Thursday, January 31, 2008


I have reason to suspect there are readers of this blog from Southern Wisconsin/Northern Illinois, to which my family will be visiting (in search of a new home) February 15-19. It'd sure be great to make some contacts there. If you are willing, send an email to my gmail, at right.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Things to remember
(or, what is identity anyway?)

Sometimes I want to cry, and curl up on someone's shoulder, evoke sympathy, receive comfort, be a child again.
  • But I am a man: 40 years old.
  • I am a father (of 3 boys now).
  • And I am a husband.
  • I have my health (for the most part).
  • I will not go hungry (nor will my family).
  • I can cook a marvelous feast from whatever is at hand.
  • I am capable.
  • I am committed.
  • I am industrious.
  • I am self-reliant.
  • I am not alone.
I need to remember that none of this, none of the important things in life, is about proving anything to anyone.
  • My PhD was not earned so I could be called "Doctor".
  • Indeed, it was not in particular to become a professor.
  • It was an exercise to pursue my own path, to ask the questions that kept me awake at nights.
  • It is not failure to walk away from the world of academia.
  • It is a choice, motivated by my reading of the world in which I live, and my desire to create a different one.
  • I need to remember that pursuing my current interests, attempting to build a research firm, seeking to file patents, are simply a path.
  • I control my work, and my efforts.
  • I have no control over how they are received.
  • I do these things not to prove myself worthy.
  • I am worthy.
  • There is nothing to fear in pursuit.
  • As my father taught me: We get to choose if we will be good; only history can choose if we will be great.
  • It is enough to be good.

The Polished Glass of Pure Perfection

The polished glass of pure perfection
cannot be seen from where I stand.

Like the moon,
or the eyes of a portrait,
it shifts as I move,
only--unlike them--
it hides.

Just a glimpse,
I desire.
Just a peek.

What radiance would I see?
What mysteries unfold?

But I see no reflection:
not of me,
nor the room,
nor anything I can fathom.

I fall back on my knowledge,
my belief,
my suspicion,
my fear.

Is it there?

(29 January 2008)

Monday, January 28, 2008


First off, I'm sleep-deprived (as any parent of a newborn will attest), so mood swings can be expected. To some extent, I'm terrified. Not of being a parent of three boys. Not really of anything in specific. I'm just a bit terrified... of life. When struck with unexpected events, I sometimes paralyze. A case in point: Wednesday.

I awoke at the hospital beside my beautiful wife and newborn son (Rocket asked that I stay the night, and friends had agreed to watch the boys as long as needed). I drove home (stopping to get some donuts and pastries for the boys, and our friends). I spent the morning with the Inventor then picked up the Painter from kindergarten, visiting Rocket and the Composer at the hospital for about an hour before heading to the airport to get my mother-in-law.

We park. Two hands, two boys. We walk down one flight of stairs (into the rain) and across the street. I look up at the monitor to see which baggage claim to go to. Aaargh! The one time I failed to check on-time status before heading out, the flight has been rescheduled--2 hours later! I reach for the cell phone on my hip... Nothing's there.

I think. Sure I put it there. I just checked a message before leaving the van, so I know I had it. Perhaps it's on the seat. We walk back. Nope. Walk into the terminal, step up to the information desk. Upshot: I speak with a half dozen different officials, police, volunteers, employees--each one has a different idea where "lost and found" might be. No phone. Hours to kill (we'll miss the Inventor's naptime). What do I do? I'm paralyzed. We retrace our steps three times, each time pausing to ask different parties along the way where to find "lost and found". No dice. Phone gone.

Eventually I gathered myself enough to take the boys out for lunch. That helped (we were all hungry). We kill the time, return to the airport, beg a cell call from a stranger (to my wife, who called my mother-in-law, who hadn't checked any bags, so was waiting for us elsewhere). [SIGH!] Paralyzed. It's not a feeling that I like. Indecision. I rather think of myself as one who weighs choices, options. My wife would say that I'm the type to lay all possibilities out on the table before me.

I consider, and mull. Once I've laid them out, and reflected on their relative merits and demerits, I don't hesitate;I make a choice. But what if the choices are not given to me beforehand to consider? Or, what if they change while I'm not noticing? Ah, there's the trouble. Perhaps I'm not so good at improvisation. Maybe that explains my weakness in interviews. Yet, there's a great deal of improvisation in teaching. I guess it all depends on what one has thought about before, what one has prepared, that treasure chest from which to draw.

The Composer arrived nearly 3 weeks before expected. What a joy he is (as are the older two). So beautiful. So peaceful. So trusting. So dependent. It's not really that he was early. We anticipated that possibility. It's just that he's here, and somehow I'm not sure we're ready for the next steps.

We find ourselves midair, having jumped, before we land. Did we remember the parachutes? Do we know the terrain below? A couple weeks of logistics to work out. A financial reality check that isn't what I expected. I looked up the median household expenditures for the area we're intending to move. It's not really that off from a tally of our expenditures. In fact, the budget I think we can squeeze into is about 20% lower. But that's still more than I had anticipated. (I forgot to account for real inflation--rather than the fictions our government professes). I was working off assumptions and calculations from about a year ago.

It helps to get this all down. It's not quite so daunting once I take the time to consider. Still scared. But also a bit inspired. So many things to be thankful for. So many blessings in life. Need to remember that. Need to embrace the positives.
I stopped by the store on the way home and picked up a bouquet of roses and alstroemerias for my wife, a mixed bouquet for my mother-in-law, and a couple heart balloons for my two older boys. I think they all needed to here "I love you" [Don't tell: I think I needed to hear myself say it.]

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Not so invincible after all

It seems nothing quite humbles like an honest look at expenditures. I ran a report in Quicken of our expenses over the last 12 months, to make a reasonable budget looking forward. Some expenses are certainly higher here in Southern California than they'll be where we're moving. (I must confess I was shocked to get an auto insurance quote that says our premiums will likely go UP by as much as 80%!). Overall, our expenses (the ones I couldn't pare down, or really can't assess until we arrive in our new place) are still perhaps 40% higher than I had been thinking.

Housing is the biggest factor. Our costs here are insane. We have been hoping we'll be able to find something affordable. If we're lucky a bank will overlook the fact that we will have no income soon (or, since Rocket is officially on leave, and thus still employed, maybe they'll consider her erstwhile income). In any case, looking over our budget, rather than having 2-3 years where we were hoping, it may be 18 months-2 years, and possibly looking someplace even cheaper. It's amazing to me how much housing costs vary from one place to another.

The relatively modest house we rent here would go for at least $500k, possibly $600k (even in today's depressed market). We had been thinking to move where $150k would buy us a nice place. Current considerations may push us down to the $100k range. I wish there were some alternative. I wish society weren't arranged to push many PhDs into poverty (lucky if they have a spouse who can earn a supportive income). I'm still bitter and disgusted by that. But I've made a choice to leave that path. Rocket has made a choice to take time off from her career (perhaps indefinitely).

That leaves us savings, and luck, and hope. I've got work to do. If I can maneuver these hurdles in short time and come up with rock-solid proofs-of-concept, perhaps I can push ahead with finding investors (and thus able to pay myself a salary). Understandably, I've been a bit distracted these past few weeks. And we've got a lot of logistics to deal with, assuming we're going to move this Spring or Summer.

We're still lucky. I know that. But knowing that doesn't solve the logistics, or make our choices any easier.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Introducing: the Composer

22 January 2008, 20:25 (~20 minutes before the doctor showed up!), our #3 arrived. 6 lbs. 14 oz. 18" long. 19 days pre-date. If he deigns to open his eyes for more than a couple seconds, I'll try to get some more inviting face shots soon.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Waiting for...

Still waiting for baby. Rocket has been to the doctor's and the hospital four times in the past week. Fluids low at doctor's office last week: 2l IV at hospital last Tuesday, another 3l on Thursday. (She was at the hospital for nearly 11 hours!) Okay, they're up enough... too early to induce unless we have to... let's wait until full term. (Sunday was 37 weeks). Come see me Monday. Monday... long, frustrating time at doctor's office. Upshot: Fluids again marginal, but not low. Baby kicking, breathing, heart-rate normal. Let's wait and see. Come back Wednesday... er, no, office too busy then, come back tomorrow.

Nature! You can't live with it, you can't live without it. So, we just waits.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lonely breaks

I think the hardest part of being my type of entrepreneur/researcher is how lonely it gets. The chance meetings in the hallways (Hello Peter Hi Articulate) are about all I get.

I no longer expect email to bring me unexpected news, or for the telephone to ring from some unrecognized area code. I remain surprised, when on occasion I notice someone having found my somewhat neglected Personal Research Website by searching for [My Real Name]. But they never call or write. Not lately.

I don't expect it anymore. It's all on me. It all depends on me solving some of the problems I've laid before me. First things first. I've been working on this major unresolved issue. I keep organizing my thoughts in notes, modifying them, commenting on them, saving version after version, printing them out, dating and signing them, then pasting them into my patent notebook, just in case I ever need to document when I arrived at an idea, to set precedence over someone else making claims of priority.

And I understand that the loneliness (at work) will remain unchanged at least until I've got these proofs-of-concept complete, until I've made some demos, hopefully garnered some clients, at least stimulated some interest. At a typical workplace, we take breaks. We talk to colleagues around the copy machine, or in the hallways. I've no colleagues here, just office neighbors. Someday, I'll be once again surrounded by intelligent, enthusiastic, exuberant, committed, stimulating people. But for now, it's just me and Moose*.

* Long time readers may recall my laptop was named Di. My seven-month-old desktop is Moose. Say hello, Moose.

Freesias and noise

They've been ripping up the street outside my office for a week. Jackhammers constant. Fun.

I won't make it my sole excuse. I'm having trouble concentrating. Bit by bit. I'm working... just not quite as efficiently as I'd like.

I took a walk to Trader Joe's (in a strip mall adjacent to my office building). I bought some juice and snacks, and a pot of freesias. All the plants in my office have died, each in its own time. The last of them passed by the time I returned after New Year's. I had brought the pots home, in hopes that I might refill them with something else (a project to do with the boys).

I cleaned my desk, and set the lovely flowerpot in the middle. I'm trying to drown out the road noise with internet music. Got to remember to bring in some CDs. I hate to dilute my thinking (or dilute my listening attention) by working to music. But sometimes (like now) it's needed.

[SIGH]. Back to work.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Last month, I wrote a piece on what I termed Freudensorge, suffering at another's joy. There's another emotion that has crept up on me lately, one which I believe has power to teach, to reveal hidden desires, to uncover the secrets of our longing: Envy.

Around the same time, I penned the post mentioned above, I received an email from a friend of mine, letting me know that his long awaited book on a subject close to both of our hearts had been published. I wrote him back just after the new year, to say congratulations, and thanks for keeping me informed of his doings, and about conferences and such, and to let him know that I've dropped out of the rat-race for a faculty post. He responded, encouraging me to keep up with my research: "Hang in there, and keep in touch." He suggested he'd like to send me a copy of his book (the first book I know of where my work is cited), and asked what address to send it to. Yesterday, it arrived, inscribed "with warm regards". It means a lot to me.

He's a fine scholar and researcher. I envy him. He received a PhD from Harvard about 10 years ago. Immediately he was offered a job at a research institute, where he's been ever since. I envy the relative ease of his path. I don't know all the details; perhaps I fool myself. Most off all, I envy that he was able to produce a dissertation in a pathbreaking area (very close to my own interests), and that he has been able to spend his professional career, working in that area, researching, publishing, presenting on the subject, all the while fully supported in doing so.

When I was young, I dreamt of being a poet, lying under trees by day, reflecting on the world in verse, and having a patron who sustained me in this enterprise. But I grew up... a bit. I have dreamt of the life of the mind. I had hoped in a PhD that I would be able to pursue something new, something true, something remarkable. I'm proud of the paper I submitted to my committee, which garnered me those three letters. It was a start.

I have dreamt of the ability to spend a career being me, pursuing questions that struck my mind as worthwhile to pursue, asking questions that have not been asked before, or finding answers that others had not found. I envy the ability to do those things.

And what prevents me? What holds me back? The easy answer is money. We need money to live. And yet, for now, we have enough. We have enough to sustain us likely for a couple years without worry.

I think of Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey. They might have disappeared many years ago. But they did not. I do not envy them their wealth. At a certain point, there is no need for more. Though I confess I never thought I'd say it, I envy them. But I envy them because they have stayed, because they have not left the field, they have not disappeared. They followed a path that they set before themselves, and they've continued along it, even when the sidewalk ended, blazing trails of their own making. It doesn't make me want to purchase the latest Windows operating system, or the current copy of O Magazine at the checkout stand. But I envy them nonetheless.

Yes, I want success. But what is success? Perhaps, success is the freedom (inward as well as outward) to pursue those things that fire our passions, and the courage to continue the pursuit no matter what. I think of Rembrandt, his rise to fame and fortune, then his precipitous fall. He died in poverty, forgotten, forsaken. But even to the end (you can see it in his late self-portraits), he continued, honing that vision, his remarkable vision to see light, to sense it even in darkness (cultivated as a child, growing up in the darkness of his father's mill). I have long envied him, even if I seek to avoid the conditions in which he died.

It's not money or the lack of it that makes us who we are. Fame and fortune are incidental, as are poverty and obscurity. I no longer believe that those who are lucky are necessarily those most worthy (nor for that matter the least worthy). They are merely lucky. But luck does not ensure their happiness; no more than its lack ensures misery.

Whatever I do, wherever the path leads (wherever my meandering takes me), against all odds, even when the odds are with me, in success and in failure, most of all (and this is what I envy), I want to continue.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Regaining lost momentum

I find myself these days, retracking my steps, trying to understand where I was in August, when my momentum in research and programming began to traipse off. Yes, I still have a few things on my plate. I've decided not to prep a talk for Industry Conference 2008 (though I'll plan on going). Rather, I plan to have some proofs-of-concept and some demos prepped for the conference, with the intention to show them around selectively. Just because I won't be presenting publicly, doesn't mean I have to let the opportunity pass for drumming up interest. It also affords me the chance to require non-disclosure agreements from anyone I'll be showing, which I couldn't likely do for a presentation.

I find that some of my thinking has clarified, some questions have been answered, and in general my approach has matured since I was in the heat of things last summer. However, it's that impetus that I need to regain. I cleared my whiteboard, and wrote at the top:

First things First!
--[Major unresolved issue!]

It's that one issue that I hadn't completed back in August or September, that I still hadn't clarified when I met with the programmers I had hoped to hire in October, and which I let fester in the interim. And it's that one little issue that will make all of these points come together. It's that one little point that serves as fulcrum.

And I've danced around it this past week, unable to find the foothold for my energies to concentrate on the problem enough to make strides. I've been reading up on the state of the art so to speak (in a recent text from my wishlist that my inlaws got me for my birthday), and several patents that have recently been filed in the area I am working. There are still holes in what's out there, holes which I fully expect my patches to fill. But then, who can be certain when doing something new? Was Thomas Edison certain? It's a trick question!

Of course, he was certain... but about what? I am certain that I have a contribution to make to the field in which I have endeavored. I am certain that this is far more enjoyable to me at the moment than the alternative. I am certain that I will come up with something, that I will learn from each failure, each imperfect attempt. I'm just not certain if this one will work... or another 229 light bulbs down the road.

The artist, the critic, & the chef

More fun this weekend with the D200.

Croquet Art collaboration:

Croquet Art critique:

A chef's penetrating eyes:

Friday, January 11, 2008

Industry Conference 2008

Just noticed a recent email announcing the deadline for submissions to present at [Applied Research Industry Conference 2008], January 18.

Now I've still got some things on my plate: got to finish this brief bio of the protagonist of my dissertation, due January 28; need to prepare an abstract by next Friday for this book contribution that I didn't really have enough desire to shirk; and now the possibility of preparing a proposal for [ARIC 2008].

If I don't submit for [ARIC] in the next week, it means I won't be presenting there until August 2009! So, while I haven't completed these proofs-of-concept, I've got enough done that I'm confident I'd have something significant to show by this August in New York. Trick is, I won't have a patent yet, and might likely not have filed one by then either. I fear I might get ready for everything, then get advice from my attorney that it'd be too risky to present it publicly before filing patent papers. If it's public domain (or arguably so), I may forfeit patentability. The question is, could I show enough to raise eyebrows, harness interest, but not risk giving it all away?

It's a tough call. On the one hand, if I submit, and it gets accepted, I've set myself a deadline (normally a good thing) for preparing presentation quality materials. I could always pull out later, on legal counsel, but that might not be a good precedent to set. On the other hand, I could simply wait until I've polished everything before sending it out, even if that'd mean a possible delay of a year before wide distribution.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Stepping down

Dear Bidar & Evan,

The deadline for abstracts is creeping up, and I've been dragging my feet. I assure you this is not due to any recently acquired lack of interest or commitment to the subject. The conference in June was a break in the clouds from the otherwise dreary gloom I've had since completing my dissertation March 2004. It's a simple matter of having spent the past three years as a PhD unable to gain a foothold in academia, beyond the overwork, miserable pay, and lack of benefits that are offered to adjunct faculty in the States. After ~150 applications for permanent faculty posts, I've determined it time to move on.

I've yet to obtain any funding or institutional support for my [Longitudinal Project], without which the endeavor has stalled. I have found however a renewed commitment to my research, and a hope that I can muster practical applications from it before my savings run out. My current efforts deal with [brief description]. While I intend to keep up research in the area of [subject of the conference last June, where I gave a plenary address], it may simply have to wait until I have sufficient income to support my family (growing now, with our third son due to arrive in the next month). After having spent the past several years supporting me and the boys, my wife is intent to take a few years hiatus from being an engineer. The upshot is, at the moment, I'm not sure just what I might contribute to the planned volume, and regretfully withdraw.

I hope this missive meets you both well, and that you will understand my situation.

All best regards, with hope that we shall remain in touch,


*****Updated to add reply from Bidar*****

Dear Articulate

Many thanks for your heartfelt email. I can certainly understand and appreciate your frustration with job hunting. The American job market is prohibitively competitive.

It is a great disappointment to me that you will be unable to offer something for the volume, and I would strongly encourage you to reconsider. The volume has a very strong array of contributors and your own work would complement it well.

All best wishes,

Chairman, Department of [Field 1]
General Editor, [Journal] [Publisher]
General Editor, [Book series] [Publisher]

*****End reply from Bidar*****

Now, what to do? I am torn. What are my measures? What determines worth and value? How do I decide where to expend my energies?

*****Updated to add my response****

Dear Bidar,

Alright... I reconsider. But I won't be able to get you an abstract by sundown. If I get you one by next Friday (18 Jan) will that do?



Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The first two

A few weeks ago, RocketMom and I finally bought ourselves a 10th wedding anniversary gift, a Nikon D200 digital SLR. Years ago, in a former life, I was an active photographer, seriously intending a career as a photojournalist. I was the photo editor of the campus newspaper, my second year of college, back in 1984-85. I had a dark room, and spent many long, dark hours, alone with my film, chemicals, and paper.

That was then. We bought a Nikon, since I could still use my old lenses. I LOVE IT! As I come out of my shell, more and more, casting off not only the raiment of the academic job seeker, but a bit of the motivation for my anonymity (namely the fear that some potential employer might find my blog), I can't help but share some shots of my boys (the first two). You'll have to wait (like the rest of us) for pictures of #3.

The Inventor

The Painter, drawing (naturally!)

They, two!

Lemon Peeled

I was going through my wallet, and realized I still had my Lemon University faculty ID prominently situated at the front of my card slots. ... I removed it.

A small gesture. I continue to slough off the skin of that life.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Slowly returning

Back in the office today. The Painter returned to kindergarten today. I'm still not a morning person. I got up around 7:15 nonetheless.

New routines: I drop the Painter at school in the morning, then head to my office. RocketMom picks him up. I'll be heading home shortly. 8:00-4:00. That should be a good schedule. Once the baby arrives (or perhaps sooner) I'll be picking #1 up at school as well, maybe having lunch at home, then heading back for a few more hours work.

Work! ... I keep checking my old Lemon email account periodically, just in case there's any contact. Haven't received anything for about a week or so. That's fading. Soon enough, I'll simply let it go.

Work. ... I opened up some old files on my computer today, reviewing and commenting on my notes from last spring and summer. Getting my feet wet again, trying to recall how to swim. I know it's in there. I was doing quite well on this journey before I started teaching again. Lemon sucked up so much of my time and energy. That is a lesson well learned. Don't get me wrong: I do love teaching. It's just I've made a choice. Today, the research is more important to me, certainly more important than adjunct servitude. And, as by my choice, it beats all hell out of continuing the academic job search.

Slowly, I've been sending out emails to colleagues and friends, letting them know the shifts in my trajectory. Slowly. That's a good word for me now.

I realized that we have yet much to figure out before we move. Despite what I wrote on Friday, it's more likely that we'll move in the summer than sooner. On top of our decisions specific to the move (and dealing with a new arrival at home), I've got to get as much research and programming done as possible. The more the technology is filled out and tested, the more I've worked up a plan for my business, the better off we'll be. I'm hoping to have as much a leg up on getting clients (and possibly investors) before we move as possible.
A thousand mile journey begins with small steps.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Halfway back

Got into my office today around noon. It's the first I've been in the office (other than to grab something) since my inlaws came to visit December 26. Rocket had a doctor's appointment this morning, so I had to stay with the boys.

I did some purging from my office bookshelves, taking down about a dozen books or so to bring home. I've got this short bio to write and send off next week. I'm leaning against working on this book chapter, though I'd like to write the co-editors (one of whom I've known for a decade, and the other who organized the conference last June in the UK, and who invited me to speak). I plan to simply write to them my thinking and see what they say.

What is my thinking? I'm walking away from the academic job search. I'm done with that. I've begun to turn away from habits, attitudes, and behaviors I had acquired principally out of that process. I don't need any more "lines on my CV". I've got quite enough, and they've done nothing to help me get where I'm going. I need new measures for determining worth and value for my efforts.

What will this task accomplish? Will that get me further along the path I wish to travel? Or will it simply hold me where I am, costing energy and effort, that might be better spent on other things?

My research must be paramount. Within about a month, we'll have a new baby at home. Hopefully come March or April we'll be ready to move to our next home, though it may be May or June. We've got a lot of research to do on that count, to ascertain and decide where best suits our needs and desires, and all the logistics of how to move, and get insurance, where to live (to rent or buy), what sort of office or workspace can we set up for me. I'm going to order a bunch of boxes from U-Haul, and start packing things up pretty soon.

But I need to keep up my research. I need to work up these proofs-of-concept, hopefully before we move. I need to follow through on my hopes and dreams. And I need to ward off as many distractions as possible. Today, I'm halfway back. Monday a new passage begins.