1985, January 16: Letter from Peter to G&H

One-and-a-quarter-page letter printed out from a computer on a dot-matrix printer, with the tractor-feed edges removed.

At the top of the letter, Helen at some point wrote “Jan. 17, ’85,” which I assume means that at the time when she was putting dates on letters, she missed the January 16 date that Peter had put on this one.

Address redacted by Jed

Palo Alto, CA 94306

16 January 1985


Dear Parents,

Well, now that Christmas vacation is over it’s back to work for all of us.... I am hard at work on what’s called a "terminal emulator": it means I am programming the Compass to look like a Hewlett-Packard 2622A terminal to an HP3000 mainframe, or "Host" computer. The first working version is due on Feb. 1, and I don’t know that I’ll make the deadline ... but people usually don’t: other things always come up that need time and attention ... so projects slip. It’s already slipped about three weeks, I suppose it will slip another two or three by the time it’s done. So it goes.

So how are you both? Well I hope. I am glad you liked the presents I sent you -- I had fun selecting and buying them and hoping/imagining you’d be pleased.... We certainly enjoyed your gifts: the pillows are so nice, it’s a lot of love that you’ve put in all all the crocheted things you’ve given us, and I treasure them.... Thank you too for the "Upwords" game: another word game we have enjoyed playing over the last year or two has been one called "Boggle": using a 4 x 4 array of random-lettered dice faces, the players try to find words ... you only get credit for words nobody else found. I do two Sunday paper crosswords & an acrostic, usually extending into Monday morning, and then abstain the rest of the week ... I enjoy it, but that Sunday NY Times crossword is the one I like best, and it usually satisfies me for a week. If not I have old ones that I never did. So the rest of the week I read science fiction, help the kids with their homework, read two newspapers a day (the SF Chronicle and the Peninsula Times-Tribune), cook, shop, wash dishes, sweep, mop, play piano, sometimes bring work home, read technical books, once in a while play chess with Joaquin, or play out a GO game from a magazine, pay bills, bathe, wash & fold clothes, talk on the phone to John or David or you (sorry I haven’t for a while), wash pots & pans, clean the kitchen, put food away, once in a while play Frisbee (although I haven’t for about two months), or play with one of two ultra-far-flying disks we have (one called an Aerobee easily goes 100 yards with a flick of the wrist), or, seldom, a computer game (one called FlakAttak on the GRID is very popular with J., J., and Y.), etc., etc. If I had a maid, I’d probably write more letters, play piano more, go to the Johrei church more than twice a month, try some new recipes, go on a date, buy and ride a bicycle, jog, practice Aikido at the dojo, take up windsurfing, go hiking/camping/canoing, and read more books. O well. Three more years and I’m retiring to the country. I’m tired of/from life in the fast lane.

Well anyway, thank you again for the cakes and lefse, very nice. Maybe sometime this spring or summer we will get up there for a visit: I didn’t get to see any snow this year, and probably won’t if we stay in the Bay Area. But I don’t have any vacation accrued since I spent the five days in Jamaica. They were going to make three of them unpaid, but somebody forgot to dock my paycheck, so I imagine they just gave me the vacation days in advance. I get only two weeks per year (I was up to three weeks at Logical, but they burned me for eleven days vacation pay!), so six months is only five days vacation, which I’ve already spent.... O well, maybe we’ll see you next Christmas instead....

It’s late and I’m going to hit the sack -- hope all is well with you ...

do either of you think of anything we could get you for your upcoming birthdays? Any ideas you have (for yourselves or for each other) will be appreciated. Good night and God bless you.


Peter, Jed & Joaquin

P.S. Sorry I misplaced Joaquin’s letter...


Peter had started working at GRiD, a company that made a laptop called the GRiD Compass. IIrc, Peter told us that the Compass was a mil-spect computer, designed to survive unharmed if dropped onto a concrete floor from a height of ten feet. It used bubble memory, a non-volatile form of memory that meant it kept everything in memory when you shut it off. It had a 320 × 240-pixel display, showing orange letters on a black background.
Peter sometimes brought a Compass home and let us do stuff with it. I think mostly that stuff was games (see below), but the Compass had a modem, and so for the first time I could dial up BBSes. I spent a lot of time on those, usually late at night while Peter was asleep in the next room.
At one point, I asked Peter to print out a list of BBSes for me at work (we didn’t have a printer at home). When he brought the list home, he told me that a co-worker had seen it and had told Peter that I was connecting to sex BBSes. After some discussion, we guessed that the co-worker must have seen the word fantasy in the titles of some of them (as in fantasy roleplaying games, as in Dungeons & Dragons) and jumped to conclusions.
(There was in fact one sex BBS that I connected to once or twice, but that’s another story for another time, and anyway I don’t think it was on the list that I asked Peter to print out.)
terminal emulator
This is … not a great nontechnical description of what a terminal emulator is or does. The core idea was to make it so you could use the Compass to connect remotely to a bigger computer (like the HP 3000).
“presents I sent you”
This may be the first time, in all these years of letters, that Peter mentions sending presents to George and Helen other than whatever book he was currently enthusiastic about.
“crocheted things”
Oops, I said “knitted” in comments on various past letters; guess I was wrong.
Sort of like a Scrabble variant in which you could play new tiles on top of previously played tiles. For a picture and more info, see Wikipedia.
I’ve been a Boggle fan ever since.
Peter did crossword puzzles in pen. He did occasionally make mistakes (he would then overwrite the mistaken letter with the correct letter), but I think not often. I knew that he did crosswords and acrostics sometimes, but I hadn’t realized (or hadn’t remembered) that he did Sunday NY Times crossword every week.
“chess with Joaquin”
Interesting; I hadn’t remembered Jay playing chess.
Due to the miracle of YouTube, you can watch a two-minute video of Flak Attack being played on a GriD Compass. I had forgotten all about this game; even seeing it now, I barely remember it.
“J., J., and Y.”
Y. was our Japanese exchange student.
list of activities
Kind of neat to get to see what Peter was doing in daily life. He’s given this kind of list before in these letters, but previous times it’s felt to me like he only does that when he feels the need to convince George and Helen that he’s super busy; here it feels to me more like he’s just letting them know what’s going on in his life.
“retiring to the country”
Peter never did retire to the country. I didn’t know until now that that was a goal of his.
At some point in 1984, I think, Peter went to Jamaica. I don’t remember for sure, but I vaguely think that his main interest in going there was that he figured there was a lot of marijuana-smoking there.
I wrote another paragraph here about things that grew out of that Jamaica trip, but a little further research has convinced me that those things happened a couple years later, so I think he must have gone back to Jamaica in 1986 or 1987, so never mind.

Join the Conversation