So here's what I'm thinking. Jesus seems to be clear that we shouldn't be nosing around for "signs of the end." He tells us to "Watch out" not for the end of the world, but for those who claim it is coming; deceivers, money makers, liars. Catastrophic events happen, have happened, and will continue to happen throughout human history. Wars, earthquakes, famines; they happen, but it doesn't mean Jesus is rounding up his angel army. It means people are fighting. It means that the earth is under constant pressure. It means the haves will horde and the have nots will starve.
In referencing birth pangs, Jesus seems to be raising a common image, one of new birth. As far as I've read, it was one of the prevailing images of the apocalypse in ancient worlds. Anyway, here's where the nuance come in, I think that the letter to the Hebrews can expand on what Jesus is saying. The new birth that Jesus references is fleshed out by the author of Hebrews as a heart sprinkled clean and bodies washed with pure water.
Our response to that new, clean life, is a new way of living; one that isn't focused on self, but on the other - therefore ending famine. This life is one of provocation, not to anger, but to good works - thereby ending wars. God will have to take care of the earthquakes. It is a life where the faithful gather, over and over again, not in disappointment or worry over the Second Coming, but in joyful expectation and hope for a totally new life; one where these things are possible all the time, one where the power of sin and death have been overcome.
In the meantime, don't scan the papers for numbers or signs or names, but do the work of discipleship; receive forgiveness, press forward toward good works, gather together, and encourage one another. If this were the Modus Operandi of Christians everywhere, it might just be the end of days.