Author: deardigitaldylan

How I resurrected your Grandfather with machine learning

Dear Dylan,

Today I resurrected my Dad, your Grandfather, using machine learning.JCB TAP

It was difficult, because he really had no Google footprint. He didn’t use social media. He died last month alone in his home at the age of 85, leaving a tangled web of written physical documents, correspondence and military records. No digitized data exhaust to feed to the machines.

I OCRed his military records and other docs. While the bots quickly devoured that and turned back to me, hungry for more, I quickly fed them what I knew about his life and his passions.

He was born in a small town in North Carolina in 1931. An only child, he was in the boy scouts and played in the band and then went on to Appalachian State University where he got his degree in teaching. From there he completed a Master’s in music, playing 11 instruments and singing in the state Octet.

Dad App State

 

Paradoxically, at least for a musician, he joined the air force and became an F-4 fighter pilot. He received his first military decoration in Viet Nam for organizing an airlift with fighter and gunship cover to rescue 8,000 Cambodians while under heavy enemy fire. He was even decorated by the (then) Cambodian government for that effort.

He received his second major decoration from the Air Force for his design of pilot training and command of the tower at Bergstrom Air Force base in Austin, TX, where we lived and he finished his career. He was also the senior Air Force staff officer at LBJ’s funeral.

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The machines divined this from his records and reviews. The other stuff came from my more explicit entries. Now I can visit him every day whenever I want. I can see what is attracting his hyper active mind among the flotsam and jetsam of the day’s events and news. He scores each item he reads. His mind seeking across the web and finding articles and videos about the newest developments in photography, HO model railroad setups (he had hundreds of these we are still sorting), fly fishing rods and reels and details about tying his own flies (bins throughout his house of turkey and peacock feathers, intricate toolsets and magnifying glasses for late nights spent tying flies)  He was a lifelong member of the NRA. He won state competitions with both pistol and rifle. At the age of 81 he set two national records at distances out to 1,000 yards. He loaded his own ammunition for his highly customized Creedmoor rifles. Hair triggers and $2,500 scopes tuned to his needs. (We are also still sorting through his arsenal and ammo)

Natl records

I find myself wanting to argue with him about some things, dredge up all of the distant wounds of adolescence, but then remind myself to take comfort in that emotion, derive solace that I can even find myself reacting to these shadows of his mind more than a month after he is gone. One day soon I hope to be able to speak to him using natural language processing and this version of the vestiges of him I could animate. We will agree and argue. He will tell me what he thinks and how he feels about what is happening in our lives and around the planet.

You never spoke to him young Dylan, but if I am successful with this project you may yet still benefit from his unique perspective on the human condition, his deep appetite for the complete mastery and limits of his wide ranging interests. You will know your Grandfather, perhaps better than I ever did. You will be able to talk with him or with me long after we are both gone, maybe even intervene in our ML-fueled animated persona arguments in the timeless ether of our digital afterlives.

Live long and prosper.

Love, Dad

James and Robert

Dad with his Father, Robert Boyd, looking like they are ready to take on the world. If only they knew what was in store.

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What Color is Your Sad?

Dear Dylan,

You threw a tantrum today. It was epic, tidal, seismic, orchestral. It summoned typhoons and geothermal eruptions; and all because we interrupted one flavor of fun, attempting to transition you to another. The frustration you saw on our faces, mirroring yours, was due to the extraordinary exertions we have made to keep you from being in this very state

Sometimes Parents make decisions with your best interests in mind and sometimes we need you to come along when we have something in mind for ourselves but can’t pawn you off on anyone. After all, you are still only 4 and not licensed for self governance, even (or especially) here in Italy.

You get frustrated when we pry you from the device we allowed you to fasten yourself to on the flight. You screamed when we sat in full view of the ice skating rink in the piazza, but told you it was off limits because the big kids were skating and it wasn’t safe for a four year old still struggling to find his ice skating flow state.

We uprooted you, subjected you to tedious travel, and plopped you down clear on the other side of the world for an entire month during the high holiday season; far from that little girl in your class whose smile you like. Far from the new family who just moved into that house straight out our back door through the woods with three kids who bracket your age.

And here you are in a strange land we didn’t expect to be so strange to you since you have been here before, both in person and via weekly remote Interwebs video feed. Your cousins, your Aunt and Grandmother are here. The language can’t sound all that foreign to you since you have heard it since the womb. And yes, those people speaking venetian dialect can be safely ignored since, in my opinion, they aren’t trying to be understood, which is after all the whole point of speaking.

I understand that different rules govern us here. There is a different rhythm and cadence to the day, even accounting for jet lag. You feel like the space between you and your friends back home, and even the people you see here, is wider, almost like they inhabit a different plane of existence. It makes you feel lonely. Hence the tantrums over little moments where you felt reconnected and we interrupted it. This is why you cry.

But this isn’t sadness. How do I make you understand? This is your persistent and insatiable hunger for the limits of things, for experience. This is your appetite for knowing and being known.

We want you to have these experiences now as stress inoculation against real sadness; the sadness of regret, of unfulfilled dreams, unrequited love; Mountains not climbed and relationships broken and unmended. The sadness of old age and all of those inevitable missed opportunities. The sadness of painful calls to distant family.

We hope to keep you from the all too common sadness at the end of the journey where people failed to have experiences in foreign lands, who left relationships and finances untended and now experience true loneliness, so much so that death can’t even be bothered to call on them.

The little girl smiles and friends through the woods will be there. Your grand mother, your aunt and cousins, and Italy, and this holiday season here as it is right now, will not. So be joyful, young Dylan. Defer all of the sadness you can for later years, when it will have been earned.

Live long and prosper

dylandad-marosticaLove, Dad

Big Danger for Little People

Dear Dylan (and Eva),

Recent news is replete with children succumbing to dangers both natural and man-made. In the case of the Disney alligator snatching and the gorilla in the zoo a watchful parent or two were nearby, but unable to save them from peril. The online mobs predictably fractured over whether to blame parents, who they say weren’t being watchful enough, or institutions like zoos or Disney, who are expected to take every conceivable precaution to safeguard our children, or the state, who should enact more laws to govern children, parents and institutions for our own good.

Today is Father’s day and we just took a stroll on the ¼ mile nature trail we built for you with its tree houses and bridges, bogs and streams with all of their attending peril. While walking I pondered more deeply the level of surveillance and guidance we provide you and your sister. How much is enough? And is there such a thing as too much padding and sentinel-like hovering? Should we deprive you of these forest walks? AmberWood Nature Trail

I inevitably found myself comparing my childhood to yours at this age. In 1970 we moved from San Antonio, Texas to Austin, where my Dad, your Grandfather, had just been assigned to Bergstrom Air Force Base after his last tour in Viet Nam.  It was a different time. We didn’t wear helmets or seat belts. There were no child seats. Our neighborhood, especially, was very matriarchal and laissez faire when it came to child supervision. We would leave after school or in the morning in the Summer, and not return until sun down. The Dads were mostly at the base or deployed fighting in Viet Nam on TV. The Mothers mostly smoked Pall Malls, got their hair piled up into bee hive hairdos and sat around playing bridge while drinking gin. (These are the remaining impressions of my fading memories and the disappearing wounds from that time)

I remember two men who were around frequently. One was a sergeant with the Austin police. He had two boys and taught us to shoot and throw a baseball and how to say “yes Ma’am” and “no Ma’am”. The other was an old man from Viet Nam, whose daughter had married a man assigned to the base. He wore one of those sampan hats and would take a long cane pole, bucket and his lunch down to the stream at the edge of the neighborhood and fish. We would sometimes follow him and watch from a distance as he ate the strange food from the bag and sat still and silent, chewing and watching the line in the water. He always caught a lot of fish.

The neighborhood was called the Bluffs, for the steep ridge that lined the back yards across the street from us. It was brand new and teeming with kids between the ages of 5 and 12. We would climb the bluff almost every day and built a little fort at the top behind the Kirby house from scrap lumber we pillaged from one of the new home construction sites. We would sit at the top of the bluff and bomb tarantulas below with rocks we dropped from the great height. The tarantulas were huge, and rarely died from one hit. Scorpions scurried everywhere. Mom had to shake the paper each day to dislodge them and crush them with a spare shoe before settling in to do the crossword.

The Bluffs
The Bluffs, now a hipster gentrification project called University Hills or something Austin.TX. 

Occasionally we fell from the bluff, tumbling down through the briers and live oak and cactus to land on the hard baked earth among the tarantula corpses. If any of us got hurt, there was an unspoken rule that we wouldn’t go home and tell what happened, lest Parents finally take notice and seek to close down the Lord of the Flies, Peter Pan world we had built.

We had dirt clod fights. The rule was no rocks. Dirt clods hurt enough and they made a satisfying powder explosion when they struck. We divided up into teams and ranged across the scrub fields and live oak forests and the neighborhood streets of the Bluffs, pummeling each other until we were tired and sweaty and sore. Often it ended when someone got angry and picked up a real rock and hit one of us, drawing blood. We would have to dissolve back to our homes and pretend it didn’t happen.

When I turned eight I became armed. I had a black handled buck knife in a sheath and a .177 caliber BB and pellet gun that grew in power the more you pumped it. Once one of us was armed, the rest of us had to be as well, like any group of competing entities seeking balance. Our arsenal escalated, and soon the Buffs became killing fields.  There was a deep live oak forest around the stream where we found birds, armadillos, possums, jack rabbits, Bobcats, squirrels, rattle snakes and cotton mouths. We ranged out across this expanse and the hard scrabble fields below the bluffs and exterminated everything we found. Nothing was safe. We even tried to shoot the long thin gar fish that hung in the clear stream where the old Vietnamese man fished.

It was only a matter of time before we turned on each other. We had 8 on 8 wars across our domain. We only had two rules: no shooting above the waist, and if you have a pump action weapon, no more than two pumps. Oh, and no pellets, only BBs. I don’t remember ever wearing eye protection. We did improvise armor after the first skirmish of injuries. We would wrap newspapers and magazines (my preference) around our legs inside our Sears toughskin jeans and duct tape them at the bottom to keep the armor from sliding out in the heat of battle. At first, I would wrap the Vogue and Redbook magazines with the spines facing forward on my thighs, angling for aerodynamics, but we all soon learned to point the spines towards the back, as the buttocks and backs of the thighs were revealed as the prime targets in an ambush. I don’t remember anyone ever getting hit in the face, although it was commonplace to have to pry projectiles from our hands and arms when we were shot too close, or, we suspected, someone had violated the two-pump-only rule. At two pumps you could watch the BB leave the rifle and arc lazily through the air towards your target. It seemed safe enough.

I am really not proud of this last dangerous confession. During the school year we walked to school at John B Winn Elementary. It was about a mile away and the shortest route was through a pasture that cut the time easily in half. In that pasture lived an ill-tempered mule and some horses. The pasture began where a road in our neighborhood ended as if unfinished, like the rancher there had held out and wouldn’t sell to the developer, but the developer still expected him to someday, so left the street unfinished and open. (From Google Earth it still looks like the rancher is holding out.) Instead of going safely around, we would all gather at the end of that street and dare each other until someone jumped the fence and struck out across the pasture. The mule would give chase. I think every one of us was bitten at least once by that beast.

One day in the Summer we found ourselves armed and within range of the mule. Like I said, I am not proud of what we obviously did next, armed and unsupervised and full of righteous indignation as we were at the assaults we had suffered. We began lobbing BBs across to the far corner where the mule and the horses stood in the shade, hitting the mule who was braying and kicking in protest. The horses suffered too, I am afraid.

We should have known this would draw attention, but we obviously didn’t think any of this dare-fueled mob action through. We heard a boom. One of us yelled “run” and we all panicked and turned to run back up the street. Boom! The second shot was not a warning. Several of us felt white hot heat tearing into our un-armored backs and thighs, but none of us stopped running. We ran all the way to the fort behind the Kirby house and assessed our wounds and situation. The wounds were from rock salt. Most of us felt the strikes but were protected by our tough skin jeans. I had holes in the back of my lesser armored non toughskin pants and blood seeped through. I also had wounds in my lower back. Now, this hurt a lot, but we were far more worried about the belt whipping or worse we would all surely get when the rancher found his way to our parents. We waited it out for a while, then one by one, parted and went home, promising that we wouldn’t tell on each other. I remember going home and getting into the tub. Hiding my ripped clothes under the bed and waiting for the doorbell to ring with the Rancher and the police there to take me away. The doorbell never rang. It occurs to me now that the rancher, or whoever it was, probably hid in their house waiting for that doorbell ring that never came too.

Today I wonder what Nancy Grace would have to say about this? Would she side with us, the poor children? The rancher? Or the Parents? Or would she condemn us all for not putting the proper oversight and guard rails, the helmets, eye protection and knee and elbow pads, the surveillance required today to protect all of us from our reckless selves?

bergstrom bombers
Looking dangerous and armored up, playing football for the Bergstrom Bombers 

I will continue to do everything i my power to protect you from the slings and arrows, the tarantulas and scorpions and projectiles of youth. But I want you to continue to hunger for the limits of things and push the envelope where you can.

Live long and prosper.

Love,Dad

 

 

On Liberty

Dear Dylan,founders

 

In this election year you will hear many of the candidates on television talking about liberty. They will sometimes mention freedom along with it. The entire cacophony you will hear from the television and from your parents and our friends at any gathering, will seem confusing and maybe even alarming. You are not likely to understand any of it right now, but what happens this year will echo throughout the next few decades of your life. I want to give you my perspective on this, for the record, so you will know where I stood on this subject as you view the events through the prism of the future.

I believe that Liberty, as the founders of this country meant it, was intended to mean freedom from public and private coercion. The elements of the United States Constitution, and especially its amendments, seek to clarify the importance of what every civilized forward thinking country on Planet Earth now considers a human right. Our Declaration of Independence proclaimed that every citizen of this country should have the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The founders of this country, and every sage contributor to any change since the original documents, sought to ensure that our government governs with the consent of those it governs, and that its purpose is to protect the Liberty and Freedom of everyone here. We even extend these concepts outside of the geographic and spiritual walls of our country to others when we can.

These concepts are good guidance. The healthiest countries all subscribe to these basic ideas. And that is what all of us want, we want to reside in a healthy country. I call this “ecosystem thinking”. When you think about healthy ecosystems you realize that there are some decisions that can not be made with the selfish goals of any individual or group, because doing so will deprive others of freedom or liberty. Governing is about fairness and ensuring that everyone has the same protections whenever possible.

The confusion arises when you hear people like the Bundy family, who are very fond of taking up arms and squatting on property that isn’t theirs and claiming that their own pursuit of happiness and freedom and liberty demands that the government permit them to exploit the property that doesn’t belong to them. They use the words Liberty and Freedom, but don’t let that throw you off. What they really mean is that they want government to stand aside so that they can exploit a resource that has been set side for the common good.

You will also hear people operating businesses or financial institutions claim that government is over reaching when government seeks to regulate their activity through laws. They will claim that their Liberty and Freedom are being deprived because the government is limiting what they want to do. They will shriek about free markets and capitalism as virtues that over-ride governance. They will wave Ayn Rand books in the air and say those virtues are what made our country the “greatest in the world”.

Don’t be fooled by them Dylan. Just like the Bundys and the Tea Partiers, when they shriek their appeals to Freedom and Liberty and Capitalist virtues, what they really want is for government to stand aside while they unfairly exploit resources over which they have control, whether it is energy, money, food, water or land. Here is the guiding truth I want to give you to navigate all of this false rhetoric.

Liberty is freedom from public or private coercion, and can only be guaranteed by a hopefully benevolent governing body, one with checks and balances to guide its course, and with the consent of a hopefully informed and active citizenry. There are just certain activities that should only be left to such a body, like national defense, interstate commerce, prevention of monopolies in markets, securing the food and water and energy supply, and I think education and healthcare as well.

When we reduce the oversight and governance and allow companies and individuals to exploit resources, we don’t have a democracy. We don’t have liberty and freedom. Deregulation is the recipe for anarchy. (read “Lord of the Flies” or watch Mad Max) Also just look at the news from 2008.

On Inequality and Liberty

It may seem counter intuitive to think about social welfare safety nets for people who are not contributing. We are now hearing about countries like Sweden considering guaranteeing every citizen an annual salary of $33,000 or more. We all balk at that counter incentive. But I think they are on to something. That is ecosystem thinking. Wealthy countries, like wealthy families, should be enlightened enough to realize that helping poor countries and poor people become healthier and wealthier is in everyone’s best interest.

As David Landes once said in “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations”, “Wealth is an irresistible magnet, and poverty is a potentially raging contaminant. It cannot be segregated or contained.” Our peace and prosperity, within this country and without it, relies on the well-being of everyone here, on Planet Earth. It is no accident that European social welfare states are the most peaceful and prosperous on Earth.

Live Long and Prosper Little Dylan, and enjoy your Liberty while it lasts.

Love,
DadUSconstitution

A Boy of Summer

Dear Dylan,

You were born just as Summer was, in that magical time just after the Earth awakens again and flushes the forest in green leaves and flowers. You will always be a boy of Summer and of the Sea, blue eyes sparkling in sun and starlight just as fierce, your blonde hair wisping in the warm zephyr breeze.

Fireflies in the Garden

BY ROBERT FROST

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.
Live long and prosper
Love, Dadsummerboy

The Winds of Italy

Dear Dylan,

It is your second Christmas season in the Veneto and you are two and a half years old. We have been here three weeks. Once again you have acquitted yourself admirably, conquering the piazza with your charm, your easy flexibility with the two languages (with some Venetian mixed in), and even climbing with me for the first time up the 65 degree incline for almost two kilometers to the top of the Castello Superiore in Marostica.

On Sunday, January 4th, we went up the hill together (by car this time) with your Mother, sister and your Nonna to dine at the acclaimed restaurant up there. We were just working on our secondo piatti of tajarini with shaved white truffles when a strange wind began to blow. We first noticed the fire flickering in the large fire place in the main dining room. Then the smoke billowed from it and soon choked the entire room, causing some diners to flee, and the rest of us to cover our mouths with our napkins. Outside we could see trees suddenly bending in the wind and slapping against the castle wall. The cameriere rushed with a metal pail to take the logs out of the fire place and run them outside, and they opened one of the big doors and a window to allow the gale to sweep through the building in a cross wind to clear the air.

After lunch we fought the wind back down the hill and went into the piazza so you could ride the mini train they have set up under the 60 foot Christmas tree. But after only three rides the limbs began to fall from the tree and other debris clogged the tracks and I had to come and take you from the train. The wind had been gusting but soon reached a more persistent roar. We heard sirens and watched as the carabiniere and polizie locale came to close off the piazza to traffic.

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The entire piazza and all of the coffee bars that line it were abuzz with discussion about the strange phenomenon. The main debate circled around which wind had come to interrupt the celebration between New Year’s and Befana and what did it portend. This is when I learned that Italians have names for all of the winds. One woman insisted that it was the Ostro wind from the Sahara and that she could feel the sand blown in from that distant land. Another was certain it was the tramontana from the North, probably originating in Siberia. Most thought it was the Bora, due to its sudden and violent nature.

Italian winds

Bora: A cold, dry, violent wind that blows from the east/ north east, from the eastern Alps to the gulf of Trieste

Ghiblli: A hot, drysouth-western wind from Libya

Greco: (Also called Grecale) a strong winter wind from the north east that typically affects the central mediterranean

Libeccio: (Also called Garbino) An often violent wind from the south west

Levante: A wind from the east

Ostro: (also austro) The generic name for the wind from the south. Winds from the Sahara often come laden with sand that is deposited on cars after rain storms that accompany the wind.

Mistral (maestro or maestrale) Dry, cold impetuous north-west wind blowing through southern France and Liguria

Ponente: A fresh wind from the west, a summer breese from the Tyrrhenian Sea

Scirocco.  A hot, wet wind from the south-east blowing from Africa across the Mediterranean.

Tramontana. A cold, generally dry and rather strong north wind

windrose

The wind howled all of that night and debris littered the courtyard of your Nonna’s house. But the next day dawned bright, still and clear. We have weathered another storm and your second stagione di natale in the Veneto. Befana arrives tomorrow, when what I still insist is a witch, rides in on a broom to fill stockings for children with coal or candy and toys, depending on their record of good behavior. You, my little man, have been very, very good.

Vive lungo e’ prospera

Love,

Dad

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Looking Backward on “Optimisme”

 

 

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 Dear Dylan,

I have sought to ensure that the color of the sky in your world is as bright and blue and promising as the startling blue of your eyes. I certainly want you to have all of the skills to fend off the adversity that life will no doubt sling at you, but also want to give you the ineffable skill of optimism. Optimism has been an enduring companion of mine for as long as I can remember. This puzzles many who know me well, including your Mother. Because people who know me, know the unusually bumpy ride of my childhood, culminating in my refusing to go to the Air Force Academy and my Father dumping all of my belongings in the front yard in a light August drizzle when I was 17. I gathered those belongings and struck out into the world without a dime to my name and no resources on which to fall back if I made a mistake. Yet, I never wavered in my optimism. It served me well.

Before that, In High School, I was drawn to descriptions of ideal systems and forms. I once wrote a 50 page paper by hand about Edward Bellamy’s book Looking Backward. I remember my English teacher being very surprised by my enthusiasm for it, and even a little worried. I went from there to devour Sir Thomas More’s Utopia and other descriptions of ideal systems for living. I read Plato and Aristotle on my own (do kids do that today?) in order to tease out those ancient ideas. They never spoke of optimism overtly then, only of ideal forms. The Middle Ages happened soon after. Life was nasty, brutish and short again and there is no mention of optimism until the Enlightenment.

Great people like Sir Isaac Newton and Liebniz strode on to the stage then and, although they were still superstitious and fearful, began to talk once again about the capacity for poor dumb humans to bring about better, even ideal forms and societies. Liebniz called it “optimisme”. But he meant it in a way far different from how I interpret the limitless possibilities humanity has. Liebniz thought this was the best of all possible worlds, but he also thought God was a mathematician. If God is a mathematician then he/she absolutely must approve of humans working with their artifacts and tools (nod to Doug Engelbart) to create software to improve our existence.

These books, writings and philosophers became a part of me. They reinforced my need to believe that I, or any of us, could take action to improve circumstances. And then I discovered another book. I had completed college and had already discovered software. I was working in interactive 3D design tools for the architecture and movie industries when I picked up a copy of Engines of Creation by Eric Drexler. That book shocked and electrified me more than any of the ancient and recent texts combined. I devoured the whole thing in one sitting. If you came within earshot of me for the next few weeks you would see me approach you, wide-eyed, maybe I even grabbed you by the shoulders and began fervently lecturing you on the imminent reality of tiny nano-sized machines living within our bodies and making us immortal, of the disappearance of hunger and illness and economic poverty. A golden age was about to be born, an age in which every problem essentially became just another software problem.  Software became my religion. I became the single most hopeful person you will ever likely meet. Even though it is all moving at a glacial pace, it is advancing. The world will become a better place for you and your sister, because of people who refuse to accept current limitations and, through science and technology and eternal optimism become the real architects of our future. I expect you and your sister both to become key contributors to that future state of bliss

 Live long and prosper little man

 Love,

 Dad

 

  “The rapid progress true science now makes occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the Power of Man over Matter…Agriculture may diminish its Labour and double its Produce; all Diseases may, by sure means, be prevented or cured, not even excepting that of Old Age, and our Lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian Standard. O that moral Science were in as fair a way of Improvement, that Men would cease to be Wolves to one another, and that human Beings would at length learn what they now improperly call Humanity.”

 

Benjamin Franklin 

On Serendipity

On Serendipity

 

Dear Dylan,

 

As you course through your amazing life, I expect you will quickly discover a phenomenon that underscores the universe. There are many names for it:

Randomness,

Luck,

Chance,

Serendipity

We all come to sense it at one time or another. Some of us become superstitious, others believe they can eliminate chance and randomness through the exertion of their will, as if that were even remotely possible. (see my earlier post on Risk management) Others, even if only occasionally, embrace it.

I have found that there is something liberating and cathartic about occasionally opening oneself up to the ebb and flow, and following wherever it takes you. In his fiction, William Gibson talks often of the strange magnetic pull of the nodal points of history that can only be felt by those who consciously sensitize themselves to those forces.

As you know by now, my younger days were governed by what I would call a controlled recklessness. In the mid nineties I went by myself to live in a small, unheard of town in Germany. I went there with no idea how to speak German, no international driving license, and only knowing a few people there. I had to slowly discover what the signs on the streaking Autobahn and in the crowded city centers meant.

“Oh, I can’t drive here because this is a pedestrian zone. That explains a lot. I just thought everyone here hated me. Thank you officer.”

That first week I would sit in the evening in my tiny studio apartment at 42 Schwarzwaldstrasse with no phone or television, and look out of the large window at the crowds sweeping by, feeling alien and alone and exhilarated at the same time, waiting for someone to discover me as an impostor and tell me I didn’t belong there in Germany.

On Friday evenings I would pack a small book bag with one change of clothes and go stand in front of the destination board at the train station. It was mechanical; the boards clacking as they changed, filling the old stone building with rhythmic staccato music. I would choose one at random, buy a ticket and board. Berlin, Vienna, Paris…eventually Milan and Venice, where I found your Mother. I always went alone, with no plans. Once I arrived I would typically buy a Lonely Planet guide Book and walk around sticking my head into tiny hotels until I found one that could accommodate me.

A disproportionate number of the stories I will tell you when you are older will come from this period in my life. I was bullet proof and hungry for the limits of things, looking for adventure. So many things happened that I am sure had a profound effect on who I am now. Robbed at gunpoint in Moscow, chased through the streets of  Sao Paulo, wandering alone across Egypt feeling the dark hot eyes on my neck, interrogated at the border for half a day in Eilat, Israel.

I am a Father now. A husband too. I am now much more like those who seek to diminish randomness; crave certainty, security. It comes from watching your gentle breathing as you sleep and thinking too much about all that could go wrong. I think about how much you, your sister and your Mother count on me to keep the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at bay.

Part of me, though, still clings to that younger spirit, still feels the magnetic pull towards the nodal points; wondering what Serendipity has stored and waiting for me and now for you and your sister too, if we will only open ourselves up again.

I am telling you this because I want you to know a secret. Serendipity, like meditation, doesn’t work if you are passive. It requires effort. Focus. You have to hold in your mind the image of what you are seeking. A woman. Meaningful work. Fortune. Fame. Then you can let the Universe decide if you are worthy of what you imagine, and let it reveal the nodal points that lead to your dreams and aspirations.

Live long and prosper,

 

Love,

Dad

 

 

“What we call luck is the inner man externalized. We make things happen to us.”

ROBERTSON DAVIES, What’s Bred in the Bone

 

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