Armen Chakmakjian

Archive for the ‘Random’ Category

Review of “The Promise” #keepthepromise

In Random on April 24, 2017 at 3:43 am

Tonight I went to see “The Promise” at the Capitol Theater in Arlington. This was actually my second viewing, as I had the privilege to be a part of a private showing at Brandeis University a few weeks ago. My review here of the movie spans both of those viewings. The first viewing was actually quite emotional for me as this was an epic depiction of many of the salient points of the atrocities that were perpetrated by both the Ottoman government and their successor, the Turkish State, during that period against Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and other minorities.

To begin, the movie is incredibly beautiful. The scenes of the Bosphorus and the villages were very well done. It was obvious that some of this was CGI, but the up close sets of the streets of Constantinople were very familiar to me. I travelled there as a seven-year-old and stayed there for about two and a half months visiting my maternal grandfather. 1972 didn’t look much different from my memory than the depiction of 1915 in the movie. Just a few less fezzes in ’72. The same teacups were being used and the look of the bazaars and street vendors was spot on. I doubt that Istanbul looks like that anymore, but I may never find out.

Now, for the non-Armenian viewer, you have to understand that the Armenian Genocide that many countries have now recognized, took place from 1915 to 1923. This movie shows the first few months starting on April 24, 1915, when the about 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders were rounded up and exterminated and continues through the initial mass deportations and murders of Armenians in their ancient villages. The depiction near the end of the movie of the battle and escape of the Armenians at Musa Dagh ended on Sept 15, 1915, so the bulk of the movie is about five month of events. More atrocities would happen after the period on which the movie concentrates.

All this being said, for an American of Armenian descent at the first viewing this movie forced me to cry my eyes out and ended with catharsis. The story of our grandparents and great-grandparents had finally made it to the big screen. There was so much familiarity in the scenes — the music, the Armenian spoken and even the Turkish spoken. In my youth, the languages in my home were Turkish, Armenian and English. Home was a large soup pot of linguistic expression. So hearing all three languages in one movie was giant tug at my emotional memory.

Putting aside my inner-Armenian, the three or four way love story was a little bit flat. It was the weakest part of the movie. It was too convenient. Christian Bale’s character, Chris, was three-dimensional heroic protagonist throughout the movie. He represented the western press trying to get a story of unimaginable atrocities being perpetrated by a state. The main flaw is that the Chris character becomes two-dimensional whenever Ana is on the screen. You know h0w you felt bad about Dr. Zhivago (Omar Sharif) because the other guy, Victor (Rod Steiger) is a real bastard and worse he gets Lara (Julie Christie)…well Chris was never really bad to Ana, or even to Michael. And that meant you weren’t dragged into hating him and hoping for his demise so that the real lovers would escape together without him. In some ways you are sympathetic to him because maybe Ana should be with him 🙂

Now back to my Armenian-ness: I thought Maral (Angela Sarafyan) looked the part…she was the most Armenian looking of the main characters, being Armenian herself…but the character needed a bit more spice. It would have been good for her to turn out to be a nagging, acerbic Armenian housewife (like Mesrob pointed out) so that Michael could be, in the movie sense, plausibly enchanted by another woman. At least from my point of view, his wandering-eye was out-of-focus 😉

In the same complex this evening, Fast and Furious was playing in one of the other theaters and if you are just there looking for gratuitous violence and action, go see that movie. Terry George didn’t make a movie about action and gore. He wanted a PG-13 movie that was a vehicle for people to be able to consume a story and learn about history.

If you like Christian Bale or Oscar Isaac, you’ll want to see this movie, as both of them are excellent in their roles.

If you want to see a movie that realistically depicts a time in human interaction and scenery and teaches you some history, then go see this movie.

If you like catharsis and ending for the main character who had to endure losing almost everything and then rises above it, then go see this movie.

If you are bothered by humans inhumanity to other humans and want to learn more about event about which you are unfamiliar, then go see this movie.

If you have an Armenian friend, who has talked about his or her family history and you want to understand them better, then go see this movie.

In the end, my strong suggestion is you should go see this movie.

Product Review: Bose SoundTouch

In Random on April 15, 2017 at 12:49 pm

So we were doing some cleanup last year in our living/dining room after some water damage from the snowpocalypse of 2015 and I had to make some decisions about to do with my sound system and speakers in the room. I had an apple wireless hotspot in the room plugged into the video input of my stereo (yes a stereo) and two floor CSW speakers and a subwoofer placed around the room with wires around the edges of the long area rug.

We had decided that after stuffing the room with furniture and sound and other things we were going to rethink the layout, get rid of the rug, sand and refinish the water damaged floor, paint the walls et cetera.  The stereo and speakers had to go.  Although acoustically it was very good, each component stuck out like a sore thumb.

Way in the corner of the room is the SoundTouch 30 Series III completely blending into the room.

Anyway, I had done a little bit of research and came upon on a Bose tabletop system called the SoundTouch.  There were 3 models, and given the size of the room, I went for the one with the biggest speakers and a built in subwoofer.  This model was the SoundTouch 30 Series III. Booming sound, as expected, and filled the room with sound easily placed at one end.

The SoundTouch system is basically an internet radio with access to your accounts on Spotify, Pandora and Amazon (and a couple of others). It also supports Internet Radio streaming. Notably it doesn’t work with Apple Music and the new models have dropped being Airplay compatible. However, you do have a line-in and bluetooth if you need to pump in something from your phone.  Also it does know how to traverse your NAS or iTunes music library on a computer over the WiFi so you can get some of your personal library played on it.

There is an app that runs on your phone/pad and on your desktop to control the device as well as select what music stream source. It also can pair over bluetooth with an Amazon Echo so you can pump music from that by asking Alexa.  Can be very convenient!

The little thing on the sound bar, you can see the light

This was pretty much as good as I expected. But there was an issue that I had sorta solved with apple TVs and the Airport Express in that room which was no longer available.  At holidays or dinner events, I could pump from the same playlist across all my apple endpoints from iTunes on my desktop (and control that from my phone as a remote). Bose has thought of this of course.  Bose thought of this by allowing you to buy multiple SoundTouch speakers and place them around the house. This can get pretty expensive and if you already have sound systems from other eras having an extra speaker in the room is redundant. Bose has a solution for this also. They sell a SoundTouch module that can be hooked up into existing sound systems and from the app you can add that endpoint to act in concert with an existing speaker, essentially pumping the same source to both rooms.  This works great for me since I can now have the music in the living room and the Samsung sound bar in my kitchen playing the same music.

One other thing that Bose seems to have solved that Apple did not was that the various endpoints are acoustically in the same phase as each other.  Standing in between the two rooms in a doorway, I don’t sense that there is a delay on one of the setups…whereas I always felt like I the Apple products had no clue that they were in the same setup and stepping from room to room the phase shift was detectable (at least by me, in low noise situations).

So overall, if you want a compact sound system that has some neat extensions and gives you that Bose bassy sound, I would recommend the SoundTouch products.  At some point I might replace my Samsung sound bar with an SoundTouch 300 sound bar which would free up the small module to be used somewhere else in the house.  But that is for another day/year.

Interesting quotes by or about Presidents

In Random on February 20, 2017 at 2:59 pm

“It is both foolish and undignified to indulge in undue self-glorification, and, above all, in loose-tongued denunciation of other peoples.”

– Theodore Roosevelt from a transcription of Roosevelt’s speech at the opening of the Minnesota State Fair, as it appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune 3 September 1901

“Don’t worry, I’ll just confuse them”

– Dwight D. Eisenhower in March 1955 when warned by advisers to watch what he said about a crisis with Red China at a press conference

“Find out what whiskey he drinks and send all of my generals a case, if it will get the same results.” 

– Abraham Lincoln quoted in New York Herald on September 18, 1863 on General Grant’s drinking during the successful Vicksburg campaign

“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”

-George Washington in a letter to Alexander Hamilton August 28, 1788

“Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.”

Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) February 19, 2017 on twitter on Donald Trump’s comment that something happened in Sweden the night before.


On excellent expression…

In Random on February 18, 2017 at 4:10 pm

As the 35th anniversary of my high school graduation approaches I look back fondly on those years. I attended what at the time was called “Fairfield College Preparatory School” or “Prep” for short and at the at time Fairfield College had for many years been referred to as Fairfield University. The University teams were called Stags in reference to the time when Fairfield was an all male college, but at the time of my attendance at Prep, the university was co-ed. Not so for Prep, which was still and still is a boys’ school. The teams at Prep were and are still referred to as “The Jesuits.”

I was a child of Armenian immigrants from the middle east, my mother from Istanbul and my father from the litany of famous and infamous cities of history, Jerusalem where he was born, Bethlehem, Beit Jamal, Ramleh, Jerusalem again and finally Amman where he grew into manhood before coming to the US. I was born and raised in Bridgeport CT and my father was a steel worker with a wish that he could have had more education. While attending Prep, I was presented with as good an education that one could probably receive anywhere. The level of discourse, verbal and written, between teacher and student and even more so between students about every topic was, in retrospect, way beyond our years or peers. I was on the debating team, but every common conversation in the cafeteria would become a debate of ideas.

Within this environment of elevated discussion, I was always amazed at the writing skill of my fellow students. I had to work extremely hard to express myself in a similar way. While I knew 2 other languages beside English and was taking Latin, I always felt like the bar was really high. These guys were very smart.

I write all the above for some context on the actual topic of this note which is the appreciation of excellent expression. Years after leaving Prep and getting my engineering degree, began to re-immerse myself in non-technical books and writing for my edification and enjoyment. I read works on literary criticism, politics, and creative works. I came across some writing by that guy on Firing Line with the weird accent who used really long words that I hadn’t heard in a while, at least since the high school verbal jousts or ever at all. While I didn’t come down as far over the political spectrum as he often debated from, I was fascinated when William F. Buckley and John Kenneth Galbraith would go after each other on the PBS debates. The civil repartee between colleagues who still disagreed wholeheartedly was very enjoyable.

This past Christmas one of my sisters sent me a book, A Torch Kept Lit, which is a collection of eulogies written by Buckley about people in his life that were mostly published in the National Review in his column. Given everything I wrote about above, I thought this letter by Hugh Kenner, defending Buckley’s overuse of the word “solipsism” to Charles Wallen, their mutual friend who complained about it, reminded me of a lot of the oddball discussions from that time in high school:

Dear Charles,

Bill’s point is precisely that there is no substitute for “solipsism.” If what pains you about it is simply the fact that you seldom hear it, then the fault is not in the man who grinds it against your ears, but in the millions of part-time and largely inadvertent solipsists who are so who are so convinced the universe emanates from them that they feel no need of a word to designate such a condition. Fish, on the same principal, know nothing of water and for aqueous terminology you should not apply to a fish.

If on the other hand your ears are assaulted by its impacted sibilants (as the ears of Tennyson were aggrieved by the word “scissors”) then I can only fetch you the cold comfort that for a graceless condition the wisdom inherent in the language has afforded us a graceless word. And if, finally, your grievance is that Bill uses it too often, then I can only tax you with inconsistency, since you report that after one to two years of not hearing it from his lips you were wounded anew by a single occurrence — perhaps, I will grant, on the principle of a man who has been sensitized to penicillin. Such a man’s comfort should be that others need the remedy that inflames them, and that principle I commend to you.

Hugh Kenner

Writing like this always makes me laugh out loud (LOL!).

There is no choice…

In Random on October 22, 2016 at 3:31 am

Stop. Stop telling me that your candidate is the last hope, or doing it for the right reasons, or is less bad than the other person, or is the change we need…yadayadayada.

First, Trump is completely, and uniquely unqualified by temperament and knowledge of the political and diplomatic system to be the president. He is apocalyptically bad in how he is destroying our republic and the peaceful transition of power.

I remember what I thought when he came down the escalator.  “This is a joke”.  About a month later I let out what I had suspected. That Trump it was a Trojan horse sent by the Clintons and their supporters to shake up the Party of Lincoln.

postI have never been a Clinton family supporter, I even voted for Barak Obama in the Massachusetts primary in 2008 because my 1990’s view of the Clintons was still stuck in my craw. Hillary Clinton may have been one the most experienced public servant since George HW Bush, whom her husband had defeated, and she had not yet been a Secy of State at that point.

I kinda thought her a carpetbagger going to New York (like Robert Kennedy) to win in a state that had a quirky rule that allowed people from out of state to become their Senator.  She always seemed competent and more serious than Bill. As much as I respected John McCain for his public service and his sacrifices for the country, his selection of Sarah Palin created a chasm in my cognition.  How could he select this…this person who thinks the Minutemen could see Russia…oh forget it.

I am still convinced that Barack Obama was actually a good thing for the Republic even though I voted against him 4 years later. That being said, I still talk about Bill Clinton’s speech at the 2012 Democratic convention (and you can ask my family) .  When he pleaded with the convention hall, “Wait…Wait…this is important” I howled. “Oh My God, he just won the reelection for Obama. This is the greatest political speech in television history! No one else could have pulled that off. God I hate him. He’s just so good at this.”

Anyway, as 2015 went from fall into winter, I kept feeling worse.  Trump was slinging shit at all the terrible Republican candidates, broken pols who were the weakest, lamest group of power-seeking bunglers ever collected in western civilization since King John. And I continued to think that Trump was just a distraction created by the Clintons to tear apart their former oppressors.  “We are being punked,” I repeated time after time.

Mind you I believe that Republican party went through a 20 year period of dumbing down themselves to get the Pat Buchanan voters.  Even though I voted for him, George W. Bush pissed me off each time he would say “Don’t Mess With Texas”.  I’d be like, “Dude, it’s not about Texas. Any anyway, you were born in New Haven!  You’re assuming the lead of the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Reagan…and George Herbert Walker Bush.” Whatever…

Anyway, as I said I thought it was a ruse. We were being punked. Then Trump began to win against the numbnuts and I started to get worried. Trump started to act like the Sean Connery character in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King”.  He suddenly was no longer the disruptor, he started to believe his own bullshit. He thought he was Iskander, he was destiny. Then I got really really upset.

Why?  Because while he was sounding like the second coming of Huey Long, Hillary Clinton was getting slammed for her email server.  Benghazi.  The Clinton Foundation. Bill Clinton. Instead of simultaneously falling down because of the expected conspicious Clintonesque sleaze sideshow and to a well run and clean campaign by Bernie Sanders, with whom I disagree on almost every policy position, I saw her getting stronger as more baggage was being brought in from foreign sources.

Next, exactly what I was worried about. Trump the sideshow had now become the worst nightmare for the Clintons.  He moved from agent provocateur to actually viable.  Now they were going to have to destroy him.  And his partisans weren’t going to change. They were going to dig in!

I blame the press.  The press was amused by Trump’s rise. They let out a collective snicker as they gave him free campaign ads each night on TV for a year. The nightly news story was not the policy issues we were supposed to be talking about – it was small hands, furry shoes, name-calling and other epithets. The mainstream media, biased against republican candidates by editorial nature, were reveling in the disrupter. He got good ratings…great ratings.  He was the lead story every night. He made fun of a disabled person. He called Mexicans names. He was going to build a wall.

In February, I was really distraught. I watched Bernie get attacked by Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s machinations. I watched the coincident lameness of the candidates on the republican side and then I wrote the following post in which I lamented about the lack of statesmen in the election: Statesmen?  What had happened to Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. This was the best we could have? Was Hillary the best of the party of Wilson, FDR and Truman..or just the inevitable candidate. If she gets elected we have another round of whitewater, blue dresses, congressional hearings, special prosecutors…ugh…

For a brief period I thought that maybe I’d hold my nose for Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. I tried to ignore that he called Trump a pussy in February and challenged him to climb a mountain and…and…and then he discovered Aleppo. Johnson always seemed to me to like he was a side character in a Cheech and Chong movie, with a puff of smoke rising from behind him. “Hey Mr. Lizard, want a Cheeseburger?”  Bill Weld in contrast seems like Leslie Nielsen, looking bemused and amused by the confusion around him, then letting people know he’d known where Aleppo was because he read a story book about Aleppo when he was 4 years old in between events where he recited Cicero…and will show Gary a map when it is necessary.

Now we’ve had the debates. In the midst of all this, well before the current press-induced virality, I posted a copy of GHWB’s letter to Clinton on Facebook. I lamented at least twice, in July and this month, that class was gone in politics. Class, good behavior, positive condescension, empathy.  I still cringe each time I remember Bill’s “I feel your pain” crack but even that was more memorable and presidential than the discourse we are seeing.

In the three debates I watched Hillary start to wear the play clock down to the last second and then run the ball up the middle. She went into the 4 corners offense with no shot clock. Then, tapes of him talking start appearing talking about what he thinks he gets away with because he is famous and creepy comments about his daughter.

Walk the runner to load the bases. Just last long enough with a smile on your face. Get him to crack by questioning his business acumen.  He’s so dumb and narcissistic, he falls for it every time. She played like she was hoping she could draw him offsides.

He tells the world that he won’t accept a loss.  He thinks he can pull out the Al Gore card.  Did he not not accept the results?  Well, the state rules automatically questioned the results before the Gore campaign did. Then yesterday he goes into the Al Smith Dinner and starts to say really stupid things.

All the while, Wiki-leaks and the KGB are letting out more Podesta emails and maybe today took down the internet in a DDOS attack. So you think it is okay for them to hack our campaigns, either side?  Really? It’s ok to have someone hack our institutions as long as it is against your opponent? Really? Is that the American way?

This election is a cartoon. The candidates are caricatures. Mickey Mouse for President.

The Last Lecture

In career, Literature, Random on September 21, 2016 at 2:22 am

This book has sat on my nightstand for a few years. Not sure who bought it for me — either one of the boys, or my wife. I thought it would be interesting, but over that time I kept putting it off because the concept was so morose.

Anyway, over the last 8 months I’ve plowed through books that I had on my nightstand or in my small bookcase near my bed that I had put off, and got through many of them. Actually a couple of them were on my kindle also. I read Baudolino, finished Destiny of the Republic (about the murder of McKinley), then I finished a bio on Andrew Carnegie that I had started a few years ago. I worked my way through a book on the constitutional convention of 1787, which was fun. I read the David McCullough’s Wright brother’s book with much interest which I received as a gift just as I finished the Andrew Carnegie book bio. I read a book called the Seventh Sense (on my Kindle), which was all about how networking got us here, and what happens after the social media craze. I was in the making my way through a compendium of knowledge on the Tolkien universe, I was in letter “D” and that’s when I saw this small book again.

A lot of what he said in the book made sense and his description of himself was a familiar person to me. I felt I knew Randy Pausch, or 50 people like him. When he was talking about school, or about programming, or about technology, or about characters involved in those endeavors, I knew exactly what he was referring to. We were about the same age when he delivered his lecture and it went viral, and I was just about to embark on an MBA when he published the book. I knew academics like him on the computer science side of my brain. Unlike him, half of my formal undergraduate training was electrical or computer engineering classes, so I had both – a not-same-but-co-conspiratorial-training and a familiar same logic tribe thing going on.

Several things stuck out in the book that I completely agreed with. The crack about his football coach giving him a hard time because he hadn’t given up on him yet. The comments about how knowledge will never replace hard work are something that I say all the time to my kids.

I kinda felt sorry for him because he achieved a lot of success and did meet his professional goals, only to run out of time with his last dream, his family. I thought his quest to leave a record of himself for his young kids was very admirable, many of us do that for our eventual grand-kids. Upon reflection, I would not have traded his success with starting my family at 26 instead of 37 (like he did), so that I could create some really interesting algorithms in those 11 years…and I certainly don’t think he got karma-ed. It’s all a game of chance…

I think the seminal point that I walked away with from his book was something a bit more mundane. Because I mostly understood his normal thinking process (both in my head and observed in others in my field) I was struck by how many times I also try to view the positive or at least the achievable mitigation in most things. Trained-to-be (or maybe born-to-be ) technical problem solvers have a lot of positive wick and wax burn off before they let the light go out on a problem. What impressed me was that he had turned his demise into a mission to solve another problem…that being preparing his family for his departure and leaving a legacy for them to understand him. He had turned his limited time into a mission that he could control with his capabilities and not succumbing to the fact that there was no solution to his health issue.

When my father was going down with lung cancer 16 years ago, that same logic train sparked something in me as I looked at my kids playing in his yard. They were 5 and 8. They would not see him at their graduations or parties as they achieved their goals. I could see that I could not help him with his struggle, especially the day-to-day things that my sisters and my mother were helping him with being close by (I was living 150 miles away).

So, on one of my trips down in the summer, I said to him bluntly, “Baba, you have all these stories you’ve told us whenever your memory was triggered by some event – but they are a jumble. I need you to tell me everything in order and I will type it as fast as I can. I want the kids to know who you are”. My father and I were not so dissimilar in our thinking patterns, and he could see the logic in what I was saying. So we started, he dictating and I typing.

Over the next few visits that summer, I’d start by re-reading what we had already achieved, he’d add a thing here or there, correct something, and then we’d continue adding to the story until he tired or he needed to deal with his pain. We recorded everything that he knew about his grandfather (who was killed before he was born), his father as an orphan in the middle east, and then things about himself and his family until they arrived in the United States in 1956. It’s only 11 pages, but adding that to the black and white pictures from those days, completes a historical record and a personal vignette for future generations of our family.

So I guess what I am saying is that what I learned (or maybe relearned) by reading this book is that rather than focusing on “things” you can leave for future generations (like money or things purchased with money), leave a record of who you are, how you got here, your thinking and who your motivators and what your motivations were. Randy Pausch did that. His kids will always have the videos and pictures of him playing with them and his book, The Last Lecture.

Escalation in Karabagh…why now?

In Random on April 2, 2016 at 8:08 pm

So with a nuclear summit happening, Azerbaijan launches a concerted series of attacks on the Nagorno-Karabagh region. This action escalates an already thorny issue in the area. Oddly, all the interested parties including the leadership of the EU, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan are all in washington sitting across the table from each other. Another interesting concurrent fact is that Putin did not come and demurred by saying that they believed that this whole nuclear summit is a contrivance for the US to influence the issue outside of the UN AEA (see this article) although they announced they were not coming in 2014!

Armenia itself relies on its good relations with Russia for protection. This relationship does have a negative side in that Armenia has to follow Russia’s lead on many issues and cannot stray too far westward in comity.

So one of two things are happening. The first possibility, Azerbaijan and their Turkey thought it a good idea to escalate the situation coincident with the summit so that the ongoing situation would be addressed in Washington outside the Russian diplomatic influence. The US has not been on Armenia’s side on the issue of Karabagh. The other possibility is Russia itself is behind it. hmm….

The latter sounds odd except to the extent that Armenia continues to do outreach to Europe and the US through diplomatic channels as well as through its diaspora. If president Sargysan was told to stay home from the summit and did not…this would be an excellent time to remind him who his sponsor is.

So either Erdogan is smacking Armenia through its proxy Azerbaijan, or Russia is allowing Armenia to get smacked a little to stay in line.

Who knows?  Realpolitik is alive and well in the region. And Armenia finds itself being jostled by the large powers.


In Random on March 5, 2016 at 3:28 pm

Where are the statesmen? What happened to leadership? Do you think that the current crop of characters on both sides could do anything but reduce the sum of human knowledge whenever they open their mouths? Could you see any of them move the public discourse by delivering something akin the following examples in a speech?

“Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for, I have grown not only gray, but almost blind in the service of my country.” -George Washington

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” -Abraham Lincoln

“Now, the same principle which applies in private life applies also in public life. If a public man tries to get your vote by saying that he will do something wrong in your interest, you can be absolutely certain that if ever it becomes worth his while he will do something wrong against your interest. So much for the citizenship to the individual in his relations to his family, to his neighbor, to the State. There remain duties of citizenship which the State, the aggregation of all the individuals, owes in connection with other States, with other nations.” -Theodore Roosevelt

“With experience enough in subordinate offices to have seen the difficulties of this the greatest of all, I have learnt to expect that it will rarely fall to the lot of imperfect man to retire from this station with the reputation and the favor which bring him into it. Without pretensions to that high confidence you reposed in our first and greatest revolutionary character, whose preeminent services had entitled him to the first place in his country’s love and destined for him the fairest page in the volume of faithful history, I ask so much confidence only as may give firmness and effect to the legal administration of your affairs. I shall often go wrong through defect of judgment. When right, I shall often be thought wrong by those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground. I ask your indulgence for my own errors, which will never be intentional, and your support against the errors of others, who may condemn what they would not if seen in all its parts. The approbation implied by your suffrage is a great consolation to me for the past, and my future solicitude will be to retain the good opinion of those who have bestowed it in advance, to conciliate that of others by doing them all the good in my power, and to be instrumental to the happiness and freedom of all.” -Thomas Jefferson

Our generation of leader talks about hand size, call each other playground names, accuse each other of “smear” when challenged about their very public actions which might sometimes be honest mistakes but nevertheless border on illegal. They espouse vicious bigotry, dangerous provincialism, economic ignorance and a lack of public compassion and civility.

When I was younger, we watched the old guys making mistakes or trying to euphemistically talk about bad policy or actions. I had the hubris to think that our generation would bring better sense to the discourse. Even then we had examples of statesmanship: Nixon in China, Carter at Camp David, Reagan at the Berlin Wall, Bush I handling the collapse of the Soviet Union. Heck, Bill Clinton’s speech at the 2012 Democratic convention was more statesmanlike than anything we are hearing now. I remember pounding my fist on the kitchen counter going, “He so pisses me off! No one else could do that. That was the greatest political speech anyone has ever given!” Even though I disagreed with him, I still was impressed. He challenged his political opponents to a higher level of discourse.

Now that our generation has reached its turn to take responsibility for our nation and looked hopefully to promote from our ranks our most capable to public office, I am not only disappointed, I fear for the republic…

A week with my new MacBook

In Random on February 6, 2016 at 3:49 am

I bought a gold 12″ MacBook last week to replace my 4-year-old MacBook Air. The purchase itself was strange because I bought it, and for whatever reason, instead of just leaving the store with it in its box I agreed to power it up and get iCloud and whatnot all set up. Well, that was a good thing. The first one they brought out was battery dead on arrival. That wouldn’t be so bad, but we plugged it in, and after a few minutes it began to power up. As I started to go through the setup screens, something was amiss. It wouldn’t connect to the store network. eventually it said it did, and then when I tried to connect to iCloud, it kept complaining that the server was down. We tried 3 or 4 times to go back to the previous step and then try again. Eventually one of the folks brought over another machine and asked me to check my password by logging into iCloud on their machine. I was able to log in, and then I tried again on the machine. nada.

This was a bit disconcerting and eventually they brought over a manager who asked me to try again, and then a new machine was summoned. We had to undo my original transaction and then I had to buy the new one again. This one was about 20% power, so we plugged it in again (just in case…we started to attract a small crowd of employees at this point) and I went through the setup sequence and voi la I was able to register with iCloud and a bunch of stuff started to work.

Since I was there, I figured I’d log into all my services to make sure that it was all ok, and brought up Dropbox, Evernote and Skype. Then I installed a couple of other apps that were important to me from iCloud (Scrivener, Skitch, OmniGraffle) and everything was fine. Pictures started to load off iCloud Photos, iTunes seemed to have my songs and iMessage populated with some recent conversations.

I was happy.

I went home and took the thing through its paces and so discounting the oddness of what happened in the store, here’s the next 10 days worth of reactions.

1) I love the way it looks on the outside. I never thought I’d like a gold computer, but it looks really good to me.

2) It’s so damn light it’s amazing. it feels lighter than my 11″ MBA and thinner.

3) The retina display is phenomenal in this size.

4) The new keyboard takes a bit of getting use to. My best explanation is that unlike the rubbery previous keyboard which forced me to press down and get that feeling like I had pressed enough, this keyboard gives way quickly and then I type too fast and not everything is registered. I’ve gotten used to it, but when I go back and forth to my Mac Mini and the wired keyboard, there is a certain niceness to the feel of that keyboard. I make a lot fewer mistakes.

5) I’ve noticed something odd with the network. It seems to take longer to connected than I would expect. I’m not sure if that is MacOS 10.11.3 vs the beta version of 10.11 that I’m running on the other machines. I could register it for the Appleseed program and see if that clears things up.

6) the new track pad with 3D touch is taking a bit to get used to also. there’s an interaction that I seem to be having trouble with. When I try to select more than one word and accidentally press down too hard, I end up selecting only the word I started with and get the definition…it’s taken some learning to not press too hard.

7) Battery life: it seems to charge really fast. I’ve used it extensively and I think I’m getting 6-8 hours of battery life before I get down to 20%. I haven’t gone all the way down to see what the total life is.

8) Sorry to repeat myself, but it’s so damn light I’m afraid that I might damage it, but it is so solid that I get over that. In order to compromise my risk aversion, I bought a sleeve to put it in, so that when I put it back in my briefcase bag, I feel safe.

9) the USB-C thing is a bit annoying of course. When I purchased the machine I knew I would need a connector to use regular USB devices. So I bought one that had USB, USB-C for power, and HDMI to hook it up to non-airplay monitors/TVs. The other day I needed to move a document to a thumb drive for a very specific reason. Now I have to get the 3-1 dongle out and insert the USB thumb drive in the dongle. This sounds more risqué than intended. I know Apple was one of the first to drop the floppy drive, then the CD then firewire, then dvi then Thunderbolt (which I thought was the wave of the future). But I’m not sure what the purpose of this change was as I don’t see USB-C devices out there yet. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough.

Anyway, I love the machine, even with some of the constructive feedback above. For mobility, I think this is a great machine.

Have fun.

Apple Watch Connectivity

In Random on January 25, 2016 at 3:59 pm

For those of you who are on the fence about the Apple Watch, you might want to wait for the next-gen, rumored to be coming out in April. On the other hand, it works pretty good now, so I’m going to recount my morning and tell you how it works even when you don’t have your phone with you:

This morning my watch was on its dock on my nightstand. It’s a pretty nice dock, as it holds the watch up, charging it (the charger is fished through the stand) and makes it feel like it really is an alarm clock. The alarm went off at 6:00am and I tapped the watch face and rolled out of bed. I took the watch and put it on my wrist and tugged the loop band and adjusted it tight because I was going to take a walk. I got the rest of my workout outfit on and stuffed my iPhone 6s plus in the right side pocket of my sweatpants.

I looked at the watch at this point and noting the temperature in the top left corner of the watch face, saw that it was 23 degrees F. I said to myself that I probably ought to fish out my bright orange windbreaker to wear outside my fleece top. I then stepped out my front door, started the activity app for a walk, and began my circuit around the neighborhood.

It was a beautiful morning and several times as I could look east over Boston in that pre-dawn time, with the sky a pink glow from the impending sunrise, I argued with myself if I should take a picture. I decided that that pre-sunrise glow was just for me (sorry). About half way through my timed walk, the watch buzzed at me to let me know it. Then a few minutes later as I crossed a mile, it buzzed me again to mark that distance. I continue to trudge back up the hill through the slush and ice. The sun had yet to appear behind me, but the sky was no longer dark it was a turned light blue. About 2 blocks from my home, the watch buzzed again. I had been at this walk longer than the previous one recorded

I approached my home and when I got to my doorway, I turned my wrist to wake the watch face and ended the workout, then saved it (sometimes I forget this). I proceeded to get ready by showering and dressing and got my things together to depart for work. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I placed my phone on a piece of furniture in our foyer and pulled my coat, hat and gloves out of the closet. I placed the gloves on top of the phone. I grabbed my gloves after adjusting my hat and went out the door.

I drove toward work and stopped at a Starbucks for a cup of coffee on the way as I was slightly on the earlier side and didn’t want to start my formal day just yet. I went in and paid with my watch and sat down to read a chapter of “Baudolino” by Umberto Eco, which I’ve been working through in short spurts this month over coffee about a chapter at a time. I wanted to quickly check my email, and went to grab my phone and it wasn’t there. Hmmm…I looked at the watch, flicked up the status screen and saw that I was connected to the cloud via a familiar network, but I wasn’t sure if I was connected to my phone. I pinged my phone in hopes that it was somewhere in my coat or maybe I had left it on the counter or something. Nope. I walked back out to my car looked around and didn’t see it. I looked at the watch and now it was telling me that I was no longer connected to a network AND I was not connected to the phone. This was curious. I figured out at that point I must have left it at home. I went back into the Starbucks and had a few more sips of the coffee and then got myself upset. I needed a phone so that I could get phone calls. I remembered that I had my “work” phone on my desk (I forward my calls to my personal phone…I use the work iPhone 5s when I travel out of the country). Driving back home was out of the question because that would be into the main traffic going south on Rt 3. I’d never be back in the office at the start of the day. So I started driving the 2 miles to work from the Starbucks.

As I’m driving, my watch buzzes me. I turn my wrist and see that I’m receiving a message from my wife saying that I left my 6s+ as home. I got a message? Oh of course, my Audi has internet connectivity and that is a familiar network for the watch. So I tapped reply and dictated a message acknowledging that I forgot it and then tapped it to send as text. Now that was pretty cool because that was the first time my watch and iPhone were separated by a significant distance but this was the first time the watch still was able to function within iCloud functionality.

I got to work. I was still a bit upset because I knew that at work, in a protected network, the watch wouldn’t connect. Then I remembered that the work iPhone could also be a hotspot. So I went in, reversed the call forwarding between the phones and then turned on the hotspot. Now my watch, while not connected to its primary iPhone, was still able to be connected.

This was all very cool to me. If the subsequent watch (and watchOS update) allows more capability independently of the phone, I’d say we are on the verge of a very useful device.

The main limitation, battery life, will still be a hindrance, but connectivity isn’t now and will be less so in the future.

2015 in review

In Random on January 16, 2016 at 2:43 am

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 22 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Armenian Christmas Eve

In Random on January 6, 2016 at 4:49 am

So you can read in many places about why Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 6th. There are many wonderful explanations out there. Yes it is interesting that Armenians celebrate traditional or Orthodox Christmas, but their Easter falls on the same Sunday as the western Easter. At the end of this article I will explain the rough calculation of Easter for those interested.

I’m writing this article on January 5th, 2016, which is Armenian Christmas Eve. Earlier in the evening, I went to Church for the Christmas Vigil Service. I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, and tomorrow would be the Feast of Epiphany at which I’d get doused with water and my throat blessed. My father was Armenian Catholic, and my mother was Armenian Apostolic (for those who don’t know, its sorta like orthodox, but it isn’t…it’s really old though).  The fact that I grew up in the Catholic church did not prevent me from taking part in services at the local Armenian church. In fact I’m one of the few people in the world who, as a child, had his feet washed on Holy Thursday in both churches. One time, I think I was about 7, my uncle brought me to the Armenian church on Barnum Avenue in Bridgeport, CT. I was a bit confused of course why the priest washed my foot with what appeared to be butter in front of lots of grandmotherly people. Later on I had my foot washed on Holy Thursday as an Altar boy in St. Patrick’s Church in Bridgeport…we had some pretty plain white cassocks.  I have an ecumenical foot.

So you see a split behavior in my life: My family, as I was growing up, went to midnight mass on Dec 25 and opened presents on western Christmas day. Armenian Christmas was this other thing that seemed to be more of a religious/cultural event that I recognized and sometimes took part in. When I got married to my wife, she was firmly entrench in the Armenian Church and when we got married I got more involved in our new church home.  Things lined up nicely and I got to have 2 Christmases. My wife’s family exchanged gifts on Western christmas, but my wife’s family made it a point to have little gifts in those socks on the fireplace for the 12 days of Christmas. (yes if you didn’t count, there are 12 days between Western Christmas and Armenian Christmas. That means on Armenian Xmas you are supposed to get the 12 drummers drumming…I suppose they would be playing the dumbek). Then I found out something new.  Evidently Armenians overseas in Armenia proper and in the middle east, exchange gifts on New Years and reserve January 6th as a purely religious holiday. This confuses the issue a bit, so we stick with what we know.

Back to the beginning.  I got to Church tonight just before the badarak (my Catholic side says “mass”).  The Armenian Saturday School students were reading various passages from the old testament that predict the birth of Jesus. Just after the students, the subdeacons got up on the altar and chanted from the book of Daniel (in Armenian) about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the guys who were put in the fire and survived.  That reading is always entertaining.  Then the Church service began and it was beautiful.

Anyway, in a few minutes it will be Armenian Christmas.  Merry Christmas.  Or as the Armenians greet each other

First Person: Քրիստոս ծնաւ և յայտնեցաւ. (Christ was born and revealed)
Second Person: Օրհնեալ է յայտնութիւնն Քրիստոսի՜(Blessed is the revelation of Christ)
One or both: Ձեզի, Մեզի մեծ ավետիս (To you, to us, great tidings)



Easter date explanation: In 325AD the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the Vernal Equinox. Some years Orthodox Easter (Greek for example) happens later than what is celebrated in the west.  Orthodox churches try to maintain the fact that Easter must happen after Passover.  The Armenian Church uses the same calculation that is used in the Western Church.  As far as I can tell this is because there is a disagreement over whether the Church fathers believed that this passover sequencing was strictly recommended at Nicaea.

iOS 9 beta (well by this point 9.1)

In Random on September 12, 2015 at 3:25 am

So I’ve been playing with iOS 9 beta on my iPhone 5s and my iPad Air (gen 1). Today I got the update for the 9.1 beta and I am relatively impressed. I’ve also updated my MacBook Air (gen 2) and my Mac Mini (last year) to El Capitan (first the beta and then the GM version). Initially I’m going to stick with the iOS updates and only mention the OS X updates where they intersect. The enhancements listed on the Apple site are pretty accurate and I’d like to go through some of the major ones that I’ve experimented and my opinions.

I’d like to start with some of the apps. First the Notes App, I think Apple nailed it. Apple did what Evernote failed to do with Penultimate and integrated sketching and drawing, pictures and typed notes all in one. It is funny that on almost the same day I got a note from Paper by 53 telling me about all the cool things I can do with my Pencil by 53 or my fingers. Notes allows me to create somewhat simple and yet multi-media notes (sketches, text written notes and pictures) all at once. It even has a handy-dandy ruler on the screen to use. Now it doesn’t yet have all the features that Paper by 53 has for auto-shaping your sketches into squares and circles and flow charts, but it’s better integrated with typed notes than Penultimate and Evernote are with each other.

I’ve also been a Livescribe fan until recently and for a short period of time the clunky integration of Livescribe sky into Evernote was marginally more useful than going to the echo desktop since it allowed me to reach my handwritten notes on Evernote on my iPad. But in that Rube Goldberg-esque way, none of these cool things— Livescribe, Penultimate, Paper, Pencil, —none were integrated together except to be stored as records in Evernote. I think with a few more features, notes will be a category killer for those who live in the Apple universe, especially considering the El Capitan integration for notes. The stopper should have been that if you have a non-Apple machine in front of you, you’re SOL to get to notes…but guess what has a beta Notes app on it showing you all your notes, so you are never far from your content.

The new News app is quite good and is another category killer. On my iPad I can get to a lot of interesting news, free for the moment, and somewhat curated so that I can scan several viewpoints on the same story. The only missing item is Wall Street Journal articles. For that I still have my couple hundred dollars a year subscription (I’ve been subscribing from the Palm Pilot III days…so it’s been a while). In fact I will say that for a while I thought that having the WSJ rendered like a magazine in its own app was pretty nice…but lately I find that website is just better for overall accessibility to items. News is what the WSJ app should be. The WSJ will be assimilated…resistance is futile.

And now having the iCloud Drive on my iPad and finally having Preview for rendering PDFs on the iPad is a complete solution. Ok, now we kill Dropbox killer. Anyway the Dropbox app on the iPad was always weird and clunky. Unfortunately, once you embed things in Dropbox, Evernote, and the like, you don’t move everything all at once into the Apple cloud because not everyone can get to it in a clean way which is what Dropbox provides. Evernote is somewhere in between Dropbox and iCloud in its share-ability.

Anyway, now let’s get to some of the iOS capabilities itself. Since I have an iPad air, I can’t do split screen (and I’m not sure it would be very useful anyway at that form factor). However, the slide feature to bring up a second app on the right margin is very cool. Even more cool is the picture-in-picture capability, that is, to shrink videos (the video app or iTunes at the moment) and work in another app while the video continues to render in the lower right corner of the screen. Both of these are very cool for a multi-tasker like myself.
Lately, I’ve noticed Siri giving me more in the moment hints about things without my prompting, sort of like google now. This is very cool and creepy of course. Yesterday I went out to lunch to a local Chipotle. When I got back in my car, my iPhone had an alert on it that said it would take me 6 minutes to get back to work. Yikes!

Until I replace my iPhone 5s next month on the contract, next month, I rely on my Apple Watch for Apple Pay. I probably will pull my new phone out more often than try to use the watch because it’s proving to be awkward (double tapping your watch to initiate the payment instead of it doing what it does with my wife’s iPhone 6 which is wake up payments when your near and NFC). I hope that that is fixed with WatchOS2. Also if it is true that Dunkin Donuts and MyPanera rewards will be accessible in Wallet, then they will have fixed a glaring hole in the payments process.

Having the ability to drag the cursor to any place on the screen like a trackpad instead of hunting and pecking to select something is a feature that has been a long time coming.  This is especially true when combined with slide and select instead of first selecting then trying to drag the line and ball anchors around the phrase to be copy/cut.

So there it is. It’s a pretty major update in functionality at the app, interaction and content accessibility levels. I will be interesting to see what it looks like on the big phones and iPad pro.

Villa Antinori 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009

In Random on August 29, 2015 at 11:18 pm

So 10 years ago I started buying bottles of Villa Antinori wine from Costco.  I had been buying Villa Antinori for some time, but then I saw the story about the family Vineyard on 60 minuteIMG_0170s and it might’ve been a repeat at that time. For whatever reason, I was so enthralled by the story, I started saving one bottle each year at the bottom of my wine fridge. I had decided that, just like I opened a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue that I had saved for a couple of years at my graduation party, that I’d open these bottles at some big event… (By the way, the graduation I’m referring to was my MBA 2 years ago…not college the first time through…back then it was beer 😉 )

Later on I read somewhere that you can’t save wine for more than 10 years IMG_0171these days.  So rather than wait for some day when my luck would inevitably cause it to bad wine day, I thought I go to the oldest of the six bottles of wine that I’ve saved starting at 2004, and I was going to try it out.

I figured that this was my last official summer cookout for 2015 as the next couple of weekends are packed and this has been a tumultuous winter, spring and summer.  This was the 2015 of record-setting snows, followed by a relatively huge release of code at my job, then some health scares for various people close and distant, Daniel’s graduation from Northeastern, the genocide centennial events, the visit from the Armenian Catholicos from Lebanon to our parish, Samuel going to Venice to study Armenian again…it goes on and on.

IMG_0173I did open up the oldest bottle, the 2004. As you can see the cork was well-covered with sediment. The cork had a slightly vinegary scent to it and I was a little worried that it had gone bad. I poured just a little into a glass and sniffed…no mothballIMG_0175 smell. Tasted it, familiar taste…actually almost exactly as I remember why I started buying that wine in the first place, with just a slight bit more tannins.

I paired it with grilled pork chops (with the spices I’d use on my chicken kebab) and roasted veggies.  It was great.  We ended the meal with a Dulsao do Brasil espresso latte for mIMG_0176y wife and a Vivalto Lungo (black) for me.

I’ll report later on each year that I open. Just have to pick the next event.

On being Armenian…and languages…

In Random on August 19, 2015 at 2:32 am

So what is it to be Armenian? I’ve written before of the circuitous route that my sides of my family took to get to America. Unfortunately for many years, the Armenian Genocide defined our people. We were the genocide people…this would be in contrast to the 3000 years of history that would have — should have — defined us.

So who were the Armenians. There are so many stories. No, we aren’t Greek, nor are we Arab, nor are we Persian, nor are we Russian, nor are we Turkish. It becomes hard to define us because until recently there was 600 years in which we were not defined by borders which would indicate a nation-state.

In 2014, my wife and I were in Rome. Our older son was the Northeastern University TA for the semester abroad students in Rome and met us at the Vatican. Of course my wife cried. He took us for his tour of Rome, breaking us away from the very good tour we were on. But this was special. How often can you be taken around the Eternal City by your son, an American citizen by birth and Armenian by descent on both sides? We went everywhere. I think my Fitbit said I walked 32000 steps that day. At one point we came up to an obelisk in honor of Marcus Aurelius. Using my Jesuit Latin training I read the inscription: Marco Aurelio Imperatore, qui vicit Germani, Partheni et Armenii (Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who conquered the Germans, the Parthians, and the Armenians). Hmmm…we were there…and a force to be reckoned with. Enough that they put the inscription on the 1700 year old obelisk. Our son took us around and ordered food in Italian, asked for directions in Italian, conversed with other people, and told us what the signs mean (although I could pick off enough of the Italian from my own Latin training).

Later that trip, we ended up breaking away again from the tour in Venice. When everyone else went to Burano, we got on a vaparetto to go to San Lazzaro, the monastery of the Armenian Catholic Mekhitarist Monks (San Lazzaro Degli Armeni). It was amazing. Armenian Monks in Venice who are there to preserve Armenian culture and make a bridge to the West. For Armenians, they are the equivalent of the Jesuits to the rest of the world, teachers in many countries.

Later that same summer, my younger son took a trip to Venice to take a 3 week Armenian intensive class. He’s a linguistics major at Brandeis, who at that point knew Armenian due to his training in 15 years of Armenian Saturday school and who took 7 years of latin from 6th grade on (just like his older brother). At Brandeis, beside his theoretical linguistics classes, he took a class in Hebrew, and began his journey to master French.

I’ve been trying to learn French recently. I was using Rosetta Stone, and I got through a fair amount of stuff. I can pick through people speaking common things if they go slow. I’m not going to claim that I can speak it…I can ask for water, a towel and say, “She is wearing red shoes.” Not astounding and definitely not living up to my immediate ancestors, progenitors or progeny.

My father was always proud of the fact that he could converse in Italian and Arabic, beside Armenian and Turkish. He also had some training in French and would chuckle when someone would say an expression in French. My father worked in the Bar Finish Department at Carpenter Steel in Bridgeport, grinding steel bars to thousandths of an inch of polish, to support his family. He often helped out the International Institute in Bridgeport doing translations of Turkish documents and letters into English for Armenian newcomers. I often saw him sitting at the dining room table with our two Turkish-English and English-Turkish sözlüğü (dictionary) doing the translations of these items, noting the pages and then writing the translation. Talk about moonlighting…

His younger sister, Mary, knowing French, Armenian and Arabic and Turkish, would later learn Spanish and Portuguese to be able to travel to various countries setting up manufacturing facilities for the Warner Bra Company.

I thought of my grandfather reading an Italian newspaper in Bridgeport to keep up his fluency, he knowing Italian, French, Arabic, Armenian and Turkish (and probably some more). My mother without a lot of formal training, spoke and understood Armenian, Turkish, and Greek, and knew a bit of French too.

In our house growing up, my mother spoke fluent Turkish with my father while using Armenian and a smattering of English with us. My father always spoke English to us, in that almost too perfect British-English he learned in Bethlehem, Beit Jamal, Ramleh and Jerusalem. When we had guests over, the men went outside to smoke and spoke in Turkish to each other. They spoke in English and Armenian to us depending on what they wanted. The women spoke Armenian to us. A man and his wife might speak Turkish to each other, but a man speaking to another man’s wife would invariably speak Armenian (and the reverse was the same). Every once in a while, depending on the guests, we’d hear a drop or two of Arabic…and my mother might say a few things in Greek just to spice it up (of course she was born in Bolis…Constantinopolis…hey, it’s Istanbul not Constantinople, Istanbul not Constantinople…it’s a long time gone from Constantinople…even old New York was once New Amsterdam. Why they changed it, I can’t say…people just liked it better that way).

So as you can see, language was somehow ingrained in our being…not just Armenian or English. The ability to speak in multiple languages was not only valued it was EXPECTED. We are Armenians, at the crossroads of civilization. People had to get through Armenia to get somewhere else for trade or conquest. The Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew separately came to Armenia to preach. St. Gregory the illuminator, the founder of the Armenian Church in 301AD (30 years before the Roman Empire) has an enormous statue now just outside the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica, just as you take the exit ramp out of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. Pope John Paul II visited Armenia in 2001. Pope Francis spoke eloquently on the subject of the Armenian genocide. While I listened to his homily in Italian, I heard what he said and could pick through the Italian and I could tell what he was saying.

Armenian, Latin, French, Italian, English…Hebrew…Turkish…Arabic…Spanish…Portuguese…Greek…

So why do I tell you all this. Honestly, I’m writing this for other Armenians more so than the rest of readers. Our Armenian political and secular culture, especially in the diaspora, emphasizes knowing Armenian as a sign of inclusion. If your Armenian isn’t that great, or you don’t speak it at all and maybe just know the food, you can be ostracized. In our Armenian diaspora-inspired-chauvinism, if you don’t speak fluent Armenian, you are considered something less or lost.

My younger son, who is in Venice for a second August, to learn and improve his Armenian at the University of Venice and with the Monks of San Lazaro told me that one of the clerics emphasized that what defined us as Armenians for ages and ages what not simply how well we spoke Armenian but rather that we not only spoke Armenian well but that we also spoke and read and wrote with native fluency in whatever nation we happened to live in. He emphasized that that language ability made us brokers of all things for many centuries in the ancient world and in the middle ages…intellectual thought, financial transactions et cetera. From my son’s brief description of the lecture (over the phone), the break between ancient Armenian and Greek intellectual cultures was due to the fact that in the middle east and roman empire, Hellenic culture was the epitome of thought and ancient greek the language of intellectualism. He who didn’t converse in Greek was a barbarian. Armenian intellectuals from the 4th Century on, rejected this notion. As I thought about this, it also seemed to coincide with the Chalcedonian break from the greater church as well as the wars with the Persians ending with the treaty of Nvarsag. From my study of Roman history and culture, the Romans viewed the Hellenic culture as aspirational also. There was some inference to Anglo-Saxon culture also buying into this theory (this probably is why there was such an emphasis on the classics in western education until recently…when I read a biography of St. Thomas More it emphasized rhetoric and hurling insults in latin and greek as training).

When I was in college, while taking my engineering and computer science classes, my liberal arts concentration was in literature. I took classes that included Drama, Novels, and Poetry. The poetry professor was a visiting instructor, Sam Abrams of beat generation fame (you know Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg and whatnot). On a particular day where I had classes from 8AM to 5PM straight with no breaks — Electronics Lab, Circuits Lab, Circuit and Electronics lecture, my Programming class…and this class at noon. I had run to get a sandwich in the student union and got to class a couple of minutes late. I had to sit in the only available chair which was the one desk separated from the rest near the doorway — this made me visible to everyone in the class as it was pointed sideways back at the class…I felt like I was getting a timeout. I began to unwrap my sandwich while he collected his thoughts.

Suddenly, he turned to me and asked, “Are you…Chakmakjian?” I affirmed my name (I can’t remember if he pronounced it correctly). He then began to talk about powerful metaphors and started to read one of the poems I wrote (you can find them on scribd) that mentioned a plane flight to Boston and I was describing the fact that I was going for interviews, how tired I was, what the food was like and then the frazzled blonde flight attendant who I described as “my future ex-wife.” (Esther has read the poem so there’s no harm…hey I was 22 years old and waxing poetic!). He thought that line was awesome and was telling the class on how powerful that metaphor was in light of the culture we lived in. Anyway, he then turned to me and said, “You are Armenian?”


“How many languages do you know?”

Oh boy, here we go. I was late, he read my poem and now he’s about to embarrass me by outing my cultural upbringing. “Well, obviously English, and Armenian, and a basic amount of Turkish…and I suppose can use my high school Latin if I were stuck in Rome.”

He chuckled, then turned back to the class and said, “Every Armenian I know seems to know 4 or 5 languages…it seems genetic. It’s really amazing.”

I never thought of it as amazing, I just thought it was. In retrospect, I guess I now appreciate his point of view…

Apple watch — Man I move fast!

In apple, Random, technology on July 22, 2015 at 6:55 pm

I’m having an interesting problem. The first few weeks, I had success with using the workout app for running and walking. Having my phone in my at all workouts. I always used the “no goal” since I just wanted it to record my stats as I run a fixed loop in the neighborhood and walk a fixed loop at lunch around the buildings. Then 2 days ago something strange started happening. I’d exit the building at lunch, choose outdoor walk – no goal, and hit start. As I began to walk I checked my watch and noticed that after about 6 minutes, I had hit 22.78 miles! I had to cut my walk short of course, I was getting tired after such a long distance in such a short time.
very fast.jpg
I thought this a little odd. So I took these pictures.

very fast

Yesterday, I went out and did the same thing. This time I started walking and kept looking at my watch. 10ft, 20 ft, 50ft, 6.5 miles, 6.6 miles. this was after about a minute of walking. All the other stats seemed reasonable, but the mileage varies.

I stopped the tracking. I deleted it. I went to fixed program of 1.1 miles (which evidently was my longest walk it remembered). I turned that on and walked the mile or so, and it was fine.

This morning I went out for a run (first time in a week) and I started w/no goal. I ran to the end of my street and my watch buzzed and I looked down and I was at 55miles. Call me Flash. I stopped the watch, went to the fixed distance (that I know it is) and hit 2.8 miles as my goal. I ran the rest of my loop. I know the various points along the way that it used to say “buzz…1 mile…buzz 2 miles.” and it did neither. I had run almost the 3/4 of my loop and it said I now was only at .48 miles and when I was done I had only done “50%” of my workout. So I ended up saving that. Mind you the activity app knows that I did something from about 6:30 to about 7:05 at a decent intensity, but the green ring only showed that I did a bit of my workout. sigh.

When I got back home I figured that something was amiss, so I reset erased and re-paired the watch to my iPhone. I restored from backup. Today about 2 I went to do my 1 mile lunch loop and the watched warned me that it needed 20 minutes of activity to calibrate. ok. I set it to the no-goal setting was still a mess after about 50 feet. 11 miles or something like that. I stopped and discarded it, and then I set it to a 1 mile fixed target. it seemed to work ok. unfortunately it hasn’t synced that activity back to the iPhone yet (ya’d think it would be almost immediate). So I looked on my watch and it also says that I only did 3 minutes of exercise (although it does say that I walked 1.09 miles).

While the watch is more functional than my fitbit (heart rate and actual distance instead of just steps), having it go caploo-ey so soon on something that was working fine is disappointing.  I did post this on the Apple community so lets see what kind of response I get there.

A couple of days with the Apple Watch

In Random on June 25, 2015 at 2:05 am

This was a gift for Father’s day from my children and wife. It was a surprise to me when they took me to an apple store on Saturday to pick one out (this was before I found one of course) and of course they were out of everything. We were all disappointed.

Next we tried online. I’d like to say that the crazy reserve your time in the store thing with the obviously planned supply constraint was ridiculous. I tried several times to see if one was available and no dice. Then one was and while I went through the multiple text and code sequences invented in a Dan Brown novel, I was too late and the world ended. At one point when I failed again it told me that the only watch sport in the color I wanted was available in a single state 3000 miles away. Mid-day, on a lark I found that one was available across state that hadn’t been available in the morning. So we drove out there, and the friendly attendant congratulated me on getting in there and I was in business.

I didn’t need no stinkin’ instructions and none were provided. I powered it up, knew the watch app was on my iPhone and within a minute the device was being configured and then apps were being downloaded. Easy enough for me, would have been slightly frustrating for a novice. After maybe 15 minutes the watch came on and I played with the configuration on the iPhone to immediately turn off most notification mirroring except messages, calendar, Starbucks and WSJ. Since I had read several reviews of people having their hands fall off from the twisting motion all day, I figured I’d start with the bare minimum notifications I cared about and would add things as I went along. Works great this way.

I almost immediately began to choose a different watch face. The standard one, with the digital clock and several mini statuses made it feel like a bad version of the notifications slide out on MacOS. I know this was highly touted by Tim, but nah.

The first struggle I had, since I wasn’t going to read about how to use it was that I could see the little red notification dot on the top of the classic watch face I had chosen, but I could not figure out why it did nothing when I pressed it, like all the other mini-widgets (called complications ??? what the hell kind of name is that???) and got nothing except to activate the customize screen for the watch face. I got quickly upset and asked myself, what would steve do. So I swiped down from the red dot and voi la, notifications. This was now a learned response. I get it now.

Using it as an extension to receive a call is a bit awkward. If you are walking in a busy mall and get a call and are too lazy to pull your phone out of your pocket or purse, you will now do the awkward Dick Tracy calling back to headquarters motion. Plus the ambient noise is just too much in a mall so you say “What? What?” a few times. I’ve relegated this to an emergency answer than a primary function.

Texting was mostly ok. It’s easy to send an emoji, but to send text using the recorder is again the weird Dick Tracy motion. I suppose it is no weirder than walking and typing texts, but it is as unsafe. I will admit it was less weird than the Google Glass head snap and talking into the crystal, but with only one eye engaged on GG you wouldn’t necessarily bump into someone or fall over an obstacle.

Receiving texts is nice, and when pictures are included it’s a nice thing to quickly glance at. Works for me.

I’ve set up the activity app, and have gotten several “stand up” messages when I’m not at work. At work, I am at a standing desk and I pace a lot, so I rarely get the message there. When I am at a community board meeting and the conversation goes on and on and suddenly – bing bing and ~~haptic~~ – it’s a bit strange when you suddenly stand up for no clear reason. 🙂 The other updates are good, I still have to play with the exercise portion. I’ve got it set up for medium activity/calories and it’s celebrated my activity a few times.

Setting things up on the watch face “complications” was another not intuitive operation. My instinct in the customize screen was to tap on it to activate the “complications” edit, but then I was stuck enabling then disabling it by tapping it again. I tried to hard press it, that didn’t do anything but shake the display. I’m not sure why I did it, but rolled the crown and when “OHHHH” as I went through the selections for the world clock. I have to say that having the clock app on my phone with the 6 time zones I have people working for me in be accessible on the phone is probably as useful a feature as any other. Why should I pull out my phone to do it. I should be able to do it on my watch and there it is.

The WSJ app was cute, and if were stuck someplace, like on a subway train and my left arm was up already to hold a handrail as the train progressed, I could see reading the headline there. The option to swipe up the iPhone to see the rest of the article is cute, but I’m not sure how often I would do this. Knowing me I unlock the phone without swiping and then activate the app…I could learn this too.

Photos was cute and the discovery was seconds to figure out how to look at pictures then a little more complex to learn how to get back to the main grid…after some experimentation it was the crown. The only weird thing was that all landscape pictures defaulted to fill screen – which for me the mental jury is still out.

Not sure about the Mint app. eh…

The camera app will be REALLY useful. I can tell already. no more timer needed. set it up, run over and hit the watch. Very cool.

The remote app setup worked like a charm with my mac mini. But for the apple tv, I struggled and will have to look through the web to find a solution. The apple tv thinks it is paired by the apple watch app doesn’t see it after pairing.

Evernote on the watch could be useful or not, trying to figure it out. I suppose logging dictations is useful…just trying to figure out when I’d do it and not look awkward. 🙂

I’ll play with it more of course, but these are my first impressions.

Father’s Day…

In Random on June 21, 2015 at 1:57 am

Thinking about this…

The Urtaru Chronicles

We called my father “Baba”.  This being amusing to the other kids we grew up with, some of them took to calling him “Baba” since that was easier than “Mr. Chakmakjian”.  I remember, he called his own father “Baba” also.

In some ways, my father was “Baba”  to all of whom he crossed paths.  He was always fixing something, trying to sort out the mechanical hindrances of the American lifestyle he adopted.  He spent a lot of time in flannel shirts.  But there was something else he talked about infrequently.  A lifestyle he gave up years before in order to pursue the American Dream.  Whenever I see that picture, I crack up.   He had this “David Niven” thing going.  He told me that the Arabs he worked with in Palestine and Jordan when he was growing up said he was like the British, cool as a cucumber.  It wasn’t…

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25 years? Like the blink of an eye…

In Random on May 7, 2015 at 1:15 am

To try and give this context I thought about this

  • Blackham School 9 years
  • Fairfield Prep 4 years
  • RIT 5 years
  • Altar Boy 5 years
  • Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts 6 years
  • Bentley 5 years
  • Current house 21 years
  • Bridgeport 18 years
  • Fatherhood 23 years
  • DEC 11 years
  • Teradyne 11 years
  • Intuit 3.5 years
  • Taught Sunday School 14 years
  • Constant Contact 3.5 years

Tonight I celebrate 25 years of marriage to Esther.  It’s in fact the longest engagement of anything I’ve done. If marriage were only to be a contractual merger of interests, I got the better deal. Esther was the full package when I met her, I was (and still am) a work in progress.  I must be getting better due to our 25 year collaboration because I’ve been told that at a minimum I clean up well. 🙂

I’m not going to give anyone specific advice on what you need to do or not do.  I will only offer this: It’s not luck, it’s not a game – it’s hard work for both people…sometimes it’s sheer joy and other times its tough disagreements…However, both people have to always assume positive intent, even when you disagree. That is what worked for us.  That’s as much as I’ve learned — after that you have to figure it out for yourself.

I’m a very fortunate person to have married my best friend; that makes it easy to enjoy the same stuff (except Science fiction, Lord of the Rings, and British humor… especially Monty Python – NO WAY it ain’t gonna happen).

I’m also so proud of the events of the next two days – our older son is about to graduate from Northeastern with more accolades than proud parents can hope for. I attribute the excellent young men both of our sons have become to her singularly tireless efforts over the years.  I had a few kick-saves here and there, but she kept the puck on the other end of the ice always looking for a shot on goal.

I wish you all as much happiness as I have had, and thank God for the blessing of marrying her 25 years ago.

The Story of Armenian Genocide survivors rebuilding their lives in the Middle East

In Random on April 25, 2015 at 8:41 pm

Below the dotted line you will find the story of my father from birth to 1956 when he came to the US.  My father, Joseph, died of lung cancer in 2000. While his health was declining, I sat with him over several occasions and typed out his recollections of his life as he dictated them to me.  This is a hodgepodge of recollections and I did not work hard to undo the immediate verbal order of the story to make it linear.  The first half of his life my father’s life was intertwined and inseparable from his father and major historical events of the middle part of the last century. My father himself was not a genocide survivor, but his father was.

His father, Pascal Armenag Chakmakjian, was born Armenag Chakmakjian in Adana, Turkey in 1900.  He took the name Pascal “little lamb” that was the nickname the friars from the Silesian orphanage and seminary he was in in Lebanon used to call him.  Pascal was an orphan caused by the genocide and he and his brothers and sister survived marching out of Adana into Lebanon.

Somewhere and sometime Pascal met Eugenie Boghosian and they married.  They had 5 children. Hovsep, Stepan, Mari, Ohaness, and Verjin.  Hovsep is the Armenian version of Joseph. My grandfather, a survivor in the midst of survivors always displayed pluck, an ability to see the common areas of opposing viewpoints and a gift of gab. My grandfather and my father (and my father’s siblings) had his gift of languages. Arabic, French, Italian, Turkish, Armenian, probably others like Hebrew and Aramaic were all being spoken by someone, and they Chakmakjian’s knew some combination of all of those.  I leave that thought with you as you read this, and you’ll see why all my grandfather’s gifts were important.  Eugenie died in 1964 a couple of months before I was born and therefore I never met her. Pascal died in 1970 in Bridgeport, CT and I do remember him.

My father was a bit of a different temperament than my grandfather, and as you will see that as the story progresses that my father begins to carve out his own life and his ways to do things.

As you read this, “I” “my” “me” generally refers to my father Joseph speaking in the first person.  “He” “his” “him” for a lot of the early part of the story is how he refers to his father, Pascal.  In a couple of cases I added parenthetical phrases in which I refer to “he” and in those cases, that is me talking about my father.

Let me say that this is a story of building a life, after the genocide.  My grandfather should have grown up in a Vineyard called Depebagh in Adana, where his father was a community leader.  He should have married there and had a particular life.  Then came ethnic cleansing and the tragedy of the genocide that started 100 years ago.  He ended up someplace else as an orphan and built a new life like all orphaned Armenian survivors of the genocide did.  Orphans.  Hundreds of orphans.  Thousands of orphans. I tell part of that story in another post. This is the story of how that survivor and his family made their circuitous journey through the middle east and eventually to the United States.  #TurkeyFailed #ArmeniaLives


Joseph Chakmakjian’s Story In his own words

As dictated to his son Armen over the summer of 2000

Covers his birth in 1926 to his arrival in the US in 1956

After graduating from school and because he knew some English, my father worked as a customs agent between Lebanon and Palestine. He had the kind of job where he was armed with a cane that had a silver cap and a silver tip.   While he had that job he got married to Eugenie Boghosian. He was so proud of his uniform, he would go to the market and buy a bunch of parsley and give it to a porter and ask that it be delivered to his “house”. Things went bad, so he got a job in the hospital in Bethlehem, but I don’t recollect the type of work. My father and mother were living in Bethlehem, and I was born in Jerusalem since they went to a hospital in Jerusalem to deliver me.  We stayed in Bethlehem for a while. My father changed many jobs.

There happened to be a patriarchate across from where my father had graduated from school, and there was a bishop he knew over there, and he finagled his way into a job offer. They promised him a job, some sort of agricultural work. He quit his job in Bethlehem and went to the job at the patriarchate.   He moved his wife and baby(me), and then they informed him that he didn’t have a job. He turned around in anger, he went and bought a revolver and threatened to kill the bishop. The people in the Silesian Orphanage that he grew up in called him back and said that rather than be an assassin, he could work teaching agriculture. (This was in Beit Jamal, otherwise known as the House of Camels, where they found St. Stephen’s mosaics and his tomb where he was buried)

I was there for 6 months and became ill and was sent back to Beit Jamal. Stepan was born in this time as well as Mary (first Brother and first sister). Stepan had the notoriety of being the first Christian ever born in Beit Jamal.

He worked this way until I was about 5 years old, and then he put me into a Dominican orphanage (with a bunch of French priests) to go to school in Nazareth.

An anecdote. Stepan was young, maybe 3 or 4, and a Silesian priest had a habit of handing out 5 mills (British currency) to the kids to go to spend on candy.   There was a meeting for all the teachers, and the priest informed my father that Stepan had gotten in line with the boys from the orphanage when they were getting their coins.

When I was about age 6, 3 of my father’s Armenian school graduates were in Jerusalem and they met with a lawyer (from a big family). This lawyer said that he had land in the vicinity of Nazareth (but way out), and told them that they can make an orchard there on the mountain and loan them an amount of money to buy equipment and a cow and cultivate the land. And whatever profit they made they kept and after 5 years he was going to bring a Jewish merchant to buy an acre or so and deduct what he loaned them and the rest of the money is theirs.   The reason for this generous deal was that if the land remained uncultivated, Bedouins or villagers would squat there. This land was very valuable since there were 7 springs there.   The landowner had already built a gate around it. The three graduates came to my father to have him inspect the deal. He went and talked to the lawyer and got into the deal himself, but got an extra portion for himself due to the fact that he was with a family. He figured that if he didn’t make it rich here with this opportunity, he couldn’t even make it in America.

Unfortunately, the Arab uprising started against the Jews and the British by the Arabs in 1936.   This dashed his dreams of a successful business.

Another anecdote. The living arrangements were that there were 5 barns. One end barn housed our family, and on the other side the 3 graduates. At one point the Bedouin revolutionaries came near the land to get a bribe.   The three graduates filled the roof with rocks and my father met the Bedouins and offered them any grain from the 3 real barns. They demurred and demanded that he get money for them when they returned the next day. My father put on his britches, got on a horse, and rode off to find the chief of the revolutionaries (yes he used the word chief). I was on the horse with him. He came to the village and began to ask for the chief.   When he was asking around, someone confronted him and asked him who he was to ask for the chief. He responded that he owned the land and wanted to talk to Chief. The took us to the him.

He explained his story to the Chief. He told them that his family is on the land with the 3 graduates and they were trying to make some money from the land. On one side there the kibbutz towns and he would sell all the vegetables to the Jews. The Arabs however would prevent him from selling to the Jews every once in a while because of obvious reasons. When the men came, my father explained, they were offered whatever he had in the barns. But the men wanted money. My father finished by saying that he came there under the mercy of the chief. He then presented the summation,

“If you prevent me from selling to the Jews (our source of income) where am I supposed to get the money to pay off your guys?”

The chief was reasonable and saw the dilemma.   He found out which group was browsing in that area and they brought so-and-so back to the chief’s place.

“Is it true you were in that area last night. You asked for money?”


“What did he offer you?”

“Grain, but we needed money for ammo.”

“Who authorized you to ask for a specific thing and not just to take whatever they offered?”

“No one.”

“You are supposed to take whatever you can, and not harass they people.   You are ordered not to go near there again, and if you cause trouble again, I’ll shoot you myself.”

Back to the main story. During this time John (Youngest Brother) was born. Eventually the land was so fertile my father grew onions and tomatoes, in really large bunches. But business was difficult since he was trying to sneak the food to sell to the Jews, and this could get someone killed. One of the graduates who played the accordion went to the kibbutz and stayed there.   The other two graduates went back to Jerusalem to talk to the lawyer.   It turned out that the lawyer political party was on the side of the British government. My father told him we had to run away and that we couldn’t grow anything without protection. The deal debt still needed to be settled. So my father told them there are orchards growing so you have to free us of that burden. He agreed.

On the way to Jerusalem, we stopped at Ramleh (Where Levon’s branch of the family live now). We stayed there because my father knew people there. During this time Virginia (younger sister) was born. Up to this point Mary (older sister) was the princess…but now there was a new princess.

My father got someone to lend him a home and a cow and then eventually a second cow.   My mother milked and fed the cows and made yogurt and sold the yogurt.   For a while a Jewish person came with small bottles, and offered to do business with her. Since it was the beginning of the revolution no contracts could be signed.   My father found a connection and got a job delivering crushed stone to where they were trying to build an airport. So the stone-crusher rental guy said they could split it 50/50 no contract. But when business got really good, the guy reneged.   My father went back and found his contacts and they loaned him money to rent his own stone-crusher. He thought he was going to strike it rich. Business was booming and he even bought more equipment and trucks. The revolution got tougher and tougher. Trucks were traveling 20 or 30 miles between quarry and airport and eventually the airport ran out of need for rocks. He couldn’t make payment on the equipment and eventually it was all repossessed. My father sold the cows to the bus company contacts to pay off the loan.

At this point we moved back to Jerusalem.   My father met up with 2 British attachés that frequented the convent when he was teaching there. These two guys had set up the convent with telegraph so that the convent could inform them if there was a problem. These men loved to hunt and were informed that “Mr Pascal” could show them the best places to hunt.   These guys and my father wound up being friends (Pringle and Parker were their names).   These were the guys who had given him his double-barreled shotgun.

When he was looking for work, he looked them up and got a job. There was a public works department (rollers and stuff) where he was pushing paperwork. Then rebels tried to invade Jerusalem. There were curfew hours and all the gates of the old city would be locked up. One day early in the morning, an airplane flew over and dropped leaflets that said everyone should stay locked in their homes and avoid even coming near the doorways or windows…the army was coming.   My father couldn’t go to work safely, so he was escorted to a hole in the great wall of Jerusalem. He suddenly found himself on the outside of the wall with his family stuck inside. At every intersection British Sharpshooters were positioned. We had a balcony that was on the street. Everyone had shutters, but the house we were staying in had louvered shutters on the balcony. The houses over there had multiple apartments where several families could reside.   One of those families was an old lady and her son.   Those two said that they smelled gunpowder and were talking to my mother and my grandmother and saying that we had a balcony where you can see what is going on on the street. So the old lady goes to the balcony and moved the louvre. She saw soldiers, called her son over, and they looked outside.   That time, a shot was fired from the street, using a bullet called dume-dume that breaks up into flakes.   The old lady gets it right in the skull, and the guy gets it in his left eye.   The lady dies and bleeds all over the house. The soldiers came up the house and talked to us:  “Didn’t you read the leaflet???”

The following day the soldiers moved out but there was still a curfew. They allowed 1 hour to go buy food and stuff. So we went to a Franciscan convent (I was about 10 years old at this point) where we got bread and money to rent homes. While we were there we talked to somebody…there is blood all over the place and a dead body. We can’t go back there.   So we moved into a convent house until my father came back.

We couldn’t stay too long in that house. So we rented an upper floor of another house. I was about 14 or 15 at this point. We stayed there until we left for Jordan in 1948. The place was in sight of the Dome of the Rock, and the Franciscan Tower with the Windsor Chimes. Greeks had 1 bell. This was the Christian quarter. We were ½ block from the Holy Sepulcher.   At five in the morning Stepan and I would start walking by candlelight to serve mass at the Holy Sepulcher through Golgotha about 25 or 30 stone steps. (Joseph begins describing all the different chapels and churches where he and Uncle Stepan served as altar boys, it was too much to record). In the center of Holy Sepulcher, I really needed to bend down to get in. We didn’t mind working there because we could stay in the sacristy where we would sneak hosts and wine.   Couldn’t do that upstairs in Golgotha because it was out in the open.

I finished 8th grade in school. I then learned a trade, namely repairing radiators. Anecdote: Some guy came in with a cigarette lighter. I soldered in a new piece and handed it to the boss. Boss looks it over and then hands it to the customer. Customer drops it again and breaks it because it is so hot.

My mother got me a job in the labor department. She was doing work (laundry and maid stuff) for the assistant “president” of the labor department.   It was a messenger job. What we had to do was to move the files from one place to another. They mark on the files where the file needs to go. We also had to use teletype equipment. We had to take messages to the main office or department.   In the winter we had to light the gas stoves to warm up the building. Some guy was showing me how to light them. And I saw that he kept lighting the paper. I was just out of the radiator job. I showed the guy how to wet the paper with kerosene. The guy was afraid that he was going to burn himself.

Without the possibility of promotion, I got bored of the job. I talked to my supervisor about it to no avail. So I talked to one of the Inspectors (3 Jewish and 1 Arab Inspectors). I explained that I could type 45 wpm, and that would pay a little more.   That was in the main office. A kind of position was created for me where I kept control of the files moving from the main office. At my insistence I got all files to come through me. This was just after WWII.

Another guy with a radiator shop told me that he was going to sell his shop. I told my father that since I knew the trade that this was a good deal. My father came and spoke with the guy and explained that without the cliental this was not going to be a thriving business.   So the guy agreed to work for a month as a partner.   There was a problem with one of the customers and it went before the mayor. Dede (this is Joseph using a word meaning my grandfather) explained that the guy was threatened and that is why he is selling the business. The mayor said “I like peacemakers”. So they solved the problem. Within a couple of days they guy was not so willing to give up the business. So the family was out 100 pounds again. Now I was out of my clean job and also couldn’t take working with the guy.

At this point I got a job working for the public works department with Uncle Stepan. It was some sort of job fixing batteries.   The foreman did business on the side installing electricity in the houses. Since the houses were all stone you had to use lead wire. So I gained another skill. The basic thing was a connection box.

When business slowed down Stepan found another job in the public works department. An electrician had one special gift, when bobby pins were short, extra wire was a treat to flirt with the girls in the office.

Then the British Government was ready to leave. No work again. Stepan got a job running electricity for a Franciscan priest. John acquired a small pistol. He used to play with it in abandoned buildings. I took it away. Then we decided to move to Jordan.

There were 3 families and they put all their stuff on a truck and went to Jordan except for Stepan, the lone blond Armenian and me. We crossed the Jordan river on a boat and there was a lady who did have a passport. When they asked her who were her kids she said all 12 (which included myself and Stepan). On the way we were crossing a valley and we stopped to let the car cool off since it was overheating. Some guy with a gun came by and started talking to the blond guy (who had a Jordanian passport but couldn’t speak Arabic well). They thought he was a Jew. So I started talking in Arabic to the guy and said that look he has a Jordanian passport. So the guy asked me if I had any identification. We had Palestinian/British passports…So they guy thought that we were Palestinian travelling with a Jew so we had to go to the closest town to a police department.   Somehow the chief recognized the blond guy and let him go but Stepan and I were put behind bars (under a staircase). We started talking to the other prisoners and found out that they were real criminals. Each of us had 100 pounds. We stayed up all night to protect ourselves and our money. The police said that if we wanted food they could order it and that it would cost 10 piasters. 3 or 4 loaves of pita and some roasted meat. Next morning they got some more food. The police recognized that we weren’t criminals so they let us sleep in the courtyard. The rest of the family found out what happened and a friend of my uncle (a schoolmate) called the judge in the town and they eventually let us go.Before we were let go, we were brought before the judge –

Judge: What did you do?

Joseph: We were waiting for the car to cool off. The bedoiun spoke to the blond guy who couldn’t speak Arabic. So we got arrested.

Judge: Okay you are free to go.

Somebody was waiting outside for us. We got on a bus to Amman. We also bought the Arabic headdress so that people would think we were Jordanians.

On the bus on the way to Amman people on the bus were complaining about those “traitorous” Palestinians who sold their land to the Jews and now “we” (Jordanians) have to fight for them. I kept saying “yes, yes, you are correct.” I had to listen to the difference in the accents between the Jordanian Arabic and the Palestinian Arab dialect, and respond to them in that way. Uncle Stepan was built like a tank and with his general silent nature, looked very intimidating anyway, so nobody even would even make eye contact with him on the bus.

We finally reached Amman and arrived at the house of “Doctor” Hagop’s, the friend that called the Judge, we were reunited with the rest of our family. At that place we met the Sheik who eventually helped my father get some land to work.

The Sheik offered us some corrugated tin and some land and said “do whatever you can do with this”, and we did.   We flattened the land and we put up a tin shack that was about 35 feet long and about 25 feet wide with a set of curtains to divide it into 2 rooms.

There was a long couch on one end make of wood slats and down pads. My father was famous for building these long soft couches.

My mother was like a saint. She worked all day for a couple of shillings and at one point bought a 10 liter bottle of raki so that they could save a buck refilling his bottle. Normally she would send John to the store to buy the raki in small quantities, with 50mills or a shilling and an empty fifth. She figured she could fill the fifth as needed and save some money. Much to her chagrin my father increased his intake. She worked very hard washing affluent peoples clothes. She’d get all their laundry, wash it, and hang it and iron it if necessary. She’d be on her feet all day long. The only upside was that they would provide her with meals.

At the time I’m not sure where we were working. Over there were a lot of people who extended pipes to their homes, exposed to the elements. In the winter these pipes would freeze and burst. We made some money fixing these pipes.

One day it happened that a contractor that I worked with when I did some furnace and air conditioning got me a job. We added the piping to a house in Jerusalem that was a spider web of a job. I was always amazed that it worked. When he came to Amman he found me and I started to work for him again. Work was great and he got a partner and got a job doing a hotel. I got work that I liked on the outside of the building and got ticked that I couldn’t also do some work on the inside.   He said the next job. The next job was on a mountain next to stream. I had to climb 144 step to get to the job. The whole walk from house up stairs would take me an hour. Had trouble with my boss on the first day because I cut up all the pieces first layed them out and then went to lunch. The boss came by at lunch and apparently was angry that nothing was attached yet so I quit.

Then, about the same time, there was a neighbor across the street that was an Armenian from Greece who had 2 children. He was a mason. So he asked my father one day to go with him to see if he could make the measurements for some of his work.   This proved to be very easy for my father. The guy was arguing with a customer about the size of a job. My father went and measured it and from the outside (of course the inside measurement was smaller) and gave his estimate.   When he convinced the other guy of the measurements. It was a happy ending for both sides and once again, Abu Yusuf, (arabic for father of Joseph, meaning Pascal) was the peacemaker.

During this time we tried to find steady work but it was hard because we weren’t Arabs and any business needed an Arab partner to be incorporated. We even attempted to get work as tinsmiths for the Army. But even that had an arbitrary test. They made me fashion a funnel out of tin, and even though I had been working on the radiators and whatnot, and did make an correctly shaped funnel, but it wasn’t “up to specification.”

The Greek-Armenian suggested to my father that together they could buy some wood and since most of the houses were on the small size, they could make forms for the roofs that were poured concrete. When a roof went up it was like a holiday, people gathering and having a cookout.

About this time my father took a contract to do some roofing on the side. So we hired a carpenter, we got what we have of the wood and rented some of the forms. We hired a carpenter who was pretty inept. I told my father that this guy didn’t know anything. Over at the coffee house my father met another carpenter and they decided on a partnership. He would buy some of the wood. I never liked his system. The walls wouldn’t be straight and plum and it was driving me crazy. Nothing would ever be square. The guy started complaining that he was doing all the work. Finally we came across these guys who were working with their uncle and he was gipping them. So they decided to go into business with my father. It was about a 50/50 deal. These guys were really good. They could set a straight wall 25 or 30 feet (which given they general level of skill seen up to this point was amazing). I told my father that these guys were really good. We did pretty good work. Stepan bent the steel by hand to make the trusses. The guy would make his calculations and designs on cigarette packs. He’d hand them to Stepan and he would bend the steel to that specification BY HAND. One day I asked him how he did his calculations. He told me that it was essentially his secret.   I kept watching him smoking his cigarettes.   I used to wait for him to throw away his cigarette packs and pick them up.   I figured out his system mathematically and it was very simple. So we worked for a while. His brother also worked for him. Eventually this guy made some excuses for about needing more business and the partnership broke up. My father said we needed a new engineer.   I declared that I was now the new engineer. We did lots of small jobs and things got pretty good.

Eventually my father started yelling at us that we needed to get up early in the morning to oversee the work, and because he needed to make the orders for the materials early and be there to meet the delivery. But he would never actually be where he was supposed to be. He was going off to the coffee houses and gambling. Sometimes he would play with the money that was needed to pay the workers. Stepan got fed up and quit. I stayed because it was my business but even then a point came where I couldn’t take it anymore. Since I was the one on-site they would complain to me when they wanted to get paid. In that day, people got paid daily. One day I went searching for him and found him in a coffee shop. I yelled like hell at him that he yelled at us to be with the workers and he would put in the orders for the deliveries and not be there so I was doing the brunt of the work. There was no way that I could run the workers and run the business and he would have to be there on-site.   No one at home knew that there was this blow up. Even the customers started to notice his absences and were complaining to me. He just would up and disappear.

At some point we got a sub-contract to do a job to build a 5 3-story mess hall/barracks. We were the first people to start digging the holes and the last people to erect any columns. My father would be asking for money from the british engineering firm and never have money to pay for the workers. The contractor called my father and payed him to let his workers go because the work his people were doing was too slow. So we lost that job. I told my father that I wouldn’t work with him anymore due to his behavior.

I met a British contractors engineer. Because I knew both English and Arabic and because I knew how to convert from British measurements to metric I stayed and worked in that office. I sent out the orders and measurements in the morning, and waited for them to come back with their next needs. There was a British inspector who had been watching me like a hawk. One day I was late for work due to a bus problem and the British Engineer was left on his own to send out the work for the day and he was overwhelmed without me around. The British inspector noticed that the engineer couldn’t do the conversions and whatnot.   When I finally came in I started working in earnest. One of the smart contractors asked the engineer to come and look at something and he went to the inspector to ask something. The inspector told the engineer to stay in his office and that Joseph was going to do the rounds with him.

At the end of the month we began to put concrete in the roof and you are only supposed to use a certain percentage of water.   The workers started complaining that the stuff was too thick. I told him that you are in a dry climate and you need more water. He trusted me and allowed them to put in more water. It worked out well. The engineer promised me good money. At the end of the month he tried to pay me 20 pounds for the month. I blew my stack. I even told the contractors and the inspector. I quit. They finished the job and they finished late.

I went back to where my father was working. My father had hired a mason from Beit Jamal who had been trained by another mason that had 1 eye and 1 arm (can you imagine?) but he was really good. When I saw the worksite it was a shambles. I asked one of the workers who had been with my father for a while why the area was so disorganized. He said that they had a carpenter that would use the big pieces to cut down for the small pieces. I talked with the mason and he said that my father was never around. I was out 1 month all the wood was destroyed. I cornered my father and told him that he was to tell me how much money was coming in so that I could keep track of how much we owed the workers. My father asked me how we were going to put on the roof. I told him that renting the wood from a guy who had special rules about the return of the wood was bankrupting the business and at a minimum was not leaving any money to pay the workers. The roofers would come for a day and you had to pay them then. So I told all the customers that when they paid my father that they were to inform me how much.   Some of them would actually call me over during the transaction, much to my father’s chagrin, and I would immediately demand the payment for the workers. I told him that at that point he was free to spend his cash any way he could. We used to sell old cement bags to make money to buy cigarettes. The old cement bags were used for groceries.

Notwithstanding my best efforts, the finances and the business did not improve. With all that rented wood cut and the cost of paying off the rental, there was nothing left. About this time @1954, we had been in correspondence with friends who had moved to the US. These friends knew somebody who was either a state or federal representative. This rep counseled the friend to tell my family to apply to move to the US. The reason was because UNICEF is going to pay off all the refugees either by give them money for business or giving them homes that they building (apartments) or pay their way to whatever country that the wished to move to. We took that advice and applied. There was a little problem in my case. They wanted to send the families separate from the young people. We thought that I could lose my chance to come. I mostly didn’t take care of the paperwork since I was busy with my work. I almost lost my chance to go.

There was an American friar who from their mountain could see the work being done at night to build a new marble altar on their mountain. This friar said that since they worked for free on their churches like Americans he would help too. Around this time Cardinal Agajanian came to bless the altar of our new church. The problem was that this church was on the highest mountain in Amman and the cross was higher than their minarets. The muslims got really mad. The king got involved much to the chagrin of the muslims and said that if you want your minaret to be higher, you can change the mountain height, or you can build on the mountain. This was just before Abdullah was assassinated in Jerusalem.

Once my paperwork got cleared up by Fr. Gamsaragan, who was a part of the Dashnak party, I was able to leave. In order to get to the US we went to Beirut where an Egyptian ship was waiting for us. We had 3 days before it left, and we visited all of our relatives in Beirut. Parties every night. The ship was a 15000 ton ship. It was a very good trip. We went by Cyprus, Corsica, Marseilles, Monaco, Genoa. In Monaco, we were stopped by the French Coast guard. The captain of our ship was a 2 war captain and was training 5 mates for the Egyptian navy. They recognized him and they let him pass. After Genoa, Livorno, and then they saw the leaning tower of Pisa. All of us were on this boat except for Stepan who was leaving on a new ship two weeks after us. When we passed through Gibraltar it was a very tight move because it was low tide.   We went through the Azores where the captain led the ship through an area with 2 rocks. The mates were afraid.

After the Azores we got caught in the Gulf Stream. The boat was swaying all around. The captain’s wife was really sick. 4 of the mates were sick. One of the mates who wasn’t sick explained to us how to balance standing up with the boat swaying all around. My father and the head of another family played tavloo, and didn’t get sick. I didn’t get sick. The rest of the passenger on the ship included a black woman in first class, a detective from Palestine, and the other family from Egypt. I took many pictures. One one particular day I asked the mate if he could show me the bridge. Since I was one of the only people who wasn’t seasick he obliged. He showed me all the equipment. I had to leave soon because he could get into trouble if he brought anybody on to the bridge.

One morning I went to the front of the ship (a la titanic) and it was a beautiful sight. Later I went to the stern and helped a mate bring in a rope.   I almost lost my grip on the rope. That was the last adventure. We saw the statue of liberty. They would not admit us to New York, so we disembarked in Hoboken, NJ.   There was nothing special about the ports compared to anything else we saw. Our sponsor, Hovanissian, greeted us there, and drove immediately in Bridgeport, CT. The first thing we noticed was that the music on the radio was all rock music. We thought people in America listened to Latin music and so we prepared ourselves for that. Rock and Roll was not that interesting.


My father Joseph died several weeks after we reached this point in the story.