Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my friends and readers!

I went to a very pleasant little New Year's party and at precisely midnight watched the year change on the Ithaca College towers. Two of the Ithaca College dormitories are 14 storey towers. They can be seen clearly from much of Ithaca and the surrounding area because IC is nearly at the top of South Hill (Cornell is on East Hill; there's also a West Hill; there's no North Hill because Lake Cayuga is to the north). In the days before New Year's, volunteers from the college turn on lights in the appropriate rooms of the last two digits of the year that is ending. Exactly at the stroke of midnight on December 31, they change over from the old year to the new year. This year was pretty challenging, since the 0 had to change to a 1 instantaneously, and the 9 to a 0 - they must have needed quite a few volunteers to flip the switches all in unison.

My friends live in Belle Sherman (a neighborhood of Ithaca close to the Cornell campus) and have a clear view of the IC towers, especially in the winter when the trees have lost their leaves. We went out at about two minutes to midnight, watched as the date was changed, listened to the happy new year cries and firecrackers in the neighborhood, and then went inside.

Mike King in Ithaca took a photo of the towers a couple of days ago and put it on his Flickr account - this gives you some idea of what 09 looked like. He writes: "Ithaca College has a cool tradition where they light up these two towers with the year... and then after New Year's they switch to the new year. From our house on South Hill we have a great view of it!"

According to Frankie14850, who posted a similar photo on Flickr in January of 2009 (when the date had just changed), this is the history of the use of the towers for this purpose:
Every New Year's Eve Ithaca College performs a ceremonial changing of the calendar year's numerals using 300-watt lights in designated rooms inside the two 14-story residential towers. The towers on the South Hill campus have a commanding view of the city -- this is shot from about a mile or more away from Sunset Park on Ithaca's northeast side. According to IC media, the light show tradition was started in 1965, a concept that owes its creation to the late Petrus Van de Velde, a custodial supervisor at the college. The 100-foot-high numerals are illumined several days before the New York and changed at the stroke of midnight by volunteer staffers.
One of the things we talked about at the party was the attention being paid to the fact that 2009 was the "last year of the decade" (something that frankly had not occurred to most of us until the press started reminiscing about the last ten years). I think one reason that I hadn't realized we were about to enter a new decade was because of all the confusion about whether 2000 was the first year of the new millennium, or 2001. And if 2001 was the first year, wouldn't that make 2009 simply the ninth year, so that a decade of the first millennium won't have passed until the end of 2010? (Whatever, I really don't care).

(photo from the New York Times - It's Always the End of the World as We Know it - article on Y2K hysteria).

So that reminded us about the infamous Y2K hubbub in 1999 that scared everyone. We all told our stories of Near Year's 1999/2000, how in nothing happened in any of the places where we spent that supposedly dramatic transition. I was in Jerusalem then for a visit over the winter break between semesters. My friend A. and I stayed up together. She had prepared for the possible Y2K disaster by buying lots of big water bottles. We waited to see if the electricity would go off, the phones would stop working, etc. at 12:00:01 on January 1, but nothing happened except for a lot of fireworks going off in the Arab part of Jerusalem. (There were no official fireworks in the Jewish part of the city since January 1 is not the Jewish New Year). We drank some of the water and went to sleep.

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