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.