Credidero #9: Eternity

As I pondered this month’s Credidero topic over the past thirty days, it occurred to me fairly early on that there’s a “one of these things is not the like the other” facet to this particular concept, in that “Eternity” is the only one of the twelve topics that cannot be tangibly experienced by human beings in any way, because it does not actually exist in the natural world.

I could go take a walk right now and experience complexity, or hostility, or curiosity, or any of the other eight topics I’ve considered and written about before this one, but there’s no way for me to experience an infinite span of time — unless I put my absolute faith in the premise of eternal life after death, snuff myself, and evaluate never-ending time as a tree in Dante’s Forest of Suicides. Or, conversely, if I was unexpectedly squished by a bus, and all was well with my relationship with my personal Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, at that moment, in which case I could be granted eternal bliss in the presence of the The LORD and all of His angels, world without end, amen, amen.

I certainly don’t intend to do self-harm in the name of research, and I hope that there’s not a bus grill in my immediate future, so those avenues for exploring the concept of endless time are not on the table at this point. And even if they were, do I believe that my incorporeal soul would tread one of those paths when my incredibly fleeting time as a sentient seawater sack plays out? No, not really. I’ve formally directed that my bodily remains be cremated when that time comes, and they’ll presumably be scattered somewhere (informally, I’ve suggested that they should be put in a fire ant nest at Stoney Creek Cemetery), so the closest thing to eternity that the constituent bits which once were me will likely experience is a slow dispersal of elements which will be reintegrated into other living things (most likely plants, or fungi), which will feed other living things, until such time as life is exterminated from our planet’s face, or the planet itself ceases to be. And even then, some of those bits may travel through interstellar space, landing who knows where, who knows when, until the universe itself collapses, leaving behind . . . something? Maybe?

That will take a long, long time, for sure, but not an eternity, in the normal use of that word. While the earliest moments of the universe are mind-bogglingly complex and confusing, and its final moments will likely mirror that incomprehensible chaos, time as human beings understand it will have started at one point, and ended at another, a finite (though immense) period, short of the infinity required to accurately capture the core concept of eternity. Scientifically and objectively speaking, the story arc of every other human being, and every other living thing, will be exactly the same on a macro basis, and even if we aggregate all of the life spans and all of the experiences of all of things that have ever creeped, crawled and croaked across our planet’s surface, we’d still come up with a time span that approached infinity, but never actually reached it.

Eternity is, therefore, a non-existent physical state in a non-metaphysical universe. And yet, it’s a cornerstone concept of most global faith traditions, where gods always have been and always will be, and human souls are presumed to endure over never-ending time spans, once they are sparked into being. (One of the quirky things about infinity is that a thing that has no beginning and no end exists for the the same amount of time as a thing that has a beginning, but no end). A logical corollary of such belief systems is that the periods of time when our souls are resident in their physical forms are essentially non-existent in the grand scheme of things, as ~80 years of corporeal life divided by an infinite number of life-after-death years equals zero, mathematically speaking. If we go to hell after death, then eternity is suffering, always. If there’s a paradise, then eternity is bliss, always. Everything that we are, and everything that we do, in our physical lives, condenses down to a single, timeless point, a toggle-switch in which the indeterminacy of forever is resolved into one of only two possible eternal states.

While I wouldn’t have understood or stated it quite that way, I can tell you that few concepts were more terrifying to me as a young person than this one, having been raised in an evangelical Christian household. The concept of The Rapture — when all believers, alive and dead, would rise to meet The LORD in glory — made eternity even more terrifying, as it could happen any time, and if it occurred during that one little moment of doubt, or that one little second after temptation had become sin, then I would be left behind to bear the tribulation, the Second Coming and the Last Judgment, after which eternal damnation or eternal salvation awaited. All I knew as a young person was that if I had been bad, I could wake up one morning to find that my parents and all of the “good” people in my life were gone. In theory, that should have helped me to behave. In practice, I sinned with great aplomb, and was just scared all of the time that I wouldn’t be quick or thorough enough in my prayers for forgiveness to dodge that incoming Rapture bullet.

This was real enough in my world that I can remember having deadly earnest conversations with friends in middle school church youth groups about what we would do if didn’t make the cut when the Rapture came: where we would meet, how we would hide, what we would do, when finally faced with the undeniable reality of eternity, to ensure that we made the next cut together, and weren’t cast into eternal darkness and suffering. We saw it as some sort of post-apocalyptic action movie scenario, where we’d live on the run, protecting our little community at all costs from the Beast, and the Whore, and the Antichrist and their minions, faithful in our hidden catacomb headquarters, desperately repentant that we didn’t get it right the first time, determined to make amends if only given one more chance. And we had those conversations, more than once, because we all knew that we were woefully inadequate in our abilities to maintain sin-free, fully faithful lives, 24/7/365, so that the odds were stacked against us that we might all be right, true, and squared up in our faith at the precise moment when the virtuous souls began ascending. None of us pondered eternity with any expectation that it would be a positive experience, at bottom line. At least not without a whole lot of suffering before we got there, anyway.

So that’s what “eternity” meant to me through a good chunk of my formative years, a fraught concept fully anchored in an arcane belief system, and not in any observable reality — but terrifying nonetheless. That fear has abated over the ensuing decades, thankfully, and when I ponder the definition of eternity as “infinite time” now as an adult, I find that I can only perceive it at arm’s length, far more so than I can with any of the other Credidero concepts, as it has no meaningful impact or import in how I live my daily life and interact with other human beings. If I have any adult fears related to the concept, they spring from the knowledge that there are a shockingly large number of death cult zealots in positions of national leadership who are actively fomenting unrest in the Middle East in a misguided effort to hasten Armageddon and bring on the end times described by John the Revelator. I suppose eternity isn’t as frightening to them as it was to my young self, so secure are they in their faithful infallibility in the face of some final judgment. Must be nice.

Interestingly enough, the generally accepted definition of eternity as “infinite time” is (in relative terms) somewhat recent, having emerged only in the late Sixteenth Century. The ancient roots of the word are (possibly) found in the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language’s aiw, meaning “vital [life] force.” From there we pass through the Latin aevum (age), aeviternus (great age), and aeternus (enduring). That latter form morphed into eternité in Old French, and thence into eternity in Late Middle English. The concept certainly captured long time spans over the aeons, if not infinite ones. There is also a specific philosophical usage where the word “eternity” means “outside of time,” as opposed to “sempiternity,” which is used to describe objects or concepts that exist now, and will continue to do so forever.

The crux of any discussion of eternity’s nuances, therefore, really hinges on whether the word is being used to describe very, very long time spans (which exist in our material world), or infinite ones (which do not). Which begs a second level question: does anything infinite really exist in the observable world? If there is no infinite time, is there an infinite distance, or an infinite mass, or an infinite number of some particular object(s), or anything else that has no beginning and no end when we attempt to count or measure it? Or even anything else that has no beginning and no end and exists somewhere else in the material world beyond our view or understanding?

I’m probably going to create a vision of myself as a most terribly neurotic child by sharing this, but I have to admit that “infinity” was another concept that kept me up at night as a young person, some years before fear of eternal damnation moved to the forefront of my existential anxieties. As a child of the ’60s, I was deeply fascinated by space exploration, and read voraciously about the topic. Our understanding of the solar system was a bit simpler then, with nine planets, and a readily countable and nameable number of natural satellites, plus some junk in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Beyond Pluto, there was Deep Space, which went on (we presumed) forever. I have specific memories of laying in bed thinking about that: I’d fly my mental space ship to Pluto, and then go further. And then further. And then further. And there would still be further to go. I could make myself woozy if I kept at it long enough, trying to comprehend space with no edge and no end. (Honestly, I could probably make myself woozy today if I thought too long about what’s out there 13.7 billion light years away from the center of the universe, at the very leading edge of the Big Bang’s reach; it’s just as mind-numbing to ponder now as it was then, if less scary).

Despite its questionable existence in the real world of tangible human experience (or our questionable ability to perceive it), infinity is a readily accessible, and useful, concept in higher mathematics, which fascinated me to no end when I was studying advanced calculus and differential equations in college. The key kluge to tangibly dealing with infinity is captured in the concept of mathematical limits, where the value of a function (or sequence) approaches some limit as the input (or index) approaches some other value. So we can say that the limit is zero as an input approaches infinity, or we can say that the limit is infinity as we approach zero, or any number of other possible permutations that can be framed by various formulae and equations. We can’t actually get to infinity, but we can understand what happens as we approach it, in perhaps simpler terms. We can also accept that anything divided by infinity is zero — but not that anything divided by zero is infinity. (I’ve seen various explanations and proofs of that concept over the years, and I accept them, though there’s still some sense of logical incongruity there for the casual mathematician).

My math studies in college were one place where contemplating the infinite, the imaginary, and the irrational — and the ways in which they can modeled — was actually a positive, pleasurable experience. One of the most sublime intellectual moments of my life was seeing the derivation and proof of Euler’s identity:

“π,” as most know, is the ratio of the circumference to its diameter. It is an irrational number (e.g. it cannot be written as a fraction), and to the best of our knowledge, it continues irrationally infinitely; it has currently been calculated out to 31.4 trillion digits, and it never repeats in any predictable or discernible fashion. “e” is Euler’s Number, the base of natural logarithms. It has been calculated out to about 8 trillion digits, as best I can ascertain, also continuing irrationally in perpetuity. “i” is the imaginary number unit, which is the square root of -1. It cannot be calculated as it does not exist in the set of real numbers, but it’s a cornerstone concept in complex number theory. “0” is of course, zero, the opposite of infinity, and 1 is the first non-zero natural number, and the first in the infinite sequence of natural numbers. The fact that these five numbers — discovered and/or calculated and/or understood in different times, different ways, and different places throughout history — are provably related in such an ultimately simple and elegant way still utterly blows my mind with wonder and awe, both at the natural order that produces such relationships, and at the human powers of observation that divined and codified it. 

Those mathematical studies also inspired and spilled over into my creative life at the time. Around 1983, I wrote a song called “Anathematics” (there’s a demo version of it here), which included these lyrics, among others:

There’s a school of thought that is so large, it can’t be learned by one.
Six hundred monks are studying it now, but they have just begun.
The more they think, the less they know. They less they know, they’re not.
The more they’re not, the less I am. There’s more to me, I thought.
The limit is zero as we approach infinity.
The future’s uncertain, as only the past can’t be.
Anathematics explains what cannot be . . .

It’s less elegant than Euler’s Identity, certainly, but it was an attempt to try to capture the awesome confusion of the infinitely big and the infinitely small and the ways in which they overlap, taken from the viewpoint of modeling that which cannot be, rather than that which can. So essentially a poetic (and much shorter) version of what I’m doing here in this article, with a stiff beat that you most certainly cannot dance to.

There’s another way, in my life right here and right now, that I find myself reflecting on the limits of eternal time and eternal distance. My wife, daughter, and I all have the Drake Equation tattooed on our right forearms. Here it is, if you’re unfamiliar with it, along with an explanation of the terms embedded within it:

The Drake Equation was written in 1961 by Dr Frank Drake as a probabilistic argument to estimate the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way. We know a lot more about some of the variables today than we did when Drake postulated this argument (e.g. rate of star formation, fraction of stars with planets, etc.), but for most of the variables related to life, we’re obviously still operating with an observable set of one species on one planet with the ability to cast electromagnetic signals outward to the stars, and we haven’t been doing it for very long, at all.

“L” in some ways is the most interesting variable to me, since we have no idea how long we’re going to be able to keep broadcasting before we destroy ourselves, or something else destroys us. I suspect in the grand scheme of things, it’s likely going to end up being a relatively small number. Imagine, though, if L for human and other civilizations was vastly large, approaching eternal, meaning that once a planet began broadcasting, it would broadcast forever, or at least until the collapse of the universe. I believe that were that the case, we’d be picking up myriad signals from across the galaxy, since I also believe that we are not the first planetary civilization to develop broadcast capabilities since the Milky Way emerged some 13.5 billion years ago. (Compare that to the current estimated age of the universe at 13.7 billion years . . . our galaxy was born about as early as it was physically possible for it to, if our understanding of those ancient events is accurate. Wow!)

Given the immense distances at play, I’m not sure that we’d ever actually meet any of the other civilizations, but it would be transformative for humans on a planetary basis to know that we’re not alone, rather than simply believing it. It would also be truly revelatory to know that our sentient non-human colleagues in our universe are not metaphysical in nature (e.g angels, demons, gods and goddesses), but exist instead in the knowable, experiential world of real things. I’m not a dewy-eyed optimist about how that knowledge would instantly make everything better on earth (we’d likely still be prone to inhumanity in our dealings with others of our species), but it would certainly answer a lot of big questions, and it would certainly present some big opportunities.

After we got the Drake Equation tattoos, my wife summarized what she thinks when she looks at hers thusly: “It reminds me that we are small, but special.” True that, for sure, for now. Given the fact that a longer “L” for humanity means we would have a higher probability of eventually demonstrating that “N” is greater than 1, I’d be most inclined to adopt and hew to a belief structure and practice that’s anchored in managing our lives, our cultures, our civilizations and our planet in ways that increase the likelihood of extending “L” for as long as humanly possible. It seems to me that a belief in and commitment to the tangible (though as yet indeterminate) time span “L” is of greater utility than being afraid of and/or longing for a metaphysical eternity and what it might (though probably doesn’t) represent and contain.

So is anybody up for starting The Church of Maximum “L,” with a defining core belief that “N” is greater than one, if we can only stick around long enough to establish contact and connect? I’d be a darned good early apostle if you need one.

Two-thirds of the family’s Drake Equation tattoos, freshly inked . . .

Note: This article is part of an ongoing twelve-part writing project. I’m using a random online dice roller to select a monthly topic from a series of twelve pre-selected themes. With this ninth article complete, I roll the die again . . .

. . . and next month I will consider Topic Number Five: “Authority”

All Articles In This Series:

Credidero: A Writing Project

Credidero #1: Hostility

Credidero #2: Curiosity

Credidero #3: Security

Credidero #4: Absurdity

Credidero #5: Inhumanity

Credidero #6: Creativity

Credidero #7: Community

Credidero #8: Complexity

Credidero #9: Eternity

Credidero #10: Authority

Credidero #11: Mortality

 

Space Madness

Marcia had a work conference last week, and I had work in Charlotte Monday and Tuesday this week, so I decided to head down to Florida for a few days of warmth with her before returning to the dreary Midwestern weather last night. Rather than staying at her conference hotel when her meetings were done, we decided to head over for a couple of nights in Cocoa Beach, on the Atlantic Coast. For folks our age, if we know anything about that seaside community, it’s likely the fact that it was the fictional home of Major Anthony Nelson (an astronaut) and Jeannie, from the deliciously cheesy television program, I Dream of Jeannie.

As we were headed up to our room on Friday night, we noticed a schedule of events in the elevator, and there was a paper sticker on the very date of our arrival showing a cartoon rocket. I pulled out my phone and, hurrah, was pleased to discover that SpaceX was, in fact, launching a mission that very night, at 245am. When we arrived in our room on the seventh floor, I happily noted that our private balcony was aligned in such a way that we had almost a straight-shot view of the pad where the Falcon Heavy rocket carrying a Dragon supply ship to the International Space Station would be launching. Double hurrah!

We set alarms and went out on the balcony at the appointed hour, and like clockwork, got to watch (and hear) my first orbital launch ever:

If you know me well, you know I’m a hardcore space nerd, so this was a real treat, and a great appetizer to our already planned Saturday adventure to visit Kennedy Space Center, where I got to snap a selfie at the business end of the mighty Saturn V Rocket.

Marcia also snapped me with my second favorite of all possible rockets, the Titan-Gemini stack.

D5u2Fc_X4AAVqhi.jpg large

Back-tracking a bit, Marcia had work meetings during the days in Orlando while I was there, and I also had a night alone there as she flew out on Sunday, and I didn’t head to Charlotte until Monday morning. So I spent the time making friends, as one does:

I also got to embrace my inner redneck with a visit to my favorite greasy spoon destination in the world, for some delicious carbs and fats.

The business part of my trip to Charlotte was great, too. A board meeting and a research workshop at the Bartlett Research Labs, a glorious location near the area where my Dad was born and raised. We had wonderful fellowship and got a ton of work done with good people in an amazing setting. Win, win, win, win and win, with thanks to Bartlett for hosting us.

In closing, if you don’t know the source of the title of this post, you need to watch the following video, perhaps the finest fifteen minutes of animation ever created for television. It was life-altering the first time I saw it, early one Sunday morning sitting in a hotel room with an infant Katelin, trying to find something amusing to do while Marcia was trying to sleep in. I do not think all of my tearful laughter helped the situation on that front, but Katelin and I did have a new favorite cartoon series for many years afterward, so a reasonable trade-off, I think.

Madness (Space and Otherwise)

My most recent trip was to Washington, DC, and Marcia accompanied me on this one. After my work was done, we stuck around for a couple of extra days, had some nice meals with old friends, and explored the city where we first met 30 years ago. While the iconic buildings and skyline remain mostly unchanged, the evolution of the city below that level was profound. When we lived there, for example, “14th Street and U” would have been the answer to the question: “Where do I get a hooker, a gun, some crack, or all of the above?” Now it’s a gentrifying neighborhood and the next “hot destination,” bridging quirky Adams Morgan and the ever-expanded heart of the downtown Mall area. Another example: I love me some Washington Capitals and Bullets, but I had no idea that their new (to me) arena was in the same general area where I used to go to amazing concerts through the 1980s at the very sketchy and smelly original 930 Club, at 930 F Street NW. We paid a pilgrimage to that site, where I once saw Butthole Surfers, Chuck Brown, Camper Van Beethoven, Fishbone, Black Flag, Root Boy Slim, Bad Brains, The Busboys, Minor Threat, Guadalcanal Diary, E.U., and so many others I can’t even remember anymore, and you know what we found?  That we could now buy sweaters. Sigh . . .

I can’t believe they got the smell out of the building.

On our last day in Washington, we decided to make a quick stop in to the new (to us) National Museum of African American History and Culture. There didn’t seem to be any lines, so we strolled up to the entrance as one does at most Smithsonian museums to just amble in, but the gentleman at the door explained that demand was so high that advance tickets were required, and there weren’t likely to be any available for the rest of that day, nor the day following. He offered some helpful tips on how to perhaps score a stray ticket or two, but it didn’t look like it was going to work, so I said “Thank you, sir, I appreciate your help.” As I was walking away, he said “Wait . . . are you a Veteran? You sound like a Veteran.” And I am, of course, as is Marcia, and so we were admitted under the museums Vets’ policy. Good manners and politeness pay off in unexpected ways. We only had an hour to explore, so we actually only got through one of five floors, but it was so amazing and so well curated and so exciting that we will definitely be going back again. The highlight of highlights for me? Turning a corner and seeing this unexpectedly . . .

ZOMFG!!!!! THE MOTHERSHIP!!!!!

If you have to ask, you’ll never know, blah blah blah, but if you want to understand the significance of this iconic object, then sit down right now, click the next link, and watch the late Glenn Goins Calling Down The Mothership.

We also went to the National Air and Space Museum and normally I’d be falling all over myself to tell you about the rockets and planes I saw there, but even John Glenn’s Friendship 7 pales next to the experience of seeing The Mothership. Other snaps from our trip (including the obligatory cherry blossoms and a visit to the exceptional FDR Monument) are at my Flickr site, which you can reach by clicking the picture of the space nerd below:

SPACE MADNESSSSS!!!!

We were bopping around Washington on Friday as the healthcare vote debacle was unfolding, so it was interesting to see various helicopters and limousines racing back and forth between various key points in the city’s political infrastructure while the GOP did its best to punch itself in the face during its hot pursuit of political malfeasance. We both slept well that night, and let’s leave it at that, since I’m not intending to use my blog as political website, tempting as that may be. Besides, everything that really needs to be said about how things feel today in America is available in an extraordinary new video from Jed Davis and the mighty Hanslick Rebellion, linked below (language warning, NSFW):

I’ve been following Jed’s work since the ’90s, and have written about him many times here over the years. In short: I consider him to be one of America’s greatest songwriters, ever, and he’s got the instrumental chops, design skills, studio acumen, arrangement ear, and live charisma to make it all work in the studio, on the stage, in a box, with a fox, on a train, and even in the rain, in Spain. Get on over to his The Congregation of Vapors page now to discover what you’ve been missing all these years. It’s all genius, all the time, and the cast of characters who appear there with Jed (e.g. Chuck Rainey, Reeves Gabrels, Tony Levin, Anton Fig, Jerry Marotta, Avi Buffalo, Ralph Carney, Tommy Ramone, and many many many more more more) is mind-blowing in the extreme.

Shumëllojshmëri

1. Rosie the orange point Javanese cat joined our family in July 2004. She had some personality quirks, and a complex relationship with our other cat (The Bumble) but has been a sweet member of the household all these years. On Wednesday, she had rapid onset kidney failure and left us. She will be missed.

The Bumble will not have to share her toys with Rosie anymore.

The Bumble will not have to share her toys with Rosie anymore. Farewell Nervous Orange Kitty!

2. Marcia, our friend Kelli and I attended a wonderful concert by the Anat Cohen Quartet on Thursday night. A spot on review from The Tribune‘s Howard Reich here. If you are not familiar with her work, I highly recommend you check out Cohen’s latest album, Luminosa, from which her set list was drawn. The cross pollination of Brazilian musical motifs, Cohen’s Israeli upbringing and current Brooklyn music scene sensibilities makes for an intoxicating mix.

3. On our way back from the Cohen concert, as we tooled southward on Lake Shore Drive, Marcia and I were treated by a shockingly large and bright fireball dropping from the sky. It was at the back end of Leonid Meteor Shower season, so I’d expect to see a few streaks and flashes across the empty sky over Lake Michigan, but nothing this dramatic. It reminded us a family vacation at Acadia National Park when Katelin was little. We went to an evening educational program after dark, and the docent at one point in his talk about the stars raised his hands over his head and reminded us how the ancients looked up at the same sky we did. As if on command, the largest bolide I’ve ever seen rocketed across the sky, disintegrating with an audience boom. After a moment of stunned silence, our presenter received what I suspect was the biggest round of applause he’s ever gotten for that talk.

4. My current “Serial Monogam-E” home (the one place on the web where I most frequently interact in real time with other people) is the Fall Online Forum, where a quirky international collection of music nerds and culture geeks gather to share their affections (most of the time) for Mark E. Smith’s timeless group, The Fall. The gang is currently deep into The Fall Cup, parsing all 502 songs in the group’s catalog down to a single champion, in the same tournament format that I use for a lot of writing projects here. We are currently on the cusp of boiling a Final 32 down into a Sweet Sixteen, and the whole shebang should wind up in mid-December. If you’re a fan of the group, I heartily endorse joining the Forum and helping us make the big Cup decision for the first time since 2007’s tournament. And even if you’re not passionate about The Fall, the Forum is a delightful and deep treasure trove of cultural arcana, with pretty much something for everything, especially nerds like me who like lists, polls and strongly held opinions about way too many topics. See you there?

5. Having completed my 2015 Album Of The Year Tournament, the next musical tradition in our household is the annual resetting of playlists in the family iTunes account, which combines play data from six iPods used by various of us in different places and times. It’s always interesting (to me, at least) to see how our listening habits overlap to create a mix of most-played songs that are eclectic, to say the least. Looking at the table now, the Top Ten includes a soundtrack song sung by a famous actor, a classic jazz number from 1951, some old school reggae, African music, and anthemic rock from one of the world’s biggest groups. It will be interesting to see how much it tweaks out in the next couple of weeks before I reset it all, clearing the decks to tap other components of our 10,000+ song collection on the computer.

Kholimog

1. I accepted a new job in the Chicago metro area today. I need to let public announcements be made through proper channels, but suffice to say at this point that it’s a grant-making organization with an international reach, it had an excellent board and staff, the mission is deeply resonant to me, and the board has recently completed an exciting transformational strategic vision for the next five years. It feels good to have that piece in place. I’ll be starting the new job on August 24. I’ll be thinking about this when I do it. Watch this space for news when I can say more. And then send me money.

2. Once upon a time, I had two closets full of vinyl albums. Then some years later, that arrangement was replaced with two book shelves filled with compact discs. Today, my entire music collection fits on a one terabyte hard drive that’s about eight inches by six inches by two inches. I suppose this is progress, since now I have more room in my car for stuff like clothing when I move from place to place.

3. As part of my final CD unburdening this month, I found a box of compact discs from a lot of Albany artists who I have not listened to much in recent years. I have very much been enjoying having Beef, The Wasted, The Wait, Small Axe and others in the iTunes mix again. I was dismayed, however, to discover that I was missing a crucial piece of the Small Axe canon: their first CD release, A Shot to the Body, which was released in 1997 on their own Shithouse Rat label. It’s a fantastic record. I reviewed it when it first came out, noting “it won’t sell many copies in its initial pressing, but will be hailed as a great lost masterpiece two decades from now when some 21st century music critic rediscovers it at a garage sale and slaps its choicer cuts on the Nuggets, Volume LXXIII compilation.” Apparently, it might be own copy of the album that’s going to trigger that response someday, since I can’t find it anywhere. If anybody has a spare copy of A Shot to the Body, let me know, and I’ll be happy to work with you to figure out a way to get its contents onto my hard drive.

4. We are one week from Pluto and Charon! I watched New Horizons’ launch nine years ago while sitting at my desk at the Chapel + Cultural Center at Rensselaer. Then I spent a good portion of the next year or so posting as the character “Pluto Rocket” on the late, lamented Upstate Wasted and Upstate Ether boards, long before people did such things on Twitter as a matter of course. After a brief loss of communications scare last week, New Horizons is sending ever-more astonishing images of the Pluto system, and I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks bring as it zips past its primary target and heads deeper into the Kuiper Belt. As I’ve said many times in this blog: we are living in a glorious era for planetary exploration. Relish it!

5. I’ve written before about my reluctant decline into twittering, and in recent weeks, I’ve found myself once again questioning whether I’m a point where I just need to decide that the social media era of my life is over, completely. Since I tend to follow specific areas of interest (politics, music, space), what I find is that I’ll have these long periods where it seems that everything that crosses my screen is about the same thing — and much of the time, it’s something I don’t care about, or that actively annoys me. Case in point: the recent Twitter coverage of some new documentary about Amy Winehouse. I did not care about her or her music when she was alive, and I do not care about her or her music now that she has died a junkie’s death, either. But the hyperbolic word salad spewed about her on Twitter is filled with nonsense about how we’re somehow all culpable for her death, and how we’re somehow all responsible for her “harrowing” upbringing, and how watching this documentary is going to change us all forever, somehow. But we aren’t, and it won’t. And I don’t want to see or hear anything else about it. Or about Donald Trump. If you tweet about either of them, I’m likely to stop following you. Just so you know.

Mopping Up: 2014 in Review

So here we are, December 31, 2014, the last day of the final year of my first half-century. How did it go?

I documented my life in 2014 publicly via 55 blog posts here and at Indie Moines — which I shut down in September, considering it to be a successfully-executed endeavor with nothing more to justify it as a standalone writing outlet for me. I quit Facebook in 2014, and became more active on Twitter. I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary in 2014, reaching a milestone where the days I have spent with Marcia in my life are now more numerous than the days I spent without her. I achieved the aggressive budget that I set for my work place, adding revenue, shrinking expenses, and expanding programs, all at the same time. I traveled to Europe, Florida, San Diego, Las Vegas, New York, Massachusetts, Death Valley, Missouri, Minnesota, Chicago, and Wisconsin, among other places, both within and beyond Iowa’s borders. I spent more time with Katelin in 2014 than in any recent year, too, which was delightful.

Big picture-wise, then, it was a pretty good year on a personal front. Great Jorb There, Universe! Much appreciated! But, of course, if you’re a regular reader of my various websites, then odds are that you’re not here for such macro, big picture stuff, but rather for the micro, list-making, obsessive, nerdy, spread-sheet fueled piffle and tripe in which I specialize. So let’s hurry up and get on with discussing that kind of stuff, shall we? Yes! Huttah!

There’s already been a good amount of list-nerding and spreadsheet-geekery going on here throughout 2014, as follows:

Goodness, that’s a lot of nerd stuff — and I didn’t even mention my large multi-attribute utility model designed to identify the best retirement city in America, or my two college basketball ranking models, or the analysis I used to win my second Fantasy Football title this year. Ahem.

Here, finally, are just a few more lists of the sorts of things I like to count, sort, and order as we prepare to greet 2015 on the morrow, hopefully without hangovers. Enjoy!

Favorite Books of 2014:

  • Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance (The Southern Reach Trilogy) by Jeff VanderMeer
  • The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  • Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America by John Waters
  • Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West by Ethan Rarick
  • The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry by Lance Dodes
  • Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies by Lawrence Goldstone
  • The Big Midweek: Life Inside the Fall by Steve Hanley
  • Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany by David Stubbs
  • I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined) by Chuck Klosterman

Favorite Movies of 2014:

  • Frank
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Snowpiercer
  • Under the Skin
  • Birdman
  • Jodorowsky’s Dune
  • Only Lovers Left Alive
  • Interstellar
  • Bad Words

Favorite Blogs:

  • Fifty-Two Weeks of the Fall (I’m obsessive about Mark E. Smith and The Fall, I’m a big fan of pointlessly-masochistic writing projects, and I appreciate honest music criticism without commercial taint. This website delivered on all accounts from the first to the last day of 2014. Bravo!)
  • Figuring. Shit. Out. (Amy Biancolli may well be one of the best writers I’ve ever read in any format: she’s funny, wise, prolific, thoughtful and candid about experiences that most of us cannot imagine, plus she has excellent taste in music and movies, and knows when to cuss and when not to. What’s not to love?)
  • Reyna Eisenstark (The writer used to blog at a certain newspaper that I don’t mention by name anymore, but I liked her prose and content enough to hold my nose at her surroundings, and just focus on her words, while she was there. In 2014, thankfully, she finally moved to her own page. Hooray!)
  • Cumbrian Sky (I first got hooked on Mars Stu when he began documenting Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity’s adventures on The Road to Endeavour in 2008. His writing style, sense of wonder, eclectic interests, and passion for astronomy — amateur and professional alike — are all brilliant and inspiring).
  • XKCD (Again. Still. Of course. Duh. Randall Munroe’s live coverage of Philae’s landing on Comet Cherry-Gerry was a high-water mark in the ways that science and entertainment can collide online, and that was just one of dozens of sublime moments this year).