This is adapted from a tribute that my father made at the memorial of his father, Theodore Olson, after whom we are both named, who died in 2002 at the age of 97. I post it here for the online access of posterity, and to provide a portrayal of the scientific mindset of a family patriarch that influenced not only his students, but his entire family and several generations beyond. Here is my father’s rendition of our family history.
The start of this story goes back almost 150 years. In about 1860 in Norway, Hans Opjörden left home and went to Oslo. Hans had the misfortune to be the second son in his family, and that meant that his older brother would inherit the family farm. Hans left home and headed off to Oslo, where he went to work in a shipyard building boats. After a while he decided he really wanted to sail on the boats instead of just building them. At this time Norway was a province of Sweden. Shrewdly, Hans changed his name from Opjörden to Olson (with a Swedish spelling) and got Swedish sailing papers.
He went on several voyages and along the way befriended a shipmate named Peter Magnus Peterson. We can imagine a conversation between them based on what subsequently happened. Hans confided that he’d really wanted to be a farmer but had no prospects of getting land—and that being a sailor was not his “dream job”, but was good paying employment.
In 1965 we moved into a newly-built house on the outskirts of the town of Long Lake Minnesota. Today considered an “exurb” of Minneapolis, at that time it was a rural community at the very edge of urban influence. I turned twelve on the day we moved in and was starting to explore the possibilities presented to a teenager in those years.
Growing up in a home headed by a “ham” (an amateur radio operator), we often would hear my dad’s radio conversations with remote, distorted, and static-filled voices. In one such contact, the usual exchange of technical banter was augmented by a personal one. Dad mentioned that he had a “full house”, the poker hand, in describing his children: three boys, and a pair of girls.
We all overheard such over-the-air dialogs, as well as evenings
filled with the clicks and beeps of Morse code. Such are the experiences of the children of a zealous
But it has been a very long time since we were all together for any extended time under the same roof. My dad’s Morse code telegraph key went silent a few years ago, and it is the second passing of a parent that now brings us together to figure out the final disposition of their possessions.
The last time we spent this much time in such proximity we
were on a family backpacking trip in 1972.
It was a wonderful and new shared experience, but as teenagers there was
always plenty to bicker about. Some
things never change.
And although we still sometimes act like squabbling
siblings, the things we argue about are no longer the outrages of personal
space violations (“Mo-om, he’s looking at me funny”). Instead, they are the banalities of politics. On the things that matter, we all seem to
Over the course of four days we came together under the roof
of the house our parents enjoyed at the end of their lives and we applied our individual
strengths and skills to the task at hand.
We unearthed familiar artifacts, discovered old photos, revived faded
memories, and re-told family stories as the contents of a very full house were
processed by the “full house” of siblings.
When we consider the impact of computer graphics we usually think
of Hollywood motion picture special-effects, or beautifully crafted images and
commercials from high-end marketing firms, which both seem like products of the
east and west coasts. We don’t think of midwestern
artists or public university departments as being part of that world. Yet this is exactly where much of the
pioneering work in computer graphics was done and its commercialization was
On April 8, a friend joined me to observe Hale-Bopp at my
nearby and nearly-dark site at Lake Zumbra.
We enjoyed watching the very young moon set, then went about preparing
to take some pictures. I was hoping to get a shot taken at a smaller lens
aperture so the stars would have less distortion than in my earlier photos.
I thought that the view of comet Hale-Bopp over a cityscape would make a striking photograph. There were only certain view angles and observing times that worked however. To get the comet to hang over downtown Minneapolis in March, the time worked out to be around 3:00 am along a northeast line of sight. Surprisingly few vantage points existed; the streets headed off in the wrong direction, or the view was obscured by trees, buildings or streetlights.
This picture was taken with a Kiev-88, which is a
Russian-made clone of a Hasselblad (a
high quality camera that was taken to
the moon). It uses the larger size 120
format film. A colleague suggested that
this unused camera should be stored in my office instead of his. And since I had no use for it there, I
decided I should try it out on one of my comet photo outings.
Another challenge in making photographs of the night sky
On a summer camping trip with my family some years ago, I attempted to make a star trail picture showing Mt Hood in Oregon as reflected in one of the nearby alpine lakes. Unfortunately, that remote location was not quite remote enough, and I found that other campers were intruding on my composition.
Taking pictures at night is often a
solo experience, and while it is true that there are times when one is quite
alone, there are plenty of times when the abundance of humans on the planet provides
company, desired or not.
I was 16 years old when Apollo-11 landed on the moon. Color television had been invented but most TVs were still black and white. I had seen a few color televisions on display and in other homes, but the color was usually awful, partly because the broadcasting signals had to be compatible with black and white sets.