Mike’s (Too) Detailed Bio
This is both a more detailed and informal bio. I wrote this detailed bio for myself, realizing that details and events get lost like worn tread on a tire, and for my kids, who may not know some of this stuff.
If you, dear visitor, find something of interest as well, I’m glad. I hope I am accurate and true. Like any memory, there is no absolute “truth” about events, only personal perspective.
As of this posting, I’m 68. Not young, certainly, but not at the actuarial end either (I hope). I’m not quite sure the instant when I transitioned from being a Young Turk to an Old Fart. But that chasm was crossed a while back and it did seem to occur in an instant. I find it interesting now to be competing with brilliant developers and entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s; it all seems so recent. I’ve been writing this blog since July 2005 and am probably (no, actually) in the most active learning phase of my life.
I am happily married and have been for 41 years to Dr. Wendy Maury, a professor in the Dept. of Microbiology in the Medical School of the University of Iowa in Iowa City, IA. Wendy and I have two grown children.
Our daughter, Erin Bailey, a graduate of Colgate University in Hamilton, NY, has worked as an environmental consultant, gotten a masters in epidemiology, graduated from the University of Wisconsin Medical School, and is a fourth-year resident in obstetrics at Washington University. Her first year of med school she managed the local UW public open health clinics. She lives in St. Louis with her husband, Adam Bailey, an MD/PhD in pathology, also at Washington University, who is an active virology researcher. Adam and Erin have two beautiful daughters, Imy Jean and Hazel.
Our son, Zak, graduated from Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, a few years back and worked as a lab tech while he made his own transition to medical school at the University of Iowa, where he was taught by his mother. He is now a fourth-year resident in general surgery at the University of Minnesota, where his wife, Alexandra Schefter, is also a resident in obstetrics/oncology. They are expecting their first child. It is immensely satisfying to see the younger generation with focus and the maturity to work toward dreams. One of our great joys is to have both kids and their mates close to home at either end of the Avenue of the Saints, with Iowa City in the absolute middle.
We’ve been in Iowa City now longer than anywhere else we’ve lived — 21 years — and it was a great choice. This is truly a remarkable community, though we mostly feel less involved with it than we have elsewhere due to differences in community size (we’ve lived in places as small as 2500 people).
This seeming contradiction is due to the differences between big and small towns. As the apocryphal goes, one may know that someone is doing something with someone else in a big town, but in a small town, everyone knows HOW is it being done. I guess we prefer our neighbors not knowing the how. Iowa City is a “sweet spot” between diversity and community. But the real bottom line is that we are OK with being modern Ozzie and Harriet ‘s escaping the urban environment. Been there, done that, and it sucks from our perspective . . . .
We came to Iowa City (actually, Coralville, a linked sister community) because Wendy had been recruited by UI. Wendy is a molecular retrovirologist with research interests in animal and various human viruses (COVID-19, Zika, HIV, Ebola, West Nile, etc.). She had previously been the Schwartz Chair of Virology at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion where we had been for nearly five years. But Wendy wanted to be, initially, a smaller fish in a bigger, more-vibrant U Iowa pond. This decision has proven correct and it was fantastic for our children who both graduated from the local West High that is consistently ranked as one of the best public high schools in the nation. We’re grateful for the great preparation our children got here.
As each of us has followed our spouse’s career or compromised in doing so, our family has lived in many neat (and, at times, not so neat — though every place has its charm) places including North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, DC, Montana, South Dakota, and Iowa. (Not to mention the Delaware, California and Oregon roots prior to Wendy’s and my meeting.) It’s not easy to maintain two-career families, but that is likely not news to many of you. One help is that I have been able to work from a home office since 1989. I guess working from a home office for more than three decades qualifies me as some sort of old timer, if not actually a pioneer.
At various times I have been politically active on all sides of the spectrum, sometimes in visible, sometimes in elected, and sometimes in influential (?) positions. I am not now such. I consider myself to be a vehement moderate, and will keep politics out of the AI3 site discourse. I don’t disdain political discourse — in fact, I mostly love it — but this blog aims to go elsewhere.
For my entire intellectual career I feel like I have been pointing to our current Cognonto LLC venture, a company dedicated to knowledge-based artificial intelligence (KBAI). I co-founded Cognonto with Fred Giasson in 2016; Fred has been a longstanding partner and collaborator reaching back now 10 years with Structured Dynamics and UMBEL.
The basic idea behind Cognonto is to combine and re-express existing, large-scale public knowledge bases, such as Wikipedia and Wikidata, into a computable framework that can greatly lower the costs of machine learning. Cognonto is a poster child for KBAI, one of my passions.
Some conceptual breakthroughs were necessary to find the right knowledge representations that would enable us to combine and integrate such large-scale resources, each with a different view of the world. The universal categories and triadic logic of Charles Sanders Peirce, a 19th century American philosopher, mathematician and logician, were immensely influential in helping us see the way clear to do so. I continue to be an amateur student of Peirce and his remarkable insights. Though much neglected in his late life and for decades after his death, Peirce is increasingly emerging as the philosopher for our digital age.
For more than eight years Fred Giasson and I were the co-founders of Structured Dynamics LLC, a product and services company devoted to bringing semantic technologies to the enterprise. We formed SD as an outgrowth of its predecessor, Zitgist, when we had the opportunity to break away completely unencumbered by debt or third-party control.
We’re pretty proud of what we accomplished in our tenure with SD, with the aid of great customers and projects. We built the turnkey Open Semantic Framework (OSF) technology stack with many open source contributions from us and various third parties; we innovated much in ontology development and use, one of the signature discriminators for our company; and we remained committed to open documentation and how-to guidance, as witnessed by our hundreds of technical documents. (And, oh yeah, we were profitable and well-fed throughout.)
Structured Dynamics benefited in its early start up from the assistance of Steve Ardire, who helped much in positioning and business development. Steve is a networker par excellence, who is also incredibly knowledgeable about social media and semantic technologies.
To avoid the compromises and conflicts of my prior ventures, and in keeping with Fred’s own instincts, we self-financed the growth of SD solely from customer revenues. Customers and their real-world needs are always the best mentors of a venture.
Zitgist, the Semantic Web and a Sabbatical
I became CEO of Zitgist LLC in March 2008, but I actually had been pretty engaged with the company since October or so of 2007. Via Zitgist, we learned much about semantic Web ventures and how to monetize value while remaining true to the core principals of openness and collaboration.
My first attraction to Zitgist came through its chief technology officer, Frédérick Giasson. I have had the great fortune to have worked with some natural programmers in my career. Fred certainly is a member of that rare group. But more unusual and attractive from my viewpoint is Fred’s clear vision and pragmatism. Fred and I had also been collaborating as co-editors of the UMBEL lightweight subject concept ontology, which was active until 2018 when we retired it to be replaced by KBpedia. When Fred separately showed me zLinks as a WordPress plug-in, even though only a proof-of-concept, the latent power of turning any existing hyperlink into a portal of Linked Data and relevant content literally blew me away.
Zitgist’s other co-founder was Kingsley Idehen, president and CEO of OpenLink Software. Anyone who knows Kingsley knows he is a force of nature. Going back more than 20 years Kingsley and his team have been building a universal platform for hosting and managing and converting data, Virtuoso. This system remains as one of the foundations in the semantic Web.
The lengthy courtship for joining Zitgist capped a year-long sabbatical on my part to learn about the semantic Web and to think hard about what might be the business models and commercial organizational structures of the future. Over this period I kissed many frogs.
The sabbatical was an attempt to grapple with a confluence of many trends. The Internet and the semantic Web were one set of drivers; another set were the fundamental changes in the nature of the commercial enterprise, its value, and the role of business and social organizations to create future wealth. We are truly in an era of open source, open standards and open data. The abiding aspect of our new era is interoperability and sharing, not closed and proprietary systems.
BrightPlanet, Documents & Search
For six years through the end of 2006 I was the co-founder, chief technology officer, and chairman of BrightPlanet. I was responsible for overall strategy, product design and development. I was directly responsible for commercialization efforts and raising venture funds totaling about $7 million (also including my predecessor venture — see below), including from institutional venture capital firms.
BrightPlanet was something of a serendipitous creation. It was a fork on a path that included structured and unstructured data, various revenue models, and other choices. Since its technology was initially created by VisualMetrics, the venture has struggled to find the right business model. In the earliest days the venture sold a desktop metasearch tool called Mata Hari ®, later renamed the LexiBot. BrightPlanet has also used subscription and direct enterprise sales revenue models.
BrightPlanet was co-founded with Thane Paulsen of Paulsen Marketing Communications, Sioux Falls, SD. Thane was instrumental in giving a company focus to the venture and helping to nucleate it from the other bioinformatics focus of VisualMetrics. Early insight and assistance were given to the venture by Bill Shelander and John Mashey. With venture financing, Clare Fairfield also became an advisor and with additional resources we were able to hire a longstanding friend, Duncan Witte, to come in and provide adult supervision and professional operational skills. Duncan (who has long-since moved on) became BrightPlanet’s CEO. Some on BrightPlanet’s then-development team, Will Bushee and Tom Tiahrt (also moved on), worked with me for more than 10 years through the various venture phases, and Jim Walker was another notable senior developer at the company.
BrightPlanet has received quite a bit of renown for its discovery and quantification of the deep Web, which I researched and authored. Most recently, BrightPlanet has been successful selling into the intelligence community, of which I can not say more. The company’s longer-term fate may depend on how well it can wean itself from its current coupling to large system integrators and government and intelligence customers.
Structured Data: VisualMetrics
I founded VisualMetrics in late 1994 with the help of Jerry Tardif. The premise of the company was to enter the data warehousing market using highly capable modeling software originally developed at Battelle Memorial Institute in the 1980s. The Promula software, then being commercialized by Fred Goodman and George Juras, was used for highly sophisticated non-linear systems dynamic modeling of complex energy and economic systems by the likes of George Backus and Jeff Amlin. I had first become aware of Promula when it was selected as the language base for the PowerManager ® package when I was at APPA in the mid-1980s. Because the software worked off of extremely large data sets, it had the horsepower to handle large-scale data warehousing and the chops to move analytic capabilities forward. An early investor in the company was a close friend of mine since junior high school, Kyle Brown, who helped shepherd both BrightPlanet and VisualMetrics through their early years.
Though the technology was (and is) superior, VisualMetrics was a day late and a dollar short in entering the data warehousing market. The company was able to secure significant angel investment and the attention of top drawer venture capital firms, but was likely 18 months too late to get the significant early stage capital necessary to propel it to the next level. Specific projects were pursued, some quite profitably, and notable gains were made in establishing a very powerful bioinformatics data management structure. This latter effort, called BioStream, continues to have significant support from Dr. Volker Brendel, now at Indiana University, and Carol Lushbough at the University of South Dakota, and has been funded at various times by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
The realization that the Internet was a global data warehouse for unstructured (text) document data caused the company to undertake its efforts in 1996 that led to Mata Hari and then the BrightPlanet venture. As the company passed its batons to successor firms and mentors, it shut its doors in 2005. Terry Conner, VisualMetrics’ first and only general counsel from Thoits, Love, Hershberger and McLean, Palo Alto, CA, remains a good friend.
Upon the birth of our second child, Zak, my wife Wendy and I decided we did not want to raise our family in Washington, DC. I quit my job at APPA and Wendy got a post-doc position at the NIH’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory and we packed off in 1989 for five wonderful years in Hamilton, MT, in the gorgeous Bitterroot Valley. The friends, vistas, skiing and flyfishing continue to beckon.
I started a commercialization consulting firm, Instar Community Systems, and began working with my close friend, Jeff Serfass of Technology Transition Corp., Washington, DC, and Bob Mauro, to capitalize on our experience in fuel cell commercialization. My job was to be the chief strategist, planner and analyst, while Jeff ran all operations.
Much of this effort grew out of the seminal Notice of Market Opportunity (NOMO) for fuel cells that Jeff and I had developed while I was at APPA. The NOMO set forth an innovative commercialization model that had the electric utility industry (buyers + capital + market acceptance knowledge) partnering with developers of advanced energy technologies and the federal government (buying down early phases of the learning curve).
The first group we helped form, the Fuel Cell Commercialization Group, was founded in 1990 by a dozen utilities representing all segments of the U.S. utility industry and grew to have 40 members. The FCCG’s mission was to help commercialize carbonate fuel cell power plants being developed by Energy Research Corporation (now Fuel Cell Energy) of Danbury, CT. I worked as a consultant to the FCCG under Bob Claussen’s chairmanship and also to the Santa Clara Demonstration Project (SCDP), the first 2-MW demonstration of carbonate fuel cell power plants, under the leadership of Paul Eichenberger. The success of the FCCG led to the formation of the Utility PhotoVoltaic Group (UPVG) in mid-1992 and then the Utility Biomass Energy Commercialization Association (UBECA) in 1994. The UPVG’s Phase 1 reports, the efforts of which I led, remain to this day excellent guideposts to PV commercialization.
I also did some other consulting work at this time to public power systems using the COMPLEAT integrated resource planning model and had other clients including the U.S. Department of Energy, Electric Power Research Institute, the American Public Power Association, and approximately a dozen public power systems. However, the federal government was proving to be a problematic commercialization partner and I was tiring of commuting tens of thousands of miles per year from our Montana base. When Wendy was offered her faculty position at the University of South Dakota I was ready for a change, and looked back to my APPA days to acquire the database software to start VisualMetrics. Our family bid a fond farewell to our beautiful mountain home and we headed East.
The APPA Years
In 1982, my running out of soft money at the University of Virginia left my wife and me in a quandary. She was still in the midst of her UVa doctoral work but there was little to do for an energy expert like me in Charlottesville. Thus, I trundled up to Washington, DC, walked unannounced into the offices of the American Public Power Association (APPA) and told them, you don’t know me, but I know you, and you should hire me. After quick interviews with Alex Radin (APPA’s legendary head), Larry Hobart (Alex’s replacement when he retired), and Herb Blinder and Eric Leber (my first immediate bosses), I was sitting at my new desk within two weeks. (APPA’s HR person used my example for years as to how to get yourself a new job.) What followed was seven most formative and (I believe) accomplished years, five of which unfortunately had my wife and I partially living apart and long-distance commuting the 2-1/2 hr drive between DC and Charlottesville.
I was originally hired at APPA as a staff scientist. I was also science editor (and later other categories of editor) for Public Power magazine under my great friend, Vic Reinemer. I gave a lot of talks around the country and gave technical support to public power systems with emphasis on environmental issues such as PCBs. I helped spearhead APPA’s support of acid rain legislation, the only major utility segment to do so, and instituted an annual workshop series on microcomputer use and applications that would stimulate my abiding interest in computers and software.
When Eric left for greener pastures in 1984 I was promoted as his replacement as director of energy research. As such I ran APPA’s voluntary, member-supported Demonstration of Energy-Efficient Developments (DEED) research-funding program, edited its DEED Digest, and eventually quadrupled its membership to 500 utilities, at the time the largest energy research organization by members in the world. I was responsible for 70 active projects at any time; my personal interests were in advanced energy generation technology commercialization and PC-based software (useful to the small public power systems). I personally managed efforts to develop the COMPLEAT integrated planning software, PowerMapper distribution mapping software, ELMA and RDSM software, and PowerManager, a $1 M effort to automate basic utility systems, resulting in an 11-application, five-volume software package. I received the 1987 American Public Power Association Energy Innovator Award for the latter project, the cool award for which I am now looking at on my shelf.
As assistant and then acting director of APPA’s technical services, in addition to DEED, I was also responsible for APPA’s annual 1000-attendance technical meeting, the source of my friendship with George Fraser and many other notable E&O chairmen (so many remarkable people), and began APPA’s Energy Services Exchange program and established the System Planning Committee. I had the privilege of working with a great staff including Karen Anderson, Larry Mansueti, Larry Bruneel and Jacquie Bokow (Cochran). I sat on a ton of committees as APPA representative, had my own DEED Board of Directors, and was the official APPA representative to the EPRI Board. These experiences led to my continued interest in how boards operate.
Yet, like other DC associations, APPA’s primary mission is lobbying, not technical services or research. After seven years I was ready for a change, had probably pushed APPA’s envelop as far as it would go, our family had started, and Wendy needed to move on from her first post-doc at NIH. After screening offers and then Wendy selecting NIH’s Rocky Mountain Labs in Montana, we commissioned building a home of our design on 10 acres of hilltop with 100 miles of view (55 m north to Missoula; 45 m south to the Three Sisters, with the 10,000 ft Bitterroot mountains to the west and the 9,000 ft Sapphires to the east) in our new Hamilton, MT location. Soon we were caravaning with the kids and animals and following the movers West.
CTA, EPA & UVa
I am the only person in my immediate family to have graduated college. As a kid, my nickname was “Professor,” so when I decided to quit my PhD program at Duke and head into the work force, I was breaking with many years of expectations. I suppose my constant interest in writing and research and wearing tweed jackets stems from this background.
I had learned from a friend of a major energy study starting up at the local EPA offices in Research Triangle Park and I had interviewed with Gene Tucker, the head of the special services staff who would prove to be a friend and mentor for many years, and Roger Hansen, a temporary assignee brought in from Colorado to run the program. Gene and Roger offered me the job of assistant project officer on the Coal Technology Assessment (CTA). I came to understand the hiccups of government hiring. Wendy and I opened and consumed five bottles of champagne at various times celebrating my official hire, which would then be delayed for various stupid reasons. Nonetheless, in 1976, the hire was official and I began my first “real” job.
The CTA was one of seven major “technology assessments” then being conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency; it was also the time that saw the establishment of the U.S. Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment (now since disbanded). The mission of the $2 million CTA was to assess the prospects, impacts, technologies and other considerations for the use of coal for energy in the U.S. over the coming 50 years. A major contractor, Battelle Memorial Institute, had been selected for the effort, supported by a subcontract by the University of Michigan, with the upcoming graduate lead of Mark Boroush.
Within a year of my hiring my boss Roger resigned, I canceled the Battelle contract to a withering firestorm (“I’m shocked, shocked there is gambling happening in this establishment”), a new boss Graham Hereford was hired, he resigned, and then by 1979 Gene Tucker appointed me project head. I brought in a Duke friend, Bob Dykes, who would eventually complete the program when I quit in 1981. Much of our funds had been wasted in the early years and to complete our mission we needed to award multiple small contracts, closely manage each, and then integrate and do all of the project management ourselves.
The CTA had many notable accomplishments, some of which unfortunately did not see the public light. It was the first major energy study to take an end-use focus. Sixteen major reports were produced, some of which contradicted official Washington policy at that time and were therefore not approved for publication. For example, the CTA maintained there was plenty of natural gas, coal would not be embraced for wider industrial use, its major impact would be in environmentally-controlled electricity generation, and advanced synthetic fuels from coal were unlikely to become economic and commercial. These reports were not released. However, other reports dealing with coal use by electric utilities, residential/commercial sector, the industrial sector, and coal exports were released. I authored the first EPA report on global warming (in fact, I believe the first US government report on global climate change in 1980), the global warming policy recommendations by my UM colleagues Kan Chen and Dick Winter still apply today, and assessments of acid rain and heavy metal pollution were other contributions.
I cut my project management teeth in this environment and watched as other best and brightest got frustrated and left government service. To this day I can recall where I stood exactly in the bureaucracy (scroll over for explanation of the acronyms): God / USA / EPA / ORD / OEMI / IERL / SSS / CTA / MKB. By 1981 I was tired of fighting the bureaucracy, angry and disgusted that much of our work would never see the light of day due to political censorship, and determined never to work for government again. (I came to have that same view from a different perspective 30 years later while at BrightPlanet!)
Wendy had decided to get her doctorate and an influence from my Battelle experience, Aleco Christakis, had left and taken a position at the University of Virginia. Wendy liked her prospects there and through Aleco I was able to interview with John Gibson, dean of the engineering school, and Bob Stevenson.
UVa was in the process of setting up an Energy Policy Studies Center, and eventually I was offered a position as fellow in that center and research scientist within the graduate school of engineering. I was brought in with soft money support to publish my work on electrification begun under the CTA, teach a course in energy policy, and help promote interdisciplinary energy research across departments. Wendy and I bought our first home and made our move; our new home was directly adjacent to a GE “factory of the future” north of Charlottesville.
I felt I had really beaten the system: with only a bachelor’s degree, I was going to be like a professor and do all sorts of innovative interdisciplinary work. Within a year, however, I realized without a doctorate it was hard to get the attention of other faculty (thus limiting my interdisciplinary mission), the intensity of the energy crisis was passing, and with only soft money I was about to lose my job.
The last few weeks of high school after my father’s death I lived with my best friend, Bob Hunter, and his parents. Bob’s older brothers were off to college leaving an open bedroom for me.
Bob and Pat Gallagher and I were also doing extra odd jobs to save for our planned drive around the U.S. immediately after graduation. We were buying a “midnight Rambler” from Pat’s grandmother and planned to visit 30 of the 50 states and parts of Canada on the summer-long trip. The trip came off as planned, was a blast, had its high and low moments, but ended unfortunately outside St. Louis on our way to visit Rudy Wilson when the engine blew on the Rambler. After a short visit with Rudy at SIU, we went our three ways; I hitchhiked back to Southern California, the first of four eventual cross-country hitchhiking trips I would take during coming years.
Upon return to California, I bought a Toyota Corolla with what little money came from my father’s estate, loaded up the car, and moved into the dorms at UCSB. It was wild times and a wild year. The UCSB nude beach was a hundred yards from my dorm, partying was hard, classes were big, and students were inclined to riot or take over the faculty center at the drop of a provocation or a visit by Angela Davis or Carlos Castenada. I had a real run in with an assistant dean who refused to acknowledge my dropping calculus. I was informed this a few days prior to the final after having missed 8 weeks of the 10 week quarter; somehow with caffeine and Ritalin I stayed up for days and was able to recover a B in the course, never in fact attending a lecture.
I was desperately unhappy at UCSB and could not relate to its size and no-ambition ethic (the party stuff and gorgeous blonds were definitely OK). I strongly contemplated pitching it and going to Alaska to work on a crab boat or some other such nonsense, but decided instead to dedicate myself to a good education. The paradox of my father’s death was that now I qualified for aid and scholarships. And, now that I had been away from my hometown for a year, I could also see clearly that the best school on the West coast was indeed in my backyard, Pomona College. I thus dedicated myself to getting the grades and references to transfer.
The father of a good friend of mine from high school, Allie McDonald, was dean of admissions at Pomona and knowing me with my past records and scores felt I had a good chance to get in if I did well through the remaining year at UCSB. However, since I needed a reference from a UCSB official and my standard choice was the assistant dean I had had the run-in with, I chose instead to go directly to the chancellor, Vernon Cheadle. Dr. Cheadle’s secretary gladly took my request and the chancellor welcomed me and encouraged me to meet with him numerous times.
He was a gentle, lonely man, isolated in his tower while the campus boiled and rebelled. He was hungry to pump me for information and insight about what it was like for students on campus. Indeed, I think he needed our time together more than I did, though I found he wrote me a fantastic recommendation. It also turned out that Dr. Cheadle was a botanist by training, and was friends with Katherine Esau and Sherwin Carlquist, two later influences for me, though I did not know it at the time and did not suspect I, too, would train as a botanist. You know, something happens every few years that causes me to think of this nice, decent, lonely man. The lesson I had learned in “going to the top” for his recommendation is that we we should not be afraid to make outrageous outreaches beyond our stations.
My application was accepted by Pomona, but I could not transfer until the start of the second semester, sophomore year. As a result, I had some time on my hands and I returned to Oregon, where I had spent the earlier summer washing dishes while staying with my sister and her husband in Roseburg. I had met the head of the local museum, George Abdill, who was also an expert on steam locomotives, that summer and he invited me to work as a restorer/curator at the Douglas County Museum. The museum is simply wonderful, beautiful architecturally, and dedicated to the county’s pioneer history. At one time Douglas County was the logging capital of the world. At any rate, during that break and in summers thereafter through college, I would restore steam tractors, recreate blacksmithies, create displays, and work with local students on carriage restorations and so on. I also had the opportunity, which I declined but have occasionally regretted, to act as a scribe to former buckeroo Arlie “Buckskin” Schaeffer, a colorful character in his long braids and beaded buckskins, and one of the most knowledgeable people at that time in native Indian lore.
Pomona College was a wonderful, wonderful time for me. There were no TAs, all classes were taught by the professors, and the caliber of students and college life experience were excellent. After toying with a number of majors, I fell in love with botany under the influence of Lyman Benson and Edwin (Jonesy) Phillips. Their commitment to field work, ecology and hands-on allowed us to visit virtually every national park in the western U.S. It was not infrequent that we were off-campus in the field as much as on, and by the time I was a senior I was driving the support van for our two departmental coach buses, responsible with my van mates for slipping out and buying the beer (Dennis Ojima, Dave Adams, Rick Cooksey). In 1974, I graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in botany and a minor in political science. My life had been saved again and my lifelong commitment to learning had been kindled to a strong flame.
After graduation I returned to Oregon. I lived on a commune for a year building pole barns throughout the Northwest, living for a time in a treehouse I built over a beautiful Cascade mountain stream, and generally avoided all questions about what to do with my life. However, after a disappointing love affair and the death of my longstanding coonhound-labrador companion, Buckwheat, I decided to head off to graduate school.
There was a strong network of Pomona botany alums at all of the leading schools, and I set off staying with them and interviewing with potential major professors at Harvard, UC Davis, Washington University and Duke. My contact at Duke, Donald Stone, was director of the Smithsonian’s Organization of Tropical Studies in Costa Rica, and that was very appealing. Also, my roommate from my senior year, Tom Mulroy, who was then teaching at Pomona, had a sister Julie who was also a Pomona botany alum in grad school at Duke. While I applied to all schools and got into them all, these connections and the general tenor of the place caused me to choose Duke.
All incoming biology graduate students are invited to the Duke Marine Lab in Moorhead prior to school starting. It was here I met some of my fellow incoming students, such as Jim Reinartz, Lucinda McDade, Jeff Cooper-smith (also from Pomona) and John Kress. At a welcoming kegger at the lab the last night, some Duke undergrads in the area had heard about the party and stopped by. I met an attractive young lady that night with whom I spent the evening in animated discussion. She was to prove to be my best friend throughout that first year at Duke, I was a TA in one of her classes, and I spent most of my free time with her and other seniors. Though it took more than a year, that first friend I met at Duke became the love of my life, and Wendy and I married in 1979.
My first year at Duke was going OK, I was becoming very good friends with Jim Reinartz, and I had shifted my studies to Janis Antonovics with emerging interests in evolution, plant-pollinator interactions and population genetics. But despite doing well, liking my colleagues and professors, and being intellectually challenged, I kept questioning the relevance of my studies to real “issues.” I also suspected in my heart of hearts that my fellow grad students were smarter, better prepared and more committed than me. After the summer and by the beginning of my second year, I strongly suspected that a change was needed. It was then that I heard of an open position at the local EPA facility, which would eventually pull me in directions totally unforeseen.
High School and Childhood
My earliest childhood memories are happy ones. Our family was close and though lower middle class, always had a nice home, safety, plenty to eat, fun vacations throughout the western US, and much love and laughter. We would see my grandparents every weekend. At that time, the public schools in California were excellent and summers were always a time of long daylight hours and always being outside and active.
I remember some fears from nuclear bomb air raid drills, and when living in Riverside I would occasionally see bomber squadrons flying out of March AFB. A new local elementary school, fortunately outside my boundaries, had been designed as an underground bomb shelter. Yellow alert drills had us students crawling under desks, but these events were scattered and mostly did not infringe on the general happiness of catching grasshoppers, playing ball, flying kites, or playing Sgt. Saunders (Vic Morrow) from Combat.
My brother and sister were older, six and nine years respectively, so my sister had already left home for college while I was still in elementary school. Then my father had his first heart attack, we moved closer to LA and his work, and we sold our home to move into an apartment as my brother prepared to graduate high school and head off to the Navy. It was about this time that my mother first started having gall bladder problems, whatever that was. I also did not much like the junior high school I was now attending in Pomona and the “toughs” that dominated the school.
After my brother had enlisted we switched to a still smaller apartment in a huge complex called the Polynesian Gardens. On the first day of school my mother went with me to enroll back in my older junior high but, even though we had moved within the Pomona city limits, we had landed in an unusual spot that was actually within the Claremont school system. I did not know it at the time, but this bit of serendipity turned out to be a real life saver.
So, I switched school districts and finished up junior high at El Roble Intermediate in Claremont. My mother, unfortunately, continued to get sicker. About the middle of 8th grade she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and died by the middle of summer as I was readying for high school. The happiness of my childhood had been brought up short by the realities of life.
From that time on, I was largely on my own, until my own growing family filled the void. My sibs were no longer at home, I was entering the teen years anyway, and I’m sure my dad was lonely and occasionally needed to date.
My high school years were unbelievably active. I worked, played and studied hard. Claremont High School was renowned for its innovativeness at the time — being located in the midst of the Claremont Colleges community, a real oasis in the LA desert — with a module class system, advanced courses, excellent faculty, smart (and more well-to-do) students, school spirit and excellent athletics. English teachers like Rudy Wilson, later recruited by SIU to teach teaching based on his experience, and Alex Hughes as principal were notable influences. Following the lead of David Antal, I helped found one of the first public school varsity soccer programs in southern California in 1968 and played every minute thereafter at center fullback. I also played non-varsity football and track.
My dad remarried, I dated heavily, and I went to proms and homecomings with princesses. I still can’t believe I wore top hat, cane and tails to one prom; what were we thinking?
I worked full time in the summers and generally about 20-30 hrs per week during the school year. Though I had worked summers for years washing windows and the like, my first formal job came just before I turned 16 pulling weeds on highway median strips for the City of San Dimas. It was hot (100+ degree), dirty, hard work, cutting weeds in dried beds with a hoe or ripping them out by hand. There were also nests upon nests of black widow spiders and the occasional snake, sometimes rattlers. Our first two weeks’ paycheck was held, so it was not until after a month of this hard labor that I saw my first payment. Besides being shocked at how much had been withheld from the check, the bigger shock was that the hourly amount was not $1.65 per hour as promised, but $1.25 per hour (as I recall). When my other below-age friend and I confronted our supervisor to correct the wrong, we were told tough luck. We quit on the spot, bought huge sodas, and walked the five or six miles back home.
My other jobs were more pleasant. Upon turning sixteen I got a job busing tables in the Indian Hill restaurant in Claremont. When the manager got transferred to the Griswold’s smorgasbörd also owned by the same family, she asked me to go along and my tenure as a well-paid waiter throughout the remainder of high school began. I was now making some serious dough to pay for my dates, my car and to save for college.
I tested well on the SATs and was a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist, so I had some hopes for going to a good school. To improve my chances further (among other public spirited reasons) I ran for and was elected senior class president. I applied to great schools and got in everywhere. However, my father made enough that I got little in the matter of financial aid. My father had not saved much, so when it came time to choose where to go, I had to take my backup, the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). I was crushed with not being able to go to a fancy school like many of my friends, but I guess I was mostly resigned.
Then, six weeks before graduation, and only a few weeks since my brother had died in a tragic hiking accident, my father died of a heart attack in the middle of the night, That very day we had learned that I had earned one of two national scholarships from my dad’s employer, General Dynamics. If I had thought earlier that I was mostly on my own throughout high school, now I truly was.
Last Updated 8/29/20