Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Oh, even better (maybe)

I talked to a supervisor at the state agency with funds to support enterprises like mine. Well, it would seem that they're considering a grant rather than a loan for my firm. The grant would cover a little less than half of my projected shortfall (about one month's payroll, benefits, and expenses).

At least that was the preliminary assessment I got today. Nothing is official until the complete evaluation is done, then reviewed by committee, then recommended to the next level, then decided, then processed, then issued... but, it would seem that a situation like the one I am presently in (namely the need for a couple months of "working capital" to cover the gap between receiving an award and getting the funds) is precisely what the program was designed to resolve. I should know mid-January in any case.

Meantime, I've given the go ahead to my banker to set up the line-of-credit. Best would be if I don't need it all. But it's sure nice to know it's available if I do. Guess I might not be needing outside investment after all, eh?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Catching up

So much to say. I'll just start and see where it leads:
  • I'm now patent pending. A long and somewhat arduous process. But it's done and submitted, with the blessing of my patent attorney. About $5000 down, and perhaps two or three years to wait. But I can open my mouth now (a bit) and let the world know what I've got and how I intend to use it (at least as much as I dare).
  • I just had a big audit today from the government agency that oversees contractors. I think... I passed, which means I may be okayed (in the next couple weeks... paperwork takes time) to proceed to the two year contract! Yippee! Well, almost. I'll drink a toast when the contract is in hand.

Well, those are the two biggies! I have been considering lately inviting investment in my company. I've realized over the past six months or so, as I've been buried in administrivia (yes, entrepreneurs too, not just faculty), that what I most want is to focus on the research. I had been thinking that taking on investors might be a means to facilitate that. I had been thinking that selling off a bit of the company might be a way to buff up the cash-on-hand in order to hire some more staff for administrative details, and that it might permit me to acquire the expertise and commitment of others to the success of the enterprise, whose money would be on the line as well.

It's not entirely past tense, but it seems to be moving there. See, one of the issues that has arisen lately, as I approach the point where I actually have this two year contract in hand (as well as a full staff of employees, with salaries and benefits to cover), is that the government pays in arrears. The company invoices about once a month for expenses already incurred, and about a month later they pay. Okay... so what covers those two months of expenses? Problem, you see?

When it was just me, I could pay myself a couple months later. That was the plan, you see: We moved somewhere we could afford, and we calculated that our savings could cover us for a while. But now those savings are significantly diminished, in large part because we put a big chunk into buying this house, then another even bigger chunk into buying the office building. And... I can't expect new hires to be happy enough to go a couple months without pay. So... I have to be creative.

In the past week, I've gotten word from one bank that they'd be willing to issue me a line-of-credit sufficient to cover those expenses. But I'd have to pledge my personal savings and such (you know, things like the house and cars), and pay about 6% interest. It's possible the state may offer my firm a bridge loan at 2% (but they aren't exactly quick in making a decision). So, I'm still considering taking investment, but not entirely enthusiastically.

Meantime, woo hoo! I... I can't believe I'm here, that I'm sitting on top of a company doing the most exciting research I can imagine, creating jobs, owning a home and an office. All is well in the land of us. What a change!

Monday, December 7, 2009


Tonight I got an email from one job applicant, whom I was hoping to invite out for an onsite visit in the next couple weeks. He wrote to say he'd taken a job elsewhere. Last week, I got word from one of the two who came out a few weeks ago, that she as well had accepted an offer elsewhere. So, I've got one new hire coming in the early spring, a couple part-timers and me. That leaves two vacancies as I had planned them, and a bit of uncertainty on my part how I will fill those slots, and whether I will simple proceed as I have been or rethink my tack.

It's hard not to see these two disappointments as a set back. Not severe or insurmountable. Not even as concerning as the details and logistics of getting these two contracts actually awarded (and not still pending). Not as pressing as filing the patent applications, or obtaining bridge funding to get me from the end of one contract to the start of the next two (since payment is always in arrears a couple months, but I still need to cover not only my own expenses, but salary and benefits, etc. for a full staff--that is, once I have one!).

Still a setback. Still disappointing. But I remain committed. I will find the right people. I will build the staff.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

...and another reason I like...

"And another reason I like working for you.." is how my wife started a sentence last night, as we drove home from a dinner date. What a marvelously good place to be in life.

I have:
  • a wonderful, delightful relationship with my best friend, my wife;
  • three charming, and sometimes infuriating boys, growing, developing, challenging;
  • a house which we can afford;
  • a degree of respect that I spent years longing for;
  • passion and excitement about the ideas I spend my days considering;
  • confidence in the potential of these ideas to have a positive impact on peoples lives;
  • hope that this line of work will sustain me for the next 10, 20, 30 years

I can sweat the small stuff.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


A month has passed since last I wrote. Last week, I had a couple candidates out for interviews. I offered them both jobs. One has signed and accepted the offer to start in the new year. The second is still deciding.

Tough decision. I recall how difficult it was for me to make that break from academia, to give off the over-lengthy job search for a faculty position. This candidate has but a fraction of my experience in that regard. Can't say what the decision will be, though I'd love to have them both.

I held a telephone interview yesterday with another candidate, to fill the third position I have open. That went well. A couple more applications to review, then I'll invite one of them out for an interview and hopefully a job offer.

I'm still awaiting official award of these two pending contracts. Time takes time. But it's all in the works. Meantime, I'm working to finish up a patent application, and prepare the various training and procedural documents I need for employees.

Next week, I go to visit family for Thanksgiving. Quite a bit this year to be thankful for. Little to compain of.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

You looking for a job?

Are you interested in a full-time faculty position?
Why? Are you hiring?
Well, yes... I mean, we're opening three positions soon, and I thought...

Okay... so this exchange actually happened over the phone, just a little while ago, between me and this Associate Dean for Research whom I was supposed to speak with last week. I said that I was open to discussion. Now, I know well enough to take every exchange like that with more than a grain of salt. Just because someone mentions a position, and their interest in me applying, does not in any way constitute a likelihood that I would even be interviewed, much less offered such a post.

Truth is, my budget for the next couple years has me receiving a salary about 60% higher than they'd likely offer. And, as I pointed out to her, it might be hard for me to take a full-time faculty gig while running my business. To which she suggested maybe I'd be available to teach some classes in any case. But what an odd thing to hear, not in some casual way by a member of a committee whom I'm acquainted with, but from a Dean who's been entrusted to beef up the research faculty. And what an odd place for me to be that I'm not terribly enticed by the prospect.

I'm flattered by the attention, but I honestly don't know how to react.

Friday, October 9, 2009


How do we reflect upon ourselves? see ourselves as others see us... How strange to be in a position to interview others, to set them under my own microscope, to judge them, to see their lives and careers (to some degree at least) in my hands.

How do they see me? How do they think that I see them? To receive their follow up emails: eager, nervous. I remember sending one after a flawed interview. The question I fumbled was how I had dealt with a difficult situation. It wasn't really a fumble. It was me, raw, unprotected, human.

My father had just died, perhaps a couple weeks before. I answered that the toughest situation I had dealt with was watching him slowly but irremediably pass from the living to the dying. At least one among them couldn't appreciate the humanity in that.

I wrote to the committee, desperately hoping to redress my interview, recounting having taught on the day of the Columbine shootings, just a few miles down the road... and during the weeks that followed. How some of my students were shell-shocked, a couple even suicidal. That was real. They didn't call me back for a campus interview. Their loss.

And now I sit in judgement of others, the arbiter of whether they recieve an offer for employment. Will they take the offer? What do they think of me? I asked them each as much on the phone last week? What do you expect of the position? What do you expect working for me? What did they know about me?

Some of them had done their homework. Web stats can be pretty revealing. Sure, I guard my anonymity here, but there's a lot I've revealed about myself on the web, that I don't guard jealously. I've nothing to hide. I'm impressed by their diligence. I'm ... pleased that they still want to work for me, having put me to the test. But then, I'm the one with the purse-strings at the moment.

Why am I here? What special potion has allowed me to rise like cream in a churn? I think of all the smart people in the world, all the industrious, all the hard workers, all the clever and committed. I am lucky.

Lately, I've been surrounded by people who find me remarkable. I've heard a few of them use the word genius in reference to me. How funny: a couple years ago, they might have viewed me in some soft-focus stereotype of a Berkeley perpetual student. My wife thinks I'm special, that my mind works differently from most people. Sure, I'll accept that. But different is not necessarily better.

Just now I've lucked upon a way to make that difference meaningful. Only time will tell whether that translates to being useful as well. R&D suits me. But perhaps in the way that potential has long been my raiment. Will I realize that potential? Will I deliver the D to my R?

That chance I've been given. Let me not squander it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


It's a metaphor... I'm not a runner.

Yesterday, I spent more than 5 hours on the phone talking with job applicants. A couple of them I was less impressed with than expected, and pleasingly a couple I was more impressed with. If I have my druthers, I'll be issuing an invitation to come for a site visit in the next couple weeks and contingent offers for employment to three of them, two post-doc and one ABD.

It's touch and go. I have little idea just when the funds for my Second Stage (2-year) contract will hit the bank. I could probably float salaries and benefits for all three for about a month... but that's it. I've been paying myself a month in arrears simply for cashflow. Meaning, of course, I can't hire them too soon, lest I wind up with unexpected delays on my funding.

I should hear back today or tomorrow from my agency lead for the big project if we're a go to submit our materials to the contracts department, which would put us on the slow track for budget and oversight approval. If all goes well, that'll only take a month or two, and we'd be on target for funding around the top of the year. But, I've heard of it taking 4 or 6, even 8 months. I think I've got clean books and a good budget, but this is my first time going through the audit approval process. There's no telling.

I expect to hear also in the next couple weeks from the second agency that has selected my firm about the schedule for award on that contract. It's in the works, that's all I know. Since payment is in arrears after submittal of progress reports, I expect the soonest any funding would come in from that source would be around the middle to end of December. Finally, I'm biting my nails on one outstanding proposal to yet a third agency. If that comes through, I'm good to hire another one or two in the coming year beyond those three.

I'm in my new office now. But they've been renovating the street. Daily I'm bombarded with the sound of bricks and concrete being sawn. Imagine me, sitting here, on the phone for six hours, with that as background noise. But I got through it. Come next week, the renovations (on my block at least) should be through. I hope!

But I'm happy, very happy!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

And so it goes

Tomorrow, I'll spend about three hours on the phone following up on references for various job applicants. Wednesday, I'll be on the phone with the Associate Dean for Research at one the colleges of a nearby state university, who's asked to speak with me about my research. She's been tasked with bringing on board more research faculty and collaborative efforts with industry. What a strange new world.

I still wait to hear back from one federal agency which is reviewing one of my proposals for funding, on top of what's pending and funded from other agencies. At the latest, I should hear by the end of the month. I closed on the building last week. I'll be moving this computer, another desk, and various other bits of furniture and sundries to the office beginning tomorrow. I now own a home and an office building.

The space currently has five desks and a conference room. My intern cum part-time assistant was there with me last Thursday, writing up a shopping list. Item 11 is "Employees". Got to love his sense of humor. Not sure what aisle I'd find them in however. Guess I'll have to settle for the old-fashioned method. A few more applications came in last week, from Russia and Australia!

I've been taking part in a bunch of local entrepreneurial activities and workshops. I've been welcomed by the community of entrepreneurs. I'm in my element, retaining my own sense of things, learning from others, keeping my independence. I won't forget from whence I come. I won't forget the pain of spending four years searching for a faculty position.

I realize that I am that same person today as I was a few years back. My commitment, my drive, my interests... none of them have changed. Only the circumstances in which I find myself. And if me... then thousands of others as well. Many or most of whom remain in the quagmire of circumstances I well recall. Only, I'm lucky. My wife's former income, and our good financial stewardship allowed us to take a chance that has paid off. Whatever I can do to succeed enough to level the playing field, I will.

Let me not forget who I am, who are my people, who are my colleagues, who are my peers, who are my friends.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Emerging Reality

Two years ago, I stood before classrooms of 40 students three days per week, for a paltry $15,000 a year, with no benefits, no office, no job security, and a 10-12 hour a week commute. I begrudgingly resigned, not only from that post, but from the academic job search, which had included about 150 applications over five years. I left... but I had no plan, other than a drive and commitment to find some means to practical applications for my ideas.

During the past two years, I've moved with my wife and three sons from Southern California to the Midwest; bought a house; established two companies (one to conduct R&D; the second to purchase and lease a building as office space to the first); I've received two federal contracts for R&D, been selected to receive a third from a different agency; and am in the administrative holding tank to receive a two year contract on the first project. Yet a third agency is reviewing another project for a federal R&D grant (I've been told that I should hear definitively within the month).

I'm interviewing several parties in the next few weeks, with the intention to hire two or three during the next few months, paying them multiples above what I made as an adjunct, along with generous benefits. And, I'm taking care of myself as well. I didn't set out to become a CEO. I set out to sustain my research, and to render it meaningful and useful beyond the ivory tower. I am on the cusp of doing just that.

Next week, I close on the building. Next month, I will make decisions about new hires. Then, to purchase new computers and equipment, finalize the administrative details of everything, and get back to my work. My heaven is pretty cluttered, full of activity, sprinkled with uncertainty, and sure looks a lot like the world on earth. It's just... a different world than I've been used to.

*** Oh... and by the way, they reopened the post across the sea. I don't think I'll re-apply. I'm a bit busy these days.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Distinctly Unpleasant Position

Another application arrived today. A doctoral candidate (on the verge of defending) from across the sea. So far, I have eight applicants for three positions: two with Bachelor's degrees; two Assistant Professors; two relatively local; two from foreign countries; one recent PhD (about a year ago); and three about to defend. Not one like me. Odd. I thought there would be. I find myself in the distinctly unpleasant position of knowing that I must turn away most of these applicants, some with truly impressive credentials; all with great potential. And I find myself realizing as well that I am not quite certain what it is I need them to be doing, or just how I should evaluate them. Thankfully, I've enlisted a handful of others to help me make those decisions.

All I know for sure is that it were a super-human feat to deliver all I've promised on schedule without help. And I know that there is sufficient funding at my discretion to hire that help. My intern remarked today--as I sent off the (hopefully) final draft of my second stage proposal, work plan, and budget--that he has worked for me nearly four months, and he's not quite sure what I do. And that is fair, because most of the time he's been in my employ, I've spent on administration and proposal rewrites and patent preparations and building purchase and travel and meetings and conferences and learning accounting procedures and project management and planning and human resources and... [EXHALE INHALE].

When my patent attorney asked me earlier in the week... and then, okay, so then what do you do? I nearly lost it. Not in anger mind you, just in frustration, in wondering yeah... what do I do? Procedures, algorithms, steps. What's novel? It's there, I know it. It works. I've demonstrated that, at least preliminarily. That's why I've gotten this funding.

But it's been nearly as much time since I've worked concentratedly on the research as I spent under the first part of my first contract. Now I'm under the second half of that first contract; I have an entirely new first stage contract starting in perhaps a month or two, for an entirely different project; and the second two-year contract on the first project is expected in due course, with the expectation that I'll be leading a team of researchers to deliver! Plus I still have two more proposals outstanding: one which has been pending review since November, and which I'd just as soon forget; but the other which I remain confident about.

So what then? I've already got budgetted full-time work for four people with part-time assistance from two others for the two existing projects. If one of these others comes through, that'd mean likely another two or three new hires. And the company remains at the moment in essence just me, with an intern 8-10 hours a week, and a wife who's agreed to take on some administrative and project management duties perhaps 4 hours or so per week. Don't get me wrong... I'm not complaining... just flabbergasted, and a bit stressed. I'm eager to return to the heart of the work. But there are so many steps just getting there.

There are times that I have lamented not having a classroom, because I love teaching. And yet, I realize this is all about teaching. My present is about training people in the research and procedures that are closest to my heart and mind. This is all about me, about my work, about my ideas. It's humbling really. To some extent this must be what it's like to teach from your own textbook in an area that you specialize in.

I have a great responsibility. I'm no longer simply putting my own reputation on the line. So what? You make a few mistakes. Nobody's perfect. But I'm on the verge of hiring a few others, teaching them what I do and how, and overseeing their efforts to coax my kernels into a field of corn. What I am offering others is risk, raw, unadorned. I'm peddling my own elixir, and seeking those who'll have enough faith in its healing powers not only to sell it on to others, but to imbibe of it themselves.

Wish me luck: to find those people, yes; but more importantly to ensure that the elixir requires no antidote.

Patent Humility

Drafting a patent is exhausting and humbling! I've begun working with a patent attorney. Being put on the spot to explain one's innovation to a novice is quite a feat, especially when said novice is a somewhat impatient (though clearly competent) attorney. The trick is maintaining my self-confidence that the innovation really exists.

One essential ingredient to any presentation is knowing your audience. This holds for patent work as well. The problem is: how do you know your audience? And if you don't know your audience, you need to assume they'll have essentially no knowledge or background that you can draw from, even though you must also assume that they will have a great wealth of materials to access to compare and contrast the ideas you present. And so, we proceed by defining terms: you know like "more than one," because it's not safe to assume self-evidence.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Checking off tasks

Putting my ducks in a row:

  • Met yesterday with a regional business startup group, gave a short presentation on my company, and got matched with four local executives/entrepreneurs to serve as mentors.
  • I'll be meeting with a patent attorney later this week, to move ahead with initial patent applications.
  • I have (only) six applications in hand for my three researcher positions. Hopefully more will arrive by the end of the week. I think there's at least one or two in the pool I'll be able to make an offer to.
  • Still working on finalizing the proposal for the second stage of my big contract.
  • Still awaiting official contact for negotiating details of the new first stage contract (though I'm happy with the delay, since it might give me some more time to bring on staff).
  • Closing on the office building at the end of the month.
  • Eagerly hoping to be finished with the bulk of these administrative tasks soon, so I can get back into the heart of the R&D.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


... um... I really don't know what to say about this, but I noticed that my recent award selection had been posted to the website for the sponsoring agency. Two companies were selected at this stage. I don't know how many proposals were received, but likely on the order of 15-20. The other company that was awarded... um... they're ten years old, with 75 employees, more than a dozen patents, and best I can guess about $100m a year or so in sales.

Uh... I'm swimming with sharks. I'm humbled and flabbergasted.

Monday, September 7, 2009

So Odd

The applications have been trickling in. Tonight I received my second application from a standing assistant professor. It's so odd to be receiving materials, to be on the hiring end, to get these respectful, deferentially worded letters—Dear Dr. Dad... thank you for the opportunity to apply...)—eager, enthusiastic, hopeful. I remember so well the effort I put in. The one I received tonight shows enormous energy, and impressive credentials.

I wonder how many more I will receive before the deadline in a week and a half. Will I really be able to hire the best? Will I pale in comparison to their accomplishments and potential? How many nearly-best applicants will I have to pass over, simply because I haven't the funds (like so many departments) to hire more? Will what I have to offer them actually satisfy? I thought I'd be vetting unemployed PhDs, those like me who've spent inordinate effort for nothing. But I've yet to receive an application from that sort. Either they've just finished or are about to finish their doctorate (in one case, only a Bachelor's degree), or they're already Assistant Professors. Where are the mes of the world?

I've created the post I was looking for. But I'm no longer applying; I'm the boss. How odd. How truly odd. And the chickens are not yet home to roost. Something could always fall through. The two year contract may be delayed, or fail to get finalized. I don't expect it (at this point it's highly improbable), but I've grown leery of overconfidence, and I've gained a rooted sense of pragmatism. I know that whatever occurs, I'll be fine. The boost in my confidence and the validation of my research that I've gotten over the past couple years is enough to sustain me for quite a while.

Even in the worst case, however, we won't lose our house. I'd still be able to cover the mortgage on the new office building downtown for a couple years. I worry about those hopefuls whom I'd be forced to disappoint, the ones who by right I ought to hire, whom to be honest I would be thrilled and honored to work beside.

I remain confident that things will continue to progress. I have this second project commencing in the next couple months. I have transitional funding from my first project through the end of the year. And the two-year follow on contract remains only a few (albethey significant) formalities away.

If all goes well, I will be hiring some of the choice candidates in the coming months. I will move into my new office in the next month. I will have stable and rewarding employment for the next couple years.

Joni Mitchell's words and Judy Collins' voice best sing my life today:
Moons and Junes and Ferris Wheels,
the dizzy dancing way you feel
when every fairytale comes real...
But now friends are acting strange
They shake their heads and say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
in living every day...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Letting go?

Those of you who have been following my journey these past several years will recall how I struggled with the choice to leave academia. And yet, I still hold on, a bit at least. I still check to see if that post across the sea has been reopened. Will I reapply? Should I? Part of me wants a good reason not to.

I can't quite explain why my recent success is not yet enough cause. Though it's getting close. What is the appeal? Sure, it's a five year fixed term, with the possibility of tenure. That's attractive in itself. I may be entering the realm of two-year contracts, but the sand beneath my feet remains uncertain. The life of an entrepreneur is not known to be secure. But, as RocketMom points out, working for a large university, even as a relatively independent research faculty member, would be worlds different from my current state.

At present, I am in so many ways free. But then... aren't we always? We so often get stuck in our ways, believing ourselves caught in a life, when the choice is most often our own. I believe in large part it's because we wish to have our options limited, since endless possibilities are daunting. They represent, as Douglas Coupland put it (when he was still a good writer), "options paralysis".

I am... afraid. Exhilirated, yes! But afraid nonetheless. I fear that this present mode, this current life, which appears so wonderful, so many scoops of ice cream above the once empty cone that was the sum total of my life after the PhD, is but a phantom, on the verge of vanishing into the ether from which it emerged.

You see, beneath the veneer, I feel pretty much the same on both sides of this door. My old mentor, Tasse Plein, paid me a related compliment, when I recently called on him out of the blue in The City, where he lives and works. He was thrilled for my recent run of success (even before the latest news).

I mentioned that I was so accustomed to disappointment in my professional life, that I was having some difficulty accepting what had every appearance of being success. He kindly put in that he thought I'd manage, that I wasn't the sort of person who would change much from it.

But if I haven't changed all that much, how do I make sense of the world around me changing? And so, I hold on to a bit of the world I knew for so long, the world of academia, as still a possible home, but a home that I wish the freedom to accept or leave. I want that choice, the choice that was denied me for so many years, even if I might choose not to take it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Banana-Apple Oatmeal Pancakes

I modified an old recipe. One change, I dropped the raisins, as one of my sons (the Painter) refuses them.

Banana-Apple Oatmeal Pancakes


1-1/2 cups

bread flour

1/2 c.

dry oatmeal

7 tbs.

apple sauce

1 tbs.

flax seed meal

2 tsp.

baking powder

1-1/2 c.

soy milk



1 tbs.

brown sugar

2 tbs.

plum butter or jam (any variety)


banana sliced

2 tbs.

chopped nuts (optional)

1 dash


1 splash

vanilla extract


Combine wet ingredients in a medium batter bowl. Mix with fork to scramble egg. Add flour ½ c. at a time while mixing, interspersing with flax seed meal and baking powder, and cinnamon to ensure ingredients are well mixed. Add the sliced banana toward the end, to retain some chunks. Cook over medium-high heat, in a lightly greased or non-stick pan or griddle. Flip when popped bubbles remain open.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hard to be humble

Busy busy. I'm losing interest in waiting for bad news. It begins to seem that bad news would be a grain of salt in a glass of iced tea. Who'd notice?

I attended part of [ARIC 2009] earlier in the week. Interesting how much of the work of attending a conference takes place outside the events of the conference. The sessions I did attend (and the conversations I had incidental to them) furthered my belief that nobody is doing what I am.

Monday, I had a nice sit down at the conference with the agency project lead of my ongoing effort. I got the distinct impression that she's on my team, so to speak. She validated from her standpoint that the technology I'm developing is unique. She confessed that all of the other proposals were pretty much the same. I asked about the decision to fund two firms at the second stage rather than just one; she confirmed my suspicion that it was motivated by an interest to fund my R&D, which they deem quite promising and potentially transformative, but also to hedge their bets by supporting the current state of the art in the field. Perfectly reasonable. Now, I just have to deliver.

Then, on my way back, I got an email on my phone at the airport, notifying me that the evaluation process had been completed on one my other outstanding proposals, for a new stage one effort I've called [Compression]. Finally, I get some closure. The email directed me to visit their website and log on to check the status. Aaarrgh! I didn't think logging into a secure website on my phone (even if I could) would be advisable, so it had to wait until I got home four hours later. I logged onto the site, followed the path noted, and read the word in the status column: selected.

Um... what? I was speechless. All I could do was call my wife's name, and point to the screen. That's a second project, loosely related to the first (buliding on one of the incidental byproducts, in an entirely novel direction). I had thought it a long shot. But I was encouraged by the topic author to propose something after we talked on the phone for 10 or 15 minutes. Again, the first stage of funding is for a proof-of-concept. If that succeeds, there's another two year contract waiting for full-blown R&D.

But I still haven't made any new hires, though now I might consider hiring four rather than three. I'll likely be starting this second effort concurrently with the first, on my own, before I bring anyone else on board. Wow!

In other news, we had the building inspection today. No surprises. Everything is looking up.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I'm rushing through the transit portal.

I just returned from a wonderful couple days with my beautiful wife (of nearly 12 years!) in a secluded B&B outside a quaint resort town on a lake. Our oldest, the Painter, is with my mom attending a rocketry camp this week. Rocketmom brought the two younger boys to her folks on Tuesday, and we met Wednesday evening for another honeymoon.

We got back late afternoon yesterday. I had a few logistics to attend to, mostly about the building purchase. Can you believe it? $2400 for an appraisal. You'd think after appraisers had contributed their part to overinflating the real estate markets that they'd have a little more humility now, but I guess not. My mortgage agent had been estimating $1500 (and we both agreed that was expensive). Who knows: maybe half of that fee goes to pay for liability insurance in case they're sued. Not much I can do about it, though.

I'm off to The City tomorrow for a couple days at Applied Research Industry Conference [ARIC 2009]. I didn't end up going last year: too many things going on, and too little surplus cash. As it turns out, I got a comp pass this year. Just so happens that the keynote is being given by a guy whom I knew from when I was about 10 years old. In my late teens, he was a mentor of sorts. We fell out of touch a few years back. I saw his name and face on the conference brochure, and looked him up. Small world. He arranged for me to have a full-access pass without the $1500 fee. That was nice. It'll be good to see him again.

Also, as it turns out, my agency project lead will be attending the same conference, so we'll get to talk over the Stage 2 effort and contract there. Then, I'm off to pick up the Painter and fly back with him on Wednesday.

Then it's hit the ground running. I've got a job ad to run in a major academic venue that following week. Here's hoping I get some good applicants. I hope to constitute a hiring committee to help me sift through the applications and conduct interviews. That shouldn't be too tough to accomplish. Then, I close on the building at the end of next month.

And, I've got a progress report due to my agency by the end of the month. Gearing up.

Here's the transfer. See you on my way back.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Shut Revolving Door

I scratch my head so often, I think there's a bald spot appearing:

Dear Articulate

The [University of Farfaraway] would like to thank you for your time in applying for [Position].

Unfortunately, the University has decided not to proceed with recruitment for this position at this time. It may however, be readvertised at a later date.



What happened? I just got word that the recruitment for [Position] has been cancelled.

The timing works out fine for me, since I’ve got a two year contract for R&D despite a lack of university affiliation. That’ll keep me busy for the time being. But I wonder that the cancellation means no applicant’s credentials were deemed suitable.

After 150 faculty applications, I’m used to shrugging my shoulders and wondering what more I could be asked to offer. But the disappointment remains. At this stage, I’m more interested in keeping the research alive. I’m lucky to have my research funded, but it’d be nice to stay in touch with related researchers. Do let me know what you can. I’m happy to stay in touch.


[Five minutes later]

Hi Articulate,

No not cancelled, rather it has been decided to readvertise (within the month) as a mid/senior level position rather than exclusively as a senior one.

All the best,


Sometimes, I can't be sure which doors are closed, and which I've propped open.

Am I ready?

Big changes. Lots of waiting. Lost time, dissipated energies.

Today, I'll be putting down the earnest money for the building purchase. I hope to make a decision by mid-week regarding what bank I'll be working with for the mortgage. I have preliminary commitment from one, and should receive word from the other today. I've asked each for a written estimate of costs and terms, so I can compare them.

Soon I'll have an office building, not just a one-room space like I had in SoCal before heading to these parts. I'll have some resumes to review in the next couple months, and likely three full-time employees come next year. I've got to negotiate salary and benefits, assign tasks, provide training, establish expectations, oversee the projects.

I shake my head. I sit in my swivel chair, jeans and a tee-shirt, knees akimbo leaning against the armrests. feet on the seat, fingers tapping the keys, elbows between my open legs. I'm not the image of a businessman, a high-powered negotiator.

I've had trouble lately getting back into the research. I've been overwhelmed by all the logistics: the proposals, and statements of work; the legal wranglings, establishing, registering and organizing a partnership for the building purchase; researching tax ramificiations; writing and rewriting and tweaking budgets and accounting methods; writing and distributing job descriptions; worrying over patent issues and protecting intellectual property (including how to deal with employees, and the proper guidelines and documents).

I've been distracted by the wait: to hear back from the three agencies I have outstanding proposals submitted to; from job applicants; from the university across the sea that has had my application for two months now; and from my funding agency to finalize the two-year contract I'm anticipating (which may remain unsettled for a few months yet, as it works its way through the myriad offices that need to sign off).

I turn back to the research, now months since I worked on it in earnest: I realize I've got to start over, piecing together the tools, trying to understand my notes, relearning the coding and programming that I've let lapse. There's a sinking worry in the pit of my stomach: Have I let it go too much? But that's the challenge of an entrepreneur, at least one of my ilk. It's all on me, and sometimes that means letting one thing go in order to attend to others.

Partly, I'm still awaiting official commentary and feedback from my agency lead. It's hard to move ahead with a project until the direction I've outlined has been approved. It's like heading out for Georgia, but wondering if I'll be asked to arrive in Nevada instead. So, I circle around, waiting for guidance.

It'll all come back, I'm sure. I'm mostly just worried over the report I have due around the end of the month, and just how I can word it to reflect the substantial (but mostly administrative) issues that have preoccupied me most of the time since the second part of my contract was approved.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Listen to Gopnik

Here's an interesting article in yesterday's New York Times on the intelligence of infants and young children, by Alison Gopnik, a specialist in the subject. Lessons to be heeded.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Oui, ça change, mais ce n'est plus la même chose

Change comes indeed!

I will be buying a building downtown as office space for the business that has emerged remarkably from the ashes of my career. They have accepted my offer of $165k, for a 3300 sq. ft. space, including a 1500 sq.ft. upstairs apartment, which I'm not yet sure what to do with.

Assuming no unexpecteds, I'm on the hook now for a commercial mortgage. Each time we think we are closer to being debt free (which represents for me freedom), we follow Harry's clarion call: once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

I'm raw tonight, after two margaritas and a glass of wine. I wonder at the changes. I think of the image of a transforming background, while the foreground remains unchanged. Am I different from the man I was a few years ago, desperately seeking faculty employment? I think not... not in essence. My commitments remain; may passions remain; my drive remains.

What has changed is that now I have some income, and the prospect for a few years more to continue to pursue those ideas that set me alight. Oh, and by the way, enough to hire a few others to keep me company on the journey. Coal is black, yet it burns. Even ashes provide energy, when properly set.

So I remain, Articulate Dad, father of three, husband, lover, scholar, researcher, innovator, entrepreneur. Yes, I will do what is required of me to be allowed my freedom to think, to do, to be. Damn the torepedoes; full speed ahead.

A new chapter begins. Wow, this life is becoming quite the book!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Game of Chicken

1800 sq.ft. office + 1500 sq.ft. apt.

Ask: $187k
Offer: $162k
Counter: $175k
Stand firm... hold your ground.
Don't be a prick! You can afford a little more.
But it's not my job to ensure they don't lose money. Besides... they won't lose any money: they bought at $158k four years ago. They're lucky to not lose money in today's market.
But... they did put perhaps $15k in upgrades.

But I don't need an apartment. I'd be happy with the office. Besides, I should be more concerned that I don't lose money. They still have a mortgage to pay. I don't yet!

I've got two days. What'll I do?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

... Lifting

Idle time makes idle thoughts.

Action is the best antidote to anticipation.

[I guess I'm full of aphorisms today.] While I type this, the fax machine (yes, I still occasionally resort to that antiquated 20th century technology) is sending a signed copy of my purchase offer for a modest office building downtown, a few blocks from the Lake, on a street that remains half torn up because of renovations. The side where my office would reside has freshly installed (about a week ago) brick paving sidewalks, and new lightposts in process. Perhaps a third of the buildings are vacant or underutilized. There's hardly a comparable sale in the area in the past three years (though one other building I had preliminary interest in has an accepted offer).

For as long as I remember, whenever I see that sort of disuse, a part of me delights in the richness of possibilities (oh, just think of what could go there!), and another part cries at the destruction of town and city that is made legend by American urban sprawl. Snatching a building from the craw of legend is more than just obtaining a place to work. It's living my life in accord with my beliefs and priorities. There are cities in this nation that long for revitalization. In my own little way, I wish to be a part of that process.

Tikkun Olam: where the world is ill, it must be healed. When I can contribute to that healing, I will. There's a simple rule of thumb I try to live by: if it's easier for me to do something for someone, than it is for them to do without, then I should do it. The same holds for cities, I'd say.

And so, it's not a merely cold calculation. Surely, there are cheaper and less risky options for me. Justice may be blind while holding her scales: but the art lies in determining what objects to place in each bowl.

I have been in an odd mood lately in part because I have grown so accustomed to failure in my career, that I'm not sure how to deal with what has every appearance of being success. I keep waiting for some bad news, something untoward to occur. But the longer I wait, the less I really expect it. And the more I wonder just what I might do if it never comes.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Weight of Life


Tonight, I have an overwhelming sense of despair, a vague desire to just disappear, to suffer amnesia, to be someone else, satisfied with a simple life. But it's an inward feeling. The world has not shifted place since yesterday or this morning.

In fact, it's that simple stasis that I identify as my trigger. I wait ...

Perhaps it's all in my head. Not... not that waiting is not a condition of my present life. Just that focusing on that wait is something I alone can control. But I don't.

I wait to hear back from my agency project leader, regarding my second stage proposal (she's just back from three weeks on the road). That second stage contract is a BIG DEAL, the biggest deal of my life. It represents stability for a couple years, a good salary not only for me, but for three or four others. It represents the chance for me to take my ideas to the next stage, to practical applications. The chance to actually build a sustainable research-based business that I can be proud of. That's big.

It's not that I lack confidence that this will happen. It's just that I wait for it to happen. And, if it didn't I'd be okay. For me, the waiting is worst. It's like anticipating the collapse of a house of cards. Once it falls, you just pick them back up and start rebuilding. Picking up the pieces is fine... just waiting for them to fall drives me batty.

I wait to hear about whether I'll be interviewed for the research position across the seas. Apparently, their expectation of a hiring committee rendering a short list in a couple weeks was overly optimistic. Why do I even care about that post? (Because I want so much to feel that I have not been entirely banished from the world of academia, even if I'm not certain that is where I wish to be).

And I wait to hear the results of my other two recent proposals. I wait to receive job applications for the three positions I've recently advertised (well, sent around through my channels--I'll formally advertise them if need be).

I wait to hear back from the seller's agent on a few issues regarding the building I wish to purchase as office space for my company. Then, I suppose I'll wait for their response to my offer.

But... what am I really waiting for? Whose answers will change my life? Truth is, I have, right now, most of the things I have thought important in life: a wonderful wife, whom I am truly still in love with; three beautiful, delightful, charming, intelligent (and sometimes infuriating) boys, growing up in part under my tutelage; I'm a dad; I have a house, with a mortgage payment so laughably small in comparison to what we've paid in the past that I'd be hard-pressed to imagine it possible for us to lose; I've got savings in the bank, enough at least for us to consider remodeling our kitchen, and putting in a new paving-stone patio in the backyard.

Yeah, there is still some lingering bitterness and sorrow over leaving the Academy. I guess part of it is the unsettled nature of where I am. Being an entrepreneur isn't exactly a cake walk. It's quite often overwhelming, daunting. Much better feelings I admit than despair. I'll take the weight of life over the weight of dejection anytime; that doesn't make it any lighter.

Yes, this too shall pass. In the morning, a new day shall dawn. Friday I head to the lakehouse. Rocketmom and the boys are already there for the week. I'll spend the weekend there, and hopefully forget these worries for a couple days.

Friday, July 31, 2009


Got word this afternoon that I've got preliminary approval to finance the office building purchase. It'll be a joint venture between us and my father-in-law. We'd be putting down about 18% of the purchase price to his 12%, and financing the remaining 70%.

I'm just thrilled. Next step is to put in an offer on the building I'd like to buy, and hope they accept it. It's a comfortable space downtown in an arts and cafe district, about 3.2 miles from our house (so I could bike it in nice weather). The office is about 1800 sq.ft., with an apartment above, that could be rented out, or used as temporary housing for new recruits, or for childcare, or exercise equipment, or just about anything.

Things are moving along.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Back to the plan?

Today, RocketMom headed out of town with the two younger boys to pick up our oldest at his grandparents. He's been there for the week attending a summer camp. I had my intern over this morning for a few hours, then... I've been alone. I think perhaps this is the longest I've been alone at home since we moved here. It's been a time to reflect on things. I realize how important my family has become to my sense of self, how much of my motivations and quotidien decisions circle around being part of a domestic group.

It's been a time for me to reflect on where I am in life, and where I'm going. I submitted my second stage contract proposal earlier in the week. I'll still need to work up a contract with them. But it seems ever more expected that this will simply go. I can't quite bring myself to disbelieve it... but I remain amazed at how far I've come these past few years. And I'm hoping to submit yet another new grant proposal in the next couple weeks. That'd make four outstanding proposals, on top of the expected two-year contract. Each one of them represents the potential to hire another one or two or three additional employees over the coming year or so.

Some of you have followed me on this journey from desperate academic seeker to whatever I've become. Three years ago, I wrote:

I know where I want to be in 5-10. I want to be director of an interdisciplinary institute or center on my area of study, bringing together researchers and faculty from a variety of disciplines and methodological backgrounds to focus on the subject matter.

I find myself, three years later on the verge of heading just such a team. Not quite the plan I had. In some ways, more independent. I'm not running an insititute or a center, I'm running a start-up, a bootstrap as they say (meaning not a penny from investors, just me). I've gotten two contracts, and a third on the way, enough to hire a small team. And it's all on me.

There's an ad I've seen on the web, showing a business card, that slowly adds more and more titles: President, CEO, Accountant, HR, Receptionist. I chuckle. It's not a joke. I'm the grants writer, and the payroll specialist, the PI, and the maintenance engineer, the purchasing agent, and the janitor. But soon, oh so very soon (even if it's months away), I'll be the director of my very own hand-picked research team, engaged in my very own hand-picked projects.

It's humbling. And inspiring. It's what I wanted those years ago. In a sense. The odd thing is: I fell into this role, being an entrepreneur, a business owner. Looking over things, I came across a post over at BlogHer by my friend Leslie , that linked to some of my posts from early 2006, when I was still in the thrall of academia, wanting so much to just persevere long enough to make it. I never did, at least not in that realm... but oh I held on.

It's just somewhere along the path, I meandered. I tired of the monotony of application, rejection, application, rejection, appli... Finally, I emerged, hesitantly, uncertainly. Less than a year ago I got word of my first contract four years after completing the PhD. Four .. very .. long .. years. Only a month ago, I got word that the transition funding was approved, and that I was invited to submit a two-year contract.

This is all still new, the paint is still drying. Yet another chapter in my life is about to begin. Wow!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A desperate quest for we

I suppose what most motivated me in my desire to hire my friend has been what I might call "a desperate quest for we." I have often noted the loneliness of my position. It was desperately, depressingly lonely on my faculty job search. I reiterate (even to the disbelief of my friends Lilian and BrightStar), in nearly five years of searching, beginning the year before I completed my dissertation, I applied for no less than 150 faculty and related positions! Only then, finally, throwing in the towel in my quest to become a respectable academic.

In all of that, and even now, I have sought to find a home for my research and my energies, where I could be a part of something bigger than myself and my own thoughts. Yes, as undine points out, I have attained an enviable degree of present success. And yet, I'm still a me not a we. I think of BrightStar's recent musings about collegial issues, and part of me is nothing more than envious that one could even have colleagues.

But, when all is said and done... I guess the grass over here is pretty green after all, even if I find myself more often than I'd like enjoying it alone. Let's hope hiring won't be like trying to buy friends. There's work to be done. I just hope I can find some pleasant company to join me in the task.

Echoes of Thomas Paine

What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly.
-- Thomas Paine

And so it is still today. I find myself in the awkward position of offering a research position to a former colleague of mine (a cohort who only this year filed his dissertation, four years after I did) who hesitates to accept. He's still holding out hope (not entirely without reason) of landing a faculty position, and he hesitates to join me in these northern climes. I like him. But, truth be told, I'm not desperate.

I admit, part of my desire was to begin with someone I could trust, someone I knew. I guess there's something to be said for simply advertising and reviewing applications. Maybe what I really need is to to see what sort of interest I might attract by putting an advertisement out there. I hear that a research post with a startup paying in the range of $40k/year plus benefits in an area with a cost of living more than 20% below the national average ought be quite attractive to a host of qualified candidates.

Funny thing: no one called me up and offered me a job when I graduated. I worked for this. And damned if I'm not going to enjoy it, with or without hiring my friends.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What a change!

I got back from the lakehouse on Sunday evening. I spent a couple days fiddling with my budgets, and following up on possible office space (lease or buy?), as well as catching up on emails, and myriad miscellany.

It's at times overwhelming: A couple years ago, I was in Adjunct Servitude and spending half my income on a rented office space for a business that existed only within those four walls and my mind. I have often fretted over how lonely it is without the support of an academic institution or an employer, or even a team of coworkers.

It was nearly a year ago that things started to change. I was awarded a six-month contract (it lapsed about four months ago), worth about ten times what I made per semester as an adjunct! We had recently moved into our home, and I had setup shop in a home office, now cluttered with two large "L" desks on opposite corners, three computers (two desktops and a laptop), an overflowing filing cabinet, a couple printers, and a couple storage cabinets.

I've got an intern now. Last week, I received official notice that the second part of my initial contract had been funded, to provide transitional support while I go through the process of proposing and negotiating a two-year contract for continued research and development (worth 100 times what I made in a semester as an adjunct!).

I'm no longer quite alone (for now at least I have an intern). I expect to hire three post-docs in the fall or early 2010. What a change! And I'll be paying them more than two and a half times my annual salary as an adjunct (with health and retirement benefits, bonuses and raises, that make a former adjunct giddy)! It feels good to be on the verge of accomplishing that.

But there are so many details to attend to: the office space; the final proposal and contract negotiations; budgeting, payroll, and accounting; legal and patenting; ordering equipment and software and furniture and office supplies; Interviewing and hiring candidates; benefits administration.

And in the midst of it, my principal hard drive failed yesterday morning! Drive 0 not found. No bootfile. Aargh! I had made a backup of all my important business files (meaning the research and administrative materials) before heading to the lakehouse. I had a backup of the entire computer from October (yeah, I should do it weekly!). Mostly, I lost the last few months of pictures, and some household documents.

And... I lost the work I had done on budgetting and such from the first part of this week. Okay, a couple days to recover. It's frustrating, because I need to get that final proposal in soon! And the budget is significant, since it determines how many labor hours I have to spend on the project, and thus what I can reasonably promise in the plan of work.

But, these are minor annoyances. Truly, honestly, amazingly--I am thankful for where I am, for what I have. Today is a better day than yesterday, metaphorically and literally.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

More than a commitment to diplomas

The American Federation of Teachers FACE blog has a recent posting ("Why Faculty Need to Speak Up") about the Obama Administration's commitment to "improving degree attainment rates in higher education." Lost in the fray however is any commitment to restoring learning to education. Without a commitment to increasing the number of faculty and raising the standards of employment for contingent faculty, any commitment to graduation rates is a hollow indulgence, worshiping diplomas for their own sake rather than the education that should underlie it.

Let's put it plainly: the heart of education is the relationship students attain with learning. The most salient models students are exposed to are the classroom faculty they encounter every day. It is those faculty who must be the center of any and every effort to improve the quality and accessibility of education. As the title of that posting suggests: indeed, it is high time faculty speak up. It is high time that contingent faculty walk away from mistreatment. It is high time that tenured or tenure-track faculty make plain their displeasure with the system that shuts out so many promising scholars, because of lack of funding for faculty positions, and the disgraceful overuse and abuse of contingent faculty, with no job security and often no benefits.

Only when we have a powerful collective voice, when we look beyond our own private battles for tenure for instance, or cower under the ridiculous restrictions to free speech that are being demanded by administrators, will we have meaningful and productive change. Hell, if the Iranian people can rise up, so can we!

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I'll be heading out to the lakehouse this weekend with RocketMom and the boys. My wife's family often gathers at her grandparents' lakehouse to celebrate national holidays, most prominently American Independence Day. Since no one lives there year round any more, it's pretty much free for us to stay on as we like. It's about two hours or so from us, and more like 20 minutes from most of the family. We'll spend the week there, down a dirt lane, alongside a small lake, surrounded by trees and frogs (and mosquitos).

The place has a lot of meaning for us. A couple years ago when we joined the family, from our remote residence in southern California, we made a decision that we'd be happier nearer family, with access to such a beautiful and peaceful refuge. Until then, we had an inkling that we'd be moving on, to start over with a house and a home, but we weren't really sure where.

During the past year since we moved here, we've been there a few times, relaxing, rejuvenating. Returning from there a year ago was when I first heard of my selection to receive a first stage contract to support my research. Yesterday, I got a call from one of the mid-level administrators at the agency that will be funding my second stage, apologizing for the delays, and indicating that they are doing everything they can to expedite my transitional funding, which she expects to be in place before the holiday.

This is such a different world that surrounds me from the one I knew just a year or two ago. But I'm not sure I've much changed, except in regaining my confidence. It's as if I've been dressed in black, first hidden by the darkness of night, then emerging from a background of red, and finally in full relief against the white. My raiment has remained unchanged, but my appearance has become transformed.

I'm looking forward to this week, and to what comes after.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Some of you may be interested to know that my RL alter-ego has started a new blog. If you're interested, and willing to preserve the separation of identities, email me for the link.


I've been stressed lately. I guess I'm a bit overwhelmed with everything. It's an enormous change over the conditions I had been in for years. I'd say it's good. Certainly I prefer this state of things to the misery I felt sending off one faculty application after another.

But it's stressful nonetheless. I recall an old cartoon -- I think it was "Bizarro"-- several years ago, which featured a cocktail party of uber-rich complaining about their plight in terms like, "I'm so miserable: I couldn't even get the waiter to swizzle my martini for me." The funny thing for me was the realization that misery is an objective measure of conditions relative to expectations, not an absolute measure of anything. And what's more, it's real!

Now, I'm not about to argue that societally we should regard the complaints of some Wall Street broker who's pressured to return part of a $2.3 m bonus in the same light as those of a widower with four kids who just lost his job and house. But psychologically, their plights might be similar.

I feel a bit better having just started writing this. In light of what could be (and what has been), I'm doing fine. I'm stressed: I've got a subcontract to negotiate (or to abandon). I'm not quite as much on top of my game today. The dance I described continues, but in silence. We left it that the other CEO would arrange for me to talk with his technical chief to discuss more details about what I'm asking them to do. It's been more than a week, and I've heard nothing. I'm inclined to simply let the time pass, let him make the next move. But that puts me in a position where I need to be prepared to abandon the negotiations before they've properly progressed, and more importantly to seek alternatives.

Do I look for another subcontractor, or do I plan to hire in and prepare the work directly? Would that take me from the core of my work? My hope all along has been to partner rather than compete. But the choice may not be mine.

I did accomplish a good deal so far this week. I spoke with the lead on my Stage 2 contract. She's yet to fully review my proposal, so we didn't talk much. I also followed up on several financial/accounting issues. It's not clear whether they've actually begun processing the second part of my first contract, meaning it's likely still four months before I get paid again! I interviewed a second post-doc I'd like to bring on. But hiring has to await funding. Frustrating. Finally, I've done quite a bit of advocacy on issues directly relevant to the sorts of funding opportunites that have so far supported my business, and which I think much to offer others like me, and much to offer the broader economy in terms of jobs.

But, I'm feeling a bit of postpartum. It's been intense preparing so many proposals and applications at once. And now, I'm back in wait and see mode, even if the wait is expectedly short. This too shall pass.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Moving on

I spent the day preparing my application materials for the gig across the sea. Sent! Their email confirmation noted:
Your application will be considered by a selection committee, which generally occurs within two weeks of the posted closing date. Our next contact with you will be to advise whether you will be invited for an interview.
Wow... that's refreshing. Efficiency. So, now I put it out of my mind, and worry about possibilities if they arise. Meantime, I've got patent applications to prepare.

Applying for the research job was just something I thought I ought to do... well, something which I wanted to do. But I'm perfectly content whether they consider me or not. My self-worth no longer rests on validation from academia. I am utterly convinced of the value of my ideas. Those who are funding my research obviously are as well.

We shall see what becomes. Either way I'll be fine.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


As I workout in the evenings, I've been reading "Dead Lucky" by Lincoln Hall, a retelling of his grueling adventure with Mount Everest: how he summited, then died on the descent, was left for dead, then discovered by ascending climbers the next day, groggy but alive.

The book's not the best read, engrossing at times, but occasionally incoherent. I suppose that reflects the mental conditions he was in. It's a rather good motivator however, as I ride on my stationary bike, 20 or 30 minutes most nights. I've been trying to regain my cardiovascular fitness, and reduce my cholesterol and triglycerides.

I've lost about 12-15 pounds in the past six months. I'm getting there. But I muse at the passing in and out of lucidness and coherence of a climber testing his own mettle, even against all logic. Why do people climb mountains?

I fade in and out of reality a bit myself. Logic tells me that I'm on top of the world, that I've earned myself some respite from the constant battle to survive as a researcher and a scholar. Sometimes I exaggerate in my own eyes both the gains and the pitfalls. Will I really make it through this passage? Will I descend safely to the next plateau, after reaching the glorious summit, with the sun still shining, and breathe a deep, welcome toke of oxygen?

Or will it all fade away like mist, leaving me to realize the ascent is still before me, and I've only just begun?

This possibility of an academic research post fills me with a strange ambivalence. And not a little bit of trepidation: What does he really mean about not having my publications before him? Will he judge me as lacking because I've spent the past couple years working on research that I plan to patent rather than publish? Maybe I'm really not a scholar after all? Maybe I don't rank up.

What is my motivation? What is it that I really seek? Who do I wish to be?

I've just gotten through a very tense few weeks, as I prepared and submitted one big proposal for a $150k effort [Industry Standards], followed by a draft of my stage 2 contract [Speedometer] for 5 times that amount, and just today submitted another proposal for a $70k project [Compression]. Funny, that last seems so small today, but would have driven me to heights of insecurity a year ago.

Perhaps it still should. Can I say for certain that getting my first contract last summer, and the chance for a much bigger second part now is anything more than luck and chance? Sure, I did the work... and they were pleased with it enough to pass me on to the next level.

But then... I just can't believe that so many others out there are not just as worthy, just as capable, just as clever. Why don't they all have the opportunities as well?

I have a chance now, a wonderful, marvelous chance, to grow as a person, to develop as a researcher, to lead as a business executive. I feel a great burden and responsibility to do my part to help those others up the mountain as well. I hope I have the strength and courage to remember that!

Monday, June 15, 2009


To borrow an image from undine: it would seem that life does move in circles:
Subject: Assessing Potential Interest


Your search announcement sent via the [Interdisciplinary Research Association] list piqued my curiosity. I've been interested in [University Research Facility] at least since I had applied there for a post-doc five years ago. I wanted to know if you'd be interested to receive an application from me under this notice. I believe there is a great deal of convergence between our research. Attached is the first part of a recent grant application I submitted on behalf of my firm. If awarded this would be a six-month effort, beginning early 2010.

Please note that I am currently under obligation to another contract for research and development regarding [focus of R&D, and details of awards]. The last of these is a two-year effort, for which I expect to hire 3 post-docs. My time allocation for those two years is about half-time.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Dear Articulate,

I have just read over your proposal, and it seems to be a very interesting approach. While I do not have your full CV, and so cannot judge your publications and such, I do think an application from you would be a good idea. Since your last application, [University Research Facility] has become more and more oriented to [general area of my R&D]. I look forward to hearing more from you!


Deric Dunlap, Director, [University Research Facility]
The posting in question is for a five-year fixed term Senior Research appointment (at a rank equivalent to a U.S. Associate Professor w/o tenure) with "excellent potential for tenure". It's at a well respected interdisciplinary research lab at a large regional university (not in the U.S.) recognized for its "capacity to carry out successful collaborative research partnerships" with business, government and community involvement.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Overdose, overdiagnose?

Is it just me? Or is it a Midwestern thing? Why does it seem that the parents of every seemingly gifted child I meet reports their child has been diagnosed with Asperger's?

I mean, I can't speak with authority about Autism. I taught a child diagnosed with Autism for a short while. I have a cousin who seems properly to be diagnosed with Asperger's... but these kids? I just don't see it.

Yes, they're challenging (what extremely bright child isn't?). I wonder how much of a diagnosis reflects the society and environment more than the one being diagnosed. I shake my head in wonder.

Top of My Game

Years ago, when I left the Rocky Mountains to enter a doctoral program on the West Coast, I was at the top of my game. I had been teaching adjunct at a community college (with a Master's degree... I had lower expectations then, I was happy). I had been performing on stage regionally, receiving top reviews. And I had a private studio full of students, turning away new ones because I didn't want to extend my schedule, and I didn't need the money.

I was content. But RocketMom was restless. And, there was a part of me that wanted to return to school for a PhD. I wanted to publish, and research, and perform. Most of all, I wanted to research, to pursue the things that kept me up at night. And so, we headed west.

In graduate school again, I was at the top of my game, independent, driven, fearless. Then... I graduated. A brick wall.

Slam Bam...

That was what I got for not conforming. I wasn't the right kind of PhD it seemed. I didn't fit into the neat divisions of departments that make up a University. So, 150 faculty applications later, with greatly diminished self-esteem, and self-worth, I stepped off the carousel, deciding that I hadn't gone to graduate school, and jumped through fire, to be a perpetual job seeker. Somehow, even in the midst of the depths it sunk me to, I realized that that search was beneath my dignity.

Finally, I have gotten some validation, enough at least to restore my sense of worth, my strength and energies, my passion.

Today I spoke on the phone with the CEO of a company that I might hire to do some subcontract work for me, someone who incidentally, when last I saw him at an industry conference a couple years ago had essentially dismissed me. It was the same thing, I knew, I didn't fit the mold of expectations for someone doing what I said I was doing. I can't fault him... he simply underestimated me. By then, I was used to it. But forgive and forget. Today is another day, and I honestly believe there is mutual benefit in developing a collaboration. So I called, and we talked.

It was a dance, of delicate maneuvers, testing each other. It was fun, being able to observe a bit, even in the heat of it. Negotiations are a fine balance between appearing strong and in charge, and being soft and patient. If you're too weak, you lose (for both of you) but if you're too aggressive, you risk offending, and you lose (for both of you).

It's like a date early in a relationship. You want to seem appealing, almost to the point of aloofness. But if you come across as arrogant, it will be your last date. How do you express interest without desperation? That's the balance you need in corporate negotiations. I think I struck that balance today. It was good to be the party with something to offer, rather than the supplicant.

I feel like I'm on top of my game. This game, I like playing.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Step by step

Filed a draft proposal for my continuation contract today. That was a big milestone. I still have quite a bit of work to do before the final submission, but it's falling into place. Significantly, this should be enough to get me through that gate that unlocks another six months of transitional funding. Hopefully!

Every indication is that I've bought myself another two and half years of research funding. Gingerly but confidently I tread these next few paces.

I've got a lesser grant proposal to submit next week (or abandon it). I haven't been willing to let it go yet though. I may still, but I might just pull it off. In any case, that's two out of three down. Not bad.

It's a busy and exciting time. I just want to keep up the momentum.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What's reasonable?

Here's a quick question out to my readers:
What's a reasonable salary for a postdoctoral researcher in areas you're familiar with?
I have a fair idea from my own experience applying for postdocs, and I have a sense of what I might have expected as a starting Asst. Prof. in the Humanities. But it's been a couple years, and I may be hiring outside my own fields.

If you don't wish to broadcast it here, I would welcome your emails to my gmail account listed at the top right. Also, feel free to paint a broad brush as far as field or general area of research, or tell me about your spouse's or partner's fields.

I just want to make sure that what I'm planning to advertise would be in the right range to garner interest from qualified parties. I have no interest in hiring someone who feels they deserve much more than I'm able to offer (or conversely who feels they're getting paid more than they'd otherwise expect).


... rolling downhill.
This morning, I received an email from someone I had met at a conference in 2004 in Europe, while I was still a PhD Candidate. She's about to graduate now. She was writing to me in response to my posting a few weeks ago for preliminary interest regarding a possible post-doc position with my firm. She'd be great! I've got firm interest from another colleague of mine (a cohort from graduate school who started with me, but who's only now managed to file his dissertation in my secondary field, not my primary).

I'm feeling really good about the team I'm putting together. Wow! I can hire these people at a decent post-doc rate, and have them help me propel the research forward.

This morning I sent a note to the CEO of a company whom I had met a few years ago at [Industry Conference] when I first got interested in applied research. I wanted to ascertain if they had any interest in subcontracting for me on my Stage 2 contract. He wrote back that yes, they were very interested. We'll talk tomorrow on the phone to discuss details.

I'm a little anxious about ensuring that we have mutual protections for our IP, and that we execute a reasonable partnership agreement that permits both of us to benefit from the collaboration, but which doesn't unduly "give away the farm." I think we can manage it. I'm willing to pay attorney's fees to ensure that.

But it's all happening fast. The project director for the agency that's sponsoring my Stage 2 effort wrote to me yesterday with a few points to consider in my proposal, and closed:
We were pleased with the technical work you provided in the first Stage and look forward to working with you as we move forward.
Oh yeah! Can I just say... I like being pat on the back. I really can't express quite how excited I am to be where I am, to be validated (ever so belatedly). This is just a start I know. But I'm feeling so on top of things. The research means so much to me, and knowing that it's valued! The money could fall through. The contracts could dissipate. And... you know what? I'd be fine. We'd be fine.

But, I have no plans to shoot myself in the foot. I want to do this right. I'm taking my time, and double-checking everything. I'm almost done with my draft proposal. I wanted to have it done today, but it wasn't quite ready. I should be able to finish it up in the morning. Then it's the mad dash to finish and submit another proposal due early next week. Then back to polishing the draft into a final. And soon I'm back to the project.

I'll try to fly both of my prospective post-docs in (probably at the same time, or overlapping, so they can meet each other) in the next couple weeks. The chicken's are beginning to hatch. I'm almost ready to start counting.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

One finish line, more to come

I feel like a sprinter who reaches the tape, only to realize it's not a finish line, but the start of a cross-country race. Am I up for the challenge?

Here's an image from two dreams I had recently:
I'm behind the wheel of a car. It's drifting slowly backwards. I'm not paralyzed, but I can't lift my leg to step on the gas or the brake.
In the first dream, there were cars behind me, trying to back out of my way. In the second, one of my sons was behind or beside the car, and I worried about hitting him. But I just couldn't move my leg. I've dreamt before that I couldn't open my eyes, but it's novel for my legs to be immobile.

This is very powerful image for me. Those who've been reading me for a while will recognize that sitting in the driver's seat is a favorite image of mine. It represents being in control of my life and its direction. So, there I sit, in the driver's seat, and yet I'm not quite in control. It seems realistic (though scary), since I remain dependent upon others, like those who hold the purse-strings that serve to seed my company and research. And I depend on my family in other ways, easily as important as funding.

I submitted one new grant proposal on Sunday, let's call that one [Industry Standards]. Their website says it may take six months for a decision. Yesterday I started in earnest working on my draft proposal for the Stage Two contract. We'll call that one [Speedometer]. I'm going to try my best to finish that today. I worked up a good draft of the budget (quite a feat for someone who has no training in accounting). In the draft, I hire three post-docs and an administrative assistant in Year 1, and yet another employee in Year 2. Wow!

Today, I want to write up the 4-5 page SOW for [Speedometer]. That should get the ball rolling, and get me that six months of transition funding on the books (though it'll be three months before I see a dime, since my next report and invoice will be in two months, and payment comes a month later). Then I have a furious dash to one more finish line, with a looming deadline in about a week for another smaller grant proposal. Let's call that [Compression].

There's a possible grant application to a different division of the agency where I sent [Industry Standards]. That deadline's in July. I think I'll pass on that, because it's a different sort of mechanism than I'm familiar with, so the IP protections differ, and I'm not sure I can come up with a proposal that'd be differentiated enough from [Industry Standards] to warrant independent funding. I haven't decided definitively yet. Then, there's another proposal I want to submit to different agency in August, [Accessibility Standards].

Meantime, I've budgeted about two-thirds of my time to the transitional period of [Speedometer], which begins as soon as the draft Stage 2 proposal is processed. That leaves me only about 12-14 hours a week to work on other proposals, and business administration. For now the administration won't be a huge burden. By the end of the summer things will heat up, as I look to buy or lease a building, and hire three or four employees, as well as equipment and furniture.

That means, I have to be efficient with my time now, and not squander it. I've got work to do: see you soon.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Very Close

I'm tiptoeing to the finish line here. I have just a few more minor hoops to jump through. I hope to have everything finished by bedtime tonight, then I can click submit, and be done with it for a few months as it works its way through the review process. Then, it's my draft proposal for the Stage 2 contract. And, if all goes according to plan, I just may be able to pull off completion of my other proposal in time for the deadline in a couple weeks. We'll see.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Oh so many hoops

I'm jumping, I'm jumping. I guess this is old hat for those of you used to submitting major grant apps to U.S. gov agencies (or maybe the hurdles for small business funding are entirely different), but it's rather frustrating following a host of different guidelines all purportedly for the same thing, but each having its own twist on what is required, in what format, to what degree of detail, answering which particular questions. Then, there are the specific guidelines from the prog manager, which need to be covered, but where is up to the submitter.

I suppose the harder the process, the more self-selecting the applicants, which in the end can't be bad for the quality of the proposals (at least I should hope). And the better they are (and the fewer there are of low-quality) the less likely the reviewers are to get burnt out, and make snap judgments on applications that may take the better part of 3 weeks full-time to prepare. I'm using 100 hours as my rule of thumb for these sorts of proposal preps. That's a lot of unpaid time. If the funding comes through it's all worth it. So far, I've been pretty lucky. We'll see this time around.

If I get this one, and if the second stage of my other contract comes through, I should have no problem hiring three post-docs in the fall [I say, optimistically]. Scheduling is really up in the air. I've got to get my draft prop in for that Stage 2 contract, then I'll get six months more funding on the Stage 1 part. Great, that'll cover my expenses and put a little more in the company's coffers. But surely not enough to hire anyone.

I met with an accountant today to get some guidance on setting up my accounting methods for the higher level of scrutiny that the Stage 2 contract requires. Word is getting the accounting method approved is the most likely hold-up for getting the contract approved and processed. The better I do now, the less likely I'll hit that gap in funding. He was actually impressed with how organized I was, and validated that everything looked good. Doing my best. I'm trying to find the balance between self-reliance, and working outside my core.

Last year, when faced with the prospect of shelling out four grand of my own money to hire a grant writer editor, I balked, and opted to do it myself. Fortunately, I had a strong support network with my wife and a couple counselors from the state's entrepreneurs' office. Turns out it all worked out for the best. But, at the time, I had to make a choice about which of two proposals to write and submit, because I hadn't the energy or time to write both. Who knows: maybe hiring the help would have allowed me to submit both.

This time around, I hardly showed any drafts to anyone. RocketMom is reading over the "final" draft now. I think that's the first anyone has looked at it. It feels good to have the self-confidence. If I can manage it, I'm going to try to pull together another proposal in the next two weeks. I got a bit of a reprieve on my contract extension draft. The one gatekeeper sent me an official invitation from her end, resetting the date for submission by about a week. That will be my first priority next week (once this new grant app is submitted). Since it's a draft, and not that involved, I may be able to pull it off in a day or two. I'm less worried about the second new one, but I'd like to submit something if I can do it. It's a much smaller level of funding, but every bit helps get me closer to a product I can market commercially.

I expect to be handling more and more of these in time, and I'll need all the self-reliance I can get. But... do I also want to be the firm's accountant? At a certain point, I need to be adept at delegating tasks. Beginning this week, I have a new part-time assistant. It's nice to be able to pay a summer intern $12/hour to handle the details of things I don't really want to spend the time on. One big project this week is learning what he can about project management software, to help me decide which to purchase, and to reduce my learning curve. It's been interesting for me to just come up with small tasks (and have no problem doing so) to toss his way.

I'm putting in my plans and budgets an IT/Administrative Assistant position. I'm still spinning about the possibilities. Years ago I did have some part-time employees when I ran a gardening service. But this is different, WAY DIFFERENT! Still nothing's set. The Jell-O's in the fridge, but the power could still go out. Cross your fingers.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


I just spent about an hour catching up with some of my favorite bloggers (you know who you are), reading a bit, and leaving some comments. It's been a while.

Today, I'm feeling more at peace than I have for a while. I spoke again with one of the players involved in my continuing contract. He put me more at ease again. Sure, I have to satisfy different people in different ways for different things (it's like I'm carrying a sack of potatoes behind an army of key carriers, each with the responsibility to open a different gate, or door, or hatch--only I'm not sure which of those I need opened, and in what order, I'm not really sure what's in my potato sack, but it's not really that heavy, and I can always put it down for a breather).

I'm convinced it will all work out. And, above it all, I recall that I just don't need it. If for some bizarre set of circumstances it all fell through... I'd be okay. That's got to be one of the most empowering feelings I've ever had. And it feels so good.

And so, spending an hour on blogs won't kill me. I've got filing requirements on this new grant prop. to fulfill, but I'll get that done this week. And I still will need to draft up (blind) a 4-5 page document for the one gatekeeper to open up the second half of my first contract. If it'll satisfy her, why not? It'll be worth it: more than a month of funding per page. Not bad!

It still could all fall apart, I know. But more than likely, it won't. Wow!


Never complete. But... I finished the long description part of a new grant proposa1, for one of the academic oriented federal agencies. It's fifteen pages to the bottom at 10 pt font (the specified limits). It's also going to be the basis for my first patent application, just as soon as I decide on a patent attorney. This is all very exciting.

I still have a whole boat load of hoops to jump through to get this new proposal submitted before the deadline next week. I'm planning to get it all done before the weekend, to avoid the crush that will then ensue.

Also spent quite a bit of time the past couple days talking to people and trying to figure out what's required of me for the continuing contract I wrote about a couple days ago. If only it were simple! It's quite an effort just to figure out the chain of command, and whom I need to deal with for what aspect.

Word is pretty clear that we're at the stage where everyone expects the contract to be issued and the money to flow... BUT... nothing is settled until it's settled, and nothing more definitive than such expectation will come until such time as the contract is either in place (or somehow dissipates). And... although the money is in place somewhere (else they wouldn't be able to issue the invitation), there's no telling just when that somewhere will be my firm's bank account, meaning, as I was told today "expect another gap in funding. It's almost assured".

So three months of nothing to now... once I get the draft in and approved, I should get another six of funding on the old contract (though the first check won't come in for three months). Then, who knows? It's kind of hard for me to get those new hires in place when I can't say definitively when (or even IF) I'll be able to bring them on board. I'm hoping to fly in one of my old colleagues (who just filed his dissertation), to talk about the possibilities of bringing him in for a one-year post-doc with a possibility to renew. It'll be hard to follow through though unless or until I know the funds are on the way.

The deadline for my first draft is rather short... um... like the end of next week! (They make me wait three months, then tell me I have two weeks). However, at least one of the parties I spoke with indicated that I could follow one of two formats at this point: a 4-5 page statement of work, or a 30-40 page document of torture. I think... yeah... I'm leaning toward the SOW. Yeah, I'll do that one.

So, if it's only 4-5 pages (and remember this quick deadline is only for a "draft") I'm sure I can pull something together, along with a draft proposed budget, and whatever else they'd like to see. Then, it looks like I'll have two more weeks to gain guidance from the authorizing parties (you know about what work they want me to do), then the chance to modify the draft into a final. Part of the problem is that they're not available to speak with me until next week sometime, and there's little chance of setting up the (REQUIRED!) pre-proposal meeting in time for the first deadline.

Kind of silly if you ask me. What's the point of requiring a draft, when everyone knows it'll have to be completely reworked? It's like preparing a keynote for a conference, when you know the field, but not the topic. Ah well. See, this is the kind of complaining that makes me feel ungrateful. Imagine me, a couple years ago, wallowing in misery over yet another rejection letter (okay... now I've applied for 138 faculty positions...) It's hard to put my present bothers in that light. It's the difference between the wind tickling the hairs on my arm, and being stung by a whole nest of wasps.

You know... yeah... I'm leaning toward the breezy hair thing, okay?