I was born in 1941, in Easton, Maryland, a small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. At that time, my father was working in a Federal Reserve bank in Baltimore (on the other side of the Bay), and my mother was a dietician (working in the same hospital in which I was born).
I have only vague memories of Easton, since we moved away from there when I was only five years old. We moved to my grandparents' farm in Somerset County on the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland, near a little town named Manokin (named, I am told, for a tribe of Indians who once lived in the area). My grandparents' farm had been in the family since the 1690's (my ancestors on my mother's side who first came to the New World were Hugenots who had been run out of France for having the wrong religion).
My mother took a job with the Somerset County Welfare Board, which, despite the title, was a part of state government. My father took a job with an advertising agency in Philadelphia. He lived in Philly during the week, and came down to the Shore on weekends.
I entered elementary school in 1947. I distinctly remember my first day in school, since I found out (or rather my mother found out) that I had gone to the wrong school. The school that I was supposed to go to was Fairmount Elementary School, which was one of those "one- room schoolhouses" that you read about in the storybooks. The experience at that school was very worthwhile, although I didn't really recognize that at the time. My class had a grand total of six students in it, and I can still remember their names to this day. Grades one through three were all housed in one room, grades four through six all in a second room which was upstairs. One advantage of this is that you could listen to the stuff that the students ahead of you were doing--you could get a sort of preview of things like long division long before you had to do them yourself.
I still remember to this day the marbles games held out in the back yard with Melvin Reville and Ricky White. There was a special ritual about those games-you always had to remember to recite a litany of phrases and disclaimers before you took your shot-"no slips", "liners out", etc, or else you got your clock cleaned. Eventually these all got so complex that we subsumed the entire set of phrases into just one-"anything I need".
Living on a farm as a kid did settle one thing in my mind--I definitely did NOT want to be a farmer when I grew up. The thought of being at the mercy of the vagaries of the weather and the elements for my livelihood seemed to me to be a silly way to earn a living. So I started wondering about what other options might be open for me. As luck would have it, I happened to come across a paperback copy of "The Exploration of Space", by Arthur C. Clarke. This was in the days long before Sputnik (I think that I must have been about ten or eleven years old at the time). I was immediately turned on to the possibility of spaceflight.
In the mid 1950s a woman by the name of Violet Howden lived with us. She was originally from Northern Ireland, and had bought a house in Manokin. I have never really figured out how she ended up living with us, but I remember her as being an utter delight. Her son, Jim Howden had created a set of airplane scrapbooks when he was a kid, and Mrs Howden gave them to me. Jim Howden had served in the Army during World War 2 and later in Korea (he earned a couple of Silver Stars in combat). These books had all sorts of nifty articles taken from aviation magazines of the 'thirties--lots of photos of P-39s, P-40s, Spitfires, etc. I was immediately excited by aviation, and I retain an interest in the subject to this day.
I imagined myself becoming a pilot. However, at about the same time I got the news that every kid fears--"looks like you are gonna need glasses"--so a career as a pilot was out of the question. So I started to think about the next best thing, a career in aeronautical engineering.
One of my influences at this time was a radio personality by the name of Long John Nebel. Long John broadcasted out of radio station WOR in New York City, and was on the air every night from midnight to 5 AM. At that time, his guests tended to be people who were involved with flying saucers and UFOs--people who had seen saucers and even people who had claimed they had been taken aboard spacecraft and flown to Venus. I spent many a night huddled next to the radio loudspeaker, listening to that noisy, fading signal from New York. I still remember to this day the Dero stories that he and his guests broadcasted-the entire east coast of the USA was supposedly riddled with tunnels and caverns, dug by a race of beings known as the Deros, who were degenerate descendants of the inhabitants of the lost continent of Atlantis. Although I no longer believe in UFOs, I still retain an interest in spaceflight and contact with extraterrestrial intelligence.
High school came along in 1953, and this involved leaving that "one-room schoolhouse" for something larger and grander. Washington High School, located in the thriving metropolis of Princess Anne (pop. 3000), had a student body of almost 300, which was to me a veritable "big-city" school. Overall, I hated high school. Very little of anything seemed to be interesting to me. In retrospect, this was because of the generally poor quality of the faculty. I chugged along with relatively mediocre grades, and I very rarely ever studied. However, my interest in things aeronautical and spatial continued. In the eleventh grade, I decided that it was time to buckle down and start to do some serious work. After all, if I wanted to do aeronautical engineering, I should know something about math and science. So I started to open up schoolbooks more regularly. My grades began to get better. However, at that time I was interested only in science and math, and regarded things like English and history as a waste of my time.
As high school began to come to an end, it was time to decide on which college to attend. I wanted to go to a school that had an aeronautical engineering program. I found one that seemed to be suitable. It was a "3-2" program--three years at Gettysburg College (near the battlefield), in Pennsylvania, followed by two years at the Pennsylvania State University.
College was a shock! I actually had to study there! I found that my math and science background from good old Washington High stunk to high heaven. I could barely add fractions, and I was competing against kids who knew differential equations! However, after a fairly poor first semester, I started to do OK. To my surprise, I found that those "liberal arts" subjects such as philosophy and literature began to be interesting to me as well as the pure science. In retrospect, going to a college which had a well- rounded curriculum (rather than to a purely tech school) was a good choice, since it exposed me to lots of different thoughts and ideas.
According to my initial plan, I was to spend three years at Gettysburg, then go to Penn State for two years to specialize in engineering. However, I took a course in Modern Physics at Gettysburg, and got really interested in the subject. The faculty was sufficiently impressed with my performance in the final exam for that course that they invited me to major in physics. Physics majors were in those days generally regarded as what later became to be known as "nerds", so I had to give it some thought. If you told a girl that you were guilty of majoring in physics, she would look at you sort of funny and then start looking for the exit. The physics program at Gettysburg had the reputation of being so tough and rigorous that you were forced to eschew any thought of a social life. But since I was sort of a nerd anyway, I said "Sure, why not?"
So my goal of doing aeronautical engineering was abandoned, and I took up the role of nascent physicist with gusto. The subject was extremely interesting to me. The precise predictability of classical mechanics, the beauty of Maxwell's equations, and the logical and philosophical questioning behind quantum theory became utterly fascinating for me. The physics faculty members were outstanding. I still remember their names to this day-Richard Mara, Theodore Daniels, Thomas Haskins, Walter Scott, Thomas Hendricksen. It is often said that teaching is the most influential of the professions, since as a teacher you affect eternity. These folks sure did.
I stayed for the full four-year term at Gettysburg, and graduated in 1963. What to do next? Should I go out and actually get a real job? Or should I go to graduate school? I opted for graduate school, and went to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
At Brown, I did my research in experimental physics, working for a rather eccentric character by the name of Philip J. Bray, who was department chairman at the time. Specifically, my PhD thesis was on the subject of nuclear magnetic resonance in glass. Our laboratory was virtually the only place in the world doing research in this rather esoteric area.
I still remember with fondness the fellow members of the resonance group at Brown. I wonder if any of them are still out there? Harry Kriz and Mann Jang Park with their Go games. The wild parties at Bob Marino's apartment. Craig Taylor's computer analysis of powder patterns. Steve Bishop's voluminous PhD thesis, which seemed to go on and on like some sort of 19th century Russian novel. Jim Sullivan's master's thesis in abstentia. Dave Griscom with his clever adaptations of Peanuts cartoons that described day-to-day humorous events in the group. Ellory Schempp and Tony Oja down the hall working into the early hours of the morning on nuclear quadrupole resonance. Nalamolu Gopalarao, whose wife seemed to call him on the phone at least once every hour. Chunghi Rhee's seemingly endless cesium glass spectrometer runs. Frank Landsberger with those deadly beryllium glass samples which we imagined could have killed us all. Harry's and my interest in the novelist H. P. Lovecraft, who had lived in Providence and who had used Providence as the setting of many of his horror stories--Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Him Who Is Not To Be Named, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Colour out of Space, Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts, the dreaded Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazared. And just down the hall seated at her desk, our secretary Judith, who I started dating in my last year there and ultimately ended up marrying.
I finished up my PhD thesis in 1968. At that time, there was a glut of new PhDs on the market and a relative shortage of jobs in either academe or industry, and you began to hear horror stories about PhDs driving taxicabs, tending bars, etc. I decided to stall for a year or so, and took an overseas visiting fellowship at the University of Sheffield in England.
The fellowship that I held had the rather impressive-sounding name of Leverhulme Overseas Visiting Fellowship. While at Sheffield, I continued my research on the subject of magnetic resonance in glasses, working in the Department of Glass Technology. I worked on electron spin resonance in glasses along with Sydney Parke, and with Bryan Ellis on electron spin resonance of carbon black in rubber. I lived in Sheffield for a year or so. In my spare time, I spent a lot of time traveling around Europe, and got the travel bug out of my system.
My fellowship at Sheffield lasted only a year, so I had to start looking for my next job almost from the very first day I got there. The only thing that came up was another postdoctoral fellowship, this time at the University of Chicago. So back to the USA I came, and I took up residence in the Hyde Park community near the U of C (where I still live). My research was in the area of magnetic resonance in amorphous semiconductors, working for Professor Helmut Fritzsche who had come over to the USA from Germany after the end of the war. Again, this was only a temporary position, so, like a gypsy, I STILL had to keep looking for something more permanent.
I must have sent out hundreds of job application letters. Since the job market was still quite tight, I got scads of rejections. However, by chance, an assistant professorship opened up just up the road, at the Illinois Institute of Technology. I started there in September of 1971. I collaborated with Professor Leonard Grossweiner in doing research in the area of flash photolysis of biological materials such as proteins and DNA. At first, I used a conventional xenon flash system for my research, then I went over to a laser-based system. I spent about four years on this research, and ended up publishing about twenty papers in various journals. Our team began to develop somewhat of a reputation in the field. We came to be known the "world-famous biophysical laboratory at IIT". The lab itself was a rather grubby place, and looked more like a movie set from a grade B Frankenstein horror flick than it resembled a high- tech institute doing world-class research.
In 1973, I spent a couple of weeks doing some research at the Royal Institution in London, which was the place where Michael Faraday made his basic discoveries in electricity and magnetism. At that time, the place was run by Sir George Porter, who was doing work in laser flash photolysis, which was the same field in which I was working.
At the same time, I also got involved in teaching at IIT. To my surprise, I found that I actually liked teaching and was fairly good at it. Most of the courses that I taught were undergraduate courses in physics--Modern Physics, Electricity and Magnetism, Thermodynamics, Mechanics. I ended up teaching the large freshman lecture section of introductory physics several times.
I also got involved with a program named E-cubed, which was an experimental engineering education program which stressed self-paced instruction and project-based learning. The E-cubed program was run by Paul Torda, who was a Hungarian aeronautical engineer who had studied under Theodor von Karman. He had worked in Australia for a while with the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation during the war. At Commonwealth, Paul worked on the Woomera bomber, which he described as a flying abortion.
However, I did tend to note a disturbing trend as the years went by at IIT-- each succeeding freshman class was a little less well-prepared than the preceding one. By the end of the 1970s, I was beginning to get freshman classes in which a third of the students couldn't add 1/3 + 1/4.
I spent a couple of summers (1976 and 1977) at the Argonne National Laboratory just outside Chicago. While there, I worked with Joseph Katz and Jim Hindman on the ultraviolet excitation of chlorophyll.
Things were coming along fairly well at IIT, but the big T was coming up--the decision on tenure. It turned out that I didn't get it. I suppose Socrates couldn't have gotten tenure at IIT that year. In retrospect, they probably did me a favor. I've noticed that faculty who stay too long at IIT tend to become rather "strange" as the years go by. There is something about that place that makes you wierd out after a while.
So, I had to start looking for yet another job. Should I get another academic job or should I go into industry? The prospect of having to go through that tenure battle all over again at some other school prompted me to opt for industry. At that time, the Teletype Corporation in Skokie, Illinois happened to be looking for people who could do integrated circuit manufacturing. Although I had never done industrial R&D before, I did have some semiconductor background, so I applied.
I started at Teletype in January of 1979. Teletype made computer terminals. They had a small production line where they manufactured custom-designed integrated circuits for their terminals. Teletype was at that time a division of Western Electric, which was, in turn, part of AT&T. The early 1980s were good years for Teletype. It seemed that we couldn't make the terminals fast enough to keep up with the demand. We had all the overtime you could ever want (even some you DIDN'T want). People thought that the good times would keep on rolling forever. There was even some talk that integrated circuit processing engineers would be like rock stars, commanding six-figure salaries and surrounded by "groupies".
Then, in 1983, the divestiture decision was made. AT&T was to get rid of the local telephone operating companies, keeping only the long distance service, the manufacturing arm (Western Electric), and the Bell Laboratories research organization. Apparently, top management at AT&T agreed to this only so that they could get into computers and go head-to-head against IBM. Everyone thought that the computer boom would go on forever. It didn't turn out that way. Shortly thereafter, the computer market went bust. In addition, the advent of fierce competition in the telecommunications market forced AT&T to become "leaner and meaner". Over the next few years, AT&T was forced to close plants, consolidate operations, and lay off thousands of people. A lot of manufacturing got moved offshore to places such as Taiwan, Singapore, and Korea. The axe finally fell on integrated circuit manufacture at Teletype in 1985. Henceforth, all of the integrated circuits needed for our terminals would be made at the AT&T plant in Allentown, Pa.
So it was time for another career change. As it happened, there was at that time an effort at Teletype to develop an ink-jet printer. We wanted to use a unique process for manufacturing the ink jet injector; the nozzle was to have been micromachined into a silicon wafer. This made sense, since we had the silicon processing line already in place. I transferred into this group in late 1985. I spent the next year working on mathematical modeling and computer simulation of the fluid dynamics involved in the ejection of ink droplets. I also became involved in trying to solve the problems created by tiny air bubbles becoming trapped in the ink drop injector.
Then, late in 1986, it was announced that Teletype was going to cease the development of computer terminals altogether. Henceforth, AT&T would rely exclusively on OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) sources for their computer terminals. They would buy the terminals from some offshore outfit, stamp the AT&T deathstar on them, and then market them as our own. A few months later, it was announced that Teletype at Skokie was shortly to cease manufacture of anything at all, i.e. the plant would be closed.
However, the R&D effort at Skokie remained in force after the factory closed down while management tried to figure out what to do with it. I had gotten involved in computer programming while I was working on mathematical modeling of ink-drop injection. Specifically, I had learned the C programming language and the UNIX operating system. It came as somewhat of a surprise to find that I actually enjoyed computer programming (I had hated computers with a passion at Brown). It just so happened that Bell Laboratories had a gigantic facility in Naperville in which they did software development for telephone switching equipment. I decided to transfer out there. I started in Naperville in January 1987.
At Naperville, I was involved in several software development
projects for the 5ESS® Switch:
When AT&T management decided to split the company up into three parts, I went with the Lucent entity (which was created out of the Western Electric manufacturing arm and the Bell Laboratories research arm)
In the last couple of years, I moved away from call processing development, and became a more or less full-time trainer, teaching introductory courses on the 5ESS® Switch to a flood of new Lucent hires. Consequently, I came full-circle from my teaching days at IIT. I also began to travel again, giving training courses at Lucent sites in Malmesbury, UK, in Nuremberg, Germany and at the Batik and Zetax sites in Brazil.
However, Lucent has fallen into hard times due to the general telecommunications downturn, and I accepted an early retirement offer on July 13, 2001. So I became temporarily unemployed while I looked for another opportunity. There was absolutely nothing out there in either telecommunications or information technology, so I went back to one of my earlier career choices--college teaching. I became a part-time instructor in the General Education department at the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago, teaching classes in computer literacy, introductory mathematics, and basic physics. I started there in January of 2002.
The Illinois Institute of Art was a proprietary, for-profit educational institution, specializing in training students for careers in artistic, culinary, photography, and gaming design. Times were initially fairly good there, and student enrollment kept increasing. But hard times began to come shortly thereafter. Enrollment started to decline, and there were layoffs of faculty. Eventually I was offered no more classes to teach. My last classes there were in 2014.
I am now retired, drawing Social Security and a pension from Lucent (which was bought out by Alcatel and later by Nokia)
Personal details: I live with my wife Judy in a condominium townhouse in the Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago, about a hundred yards from the Lake Michigan shoreline.
My first wife, Janet, lives near Baltimore, Maryland, where she just recently retired as a high school teacher. I had one child (Sarah) by Janet. Sarah is a lawyer with a Baltimore law firm, specializing in taxes and estate planning.
My sister Anne lives in Grenada, Mississippi. My other sister Nancy lives near Philadelphia with her husband Bob.
What do I do in my spare time? Being retired, I now have quite a bit of it. For one,
I have written a couple of astronomy textbooks--"On Civilized Stars", a book
about communication with extraterrestrial intelligence, and "The Space Age
Solar System", a textbook on planetary astronomy. After all these years,
I still retain my childhood interest in aviation and spend a lot of time updating my lists of
serial numbers and articles on aviation history that I have posted on the Web. I am an avid bicycle rider,
and spend many summertime hours riding back and forth along the lakefront