Sunday, July 31, 2016

E Merrell Gomm

Some will remember Mr. Gomm, who taught 6th grade at La Fetra Elementary School in Glendora, California. He taught harmonica and ukulele to interested students in the mornings before regular class. He taught square dancing too, calling out the dance instructions with aplomb. I remember lining up among the boys as we prepared to dance so to maximize the chance of holding a certain girl’s hand. During an evening open house for parents I manned the solar-system exhibit, which I am sure I volunteered for.
Mr. Gomm talked about God in class, and he told us later that some parents complained. I recall him adding in a reflective and authoritative voice that he wouldn’t talk about God in class again. Mr. Gomm didn’t suffer foolishness. More than once, he dressed down a rambunctious student for transgressions that I can’t visualize now, but I still see Mr. Gomm’s reprimands.
Mr. Gomm exemplified sober patriotism. I remember his explanation that the flag shouldn’t be burned, worn, and otherwise diminished. In 1968 or 1969 I stood for the national anthem and was ridiculed by a few in the seated crowd. A friend told Mr. Gomm about it, and he seemed pleased for me. I am sure that I did it because of him, and I look for that boy from time to time.
When I was searching for an Eagle Scout project in high school, I went to Mr. Gomm, asking if he had something I could do. He said he wanted a model of a steam engine that he could use as a demonstration tool for students, and that became my project. I remember shooting baskets one day, thinking through some issue on the project. My mother came out and asked if I was ok, and I was, because I had just figured out how I would proceed. I was proud when I delivered the project to Mr. Gomm at his classroom. He received it well.
My friend Bill and I, as we were headed off to service academies for college, both cited Mr. Gomm in the Glendora Press as an important influence in our lives. In fact, he was one of my personal archetypes. I discovered the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures in my mid-30s, and when I read Amos 7:7-8, it was Mr. Gomm who I saw, standing by a stone wall, holding a plumb line, with long sleeves rolled to the mid forearms, and talking to me. I wonder if he would think that imagery was heresy. As I write today, it wouldn’t bother me if he would have thought it heretical, but I am still curious.
Various of my friends have added how Mr. Gomm influenced them in aspects ranging from patriotism to a love of art, science, and math. I love what my brother said
"He was one of those men that was just solid all the way through to his core. A deep humility and strength. I remember once I was out at the pull up bars at recess and he did several palms out chins BEHIND THE NECK. It wasn't until I started seriously working out that I realized how hard that was."

Mr. Gomm was killed in an auto accident ten years ago, perhaps in the same old car that he parked outside his classroom, and that he drove around Glendora and Azusa so many years ago. I don’t want memory of him to be lost.

Obituary from

Its been therapeutic to reflect on the man and his importance on my life -- solid.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

John Sorian

John Sorian was a friend at La Fetra Elementary School in Glendora, CA ( I remember John picked me early in the rotation for his kickball team one day at school, though I wasn’t very good. I appreciated that. I remember John and I sitting at the dining table with my father at our house on Hicrest Road, sunlight streaming in, carving racers for the cub scouts pinewood derby. In junior high school and high school John and I didn't hang out together, but I liked John. 

My next memory of John is from the summer of 1977. I was on my USNA summer cruise aboard the USS Tuscaloosa (LST-1187), a tank-landing ship, which I had caught in Okinawa, after a very long and noisy flight from mainland USA ( After Okinawa, there were stops in Pusan and Kamakura, with day trips to Tokyo and elsewhere. I learned about sea showers, which I still practice. There are good stories in these memories, which I simply bookmark here for later. 

Within a day or two of leaving Okinawa, I was walking across the deck of the Tuscaloosa, and I heard someone yell “Doug!”. I turned and sitting in the shade of the superstructure at the midsection, were a bunch of marines, and one was waving at me. It was John. I remember walking up and seeing him close — a broad, smiling face. At some point, perhaps even that day, because I don’t remember how long we were on the ship together, he asked me to take a blanket to his mother in Glendora. The blanket, bought somewhere in the far east, had a silky texture and a beautiful floral pattern. I stowed the blanket in my duffle bag and when I was next in southern California to see my girlfriend, which wouldn’t have been very long after returning to the US, even though my parents had moved to northern California, I took the blanket by John’s mother’s house, somewhere in the vicinity of Meda and Pennsylvania, not far from the Plaza Theater ( One of John’s brothers answered and brought John’s mother to the door. I don’t recall us talking, but I remember her smile. I waited until she unfolded the blanket, and looked it over, before I left — I remember great happiness. There is no other unabashed pride like a mother’s.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

38 years ago today at USNA

My friend David Kennedy reminded me that 38 years ago today I entered the US Naval Academy as a plebe. My father and brother went back east with me for a few days of sightseeing before I was to start plebe summer. I remember getting off the plane at either Dulles Airport or Baltimore/Washington. It was pouring rain and hot. I was from Southern California, and I couldn’t remember experiencing heat and rain simultaneously. 

I’d been to college already, at UC Santa Cruz, my father’s dream school. He was very liberal, and when I rebelled, it was in the conservative direction. When I applied to USNA (and USMA and USAFA and USMMA) through my congressional representative, I remember dad telling me that he’d rather pay my way through college than have me go into the military. Turns out he would be bragging on me before my stay was done. There is much more to the story of my application than that, but thats enough detail for now. When I was accepted to USNA (and USMA and USMMA), I dropped out of UCSC, since the final quarter would have bumped right up against plebe summer. I left one residential college for another and have great memories of each, though at opposite ends of several political dimensions.

At this moment, I don’t recall too much of the tourist stuff in the DC area ahead of time, other than the visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, which had just opened, and a tour of the Academy when I was still a civilian. I also remember that we saw The Omen with Gregory Peck in downtown Annapolis at a theater on Main Street one afternoon. The scene where a fellow gets his head sliced off by a pane of glass stuck with me, and the walk along Main Street after the movie reminded me of that scene!

I was reserved as I shaved the morning of July 6 in the hotel room I shared with my dad and brother. I walked into the USNA Visitor's Center to check in and to pick up a bag of stuff — clothes and whatnot as I recall. I still have that bag (OMG -- I still remember my number), and my wife wonders why I won’t ever throw it away — NEVER! :-)

I remember standing in a line to be weighed by a balance scale, and as I stepped up on the scale, the first-class midshipman doing the weighing asked me "What's your weight, Fisher?" (because by now I had a name tag on), and I replied "About 148", and he yelled back "about 148 WHAT!!?!" and I replied "About 148 POUNDS" and then he went ballistic, yelling "About 148 pounds SIR!!" several times. That was an eye opener!

After the weighing, which took place at the infirmary as I recall, I was sitting with a bunch of others, waiting to be walked to the next station, looking out an open door, and saw my father and brother walk by at a leisurely pace, my father pointing out something to my brother, not aware that I was watching them. 

I remember getting a haircut at some point that day, and while I was waiting my turn, I watched a guy who I had met earlier that summer at a USNA alumni-sponsored dinner, another incoming plebe, looking extremely depressed as his long, long, long hair -- the subject of curious looks at the alumni dinner -- was shaved off.

I walked into my room on the top floor of Bancroft Hall ( Turns out that I had a beautiful view of Santee Basin and the Severn River. Brian K. was already there, and after we swapped quick histories, because there was somewhere to be, he told me that he was glad that he wasn’t stuck with some youngster right out of high school :-). Good ‘ol Kilk!

The rest of the day was a blur. Right now, I last remember forming up for evening meal formation and then falling out for one last visit with Dad and Bruce before reentering Bancroft Hall — a gauntlet. I don’t remember the hell that was dinner that night, or the regrets of getting into my rack for the first time, but I don’t regret it now.

USNA Revisited:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bye for now, McGill

Last evening I went by McGill Hall to pick up the last of our possessions from the faculty apartment — McGill 107. It was a wonderful home. Patricia and I would spread out in the big comfy chairs in the evenings, typically sharing the ottoman. Each of the chairs could seat three students during our more popular events, like yearly chocolate tastings or graduation brunches, with plates of food scrunched together on the short wooden bar. On occasion I’d hold Sunday brunches, and depending on the year, a few students who went to bed at 5:00 am would get up at 7:00 am to have my breakfast casserole and blueberry coffee, joining the church goers. Whether attendance was large or small, and it varied widely with year, the conversations were a pleasure.

I remember great friend Will Clendening bounding across the living room at six am on a Saturday morning, towards the blueberry coffee in the kitchen, before a few of us went for a ride out to Liepers Fork — it was a ride Will would not return from. I sat in that living room talking to a recovering addict wanting to remain clean. Patricia and I played board games on the floor with students on Thanksgiving evening, and I watched the first performance of a one-act play that had been drafted a few hours before by the playwrights who came knocking late one night. Tornado warnings brought students to the first floor hall, and we’d open the door of 107 for coffee.

The big chairs were good seating for the music in the practice room down the hall — bag pipes, opera, piano, rock — over the year we heard the improvement, particularly in the rock bands. The parties in the McGill Lounge inevitably spilled out into the first floor hallway. We could hear every conversation that happened outside our door, but none I recall was particularly scandalous. The bedroom has a great thick door, and with the excellent foam earplugs from the library and the door closed, getting to sleep on even the noisiest of nights wasn’t a problem. Students would ask about the noise, wanting I think to keep the noise down, but I told them that any faculty member who had a problem with occasional loud sustained party noise probably shouldn’t be living in a student residence hall.

The McGill Coffee Houses in the lounge were wondrous, dark, and packed with students and sometimes resident life staff. While they were late in my day, which generally start before 5:00 am, Patricia and I would often go for the first hour — the talent in McGill was amazing, and includes much music, poetry and other spoken word, rap, and much else.

Each year since 2004, then a faculty member in residence at the “old Kissam”, I would do McGill Hours. I recall Professor Retzlaff, then McGill’s faculty member in residence, attending my first hour, surrounded by students, obviously comfortable. I also loved attending the McGill Hours of other faculty members (weekly presentations or facilitated discussions by faculty from across campus); Patricia too. In any year, there is a good chance that I attended more McGill Hours than any student (not a putdown), excepting my three years at NSF in Arlington, Virginia, and even then, I would look to see if any Hours were happening on my return trips to Nashville.

McGill has been good to me, and Patricia. Its been a great jumping off point to events after hours across campus — a faculty member in residence is first and foremost the faculty’s ambassador in the residence life of campus. And you can’t beat the commute. I’ve been proud to be a McGillite — they tend towards the fearless side, they stand up for what they believe, and they have each others backs — that’s my experience.

People have suggested that Faculty Director at Warren College is a big step up, by which most mean the Warren faculty apartment, I think, and it is an honor to have been selected, and now moved into an amazing residential space. But being a faculty member in residence at McGill, and before that at the old Kissam and North, but particularly at McGill, was a dream come true — as cool as it gets. I almost didn’t apply for College Halls — my lifestyle was that awesome, but I learned from NSF that its good to shake things up from time to time, and that’s what motivates this move — change, and I hope growth. And Patricia is thrilled by the new space, and her satisfaction is second to none. I love the space too of course, but the space isn’t why we choose this life on campus.

Bye for now, McGill!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Election Day 2008

There was an excellent Frontline on tonight, Part 1 on NSA collection of US communications ( For reasons I won't elaborate now, it reminded me of Election Day 2008, a day of pride. I first posted this on an earlier blog site (November 8, 2008 at 1:25pm).


I spent last weekend, Nov 1 and 2, working on a big project. I took a break late Saturday morning to priority mail my ballot back to Nashville; I signed an oath, that among other things attested to my having filled the ballot out "in secret" -- I thought that was interesting. Priority mail cost me $4.80, but well spent, even though Nashville is solidly blue within a solidly red state -- hardly seemed that my vote would make a difference, except to me. By Sunday morning I knew that the project would turn out well, but it was going to take much of my Sunday too. I looked at my calendar and I had no appointments on Tuesday -- so I emailed my boss and asked for Tuesday off -- as Clint says, you've "got to know your limits", and not just to survive, but to remain civil. He blessed it, his second-in-charge blessed it, and I had myself what Julia Cameron calls an Artist's Date.

Tuesday, election day, I headed out to the National Archives, which friend Kurt had suggested. It was quiet in DC. I walked into the Archives behind a school group from Columbia, TN -- cute, and while the adults were getting them in some semblance of order, I jumped ahead. I imagined that the kids were going to head straight to the Rotunda, so I ducked into a side vault, and sure enough they passed right by, as did many others, all to return later :-) I was in a room with documents, maps, news, paintings on the American Revolution, with the most significant original document on display being the American copy of the Treaty of Paris (1784). I knew where it was before I got there, because group after group of school kids, tour guides leading the way, would stampede around me into the back, huddle around a case, and then stampede back on their way to another conquest. Like a lot of things, the star of the show wasn't the most interesting; a large 1775 map of the colonies showed no signs of Tennessee or Nashville -- just Virginia and Carolina extending westward, with indian tribes throughout and First Nations west of the Mississippi; on a 1796 map I found both "Tannessee" and Nashville; the Mohawks weren't happy with the 1784 Treaty of Paris, as it negated earlier assurances and (of course) they weren't parties to it. I'm part Iroquis BTW, of which the Mohawks were one tribe -- 1/32 in blood, but more like 1/3 in spirit. Vermont, where my mother grew up, and though it wasn't one of the original 13, had to get yanked back in line, after the Treaty was ratified, by George Washington himself.

I went to the Rotunda; as you enter there is an original 1297 Magna Carta -- Latin on animal skin :-), then you enter the main Rotunda, dark to preserve the Charters of Freedom, the ink on each faded beyond my ability to read them. Murals on the walls show the participants of the congresses that signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, even those that didn't sign it -- you wonder why some wouldn't -- fear, principle, like George Mason? It's a beautiful and moving place.

The Public Vaults of the Archives have a lot of interactive exhibits -- some familiar stuff, but listening to Lyndon Johnson wear down Senator Richard Russell to serve on the Warren Commission ( ... last on the list of "LBJ Phone Calls") and JFK talking to Gov. Barnett of Mississippi over James Meredith's enrollment at Ole Miss ( don't get old. Interactive exhibits involving great arguments and investigations from history (SC refusing to pay federal tax under Jackson, Titantic, UFOs, Kent State, Pumpkin Papers), while navigating the original documents, really intrigued the AIer in me. But personal stories -- soldiers, immigrants, Japanese-American internment -- this was the most touching, and this idea of archiving personal stories, or at least the information necessary to reconstruct the story, is something that resonates with so many -- you see the same theme at the Holocaust Museum, the American Indian Museum -- its an aspect of the "Memories for Life" UK grand challenge for computing research (; I recall CMU CS researchers are empowering children in poor neighborhoods to record and archive the stories of their elders. At the Public Vaults I read that those that traveled overseas on passport would likely be there at the Archives, and I was reminded, I think, that my father had gone to the Archives to retrace his father's steps to Scotland to find his father (quite a tale there!) -- My father searched places like the National Archives, the Archives of the Latter Day Saints, the Scottish archives, old newspapers, 16 mm film, and more.. I'm 1/4 Scot by blood, and 1/2 in spirit BTW. I went with my father to Scotland a few months before he died, just after he'd put all the pieces of his history together -- its on computer and floppy that I can no longer (easily) read. Apparently, we are in a transition of great information loss with all this rapidly changing technology. But I have hardcopy :-)

When I got out of the Archives, I was far from done for the day -- lunch at National Galleries (the best Caesar dressing, real plates, good cup of Joe!), the East Building exhibit of George De Forest Brush (, the Library of Congress on colleague Steve's recommendation (The Jefferson building is fantastically beautiful, and I'm sure that Madison's statue might induce swooning by those so inclined, but it will have to wait -- I was sure to get a library card, and I'm going back as a researcher -- I'll be able to count that trip as work! :-) I ended the day at Union Station, on the recommendation of friend Vivian -- quite a place. I'd been doing a lot of walking and was beat (it was an eight hour day), and was looking forward to a metro ride, but the Union Station Metro was a Zoo, and I hadn't had my flu shot, so I walked to Foggy Bottom, after dark, remembering some earlier times, talking to my wife on the phone about the election, which I hadn't thought of all day, but no news yet ... when I got back to Arlington I made a final check with my wife on the election, still not much, then headed up to the apartment. I zoned out in front of some DVD on my laptop in the kitchen -- no TV and no Internet and not good cell. I was in a twilight state, now in bed, about 11:00 PM when I heard hoots and hollers, honking horns, yells from the street 18 floors down and from other apartments I imagine -- what a wonderfully moving feeling that was, and I went to sleep.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Copenhagen 2009

Originally posted May 30, 2009.

I just got back from Copenhagen, where I participated in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conference on Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Climate Change and the Environment. Last year I had been the only US government representative, and that had been a little scary, somewhat disappointing, and very cool – when they called on me for questions and comments they called on “United States” and before opening my mouth I reflected on what I was about to say :-). This year there were representatives from the State and Commerce Departments, and my (big) boss and I from NSF. I’m not revealing any secrets here – last year’s and this year’s are on the Web ( -- more on this later and elsewhere.

I took the red-eye from Dulles to Copenhagen late Monday afternoon, arriving Tuesday morning Copenhagen time. I was on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and I like it – every seat its own little screen with on demand video and music, a salmon dinner with not-quite-spaetzle pasta and lima beans (!?) to die for, power outlets for laptops, and stuff I’m forgetting. I watched two movies, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (on the way out) and "The Reader" on the way back, both of which I'd balked at when they were in theaters, but I liked them each, particularly Benjamin Button, which was especially moving.

I took the train from Copenhagen airport to downtown, stowed my big backpack in a locker, only keeping my government laptop around my shoulder for safekeeping. Last year I happened upon the National Gallery of Art just before having to return, and wanted to see it especially this trip, but in no rush, and in fact exhausted but with really no option but to stay awake for many more hours, so I walked.

Thus far in my experience there has been no singular global “Wow” image about Copenhagen – there has been nothing analogous to crowning a hill on a streetcar in San Francisco (Wow!), coming out of the tunnel overlooking Pittsburgh (Wow!), looking across Barcelona to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia (Wow!) or vice versa from one of the Cathedral’s towers (, or gazing on the Chicago skyline from the Lake Michigan shore (Wow!). What I notice first about Copenhagen are bicycles – they are everywhere – Copenhagen is a commuter city, but very different from LA, which was my childhood territory. The parks, and I’ve only touched a few, are among the more local ‘wow’s that I’ve experienced -- I walked through two on my way to the National Gallery, Orstedsparken and Botanisk Have, then King’s Gardens afterwards.

Bikes outside the Copenhagen Train Station

At Orstedsparken I came across a statue that struck me personally, as I think it would have struck many other friends of recently departed Vivian C right now – an angel watching over a man who is not conscious of it, but he is being watched over nonetheless. The angel’s face is almost impossible to see in the shadows, and I was tempted to use the flash, which generally I think is much overused, but like the statues of Gandhi and Saint Jerome on Embassy Row in Washington, I think that the artistic vision is that the faces be hidden in shadow and you only see the detail to the extent that you look closely, and even then, you can’t see enough.

Whereas the Washington National Gallery’s West and East Buildings separate classic and modern art, the Danish National Gallery seems to have no such segregation – modern and classic art are side by side, organized by other themes. I was able to get a couple of shots illustrating the juxtaposition. In addition, many of its walls are packed with paintings, an organization principle that elicits a ‘wow’ but at the expense of seeing many of the details, at least from casual inspection.

After a full morning, I took the train down to Helsingor, a beach town where the conference was held, did some brief walking around, talked to the tourist center, then a public bus to my hotel, a spartan place a couple of miles inland. I really wanted to sleep, but there was a conference reception that I thought I should attend for professional reasons, I wanted to stay up as long as I could for a better adjustment to the time zone, and frankly I felt isolated and knew connecting would help, and it did help.

 Kronberg Castle, Helsingor

The conference, in a nutshell, was focused on using information and communication technology (ICT) to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to humankind, and most notably what governments should do about promoting and supporting these efforts. There is great optimism that much can be done through virtualization (e.g., telework and conferencing with Web-based computer tools instead of the barbaric practice of flying cross country – yes, I recognize the irony :-), smart embedded systems (e.g., smart cars, smart buildings), which save energy through a large variety of computer-controlled mechanisms, and intelligent decision-making and planning systems that combine climate, economic and other social models. There is a lot of pushback though in implementing so much of this – for example, there are innumerable organizations that require that you keep your computer running 24/7 for reasons of “pushing” software and security upgrades, but my gosh, fixes to this should be 20 years old by now and the stupidity of designing such an energy-inefficient system is stunning -- it offends the engineer in me. I could go on and on with other forms of pushback and lack of awareness, and frankly, among other reactions, our failure to solve even simple, gross technological inefficiencies like the 24/7 computer-on policy has given me a certain sympathy for the disfunction that seems apparent in those trying to solve the planet's truly hard problems. I expect to be writing more on the topic of the conference. Generally, there is a lot that computer scientists and engineers can offer, both in terms of the products that they produce and in the ways that they think – my (big) boss Jeannette Wing has termed the latter “computational thinking”.
Just outside the Conference Center
It would have been fun having Pat with me to share the simple excitements and anticipations of a plane ride, train ride, castles, gardens, museums, and I hope that for next year as we are a good travel team, but next year I might be participating over the Web! So many decisions coming up, and even the “easy” ones can give me angst.

Full set of trip pictures at

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Will ClenDening -- Artist and Engineer

The last time that I saw Will ClenDening was the morning of June 3, 2006 at about 9:30 AM. He, Mark, and an acquaintance of theirs from safety school had come to my McGill apartment on the Vanderbilt campus at about 6:00AM that Saturday. I had blueberry coffee waiting for them and Will walked in, breathed the aroma deep, and said “I don’t care what anyone says, I love this blueberry coffee.” In truth, virtually everyone does. We drank coffee, talked about motorcycles I’m sure, because the three of them were relatively new to riding, and headed to Green Hills to meet up with friends, who would follow us by car down Hillsboro Pike, cutting over on old TN-46 to Leipers Fork, where we planned on breakfast at Puckett’s. It was foggy and cool. I saw in my rear-view mirror our little caravan spread out during the 15 mile drive, disappearing in the curves, and reappearing after a time in the straight-aways – never out of sight for too long.

At Puckett’s we sat in the front and we looked out on “main street”. The fog had lifted and it was a bright day. We clowned around, jabbing each other with old jokes, and then caravanned again down Natchez Trace, heading towards Highway 100, where we planned to turn towards town. We pulled to the side, and said goodbye to our autoing companions. Mark, Will, and their friend wanted to continue on – it was a beautiful day, but I decided to head back to see friends, as originally planned. I left them there, Will to finish a smoke, and rounded the turn onto Hwy 100, but pulled into a gas station at the junction, south of the Loveless Hotel, and waited for my friends to leave from behind the ridge, take the same curve I had, but turn west. I waited, got off and paced, but never saw them take that turn, and left for Nashville after about 15 minutes.

At about Noon, Will’s friend Chris walked into lunch, pulled me aside, and told me that Will had died in a motorcycle wreck about an hour before. I was stunned, disbelieving for hours, until I talked to Mark, who had seen Will’s body pulled from under the van that hit him, through no fault of the van’s driver. I went to see Mark that evening, who was devastated – we talked about my feelings, his feelings, and projected how the driver felt. He explained what had happened, as best he could, for he had been riding ahead of Will. Days later, I met Will’s father at Fido’s coffee house, and he gave me a copy of the accident report. Will’s bike had laid down on a curve; Will, with bike, had slid across the centerline and been hit by an oncoming van; Will had died instantly.

Geoff, Mark, Chris, and I were pallbearers at Will’s funeral at modest St Mark’s, and I doubt that church had ever seen so many people. Will had an ocean of friends and other well-wishers, and they packed the sanctuary and auxiliary rooms to beyond capacity. Will was revered in several communities.

Two weeks after Will died, Mark and I rode to the accident site, coming from the opposite direction. I was surprised that it was a modest, harmless looking curve. I snapped pictures while Mark looked on absently. Before we left I rode down a mile, and then back the way that Will had come. The curve wasn’t banked, somewhat obscured by brush, following a prolonged straightaway. Riding it, I understood how easy it would be to slip in a way that I had not appreciated by looking.

Between White Bluff and Cumberland Furnace, TN. Looking West.

Will was an artist, but he was an engineer too – he was some wonderful melding of both artist and engineer ( When I asked my mother for her old defibrillator and pacemaker (, after her originals had been replaced, it was Will that I had in mind – excitedly we bantered about them as the basis of an artistic work. He asked me about computers too -- what was possible with them. He expressed an interest in adding computer programming and graphics to his artistic tool chest. Will wanted to somehow visualize the way that a computer processed text. He asked me how text was represented in a computer. I told him about ASCII binary codes, where each character (e.g., letter, digit, punctuation) is represented as 8 bits (1's and 0's) or 1 byte. He thought of using a light source to flash on and off, representing 1's and 0's, the ASCII representations of the sequence of characters that made up a text -- I think that we talked about doing this for the dictionary and some novel. We talked about this sequencing of flashing light being analogous to Morse code. I showed him a byte of memory (i.e., enough memory to store just a single CHARACTER of text) from an old, circa-1960 IBM 700-series computer. This REALLY excited him. This one byte was as big as small laptops of today that can store billions of bytes (or characters). It had 8 vacuum-tubes along the top, one for each bit. He imagined installing banks of 8-lights each (each light about the size of a Christmas light) in a dark room, and the banks of lights going off in rapid succession, perhaps with some parallelism, each bank representing a character of text. Perhaps visitors could type in text that would be translated to ASCII, byte representation and displayed. The basic idea of translating between representations or between modalities of perception was behind some of his other projects, like one in which bar codes were translated to audio.

Will and I shared art and engineering, and we were close friends … among that handful of “best” friends for which further ordinal distinctions make no sense. When he died I think I finally grokked that I was mortal.