Archive for the “Family” Category

After years of work by many people, we’ve finally published my mother’s memoirs. “My Short Century” by Lorna Arnold is now available from Lulu. A Kindle version is on the way, and both of them should show up on Amazon quite soon.

My Short Century by Lorna Arnold
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

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Today I took delivery of an Otterbox iPad Defender case, and I bought a new iPad (64GB, Wifi + 3G). (But not from Amazon.) I’m busy restoring the backed-up data from my old 32GB iPad onto the new one, and at the same time I’m resetting the old one to virgin status.

All of this is in aid of a cunning plan, with a fiendish side benefit. The main plan is to transform my original iPad into an Augmentative Communications Solution for my lovely grandson Tommy, who has autism and other developmental disabilities. Custom ACS devices cost up to $7K, but a number of parents and teachers are having great success using an iPad application called Proloquo2Go. Of course Tommy can get a little wild, hence the ruggedized case from Otterbox. I’m going to spend the next couple of days setting things up, and then ship the system off to Massachusetts.

The fiendish side benefit involves my trip to England in December on the occasion of my mother’s 95th birthday. I’ll be staying at her house, which has no high-speed Internet access. The idea of spending a whole week “off the net” was too horrible to contemplate. (Don’t bother to try to convince me otherwise!) However it turns out that all 3G-enabled iPads are identical, and all are unlocked. So when I get to the UK, I’m going to buy a pay-as-you-go iPad SIM from Three (or similar), and I’ll be back in business. In fact I may use Skype on my iPad instead of a conventional mobile phone. (Anyone care to comment on how usable this is, and how much of my data plan it will consume?)

More anon….

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My mother‘s 95th birthday is coming up in December, and I’m going to be visiting her in Oxford for a week. This morning I went ahead and booked the flights and rental car. I priced it out at several websites, and the cheapest was United Vacations. (I was committed to flying on United, because I need a couple of thousand miles to lock in MP Premier Exec status next year.) I wanted to arrive in London relatively early, and so I chose a SFO-ORD-LHR routing. Everything went through just fine, and soon afterwards I received the detailed itinerary.

Oops.

They’d booked me on UA906 connecting with UA931, which gave me just 40 minutes to make the connection in Chicago. We’re talking about Chicago in December, after departing from SFO, the airport with the worst on-time record in the US. On top of this, I was planning to check my bag through from SFO to LHR, and I was hoping that it would arrive with me.

On the other hand, the system wouldn’t have coughed up this flight pairing if it was out of policy, would it?

This evening, I decided to call United, and after wandering through a voice-recognition call tree, I got to an agent and explained my concern. “Let me look that up,” she said. “Nope, that’s wrong: you’re supposed to have an hour and 15 minutes for an international connection.” And in a few minutes she’d switched me onto an earlier flight, given me the same seat I’d had before (after confirming my preference), double-checked that the transaction wouldn’t trigger a change fee, and emailed the revised itinerary to me. I’m now on UA972-UA928 eastbound, and UA931 westbound.

Decisive, courteous, knowledgable [UPDATE: Or maybe not - see Cranky's comment below.]: everything one hopes for in a customer service representative. Thanks.

P.S. I’m a bit particular when it comes to seats. In the northern hemisphere, I always go for a port window eastbound and a starboard window when I’m flying west. I like to look out of the window without getting blinded or fried.

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On Friday night we drove up to Sacramento for the weekend. My son Chris was being ordained as an Episcopal Deacon on Saturday, and we decided that it would be a great opportunity to explore Sacramento.

The ordination went off very well, although unfortunately Chris’s grandparents weren’t well enough to make the journey. I took a number of photos, and although they capture the feel of the event, the quality is pretty abysmal. I blame myself for adhering to the rules (“no flash photography”) – rules which many others ignored. (It’s tough having those first-born, rule-observing instincts!)

On Saturday afternoon, Kate and I explored the “Old Sacramento” area. It was very hot, and the crowds made it hard to appreciate the historic character of the place. We took the steam train ride, which was a bit underwhelming – a short trip to nowhere. Hmmm. Fortunately when we returned on Sunday morning, things were very quiet, and we could really enjoy the nicely-restored district.

The main reason for the Sunday morning visit was to go to the California State Railroad Museum. This was a wonderful experience; I’ve been to many railroad museums around the world, and the CSRM is clearly the best so far. Mostly this is because of the holistic approach: it’s not just a place of pilgrimage for hard-core enthusiasts, like Didcot or Lancaster, Pennysylvania. As you can see, it brings in the history, politics, sociology, business, and culture of the railroad in California, as well as the resulting love affair with toy trains. Nice touches: the sleeper car, which vibrated on its tracks just as if it were rolling down the track, and the enormous “cab forward” freight engine of the Southern Pacific:

After lunch on Sunday, we decided to head back, rather than waiting for the rush-hour. (Even so, the traffic heading back from Reno to San Francisco was quite impressive.) On the way, we stopped to look at the “ghost fleet” moored in Suisun Bay. You can just make out the clipper bow of the USS Iowa, BB-61:

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It’s been quite a week. Last Monday we flew to the UK, intending to visit my mother, Lorna Arnold, in Oxford and attend the ceremony at which she was to receive an honorary doctorate. It soon became apparent that she wasn’t going to be well enough to leave hospital for the occasion, so on Saturday I attended the ceremony on her behalf and accepted her D.Litt. scroll from the Vice Chancellor of Reading University.

After the event, there was a lunch with a couple of dozen distinguished guests – academics, scientists, MoD, and writers. Obviously they had expected to hear a speech from my mother, so on Thursday I had taken my camcorder to the hospital and recorded a short message from my mother to her friends. At the lunch, I simply held up my laptop and played back the video clip. Then I made a few remarks of my own. I hadn’t prepared anything, and I can’t really remember what I said, but it seemed to be well received. After lunch, we headed back to the hospital in Abingdon to give the scroll (and photos and DVD of the event) to my mother.

Yesterday we left Oxford and headed over to Cambridge. We hadn’t got any firm plans – the previous week had been so ad hoc that planning had been the last thing on our minds. On a whim, we decided to overshoot Cambridge and go on to Ely, where we spent a happy couple of hours exploring the Cathedral. The experience was enhanced by the fact that the choirboys were rehearsing for a concert.

So now we’re in Cambridge, at the Best Western Gonville. It’s a great hotel, unlike any other Best Western I’ve stayed at. Today I have meetings in Cambridge, and then tomorrow we’ll catch up with some family members en route to Ipswich.

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I’m in Brookline, Massachusetts for a week, and yesterday we went up to Lynn to see my daughter, her husband, and the two grandchildren. Normally at the end of December Lynn would be deep in snow, but yesterday the temperature reached 64F, and when we arrived the kids were playing in the yard. I took lots of pictures (posted here) as well as some nice video clips.

In the evening, Merry and I went for a walk by the Leverett Pond. I had brought my camera, but the light was failing and there seemed to be nothing much worth capturing. And then Merry saw a flash of white in the reeds: a heron. I tried full optical zoom (10x) on my Panasonic Lumix, but it was still rather small. I had always been told that electronic zoom wasn’t worth using, but I decided to try the “E-Zoom” feature to get up to 15.9x. I was impressed with how well the image stabilization worked at that level. You can see the results starting here. In the final shot the heron is actually taking off, which it was hard to capture with a 1/15 sec. exposure!

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I’ve been digging into my American family roots, and came up with a couple of amusing nuggets. My father was American, and his mother was named Kate Denig. This seemed like a fairly easy name to trace, so we worked back through the US Census records at Ancestry.com. There was one significant element of confusion, of which more anon, but eventually I reached my great great great great grandfather, Ludwig Denig, b. 1755. There’s a fair amount of documentary material available: he was a shoemaker, and later an apothecary, in Pennsylvania. He was also a leading light in his local church, and an amateur artist, and I was delighted to discover that a facsimile of a book of his was available: The Picture Bible of Ludwig Denig: A Pennsylvania German Emblem Book. I ordered a copy through Amazon, and it just arrived (from Powells in Portland). It’s in perfect, and beautiful condition.

The Picture Bible of Ludwig Denig: A Pennsylvania German Emblem Book

The Picture Bible of Ludwig Denig: A Pennsylvania German Emblem Book

And the bit of confusion? As we searched the census records for Ohio and Wisconsin, we kept coming across references to members of the “McDenig” family. This seemed odd: I’d never seen a hybrid German-Scottish name before. Eventually light dawned. One of Ludwig’s sons was George Denig, a physician. He married an Eliza McClintock, and their children all took the names of both parents. The next family member in my lineage was his son, Robert McClintock Denig, born in 1813, and a physician like his father. When the census taker recorded his family information, he wrote Robert’s name as “Robert Mc. Denig”. And 150 years later, whoever computerized the census records dutifully transcribed the family name as “McDenig”.

Thus history is made and remade….

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Kate, Hannah and I went to see The Quantum of Solace at the Cinerama this evening. After the success of Casino Royale, I had great hopes for it. Sadly, no. Muddled plot, unmemorable characters (except for Bond and M), and a ridiculous reliance on special effects. The film does set some kind of record for the variety of chases: a car chase, a running-across-the-rooftops chase, a boat chase, and a plane chase. Each raises the improbability level a notch: picking a random beat-up old boat in a harbour and finding that it had a supercharged engine that could outperform the bad guys, then renting a decrepit old DC-3 in the Bolivian desert and performing low-level aerobatics in narrow canyons that would be the envy of Top Gun – and without the wings coming off. That was just silly. On the plus side, the computer user interface in use at MI6 takes the design from Minority Report and raises the bar a couple of notches.

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After two productive days at our Edinburgh office, I drove south today. The trip planner had projected a driving time of six and a half hours to reach Oxford, and that was alost exactly right: my rest/fuel stops added up to an hour and a half, and the elapsed time was eight hours. I kept wishing that I’d had a driving companion to wield the camera: sunrise approaching Moffat, the bands of cloud draped across the Lake District, the army of ghostly windmills marching across the fells, the quizzical sheep gazing at my from the back of a Land Rover… But that was about it for scenery: from Lancaster onwards it was grey with occasional drizzle.

Afte spending a pleasant afternoon with my mother and brother, I went out to dinner with Lorna and my sister-in-law. Then I headed off for the short (one hour) drive to my next hotel in Slough. The first bit was easy: round the Oxford ring road, and an 80mph dash along the M40 to Beaconsfield. Here I turned south towards Slough. I don’t think I’ve actually been down that road since I was learning to drive 40 years ago, and it was just as twisty, hilly, and off-camber as I remembered it. My instructions were to drive through to the A4, turn right, then left…

I missed the left. Drove on, looking for elusive street signs. Finally I took an arbitrary left, intending to work back to the point at which I’d joined the A4. Uh-huh… this is England, not the USA. No grid patterns. The commutative law doesn’t hold here. I plunged on, clearly lost, but using the bright moon to keep heading in roughly the right direction. I knew I should stop and call the hotel, but I wanted to be able to tell them where I was, in terms of a recognizable landmark. I kept driving.

Finally I saw a large roundabout ahead, and just the other side of it a big hotel (but not the one I was looking for). I pulled over, called the my hotel, explained my predicament, and told them where I was. It turned out that I was only twenty yards from the hotel entrance! If I’d stopped a couple of feet further forward, I’d have been able to see their sign.

So all’s well that ends well? Not quite: the hotel is completely sold out tonight, and the only available room was a smoking room.1 I’ll put up with it tonight, and shift tomorrow.

Oh yes, and WiFi access is £12 for 24 hours. Daylight robbery.

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  1. My coment to the receptionist: “Congratulations on the booming business climate. Enjoy it while it lasts.” Lots of gallows humour around these days.

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I’m packed and ready to fly back home to Seattle. It’s been a busy few days here in the Boston area. I spent a lot of time with Thomas and Victoria (Tommy and Torri, to me), both of whom were in fine form.

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