And the Good News is – – – – -NOTHING
“Nothing,” as in when the pathologist says, “We found nothing cancerous.”
Last fall we had our regular annual physical checkups, and Thea’s mammogram showed some “funny cells” that warranted further investigation. Not to bore you with the details, but we did live a kind of edgy existence for a long couple of weeks before we received the above Good News, on Christmas Eve. Santa can’t do better than that!
Compared to the above, all else during the past year is rather anti-climactic, but I can’t disappoint my legions of devoted fans by ending my letter here, so here goes – –
American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)
Way back when I was a graduate student I remember asking one of my young professors why I should join ASME. He responded, “Well, that’s where you meet people who do work you are interested in. You find out a bit about the organization, you have some ideas about how something could be done a little better so you volunteer, and that’s how you get involved.” So I took his advice. I met and I found and I had and I volunteered. And I got appointed and elected, first just in Applied Mechanics, then in more general Society affairs. Several years ago I was appointed to the Committee on Rules (COR) which was responsible for keeping the Constitution, ByLaws, and Policies of ASME up to date, consistent, and legal. Since ASME is a vibrant organization, and changes keep getting made, we fulfilled a legitimate function. Our Committee met twice a year in New York, so membership had the added perk of giving me an excuse to visit Sue and her family. But last year, the Board of Governors, our top level of government, decided to join the national craze for down-sizing by eliminating or combining several Committees. In the process, our COR was eliminated and its functions reassigned to a SubCommittee of the Committee on Procedures and Organization. Our Committee members were mostly old veterans like myself, and we weren’t happy with the decision, but our protests were ignored. So, after our final official meeting last January 26, we had a farewell dinner for ourselves and I (with some help from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe) contributed the dirge below. After which, you might reasonably assume, the powers that be would bid me a heartfelt adieu. Instead, they asked me to become a member of CPO and chair of the SubCommittee on Rules! Progress. But it does get me to New York twice a year, and to other interesting places like Atlanta.
POISON PILL for the COMMITTEE on RULES
ElderHostel at Lake Tahoe – July, 1996
This is a quiz. What are the words to the melody above? A few hints follow. If they are not enough, the answer is at the end. Ira Gershwin wrote the words to his brother George’s music. The selection was played at the last session I attended at our first ElderHostel this year and it tied together two fascinating but totally different courses. The song was played as the finale to Where have all the Tunes Gone, but the words to the bars above could almost have come from the lecture on geology we had heard that morning in The Universe, the Earth, and Lake Tahoe.
This was a great ElderHostel. We stayed at one of the many gambling resorts in Nevada side at the north end of Lake Tahoe. The third course, Gambling on a Roll, was rather disappointing, but Lake Tahoe is such a beautiful spot, who cares? In fact, I cut the last class and went for a great hike, instead.
In the Tunes course, Jerry talked about four of the great songwriters of this century: Irving Berlin, Rogers & Hart, Cole Porter, and George and Ira Gershwin. Facts and anecdotes about their lives and the songs they wrote. It was a fun trip down memory lane for all of us.
Berlin was particularly interesting to me since I had heard about him as a child from my “Uncle Jack” who had married my mother’s sister. I am indebted to his son, my cousin Jim Ackerman, for supplying me with several details, including the folowing anecdote:
“My Dad had been assigned to camp Upton on November 27, 1917, shortly after he was commissioned Captain of Infantry, U. S. R. at Plattsburg Barracks. He retained copies of a number of the orders he received during his Army service including the following quote from Memorandum NO. 172:
“There is going to be a great benefit given by our men at the Century Theatre in New York City beginning August 19th ……
The title of this show will be ‘Yip, Yip, Yaphank’ ……
Capt. James F. Ackerman of the 11th Co., 152nd Depot Brigade will have charge of the sale of the exchange tickets to the officers and men of the Cantonment
The committee of arrangement and Management of this entertainment is as follows:
(List of names, including Capt. Ackerman and Sgt. Irving Berlin)”
Universe was quite a contrast. Our instructor Dohn was great at helping us comprehend numbers that are outside of human experience. For example, how many stars are there? Take a sheet of paper and put 100 pencil dots in a line across the top. Put 100 more dots in a second line below it. Continue until you have 100 lines on the sheet. Put that sheet of paper on the floor and repeat with a fresh sheet of paper. Pile that on the first sheet. Continue until the stack of paper reaches the ceiling. Start a new stack beside the first. When you have filled a square room that’s 20 feet on each side and has a 10-foot ceiling, you will have made as many pencil dots as there are stars in ONE galaxy. Now, do this whole process over again, but this time let each dot represent one galaxy. When you have filled the room with this representation, you will have accounted for all the galaxies in the universe. Even to my scientific mind, this mental exercise gives me a better feeling for the number of stars in the skies than does 4,000,000,000,000,000,000 or even than writing 4 x 1018!
But probably the high point of the course was Wednesday night, when we drove to a fire tower about a thousand feet above the lake (the surface of Lake Tahoe is 6,229 feet above sea level) and looked at the skies through a telescope. I always knew that the moon was really a sphere rather than a flat plate, but it was nice to have my eyes confirm that fact. And Jupiter really is round rather than just a point, and it does have moons of its own – I counted 4 of them.
It is 80 kilometers from Nogales, Sonora to the Magdalena Mission (all distances in Mexico are in kilometers; by the close approximate conversion measure of 8:5, that comes out a nice round 50 miles). On Saturday, September 28, as our ElderHostel tour bus took 27 of us seniors to visit the historic mission, we saw walking pilgrims for every one of those 80 kilometers. Pilgrims older than the oldest of us – pilgrims younger than our youngest grandchildren. A few with knapsacks, a few carrying nothing, most with a shopping bag or equivalent. Most were Mexicans, but many came from Tucson, Phoenix, or other points in the United States. Every now and then we would pass a cluster of them relaxing at a rest area where food and drink were being dispensed from trucks and trailers.
The cathedral of Santa Maria Magdalena de Buquivaba, rechristened Magdalena de Kino in 1996, contains the remains of the legendary Eusebio Francisco Kino, S. J. (1645-1711), and also the more recent ones of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the PRI Presidential candidate who was murdered in 1993. Its centerpiece is a reclining statue of St. Francis Xavier. Saturday, October 4 is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. All of which combines to make everybody who is anybody in Sonora want to be in Magdalena on October 4 when the whole town is taken over by booths and special attractions in a gigantic fair. We were coming a week early when many concessions were already in operation, but it was still possible to move around.
Nick, our guide, explained that it was a lifetime goal of many Sonorans and former Sonorans to walk from Nogales to Magdalena during their lifetime, but it didn’t have to be done all in one year. A typical pilgrim that we passed at noon may have started out at 8 am a dozen or less kilometers back. At siesta time he might sack out for a while at a rest stop and then go on, or he might call it a day (and a year) and head for home. In any event, the stopping point would be recorded and used as the starting point some future year. It was still an impressive sight.
Our ElderHostel had started at the American Hotel in Nogales, Arizona on Tuesday, September 24, moved to the Hotel Plaza in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, and ended with breakfast on Tuesday, October 1. In addition to our two staff people, Wanda Tucker and Ingrid Villarreal, we had 8 different instructors. The three primary ones (those whom we heard from more than once), had totally different personalities, but all were fascinating lecturers who were at their best when they got sidetracked and told us some of their personal or family experiences. Nick is retired from the National Park Service and the Tumacacori National Historical Park; Roland has an MA in Latin American History and has done just about everything including extensive travel in Mexico; and Corinne is a docent at the Tucson Museum of Art with a fascinating background including an Indian grandmother. One evening we had an artist who painted a picture while he lectured and had a marvelous dry sense of humor; another featured an elderly Mexican Yaqi woman who was Woman of the Year in Nogales Sonora in 1994 and had been invited to the Festival of Folk Life at the Smithsonian the previous year; we heard from a younger Mexican woman who is a newspaper reporter and could speak first hand of the problems of being a woman professional in Mexico; one lecture was from the Mexican Consul to Nogales AZ who was most diplomatic in discussing current problems. Wanda told us later that he had been a big help in providing our visas without the usual hassle of different languages.
The listed subjects were Missions, Spanish Language, Highlights of Mexican History, Music of Mexico, Mexican Culture, Art of Mexico, Mexico: Past and Present, Painting with Manuel Ortiz, Current Political Events, Paper Flower Making, and two field trips to Missions in Arizona and Sonora. At first I was inclined to be a bit critical because the different lecturers had not coordinated with each other, and there was some repetition. But by the end of the week, I realized that this was a plus. Hearing about the same event from people of different approaches and different backgrounds made it all seem more real.
On the basis of our limited experience (this was my 4th and Thea’s 5th ElderHostel), I doubt that there is such a thing as a “typical” Elderhostel. This particular one is best summarized by saying it had so many great INGRIDients that the whole week was really WANDAful.
And may you, too, have a wandaful New Year, filled with lots of yummy ingridients – –
History, when I was in high school and college, bored me. But when my horizons expanded and I began to do a significant amount of travel, history and heritage became important and interesting. Since my family moved to the Stanford area a few years after the end of WW2, I have considered this my family home and spent some part of every year here (sometimes weeks at a time, sometimes many trips in a year, sometimes a full year). I watched the development of Silicon Valley while the lovely fruit farms disappeared and traffic grew big time and scarce land became “gold”. So, an Elderhostel week in San Jose in the early Fall to study the history of SiValley from the early days of the fruit farms appealed to me. It proved to be a lot of fun and I learned much I hadn’t known before. And speaking of SiValley, I have a new coputer. As I explore it, I stop now and then to wonder at the comparisons with my first computer: an IBM 650 with 20K bytes of drum memory, a 20-byte accumulator and a 10-byte distributor. I/O was, of course, on punched cards via a separate read-punch unit and listing occurred off-line on an accounting machine which each user plug-wired to control the desired formatting. If I remember correctly, the average time for the distributor to acquire an instruction from the drum was approximately 0.002 second. A simple Analysis of Variance took all night and part of the next day. But I thought it was a wonderful machine and I loved it dearly! Well, I went from that, through several stages, to a Cray. Now I am content, in fact delighted, to have a Mac with 24 MB of RAM, a 180 MHertz CPU, a 1.6 GB hard drive, an 8x CD drive, an internal 28.8 modem, a fair sound system, and an online desktop printer.
One of our newly-acquired grandchildren, Lisa Marie, spent Christmas with us; that was a pleasure. She will graduate from high school in June and hopes to attend Tennessee State College at Chattanooga in September. April, now a sophomore at Columbia, paid us a visit in January. She’s a lovely and accomplished person. Her younger sister Miriam will be here by the time you read this letter; we always look forard to her visit. The three boys on the east coast we will visit when we fly east again in the spring. The three local little ones keep us as busy as we can manage; they are a joy. I am a daffy grandmother: I think all of mine, the “new” ones and the “old” ones, are the best in the world.
Until next GroundHog Day, I wish you a very happy & wonderful year!