N3tt's Thoughts #2 - Single Point of Failure and Our Dependancy on Stuff

Preface

I wanted to talk about this for so god damn long. It first occured to me when we were at local shisha place with my friend, and were just chillin’ out, talking random bullshit like “what-if“. Eventually, we came to realization, that most of the catastrophic scenarios we came up with, could be possible due to some very minor defect in system, that starts off massive chain reaction. I guess this topic would be more interesting to talk about, not just read one’s opinion, but whatever.

Butterfly Effect

You are probably familiar with this term. If you are, you can skip to next heading. In case you aren’t, let me introduce.

When bird flaps it’s wing in China, a massive tornado errupts in Texas

Everyone with basic geography knowledge know, that these palces are really, really far away from each other. So how can something as little as a butterfly cause a tornado on the other side of the world? Well, this is an exaggerated situation, but in theory, it is possible. Let’s talk weather. Why is it not possible to accuratly predict weather for more than a week in advance?

Edward Lorenz was a mathematician and meteorologist in the US in 1900’s. On one cold winter day in 1961, he wanted to test some data that were coming from his weather prediction models. But, he wanted to save a bit of time, so he rounded the number by a few decimal dots. He was expecting the exact same results, but when they came, he was surprised. Initially, the lines (data) matched perfectly, but over time, they started to deviate more and more, and after certain time, it has became basically a whole new prediction. At first, Lorenz thought there have to be something bad with the computer, but after examination of the machine, he realized that the problem was the underlying calculations and equations. Thus, a chaos theory was born. Deviating by just 0.03%, the models were wastly different after a while.

If you read a bit about it on Wikipedia, you’ll be probably confused at first. Some non-linear equations, determinism, seeds.. All those pesky big words. But, this article isn’t about maths, so we’ll skip for now. If you’re interested however, you can just read few[1][2] documents that I read and recommend. Essentially what this is all about, some things are heavily dependant on their initial condition. If they vary just a little bit, consenquences can be dramatic.

What do we depend on

It is not hard to name quite a few things right off the bat. So first of all, there is

Electricity

So many crucial systems run on this phenomenon of electrons moving around something ferrous. Relatively minor and simple things such as your computer, company servers or EV’s, to things that will lead to catastrophic scenarios, like stock markets, hospitals, military and communication services to name a few. Let’s quickly see, what would happen if

Electricity went out for a month

You might think “oh well, another blackout, probably a storm“. But when you want to check on your phone, you have no signal. “Weird“ you might think, but still don’t care that much. By a chance, you went outside and was able to catch a signal from some satellites. You hop on the internet, just to find out nothing works. You start to panic a bit, but still, everything is ok. Next morning, you’re starving. You open your fridge, just to find out your milk went bad, and something is starting to smell like rotten meat. You realize there is still no electricity, and if it isn’t a winter by any chance, you also realize you have to throw majority of your food into the bin, because everything will eventually go bad. Of course, you’re curious, so you go outside to the streets to ask, what happened. You see that absolutely nothing works, everything is grey, without any sign of life. People are still inside, thinking that nothing bad happened. Nobody really knows, because there is no way that anyone would let you know. There might be some individuals that know, because of battery operated HAM radios or some sort of private networks. But, you still don’t know. Few days later, you’re woken up by PSA, saying something about major electricity blackout, staying calm and a curfew. You’re obviously starting to get worried, most of your food went bad, you’re cold or hot depending on current season and probably extremely bored. After something over a week, you’ve seen people rioting, breaking into shops, stealing food and basic supplies. “They’re paranoid, this won’t last long“ you say to yourself. There starts to be an awful scent around the town, that you’ll later find out is all the bad food just waiting for someone to be picked up by, on the streets. While you are taking your walk around the town, you see someone getting stabbed by one of the rioters. You immediate reaction is pulling out your phone, followed by realisation that you have no battery and no way of charging it. So you grab him, and quickly move to the nearest hospital. As with all buildings, this one is also completely dark, but personnel is still inside, taking care of all the mess that was created. Hospitals do have backup generators or batteries, but they were probably not designed to last for more than a day or two. There is unbearable scent of rotten meat, blood and alcohol. You leave the stabbed man in the care of a nurse, and head back home. Few more days passed, and suddenly, you’re woken up by explosion in the distance. And another one, a bit closer. Another one. You come to your mind, realising that the explosions are slowly coming towards you. Immediate panic, get necessary stuff and head out. A plane flies above your house, and nearby street goes into the flames in ear shattering explosion. Some foreign country have had realized that your national security is completely paralized, and most of the military service is helping out civilians. Perfect opportunity to seize up some land. You have no idea if they too, are without electricity and goes blindly, or they weren’t affected by this blackout. You’ll never know, as this isn’t a Hollywood movie and you’ll probably get burried under the ruins of what used to be, your home. Whether is was a planned attack, a solar erruption that happened to knock out your country, or some power lines went mad and caused massive short, blowing up most of the critical infrastructure, it doesn’t matter. Everything goes to shit. Stock market, thus economy and trading, gone. Military, national and civilian security, gone. Food, water, basic life supplies, gone. Any means of getting news, updates, help, gone.

This is a fictional scenario, one of many rather, that might (and is very likely to) happen, if something messes up our electrical grid. It doesn’t have to be world-wide (but the consenquences will be even more drastic) to cause massive problems, and apocaliptic like scenario.

People

Believe it or not, we couldn’t live without the help of others. As disturbing as it may sound, society thrives because of failure. Car mechanic fixes broken car, salesman sells you things you don’t have, doctor treats injuries, bus driver transports you because you don’t have any other way of getting there.. You get it. But, there is also a side, that is often overlooked. People in power. Not people like Musk, Gates or Trump. I mean people that literally have a big red button that will cause omnicide, at they fingertips, every, single, day. People that make one call, and can make planet unhabitable for millions of years.

That time we almost nuked ourselves.. and the other, and so on

Yes, you’ve read that correctly. There has been many occassions, where we almost nuked ourselves. If you’re from the older sort (hi mum and dad), you may remember Cuban missile crisis. Well, if there was just one stubborn soldier that just won’t listen to his captain and fired that nuclear torpedo, part of America might went missing, subsequently causing most of Europe and Asia go missing too. A gret video that I will partially steal is Grazed by the Apocalypse by Swedish guy named LEMMiNO. His content is great, and this video gives me goosebumps every time I watch it. I will rewrite one chapter of the video, but I encourage you to go and watch it. (And no, it is not paid or anything. Unbiased, his content is awesome)

The Moon and Nuclear War

It is October the 5th, 1960. US and USSR have deployed an early warning systems, which are used to detect incoming long range missiles, and alert corresponding nations in advance. One of these stations was located in Greenland, and is directly communicating with HQ in Collorado. This day, the number started to rise, meaning that low-risk object was detected. This might pose a danger, but also could be a reflection from a plane. Nothing serious. Eventually, the number reached 5, which meant that long-range, possibly nuclear missiles were detected and were to impact US in 20 minutes. This message spread quickly in the chain of commanders, but was quickly eased by realisation, that Nikita Khrushchev, the former president of USSR, was currently visiting US. Later it has been discovered that this station mistaken a rising moon for a long range missile.

Nuclear sunrise

Similarly, in the morning of September 26th, 1983, an alarm went off in base near Moscow. This meant that an ICBM were launched at USSR, and standard procedure called for immediate response with, what else, than nuclear counterattack. The man in charge, Stanislav Petrov, did not alert his superiors. 4 more dots appeared on the radar, meaning that more missiles were detected. However he still didn’t do anything. Why? His reason was, the if the US were to nuke USSR, they won’t send just a few rockets, but rather hundreds. As he had no way of confirming this idea, he just waited. Apparently, sunlight, reflecting from high altitude clouds tripped the alarm.

These two stories are NOT fiction. First[3] and second[4] stories source is listed at the end. Oh, and also forementioned video that you should watch. Incidents like these two weren’t the only one, and in fact, I probably don’t even want to know how many times a year we are this close to killing ourselves. If these guys, that standed against procedure and training, were just a little bit different, you couldn’t have existed. If one of them had spilled coffee on someone passing by, and it happened to be some general, demoting him and passing someone else on his position, things could’ve ended up badly. This is the Butterfly effect in practice. Just one minor thing could’ve resulted in world not being habitable anymore. And no one but us, are responsible for that. And our dependance on stupid military systems and a guy in camo vest.

Supply chain

It is now 2021, and we are still in the middle of world pandemic caused by COVID-19. If you happen to be from future, it is shit time. Especially here, in Czech Republic. This country is an absolute shitfest, and people leading it are complete dicks. I mean, 8k new infections every day and they decided to cancel curfew and open every shop, school and act like nothing is happening. What the fuck.

But, in the beggining of 2020, we could see an interesting thing happening. Suddenly, everything was missing. Because countries closed their borders, there was massive shortage of things like toilet paper, pasta, canned food, face masks and hand gels all over the world. People panicked, and started to bulk buy everything. That was kinda funny at first, but you have to realize that hospitals, which are vital part of the game of “Let’s not fuck up and make this virus go away”, didn’t have had enough basic supplies like masks, desinfections, respirators and even gloves. We thought before that “yeah, making about 10k masks a week should be plenty for those few hospitals“, and suddenly, your entire stock went bye-bye in order of hours. You had no materials to produce more, because a) borders are closed and b) a lot of companies went into pause mode, because of pandemic, thus not generating supplies you needed. This resulted into hospitals being kinda fucked, because now doctors were getting infected, infecting potentially healthy patients, and disease started to spread fast. Then the tests came, and of course everybody wanted to know if they are OK. So, shortage of tests. Here in Czechia, there were reports of some people getting testes as much as 8 times a week, which is riddiculous on itself, but also extremely wasteful (unfortunately I wasn’t able to find source, but I remember it being aired on TV). Now it’s 2021, vaccines are being delivered, and some genius realised, that by using insuline needles, you can measure the dose more precisely, resulting in 6 doses per bottle, not 5. This resulted not only in massive EU vaccines scam, but also lack of insulin needles, which are needed, obviously, for patients with diabetes, and most of the world to vaccinate against COVID.

If would’ve been just a bit more prepared for this, not only with more supplies, but also some intelligence, it could’ve been a lot smoother and better experience for all of us.

At the end

There is no way we would go throught all scenarios to all events that might happen. I would like you to think about this, either by yourself while taking a shit, showering or travelling. Or with your friends, collegues, family, whatever. It surely is an interesting topic, and problem that poses very critical systems to extreme danger. With stuff like nuclear omnicide, there isn’t that big of a chance, but we might never know when an asteroid hits Earth, when sun errupts massive amound of plasma and fries all electronics on the planet, or when gamma ray burst from another galaxy hits us, destroying atmosphere and magnetic field. People need people like you, that can think about how can this be avoided, or how to reduce the risk of X to minimum. This is however not a “call to arms” or whatever, just.. think about it.

Allright, that is all from me for today. I find it fascinating and terryfing at the same time. Have a nice one, wear a mask if COVID is still out there, and be nice. Bye.