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Recent In Retrospect

1. Then

He would go to the library from time to time. It was at the end of a hall and around a corner, downstairs from the high school main office. (His brother will undoubtedly remember this better and have a more accurate recollection of where the library was.)

Who knows how he found time for this, since he must have had classes all day long. But it was long ago, and it’s not relevant for our purposes here how he found the time, rather that he did.

He would go to the library and sit at one of the tables inside the glass doors across from the checkout counter. From here he could reach over and grab the encyclopedias — World Book in particular, since it was so much more visual than the others (think glossy, colored pictures). He would grab the “S” volume and flip to the Space Exploration page to see if there were any new spacecraft pictures in the most recent editions. 

He had a criterion for what “recent” meant. Anything from 1967 or before was old. 1968 was debatable. 1969 recent.  And he was only interested in new stuff. 

What year was that? Probably 1974 or 1975. Evidently “recent” meant something fewer than six years old.

2. Now

He has a habit of sitting with his laptop in a comfortable chair, googling a particular math-y/physics-y topic that has held his attention for a while. Or he searches the online catalogs of the Austin Public Library or the University of Texas Library. He wants to write about this topic someday, but there is so much he does not understand. And so he searches from time to time, hoping to understand better.

This periodic browsing/searching is a habit of his, even though it has never been relevant for work. He’ll lose interest for a while but resume several months later. Sometimes he uses the same keywords and finds from the color of the links that he’s previously stumbled on them. But sometimes he finds new stuff.

He has a rough criterion for what “recent” means as he does this. On this day, he stumbled on a relatively recent article. It was published in Nature in 1986, and it discussed an article in the Journal of Algebra from 1985. So to him, evidently “recent” means something fewer than 40 years old.

How quaint (how silly) that high school criterion of his seems in retrospect.