March 2010 Archives

Cocktail onions

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Not an anecdote, just a memory:

Peter almost always had a little jar of pickled cocktail onions in the fridge. Not for cocktails; he would just take one out and eat it as a mini-snack every now and then.

I don't know whether that was a lifelong thing or not. I associate it with him strongly enough that I sometimes get some of those onions around an anniversary and eat them; I like them too, but I think of them specifically as a favorite food of Peter's.

Any of you know more about this? Did he always eat them, or was it just for a brief period?

Going back to school


My birthday seems like an appropriate time to reflect on one of the most valuable life-lessons-by-example that Peter imparted to me:

At around age 50, he left his career in the computer industry to go back to school. He ended up getting two master's degrees, one in math and one in education; then he became a teacher, first of high school and then at a community college.

(I think his father had done something similar, but I'm not sure. Uncles, any comments?)

I find that pretty inspiring. The idea that the life and career choices that you make in your twenties don't have to be permanent, that you can decide to change tracks and pursue something you love—it's comforting to me, even though I doubt I'll follow in his footsteps in this regard.

And for that matter, it's been useful to me in giving advice to friends who've tried to figure out what to do with their lives. It's not necessarily something everyone can do (there are plenty of issues involving class, money, privilege, children, health, etc), but I think a lot of people may be able to do similar things, and may not realize it.

Peter's "neat words" list, part 4

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Here's part 4 (and last) of Peter's "neat words" list. (See earlier entries: part 1, part 2, part 3.) These are the words starting with R through Z.

radar raffis rara-avis ratite recuse riant riant rococo rodomontade romanesco rondo ronyon rumper rumply runcible-spoon rupicolous sackbut satrap schwa scrawny scrim scrimshaw scrod scrofulous scruff scruffy scrum scumble scurf scutch scuttlebutt sedge sepulchre shibboleth shill shillelagh singeing sisyphian slumgullion slurry smirch snaffle snarf snath snell snickersnee snide sniffish sniggle snivel snook snooker snoose snoozle snorkel sny sophistry sororate spindrift spondulix spuddy spume spunk spunky spurge spurious squalidity squandermania squeegee squiffed squinch steatopygous stint stricture stupefacient stylite subterfuge supercilious supine surd surruptitious suspire susurrus sutler swamper swank swarf synecdoche syrinx syzygy tangential tarn tatting-shuttle tawdry teasel tedder teratology tergiversation tesselation thrumming thurl toady tor trull trumpery tweeze twigging twit tyrannicide usurious uxorious veleity vernacular vernier vinculum virago virgule wale whee whelk widget winsome wonk yclept zephyr

Movies Peter watched as a kid

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Another of the files rescued from Peter's hard drive was a letter containing stories and anecdotes about Peter's father and about Peter's childhood. A lot of them were pretty bitter and unpleasant, and I won't post those; and most of them aren't directly about Peter anyway. But here's one bit that I thought was interesting enough to post, about how Peter would spend his 25¢ weekly allowance as a kid:

each Saturday, after I finished my chores, I was allowed to go to the magic lantern (movie theater). The admission was 15¢, and popcorn was 10¢! For this munificent sum, what I got was 3 feature movies: a) sometimes war movies, with Japanese generals playing Go under naked light bulbs in tents!; b) sometimes science fiction; c) sometimes adventure (Kim, or King Solomon's Mines...); d) sometimes westerns (I remember Hopalong Cassidy and the Cisco Kid...); and always about 12 cartoons (pretty dumb, but I liked them anyway); 1 or 2 "shorts"; a newsreel; and a Superman serial (I "dug" "Superman vs. the Mole Men")....

It never occurred to me before that it's possible that I got my interest in movies from Peter; even though we never had much money, it was always understood that we would go see movies now and then. I think that, at least for a while, the allowances we received were specifically intended to be enough to see a movie each week.

Peter's "neat words" list, part 3

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Here's part 3 of Peter's "neat words" list. (See earlier entries: part 1, part 2.) These are the words starting with J through Q.

jabberwocky jactitation jape jejune jocularity jodhpurs kerf kith klinker kludge krait kwashiorkor lambent lethargy ligature liminal lissome lowboy lubricious lucubration Luddite lugubrious luminous-flux lumpenproletariat lumper lustrum macron maelstrom malfeasance manque meander mellifluous meretricious merryandrew mewling micturate mimosa moire Momus moxie multiplicity muzzy nabob natty nictitate nidget nidification nulliparous nullity numinous nutation obelus oblivious obloquy obnubilate obsequy obtestation obviate occipital odalesque offal ogee oldbrick omphaloskepsis opprobrious orlop ormolu orphic orthogonality osculating pædogogue palimpsest parse peduncle pelage pelagic pelf pellucid phalanges phantasmagorical picaresque picaro picayune Pick's-Theorem pickthank pish-and-tosh plangent pluperfect poetaster polyandry pome proboscis psychomimetic punctilious pursy pyknic pyx queazily querist quern querty quintessence quirt quixotic quizzical quoin

This is a letter that was on Peter's computer's hard drive. I assume that he actually mailed it; it would not have been out of character.

I've tried to reproduce the formatting of the original, which was mostly ordinary, with a couple of exceptions.

January 12, 2004

To Whom It May Concern:

Today at 10:51, 10 minutes after I parked, parking ticket #29774 was issued on my 1975 Thunderbird sedan. I had cruised up and down the upper employee parking lots and found absolutely no spaces. I then parked in the tiny space just inside the entrance. I parked next to a very long pickup truck which stuck out 2 or 3 feet farther than my car did, but neither vehicle was over the line or obstructing traffic in any way.

The citation states that I parked in a “striped zone at the north entrance”. When I read the ticket, I inspected the pavement, and there were no stripes to be seen! If people are to be ticketed for parking in a “striped zone”, then it seems to me that there ought to be visible stripes painted on the ground....

Also, half a dozen parallel parking spaces alongside the entrance road have been eliminated, and there is a serious shortage of parking spaces. I needed to get to the Tutorial Center by 10:50, and that was the only space I could find. I was only parked there from 10:45 a.m. to 12:55 p.m., having tutored for an hour and taught a math class for an hour.

For these reasons, I appeal for clemency. Please let this be a warning ticket: now that I am aware that that space is off-limits, I will not park there again. It has been said that

“Justice must be tempered with Mercy!”

As Lt. Colombo says, “Just one more thing...” I have worked as an editor at two publishing houses, and I offer the following suggestion for the citation form.

At the top of the ticket, it says, “This vehicle is illegally parked for one or more of the following reasons...” However, the first five boxes to be checked (speeding, etc.) are not parking offenses but moving violations. When this form is re-ordered, perhaps it could be changed to say, “You have been cited for one or more of the following parking offenses or moving violations, and may be subject to towing at your expense.” Also, on the back side, I.3) “BACK IN PARKING” should be “BACK - IN PARKING” ....

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Best regards,

[blank space for signature]

Peter Hartman, instructor

History does not record whether his request for clemency was granted, nor whether his edits were incorporated into a future version of the ticket form.

Peter's "neat words" list, part 2


Here's part 2 of Peter's "neat words" list. (See earlier entry for part 1 and background.) These are the words starting with F through I. There are quite a lot of F words, for some reason.

fandango fanfaronade fantoccini fantod faradism farfel fasces fatuity filch flaccid flang flange flapdoodle fleer flense fletch flibbertigibbet flimsy flinch flinders flinger flinty flip-flop flippancy flirtigig flitch flittermouse flocculate flocculus flogger flooey floozy flotsam flout flub-dub fluctuant flummery flummox flurry fluxion fœtid fœtor frangible frangipani frank frantic fraught frenetic fricassee fricative frizz frop froward frowsty frump frustum fulgent fulgurate fuliginous fuller's-earth fulminate fulsome funambulism functor fungible funicular furbelow furring fussbudget fustian fustigate futtock fylfot gallimaufry gambrel gauche gawky gentian gibbous glaucous gleet glissade glockenspiel gooney grabble grabble graffle gratuitous gribble gristliness grok grovel gutbucket gyromagnetic ha-ha habiliment hagiolatry halcyon hamlet ideomotor idiolect ignis-fatuus impecunious inchoate indolent ingenuous insipid inspissated intrados involute iodoform irruptive ischemia ishmael isinglass isthmus

Peter and email (and computers)

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Some of the first email I ever sent was to Peter, back in college, back in the days when you had to specify the full path from one computer to another of how to reach a recipient.

But I don't think he was ever all that into email. I think there were periods of years when he had no email access at all.

And at one point, as I mentioned in an entry in my main blog a few years back, he told me that he he only checked mail at home 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.

I now see that as part of an odd anti-computer streak in Peter's personality; see also my recent entry about his use of calculators. Given that he had a lifelong interest in science fiction, given that he made his living for a long time working with and/or programming computers, I was always surprised and a little puzzled that he wasn't more interested in using them in his daily life.

Writing this entry got me curious, so I went and looked through some old files, and found email from Peter from mid-1988, when he was doing QA at Olivetti. Here's most of it:

well i finally finished the review of the help files i was doing: 440 bugs plus 230 instances of 1 bug = 670 all told. of course the product has already been released... but i think 670 bugs will grab somebody's attention enough to do a recycle. i hadn't read my mail for 10 days because there was one message telling me to stop work on that project, & i diddn wanna. (nice name for a char. in a story: I. Didden Wannah...) so now that i finished i can safely read the mail. i disposed of 270 messages in about half an hour.

anyway, an exciting time is coming up: a) john is coming 7/22 & staying for 16 days!! b) starting 7/23 is Olivetti's forced vacation: i am OFF WORK until 8/1!!! c) you are coming 8/13? ... hooray!! d) i may be going to Japan for two weeks on or about 8/15!!!! to do some QA on a new product! so i'd miss most of your visit. i should find out within a week or so if i'm going.

Addendum: after I wrote most of this entry, I was going through some old files and found about twenty emails from Peter from April '93 through January '94; apparently he was writing to me every couple of weeks, sometimes every couple of days, during that period. He had an email account at Western Washington University, where he was in grad school. I'll go through those notes and extract interesting stuff to post. Anyway, so I'm revising my theory: I think he was happy to send and receive email at times when he had easy access to it at work or school, but I think it wasn't a priority for him to obtain access when it wasn't easy.

But that's really just a guess. Did he email y'all very often? Were there periods of more and less email from him?

Peter's "neat words" list, part 1

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Kam rescued a bunch of files from the hard drive from Peter's computer. Most of them are either mundane (mostly syllabi for the classes he taught) or not suitable for public display (private letters).

But two of the files are titled "peters neat words" and "peters neat words 2"; they consist entirely of lists of neat words.

The first one is in apparently random order; I suspect he just added words to the end of it over time, as he thought of them.

The second one is the same list, alphabetized (plus one new word); that's the one I'm posting here. My text editor says there are 441 words total.

I thought about trying to present this in alternative ways—as a bulleted list, for example—but it's going to be long no matter what, so I'm leaving it formatted the way he had it, with words separated by spaces. And I'm breaking it up into chunks to keep it from being too overwhelming all at once.

Here's part 1, words starting with A through E:

abashment abecedarian abjection abjure abstemious abysmal aerie akimbo alembic alopecic animadversion anomie arcana arete autodidact bamboozle bellicosity bells-and-whistles berm bezel bloviate blurb bolo bombast bonhomie bonze bosky botchwork bouzouki braggadocio breechclout buncombe burl Bushido cantankerous chillum chimæra clandestine claptrap coda confuter crapulous craunch crepuscular crucifer cruet cudgel curlew daquoit defalcation defenestration demijohn diæresis dingle dirndl dither dog-and-pony-show dubbin dubiety ebullience eddy effluvium effrontery electron-drift ellipsis enervate ennui epistemologist ersatz eructation eschatological escutcheon estivate etiolate exegesis expectorate

Checking in

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Yo, Jed~

Your detailed sign-in instructions are perfect. They remind me, however, that my kids have often observed that I take "logical sequential" to an anal-retentive extreme. A couple of years ago I tired of the charge and wrote them an eleven-page memo refuting it, including bullet-points, footnotes, and an index.

But back to the point: thanks for raising this homage to my older brother. Who was, co-incidentally, your dad.


Anecdotes/jokes from Peter

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On looking through some old files, I found a file from mid-1989 titled "peter.anecdotes." He must have sent me these notes in email at some point (see a forthcoming entry about Peter and email), but I don't know exactly when (probably early '89), and I'm not sure whether these three paragraphs were all in the same message or in different ones.

Here's the contents of the file:

When the poet Gregory Corso (Allen Ginsberg's Friend) was 21 he went into a police station in Brooklyn and announced "Now that I have attained my majority I demand to be executed!" (Some sens'a huma', some people have....) They not only didn't oblige him, they confined him to Belleview for observation for a few weeks. The day I was 21 I went into a tavern where I'd been drinking for 3 years, feeling deliciously legal: "Today's my birthday Jack -- buy me a beer...!" "Here -- how old are ya?" "TWENTY-ONE!" "Arrgghh!!" I imagine you can come up with something better than these for yours.

Did you hear about the Dan Quayle bond issue? No principles, no interest, and never matures. Dan Quayle asked his opinion about Rowe vs. Wade: "Yeah, well, those are two ways to get across the Potomac...?"

Ok, I'm going back to work -- it was nice talking to you.... It was far out that I'd ask you for the first time a question that for the first time you had a non-empty answer for.... The Cosmic Coincidence Control Center also arranged last week for me to write a letter to my boss detailing a scenario whereby a user could get "permanently" locked out of his/her system (at least until the CMOS chip is electrically discharged by removing the battery for a while). The author of the BIOS, a likable guy from Italy, assured me for twenty minutes that this scenario was outlandish and would never happen in a billion years etc. That afternoon, for the first time in more than a year, the "worst-case" happened in the product manager's lab (a system in which a password had never been specified suddenly demanded one...). All and sundry were blown away. Why do ducks dive into the water? (For divers' reasons...) Why do ducks lie on a rock in the sun? (For sun-dry reasons...) Enough.

I posted the Peter-turning-21 story in this blog a while back, but I figured it was worth posting his version.

I think the question he mentions above was probably something like "Do you have a girlfriend?" Although the timing on that doesn't seem right. Not sure.


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I posted this back in 2005, in an entry in my main blog, but I think it's worth reposting here.

One of the few things other than papers and photos that I brought home with me after that first week was Peter's slide rule. I always wanted that slide rule when I was a kid. I didn't (and still don't) know how to use it properly, but I knew it was a device for doing math, and I thought that was cool.

I didn't bring home any of his multitude of graphing calculators. I was surprised, though, looking at his books, to realize how long calculators had been an interest of his; there were calculator-tricks-and-games books dating back to when I was a kid. I remember the first calculator I saw, possibly the first one he owned, an HP-25 programmable calculator (photo); some of the earliest programming I did was on that calculator. I'm still sometimes a little more comfortable with Reverse Polish Notation than with more straightforward regular calculators. . . . Hey, nifty! There's a Java simulation of an HP-25 available free online!

Peter once promised me a calculator of my own if I learned the squares of all the numbers up to 25. I knew most of 'em, but never did memorize the late teens and early twenties.

At some point in high school or college I somehow managed to lose his HP-25, but he went on to more advanced calculators: a 41C (photo), an 11C (photo), maybe also a 16C (photo), though I'm not sure about that last. I think he didn't make the switch to graphing calculators until he started to teach math sometime in the '90s.

The funny thing is that he never owned a PDA and rarely used a computer (outside of work) for anything but playing games; that always seemed a little odd to me, but I wonder if he continued to think of calculators as primarily calculating devices, like the slide rule, rather than small computers.

Languages in the home

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When I was a kid, at one point my school sent home a form that asked for various bits of info about the kid's home life.

One of the blanks on the form asked for a list of the languages that were spoken in the child's home.

Peter wrote: "English and Gibberish."

(I don't actually remember for sure whether it was Peter or Marcy who did this, but it certainly sounds like something Peter would have done, so I'm saying it was him.)

The fate of Peter's books


In an entry from late 2007, Dobe asked what happened to Peter's books. I was going to finally post a comment on that entry to supply some answers just now, when I realized that I might as well make it a full entry instead of a comment. So here goes:

Peter had a lot of books at the end. Most of them were smoke-damaged.

I went through the whole house during that first week after his death and took all the books that I was interested in: books I remembered from childhood, books I thought Peter had particularly liked, books that looked like they might be rare, anything else that seemed worth taking. Carted them all off to Jordan and Crystal's garage.

I left the vast majority of his books in the house—at least two-thirds of them, probably quite a bit more. I think I made some estimates at the time about how many books there were in the house, and how many I was taking, but I don't remember the numbers. I was sad to leave so many behind, but I didn't want them, nobody else in the family expressed any interest in them, and they were smoke-damaged so I didn't think they could be sold or given away. And I was pretty overwhelmed in general.

I assume that when the bank (?) came and cleaned out everything in the house prior to starting restoration work, that they took the books as well. I would have expected them to end up in a Dumpster, unfortunately. But I vaguely recall Jay saying that the bank had put all the stuff from the house in storage at some point; I'm not sure what ended up happening there.

A while later, I came back up to Tacoma and, over the course of a couple of days at Jordan and Crystal's place, I filled several large cardboard boxes with the books I had taken from the house. Then I mailed the boxes home to myself.

Later, at home, I sorted through them again, and decided to keep only about a third of the ones I had brought home.

All of the ones I brought home are currently in boxes in my garage; my new place doesn't yet have enough bookcases for the ones I'm keeping, and I haven't figured out what to do with the rest. I'll probably ask the local library if they'll take books with smoke-damaged covers for their book sale. I suspect they'll say no, and I doubt the local used-book store will take them, which probably means throwing them out. Which I don't want to do, which is why I've been putting off dealing with it for so long.

There's one small category of books that weren't smoke-damaged: he had a bookcase full of science fiction paperbacks, and a fair number of those were wrapped in protective plastic bags. This was especially true for a bunch of the Philip K. Dick paperbacks. So there are several early-edition PKD paperbacks in very good condition mixed in with the rest of the books.

I've tried to clean the soot off of the covers of a few of the ones I'm keeping, but it was a slow process, and I didn't do very many of them, and wasn't very successful with the ones I did work on.

More answers to Dobe's questions to follow in other entries and/or comments in coming days/weeks.

A return to posting

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A bunch of things conspired to cause me to stop posting here two years ago.

I was feeling that my entries weren't coming out the way I wanted them to; the things I was posting always seemed to make better stories in my head than on the page. Which is unusual for me; usually a good story is a good story. But they were feeling flat when I posted them here.

There were also some technical issues with the blog—various things had stopped working, and I didn't have the energy to fix them. I finally fixed most of them a few months ago, but various things still looked pretty bad, and I couldn't figure out why. Tonight I told the system to throw away all the old layout templates and replace them with new ones, and lo! it worked!

Another concern was that Dobe had told me that every time he posted here, his email spam volume went way up. I was worried about that and didn't have the energy to figure out what was going on and fix it. (Dobe: on further inspection, I don't see anywhere on this site where your email address appears. So I may be missing something, but I think the increases in spam volume that you saw may just have been a coincidence.)

I think there were other factors too, possibly including just general stress.

But Gabrielle mentioned the blog tonight, and I had been thinking about it anyway, and so I stopped by, and fixing the remaining technical problems turned out to be easier than I'd thought.

So I'm gonna try posting here semi-regularly again. We'll see how it goes.