Flashback: Nostradamus and Y2K

1 07 2012

I admit this has little to do with the topic at hand but is such a cool photo I thought I’d put it up anyway! Think of it as a photo of planes NOT dropping out of the sky. Read on for more…
photo credit: licensed under Creative Commons from Beverly & Pack

Growing up in the latter part of the twentieth century, the year 2000 loomed large. It didn’t help that famed soothsayer and bane of the Spanish Inquisition, Nostradamus had predicted the end of the world in the year 2000.

Yes, way before the Mayan calendar, Harold Campling and unnumbered apocalyptic suicide cults, we worried that a middle-ages apothecary and reputed seer had predicted our demise in his obscure and vague quatrains. After all, the year 2000 was a nice round number, some Christian sects felt that God had given us two millennia to get our act together and was probably losing patience with our lack of progress. And if you looked hard enough, with enough confirmation bias, signs of impending cosmic doom could be spotted (fall of the Berlin wall in 1990 symbolised the coming-together of Europe etc).

Spoiler Alert! Earth survived.

However, even for those not prone to flights of fantasy, there was another impending doom associated with this date: the Y2K bug.

This was going to end our (increasingly computer-dependent) lives as we knew them. So the story was this. Apparently computer programmers in the late 1980s and 1990s didn’t realise that the year 2000 was coming. Seriously. It snuck up when no one was looking and all the computers that had a date in their programming were going to stop working. At least that was their story.

Planes were going to drop out of the sky. Water filtration and pumping was going to fail leaving cities to die. Banking systems would crash. Medical life-support machines would expire. And worst of all, having recently come out of the cold war, missile “defence” systems would malfunction and cause world war three, the nuclear version. Truly apocalyptic.

We responded in the normal rational way we humans always react. People stockpiled water, canned goods and medicines. Some built underground bunkers. Some left the cities or holidayed in the country at the fateful time. Staff were trained, emergency plans were formulated and put in place, back-up communication systems were tested, generators were on stand-by. People stayed at work overnight “just in case”. Computer programmers no doubt found themselves in great demand – job creation, perhaps?

Midnight New Year’s Eve came and went with the usual fireworks and sense of disappointment.

Nothing. No-thing. Not-a-thing. Nothing happened.

We all went back to our lives with a sense of mild embarrassment alleviated only by our commonality with others. If they didn’t mention it, we wouldn’t either. What to do with casks of water? Gradually the canned supplies dwindled away and we moved on with our lives. The only issue that remained was whether the new millennia started in 2000 or 2001. And really, who cared?

All in all, the 30 June 2012 leap second caused more drama, bringing down the airline booking system in Australia, Reddit, Linked In, Gawker, Foursquare and Yelp. Again one assumes the computer programmers didn’t know about leap seconds. There have only been 25 since 1972.

So when the Mayans (or latter-day crackpots) predict the end of the world – well, some of us have seen it all before.

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Who owns God’s voice?

22 10 2011

OK I am going to go out on a limb here, but since we have just survived yet another predicted date of the rapture, I am going to say that possibly Harold Camping is neither in close contact with God, nor able to correctly interpret biblical prophecy.

Yes, this is written on the 22nd of October 2011. The author is proud (but perhaps somewhat confused) to have survived both the 21st of May 2011 and the 21st of October 2011. Unless of course the rapture occurred while I wasn’t paying attention (I did have a few glasses of wine last night) and I am in fact one of those left behind. In which case everyone I know has also been left behind, and you, dear reader, are left behind as well.

There is of course one more major problem with any predicted date of the end of the world. And I quote myself on Twitter:

“It is Saturday here in Australia. Guess we all survived the #rapture. Good luck to the US for the next few hours!”

Yes, that’s right. Even if (and that is a big IF) Harold Camping had been able to correctly predict a date of the rapture (and assuming God is conveniently working on the same calendar that we are), at no time is the entire earth in the same day at the same time. So we have a couple of options here:

1. the rapture would start at the international date line as the day clicked over to the correct date and time (5.59PM), and would progressively work itself around the world . Therefore the US would essentially get almost 24hours warning it was coming. This hardly seems fair.

2. Camping (and therefore according to him, God) didn’t specify which time zone this was in (sloppy work on the part of God to not specify this – or perhaps our correspondent, Camping, doesn’t understand about time zones). This would mean that while part of the earth would be raptured at the predicted date / time, another part would either be early (cheated – I was just about to confess! I thought I had until 5.59pm!) or up to 18 hours late – and on the next date.

So perhaps this is just the latest version of the televangelist “God wants you to send all your money to the PO Box that you see on your screen now”. Have we not moved on from this? This was not a victimless crime – in May 2011 it was reported that a number of people had in fact quit their jobs and sold all their possessions to fund and work for the campaign to spread the word of the coming apocalypse. I can only hope that this hasn’t happened again.

I think it is time for Harold Camping to quietly fade into history, and not keep coming up with new dates.

Perhaps I am over-thinking this.

Like some more over-thinking on the religion questions? Try Is hell exothermic or endothermic?