Monday, November 30, 2009

November 2009 comes to an end

In an earlier post, I wrote of a common phenomenon that had been around for over 15 years, but I only just recently even became aware of it. Auto-tune is another such phenomenon. There is so much going on in the world. That's probably always been the case, and the Internet just makes me more aware of it?

More germane to this post is NaBloPoMo, which I just heard about, and so I didn't make it this November. Oh well, this has been my most prolific posting month so far.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Flashback: Flunking

I have alluded in an earlier post to the fact that I nearly flunked out of my first semester of college. Perhaps it is time for a more complete telling of the story.

As the end of the first semester approached, I realized that, if nothing changed, I was headed towards an F as the final grade in my first college math course, Math 141, "Intro Calc & Anal".

This was a problem, because I expected to major in Mathematics. The high school year book even records my goal, at that time, of being a math teacher and researcher.

It was also a problem because I had earned straight As in high school*, in all of my subjects except Physical Education (where I barely eked out Ds). As an aside, four PE courses were required for my undergraduate degree, and I managed: Social Dance, C-; Latin-Am Dance, D; Folk Dance, B-; Bowling, B+ (yay!).

In high school, attending class was enough for me to do well on tests, and so I didn't do homework. In college, homework had to be turned in, and was part of the grade. But, I continued my old high school work habits, and thus deserved the F.

I woke up to the situation in time to spend the last few weeks differently. First, I let all the other classes slide. Second, I spent hours studying the textbook and taught myself calculus.

I thought that I did well on the final exam, but was shocked, when the results were posted, to see that I had earned the highest score of anyone in the class. Needless to say, the instructor was astonished that one of his F students had executed the best final exam, and he called me into his office for an interview. We discussed various things, including my study habits, and he was finally satisfied that I hadn't cheated in some way. I ended up with a C+ in Math 141 and a GPA for the semester of 2.77.

The next semester was actually worse. Math 142 (with the same instructor) went well, with me handing in all assignments and finishing with an A**. However, the next highest grade was a C in Physics 121 (when I had won a provincial prize for physics in high school), then two Ds, and three Fs (one earned by oversleeping and missing a final exam and then being too shy to go talk to the instructor about it). GPA for that semester: 2.13, and loss of scholarship. Ouch!

I did get my act together, including giving up science fiction reading and chess playing. Not to mention starting to do homework, going to class, and waking up in time for final exams. The lowest semester GPA for the rest of my undergraduate career was the third one, at 3.32.

There is a back-story that is a bit interesting, especially in view of my depressing little poem on inner voices.

As a youth, I owned a tape recorder. One evening, before going out to do my chores in the barnyard, I set it up, recording, in an inconspicuous place in the kitchen. Sometime later, I must have listened through the tape--my first and last attempt at surveillance. At one point, my parents were talking about me, and my mother said something like, "he'll probably flunk out of college." I remember being struck by this; not angry or anything, just pondering it. Of course, I didn't confront my mother about it, that not being my style. I also knew that she had been trying to get me to do homework for the past twelve years, without any notable success. At the time, I had no idea that doing homework was actually important, or that it could be of value in learning a subject, or getting a college degree.

Now that I have a been a parent many times, I understand how easy it is for a parent to see a child's weakness. How easy it is to want them to change this or that, so that they can be more successful in what they actually want, themselves, to accomplish. And yet, how ineffective nagging is as a method to achieve this.

Looking back on this incident, I feel myself splitting into two points of view. The parent who knows what is best for the child. The child who thinks that the parent doesn't appreciate how much everything is really under control. Perhaps the only way is to let them learn by their own experience.
*actually, in Canada, the highest grade was an H, for "honor". But this is the equivalent to an A in the U.S. system.

**a couple of years later, I found out that a missionary companion, Elder Drury, had been in that class, and had been jealous of my--to him, apparently easy--success.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A poem lovely as a tree

The pictures don't do it justice, but there is a beautiful tree on the southeast corner of North Temple and 1400 West.

Here is the before picture:

And here is the after picture taken just a couple of days later. All the leaves fell in one day, and are the prettiest shade of yellow.

One day, during the Summer, someone working for Google Street ViewTM captured the same tree, shown here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I will never be good enough

though outside voices sometimes disagree
to satisfy those inner voices
that i hear inside of me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Flashback: Sunglasses Repair

In her comment to my previous post, Myrna wrote of our father repairing her husband's glasses, leaving a lump of solder on the nose piece. Maybe he preferred to just leave the lump there. Here's why.

At an earlier time, he soldered together a (broken in half) pair of sunglasses for me. I was home for the summer, from my first semester at BYU (the one when I stopped playing chess and reading science fiction, so that I could actually get decent grades).

After soldering, there was a lump of solder on the nose piece. He took it out to the shop where he used his electric grinder to grind it down, and I tagged along. After some work with the nose piece at the grindstone, it looked perfect to me, but he must have thought it could benefit from one last polish. Unfortunately, his hand slipped just a bit and a small spot was ground onto the right lens.

He grunted something and handed them to me. I thanked him.

The elephant in the room was that, although now in one piece instead of two, the sunglasses were no longer usable. He was clearly uneasy about his mistake. I was upset that my prized (first pair I ever owned) sunglasses were ruined, but didn't want him to feel badly (after all: they were unusable before he started in on a repair). Neither of us were able to communicate with the other. We just went back in the house and the subject never came up again.

This situation still bothers me. And, I often remember it, and wish we could have expressed ourselves. It was typical of our relationship. I adored and feared him, and had no idea how he felt about me, although I suspected that I was a bit of a disappointment to him.

In his later years, when he could hardly speak, he would croak, "I love my kids." This was accompanied by a look that indicated that the listener was meant in particular.

One night, shortly after my son Andrew had survived a life-threatening and surgery-requiring intussusception, I happened to think of my dad. Then, it hit me like a wave, and I gasped for air: he loved me much like I loved my own son.

The last time I saw him alive, I was backing out of his long term care hospital room, focused on his black eyes watching me leave. I wish we could have talked more, and talked more openly.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Suitcase Repair

This blog is intended to be about time travel, and I've delivered stories covering a couple of centuries.

But, it is also a personal account of one man's life. So, this post is about a current event in that life.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was taking suitcases out to the shed for storage, since we have no trips planned in the foreseeable future.

One that we especially like had a broken handle. The strap was unattached at one end, because the rivet holding that end was gone.

I didn't take any "before" pictures. But in the one above, you can see the intact rivet at the lower edge near the right corner. The other end of the strap is missing the leather piece, torn away at the rivet hole, and you can't quite make out the bolt head. But, I'm getting ahead of the story.

There was another well-used suitcase in the bunch that I just carried to a dumpster, as it was too far gone, missing one complete wheel assembly, and with a stuck handle. It hurt a bit* to throw it away, because everything else was fine. The zippers worked. Nevertheless, out it went.

But we liked this one, and it just needed the handle re-fastened. A small bolt, that would do it. I looked around the house for awhile, but couldn't find one the right size.

Sara was working at the Food Co-op, so there was no car. I walked two blocks to Sutherlands and bought a bolt, a washer, and a nut with an integrated lock washer. All for 52 cents, one one hundredth the cost of a new suitcase.

The walk was interesting. It's less than a mile, but it is quite strange here to be walking when almost everyone else is driving. The only people who walk are too poor and/or too young to own a car. A shame in a way, as it was a beautiful day for a walk.

Here is the other end of the repair, showing the nut and the end of the bolt, which sticks into the interior just a bit. A rivet would have been better, but that requires a special rivet setting tool, which I don't have.

My dad had that tool. I remember the day he bought it. He also had a nice bolt cutter, that, if I had that, could be used to trim the bolt to just the right length.

All this reminded me of him. His grandchildren, most of whom only remember him as an invalid, couldn't know what a great repairer of things he was. Almost anything broken, he could fix. He even took a welding course in town one winter, and bought an arc welder, so that he could make repairs on the farm equipment. I can still picture him, in my mind, welding, wearing his protective helmet. The power supply hummed loudly, and the arc made a loud distinctive buzz and was as bright as the sun, so as an unprotected observer, I had to turn my head away. When the welding was done, he would take the piece to his electric grinder and smooth the rough edges while it was still red from the heat. I wish that I could produce those images for this blog, but my head is not equipped with video out jacks.
*Our parents grew up during the first great depression, so we were raised on the saying, "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." While googling this, I learned that the saying also appeared on a World War II poster.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Flashback: Door Approaches

Somehow, I was reminded about some missionary experiences. These stories are mostly about creative "door approaches" used while tracting. Much of the missionary's working day was spent going door to door, which we called "tracting." When someone came to the door, we had to grab their attention in just a few seconds, with the objective of being invited inside and giving a "discussion."

Clermont-Ferrand: cookie anyone? Okay, this isn't a door approach at all, but during my very first talk in a French language sacrament meeting, I was about to quote a verse from Galatians in the New Testament. In French, the book is Galates. The congregation laughed out loud as I spoke the reference. Later I learned that I was about to quote from the book of cookies: le livre des gallettes.

Yverdon: can we have a prayer? I don't remember what we said that got us invited in, but I do remember what happened when we asked the elderly woman if we could have a prayer before we left. We asked, "Pouvons-nous avoir une prière?" She promptly opened a drawer in the table in front of her and produced a spoon: une cuillère.

Yverdon: a couple can be together in the next life. Our knock on the door was answered by a young couple, obviously in love. We asked them if they would be interested to know how to be together in the next life. During the course of the discussion, they explained that, while they loved each other passionately right now, they each expected to have many other partners during their lives, and weren't really interested in our message. Six months later, I was still in Yverdon, but had a different companion. I didn't recognize the door until the same couple answered. They looked at me, and I looked at them, and the three of us burst out laughing. After a brief check to see if they had changed their minds, my puzzled companion and I moved on to the next door. Clearly, I had stayed in Yverdon too long.

Béziers: a program to help families get along. Once, as we approached a door, we could hear a very loud argument between a man and a woman. As the door flew open to our knock, I quipped, "Would you be interested in a program that helps families get along?" (It was something in French, of course, but to that effect.) They calmed down and invited us inside. During the discussion, I pointed to their wedding picture, prominently displayed, in which they were both radiantly happy, as we told them about the Family Home Evening program. Nothing long-lasting came of this contact, but the argument was stopped that time, at least.

Béziers: Elders of Israel. As we approached another door, I noticed a little box attached to the door jamb. Somehow, I recognized this as a mezuzah, and that therefore our usual door approach referring to Jesus Christ would likely be ineffective, because the family living there would be Jewish. My invention at this door was to announce, "Nous sommes des anciens d'Israël." Which interpreted is, "We are elders of (from) Israel." They welcomed us with open arms, much to our astonishment. My companion remarked, under his breath, that he was looking forward to seeing me work my way out of this one. I tried to explain the restoration of the priesthood, and the sense in which we were elders, but as soon as they realized we were Christians, we were politely shown the way out.

Marseilles: sometimes it takes three. One sister missionary was missing a companion for a day, and so two elders and her worked together. At one door, the young man responded to the elder by inviting us inside. This was such a novelty that he didn't understand, and kept asking if we could come inside. Finally, one of the other two, either the sister or myself, I don't remember, stepped inside, and he followed. This young man was himself a door-to-door salesman, and was quite receptive to our message. In later visits (this time minus the sister) he told us a lot about his sales techniques. Sadly, after going to his parents' home for vacation, and speaking with the family priest, Frère (Brother) Boulanjon, as we had been calling him for weeks, asked us not to continue teaching him.

Marseilles: I can't pay tithing: I smoke. We taught several discussions to another young family. When we got to the lesson on tithing, the family huddled and computed the monthly amount. Sadly, they explained that they just could not spare that amount. We returned later and gave another lesson, this one on the Word of Wisdom. Again, the father sadly said that he could not give up his cigarettes. In an attempt to make a point, we asked him how much he spent on them per month. After a brief calculation, he named an amount. We all froze in disbelief as we heard him say exactly the same number that he had named in the tithing lesson. Unfortunately, even this coincidence was not enough to bring the family into the church.

Genève: best foot forward. Another threesome. This time, myself and the two assistants to the president. I was irritated with them for some reason, and when it was my turn at the door, I spoke the usual door approach and then walked into the apartment, as the woman stepped aside and let us in. My stunned companions followed. After a brief moment, she persuaded us that she was really not interested, and we left. The assistants closely interviewed me, having been astonished at my success. I explained that this was a technique that I had learned from Frère Boulanjon in Marseilles. After the door approach, he said, you simply take one small step forward, adding, "may we come in?" Most people, he explained, will take one step back, and if they do that, you just walk right in. Shortly after that, Frère Boulanjon was asked and accepted to speak at a missionary zone conference in Marseilles. But the technique was not adopted by our mission in the end.

Genève: vous êtes malades--allez vous cacher. Finally, not a door approach, but a most creative response. Another threesome, two other elders and I knocked on a door, and said our piece. The woman replied that we were sick and should go hide ourselves. She then promptly closed the door. We had a good laugh as we walked to the next door.

Friday Flashback: Fear of Crocodile

This flashback was prompted by Nancy's post, in which Rachel wakes up with nightmares in which she is chased by crocodiles and other beasts.

When I was very young, our family went to the movies in town. Now, this was a rare event back then. We had a radio, but this was before the time of television (even black and white television). While we listened to radio dramas nearly every day, a trip into the movies was a once-a-year event, at most.

For days (nights?) after the movie, I would awake, terrified, with a crocodile chasing me. It wasn't just any crocodile, and it wasn't crocodiles, plural, either. It was The Crocodile. You know, the one that swallowed the alarm clock. The movie we had seen was Peter Pan.

Looking back, I imagine it must have been my subconscious mind hearing the kitchen clock that triggered the episodes.

The movie was released February 5, 1953, and I imagine that it would have taken a few months to make it to our small town. Too bad the archives of the Taber Times aren't available on-line. If they were I could narrow the time of this flashback down to an interval of a few weeks (the typical run of a movie at the Tower Theatre). In any case, I was at least a year older than Rachel at the time.

I don't remember my parents coming up with any creative ideas for dealing with this, so I suppose the nightmares must have just faded away, as I traveled through time at the usual rate of one second per second.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Question from Elizabeth

My daughter, Elizabeth, asked me a few weeks ago to tell me when her ancestors joined the Church*. I didn't take the time then to put together a complete answer, but just told her a couple of stories. Today, I spent several hours working on this, resulting in the post that you are reading now.

M (1978, 33)
FMMMMM (1839, 49) Lois Knapp
FMMMM (1839, 27) Louisa Walker
FMMMF (1831, 24) Edson Barney
FMMFM (1840,33) Joanna Case Worden
FMMFF (1852, 47) Elisha Barrus Keyes
FMFMMM (1848,59) Delia Deliverance Byam
FMFMMF (before 1836, before 49) Tillison Reed
FMFMM (unknown) Sally Ann Reed
FMFMFM (before 1838, before 54) Millicent Waite
FMFMFF (before 1846, before 62) Naham Curtis
FMFMF (1833,15) Joseph Curtis
FMFFMM (1833, 41) Experience Wheeler
FMFFMFM (before 1847, before 78) Amy Ward
FMFFMF (before 1833, before 33) Joseph Hancock
FMFFM (1847,12) Amy Experience Hancock
FMFFFM (1831,36) Alta Adams
FMFFFFM (before 1847, before 78) Amy Ward
FMFFFF (1830,37) Solomon Hancock
FMFFF (1834,8) George Washington Hancock
FFMMM (before 1862, before 55) Anna Wylimann
FFMMF (1861,58) Casper Wintsch
FFMM (1861,10) Anna Caroline Wintsch
FFMFM (1862,70) Elisabeth Luethi
FFMF (1861,30) Nicholas Muhlestein
FFFMMM (1843,37) Hannah Whitcomb
FFFMMF (1843,37) Gilberth Haws
FFFMM (1843,15) Lucinda Haws
FFFMF (1843,21) Shadrach Holdaway
FFFM (1864,8) Mary Elizabeth Holdaway
FFFFM (1841,39) Sarah Adams Bitely
FFFF (1866,35) Charles Conrad

There it is, to the best of my ability, using the New Family Search website, and taking into account not a few peculiarities.

Each line shows the relationship to Elizabeth, the year of the ancestor's baptism and their age at baptism, and finally the ancestor name (maiden names are used for all women).

Some dates (and therefore ages) are best guesses. The notation "before" gives the date/age of the ancestor's death, when it is strongly believed that they were baptized during their lifetime. Often, this is believed because their death occurred at a place and time where/when the Mormons were gathered, such as Winter Quarters or Clay County, Missouri.

In the case of Anna Wylimann, we know from her daughter's account that she was baptized about a year before her daughter. We also know that she died while crossing the plains on 4 September 1862, and was buried on the prairie.

In the case of Experience Wheeler and her second husband**, Joseph Hancock, I am relying on the accuracy of the linked account. Interestingly, these two appear to have been first cousins. Joseph and Solomon Hancock were brothers, making their children Amy Experience and George Washington first cousins.

The short answer to her question is that Elizabeth has both a parent who is a recent convert, and the first in a family, as well as a parent who is a product of a complete ancestry of people who joined the Church within the first few decades of its organization. I have attempted to identify the first in each family line to convert, but have also included a couple of cases of an ancestor baptized at age 8. To my knowledge, all of the ancestors missing from this list, but closer to Elizabeth, of course, were baptized at 8.

It was difficult to put all this together, partly because the work has been done for the dead sometimes many times over, and people who we are sure were baptized during their lifetimes often show a baptism date/temple well after their death. In some cases, the website showed a confirmation date during the lifetime, and in those cases, I used the same year for the baptism date. In the case of Sally Ann Reed, all of the LDS ordinance dates are hidden because someone has decided to do all of her work yet again. However, I am very sure that she was baptized, at least, during her lifetime.
*By "the Church" is meant "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." (see style guide)

**Edited the next morning. Here is a screen scraping of a pedigree section that led me to look deeper into the situation:

The question raised in my mind (and resolved by reading the story of her mother's life) was how Amy could have the family name Hancock if her father was a Rudd. He wasn't. The pedigree section on the website was based on an incorrect resolution of conflicting data.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Regula Sauermann

Regula Sauermann is my great-great-great-grandmother (more precisely, my FMMFM*).

In what follows, I am going to put events** in order, but add very few, if any, invented details. I will also add a couple of location links. But, it is a very interesting story, even if one only considers the events themselves.

She was born on 21 November 1779 in Volketschweil, Zuerich, Switzerland to parents Hans Jakob Sauermann (age 25) and Elisabeth Frei (age 26), and was apparently their only child***. Nothing is known about her childhood and growing up years.

At some point (perhaps at age 22 or 23), she married Martin Wintch, who had been born in the same village on 22 December 1776. Tragically, about 4 weeks before the birth of their first child, Regula's father, Hans Jakob, passed away at the age of 48 without seeing any of his grandchildren. Regula and Martin's children were Casper Heinrich Wintch (born 30 January 1803 (my FMMF)), Verena Wintsh (born 26 February 1804), and Hans Ulrich Wintsch (born 3 February 1805, but who lived to be only 15 months).

Sadly, her husband passed away on 7 May 1806, just three weeks before his youngest son. Regula was only 27 and a half years old. She had only been married 4 or 5 years.

We know nothing of her mourning the twin loss of husband and son in the space of a single month, but can assume that she was busy with her 2 and 3 year-old children (who ended up living to ripe old ages (and dying in Utah as it happens, but that is another story)).

In any case, she remarried within a year, moving to the nearby village of Bisikon in Illnau, to Hans Jakob Vollenweider who was about 33 years old. Within the space of just a few years, they had 5 children. Hans Heinrich Vollenweider (born 18 May 1808), Barbara Vollenweider (born 9 December 1809), Magdalena Vollenweider (born 23 February 1811), Adelheid Vollenweider (born 9 July 1813), and Heinrich Vollenweider (born 2 July 1817 who only lived 3 months).

Sadly, again, her second husband passed away, less than two months before his youngest son. Regula was 37 and a half years old. Again, there is nothing recorded (that I have found) of her mourning another twin loss. At this time, she had 6 children, ages 14, 13, 9, 7, 6, and 4.

Almost two years after her latest losses, on 28 July 1819, she (aged 40) married widower Kaspar Willemann (aged 50), whose first wife, Regula Maeder had died nine months earlier, leaving him with 5 living children (not counting the 4 they had lost as babies), aged 25, 24, 23, 19, and 12. One can assume that not all of these children were living at home. But still, the blended family, at the time of the wedding, included children aged 25, 24, 23, 19, 16, 15, 12, 11, 9, 8, and 6. Wow.

With Kaspar, Regula had two more children, Barbara Wylimann (born 26 May 1820) and Kaspar Wylimann (born 16 December 1822).

Her third husband lived long enough to see his children grow to adulthood--another 15 years, until 10 March 1837, when he died at the age of 68 years. Regula's mother, Elisabeth, had died just 4 months before, at the age of 83 years. Regula lived on in Bisikon another 9 and a half years, and died there 30 October 1846 at the age of 66 years.

One can only wonder what she felt about the wedding, at age 21, of her oldest son, Casper, to her oldest stepdaughter, Dorothea, then 30 years old, on 2 February 1824, back in Volketscheweil (Regula being 44 years old at that time). She would have known their three children, Rudolph Wintsch (born and died 1826), Henry Wintsch (born 15 April 1828), and Barbara Wintsch (born in 1830 (and lived to be 86 years old)).

Regula would also have experienced her oldest son's wife's death on 22 February 1835, at the age of 41 (and Regula being 55), when her two children were only 5 and 6. This must have brought back such memories of loss for her, not to mention sad for the children and Casper.

Her son Casper remarried within the year, at age 32, to the youngest sister of Dorothea, Anna (my FMMM), then almost 28, on 25 May 1835. Regula lived to see 6 of their 8 children born. These were Jakob Wintsch (born 29 August 1837), Magdalena Wintsch (born 3 March 1839), Anna Wintsch (born 12 September 1841 and died just over a year later), Hans Heinrich Wintsch (born and died in 1842), John Ulrich Wintsch (born 1 March 1843), and Elizabeth Wintsch (born 27 February 1846 and lived 5 and a half years).

Eight months after the birth of her granddaughter Elizabeth, and about ten years after the death of her mother, Elisabeth, Regula left this planet.

After her death, Caspar and Anna welcomed two additional daughters, Louise Wintsch (born 13 February 1849) and Anna Caroline Wintsch (born 12 January 1851).

Up to this point, the story of Regula Sauermann, my great-great-great-grandmother, has been told merely by putting together the dates of recorded events, and calculating peoples' ages when those events occurred, with just a little supposition.

But, fortunately, Anna Caroline Wintsch, my great-grandmother (my FMM), took the time to write some of her life's story. It has been posted on the Internet as part of Dianne Elizabeth's Family History.

If you, too, are descended from Regula Sauermann, as are countless Utahns--and many Swiss--I invite you to read her story. Among other details, you will encounter the story of the conversion to Mormonism, and the adventures of the journey of her son Casper and his wife Anna, and several of her grandchildren, out of Switzerland, across the Atlantic Ocean, and finally to Utah.
*My father's mother's mother's father's mother.

**Source:, and linked pages.

***Oddly, her parents also appear each to be only children. This is probably an artifact of the way the records have come down to us, being brought by Henry Wintch (Senior) to Utah. It is reasonable to assume that he wouldn't have brought information about his great aunts and uncles (if any). This also explains why there is so much more information about the family members who came to Utah than there is about those who stayed "behind" in Switzerland.

QR Code

Funny how long it can take to hear about something big!

The QR Code has been around since 1994. Fifteen years. Wow. And I've only learned about it, by accident, this year. It is very popular in other parts of the world.

Here is an example, the QR ("Quick Response") Code for this post*:

This could be crocheted or knit into a scarf, or published in some other way.

A cell phone, equipped with a reader for the code, could take a picture of it and then immediately go to the web page.
*The image above is actually a URL which computes the code on-the-fly from the permalink of this post (which is, Below is a static image, captured today (by screen scraping), just in case the image generator goes off-line.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Unknown Chess Champ

As I was preparing to graduate from W. R. Myers High School, a teacher/mentor (Frank Semaka) tried very hard to convince me to enroll in the University of Alberta in Edmonton. He was quite disappointed that I chose Brigham Young University instead. Why? Probably because earlier, I had had some experiences on campus, which led me to want to spend more time there. In particular, during the summer of 1967, I attended a Boy Scout conference held at Brigham Young University.

There were many enjoyable activities. I would like to be able to say memorable, but all I can actually remember is a chess tournament, which I won, after some grueling hours. As it was, I think one of the leaders talked my last opponent into resigning, to save time.

At the closing ceremonies, a plaque was awarded to the winner of each kind of competition. The printed program had all of the names and events. Except mine! But, orally, I was called up and recognized as the chess champion, and awarded the plaque. Really, I do remember this.

I have kept the plaque all these years, but have no documentary evidence to substantiate this claim. My mother believed me though, and it is her handwriting on the reverse of the plaque.

Below are pictures taken in 2009 of the obverse and reverse sides of the plaque, along with transcriptions of the text on each side. The plaque itself is a nice piece of walnut, with an embedded plastic emblem showing the logo of the conference.

Obverse (detail photo available on posterous):

L.D.S. Explorer - Ensign 1967 Leadership Conference


Bruce Conrad Chess Champ

I really need to get a better camera than the one in my cell phone!

The pictures are taken with the plaque pillowed on a quillow which my mother made for me many years later.

During my first semester at BYU, I had a lot of trouble keeping up with my classes. I finally decided that I would have to give up not only chess playing, but also science fiction reading, and concentrate on getting the grades to graduate.

Death and facebook revisited yet again

So far, two of my facebook friends have passed out of this world, and are beyond the reach of the Internet. Don Fisher and Harold Conrad.

No, this post is not about the passing of friend number three, thankfully. Instead, it is just a bit amusing, in a morbid sort of way.

When I discovered lists in facebook, I created several of them. One I labeled "deceased". My two dear departed friends are alone so far in this list.

With the recent change in the way facebook displays news on my home page, I took advantage of moving the "Status Update" item to the head of the list, and also sometimes use my friend lists to see the additional features missing from the status-updates-only news feed.

When I clicked absently on each list today, I was galvanized by this display for my "deceased" list:


"No recent posts from this list." Not too surprising. They would have to find an ISP in whatever realm* they are located, get an account, a computer, etc. etc.

But what about the suggestion, "Add friends to this list"? No, sorry, I don't want to add any more friends to this list! And, I seriously doubt--if I were led to the dread necessity of doing so--that I would actually "see more posts."

But wait. Facebook can now change such accounts into memorial accounts. I suppose that once this has happened, one could expect new news, due to people writing on the wall of this memorial account.

Apparently, it is also possible for family members to have the account of a deceased relative removed entirely. But, it would seem that this is an arduous process.
*My friend, John Quinley, suggested in conversation that, in Hell, if there were Internet access, it would probably be at dial-up speeds, with frequent outages.

The laws of form and performance

The Laws of Form is a book, written (in 1969) by George Spencer-Brown, which influenced me as a graduate student in the late 1980s. I wrote in (chapter 4 of) my dissertation that it showed "that all of Boolean logic is inherent in the single concept of distinction." In retrospect, I may have claimed this because of a criticism of the book in an article cleverly named "Flaws of Form," in which the authors claim "that Brown's system is [merely] Boolean algebra in an obscure notation." My claim is really equivalent to the detractors' but with a positive spin to it.

Distinction is a powerful intellectual tool. Another is abstraction, but I digress.

This post is about a book that I have just read, entitled "The Three Laws of Performance" (by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan) published this year (2009, forty years after the other book).

What reminded me of the other book is the odd observation that the newer book's title contains the older book's title within it, thus: The Three Laws of Performance [emphasis added]. It is a quirk of my personality that I enjoy such coincidences and word play.

However, there is a deeper reminding, having to do with the power of distinction as an intellectual tool.

The first of the three laws of performance is, "How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them." At first glance, there is no distinction drawn here. However, in the explanatory material following the first expression of this law, the authors speak of what they call the "reality illusion" [emphasis in original].

This is precisely the first great distinction of Popper's three worlds (which played an important part in chapter two of my dissertation).

The "reality illusion" is the distinction between Popper's world one and his world two. This is the distinction between reality itself (world one) and the mental constructs which we create in our minds (world two) about reality, or how we explain reality to ourselves.

The powerful thrust of the first law is that it explains people's behavior: how people behave ("perform") is consistent with ("correlates to") their mental constructs ("how situations occur to them").

Compare my sentence (from the perspective of Popper's three worlds)
How people behave is consistent with their mental constructs.
with that from the (newer) book (and the perspective of laws of performance)
How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them.
So that this post is not a plot spoiler (my readers are encouraged to read this new book), I will only say of the other two laws that they recognize that the material, or substance, of our mental constructs is language, and that language phrased in the future tense (declarative language) has greater power to change our mental constructs (than descriptive language, in present or past tense).

If you have a mathematical bent, I encourage you to read Laws of Form.

If you are interested in improving/changing your own performance, I encourage you to read The Three Laws of Performance.

Flashback Friday: Elder Sam Clark

Okay, so I didn't write this on Friday. However, I did think about it on Friday.

A couple of weeks ago, Sara and I arrived late at the Saturday evening session of stake conference, and so we had a comfortable seat on a couch in the foyer. In exchange for comfort, we gave up the ability to see the speakers.

The concluding speaker caught my attention when he mentioned working as a missionary in the France-Switzerland mission. Why did this catch my attention?

I was called to serve in the French East Mission by President Joseph Fielding Smith* but shortly into my mission the name of the mission was changed to "La Mission Franco-Suisse" in French, which, translated, is the "France-Switzerland Mission." This new name only lasted a few months, because at that time the church** standardized the names of all missions based on the city in which the mission home is located. Our mission became known then as the Switzerland Geneva Mission. So, I ended up serving in three different missions, at least as far as the name goes.

So, the speaker, who worked in the France-Switzerland mission, must have been called to his mission during those few months when that was indeed the name of the mission. So, it was probably someone that I knew!

I spent some time that evening thinking about who it might be. Which led me into the "flashback" mode, which finally resulted in this post.

As a missionary, I spent quite a few months in the mission home, working as the mission recorder. Basically keeping track of who was who in church membership within the mission. I also helped the mission printer out quite a bit and really enjoyed that as well. I also did various miscellaneous things, including driving the children of the mission president (Elder Charles Didier) to their music lessons.

One day, Elder Sam Clark, who was a zone leader needed a companion to drive to some city not too far away, and I went with him. Part of the driving was after dark and we got to singing hymns and other songs. After awhile we began harmonizing. It was a lot of fun. And, that's about all that I remember from that trip.

Back to the present, where we got to the Sunday session a bit early, so that I could get a seat near the front. Sure enough, the visiting authority was Elder Samuel W. Clark of the Seventy. The same man with whom I had spent a few pleasant hours harmonizing, nearly forty years ago.

I shook his hand after the session, but don't think he remembered me, because he said that I hadn't changed a bit (and those who have known me for forty years know that I have***). It is a little disconcerting to have someone your same age become an authority. I remember when it happened with my doctor. And then there are the dentists, police, and bosses who are often (much) younger than me.

Anyway, it was good to see Elder Clark again after all these years. Unlike myself, he has changed very little in appearance (in particular, he still has hair).
*I recall being a bit disappointed to have just missed (by a week or so) getting President David O. McKay's signature on my mission call. But, that was my own fault, for delaying nearly a year.
**At that time it was okay to speak of the church as "the church." Now, the church requires that at the first mention of its name, the name be given in full, as "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." In the spirit of the "first shall be last, and the last shall be first, I shall use the name in full here, at (as) the last mention.
***For reference, here are pictures of me taken just over 40 years ago, and about two years ago:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reunion Game

The reunion game was invented by Sara, specifically for one of the reunions we attended this year. Each sibling told stories from their lives, and if a story was new to anyone listening, that person put a jelly bean in the sibling's jar. Even though Colleen was not physically present, she played one of the nights by phone (Skype).

The image below shows the jelly bean jars at the end of the game. It is also posted at, from which you can see the full-sized image.

We had intended to play the game for two hours each night, but we only ended up playing two nights. Myrna had to leave early enough on the third day that she couldn't have played. She only played one night, so you can see that she would have given Arlene a good run otherwise. Of the four hours total that we played, Arlene and I were present the whole time, Myrna half of the time and Colleen one fourth of the time. So, you can see that we all had stories to tell.

As you can clearly see, Arlene won the game, and the prize: a Costco gift card shown in the big purple clothespin Sara purchased for the event.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Questions and Answers

Now that I've blogged about it, I don't mind so much seeing the poster in the elevator. You know: the one with the apostrophe error.

Some fun things have occurred to me. This is a series of questions and answers. Of course, each question could have any number of possible answers, some better than others. I will place here sample answers which please me*.

What is the first punctuation symbol in the answer to this question?

It's its apostrophe.

What is the last punctuation symbol in the answer to this question?

It's its period.

No, wait, it's its exclamation point!

What is the third punctuation symbol in the answer to this question?

It's its question mark? No, wait, it must be its comma, as are its fourth and fifth.

Alternatively, why isn't it its question mark?
*Can you see why students just loved my examinations when I was a professor?

Monday, October 19, 2009

The horror of a misplaced apostrophe

The last few days, I've been bothered by a poster in an elevator. Finally, I just had to take a picture of it with my low resolution cell phone camera.


It's a bit blurry, but its text is shown in the caption. Here the apostrophe is curiously placed.

According to the wikipedia article on the apostrophe, "it has two main functions: it marks omissions, and it assists in marking the possessives of nouns and some pronouns."

The omission in the text is clearly the first part of the year 2009. So, it should read, "Shop the Fall '09 collections..." with the apostrophe placed at the place where the omitted text is omitted.

Like quite a few of my posts, this one resonates with thousands of places on the web, including a clever collection of limericks, a plea for correct usage, and even t-shirts.

And for those wondering about its use in one particularly tricky case, it's explained with plenty of examples on

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lying to Children

Right up there with taking candy away from babies.

I had a memorable experience in a school science class. The teacher asked us to tell him about the sun. Everyone looked around smugly. This was an easy one. One classmate raised his hand and proudly proclaimed, "The sun is a big ball of burning gases." He looked around, and we all nodded our sage heads in confirmation.

The teacher went on to explain to us that the sun was not burning gases, but rather a thermonuclear reaction. Fusion to be exact, and as Einstein's famous equation helps us understand, a little bit of gas goes a long way in creating the energy that we receive here on the Earth as heat and light.

That was very interesting, from a scientific point of view. Something even more interesting happened during that class, from a social point of view. Many students were upset that this hadn't been explained to us much earlier. Upset that we had been told the burning gases theory. As one student put it, "They lied to us!" And, we were upset that we had believed it so easily.

But was it a lie? Or was it just a simplification?

We all had experience with fire and burning things. Fire also creates heat and light. None of us had any experience with nuclear reactions. So why not teach us that the sun was a ball of burning gases?

Not only teachers engage in this simplification/lying. Parents, too, tell their children all kinds of stories. We know that they are at an impressionable age, an age when it is difficult for them to distinguish truth from fiction.

Consider the so-called fairy tales. We adults know that they are fiction. But do our children?

In a recent facebook exchange, my niece Josie wanted "to point out that Cinderella is living proof that shoes CAN change your life!" [emphasis in original; see below]

Very clever, Josie. I responded with a tongue-in-cheek question, "In what sense is Cinderella living?" Everyone (except perhaps most of the small children in our audience) knows that Cinderella is a fictional character, and therefore does not really "live" as we do.

Note that Josie's friend interjects with what feels like a great deal of passion, "In our hearts!"

Exactly. Notwithstanding her being fictional, Cinderella does live. In many hearts. As a role model. As an example of courage and determination. As a woman who got ahead by wearing the right shoes.

I touched on this kind of reality in my dissertation, while describing Popper's three worlds explanation of those things which exist.

So in a way, we lie twice to our children. First, we allow them to believe that a fairy tale is true, when it is in fact fiction. Then, later, we deny the reality of the fairy tale, saying, "Oh, that's just a story."

It is both more complicated and simpler than that. The story exists in (Popper's) world 3, and in fact, existed there long before we were born, having been created long ago in someone's world 2. It exists in fact in many world 1 artifacts: books, audio tracks, film, television, theatrical productions, etc.

When it was read to Josie, many years ago, there was a book (existing in world1) and a reader (both world 1 and world 2), and especially, a listener (the world 2 of Josie) who incorporated the story in all of its elements into her own very personal reality. The character (existing in world 3) of Cinderella is very real.

So, is lying to children okay, then? Taking candy from a baby could actually save it's life in some cases. Something to think about.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Yes/No Questions

I have a bad habit--or is it just a personality quirk? It is a tendency to ask questions in pairs.

This morning, as I was about to take a shower, I noticed a hanger over the curtain rod. Last night, Sara's sari, which she had hand-washed, had been hanging to dry inside. So I asked, "Can I take a shower now? Or should I wait?" She didn't answer. How could she? At least not with one word.

A few weeks ago, I texted her, "R u busy? can u come get me?" To which she replied, "No yes".

I wonder, will anyone like this post? Or is it too silly?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Year of Reunions

This year was a big one for reunions in our family. My wife Sara did an excellent job of organizing 4 and catering 3 of them. She made great fliers, planned the menus and activities, and prepared and served meals.

In all, we attended reunions for the brothers and sisters of: her father, herself, her mother, myself, and my father's father. Unfortunately, because of conflicts we missed another one for my mother's brothers and sisters, that was held in Stirling, Alberta, Canada.

Earlier this summer, some of the descendants of Sara's father's parents met in Mount Pleasant, Utah. We took our motor home and enjoyed a few meals in the park and near the rodeo grounds with Sara's relatives. The group also visited a museum containing many of the works of Avard Fairbanks (Sara's father's uncle) in the nearby town of Fairview. This was followed by another meal and a penny auction, at which Sara did a hilarious job as auctioneer. We drove the motor home out to the Fairview cemetery where we found the grave sites of her ancestors. Unfortunately their gravestones have completely eroded away. Her grandfather was one of the founders of the town.

A reunion was organized for my grandfather's brothers and sisters and their families in the South Fork of the Provo River Canyon around the fourth of July. It was wonderful to see so many second cousins, including several that I met for the first time. My sister Colleen and her husband were there also. I hiked with them and their son Michael and my cousin John's son Caleb through some of the fields of the Conrad homestead on the bench above the home itself.

Later in the summer, Sara's mother and most of her children gathered with their families in Tamarack, Idaho. We rented a great lodge where we enjoyed meals together, and watched the video "Dan in Real Life". Many of us went white water river rafting in the nearby Payette River. A great time was had by all.

On October 1st, Sara's mother and her brothers and sisters met for lunch at the club house of the community in which we live, across the street from our house.

That same afternoon we drove off to visit my daughter Elizabeth and her husband Cody in Rexburg, Idaho. After sharing a meal at a Thai restaurant, and breakfast the next morning, we drove to a great hunting lodge on Bridger Hill Drive near Bozeman, Montana. Interior shot here:

We spent three wonderful days there, with a fire crackling most of the time in the fireplace. Sara provided three great meals each day, and we enjoyed nature (including several deer and a chipmunk) and the hot tub, along with each other's company. My sisters Arlene and Myrna were able to join us, with their husbands. Unfortunately, harvest duties kept Colleen and her husband on the farm.

On the way home, we drove through Yellowstone National Park, stopping to see Old Faithful erupt, and visited Elizabeth and Cody again.

As we reflected on this year, and marveled at our great enjoyment of time spent with relatives, we thought of family and in particular of parents raising children, and how our reunions honor them. Today we found this quote from the April 1991 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in which Elder Dallin H. Oaks said this about honoring parents:
To persons whose parents are dead, honoring parents is likely to involve thoughts of family reunions, family histories, temple work, and commitment to the great causes in which departed parents spent their lives. [emphasis added]
This year we were involved more than just thinking about these things. Sara has done so much with family reunions, and I am very grateful to her for that. My sister Colleen does much with family histories, essentially writing an illustrated book for each ancestor. We all engage in temple work. Probably the greatest cause in which our parents spent their lives was raising their children, and we are perpetuating that through the generations.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Blue and gray getaway

This is what we have named our motor home. Not quite the tongue-twister as the name of our stay-at-home home.

We recently returned from a trip to Marin County, California for the wedding of a friend. The motor home performed well, providing us with both transportation and shelter.

Our itinerary:

Sept. 16 departure just after sunset, traveling as far as West Wendover, Nevada, where we slept for awhile in a truck parking area.

Sept. 17 on the road again before sunrise. We drove just past Reno to "Boomtown" where we enjoyed an afternoon of swimming and napping at a KAO RV park. Overnight stay.

Sept. 18 departure in the morning and arrival at Marin RV Park just after noon. Our friends drove us to a rehearsal dinner. Great location (Presidio Yacht Club), good food and atmosphere, including a mariachi band. Fabulous view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We borrowed one of their cars to drive "home" to the RV park.

Sept. 19 drove to the wedding in Petaluma, and arrived a little late because we took a detour and got lost for awhile. It was a beautiful and moving ceremony. Once some photos have been posted on facebook, I will provide a link here for facebook friends.

Sept. 20 drove to church services in San Rafael, home again, then back to San Rafael to meet our friends at the farmers' market. To their home for dinner. They dropped us off at the RV park.

Sept. 21 enjoyed a walk to a nearby shopping center and bought some great walking shoes. So the walk back to the RV park was 100% better. We took the 70 bus to the Golden Gate Bridge in the afternoon. It was completely shrouded in fog, although the weather was sunny and warm where we came from. I walked to the halfway point of the bridge again, and met Sara on the way back. Our bus dropped us near the RV park just as the sun was setting.

Sept. 22 walked to the nearby Larkspur Landing and rode the catamaran ferry "Mendocino" into San Francisco, then hopped on the Muni F to the end of the line. We visited Ghirardelli Square then walked back to Pier 31 for the ferry to Alcatraz, where we enjoyed seeing the island and cell blocks. The same trip in reverse (minus the detour to Ghirardelli Square) and we got back to Larkspur Landing about 6:30 p.m. and were picked up by our friends for another evening of visiting and dining.

Sept. 23 walked along the nearby Greenbrae boardwalk, an interesting neighborhood with the houses all on stilts along the Corte Madera Creek. Met some of the inhabitants and enjoyed speaking with them. One of the homes at 133 is for sale for three quarters of a million dollars. Left around noon driving the blue and gray getaway. We found a spot at the Zephyr Cove (Nevada) RV Park at dusk and settled in for the night.

Sept. 24 awoke early and walked across the road to the lake. It was wonderful to watch it as the sun came up.

We arranged to stay another night, which involved moving to a nearby spot. In the afternoon we went swimming in the lake. It was delicious. A bit cold getting in, but we were warm afterward, even walking back home.

I also indulged in a bit of boulder climbing that morning, as shown in some photos at the end of this post.

Sept. 25 left around noon and drove as far as West Wendover where we again overnighted in truck parking.

Sept. 26 arrived home to the blue box on blocks around 9:15 a.m.

The boulder climbing near Lake Tahoe, illustrated here:

Monday, August 24, 2009

Blue Box on Blocks

That is what I have named our new home. A fun tongue twister of a name.

Above is what it looked like the day we made our offer to buy. The grass isn't quite as green any more, what with all the heat.

So far, we are liking it a lot. There is a small back yard with a couple of apple trees, some roses, and other vegetation.

At about 1600 square feet, it is twice as big as the condo where we used to live, and it is still only a 5 minute commute to work (although I now have to drive (or take the bus) instead of walking).

Visitors welcome!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Flashback Friday: Banking in Switzerland

A long time ago, I lived for a few months in Geneva, Switzerland, and came to know and love the city.

A few years later (in the mid-1970's), I worked for awhile at a Swiss bank in Geneva.

A decade later, in 1987, on a Friday as it happened, I was checking into a hotel in Geneva.

The hotel didn't accept credit cards. Moment of panic. But, wait, no problem. All I needed was to find an ATM and do a cash withdrawal. But (unlike everywhere in the UK and France) the city did not have a single ATM! More panic. But wait, no problem. Just find a bank and get a cash advance.

The only problem was that none of the nearby banks accepted credit cards.

I was very surprised. Swiss banking has such a reputation, but they weren't up to (the then) modern standards in the credit card area. The banks were all very luxurious and classically furnished. But, it was clear there were two banking systems: the modern and the traditional.

As the afternoon wore on and bank closing time loomed, I got more and more panicky. Finally, I found a bank that had a relationship with a bank somewhere else who could do it for me. Got across the city just in time, got an advance, and was able to pay for the hotel for the weekend. Whew!

Now, fast forward to the present. I was reminded of this when I tried to stop an automatic transfer at my current bank. This isn't one of the transfers that I can manage myself at their internet site, so I phoned. After identifying myself and asking about the transfer, I asked if I had caught it in time to stop the next one (tomorrow). The girl said, "Oh, no, we need fourteen days."

Fourteen days?!? The Internet website has gotten me used to quicker responses. Fourteen seconds* would have seemed too long to wait.

So, 22 years later, again on a Friday, I discover that there are still two banking systems, even here in America. The modern one and the traditional one.
*Coincidentally, the phone call itself took 14 minutes (much of it on hold).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Don't get old

Such was the advice my father used to give when talking about the frailties of his aging years.

It was partly an attempt at humor to change the subject. Dad didn't like to complain. Even though his health deteriorated pretty steadily over the last 22 years of his life (after a stroke) until his death from (officially) starvation. There was a long way to go from the vibrant, healthy, strong man's man that I knew growing up, and that few of his grandchildren can remember.

Sometimes, I find myself telling my own children, "Don't get old." But, I always try to catch myself, because the only alternative that I am aware of to growing old is to die young. And that is something that I honestly can't wish upon any of my children. Or nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.

Writer's Block

Okay, I really can't claim to be suffering from writer's block, which is an affliction of professional writers.

During the time since my last post, I have been suffering not from a lack of ideas for things to write about, but rather an over-abundance. And, there isn't a lot of time to indulge in this anyway.

Today, I followed the wikipedia page (linked to above) to these places (in the order of my exploration), which I found all to be fascinating. Now, I have to get to work.
  1. asemic writing
  2. lorem ipsum
  4. greeking
  5. metasyntactic variable
  6. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
  7. esoteric programming languages
So, with all this interesting stuff, where is the time to write?

I did a little digging through old computer files*, because, once upon a time, I created an esoteric programming language myself, for the amusement of my children. It was named "dust".

*If you do a "View Source" you'll see that the dust.htm web page was generated from Corel WordPerfect 8. I was tempted to clean it up and get rid of the extra vertical space, but decided to leave it just as it was generated from my original recounting of one evening's experience.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Touching base

I recently received email messages bringing me up to date on the families of two of my school friends. It was very interesting reading, and good to know what everyone was doing, where they were, etc. Rather than responding directly, I decided to post the information here.

My sisters and I are somewhat scattered, but (with few exceptions) all along Alberta Highways 2, 3 and 4 and the I-15 corridor.

As for me, I have found and married the love of my life, Sara Anne, and live in an "empty nest" in Salt Lake City (you can find a picture of where we live in this post). We have been happily married for four and a half years. We met in community theater and enjoy sharing that hobby.

Colleen and her husband LeRon live and farm near Grassy Lake, along with their three sons (Michael, Craig, Eric), while two daughters live near Chicago (Heather, Michelle (husband Andy and son Matthew)).

Arlene and husband Michael have a construction/demolition/cleaning business near San Diego, and live near their daughter (Jenna (husband Bob and children)) and son (Lance).

Myrna and husband Bruce live in Orem, with Myrna being a music librarian at B.Y.U. near to most of their children (Kelline (husband Jonathan and children), Abra and children living in Alberta, David, Nancy (husband Andrew and daughter Rachel) living in Egypt(!), Patrick, and Josie).

All of us are college educated, which is quite a remarkable achievement for our parents, who didn't have that opportunity. Our father left us in 2000, and mother followed him three years later. They lived in Raymond, having retired from farming in 1986. Shortly after retirement, they spent a year and a half in Salt Lake City, on a mission in the granite vaults, which they enjoyed greatly.

My first wife Christine (now going by Marie) has been happily married to Philippe for thirty years and has a son Jean-Christophe who is an astrophysicist, all living in France. We had been married for 7 years before the divorce, and lived in Provo until I graduated from B.Y.U. and then in France, first in a suburb of Paris, and later in Brittany near the coast.

My second wife Judy has been happily married to Wally (a widower with 6 children) for many years and lives in Provo. While Christine and I had no children, Judy brought three wonderful step-daughters into my life (Heather (husband Mel and daughter Madeline), Melinda (husband Jim and children), Carlie (husband Mike and boys)). And later we had Elizabeth (married to Cody and living in Rexburg, Idaho) and Andrew who attends UVU in Orem. We had been married for 16 years before divorcing, having lived in Tucson (while I finished a Masters degree), Raymond (where I taught at the University of Lethbridge), and Orem (where I worked for WordPerfect and Novell).

Sara brought six more great step-children into my life (Eli (wife Sadie and son Lucas), Rachel (husband Jason and children), Ben, Ammon, Helaman, Jessica). We have taken many trips together. One of the most memorable was a month spent in Bangalore, India, along with her three youngest and my niece Josie. Jessica has recently left home, and we are contemplating our options for this new phase of life.

Death and facebook revisited

Well, it has happened again. Another dear facebook friend has passed away.

This time it was my cousin, Harold Conrad, who has been ill for over a year. When I learned of his illness, I wrote some memories that I have of growing up with him, in a post entitled "Effects of a great man." After mingling with many of his friends and family recently, I learned that I am not alone in this high opinion of him.

His obituary gives a nice summary of his life, and includes this photo.

In this case, it turned out that all of his facebook friends are family members, so everyone knew of his illness and passing. A look at his facebook wall will show pictures of the time last summer when his brothers and sisters gathered near Taber, and my sisters and I were able to visit with him there as well. It was a great reunion.

This is another case where it would be nice if he could have selected someone to manage his account after his departure. It would have been an ideal place to post information about his funeral service. His friends could have commented on the link, thus enabling their friends to see the comment and spread the knowledge of his passing further into the network of people who knew him.

For example, one of my facebook friends communicated this to me privately.
I was so sorry to hear of Harold's passing. After we got the message from you via Facebook, we looked for his obituary notice in the paper and couldn't find it until today. If it weren't for Facebook, we wouldn't even have known about it. [emphasis added]

If I had shared a link to the obituary in facebook, they would have been able to find the obituary immediately.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Death and facebook

Facebook allows people to share personal information with their friends on the Internet.

It was written by very young people (college students) and appeals mainly to very young people. Nevertheless, some older people are also using it to maintain contact with friends.

Sometimes, a user of facebook dies. An acquaintance of mine, Don Fisher, passed away last October. I heard about it just recently, through other channels.

So, it occurs to me, why doesn't facebook deal with death? In the edit profile section, there is no way to indicate that you are dead.

We ought to be able to designate some other facebook user as our executor, giving that person the ability to change our profile to show our death. The executor ought to be able to post an obituary on our profile, and our friends ought to hear about our death, hopefully, in time to make plans to attend the funeral.

Facebook isn't the only company that doesn't deal well with death. When my mother passed away, we had to contact Melaleuca, a company with which she had a contract, in order to cancel future deliveries and the concomitant financial obligation.

As I carried out these duties, I spoke with someone on the telephone, and they acted as if they didn't believe she had died. Perhaps others, not liking the commitments, had attempted to get out of them is like manner? In any case, we finally agreed that I would send them an official death certificate, and they would release my mother from her obligations.

Unless there is some way to get an Internet connection in the great beyond, there is no reason for a company like facebook to be in denial of death.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Farm Injury

Farming can be a dangerous industry. Accidents happen, and they can be severe. Our small farming community of Taber has experienced its share of tragedies.

I remember the first time I drove each of my dad's tractors. I started with a small, red one. After a bit, I was allowed to try the big orange one (similar to someone else's, pictured here).

Allis Chalmers D17 tractor

For some reason, this view of it always reminds me of a grasshopper. 

For controls, it has a clutch, gear shift, two brake pedals (one for each rear wheel), and a steering wheel. The clutch pedal and gear shift lever are clearly visible in this picture.

Showing clutch pedal and gear shift lever

It also has a lever which has a neutral position, a slow position (towards the driver) and a fast position (away from the driver). There is no gas pedal, just a hand operated selector behind the steering wheel. Finally, there is an ignition key. The lever and the two brake pedals are clearly visible in this picture.

View of brake pedals and control lever

To move forward, you make sure the lever is in neutral, shift into the desired gear, set the initial gas position, and finally pull the lever towards you. To go a bit faster, push the lever through neutral into the faster position. And of course, you can always give it more gas.

I remember countless trips out to the fields with my dad driving, me sitting on the fender beside his seat, sort of facing inwards towards him and turned a bit to the front. In the next picture, you can see the top of the gear shift lever, the control lever to the right, steering wheel, ignition switch just below that, and the gas controls behind the wheel.

Front facing view showing the control lever on the right

And that is the view I had, as I was returning from my first test drive. I intended to park facing a granary. I approached at slow speed, and, to stop, pushed the lever away from me, towards its neutral position. But, I pushed it too hard and the tractor went faster! It gently nudged the granary and then the rear wheels continued to turn and it bucked up and down. I tried the brakes, but just managed to get it twisting a bit as I pressed harder first on one brake, then on the other. I thought about the clutch, the ignition, etc. Finally, I realized what I had done to the lever and pulled it ever so gently back into the neutral position, and the bucking stopped. I was then able to stop the engine, and get down. A bit dazed, but no harm done.

Dad worked for many years as a farmer, with no serious accident. But finally, it was his turn, I guess. Myrna describes the accident from her point of view in her post, "Flashback to 1965."

Here is how our mother told the story:
"During the beet harvest of 1965, my husband Arnold was topping beets with a Marbeet - topper, when he impatiently kicked at some beets that were stuck in the cutter. His heel got caught in the pickup spikes and his foot was dragged into the cutter. To free his foot he had to reverse the engine. The spikes tore at his jeans and heavy leather work shoes. He was alone and had to wait for his truck driver, Thelma Winchester, to come in the truck from the other part of the field. She brought him in the truck to the house, and I took him to the hospital. Part of the thickness of the fibula (leg bone) was gone, and the muscle was torn. He was in the Taber hospital for three weeks. Kind relatives and friends finished the beet harvest. Later on Arnold was hospitalized again, and bone from his hip was grafted to his fibula. His leg was in a cast for about six months."

This post is illustrated with a few pictures*. Here is a view of the Marbeet topper. Looks a bit like a medieval torture device, which is what it became for dad on that fateful day.

Marbeet topper

This machine must be mounted on the tractor, and fits between the front and rear wheels on the right side, and fairly snugly up against the tractor. Try to imagine the tractor and harvester combined into a single machine. The spiked wheel ends up just in front of the control lever on the right side. The tractor also tows a wheeled hopper that receives the topped beets.

The combined tractor/topper machine harvests one row of sugar beets at a time. A plow ahead of the spiked wheel loosens the soil. The spiked wheel turns, snags the beet roots, pulling them out of the ground as it turns. Just past the top of the wheel, sharp disks slice off the tops which are rubbed off the spikes and fall to the ground. The topped beet roots are thrown to the right (by the spinning disks) onto a kind of escalator that takes the topped beets up and behind the driver where they fall off into the towed hopper.

If you look closely at the spiked wheel, you'll see that the spikes are curved a bit towards the front on the top, and therefore towards the rear at the bottom where they grab into the top of each beet root. From time to time, a beet doesn't make it cleanly through the spinning disk and dad would give it just a little kick to send it on its way. He must have done this thousands of times over the years.

The accident occurred when, on one of the these kicks, he got the heel of his work boot caught by one of the curved spikes. He had more presence of mind that I did on my first test drive (not to mention years more of experience), so I'm sure he was able to stop the machine quite quickly.

Getting it into reverse so that his boot could be backed out away from the blades must have been a lot harder. His right leg would have been pulled forward quite a bit, and he had to somehow reach down with his left foot hard enough to actuate the clutch so that he could shift into reverse. He must have been kind of half standing to perform this maneuver. Once the gear shift was in reverse, he could relax a bit, then pull the lever gently towards him, so as to move the whole machine in reverse so that he could extricate his foot.

Then of course, he had to wait to be discovered and taken to help. One can only imagine the thoughts and feelings that must have coursed through him as he waited. Pain of course, embarrassment for the flawed kick, worry about getting the rest of the crop harvested, etc. Thank goodness for loving family and neighbors who took care of everything while he recovered. Our town wasn't much for open verbal expressions of love, but whenever one of us needed help, people came forward. Thank you, townspeople of Taber.

*The pictures are taken from two websites. Rather than steal bandwidth from these sites, I have put copies of the pictures elsewhere. I hope the two sites will consider this a fair use. In any case, you are invited to click on any of the pictures to visit the sites from which the pictures are taken.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fall on a Spring Day

This is a story from many years ago, concerning a fall on a spring morning. It's told from three different points of view. First my own voice, remembering, then what I recall from my father's memory, and finally, my mother's own voice.

One spring day, my father woke me up early, and asked me if I would climb up a telephone pole near our house (seven miles out of town) and do a repair. Most likely I complained because sleeping in was my preference. I remember it being a beautiful spring morning, just before sunrise, but already quite light outside. There was plenty of time to do the repair, then get ready for school and catch the number six school bus into town.

Dad drove a three ton truck beside the pole, set up a ladder, in the truck bed, leaning up towards the top of the pole. I strapped some spikes* onto my legs. This was pretty exciting, as I had wanted to use these before, but had never been allowed.

I climbed to the top of the ladder, then put a strap around me and the pole, dug in the first spike and climbed to the top**. It was quite heady to have two spikes holding my weight while I leaned back into the belt. And pretty exciting too, to be 30 feet above the ground. The last thing that I remembered was pounding on the nails in a wooden bracket at the top of the pole with a hammer.

I awoke in a hospital bed, and the first thing I told the nurse was that I had done it to get out of going to school. I remember some friends from school visiting me during my hospital stay. In the end, all that was wrong was a few cracked ribs.

Talking it over with Dad later, he said he was working across the road and heard the distinctive squeak of a barbed wire fence being stretched. He looked up and the pole was gone!

After running across the road, he found me, still strapped to the pole, which was on top of me, but with my back bent over backwards on a ditch bank. He thought that I was dead and held me in his arms. Since I was still breathing, I was taken to the hospital.

Talking it through, we decided that I must have fallen down on top of the pole, because it fell away from the side that I was facing. The pole must have bounced, possibly from hitting the barbed wire, and paused long enough for my body to slide around to the bottom side of the pole, which then landed again on top of me. It would be hard to imagine surviving a more direct fall.

My mother wrote the story herself, this way:

My husband "was the trouble shooter for our local telephone line but because his leg was in a cast, he was not able to climb the telephone poles to repair the lines. The next spring ... the line was down at our own house, south of our yard. [He] asked our son Bruce if he would climb the pole and do the fixing. Bruce was reluctant because he had never done it before, and I thought, 'There he goes like a lamb to the slaughter!' He had to put on some heavy metal climbers and a heavy leather belt to fasten himself to the pole."
"We didn’t know at that time, that in the spring time, poles are unstable under the ground. As I watched from the window, when Bruce got to the top of the pole, I noticed that the pole was starting to fall sideways. Bruce was strapped on but his weight made it so that the pole would come down on top of him."
"We had a tradition in our family that whenever there was some special need, someone would say 'family prayer' and we would kneel on the floor together wherever we were and have a family prayer. And I think in the kitchen that day, we were on our knees before the pole hit the ground."
"I thought surely he would be terribly hurt or killed but miraculously he wasn’t. He was taken to the hospital and was told that he would be in bed for a few months. Instead it was just a few weeks and he was recovered and back to school. I know it was through prayer and priesthood blessings that Bruce recovered so quickly and I’m so thankful for the blessings of our Heavenly Father."

*Something like these:

**If you haven't ever seen this done, there are some images on the Internet of others climbing in this way: cody climbing the same tree, but he has done this a lot more than I have