Cellphones, Internet, Sun Spots, and the Tower of Babel

Thursday, December 4, 2008, 10:56 by Tech Correspondent

By Praveen Dhingra

Do those four things mentioned in the title make any sense to you in terms of their connection to each other?

It made none to me till the other day I came across a link, (NASA: Spotless Sun – Blankest Year of the Space Age), on the NASA website, which said that 2008 has been the blankest year in terms of sunspots in last 50 years. For the uninitiated, sunspots are tiny areas of highly organized magnetic activity on the surface of the sun. This magnetic activity somehow results in comparatively lower temperatures in that area and hence they appear as dark spots on the otherwise bright disc of the sun.

The dark spots are not really dark but just throwing off lesser light than the surrounding area and hence appearing dark. Somehow, it was heartening to know that darkness in not actually absence of light but just lesser light than the area surrounding it.

Left: The sun on Sept. 27, 2008. The face of the sun is “blank,” i.e., completely unmarked by spots.
Right: The sun on Sept. 27, 2001. The sun’s face is peppered with colossal sunspots, all crackling with solar flares.
Credit: ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)

I also came to know that for the last 2000 years, humans were not only counting stars but also the number of sunspots and have been keeping its official records for last 350 years. Strange!!! I mean counting stars is perfectly ok. You are not able to fall asleep as you are missing your beloved (as if you would have slept if your beloved were beside you, but yes…you would not have been counting the stars), but what on earth would have compelled mankind to stare at that burning disc and count those tiny dark spots on its face?

However, this record keeping revealed that the frequency of sunspots follow a cyclical pattern such that their number increases from nearly zero to a couple of hundreds and again back to zero approximately every 11 years.

If that was the purpose of counting them then this activity should have been discontinued by now; but NASA has a complete webpage dedicated to sunspots that provide the up-to-date and real time records of this solar activity in terms of a number of variables ( http://solarscience.msfc.nasa.gov/ ). Scientists even take pains to forecast solar weather.

Scientists defend their behaviour by saying that this solar magnetic activity (a.k.a. sunspot a.k.a. solar storm) results in extra energy being thrown off sun’s surface and fear that this highly charged material ejected from the sun may head toward earth, where it can bring down power grids, disrupt critical communications, and threaten astronauts with harmful radiation. They say these storms can knock out commercial communications satellites and swamp Global Positioning System signals. Routine activities such as talking on a cell phone or getting money from an ATM machine could suddenly halt over a large part of the globe.

The tower of Babel

The tower of Babel

That reminds me of the story of the Tower of Babel. Remember Genesis 11:1-9 – “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech…And they said, go to, let us build a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children built.

And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Let us do a scary scenario analysis of Babelian proportion on this situation, like bankers do before pricing and funding any project, asset or financial instrument and call it risk analysis. Based on this analysis, they also provide for ways and means to protect their investments, in case that risk becomes reality. Incidentally, bankers in US knowingly forgot to do this while funding housing mortgages and the associated financial instruments, thinking that the price trends in the housing sector will follow the “Tower of Babel” route unto heaven, that too, till eternity.

It’s ironic that we make a note of the history, sanctify the resultant document and forget the meaning. Although we are better off this time. We are not blaming God for the fall of this tower. Also, we have become generous to the culprits and have paid them huge bonuses from the money paid as taxes by the children of god.

I am so sorry. I just noticed that I have digressed from the topic with which I started – Sunspots. So, we were talking about the scary scenario  – the tower of connectivity and communication that has reached unto space, being threatened by God’s gun, i.e., the Sun.

(Now I know how fear automatically makes us sing God’s praises. God has a causal relationship with fear.)

So, let us assume that the year is say 2011 or 2012 (The Mayan Calendar Prophets of Doom must have become interested now). The sun is at its peak of 24th cycle (2008 is supposed to be the end of 23rd sunspot cycle and the beginning of next one, expected to reach its peak in 2011–12) firing sunspots at the machine gun pace and one of the bullets hit the earth bang on. The satellites are down.

Some of the power grids get damaged and others get tripped because of the domino’s effect.

As a result, a major part of the world is now without electricity, phone and Internet connectivity. A software executive in US is not able to talk to his wife in India; neither could he repatriate money to his account back home. Terrified, he went to the toilet of his 60th floor office in Manhattan and found that the flush didn’t work. His wife in her 1st floor house in Delhi is also looking for water in her kitchen tap (remember that there is no electricity and that is what is required to boost water to 60th floor in Manhattan and 1st floor in Delhi).

His mother and father are cursing the daughter-in-law and the government respectively, as both of them are deprived of their daily dose of soaps for killing time. His daughter is tearing her hair as she is not able to send SMSes to her boyfriend and her brother is cursing the internet service provider for not being able to access porn sites (surprised about how he can even start his computer let alone check whether internet is working, he has got a laptop that works on battery for some time and its only first day of the mayhem).

An oil tanker destined for India lost its way while the crew was figuring out how to use the manual for navigating by looking at stars, sun, moon and magnetic needle and got trapped in an un-forecasted storm. A flight carrying a US CEO, returning from India after inaugurating his company’s back office operations desk, loses connection with Air Traffic Control.

The breakdown continues and reaches its seventh day. Each and every toilet in each and every home of each and every metro city is affected, and starts resembling public toilets of railway stations in third world countries. Nobody is looking for triple ionized, bacteria-free drinking water, any kind of water will do, if found. Milk is spoiled, vegetables-fruits rotting (as they need cold storages to remain usable).

The Sales agents unable to take or deliver orders, producers having no clue about how much to produce resulting in the breakdown of supply chain systems leading to wide spread riots. Traders and investors do not know what to buy (or sell for that matter) – stocks, commodities, gold, oil, dollar or euro. Banks do not know how much cash is there in your savings account.

ATMs and credit cards are not working. Megacities of the world becoming living hells forcing its inhabitants to flee. ENOUGHHH.

I am scared of living in this hell. So, I have started making a list of the villages near rivers having a government school, but no teacher in it. In my opinion, that would be the best place to flee. State governments still run on paper (pretty much immune to electronic revolution), so salary is assured, although not on time. But, it’s better late than never. What I have to learn is to contain my web of needs. The other day, I sustained myself on half a bucket and one bottle of water for my cleaning and drinking needs.

Then one day, I went for a trek to some village on some hill near Mumbai (my personal hell) and spent the night there. The next morning, I got acquainted myself to the open air loo with trees watching over me, with I protecting myself from the insects beneath and they protecting themselves from my droppings (just to prepare myself from avoiding scary railway’s toilet situation).

I remember reading sometime back that there is a man who is practicing looking at the morning sun and has gradually stopped eating because he no more feels hungry, though he feels thirsty and drinks water. I think it’s a good idea to avoid being a rioter. I am also thinking of avoiding watching TV and using cell phones for at least once a week in the beginning and rather spend that time meditating.

Who knows, I might end up developing telepathic abilities and thus making cell phones redundant. Or may be might find myself endowed with remote viewing capabilities enabling me to watch my favorite sport live without a TV and remote. I am also planning to join some singing classes to entertain myself (you know it would be impossible to charge i-pods then).

You may think that I am foolishly overreacting, because as scientists are counting the sunspots and know their harmful effects on the connectivity infrastructure and electricity supply, they must have come up with some safety systems. Even if they have, please note that the Heliosphere, an energy field created by sun around the solar system that protects it from the inter-galactic radiation that poses a similar threat, is shrinking at a fast rate (by almost 25% over the past decade and is now at its lowest level since the space race began 50 years ago)2. So, there is no harm in taking steps to be on our own from today. For now, I am just relaxing to overcome this nightmare with “That’s not the beginning of the end…That’s the return to yourself…The return to innocence” from Enigma playing on my i-pod.

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One Comment

  1. ashok ghai said on Saturday, August 29, 2009, 17:20

    Recently I saw a film on Dicovery Channel regarding possibilities due to sun-spots in 2011. Accordingly, the magnetic sorm caused by this phenomenon is going to be the strongest since 1859, when a big solar storm affected the earth. At that time no harm was caused because there were no electrical/electronic installations on earth. But the activity is likely to be more fierce in 2011 and it can severely damage the electrical installations, and cause total failure of power supply, water supply, and communication network. I want to know, how big a chaos it can be, and what steps are going to be taken in USA and other countries? – ashok ghai (India)