As we end 2008 I take heart in how little I know.
There's war in Africa. War in the Middle East. War in countries we've learned too much about and others whose names we cannot spell.
Oil-fueled maniacs seemingly strive to destroy their own countries in an effort to topple their best customers. Those suicidal impulses are mirrored by individuals willing to kill and maim supposedly in the interest of their deities.
Even beyond the horror of it all, one wonders at their twisted logic of a fanatical belief in a God who supposedly endorses such wanton destruction of lives. That reasoning is so orthogonal to ours one feels like we're are different species altogether.
Other twisted ad hoc armies have brought what was once called darkest Africa into the spotlight as they prey on the weakest. Waves of refugees flee their destroyed countries to find little light at journey's end. Easily-preventable diseases wash over the already destitute because so-called leaders exhibit little interest in their charges.
The nuclear club has grown, and continues to grow as even the most dysfunctional states manage to manufacture such weapons; weapons that, if used, will unleash a horror that makes the wars of 2008 look like petty schoolyard bullying.
We, the rich – and as anyone who has traveled outside of the tourist zones knows, we are indeed very, very rich – are seeing what looks like the start of a complete meltdown of our economy. What happened?
A year ago the Dow was at an unprecedented high; today people are losing their homes and savings. It feels like we ran off a cliff, with little warning and a sudden screeching halt.
And what will 2009 bring? All of the signs are troubling.
In my 55 years I have never seen such a fervent hope from so many that the incoming administration will right the wrongs and fire up the bilge pumps of the flooding ship of state. But the problems are so many and so intractable I just can't imagine how any president, even one possessed of supernatural powers, can float us back to the charmed existence we have experienced and expect.
But good stuff happens in this world. It's sometimes hard to see, it never makes page 1. People do inject energy, time, money and effort to fight the entropy of decay. The people of America, Europe, Asia and the world are not in a closed system so the second law of thermodynamics does not apply.
Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned after two decades of parenting is that everything I know is wrong. My once strongly-held beliefs about kids and cars, kids and dating, kids and, well, everything, were pretty much wrong when tested against the stark reality of fragile lives in a world of uncertain outcomes.
So as I look forward with fear to 2009, perhaps everything I know about that is wrong, too. I never expected the sudden financial collapse, an attack on New York, and most of everything else that came to pass.
I never expected to find so many generous people in even difficult times, nor to see some young adults who I still visualize as 5 year olds working hard for noble goals. I couldn't in my wildest dreams imagine how Muhammad Yunus' microloans could transform lives.
Good stuff happens all the time, and will happen in 2009. It will be the year of the unexpected. Like every year. And there's hope in that.
Happy New Year, best wishes, and peace and prosperity to you and yours.
What's your best guess about 2009? That's the Poll Question this week. To participate, go to the Embedded.com Home Page.
Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is .