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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Did you sleep well?

1 07 2012

Did you wake this morning feeling especially rested? Or did you toss and turn all night wondering why the night was taking so long?

Either way, you were right. Last night we had an extra-long night (30 June 2012), thanks to a leap second.

Yes, our official time (courtesy of the atomic clock which measures time via atomic vibrations) gets slightly out of synch with “real” (solar) time, by which I mean the natural time set by the rotation of the earth around the sun. Again, the moon is at fault; the tidal surges, waxes and wanes are causing a slight slowing and wobbling of the earth’s rotation. Hadn’t you noticed the wobbles?

We could adjust the length of the unit we call a second to account for this, a minuscule lengthening. But then counting “one-hippopotamus, two-hippopotamus” etc might not work so well. And it’s not even regular about how often the atomic clock needs adjusting. It has been adjusted 25 times since such accurate time measurement began in 1972. The first year saw two leap seconds (June 30 and December 30), followed by seven years of one second per year. The last three adjustments were 1998, 2005 and 2008.

So instead we wait until a whole second has accumulated and add a leap second, just as we add a leap year, thereby adjusting our inflexible human system of measuring time to the mutable system that exists in nature.

And so we got an extra second last night, to sleep, toss and turn, or party, whatever you happened to be doing at 11:59:60 last night, which fell between 11:59:59 and 12:00:00 (midnight at the International Dateline).

Hope you enjoyed it! And if you wasted it, don’t worry another one is sure to come along sooner or later!

UPDATE: Latebreaking news! While the Y2K bug turned out to be a fizzer, the leap-second has actually had consequences! For those who are too young to remember the Y2K bug, this was the predicted beginning of the apocalypse caused because computer programmes in the 1980s and 1990s apparently didn’t have the forethought to realise that eventually in the not too distant future, computers with a clock in their functioning would need to click over from 19XX to 20XX. People (who would now be called preppers) stocked up on water supplies and canned goods and built underground bunkers. Planes were going to drop out of the sky. Nothing happened. Complete fizzer.

The leap second on the other hand has managed to bring down the airport check-in system at Australian airports, resulting in airline staff having to check in passengers and luggage by hand, delayed flights and lots of irritable grumpy passengers. Also reportedly brought down, Reddit, Gawker, LinkedIn, Yelp and Foursquare. And according to news reports, this is because the computer couldn’t cope with the leap second (which was 9:59:60 in Australia EST).

Have you heard of any other effects?

Want more? Try…
Why the moon rules your life and..
Lunar-tics





Surplus social media

24 03 2012

As an intrepid explorer of social media, I find I am increasingly coming across a number of new social media options. And quite frankly, I’m not sure of their value and I’m not sure if I physically have the time to deal with them. So let me know your opinion.

I’ll start by declaring my social media preferences: I am addicted to Facebook, I love LinkedIn, I am quite active on Twitter (but largely promoting my blogs – true confession). I am somewhat present in Pinterest and Foursquare (although frankly Pinterest’s “ownership” of content makes nervous). I dip into Youtube from time to time but generally I don’t actually have the time to sit through a 3 minute video. True story. And I am obsessed with blogging. If you can count it, it is a competition. Sad but true.

1. Klout. I confess I lost faith in Klout when it nominated me as an expert on London. Why? I have no idea since I have not knowingly written anything about London online (it is too long since I have been there) and only a couple of my English friends live in London. How did Klout decide this was my area of expertise (as opposed to, for instance, the country I live in)?

2. Branchedout. This Facebook app bills itself as the network boasting the most job connections on Facebook. Hmm. Possibly because there isn’t any competition.

3. Aboutme. Point? Niche? I just don’t get it.

4. Peerindex. Seems like a copycat Klout.

Fundamentally these all don’t seem to add any value to my life, they take time and they request and collate my personal and online information into yet another source that I need to manage. Maybe I’d be better off being streamlined – sleek and aerodynamic and dump all the excess baggage.

Of course I could just be grumpy.

Thoughts?





The joys of Slideshare

18 11 2011


After a considerable amount of procrastinating, I have finally got around to getting a Slideshare account.

Ah – the joy!

As a study-junkie (I have just about finished my third Masters degree – I sometimes wonder if I am single-handedly keeping the Australian University system afloat with my fee repayments), I have a large number of academic documents and powerpoint presentations lying around. And really, once you have handed them in, perhaps presented them at a conference, they sit on your computer hard drive gathering dust.

Might as well be out there in the real world, hopefully offering some value to someone, perhaps adding to my public profile.

So I spent this morning loading up some old powerpoints (and some are a little dated) and my Masters Public Health thesis. And discovering that i can’t actually find my Masters of Arts, Communication Management thesis, which is a little concerning. I can find the literature review, but not the actual thesis.

I have posted the links on my Facebook page, twittered a couple of them, and linked the account and a couple of the documents to my LinkedIn account.

And within an hour, one of the documents had over 200 hits on it! Amazing.

So the moral of the story is, documents that had done their value for me, are suddenly of use to others! (I am avoiding the trash and treasure cliche, because they weren’t ever trash.)

If you are interested, my Slideshare account is here.





Social Media news

3 11 2011

A few grabs from today’s social media news:

1. Can Social Media improve your health? Adelaide University researchers are working with Lyell McEwin Hospital to see if social media can be used to improve the health of expectant mothers and their babies.

2. Social Media, Identity Theft and the law. A New Jersey woman is facing court over allegedly creating a fake Facebook account in the name of her ex-boyfriend, a cop, and then writing disparaging and humiliating remarks about him as he had written them about himself. Lesson of the day” crime is crime whether it is committed online or offline. But online is often easier to track.

3. A post-mortem on the use of Social Media in the spring uprisings in the Middle East. An interesting case study from a Yemeni activist says that in fact Yemenis used radio ad SMS to organise more than social media, but she also comments on the effect international support via Youtube had on critics.

4. Protect your online reputation. Not really news, but a great reminder to protect and monitor your online reputation on a regular basis.

5. And to finish with some humour…. How to find out if it is raining using Twitter. University of Bristol’s Intelligent Systems Lab (I kid you now) have used analysis of Twitter to work out if it is raining outside, thus proving that people do really talk about the weather on WWW (and no doubt other trivia highly irrelevant to the rest of the world). In case you didn’t already know that. Your tax-payer dollar (pound) at work, people!

Enjoy!

No whales were harmed in the making of this posting.

If you are interested in Social Media, you might also like…
Social Media in Emergency Situations
Shades of Grey for Social Media
Click-bait
Stalker-net Part II
Gen Z, Millennials and Privacy
Developing your Company’s Social Media Policies





Stalker-net part II

8 10 2011

In this strange world of both increased and almost paranoid privacy, and the open sharing of all manner of things online, the concept of stalker-net is one I have visited in the past. The context then was the check-in feature of Facebook which fulfills the following three useful functions:

1. Alerts potential robbers to when you are not home

UPDATE 5/11/11: See here for a great infographic about burglers using social media to identify when people aren’t home.

2. Alerts potential stalkers to your current location (and who you are with)

3. For check-ins at home (in bed, eating breakfast etc – we’ve all seen them), alerts potential stalkers to your home address, when you are actually there, and helpfully, provides a little map.

OK – so maybe my paranoia is slightly higher than most, since a really large number of my friends seem to use this function and to my knowledge (and I guess to their knowledge) none of them has been broken into or is being stalked.

I can’t say the new Facebook “subscribe” option made me feel any better about controlling what information I have out there – but then I can’t seem to get LinkedIn to let me block certain people from viewing my account either. Not that there is anything on there that is incorrect or in any way damaging, I just find it creepy that I have a couple of lurkers who refuse to make contact but check out my profile regularly. Yes, paranoia again.

So thanks to Saucy Social Media for the following graphic, which combines three of my major interests – social media, psychology and humour.

And you know what they say – the best jokes contain that grain of truth. I do not however suggest you use this as a diagnostic tool.

If you liked this post you might also like When PR gets it wrong – or click on the “sign me up” button to get emailed updates.





Hypocrisy

18 09 2011

licensed under creative commons from gothopotam

I have written a bit about my concern about the impact that screens are having on society in general, and children’s brains in particular. And how the all-pervasive training of young brains through screen culture – TV, computers, DS, PSP, Playstation, Wii, X-box, etc – will impact not only the furture of those children through their ability to absorb education, display patience and delay gratification, and their tolerance for novelty and excitement versus their tolerance for boredom and perseverance, but also change the society we live in.

And these concerns, where possible, have been backed up by science.

However, now for a confession.

I suspect I am a screen addict myself.

Now I didn’t grow up with screens to any great extent. I can still remember our first colour TV in Australia – 1976 for the Olympics. I remember getting a Commodore 64, and I remember our school getting a couple of computers which, if you were lucky and in the top maths class, you got to “program” to display a flag made from asterix (I confess I cannot work out the plural of asterix….). I remember in Year 4, being taken to visit a computer at the nearby science and technology park – it took up and entire warehouse full of stacks with tapes whirring on the front, and probably had less capacity than my iphone does.

So my childhood was not saturated with screens. In fact my parents strictly rationed television time to 1/2 an hour a night (but enough on that – I am saving that story for the psychiatrist’s couch).

I do remember working before email. I worked in a pay section briefly and we programmed the computer (which was off-site somewhere) by filling in A4 sheets of paper with Xs in squares. Letters got written in longhand and sent to the typing pool to be typed out. They came back and if there were errors, they had to type the whole thing again. At that rate you were lucky to act on more than a couple of decisions a day. Think of the pace of emails today where I am making 80+ decisions on an average day (albeit some of them trivial).

So my confession is – as the purveyor of the No-Screen Sunday, I am myself a screen addict. Not the DS, Wii or Playstation for me – but I do find TV in the evenings very relaxing and am annoyed if there is nothing on that I want to watch. My computer is usually on if I am home – and my ipad travels with me for those opportune moments to update the blog, check my personal emails etc. Not in work hours of course, but on the weekend and in the evening….. And I am an e-scrabble fiend. Oh yes, and I do love LinkedIn.

So somehow I need to make the effort to set the example for my children about how life off-line is so much more satisfying.

Perhaps after I have finished studying I might have time to do that. There’s always some excuse.

If you like this posting you might also like The effect of Marshmallows on the DS Generation, and Sponge-Bob, Sponge-brain.