Author’s Journal: My First Indy 500

This is the sixth in a continuing series of posts about my experience (limited as it is) as an author. Click here for a complete index of all the stories in this series.

We now come to what was my last print publication to date… Another article in Indianapolis Monthly Magazine published in the May 1994 issue. It was about my first experience attending the Indianapolis 500. I have been going to the track on practice and qualifying days since I was six years old. However, because there weren’t very many good seating options for someone in a wheelchair, I didn’t attend the race until 1993. That year, they built a new wheelchair platform in front of the grandstand from the start of turn three until the beginning of turn four. We managed to get tickets and see the race for the first time. After that, I attended the 500 and the Brickyard 400 until about 2004. I don’t exactly remember the dates but a 2003 incident I will describe in a moment contributed to my decision to quit going. One of the problems was that the Brickyard race was in late July or early August. For two years in a row, the temperatures were forecast to be 90° or above and I knew I couldn’t stand that so we gave away our tickets. After that, we didn’t renew.

On October 22, 2003, there was a fatal accident involving driver Tony Renna during a tire test day when no one was in the grandstand. There was no video of the crash because it was during a private test. Photos of the aftermath showed that the car got into the fence and knocked down one of the steel poles. The steel pole crashed into the wheelchair platform about 50 yards east of where I normally sit. Had that accident occurred on race day, fans would have been seriously injured or killed. I didn’t really feel safe sitting there anymore. At the 2010 race which I did not attend, there was another crash in that area and after looking at the video it seemed clear to me that one of the tires of the car had penetrated the fence. I wrote a Facebook message to local reporters who were bragging about how the fence held up and I told him to take a second look at their own video. I’m certain I could see one of the tires bouncing around underneath the grandstand and disappearing behind the wall. The reporter wrote me back and said there was no penetration of the fence but he was wrong. This YouTube video is a little blurry and doesn’t show it as well as the original.

Also, the hassle of getting in and out of the track got worse. My disability was getting worse as well. I like to listen to the pit crews on my scanner radio but in order to be able to work it properly, I needed to push buttons using a wooden stick that I held in my mouth. It was difficult to keep my head up straight in order to do that. The wheelchair platform was a bit wobbly and every time someone would walk by I would often have my head fall over. If I put my head back against the headrest, I couldn’t operate the radio and it was difficult to turn my head. If I had to sit in one position for the entire race, couldn’t operate my radio, and didn’t feel safe, it just wasn’t worth it anymore so we quit going. I still went to practice a few days but we sat in the wheelchair section and I quit touring the garage area.

For purposes of this blog, I really don’t have any interesting stories to tell about how it was written or published. I went to the race. It was an amazing unforgettable experience. I wrote about it. Indianapolis Monthly agreed to publish it in the May 1994 issue. There is a photo of me sitting at the track in a heavy coat. We went over there probably in February or March with a magazine photographer to take that photo.

The more interesting story is rereading it now many years later. Shortly after I got my first webpage which was probably in the late 1990s I’m not sure, I posted the uncut version of the story. I had titled it “A Race Fan’s First 500” but the magazine retitled it “Being There”. I didn’t particularly like the change. Along with that uncut version online I included about eight or nine photos we had taken that day. I don’t know where the originals of those photos are. The online versions had been cropped and resized rather small because in those days a high-resolution screen was only 800×600 and the Internet was running at dial-up speeds that were at best 56K. My current Internet downloads at 200 Mb/s.

While digging through some memorabilia recently I found the original magazine and decided to put up a version that was “as published” rather than my director’s cut. I was shocked at the differences. My director’s cut was terrible. While there were some details that got cut that wish had stayed in, some of it rambled a bit incoherently at times. I’m hoping that what I had put up as “the original longer version” was actually an early draft. Some of the changes in the published version sounded like something I would write. So either editor Deborah Paul was good at fixing my mistakes in my style or this online version that I had up for a long time was actually an early draft. At least I hope so.

One of the things that surprised me upon rereading the story was how vividly I described things such as the smell of the place. In my writing, I’m not really big on describing the ambiance of a place. I’m much more comfortable with straightforward exposition. I often wonder how some authors can spend pages talking about how the sunlight glinted off the morning dew. That’s typically not my style. But when it came to the visceral experience of watching Indy cars go by at 200 mph and you are only 10 feet away from the fence, I did a pretty good job.

One thing that surprised me about the article was it said that at that race it was the first time I had seen a car hit the wall in person. I wondered if that was some sort of poetic license or exaggeration. The online version shows a photo of me at the track at age 6 and I told the story of how I made fun of the fact that a driver named Norm Hall had hit the wall. I thought it was funny that it rhymed. But I was sitting in the main straightaway and didn’t see it. I went to the track on practice and qualifying days many times throughout my childhood but we always sat in front of the pits. Through my high school and college days, I spent a lot of time at the track. But some of it was on the main stretch and some of it in the infamous Snake Pit infield area. In college, I spent lots of time touring the Gasoline Alley garage area with my video camera. I didn’t really start spending time in the wheelchair section in the South chute until the time this article was written. Sitting in that area for practice and qualifying as well as attending the race for several years I saw plenty of crashes. I mentioned in the article that the year before I had been there when a driver was killed. I heard the crash but did not actually see it. So it may have been true that that crash was my first in-person witnessing of wall contact.

I thought that while I’m at it, I would tell a couple of stories that were not in the article. I mentioned I had been at the track several years ago when driver Gordon Smiley was killed in a qualifying accident. My mom, her friend Georgianna, and Georgianna’s daughter Teresa who was severely disabled with cerebral palsy were sitting outside the third turn watching qualifying. We had seen several attempts to break 200 mph. I saw Smiley go by on a warm-up lap and I looked away at something else because he really wasn’t expected to be up to full speed at that point. I heard the crash and looked up and saw a cloud of debris sliding down the track out of sight. Later at home, we saw a reply on TV and the car had indeed completely disintegrated and his helmet could be seen rolling down the track. Many fans speculated at the time that he had been decapitated in his head was still in the helmet. I never heard any official word about that until I looked up the incident in the Wikipedia article linked below. It quotes the Speedway medical director saying that the helmet had come off along with the top of his skull. His brains were smeared across the track. There is a YouTube video link at the bottom that shows the crash. You can’t see anything identifiable of his body but you can tell how badly the car disintegrated.

Gordon Smiley was not a likable or popular person. He gave bad interviews and did not socialize with the other drivers. It was kind of sad to see the other drivers try to say something nice about him. The best they could say about him was “well… He wasn’t a very friendly guy and didn’t hang out with the other drivers but we are really sorry he died.

There was one other minor memorable event that day and this is as good a time to tell the story as any. I mentioned Mom’s friend Georgianna. They had worked together on various disability advocacy projects and worked in the volunteer agency that my Mom helped found known as the Council Of Volunteers and Organizations for the Handicapped (COVOH). Her daughter Teresa has very severe cerebral palsy. I think she was about 12 years old and it was so severe that she could not communicate at all. When she was uncomfortable, all she could do was moan or grunt. Georgianna repeatedly tried to reposition her in her wheelchair and guess what was bothering her to no avail. At one point she spread a blanket on the ground, took Teresa out of her wheelchair, and laid her on the blanket. The girl finally calmed down. Georgianna very matter-of-fact said, “Teresa isn’t dealing with her handicap very well today.” It was all that mom or I can do to not burst out laughing. It was one of the greatest understatements I’d ever heard. We weren’t laughing at the poor girl. It was just the way Georgianna had stated it. It was sort of a spoof on the idea that the goal of a person with a disability is to be well adjusted. Teresa was exhibiting the epitome of the opposite of that. In the years following, anytime I was having a bad day, I would say, “Chris isn’t dealing with his handicap very well today.” As my mother got older and had multiple medical problems including lung cancer she often used the phrase as well about herself whenever she was having a bad day.

Going back to stories specifically about the Speedway, the Gordon Smiley incident wasn’t the only time that we had encountered death at the Speedway. My mom had been there in 1964 when popular driver Eddie Sachs and rookie driver Dave MacDonald were killed in a fiery seven-car accident on the second lap. My mom was sitting on the main straight away but she could see the fireball and black smoke. There is a YouTube link at the bottom of the page that shows the crash. One of the views is from the main straight away and that we give you an idea of what my mother saw. She said it was sickening because they knew surely someone had been killed. I was at home in the backyard listening to the race on the radio. My next-door neighbor Mike Tillery had climbed up on the roof of a storage shed in his backyard to try to see the release of thousands of balloons at the beginning of the race. The fourth turn where the incident occurred is the closest corner to my house. Mike said, “Somebody crashed!” He could see the black smoke rising into the air and soon it rose high enough that I could see it as well on the ground. While researching this incident I read the Wikipedia article about Eddie Sachs and it explained in detail that the car that MacDonald was driving was an experimental design and many people had suggested he not race it because it was too dangerous. See the link at the bottom of the page. Although she did occasionally return to the track in subsequent years, she never attended the race again until we all went together in 1993.

Mom said that one of the eerie aspects of the incident was when track announcer Tom Carnegie came on the PA system to announce the deaths. He would begin with a solemn voice saying, “Ladies and gentlemen may I have your attention please.” After a brief pause, he announced the deaths. Everyone knew immediately what he was going to say because everyone was wondering if the drivers had survived and you could tell by the seriousness of his voice that he was about to announce that they did not. Neither Carnegie nor his successor Dave Calabro ever asked for your attention in that way unless they are about to announce a death. Mom said that on that day the entire Speedway became completely quiet except you could hear people had transistor radios that they were listening to the race. On the radio, they had not yet made the announcement. While we didn’t hear any radios on the day that Smiley died, it was a very eerie quiet when the announcement was made.

There was one other death at the Speedway and again, I heard it but did not see it. On May 17, 1996, Mom and I had parked in the Museum parking lot between the first and second turns on a practice day. Just as we were getting out of my van and heading towards the handicapped seating area, we heard tires screech and a crash. We later learned that it was a crash involving popular driver Scott Brayton. I listened on my scanner radio the rest of the day to hear how he was. At one point, I heard officials talking saying, “When are they going to make the announcement?” At that point, I knew he was dead. A few minutes later Dave Calabro came on the PA with the worst words in motorsports “Ladies and gentlemen may I have your attention please.”

In contrast to Gordon Smiley, drivers were quite shaken at the loss of Brayton. He was an extremely outgoing and likable person much like Eddie Sachs had been in his day. To give you an idea of the kind of man that he was, for several years they gave out an annual “Scott Brayton Award” given to a driver who “best exemplifies the attitude, spirit and competitive drive of Brayton.” I always thought of it as racing’s version of the Walter Payton award given by the NFL. According to Wikipedia, they have not given the award since 2009. I’m not sure why.

The story I recounted in the article was about the great seats that we had to watch the race but there was one other time in 2005 when I had the opportunity to see the track from the viewpoint I had never seen before. My friends from church Bill and Lydia Ritter invited me to come with them to the track for a reception in one of the suites on the main straight. Bill Ritter was the basketball coach at Northwest high school when I attended there. Because of his volunteer work which included a missionary trip to Africa and the fact that he was an all-around wonderful person, he had been inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Each year that group that invited to the track I practice day and he invited me and my parents to join him. We got to watch practice from the air-conditioned comfort of the suites and I also was able to take the elevator to the roof of the suites to get the spectacular view of the main stretch and the first turn. Except for the day when my dad carried me up about 10 rows when I was six years old, I had never seen the track from an elevated position. Here are a couple of photos from that great day thanks to my late friends Bill and Lydia.

The first time I had ever seen the Speedway from an elevated position in person. Thanks to my friends Bill and Lydia Ritter who invited me to an event on the main straight suites, I was able to ride an elevator to the roof of the suites where I could get this wonderful view.


Another view from the roof of the suites this time working back towards the entrance of the first turn.

For the most part, my memories of my years at the Speedway are fond memories. I remember the year that my cousin Johnny and I hung out in the snake pit on a rainy qualifying day. Some drunk guy climbed over the fence and ran down the track and naked. I remember the countless hours of girl watching at the track. I remembered the day I was on my way out of the track to meet my mom who is going to pick me up outside the tunnel at gate seven and the tire came off the rim of my wheelchair. I tried to limp onward on the rim but the tire got tangled up and disengaged the clutch on the motor and I was stranded. I was rescued by a stranger who was a journalist who covered the Speedway. I later found out that my rescuer was the father of Kathy Breen a friend of mine from church. I remember the thrill and excitement of every race I attended. I was there when they broke the 200 mile-per-hour barrier. I was there in 1996 when Arie Luyendyk set a track record of 237.498 mph. It is a record that will likely never be broken because after that they changed the formula for the cars to slow them down. I was there in 1994 when Jeff Gordon won the first Brickyard 400.

This year when Hélio Castroneves won his record-tying fourth Indy 500 I had to watch the race in bed because they couldn’t get a home health aide to come on the Memorial Day weekend. I cheered and cried when he won the race. When Al Unser, Jr won the race in 1992 he said with tears in his eyes, “You just don’t know what Indy means.” Maybe not… But it means a lot to me too.

Links of interest

A Weird Story about the Internet, the Indy 500, Cheesy Sci-Fi, and 60s TV.

In 1994, I wrote an article that appeared in Indianapolis Monthly Magazine about the first time I went to the Indy 500. I’ve been a lifelong race fan and had been going to the track for years but did not actually attend the race until 1993 when they built a new wheelchair-accessible grandstand that made it easy for me to attend.

A few years later when the Internet became a thing, I posted a longer version of that story on my website accompanied by several pictures I had taken that day. One of them was of actor Eric Braeden riding by in a pace car along with a parade of other celebrities. Here is the photo I posted with the online version of my article.

If you clicked on the photo, it took you to a page titled Dr. Forbin I Presume? showing a photo with the following text.

Here actor Eric Braeden speeds by in a pace car during pre-race festivities. He played a computer science genius, Dr. Forbin, in one of my favorite cheesy sci-fi thrillers Colossus: The Forbin Project and he played the German Field Marshall in the ’60s TV series The Rat Patrol.

He is however more widely known as the rich and powerful Victor Newman in the soap opera The Young and the Restless. (Which I’m embarrassed to say, I watch every day.) But part of me still thinks of him as Dr. Forbin.

The article was up for maybe two or three years before I got my first email in regards to the article. The first one was in reference to what I said about the TV show “The Rat Patrol“. It was a World War II action show that ran for 56 episodes from 1966-1968. The email was from a self-proclaimed expert on Nazi uniforms who explained to me that the character was not a Field Marshal but in fact a captain. It included a detailed explanation of the various patches and ornaments on his uniform. A simple search to IMDb also provided information that the character was called “Capt. Hans Dietrich” but I think the guy just wanted to show off how much he knew about Nazis like that was something one would brag about.

Sometime later, I got another email from a guy who had done a search on the 1970 movie Colossus: The Forbin Project. This was in the days before Wikipedia and possibly for Google. I don’t know what search engine people were using but the guy had done a search on the movie and found my website. He had watched a movie late at night on some TV channel and had fallen asleep before it ended. I had said it was one of my favorite cheesy sci-fi thrillers that he wanted me to tell him how the movie ended. I obliged but I won’t spoil it here except to say it didn’t have much of an ending.

This was in the early days of the Internet. Today’s someone searching for information about the actor would never get to my old, hand-coded HTML webpage. That page still exists here: https://cyborg5.com/hcp/500/newman.htm. I did a Google search on the exact phrase “Dr. Forbin I Presume” which is the title of that webpage. Google couldn’t find it.

I don’t know what year I got those emails but those early days of the Internet when you could put up a tiny little handmade webpage and have people find you by thankfully long gone. Much more restorative sources exist than me.

You might wonder why tell the story now? I’m working on another installment of my Author’s Journal blog series and I was updating that old handwritten HTML version of the story to a WordPress page. I decided to create this blog post as a sidebar.

Author’s Journal: My First Book Published

This is the sixth in a continuing series of posts about my experience (limited as it is) as an author. Click here for a complete index of all the stories in this series.

In January 1993 I published my first book. It was a book about computer graphics titled Ray Tracing Creations. Ray tracing is a way of making photorealistic computer-generated images. Unlike other rendering methods, ray tracing creates realistic-looking reflections. Technically I was a co-author who got second billing but about 60% or more of the book was my work. This is the story of how I got involved in ray tracing and how I came to write this book

CompuServe and Me

As I mentioned in my story about my magazine feature “The Reunion“, in the early 1980s I got involved in the online community known as CompuServe Information Service. It was a precursor to the Internet and predated much more popular America Online or AOL as it was called. CompuServe was a very expensive service costing up to $6 per hour to connect. I would not have been able to afford it if I didn’t get a job as a forum moderator/discussion leader on a variety of forums. In those days they were called “SysOps” which was short for System Operator. If you worked as a discussion leader or SysOp you would get a “free flag” which would give you free connect time as long as you are working in your designated area.

My first free flag was in a group called NipSig which was short for National Information Providers Special Interest Group. It was a meeting place mostly for newspaper people who were supplying content for CompuServe. And eventually was renamed Issues Forum because it turned into a general discussion group for politics and a variety of other issues. There was a subsection called “Handicapped Issues” and I was a discussion leader in that group. I met friends there that are still friends today and that was nearly 40 years ago. Most notably my friend Pamela Bowen who was a newspaper editor had encouraged me as a writer and gave me the courage to write that article about the reunion.

Online Sex

One of the subsections of the Issues Form was about sexuality and it eventually spun off into a forum of its own forum called HSX or Human Sexuality Support Groups. I moved over to that forum to lead a subgroup on disability and sexuality. That particular subgroup didn’t generate much activity. Only a handful of people participated in the forum. Once they had discussed their relationship issues related to their disabilities there wasn’t much else to talk about. When an opening came along for the head sysop of that forum I took the job. It wasn’t so much as a discussion leader but just the day-to-day maintenance of the message boards and upload areas screening for inappropriate content etc.

Go Graphics

If you were a full-fledged sysop and not just a discussion leader you would get a free account that was good anywhere on CompuServe, not just the area you managed. One of my favorite places to hang out was the Graphics Forum. In 1990 I left HSX and devoted full time to the graphics forum. I had been involved in the graphics forum for several years. I was there in 1987 when CompuServe first introduced a graphics file format called Graphics Interchange Format or GIF. When a revised standard came out in 1989 it included the specification for overlaying partial images in a way that could create very rudimentary animations. I wrote some software that would help piece together multiple images into a very crude animation. This was MUCH less sophisticated than the animated GIF files you see today.

My Claim to Fame

One of the popular things to do with this new format was to scan softcore porn images and upload them. There were special adult-only sections in the HSX and the Graphics Forum for these uploads. Although I cannot prove it, I am claiming that I made the very first animated porn image ever created in GIF format. I found a very grainy low-quality nude image and using a paint program painted on a pair of underwear. Then I animated it so that the underwear came off. I still have the image stashed away somewhere but as I said, I can’t prove that it was the first such image ever created. I know that 99% of the GIF images in existence at the time came through the CompuServe forums. I had one of the very first programs capable of creating an animation. So I’m confident it was the first animated porn GIF ever made. Now back to our regular story.

Ray Tracing

One of the subsections of the graphics forum was a gathering place for programmers involved in the open-source graphics rendering program. There was a guy named David K. Buck who had a program called DKB-Trace. He decided that he didn’t want to work on development anymore. He donated the code to a new team of developers led by a programmer in California named Drew Wells. Drew formed a new group and renamed the software Persistence of Vision Ray Tracer or POV-Ray for short. The program was completely text-based. Using the POV-Ray language you would specify the location and shape of various objects, their color, reflective properties, texture, transparency, etc. as well as the location and intensity of several light sources and location, direction, and field-of-view of a virtual camera. The program would then take this information and render a photorealistic image. It was all done with text that had to be parsed and converted into something that can then be rendered.

Sometime around 1990 perhaps 1991 I submitted my first piece of code to the project and eventually became a very active developer. I added code that allowed you to put in mathematical formulas to position objects. Previously you could just specify the X, Y, Z location of an object with raw numbers. Or you could initialize an identifier such as width, height, length to be particular values that can be referenced throughout the specification of your scene. But before the code I added, there was no way to put in a formula such as “width+index*5”. In my senior year of college, I had taken a graduate-level 600 course in compiler design so it was trivial for me to know how to parse an expression such as that. At one point the POV-Team gave me the nickname “parse meister”.

The Book Deal

Cover of my first published book Ray Tracing Creations. You can click on this image or any other images in this blog for larger versions.

In 1992 our team leader Drew Wells made a deal with a computer book publisher known as Waite Group Press run by a man named Mitch Waite. Drew was given the task of writing a book called Ray Tracing Creations. He had only written a very few short chapters and the book wasn’t going to be much of a book at the rate he was going. I don’t remember if I offered or if I was recruited to submit a reference section to the book. It would be detailed documentation of all the commands and functions available in the POV-Ray program. Below is the table of contents of the book. I wrote the introductory chapter which was 30 pages and the reference chapter which was about 230 pages. Another team member named Dan farmer wrote chapter 6 on animation that was about 30 pages. Drew wrote the remaining pages about 200 long.

Table of contents for Ray Tracing Creations. I wrote chapters 1 & 7.

Here are the “About the Author” pages. That blurry image of Drew really look that bad in the original book. It’s not that I did a bad scan of it.

I dedicated the book to my online friend Pamela Bowen who was a newspaper editor from Huntington WV. She had read much of what I had written long CompuServe including my magazine article “The Reunion” and I was so grateful that she had encouraged me to write that I had to dedicate it to her. People said “What you couldn’t have dedicated it to your mom or dad or something?” Later when we did the second edition of the book I dedicated it “To my parents… Who taught me that I could do anything.”

I believe the book sold about 6000 copies. I think I was paid a flat fee of maybe $1000 and Dan got a stipend as well but Drew got most of the royalties. Drew had lots of personal issues going on in his life and if I hadn’t stepped in to complete the book it would’ve never happened.

The book came with a 3.5″ floppy disk containing the program. Unbeknownst to the POV-Team in general, Drew had promised the publisher that they would have exclusive rights to distribute the program with a book. The problem was, the software was completely open-source. Anyone could make copies and distribute them however they wanted. There was only one official version but in general, it was a free program. When a couple of magazines decided to distribute our program on a disk with the magazine, the folks at Waite Group got pretty upset. We had to go through a lot to get them to defend our exclusive deal. We were constantly sending threatening letters to people telling them that they could not redistribute our program if it was bundled with some sort of print publication. The whole thing was a nightmare.

The Second Edition

Cover art for Ray Tracing Creations, Second Edition.

About a year later I was recruited to update and revise the book. This time it would be my book with Drew getting second billing. I don’t recall if he got any payment of royalties for the second edition. I know that I got real royalties this time. It was about $1 per book and it sold just under 6000 copies. Between the two versions of the book, we had made pretty extensive updates to the program and so this new version of the book reflected those changes. The book was also translated into other languages. Somewhere around here, I have a version in Portuguese that was sold in Brazil. I received a small one-time fee for the foreign language versions.

By this time Drew was completely missing in action and I had taken over management of the team. I refused to call myself the “team leader” and I retitled the job “team coordinator”. It was a reaction to the fact that Drew had led us into a real mess and I wanted to have a more cooperative group decision-making process. Hence the name “coordinator” rather than “leader”. I contributed a small section to a couple of other graphics books published by Waite Group Press and I was paid a small flat fee for the contribution.

My Big Failure

I don’t recall if it was after the second edition of Ray Tracing Creations or if it was between the two editions but at one point they wanted me to write a new book. This one would be entirely mine. It would be more of a tutorial on how to create images rather than a reference manual like the books I had written. There was a brief tutorial in Drew’s chapters but they wanted an entire book that was a how-to book rather than a reference.

I wrote a sample chapter that they liked and they sent me a contract to sign. The big problem was they wanted it done by a certain date. After writing another chapter or so, I realized that it was moving much too slowly. There was no way I was going to be able to complete the book in time. I kept putting off signing the contract and they would send me emails asking me what was wrong. Finally, I gave them a call and tried to talk to Mitch Waite himself. He was unavailable but I talked to one of the associate editors. I don’t remember his name.

I admitted to him that the reason I hadn’t signed a contract was that I was wrestling with the possibility that I just couldn’t do it. I asked him if I could have more time. I estimated it was going to take me maybe five or six months more than whatever deadline they had set. I’m thinking it was two or three months. I don’t remember.

They wouldn’t budge on the deadline. They said that the first book had created momentum and that they were on a schedule where they wanted to publish something every five or six months I think. I don’t remember. This was a rather small market and they were putting out a catalog of new titles to send to retail and wholesale book buyers. If I delayed, it would leave a hole in their schedule. I just gave up.

In July 1994, Ray Tracing Worlds with POV-Ray was published. They hired another POV-Team member Alexander Enzmann as the primary author. In our group, he went by the name Xander. Another team member named Lutz Kretzschmar who lived in Germany had written a program called MORAY that was sort of a primitive CAD graphics modeling program that would let you create objects in sort of a primitive wireframe version. It didn’t give you an accurate preview of what you’re scene was going to look like. After you created the wireframe preview, it would export files in POV-Ray format. They included a copy of his program and he contributed a chapter and got second billing as co-author. I contributed an appendix that outlined the difference between the earliest versions of POV-Ray and the latest one.

Now that I think about it, this book must have come out between the two versions of Ray Tracing Creations because I’m pretty sure my second edition covered a later version than the one bundled with Ray Tracing Worlds.

The reason that they were able to create the book so quickly is that much of it focused on how to use the CAD program. I had never used MORAY and would not have been able to write such a book.

As I mentioned earlier, the normal way of creating a scene to be rendered was to type it out in a special computer language as an ordinary text file. It takes a lot of time to explain how to do that. Using a CAD program is easier. Unfortunately, the MORAY didn’t support all of the features of POV-Ray.

I was disappointed we never did publish a book about the detailed usage of the text-based method of creating a scene. I considered the possibility of going ahead and writing the book on my own time and submitting it to them on spec but I was getting burnt out on working with the program and never did write that other book.

The Rest of My POV-Ray Story

I don’t remember exactly when, but shortly thereafter I stepped down as the team coordinator and handed things over to a guy named Chris Cason who lived in Australia. The program has gone through a couple of minor revisions since I left. Chris Cason still manages the team although I don’t know how active they are lately. I don’t think there’s been an upgrade in several years.

Other CAD software and rendering programs such as Autodesk Fusion 360 and Blender are easier to use and produce spectacular results. They are completely graphics-based and you can see what you’re working on while you are working on it. You don’t have the disadvantages of a clumsy text interface. They do not use ray tracing to generate images. Ray tracing is incredibly slow. However some of the advanced graphics cards being sold for PCs these days have ray tracing algorithms that produce accurate reflections that are not possible in other forms of rendering. Even Pixar has gotten into the ray tracing business. Some of the scenes in Cars 2 and later Pixar movies had ray tracing effects.

I initially got into ray tracing because I wanted to create my own images. In my teens and early twenties, I tried pencil sketches as a way to create art but I never got good at it. One of the things I learned the hard way is why artists paint on an easel. I had to lay my paper flat on a table to draw. I would prop up my head on my left hand and often my head was at an awkward angle. Some of the drawings didn’t look too bad until you pick the page up and looked at it directly. It had all sorts of distortions because I was drawing it looking at the page at an angle.

Eventually I lost much of the use of my hands so the only way I could create images was on the computer and ray tracing was the perfect way to do it.

In 1995, I made a Christmas card with a ray traced rendering of two angels hovering over the little town of Bethlehem and the Star of Bethlehem shining down on the city. I created a new ray traced Christmas card every year from then until Christmas 2019. There was one exception. In 2016 a few years ago I took angels from the 1995 image and found a way to export them in a format where I could make physical objects using my 3D printer. I also printed tiny buildings of Bethlehem and the Star. I pasted the star on a dark blue cardboard background and photographed the scene re-creating the 1995 image.

For Christmas 2020 I had completely run out of ideas. The cards were expensive to print and it was time-consuming. I didn’t send Christmas cards that year and probably will not this year.

One of my blogs http://graphics.cyborg5.com/ gives details about some of the images I’ve created and how I made them. Here is a photo album of all of my Christmas cards on my Facebook page. They are public images and you should be able to click on the link and see them even if you are not a member of Facebook.

I’m Looking for a New Roommate/Caregiver

I’m looking for at least one possibly two new roommates/caregivers. Although most of the people who read this blog post already know things about me. I’m going to start from the beginning and assume you know nothing because I want friends and family to be able to forward this post to as many people as possible whether they know me or not.

Who is Chris Young? And why does he need a roommate?

Hi, I’m Chris Young. That’s my photo on the left. I’m 65 years old (will be 66 in July 2021) I have a genetic neuromuscular disease similar to muscle dystrophy. It’s called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. You can read more about it here. I lived in the same house on the northwest side of Indianapolis in the Eagledale area just north of Speedway ever since I was three years old. My parents took care of me their whole life. We lost my mom 12 years ago and my dad two years ago. When my dad was ill, my sister Carol moved in to help take care of both of us but she needed to move on with her life so I began looking for a new roommate who could help be a caregiver.

My dear friend Barb Alkema and her adult son Josh moved in here in May 2019. They have been a great blessing in my life and have taken good care of me. But things change and situations evolve and it’s now clear that Barb needs to move on to new adventures. Her own health is questionable and she doesn’t want to get to the point where she gets incapable of taking care of me suddenly. Also, her boyfriend Ed who lives in Toledo is facing some challenges of his own and she feels she would be better suited to caring for him. I can’t blame her. She’s given me two good years of her life that has been a great blessing and I wish her, Josh and Ed well.

Barb and Josh will be leaving in a couple of months and my sister Carol will return to help me transition to whatever kind of care I will be getting next. I’m hopeful that I can recruit someone who would live here and help take care of me the way Barb has done the past two years. Carol can help out for a while but that is not a permanent solution to my problem. If I don’t find a long-term solution of someone else who can move in here, then I will have to choose a skilled nursing facility.

A couple of years ago I took a tour of one in Greenwood and it looks like it’s a pretty nice place. It’s clean, doesn’t smell, and there are other people there like me that I can associate with. I wouldn’t be stuck in the same wing with a bunch of Alzheimer’s patients who didn’t know what was going on around them. The room is small and I would have to share it with someone so it would really be a huge change for me. Obviously, I would like to stay in my own home as long as possible.

What Kind of Care Do I Need?

I need someone to be with me 24/7. It’s not safe for me to be alone at any time. I have a trach that helps me breathe and when my lungs get congested we suction out my trach with a suction catheter. I have a G-tube that I use for all my nutrition. I don’t eat anything by mouth (except when I cheat on special occasions). The problem is that my throat muscles are very weak and I have difficulty swallowing. If food or liquid gets into my lungs I’m in deep trouble. I also have a suprapubic catheter connected to a leg bag for urine.

I have a home health aide that comes in every morning at 9 AM to get me a bed bath, dressed, put on my back brace, and get me into my wheelchair. Throughout the day I need someone who can suction the trach as needed, do my G-tube feedings three times a day, and assist me with other minor tasks. Sometimes my back brace needs a little adjustment (a strap looser or tighter). Barb has been taking care of me during the day and she can put me to bed at night using a Hoyer patient lift. She has some medical issues of her own and it’s easier to get me to bed and disassemble me than it is to assemble me in the morning and get me up. Because of regulations, my home health aides are not permitted to do G-tube feedings, trach suctioning, and they are not permitted to be alone with me in case I need suctioning.

At night I use a ventilator. I’m not really dependent upon the ventilator for breathing. I just use it like a CPAP or BiPAP to help me sleep but you can’t use an ordinary CPAP/BiPAP when you have a trach.

Although the job of taking care of me is basically 24/7, I also have a respite nurse who comes for four and 1/2 hours twice a week. I could probably qualify for as much as 15 hours per week of respite nursing. Barb has been using that time to run errands, go to the gym (pre-pandemic), and go to doctor appointments. Some days she just goes out and takes a walk in the park while the respite nurse is here. Currently, she is scheduled for 9:30 AM-3 PM. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We can reschedule those hours at different times if we have lots of advance notice. For example, when Carol moves back here we will move my respite hours to evenings or weekends. One of the problems with respite nursing is it works best when it’s on a regular schedule. So we can’t just arbitrarily call up and say “We need someone at this time and date.”

Who Can Do This?

The short answer is anyone with a normal amount of physical ability. The trach suctioning and G-tube feeding are not rocket science. Although the home health aides are not permitted to do it while they are here, I’ve trained friends and family to be able to do these things. For example, if I go out to a movie, concert, or sporting event I take my portable suction machine with me and my friends or family take care of it as needed.

In addition to these activities there is also some slightly more gross stuff to deal with. My urine bag needs to be emptied. And in the evening after I go to bed is usually the time when I need to get on the bedpan. It is not difficult to get me on or off the bedpan. You roll over, stuff it underneath me, roll me back on top of it. After I’ve finished my business you have to roll me off, wipe my butt, and clean up the bedpan.

You would be responsible for maintaining the house, cleaning, laundry, your own cooking etc. The kinds of things you would be doing if you were on your own.

I have a van with a wheelchair lift. I need to be taken to doctor’s appointments and whatever other activities I might need to do. However I don’t really get out very much.

At one point I was thinking perhaps a couple of college students would be good roommates but trying to juggle their schedule, nursing schedules etc. might be pretty difficult. Having had Barb here for two years who is on disability but still somewhat physically capable I’m thinking someone like her who is perhaps physically fit but recently retired might be a good candidate. There is no smoking in the house. Barb and Josh smoke on the back porch or in the unheated garage during the winter. No heavy drinking. No recreational drugs. I really prefer no pets even though Barb brought 4 cats with her. She keeps the litter box well cleaned and if you brought pets I would expect the same. As I told my friends when Barb moved here, given a choice between 4 cats and a nursing home I would get used to the cats. Still, it’s not my preference.

When someone asks who is Barb? I describe her as a friend, roommate, caregiver in that order. She’s my friend first, my roommate second, and my caregiver third. I would hope to build such a relationship with another person.

Is There Any Other Help Available?

Because my current roommate Barb was able to be here virtually 24/7 (except when the respite nurse was here) I did not qualify for any other assistance except for the home health aide in the morning. However when my sister was living here while my dad was ill and after he died, we were able to get nine hours per day of nursing service five days a week so that she could go to work. Unfortunately, that system just barely worked. Even though we had reasonably reliable people, there were always incidents where someone had to call in sick at the last minute, their car would break down, their children or other family had issues. Sometimes they just needed to take some time off for vacation. It was extremely difficult to get replacement nurses, especially for last-minute schedule changes. That meant that my sister Carol would end up either going to work late or not at all. I have other friends who sometimes are able to fill in in an emergency situation but they have lives of their own and cannot always help.

So while technically I could have a roommate with a full-time job, it would be better if I had someone who is retired or available throughout the day. The nursing support just isn’t foolproof. After Barb moves out in a few months, my sister Carol will be here a few more months. She currently has a work-from-home job working for the Indiana 211 Information Line. Thanks to the pandemic (if you can say such a thing), many people are now working from home. As long as you could take a minute or two breaks when I needed something, a work-from-home person would be ideal.

What Does It Pay?

Short answer… Not much. You get free rent, free cable (including HBO and Showtime), free Internet, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Disney+, free utilities, use of a desktop computer, use of the entire house, your own bedroom. And that’s about it. However recently thanks to a benefactor, I might be able to pay a small stipend or provide some additional expense money. My resources that I could devote to this could be as much as $1000 per month. However, if I have more than one roommate, that $1000 is the grand total per month. I could not afford that per roommate. I’m still working out some of the details about how this compensation would work. So the benefit really is all in the free housing.

My house has 4 bedrooms. One is mine and one is my office although if we needed another bedroom I could move my computers and other office stuff into the family room. We have a bath and 1/2. Air conditioning, washer and dryer. Refrigerator, gas stove, microwave, and dishwasher. The dishwasher was a big selling point when Barb moved here :-).

More about Me

I’m pretty easy to get along with. I’m addicted to TV. I love sci-fi and action movies. I’m basically a nerd. I have a BS degree in computer science from IUPUI. I write technical articles about assistive technology. I designed and built a variety of AT gadgets including a gadget I call my “Ultimate Remote” that allows me to control my iPhone, TV, cable, computer mouse, and other gadgets all with just three little pushbuttons in my right hand. Below is a video that my friend Bill made when he was helping me make a new version of my remote control. While he was here, I took him on a tour of all of my assistive technology and gadgets. The video below will give you a little more idea of what I’m capable of doing or not doing and how my gadgets work. It talks a little bit about my day-to-day life.

Here are some other links of interest.

Also browse around this blog and other blogs that are available on the menu at the top of this page. It will help you get to know me better.

What You Can Do

First of all pray. Pray that the right person is available to keep me out of a nursing home. If you don’t believe in prayer just wish me luck.

Think about your family, friends, colleagues, people from church, social circles, everyone that you know, and think about whether or not they might be able to help me out. Feel free to forward this article to anyone you want to and have them forward it or repost it as well.

Finally if by chance, you might be interested in free rent in a nice house, free cable, free internet, interesting company from a smart and funny guy, all in exchange for being stuck here with me most of the time and wiping my butt as needed… Then contact me. Email me at cy_borg5@cyborg5.com and we can talk via Zoom, Facebook, FaceTime, or phone and/or set up an in-person meeting. Let’s talk about the possibilities and perhaps we can work something out to our mutual benefit.

And keep praying.

Author’s Journal: Hooray! My First Rejection!

This is the fifth in a continuing series of posts about my experience (limited as it is) as an author. Click here for a complete index of all the stories in this series.

I’m celebrating today. I got my first rejection letter!

I’ve not had a lot of things published but I have published a few. I’ve been talking about them in this series of blog posts that I’m calling “Author’s Journal”. I’ve got more articles to write in this series about things that have gotten published. And then something happened today and I simply realized it had NEVER happened before.

I got a rejection letter. (Actually it was an email.)

Anyone who has ever tried to sell their written works probably has enough of these to wallpaper their entire house and then some. Every bit of advice I’ve ever heard about writing is that getting rejected is something that’s going to happen a lot. I ran into a guy on Facebook who had written some sci-fi stories and he got 50 rejections before he had his first sale. But for some bizarre reason (and certainly not because I’m such a brilliant writer) until today I’ve never been rejected. I never thought about the fact before. I never realized how extraordinary it was.

Let’s take a quick review of the things I’ve published. In a previous blog post I talked about 2 technical articles I wrote for an obscure computer magazine called “Microsystems”. They were a couple of little file conversion utilities that I had written for computer disk systems that no longer exists. If there had been the Internet back in those days it would’ve been a couple of simple blog posts and maybe a dozen people might have stumbled onto it if they had done the right Google search. But because these niche magazines in the early days of personal computing were so anxious for content, they agreed to publish my first article and a few weeks later I submitted part two and they brought it as well. They even republished the magazine articles into a book that was sort of a “best of” collection even though the title didn’t say that. Read my blog below about how inappropriate it was for my articles to be in that compilation and the story behind the story.

Author’s Journal: My First Print Publication

The second thing I had published was my autobiographical article “The Reunion” which was published in the September 1987 issue of Indianapolis Monthly Magazine. It was a memoir of me growing up attending a special education school called James E. Roberts IPS School #97. They had a reunion at the school that I attended to celebrate that it was closing and all the special ed kids were being mainstreamed into regular education. The visit to the old school brought back lots of memories and I chronicled them in that article. While “Microsystems” was anxious to publish my technical article, Indianapolis Monthly very nearly rejected my story. You can read the story behind the story of “The Reunion” in this post from Author’s Journal which also includes links to an online version of the original magazine article.

Author’s Journal: My Award-Winning Article “The Reunion”

My next published work was a book that I contributed to called “Ray Tracing Creations” about ray trace computer graphic rendering. I was part of a team of volunteer programmers who built an open source rendering engine called POV-Ray. The team leader, a guy named Drew Wells, got the contract to write a book about our program. He got tied up in his personal life and only wrote about five chapters and couldn’t finish it. Because I was the next most experienced and knowledgeable person on the team, they reached out to me and I wrote the rest of the book. A short time later we did a second edition rewrite and I got top billing over Drew. It’s not like I wrote something on my own on spec, submitted to a publisher, and waited for a reply. So in this case there really wasn’t a chance of a rejection letter unless what I wrote was just so awful that they decided to scrap the entire existing project. I’ve not yet chronicled the story behind that story. Look for it in upcoming blog posts.

I also had a second magazine article published in Indianapolis Monthly about my first time attending the Indy 500. Although I had been a lifelong race fan and been to practice and qualifying countless times my entire life, I had not yet attended the race itself because prior to that there wasn’t a good place to sit in a wheelchair. The story behind that story will be featured in a future Author’s Journal. While this story could have been rejected, they already knew me and liked my work. This story about my first 500 wasn’t as emotional or moving as “The Reunion” but it was good enough.

Since then I’ve been doing technical writing for the Adafruit Learning System in which I talked about various maker projects I have created most of them involving assistive technology for the disabled. The folks at Adafruit were familiar with my projects because I would show them off on their weekly video show and tell chat room. They had also seen some of my technical blogs and they were happy to publish my articles. Initially I was paid in free merchandise but more recently have been paid monetarily. Again this was a situation where they knew my work, they were anxious to have it, and the chance of getting completely rejected was relatively small. Click here for a list of my technical articles on the Adafruit Learning System.

Some of my best writing has been in my personal blogs but of course I’m the publisher. I’m not going to reject my own work 🙂

This entire Author’s Journal is being written because last summer I decided to try my hand at writing fiction specifically science fiction. I’ve written a novella that was initially 24,500 words long. The problem is the major sci-fi magazines like their novellas in the neighborhood of 20,000-22,000 words long. I worked hard to get it down to 22,000 but that still is going to limit my market.

While I was working on that, I had a dream and when I woke up from it I had the idea for a short story. A very short story. Just 300 words. That’s too short. Some of the sci-fi magazines publish extremely short things under the category of “Poetry” and although it wasn’t necessarily written in verse and did not rhyme, it did have a sort of lyrical poetic nature to it. Maybe it was free verse. Maybe it was a very very short story. I didn’t know.

I was so excited that I had been inspired to write this clever little short piece and had not planned on writing that I did way too little research on where I should submit it.

The obvious choice was the “Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction“. It was a little bit surrealistic and so it was more fantasy than sci-fi. Unfortunately at the time they were in the process of changing editors and had closed the magazine to new submissions until they published their backlog of purchase stories and sets of new editorial goals under the new leadership. My favorite of the top sci-fi magazines is “Analog Science Fiction – Science Fact Magazine” but they mostly publish what we might call hard science (technology, spaceships, computers etc.) That left “Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine” as the remaining one of what I would describe as “The Big Three”.

The story took me less than a half hour to write. I spent less than an hour deciding Asimov would be my first choice. I uploaded it with a note saying “I don’t know if this is poetry or a very short story but I thought I would submit it anyway.”

They say wait five weeks for an answer. I was also supposed to get an email acknowledging the submission which I never got. But when I would go to the submission website and type in my receipt number it said that my story had been received.

Shortly after submitting it, I discovered there was an entire category called “Flash Fiction“. It consists of extremely, extremely short stories never longer than 1500 words. Unknowingly I had written flash fiction which Asimov typically doesn’t publish. It turns out that Analog does publish flash fiction occasionally. They had one in their November/December 2020 issue. But again this wasn’t sufficiently hard science Analog-like.

I did find an online webzine that pays professional rates of about eight cents per word. It’s called “Daily Science Fiction“. They publish a new story every day that comes to you free by email or you can go to their website. Everything there is flash fiction under 1500 words and preferably under 1000 words. Perfect for what I had written. They publish all sorts of speculative fiction including sci-fi, fantasy, and another category I had never heard of cald slipstream. Apparently slipstream is sort of a bizarre otherworldly kind of writing that is not mainstream but slipstream. Maybe that’s what I wrote.

Realizing how inappropriate my choice of Asimov was, I was a bit anxious to get rejected so that I could submit it somewhere else. It is strictly forbidden to submit the same item to multiple publishers at once. If they catch you, you could easily get blacklisted. Maybe not from the whole industry but certainly ruin your chances with the publications involved.

When the five-week waiting period was up, I still had not heard back anything from Asimov’s. They said if you don’t hear anything after five weeks that you can email them so I did.

Again I explained that I didn’t know if what I had written was poetry or perhaps flash fiction… Probably the latter. But they said if you don’t hear anything in five weeks I can email you so here I am asking what’s my status. Then I added a paragraph… It said something like “By the way I’ve got this novella. Your guidelines say that you ‘Rarely publish anything over 20,000 words.’ I’m working on a novella that I’ve managed to trim down to 22,000 words. I suppose if I was an established author you might stretch your limits but has a guy like me who is unpublished got a chance with a 22,000 word story?”

I fully expected them to write back saying “The rules are the rules. Go away kid… You’re bugging me with this 22,000 word crap.” Much to my surprise I got a very nicely worded email explaining that poetry goes to a different editorial process and can take up to two months. And that my novella wasn’t extensively over the limit and they suggested I go ahead and submit it. They said if we like it and it’s too long we will help you cut it.

I had been through that before. “The Reunion” was too long and the editor there gave me another chance to trim it and then she trimmed some more and put back in some things I took out. So it was a bit of déjà vu.

I still had some final edits to do on my novella but my plan was to submit it at 22,000 words and see what happens. A friend of mine is doing some final proofreading for me and I should be ready to submit it very soon.

Meanwhile today Asimov finally rejected my flash fiction. I was so happy. Now I can send it somewhere more appropriate and have a better shot at it. I have submitted it to Daily Science Fiction. They say that they try to respond quickly but if you haven’t heard anything in four weeks you can contact them. There is a place where you can look up the status of your submission online. So now we wait and see. Maybe I will get another rejection which is okay.

Also over the weekend I finished the first draft of a sequel to my as yet un-submitted novella. This one has come in at 16,000 words so I won’t have to do any major surgery on it to get it within the standard writers guidelines.

I will keep you posted as the story develops and I will be working on more installments of Author’s Journal telling the stories behind the stories of what I have published.