history technology time universe

The order of things

Universe is 14 billion years old (~~ 4.3×10^17 seconds)
Sun is 4.57 billion years old
Earth is 4.54 billion years old
Life is 3.8 billion years old
Mammals are 225 million years old
Humans are 200,000 years old
Religion is 102,000 years old
Cities are 5,000 years old
China is 4,085 years old
Judaism is 3,828 years old
Hinduism is 3,100 years old
Rome is 2,768 years old
Democracy is 2,525 years old
Christianity is 1,985 years old
London is 1,973 years old
Islam is 1,450 years old
Gun powder is 972 years old
The telescope is 408 years old
New York is 351 years old
America is 240 years old
The locomotive is 204 years old
The repeating rifle 167 years old
“On the Origin of Species” is 156 years old
Dynamite is 148 years old
Radio is 120 years old
Nuclear weapons are 70 years old
The worldwide web is 24 years old

advice time

What Getting Older Has Felt Like (For Me)

grow old along with me the best is yet to beI’m not old yet. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. Old is some sort of benevolent trap that some of us make it to. I’m not trying to talk about old today, but older. I am older.

Sure, we’re all older—older than we used to be, older than even a moment ago. But I am categorically older. I’m firmly middle-aged now. There was no one moment when this dawned on me. It was many small realizations over time.

The most surprising thing about growing older is that it doesn’t really feel like anything. It’s not nearly as dramatic as moving from child to adult. Your body and your attitudes change in subtle, gradual ways.

When I was a young adult, I never thought about my own aging. I knew it would happen in some abstract way. But I assumed it would feel dramatically different. And that’s the biggest surprise.

I tend to notice my aging reflected in the aging of others. With friends and family, especially those older than me who I don’t see often, I figure that since they’re getting older that I must be getting older, too. Only then do I think to look for, and find, my accumulated aging in the mirror.

I also notice some decline in my physical abilities. My eyesight isn’t as good as it used to be, nor is my digestion. I have similar strength and stamina as my twenties, but only because I care much more about those things now and work to maintain what I have.

There are advantages to aging. I feel more emotionally secure. The thirst for excitement has been replaced by an appreciation of calm. I feel like I have less to prove to others and myself. It’s a slower pace that might have bored me then but now provides endless opportunity for wonder.

My sense of time is different. I was 13 in 1983. I got a greatest hits Beatles cassette for Christmas that was mostly their music before 1965. Then, those 20-year-old recordings seemed of the same generic past of telegrams and WWII. Now, 20 years ago seems only a little less like yesterday than yesterday.

productivity time

What Busy Feels Like

For the most part, busy feels great to me. It feels like I am adding value, that what I’m doing is important.

Busy also feels scary. It feels like I’m close to the edge. Deadlines are looming. I could catch the flu or sprain an ankle and I would worry about opportunities missed and people let down.

It’s also scary because it carries a bigger risk of failure. I might not be able to pull all of this off. Some stuff might fall through the cracks.

Busy is disruptive. I’ve been trying to shape all of these behaviors in my life — how much I exercise, what I eat and drink, how much I write. Busy enables the part of me that wants to break from my routine and indulge in my impulses. Pizza for breakfast? You deserve it, for all the hard work you’ve been doing lately. Go for it.

There’s no space when I’m busy. I have a shorter attention span and less patience. My spiritual, reflective self goes into hibernation.

I like being busy. I hope it subsides soon.

family grief time Wendy

Welcome Back to the Almanack

I’m going to try to give this blog another spin. It’s been a while since I wrote here, and some significant stuff has happened.

  • I got married to a wonderful woman, Taya Hall
  • We signed up with an adoption agency

I think another really important thing that happened for me is that I’ve mostly healed from the loss of my wife, Wendy, and my parents. I’ve learned a bit about moving through the grief experience. One thing is that it never totally goes away but, if you are open to it, you can resolve the majority of the pain. I no longer log each day as another without her. I’ve found a way to accept that she’s gone and, from that, peace.

The energy I used to put into blogging has been put into two different places: social media (Facebook and Twitter, for the most part) and my personal wiki.

When I look back on my motivations for writing Poor Yorick’s Almanack, one of them was the network ping effect. Each post was a passive pulse out to the internet to let interested parties know that I was still there. Social media fills this need so much better than a blog, so using Facebook initially fulfilled that need and made it harder for me to go about writing my blog.

In the years since, I find Facebook to be increasingly painful to use. It’s cluttered and constantly changing, which makes it harder for me to focus on the information I want from it. I’m not complaining. I’m grateful for the way it’s helped connect me to friends, family and acquaintances. It’s just like a lot of things in life, we moderate our distance.

I do still like Twitter for the reasons why I’ve soured on Facebook: lack of clutter and ability to focus on what I want. One of the great strengths of Twitter is also it’s weakness, namely the short, urgency of each tweet. That shallow, real-time experience is fun but it often lacks power and leisure of longer posts. Shorter isn’t always better.

growth memory resolution time

“Always too nostalgic. Now, just living.”

Six-word memoirs from writers famous and obscure

Above is my six-word memoir. The idea of writing autobiographies using six words or less is being promoted by Smith Magazine. They are hosting thousands upon thousands of these little reductions, where you can submit your own.

About my memoir, though, I’ve been learning to give up my nostalgia. I’m doing this by becoming more comfortable with uncertainty. It has been fear, I think, that has driven me into the safety of remembering and living in the past. Even memories of bad events felt safer than mysteries of the future or the complexity of the present.

But that’s the wrong way to live! When you close yourself off that way to the fear, you close yourself off to experience, too. I’m determined to stop dreaming away my life.

belief growth health productivity resolution time

Trusting the Method

“Enlightenment” by marirs

After I got out of the shower yesterday, I curled my arm to look at the size of my bicep. It had been a while since I had done this. I was impressed. It looked noticeably larger than the last time I checked. It looked like a tight ball under my skin with some definition of other muscle around it. When I checked it in the bathroom mirror this morning, though, it looked the same as it always had — sort of a round mass. Perhaps the gym has better lighting.

I’ve been going to the gym for four months now, lifting weights three days a week and doing cardio exercises five days a week. My intention was not to build a bigger bicep, although I hoped for it as a side benefit, along with losing weight (so far, not so much). If I did it for those reasons, I would have given up discouraged months ago.

My intention was merely to build a practice that would improve my health, mentally and physically. I resolved to focus not on the results, but on the method itself.

This is big change. I have always thought of practice solely as a path to improvement. You pick up a musical instrument or a foreign language so that you can play and converse, otherwise it’s a waste of time. That kind of thinking associates practice with wasted time. It longs for a machine or a pill or a shortcut.

A grudging practice must be continually justified. Am I learning fast enough? When will I be good enough to not make mistakes? Why do I even want to do something that requires so much practice? I quit.

If you learn to love the method, the results will arrive. I thought about this recently after a short but wonderful flight through space.

I’ve been adding all sorts of methods to my life — methods for cleaning my house, for writing, and most recently for flossing my teeth. My most cherished method is for meditation. I sit in my living room chair, wrap myself in a blanket, set a timer (first for 10 minutes, now for 20), close my eyes and focus repeatedly on one word that sets my intention for the day. I use every sound to reinforce the word. I breathe the word in and breathe the word out. My heart beats to the word. The clock ticks to the word. Sometimes my dog will bark the word or a loud car will drive the word up the street.

After months of daily meditation, I’ve had some “peak experiences.” Once I felt like I was outside my body. I often see colors and shapes. Mostly these experiences are in the form of a complete relaxation that straddles dreaming and waking.

But even more than those, meditation seems like a complete waste of time. I struggle with it. My nose starts to itch or I get distracted by something. I start to worry that I’m not doing it right.

But then I come back to my focus. That’s what meditation is all about — returning to your focus. You won’t get stronger by merely holding the weight, but by pumping it, bringing it back again and again in repetition, sets of repetition.

Meditation is teaching me to trust the method. Someday it will make flowers grow out of my pockets.

time travel

Visions of the Future!

come my tiny metal children by DrSpam

I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that lists out predictions of the future that included out these scenarios:

By 2020, the Internet could reach the far ends of the world, a population of Luddites could refuse to adopt new technology and choose to disconnect from the Internet, and humans could become the pets of robots, technology experts predicted in a survey released Sunday.

The study was commissioned by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a Washington nonprofit group that studies the impact of the Internet, and carried out by Elon University. It found that most technology luminaries from around the world expect Internet access to broaden and become widespread in developing countries.

But the experts disagree on how the Internet might influence our lives: Of the 742 respondents, 58 percent are concerned that “refuseniks” could become disenchanted with technology and commit terrorist acts against it. And 42 percent fear that humans could lose control of technology, potentially in much the same manner as in the movie “The Matrix.”

What? Luddite terrorism? Oh geez.

It reminds me of a friend who suggested, about a decade ago, that humans would become so disconnected from the natural world, that they would fetishize natural remnants. We would spend lots of money for small chunks of wood or stone.

I don’t think it’s going to get that dire.

Coincidentally, I was looking through my notes today, and I came across my own past predictions of the future:

  • Culture and subculture will give way to nodes or networks and lists. We’ll define ourselves as ever-growing combinations of different interests and alligences.
  • E-mail will go the way of AM radio–once indispensible put marginalized by better technology
  • My friend David is going to Europe this month. He thinks that air travel will become impossible in the near future. A hunch tells me he’s right.
science space time universe

So Long Big Bang, Hello Big Bounce

A scientific paper was released yesterday in the online version of the journal Nature Physics that may provide answers not only to the origin of our Universe, but may describe some conditions of what was there before.

Martin Bojowald, assistant professor of physics at Penn State has found a way to combine some calculations of quantum physics, which is very good at describing very extreme units of energy and mass, with classical physics, which is better at describing things like orbits and gravity. Physicists have been trying for nearly a century to reconcile the two types into a unified theory that would cast a better light, as it were, into how the Universe works.

When Albert Einstein was working on the problem of the Universe’s origin, his calculations showed that the Big Bang resulted from a “singularity” of infinite mass and energy with zero volume. This would have meant that all the planets and stars originated from nothing. While that might be a satisfying answer for poets and preachers, it’s not been at all satisfying for science.

Bojowald’s theory, called Loop Quantum Gravity, is able to describe a condition of Universal start that has a mass and energy less than infinite and a volume greater than zero. The Big Bang, then, becomes the Big Bounce where our Universe was born out of the contraction of another Universe with a similar space-time geometry.

According to Quantum Gravity, a theory upon which Bojowald’s theory was built, the Universe is comprised at the sub-atomic level of one-dimensional quantum threads. Under the extreme energy conditions of the Big Bounce, these threads react in a way that throws gravity into reverse–instead of attracting, it repels.

Loop Quantum Gravity theory uses sets of equations to figure things out going backwards in time through the bounce and further still into the previous condition. One very interesting indication of this theory is that the previous Universe is not likely to be a copy of our own. According to the Penn State Web site:

The model’s equations also contain some “free” parameters that are not yet known precisely but are nevertheless necessary to describe certain properties. Bojowald discovered that two of these free parameters are complementary: one is relevant almost exclusively after the Big Bounce and the other is relevant almost exclusively before the Big Bounce. Because one of these free parameters has essentially no influence on calculations of our current universe, Bojowald colludes that it cannot be used as a tool for back-calculating its value in the earlier universe before the Big Bounce.

Also, Bojowald found that at least one of the parameters used to describe the previous state was useless in describing this one. This leads him to conclude, “the eternal recurrence of absolutely identical universes would seem to be prevented by the apparent existence of an intrinsic cosmic forgetfulness.”