Category Archives: Personal History

One of my favorite quotes ever

As a teenaged convert in the late 1960s, I found that the book “Eternal Man” by Truman Madsen had a tremendous impact on me, as did Madsen himself (he came to San Diego a few times with BYU Education Week, and also came down for one of our stake youth conferences). I gave away my copy of “Eternal Man” a few years ago to a new member, but found a paperback version at Deseret Book this past week and picked up two copies.

I opened it up today and ran across this quote in the book just before the preface. This observation impacted me greatly when I read it some 45 years ago — because it spoke to my own conversion, testimony, and baptism at age 14 — and still moves me greatly:


Sometimes during solitude I hear truth spoken with clarity and freshness; uncolored and untranslated, it speaks from within myself in a language original but inarticulate, heard only with the soul, and I realize I brought it with me, was never taught it, nor can I effectively teach it to another. — Pres. Hugh B. Brown

So long, Steve, and Godspeed.

The second personal computer I ever owned[1] was an Apple II, with no floppy drive. I bought it, along with a small color TV, from my close friend Robert Trammel while we were both living in Houston sometime around 1980.We had already spent hours together programming on it, then carefully (though not always successfully) saving our programs out to cassette tape. After three months, I sold the computer and TV back to Robert — not because I didn’t like it, but because I was spending far too much time on it.

A few years later — in 1982 — my close friend Wayne Holder hired me into his nascent software company, Oasis Systems, in part to help with his existing and planned word processing utilities (The Word Plus, Punctuation + Style), but mostly to develop computer games. And we did, developing Sundog: Frozen Legacy on the Apple II, a game for which I still get e-mails (and which Wayne is even now working on resurrecting for modern platforms). In January 1984, a few months before Sundog shipped, we were invited by Guy Kawasaki to come up to Apple to see a preview of the Mac and to talk about what software we could port to the Mac. Through my connections with computer stores in San Diego, I was able to get a personal loan of a Mac for a few days at home prior to the official announcement in Cupertino later that month, which Wayne and I attended as well. That was my first time seeing Steve Jobs in person, and it remains a memorable highlight of my professional life.

When the Mac shipped a few days later, I went down to the one computer store in San Diego that I knew would be getting machines from Apple. I took $3000 in cash with me and managed to convince the store owner — a friend — to let me have one of the three Macs he had to sell. Through a connection with Phil Lemmons — editor-in-chief at BYTE — I ended up writing the official BYTE review of the 128K Macintosh (August 1984 issue). By the end of 1984, I was writing full-time for BYTE, including on-going coverage of the Macintosh, particularly once my BYTE column started in mid-1985. After a few years of writing for BYTE, I switched to writing for Macworld magazine. Steve was now long-gone from Apple, and Apple was having some of its own problems going forward.

But in late 1987, I was contacted by Addison-Wesley. They were interested in having me write a book about Steve Jobs’ new project at NeXT. Folks at NeXT had apparently suggested me to Addison-Wesley, probably due to my writing at BYTE and Macworld. I leapt at the opportunity, particularly since in coincided with our family moving from Utah to just outside Santa Cruz (where I would be doing technical writing for Borland on a consulting basis). Once there, I found myself invited to visit NeXT HQ on Deer Creek Road, sit in on meetings, and attend the 0.3 NeXTstep Dev Camp. And, yes, that meant getting actual face time with Steve Jobs as well — not a lot, but this was a man whose creations had been impacting my personal and professional life for over a decade at this point.

The writing of the book dragged out as I waited to get my hands on an actual NeXT cube, which finally happened (if I recall correctly) at the end of 1988 or early 1989. I wrote the first several drafts of the book on that NeXT cube itself. The book came out in the fall of 1989; it remains the single most successful book I’ve ever written, due to the intense interest in NeXT itself, more than any particular writing skills or technical insight on my part.

The following year, I found myself working with a world-class typographer (Mike Parker) and graphic designer (Vic Spindler) to create a design-oriented desktop publishing system. I was doing all the software prototyping on my NeXT cube, and we made the decision to make the NeXT our first target platform. For five years — 1990 to 1995 — I served as chief architect and CTO at Pages Software Inc, where we developed Pages by Pages and then WebPages, while spending nearly two years just trying to raise venture funding. We closed on funding at the start of 1992 and shipped our first version of Pages in early 1994. We quickly sold all that we were going to in the all-too-small NeXTstep market. My frustrations at seeing larger firm try to leverage off of NeXT’s incredible innovations led to an op-ed piece in the November 1994 issue of BYTE, “Whither NextStep?” The day that issue came out was the last time that Steve Jobs and I spoke — he called me from the back of a car somewhere to ask me what the hell I was doing writing that. I said, telling the truth. Pages would close its door the next year, unable to secure additional funding to move its technology to Windows.

When Steve engineered his brilliant reverse takeover of Apple — getting Apple to buy NeXT for $400 million, then slowly moving himself into the CEO seat — I was not optimistic. I still had unconditional praise for the NextStep technology, but I was dubious about Steve’s ability to sell technology to markets and to compete with Microsoft.

Boy, was I wrong. I was not only wrong about his abilities at Apple, I was wrong in my BYTE article about NextStep being on a downward slope. NextStep, of course, was the foundation of Mac OS X, and Steve transformed Apple into the most-admired, most-imitated, and most-valuable company in the world. And I was tickled that, when Apple brought out its own word processor, it was named “Pages”. Steve had always liked that name when we were developing (and shipping) our own product years before; glad he was able to use it.

To quote John Perry Barlow over on FB, “The world is suddenly a less interesting place.” ..bruce w..

[1] The first was an HP-67 card-reading programmable calculator.

[Cross-posted from And Still I Persist]

Tales of the Dorms

Back in January, BYU Magazine (or whatever its called) solicited tales of dorm life. I submitted the stories below, and they apparently chose one of them (based on my daughter-in-law’s comments on Facebook). Here are my original stories. These are all from 1971-72, my freshman year at BYU. I was living on the 3rd floor in Penrose (“T”) Hall in Deseret Towers.

Glow-ball Warfare and Other Dorm Games

When you put 40+ young men, mostly freshman, all on the same dorm floor — in this case, the 3rd floor of Penrose (T) Hall in Deseret Towers (1971-72) — interesting activities develop. One of our periodic games was called “Glow-ball Warfare”, and we played it in the commons room (with all the furniture in place). The main playing instrument was a plastic, glow-in-the-dark ball. All the players would gather into the commons room, with a few towels to block out light coming from beneath the doors. One person would start out with the ball, holding it up to one of the ceiling lights. After a minute or so, he’d nod, and all the lights would be turned out. He would now do his best to hit someone else with the now-glowing ball, the only thing visible in the room. Everyone else would do their best to get away from him in the darkness, usually running into each other and the furniture (the worst I ever got hurt in the game was crawling head-first into the heavy metal pole holding up one of the tables). Once the ball was thrown, there was a scramble to grab the ball; whoever got it now did his best to hit someone else. When the ball got too dim, we’d call a halt, turn on the lights to recharge it, and then continue. There were no teams; it was strictly a free-for-all.

In high school, I had played football for four years. There was another guy on my dorm floor, Layne Jensen (’74, ’76, ’78), who had been in wrestling in high school for four years. Every now and then, Layne and I would have contests where we would take turns hitting each other in the stomach as hard as we could to see if the other guy could take it. For the life of me, I can’t remember how this got started or why we thought it was a good idea, but I know we always walked away feeling that both of us had done well.

Greg Zippi (’77, ’83), another floor-mate, came up with a less violent and painful game: Hallway Frisbee. The two players would start a modest distance apart in one of the long dorm hallways. One player would toss a frisbee to the other player. If the frisbee didn’t touch the wall, ceilings or (of course) floor, then both players would take a stride back, and the second player would throw to the first player. If the frisbee did touch the floor/walls/ceiling, then we stayed the same distance apart. The goal was to throw the frisbee the full length of the hallway without it touching anything. Given how long and narrow the Deseret Towers hallways were, that was a rare accomplishment, but always much celebrated and bragged about when accomplished.

I will pass over in silence the Hallway Whiffleball games, which were a bit, ah, rougher on the ceiling light fixtures than Hallway Frisbee.

Finally, at the end of our freshman year, at the end of finals, we challenged another floor in our hall to a few outdoor competitions, one of which was a tug-of-war across one of the the irrigation canals that ran near Heritage Halls. Because the heights of the two banks of the canal weren’t quite the same, we decided to switch sides after the first event and repeat the tug-of-war. Many of us, not wanting to walk the 30 yards or so to one side to walk across the canal, simply ran and jumped over it. Since the canal had 2-3″ of water in it, and since the canal had sloping banks, I kept a careful eye on the ground as I ran up to the canal and leapt. I then looked up just in time to see that someone from the opposing team had done exactly the same thing at exactly the same time in exactly the same (but opposite) place along the canal. One of my floormates (it may well have been Greg) later told me — once he could stop laughing — that it was like watching a live-action cartoon. This other young man and I hit one another full on right over the middle of the canal, exactly canceled out each other’s momentum, hung for a split-second in mid-air, and then dropped into the canal’s cold, cold water together. For my own part, I put out my right hand to break my fall and slammed it onto one of the large, water-smoothed rocks at the bottom of the canal. I was unable to shake hands for a month.

It was a great year.

Bruce F. Webster (BS, ’78)
Parker, Colo.

Child of the Year moments

Heather O. over at Mommy Mormon Wars has a posting about “Another Mother of the Year moment” (which involves her toddler daughter stuffing her mouth with holly berries). The comments (be sure to read them all) have similar “I can’t believe I did that” parental moments.

In fairness to Heather O. and the rest, however, many of these moments are less the parents’ fault than simply the consequences of having children. I think that many of my mom’s gray hairs come from my own actions — and I started young. Here are some examples:

1958 (age 5, living in Imperial Beach, California):

— The street we live on has (as I recall) no sidewalks — just yards that go right up to the street. After a heavy rain, there are wonderful large puddles in the worn depressions along the shoulder of the road. As I go out to play, my mom tells me, “Don’t play in those mud puddles with your clothes on.” A while later, she gets a call from a neighbor who says that I’m playing stark naked in one of the large puddles — with my clothes carefully laid out on the neighbor’s lawn.

— There was an abandoned workshop or garage across the street; I thought of it as a “barn”, but it was far too low for that. I used to climb up to the roof and jump off. In fact, I very much loved jumping off of high places until I was about 9 or 10. Then I suddenly developed a fear of heights. I don’t know if that was just a realization of what I was doing, or the result of an unpleasant jump whose details I’ve blotted out completely.

1958-1960 (ages 5-7, living in Naval housing outside of Subic Bay, Philippine Islands):

— I used to leave the Naval housing area (West Kalayaan) and wander in the surrounding jungle. On at least one occasion, I took the first aid kit from my house, and a friend (same age) and I wandered into the jungle, found a nearby Negrito village, and tried to ask them if they had any cuts that needed band-aids. (They spoke no English.) It’s been nearly 50 years, but I remember the warm (and, in retrospect, probably amused) smile on the face of the native — an older man not dressed in much more than a loincloth — who tried to talk with us and who offered us coffee in a tin cup.

— I was crawling around an abandoned pillbox (probably Japanese) in the jungle and cut myself (on a rusty piece of rebar) on the inside of my thigh. Rather than tell my mom when I got home, I just put a large band-aid on it. Luckily, I was wearing shorts; she spotted the band-aid, asked me about it, took the band-aid off, and then transported me to the Naval hospital, where I got two stitches and a tetanus booster.

— On a regular basis, a truck pulling a trailer would wend its way through the Naval housing area. The trailer had a DDT sprayer that would emit dense clouds of wonderful-smelling DDT fog. We (the neighborhood kids) would play tag in the DDT fog.

— My older brother Chip and I would go down to a construction area on the outskirts of the housing area near sundown to throw dirt clods at the fruit bats.  Chip and I also used to capture large beetles and make them fight each other.

— I remember on a few occasions walking from the Subic Bay base itself to the naval housing area and noting with keen interest the signs along the side of the road saying, “Danger! Quicksand!”

1960-61 (ages 7-8, Astoria, OR):

— We lived in Naval housing again, with the (moderate) rain forests starting at our back yard. I used to wander through these woods at will — alone or with a friend — and capture snakes. My friend Paul and I once captured 26 snakes in one day. I kept large numbers of snakes in two unused trash cans behind our duplex. Somehow, in all this, I never once caught or encountered a poisonous snake.

And so on.  Your own stories?  If you need some different inspiration, here’s a post over at made two years ago in response to some school banning tag; the comment thread is still going.  ..bruce..

Returning the favor

For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect.

— Doctrine & Covenants 128:18

Forty-one years ago — in the spring of 1967 — my friend Andrew Bos introduced me to the LDS Church by asking me to go to Mutual with him, then to Sunday School, and then to Sacrament meeting. After a few months of that, Andrew prodded me to ask my parents if I could have the missionary discussions. To my surprise, it was my father — a Navy man since age 17 who smoked Marlboros, drank martinis, inhaled coffee, and swore, well, like a sailor — who was enthusiastic about my doing so. He said that he could think of no other church that he’d rather have me join (we were all inactive Episcopalians) and that he thought the Mormon Church was “the one church that would save Christianity” (his exact words).

Having received a powerful testimony of the reality of the Restoration during the missionary discussions and my own study and prayer, I went back to my parents some weeks later to get permission to be baptized (I was only 14). Again, it was my father who signed the slip, saying that if he could ever give up his cigarettes, liquor and coffee, he’d join the LDS Church himself. He never won that battle, though — in fact, it was his earlier failed attempt in 1967 to give up smoking that led to my own decision never to start — and he died a little over 10 years ago. But through the years he and Mom were always supportive my Church involvement, including paying for my entire mission.

Yesterday, I was able to return the favor to my dad, doing his baptismal and initiatory work in the Denver Temple. In fact, my sweet wife Sandra and I together did that work for a total of 40 of my ancestors, the majority of them within four or five generations. That work included six relatives whom I knew personally — my dad, my uncle Jimmy, Grandma and Grandpa Webster, and Grandma and Grandpa Fickes (my mom’s adoptive parents) — as well as my mom’s birth father (Grandpa Wiren), most of my great-great-grandparents along all lines, and some even further back than that.

While the temple is a sacred place for me, I am not prone to having ‘thin veil’ experiences. That was different yesterday. At the start of my initiatory session, I organized the 22 male names I had by lineage going back. For example, the six Websters were done sequentially (uncle, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, great-great-great-grandfather); I organized the other lines the same way, as far as possible. As I went through the round of initiatory work for each of these men, I felt a deep and increasing soberness at the literal nature of the authority being conferred and the blessings being unlocked; I also repeatedly felt love and gratitude from specific individuals as the work for them was done.

As importantly, I realized that by doing this work, I had opened the door for them to turn again and bring blessings into my life. Pres. Kimball famously said that when the Lord seeks to bless us or answer our prayers, He usually does so through other people. What struck me at the temple yesterday is that the “other people” aren’t limited to those of us on this side of the veil. By doing temple work, particularly for our close ancestors, we multiply those whom God can use to bless us.

There is another blessing, too. I was the only member of my family to join the LDS Church 41 years ago, and through that time I have remained the only member in my immediate family (meaning my own parents and siblings, as well as aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and all my ancestors). Through all those decades, I have felt the responsibility of being the first in all my ancestral lines to be a member of the Church and to hold the Priesthood, of having to set an example while lacking one of my own to draw upon, and I’m well aware of how often I have fallen short.

Leaving the temple last night, however, I felt a weight had been lifted. I have company, now — others in my family and family lines who have embraced the Gospel and accepted its blessings. I no longer feel like such an odd duck — at least, not for that reason — and it’s nice to know I have patriarchs in my own line who now hold the Priesthood. I have a compelling reason to go to the temple frequently — we’ve got 38 names cleared for endowments (we did my Grandma & Grampa Webster in an endowment session last night), as well as lots of subsequent sealings. And I’ve got hundreds of more names to submit once we’ve gotten these done.

And that sounds just wonderful. ..bruce..

A eulogy

[While digging through my family history files for something else, I found a copy of the eulogy I gave at the funeral of Avard “Andy” Anderson, my father-in-law, some sixteen years ago, in August 1992. Since I’ve already posted my own father’s eulogy on line, I wanted to post Andy’s eulogy as well.]

All too often, we measure status in the Church — and standing before the Lord — by positions held, particularly those held lately. We sometimes talk of Church careers and promotions, as if the Kingdom were a business. When we gather together, we find ways subtle and overt to let others know what callings we’ve had, feeling self-assured if we’ve held what are commonly called “high” positions, and feeling self-doubt if someone much younger has held higher positions.

By such standards, Avard Anderson — my father-in-law — was not a “success”. He spent over twenty-five years traveling through the US and Canada, building smokestacks. He never stayed in one place very long, living and working in over 100 different locations during that time. When he finally retired, he settled here in Orem and spent the rest of his life enjoying time with Nora, their children, and the ever-growing stream of grandkids. Throughout the nearly fifty years since Dad and Mom were married, he was never called as a bishop, never appointed to serve on a stake high council, never asked to be a member of a stake presidency.

And yet…and yet I think Dad has laid up for himself a reward in heaven which any of us would be thrilled to have. During all those years, he usually lived far from the population centers of the Church, at a time when total Church membership was barely a tenth of what it is today. He served in a succession of branches and small wards, providing leadership and support to the members there. He was always ready to show Christ-like service to all he’d come in contact with, and when he felt it was appropriate, he’d bear his humble, honest testimony — and more than a few people heard it, were touched, and were baptized. He, Mom and the kids faithfully attended their meetings wherever they lived, even though at times they lived 20 to 30 miles from the meetinghouse, and the meeting schedule back then was far less convenient: Priesthood and Sunday School in the morning, Sacrament in the evening, and Primary, Mutual, and Relief Society during the week. All this was done not to impress others, gain appreciation, or to somehow qualify for higher callings, but because it was the right thing to do — and Dad felt he owed it to the Lord to do the right thing.

I think of Dad as a Johnny Appleseed, planting seeds and nurturing branches, setting an example and quietly serving others, doing his part to help keep things growing until the Church membership grew large enough to sustain its own growth. Many of the branches he served in are now wards; many of the wards, stakes; and there are many, many people throughout the US and Canada, of all religious persuasions, who know, remember and love Avard Anderson. O, that we all could have such a legacy!

A lesser man might have felt pride and self-satisfaction; Dad, in his humility, was concerned about what he saw as his shortcomings and mistakes. He spent the last few months of his life expressing his love and appreciation for those around him and bearing his testimony to his many visitors. At night, lying in bed, he prayed blessings on those he loved and mentally reviewed all he had learned in the temple, wanting to be prepared for what awaited him in the next life.

I have few doubts about who was there to meet Dad when he crossed over: family and friends who have gone on before, descendants yet to come, and — as promised in two separate blessings he received during his last weeks — the Savior Himself. I’m also quite sure that Dad will again be doing there what he did so well here: quietly serving and bearing testimony. As his nephew Mike noted last night, Dad is following the pattern of his life: going ahead to set things up, then sending for Mom and, eventually, the kids. While such a promise as Dad’s — to be met by the Savior — would be tremendous comfort, I will be content if it is Dad who meets me when I pass through to the other side, because I am sure that where I find one, I will find the Other.

— Bruce F. Webster, August 12, 1992, Orem, Utah

It’s Thanksgiving Day…

…why are you reading blogs?

In the meantime, there’s snow on the ground, and we have grandchildren coming to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner (no river or woods involved, though). I’m doing most of the dinner, and it’s probably my most traditional one in recent years: homemade cornbread stuffing for the turkey, and I even plan to do homemade dinner rolls.

Years ago, I had some e-mail exchanges with one of the researchers inside of the BioSphere 2 experiment, an attempt to live for an extended period within an ecologically self-contained environment. The researcher talked about an upcoming holiday (which may well have been Thanksgiving) and the prospect of a “feast”. She noted that their daily diet was pretty constrained, but they had been setting choice foods aside and saving up special treats to have a large, abundant meal. She talked about the psychological boost of such a feast, even just in anticipation.

In the superabundance of the early 21st century, at least through much of the industrialized world, I think we have lost sight of what a feast truly represents, in terms of work, sacrifice and reward. I bought our 20 lb frozen turkey at Safeway for $7.99 (club member price) — it’s not a creature that I have raised, fed, and protected over several months or years, and then picked out and slaughtered to feed my family. And while the meal itself will be more formal and expansive that most of our meals here at home — about the only time that Sandra and I have “sit down” meals is when we have company over — it doesn’t represent any real departure in the quality or quantity of food we have at our disposal.

And I am thankful for that. I have been through some major ups and downs in my life. I have gone through divorce, un(der)employment, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. I have known what it is like to lose weight due to a lack of food in the house (something that would likely benefit me now), what it is like to have only $20 to buy a week’s groceries for 9 people (2 adults, 7 kids) to supplement the food storage at home, what it is like to buy just 1/2 lb of ground beef at a grocery store, what it is like to ask a young teenage son not to take seconds at dinner in order for there to be enough leftovers for dinner the following night.

I am thankful for those times, just as I am thankful for the two years I spent in Central America, eating a lot of rice and beans along with some more, ah, unusual dishes, and spending time daily with people who had far less than I did. I particularly remember the day in the spring of 1974 when Paul Quigley (my missionary companion) and I found ourselves suddenly and unexpectedly out on the streets of Managua, Nicaragua, with our suitcases and with no idea where we’d be sleeping that night. We did find a new place to live by that evening, but for several hours I dealt with finding myself — all of 20 years old, and without a lot of cash in my pocket — homeless thousands of miles from home in a foreign city still largely in ruins from a massive earthquake a bit over a year earlier.

There is much that I am thankful for and for which I give thanks daily. But on this day, I am particularly grateful for a roof over my head, for a warm bed and warm clothes, and for food on the table. Even now, I don’t take any of that for granted. May God bless you all on your Thanksgiving days, wherever you are. ..bruce w..

Veterans Day

I’m not a veteran, though my good friend (and co-blogger over at And Still I Persist) Bruce Henderson is. But my mother (the genealogist) sent me a list of veterans in our family. Here’s the list (with a few additions of my own) in rough reverse chronological order:

  • Jon A. Webster, USMC (active) — currently at Camp Pendleton, awaiting deployment to Iraq [son]
  • Heather Harris, US Army National Guard (former) — [daughter]
  • Greg Barsic, USMC (former), USCG (active) — currently serving in the US Coast Guard [son-in-law]
  • Frank Wallace, USMC (former) — [married to my niece]
  • Brad Poeltler, USN (ret.) — Navy pilot who served as an instructor at ‘Top Gun’ [brother-in-law]
  • Robert Wendt, USN (ret.) — also former Navy pilot [former brother-in-law]
  • Bill Lowell, US Army (former) — [former brother-in-law]
  • John A. Webster, USN (ret., dec.) — served in both WW II and Vietnam [my father]
  • James Francis Webster, USN (dec.) — served in WW II [my paternal grandfather]
  • John Silas Fickes, CSM, USN (dec.) — served in WW I, Mexican Revolution, and WW II [my maternal grandfather]
  • John William Fickes, 1st Sgt., Co. A, PA Militia, 8th Reg. Infantry — served in Spanish-American War [great-grandfather]
  • James Edward Taylor, Pvt. Co. D, II PA Volunteer Infantry — served in Civil War [great-great grandfather]

God bless them all, and God bless America. ..bruce..

Nighttime stories

xkcd” is one of my favorite web comics, and the strip today made me smile and wince at the same time:

True story: after my freshman year of college at BYU (1971-72), I served a full-time mission for the Church. Since I was going to Central America, I first had 8 weeks of intensive language training at what was then called the Language Training Mission (LTM), located mainly in buildings on the south part of the BYU campus. During those 8 weeks, I happen to notice this one sister missionary who is likewise in the LTM, learning Spanish in order to serve a mission down in South America. I never really get a chance to talk with her, but she’s kind of cute and (more importantly) looks intelligent. After the 8 weeks are up, I leave for Central America.

Continue reading Nighttime stories