Saturday, May 30, 2009

Also a Poet

Dear Blogger friends,

Thank you so much for your expressions of sympathy. They mean lot to me.

Otto and I have always participated in many of each other's activities. I have gone to technical conferences with Otto, once or twice chaired sessions where my knowledge was up to the challenge, drawn circuit diagrams, even shared a patent. Otto and I went to writer's groups together because he wanted to go with me and share my interests. For a poetry workshop, Otto wrote the following:

The sun orb at its noon zenith
approaching midsummer
casts my shrunken shadow around my feet.
It stretches out like a snake emerging
from his hole
then races east and south
as the sun swings low and north
until at sunset my shadow is infinitely long.

It sleeps fitfully
then jumps to life in the early midsummer morn.
Stonehenge points to the sun's
most northern emergence.

We mark each high point with such monuments:
greatest weight lifted
farthest discus thrown
largest pumpkin grown
highest flood
largest tree.

We mark the onset of anxiety
that the sun will desert us quickly -
shorter days, longer noon shadows,
cooler nights, threat of winter.

We are anxious about the ebb,
the coming cold, slipping skills,
a loved one leaving.

What enchantment can keep this warmth with me?

April 2005, Otto J. M. Smith

Friday, May 22, 2009

New Things to Worry About

First I want to thank all my friends in cyberspace for their kind and comforting words of sympathy. They really do ease grief.

My two eldest "children" are pooling their worries about composing an obituary for their father. Son Otto is in Port Townsend WA, Candace is staying with me, but electronic communication is wonderful and they have been sending suggestions and revisions back and forth by cell phone, land phone and email. I want to post this version, even though it might not be the final one. I want to share what a wonderful man my husband was and what a rich legacy of memories he left to his descendants. So here is what they've said so far:

Dr Otto J. M. Smith died on May 10, 2009 from injuries sustained in an accidental fall on a poorly engineered sidewalk in front of the recreation center in El Cerrito CA. The accident occurred on May 7, 2009, He is survived by his wife Phyllis Sterling Smith and their four children and spouses, Candace and Clinton Shock; Otto and Kristin Smith; Sterling and Joan Smith; and Stanford and Dianne Smith.

Dr Smith was 91 at the time of his death, a professor emeritus in the department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley and an active inventor working in the field of energy production and efficiency. He was deeply concerned about global warming and devoted much of his later life to developing technologies and working for policies that would help save the world from this man-made disaster.

Dr. Otto J. M. Smith was an educator, inventor and author in the fields of engineering and electronics. He spent most of his career as a professor at University of California Berkeley. Dr. Smith is probably best known for the invention of the Smith predictor, a method of handling dead time in feedback control systems as well as the invention of Posicast control and the invention of several enabler devices to run three phase motors on single phase power. An early invention was for a circuit to generate square waves that was used in all Hewlett Packard signal generators.

Since 1976 all of his patents have been for devices to generate or conserve energy. Among his many patents are designs for solar electric power plants, wind generators and high efficiency motors. He has been granted at least 30 US patents as well as several foreign patents. At the time of his death he was actively pursuing two more patents which had been applied for but had not yet received a final office action.

Dr Smith was born Aug 6, 1917 in Urbanna Illinois. In 1923 he moved with his family to Stillwater Oklahoma where his father had a position teaching chemical engineering at Oklahoma A & M. He did his graduate work and received his doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University where he met his future wife and life long companion Phyllis Sterling. They were married for 67 years at the time of his death. At Stanford he was in the habit of catching lizards and presenting them to his wife-to-be who would wear them under the collar of her blouse for a day and then let them go in the evening. He was an animal lover and during his life had many wild animal pets as well as domestic pets including snakes, lizards, two different kinds of bats and an albino female opossum named Pogoette (after the Walt Kelley 'possum Pogo). He even set a praying mantis’s broken leg with a toothpick.

Otto was invited to give numerous presentations including such diverse topics as “Bats in the Belfry”, engineering ethics, camping through Russia in 1960, and living in Brazil during the 1950s. An orange at one side of a lot and the head of a pin at the other side could demonstrate the relative size and distance of the sun and the earth to boy scouts whereas slides of rice paddies and water buffalo were more appropriate to discussion of southeast Asia. His inclusion of his family in his overseas adventures introduced his children and grandchildren to the joys of international participation.

Dr Smith was a pacifist, a World Federalist, a believer in the rule of law, an atheist, a humanist, and active in political causes. He participated with his students in strikes and protests against the Viet Nam war and actively supported his wife in her extensive volunteer work with the Berkeley Free Church, the Ecumenical Chaplancy to the Homeless and other social causes.

Among his many awards were:
* Guggenheim Fellow.
* R&D 100 Award in 1999 for technologically significant new product.
* Listed in the “Leaders of the Pack” In Tech’s 50 most influential industry innovators since 1774 .
* Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science.
* Fellow, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
* Visiting Research Fellow in Economics and Engineering, Monash University, Victoria, Australia.
* Honor Societies: Sigma Xi, Phi Kappa Phi, Tau Beta Pi (Engr.), Phi Lambda Upsilon (Chemistry), and Eta Kappa Nu (EE).

The family requests that condolences take the form of gifts to the ACLU or Amnesty International, organizations that he supported. No memorial service is planned at this time.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sad News

Dear blogger friends, many of you have become acquainted with my dear husband Otto through my many mentions of him on my blog. Through my tears I must tell you that he died last night from injuries sustained in a fall. I will tell about it at a later time - probably with indignation. He had stuck his head around the door a few minutes earlier, saying to me, "I'm off to do a few errands." And Otto, with his vitality, his sharp inventive intellect, his love and his humor, is lost to a world that is a better place because of his efforts and to a host of friends and family. He has been emeritus from the university for 17 years, but he never retired and worked until almost midnight the night before his fall -which had nothing to do with his age - on the world problems he considered the most urgent.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

P is for Pauline, Pearl and Phyllis

Mrs. Nesbitt's ABC Wednesday Round 4 has progressed to P. Click on link or banner to see how other bloggers have interpreted it.

Sunday will be Mothers' Day. The photo below is of Pearl, my mother, and of me, Phyllis, on the last Mothers' Day that we enjoyed together. The year was 1983, and Mama turned 90 the following November. She died in early 1984.

The day that Otto snapped this picture doesn't seem like very long ago to me, but now I am looking forward to my 88th birthday in August, just two years short of the age of Pearl in this photo.

Below is one of the few snapshots I could find of Pearl's mother Pauline. Here Grandma Sitzler holds me, baby Phyllis. What a difference modern camera's have made in our ability to record and remember our precious moments! I have no pictures of Grandma Pauline and Mama Pearl together, although they hardly let a week go by without long visits with one another, even when they lived in towns two hours apart (by Model T).

I posted this studio portrait of Pauline just a few weeks ago, but, in case you didn't see it, here it is again. It's nice to see a face to go with that rear view above!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Free Range Children

The Sunday Scribblings prompt is confession.

Otto and I were listening a little while ago to a discussion on TV of the controversial book called Free Range Children. Most of the panelists argued with the author that she should not have let her nine-year-old ride alone on the New York Subway. She explained that he very much wanted to go by himself, so she and her husband prepared him well, tested his ability to read maps, gave him money to call home if there were any problems, etc..

This philosophy does not prevail in my neighborhood or city. The only time I even SEE children is when I encounter them at the library or on the lawn of the library waiting for a parent to come by with a car to ferry them home. We can drive for miles without seeing a child on his own two feet.

What I must confess is that Otto and I raised four free-range children. Our children were allowed to roam throughout the neighborhood, ride their tricycles around the block, walk the half mile to school, (they eschewed the school bus which the city provided), jump rope or roller-skate on the sidewalks, play hide-and-seek all over the neighborhood, only giving us a general idea of what they would be doing, but with certain deadlines to appear for meals or previously-made family plans.

And after Otto and I had recalled how we had dealt with our own children’s freedoms, we grew nostalgic about our own free-range childhoods.

Otto remembered catching frogs after school.

I remembered especially living in Santa Cruz, at that time a small town that always carried a faint scent of ocean, with flowers a little brighter than they ever appear inland. I was only in kindergarten when I was allowed to walk to and from school, wander up the bare hill behind our house and the few dead-end unpaved streets that intersected King Street. At the top of one of these streets I found a farm with a new best friend (even though she had a scary German shepherd). A few hundred yards up another, I found a barn with a nest of new-born kittens and was offered one as soon as they were old enough to leave their mother. My mother didn’t allow me to have pets, but when she was in the hospital giving birth to my brother, Grandma, who was caring for me, went with me to choose and bring home a small white kitten.

And after we moved from King street to Caledonia street, I, a first-grader was allowed even more freedom. My mother would have had a fit if she had seen me walking on the top of twenty-foot retaining walls above concrete yards. As a matter of fact I would have had a fit if I has seen any of my children doing it!

We moved to Stockton in the hot central valley when I was seven years old. Except for meals, none of the children spent any time in their un-airconditioned houses. During the day we played, jumped rope, romped in the lawn sprinklers, gathered in the shadowed crawl-spaces under the houses to scare ourselves with ghost stories. At dusk the big kids and the little kids and everyone between joined in games that might be one-a-cat in the street, or hide-and-seek or run-sheep-run that scattered us in all directions.

This is not one of my new poems, but I think it expresses some of the joy of the type of childhood I experienced:

Baked by summer sun, the cramped house is cocoon
whose tight walls clutch the valley heat. Now late
beyond the ordained hour of bed-at-eight,
like moth emerged to night and rising moon,

I'm freed to velvet air, allowed to play
with older children. Captains choose, and then
I pledge my fealty to a man of ten.
“One, two, three...”, and , scampering away,

I seek the darkest shadows, crouch below
a berry bush with warm, tart, berry smell,
my heart a-thump. I scan the dark, can’t tell
if slithering forms are ghost or friend or foe.

The single street lamp shivers points of light
through leaves; I shiver in delight and fear.
Aware of gravelled footsteps stealing near,
I’m drunk with peril, happiness and night.

Furtively I creep along a hedge
past feathery rows of carrots, tents of pea,
startled by window light where I can see
a neighbor. She’s oblivious of the edge

that separates her world and mine outside.
I move with stealth and joy and feral cunning.
Then, “Run sheep! Run!”, and I am off and running,
phantoms at my heels, my arms flung wide

to hug the tree trunk. Trembling. Safe. Our turn
to be the hunters. Then my mother’s call:
“Come in! Bedtime!” and I must leave it all
for lamp lit prison, sweaty sheets. I yearn
my lifelong for an hour as fierce and free
as that abandonment to jeopardy
Phyllis Sterling Smith