January 1st, 2010

[LINK] "A little decadence"

It seems appropriate for my first post here this year and this decade to be a link to Phil Plait's discussion at Bad Astronomy about the terminologies of calendrical time.

My claim is that December 31, 2009 — today, as this is posted — is not just the last day of the year, but the last day of a decade. Now, I don’t mean that in the trivial sense that any moment is the last moment of the past ten year period — you can always talk about the last ten years that end at any time.

I meant, and still mean, specifically the first decade of the 2000s. That does in deed and in fact end today.

What people were arguing over were things like centuries and millennia, and how there was no year 0, and therefore the last day of the decade is actually December 31, 2010. But that’s not relevant because we don’t measure decades the same way we do centuries.

Certainly, the last day of the 20th century was December 31, 2000. In that case, there was no year 0, so the first year of the 1st century ended on December 31, 1 A.D. Doing the math, it’s easy to see that 1999 more years needed to elapse to end the 20th century, and so its demise was on that last calendar day of 2000. January 1, 2001 marked the first day of the 21st century.

But we don’t reckon decades like that. We refer to them by the tens place in the year’s numerals: the 70s, the 80s, the 90s. And since we do, clearly, today is the last day of the decade we will call the aughts or zeroes or whatever.

Actually, looking at this now, it seems to me that centuries are more formal, with an actual method of naming them, whereas decades are more of a nickname, /a handy handle to use when referring to a time period.

Also, you wouldn’t say that 1990 was part of the 80s, would you? I think it’s clear that December 31, 1989 was the last day of the 80s, just as December 31, 2009 is the last day of whatever term we’ll wind up using to refer to the first 10 years of the 2000s.

Confusing this a bit is that we might refer to something happening in the 1900s versus saying it happened in the 20th century. Those terms are synonymous, barring the year of 1900, which was in the 19th century, and 2000, which was in the 20th century but not in the 1900s.

That's not the case I'd make, not least since it's one o'clock in the morning here in Toronto and I'm not that coherent. Still, sharing's good, right?

[PHOTO] The Yonge line at Bloor on the morning of the 29th

It's nice to see that higher-profile bloggers than me, like Alex Harrowell at A Fistful of Euros, couldn't resist making end-of-year posts about trains as metaphors. The Orient Express, Alex writes, has just made its last trip, and that's probably a good thing since that symbolizes the disappearance of the "Orient.".

The reason why the service is being withdrawn is optimistic; the high-speed trains now go so far and so fast that you can get from London to Vienna in a day by rail (although, rather you than me - it leaves at 0827 and arrives at 2322 with connections in Brussels and Frankfurt, a long day’s train ride by anyone’s standards). And, of course, if they have power sockets, WLAN, and a rail to hang your jacket on, like the business sections on Swiss trains, you’ll be able to conspire just as much if not more.

Thinking about it, the experience wasn’t something that foretold the future, but rather a hangover from the recent past. Sleeping Car Guy, like the huge, filthy Südbahnhof in Vienna with its parallel network of long distance buses into the Balkans, was a leftover of immediate post-Cold War Europe - something of the spirit I tried to convey in this post.

Some train routes might be best put down once they've outlived their utility. Others remain as useful and central as ever, like, say, the Yonge-University-Spadina line of the subway, accessible among other places via the upper level of Bloor-Yonge Station. I took some pictures there on the morning on the 29th, and was pleased and unsurprised to see that it still has the same dynamism that I glimpsed decades ago in the music video for the Spoons' "Downtown Traffic".

[OTL] Outside the Lines

This isn't a New Year's resolution post. The consensus seems to be that New Year's resolutions tend to do more harm than not, with the boldly-worded commitments to radical change quickly getting bogged down in reality and backfiring to one extent or another.

This is a post announcing my participation in a new group blog, Outside the Lines. Along people like Erin and others, I'll be reporting on my efforts to go outside of my comfort zone and to do new things. I love my life in Toronto, and I've taken advantage of a fair number of the opportunities here, but I'd like to do more things, and more shocking things. (Will I be jumping off bridges? Maybe, if it turns out that Lake Ontario doesn't harbour a pet-derived piranha population and there aren't masses of jagged rocks underneath the bridge.)

So. Watch for the [OTL] tag. I plan to put it to some interesting use.