1988 - July

A BRIEF INTRODUCTION

Hello, and welcome to the continuing saga of Dave Dickie and his quest for the meaning of life. At the end of our last episode, he had finally reached the conclusion that the only way to reach any meaningful conclusions was to go out and experience life, not by sitting in front of a word processor writing small books about his personal experiences...whoops!

SOLICITING OPINIONS

Recently, an individual that I thought was a friend and, as it turned out, is really a rabid mutant communist pointed out that this proliferation of very long form letters about even such an obviously fascinating subject as my life could quickly become boring to the average individual. Fortunately, I don't associate with any average individuals, so I concluded that this question could be safely ignored. The small doubt was planted, however, and I have to lay this particular ghost to rest. As a result, I would like everyone to photocopy the below questionnaire and send the result back to me.

o  Yes, I find Dave Dickie's life incredibly interesting and would love to read his letters again and again
o  Yes, I would like Dave to rip my heart out with his bare hands next time he sees me

DAVE HAS A DRIVING PROBLEM

I and Jeff Stern, looking for a little relaxing exercise in the sun, opted for golfing on the weekend of the 4th of June. It had been ages since I had been on a golf course, so long in fact that I had forgot the first golden rule of golf; the game SUCKS! Golf was clearly a game invented for high power executives, since it tends to make one enjoy the peace and relaxing atmosphere of the office, even if you happen to be director of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. In my case, it was only a little less painful than jumping into a cold shower with fifty seven cats strapped to my naked body. The first hole went well, other than a slight miscalculation of the driving power of a putter blowing my nicely placed ball off the green and into a sand trap. This resulted in a score under two times par, certainly an acceptable average for a babbling cretin. Later holes managed to lower that stellar evaluation of self worth, however, to somewhere near the level of the crud you scrape off your shoes after walking in the park. I can't complain, though; I had an opportunity to learn a bit about physics as several holes served to demonstrate significant scientific laws such as "a ball will remain at rest regardless of the force of the swing if you miss it entirely". This, if you missed the point, was not a good time. I do, however, recommend golf for tax collectors and members of the NRA.

DAVE HAS A DIVING PROBLEM

The next day I had arranged to go diving with Al Barr, who was trying to get back into the swing of scuba before his monumental six week trip to Australia for biking and diving. The dive was not particularly exciting due to really bad visibility, and we saw little of interest. Afterwards, we stopped off at a restaurant for dinner. The waitress had emerald green eyes that almost glowed. I couldn't help but watch covertly every time she approached the table. I sensed her awareness of my interest, and finally I had to ask the guestion. I looked up as she approached with the check and said "Your eyes ... they're the most unusual color no, not just unusual, unnatural hey, are those contact lenses or what?". She wasn't amused at all, but the answer was yes, so it didn't matter much.

A BEACH OF A TIME

The next weekend, Jennifer and Jeffrey arrived from San Francisco for a visit. We headed off for the beach on Saturday. Going to the beach is not what I consider a sensible activity. Getting sunburned and gritty can be accomplished much more easily by, say, digging a grave. It might make sense if anyone on the beach actually went into the water, but this is a concept that is apparently before its time, since the ratio of beachdwellers to swimmers is usually on the same order as the ratio of inhabitants of New York City to the inhabitants of Pompeii. Anyway, everyone else wanted to hit the beach, and since Jennifer and Jeffrey are always attempting to avoid spending time with me by pulling stunts like this, I thought I would tag along out of shear spite. Little did I realize that I would remember that day for ... well, at least a month. The truly shocking thing about the entire experience was that I enjoyed it. I went running with Jeffrey down the boardwalk they reserve for biking, skating, and jogging. This had proven to be a mistake in a similar previous attempt on the Redondo Beach boardwalk...! can usually run six miles without a problem, but for some reason that effort left me exhausted after a scant two miles, not to mentioned bruised from running into the occasional telephone pole. For some reason, my attention kept wandering to the young women who were wearing outfits that provided about as much concealment as strands of dental floss. Fortunately, Venice beach was more conservative and I and Jeffrey had a nice long run. Later, relaxing on the beach, we had an opportunity to watch a few guys flying stunt kites dive bomb innocent bikini clad beauties initially intent on sunning themselves, but who intelligently decided instead to cower in the sand as wave after wave of the vicious things flew past...

ART? WYETH NOT?

I and Char visited the Los Angeles County Art Museum to see the Helga Exhibit, a series of paintings of a single model named, oddly enough, Helga. Andrew Wyeth spent seven years doing a large number of pen, pencil, charcoal, and water-color studies of Helga, and about ten or fifteen finished works. Looking at the masterful renditions of Helga in a variety of poses, clearly a full time task and a work of love, left one in awe of Wyeth's ability to make a living without working at a real job for seven years. Still, the exhibition was fascinating in its scope, allowing a rare view of how much time and effort go into the creation of a real work of art. Looking at the end result of the creative impulses that moved Wyeth emphasized what those primal thrusts toward making and living in an aesthetic environment were all about. It made me want to go out and splatter paint on a rapidly spinning canvas in order to produce one of those "spin art" things that were so popular when I was a kid. Kidding aside, it was a very worthwhile experience, and I highly recommend flying to Los Angeles to see it. Drop in an visit while you're at it!

After we left the exhibit, we still had some time left, so we headed over to another section of the museum set aside for modern art. The first piece I examined looked like someone had splattered paint on a rapidly spinning canvas. "Spin art!" I cried, "I can do this!11. It turned out, however, that this was completely incorrect, and the artist used a very sophisticated, high tech painting style that would be close to impossible to recreate. He positioned a jet engine so the exhaust pointed at a canvas, then poured paint into the exhaust stream so it would splatter over the painting and, more importantly, the surrounding countryside. We moved on. The next piece was vaguely reminiscent of the "Eraserhead baby" (Eraserhead is a truly disturbed movie by David Lynch) with hundreds of horrible pock marks, each with a smoking cigarette butt hanging out of it. It was a powerful piece, if you consider making one feel nauseous powerful. The next painting consisted of a frame around a bright red canvas with nothing on it. The title was "blood", and I could only pray that it was the artist's. We headed into an adjoining room to see the rest of the exhibit.

The next piece was kind of a giant MTV video, with a pyramid of excellent monitors rhythmically flowing into a variety of views of a weight lifter working out on a nautilus machine. After five minutes of the same basic theme I got the big picture (ha! think about it!) that this was a long sequence of videos on a really boring activity. We left quickly. The next room was obviously being renovated before the next set of paintings were placed in it; one wall had huge holes knocked in it and pieces of chalkboard were lying in neat little piles around the floor. As we headed out the room, we bumped into a man who was just standing in the doorway, looking slightly dazed. Curiosity overcame common sense, and I asked "Uhhmmmm... what are you looking at?" "Why, I'm experiencing this piece of art" he replied in a slightly puzzled voice. "Moving, isn't it?" he added. I looked back into the room. A sudden, horrible suspicion dawned. The holes in the wall... they were too regular to be an artifice of construction workers. It indeed appeared mm that an "artist" had come in with a hammer and whacked irregular holes in the walls at two or three foot intervals to create a piece of "art". I turned back to the man and smiled. "Yes, very moving. And, by the way, welcome to the planet earth". Char immediately grabbed me by the collar and dragged me away before the conversation could continue. Too bad, since I was hopping to get the secret of interplanetary travel out of him...
The next day I and Char tried our own hand at a little art, picking oil pastels as the medium. It was a fun, cheap, messy way to spend the day, and I recommend it as a good activity for a first date.

AN EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCE

I started a new class at USC toward my Master's Degree. Digital Signal Processing is a EE course, but it was the only class available during the summer session that was eligible. I momentarily considered the problem of not having the necessary EE background for the course, but decided it wasn't an issue given the general level of intelligence USC courses were apparently designed for (course prerequisite: student must have at least equivalent analytical ability of your average slime mold aggregation, speak four or more words of english, and must be capable of sitting for two hours without excessive drooling). Wrong. The first day of DSP began with the instructor saying "I expect everyone here has extensive experience with Z transforms and Fourier Analysis, so we'll skip that material and begin with discretized homogeneous polynomial approximations to the Chebyshev Window function...". Still, the total lack of appropriate background for the class at least meant that I was learning something new, including the obvious fact that there are limits on my ability to absorb knowledge like a bounty ("the picker quicker upper") paper towel.

THE SLUG FEST

I flew into Washington, DC early on the morning of the 20th for a Computer Aided Software Engineering (CASE) fair. It was interesting if you love software development, a feeling that many doctors believe to be indicative of massive brain damage.
I visited Bob Willis on Monday night, going out to dinner, watching videos, and generally having a good time. I headed back to the Washington Hilton, the convention hotel, about 10 p.m. Jet lag always leaves me wiped and I was tired from the traveling on Sunday.

On Tuesday night, I headed over to see Bruce and Lisa Forbes, a couple I hadn't visited since I left my old ASAS job six months before. We had dinner and started on the traditional evening's activities, which could be summarized as "drinking heavily". Its kind of a strange bonding ritual where you try to pour out your soul before you pass out in an alcoholic daze. True to form, Bruce and I were doggedly hanging on at four in the morning after three six packs, two pitchers of daiquiris, and a pitcher of Margaritas. Lisa is a little less capable of absorbing alcohol by the gallon and had retired at 11:00p.m. At that point, my soul was a puddle about an inch deep on the rug in Bruce's brand new house, and I decided to head back to the hotel. Bruce's attempts to get me to stay at the house failed, since I knew that if I did the chances of my making it back to the Hilton for the morning seminars would be about the same as surviving a passenger flight over the Persian Gulf. I drove slloowwllyy and carreffuulllly back to DC, and arrived without incident. I woke up to my own sense of time, which quickly informed me that it was well past eight o'clock and that I was indeed late for the first lecture. I called down to the front desk to find out the actual time there were no clocks in the room and shot bolt upright as the clerk calmly replied that it was quarter past eleven. I made a lightning leap for the shower, making it almost two paces before my sorely abused body screamed "IF YOU MOVE ONE MORE STEP AT THIS PACE I WILL BLOW THE BACK OF YOUR HEAD ALL OVER THE WALL". This was followed by the sudden realization that someone had whacked me across the back of my skull with a sledge hammer and tied my stomach and intestines in a knot while I wasn't looking. Wednesday was a very, very, very long and painful day. I learned my lesson, however, and vowed not to drink anywhere near that much again (until at least a few days had passed).

A SHOPPING WE WILL GO

Another simple rule for making life more bearable is: (a) never go shopping for more than two hours at a time and (b) never, ever go shopping for more than two hours at a time with a woman (ahhh.-.that may appear to be a sexist remark. It isn't. Take my work for it) . I and Char met Saturday morning in the garment district in LA. I had a simple objective in mind; buy a few shirts and a couple of pairs of slacks. My end of the conversation over the course of the day proceeded something like this:

Hour 1 : "No, I want 100% cotton, button down collars, and fitted cut, and that color makes me ill"
Hour 2 : "OK, 100% cotton isn't necessary"
Hour 4 : "Yes, Char, that silk jacket looks really sharp"
Hour 6 : "Give me one of everything"

After eight hours and $500 dollars, I gave the moving company my home address and asked them to have the stuff delivered by next week...

DAVE CLEANS UP HIS ACT AT A WEDDING

Eric and Cathy's wedding blossomed into a truly wonderful time. I arrived in Syracuse NY on Thursday the 30th of June. Eric picked me up at the airport shortly after I landed and we drove back to Ithaca together. There is, of course, a simple rule concerning showing up early at important social functions; anyone arriving well before the free meal must be a good enough friend to put to work. True to this principal, I had a broom in hand about five minutes after arriving at Eric's Co-op (that, for those not in the know, is a semi-communal living arrangement where several individuals occupy a large building, usually having separate bedrooms but shared bathrooms and showers). Friday hosted a similar arrangement between various cleaning utensils and my hands, with Saturday running a close second. Even with these chores, however, there was plenty of wandering the streets of Ithaca and chatting available between cleaning activities. And the cleaning was rewarding in its own way; it made me feel like a larger part of the wedding than I would have if I had simply shown up on Sunday.

Part of the magic of the weekend was the other RPI grads who atte-nded; Bob Willis, Marty Connell, and Mark Gaylo. One particular incident that stays with me was after the reception Sunday night; Bob was about to leave for Maryland, and the five of us (including Eric and myself) gathered around in a circle near Bob's car. The conversation wasn't especially significant, but picture of Eric in his white tux, the rest of us dressed more or less formally, while the strongest sensations of belonging and fellowship permeated the night air... I now know why college reunions are so big.

There were plenty of opportunities for longer conversations with each of them during the weekend as well, and these too had a strange brilliance attached to them. Not that the conversations were extremely insightful, or anything like that ... but these people belonged to a group I grew up with, and talking to them after a few years with very little contact was a oddly moving experience.

Mark Gaylo managed once again to surprise me by doing something unexpected, which is surprising since Mark's well known delight in surprising people by doing something unexpected is such a common experience I should have expected it. Mark decided to return to RPI, the bastion of technical supremacy, for a Master's degree in the humanities. This is roughly equivalent to heading to South Africa in order to study "democratic institutions in action". On the other hand, it does provide the opportunity to party continuously for two years while maintaining a pretense of working for a living. Hey, maybe I'll try it!

I also had a chance to meet a large number of new people, as well as a few I had met at one time or another in the previous years. Two new individuals in particular that I liked very much were the Bride's brother (Hi Ron!) and mother (say hi for me, Cathy). It was really nice, though, to break out and meet a few people I felt I could really enjoy getting to know, even if they t did live on the east coast! It was also nice to run into Nancy Barnes again, who put Eric and I up while we were taking a week long tour of Canada a few (like six) years ago.

Was there anything else I forgot? Oh, yes, the wedding! No, only kidding. The wedding and the reception were both very nice, and very ... counter culture. I was most impressed with the Morris Dancers (Morris Dancing is an ancient english form of folk dancing, tending toward the ribald, and very formalized), particularly when they insisted that Eric join them for a dance. They had their traditional colors on (white pants and shirt with a green vest), and when Eric shucked his white jacket and donned a vest, he looked born to the part. Cathy wore her mother's wedding dress (with minor modifications) and looked simply stunning. As she and Eric walked away from the ceremony, everyone took out the small bundles of lavender and rose that Cathy and I had so laboriously tied together the night before and pelted the couple with them. Unfortunately, no one had explained that you were supposed to open the bundles first, so Eric and Cathy had to run the gauntlet while small, round, white packages bounced off their heads. The Usher who handed out the bundles didn't understand the first thing about weddings (I was the usher).



A CLASSIC SATURDAY

I and Jeff Stern had four tickets to the Garden Grove Shakespeare festival for Saturday night. Unfortunately, Jeff also had many things to do Friday night and Saturday morning, so I agreed to do the cooking for the pre-play picnic we always have at these things. Jeffrey and Jennifer were also down from San Francisco for the weekend. Saturday morning, Jennifer and I went shopping, she for breakfast, myself for the ingredients to a quiche and fruit salad. By the time we returned, Jeffrey had finished the coffee, and Jeff and Jeff were both awake (if not entirely alert). We opened a bottle of champagne and sat back on the porch for a leisurely meal of croissants and raspberry danish. Orange juice was provided along with the champagne and coffee, and I put on Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" for a little background music. I loved it. After breakfast, I started working around the house. Laundry, baking the quiche, making the fruit salad marinated in champagne, preparing the back window and door for painting and caulking where necessary took up most of the afternoon. We left for Char's place place about 3:00 to pick up Char and Grace (a friend of Char's and as a result Jeff's blind date) and headed for Garden Grove. We arrived with two hours to spare, but we spent the time productively, ie eating and drinking more than would be wise for a battalion of starving Ethiopians. The play, Richard the Second, was an outstanding production, the best I've seen at Garden Grove. This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the strangely serpentine path we made walking to the play from the picnic...

Sunday the excessive food and mostly drink caught up with Char and I, and we took it easy. I learned my lesson, however, and vowed not to drink anywhere near that much again (until at least a few days had passed).

SCHEDULING PROBLEMS

Murphy's law struck again. I forgot to mark the week of SIGGRAPH in my appointment calendar. In a place like Los Angeles decent tickets to plays and the like must be purchased well ahead of time. For instance, I bought excellent tickets to "The Pageant Of the Masters" in Laguana Beach. I stopped off at the Employee Recreation Center to pick up some film, and while waiting innocently asked the clerk if they had tickets to anything. "Oh yes", she replied, "we just received these tickets to The Pageant Of the Masters, and they are excellent seats". I had never heard of this particular production before, and asked what it was. "Oh, it's wonderful, like where a bunch of famous artists take masterpieces and recreate them while you stand there". "You mean you stand around watching someone PAINT AN ENTIRE PIECE OF ART?!?" I said, astounded. "Oh, no, they do it ahead of time". This conversation was obviously headed for a rendevous with Amelia Airheart, and several minutes worth of further chatter did nothing to make the actual purpose of this presentation obvious. Finally, she said "Look, the seats are excellent, and at $60 a pair, they're a steal". So I bought them. This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the story I began talking about. So, to return to the original subject, I buy tickets to things months in advance, and usually have something planned about every other week. So what week did I have tickets to Barnum and Bailey's Circus on Saturday, the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday, The Pageant Of the Masters on Friday, and the next Shakespeare play at Garden Grove on the following Saturday? SIGGRAPH week, of course. The Circus tickets went to my parents, the Hollywood Bowl tickets to one of my coders, and I'm flying back from SIGGRAPH Friday morning.