The Maurers of White County, Illinois (revisited)

Remember this picture?

Jacob Maurer & family (1890s?)

I’ve had it for a long time, but I’ve never been quite persuaded by the caption. Aside from the inherent ambiguity of providing a single left-to-right list of names to describe a picture with two (arguably three) rows of people, the names just don’t match up with what I know of the people.

As it turns out, this picture is also present in the Maurer family history I collected last year from the Clark County Genealogy Library (the first thirty pages, anyway); it’s a small, grainy nth-generation photocopy, but the same photo; and captioned thusly:

L. to R. standing: John, Jacob, Mary Ann (Molly), Reuben;
Seated: Jacob Maurer II, holding the Baby, Harry, Grandma Haffa
Catherine Ziegler Maurer, and Kati.

That makes more sense.


Much chatter of late regarding David Letterman, who’s retiring after thirty-some years of late-night television.

In all that time, I’ve (probably) never watched a complete episode of Dave’s show, nor any of his competitors’ shows. (Though I was a fan of Johnny Carson, way back when.)

I was thinking, the other day, how the vast churning sea of fame is eternal, but individual celebrities come & go: they have their hour to strut & fret upon the stage, then fade away. New celebrities take their place.

When I was young, I watched Red Skelton on TV. Jackie Gleason. Tom Jones. Lawrence Welk. Johnny Carson. They’re all gone now – except Tom Jones, whom I suspect of having made a pact with the infernal powers – and their replacements are a bunch of strangers.

The world has moved on.

It seems to be moving on more quickly than it used to, though maybe that’s just me, getting old.

The Four-Color Theorem

MathWorld says:

The four-color theorem states that any map in a plane can be colored using four-colors in such a way that regions sharing a common boundary (other than a single point) do not share the same color. This problem is sometimes also called Guthrie's problem after F. Guthrie, who first conjectured the theorem in 1852.

I don’t remember when or where I first learned of the four-color theorem, which likely wasn’t covered in any of my elementary school or junior high math classes.

Perhaps it was in 1977, when Appel and Haken published their (computer-generated!) proof. I recall that it made the news, in a Look what the troubledomes are up to now. Aren’t they a riot? sort of way.

Long ago – but still some years after 1977 – I was chatting with a friend, and mentioned the four-color theorem. He didn’t believe me, and spent the next little while trying to devise counter-examples. He’d bring me a piece of paper, on which he’d drawn a map & begun coloring (really, just labeling) the regions.

“Look at this”, he’d say. “It needs a fifth color.”

I’d look at it for a moment; then, “No, if you make this one red, and that one green, then you can use blue for the other one.”

(I paraphrase. It’s been thirty years. At least thirty years.)

One of the many cherished conceits I hold about myself – that may or may not be true, mind – is that I’m more inclined than most to search for underlying causes, systemic deficiences, etc., etc., when confronted with a problem. I’m just more meta than normal people.

So very often, some crisis has the cow-orkers in a lather, but all they’re really saying is, It needs a fifth color.


I’ve been reading this morning about WWVB, the NIST time signal broadcast from Boulder, Colorado.

The data format is…curious: simple BCD encoding, low bit rate – each packet takes a full minute to transmit – and no error detection. I imagine it was very high-tech, sixty years ago; now it seems a bit musty.

My alarm clock relies on the WWVB signal, which means I don’t have to set the time after a power failure; but the clock will accept a garbled signal just as readily as an intact one, and set the time & date to inaccurate (or nonsensical) values.

The other day, I was reading a bit before bedtime, and fell asleep. When I woke up, after what felt like just a few minutes, the clock said 1:58am.

That didn’t feel like a two-hour nap, thought I; but the clock insisted: 1:58am. My other bedside electronics, when queried, claimed 11:58pm, which made more sense. After a while, the alarm clock rectified itself, and all my gizmos agreed once more.

Relying on the WWVB signal to get me out of bed in the morning is a bit reckless. If a run of bad packets should come in just before getting-up time, the alarm might never go off. Or, it could go off at any time during the day or night.

I’ve had this clock for a long time – ten years? fifteen? – and neither of these improbabilities has ever happened. Even so, I worry, and contemplate a more reliable replacement.


A few firsts today:

For two hours this afternoon, the temperature reached 80°. Normally, that marks the boundary between comfortable and too hot, but it was actually quite pleasant.

We mowed the lawn, too. Sam helped: his first time.

We skipped the traditional mower tune-up this year. The local Sears, our source for replacement parts, closed last year (and the building was demolished earlier this year); there are no stores left in the county selling Craftsman parts.

I have…issues with off-brand mower blades. If it involves a sharp-edged piece of metal, spinning at a few hundred rpm inches from my feet, phrases like “compatible with” and “replacement for” aren’t as persuasive as the manufacturers might wish.

I suppose I’ll buy from the web site.

The Hat

My mother was the middle child of three. (So is Jennifer. Funny old world.)

My mother’s younger brother, Keith, was born in 1948; their birthdays were only three days apart. This must have resulted in certain complications of gift & party logistics for their parents, Vina & Herschel, but family history is – alas – silent on the matter.

I have a hard time thinking of my parents as children.

Keith joined the US Navy in November of 1965, when he was only seventeen. That seems a bit young for military service. I asked my mother about it, once: “Why do you suppose he enlisted so young? And why did Vina give permission?”

“Why do you think?” she replied.

Various possibilities come to mind, but…nil nisi bonum & all that.

On one visit home, Keith brought presents for his nephews (i.e., Mike and me): genuine US Navy caps, round, heavy white canvas with the brim that could fold up or down. They’re known as ‘Dixie Cup’ hats, also seen on Cracker Jack boxes and Gilligan’s Island.

The Dixie Cup was phased out in 1973, but returned to service shortly thereafter: sailors just didn’t look like sailors without it.

I loved that hat & wore it constantly. I can still remember, forty years later, the feel of the canvas, the smell of it, the way it muffled sounds with the brim down over my ears.

…and then one day in East Gary – I must have been about Sam’s age – I wore it to the local park for an afternoon’s play & came home without it. I never saw it again.

Keith died in 1967. The hat was one of the few mementos of him that we had, and I lost it through carelessness. I still feel bad about that.


A few weeks ago, we were in Chicago for an archery tournament at Roberto Clemente Community Academy (i.e., high school); Grandpa came down from Arlington Heights to help us cheer on Jake, and a pleasant time was had by all (at least, nobody threw up in the parking lot this time).

The gym (Field house? Big building full of archers?) where the tournament took place had a colorful & interesting mural painted on its west wall. I took a few pictures, but somehow never got around to posting any of them. (My bad. Sorry!)

The mural included a sentence:

There in Egypt all the sages were convinced that gender is not of essence in matters of intelligence.

I understood the artist’s point, but also I wondered: What is intelligence? Is there only one kind of intelligence, exactly the same in everyone, with the only variable being how much one has of it?

That strikes me as far too restrictive a definition.

The mind’s agility can’t be usefully described by a single number, or even by a set of numbers. That’s just a temptation to people who need to feel superior to others. Getting hung up on who’s superior to whom is a sign – not of intelligence, of its absence.

Intelligence is: clarity, creativity, eloquence, empathy, memory, perceptiveness, precision…and probably a dozen other things. (Does athletic ability count as intelligence? Perhaps it should.)

It seems foolish to expect all of these to manifest equally in all people; and foolish to take offense at the possibility that they do not. Would civilization really collapse if it turned out that intelligence operated differently in men and women?


We were in Springfield today, for an archery tournament; the weather being delightfully spring-like (appropriately so, the day after the equinox), we slipped in a few extra adventures.

Jennifer, Sam & I visited the Lincoln Tomb, an impressive pile of granite on a hilltop in Oak Ridge Cemetery. (Jake was on the team bus.) We walked around, took some pictures, even went inside. (It’s pretty dark in there.)

I noticed one peculiar thing: the engraved panel for Robert Todd Lincoln – who’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery, not in Springfield – reads:

Robert Todd Lincoln
1843 - 1926
National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia

…but the three seems to have had a four glued over it, for a long time. It’s gone now, but the outline is clearly visible.

What’s the story behind that? Was there some ambiguity or dispute over Robert Todd Lincoln’s date of birth? When was the four added? When was it removed?

I meant to ask one of the attendants, but a busload of middle-school kids showed up around then & I never got the chance.

After tomb-raiding, we met Jake at the state fairgrounds for some archery. (I’m told it went well. Jake’s team will soon need a larger trophy case.)

Our last stop of the day: dinner at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, where the food was tasty – but they got two out of four orders wrong, and charged us $60 for the experience. We might go back, sometime, but probably not any time soon.


Today’s project – diffidently begun, quickly abandoned – involved tidying up my home directory on the MacBook Pro.

There’s decades of junk lurking in there, incomplete reorganizations & format conversions piling up like geological strata. The earliest files are WordStar documents and BASIC source code, from 1985; I keep them mostly out of nostalgia, because I have nothing left that can read them.

The files I deleted this morning weren’t so old as that: MS Money export files, Quicken data files, iBank and iBank 5 data files. The apps that could read them are long gone – and MS Money was Windows only when it still existed – so why keep them?

I also merged two directories of online statements, receipts & paperwork, stuff going back ten years or more. (I’m tempted to throw it all into Evernote, but haven’t yet worked up the nerve for that.)

Next up: bringing order to the chaos of git and/or mercurial repositories I’ve created. I should move everything to git, then remove the (mercurial) originals; but I dither & procrastinate.

Most of these repositories haven’t been touched in years. I begin to wonder why I keep them.

Pastor Vajda

The only church I ever attended (regularly) was the Griffith Lutheran Church, 1000 N. Broad Street, Griffith, Indiana.

It was a long time ago: when we lived in Gary, in the trailer park on Ridge Road. The church is just a few miles away: west on Ridge Road, south on Broad Street, it’s on the right.

Going to church wasn’t my idea. I was only five; what five-year-old ever wanted to go to church? No, Mike & I went to church because our mother went to church. (Why did she go to church? I don’t know. I never thought to ask.)

I vaguely recall Sunday School, singing hymns, and shaking Pastor Vajda’s hand after the service. He towered over me, took my small hand in his enormous hand, and spoke a few words in a deep voice.

I had the notion this evening to look up Pastor Vajda, find out whatever became of him. I was sure he’d be easy to find; how many Lutheran pastors named Vajda could there be in northwest Indiana?

More than you might think – and spread out over at least three generations. One of them turns out to be a famous composer of hymns.

I think, but have no way to know for certain, that the Pastor Vajda I remember was Ludovit Vajda, who died sometime in the early 2000s. I must investigate further. (Perhaps a road trip to Gary is in order, once the weather improves.)

My researches – i.e., quality time with Google – turned up a rather disturbing newspaper excerpt from the Gary Post-Tribune for Saturday, January 14, 1989:


The Griffith Lutheran Church will appeal a $115,000 judgment stemming from incidents involving a former pastor who took sexually provocative pictures of two young girls, attorney Harry Jennings said Friday. A jury awarded damages Thursday against the church, retired Pastor Ludovit Vajda and Pastor William Steinke.

There’s more, but it’s behind a paywall.

The ambiguity is maddening. What happened? Who did what, to whom? Were the pastors accused of specific misbehavior, or were they named in the suit merely because they were in charge?