Back to school

A new branch campus of Weber State University sits just 600 yards from my office window. After the construction was complete, I ignored it for several months, but in August I made my move! I’m a student again!

After a long absence from the academic world, I’m back. And for the most part, I’m having fun. Some statistics:

1975 – Bachelors in Architecture
1978 – Bachelors in Math
1985 – Last college credits earned

My current direction is to earn a Bachelors in Computer Science over the next few years. If I’m having a great time, perhaps it will be a Masters. It’s amazing to look at the numbers and see that I’ve not been in a classroom for 26 years. Whoa! Some of the people I work with weren’t born at the time I was taking FORTRAN programming in my engineering curriculum at Grays Harbor College.

My current technical class is Discrete Mathematics. It is taught in an enjoyable manner. All the projects require programming examples written in C. This is challenging on two levels: First, just getting the academic brain cells working again. Second, I’ve never before written any C! So it is a fun challenge.

It’s great to engage the brain along new paths — even if the path is somewhat familiar.



Barn at Menlo

On the last several trips to Southwest Washington, my head has turned to enjoy the sight of a new barn at Menlo. It’s a fairly modest structure, but truly sweet, because I think, of its use of authentic materials and its classic design.

On a recent trip by I could not contain myself. I made a U-turn at Fern Hill and drove up the driveway. That is, up the driveway, past the NO TRESPASSING signs and the barking dogs. Like I’ve said, it’s a beautiful barn. I walked up to the door of the house and gave a knock. From the inside I heard a friendly “Come on In!”.

Somewhat timidly, I opened up the door and said, “OK, I’m coming in, but you don’t know me.”

Back came a rather gruff, “No, I sure don’t.”
“Well I’m sorry to barge in, but I just couldn’t help myself. I’ve been admiring your barn, and I just had to ask you about it.”

Now the voice inside became very warm and friendly. “Sure! Would you like to go out and take a look?”

I was then engaged in an hour coversation with the owner of this fine barn, Mike Smith. Mike built the barn with his family, using conventional post barn construction and rough sawn Douglas Fir. The entire structure is made of natural fir, including the board and batten siding. Mike works for Weyerhauser, and as he said, “I was able to get a good deal on some logs.” He had the logs sawn by a small mill operator, and the result is here!

I’ve reflected often on the captivating effect this structure had on me, as well as the enthusiasm for the project that Mike expressed. In the coming years, we’ll see the effects of this sighting on my own property. More to come!



Conversations with my wife

She said, “I thought you’d like to know. I stopped at China Lily for dinner tonight.”


“Yes,” she said, “And I got two fortune cookies. One of them was yours. It said, ‘TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR INDULGENCES.'”

“How did you know that one was mine?”

“Oh I just know it was … You’re the one with the golf addiction.”

If you are married to someone for 30 years, a sense of humor could come in handy.



Golf as a metaphor for life

Recently, I’ve been reading The Inner Game of Golf by W. Timothy Gallewey. It has spurred some interesting thoughts on life and golf. The reading spawned the following formula, which I created to express my golf game:

W = P1 – P2

W is “What Matters”
P1 is Performance
P2 is Potential

Thus in golf, and I will assert in all of life, what matters is the difference between our performance and our potential. Right now, given the instruction and basic skills I’ve acquired in golfing, I believe that my potential is “9” that is in playing 9 holes my potential is to be 9 over par. My performance is not that good! As example, this morning, my performance was 13 over par. Reduced to formula:

W = P1 – P2
W = 13 – 9 = 4

So what mattered in my game was 4 strokes. I failed to reach my potential by 4 strokes. When looking back over the game, I can also identify exactly which strokes they were. The score card reveals that quite handily. They were on holes that were worse than 2 over par, obviously.

What is my potential? That is a question that deserves consideration. Because the definition reveals what is important (W = P1 – P2). It should be clear that right now my potential is not equal to that of Tiger Woods. To think so is to be a fool, because the difference between my performance and Tiger Wood’s performance is not what matters. What matters is the difference between my performance and my potential. As my skill set improves, so will my potential. But for now, I’ll define my potential as a 9.

Golf as a Life Metaphor
Applying the formula W = P1 – P2 to other situations also seems intuitively to be appropriate. To answer the question: “What matters in my marital relationship?”, for instance:

W = P1 – P2

While this evaluation is certainly more subjective than the golfing example, I believe that introspection will reveal the answer. For instance lets score some attributes of a loving relationship. In a loving relationship, I will demonstrate (among others) the following behaviors:

– Attentiveness to my partner
– Honest communications
– Faithfulness
– Championing her causes

Further, on an arbitrary scale of 0-10, let us say that my potential is 10 in each of these categories. Upon introspection, I may find that my performance is

Attentiveness – 8
Honest communications – 10
Faithfulness – 10
Championing her causes – 7

Then what matters (in maintaining and enhancing the relationship based on these attributes) is 40 – (8 + 10 + 10 + 7 ) = 5.

There are at least 5 things I can work on to be a better performer in this area. My priority for improvement would be “Championing her causes” and “Attentiveness”.

Becoming a bogey golfer might be easier, but both goals are worthy, and paying attention to “what matters” is always important!



Tenor Sax!

I play the clarinet. Well — at least that was true from age 10 to age 18. In the several years (decades) that have passed hence, my skills have deteriorated. From a lack of practice, I would guess. It seems that my total practice time in the intervening years has been about 3 hours. But nonetheless, I play the clarinet. This fact was verified Saturday night when I slipped it together and laid my fingers on its familiar keys. Instantly, a jazz melody emerged from decades ago. “A Swingin’ Safari” was filling the house. Where did that come from? I’d say it came from the recesses of the mind that cannot be erased. That elusive connection between finger reflex and melody was made, and I was swingin’ with the pep band classic of the 60’s.

No that's not me.  But Harry Goldson catches the spirit of what I am saying.  For some great swing tunes go to  By the way, Harry plays a great jazz clarinet too!
I was not always been entirely pleased with the position of clarinetist. I was indeed envious of the sax section. Those guys really had the big band sound that my ear has always sought. But to covet is a sin, and for the most part I accepted my position in life and in the band. But still questions remain! Why, oh why, did I finish my high school music experience playing the E-flat soprano clarinet? For those not familiar with this squeaker, it is the highest pitched reed in the orchestra, playing a fifth higher than the standard B-flat soprano clarinet. I guess I succumbed to the band director’s con. “Well you know Duane, any one can play the sax, but only a great reed player can play the E-flat soprano clarinet.” Hogwash. I still wanted to play the sax.

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! The tenor sax is coming! It might be forty years late, but it is coming. For years I’ve looked at the saxaphones in the classifieds, the thrift shops, and the pawn shops. Once in a while, I’ll find an alto sax for less than $300, but never a tenor. The tenor saxes seem to be minimally priced at $450. So for a guy who plays on average about 5 minutes per year, owning the tenor sax is a little hard to justify. My fortune changed Saturday in the Sportsman Pawnshop. There in a beat-up case was a not-too-beat-up student tenor sax. The prettiest part of it was the $200 price tag. It lacked a mouthpiece, and though I was tempted, I left without the sax. Later I checked ebay, and saw a beautiful, vintage sax made by Revere, which looked like it was about to go for $450. It did. It went for $455 — five bucks more than my outrageous and impetuous bid. The the ebay gods had spoken. The Sportsman pawn sax was to be mine.

Sax plus tax
Since I was not going to be near the Sportsman Pawnshop for a week, I asked Terri to pick it up for me, and gave her $220 (sax plus tax) for the purchase. Once again it is affirmed. I married the right woman. I should never buy in a pawnshop without her aid. Her sweet voice on the phone last night said, “Guess what I did? You’ll be impressed!” Yes, I am impressed. Just try to wipe the smile from my face. She bought that sax for $150. And so it goes. A minor ambition of the ages is coming to pass. I’m a sax player … almost.



Mom’s comments on the chicken house at Frances

The building falling down was a chicken house. In about the 30’s there were a lot of that style built. I do not know what they build now. About that time there were a lot of chicken farmers in the Rochester area. Something else about Frances: it was a stop over for some of the railroad workers, where they put water in their engines and many times hooked on another engine to make it over Pluvius. Mrs. Christiensen,(Gladys Spurrell’s mother) cooked for the men and had rooms for them to stay in. The old house that Ronnie lived in at the foot of Pluvius was another stop for the railroad men.



There’s a story here

Click to see a full size image

The roadside is full of delights. But when you are four years old the delights are larger than life. The roadside of my four-year-old life was US 12 between Raymond and Centralia, Washington. It was the road travelled to Grandma’s house for weekend visits and Sunday chicken dinners. That’s chickens that had not long been without feathers! But back to the road …

At Frances Washington, in 1914, the AC&C club built this improvement to a spring. Who was the AC&C? In the ghost of a town, who maintains this roadside delight today? I can remember stopping here frequently in the 50’s and I don’t remember any counsel of “don’t drink the water”. I could tell you that the water was sweet. But in fact I don’t remember the drinks I took here. But when I write the story, I will of course report that the water was sweet. Do I not remember the water because it was commonplace to have a drink in a spring alongside the road? Or do I not remember the water because in fact I had a Coke in the car? Certainly not the latter! Soda pop was experienced on the 4th of July. Not on a trip to Centralia.

Each year, Terri uses the story, Tuck Everlasting, in her fifth grade class. It is a delightful mythical tale of a family who does not age. Ultimately it is learned that their aging has ceased, because they once made the decision to drink the water from a very special spring. I told Terri that my image of this Frances spring is the image I draw from the story of Tuck Everlasting. It is good sweet water, and a good sweet story.

Also at Frances is a once proud building, with a purpose which I cannot descern. So here is another set of questions and an untold story. Each year as I drive by the west side of the building sinks a bit further into the rain-soaked hillside. And the east side of the building retains much of its dignity upon its concrete foundation. Frances was both a mill town and an agricultural town. I’m aware of creameries and cheese factories down the road in Menlo, but their architecture is much different from this building. I note with interest the two rows of small windows on the west side of the building. Between the two rows, is a row of vents. What was this building?

Click to see a full size image

Click on the top and bottom photos for full size images.



Neil Simon: Brighton Beach Memoirs

I’m a theatrical guy. But a lightweight, I must admit. Driving down the road, and hearing that Pioneer Theater Company was presenting Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs resulted in a spontaneous ticket purchase. It was a natural. I was raised on Neil Simon, and the movie Brighton Beach Memoirs, is a favorite in our household. Since Terri and I had not seen the stage production, it truly was a natural. Plus, it was the week of Valentine’s. How can a guy miss with a bet like that?

I’m a child of the 50’s and an adolescent of the 60’s. Along the way the arts became a part of my life. My parents took me to symphonies and even to see Shakespearean productions. Now Shakespeare may be known as the greatest playwright of all time, but privately I’ve never acknowledged that fact. Neil Simon is the greatest playwright of all time. Granted, Neil probably wouldn’t have developed so well, if he hadn’t studied Will’s work, but let’s give credit where credit is due. Neil is the best.

Growing up, I came to understand that there are two threads of theater:

  • Neil Simon comedies
  • Rogers and Hammersteins musicals
  • Outside of that, all else is clever imitation, or completely outside the scope of authentic theater.

    The Pioneer Theater production was a delight. It was strongly presented. I laughed and cried from scene to scene throughout the play. Neil Simon can develop a character, and present an American story like no other. For a child of the 50’s, this story of the 40’s certainly touches home.

    Top photo: Bobby Steggert (Eugene); Bobby Steggert (Eugene), Robyn Simpson (Nora), Joan Rosenfels (Kate) Carol Schultz (Blanche) and Alexis Verson (Laurie)
    Top photo : Alexis Verson (Laurie), Carol Schultz (Blanche) and Joan Rosenfels (Kate); The cast of Brighton Beach Memoirs

    “The way I see things, life is both sad and funny. I can�t imagine a comical situation that isn�t at the same time also painful. I used to ask myself: What is a humorous situation? Now I ask: What is a sad situation and how can I tell it humorously?”

    — Neil Simon



    Social Golf

    Golf is a social sport. Course operators like to have foursomes on the course. It’s the traditional number of golfers in a group, and probably maximizes revenue while minimizing congestion on the course. So if you are wanting to play a busy course and have a tee time for two, you can count on being paired with another twosome.

    What pair will you draw? The answer can determine how much you enjoy the game. Sunday, Terri and I were paired up with a fun couple, Norm and Carma King. As the play progressed, we learned tidbits of their thoughts on golf, and about their lives. They’ve been married for 40 years and golfing together for 6 years. I enjoyed the playful banter between them, and the easy way in which they played the game.

    Number 6 was a challenging hole. It had no fairway. Just a tee box, a big pond, and a green. OK to be fair, the green had a 10 yard finge, but I didn’t notice. I only noticed that there was a lot of water, and the tee shot was 169 yards. Norm noticed too. He said, “This is tough. I don’t have a club that does 169.” Tough? Carma offered no compassion. She said, “Norm, why don’t you use the club that does 170?”

    I guess that’s what 40 years of marriage will get you. Good counsel from your wife.



    Automotive Maintenance 2004

    The first car I worked on was a 1948 Plymouth. Technically it wasn’t my car. It was Dad’s car. But I claimed it as my own. As I recall he bought it for $100 and when I was a sophomore in college he sold it for $75. It was a straight six. The turn signals were an after-market affair with the signal lever clamped on to the steering column. The defroster was a rubber bladed open fan. New passengers were amazed and delighted to see the driver stick his hand into the turning fan to stop it. Yes. The rubber blades were safety device! And of course the wipers were powered by a vacuum motor. That is, they were powered by the vacuum of the engine intake. So when accelerating the wipers slowed or stopped, and when going up hill, wipers were dead. Ah! Those were the days?

    The last car I worked on was my 77 VW Rabbit. It wasn’t quite as simple as the Plymouth, but when you opened up the hood you could see where the spark plugs were! It was also the last car I owned that actually had a distributor. If I were to look around in the garage I could probably find the timing light and tach/dwell meter I used for tune-ups on the Rabbit. But no more.

    Today I have a 2002 Buick Century, and after 18 months of ownership it has 45000 miles on it. Something the Plymouth probably accomplished only twice in its lifetime. Tuesday night, Terri and I got in the car to go out, and lo — the headlights did not work! As the temperature was about 15 degrees, and of course, it was dark, I thought I didn’t want to go looking for fuses so we took Terri’s Ranger. The following day, I was all set to do a little automotive maintenance. At noon, when temperatures were approaching 30, and the sun was shining, I went to the car and got out the owners manual. After a few minutes of research I found reference to headlight fuses. Yes fuses, not fuse. One for the left, and one for the right. Since neither headlight worked, I quickly jumped to the conclusion that this was not a job for Duane! We did not have a blown fuse. My thought was a bad relay, or some such.

    I made a call to a dealership, and soon the car was in the shop. Two hours later, Dick, the service adviser called. He said, “Maybe I wasn’t listening carefully enough. What did you say was wrong with the headlights?” He explained that, of course, they worked fine. Since I intended to head out for St. George this weekend, and would definitely be driving after dark, his observation was not satisfactory. I explained that I knew how to turn on headlights, and that indeed, when I brought it in they did not work! I suggested that he keep the car overnight and try again in the morning, because one difference was that it was COLDER when they were not working!

    This morning, Dick called again and said that momentarily they were able to duplicate the problem. They were “fairly certain” that the problem was the “multi-function” switch in the steering column. You know the one. The Hi-beam–Lowbeam, cruise control, turn signal, windshield washer, do it all switch?

    I’ve talked to my share of service advisers in my lifetime, and I could hear the very cautious and careful approach in Dick’s voice as he explained the problem (this was not going to be cheap). He finally got to the point, and said that replacing the multi-function switch would cost $550. Rather than waiting for my gasp he went on to say that I might want to wait and monitor the situation, to make sure that the multi-function switch was faulty. But of course, he advised it would probably only get worse. I do wonder. How much worse can it get than to be driving down a rural highway on a moonless night and have your headlights go out?

    I explained that I really wanted the headlights to work reliably and off-handedly said that it should be covered by warranty. Dick was quick to reply, “Oh! but you have 45000 miles on your vehicle. It couldn’t be covered by warranty.” I informed him that in fact we had purchased the extended warranty and everything should be covered for 75000 miles.

    Dick’s voice fairly glowed with warmth as he responded, “Well then we should certainly replace that switch, shouldn’t we?” I had to agree. This afternoon, after the repair was complete, I asked him how certain he was that the switch was the problem. He said that he was very certain. It just had to be the multi-function switch. It couldn’t be anything else. It’s amazing how a $550 warranty payment can increase one’s certainty!

    Tonight the headlights work, and the dealership has another $550 on its books. If it had been the ’48 Plymouth the problem would have been cured in the parking lot Tuesday afternoon for the price of a 5 cent fuse.



    Occasional observations of Duane McGuire