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Finding my roots

A friend asked me a question. I still haven’t found the answer.
In search of the answer, I found, preserved in Google’s cache (I don’t know how much longer it would have been there) my father’s family tree, going all the way back to 1746 in, of all places, New Jersey. (The furthest back I’d ever been able to go was about 1840.) Supposedly my Farquhar ancestor who came over on the boat was one John Farquhar, who arrived in either North Carolina or Virginia sometime in the 1730s. But my source on that is about as reliable as the Weekly World News.

It appears that John Farquhar was actually the brother of my direct ancestor, a Scotsman who was named, appropriately (I think), Adam Farquhar. And John did eventually end up heading south. Adam headed west.

I never could trace Adam’s family back. There’s a huge gap between 1729, Adam’s birth date, and 1382, when Farquhar Shaw, the founder of Clan Farquharson, lived–“Farquhar” used to be a Gaelic first name, which can be translated “beloved man” or “honest man,” but Shaw was so highly regarded that his descendants called themselves “Farquharson,” literally, “Son of Farquhar.” Later, some of his descendants shortened the last name back to “Farquhar.” So how are Adam and Farquhar Shaw related? All that’s known is that Adam’s father was born between 1700 and 1710. We don’t even know his first name.

Anglos have always had problems with the name “Farquhar”–it’s pronounced FAR-kwur, in case you’re wondering–but we always hear goofy variations of the pronounciation, and far-out spellings. Adam apparently often went by “Adam Forker.” The children of his second wife tended to retain the Scottish spelling and pronounciation, while the children of his first wife tended to go by “Forker.”

Adam’s Farquhars mostly ended up in Ohio, and a lot of his Forkers ended up further west, in Kansas. One of his descendants, Della Forker, married a Kansan named Walter Percy Chrysler–the founder of Chrysler Corporation.

How many people can say their half fourth cousin twice removed married Walter Chrysler?

Probably more than you think. My great great great grandfather Dr. Edward Andrew Farquhar had 11 kids.

Dr. Edward connects me to a trio of other people you’re likely to have heard of–at least if you’re American. Dr. Edward married Elizabeth Stratton, whose great great great grandmother was named Deborah Adams. Deborah Adams’ father was named John Adams, and he was born in Plymouth, Mass., in 1630. That fact made me really start to wonder. You’ve probably heard of some people named Adams from Massachusetts.

Declaration of Independence signer Samuel Adams and U.S. presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams were descended from an English immigrant named Henry Adams. Henry Adams’ grandfather, also named Henry Adams, had an older brother named Richard. Elizabeth Stratton is descended from Richard Adams, making her the sixth cousin three times removed of John and Samuel Adams. Which makes me the sixth cousin eight times removed of John and Samuel Adams.

This stuff is addictive.

Oh, and to answer the other obvious question: not counting the Adams family–which I’ve traced back to 1392 and expect to be able to go back at least one generation further–I can trace my earliest ancestor back to 1462, in England.

Pretentious Pontifications: Meet R. Collins Farquhar IV

Hello. David’s taking a day off. I’m sure I need no introduction. I am R. Collins Farquhar IV. After writing all the good parts of David’s book and not getting any credit whatsoever, I’ve spent the last couple of years working as a playwright, trying to follow in the footsteps of my slightly more famous ancestor, George Farquhar. It went OK. My ideal job, though, would allow me to sit on the floor all day and pontificate, and people, wowed by my vast intellect, would pay me.
I’m still waiting for the phone to ring. Something is very wrong with this world.

But a good friend did pass me an invitation last night. He’s a French nobleman, the closest thing I’ve found to being worthy of my company. His name is something along the lines of Jacques Luc Pepe “Ham’n’Cheese” Croissant Crepe de Raunche. He’s not quite worthy of my company, which is why I never bother to remember his proper name completely. He gets annoyed when I just call him Raunche. He gets even more annoyed when I call him Steve.

Raunche invited me to the new home he just finished building. “Will you be joining me for cigars and old cognac tonight?” he wrote me. “But of course,” I wrote back. And I offered to provide the music. In typical French fashion, he declined. Rudely.

I was going to fly in my private jet, but Raunche is in the habit of letting his dogs roam free on it. I didn’t want to dirty up my plane, so I drove. Well, actually, I was driven. I couldn’t help but notice he lives off a road called Bentley Park. It’s very appropriate, what with a Bentley being a car for a man who can’t quite handle a Rolls. I told him that upon my arrival, after he greeted me in a gruff voice.

He said he’s already got one.

Vivaldi was playing in the background. How cliche. I told him that too. He said something about taunting me a second time.

I’m still wondering if I went to the right place, because there were no cigars and no old cognac. No new cognac either, for that matter. All he had was Girl Scout cookies and chocolate soy milk. And Vivaldi. He didn’t even have the decency to play it on a tube receiver. It’s impossible to hear music the way it was meant to be heard on transistor equipment. But he insisted on playing it on — get this — a COMPUTER.

Was I wondering whether I went to the right house? Strike that thought. Playing Vivaldi on a computer is just like Raunche. He’s always more interested in trying to show off his computer skills than he is in doing things right.

So we sat around and talked about what he needed for his firewall. David fancies himself the computer expert in the family, but his intellect is no match for mine. He can’t possibly know as much as I know. He doesn’t even know as much as Raunche. So Raunche and I laid out some plans, and I tried not to think about David being out and about, doing middle-class things:

Intel D850MV motherboard (dual processor)
(2) 2.2 GHz Intel Pentium 4 CPUs
Adaptec 39160 dual-channel Ultra160 SCSI controller
(2) Seagate Cheetah X15 36LP 36-GB hard drives
Pioneer DVD-305S SCSI DVD-ROM drive
1 Quantum DLT 8000 40/80 GB tape drive
Asus V8200 GeForce3 video card
Intel Pro/1000 XT Gigabit Ethernet adapter
Microsoft humpback keyboard
5-button Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer optical mouse

Raunche and I argued about the specs for a long time. I wanted Fibre Channel hard drives, but Raunche didn’t like that idea. Finally I relented. This isn’t going to be a serious computer, after all. It’s just going to be a firewall and a router. Raunche asked about GeForce4 cards, but they’re still a little bit hard to find. I wouldn’t put anything less than a GeForce3 in a server-class machine, but I’m not too interested in waiting for a GeForce4. People say we never get anything done and just sit around pontificating too much already.

Raunche said the board would only take 2 GB of memory, but that’s nonsense. I read somewhere recently that Linux will run in as little as 4 MB of memory. Obviously that was a typo and they meant to say GB. So if Linux requires a minimum of 4 GB of memory, we should get 4 GB of memory. Obviously if we build a computer so that it will run Linux well, it will also run Windows well. That’s just common sense. Still, computer hardware has gotten so cheap, he’ll be able to build himself a nice simple little firewall for around $10,000.

I really wish Intel would go back to making memory and high-end video chipsets and cards, and I wish they would get into the SCSI controller business. There are two hardware companies I trust: Intel and Microsoft. Raunche agrees.

With our plans laid out, Raunche bid me adieu late in the night. I’d have liked to have stayed and debated longer, but the upper crust need their sleep.

As I left, I thought it was rather nice of me to drive in rather than flying in. That way I wouldn’t awaken his neighbors by taking off in a jet late at night. Not that they care, I’m sure. One must make provisions to live in such close proximity to the upper crust.

In fact, I’m sure some of the neighbors were disappointed not to get the chance to see my plane. I’ll have to get on to Raunche about having his runway cleaned.

PC slumming

Slumming. I spent a portion of the day Saturday messing around with an old 486-133. The DCE at church asked me what it would take to build an intranet. I said an old PC. So he handed me an old 486-133. I can’t shake this machine. I built this computer back in 1994 or so for a law firm. I performed several upgrades on it, including the 133 MHz upgrade (it started out as either a 33 or a 66, not sure which). Three years ago or so, when it was obsolete, the firm called me and asked me to haul it away. I asked my church if they wanted it. They did.
This 486-133 is available because it lost its old job to an old Pentium-200 I scrounged up and rebuilt. Trying to run anything more than a simple fileserver is pushing the limits of this machine. But I like pushing the limits. So I decided to see what I could do with it. I took it home and opened it up. Hmm, It had a 72-pin and 4 30-pin SIMM sockets free. I tried out an old 8-meg SIMM I had. It didn’t like it. I thought I remembered seeing some old 30-pin SIMMs laying around…. I found some. I put them in. It counted to 20. Nice.

I tried out a 420-meg HD I’d salvaged from somewhere or another. The system detected it as an 850. Curious. I disconnected the true-blue 850 in the box. It still detected the 420 as an 850. Mislabeled, perhaps? I’ve seen stranger things. So I started to install Linux. I was able to partition the drive, but then it emitted a click-o’-death when Debian tried to initialize the swap partition. So I did what I should have done in the first place. I took off the cover. Next time someone asks me how a hard drive works, I’ll be able to show them. So the 850 flew solo.

Then I added the last from a stash of old DEC Etherworks 3 NICs I had (one of my employer’s clients handed me a bag of them months ago and said, “Donate them to your cause.” I’ve been giving them away one by one ever since) and installed Debian 2.2. Debian installed a lot slower than it does on a Pentium.

I installed Squishdot. I found it could be tweaked to give a very professional look. I also found it horribly confusing because it’s so unlike any other content management tool I’ve used. I messed around with it for a long while, but it was slow. Really slow.

I tried some alternative kernels. No improvement to speak of. I added the noatime parameter to the root partition’s entry in /etc/fstab. That helped a little.

But still, it was swapping out and the CPU was topping out as well. The homepage was taking 18 seconds to load. That’s not good.

Apache serves up static Web pages just fine–no slower than any other computer. But this dynamic stuff might just be too much.

So as a last resort, I compiled a lo-fat kernel. I took 2.2.19 and basically answered no to all but the absolute essentials. Mouse? Forget it. I was half-tempted to leave out floppy support, but that would make maintenance a bit more difficult.

It’s unfortunate that I don’t have any matching pairs of SIMMs laying around. Otherwise I’d swap the board out for a Pentium-75. I’ve got a couple of ancient Socket 5 boards laying around, and at least one Pentium-75 CPU. I’ve got two mismatched 4s, but that’s asking for instability, and I’m not sure if a P75 with 8 megs is any improvement over a 486-133 with 20.

Compiles take a couple of hours. I really should have just compiled a .deb package on a faster machine and moved it over. It seems hard to believe that it wasn’t terribly long ago that a 486 was a perfectly workable computer, and now it feels like a PC/XT. But the 486’s heyday was 10 years ago now. And 20 years ago, the PC/XT wasn’t on the market yet, though its direct ancestor, the IBM PC, was. So I guess it’s not too unreasonable to regard this 486-133 as the Turbo XT of today.

How Linux could own the education market

How Linux could own the education market. I spent some time yesterday evening working on computers. They were contrasts to the extreme: One, a brand-spankin’ new 1 GHz AMD Duron system with 512MB of RAM and 80 GB of 7200-rpm storage (IDE, unfortunately–but for $800, what do you want?). The other was an elderly AST 486SX/25 running Windows 3.1 belonging to a local teacher who goes to my church.
She teaches kindergarten, and the AST used to be her home computer. When she bought a Compaq Presario a couple of years ago, she took the AST to school. It’s more useful there than in her basement, and there’d be no computer in her classroom if it weren’t for that.

I don’t understand why that is. As much as my sister jokes about it, we don’t exactly live in the ghetto. The school district has money, but it isn’t spending it on computers. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your point of view. The majority of people living in Oakville probably own home computers, so this probably isn’t contributing to the technology gap. But I wonder sometimes how things might have been if I’d been exposed to computers a few years earlier.

I was shocked how much I remembered about Windows 3.1. And I was able to figure out how to get her CD-ROM drive to play music CDs. Don’t ask me how; this was the first I’d messed with Windows 3.1 since 1994 and I’d prefer it stay that way–I was so impressed by Windows 3.1 that I’m one of the 12 people who actually went out and paid money for OS/2. I own actual, retail-box copies of OS/2 2.1, 3.0, and 4.0. And I remember distinctly thinking that her computer has enough memory to run OS/2 at least as well as it runs Windows 3.1…

I also remember distinctly thinking that my employer pays someone $15 a pound to haul better computers than hers away several times a year. We regard 486s as junk; low-end Pentiums may also go out, depending on whether the right person finds out about them beforehand. Usually they work just fine–the problem isn’t the computers, it’s people trying to run Internet Exploiter 6 and Office 2000 on them. They’d run Windows 95 and Office 95 perfectly fine.

But a lot of times we can’t give these old computers away because the licenses for the software that originally came with them are long gone. Old computers are useless without software, so no one would want them anyway.

Now, let me tell you something about kids. Kids don’t care much about the computers they use. As long as there’s software on them, they’ll use them. When I was a kid 20 years ago, I used Radio Shack TRS-80 computers at school. The next year, my family moved, and my new school had Commodore 64s. I couldn’t tell much difference. My next-door neighbor had a Radio Shack Color Computer. They were computers. The Commodores had better graphics, but from a usability standpoint, the biggest difference was where the cartridge slot was so you could change programs. Later on I took a summer class at the local junior college, learning about Apple IIs and IBM PCs. I adjusted smoothly. So did all the other kids in the class. Software was software.

Kids don’t care if the computer they’re using runs Windows or Mac OS or Linux. All they care about is whether there are cool programs to run.

So, businesses throw useless computers away, or they give useless computers to schools so they don’t have to pay someone to haul them away. And schools don’t generally know what to do with obsolete computers that lack software.

Linux won’t run fabulously on old 486s, but Debian with a lightweight window manager like IceWM will run OK. (Let’s face it, Windows 3.1 doesn’t run fabulously on them either–it crashes if you breathe wrong.) I know of a project to clone Oregon Trail on Linux. Great start. How about Sea Route to India? I remember playing that on C-64s at school. It may have been a type-in out of a magazine–I don’t remember where exactly it came from. In these violent times, Artillery might be too controversial, but it taught us early on about angles and forces. Artillery was an ancestor to games like Scorched Earth, but without the heavy-duty nukes. Close wasn’t good enough to win in Artillery. You had to be exact. And no blowing up the mountains between you and your opponents either. You had to figure out how to get over them.

But what about doing homework? By the time I was in the sixth grade, they were teaching us how to use word processors and databases and spreadsheets. AbiWord is a fabulous lightweight word processor. It gives you fonts and spell-checking and good page formatting. (I learned word processing on Bank Street Writer. AbiWord is a far, far cry from that. Frankly, I’d rather write a paper with vi than with Bank Street Writer.) Besides being feature-rich, AbiWord’s been lightning fast on every computer I’ve tried it on. Gnumeric is a nice, fast, capable spreadsheet. I don’t know of a free-form database, but I haven’t looked for one lately either. (I don’t think we need to be trying to teach our 6th graders SQL.)

But what about for younger kids? I remember a program called The Factory. The object was you combined chemicals to make monsters. Different chemicals made different monsters. I seem to remember you played around to see what chemicals would make which heads and torsos and arms. Then the computer started showing you monsters and you had to figure out what chemicals to give it to match them. I also remember a program called Snooper Troops. I don’t remember much else about it, other than it was a mystery and you went around looking for clues, and one of my classmates accidentally formatted the disk one day before any of us had managed to solve it. We couldn’t get the disk replaced, because it was out of print.

And Spinnaker had all sorts of simple titles for younger kids that let them tell stories and other stuff. It seemed cool at the time. But that was almost 20 years ago, so about all I remember was that sailboat logo and some corny theme music.

The other thing about those old days was that the majority of these programs were written in Basic. An ambitious teacher could modify them, to make them easier or harder, or improve the graphics a little. As we got older and learned to program, some of us would try our hand at making changes. You can’t do that anymore with Windows or Macintosh educational titles. Open source can bring all that back too, provided the programs are written in languages like Perl or Python. And it can give cash-strapped schools a way to get computers where kids can use them.

Now I’m wondering what it would take to write something like The Factory in Python…

It’s a girl!

Jon and Bethany, the recipients of the emergency baby shower last month, had a daughter Monday morning. Her name is Savannah. And that’s all the detail I know.
Bethany’s doctor took her off bedrest just after the first of the year. He estimated the baby’s weight at about 7.5 pounds then. I was talking to Jon then, and he told me about those classes pregnant women take in order to learn how to have a baby. (I know how to say it but absolutely no clue how to spell it, so I won’t embarrass myself any further.) Jon said they told the men that hand massages can really help during pregnancy, but warned not to press on a certain spot on the hand because it can induce labor. I filed that in my useless information bin.

A couple of weeks ago, Jon and Bethany were at a party. Jon mentioned Bethany was ready for the baby at any time. The room was ready, the house baby-proofed, they had a crib–the crib Jon slept in, and all of his ancestors on his dad’s side slept in, because it literally came with them on the boat from Germany. Everything was ready except the baby. I can’t imagine anyone blaming Bethany for being tired of carrying around a 7.5-pound infant inside her. If she were carrying one outside, she could make Jon carry his fair share of the time, after all.

I told Jon I couldn’t believe he’d forgotten about the spot. His eyes lit up. “The spot!” he hissed. He took his left hand in his right and started pressing. “It’s not working!” he hissed, with his trademark diabolical mad-scientist twinkle in his eye. He pointed his left hand at Bethany, like a remote control, and kept pressing. “It’s still not working!” he hissed. Bethany tried to act like she wasn’t paying attention.

A few minutes later, he walked over to Bethany and grabbed her hand. She said something about that feeling good. “Dave reminded me about the spot,” he said, that diabolical look returning.

She didn’t just shoot him one of those looks women make. She shot him The Look. If you’re male, you know exactly what look I’m talking about. If you’re female, imagine your guy trying to patch a leaky tire with the last of your favorite chocolate, then go look in the mirror. “Not now!” she said. Yelled. OK, she half-yelled it. With a really big howl of protest in her voice. You know, smooth fluctuating pitch, going up on the vowel, then down again and trailing off. “Wait until we get home!”

She was ready, but not quite that ready. Jon dropped her hand. He knows what’s good for him.

I talked to Bethany again on Friday. “Everyone tells me it must be a girl,” she said. “It can’t make up its mind.”

I left that comment alone. And I won’t repeat the other thing she said either. It’s one thing when girls say something about girls fluctuating between impatient and stubborn. It’s another thing when guys say it. I left that comment alone too. I just said one thing: “It’s good to be male.” She rolled her eyes at me.

And on Monday, Jan. 28, 2002, Savannah made up her mind. She’s here, and only about a week before her expected due date.