Recently in Peter's skills Category

Nose adjustment

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One of the semi-magic tricks Peter used to occasionally do:

He'd say that his nose was out of alignment or something, and needed an adjustment, like a chiropractic adjustment.

He would put his hands together palm to palm, as if praying, but with his nose between the index fingers.

Then he would bend his hands to one side a little several times, as if twisting his nose slightly around an invisible axis coming straight out of his face; he'd indicate that he was taking out the slack. Then, one last sudden sharp bend/twist, accompanied by a loud cracking sound.

The trick was that he had one thumb (hidden by the other fingers) in his mouth in such a way that the thumbnail was under an upper front tooth; at the moment of bending his hands, he would snap the thumbnail out from under the tooth, making a noise.

When done well—and Peter did it well—this trick can be remarkably effective, and Peter took great delight in performing it.

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.

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 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?

The Tale of the Howling Wolf


Thanks for sharing this Tale, Linda!

Late one evening, our neighbor's dog began to bark. The dog, named "Jack", who was not prone to barking without reason, continued to do so, then subsided, when another dog began to bark, with the sound coming from the opposite side of our house.Then Jack gave an answering bark, and the two dogs began to communicate, growing ever louder and more adamant. Now one of the dogs began to howl at the full moon, followed by the other, and increasing steadily in volume. My husband, Steve, stepped out the back door to see what on earth was going on out there! Jack would howl, and then the unknown dog would howl even louder. Steve was able to pinpoint the second dog's location as Peter Hartman's back yard.......but he knew that Peter did not have a dog, and thought it unlikely that a stray would be in Peter's fenced yard. He took a look over the fence which separated our two houses, and was astounded to discover that the howling wolf was none other than a buck naked Peter, totally into the moment, on all fours, with head thrown back, howling wildly at the moon! When Peter became aware that he was not alone, he was rendered speechless, stood up, shrugged, and went in his back door, thus concluding the calls of the wild for the night.

(Peter lived next door to Linda and Steve for several years. -Dobe)

Teaching About Learning


When Peter worked at a place in the Northwest teaching computer hardware and server systems about 8-something years ago, he had a co-worker he talked about sometimes.

This co-worker was not very informed on the subject, according to Peter, but at the same time was very cock-sure about his knowledge, waving his hands and mumbling if push came to shove about some topic. (Peter felt badly for the students assigned to this co-worker.)

What I remembered recently about this was what Peter told me once; when he took this co-worker teacher aside and explained something to him that he obviously was misinformed about before Peter's intervention, this co-worker would invariably end the explanation with "I knew that", seemingly by reflex, and this happened a number of times.

Peter's comments about this were twofold.

First, Peter felt dissed that this fellow obviously did NOT know the topic, and after Peter showed him, he should have thanked Peter.

Second, according to Peter, this fellow was teaching his own subconcious mind to reject any new thoughtforms because he "already knew it", so his mind would then NOT make the pathways permanent, rejecting the new information for long-term storage. He was, according to Peter, beyond learning anything new!

I'm sure I used that phrase myself occasionally, BEFORE Peter told me that story.

Since that time, if the phrase was ever about to pass my lips, this story came to mind, and I would change what I was about to say.

I decided that I needed all the learning I can get!

Thanks, Peter! (And Happy 23rd!)

Juggling Life And Leisure

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Peter taught me to juggle in the early 1960's. He wasn't professional or anything at it, but he was good, very entertaining. While I never attained his skill level, I admired his accomplishments.

One of the "tricks" he did with juggling was to juggle two balls with the right hand, and then lift the third ball, up and down, in perfect timing, AS IF it was being juggled! I was never able to do this one, but I loved to watch it.

Another "variation" (as opposed to the "standard" juggling of three balls, with both hands throwing and catching) Peter had taught himself, was to only toss the balls with one hand, and then let the other hand simply feed the throwing hand by letting the ball "fall" into it. I think it's called a "waterfall juggling".

Paul had learned to ride a unicycle, in Ellensburg, (which he got really good at). Peter really wanted to learn this and spent many hours falling off of it, but was never proficient, to his regret. (It was Peter's wish that the two could be combined, that he could learn to juggle while riding a unicycle, although he never did, to my knowledge.)