reminded of a copy of the Book of Mormon
Friday, June 20 2014
I awoke as the only human in the bed and got up earlier than normal, partly because (unlike when Gretchen is around) I'd left the blinds up, and the east-facing windows of the bedroom provide the sort of high-powered illumination that can substitute for a rooster or an alarm clock. I took the dogs on a good long walk that started on the Stick Trail and came back on the Canary Overlook Trail. As always, I listened to podcasts, though today something unexpected happened: I heard a science story involving a scientist to whom I have an actual familial connection.
When I was a kid, my father would often mention his buddies from back in his geologic field trip days (the late 1950s and early 1960s). There was PM, the gay gentleman who had a theory that posited that gay people are generally superior to non-gays and have been crucial geniuses at various turningpoints in human history (as the first out gay person my father got to know, PM convinced him that being gay was not a choice). There was also my uncle, Robert DeMar, back before he was my uncle. And then there was KC, the Mormon guy who gave my father the copy of The Book of Mormon that is still on a bookshelf in my childhood home (not far from a much-loved copy of John Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat). I didn't know anything else about him except his first and last name (since my father had always referred to these people using both). I didn't even know how his name was spelled. But this morning, I heard about new counter-intuitive research suggesting that the velocity of tectonic plate movement has actually increased over time as the Earth's mantle has cooled. (The increasing viscosity of the cooling mantle means that it can couple better to the overriding crustal plates, and thus pull them along more effectively.) That was interesting in and of itself, but what caught my attention was that the name of the researcher. It was KC's, a name unique enough to imply that it was likely to be him. The only problem, though, was KC would have to be in his 70s or maybe even his 80s. That's kind of old for such ground-breaking research. Indeed, my father went to his grave without ever accepting the modern theory of plate tectonics. (He thought surface rock to be too weak to survive the process of being moved around, and thus coherent "plates" must be impossible.)
Back at the house, I did some research and managed to find how KC's name is spelled as well as his web page at the academic institution where he is a professor. On it, I learned he had earned his PhD at the University of San Diego in 1965 (a few years after my father had done work at nearby Scripps Institute). More telling, though, was that he had done undergraduate work at the University of Utah, suggesting he could well be the sort of person who would have had copies of the Book of Mormon to give to friends. So I sent him an email relating my tenuous connection to him, starting with my hearing about his research on the StarStuff podcast and ending with news that my father, his friend, had died back in 2011. I assured him that the copy of the Book of Mormon he had given my father more than 50 years ago was still on the bookshelf where it had been when I was a child.
Usually when Gretchen is away, I get to treat the day as a holiday, but I had to do a fair amount of work today stomping out little bugs on this recent web application project. Later in the afternoon, I had to remigrate the current state of a live Microsoft SQL database to the MySQL database that will replace it. Fortunately, there are is a good tool now called MySQL Workbench to help with this. Anyone using it, however, should be aware that Microsoft SQL columns of type Real are always migrated as having no decimal digits. To preserve fractions through a MySQL Workbench migration, remember to change your columns to type Numeric. That one little bug in MySQL Workbench resulted in a depressingly large amount of consternation when my colleague Michæl and I tried to reverse engineer the original Microsoft-based web app.
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