Cary Lu

Bob Kavanagh[hidden]

These notes are written by Bob Kavanagh, of Saskatoon, Canada, in memory of Cary Lu. As these stories will join others in a scrapbook for Cary's children, Meredith and Nathaniel, I want to share memories that are for me symbolic of Cary's dedication to understanding the ways in which nature and technology worked, and at the same time to enjoy the process of learning about the world. Although all of us remember Cary for his technical brilliance, he had an unusually relaxed approach to his processes of inquiry, and he knew how to quietly enjoy the world around him.

1. Touring a Boeing 747 ....

When Cary and I were graduate students at Caltech, the Boeing 747 went into service as a commercial airliner. American Airlines was one of the first carriers to put this jumbo jet into domestic service in the United States. Cary decided that we should have a comprehensive tour of a 747, as this aircraft was a piece of state-of-the-art technology, that needed to be understood as a technical achievement, not just used as a mode of transportation.

He phoned several airlines at Los Angeles International, and was turned down by all but one, usually on the grounds of security. American, however, was open to giving a tour, on two conditions. First, we could only have 5 people on the tour (so they could keep an eye on us). Second, the only possible time for a tour was during the overnight servicing of the aircraft that went back and forth between Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. Cary countered by saying "We accept, but we want a tour guide who knows the function of each and every switch in the cockpit." The folks at American said "that can be arranged", and a date was picked. The five of us from Caltech (Cary, me, and three others) set off for a 1:00 AM date at LAX one morning about 1970. The person appointed as tour guide was an engineer who was in charge of 747 maintenance from midnight to 8:00 AM. Can you imagine having an engineering job at that time of the day? He was absolutely delighted to host the tour, which he did for about 4 hours! Indeed he did know the cockpit inside out, and the 6 of us spent a full 2 hours there. He even opened up inspection panels at the back of the lounge, from which you could see down between the outer fuselage and the passenger cabin. The one piece of trivia that I remember from the cockpit tour was the forward cockpit windows, which were designed to sustain an impact with an object like a bird, and do so by deflecting inwards up to about 30 cm and then snapping back to throw out broken Plexiglas and the offending feathered creature, so that the flight crew could have their visibility restored. I recall that the windows cost about $20,000 each.

We poked, crawled and asked questions for 4 hours. We spent about an hour outside, looking at items like the landing gear, and trying to imagine how on earth they folded up from their position on the ground to a more compact configuration in the cavity far about our heads. We heard stories about American not having the correct baggage handling gear in Washington the first time they flew into that airport, and they could not unload the passengers' baggage. They had to fly the aircraft to New York, where they had equipment tall enough to get at the bags, and then fly the bags back to Washington, on a smaller aircraft, to be distributed to the passengers.

Our tour was over at 5:00 AM. We thanked our host, who went back to his desk job, and we made our way back to Pasadena, or in Cary's case, to his parents' home in Glendale.

Cary had an insatiable curiosity about technology. He arranged this tour not because he was in awe of a 747, but because he thought we should know about it, from nose to tail. And that night, 5 of us had the pleasure of being fully saturated by the then brand new Boeing 747, thanks to Cary.

2. Galloping horses aren't like that ...

Caltech had a prestigious lecture series known as the Beckman Lectures. Every Monday evening when we were grad students in Pasadena, an expert speaker gave a lecture about a current scientific topic, to the general public. The talks were rehearsed many times until they were considered understandable by the Pasadena community, and it was considered an honour to give one of these lectures.

Cary was the first graduate student ever to be invited to give a Beckman Lecture. His lecture, on the history of visual problems in art, subsequently became his ticket to many offerings of the lecture all around the United States and beyond. The lecture was a visual extravaganza, using 3 or 4 simultaneous slide projectors, a motion picture projector and lasers. Setting up the space in the Beckman Auditorium required, I recall, some construction work to permit all the projection screens to be accommodated. The lecture used hundreds of colour slides, and, to the great pride of my wife and I, one short segment of high-speed 16mm movie film played in slow motion.

One of the problems that Cary chose to address was the practise of painting horses at full gallop with their legs fully extended, front and back. This style was especially noticeable among 18th century English painters. Cary wanted to show that this was an inaccurate depiction of a horse at full gallop, so it became a short segment of his famous lecture. In order to show this, Cary, my wife Carol and I packed a high speed (1000 frames per second) motion picture camera to the roof of the grandstand at Santa Anita racetrack one Saturday morning, in time to record galloping thoroughbreds during the early morning workouts. In this case, 'early morning' meant 5:00 AM! Carol and I came along to help carry all of the gear, and it was quite an adventure. The thoroughbreds galloped by, far below us, and Cary recorded several passes of horses at full gallop. When played back at 32 frames per second during the lecture, the sequence clearly showed that galloping horses never have their legs extended front and back as shown by painters of the 18th century. There is only one point in their movement when all four feet are off the ground, and that occurs with the rear legs reaching forward and the front legs curled underneath -- exactly the reverse of the pose shown in the traditional paintings!

This film clip, along with the rest of the lecture, was typical of Cary's dedication to explaining things to people. He infected the rest of us with his passion to get things correct. Carol and I never thought of the early rising and effort to get cameras into position at the racetrack as work; it was just something we did with our friend in the pursuit of his creation of the lecture. It was fun. How many can say they got into Santa Anita at 5:00 AM, with full cooperation of the management, on the roof no less, to take pictures of beautiful thoroughbred horses, on a spectacular morning? It was a gift to share this with Cary, and we will always remember that experience.

Cary and I stayed in touch throughout the time since we both left Caltech. We often talked on the phone about some technical tidbit that one of us wanted to consult about with the other. We both shared a passion for the Macintosh computer. He visited us in Saskatoon at least twice, and we visited him and his family in Seattle. We caught up to him in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco for brief visits. He will remain in my heart as a very special person, and a valued friend.

[As a postscript to the material I sent in earlier, I want to add this poem that I wrote on the way to Seattle for the service in celebration of Cary.]

Cary's Space

I rose in the dark to celebrate your life.

As I traveled by plane, I recalled a time when we toured together a Boeing 747.

We shared a space then, and we share a space now.

I look out as sunrise races to catch me over the same snow-capped mountains over which you flew to visit me and my family.

What seems like empty space below, I know is filled with the spirit of those who walked, paddled, drove, flew and died here before.

Those spirits are present to me now, as are you, in this space.

What more can we ask of friends, except that they share their spirit, and their space, with ours?

The Creator has given us such magnificent space, and she invites us to fill it with love, justice, acts of human achievement and continuing stewardship for our space.

Most of us fail that invitation to fill our spaces, or to properly care for them.

But you, my friend, filled yours, and some of mine too.