Archive for May, 2010

Letters to Dad – A Memorial Day Post

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Dad's 75th Birthday Memory Book

Almost twelve years ago, my sister Cally made a 75th Birthday Memory Book for Dad. It included letters from more than two dozen friends and family members, telling their memories of him.

At Dad’s Memorial Service in Indiana earlier this month, I was struck by how several of the short speeches and memories were almost word-for-word the same as those in the letters from this book.

On Memorial Day, it is a time to remember. And these are the most complete memories of Dad that I have ever seen written down. If you don’t read any other letter, do read the one from Robin. It’s a poignant note between brothers, both now lost in a span of some 16 short months.

Some of the others follow after the break. You can click on each page to get a larger image.

Robin Steussy, Dad’s brother:


Lake Santee, 1966 and 1967

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Watercolor from a photograph, 1969. Original last seen at Parkinsons' house.

It has taken me two trips and multiple efforts to digitize the family book from Spring 1966 to Spring 1967. The photos have adhered to the plastic and neither camera scans nor flatbed scans will smooth the wrinkles. Nonetheless, here is the complete book – color corrected for age. The full images are there as well, just choose the “Download” option.

Let me know what you think. The photos are here.

Trashed by Google

Friday, May 28th, 2010

For the last two or three years, I’ve been running a shadow account through Google’s Gmail. I’ve been doing it primary as a way to filter spam off-site while keeping all mail here on my server.

In running a small business, I can’t trust spam filters. What if it decides to trash an email from a new, important client? Or, more likely, an important translator running off an email account on a spotty server. And Google has run an exemplary spam filtering program, which I use primary to feed to my smartphones.

But as with all things on the internet, nothing stays the same. On Monday, we started receiving notices from Google that the server was going to be listed as a spam server. This would mean that no mail from our server would be delivered to Gmail addresses. While this would not affect client emails, a lot of friends and almost half of our translators run their mail through Google.

I spent a harried morning putting together the standard package for spam filtering for a Linux server. Even the standard installation for a plain vanilla setup like mine required handcoding and tweeking just to get it to work (Amavis-new, ClamAV and Spamassassin). After a day, I had the installation complete. All spam now goes into its own email account for later review, and we get a spam-free output directly from the server.

On a non-busy day like the last twenty-four hours, we get about 50 non-spam emails (“ham”). We also logged some 802 spam messages and 25 virus-laden emails. Since all of those were being forward unfiltered to Gmail, I can understand why an algorithm suddenly decided that we might be a spam server. Testing today on deliveries to Gmail show that email is being delivered. No problem.

Chinese Ed

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Shi En De - my Chinese name

Yesterday, part of the day was spent working on some very old brain cells. I had to recreate my Chinese name, given to me at Bloomington in 1988 and unused since 1991.

It took awhile, but I got it done.

Seattle Filmworks

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Back in the 1990’s, Seattle Filmworks offered a great deal. Free film as long as you let them handle the processing and printing. And, being a cutting edge company, they send you digital scans of your photos on disk as part of their processing. Great deal, no!?

What Seattle Filmworks (now Photoworks) didn’t tell their customers was that they were selling the tail ends of expired movie film. Only special processing equipment could handle the film, which frequently had significant problems with color and density. In addition, the digital images were extremely degraded.

Do you see the image above? It would take two floppy discs just to hold the picture of the disc. In order to squeeze a roll of film (~20 photos) onto one disc, they had to lower the resolution immensely. Even when Seattle Filmworks started sending CD’s with photos on them, the digital images remained degraded so that customers were forced to come back for prints.

Nic and Marti at Thanksgiving, 1997. Rescued from a Seattle Filmworks disc.

I tried over the weekend to rescue Mom’s 508 images from Thanksgiving 1997 to her 50th Anniversary in August 1999.

Playing croquet in Santa Barbara, February 1998. Image rescued from Seattle Filmworks.

The images I got are viewable, but not great. One cool thing is that I have every photo taken for almost three years.

On the Cusp

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Ed Steussy, Parker Elementary School, 3rd Grade, Mrs. Robinson's class, 1972

This post is in answer to JR’s question on Facebook, “Great picture ! Where does Ed come up with these ? Does he save everything?”

Simple question, long answer. We’re on the cusp of a fundamental change in human history: digital artifacts vs. physical objects. The key here is that digital is really, really different. Let me walk you through my journey.

About 2005, I realized that taking digital photos was a very different experience from film. Obviously, not using film is a great improvement in many ways — I can see a photo immediately and I can erase any photo I don’t want. But these are not the key, culture-shaking changes. One key difference is price: digital is free (or, from an economic perspective, the marginal cost of each additional image is zero). This means lots of pictures for even small events. When I was 25 and traveled around the world for eight months, I took 504 photos. Today, I’ll easily shoot 200 pictures at a child’s birthday party.

Nicholas Freitag's Deed to the family farm in Wisconsin, 1869

Another difference is the ability to make perfect copies, again for free. I have complete copies of all of my 27,000 photos in no fewer than five separate places, including two laptops. I also have 5000 of my photos from the past year on my cellphone. The very best photos are shared on Facebook and the Steussy Ranch website, which make them widely (Facebook) or universally ( available.

Low cost and increased availability/usability are two key elements in the change. Realizing this, I start using my camera differently. When one of the kids brings home a test or makes a drawing, I take a photo. When I’m in my brothers’ or sisters’, aunt’s or parent’s houses, I’ll take photos of the key family pictures they have hanging. That way, I have my own copy. Business card from someone? Have to use the camera on it before I inevitably lose it. I’ve been doing this now for five years. And all of the images are in a 27,000 strong database that resides comfortably in my laptop (with a complete copy in my wife’s laptop).

The first page of my father's diary. Starts at age 10, probably 1933. First dated entry, July 1938.

Digitizing pre-digital images and records is an essential part of this database. While virtually everything created since 2005 has a digital component, and hence is stored somewhere where it is likely to be saved, most things before then and everything prior to 1995 needs to be recorded digitally in order to be preserved.

“But what about when your computer crashes or dies?” Aunt Mary asks. Good question. Since my computers hold a lot of critical business and personal data, I have a highly paranoid backup scheme. I have no fewer than five backups of my image database, and they are constantly maintained. From a culture-wide perspective, images that I post here on the Steussy Ranch are immediately copied by Google, Yahoo, Bing, the NSA, Baidu and a host of other private and public databases. Visit the Way Back Machine to see a very public version of old internet data. Once an image is on the open internet for a few days, you can assume that it will be indefinitely preserved in several places.

Maria, Unknown, Rufus (boy), Unknown, Unknown, Ruth Fretiag (girl). Undated - approx. 1918.

Charles Stross warns of a post-digital society which is incapable of forgetting, while our personal pre-digital histories deteriorate or get lost or forgotten. We’re five to fifteen years after the cusp of forgetting. When I see something important from the pre-digital era, I snap a photo and keep it. Photos of grandparents long past, family vacations from the 1960’s or 1970’s, pictures of the family dog I grew up with, scrapbooks from the 50’s and 60’s; these are what I save.

Dad. 1975.

When my father passed away earlier this month, there was one picture that we all remembered. Dad standing over the city of Amsterdam, enjoying a glass of Heineken beer after a tour of the brewery. This was Dad at his best in so many ways, captured on film by my sister, Cally, in 1975. One day, around summer 2005, I was at Cally’s house and saw it hanging on the wall. I snapped a photo of it. By 2010, it had been relegated to the basement, forgotten. The digital image I took then was the source of the photo that ran in the Courier Times, the Indianapolis Star and other places.

I’m not naturally inclined to be a packrat. But this digital collection of photos and images, letters and signatures, diaries and thoughts, dovetails with my interest in computers. So, I’ve enjoyed copying all of the photo albums from my youth, third grade school photos, pictures of my ancestors from the ninteeth century and the like and curating a database for them all.

Besides, someone will want all of this someday. I’m sure.

Calling card for my grandfather, Solon Boston Woodfin, Jr. Died 1922.

Canada, Summer 1982

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Ed (19), Chris (15), Dad (58). Canada, summer 1982

From Mom’s iPad

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Going to Indiana

Monday, May 17th, 2010

I’m headed back to Indiana for three days later tonight. The biggest reason is to be with Mom, since she just lost the biggest part of her life just two weeks ago. I’ll help set up her iPad and make sure that she has all of her photos put together on it. I’ll also comb through the photo archives at the condo to see what I can find to scan and record.

Gabi will handle the four kids on her own in California. We’re still beside ourselves with the Temecula Preparatory acceptance for Camilla.

And China is now only four weeks away.

Five Years of Difference

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Three images from different times. Click for a larger image.