big history

I thought I was pretty familiar with the offerings available from The Great Courses, so I was surprised when an article in the New York Times Magazine made me aware of a course with which I was not acquainted: Big History. (If you click the link don’t freak out at the price. It will be on sale again at about 70% off the list price sooner or later. They cycle through all their courses with such pricing.)

BigHistoryThe occasion of the NYT Magazine article was to discuss how Bill Gates had watched the course, met the instructor, David Christian, and proceeded to work with him to develop a high school curriculum based on the college-level course Christian had been teaching. I was intrigued enough to buy the audio version of the Great Courses program, which, probably not coincidentally, happened to be on sale at the time. The premise of the course is that most history courses cover only the period from the beginning of writing, or slightly before, to the present day, and that omits the greater part of the history of the universe. Big History teams with science to provide a much more expansive story of the universe.

Christian divides the history of the universe into eight “Thresholds:”

  1. Origins of Big Bang Cosmology
  2. The First Stars and Galaxies
  3. Making Chemical Elements
  4. The Earth and the Solar System
  5. Life
  6. What Makes Humans Different?
  7. Agriculture
  8. The Modern Revolution

This means that our species Homo sapiens does not show up until lecture 21 of the 48 lecture course. But that is appropriate in the context of the material being covered.

The course has not been revised since it was initially published in 2008. For the most part it holds up well, but some of the material is dated. For example, Christian categorically states that humans never interbred with Neanderthals, something we now know from genetic evidence absolutely did happen (and that humans are probably stronger and healthier for it). Six years is an eternity in modern science.

Christian has some different views and perspectives that you probably have not heard before. Whether you listen to this course on your iPod while out walking (as I did) or whether you sit down in front of your TV or computer to watch the DVD version, Big History is time well spent. (Or will be once the course goes on sale again.)

at loose ends

This week things are not what they have been. It’s a return to the ordinary.

The week before last I had my colonoscopy. That takes time and mindshare until it’s over. My sister-in-law’s visit has come and gone. Last week I was on call for jury duty. I never had to go in, but I did have to check the Web page twice a day. I took advantage of Tuesday, a govermemnt, and hence a court holiday, to interview at a company that employs a long-ago former co-worker. Then, on Friday, I had my final meeting, by phone, with my coach at the outplacement firm. That benefit ended yesterday.

So the colonoscopy is history. My benefit with the outplacement firm has ended. Julie returned home a week ago yesterday. My long-ago former co-worker who holds they key to my possible employment at that company is on vacation until after Thanksgiving.

Here I am at loose ends. All I can do is to keep on keeping on and to keep the job search process moving forward.

And so I will.

so it begins

It’s that time of year. This is nothing new. Costco had Christmas merchandise out before Halloween. Still, I was somewhat taken aback when a Facebook friend wrote the following at 7:51 p.m. on Sunday 9 November, two days before Veteran’s Day:

quoteChristmas and other winter holidays have already started – Santa’s house is up at the mall, the Burbank holiday tree is up, but not lit, the lights have been installed on the main streets of Downtown Burbank but not lit – Costco has holiday presents. Have the holidays already started where you are?

Not the slightest cringe or suggestion that perhaps this was all just a tad early.

We’re just past Veteran’s Day. Thanksgiving is a week and a half away. Advent does not begin until 30 November. Yet I got an email last Thursday from SiriusXM about their holiday channels. Saturday I heard Christmas music in a shop near the outlet stores. After dropping off mail at the post office today I saw that the City of Gilroy had its Christmas tree up and decorated. Terry blew a fuse a week or so ago hearing Christmas music at Home Depot.

Let’s slow things down. Please, take it a bit easy. Don’t rush.

Me? I’m the guy on the right.


Sacred Music Friday: Oh God Our Help in Ages Past

Oh God Our Help in Ages Past, Westminster Abbey

let it be

Some time ago I quoted Anne Lamott from one of her books, where she said that she wore a pendant of the Virgin Mary to remind her to let it be.

If you’re somewhere around my age this needs no explanation. You know that the reference is to the Beatles song. What Anne failed to realize is that “Mother Mary” is not the Virgin Mary, but Paul McCartney’s birth mother Mary, who died when he was fifteen. She was the one who returned in spirit to remind him to let it be.

The focus here, of course, is on letting it be. It’s something I often have a hard time doing. So, really, whatever mnemonic device works to remind one to let it be, that ought to be fine.

admiring the small business owner

I was in Rocca’s Market last week for an off-cycle midweek run. Dan Rocca had his thumb bandaged up. He was working the cash register so when I was checking out I asked him what happened. He said he thought he had dislocated it and was trying to figure out what to do about it.

On Friday I went in for my usual weekly visit. Dan wasn’t there but his brother Tom was working the cash register. I asked him if Dan had is thumb looked after. He told me that he had. It was a sprain, but nothing serious or chronic. Tom said that he learned a long time ago that a Rocca can’t afford to be sick or injured. I said that that was what happens when you own your own business. He said it was more like the business owned them.

And yet they keep on keeping on. You have to admire that.

seeing what we want to see

It’s easy to filter your Facebook feed to see only what you want to see. Without unfriending people, I have hidden Facebook friends from my feed. I might do this if I too often see posts that offend my sensibilities or that are just annoying or if someone’s posts are too frequently excessively frivolous. In the last week one Facebook friend, gloating about the Republican victory in the elections, started sharing posts, originating from dubious sources, bashing the left. Rather than hiding that person entirely, I just told Facebook that I didn’t want to see posts from those sources. That is something that works in my Web browser on my PC, but not on my Facebook iPad app.

One would wish that we could have an environment of civil discourse. So much of what is on Facebook is highly biased either left or right, and some of it is just plain wrong. I have to admit having been guilty of perpetuating some of the left-leaning material myself.

I think back to the early 1980’s when I lived in in Oklahoma City. I used to regularly watch William F. Buckley’s Firing Line on PBS, even though his views were at the opposite end of the spectrum from mine. He was intelligent, literate, articulate, and had his facts straight. That last point is not something you can say about Fox News (or I suppose MSNBC as well at times), nor about much of what appears on Facebook.

I have no answers. Only my observations.