« Google Earth Mac! | Main | Saving the future »

Assorted notes about Peter


The other morning I had a dream in which I was talking with some kind of a counselor, in her back yard, with half a dozen other people, and I was distressed because I couldn't remember how my father had died (I thought it was something about being caught sneaking across the border in Russia?), only it became clear that the counselor wasn't listening to me; she was busy chastising one of her kids for climbing the fence, and chatting with the other people, etc. I was glad to wake up from that, at least for the few seconds until reality came back.

Anyway. Last night I picked up several data CDs from my desk to put them away, but figured I should take a look at what was on them before putting them away. One was the photos that my cousin Jordan took in the ruins of Peter's house last March, when we were going through it. Nearly 150 photos--mostly the interior of the house, but a few of me and Jay and Holly and our uncle Paul and the next-door neighbor woman. I started to look at those but decided it wasn't time yet, so I just imported them into iPhoto and figured they'll be there when I'm ready.

And then the next CD was the one Kam burned for me a week or two back. She had extracted all the hard drives she could find from computers in Peter's house; I had figured that even if the disks were recoverable, there wouldn't be anything of value on them, because as far as I knew Peter almost never used the computer. (Some years back, he told me that he didn't do email very much, because he only checked mail every couple of weeks, and so sometimes he would have as much as ten or twelve pieces of spam to deal with, and that was just too much.)

But Kam went through the disks anyway, and it turned out that there was indeed intact data on them. Nothing startling or unexpected: for example, a bunch of the documents are downloaded web pages and articles about the evils of Bush (presumably downloaded by Nancy--in one of the boxes I sorted through in Tacoma last month, mixed in with their financial papers there were literally hundreds of pages of printouts of such articles). Not all the political stuff was from Nancy, though: for example, there's one brief document written by Peter demonstrating "an irrefutable chain of logic" leading from "If you are not for me, you are against me" to summary executions for all dissenters. Sigh. Anyway, there were also a couple dozen tests and syllabi that Peter presumably put together for his math teaching job, and some letters.

I haven't gone through them all yet; some I probably won't, because they were private between Peter and the recipient. A couple of the ones I've looked at so far are kind of depressing--letters to Peter's lawyer about the child-support situation Peter was involved in (it's a very long and very messy story), full of fairly typical ranting.

And then there are the brief documents that just consist of a cute phrase Peter came up with or wanted to write down--"Be true to your teeth, or they will be false to you..." and such. And some fractal-drawing programs for graphing calculators. And a writeup of one of his favorite math puzzles, the "Problem of the Six-Inch Hole": "A hole is drilled in a sphere through its center. The hole is measured, from entry to exit, and found to be six inches long. What is the volume of what remains after drilling?" Maybe some day I'll turn his writeup into a web page.

Also, two files of "Peter's neat words"--just long lists of words he liked, in alphabetical order. I think he may've sent me previous versions of those some years back. Here's an excerpt from the F section of one of them: "frangipani frank frantic fraught frenetic fricassee fricative frizz frop froward frowsty frump frustum fulgent fulgurate fuliginous" and so on.

There were a couple of letters I was saving 'til last, thinking they would be nicely nostalgic, only they turned out to be full of bitterness and anger. So I didn't read those all the way through.

But I think the item that was most representative of who Peter was was a letter he wrote in response to receiving a parking ticket. He started by saying that he shouldn't have gotten the ticket (because the space he'd parked in wasn't marked as off-limits), and asking for clemency; then after several paragraphs of asking them to forgive the ticket, and the phrase "Justice must be tempered with Mercy!" in big letters in the middle of the page, he spent two paragraphs correcting the grammar, punctuation, and layout of the ticket. I was thoroughly tickled; it was such a quintessentially Peter thing to do. (And secondarily tickled because I've had the urge to write many such a letter myself.)

Anyway. I'm glad to have these documents--thank you again, Kam--but sad, too. I wish he'd left more letters and other writings, and that more of this material showed his playful and curious and erudite sides and less of it focused on his anger and bitterness.

At some point maybe I'll dig up and post some of the punch cards he used to bring home when I was a kid, filled with delirious puns and nonsense rhymes.


You are brave.

Another thing Peter used to do was to first exclaim a short riddle or a one-liner when he called me, as opposed to first saying "Hello." The one I remember best is: "Is the price of a dozen eggs worth the wear and tear on a hen's ass?" Which from a strict anatomical perspective is probably not exactly the right question, but you get the picture. I wish I had written down others; it never seemed important at the time.

I never wondered, until now, what was on any of his hard drives or thought that they had survived. I still have every email he ever sent me. That was a lot over the years. I haven't read them or gone through them. Maybe when I re-retire.

We talked so often in his last few years that email wasn't used so much. I think he was normally so off into some book that computers were just a hindrance to his learning or enjoyment.

IMHO, Peter came up with a lot of his ideas (that have come down to us from his writings in several forms) from his dreams. I can't tell you how often he would share an idea with me and so often it was from retaining some portion of a dream, which was either the answer to an engineering problem, a math problem, a pun, a riddle, etc. They emanated from remembering his dreams.

Thanks for sharing the above, Jed. I love you.

Uncle Dobe

Post a comment