Clouds

The Ides of March became famous through the murder of Caesar and the quill of Shakespeare, but the Ides of September are far more ominous. In Roman times, the ides were determined by the full moon, and the month had two extra points either side: the nones roughly at the end of the first week, and the calends at the beginning of the next month.

In The India Road I mention that the Roman counting system was flawed for want of a zero, and this may have contributed to the fall of the empire—an apparently small omission with far reaching consequences. If you need to distribute fifty arrows to four hundred sixty-four warriors, you’d be hard pushed to tell the supply officer what you need without a zero.

A primer for long multiplication using Roman numerals: L for fifty is a good start. CDLXIV would be the other number you need—I’m guessing your quartermaster will be waiting a while. These days, calculation is digital, and kids (and adults) in many Western nations don’t have a clue how to add or subtract large numbers, let alone multiply or divide. And since all digital calculation is based on two-state systems, i.e. a series of ones and zeroes, the Romans could never have invented computers.

Principium mensis cujusque vocato kalendas
Sex Maius nonas, October, Julius, et Mars
Quattuor at reliqui: dabit idus quidlibet octo

This simple triplet, along the lines of thirty days has September… allowed the citizens to calculate the kalendas, nonas, and idus, and the Romans counted the latter part of their month by subtracting from the next calend. For example, September 25th, the day that mutiny began to seriously threaten the first voyage of Columbus, was the seventh calend of October. The next day was the sixth calend, and so forth.

But it was today, September 6th, that the Admiral of the Ocean Sea sailed from the port of San Sebastian, in the little island of La Gomera, on the western side of the Canaries. He didn’t have much luck with the wind, and languished, becalmed, for two days in the channel between La Gomera and Tenerife. In Clear Eyes, the crew do some fishing, and the captains do some politics. It was only on Saturday that the trade winds picked up and the journey west began.

The ides of September bring the equinoctial spring tides, as they do in March, but in the latitude of Portugal they bring the mists and clouds of autumn, and herald the ocean storms of winter.

Digital clouds—it never rains but it pours...

Digital clouds—it never rains but it pours…

The cold brings a pause to wars, and there’s a cease-fire in the Ukranian War—it’s stopped being a euphemism: no more struggles, skirmishes, and separatists, just plain old war. NATO and the Ukraine versus uncle Vlady. Most battles are fought in summer, even in multi-year wars, so perhaps now the bad weather is coming, the two sides will hold off—maybe they’re not storm clouds after all.

Clouds have also made the news in their own right, in the form of digital water masses. Like their atmospheric counterparts, they leak. That’s one raindrop the picture doesn’t show, but the obsession with sharing everything, and the rise of distributed computing, means all your most valued information is now entrusted to people you’ll never meet.

A few days ago it rained nudity, but the real issue is the other rain—the stuff that falls on the sea—it’s not that you don’t care about it, the problem is you don’t even know it’s raining.

Like internet bank fraud, when there are huge vaults of information, it’s in no one’s interest to reveal a security breach. Regular clouds are hard to pin down—except when it rains. Internet clouds are not; for instance Amazon currently runs data centers in eight U.S. hubs, and seven others worldwide. Apple’s developing a brand new one in Sparks, Nevada, a pretty cloudless sort of place—and a hacker’s paradise.

In the end, remember this: for data storage, the only significant technology change since the nineteen-eighties is flash memory—the little sticks you put into the willing receptacle on the sides of computers. All your stuff is on someone’s hard drive, or split into several disks. Certainly duplicated, because the only thing worse than your nude pics (taken with my husband years ago, as one recently-married movie star memorably put it) being leaked, is the files being accidentally deleted by the data center—either way the cloud gets sued.

One of the more significant consequences of these intrusions is that celebrities then beg off social media. Mass scrutiny is good when it’s to your advantage, but not if you get a hundred thousand tweets when your unlisted boobies go viral.

Bottom line, trust ancient wisdom, in this case of the Arab persuasion.

Keep a secret, you own it. Share a secret, it owns you.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

 

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