The Evangelist at Your Door

By 1984, I was living in Seattle, and I had given talks and demonstrations – and even keynotes – for many national computer groups, medical groups, and training groups in the U.S. Then Europe caught wind of our CPR simulator. For the U.S. audiences it was a program with psychic benefits. Save a life, right there at a party, or in the street. The simulator let you try CPR hands on, and gave you feedback. In addition, the gaming crowd felt that it gave an extra dimension to computer advances. Later, when I also tried to put together games, some academics felt I had abandoned my noble callings with CPR. Don’t know that I felt as guilty as they wanted me to feel.

The European fascination with my CPR system began slowly. Personal computers were fairly new to that side of the world, and the first to see the CPR system were the technology scouts. At first it was just the odd foreign visitor to shows like the National Association of Broadcasters in Las Vegas, which attracted some quaint Frenchmen mostly turning their noses up at all American media , but then stopping fascinated when I broke out the manikin and the videodiscs and showed what real human-machine interface could do. Or the Germans, who were standoffish at these shows but had a finely honed curiousity about things mechanical and logical. The Japanese crowded around in groups as if my demonstration was a roulette table, and in fact, in Las Vegas at least, the roulette tables were never far away. There on the floor of exhibition halls, people could move in close and touch everything.

Other U.S. conferences were of a different nature, like the TED MED conference in Charleston in 1985. At the time Richard Saul Wurman had pioneered his Technical and Entertainment Design shows, which were goddawful expensive at the time — about $7,000 a seat by my recollection — attracting CEOs who wanted to hobnob with other CEOs and with none of the riff-raff of mid-level professionals who were curious to steal any bit of technical or market knowledge. Jonas Salk of polio fame was to be keynote at the Charleston affair, and several other medical luminaries were on the program, to present no more than ½ hour each as I remember. I remember being trapped in the Green Room with a guy who professed to be President Clinton’s nutritionist. I think Clinton had largely ignored him and ate a lot of Big Macs, but the guy carried on as if he had saved half of California from lurking calories. I guess we were all sort of prima donnas with our 30 minutes of fame. I’d met Jonas Salk once in California at the La Jolla Institute that my cousin John ran, when I was wandering in from Vietnam. Salk and I didn’t have much in common that first time, and this time around he was dead. Died about a week before his keynote at that TED MED conference.

Anyway, these various U.S. demonstrations sort of bred the European trips. Possibly the most interesting thing about my trips to Europe was that, unlike the States, most people did not know what CPR was. The first of my trips abroad was to London, to talk and demonstrate to the British Broadcasting Corporation Special Programs group. Hannon Foss was the leader of that and he held our talks in the same auditorium where they gave out the British version of our Academy Awards, so the seats were plush and the sound and lighting were impeccable. Hannon himself was a great big buoyant sort of guy who was curious about everything and enthusiastic about things he wished others to see. I was both a curiousity and a demonstration with highly visible message, just the thing for movie folks.

The first battle, however, was at customs. The British Customs agents had never seen a simulator manikin before, and tried to figure out how to classify it, so that they could tax it. Was I selling them? No. Why was I bringing it in? So others could see it. Did it have any animal properties? Not that I could see. They brought in supervisors and everyone had a good long look and these computers and manikins in boxes. In all it took about two hours to get through customs and I did not have to pay anything but could only stay in country 30 days. Who knows what damage a manikin could do if allowed to stay indefinitely?

And of course someone brought up the pedophile angle with the baby manikin. The London demonstrations had gone quite well and about a month later the BBC asked me if I could come back to be on “Tomorrow’s World” — which was their weekly look at technology that everyone watched religiously. I was boxing out that time slot and wondering if the BBC would send me a first class ticket to be on one of their more poplular shows, when I got a subsequent call from the producers, who had just shown my videotape to their board. They said with great regret that I would be disinvited, because a couple of board members thought the audience would not understand doing that sort of thing to a baby on national TV.

I think a number of things could have been different but for that BBC decision. It turns out that a year later the great, big-hearted Hannon Foss had a heart attack and, of all things, the local emergency people from the hospital did not know CPR and just threw him in the back of an ambulance. Hannon was dead on arrival. He might have been saved with the very CPR he was promoting through me. I guess I felt bad when I heard it, that had I been more effective I might have sparked instant awareness and a revolution in British emergency medicine – much of which at the time merely consisted of telling the patient to maintain a stiff upper lip. (Rigor mortis does that part quite well.)

Many advances in humanity may start with the well-crafted boondoggleMy CPR presentations were, in fact,  boondoggle programs across Europe – “new ideas” forums where people could see and experience the bizarre directions of the Americans and yet feel safe that these disruptions would take a while to really reach their shores. In each case however, I was able to generate an extra connection, especially with medical types but actually everyone, because the  Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation movement itself was much bigger than the simulator. CPR was a way to transfer life to the almost dead person, and often to resuscitate a downed heart attack victim on the spot. To this day I still get notes from someone who saw the CPR demonstrations and their boisterous old uncle collapse at a wedding, and they kept him alive. Or a description of the time an infant fell into the pool at a Hollywood afternoon pool party. A cameraman who had worked with me to capture interactive video of the baby rescue procedure, remembered where to put his fingers and how to hold the almost drowned infant, and brought it back to crying life there at the edge of the pool. To say these notes have enriched my life is an almost tearful understatement.

The French liked the idea of the interactive videodisc, and wrote up my demonstration in their computer magazine Memoires Optiques (Optical Memory). The crowd at the Memoires Optiques show was one of the most jolly I experienced in Europe.  But as silly as the British had been about the baby, the life-like manikin again served to bring up the subject of interactive pornography. Why wasn’t someone doing that? Some Cambodians there wanted to enter into a joint venture and provide the very lifelike plastics needed for a totally interactive experience. Although that sort of group, at a show, prides itself on entertaining absolutely every bizarre new idea, this time I really was not interested…A spoilsport, I guess, but I could not see telling my kids that’s what I do in life.

The Cannes International Film Festival was of course, focused on cinema, so I was just a curiosity. The translators had quite the problem explaining the system, which I only showed on videotape there. (It loses a lot with no hands on.) I will always remember Cannes because it was the first time I had a room with a little refrigerator full of drink mixes and little bottles of whiskey and gin and vodka so I could experiment. The winter weather was cold in Nice, and I even made a hot bath and lined up my new favorite drinks along the side of the tub, and practically melted in the booze and hot water. In my silly state, I marveled how thoughtful these people are, providing me with any drink I could want from my own little hotel stash. Honestly, I was so naïve I thought it was free. The bill when I checked out told me otherwise.

I met Aske Dam at one of the Las Vegas shows which he haunted, always trying to pick up new and cool technology to take back to Europe. Aske was one of those Europeans who spoke several languages and stayed at the leading edge of video technology. He brought me and the CPR System first to Copenhagen, where he had pioneered television Bingo and (I hope) made a few schekels at that. At a University in Copenhagen I met one of the princes of Greenland. Denmark had parts of Greenland as a protectorate, I think. And then a few days later, Aske heard from a group he wanted to me to present to in Norway. We talked a lot on the boat from Copenhagen to Olso.

Aske had run the 5,000 meters for Denmark in the Tokyo, Olympics and there met his Japanese flight attendant wife and had a son. They were divorced now, but the son was flying for a Japanese Airline. I put on the talk for some video producers outside Oslo in an enchanted forest where Aske’s current girlfriend was a glassblower. The ovens for the molten glass had to maintain a high temperature and it was on a fast flowing stream which was necessary, apparently, for cooling the molten glass. She had to tend the ovens every day and never let them go cool, so she and Aske did not travel much together.

On another European trip, because of some weather disturbance, my TWA flight from Barcelona to Amsterdam was going to detour and fly over part of the Mediterranean. In one of their international spats, Mohamar Khadafy told Ronald Reagan he would send out jet fighters to shoot down any US commercial aircraft that flew over the Mediterranean. Everyone waiting for my TWA flight absorbed that news, and hurried over to change their tickets to KLM. The KLM flight was quickly packed to overloaded and the TWA flight had only – me. I was probably too slow to get on KLM and unfortunately had to be in Amsterdam for an event, so I stayed on TWA and tried to make a brave front of it.

After all, I was an American and who was this Khadafy to try to bluff us out of the skies? Turned out to be my greatest ever airplane flight. They put me in First Class (all alone) and three female flight attendants all bought my courageous line and all vied to make me most comfortable… and to bring me drinks and grapes and nuts and lots of pillows. (And I’m certain that showed Khadafy what a real American man he was up against.)

Those days I was a sort of evangelist for interactive media. An evangelist has to have something to believe in, and I did. And an evangelist is out to make others believe as strongly. I cannot claim credit for the power of interactive media, or for the value of CPR to benefit lives in the emergency empowerment it gives the ordinary citizen. The combination, however, of the Good, and the Technical was a message that I hope resonated in its day, and can keep on being a standard for every new thing we see.

Copyright 2018 David Hon – All rights reserved

Backroads Through the Perilous Years

In the outlying areas of 1950s Seattle, there were not actually suburbs yet, just land to be bought and cleared of tall trees and developed into houses and homes. It was sort of the modified Wild West. We boys 13 and 14 ran in packs, unchallenged in the backroads and new groups of houses springing up outside Seattle. Later we grew up to become upstanding men, but our youthful curiosity was endless and dangerous and with a few small turns we might well all have ended up criminals.

Immediate little morsels from my boyhood include stealing landing light trophies from edges of the major airport, firing a dad’s hunting rifle at a small fishing boat a mile away, leaving a real pipe bomb sitting on fiery Sterno cans on a neighborhood road…to explode sometime later sending shrapnel for half a mile, lurking down lovers’ lanes to surround a lonely parked car with flashlights, smoking coffee flakes and dog hair, chaining a police car’s rear axle to dock pillar so the axle and universal joint ripped out when he took off in hot pursuit. To tell truth, our subsequent discovery of girls probably tamed us down a great deal. It certainly limited the range of our truly creative, truly fiendish, truly destructive imagination. Girls, at least, were finite as a species, if individually not quite all the same.

To drop back a bit: When my family moved from cold Minneapolis to Seattle in 1949, it was just my mother, me, and Charlie, whom she had married after the end of the war, and with the assurance of my real father’s death in combat. New to the Seattle area, we lived for a year in the “apartments” not too far from the airport where my stepfather was working first as a ground mechanic, and then as a flight engineer for Northwest Airlines in some of the first commercial aircraft flying the Pacific. The Boeing Stratocruisers, build here in Seattle, had four propellers that had to be kept going for seemingly endless yawning hours over water. The pilot held the plane in the right direction, but the flight engineer constantly monitored each engine — and kept them aloft through that whole forbidding expanse of time and water.

At the same time dads were in the air or otherwise at work, we children of families who had migrated to the Pacific Northwest became kid-mobs racing around the apartments on dime-store roller skates that clipped onto the soles of our shoes. The apartments, about 200 or more of them filled with families moving to the Seattle area for work were the haunts of us younger kids on roller skates. This was before elbow or knee pads were even thought of, and so every kid was a patchwork of scabs on top of scabs from falls on the concrete at high speed.

Meanwhile the older kids went off into the “woods,” uncleared land between the apartment and Puget Sound, and had BB gun wars. Some lost eyes, I heard from my mother, who forbade me to run with the big kids and I believe must have been thankful that my roller skates confined me to the sidewalks running through the big apartment complex. Most young families in the “apartments” were looking for homes they could afford to buy. The GI Bill helped a lot of them, and other new mortgage schemes developed since the war encouraged everyone else. Out near the airport in a swath of forest with roads that they called Normandy Park, getting a home meant buying a parcel of land and building a house on it. When there were enough families, a little mom-and-pop grocery store sprung up on a once remote road, and just as we arrived, the community brought in its own school for elementary grades.

We could easily have bought beachfront property in Normandy Park, but my mother, from Oklahoma, thought the sea could someday rise and come over us. That waterfront land could now be worth a fortune…but then who knows, she may have been right in the long run after all.

Yet even with property back a safe mile from the water, we kids still had the Normandy Park beach for running along the driftwood which had been brought from all parts of the world stripped of its bark and limbs, and washed up high on the beach to form a running, leaping pathway above the sand for boys with their limitless sped and balance. We’d race along those logs, zigging from one to another, leaping through space like squirrels through several trees, most of all never never touching the sand below. Needless to say, there were no parental supervised activities. Parents could never keep up with us anyway, so they just put us in sturdy clothes and said to be home for dinner or dark, whichever came first.

Ah the beach… Puget Sound was salt water, and freezing cold with its Alaska currents, but we swam in it. (Our kids later were more civilized and would not touch the cold water of Puget Sound.) On the Normandy Park public beach, we’d build rafts of driftwood logs laced and wrapped with long strands of tough seaweed. After a day’s hard work, we would stand like Polynesian seafarers on our all-natural rafts. And one day someone brought a submarine to the beach. It didn’t start out as a submarine, but as the rubberized gas tank from a World War Two bomber. People tended to glom onto all manner of war surplus in those days. So someone’s Dad brought it down in a truck to see if it would float, and left it there with us, a rubber tank we could fit with a makeshift paddle to move it about, and a top hatch where a small person could slide inside.

That small person was Denver Carney. None of the rest of us dared get inside the contraption, but Denver did so quite happily. He was inside and it was floating around the shallow water, and he was actually maneuvering it with the paddle attachment he moved back and forth. As we watched from shore, Denver shouted “Crash dive, crash dive” and other stuff he’d heard in the submarine movies.

We thought he was having far too good a time (we timid ones on the shore) and someone suggested “Let’s torpedo Denver!”

“Yeah, let’s torpedo Denver.” Repeated by everyone in that enthusiastic fashion, it seemed like an idea whose time had come, a mandate for action.

Right at hand on the beach were long slender logs that it took three of us to lift, and they made perfect “torpedoes”. We selected one and in unison glided it into the water toward Denver, who was happily shouting out movie commands inside his submarine. The first torpedo slithered past his bow and he never knew. The second log “torpedo” we hoisted and slung in unison was a winner. It hit the stern “klunk” where Denver’s head was against the soft inside wall of the rubber sub. The sub’s motion stopped. Denver’s gleeful shouted commands stopped.

We looked at each other. “Do you think we killed Denver?” One of us said.

“Better get him out” said someone more responsible. We all jumped into the cold salt water and pulled the rubber sub into shore. Denver’s eyes were rolled back in their sockets. We dragged him out onto the beach, fearing the worst as we looked at the large knot protruding from Denver’s orange red hair. We contemplated running for parental guidance, but then Denver’s eyes straightened out.

“Hey,” he said, “that was cool! Who’s next?”

None of us was next.

I think Denver was with us when Larry Mortenson brought his dad’s hunting rifle to help settle an argument. Most of the boys thought the rifle couldn’t even hit the water from the high bluff we hiked along, overlooking Puget Sound, a body of water about 5 miles wide.

“Yes it can,” said Larry. “My uncle was a sniper and said he could hit something a mile away. He drank a lot though, and we were never sure whether to believe him.”

“Well, let’s shoot it and see.”

Larry got in a prone position on the top of the bluff, some 500 feet above the beach below, and fired a couple of rounds out over the large body of water.

“Did you see any splashes?” He asked.

No one had.

“Then how are we going to know how far it goes?”

“See those guys in the boat way out there?” There was a small fishing boat maybe a mile  out. It was too deep to anchor, but they seemed to be holding a position, probably slowly trolling.

Larry was quite sure as he fired the first round from his prone position. “This couldn’t possibly get out to where they are.”

“If it does, we’re in trouble.”

“No way.” Larry said, confidently. And fired another round.

The little fishing boat started to move quickly to the Northwest. Perhaps they were headed home. Perhaps they knew of better fishing areas. But to this day I think they might have seen one or two rounds splash beside them, or skip off the water, or even hit their boat. I also cannot imagine anyone sniping with real bullets merely out of idle curiousity, but there it is: we did it.

You wonder sometimes how kids – and more importantly – you as a kid, possibly made it through those perilous years.  For instance, at the new elementary school there was blacktop surrounding the main building, and then a covered passway to the administration offices and the small gymnasium. We had discovered geared “English” bikes then, with 5 gear speeds as I remember, and they were a step up in speed and lightness from the old balloon-tire cruisers which had so much trouble going up the many hills in our community. Often we had to walk the balloon tire bikes up the hill. There was another large difference, too. The brakes on the “English” bikes were front and rear hand brakes, on the front handle bars with the gearshift lever, which moved the chain through low to high gears as you kept pedaling. It took a while to convert from the balloon tire brake, which you stepped back on with the pedal of either side, so you could put your full weight onto stopping your hurtling bike. If you tried to use the balloon tire braking method while riding an “English” bicycle, your legs would spin helplessly backward and nothing would even slow down at all.

I had just gotten my new “English” bike and was following the pack around the roads of Normandy Park on a Saturday, when we decided how cool it would be to have bicycle races on the asphalt that created a sort of track all around the main classroom building, going through the underpass between buildings. The school was locked up, and no one was around it at all. It was a dry day and as we built up breathtaking speeds, we could hit the corners and lean, braking just enough, and then building up speed to pull through the leaning turn. I was keeping up with the pack and getting the hang of leaning on the corners and knocking it a gear down from the top to churn back to high speed after each turn. The new lightweight bicycle was thrilling and I pulled away on successive turns faster and faster. I was pulling out ahead when I approached the turn toward the underpass and realized I had too much speed for that corner. My reflexes from my balloon tire days made me stomp backwards on the pedal, and my legs spun backward as the bicycle hurtled toward the corner. Way too late,  I realized I must grab a handbrake, and instead caught my hand on the gear shift, which stopped nothing.

My body hit the large plate glass window to the administration offices going – probably – 40 miles an hour. It was the early 50s and plate glass was just that, no safety glass, nothing. I burst through the window like some movie stunt man, shoulder first I believe, and the 6 foot by 6 foot window gave way all at once, and I flew hard onto the hallway which was deserted on a non-school day. The glass had broken away in an instant, and the top broken part of about 3 feet by 6 feet suspended in air for a moment, and then came slicing straight down like a guillotine…and broke in to shards on the floor just behind me. I had superficial cuts on my arms and my legs. I was actually locked into the administration building, so we broke the rest of the plate glass away so that I could climb back out. The bicycle had stopped dead at the lower wall. It was still ridable and so I pedaled home and told the story to my terrified mother. She took me to the emergency room so the cuts didn’t get infected and any bits of glass were pulled out. They said I had been lucky. I to this day remember the helpless feeling of my feet spinning backward on the pedals of that “English” bike.

That next summer we were fiddling around the week before the Fourth of July and all of us had massive amounts of firecrackers stored up, and George suggested we make one big firecracker. From somewhere he came up with a foot long iron pipe threaded at both ends, and the caps to screw onto the ends of that section of pipe. Gleefully we broke open our firecrackers and dumped them into one end of the pipe. There was a lot of gunpowder in that pipe and I’m not sure what George put in with it, if anything, but he then sealed off the pipe ends tightly. For a little while we wondered how we would set it off, and then someone suggested these little war surplus cans of Sterno, which you could use to heat up canned stuff, and adults heated up water for coffee, when we were on camping trips.

We found a secluded patch of woods about a hundred yards in from the road which was cleared of big timber, but many small alder trees had grown back quickly over a few years. We lit three of the small Sterno cans and set the pipe section – full of gunpowder – on top of the three cans in a row. It dawned on us that we should be some distance away when it went off so we waited out on one of the roads. This new property development had road names on wooden posts, but there were very few houses, very far apart, on these new roads. After about 15 minutes we crept back in to see what was happening with the pipe. Nothing…The Sterno cans burned happily along and we knew they would run out of fuel soon, so we waited a while longer out at the roadway, and then we decided that was a failure. We also knew there would be a football game developing down the road at a large grassy expanse someone planned to build a house on but had not yet. It was perfect for football.

We’d been playing football for about half an hour during that weekday afternoon, when the largest firecracker in the world went off. The sound was frightening. We timidly made our way back toward the site of the pipe and Sterno cans. Within about a quarter mile we saw little pieces of shrapnel in trees. At a crossroads not far from the pipe, we saw the post of the road sign cut in half and dangling by a sliver. We decided to go down to the beach and pretend we’d never been in the area.

As the gods of fortune determine, no one was driving by at the moment of the blast, no mother with her baby carriage was out for a stroll, no kids on their bikes were in a small pack in the area where the young alder trees were nearly mowed to the ground by shrapnel. Later, the police milled around the site and found that there were bits of shrapnel in the sides of houses a half mile away.

I cannot say we were good boys ever after, but I believe it may have been the first time when a bit of caution entered our exploits. We’d missed an opportunity to be called murderers and also – ourselves — to be quite dead. I certainly hope there were not opportunities like ours for our own children to learn cause and effect and caution, but I suspect there were…and I don’t want to hear about it. Mayhem is always lurking so close in Life, without being invited in for a party. You can wish it were not so, but perhaps our tenuous civilization has to be learned and relearned in those dangerous years.

Copyright 2018 David Hon – All rights reserved