The Mayans – the D-list movie stars of ancient civilizations. Largely ignored, eclipsed by Aztecs, often mistaken for Aztecs, the Mayans were mathematically brilliant and enigmatic. Perhaps that’s why the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21st, 2012 has captured so much press. Global attention spans are fleeting – like trying to teach a puppy to pee only on newspaper. Things are exciting! Until they’re not, and then global attention spans pee wherever they want. Last year the world was absolutely infected with the predicted end of the Mayan calendar, right up to the Hollywood adaptation of a surprisingly awful and yet amusingly entertaining disaster movie, 2012. And this year, nothing.
Once we’ve all woken up from our New Year’s hangover in 2012, I predict the media will be yet again bombarded with gloom and doom of the kind not seen since the Y2K disaster that never was. We’re already overloaded with books, iPhone apps, web sites – disaster predictions are everywhere. Here’s a brief list, and why they’re stupid:
Some nutjobs claim the Mayans were predicting solar storms. The sun tends to spit out radiation every few years, and solar radiation disrupts electronics. A solar storm in 1989 actually brought down the Canadian power grid for a few hours (take THAT, Canada!). The last big burst was in August. Did you notice? Neither did I. According to NASA, the folks who actually know about this stuff, the next big solar storm isn’t going to happen until 2013 or 2014. While it’s true electronics are sensitive, and a really massive solar storm, something like a sun-fart, would knock out satellites and disrupt power, that’s hardly a catastrophe. Power grids will come back on. At worst, unshielded satellites may be dead, and launching more will be expensive. We may have to go through a few years without GPS, and that is a disaster.
Other nutjobs believe the Mayan calendar corresponds to solar variations, in particular, the galactic conjunction (which sounds like a venereal disease). The galactic conjunction occurs when the earth’s orbit and our sun align with the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. That the Mayans predicted this isn’t really so amazing, considering their calendar was based on movement of the sun and moon. Mayans were great astronomers. You have to remember, these people didn’t have television, so they had to do something with their time. That the calendar ends during a conjunction is no mystery. But there’s another subclass of solar nutjob who thinks the Mayans were predicting when all the planets in our own solar system will align, creating a massive gravity well! First, there is no full planetary alignment in 2012. Second, even if all the planets did align, they can’t overpower the largest mass in our solar system, the sun. Only the IRS wields such power, and they’re not likely to audit the sun. Or are they…
Next up is the earth-axis shift. The magnetic poles like to move around, and the earth wobbles. The nutjobs say the earth’s magnetic poles will shift on December 21st 2012, throwing the equator along the poles and creating global earthquakes and tidal waves. A suddenly shifting magnetic pole would be bad, but it isn’t going to happen. Virtually every planetary scientist with actual credentials – not degrees purchased from the Internet or non-existent countries – agrees that the earth’s poles aren’t likely to shift, and even if they did it’d be a slow, gradual change over hundreds of years. A disaster spanning hundreds of years doesn’t seem like a disaster… and I don’t think people can scream that long.
There are plenty more wacky ideas, including invasions of insects and the mighty Cthulu rising from the sea. I would’t start hoarding shotguns and canned food just yet. The Mayan calendar ends on December 21st, 2012, but the Mayans never said there’d be a disaster. Their calendar was broken up in to eras, and the end of one era doesn’t mean the end of the world. They were no more likely to plan the next era than we are to start printing calendars for 2025.
And finally, probably the biggest point to make, the Mayan calendar may not really end on December 21st 2012 anyway. The growing consensus from archaeologists is that the original calculations used to convert the Mayan calendar to the Gregorian calendar are wrong. Re-calculating puts the Mayan calendar end date 50-100 years off the mark, which means Hollywood will be making a sequel disaster movie: 2112, the revenge.
Viruses rarely discriminate. The only prejudice most malicious software harbors is a penchant for processing. If it runs, it infects. Always. For the sake of brevity, I’m not going to expound on the differences between a virus, trojan, bug, zombie, or any of the countless ways malicious code can get into your gear.
I’ve been in far too many discussions with Mac users claiming Macs are immune, or Linux users claiming nobody writes viruses for Linux, or Windows users who say Virus software isn’t needed if you’re careful. Art is subjective, software isn’t, and the plain truth about code is that it infects. While there are still a few instances of college kids hacking away code for relatively benign purposes – like turning everyone’s computer clock back six months, or setting home pages to gay porn sites just for laughs – the truth is malicious software is big business. Infected PC’s send billions of spam messages every day without their users ever knowing they were even infected. And if you’re in the business of writing malicious code, you target the biggest install base – Windows-based PC’s.
But big install targets aren’t the only targets. Macs are just as susceptible to infection as PC’s, but being a lower percentage of the PC market, there simply aren’t as many people targeting Macs because there’s less return on that programming investment. The more popular Macs become, the more that will change.
Do yourself a favor and don’t be a fool. Your computer use habits only matter if you never connect to the internet, never read e-mail, and have no means of installing software – which probably means you’re using a calculator.
Happy Birthday, e-mail!
40 years ago this month, MIT graduate Ray Tomlinson sent the first ever e-mail message between two computers. Moments later, his inbox was filled with discounts for sexual enhancement drugs and trips to Tahiti.