College graduation is upon us!

2017/03/19 at 09:59

In preparation for Hannah’s imminent college graduation, last night we did a photo shoot at Pfluger park.

Hannah graduation photo

Hannah graduation photo

Learning to type

2017/01/28 at 13:37

When I started college in 1983, papers were still typed on typewriters. Typing was considered a clerical skill, and most students paid typists to prepare their final drafts. My freshman year of college, my  mother typed my papers.

My sophomore year at UT, I started working for professor of German Ralph Read, who had gone blind a few year prior due to complications of diabetes. I drove him to and from campus each day, ran errands for him, and helped him some with class preparations. Since going blind, Prof. Read’s primary academic work consisted of translating German novels into English. To do this, he had quite a process. One of his graduate student assistants would read the novel into a dictation machine. Then Prof. Read would play the recording back and type the rough English translation on his IBM Selectric typewriter. The IBM typewriter was tactile enough that Prof. Read could load pages himself, feel when he was near the end of a page, etc. The only problem that plagued him from time to time was that he couldn’t tell when his ribbon ran out of ink. After typing out his rough draft translation, then he would produce a final draft with the help of a German-speaking assistant who would type the final draft for the publisher.

Ralph Read was a generous man, and he taught me many things, both academic and personal. (Unfortunately, he died unexpectedly after I’d worked for him for about a year). One of the gifts he gave me was the ability to type. Back in the days before personal computers, most professionals had typists. College professor was, however, one of the few professions where people did a lot of their own typing. And of course, typing was especially important for Dr. Read, since it was his only means of written communication. When he found out that I didn’t type, he advised me repeatedly that I needed to learn the skill. So, I bought a portable manual typewriter at a garage sale, taped over the keys, bought a typing book and taught myself touch typing.

About this same time, the first consumer-grade standalone portable word processors were introduced. I bought one that had a one-line LCD display, stored a 5-page paper in internal memory and printed onto heat-sensitive paper. I used it to type my own papers! Of course, I could only work on one paper at a time, and I had to delete one from memory before starting the next one. But it was markedly better than paying a typist or my mom.

While I was working for Dr. Read, the first Macintosh model was introduced, and the UT German department bought a couple. Nobody was very sure what to do with them, but because I had learned to type and had used a word processor, I was one of the first to sit down at the Mac and figure out how to use it. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Running man

2013/11/28 at 08:27

As a kid, I wasn’t very intentionally athletic; I didn’t take part in sports leagues (mostly because I lived in the middle of nowhere) and my interest in school athletics died out after middle school when it got competitive. In high school, I fulfilled my PE credits with marching band.

Despite my lack of interest in physical fitness, when I was 16 or 17 I started jogging, and I’ve been at it since pretty regularly since. The other day, I decided to total up the number of miles I’ve probably run in my life. I’m currently running 12-20 miles per week, but there were periods–especially when the kids were young and we lived in a colder climate–where I ran a lot less. So, I figure 10 miles per week or 500 miles per year is a safe average. At that rate, I’ve run around 16,500 miles in 33 years. Again, let’s round that down to a nice 15K miles for good measure. I find that amazing!

Tie-dye party

2013/07/13 at 14:27

A couple of months ago, a very creative friend of ours hosted a tie-dye party. It’s actually quite an involved process. You have to soak the shirts for 15 minutes in advance, then tie and dye them, and then 24 hours later, you have to rinse them thoroughly, apply a fixative and then wash them with a fixative detergent.

She purchased the dyes and other chemicals (about $160 worth, I think she said) and then invited several families over to do the tie-dying in her front yard. The following evening, I spent several hours rinsing our clothing on the deck and washing them. We had a lot of fun, and I made the shirt below, as well as a couple of T-shirts. I’m afraid my attention to detail wasn’t very good, but every time I wear this shirt, I get compliments, so I guess I did well enough.

Stan's fetching swimming attire

Do you know anyone who…?

2013/05/02 at 10:56

Recently, Charlie Pierce got thinking about how well Americans of one group know others outside their group. He got a polling organization to ask a set of “Do you know anyone who…?” questions, and here are the results:

Results: The percentage of Americans who don’t know anyone who…

  • Died in Iraq or Afghanistan: 87%
  • Is part of a married gay couple: 76%
  • Was a victim of gun violence: 73%
  • Has HIV/AIDS or died of AIDS: 72%
  • Is an illegal immigrant: 71%
  • Is a millionaire: 63%
  • Is in jail: 62%
  • Committed suicide: 59%
  • Had an abortion: 49%
  • Lost his/her job in the financial crisis: 46%
  • Doesn’t have health care: 31%
  • Has been arrested: 26%
  • Owns a gun: 22%
  • Served in the military: 17%

In reading through the list, I realized I do, in fact, know people who meet almost all of these criteria.

Here are my responses:

  • Died in Iraq or Afghanistan: No
  • Is part of a married gay couple: Yes
  • Was a victim of gun violence: Yes
  • Has HIV/AIDS or died of AIDS: Yes
  • Is an illegal immigrant: Yes
  • Is a millionaire: Yes
  • Is in jail: Yes
  • Committed suicide: attempted, yes, succeeded, not that I can think of.
  • Had an abortion: Yes
  • Lost his/her job in the financial crisis: Depends on how you define ‘financial crisis’
  • Doesn’t have health care: Yes
  • Has been arrested: Yes
  • Owns a gun: Yes
  • Served in the military: Yes

So, I apparently have a much broader experience than the average American. I would like to think that it makes me more accepting, but I don’t want to flatter myself. I’m not sure what else to take from this survey and my answers except to try to keep in mind that many of the people around me do not have such broad experience with their fellow residents of the US.

The love of a dog

2012/12/04 at 09:49

Profound thoughts:

It was my birthday yesterday, and I had to lay down Mister President, my dog of ten years, to rest forever.

. . .

Mister President came to me at the height of my selfishness, during a time of my life when, fundamentally, I was interested only in myself, despite all the relationships I’d had up until that point. And when he came to me, he taught me how to care for someone else, to devote myself to someone else, to really love someone else — unreservedly and unconditionally .

. . .

In this way, he saved me. Without him, I don’t know if I would have been ready to fall in love with Laura when I met her, and more importantly, I don’t know if I would have known how to sustain that love. And without Mister President, I don’t know if I would have been equipped to care for and truly love our wonderful daughter.

In and of themselves, those are two enormous gifts that he gave me. This is what dogs do, I guess. You think you’re doing all the giving. But they give you more than you know in return.

On Death

2012/12/04 at 08:31

We have dealt with the deaths of several people close to us in the last few years. This comment on MetaFilter really speaks to me:

 This is what helplessness feels like. Nobody is good at watching someone they love pass away. In the face of fear and sadness and anger and denial, when your brain is spending most of its processing power yelling and then crying and then yelling again “No! Noooooo! No!” for days or weeks on end, you don’t always do the best things. You don’t do the things you’d imagined you would do. You don’t do the things you will wish you had done, when you spend the ensuing years reliving those final hours with your mom or your dad or your spouse. You feel like a drowning person, flailing about for something to hold onto, but there’s nothing to hold. You try all the coping methods that have worked in the past: tell a funny joke, give them something to be proud of, distract yourself, even lie and say it’s all going to be ok, but it all seems crass, and none of it stops the dying.

But that’s ok. It’s horrible and terrifying and you do everything wrong, and still somehow there is beauty in your very failure. You are being forced to face up to something huge, and your inability to handle it is part of what makes you human, part of the price you pay for loving deeply. There is a profound honesty in this fumbling, an admission that the loss of this person is leaving you directionless.

My hero

2010/04/07 at 21:12

Yesterday’s Fresh Air* featured an interview with Richard Phillips, the merchant marine captain whose ship was intercepted by Somali pirates. Capt. Phillips was taken hostage by the pirates and was freed after several days when US Navy sharpshooters killed the pirates.
I love Capt. Phillips’ no-nonsense description of the affair, especially this part (emphasis added):

DAVIES: How did you react emotionally to the experience in those first few days?
Capt. PHILLIPS: I did have problems. The first two nights, I would find myself waking up at five o’clock in the morning and just be crying my eyes out, bawling – something a New England sea captain doesn’t do too much. It was sort of strange to me. So I would, you know, throw some water in my face, and I was just going, what are you a wimp? I’m alive. What do you got to be complaining about? I was able to talk to -actually, one of the SEALs insisted I talk to a psychologist, and I did. And he really broke it down into chemicals that are excreted by your various glands and what happens, and he would ask me questions about things I had.
And the only problem I had was I would wake up, at that time – it happened twice to me, the first two nights I was off the life raft. After talking to him after the second morning, he gave me – he asked me, what did I do? And I said, well, I told you, just what I said. I’d throw water on my face. I’d go take a shower. I’d say what are you a wimp? What’s your problem? And he said, well, don’t do that. Don’t fight it. Let it flow. Let it flow as long as it goes. And so I followed his advice and I let it flow. I just sat there in my bed and I probably cried, bawled like a little kid for, I’m going to say two minutes. And then it ran its course, I dried up. Then I threw water on my face, I took a shower and started my day with my coffee, and I never had a problem after that.

That’s hard core.
* Dave Davies was filling in for Terri Gross, so I was able to listen without scratching my ears off. Did I mention that I love Fresh Air but hate Terri Gross’ interview style?

My 15 minutes of fame–or an hour weekly

2009/12/16 at 09:51

Earlier this week, I received a call from a producer at Voice America (internet) talk radio network. She wanted to know if I’d be interested in hosting my own weekly radio show.
I had never heard of Voice America and I was surprised at the offer. My first question: why me? She gave me a suspiciously non-specific answer, something like “Our hosts are people who are published or who are leaders in their fields.” Second question: so, what field do you think I lead? Her answer: software design. Okaaaaaaay.
I asked her a few more questions and ascertained that the offer does not come with remuneration. Since I’m already very busy, and because the whole conversation set off my scam warning bells, I declined.
After the call, I did a little Googling, and it appears that Voice America is indeed on the level, but I’m still perplexed at how the producer found me and why she thinks I might have something interesting enough to say that I’d draw a weekly audience–without her apparently having a firm idea of the topic that I would base my show on. I’m still scratching my head at the whole thing.
Do you have any knowledge of Voice America? Do you know anyone else who has been approached about hosting a show?

Church celebration

2009/10/09 at 14:16

Our church has recently been undergoing some significant renovation and repair work. During this work, a time capsule was discovered; it was placed when the sanctuary building was build 100 years ago.
A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the 100th anniversary of its sanctuary building. As part of the celebration, we placed a new time capsule behind the cornerstone. Here is some local news coverage from the event: