. Mike Johnson says:

    The Long Now Foundation is doing something kinda like this with their Salon space-

    It’s a collection of paper books that could serve as a seed for human civilization, post-collapse. For your purposes, a digital app with the same sort of info might be better. Also, you can have useful functional software on apps- something you can’t do with books.

    I sketched out a company that would make a ‘digital survival kit’ app like this, once- if you want I can send you my notes.

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