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Remembering Royal Robbins

One of the fathers of modern rock climbing, Royal Robbins died on March 14, 2017. Somehow this news escaped me and that fact has been bothering me for the past few weeks since learning about it.

I haven’t climbed in over thirty years but I can say without a doubt that Royal Robbins influenced my climbing more than anyone. Actually, he influenced more than my climbing, he influenced my life.

Basic and Advanced Rockcraft

Robbins wrote two small but extremely influential books that remained the instruction manuals for climbing for many years (they’re dated now although collectors items): Basic Rockcraft and Advanced Rockcraft.

What these books have in common is an emphasis on process: getting to the top is less important than how one gets there, clean climbing (at the time we were moving away from pitons), spare equipment to save weight and keep things simple, and, most importantly for route pioneers, finding routes that follow crack systems and have an aesthetic sense about them (as opposed to bolting straight up a face). Robbins’ nemesis, Warren Harding played the wild, bad guy to Robbins’ good guy. Truth be told, they both pioneered great routes in Yosemite although in very different styles.

Another thing these books have in common is that they are illustrated with great humor by Sheridan Anderson (best known for The Curtis Creek Manifesto one of the best fly-fishing books ever written). Without Anderson’s illustrations the books would have fallen flat, very much like the collaboration of John Muir (writer) and Peter Aschwanden (illustrator) in How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Complete Idiot (also called “the Idiot Book”).

I’ve used Anderson’s drawings of Robbins to illustrate this post. Note that Robbins routinely wore a white flat cap and Anderson’s illustrations usually have him in glasses and said cap.

Yosemite Method

Robbins used Yosemite Valley as his climbing laboratory because it has stable weather, and large, glacier-carved cliffs of incredible exfoliated granite with crack systems that make building spectacular routes possible. He climbed all over the world but Yosemite remained his home base for much of his climbing career and his particular methods and style are aimed at the type of rock climbing found there.

I got into and almost out of climbing before Steve Jobs and Apple came out with the Macintosh but Jobs and Robbins had something in common besides both being from California: they both worshipped process. As an undergraduate at the University of Oregon Fine Arts department I used to hear: “the process is the product” which is another way of saying what Steve Jobs said about building the Macintosh: “the journey is the reward” which is another way of saying what Robbins said: how you get to the top is more important than getting to the top.

This meme has been a running idea in my life since first encountering it in the early 1970’s.

Nutcracker

Robbins “put up” (made the first ascent) on hundreds (thousands?) of climbs but what marked and marks his climbs is that they, for the most part, have become classics: people want to repeat them because they’re beautiful, fun, and interesting.

The one Robbins climb that most aspiring rock climbers have to do is called Nutcracker. It’s on a cliff known as Manure Pile Buttress (seriously) and while it’s not as epic as something like The Northwest Face of Half Dome (another Robbins first ascent), it’s a great climb of moderate difficulty.

Robbins and his wife Liz first climbed Nutcracker in 1967 and it was the first climb of any significance that was done without pitons: Robbins only used wedges of aluminum on slings called nuts stuffed into cracks to protect the climb, thus the name (a first ascender gets to name the route and Robbins was known for having fun with route names).

In the history of climbing without pitons, the thought is that British climbers approaching cliffs beside railroad tracks picked up steel hex nuts, passed pieces of rope through them and used these like chockstones to protect climbs. When Yvon Chouinard (another Yosemite pioneer and founder of Patagonia) heard about this he decided to make irregular hexagonal shapes out of aluminum which in my day, we called “hexes” for climbers to stuff into cracks instead of pitons. These days there are still stoppers, wedges, and hex nuts although they’ve been all but replaced by expandable protection.

The fact that Robbins and his wife did this climb without pitons in 1967 was significant and it led to a push in Yosemite Valley to do away with pitons all together, even on longer big wall routes.

I first climbed Nutcracker in 1975 with my friend Rod Orlando (image on the left with me leading) and climbed it numerous times in later years with a variety of partners. I loved that route and even as I started climbing longer and more serious routes, I almost always came back to Nutcracker. It was like paying my respects to Royal Robbins, a pioneering climber who was one of my role models.

For more on how Robbins fits into the history of climbing in Yosemite, I highly recommend the movie: Valley Uprising. Valley Uprising on Netflix. Valley Uprising on Amazon.


Other writing about Royal Robbins

There is overlap in the obituaries but they’re all worth looking at as they each have a slightly different take on Robbins’ life. If you’ve got a great source, please post it in comments, I’ll add it here. Thanks.

Base Camp Magazine: Royal Robbins Dies at 82 (this is where I first learned of Robbins’ passing)

Outside Magazine: Catching Up with Royal Robbins

Climbing: Royal Robbins

Climbing: Royal Robbins: A Timeline and a Bibliography

Royal Robbins, Conscience of Rock Climbers, Dies at 82

NPR, All Things Considered: Royal Robbins, Pioneer Of American Rock Climbing, Dies At 82

The Washington Post: Royal Robbins, celebrated rock climber who left no trace of his ascents, dies at 82

Outside Magazine: Obituary: Royal Robbins (1935–2017)

Modesto Bee: Rock climbing pioneer, Modesto’s Royal Robbins, dies at 82

Alpinist: 1935-2017: Big-wall pioneer and world explorer Royal Robbins remembered

Adventure Journal: Climbing Pioneer Royal Robbins Dies at Age 82

Hear and Now (NPR): How Rock Climbing Legend Royal Robbins Influenced The Sport

Climbing reference: Nutcracker, Manure Pile Buttress 5.8

Nutcracker Guide

Summit Post: Nutcracker topo

Flickr (photos): Climbing Nutcracker in Yosemite

Ueli Steck dies on Mt. Everest

Swiss climber Ueli Steck was killed in a fall on Mt. Everest today.

Steck was one of the greatest mountaineers and all-around climber-athletes in the world. He was skilled and experienced enough so that an accident like this would be unlikely for him, however, free solo climbing (climbing alone without a rope) is dangerous, even for someone as skilled as Steck.

I’ve followed Steck’s career for a while, mostly because he’s an interesting guy, and also because those of us who were or still are climbers know what The Eiger North Face is and Steck not only free soloed it, he did it numerous times in under 3 hours. This is an incredible achievement because of the skill and daring involved but also because of the endurance involved. Steck was called “the Swiss machine” for a reason: he had tremendous endurance.

I posted about him here in 2011. Below is the video from that post.

Robert Pirsig and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values has died.

The New York times has an excellent remembrance as does the New York Post. It’s worth reading both and no doubt others that will come out in the days ahead, each will have different takes on this fascinating man and his surprisingly popular book.

Robert Pirsig’s writing had a profound affect on my life and while I read this book in 1976, many of its ideas have stuck with me.

Here’s an anecdote that I remember from the book although my memory is no doubt burnished. And, I was and remain a weak reader (dyslexia) so I’m slow and tend to miss things.

Surface appearance vs. underlying form

Pirsig is riding cross country (Minnesota to San Francisco) with his son Chris and a friend (John) and his wife. Pirsig is on an old Honda (or something like that) and John and wife are on a new BMW (a much more expensive bike).

They’re somewhere in the middle of their trip, camping out and sitting around the campfire one night drinking beer. John has been complaining about the handlebars on his BMW being loose and is wondering if they’ll pass near a BMW place so he can have them fixed.

Understand that the handlebars on these motorcycles are attached to the post they sit on with a clamp (just like a bicycle) and the adjustment bolt/nut could be tightened all the way and there might still be play between the clamp and the handlebars. Unless one can fill that space, it’s a serious problem.

Pirsig is thinking that he could cut up an aluminum beer can with the tin snips he has in his saddlebag and make perfect shim stock (soft aluminum) to take the play out of John’s handlebars. But John, no doubt, would have none of it because to use a beer can on his fancy BMW would be just plain wrong. Pirsig knows that the BMW repair guy will probably use the same type of thing and charge John a fortune for it. Then Pirsig goes deep into the idea of underlying form (the way things actually work) vs. surface appearance (the BMW brand cache), and also the fact that he has no way to talk about this stuff with John and he goes around and around on this in his head, driving himself crazy.

These deep mind trips Pirsig calls “chautauquas” and he has many in this book. They’re laced with a bit of paranoia and mania (Pirsig was in real life, schizophrenic) and for me, that made them even more real.

This loose handlebar scene and resulting chautauqua becomes a metaphor for other scenes in the book and for those of us who read it, for many things in our lives.

For example, some people buy iPhones because they’re the cool phone to have, others buy them because they understand and appreciate Apple’s design of both the hardware and the iOS software underneath. Geek (underlying form) vs cool hunter (surface appearance).

If you’re into the technical stuff it might be frustrating to have some teenager who wants a pink iPhone to look cool to her friends have the same phone as you and have no clue how it works. Or, the teenager can use the phone amazingly well but doesn’t appreciate the stacks of software underneath the surface appearance.

Substitute anything for iPhone, it’s not about Apple vs Samsung, it’s about surface appearance vs underlying form. Android geeks might have the same frustration with people who buy Android phones simply because they’re cheaper.

Understand that Pirsig’s description of this frustration was the first I’d ever read of it and it hit home to me and has continued to hit home with me for over 30 years.

When I read this book I was not a big reader, this was one of the first “big” books I read that had an affect on me. And, it was scenes like the one I describe above that did it. I was struggling to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life and I experienced Pirsig’s struggle. And, Pirsig wasn’t just struggling with ideas, he was struggling with mental illness which affected his ability to relate his ideas to other people.

Phaedrus

Ten years after I’d read this book I found myself running both the Macintosh and HyperCard groups on AOL (America Online). One of the thousands of user/participants in the group had an interesting screen name: “Phaedrus47.” I remembered that Pirsig had used the name “Phaedrus” to describe his past self as a struggling creative writing teacher.

I sent a message to Phaedrus47 asking if he’d read the book. Indeed he had and this started an amazing, multi-year email discussion/chautauqua between me and Phaedrus47 / Alex Forbes who I met years later at Macworld in San Francisco and am friends with to this day.

Less is more

I’m not a big reader of books, not because I don’t want to, but because I’m so slow it might take me many months to finish one and reading is exhausting for me. For every one book I’ve read my wife has read a thousand (seriously).

But, for me, this means that the books I actually stuck with and read have been worth the trouble and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, while in many ways a slog of a read, connected with me and had a big effect.

I will never forget Robert Pirsig’s personal struggle and his articulation of it in this book.

SuperPaint

SuperPaint (front of box)

I was cleaning out a box of old boxes (I love boxes) and found this product box from 1986.

Those of us who started with MacPaint eventually graduated to other tools. I was a MacDraw fanatic (object-oriented graphics) but still needed a bit-mapped painting program (this was pre-Photoshop). SuperPaint was what many of us used and it was like MacPaint on steroids.

If you remember, “FatBits” was MacPaint’s zoomed mode, “LaserBits” was something similar with SuperPaint (as memory serves). SuperPaint had all sorts of creative touches that were great fun for those of us who enjoyed MacPaint.

I’m posting two images, one of the front of the box, one of the back. If this history interests you, read the back to see more about what graphics programs looked like pre-Photoshop.

SuperPaint (back of box)

Koya Bound

Koya Bound

“Koya-san — home to esoteric Buddhism — is the name of a sacred basin eight hundred meters high and surrounded by eight mountains. It is roughly one hundred kilometers of trails north from the Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine in Wakayama, Japan. Though the name of the basin is often incorrectly translated as Mt. Koya in English, Mt. Koya is only one of the eight peaks, and is remote from the central cluster of temples.

We walked towards Koya-san, but we did not touch Mt. Koya.”

Koya Bound is a journal of an eight day walk on the Kumano Kodo trail in Japan by Craig Mod and Dan Rubin. The photography, the website structure and the writing are all superb. As you scroll down and back up the page the map shows your progress along the trail.

It’s also a limited edition book that’s available via a link at the bottom of the site.

[via Jon Moss]

More on gun control

I just read this fascinating piece on Medium: Why I “Need” an AR-15 by Jon Stokes and I just finished writing a long comment up on Medium which I’m reposting here with a few edits.

_____________

I enjoyed reading this piece and while I’m on the “anti-gun” side of the great gun divide, you’ve shown me that if I were a gun owner, I might look into an AR-15.

Prelude: I was talked into going out on a deer hunt with a friend and this friend shot a deer (cleanly), walked over to it, said a prayer, then field dressed the animal and we carried what was left back to his barn and I ended up with a lot of venison in my freezer.

I get it. If I’m not going to be a vegetarian buying factory raised meat is an odd and hypocritical place to stand as I get worked up about hunters killing deer for food (sport is another matter). I heat my house with wood that I process myself: I get what it’s like to be closer in to the process.

That said, you pointed to the idea that the shooter is the issue, not the gun but given current laws (and lack of enforcement) and the NRA’s full court press on all considerations of restrictions, it’s tough to sort that out.

This is why I like to think about guns like cars: we already have plenty of experience with testing, licensing, registration and liability insurance and we have a bit more control of drivers and the ability to get bad drivers off the road when they’re caught and the ability to make sure new drivers know the rules of the road and how to control a car. And, it costs more to insure a sports car if you’re 16 or a tractor trailer if you’re any age, it maybe ought to cost more to insure larger caliber or semi-automatic guns.

But, I misspeak; we don’t need to insure guns, we need gun owners to carry liability insurance so that if they cause harm, those harmed will get a bit of support and gun owners’ premiums will go up and maybe, if they have enough problems, they’ll lose the ability to have guns. If every gun had to be registered and every gun owner needed a license to own a gun and liability insurance it might put a stop to hoarding arsenals of guns and ammo.

Then there’s the argument I don’t make often but is personally meaningful to me: You may have the right to have a gun, but I have the right to live without the fear that you’ll miss and hit me.

I live in rural Connecticut and in season, we have deer hunters here. Twice pairs of hunters crossed posted signs on our property (we can see them in winter, no leave on trees) and once, a shot rang out while that person was standing on our property. The first time I put on a bright jacket and walked out and gently reminded the hunters that they’d crossed a posted property line. They were polite and immediately turned around (and crossed into my neighbor’s posted property). The second time, when I heard a shot I immediately called 911 which around here will bring a state police cruiser. The state cop found the hunters about 1/2 mile south of my place on someone else’s property and arrested them for trespassing.

I’ve had many Rambo fantasies about: you come on my property with a gun, I’m going to mess you up.

When I was 13 we went to visit some relatives in Palm Springs, California. I found myself walking down a street with a cousin I’d never met before. We were on our way up into the hills to, I thought, explore and climb around. My cousin said he had to stop at a friend’s house for a second and I waited in the street. I noticed that a kid our age came to the door, then that kid’s mother, and then my cousin returned and we continued on.

About 2 minutes later there was a large explosion and I found myself on my back with blood squirting out of various places on my body. I could see bones in my right arm and it was smoking near the elbow. My left wrist was squirting blood like a geyser. The right side of my t-shirt was burnt and blood soaked. I looked up and my cousin was also on the ground with his right hand blown off, his left hand mangled and his face a total mess and blood was squirting out of him as well.

I got up and dragged my cousin by his shirt to the nearest house and pounded on the door. A woman came to the door and immediately fainted and clonked her head on the tile floor. The husband saw all of this and slammed the door. I passed out in the bushes next to the door.

The fire department came and picked up my cousin and rushed him to the hospital. They didn’t see me in the bushes. A bit later, the police found the blood trail and me in the bushes and rushed me to the hospital.

Both of us almost died, although he was far worse off than me.

A year later, after many operations both of us had survived although him without a hand and only a piece of his other and a rebuilt face, me with shrapnel in my arms and side, a broken nerve that never healed right and scars all over my body.

I’m 64 now so that memory is mixed in with plenty of others but it was and remains a powerful experience in my life. Less because I almost died, more because the reason I almost died was not because I was messing around with explosives and made a mistake, but because I had the misfortune to be standing next to someone else who was.

The boy who my cousin had interacted with had sold him a small, glass jar of black powder and the mother had made change in the transaction. They never discovered what triggered the explosion but it was a hot day, who knows? Later it was discovered that the “gun family” had a lot of legal and illegal guns and associated stuff in their basement and because the mother had made change in the transaction they were sued by us to cover our medical expenses and a bit more.

But, winning that suit did not erase the memory from my mind that my cousin, who frankly I didn’t know before that day got us both blown up.

So, I won’t be shooting off fireworks this 4th of July. And, I’m generally pretty careful about hanging out with folks who mess with fireworks or firearms. I used to do a lot of traveling for a living and once Arizona started having open carry, I stopped taking jobs there.

Yes, you have a right to own a gun, but I have a right to be safe (from your mistakes) in my home and I would argue, in my country.

I did some writing on this earlier: Liability insurance as a form of gun control.

Frances Wanderman eulogy

For those of you following along, my mother passed away last Friday night.

I had made a pre-arrangement ten years ago with a funeral home in Los Angeles and they handled everything including getting her safely and on time to New York for a service held graveside for her burial.

I flew her remaining first cousin and his wife out as well as my mother’s helper for the past eight years so they could take part in her burial. Many relatives came who I’ve not seen in 20 plus years as well as friends and my own extended family. It was a nice group.

Members of the group told stories about my mother, and her cousin who is a spritely 87 played his ukulele and sang a song he’d written for her.

I knew I’d be a bit wiped out and upset so I wrote and read a eulogy which is below.

I can say with little doubt that my mother would have been very pleased with this service and on her next birthday (May 26th) we’ll put a stone on her grave.

My almost 99 year old mother watching me take pictures

Frances Wanderman Eulogy, as read by her son Richard at her burial

It will be debated whether my mother was manic, ADHD, or just driven by high energy and insatiable curiosity but she had an unquenchable thirst for experience. What my wife calls “whiplash of the senses” my mother might not even notice.

She wanted her gravestone to say: “She loved life” and when we make the stone it will include those words.

Speaking of words, my mother loved them and it would flatter her to hear that people thought she had great character but it would not offend her to be called “a character” which she certainly was.

My wife taught me how to live, my mother tried but it didn’t take, but my mother taught me how to open myself up to experience the world and to value my own experience and it did take and I thank her for that.

Living 101 years can give a person perspective and my mother took great advantage of that perspective every chance she got.

She experienced the birth of commercial airline travel all the way to men routinely walking on the moon.

She didn’t walk on the moon although if it would have been possible she’d have been the first person to sign up. She did travel the world and loved every county she visited.

She experienced Russia and Ukraine turning into the Soviet Union which she couldn’t visit and then back into Russia and Ukraine which she did visit to see the town her mother was born in.

She proofed and edited John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row on a pile of yellow pads while at Viking Press but also got to experience reading on an iPad.

She experienced the birth of the interstate highway system and the birth of the internet.

She visited every national park, her favorite was Death Valley, and she connected with friends all over the world via letters and postcards as well as email and she had a large worldwide fan club on Flickr.

She experienced and took part in the early civil rights movement and she lived long enough to vote for and experience two terms of Barack Obama.

She had a finely honed intuitive sense of what would be good, dragging me to Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts at Carnegie hall, seeing Hair at the Aquarius theater, Rent on Broadway, Doubt at the Forum, the King Tut show at the Met, the Picasso show at MoMA, hundreds of other plays, hundreds of movies, hundreds of books, gallery openings and almost anything that looked like it might be interesting. She was there.

The few times she visited us at our house in rural Connecticut she would remark: “How can you live here, there’s nothing to do.” We did take her canoeing on a lake near us once and she liked it, but she couldn’t wait to move on to New York.

She was a loyal daughter, sister, wife, mother and aunt who believed strongly in actively keeping family and friends together which she did through correspondence, phone calls, frequent family dinners at her house and frequent trips to New York for as long as she could travel.

She was a creature of habit: up early, breakfast of cut orange, Special K, prunes and decaf, then into bed with paper and the daily morning phone call to cousin Doris.

Frances to Doris: “Are you still alive?
Doris to Frances: “Yeah, how about you?”
Frances to Doris: “Barely.”

Then they’d go on talking for an hour.

Her indulgence was lunch out almost every day, the same half tuna sandwich and blended mocha.

She routinely saw Saturday matinees with cousins Bob and Mary, even after she couldn’t see the picture or hear the sound. And, always remarked at the end, “that was the best movie I ever saw.”

She had a great sense of humor and wasn’t ashamed to say she enjoyed The Three Stooges but also cartoons in The New Yorker. In fact, she enjoyed being outrageous and her use of language, while sophisticated could be colorful.

It was her wish to stay in her own house until the end of her life and as she got older and lost the ability to drive, she hired Marta Daniel to work for her. I was concerned about this because to say my mother could be “difficult” is an understatement. But, they made a great life together and Marta was with her for the last years of her life.

Marta was there when my mother needed her but still allowed my mother to do her own routines and run her own life for as long as she could. There is no question that one of the reasons my mother lived until 101 was that Marta was there for her.

My mother gave me explicit instructions on what she wanted done at her passing:

“I want to be wearing this white dress and this yarmulka Anne made.”

“Send me to Brooklyn and don’t bury me next to my sister Bunny or at my parents’ feet, I want to be next to my father.”

In typical fashion, she would then follow up with:

“Listen, once I’m gone do whatever you want. If it’s too much trouble to send me to Brooklyn cremate me. I’ll never know the difference.”

My mother led a terrific life and was a terrific mother to me and it’s only right that her last wish be granted: she’s right next to her father wearing Anne’s yarmulke and the white dress although Mt. Hebron is in Flushing, not Brooklyn.

My mother passed away last night

Frances is 101 today

 

Frances Wanderman. Born May 26th, 1915. Died June 17th, 2016.

This was taken on May 26th, a little over two weeks ago in Los Angeles, California on my mother’s 101st birthday.

Since then she’s been eating and drinking less (and she was already eating and drinking very little) and two days ago she stopped.

She passed away last night at 8:30 pm. Her helper Marta and my cousin Mary were with her. It was peaceful and easy.

She’ll be buried sometime this coming week at Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Queens, New York where her parents and siblings are.

Images of my mother

 

My mother not only lived a long time, she lived a very full life. Here’s a collection of images I posted on her 100th birthday.

My great grandmother Leah's tombstone

 

Here’s one of the earliest images I have of her at her Grandmother Leah’s funeral at Mt. Zion Cemetery, New York, 1918. She’s the youngest child on the right. Her maiden name is Dick and that’s her father, Samuel Dick behind her brother. His father, David Dick, is the old guy with the beard.

My mother and her siblings

 

Here’s a professional portrait of my mother (third from left) and her siblings. We’re guessing she’s about 17 here which would make the year 1932.

My mother interviews Dorothy Lamour

 

My mother (center) interviewing the actress Dorothy Lamore at “21” in New York. My mother wrote for a movie magazine.

My parents and me

 

My father, mother and me in about 1953 (I’m 2, my parents 38).

My mother and me at Crater Lake, Oregon in 1972

 

My mother and me at Crater Lake in 1972. I was 20 years old here, my mother was 57. My hair came off for good the next year and I grew a beard which I have to this day.

My mother's a Mac Geek

 

This is my then 90 year old mother who was a Mac user for years. She loved all the t-shirts and swag I used to bring home from Macworld and from my years consulting for Apple. This picture is in the documentary, MacHeads.

My mother inside a Richard Serra

 

I’ve been traveling out to Los Angeles at increasingly regular intervals to check up on my mother and on these trips we’d almost always go to a garden, a museum, out to dinner with relatives and friends, and cram as much in as we could. Here she is in 2009 inside a Richard Serra sculpture at the Los Angeles County Museum of art.

Marta and Frances

 

This was taken two years ago at Descanso Gardens in Flintridge, California, one of the many gardens we took my mother to. Her helper, Marta, was with her for eight years.

I can say for sure that my mother would never have lived to 101 had Marta not been in her life. We were lucky to have the resources to have this kind of help which enabled my mother to continue to live in her own house until the end. This was her wish: no assisted living, no old age home, and she had an explicit DNR (do not resuscitate) statement and told me, no hospitals. She watched what my father went through dying over two months in a hospital and she did not want that for herself.

An aside and an example of my mother’s humor. She’d say this on each of my visits as she became less independent until the last few years.

Frances: “Why don’t you give me the pillow job.”

Richard: “Mom, if I do that I’ll go to prison for murder.”

Frances: “What do I care, I’ll be dead.”

This was her morbid yet funny way to talk about her own death and as she got older and dementia set in, this kind of humor became my test of her cognitive capacity which was pretty amazing until recently.

I give my mother tremendous credit for making good choices along the way. I might have thought she’d be happier in an assisted living place but in fact, she enjoyed her independence and her routines and kept both up as long as she could. I’m quite sure those routines helped her live as long as she did. Marta and I used to joke that a half of a tunafish sandwich and a blended mocha must be the secret sauce that kept her going. I’m guessing it was the routine of getting out of the house and down to her little sandwich place for lunch out almost every day that kept her going. She enjoyed it and it gave her a reason to live.

She will be missed by many people although she’s outlived so many of her friends and relatives that the number is smaller than it might have been.

RIP Frances, I’m glad you were and will always remain my mother.

Andrew Wiles and Fermat’s Last Theorem

I saw this headline this morning:

Professor Who Solved Fermat’s Last Theorem Wins Math’s Abel Prize

I’m not a mathematician (more of a mathephobe) but this is a fascinating story and years ago PBS’s Nova repackaged a BBC documentary on Andrew Wiles in a piece called “The Proof” which I have on VHS tape but which, no doubt because of licensing issues with BBS, never got transferred to DVD and sold through the PBS web site.

The entire video is embedded below and it’s simply amazing, watch it even if you’re not into mathematics, it’s just a fantastic story with great characters.

I love the interview with the Japanese mathematician Goro Shimura where he describes his late friend and partner, Yutaka Taniyama (around 11:15 in):

“Taniyama was not a very careful person as a mathematician. He made a lot of mistakes, but… he made mistakes in a good direction, so eventually he got right answers. I tried to imitate him but I found out it is very difficult to make good mistakes.”

This video is a treasure and I hope Nova and BBC make it available as a remastered DVD and/or a downloadable video.