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death of a close friend

2014-02-09 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- I have been reticent because I have been in shock. I am stunned and paralyzed because my close friend Bruce Lowerre died in an airplane accident.

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Bruce and I met at work. The research institute we worked for is known for inventing the computer mouse (I knew Dave Engelbart -- his wife told me how she renamed the turtle the mouse). The research team that Bruce and I belonged to later developed SIRI, the speech recognition software used in Apple products.

Bruce was a decorated researcher. His invention (the beam search algorithm) is still taught in computer science classes today.

He started his career in chemistry (his first BS was in that area), but became enthralled with computers when, as an undergraduate student, he was hired by a local bank to write computer software. CMU initially rejected Bruce’s application for graduate studies in computer science because CMU believed solid training in logic was necessary. So Bruce earned a BS in mathematics (in the 1970s, computer science was not taught at the undergraduate level), went to CMU, studied under Raj Reddy, invented the beam search algorithm, and earned his PhD.

Bruce was clever with his hands. He brought his home-made telescope to his honeymoon. He flew radio-controlled blimps at HP labs, his workplace at the time. He built toys for children of his friends.

Bruce loved what he called bar room music. He often played the piano for Noriko and me.

But his most serious love was aviation. He earned his private pilot license in 35 hours (the legal minimum allowed), and continued with his instrument rating, commercial pilot license, and flight instructor certificate. I was one of his students. Through Bruce I learned the fascination of floatplanes. I earned my private pilot, single-engine sea at Dave Wiley’s seaplane base. Bruce had almost 2000 hours of flight time. I had much less, but at one point had more floatplane time than him. Bruce and I flew floatplanes together in Florida and Washington.

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As a young man, Bruce had become infatuated by the Spencer AIrCar, a wooden amphibious airplane with a boat-shaped hull and retractable wheels. Bruce resolved to build one himself. He obtained the plans for the aircraft, and bought or fabricated parts. On many occasions, I watched him working on his airplane, and sometimes handed him tools or parts. I never helped with the actual construction though, because I knew he wanted to claim he had built it all by himself.

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After many years, his airplane began to take shape. Noriko and I rode in the airplane on the ground (we enjoyed a high-speed taxi up and down the runway) but we never flew in it, because federal regulations require that experimental airplanes first be flown for at least 40 flight hours with no passengers, in order to test for safety.

It was during this period of testing that Bruce was killed.

In late September 2013, two days before his fatal flight, I called him in Florida from Oregon. He told me of his intention to fly to Lake Okeechobee that weekend, partly to observe issues with the exhaust manifold. The engine had either been running hotter than it was supposed to, or the exhaust manifold was unable to handle normally expected temperatures. I wished him well, and promised to visit him as soon as he could take passengers.

I did not learn of his death until after New Year’s. A Christmas card from Bruce's sister Edith told me the terrible news. Dazed, I read various news articles, a preliminary report from the NTSB, and a closed online forum for builders of the Spencer AirCar.

I had been worried because he hadn't replied to my email nor phone calls. I kept leaving messages on his voicemail. This was not the first time Bruce was incommunicado, however. There were times when he was offline for months on end, usually due to networking problems with his internet provider. I was however concerned enough to dig up Edith's mailing address (she doesn't use email) and had planned on writing her.

I am crestfallen with the death of my friend. When Dave Wiley died in the floatplane that I had been trained in, I essentially stopped flying. With Bruce gone, I may never fly again, even to renew my license (I need to fly with an instructor and pass a knowledge and skill test every 2 years). The cockpit would remind me of the friends I lost.



Below are pictures from September 2011, the last time we visited Bruce in Florida.

At his hangar, Bruce shows me an airplane ride machine he is building for his great-nephew and great-niece. A leaf blower gives children the sensation of flying.
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Bruce and I mess with the engine cowling. The propeller of the Spencer AirCar faces rearward.
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Bruce takes Noriko and me on a high-speed taxi ride.
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The Spencer AirCar has dual controls, but the right seat pilot almost never flies the airplane.
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We did about 60 knots (about 70 mph) on the runway.
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Video of the high-speed taxi. 110906_high_speed_taxi_3

Friends unconditionally embrace their friends’ passions.
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Bruce signs me off for my biennial flight review. We flew a different airplane (a Cessna 150) for my review.
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Bruce, Edith, Noriko and I dined richly every day. This is the Big Bear Brewery.
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We lost Emily (Bruce’s wife, 2nd from left) and her mom Agnes (far left) several years ago. Now Bruce. We miss you so.
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Noriko believes that Bruce and Emily are now happy. I hope so too. But at this moment I am inconsolable.

depoe bay

2014-01-02 DEPOE BAY, OREGON -- Noriko and I enjoyed an afternoon in Depoe Bay, a tiny town 20 minutes south of where we live.

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The Oregon coast is rugged. Cliffs are common. Our city has sandy beaches, but for the most part, the coastline is rocky forest.

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Depoe Bay has what they call a Sea Wall, where US highway 101 runs along the coast.

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Tiny shops line the highway.

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Decorating gardens with windmills is popular on our windy coast.

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We bought a flying disc for our ultimate team Paddy.

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Depoe Bay claims to have the world’s smallest navigable harbor. The boathouse on the back left is for the Coast Guard. The boat on the front left takes tourists to watch whales.

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We watched from the Sea Wall.

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Gulls are easy to spot.

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The whales were far away. The dark shape on the left is a whale splashing water. The object on the right is a boat for tourists.

happy new year

2014-01-01 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON -- Noriko and I had toshikoshi-soba on New Year’s eve, and mochi and otoso on New Year’s day.

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Soba cooking on an American kitchen stovetop (I call them ranges but most people call them stovetops).

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The weather has been nice. We saw a gorgeous sunset from our dining room.

year-end vacation

2013-12-29 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON -- Noriko and I are relaxing at the end of the year.

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The weather has been good during our stay. We’re lucky -- it snowed 20 cm a few weeks ago.

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Coffee and internet at Beachtown Coffee.

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I got a new, fast laptop. I like my previous MacOS 10.6.8 much better than the new MacOS 10.9.1.

christmas party

2013-12-25 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- We celebrated Christmas a week early on 2013-12-18 in wed[1234] in room E215. We decorated the room and had fun all day long! Students, download your pictures from Glexa.

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