Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Mayan Apocalypse is upon us

So the end of the Mayan long count came and went.  We started another b’ak’tun and nothing terribly unusual happened.

Around the world, people held end-of-the-world parties.  Some were serious.  Most were just looking for a reason to party.  Some were looking to sell T-shirts.

Did people really want the world to end?  Some do, no doubt, but most don’t.

So why was this international news for months, nay years (it had its own major motion picture)?  Why the obsession with a thousand year old relic?  Why are people sporting “I brake for zombies” bumper stickers?  Okay that’s another unrelated doomsday event, but it relates to my major point.

It’s because people are hoping for a change.  We are still recovering from the worst economic collapse since the Depression, with millions of people homeless and out of work — hell, entire countries went bankrupt.  We see daily reminders of global warming: arctic ice disappearing, glaciers receding, record high temperatures, record low temperatures, record drought, record storms.  We see religious fundamentalism spreading and surging, in countries which used to be moderate (oh, Egypt).  We see people angry and disturbed enough to massacre schoolchildren.  We see North Korea and Iran racing toward a nuclear future and, outside of opening up another war we can’t afford, there is little we can do to stop them.  If that isn’t enough, Pakistan is already packin’ and they are rife with terrorists who would love to have a few nukes of their own.

Then we hear we are overdue for a super volcano, and a super earthquake, and a super asteroid.  All those have happened in the past and there is nothing stopping them from happening tomorrow… other than luck and long odds.

And now we hear about a threat we have always had, but only recently found out about: coronal mass ejections.  These things happen all the time, but most miss us.  Sometimes they don’t, and can be big enough to fry satellites or blow out an electrical grid.  As our world becomes more and more wired we become more and more vulnerable to them.

And don’t forget the ever present threat of global pandemic.  In case you do, Hollywood has plenty of ways to remind you.

In short, we live like we are masters of the universe but deep down, we know we are not.  Our world is fragile.  We are fragile.

The English word “apocalypse” comes from the ancient Greek “apokalypsis, which is an unveiling of something hidden.  From there we get “revelation”, and then to the Biblical book of the same name, and from there the global catastrophe that the Biblical book describes.  This etymological evolution isn’t unusual — look at the English word ‘awful‘.

Therefore, by the original definition we really did have an apocalypse today.

It was an unveiling of how generally freaked out we all are about the future of Earth, a microscopic blue flyspeck on the bay window of the universe, and — since we haven’t figured out how to get off said flyspeck yet — our future too.

Since we can’t do anything about asteroids or CMEs, and our leaders don’t want to change economic policy because that would piss off their campaign donors, and invading countries to force democracy on them is just not working — we need to focus on aliens.

I prefer aliens to zombies because zombies don’t have spaceships.  No, I’m not an anti-zombite, I’m just being practical here.

So to any aliens who read this post: I’m willing to represent my species.  Take me with you.  And say Hi to Elvis for me.

Web seals: fact or fiction?

important_seal

A web seal looks impressive doesn’t it?  But does anyone actually know what they mean?

bogus_seal

Seriously, does anyone take the time to read them?

seal-of-disapproval

Even more important, a legit seal links to a site that tells you what that seal means.  Does anyone take the time to click on them?

bollocks-seal

Even “real” seals can be faked.  This article from Consumer Reports describes how a site can grab a legit seal, such as one from the BBB, which links to an exact copy of the “real” BBB site, which opens to a page showing a AAA+ rating for their bogus company, but is actually hosted by some scammer in backwoods China.  (Assuming there are backwoods in China.)

bbb

This is like your standard phishing schemes, where scammers link to fake bank or credit card sites (and lately, World of Warcraft logins) hoping you won’t notice.

You know how to beat these phishers right?  Before you click on any link, hover your mouse over it to see where it is actually going to take you.  Practice with the seal above!

Then when you get to a site, before entering anything important (passwords, email addresses, credit card numbers, paypal, world of warcraft account) make sure you have a secure connection (https://) and your browser is happy with the web site’s signature.  E.g. a bank site should say “Verified by Verisign, Inc.” or another one of the big name verification sites when you hover over the “https”.

Regardless, seals do make a web site appear important.  As pop music and reality television have taught us, appearance is far more important than substance.  (I’m not talking about you and me, of course — we have both.)

Even if your web site already sparkles like evening sunlight on turquoise ocean wavelets, an official-looking seal with something that sounds important on it can only make your web site better.

And as we have already established, no one is going to look that closely at it anyway.

So for a limited time only, the first 50 people to respond to this post are eligible to join the Random Website Alliance as Founding members.

random-website-alliance

Early membership benefits include:

  • the right to put this beautiful seal anywhere on your web site
  •   waived joining fee
  •  waived mandatory up-front contribution
  • waived first year membership dues
  • waived second year membership dues
  • the right to answer “Yes” whenever someone asks you “Are you a founding member of the Random Website Alliance?”

Join today!

Note: All seals here were created by me, using the GIMP.  Feel free to use any of these seals in your own stuff, but please credit the creator (and a link to here would be nice).  Credit from me goes to Tabatha Bundesen for the image of Tard, the infamous grumpy cat.

Audible has cheap audiobooks

I’ve rattled on about Audible and audiobooks in a previous post.  Well, last week I found myself without one.  I had spent my two credits for the month… The Horror! … what to do?

Audible was showing a $10 credit for something, no idea where that came from (crossed over from Amazon?) so I figured I should spend it.  I tried looking for low cost books.  They used to have a category for that but it’s gone.

On a whim, I tried a search by keyword for “books under $5” and lo! I got a crapload of them.  Most were radio shows or excerpts (teasers) but I was able to filter them out by using the “Refine Search Results” in the left column.  Picking “audiobook” and choosing a length over an hour filtered out most of them.

I decided to go a step further.  Searching for “free books” got everything with “free” in the title… so I tried “books under $1” and got lots of free books.

Most were crap, but one was Legion, by Brandon Sanderson, the author of the excellent Mistborn series.  A well written and well narrated two hour short story, for free.  Not bad, eh?

After I finished that, I splurged and spent $5 on Oliver Twist as narrated by Dickens’ great-great-grandson.  He is turning out to be a pretty good narrator.

Anyone got other Audible tips to share?

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