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James Perkins

"Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation."
- Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
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How to Survive an ICBM (Nuclear Weapon) Attack.
by James Perkins, 13 Jan 2018.

I've pondered this question since I was in my teens, and checked out books from the county library, like The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, which contained advice for municipalities about these topics, declassified in the 1960s from research done in actual test bombings. I keep reading and learning. So, I'll go directly to my inexpert but well-researched advice:


1) Prompt Radiation
2) Heat
3) Blast


Nuclear explosions produce a huge release of energy from a device weighing as little as 30kg (65 pounds), in a few microseconds. They give off a small fraction of their energy relase as prompt radiation, a large fraction as heat, and a large fraction as blast, and leave a small fraction as residual radioactive fallout. We will consider those effects and what to do about them in that order.


Closeness to the Explosion. The energy of the explosion is spread over a larger area the farther you are from the explosion. Also some energy forms are absorbed by air and materials on its way to you.

Height of the explosion. Some prompt radiation (radio, EMP) and heat effects mostly follow line of sight. The higher the blast, the further away it is from you, but a vast surface area may be covered. Blast effects are also changed by how high the blast is - much more efficient at a little bit off the ground, and a high altitude blast will cause little to no blast effects.

Most ICBMs are programmed to go off at an optimal distance above the ground, like the Hiroshima and Nagasaki airplane-dropped gravity bombs. That's because they are designed for optimum blast effect. They are just high enough to affect a large local area, like anyone in view of a tall hill. At- or underground explosions produce tremendous fallout but focus the blast on a smaller area. High altitude blasts mostly fry electronics, set fires, and cause burns and blindness to animals and people below.

Most bombs will be exploded at an altitude of 300-1000 m (900-3500 feet) above ground level. This is where the blast effect is maximized for the largest area on the ground below. This means they are in sight of and to a lesser extent effect a fairly large area.


a) Electromagnetic Pulse or EMP. Many electronics and power distribution systems within view of the blast will be fried, especially delicate computers and power distribution systems (yes, power lines).

It's like the mother of all close call lightning strikes, which can blow out your house's wiring. If it is a large, high altitude explosion (the height of an airliner or higher) the EMP effect can cover large circles of hundreds of miles in diameter and cause a huge amount of property damage.

Keep a small battery powered AM/FM radio in a large tin can with a metal lid, or in a conductive metal box. This is a makeshift "Faraday cage" - it will give the device partial protection from EMP. Unpack it if your radios go out.

The explosion changes the ionization of the upper atmosphere, so it may at first knock out all radio communication within a large area (100s to 1000s of square miles) for up to several hours.

Cell phone, telephone, local radio and TV stations, emregency response mobile, communication infrastructure system, and electrical power, may be down until systems can be replaced - measured at least in days, more likely weeks to months.

b) Neutron radiation. Most people should skip ahead to 2) HEAT now.

If you are within a kilometer (2/3 mile) of a nuclear explosion, and are in a protected space like a bunker or tank, then neutron radiation may be the first fatal effect - immediately incapacitating (knock your brain senseless), then causing your body organs to fail and shut down within minutes to hours.

Neutron bombs were designed in the 1970s to try to kill soldiers in (less-)damaged bunkers and tanks. The goal was more neutron radiation, less blast effect. Even with refinements, most of the bomb's energy release was still in heat and blast effect. Neutron bombs have mostly been removed from arsenals as they are too specialized a niche weapon (Ground war in Europe, was the original idea), and represent pointless expense to maintain the systems when blast-optimized weapons are more widely applicable.

2) HEAT.

Protect your eyes and skin from the light of the bomb blast. Do not look at the blast - you will either go blind or suffer retinal damage even you you are many miles away. Do not expose bare skin to the blast. Turn your back to the blast. Your face, hands, arms, and feet are the most serious burn locations. Opaque fabric over the skin vastly reduces the severity of burns - an effect noticed in Hiroshima casualties. Ideally, keep a wall between you and the blast. A thin, opaque wall is better than one million SPF sunblock.

The heat will set plants, paint, plastic, buildings, paper, and your skin on fire within a few miles of the explosion. They just need to be within sight of the blast location.

A large fraction of the energy of a nuclear bomb is released within seconds as heat. The intensity is many times that of the sun. The interior heat and pressure inside the bomb casing is ten to twenty times that found in the core of the Sun. Within a few microseconds - millionths of a second - a large amount of gamma rays escape the bomb casing. These hit the air within 20 meters of the bomb and superheat the air, which releases Hard X-Rays, which hits more air, which releases Soft X-Rays, and so on down the chain to Ultraviolet and visible light. The fireball - a ball of heated, glowing air - grows and grows, giving the explosion a larger and larger surface area to release heat, until it reaches maximum size.

Visible light and heat travel tens of miles in air. At 20 miles the blast will scar your eyes, at 10 miles they will roast your skin like a horrible sunburn, at 5 miles or less they will start to burn the skin off your body. At 1 mile your body will burst into flame, casting a shadow on the ground before it is blown away by the blast arriving in a few seconds, leaving a permanent memorial to where you were standing at the bomb blast - an effect also seen at Hiroshima.

All modern weapons, including North Korea's last underground test, are thermonuclear bombs, and the bigger they are, the longer the radiation pulse and the larger percentage of the bomb's energy output is burning up everything around it. A giant 50 megaton blast in Russia caused trees to catch on fire 50 miles away and windows to blow out 100s of miles away... leading us to talk next about...


You have a few seconds, if you're within 2 miles of the blast, ~20 seconds at 5 miles from the explosion, or ~45 seconds if 10 miles away, to shelter in place. This is just like lightning, blast takes about 3 seconds to travel 1km outward, or 5 seconds for each mile from the explosion (actually, it's faster than sound initially, but then settles down).

a) Blast enemy 1 is air pressure. Go to an enclosed place. Walls around you and closed doors are your friends. If outside in the open near a blast it will blow your body around like a doll, or cause things to collapse around you. Some good news, human bodies are remarkably resilient to the rapid air pressure change of a bomb blast. Close to a bomb, it is your body impacting foreign surfaces that will kill you, not the pressure itself. Within a mile of the blast the pressure spike can rupture your lungs. Within 5 miles it can rupture your eardrums. Both can heal if you get to medical help - keeping the eyes, core body and the limbs working, help you get to help. Keep a heavy wall between you and all outdoor places if you can.

2) Blast enemy 2 is glass and flying debris. Avoid windows and glass building facades, which will explode into glass daggers moving at 150 mph. Buildings and trees will have large and small pieces flying off them - especially structures faced with loose material like brick, stone, glass, or paneling. An all-enclosed room is better because it has no windows.

3) Blast enemy 3 is wall or building COLLAPSE. Choose a fortified place like under a heavy desk or interior doorway (if out of view of outdoors/no glass).

Those are the prompt effects. When someone says "take shelter":

1) If stuck in the outdoors, find the most sheltered place you can. Do not look in likely bomb flash directions. Put a tree, rock or wall between you and any likely targets: military bases, cities. Be ready for things to fall on you. If no shelter, cover your skin, lay flat on the ground face down, and cover your head with your arms.

2) If you can move indoors, try to move deep indoors. In any case, stay away from windows for fear of flying glass. Don't look out the window or your sight may be what you lose. Brace for building collapse.


Fallout begins immediately and builds up as pieces of irradiated bomb casing rain out of the sky. If you can still move around, move out from under the mushroom cloud - anywhere but downwind of the bomb blast. Effects of the fallout vary drastically depending on winds, rain, how long it falls on an area, and the like. Your best bet is to stay out of the plume.

If there has been so much damage that you cannot get out of the plume of radiation, then you'll want the duct tape and plastic sheeting and start sealing yourself in. You have an hour or so to do this. It's very hard to give even general guesses as to the intensity of radiation based on distance. Get out from under the cloud.

I won't comment on details on this further. I can't believe as many as possible wouldn't be evacuated from a single blast location as soon as humanly possible. If there are multiple upwind plumes from blasts within 100 miles raining on your location, I think we're in really bad shape.

FINALLY, have rations on hand for living without food, power or water for several weeks. Have enough on hand to help those neighbors who didn't prepare... so they won't shoot you. This is America.

Above all, long before you get to lobbing bombs, invest in TALKING WITH ENEMIES, and carrying a big enough stick that TALKING is much to their advantage. TALK to them often.TALK is much cheaper than nuclear explosions. Keep good friends with your neighbors, both in your town and the nations next door. When nuclear weapons are used it is an unspeakable calamity. We can do so much better. If another nuclear weapon is ever set off putting people at risk or causing casualties, it is an extremely sad day for humanity, and a shame on the entire human race for not stopping it.

That's what I have for today.
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Update all the things week! Thanks, Meltdown and Spectre.

This week has kept me busy keeping up with updates for all my computer systems, including antivirus software, operating system, applications (especially browser) and PC BIOS.

In Windows this is pretty straightforward, updating in turn the antivirus, Windows Update, browser update, and then to the computer and/or motherboard manufacturer website to find BIOS update executable and follow directions, which usually involves a USB stick and BIOS Setup entry.

In Linux, it seems Fedora 27 is ahead of the game for kernel, applications, and microcode updates. Ubuntu has been catching up with them this week, but to catch up sooner I've added the canonical kernel team PPA repositories to get previews of kernel updates. The lshw command has been quite useful in seeing currently loaded firmware versions.

Android is less susceptible overall, especially if you keep up with updates created during December, as many vendors knew. Lotsa luck on older hardware that doesn't get any updates. My friends running BSD will have to wait for their patches to come along as most BSD groups learned about the bugs on January 3 when news broke.

BIOS updates are each a special ordeal. Older PCs end up being effectively abandoned/out of warranty by their manufacturers, and don't tend to have BIOS updates. For these, I hope the other mitigations will be enough. PCs are designed for the OS to call back into the BIOS for some operations so this leaves a small but well known window of risk - but with everything else updated it will hopefully be less easy to exploit.
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Ice Storm pics around my home, Eugene, OR
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Our old house is finally ready for sale. Particularly proud of all the work we did on the bamboo floor in the front room - #realestate   #eugene #oregon  +Katrina Wolfe 
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Using up a lot of CSA vegetables in cacciatore.
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Friday always seems like a good day to dress differently... Take risks.
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I would love it if folks in New Zealand, Samoa and Christmas Island (Kritimati) could actually use GNU libc strptime("%z") to parse their Summer Time zone offset (since the offset exceeds the valid -1200 to +1200 range, strptime just returns NULL instead of filling in the seconds offset from UTC). Hopefully this time, the GNU libc community will approve and incorporate this little patch.
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Oh, snap! I has a warm brick.

The Quantum Byte quad core Atom PC looked like an excellent deal, and it is a great little Windows 8 device. I had plans to make it run Linux. I did manage to eventually apply some hacks to get Ubuntu 15.04 installed and configured, and Linux 4.1.4 up and running, although not stably or reliably.

In my irritation at trying alternate settings to get booting to be more reliable, I disabled Legacy USB in the EFI BIOS Setup. Whups! Now my Quantum Byte ignores its keyboard and boots to the EFI shell. It ignores the keyboard there too, so no commands may be typed. I tried opening the case, removing the battery and connecting it back up, but the settings are saved to Flash and are permanent. Apparently there is no recovery short of replacing the Flash device.

 Sigh. At least I didn't spend much on this mini PC. It has been a PITA to try to get working:

1) Linux distributions do not support the combination of a 32-bit UEFI (only) BIOS running on a 64-bit CPU core.
2) The WLAN/Bluetooth RealTek 8723BS is only supported with a dodgy out-of-tree Linux kernel module
3) I never managed to get the Baytrail Audio to work.

I plan to retire it to the community PC recycler. :(
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