Thursday, February 2, 2012

My Bio

Many people have been asking me lately what my background is.  And by many people, I mean one.  :-)  (You know who you are!)  So here's my background in a small, side-view mirror:

Being brought up Christian, one of the values I was raised with a type of humility, and out of that, I did not often talk about myself or speak of my accomplishments.  Still, today, it seems a little awkward for me to do so, even though I logically recognize that such dialog helps build relationships.  That, coupled with a desire to remain anonymous online for my family, is probably why I hadn't thought of doing a bio before.  Here it is...

Childhood and Early School
My childhood, thanks to my parents, was spread across Florida, New York, and Tennessee.  I claim to be an Yankee or a Southerner as it's convenient.  ;-)  Or neither when claiming Florida.

In many ways, I felt blessed growing up.  We were firmly in the lower-middle class, but, largely taking the Christian message against money to heart, I never really felt like I needed or wanted more.

I had a greater-than-average intelligence, but I had problems with my speech.  In elementary school, both the gifted program and the speech program were adders, meaning that I had to remember to pull myself out of class to go to these programs at certain times.  The problem was that I was so bored in class that I would distract myself with daydreams, or using my pencils and erasers as toys, and loose all track of time.  I regularly missed the gifted and speech programs.

I nearly flunked a couple grades in middle school.  At that time, my parents had gone through a divorce.  Psychologists would probably suggest my school problems were due to this divorce, but I was actually OK with the divorce.  My biggest problem, again, was boredom.  School was still very slow, and not very interesting.  Although the speech issues had cleared up by then, spelling was my new nemesis, and it still haunts me today.  (Curse you, English language!)

I remember one frustrated middle school teacher yanked me out of class one day into the hallway with a grade book in hand.  She pointed to a number a bit larger than 100 next to my name and said "Do you know what this is?"  I sheepishly said, "No."  "This is your IQ, mister," she said.  "There is no reason for you to be doing this poorly in school.  You need to get your act together, young man, or you are going to end up held back."  Of course, at that time, I didn't even know what an IQ score was, let alone what was a good or a bad score.

I still don't know how, but I made it to next grade, 8th.  The classes started to get interesting, as I had a couple of really good teachers.  I started to pay a little more attention to the teaching, and my grades reflected it.  Then we moved.

So I finished 8th grade and the rest of high school in a new place, but my attention to learning continued.  I still got bored, but I had learned when and how much I needed to pay attention.  I was mastering the art of doing the least amount of effort to get a good grade.  My memory was a real boon to this effort.  At the end of year long classes, I would have a notebook with maybe five or ten pages of notes for each class.  My classmates, holding their voluminous notes, would marvel at the discrepancy.

I was placed in all of the Advanced Placement (AP) classes which the high school had, but it was a new program then, so that was a very short list.  Still it saved me cash and time for college credits.  :-)

I graduated Magna Cum Laude.

In high school, I had worked as a car wash attendant for a few months, then at a restaurant as a cook and a waiter for the remainder.

College Life
I went to a community college while living at home.  "Harvard by the Highway" we used to call it.  There I earned my Associate's degree with a focus in preparation for engineering.  For a little school, it had some fantastic teachers who kept me interested, but I was still in a minimal-effort mode.

While there, I joined their "Brain Bowl" academic competition quiz team at the recommendation of some of the teachers.  Every now and then a question about the Bible would come up during a competition, and I remember feeling pretty embarrassed that I didn't know the Bible better.  I wish I could say I was the star of the team, but I wasn't.

I was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, a scholastic honor society for community colleges, and I graduated Cum Laude.  My minimal-effort strategy wasn't as successful here as in high school, but it was still pretty damn good in college.

While at the community college, I continued to work at the restaurant, but I also worked as a math tutor in their Math Lab.  A great deal of students arriving at the community college, having graduated from high school, still needed remedial training to get up to college level mathematics.  That was one of the most rewarding occupations I have ever had.  Helping people understand, helping them get to that "aha!" moment when the knowledge really becomes theirs, is something special.  I had considered going into teaching because of that.  (I veered away from teaching, but today I still contemplate teaching or tutoring again once I retire.)  On occasions, my fellow classmates would also stop in to see me for help with Chemistry, or Differential Equations, or whatever.

I moved into an apartment, and started the rest of my college education at, let's call it, Big State University, or BS U for short.  ;-)  I signed up for Mechanical Engineering, and I actually kept that major.  I still hadn't progressed beyond the minimalist-effort strategy for school, but that didn't stop me from being inducted into the engineering honor society, Tau Beta Pi., and the mechanical engineering honor society, Pi Tau Sigma.  It did, however, stop me from graduating with Latin honors, despite earning a 3.5 GPA four and half years later.  Four and a half years later?  Yes, I was working full time for about four of those years, taking only a part time load of classes, so that I could pay for said classes, and some nice vacations.

Speaking of work, when I first moved down for BSU, I got a job schlepping seafood at a supermarket.  At the time, I didn't even like seafood, so it was a lot of fun coming home at night reeking of dead fish.  Lemon juice works wonders.

Anyway, that was part time work, and I had no long-term plans of staying there.  Through a good personal connection, I snagged an interview for a full time technician's job at, let's say, Mega Engineering House (MEH).  This wasn't like a "technician" technician.  This was essentially technically focused engineer's helper.  I won the job.

Contrary to my school strategy, my work ethic was completely the opposite.  If someone was paying me, I made sure that they got their money's worth, and then some.  If I didn't have something assigned for me to do, I would think up side projects for myself.  I would do projects to make my future work easier, and the work of the entire department easier.  I taught myself Visual Basic, and ended up implementing an automation system which eliminated double manual entry (which had resulted in a number of costly typos).  I didn't study hard, but I worked hard, and that earned the respect of my group.

At the same time, I became a little disillusioned, as not everyone shared that work ethic.  Aside from a handful of exceptions, MEH was full of, well, average performers.  And it did not seem to matter if they had earned a Master's degree, or had even achieved a Doctorate.  (Of course, I couldn't see that where it really mattered was the paycheck.)  Not only that, but there was very little direct engineering which was done beyond the Bachelors' level, and only rarely at that.  Most calculations were done with established proprietary equations or through finite element analysis programs.  So I decided that a higher degree was not really worth pursuing unless I really just wanted the knowledge for myself.

After College
Just before I got my degree, MEH promoted me to the level of engineer.  The salary jump from technician, while substantial, was well below market value.  The actual salary didn't bother me, but the fact that I had work so hard but had not been compensated appropriately for it was a little insulting.  So soon after I graduated, I jumped over to something completely out of my field; industrial simulation gaming.  This was for the company, let's say, Polygons Flying Terribly (PFT).

For a year and a half, I worked shoulder to shoulder with computer engineers.  It was a bit of learning for me, but, to me, my degree was little more than a certificate showing that I was capable of learning.  (I never really clung to the identity of a Mechanical Engineer, except for comedic effect.)  In a way, the PFT world was similar to MEH, in that there was very little actual engineering going on.  Far from being outgunned by my computer-focused colleagues, I was able to shine again with my Visual Basic skills by creating a parsing program to identify errors in thousands of log files which they were still manually reviewing via random inspection.

Not impressed with the way PFT was headed for me in the long term, I took a series of steps which headed me back to MEH.  Given the good impression I had left with, my old group at MEH welcomed me back with open arms, and a much bigger salary.  That particular group's job was handing issues which came in from the field, from customers using our products.  This was really a great fit for me, because you never knew how a customer would break something.  It kept you guessing at times.  :-)

After several more years in a comfy chair in the security of the cubicles of MEH, I initiated a change.  Well, a couple changes.  Due to some marital issues, I filed for divorce.  Relatively soon thereafter, I decided that I wanted to go out in the field and see these products myself.  (It was pretty amazing to think that I had been recommending repairs on multi-million dollar pieces of equipment when I had scarcely seen them other than in drawing form.) So I joined a different division of MEH, and the road became my office.

When I am not traveling for work, I am home, left to my own devices.  It is through all of this spare time that my Bible studies have gone to the next level.  Now over seven years into it, I feel I could go head-to-head with several of the best scholars when it comes down to what the Bible actually says.  However, my scholarship is not as robust as many of those other scholars given that I have nearly completely focused on the Bible itself, as opposed to learning Hebrew or Greek, or about Roman law, or any of the other million ancillary details which could provide the "most complete" picture available.


  1. Very interesting! Much of that information I didn't know. I had a very similar experience of being in the gifted program at school and being told by a counselor that I was basically an embarrassment to the program because of my grades. I went to an outstanding public high school (yes, they do exist), but missed out on getting the best education possible simply because I had no respect for the importance of those four years of my life and no goals or dreams. Counselors are supposed to help you with those kind of issues; mine clearly failed. If students only knew now what they'll discover (often painfully) later on in life--that your education, your grades, and your test scores will determine more than anything else what you do from 8-5 each day--they would have a totally different attitude toward school. Or maybe they still wouldn't care, because that's just what teenagers do best (not care or pretend not to care). The funny/sad thing is that all those relationships in school that seem to be all-important at the time usually end up becoming meaningless within a few years after graduating.

    1. Thanks Mr. Wallflower! I didn't realize that you had a somewhat similar background in schooling! My high school counselor was non-existent for all practical purposes. I was introduced to him once at the beginning of high school, as were all the kids. That was the last interaction I had with him.

      I sometimes think about the problems people like you and I had in school, searching for a way to make it better. It is really difficult to have a good perspective as a student, especially if you are not already motivated towards some clear goal by your first year in high school. I haven't come up with the ideal solution yet, but the concept of mentorship keeps popping up as a best possibility. But that is challenging to institutionalize. I don't know if there is a perfect solution, but I have no doubts that we can do better. I'm still thinking... :-)

  2. You sound kind of like my oldest son. He's in the gifted program as well as speech and also has trouble in spelling! He's also a star math student and gets awards for his achievement there. He also loves technology and wants to be an "inventor." He's always making blueprints of something. Sounds like he's headed for an engineer degree. :) And, he also has trouble focusing in school too! Thankfully, they have a more engaging curriculum than when we were in school and regularly use computers to teach skills. If it weren't for the gifted program he wouldn't like school.

    1. Well, DoOrDoNot, I am afraid you may be right. You may have a future engineer on your hands. I offer my condolences! ;-)

      Seriously though, it is fantastic that you recognize his talent. If I could offer any advice (which comes from years of experience of not having my own children, so you know it's good), and if your resources permit, I would say this:

      Challenge him outside of school, in the most fun ways you can think of. Have him build a web site for your family, or design a coffee table, or design a scooter, of come up with a new game or other application for a phone or iPad (learning programming along the way).

      Don't worry too much about what is "age appropriate." If he is really interesting, his age is not going to be a factor at all. He just may need more help getting started.

      Don't be discouraged if he gets distracted or looses interest. It's all part of finding the right thing for him, and finding the right balance between being a kid and being a superstar! :-)

      Have fun!

  3. Neat little snapshot/timeline/bio. I like the use of BSU, MEH and PFT. The experiences sound strangely universal, or familiar or something. :-)

    The school system is one of my little peeves. I sometimes wonder if it was designed to create boredom or destroy initiative. It's old tech and old thinking trying to address a new job.

    I wouldn't worry too much about the robustness of your Bible scholarship (not that it sounds like your worried much :-). Rigor in itself isn't necessarily a virtue, but tells more about motivation, in my opinion. Picking and choosing what's actually worth looking further into is just as important.

    1. Thanks Andrew!

      "It's old tech and old thinking trying to address a new job."

      I couldn't have said it better myself! We are wasting so much potential, it astounds me. Check out the documentary "Waiting for Superman" if you want to get an idea of how intractable the situation is now.

      "Picking and choosing what's actually worth looking further into is just as important."

      Again, I couldn't agree more!

  4. Fun story -- well done.
    You didn't tell us about the evolution of your religious beliefs or political beliefs. Do you have kids?
    Hobbies, passions?

    1. Thanks Sabio!

      Come on now, Sabio. Everyone knows that the best relationships have a little mystery in them. ;-)

      I don't have kids, largely because it is presently physically impossible. But I am keeping a weary eye on the sky for magical doves descending from Heaven, coming towards my wife.

      I had covered my deconversion in a series of posts, which probably aren't as entertaining as this one. (I should really put together one of those summary pages that you do so well!) So if you are having trouble sleeping, try these:
      Indoctrination in Vanilla
      About a Girl
      Looking for Jesus
      Communionus Interruptus
      The Final Chapter

      But that really isn't the final chapter for religion as a whole, as I am working on expanding my horizons a bit more. (Trying to answer the question of "what's next" for those who need something now that their old faith is dissolved.)

      As for political beliefs, well, that will probably be spilling out more in future posts... I'm a little all over the map. :-)

      Hobbies, passions?
      Strategy games (classic and modern), fitness, National Parks, hiking, making bread from scratch, travel, being the best husband I can (a little sappy, I know, but it is honest and a passion), creating imaginative curries (avocado curry, anyone?), and just recently I've started attempting to write children's fiction to connect with my nieces and nephews.

  5. Thanks for the bio, TWF! I'm always interested in the story behind the story. I like finding out more about my iFriends.

  6. @ TWF

    (1) Suggestion: at minimum, before making index posts to act as Table of Content links in your Right column. Put the above links in the bottom of this post. As you can see, I am reading them.

    (2) Strategy games: Do you play WeiQi yet? You may not be bright enough for it, but you might enjoying looking into it. (Male humor)

    (3) So, are you remarried? Your bio left us hanging after you said, "Due to some marital issues, I filed for divorce. "

    1. @Sabio

      1) That thought actually occurred to me as I was putting those links in the reply. For some reason, there is a faction in my brain fighting against that. Stupid multiple selves. ;-) Once I win the war, I'll probably to that.

      2) I have not played WeiQi (Go)! Having just read about it, it looks like a lot of fun, and completely different than what I thought it was. I had been familiar with Reversi (Othello) (which is also a good game, but probably not as robust), and WeiQi looked identical to it (as an outsider), so I never dug into WeiQi. Now that I've taken a second look, I may just have to find a way to play and learn WeiQi. :-)

      3) Yes, I am remarried, and happily so. The details on that will just be one of those little mysteries which gets leaked out bit by bit. ;-)

  7. I enjoyed reading this, and though the schooling was a bit different, I can empathize with your school boredom and struggles. Have you ever looked into Asbergers? I have it, and a lot of brilliant people who just are honest and unique, like you sound, have it. I love your blog and shared it today. I have my own I am starting that is from an Agnostic/ past conservative persuasion. It's a little random, but is pretty interesting to some they say. Though woman tend to like it more. . .It's Come visit if you have time.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Angela!

      I haven't looked too much into Asbergers, but the from little I do know know of it, I think I may be on its border-line. If not, there is certainly something oddly wired in my brain!

      I am very time-strapped right now, and probably will be for the next month or so, off and on, but I did check out your blog. It's quite nice from what I've seen. :-) I'll be coming back to it. Thanks!

  8. Never feel bad for your oddities, it's just different. . .and if anything superior. Actually, one hallmark of a person with Aspergers is a feeling of superiority, and not being able to understand others perspective or why others can't see that:/ Humility is coming really hard for me, but it helped after leaving religion hugely, because I could see for like the first time in my life, that I was completely fooled and wrong. It opened the floodgates, so to speak, about my own humanity, and gave me empathy for those I had called stupid in the past. (Now I can actually fit in the most accepting church in the world, the Unitarian Universalists.) Anyhow, I hear you on the time crunch, but thanks for the kind comments.

    1. Sounds great that you are becoming more comfortable with yourself. I'll be looking forward to your blog.

  9. I don't know how long I've been reading your blog, but I sure enjoyed learning more about you. You're the sort of person I enjoy befriending in person. I have always loved hanging out with guys who are smarter than me.

    1. Thanks Lorena! I'm not so sure I'm smarter than you, but thanks for the kind words. :-)

      I've quite enjoyed reading your blog too, and I'm fascinated by how well you've handled your upbringing. I'm not sure that I would have made it to the point where you are now if I was in your shoes. You very seem to be smart to me from all I've learned about you.