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eulogies

Odd Lots

  • As I polish up this Odd Lots, I see that Sectorlink.com is down, which is significant to me since they host duntemann.com and copperwood.com. Have no idea what’s going on yet, nor how long the outage has existed. (I was over at one of Carol’s friends’ rebuilding some very ad-hoc tomato shelters in honor of George Ewing until an hour or so ago.) If some of my pages are inaccessible, it’s not about me; it’s the whole damned hosting service.
  • We lost Martin Gardner the other day, at 95. Amazing man, something like a technical Colin Wilson, who wrote the “Mathematical Games” column in Scientific American for 25 years, edited Humpty Dumpty’s Magazine for Little Children (which I read circa 1957-59) and cranked out books for most of his life. Every one I’ve read has been terrific, and I especially endorse Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science (1957) and The Annotated Alice (1960.) I should look for a few more.
  • Art Linkletter too, who made it to 97. It was in Linkletter’s very funny book Kids Sure Rite Funny that I found the wonderful kid-quote: “Now that dinosaurs are safely dead, we can call them clumsy and stupid.” The book’s copyright was not renewed and it is now in the public domain; you can read it online or get free ebook copies in various formats here.
  • The problem with how to carry your iPad made it all the way to the Wall Street Journal, which devoted an A-head story to the issue. My correspondents (including a couple who have the iPad) think a belt holster is unrealistic. Best iCartage solution I’ve seen so far (including a photo endorsement from Woz himself) is the Scott eVest, with 22 hidden pockets, including one custom-designed for the iPad.
  • Then again, there’s some unexplored form factor territory between smartphones and iPads. I find the Dell Streak (formerly the Mini 5) intriguing for its size/shape alone. (Here’s an interesting perspective on display size from Engadget.) The 5-inch model that will launch later this year (and in the UK on June 4, I hear) is about the size of an old HP scientific pocket calculator, and in the fevered days of my youth alpha geeks carried those around in leather belt holsters. Even the rumored 7-inch version could be belt-holstered with some care; beyond that it gets dicey. (Dell supposedly has a 10-incher in development.)
  • After asking mobile developer David Beers about his thoughts on the Android OS, I discovered that Google will let you download an Android LiveCD so you can mess around with the OS on an ordinary Intel PC without having to lay out for an actual mobile device.
  • That unpronounceable volcano in Iceland, perhaps fearing that the world was starting to get bored with it, blew a volcanic smoke ring the other day. Many people, perhaps thinking that smoking may be hazardous to a volcano’s health, are cheering it on.
  • After several calm days here, the winds came up again yesterday morning. As Carol and I were driving back from Walgreen’s, we saw dust clouds crossing Broadmoor Bluffs in front of us on several occasions. It’s dry here, and construction sites generate a lot of brown dust, true. But then the winds calmed for a few seconds before starting up again, and when they did, we saw a large pine tree shake in the wind and let go a thick cloud of yellow dust. Pine pollen by the pound. No wonder I can barely breathe.

More George Ewing Stories

In the wake of George Ewing’s passing, my old friend Lee Hart sent me an email full of reminiscences. Some of these were familiar to me, but most of them were new. (Lee had been local to George for a lot of years and saw him far more often than I did.) So let me set them down here with minimal editing, as I’m currently in the center of the vortex trying to get things in sufficient order to do some serious writing in coming weeks.

Lee remembers (as I do I, in some cases) these WA8WTE tidbits:

  • Words like weaselrat, snoguloid, kremulator…
  • The toilet, on a raised dais in the center of the living room in his geodesic dome home (the “throne”).
  • Panning for coins and ICs in the sand floor of his dome after we tore it down in 1980.
  • How he kicked a skunk into the river because it was after his food.
  • His “motie” charger for his 2M handi-talkie: a series capacitor and bridge rectifier in a disorderly ball of duct tape.
  • His movie reviews, which made me wonder if I’d seen the same movie he did! (Ed: I have a couple, which I will scan and post in coming days.
  • Plowing his driveway with his picnic table.
  • His “tin Plymouth” that was so rusty it even holes in the roof. (Ed: This is the Barracuda he drive to Clarion. It was a…remarkable…thing.)
  • Making chili with peanuts because he was out of beans.
  • His “portable” computer, which was a military surplus shipping case. His Heath/Zenith H89, printer, a change of clothes for padding etc. all inside. He used the (empty) case as a seat, and screwed legs onto the cover as a table to use to hold the computer when everything was set up.
  • The car he sold to John LaPrairie for $200, with the proviso that John had to clean it out. (There was so much junk front and back that only a driver could fit inside). John found over $200 in loose change, wadded up bills, and refund checks in it.
  • Going to Soo, Ontario (Canada) in his rusty old pickup. The brakes failed rolling down the Canadian side of the bridge, so he rolled straight past customs at speed. Flashing lights, armed guards, etc. chased him down. When they found all that surplus junk in the back, they searched it for hours. They figured he was either an insane terrorist, or a harmless idiot. (“What’s with the bottom half of a chart recorder, eh?”)
  • George visited a friend he hadn’t seen for a while. The friend happened to mention that he was trying to fix his old Jeep, which had a bad carburetor. George starts rummaging through the pockets of his huge Army surplus coat, pulls out a carburetor and said, “Like this?”

I’ll add a couple of my own here: George (who was a very big if gentle man, and almost entirely muscle) visited us at our first house in Chicago shortly after we bought it in the spring of 1978. It was a 1913 bungalow, and paint had been used carelessly everywhere. The kitchen casement window wasn’t painted shut, but it would only go up a few inches without jamming. George saw me struggling with it, so when I stepped aside he grabbed both brass handles in his huge hands and heaved upward, hard. Ker-unch! Both handles came out of the wood and away in his grip.

A few years later, he drove his ’76 Monza hatchback out to our house in Rochester, NY and stayed for a couple of weeks to housebreak Chewy. We noticed that the Monza’s pot-metal door handles had been replaced with custom-shaped (in a vise, with files) galvanized iron angle stock. He had torn the real handles off within a year of buying the car, simply because he didn’t know how strong he was.

Damn. If George Ewing had been around in 10,000 BC with a jack and some 2 X 4s, Atlantis wouldn’t have sunk. And I don’t have a lot more friends like that to lose. Like, none.

George M. Ewing WA8WTE 1945-2010

jeffandgeorgeinworkshop1995Cropped.jpg

Last night I got word from Florida author Elenora Sabin that George Ewing had collapsed and died of a massive heart attack on May 18. He was 64. He had been in the parking lot near where he worked, in Tampa, Florida when the collapse occurred. Death was evidently immediate; by the time bystanders saw him and called 911, he was gone. I spoke with his brother Tom a little while ago. He mentioned that George had had an organ donation agreement in place through the LifeLink Foundation, and following organ donation, his body was cremated. His ashes are being returned to George’s home state of Michigan, where they will be interred in his parents Wilkin & June Ewing’s plot at Riverside Cemetery in Sault Ste. Marie. He never married, and is survived by his brother Tom. No memorial services are planned.

Clarion73BrennertMcEvoyEwing.jpgI first ran into George at the Clarion SF Writers’ Conference in East Lansing, Michigan, in 1973. That’s him on the right margin of the photo at left, holding a camera. (The other two workshoppers shown are Alan Brennert, far left, and Seth MacEvoy, center. There’s a chap between Seth and George whom I don’t recognize.) As WN9MQY, I had thrown my novice ham station into the trunk of my Chevelle and taken it with me, imagining running a wire from a third-floor dorm room out to one of the campus’s abundant trees. No luck; we were in the basement of Mason-Abbot Hall, and the only thing outside my room window were yew bushes…and a copper downspout. Hmmm. I poked a run of coax out the window and ran around outside to see whether I could somehow match into the copper pipe…and found another piece of coax in the dirt, coming from the next window over from mine. That’s when I met George Macdonald Ewing WA8WTE. Neither of us ever got a good match into the downspout, but that was all right. He became a close friend and my staunchest ally at the conference (which was a continuous low-key war between the Techs and the Orteests) and we were never out of touch for long after that.

GeorgeEwingatJeffWedding1976.jpgLike me, he was a hands-on techie and hard SF enthusiast, and we brainstormed SF ideas and critiqued one another’s fiction frequently both at Clarion and afterward, in letters (later electronically) and in person. He was encouraging but also honest: In 1977, while visiting us in Chicago, he persuaded me to abandon a novel I was working on, and kidded me goodnaturedly about some of its more juvenile aspects for years thereafter. He sent a newsletter/fanzine to our Clarion class for the rest of the 70s, run off on the ditto machine of the rural Michigan high school where he taught. Alas, the termites made a colony out of my box of fanzines and APAs in the late 90s, and they’ve all perished, but George’s Post-Clarion Carrion was nicely done and often hilarious, especially his off-the-wall SF movie reviews. He attended our wedding in 1976 (above) and we saw him at SF cons regularly over the years. He and I were among the founders of the SF/tech fan group General Technics, a group that persists to this day.

In the early 1970s he hand-built a plywood geodesic dome on some property he’d bought near Cheboygan, Michigan, and lived in the dome while slowly hand-building an A-frame chalet beside it. By 1980 the A-frame was livable (barely) and he convened a party to celebrate and dismantle the dome. Fifteen or twenty of us showed up, and the dome came down in high style. The A-frame wasn’t quite finished (interior walls had not yet been sheetrocked, which made for problems with the bathroom) but we had campfires and outings to Whitefish Bay and slept in a huge tent made of sheet plastic weighted at the edges with old railroad ties and inflated with an ordinary window fan.

EwingLivingonaShoestringCover200Wide.jpgGeorge was a published writer in both the SF and nonfiction worlds. His first story, “Black Fly,” appeared in Analog in September 1974, followed by semiregular publication there, in Asimov’s, and other places. He sold numerous articles into the electronics/ham radio market, many focused on scrounge technology. In 1983 Wayne Green Publications published George’s book Living on a Shoestring, which was a Ewing brain dump on how to do more with less and repurpose what you and I might call junk into the raw materials of a comfortable (if eccentric) life. It’s as close to a memoir as we’ll ever have, as those who knew him will attest. He was always doing this stuff, and developed a sense for outside-the-box make-do technology that served him well both personally and in his fiction. He was Pro Guest of Honor at Nanocon 8 in Houghton, Michigan, in 1996, and the Houghton SF group published a short reprint volume of his fiction for the con. He played tuba in his high-school band, and considered tuba one of his iconic traits. I never actually saw a tuba in his hands, but he drew cartoons of himself playing one on regular occasions–often standing atop unlikely things like abandoned military radar antennas.

He spent a week with us in Rochester in the summer of 1982, and housebroke our new puppy Chewy while we were both away at work. Greater love hath no man…

GeorgeJuneTazzy350Wide.jpgI don’t have many good pictures of George. What’s here is all there is. The photo at the top of this entry was taken in 1995, in my then-new Scottsdale workshop. Sure, he’s peeking out from behind other people in various convention group shots, but mostly we see half of his head and one arm. The photo at left is the most recent I have, from 2004, with his mother June and his dog Tazzy. He didn’t think people were that interested in seeing his image; he sent me this photo only because he thought Tazzy looked like my old dog Smoker. (She does.) That was a key George Ewing characteristic: He was not full of himself. He was courteous, jovial, a good listener, generous with his time and ideas, and extraordinarily social. He was always willing to assume the best about other people, and never engaged in the sorts of poisonous arguments and personal attacks that have made so many others (including far too many in my acquaintence) look like brain-damaged twelve-year-olds. He scolded me only a couple of times, but always in private, and in every case for abundant good reason.

We don’t get to keep our friends forever, and 37 years is a pretty good run. Only a handful of people go back with me farther than that. I will always celebrate his friendship, especially his can-do outlook, which might be summarized in these two points:

  1. Think outside the box;
  2. Then turn around and make something out of the box!

WA8WTE DE K7JPD 73 ES GUD LK SK

Harry L. Helms 1952-2009

I got word the other day that Harry L. Helms W5HLH had died this past Sunday. Harry was a friend for over 20 years, and we met regularly at trade shows including the Borland conferences and ABA/BEA, just to touch base and trade ideas. He and I had a lot in common: We were both longtime hams, we both liked classic radio gear, shortwave listening, and publishing. (We were also within a few weeks of the same age.) He was the co-founder of HighText Publishing in Solana Beach, California, and the author of a lot of books worth reading, including Shortwave Listening Guidebook (1993), How to Tune the Secret Shortwave Spectrum (1981), Top Secret Tourism (2007) and Inside the Shadow Government (2003), which may be the scariest book I’ve ever read. He published Andrew Yoder’s Pirate Radio (1996) which is best-of-breed on the history of that insane little cross-current in the mostly placid waters of the radio broadcasting industry.

His passing was nothing out of the blue: He had blogged about his struggle with cancer for several years, and displayed a species of courage in the face of imminent death that I hope I can summon when my own time comes. His last months were spent in his home town in South Carolina, with his wife and family, and his dogs and cats all around him, and if we all have to make that final leap into the unknown, I’d be hard-pressed to think of a better way to do it.

Harry had a healthy scientific mind, and while not religious, he told me he was open to the possibility that death is not the end of all things. He enjoyed uncovering the hidden and the secretive and the overlooked (see Top Secret Tourism for a travel guide to all the places the government would just as soon nobody knew about) and I have an intuition that he was looking forward to seeing “what was out there.” In one of our last exchanges some months ago, I made an outrageous suggestion, about which I won’t say more unless something remarkable happens.

We’ve got his books, and for the time being, that’s remarkable enough for me. W5HLH DE K7JPD / TNKS GUD LK ES 73 SK.

Mike Sargent 1969-2009

I am still sick and numb. My good friend Jim Strickland messaged me Friday morning to let me know that our mutual friend Mike Sargent had been killed by a 20-year-old drunk in a pickup truck Thursday night on his way home from work. I’ve been trying to get myself to write something here since then, and, well, failed.

I hadn’t known Mike very long. Jim introduced us a year or so ago, and we became fast friends, though Mike’s work schedule generally didn’t allow him to attend our semiregular Saturday night nerd parties. But my own schedule allowed Mike and me to do some geeky things like spend a couple of Monday afternoon hours recently at the moving sale of the enormous greasy pile of geek detritus known as OEM Parts in Colorado Springs, where I have found everything from exotic resistors to kite sticks. He and his wife Peggy cooked a spectacular Mardi Gras cajun feast for us back in February, and that was the last time I saw them. Mike and I were planning an expedition up into Fishers Canyon when the weather improved, and I am going to miss that opportunity greatly. Mike was beginning to explore his powers as an SF writer, and we were already discussing a promising concept for a Drumlins story targeted at the shared world anthology I still intend to do.

Mike was spectacularly intelligent, and unusual in a way that matters a great deal to me: He was a great raving optimist, with a faith in the benevolence of the future that I strive for but often fail to achieve. He contributed to The Speculist, a podcast-oriented futurist site where the optimism is so intense it approaches mania. When I’ve had enough of phony climate catastrophism and Obamanomics, I go spend half an hour there to get my spirits back up. The Speculist belongs on my blogroll and yours, and deserves a regular read. (I don’t technically have a blogroll and need to establish one soonest, for this and other good topic-oriented sites.)

I’d say more but I’m not sure I can. I’m at that age where my older friends have begun to die, simply because that’s the part of the curve that they’re on. The curve is changing shape in response to our still-early efforts at life extension–one of Mike’s favorite topics–and had Mike been allowed to remain on the curve, he might well have hit the point where the curve breaks free of the grave and goes asymptotic for parts (truly) unknown. I’ll give it a good shot but I’m sure I’m already too old for that, just as sure as Mike was way too young to die.

Farewell, good friend, and keep your faith in the future. You (and I) will live to see it, just not from here.

2008: The Final Odyssey

I had breakfast with Isaac Asimov. I shook hands with Robert Heinlein. Kate Wilhelm did a tarot reading for me. I've workshopped with Gene Wolfe, George R. R. Martin, and A. J. Budrys. Nancy Kress is still a close friend. David Gerrold wrote for my magazine for ten years. I saw Keith Laumer from a distance once, and have had several conversations with Larry Niven and David Brin. But I have never been anywhere close to Arthur C. Clarke. Now I won't get the chance; as I learned on arriving at home this evening, he has died in Sri Lanka at age 90.

Arthur C. Clarke was my favorite SF writer for a long time. Asimov was a little dull, and Heinlein's stridency bothered me at times, but Clarke was as close to perfect as SF writers got for me, at least in high school—and maybe still. His SF was about ideas, and he let nothing else get in the way of those ideas. I began writing SF by imitating his short stories. When I later began writing SF novels I was imitating Keith Laumer, because I knew damned well that I could never imitate Against the Fall of Night or Childhood's End.

As I have reported here more than once, when I was seventeen I gulped and asked a beautiful girl to go out with me and see 2001: A Space Odyssey. She said yes. Seven years later, Carol said yes again, when I asked her to share a different kind of odyssey with me. Yup, Arthur C. Clarke landed me first a best friend, then a lover, and finally a spouse. (One doesn't get that kind of service from Barry Malzberg.)

There's not much more to say. When a man gets to be 90 before he dies, I don't mourn, I celebrate. We had him a long time, and now he is free of all the suffering and limitations inherent in flesh. I happen to think that I may meet him yet…but let that pass. We have his stories. He worked his magic on me, and I would not be the writer I am if he were not the writer he is.

Just one more word: Thanks, Sir Arthur. Really. And thanks again.

Odd Lots

  • Robert Jastrow, the well-known NASA space popularizer, has left us, at age 82. My copy of Red Giants and White Dwarfs is in pieces from overuse, but as with Jastrow himself, I can only say: Mission accomplished.
  • I stumbled upon an interesting piece of art today (while following an unrelated link sent by Pete Albrecht) by the late French Impressionist Albert Besnard. Rather too casually entitled “Decoration for a Ceiling,” to me it suggests something altogether more cosmic: The reunion of all things and all people with God at the end of time. As Pete suggested for a caption: “Honey, I picked up your wings from the cleaners.” (And how about using it as a book cover? Right there in the middle is space for a title!)
  • D-Stix are amazingly rare on eBay (considering all the rest of the bizarre and obscure crap that I see there regularly) but today I finally scored the 464-piece set from the mid-1960s, and for only $10 at that. I've mentioned D-Stix here on Contra in the past, and on our second date, Carol and I flew a tetrahedral kite that I had made out of D-Stix. Building a replica of that kite has been on my do-it list for some years now. All I have to do now is find some purple madras tissue paper…
  • Jim Strickland sent me a link to a nice page from a German chap (it's in English) who has done considerable work with spark speakers. This isn't quite a flame speaker as I saw one in 1969 (which used an ionized propane torch flame) but is more like a modulated Tesla coil.
  • Also from Jim (in honor of the Westminster Dog Show, which ran last night) is an entry from what might as well be LOLDogs. Alas, the bichon didn't win his group last night. (There are too many poodles in the world, and not enough melted butter…)
  • Still again from Jim is a fascinating short history of the Teletype.
  • While we're talking ancient communication technologies, I finally remembered to link to a summary of Western Union's “92 code,” which is a list of 19th century telegrapher's numeric abbreviations that includes the ''–73–” that has been my email signature since my MCI Mail days in the early 80s. This is as good a summary as I've found, but it's missing a few codes that I've heard, like –86– which is short for “We are out of…”
  • And further in that same direction, here's as good a list as I've seen of the 10-codes used by CBers, police, and, of course, Broderick Crawford.