Cary Lu

Pat Nye[hidden]

It is said that memory is both precious and fragile and I've been made keenly aware of this as, during the hours since I learned of Cary's untimely death, I have been trying to piece together events in his life that occurred as long as thirty years ago. At that time I was a research fellow at Caltech, fresh from England, and Cary was a Graduate Student, full of ideas, optimism, curiousity and seemingly boundless self confidence. We met one another through a mutual research interest in the mechanisms of human vision and in the nature of visual perception. Even in an institution in which many students were self confident to an enviable degree, justified no doubt by their lofty SAT scores, Cary, I recall, succeeded in establishing an unusually memorable presence. To my mind a substantial part of that presence was founded on his delivery of a public lecture in the Beckman Auditorium on how visual disorders of various kinds could possibly have influenced the work of several renaissance era painters. The occasion gave him the opportunity to share with others his love of fine art and to work with a state-of-the-art projection system. With this system he contrived spectacular and almost seamless three-panel projections of his favorite canvasses. Cary got great enjoyment from learning about and, if possible, mastering a new technology, and almost always found some way of getting his hands on it. For example, in 1968, when the first Boeing 747s appeared in service, Cary persuaded one of the airlines to provide a technical tour of the cockpit and other innovative features of the new craft. And so it was that he, and a group of his friends, trundled down to the Los Angeles airport and received VIP treatment.

But to return to the Beckman Auditorium. The public lecture series at the Beckman customarily featured famous scientists such as Max Delbruck, Richard Feynman or Fred Hoyle. For a mere graduate student to talk his way onto such a program seemed to me and many others at the time to be a simply amazing piece of audacity. His lecture, nevertheless, was a resounding success. One argument he made, I remember, was that the work of the Spanish painter El Greco, whose human figures are often disproportionately tall and thin, probably appears the way it does because he suffered from astigmatism.

Perhaps my memory has telescoped events severely. Perhaps he actually delivered more than one such lecture. Nevertheless, the fact remains that (as I remember it), in that very same talk, Cary also showed a movie he had shot of nematodes busy doing what nematodes do -- another technical tour de force he pulled off with fancy new microscope he wangled access to somewhere within the Institute. The mischievous enjoyment he got from explaining exactly what the audience was witnessing is another singular fragment of my memory. How could he have conceivably forged a coherent link between nematodes and fine art? I simply can't remember. But of this I am sure, if it can be done then Cary probably did do it. His interests were so broad, his mind so nimble and he took such delight in drawing the big picture that I cannot say that such a thing would have been beyond him.

I also remember with pleasure being introduced to Cary's parents during a brief visit to their comfortable Los Angeles apartment located on a hill. I think we dropped in to pick up a camera one afternoon, drank tea and talked about China for a while. It was perhaps the same camera that Cary used on our conquest of Mount Whitney. At Cary's instigation, a group of us piled into a station wagon early one Friday and headed toward the Owens Valley to begin our climb. I remember we spent a very cold night camped at about 9,000 feet and that Cary was up before dawn the following day to photograph the salmon-pink first light as it struck the peaks of the Sierra Madre mountains. From the very beginning, I believe, the real challenge and perhaps the primary goal of the expedition for Cary was not to climb the mountain but to produce a color image that would rival Ansel Adams' famous black and white print of the Sierras -- the one with the false moon. We gained the summit without incident, I recall, and Cary once again used his camera to record the memorable event. Stashed in a box somewhere, I must still have the copies that Cary kindly gave me of those pictures.

For several years after our separate departures from Caltech, Cary would call me from time to time to get my views on the topic of computer-synthesized speech. It is always flattering to be consulted about something and Cary, the successful author and filmmaker who was shortly to publish the definitive book on the Macintosh computer, was unfailingly generous with the attention he gave to what I had to say. Doubtless he consulted many others on the same topic. It would certainly have been prudent to have done so and Cary was always careful and balanced in his approach. The last occasion I saw him was sometime in the mid to late 1970s when, on a journey between New York and Boston, he spent a night at my home in Connecticut. We later exchanged one or two more telephone conversations and I received a card, bearing a wryly amusing salutation, that he mailed to me during a visit to his native China. But, after the mid 80s, we somehow lost touch with one another. I greatly regret my neglect.

Cary was a fine, fine man and I am truly proud to be able to say that I was once his friend.

Pat Nye