The Deacon Blog

A magazine staff blog with news of alumni and the WFU community

Washington

“Snowmageddon” brought this alumnus snow, fire and a bundle

A few weeks ago Brian Greenberg (’00) of Reston, Va., took me up on my invitation to the Wake Forest University Alumni Council to send me story ideas. “I have a story for you,” he said on the phone, to put it mildly.

The senior manager at Deloitte Consulting then recounted for me how on one of the most important nights of his life, “Snowmaggedon” —  the winter blizzard of 2010 — served up a tale of crazy mishaps and downright woe. It seemed to me Brian could write the story better than anyone else (except perhaps his wife, Elizabeth), and so I invited him to share it. Spoiler alert: The tale, or shall we call it the quest?, has a triumphant ending. Cue the kazoos and party hats. Here’s Brian:

Did Wake Forest prepare you for every possibility? How can you be so sure, especially when you cannot control all of the variables?

Chase Greenberg embodies our sentiments: Welcome, summer.

Chase Greenberg embodies our sentiments: Welcome, summer.

As we celebrate my son’s birthday today with winter storms building strength out West, I cannot help but reflect back on my child’s highly unusual birth four years ago and how it went anything but the way I had imagined. My wife had the misfortune of being nine months pregnant when one of the worst storms in Washington, D.C. — “Snowmageddon” — was barreling down on us.

She was two days overdue when we visited the doctor’s office, just as the snow started to fall. Her regular OB/GYN was not available that day, so another doctor examined her and scheduled us for the hospital for the following week. We were uneasy with this decision and asked about our options and any precautions we should take, but we were rushed out of the office and told not to worry. (I figure the staff wanted to head home before the snowstorm got worse. Who can blame them?) We went home and tried to relax, but we both felt uneasy as the snow started piling up. Our bags were packed and in the car. We thought we were ready. In our worst nightmares, we could not have predicted just how wild the night was going to get!

At 3 a.m. my wife woke me up and told me she was having contractions. My heart sank when I looked outside and saw more than 2 feet of snow in the driveway. We called the doctors and emergency personnel and were told we had time and the access to get to the hospital safely. After a couple of hours of shoveling, I wasn’t so sure we could even get out of our driveway. Thankfully I saw my first sign of immediate help — a snowplow. The unfortunate part was that he was stuck in a snow drift, and I had to help dig him out.

Once he was able to clear the road a bit, my wife and I piled in our SUV for the 15-minute drive to the hospital. Unfortunately, across the road lay three huge evergreen trees that had fallen like dominos. Lacking options, we decided to press on. Somewhat remarkably, we cleared the first two trees, but after that everything went haywire. The third tree was much bigger than we thought; its branches engulfed our car and wrapped around our axle.

I worked furiously to break us free with my shovel, but it was no use. We called 911 and the police arrived shortly. They couldn’t help. They then enlisted the fire and rescue unit. I can vividly recall the unit’s arrival, especially a lone fireman. He freed our car with a large chainsaw. I’ve never been more grateful to receive a helping hand — even though sparks flew as he accidentally slashed a gaping hole in the side of our SUV. Needless to say, it was a small price to pay to get us free and on our way.

The emergency medical technicians checked on my wife, and she appeared to be doing well though time was of the essence. We decided to go to the closest hospital with one small hiccup along the way: we had to extinguish a burning tree limb from under my car. An amazing EMT named David held my wife’s hand in the ambulance the whole way to the hospital and kept her calm by telling her stories about his son, Chase. When we arrived at the hospital, my wife was in horrible pain, her head filled with many thoughts and with certainty about only one thing. Our son’s name was going to be Chase David Greenberg. Chase was born shortly after that but only after the hospital found a doctor who could make it through the snow, and Chase has been a healthy and happy Demon Deacon fan ever since.

We thank God every day for the miracle of our son’s birth that snowy morning, because what we didn’t know was that the umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around his neck in the womb. If we hadn’t made it to the hospital in the time we did, he would not have survived. Nothing went the way we had planned, but when I think about Chase growing up — and hopefully going to Wake Forest someday —  I know a couple of things for sure. Preparation is key, but resourcefulness and calmness under pressure get you to the finish line. (Wake Forest certainly helped me in all of these respects.) And, there are a lot of volunteers who help people every day; we must pay it forward every chance we get.

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Brian was busy running errands when I called him this morning. It’s Chase’s birthday, after all, and there is much to celebrate — with or without 34 inches of snow. Happy birthday, Chase.

Parents Brian and Elizabeth Greenberg with Chase and baby sister Emmaline in 2011.

Parents Brian and Elizabeth Greenberg with Chase and baby sister Emmaline in 2011.

 

Archimedes: the talk of NY, Washington and The Atlantic

The Archimedes Palimpsest, the subject of the current Wake Forest Magazine cover story, along with Michael Toth’s (’79) work to restore it, continued to make news this weekend. The exhibit that displays the ancient documents opened at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore on Sunday.

From The Washington Post: The exhibit is about “a book, a 10th-century manuscript that was overwritten in the 13th century with Greek Orthodox prayers. But it is also an exhibition about the iceberg, the laborious work it has taken to make the book legible, understand its origins and importance, decipher its text and translate its contents. It is an exhibition about ancient science and the drama of how thoughts from the 3rd century B.C. were transmitted from the mind of the great mathematician Archimedes to papyrus to sheepskin to digital files now available to anyone with access to the internet. It is a smart and engaging effort that forgoes the usual sacralization of the object itself — a musty old book — in favor of the tools and techniques and especially the passion that has motivated work on this ancient codex …. If you have a sentimental attachment to rationality, enlightenment and science, it is infuriating to think of Archimedes defaced with a prayer book. (curator William) Noel argues otherwise — that the recycling of Archimedes helped preserve what otherwise might simply have been lost or discarded.”

From historian Edward Tenner in The Atlantic: “All this is a great tribute to conservation and imaging science. But it’s also a reminder of how incredibly durable analog media can be, retaining information through earthquake, fire, scraping, and damage by insects and molds. In desert conditions, even older documents have survived, like a 3,200-year-old dream book from Deir el-Medina, Egypt. And the study of the new Archimedes treatises are likely to deepen our admiration for what ancient thinkers were able to accomplish with the technology at their disposal.”

From Edward Rothstein in The New York Times: “’The Archimedes Palimpsest’ could well be the title of a Robert Ludlum thriller, though its plot’s esoteric arcana might also be useful for Dan Brown in his next variation on “The Da Vinci Code.” It features a third-century B.C. Greek mathematician (Archimedes) known for his playful brilliance; his lost writings, discovered more than a hundred years ago in an Istanbul convent; and various episodes involving plunder, pilferage and puzzling forgeries. The saga includes a monastery in the Judaean desert, a Jewish book dealer trying to flee Paris as the Nazis closed in, a French freedom fighter and an anonymous billionaire collector ….

At the center is an ancient volume, its parchment recycled into a 13th-century prayer book. And at the climax we see those old folios, charred at the edges and scarred by dripping wax from the candles of devout monks, being meticulously studied for 12 years by an international team using the most advanced imaging technologies of the 21st century. And what is found is more revelatory than had ever been expected.”

It’s a point of pride that a Demon Deacon, schooled in science and history, served on that team.

The Wall St. Journal on the Archimedes Palimpsest

Michael Toth (’79) isn’t mentioned this morning in The Wall Street Journal’s “Reading Beneath the Lines” about the Walters Art Museum’s Oct. 16-Jan. 1 exhibit in Baltimore called “Lost & Found: The Secrets of Archimedes,” but I think he should be, and, at Wake Forest Magazine in the latest issue, he is.

Adventurer and historical detective Michael Toth ('79)

Toth was one of the digital-imaging experts who helped reveal the vestigial ink of the undertext of a prayer book that turned out to be treatises on math by Archimedes. Here’s how the Journal’s William Triplett describes it today: “In 1229, a monk in Jerusalem wanted to make a prayer book, but virgin parchment — the staple of medieval publishing — was hard to come by. So the monk did what most people did at the time — took existing handwritten books, removed the binding, and used a knife to scrape the ink as much as possible from the parchment folios. He then cut the folios in half, rotated them 90 degrees and started writing on them. Eventually he added a new binding, and a palimpsest — derived from the Greek word palimpsestos, meaning ‘scraped again’ — was born.

“The monk had used parchment from several books, the principal one a tome of Archimedes’s treatises on math, first written on papyrus in the third century B.C. and then copied into book form around the 10th century, (Will) Noel (curator of manuscripts and rare books at the Walters) says.”

In Wake Forest Magazine, Mark Schrope (’93) interviews Toth about the long process to recover the writings. “With all the projects I’ve worked on the goal is to always ensure the data become available for the public good,” Toth tells him.

And that’s a crucial point of today’s article about the Walters exhibit and, at Wake Forest, a reminder of how a liberal arts education allows alumni to work across disciplines and occupations. (In Toth’s case he began as biology student, shifted to history, graduated, worked in U.S. intelligence, the Defense Department and NASA before putting his experience in handling satellite imagery to work examining historical treasures as an adventurer-detective possessing a distinguished facility with multispectral imaging.)

“Quite possibly the exhibit will show that history itself may be a kind of palimpsest,” writes Triplett in the Journal. “‘Whether you study philosophy or science or whatever,’ Mr. Noel says, ‘the Archimedes palimpsest breaks down boundaries between disciplines. It contains history, philosophy and mathematics, and then all the latest technologies that were applied — the digital imaging, the metadata management — along with all the scholarship. We’d like people to know that because of all these things, history is still being written.'”

Thanks to Toth, we have a glimpse of history, the very ancient roots of our civilization, unearthed with modern technology and painstaking care.

Shane Harris on the Patriot Act’s renewal

The federal government’s investigative powers received a booster shot last week when Congress renewed the Patriot Act. National Public Radio’s “On the Media” turned to Shane Harris (’98), who has been writing about intelligence and national security for 10 years, to analyze the legislation.

Harris is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine and the author of “The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State.” Time magazine said the book “reads like a spy novel,” but Harris “lays out the U.S. government’s real-life efforts to see and hear more in the face of growing terrorist threats.”

Shane Harris ('98), author, senior writer, analyst

In the radio interview Harris summarized the three controversial provisions of the Patriot Act that allow the government to obtain multiple wiretaps when tracking a single person; obtain various business records, including hotel and rental car documents; and start surveillance on someone even if the government can’t show the person is connected to a terrorist organization or is a foreign agent or a spy. Harris was also intrigued by a senator’s accusation that there could be “secrecy within secrecy” in the way the government is interpreting the act to allow for the collection of more information.

The summer issue of Wake Forest Magazine features a Q&A with Harris called “Spy Talk.” He recalls his Wake Forest days and remembers having had “extraordinary opportunities to write, and extraordinarily forgiving instructors.” Stay tuned, alumni. The magazines should arrive in your mail early this month, and we hope to have the online edition available in the next few days.