The Last Runaway Review

The Last Runaway

Author: Tracy Chevalier

the-last-runaway

 

The author follows  Honor, a young Quaker women living in the early nineteenth century, as she leaves her English home to travel to America with her older sister to start a new life. Honor had decided to travel to America with her sister after the man she had been engaged to married another woman. The sister, Grace, was traveling to Ohio where she would marry a man she knew had who had emigrated to America earlier. After crossing the Atlantic and on the way to Ohio, Grace contacted Yellow Fever and died. As a result Honor found she was alone in a strange country. This set up the story which revolved around the Quaker family Grace intended to join in Ohio, other people she met there, and around the runaway slaves making their way through Ohio on the Underground Railroad.

The story explores human reactions generated by issues regarding runaway slaves and tensions within the Quaker community with regards to helping the runaways. The Quaker’s opposed slavery but there were dangers and consequences and not all Quaker’s were willing to accept the risks involved.

Adding to the stories strength is a accurate depiction of the environment and everyday life of the period. The books acknowledgements attested to the thoroughness of the research done in conjunction with the writing. The book’s account of milking by hand was one item that impressed me. I have some knowledge of the process of hand milking and the author, who had never had a close relation with a cow, provided an excellent description of the method and the satisfaction that can occur from the experience.

This is a story that deals with the nation’s struggle with the concept and practice of slavery, and also with the experience of life in America as it expanded to the western horizon. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in historical fiction.

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

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The Great Trump Wall

 

Image result for great china wall

 

The American or Trump Great Wall will never be built even if Trump wins the November 8, 2016 election. Even the United States is not stupid enough to believe building a physical wall, a tall wall that could not be climbed over or tunneled under, on our southern border would prevent people from entering the country illegally. Such an effort would be equivalent to building dozens of Hoover Dam’s and costing trillions of dollars. If you really want to build a more secure southern border you only need to improve and add to the technological infrastructure that already exists. Donald might prefer a masonry structure with his name emblazoned on it but it isn’t a solution to the problem it is intended to solve. It might serve as an attraction for tourist in 4016 AD when they tour remnants the Great Trump Wall, built by the greatest nation on earth when conned by the greatest huckster of all time.

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

 

Long Term Care Insurance

 

Senior's Pic

 

In previous blogs I have described that my current priority is providing long term care for my wife Joan who in the middle to late stages of Alzheimer’s. One result is that I have not been actively writing for the past couple of years. I took up writing sixteen years ago at the age of seventy three and self-published three novels and a number of short stories. My intent had been to determine if I had the ability to write things that people would be interested in reading. I spent enough time and energy to determine that I didn’t so closing that chapter of my life is not difficult. Now it is being determined if I have the ability to provide the care Joan needs now and in the future. The jury is still considering the matter.

When my wife and I were in our 60’s we became concerned about the possibility of the need for long term care. It was something we hoped we would never need but decided to buy a long term care insurance policy to take care of the need if it should occur. Buying the insurance made us feel responsible and we believed would take care of our long term care needs if needed. The premiums were substantial but we felt worth the protection provided. We didn’t give the matter a great deal of further thought until Joan was diagnosed as having dementia of the Alzheimer’s type when she was eighty two. At that point we began to understand how long term care insurance works.

One thing we learned was that although there is an inflation escalation feature in the policy, it was based on the national inflation numbers, not the inflation numbers that have been experienced in the medical field during the duration of our long term care insurance policy. The national rate has been at less than two percent and the medical inflation rates have been running in the double digits. As a result cost of full time nursing home cost could run two to three times the daily limits of our insurance payout. This could be hundreds of dollars a day. So unless a person has the means to cover the difference between the insurance payments and the long term care costs, the government would take over and assume costs not covered by the insurance. If there is a surviving spouse remaining assets will be assumed by the government except those needed to meet a spouses minimal needs.

I am able to care for my wife at the present time. However, since the long term care insurance will pay for home care within the limits provided in the policy I did apply for two hours of daily assistance; As a result I learned more about how long term care insurance works, at least with the company that we have our policy with. There is a lot of bureaucracy and control. They don’t make it easy to apply for or be approved for the policy benefits.

Naively I had thought I would like to have help for about three hours three days a week. I knew about the sixty day rendition requirement, but hadn’t noted that it had to be continuous for sixty days; every day, seven days a week for sixty days. OK, I proceeded as required. The care giving service had to be approved by the insurance company and then there has to be an approved care plan. While all this is going on you don’t know if the long term plan would be approved and won’t know until the rendition period is completed and it took the insurance company over a month to approve the long term care request after the rendition period.  Meanwhile I continued to pay the seventy dollar a day care service cost, a cost finely covered retroactively after the long term care was approval.

We continued the care service for about five months and then discontinued it. There were several reasons for discontinuing the service. One was that my wife did not want or believed she needed the services of a care giver. That is true as long as I am able to provide the care she needs. The care giver was more for my benefit than my wife’s benefit. Another reason is that that my wife would sometimes become angry and physically confront the care giver. It made it nearly impossible for the care giver to provide personal care for my wife. That the care giver stayed with us for as long as we kept the care services was pretty amazing. The experience became frustrating to everyone involved. To continue it would have been more difficult than doing without the service.

We only had one care giver during the time we had the care service. That person was dependable and capable. Other people we know have experienced a variety of caregivers with a variety of capabilities and level of dependability.  The agency we used paid the caregivers $15 an hour when working two hours, $13 an hour if working more than two hours. The caregivers provide their own transportation and have no benefits. Obviously you can’t expect highly qualified professional help for those kinds of wages. The cost to the user of this service is $35 an hour for a two hour period, reduced to $30 dollars an hour if the service if for more than two hours. So the cost of for the long term care is expensive while the pay to the providers of the service is poor.  There is a lot of overhead built into the system.

Knowing what I know today, I would not have bought a long term care insurance policy twenty- one years ago. The initial premium cost of $212 a month has nearly doubled over that period. I don’t know what the average premium has been but assume it is $300 per month. If I had invested the premiums at 6% I would have accumulated approximately $150, 000 which I would now have available to spend as I wish for long term care. I wouldn’t be tied to the insurance rules and regulations for the service and wouldn’t have to pay the overhead for the service. I could contract directly for the type of service I needed when I needed it. Now if I need twenty four hour long term care the insurance I have would only pay a small portion of it and if my other assets were limited they could soon be depleted and I would eventually become dependent on the government to cover the cost of my long term care. I would end up in the same situation as one with no insurance and no assets. On the other hand, if I did have enough assets to cover the cost of long term care, I wouldn’t need the insurance. So I recommend investing the money that would be used for long term insurance premiums and hope that you become wealthy enough that you can pay for long term care if needed. If not, in the current conditions, even with a comprehensive long term care insurance policy, you could become dependent on the government. The purpose of insurance is to protect against financial circumstances that could be ruinous. Currently, long term care insurance doesn’t provide that kind of protection.  It can provide the government assistance in paying part of the cost of care of for individuals who are covered by long term care insurance. That is not why I would want to invest in insurance.

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

 

 

Book Review- The Tenderness of Wolves

 

The Tenderness of Wolves

 

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney appeared to be a formidable reading group assignment with almost four hundred pages of dense type. After testing the first few chapters it seemed my concerns had been confirmed. At the same time it became obvious that the author was a skilled at weaving an interesting story and provided outstanding descriptions of people and places and also after working through first hundred pages I found it difficult to put the book down.  Despite a cast of characters that would fill a small book I had been hooked. The story is set in nineteenth century Canada in an area dominated by the fur trade and the Hudson Bay Company. A murder occurs in a Hudson Bay ruled settlement. The reason for the murder and by whom is the mystery to be solved. The early chapters of the book deal with setting up the characters and situation. The stories action intensified as the author put this large cast into motion and moved them like a chess player while the mystery deepens as more and more potential instigators’ and reasons for the terrible crime emerged. However, I was one of a number of readers in our reading group didn’t quite figure out who had done the murder after completing the book. That may have been the author’s intention. Ambiguity to the end.  An interesting read but as a person who has lived in the northern latitudes and experienced many winters, the descriptions of casual travel by foot and living outdoors for days during the deep winter by men and women, (The women in long skirts) seemed a little unrealistic. The books background information revealed that the author had never visited Canada. Possibly, boots on the ground might have made that aspect of the book more realistic. Another small complaint; the story had some detours that were interesting but didn’t move the story line to its conclusion. Maybe a little pruning would have made the novel less dense and formidable.

What a Person Is Changes Over Time

What One Is, Changes Over Time

A person’s title, what a person is or claims to be will likely change over time. When I began this blog I claimed to be an author. I started the effort to be an author at age seventy three. Before that my life had taken on a number of different roles and titles.

I had spent my early years on a South Dakota farm and  expected to be and wanted to be a farmer. In preparation for my future I became a full time farm worker on my parent’s farm after completing the eighth grade. Our farm was seven country miles from a high school. Busing for rural students hadn’t been considered by the high school at that time. Our family was recovering from the Great Depression and dirty thirties and high school was considered an inconvenient and an unnecessary expense. That had not been an unusual choice during that time and place for farm children.

I had finished the eighth grade about the time Pearl Harbor happened. Everyone followed the war events. I became intrigued by aviation and air war. I began to imagine myself as a fighter pilot in buzzing our home town and battling the enemy in a far off land. At the end of WWII many small towns, felt the need to have an airport associated with the town. Milbank South Dakota, our nearest town, bought a farm about two miles from our farm, laid out two cross wind grass strips and moved in a small building to act as an office. Two men, one an old time barnstormer and the other a recently discharged marine Corsair fighter pilot, who flew combat in the South Pacific, brought in two recently new J3 Cub Airplanes and were ready train locals on how to fly. I became one of their first customers. The ex-marine fighter pilot was my instructor.  It was like being taught by God. I soon had my private pilot’s license but my fighter pilot dreams faced the reality of only an eighth grade education. Although I had no good alternative, my interest in farming waned. As a result I enlisted in the Navy with no idea what I would end up doing there. My interest in aviation led me into training to be an Aviation Electronicsman which provided the best opportunity to become an aircraft crewman. My original enlistment would have expired in 1950 if the Korean War hadn’t interfered. I was given the choice of being extended or reenlisting.  A two hundred dollar bonus was being offered if one reenlisted. I considered that a no brainer and ended up spending seven years in the Navy. I flew 2495 hours as a crewman on patrol and logistic type aircraft from the time I finished Aviation Electronicsman training until I left the Navy. Although I never became a real pilot, I spent a lot of time in airplanes during that phase of my life. I considered myself to be a aircrewman during my navy service.

Having become eligible for the GI Bill as a result of the Korean War, I attended South Dakota State College and earned a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. I worked in the computer industry as an electrical engineer for thirty three years. During that time computer technology changed from room sized machines using vacuum tubes to personal computers with microchips with more capability than rooms filled with vacuum tube machines. I considered myself to be an engineer during that period of my life.

At age 63 I retired from engineering and changed directions. I went into real estate as a realtor working in home and commercial sales. I experienced a very steep learning curve during the early days of the real estate business and great change from my engineering experience. Financially I experienced some lousy years and some great years. That is the nature of the business. I considered myself to be a realtor during that phase of my life.

After ten years in real estate I decided to become an author. I had no background or training to back up that decision. As in the real estate business I had a very steep learning curve but different in that the after fifteen years the curve is still steep.  Although I self-published three novels and a number of short stories, my work has never been recognized by an agent or publisher. I am still struggling. Although I sometimes claimed to be an author, I really didn’t believe the claim. In any case my days as an aspiring author are diminishing as circumstances are changing what I am and what I do.

Four years ago my wife of over fifty years was diagnosed as having dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. Actually I started recognizing symptoms of memory lose going back over ten years ago. At the point where she wasn’t able to keep track of her prescription medications, a series of tests concluded that she was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. I am now my wife’s caretaker with all that implies. It now takes up a large part of my time and will ultimately take more time than I have. So I now identify myself as a caregiver.  It is a designation that I am comfortable with and capable of doing and thankful that I am able to provide this care and hope I’ll be able to provide it as long as it is needed. I do not consider it a burden and it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to provide it.

What will happen with the blog that is devoted to writing? I expect that we will see the blogs emphasis change to better reflect the blog masters changing responsibilities.

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

 

Book Review of Canoeing With the Cree

 

Canoeing With the Cree

Teenagers Undertake An Epic Journey

It is 1930 and two teenagers graduate from a Minneapolis high school. One of them, Eric Sevareid has no plans for the summer and a classmate; Walter Port talks him into joining him on a canoe trip he had been thinking about for some time. It would be canoeing from Minneapolis up the Minnesota River and Red River into Canada and to the Hudson Bay.  Walter knew enough about the plan to know there would be rivers and lakes all the way to Hudson Bay. They didn’t know a lot more about what such a journey would involve nor did they have the money or experience for such a trip.

 

Canoeing with the Cree Cover
However, as teen age boys, these details didn’t deter them. They made a list of items they thought they would need, somewhat pared down to fit their budget. The obtained a used eighteen foot square sterned canvas covered canoe for the trip. Eric, who had been the editor of the school paper, suggested they get a sponsor, maybe a paper that would print stories they would submit while they made the journey. They were turned down by some prospects but did find the Minneapolis Star interested and they were given a stipend to help them get started and with another payment if they finished the trip. And so they took off from Minneapolis on June seventeenth with worried parents waving and hoping they would return in a few days after facing the reality of what they were attempting to do. The trip up the Minnesota and Red River into Canada and Winnipeg had been mostly tedious and time consuming. They did find people along the route had been following them because of the stories being run in the Minneapolis Star. At times this became helpful when they ran into difficulties and also provided a chance to meet people who provided helpful information and also some free meals along the way. However, by the time they reached Winnipeg  they were worried because they were running behind their planned schedule and the possibility of not making it to Hudson Bay before the fall freeze up. In addition the most hazardous part of the trip lay ahead. On Lake Winnipeg they experienced ocean sized waves and winds that kept them off the lake for days making the completion of the journey before freeze up even less likely. After leaving Lake Winnipeg they faced five hundred miles of wilderness and little chance of getting help if they ran into trouble. If  the streams froze up they would have little chance of surviving with only the summer clothing they wore. Their maps were rudimentary and the possibility of becoming lost was added to their concerns. There was no GPS, no means of communicating with the outside world. They learned many of the things they needed to know by doing; such as how to maneuver the canoe through rapids that could have torn it apart.  Great story, well written by Eric Sevareid.

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

 

Free Copies of Finding the Way

Kindle users will be able to download a free copy of Finding the Way starting on May 7, 2016 through May 11, 2016.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

Editorial Reviews

Review

“A moving story of an immigrant’s journey to fulfill a dream to homestead land in America and realize his potential.” —BookWire Review

“Few American immigration stories have the vast scope this novel has. The journey covers much of what was then America.” —iUniverse Review

“The characters are believable in this exciting work of adventure, love, self-discovery and hard choices.” —Deadwood Adams Museum

“Author Alfred Wellnitz has done a great job in creating a story and characters that his readers will truly care about, and will think about long after the book is done.” –Readers Review

Cover 2015

While serving in the Prussian Army during the Franco Prussian war, Karl Mueller learns about the opportunity to homestead land in America. As the son of a landless peasant family this represented a great opportunity and he decides to immigrate to America

Karl meets Heinrich Schlicter while crossing the Atlantic and with little money between them after landing in Baltimore, the two team up. They take menial jobs to pay for food and shelter and to accumulate funds needed to work their way west where land can be homesteaded.

Karl and Heinrich first move to Chicago to work in the meat packing industry where Karl strives to accumulate enough money to fund his homestead plans. They find the meat packing work and living conditions oppressive and the compensation inadequate. They move onto the north woods of Wisconsin and work as lumberjacks for two winters. After Karl finally accumulates the funds needed to fulfill his plans, Heinrich convinces Karl to join him in the 1876 Black Hill’s gold rush.

The Black Hills adventure includes deadly encounters with Indians, a lively existence in a lawless Deadwood and Karl falling in love with a mixed blood Indian woman. After two years in the Black Hills and seven years of pursuing his dream, Karl, with the woman he loves, and Heinrich set out on a four hundred mile horseback ride to homestead fertile virgin prairie near the eastern edge of the Dakota Territory.

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

Free Kindle Copies of Finding the Way

Kindle users will be able to download a free copy of Finding the Way starting on May 7, 2016 through May 11, 2016.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

Editorial Reviews

Review

“A moving story of an immigrant’s journey to fulfill a dream to homestead land in America and realize his potential.” —BookWire Review

“Few American immigration stories have the vast scope this novel has. The journey covers much of what was then America.” —iUniverse Review

“The characters are believable in this exciting work of adventure, love, self-discovery and hard choices.” —Deadwood Adams Museum

“Author Alfred Wellnitz has done a great job in creating a story and characters that his readers will truly care about, and will think about long after the book is done.” –Readers Review

 

 

Cover 2015

 

While serving in the Prussian Army during the Franco Prussian war, Karl Mueller learns about the opportunity to homestead land in America. As the son of a landless peasant family this represented a great opportunity and he decides to immigrate to America

Karl meets Heinrich Schlicter while crossing the Atlantic and with little money between them after landing in Baltimore, the two team up. They take menial jobs to pay for food and shelter and to accumulate funds needed to work their way west where land can be homesteaded.

Karl and Heinrich first move to Chicago to work in the meat packing industry where Karl strives to accumulate enough money to fund his homestead plans. They find the meat packing work and living conditions oppressive and the compensation inadequate. They move onto the north woods of Wisconsin and work as lumberjacks for two winters. After Karl finally accumulates the funds needed to fulfill his plans, Heinrich convinces Karl to join him in the 1876 Black Hill’s gold rush.

The Black Hills adventure includes deadly encounters with Indians, a lively existence in a lawless Deadwood and Karl falling in love with a mixed blood Indian woman. After two years in the Black Hills and seven years of pursuing his dream, Karl, with the woman he loves, and Heinrich set out on a four hundred mile horseback ride to homestead fertile virgin prairie near the eastern edge of the Dakota Territory.

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

Plainsong Book Review

Book Review

Plainsong                           

Author: Kent Haruf

Plainsong Review

Planinsong is a story about ordinary people in a small town in eastern Colorado doing ordinary things. Although the book is about ordinary people doing ordinary things, I found it hard to put the book down when reading it and although the story plot sounds complicated and tracks two young brothers, ages nine and ten, the boy’s father, a girl seventeen years old and pregnant, and two bachelor farmer brothers, the action filled story moves quickly and is easy to follow. The two boys are doing boy things while in the process of losing their mother to mental illness while the father, a teacher, takes on the added responsibility of an only parent.  Meanwhile the story of the pregnant teenager follows a separate but parallel path that engages the boy’s father coworker at school and the two bachelor farmers. Eventually the stories merge in an uplifting and emotional climax. The author knows his subject, region and people and is able to describe them skillfully in a way that reveals this in a way that seems natural and authentic. From my perspective, a five star read.

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

Man on the Moon

Apollo Lift Off

 

APOLLO MOON ROCKET LIFTOFF

Man on the Moon; A Short Story

The Cold War was at its peak when President Kennedy first broached the idea of sending a man to the moon in a speech to a joint congressional audience in May of 1961. Part of the Cold War competition involved developing a superior capability in space and putting a man on the moon would be a dramatic demonstration of the United States capabilities.

The United States industrial complex took notice. This included the Data Action Corporation (DAC) Government Systems Division located in Minneapolis Minnesota. The DAC Government Systems management asked their marketing people to beat the bushes to see if they could find  opportunities related to the moon landing program.

Pete Jorden in the DAC Government Systems Washington sales office had maintained contact with NASA engineer Denny Johnson who had been a classmate at South Dakota State College where both had graduated as electrical engineers. Their relationship had been mostly social since the DAC Government Systems hadn’t been involved in any NASA programs.

Denny had grown up in a small town in western Minnesota and still had family there. His wife also came from that part of the country but they had been recently divorced. Denny, in his late thirties had an eye for attractive women and having an athletic build and strong features was in turn attractive to women. It had been a bad combination for the marriage.

Denny had spent two years in the army during World War II and went to college on the GI bill and started working for NASA when he graduated from South Dakota State. Computers were just emerging as useful devises and Denny ended up in a department evaluating computers for NASA applications. Since no entrenched computer experts existed Denny was able to move up quickly and had engineering sign off responsibility for computers his department used in its programs.

Pete called Denny and arranged for a lunch meeting.  He figured a lunch meeting with Denny would be a good place to start looking for moon landing business. Making the luncheon arrangement with Denny would be easy since Pete would be picking up the tab and they had a lot in common to talk about. Pete said he would be bringing along Ray Olson, a sales support person from Minneapolis.

Ray had recently come off a North Dakota wheat farm, made a stop at the North Dakota State College to pick up a BS in electrical engineering. He found design to be boring but marketing matched his personality and abilities perfectly. He loved to entertain customers by taking them to restaurants and hot spots locally in Minneapolis and away when visiting customers. He didn’t have a lot of technical depth but made up for it with a likable personality and enthusiasm. Ray Olson’s round face, blue eyes, blond hair and extremely fair skin made him look even younger that his thirty years. Pete Jorden on the other hand had technical credentials. He had been around the block a few times and was recognized as a capable system conceptualist. Pete wasn’t particularly social in part because he was an abstaining alcoholic and when it came to after meeting dinners and other entertainment he would often find some excuse for bringing Ray Olson out from Minneapolis to bolster that part of marketing.

They met at a K Street restaurant famous for its two hour lunches and prices to match. Lunch conversation started with Pete and Denny sharing recent information about some classmates that they had known while attending South Dakota State. Ray Olson had attended North Dakota State, and had to defend its reputation against that of South Dakota State, big rivals in sports and academics. The three had a lot in common, growing up in western Minnesota and the Dakotas, and then leaving the area after being trained as engineers, going to places where they could find work in their fields. Pete finally got around to asking Denny if he saw any need for any DAC equipment in any of the upcoming programs Denny was dealing with.

“Maybe,” Denny replied. “This moon landing thing by the end of the decade is turning NASA inside out and upside down. They are going to need a lot of stuff once they figure out what it is.”

Ray asked Denny if anyone had figured out how get to the moon and get back.

“The physicists at Redstone have come up with what they say is the best way to do it,” Denny answered. “What they call the best way sounds kind of scary to me. The lab put together a little animation that shows how it’s supposed to work. They have this spacecraft that will carry three people with hardly space for two that will fly to the moon and then orbit around it. This spacecraft has a moon lander attached to it. While the space craft orbits the moon the lander will be detached with two astronauts in it and descend and land on the moon.  After they land they will look around and walk around for a while. Then they take off and rendezvous’ with the orbiting spacecraft which then returns to earth and they splash down somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

“What are the odds of that happening? Ray asked. “It has to be close to zero. Don’t know if I would trust those physicist if I was an astronaut. Imagine being in that lander. Say you bang up the lander, can’t take off. You’re done. Nobody you can call for help. Maybe you do get off the moon and then can’t connect up with the spacecraft. Nobody had ever done this for real before. You’re done.”

Denny agreed. “I wouldn’t give you very good odds that this will go off without a glitch or two.” Denny hesitated, and then added, “There is a small computer to be used for spacecraft checkout before launch. Got any recommendations? We would like something off-the-shelf, don’t want to reinvent the wheel.

“Sure, we have the DAC6 and DAC6A, got some information on it in my briefcase.

Denny shrugged, “I’m familiar with the DAC6’s. They are using some of them on the Gemini program. Looks like a desk.”

Pete agreed. “It’s housed in a grey office desk with the computer parts in a drawer. The company genius, Clayton Douglas, designed it one weekend when he needed and input output device for his latest’s super computer. But it’s a fully functioning computer. It’s a mini computer but lots of capability; can run FORTRAN.”

“They want redundancy, think it can it do that?”

“It might take some modes. I don’t think you will find redundancy built into any off-the-self computers. Do you have specs?

“Not really, we don’t want to design a computer. There are requirements, what the computer has to do.”

“Can you get me a copy of those?” Pete asked.

“Can do. What kind of money are we talking about for a DAC6?”

“Less than fifty thousand for the DAC6A, unmodified.”

Denny looked surprised, “Sounds interesting.”

Ray had an idea, “I’m staying overnight, want to meet for dinner somewhere, bring a copy of the requirements, maybe do the town a little.”

Denny thought that would be a good idea, “Takes care of what to do for dinner tonight.”

Pete said he wouldn’t be able to make it but would meet Ray in the morning for breakfast at eight.

 

Ray looked a little peaked the next morning. “Damn, only got a couple of hours of sleep last night.”

“Long dinner?” Pete asked.

“That Denny knows how to party, met a couple of gals he knew, things went downhill from there.”

“Glad I didn’t go; did you get the requirements information?”

“Got two, one for you and one for me. I’m wondering how to show some of the expenses for last night on my trip report.”

Pete laughed, “That’ll be a good test of your creativity.”

 

Ray Olson delivered the spacecraft checkout computer requirements to Jerry Aden the DAC Government Systems Division design engineering manager. Jerry looked Ray over with a wary eye. Jerry looked, acted like and was a typical engineer. He wore a white shirt with a tie, no coat, a pocket protector that held a number two pencil, a pen and a six inch slide rule. His hair needed a trim. Jerry didn’t consider engineers that worked in marketing or other such activities to be real engineers.

“Can you get right on this,” Ray asked, “This has potential and we have an opportunity to get our ideas in before there’s a request for proposal (RFP).”

“You got a charge number? Jerry asked.

“Charge overhead while I get a number approved.”

“Easier to get a proposal number than charge to overhead.”

“Jes, how many hours do you need? Look, we have mentioned the DAC6A as a candidate. While you are eating your lunch you can scan the requirements and figure out if the DAC6A can do the job. If it can’t then we’ll have figure out what we have to do to make DAC6 or something else work.”

“OK. Means I’ll miss playing duplicate bridge during lunch. You’ll owe me.”

“Right, I’ll get us a contract so you can keep your job.

 

The next morning Ray checked with Jerry to see what he had learned about the requirements.

Jerry sat in his office drinking his first cup of coffee from the department party sized perk. He greeted Ray, “Hell, I was wasting my time. If you had read a page or two to the requirements even you could have figured out the DAC6A wouldn’t cut it.”

“True, but I had to get an expert opinion.”

“OK, so now if you are serious about this you will have to put a logic guy and a programmer on it for a couple of days and a memory guy and an input output peripherals person on this for a day each and a couple of days for myself. That is to come up with a system concept to meet the requirements. Don’t know if division management will spend that kind of money on something they have never heard about before. It might be some NASA engineer’s wet dream.

“Sounds like you are designing something from scratch, where does the DAC6A fit in? Ray asked.

“Maybe we can save the logo, not much else; maybe some of the logic boards. They are asking for complete redundancy between two computer systems, with a common memory shared by both computers, and two redundant input output (I/O) systems with redundant peripherals. I’m not aware of any existing computer system that can do what they are asking for. They describe an interrupt system that has to be invented. We need over a 100K of core memory in the computer main frames and double that in the memory modules. This is not a DAC6A.”

“How in hell are we going to sell something like you describe as off-the-shelf?”

“Your problem Ray. I don’t worry myself about those kinda problems but I’m sure no competition has anything like it off-the-shelf either.”

 

Ray brought Pete Jorden back from Washington D.C. to help convince division management to spend the money to come up with a system concept to satisfy the NASA requirements for a computer to use in the spacecraft automatic test system (ACE). Pete persuaded division management that DAC had an inside track as a computer supplier for the spacecraft ACE system. Ray got the funding and backing to pursue the perceived NASA opportunity.

When the computer system concept for the ACE system had been completed, reviewed and approved, Pete Jorden set up another meeting for Ray Olson and himself to meet with NASA’s Denny Johnson. They met in Denny’s office and Ray did an over the desk presentation of what DAC had designated as the DAC6G. It met all of the NASA ACE needs as spelled out in the requirements that Denny had provided to DAC. Ray showed a conceptual diagram that showed boxes that designated both computers interconnected with both memory boxes and two I/O boxes that connected to devices being tested and a bank of magnetic tape handlers.  Either computer could connect to either memory box which could connect to either I/O boxes.

Denny liked what he saw, said he would send information about it down to the Cape where a NASA team worked on the ACE concept. He divulged that GE will be the prime on the ACE system and they would like to develop a government funded computer system for the application. “They say there’s nothing off-the-shelf that can do the job. By the way what does the “G” in DAC6G stand for?”

“Government Systems,” Ray replied. “We are using the same circuit boards as the “A” uses, with some added types; it uses the “A” instruction set with some additions.  The memory and I/O units are new developments. We will repackage everything, no more grey office desks, lot of bright colors.

Denny wanted to know how the modes would be paid for. You know we want this off- the-shelf if possible..

Ray said the modes would be included in the unit price based on the estimated number of units to be sold. He added “You can bet it will be more than the 50K we were talking about for the DAC6A.”

Actually Ray didn’t know how the DAC6G modifications would be paid for. To include the cost in the price of the systems would mean DAC would be treating the “G” like a commercial product and amortizing the development cost over the estimated number of units to be sold. Company money would be at risk until the development costs were recovered. Government Systems Division wasn’t in that kind of business.

Pete asked the next obvious question, “How many systems would NASA need?”

“It’s been fluctuating around thirteen- fourteen systems,” Denny replied.

To Ray the number Denny mentioned wasn’t impressive although those were dual redundant systems so you could double the number but even that wouldn’t be an exciting number.  Getting management to go along with the off-the-shelf story might be a stretch.

Ray and Denny talked about dinner that evening and Pete decided to join them even though he knew it might be a long night. Pete had concerns about the NASA communities working on the ACE system not being aware of the existence of the DAC6G. Talking to Denny was kinda like preaching to the choir. The final decision about the ACE computer wouldn’t be made by him.

Denny suggested a watering hole with good food and mature clientele. During dinner and drinks and then after dinner drinks Pete drank carbonated water. Denny had put away three water and bourbon drinks and had his eyes on some of the women at the bar that appeared to be unattached. Despite Denny’s wandering interst Pete suggested talking about how to best get information about the DAC6G to NASA personnel working on the ACE program.

Denny responded by noting that the blond in a green dress sitting at the bar had been giving him the eye.

Ray checked out the blond, “Hell she’s old enough to be your mother.”

“Damn, my eyes must be going bad. Pete, what were you saying about computers?”

Pete repeated his question about how to inform NASA about the DAC6G. Denny, now on board said he would distribute the same DAC6G information he planned to send to the Cape to other NASA people involved in the ACE program.

Ray wondered if Denny could arrange to have Pete and him visit the people that would be getting the information. “Talk up the DAC6G, answer questions. How many groups are we talking about?”

“Half a dozen,” Denny replied. “We won’t have much time, the Apollo train has left the station and we have less than ten years to put a man on the moon.

 

Ray and Pete spent the next two months briefing NASA ACE system people about the DAC6G and trying to convince DAC management that this was a great opportunity for the company to become part of the Apollo program.

 

When the ACE RFP hit the streets the DAC Government Systems had no problem responding to requirements since they were written around the DAC6G system. Price was a different matter. The DAC proposal would feature the off-the-shelf DAC6G. The term off-the-shelf implied that any development cost of the DAC6G would be amortized and included in the recurring price of the DAC6G. Therein lay the conundrum. The DAC Government Systems Division was not in the business of developing products using company funds to be recovered in sale of the products developed.

DAC Government Systems Division was headed by a General Manager named Robert Glassman. Robert Glassman had held that position for a little over a year. Tenure of general managers of the Government Systems Division had a history of being short lived. Competition for government contracts in the defense and technology business was brutal. The Government Systems Division general managers were expected to grow the business and profits in this competitive market. Historically the proceeding general managers were able to grow the business or profits, but not both simultaneously. Bidding low might grow the business but hurt profits while maintaining profits might cost business growth.

Glassman felt confident enough that he could be successful that he moved his family to the Twin Cities and bought a home in a tony suburb.

Glassman had been kept informed of the ACE opportunity and the latest developments. Marketing claimed DAC had an inside track to supply the computer for the system. However when Glassman saw the backup for the pricing he was shocked. The non-recurring cost for the external memory and I/O units were included in the bid but the non-recurring for the DAC6G computer development did not appear. Glassman called the two men who claimed responsibility for marketing the DAC6G concept for use in the ACE system, asked them to meet him in his office the next morning.

Pete Jorden was in his Washington D.C. office when he got the call and took the red eye into Minneapolis to make the meeting. Ray Olson threw together information he thought he might need for the meeting.

Glassman greeted Pete and Ray by asking them where in hell they had buried the DAC6G development costs. Ray dug through his data and fished for some spread sheets.

While Ray searched for the spread sheets, Pete reminded Glassman that the DAC proposal was describing the DAC6G as an off-the-shelf product. NASA is familiar with the DAC6 products and the “G” is being promoted as part of the family.

Glassman, a heavy set middle aged man with a lot peaks and valleys in a rugged square face stared at Pete through deep set grey eyes. “Why?” He asked.

“NASA is looking for off-the-shelf hardware where possible and we’ve promoted the DAC6G as off-the-shelf.”

“Who is we?” Glassman asked.

The question caused Pete to realize that the “we” had been Ray and himself. They had been doing the NASA briefings and planting the idea that the “G” version of the DAC6 was off-the-shelf. “Well a lot of people” Pete replied.

“Be more specific, I like to know who I need to fire.”

At that point Ray came up with the spread sheet which showed that the DAC6G development costs had been amortized over a build of fifty units.

Glassman asked how many computers is NASA planning to buy.

“The RFQ ask for the delivery thirteen systems,” Ray replied, “Which will include twenty-six DAC6G computers.”

Glassman wanted to know who would buy the other twenty-four computers.

Ray had prepared an analysis of the market potential for the DAC6G justifying the fifty unit amortization, but the numbers were based for the most part from an input from NASA’s Denny Johnson that the price shouldn’t exceed $250 thousand.  The recurring price came out at $200 thousand and the development amortization for fifty units came to $40 thousand per unit so they priced the DAC6G at $245 thousand. It all worked out but it didn’t seem like the right answer for Glassman’s question. Ray instead talked about the analysis, the potential market.

Glassman wasn’t hearing any of it. His voice became louder as he asked “What in hell are you guys thinking?  We don’t have a budget for carrying any of the development cost on the books; Government Systems isn’t in that kind of business.”

Pete didn’t like the way the meeting was going. The DAC inside track on the procurement was about to be scuttled because of how the company was organized. He and Ray had busted their buts on this procurement. OK, so maybe we sold something we don’t exactly have, but not something that can’t be done. OK, DAC needs to take some financial risks to ensure we sew up the procurement.  So what else is new? It’s that kind of business.

Pete made an attempt to articulate his thoughts and concerns. “Because of our nearly off-the-shelf computer is able to satisfy the ACE system requirement we are in a favored position to win this program. If we include the full DAC6G development cost in our proposal we lose that advantage.”

“Nearly off-the-shelf,” Glassman huffed, “the numbers don’t support that.

Pete moved to why DAC should want to win the program. “This is a big chunk of business for our division; it establishes DAC as a NASA supplier in a significant historical event.”

Pete’s last argument touched Glassman in a vulnerable place. The ACE program would be a big chunk of business for the division, something needed to grow the business in the near term. Winning would as always entail financial and technical risks. It was these thoughts that caused Glassman to make his decision to approve the ACE proposal as prepared with the provision that DAC Defense Group Management would support the amortization of the DAC6G development cost.

The DAC Defense Group consisted of three divisions and had the wherewithal to manage the risk of amortizing the DAC6G development. The Defense Group Management approved the proposal that had been prepared with the understanding that Glassman’s job depended on the sale of at least fifty DAC6G computers.

 

DAC Government Systems Division won the ACE computer system program and executed the program well. The DAC6G meet all of the ACE system needs, proved to be reliable and never held up a launch.

However the Government Systems Division only succeeded in selling three more dual DAC6G systems for a total of six computers. The DAC6G had proved to be an excellent computer that made technical advances in redundant computer design and use but could not find customers who needed the capabilities it provided.

True to upper management’s stipulation that Glassman’s job depended on the sale of at least fifty DAC6G computers, he was invited to seek his opportunities at a place other than DAC.  However before Glassman had been given the opportunity to leave he had provided the same opportunity for Ray Olson. He would have done the same for Pete Jorden but Pete reported to a different chain of command.

Ray soon found a similar position with another defense industry company in St. Louis and he put DAC and the moon landing business behind him.  On 20 July 1969 he had been visiting a company on Long Island New York. After an early afternoon meeting he went to Kennedy Airport to catch a plane that would take him back to St. Louis. While walking through the airport lobby he noticed people crowding around a TV monitor. He remembered the moon landing was to happen that day and here it was, pictures from the Eagle as the Lunar Module settled down on the moon at the Tranquility Base. Ray felt a strong reaction to the scene on the TV monitor. He was watching a historic moment in the human experience in real time and he had contributed to making that happen. All the ups and downs of that experience, like losing his job didn’t matter at that moment. That he had been part of the team that made this happen was all that mattered.

 

 

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

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Copyright © 2016 by Alfred Wellnitz

 

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This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this short story are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

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