Friday, August 31, 2018

Long Flights

I’ve had the opportunity in my career to take a number of long flights to/from Asia. Since many people do not have this opportunity, I’d like to give some details of three of the more memorable ones.

Newark – Hong Kong

While many of my trips to Asia included locations in the northern part of the far east such as South Korea, Japan, and China, these countries are not as far as locations farther to the south. On one trip my first stop was for a few days in Hong Kong. Most of my previous trips here had a stop-over or plane change in Tokyo on the way and the flight path was from Newark toward the northwest (over Canada and the southern part of Alaska). This great-circle route brings you into Tokyo. It is several more hours from there to Hong Kong. But on this particular trip I was able to book a direct flight via United.

I was a bit surprised when the flight path (as shown on the seatback monitor) initially headed northeast. We sent up over Massachusetts, then over Maine where we turned due north. From there the flight went over eastern Canada and Greenland and not too far from Tule AFB which I could see out my window. As it was winter, the area around the North Pole was dark. The sun did not illuminate the ground until where we crossed from the Arctic Ocean into Siberia – a very desolate place if there ever was one. From there the flight was due south over Siberia, part of Tibet, China, and straight south into Hong Kong. According to United, this is their second longest flight (UAL179) and is the current 14th longest flight in the world, clocking in at 8065 nautical miles and taking 15 hours, 50 minutes (*1). Note that the flight path on this particular website shows going due north directly from Newark, but in order to take advantage of the prevailing winds that day my flight went NE first which is why we flew over NW Greenland on the way there.

Singapore – London

On the same series of flights as the above one from Newark to Hong Kong, I then flew on to Singapore for additional meetings. My last stop was in London at the companies UK headquarters not far from Heathrow Airport where I needed to attend a multi-day conference. So, I booked a British Air flight direct from Singapore to London.

As flights go, this one is “moderate” in length, clocking in at a mere 13 hours, 55 minutes and about 6800 nautical miles. But it flies a very interesting route – over India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, and into Heathrow. But unfortunately, the flight I took was an entirely night flight and I did not get to see anything on the ground until we were over the UK (*2). In order to reduce noise and give the people who live around the airport a little quiet for sleeping, Heathrow is closed from midnight to 5am. Our flight was the first to arrive and we were a few minutes early, so we circled at a high altitude over the area to the west of the airport for about 15 minutes, beginning our descent a few minutes before 5am. I was wide awake by then, having boarded after dark in Singapore, gotten a full night’s sleep as we followed the sun, but then awaking at a time which, while it may have been appropriate in Singapore, was way too early in the UK.

Singapore – Newark

As long as the above flights are, they pale in comparison to a flight I took on one trip that was non-stop from Singapore back to Newark. This flight (SQ22) was, until it was discontinued in 2013, the longest scheduled commercial flight in the world, a record which still stands (*3). Singapore Air has recently announced that they will be restarting this flight later this year, but with a different aircraft that is more efficient.

Back when I flew this route, the plane was configured as an all-business-class with only 100 seats. Since our company authorized business travel for flights to/from Asia, the cost was pretty comparable to flights which had a stop-over in Tokyo. As you can see in (*4), in order to take advantage of prevailing winds, the flight went over the Philippines, off the coast of Japan, over the tip of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, then over southern Canada and across North America into Newark. This flight path is 9000 nautical miles, the limit of that aircraft. It is also nearly 18 hours in length, which is why the plane carries 14 cabin crew and 6 flight deck crew, working 4-hour shifts.

Surviving long flights

It’s imperative on such long flights to not just sit in your seat for the entire flight. While one can take advantage of the length of time to get adequate sleep, you should also get up from time-to-time and walk around to exercise your muscles, as well do some stretching exercises to keep the blood from pooling in your legs.

Because I had so many international flights over my career, I also quite adept at techniques to help minimize the amount of jet lag that so many travelers get. One technique is to adjust your watch to the time at your destination as soon as you board the flight, then use your watch while asking, “if this is the time at the destination, what should I be doing?” You essentially trick your mind into making the adjustment right at the beginning of the flight so you have all those hours to make the adjustment instead of trying to deal with the time change when you finally arrive at your destination. In such a manner I usually only had some residual jet lag for the first day there, then was fine afterwards.   


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Seven Generations and Years Ending in 8

A month ago, I posted in my blog an article about my grandfather, Harold Granger Pierpont, that had appeared in the Waterbury Republic-American in 1968 (*1). That article was simply a reprint of that newspaper article. In this blog I’d like to give some personal details about my grandfather and the impact that he has had.

1898 – My grandfather was born this year in Waterbury, CT. His mother died as a result of complications from childbirth and he was given to family friends in Prospect, CT to be raised. There he met and married my grandmother and they moved back to Waterbury to raise what would eventually be a family of five children.

1938 – The story in the Waterbury newspaper relates that my grandfather’s involvement in maintain trails in the Waterbury area began in 1938 when he went for a hike with his youngest son, my uncle Dick. As he later related, “We had continuous trouble most of the way as the trail was badly overgrown. Near the end we lost it completely.” He wanted to do something about it and wrote to the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, saying that he liked to hike as did his children and he would be glad to give a hand in maintaining a portion of the trails. This led to a 30-year relationship where he eventually was responsible for maintenance of 175 miles of trails.

1948 – When I was born in 1948, Harold became a grandfather for the first time – of what eventually would be 18 grandchildren. Because of his interest being passed on to his children it was passed to our generation as well. We grew up in a family that camped during family vacations. And my parents had purchased 23 acres of woodland behind our house that became very familiar to us. My cousins, especially those who lived just a few houses away, also shared in this love of the outdoors.

1958 – My youngest brother was born. He went on to major in Forestry at the University of New Hampshire and was most at home going hiking in the White Mountains, usually by himself. He used his outdoor skills when he worked as a missionary in Haiti which is where he met his wife.

Over the following years our family involvement in nature continued. My uncle became a forest fire ranger and had a crew of young boys (including myself and one of my cousins) who would go with him to put out fires deep in the woods where the hoses of the volunteer fire department could not reach.

1968 – When my grandfather was 70 years of age, the local newspaper honored him with a story of his time in maintaining trails. No one knew yet that it would only be the following year when his life would come to an end when a ladder slipped out from under him when he was clearing leaves from the gutter on the back of his house.

1998 – A portion of the woodlands behind our family home is donated to the Wolcott Land Conservation Trust so that it may be preserved for future generations (*2). It is called the Russell Preserve.

2018 – It is 50 years since that newspaper article was written. Another two generations of descendants of Harold Pierpont have been born. I recently turned 70 – the same age that my grandfather was when he was recognized in that newspaper article. But his legacy of love for the outdoors and stewardship of the land has continued and is being passed on.

My son and his family also love nature. When they come join us each year on a family vacation his entire family sleep in tents rather than in a motel room. My daughter also loves nature and her sons are attending a charter school, Seven Generations Charter School, which has its focus on the environment and stewardship. The school website notes (*3) – “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” This is taken from the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy (*4). I have chosen to serve on the Board of Trustees for that school because I also believe strongly in their mission.

In October my grandfather will be recognized in a ceremony and his biography will be posted on the Silas Bronson Library’s Waterbury Hall of Fame (*5). I will be writing another blog entry when that happens. Stay tuned.

The Iroquois Confederacy did not come as far east as Waterbury. But as the tribute to Native Americans notes in the article about them in the Hall of Fame (*5), “The lack of a permanent settlement in the Waterbury area was due in part to raids from the West by the more powerful Mohawks.” The Mohawks were one of the nations of the Iroquois Confederacy (*6).

I don’t believe that my grandfather was thinking of the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy back in 1938 when he made that decision to begin working on the blue trails in the Waterbury area. And it has not yet been seven generations since that decision – my grandchildren are only the fifth generations. But his impact continues to be manifest in their lives – in their love of the outdoors and their stewardship of the environment.

Thanks, Grampy! Your legacy is continuing.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Literacy in my Russell Ancestors

In an earlier blog (*1), I noted that I had found an example of one of my Russell ancestors being illiterate. I said at the time that finding even one example was pretty exciting. I have now expanded my search to see the progression of reading/writing and education in the entire Russell line, beginning with my great*6 grandfather, Robert Russell.

Robert Russell (1730-1811), immigrated into the US in the late 1740s from Scotland due to the turmoil in that country surrounding Bonnie Prince Charlie (*2). (Charles Stuart had taken on the British in Scotland with the support of many of the inhabitants. Following his eventual defeat, the Scots who had supported him were further oppressed by the British and many fled the country.) He was an illiterate farmer and settled in Dutchess County, NY. In his will, written shortly before his death, can be found an “X” as his mark since he was not able to sign his name.


John Russell (1756-1833) lived his entire life in Dutchess County. Despite his serving in the Revolutionary War, he was also an illiterate farmer. Also in his will, written shortly before his death, can be found the same sort of mark as his father had written twenty years earlier.


Caleb Russell (1775-1830) continued in the same occupation as his father and grandfather. I have not been able to discover any examples of his writing, and the census records of the day did not record whether someone was literate, but given that both Caleb’s father and his son could not read/write, it is safe to assume that Caleb could not either.

Silas Russell (1803-1886) also continued in the farming occupation in Dutchess County. Following the Civil War when his son-in-law, Stephen Simmons, was killed at the Battle of Peach Tree Creek in GA, his daughter applied for a government pension. Silas and his wife had to testify in writing that she was who she said she was and that she had been born at home. In their attestation, they both signed with the same “X” as had been used by the Russell family in prior generations.


Walter Russell (1852-1895) initially worked on his father’s farm in NY. When he married around 1870 he and his wife moved a short distance to the east to Kent, CT. In the 1880 census, the last one in which he is listed, the census taker noted with a mark that he was not able to read or write. The various US states had only recently started passing compulsory education laws in the mid-1800s, with Massachusetts and Connecticut being the first around the time Walter was born. But New York did not pass such a law until 1874 and by then Walter was already married and beyond the age where it applied to him.

Louis Russell (1871-1946) was the first of my Russell ancestors to be something other than a farmer his entire life. Since he was born after the passage of a compulsory education law in Connecticut, he attended school as required, but only through grade 8 (which was typical for the times). In the 1900 census he was still listed as a farm laborer in Cornwall, CT, but shortly after that, and with a growing family to support, he moved to New Milford and began working, initially as a millwright for the New England Lime and Cement Company, then for the Tucker Electrical Construction Company (*3). Although he only had an 8th grade education, because of this training he listed himself as either an “electrician” or an “engineer” for the remainder of his life. With the change in requirements for training for both of those professions since then, he would not qualify as one these days, but back then this was appropriate. He would be classified as a “blue-collar worker” by today’s standards.

Erskine Russell (1895-1970), like his father, only had an 8th grade education which he received in the public schools in New Milford. Following his marriage in 1914 – at the age of only 19, and about the time his father moved from New Milford to Waterbury – he moved to Bridgeport where there was work available during WWI. In 1924, when he and my grandmother first separated, he moved to Waterbury to live with his father and step-mother and his father got him a job in the power plant at Scovill where he worked under his father. He remained there until 1946 when his father died, then left the company and worked as a night watchman for Pinkerton.

Vernon Russell (1920-2012) was the first of the line of Russells to get a high school education. He graduated from Leavenworth High School in Waterbury – Leavenworth being the equivalent of a vo-tech in today’s educational system. He then worked as a draftsman and later as a tool designer. Since he worked in an office setting, he would be classified as a “white-collar worker” by today’s standards.

Alan Russell (1948-), in line with increasing educational opportunities following WWII, not only went through high school, but then university, eventually getting a PhD. In addition to working in industry, he also taught at the university level. It took over 200 years, but the Russell family went from illiterate to literate, from no formal education to a university education, and from a farm worker to a blue-collar worker to a white-collar worker to a professional.


New Milford Connections

I’ve written a great number of my ancestral blogs about my hometown of Wolcott, CT. My roots there go back to the founding of the town in 1731 and with such a long history, most of the important folks in Wolcott history are connected to me in some fashion. But these connections are nearly all on my mother’s side of the family (Pierpont). The town in Connecticut that is in second place in my ancestral history is the town of New Milford, and this is nearly all on my father’s side of the family.

I’ve touched on several aspects of this connection in past blogs, but I’d like to summarize it here by noting the various families in the town who are connected to me.

History of New Milford (*1)

New Milford is a town in the far western edge of Connecticut. It sits on the Housatonic River, an important waterway in that area and a key method of transportation, and something which has greatly influenced its development.

There were Native Americans living in the New Milford area before and during colonial times. They were primarily a farming and fishing culture. The first European settlers came in 1707 and by 1711 twelve families (numbering about 70 persons) petitioned the General Assembly to create the town. That approval was obtained the following year and they soon acquired Daniel Boardman to preach in 1716.

By 1756 the population had grown to over 1,100 and by the start of the Revolutionary War the population was approaching 3000. (This means that the town had 3000 people before my hometown of Wolcott was even incorporated in 1796.) It remained between 3000 and 4500 until the year 1900, then slowly grew to 6000 by 1950. In the decades since it has grown to nearly 30,000. But all my connections were in those earlier years.

Family Connections

Canfield – One of the first families living in New Milford were the Canfields. When the Mahican Native Americans were having difficulty in 1742, the residents of New Milford appointed Daniel Boardman (the town’s preacher) and Samuel Canfield to work with this tribe. Samuel Canfield is my great*7 grandfather (*2). There are still Canfields living in New Milford.

Hartwell – When I was growing up, my great-uncle Joseph Hartwell lived in Roxbury. But he had met and married my great-aunt in New Milford which is where his family lived from around 1750 until sometime the family moved to Roxbury when Uncle Joe was in his teens (sometime in the 1910s) (*3, *4).

Northrop – The Northrop family have lived in New Milford since before the Revolutionary War when Joel Northrop (1742-1824), my great*5 grandfather moved there and married. Like the Canfields whose family they married into, there are still Northrop families living there (*4).

Levy – My great-grandfather, Maurice Levy, was born in Brooklyn NY, but his family moved to New Milford when he was only 2 years old (*5, *4). While growing up there one of his schoolmates was Caroline Northrop. The two married in 1893 when they were 23 and 21 respectively. They moved back to Brooklyn, but when Maurice died in 1910, Caroline moved back to New Milford with her two daughters. She buried her husband in the protestant cemetery in New Milford, much to the dislike of her Jewish in-laws.

Rogers – My father’s step-father, Charles Rogers, was from Danbury, just a few miles to the south of New Milford. But when Charles married my grandmother in 1930 they moved to New Milford the following year which is where my father grew up until he moved to Waterbury in 11th grade (*4, *6). My father used to tell me a story of when he was growing up and he was working on a farm just south of New Milford and how one Halloween night as a prank he and some friends took apart the farmer’s wagon and reassembled it on the roof of the farmer’s barn. The next day the farmer didn’t say much but simply told my father that his job for that day was to bring the wagon back down. My father said that it wasn’t nearly as much fun as putting it up had been and it was a lot more work to do it on his own. On one of our trips to New Milford when I was young he drove past the farm as he related this story to me.

Russell – My Russell ancestors had lived for several generations in Dutchess County, NY, but in the mid-1870s moved just across the border to Kent, CT, which is where my great-grandfather, Louis Russell was born (*7). When my great-great-grandfather’s first wife passed away in 1883 he remarried and he and his second wife moved to New Milford (*8). My great-grandfather met his first wife there and they moved to the small village of Sherman just outside of New Milford which is where my grandfather was born in 1895 (*9). Shortly thereafter my great-grandfather moved to New Milford where he resided until WWI (*10) when he moved to Waterbury. When his first wife died in 1903, the younger children were “farmed out” to relatives in New Milford. His son William remained in New Milford even when Louis and his second wife moved to Waterbury (*11). The daughters of his second wife also continued to reside in New Milford (*12). There are still Russell family members in New Milford.

ShermanRoger Sherman (1721-1793) is the only person to have signed all four great state papers of the US – the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. When Roger’s father passed away the family moved to New Milford, CT. It was there that his younger sister, Rebecca, married Joseph Hartwell, Jr. Rebecca and Joseph are the great*3 grandparents of my great-uncle, Joseph Hartwell, who married my grandmother’s sister (also in New Milford). So that makes Roger the great*4 uncle of my great-uncle (*13). But Roger’s first wife was also a Hartwell, so he is related to me through the Hartwell family in multiple ways. (Roger later moved to New Haven where my Pierpont ancestors lived, so also of interest is that one of Roger’s daughters married Sturges Burr, a 2nd cousin of Aaron Burr who is related to me on my mother’s side.)

Others – The Sherman (above), Boardman, and Bostwick families were all intermarried at various times. These families figured prominently in New Milford history, but trying to unravel the relationships is not something I am prepared to do at this time. The above families are also mentioned prominently in Orcutt’s book in the history of New Milford (*17). There are other family names in my ancestry (such as Welles, Mygatt, Judson, Marsh, and others) who were living in New Milford at the time, but the above are the primary ones. The New Milford Historical Society also has documentation on many of them (*18).

Visits to New Milford

Despite all my family connections there, I never visited New Milford much when growing up. We occasionally visited my Aunt Irene and Uncle Joe Hartwell in Roxbury, but because my father’s growing up years were so dysfunctional, he didn’t want to revisit that area very often (*14). We did visit my Nana Rogers once or twice while she was still living there in the early 1950s. We also once visited my father’s cousin, the William Russell family (*15). When I was in high school and was part of the “Mineralogical Society” (i.e. the Rock Collectors Club), our club advisor took us to New Milford and we climbed the cliffs alongside the Housatonic River where I was able to chisel some tourmaline crystals out of the rocks. And later in the early years of my marriage I took my wife to visit Tory’s Cave which is just above New Milford in Gaylordsville (*16).


*17 – History of the Towns of New Milford and Bridgewater Connecticut, Samuel Orcutt, 1882

Monday, August 13, 2018

Contacting Cousins

It’s now been six years since my mother passed away in the summer of 2012. Since I am older than my siblings, at the time I thought I was then the oldest living Russell since none of the other branches of my Russell ancestors that I knew of had any male children still living who were older. It was that fact that started me on my journey of using tools like and various forms of social media to try and document my ancestry. In the process I have discovered many more relatives, including living ones, of whom I knew nothing. Now, after the sixth anniversary of my mother’s passing and in anticipation of the twelfth anniversary of my father’s passing next month, I’d like to document a summary of what I have found and who I have connected to.

Siblings and First Cousins

My siblings and I have always been well connected. For many years we had a “round robin” letter that went between the five of us and my mother. It was always exciting to receive this fat envelope once or twice a year and be able to read about the happenings in their lives, then remove your own last letter, write a new one recounting what had happened since the last time you wrote, and forward the letter on. When email and then social media (Facebook) each came into vogue that replaced the paper letters and even my mother got her own email account in order to keep up with all that we were sharing.

It was the advent of social media that prompted us getting in touch with all our first cousins and add them to our list of “friends”. While not all my many cousins are using this form of communications, and while several of them are no longer living, the rest of us are all connected. Since our families were all close growing up, we are just continuing that tradition – albeit via technology instead of by the face-to-face meetings that we had during the year back then. I have nine first cousins or first cousins-once-removed (children of my cousins) on my FB friend list, but most of them are on my mother’s side. On my father’s side I only have one living first cousin, but I am in touch with her as well as her daughter (my first cousin, once removed).

Second Cousins

My grandpa Russell was the oldest of six children, but two of his brothers did not have any descendants, leaving only three branches of that family tree to connect to. My great-aunt Loretta only had one child, my father’s cousin Shirley [Meo], and I was able to get in contact (via phone) with both her and later with her husband Bill who called me after Shirley passed away last year. My great-aunt Pauline had a slightly larger family and I was also able to make contact with my cousin Dennis [Scott] as a representative of that branch of the family. I had only met my great-uncle Bill once in my life when I was about ten or so. After researching his family, I was able to contact my cousin Jane [Young] via both phone and email. More recently, I connected via FB my cousin Marianne [Lawlor]. So that makes me 3-for-3 for this part of my search.

In the process of my investigation I also discovered that my grandpa Russell had three step-sisters that I knew nothing about (my great-grandfather remarried a woman who had daughters from a prior marriage). After much research, I was able to contact my [step-]cousin Lauren [Munger] who very much appreciated the contact as her grandparents, parents, and only sibling had all passed away and she was feeling very isolated as the only person alive in her part of the family tree. My wife and I were also able to visit her and her family (near Boston) during a trip back to New England.

On my paternal grandmother’s side, Nana Rogers only had one sister and my great-aunt Irene only had one daughter. I was able to [re-]connect with my cousin Steve [Rezendez] via FB.

Thus, I now have contact with representatives of every branch of the family at the second cousin level!

Third Cousins

Continuing up the Russell line, my great-grandfather Louis was the oldest of ten children. But five of them did not marry or had no children. That left four other branches to investigate.

I have contact via FB of two of my cousins from my great-great-aunt Martha – Pam Otomo and Pat Bradley. When Pam’s older brother passed away recently, she contacted me to ask if I had a cell-phone number for Pat as Pat was on vacation. That shows how having connections can be important.

I had originally thought that my great-great-aunt Charlotte had died young, but a suggested relative via DNA showed that to be incorrect. Thus, I have now connected with my cousin Sande as a representative of this branch of the family.

My connections with cousins through my great-great-uncle George were the first that I made when my cousin George contacted me shortly after I began my research. My wife and I were actually able to meet face-to-face with George and his wife Sallie when they were in PA a few years later. In addition to them, I am also in contact (via FB) with his son Tom, his brother Jim, and several others in this branch of the family. Note that because my great-great-uncle George was several years younger than my great-grandfather, George is actually a second cousin of my father, i.e. my second cousin once removed, and he is older than me.

For the last branch of this family through my great-great-uncle James, I have also made a number of connections (17 of them!). I have also had the privilege of meeting in person several of my cousins in CT and recently additional ones in FL. This branch is now well represented in my list of FB connections. There is a 20-year difference in age between my great-grandfather and his younger brother James, so most of my cousins in this branch are actually second cousins of my father, i.e. second cousins once removed of me rather than third cousins, even though they are younger than me.

Perfect record here – 4 for 4!

Fourth Cousins

My great-great-grandfather, Walter, was the youngest of nine children. There are no living relatives on three of the branches, and two others I have not yet been successful at tracing. So that leaves three to document.

From my great*3-aunt Eliza, I have managed to contact my cousin Kim [Iezzi]. She maintains a detailed family tree of this branch in so that I do not feel the need to duplicate all my connections here.

From my great*3-aunt Rebecca, I have contacted my cousin Judy [Weir] who also maintains a family tree in I also have made connections with four other family members in this branch of the family.

Finally, from my great*3-uncle Theodore, I was able to make email contact with my cousin Raymond [Abruzzi], but I have not been able to completely document this branch of the family.

However, once again a perfect record, 3 for 3! But some ongoing research is still needed for two other branches.


I have concentrated my research efforts on my Russell ancestors. However, because of doing a DNA profile, I have gotten matches in a number of other areas. Most of these are on my mother’s side, but one recent one was on the Russell side of my ancestry. As a result, I was able to make a connection to a 4th cousin in my Nana Rogers Jewish line to my cousin Valerie [McNeal] in CA. Since she lived only a few miles from my sister, I was able to connect the two of them and they have now met in person.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Diversity in my Family and Friends

There are many different aspects to “diversity”. These can include race, national origin, politics, views on same-sex marriage, and religion – among others. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion – and I have mine – that does not mean that we need to let these aspects separate us. I love my family members, and appreciate my friends. I’d like to document just a few of the many types of diversity among them.

Fighting on opposite sides – My great*5 grandfather, John Russell (1756-1833), was a member of the NY Volunteers and a soldier in the Revolutionary War (*1). At the same time, my wife’s great*5 grandfather, Ruloffe VanDerKar was a member of Jessup’s Raiders and on the side of the British (*2). After the Americans won, Ruloffe fled to Canada where the VanDeCar family resided until the 1850s.

Religion – While most of my ancestors were protestants, my paternal grandmother, Vera [Levy] [Russell] Rogers, was raised in a Jewish household as her father, Maurice Levy (1870-1910), was the son of a Jewish immigrant who came to the US in 1851 (*3). Following the death of her father, her mother returned to her protestant roots, but my grandmother became a Christian Scientist.

In addition, some of the exchange students who lived with us were, and still are, of other religions. Our “daughter,” Noon from Thailand, like most people from that country, is Buddhist. And Adi from Indonesia is a practicing Catholic. Another friend here locally is a Muslim.

National Origin – My DNA gives some idea of the rather mixed ancestry that I have (*4). The primary ethnicities are Ireland/Scotland/Wales (22%), European Jewish (20%), Great Britain (19%), Europe West (14%), and Scandinavia (14%). My wife’s DNA is similarly quite varied (*5), being Europe West (44%), Great Britain (30%), and Europe East (17%). And there is another set of lesser percentage regions for each of us.

Race – While both my wife and I do not have any “mixed race” among our direct ancestors (at least for the last 1000 years), there are non-Caucasians among my family and friends. My wife’s brother married a Native American from the LTBB (Little Traverse Bay Band) of the Odawa tribe. While my sister-in-law has passed on, we have three nephews/nieces who are active in that tribe and I enjoy the perspective that I get from them.

I’ve already mentioned my hosted daughter from Thailand and another exchange student from Indonesia. I’ve visited Noon on three separate occasions over the years and stayed with her and her family on two of those visits (*6). I also have several other friends, primarily from my years in working with exchange students but also others, who have Asian heritage.

My other hosted daughter, Shirley, is from Ghana. I’ve also been privileged to spend a week+ with her and her family (*7). While Shirley is African and not African-American, one of my nieces just married an African-American earlier this summer and I hope to have the chance to meet him some day.

Sexuality – While the religion that I am a part of does not support same-sex couples, that does not mean that I condemn those who have different views. I had a close relationship while growing up with a cousin who was “gay” (the term in use at the time), and I currently have three nieces (on both my side and my wife’s side of the family) who are in same-sex relationships, two of whom are now married (*8). I still love these nieces just as I do any other of my relatives.

Politics – There are certain a non-trivial number of individuals in the US (and on both sides of the political spectrum) who take their political views to the extreme. And among my family and friends there are certainly several different views represented. But as long as they are willing to have a civil discourse with me, then I will continue to try and relate to them and to learn from their viewpoint.


Each of us is a unique individual with many different characteristics. Some of these we cannot change – for example I am a 70-year old individual (in a couple of days) who has XY chromosomes. Others are much more complicated – like the varied heritage that my DNA gives testament to. And others can change over time – I do not follow the same religious tenets that I grew up with.

I do not claim to be able to totally understand what others may experience because of the set of characteristics that they have. I don’t know what it’s like to be female, to be a Native American, to be Buddhist, or even to be single instead of married.

But none of these different characteristics are things that we should discriminate based upon. My many family members each have a different set of characteristics than I do. And my friends are even more diverse than those who are connected to me by various family relationships.

None of us is perfect. Whether we label those imperfections as “sin” or just things that we do wrong, we each need forgiveness for those imperfections and how they affect our relationships with God and with each other.

But we are all members of this collection of individuals that we sometimes label as the “human race”. We are related to other members of this collection – sometimes by marriage or biological descent (and we call each other “family”), and sometimes by other means (and we call each other “friend”). I have a large number of individuals both whom I am proud to call “family” or whom I am proud to call “friend”. None of them are the same as me – and for that I am also grateful. But I celebrate the diversity of them and I am richer because of it.


*8 – (another multi-part series that you might find interesting)

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


During my early years in the computing field I was very interested in being “professional”. This included becoming a member of both of the preeminent computer science professional societies – ACM (Association for Computing Machinery), and IEEE-CS (Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Computer Science). I had joined ACM as an undergraduate and IEEE-CS shortly after entering the work force.

Because of my ACM and IEEE-CS memberships, I became aware of an emerging effort to accredit university computer science programs.  Program-level accreditation is extremely common in academia and as the two leading professional societies (and with many of their members being in academia as well), ACM and IEEE-CS were the obvious places for such accreditation efforts to begin.  They jointly formed a new organization called the Computing Sciences Accreditation Board (CSAB) with one initial accrediting commission under it – the Computer Science Accreditation Commission (CSAC).  This was modeled after ABET (the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology) that existed in the engineering field which had separate commissions for the different branches of engineering (several years after my association with them CSAB merged with ABET).  They issued a call for participation.  While there were many in academia to choose from, they were especially interested in having participation from those in industry and government – to give the organization some legitimacy – and so I was accepted as an evaluator for the initial round of certification visits in 1985.  There were a few days of training in Las Vegas, as well as the couple of days involved in the accreditation visit, but my manager approved my participation.

That first year I was assigned to a team that would be visiting Mississippi State University.  The team chair (there were three on each team) was a professor from Houston who was also one of the board members of CSAB.  I must have done well, as he recommended me as a team chair for the next year’s cycle. The team chair’s responsibility was to make all the university contacts and schedule the visit, to lead the team during the three-day visit, to interview all the appropriate university leadership (president, provost, deans, etc.), to compile the visit report with input from the other team members, to correspond with the university to get their response to the report and verify any corrective actions taken, and finally to represent the team at the annual CSAC meeting in the spring.  CSAC was composed of all the team chairs from that year and their vote on the presentations from each team chair determined whether the university program would be accredited.

The universities that wanted to be considered for accreditation were essentially on at least a two-year cycle. They would spend at least a year in self-study, producing a sizable document that they would submit to their assigned team chair. Some of the standards that the institution must meet are not negotiable – such as the program being accredited must have actually had graduates that had taken the curriculum that they offered, i.e. we were accrediting real programs, not pieces of paper. But many of the standards are measures of quality that can only be assessed by the team visiting the institution. They then hosted the team for a visit in the fall. Between the end of the visit and the CSAC meeting in the spring they would have to present evidence of what changes they made based on the visiting team’s recommendations, and the vote of CSAC would take place in the spring.

The team members would each receive a copy of the self-study (from the team chair) and read it before the visit. The team would individually fly in and they would all meet the night before the visit to plan who was going to do what the following day. The next morning the team would initially meet with the department chair to go over their plans. We would also view all the other materials that the institution had prepared for us. This would include copies of all syllabi for required courses, copies of the textbooks used, copies of graded exams, and transcripts for a few students who had graduated from the program (with identifying information obscured as appropriate). Each member of the team would have scheduled some time during the day to review this material.

The team would then split up so they could cover as much ground as possible that day. We would try to interview as many faculty members as we could in the CS department, interview students (often by going into a lab and asking several students there if they would like to talk to us – so the institution couldn’t “cherry pick” the students we talked to), and see the facilities and labs that the institution had. We would also interview representatives of supporting departments (essentially any department where CS students had required courses – like math, physics, and English). We would also visit the library to review their CS reference book collections and subscriptions to significant periodicals in the field. In addition to covering some of these areas, the team chair would visit with the dean of the college that the CS department was in, the vice-president of institutional research (to get an idea of what the faculty were doing for research), and the university president. That night the team would meet after dinner to review the events of the day, decide what follow-up visits were needed the next day, and the team chair would charge each team member to write the various sections of the report. It was a very full day.

The next day the team would do any follow-up visits and over lunch and into the early afternoon they would draft their preliminary findings, including commendations and recommendations. Before leaving that afternoon, there would be an exit report given by the team chair to the president and dean (and whomever else those individuals wished to hear the results such as the department chair). The primary information delivered would be a verbal presentation of the commendations and recommendations (usually with those listening fiercely taking notes). No report would be made of what the recommendation of the team chair to CSAC would be made, since there were several months for the institution to rectify any deficiencies.

Over the following months the team chair would get the written reports from the team members (based on the assignment that he/she had made), correspond with the institution on what corrective actions they had made (with verification), and prepare a short presentation to be given to the full commission when they met in the spring. The chair could recommend to the commission to not accredit, to give full accreditation, or to give accreditation for a shorter amount of time during which the institution would have to correct some specified issues.

Because accreditation is valued so highly, the ability of the accreditation team to influence changes in the institution was always impressive to me. I personally witnessed one CS department, as part of their corrective action plan, get allocation from the institution for another full professorship. At another, we noted that the physics department, which was only a service department since the institution did not offer a degree program in physics, was still using WWII surplus oscilloscopes. Based on our report that they needed to expose the CS students to more modern equipment, the physics department was able to get a $50K allocation from the institution for equipment – something that the department had unsuccessfully been trying to get for several years. I also witnessed another team that had visited one of the military service academies. Getting additional funds required not only approval of the institution, but approval from much higher up the chain at the senior levels in the Pentagon. But because the team identified a particular need, the team chair was impressed that they got approval from a normally slow-moving government agency in a matter of weeks! The institutions generally welcomed our recommendations since they saw that we were trying to help them improve.

Over the next several years I had to pleasure of chairing a team each year to different universities – University of Southern Mississippi, University of South Alabama, Benedictine College (near Chicago), Norfolk State University, NE Louisiana University and Pace University (outside of NYC).  As one of the very few industry representatives in this very academic endeavor (I was one of only a couple of non-academics who was a team chair), I was often met by some skepticism by university administration (i.e. presidents).  They asked, “How can someone from outside of academia know what we do and critique us?”  But one president remarked to me, “You missed your calling” once I had made my report visit to he and his staff at the end of our visit.  Appointment to CSAC was limited to two three-year terms, so after six years of serving in this capacity, my final CSAC meeting was in 1992.

I believe that accreditation is a process that, while arduous, can be of great benefit to the institution. And I also believe that it is a combination both of a rigorous set of standards and an accreditation team that applies appropriate interpretation of those standards to the institution that makes it successful. You need both.

Monday, August 6, 2018

My Early PC Experience

Since I received my BS in Computer Science in 1969 and my MS two years later, I was at the forefront of those in the computer field. But I was not a hobbyist as some were who bought some of the early home computers, often by putting them together themselves. Rather, as a user of computers in business, I lagged a few years until the initial bugs were worked out. But still I was an early adopter once the home PC market began to develop.

Being an early adopter

I bought my first IBM-PC (actually the only one actually marketed by IBM that I ever bought) some time around 1983. It came with 64K. I had my choice of a single-sided or double-sided floppy drive (I chose the latter). I also bought a color monitor, a copy of DOS 1.1, an Okidata 82 printer (with NLQ (Near-Letter Quality) print capability), and a printer cable (everything was unbundled those days). I paid about $2,200 for all of those – a hefty sum in those days. For software, I purchased a copy of Volkswriter (*1), a relative cheap package, but one that was far superior to IBM’s Easywriter and easier to use than WordStar which had just come out. I also got a copy of WordProof which was a companion piece that did spell/grammar checking. These were my primary tools – remember that things like email didn’t come along until 10 years later in 1993.

Over the coming several years I made a number of upgrades. First, I got a second floppy drive and upgraded the memory from 64K to 256K (maxing out the motherboard as I inserted the chips myself). Later I replaced one of the floppy drives with a hard drive that stored a whopping 5M and upgraded to DOS 2.0 in order to support it. Eventually I replaced that original IBM PC with a 286 machine from Northgate. Over the years I’ve had a continuing series of machines, each much more powerful that the last, but interestingly the basic price remained in the same range.

I’d like to take the rest of this article to give an overview of one of the most significant projects that I was involved in that stretched the ability of that first PC.

A major project

I was still operating that original PC, now upgraded with more memory and a second floppy drive, in the winter of 1984-1985. A man who I’d gotten to know over the prior several years (and who has been a good friend ever since), Dick Gehman, was a missionary to Kenya. I used to pick up he and his family at JFK airport every four years as they came home on furlough and then take them back to JFK a year later when they returned to Kenya. In 1984 the Gehmans came home for year and his task for that year was to work on his Doctorate in Missiology – in particular on completing and submitting his dissertation to Fuller Seminary in CA. Fuller’s standards at the time included a requirement that the dissertation be typed on an IBM Selectric typewriter. Dick heard that I had a PC and asked if it were possible to use this “new” technology to prepare his dissertation. I agreed and printed out a sample document in NLQ (with a new ribbon) and he submitted it to Fuller and asked if that printing was acceptable. They said yes.

Starting in January 1985, and continuing for two full months, Dick would come to my house each morning before I left for work. He had never used a computer before and had no idea on how to do basic functions like starting it up, saving his work, etc. I got the PC set up before he arrived. He brought his lunch with him but basically spent the entire day typing. When I came home I would save his day’s work. When he finished a chapter, I would run it through WordProof and do a basic read through and edit myself, then print out that chapter which he would take home to his wife for further proofreading. Corrections would eventually come back to me, I would make the changes and then print the final chapter.

African languages, Greek and Hebrew

There was one major issue that I had to work through and that tested my skills. Dick’s dissertation was on African Traditional Religion. Part of the dissertation included some words from three of the tribes in Kenya that he worked with. While these words used primarily Latin characters, some of the letters had diacritical marks. These were not too bad to deal with. But the final portion of the dissertation was a study on the biblical interpretation of some of the subjects. For this, Dick would reference the original words in Greek or Hebrew (the language of the New and Old Testament). But these characters did not exist in any word processor of the time. So, what was I to do – other than leave blanks in the document for them to be hand-written in later?

The solution lay in the fact that the Okidata printer supported what was know as downline loadable fonts. Basically, I could design my own characters/fonts by creating a bit pattern stored in binary, then send them to the printer to be stored in its local memory. Then when the printer was asked to print the alternate font it would pull it from its memory and use the bit pattern to fire the individual pins in the printhead. There were some limitations, such as you could not fire the same pin twice in a row as it needed time to reset itself as the printhead moved across the page, and the character could only be as large as a typical character (as I recall it was 9 bits high and 11 bits wide), but otherwise you had free rein to program the firing of the individual pins in the printhead.

I looked in an encyclopedia for the shape of the full Greek and Hebrew characters, then built a file with a corresponding set of pin firings for each character (essentially a text file with a bunch of X’s corresponding to the firing of each pin on a separate line and a column for successive firings). I then constructed a program in BASIC that would read this text file of X’s and build the bit patterns that would be sent to the printer. I thought it was a pretty elegant solution.

When you selected the “alternate font” in Volkswriter (kind of like a modified shift key), it would put the font on the screen in color. The correspondence was that a lower case “a” (which would show on the screen in red background) was going to be transliterated into a Greek alpha, but an upper case “A” was going to be transliterated into a Hebrew alef. For Dick, this was going to be pretty easy, he would just shift into alternate font mode and type the equivalent Latin characters for each Greek character (alpha, beta, gamma, delta, etc.) or the upper-case equivalents for Hebrew characters (Alef, Bet, Gimel, etc.) Since Greek and Hebrew do not have lower/upper cases there were no conflicts. I printed out a full alphabet for Dick and he made a few corrections to my character shapes based on how he wrote each character and I simply adjusted the pattern of X’s in my text file and reprocessed it until I satisfied his criteria.

This was a real good test of my computer skills – learning the capabilities of my printer, designing a solution that included a readable input (patterns of Xs) and building a program to translate that readable input into the bit patterns that the printer required.

Finishing the dissertation

Dick is a very serious writer. The finished work was over 600 single-spaced pages which he took to CA with him for his dissertation defense. The committee he met with had a number of changes that they wanted in it, which mostly involved cutting out some portions. But the finished project needed to be printed and also needed things like a table of contents, and an index. Dick returned the marked-up copy to me (via insured mail), together with rubber-banded strips of paper that contained all the things that he wanted to appear in the index. And by strips of paper I mean little strips – basically one line high with a word/phrase and page number on each strip!

I had some major work to do in order to produce the finished product. I first typed up all the strips of paper into a document, then sorted the lines of the document by page number. I made all the textual changes from the marked-up document. I then printed the main body of the dissertation (I’ll call it a book, because it was going to be one before it was done). This meant a continuous print job that lasted nearly 24 hours. I built an overall document that did an “include” of each of the documents that were part of the overall book). I was sufficiently skilled that I could go from floppy to floppy as each chapter finished (as I recall it took 7 floppies to store it all). I was also able to periodically pause the printer and put in a new ribbon (so that the final print quality would not show any fading as the pages advanced). But once that 24 hours of printing was done, I had more work to do.

First, I had to look up each of the index entries to find out what page number the reference had moved to (remember that if there are significant deletions, then the page numbers are all going to change)! I then sorted the index document by reference word/phrase to get it in alphabetical order. When the same word was indexed in two or more places, I manually combined the lines into one with multiple page numbers listed. I then printed the index (starting the page number of the index on the page after the last chapter. Finally, with all the page numbers known, I could insert the page numbers into the table of contents – the last piece of the puzzle to be printed.

It took several days to complete the project – but I was thoroughly invested in the finished work. I mailed it back to Dick in CA (again by insured mail). He had copies made and bound. As a token of thanks, he presented me with a copy of the finished work – my sole pay for my contribution in both time and expertise to his dissertation. But, unlike many dissertations, this one did not just sit on a shelf gathering dust. It became the basis for three books that he later published, some of which are still being used now some 35 years later. I’m happy that I was able to be a part of this project!