Wednesday, December 5, 2018

George H. W. Bush, Republicans, Democrats and Me and More

I am starting to write this posting on the day lots of us watched the memorial service for George H. W. Bush at Washington National Cathedral. This service was a truly moving service for a fine man who contributed so much to our world. People who spoke -- especially his son George W. Bush -- told us about what a good man he was who made so many fine contributions to our world. I still have memories about the demise of the Soviet Union during his term in office as President of the United States. Russia is still not some sort of paradise, but it is better than it was 30 years ago.

By 1988 I had become an independently thinking culturally open minded person involved in things like the exploration and development of space and the arts, especially photography. I had also become more than a bit of a writer. I was also a leader in visionary groups favoring space exploration and development. I still have a piece of visionary space exploration art I received as an award for public relations in 1987 from what had become the National Space Society.

By the time of George H. W. Bush's election as President I had become a moderate, open minded Republican who was friendly with Democrats and thought they had much to contribute to society. Part of that was because I was living in New Jersey who had in 1988 the fine Republican Governor Thomas Kean who was a much better governor than his predecessor Brendan Byrne who was a good man but a poor governor. I also lived in Hamilton Township just outside Trenton, New Jersey where the local government was also being led by fine, open minded, caring Republicans.

In the 1980s I had become as a young man a supporter of Ronald Reagan as President because I -- like so many others -- thought he was much better than Jimmy Carter who was President before him. Jimmy Carter was a good man of considerable intelligence who turned out to be a poor president. Some people think might have been because of his work as an engineer. Too many engineers lack the people skills necessary to be a leader of humans. There was one other engineer who had become President. Who was it? Herbert Hoover. Yes, the President who led the country during the beginning of the Great Depression.

My artistic side kept me involved with artists who were socially and culturally liberal as I could be in important ways. I was very much supportive of people who worked to make our society better for humans in so many ways. People need time to care for family and friends and community. A workplace that demands far too much time from the people who work there might have some success in the short term but not in the long term. They can even do their own work significant harm by trying to work too hard. Think of, for example, the Challenger disaster. People who decided to launch that space craft were so sleep deprived that they "thought" it OK to launch that vehicle not only when the temperature was too low by standards of the day but there were even icicles hanging from the shuttle. But the staff wanted to get the shuttle into space so that President Reagan could mention the Teacher in Space during his State of the Union address. He did mention the crew -- but not in his State of the Union speech. He mentioned them when he addressed the country about the Challenger disaster. To begin learning more about the consequences of sleep deprivation read the article "Zombie Nation" in the the February 2014 Mensa Bulletin.

When did I become a Democrat? When I moved to Maryland in 1990. I had already been told by a few people that the Democrats in Maryland were good, open minded people who worked to make our society better. I found out when I moved to Maryland that Maryland Republicans were almost a bad joke. The elections that mattered most were the Democratic primaries. That year was the governor's election. The Republican was a bad joke. On the other hand, the Democrat who had already served one term was William Donald Schaefer who was not only a good Democrat but a good man and a good leader. With that evidence I became a good, open minded, caring Democrat. Oh -- because of my interest in space exploration and development I had become aware of what a good person Senator Barbara Mikulski was. She had been a strong, thoughtful supporter of space exploration and development for some years. I think I started becoming aware of that in the 1970s when she did some things to support the dreams of some space visionaries. I became aware of that work as a member of the visionary group the L5 Society and the more professional American Astronautical Society. It was by answering an ad in the American Astronautical Society magazine that I was recruited into a position in the supercomputer center at Goddard Space Flight Center.

The beginnings of my career at Goddard had some very good points. The group I joined was happy to have a man who was not only a good computer geek but was also a published writer. They told me before I formally joined their group one of my tasks would be to write the minutes of the Computer User Committee. I was happy to have that task. Then the bad point came. The meetings of this group were normally held on the first Monday of the month. Everyone in my group was banned from the meeting in April 1990 so that the scientists could discuss the problems of the group. In May I got an example of the group's problems. Before I arrived a company secretary was writing the minutes and people from my group were going over her notes to correct obvious problems After seeing her draft in May I told people to not send her again. I would do the first draft. After doing this I started getting phone calls from as far away as NASA Headquarters congratulating on the good work I was doing. People started complementing me on my work as well.

My photography side also contributed to my work. People were impressed with my visual talents. This was at a time when scientists and engineers were increasingly using computer software that helped people visualize their work. People started treating me as the go to person for computer graphics.

There were a couple of other good points. Goddard had a running club that did races in April and October. One was a two mile fun run. The next week they had a 10K race for serious runners. I found out I was one of the fastest runners at Goddard. That discovery eventually led to me doing the Marine Corps Marathon in 1996. Another good point was finding out that Goddard had a Music and Drama Club that put on good productions a few times a year. I approached them with my photographs and became their chief photographer.

In general my first years at Goddard were good. People genuinely appreciated not only my technical work but also my writing and even my photography in groups outside the supercomputer center. People came to me to help fix their problems during those first years at Goddard. I thought I had settled into a career that would carry me through to a good retirement.

Then the good manager who led our group (with my help) burned out. He was replaced by an abusive woman control freak. The first man she abused was Joe. Joe was 40 years old. He had been working there 12 years. Then Joe made "a bad mistake." What did he do? He got married and started spending time with his wife. Most people consider that good. It is even good for your work. Spending too much time at work is actually bad for your work. Tired people do not do good work. Think Challenger Disaster. Our manager -- whom I shall now call Crazy Susan -- told Joe to forget about the marriage and concentrate on work. Joe was appalled. He was able to get a transfer out of the group.

I also remember the first time Crazy Susan went over the top in abusing me In 1995 the delightful Evyan started our affair with my enthusiastic participation. When she told me I needed a wife, I thought it would be her. Then in September 1996 she ended our affair. I was disappointed but could handle it. In October I did the Marine Corps Marathon. Doing that impressed quite a few people. Then in November Crazy Susan ordered me into a conference with the words "Do you know these computers are for government work only?" I wondered what this was about. We walked into said conference room where an older man that I did not know was sitting. Crazy Susan sat down on one side of the conference table. I sat down on the other side. Crazy Susan slapped down in front of me a piece of paper. On the piece of paper was a spam e-mail from a pornographer. I got all kinds of spam e-mail. That was because my job required me to have a high public profile so that the people who used out supercomputer center could get to know me better and reach out directly to me for help on problems. What did I do? I simply said "This is spam." The older man whom I did not know simply rolled his eyes. That ended that confrontation in my favor. I wondered though what had really caused that confrontation. I don't look at pornography at home when I am alone. OK, when I was young and in college I did look at Playboy occasionally out of a curiosity that clearly had some sexual curiosity. Since then I have even seen some art with clearly sexual (think sometimes nude models) dimensions. Still though this is hardly something that is I would do at work. My primary thoughts about sex it is my desire to be married to a wonderful woman and to love her with all my heart and soul.

I had more conflicts with Crazy Susan. So did other people in our group. Think men who were happily married as one significant group. Then in 1999 Crazy Susan drove me out. I heard from other people that she said about me "He's brilliant. Why doesn't he get it?" My thoughts about her is that this crazy control freak was the one who was not getting it.

I was not unemployed for even a day. I was invited to join a new small firm by really good people. My first weekend with this new company I went up to New Jersey for a high school reunion. That reunion started off well with Lucille Romano being the first person to see my medal for doing a marathon. She was very impressed and made me wear that medal for the rest of the evening. Then Lucille told me about Diane. Learning about her suicide really saddened me. To learn more about that read Fiftieth Anniversaries.

The next few years went reasonably well for me. Unfortunately the company I joined started going out of business in 2002. I started looking for more work. It took a few months, but I found it. The new company was decent but not as good as the one I joined when I was forced out of Goddard.

In February 2003 the space shuttle Columbia was lost in another disaster. Since Central Jersey Mensa has a Regional Gathering in March, I contacted friends in Central Jersey Mensa and offered to give a talk on the problems with NASA. They accepted immediately. My talk was described as riveting. In 2004 I came back to deliver another talk -- this time with the backing of a government investigation. Not only did people respect my talk at the end of it a man I did not know stood up and began talking. He told us he was a NASA employee. He then praised what I said. That weekend he told me NASA needed people like me.

Then came May 2004. I was let go from my job. I was unhappy with this. But my financial condition was still OK. At a Rutgers Club meeting one young man stated that people volunteered for political campaigns to get to build relations with political leaders. I thought about that and started volunteering for political campaigns including that of Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congressman Steny Hoyer. I did begin attracting attention with my volunteering.

The next few years I got more involved in politics. I spent my saved money to live on. I also ran up credit card debt. I eventually started collecting Social Security. My original plan back in the 1990s was to work until I was at least 70 and not collect Social Security until then. If I had been able to do that I would have gotten substantially more from Social Security.

People started paying attention to what I was doing. In 2006 I walked into a meeting of the Governor's Workforce Investment Board on the topic of Aerospace Initiatives. I wound up leading a committee to create a Maryland Aerospace Association. Quite a few people liked what I did. They even saw me as the paid executive director of such organization. Industry however chose not to fund such an organization. I have saved on my blog some things from my work with said organization. The short public policy piece is Aerospace Workforce Issues. The much more detailed description of what the group that I led did is also on my blog as Aerospace Initiative Home Page. Yes, these pieces are long even by my standards.

In 2008 there was the Presidential election. Barack Obama became the Democratic Party candidate, possibly surprising many Hilary Clinton supporters. After all she was much better known at the beginning of the campaigns to become President. Obama made a favorable impression on me. John McCain, the Republican candidate, while seeming a good man did not seem nearly as good as Obama. Obama won the election by a significant margin. I thought this was good for the country.

In December 2008 I walked into Steny Hoyer's annual Holiday Party. It was, as usual, a good event attended by good people. That morning on page 2 of the Washington Post was an article about problems with the transition at NASA. I brought this up when I was talking to Steny Hoyer when I arrived. I offered to help. Congressman Hoyer turned to one of his staffer and asked her if they had contact information for me. She said they did. That was the last I heard on that topic. What happened behind my back I do not know. I will say that I thought these people had a quite favorable impression of me. Perhaps I could be wrong.

After that I was dismissed from positions in more than one organization. Did I ever get any help? When I was in the process of losing my home, Congressman Hoyer and the government in general helped me get into a program to keep veterans from becoming homeless. That allowed me to get some money from the government which helped me move into an apartment in Washington DC with the government paying part of the rent. That made my life significantly better than it could have been. Still, though, I am living alone in a small apartment without even a car to get around the local area. I think I should still be working at NASA, being paid quite well for my work, married to a good woman and perhaps even having some children with this woman whom we are bringing up to be good citizens in this country and world.

President Obama when he ran for reelection won but by a significantly smaller majority than he won by in 2008. This suggests that his support in the larger community was declining. His administration has now been described as "closed" and run by "control freaks" in the New York Times. I wonder if this had something to do with his decline in voter support.

The 2016 election was disappointing to many. Hillary Clinton got more popular votes than Donald Trump but he got more electoral votes. Some liberals especially have called for reforms on this issue. A few people have noticed though that Clinton did not even get 50% of the vote. Third parties -- especially the Libertarian and Green Parties -- saw a significant rise in the number of popular votes that they got. I wonder if this was due in part to many people being disgusted with the major party nominees. I know I have some clearly libertarian views as do a number of better educated, thoughtful caring views. I also have some sympathy with the Greens. I might have stronger disagreements about how to accomplish their goals, but that does not mean I think they are not making significant contributions to our country and world. One of the things that got me really interested in space exploration and development was the prospect of solar power satellites powering the Earth cleanly and cheaply. Those space colony dreams have not come true yet, but I think those ideas are worthy of support. I think our society would truly benefit if we spent a large portion of our money that we now spend on the failed drug war and spent it instead on space exploration and development.

More Thoughts About Fiftieth Anniversaries

Last year I wrote about three fiftieth anniversaries. I titled that piece Fiftieth Anniversaries. One was about graduating from Rutgers. The other was about getting drafted into the Army. The third was about high school classmate Diane Van Doren.

In 1968 I finally got to go to California to begin my assignment as a physicist working with an Army group called the United States Army Corps of Engineers Nuclear Cratering Group. I was very happy to be working on a project that was close to a civilian group called Project Plowshare that was working to develop nuclear explosive technologies for peaceful civilian uses. I wish I could have gotten there sooner but at least I did eventually get there.

I was at first welcomed into the group. They were glad to have a bright young physicist to help them with their work. I still remember one of the first assignments I was given. I was told to research what would happen to radioactive materials after an underground nuclear explosion. They gave me three months to do the research. Since I had not taken any geology courses in college, I went to the Lawrence Livermore library and starting checking out and reading books on the topic. The more I read, the more difficult this assignment looked. I worked as hard as I could. Then two months into this work I went to a talk on a part of my topic given by a couple of Project Plowshare people. I thought I would learn more. At that talk I found out that the much larger Project Plowshare people had twenty people working on this topic for two years. They were making a progress report. After their good talk I walked up to them and introduced myself. I described my assignment and what I was going. I also asked for help. The look on their faces was quite sympathetic. They did mention that at least I was in California and not being shot at in Vietnam. I went back to my Army group and said rather angrily "Does anyone here know what they are doing?" I then brought up what I had learned from the Project Plowshare people. I simply stated that I had been given a task I could not do. I also added that perhaps no one could do. This started off conflicts between me and my superiors.

The conflicts escalated over the next few months. Then the people from basic training managed to get back at me. They told the Army that I was a security risk. This was, shall we say, not true. I might have been rebellious in some ways during basic training. I clearly did not want to be a soldier. I wanted to go back to civilian life and physics research as a young adult. But do something to help our country's enemies? Please. I might be an opponent of the Vietnam War and might have wanted better solutions to our conflicts with the damned Communists but I was hardly on their side.

These conflicts escalated to the point where I was kicked out of this group in the summer of 1968. My next assignment was the Presidio in San Francisco. I became a programmer there. Early in my assignment there I met just outside the gate a woman from a group known as the War Resisters League. This was a pacifist group that was part of the opposition to the Vietnam War. Oh -- they were also opponents of the Soviet Union. They even protested in Moscow when the Soviet Union reinvaded Czechoslovakia. It was a small protest and they were kicked out of the Soviet Union but it allowed them to show their opposition to the dreadful Soviet Union. The woman I met from this group seemed favorably impressed with me She gave me the address of their San Francisco office. That is where I finally began connecting up with Vietnam War protesters. Those protesters were also strongly in favor of free, democratic societies. These connections also led to conflicts with the leadership at the Presidio.

Enough for now. More on this topic next year.

Monday, November 5, 2018


Today would have been my wonderful mother's 103rd birthday. The last time I could celebrate a birthday with her was in 2008. She passed away on February 27, 2009. I miss her so much. Perhaps it is because in recent years I have learned that mothers range from the kind of wonderful person Mom was to really horrible people who did real damage to their children.

One thing that comes to mind about Mom is food and cooking. When I was a child growing up I remember the good meals we had at home with Mom doing the cooking. One of the few criticisms I can make of Dad is that he was a lousy cook. That could be why when I was in the Boy Scouts Mom said one night at dinner that all men should know how to cook. She then proposed that I get the cooking merit badge in the Boy Scouts. I reacted really positively to that. I enjoyed learning how to cook.

Over the years my life took several interesting turns. One thing was doing graduate work in physics at Vassar College. Because of that -- and some photography I did being photography editor of the Vassar yearbook that year -- I met Dominique, a young French woman. She got me interested in, among other things, French culture. I developed a taste for French food as a result. After that when I wanted to impress a date, I would take her to a French restaurant. For Mom's 90th birthday I took her to a French restaurant. Mom enjoyed that dinner. Much before this -- when Mom was still living independently in New Jersey -- one weekend when I was visiting her I took notice of the shelf of cook books that Mom had. I said to her "Mom you are not using those French cook books. Can I have them?" Mom gladly gave them to me. I started learning how to cook French dishes. Oh -- I am still learning. If I had a wife and family I might be doing French cooking more often and trying more dishes.

Mom was clearly going downhill at Christmas in 2008. I told the assisted living place where Mom was then living I wanted to take Mom to church on Christmas Day. Could they help Mom be ready for that special day? I don't know what they did, but from the time I picked up Mom that Christmas morning to go to church and then spend time together throughout the day Mom was fine. She enjoyed church and then lunch. I took her for a drive that afternoon. She enjoyed that. When we got back to my place I cooked a lovely dinner of roast chicken. Mom enjoyed that dinner very much. After dinner I took Mom back to the assisted living place. That Christmas Day was so enjoyable. I did not know it would be the last one I would spend with Mom.

The next day I got Mom out of the assisted living place again. I brought her to my place. One of the ingredients in the French dish chicken with mornay sauce is cold cooked chicken which you reheat in a fry pan. Yes, I cooked that for Mom. She really enjoyed that dinner! That made me so happy!

The next time I went to the assisted living place to take Mom out again was only a couple of days later. The staff could not wake her up. They told me that if I wanted to visit Mom to come there at lunch time. That is what I did for the next few months. Then on Friday evening February 27, 2009 I got a phone call from the assisted living place that Mom had passed away. I still remember that last lunch with Mom.

I remember so many other things as well. One thing I remember is Mom and Dad taking me to see My Fair Lady on a Broadway stage. That was such a positive day I still remember it. Then there was the last football game of Rutgers 1961 season. Rutgers entered that game with 8 wins and 0 losses. Their last opponent was Columbia. Columbia roared off to a good start and had a significant lead in the third quarter. Then Rutgers pulled off a comeback! With not just Mom and Dad and me but everyone on the Rutgers side of the field cheering on the Rutgers football team they pulled off a victory! Oh – my father and grandfather both went to Rutgers. That is why I have such a strong connection to that school.

What are some other memories of Mom? Mom taking me on trips to Philadelphia with a woman Mom became friends with at work well before I was born. Mom encouraging my photography when I was in the Boy Scouts. Oh – when I was old enough to be a Cub Scout Mom became Den Mother of the Cub Scout Pack that met in our home weekly. Mom and Dad taking me to St. James on normal Sundays when I was growing up. And not normal Sundays? There were trips to Trinity Cathedral in Trenton. Mom and Dad both encouraging my interest in science fiction when I was growing up. Then there was learning to read. I grew up in a home filled with books. Mom and Dad did much reading. Mom told me when I was a mature adult that I had become a real pest as a boy growing up in home filled with books with parents that did much reading. So they started teaching me how to read when I was only 3. Mom probably did more of the teaching. She was a stay at home Mom until I began high school. I remember complaining when Mom went back to work. Mom and Dad told me that Mom was doing it for me. By working for pay, Mom would be able to help me pay for college. I was also told that I was now grown up enough that I could be on my own for the hour or so when I was at home after a day at high school before Mom got home. I realized quickly that my parents were right.

Then there were the trips to Canada. Dad's mother had been Canadian. She sadly died before I was born. I still remember going to Canada as a boy growing up. Those trips broadened my life in so many ways. Mom and Dad both exposed me to so many things that helped me develop my mind in so many ways. By being warm, caring people from warm caring families they also helped me develop a caring personality. By teaching me so much they also helped me to develop intellectually as an independent caring person.

Enough for now. More later.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Thoughts About Changing NASA in Particular and Science and Tech Fields in General

All, I have written a good bit about the needs for various kinds of reforms in science and technology fields.

On Sunday, August 26, 2018 the Washington Post had two pieces in the Business section that might get more people to thinking about things like this. One was an article by Christian Davenport titled The change agents pulling tradition-bound NASA into the future. It is a very interesting article about the kinds of changes NASA needs to go far beyond their current accomplishments. One company trying to lead the space industry toward more accomplishments is SpaceX led by Elon Musk. There is a piece by Jena McGregor titled Elon Musk is the ‘poster boy’ of a culture that celebrates ‘obsessive overwork’. This article appeared first in the August 26 edition of the Post.

The more one learns about people like Elon Musk, the more doubtful one can become of their ability to actually produce the kinds of changes that they talk about. Exhausted people do not perform that well. They make bad mistakes. Think, for example, the Challenger disaster.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Great Britain, the United States and Canada

Great Britain, the United States and Canada mean a great deal to me and, I hope, others as well.

Mom's parents moved here from England in 1909. They were English working class and fine people. I count myself so lucky to have gotten to know such fine people as a boy growing up in New Jersey.

Dad's side of the family was, putting it mildly, somewhat different. Dad's father (Charles Divine) was my only grandparent born in the United States. He married a woman from Canada. All my interactions with my Canadian relatives have been wonderful. They are bright, thoughtful, warm, caring people.

My paternal grandfather came from an unusual family. His father Michael Divine was born in Ireland in 1828. By the time my grandfather was born in 1869, he was a lawyer in the United States. Michael Divine married a woman from England with the name Angelina Elizabeth Donne which is how I am related to John Donne.

Why do I bring these things up? Partly to let people know what is going on in my mind while I am writing this.

400 years ago King James was an opponent of Magna Carta. My ancestor John Donne, along with lots of other people, were strong supporters of Magna Carta. Magna Carta was an important advance to the kind of free democratic societies many of us value today.

King James died of natural causes in 1625. His successor was one King Charles I. He has been described as an absolute dictator. My ancestor John Donne died of natural causes (think stomach cancer possibly) in 1631. King Charles I? His absolute dictatorship led to the English Civil War. As a result of that war, King Charles I was executed. Great Britain moved in the direction of being more free and democratic. Still, though, it was not as free and democratic as the UK is today.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Fiftieth Anniversaries

2017 has three fiftieth anniversaries that are significant for me.

The first is the fiftieth anniversary of my graduating from Rutgers with a degree in physics. I was very glad to have accomplished this. My years at Rutgers were considerably more good than bad, but I and others (especially physics majors) saw problems at our wonderful school. This was early in the years since Rutgers had become The State University. In recent years I learned that Rutgers tripled the number of students since the 1950s. At a Rutgers Club of DC meeting a few years ago there were people who had graduated from Rutgers in the 1950s. One man had graduated in 1951, another in 1958. The man from the class of 1951 told us that 400 students had started Rutgers with him and 400 had graduated 4 years later. The man from the class of 1958 told us that 500 had started in his class and 500 had graduated. During my time at Rutgers 1700 started and only 1100 had graduated in 1967. I do remember that sometimes we physics majors expressed the thought that there were too many physics majors for the faculty to handle. Still, though, I did get a good education as a young man in physics and more.

What are some other memories I have of my time at Rutgers?

There was one extracurricular activity that has shaped my life in important ways.

In high school I went out for the track team to get an athletic credit for college. The people in high school made me team manager. I liked doing that and learned something about running and runners by doing so. I liked that volunteer activity so much that when I got to Rutgers I volunteered to help again as team manager. They welcomed me to that post. I have great memories of Coach Wallack and the track team. Yes, I learned even more about running and runners by doing so. But I did not become a runner.

On Friday, November 22, 1963 (first semester of my freshman year) I was sitting in the library doing some reading for my courses. A young man I did not know walked in and said to me “Did you hear? The President has been shot.” I thought “What?” Later that afternoon I walked into my last Friday freshman physics class and saw that Professor Barshay had written on the blackboard “President Assassinated. Class canceled.” I walked back to my dormitory and phoned my father. He picked me up on his way home. That Saturday evening at home Mom, Dad and me watched TV where we saw a Rutgers choral group singing a tribute to the now late President Kennedy. That tribute was very moving.

Attending classical music concerts was another good thing about attending Rutgers back then. Then there was the Episcopalian students group that I enjoyed attending. Then there were the Rutgers basketball team games. Basketball improved greatly when I was there.

What else do I remember? Having lunch with Dad at the Alumni Faculty Club. One special occasion was in January 1964. The previous night there had been a game at a fraternity at which the upperclassmen tried to get the freshman as drunk as possible as fast as possible. I was the first loser. Friends helped me back to the dormitory. The next day Dad and I had a serious talk about alcohol at lunch. A few weeks later I was in New York City with some friends. Back then it was legal for 18 year olds to drink in New York City. My friends all ordered beer. I remember Dad was a moderate scotch drinker. I ordered a scotch and liked it. I became a moderate scotch drinker. In California I became a moderate wine drinker. The next time I drank beer was during my first trip to England in 1987 for a world science fiction convention. My cousins Harry and Anita Lawton picked me at the airport. On the way up to their place in Nottingham we stopped at a British pub. Harry asked me if I would like to try one of their beers. I, thinking that these were not just relatives but friends of mine, said yes. Harry ordered best bitter all around. I enjoyed that drink. Back in the States I wound up trying a bottle of Sam Adams at a Mensa party. I liked that. I became a moderate drinker of really good beer. During my next trip to England (in 1989) I told this story to Harry as we were sitting in a pub drinking some good British beer. Harry cracked up laughing.

Before I graduated in 1967 I was offered a job by IBM working in one of the laboratories as a young physicist. IBM seemed impressed with both Rutgers and me. I was glad to get this good job. The laboratory specialized in reliability of computer electronics. I was very glad to be offered the position and accepted it. On graduation day I was looking forward to starting this wonderful work. On graduation day my parents, remembering how much fun I had had getting the photography merit badge in the Boy Scouts gave me a very nice 35 mm camera outfit. If you could take a time machine back to that day and tell people five years from now this young man will be the photography editor of the Vassar College yearbook and ten years from now the Princeton Ballet will be paying him for his ballet photography, you would have been telling us the absolute truth and surprised us all. Then if you told us what was going to happen to me and my family in that decade, you would have shocked us.

The second fiftieth anniversary is far more shocking. In August I was drafted into the Army. Young physicists were normally given critical skills exemptions from the draft. I was the only man drafted out of my IBM laboratory. People at IBM told me to enter the Army. They said I would be given a position in a laboratory in the United States and would not go to Vietnam. That turned out to be true. But my time in the Army began a life of conflict with over the top authority figures. Authority with the limits of free, democratic societies I can accept, possibly easily.

I have already written about my time in basic training. On my blog I titled the entry A Few Basic Training Stories Lots of people – whatever their current political leanings – like that post. Oh – the second story shows the beginning of my sense of humor. Yes, I got hundreds of people to laugh out loud at an arrogant 2nd lieutenant.

Remember what I said about helping the track team at Rutgers as team manager? Basic training also started turning me into a runner – a very serious runner eventually. Yes I have written about that as well. Read My Running Career to learn more about that side of me. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if my high school track coach – Coach Marchand -- had noticed that I had some talent for running.

After being in basic training a month, we were given our post basic training assignments. Assignments were like “You are going to infantry training. You are going to cooking school.” And more along the lines of normal military assignments. My assignment was not. I not only had a physics degree, I also had the highest IQ of anybody at Fort Dix. That, apparently, got the attention of some people very high up the hierarchy. What was my assignment? I was going to be sent to the United States Army Corps of Engineers Nuclear Cratering Group at Lawrence Laboratory in Livermore, California. I was going to be given $300 to buy civilian clothes because people in my group were not allowed to wear military uniforms. I was also going to be given some money to live in an apartment with some other people in Livermore, California. This freaked out the leadership at Fort Dix. It got me another month and a half of “basic training.”

Oh – the Army group I was assigned to was stationed at Lawrence Livermore because there was a much larger civilian group called Project Plowshare that was trying to come up with technologies that would use things like nuclear weapons for civilian purposes. Think doing things like digging a canal using “nuclear explosives” instead of sending out thousands of people with earth moving equipment to do such things.

Yes, I was very happy to be given that assignment. I was not going to be shot at . I might even make some sort of valuable contribution to our country and world by doing this kind of work.

I finally got out of basic training with the help of a corporal who would be discharged in a few days. He passed me on my hand grenade tossing test. Anyway in December I was now released from basic training. I went back to my parents' home for a Christmas vacation before flying out to California. I, of course, enjoyed spending time with Mom, Dad and family and friends in general.

Here is my third fiftieth anniversary.

One afternoon I was visiting our local car mechanic to discuss with this good man things I should pay attention to regarding my car out there in California. That discussion was going well as I expected it would.

Then Diane Van Doren burst in. We had gone to high school together. The Diane I knew was a sweet, warm, caring, bright, energetic, wonderful human being. She had a smile on her face even bigger and more impressive than the one I remembered from high school. She had let her beautiful blonde hair grow out much longer. I thought she was even more beautiful. Then she turned her head to the right and saw me. She quickly realized I had been drafted. That smile changed to an expression of genuine worry for me.

I told this terrific young woman that I had been given an assignment in California. I would not be shot at by Communists in Vietnam. That got her to relax a bit. Still, though, I could see how worried about me she had been.

My career and life took me many places. By the time I was working at Goddard Space Flight Center I had thought I would be spending the rest of my career there doing good things for my fellow humans. In 1999 I was driven out by truly awful management. My last day at Goddard was Monday, July 12, 1999. I started my new job with much better people the next day. The next weekend I went up to New Jersey for a high school reunion. When I walked in carrying the medal I got for finishing the Marine Corps Marathon in 1996 and showed it to Lucille Romano, she broke out with a great smile and said “You've done a marathon?” She made me wear that medal for the rest of the evening.

Later that evening news about Diane circulated around. Lucille also told me that Diane had committed suicide. That news shocked us all.

I started remembering Diane's and I last encounter. I began wondering what would have happened had I said to her “Diane, I don't have to go to California for some days. Would you like to go out on a date?” If she had said yes and we had hit it off well and began a long distance dating relationship until I got out of the Army and then starting dating even more seriously. I could imagine us getting married and starting a wonderful family. I would have had the wonderful wife and family I needed. Diane would have been much happier, putting it mildly. Don't you just love British understatement?

That memory of Diane is the last of my fiftieth anniversaries.

I hope people appreciate these memories of mine.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Education in the Community I Grew Up In

I was born in 1945 -- lots of people are surprised to hear that -- and grew up in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, just outside of Trenton, New Jersey.

I remember going to Farmingdale and Greenwood Elementary Schools. I have good memories of the teachers I met there. They were very caring about their students. They encouraged my growing interests in things like space exploration, astronomy and science in general. My family was even more encouraging. I remember Mom and Dad buying me a telescope to look out into the heavens before I was a teenager. I think this was part of my getting the astronomy merit badge in the Boy Scouts.

I still have some interesting memories of that time in school.

One day in a high school history class I got into an informal debate with our teacher about what was more important -- the United States exploration of space or the various political changes that were happening in the Middle East (think United Arab Republic) at the same time. Oh -- I was on my high school's debate team. I obviously took the position that space exploration was most important. Our teacher claimed that the United Arab Republic was more important by far. He eventually kicked me out of class sending me to the principal's office. While I was waiting there, the vice principal came in and saw me sitting there. With a look of concern on his face he asked me what I was doing there. I told him. He relaxed and told me not to worry that he would take care of the problem.

One day also in high school when I was walking through our local bookstore I saw a book by a physicist named Eddington titled Mathematical Theory of Relativity. Since it was only $2.95 -- well within my allowance. I bought it. Soon I starting seeing mathematics that I had never seen before. I took the book into school and showed it to our math teacher -- a fine man named Mr. Rosen. I asked for his help. He with a friendly smile said "Why don't you wait until you are in college?" That's how I found out that my interests had gone far beyond what even a good high school back then could provide.

I also have a high school memory of my first grade teacher. How? One evening near the end of our class's senior year all of the teachers who had taught us as we were growing up were invited to a graduation oriented event. I ran into said first grade teacher there. She, with a big smile on her face, congratulated me on graduating from high school. She then asked quite friendlily what I would be doing after high school. I told her with a seventeen year old's enthusiasm that I would be going to Rutgers and majoring in physics. The expression on her face switched to something along the lines "You were bored in first grade!"

Lots of other people besides my family and my schools nurtured my growing interest in science. My parents were quite active in St. James Episcopal Church. They were part of the more well educated people there. All those people encouraged my interests. The Scopes Monkey Trial down in Tennessee decades earlier did get some attention -- particularly after the film Inherit the Wind came out. What did people at St. James think? They thought that kind of thinking was that of quite ignorant people who did not know what they were talking about.