The twenty-oughts, a decade in review

I will remember the past decade as graduate school.  Only 6 years actually enrolled, but also another 1.5 or so working at Caltech beforehand, trying to get in.  However, all the highlights took place in the other times.  The 2.5 years yet unaccounted for.  Of that time, about 18 months was spent traveling, and that’s where the memories really are.

A wolf in our camp by the calving McBride glacier.  Paddling over Pacific swell with seaweed and a wright whale by George Island.  The miracle of getting over sea sickness while fishing for salmon on the M/V Radio out of Pelican.  A brown bear and her cubs on the beach.  Lonely, wordless, solo backpacking in the Beartooth range.  Two weeks in Dark Canyon with the ringtails eating cattail roots.  A half eaten deer and mountain lion tracks in the morning by our campsite in the Zion narrows.  A night with Concept One and Aphex Twin in a Subaru crammed full of camping gear during a rain storm in the redrock country.

Six weeks at the mercy of Baja’s capricious winds, distilling water on the beach to survive. Being surrounded by tiny desert coyotes, with only a small fire built on an old shell midden to keep them at bay.  Innumerable sunrises, and Orion slowly walking across the pre-dawn sky.  Studying Spanish in Xela, high up in the tropical mountains.  Tikal and El Mirador and Lago Atitlan.  The contrast between Guatemala and Mexico, and finally heading back to Baja again for a month of idyllic paddling and sun bleached hair, and hiding in the shadows of the rocks at midday.  Being attacked by bees because of our colorful clothing and boats, escaping to safety with a seething mass of orgiastic rays.  Seemingly endless hours free diving with schools of yellow snapper and moray eels.  Spear fishing for the first time, engulfed in a swirling cloud of scintillating brownian fish, and then being confronted with their predator.

I lived in four different houses with friends (Cortez, N. Chester, Parkwood Front and Back in Pasadena), two houses with strangers (Carlock in Boulder, and Eluvia’s home in Xela), a Chevy Astro cargo van (in Boulder), and a housing co-op (Masala, also in Boulder).  I gave up on the idea of co-ops in general.  I learned how to drive this decade, and owned 2.5 motor vehicles (the gold Subaru with Ian, the Astronautilus, and the white Toyota pickup); hopefully I’ll never own another.  I learned how to build bicycles this decade too, and built three of them — two for me (one red, one green) and one for Michelle.  I owned and used two others (my Atlantis, and the orange XO-1).  I also got a bicycle tattoo.  I left North America three times: Barcelona (Y2K), London (EuroApache), and Iceland (a NASA Astrobiology conference), but only once, briefly, traveled east of the Mississippi in the US (to Noah and Vandana’s wedding, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin).

In these ten years, I ate about 1500 kg of food, by dry mass, and roughly 10,000 liters of water passed through my flesh, but my own mass only fluctuated by about 10 kg, (ranging between 66 and 77 kg).  One hundred million breaths.  A third of a billion heartbeats.  I fell in love with three women, made love to two of them, and despite the deeply ingrained instincts of my four billion years of ancestry, managed somehow not to reproduce.  My last grandparent died this decade, as did my mother, leaving my father as my only living ancestor.  The worst injuries I sustained were a dislocated shoulder (rock climbing), a separated AC joint (Aikido), and a concussion (a pigeon dive-bombed me while I was biking).  My eyes stopped being perfect.  They’re still good enough that as a wild human, I don’t think I’d be materially impaired, but I’m a bit addicted to the crystal clear vision corrective lenses let me have.  The worst illness I experienced was an unidentified stomach bug in Guatemala.

The only human language I studied this decade was Spanish.  Given my life goal of speaking conversationally, and reading at daily newspaper level all of: English, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, and Russian, I would say I’m a bit behind.  Hopefully I can keep the brain plastic enough to pull it off.  Doing so will certainly involve spending more time outside of North America in the coming decades.  The only machine language I learned this decade was Python.  I think it was a good choice.  There was a brief foray into Fortran which I’ve thankfully mostly forgotten.

My computers were many: a Linux web server I built at home in Santa Cruz (it had 300 MB of disk), another Linux box, built by Penguin Computing, and used as a home server first, and then as a server in UGCS, then the Pika basement at MIT.  And finally a rackmount server that started life in Portland, and is now in a datacenter in San Francisco, about to be decommissioned.  I had a dual boot Linux/Windows Dell laptop that was eventually stolen from the back of the truck, and then I made the move back to Macs, with three PowerBook laptops in a row, and finally this MacBook Pro, with its 300 GB of disk, 1000 times larger (and probably also 1000 times faster) than that home server I assembled ten years ago.  We are not made to comprehend the logarithmic world we have created.  The computers helped me become a photographer, and take writing seriously.

I had four jobs during the noughts: Build and Integration Engineer at SCO, two part time jobs concurrently for a year and a half: at Caltech programming, and doing web-monkey stuff for Closer to Truth.  Finally of course there was the exalted position of Research/Teaching assistant at CU Boulder.  Overall my net worth has not changed: it was about $15,000 in 2000, and it’s about $15,000 now, but I have much more debt ($95,000) and many more liquid assets ($110,000) now than then.  I learned a lot about how finance works this decade.  Most of what I learned didn’t inspire much confidence.  It seems to be largely another way we manipulate and take advantage of people with less power and understanding (shocking, I know.)

I stopped seeing organized religion primarily as false and evil, and instead came to see it as a useful tool for influencing people and changing their behavior.  I stopped thinking of universal suffrage as a good thing.  I stopped thinking of humanity in the aggregate as something that has a will, as something that makes choices.  I became both an activist, and an elitist.  I retreated from relativism.  We make the right and the wrong in the world, and it matters, but events are driven by the few, when anyone is driving at all, and often nobody is.

Predictions and Goals for the Teens:

By the end of the teens, I expect that I will have been surgically sterilized.  My natural genetic reproductive existence will have run its course, whatever that is to be.  I also expect to have had my entire genetic makeup sequenced accurately and digitized, opening up all kinds of strange and unnatural reproductive possibilities.  In ten years, unless I live on a boat, I will still ride a bicycle almost every day.  My mass will still be between 65 kg and 75 kg.

I never expect to be responsible for server hardware again (once the migration currently under way is finished).  I’ll probably be mucking around with software and data forever.  I suspect that at some point in the coming decade, I’ll begin archiving video and sound as well as images and words.

I will master Spanish as far as I intend to, and move on to Mandarin.  I will spend some time living on another continent, either in China or Latin America for languages, or northern Europe for bicycles.  I will strive to make the work I do location independent.  The only additional debt I would consider taking on personally would be associated with a stationary dwelling.  It would be either in a dense urban center, a university town, or, if I check out entirely, as far as possible from anywhere.  I will not live in a suburb.  I will spend at least one year in the wilderness.  I will read more, write more, start a business, and build a dwelling.  I will ride my bike 100,000 miles 150,000 km.  I will stop using imperial units.

I will attempt to remain engaged in the world.  I will try not to give up hope.  I suspect it will not be easy.  I must endeavor to put myself in situations that nurture my optimism, instead of feeding my pessimism.  Where those situations are exactly, I don’t know yet, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t in Pasadena.

By Zane Selvans

A former space explorer, now marooned on a beautiful, dying world.

3 replies on “The twenty-oughts, a decade in review”

Zane you will remain engaged in the world….. because you ask good questions and have fun doing it…. You will not give up hope because it will be easier than you think. Don’t feed on pessimism because it gives you a bad taste when you do… and maybe Pasadena is a good place to start your situations.

Why do I know all this? Well, because I am wise and I am your friend. And If I had had a son, I would have liked to have him be like you.


Reading this brings me to categorize my last decade and hopes for the next more consciously – something I’ve moved a bit away from with the absorption of busy-ness. Thanks. My decade was mostly the 7 years of child-raising (with the 9 months of prep), but unlike grad school, I’m nowhere near done! Personally, I’m thinking Amsterdam or Copenhagen for a year – bicycles!!!

You are better at writing with consistency than me. I hope to ride my bike a good fraction of the km you will ride. 🙂

Leave a Reply