Robin Staebler: a man's man, and a nerd's nerd.

We came back from vacation (which was wonderful, but more on that later) to the sad news that my stepfather Robin Staebler has died of cancer. It's not unexpected, but it's much sooner than expected, and I'm very sorry to lose him.

Robin (who Lydia called "Grumpy") was a bastion of macho in the Baldwin family. He was a medic in Korea, and was a special-forces doctor in the Canadian services -- once presiding over an experiment where soldiers were stationed for six weeks in the arctic circle, then immediately dropped by parachute into the steamy jungles of Vieques, Puerto Rico (the soldiers needed a lot of salt to stay hydrated, but were otherwise fine, except that the curling was terrible.) My cousin Max Alexander, ex-magazine editor and card-carrying back-to-the-land-er, used to ask Robin for advice on all kinds of subjects from geting ice off the roof to tractor care and the million other subjects that Maine-ers need to know about.

Robin was also a nerd's nerd. He had a cave full of ham radio equipment and a pickup truck carrying forty feet of army-issue self-tuning powered radio aerial. However awesome my gadgets were at the time, Robin's were awesomer, and he used them constantly. When I was thinking about my time-travelers almanac and how to calculate standard measurement when you're stuck in the past and don't have access to the platinum SI standard measures (because they don't exist yet, naturally), Robin came up with the idea of using naturally-occurring minims, like the smallest mercury-drop possible (assuming that surface tension is a constant.) If he had been born in the 1600s, I'm quite sure that he would have been a Royal Fellow, except the kind that's out their in the far corners of the earth doing science and knocking heads.

He was a remarkable, very intelligent man, and he is missed. Here's a link to his obituary.