30 September 2012


I had been introduced to the followers of R. J. Rushdoony and the "Tyler Theology" as a very new Christian, still living in Honolulu.  During the three years we lived in Auckland I read as much as I could get my hands on of the writings of Rushdoony himself, of Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, and David Chilton.  All these writers had in common the theonomic idea - the idea that the Law of God as contained in the Bible ought to be our guide and rule, not only for our personal lives, but for society.  The great project of these men and their followers was that of Christian Reconstruction - the idea that the work of Christians ought to be to reform society in line with Biblical law - including, for many of them, the direct application of Old Testament laws - even, in some cases, of the dietary laws.

Such an idea is almost a natural outcome of a high view of the Bible - of the Bible, not only as containing the Word of God, but as being something like a wholly adequate guide to life.  If there is no God-appointed human authority to apply the Bible to our lives - if, in the Protestant conception, we are obliged to place everything in direct relation to the Bible - then the less one requires human judgement to guide life, the better.

I was attracted to the idea at first, but gradually came to see difficulties in it.  I recall letters that I exchanged with Bahnsen, in particular, on the matter.  Greg was sensible enough to see that an extreme theonomic view would see us stoning adulterers to death, and condemning those who ate shellfish.  He wrote, in one of his books, that, of course, one must apply only the moral laws of the Old Testament; the ceremonial laws had been for the Jews only.  I wrote to him that I did not see how one could make such a distinction.  What was there in the Bible that differentiated moral from ceremonial?

Greg responded rather impatiently that it was obvious what the difference between moral and ceremonial laws was, and thought there was no point of discussion involved.  He was, of course, quite correct - but not on a Biblicist foundation.  We do, indeed, know what are moral laws.  We know this by reason.  That, however, is a decidely un-Protestant view.  It is the bringing in of the natural law idea - not merely of natural laws of physics, but of right and wrong.  Such a view is anathema to much of Protestantism.

I became somewhat sceptical of the theonomic idea.  But there was another side to "Tyler Theology" - liturgy.

James B. Jordan moved to Tyler (where Gary North lived) only in 1982.  I think I had begun reading Jim's writings before that, though - but I may be wrong.  I do know that I began reading him whilst we were still living in Yap - and became very excited.

What Jim was doing, I thought, was to bring back the baby, that had been tossed out with the bathwater, sometime between the Reformation and modern times.  He was willing to read both Orthodox and Catholic writers, to see that the 'hymn sandwich' approach to Christian worship was neither Biblical nor good, and to present the best both of Catholicism and Orthodoxy without fear of being thought un-Protestant.  David Chilton, writing about the same time, wrote about the Book of the Apocalypse as a model Christian worship service - and one very different from most Protestant experiences.

I write about the above to say that during the whole of our eight years in Yap I was becoming more and more drawn, through the writings, particularly, of Jim Jordan, to a vision of the Church as a fulfilled Israel - complete with high liturgy as the completion of Old Testament worship, with facets that were the fulfilment of Old Testament types (another of Jim's themes), and with a real, earthly government that ought, in principle, to encompass all Christians.  I was beginning to believe in a visible and catholic Church.  These ideas were a significant part of why we eventually returned to New Zealand.  The same ideas, unknown to me, were to lead some others - Scott Hahn, in particular - to the Catholic Church.  When I spoke of the writings of Jim to some in New Zealand, after our return, warned they would do the same to me.

22 September 2012


In something like May, 1978, we had an IMSAI VDP-80 computer.  It had an operating system.  Did it have any programmes?  I think it had a CBASIC interpreter, in which programming could be done.  It had a text editor called ED that could be used for writing programmes.  It had the ASM Assembler (to write programmes in close-to machine language).  It had little else.

Self-rolling snowballs are an image of the way things, once started, may acquire a life of their own.  By the time we left Yap, the computer setup (all acquired by Jensen Hope & Advancement Company) amounted to:
  • the IMSAI VDP-80, with:
    • the STOIC programming language
    • a purpose-built text editing programming language (a Bible translator friend of mine had written it and gave it to me)
  • an IMSAI 8080 with attached Data General - dual-disc hard drive - 13MB built-in and 13MB insertable cartridge.  The 8080 had no ROM or operating system.  It booted via RS-232 serial cable from the VDP-80 - and used the VDP-80's terminal to talk to
  • two Heathkit H89 computers - these had no floppy drives, only an audio tape cassette for storage, and their operating systems were in ROM.  They connected to the 8080 by an RS-232 serial cable and were used by our people for data entry
  • A Diablo daisy-wheel printer (for which I wrote a driver that was pretty huge for our 56KB memory - the driver was 12KB)
  • Tektronix oscilloscope and a lot of other test gear
  • a largish library of technical material about computer hardware
and many other items.

The computer setup became the centre not only of our linguistic operation, but of much else that was done in the office.  Besides programming for word processing purposes - our people wrote many texts (which I, now, on the 'bus, am translating and preparing for Internet publication) to be used in schools; the programmes that I wrote on the computer then converted these into laid-out formats to be mimeographed for school use - I did statistics programming for test evaluation purposes, and word-processing for funding grant proposals.  By the time I left Yap, most of the linguistic work - dictionary entries including definitions in Yapese as well as English (this dictionary is now available on the Internet) and text-production was being done by the Yapese workers.  I was programmer and editor.  My work had gradually changed from linguist to computist.

Computist and, as well, electronics technician.

It is probable that all this computing would not have been possible, in a remote location like Yap, in very early microcomputing days, had I not been a moderately skilled electronics tinkerer.  I had been an amateur radio operator since the late 1960s; had built my own transmitter (from old television parts) in Yap and operated from there (as KC6JJ); had generalised my metalwork skills a bit (by becoming a trained locksmith - Yap had none).  The maintenance, and even operation, of our computer systems required a certain amount of electronics and other technical ability.

Within weeks of the arrival of the VDP-80, a chip in its keyboard circuitry failed.  I had used the above-mentioned library to see what was in the chip, had breadboarded a replacement and soldered it in - with the breadboard hanging outside the case - whilst ordering the replacement (which took a couple of months to come).  By the time we left, half the guts of the VDP-80 were hanging out on the desk, connected much of the time to the oscilloscope, as frequent adjustments were necessary to keep things like the floppy drives running.

All in all, it was a very educational experience - and resulted, in 1984, in my changing my main line of work from linguistics to computing.

16 September 2012


We seldom recognise the decisions that are major turning points in our lives.

We did not have budget that allowed us to buy a computer.  We would have to write a grant proposal for such a thing - with no certainty of success.

We did, however, have money that would have been used to fund the tedious business of contracting with someone in Honolulu to take my edited dictionary printouts, enter the information thereon into the database there, send new printouts back, receive the corrections, enter them in ...

And that money could be used to hire computer services.  Investigation turned up a Wang minicomputer from some company in Guam.  The cost was unmanageable.

John McGinnis's conversation with me, one day in 1977, turns out, in retrospect, to have been one of those major turning points.

I had actually got information on a second-hand DEC PDP-8 (with 32KB of real magnetic core memory!) - with the idea of buying it for my personal use - but, in addition to the cost of the machine, I would have had to buy a screen, keyboard, many other things - it was not possible.

John told me about a marvellous development that I had not known about: personal computers!  These, he said, had been around since the beginning of 1975 - and were real computers, not just glorified calculators.  I lusted after one of these.

But they would cost even more than my PDP-8.

I am no business man, and would never, I suppose, have thought of what John suggested: start my own company, buy one of these, and provide computer services to the Yap Department of Education, for that budget they had.  I was very keen on Gary North and entrepreneurship (unsuited as I was and am to such activities).  I was converted to John's idea.

To provide services to the Education Department, I had, I thought, to be a company (though I had only the vaguest idea of what that might mean).  An enthusiastic Christian, I thought of a name: Jensen Hope and Advancement Company.  This provided much humour for John - his favourite was Faith, Hope, and Charity Company.

I had, still, of course, not enough money.  I don't recall precisely all the places my finance came from.  I took a business loan from the Bank of Hawai'i, Yap Branch - on the basis of a letter of intent from the Department.  I borrowed (at 6%, I think) $1,000 from my father.  Sometime early in 1978 we took delivery of an IMSAI VDP-80.  We debated whether to spend the extra $350 - 1977 $350! - to upgrade the RAM from 32KB to 64KB.  In the event, we did so, although this only gave us 56KB of usable memory, since the top 8KB was covered up the the video display ROM.  The computer had a 3MHz 8085 CPU and dual 8" double-density floppy drives - 512KB storage per drive!  To put that memory into perspective, the PC on which I am writing this post has 8GB of RAM - 131,072 times as much RAM.  I think you could buy 8GB for around $200.

In preparation for the computer, we had taken what had been a storeroom in our office - itself an old classroom - and had Public Works install air-conditioning in it.  We had painted the concrete surfaces (to reduce air-borne dust) - nearly asphyxiating ourselves in the process.  Pugram, Defeg, Yow (Athanasius), and I did all that work.

The computer arrived - in May, 1978, I believe.  We set it up on a worktable in that back room.  It could boot into CP/M from floppy, but initially I simply turned it on.  The boot ROM had miniminal programming built-in that allowed you to push bytes into memory and to jump to a location.  What would be interesting to do?  I wrote a tiny programme in Assembly language, hand-assembled it into bytes, and poked it in - a programme that did nothing but display one of the characters in the video ROM, waited one second, then displayed the next character in the set, and so on.

Exciting!  So I invited my friends from the office in to watch it display.  Giloochen, seeing the graphics characters waving, as it were, arms in air, exclaimed: "Bea churuq!!" ("It's dancing!!").  Defeg was more practical.  He asked, "All right, how much is ..." - naming some simple arithmetic problem.  "Oh," I replied, somewhat embarrassed, "it hasn't any programme in it; it can't do anything like that yet."  "How much did this thing cost??"  I named the figure.  Leaving with a snort of contempt, he exclaimed that even his $20 pocket calculator was better than that.

08 September 2012

Of bugs and other fun things

Helen was home with us now - we had two children!  Johnny turned 2 in July, 1977.  We had now been living here for over a year, and were getting used to some of the interesting fellow occupants of the house.  Termites, for one thing.

The house was built of concrete - in fact, not even of concrete block, but poured, steel-reinforced concrete walls, a steel-reinforced slab floor, up on pillars, a steel-reinforced roof - shaped like a shallow funnel to drain rainwater into the tank.  This was useful as both water and electricity were significantly intermittent, and the water supply simply ceased for 5-7 months of the year.

The internal partitioning in the house was not built of concrete.  It was built of untreated timber.

I recall talking, once, with one of the men who worked in Public Works - who maintained the house - about treated timber.  He agreed that treated timber was a good idea.  Occasionally they used it.  Most of the time, the need for timber was sudden; what was available in Guam - their source for it - was often untreated.  Maybe next time.

Susan's counters in her kitchen were Formica-topped.  She will recall the day, sometime during 1977, when she noticed that one of these was sagging a bit.  She pushed slightly on the metal-framed edge of it - it moved!

One imagines a doctor, opening a patient's abdomen for a simply appendectomy, only to find his inner organs riddled with cancer.

Susan lifted the counter top.  The space underneath was not occupied by wood framing riddled with termite droppings.  The space underneath was occupied by termite droppings - together with many termites.  These it was that was holding the top up.

A regular set of tasks concerning termites characterised our whole stay in Yap.  On the above occasion we contacted Public Works.  Someone came around, found that essentially all the wood in the house was in a parlous state from termites.  The internals of the house were stripped out completely and rebuilt - with untreated timber.  This had to be done at least once more during our total of eight years there - possibly more than once.

Termites eat wood.  Books are made from wood.  Perhaps books are a treat to termites, since books are already partly pre-digested.  I had a great many books.  One of Susan's daily tasks was to go through a shelf of books - I had many shelves of books in the house - and to remove each book.  Where termites had got in, bug spray was applied (in the case of many books, they simply had to be discarded.  There was not enough readable material left in them.  I have still today many partially-eaten books, still usable).

Termites also are wingless - except during the mating flight.  I don't know what triggers these.  Wikipedia says that in areas with a distinct dry season, the first heavy rain often does so.  I do know that we kept a close watch on the fly screens of our house for the arrival of winged termites.  On seeing one, panic stations were manned.  On go the porch light; off go the house lights.  A pan of water is placed below the porch light - to catch, and, one hopes, drown the beasts.  Whether this did any good, I cannot say.

Termites seem ant-like to us, but they are, in fact, closely related to the cockroaches.  This page tells me that the Oriental Cockroach is about 25 mm long - but that "tropical cockroaches are much bigger."  Could be.  Ours were big enough.  Having lived seven years in Honolulu, cockroaches were not new to us.  Nevertheless, only in Yap did I discover that they can, when pressed, fly - yuck!

I had by now a well-established work routine.  In Honolulu, Bob Hsu and I had created a computerised (main-frame) database of the Yapese dictionary work that I had done, together with material from his own Yapese research.  I had an enormous print-out of this - some hundreds of large-format fanfold pages bound in a folder - that I took, every day, to the Yap Museum.  There I went through the very tedious work of checking pronunciations, meanings, getting example sentences, and generally filling out the work.  The intention was for this material to be sent off to Honolulu to be used to modify the computerised database.  This would then be re-printed, sent to me, and the work would continue.

This process was becoming irksome, and beginning to seem ridiculous.  I had been first introduced to computers in 1960, had been an active user of them since 1962, and had been dependent on them for much of my work from 1964.  I knew that mini-computers, such as the DEC PDP-8, were beginning to become available in ways the I thought the Education Department might be able to afford.  In 1977, I began to make enquiries.

01 September 2012

Politics - and Helen!

Whilst living in Mt Eden, Susan and I had been influenced - 'converted' is almost the word - by a variety of what might be called right-wing views.  This came about in part through the Calvinist connexions we had made.  We were keen followers of Gary North, of his father-in-law R. J. Rushdoony, and the whole family of Christian reconstructionists.  Their writings led us to others on the political right, including several writers of the John Birch Society (we subscribed to two of their magazines for most of the time we lived in Yap), and of Howard Ruff.  In particular, Howard Ruff persuaded us of the wisdom of stockpiling food (Mormon-style - he is himself a Mormon) against possible disaster.

We had shipped in a huge quantity of food packed in tins in a nitrogen atmosphere, supposed to be good for ten years.  We used a fair bit of it - but a lot of it we eventually shipped to Pukekohe - and only this year threw it out - no doubt just in time for the Great Famine of 2013.  We did, however, as a result of all this become convinced of the value of extra Vitamin C in our diet.  We continue taking extra Vitamin C today.

One thing, however, we did make use of, in the way of specialised food: wheat.

Wheat may not sound specialised, but at the time, bread was a rarity in Yap.  In Mt Eden, Susan had made our own bread, kneading it by hand.  This was laborious!  Her father sent her a heavy-duty mixer that did the kneading for her.  When we got to Yap, we found that flour was not the easiest thing to get hold of.

So we purchased a small wheat grinder, and imported, regularly, un-ground wheat (and honey!) from ... well, somewhere in the US; I have forgotten where.  Susan not only made our bread from it, she started a baking business.  She sold bread, and other baked goods, to local ex-patriates.

When, late in 1976, we discovered that Susan was pregnant, there was a concern raised by Dr Haight, who was one of the two doctors at the hospital - and our neighbour and, with his wife Ellie, our friend.  Susan's first child, Johnny, had been delivered by Caeserean section.  Would this be necessary this time?

Naturally, no one knew.  Today in New Zealand, I suspect it would have been a foregone conclusion; it was not so in Yap, and nor did she want that.  Nevertheless, said Dr Haight, he was concerned.  There was no qualified surgeon at the Yap hospital.  Both he and ... well, I have forgotten the other doctor's name, but both were generalists.  Dr Haight told Susan that he had once performed a Caeserean on a sow.  The litter had survived, but the sow died.  If it were to come to a question of saving Susan's life, he would do the same for her - but he rather wanted to avoid the necessity.

Dr Haight arranged things.  Susan's case was labelled a medical emergency.  At Trust Territory expense, she was flown to Palau, where there was a qualified obstetrician, a Palauan woman, Dr Otobed (whose name is not pronounced the way you think, unless you know Palauan, so don't try!), who, as it happened, had trained under Dr Conyngham, who delivered Johnny.

She stayed at the Protestant Mission house there for the two weeks or so until she went into labour.  Susan's labour was long - all her births have been that way.  Oh, and pain relief?  This is Micronesia!  We don't do that sort of thing!  Sue remembers one Yapese girl, perhaps when Sue was in hospital for Eddie, telling her that she wouldn't dare cry out from labour pains; her mother would beat her!

Helen was born naturally on 1 June, 1977.  Sue was home in a week or so.