Thursday, March 31, 2005

World's Most Rambling Post -- Contact Guinness

The last time I was in traffic court [No, I don't drive particularly fast. My vice is always driving about the same speed and tending to ignore speed limit signs that occasionally are below the setting on my absent-minded auto-pilot. But, where was I? Oh yes...] The last time I was in traffic court there was a young couple there. It seems they had gotten into an argument about which vehicle was faster, her Volvo or his Jeep, and had decided to find out.

I was reminded of this story by an issue of Ben Stein's Diary -- yes, that Ben Stein; you can no longer win his money but you can read his diary at The American Spectator. (TAS requires a subscription for the full text of most of their articles but they appear to be dangling Stein's Diary as full-text bait, trolling for readership.) Ben Stein is always an interesting read and in this installment he relates how he and his son, Tommy, got into an argument (on Stein's 60th birthday) about which car was faster, Stein's Caddy or Tommy's Subaru...

I used to be a regular reader of Stein's diary but I let my subscription to TAS go and I haven't kept up with it. I Googled for it because I remembered an entry in his diary from a long time ago and I was curious whether he was still writing it. In that long-ago diary entry, Stein had some potentially inflamatory ideas about race relations -- things that many people secretly believe but nobody can say. The politically incorrect observations were part of a story in which an unspecified friend came to visit Stein in his house and expressed the unfashionable opinions. The exposition was punctuated by protestations from Stein such as "I can't believe you're saying that!" and "Get OUT of my HOUSE!"

Ben Stein is a very smart man. Ben Franklin was also a very smart man. Lawrence Summers at Harvard is a third very smart man. Summers was recently invited to speak, off the record, at a conference on “Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce.” He was asked to "stimulate debate" and he did -- big time. Summers, like Stein, wanted to encourage people to think about a contentious issue where the "official" view does not entirely entirely explain the observed data. But, unlike Stein, Summers neglected to isolate himself from the controversial parts of the inquiry. Instead, he got out his kite and launched it into the thunderstorm. And he has called down the lighning.

Like I said, Ben Stein is a very smart man. I admire him greatly. I also admire Ben Franklin and I am glad he avoided electrocution, because the kite and thunderstorm thing was brilliant and stupid, both at the same time. I might be tempted to admire Dr. Summers if it weren't for the terribly wicked things he has said and done. For more insight into the Summers fiasco at Harvard I offer this link to a stern scolding of Summers by a justifiably irate feminist member of the Harvard faculty. [OOPS! wrong link!! Sorry, can't seem to find the one I intended.]

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Wire Photo Coincidence -- The Prequel

I was deleting some old files and I found two images that had struck me a while back. One is the Anheuser-Busch logo and one is a guy setting up the stage for one of the presidential debates.

What an interesting coincidence -- that the red stepladder, when photographed from this angle, looks like a big letter "A". Surely, it couldn't be that the AP wire was using the Bush/Busch thing to remind us that there was a time when W liked adult beverages perhaps a bit too much...

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Fake Indian, No Pony

There was time, quite a while ago, when the world was black and white (as documented in most of the photographic evidence that remains to us) and the defining property, and chief virtue, of the academe was tweediness. Universities were populated by eccentrics who, by some accident or peculiarity of temperament had become so deeply interested in some subject that they needed to be put in professorships so they could be taken care of. In exchange for this modest support and being allowed to pursue their chosen obsession, they were encouraged to discuss their topic with students passing through the institution. The idea was that most of the students would have their intellectual horizons harmlessly broadened and those susceptible few, for whom the obsession proved contagious, would stay on to replace their mentors.

Their position outside of the hubbub of everyday life gave academics a certain degree of immunity to the ordinary requirements of logic. Their interest in their fields of study could, for instance, be “passionate” and “dispassionate” at the same time – passionate in the sense that their interest was all-consuming, but dispassionate in that they examined the subject from all points of view without preconception. As with a vain man who uses a second mirror to see how he looks from behind, this desire for alternate viewpoints was part and parcel of their obsession, but it nonetheless gave them added perspective that people outside the academy would often lack. This omni-directional viewpoint would sometimes put them at odds with the particular passions of the day (thus the "dispassionate" part) but, since very little attention was paid to professors, very little damage was done.

Then, early in the second half of the last century people did start to pay attention and, somewhat gradually, everything went to Hell. Journalists, especially television reporters, looking for alternate points of view for balance started to seek out academics. Professors started to see themselves on television – many were dismayed but others rather enjoyed the attention. Academics, who could examine their subject area from a number of points of view, found that the more controversial angles got them the most attention. Other academics, covetous of the attention their colleagues were receiving, started to accentuate their own out-of-the-mainstream notions. A facility with controversial ideas, which started off as a side effect of broad scholarly inquiry, became more and more a substitute for it.

One might be tempted to think that these learned men and women, who ought to be the wisest of their generation, could handle a bit of public attention better than, say, a farmer who unearths Jimmy Hoffa while digging a ditch to irrigate his cauliflower. This supposition is especially tempting for those with little actual experience with academics. The fact of the matter is that all professors are flattered by attention from people who don’t need their classes to get the degrees needed on their resumes to obtain jobs with corner offices and high salaries. And if this flattering attention is accompanied by a hint that the world is starting to take an interest in the professor’s field of study – well, the sense of confirmation is a drug that few professors can turn away from once they have tried it.

Other faculty members and administrators got hooked on the reflected glow of their glib, controversial colleagues. With institutions as with individuals, controversiality, once a side effect of scholarship, became a good in itself. No longer a problem with one’s curriculum vitae to be offset by other factors, notoriety became a positive credential. Research became increasingly tendentious as researchers whose research suggested a concern dug a little harder to see if the concern couldn’t be widened into a crisis. Scholars whose fields did not lend themselves to alarm traded on their accomplishments to branch out into over areas of controversy. As an example, consider Noam Chomsky; his early work in formal language theory is as brilliant as his later writings on politics are appalling, and that is high praise indeed.

Given the confusion about the relation between controversy and scholarship it is inevitable that poseurs such as Ward Churchill should arrive on the scene. In a way the unpalatable nature of his ideas gave him a sort of cover. The administrators and other faculty of the university, in reviewing his work, judged it by its general shape and familiar odor. Understandably, no one was particularly interested in really digging into it. Until they were reminded that there is still such a thing as too much controversy they were content to give him the benefit of the doubt. Like the optimistic little boy in Ronald Reagan's joke, they assumed there must be a pony in there somewhere.

Note: I am not an academic. This posting consists of a laying out impressions I have gathered -- impressions waiting for others, closer to the issue, to correct. I do have a certain amount of experience with the world of academics. As a student at a major university I earned two degrees – a BS in Mass Communications and a Master’s in Computer Science. I also worked for the university. I was employed by various university departments and had occasion to help a number of professors with computer analysis and simulations for their research. My overlapping careers as student and employee lasted for seventeen years.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Yet Another Blessing

I have many things for which I am grateful – loyal friends; interesting work; a decent degree of prosperity; a happy marriage; and children who appear to be turning out better than expected and (if the concept makes any sense) much better than I deserve.

To this list of blessings I can add a new one: It is not up to me to decide whether Terri Schiavo lives or dies. In a certain narrow sense of the phrase, I don’t really care one way or the other. This is not to say that I don’t sympathize and empathize with Terri, her family, her husband, her doctors and nurses, the judges who have reviewed her case, the politicians who (perhaps ill-advisedly) decided to become involved and poor Kathryn Lopez at National Review Online who does care very, very much. It’s just that the merits on both sides are so perfectly balanced that I can see little reason to prefer one over the other. This fine balance is the reason that the Schiavo thing has been so contentious for so long.

NR Online currently has a article by Pia de Solenni, the director of life and women’s issues at the Family Research Council, in which she argues that Terri Shiavo’s condition should be re-examined, in part because –

It’s not even clear that she’s in a persistent vegetative state, since she’s never had the benefit of diagnostic exams such as an MRI or PET.

Also on the NR website (on their blog, The Corner) is a link to a the CodeBlue blog in which a doctor (a radiologist in south Florida) posts a CT scan of Terri’s brain and remarks that it is not that bad


Both of these writers support further evaluation of Terri Schiavo’s condition before she is allowed to die and, yes, they do contradict each other in the details. On the one hand the CT scan exists, on the other hand it is nine years old and de Solenni could have qualified her statement to indicate that there were no “recent” diagnostic scans. As the case drags on the facts get tattered and frayed. They lose their sharp outlines and everything becomes true and everything becomes false, as it suits you to see things. I didn’t pick this inconsistency to take sides; it’s just the example that caught my eye and supports my notion that the facts of the case are complicated and inconsistent. I could easily find similar inconsistencies in the arguments on the other side. Which is why I am so, so glad it isn’t up to me.

Even if it were up to me my decision would be determined by my relation to the case. If I were a Florida judge, given the rough equivalence of merit on both sides I would probably see no compelling reason to override the decision of Terri’s husband. If I were a judge in a federal court I would see no compelling reason to override the decision of the Florida courts. If I were a member of the US House or Senate I would, for Federalist reasons, defer to the laws of the State of Florida. And, if I were a Florida legislator I would be largely without guidance -- I might want to put the feeding tube back in to give me more time to make up my mind.

And, if I was just me? If all of the principals of the case came to me, saying “BigLee, we have heard of your vast wisdom and have come for advice,” what would I do? After first making sure they hadn’t mistaken me for some other wise guy with the same name, I would advise them to put the feeding tube back in and let Terri’s parents and other family take care of her. For justification, I would use the flip side of something the Marcus Aurius said in his Meditations about the fear of death.

He who fears death either fears the loss of sensation or a different kind of sensation. But if thou shalt have no sensation, neither wilt thou feel any harm; and if thou shalt acquire another kind of sensation, thou wilt be a different kind of living being and thou wilt not cease to live.

It seems to me to apply equally well to Terri’s current state. Either Terri is still there and her parents should be allowed to take care of her, or she is gone and it does her no harm to allow her parents to take care of her. After 15 years, and with no hope left, her husband is understandably eager to get on with his life. I’d give Terri to her parents – for their sake, not for hers – and set her poor husband free.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Open Letter to

You can order auto parts online for about 40% below the retail price. But are the savings worth the hassle? I don't know yet but maybe not.

Here's the deal. My daughter's car needed a brake job and I decided to have it done while she was away on spring break. The cost of the repair is pushing the value oif the car but she is attached to it so I was looking for ways to get if back on the road on the cheap. seems to have consistantly the best prices on the needed parts and their site is well organized and easy to use. But...


I am writing to report a problem with an order. My specific requests are in the paragraphs labeled Option A and B below. I also have a few questions about your standards for customer service that I thought I would share with the readers of my online journal --

On the morning of Monday, March 14th, 2005 I placed an order for some parts to repair the brakes on my daughter's 1985 BMW 318i. The order number is #132512 and the parts ordered are listed below.

1 N1030-19797 PEX ; Brake Pad Sensor
1 N2020-19726 GIR ; Wheel Cylinder
1 N3000-19760 FAG ; Brake Master Cylinder
1 N1040-34162 GIR ; Brake Caliper New
1 N1040-34163 GIR ; Brake Caliper New
2 N1000-19695 ATE ; Brake Disc

I did not receive a confirmation email with a tracking number but I could see the order in the "My Garage" area of your site. I had availed myself of your offer of free UPS ground shipping and, since you advertise same day shipping, I expected the parts would arrive late in the week. When they had not arrived by Friday noon my worry about the lack of a confirmation email became a real concern and I posted an inquiry on your customer service page asking whether my order had, in fact, been shipped. Receiving no response I posted a second inquiry a few hours later. Slightly after 6 pm on Friday I received an email saying that the warehouse was waiting for my order to "come into stock" and that it would be shipped within ten days. It does not tell me which of the parts I ordered are out of stock.

At the time I placed the order, and as I write this note, and at each of the several times I checked in between, you website has listed all parts in my order as "In Stock". What is your standard for having your ordering application accurately reflect your inventory?

Your website promises "same day shipping." Do your customer service standards allow for waiting five days to notify a customer that his order was unexpectedly out of stock and has not been shipped, and then only after he asks about it twice? Do you notify customers of out-of-stock merchandise at all, or should customers who need timely service assume that the parts are out of stock if they do not receive a confirmation email within 24 hours and cancel their order?

I can understand why an organization that expects to do high-volume Internet sales might not want to list telephone numbers but a telephone number would make a welcome addition to your note that an order is delayed.

Spring break is over, my daughter is back and being down a car is becoming inconvenient. It makes no sense for me to wait ten days for parts I can get locally today if am willing to pay retail. As I see it we can do one of two things:

Option A: You can 1) ship me the parts that are in stock, 2) drop the out-of-stock parts from the order, 3) tell me what you shipped so I can get the rest locally, and 4) comp me expedited shipping because you have wasted my time. This is my preferred solution because I wouldn't have to admit to my wife, my daughter, my mechanic, and the readers of my web log that I am an idiot for thinking I could save money by ordering auto-parts online.

Option B: Alternately, you can cancel my order and tell me you have canceled my order. I will then buy the parts at retail prices and conclude that online auto parts dealers are only suitable for weekend project cars. I will worry, briefly, that this is unfair to your competitors, but I will get over it.

I will leave the choice of option to you. I authorize you to do either. If you see a third option, my phone number is (000)555-1234. Your web site promises excellent customer service and guarantees my satisfaction. I am waiting to be impressed.

Lee Haslup
biglee (at)
Cary, NC

So, am I an idiot? Probably. I'll let you know.

Update: 19 March 2005

D'oh!! Things aren't looking so good on the "Am I an idiot?" front. I received this from ExpressAutoParts:

Dear Customer;

We currently have the Brake Pad Sensor in stock. The rest of the parts
are expected to be back in stock in the next 6-14 days. We will ship
these parts to you as soon as they are back in stock and we will send
you an email with the tracking number. Please accept our apologies
for the delay and we thank you for your patience.


So, of the seven items I ordered, all of which they advertise as "in stock," the only one that they actually have is the five dollar brake pad sensor.

On the positive side, they responded promptly to my email (on Sunday, no less) and, since they listed the parts that were in stock (actually the one part that was in stock), clearly somebody had read my email and made some effort to do what I had asked. My previous response also came during non-business hours as well.

My current theory is that somewhere, deep in the dungeons of the ExpressAutoParts "warehouse" is a parts guy, chained to his station with a huge bin of brake pad sensors and a computer. He spends all day shipping brake pad sensors and in the evenings he drags himself to his computer and sends out a few pathetic emails to irate customers who have ordered any of the thousands of other parts listed on the web site.

I feel for him and to lighten his workload I sent him this helpful message:

Please cancel my order. I will obtain parts from another supplier.
Order number is 132512.


Lee Haslup
Cary, NC

I have told my mechanic to go ahead and order the parts from a "real" auto parts provider. This involves kissing another hundred and eighty bucks goodbye (a tearfull parting, I assure you.)

So, am I an idiot? Yes. Can one order auto parts on the internet? The answer to that is still "maybe." I have done a bit of Googling since my parts did not arrive and it turns out that I am not the only person to have had a problem with The reason I am an idiot is that I didn't do my Googling first.

Several of the people who complain about ExpressAutoParts go on to suggest as a better source of online parts. One can get a pretty good feel for an online store by typing their URL and the words "customer-service" into a search engine. Typing "autopartsworld customer-service" into Google returns 428 pages. This is a decent number -- a few pages for the store itself to talk about their customer service, a few more for their business partners, a few pages where the store and the words customer-service are unrelated, and maybe one or two complaints (because nobody's perfect.) I glanced through the list for AutoPartsWorld and I didn't notice many complaints. Compare this to the results for "expressautoparts customer-service" -- 55,000 pages. A fair percentage of these pages contain complaints. A running theme is people who order parts (often brake parts) that never arrive. Several people report that they were put off so long waiting for back ordered parts that their 60 day window for contesting credit card charges expired. Complaints seem to have spiked starting late last year. ExpressAutoParts appears to have dug themselves quite a hole. And I jumped into it.


So, the results aren't really in about ordering auto parts online. I am still hopeful about it and I apologize to the competitors of ExpressAutoParts for casting doubt on the industry based on one data point. Sadly, I gotta get my daughters car back on the road and don't have time to personally collect any more data.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Wire Photos Coincidences.

From time to time I will see a wire photo that looks somehow familiar. Consider this photo of a woman holding vigil outside the hospice where Terri Schiavo may have her feeding tube removed. (Link is to a Yahoo Photos AP image -- not sure how long the link is good.) It occurred to me that I had seen something like it before.

Is it just me, or did the idea that the sacredness of life is somehow a Catholic issue give this image a bit more resonance with the photographer or the photo editor? No particular point here. Just wondering.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Copyright Laws

The other day I found myself in a discussion with my college-age daughter and a friend. We were discussing music file sharing and I found myself outnumbered. Their position is that online music file sharing is simply theft – end of story. My position is that there is a continuum with theft at one end, perfectly legal and ethical participation in online communities at the other end, and some room to look at what we hope to achieve with laws to protect intellectual property in the middle.

As markers for the ends of the continuum, let me offer these two images…

The image on the left is fairly self-explanatory. It represents what most people think of when they equate online file sharing with theft -- and it cannot be denied that many – perhaps a majority of – file sharing users are simply looters in cyberspace, smashing windows and running away with anything they can get their hands on. If they think about the ethics of it at all – and most don’t – they will offer some idiotic pseudo-Marxian drivel about the rich record companies that oppress the little guy.

The image on the right may need a bit more explanation. Ada Jones was arguably the first female star in the record industry. She made her first recording, for Edison, in 1893 or 1894 and her career peaked around 1910. If you click on the image of her you should be able to download an MP3 file of her singing “If I Knock the ‘L’ Out of Kelly” which she recorded on an Edison Blue Ambersol cylinder in 1917. [If you click on the other image you won’t hear Jack. The helicopters are already circling for my snarfing the album cover from their web site.]

I downloaded the Ada Jones MP3 from the old Napster some time back. I was looking for songs I remembered my dad humming when I was a kid. Most of them are WWII vintage stuff and not that hard to find. A few took some tracking down and the Ada Jones thing was a real find. [It’s likely that dad heard a different (later) recording, but finding any version of that song is difficult.] The recording is 88 years old and my understanding of copyright laws suggests it is probably in the public domain. As far as I know no copyrights were broken or ethical rules bent in the process of my acquiring that file.

Most of the other songs I downloaded for my “Songs Dad Used to Hum” collection fall into the middle of the continuum. They are probably still under copyright but, in many cases, out of print and/or hard to find. I try to buy a legit copy of them whenever the opportunity presents itself – admittedly, often used disks on eBay – but some of them are pretty obscure. [In some cases, oddly obscure – why don’t we ever hear the Ames Brother’s “Rag Mop” on the oldies stations? It’s a hot song.]

There are two primary ways I look at intellectual property issues. The first is the notion that the creator (author, composer, performer, etc.) should own the work because, absent the creator, the work wouldn’t exist. Let me first state that I buy this argument for the simple cases, for recent works where the creator, or the creators agent, is generally known and is actively involved in managing its use. Most real world intellectual property has a number of “creators” and there is a bit of lawyer work to be done to decide the relative value of the contributions – but that doesn’t change the argument.

What does change the argument somewhat is work that is less commercially viable, older or relatively obscure, where the creator or his agent is more-or-less absent from the scene. The current owner of the work – often a third-party holding company – is not actively encouraging the use of the work so they can generate revenue because the expense of doing so would exceed the revenue generated. In theory, someone wanting to use the work could approach them and negotiate a fee but the expense of the negotiation is once again a barrier. The only time the rights to such works are exercised is when the owner believes someone has violated them and litigates for compensation.

An analogy would be buildings that might at one time have commanded high rents that have fallen into disrepair. The owners of the buildings make no attempt to rent the buildings but have installed man-traps at the entrances to collect an occasional dollar freeing people who have blundered into them. I suppose that some of the money paid to the architects that designed the buildings might have come from the expectation that some future owner could roll drunks in the lobby or let out the second floor to hookers – but not very much. Similarly, by the time a song has been sold three or four times and has lost most, if not all, of its commercial value, the argument that, without its long-dead composer, the song wouldn’t exist gets harder to apply.

Note that it is commercial viability, not age, that positions things on the continuum. I wouldn’t have minded seeing the copyright on Peter Pan extended again. As far as I am concerned it meets all the criteria for protection. But some of the last few recording of Ada Jones are still under copyright and I don’t think they should be. Poor Ada has almost disappeared, it would be a pity if Metallica finished her off. Nobody will ever make big money selling her music but it’s kind of fun to listen to her sing.

The second way I think about intellectual property rights... [Yes, I know, you were hoping I had forgotten that I promised two ways, but no such luck.] The second way to look at them is from a utilitarian point of view. By this line of thinking we protect intellectual property rights to encourage people to create and distribute usefule and/or enjoyable works by offering them the assurance that they will be garanteed a piece of the action. This argument works if you don't give a rat's ass who "owns" things, or why they should. A true Utilitarian is just in it for the stuff and the best way to get the stuff is to make sure the people who make the stuff get paid for it.

Libertarians (and I am one, most of the time) tend to be rather suspicious of utilitarian reasoning. When Nathaniel Brandon came down from the mountain there was nothing on his stone tablets that talked about "the greatest good for the greatest number." The second way to look at intellectual property is clearly inferior to the first when both can be applied. While the ink is still wet I am 100 percent with the rights of the creator to do whatever he wants with his work. But after a few years, when the creator has passed away and nobody is quite sure if he sold the rights to the work, or to whom, and nobody much cares -- when "He made it so he owns it" has turned into "Somebody must have made it so maybe somebody still owns it" -- then the utilitarian argument starts to make sense.

So, what do I think would be better? I think that we should change the way copyrights work to try to get some of the commercially non-viable stuff out into the public domain faster and to reduce the barrier to use of work of marginal commercial value. On the one hand, I still think that the creator should own the material and should call the shots. On the other hand, when someone secures a copyright on a piece of work he is, in effect, asking society to recognize the concept of ownership of abstractions – of an image on paper or a series of bits in a computer stream – and it seems fair to ask something in return.

Specifically, I think the initial period of protection under a copyright should be much shorter and that after that period the copyright should need to be renewed every year to remain in effect. A small fee, say ten dollars, should be required to renew the copyright. To compensate copyright holders for this additional effort and expense I think the amount of time a copyright can remain in effect (when renewed annually) should be increased.

This is intended to engage the copyright owner in the decision about commercial viability – as long as the owner thinks the work has potential for revenue the copyright can remain in place. When the owner writes it off it enters the public domain. The periodic renewal also puts the owner on record as an active, current holder of the rights.

The intention here is not to deny holders of intellectual property rights their revenue. It is to make as much material available to the public as possible, both by encouraging owners to release unprofitable property into the public domain and giving them incentive to embrace new lower unit-royalty, lower cost methods for marketing their marginal holdings. By simplifying the process of determining who currently owns the rights to a work it will reduce the chilling effect that causes worthy but obscure older works to be passed over by publishers because of fear of litigation.

Back when I was a Napster user (I haven’t signed up for the new service yet) some people thought the cool thing about it was you could get music for free. I liked it because I could get the music. I liked the oddball stuff that nobody would sell because nobody would buy it. I miss that. I want it back.

Most of what I know about Ada Jones I got from an online sample chapter from Tim Gracyk’s book “POPULAR AMERICAN RECORDING PIONEERS” which he has posted at

Sunday, March 06, 2005

How could I resist?

I went to the grocery store for hamburger buns and was unable to resist

Energy Beer!

Before you comment, note this: I am famously behind the times and I don't doubt that cafeinated beer is old hat. But it's new to me and I don't want to know.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

My Friend Nick

I met Nick under what one would expect to be not the best of circumstances. I was working at the time for a huge telecom company and was working on a project that was in deep trouble. I was an architect and development team leader for a key component of a major re-engineering project. This was before the telecom bust and the company had the resources back then to do big things. Our project was a big thing – as it turned out, a big mistake. It involved hundreds of very talented people from multiple regions of the company, spanning at least five countries and three continents. Early in the project, things had seemed to be going well; lots of brilliant tools had been developed and it was only in the latter stages of the project – when we went to hook them all together, that things started to fall apart. We discovered that there was no workable agreement about the underlying business process. There were disagreements about the definitions of such fundamental concepts as “Order” or “Product” or “Customer.” We were doomed… and management began the process of looking for magic solutions to their insoluble problem. One of those “solutions” was to bring in a largely European company that did business process consulting and project management, and with that company came Nick.

I expect that Nick was in some of the initial interviews that the consulting company did with me when they were first brought in, but to tell the truth I don’t remember him there. My earliest clear memory of Nick was later, when he had been assigned to my part of the project and was reviewing our code. We were working in Smalltalk and Smalltalkers like to use high resolutions and small fonts to get as much code on the screen as they can. My first memory of Nick is of a tall, lanky man hunched over in front of a computer monitor. He had taken off his rather thick glasses and was holding them up to the screen to use as a magnifying glass to read the tiny characters a few at a time, all the while laughing and complaining, in a loud, Dutch-accented voice, about the size of the font.

During the time I worked with Nick on that project he was always cheerful and hardworking. He displayed that European bluntness that I sometimes find off-putting with other continental expatriates, but I never did with Nick. His good nature, easy humor and lack of pretence made the directness of his speech charming. He worked alongside my team on our hopeless project for slightly less than a year and during that time we became friends. He constantly reaffirmed that first impression I got from his peering at the tiny type to see our Smalltalk code. He was a big, gangly man of great curiosity and enthusiasm who worried very little about the impression he made.

In the decade since that time we have kept in touch. My wife and I made it a point to try to see Nick and Ingrid whenever we were in the same town. Their stories about their renovation of an old house in Atlanta are some of my wife’s favorites; sooner or later she tells everybody about our friends Nick and Ingrid and what they found under the tablecloth and what was in the drawer that had been taped shut and painted over. We’ve followed their travels though Christmas cards and emails, and always look forward to the next time we could get together, even if that was only for a few hours every other year.

By now, a perceptive reader, having noticed the persistent past tense in this description, will have figured out that Nick has passed away. I heard from Ingrid a week ago that he had died, apparently taken ill with a cerebral hemorrhage while visiting the town of Potosi in Bolivia. Potosi is famous for its colonial-era silver mine and also famous as the highest city in the world at better than 13,000 feet. The altitude there bothers many visitors and may have contributed to Nick’s problems, but I am not an expert and I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that I will miss Nick.

Nick and Ingrid atop a Mexican Pyramid