Monday, November 29, 2010

NaBloPoMo 2010

Okay, in honor of National Blog Posting Month, I will make a monthly post this month. Yeah, just one--I know it was supposed to be 30.

This has to do with being a Canadian.

My wonderful wife, along with being very supportive, does make fun of me once in awhile, and often it has to do with something from my Canadian upbringing.

One such thing is the way I pronounce "been" to rhyme with "seen". I present the lyrics from a popular song as evidence of the correctness of my pronunciation.

Oh what a laugh it would have been
If Daddy had only seen
Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night.

This should be a rhyme, right?

However, today on the way home from the funeral of her uncle, we heard the song performed and heard the singer sing "been" like "bin". Sure enough, I am out of touch with others south of the 49th.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I owe my life to sugar

I am currently trying a diet which avoids all sugars, in an attempt to manage the symptoms of rosacia.

This is ironic, because I owe my life to sugar.

My family of origin lived on a farm 7½ miles north of Taber. Our mother worked hard inside the home; laundry, meal preparation, childcare, etc. Our father was working in the fields or with the cattle or farm machinery from sunrise to sunset, and often even in the night. We children helped out as needed, and were expected to do well in school and work on our homework as well.

The family income came solely from mixed farming. We had twenty or so beef cattle, mostly cows (except in the Spring), and a milk cow. We had an extensive vegetable garden and fruit trees and bushes. We grew wheat and pastureland, and, especially, sugar beets. I say "especially" because sugar beets were our biggest cash crop, and provided the bulk of the annual income. This crop gave us our lives, and we gave a good deal of our lives over to it. And risked our lives for it: earlier, I have recounted our father's serious accident with our sugar beet harvester in "Farm Injury".

That is how I owe my life to sugar, even though I may now need to stop consuming it.

One final irony, this one political. Over the years, I have been tempted to criticize farm subsidies. You know, talk about farmers being paid to leave their land fallow, and such. During my teenage years, I learned that our cash crop--sugar beets--was subsidized by the Canadian government. It seems that other sources of sugar, from other countries, were much cheaper than the actual cost of producing sugar from sugar beets. So, a free market economy would put the sugar beet industry out of business. However, Canada wants to be independent of other countries for its sugar supply. Therefore, the Canadian government subsidizes the sugar beet industry so that it remains profitable, and so that Canadians can continue to enjoy reasonably-priced sugar regardless of world conditions.

So, I also owe my life to agricultural subsidies, even though I am a fan of a free economy.

While on the subject of ironies of life-owing, this: since I am descended from the second wife of a polygamous great-grandfather, I owe my life to polygamy, even though I oppose polygamy now.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Playing with food

Okay, this is another bit of proof that I am weird.

Anyone can read this blog, of course, since it is on the public Internet. But, my main purpose in writing it is to record a few things that might be of interest someday to my children. Most of the interesting dialog that happens in my head never goes any further. So, here is a tiny fraction of one evening's worth.

Last night, my wife and I took her son and his girlfriend out to dinner at a Chinese buffet. As usual, I created a symmetrical work of art out of each plateful, as I selected it. The last plate was a bit boring at first, so I played around with it while eating. And--can you believe it?--actually took a picture of it.

This reminded me of eating grapes with my sisters around the kitchen table in the farmhouse when we were kids. Grapes were not an everyday food then, and quite a treat when we got to have some. And, we did things like hold one stem upright, so that it looked like a tree. Then we would tell each other stories about Farmer Brown and his harvest, as we picked and ate one grape at a time. Fond memories.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Flashback: Near-death experiences

Disclaimer: the phrase "near-death experiences" usually refers to cases where a person is medically dead, and subsequently revived. In this post, I am talking about cases where I came close to dying, but did not actually do so.

I will mention four of these in this post, although there have been others.

1. At age 15, I fell with a telephone pole while doing some repairs at the top of it. This has already been told in full in "Fall on a Spring day".

2. At age 20, while walking the streets of Geneva, Switzerland, my companion and I approached a street corner and the sidewalk narrowed to a few inches, so we were walking single file. Just as I reached the corner, a city bus came around the corner with its mirror just missing the wall. It was at eye level. Fortunately, I ducked in time, as did my companion.

3. A few months later, in Béziers, France, I was on "splits" with a Zone Leader. He was able to drive a car (while I only had a "moped") and I was in the passenger seat. We pulled up to a stop sign at a narrow road which allowed trucks to by-pass the city. He looked both ways (even though it was a one-way road) and then, instead of pulling forward, leaned back and continued talking to me about something. Moments later, he must have seen a car pull up behind him, out of the corner of his eye in the rear-view mirror, so he started moving. I saw an 18 wheeler bearing down on us at top speed and so yelled, «attention!» (French for "look out!). He hit the brakes, and the truck hit us. I can still see each set of wheels going up, over the top of our engine, and down. One after the other, each axle of wheels slammed into and over the car, just inches in front of our faces. Strangely, the car wasn't moved laterally. Just smashed. And, we survived uninjured.

4. When I was approaching 40, and had two young children, my wife and I, along with Elizabeth and Andrew were in our Plymouth minivan, south of Springville, Utah. We were stopped at a railway level crossing by blinking red warning lights. There was no barrier. We waited what seemed like several minutes. No train. Must have been a malfunction of some kind? Just as I was relaxing my brake foot and getting ready to cross, a freight train screamed past. Yet another close call.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Friday Flashback: Western stories

False advertising alert: since I grew up in the West, technically all of my stories are Western stories. Well, anyway, let me ramble through a few.

This post is partly about television. Our family purchased a first TV set sometime in the late 50's or early 60's. I particularly enjoyed westerns, especially John Wayne. While watching one one evening, I became enamored of the phrase, "put up your dukes." The next day, I tried it out at school and the kid promptly knocked me to the floor! This was in elementary school, as we were walking out the door for recess. Needless to say, I never used the phrase again (without heavy quotes) and didn't get into any more fights.

About this time, a few friends and I formed a science club in elementary school. One of the kids kind of took everything over, so the rest of us quit the club.

In my Junior High School days, I had a favorite TV show. Just after arriving home on the school bus, Fireball XL-5 came on, and I watched it every chance I had. Even though color TV's were available at the time, we had a black and white set. And, one channel, channel 7 out of Lethbridge.

My sister and I both wrote stories for that western newspaper, the Winnipeg Free Press Weekly. The one that appeared from me had the pen name of "Solar Scout," another indication of my early interest in space travel.

All of this dreaming about space travel might have helped motivate me to get good grades, culminating in the ninth grade with my receiving the Governor General's medal. An article in the Lethbridge Herald covered the announcement.

Later, in High School, some of us organized a science club, called the Apogee Scientific Organization. We flew model rockets, among other things.

Just after graduating, during the summer, I hit a softball for the first time in my life (other than practicing alone). It was actually a home run, and very sweet, because one of my former school mates happened to be walking by at the time, and as I ran to first, I heard him ask in wonderment, "was that Conrad who hit that?"

Monday, June 21, 2010


The seat belt buckle is held above the floor by a little plastic button that is riveted onto the seat belt at the right height. The plastic button is black and visible in the middle of the belt towards the bottom of this picture.

Sometimes, it breaks off. Thereafter it can become difficult to find the buckle, because it can slide along the belt all the way to the floor.

I first tried a safety pin for awhile, reasoning that the small hole in the belt must not be a safety hazard because the hole is there for the original equipment button in the first place. However, when the safety pin comes undone, it can cause some damage to a questing hand.

So, I used a large keyring. Carefully starting it through the pre-existing hole in the seat belt, I worked it around until it was entirely in place, encircling half of the belt. It is clearly visible around the right half of the belt midway down the picture.

This works very well, and the questing hand can find it easily, and without injury.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday Flashback: Public Speaking

As most of my readers know, I was raised in a family that belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During the growing up years, we just considered ourselves to be Mormon, and that's what everyone around called us, as well.

Part of the religious practice is to attend a Sunday meeting called "Sacrament Meeting" which includes speakers chosen from among the members of the congregation (called a "ward").

At that time, it was customary to have one or two "youth speakers" start out early on in the meeting. They were customarily followed by two or three adult speakers. When I was 12, I got my first opportunity to be a youth speaker.

When I stood at the pulpit, I began to cry out of fear or tension or something. I couldn't seem to get control. My dad, who was seated on the stand behind me, as a member of the bishopric, came and stood beside me, with his arm around my shoulder, while I composed myself. He sat down once I started to give my talk.

I have always appreciated his gesture. Many a time I overheard him in our home asking my mother with some exasperation, "why is he crying?" I can't remember her answer, nor do I really know myself why. But, I used to cry quite easily as a child.

After this traumatic public experience of crying, I had a stern talk with myself, and mostly control myself ever since.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Friday Flashback: Screencast 90s style

While digitizing some old home movies from VHS-C magnetic tapes, I came across a 5 minute screencast that I created sometime in the mid 1990's. The term "screencast" dates from 2004. While I am certainly not the first person in the world to produce one, I did do it about 10 years before the name was coined. The program1 used to generate these images was written about 10 years earlier still.

Three segments, edited from the one recorded screencast, are presented here. The first one (57 seconds) describes a particular one dimensional cellular automaton, which generates a fractal pattern over time.

The next one (38 seconds) describes a different one dimensional cellular automaton, which demonstrates what is called a "glider". Over time a configuration of cells moves, in this case to the right. A mirror image of this configuration would move to the left.

The final segment (90 seconds) uses the same cellular automaton rules2 as the previous one, and shows what is called a "glider gun". As time progresses, this configuration of cells emits gliders regularly, first one moving to the right, then another moving to the left, and so on. In a wrap-around world, like the one I used in this Apple ][ program, the glider moving to the right soon meets up with the next one moving to the left and the two annihilate each other.

Creating a screencast with an Apple ][ was not difficult, and did not require any software, since this personal computer used an ordinary television set as its monitor. So it was a simple matter to take the output of the TV, using an RCA video cable, and connecting it to the video-in of a camcorder. The voice over was captured by the built-in microphone of the camcorder, as I operated the keyboard and watched the screen.
  1. I wrote the program myself, in 6502 machine language, in the mid 1980's. Unfortunately, this program no longer exists, being a victim of digital decay.
  2. The cellular automata rules come from a series of articles in Scientific American written by Stephen Wolfram. The subscription to Scientific American was initially a gift from a former professor (who was also influential in my decision to major in Computer Science), Dr. Alan C. Ashton.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

More on the bridge: less bridge

There is less and less left of the bridge (strictly speaking, a viaduct) that used to be part of North Temple, and part of my commute to work.

The section of bridge over 400 West is now completely removed.

The new viaduct will begin at 400 West and go up and over the railway tracks from there to 600 West.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday Flashback: Advanced Technology

Many years ago, in the early 1990's, I worked for WordPerfect Corporation in its Advanced Technology Group. One project with which I was heavily involved was using a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) as a remote control for television.

I made a huge cardboard mock-up (about 3 feet by 18 inches and six inches thick) out of a cardboard box, with an image of the screen and controls pasted on the front. Also, we constructed a working prototype, using a PC connected to a universal remote control. The screen of the PC showed what would appear on the screen of the PDA, and the remote actually controlled a TV.

Now this has become reality! See this new app for the Apple iPad.

Other than the social networking feature (remember that our work was done before the Internet was widely known), we had foreseen all of the features shown in the video demo of this new app. Amazing what 20 years can do for technology maturation.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bridge out

I usually travel to work via North Temple, but the bridge over the railway tracks is being demolished!

Having to find alternate routes...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Friday Flashback: Panorama

For anyone who checks up on this, no, today is not Friday. But the flashback described here did occur last Friday. It was graduation day for my brother-in-law, Bruce, and my nephew, Eric, whose mother, my sister, attended. She also brought a few loose pictures left over from our mother's house.

I was able to arrange four of them into a panorama. A fifth could alternate near the middle, except it is a little larger than the others (and features my daughter*).

This was taken on the day my son, Andrew, received his name and blessing. The living room window was decorated with a picture painted by neighbor, Kent Jefferies, MFA.

Kind of a fun picture. I will have to get these properly scanned and stitched together. There exists some video footage taken the same day, so I have some editing work to do.

On a morbid note (time passing at the usual rate of one second per second), only 5 of the 12 people shown in the panorama are still alive.
*Even though it was not her party, she was the star of the day, dancing all around. Andrew was not yet mobile.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Sara and I took the train to San Francisco on April 10. During breakfast we were seated across from a couple we did not know. They are from France, and were planning to rent a car in San Francisco and drive to some of the wonderful sights in California and the southwestern states.

They spoke of a desire to drive along Route 66 and that led to her mentioning her approaching birthday. I was astounded, because it is the same as mine. Well, that has happened before, and I even have a couple of cousins sharing the same day. But, this was the same year also.

We are twins! And we became friends. They adjusted their travel plans to visit with us in Salt Lake City for two days. We had a great time, showing them Temple Square and the Family History Library on Saturday. On Sunday morning, they witnessed Music and the Spoken Word in the historic Tabernacle. In the afternoon, we showed them around Antelope Island.

Here is a picture of us with them and a son, daughter, grandson and granddaughter.

The three of us on the left are all the same age. Those on the right are younger and much younger.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How weird am I?

Recent reflections have convinced me that I am a bit different, if not totally weird. I seem to have a little system for everything.

Here are three examples.

1. I have a technique for sneezing while driving. As you know, when you sneeze, your eyes involuntarily close for a second or two. At sixty miles per hour, your vehicle is covering 88 feet per second, so during the sneeze, your car will travel as much as 176 feet (55 yards or half a football field). All with your eyes closed!

The technique is this. When you feel a sneeze coming on, close one eye deliberately. When you sneeze, the other eye will remain open. I don't know why, but that's the way it works. This way, you'll be watching the road during the sneeze.

2. I have a technique for buttoning up a dress shirt when in a hurry. There are six buttons (not counting the collar button, which I normally leave open). This is the order that I button them in:

This way, after the second or third button, if there is something going on in the next room and I have to appear there right away, the shirt is modestly closed up while I complete the remaining buttons.

3. I have a technique for putting the lid on a cup of hot chocolate to avoid drips. Here is a drawing of the cup showing the seam that goes the length of the cup on one side.

If you put the drinking spout on, aligned with the seam, then the drink will leak out as you tip the cup to your mouth, and spot your shirt. So, I align the drinking spout of the cover with the opposite side to avoid that problem.

There you go. Three tips for the day.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Friday Flashback: Mom's flower basket

For many years, our mother had a flower basket, which she made herself, and which contained a display of plastic daisies. This was always in her kitchen.

I saved it when we cleaned out the house after our mother was through with it, and brought it down to Utah. The sprigs of daisies gradually fell out and got lost.

My dear wife, Sara, surprised me yesterday by rejuvenating it. She replaced the floral block inside, which had disintegrated, and added some more flowers in an attractive arrangement.

Mom's flower basket is now enthroned in our kitchen, hopefully for many years to come.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Friday Flashback: in which I cry defending Santa Claus

Shortly before Christmas, in my grade six class, the teacher asked those students who (still) believed in Santa Claus to please stand.

One girl stood up right away. I hesitated, thinking about lying by not standing.

But, I thought I saw some movement outside through the corner of my eye. That could be Banjo-eyes, the elf specifically assigned to monitor my behavior to see if I was good or bad. Clearly, denying the existence of Santa Claus would be bad, and could lead to no presents that year. So, I stood, too.

The class tittered. Then one of the boys in the front said, "Look, now he's going to cry!"

Obligingly, under the full attention of thirty-some pairs of eyes, I quietly shed some tears. More tittering.

That night, safely at home, I thought through the math of the situation, and decided that Santa Claus couldn't possibly get in all the visits in one night, and a bit of innocence was lost. Along with a few tears. And the cause of Santa Claus lost one defender.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


When my sisters and their families got together at our parents' house in the summer of 1993, these skating episodes were captured on video*.

I learned how to rollerblade at my sister's home in La Mesa, California, some months earlier. I borrowed my nephew's inline skates and set out from their back door.

The start was not fortuitous, as I began by going downhill on the driveway behind their house. When I got to the small level area at the bottom of that, I was unable to stop, and panicking, because there is a much, much longer downhill section next, I fell to the asphalt, tearing quite a bit of skin from the knuckles of my left hand.

Rather than give up, I began to teach myself how to stop. Starting at the bottom, I worked my way up a couple of feet and came down from there, stopping awkwardly. Gradually, I worked my way higher and higher, each time stopping at the bottom. Finally, I was able to descend the entire way and stop correctly.

I have used a similar technique to learn my parts in theater productions. Memorize the last line. Read the second to last line, they repeat the last line. Work forward until the entire part is in memory. It may be backward, but I have found that it works for me.
* Thanks to Judith Breitenstein for filming and for lending me the tapes of this footage.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Sara and I enjoyed our four week stay in Tucson.

She cared for her sister, who was ill with valley fever, with complications including lung nodules and meningitis. When we left, she was doing much better.

We also enjoyed visits with friends in the area, including new friends, one of whom runs a local cemetery, the Binghampton Cemetery, to which we are contemplating moving when the time arrives.

Several times during the stay, Sara and I commuted to Scottsdale, where we enjoyed successful treatments from Ed Sheriden, our myopractitioner.

While there, I worked remotely, from this workspace.

I kept up the pool, cleaning and adjusting chemicals, and we enjoyed a couple of swims, even though the water was exceedingly cold at 67 degrees.

Open Notes

By analogy to open letters. Only these are shorter.

1. To people who drive and use cell phones at the same time. Don't do this! You may think you have superior multitasking abilities. You don't. Those of us sharing the road with you can tell. It's pretty easy to see.

2. To whoever is handling our political leaders. You are not elected representatives. There is no constitutional justification allowing you to take power. Get your meddling selves out of their way and go enjoy your yachts.

3. To the Gecko Grill in Gilbert, Arizona. Please provide take-out drink containers to your customers who ask for them. If someone wants to take out one of your free refills, I wouldn't mind if you politely declined. But we hadn't finished our first serving. Why did we have to argue with you for a take-out container? Did you miss the day in Management 101 when you would have learned that the customer is always right?

4. To the real estate agent who stole our leads in Tucson. Shame on you, Anna! We brought in many potential renters and you led them to other properties instead of helping us help our sister. Oh, and adding insult to injury by calling our banners unprofessional. They brought in more leads than your sign. And, while we're writing of your sign, why is your name on the sign in a bigger font than the words "for rent"? Who cares who you are? How do you spell megalomania?

5. To Dan, the Mercedes-Benz rescue man. Thank you for your professional and enthusiastic care in changing our tire after the blowout.

6. To the employees of the Circle K where we waited with one flat tire. Thank you for your welcome and your helpfulness.


I enjoy this breakfast cereal any time of the day.

The latest package that I purchased included a code. Visiting their website, I was able to enter the code and they donated towards a women's health project. You can learn the details by clicking on the image below.

It was not easy to get this HTML code to work in a blog. The code as they gave it on their website did not work, but after some web searching I was able to figure it out.

Monday, February 1, 2010


While I was visiting my sister, her son and I walked out onto some snowdrifts. They are between 5 and 6 feet above ground level, and are very hard.

Here we are climbing up:

And here we are next to the top of the lamp post in her garden:

A great deal of fun was had by all, except the photographer, whose fingers became frozen.

Not destroyed after all

I recently visited my sister in Canada, and, when I mentioned our dad's shaver collection, she disappeared and returned with part of it!

Imagine my surprise and delight. Or just look at this image:

Here is the entire collection of pre-electric shaving equipment:

There is a packet of Wilkinson razor blades, a stick of dry shave (rub on face before shaving), two brushes for shaving cream (mixed in a cup (not shown)), a set of hair clippers, and three "safety" razors. The earliest, on the right, had to be disassembled to change blades. The other two open up by twisting the end of the handle, as shown left center. The newest one, bottom center, could also adjust the angle of the blade, by twisting near the head.

As a bonus, she had also kept his fun calculator:

Thursday, January 21, 2010


A question on a form, maybe. In any case, just one bit of information.

I had long known that my father was born in Provo, Utah. And that much information satisfies the form.

During my teenage years, I got more information when our family took a summer trip to Provo. While there, we visited some of Dad's cousins. They lived just a few blocks from the house where he was born, so we visited the place. I don't recall going inside, probably because it was no longer owned by relatives.

Hopefully, somewhere there is a picture taken there that day. I remember a rather large yard with a beautiful large black walnut tree, on a hot blue-skied summer day.

Many years later, I was driving Elizabeth down to Provo to her mother's house, and we arrived twenty minutes earlier than expected. I surprised her by driving to her grandfather's birthplace.

She thought that was very interesting and took a few pictures with my cell phone, including this one:

And that is what my father's birthplace looks like nearly a hundred years later. At the usual rate of one second per second, that's darn near three billion.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Thoughtless destruction and shaving

There is much creation and destruction going on every day.

Along with a fascination about the passage of time, this has been a regular observation and source of thought for me throughout my life. In my dissertation, I wrote about dissipation and persistence of information.

But this post is about physical things, particularly, Dad's collection of shaving apparatus. Unfortunately, no photo is available. And that is part of my topic.

First, a personal note about shaving. Several years ago, I sported a full beard, and people would often ask me, "How long have you been growing that beard?" My stock answer was, "Since I was about fourteen." What they really meant to ask is, "How long since your last shave?" Because, once the beard starts growing, it never stops. With regular shaving, a man can maintain the illusion of beardlessness.

While my sisters and I were cleaning out our mom's house after her death, we came upon all of our dad's shaving equipment. This ranged from straight razors, through various forms of safety razor, on to electric shavers of progressive sophistication.

Why were all of these things still in their bathroom? Why did he keep them during his lifetime? Why did our mother keep them after his death?

I recall us reflecting on these questions, but, in the end, being exhausted from our work, we threw them out. Now, I am sorry, and wish we had at least kept a picture for posterity.

Perhaps a museum somewhere has a display of similar things.

This memory came to mind because Sara talked me into purchasing a new and improved electric razor last year during the Christmas sales. I was reluctant, but am glad now, because the shave is much smoother. Unlike my father, I have not kept all of the devices that I have used, over the years, to shave. Instead, I have allowed them to be destroyed one by one.